This story was originally printed in the S&H zine THREE-ELEVEN, published by 10-13 Enterprises in 1983/4. Special thanks to Daphne for preparing this story for the archive. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
The day my dad died was the day I made up my mind I was gonna be a cop. I was just turned thirteen an' full of ideas about how I was gonna change the world, make sure no other kid went through what Nick an' me were goin' through. Superman in blue serge.
Only I grew up. Went off to 'Nam with all those trite clichés about truth and integrity in my ears, but by the end of the first week all that was gone. Came back with nothin', except that promise to my dad. I soon found out a rookie's uniform don't give you special powers, an' that on a good day the police academy can make basic training feel like summer camp. Sure, it's got its compensations, like the high you get when some murdering bastard's put where he belongs. But it's got its dark side, too, when someone you're close to gets hurt. Times like that I wish I'd stuck to driving a cab.
That Monday in February was one of those days.
The Malavolta case was the first big one I'd worked on with Hutch since they put me back on full duty, an' we spent weeks fittin' it together. Dobey wanted to be sure there were no loopholes in this one, so everythin' went by the book - which I reckon was a first for us. Another week an' we'd be ready to move in. We'd been in the squad room all morning, going through every scrap of information like we were hunting for fleas on a cat, an' come lunchtime all I wanted was some fresh air an' one of Huggy's "specials." I was just gonna try my luck at gettin' blondie to pay again when the captain came out of his office, wearin' that expression that could sour milk.
"Hutchinson? What d'you know about a guy called Simensen? Marc Simensen?"
The name was new to me, but it obviously registered with Hutch. Probably some new snitch he found while I was away, I thought.
"Not a lot," he said.
"You do know him?"
Hutch shrugged, but I could tell he was on his guard. "We - use the same gym. Why?" he asked again. "What's he done?"
"Coupla kids out backpacking found a body with his ID in the clothes. Your name turned up in an address book in his apartment. They need a positive identification, so you better get over to . . ."
But Hutch had stopped hearing him. "Marc's dead?" he whispered. "But he . . . he was going home to see his family . . . I only -" An' then he stopped talkin' and closed his eyes. His face turned the color of oatmeal an' for a minute I thought he was gonna pass out, or throw up, or somethin'. I guess Dobey thought the same, 'cause he almost beat me around the desk. He may like to play the hard-nosed captain, but he's got a softer side, too. He's a good man to work for.
We were both askin' Hutch if he was okay, but it seemed like he took forever before he answered, an' when he did his voice was cold. No emotion at all. We coulda been talkin' to a stranger. Even the morning Vanessa died he didn't take it as bad as this.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm okay. Where . . . where did they take him?"
"The Morgue. Lieutenant Asta's handling the case. I'll have him meet you there." Then he turned to me. "Go with him, Starsky. Asta said it wasn't the best way to start the day."
At the door Hutch stopped again. "Did anyone tell his family yet?"
"Not till after the ID. Asta says he'll have someone ride out there."
He sighed and ran a hand across his eyes. "Tell him I'll do it. Better if it comes from someone they know."
* * * * *
Asta was a tall, thin guy, around fifty, with square shoulders an' a Kojak haircut. He had grey skin, like he didn't get out in the sun much, an' I wondered how long it was since he'd had a full night's sleep. He met us at the door an' as we walked he asked how much Dobey had told us.
"There wasn't that much to tell, was there?" I said, knowing Hutch was too much out of it to respond. "You got a body you want identified an' my partner drew the short straw. How come you picked him anyhow?"
"His was the first name in the book with a local number. The family lives in Long Beach." He shrugged. I guess he was right - why bring relatives in till you're certain, if you can dump the shit on a stranger?
If someone gave me ten bucks for every time I'd been in that place, I could retire. The public gets the gentle touch, the discreet office, the closed-circuit TV to spare them that moment of confrontation. Not so when you're one of the boys. They think we've all got lead hearts. We went straight to storage, one of those tiled rooms that stink of chemicals and disinfectant. Gave me the shivers. I tried lettin' Hutch know I was still around if he needed me, but as far as he was concerned I didn't exist. So I stayed by his side and waited for someone to tell us what the hell it was all about. When they brought him out and pulled back the sheet I was glad of Dobey's warning - and that he caught us before we went to lunch.
The kid had been beautiful.
Beauty to me is a sweet-smelling brunette with long legs and plenty of curves, but this guy was a stunner. The kind that walks along the beach an' gets every girl turnin' her head for a second look. On the other side of the street he'd rate an easy ten. I guessed he was around twenty-three - Hutch told me later he was twenty-seven - an' he had the body of an athlete. Past tense. Whoever was responsible for Marc Simensen's death, he took a pride in his knife-work. From the neck down he looked more like a hunk of raw meat than anythin' human. Only his face was untouched, as if the killer wanted to preserve his beauty . . . or make certain he was identified. I've seen bodies in just about every stage of decay over the years an' I guess my stomach's got hardened to it, but this made me wanna puke. I hope to God he was dead before they started their games.
"Well?" prompted Asta. "Is it Simensen?"
I heard Hutch suck in a breath, saw him clench his hands in the edge of the sheet as he nodded silently. He didn't see either of us - only Marc.
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"Medical Examiner puts the time of death sometime Friday night. You see him Friday?"
I didn't like the questions, or the way he was askin' them. "You make it sound like my partner's a suspect."
"Maybe he is. His address wasn't the only thing we found at the apartment."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Ask him yourself . . . unless you know already."
There was something about the way he said it, a kind of sneer in his voice that got me rattled. I wanted to defend Hutch, but I got the feeling that would only add fuel to Asta's imaginary fires. "Next you'll be wanting him to make a statement."
"As a matter of fact . . ."
"Forget it! You want any more you go through our captain." I coulda decked the guy. Instead I grabbed Hutch's arm. "C'mon. Let's get outta here. Somethin' stinks - an' it ain't the residents."
He didn't move, just stood there, staring right through me. "Give me a minute." His voice was so thick I could hardly understand him, and there was a note - somewhere between fear and anger - that scared me. I was an outsider, trying to fit the puzzle together when he was deliberately holding back the pieces. Hutch in a white rage I can take, but Hutch on a revenge trip is like a tornado out of control. He'd played some hard games with me over the years, but this total shutdown was more than I could take right then. Well, when all else fails . . .
"Not now," I told him, pulling him around to face me. "You need some air." An' before he could argue I'd hauled him towards the door. The movement musta broken the trance 'cause he went with me, out of the building and into the sun.
He stood for a long time, leaning against the car with his head thrown back, staring at the sky. He was struggling to get some sorta control, gulping down air like it was on ration.
"Hutch, what is it?" I said. "Tell me why you're hurtin' like this. Let me help."
But he only shook his head and said, "You can't, Starsk. Not this time. This time I go it alone."
He sounded final, no arguments tolerated, but I'd got no intention of lettin' it stop there. In the car I asked if he wanted me to drive him to see Marc's family, thinkin' maybe if he talked to them he'd open up to me, too.
"Later maybe. I need to get my head together first. Can we go someplace quiet? The beach?"
So I drove. Okay, so right then I was nothin' more than a chauffeur - at least he hadn't sent me packing with some Garboesque cliché. I found a stretch of sand away from the crowds an' I sat on the hood of the Torino an' watched him chuck pebbles in the ocean. It felt like hours, but it was probably less than one, before he stopped and turned to look at me. When he raised his hand to wave me over I knew he'd come to some kinda decision.
He'd been crying. His eyes were red an' swollen an' there were streaks of dirt on his face from the files, where he didn't get time to wash before we set out. He looked so vulnerable. I'd seen him cry for Gillian, and for Van - he even cried for Terry. But if what he told Dobey about only knowing Marc from the gym was true, then why this silent pain?
"We need to talk, Starsk," he told me. I asked about what. "Us. Me. Marc's death's gonna stir up a whole lotta trouble and there's things I'd rather you heard from me than from IA." He turned away and stared out to sea.
I wondered what Internal Affairs could have to do with all of this. Last time we had a run-in with the headhunters we all ended up with bruises. I didn't like it then an' the prospect of an action replay was not my idea of fun. I was - scared. For both of us. I've got this thing - I dunno, some kinda sixth sense, ESP - where Hutch is concerned. He's never talked much about his past, I've had to piece it together over the years, but I got the feeling he was about to let me in on some skeleton he'd kept locked away, an' I wasn't sure I was ready to hear it.
"You in trouble?"
He shook his head. "Not exactly - but there's a lotta people won't see it that way. Maybe not even you, buddy."
I think that was the first time, since the Academy, that he ever questioned my loyalty. Sometimes I think we know each other too well. He was ashamed of something - what? - and wouldn't look at me.
"There's no easy way to tell you . . . if there was you woulda known a long time ago . . ."
Suddenly I didn't need to hear the words. It was all so obvious - his hedging with Dobey's questions, his reaction to seeing the body, the hints that IA might be involved - it all added up to only one thing. And I knew I didn't wanna know the truth. If he didn't tell me I could go on believing it was all some lousy mistake, that the gorillas from IA were twisting the facts to get rid of him. Simonetti lost out over Vanessa an' it's stuck in his throat ever since. He'd really enjoy this one. But there was no way I could stop Hutch, or shut out his confession. He was bright red, chewing his lips nervously.
"Y'see, Starsk, all those things they say about me are true . . . Marc was my lover."
Wham! I felt like the whole San Andreas opened up in front of me. I mean, how do you react when someone you've know a third of your life hits you with a line like that. If anyone else said it I woulda punched 'em out, no question. But this was Hutch.
Words like TRAITOR and LIAR screamed through my mind in letters ten foot high. Part of me wanted to run, get away from him as fast as I could; part of me wanted to lash out, hurt him, the way he was hurting me. I couldn't do either. Somethin' - I don't know what - held me back. So I just stood there, like an idiot, yellin' obscenities at him - anythin' that came into my head - until I'd blasted the anger away.
It's crazy, y'know? I still can't understand why I reacted that way. Maybe it was the shock, it can do funny things to your mind. I mean, what was there for me to be angry about? Hutch was my partner, my best friend, but that didn't give me the right to criticize his life. It's none of my business who he takes to bed, I don't own him. If I'd seen it that way at the time I coulda saved us both a lotta pain, but right then all I could think of was how he'd let me down. Poor Hutch, as if he didn't have enough to deal with without his partner throwin' tantrums like some five-year-old. Naturally, being Hutch, he took it all without a word against me. He even started to put his arm around me, the way he always did when I was down, but this time he stopped and squeezed my shoulder instead. I went cold. His confession changed the way we could respond to each other. Maybe we'd never feel free to touch each other again.
"Damn you, Hutchinson!"
"I never meant to hurt you, Starsk. You gotta believe that. I never planned on telling you." He sounded close to tears himself, but I couldn't make it any easier for him. Not this time.
"So what changed your mind? Why dump this on me now?" He walked away, shoving his hands in his pockets, lookin' like a man who lost a dollar and found a dime. I knew I was being cruel, but right then that was the only defense I'd got.
"Because when they start digging into Marc's past it'll all come out anyway. I wanted to save you that. You know what they've always said about us - half the department probably thinks we've been getting it on for years. Now you know, you can go ask Dobey for a new partner before the shit starts flying your way. I owe you that much at least."
I heard it, but I didn't believe it. He honestly thought that by splittin' the team he could keep me outta the firing line. Well, you gotta give the guy points for imagination. And for caring.
"Oh, yeah," I said. "An' how's that gonna make me look?"
"If half the department thinks that about us, all they're gonna see is me walkin' out 'cause you found yourself another guy. I bet they'd even think I had a hand in gettin' rid of the competition."
He groaned suddenly, and backed away from me. I think he'd gotten so caught up in making me understand how things were for him, he forgot why he was telling me in the first place. I was gonna apologize, but I could see he was shuttin' me out again, so I pointed to the car and told him we'd be warmer inside.
"You're staying?" he asked, wide-eyed.
I'd got no idea what kinda future we could have now, so many things had changed, so I was playing each move as it came. It wasn't the fact that Hutch was gay - I knew I could handle that. What really hurt was knowing he'd kept it from me for so long. That when it came to the bottom line . . . he couldn't trust me.
"For now," I told him. "I gotta lot of time invested in you, partner. That's gotta count for somethin'. An' I think when this blows, you're gonna need all the friends you can get."
If I'd been thinkin' straight I woulda known that was the wrong thing to say, but half my brain was still in second gear. When he turned on me the anger in his eyes hurt more than any bullet wound.
"I don't want your pity, Starsky! Nothing's gonna change what I am, so don't try."
"Okay. No pity. Just some plain talkin'. I wanna understand, Hutch, I really do, but you gotta give me time to take it in. You can't just say, 'Hey, Starsky, guess what I've been doin' all these years . . .' an' expect me to take it like you were reading the weather report!" I meant what I said, I did want to understand. All of it. But he just stood there, with one of those sanctimonious half-smiles of his, shaking his head.
"Starsk, I know you mean well, but we could talk till we died of old age and you still wouldn't understand. I know how you feel about guys like me. I remember you after Johnny -"
"That was years ago! Ideas change. People change."
He was starin' at me now, head on one side, like the thought had never occurred to him before. "You saying you can accept what I am?"
"I don't know. But I wanna try. We've been together too long to throw it away for this."
I could almost see him turning the whole thing over in his mind, tryin' to decide was I serious or just patronizing him. After a coupla minutes he nodded.
"Okay. What d'you wanna know?"
"Not here. Let's go sit in the car, before I freeze. We oughtta let Dobey know where we are, too, before he sends in the cavalry."
The few minutes it took us to cross the sand and make the call gave me time to sort out the jumble of thoughts in my head. Hutch, my superstud womanizing partner, was gay. Or was he? I ran through the list of stereotypes, all those faces we see on the street, an' he didn't fit any of them. Where were the signs? An' how come I missed them? Maybe this Marc was the only one. Hutch was under a helluva strain while I was in the hospital - Huggy told me there were times he nearly went over the edge - maybe he just took up with the kid for company. That didn't count as gay, did it?
Talk about foolin' the fool. I was duckin' the truth an' I knew it. When we found out about John I was the one who couldn't handle it. Hutch took it all in his stride. At the time I thought he was just bein' his usual open-minded self, but now I could see he was really paving the way, wanting me to understand Blaine so it would be easier for me to accept him when the time came. It worked, too. Gettin' dropped in the deep end got rid of a lot of my hang-ups. I just had to convince Hutch of that, then maybe we could start talkin'.
"I guess you wanna know how we met," he said, once we were settled in the car.
"Only if you wanna tell me."
"It was at the hospital, in the canteen. Marc's an . . . was an intern. I was arguing with Dobey about how soon you'd be back on duty and when he'd gone, Marc came over. Told me I was over-reacting. He helped me a lot in those days. One night, after visiting, we went for a drink and . . . it just grew from there. When you're like me . . . it's easier to pick up on other people. I guess we both saw the same thing, because we finished up at his apartment . . ."
"Did you love him?" I was intruding where I had no rights, but it was something I needed to know if I was ever going to come to terms with it. I expected him to tell me to keep my nose out, but he only leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes, an' I knew he was reliving it all.
"If you mean was it love at first sight, then no. I wasn't thinking beyond that night. He was - convenient." He sighed heavily. "But it was good, Starsk. He was the only guy I've ever been able to open up to - except you. But you weren't there, and I needed someone. Dobey and Huggy, they helped get me through, but there's some things I couldn't tell even them."
That he didn't need to explain. There's been times when he's been hurt an' I've needed someone to talk to, who could understand the way he always did. Finding the right person ain't easy though.
"I thought it'd all end when you came home. Splitting my time between you and the job didn't leave much for anything else. I couldn't believe it when he said he'd be happy with whatever time I could spare, even if it was only five minutes a week. Y'see, Starsk, before Marc I'd never had a guy care about me. They were all so . . . transient. We'd get together a few times, then just when it looked like it was working he'd move on. Maybe that's why I needed the women, too. Treat a woman right and she'll act like you're the most important thing in her life . . . even if you're not."
I'd never heard him sound so bitter an' it made me wonder if his search for someone to love him was the reason he had such lousy luck with women. There were some he fell for in a bad way, but they were either bad news or they weren't lookin' for anything permanent.
"And it was different with Marc?"
"Oh, yeah." The hard edge was gone from his voice as fast as it arrived. "With Marc it wasn't just the sex. That first night we spent together . . . all I wanted was someone to hold me, take the loneliness away for a few hours. And that's all he did - hold me. The way you always did."
The way he said it made me shiver. I've always known Hutch cares about me, just like I care about him. We'd hit it off that first day at the Academy, been friends right through our rookie days an' partners since he came into homicide. We'd fought together, laughed and cried together, always as equals. The touching never bothered me either, it just came naturally - part of the old me 'n' thee. Yet suddenly he was comparing his relationship with Marc to what we had, an' that scared me. Was it possible that Hutch had wanted more from me all along?
I could ask him, get him to spell it out from the beginning. But what if he told me that wasn't what he wanted, an' that me thinkin' it hurt him again? Even worse, what if he said yes? Would he then expect me to forget my own feelings an' jump into bed with him? I couldn't believe that, not after all this time. But then, if someone had come up to me an' told me I was sittin' in a red Torino by the beach I probably wouldn't have believed them either, I was that confused.
"You're quiet," he murmured after a while.
"Just thinkin' . . . Hutch - do you love me?" The question was out before I could stop it. It startled him, but he didn't try an' hit me, or run. He just sat there, frowning and blushing.
"Why'd you ask?"
"I dunno. We've been friends a long time, I thought maybe . . ." Then I lost my nerve an' tried to change the subject. "Forget it. Tell me some more about Marc . . ." But I'd gone too far for either of us to back down.
He smiled at me, a kinda happy-sad look that went right through me. "You've got a right to know . . . Yes, I love you. Very much as it happens."
I was shakin' like a kid on his first high school date. "So how come you never told me before?"
"Didn't think I needed to. Thought you knew."
"That go for tellin' me you're gay?"
"No. I knew you couldn't handle that. Every time they threw dirty names at us you always took the heat off with your clowning around. But if you'd known about me you woulda been too embarrassed, or started breaking heads, and that was a cert to give the whole thing away. Anyhow, by the end of the first week I knew you were straight and I was never gonna have you that way, so -"
"You wanted me?"
Suddenly there was no air in the car - not enough for me, anyway. I couldn't believe what I was hearin'. Hutch wanting me all those years? How the hell did we make the partnership work the way it did? I'd sat next to the guy every day, always foolin' around, crackin' jokes . . . How could he take it? More to the point, what was he thinkin'? Did he fantasize about me? Go to bed with some stranger and make believe it was me?
"Starsk?" He touched my arm. "Oh, God, I'm sorry . . . I thought you'd realized."
"Sure you did," I snapped back. "I go around all day wonderin' if my partner's got the hots for me, didn't you know?"
"Dammit, that's not what I meant and you know it!" he yelled. Then his grip tightened and his other hand came up to my face. "I only thought if you'd worked out how I feel about you, you musta guessed the rest. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it. We're partners, and partners are supposed to share. I should never've shut you out the way I did. Forgive me . . .? Please?"
That was when it hit me how crazy the situation was. Hutch was the one hurtin', I oughtta be comforting him, not the other way around. It was less than three hours since he made the ID, yet here he was, pushin' all that aside for me, lettin' me poke an' pry into his privacy an' rake over feelin's best kept to himself. I know I can be a selfish bastard at times, but this performance took first prize. I was with Terry when she died, I know how it hurts - even now, years later, the scars are still there. What must it be like, to see a body you've touched countless times in the act of love, abused and destroyed the way Marc's had been?
"No," I said, feelin' sick at the memory. "It's me should be sorry, if I wasn't always thinkin' about myself . . . If I'd been more . . . more . . ."
"More what, Starsk?" he asked when I couldn't go on. "More receptive? You saw exactly what I wanted you to see. Sure, it was hard going at first, but one day I realized having you for a partner and friend was a damn sight more important than getting you in my bed. We made something so good, it doesn't need any physical act to complete it." He sighed and scraped his hands through his hair with that restless gesture of annoyance. "If we'd been lovers we never coulda kept it hidden, not long term. And that's all they woulda seen - Starsky and Hutch, the gay cops. They wouldn't care how we did our job or how good the teamwork was, just that we were misfits. Perverts. That's not what I wanted for you. I've loved other people - Van, Gillian . . . Marc - but you're my life, David. You're more special to me than anyone else could ever be. I love you . . . I'm not ashamed of that."
It was easy for him. He didn't grow up in a world where only the toughest make it. What he said, that was how I saw it, too, an' it wasn't fair on him to hold back. He'd loved me all that time, never hoping it would be returned.
But it was, an' I had to make him understand that.
"Hutch, I know things are different now, we see it from opposite sides, but that don't mean I don't care. I love you, too -"
"- Starsk, don't! You don't have to -"
"I mean it. In my own way I do love you. Okay, so our definitions ain't the same, but no one means more to me than you. Not even Nick. I thought you knew that."
Silence. Only the unsteady rasping of two sets of lungs as we stared at each other. I don't know which of us moved first. It doesn't matter anyhow, but suddenly his arms were round me and mine were round him and we were hanging on like the world was ending. Or maybe it was finally beginning. That was when I knew that, whatever came of Marc's death, we hadta stick together, make it work.
"This," he said, indicating the embrace. "I thought once you knew . . ."
"I'd never come near you again? I felt that way, too. It hurt, Hutch, it really hurt. I don't want it to be that way."
"It might be easier on you . . ."
"True. But just 'cause it's easy don't mean it's right. I don't see why it's gonna change the way we work, or how we feel, just because you - you like your dates with a bit more muscle."
He caught the humor like I hoped he would, and some of the pain left his face. "If you can understand that, if you can accept there'll probably be others, then nothing will change. Unless they throw me off the force . . ."
"If they try it they'll hafta go through me first."
"No 'thee' without 'me,' huh? Starsky, you're goin' soft in your old age."
"Comes from spending ten years with a headcase like you."
Without any warning he started to laugh. "How come a coupla dumb idiots like us ever got to be cops?" An' I laughed with him, till the pair of us were sittin' there with tears streaming down our faces again. I hope, wherever Marc is, he can understand why.
It was far from over for either of us. We still hadta find out who killed Marc, and why, and there were a lotta things I still wanted to ask. I called Dobey, gave him some excuse for why we weren't where we shoulda been, then I drove Hutch to see Marc's family. He wanted me to go in with him, but I told him I'd wait in the car. When I saw the woman who opened the door, an' the way she welcomed him in like one of her own, I knew he'd be okay. The next few days would bring their share of pain, but we'd make it through.
Once the funeral was over, an' the DA had the Malavolta file, we took off up the coast an' spent a long weekend gettin' to know each other again. I guess there's a part of him, deep down, that hopes one day I'll change. Who knows, maybe I will. They useta say they'd never get a man on the moon . . . Maybe someday we'll find that last link in the chain. Right now we take each day as it comes. There's no one special for either of us at the moment (though there is this cute redhead in R&I . . .) so naturally the rumors are running high. Dobey was the biggest surprise of all. First time there was trouble in the squad room we thought he'd keep well out of it, but instead he came down on Hutch's side. How he'll fare against IA is another matter, but like I said, he's a good man to work for. He won't go down without a fight.
Neither will we. And who knows, one day Hutch may be the first gay captain in homicide. Whatever, it's gonna be a good feeling, knowin' no matter who he works with people are gonna remember us as partners. Our own little piece of immortality.
What more can you ask of a friend?