This story first appeared in the zine, Above & Beyond (1996). This zine and many other fine S&H zines can be obtained from Agent with Style at: www.agentwithstyle.com. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
Giving Hutch a ride home was the least he could do. After all, he had driven them to the bar and so Hutch had no way to get home, and with his soaking wet pants, well, Starsky felt he owed him that much. He didn't regret dumping the beer in Hutch's lap--God knows, Hutch had played enough nasty jokes on him before, too. And Hutch had been really asking for it. But the smile had disappeared very fast, and when Hutch started getting quiet and intense, Starsky suddenly began to wonder if it'd been a good idea. 'Cause there was one little thing about his partner that he hadn't thought of beforehand.
Hutch had a very long memory.
The first day started out fairly normally, getting some donuts and soda for breakfast and then going on over to Vinnie's to pick up Hutch. A little worry had tickled the back of Starsky's mind--his partner had departed from him the night before with a very icy and pointed epithet that was said all the more eloquently in his silence than in anything he could have actually said out loud. Hutch had been, to put it mildly, annoyed.
Vinnie greeted him cheerfully at his entrance, only pausing a moment to shake his head forlornly at the sight of Starsky's food. He'd given up trying to convert Starsky a long time before, but it still offended his sense of decency to have something like that under his roof. Starsky just smiled pleasantly in acknowledgement of the unspoken rebuke and then went in to get his partner.
He found Hutch pounding a punching bag like there was no tomorrow.
Starsky paused out of sight and watched and reflected if this was good news or not. On one hand, it did his partner good to get his aggressions out on something inanimate and painless. Something unlike Starsky himself. But on the other hand, it was a bad sign that after a weekend off, his partner had this much aggression to work out. No, it definitely wasn't good news. Starsky slipped unseen back out the doorway and, after leaving a brief message with Vinnie, went out to wait in the car.
Hutch turned up ten minutes later, showered and changed, his hair still wet. He tossed his bag into the back seat of the Torino and got in with a fairly cheerful "Good morning."
Starsky paused a moment before replying, his mind working in over-drive. What exactly did that greeting mean? Was it meant as just a hello, or was it chosen to throw him off guard? He finally decided that train of thought would get him nowhere. " 'Mornin'. How ya' doin'?"
Hutch smiled. "Never better."
Was that a smirk? As hard as he tried, Starsky couldn't read his partner like he usually did. He knew Hutch better than he knew himself, but for the life of him he didn't know what was going on in that blond head at the moment. And it was killing him.
They arrived at the office and got to work on some routine digging for some routine cases. Starsky slowly began to relax. Normally this was work that he hated, but for the now the sheer predictability of it was reassuring. He even let himself stop watching his partner ever minute. Every three minutes was enough.
"You want some coffee?"
Hutch's voice startled him so badly, Starsky dropped his pen on the floor. "What?" His voice squeaked. He lowered it, leaned down to pick up his pen. "Coffee? Oh, uh..." His eyes narrowed to study the wide, innocent blue eyes regarding him. "Why?"
Hutch shrugged. "I was just gonna get some 'n I thought you might like some, too."
Starsky was watching him closely but could detect no sign of deceit. Still, it wasn't worth the risk. "No thanks, I'll get my own."
Hutch paused to look at him for a moment, then he shook his head and got up to fill his mug. Perhaps that had foiled his plan. Starsky watched him suspiciously until he returned to his desk. Hutch wasn't looking at him, but Starsky knew that he knew he was being watched. Boy, his partner could sure be devious.
The hours dragged as Starsky tried to do his work and work out what his partner was thinking. He knew Hutch. Hutch had been ticked off and there was no way he wouldn't be seeking revenge. They'd had prank wars back and forth like this before, but Starsky wasn't usually quite so audacious. It had always been more along the lines of stealing each other's reports, or competing for a lovely lady's attention. And Hutch had never seemed to take it so personally. Yes, Starsky thought, be very scared.
At lunchtime, Hutch invited him along for lunch in the commissary, but Starsky wasn't about to fall for that one. He declined firmly, and saw something flicker in the blue eyes again. Maybe Hutch was finally getting the picture that he wouldn't be so easy to dupe. Hutch ended up going off alone, and after a while, Starsky began to wonder if that was the wise thing to do, letting Hutch out of his sight. But he couldn't have it both ways. Starsky finally admitted to himself that he was being a little paranoid, and set about to get some work done while his partner was away. And not threatening him.
It was shortly after lunchtime that Starsky began to notice the change. It was very subtle, but it was there, he was sure of it. Some of the other detectives who had come back from lunch with Hutch seemed to be watching him. He couldn't catch them at it--they were always studiously busy when he looked up, but he could feel it. Hutch, meanwhile, was deeply involved with a file, oblivious to, or ignoring, everyone else. Starsky sighed deeply at the martyrdom his partnership demanded, and forced his attention back to his work.
Then Minnie came into the squadroom for something, and Starsky got up to speak to her about a report. She looked up at him, startled--no, surprised. He asked her his question, and she gave him the shortest reply possible, disappearing a moment later. He blinked after her. That wasn't like Minnie at all. This time it took more effort to shrug it off, but she could have just been having a bad day. It was possible. Maybe?
A half an hour later, his stomach warned him in no uncertain terms that it wanted to be fed, and Starsky finally put aside what he was doing and set off to gratify it. Hutch mumbled something distractedly in answer to Starsky's announcement of his intentions, and Starsky left the squadroom with some sense of relief. It would be nice not having to watch his back for a few minutes.
He rounded the corner to the elevator, and three other detectives who were standing there waiting for the next car and talking to each other, suddenly fell silent. Starsky smiled at them pleasantly, and they smiled back, but all three expressions looked a little strained. Wary.
Starsky tried to ignore it, but the choking silence in the car on the way down made the ride seem interminable. Once they got there, the three excused themselves and left quickly without a backwards glance. Starsky frowned and turned off toward the cafeteria.
He entered the double doors, and was surprised to see the room almost empty. But then, it was three o'clock and a little late for the lunch crowd. The two tables that were occupied each had a pair of people, two uniformed officers and two meter maids. And as Starsky stepped through the door, they all looked up at him and fell silent.
He swallowed and grinned at them as pleasantly as he could, which was becoming a little difficult. The responses he got were everywhere from tight to downright uneasy. Starsky quickly gathered his food and took it with him back upstairs. Even Hutch's loaded silence had to be better than the odd reception everyone was giving him today.
He encountered no one on the way back up, which suited him just fine. As Starsky approached the squadroom, he could see through the long window that Hutch was perched on the edge of a desk at the other end of the room, talking to several detectives who were sitting and standing around him. Hutch was grinning, as was his audience. Well, at least the company up here would be more pleasant than that in the cafeteria.
As Starsky stepped up to the door, one of the detectives' head came up and his eyes fell on Starsky. The grin instantly vanished and he said something quietly to the others. Hutch and two or three others also looked up at Starsky, and suddenly everyone was moving apart, back to their desks or to their business. Starsky entered the room to complete silence except for the busy clacking of typewriters and one person's quiet phone conversation. He stood and stared, perplexed and a little hurt. What was happening here?
He moved over to his desk and put his lunch down on it, watching Hutch carefully for any sign of reaction. The blond was decidedly avoiding looking at him. Starsky pulled out his chair and sat down, still watching his partner. No reaction.
"Okay, I give up. What's going on?"
If he hadn't been sure something was up before, Hutch's reaction would have removed all doubt. That wide, innocent look appeared again, honed to perfection and impossibly clear, along with a completely sincere sounding, "What do you mean?"
Now, it was possible that it would have worked with someone else. Had, in fact, with many a lovely lady or an underworld creep. But you couldn't spend 75% of your time with someone and not be able to read them fairly well. And when you daily trusted that person 100% with your life, you also knew them pretty well. And when you loved them with 200% of your being--well, there wasn't anything left that needed giving or that couldn't be taken.
Except for maybe a devious secret or two.
What are you doing? Starsky silently asked the question. And in the depths of Hutch's eyes, where no one else could read it except Starsky, was the answer. I'm not telling.
The next day it was Hutch's turn to drive, but Starsky didn't want to risk riding with him. That car was a trap on a normal day, let alone one where Starsky had to be on his guard. Hutch didn't seem to think it odd that he begged off, and Starsky even saw a faint glimmer of amusement in the blue eyes. Well, perhaps he thought he'd get away with whatever it was, but Starsky wasn't about to let him. Not if he had anything to say about it.
He tagged along with his partner for lunch this time, but people simply avoided both of them. Hutch didn't seem to notice, which only heightened Starsky's suspicion, but two could play that game. He kept up an animated, if one-sided conversation, with Hutch nodding along occasionally, and for a few minutes it almost felt like everything was back to normal. Except when Starsky would glance up to see most of the room watching him. That was getting a little hard to ignore. His one comfort was that this time at least his partner was in the same boat, if only for being in his company.
But that was the last time for that, too. Hutch began to disappear for long, mysterious periods, deflecting all of Starsky's queries. He was often smiling when he came back, and that almost scared Starsky more than anything else. But there was nothing to be done about it. Starsky was just all the more determined to stay on his guard.
He played the whole week safe. When Hutch came out and said Dobey wanted to see him, Starsky called up the Captain from his desk to make sure it was the truth and not just an excuse to get him out of the room. It turned out to be legitimate, something about a detail he had left out of his report, but he was too distracted to concentrate closely on what Dobey was saying. When he got back to the squadroom, he checked his desk out carefully, with Hutch watching him with that same look of amusement, but there was nothing amiss.
Oddly enough, the battle didn't affect their work. Starsky drove when they were patrolling, which let him relax at least then, and when they had to be on guard and alert in a dangerous situation, he had no second thoughts with his partner at his back. That kind of trust wasn't subject to suspicion. They both knew where the games ended; counting on each other without reservation was one of the things that kept them alive and working well together.
Everywhere else, it was a different matter. The pattern of people avoiding him and falling silent as he approached seemed to be spreading throughout Parker, and soon it seemed that wherever Starsky went, silence followed. Silence and speculative, interested, even amused glances. Whatever Hutch was planning, it seemed like everyone was in on it and it was big. Like waiting for the other shoe to fall, Starsky took to checking his seat, his desk, his mug, everything before use. He peered around corners ahead of time, let Hutch enter each room in front of him, and jumped at every sudden sound. And all the time, he could feel Hutch observing him, mutely enjoying watching him squirm.
On Friday, Starsky finally got sick of it. They were on their way home, and Hutch was sitting quietly, thinking about whatever it was that he was thinking about all week while Starsky stole glances at him and wished fervently that he was psychic. As they approached Hutch's place, he suddenly banged a hand on the steering wheel and swerved the car sharply next to the curb.
Hutch looked up at him, startled.
Starsky ignored the look. "Look, I'm sorry about the beer. Is that what you want me to say? It was a stupid thing to do and I'm sorry I did it. Now can we stop whatever it is we're doing, 'cause I'm gettin' a little sick of it."
Blank eyes turned to look at him. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Starsky felt stung by the incredibly smooth lie. There had been an unspoken rule between the two of them, an invisible line of trust and honesty that their practical jokes never crossed. Except that his partner had just redrawn the line and Starsky had no idea where. Somewhere in a far corner of his mind, he wondered if the powers-that-be that equipped policemen with guns, ever took the temptation of incredibly hard-headed partners into account. Perhaps under justifiable homicide... No. That would be the easy way out.
He had one trump card left to play, one that wouldn't even be too hard, the way he felt, and he played it. Casting his eyes down, he let his shoulders slump in dejection and gripped the steering wheel as if it were his last anchor. "Yeah," he said as lifelessly as he could. "I'll see you Monday." The perfect picture of melancholy.
His eyes firmly fixed on his lap, he didn't need to see his partner to be able to tell it was working. There was a surprised sharp intake of breath, followed by a silence during which he knew Hutch's eyes were on him. He could feel his partner's troubled doubts, and only hoped he wasn't as transparent to Hutch at that moment. It was his partner's turn to try and read him.
There was a long pause, then slowly a less-assured, "Right. See you Monday." Starsky didn't look up. Another pause went by, and, finally, Hutch opened the door and got out.
Starsky's head came up in surprise, and unwillingly met Hutch's, who had turned to look back into the car. Their gazes locked for a moment, and suddenly Hutch grinned. "Be good," he said cheerfully, and went into the building.
Starsky thumped the steering wheel with the heel of his hand again in annoyance. Hutch would never have gone if he truly thought his partner was despondent, that much Starsky was still sure of. And Hutch had almost gone for it, but Starsky had never been able to keep his friend from being able to read his eyes. Too many shared years for that. Well, this couldn't go on indefinitely, and he almost didn't care anymore. Whenever it would come, at least it would be over with.
Starsky's plans for the evening consisted of a much longed-for beer and a chance to work on his model ship. It was almost finished, but his schedule hadn't given him much time of late to spend on it. He changed into a sweatshirt, put aggravating jobs and partners out of his head, and sat down to work.
The phone rang.
Starsky murmured something very dark under his breath and decided to ignore it. He wasn't due to call his mom for a few more hours, and he didn't really want to talk to anyone else. He doggedly opened the bottle of glue.
The phone stopped ringing, and Starsky relaxed. Couldn't be very important anyway--he had tied up all loose ends at the office and they weren't in the middle of any urgent case. 'Course, sometimes something unexpected came up. Or someone got into trouble. Like maybe... He shook himself. Then again, it could be the trap he'd been waiting for. Starsky stared at the phone, trying to get rid of his feeling of unease.
The phone rang again, and Starsky lunged for it.
"Starsky? You okay? I just tried calling you a minute ago..." The familiar voice did nothing to ease the tightness in his chest.
"Yeah, I'm fine, are you okay?" Suspicion flitted through his mind...
"I'm fine. I mean, well... could you come over? Please?" The voice almost wavered.
Suspicion died a quick death. "Hutch? What's going on?" The tightness in his chest was turning into an ache.
"Please, Starsk? I need you here." That was all.
It was enough. "I'm on my way." Starsky slammed the phone down and jammed the cap of the glue that was still in his hand, then tossed it aside and grabbed his coat on his way out the door.
A lot of possibilities went through his mind on the way to Venice Place, none of them good. Had he been so preoccupied the whole week with his own petty suspicions that he missed something important? He had been acting rather foolishly...
Starsky pulled up to the curb in front of the apartment building, and got out at a run. He jogged up the steps and steamed right through the door without knocking.
"SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"
The shock of the light that was suddenly flipped on and the chorus of voices reached his brain before it reached his feet. He twisted, trying to stop himself, and his tennis shoes skid on the polished wooden floor. He landed squarely on his bottom, staring at the room around him in shock.
He had just made a fool of himself before a roomful of laughing people, people from work, friends, just about all their mutual acquaintances. Which was to say, just about all of Starsky's acquaintances. And, in front of them all, grinning like an idiot, was his partner.
Surprise turned to relief and a touch of annoyance as Hutch, half-concerned, half-amused, stepped forward and reached out a hand to help Starsky up. Starsky gave him a long, wary look as he took the proffered hand and let Hutch pull him up. I'm not through with you, he said silently. Hutch's grin just widened.
Starsky let himself be drawn into the crowd, saying hello to everyone, beginning to relax and enjoy the party for the birthday that he had forgotten all about in the... distractions of the week.
The next few hours made up for it. Starsky had always loved surprises, and this one was terrific. But he also hadn't realized how much he needed the break, especially after the exhaus-tion and preoccupation of the previous weeks. It had only been a month and a half before that he had attended his old friend, Jackson Walters' funeral, and then, shortly after, he almost lost another old friend, Ted McDermott. But Sammie and Jackson Jr were both there at the party and looking well, as was the McDermott family. Starsky had even had a few dances with Julie. And a part of him that he didn't even know had been empty began to fill up again. Hutch had known.
Several beers and dances later, Starsky sat on the couch, alone for the moment, eating a plateful of junk food and watching the dancers, especially the shapely ones. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up into the blue eyes that had confounded him all week but were now clear and happy.
"I brought you something." Hutch held out a brightly-wrapped box to him.
Starsky stared at it, earlier suspicions returning. He looked at Hutch doubtfully.
"C'mon, take it, it's your present," his partner urged.
Starsky took the package reluctantly, and gave it a hesitant shake. It rattled. Curiosity overcoming caution, he tore off the wrapping paper.
It was a beautiful model kit of a 16th century Spanish ship. Starsky looked up at his partner again, his heart and eyes full. "I... thanks, Hutch. For everything." The party and the gift were only the visible part of the perception and thought and caring behind them.
There was no answer, just a sincere smile in response. It elicited one from Starsky, too. Hutch sat down on the arm of the couch next to him with a mug of beer and a plate of food he had acquired from somewhere.
Starsky sobered. "Say, why didn't you tell me? You knew it was buggin' me all week."
" 'Wouldn't be called a surprise party then, Starsk. Besides, it kept you busy and unsuspecting."
There was some twisted truth to that, Starsky had to admit, though 'unsuspecting' was hardly the word he would have used. "You mean you were never planning anything to get me back for the beer?" Starsky squinted at Hutch disbelievingly.
"Me?" The innocent look was back again, this time with undisguised amusement. "I didn't have to, you did a good enough job of that all by yourself," Hutch grinned at Starsky again.
Starsky made a face. But Hutch was right, and he would've been a bad loser not to admit it. "Yeah, I guess I did," he agreed sheepishly. "That phone call was a low blow, though. I thought something was wrong."
Hutch opened his mouth to respond, but just then someone behind Hutch, a little unsteady on their feet, lurched into the blond, nearly knocking him off the arm of the sofa. Hutch just caught his balance, but the contents of his plate and his mug were not so fortunate. Neither was Starsky. The food ended up in his lap and the beer liberally drenched the front of his sweatshirt.
Starsky gaped at the mess with astonished disbelief, then up at Hutch, who's expression mirrored his. They stared at each other for a moment, until the irony of the situation hit Hutch and he began to crack up. Starsky didn't look so amused. Grimacing, he picked finger foods and vegetables gingerly out of his lap. Hutch was laughing so hard, he leaned on Starsky for support, and Starsky shook his head at his partner, a glint of humor in his eyes that refused to turn into a smile. Hutch steadied himself long enough to wheeze out, "Surprise?"
The laughter was impossible to resist for long, though, and Starsky finally succumbed. After a minute, they were leaning on each other for support, and people were beginning to stare at them. And with his arm around his friend, laughing so hard he thought he'd be sick, Starsky found that he couldn't care less.
Written in 1996