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Vigil

By Valerie Wells

 

 “This is the dumbest idea you’ve had yet, Starsk,” Hutch said, looking at the latest toy his overgrown-boy of a partner had acquired.

Starsky pretended to be wounded. “What are you talkin’ about? This is gonna be terrific. I’ll even let you ride it, if you’re good.” He grinned.

The Kawasaki 400 had seen better days. The tank had a ding, where the previous owner had taken a spill. The seat was torn. But Starsky swore it ran like a top, and any bodily imperfections would be easily fixed.

“Isn’t being a cop dangerous enough for you, buddy? Why risk your neck buzzing around on this death trap?”

“Aw, come on, Hutch. You know what kinda mileage this little baby gets? I could ride to Vegas and back for a couple of bucks.”

“And you could get killed if some hotshot pulls out in front of you, or if you hit an oil patch on the road, or just with the way you drive on normal days...”  Hutch stopped when he saw the genuinely disappointed look on Starsky’s face. He relented, but only a little. “It is kind of neat,” he admitted, grudgingly. “Just promise me you’ll be careful, okay? Good partners are hard to find.”

“I’ll be careful,” Starsky said, rolling his eyes. “Mom.”

~*~*~*~

For the next three or four weeks, Hutch hardly saw his partner except when they were actually working. Starsky rode that damn motorcycle every spare minute -- or worked on it, because it was forever breaking down, usually in some remote spot in the desert where he’d gone to ride and “catch some wind,” as he gleefully phrased it to Hutch. Starsky took to carrying a complete set of tools with him everywhere he went on the bike, and soon became an expert at fixing any problem that cropped up. He repainted the tank, replaced the seat, and got himself a custom-made helmet somewhere that had, of all things, an eagle in flight painted on it.

And then Dobey startled them with a four-day weekend.

“We’ve got that narco stakeout next week,” Dobey said, grumbling as he seemed to do even when delivering good news. “You two are going to be putting in a lot of overtime. So you better enjoy this weekend, because I expect you both to be at a hundred percent for this. We can’t afford mistakes.”

Both of them made a hasty retreat before he could change his mind, and Starsky was practically giddy at the prospect of four whole days to play with his new toy.

“I’m just gonna get on the bike and ride, boy,” he said to Hutch as they parted ways. “Don’t look for me until Tuesday.”

“Where are you going?”

Starsky shrugged. “Don’t know. Wherever the wind takes me.”

“I’d like to have some idea of where to come collect the remains,” Hutch said dryly. “We are supposed to keep track of each other, you know.”

Starsky grinned. “Okay. South. I’m gonna head south. Along the coast. Maybe even go as far as Tijuana.”

~*~*~*~

Starsky planned to leave at first light the next day, and Hutch woke up that morning a little later than usual with a strange feeling he couldn’t name. He got up, made coffee, and went for a run, but that nagging feeling wouldn’t go away.

Come on, Hutchinson, he scolded himself. Can’t you entertain yourself for four days without Starsky? He seems to be doing fine without you.

He got back to his apartment and headed for the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before taking a shower. Just as he poured it and sat down on the couch with the paper, the phone rang. He stared at it for three or four rings -- dammit, if that’s Dobey, after he promised to give us the weekend off -- before finally picking it up. “Hello?”

“May I speak to Ken Hutchinson, please?”

A strange voice. A phone solicitor? Some lunatic who had it in for him because he’d arrested him years ago? With a mental shrug, he said, “This is Hutchinson.”

“My name is Dr. Rodriguez. I’m at St. Mary’s Hospital in Torrance.”

Hutch’s heart leapt.

“David Starsky was brought in about half an hour ago and we found your name and number in his wallet.”

Hutch swallowed and tried to speak, but couldn’t make his voice work.

“Mr. Hutchinson?”

“Is he...is he...?”

“He’s in critical condition, sir. Are you a member of the family?”

“Yes,” Hutch said. Dammit! “What happened? How bad is it?”

A brief silence, then the doctor said, “It appears he lost control of his motorcycle when he tried to pass an 18-wheeler. You probably should talk to the highway patrolmen who handled the accident, sir. And you should probably get down here.”

~*~*~*~

Jurisdiction or no jursidiction, Hutch used the light and siren all the way to Torrance, very nearly having a couple of accidents of his own along the way. He ran all the way to the hospital doors and cursed the elevator soundly when it wouldn’t immediately open for him. The ride to the third floor ICU seemed to take years, but the doors finally opened and he dashed over to the desk.

“David Starsky. Where is he? How is he?”

“He’s in surgery, sir,” the nurse said after checking. “Would you like to have a seat in the family room? I’ll send the doctor in when he comes out of surgery. Are you a member of the family?”

“Yes, dammit!” Hutch said, then apologized. “I’m sorry. Yes. Sort of. I’m Ken Hutchinson. Dr. Rodriguez called me a while ago.”

The nurse smiled -- the kind of smile, Hutch reflected miserably, that nurses gave distraught family members to calm them down when they were delivering bad news. “The family room’s right down the hall.”

Hutch waited for an eternity before anyone came, and then it was only the highway patrol, looking for information for their accident report. Hutch immediately produced his badge.

“Starsky’s my partner,” he said tersely. “What happened?”

“Looks like he was passing a semi,” the young officer told him, “and the truck driver didn’t see him. Pulled out into the lane with him. Your partner must have gone off the highway trying to avoid getting hit, and lost control. Best we can figure, he hit something and went airborne. The bike landed about 60 feet away in the median, and your partner went another 10 feet or so before landing.”

Hutch closed his eyes. The picture the words conjured up was all too clear. “Do you know how bad he was hurt?”

The officer hesitated. “Well, sir, I’m not sure. We called an ambulance right away. He was face down and having trouble breathing. Maybe punctured a lung.”

Oh, dear God. And maybe a whole lot more...

~*~*~*~

By the time the doctor came, Hutch was frantic. And the doctor’s weary face did nothing to calm his fears. He looked like he’d fought a long, difficult battle.

“Mr. Hutchinson?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Starsky made it through surgery. He’s in ICU now. He’s got a concussion, several broken ribs, and a punctured lung. We got the lung reinflated, and he’s on a respirator to help him breathe until the lung heals a bit. He’s also got several rather nasty scratches and bruises, but none of those are terribly serious in light of his other injuries.”

“Is he in danger of...” Hutch couldn’t finish.

The doctor looked thoughtful. “Not at the moment. But...well, there are some internal injuries. He’s not out of the woods.”

“Can I see him? Please?”

“Certainly. But only for a moment. He’s unconscious from the anesthetic still.”

Hutch followed the doctor’s directions and stopped at the door to Starsky’s room. His partner lay on his back, with wires and tubes and machinery surrounding him so that he almost disappeared into the tangle. His face, except where it was swollen and bruised, was almost as white as the sheets he lay on.

Oh, God, Starsk.

Hutch tiptoed over to the bed and stood looking down at Starsky. The respirator whooshed in and out, while the heart monitor beeped a regular rhythm next to it.

“Can you hear me, Starsk?” Hutch said softly. No response. He hadn’t really expected any. But he went on talking anyway, just in case. “It’s Hutch, buddy. I’m right here with you. Don’t worry about a thing. The doctor’s gonna take good care of you. You’re gonna be all right. You hear me, babe? You’re gonna be okay.”

Please, Starsky. Please be okay.

 

“Starsky wrecked his bike, Captain,” Hutch said into the phone. “He’s in the hospital in Torrance. I’m with him.”

A heavy sigh. “How is he, Hutch?”

“He’s unconscious,” Hutch said. “Broken ribs, concussion, God knows what else. Collapsed lung. He won’t be making that stakeout next week, that’s for sure.”

“What the hell happened?”

“A semi pulled out in front of him,” Hutch said, rubbing his eyes and leaning his head against his arm where he stood at the pay phone.

“Is he going to make it?”

“He’d better,” Hutch said grimly.

The highway patrol returned a few hours later to leave a copy of the accident report with Hutch for Starsky. The truck driver had been ticketed for “improper lane usage” but that was all. “What do you want us to do with the bike?” the same young officer asked.

“Dump it in a canyon,” Hutch answered bitterly, but reconsidered. Starsky would undoubtedly want it back, even though, from the patrolman’s description, it was past fixing. “No, never mind. I’ll figure out a way to get it back to LA. Where is it?”

“Impound,” the officer said. “Just in case he was under the influence, you know. Procedure.”

“Yeah.”  Hutch was silent a moment. “Where’s that? I’d like to see it.”

“I can take you over there,” the officer offered.

After the doctor assured him Starsky would be safe and unconscious for a while longer, Hutch followed the officer to the impound lot. The bike lay on its side -- there was no way it would stand up -- with the front tire and handlebars twisted, the tank caved in and the foot pegs broken off. Hutch shuddered.

“He’s lucky to be alive,” the patrolman said. “His helmet was cracked completely in two by the impact.”

“How the hell did the damn truck driver not see him?” Hutch demanded.

The officer shrugged. “I don’t know. Bikes are small. He was probably in his blind spot. Don’t be too hard on him, Hutchinson. He’s the one who called us on his CB, and he stayed right there with Starsky until the ambulance came, talking to him.”

“Was Starsky conscious?”

“Kind of. He kept going in and out.” The officer was silent for a moment. “He asked for you, in fact.”

“What’d he say?”

“Well,” the young man said hesitantly. “He couldn’t breathe very well, and I don’t think he knew where he was or what had happened. He just kept saying, ‘Hutch’, even when the driver told him he’d been in an accident and the ambulance was on its way. That’s the only word he’d say. ‘Hutch.’ Then when we got to the hospital and the emergency room nurse went through his wallet and found your name, we figured you were Hutch and we’d better call you.”

~*~*~*~

Hutch went back to the hospital and back to Starsky’s room. His partner was still unconscious. The doctor had told him he might drift in and out a bit, but probably wouldn’t be lucid until the next day. Hutch pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat down, watching for any sign of consciousness. There wasn’t any.

He was kind of afraid to touch him, for fear of disturbing the tubes and wires that were all over Starsky’s arms and chest. But he kept remembering what the officer had said. Starsky’d called for him, lying on that median. His name was the only word he could or would say. He reached out and gently laid his hand on top of Starsky’s, careful not to touch anything else.

“Starsk? I’m here, buddy. Hutch is here.”

Though the ICU rules were that visitors could only go into the rooms once an hour for 10 minutes, nobody disturbed Hutch. They let him sit there as long as he liked, only sending him out when they had to come in and check the machines or refill the IVs. It was deep into the night before there was any sign of consciousness from Starsky, but finally, his eyes flickered and opened.

“Starsk?”

The dark blue eyes blinked, a little glazed, but Hutch saw recognition in them. Starsky looked around the room, clearly not knowing where he was. And he couldn’t speak because of the respirator.

“Take it easy, Starsk. Don’t try to move. You wrecked your bike, pal. You’re in the hospital in Torrance.”

 Starsky’s eyebrows went up.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Hutch went on, desperately hoping it was the truth.

With his arms strapped down, Starsky couldn’t have moved if he wanted to, but he did weakly wiggle his fingers. Hutch grasped his hand, and Starsky’s fingers closed around Hutch’s hand as if to a lifeline.

 

“So he’s gonna be okay now, isn’t he, Doc?” Hutch asked the doctor the next morning. Starsky hadn’t stayed awake long, but just seeing his eyes open had renewed Hutch’s hope.

The doctor hesitated. “I can’t give you any guarantees, Sergeant. I wish I could. Since he’s made it this far, his chances are better. That’s all I can say.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Hutch asked evenly.

 “I told you there were internal injuries,” the doctor said.

“What kind of internal injuries?”

“Besides the concussion -- which is bad enough -- and the collapsed lung where one of his ribs punctured it, I’m afraid he’s had some internal bleeding. His spleen was injured, but may recover. At this point, Sergeant, we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” Hutch demanded angrily. “What the hell do you mean, you don’t know?”

The doctor was clearly used to this kind of reaction. Still calm, he said, “I know how upset you are, Sergeant. Please understand, we’re doing everything we can. He’s in good hands.”

Hutch bit back his anger -- which was really fear and frustration -- and rubbed his hand over his face. Taking a deep breath, he said, more quietly, “Thanks, doctor. I know you are.”

“May I ask what relation you are to Mr. Starsky? You said you were a member of the family...”

“I’m his partner. And his best friend.” And if that’s not “family” enough for you, Doctor, you can kiss my ass.

If there’s anyone that should be called, perhaps you should do it.”

“Why?” Hutch asked, alert in an instant. “Is there immediate danger?”

The doctor shook his head. “No, no. But if that were my son or brother or husband in there, I’d want to know.”

“Yeah, sure, you’re right.” Hutch plowed a hand through his hair. “Okay, I’ll call.”

~*~*~*~

Hutch stood in the hallway, staring at the pay phone, holding Starsky’s mother’s phone number in his hand. If Starsk could talk, he’d tell me not to call her. He’d rather call her himself after it’s all over. That’s what he said when he got poisoned. Hanging on to me for dear life, scared out of his wits, but telling me not to call his mom.

Even if I don’t make it,” Starsky had said to Hutch, after pulling himself together in that alley, “I don’t wanna worry her.”

Hutch had shaken his head, biting back his fear and grief at watching his partner’s rapid decline and sweaty, strained face. “Starsk, she’ll have to be told.”

“Afterwards,” Starsky said. “If I don’t make it, call her afterwards. Promise me, Hutch.”

“Buddy, I --”

“Promise, Hutch.”

Hutch had sighed. “Okay. I promise.”

(“Oh, it hurts, Hutch. Oh, God, it hurts...”)

It sure does, buddy. It hurts like hell. But you’ve  never wanted anybody to see you hurting, did you? Cracking jokes, even to me. Putting up a front. Even when your guts are ripped apart. By the time you do break down...Oh, Starsk...

Hutch blinked back the tears. He wouldn’t call. Dammit, it was the only thing he could do for his partner at the moment, and he’d do it, though he’d have to face the firing squad of Rachel Starsky’s wrath afterwards if anything happened to her little boy....

Nothing’s going to happen to him. He’s going to be okay. He’s got to be okay.

~*~*~*~

Hutch was dozing in a chair in the family room, uncomfortably curled up with a pillow and blanket provided by the nurse, when a sudden flurry of activity brought him to his feet, heart pounding. He let the blanket fall unheeded to the floor as he sprinted down the hall toward Starsky’s room.

“You can’t go in there, Mr. Hutchinson!” a nurse said, hustling him back out in the hallway.

He struggled, trying to get loose without hurting her. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Your friend is suffering some distress. Stay out of the way. Let us do our jobs.”

“What do you mean, ‘distress’?” Hutch craned his neck, trying to see over the heads and shoulders of the nurse and doctor who were working over Starsky and blocking him from Hutch’s view.

Before she could answer, two orderlies pushed past them, rolling a gurney. In moments, they had Starsky loaded onto it and were hurrying down the hall with him. But one look at his partner had frozen Hutch’s blood to ice.

Starsky’s face was ashen and there was blood trickling out of his mouth.

~*~*~*~

Nobody would -- or could -- tell him anything. Hutch paced the family room, back and forth, back and forth, cursing under his breath, trying to stay calm and failing utterly.

Hutch?”

He whirled around. But it was only Huggy, dressed, for a change, in a simple T-shirt and jeans. Hutch was so glad to see a familiar, concerned face that he threw his arms around the slender black man and hugged him, hard. Huggy returned the embrace, though normally Hutch wasn’t that free with anybody but Starsky.

“Hey, man, how is he?” Huggy asked, when Hutch, embarrassed at his own actions, had pulled back.

“I don’t know,” Hutch said, rubbing his eyes. “They took him to surgery a little while ago and they haven’t told me a goddamn thing.” His voice broke on the last word.

“Surgery? Why?”

“I don’t know!” Hutch shook his head and slammed his fist into a chair back. A moment later, he said, “Sorry, Hug.”

“Hey...” Huggy smiled and put a hand on the blond man’s shoulder. “It’s okay, my friend. I love him, too. I’d’a been here sooner, but my crate wouldn’t make the trip. Had to borrow a car from my cousin Marvin.”

“I thought he was doing better. He woke up. He recognized me...then, when they took him...away, he was bleeding from the mouth.”

Huggy pursed his lips and blew out a long breath. “Whoa. That’s heavy.”

“No shit.”

It was more than two hours later when Dr. Rodriguez showed up. Hutch froze in his tracks, his heart in his throat, but the doctor smiled reassuringly.

“He’s all right. His spleen ruptured, but we got it out, and he’s going to be fine. I was afraid this would happen. That was part of the reason we were keeping him up here, where he’d be watched closely. You can see him now, if you like.”

Without a word, Hutch left at a run, with Huggy following. Starsky was as pale as Hutch had ever seen him, but he was awake. He still couldn’t speak, because of the respirator, but his eyes showed recognition when he saw Hutch, and surprise when Huggy walked in behind him.

Hutch immediately grasped the limp hand and squeezed gently. “You scared the hell out of me, buddy.”

Starsky tried to smile, but it didn’t make it any further than his eyes. He attempted to squeeze Hutch’s hand, too, but lacked the strength. Just feeling him try lifted Hutch’s spirits higher than they’d been since that first phone call.

~*~*~*~

The respirator came out the next day, and a nurse wearing a nametage that said “Missy” shook Hutch’s shoulder gently to awaken him. He’d finally found a way to go to sleep in the waiting room, sprawled over two pushed-together chairs, but when the nurse whispered his name, he sat bolt upright.

“Your friend’s asking for you.”

Huggy mumbled something incoherent and his eyes stayed firmly closed, but Hutch was on his feet and down the hall in a flash.

Starsky’s color was a little better this morning, but the ugly bruising looked worse, if anything. “You look like hell,” he greeted Hutch, his voice raspy and hoarse.

But Hutch had never been so glad to hear Starsky’s voice in his life. He grinned. “You look worse.”

“Do I? Shit.”

“How do you feel?”

“Worse than you look,” Starsky said, grinning, too, then coughing a little.

Hutch was alarmed, but the coughing passed in a moment.

“What happened?” Starsky asked.

“You and that damned bike had an argument with a semi. You lost.”

Starsky made a face. “How’s the bike?”

“History.”

“Shit.”  After a brief silence, Starsky said, “Hey, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? What for?”

Starsky looked around the room, at the machines, and the IV, abashed. “This. How long’ve I been here, anyway?”

Hutch shook his head and rubbed his gritty eyes. “Coupla days. I don’t know. Lost track of time.”

Starsky winced a little. “I am sorry, buddy. For puttin’ you through this. You look like it’s been a real bitch.”

Grinning a little, but touched, too, Hutch said, “You got nothing to be sorry for, Starsk. Just get well, okay?”

~*~*~*~

“Huggy, I need a motorcycle,” Hutch said.

Huggy stopped in the middle of a bite and stared at the blond detective. “Sorry, man, lack of sleep seems to have affected my hearing. What did you just say?”

“I need a bike,” Hutch repeated patiently. “For Starsky. To replace his. He’ll never get that thing running again.”

Huggy blinked in amazement. “Are you crazy, m’man? He almost killed himself on ‘that thing.’ And you want to get him another one?”

“It wasn’t his fault,” Hutch said. “It was an accident. And he loved it so much.”

“You sure he won’t think staying on four wheels is a good idea from here on out?” Huggy asked reasonably. “I’d sure never want to get on another bike if I was him.”

“It was practically the first thing he said, Hug. ‘How’s the bike?’ I could see from his eyes....”

“Okay, okay.” Huggy held up a hand in surrender. “So you want me to see what I can scare up, I suppose?”

Hutch nodded. “I don’t want to leave him. But I would like to have it waiting for him when they let him go home. I think it’d cheer him up.”

“And land him back in the hospital,” Huggy muttered darkly.

“Aw, come on, Hug.”

“I said I’d do it,” Huggy said. “Give me a couple of days. Cousin Marvin ought to be able to find something.”

“Thanks, Huggy.”

~*~*~*~

Starsky was propped up in bed, watching a baseball game with little or no enthusiasm, when Hutch came in to get him to take him home.

“Got your walking papers right here, pal,” Hutch said cheerfully. “Get dressed and let’s get the hell out of this place, huh?”

“Is Cap’n Dobey pissed?” Starsky asked, carefully sitting up and putting his feet on the floor.

“No -- well, not very,” Hutch said, eyes twinkling. “He put a couple other guys on the narco stakeout, but we’ll pay for that later. He’ll probably make us be meter maids for a month or something.”

 Starsky laughed, holding his side over the broken ribs. “Don’t do that, dammit.” He opened the closet, but nothing was in it. He turned and glared at his partner. “You did it again.”

“Did what again?” Hutch asked innocently.

“Forgot my pants!”

“No, I didn’t,” Hutch said, holding up a paper sack. “Went to your place and picked up a pair of your crummy jeans, a shirt, underwear, everything. See?”

“Oh.” Starsky grinned. “Sorry.”

“The clothes you were wearing aren’t fit to wear anymore,” Hutch went on, “even for you.”

“Ha, ha,” Starsky grumbled, trying to untie the hospital gown, but unable to because it hurt too much to reach around behind him. “Give a guy a hand, will ya?”

“Sure.” Hutch moved around behind him and untied the gown for him, then helped him with his shirt. Starsky managed to do the rest himself. Then they had to wait almost 20 minutes for a nurse to show up with a wheelchair before they could leave.

“If I’m well enough to walk from the hospital out to the car, why ain’t I well enough to walk from my room to the door?” Starsky asked as they walked across the parking lot to Hutch’s battered LTD.

“Beats me, buddy. One of those unanswerable questions, I guess. Like the angels and the pin.”

“The what?” Starsky asked, stopping in the act of opening the car door.

“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” Hutch explained. “It’s a philosophical imponderable.”

Starsky rolled his eyes. “Do you ever listen to yourself? Who the hell cares how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

“I didn’t make it up...” Hutch began, then stopped. “Never mind. Are you coming or not?”

Starsky got in. “Try not to hit any bumps, okay? Damn ribs are killing me.”

“I’ll be careful.” Hutch put the car in gear and drove out of the parking lot, slowing down to a crawl as he went over the speed bumps. Even so, Starsky winced and a fine sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. “Sorry, Starsk,” Hutch said, his forehead wrinkled in sympathy.

“I’ll live,” Starsky said shortly, unable to take a deep breath.

Once they hit the expressway, it wasn’t too bad. Starsky shifted uncomfortably in the seat every few minutes, but he didn’t complain aloud. He didn’t have to. Hutch could see the strain in his face and the shadows forming under his eyes. By the time Hutch pulled the LTD up in front of Starsky’s apartment, those shadows were the only color in his face.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Sure,” Starsky said through clenched teeth. “But I don’t know about...” he paused for breath, “makin’ those damn...steps.”

“I’ll help you. Hang on.” Hutch scrambled out of the car and hurried around to Starsky’s side. He gently helped his partner out of the car, then got on the side where the ribs, miraculously, weren’t broken, put Starsky’s arm around his own waist, and helped him up the stairs.

Starsky sank down on the couch and lay down. He was breathing hard. Not good for him.

“Maybe they let you out too soon,” Hutch said.

Starsky shook his head. “I’d’a gone nuts if they’d made me stay one more day. Stir crazy, buddy boy. I’d rather be home.”  After a moment of silence, during which Starsky’s breathing gradually slowed to a more natural rhythm, he added, “You were right.”

Hutch was startled. “About the hospital? You want me to take you back?”

“No. About the bike.” Starsky painfully sat up again and arranged himself so he could look at Hutch more comfortably. “You told me to be careful. You said I’d wreck it. And...”

 “Hang on, pal,” Hutch interrupted him. “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t even careless driving. It was the truck driver’s fault. He said so himself. Scared him to death when he saw you flying through the air. The highway patrol said he stayed right by you and kept you conscious while they waited for the ambulance.”

“I don’t remember anything...”

“I’m not surprised. You took quite a tumble, buddy.”

Starsky was silent again for a long while, staring out the window. Finally, he gave a little, sad grin. “I’m gonna miss it though. There was nothin’ like it, Hutch. Just the roar of the wind in my ears...” He stopped. “Well, it doesn’t matter now.”

Hutch couldn’t help grinning. He knew something Starsky didn’t. But he smothered the grin before Starsky looked at him again and sneaked a glance at the clock. Yup. Any minute now....

They both heard the rumbling of the engine at the same time. It stopped at the foot of the steps, and somebody revved the engine a couple of times before beeping the horn.

“Who the hell...?” Starsky began, but Hutch stood up and held out a hand.

“Got a surprise for you, Starsk. Feel like strolling over to the door?”

With help, Starsky got up and moved toward the door. Hutch let him go first, not bothering to hide the grin any longer. Starsky opened the door and stepped out on the stoop. At the bottom of the steps, Huggy sat on a motorcycle -- not exactly like the one Starsky’d wrecked, but close enough. Huggy, of course, had dressed to the hilt for the occasion, wearing a leather jacket, a white scarf, and goggles, which he removed as Starsky and Hutch came outside.

Getting off the bike and turning off the engine, Huggy presented it with a flourish. “For you, Starsky, m’man. But wait till the ribs heal before riding her, okay?”

Hutch had seldom seen his partner speechless. But he was seeing it now. Starsky simply stood and stared at the bike as though he’d never seen one before for a full five minutes before turning to look at Hutch. He still didn’t speak, but Hutch knew the look in his eyes.

He put an arm across Starsky’s shoulders. “I’ve got this friend,” he said conversationally, as though telling Starsky a story, “who went out and found me a car after I rolled mine down an embankment and spent a few days pinned under it. Even though this friend thinks my taste in cars is deplorable, he went out and bought me one that looked almost exactly like the one I’d wrecked. So when this buddy of mine wrecked his bike a while back, I said to myself, ‘Hutch, you owe him.’”

“And I,” Huggy put in, wanting his share of the credit, “made a few phone calls to my cousin Marvin. And here we are. What do you think of it, Starsk? Cat got your tongue?”

Starsky still didn’t speak, but he reached up and squeezed the hand Hutch still had on his shoulder. Finally, in a low voice pitched for Hutch’s ears and no one else, he said, “Thanks, babe.”

The End

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