This story first appeared in the zine, Compadres #14 (1998). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ This story was a Fan-Q Winner. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
The Six-Year Itch
K Hanna Korossy
"I still say it was wrong."
"Whaddaya mean, it was wrong? What choice did I have? Dobey said to go check out Mercer and I did, how could I help it if I hadta go by myself because you were off God-knows-where?!"
"You're a good one to talk! I can never find you, you're always off romancing a donut or a blonde! But I still never went out on a call without you!"
David Starsky was doing a remarkable job of steering while both hands were waving and both eyes were on his partner. "Oh yeah? How about the time you went to see Harry without even tellin' me and got yourself run off the road? Darn near killed yourself on that one."
Bringing up painful memories like that two-day life-and-death ordeal meant the few remaining rules were tossed out the window. Ken Hutchinson flushed and dug in. "Maybe I wouldn't have gotten myself into that mess if you'd be around more to back me up!"
It had started, like so many things, small, a little gray creeping into the vibrant colors of their friendship. But somewhere along the way all the sentences had begun to end in exclamation points and discussions seemed irretrievably far in the past . They never much did more than argue anymore. When had the customary teasing become more frequent and, eventually, malicious? The fun disappeared into cruel competition, and everyone had begun to notice.
There was a long, heated silence. The last exchange had done more damage than their usual ammunition, hitting too close to the most hidden fears and worries. Hurt and anger rode together, feeding each other and widening the distance between the passenger seat and the driver's.
"It's the six-year itch." Hutch's voice, suddenly inexplicably calm, immediately caught Starsky's attention. Then the words sunk in. Before he could stop himself, curiosity won out over animosity.
"What're you talkin' about?"
"Like in marriages," Hutch explained. "They actually call it the seven-year itch. After seven years, both partners get the itch to move on."
"We're not married, Hutch," Starsky said with exasperation.
"I know that," the annoyance surfaced briefly before reburying itself in the odd detachment. "I'm just saying. We've been partners for six years now, friends for nine. That's a long time. Maybe it's the itch, time to move on."
The car lapsed into silence.
Hutch's thoughts moved on to his newest partner for that evening's date, unwilling or unable to think about what he was doing to the partner next to him.
Starsky was still on "it's time to move on." His hands were pressed so tightly around the steering wheel, they hurt.
The lady had unexpectedly cancelled, and Hutch was in a foul mood. He moved around the apartment abruptly, tossing candles and flowers into the trash and blanking his mind to everything but the satisfying anger. It was easier.
The quiet knock at the door flared hope again, but he squelched it at once. He sincerely doubted he'd be getting any kind of company he wanted. Hutch indulged his pique, storming up to the door and throwing it open.
If Starsky was surprised, he didn't show it. His shoulders were hunched slightly, every bit of body language communicating defensiveness and turmoil, but none of the earlier aggression. "Hutch, we gotta talk," he walked in without waiting for invitation.
Hutch eyed him warily but said nothing. Partnership still demanded certain privileges, no matter how inconvenient. "All right," he finally agreed evenly, following Starsky in to sit across from him. "So talk."
Starsky sighed, his gaze reverting to his hands. He'd not met Hutch's eyes once since entering the room, but then, they'd only seemed to be doing that lately when yelling at each other. "Hutch..." The words trailed off. "Didja really mean what you said today? About the itch?" He finally looked up at his partner's face.
The tentative look caught Hutch off guard and he started, his own defenses retreating a step. The harsh planes of his face softened minutely with sympathy. The itch--where had he gotten that from? It had been an idle comment at the time, one more way to poke at the already tender connection between them. Reflecting on his words, he felt their sharp meaning now in a way that had escaped him then. He sighed, lacing his hands together, this time his turn to be unable to meet the other's eyes. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "Maybe. I just know...something changed."
The soft query made him wince. Sometimes he admired that clear vision of his partner, the ability to cut through the garbage and get to the basics. Other times, it was nearly painful. "I don't know," he said quietly, eyes still downcast.
"Then why'd you say it?" There was a hint of accusation in the question.
The anger came flooding back at the reminder. Hutch's head snapped up and cold blue fire burned his partner. "Why'd I say it? You turned up on my doorstep to ask me a dumb question like that?"
Two played that game equally well. The vulnerability was buried at once as Starsky rose out of his chair. "Sorry I ruined your plans! Just thought I'd see if our partnership was on its way out. Guess now I know." He spun and began to leave, indignant or fleeing, he wasn't sure.
Only that quiet plea could have stopped Starsky at that point, and he jerked to a halt, frozen, as if he'd slammed into a wall. A beat. Another. "What?" he sighed.
"I...we're doing it again. I don't know why, but maybe..." Hutch flinched, tried over. "Maybe we should just...try it. See if it helps. Before we do permanent damage."
He didn't have to say what "it" was. Perhaps it was time to move on; itches were hard to ignore. Starsky wilted, pain and relief competing for his feelings as he still stood silently facing away. It seemed too anticlimactic an ending for a six-year partnership. "We can talk to Dobey tomorrow," was all he finally said, then left before he did do permanent damage. Or completely broke. He didn't know how close Hutch was to joining him.
One of the obviously necessary traits of any captain was inscrutability. There surely wasn't one at Parker Center who couldn't stare at one of his men and fill him with foreboding.
Harold Dobey was a master of the art. Starsky and Hutchinson had come to share their decision with their boss expecting some sort of explosion, another reaction Dobey did extremely well. Instead, he was just sitting and watching them both with that particular non-expression they dreaded.
"Let me get this straight," he finally said, leaning forward in his chair. "You two aren't getting along and would like to separate. Right?"
The two men nodded in tandem, looking decidedly ill-at-ease. Still no explosion.
"Hutchinson," Dobey's voice was unbelievably level. "Do you remember what happened when Starsky was laid up recovering from that shooting at Giovanni's?"
Hutch winced. "Uh, which part, sir?" he stalled. Dobey could see he was quite aware of Starsky watching him curiously out of the corner of his eye.
"The part where I tried to pair you with Farina for a while." Still patient.
"Uh, he requested another assignment." Hutch was noticeably pink now.
"Do you remember why?"
"I'm...not sure, sir."
"Because he said he'd rather quit than work with you again," Dobey said almost sweetly. He was trying not to enjoy the game too much. "As I recall, his exact words were, 'I can't be another Starsky and he won't get off my case for it!'."
Hutch's blush deepened as he took great interest in the framed certificate on the wall behind the captain. He didn't say a word.
"Starsky," the black man turned his attention to the brunet. "I don't suppose you remember, either, how you threatened to quit if you had to bring Hutch in on that homicide warrant?"
"I don't think so, Cap'n," Starsky squirmed.
"That's what I figured." Dobey sighed, eyeing them both. "All right," he finally agreed, impatience beginning to creep into his tone. "If you're going to act like my kids, I'm going to treat you like my kids. I'm not going to inflict you on new partners right now, but you'll be working with some of the detective teams. Starsky," he pointed with the pencil, "you stay with the Bender case, and I want you to help out Simmons and Babcock with the West Side murders. Hutch," he shifted his gaze and his pencil, "I want you to help out Bonhomme with his caseload, and also stay on Robertson. Effective now, you'll no longer be riding together for a week, after which I expect final decisions from you both."
Starsky let out a breath and tried not to look at his partner, who was also studiously avoiding him.
"What are you waiting for?" Dobey growled.
Both men jumped. A duet of "yessirs," and they beat a hasty retreat.
Dobey softened as the door shut behind them. His best detective team. He'd seen time wear away other good partnerships before as different personalities became finally too incompatible, but he hadn't expected it to happen to this one. On the other hand, he leaned back in his chair, they themselves probably hadn't noticed the in-synchness of their every response, the way they acted in unison even subconsciously. Like it or not, these two had become a duet, one completing the other, and going their separate ways would soon leave them feeling lopsided and handicapped. Yes, he began to smile, a week was about the most he'd give them. Maybe even less. If Harold Dobey had been a betting man, he'd have laid odds on it.
There were still a few things he had to check out on the Bender homicide, and Starsky headed out to take care of them before he met with Simmons and Babcock. In truth, he welcomed the chance to get out of the office. Hutch sitting across the room, talking to Bonhomme, was more than he was ready for right now.
It was strange, riding alone, but there was a relaxing quality to it, too, that Starsky relished. His defenses eased and he explored the feeling like one poked the spot of a newly-pulled tooth. It was...nice not having to be on the defensive. He began to whistle. One of the problems of having a longtime partner-or friend-was that they knew best how to hurt most deeply. And Hutch had been most effective at that lately. Starsky had gotten barbs in, too, he knew, but they were only self-protection, fighting back. The respite from the bitterness was truly a relief.
So why was he whistling to dispel the quiet?
Starsky abruptly stopped. Well, sure, they'd been riding together a very long time. Old expectations and habits would take a while to break. The quiet was still better than the constant arguing. Some of it might just take some getting used to.
Okay, a lot of getting used to.
Hutch whistled as he pulled files out and moved around the row of desks to sit by Gabe Bonhomme, pointedly ignoring the curious glances from around the room. Squadroom gossip traveled fast and he knew his and Starsky's split was already making the rounds. Well, he'd just ignore it.
"Here are the three you wanted. You want to go check on them and see what we can run down, S-Gabe?" he smoothly corrected himself.
If Bonhomme noticed the slip, he gave no sign. "Actually, Hutch, I was thinking one of us could run it down and the other could make some phone calls to check recent activities," he glanced up at the blond as he took the files.
Hutch blinked at him in surprise. Starsky and he always tried leads together because one usually caught what the other missed and the following discussions very often jiggled loose latent ideas and clues. But then, to be fair, he couldn't expect everyone to work as he and Starsky did. Bonhomme probably wouldn't be as effective for bouncing things off of as Starsky, anyway. Hutch sighed inside. Well, it wasn't an impossibly high price to pay for a little peace. "Okay," he agreed. "Which one do you want to take?"
A half an hour later found him driving alone to check out the address of their first suspect. Driving alone in his beloved LTD, which beat that striped tomato any day of the week. And the quiet was awfully nice, too.
Quiet worked both ways, though. Hutch was not a talkative man, but he'd not realized how much he'd been spoiled by having a ready audience whenever he wanted one, willing to listen attentively to anything Hutch had on his mind, non-judgmental and interested and supportive. Now, well...
"Good, Hutchinson, one day without Starsky and you're already talking to yourself. What's the matter, can't function on your own?" He muttered to himself in disgust.
Of course he could. Probably even better without the endless prattle from the other seat about the latest movie or girl or ridiculous interest that had caught his partner's enthusiasm.
But still, he wondered how long the car would seem that awfully empty.
Starsky sat in the office across from Detectives Simmons and Babcock, trying not to look lost. He'd surreptitiously watched Hutch go out earlier-alone-and envied him that freedom now. Instead, he was stuck here with two partners, feeling very much like a third wheel.
"Hey, Babcock, whaddaya think about the car?" Simmons suddenly said.
What car? Starsky wondered, flipping through his own notes.
"I don't know. You think he knew about it?" Babcock answered.
He? He who? Simmons seemed to know. "Well, don't forget the other day-"
"Right. So, we get any prints to corroborate?"
Starsky gave up. It was like trying to watch a pingpong game with an invisible ball. Surely he and Hutch weren't ever that bad...or maybe so, he admitted, recalling some conversations. Work long enough with someone and you could almost read their mind. That was the beauty of partners. And add to that a deep personal relationship, and there was very little you couldn't accomplish...
Unless that relationship had run its course. It did no one any good if they were arguing more than they were working. Hutch had been too bull-headed lately to be able to discuss much with, anyway.
"Uh, guys, you wanna clue me in here?" he interjected.
The detectives had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry, Starsky," Simmons said at once, "we were just going over some of our legwork from last week."
"Yeah, okay, but wouldya mind doin' it in English for me?"
The two men traded a look that said a lot more than Babcock's deliberate cheerful, "Sure, Starsky." Starsky was very adept at reading people, but this was a message not intended for him. And suddenly, unexpectedly, he felt a little left out.
"Mrs.-er, Mme. Veilleux, I just need to know--"
"I don't know, comprendez? He lived here for a week, then, he go. Je ne sais pas, I have no address."
Hutch knew Spanish but only a little German and French, and he'd used all of the latter up in the first minute. The woman was also impervious to pleasantries and seemed ready to slam the door in his face. What was truly needed was flattery, and he'd usually left that to Starsky. One of the benefits of a partner-each one having their own strengths, usually the ones the other didn't.
"Madame, could you tell me anything more about, uh, Monsieur Reynolds? S'il vous plait?"
"Non, c'est tout." She stepped back and shut the door in his face.
Hutch straightened up with a sigh. Well, that had gone about as well as every other interview he'd done that day. He'd worked solo before, but somehow he didn't have the same spirit now. Curious, he thought as he made his way back down to the car and got in. What was different? Not the work, nor the necessity for self-reliance. In fact, the only thing he could think of was that in the past, it had been temporary. Even when Starsky was out for some reason, Hutch could at least brainstorm cases with him in the evenings, stimulating his own ideas and gaining insight from his partner's. Starsky's unique innocence and vastly different upbringing plus his uncanny psychological instincts had more than once shed light on something that confounded Hutch.
Surely he was not so handicapped that he couldn't work alone, though. Hutch was a good cop with considerable experience-honed skills, he knew that. Another perspective would always help, true. But he could get far on his own, and in time he'd probably get another partner who would balance him equally well.
Though somehow he doubted that.
Hutch put the traitorous thought away as he wearily picked up the radio to sign out. He could update Bonhomme the next day on the little he'd learned.
"You did, huh?"
Starsky stared at the speaker in disbelief. He'd not gotten the reaction he'd expected from the captain, but he'd been prepared for at least as many fireworks from Huggy Bear. Instead, the wiry barkeep watched him with a hint of disapproval and reproof but not the disbelief Starsky expected. Was what felt like such an enormous change for him really so predictable to everyone?
"No, Hug, you don't understand. We're finished. Dobey's not gonna give us new partners for a while, but when he does, it ain't gonna be Hutch. We're not workin' together anymore." He set his beer down on the bar and regarded Huggy with expectation.
"I heard you, Starsky. So you finally decided to ditch that blond turkey and do a solo act, huh?" He wasn't even looking at Starsky as he rubbed the bartop with a rag.
Defense of his...former partner sprang automatically to Starsky's lips, but he swallowed it. Why should he defend Hutch? Blondie could do that himself. "Something like that," he muttered into his beer.
The simple question took him by surprise. He looked up to find Huggy's attention fully on him now. Suddenly feeling on the spot, he said the first thing that came to mind. "We weren't gettin' along anymore."
"Uh-huh," the barkeep nodded knowingly, going back to polishing.
"What do you mean, 'uh-huh'?" Starsky demanded, thumping the stein down again.
"Starsky," Huggy faced him again, "are we talkin' about the same blond here? The one who saved your life more times than you can count, the one you went through cold turkey with in my apartment and wanted to hock y'r Torino for and were ready t'go to jail for? That Kenneth C. Hutchinson?"
This was turning out to be as bad as Dobey, Starsky reflected sourly. Why did everyone assume they'd forgotten the past? It was just...past. "Things change, Huggy. We've been at each other's throats for a long time now. It was time to move on."
It hadn't been a good day and Starsky's patience was nearly gone. "Look, you don't have to believe it. I just came in on the way home to get that address on Kaminsky from ya, but if you're gonna make excuses..."
He trailed off as Huggy grandly pulled out a slip of paper and handed it over without a word. Starsky's mouth pulled tight and he snatched it out of the other's hands. "Thanks," he muttered, then stalked out the door, feeling the barkeeper's eyes on his back all the way out.
Hutch's spirits rose again with the new day. He had his job, his health, and his freedom. Gabe was easygoing and Hutch had always enjoyed working with him. Even better, he wouldn't have to ride in that souped up candy apple-car or fend off the pointed comments or listen to endless wild stories. It was the first day of the rest of his life.
"Gabe," he nodded cheerfully in greeting.
"Hutch," the black detective nodded back.
Starsky, sitting right by the door, had looked up when he entered, and Hutch nodded silently to the brunet, too, his face sobering. Starsky returned the gesture and then bent over his work again, and Hutch felt his good mood falter a little. Annoyed at his own reaction, he whistled to himself as he got coffee, careful not to fill another mug as his fingers itched to do, and then made his way around to Bonhomme's desk.
"Whatcha working on, Gabe?"
"Bill Ragland," Gabe handed him a sheaf of paper. "I know he's connected to Reynolds somehow, I just can't find it. Did you learn anything yesterday, Hutch?"
Hutch shook his head. "No one knows anything about where either of them are now. I found Reynolds's landlady, but he moved out nearly a week ago and didn't leave a forwarding address."
"What a surprise," Gabe said dryly.
Bonhomme sighed. "Well, why don't you take a look at this, see if you can spot something I didn't. I'm going to go over the lab reports again, maybe I missed something there."
I and we. It hadn't struck Hutch before, but he'd been a "we" for an awfully long time. Now it was "you" and "I." For the first time since his stint with the team in Robbery, he wasn't even a partner anymore. He wasn't sure why, but the idea bothered him. Hutch shook his head. That was ridiculous. Surely a change of pronouns made no difference.
He concentrated on losing himself in the report and figuring out just what it was that was hiding in plain sight. If only it didn't seem so much harder than usual.
If Hutch wasn't going to talk to him, Starsky would be darned if he'd make the first effort. Nodding his greeting back, he returned to reading Simmons' notes and deliberately put everything else out of his mind.
Or so he tried. Instead, he found his thoughts wandering to the time Vic Humphries had had the hitman Slater run Hutch off the road in an attempt to kill him off. For two long days, Starsky had been on his own, knowing Hutch was missing and hurt and possibly dead but with so little to go on to find him. It had been some of the toughest, most vital detective work of his life, and he'd had to do it almost completely alone. He put the pieces together just in time, simply because he had to, because Hutch's life hung in the balance and failure was not a possibility. But even then he'd felt severely handicapped, kept going only by the idea of getting his partner back and ending his solo act. Going it alone was certainly nothing he'd ever done willingly. Believing Hutch would be back soon was what made it bearable.
And now he had deliberately chosen to be on his own. Why, because of petty arguments? Starsky wasn't sure the silence and loneliness were much better. The day before had been one of the longest days of his life, even longer than the weeks of escalating tension between him and Hutch. Life just wasn't fun when you couldn't share it with someone, or bearable without someone with whom to ride out the bad times. And then there were all the memories he shared only with Hutch and the things only the blond knew about him. It was a whole lifetime's worth to start over again with someone he could only hope would be half the friend his partner had been.
Starsky grimaced at the paper. That morning it had seemed like perhaps a new start, a chance to play things his way without having to worry about where he stepped or what he did. Now that freedom seemed drab and unappetizing. What was good about being freed from someone you cared about?
His cheeks flushed with that realization and he unconsciously glanced towards the back of the room, only to redden even more as he met the blue eyes that had been watching him. They both looked away at once. Was Hutch having second thoughts, too? Or was he relieved not to have to deal with the bitterness between them anymore? Starsky wished he knew.
His head snapped up at the summons and he looked questioningly at an out-of-breath Babcock who had just leaned in the squadroom door.
"Chesterton's just been spotted in Burbank. C'mon, we're gonna check it out."
Starsky had no idea who Chesterton was other than the name being vaguely familiar from the files, but cop mode shifted into place and put aside all other thoughts. "Coming," he answered at once as he grabbed his jacket and followed the other detective out. He was completely unaware of the curious gaze from across the room that followed him out the door.
Len Reynolds and Bill Ragland had both been runners working for the same boss, that much Hutch was sure of. They'd probably even crossed paths a few times, though runners weren't usually too friendly with each other. But that didn't explain why Ragland had unexpectedly turned up dead four days before, or why Reynolds had disappeared. If the killing had been motivated by Reynolds wanting his competition's route, why disappear afterwards when there was no tie between him and the murder?
On the other hand, if Reynolds hadn't been the murderer, the disappearance was awfully coincidental. Word on the street had confirmed Bonhomme's suspicions that Reynolds was probably the killer, but the police had no motive, no proof, and couldn't find the suspect. All in all, it was fairly discouraging.
Hutch sighed and put the file down as he reached for the next one. Detective work was never easy and sometimes was downright impossible, but it had somehow never felt this much like labor before. Even the hardest cases seemed to work themselves out when tossed back and forth with a partner who knew him well enough to understand his unstated ideas and at the same time was different enough to stimulate new lines of thinking that hadn't occurred to Hutch. And even when they really had to work to find the answer, they'd had fun doing it. Now, it was just...work.
Next to him, Gabe Bonhomme slumped and dropped the file with equal disgruntlement, stretching with one arm while he rubbed his neck with the other. "I don't think we're getting anywhere, Hutch," he said.
Hutch shook his head. "I think I'm going cross-eyed from all this reading. Maybe we should-"
Dobey's door swung open and the captain
leaned in. "Bonhomme, Hutchinson, report just came in of shots fired at
1920 Wabash. Isn't that the address you were checking yesterday, Hutch?"
The inscrutable Mme. Veilleux, Hutch's mind connected at once. And also Reynolds' home until his disappearance. He relayed as much to Bonhomme and Dobey.
"Might be the break we're looking for," Bonhomme was already on his feet.
Hutch followed him out the door, idly noting the suit jacket the other man was swinging on. He almost smiled to himself. He and Starsky had always been the unconventional ones, even if Hutch was never quite as informal as his, uh, ex-partner.
Out in the parking lot, Bonhomme headed over to his own car without hesitation, leaving Hutch to follow behind. The blond stopped short at the sight. The car was impossibly older than his own, dented badly enough in some spots to be utterly shapeless. It was a nondescript gray that would've blended into the background far better than Starsky's tomato ever had, except that anyone on the street was bound to give it a second glance just to confirm it was a working automobile. Hutch groaned silently to himself.
"Coming?" Bonhomme shot him a look.
"Yeah," Hutch replied unenthusiastically, circling to get in on the passenger's side. Something poked him from inside the seat as he gingerly settled into it. Starsky's similar complaints about the LTD suddenly came to mind and he bit his tongue. Karma didn't seem such an unreasonable concept, suddenly. "What model car is this?" he asked weakly instead.
"Why, don't you like my baby?" Gabe grinned at him. He patted the dash lovingly. "She may not be much to look at, but she has character."
Hutch flinched and slouched down in his seat, understanding for the first time what Starsky was grousing about all those years. Even the tomato was better than this.
Bonhomme had put the mars light on and they made quick progress, but the mindless small talk they carried on nevertheless quickly got to Hutch. How was it that with Starsky it was relaxing but with most others it was a stupid waste of time? Then again, perhaps that was just one of the facts they'd both forgotten in their inexplicable recent anger with each other.
Hutch returned to that contemplation as he had so many times in the last two days, inevitably picking at the wound. Perhaps it had begun back in the barn, when Bagley had trapped them for revenge, intending to burn the barn down with them in it. No, despite Starsky getting shot, they'd managed to get out of that by their well-tuned teamwork. Starsky's expensive watch had been a casualty, true, but surely Starsky had forgiven him that. And, Hutch added uncomfortably to himself, for meanly kicking out the crutch from under his partner shortly afterwards. Had it begun then? Perhaps that hadn't been the catalyst; Starsky always forgave more willingly and completely than anyone Hutch had ever known, to the point of humbling him. But sometime after that they'd both begun to get impatient and the usual tension-breakers seemed only to hurt instead of help...
Perhaps it was the tension itself that they'd never addressed. They'd never talked about that incident, about both of them coming close to being burned alive. Could that have started it? And once it had started, neither of them had been willing to give enough to end it. Which, Hutch had to admit, was really dumb. A true friendship like theirs was more than just the good times. It was a decision of commitment, learning to give and take, compromise, accept the other's weaknesses. There was no oath binding partners, but they had developed their own bonds instead and reaffirmed it so many times since. And yes, it was work, but the rewards made it amply worthwhile. Hutch wasn't sure why they'd forgotten that, but maybe it was time to swallow his pride and remind them both.
A sudden lurch of the car brought Hutch back to the present as Bonhomme screeched around a corner, almost at their destination. Adrenalin began to course through the blond, the preparation for what was quite possibly a dangerous situation. It struck him suddenly that Starsky was out on the streets, too, possibly in trouble, and Hutch no longer was around to watch his back. He buried the worry deep, but its troubling effects lingered in his mind. This was ridiculous. When they got back, he'd corral his partner--sit on him if he needed to--until he could make Starsky hear what he had to say. He hated being unable to watch out for his friend.
Nor, he admitted more reluctantly to himself, was he very keen on having someone he didn't know well responsible for watching his own back. Bonhomme was one of the best and most experienced cops in the division, but Hutch didn't know him well enough to anticipate him and work together instinctively.
The car drew up across the street from Reynolds' old place and, as a shot sounded out from the house, Hutch drew his gun and crouched down to follow Bonhomme across the street.
Starsky was slumped down in the back seat of Babcock's car, trying not to listen to the shorthand conversation going on in the front seat between the two partners. The trip to Burbank had turned out to be fruitless, and Starsky's spirits sunk even further at the indignity of being stuck in the back seat like a felon or a kid brother. Even riding shotgun in Hutch's old rustbucket beat this.
He missed Hutch. Warts and all, that was it. Not just because of the work, which didn't seem to go as well when he did it alone. Nor was it the lack of someone to talk to, whether about the stupid little things or the major problems he couldn't discuss with anyone else. It wasn't even the worry he felt at not being able to be out on the streets looking after his partner, or having someone he relied on at his own back, although that was there, too. He just missed having Hutch there next to him.
Somewhere over the years, the early euphoria of their partnership had settled into a quiet peace, the contentment of sharing his life with someone who daily proved himself worthy of that trust. Life wasn't all just a game for them anymore, but Starsky valued the depth and solidity of what they had even more. And though it had only been two days, the thought of having voluntarily lost that for good stung badly. What was more important than that?
What had they done?
If it took swallowing his pride to do it, he would. Hutch would have to listen to him, and maybe, somehow, they could still fix this stupidity before it went any farther.
"William Five, I'm at 1920 Wabash," crackled over the radio, a breathless voice. "417 inside, police officer needs assistance."
Starsky's attention sharpened. William Five-wasn't that Bonhomme?
"William Five, copy. Is an officer down?" the dispatcher's calm voice answered.
"William Five, I don't know. I've lost contact with officer inside."
It was Gabe, Starsky recognized his voice. That meant officer inside was most probably Hutch. And a 417 was a man with a gun...
"William Five, copy. All units in vicinity of 1920 Wabash, Code 30. Repeat, Code 30."
Code 30 was emergency, officer needed assistance. Starsky's blood ran cold.
"Call us in," he demanded sharply, leaning over the seat.
The two detectives looked at him blankly.
"William Five's Hutch's unit. Call us in now," Starsky barked impatiently.
The partners didn't have to know Starsky well to appreciate his urgency. Partners, even former partners, were not something you messed with. Babcock called them in en route and sped up as Simmons slapped the mars light on the roof.
Starsky tensely hung on in the back seat and prayed.
Bonhomme sidled up to the side of the front door and knocked, identifying himself loudly. There was no response, not a sound. He finally motioned Hutch forward. The blond moved up to the corner of the house, held up three fingers until Bonhomme nodded, then moved around the corner to get to the back door in the 30 seconds he had before Gabe would storm the front.
He reached the back porch door by the count of 15, grimacing slightly at finding the door ajar. Peering inside didn't reveal anything other than a narrow slice of the kitchen, and Hutch mentally finished counting the 30 to himself before bursting through the door.
The kitchen was empty except for the bloody body on the floor.
The man had once been large and blond, except that most of his head was missing now. Hutch quelled his queasy stomach at the sight of the gory gunshot wound, then skirted the body, taking in the bulge of a holster under the sport coat. The victim had all the appearances of hired muscle.
The kitchen opened on one side into a dining room that was also empty and quiet, and straight ahead was a short hall that apparently lead into the foyer. It crossed Hutch's mind to wonder why Bonhomme hadn't come in yet, but he dismissed the thought before it became distracting. Concentrating fully on what he was doing, he crept into the hall. A door to one side was open enough to reveal dark stairs going down, but he passed it and went on into the entrance hall.
There was another doorway to the right into the living room, but a quick glance showed that also bare and with no place for someone to hide. Which left only the stairs that wound upstairs from the foyer.
Gun held at ready, Hutch slowly climbed the steps, testing each one before he rested his weight on it. The house was older and creaked, but he managed to go quietly enough, reaching the tiny landing and turning onto the short second stairway that reached the upstairs. He slowly slid up the last few steps.
The door to the right at the top of the stairs suddenly swung open without warning, hitting him. Off guard, his foot slipped off the top step and he lost his balance, tumbling down the five stairs to the landing behind him. His ankle twisted sharply, flaring in pain, but he managed to hang onto the Magnum as he landed on his back. Then his head connected sharply with the wall behind him and all he saw was stars.
His vision cleared almost at once, and he had already instinctively brought up his gun, training it at whoever came out of the door. Even though the man leapt out a second later, ready to shoot, Hutch was faster. His shot caught the man high in the chest and he crumpled up and lay still.
There was no time for reaction, a flash of movement in the corner of his eye alerting him to the presence of another man in the foyer. He just didn't have enough time to turn.
The words were edgy, nearly panicky. Hutch froze, his arm not even twitching as he slowly turned his head to face the new arrival. The man was scruffier and looked older than in the photo, but he was unmistakable.
"Reynolds," Hutch said wearily.
"You don't look like one of Mo's men to me. Who are you? Who sent ya?" Reynolds bounced from foot to foot with nervous energy.
"LAPD. I'm not here to kill you. Is that what they were here for, Len?" Hutch deliberately pitched his voice calm and agreeable, making no threatening moves.
"Yeah. Mo sent 'em. Kept my part of the deal and he was gonna kill me for it, the lousy doublecrosser. Well, I got one of 'em," he added smugly.
"What deal?" Hutch asked quietly. "Killing Bill Ragland?" It made sense now; some incentive, probably promotion offered to Reynolds by the boss, Mo, for killing Ragland. But someone had double-crossed the other and now Mo was trying to tie up loose ends by silencing Reynolds. Hutch forced himself to stay still to lessen the pain of his throbbing ankle.
Reynolds' face darkened. "I'm not gonna tell you, pig. You're gonna lock me up!" His gun hand was shaking but it hadn't wavered from Hutch. There were sounds as though someone was trying to get through the front door behind Reynolds, making the runner back circle so that he could see the door out of the corner of his eye. "You got friends out there?" His voice was rising in panic.
Hutch tried to stay calm even though the felon was shaking harder now and any of his agitated moves could easily set the gun off. "You're not gonna get out of here by killing me, Len. That's my partner out there." Not the partner he wished for, but at this point Hutch would've been grateful for any help. Except the door was a massive solid wood one and it was doubtful he'd be getting any help from that end. And Reynolds' move had put him at the bottom of the stairs and out of the line of sight from the back door. By the time anyone reached Hutch, the runner would've had ample chance to kill him.
Reynolds wavered uncertainly, and suddenly something behind the gunman caught Hutch's eye. There was a narrow window next to the door, not more than six inches wide, and a face suddenly appeared in it. Hutch nearly felt himself collapse in relief when he saw who it was.
Starsky's eyes swept the room, narrowing as they landed on Reynolds, then following Reynolds' line of sight to meet Hutch's gaze. His face softened into a quick grin, then the brunet made several quick motions.
Hutch understood at once. It was like magic, the telepathy not having disappeared just because they'd tried to deny it. Hutch could only look his understanding, afraid to move, and Starsky nodded.
"Len," Hutch spoke up, recapturing the frantic man's attention, "Why don't you-"
The window behind Reynolds was suddenly smashed inward, and Starsky's gun appeared through it, aimed directly at the runner. "Police, freeze!"
Reynolds lost it completely at that, turning to bring Starsky into the line of fire. Starsky's gun went off, the shot hitting the turning Reynolds and felling him.
Hutch sagged back against the wall.
The gun withdrew back through the window, then, after only a few seconds, footsteps were pounding in through the back door. "Huuuutch!" came the well-known, alarmed holler.
"Yeah," he answered wearily.
Starsky skidded into sight from the kitchen hallway and, quickly checking the downed felon and kicking his gun away, bounded up the steps, suddenly slowing as he reached the blond. "Where are ya hurt?"
"My ankle," Hutch shifted with a groan. A hand stopped his movement as Starsky bent to carefully probe his leg, and he bit back another groan at the touch.
"Sorry. Don't think it's broken, though." Worried blue eyes returned to his face. "D'you fall down the steps? Klutz." The murmured word held no reproof, only affection and considerable concern.
"Starsky?" Simmons came into view at the bottom of the steps, frowning at them both.
"He's okay, just turned his ankle. Call an ambulance, willya?"
"Okay," Simmons disappeared.
"Starsky, I don't need-"
"Shut up. He needs one," Starsky jerked his thumb at the fallen Reynolds, "and they're also gonna take a look at you. Gabe and I can take you in." Without waiting for an answer, he slid an arm around the blond's waist and sat him up. "Did you hit your head?" he prodded.
Hutch winced as the gentle fingers found the lump on the back of his head. "Just a little," he confessed. He leaned sideways against the familiar warmth of the other, trying not to be obvious about it.
It didn't matter. Without a word, Starsky pulled him close. "They can look at that, too," he added firmly.
"Anyone ever tell you you were bossy," Hutch groused mildly. It was hard to even pretend aggrievance when contentment was seeping through him, all the way down to his fingertips, muting the pain in his head and ankle.
"Lotsa times. But I always ignore you."
Hutch grinned. "What happened to Gabe?" he suddenly asked as it occurred to him that he still hadn't seen the black man.
"Outside directin' the uniforms. He couldn't get through the front door." Starsky's voice held a shadow of humor.
"And him?" Hutch nodded at the still figure at the bottom of the stairs.
"He should be okay. I only winged him," Starsky sounded distracted. "You sure you're okay?" he suddenly asked again.
Hutch settled himself more comfortably, peaceful fatigue sweeping the last of the tension away. "Am now," he yawned.
"Can't leave ya alone for a minute," Starsky's voice fussed in his ear.
Hutch just smiled, letting himself relax altogether against the solidity of his partner, feeling the other shift to compensate. There'd be time to sort out the details and make the apologies later that he wanted to make even if he knew he didn't have to. But for now, it was enough to know that everything would be all right again. He rested his head against the shoulder next to him and the arm that was comfortably settled around him, then leaned back to wait with his partner.
"Thought I'd find you here."
The tone was mild, but it still startled Hutch and he turned to stare up at Starsky. He was still only on half-duty and had come home early, leaving his partner working at the office finishing up paperwork and sorting out the work he'd done with Simmons and Babcock. Which, Hutch had discovered, hadn't amounted to much. Apparently the detective team was as happy to be rid of Starsky as he was to be free of them. Bonhomme had seemed a little sorrier to lose Hutch's help, but the black man had known them both long enough to know this was right for Hutch. Probably even before Hutch had realized. But it still didn't answer why Starsky was here at his place, before the end of the day.
Starsky gingerly settled onto the bench beside his partner, careful not to jar the leg that was propped up on a nearby stool. He gazed around at the plants that were crammed into his friend's greenhouse. "You know, this place isn't really half bad. All the green's kinda nice."
"What are you doing here?" Hutch finally found his voice.
"Looking for you, dummy, what else?" Starsky turned to look at him.
"Why?" Hutch persisted.
A shadow crossed Starsky's face. "Forget it," he murmured, getting up to leave.
"No, wait, that's not what I meant," Hutch grabbed hastily for his sleeve, stopping him.
Starsky gazed at him for a moment, then flushed and dropped back down onto the bench. "'M doing it again, huh?" he said quietly.
"Both of us," Hutch corrected. "We've been at each other so long, it's gonna take a while to cut it out."
There was a silence. "How'd we start?" Starsky nearly whispered.
Hutch sighed. He'd wondered that countless times himself in the last few days as they'd coaxed Dobey into repartnering them, then found that genuine remorse and one moment of overwhelming relief hadn't healed all the wounds of several weeks of spite. Hutch had had to bite back angry responses more than once, but he was also acutely aware now of the hurt in Starsky's eyes at some of his careless words, and it made him try harder. Both of them were trying. They just had quite a bit of relearning to do. "I don't know," he confessed.
"Then how do we keep it from happening again?"
Those frank, open blue eyes were watching him intently. That sincerity was one of the hundreds of things he appreciated so very much in this man, and the answer suddenly seemed easy. "We remember," he said simply. "Because no matter how much we get on each other's nerves sometimes, it beats the alternative. I don't know about you, but I didn't really enjoy the last few days too much, partner."
The blue eyes got soft like they sometimes did just for him and he felt himself blush a little at the open confession of his feelings and the ready and just as honest response he found in the other's expression.
Starsky seemed to pull himself together, his smile growing wide and mischievous. "We havta go celebrate," he said, standing up and only then noticing the hand that still held on to his sleeve.
Hutch quickly let go, ignoring the knowing grin with dignity. "What, the beginning of a beautiful friendship?" he quipped.
"Nope. The ninth year of one."
Hutch started, then accepted the offer of a hand up with a soft smile. "Okay. So, what'll it be, tofu casserole or sesame seed salad?" he asked, settling himself on the crutches and beginning to follow Starsky back into the apartment.
"Pizza," Starsky shot back easily, "with everything on it."
"How about vegetarian pizza?" Hutch offered.
"Okay. But only 'cause you're recovering...."
Because when it came down to it, the Job was just one thick strand in the intricate relationship woven between them; cut that and the rest didn't even begin to unravel yet. It was stronger than that. Even strong enough to cure an itch.
Written in 1998