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“Happy Birthday”

By Valerie Wells

 

(Time frame: sometime in 1977)

“Now remember, not a word to Starsky,” Hutch cautioned his captain as he gave him a handful of flyers. “It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

Dobey smiled and shook his head. “Hutch, you’re dreaming. You know how he is. If he suspects anything, he won’t give up until he’s found out every detail.”

“He won’t suspect if everybody just keeps quiet,” Hutch pointed out. He glanced at his watch. “I better get going. Don’t want him to catch me in here.”

Hutch hurried out to the squad room, got a cup of coffee, and was sitting in his chair innocently going through recent case files when  Starsky came in the door.

As usual, Starsky was loaded down with a sack of donuts, which he plopped onto the desk before pouring himself a cup of coffee and sitting in the chair next to Hutch. “Good morning,” he said brightly. “You’re here early.”

Hutch glanced up. “No earlier than usual.”

“Got any plans for the weekend?” Starsky asked. “It’s our first one off for a while.”

Hutch shrugged. “I’m kind of hoping the new dispatcher’ll take me up on dinner. So far I haven’t had any luck. Other than that, no.”

Starsky snorted. “You mean Julie? You’re not her type. She’s just too sweet to break your heart and tell you so. So you don’t have any plans for, say, Friday night?”

Hutch shook his head. “If you’re leading up to trying to fix me up with a blind date, Starsk, forget it. Remember the last blind date you fixed me up with?” He shuddered. “I’d rather stay home and read the dictionary.”

“Aw, come on. She was a nice girl.”

“With three ex-husbands and an IQ of two,” Hutch retorted.

“Two ex-husbands,” Starsky corrected him, adding with a grin, “The third divorce wasn’t quite final.”

Hutch rolled his eyes. “Whatever. I’ll take my chances with Julie, thank you very much.”

“Well, I’ve got nothing going Friday, either,” Starsky said. “Why don’t we go hit a disco or something?”

“I don’t know, Starsk,” Hutch said. “I’m thinking that might be a good night to just take it easy. We’ve been working pretty hard and I could use a break.”

“But, Hutch, Friday’s....” Starsky broke off. “Never mind.” He dove into his donut sack and ate one almost viciously, while Hutch concentrated on keeping a straight face.

Hutch was well aware that Friday was Starsky’s birthday. In fact, he’d been planning this particular Friday night for almost a month. The two detectives having the weekend off was no accident of scheduling, though Starsky didn’t know that. And Hutch intended for his partner to have such a good time on his birthday that he wouldn’t be up to working for at least two days. But knowing Starsky’s penchant for sniffing out every possible gift-giving occasion and driving him crazy with questions about what he’d gotten for him, coupled with Starsky’s inability to be patient and wait, Hutch had no intention of letting on that he remembered the date. Everything depended on Starsky being surprised.

Every detective in their division was sworn to secrecy and had been threatened with dire consequences if even one of them forgot and wished Starsky a happy birthday on Friday. They were one and all ordered to studiously ignore him as much as possible, so that he didn’t have any reason to suspect what was going on.   

“Isn’t it about time we hit the street?” Starsky asked after several minutes of silence.

“Yeah. I just wanted to catch up on the Dawson case,” Hutch said agreeably, putting the folder down. “Let’s go.”

It was Hutch’s turn to drive, giving him a good excuse for avoiding looking at Starsky, who was abnormally quiet all morning. In a way, Hutch hated to make him suffer, even a little bit, by thinking nobody remembered his birthday. But he’ll understand when he sees the party, Hutch soothed his conscience. And he let Starsky pick the taco stand where they ate lunch, drawing a curious look, but no comment, from his partner.

“Zebra Three, two-eleven in progress, Southtown Liquor, 620 Spring Street.”

“This is Zebra Three,” Starsky answered. “We’re responding.” He slapped the light on the roof of Hutch’s beat-up LTD, while Hutch hit the siren and the gas.

The two detectives and a black-and-white arrived almost simultaneously, just as the sounds of gunfire came out of the store. Reflexively, all four officers ducked behind their cars and drew their guns.

“We’ll take the back,” one of the uniformed officers called to Hutch.

He nodded and waved them on. He and Starsky slithered toward the front door of the store, ducking and weaving behind parked cars, but before they got there, a tall man wearing a nylon-stocking mask ran out of the store and headed down the street at full speed.

“Freeze! Police!” Starsky yelled, taking off at a run after him. Hutch jumped in the car and followed. Starsky chased the suspect for two blocks before even getting close, while pedestrians scrambled out of the way to let them through. Hutch finally managed to get ahead of the suspect and slammed on the brakes, throwing himself out of the car and running at the man. Hutch’s sudden appearance confused the suspect, who tried to turn and run a different way, but Starsky had caught up by then and took him down with a flying tackle.

Hutch ran up, panting, just as Starsky was putting on the cuffs and yanking off the man’s mask.

“I’ll be damned,” Starsky puffed, wiping a bead of sweat away from his eyes and handing the boy’s gun to Hutch. “He’s just a kid.”

Indeed he was, not more than 14 or 15 years old. His height had fooled them into thinking he was an adult. He was easily as tall as Hutch.

The boy lay on the ground blinking up at them and looking thoroughly frightened. Starsky stood him up, more gently than he would have treated an adult. “What’s your name?” he asked.

The boy looked down at the ground and didn’t answer.

“Come on,” Starsky said. “We’ll find out, whether you tell us or not. If you’re cooperative, it might not be so rough on you. Your name.”

“Ty.”

“Okay, Ty, how old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

Starsky looked at Hutch. “Thirteen. Didja hear that? And already robbing a liquor store. At gunpoint.” He shook his head. “What the hell is the world comin’ to? You ain’t even old enough to be in a liquor store, Ty.” He gave the boy a gentle push in the direction of Hutch’s car. “We’re takin’ ya down to the precinct, and we’re gonna call your folks, Ty. Then we’re gonna book ya. You ever been arrested before?”

Ty nodded.

“Then you know the drill. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney, and to have him present during questioning...”

After dealing with Ty and filling out the paperwork, their shift was almost over. Starsky was still muttering over the boy’s age as they logged out and started down to the garage to head home.

“Kids younger than that get into trouble,” Hutch pointed out. “Why’s this one bother you so much?”

Starsky shrugged, then winced and rubbed his shoulder where he’d landed on it while tackling the kid. “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit, I guess. Thought I’d never get my wind back after that chase. And he’s only 13, Hutch. He shot at that clerk, coulda killed him...”

“The gun went off accidentally,” Hutch corrected. “Even the clerk said so.”

Starsky grunted noncomittally. “When I was 13 --” he began.

“Oh, come on, old man,” Hutch teased. “You don’t really remember things that happened that long ago, do you?”

“It’s only been 20 years, Hutch,” Starsky started to say, but then clammed up. “Forget it. See ya tomorrow.” He started to walk away, but Hutch reached out and caught his arm.

“Hang on, buddy, I was just kidding. What did you start to say?” When Starsky shook his head, Hutch gave his arm a little shake. “Come on. When you were 13...”

Starsky sighed and turned so he could look Hutch in the eye. “A friend of mine was killed. Kid I went to school with. His dad was a cop, too. He found his dad’s gun and was messin’ with it and...it went off. Accidentally.” He was silent for a moment. “He’d been threatening to knock off a gas station or somethin’ because he wanted a fancy bike his folks couldn’t afford to buy for him. I thought he was just kiddin’...”

“God, Starsk,” Hutch said, releasing his hold on his partner’s arm so he could put his hand on his shoulder instead.

“I hadn’t thought about him for a long time,” Starsky went on, “but that kid today reminded me of him. You don’t think ahead when you’re 13, Hutch. Today’s all that matters. And you can’t wait for stuff. I mean, he coulda earned the money for that bike somehow, got a paper route or mowed grass or somethin’. That’s how I got stuff I wanted. Wasn’t like Ma could afford to buy a lot of stuff for us after Dad died.”

Starsky’s dad had also died when he was 13, Hutch remembered. Shit. That’s exactly 20 years ago. No wonder he’s bummed out.

“Maybe this Ty kid’ll learn his lesson from today,” Hutch said. “He was pretty scared when that gun went off.”

“Maybe.” Starsky forced a grin. “Hey, see ya tomorrow, okay? I’m starvin’ and there’s a large pepperoni pizza out there with my name on it. ‘Night, Hutch.”

“Good night, buddy.”  I’m gonna throw you the best damn birthday party anybody ever had, Starsk. You wait and see.

~*~*~*~

“You’re sure everything’s all set, Hug?” Hutch asked for the third time. He’d hardly touched his beer.

Huggy Bear rolled his eyes eloquently. “Yeah. Would you quit worryin’, man? You’re worse than than an old mother hen. I got it all covered. The band, the cake, the booze, the chicks...this ain’t my first rodeo, you dig?”

“I’m sorry,” Hutch grinned ruefully. “It’s just that I never, ever manage to surprise Starsk, and this year...well, I think he’s taking it harder than usual.”

“How come?”

“I think he’s missing his dad. It’s been 20 years, you know. I mean, you’d think he’d have got over it by now, but he’s just about the age his dad was when he died, and...hell, I don’t know. He’s just kind of down, and I want to cheer him up.”

“You want to get him drunk,” Huggy said with a grin, wiping up a minute spill on the bar top.

“Yeah, that, too,” Hutch answered, laughing.

“Just leave it to me. It’s under control, my man. You just get him here Friday night.”

~*~*~*~

Thursday morning, Starsky picked Hutch up at his house instead of meeting him at the precinct. As Hutch got in the car, Starsky gave him a big smile and announced, “I finally figured out what I’m doing Friday.”

“What?” Hutch asked, not really listening because he was having trouble getting the checklist unstuck from the visor. He hardly noticed Starsky start up the car and drive toward their district.

“I’m going to Vegas for the weekend,” Starsky said.

“Great,” Hutch said, still distracted. He had the checklist on his lap and was going over it before what Starsky had said really sank in. Then he froze. “Vegas? What the hell’s in Vegas? You can’t!”

“Why not?” Starsky asked. “I’ll be back by Monday. Just goin’ down to do a little gamblin’, maybe see a show. Wanna come?”

“No! I mean, well...” Hutch searched desperately for a plausible story. Finally, he said, “I can’t afford to go to Vegas this weekend. I figured we could do something together around here.”

“You said you wanted to take it easy,” Starsky said. “I don’t. I wanna do something for...something fun.”

“I know what I said,” Hutch said. “But I changed my mind. We could...we could go to that new disco on Sunset. Remember you said you wanted to? Bernie in vice said the prettiest girls in town hang out there.”

“They got pretty girls in Vegas, too,” Starsky said.

Shit. What’ll convince him he’s gotta stay here? “Starsk, please, don’t go to Vegas this weekend.”

“Why not? What’s so important that I have to stick around for it?”

Think, Hutchinson, dammit! You’re an undercover detective. What’s a good story? Nothing came to mind and they drove for several blocks before Starsky said, “Hutch?”

“Julie turned me down,” Hutch said quickly. “She won’t go out with me. She said...she said I’m not her type, just like you said she would. And...and, well, Starsk, I really kind of, well, I...I had my heart kind of set on her.”

Starsky stopped at a red light and simply stared at Hutch for a few moments -- long enough to make Hutch very uneasy -- before he shrugged and said, “I didn’t know you felt that strong about her.” He took one hand off the wheel and patted Hutch’s shoulder. “Hey, you know you’re my best friend. If you need me, I’ll stick around. No problem. We’ll go to that disco if ya want, or we could just hang out at your place and watch old movies on the tube.”

Hutch tried hard to look sad and in need of a buddy’s comfort, but he was so relieved at having kept Starsky from going to Las Vegas, it wasn’t easy. He settled for turning his head away and watching his side of the street, like he was supposed to be doing. But just before he did, he thought he saw a wicked grin appear on his partner’s face. He looked at Starsky again, but the other man was concentrating on his driving and watching his side of the street. I must’ve imagined it.

~*~*~*~

“Starsk.”

Starsky looked. A man was dragging a teen-age girl down the street by the arm. She was struggling to get away. Starsky slammed on the brakes and both of them tumbled out of the car and ran, drawing their guns as they went.

They split up, and Starsky moved around so as to get behind the two, while Hutch ran full speed to get ahead of them. They boxed them in, and Hutch aimed, yelling, “Police! Put your hands on top of your head!”

The man stopped, but he didn’t let go of the girl.

“Let her go, turkey,” Starsky said evenly from behind him.

Suddenly the man pulled a gun and aimed it at Starsky, who ducked reflexively and rolled. Hutch already had his gun aimed, and he squeezed off a shot, hitting the man in the arm. The girl screamed and pulled away, shrinking back against the wall of the nearest building and bursting into hysterical sobs. Hutch threw himself on top of the man and yanked his arms behind him to cuff him. When he finished, he looked up because the girl was still screaming and crying. “Starsk? Starsky!”

“Over here.” Starsky had bumped his head against a newspaper kiosk and had momentarily stunned himself when he rolled away. He stood up now, shook his head to clear it, and winced. Then he went over to the girl and put his arm around her shoulders. “Sssh,” he said soothingly. “We’re cops, honey. Wanna tell me what’s going on here?” He pulled his badge out to show her.

“He...I...” she hiccuped a couple of times, wiped her eyes, and pushed her hair away from her face. “You’re a cop?”

“Yeah. I won’t let him hurt ya, I promise.”

“You’ll arrest me.”

“No, I won’t.”

She looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes. “He’s my...he’s my pimp,” she said, whispering.

Starsky looked over at Hutch, who had pulled the man to his feet, frisked him, and was standing there holding onto his arm to keep him from getting away. Hutch shook his head sadly. “Are you a runaway?”

Her eyes got even bigger. “Don’t make me go back! I can’t go back. Not now!”

“Hey,” Starsky turned her around so he could look into her face. “Calm down. Everything’s gonna be okay. How old are you, sweetheart?”

“Sixteen.”

Oh, brother. Hutch watched his partner’s face. Other than a tightening of his jaw, he didn’t react, though.

“Okay. Now, we’re not going to arrest you. We’re going to arrest him. We’re going to take you home...”

She shook her head violently. “No, no!”

Starsky looked at Hutch again, helplessly.

“We can’t just leave you here,” Hutch put in gently.

“My mom’ll kill me,” the girl said plaintively, tears welling up again.

“She’ll be so glad to see you safe she won’t even be angry, I’ll bet,” Starsky said. “Now, come on. We’re all going down to the station, and you’re gonna call your mom.” He bent a little and gave her his best Starsky-grin. “Okay?”

In spite of herself, the girl found herself smiling back at him, though the tears kept falling. In a trembling voice, she said, “Will you...will you talk to her first? Just tell her I’m okay, and let her get the screaming over with before I talk to her?”

Starsky’s grin widened. “Sure. You bet.” He raised his eyebrows at Hutch, who gave the pimp a push toward the car and got into the back seat with him. Starsky escorted the girl to the front seat.

They booked the pimp for assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The girl, whose name was Janet, accompanied them to the squad room afterwards and Starsky, as promised, called her mother for her. Janet sat on the edge of her chair twisting her hands nervously while he dialed and waited for her mother to answer.

When she did, he said, “Mrs. Ray? My name is Detective David Starsky. I’m sitting here next to Janet.” He winced a little when the woman squealed and then started crying into his ear. “Yes, ma’am. She’s fine. She’s just a little nervous about talkin’ to you. She wanted me to kind of, well, smooth the way. Yes, ma’am. Metropolitan Division, 9th precinct. We, uh, we met up...we found her nearby. Sure, sure.” He held the phone out to Janet, then he and Hutch considerately moved a little away.

“Sometimes we do some good, hey, buddy?” Hutch said softly, laying a hand on Starsky’s shoulder and looking past him at Janet, crying and talking to her mother on the phone.

“Yeah,” Starsky said. “Sometimes.”

 

“Want me to drive, Starsk?” Hutch asked as they went back to the Torino. He knew Starsky’s head hurt a lot worse than he was letting on, and that’s what worried him. When Starsky had a little pain, he complained incessantly. When he had a big one, he turned into a Spartan. And he wasn’t complaining.

Instead of answering, Starsky dug into his pocket and handed over the keys. “Yeah. Just for a little while.”

“Took quite a knock on the head, huh?” Hutch stopped him and felt for the bump through the curly hair. “Good God, Starsk!” he exclaimed when he found it, while Starsky winced away from the touch. “Maybe we ought to get you to a doctor.”

“Nah. Come on.” Starsky pulled away and climbed into the Torino’s passenger seat. “I took a couple aspirin. I’ll live. Let’s go. We got bad guys to catch.”

Hutch grinned. “Then we better get started. The American way of life depends on us.”

Starsky gave an answering grin and slid down in the seat comfortably.

Please. No more kids today, Hutch pleaded silently as they headed back to their district. We’ll take on all the adult bad guys You want to throw at us, but please, no more kids.

~*~*~*~

“Hey, Starsk, there’s Rolly. Let’s go shake him down and see if anything’s going on,” Hutch said a little while later when he spotted the overweight fence walking down his side of the street.

Starsky squinted in that direction. “Aw, let’s not. I’m not up to chasin’ Rolly all over the city right now, and you know he’d take off runnin’.”

Hutch turned and looked at his partner more closely. He pulled over and stopped the car. Starsky looked at him inquiringly.

“Still hurtin’?” Hutch asked.

Starsky shrugged. “Yeah.”

“I don’t like this,” Hutch said, taking Starsky’s face in his hand and turning it toward him. He looked into his eyes, which were beginning to look hollow and shadowed. “I’m taking you to a doctor.”

“No, you’re not,” Starsky said, pulling away. “It’s just a bump. I told ya, I’m fine.”

Hutch gave an exasperated sigh. “You could have a concussion.”

“Not with my hard head,” Starsky replied, forcing a grin.

 “Then at least, let’s log out and you go home and lie down.”

“Aw, come on, Hutch!” Now Starsky was exasperated. “I can hear Dobey bellowing already if we call him and say we’re goin’ home ‘cause I bumped my head. First off, he’d ask why you’re logging out if I bumped my head, then he’d say I was bein’ a wuss for whinin’ about a headache, and then --”

“Okay, okay,” Hutch cut him off with a wave of his hand. “We’ve only got a couple more hours, anyhow. Shit, you can be stubborn.”

Starsky grinned again. “Who, me?”

 

Hutch devoutly hoped nothing else would happen on their shift that day, but it wasn’t to be. Less than 15 minutes later the radio beeped.

“All units, a two-eleven in progress at 1720 E. Sixth St.”

Starsky grabbed the mike. “This is Zebra Three. We’re responding.”

“Roger, Zebra Three. Caller reports shots fired and possible hostage situation.”

“Terrific,” Starsky muttered. “Ten-four, Central.”

Hutch spun the car around the next corner and hit the siren as Starsky put the light on top of the car. Just as they pulled up, alongside a couple of black-and-whites, two shots rang out. The address turned out to be a two-bit tavern, a known hangout for drug dealers. One of the uniformed cops turned on his public-address system.

“You’re surrounded! Give yourself up!”

For answer, the gunman fired another shot through the door.

Starsky and Hutch rolled out of the Torino, keeping low, and joined the uniformed officers behind one of the black-and-whites. “How many people are in there?” Starsky asked.

“We don’t know for sure,” the officer answered. “We can’t get close enough to see in, and the guy shoots at us every time we show our heads.”

“Isn’t there a back door to this joint?” Hutch asked Starsky.

“It’s covered,” the uniformed officer answered instead. “We got a unit back there. They ain’t havin’ no better luck than we are.”

“So there’s probably two with guns,” Starsky said, raising his eyebrows.

“At least.”

“Are you in contact with the unit in the back?” Hutch asked.

“Yeah.” Another officer handed Hutch a portable CB. “It’s Decker and Jackson.”

“This is Detective Hutchinson,” Hutch said into the radio. “You guys got any tear gas grenades?”

“We got a couple,” a voice came back.

“Get ‘em ready,” Hutch said. “We’re gonna have to smoke ‘em out.”

“Hutch, we can’t get close enough to lob a tear gas grenade in there,” Starsky objected. “We’ll get our asses shot off.”

“No, we won’t. Besides, you got a better idea?”

Starsky looked toward the door. “No, guess not.”

Hutch crawled back to the Torino on his belly and pulled out their tear gas grenades. Coming back, he handed one to Starsky. To the uniformed officers, he said, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Starsk and I will work our way toward the front door. You keep the guys in the back up on where we are, and shoot at that sonofabitch in there often enough to keep him busy. When we get into position, I’ll signal you, and you tell them, and we’ll all throw our tear gas in together. That ought to force these turkeys outside, then we can grab them.”

The officer nodded doubtfully and accepted the CB from Hutch.

There was almost no cover between the patrol cars and the door, except for a couple of cars parked on the street. And there was a lot of open space between the two detectives and those two cars. They got as close as they could, crouching behind the second black-and-white, to assess the situation.

“You up to this, buddy?” Hutch asked Starsky, aware of his partner’s pale face and pinched eyes.

“Sure, I’m okay,” Starsky said without looking at him. His eyes were on that big open space.

Hutch looked back at the uniformed officers and nodded at them. “Okay, then, partner, let’s go.”

Running bent over, both detectives dashed across the open space. Hutch got a little ahead of Starsky and just caught a glimpse of the gunman a split second before another shot rang out. He fell flat and crawled the rest of the way, hearing the answering fire from the uniformed officers. Both he and Starsky arrived at the parked cars together. Starsky was breathing hard and sweating, but otherwise seemed all right. Hutch looked back at the other officers. He raised one hand and signaled, then he and Starsky threw their tear gas into the open door of the bar.

Seconds later, smoke rolled out, even making Starsky and Hutch cough, though they were outside. The smoke gave the uniformed officers a chance to join the detectives, and all six waited with drawn guns. In a very few minutes, several people poured out of the door, but in the confusion it was impossible to tell which one -- or two -- could be the gunman. Hutch cautiously rose up on his knees to peer over the hood of the car they were hiding behind, and another shot rang out. Hutch yelped and fell flat.

“Hutch!” Starsky threw himself over his partner and bellowed, “Call an ambulance!”

Meanwhile, the uniformed officers were swarming among the milling people and one of them spotted the gunman, trying to lose himself in the crowd. In a few minutes, it was over, with both of the armed robbers cuffed and on their way to the precinct.

“Hutch, you okay? Where are you hit?” Starsky helped his partner sit up.

“It’s just a graze,” Hutch panted, holding his left hand over his right shoulder and grimacing.

“Let me see.” Starsky gently pulled Hutch’s jacket off, then pulled his shirt away from his shoulder. He yanked a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped away enough blood to be able to see the wound. “I think you’re right, pal. They just winged ya. Bet it hurts, though.”

Hutch managed a shaky laugh. “Just a little.”

Decker came skidding to a halt beside them. “How bad is it, Starsky?”

“I think he’ll live,” Starsky said. “But we better get him to the hospital. Can ya walk, buddy?”

“Sure.” With both Starsky and Decker’s help, Hutch got to his feet. Starsky wadded up the handkerchief and put it over the wound, putting Hutch’s hand back over it, then put his arm around Hutch’s waist and helped him walk to the Torino.

“What’d ya do with the keys?” Starsky asked after getting Hutch into the passenger seat.

“Hip pocket.”

“Bet I look stupid doing this,” Starsky muttered, sticking his hand into Hutch’s jeans pocket and pulling the keys loose. He got into the driver’s seat and picked up the mike. “This is Zebra Three. Sgt. Hutchinson’s been wounded and I’m taking him to the hospital. Log us out of service.”

“Roger, Zebra Three. How bad is it, Starsky?”

“Not too serious, Central.”

“Ten-four, Zebra Three. You’re logged out of service.”

“You gonna let ‘em look at your bump while we’re there?” Hutch asked as Starsky got the motor going and pulled out into the street.

Starsky looked momentarily puzzled, then grinned. “I forgot all about it, to tell ya the truth. All the excitement, I guess. Question is, how do you feel?”

“Oh, never better,” Hutch said, affecting a casual shrug -- not a good idea. “Well, maybe not.”

Starsky laughed. “What a hell of a day.”

“Glad they’re not all like this,” Hutch agreed fervently.

~*~*~*~

“So what kinda pizza ya want?” Starsky asked after Hutch’s session with the doctor at the emergency room.

“Pizza?” Hutch asked, not understanding.

Starsky gestured toward the sling holding Hutch’s right arm. “I can’t exactly see ya whippin’ up a gourmet feast of  wheat germ and dessicated liver with that busted wing, buddy. And just about the only food we agree on is pizza. So, what kind?”

“Oh. Whatever you want. No anchovies.”

“No anchovies?” Starsky pretended dismay. “What kinda pizza don’t have anchovies on it?”

 

Starsky swung by his favorite Mom-and-Pop pizza joint, run by a real Italian family with a soft spot for the curly-headed detective. He bought a large pizza with everything -- except anchovies -- to go and then stopped by a liquor store for 12-pack of Budweiser. In a short time the two detectives were kicked back in Starsky’s apartment, the stereo on low, playing Jim Croce.

“There, ain’t that better?” Starsky asked, popping a can for Hutch and providing him with a huge slice of pizza on a paper plate. “Still hurt much?”

Hutch shook his head, still chewing. When he could, he said, “No, it’s all right. It’ll be sore for a while, though. You’re gonna have to drive tomorrow. Sorry.”

Starsky shrugged good-naturedly. “That’s okay. Save me from ridin’ around in that pathetic heap of yours.”

Hutch grinned evilly. “I drove yours today. You could drive mine tomorrow.”

Starsky feigned horror. “Are you kiddin’ me? That’d ruin my reputation for all time!”

~*~*~*~

By the time the alarm went off and Starsky staggered out of bed and headed for the kitchen to make coffee, Hutch was already up, showered and shaved and had a cup of coffee and the morning paper well in hand.

“Mornin’, Starsk,” Hutch greeted him. “Better hurry. We’ve gotta go by my place for a change of clothes.”

Starsky blinked at him blearily for a few minutes. “Why? You got clothes here. Remember last time we got drunk? I washed ‘em for ya.” He yawned widely and padded toward the kitchen. “Bottom drawer of the dresser.”

Sure enough, neatly folded in Starsky’s bottom dresser drawer were a pair of Hutch’s jeans and a turtleneck. He’d been wondering what had happened to both.

“Must’ve been some drunk,” he called to Starsky, now seated on the couch with his own cup of coffee. “I don’t even remember leaving these here. What the hell did I wear home?”

“The clothes you’d left here the time before that,” Starsky retorted, grinning. “And next time, you’ll wear the ones you’re leaving this time. It all works out.”

“You ever think we spend too much time together, Starsk?” Hutch asked, his voice muffled as he pulled the shirt over his head.

“Nah. Nobody else’d put up with us.”

Hutch grimaced a little as he worked his sore arm through the sleeve of the shirt, but it felt a lot better this morning than it had yesterday. He just hoped he wouldn’t need to draw his gun suddenly or tackle any runaway criminals.

Starsky must have had the same thought, because he suddenly appeared in the doorway. “You sure we hadn’t ought to ask for desk duty today, Hutch? You gonna be able to manage?”

“I think it’ll be okay,” Hutch answered. “Let’s just try to stay out of trouble today.”

Starsky grinned. “Yeah, right.”

~*~*~*~

“Zebra Three, Central,” Hutch said into the mike as they approached their district. “Log us in at 8:03 a.m.”

“Roger, Zebra Three. You’re logged in at 8:03.”

“How’s the head?” Hutch asked, watching his side of the street.

“Hungover,” Starsky said with a grin. “Yours?”

“About the same,” Hutch admitted ruefully. “Why’d we get blitzed on a weeknight?”

“I didn’t mean to get blitzed,” Starsky said. “Who’d’a’ thought six lousy beers would hit us so hard?”

“Six apiece,” Hutch corrected him, “and we drank them in about an hour, as I recall. Probably a combination of your bumped head, my shot arm, and much too much adrenaline from all the shit we dealt with yesterday.”

“I s’pose.”

~*~*~*~

After patrolling for a couple of hours, the detectives went into the precinct to file their report from the incident of the day before. If they hadn’t, Dobey would have been even more difficult than he was already. Hutch held his breath as they walked through the doors of their squad room, but the other detectives who were there -- and most weren’t, this time of morning -- simply greeted the two of them as if it were any other day. Starsky looked at them a little oddly, then glanced at Hutch, but he made no comment beyond a little frown and a slight tightening of the muscles of his jaw.

We need to make this fast, Hutch thought.

Pulling up their chairs and a typewriter, they got to work, Hutch dictating while Starsky typed. Otherwise, the report would have been too full of flights of literary creativity to suit Dobey.

“We approached the parked cars, prior to throwing the tear gas grenades into the establishment,” Hutch was saying as Minnie from Records popped through the door. Oh, shit. Please don’t blow it, Minnie!

“Hi, you two,” she said, dropping a stack of files on the table. “Tell your captain he owes me a favor. I stayed late last night pulling those for him.”

“Will do, Minnie,”  Hutch said. Go on, Minnie. Go back to your desk. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.

Minnie turned to go, then turned back. Hutch shot her a pleading look, since Starsky was concentrating on the typewriter. She made an “oh” movement with her mouth, grinned, and went ahead and left.

Hutch finally let his breath out. Now if we can just get out of here before Dobey shows up...

 Hutch hurried Starsky through the report, finally taking the typewriter away from him and finishing himself to make it go quicker, since he was the better typist. Though that wasn’t saying much.

Hutch tossed the finished report into Dobey’s box and hustled Starsky back out to the car. Starsky grumbled a little at his haste.

“Where’s the freakin’ fire?”

“No fire,” Hutch said innocently. “Bad guys to catch, remember?” He logged them back into service on the radio.

They cruised their district uneventfully until the middle of the afternoon, when they got a call that a shoplifter had just run from a jewelry store a few blocks away, knocking a customer down in the process.

“Subject is a white female, age between 14 and 17, blonde hair, wearing jeans and a denim jacket,” the dispatcher said.

“Roger, Central,” Hutch said. Starsky spun the car around a few corners, and both detectives kept a sharp eye out for their suspect.

“Everybody wears jeans and denim jackets,” Starsky complained after 20 minutes of cruising up and down streets without spotting the girl in question.

“It’s not very helpful, is it?” Hutch remarked with a grin. At least a third of the people walking were dressed like that, though they hadn’t seen a teen-age girl yet. This time of day, the kids were all supposed to be at school, so there weren’t many teen-agers out.

“Hutch,” Starsky said, slowing and nodding his head toward a newsstand. A young girl was standing there, with blonde hair, wearing jeans and a denim jacket. He drove on a little ways, then pulled over so Hutch could get out.

Hutch strolled casually back toward the newsstand, pretending to look in store windows, but really keeping his eyes on the girl. She was standing there calmly enough, looking at fashion magazines, as he walked up next to her and looked her over. She was the right age, and she was dressed right, but she just didn’t look like a shoplifter, though Hutch knew from experience that didn’t mean a thing. By now Starsky had parked the car and was doing his own casual stroll up the street. He stopped on the girl’s other side and met Hutch’s eyes.

Pulling his badge out, Hutch flipped it open and showed it to the girl. “Excuse us, miss, but you match the description of a shoplifter we’re looking for,” he said.

She looked up at him with a genuinely puzzled expression. “Are you talking to me?”

Starsky shrugged as Hutch glanced at him. “Why aren’t you in school?” he asked.

“Half day. Teacher’s meeting,” she said, even more puzzled. “Are you police, or truant officers? I can prove it, if you like. Call my school. St. Mary’s.”

“Miss,” Hutch tried again, feeling stupid, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to come with us to the store where the shoplifting occurred.”

“How do I know you’re really cops? Anybody can buy a badge,” she said, backing a little away.

“It’s just around the corner,” Starsky said reassuringly. “And we are cops.” He showed her his own badge. “It’s real, I promise.”

She took it away from him and examined it closely. Convinced, she said, “Well, all right. I’m not your shoplifter, though.”

They walked with her to the store, less than a block away, and the store owner confirmed it. She wasn’t the girl.

“See,  I told you,” she said. “Can I go now?”

“Sure, sure,” Starsky said. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She grinned suddenly. “Wait’ll I tell the kids at school. They’ll think it’s a hoot.” She left, and Starsky and Hutch looked at each other, not sure whether to laugh or not.

“Well,” Starsky said, clearing his throat. “Guess we keep looking. Where’s the customer she knocked down?”

“Oh, she left. She wasn’t hurt,” the store owner said. “The kid’s probably long gone by now, anyway. Wouldn’t hang around the neighborhood if she had any sense.”

Hutch flipped open his notebook and took a statement from the owner, then he and Starsky walked back to the car.

“Keep looking for the kid or go after some real bad guys?” Starsky asked.

Rubbing his arm -- having it out of the sling was turning out to be a bad idea -- Hutch said, “Aw, let’s forget it. She didn’t take much, anyway. If we see somebody matching that description, we’ll check it out, but I imagine the guy’s right and she’s long gone by now.”

“You okay?” Starsky asked, nodding at Hutch’s arm.

“Yeah, long as I don’t move it,” Hutch said ruefully.

~*~*~*~

But the rest of the day also proved uneventful, and by 5, when they logged out, Hutch’s arm had quit hurting enough he figured he could do his part at the party without too much discomfort. The only problem that remained was getting Starsky there. And Starsky had been far too quiet -- almost morose --  for the last couple of hours. Hutch was afraid he wasn’t in a mood to be cooperative. Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt to let Minnie say “Happy birthday” after all.

“So ya wanna go to Huggy’s for a beer?” Hutch asked, he hoped casually.

“Didn’t you get enough beer last night?” Starsky asked.

“Just one to grow on, buddy,” Hutch said. “Then we can figure out what we’re gonna do tonight. I thought you wanted to do something?”

“Don’t you want to go home and get cleaned up first? Get some dinner?”

“We could eat at Huggy’s,” Hutch said.

Starsky considered, chewing on his bottom lip. Hutch waited nervously. Finally, Starsky said, but without much enthusiasm,  “Yeah, I guess we could. Okay, then. Huggy’s it is.” He swung the car around and started back toward The Pits.

~*~*~*~

Starsky parked the Torino in front of Huggy’s in his usual spot and, for a change, locked it. Hutch let him get a little ahead of him so he’d enter the bar first and looked at his watch. 5:15. Just right. Huggy would be ready. He hoped.

“You comin’, Hutch?” Starsky looked over his shoulder at his partner lagging behind him.

“Yeah. I’m right behind you.” Hutch caught up a little, but not much. Starsky shrugged and opened the door of The Pits.

“SURPRISE!”

Starsky staggered backward in genuine surprise, bumping into Hutch, who slung an arm around his shoulders and grinned at him.

“Happy birthday, Starsk.”

Starsky looked around Huggy’s, crowded with most of the detectives in their division, as many of the other officers they knew that could spare the time to be there, Captain Dobey and his family, Lisa Graham and her mother, and everybody else that Hutch had been able to think of to invite. Huggy had done a thorough job of transforming the tavern into a festive place, with balloons, streamers and paper tablecloths. A band was setting up in one corner. He blinked hard for a moment, and Hutch gave him a little hug with the arm he had around his shoulders.

“You didn’t think I’d forgotten, did you?” he asked in a low voice.

Starsky swallowed before answering. “Well, yeah, I was beginning to. I kinda hoped you had something up your sleeve, but I didn’t think of...all this.”

“Good,” Hutch said with a grin. “Come on. You’re gonna have a good time tonight, Gordo. This is only the beginning.”

First Huggy fed them one of Starsky’s favorite meals, steak, with liberal helpings of beer to wash it down with. Starsky didn’t get to eat undisturbed, however.

“I never got so many hugs in all my life,” he whispered to Hutch at one point, after Edith and Rosie Dobey, Lisa Graham and her mother, Minnie, Libby and half a dozen others had all come by their table to give him birthday greetings.

Hutch grinned and made a show of feeling his partner’s forehead. “Never known you to object to attention from the ladies, buddy. You feel all right?”

Starsky laughed. “Who said I was objecting?”

After supper Huggy brought the cake out, a monstrous chocolate affair with a picture of Starsky’s Torino on top in icing and the words, “Happy Birthday Starsky.” Hutch produced his guitar, carefully hidden behind Huggy’s bar for two days, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” Then the band struck up, and Starsky found himself dancing with every female in the place, while Hutch, Huggy and Dobey cheered him on.

“Was he surprised?” Huggy asked while Starsky was trying to keep up with Rosie Dobey’s version of the Hustle.

“I think he was,” Hutch said, agreeably pleased with the fact. “He did suspect something -- dammit -- but I think we did surprise him. We actually pulled it off.”

Eventually the Dobeys and the Grahams left, but officers from the precinct came and went all evening, as their shifts allowed them a few minutes to drop in. And at 10, Hutch pulled out his guitar again and joined the band on stage.

“Starsky doesn’t know why I’ve been unavailable for getting drunk a few nights these past couple of weeks,” Hutch said into the mike, getting his guitar strapped around himself. “It’s because I’ve been practicing something with the guys up here.”

Starsky, still breathless from the last dance, settled himself at the bar with a fresh beer.

“I know you hate ‘soapy scenes,’ buddy,” Hutch went on, half apologetically, “but when I was trying to figure out something I could sing for you tonight, this is the song that kept running through my mind. I tried to find a different one, but nothing else says what I wanted to say, so here goes.” He nodded to the band.

The road is long, with many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where, who knows where...

But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy...he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is my concern

No burden is he to bear, we’ll get there

For I know he would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy...he’s my brother

 

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart isn’t filled

With the gladness of love

For one another

 

It’s a long long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on our way to there

Why not share?

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy...he’s my brother

 

Starsky’s beer sat on the bar, forgotten, while this song was going on, and his eyes never left Hutch’s face. After Hutch struck the last chord, dead silence reigned for a few moments before everybody in the place burst into wild applause. Hutch nodded acknowledgement of the applause and smiled, but he was watching Starsky for his reaction most.

After a moment, Starsky stood up and walked toward the stage. He put an arm around his partner and gripped his shoulder hard. “I want all of you to know,” he said, “that this is the best birthday I’ve ever had. And I want you to know,” he added to Hutch, “that song was the best birthday present I’ve ever had.” His voice was steady, but Hutch could see the brightness of his eyes and seeing that made his own eyes sting. With another squeeze of Hutch’s shoulder, Starsky went back to his seat and took a long, steadying drink of his beer.

Just for the heck of it, and to lighten the mood, Hutch and the band had prepared another song, too, one of Starsky’s favorites, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce, and they played that one, with a lot of messing around and acting silly, before Hutch put the guitar aside and joined his friend at the bar.

Wordlessly, Starsky put his hand on Hutch’s shoulder and gave him a long look. Hutch, in turn, put his hand on his partner’s and smiled.

~*~*~*~

It was late before everybody had left and Huggy was ready to close up.

“I’ll come around tomorrow and help you straighten up,” Hutch said, bringing a tray full of dirty glasses up to the bar.

“Hell, no,” Huggy said. “That’s what I pay waitresses for.” He looked over at Starsky, who was feeling no pain, and grinned. “My guess’d be you’ll have your hands full just gettin’ the birthday boy home and put to bed.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Hutch said, grinning back. He himself had deliberately taken it very easy on the beer, knowing he’d have to be the one to get Starsky safely home.

“But usually it’s both of you that are shit-faced,” Huggy said. “It’s only a question of which one is less shit-faced.”

Hutch laughed merrily. “You got that right, Hug. Fine example we set for the civilians, isn’t it?” He patted Huggy’s shoulder over the bar. “Thanks, man. I appreciate your help with this party.”

“Not a prob, my blond friend,” Huggy said.

Hutch went back to Starsky, who still had half a glass of beer. “You about ready to go home, buddy?”

Starsky focused on him with difficulty. “’s’t time t’go?”

“’Fraid so. Huggy’s gotta close, otherwise somebody might call the cops on him for staying open too late.”

Starsky grinned blearily. “Hell, we can’t have somebody callin’ the damn cops.” He tipped the glass back and finished the rest of his beer, then struggled to stand. Hutch caught his arm and helped him up. He pulled Starsky’s arm over his shoulders and put his own around his partner’s waist.

“Can you get the door for us, Hug?” he called.

Not very successfully suppressing his grin, Huggy complied, giving Starsky a friendly whack on the back as Hutch led him out the door. “Night, you two.”

Starsky waved in Huggy’s general direction. “Night, Huggy. Thanks.”

Hutch loaded Starsky into the passenger side of the Torino and pulled his own set of keys out of his pocket.  “You okay, buddy?”

“Sure, never better,” Starsky said, blinking and trying to sit up straight.

Hutch grinned and started the car. Once they got to Starsky’s place, he parked the car in its usual spot and went around to help Starsky out. Talk about a dead weight, he thought, struggling to get his inert partner upright and on his feet. Starsky tried to help, but he wasn’t exactly steady on his feet. Hutch put his arm around his waist and, little by little, got him up the steps, into his apartment and onto the bed. Breathing hard, Hutch put the keys back in his pocket and went back to close and lock the door. Might as well just stay here and sack out on the couch.

He went back to the bedroom to check on Starsky, who was snoring peacefully already. Hutch got his Addidas off for him, but gave up trying to get any of his other clothes off. He tossed a blanket over him and turned to go lie down on the couch.

“Hutch?”

He stopped. “Yeah, buddy?”

Starsky struggled to a half sitting position. “C’mere. I can’t see ya.”

Hutch grinned a little and went back to sit on the edge of the bed.

Starsky struggled some more and got himself all the way up. He blinked at Hutch for a moment in silence, then said, “I wanted t’say thanks.” When Hutch opened his mouth, Starsky put a hand up. “No, lemme finish.” Hutch obediently shut his mouth again. Starsky sat and just looked at him for a minute before going on. “It really was the bes’ birthday I ever had, Hutch. I mean that. You musta been plannin’ this for weeks.”

“More or less.”

Starsky grinned. Then he flung his arms around Hutch and gave him a bear hug. Pulling back, he blinked again, rubbed at his face and said, “Damn, I’m drunk.”

Hutch laughed aloud. “Yes, you are.”

“How’d we get home?”

“I brought you.”

“You drunk?”

Hutch shook his head. “Nope.”

“Didja have a good time, too?”

Hutch laughed again. “I sure did, buddy.”

“Good.” Starsky yawned and swayed a little. “Damn. I think I better go to bed.”

“You’re in bed, Starsk.”

Starsky looked around. “So I am.”

Grinning, Hutch gave him a little push to make him lie down again. “Go to sleep, buddy. I’ll stay here in case you need me, okay? Good night.”

Starsky rolled over and buried his face in the pillow. He mumbled something that may have been “G’night, Hutch,” and was almost immediately asleep.

Hutch pulled the blanket up around his shoulders, patted his back, and left the room, turning out the light as he went. He looked back at the lump in the bed and softly said, “Happy birthday, buddy.”

The End

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