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A SECOND CHANCE
Hutch sat on the only chair in the dimly lit hotel room morosely contemplating the empty glass he held in his hand. I'm drinking too much, he thought and poured himself another glass of cheap whiskey.
Here's to you, partner. He gestured to where Starsky lay sleeping half propped against the headboard of the far bed. Why you put up with me is one of life's great mysteries.
They had been traveling for almost two weeks, from one hotel to the next, staying away from the major highways. The trip was wearing on them both and the closer they got to their destination the more Hutch dreaded trying to settle into a new 'routine'.
This was the department's idea of the perfect plan for keeping two 'hot' detectives off the streets and hopefully, out of the media until things cooled down back in L.A. A time to 'rest and recuperate' from the gangland hit that had nearly cost Starsky his life. They hoped that something would happen sooner or later that would eclipse the fact that an officer had been gunned down in broad daylight at the police garage. Hutch knew that management hoped to avoid the lawsuits and red tape that the police union was raining down on them.
In the meantime, Starsky needed at least six months of recovery, if not more, from the horrible abuse the shooting had caused him. Hutch . . . well, Hutch was along for the ride. Actually, he had volunteered to take a leave of absence in order to accompany Starsky to the East Coast and, hopefully, have a hand in his continued recovery.
Well, he liked to think he had volunteered. He now realized that they were going like it or not. Too many favors had been called in and the department was looking for both of them to resign or retire. This 'trip' had come as an alternative to spending the rest of their lives as rent-a-cops. Before they could protest a house had been 'acquired' somewhere in Massachusetts for them to live in and their respective apartments sublet. Now, somewhere in Pennsylvania, Hutch was having serious doubts about his ability to help anyone, let alone his best friend and partner who needed his help most of all.
The whole scheme was feeling less and less palatable to Hutch. He felt like they were running from reality. Oh, it had sounded grand two weeks ago. 'The Great Escape'. 'Pack Up Your Troubles' and all that. He hoped they could get away from the constant feeling that someone was after them.
The media had made sure of that. Hutch didn't think there was a place on earth that would afford that kind of solace. Their faces had been plastered on the front page of every major newspaper in the country. They had even been in the National Enquirer. A crazy story of star-crossed lovers and homosexual marriage complete with a picture of Hutch kneeling on one knee in front of Starsky's wheelchair in the gardens at the hospital. Hutch had to laugh at that one . . . it did look like he was proposing. The picture was fuzzy as hell and obviously taken with a telephoto lens from a hospital window. Fuzzy but unmistakably them. Copies of 'The Picture' had been hung all over the station with goofy captions. There was little hope of anonymity.
But that's the least of your worries, Starsk, Hutch thought. You need to be looking in your own back yard . . . I'm the one you should be worrying about. I'm the one that will probably let you down.
Hutch felt cut off from any support system he'd built around himself in L.A. With his partner just barely out of the hospital and still on so many meds he slept most of the time Hutch was feeling surly and alone. No one to pick on, he thought. No one to make you feel good about yourself, huh, Hutchinson? Starsky's too out of it to be your whipping boy.
So by the light of the television he sat trying to make some sense of the confusion that had become his life. How would he make it through the next year? For some unknown reason he felt he was on a crash course.
Who do we trust? Me and thee?
I wish it were that simple.
I'll screw it up somehow. I've screwed up every relationship I've ever had . . . and I can feel myself doing it again. Oh sure, this relationship is different.
But, I'm not.
The partnership had changed subtly before the shooting. Hutch had no doubt that he had been the cause of the shift. Their joking, although mostly good-natured and in good fun, had occasionally been a little over the top. Almost mean. Hutch found himself enjoying making Starsky squirm or look foolish.
Hutch finished the glass of whiskey and poured himself another. Nice, he thought, fourth or fifth time I'll be drunk this week. I know what's eatin' at me. "Me and thee" way out here, all alone . . . no Dobey, no Huggy, no Department, no place to hide . . . . Who do we trust? Oh, I trust you, buddy, but when will you understand that I'm NOT the trustworthy person you keep makin' me out to be? Me and thee? It's been a lie all along.
Don't trust anyone, partner. Least of all me.
Hutch refilled his glass. His revolver lay on the table next to the bottle of whiskey. Neither was far from his hand lately. He traced the outline of the gun with an index finger over and over.
You're a walking contradiction, Starsk. Street savvy, a great cop, probably the best in the department. Twice the cop I'll ever be. Twice the friend. When you're around me . . . you're a clown . . . sometimes you act like you don't know anything. I think you downplay your intelligence so I can feel smart. Now when you need me most I'm sittin' here feeling sorry for myself wondering why I can't function properly. I'm waiting for you to make me feel good about myself. Make me feel smart. What do I do for you? Ridicule your silly sentimentalism. Make fun of the simple things you enjoy. Pick on you for what you eat, read and do. I'm runnin' you down. I hate that I do it. I hate that you let me do it but I don't know how to stop.
He pushed the barrel of the revolver with his finger so the gun spun slowly on the table top, round and round. The booze was making him feel thick and slow. Good, he thought. He realized it was the feeling he had been seeking all week. Maybe if he drank enough he could stop the thoughts that kept swirling around in his head. Maybe he'd finally get some peace.
Have another drink or two. Pass out. And tomorrow you can have this argument with yourself all over again and the next day? Nothin's gonna change. I don't want to do this anymore . . . I'm tired. I don't want to bring you down anymore.
He picked up the revolver. His hands automatically opened the cylinder and spun it, checking that it was properly loaded. He snapped the cylinder shut. Feeling very detached he lay the gun barrel flat against his face, the muzzle tickling his ear.
The metal felt cool and comforting in its own deadly way.
What am I doing? This is NOT the answer.
He shifted to put both elbows on the table in front of him resting his chin in one hand, the gun barrel still caressing his ear. I am drunk and I'm a coward , he thought, a drunken coward. I haven't even had the courage to talk to him about how I feel. That's what he would do. He'd come to me and somehow we'd figure it out. I haven't even given him the chance. Why? I don't want to admit to myself that I really do need him to make myself whole. See. I'm a weak, drunken, coward. You don't need me, Starsk, I'm just bringin' ya down.
He contemplated the gun barrel, not moving it from his face.
Just who would you hurt the most? Huh, Hutchinson? The one person you don't want to hurt anymore.
Oh come on, he'd get over it, wouldn't he?
Really, Hutchinson, think about it. How would you feel if he'd died back in that garage?
He did die.
How did you feel?
I thought I would loose my mind . . . I thought I would go right to hell in a hand basket.
He had another drink, never moving the muzzle of the revolver from its resting place near his ear. The morbid logistics slowly wove through his alcohol-dulled thoughts--the horrible boom of the revolver.
Would I hear it? I guess not. Starsky can barely get from the bed to the bathroom. How would he cope with this? It would be lousy, wouldn't it?
Lousy? I guess it would be, you moron. Imagine it. What a way to wake up.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. I can't do that to him. Tomorrow we'll talk.
He started to lower the revolver and was startled by the metallic clack of Starsky's own handgun chambering a round. He finished lowering the revolver and slowly turned to face his partner. His vision blurred then cleared.
The Baretta was aimed at his chest.
"You bastard," Starsky said, his voice rock-steady, steely with anger.
Hutch slowly stood, swayed, steadied himself against the table. He realized he was still holding the Python and as if it were a poisonous snake, placed it carefully on the table. He faced his partner palms out, fingers down. The room spun. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, fighting the booze. When he opened them Starsky had the gun pointed at his own temple.
"No, Starsk . . . don't" Hutch croaked in a panic, not believing what he was about to witness.
"Don't what?" Starsky snapped. "Take my own life? Why not?"
Hutch stood dumbfounded.
"You think I like ruining your life? Your career? You think I'm gonna sit still and watch you blow your brains all over the wall 'cause of me? If that's the answer then pick up your gun, partner. It can be the last thing we do together. Blaze 'o glory time." Starsky's voice shook with anger. "Pick it up, you bastard . . . we'll do it on the count of three. If you need to be rid of me that bad you can just wait 'til four and then walk out that door and never look back."
Hutch felt himself crumbling from the inside out.
"Please, Starsk, don't," he begged "I . . . wasn' . . . you . . . don't . . . we . . . please don't." His thoughts were a wild jumble.
He moved cautiously to the bedside then ran out of steam, sinking to his knees. He looked up at Starsky and, through booze and tears, gazed into eyes that were cold with fury. He reached hesitantly for the gun. Starsky never moved, his eyes never wavered.
Hutch carefully took the gun from him and lay it on the floor. He contemplated laying down next to it. Better than facing his partner. He couldn't look into those eyes.
"What's happening to us?" Starsky whispered.
"Dunno," Hutch answered lamely, "'s me, though. Not you."
"Us," Starsky insisted.
Hutch gave in to the booze then and simply curled into a ball on the floor between the beds. He took two very deep breaths knowing he was close to passing out. "Starsk?" he mumbled.
"I was'n gonna do it."
"Sure." Starsky didn't sound convinced.
"I was'n." Hutch was indignant.
"Okay . . . okay . . . go to sleep."
"I was'n," Hutch insisted again. "You got it all wrong."
"Sure," Starsky said, "go to sleep . . . you're drunk."
"Yes, I am."
I wish I was, Starsky thought. "Hutch?"
" . . . mm?" came from the floor.
"Neither was I," Starsky admitted.
That struck Hutch funny and he chuckled, groaned and repositioned himself into a tighter ball on the floor. "We need . . . help. Huh?"
". . . mm," Starsky agreed.
His anger completely spent, Starsky lay propped on one elbow listening to his friend's breathing become deep and regular. He let his thoughts wander over the events of the last couple days.
Had he seen this coming? Hutch had been increasingly short-tempered and nothing Starsky did seemed to help. Not that he had the energy to do much. It distressed him to see Hutch drink to simply get drunk and that's what he'd been doing for the last few days. When Starsky tried to approach the subject Hutch had lashed out with angry statements about boredom and lousy hotel rooms. Starsky wasn't sure what to think anymore. The booze was obviously a cover for a much more serious problem.
So where do we go from here? Starsky fell back on his pillows and stared at the ceiling. This whole thing is . . . what did we call it 'in country'? FUBAR . . . yeah, that was it . . .
FUBAR . . . Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.
When had it all gone wrong. Did it matter when? When isn't the problem. The problem is that there IS a problem, a big one and you don't even know where to start trying to fix it.
Don't think too far ahead and take care of the here and now. It had worked well in the past and he would have to rely on that strategy until he could find something better.
He climbed carefully out of bed. Knowing he wasn't strong enough to lift Hutch, he pulled a blanket off the bed and covered him where he lay. He took the Baretta from the floor, ejected the magazine, cleared the round from the chamber and stashed the gun in his duffel-bag. He did the same with Hutch's Python, emptying the cartridges and burying the gun deep beside the Baretta. The effort exhausted him and he wearily sat in the chair that Hutch had so recently vacated. The whiskey bottle was there on the table.
When was the last time he'd had a drink? He couldn't remember. He uncapped the bottle and downed a couple swallows . . . ouch . . . he would pay for that. His stomach was still pretty delicate and most of his medications did not mix well with booze. He had a couple more swigs.
Might as well get a buzz if your gonna trash your guts .
Damn, he sighed. Did I really just have my gun aimed at my best friend? What the hell was I thinking? He shuddered. Hutch what's happening to us? Why can't we figure this out? In the morning we're gonna have to talk. He glanced around the room feeling lost. The only friend he had for the moment was the bottle on the table.
Whiskey, whiskey, my old friend
I've come to talk to you again
Milk of mercy, please be kind
Drive this feeling from my mind.
Terrific, now I'm talking to a bottle.
He was tired, depressed and, well . . . lonely. You know, Hutchinson, I used to be able to talk to YOU. Lately I don't dare say a word. What is wrong with us?
Taking the bottle (come with me ol' friend) he moved to sit on one of the beds and bent to gently shake Hutch's shoulder. No response. He took another swig from the bottle and placed it on the nightstand. Taking his wallet from the drawer he rummaged through it until he found a business card. He pulled the phone from the nightstand, leaned back on the pillows and dialed the number that was on the card. The phone rang and it occurred to him that it was three a.m.. Before he could hang up a sleepy voice answered.
"Hello? This is Jeanne."
"Hello, beautiful lady." Save me.
"Dave? Is that you?"
"None other than your favorite invalid, psycho." Who just pulled a gun on his best friend.
"Dave? What's happened?"
"What makes you think anything's happened? Maybe I just wanted to talk to my favorite 'older woman'." Maybe I'm about to completely lose my mind.
"It's almost midnight, Dave."
"Oh . . . sorry. I didn't realize it was that late." Liar, liar.
"It's okay, I'm glad you called. Is Hutch there with you?"
"Sort of." He's over there on the floor.
"Dave? Are the two of you okay?"
"Yeah . . . no . . . I dunno . . ." I want us to be okay, Jeanne, but no, we're not.
"Well . . . that about covers it!" She laughed.
The laugh was wonderful and Starsky felt himself smile in spite of the situation. "Actually, I covered 'it' with a blanket because 'it' had a bit too much to drink and passed out on the floor. We've had a hell of a trip, Jeanne."
"Why don't you tell me about it, Dave? Maybe I can help."
You already have sweet lady. Jeanne was the counselor the hospital had assigned to Starsky while he was recovering from his gunshot wounds. He had refused to see the precinct shrink and steadfastly relied on Hutch to allay his fears about his ability to recover. When Starsky continued to have nasty dreams about the shooting the hospital had insisted he speak to someone. The first few visits had been under protest but after a while Starsky actually looked forward to talking to Jeanne. She was at least twenty years older than him and had an unassuming manner that Starsky couldn't help but like. He had ended up telling her his whole life history and surprised himself by baring his soul on some things he had never talked to Hutch about.
For the next hour Starsky rambled through the events of the last couple of weeks. He didn't worry about how he sounded or even really whether or not what he was saying made much sense. Jeanne always seemed to be able to make him feel capable, smart and perfectly normal. None of his fears were silly. None of his dreams foolish. She never interrupted except to help him clarify a point. She helped him see situations from a different angle. She let him meander to his own conclusions.
This conversation was no different from the dozens he'd had with her in the hospital.
"Dave? Ohhhh, Davie?"
"Huh?" Oh my God. He'd nodded off in mid-sentence. "Sorry . . ."
"Hang up the phone, Dave. Go to sleep."
"You're welcome. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. Goodnight." Sleep tight , don't let the bad guys . . .
He was asleep in moments, the phone still resting in his hand.
Hours later Starsky woke to the none-too-pleasant sound of Hutch retching in the bathroom. He groaned as his own stomach clenched and then rolled.
He made it to the bathroom just in time. Shouldering Hutch out of the way he fell to his knees as nausea overtook him.
"Jeezus," Hutch muttered, "aren't we quite the pair?" He turned to the sink and splashed his face with cold water, turning back to watch Starsky continue to be sick. Clad only in briefs, the scars on Starsky's back stood out in vivid relief reminding Hutch of the terrible injuries still healing within.
"Christ, Starsk, you didn't drink that rot-gut did you?"
"When in Rome . . ." was the strangled reply as Starsky retched again and again.
"Take it easy, buddy, your gonna pull something."
Starsky finally gained control of his gut and slumped against the wall. Fighting his own pounding head and queasy stomach, Hutch helped him from the floor and back to bed. "Where's your stomach medicine?" he asked.
Hutch retrieved the medicine, took a hit himself, then gave the bottle to Starsky who took a tiny sip.
"My guts are on fire," Starsky whispered, curling into a ball on the bed.
"I'm sorry," Hutch said miserably. He sat on the edge of the bed like he had so many times in the hospital. He tried to comfort his friend by rubbing Starsky's back and shoulders with one hand while he cradled his own pounding head in the other. "It's early. Try to sleep a little more."
"'s not your fault. Go back to bed. I'll be okay." Starsky sighed. "Hutch?"
"How much further 'til we get where ever in hell we're going?"
"'Bout six hours I guess. If we don't get lost."
"Terrific. Guess we'll never get there."
"Why do you say that?"
"'bout as lost as I ever been."
Hutch snorted. "Yeah, me too."
Later that morning Starsky woke feeling much better. Not great, but better. Hutch's bed was empty. There was a note stuck in his empty holster lying in the middle of the bed; 'Where's my gun? Gone to get breakfast/coffee.'
Starsky crawled out of bed and managed a shave and shower. Feeling like death warmed over, only worse, he struggled into jeans and a flannel shirt. There was a knock at the door. Opening it produced Hutch in sweatpants and sweating profusely. He carried coffee, bagels, juice and a newspaper. "You look terrible," he said.
"Thanks. You look pretty wiped out yourself. You trying out for the AA track team?"
"Very funny. I'm gonna take a shower then we're gettin' out of here. How are you feeling? Better than you look I hope."
". . . mm . . . okay," Starsky mumbled. He suspiciously inspected the bagels Hutch had brought.
"Plain. They were out of enchilada flavored."
"They had enchilada flavored bagels?" Starsky looked hopeful.
Hutch sighed. "Just kidding. You'll be lucky if those stay down."
Truthfully, Hutch wasn't sure the bagel he had had was gonna stay put for very long. He was putting up a great front, he thought, but he felt like hell and was glad to retreat to the bathroom. The short run to the coffee shop had just about done him in. He hoped it was mostly the hangover but suspected he had let himself go a little too long this time. Either way he was shaky and nauseous.
After a long hot shower he felt a little better. He breezed back into the room wearing only a towel then quickly donned a black turtleneck and jeans and shrugged into his shoulder holster. Starsky lay curled on the bed watching TV and, atypically, nibbling on a bagel. Hutch cruised around the room stuffing their respective belongings into the appropriate duffel-bags then put both hands on the bed and peered at Starsky.
"That about does it except . . . where is my gun?"
Starsky didn't take his eyes off his bagel.
"You gonna eat that thing or nibble it to death?"
"Let's give the bad guys a break today, okay, Hutch?"
Hutch felt his anger flair. "Oh, for Chrissake." He turned his back on his partner and slammed a hand onto the table where he had sat the night before.
"You do remember what happened last night?" Starsky asked softly.
Hutch turned back to face him. "Explicitly."
"No guns 'til we have a chance to talk."
"Tell that to the bad guys!" Hutch knew instantly by the look on Starsky's face that he wouldn't win this one. The steel was back in Starsky's eyes. "Okay, okay, you win . . . no guns. Think you can get to the car by yourself? I want to shake down this room before we go."
Starsky nodded then pushed himself off the bed.
Hutch watched him closely. God, he's just skin and bones.
"Get yourself settled, Starsk. I'll be right out."
Starsky made his way to the door, stopping briefly to fix Hutch with an icy stare. "I'm not the bad guy," he said.
Hutch couldn't hold that gaze and looked away embarrassed. " I know," he mumbled.
As soon as Starsky was out the door Hutch raced for the bathroom and was sick.
Well, this is gonna be a hell of a day.
He checked the room thoroughly for anything they may have left behind. As an afterthought he took the plastic ice-bucket to use for a 'barf-bag'. He had a feeling they might need it once they were on the road. He took one last look around and was headed for the door when the phone on the nightstand rang.
What the hell? He picked it up cautiously. No one should know where we are. He listened but, didn't say anything.
"Dave, is that you?" A female voice.
"Uh . . . who's this?"
"Is that you, Ken?" The voice was bright and friendly.
"Who the hell is this? How'd you get this number?" Hutch snarled.
"Ken, this is Jeanne from the Medical Center in L.A.. I worked with Dave while he was here."
"How'd you get this number?" he repeated. The shrink? Why is she calling here? He sat on the bed, his head pounding.
"Dave called me last night. He gave me the number. Ken, is Dave . . . ?"
"Last night?" he interrupted. "He didn't make any phone calls last night."
"It was very late, Ken. He said you were, uh, sleeping. Is Dave there?"
"He's in the car. We were just leaving."
A shrink? A million thoughts crowded into his head. Why? What did Starsky tell her? Why didn't he talk to me? What does she know about last night? Will she tell Dobey? Oh ,this is just great . . . damn you ,Starsky.
"Can you write down a name and number to give to him please? I promised I'd get back to him this morning."
"Yeah, sure . . . Jeanne, what did he tell you?" It was worth a try.
"I'm sorry, Ken. I'm not at liberty to discuss what Dave said to me last night. I'm sure he would tell you if you asked him yourself." Please, please . . . please talk to your partner. He really needs that from you. Don't shut him out.
Hutch dug the hotel stationary and pen out of the nightstand drawer. "Okay, sorry I asked. Go ahead. I've got a pen." He wrote down the name and number.
"Thanks, Ken . . . have a safe trip."
Hutch took a long minute to school his thoughts then picked up their bags and took them to the car where Starsky was slumped in the passenger seat, looking green and unhappy. He put the bags in the backseat then slid behind the wheel. With a glance at his partner he silently handed him the ice bucket and started the engine.
They drove for two hours in total silence. Hutch assumed that the motionless Starsky was asleep. Not that it mattered, he didn't trust himself to speak anyway. His thoughts were too scattered. He feared that if he tried to talk things out now he wouldn't make much sense or, worse, he would sound angry.
I guess I am angry. Angry with myself. He called a shrink at midnight instead of being able to talk to me. God, am I jealous? He used to call me at midnight to talk things out. Hutch surveyed Starsky out of the corner of his eye. He's asleep. Don't wake him up. He needs his rest. We'll talk later.
"Starsk?" He spoke before he could stop himself.
Oh God, don't answer. His stomach did a nervous flip. Don't answer, be asleep. I don't want to talk yet.
Starsky had been watching his partner for the entire ride, feigning sleep. He was fascinated by the emotions crossing Hutch's face. What is he thinking? Why won't he talk to me? What are you afraid of? Just talk to me. Please. He willed it with all his might.
Talk to me, dammit!
Whoa ! Did I do that? Starsky's stomach fluttered nervously. What am I nervous about? I'm scared shitless, that's what. I'm afraid he wants out. He doesn't want to be a cop anymore. He wants off the streets and to be far away from me . . . badly enough to consider suicide. Don't jump to conclusions. That's Jeanne talking. She says you shouldn't try to second-guess what someone else is thinking. Don't assume either. Ask and then listen.
He couldn't believe how he had blabbed to her last night. She'd opened all the doors in his head. That lady could really get him going. I probably put her to sleep. I couldn't shut up.
It had scared him silly when he woke up and saw Hutch with a gun to his head. Then I got mad. I was absolutely furious with him and with myself. I can't believe I pulled my gun on him. Totally out of line, way over the top. Temporary insanity. No wonder he won't talk to me.
He is talking to you, you dope . . . are you gonna answer him?
They were turning into a rest area.
"Where we goin'?" Starsky asked, head raising as he peered out the window.
"Taking a break. I thought you were asleep."
"I was," he lied.
"You hungry?" Hutch pulled into a parking space near a picnic table but away from the main buildings.
"No," Starsky replied and slowly got out of the car. Someday he'd be able to leap out like he used to. He missed his car. He made his way to the picnic table and lowered himself onto the seat. He leaned back against the table and closed his eyes. The sun was warm and he liked the way it felt on his face.
Hutch strolled past the table to stand gazing out over the rolling hills.
"Where are we?" Starsky asked.
"Danbury, Connecticut." Hutch sighed then walked over to stand in front of Starsky. "I want my gun back," he demanded, hoping he sounded forceful.
"So talk to me."
"Cut the crap, Starsky. I'm in no mood for your Jr. psychiatry. Where's my gun?"
"No dice, buddy. I need some answers first."
"I don't even know what the damn questions are."
"Start with why you were tickling your ear with that goddamned cannon of yours last night." You scared the shit out of me ,you bastard.
"I was drunk."
"You've been drunk before." 'nough said.
"What do you want from me!" Hutch was suddenly angry.
"Honest talk . . . whatever is in your head . . . like we used to." When was that? About an eon ago?
Hutch turned away, ran a hand through his hair. He took a deep breath then faced his friend again and removed the piece of paper from his pocket, handing it to him. "From your shrink." The words came out clipped and angry.
Starsky pocketed the paper without looking at it. "It really bothers you, doesn't it?"
"That I'm talking to a shrink . . . to Jeanne." Starsky looked away, out over the green hills.
"Should it?" Hutch's anger flared again, his jaws clenched.
"Not at all," Starsky answered calmly, "you should try it yourself sometime." He returned his eyes to Hutch's.
"So much for 'me and thee'," Hutch muttered.
"That's not fair and you know it." Here's where I lose it. Damn you. Starsky felt a deep sadness settle on him and, with it, tears.
"No, it's not. We haven't been 'me and thee' for a long time." He fought to keep his voice steady.
"Really?" Hutch looked around, his tone and gestures mocking. "Doesn't seem to be anyone else here. Seems 'me' spent a lot of time in the hospital with 'thee'. Seems 'me' took a leave of absence for 'thee'. Seems 'me' is halfway to hell with 'thee'. If this isn't 'me and thee' then what is?"
"Here we go again," Starsky mumbled down to his feet.
"What in hell does that mean?" Hutch was practically shouting. He advanced on Starsky, hands on hips and glared down at him.
"You're angry with me. You're angry with me most the time. Why? What have I done?" Starsky pushed himself up to sit on top of the picnic table, his feet on the bench . He was eye to eye with Hutch.
"Nothing," Hutch spat out.
Starsky looked skyward, fighting down the tears that were threatening. "You rotten son of a bitch," he said through clenched teeth.
"What?" Hutch asked, almost sweetly.
"I said you're a rotten son of a bitch!"
"'bout time you noticed," Hutch said calmly.
"Hutch, what are you talking about?" I just don't get it . . . help me understand.
"Why do you let me do it?"
"Do what?" Starsky shouted, frustration boiling over.
"Abuse you? Pick on you? Belittle you? It doesn't matter what I do. You sit there and take it. Why?"
"You're my friend." It's simple, Hutch. "My best friend."
"It has good parts and it used to be good all the time. I don't give up easy. I want my friend back!" Before he leaves me no choice.
"I'm not sure he's still around."
"He's in there." Starsky stabbed Hutch's chest with an index finger.
"What makes you so sure?"
"I've seen 'im." It's the only reason I'm still here.
There was firm determination in Starsky's voice and it occurred to Hutch that this was the Starsky he admired the most. The one he knew would never abandon him no matter how bad things got. Perversely this was also the Starsky he wanted to run from. The unconditional loyalty was more than he could possibly live up to. He wanted to strike out, show Starsky what a bastard he really could be. He clenched his jaw instead and let the rage simmer and regulate itself.
"So, where do we go from here?" he hissed. Just tell me to go screw myself, will ya Starsk?
"Let's get where we're goin'." Cause I'm runnin' on empty, friend, and I can't keep this up much longer.
"And then?" Hutch dropped his gaze.
"Then we'll call the number on that paper." Even if I were healthy this is more than I can do on my own.
"What about my gun?" Hutch kept his eyes down.
"Screw you." Starsky's expression lifted into a devilish grin.
"And the horse you rode in on?" Hutch finished and actually grinned back.
Hutch helped Starsky to his feet and back to the car.
On the road again, for the final leg of their journey, Hutch drove while Starsky dozed off and on. The silence between them was far from relaxed. Hutch incessantly switched radio stations, stabbing violently at the buttons on the dash. He still wanted to know what Starsky had told his shrink last night. He couldn't bring himself to ask and it was making him grouchy and agitated.
Starsky was exhausted. The lingering hangover, coupled with his injuries, made it impossible to get comfortable in the moving car. He wanted this whole miserable, long trip to be through. Done with.
I'm so, so tired.
Tears pricked the back of his eyes. Oh, Christ. Not again.
Another charming side-effect of a near-death experience. Crying. He wept at the drop of a hat. It was embarrassing and totally unpredictable. I should audition for a daytime soap opera. I could bill myself as 'Dave Starsky, The Incredible Weeping Man'.
Jeanne had recommended taking an anti-depressant but he felt he was taking too many pills as it was. Taking pills is, well, depressing. He turned his face to the side window until he could gain control of his emotions.
Hutch changed stations again on the radio, reached up and pulled out the sheet of directions that were tucked in the visor. He tossed them into Starsky's lap. "Hey, wake up!"
"Wha . . . ?"
"Navigate for me. We're almost there."
Starsky yawned and rubbed his eyes. For the four-hundredth time he asked, "Where are we?"
"We're on 495 headed North. What exit do we want?"
"Uhhh . . . Exit 36. Route 119 West."
The road wound through several typical New England towns. Farms, fields, strip-malls, a small industrial park, a large industrial park and many pretty churches.
"Entering Groton," Starsky announced reading a small roadside sign. "This is it?"
"'fraid so . . . don't blink," Hutch said, nonplussed.
"They don't even have a stop light! Turn left after the railroad bridge."
Hutch turned down the road Starsky indicated.
"Three quarters of a mile, then turn left through the gate."
"Here we are," Hutch said after a few minutes. He maneuvered the car into a dirt driveway flanked by a steel gate.
The driveway wound through young hardwood trees and Hutch carefully navigated the narrow, shaded track. The town they'd passed through appealed to Hutch. Something about its remoteness and lack of bustle reminded him of the town he grew up in. He was sure that Starsky wouldn't share his enthusiasm.
He was surprised when Starsky said, "This will be a great place to hibernate . . . I need a quiet place to think."
Hutch started to reply with a dig about Starsky's inability to think no matter what the noise level but choked it off when he realized how demeaning it would sound. Again.
I've been doing it so long it just happens naturally.
Starsky waited for the usual gaff about his thinking abilities and was mildly surprised when it didn't come.
I can't believe he let that one ride.
The house they'd been looking for came into view. Contemporary, glass and natural wood straight from a ski slope in Aspen. The yard was tastefully landscaped in what Hutch recognized as mostly perennial plants. A low chain-link fence surrounded a huge black-tiled in-ground swimming pool. Two enormous German Shepherds rounded the corner of the house and approached the car, barking furiously.
The dogs had Hutch's complete attention, but Starsky's eyes had grown wide staring at something else. "Hutch," he managed in a strange high-pitched voice.
Hutch tore his eyes from the dogs now barking directly outside the car door to see what had Starsky so riveted. In the open three-car garage attached to the side of the house was a Torino. 'The' Torino? It was candy apple red with the same wide, white stripe as Starsky's.
"Son of a gun," Hutch quipped, half amazed himself. "These people got the same lousy taste in cars that you have." He immediately wished he hadn't said it . . . Was everything he said to Starsky an insult?
Starsky was shifting in his seat, grabbing the door handle, drawn by the sight of the car he hadn't seen since . . . I died. I haven't seen my car since that day.
Hutch put a restraining hand on Starsky's arm. "I think you better wait," he said and nodded at the riotous dogs.
Moments later a couple stepped out of the house. The woman said something to the dogs and they immediately ceased barking and ran, wagging tails, up to her side. She shooed them unceremoniously into the house.
Hutch unfolded himself from the car, stretched and stepped forward to introduce himself. The couple met him halfway up the walk. Hutch took the older man's proffered hand in a firm grasp.
"Ken Hutchinson," he introduced himself then motioned to Starsky, who was still climbing out of the car, "and this is my partner Dave Starsky."
The woman continued to move forward towards Starsky's side of the car.
"Jim Maxwell," the man said, "and my wife Emily."
Starsky was carefully standing with one hand on the roof of the car and one braced on the open door, his eyes still fixed on the Torino. He realized as he rose from the car seat that he had reached the limit of his endurance. He wasn't sure he could move from the spot, let alone make small talk and the proper courtesies the situation warranted.
Emily approached him and spoke quietly. "You must be Dave."
He nodded, wanting nothing more than to sit down.
"Jim, Ken," Emily called "come help Dave . . . I don't think he's feeling very well." She stepped close to him, stood on her toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry," she smiled, "let's get you settled in the house. You can have the grand tour when you feel up to it."
More than anything Starsky wanted to sit in 'his' car. If it was his car. He looked beseechingly at Emily then nodded towards the Torino. "Is that . . . ?"
"The car? It's yours, hon. Arrived here yesterday on a car carrier. It'll be here tomorrow. You go in the house now," she directed.
Hutch had arrived at his side. "You all right?"
"Uh . . . I'm a little shaky." That's an understatement. Stick a fork in me . . . I'm done.
"Let's get you in the house." Hutch started to take Starsky's elbow.
"Gimme a sec, okay?" Starsky slowly bent over, resting his hands on his knees. He could feel a tingling at the back of his head.
Shit shit shit . . . I'm not gonna make it . . . damn.
He took a deep breath and tried to straighten up . . . and the world turned black.
Hutch saw it coming and grabbed him under the arms. He shifted his grip, got an arm under Starsky's knees and lifted him. Good thing you've lost weight there, buddy boy. He was aware again of just how thin Starsky had become.
"Should he go to the hospital?" Emily asked in alarm.
"No," Hutch replied. "I think a little rest, some food and drink, and he'll be okay. He had a tough night last night and didn't eat much today."
Jim led the way into the house. The dogs were most interested in this incapacitated visitor, threatening to knock Hutch over in their curiosity. Jim downed them with a sharp command in German and they stayed put while he guided Hutch through the house to a main floor bedroom. Emily announced she would put some soup on and quickly headed for the kitchen.
A little over five minutes later she appeared in the bedroom door with a steaming mug just as Starsky was regaining his senses. Hutch had pulled off his partner's shoes and was helping Jim prop Starsky up with extra pillows from the closet. Blinking his eyes a few times, Starsky took in his surroundings and audience. Feeling suddenly embarrassed, he tried to get up from the bed.
Emily crossed the room and halted his frail attempt with a steadying hand on his chest. "You stay put, love. There are no heroes in this house. You're here to rest and recuperate so that's what you're going do even if I have to strap you down to make it happen."
"I'm fine. Really, I am," Starsky lied. I'm weak as a kitten and I hate being waited on.
"Oh yeah, you're just wonderful," Hutch bantered. "Really know how to get a ladies attention, don't ya?"
Not now, Hutch, Starsky thought wearily. Save the jabs for when I can throw 'em back at ya.
He lay back against the pillows and took the hot mug Emily was handing him. I am kinda hungry. He sipped at the soup. It was mostly chicken broth with a little rice and veggies and right now it tasted like the best thing he'd ever had.
As soon as Starsky was settled, quietly drinking his soup with Emily Maxwell at his side, Hutch and Jim returned to the car for the luggage.
"Your partner's in pretty tough shape," Jim commented.
"Yes, Hutch replied. "Yes he is." And so am I.
"You know, " Jim continued as he watched Hutch slide the key in the lock then raise the trunk hood, "Em and I were planning to head for Hawaii in a couple days. Are you two going to be all right?"
"We'll manage," Hutch answered curtly, reaching in.
"I don't think my wife's gonna buy that."
"Wha . . . ?" Hutch stood up straight and turned, looking quizzically at Jim.
"I'm just warning you." Jim looked calmly, confidently into his eyes. "I think we'll be staying for a while. My wife's not one to walk out on someone that's ailing like he is."
"Who are you anyway?" Hutch didn't mean to sound annoyed but these people were seriously butting into his business. Does he think I would walk out and leave Starsky here alone? He doesn't even know me from Adam, for chrissake.
"Easy, fella." Jim laid a friendly hand on Hutch's arm. "I'm not the enemy."
"I know, I'm sorry," Hutch tried to relax, "I just . . . I . . . this isn't what I expected."
"Didn't anyone brief you?"
"Not really, not in any detail."
"Well, that's par for the course," Jim chuckled, releasing Hutch's arm. "Internal Affairs is notoriously tight-lipped, even when they shouldn't be."
"No shit," Hutch agreed.
"Let's get the rest of your stuff then I'll see if I can shed some light on this situation for you."
"I'd appreciate that." Hutch tugged the other suitcase out of the trunk and turned back to Jim. "One quick question though."
"That's not your car, is it?" He nodded towards the Torino.
"Nope. It's your partner's. Your captain called last week and said it would be arriving on a carrier. Someone called Huggy Bear arranged to have it shipped but didn't know where to send it. Your captain took care of that part. Does that make sense to you?
"I'm afraid it does," Hutch answered with a little grin.
Later that evening Hutch lay awake staring at the ceiling. Jim Maxwell had filled him in on the missing details of why he and Starsky had been sent to this house. It was simple. Emily had a sister who worked in Internal Affairs out in Los Angeles. The Maxwells had cooperated with I.A. for years, providing a safe haven for all sorts of dignitaries and the occasional wayward officer. Starsky and he had been lucky that they were chosen to be sent here instead of to any number of houses spread across the country.
Then how come he didn't feel lucky?
Hutch's feelings had nothing to do with the Maxwells or the house.
This place is incredible. Better than any luxury hotel but I feel trapped. I don't know why but I need some distance from all of this. Some distance from . . . Starsky?
How could that be? Why would that be?
I watched him die. On cue, his heart skipped a beat. And it scared the living bejezus out a me.
That's why I pick on him so much. To push him away. It gives me a little distance. A safety zone. I should split for a while, get out of here. We should learn how to function apart. We'll both be better for it. So . . . how do I tell him?
Just tell him. He'll understand.
Oh sure he will. Hey ,buddy. Friend. Pal . . . partner. So sorry, but I really need to get away from you. I think you're making me crazy. I gotta figure out how to be me without you.
Oh that's rich, Hutchinson. That'll go over like a fart in church. It stinks.
Okay, so don't say anything. Just go as soon as you have a chance. As soon as he's on his feet and physically okay.
With that decision made Hutch fell into a fitful, restless sleep, his dreams filled with roaring gunfire and blood-spattered death.
Early the next morning Starsky awoke feeling rested and ready to meet the day. No more long drives. No more hotel rooms. Just sit and really relax. Emily had filled him with a steady stream of soups and juices the night before to combat his dehydrated condition. He couldn't believe that the couple of swigs of whiskey he had indulged in had wrecked him the day before.
Can't say I'm dehydrated now. Speaking of steady streams . . . .
He hurried into the hall and found the bathroom. So far this was as much of the house as he had seen. A few minutes later he was splashing water on his face and eyeing himself critically in the full length mirror on the bathroom door.
Charming. You look like a walking, battle-scarred skeleton.
He turned one way and then the other, checking his appearance from all sides.
Gonna have to do something about this body. Hit the weights. Do some running. One last, long look at himself and he sighed. Four weeks in the hospital didn't leave much for muscle tone.
Physical therapy was his least favorite activity. Weight lifting and working out were Hutch's department.
I'm gonna have to do something, though. No chick is gonna go for this train wreck of a body. He smiled to himself. I must be getting better. I'm thinking about women again.
He grabbed a bathrobe off a hook near the door, belted it around his waist and stepped back into the hall. His stomach growled loudly.
Yeesh, another country heard!
He hadn't felt hungry for weeks. His stomach had been on a long strike. Not anymore. It rumbled again and all of a sudden he was ravenous. He turned right and padded silently on bare feet towards where he thought the kitchen might be.
The first door he peeked into was where Hutch lay sleeping. He could just make out the figure in the dim light from the hall. Hutch was sprawled face down, naked to the waist, the bedclothes in a wild tangle around his legs. Even as Starsky watched the blonde man shifted restlessly.
Alligator-wrestling in your dreams, Hutch?
He pulled the door quietly shut and continued down the hall. The next few doors revealed a linen closet, coat closet and stairs to the basement. The hallway ended in an intersection. To the left was a staircase going up, in front of him the entryway and outside door and to his right a kitchen.
Food, glorious food.
Early morning sunlight poured through the countertop-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the in-ground pool. The kitchen opened to an informal dining area, the living room and a small attached green house. Starsky flipped on the lights and headed for the ample refrigerator.
The Maxwell's German Shepherds rose from a mat on the floor near the fridge and approached Starsky in a friendly manner, tails wagging. Friendly or not, they were very large dogs and made Starsky instantly nervous. He greeted them with a whispered, "Mornin', boys."
He really hoped they would go back to the corner and lie down but they didn't. The bigger of the two stuck his nose firmly in Starsky's crotch. Starsky gave a squeak of terror and backed away but they followed. The smaller dog sniffed Starsky's legs, feet and ended his inspection by licking his bare toes.
"Come on, guys, quit it will ya. Give a guy a break. Go away, scat, shoo . . ." His toes tickled. "Oh, for Pete's sake, SIT will ya?"
Starsky eyed them with amazement.
Well now, that's better.
"Stay," he commanded and, satisfied with their cooperation, straightened his shoulders and swaggered past them, still watching them out of the corner of his eye. Neither moved their feet but they turned their heads to keep him in sight.
How do ya like that?
He ransacked the fridge, pulling out bacon and eggs, milk and butter. Peering in closer he found some bread, an onion and a pepper and some orange juice. He took a swig of the juice straight from the container then remembered his manners and looked guiltily around. Their necks swiveled around to follow his movements, their liquid brown eyes on him, the dogs remained where they were.
"Shhhh . . ." he implored them. "Don't tell anybody, okay?'
Tails wagged but the dogs still didn't move. Starsky put the bacon on to fry, chopped an onion and a pepper and put them in to fry with the bacon. He mixed some eggs with milk and cheese and set them aside to wait for the bacon to finish.
The dogs sat and drooled, their noses taking in the delicious aroma of frying bacon.
Starsky's stomach was fairly screaming for food by the time the bacon was done. He fished it out of the pan and set it aside on a paper towel to drain. Next he put the egg mixture into the pan to cook with the onions and peppers and bacon fat.
He started to feel bad for the dogs sitting there patiently drooling. He broke a piece of bacon in half and tossed it in front of them. Neither moved a muscle save for licking their chops and their eyes bulging.
"Go ahead," Starsky said, "eat it."
They didn't move.
He reached for the bacon not wanting to torture them if they weren't supposed to eat anything from strangers. "OK," he said casually and nearly lost his fingers as the dogs snapped up the bacon. They capered about the kitchen quite proud of themselves. He feared they would knock him over in his weakened condition and ordered them into the corner by the frig.
"Go lie down," he admonished--and they did. Both lay head on paws and watched as he tucked into his bacon and eggs. When he had finished he pushed his plate away and rested his head on his arms for just one second.
Hutch found him sound asleep at the breakfast table. The dogs still watching from the corner. He put the dishes in the sink and put on some coffee. He sat across from Starsky watching him sleep.
Ate so much I guess he wore himself out. Hutch sighed. He still wasn't sure how he was going to tell Starsky that he wasn't going to stay here. He finished his coffee and stood up to go for a run.
Starsky woke when the table shook slightly. "Hey," he said sleepily "how long you been here?"
"Not long, I'm heading out for a run. I'll be back in a bit. Go back to bed, Starsk . . . that robe isn't exactly you." Hutch headed out the door.
Starsky looked down at the robe he had on. It was obviously a ladies robe. Pink with small yellow and blue flowers. How come he hadn't noticed that before? Too dark, he remembered. He rose from the table and the dogs came with him . . . he no longer eyed them nervously.
"Come on boys," he invited . . . I better get back in my room before your folks see me. He and the dogs headed back down the hall to his room. Once inside Starsky shucked the robe and slipped back into bed still feeling like napping. Both dogs lay their chins on the edge of the bed and watched him. He looked at them then motioned for them to join him. They climbed onto the bed and carefully arranged themselves around him turning several times around before finding the perfect spots. One ended up at the foot of the bed, his nose on Starsky's feet and the other lay against Starsky's side head on his hip.
Well, Starsky thought, ain't this cozy. He scratched the dog's ears, then closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Outside Hutch walked briskly down the driveway, dressed in gray sweat pants and a blue BCPD sweat shirt. He had slept fitfully and woke with a headache. His decision to leave was weighing heavily on his mind. Was it the right thing to do? Would their friendship survive?
Hell, what friendship?
He's the friend. I'm just a . . . nursemaid. Pretty soon he'll be okay then what? Maintain until the next time?
The next time what?
He dies . . . The next time you fail as a partner, as a friend.
Hutch moved into a slow jog. He checked his watch. He planned to run about ten minutes and then walk for two. If he could manage four sets, two away from the house and two back he would cover about four miles.
The first few minutes were horrible, no rhythm. His legs felt like lead. He looked at his watch, only four minutes to go until he should walk. Just getting one foot in front of the other took all of his concentration.
He checked his watch again. Ten minutes. He slowed to a walk his chest heaving. The two minutes of walking were over way too soon. He moved back into a jog, the sweat trickling down his spine and soaking his chest.
He asks nothing of you. You don't even have to be friendly for chrissake.
So why is it making you nuts?
I don't want to be responsible for his life.
Hutch felt his throat tighten making it difficult to breathe. He checked his watch. Ten minutes, thirty seconds. He walked digging the palms of his hands into his eyes. He couldn't turn back yet.
Two more sets . . . ten more . . . twenty? Keep running you fool. Run from life, responsibility, friends, family . . . yourself. That's what you're running from.
He had to stop. Damn near impossible to run and cry.
He leaned on a telephone pole. To any passing car he looked like an early morning jogger stopping to stretch a cramped muscle. The truth was despair had robbed him of his breath. He clung to the telephone pole for dear life then he put his back against it and slid to the ground. A well of grief seemed to open up to him. With his arms on his knees and his head resting in his arms, he wept for many reasons: Starsky died, a father who never approved, a mother he never felt close to. His grandfather's death. Friends he had betrayed. His failed marriage.
If either one had lived.
Just when he thought he could weep no more some forgotten injustice would start him sobbing all over again. Then it got silly. He realized he was crying about losing his favorite marble when he was about six years old.
You're losing your marbles all right, ya dope . . . get a grip. Shaking his head, he slowly gained control of his breathing.
The all to familiar growl of a car engine brought him back to the present. He struggled to his feet and walked away from the sound. He didn't look. He didn't have to. The Torino pulled up next to him.
Starsky's voice was concerned. "Hey, you all right?"
He kept walking, eyes on the ground.
There was a bridge up ahead and a path turning into the woods along the river. He picked up a slow jog. The car kept pace.
"Hutch?" Starsky's tone was pleading.
Hutch didn't look just gestured 'go' with a hand. He turned down the path, where the car couldn't follow and picked up his pace.
Starsky yelled after him, "Hutch! Hey!!!"
He stopped and turned to face the car. "Leave me the hell alone, will ya . . . just this once . . . leave me alone." He turned and ran into the woods not waiting for a reply.
Hutch turned off the path behind a clump of trees, simply to be out of sight. Stopping, he listened carefully for the sound of the Torino pulling away. If he heard the car door he would have to backtrack. He couldn't allow Starsky to try and come after him. He wouldn't risk that. There was no sound at all save for the wind in the trees and a gentle murmur from the river. Then he heard it: the growl of the Torino's engine and the screech of tires.
He wiped his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt and braced himself for the long walk back to the house. He started toward the road then changed his mind and turned back along the river. The house sat near the river so it stood to reason that this path might lead him there. If it didn't? So what.
He walked along for some time trying hard to think of nothing at all but thoughts crowded into his head.
This must be depression. This horrible feeling of hopelessness.
He dug the heels of his hand into his eyes again.
Don't think back . . . think ahead.
What are you gonna do, Hutchinson? Go back to L.A.? Do you still want to be a cop?
I want to crawl under a rock. Not a very helpful thought.
He stopped and sat on a fallen tree looking out over the river. Across the water something moved on the other bank. A small white dog bounded down the bank and took a drink. Behind the dog something larger moved in the woods. Hutch sat very still as a horse and rider made their way through the trees to the river's edge. The horse stretched its neck down for a drink snorting softly as its feet sank in the soft river bank.
Hutch shifted on the log ever so slightly. The horse jerked its head up and stared muzzle dripping, ears straining forward. The rider searched the opposite river bank for the source of the horse's alarm. She stroked his neck and plucked a leaf from his black mane. When she spotted Hutch she raised a hand in greeting. Before he could return the wave she reined the horse away from the river with the little, white dog trailing behind.
Hutch sat for a while longer then stood and stretched and continued along the river. A branch of the trail turned from the water and in another quarter mile ended in the Maxwell's yard. He crossed the yard to the garage and looked in. The Torino was there, engine still ticking as it cooled. Gazing at the car, Hutch shuddered. He put his hands on the roof and closed his eyes. Vivid images flashed in his head--the same images he saw every time he slept. The nightmare that had plagued him since the shooting: tires screeching, a black and white cruiser pulled out of a parking space too fast and caught and creased the driver's door on the car parked next to it. The car didn't stop. That's what had seemed odd to Hutch. He had seen the whole thing. Starsky was fumbling with his keys, talking about food, of course, broiled lobster to be exact. Hutch hesitated only a moment after he saw the barrel of a gun stick out the passenger window of the cruiser. He dropped behind the car, yelling as he went. "Starsky, get down!!"
It was way too late. He should have drawn and fired from the cover of the Torino. He had cover. Starsky didn't. Starsky went for his gun first and thought of his own safety too late with that damned devil-may-care attitude.
He expected me to be leaning on the roof of the car laying down cover fire. And where was I? Damn . . . shit . . . son of a . . .
That was the hell of it. The nightmare was the reality. He couldn't write it off as a bad dream. It was the plain 'ol poor decisions that plagued him every night. If just once in his dream he stayed standing and did what was expected he could see that it wouldn't have worked and they would have both been gunned down. But his dream never obliged him. He always ducked and then got to watch his partner die again and again.
He opened his eyes and studied the Torino. Earl had outdone himself. All the windows had been replaced and the front seats as well. The body of the car had been repaired and repainted. Hutch had only seen the car once since the shooting. He and Huggy had met with Earl to decide what should be done. Hutch had not been able to face it alone and Starsky was still in a coma, his life uncertain. They decided to fix the car and if Starsky died Earl would sell it for them and keep the money to pay for the repairs. Whatever was left would go to charity or Starsky's mom.
He didn't die . . . when are you gonna get that into your head? He's getting better. Still wants to be a cop. So what is your problem, Hutchinson?
Don't know . . . I just know that I have to get out of here. Soon.
He braced himself for the questions he would have to answer concerning his behavior this morning and headed into the house to shower. Thankfully, Starsky had crawled back into bed, the two shepherds carefully arranged around him. The Maxwells were not early risers and Hutch saw no sign that they had been downstairs. He showered and spent the rest of the day carefully avoiding everyone.
The Maxwell's spent several days showing Starsky and Hutch the property and all the special features that made it an ideal hideaway. Hutch tried to appear enthusiastic but feared he was barely staying in Jim and Emily's favor. Starsky spent much of the time sleeping and most of his 'awake' time learning about how the shepherds had been trained. Hutch found this most intriguing considering Starsky didn't particularly like dogs. The dogs certainly showed every sign of liking Starsky and shadowed him everywhere he went.
Hutch kept to himself. He ran in the mornings, explored the book selection in the Maxwell's extensive library and lifted weights in the afternoon. He avoided meal times and all of the evening conversations. Emily kept a close eye on Starsky's health so Hutch felt relieved of that particular duty and consequently more than a little useless.
On the fourth day of their stay Jim found Hutch quietly reading in the library and asked if he could lend a hand with a little chore. Hutch put down the book he had been reading and readily followed him outside.
They were removing the solar cover from the pool which one person could do with ease. Hutch watched as Jim turned the crank that would roll the cover off the water and onto a pipe that spanned the width of the pool. He realized, too late, that Jim had only asked him outside so they could be in private.
"Ken," Jim said, "I get the impression you're not happy with this setup."
"Not at all, sir," Hutch answered respectfully. "This place is unbelievable."
"Knock off the 'sir' stuff, please, it makes me feel old. I'm not talking about the property. I'm talking about why you're here."
"I'm here to help Starsk . . . uh, Dave," Hutch said without conviction. The Maxwells called Starsky by his first name and Hutch had begun to follow suit though Starsky gave him an odd look every time he did.
Jim scoffed. "Bullshit."
Hutch studied him for a moment from across the pool, then shrugged indifferently without saying a word.
"It's hard to maintain, isn't it?" Jim asked, still rolling the pool cover.
Hutch crouched on his heels by the edge of the pool and dangled a hand in the water. "Maintain what?"
Hutch shrugged again. He rose without looking at Jim and moved to stand facing the woods, his hands on the low chain link fence surrounding the pool.
Jim made his way around the pool to stand next to him. "Lots of times the friendship ends when the hardship ends."
Hutch squinted up into the brilliant blue sky and mulled that over in his head for a minute.
"It's hard to know what to do when you don't have to watch each other's backs all the time." Jim spoke softly. "The crisis is over, Ken. Everyday living is going to feel pretty mundane after what you two have been through."
Hutch smiled at that, thinking that mundane might be nice for once.
"You both have decisions to make," Jim continued. "You don't have to make them right away. I imagine your captain doesn't expect you back before Christmas."
Hutch looked at his hands, saying nothing, while Jim waited.
"Honestly?" Hutch whispered then glanced at the older man to see if he had heard.
"No point in lying to me." Jim smiled.
"I don't deserve to be here."
Jim cocked his head in question. "Why not?"
"I screwed up."
"Is that what the dreams are about?"
Hutch stared at him. "Do you know everything?"
"I make it a point to pay attention to what's going on in my own home."
Hutch looked back down at his hands. "Yes," he admitted, "that's what the dreams . . . nightmares," he amended, "are about."
"Want to talk about it?"
"There isn't much to say." Hutch's voice grew hush with anguish. "He dies every goddamned night . . . because of me."
"I figured as much." Jim gestured to the house with his chin. "Did you know he has the same dream?"
Hutch looked in the indicated direction and saw Starsky watching them from the kitchen windows. "That he dies?" Hutch shifted his gaze back to Jim.
"That you die."
Hutch studied his face, visibly shaken. "No, I guess I didn't."
"He's worried about you." Jim turned to lean on the fence and look into the woods. "Is there anything my wife or I can do to help?"
Hutch sighed, still studying his hands on the fence. "I think I need to be on my own for a bit."
"There's no reason you can't be."
"What about . . . Dave?" The name felt foreign coming from his mouth. Like someone he didn't know. "I'm supposed to be helping him."
"You're not much help to him if you aren't happy yourself." Jim turned to look at him. "You may not be the one who was shot but you may as well have been. You need a chance to heal, gain your confidence, get some counseling."
"Counseling." Hutch chuckled. "They tried that back in L.A."
"So what happened?"
"I was so damned happy that Starsky was alive . . ."
Jim nodded encouragement.
"I didn't go to any of the appointments." Hutch's voice rose with tension. "I spent all my spare time at the hospital. I had to be sure he was okay."
Jim put a hand on his arm. "Easy, he's okay. He really is okay."
Hutch closed his eyes. "No thanks to me."
"I think he would beg to differ," Jim countered. "He says the only reason he 'came back' was because he had to know if you were okay."
"That figures," Hutch said wryly.
"He was certain he would wake up in the police garage and find you dead. He has little memory of what happened after the shooting and no recollection of the cardiac arrest or the week-long coma."
"I know, I know." Hutch's distress was increasing as it always did when he had to think about the events of the last six weeks. "But I don't want to be responsible for his life."
"I'm afraid that's the name of the game, Ken." Jim was matter-of-fact.
"NO." He panicked, looking down. "Not anymore, not for me."
"So you've made your decision?"
Hutch turned away and ran both hands through his hair. "I don't know," he spat with growing frustration.
"Ken," Jim tried to calm the agitated detective. "My brother has an apartment available not far from here. Why don't you move there, stay as long as you like." Jim moved in front of Hutch, catching his eye, "You can find a summer job doing something truly ordinary . . . retail, maybe. By fall you'll be bored to tears, probably drag Dave back to LA and beg for your jobs back."
Hutch tried to smile then shook his head. "I don't get you . . . why do you care?"
Now it was Jim's turn to stare at his feet. "Because I'm an ex-cop, an ex-detective, and my partner, my best friend . . ." he paused, "was shot . . ."
Hutch didn't want to hear this. It took all his self-control not to turn and walk away. He clenched his jaw and met Jim's eyes.
"My partner, and my best friend . . ." Jim repeated, "was shot, only he didn't make it . . . he died. He died in my arms."
"I'm sorry," Hutch said through clenched teeth.
Jim shrugged. "It was a long time ago."
"Does that matter?"
"No," Jim muttered," it doesn't."
They both turned toward the house as the dogs bounded up to the pool gate with Starsky following slowly in their wake. He walked painfully, his right shoulder not quite even with the left. It hurt Hutch just to watch him move--the disability a constant reminder of how he had failed to protect his partner.
"So?" Starsky asked as he reached the gate. "What's the big rap session about?"
Seeing the blank expression on Hutch's face, Jim rallied with a reply. "I was just telling Ken that Emily and I will be leaving the day after tomorrow."
Starsky let the dogs through the gate and settled himself in a nearby deck chair. "Oh?" He shot Hutch a look that instantly communicated he didn't believe a word.
Hutch remained silent.
The dogs gave their master a quick greeting then settled on either side of Starsky, looking hopeful that he would invite them up onto the chair.
"No room guys." He ruffled their ears. "Plats," he ordered. Both dogs dropped to their bellies. "Are you taking the dogs?"
"No," Jim answered. "They're going to a trainer until we return. He's going to schutzhund trial them."
"Schutzhund? That's attack training, isn't it?" Starsky smiled at the dogs. "You big pushovers are attack trained? Ha," he laughed. "What do you do? Lap people to death?"
The dogs thumped their tails in response.
Jim laughed. "You should see them in action. Pretty impressive stuff."
While they spoke, Hutch sidled towards the gate. Starsky stopped him with a softly spoken question. "Where ya headed, buddy?"
"I have things to do." He paused briefly then continued through the gate to the house.
Starsky realized he had been holding his breath. He exhaled loudly in frustration. "He's avoiding me like the plague."
"Go easy on him," Jim warned, "he's pretty freaked out."
"HE'S freaked out? I don't think I've ever seen Hutch so . . . calm." Starsky tapped his head with an index finger. "It's like he's not in there. I don't know what to do for him."
"He'll come around."
"Around to what?"
"I'm not sure."
"Great," Starsky growled. "That's terrific."
"Come on," Jim said. "I'm taking the dogs over to the trainer today. Why don't you ride with me?"
"Okay. Why not? I'm not doin' anybody any good moping around here . . . Hey," he pouted, "I'm gonna miss these guys."
"I think they'll miss you, too."
Jim helped Starsky to his feet and they headed back to the house.
A Second Chance by Diana Tyson / Pinto
Starsky walked along the river enjoying the way the light danced on the water. The river banks were swollen to near capacity and he carefully stayed well away from the edge. Even now, in late April, there was some snow and ice still underfoot on the shadier portions of the path.
Today he planned to cover almost two miles in a round-trip, the farthest he had gone so far. His route along the river led to a stone bench he had seen from the road on a drive around town. Emily had said it was a memorial of some sort and Starsky was curious about it.
He carried a camera and a small knapsack. Emily had encouraged him on other walks to take a piece of fruit and some water to help with his energy levels as they were still a bit uncertain. She'd also admonished him to take breaks along the way: he still tired far too easily.
The Maxwells had finally left for Hawaii after postponing their trip for a week. Starsky felt responsible for the delay. He had passed out from fatigue and dehydration only moments from arriving on their doorstep.
Christ, what an entrance I made . . . I all but puked on their shoes.
It was Hutch, however, who was ultimately responsible for the Maxwell's staying home the extra week.
As soon as Emily had taken control of Starsky's care (he thought he could get by on his own but she would have none of it) Hutch had chosen to 'withdraw from life'. That's how Starsky saw it. Hutch had barely spoken since they had arrived and had been behaving like a sullen teenager. It had been impossible to convince the Maxwells that this was the Hutch that Starsky trusted his life to on a regular basis.
Emily would not entrust 'her Davie' to 'that man' until she was certain Dave Starsky was capable of caring for himself. Starsky had to admit that he wasn't sure himself that Hutch would have risen to the occasion once the Maxwells had left. As it turned out when they did leave Hutch's behavior had, if anything, become even more sullen.
Starsky skirted an icy patch, careful of the footing, then paused and drew in a deep breath. Damn you, Hutch. I'm at my wits end with you. Can't even get you to be angry with me anymore.
He had been in touch with the counselor Jeanne had recommended but then hadn't been able to get Hutch to commit to an appointment. Without that commitment Starsky was at a loss, not knowing what to do next. He spent several late nights talking to Jeanne and she had alluded to the fact that Hutch had to want to fix the problem before anything would change. Starsky knew that. He wanted to know how to make Hutch want to get help. Not possible, was her answer to that. Take care of yourself, she told him. Let Hutch worry about Hutch. It might be time for Starsky to cut his losses.
He didn't like the sound of that at all.
What? Cut off my left arm? Abandon the best friend I'll ever have? Give up on him, 'cause he's given up on himself?
Let him go, she'd said.
I don't want to. I want us to go "home" and be partners like we were before all this happened.
You sound like a three year old. What does he want?
If I knew that I'd give it to him . . . I'd sell my car, my life, my soul to make him happy again.
Don't do that, Dave. He would never forgive you. I think it would push him even farther away than he is already.
How do you know?
It's my business to know. You two are a lot like a married couple. I've seen it a million times.
Oh, please . . .
One person in the relationship gives everything to the other, takes care of everything. Sacrifices so the other can thrive. They end up hating each other.
So what do I do?
Give him some space, Dave. Maybe a little time apart will help him see the light and get himself some help. He's obviously depressed but you can't make him get help. He has to want to do it himself.
Terrific, why can't I just smack him on the head . . . beat him senseless . . . tie him up in a closet . . . something simple??
She had laughed at that . . . you can try it but it's not the answer.
Nothin's ever easy is it?
Not if it's worth fighting for.
The path curved away from the river around a swampy glade and into a small field. Starsky could still see the river or at least the trees that lined the river. The bench stood at the edge of a pine grove on the far side of the field. He checked his watch.
Half an hour to walk a mile. I guess the Olympic track team is out of the question.
The bench was carved in granite and much larger up close than it had appeared from a distance. There were statues perched on the arms like bookends. A fox on one end and a hound on the other looking warily at each other across the seat of the bench. An inscription on the high backrest read "In memory of the Groton Hunt Horses, Hounds, Masters, Fox and the spirit of the sport, 1922." Starsky took the camera from his neck and snapped a couple pictures of the inscription and the statues, liking the way the light textured the rough granite.
He sat down, setting the camera and the small pack next to him. The mid-April sun was warm and made him sleepy.
Not exactly ready for prime time, are ya? He couldn't imagine chasing a perp down an alley or mixing it up with a known felon. The very thought made him wince. Time for that later, now . . . a nap is more my speed.
He stretched carefully mindful of healing muscles. Putting his hands behind his head he closed his eyes and let himself drift.
He had no idea how long he had been daydreaming and must have dozed off. He awoke with a yelp of surprise when something wet and furry landed in his lap. He pushed the offending 'thing' from his lap and struggled to sit up. A small white dog sprang back onto the bench beside Starsky and deposited a wet, green tennis ball in his lap. The little dog leapt from the bench and stood wriggling with excitement at Starsky's feet. The dog's dark brown eyes fairly snapped with energy. He had a comical expression amplified by a whiskery chin and unruly eyebrows.
"Hi, pooch," Starsky grinned at the dog then tossed the tennis ball.
The dog snagged it with an acrobatic leap before it had even bounced and re-deposited it in Starsky's lap. He threw it again a little farther this time. The tiny dog streaked after it, retrieving and returning with the same enthusiasm.
Starsky picked up his camera to get a picture of the dog. The silly thing wouldn't hold still for him to focus.
"Hold still, you little white tornado," Starsky admonished. The dog stuck the ball between Starsky's feet.
"You are a very silly pooch"
The dog whined and growled at the same time making an unusual trilling sound.
I think he's telling you to knock off the pictures and throw the ball.
Starsky felt more than heard a rhythmic thumping coming from somewhere behind him. He stood abruptly forgetting his sore muscles.
A horse and rider rounded the copse of trees at a brisk trot heading for the open field. At Starsky's sudden appearance the horse spooked, sliding to an abrupt halt not twenty feet away. The rider was thrown forward, also caught off guard. She performed a neat forward roll landing on her feet near the horse's shoulder.
Never saw John Wayne do that. Starsky was impressed.
The horse startled again and put himself in rapid reverse yanking the woman backwards off her feet to land awkwardly on her back side in the mud. The little dog raced up to her and put the tennis ball in her lap.
"Whoa, damn you," she needlessly hollered at the horse. The horse had already stopped and was nonchalantly gazing at Starsky. Then to the dog she said, "Thank you Rocco. I appreciate your concern."
She spluttered a few choice words under her breath and climbed slowly to her feet attempting without much success to wipe the mud from her skintight riding pants. Starsky took particular note of the shapely, mud covered backside not minding one bit that the pants didn't leave much to the imagination.
He cleared his throat noisily as she apparently hadn't noticed him standing there. She whirled at the sound.
"Are you alright?" he asked solicitously.
"Oh," she said embarrassed, "I didn't see you there . . . no wonder he spooked."
She quickly put the horse between herself and Starsky. He started toward her to offer a hand, although he had no idea what he could do to help. She swung into the saddle and reined the horse away putting a little more distance between them. Moving around him in an arc that kept him at a comfortable distance she continued toward the field and the river, waving as she went.
"Let's go, Rock," she called to the dog.
The white dog grabbed his tennis ball and sped after the horse.
Starsky felt her behavior was a bit abrupt, then he thought about it again.
It's not like you're standing on a city street, ya dope, you could be a rapist or a mugger. She doesn't know you from a hole in the wall. Out in the woods with no one else in sight.
He started back down the trail towards the house thinking about women in general. I must be on the mend. Hutch ain't the only thing on my mind. He smiled to himself then sobered. I'm gonna give him an ultimatum. I hate to do it but Jeanne's right. He's got to fix this on his own. We got to get on with our lives.
Following the trail back home he thought about what he might say to Hutch. He didn't want Hutch to leave but that seemed to be what Hutch wanted.
I'll give him the freedom to fall on his face if that's what he really wants. I can always keep tabs on him in case he really needs help.
Anxious to speak with Hutch , Starsky's walk home went considerably faster than the walk out.
He was going to clear the air . . . or send him on his way.
Hutch gathered his belongings as soon as Starsky headed out the door for his daily walk. He felt like a jerk sneaking out this way but he couldn't stand the thought of a confrontation. How could he tell his best friend that being responsible for his life (or death) was more than he could cope with? He quickly scrawled a note to Starsky, stuck it in an envelope, then taped it to the refrigerator door.
The address to the apartment owned by Jim's brother was easy enough to find. Hutch parked in the tiny lot next to the ancient farmhouse and slowly climbed out of the rental car. The place had the air of old family owned property but was in need of a little tender loving care. It stood by itself just outside the center of Hollis, a little town in Southern New Hampshire that boasted one traffic light and more trout ponds than residents.
Hutch knocked on the front door and was greeted by a man that looked remarkably like Jim Maxwell only maybe a year or two younger.
"Jeff?" Hutch queried.
"You must be Ken. I've been expecting you."
"You have? I never told Jim that I was actually coming here."
Jeff chuckled and motioned for Hutch to come inside. "My brother has a pretty good sixth sense about these things. He warned me you would probably show up unannounced sometime after they headed for Hawaii."
Hutch stepped into the old house and followed Jeff into a small office off the entryway. Jeff waved a hand at a chair and Hutch sat. Leaning a hip on the oak desk in the center of the room he studied Hutch for a moment.
"So, you're feeling a little lost here on the East Coast?"
Hutch raised an eyebrow at him and shrugged. "How much do you know?"
Jeff frowned. "I know you're a detective from LA and your partner is the one that was gunned down a couple months ago. I know that you need a place to stay and probably a job for the summer." He moved to sit behind the desk. "That's about it."
Hutch smiled at the floor shaking his head. "I guess that's about all you need to know."
"Maybe not all, huh?" Jeff tipped his head in question.
Jeff shrugged compliance. "Well, I'm a pretty good ear if you need one."
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."
"Let me show you the apartment. It's not much but, the price is right." Jeff walked past Hutch putting a hand on his shoulder as he went and giving it a light squeeze. Hutch stood and followed.
The apartment consisted of a large room that was a kitchen with a small table and sliding doors to a deck in back, a living room with a bow window that looked out the front to the driveway. Off the kitchen a hallway led to the bathroom and one bedroom. It was furnished in Early American Attic. Not that the decor was shabby, it was simply used. Jeff showed him around then gave him a key. They returned to the office to do some paper work.
While Hutch was signing a short-term lease Jeff asked him what type of job he'd like to do for the summer.
Hutch shrugged. "Anything, really," he replied. "I think I'd like to work outside, though."
"Are you good at maintenance stuff?"
"Like what?" Hutch asked.
"This farm house could use a coat of paint, but of course it needs to be scraped and primed first. If you'll spend the summer doing that I'll give you an advance. Then there's the apartment. It could use paint as well. What do ya say? Are you interested?"
Hutch thought a moment then looked up from the paper he was signing. "It's an offer I can't refuse. When do I start?"
"How about as soon as my wife and I can decide on colors? That ought to give you a week or so to settle in." Jeff gave Hutch a goofy look that Hutch took to mean colors had been discussed several times with no conclusions reached. He was right.
"I want white and she wants gray." Jeff threw his hands in the air. "The kids want purple!"
Hutch laughed. "How about a very light, purplish-gray?"
"Spoken like a true diplomat. I think we're gonna get along just fine. How much stuff do you have to move in?
"OK. There's no food in the kitchen. How about I give you directions to the one and only store and you can get that taken care of this afternoon? Do you need money?"
Hutch stared at him a little annoyed at the question, but at the same time grateful. "I've got enough for now. Thanks."
"I need to run a few errands as well. The wife and kids will be home later this afternoon. Why don't you plan to have supper with us tonight?"
"Okay," Hutch agreed.
Jeff wrote directions to the store and they parted to accomplish their chores.
Later that evening Hutch sat at the dining table in the big farmhouse. He was surrounded by Jeff Maxwell's family including three children: Marie ten years old; Jeff, Jr. (JJ for short), eight years old; and the youngest Kevin, who was four. Jeff's wife, Anne, brought out a steaming pan of shepherd's pie and a large bowl of salad. All through dinner the children asked Hutch questions about California. They were fascinated with their guest and where he was from. They wanted to know all the differences between East Coast and West Coast. Hutch did his best to answer them but found he was having little time to eat faced with the barrage of questions.
"Enough!" Jeff finally silenced the youngsters. "Let poor Ken eat some food. He'll be here after supper and probably most of the summer."
The kids made excited exclamations over that news. They loved having company.
Hutch dug into the shepherd's pie on his plate. "My compliments to the chef," he winked at Anne.
"Well," she blushed, "it's hard to find a meal that this bunch will all dig into . . . I'm afraid it's our Thursday night standard. You may have more shepherd's pie this summer than anything else."
"Fine by me." Hutch helped himself to another serving.
After supper the adults retired to the farmer's porch for a beer and the children went to finish homework and watch TV. Hutch learned that Jeff was a New Hampshire state trooper and worked nights and Anne taught grade school in town. The talk turned to the events that had led up to Starsky and Hutch traveling to New England. Hutch grew suddenly silent as he remembered the shooting once again.
"I'm sorry," said Anne, " I didn't mean to pry. I know it must be hard to live looking over your shoulder all the time. Did you ever catch the gunman? I didn't see anything about that in the papers."
Hutch looked at her startled. "Uh . . . no . . . they were never caught."
"So, they could still be looking for both of you?" There was concern in her voice and she glanced worriedly at her husband.
"I guess we were hoping that being all the way across the country would be deterrent enough. We got here using cash and assumed names and should be fairly difficult to track." Hutch looked off across the yard and sighed. "Since we put Gunther away I figured we were safe enough. At least until we get back to L.A."
Jeff took his wife's hand. " I'll do a little checking around and see whether or not this Gunther character has any connections on this side of the country. You may not be as safe as you would like. It never hurts to be cautious."
Hutch nodded at Jeff not liking to even think that Gunther's goons might still be after them.
"Now, what about your partner?" Anne asked. "Are you two not getting along?"
Hutch was getting uncomfortable with the change in the conversation. How could he make these people understand what he didn't understand himself? "We just needed a break," he lied. "Starsky mostly needs to rest and rehab. I think I was getting on his nerves. A couple months off should help refresh the partnership."
"Well," Anne laughed, " he certainly got the better living arrangements."
"I wouldn't say that." Hutch rose and stretched. "Well, I'll leave you to your evening. Thanks for supper. Goodnight."
They both wished Hutch a good night and watched as he crossed the yard to the apartment door.
"Are we in any danger?" Anne asked her husband.
"I don't know," he replied, still watching Hutch, "but I'm gonna find out."