Published in Celebration: An Anthology Zine Remembering a decade of S&H, 1985. Scanned/first proof-read by Cyanne, final proofing by SHaron. Terri Beckett author with Chris Power of TRIBUTE TRAIL—see www.speculationpress.com for details! Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com
"Time for your shot, David." That was Jancy, just come on duty, which meant it must be just past nine—I glanced at my watch on the night-table—and Hutch was late. Not altogether unexpected, considering the circumstances. Jancy was tidying the bedtable away, plumping pillows, straightening the covers, smooth and efficient. Jancy is my favorite nurse, even if she don't let me watch late-night TV. Reminds me somehow of Minnie Kaplan. Sharp, snappy, but affectionate. Pity that she's on duty when I'm supposed to be asleep, and usually am.
She was through tidying. "Gonna be a good boy for me tonight, David?" she asked crisply. "Or ain't Blondie been in yet?"
She had a memory like an elephant. Once—just once, last week, Hutch had been held up by a late court and hadn't been able to make it for the usual evening visit, and I'd refused my shot so's I'd be awake and coherent when he turned up. I figured he must be get pretty tired of visiting when I was hopped-up to the back teeth and pretty much out of it, which was the way it had been most of the first month after the shooting. Anyhow, I thought I could go without. Jancy had just given me a look, her mouth tight, and hadn't insisted. Half an hour later, when Hutch finally did turn up, I hardly cared, I was hurting too damn much. With him mad at me, and Jancy mad at me, and the doc not being too pleased, I kind of reconsidered whether the space-cadet act was so bad as compared to sweating it out. I guess seeing me hurting was about as painful to Hutch as if he'd been in pain himself. God knows I didn't want to make things any tougher for him. He was already getting flak from the Department for refusing to work with another partner—he was in the clear until after the pre-trial and hearing, but after that the pressure was going to be on. Dobey had said. He'd tried to get me to persuade Hutch. Fat chance, but I guess I may have to try, eventually.
Well, I was getting the first twinges right now, kind of like a toothache under the ribs, sharpening as I moved. Even breathing hurt. So I sighed and pushed back my sleeve and rolled my eyes at Jancy.
"Okay, momma, stick it to me."
She smiled, swabbed the crook of my elbow with alcohol, and eased the needle into the vein. "That's my boy ..." she said softly. I closed my eyes when the rush hit, like a warm wave breaking. Don't know what it is they shoot me up with, but it has to be pretty powerful stuff. I felt her straighten my sleeve, then back my hair. "You get some sleep now, huh? You want anything, I'll be right here."
And she would be. I couldn't count the times I'd woken in the night to see her sitting under the shaded lamp, sometimes reading, sometimes working at her knitting. It was going to be a shawl for her sister's baby, she told me once. I couldn't count the times, either, that she'd come to the bedside when it got really bad in spite of the dope, and just talked to me and held my hand and I'd fallen asleep to the sound of her voice, soft, slurring, drawl.
"Don'tcha worry none about Blondie," she said. "He'll be around."
Sure, I wanted to say, I knew that. He hadn't missed a visit yet. He'd be along. And he'd sit right down and talk to me, if I was awake, about just about anything that came into his head, and sometimes I'd answer and sometimes I couldn't, but his voice would weave through my drug-dreams like a silken thread, gleaming in the fuzzy haze of the Demerol and morphine. Night after night after night just talking to me. Or when he wasn't talking, just being there. I don't know when he found the time to sleep.
It was one of those nights that he told me I'd been dead—that is, my heart stopped beating—for two minutes and some, the day after the shooting. In a weird kind of way, I wasn't surprised. Part of me already knew. But it was only now, as I started getting my head together again, that I began to see what it must have been like for him at that time, when they weren't certain I was going to make it—having to carry on alone. Not giving up. Going on, doing the job. He didn't know whether or not I was going to live. He said he didn't dare hope. But he didn't quit. Hutch isn't a quitter.
Funny, the last thing and the first thing I can remember is his voice. His yell of 'STARSKY!' as that fake black-and-white came roaring past, and the sledgehammer force of the shots that threw me back against the car, still hearing his scream of warning over the screech of tires and the shots before the world faded out on me a little and I was somehow lying on the ground, knowing I was hurt but not how bad. I remember the touch of his hand on my cheek, and the note of sheer anguish in his voice, telling me to take it easy, not to move, I'd be okay ... And god knows how much later, beginning to come out of the fog, hearing snatches of sentences."... I'm pushin' the odds ... what if—oh, man, what am I sayin'? ... what if ... " And him sounding so confused and down and unhappy, I kinda had this fuzzy thought that maybe I should let him know I was still around. Opening my eyes—listen, lifting a ton weight seemed an easier option—but I got it done and heard his voice change from tenor to near-falsetto, like I'd performed some friggin' miracle or something.
Guess I had, in a way. I was alive, wasn't I?
Not by much, though. "Massive damage," they said, hedging. They still hadn't finished all the repairs. The emergency surgery had been just that. But since then they'd gone in and cleaned up some, and as I got stronger they figured on doing some more. I told 'em forget the stitches, just fit a zipper. Rebuilding—brother, Steve Austin never had it so good. The world's first bionic cop.
That's if I'm still a cop. I don't know, and they're not telling me. Hutch isn't any the wiser. I asked him, but evidently they're keeping him in the dark too. When they start badgering him, he says he's already got a partner—but has he? Right now, he' s out there on his own, no one to watch his back, cover him, bail him out if the situation goes sour—
Damn. I'm not supposed to be thinking like this. Puts my blood pressure up or something. Can't help worrying about him, though, and he knows it. That's why he never misses a visit now—like he's checking in with me, letting me see he's okay. And he'll be okay, too. Huggy's looking out for him. I trust Hug—more than any of those hot-shot kids they'd team him with. But how long can he duck the inevitable?
"You okay, David?" Jancy said quietly, finger's light on my wrist. "Kinda restless tonight, huh? You hurtin'?"
Hurting? I couldn't find my ass with both hands, I was that high.
"M fine," I mumbled. "T'rrific..."
"So take advantage of that good feelin', an' get some sleep, honey."
Good idea. Great idea. Seems like I do nothing else but. Well, no, there is the hospital routine—the PTR checks, the surgeon's rounds, the doc dropping by to chat for a few minutes—and the bedpans and the blanket baths. And the food. Listen, l know it's a properly balanced diet—nutritionally correct, I just don't figure why it has to taste the way it does. Seems like a waste of time 'n' effort to put together something that tastes like cardboard. Styrofoam. They should give us pills, like in sci-fi, then nobody'd be fooled.
When I get outta here, I'm gonna pig out on some good All-American junk food. Pizza. Chili dogs with mole sauce. Kentucky fried. Do-nuts. Root beer.
Or maybe I'll get that classy dinner Hutch promised me. Restaurant of my choice. I can think of a few that'd put his credit cards on a starvation diet for months. But—hell, is their food that goddam good? Comes right down to it, I'll settle for a Chinese take-away in MacArthur Park. Just so long as Hutch's sharin' it.
Schmaltz. Sure. In the immortal words of my grandmother, schmaltz can make a banquet out of bread and cheese. "Better a dinner of herbs..." and like that.
My grandmother loved herbs. Her kitchen always smelled so good. Herbs with everything ... Parsley on tiny potatoes ... sage and marjoram with chicken ... rosemary and lamb chops ...
...parsley sage rosemary and thyme remember me to one who lives there
she was once a true love of mine ...
some dark night when you're all alone ...
Only it's not dark and I'm not alone. Hutch, in the doorway, the light in a hazy moonglow around his hair...
"... he asleep?" he whispered to Jancy, and I said I wasn't, or tried to. It came out blurred. He pulled up a chair, sat down by the bed, one hand reaching to cover mine. "Hey, how y'doin', babe?" He didn't wait for an answer, started in tellin' me why he was late, then launched into the day-in-the-life-of-a-cop spiel. I didn't care. I was higher than a kite, floating warm and comfortable, happy now he was here with me.
All the guys were asking after me. Minnie sent her love. Dobey said he and Edith would drop by tomorrow. Huggy got a new girl behind the bar in the Pits. Couldn't add two cents together, but looked like she'd give Bo Derek a run for the golden apple. Merle had patched up my car and was only gonna charge me for the parts and paintjob and labor. No overheads. Merle is all heart.
I lay and let his voice wash over me, hearing maybe one word in ten, all the barriers down. Funny the thoughts that go through your mind, times like that. Stream of consciousness, they call it. Right on the edge of sleep, poised on the brink but not slipping over, not yet, not yet ... I could hear the love in his voice, feel it like something around me. And I thought—damn, why don't he say it? Why don't he just come straight out an' say it?
But I was too far gone then to do anything about it ... drifting ... floating away.
Couldn't do anything. But I could still hear. Still feel.
Felt his hand squeeze mine, just a little. Heard his voice pause, the creak of his chair as he got to his feet.
"Starsk?" Barely a breath—he thinks I'm asleep, doesn't want to wake me. And then, the gossamer touch of his lips on my forehead. "Sweet dreams, babe."
He didn't say what I wanted to hear. But, after all, he didn't really need to.