by Morgan Logan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Starsky exited the Torino and then leaned back in to retrieve the bottle of wine, tucking it under one arm before reaching for the heavy platter of stuffing. Hutch had been extremely skeptical when Starsky volunteered to make the dish; he could practically see the gears of doom whirring behind those pale eyes of his.
"It's...stuffing we're talking about here, right? Bread stuffing? You don't do anything weird like stick taco seasoning or pepperoni into it?"
"Stuffing, Hutch. My mom's recipe. It does have one, tiny little addition, though..." Starsky trailed off.
"What kind of addition," Hutch's crease was growing more prominent.
"Well, it has...beef."
"Beef? Stuffing?" Hutch looked aghast.
"It's really good! You gotta trust me, Hutch. Your dad will love it."
Hutch's face closed up, as it always did whenever his family was mentioned. "I wouldn't hold your breath, Starsk. He has extremely...conventional tastes." He ducked his head and went back to planning his menu while Starsky cursed the luck that had Hutch's father dropping in on Thanksgiving during a stopover from a business trip to Hawaii. Starsky had been looking forward to it just being the two of them, surrounded by rich, good food, and maybe falling asleep watching the UCLA vs. USC game.
Instead, if Hutch's mood since the unexpected phone call was any indication, it was going to be a rocky Hutchinson holiday, complete with icy demeanors and sarcastic little cuts. He'd only met the Hutchinsons once before, but that once was enough to convince him they were a family that wounded by attrition, one bloody trickle at a time.
Starsky gingerly maneuvered the door to the Torino shut with one foot while balancing his precarious armful. The door hadn't been the same since the shooting. Some glass or something had gotten trapped in the hinge mechanism, and the damned thing made a grinding sound of protest whenever it was opened or closed. Have to take it back to Merle's, he sighed inwardly. He wasn't sure where he'd come up with the dough to pay for it. Ever since he'd gone on partial disability, things were awfully tight. Worry about that later....
He backed his way through the wide doors of Venice Place and proceeded carefully up the stairs, panting a little as he reached the first floor landing. His reduced lung capacity was still a problem at times. The reminder hurt. He still had no idea if he would ever make it back onto the streets. He wasn't even sure he wanted to.
Shaking off this even more dismaying train of thought, Starsky finished his climb and started down the hallway to Hutch's apartment. As he neared, raised voices brought his feet to a halt. He froze at the door and listened in on the angry words.
"Dammit, Kenneth, that's ridiculous! I will not allow you to cash in your future for some misguided charity effort..." Starsky immediately recognized the voice as belonging to the elder Mr. Hutchinson. Same raspy tone as his friend, but a slightly older, deeper baritone. He heard Hutch interrupt.
"It's not your decision to make, Father. It's only out of courtesy I'm informing you." Hutch's voice was strained, but deliberately polite. Wonder if he always sounds like that talking to his folks. Starsky realized he was eavesdropping, but the mention of Hutch's 'future' was enough to make his curiosity outweigh his scruples.
"Oh, there was no need to inform me. Our accountant let me know as soon as you called. Why else do you think I'm here?"
"I had thought, perhaps, to spend the holiday with your beloved son." Starsky winced at the hidden hurt in the sarcastic reply.
"I came to talk some sense into that substandard mind of yours. Isn't it enough that you've chosen this ridiculous 'career'?"
"Do we really have to go over this again? I know how much you disapprove of my job." Hutch's voice was weary.
"But think of it, Kenneth. Will it provide for you in retirement? You can't afford to cash in your trust. What if you get shot up like that partner of yours and are disabled as well?"
"He's not disabled! He's just temporarily on disability." Hutch's voice rang with certainty. "And if I were, who do you think would take care of me? Starsky would. Just as I do for him. He's my best friend..."
"Best friends don't ask their pals to cash in their nest egg just to take care of them—"
"He didn't ask me. He doesn't even know about this. It's my decision." Hutch said it stubbornly.
"And what a brilliant one it is, Kenneth," the elder Hutchinson's voice oozed disdain, the words delivered in a tone that Starsky recognized as a Hutchinson at his worst. "By all means, divide the property, sell your portion of the land. Land, I might add, that has been in our family for generations. Do it all for some work pal of yours."
Hutch's voice came low and halting. "Y-you don't know anything about it. About him. You have no idea what he means to me. What it's worth, to have a friend like him. Someone who would die for me. Someone who cares about me—"
"Shut up! You damned weakling; always puling about love." Rage was growing in that deep voice, raising the hackles on Starsky's neck.
"Since when is it weak to want to be loved?" But Hutch's voice was almost uncertain, and Starsky ached for him. It's not weak, Hutch. It's human. Something your father sure the hell ain't. He couldn't stand out here listening to this anymore, but he couldn't see going in, either. Starsky wavered in indecision.
"Pathetic! You are pathetic! How could you be a son of mine!"
"Oh, but I am. I'm exactly what you made me," Hutch said, his tone taunting and angry. And then Starsky heard a loud smack. For a second he could hardly credit his ears. Then he was reaching for the doorknob with a hand that trembled in fury. I did not just hear that son of a bitch hit my partner.
But Hutch's voice came, strangely serene and confident, freezing Starsky in place.
"You'll have to do better than that, sir. Try putting a little more back into it next time. You have to remember I'm not a little kid anymore."
Aw, Hutch. Starsky leaned his forehead against the door.
Hutch continued strongly, "Funny thing, Father—if Starsky were here, you'd be down for the count right about now. That's because he gets my back. Just like I intend to get his. There's nothing you can do to stop me."
Now the elder Hutchinson sounded shaky. "Go ahead. Ruin your useless life. For a man that isn't even family. He isn't anything, just an uneducated, common mutt—"
"Get out." Hutch's tone was low and deadly, his street voice. An iron sound that any criminal would heed immediately if he didn't want the muzzle of a Colt Python stuck down his throat a heartbeat later.
Apparently, Mr. Hutchinson didn't have the sense of a two-bit junkie informant, because he was still trying to talk. "Don't use that tone with me—"
"I said get out of my house. Do it now, before I do something I regret." The dark menace in Hutch's voice was clear, this time even to the elder Hutchinson, because he said nothing further, and Starsky heard noises of imminent departure. He suddenly realized he was about to get caught in a very awkward situation. He grabbed the dish of stuffing he'd unthinkingly placed on the floor by his feet and hurried further down the hallway to duck into the emergency exit. He couldn't resist peeking out to see Hutch's father depart, his shoulders stiff as he stalked down the hallway.
Starsky sighed as he heard the footsteps retreat down the stairs. Then he slid down the wall to park his ass for a few. He'd go back when the timing looked less suspicious.
What'm I doing? I gotta tell Hutch I was listening. Only, his gut was rebelling at the idea. He had overheard some things he knew Hutch didn't want him to know. The most obvious was the money, which he was pretty sure Hutch would be coming clean about soon. So that wasn't the reason for his unease.
It was also no big secret that his father didn't approve of Hutch's choice in careers. And now he knew Hutch's dad didn't approve of his choice in best friends, either. Funny how Hutch hadn't kicked his father out earlier. Hutch's father had slapped him—on the face, by the sound of it. But it wasn't until he badmouthed Starsky that Hutch had shown him the door.
That slap, and the taunting reply, were the real reasons Starsky's instinct was not to tell Hutch of his eavesdropping.
He never told me. All these years they'd known each other; all those long stakeouts when they'd run out of superficial topics and started digging into the deep stuff, and Hutch never once even hinted. This didn't sound like just a couple swats on the fanny or a mild slap on the face when he'd been really bad. Starsky's own mom had, on rare occasion, pulled out a wooden spoon and given him a crack on the rear. Once, when he had been responsible for looking after Nicky and had let his little brother get out of sight and into trouble. The other, when Starsky had been caught shoplifting at the local Mom & Pop store. But her demeanor had always been more sorrowful than angry, and her disappointment had stung harder than his behind, when she was through with it.
Somehow, Starsky didn't think that was how it had gone down at the Hutchinson household.
Starsky raised his head from his musings to realize no small amount of time had passed. He was now officially late for Thanksgiving dinner. And aching from sitting on the cold floor, his damaged muscles creaking in stiff protest as he rose and retrieved the wine and the now-cold stuffing.
He hesitated at the doorway, listening carefully. He heard kitchen sounds, the oven door opening and closing, then the clanging of a pot on the stove. He took a breath and knocked, calling out, "It's me."
A few moments later the door opened on Hutch's smiling face. Starsky kept his glance casual as he checked first the left, then the right cheek. Ah. There, subtly swollen, with the hint of a shadow of blue near the cheekbone. Bruised him, Starsky thought angrily, careful to keep it from his expression. He held up the pan of stuffing. "Take this, would ya?"
Hutch complied, and Starsky transferred the wine bottle to his left hand as he entered the apartment. "Smells great in here," he commented, adding, "Sorry I'm late...where's your father?"
"I'll stick this in the oven to warm up," Hutch said, sounding distracted as he turned and walked back to the kitchen area.
His friend finished putting the dish in the oven, then straightened and said lightly, over his shoulder, "There's been a change in plans."
"Yeah, huh?" Starsky's voice sounded appropriately concerned.
He saw Hutch's shoulders shrug in a sigh, and then his friend turned toward him, his expression serious.
"He was here...we had a disagreement. He left." Hutch said it simply, but his jaw was tense.
"What was the disagreement about?" Starsky asked, hating the words that felt like lies as they passed his lips.
Hutch grimaced and raised a hand to run it awkwardly through his blond hair. "Not important. We never really need much to get going."
Starsky just stared at him, his expression expectant. Hutch turned away and walked over to the large fern sitting on the phone table. He picked off a few dead leaves. Starsky waited, letting the silence speak for him.
After a long moment, Hutch sighed and turned back. "Look, why don't you sit down and let me get you a glass of wine, then we'll...talk. There are some things I've been meaning to tell you, anyway." Hutch's voice drifted off, and Starsky nodded and handed him the bottle of wine. While Hutch busied himself getting some glasses and using the corkscrew, Starsky hung up his jacket, then removed his gun and holster and hung them beside it. He sat down in the armchair and took the glass Hutch proffered him.
"Should have let it breathe, I guess," Hutch said apologetically. Starsky shrugged and took a sip. "Thanks for bringing it, it's a good vintage, Starsk."
"Yeah, OK." Hutch settled on the couch opposite him and sipped from his own glass. Starsky waited. He was willing to wait all night, if necessary. He wanted Hutch to tell him, to make his guilty knowledge legitimate; honest.
"We argued about...money. See, it's something I've been wanting to talk to you about, anyway. I did something...well, maybe I should've asked you first, but I didn't. I just went ahead..." Hutch reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a crisp envelope that had been creased in half. He unfolded it with his long fingers and stroked the surface a little, obviously gathering his thoughts.
"What'd you do, Hutch," Starsky asked quietly.
"I know you're on partial disability, and we both know how ridiculous our base pay is, without overtime. And I know you've got medical expenses that weren't covered, and then there were the repairs to the Torino and...mostly I was worried you wouldn't be able to send anything to your mom, like you've always. So, I, uh. I cashed in some of my grandfather's trust fund he left me. I sold a piece of the property. And, well. Here."
Hutch leaned over and passed Starsky the envelope. Starsky knew he looked as stunned as he felt. Even though he had been aware this was what the argument was about, he'd been too upset and worried about what Hutch was going through to consider what the implications were, to him; that Hutch wanted to give him the money, to help him out of the financial jam he was in.
He opened the envelope. Inside was a cashier's check in his name for twenty thousand dollars. He felt his stomach drop, his throat working as he tried to speak around a sudden, hard lump there.
"H-hutch. This--" He cleared his throat. "This is...impossible."
Hutch laughed a little, breathlessly, at his choice of words. "Not impossible, buddy. I promise it won't bounce."
"That's not what I meant. I mean, impossible to accept. It's too...it's too huge."
Hutch frowned and looked down. "Look, we can call it a loan, if you want. I know things are bad, Starsk. And it's just money, you know? Not worth fighting about." Hutch winced and drank some of his wine.
Starsky looked back down at the check, his eyes watering a little. He thought about what it meant, how he could still send money to his mom every month, how he wouldn't have to worry about creditors coming after him for his medical bills. Hutch wanted to do this for him. And, more importantly, he felt if he tried to argue with Hutch on this he would be unwillingly siding himself with Hutch's father. And he never, ever wanted to do that.
Hutch looked up, apparently surprised at Starsky's easy capitulation.
"For mom," Starsky smiled, "and the Torino." His smile widened at Hutch's mock grimace. "But we are definitely calling it a loan."
"Whatever you want, buddy." Hutch relaxed against the back of the couch and grinned back at him.
"I guess your dad was pretty pissed," Starsky said, tilting his head, and wasn't surprised to see his partner tense up again.
"Yeah, you could say that." Unconsciously, Hutch raised a hand to his face.
It was an opening. Starsky hardened his voice, "Why is your cheek swollen, Hutch?"
Hutch's eyes snapped to his, startled, and then moved away. His jaw set. "If you know enough to ask, you already know the answer."
Starsky took a deep breath, the rage that had possessed him at that earlier moment now returning. "Bastard is lucky I wasn't in the room."
"I know, Gordo." Hutch laughed shortly, "I told him as much." They locked gazes, and something passed between them, electric and sharp.
"Starsky," Hutch began, his voice rough with emotion, but just then, the oven timer sounded. Hutch got up in a hurry and went to the kitchen. Starsky, disappointed at the interruption, followed behind and watched as Hutch pulled the turkey from the oven.
It was huge. Hutch lifted it with an effort and placed it on top of the stove. They stood side by side, staring at it for a moment, and then Starsky caught Hutch's eye and they both burst into laughter.
"Big enough for ya?" Starsky choked out, and that jacked their amusement up another peg until they were both gasping.
"Guess I did go a bit overboard," Hutch admitted sheepishly, when they could both breathe again.
"Just a little, Blintz. Awright, let's see what we can do with this bird." He grabbed a knife and set to carving while Hutch set the other dishes on the table and lit the candles in the centerpiece. Starsky brought over some choice pieces of turkey on a small platter and they both sat down at the table. Starsky felt his belly gurgle in anticipation.
"Hang on." Hutch got up again and grabbed their wineglasses, handing Starsky his before seating himself once again.
They looked at each other across the spread of food. The candles glowed softly, lighting Hutch's face and brightening his hair. He raised his glass. The same, electric feeling passed between them, and Starsky swallowed, waiting for Hutch to speak.
"To my family," Hutch said, his voice sincere.
Starsky sat for a shocked moment, then smiled as the meaning caught him and warmth filled his chest. He raised his glass.
"Me and thee."
November 25, 2004
San Francisco, CA