Author's Note- Well, here it is. The last chapter. Again, I want to thank my betas, Rebelcat and Jenben, for all their time and devotion. This story really would not be here if not for them. Also, many thanks to Starsky's Strut for the very cute 'Milking the Bull' scene. Please let her know how wonderful it is!
Hutch stood motionless by the window, his gaze fixed upon the insouciant motion outside.
A large and gentle brown cow stood near the pasture's border with her head down, grabbing at the green grass with her soft lips. Every so often she would take a step forward, constantly nibbling and occasionally flicking her tail and ears.
But it was the smaller cow, the calf, that had Hutch's rapt attention. The gangly little animal stumbled about, his too-long legs like stilts under his soft body, his over-sized joints seeming to bend at random. A bright yellow butterfly fluttered in the wind before him and the calf eyed the insect with large, innocent eyes, then raised his head to sniff the air. In the next instant, the little calf leapt into the air, all four legs spreading apart in a gesture of absolute glee, then the animal hit the ground running, skimming the fence as he galloped.
Hutch chuckled, squashing down the little voice in the back of his head as it whispered that he was too old for such things.
"Little guy's kinda cute, huh?"
Hutch jumped slightly and turned away from the window. Starsky was standing right beside him, smiling as he too watched the calf frolic.
"Yeah, it is," Hutch replied, and he pulled himself away from the window to finish packing. The morning sun lit up the small bedroom so well that electricity wasn't even needed. He grabbed yesterday's clothing off the floor and shoved them in his duffle bag.
"You know, I think I'm gonna kinda miss this place," Starsky said, not moving from the window.
Hutch grabbed his holster and slipped into it. "Me too."
Starsky turned away from the window and leaned back against the wall. "Maybe, if we ever get a vacation, we could come back? For a short visit?"
Hutch glanced around the room for anything left behind and stopped when his gaze landed on his partner. Their eyes locked and something stronger than words traveled across the room. "Yeah, that'd be nice."
Last night had ended peacefully. After forcing Boss Hogg into dropping the charges against the Dukes in return for not turning him in for trafficking stolen diamonds, the four men returned to the Boar's Nest and spent most of the evening just talking. Hutch and Starsky had found they were easily the most interesting thing in Hazzard and had quickly attracted a large, friendly crowd. The beer was watered down- courtesy of a certain greedy commissioner, but because the townsfolk were paying, Hutch was able to overlook the brew's weakness.
Of course, the pretty girls helped too.
Hutch smiled as he remembered Daisy's gentle smile and warm touch. She had listened to every story of his with fascination- arms folded over the bar, her eyes large… Hutch's ego blossomed under her attention. Starsky had even found an admirer himself- a petite waitress named Lyn, with pale blue eyes that rivaled the summer sky. Feeling happy amongst the beautiful women and friendly bar-flies, Hutch let the night wear on.
After a safe ride home, Hutch's head finally hit the pillow at half-past midnight. He awoke this morning to the mouth-watering aroma of yesterday's breakfast menu, and his stomach gurgled before his feet even hit the floor. His entrance into the kitchen had certainly been less grand than yesterday- and less painful. Hutch had even managed to eat everything on his plate- save for the bacon, which Starsky had helped himself to.
Hutch let him.
Now they were cleaning up the small bedroom they had occupied for the past two nights, preparing to leave Hazzard County. Hutch pushed his clothing into the bulging duffle bag and struggled to zip it shut with the other hand. The burns on his back were recovering well and only the worst of them hurt now. His head was still tender to the touch, and a nice, dark bruise was forming on his temple. It was an attention getter, but also a sympathy getter, and Hutch had more than once found himself being fussed over by a pretty girl.
Hey, maybe he should whack himself in the head more often.
"You ready?" Starsky asked, breaking the silence. He stood at the door, duffle bag in hand.
"As I'll ever be," Hutch replied, and hoisted the heavy bag onto his shoulder. And in truth, he was ready. The slow country life was a nice break, but Hutch couldn't imagine living here just yet. He enjoyed the fast-paced life of Bay City, chasing the bad guys and dealing with the people and fighting for justice. What would he and Starsky do in this small town? Patrol cattle herds? Escort ducks across roads?
No, he was ready to go home. His plants were suffering, he knew, because despite Huggy's best intentions, the black man was no horticulturist. The last time he had left the plants in the bartender's care, Hutch had returned home to a drowning orchid and a dried-out cactus.
How Huggy had managed that one, Hutch would never know.
Hutch followed Starsky outside. Uncle Jesse was throwing food to the chickens while Bo and Luke were bent over under the General's yawning hood, their shirts draped over the fence behind them. The sun glinted sharply off the Torino's bold colors as it sat parked next to the General. Hutch resisted the urge to block the glare with a hand.
"You fellas sure you can't stay longer?" Uncle Jesse asked as he tossed one last handful of feed at the chickens. He approached them with a string of hens following behind. "After all you done fer my boys, it's not right fer ya to be runnin' off like this."
Bo and Luke straightened from under the General's hood as Hutch answered, "Sorry, but we really should be going. Crime doesn't stop just because we're on vacation."
Starsky moved to the Torino and popped the trunk. "Thanks for your hospitality," he said, throwing in his duffle bag. He patted his stomach. "I haven't eaten this good since I was a kid."
Hutch raised an eyebrow but kept silent. A thousand remarks about his partner's choice of cuisine ran through his mind. Instead, he resisted the too-easy jab and tossed his bag in on top of Starsky's then looked to the empty place where Daisy's Jeep had been parked earlier. "Tell Daisy we said goodbye," he told Bo and Luke. "And don't let her work too hard. She puts a certain bartender I know to shame."
Starsky rearranged the duffle bags, scowling at Hutch's back as he pulled his out from underneath.
"Don't you worry 'bout Daisy none," Uncle Jesse replied. "Bo and Luke take real good care of her."
"Well shoot, Uncle Jesse'd tan our hides if we didn't!" Bo teased, but true compassion was evident in his voice.
Hutch smiled. So chivalry wasn't dead.
It was just stranded amidst the Georgia boonies.
A rumbling engine broke through Hutch's reflections and he turned.
"Well lookit there, it's Cooter!" Bo announced as a white tow truck came into view.
What had Hutch's attention, however, was the battered LTD bouncing along behind, suspended in the truck's rigging.
Talk about consideration.
Hutch approached the truck with the others as it came to a stop in the dirt, scattering the chickens. Cooter swung open the door and jumped out as the Dukes finished pulling on their shirts and greeted him.
"Hey yall, I was just passin' through and thought I'd drop this off," Cooter smiled as he moved to the side of the truck.
"Wow, thanks," Hutch replied as Cooter lowered the car to the ground. "That was very thoughtful. What do I owe you?"
The car hit the ground and Cooter laughed. "You owe me a promise that you'll treat this car with a little more respect!"
Hutch glanced to Starsky and saw the 'I-told-you-so' smirk on the brunet's face. "You see?" Starsky started, "I told you, it's only a bad car because you don't take care of it."
Hutch rolled his eyes and muttered, "I'm not the one who drove it into a ditch in the first place."
"Here, lemme show you what I did," Cooter began and he flopped to the ground on his back, sliding his head under the car.
Cooter started talking about sun gears and planet pinions, and Hutch felt like everyone else knew what the mechanic was talking about so maybe if he got under the car he'd understand too. With a soft sigh, Hutch sunk to the ground and tried to look under the LTD.
Luke turned to Starsky. "Hey, you up for helping us with one more thing before you go?"
Starsky eyed his partner, finding humor in the way Hutch was crinkling his brow in an effort to understand the finer points of an automotive differential.
This could take a while.
"Sure," Starsky replied, giving the cousins his full attention.
Luke glanced at Bo, and Starsky felt that something important had passed between the two. Then Luke smiled at him and nodded towards the barn. "Great. Let's go."
The three entered the barn and a low moo greeted them. Five cows stood in their stanchions, their large brown eyes focused on the newcomers. The largest one on the end stamped its foot.
"It ain't fancy, too few cows for a real milking parlor. You mind givin' us a hand with the milkin'?" Luke flicked a quick glance at Bo, who nodded and smiled.
"Yeah, 'many hands make light work'," Bo cited. "This kind of work is good for building up your strength in your fingers and wrists. That's why we can use those compound bows and shoot so accurately… a gun ain't nothing' compared to drawing back a bow. Takes real strength to do that."
Starsky eyed the brown animals nervously. Why did he feel like Bo was goading him? Chickens were bad enough. But cows? Big unpackaged-milk-giving- walking-unprocessed-hamburger, that's all they were to him.
A large brown, bovine head turned and looked him dead in the eye, then mooed. Starsky flinched, then chuckled nervously. "Man, that's loud!" he laughed, hoping to cover his edginess. They were just cows, right? Nothing to be afraid of. Even if their hooves were larger than his head…
Luke grinned at Bo.
"It's okay if you're afraid… I can get Daisy to help us later…" Luke turned as if to leave.
The curly head popped up. No way was he gonna wimp out and let that pretty lady do something that he could do… not to mention Hutch… oh, he would NEVER hear the end if it from his partner.
Bo patted a cow on the hind end. "These are Guernseys, very gentle, high butterfat content. They don't give as much milk as Holsteins do. I hear tell some of them Holsteins give as much as 90 pounds of milk per milking! Can you believe that? We had some Brown Swiss once, but Uncle Jessie's partial to Guernseys. He always says 'Swiss are too stubborn, Holsteins too big, Jerseys and too small… but Guernseys are great'. Can't say he ain't right about that… though we never did try any Milking Short Horns… heard they ain't bad, interesting markings on some… but marks don't make milk, ya know?"
Starsky's mind was numb. "Yeah…" he said, feeling as clueless as Hutch looked when Cooter was rambling off the functions of a pinion. He was a detective, he wasn't suppose to be clueless!
Luke brought over a small three-legged stool and a pail. "Ready to give it a try?" He held the items out to Starsky.
"Gentle, huh?" Starsky eyeballed the large cows. Each one looked bigger then the others. "They don't bite, do they?"
The cousins laughed. Bo walked to the head of the cow he had been patting and grabbed some hay, teasing the cow with it until she turned her head. Then he lifted the hay higher and the cow curled back her upper lip, trying to reach the food.
"See that? No upper teeth… the only way she can bite you is if you put your hand in her mouth." Bo grinned as he continued to hold the hay away from the cow.
The cow reached out with her tongue and grabbed the hay, her tongue curling around it like and elephant's trunk around cotton candy at the circus and pulled the hay into its mouth.
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?" The startled detective had never seen a tongue that big before… even that guy from the rock band 'Kiss' didn't have a tongue that long, and that guy claimed that his tongue as nine inches long or something like that.
Luke placed a hand on the detective's shoulder. "That's what us country folk call a 'tongue'."
"I know what a tongue looks like… and that ain't it!" Starsky looked longingly at the barn door, wondering if there was anyway he could escape without looking like a coward.
"Well now, if you're scared… " Bo scratched the cow's ears and she tilted her head into his hand, enjoying the scratching. "See, just like any other girl… treat 'em right and they just melt into your hands."
Starsky looked apprehensively the animals. They did seem docile enough, and the big one on the end kept looking at him. He put his hands out for the stool and the bucket. He'd be damned if he'd let these hillbillies show him up. "Alright, just give me a gentle one. I've never done this before."
"That what you say to them city ladies?" Luke handed the items over to the detective.
Bo stepped away from the cow as Starsky approached. "Ha! No, I heard that's what you two say to the ladies," Starsky smiled wolfishly at the Dukes, "But boys… if ya do it right, ya don't have to say anything at all," Starsky said in a lowered voice.
He had them with that one and they knew it.
"Well, daylight's burnin', we best get a move on if we don't wanna hear from Uncle Jesse," Luke said, glancing out the window. "Here's your cow."
Starsky studied the large animal. "This one looks different, um... bigger then the other cows. Is it a different type?" Bo shushed him quickly. "Shhh! You'll hurt her feelings!"
"Yeah, cows are sensitive," Luke added, "He- SHE is more sensitive then the others... cuz she's a little different."Starsky gaze traveled downward. "She only has... um, one... you know..." he pointed between her legs. Bo shushed him again. "Shhh! Just talk nice to hi- her..." he winked at Luke, who was struggling not to laugh out loud.
The cow turned it's large head towards the human that was approaching it.
"Why does she have a ring in her nose?" Starsky stopped in his tracks and eyed the Dukes. They were up to something, but what? Or were they just trying to get him to not milk a cow, to make a chicken out of him? How hard could it be anyway? If these country hicks could do it… it should be easy, right? He turned back to the cow.
Bo coughed, "Um, to make her feel pretty."
Luke elbowed the blond, nearly doubling him over with the sharp jab to the ribs. He was starting to shake with the barely contained laughter, he couldn't hold out much longer.
"What d'you suppose is takin' them boys so long to milk the cows?" Uncle Jesse grumbled, flipping his pocket watch shut. "Daylight's burnin'."
Hutch leaned up against the LTD, feeling the heated metal soothe his muscles. The chickens pecked around his and Cooter's feet as the mechanic stood next to him. Hutch's brain was numb and stuffed with useless information about crown wheels and control arms. It must have been to much even for his car-savvy partner, for when he finally got out from under the LTD, Starsky had retreated to the barn with the Dukes.
Cooter chuckled and said, "Hey Uncle Jesse, this reminds me of the time that Leonard visited for a week… you remember that?" Cooter grinned at the memory. Spindly-legged, city born Leonard- the poor boy got none of the Duke good looks that the others had.
"Haw! I remember… they almost got the boy knocked senseless when they tricked him into tryin' to milk the…" His eyes widened in shock.
"MILK THE BULL!"
Jesse dropped the bucket he had been holding and hurried towards the barn, with Cooter and one very confused Hutch on his heels.
Starsky sat on the stool and looked at the udder. He rubbed his hands together to warm them up, just like he was told. He had the bucket sitting directly under the cow, just like they told him. The cow was standing calmly, waiting.
So why did something not feel right?
"Now… lean forward, put your head into his-HER belly, and gently grab it and give it a squeeze," Bo instructed.
Starsky watched as thick, coarse, dusty hide slide over the animal's ribs as it breathed. With a nervous sigh, he leaned forward, smelling the heavy scent of the cow. Bo and Luke stood behind him and he could feel their eyes on him, silently pressuring him on. Starsky slowly extended his arm, noticing how the barn began deathly quiet all of a sudden, and reached for the cow.
The pounding of feet made them all turn towards the door. Uncle Jesse stormed into the barn, followed closely by an interested-looking Cooter and a worried-looking Hutch. Starsky withdrew his hand as the trio stopped in front of the cows.
"Bo! Luke! I can't believe you would do such a thing AGAIN! Didn't ya learn anything since the last time?" the older man bellowed, then grabbed each one by the ear and yanked hard. "I oughta take each of you over my knee and-"
"Ow!" Luke clamped his teeth together and hissed through the pain.
"Ow… Uncle Jesse! Ow! That's attached, ya know!" Bo struggled.
"Not for long it ain't, Beauregard Duke!" Jesse yanked again.
Starsky looked at Hutch, trying to figure out what was going on. The cousins were being yanked about like a couple of kids who were caught playing Peeping Tom. A glance to the cows held no answer; they merely blinked and continued munching hay.
Hutch went to Starsky's side and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him from the stool and into the aisle. He put his finger to his lips and moved to another cow, then squatted down and grabbed the cow's udder.
Hutch flashed him a look and Starsky reflexively moved to the right. The blond was up to something and he wasn't happy about it… his eyes danced a propane blue flame, a sure sign he was pissed.
"Oh Bo? Luke?" Hutch called to them quietly, in nearly singsong tones.
Uncle Jesse released the cousins and they straightened, rubbing their reddened ears. They turned as one and looked down at the blond cop.
Hutch tugged on the udder an his aim was true. Both Dukes got a face full of 'fresh from the cow' milk.
Laughter filled the barn as the cousins indignantly wiped at their faces.
"Hey Hutch, watch this."
"Starsky, come on, you're gonna hurt yourself."
"No, I think I got it now. Watch me."
Hutch sighed and leaned back. They were parked in front of a small roadside fast food stand, eating lunch with all the loose change they had managed to scrape off the floorboards. Hutch had promised himself he would stay far away from such cuisine as soon as they returned home. But for now, there was little he could do.
He was sitting on the hood of his LTD, leaning back against the windshield. The Torino was parked not too far away. It felt good to be going home, even if there were some parts of Hazzard County Hutch was already missing. The friendly people, the clean air… The further west they traveled, the more rude people seemed to become. It was hard to imagine how Hutch had ever grown used to it.
They had left the farm as soon as Starsky had said goodbye to every last chicken. They had each gotten a quick hug from the cousins before climbing in their respective cars, diamonds safely in tow, and headed west on highway 36. The emotional departure was unavoidable- after driving across the country with the guys, Hutch couldn't help but think of them as friends.
"Okay, here I go…" Starsky announced, and Hutch focused on his partner.
Starsky was on the other side of the Torino and facing Hutch, a determined smile on his face. He took a short running start, then jumped on the Torino's hood, attempting to slide across the hood as Luke had done with the General Lee.
What happened instead was more of Starsky hurling himself at his car, falling over the hood, and landing in a pile on the other side.
Hutch closed his eyes, gathering his strength. "You alright?"
"Ow… yeah, I'm fine… that didn't go as I planned…"
Hutch went back to eating as Starsky picked himself up off the parking lot. "You know," he started casually, chewing slowly, "If you continue to do that in public, people are going to think there's something wrong with you."
"I'm gonna get it," Starsky insisted, brushing himself off.
"You're gonna get brain damage too," Hutch said. "Are you going to start 'Yee-Hawing' during chases, too?"
"Should I get you some cowboy boots for your birthday?"
"How about we add 'Bull-Milker' to your resume?"
"What?" Starsky gently pushed himself onto the Torino's hood, sitting as Hutch was. "What do you mean? What bull?"
Hutch froze, his sandwich half-way to his mouth. "You mean you really didn't know?"
Hutch snorted. Then he chuckled.
His hand fell as he began laughing. "Starsky, they tricked you. That wasn't a cow you were about to milk back there!"
"It didn't have any udders!"
"It had one!" Starsky shot back.
"Starsky, that was not an udder!"
Starsky's jaw snapped shut. His eyes narrowed and his mouth turned up in the sort sick grin a dog gets before it vomits on your shoes, then he looked to Hutch as if he really didn't want to believe what he was thinking.
"Sorry partner, 'fraid so."
Hutch watched as Starsky turned a little more green and unconsciously began rubbing his hands on his jeans. His eyes took on a far-away look as he said, "Everything makes more sense now..."
Hutch shook his head, grinning. "Wait till Mildred finds out what you did. The whole precinct is gonna know."
"Come on! How was I suppose to know? I didn't grow up in a barn, like some people I know!"
Hutch balled up his trash and slid off the LTD's hood. "I didn't live in a barn, I only vacationed in one. Now let's hit the road."
Starsky jumped to the ground. "What's it gonna take to keep you quiet, huh? Dinner at that disgusting health food restaurant you like?"
Hutch tossed his trash into the receptacle as if it were a basketball. "Tony's is only considered a health food place if you eat junk to begin with, but yeah, that's a start."
"A start?" Starsky echoed, exasperated. "Come on Hutch, I'm not made of money here. How about dinner and I'll wax this heap of a car. Sound good?"
Hutch opened the driver's door and got in. "Clean the inside out too and you got a deal."
Starsky sighed loudly. He looked to the sky, weighing the options in his mind before giving in. "Alright. Deal. But you can never speak of it, understand?" He pointed a finger at Hutch to convey his solemnity.
"Agreed." Hutch turned the key and started the engine. "Now get in that tomato of yours and let's get back on the road."
"Hold on, lemme get my Beach Boys tape."
Hutch glanced to the 8 track on the seat beside him. "Maybe I'm not done with it."
Starsky moved around the LTD. "Come on Hutch, admit it. You don't like the Beach Boys. You don't have any taste."
"I have taste," Hutch retorted.
"Elton John is not taste, he's-"
"This coming from the guys who listens to Devo."
"Hey, Whip It just happens to be a hit song!" Starsky argued. Before Hutch could retaliate, Starsky asked, "Hey, you think Cooter fixed this door while he was at it?"
Hutch watched as Starsky grabbed the passenger door handle. The car's horn always blared whenever the passenger door was open- a malfunction that irritated Starsky to no end.
And secretly, Hutch enjoyed it.
"I didn't pay him to fix the door-"
Starsky yanked open the door.
The horn sounded all right, but this time, instead of the usual, loud, monotone, unrelenting beep he was so familiar with, Hutch listened as the first 12 notes of Dixie echoed through the parking lot.
A pair of blonde girls looked up from their meals and giggled.
Hutch's eyes fell shut as a wave of embarrassment swept over him.
Starsky remained motionless (at least from the waist down, for that was all Hutch could see out of the corner of his eye) for a moment, then began trembling in barley concealed laughter.
"Tell me you had no part in this," Hutch demanded, giving Starsky his most intimidating glare.
Starsky slapped the LTD's roof before leaning down, looking at Hutch across the car. His lips quivered as he struggled to keep a straight face. "I swear on my mother's grave."
"I didn't!" he insisted, then reached out and snatched his 8 track. His voice was off-pitch from holding in his laughter. "Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time we got on our way."
Hutch blinked as the door clanged shut. Starsky began to move away, then stopped.
"Oh, whoops, I forgot something else."
Hutch watched as Starsky returned to the car and grabbed the door handle. "Starsky, stop it!"
Again, the upbeat song of Dixie filled the air, and everyone in a one mile radius turned and laughed.
"Alright, that's enough," Hutch growled as Starsky managed to shut the door while doubled over in laughter.
"I'm leaving!" Hutch exclaimed, shifting into 'drive' as Starsky reached for the door handle once more. He stomped on the gas, tearing the car from his partner's grasp. He felt himself growing hot with anger. So the mechanic thought he was clever, did he? Well, Hutch had a few things to say to good ol' Cooter Davenport. His knuckles turned white as he turned the car onto the highway, heading east.
Next stop, Hazzard County.