“Penny for your thoughts,” Hutch said as he quietly approached his pensive partner. He didn’t get an answer. He had just noticed the conversation he’d been having with Starsky for the past few moments was completely one-sided. Starsky was staring up at the sky, looking almost like he’d been frozen in place. “Hey.” Hutch sat down on the foot of the wooden chaise lounge Starsky was sprawled on and patted him on the leg to get his attention. “You in there?”
Starsky turned his eyes toward him and smiled. “Sorry. Were you talking to me?”
“Only off and on for the last minute. You okay?” He looked okay, but something seemed off about him.
“Me? I’m full, that’s how. Beyond full.”
“You always were a sucker for Edith’s peach pies.”
“I know. And Cap’s chicken.”
Starsky laughed. “Yeah. Who’d have thought standing a chicken up on end over a half-full beer can and barbecuing it that way would be so good?”
“Apparently Dobey would have,” Hutch said with a smirk.
The springtime sky was unusually cloudless above Bay City’s bright lights. They usually had a thick cloudy marine layer at night this time of year. In coastal Southern California cities, even the daytime in the spring could be dreary until at least noon. They either had what they called the May Gray or June Gloom weather pattern. The forecast varied little day-by-day: Night and morning low clouds, high of 72 low of 62. So far, not this year. They had enjoyed clear warm days followed by clear warm nights.
The lights were on inside the house and a glance in that direction was almost like watching a movie through the sliding glass door. Edith Dobey was washing dishes and her husband had just sneaked up on her. His arms were around her waist and his head was resting on her shoulder. Hutch smiled as he watched her reach up from the sink and deposit soapsuds on the end of his nose. Harold Dobey laughed and shook his head to get rid of them.
A few years ago, a vindictive escaped prisoner had tried to break into their home. When that didn’t work, he planted dynamite in an attempt to blow up the entire family as they sat down for dinner. Edith and the children never felt comfortable in that house afterward and the captain finally decided to move. Starsky and Hutch had helped.
“How’s your finger?” Starsky asked. Cal Dobey had steered Hutch into some rose bushes while carrying a bulky dresser into the house, scratching Hutch’s finger.
Hutch flexed it. “I think I’ll live. Can’t speak for Edith’s rosebush. The thing broke my skin. Maybe I’m venomous.”
“Oh, yeah. I’m sure.” Starsky chuckled. “That sneezing attack you had afterward was fun, too.” Joking aside, the sneezing had turned into wheezing that came just short of an asthmatic reaction. Hutch had stepped off the sidewalk and tripped into the bushes, dusting his face liberally with pollen in the process. In the end, they had resorted to using Rosie Dobey’s asthma inhaler to get his breathing under control. Captain Dobey’s gruff insistence that he get his allergies checked had met with a cool response. Hutch’s face glowed red as he remembered what he’d snapped at his boss. You worried rose bushes gone wrong are gonna throw themselves at me on the streets? I’m fine.
Hutch was glad the splash of light from the inside of the house wasn’t bright enough for Starsky to see him blushing. “I guess roses and I just have a hate/hate relationship.”
Starsky sighed. “Uh-huh.” He didn’t need clear illumination to see that the entire incident both embarrassed and worried Hutch. He patted his friend’s hand and playfully said, “I hear the news bite now. ‘Decorated veteran cop felled by a yellow rose. Film at eleven.’ I’d have to hang my head in public.”
“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.”
“Good. Besides, you know you don’t get to go first.”
“Excuse me?” Hutch said, sitting up and looking as indignant as he could.
“You heard me. You don’t get to go first.”
“Well, you sure as hell don’t,” Hutch responded. “Not on my watch you don’t.”
Starsky crossed his arms and sat up straighter. “Just what is that supposed to mean?”
“What do you think it means? Was I speaking Japanese? You… don’t... get… to go first.” Hutch punctuated that last sentence by gently poking Starsky’s leg at every pause.
Not quite sure where he wanted to take this conversation, especially in light of what he’d been thinking about when Hutch interrupted his meditation, Starsky decided that steering the subject into shallower water might be prudent. “I see how you are. You just want me to have to get arrested for giving you one of those Viking funerals like in the stories your grandfather used to tell.”
Hutch pretended to be shocked. He put a hand over his heart and said in Norweigian, “Meg?” He laughed at his own joke.
The distraction had worked for a time, but like usual, the partners could see through each other. Hutch knew something was on Starsky’s mind and it had nothing to do with roses or obscure funerary rituals. He had seemed distracted for the better part of the past week. Hutch decided this was a good time to probe.
“What were you thinking about when I came back out here?” he asked casually.
“Oh, this and that.”
Evasive. Hutch pushed. “You seemed a million miles away. Something wrong?”
The partners had recently gotten past a rough spot. They were feeling good about the partnership and themselves. Starsky didn’t want Hutch to get the idea that something had interfered with that. “No, nothing’s wrong. Really.”
Hutch pinned him with his eyes. He’d been trying to get something out of his unusually quiet friend for days and this time he was determined to get to the bottom of it. Hutch had tried to recall anything he might have said to precipitate this uncharacteristic bout of introspection, but nothing came to mind. Their cases had been going well and they hadn’t had so much as a slightly cross word between them for weeks. He only said one word. “Really.”
If Hutch was going to push, Starsky decided maybe now was the time. He sat up straighter, tucking his legs up so he was sitting Indian style. “Burning boats notwithstanding, what kind of funeral would you want?”
Hutch was still silhouetted against the light, so Starsky wasn’t able to see that his face had suddenly paled several shades from normal. That question completely took him by surprise. Why the hell are we talking about funerals? “Wha-what?” he asked, immediately feeling foolish.
Starsky persisted. “Seriously. We probably should talk about this. What kind of funeral would you like, assuming you get your way and go first. Which you’re not, by the way.”
This topic was not something Hutch wanted to pursue. Although Starsky was the more superstitious of the partners, Hutch thought this was tempting fate. He decided deflection would be the best response. “I think you should have me cremated and keep my ashes in a coffee can next to your menorah.” He paused, then added, “And, yes, I am, by the way.”
Starsky laughed. “A coffee can, huh? Why not an urn or a peanut butter jar?”
“Because coffee is your nectar of the gods. Seems appropriate.”
“What kind of coffee?”
“Interesting question. Hm. Maxwell House, I suppose. Good to the last drop.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of Chock Full O’ Nuts,” Starsky quipped.
“Nice. Only your best friend would be so compassionate when discussing your final arrangements.” Hutch laughed, hoping they were moving away from this subject.
Starsky wasn’t done. His face became serious as he shifted the focus to what he’d been pondering. “I know what I want, but Ma won’t like it.”
Hutch could see this was important to his friend. He sighed. “All right, Starsk, tell me.”
“I don’t want to be buried, either. I’m supposed to be, but I don’t want that. Terry wanted to be cremated, but her mom wouldn’t allow it, remember?”
Hutch remembered. That was one of the worst times in Starsky’s life. “I remember. You think your mom would fight me?”
“I know she would. She wants me to be buried next to Pop so she can come and put plastic flowers on my grave. Creepy. I don’t want that. I want to be cremated and you can scatter my ashes out in the ocean.” You like the beach. I’d always be close to you there.
“Okay. I’ll take care of it.” Somehow, he knew that wasn’t all that was on Starsky’s mind. “Anything else?”
His friend nodded. He’d been trying to figure out how to tell Hutch this without freaking him out for a few weeks. The more he thought about it, the more he worried that Hutch would take it the wrong way, but his partner had just given him the perfect segue.
“No, since you asked. I want you to promise me something.”
“Anything, you know that.”
Starsky took a deep breath. “Promise me that if anything ever happens where I’m gonna… well, you know… um…”
“Spit it out, buddy.”
“If it looked like I couldn’t recover from something, don’t let my mom make them hook me up to a bunch of machines and stuff. I’d hate that. You know?”
Hutch stared at Starsky for a few moments. He studied his face and tried to guess if there was more to this than he was being told. His partner’s face was completely open and trusting. He knew Hutch would promise. “Do you know something I don’t know?”
“Of course not. It’s just… we work the streets every day. We’ve seen a lot of people hurt and killed and we’ve had a few too-close-for-comforts. I just thought we should talk about it, you know? It’s not like I’m planning to check out on ya.” He could feel the tension radiating from his partner. What he said was true. He didn’t know anything Hutch didn’t, but he had a feeling. Sometimes, that happened to him. He tried to keep those things to himself, but not this time. For some reason, not this time.
“I promise, but only if you promise the same thing for me. Especially about the machines part. My parents won’t care what you do with my ashes. If I’m not stuck in their ridiculous family vault, it won’t matter.”
Starsky nodded. He put his hand out to shake on it. Hutch’s hand was trembling slightly when he took Starsky’s to seal the pact. Whatever had brought this on, he didn’t like it.
Before Hutch could say anything about it, the captain appeared in the patio doorway, drying his hands on a towel. “You two coming in?”
Having accomplished what he needed to do, Starsky was grateful for the interruption and the chance to shift gears. “Do you suppose Edith would make us a pot of coffee if we asked real nice?”
Still standing in the kitchen, Edith heard the question and called out, “For the men who moved my china without breaking a single piece? You don’t even have to say please.”
As they walked into the house, Hutch asked, “When’s all the work going to be done at the station?”
Union negotiations had delayed completion of some repairs and remodeling long enough to have all of Metro’s employees tired of tarps and scaffolding and hammering.
“They finalized the contract on Friday and the painting resumes tomorrow. Thank God.”
“Good,” Starsky said. “I was starting to think we’d never get our desks back.”
“Should be by the end of the week,” Dobey assured.
The rest of the evening went smoothly. Starsky seemed relaxed. He played with Rosie and the adults all sat around drinking coffee and chatting. All the while, Hutch kept watching him and wondering why his partner’s thoughts had been drifting toward death and final arrangements. He made a silent promise to himself to be vigilant in looking for any potential danger to his best friend. Nothing is going to happen to you while I’m still here. Not on my watch.
May 13, 1979