"You nailed 'em, huh?"
"There was a collar. Way to go still."
The tone was colorless, a mere plain statement, and Hutch clearly ready to
end the hurried exchange.
"You remind them it's your day off?"
But Starsky's question coincided with the broken connection. He hung up and
stayed for a moment staring blankly at the telephone. Can't beat the system.
But practice didn't make for patience. His final question had sounded dumb
in his own ears even as he uttered it, and he hadn't really expected an
answer any more than Hutch had tried to find one. Irritation on one side,
tired resignation on the other, had effectively curtailed conversation.
Yet again, Starsky reflected that learning to
handle this new limbo-style partnership carried its full quota of built-in
frustrations. It had seemed good at first to be working again, but this
low-key half-life was light years away from the old days. Maybe...soon....when this
transition time had been lived through and they were
established in the challenges and incentives of some new working pattern,
they'd get ahead of the frustrations.
Rehabilitation -- the word the experts threw at
him these days. Everyone preached patience...give it all time. Meanwhile,
the small setbacks could assume disproportionate significance. Like missing
tonight's dinner and the show he'd wanted Hutch to see. Starsky recognized
that this was a kind of fallow time, getting used, as far as they could ever
hope, to the constraints of a job-structure which steadily reduced the time
spent away from squadroom or courtroom; getting used to the discovery that
the initial euphoria of recovery didn't stay on the same level. Adaptation
was the name of this game, with limitations, changes, stresses, all putting
in their claim.
He knew it had made sense on the previous evening
when the dragging course of the Dileggio case had suddenly picked up speed,
to leave the action to the team in which his partner was cast in a key role
but in which he himself could play no more than a walk-on part...and
spear-carrier is definitely not my scene....
He returned to the kitchen table to pour more
coffee -- leisure this morning not to drink too fast for tasting. You
drink too much coffee. He seemed to hear Hutch's disparaging tone from
way back, years ago, laying down the law he'd decided at the time. But in
those early days of that younger relationship, he'd sometimes gone along
with it, acknowledging with unexpected insight into something he couldn't
quite classify, the motives prompting the disapproval. There had even been
times when he'd refrained from contradiction.
He replenished the half-empty mug. Too much
coffee? Fills in the time now -- day off with coffee drinking as its high
point. He took another gulp. At least, it was good to be without the gun.
Its discomfort had become a nagging preoccupation, not yet confided to
Hutch. Guess I'll have to tell him if it doesn't go away...only
fair. They'd been helpful about that at the hospital, counseling yet
more patience, pointing him toward answers. But he was still finding out
what the questions were. It was taking the daily routine to reveal some of
Resignedly, he considered some of the plans which
were to have made this a special day, anniversary of his escape from the
hospital, six whole months now. Replay -- return engagement for one memorable
meal at the restaurant of a person's choice. Starsky recalled the earlier
occasion, couple of months back, with its dynamic sense of reprieve. Last
reprieve? He pushed the possibility aside. We made it. We're here. And
what the hell else mattered? It was a bottom line which brought its own
brand of anchoring strength. Sure, the anticipation which had been focused
on today's date had evaporated, crowded out by a too familiar kind of
reality. Admit that the whole week had been leading to this and that after
two long, late days -- three now -- events wouldn't be the way they'd planned.
So what else was new?
Few more hours, Hutch had said. Maybe there was a
chance still. The day was young. Time to catch up on some of those jobs
which still invariably waited as each day ended -- like sort those old
Geographics that Hutch had dumped and he had rescued. Grudgingly, he
conceded that his partner might not be totally wrong there...can't keep
An hour later he surfaced from the ragged heap of
torn-out pages...seemed to be keeping more than he'd be throwing away.
Nearly mid-morning. With the cessation of the compulsive activity, anxiety
emerged from its hiding places. He had carried that commodity home with him
last night, and it had remained, restless companion of an unrestful night,
goading him, unrefreshed by the fitful sleep, into heading for the kitchen
and the coffee soon after dawn. It was the kind of disquiet they had learned
long ago to deal with. Going on too long now? Would have called if.... Hutch
had sounded weary, discouraged, but no more. The past months had made some
things harder to handle.
Words like sudden or unpredictable had taken on a
new immediate intensity. People offered cliché cries about lightning not
striking twice. Not true. Paperwork could be slow, the checking, the waiting
for some point of marginal but essential verification.
Starsky watched himself run the rationalizations
past...the old question...what if?
He froze at the sound of a car door, slammed with
unfamiliar resonance. That's not the.... The shadows took on sudden
substance while he listened as the slow steps halted outside.
"It's open," he called, his eyes
watchful, then relaxed as Hutch crossed the threshold, and, for a moment,
returned his searching glance.
"Hitched a ride. Braun was coming this
way." Hutch took a few steps into the room. "Car's back at the
garage. They're fixing the windshield."
See? Starsky interjected
silently. Not true.
"Can collect tomorrow."
Starsky scrambled up from the litter of discarded
newsprint scattered over the floor. He took in the old signs of a night that
had been too long.
"Chance to collect a whole new car," he
suggested lightly, "not just a spare part." And routinely,
"You want some coffee?"
"Want some sleep." His partner's face
showed facts too heavy for the telling.
Starsky didn't ask more questions.
"Yeah," he agreed, "sleep and a shower." He watched as
Hutch poured coffee and sank down on the sofa. "That has to be cold by
now," he warned.
"It's okay." Hutch swallowed the tepid
Starsky gathered up some of the ankle-deep
fragments which mantled a fair proportion of the floor, pushed into an
untidy stack all the pages he still could not bear to part with. Turning
from dumping the remains in the trash, he was aware that the place was oddly
"Some good wildlife stuff here." He
indicated his hoard. "Guess it's since I got Louise --" He broke
Hutch's face was more than half-hidden in the
sofa pillow, but exhaustion showed in more than expression. The fingers of
the drooping left hand were almost level with the carpet, and Starsky, going
soundlessly nearer, detached the empty mug from the light hold. He drew off
the boots, letting them fall, but neither noise nor movement seemed about to
disturb this sleep. Cautiously, he withdrew the gun and unsnapped the
harness, slipping a supporting hand beneath the dead-weight while he
released the holster.
The empty eyes opened as Starsky laid him back
down, held his gaze questioningly, and he sensed the tremors and the
tensions in the shoulders heavy against his sustaining arm. Recognition of
place, realization of time, and Hutch offered him the faintest of smiles
before the blank, blue eyes closed again.
What am I gonna do with you? In the few
minutes it took to find a blanket, oblivion had set in once more. He tucked
in its edges, closed out some of the near-noonday light, and left the living
room to shadowed silence.
Next move? He came to a rapid decision and called
in, listened as Dobey supplied details, coloring in the outline of his
existing knowledge of the case, telling him succinctly some of the things
for which Hutch had not even tried to find the words. Not for the first
time, he understood why the official jargon had its necessary place; the
impersonal formulae, the conventional, technical phrases, served their
calculated purpose of shrouding the unspeakable. Only, he remembered, the
shapes still showed through the shrouds.
Reports? Fleetingly, his thoughts centered on
times, a lifetime ago, when he'd tried to enrich the rule-book vocabulary
with his own more colorful speech...the way we were...the zest in
those days breaking through even into the routine paperwork, in the
idiosyncratic style which official disapproval had failed to stifle. He
recalled Dobey's reaction when the higher echelons had diagnosed such
manifestations as attention seeking. "He doesn't need to seek
attention," their captain had pronounced. "It gravitates toward
him like it's some law of nature."
"Been told I have a way with words,"
Starsky had observed complacently. "Useful practice for when I write
that book -- take the lid off this Department." He'd turned to bring
Hutch into the conversation. "If you really don't buy that Bolivian
project, it's one way we could get seriously rich."
"I'm coming in," he informed Dobey now.
"Tie up a few of the loose ends -- was involved in some stages,
The envelope containing the evening's theater
tickets lay beside the telephone and he shook out the two scraps of flimsy
pink paper. One thing was for sure: neither of them would be using those
reservations tonight. So what --?
He dialed a familiar number and found in Rosie's
excitement and her mother's warm thanks some consolation to dispel the
bleakness of this downer day. Anybody's guess when they'd get another shot
at it, time and tickets simultaneously available. The rave reviews spoke of
a runaway hit. No one could say our tastes run together in everything...he'd leave the
choreography's finer points to his partner's informed
appraisal, but he knew they'd both have enjoyed those cats.
Sighing, he transferred the ticket envelope to a
pocket; simpler to hand it to Dobey than to contact the theater. Keys. Leave
a note maybe. Half the cover of a torn-up carton still lay beneath the table
and he retrieved it, smoothing out its surface. The red marker pen was to
hand and he used it for the dozen or so words. He set the card where he
decided Hutch had to see it and departed to pick up what pieces he could.
The waning light of late afternoon was closing in
by the time Starsky returned to the apartment. The sofa's occupant was there
still, awake now, beer in hand and another empty can on the floor beside
him. Collecting his own can, Starsky joined him.
"Got your note," Hutch volunteered
after a minute. He held out a hand, holding a white card with its scarlet
signature -- Starsk -- reminder of another lettered lifeline.
"Yeah.... I talked to Dobey." Starsky
let that register. They sat for a while in further silence, watching the
indigo night deepen beyond the window, until Starsky switched on a lamp.
"Her mother doesn't know." Hutch voiced
the inescapable reality which pounced and fastened with every thought of the
A couple of beats and Starsky said steadily,
"She does now."
"You catch that one?" Hutch asked.
"They couldn't locate --"
"They have now. It's done. Talked to Mrs.
The exchange trailed off. No problem filling in
details of the telling, confirming the fears, uprooting the hopes, canceling
life, talking to the mother whose four-year-old daughter had died
in ways that would be filed in the records, fed into the computer, more
statistics in the official repository of such thing, and also in the
everlasting imagination of those who had unraveled that enquiry, knowing at
first hand the exact connotation of the textbook title -- investigating
officer -- and going with the case wherever it led.
Starsky knew that no more need be said, knew that
they shared the bitterness of this corollary of so many cases -- never grow
used to it. He went on, "You found her. I know about that. They told me
about last night." Hutch's look held him. "Paperwork's tied up,
more or less."
"You do the reports, too?" Hutch asked
"All I could. You'll have to finish up some
of the -- uh -- details." Some things about this one only you'll ever
know at first hand.
"It's late," Hutch said and turned to
meet his partner's speculative look. "Had some plans for tonight --
"Scratch that one. We won't be going."
Starsky was aware, overwhelmingly, as he spoke,
of Hutch's relief in having that decision made. "It's tonight," Hutch
"Nope. I cancelled. We don't have to
"Really, really. Change of plan. Happens all
the time, or hadn't you noticed? Don't have to do anything right now. Hang
on to that idea, huh?"
Starsky got to his feet, shrugging out of his
jacket and tossing it in the general direction of the rocking chair.
Grimacing a little, he reached for the holster straps.
"Still hurting." Hutch's words were a
statement, not a question.
Starsky raised a deprecatory eyebrow as he freed
the harness. "Guess it'll get easier," he decided. "Have to
give it time."
Hutch blinked. "Keep telling you."
"I noticed." Starsky laid the gun down
and added, en route for the bathroom, "Why don't you make some
sandwiches or something?" He didn't wait for an answer.
Hutch recognized the bid for a kind of normality.
The events of the past hours would stay with them, impossible to banish,
even while both were aware of the need to set the horrors in some kind of
desperate perspective. Old ground, old questions, the limited defense
mechanisms learned a while ago, and repetition teaching no short cuts for
dealing with them. He concocted sandwiches of vast
proportions, beef on rye, looked in vain for wine, opted for more beer, and
called, "You about ready?"
Established again on the sofa, feet upon the
coffee table, Starsky waved the tray forward with a lordly gesture. A
magnum-sized bottle, adorned with a flamboyant red rosette, rested between
"Won it," he announced briefly.
"Those tickets they were selling last week --"
remember you borrowed the dollar to pay for yours."
"Right. Aren't you glad you helped out like
that? Must've got me the lucky number." Starsky reached for his prize.
"Wanna share?" he invited.
Sharing...sharing this case like so many
others. One more sharing -- danger and donuts, coffee and comfort, fears and
fun, grief and giving. On that level, it had been one more day like so many
Its somber shadows were with them still, could
never be totally lifted, yet the strength of the sharing was there too, a
sure foundation, as always. Strange, perhaps, that once, a million years
ago, it could have seemed unthinkable that ordinary hunger could ever
feature in days like this one. They drank the red wine and found nothing new
to say in the old search for context or meaning. Maybe the answer was that
there were no answers.
The tray was cleared down to crumbs, domesticity
lending its own impulse to make the jump back across the chasm to the safe
side of normality. Until next time. And would the gap ever prove too wide?
Hutch moved over to the window, stood looking out at the December sky.
"How you doin'?" Soft-voiced, Starsky's
casual question at his side.
"Okay." He sighed, meeting the candid
"Hey, we did get lucky, you know,"
They knew, too, that they would never forget
today's child, one more of the unforgotten children. In the past twenty-four
hours, for yet one more time, the old pressures had assailed them. Emotions
atrophied. Had the others felt the same helplessness, despair. Starsky
wondered. He guessed they had. There was a negative consolation in there
Gains, too? Could that be? -- some new dimension
of strength for the fugitive fragility of new beginnings?
Starsky recalled the alien tensions and the
unverbalized fears of the past months when leaving the hospital had seemed
to bring more stresses than entering it. Would they learn proof against
But then the strengths had come too. There would
still be the irritations, the boredom, the plain bad temper, the flaring
anger. And the irrational violence that most days didn't bring and any day
Like always. But we did get lucky...a lot of
life still there -- maybe -- for the living.
And their sure center held.
"Friendship is the allay of our sorrows, the
ease of our passions, the discharge of our oppressions, the sanctuary to our
calamities, the counselor of our thoughts, the exercise and improvement of
what we meditate." Jeremy Taylor, 1611-1667