This story was originally published in the zine: Don't Give Up On Us #1, published in 1985. Special thanks to Evelyn for transcribing it. Comments on this story can be sent to Flamingo who will forward them to the author.
The first thing Detective Kenneth Hutchinson noticed upon returning from his usual morning jog, was that the front door of his cottage was ajar. He remembered shutting it firmly. Cop-sense alerted, he stepped cautiously inside. A rustling sound was coming from the bedroom. Suspicions confirmed, he approached the doorway, pausing to take a deep breath before bursting in, ready for action.
Detective David Starsky was perusing his closet. The curly-haired cop started at the unexpected interruption, not at all relieved to see his partner standing in the doorway instead of some intruder. Hutch spared a relieved sigh, before exchanging it for a scowl.
"Uh, hi Hutch..."
The blond regarded him coldly. "Looking for something?"
"Me? Well, I..."
"You're not going to find it."
"Find what?" Starsky feigned innocence.
"Don't give me that innocent routine. Your Christmas present."
He unconsciously slipped into the high-pitched tone he affected when lying. "WHAT GIVES YOU THE IDEA THAT'S WHAT I WAS DOING??"
"Next time I shoot you on sight for a burglar. Got it?"
"You don't trust me," Starsky pouted.
"No. How'd you get over here anyway, I didn't see your tomato?"
"Karen drove me. We're taking your car today, remember?"
On the way out of the room, Starsky looked under the bed.
It was prior to the end of their shift when the two detectives walked into the squad room. Starsky, leading a prisoner by the ear, deposited him in a chair. Hutch headed for the water cooler.
"Have a seat, schweetheart." Starsky put a piece of paper into the typewriter. "Okay, why don't you tell us all about it?"
The crook affectionately known as Spot, tried to look as indignant as possible. "I already did. Honest, I didn't know the deli was closed! I just wanted to get a corned beef on rye."
"Don't you know you can't get a decent corned beef on the west coast?"
"It was all a mistake. I swear it!"
Hutch shook his head. "Tell that to Judge Death Row Dan."
"Give me a break, it's Friday night," Starsky implored.
"Give you a break? I'm the one being arrested! Ain't I even entitled to a phone call?!"
Starsky handed him the receiver. "Just don't take all night." He turned his attention to his partner. "Hey Hutch, what are we doing tonight?"
The blond's tone was patient. "You know what we're doing, meeting a college friend of mine at Huggy's."
Spot was speaking into the phone. "Operator, give me Cairo please..."
On the way over to the table where Beau Cochran had started his second Heineken, Hutch took in his old friend. A lot of years had gone by, not quietly. Trying to bring back vague memories from a past that didn't seem quite real anymore, he wondered who the man was that sat there drinking. And who he was.
Cochran saw them then, and brought him out of his thoughts with a hearty bear hug. "Ken, I can't believe it!"
"It's been a long time, Beau."
"Too long. It's great to finally see you again."
Hutch smiled. "I'm glad you called."
"You didn't think I'd let a trip to L.A. slip by without checking on you, did you?" Not waiting for an introduction, he turned to Starsky in an enthusiastic handshake. "So you're Starsky."
"Nice to meet you, Beau."
"I've been anxious to meet the guy who replaced me. Ken and I were best friends in college."
"He told me."
"We can exchange notes. Shit Ken, what's left to talk about after that marathon phone call?" He turned to Starsky. "Must've talked for half the night. Just like old times."
Huggy Bear came over, bringing Beau's order of a hamburger and fries.
Hutch sniffed at it suspiciously. "I see you decided to live dangerously and try the food."
"You didn't warn me."
Huggy was insulted. "This food is better than what you serve in your own kitchen!"
"Oh come on Huggy, even you don't eat here," Hutch stated.
He stiffened. "Zen Irving says to ignore ignorant people."
"While you're doing that, bring us a couple of beers," Starsky said. "The nights not gettin' any younger."
"--Neither are you." Hug left in a huff.
Hutch smiled at his old friend. "Don't mind Huggy, he's a bit eccentric."
"Par for the course in the big city, eh? You know, I couldn't believe it when I heard that, you, of all people, moved to Los Angeles and became a cop."
It felt strange to be sitting there with the two of them. His present and his past sharing drinks. And since when had Beau been so...exuberant? Of course memories play tricks. Always, he wondered?
"Huh, what'd you say??"
"I said, don't you ever miss it?"
"Miss what?" Hutch came back to the present.
"I am home."
"I do, and as soon as I get back to Ohio I'm gonna have a talk with Holston P.R., ask for a transfer back to Minnesota. If they refuse, I'll quit, a good PR man doesn't hafto worry about finding a job."
"You always were a great bullshitter." He remembered that much at least.
Beau winked. "If you only knew half the ones I pulled on you."
"Oh no, you'd probably never speak to me again."
Starsky perked up, interested. "You can tell me, I'll keep it to myself."
Hutch pointed a warning finger at Cochran. "Don't you dare."
Huggy came back just long enough to set the drinks down, then left without a word.
Starsky glanced at his partner. "Huggy's in a mood."
"I noticed," Hutch agreed.
"Hey, remember the beer bashes we used to have?" Beau broke in.
"I get a hangover just thinking about it."
Beau looked at Starsky. "I have the distinct honor of being the one to introduce Ken to his first drunk. Got sick all over the back of my car. "
"You didn't drink till college?" Starsky asked Hutch in surprise.
"I drank, a few here and there. He got me piss-eyed drunk on three kinds of liquor and a jug of wine."
Beau smiled. "Only trying to loosen you up."
As the talk wore on, Starsky spied a curvaceous redhead and before long had disappeared. Hutch and Beau remained until closing, talking over old times. It was a trip into Twilight Zone for the blond, who still wasn't sure any of it had ever happened, even though he remembered it. Eventually he attributed his mood to the booze.
In the light of the day, sun streaming through the kitchen window, sausages and eggs frying on the stove; Hutch took advantage of the tranquility of the morning, his favorite time, to reflect on the thoughts that had been plaguing him since long before he'd heard from Beau. The truth he kept to himself, even when Cochran had asked. Why? If he'd been feeling a little home-sick these past few months was it that unusual? It had been so long since he'd even been back for a visit. Yet there was something else, something he couldn't put his finger on. A feeling of, what? It nagged him, not willing to reveal itself yet.
He'd given up and gone back to the breakfast when Beau woke and joined him. "I knew I smelled something good."
"Sausage and eggs."
Hutch nodded. "A minor miracle lately, I feel as if I'm missing part of my memory. Like I left it somewhere and forgot where I put it."
"Senility. Sign of a feeble mind," Beau teased.
The blond grinned. "Probably. Listen, I'm not gonna be eating till after I go jogging, but I figured you'd be hungry when you woke up."
"You better believe I am!"
Hutch laughed. "I'll be back in twenty minutes."
Ten minutes after he'd left, Starsky bounced in. "Morning Beau. Where's Hutch?"
"Good." He peered under the couch.
"What are you doing?" Beau asked curiously.
"It's around here somewhere and I'm gonna find it. -- Don't say anything about this."
"Your secret's safe with me," he assured, not having any idea what the man was talking about.
After a quick inspection of the kitchen, Starsky sat down at the table with Beau, deciding to suspend the search in favor of more interesting pursuits. "You knew Hutch all through college?"
"Met on admission day."
"I wanna hear all about it, what was he like?"
The question surprised Starsky. "I don't know, curious."
"He was a nice guy, too serious though, y'know? Kinda quiet. Don't tell him I said this but I think it was because he was a little shy. He studied diligently, there's a guy who could've been anything he wanted to, he has the brains to really get somewhere in life. That's why I was surprised when he became a cop. It just didn't seem to suit him."
"Why, because he's smart?" Starsky asked somewhat defensively.
"I'm not saying he's lowering himself or anything, it's just...let me ask you something. Why did you join the police force?"
"It's the only thing I ever really wanted to do."
"Not so with Ken, right? All the time I knew him, he never once mentioned wanting to be a cop. It seems like it was a sudden decision for him. I've always wondered why."
As Starsky pondered the information in silence, Hutch ran in, out of breath. "Morning partner, how'd the hunt go?"
"Huh??" Starsky mumbled, his thoughts far off.
Shaking his head, Hutch went to the refrigerator for his liquid breakfast elixir.
Beau watched. "I forgot you're into health food. I saved you some sausage."
"That's all right, I'm sure Starsky will be glad to finish them off."
"In that case, my worries over, I'll go grab a shower."
After jogging, all Hutch could think of was a nice refreshing shower, but he said nothing as Beau left for the bathroom. Once the door closed, he turned to Starsky. "Hey, -- why'd you leave last night?"
"Wasn't it obvious?"
"You left so we could have time to ourselves to reminisce, didn't you?"
Starsky changed the subject. "There's something I don't understand. If you two were so close, how come you didn't keep in touch?"
There it was, the million dollar question. What was the answer? He tried on one for size. "We went our separate ways after school and just lost contact. What can I say, it happens, I don't know why."
"I'm glad I know you now and not then."
Hutch had a sudden urge to hug his partner. "Hasn't that ever happened to you?" he asked.
"Yeah, I guess."
"I guess we weren't quite as close as we thought."
There was a pause. Then Hutch grabbed Starsky's arm. "--Get the lead out, you're going jogging!"
"You got to be kidding!"
Hutch dragged him out the door.
When they returned, Beau was just coming out of the bathroom, a robe around him. The cops were involved in an animated discussion.
"Come on, is it bigger than a breadbox??"
Wasting no time on an answer, Hutch headed for the shower. "See you in 15 minutes."
Shrugging his shoulders in resignation, Starsky collapsed into the nearest chair, regarding Cochran with mild interest as he stripped the couch of its bedding.
"You into jogging too?"
Starsky shook his head. "Only when I'm forced. What are you into?"
"You ask a lot of questions."
"Cops habit," Starsky said apologetically.
"With me it's insatiable curiosity. How long you two been partners?"
"Shit! How'd you put up with him that long?!"
"I expect it's the other way around, anyway it sure as hell don't feel like it's been that many years. Sometimes I feel like I don't know him at all."
"The Hutchinson enigma."
For some reason Starsky felt the need to defend himself. "Well, most of the time though, I know him better than he knows himself."
"I take everyone at face value. I found that if you start digging too deep, you find out things you didn't want to know."
After some discussion and planning, they agreed to a day in a boat on lake Piru. The three men tackled the lake armed with fishing gear, sandwiches, and a case of Lowenbrau.
"This is great," Beau enthused. "Just think, if I were home right now, I'd be knee deep in snow drifts."
Hutch was rummaging through their gear. "We should've brought the radio."
"So you could play that horrible classical shit? No way!" Starsky chose a lure.
Opening a beer, Beau toasted them. "Well, here's to good friends."
They booed his cliché'.
"I don't know about the fishes, but I'm having a good time," Cochran broke the peaceful silence.
Starsky snorted. "They must be tickled pink, we haven't caught any yet."
"Shhh!" Hutch put a finger to his lips.
"Can fish hear?"
"What?" Hutch looked at his partner.
"You're always shushing me. Even if they have ears, what could they hear under all that water?"
"Maybe he just doesn't want to hear you talk," Beau supplied.
Starsky threw the blond a suspicious look. Figuring it was his turn for the innocent routine, Hutch turned an angel face on Starsky. "You know better than that, buddy."
Not that Starsky believed him for an instant, just wasn't possible to stay mad. He settled for pretending to be miffed, wondering idly if he ever really fooled the blond.
In time they left the oars and allowed the boat to drift. Beau and Hutch were faithfully keeping watch over their lifeless lines. Starsky'd given up and was stretched out, adrift as the boat. The slow current was floating them gently downstream.
Even though their luck never changed, it was relaxing, especially for the detectives, who needed that type of diversion after the horrors of the street, even Starsky, though he'd deny it emphatically.
The sun was moving its lethargic way across the lake sky. Hutch took a swig of warm beer; they forgot the cooler, too. Beau swatted a fly, finally losing interest in the hopeless quest. Starsky, making sure Hutch wouldn't see him littering, flipped a bottle cap into the water.
Hutch noticed that he was now the only one fishing. "Looks like I'm gonna hafto be the one to catch us our dinner."
"Ten bucks on that," Starsky challenged.
"Losing your touch, Ken?"
"Me? I don't see either of you doing any better."
"We're not experts like you. Can't think of a time when you didn't out fish me by a dozen," Cochran pointed out.
"I prefer steak anyway," Starsky said.
"Yeah, me too." Beau was the first to notice the cabin come into view. "Hey--look at that cabin on the shore, doesn't it remind you of..."
He knew very well.
Another time, another reality, another sunny lake in another part of the country. Hutch could almost see the serene figure of the man standing at the dock, warm smile on his lips, waving them in...'Catch any big ones today?'
Hutch almost dropped his pole into the water. "W--What??"
"Said it looks deserted, wanna take a look?" Beau repeated.
"Yeah!" Starsky was all for it. Anything was better than sitting on some lake, and it might be interesting.
"Well--suppose--" Hutch started hesitantly.
Starsky and Cochran had already grabbed the oars.
As he watched the cabin getting closer, Hutch wondered where his reluctance had come from, but suspected it was obvious had he wanted to face it. The real question was--why it should matter now. Only one thing he was sure of, when he confronted the ghosts it was gonna hurt.
The dock was almost obscured by weeds and although Hutch doubted its stability, all three of them safely reached the path to the cabin.
Beau led the way. "I swear, it does look like your dad's."
They both looked at him then.
The cabin itself had not been kept up, as evident by the broken steps and vine-covered walls. It exuded an eerie charm, reaching all, including city bred Starsky.
They stepped inside. Hutch wondered again if he'd stepped into the Twilight Zone. Even Starsky seemed to notice the change. Here the air was stale, old. The very silence grated on the blond's nerves as he took a stand by the window, looking out at the lake.
The others explored, taking in the sparse furniture, an old table with two chairs, cabinets over the sink, a couple of crates, and a fireplace.
Starsky spoke first. "Don't look like anybody's been here for years."
Hutch stomped his foot on the wooden floor. "I'm surprised we haven't fallen through."
"Oh come on, it's not that bad. This could be a real nice place if it was fixed up."
Starsky was discovering the second floor. "This is fantastic."
"Watch the stairs." Hutch smiled at his unexpected enthusiasm. "That's a loft."
"I keep thinking of your cabin. The last time we were there was just a couple months before he died, wasn't it? Seems like yesterday. Those were good times." Beau didn't miss the eyes widen slightly, giving away their surprise at something they hadn't known. "The Hutchinson place is less rustic though. You still own it?"
"Yeah, we were there a few years ago, for Christmas," Starsky added.
Hutch sat down on the floor with a new beer, not trusting the ancient chairs. He took a long swallow, wishing he were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
As the day wore on, talk became easier for Hutch, the beer loosening his tongue and feelings, parked on the dusty floor of a deserted cabin in the woods, sitting in the middle of a patch of sunlight which illuminated his features, blond on blond.
"...as usual, I hardly caught anything worth keeping, you the big winner. Your dad was great about it y'know? Slapped me on the back and told me you cheated." Beau laughed. "Compared to my old man. You remember him, too busy to even take a shit we used to say."
At least he's alive. "How are you getting along now?"
"It's never gonna change."
"You should try."
"Think I haven't? No lectures huh? Everything always came easy for you."
Hutch glanced at his partner. "Does it?"
"--he ever forgive you for the time we let the eel loose in the cabin?"
He laughed. "You caught it."
"Who's idea was it??"
"I'm not gonna take the blame for that, I was a good boy."
"Oh, if they only knew!"
"Yeah, he used to give us hell sometimes, but I knew he loved every minute of it. Far as he was concerned it was great having two sons. It was different when we were here alone, quiet, just enjoying each other's company. Talking."
Starsky was propped against the wall, feeling somewhat invisible, trying to stay awake and not succeeding. These were stories his partner had never shared with him before, and he wanted very much to hear them all.
Hutch was lost in the past. "He was so proud of me when I started college. Taught me to work for what I got in life--square as that sounds. But I never felt that I was only giving in to my dad's wishes." Or did I? "Hell, he would've been glad if I'd become a garbage man, long as I was happy."
"Are you? Equating police work with garbage men?"
"I'm proud of what I do. What are you anyway, a psychiatrist? Thought you were in public relations."
"Same thing man. Not avoiding the question, are you?"
"I don't hafto. I love my life."
"I guess you have changed."
"What happened to the man that was gonna steam-roll the world? Climb that grand ladder of success two steps at a time."
"I--nothing. I decided to steam roll-over criminals, and the ladder became love."
"You outta take up poetry."
"Mom used to sneak that on us. She'd hide a book in with the fishing gear, trying to make her men more sensitive I guess. He used to kid her about it, refused to read it. I did some though. He didn't have anything against it, he--"
"I can hear him quoting Kipling incessantly on our hikes."
"--didn't need poetry."
"You still miss him, don't you?"
"I didn't think so." Hutch paused. "It's not supposed to matter anymore. Those days are long gone, I have a whole new life, a good one. I'm not alone."
"I never told you this--I wasn't around him many times but...I loved him too, he was a great man, and if he's looking down on us, he's glad we're remembering him with all the love he deserves."
How's the song go? Yesterday once more? Nothing can bring it back without the loss, a jolt from the past to remind us of what we've lost forever. Hutch's eyes were wet, giving in to the emotion as he hadn't done in a very long time. He noticed Beau's were too, as the two friends looked at each other, sharing the memories, the pain. They hugged.
Starsky slipped back into consciousness as easily as he'd slipped out, opening one eye wearily.
The two held their embrace a moment, then broke it. Hutch said a silent thank you with his eyes, then tried to shake off the melancholy mood. He glanced at his partner.
"Putting you to sleep, were we?" Beau asked Starsky.
"No, just didn't get much sleep last night." He got up to stretch.
Hutch looked around the room slightly self-consciously. The sun had gone down unnoticed, the moon slanted in through the window, its shadow playing on the far wall. "It reminds me more of our cabin than the real one."
Beau nodded. "It's the atmosphere."
"This place sure has that," Starsky agreed.
"Have we really been here that long?" Cochran rose. "The time always flies by."
Yes, thought Hutch, thinking of his childhood, and looking at his partner of ten years. And you're so busy with meaningless garbage that you don't appreciate what you have. --Until it's gone. And it's too late. "We better get going, it's getting late."
It's later than you think.
The three rather drunken men stumbled their way in the dark, making it down to the boat. Starsky mentioned how weird it was to be out there on the silent, black, still water, then threw up over the side.
The trip home was a long one, trips home usually are, but they finally arrived at Hutch's, collapsing gratefully into sleep.
Hutch woke, the events of the previous night a cloudy memory in his mind. He shook his head to clear it, forcing himself painfully out of bed and into the bathroom, putting any further soul-searching on hold. He swallowed two aspirin, saying a prayer of thanks to Mr. Bayer.
He was entering the living room when Beau walked in the front door, yawning sleepily.
"Where were you?"
Beau held up the Times. "Getting the paper. How's the hangover?"
"Yeah, me too. Guess it's time for the old fashioned cure."
They were at the sink, the counter cluttered with assorted ingredient, grabbing anything at random to put into the pitcher.
Cochran finished adding an egg. "Now for the Tabasco."
"I don't have any."
"No Tabasco? We'll just hafto use worcest- cesta- cesta sauce."
"Did you add the Creme De Menthe?"
Starsky joined them, his eyes still half closed with sleep. He stared, rubbing them to make sure of what he saw. "I might be sorry I asked, but what are you doing?"
Hutch answered. "Inventing a hangover remedy."
"I'm sorry I asked."
Beau was still adding things. "We used to do this in college all the time. Anyone had a hangover they'd come to us and we'd fix 'em right up."
"Actually, we'd make up some crazy concoction and get everyone to try it," Hutch explained.
"You?" Starsky asked in shock.
Beau turned to Hutch. "I think we're ready. Shall I stir?"
"Won't blow up, will it?" he asked.
"That was a fluke. Never happen again." He stirred the brew well, then pushed a glassful towards Starsky.
"I'm not your guinea pig!"
"It's not like that," Beau assured him. "We always all tried some to see what it tasted like. Sort of like a dare." Bracing himself, he took a generous sip.
Hutch watched closely. "Well??"
He drained the glass in one gulp, and slumped down in a chair. "Gotta give it time to work." He refilled the glass, holding it out to Starsky.
Curiosity getting the best of him, he dared take a small sip. Making a face, he returned it, refusing to swallow any more. "UGH! It's worse than the hangover!"
"I don't have that much of a hangover, besides, I just took aspirin."
Relieved that his partner was acting at least partly normal, Starsky turned to the refrigerator. The other two sat down at the table to read the Sunday paper.
"Does everyone call you Hutch now?"
"To me you're still Ken."
Starsky cut in. "Hey, are we going sight-seeing today? Y'know, I've never been to the Tar Pits."
"You're a poor excuse for an Angeleno." When the phone rang, Hutch jumped up to answer it. He returned shortly, looking less than pleased. "Guess what? Dobey wants to see us in his office."
"Now?" Starsky wanted to know.
"No, three days from now!"
"Hey, I don't like it any better than you do."
Hutch turned to Beau. "Looks like we're gonna hafto postpone the tour. Sorry."
"Well maybe I'll take a nap, I'm beat. Don't worry, I'll manage to amuse myself."
"We'll be back as soon as we can."
"I wonder what he wants?" Starsky asked as they went out the door.
"Not much I hope."
The ride to the station was spent in silence. Possibly for the first time, neither one of them knowing what to say to the other, both lost in their own thoughts.
At Parker Center they found something to talk about.
Starsky spoke as soon as they walked in the door. "Captain, do you know what day it is?"
Dobey consulted his calendar. "Sunday."
"Our day off," Hutch supplied.
"Why, did I take you away from 'church services'?"
Hutch's impatience showed. "What is it?"
"Someone went through your desk during the night."
The partners exchanged glances.
"Mine?" Hutch gaped.
"Not that we know of, Hutch will hafto confirm that."
"Terrific security we have in this police station!" Hutch remarked angrily.
"Maybe it was a cop."
Hutch and Dobey both stared at him.
The captain grunted. "I hate to say this, but it could be anyone, it's not exactly Grand Central around here that time of the morning."
Hutch started for the door. "It's easier to be a crook than it is bein' a cop!"
"Go on, check on it. Let me know if anything's missing."
Hutch gaped at the disaster area that had been his orderly desk.
The strange incident intensified the feeling of un-reality he'd picked up somewhere. He wondered if it would go away, and what would happen if it just kept getting stronger. "Why??"
Starsky stood beside him. "Somebody looking for something?"
"What? My address, notebook?"
"Maybe going over everything will give us a clue."
"It'll take me a year to figure out if anything's missing."
"It could be just a prank."
Standard reaction. They'd tell each other it was just a prank. But they didn't dare believe it.
The blond resolutely began putting the pieces back together again, wishing he could do the same with his life as easily.
Starsky got them coffee from the pot, watching his partner. His own mood those past few days had been so jumbled, he'd missed something. Now he went over the past few...weeks, he realized it'd been. He took a good look at his best friend. Something was out of place.
"Hey Hutch--" He waited until the blond had stopped and was looking up at him inquiringly, before going on. "What's the matter?"
The question caught Hutch off guard. He wondered if they were on the same wave length, hoped not. He wanted to tell Starsk, even if he couldn't put his thoughts into words, but he couldn't even try. Why? Was he afraid of the answer? "Nothing Starsk. Just tired."
That one stunned him. "I--the usual."
"Okay, if that's the way you want to play it. I'm here."
"I didn't mean --Ah hell Starsky, I'm not sure what it is, it's all mixed up in my head yet. Let me sort it out first, okay?"
"Sure." His voice contradicted the word. Starsky quickly busied himself straightening his desk, refusing the feeling of isolation that slipped unwanted into his conscious mind.
Damn. With a fierce toss, Hutch dumped the contents of the drawer out on top of his desk, slamming it closed again. It was an outlet for the anger he felt. Anger at himself, tempered with self-pity. He could name the emotion, not the cause.
The exchange with Hutch had disturbed him, why so much he wasn't sure. Starsky watched, recognizing, you'd have to be blind not to, the contained anger; wondering what he'd done or said to cause it. Maybe nothing. Maybe...
The cottage was empty when they returned three hours later. Hutch went for a beer, then checked for a note. He was worn out, mostly from trying to sort out the clutter in his head, not to mention the one at his desk. Thoughts were going round and round, the uncomfortable silence welcome nonetheless. He went into the bathroom long enough to retrieve the aspirin bottle.
Starsky watched him. "Shouldn't take aspirin with beer."
"What are you, my mother?!"
Starsky allowed a hurt look, then spoke. "Look uh, about this morning, you have a right to your privacy--"
Hutch didn't let him finish. "I owe you an apology. I haven't been myself lately." Who am I? "I know you want to help and I promise you I'll--I'll need someone to talk it over with eventually. I...I can't now."
"It's okay, partner."
"Thanks for caring."
Beau was standing in the doorway.
Starsky was peripherally aware of the figure, and for an instant had the strange feeling he was being spied upon.
Hutch turned, smile breaking out. "Hi kid, where ya been?"
"Missed me? Took a walk down to the beach."
"I feel bad about being gone so long. Tell you what, whatever you wanna do today, you name it."
Beau yawned. "Nothing taxing. Hey, while I was out I saw a poster announcing a Bach concert in the park."
"I'd forgotten about that. Great, I'll pack us a lunch."
"Bach??" That from Starsky.
"Bach still your favorite?" he asked Hutch.
The blond nodded. "It was yours till you brainwashed me with the strains of 'Chaconne'."
"So Brahms has my heart now, Bach's still my first love."
"Coming with us, Starsk?"
"Uh, if it's all the same to you, I think I'll go home and watch MTV. "
"Okay, see ya tomorrow buddy."
His mood lifted, Hutch spread the blanket on a choice patch of grass and opened the wine. They started in on the food, conversation put off until they'd finished.
Hutch spoke first. "I didn't realize how hungry I was. Missed lunch."
"Yeah, me too."
"You could've fixed something."
"Forgot." They turned their attention briefly to watching the orchestra set up. "Should be starting soon. They any good?"
"This is the first time I've heard them, but they have a good reputation." Hutch took out an apple. "Starsky should've come, he could stand a little culture."
"You two are close, aren't you?"
"We've been together a long time."
"He's so...opposite, don't know how you've stayed friends. Is there anything you both agree on?"
"Ken--you mind if I still call you that?"
"Course not, that's who I am."
No, Ken was somebody else, not him, not anymore. He couldn't even remember Ken having ever been him. He was Hutch.
"Ken, I...I want to ask you--" he paused.
"What is it?"
"Well, --has Starsky said anything about me?"
"Huh?" Hutch was puzzled.
"I mean, he's a nice guy but...sometimes I get the feeling maybe he doesn't care too much for me."
Did Starsky ever really like any of my friends? Of course not, they had nothing in common. Hell, we hit it off. "He's just --it takes him awhile to warm up to people." But when it does... It's worth the wait.
Beau lifted his glass in a toast. "To friends."
He was dreaming.
His wrists were handcuffed, the left to a red bulldozer, the right to an early model tractor facing the opposite direction. The steel bit into his wrists and he listened with growing realization as both vehicles started their engines. Any second they would...
He woke with a start, needing a moment to orient himself. Shaking off the dream, Hutch went for a glass of water, then returned to bed. This time sleep wouldn't come so easily, there was too much. He felt inexplicably pulled from opposite sides. Was it from the outside, or only inside him?
As if I don't have enough mysteries. --C'mon Hutchinson, snap out of it soon, before you need somebody else to untangle it. Professional.
Meanwhile, Starsky was having disturbing thoughts of his own. Normally he'd never question his street sense, but this was Hutch's friend. Why the uneasy feeling of distress in his stomach?
There were other feelings involved, feelings he wasn't willing to examine close. So, he couldn't trust his intuition.
Timing his arrival with expert accuracy, Starsky got to his partner's house fully expecting the blond to be out jogging. He was surprised, then stunned to find Hutch waiting for him.
"Starsky, how could you? That was a lousy thing to do!" Hutch was facing him accusingly.
"What??" Starsky asked, confused.
"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about."
"You just couldn't wait till Christmas to get your present, could you?"
"I don't even know where it is!"
"Are you telling me you didn't take it?" Hutch asked dubiously.
"No." Starsky answered him levelly.
Hutch paused, having the grace to look contrite. "Well, I might've just forgotten where I put it, I seem to be doing that a lot lately."
"Maybe a burglar took it," Starsky offered.
"Starsky, a burglar isn't gonna break in here just to steal your present."
"No. Want me to help you look for it??"
Hutch glared at him. "I wouldn't have forgotten if I didn't hafto move it every day!" He waved to Beau. "Keep an eye on him while I go jogging."
Starsky watched his partner go out, bracing himself for what he'd come there early to do.
"So, good morning, Starsky," Beau said pleasantly.
"For some of us."
"What do you mean?"
"Okay, I'll come right to the point. What the hell game are you playing?!"
"I don't understand..."
"I got a feeling you're not as innocent as you'd have us believe. You're here, having a real chummy visit, why try to cause trouble between me and Hutch??"
"That's crazy--why would I do a thing like that?!"
"I don't know." Starsky stared hard at him. "But I'm working at it."
"Starsky." It was Hutch's voice.
Hutch was standing in the doorway with shock on his face. "What the hell is going on??"
Cochran tried to soothe him. "It's all right Ken, Starsky just got a little carried away."
"I don't need you to defend me!" Starsky snapped angrily.
"I don't believe this, Starsky." He spoke quietly.
"I thought I knew...you're acting like some immature child." There was disappointment in his voice.
"You don't understand--"
Hutch shook his head, cutting him off. "No, I don't. I never expected this out of you. Not jealousy."
His eyes widened in surprise at the vehemence in his partner's tone, but his own voice remained level. "You owe Beau an apology."
"When hell freezes over!"
Hutch watched Starsky walk out.
Hutch went into the squad room expecting to see his partner already there, but Starsky was nowhere in sight.
He was still reeling from that little scene of the morning. Beau had been understanding, forgiving. Starsky--it defied any sense he tried to make out of it. Reality was slipping away faster, leaving nothing in its place but questions. At least this would take his mind off the old ghosts.
As Starsky came in, Hutch went over to check his desk. Everything was in order, the note lying neatly in the middle.
He must have been staring at it for quite awhile, because he noticed Starsky was standing next to him. Wordlessly, he handed it over. A plain sheet, with seven typed words: FOREVER ISN'T AS LONG AS YOU THINK.
Starsky handed it back. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's your note."
Hutch turned without a reply, leaving to take the note to the lab for analysis. God, what's happening to us. To me. They're piling up quicker than I can solve them. I feel like everything's falling apart. Maybe it's just me. Twilight Zone? Hell, this is Outer Limits.
They cruised the streets in silence, welcoming the regular distractions from the inhabitants. There was an added nervousness, each wondering about the note, who left it, and what did it mean.
Back to police work Officer Hutchinson, put your other problems on hold, this one has priority. Gratefully. So lost in thoughts such as those, Hutch was surprised to look up and see the interior of the police garage. "We have hours to go yet."
"Yeah and you better spend them here, with the computer. Check on that note."
Irritated, though he knew not why, Hutch followed his partner.
Dobey was waiting for them. "Inside."
They followed him into his office, and he closed the door. "What's the big idea not telling me about the note you received?!" Dobey looked at Hutch.
They stood silent.
Hutch shrugged. "I forgot." That was the truth. It was starting to affect his work? He managed a silent prayer.
"You got the lab report?" Starsky gestured to the folder the black held.
"You'll get no help there. It's clean."
They had worked with the captain long enough to know when he was holding something serious. Hutch closed his eyes, waiting, bracing himself against whatever else was coming.
Starsky wasn't as patient. "What is it, Cap?"
"I don't know if this ties in or not, but we received a phone message for Hutch."
"What was the message?" Hutch asked.
Dobey cleared his throat. "'Tell Hutchinson he's gonna pay.'"
The rest of the day was spent going over files, who'd want to's, the familiarness of the action reminding Hutch how many times they'd had to repeat that scene.
"It's a miracle we're both still alive." Hutch spoke mainly to himself.
Starsky looked up from reading a report. "What'd you say?"
"I've had enough of this shit for one day, I'm going home."
Starsky had heard the first line, too well. He'd been through enough of Hutch's bitching about the risks, the system, to recognize the signs. He always took it for granted that his partner would get over it. This time he was seeing it in a new way. Recent words echoed in his mind..."to really get somewhere in life...sudden decision..." He was somewhere in life all right--the sewer. Why was the man a cop? He would've asked if he hadn't been afraid of the answer.
The last thing Starsky wanted to do was tag along with his partner, but if Hutch had an enemy-- "Mind if I come along?"
"Yes." The one word stopped Starsky cold. "You have some thinking to do." He paused. "Don't worry, I'm not alone, remember? Beau's there."
Those last words were emphasized to go deep, which they did.
Feeling worse than he had all day, Starsky headed for the only haven left to him. Huggy's.
Huggy brought the requested drink, joining him with one. "Okay, tell Uncle Huggy all about it."
"Alright, if you don't wanna talk..."
"How do I tell my best friend that his former best friend isn't as best a friend as he thinks?" Starsky took a sip of his drink morosely.
"Not my strong suit. Hug, the guy's tryin' to put us at each other's throats!"
"You get along too well for that."
"I hope. It doesn't matter, either way I can't win."
"Sure you can."
"What makes you so sure?"
"You're his partner."
Hutch entered the dim interior, in a deadly calm that made even Huggy nervous. "Speak of the devil," the black said lightly.
"Have either of you seen Beau?"
"No." Nor did Starsky care. "Why?"
"He was gone when I got home. Clothes and all."
"Didn't he leave a note?" Hug asked helpfully.
Hutch gave his partner a long look before answering. "Yeah." He handed a letter to Starsky.
DEAR KEN, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING. IT'S BECOME OBVIOUS THAT STARSKY DOESN'T WANT ME THERE, SO RATHER THAN CAUSE PROBLEMS BETWEEN YOU TWO, I'LL JUST GO. IT'S BEEN FUN. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. FF, BEAU.
Starsky looked at Huggy. "I really don't need this."
"Satisfied Starsky?" Hutch asked stonily.
"No," Hutch cut him off. "You never did have much tolerance for my friends."
"What the hell does that mean?!"
The headache was back, tenfold. He was reminded of a time many years ago. "I'm sick and tired of your stinking loyalty to your friends." "Why did you come down on Beau like that??"
"Why?? Think what you want, I don't care! If after all these years you don't trust me, I guess you never will."
"Did you ever stop to think Starsky, that once--just once in awhile you could be wrong? If anyone should be acting insecure it's Beau, not you!"
"I am not insecure!"
"Take a good long look inside yourself for once. Be honest with yourself at least!"
"You want honesty--fine! We're both right, cause he set this all up...and sure, I feel left out!!" There was a sudden silence as they stared at each other. Starsky found his voice first, covering with anger. "Okay, it's true dammit! I feel like I don't know you anymore, if I ever did. All you never shared with me. Do you belong here? Maybe you don't even wanna be a cop anymore."
Hutch still couldn't say anything, only stare. Were the words too close to the ones he'd been blocking out himself?
Seeing an answer in no answer, Starsky turned away, concentrating on his drink.
After it became apparent that they weren't going to talk, Huggy tried to ease the tension. "Hey Hutch, what does FF mean?"
"'Forever friends,' we used to sign all our letters like that in college."
In Starsky's mind, alarms were going off. "Forever isn't as long as you think." "My God." They both looked at him. "Hutch, the note on your desk..."
"Wha-- no. You can't be thinking..."
"I'm afraid I am."
"It's just a coincidence."
"I don't believe in them, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. But I do. You're practically sayin' that Beau is some kind of dangerous psychopath. That's really letting your imagination run away with you."
"Dammit Starsky, you're not right this time!" Hutch left.
Hutch sat down on the couch heavily, stiff drink in hand. It was impossible to concentrate through the whirling images. Just when he felt he couldn't stand any more, it got worse. He could've dealt with them one at a time if they weren't all tied together.
Taking a large swallow of whiskey, he welcomed the burning warmth. Place needed straightening. Like that paper lying under the coffee table. Idly unfolding it, he stopped dead. It was an old letter, one he'd written to Beau, the usual idealistic ramblings of the young collegiate. "Great summer... Miss ya, wish you were here... lot's of girls... See you in September..." Signed in their own unique code, "Forever friends, Ken."
He wondered why Beau had kept it, and what it was doing there. His mind fought the conclusions. Starsky was wrong! Wasn't he?
He was vaguely aware of movement in the room, but never had a chance to open his eyes. The pain. Then, nothingness...
Consciousness returned, along with the pain.
Finally managing to open his eyes, he tried to lift his head up, but a wave of dizziness washed over him. It was another few minutes before his head cleared enough to be aware of his surroundings. He was tied up securely. Beau Cochran sat just out of reach.
"What'd you hit me with?"
Beau looked over at Starsky. "You're awake." He stood. "You're not surprised to see me."
"What are you gonna do with me?"
"You're bait. You'll be better off you know; he's a liar. He said we were friends, but he didn't care."
"He does care, listen to me!"
"He made a fool out of me! He doesn't deserve to live."
"You're out of your mind," Starsky gasped.
Beau went on as if he hadn't heard. "He never should have said it if he didn't mean it. It isn't fair; he never did that to you. Who the hell are you?!"
"Beau, leave him alone," Starsky pleaded. "You got me, I won't be in your way anymore. He's all yours."
"I don't want him." He left the room, giving Starsky a vicious kick in the stomach as he went past.
Concentrating on the ropes and not the pain in his head, Starsky wondered how it would go down, hoping Hutch wouldn't do anything stupid. Wished they had made up, wished he'd explained. Be honest, open up, tell what you feel. Before it's too late. He prayed it wouldn't be too late.
Hutch paced Dobey's office in anguish.
The captain had placed an APB out on Starsky and Cochran, only the waiting was left. Hutch wished he and Starsky had made up, and that he'd talked it all out with his friend instead of keeping it all inside, hurting him. Prayed he'd still have the chance.
"It's my fault."
Dobey spoke rather firmly. "Hutch, a guilt trip won't help Starsky."
"If I'd listened to him. I just couldn't believe...he's right, I wish I wasn't so goddamn trusting!"
"Take it easy. It's natural to trust an old friend, if not, who do we trust?"
Me and Thee.
When the phone rang Hutch pounced on it, earning an irritated look from Dobey. "Yeah?"
His first impulse had been to scream at Cochran, but he checked it in time, remembering the situation and its risks. "Yes?"
"See you at 210 South Williams Avenue. Alone."
The line went dead.
Captain Dobey was looking at Hutch inquiringly.
"Uh, that was Huggy," Hutch lied. "He might have some information for me; I'm gonna run over there."
"Let me know right away." He raised his voice as Hutch went out the door. "Hutch, I mean it, don't do anything dumb."
"This is Starsky's life."
The address Cochran had given was an old condemned house, isolated from the rest of the neighborhood. Hand on his magnum, Hutch went around to the back, making his way through the overgrown weeds. The windows that weren't boarded up were smashed, and most of the paint was peeling in strips.
Reaching the door, Hutch noticed where someone had recently entered. He also saw a spot of blood on the stoop. He stepped inside carefully, pausing to listen for any sounds but hearing only his own heart pounding in his ears. He walked to the living room.
"Beau! I'm here, let's talk!"
Hearing a noise in another room, he started towards it. Then abruptly fell, as an intense pain gripped his ankle. Before he had time to react, Beau jumped him, grabbing the gun and leaning his weight on the bear trap for effect. Hutch cried out. .
"It's a bitch ain't it? Leave it on too long and the foot has to go. But you're not gonna hafto worry about that."
Hutch grimaced in pain. "Where's Starsky??!"
"Too late. He's dead."
Hutch made a violent lunge for Cochran, who easily stepped clear and cracked him across the shoulder with the gun butt.
The pain in his head and heart rivaled the ones in his body, the only thing feeding him strength. His next word came out almost as a sob. "No..."
"He said to say goodbye."
"I'll kill you, you bastard!!"
"Gee, is that any way to talk to your friend??"
Hutch fought tears of pain and rage. "Why???"
"Why! 'Forever friends,' that's the way you always used to sign your letters, remember? You lied, it wasn't forever! You used me and tossed me away and forgot about me! You had no right, I was your best friend!"
With no fight left in him, Hutch gave in to the pain and hopelessness, almost welcomed it. "I'm sorry..."
Meanwhile, in a room upstairs, Starsky had managed to untie the ropes and pull his pain-wracked body down the stairs. He was hoping to sneak up behind Beau, and was still out of sight of either of them.
"Sorry's only a word. You don't care, you never did."
Hutch shook his head. "That's not true."
Cocking the gun, Beau pointed it at Hutch's head. "Now it's time to join your partner."
There was nothing left but desolation. Hutch was resigned to his fate, knowing that now it was preferable to living. He closed his eyes one final time.
Starsky knew there was no time to get over to his partner, he had no choice but to yell. It worked, Beau spun around and fired the gun in Starsky's direction, narrowly missing him as he dove over a sheet covered couch.
Again the choices were limited, he had to get to them before Beau could use Hutch as a bargaining tool. Summoning all the strength from his soul, he got up instantly and rushed Cochran. He wouldn't have made it if Hutch hadn't grabbed at Beau. When he turned to hit the blond, Starsky landed on him in a flying tackle, driving him down. They struggled over the gun. Finally he managed to get it out of Beau's tenacious grip and flung it across the room. He hit Cochran once, pulled him to his feet, and punched him in the stomach. When he slumped, Starsky held him up by the back of the neck. He was about to let him have it again when something in Hutch's eyes stopped him. Cochran collapsed on the floor, semi-conscious.
Starsky sank to his knees next to his partner, gingerly removing the trap. He took a good look at Hutch. Tears were running down the pale face, shock and a dozen other emotions running amok. The blue eyes pinned Starsky's. "H-He said you were dead."
That simple statement held so much pain. In the pause that followed, they stared at each other, speaking in silence.
"It's okay. It's over," Starsky soothed.
Their eyes turned to Beau when he groaned. "...Not fair...not...you said forever...you said..."
"Oh my God."
Starsky slumped down against Hutch.
They stayed that way for a long time. In the distance, they heard the sound of carolers.
Starsky gazed at Hutch. "Merry Christmas, partner."
"I don't have a present for you." His words still betrayed a disoriented mind.
Starsky slipped a hand into his. "I got my present."
They were sitting by the fireplace, jug of wine on the floor between them. The cabin was looking good, hadn't needed that much work after all. They had to keep it. The mutual feeling was that they'd discovered it, it belonged to them.
Hutch felt good. He looked around the room, eyes resting on the KISS poster on the far wall. He smiled; interior decorator his partner wasn't, but the place sure instilled his presence.
Hutch had been unusually quiet since that day on Williams Avenue. Well, Starsky thought, now was the chance he'd been waiting for, to say some things.
Hutch felt Starsky's eyes on him.
"I always thought we didn't need words," Starsky started.
"Maybe we didn't. But Starsk, there's so much I need to say to you now. When I realized I might never be able to tell you, suddenly it became important."
"There was unfinished business." He paused. "I've never been good with words. Maybe it's time I tried."
"You saw through his act, didn't--"
"Yeah, but I fell prey to it, too. Those stories from your past--it hurt that you never shared them with me."
"Because it hurt too much to even think about. I still miss my father--a hell of a lot. I guess that's because I never let myself feel it before. Just shut down that part of my life, pretended it didn't exist, then I moved to L.A. and--"
Sudden decision. Suddenly Starsky understood. "--You became a cop...changed your life cause he'd died."
Hutch stared at his partner, the elusive truth finally plain. All the pieces fell into place. Against his own will, too often lately, his eyes filled. Starsky laid a hand on his arm.
"I never knew...I couldn't stay there anymore. I missed it, but it was ruined, I had to leave." He paused, then went on quietly. "That sounds familiar. Just like the way I'd feel if something happened to you." They were both silent for a minute, not knowing how to go on. "And I almost blew it! When will I learn not to trust--"
Starsky broke in. "I know. But I don't want you to ever change."
"My turn. I-I was disillusioned till you came along. Nothing lasted, no one seemed to wanna stay, to believe in the same things I do. It seemed loyalty was only important to me. You made me believe in someone. I learned a hell of a lot from you." He hesitated. "When I heard all those stories about what you could've been...I guess I was afraid of losing that. You," he almost whispered.
"And I didn't exactly do anything to reassure you. Being a cop still means the same to me as it does you. Think I could quit, turn off, pretend none of it is going on just cause I wasn't a cop anymore? I still care too much. Guess I still haven't become the embittered veteran, yet. God only knows we've enough reason to." He shrugged. "So I'm still an idealistic fool."
"Yeah, but you're my fool."
They laughed, mood lightening, but Starsky still had a few questions.
"Are you still homesick?"
Pondering that, Hutch decided to state it more clearly. "No matter what, I'd never go back to Duluth. For a visit is one thing, my family is there...in fact I wish I could visit more than I do. But permanently--I wouldn't fit in. I belong here now."
"You made it home."
"No regrets?" Starsky asked.
"What's in the past is in the past, and it belongs there, I'm not the same person I was then."
"Neither am I. Thanks to you."
Pouring them more wine, Hutch wondered whether that was an insult or a compliment. Maybe both.
© Dec. 31, 1982
--Forever isn't as long as you think