Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made from it.
October 31, 1981
Huggy approached the back booth on quiet feet, hoping to avoid disturbing his two friends if his suspicions were confirmed. The light was dim and he wasn’t sure. When he was close enough to see, he chuckled softly. Two nearly untouched beers sat on the table in front of the BCPD’s top homicide detectives, who were completely oblivious. They sat on different sides of the booth, with their feet propped up on the opposite seat. Exhaustion had quickly overtaken them both and they were asleep; Starsky with his hands on the tabletop, Hutch with his right hand in his lap and his left resting on his partner’s ankle.
Starsky was doing well. He had recovered from his brush with death at the hands of paid assassins. The long road back to a basically normal life was hard and painful, but he’d made it. One of the hardest things he’d fought to regain was his sense of independence and self-reliance from a certain overprotective blond.
In the months since Starsky’s return to active duty, Hutch had learned to temper his hovering. In the beginning, his anxiety was so bad, he never allowed his partner to walk through a doorway first. When he’d had enough, Starsky let him know. To his credit, Hutch tried hard to comply with Starsky’s wishes to return to their previous give and take. He worried about Hutch as much as Hutch worried about him. On some level, though, he knew it was different for his partner. That’s why Starsky made certain concessions and Huggy was looking at one of them. When they were in a public place together, Hutch wanted to know where Starsky was every minute, whether or not they were on duty. His sense of responsibility that somehow he should have prevented Gunther’s men from getting to Starsky exacerbated long standing guilty feelings that Hutch hadn’t protected Starsky years ago when a mobster in an Italian restaurant shot him.
After working over twelve hours on one of the strangest days to be a police officer, Starsky and Hutch had decided to stop by The Pits for a little Halloween unwinding before going home. A day and evening full of domestic disturbances, reports of vandalism, a public brawl between a group of stevedores, two drug overdoses, an attempted suicide, and being asked to investigate strange sounds coming from an abandoned storefront, the detectives found themselves in an odd paradox of running on fumes and too wired to call it a day. The brawl on the docks was intense. Before backup arrived, both Starsky and Hutch had stepped in to protect each other by turns.
Huggy shook his head at the sight of Hutch’s hand resting on Starsky’s leg, ensuring the man couldn’t move without him knowing. He wondered what had happened on this tour to cause Hutch’s guard-and-protect instinct to kick into what Starsky described as DefCon Three. Huggy recalled that conversation with a smile.
“How’s he doing today,” Huggy asked, two months after Starsky’s return to work. Hutch was in the men’s room, giving Starsky and Huggy a few moments to discuss things.
“I’d rank today DefCon Three,” Starsky quipped.
“That’s a threat level assessment, Hug. Today, he’s hyper alert, but not as bad as some days.”
“Sort of. He was down to at least a four until a moose-sized robbery suspect decided to resist my efforts to cuff him.”
Smiling and nodding slowly, Starsky replied, “If it was a TV Movie of the week, we’d have to call it ‘Blondie Goes Ballistic’.”
Huggy laughed. He pointed at the gauze wrapped hand Starsky held up for inspection and said, “Moose banged up worse than that?”
“The suspect is cooling his heels in lockup, lucky I was between him and the Magnum when Hutch realized I was in trouble.”
Snapping out of the remembrance, Huggy decided he’d let them rest for a while before waking them up and sending them on their way. He started to turn back toward the bar. He didn’t make it.
Since the shooting, Starsky was more likely to have nightmares and strange or disturbing dreams when he was overly tired. Reliving one of this fall day’s hairier moments, he jerked in his sleep. The sudden movement caused an immediate reaction from Hutch. By the time Starsky’s eyes were open and focused, Hutch was standing next to the booth, in a crouch, with his hand on his gun, ready to pull it.
“Whoa!” Huggy soothed, his hands making back down motions toward Hutch.
“Hutch,” Starsky said, his voice soft and calming. “Just a dream, partner. Ratchet it back.”
Hutch blinked and stared at Starsky for several beats. He relaxed his stance, dropped his hand, and slumped back down into the booth. “Sorry,” he muttered. His fair skin revealed the depth of his embarrassment even in the low light.
“No sweat. You okay?” Huggy asked.
“Yeah. Rough tour,” came the sullen reply.
Huggy slid into the booth next to Starsky, so he could study his friend’s face while they talked. “Spill it.”
Hutch smiled. “Not that big a deal, Hug. We just worked a lot of hours and got into some sticky situations tonight. Typical Halloween. I guess it put me on edge.”
Starsky laughed. “I’ve got nothing to say about that, Hutch. I was just dreaming one of those angry dockworkers tossed me over the edge into the harbor. Remember the last time I went into the drink?” The twinkle in his eye reflected his amusement at the increasing color around Hutch’s ears. Huggy sat back and watched the show.
“Are you ever going to give that a rest?”
“Doubt it. Bronchitis stinks.”
“I didn’t hear you!” Hutch said with exasperation.
“Settle down, I know,” Starsky said, reaching across the table to pat Hutch on the hand.
One of the other side effects from Starsky’s long recovery was Hutch’s relative inability to stay angry with him. Unless it was something big, the storms passed quickly. Hutch had explained to Huggy that almost losing Starsky woke him up to how short life can be. “Things can change in one heartbeat, Hug. I’m not gonna let things get under my skin so much anymore. What if we’d been fighting? What if he’d died? What if...?”
Hutch smirked, seeing through Starsky’s attempt to distract him. You led me right where you wanted, didn’t you, Starsk? Again. “How bad?”
Huggy piped in, “At least a two.”
Hutch didn’t know Starsky had told Huggy about his one-to-five Hutchinson defense behavior scale. He sighed. Is it ever going to stop?
Starsky read that in his partner’s eyes, silently communicating the answer. Not today, buddy. It’s okay. Hutch decided it would be more fun to run with the theme than to swim upstream against it.
“Oh, I don’t know. I thought it was more like a three,” he argued.
“In your dreams, Centurion,” Huggy said with laugh.
Starsky agreed. “No, a two. Definitely a two.”
That discouraged Hutch a little. A two was just one step down from maximum readiness. “Finger on the big red button time, huh?”
“Silo doors open,” Starsky replied.
The three men sat and spoke in military metaphors for a few minutes. Starsky’s heart warmed as he watched Hutch release the tension and let the adrenaline ebb. He knew how hard Hutch tried to let go. His best days left them in close proximity to their pre-shooting interaction level. Maybe that was the best he could hope for, knowing from painful experience how terrifying it could be to almost have your best friend taken away forever. We’ll keep working on it, Hutch. Together.
“Happy Halloween,” they both called as they left the bar fifteen minutes later and stepped outside into a warm, slightly breezy fall night. The moon wouldn’t reach her first quarter for another five nights, so the only light came from the mercury vapor streetlight at the end of the block. When they reached the Torino, Hutch stopped and turned dark, serious eyes on his partner. The light glinted off his fine hair as it fluttered in the light wind.
“Starsk, you think I’m ever going to reach DefCon Five, again? I swear I’m trying.” DefCon Five. Normal peacetime readiness.
“Buddy, you’re too smart for that. Too alert. Always have been. Hell, you were probably born a four. Don’t kick yourself. You’re doing great.”
They climbed into the car and Starsky pulled away from the curb. Within minutes, the silence from the passenger seat unsettled him. He knew Hutch was still thinking too hard about what had happened at Huggy’s.
“Hey,” Starsky said slyly. Hutch could tell from his devious tone that he had something in mind. “It’s still Halloween. Wanna go soap Dobey’s windows?”
Hutch replied, “Nobody does that anymore, Starsk.” He could feel the disappointment coming from the driver. Starsky thought his attempt to lighten the situation wasn’t working, but Hutch had a solution.
“There’s an all night grocery store over on Tenth. Today’s ad said they were having a special on toilet paper.”
Starsky’s grin was visible even in the darkness as he turned the car in the right direction.