Starsky and Hutch were trying to eat their burgers at an outside table where the temperature was as close to freezing as it could get in Bay City, and the wind was howling like a wolf in search of a meal.
Off in the distance, the ringing of church bells completed the seasonal scene.
"Hark, how the bells," Hutch said softly, smiling to himself.
"Hark?" Starsky asked, looking up as he wiped off the ketchup dripping off his chin. "Who the hell says Ďharkí anymore?"
"People who arenít boneheads and actually read that thing called a dictionary every once in awhile."
"Hey! I have a dictionary! Itís holding up that damn man-eating tree you insisted on giving to me last week."
Hutch sighed. "Starsk, itís not man eating, itís not a tree, and itísÖoh, just forget it."
"No. Donít forget it, buddy. What wisecrack at my expense were you gonna make, huh?"
Hutch gave him a slow, slightly evil smile. "Itís too easy."
"The hell it is!"
"Starsky, even you know that trying to have a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent isnít sporting."
Jumping to his feet, Starsky dumped the rest of his food into the trash can. "Iíll give you sporting."
"Starsky," Hutch sighed in that Ďletís calm the hothead down before something, or someone, gets brokení sort of way. "Calm down. It was just a joke. Thatís all."
"Thatís all, huh?" Starsky demanded, chin thrust out belligerently.
"Thatís all. A joke. Youíre right. Nobody really uses the word Ďharkí anymore. It justÖfitÖthatís all. What with the bell ringing and all. Part of a Christmas song, you know?"
"Believe it or not, Blintz, Christmas wasnít something that was routinely celebrated around the Starsky household."
"I know that, dummy, but you certainly had to have heard some of the songs. For Godís sake, they were on the radio every minute of every day from the first day of December to the last!"
"Yeah, well learniní em really wasnít my bag, if you know what I mean."
"Perfectly acceptable. Can we call a truce?"
"Zebra Three. Zebra Three. Report of a 211 at the Jingle Bells Department Store at Fifth and Vine. Approach code two. Suspects may be armed."
"Zebra three, we are in the area and are responding. ETA five minutes. Out."
"Jingle bells," Starsky grumped, gunning the engine. "Who in the hell would name their store Jingle Bells?"
"A bell store?"
"There are such things?"
"Sure. Jingle bells arenít just for Christmas, you know. You can use them for many different things, like cow bells or cat bells, or even wind chimes. They make pretty sounds, you have to admit."
"All I admit is that they keep me up in the middle of the night when the wind is blowing and the Kawalskiís have ten of them hanging off their porch."
"What is it with you and Christmas anyway?" Starsky asked. "I remember a man who hated the season with a passion reserved for rotting corpses fished out of the bay."
"Ah, Starsk, things change, ya know? Something happens and bam... your whole outlook has taken a one hundred eighty degree turn."
"Gunther, you mean."
"Partly," Hutch admitted. "But not just him. I was realizing that I was getting so damn cynical that it was affecting not only our job but our friendship. I was trying to figure out what to do about it when Guntherís goons decided to do a little stitching on your hide."
Starsky took a deep, relieved breath. It was good hearing Hutch mentioning Gunther in a casual way again. It let him know that things were slowly getting back to whatever normal passed for them these days.
"There it is," Hutch said, pointing to a run-down building on the right side of the street. "Says itís going out of business."
"What the hell kind of thug would go bustiní into a store that was on its last legs?"
"Did you honestly think that the whippos we generally deal with have half a brain between them?"í
"Youíre right about that. Ok, letís get cookin."
Guns raised and cocked, Hutch went in high, Starsky low. "Freeze! Police!"
Two masked men immediately dropped their weapons and froze at the glass counter behind which the proprietor was looking more nervous that the cops were here than the thugs were captured. It didnít take long to figure out why.
Starsky whistled. "Wow. Talk about your white Christmas."
"Yeah, a real winter wonderland, alright," Hutch replied, taking in the bags of what appeared to be hi-grade cocaine, if the color of the liquid in the testing kit was anything to go by.
"Planning on going over the river and through the woods, boys?" Starsky asked.
"We ainít gotta tell you pigs nothiní," Thug number one said.
"Yeah," said his shadow.
"Not very talkative, are they."
"Maybe their grandma got run over by a reindeer."
"Thatíd make me quiet, alright."
"Starsky, face it, it would take an Act of Congress to get you to stop talking."
"Take that act on the road, partner," Starsky said, stepping forward to cuff Thug Number One.
"Hey!" the thug protested, trying to pull away, "you got nothiní on us! Why you hassliní us, man?"
"Well," Hutch said, " thereís that pretty white stuff all over the counter over there."
"He said it was for Christmas decoratiní, makin it look like snow!"
"Oh, it looks like snow all right," Starsky said. "And the purple stuff in that tube over there?"
"For what? I donít remember anything purple for Christmas, do you Hutch?"
"Not off hand, buddy," Hutch replied, cuffing Thug Number Two.
After Starsky cuffed the proprietor, the guys took a look around the store. "Oh! Christmas Tree! Made outta bells! Donít see that every day," Starsky said, approaching it.
"I woulndító" the proprietor said before the detective lifted the topmost bell to expose a brick of what appeared to be marijuana stuffed inside. "Wow. Runniní a regular pharmacy in here, ainít ya," he said. "No wonder your bells got a little extra jingle in Ďem."
"I never saw that in my life," the owner insisted.
"Sure," Hutch said, handing the thugs off to the uniforms who had finally shown up. "The drugs just flew in when you werenít looking, right?"
"Right!" the owner said, grinning and nodding so fast his head was in danger of falling right off.
"Do you hear what I hear?" Hutch asked his partner.
"Yeah. A hole thatís gettin dug deeper with every peep."
"Thatís for sure. I donít even think Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer could see his way out of this one."
"Well, maybe heíll get lucky and get Jolly Old Saint Nicholas to do his bond hearing. What was the last bond he laid out for that litterbug, do you remember?"
"UmÖfifty thou, if I remember right," Hutch answered, his expression perfectly straight.
The owner was suddenly whiter than the powder on his countertop. "F-f-fifty th-thousand? For a litterbug?!?!"
"Yeah," Starsky chuckled, "he was feeliní kinda generous that day as his kid had just had a baby. Boy or girl, Hutch, you remember?"
"Girl, and sheís just precious." Patting the owner on his shoulder, Hutch whispered, "Now donít you get too worried. That boil only gives him trouble when he sits."
"Here ya go, Smitty!" Hutch called, handing over the now unconscious owner to the chuckling uniform. "Crime lab on their way?"
"Should be here any minute, Sergeant," Smitty replied.
"Good, good. Wonder whatís stuffed up in some of these fancy engraved silver bells?"
"Wanna wait around and find out?"
Hutch thought for a second. "Nah. Letís check out the Jingle Bell Rock the next block over. Bet we find that itís beginning to look a lot like Christmas."