This story first appeared in the zine, Our Favorite Things #17 (2001). Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
"I'll bid ten. Lady Luck's smiling on me tonight." Hutch suited action to words, tossing in a pair of chips as he grinned at his fellow players.
"The fair lady is keeping busy then. I'll call." That was Huggy Bear, also looking pleased with himself.
Captain Harold Dobey harrumphed as he rearranged his cards. "You keep enough fair ladies busy," he muttered at Huggy on his right, then sighed heavily. "I fold."
On his other side, Doctor Jace Broadhurst, off-duty for once, grinned amiably under his freckles. "Getting a little too much for me." He put down his cards. "Gabe?"
Gabe Bonhomme, the older black detective, frowned at his cards. "I think I'll sit this one out, too," he finally said, putting them down. "I'm getting too old for this."
"Speak for yourself," Dobey, the senior member of the group, growled good-naturedly, giving rise to snickers from the other players.
"Starsky?" someone prompted.
Starsky was chewing on his lip intently. "I'll call," he said, unusually laconic.
And Hutch, of course, noticed. "What's the matter, Starsk, things getting a little rich for your blood?"
"Stuff it, blintz," was the pleasant reply.
Another round of laughter.
It was just the kind of game that was needed to top off a hectic and stressful week. Starsky usually had his partner over, or vice versa, at some point to blow off some steam together, but with Hutch's leg still encasted from hitman Roy Slater's attempt on his life, quiet evenings in seemed more appropriate. The game had somehow grown from there to include some of their closer friends, and the cheerful company and light mood were already helping as everyone relaxed.
Back to Hutch. He stared critically at his hand, rearranging the cards meticulously. "I think..."
"...therefore you are," Huggy finished smoothly. "Are you going to go, amigo, or just stare at your cards all night?"
"I'm going, I'm going." Absently, the blond reached down to rub at his hip where the cast always chafed. He made his play, Huggy following suit as did Starsky, whose eyes lingered thoughtfully on his partner.
"Read 'em and weep," Huggy said smugly, laying out his flush to Jace's impressed whistle and everyone else's groans.
"Can't you think of a more original line than that, Huggy?" Starsky shook his head, drawing all the cards in to shuffle for the next round.
"Hey, if the shoe fits, use it!"
Gabe laughed. "I think you're mixing metaphors, Huggy."
"He's mixing somethin'."
"You're all just jealous of superior talent," Huggy haughtily addressed them all.
The phone rang, and it being Starsky's place, he was saved from reply as he leapt up to grab it. A moment later, he was stretching it to Dobey. "Cap'n? It's for you, the station."
"Deal me out." Dobey got up from the table to the relative privacy of the kitchen.
"Anything wrong, Starsk?"
Starsky shrugged at his partner. "She didn't say."
Cards were handed out and were just beginning to be sorted as their frowning captain reappeared.
"Something wrong, sir?" Gabe asked.
Dobey was shaking his head. "Genarro was pursuing a prowler on foot and disappeared. His partner hasn't been able to find him for twenty minutes now."
The mood noticeably dampened around the table. "They need any help?" Hutch quietly offered after a minute.
The captain shook his head again. "Simmons & Babcock and several black-and-whites are already combing the area." He glanced around the table. "You haven't started yet? Then deal me in."
And such was the way of police life: it continued despite everything. Starsky dealt out the appropriate number of cards and the game went on.
"Gabe, the little lady put you on a budget?"
"No, I just don't bite off more than I can chew, Starsky, unlike some people I could name."
"Hey, we don't go lookin' for trouble, do we, Hutch? It looks for us."
"And usually finds you," Gabe finished.
Two pairs of blue eyes met over the table in solemn acknowledgment of that truth. The last call had been far too close.
The phone rang again, and Starsky pounced before the first ring faded away, only to deflate as he reached it out to Huggy. "Mr. Bear. For you."
"I'll be right back. Captain, I'm counting on you to keep your men honest and out of my cards."
"Yeah, yeah," Dobey waved him off distractedly.
Huggy disappeared and Starsky immediately reached for the barkeep's discarded pile, only to be slapped away by the captain's hand despite the older man's apparent lack of attention. Starsky jerked his hand back at once, pouting while his partner laughed in delight.
Huggy Bear also returned with expression muted.
"You okay, Huggy?" Jace asked in concern.
"One of the girls got herself a john who likes t' hit," Huggy answered, his eyes glued to his cards. "She called from the hospital."
"Do you need to go?" Starsky asked soberly.
"Naw, it's taken care of." A half-hearted attempt at humor. "You think I'd deny my em-ploy-ees full medical benefits?" he drew the word out exaggeratedly.
"What about the john?"
Huggy pinned Hutch with an intense gaze. "Like I said, taken care of."
Awkward silence lingered for a moment, Jace looking the most troubled.
"Anybody for more chips?" Starsky rang out cheerfully then, gathering up the nearly empty bowls from the table. "Beer? Another sandwich, Cap'n?"
"Hutch?" he turned his gaze to his partner.
"Beer?" the blond said hopefully.
"Not while you're on the pills. I got ya some juice."
A longsuffering sigh. "All right. There any of those cookies left?"
"You called them junk when I was eatin' 'em yesterday, remember?" Starsky said with no small amount of smugness. "'Sides, you need to get your strength back. How 'bout some veggies?"
If Hutch was trying to glower, there was far too much softness in his gaze for it. "Fine, Mom."
"Jace? Gabe? Huggy?"
Demurs all around. Starsky headed for the kitchen, snatching up the phone as it rang again.
The big detective excused himself and went to get the phone, returning to the table just as the laden Starsky did, and flopped into his chair with a sigh. "Lydia. She wanted me to know she was going to bed. Alone."
A general sympathetic wince.
Gabe was quick to wave them off. "It's okay, guys; she knows if I don't do this, I just end up bringing the Job home with me, and that's worse for our marriage than my staying out late with the boys one night a week."
There didn't seem to be any answer for that, and the game went on. Maybe only Hutch noticed that his partner was a little more quiet than usual, his thoughts clearly somewhat diverted by Terry. As things got more serious between her and the brunet, the Job's role in their relationship was something they were already trying to figure out.
The round of bets continued, deliberate merriment eventually relaxing again into the real thing.
"Starsky, my man, you got a cat around here?"
Starsky stared at Huggy, puzzled. "A cat? I don't own a cat, Hug, you know that."
"So what's that rubbin' against my leg all the time?"
"Sorry, Huggy, must be my cast." Hutch shifted restlessly. "I can't seem to find a comfortable position for it."
"Ken, I'm afraid to tell you, there is no such thing as a comfortable position with a cast."
Hutch grinned lopsidedly at Jace. "Just something you doctors thought up to torture the rest of us, huh?"
"I guess the secret's out."
The phone rang. With a sigh, Starsky went to get it.
"Cap'n? Station again."
The banter died down into tense silence for a moment while Dobey quietly conferred in the kitchen. Starsky returned to the table bearing a small pillow, which he disappeared with under the table for a moment near the vicinity of Hutch's foot. The blond stopped fidgeting, a slight grin on his face when Starsky crawled out again, but the brunet went back to his cards without another word.
Dobey returned a minute later, his expression giving nothing away as he sat down.
"Genarro?" Gabe asked what they were all thinking.
Dobey nodded. "His partner found him and he's all right, just a little banged up. Somehow the felon he was chasing managed to knock over a stack of crates on him and trap him underneath."
Hutch's hand started shaking a little and bumped one of his stacks of chips, which teetered and then toppled. Starsky, apparently focused on his cards, reached over without looking and gently restacked them, then rested his arm there against his partner's, nearly elbow-to-elbow. After a few moments, the blond's tremors faded.
Next to Starsky, Gabe continued, his attention on the captain. "Did they get the guy?"
"Not yet." But Dobey's tone left no doubt as to the foregone conclusion.
"At least he's okay."
Jace was shaking his head. "I don't know how you guys do it. I don't think I could go to work every day thinking that somebody could be after me or I might not be coming home again."
"Two cards," Starsky requested, and as Jace counted out the two, added, "We don't. Y'know it's there but you don't think about it. We couldn't do what we had to if we thought about it all the time." Another long shared look between two pairs of blue eyes. "We just do our job," he finished simply, fielding his partner's raised eyebrow with a faint smile of his own.
Jace apparently caught some of the unsaid and nodded slowly, disbelievingly. "Uh-huh. Huggy, how many?"
"Four." He shrugged at the amused looks he got. "It's the Huggy Bear system, guaranteed to succeed. Watch and learn."
The phone rang again, and Starsky muttered dark things as he got up to answer it. A moment later, he called, "Deal me out," and disappeared into the kitchen.
Hutch grinned after his departing partner. "Probably the only way he'll keep from going broke."
"You're not doin' so hot, yourself, blondie. This hasn't exactly been your month for good fortune," Huggy gently teased, a little careful around the touchy subject.
Hutch just smiled contentedly. "Oh, I don't know, Hug, I think I was pretty lucky." His eyes were still on the kitchen.
The smile died as Starsky reappeared and slid back into his seat, jaw set. "Deal me back in," he said wearily.
"Trix's dead," the brunet muttered. He shook his head. "O.D. Just found her body in a hotel room."
"Trix?" Jace asked.
"Trixie. One of Starsky's snitches," Hutch provided distractedly. "Natural?" he asked his partner.
Starsky snorted. "Nothin' natural about an O.D." Hutch just continued to watch him quietly, and finally he relented. "Accidental, not homicide."
His partner squeezed his shoulder. "Sorry."
"Yeah. So whose turn is it?"
Dobey shifted. "I bid a nickel."
"I guess a captain's salary isn't that much better than ours, huh?" Gabe spoke up, and the players broke into laughter, the tension cracking and breaking up. The game, like life, went on.
"Hey, Jace, you got anything in that black bag of yours for lousy luck?"
"If I had anything like that, I'd take it myself, Dave."
"So what's your secret, Huggy?"
"Clean livin', my man. Clean livin'." And he contrived to look affronted when that evoked the loudest guffaws so far.
"Sorry, Hug, nice try, but even you're not that good a liar." Starsky wiped at his eyes. The phone rang, and he was still chuckling as he rose to get it.
"Cap'n, for you again."
This time Dobey left muttering invectives under his breath.
"Our ray of sunshine," Starsky said cheerfully. "I don't know how Edith puts up with him."
"She doesn't. She's the captain in the house," Gabe answered with a grin.
Dobey was still muttering when he returned. "A loose dog in the station. Those idiots can't do anything by themselves."
It took a great deal of effort and some contorted expressions, but nobody burst into laughter. "Loose dog?" was all Jace said, looking as if he halfway didn't believe it. "Boy, you guys sure do have it rough."
Huggy looked smug while Hutch and Gabe studiously hid behind their cards. Starsky choked on his bite of sandwich, borrowing his partner's juice to ease the coughing. He gave it back to Hutch with a grimace at the taste, the blond absently accepting it and also taking a sip as he studied his cards.
The phone summoned yet again, and Starsky's shoulders sagged before he rose in sheer resignation to get it.
"Your turn, Jace," he called a moment later.
"Deal me out, fellas." The young doctor rose, also smiling, and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Nobody's called me yet," Hutch complained, stifling a yawn.
Starsky eyed him measuringly. "They probably think you're still recoverin', which you are. Why don'tcha lie down for a while, Hutch? Y'look beat."
Hutch shrugged, reaching for the pack for the next deal. "I'm okay," he yawned the words.
"At least go put your leg up on the sofa for a few hands."
"Starsky..." Hutch tapered off at the look he was getting from his partner, equal parts worry and fondness, far more effective than any force or argument Starsky could have used, and he sighed. "All right. For two hands."
"Okay." Starsky was on his feet at once, helping the blond rise and guiding him unobtrusively over to the sofa, then raising his leg onto the armrest and place a pillow under it. "Comfy?"
"I'm fine." Then, a little more softly, "Thanks."
Starsky just grinned before heading back to the table, sitting down right as Jace returned.
The doctor didn't remark on the missing player, only laughed briefly and said, "False alarm. New mother. Still thinks the baby's going to break if she leaves it alone too long."
"I know the feeling," came the petulant mutter from the couch, and Starsky colored as Gabe grinned and nudged him.
Dobey cut in, "Starsky, you got any more sandwiches in the kitchen?"
"Sorry, Cap'n, I think you ate 'em all. How 'bout a carrot stick?"
The game went on through the next two hands, then Starsky slipped into the living room for a moment. Whatever he found sent him off into the bedroom to return with a blanket, and he spread it over the figure hidden from sight on the sofa before returning to the table. "Out like a light."
Gabe frowned. "How's he doing, Starsky? It's been, what, about three weeks now?"
"Nineteen days. He's gettin' there, Gabe. Hutch's tough; he'll be all right."
There was clearly more to it than that, but Starsky was nothing if not protective of his partner, even among friends. The older detective let it drop.
The night crept on and up over the players, eliciting more than one yawn, and finally as if by common recognition, nobody made a move to deal the next hand.
"Wanna call it a night, guys?" Jace asked, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
Dobey sighed. "Edith'll probably still be up waiting for me to come home. Good game, Starsky." He stood tiredly, pulling his jacket on. "Oh, and Starsky? Next time get more sandwiches."
His detective grinned at him as he left, Jace trailing in his wake with a mumbled good-bye.
Gabe was also fumbling for his jacket. "That was fun, Starsky. When Hutch starts feeling better, maybe the two of you could come to dinner again? I know Lydia's been after me to invite you."
"Sounds great, Gabe. I'll talk t'Hutch." He patted the black man once on the shoulder before the detective also headed out the door.
Huggy was shaking his head as he watched them. "Amateurs. Don't you know the night is still young?"
"Yeah, but we're not, Hug. I gotta get the blintz t'bed before he puts a permanent crick in his neck." Starsky had wandered over to the sofa and stood at its foot, watching his partner.
"You want I should take Sleeping Beauty home?"
Starsky smiled softly. "No need, thanks, he's okay here, I'll just put him in my room."
"Well, tell him he'll get another chance to win back his money next week at my place."
The barkeep left. Starsky watched him go, then sighed. He turned to rouse his partner just enough to get a little cooperation and movement from 170 pounds of drowsy and hobbling blond clumsiness, narrowly navigating the sleepwalker around the doorframe and into the bedroom to collapse on the bed. Hutch gave a groan as his leg hit the mattress, but soon was deeply under again, the cast elevated once more on a pair of bed pillows and a quilt pulled over the whole package. With an affectionate pat of the golden head, Starsky slipped out of the room and left the door half-open behind him. They were both recovering but there was still healing left to do and nightmares sometimes to deal with.
Clean-up took ten minutes, and then Starsky took a beer into the living room to nurse on the sofa. It had been a good game, and a good night. They needed things like that, even if reality intruded sometimes into that bit of escapism. Spending time unwinding with friends was important regardless.
In the peace of the house, even those thoughts were too much effort, and soon faded. The figure on the couch grew still and the beer warmed, going flat on the table beside him, unheeded. And the benediction of quiet descended, settling in for the night.
Written in 1999