This story appeared in the zine "Casa Cabrillo". Special thanks to SHaron for arranging to have it transcribed.
The endless day ended at last.
He walked into the empty apartment and turned on a single lamp that did nothing to vanquish the darkness. With one hand he pulled off the dark blue tie, as with the other he switched on the radio. His favorite station was having an "oldies-but-goodies" weekend. At the moment, Sonny and Cher were singing.
He took off the suit and left it in a pile on the bedroom floor. Wearing only the starched white shirt and his shorts, he detoured through the kitchen to pick up a can of beer and then went to sit in the living room.
...soldier boy, oh, my little soldier boy, I'm in love with you...
He sipped the beer slowly, listening as memories of his youth filled the room. Funny how important music was. Almost every song brought back a memory.
Ahhh, Elvis. The King. Dead now. There oughta be a law. Heroes should never be allowed to die.
After a long time, he picked up the narrow white envelope and read the name scrawled across the front. Then he dropped it back onto the table and got up quickly. There was a bottle of whiskey left over from Christmas in the cupboard. Not bothering with a glass, he opened the bottle and took a big gulp.
...help me make it through the night...
The liquor burned a hot trail through his chest. Back to the chair. A swallow of beer. He picked up the envelope again. "Goddamn it to hell," he said aloud. The sound of his own voice was a little startling.
The Beatles were singing about Eleanor Rigby.
He tore the envelope open with trembling fingers.
Since you're reading this letter I guess my luck finally ran out. Our luck. Well, buddy, we beat the odds for a long time, didn't we? And no matter what we might like to think, nobody's invincible.
I think I know how you must be feeling now -- just the way I would if it was the other way around. Rotten. Lousy, stinking rotten. Mad. Alone. God, yes, alone. I've been trying to remember all those comforting phrases people are supposed to say when somebody dies, but they all seem so meaningless now. Empty. Empty like you must be feeling right now, and I know that none of the phrases would help at all. Besides, I guess everybody else has probably said them to you already. I hope you didn't slug any of them. That's what I'd have felt like doing if idiots started mouthing platitudes at me.
So I'll skip the platitudes, okay?
We had one hell of a good time, right? It was always so great to be able to laugh with you. No matter how bad things got, you could always make me laugh, partner. Would you believe I'm sitting here grinning like an idiot as I write this damn thing? Did anybody ever tell you that's a very special gift, to be able to make someone laugh? It is. That's one of the things I value about you.
No, I'm not forgetting all the bad times. The people we lost. Gillian... Terri... so many others. It seemed like every time I tried to grasp someone and hold on, they'd disappear. Except for you. Ahh, man... I hope you can forgive me for leaving you. Probably you must feel a little betrayed. I would. But, god, it hurts me to think about that. I didn't want to go.
I know how much you hate "soapy" scenes, so I won't get into one. Except to say that I love you. I guess more than I ever loved anybody. That shouldn't be a surprise, and I probably didn't have to say it at all, but I wanted to, just once, straight out no hiding behind a joke or anything.
It makes me feel good to say it. I love you, Starsk. Maybe a life with some love in it is never a total loss.
Ahh, something else. Whatever happened to me... however I bought it... I hope you won't hang yourself up with any dumb guilt trips. I know that if there was any way on God's earth for you to have helped me, you would have. No matter what it took. I know that more surely than I have ever known anything, and you should know it too. You never let me down, partner, and I hope I never let you down either. Except for this time.
Ahhh, Starsk... it's so damned hard to say goodbye. Maybe it would be a little easier if I could be sure, absolutely certain, that there was something else down the road. Some place where I would be able to see you again. It must be nice to be a true believer. But I don't have that much faith anymore. If I ever did.
Maybe I'll never, ever see you again in all eternity. Oh, damn. Oh, damn! It hurts. Eternity is such a long time.
Well, let's pretend, huh? Let's make believe that there's more to it all than just this. That someday, some place up there, I can walk over to you and say, "Hey, Starsk, I've been waiting for you." And you have to promise to make me laugh, okay? An eternity without laughing must be the definition of hell.
There are so many things I want to say. I want to remember it all. Every day. Even those all-night stakeouts. But if I start, this could end up being a book. Enough.
I hope you're going to be okay, Starsk. Sometimes when I try to think about hacking it alone, I wonder if I could handle it. But you're a tough guy, right? Tougher than me, so I guess you'll make it. I hope so. Love shouldn't destroy a person; it should make him stronger. Just to know that he was loved should make a guy feel pretty good.
God, I'm starting to ramble. It's late, and you'll be coming by in only about two hours to pick me up for work. I'm not going to tell you about this letter. We don't like to talk about the possibility of death. Maybe it's superstition, like not wanting to tempt the fates. So, when I come down and jump into the car in a little while, I'll probably just start bitching at you for eating a salami sandwich for breakfast.
But you'll know, won't you, everything I'm not saying?
Enough, this time for real. I can almost hear you telling me to cut the crap. So, all right, I will.
I just wanted to say good-bye. And to thank you for being my friend. Thank you.
Slowly he tore the paper into pieces and dropped them, one by one into the ashtray.
... when you're down and in trouble and you need some loving care... close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there...
There was a book of matches on the table. The cover advertised Joe's Taco Shack. The first match wouldn't strike, but the second one caught. He stared at the flame for a moment.
...you just call out my name and you know wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again...
He slowly lowered the match until it touched the ragged pieces of paper. The pieces flickered and then burst into flame.
...if the sky above you should grow dark and full of clouds, that old north wind begin to blow...call my name out loud and soon you'll hear me knocking at your door...
There wasn't any need to keep the letter any longer. He knew what it said by heart, and the man it had been intended for would never see it. Hutch watched as the orange-yellow flames reduced the letter to nothing but a small pile of ashes.
...ain't it good to know you've got a friend...
The fire died and the song ended.