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Lost in Anticipation
David Starsky made a special effort not to rev the Torino's engine as he pulled up in front of Venice Place. Technically, he was still supposed to be in New York for his cousin's wedding, but once the festivities were over, it was just too difficult to stay there. Memories of his father's legacy were everywhere, and as understanding as his mother always was, he just didn't feel free to talk with her about this particular matter. The memories were still painful for her, too. So, as the weekend approached, he'd decided to head home.
Starsky carefully checked the upstairs windows, and when Hutch's figure did not appear in them, he felt his surprise was still a secret.
Strains of eerily beautiful flute music floated down the stairs as the curly-haired officer climbed them, but he was almost to the top before he realized it was coming from his partner's apartment. He paused outside the door, studying the soft tune. It was a melancholy song, and Starsky was impressed with the sound quality of the recording. It had to be on reel-to-reel to sound that good.
He opened the door as silently as possible so that his partner would have to be looking toward the door in order to notice that he'd entered, and any remaining small sounds would be covered by the melody and his partner's involvement in it. Starsky looked up after shutting the door and was surprised to find the blond not in the living room; nor was he in the kitchen just beyond.
Poking his head around the room divider that separated Hutch's bed from the rest of the studio apartment, it was Starsky instead who got the surprise when he saw his best friend. Ken Hutchinson was sitting in the center of the queen-size bed with his legs crossed Indian-style and a double-size piece of sheet music laid out in front of him. But the most surprising of all was the silver flute Hutch held to his lips. He played with his eyes closed in enraptured concentration, apparently not needing to read the notes to play them--to feel them.
The brunet had never seen the instrument before, but it was obvious that the blond had played it for a long time, exhibited by a skill which matched any in Starsky's limited experience. "Where did you get that?" he asked suddenly, startling the flautist and causing him to knock the mouthpiece against his lips.
Instead of answering, Hutch turned his own abrupt question on his partner. "You're not supposed to be back here yet! What are you doing here?" He seemed upset, but not really angry, and Starsky got the feeling that whatever emotion the blond was experiencing was not aimed at him.
"Apparently," Starsky replied, " finding out some things I never knew about my own partner."
"What do you mean by that?" Hutch asked, sounding as guilty as a john caught in a motel with a 15-year-old.
"Why haven't I ever seen you play that before?" Starsky remarked, motioning toward the flute Hutch had laid aside on the bed. "All the years we've been friends and I didn't even know you owned one. And you're damn good, Hutch!"
"Well," the blond responded as he pushed himself up off the bed, "it's not exactly an instrument you'd think a cop would play. I just didn't...." He trailed off embarrassingly as his face became tinged with red.
"Oh!" Starsky laughed out loud, laying a hand on Hutch's shoulder to lighten the remark, "you didn't want anything to get out that might blow your macho image!"
"Well, I wouldn't have said it quite that way," he denied as he pulled apart the flute and placed the pieces carefully in a black case that Starsky only now noticed. But he had to laugh again as Hutch opened the closet door and slid the small case into its place--the very back-most corner of the closet, behind his gym bag, his tennis racket, and his guitar case.
The room was silent for just a moment. "So, what are you doing back?"
"I got bored in New York, so I decided to surprise you! How about we go get some supper while I tell you about my trip?"
"Sounds great!" Hutch replied. Why the hell did he have to come back early? I wanted to get this over with before I had to tell him. Well, okay, so I hoped I could have this over fast.
"So," Starsky asked the blond, laying his arm across the taller man's shoulders as they descended the staircase, "will you play it for me sometime?"
"You mean the...?" Hutch motioned back toward the apartment. "Maybe, sometime." He really didn't feel like going out, just felt like being alone after the day he'd had. But it was Starsky's homecoming, and as unexpected as it was, he was happy to have him home, in spite of the inconvenience it created.
"Hey, that's great!" the brunet enthused. "But you've gotta promise me something."
"That you'll play something more upbeat and fun. That song you were playing when I walked in tonight sounded like someone had died!"
Hutch pulled up short, looking at the back of his partner's head as he approached the Torino. But there was no way he could know--medical information was confidential, between the patient and the doctor. Maybe tonight was what he needed after all to lift his spirits and help him put aside, for the moment at least, the events in store for him in the next few days.
His partner's subdued mood was not lost on Starsky, who was quick to notice Hutch's quieter-than-usual demeanor. "Awfully introspective tonight, buddy. What's up?" Starsky leaned over the table, closing the distance between the two officers.
"Nothing I want to talk about right now. Let's just have a great dinner and some drinks, okay?" The blue eyes almost pleaded silently, and Starsky couldn't refuse.
"Okay. But when you're ready..."
"I know. And don't worry, there's just some things I need to work out." The blond grabbed eagerly at the beer bottle on the tray as Huggy brought it to their table, not waiting for the barkeep to distribute the drinks.
By the time the meal was ended, Hutch was working on his fifth beer. It wasn't having the desired effect, though, and instead of forgetting the problem, he was just reminded of it all the more. When his watch said ten o'clock, Starsky dragged the quiet form from the booth and deposited him gently in the passenger side of the Torino.
He kept an alert eye on his partner on the way home; the man was completely silent, although he hadn't yet passed out from the drinks. Something is really wrong, Starsky thought, I haven't seen him like this since Gillian died. He's gotta be hurtin' bad.
The words of the man in white still resounded in Hutch's head. He could recall every word the doctor had said and every response he'd given. The last thing the blond had expected when he'd gone in for his annual physical was for the physician to find something wrong.
Officer Hutchinson, how long have you had this hardness?
Right here. At the front of your throat, under your Adams Apple.
Hutch had pressed lightly at the spot the doctor indicated. You mean this lump? I never noticed it before.
Well, other than that you seem to be in great health. Get dressed and then come into my office. We'll talk then.
The doctor had seemed so calm, carefully skirting words like biopsy and malignant. He referred him to a specialist who had an office nearby, and even arranged for the blond to go directly there. That specially-trained doctor's words, as he spelled it out, were terrifying.
Officer Hutchinson, the area where this lump is located indicates it's probably on or in your thyroid gland. Now there is a possibility that it's a growth we call a goiter, a harmless lump that could go away on its own. It's not visible, so we wouldn't even bother removing it surgically.
But that's not what you really think, is it, Doctor? Hutch had questioned. C'mon, Doc, I need to know.
Well, Ken.... May I call you Ken?...Well, Ken, there is also the possibility of it being a malignant tumor.
You mean thyroid cancer? Hutch had almost choked on the words as the implications burned themselves into his mind.
Yes, Ken. I'm afraid so. The doctor had laid a comforting hand on the detective's shoulder.
Okay, so it could be cancer. How do we find out if it is?
We do a biopsy.
You mean you're going to have to cut into my neck and get a piece of this thing? How long will it take? How long will I be off work? When do we have to do this?
Wait! Wait! the doctor had stopped him. Slow down and I'll answer all your questions. First of all, we will not have to cut for this particular kind of biopsy. We insert a hypodermic needle into the mass and extricate a sample that way. There will be a little soreness in the area, but no incision will be made. You'll be back on duty the same or the next day, and the entire procedure will take less than an hour.
What about the "when" question, Doctor? Hutch had pursued.
Well, in any kind of testing for malignancy, the sooner the better. I'd like to schedule it early next week if we can.
Thank God, Hutch had thought. He could have this test over and done with before Starsky ever got home. If the results were good and there was nothing to it, his partner would never have to know.
How long after I take the test will you know?
Well, if the sample is malignant, you'll be notified right away--should be no more than 48-72 hours.
And if it's not...? Hutch couldn't seem to say the word. "Malignant" sounded so horrible.
If you don't hear anything within three days after the test, you can assume that everything is fine.
Are you telling me that if the test comes up negative and I'm all right, I won't even be contacted and told that?
I'm sorry, Officer, but that is our standard procedure.
Not with me it's not! Either you promise me, right now at this moment, that you'll contact me with the results either way, or I'll just find another doctor who will! This routine visit to the doctor's was piling shock upon shock on Hutch, and his temper was beginning to flare.
He'd faced death a million times in the line of duty, but dying like this--wasting away in pain and agony--was something he'd never banked on.
"We're home!" Starsky announced, and turned to his partner when there was no reaction. "Hey, blintz! We're here!"
Hutch continued to stare into space, remembering what felt like a million years, but had actually transpired only two days ago.
He snapped his fingers in front of the staring eyes. "Hutch!"
Hutch was suddenly looking at Starsky. "What?"
"Didn't you hear me? We're home!"
"No, dummy. Your place. Look, I think you need some sleep. Why don't you go on in and I'll see you in the morning. The surprise must've been too much for you." Starsky smiled as his partner got out of the car and walked into the building.
"You must be over-workin' yourself," Starsky muttered as he pulled away from the curb.
The following day, Saturday, called for stakeout duty, and both officers were bored out of their minds from all the waiting. Once the trivia questions had been exhausted and the cards had worn out their welcome, they resorted to taking turns snoozing. The inactivity of an uneventful stakeout was certain to make them tired.
They'd taken Hutch's car for two reasons. Firstly, it was a lot less conspicuous; nobody would think twice about a junker left to rust somewhere--or so Starsky proposed. Secondly, it had a huge back seat that was convenient for just these type of naps.
"Why don't you go first," the brunet offered his partner, pointing toward the rear seat. "You don't look like you got any sleep last night at all." Hutch's blue eyes were red rimmed and the lids drooped slightly. Somebody else probably wouldn't have noticed it, but Starsky knew that Hutch hadn't slept much the night before.
"Okay," Hutch agreed, hoping that he'd actually be able to forget what the doctor had said and the test coming up on Tuesday. He climbed into the back seat and rested his head on his arm. Starsky hummed quietly to himself, and the sound lulled Hutch, finally, into a soft sleep.
When his breathing was coming slowly and evenly, Starsky turned around and looked at the boyish face, peaceful with sleep. "What's going on with you, buddy? And why won't you tell me--I've got a feelin' that you know." He whispered, not expecting a response, nor did he get one.
An hour later it was Starsky's turn, but he simply didn't have the heart to awaken the reclining figure. They were supposed to stay on stakeout another two hours, but he really didn't believe that anything was going to happen. The tip was bad, he convinced himself, just some wino looking for a few bucks for a new bottle. Wish he'd just told us that. I'd rather give him a fiver than have to sit here for six hours waiting for something that's not comin' down.
He went back to staring forward at the motel, but the man they were waiting for never showed up. About thirty minutes from the time they were to go off-shift, Starsky heard shifting from the back seat. Thinking Hutch had finally woken up, he turned to hassle him, a smile on his handsome face.
The smile fell faster than the Times Square Ball on New Years Eve when he saw that the movement was his partner, thrashing in the throes of a nightmare. "No, please! No, don't tell me. Don't wanna know.... Don't tell me.... Don't say it!..." Hutch repeated the words in his sleep, sweat breaking out on the fair skin.
"Hutch!" Starsky said once, then tried a little louder when he didn't get a reaction. "HUTCH! WAKE UP!"
The blond started, then pushed himself to a sitting position, running trembling fingers through his fine hair. "H-h-h-how long have I been asleep?"
"An hour and a half. It's almost time to go home. And you were having one hell of a nightmare, buddy."
"I did figure that out!" Hutch said, adopting his partner's lopsided grin. "Damn! Why is it every time something goes wrong, I end up losing sleep because of nightmares!" He was still to groggy to realize what he was letting on to the concerned man in the front seat.
"What exactly is wrong?" Maybe he could get an answer while the blond was still slightly out of it. But he wasn't that lucky.
"Uhhhh.... It's nothin', Starsk. Nothing important." Hutch climbed back into the front seat, and they finished the last half hour in virtual silence. That, in and of itself, was not that unusual for them; they were comfortable enough together to not talk if they didn't feel like it. But this time, Starsky knew, it was because Hutch was upset and didn't want to accidentally slip and reveal the cause to him. And that was unusual for them.
Starsky leaned back into the passenger window after Hutch dropped him in front of his place. "Why don't you go home and see if you can really get some sleep. And don't think you're shakin' me this easy--we will talk about this tomorrow."
"I keep telling you! There's nothing to talk about!"
"Hutch, I know you better than you know yourself, and I feel that something is wrong. So just spend the rest of the night--when you're not asleep, that is--thinkin' about how you're gonna tell me what you're holdin' in. I'll see you tomorrow." He backed away from the door and waved as the LTD pulled away, a shadowed, worried look on both their faces.
They were off duty on Sunday, and Hutch took the opportunity to sleep in a little--something he rarely allowed himself to do. After his morning run and shower, he stood with the towel wrapped around himself in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at his neck. I don't see anything. Maybe the doctor and I both made a mistake. Maybe it's just a typical screw-up. He brought his hand up, but didn't touch the spot the doctor had indicated. Feeling the lump with his own hands again would burst any bubble he had built that there was a mistake as to the existence of the hardness.
Starsky would be over soon. What was he going to tell him? He practiced his act, knowing that his partner would be the most difficult person to fool. But if he could do it well enough, maybe Starsky would just chalk it up to a lack of sleep and leave it alone.
After pulling on his clothes, he crossed to the kitchen, flipping the TV set on along the way. There was a Three Stooges marathon on today, and if his act couldn't distract Starsky, then theirs might.
He began to make his breakfast drink, pouring in each ingredient by rote until the last item. The label of the wheat germ wavered as he stared at it, remembering everything he'd heard lately about grains. Eating a grainarian diet will fight cancer, he'd heard several people say on TV the other day. Health food, grains, he'd been eating them all his adult life, and where did it get him. The anger he hadn't even realized was there suddenly erupted, and he threw the jar against the far wall, watching as it broke into a million pieces, the grain flying all over the floor.
Wrapping his arms around himself, he realized that he didn't want to go through this alone. But he also didn't want to worry Starsky or make him hover like a tigress over her cubs. He stood like that for several minutes, then mechanically picked up a dustpan and broom and went to clean up the mess. Please, help me, he prayed, unsure of what else to do. Tell me if I should let Starsky know. Should I tell him now or wait for the test results? Help me!
Not that he'd expected one, but no booming voice reverberated through the room with the answer to his puzzle. He threw the glass and wheat germ into the garbage and mixed his drink without it this morning. As he swallowed the last drop, a knock announced Starsky's arrival.
"C'mon in," Hutch invited, and his partner entered with both hands concealed behind his back.
"Hi, buddy!" Starsky's mood was invigorated because he was sure he'd thought of something that might shake the blond out of his mood. "You got any plans today, or are you free?"
"I'm open," Hutch confessed, "you got something in mind? Maybe something to do with whatever you've got hidden behind your back?"
"Well, I thought it might be fun, since it's so sunny and beautiful outside, to spend a day in the park. I had the corner deli pack a picnic lunch for us!"
"Sounds good, but that still doesn't tell me what you're hiding." Hutch was suspicious, and Starsky was still hedging.
"Oh, it's nothing. Since you're always pushing me about exercise and fitness, I thought maybe we could have a little fun exercise by playing a little touch football." He revealed the oblong shaped object from behind his back, and Hutch had to smile at his partner's zest for games.
"That sounds like a perfect day, Starsk. I just need to put back on my running shoes and we can go." He really did love the idea, and if he spent himself physically, there was a good chance he'd be too tired mentally to dwell on the test that was two days away.
The duo had finished their picnic lunch and added a nap to boot before beginning their foray into the world of contact sports. To anyone watching, the game would be confusing, at times seeming that the pair was playing on the same team, and at others, looking like they were competitors for the ball. But Starsky and Hutch both knew instinctively when the positions shifted--knew when to throw the ball to his partner and when to keep it away from him.
They were behaving like teenagers and loving every second of it. Hutch had shaken off his solitude and lethargy and was throwing everything he had into the competition with his partner. Occasionally, people walking in the park would stop to watch, but they never stayed long, and Starsky and Hutch were always too wrapped up in the game to invite an observer to join in if he wanted to.
They'd been playing for almost an hour straight and both men were about ready for a break when Hutch came once again in possession of the pigskin. Starsky came at him, but he weaved first left, then right to try to get by the brunet. The opponent was too fast though, for just when Hutch thought he'd had him fooled and tried to rush past his weaker right side, Starsky jumped to his right, putting Hutch on his left and regaining the advantage.
A long arm circled around Hutch's waist, bringing him down onto the grass and causing the ball to pop out of his arms. The football game abruptly changed to a fun-loving wrestling match as the ball rolled away unseen and both men tried to get a hold of the other to allow him to pin down his friend.
After five minutes of struggling, Starsky, who may have been smaller but was also more determined, managed to put a head-lock on his blond partner, his bare arm moving to loosely encircle Hutch's throat.
Starsky abruptly loosened his grip, instinctively knowing that something wasn't right. They both fell to the ground, exhausted, and sat catching their breaths while Starsky tried to figure out exactly what he had sensed about his partner that was different than before. Everything had gone smoothly until the head-lock, but it was something in particular about that maneuver.
As his heartbeat slowed, his mind sped up, examining the sequence over and over. Finally, it clicked: something about Hutch's neck as his arm had rested against it, and at the very same moment, the blond's sudden jerk away from that same arm. Starsky thought he had it figured out, but still had to confirm it.
Starsky pushed himself to his feet and staggered over to Hutch, pulling him up by a non-objecting arm. They walked back under the tree where their picnic basket and blanket still rested, and Starsky pulled two beers from the depths of the cooler. They sat, side by side, under the tree and popped them open, enjoying the feel of the cold liquid as it slid down their throats. The stress line between Hutch's eyebrows was deep again, and Starsky knew it was going to become deeper in the next few minutes.
When Hutch lowered the can, the brunet shifted his position so he was facing his partner's left side. Hutch didn't seem to be paying attention, but when Starsky lifted his hand toward his partner's neck, he flinched back from the touch. He used his other hand to hold Hutch in place, and the blond stopped fighting his friend's examination.
Maybe this is the answer I asked for, he thought as Starsky ran his fingers over his neck, examining the entire area from ear to ear, working from the chin down. Finally, at the base of Hutch's throat, he felt what he had only quickly touched before.
"Hutch," he asked, now turning the blond's head to look into his own eyes. His partner would never be able to lie to him if he looked him directly in his baby blues. "Hutch, please tell me about this. What is it? Did something happen while I was gone? Were you hurt?"
The blond hesitated a few moments more, trying to figure out how he was going to explain. It would be the first time he'd spoke out loud about it to anyone but the doctor, and he was surprised at how hard it was.
"C'mon, partner. Give," Starsky ordered
"Okay," Hutch agreed, turning so his entire body faced his partner's. "First of all, no, I wasn't hurt on duty. The only big event while you were gone was my yearly physical." Hutch chuckled a little. "Guess Captain Dobey thought it was the perfect time, since we're both so good at ducking it when we've got each other to help cover. Anyway, Doc Anderson found this thing and sent me to a specialist, who said I've got to have a biopsy."
"A biopsy!!" Starsky was startled, but somehow also calmed by the ease with which the blond had spoken the word. "But a biopsy means they think..."
"I'm afraid so, buddy. They think it's my thyroid, but they won't know until the test is done. And I'm goin' crazy from all the waiting."
"Don't worry," Starsky encouraged, rubbing his best friend's shoulders. "I'll be here to keep you on an even keel. When did they schedule the test?"
"Tuesday morning." His partner's voice was level, without inflection, and Starsky began to worry about the mood swings. But then again, if this wasn't good cause for mood shifts, then nothing was.
"How long will you be in the hospital?"
"I won't be. They do this kind of biopsy with a needle, and I'll be released as soon as they get their sample. Now that you know, buddy, would..." He almost seemed afraid to ask, but Starsky knew what he wanted--saw it in the pleading eyes.
"You can bet your bottom dollar, I'll be with you through the whole thing. You should know ya don't even havta ask! Have you talked to Dobey about it yet?"
"No, I wanted to wait until I got the results before I told anybody. I had hoped that it would be over before you got back from New York."
"Well, I'm glad as hell that I did come back early. And I'll take care of getting us Tuesday morning off."
"Okay, but don't tell the Cap why. I don't want anyone to know." Hutch's voice quivered slightly.
"Hutch, this may not be the time for this, but why are you always so tight-lipped about things like this. You think your friends are gonna think any less of you just because you might be sick? You're not giving us a chance, partner."
"I'm sorry, I guess I was just thinking about myself. But I've always hated being pitied."
Starsky decided to let it go and moved on to an even touchier subject. "So, if the test comes back positive, what then? Did the specialist tell you?"
Hutch looked grim. "Pretty much what you'd expect, I guess. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy. And a whole lot of wishing and praying."
"It's gonna be okay," Starsky repeated again, not even realizing he was still massaging the blond's shoulders. "We're gonna get through this, and we'll take on whatever we have to--together."
"Y'know," Hutch told his partner as they walked back to the car with the cooler and picnic basket that evening, "I'm not sure anymore why I was so scared to tell you."
Starsky's only response was to fling a free arm around his partner's shoulders.
Dobey was not easily convinced of the duo's need for half a day off, but Starsky could be very convincing when he needed to be, and he'd never needed it more than now. Starsky's having just gotten back from time off didn't help matters. They finally agreed on both officers working a full shift starting at noon, and the brunet thought in the back of his mind that if it was a quiet shift and his partner needed it, he could always rest in the back seat.
Monday seemed to take forever to pass, and Starsky could still see the tension in his partner's body. As for the blond himself, he wasn't sure what he wanted. One moment, he wanted to scream, yell, fight physically and mentally the threat. The next, he just felt like curling up in a corner somewhere and crying. But since he exhibited a tendency to be a little repressed, he knew he wouldn't be doing either anytime soon. So he kept going the only way he knew how, biding his time and leaning on Starsky when he needed it.
They were uneventfully cruising the strip when Starsky started a new barrage of questions. "So, what time do you have to be at the hospital in the morning?"
"Doc said 8:00 would be best. That way I'll be out in plenty of time for our shift. I hope to God that I don't have to wait too long in one of those waiting rooms. I'm just liable to get more nervous and bolt on him." Hutch looked a little embarrassed at the admission, but Starsky was proud of his ability to admit to his nervousness.
"I'm not about to let you do that! Now, how long will we have to wait for the results?"
"Two or three days, they say. Y'know, he said that they don't even usually notify you if it turns out to be benign." Starsky abruptly pulled the car over to the curb, turning his total attention to what the man on the passenger side was saying.
"You're kidding me! You didn't let him get away with that, didja?" Starsky was incredulous.
"No, of course not. I told him if he didn't promise to call either way, I'd find another doctor." Hutch paused for a moment, then smiled wickedly. "He agreed."
"But still," Starsky went on, "two days is gonna feel like forever. Isn't there any way they can speed it up?"
"Starsk, if they put a rush on my test results, they'd be slowing down the results of a bunch of other people in the same situation I'm in. That'd hardly be fair, would it?"
"No, I guess not. Leave it to you to keep me actin' fair when you're the one in trouble." They pulled away from the curb again, both men doing their best to try to put thoughts of the next morning's events out of their minds.
Luckily, arriving early the next morning kept the partners from having to wait very long. They were escorted into a sterile room where Hutch was instructed to remove his shirt and the staff made a futile attempt to remove Starsky. "He's my partner and my best friend," Hutch had argued with the nurse, "and he's staying!"
The woman in white finally gave up and left, leaving the shirtless blond and his friend alone in the room. Unfortunately, she also left a menacing-looking tray laid out for the doctor's use when he arrived. Hutch's eyes were drawn to the huge hypodermic, with a smaller one and a vial sitting next to it. "What do you suppose all this is for?" he nervously chuckled, knowing full well--or at least nearly certain--of how the physician was going to use them.
"Well," Starsky suggested, looking closely at the tray, "I'd say, considering the size of that needle, the smaller one's full of some kind of painkiller. They'll numb the area then use the bigger one to get the sample." He was impressed that he was able to complete the statement with his voice so level. Starsky had always hated needles, especially since the incident with Bellamy's poison, and his entire body wanted to shiver in anticipation of these sharp objects being used on his best friend.
Once the doctor came in, they both discovered that Starsky's speculation had been totally correct. The assisting nurse helped the muscular blond lie on a table and placed a pillow under his neck, raising his chin and exposing the area on which they needed to work. The brunet squeezed his best friend's hand reassuringly as the area was swabbed with disinfectant and the first, smaller, needle slid into the muscles of his neck. The strong squeeze that was returned shook a little, Hutch's fear an almost tangible thing in the room.
The doctor did his best to speak reassuringly as they waited for the local anesthetic to take effect, wordlessly requesting Starsky's aid in calming the patient as he approached with the second needle.
"Hutch, why don't you just close your eyes. You won't feel a thing, I promise," Starsky said as he laid a gentle right hand on the blond's face, closing his eyelids. Hutch obeyed his partner, and remaining true to their trust, he hadn't been lying.
"Okay, buddy," Starsky's voice finally came again, "it's all over now."
Hutch opened his eyes, curious to see the sample, but the tray and the needle on it were on their way out of the room, being carried by the assisting nurse.
The doctor helped the patient to a sitting position, handing him a damp cloth in one hand and a small packet in the other. "You can clean off the Benadine whenever you're ready, and there's a couple of painkillers there in case you experience some pain in the affected area. We'll let you know as soon as we get the results."
"Doc," Starsky interrupted with a hand on the physician's arm before he could get out of the room, "how did the sample look to you? Could you tell anything?"
"Detective Starsky, I understand your concern, but first of all, you just can't tell from looking at a sample with the naked eye. And secondly, even if you could, can you imagine what my insurance company would do to me if I said it looked clear and then it turned out not to be? They'd pull my coverage so fast it'd make all our heads spin--not that I think you're the type to sue, Detective Hutchinson."
"I understand," Hutch answered, still sounding a little stunned with the whole process, "and thanks for everything."
At the end of shift on Wednesday, the duo walked through the corridors toward the locker room. After the hectic shift they'd had, they both felt a need to clean up before going anyway--a suspect had led them on a merry chase through a garbage dump, resulting in both men covered in refuse and stinking badly.
Once they'd showered and slipped into spare clothes, they headed for home, but the other people in the halls still backed away and circled around the pair. Since there had been the same reaction when they came in, Hutch had chalked it up to the smell, but they were clean now.
"Gee, Starsk. Everyone seems to be avoiding us. Think it's something we said?" The blond was smiling faintly.
"No, actually, I think it's something you've said." Starsky's tone was of complete honesty, speaking in a manner that only your best friend can get away with.
"Something I've said? What did I say?"
"What didn't you say, buddy. Look, I know you're a nervous wreck, but you've snapped at just about everybody for just about everything--some people for nothing at all! If you want to keep this thing under wraps, you're gonna have to learn to be a little cooler."
"In other words," Hutch asked, chagrined, "don't take it out on people who have no more control over what's happening than I do?" Starsky nodded as they continued out into the parking lot. "Okay, I see your point. And I promise to be a good boy instead of an ogre around the station. Is that better?"
"Better!" the brunet agreed, smiling and patting a reassuring hand on his partner's arm. As they drove home, Starsky could almost feel his partner's mind racing. "What's up, doc?"
"That's exaclty what I'm wondering. What's up with the doctor. Hey, it's not 5:00 yet and there still should be somebody there. Maybe I'll just call and see if they've gotten any results yet."
"Hutch, you're just going to succeed in ticking them off if you start harassing them. Why don't you just be patient!" Starsky knew what his answer would be.
"If it were you, could you be?" The question hung in the air as Starsky examined it, tossing the idea over and over in his mind.
"No, I guess not," he finally answered as they both entered the blond's apartment. Hutch crossed to the telephone and picked up the receiver. His anxiety was obvious to Starsky by the very fact that his partner seemed to know the number by heart.
Starsky watched as Hutch listened for a few seconds, then someone apparently came on the line. "Hello, Miss. This is Ken Hutchinson, and I wondered if I could talk to Dr. Anderson. Yes, I know that he's a busy man, but I'd really appreciate it." There was another pause, then Hutch spoke up again. "Hi, Doc! Ken Hutchinson here. I just got home from work and was wondering if you had any results on my tests yet."
"Oh, good afternoon, Ken. To be honest, I don't know if the results are in yet. Just as the phone rang, a courier dropped off a bunch of results, and if you hang on, I'll check and see if yours is in there."
"I know it's a pain, but I'd really appreciate it." Hutch's voice shook and his fingers drummed on the end table as he waited. "Mine probably aren't even in there," he told Starsky, covering the receiver.
"You tryin' to convince me or you, blondie?" The brunet purposefully stood so Hutch couldn't see the crossed fingers he held behind his back.
"They are there?" Hutch said into the phone, reaching out a trembling hand to Starsky, who squeezed the fingers to try to encourage him and slow the shaking. "What did the tests show?"
There was a pause on Hutch's end, and then the blond seemed to visibly deflate in front of Starsky's eyes. "Yes, thank you," he answered, his voice quivering even worse as he set the phone in the cradle.
"For God's sake, Hutch!" Starsky exclaimed impatiently, "what did he say?"
Ken Hutchinson lowered himself onto the couch and turned watering eyes on his still-standing partner. "He said the tests were negative. I'm okay, Starsk.... I'm really okay."
Suddenly the stunned quiet erupted and the two were jumping around and hugging each other like school kids. It was impossible to discern who was saying what, but the words tumbled out anyway. "Great! Fantastic! Thank God! What a relief! It's okay! Everything's okay!"
After five minutes of jumping around, the two were happy but out of breath. "C'mon, partner," Starsky said, dragging his best friend behind him. "We've got to go out for a celebratory dinner. Your choice--I'll take you anywhere you want!"
"I don't even care where we go, Starsk. Just pick a place and let's go. After that wonderful of news, I'd be grateful to eat anything!"
"You're gonna be sorry you said that," Starsky said as they left the apartment. "You're just gonna regret it!" The laughter rang through the hall and down the street as the jubilant pair went to their celebration. They'd been over obstacles before, been put through hell by man and fate, but they'd won this time, and the victory gave them a feeling of empowerment they'd rarely experienced in their business.
The pair's celebratory dinner ended with them carrying their leftover pizza back to Venice Place, along with a bottle of semi-good quality champagne for a toast that Starsky felt was necessary.
After they'd eaten as much as they could and had finished off a good deal of the champagne, Starsky sat back to stretch his over-stressed stomach.
"Ohhhhh, I'm stuffed," the blond agreed, glancing at the clock. "You feel up to some chess?" He was exuberant at the fantastic news and didn't want the day to end.
"Hutch, how can you possibly still be going strong. Boy, that doctor was sure off the mark! Anyone lookin' at you can tell you're not sick! Look, if you don't mind, I think I'm just gonna sack out right here on your couch. I'm bushed, but I think I'm illegal to drive home."
"Sure, buddy," Hutch agreed, realizing that he'd had a long day as well. "There're blankets in the usual place in the closet." Flicking off the light switch, the blond headed toward the bathroom, then to bed. On his way to his bedroom area, he noticed that Starsky was already sound asleep, snoring on the couch. He'd managed to get out the blanket and pillows before drifting off, but he somehow hadn't managed to get his clothes off or cover up with the blanket. Hutch gently did the honors of tucking in his partner, looking child-like and innocent as he slept.
Starsky considered himself lucky when he woke up the next morning with only the faintest of headaches from their celebrations the night before. He rubbed his eyes and looked around the apartment. It was apparent that his early-riser partner had been up for awhile. The kitchen table was set for breakfast, he smelled something cooking in the oven, and, as he looked in the opposite direction, he noticed Hutch sitting and quietly picking at the keys of the piano. He kept quiet, trying not to disturb Hutch's muse as he scribbled notes on the sheet music which sat above the keyboard. After watching silently for about five minutes, he saw Hutch carefully fold the sheet music, apparently finished with his work.
"Good morning, partner!" Starsky greeted, startling the blond and causing him to jump uncharacteristically. But then again, he'd been doing that a lot lately.
"Oh! Morning!" Hutch smiled serenely, watching as his partner rubbed at his eyes again. "You awake for good now?"
"If you mean will I stay awake long enough to eat whatever you're cooking for breakfast, the answer is absolutely. I think I'm all slept out for now."
"Good!" Hutch jumped up from the piano stool where he'd been seated.
"Where ya goin'?" the curious man asked at the sudden action.
"After all your help," the blond smiled, "I think I owe you something." He crossed to the closet and extracted the small flute case that Starsky had first seen what seemed like a million years ago.
Starsky watched, again silent, as the flute was assembled and Hutch reopened the music. "This one is just for you, buddy," he said and began to play. The tune was lilting and fresh, the kind small children would skip to in music class, and it had a particularly upbeat feeling to it which the author knew he couldn't have engendered a few days ago. Starsky circled behind him and saw the title "Piper" written in his partner's neat print at the top of the page. When the tune reached a climax and abruptly ended on a decidedly optimistic note, the brunet's smile was a mile wide.
"That was fantastic, buddy. Thanks a million!" Hutch laughed as he replaced the flute in its case, Starsky laughing along with him.
"So now you've got what you wanted, huh?" Hutch questioned his smiling partner.
"Now, I've got everything I wanted," Starsky smiled back, and resoundingly thumped his best friend on the back.