A LONG WAY DOWN
The Edsel was eating up the Mojave miles, already less than a couple of
hours away from L.A. Back in the city
where nothing is clear. Then what? What difference could another place
make? Hadn't worked before, Starsky wryly reminded himself.
Hell, he was sorry about Mitchell. The guy was okay and for him to have
to die like that was tragic. But Mitchell had been no more that a catalyst. See?
I can use the fancy words too. He'd been all set to get out of
Vegas...made sense for him to deal with the paperwork and leave the funeral
arrangements to Hutch, but then Jack's family had fixed the final homeward
flight to the Minnesota they and Hutch knew so well and where he could have
no place. It was just one more example of a set-up paradoxically both new
and familiar, still needing to be worked out and no step-by-step, simple
instructions for doing that.
So after all the phone calls and after the mailing of the special
delivery package, there had been nothing to keep them in Vegas and they'd
begun the return journey late on the previous day, with Hutch waiting for
him with undisguised impatience in the driver' seat...no sharing on this
trip, not even in anything so routine as driving. The overnight motel stop
had brought no kind of relaxation, both of them tense, tired and taciturn.
Had they exchanged more than a dozen words since that stop? But a motel was
easier than a night in Mitchell's apartment or finding some Vegas hotel.
They hadn't discussed the choices but they'd come to the same conclusion.
Was that good?
The case might be tied up except for neatening the bows but there were
still some things no nearer being worked out. Starsky turned on the radio --
loud -- trying to crowd out thoughts that chased each other around and
around in unresolved circles, ignoring his partner's irritated reaction to
the blaring sound, superimposed on deadening heat. Irritated? That was
hostile if he'd ever seen hostile. Hutch's silence was somehow more
insistent than any number from some radio rock band.
Partner? Yeah, sure, that bit was technically accurate. We were -- are --
together on a working assignment. That's
partner, huh? A case we're both involved in. An investigation. But, for us,
partner used to mean a whole lot more than that. So where did we lose all
the rest? And when? Starsky couldn't be sure. The answer to that was
something he'd been trying to nail for a while now. It had been there
already when Cameron showed up that day.
His thoughts went back to the outward drive, scoffing now at his own
naive idea that a new case in a new place could snap them out of whatever
had been happening to them in the past few weeks. He couldn't name it,
couldn't tie any label on it. It was all elusive, somehow defying or
challenging labels, but it was there and he didn't like whatever it was. Did
Hutch refuse to see it? He only knew that at the end of each difficult
shift, some signs were inescapable. He'd tried to tell himself that a new
case like this one could be the chance to start over, had given the idea
build-up, wanting to believe it.
So it hadn't worked, and he'd used the guidebook as a let-out for finding
something to say...some sort of substitute dialog. And when did we ever need words before? Maybe he was imagining too
much. Only he knew he wasn't. Bottom
line, Hutch: what's changed? It's not the way it was. And why? They were
coming into San Bernadino and he glanced at his companion. "Want me to
drive?" When he didn't get any reply, he turned the radio volume lower
and repeated the question.
"Not much point now. We're there practically." Brief,
dismissive. And not true. Not with the miles of cross-city driving ahead of
them. Starsky let it go, hanging on to the couple of good memories salvaged
from the last downer days. There was an efficient partnership still. That
hadn't been touched. It had showed in the way the mechanism had slid
smoothly into gear that day at the Pruitt house and, afterwards, in those
final moves. But mere, efficient
mechanism was never our style. Where did all the other things go? Yet it
was still something to hold on to.
And Vicki. The times with her had at least got him away from the re-runs
of the reunion scenes that his partner and his partner's best friend had
played out all those times. All that 'do you remember?'...Hutch had looked
at him oddly, maybe really looked at him for the first time on the whole
trip, when he'd voiced the tentative plans for Vicki, but he'd gone along
with the idea. Have to figure some way
to explain that so Dobey buys it. Tell him we were playin' eno or something.
That was another thing -- departmental money to be accounted for, the
original stake money anyway. He felt no scruples he couldn't swallow...only
suppose Hutch didn't want to be associated with 'explanations'? But after
the last encounter with Pruitt, Vicky would be lucky to work again in weeks
-- lucky too that Jack had been around that night. Using the money this way
couldn't be wrong and there was the bonus of that special satisfaction of
dodging the system...one good thing in this whole mess. You
feel the same way about that, partner?
Back in the city now, and nothing changed. The sense of separateness was
strong again, strong as on the earlier journey. He'd seen that manner before
-- Hutch, cool, managing, taking charge, issuing instructions but the
cutting edge had never before been turned in his direction. Sure he'd heard
a million times, in colorful detail, his partner's low opinion of his less
endearing traits: Hutch had made a daily practice of spelling out all those.
But this was different. Like over those drinks? Stupid sniping? Points
scoring? Like despising the rootbeer, going for that coconut, the whole
superior bit...wanting to share though. But all that was pretty routine.
What hadn't been routine had been to have that carton removed from his
grasp, and, seconds later, put into Mitchell's hand. Just the way it went
down? Probably. Or Hutch telling him something else? Whatever -- absurdly --
it was one of the sharpest recollections of this whole shitty trip. And not
trusting him with the money...really not trusting him. Serious about it.
Detached. No fun.
The sense of exclusion had grown. That -- and maybe the sheer lack of
sleep -- had turned him into a looker-on for most of that night on the town.
What was it they said about lookers-on? So what was your game buddy?
And yet, it wasn't, he felt, a calculated exclusion. He just hadn't rated
enough to be deliberately left out of anything.
Plain jealousy? But why? And of what, for Pete's sake? Over-reacting?
Maybe he should take that one out for a long, close look. Did I take too much for granted? Never used to be all these questions.
It's those that are new.
He remembered drifting out of exhausted, unrefreshing sleep on the
hospital couch, vaguely aware of words before he turned the sound into
sense. And then checking as realization broke through -- checking that
first, spontaneous movement to share, to comfort, unsure as never before
that it would be okay to make the first move. Did he have any part in such
things? Seemed to be a lot of places in Hutch's life where he didn't
feature. Simpler not to open his eyes.
about it. Talk about it too, babe.
A long way down, Hutch had said -- for all of us. Yeah...and how far back to where we used to be? And you, partner -- you