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The cotton candy clouds hovered low over the lake, while the blue crayon-colored sky was mirrored in the placid stillness of the reservoir. We sat on the grassy edges of the bank under the large branches of a sycamore tree, my partner and I. It was a warm Sunday morning and I had promised him some down time. We really did look like a couple of great white hunters. I in my twenty pocket green camouflage fishing vest and swamp walker boots; that came clear up to my knees. And Starsky clad in his usual crummy jeans and red tee shirt. But that hat he wore was a fashion consultant's nightmare. It was earthy beige adorned with fishing lures of every color, shape and size imaginable to man or fish hanging from its rim. I looked out over the waters watching dragonflies flit around. This was a prime fishing spot and my mouth watered at what lay in store for us later on this evening.
We were just two friends spending a quiet day simply fishing. Well maybe not so simple, but as simple as we were going to get at this point in the game. I squatted down next to my partner after I cast my line out once more. I cast side arm so I had to aim three or four feet above and parallel to the water or I would come up short of the spot I was aiming for. I let the baited hook, line, and sinker sail out over the water till it plopped perfectly where I wanted it. No aim was truer; guess all those years on the firing range paid off some how. I should get a bite now or at least a nibble.
Starsky sat serenely on top of the blue and white cooler gripping tightly to his brand new Ultra sensitive graphite rod with front drag reel, five stainless steel bearings and snap shot casting system with a soft touch trigger. I rolled my eyes and smiled to myself thinking back to another time. Starsky doesn't like to spend money but when he does he always goes for the fancy gadgets like that damn Yamamoto watch with altimeter and automatic depth whatcha'ma call it? Take one look at my friend's car and you get my drift. Polished silver rims with high performance mag tires balanced to perfection. Carrying the famed chasse of a fiery red and white racing striped phenomenon. One of the most dramatically sleek cars ever to burn rubber on any paved street, gravel pit, dirt or off road trail in human history. I quote my partner on that one; he loves that car. And unless you've been living under a rock in this fair city of ours you know the car I mean.
I glanced over my shoulder to my old tow, I mean two-toned brown Ford, with its bald tires. I missed the Torino, too. Don't tell my partner I admitted to that one; I'd never hear the end of it. Anyway, it was at Merle's auto shop. Still being restored from the bullets that riddled through my partner's body and then through hers. Hers? I guess to us guys all cars are of the female gender for some odd reason. Maybe it was because we could posses a car and control it. Making it succumb to our every whim and desire. Not that that's what we want from women mind you. It's just a power play us guys need once in awhile. Anyhow here we were, a day of simplicity at hand and all I could think of was that fateful day in the parking garage when my partner stood his ground and almost lost his life.
I was no longer under that giant sycamore tree. My mind wandered and took me back to that day. That day, when the earth, my world nearly spun off its axis and out of its orbit to become lost in the expanses of the or rather my universe forever. I tried desperately to stop my mind from taking me there. I didn't want to be there again; once was more than enough. But I just kept reliving that event over and over; as if it was a TV show trapped in syndication.
I stood several yards from the fallen body of my partner. His head lay jammed into the silver polished wheel well of the Torino. If she were human she wouldn't have been able to move to his aid either. I was paralyzed with fear and grieving for him already. The power of grief is an overwhelming beast and it began to eat away at my feet and work its way up to my heart before I even attempted to feel for his pulse. He lay there in a sea of blood unmoving. The gunplay I heard so clearly still ringing in my ears. They weren't using bee bee guns. Nope, it was a semi automatic machine gun shooting bullets out faster than water sprayed from a garden hose. He couldn't possibly still be alive. The beast continued to feed upon me. I just couldn't move I didn't want to know. I fought hard to clear my vision of the tears that blurred it. When I saw my captain kneeling down at my partner's back, and pressing a large, dark and shaky hand to stop the flow of his life. That was all it took to get enough power surging through my stunned body. I let out an unsteady breath that I had been holding through puffed cheeks. He was still alive, my captain's eyes reached mine pleading for me to come nearer. Knowing my partner needed me now more than ever. I swallowed down the beast digesting it in my gut as I bolted to my partner's side, landing with force next to him and quickly placing a hand to his chest to also try to stop the blood that poured from several holes that were there, as well as those on his back.
There we sat, my captain and I. My hand bearing down on my partner's chest and Cap's baring down equally as hard on his back. Our eyes locked to one another; knowing that my partner was hanging on only by a wing and a prayer; knowing that both our hands that pressed to his wounds were doing little to stop the flow of blood. "Ambulance," my captain and I both snarled. Looking up and demanding what we knew was already done but hoping the order would speed up the process. Starsky didn't have much time. Both the captain's knees and mine were quickly becoming wet from the blood of our friend. Neither of us could speak a word. With my free hand I picked up my partner's limp wrist and felt the faint pulsating beat of his heart. I shut my eyes as I felt it flutter and stop and flutter again under my fingertips. "He's dying," I whispered to our captain, whose eyes filled with unshed tears knowing I spoke the truth.
I felt my body shudder as I tried to pull out of my dream state and go back to simply fishing but the dream bandit wouldn't allow my escape and the nightmare continued. I felt a tremor in the hand I held in mine and opened my eyes to peer down at my partner. His normally blue eyes were black and hazy but they were open and directed at me. His eyes had a far off, unblinking look and I wasn't certain if he were really seeing me or something else till he spoke. His voice was tiny and cracked as if the dusty sands of the desert were choking him. "Hutch," he managed to get out just before a moan escaped his blood-dribbled lips.
"I'm here with you, buddy. Don't try to talk just breathe, breathe," my voice sing-songed back to him in a soft musical tone trying to remain calm. Against everything they teach you about first aid, I carefully lifted my partner's head out of the wheel well and scooted my back against the car's frame letting his head now rest on my lap. Dobey, not saying a word, moved with me, keeping his hand firmly pressed to Starsky's back, still trying to hold the blood in his veins. A cry of pain burst from him and I winced, blocking my sight to the pain I caused him.
"Sorry buddy. Sh-sh, hold on, easy now, easy." I opened my eyes to look down at his face. It was whiter than ivory bone yet his blackened eyes crinkled as he tried to smile up at me. I continued to keep one hand on his chest hoping against hope that the razor-sharp pounding behind my rib cage could sustain him and myself as well. I watched his blood boil up between my fingers and stifled back my own cry of self-pain.
"O-kay, um o-okay." He never was a very good liar, my partner.
"Yeah buddy, you're doing good, real good." I never was a really good liar myself.
More cries of pain bubbled from deep within him and I bit my lower lip till it bled with my fear. How could this happen? What would I do without my partner by my side? Life goes on, my ass! He must have felt or sensed my thoughts; that's how we work. There is some sort of bond, a connection greater than either one of us ever could understand but it was there like the sun every damn blessed day. Blood gurgled in the back of his throat as he spoke. "Hutch." I shook my head at him trying to keep him from talking but my partner is bullheaded. "D-don't you do that to m-me. H-hutch, d-don't you dare th-think about it." He stuttered and gasped. "P-Prom...ise" A desolate moan left his mouth and I held him closer to me. His body was cold and it shivered against my hold.
I knew what my partner was asking of me. He was asking me to go on without him. To live my life to the fullest and not look back. I didn't know if I could. If I would. If I wanted to. But I promised him. Looking into the eyes of my friend I took my solemn oath and said the word he needed to hear. "Promise, Starsk. I promise." Little did he know I was already dying bit by bit as I watched him struggle to breathe. As I felt his heart flutter, nearly stopping as it fought to hold onto life. As I urgently tried to hold back the flood that raged out of him like a river running wild.
The thin air that he tried to take into his lungs caused him to gag and his chest rattled with his own blood that was slowly filling his lungs and drowning him. I tried to keep a smile plastered to my face. I didn't want his last image of me to be of grief and despair. I needed him to know I would somehow keep that promise. "Hey buddy." I took in a breath to steady my nerves that were raw with trepidation. "You're not going anywhere. I still owe you a steak dinner. You got that, Starsk? You don't want the whole station thinking Hutchinson welshes on a bet, do ya?" I let my shaky smile reach my eyes and I winked at him. The fear in my gut clenched so tightly it burned like someone tossing a lit match into a pit of gasoline.
"C-can't haa...ve that." He smiled weakly as his head slowly lolled to one side. I tried to pick it up and lay it back on my chest. But a sickly whimper came from him when I did that. His eyes floated to the back of his head and his body quivered and petrified like stone in my arms. I pulled him closer to my side. "Hold on. Oh god, Starsk just hold...." His hand slipped out of mine from the involuntary jolt. Then, just as quickly, his stiffened body wilted like a daisy in my arms. "Noooo," I screamed, quickly picking up the soggy wrist to feel for his pulse. Still there but barely beating. I looked up at my captain my eyes pleading for him to do something. To save my partner's life. Our captain was a man of God. Rock solid in his faith and a tower of wisdom. His eyes for the first time since I've known him were blank. Empty of rhyme or reason, empty to the injustice that he was forced to witness. The ambulance rolled in just then. A flurry of motion took place around me. My mind had gone numb. I couldn't move or react or speak. Next thing I remember is my captain shaking my shoulders as I still knelt in the pool of blood on the cold drab ground of that garage.
I was shaken out of my nightmare. The dream thief was gone. I turned my head slowly and my dazed eyes looked over at my partner. "Hutch. Hey Hutch, come on, partner, give me a hand." He was standing gripping at my shoulder with one hand and his rod bending toward the water with the other. "I hooked a big one," he yelped, as I knew a stab of pain flew down his arm and wrapped around his still healing chest.
I rose up from my squatting position swiftly, letting my pole plop to the grassy ground. My legs felt like rubber and I stumbled against him. Quickly, so as not to cause him pain or alert him to anything, I regained my balance and grabbed hold of his hand, helping him pull in the monster that fought tooth and scale at the end of his line. "Starsky, don't jerk, tighten the line," I instructed.
He reeled till the line was taut. I could hear his breath turn to wheezing with the effort he was exerting. I wanted to tell him to sit back down, that I would get it. But the light in his eyes kept my mouth shut. I kept my body pressed firmly to him as he leaned on me like you would lean against a tree for support. I kept my hand tight over his, reassuring but not controlling, letting him take the wheel.
That damn fish was almost stronger than the both of us. "Come on, Hutch, help me out. I don't want to go home with nothing but a fish tale on how the big one got away," he complained as his foot knocked over the bucket of minnows we had been using. The tiny silver fish flopped around our feet as we slid closer to the water.
My partner, he never gives up. He keeps on plugging away, his will to survive strong like the fish at the end of the line, fighting the current and the tug of two grown men, his raw instinct to live pushing him forward never letting him give up. The primal need to breathe, to feel warmth, to hear the sound of a beating heart brought many a fish and man back from the brink of death. I was proud of him. Damn proud as I latched tighter to his hand helping him reel in the big bad boy.
Strong as he is, Starsky was getting the shakes. It happens to him when he's pushed himself beyond the beyond. It's why I brought him here in the first place. He had been through several brutal days of therapy and we both needed to get back to the basic simple things of life. We needed a break. Fishing was the first thing that came to my mind and he whole-heartedly agreed.
The tug of war between man and fish continued. We pulled and he tugged. He tugged and we pulled. By this time both of us were calf deep in the lake. The power play was far from over. We both watched the chunky large mouth bass clear the water as he came back down with a splashing strike. He had to be a good twenty pounder, grand daddy of all fish. The brisk wind bellowed through our hair, and caused the willow leaves to swirl around in the waters. That fish just wouldn't give in and we both began to root for him, mysteriously enough.
The fish seemed to weaken as we trolled him through some thick algae. I watched my partner's face go from joy to worry. "He's getting tired," my partner said. I wasn't sure if he meant the fish or himself.
He balked at another stab of pain and I couldn't help myself any more. "Buddy, sit down, let me take it, huh?" I questioned him.
"Come on, Hutch, I'm okay," his voice pleaded.
I knew better but let him keep on. The tip of the fish's tail crested the water slapping back down with fury. He had gotten his second wind and took our line cutting through the thick green seaweed. "Man, look at him go." My partner's joy returned, although his voice was beginning to wash out with the pain I knew he was having.
"He's hooked good. Let him run with it, Starsk. He'll tire again." My buddy shook his head, his eyes gleaming with respect for the fighter on the end of the nylon thread.
The fish ran and the wheel squalled in protest. We both wanted to land a fish and fry it up in a pan full of sage and sliced lemon, but this bad boy was giving us a run for our money. And I think we both were hoping he would win, otherwise we would end up looking him in the eye as we cut him loose. How could you eat something you held such respect for?
Just then the line snapped and we both landed on our rear ends in the shallow, now mud-stirred water. We watched that fish leap for joy at his victory. And deep down, as we watched that last fin dunk under the water, we both knew exactly how he felt. Although our victory had a ways to go, we were well on our way. My partner survived and would grow stronger every day. I reached for his hand that lay at the bottom of the water in the shifting sand and pulled him up. He wobbled against me in his exhaustion. But I knew even through the pain he was feeling pretty damn good.
We trudged back up onto the bank and gathered our tackle as it was getting late. "Hey, Hutch?" he spoke as we walked down the small dirt path back to the Ford.
"Yeah, Starsk?" I questioned, fumbling with my pole as it clattered against my tack box.
"You still owe me that steak dinner. Think I'll collect now." His stomach rumbled, backing him up as always at that request. "Don't want anyone thinking Hutchinson welshes on a bet now, do we, partner?" His mouth curved to that half grin that made him so famous with the ladies.
He knitted his hand into my vest and pulled me to him with tenderness. I smiled, letting him keep a hold on me. We walked slowly, silhouetted in twilight. I was thankful he had a hold on me. I know he needed my support to walk; he was tired, but I needed that from him today, too, and he knew it. He always knows what I need without me speaking a word. I'm proud to call him buddy, chum, colleague, partner, friend, and brother. He's there for me when the world is not. I can only hope to be to him all that he has been to me simply.