December 13th- Zebra 4 Through 9 by Monica Rose Kiesel

“Drink your coffee,” Starsky said.

“What?” Hutch repeated. Starsky knew he didn’t mean the part about the coffee. It was what Starsky said before that.

“I said, you gotta wake up. We’re on dawn patrol.” He reached across the kitchen table to push the mug of coffee a little closer to his partner.

“Dawn patrol?” Hutch repeated. “With Errol Flynn?”

“Yeah, we’re after the Nazis,” Starsky said. “Drink your coffee.”

“Nazis? What’re you talking about?” Hutch asked. “Starsky, what’re you even doing here? I just got home from vacation.”

Starsky sighed. He’d already explained this, but apparently his partner hadn’t been asleep long enough to wake up at this, admittedly, ungodly hour.

“Our shift starts at six,” Starsky said. “Drink your coffee.”

“Our shift starts at six?” Hutch repeated. “No, it doesn’t. Our shift can’t start at six. I’m not even scheduled to come in until Thursday.”

“Well, it does. I got a call from the cap’n and I told him I’d come get you up. Drink your coffee.”

Hutch yawned. “What time is it now?”

“Nearly five. What time did you get home? Drink your coffee.”

“‘Bout three. It’s still dark out.” Hutch picked up the mug and took a sip. He made a face. “You put sugar in my coffee.”

“You take sugar in your coffee. Drink it.”

“I told you, I’m cutting white sugar out of my diet.”

“Well, you should have cut it out of your sugar bowl, too.”

“Starsk –” he started to take another sip, yawned instead. “What’s the big emergency?”

“It’s the zebras.”

Hutch squinted at him over the top of his mug. He set it on the table. “What?”

“The zebras. Drink your coffee.”

Hutch, frowning at him, took another sip. “OK, Starsk, I give. What zebra?”

“The zebras that escaped from Dimity Mulrooney’s Exotic Petting Zoo and Wildlife Preserve.”

“What the hell is that?”

“Drink your coffee! It’s some crazy rich woman who has a bunch of animals she shouldn’t. She lets people look at ’em. Some of them they can even pet, like the llamas. She considers it a public service.”

“What’s wrong with the zoo?” Hutch asked.

“I don’t know! Drink your coffee!”

Hutch drank some more coffee, then asked, “And she has zebra?”

“She did. She just got half a dozen of them. After a couple of days, they leapt over a fence and escaped. You didn’t hear about this?”

Hutch yawned. So did Starsky, a sympathy yawn he’d been trying to suppress. “I’ve been in Minnesota, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess it wouldn’t make the news that far east.”

“Is it even legal to own zebra?” Hutch asked. He seemed to be waking up, anyway.

“If you have a permit, which she does. She has permits for all the animals. Her brother went to college with a guy who grew up to be a congressman.”

Hutch shook his head and drank some more coffee. “We work in Homicide. Have the zebra killed someone?”

Starsky laughed. He’d asked Dobey the same question.

“No. The zebras have been gone a couple of days now, and Congressman Brother’s Friend is very upset that nobody’s rounded them up for her. He called the mayor and used the words ‘publicity nightmare.'”

“We’re Homicide! What’s wrong with Animal Control?”

“There aren’t enough of them. Zebras run really, really fast, so they can’t just chase them –”

“Oh, now I understand. They want you to chase them in the tomato while I lasso them.”

Starsky laughed again. He’d enjoy that. It sounded like more fun than their actual assignment. “No, we don’t get to chase them. We just have to stake them out.”

The look Hutch gave him was one Starsky hated. His partner was awake, and he had his back up.

At six that evening, they were at Huggy’s, drinking well-deserved beers and trying to recover from their day.

“How was Christmas with your folks?” Starsky asked, to see if Hutch was speaking to him yet.

Hutch just glared.

“I don’t know what you’re mad at me for,” Starsky grumbled.

“You looked like an idiot,” Hutch snapped, “out there yelling, ‘Here, zebra-zebra-zebra!’ Why would they come to you? It wasn’t like you had anything to feed them.”

“You’d think, us being Zebra 3, they’d have some, I dunno, professional courtesy or something,” Starsky said.

Hutch shook his head, back to giving him the silent treatment.

“It was kind of cool, the first time they jumped over the Torino,” Starsky said. It had been the hoofs flying over the car, not even scratching the paint. It was amazing, almost like they could fly. “But the rest’a the times? That was just showing off. They were laughing at us!” Still, if Dimity Mulrooney ever got the zebras back, Starsky wondered, would they be part of the petting zoo? He’d like to pet a zebra, even those mean ones that had taunted them.

“You shouldn’t have turned on the Mars light!” Hutch exploded. “We were just supposed to radio in their whereabouts, not — I don’t even know what you thought you were doing!”

“It was you turning on the siren that spooked ’em!”

“Zebra were charging the car! I didn’t know they could jump over it!”

“There was more than one of them,” Starsky said. He was tired of trying to make peace when all Hutch wanted to do was fight. “I dunno why you keep saying zebra when there were half a dozen of them. You saw ’em for yourself! Or did you think that was one big zebra?”

“That’s how predators see them,” Hutch said. Suddenly he seemed pleased.

“What?” Starsky was confused.

“Predators, like lions.”

“I know what predators are!”

“Well, when they see zebra in a herd, they see them as one big zebra.”

“You did it again,” Starsky said. “You don’t think you’re a lion, do you?”

“No, of course I don’t think I’m a lion! Starsky, what’s the matter with you?”

“So why do you keep using the — singular when you’re talking about a whole bunch’a zebras?”

“Oh. Zebras is plural for zebra, but zebra is also plural for zebra.”

Starsky thought about that. He wanted to challenge his partner, but Hutch always knew stuff like that, so he didn’t. Instead, he said, “So, is lion plural for lion?”

“No, of course not.” Like he was the one who was stupid. “That’s ridiculous.”

Starsky opened his mouth to retort. Instead, he took a deep breath. “Shut up and drink your beer,” he muttered.