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Conversations in the Dark
The telephone rang twenty times before it was answered by a surly, impatient voice.
"Hutch, babe, you okay? I've been worried sick."
"I'm just peachy. How about you?"
"Aw, come on, don't be like that."
"What were you expecting, sweetness and light?"
"Damn right, I'm drunk. As a matter of fact, Officer Starsky, I'm plastered. Wasted. Totally blotto and I plan on ending my evening by getting shit-faced. You gonna arrest me?"
"I ought to. Better yet, how about I just take you over my knee?"
"Mmm, sounds kinky. Can I invite some of my swishy friends over to watch?"
"Dammit, Hutch, don't start that again, okay? You know I didn't mean..."
"You meant every word, you bastard. Now, if you don't mind, I need to get back to my bottle of scotch. It's getting lonely."
"How about I come over and keep you both company?"
"Don't you dare, buddy-boy. I won't be responsible for my actions if you do."
There was an angry click as the line went dead.
It took three separate calls to make another connection.
"This better be impotent, er, improtant."
"Yeah, it' important."
"Whaddya want, Starsk? A lit'l phone sex to get you through the night?"
"Some other time. What I want right now is for you to let me come over so we can talk this out."
"Hah, I bet that's not all you wanna do."
"Jeez, Hutch, you got a one track mind, you know that?"
"You don't usually complain, lover. Why, just the other night you said..."
"Never mind what I said..."
"Oh, wait, now I get the picture. You're not alone and a certain blond bombshell wants to try a threesome. Forget it, gordo. I don't do that sort of thing anymore."
"For your information, there ain't nobody here, but me."
"Well, that's a first."
"Whaddya mean, a first?"
"I mean, your bed is never cold for very long, Don Juan."
Heavy silence from the other end of the line.
"I thought we had an agreement, Hutch."
"Agreement? Are you, perhaps, referring to the ten or twenty commandments brought down from Mt. Starsky on what is and is not allowed in this relationship?"
"Nobody's commanding anybody."
"Oh yeah? Tell me what would happen if I broke a couple of those precious rules of yours, huh? For example, just what would you do if I actually kissed you in the car, or took you in my arms without pulling down the blinds? What if, God forbid, I decided that it's not okay to use woman like they were an expendable commodity? I'd be out on my ass, that's what."
"Hey, you never objected to me puttin' limitations on how we act, especially in public. You said you understood..."
"Oh, I understand all right. It's your way or no way, put up or shut up. Well, I don't wanna play anymore. I quit. What you've got to offer is no longer worth the price to keep it."
Long pause, followed by a weary sigh.
"I see. In that case, I guess we better hang up. Bye, Hutch."
"No, Starsky, wait..."
His frantic cry was lost in the steady chirping of the dial tone.
"Look, I'm sorry for what I said earlier."
"Well, aren't you gonna say something?"
"Whaddya want me to say? So, you're sorry. Big deal."
"Fine, if an apology isn't good enough for you, then you can go straight to hell."
The slam of the receiver could be heard for miles in every direction.
A shrill jangling shattered the stillness of the dawn.
"Hutch, that you? I can barely hear you."
"That's because it's...five o'clock in the morning and my mouth isn't working yet."
"Sorry. Did I wake you?"
"Of course, you woke me. Most normal human beings are fast asleep at this hour and not annoying their partners. What's so urgent that it couldn't wait until later?"
"I...uh, had that dream again."
"The one where I'm still back at the old zoo. The followers of that freak Simon Marcus had me doped up and the were about to...to...they're about to..."
"Hey, hey, Starsky. It's okay. That's all in the past. You want me to come over?"
"Nah, it's too late for that and besides with your luck you'd probably get a D.U.I. Can we just talk for a minute? It, you know, helps to hear your voice."
"Okay, sure. What should we talk about?"
"I dunno. Hey, how you feelin'? I bet you got a pretty bad headache."
"Yeah, feels like someone's pounding on my frontal lobe with a jackhammer."
"Serves you right for goin' on a bender. How much of that bottle did you kill, anyway?"
"Only about a...oh hell, hang on, Starsk. I gotta..."
Several seconds ticked by as both receivers picked up the sound of retching followed by the sorrowful moans of someone in great pain.
"Hutch, you okay?"
"Yeah.... I guess."
"Did you make it to the john in time?"
"None of your business." Pause. "Oh, quit laughing or I'm gonna make you clean up the mess when you come get me for work."
"No way, man. You're the one who was tried to drink all the whisky in California in one night. What was that all about, anyway?"
"I don't feel well enough to talk about all this right now, Starsk. Why don't you try to go back to sleep?"
"I can't and besides, if I let you off the hook and wait 'til you're stone cold sober, I won't get another peep outta you for days."
"Okay, fine. Just let me lay down before I fall down."
"Sure, I can wait."
A great deal of rustling was followed by a relieved grunt.
"All right, Mr. Inquisitor. Where do we start?"
"How about with an explanation of why you stormed out of the party like you did. Everybody thought you were sick or somethin'."
"I was sick."
"Didja eat somethin' bad?"
"Then, what? Wait a minute, did that guy from personnel talk dirty about your mustache again?"
"No, nothing that like. I just got tired of...of watching you..."
"What? Eat my plate of potato salad and ham with a bunch of people I work with?"
"No. It's...oh, what the hell. I got tired of watching you throw yourself at that underage sex pot who masquerades as Lt. Carson's secretary."
"I wasn't throwin' myself at her and for your information Angela happens to be a very nice girl who was asking me some advice about her car."
"No, really. She's thinkin' about buyin' a new one and she wanted to know what I thought about Fords. 'Course, I had to tell her how great the Torino has been..."
"And how well it handles, especially out on the freeway..."
"Starsky! You practically had your nose buried in her cleavage. For a minute there, I was afraid you were gonna suffocate."
"Well, I can't help it if she's well-endowed. I mean, really well-endowed, like I kept wondering how they make bras big enough for her. It must take yards and yards of material..."
"Spare me the details, okay? Look, I've got to go to bed. I'm beat. See you later?"
"Whoa, hold on there, big fella. You ain't goin' nowhere. What you're telling me, in your usual roundabout way, is that you're jealous."
"I didn't say that."
"Now, don't get all snooty on me. That's exactly what you said."
"Okay, so I'm jealous. Big deal."
"It seems like a big deal to you. But, Hutch, I already told you that I only date women to protect our cover, so there's no reason for you be concerned."
"I'm tellin' you the truth, babe."
"Bullshit, and you can quote me on that. You try to date everything female within a five mile radius for one reason and one reason only."
"Okay, I'll bite. What reason is that, Einstein?"
"Because every time you score, you prove to yourself that you're not queer and that you're still that same macho stud that you were before you started screwing your low-life faggot of a partner."
The air hung heavy with shock.
"Hutch...no...that ain't true. I never think of you like that. I love you."
"How can you ask me that? I'd do anything for you, I'd die to protect you, give you anything I own if you wanted it. I even let you drive my car, for Pete's sake, and if that's not love, I don't know what is."
"Hutch? Hutch, you still there? I thought I heard...babe, are you crying? Oh man, that does it. I'm comin' over."
"No...wait, that's not necessary. I'll be all right in a minute. It's just hard, you know? I'm...I can't do this anymore."
"Share you, hide what we have together. I know that the idea of coming out of the closet and being exclusive freaks you out and that we're never gonna see eye to eye on this, so maybe it would be better for us if we both moved on."
"You...you can't mean that."
"Can't I? You wanna know why I got drunk tonight? I've been trying to get up enough courage to tell you that I've decided to quit the force. I need to get away, maybe start over. You've never been comfortable with...with what we do, so I think it's best for me to step aside and let you go back to pursuing the All-American dream."
"Jeez I can't believe you're doin' this, that you're sayin' this to me outta the blue. How can you lay somethin' like this on me over the phone?"
"Because, you asked! You wanted the truth, didn't you? I'm setting you free to go after what's really important to you."
"Hutch...you're what's important to me."
"For now, but someday soon you're gonna find that special lady and want to settle down. I used to think I could handle being someone you saw on the side and that whatever time you had for me would be enough. I was wrong, Starsk. I'm too selfish for that. I want everything or nothing at all."
"Look, I can't talk about this over the phone. I want you to call Dobey and tell him that you're sick and that I'm gonna come over and take care of you. We need to settle this in person."
"Okay, if that's what you want. I'm not gonna change my mind, though."
"Well, maybe it's time I changed mine. There ain't nothin' in the world worth loosin' you over, babe."
"You mean that?"
"'Course I do. Man, for such a smart guy, sometimes you can be pretty dense. You think I'm still stuck with the idea that the only way to happiness was with a wife and kids? I've learned a lot since I was shot by Gunther's goons, enough to I know that I'd never be happy in a life that didn't include you. We can work this out, babe. I promise."
The voice that spoke was quavering with emotion. "David?"
"I love you."
"Ditto. Now, get off the phone and let me dressed. I'll stop and get breakfast."
"Oh goody. No doughnuts, please. The last few you brought over almost gave me the diabetes."
"Gripe, gripe. You'll eat what I bring over and like it. Got that?"
"Not 'til after breakfast. Bye, Hutch."
"Bye, lover. I'll be waiting."