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Written by Valerie Wells
Starsky whistled to himself as he put the finishing touches on his last report and yanked it out of the typewriter before tossing it into Dobey’s “in” basket. He stood up and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair.
“It’s hardly fair,” grumbled Hutch. “How’d you get out of that damn stakeout tonight? We’re partners. You should have to go, too.”
“The perp knows me,” Starsky said patiently. “I busted him three times when I was in uniform, as you know, since this is at least the third time I’ve told ya!” He grinned. “So it’d blow our cover all to hell if he happened to see me. And since I asked for this time off weeks ago, buddy boy, don’t look for me until Monday morning!”
“You’re going off to get drunk, while I have to waste my Friday night at a narco stakeout and my Saturday typing up reports,” Hutch said, still pretending to be put out.
“That’s right,” Starsky said cheerfully. “So I’ll be seein’ ya.”
“Nobody has 15-year high school reunions, Starsk,” Hutch went on, keeping his eyes on his own report so that Starsky couldn’t see them twinkling. “Ten years, yes. Twenty years, sure. But not 15!”
“Who am I to argue when somebody wants to throw a party and invite me?” Starsky demanded. He patted Hutch on top of the head and left, whistling his school’s fight song as loudly as he could.
Hutch shook his head and allowed himself to grin once Starsky was out of sight. He knew Starsky had high hopes of getting re-acquainted with a certain female classmate who had recently divorced and that was the real reason for his wanting to attend the reunion. He hadn’t had any interest in attending the 10th one and had, in fact, rolled his eyes when he’d read the invitation. Hutch still remembered Starsky’s groan and muttered, “They gotta be kidding. Who the hell wants to relive high school, for pete’s sake” before he’d tossed the invitation in the trash five years ago.
I hope she still likes you, buddy, Hutch thought. I hope you’re not disappointed.
Starsky showered and dressed very carefully for the reunion dinner, in a new suit bought especially for the occasion. Hutch wouldn’t even recognize me, he thought, looking in the mirror. No sports jacket with jeans, his usual solution for dress-up occasions. No, sir. This was a real, honest to goodness suit and in spite of his discomfort, he thought he looked pretty good in it.
I hope Shelly agrees with me.
Starsky recognized only about a third of his former classmates and was appalled at the changes he saw in most of them. The girls -- women, he amended mentally -- had aged more than he’d thought they would, and several of the guys were downright stout.
God, they’re probably thinking the same thing about me, he thought, wondering as he did so if this had actually been a bad idea. But right about then he spotted Shelly, and though she had changed, she was still as beautiful as he remembered -- and she smiled and waved at him.
“David Starsky! Come and sit with us!”
He smiled back and crossed the room.
Hutch sighed and shifted his weight for the third time in the last half hour. Nothing was more boring than a stakeout, and without Starsky to talk to, he thought he’d be lucky to even stay awake. Nothing was happening. Their perp had come home two hours ago, straight from work by the look of him, and had gone into his house. Since then, the only activity had been when the guy had brought the dog out to relieve itself.
Through a crack in the closed curtains, Hutch could see the blue flickering light of a television and the silhouette of their perp sitting on the couch in front of it. He’d plopped down there after bringing the dog out and hadn’t moved since.
“Hutchinson? Anything?” Burns’ voice came over the hand-held police radio.
“Nope,” Hutch said disgustedly. “Just another quiet night at home, looks like.”
“Shit. I thought our information was good on this guy.”
It was another two hours before anything happened. And then a car pulled up in front of the house. A man carrying a guitar case got out, went into the perp’s house, and emerged 10 minutes later, minus the guitar case.
“That’s it!” Hutch hissed into the radio. “Move in!”
It was as clean a bust as Hutch had ever seen. The guitar case had been full of cocaine, and the perp didn’t have time to dispose of it before he and his contact had both been surrounded by cops and arrested.
There would be stacks and stacks of paperwork to do tomorrow, Hutch reflected, to catalogue and sort all the evidence they’d gathered over the previous couple of weeks, but this one would stick. They’d done good work. He was grateful to go home and get to bed.
It was late that Saturday evening, almost dark, before he got through with all those stacks of paperwork and he was just getting ready to leave when the phone rang. “Hutchinson.”
“Hutch?” It was Dobey, his voice oddly strained.
“Captain? What’s wrong?” Hutch felt a cold tickle of fear in his stomach.
“Hutch, a couple of kids found a body on the beach. You better come down here.”
The cold tickle became a glacier in his midsection. “Why me? I’m on overtime already --”
“Hutch,” and Dobey’s voice was even more strained. “Just come.”
Hutch wrote down the directions and went, with that cold fear growing more pronounced every moment. Dobey had refused to give him any details. Just insisted he come.
He parked his LTD and walked through the sand, still damp from the early morning’s rain, toward the group of uniformed officers, coroner’s team and police photographers surrounding a wet lump covered by a blanket. Two boys, about 11 or 12 years old, were standing to one side, shaken and teary, both of them. They were trying to tell their story to a uniformed officer who looked a little green around the gills himself.
Hutch went up to Dobey and touched his shoulder. “Here I am, Captain.”
Dobey turned, and Hutch couldn’t remember ever seeing quite that expression in his captain’s eyes. “Hutch, I --” Dobey stopped, shook his head, rubbed his hands over his hair, and finally said, “I hope I’m wrong.”
“About what?” Hutch started to bend to pull the blanket back and look at the body, but Dobey reached out a hand and stopped him. Hutch looked up.
“Brace yourself, son,” Dobey said quietly.
“Pretty awful, huh?” Hutch asked. He’d seen drowning victims before. And bodies which had been disposed of in the water. Took a strong stomach. But that’s what homicide detectives had to do. He reached for the blanket again.
“Hutch,” Dobey said again, and that’s when it sank in that he’d called Hutch “son.” He only did that on the rarest of occasions. And suddenly that cold fear in Hutch’s stomach clutched at his heart.
“Who is it, Captain?”
Dobey blinked rapidly, and Hutch realized the usually-gruff captain was holding back tears. He knelt in the sand next to the body because his knees wouldn’t hold him in a crouch any longer. He took hold of the blanket, took a deep breath, and pulled it back.
The body was, typically of one taken from water, swelled and bloated beyond recognition. It was difficult to be positive even of the victim’s race, though it was most likely a white man. Dark curly hair. Faded and worn Levi’s. A blue t-shirt, dark blue windbreaker, blue Adidas sneakers....
“Oh, my God,” Hutch whispered, stricken to his very soul.
“There’s no ID,” Dobey said, after the coroner had taken the body away. Hutch hadn’t spoken since that first pained whisper, and Dobey kept looking toward the hunched figure sitting on the sand, as he gave instructions to the other officers on the scene. “Looks like a robbery along with murder. I want you to question every person living along here, although I doubt you’ll get anything. He was in the water at least 24 hours and most likely dumped somewhere else and carried here by the tide.”
The officers nodded, some taking notes, others casting glances at Hutch. Dobey frowned fiercely, and their attention came back to their captain.
“We’ll have to get positive ID through dental records,” Dobey went on, only the long years of experience enabling him to keep his own emotions at bay while the necessary work got done. “Murdock, you see to that. Get the information from the M.E. tonight if possible and first thing tomorrow if he can’t give it to you tonight. Bailey, I want you to sift through Missing Persons for someone matching this description. Well,” he added when no one moved, “get going!”
The officers scattered, and Dobey turned toward Hutch, who still sat motionless on the sand, staring out to sea as the sky darkened. He knelt next to him.
“It’s not necessarily him,” he said quietly.
Hutch raised his eyes to him. “Did you call his apartment?”
Dobey nodded. “No answer.”
“He hasn’t been there.”
Hutch rose. “Shelly Farmer.”
“Shelly Farmer. The woman he went to the reunion to see. That’s her name. I’m going to find her, see if she’s seen him.”
But although Hutch called every Farmer in the Los Angeles phone book -- and that was a lot of phone calls -- none were the right one. He drove to Starsky’s apartment, hoping against hope that he’d find his partner there, safe and sound and not answering the phone because he didn’t want to be disturbed.
The Torino was parked outside. Afraid to hope, and afraid not to, Hutch ran up the steps two and three at a time and pounded on the door. “Starsky? Starsk, it’s me!”
There was no response, and Hutch yanked his own key out of his pocket and let himself in. No one was there. He ran back down the steps and felt the hood of the car. It was cold. He unlocked it and searched it. Nothing. It was in its usual pristine condition. Starsky’s pride and joy. No dust or trash was ever allowed to land in or on the Torino for long.
He called Huggy’s again. No one had seen Starsky. He pulled Starsky’s address book out of his desk and called everyone in it, in spite of the lateness of the hour. Not one of them had seen him in the last several days.
It was 2 a.m. before Hutch finally ran out of options and found himself alone in Starsky’s empty apartment, sitting on Starsky’s couch, and had to face the thing he’d been avoiding for hours with his frantic activity.
Starsky was dead. Hutch buried his face in his hands and cried.
He didn’t know how long it was before he ran out of tears and was left with nothing but a burning, aching pain in his heart. He drew a long shaky breath and tried to think. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t think of anything but the sight of his best friend, his partner, lying in the sand, soaked in seawater, dead.
Hutch shook his head, hard. No. Starsky wouldn’t want him to remember him like that. He looked around. No photos? He knew Starsky had photos. He got up, numbly, and went to the bedroom. There was one of Starsky, his mom and his brother together a few years ago when Nick and Rachel had come out to visit. Hutch had taken it, in fact. And Starsky had kidded him about the focus, the frame and anything else he could pick on about Hutch’s abilities with a camera. Another, of the two of them together. Hutch picked it up and smiled wanly. Huggy’d taken that one.
“Smile, fellas,” Huggy had urged, wanting to play with a new camera he’d gotten. Hutch had scooped Starsky up, into his arms, and the both of them were laughing. Hutch remembered how Huggy had teased them about that, even while taking the picture.
“You gonna kiss him or something, Hutch?” Huggy’d said, grinning.
“Kiss this ugly mug? You crazy, Hug?” Hutch had answered, while Starsky coolly crossed legs and hung onto Hutch’s neck for dear life, laughing helplessly.
And one more. It had been a cold day, near Christmas. They’d gone to the Dobeys’ for a birthday party for Cal. Starsky’d been wearing that heavy white sweater of his, and Hutch had worn a wool turtleneck sweater under his denim jacket. Starsky’d had his arm around Hutch’s shoulders, Hutch remembered, though it didn’t show in the photo. They were smiling. Happy.
Fresh tears burned his eyes, and Hutch dropped onto the bed, unable to stand, still clutching the photo, and cried himself to sleep.
The sun streaming through the window woke him up some time later. He was still clutching that photo.
Oh, God. Somebody had to call Starsky’s mom. And that somebody should be Hutch. Though he knew Dobey would do it if he asked him to, it was his responsibility. He was Starsky’s partner. He’s the one who’d failed to keep him safe.
Rachel had come for a visit for Starsky’s last birthday. When they’d taken her to the airport to catch her flight home, she’d smoothed Starsky’s hair, straightened his collar, patted his cheeks, then hugged him and kissed him. “You be good, now, Davey, you hear?”
Starsky had grinned. It was a ritual they always went through. “Sure, Ma.”
But then Rachel had turned to Hutch and gone through almost exactly the same thing with him: The hug, the kiss, the patting. And she’d taken one of his hands and one of Starsky’s. “You two take good care of each other, okay? I worry about you. Both of you.”
And Hutch had squeezed her hand and said, “We will, Rachel. I promise.”
She’d smiled and turned to go to her plane, and as they watched her go, Starsky had thrown an arm around Hutch’s shoulders and given him a brief hug...
“I’m sorry, Rachel,” Hutch whispered.
He couldn’t call yet. They hadn’t made positive ID. He could put it off until then.
Somehow the long day passed. Hutch wandered through Starsky’s apartment, looking at it as though he’d never seen it before. He spent a couple of hours sitting on Starsky’s bed, going through the stacks and stacks of photographs he’d found in Starsky’s closet. Starsky the camera bug. The amateur photographer...except these were good. Really good. He could have been a professional. They sometimes talked about what they would do if they weren’t cops. And Starsky always said, “I don’t know what else to be,” but Hutch realized for the first time that Starsky could easily get work as a photojournalist, or a freelance photographer. Why hadn’t he ever realized how good Starsky was?
A lot of the photos were of Hutch. Dozens of them, some he’d never seen and didn’t realize Starsky had ever taken. Hutch playing his guitar at the police barbecue last summer. Hutch and Abby. Hutch playing basketball with the disabled kids at Terry’s school. Photo after photo of Hutch, carefully mounted and catalogued with the dates and events, kept in a box on the shelf of Starsky’s closet. A whole box of nothing but photos of Hutch...
A tear fell on the photo Hutch was holding and he hastily dried it off with the tail of his shirt, replacing it in the box with the others and putting the cover back on the box. And it was only then that he noticed what was written on the label pasted to the box, in Starsky’s messy handwriting...
“My Partner” it said.
When night fell and Hutch still hadn’t heard back from any of the people he’d called the night before -- and he’d told them all to call him at Starsky’s if they heard anything at all -- he called the station.
“Have you identified the body we found at the beach yesterday?” Hutch asked after being put through to the appropriate department.
“Not yet,” Minnie told him. “We don’t have any missing persons on file that match the description, and Dobey couldn’t locate --” she paused a moment, then went on more gently, “Starsky’s dentist is out of town for the weekend. We’ll be able to get his dental records tomorrow for comparison.”
“What did the P.M. show?” Hutch asked, trying in vain to keep his voice steady.
“Drowned. But most likely unconscious from a bad blow to the back of the head before entering the water,” Minnie said. "The blood type is O positive, Hutch. The same as Starsky's."
"But that's the most common type, Minnie," Hutch said, refusing to completely give up hope.
"I know," she said, her voice very soft.
Oh, God. What happened, Starsky? What the hell happened?
“Thanks, Minnie,” Hutch said and replaced the receiver before he broke down again. Everyone who knew them knew how they felt about each other, but he still didn’t feel like letting Minnie hear him cry.
Hutch finally went to sleep in Starsky’s bed, afraid to leave for fear someone would call to tell him they’d heard from Starsky -- and unable to leave because here, at least, he felt a little closer to his best friend, surrounded by his things.
He woke to hear the door of the apartment opening stealthily. Heart in his throat, Hutch rolled off the side of the bed away from the door and yanked his gun out of the holster, still lying on the floor where he’d left it. He crawled to the door and flattened himself against the wall. Someone was walking through the apartment. In the darkness, Hutch couldn’t see anything but a shadow. He stood up slowly, feeling behind him for a light switch. He raised the gun and pointed it at the shadow, then hit the light switch. “Freeze! Police!” he yelled.
And froze himself.
“Hey, Hutch, what the hell are you doing here?” Starsky yawned widely and dropped his jacket on the chair, sitting down to unlace his Adidas. An overnight bag lay at his feet.
Hutch couldn’t move or speak. He simply stood, pointing his gun at Starsky, his hands shaking helplessly.
“Hutch?” Starsky looked up with a frown. “Put the gun down, buddy, I won’t hurt ya.” He grinned and finished kicking off his shoes.
Hutch slowly lowered the gun and his nerveless fingers dropped it on the floor. He sank down to a sitting position against the wall. Frightened, Starsky hurried over to him and knelt.
“Whatsa matter, buddy? You sick or something?” Starsky felt his forehead and then touched his cheek, turning his face up so he could look into Hutch’s eyes.
Wordlessly, Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky and held him tight, while hot tears coursed down his cheeks.
Starsky held him and let him cry for several minutes before pulling back a little, his eyes dark with worry. “Hutch, tell me what’s wrong. You’re scarin’ me.”
Hutch looked up at him for a moment before he found his voice. Even then, it shook so he could hardly get the words out. “Where the hell have you been? I thought you were dead!”
“Dead?” Starsky couldn’t have looked more amazed if he’d been trying to. “You knew I was goin’ to the reunion --”
By now Hutch didn’t know if he was relieved or angry. He scrambled to his feet and dodged Starsky’s outstretched hand. “We found a body last night. Washed up on the beach. Male Caucasian, mid-30s, dark curly hair, blue jeans, t-shirt, blue windbreaker, blue Adidas sneakers, Starsky!”
Starsky looked down at himself. He was dressed exactly like that description. He looked back up at Hutch, who was still shaken.
“Your car was here. Nobody’d seen you. I called every last number in your goddamned address book! I was ready to call your mom and break the news to her --”
“You didn’t, did you?”
Hutch shook his head. “We were waiting to match dental records. Your dentist is out of town! The body was impossible to identify visually...” Hutch sank onto the couch, too exhausted to continue.
“But why would you think it was me?” Starsky was bewildered at Hutch’s reaction. “I told ya I was --”
“Going to the reunion! I know, dammit. But that was Friday night. This is Sunday...no, Monday! Just exactly where the fuck have you been while I was hanging out here mourning you?”
Starsky couldn’t help it. He laughed. He tried not to, but it came out anyway. The harder he tried to stop, the worse it got. After staring at him with ice in his eyes for a few minutes, Hutch’s lips twitched a little, too. And finally, both of them were laughing helplessly.
Starsky sank down on the couch next to Hutch and wiped his streaming eyes. “I’m sorry, buddy. I really am. Shelly and I hit it off, and we went to her place in Burbank for the weekend, and we dropped my car off here before we went because the alternator was going out on it and I was afraid to take it that far until I fix it, and...” he stopped, suddenly realizing what Hutch had been through in the last couple of days. “God, I’m sorry, Hutch. I had no idea. I didn’t think you’d be lookin’ for me. I sure didn’t know this was going on.”
Hutch wiped his eyes, too, aware that he was little short of hysterical, and that the tears weren’t all from laughing. In fact, he was hard pressed to keep his voice steady. “I know you didn’t. Damn.”
Starsky put his arm around him and pulled him close to him. Both sat silently for several minutes, while Starsky rubbed his hand up and down Hutch’s arm and Hutch just let himself lean against his partner, relieved and grateful beyond words that Starsky’s warm presence was still there, close by, not cold and wet and dead in the cooler at the morgue.
When he could speak again, Hutch said, “Don’t ever do that to me again, Starsk. I want to know where you are at all times, you got that? I couldn’t take thinkin’...” he stopped, appalled at how he sounded. Like a mom. Or a wife. Get a hold of yourself, Hutchinson, for Pete’s sake.
But Starsky wasn’t bothered. “I promise. Take it easy, now, huh? You’ve had a tough couple of days while I was off reliving my past. And finding out it wasn’t quite as terrific as I thought. I prefer the present. You okay now?”
Hutch sat up. “Yeah.”