Hutch yawned. This stake-out was the last thing he needed on Christmas Eve. They had been waiting for hours now in front of Amboy's residence but it seemed that the suspect had vanished into thin air. On the other hand it was half the battle sitting in the Torino instead of being forced to attend the Christmas party at the precinct, where his colleagues sang Christmas carols and exchanged little gifts.

Hutch had never felt comfortable with this kind of artificial joy. The past year had been hard for Hutch and his partner. Hutch still suffered from his addiction to heroin. Though he had been forced he sometimes felt like a junkie. Starsky had helped him get through the "cold turkey" and showed him that nothing had changed between them.

With a sigh Hutch looked at the sleeping partner by his side. Starsky had kept the ability to forget the awful things and to cherish instead what life had given him. Hutch remembered that night in the Italian restaurant. Starsky had been shot there and though hurting badly he had crawled on all fours to help Hutch. Starsky had worked hard on his recovery and then with this Christmas coming nearer he was full of joy, decorating his place, his desk at the precinct -- and even his car.

Hutch couldn't handle the bad things so easily. This time of the year he was always reminded of his youth in Duluth. He had wealthy parents and there had been a huge Christmas tree every year, a lot of presents for him and his younger sister. But there had never been a cordial atmosphere. Too often his father had been absent -- maybe on business trips and the sad face of his mother had shown Hutch that she wasn't happy at all. She concentrated on organizing charity parties while a housemaid took care of the children.

Since then Hutch had disliked, with a passion, all the festivities referring to Christmas.

Starsky stirred and let his head drop against the side window. Not a comfortable position Hutch thought. He looked over to Amboy's mansion and decided to call it a night.

"Starsk, wake up. It's over. I'll log us out. Obviously Amboy has better things to do than meet us."

"Wha...?" Starsky mumbled, looked at his watch and said with a smile: "Hutch, it's Christmas Eve and in the morning we'll have presents -- let's go to my place, okay?"

He turned the radio on and soon Christmas carols filled the air.

Hutch rolled his eyes and started the car.

The houses on both sides of the street looked peaceful, decorated with lights and illuminated figures. Slowly Hutch turned round the next corner only half listening to Starsky's enthusiasm about the reindeers and Santa Clauses in the gardens, when suddenly Starsky said in an urgent voice: "Didn't ya hear what I told you? Over there, look, somebody's broken the window from the inside of the house and is running over the lawn! Must be a burglar!"

In a second Hutch stopped the car and both detectives rushed out of the car to follow the man.

"Freeze! Police!" Starsky shouted now fully awake. The man came to a halt and turned round.

Then the unexpected happened.

The man came with open arms toward them.

"You're the police? Thank goodness! Am I happy to see you!" His stubbled face lit up. He was about 60 years old and he wore a shabby coat.

He tugged on Hutch's sleeve and pointed back to the house he had just escaped from.

"There's an old woman. She's nuts. She thought I was Santa Clause and she almost shot me -- with my gun!"

The old man's legs began to wobble and Starsky led the man to their car.

"Calm down, and sit down. Now tell us: You broke into that house, right?"

The man nodded exhausted.

"Yeah, you know, I was hungry and I thought maybe I could get something..."

Starsky and Hutch both leaned against the car door, looked down at the man and said in unison: "And then?"

"Well," the man nervously moved his hands, "I went inside through a little open window. It was dark in the house; nobody at home I thought. Then I saw the Christmas tree with all the presents under it. I always carry a sac with me and so I grabbed all the presents and put them into it. Somehow I lost track of time when I saw the modelrailway on the floor. As a child I loved playing... anyway. Suddenly an old woman was standing in the doorway. She said: "You must be Santa Claus! How wonderful, that I have the chance to meet you at my age."

Then she offered me an eggnog, was very friendly and told me that her eyes were not very good and her hearing not much better either but that she knew exactly what I had in the sac: All the presents for the family! And she took out all the things I had just put into the sac and ohhhed and awwwed about each item she saw. "Oh, that must be the pearl necklace for me -- and that is the camera John always wanted to have! Thank you, Santa Claus, you are so wonderful."

I felt terrible -- but what could I do? I decided to play along.

The old woman got more and more excited when she found all the other presents in the sac. She put them under the Christmas tree, smiled at me and was about to give me the sac when she realized that there was still something in it. She grabbed for it and it took my breath away!

My gun! She had found my loaded gun!"

Starsky and Hutch locked glances. The man gave a sigh. "And then she smiled, looked at the gun and said softly: "That must be the gadget to decorate my cakes with cream. I was always dreaming of such a modern kitchen helper. How did you know, dear Santa Claus? Oh yes, you are all-knowing." She fumbled with the gun looking at it. "There must be a button to start the gadget... Ah here is something." And then she pointed the gun in my direction. I moved backwards and she smiled: "Are you afraid of a little cream, Santa Claus? It isn't even filled with cream now. Let me try this button..."

At this moment, officers, I couldn't stand it any longer. I hurried over to the window, smashed it and jumped out. I almost lost my life. Please help me!"

Starsky and Hutch looked at the picture of misery in front of them and Hutch said: "Okay, we'll look after the old woman. You wanna join us?"

"No! Please don't do that to me! Leave me here. I won't escape," begged the man and Starsky only nodded. He cuffed the burglar to the steering wheel and then both detectives walked over to the house. More windows were illuminated now and when Hutch rang the bell, a middle aged woman opened the door. After they had introduced themselves the woman smiled and said: "Please come in." She led the detectives into the living room where the family sat together: Father, mother and two children. In their middle obviously the grandma of the family.

"Hum..." Hutch cleared his voice, "We're a little worried about that thing," and he pointed to the gun that was lying on the table.

"We were worried too when we woke up because of the noise of a broken window," the mother said. "We came into the living room and saw Grandma still with the gun in her hand..."

"And then?" Starsky asked curiously.

"Let me explain it to you, officers," Grandma smiled.

"I was indeed very astonished and, honestly speaking, a little frightened when I walked through the house because I couldn't sleep. I saw the man in our living room. I also noticed that all our presents from under the tree were gone and the man was playing with the model railway, totally absorbed.

A big sac was lying beside the man and I guessed that all our presents were in it. So I decided to trick him and save our Christmas. I called him Santa Claus and welcomed him.

But when I found the gun in the sac I had to make him leave the house. Wasn't my worst idea to pretend it was a kitchen helper to decorate a cake with cream, was it?" smiled Grandma proudly and little Timmy hugged his grandma and said: "You're up to every trick!"

Then the little boy looked around and asked: "Who's going to play model railway with me?"

"Me!" Starsky said without thinking. He blushed a bit and added: "Sorry, but we have to go, I think."

"Not before you have tried Grandma's eggnog," insisted the father of the family. Soon they were sitting round the table; there was laughter, joy and harmony. Grandma even asked for the burglar to join them because she felt pity for him but Hutch said that the man wasn't in any condition to stay with them.

Hutch's gaze fell on his partner who was sitting on the floor next to Timmy. Both were lost in their game -- little trains were running and the stationmaster's cap suited Starsky quite well...

Suddenly Hutch had to think of something. He asked for the telephone and was led into the hall.

"Hey, what's up, man?" Huggy grumbled but when he heard about Hutch's problem he promised to do all he could to help.

Hutch looked out the door and saw the man still sitting in the Torino. "Are you going to leave already?" asked Lisa, Timmy's older sister, and Hutch shook his head.

"No, I'm just thinking of the man in the car over there. Though he broke into your house he's a lonely man. Maybe he should join us. Would you come with me to convince him that your grandma isn't at all nuts and that he needn't be afraid of her?"

"Of course," Lisa smiled and a short time later the man was pulled and pushed carefully into the living room. Grandma stood up to welcome him and hesitantly he grabbed her hand. He was offered something to drink and to eat and his eyes looked a little damp.

"Let's celebrate Christmas together," Grandma said looking around. All gathered around the Christmas tree, but Hutch put his hand on Starsky's shoulder. Starsky looked up and understood. He got up and both detectives said their goodbyes. Before they left the house they looked back to the living room and saw the new guest sitting next to Timmy on the floor...

"Well, my place or your place?" Starsky asked and looked surprised when Hutch said. "Mine first."

They drove in silence and Hutch tried to arrange his thoughts. He wasn't sure if Huggy had been able to help him with it all. He took Starsky's wrist to see what time it was.

"Night's almost over, buddy," Starsky smiled. They turned into the small way to the cottage when Starsky suddenly froze.

"Huuu...tch, can you see what I see? There's a reindeer in your front garden with lights... Can't be possible... though this is your place, right?"

Hutch didn't say anything. He followed Starsky who stopped to admire the reindeer. Hutch opened the door, stepped in, smiled and called: "Starsk, come in. We have a guest, and it's no housebreaker."

In two long strides Hutch was near Huggy and pulled him into a tight hug. "Don't know how to thank you, friend," he mumbled squeezing him again till Huggy joked: "Baby, not now, I have a headache." Hutch smiled, released him and looked at Starsky who had entered the house.

"Huggy, didn't expect to see you here at this time. What's up?"

"Had a little to do here, and by the way: Merry Christmas! Don't forget our party tonight. See ya!" and with a pat on Starsky's back Huggy left them alone.

There was a sudden silence. The room was dark except one light next to the table. Hutch stood with his back to Starsky. He fumbled with the ribbon of a bigger package on the table, then turned round and cleared his throat.

"Starsk, don't know how to say this but in the last couple of weeks when you were in your Christmas mood..."

"I got on your nerves, right?" Starsky interrupted.

"Sorry, but I just get this feeling, you know? Hey, I'm Jewish, but I know the meaning of Christmas. I don't mean to get on your nerves, but--"

"Stop it," Hutch interrupted him. He went over to the kitchen window and looked out into the garden where the reindeer was sparkling.

"This evening it became clear to me that I'll never have the caring family I've wished for. This evening we've been with a family that shared the laughter and the joy and, I'm sure, the sorrow with each other and they're able to give their sympathy to a man who broke into their house.

Not to concentrate on myself but giving joy to the people I love, that's the right Christmas spirit. This is my Christmas present for you." Hutch pointed to the big package. Instead of opening it Starsky walked past it toward Hutch. Before Hutch could react Starsky had slung his arms round Hutch's neck. Time stood still as they held each other tight.

"Woah, that's incredible!" Starsky couldn't believe what he saw: A brand-new model railway with many wagons and engines. Carefully he took one engine out of the package and admired it.

Hutch smiled. For a brief moment he had to think of the present he had intended to give to Starsky: A donation to a project in the Third World... Minnie at the precinct would be glad to get that special gift from Hutch this year...

"Thanks so much, Hutch! And Merry Christmas to you!"

"Merry Christmas to you too, buddy! But don't you think we should go over to your place? It's decorated so much better than my place and you can set up your model railway there at once..."

"You're right, Blondie, but only if you promise that next year we'll celebrate Christmas at your place. The reindeer is already there," Starsky smiled.

They left the cottage and Starsky had just put his present in the trunk and was about to climb behind the steering wheel, when Hutch mumbled, more speaking to himself: "You're my family, Starsk!"

"What was that?" Starsky asked but Hutch refused to repeat it. "Too soapy, buddy."

"Hey, I wanna know!" Starsky said. Hutch only smiled and Starsky came around the car, an evil grin on his face. "Well, I've got my ways of making you speak..." and he poked Hutch in the side knowing that he was very ticklish there. Hutch gave a yelp and tried to escape. Soon they were chasing each other round the car...

The End

Author's comment: Let's hope that they at last got to Starsky's to celebrate Hutch's first real Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all!

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