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Author's note: This story takes place between the first and second season.
A big `thank you' goes out to you, BBN, for your unwavering support. I wrote this story because you once said that there were not enough `Hutch stories' on the Web. I hope you'll enjoy.
Rainy Day Sunday
Upon waking up on Sunday morning, an uncharacteristically early hour for him, Starsky looked outside and decided that it was a perfect day for washing the Torino. He stepped in the bathroom for a quick shower. When he was done he put on a pair of worn out blue jeans and t-shirt; his weekend clothes. On his way to the garage he gathered a couple of rags, some soap, a spray bottle of Armor All and a bottle of wax. He connected the hose to the outside faucet and filled a plastic pail with water. Thus armed with cleaning products, he headed towards his car.
Standing on the curb, pail in hand, Starsky lovingly surveyed the metallic curves that hugged the candy-apple red body. The white racing stripe stood out against the foggy California background and even though the Mag wheels could have used a little polish, they playfully reflected the sunlight on his face, dancing waves of chrome blinding him for a second.
Starsky dipped a rag in the soapy water and started by scrubbing the dust that blanketed the car. With gentle strokes, almost tender, he rid the metallic frame of the every day grime that had stuck on it. He wished the procedure would be as simple when it came to cleanse his own body, but it seemed that nowadays it took more than a hot shower to get rid of all the dirt that stuck on his body and in his hair after a day's work. He usually needed a couple of beers to wash down the filth he encountered during the day.
Starsky enjoyed these time outs. Too often in his line of work he had to resort to violence; pushing and shoving un-cooperative suspects, jumping on escaping criminals, fighting with aggressive drug dealers, firing his gun in self-defense. Although the workout was good for his testosterone level if not for his sensitive jaw, it was nice to prove to himself that he was capable of displaying a little softness in his life. The ritualistic gestures associated with washing his car made him feel connected to a Greater Power and as such, it was almost like attending a religious service. How fitting then that he usually reserved his Sunday mornings for this activity.
Starsky finished applying the lather on the Torino and took a step back to contemplate his work. Satisfied by the sudsy state of his car, he picked up the garden hose and twisted its nozzle until he got a wide spray. He directed the shower on the red and white frame, not minding the erring mist that caressed his forehead as the wind blew. It took only a moment to rinse the foam away.
Next, Starsky picked the drying rag and wiped the car with long, purposeful strokes. He paid particular attention not to scratch the coat of paint as he hugged the Torino with the velvet cloth. After making sure that the paint was free of sunspots, Starsky applied a thick glaze of wax. The waxy substance melted easily under Starsky's body heat and it clung to the metallic structure as the detective buffed the vehicle. Once the task was completed, Starsky knelt down on the curb to polish the Mag wheels until they reflected his unruly curls. Finally, he rubbed some Armor All on the tires, and did the same on the steering wheel and the dashboard.
When he was done, Starsky gathered his gear and put it away in the garage. He wouldn't need it for another week, maybe two if Dobey had them scheduled to work during the upcoming weekend. That was okay, he did a thorough job this morning. Pleased with his work, he climbed to his apartment and poured coffee in a mug. He put a Paul Simon record on the turntable and moved to the window. The Torino looked like a ruby under the June sun. Behind him, Kodachrome resounded in the living room like Gospel music and when Simon reached the chorus, Starsky cheerfully joined him.
It was 11:32 a.m. and Starsky had been lying on the couch, barefoot, reading a baseball magazine when the phone rang. He stretched his left arm and picked up the extension. "Yeah?"
"Hello. Is this David Starsky?" A female voice asked at the other end. Starsky didn't recognize it.
"You got him. Who is the lucky person who wants to know?" he answered playfully.
"I don't you if you know me, my name is Joan Hutchinson. Ken's sister."
"Joan?" Starsky remembered Hutch having mentioned his twenty-nine-year-old sister from time to time but as usual, he had been more than discreet in disclosing any details related to Hutchinson family matters. Starsky sat up straighter, now apprehensive by the unexpected phone call. "What can I do for you? I mean, is anything wrong?"
"I'm sorry to call you out of the blue like that, but the way Ken talks about you every time he visits home I gather that you two are pretty close. I didn't know how to reach you so I called information..."
Starsky struggled through the outpouring of information to understand the reason for the call. Hutch's family seldom called their son, even less so his police partner. Why was Hutch's sister calling him from Duluth when Hutch was supposed to spend the weekend around his apartment? Had Hutch left California without telling him? Had something happened to him in Duluth? More than a little frantic by his accelerating thoughts, Starsky interrupted his interlocutor, "Joan, what is it? Is Ken in trouble?"
"No," she said, seemingly puzzled by the question. Then, suddenly realizing that she was probably upsetting Starsky, Joan hurried to explain herself. "Heavens, no! I'm sorry, David. I didn't mean to worry you. Ken is fine and he's home. Well, he was when I called him earlier. I am calling from Duluth. I just called Ken because..." She hesitated.
"...well, because our father died last night."
Oh shit. "I'm sorry, Joan. Please accept my condolences."
"Thank you." For the first time Starsky noticed that her voice was slightly shaky.
Starsky remained silent on the line, allowing the young woman to collect her thoughts. When she spoke again, her voice had regained assertiveness. "The problem is that there is no flight to Duluth today so Ken won't be able to fly home before tomorrow. He put up a stiff upper lip when I called him with the news but I know he's upset. I mean, he and Dad were never close but I know him; it must have come as a shock to him."
"Yeah, I bet it did."
"Gary--that's my husband--and I moved in with my mom until the funeral's over so all is being taken care of down here, but I'd hate to think Ken is brooding alone today."
"I understand," Starsky said and he really did. Even after spending almost ten years together, he knew that Hutch would rather go through any crisis on his own, not wanting to bother people with his problems. At first, Starsky had assumed that his friend was just being wary around strangers but now he understood that his aloofness was deeply engraved in his genes. That's why since their early partnership Starsky had developed an intrusive tendency to force his friend out of his customary introspection by nagging and harassing him until he finally relented and `voluntarily' shared his feelings. Starsky was nonetheless surprised that Hutch's younger sibling knew him that well to care like that.
"How are you holding up, Joan?"
"I'll be fine. I, too, inherited the Hutchinson's stiff upper lip."
Starsky chuckled as he recognized the familiar character trait he often witnessed in his partner. No matter of hard the blow, Hutch always managed to get back on his feet as if nothing had happened. If Darwin had studied people instead of animal species, he would have found that the Hutchinsons were fit to survive through anything from the Big Bang to the end of the world.
"Thank you for calling, Joan. I'll take care of Hutch and see that he gets a ride to the airport tomorrow."
"Hutch," she said, considering the way the syllable sounded. "That's funny. Nobody ever called him anything other than `Kenneth' or `Ken' when he was living at home. Even his school friends never called him `Kenny' because it didn't seem to fit. Sometimes I think he's become a whole new person since he moved to California."
You don't know how right you are, Starsky thought.
Then, as if Joan had read his mind, she added wistfully, "I'm glad he did."
Maybe it was because she didn't hesitate to call a perfect stranger out of sheer concern for her brother, or maybe it was the gentleness and generosity that transpired in her voice, but at that moment Starsky decided that he very much liked Joan.
"Take care," he said.
"Thank you, David."
From a place deep in his heart, Starsky got the strange feeling that Joan was thanking him for something other than just looking after Hutch for the day. Even when he hung up, the feeling remained and filled him with unexplained warmth.
It took less than ten minutes for the Torino to reach Venice Place--Hutch's new apartment. Tired of wrestling the constant Bay City traffic, Hutch had been looking for a flat closer to the downtown area. Longing to keep touch with nature however, he had been reluctant to leave his cottage on the canal. After all, he had grown accustomed to the sight of the ducks gliding quietly in the morning, the sun reflecting playfully in the shallow water and the hum of the traffic muffled by the sand surrounding the lot.
With Starsky's help he had visited three or four inadequate places already and as a result, Hutch didn't hold much hope when his partner suggested they visit an apartment on Venice Avenue after their shift ended. Together they toured the second-story flat, every room offering pleasant living quarters. However, Hutch was immediately drawn to the large balcony at the back, which, Starsky quickly pointed out, could easily be converted into a giant greenhouse. It didn't take anything else to convince the blond detective to accept the apartment as his new dwellings: he had fallen in love with the place. Nicely situated over gourmet restaurants in a relatively quiet commercial district, Venice Place--as it was stylishly announced on the yellow facade--was also located halfway between Starsky's residence and the police precinct, a significant advantage since the lively detective picked him up more often than not on his way to work.
Now Starsky swiftly parked in front of Hutch's apartment building, grateful for the empty parking spaces of Sunday morning. He scrambled up the narrow staircase, climbing two and three steps at a time. Dressed in jeans cut-offs and a grey pullover, Starsky had wedged a basketball under his armpit. Although he knew the door was unlocked, Starsky knocked enthusiastically on the wooden door until his partner appeared in the doorway.
"Hey, Blondie, what's up?" Starsky pushed past his partner, stepping over scattered cardboard boxes and made a beeline for the kitchen area, where he rummaged through the icebox until he found a bottle of root beer. "Where's Donna?" he asked as he uncapped the bottle. "Weren't you supposed to go on a picnic with her?"
"Yeah, well, something came up. We had to cancel." Starsky noticed that Hutch's tone was too dull to be blamed solely on disappointment at canceling a date.
"Oh. That's too bad. In that case, do you mind if pinch-hit for her?" Starsky offered light-heartedly.
"What did you have in mind?" Despite the circumstances, Hutch appeared his usual collected self. He was still wearing his black sweats and running shoes, his hair disheveled from his morning jog.
Starsky tossed the orange ball to his friend. "How about a basketball game? One on one. I kick your blond blintz butt and you buy me dinner. How's that for a plan?"
Although his heart was not on basketball, Hutch couldn't keep himself from smiling at the self-confidence radiating from his bouncing partner. However, the sight of Starsky dribbling a ball in his living room on a Sunday afternoon triggered some doubt in his mind and he suspected foul play. "What are you doing here if you knew I had a date?"
"I was on my way to the park and I thought the two of you could use an hour of competitive, heart-pumping, blood-flowing aerobics before I dropped you back here and leave you to your own devices," Starsky said in his most innocent voice, lifting his eyebrows suggestively. "However, since it's just the two of us, I guess we'll work only on the first part. Why? Is something wrong?" Starsky asked, granting his friend the perfect opportunity to `disclose' the news.
"No, everything is fine," Hutch lied. He threw the ball back in resignation. "Okay, okay, one game. Let me grab a shower first--"
"No shower, Blondie, you're dressed just fine for exercise," Starsky grabbed Hutch's arm and escorted him towards the door. "Besides I don't want you blaming your earth-shattering defeat on the water temperature."
"Watch your mouth, Gordo," Hutch warned as he locked the door behind him, "you might just end up buying me a very expensive dinner."
"No way," Starsky countered, "I know all your moves."
"Well, you just might be surprised."
July 17, 1953
New York City
Kids were shouting as they crossed the cold spray of water that spurted from the fire hydrant the firemen had twisted open half an hour earlier. It was an unusually hot and muggy day, even for July in New York City.
After playing outside most of the morning David had decided to spend the afternoon inside, away from the midday sun. Also, he wanted to make sure that he would be alone to put some order in his baseball card collection. Although his room wasn't much more comfortable, David had seized his chance while Nick was playing outside with the neighborhood kids.
David was lying on his belly, wearing red trunks and a blue T-shirt that accentuated his everlasting tanned complexion. His black curls, weighed down by sweat and humidity, were pasted on his forehead. Before him lay a worn out shoebox filled with dozens of baseball cards. David was leisurely sorting through them, committing individual statistics to memory, unbothered by the rock-and-roll music coming from a car radio somewhere in the distance.
The guillotine window was maintained opened by a piece of wood. From time to time a slight breeze brushed across the curtains. The sounds of the city seemed to be heightened by the summer stillness. Under the children's playful cries was the eternal clatter of emergency vehicles making their way through the traffic.
David picked Joe DiMaggio's card. Although he knew every detail by heart he read every line over and over, studying the confident posture of the player on the picture. David knew that DiMaggio had hit a homerun when the picture was taken just by the look on his face. His eyes reflected power, confidence and invincibility. The bat hanging from his left hand had been a weapon, an extension of his own body that had launched a ball out of the field. Armed with it, he could have done anything he wanted.
David was drawn away from his fantasy by the sound of screeching tires. Somewhere, a firecracker exploded. Then another. It sounded like the fireworks his father had launched during the backyard Fourth of July BBQ less than two weeks ago. David looked mechanically through the window, searching for any smoky trace of the firework but he couldn't find any. The sky was clear, the sun blinding the passer-bys. Downstairs someone knocked on the front door. It couldn't be Nicky: he always used the back door. Still holding DiMaggio's card, David slid off his bed and leaned over the windowsill. People were walking fast below him, heading in the direction of Mrs. Kanowski's house. David heard the front door slam and soon after, he spotted his mom following the rest of the people.
"Ma?" he called out but she didn't turned around. She was walking faster now, almost running to the street corner. David leaned closer through the window, trying to see where his mom was going. The sight of a police car that sped through 84th Street shortly followed the wail of a siren. David retreated inside and climbed down the stairs unconsciously. Like in a dream, his legs were leading him to a place he didn't know he wanted to go. He found himself standing on the front porch, not knowing how he got there. A crowd had gathered on the street corner. People returning from the scene were shaking their heads as they passed him. David glanced on the other side of the street. Nick was still playing with the other kids. They didn't raise their heads when the ambulance drove past them.
David stepped down the porch steps. His mom was walking back, leaning on Mr. Durniak's arm. She was crying.
"Ma? What's wrong, Ma?" he forced himself to ask. He had never seen his mom cry like that before.
"There was an accident, Davey--"
Panic-stricken, David looked around. His mom was okay, Nicky was playing across the street. Alarmed, the ten-year-old asked, "Where's Dad, Ma?"
"Oh Davey." Sobbing uncontrollably, Mrs. Starsky collapsed on the steps and wrapped her arms around her ten-year-old son. Unable to feel the heat of the sun, his mother's touch, or even his own body, David stood motionless. Time had stopped except for a black-and-white movie that was being projected in his head. It featured Nicky and his mom, playing in the backyard. He saw the time Joey Caruso traded his card for Jesse Jackson. Then he saw his dad, cooking hot dogs on the BBQ grill. He was smiling. Suddenly, the BBQ burst into flames and David was thrown on the ground. He opened his eyes and looked around.
He was alone.
Although the park was located less than three miles away from Hutch's apartment, Starsky had suggested they take the Torino to the park in case they wanted to drive around afterward. Despite the fact that it was a bright, pleasant weekend afternoon, finding a parking space near the basketball court was an easy task. To both men's contentment, the park was almost clear of people except for the occasional dog walker.
For the most part of an hour, both men focused on their game, competitively shooting hoops while shamelessly hindering on each other's moves. While Hutch played more conservatively, Starsky's strategy included bumping Hutch out of the court, springing on his opponent's back, clinging to his clothes and being an overall pest. To Starsky's delight, instead of being annoyed with his constant obstruction, Hutch appeared to be enjoying himself, even allowing himself to burst out laughing a couple of times. Starsky couldn't help it but laugh in return. Hutch's laughter always triggered a pure feeling of happiness in Starsky and was in his opinion as addictive as any hard drug found on the street. As a result, Starsky seriously considered throwing the game away, even if it meant treating Hutch to an expensive French dinner. A three-course meal seemed a small price to pay to see the sparkle in those blue eyes, even if only for a short time. Indeed, an external observer would never have guessed that Hutch had learned a few hours earlier that his father had passed away.
Taking advantage of a comfortable six-point lead, Starsky was casually dribbling the ball, deciding whether to fake a motion to his left or to his right. In front of him, Hutch had adopted a defensive stance, his body bent forward, feet spread apart, hands on knees, eyes locked on his adversary. Although they played a friendly game, both men were breathing hard, taking advantage of the occasion to give their bodies a full workout session. Starsky was about to launch his offensive when he noticed his blond friend take an unsteady step backward.
"Hey, Hutch, you okay?" he called out.
Instead of answering, Hutch lifted his head and his blank stare met with Starsky's gaze. Worried, Starsky stopped dribbling the ball and called out again to his friend. Hutch raised a shaky hand to his brow and tried to take another step forward, his body wavering like that of a drunken man. Almost immediately, Hutch's knees gave under him and Starsky watched helplessly as the blond man collapsed on the asphalt.
Starsky abandoned his grip on the ball and rushed to his friend's side. As he knelt beside his partner, Starsky grabbed Hutch's wrist. Even though he was still unconscious, Hutch was breathing evenly but his pulse throbbed weakly yet rapidly under Starsky's index and middle fingers.
"Hutch? Hey, Hutch, are you okay?" Starsky called out, gently slapping Hutch's pallid cheeks. His skin felt moist to his touch.
Stirring no reaction from his partner, Starsky surveyed the courtyard, looking frantically for someone to help him, but no one was in sight. After making sure that his friend was lying in a relatively comfortable position, Starsky sprinted across the courtyard to the water fountain. He removed his sweatshirt and placed it under the spout, letting the cloth absorb as much water as possible. He ran back and knelt down behind Hutch's form. He gently lifted the blond head and laid it onto his lap, dabbing his friend's face and arms with the sodden fabric.
Starsky looked at his watch and assessed the situation. Hutch was unconscious but he was still breathing. His passing out was probably caused by a mixture of physical exertion, anxiety at the news of his father's death and malnutrition, he reasoned. Normally, Hutch should regain consciousness within a matter of minutes... unless he smashed his head on the ground when he fell. Alarmed at the prospect of a skull fracture Starsky slid his right hand under the blond locks, inspecting the skull for any telltale sign of bumps, gaps or cuts. To his relief, he felt nothing abnormal and found no blood. Reluctant to leave his unconscious friend alone while he called for help, Starsky allowed himself two more minutes before he went and called for an ambulance himself.
A minute later, Hutch's eyelashes finally fluttered open. Starsky met the confused blue gaze with sincere relief. Hutch tried to move but Starsky put a restraining hand on his shoulder and guided him gently back down.
"Easy, easy. It's okay, Hutch, don't move. Just relax for a while." To his surprise, Hutch obeyed and dropped his head back onto his lap.
"Did I just pass out?" Hutch asked, checking his surroundings through unfocused eyes.
"Unequivocally, buddy. How are you feeling?"
"Weak, nauseous and my head hurts." Hutch raked his fingers through his mane, scanning for possible injuries.
"I don't think anything's broken," Starsky pronounced and Hutch let his arm fall to his side. "Do you think you can sit up, now?"
"I'll try," Hutch said and aided by Starsky, he managed to achieve a sitting position. Hutch took the damp cloth from Starsky's hands and cooled his face with it. Registering only then the sight of his shirtless friend crouched next to him, Hutch unfolded the grey fabric. Recognizing the much worn sweatshirt, Hutch refolded it and, without a comment, resumed patting his face. `Of course,' he thought, `he gave me the shirt off his back.'
"Have you eaten today?" Starsky inquired.
"I had a shake for breakfast."
"Terrific! You may knock it, but at least cold pizza and root beer would have kept you going all afternoon."
"Cold pizza and root beer would have kept me going to the bathroom all afternoon," Hutch corrected.
"We should get you to the hospital to have you checked out."
Hutch shook his head so gingerly that Starsky presumed that his friend was still hearing bells. "No need. I'll be okay," the blond man protested coarsely.
"Yeah right. Six-foot-two men who jog every day faint all the time."
"I'm fine I tell you. I just need some rest."
Maybe Hutch was right, Starsky thought. It's true they had been driving themselves pretty hard these past days. After all, they worked long hours, their weekends had taken nothing but an abstract meaning and, Starsky reluctantly admitted, their eating habits left a lot to be desired lately. Also, even though it's been eight months since they put the ordeal behind them, Hutch hadn't entirely recovered from his involuntary addiction to heroin. At first, Hutch had opened up to Starsky, spending long evenings talking, sharing the guilt and shame he felt for craving like any low-life junkie, for wanting the drug, for feeling better once it had been injected in his veins.
However there were still times when Hutch felt weak and tired easily although he gave his best effort to try to hide it from everyone else at the precinct, including Starsky. However, several times during the past weeks the curly haired man had caught his partner furtively munching on a candy bar, or leaning longer than necessary against a file cabinet, sweat beads covering his brow. Another time, Starsky noticed that Hutch's hands were visibly shaking as he pointed his gun at a suspect. Starsky had tried to broach the subject a couple of times, urging his friend to take it easy but Hutch had dismissed him briskly, saying that he was feeling fine. At the time Starsky had relented, knowing that the blond man wanted more than anything to forget that this nightmare had ever happened, eager to prove to himself that the drug addiction hadn't affected him. Starsky conceded defeat and gave Hutch some leeway to deal with his demons. And why not? The blond blintz was surely strong enough to make it through on his own. In the meantime, Starsky would stand on the sideline, only a heartbeat away should his friend need him. Like today, for instance.
"Then what do you say we go back to my apartment so I can force-feed you?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"No." The intense blue gaze was locked steadfastly on Hutch.
"Sounds fine to me, then." Knowing that there was no way on earth he was going to win the argument, Hutch proffered his arm and let Starsky hoist him to his feet. He was grateful for the support as they made their way back to the car because from his point of view, the park was dangerously slanted.
Fighting nausea during the bumpy drive to Starsky's apartment, Hutch was grateful that Ridgeway avenue was not too far away. Starsky parked the Torino in front of his apartment and hastily circled the car over to the passenger side to hoist Hutch to his feet. The blond man accepted Starsky's proffered hand and instinctively leaned on his friend's shoulder as they both climbed the stairs to the apartment.
Inside, Starsky helped Hutch settle on the couch, propping his half-sitting body against a bunch of fluffy pillows before disappearing in the kitchen. Hutch's ringing headache was amplified by the noises of metallic pots clicking against each other in the next room. In an attempt to muffle the irritating overload of stimuli, Hutch drew his right arm over his brow and closed his eyes. His relaxation session was cut short by his partner's appearance in the living room, carrying a cool washcloth and a glass of water. Starsky handed the items over to Hutch and returned to the kitchen.
"Wanna tell me what happened?" he called out.
The blond man took a sip and Starsky gladly noticed that some color had returned to Hutch's cheeks.
"I fainted, end of story."
"That's it, huh?"
Hutch nodded, his eyes averting the silhouette of his friend noisily shuffling dishes in the kitchen.
"Hutch, you train every day, you're in great shape, you eat more grass than a cow and you're trying to tell me that you suddenly felt weak while shooting a couple of basketballs?"
"Guess so." Hutch clammed up.
Starsky gave up his interrogation. He finished his preparations and joined Hutch in the living room, carrying a wooden tray. He deposited the tray on the coffee table. "Here, eat this," he said, holding out a plate to his friend. Hutch took it.
"What is it?"
"It's a peanut butter sandwich. It's got protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and all sorts of good things for your body. And it's even better when you wash it down with this." Starsky handed him a tall glass of milk.
"Peanut butter sandwich and milk, huh? Can I have chocolate chip cookies afterwards?"
Starsky shot him an annoyed look as he perched on the couch armrest. "Just eat it, okay?" he said as he bit into his own sandwich. A couple of bites later Starsky's sandwich had entirely disappeared.
"I'll hit the shower and change into something drier," he said through a mouthful. "Are you gonna be okay?"
Hutch nodded without lifting his eyes from the inner exploration of his sandwich. Starsky vanished in the bathroom and Hutch heard the sound of the shower being turned on as he nibbled on his meal. When Starsky stepped out of the bathroom he was wearing his blue velvety robe, his dark curls drooping heavily with dampness.
"If you wanna take a shower I put some clothes in the bathroom," Starsky said, sponging his hair dry with a towel. He noticed that Hutch had abandoned his sandwich and was finishing the rest of the milk
"That's a good idea," Hutch agreed, pushing aside his half-eaten sandwich on the plate. He rose and headed for the bathroom.
"Will you be okay in there?" Starsky called out from his bedroom.
"Tell you what. I'll leave the door unlocked so if you hear a big thump followed by a splashing sound you can scrape me off the floor. Okay?"
Starsky grinned privately. "Deal."
Hutch stepped inside the bathroom and shut the door. The mirror was still fogged over from Starsky's hot shower. He turned on the shower knobs and adjusted the flow of water for the warmest temperature his body could tolerate. He stepped under the tap and hoped the hot water would wash the latest events away. How he wished he hadn't received Joan's phone call this morning.
This morning. Why does it feel like it happened days ago?
Hutch leaned in under the spray to wash his hair. The water gurgled in his ears, distorting the sounds into sheltering waves. He remained motionless, his forehead leaning against the cold ceramic for a long time, twisting off the knobs only when the warm cascade had transformed into a cold stream. He dried himself with a bath towel, wiping his hair dry more roughly than usual. On a hook behind the door Starsky had placed a change of clothes for him: a pair of jeans and a striped, blue-and-white long-sleeve t-shirt. A pair of white sport socks and a pair of grey boxer shorts were also neatly folded on the toilet tank. His own. Hutch tried to recall when he had left this complete change of clothes at Starsky's but he couldn't remember. They spent so much time at each other's house it was common practice for both of them to leave a change of clothes at the other's apartment, `just in case'.
Once dressed, Hutch opened the bathroom door to Starsky's `Are you okay in there?'. Feeling better after a cleansing shower, Hutch walked resolutely over to the couch. The tray with the sandwich and the glass of milk had been taken away and was replaced with a dessert plate containing chocolate chip cookies. Hutch grinned at his partner's mother-hen behavior and Starsky was glad to notice a pinkish tint coloring his friend's cheeks. The blond man reclaimed his seat on the couch and was soon joined by Starsky who settled in the wicker chair after picking up a cookie from the plate. He remained silent while Hutch gathered his thoughts. When Hutch finally spoke, his voice was soft and detached.
"My father died, Starsk."
Finally, here it goes. It's show time, Dave. "Aw, I'm sorry, buddy." Although the stunned expression on his face was affected, Starsky's voice reflected his sincere sympathy for his friend's loss. "When?" he asked, though he already knew the details.
"Last night. Joan called me to tell me the news this morning."
"Oh yeah, your sister," Starsky said innocently. "How is she doing?"
"As expected, she's extremely upset." Hutch paused and Starsky could almost hear the unspoken `more than me' that followed his friend's statement. "She's staying with my mom until the funeral."
Why didn't you call me yourself this morning? Starsky wanted to ask, why do you always wait so long before sharing your feelings with me? Starsky knew that he could always turn to Hutch for help no matter what the circumstances were and he usually did. Things seemed clearer once he bounced them off his listening partner. It's not that he was personally hurt by Hutch's aloofness--after all he was aware that Hutch trusted him implicitly with his life. Starsky just wished he understood why his partner waited to work things out by himself before deciding to share his burden with him when the tables were turned. I'll put you through twenty questions someday, Starsky promised to himself. Instead, he simply asked, "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," Hutch said, but the blue gaze that met with Starsky's eyes when the blond man raised his head contradicted him.
"So, are you flying home tomorrow?"
"Why?" Hutch shot him a blank look.
"For the funeral."
Hutch worried the corner of the colorful woven throw wrapped over the back of the couch. "My father didn't bother his schedule for me when he was alive. I don't know why I should disturb mine for him now that he's dead."
Starsky's voice was mellow when he spoke. "I know you two didn't get along but take it from me, if you don't go you're gonna regret it later."
"Forget it, okay?" Hutch said plainly. He rose and marched into the kitchen.
"I'll drop it if you want me to," Starsky said, his eyes trailing after his partner. "but you can talk to me, you know."
Hutch finally returned to the living room and sat down on the sofa, covering his lap with one of the cushions. "He called me a pig, Starsk."
"What?" Starsky asked, racing to follow his partner's train of thought.
"When I told my father that I was quitting med school to join the police force, he asked me why would I give up prestige to become a pig."
"He was just disappointed that you wouldn't become a doctor."
"No way. At first, I thought he was joking. I said that I wanted to help people on the streets, that it was the only thing I saw myself doing. He told me that I had no ambition. He told me not to come to him when I received my pig's pittance, that he wouldn't give me any money because I had thrown a decent living away on my own volition." Hutch finally looked into his partner's eyes and Starsky saw all the hurt that was revealed in the blue gaze.
Starsky was shocked by Hutch's story. How could a father be so unsupportive and so uncaring to his own son? In his own eyes, Starsky considered Hutch as one of the best, personally and professionally. That a man chose to cruelly reject his own son instead of thanking the heavens every day for sending such a gift was incomprehensible to Starsky. Life on the streets was filled with unspeakable crimes and random slaughter but somehow, none was as vicious as the psychological torment men inflicted on each other.
"He called me a pig and that was the last real conversation we had," Hutch went on. "He's never showed any interest in what I was doing. He didn't even show up for graduation at the academy. He even stopped pretending when Van and I divorced."
"That was his loss, Hutch," Starsky said, trying to reach out to his friend. "You know you make a difference out there, on the streets, every day. You treat people like human beings, Hutch. Do you know why you are so good at what you do? Do you think you'd have so many snitches on the street if you treated every prostitute like garbage? People like Sweet Alice and Elijah get a break in their miserable lives because you take the time to talk to them." Despite the fact that your father never bothered to bestow you that courtesy.
"I'm not going to the funeral, Starsk."
"I know how you feel, but--"
"Oh yeah?" Hutch's eyes had become narrow slits and his throat tightened around the words, stressing every guttural consonant. "Tell me how it felt when your dad called you a pig when you told him that you wanted to be a cop like him. Tell me that your mom doesn't tell all her friends that her little Davey is a police detective in California. Tell me that she doesn't want to hear about every detail about your job. Tell me that she isn't proud of you when you tell her about the criminals you put away during the week. Tell me that your mom wouldn't visit you twelve times a year if she had the money."
Starsky tried to summon a defense but ended by looking down in silence because Hutch was right. He couldn't imagine how a father could destroy his son with cruel words. His father's death twenty-two years ago had etched deep scars in the ten-year-old boy but he cherished the memories of his dad: the man who was responsible for his growing up to be a cop.
Hutch shook his head. "I'm tired," he said softly, almost apologetically. "It's been a long day. I think I'll go home and take a nap."
"You can lie down in the bedroom if you want," Starsky offered.
Maybe it was because he wanted to make up for his outburst, or maybe he was too exhausted to head back to his apartment, but Hutch accepted his friend's proposition with a shy smile, which barely reflected in his eyes. Hutch stood up and, standing behind the wicker chair on his way to the bedroom, gave Starsky's shoulder a friendly, yet tentative squeeze. Starsky instantly clasped his friend's hand and returned the pressure. Sometimes it seemed that only the body could fill in the gap left by words.
Starsky gently opened the bedroom door and peeked inside, spying on Hutch's sleeping form. Convinced by Hutch's even breathing that his friend had finally fallen asleep, Starsky tiptoed out of the room and headed for the garage. He rummaged through the cardboard boxes he had never been opened since he had moved in five years ago. Most of them contained his childhood toys and comic books. Things he hadn't had the heart to reveal now that he had begun a new life in California.
Stepping over diverse tools, Starsky made his way to the back of the room and chose a pile composed of three boxes. He took the top one down and set it on the floor. It was a large, brown cardboard box and each side was marked `Cards' in black marker. Starsky tore off the adhesive tape and unfolded the flaps. Plunging both hands in, he retrieved several clear plastic bags filled with bubble gum baseball cards. Each bag contained approximately fifty yellowing picture cards. Starsky sat down on the garage floor with his loot in his lap. Unsealing one bag, he grabbed the cards and shuffled through them, testing his memory by recalling every player's statistics. He reacquainted himself with his baseball heroes like Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Yogi Bera and of course, Joe DiMaggio.
Aware that he was on a very distinct mission, Starsky put his card collection aside and dove back in the cardboard box. He let out a victorious cry as he finally found what he was looking for. He took the object and turned it around between his grasp. It was perfect. Starsky was smiling as he decided what to do next.
Hutch awoke from a toss-and-turn nap, his eyes accustoming quickly to the darkness due to the waning afternoon light seeping through the partly opened door. Hutch lay motionless on his back, taking advantage of the extra time alone to ponder. He strained to hear the sounds the other side of the door but all was silent. Either Starsky had gone on some errand or he had fallen asleep on the couch. He put a hand behind his head for support and replayed their earlier discussion in his mind. Why do I complicate my life like that? he thought. I could have shut my mouth and gone home for a couple of days, play the dutiful son's part and come back to work. And why did I have to blurt it all to Starsky like that? Deep down however, Hutch realized that he already knew the answer. Just like a magnet on metal, Starsky invited confession. Hutch only had to gaze briefly in those inquisitive eyes to feel that his partner had tapped directly into his soul, that he knew his inner turmoil. And like a mesmerized subject, Hutch could not help but bare his soul to his friend, increasingly aware that the burden at the pit of his stomach was gradually fading away the more he confided in him. Starsky as therapy, Hutch chuckled, there's a concept. I'm sure there's a second career in that when we quit the force.
Hutch's gaze lazed around the bedroom. Just like the rest of the apartment, Starsky's bedroom was whimsically yet tastefully decorated. The walls had been painted in earthy tones of blue and rusty red. The bureau and the bed were made of varnished oak wood. Unlike the living area where car parts were literally hanging from the ceiling among other miscellaneous gadgets, a few ornamental South American artifacts had been sparsely added to the bedroom decor. Somehow the seemingly disorganized decor intermingled perfectly to reflect his partner's personality: unique, whimsical, alluring and masculine. The only thing that didn't seem to fit in the decor was the four-poster bed covered with a built-in ceiling mirror into which Hutch found himself staring. To each his style, Hutch thought, amused, wondering how women reacted when Starsky lead them into his room.
Hutch rolled over on his side, facing the nightstand. There on the night table stood the ugliest object he had ever seen. Hutch reached out and switched on the reading light over the bed. The `object' was molded in the form a pink plastic pig, clad in red overalls and wearing an equally red cap between its pointy ears. The pig's expression was mischievously shy and held a pipe between its paws. Hutch stretched out and picked up the plastic pig.
"His name is Erik," Starsky said, leaning in the doorpost.
"Starsk, what is it?" Hutch asked, confused.
"It's a piggy bank," Starsky said as if the description alone was self-explanatory. Hutch wondered if he was still sleeping. Starsky pushed himself from the doorpost and walked to the bed. Hutch mechanically moved his legs as his partner sat down on the edge of the bed. Starsky brushed the back of his hand over his nose and folded the other arm over his chest.
"When I was eight years old," Starsky began, "my parents took Nicky and me to the town fair for the first time. Nicky was still a baby yet, but I remember that I was so excited. I was running everywhere to make sure that we wouldn't miss anything. I wanted to do all the rides especially the big and thrilling ones but since Nicky was too small, my mother was mostly carrying him around in her arms so we stuck to family rides. Dull, family rides." Starsky stopped, smiling as he lingered on a private memory. "Anyway, my dad must have picked on my disappointment because sometime after lunch he suggested that my mother take Nicky to the kiddie park and..." Starsky left the sentence unfinished, turning his head to look at his partner.
"He took you on the roller coasters," the blond man guessed, propping himself up on the pillows.
"Right. It was the most exciting day of my life. On one roller coaster I remember grabbing my dad's hand so tight that his knuckles turned white. We laughed so hard, Dad and me..." Again, Starsky stopped but Hutch didn't interrupt his friend's reverie.
"That was the best day I ever had. We were on our way back to join Mom and Nicky and I was skipping beside my dad, my head still light from the adrenaline rush. Just before arriving at the Kiddie Park we passed a game booth. You know the one you have to shoot so many targets to win the big prize?"
Starsky went on with his story. "Well in this particular game my dad had to hit five moving targets with a shotgun. He asked me if I thought he could win. I said, `Sure'. He took the shotgun and he aimed at these skipping frogs. He got the first four without trouble, you know, my dad had great aim."
"Sounds like somebody I know," Hutch said. Starsky smiled, gracefully acknowledging the praise.
"So there's this last skipping frog to shoot and I'm almost standing on the stool when my dad leans down and whispers in my ear `You think you can hit that one?' Before I can answer he puts the shotgun on my shoulder, his hands guiding mine on the trigger. He helped me aim, and when he told me to, my finger squeezed the trigger under his finger. It was the first time and the last time I touched a gun before the police academy," the detective said parenthetically. "But, the important thing is, I hit the frog. I couldn't believe it! We'd won and the man behind the booth let me choose the prize. There was a million of stuffed animals on the shelves, some as big as I was I swear. Instead I chose a very inconspicuous piggy bank dressed in red overalls."
Hutch's eyes went from his partner to the piggy bank he was holding. He slightly held up the article to Starsky in silent inquiry. The dark detective nodded, his eyes suddenly misting as he took Erik from Hutch's grasp. He turned it over in his hands, his fingers hovering along the molded plastic.
"I took him home and I named him Erik for Erik the Red, because he was invincible--like my dad." Starsky's voice caught at the flood of memories. He returned the piggy bank to Hutch. "I want you to have him."
"Starsk, I can't, I --" Hutch's eyes were fixed on Starsky.
"Listen, Hutch. That piggy bank holds the best memories I have of my dad. After he died, I cried myself to sleep every night holding Erik in my arms until I reached thirteen years old. After that I made sure to put it in the most visible place in my room for fear I would forget my dad. Much later I realized that I didn't need a plastic piggy bank to remember him. He would always be here," he tapped a spot on his chest where his heart was, "guiding my hand like he did that day at the game booth."
"This," he continued pointing at the pig, "represents all that is good about a dad. I'm sorry you didn't have much of a father. However, Erik here is the most loyal, decent, friendly, compassionate and efficient Viking pig I know. He's also very useful."
Starsky fished out a dime from his jeans pocket and inserted it in the slot splitting Erik's red cap. The dime bounced on the plastic curves and dropped with a metallic resonance. "You see, despite what your father said, pigs can save a lot of money."
Hutch gazed at the plastic bank in his hands seemingly at loss for words. He was moved by his friend's generous gesture. Starsky couldn't have given him anything more precious if he had tried. His partner had managed to reconcile him to his estranged father by sharing the happiest moment of his life, by sharing his dad with him. Hutch brushed his clouded eyes with the back of his hand.
"Thank you," he said through a tight throat.
Starsky stretched out his arm and squeezed Hutch's knee through the quilt.
"I just figured that you could use some good `dad' memories of your own." Starsky stood and walked out of the room, pulling the door close behind him.
Alone in the dark, Hutch surrendered to a flood of rushing thoughts he had forced himself to push at the back of his mind. He could not go on pretending that his father's death didn't affect him. He clutched the piggy bank to his chest and he did not try to brush the straying tears that started streaming down his cheeks. Nor did he try to contain the sobs that escaped him as he mourned for the first time the father he had lost. He cried for a past he couldn't reclaim, for a man he wished he had known better, for a little boy who only wanted approval and for a grown police detective lost in a world of his own.
Starsky's heart tightened in his chest as he listened to the strangled sobs coming from the bedroom. However he understood that Hutch needed to be alone right now. To keep himself from storming in the room to comfort his friend, Starsky picked up the Bay City phone directory. He had a couple of phone calls to make.
It was well past eight p.m. when Hutch emerged from the bedroom and joined Starsky in the living room. Although he had stopped by the bathroom first to splash cold water on his face, his eyes were slightly puffy and pillow creases were imprinted on his cheeks. Starsky looked up from the automobile magazine he was reading and smiled as Hutch self-consciously attempted to smooth his tousled hair.
"How do you feel?"
"Rested." Hutch emphasized his answer with a candid smile, which, more than anything else, proved to Starsky that his partner was telling the truth.
"Yeah." And as if to illustrate Hutch rubbed a hand over his stomach. "Have you eaten?"
"I made a pot of spaghetti and meatballs. I saved you some if you like."
Starsky rose from the chair and headed to kitchen. Hutch followed suit.
"So are you flying home for the funeral?" Starsky asked, serving a generous portion of pasta in a terracotta plate. The smell of Italian sausage mixed with basil and oregano further teased Hutch's appetite.
"I guess I should. I don't know the flights' schedule though," the blond man said after dabbing spaghetti sauce from his chin.
"I took the liberty of calling the airport," Starsky shot from the sink where he was washing the dishes. "The paper is on the table."
Hutch put his fork down and picked up the folded piece of paper. He was surprised and grateful to see that Starsky had made all the arrangements. He had booked a flight out of Bay City at six o'clock tomorrow morning. The plane would take him to Minneapolis and from there he would transfer to Duluth. Hutch looked at the information arranging his return. The return flight that had been scribbled in Starsky's hurried handwriting was scheduled for the next Saturday.
Hutch looked quizzically at his partner. "I can't miss work for a whole week. I don't have any personal time left."
"You're entitled to three days of bereavement leave," Starsky pointed out.
"I called Dobey at home and he agreed to grant you two extra days of leave," Starsky added.
"How did you pull that off?" Hutch asked, feeling instinctively that his partner had played a crucial role in convincing the grumpy police captain.
"Well, I might have mentioned that we had been investigating a distinct possibility that his phone extension could be shared by the National Library." Starsky winked impishly and Hutch burst into a booming laugh.
Keep the curve balls coming, Hutch thought, as long as I have Starsky in my corner, I'll be okay.
Hutch had wolfed down the remainder of his meal, his appetite having returned for the first time since the morning. The boys had then taken a couple of bottles of beer to the terrace, looking forward to sitting back and relaxing in the warm, quiet evening. Both men pondered in silence for a while, sipping their beers, happy just to share a quiet moment together. The night air was sweetened by the scent of household green plants furnishing the concrete ledge.
Starsky was the first one to interrupt the stillness. "Haven't changed your mind about going back home?"
"I'm wondering if I should, though."
"It's not like it'll be the homecoming of the year. The prodigal son returns," Hutch said sarcastically.
Starsky sipped his beer pensively for a while. He knew how Hutch's way of life stuck out like a sore thumb in his ultra-conservative family.
"You'll have to take it slow, that's all."
"I'm a complete stranger to my own family, Starsk. They don't understand what I do. I can't possibly tell my mom about most of the stuff I deal with on a daily basis. I certainly don't want to tell her about this." Hutch lifted his left sleeve and pointed to the crook of his elbow. Faint needle tracks were still visible against the ashen skin.
"You don't have to tell your mom about that if you don't want to. I mean, I didn't gather the courage to tell my mom about Bellamy poisoning me yet. I know she'd freak out."
"You know, Starsk, sometimes I just don't know where I'm supposed to stand. It's even more confusing when I visit my family. I feel I'm caught between two completely different worlds: one is entirely about social climbing and public appearances, the other is filled with violence, pain and death. There are days neither makes sense to me."
Starsky stared at his friend in silence. Hutch's uncertainties were familiar although he never spent sleepless nights staring at the ceiling himself, wondering if his job really made a difference. He had decided a long time ago that he was meant to be a cop--like his father, that he couldn't bear doing anything else. There were times however when the daily grind seemed too tough to handle, but Starsky had learned early on that doing the right thing seldom was easy.
Hutch, on the other hand, displayed a lot of faith regarding his chosen profession but from time to time, he required a sign to confirm that he was on the right path. Starsky supposed that what Hutch was really looking for was an old-fashioned calling. Not that he suspected his friend was drawn to the priesthood, but in order for his job to be fulfilling, it had to feel right in his mind, in his heart and in his soul. Otherwise, he would feel worthless no matter how well he was performing on the streets.
"Come on." Starsky pulled Hutch to his feet.
"Where are we going?" Hutch asked.
Starsky lead his partner to the garage. He picked up a rag and the bottle of Armor All, which he tossed to his puzzled friend.
"My car is due to be washed," he explained.
"It's ten thirty in the evening," Hutch protested.
"So what? That way we'll be sure to avoid sunspots. Besides, we still have plenty of time before I drive you to the airport in the morning."
"About that, Starsk," Hutch said.
"What?" For a moment, Starsky thought that Hutch had changed his mind about flying home.
"Will you let me drive your car?"
Starsky turned his head away to prevent Hutch from seeing the grin that brightened his expression. He took another sip from his bottle. There were days were he simply knew they could take on the world in all its ugliness. Then there were days like today. Days that started out all wrong but ended effortlessly with the feeling that they were closer to understand the secrets of the universe. Somehow it made everything seem all worthwhile.