This story was originally published in the S/H zine, Turned
to Fire, published by Idiots Triplets Press. This zine is still in print and
can be obtained from Linda LCabrillo at LCabrillo@aol.com.
Special thanks to the author for providing the files and giving
permission for it to be posted to the archive. Comments on this story can be
sent to firstname.lastname@example.org who
will forward it to the author.
When I arrived in L.A., I was going to be every criminal's worst nightmare: a hall monitor with a badge. They had them in Duluth when I was a kid in junior high, and there's even a picture of me in the yearbook. There I stand against a brick wall, with my blond hair, an armband, and a clipboard. I look like a neo-nazi, I really do. But I was going to do it, bring down all the evil in the world, me and my clipboard.
My parents wanted me to be something when I grew up. Something meant a job with lots of income, prestige, position. A job where you wear a suit and a tie, and a different one every day. Not because anything's dirty, just because you can. So I thought about being a lawyer. I mean, that seemed real. My Uncle William, tax lawyer, encouraged me, even allowed me to visit frequently to get a feel for the business. Should I say I was bored within a few weeks? Slightly panicked at the thought of doing this for the rest of my life? Singularly desperate to find something else? Yes, yes, and yes.
One day, however, Uncle William happened to have this Mafia guy for a client. How did I know he was from La Familia? I'm not sure. He didn't have a sign that said so, but it was the way he sat in that office, a very gold ring on one finger and clothes that shrieked money. Plus there was a large, muscle-packed individual who accompanied him on each of his three visits. Plus Uncle William was sweating, which was something he never did, even when he played racquetball. Plus there was this signal in my brain. Woman's intuition, you might say, which had my father known about would have told me to ignore. I'd always had it, never told anyone about it. It was just a tightening in my stomach and a clicking noise in my brain.
This guy (name withheld, thank you, I'll just call him Frank) wanted Uncle William to handle his taxes. Uncle William said, sorry, no, he had too many clients. Of course, that wasn't true, but he had to tell Frank something. Three days that guy came, three different days, with his goon and money flying out of his pockets. Well, the point of this whole digression is this. It was the most interesting thing to happen in Uncle William's office, ever. They're still talking about it back east, the day the Mafia approached Uncle William. Frank probably just wanted some legitimate money handled legitimately. But with the Mafia, you never know.
And me? I was fascinated with the thought of this criminal parading around in civilized clothes. My fingers itched with the idea of finding something out about him that would bring him down. At seventeen, eighteen, and full of ideas, bringing down the mafia seemed, well, possible. Realistic. Necessary. So I went into criminal law. Did fairly well in the course work. Straight A's, don't you know. Not that I'm bragging, but . . . Then there was my problem. The class work was fine, but get me up in front of a group of people, and I stutter. Mock trial, group discussion, debate, anything. Major stu-stu-stutter.
But then I discovered something else. Put me in a room with a suspect, one on one (mock interrogations put on by the theater department) and I could make the toughest sing. I'd get right in their face, and instead of yelling or screaming or threatening them with physical bodily harm, I'd whisper. Tell them about going to the big house, or whatever, tell them how much it would help me if they simply told me what I wanted to know. How much simpler if they told me now, instead of from behind protective glass at some prison somewhere. This was new for the theater group, and boy did they tell me what I wanted to know. It seemed real.
What is this real business, you ask? Not real as in real cool, or real swell, but real as in reality. Existence. Depending on what was going on, I was real or not real, to some degree. Sometimes it was my emotions, or even other people's, that seemed fake. Or thoughts. I would feel that what I was thinking was what someone else had told me to think, like my parents or various teachers. Nothing was my own. I was desperate to be real. And, when I was doing this one on one stuff, or going through the workbook exercises to put clues together, I felt real. Or mostly real, anyway. And I began to look around. Searched to find the occupation that would allow me to do what I do best.
When I told my parents I wanted to be a police detective, they were horrified. A horrible, nasty business, they told me. I suspect they were horrified because they knew it was real, it connected, it meant something. No support was coming from them, no money, nothing. So I did it their way. Got married to Vanessa, and entered my Uncle's firm doing criminal tax research.
I never felt less real than the day I married Van. Never more real than the day I divorced her. Of course, I was never going to be completely real, I decided. There was always a spot, hell, several spots, inside of me that would never thaw. Like an icy shard inside of soup you're trying to heat up. But with an acceptance to my application to the L.A.P.D. received in the mail and money from Uncle William clutched in my hand (I've always believed he never felt real either and wanted to experience life vicariously through me) I flew out to California. Even brought my hall monitor's badge with me, full of the righteous indignation that helped me stand down Seth Howard when I was in the seventh grade and he was in the eighth. He was a big Swede, even at thirteen, and insisted that he hadn't been running in the halls and it would be in my best interest if I didn't report him. Did I report him? You bet. Did he beat me up? Very definitely. Did he get caught in the act? Most assuredly. Of course, too late to save me from a black eye, but it taught me something. Or two things, actually. Firstly, that every bad guy, and Seth was bad, will bring himself down eventually. Secondly, that it felt very, very real to be standing my ground against him.
So after the Academy, and after my stint in blues, I was an undercover detective. Does that sound too easy? Well, we're talking months and months here, lots of testing, lots of class work (my forte, don't you know) lots of mock interrogations, false clues, etc. Well, I was too good not to be a detective. My father told me over the phone once that if I'd put this much energy into something that mattered, there'd be no telling where I'd end up. Yes, Dad, but I wouldn't be real. No, I didn't tell him that, but it wasn't a fun conversation. Bitter words flung along the telephone lines, saying things we should have regretted but didn't.
So there I was. Detective Sergeant Hutchinson, Badge Number XXXX, feeling slightly more real than I had in my entire life. First day on the job, going in to meet my new partner. Fellow Hall Monitor.
Well, not actually. Back in the Academy when I first met him, I knew he was the kind of guy I would have written up on a regular basis. Very disreputable looking, with a nonchalance that was not studied, and a casual laid-back air that didn't fit with my idea of what a cop should be. I'd palled around with him some at the Academy, but never thought I'd be partnered with him. How the hell had he made it this far without a degree?
"Pleased t'meetcha again," he told me, shaking my hand.
For one horrible second, my father stepped inside my shoes. I rolled my eyes and made silent judgments about his background, his lack of degree, the fact that he hadn't combed his hair, all based on this one, mumbled greeting.
"This is the man who cracked the floater case," our Captain Dobey reminded me.
Wait a minute, the floater case? I'd heard about that, some security group hiring just about anybody to "float" around department stores during business hours. Except they were casing the joint for a midnight heist, with security keys at their disposal. Apparently there'd been this detective, whose original partner had been brought down by a broken leg, who'd gone under cover and in one week, one week, collected enough evidence for a bust. The whole company was in the hoosegow, down to every last employee.
Not very dangerous, but certainly an important first job. I reconnected with myself, and looked at him again. No, I would still have written him up. And understood that part of those judgments I had been making had been my own.
He was real, and I wasn't. I made some disparaging remark, with lots of big words (I can't remember exactly what I said, but it wasn't nice) and he just laughed. A huge, throaty snicker. He couldn't care less what I thought of him; he was real within himself. And I envied him.
David M. Starsky. Detective Starsky. Dave. Starsky. No matter what anyone called him, he was always the same person. The same wild hair, the same grungy clothes, the same noncommittal expression, the same thoughts (I imagined) whether he was on duty or off. Of the streets, not simply from them.
Our first week together, I caught him looking me up and down. I looked at myself, wondering if there were some stains somewhere from my flat tire that morning. No, nothing.
"What?" I asked him, snapping.
Undaunted, he responded. "You look too . . . too clean, too neat. We gotta getcha somethin' else."
I tried translating wildly in my head: You need some other clothes, the ones you have on make you stand out in a crowd.
"Do you want me to go around looking like a five and dime reject?"
That's exactly, it turned out, what he wanted me to do. We drove, in his car, a blazingly red and white Torino in which I felt horribly conspicuous, to the nearest Goodwill clothing store. He ran through the racks while I followed, grabbing at the ugliest clothes I had ever seen. Not in blue, which I preferred to wear, but black, brown, yellow. There was a huge pile when he was through, which he tossed in the dressing room.
"We can't afford all this," I remarked. The monetary support from my family was nonexistent.
"What's to afford. That whole mess'll put you back five bucks at the most."
I started to try on the clothes, following his orders before I knew what I was doing. Halfway through the third set of impossible articles, a black turtleneck came floating over the top to land on my head. A white and red and yellow and green flannel shirt, and a black suit jacket followed.
"Try those," he said. Then he went away again.
I had a small pile of things I was willing to wear that would also allow me to fit in on the streets better. Then the dressing room door opened.
"Hey!" He walked in on me just like that. I was mostly dressed, but it was the principle of the thing. And instead of being phased by my sour expression, he simply held up his find.
"Some silver spoon cleaned out his closet," he told me, showing me the brown leather jacket. "We've hit the jackpot."
I didn't tell him that I was one of those silver spoons, but instead asked him a question that had been turning over in my mind. "A lot of these are cold weather clothes, but if memory serves, and I know it does, it doesn't snow in L.A. What is with all these heavy clothes, the jackets, the layers?"
That crooked grin, with which I have since become familiar, seemed to be telling me that I shouldn't think I was so smart. "First, with that jacket, or with this one," he picked up one I had rejected, "your gun holster won't show. Second, they ain't new, coupla wearin's will make 'em look old. Like you can't afford any better, or like you don't care."
As if I were on drugs, I thought to myself.
He replied as if I had spoken. "Right, like your only care is where your next hit is comin' from and plus the fact that you're freezin' 'cause of poor circulation."
"Where did you learn all this?"
"It ain't in no book, blondie."
No, it wasn't. Most of what Dave Starsky knew, or a goodly portion, it seemed, didn't come from any book yet written. I would have probably figured the same things out that he did, but it would have started with my reading some book and then working from there. A good process, but slower, much slower. He picked things up like a kid, worked things through, sometimes over a chili dog, mostly while driving.
And he did most of the driving, his bright, flashy car screaming DRUGS! to any passer by. I can't tell you how many times in the beginning that we got stopped by the blues for a pop search. Always with the badges, the calls to the station for confirmation. I guess it looked good on the streets, us getting stopped all the time. Sure built up our covers. And we couldn't drive my car, it kept breaking down all the time. I didn't keep it up. It didn't go very fast. But it was mine, and I paid for it. Fifty dollars.
Starsky figured it out right away. "Felt sorry for her, did you?"
Hands on his hips, looking at Belle, an eyebrow shooting up. I shrugged. Why argue, when he already knew the truth? But I didn't feel like I was on the defensive, or that I had to have a better reason for buying that car. And he continued to make disparaging remarks about her and I badgered him about how he babied that Torino like it was alive, and back and forth we would go.
What else did Starsky know? There was that first time Dobey yelled at us, really yelled. I actually thought smoke was going to come out of his ears. He was screaming about the reports that we never filled out (Starsky had assured me that they were unimportant. Actually what he said was, we'll get 'em done later. And of course, later was always too late.) Then Dobey went on to the real problem, the real reason why we were called into his office and the door was shut behind us. We'd been on stakeout and the take had come down. We'd looked at each other and knew there was no time. We'd raced in there, busted the place up, handcuffed everybody to poles and each other, vowing that next time we would carry extra cuffs and maybe a smoke bomb. It had been a clean bust; each of those guys got at least five years, I recall. But Dobey was furious. Why? No back up. NO BACK UP! Starsky and I looked at each other; we both knew that the procedure called for us to call for a backup.
"What does it matter now?" I snapped. "We got them, didn't we?"
Veins were standing out on Dobey's forehead, and he began to point, at the door, at us, at the ceiling, screaming about our butts being on the line, grabbing the glory, being a team, etc., etc.
Starsky, of course, was not on the defensive, as I was. And he simply said, "Okay, Cap'n." Nodded his understanding. Stood up, motioning for me to do the same. "We hear ya."
Instantly, Dobey was calm. Blustering, but calm. A few grumbles followed us out of the office, but the situation was finished. That's what Starsky knows how to do: diffuse any situation, anywhere, any time.
Me? I tend to argue and yell and do a good bit of pointing myself. It really makes things worse, and I know that it does. Starsky ends up having to drag me away by my shirt collar. My father never did that. Never took me by the scruff of the neck, or forced me in any way to obey him. You take yourself up to your room young man, and think about what you've done. At twelve, that is the most difficult thing to do, to make yourself obey, behave, be calm, when all you want to do is burst out screaming. But the scarier part is to imagine that if you did break through like that, good old Dad would have simply watched, standing by until the tantrum was over. Never bothering to help you check yourself.
But Starsky? There I am one time, tearing into an officer from Internal Affairs, for crying out loud, ready to deck him. That's going to make things better, don't you think? I'm so mad I can't see, and there at my side appears, as if by magic, one David Starsky. I never expected him that first time. He made a little grunting noise in his throat, appraising the situation and letting me know he was there, all at the same time. Took hold of that second-hand black jacket he'd made me buy, and jerked me away. Without even an excuse me, or we'll be going now. Just dragged me away. Checked me. Never said a word.
Grateful? I felt a flicker of real inside, way down deep. Thought I imagined it though, when Starsky only said, "Let's go get something to eat."
And he reached out to pat me on the shoulder, once he'd let go. Pat-pat-pat, the last pat staying a fragment of a second longer than the other two. Pat-pat-paaat, I guess it would go.
And the white-black thing. Now, it's in the books that everyone is equal, and I've read that book and dozens like it. Black, white, red, yellow, equal. But while I understood it, Starsky believed it.
We were going to meet a snitch, one Hug E. Bear. Or was it Huggy Bear? I wasn't sure that first time, and anyway that question was soon banished from my mind when we sat down with this guy at some dive cafe. A jolt went through my body: he was black! And we we're going to eat at the same table with him?
Starsky was going on like nothing was the matter, and I followed suit. (You have to excuse me, I was raised in a neighborhood where the darkest thing on our block was the bottom of our shoes. Duluth, when I was a kid, was whiter than the Minnesota snows, and L.A. was quite the shock.) This Huggy character gave us some information, Lord only knows how he came across it, which proved to be absolutely, 100% accurate and true. Resulted in another good bust.
We paid him for this information, but he never got any credit. We got the credit, and a commendation as I recall. All we heard about Huggy were some nasty remarks from Dobey. Dobey disliked all of our snitches heartily. Even Huggy, who was black, too. And Dobey was black, wasn't he? I was taking orders from a black man. Now I was really confused. Well, I could look it up in a book somewhere, or . . .
. . . yes, you guessed it. I could ask Starsky. But how to ask him without revealing my total bigotry? I didn't want to be a bigot, but it was the way I was raised. So how to phrase the question.
"That Dobey sure hates Huggy, Starsky."
He looked up from the comic book he was reading. "Huh?"
"I know he dislikes the snitches we use, but you'd figure he'd go easier on Huggy, seeing as . . . well, you know."
I saw the lights go on in Starsky's eyes just before he looked down at his comic book and casually turned the page. "Do you think they should like each other just because they're both black? Why? Do you like me because I'm white? Or do you just not hate me because I'm not black?"
That was it. He didn't hassle me, or badger me or even get angry or defensive on Huggy and Dobey's behalf. Just let me figure it out for myself. The man was totally color blind, and since he was real, I vowed that I would be color blind, too. The acid test came when I had to meet with Huggy by myself once, to get some of that mysterious information he always seems to have available. He invited me to have some lunch with him, and since I'd done that once already and it had been pretty painless, I agreed. We went down the street, and up some stairs, food odors floating down in a pleasant way, and I realized too late, that I was in somebody's home. Aunt Mirina and her noisy brood, black and brown and dark cream colored, and with Huggy introducing me with a big smile on his face. Except for his teeth, the walls, the floor, and the tablecloth, I was the whitest thing in that room.
If my father could have seen me, a Hutchinson seated with a table of about seven black people.
But I was not my father, thank God, and I didn't want to disappoint anyone who thought I wasn't a bigot. Not Huggy, nor Aunt Mirina, and especially not Starsky. Somehow, I knew, he would find out about this.
Was the food good? Man, it was terrific. Especially after my own cooking, health food, though, er, healthy, can get boring. Was it what I'd thought it'd be? Well, not exactly. No okra, no watermelon, no ribs, nothing that I thought would qualify as chitterlings, and all at once, everything I ever knew, or thought I knew, about black people, flew out the window. Right through Aunt Mirina's pale yellow curtains. We had spaghetti, and salad, and some leftover pizza, and huge glasses of milk. Aunt Mirina told me I could have something else if I wanted, but I just smiled at her with my milk mustache and told her everything was just fine. Wiped the milk off when one of the littler kids couldn't help but giggle and point at it.
I never told Starsky about my life-altering lunch, but I'm not sure that Huggy didn't. Not sure that the two of them didn't have a good laugh at my expense.
There were other things Starsky taught me, probably without knowing he was doing so. He tends to teach by example, and I found that I learned just as well by doing as by reading. One of my favorite things I tried to pick up was what I call the Starsky Strut. I can never tell him this, but it makes me laugh to think of it. Sometimes it's more of a bounce, other times it's a swagger. It's his way of walking like he owns the earth, the way he enters a room with no fear, the way he plants himself in a doorway, belonging there, ultimately connected to the core of the planet. And when he runs, since he's so connected to the earth, gravity is not a consideration. Never seen anybody faster than him. I tried it myself, but I end up looking like a damn fool. Like a long pole trying to go sixty.
I guess you could say I've come a long way from the point where I wanted to write him up for being untidy. But that was years back and somewhere, halfway through our relationship, something happened to us. To me, mostly, I would say, but Starsky would butt in that it takes two, and I would agree. It was after the first time I'd had dinner at Dobey's house without thinking about it, after the first time one of us took the bullet for the other, the first time I screamed at him for doing just what I would have done, and long after I stopped feeling superior and was just teasing him out of habit.
Starsky made me real. Oh, man, real. Really real.
I fell apart one time, really totally fell apart. A special ladyfriend, one I had sincerely thought I could love forever, got killed. When I got to her apartment after a confused phone call from Huggy, I found Starsky there. He'd called everyone he was supposed to, taken care of all the details, but I arrived before they did. And there she lay, my Gillian, on the floor. He told me some horrible things, which later turned out to be true, but I didn't want to hear any of it. I punched him and he bounced right back up, not taking a swing at me, just putting himself in line for more of whatever I felt I needed to dish out. I grabbed him and screamed at him, accused him of being to blame.
When he could get a word in edgewise, he said, "You're my best friend in the whole world. Do you think I like telling you these things?"
That stopped me. I felt this huge shard of real inside, and it hurt so bad, all I could do was collapse in his arms and cry. Half of me was mourning Gillian and all that was lost, but the other half . . . well, I'm not sure what I was crying about. When I think about it now, it seems that all I could think of in that other half of my mind, was Starsky. It must have half broken his back to hold me up like that, his bear grip never loosening, his mouth against my ear telling me to let it out, let it go. I'd never been held that tightly, and his arms, though they were wrapped around me, were open to me, open to who I was. It almost made it worse; if being real hurt like this, I didn't want any part of it.
But we went on, my Starsky and I, him being himself and me feeling real every now and then, hating it as much as I craved it. I couldn't help but be real, being around him.
Sometimes I would get into what I'd call a Grand Funk. That was my private name for this huge depression I would fall into with no advance warning. It felt like I was shrinking on the inside, somehow, decompressing till I felt about the size of a single molecule that might shatter at any moment. When I was younger my family would just ignore the fact that I wasn't talking or that I seemed angry at nothing. Guess it didn't seem worth the trouble. And eventually it would go away.
Starsky ignored them at first too, looking at me with his forehead wrinkled up; watched them appear and disappear as they regularly had a way of doing. Then, after we'd been together awhile, he would poke at me a bit. Or just talk, and keep talking till at last he would land on The Question. That's my title for it. It's not a specific question, just the right question at the right time. And I would begin to talk. Babble actually, not letting Starsky get a word in edgewise, talking till I worked it all out. The first time he did this, we'd been cruising in his car down by the docks. I was in a funk, probably because it was such a nice day, and he asked The Question. I can't remember what it was, but that first time I even surprised myself. At the end of about twenty solid minutes, I'd talked it all out. He probably didn't even know what he was doing, just going by instinct.
And he seemed pleased that I was talking, reached over once or twice to pat me on the knee (pat-pat-paaaat), and nodding the whole time. Truly listening. The odd thing was, that once I was finished, I put my head back on the headrest and fell asleep. Now, this might not seem odd to someone else, but for me to fall asleep when everyone around me wasn't also doing the same was unusual. Always the last one asleep, the first one awake. And Starsky sat sentinel, giving me a solid half hour's worth of shuteye before gently nudging me awake. I don't always nod off after babbling, but every now and then I'm aware I've done it and there is Starsky, leaning over me, whispering me awake.
He's one for talking things out, is Starsky. At the slightest indication that I'm not talking to him and he panics. I didn't used to think I did the silent treatment on purpose, but looking back I can understand that I did. Sometimes. Sort of a power trip, see: I shut my mouth and Starsky is all beside himself getting me to talk. "Is there any reason we ain't talking?" he'll demand, to which my response is to ignore him some more.
Then it got to be too cruel, and I didn't play with it anymore. When he would ask, "Ya wanna talk about it?" and I shook my head, both of us knew that it was because I couldn't. That we'd talk later. It helped me more times than I can tell you to go and face something I dreaded, like meeting with my ex for the first time in five years, just knowing that Starsky was going to be there to talk to when I got back.
And I began to discover that Starsky was an individual a guy could depend on. I would call him Dave "Trust Me" Starsky. Then he would turn around and call me the Staypuff Marshmallow Man. It was better than the Blintz, but I didn't get it.
"What are you talking about?"
"You, your paycheck. Belle ain't gonna get that tune-up and those tires 'cause you gave alla your money to that hooker last week."
Well, that wasn't strictly true. "I only gave her a ten spot," I told him.
"Yes, and then five to the trashcan guy, Ernie . . . "
"An' another five to that guy in the alley, though I think he was dead when you gave it to him, we could prolly go back an' get it—"
"Starsky! That's disgusting!"
He merely grinned at me, being totally unaffected by my moods. "You know what I mean. And then you gave thirty to Huggy. I tole you I paid him already."
I once gave some money to a guy who looked on the down and out; I only give to the truly needy, you know? We found out later he was a panhandler who brought down about $200 a week, he was that good at it. Starsky nearly had apoplexy laughing about it. Went on about the Marshmallow Man getting roasted. And then I found I was overdrawn due to this generosity and he had to lend me grocery money. Starsky about died.
Now really, it's no laughing matter. There's a trust fund I won't touch a dollar of, yet there I was taking money from Starsky, whose family doesn't have two dimes to rub together. But he rubbed the salt into me that time, asking me if I didn't need help balancing my checkbook, or if we should go and get me an emergency loan from the Citizens Help Fund. No way, I told him. He was literally on the floor, laughing.
But did he tell anyone? Ever? No. Not anyone, not ever.
We were always hanging out at each other's apartments. Neither of us was home that the other one wasn't there too. Playing chess or whatever, drinking beer, shooting the breeze. He didn't need the key to my Venice Place apartment, but I let him know where I hid it. He, in turn, or at the same time, gave me his extra set of keys, on a special key ring that I could attach to my own. In case of emergency, he told me. We palled around together and showed up for work the next day, usually on time. It became as regular as breathing. And you usually don't think about breathing until you can't do it anymore.
I'm not saying that I began to take him for granted, far from it. I was quite surprised that the two of us, as work partners let alone as friends, had lasted this long. How many years, four? Seven? I discovered one morning that I'd lost count. Yes, I was quite surprised and gratified to find that he'd stuck around, and that I could still stand him. But, naturally, I put on this act of nonchalance to keep it from being real.
You see, I'd tried being real, and it simply hurt. Anything more real than what I'd already experienced just by being around him and I would be real too. Or too real. And that, my friends, was a fate too horrible to contemplate. If it was real, then it would mean something. Which, it turn, would mean that I affected people's lives, which could possibly mean that I was responsible, somehow. Oh, I already felt responsible for the rest of the world, but not for myself. I didn't exist, see, and I wanted to keep it that way. It was easier. I'd thought I'd wanted it, but my close brushes with it had shaken me.
I never tried to explain this to Starsky. Not that he wouldn't understand it, I'm not sure I did myself. I just didn't want him to worry about it, which I'm sure he would have.
Living in someone's pocket, as Starsky and I did in each other's, you get to be . . . close. We're talking beyond intimacy. We're talking about your best friend coming up and saying, "Smell my breath," and you do because you know he'd going to meet a girl, and then you lend him some breath drops without saying a word. Only a close friend will tell you you have something in your teeth before anyone else sees it, or hold your head while you puke all over his knees because you had too much beer or are in heroin withdrawal. Only a true friend will let you drive his car, or not say a word when you dance with the chick he had his eyes on. And only a soul mate will forgive you when you pretend to have amnesia to get back at him. I'm still not sure why he forgave me for that one. I'm not even sure he should have, but he did.
Eventually, my back pocket got to be too small for anyone else but Starsky, and I think his was the same. Yes, there were women, but they came and went. It eventually dawned on me that most of them died violently, somehow in connection with our work. We were like the kiss of death to women, Starsky and I, and I began to see that it was safer not to get terribly involved. Safer for them. Starsky had his share, chickie babes and bimbo heads. Good in bed, but not much in the brains department. That's what I was there for, he told me once. What, I asked, the bed or the brains? His reply was a thwack across the head with a newspaper. But there was nothing serious for either of us.
But let's not forget Terry. Saint Terry, I call her. Out of respect, and I mean that, seriously. She was perfect for Starsky, absolutely perfect. The right height, smart, caring, had a good career ahead of her, and who one day wanted to have a couple of little Starsky's running around. They were completely into their relationship, so confident of who they were together that they even included me into their plans for the future. I was looking forward to being Uncle Hutch, don't you know, when Terry got a traveling bullet in the brain.
Never saw Starsky like that before, or since. And there was nothing I could do, nothing to do. She was going to die, sure as rain is wet. There were no bad guys to bring down in time to save the day, not like when Starsky had twenty-four hours to live. That time I'd been filled with that familiar righteous indignation on his behalf and raced all over town. Saved the day, gave myself pats on the back. Which Starsky would have done, had he been able to raise his arm long enough.
But I wasn't going to let Terry's dying affect me. No. I remained strong for Starsky, being there for him, running errands so he could stay at the hospital with her toward the end. When she went, he was in the room alone with her. I walked in, took one look and walked back out. To give them their privacy, I told myself. But I knew the truth. There had been too much real in that room for me. Too much death and life and love.
But the closeness between us that point was so close (I call it a Negative Space that we share), that I waited outside the room till he came out. Kept anybody from going in and waited in one of those uncomfortable chairs that I planted right outside the door. Nobody paid me any attention, until a cute little nurse guessed somehow, possibly by the grim look on my face, and buzzed for a doctor. I wouldn't let her in, I wouldn't let him in. Nor the intern, nor the security guard, nor Dobey either. Why the hell he showed up at that moment, I'll never know.
"It's all over, Hutchinson," Dobey told me. "Let these people in to do their work."
The security guard spoke up. "Sir, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to step to one side, and if you do not step to one side—"
I pulled my gun out of my holster, held it next to my face. "Nobody goes in, until Starsky comes out."
"How do you know she's actually dead, she could have simply lapsed into a coma, and there still could be a chance."
A chance for what, I wanted to ask him, but didn't. They hadn't seen Starsky's hand wrapped around her wrist, and that man knew how to take a pulse as well as I did. They hadn't seen his head burrow into her side without a sound. They hadn't seen her neck bent on the pillow like a broken flower. All of this was so real that I shuddered.
Then Starsky came out, a dark-haired zombie, and I followed him out of the hospital and drove him home.
Two weeks and not a peep out of him. As if he'd forgotten how to cry. Not at the hospital, not at the funeral, nowhere. Maybe this was a little too real for him too. Later, we had our own ceremony on the kitchen floor, candles, beer, the monopoly game. He was being very brave when he brought out Terry's gifts to us, opening his first. I, being very drunk, had tried to waylay all of this by calling on the football team. To get us jobs that wouldn't be so real.
But when I read Terry's note, I started to cry. Sad for all the lost hope, for all the love Terry and Starsky had to give to each other. Aching inside for all the never-to-be little Starskys. Vowing that I would take care of Starsky, as she'd requested.
And Starsky? He's looking at me with this expression I'd never seen there before. It was half drunken smirk, half bewilderment. And half something else, some need, and he was looking at me as if I could tell him what he needed to know. I wiped the streaming tears from my face, the hurt in my heart making more all the time.
"Huh?" I asked. I thought he'd said my name.
And he had, after a fashion, a little hitch of breath in his chest. Then he tucked his chin down and rolled his shoulders forward. I couldn't figure out what he was up to, and stared at him, wishing I wasn't quite so drunk. Something sparkled at his feet and I stared at it. Then it winked at me and I knew what it was.
I crawled as quickly as I could towards him, swearing that I would never get this drunk again, not when he needed me. How could a puddle of tears be so deep? They were falling straight from his eyes to the floor. I grabbed him and held him to my chest. Within seconds my shirt was damp through, and he still hadn't really made a sound. Just that "Hu- Hu-" noise.
As he cried silently against me, and I held him as tightly as I could, I felt something. It was like oiled barbs attaching themselves inside of me. And it hurt, I tell you, like someone was slicing into me. Something was twisting its way into my flesh, my heart, my soul.
I wanted to thrust Starsky away, but I couldn't. He clung too tightly to me, and I hadn't the heart to tell him that I never wanted to be this real. He needed me. And by needing me, counting on me, he'd completed the process he'd begun long ago. I was as real as Pinocchio after the Blue Fairy grants Geppetto his wish, or the Velveteen Rabbit when all the velveteen was gone. You're nobody 'til somebody loves you, the song goes, to which I would, from that point on, always add, you're nobody 'til somebody needs you.
Well, I was real that night.
Stayed real while I carried him into bed and crawled in next to him to sleep with him in my arms. Remained real the next morning while I made him a breakfast he wouldn't eat. Was extremely real while I called Dobey and told him that neither of us would be in that day.
My definition of real began to be defined in terms of Starsky. My kinship with him, started long ago, began to have all its loose ends tied up. When I looked at him, into his eyes, I knew that I existed, that I was needed by him. He needed me, and I needed to be needed. I saw myself reflected in him, and with his love for me showed me everything that I was. Can you get any realer than that?
Months after her death, many, many months, he began to look a little perkier. A little more alive. Keep in mind that we're comparing this to a dead man, here, where any action is life. He began to believe that I actually understood how he'd felt for her, began to notice that I never spoke of her except with the utmost respect and affection. The same of which could not be said for any of the other women he'd ever dated. He began to know, to honestly know, that I'd never been jealous or wanted anything more than the perfect happiness for them both. That I missed her too, and that her memory was inside me as well as inside him. There would never be another Terry. Like I said, she was a saint.
We were like two peas in a pod, twins in the womb, the sea and the shore. Poetic, yes?
Yes, but. When you're real, as I now was, things get to you more. Things hurt more. People die, and it tears you up inside. The baddest of bad guys up for life sentences walk free. Even Starsky got to me, sometimes.
Like with the Kira business. Hell, I'll be honest. I don't think I even knew what I was doing. After he told me he loved her, I went over there to tell her it was over between us. It had been my sole intention. The problem was that she couldn't see the problem. Couldn't a person love two people at once, she'd asked me? I knew the point she was getting at, that it's not fair that a man can sleep with more than one person and a woman can't. I wish I could tell her now, with some marvelous twenty-twenty hindsight, that you can't sleep with two people who are as close as Starsky and I are and not expect there to be problems.
When he came over the next morning I felt just like a piece of shit with legs. I should have felt a lot worse, but Kira was fantastic in bed and I had slept very well, which was unusual, never thinking that Starsky would be on his way over. Which he was, with a gift for her, all wrapped with a big bow. Did I mention that he caught me tucking my shirt in? He did, and I don't blame him for coming at me with both fists flying. I wished, after the third punch or so, that he would keep on punching me, perhaps until I was dead. It sounds violent now, but there was a single, clear moment as the breath was knocked out of me when I knew I had hurt the one person I loved most in the world. Starsky was everything to me and I had slept with the first real love interest he'd had after St. Terry died.
When the velveteen is all gone and you are real, it is disquieting to know that you can love and be loved, yes, but you can also hurt and be hurt, hate and be hated.
We made it up after that, Starsky meeting me three-quarters of the way, and we sent Kira packing. Actually what we did was walk out on her, arm in arm. She didn't want to choose between us and I suddenly realized that I didn't want her either. She was as unappealing to me as day-old bread, and any choice with her on one side and Starsky on the other was no contest. And Starsky? I think he could see that she didn't see things the way he did, fidelity and all that. I didn't want to ask him to clarify, you see, because I had been unfaithful, too. Unloyal, untrustworthy, unkind, all those "un" things that take nice words and turn them into hateful ones.
And I couldn't grovel, it wouldn't make any difference to Starsky. He either loves you or he doesn't.
So what was I supposed to do? I figured he loved me, at least he forgave me, I mean he was still talking to me the next day. Heaven only knows why. I went home that night and threw myself into the shower for as long as the hot water held out.
Then Lionel died. Had this been before or after Kira? He was a common street snitch, and we used him the way we used all the others. He sang for us, gave us the information that we needed to know, and then was shot down like a bird in flight. At first I was very angry with Starsky for giving his name up to the D.A. I was ready to walk out and let the judge go rather than betray a trust like that. But just as I got to the door Starsky tells them that we'll give them Lionel's name. Just like that. Without consulting me. Like he didn't have a partner. I was furious. Then Starsky wants protection for Lionel, the best. This always makes me laugh when I think of it: the two cops with the worst protection record on the force are assigned—Starsky and Hutch.
I couldn't stay in that hotel room long, I was still pissed off. So out I go for groceries, and when I come back, my car explodes. A decoy, you see, and Lionel is shot while both of us are out of the room. No witness, no case. No case, no trial. No trial? The judge walked free. Of course, later he got killed, but it was the principal of the thing.
It was also too much. I went down to the sea to throw away my badge. Sort of a poetic gesture, but an acknowledgement to someone long ago, had it been my father, who had tried to tell me that being a cop would make me too real. A Hutchinson should never be too real, they are singularly bad at it. I was sad to realize that he'd been right. So there I am at Huntington Beach, my badge in my hand, staring off to the smog-lined horizon. Thinking about how far away I was from the days when Starsky would run up to me laughing. Or touch my head and cry, saying that he thought I was dead. My job had become too messed up in who I was, and not only was the velveteen rubbed entirely off, my skin was raw.
I wasn't mad at Starsky anymore, he'd only been doing what he thought was right to win the case. And why shouldn't he assume that I would follow where he led? How many times had I led the way without looking back, knowing that Starsky would be right there? Too many times.
I planned to go away, and knew there would be no getting around the fact that the only thing I would miss would be Starsky.
Then Starsky showed up at the beach. We threw away our badges together and joined back onto the force again together, and I kinda went into shock. The simple fact of the matter was that Starsky still believed . . . believed in the law, in justice, in the system. He believed that all of that still worked. And he believed in me and thee. But he had quit because I wanted to. It blew my mind. If I had gone to the North Pole, I believe he would have followed me there. Not because of any desire of his own, but because of my desire. Because of his desire to be with me. I assumed that was it. Why else would he do what he'd done?
Then he got shot. Went into a coma. My life became one big haze of hospital corridor. I remember thinking vaguely that Dobey wasn't eating and that I should be a bit more worried about him. I remember staring for hours at the floor between my feet, memorizing the exact placement and number of scuffmarks on each tile. When Huggy and I got into the elevator together, I said, "He's dying, Hug. He's dying and there isn't nothing anybody can do about it."
I had some schpeal about some mysterious "them" not having gotten both of us but actually I was going through my options. I meant what I said when I forcefully told Huggy that I would find out whoever was responsible, but in my mind, in my mind . . .
. . . in my heart I missed Starsky so badly I felt like I was bleeding inside. Already missed him even before he was dead, but you see, the doctor's prognosis was so bad and Dobey, who'd surely seen it all, was so grim . . . and so even as I was doing everything I was supposed to do, I was merely going through my options. What options? Pills. A gun. A razor. Etc. Trying to figure out which was the least painful. It seems totally stupid now, but I honestly thought I couldn't go on without him. Hell, I knew I couldn't go on without him. He'd found his way from my back pocket to my heart. Had become part of my soul.
And he lived.
I don't know how, it was nothing short of a miracle. And, in true Starsky fashion, he bounced back. Really, it was amazing. What should have taken, at the very least, six months, took Starsky only three. When he got out of the hospital he looked a little wiser around the eyes, but he was the same. A constant and unchanging foundation.
And he came to me, sometime after that, and made me sit down.
"Do you ever think about getting out of police work?" he asked me.
We'd tried that before, which he already knew. "It's all I know, Starsk," I said, quietly.
"Well," he ducked his head down, and I watched him play with the fibers of his ratty couch, "what is it you like best about being a detective?"
I understood right away that he meant what he said seriously, that this question was very important to him. I wondered how long it would take me to figure out where he was going with this.
"I like researching clues, putting things together, getting information and coming up with the answer."
"The answer," he repeated, echoing the way I had said it. "Know what I like?"
This didn't require a response, but I nodded my head to tell him that I was listening.
"I like shooting at things, working with the guns, knowing which weapon will do what under what conditions."
I knew my forehead was wrinkling with confusion and I tried to halt my sigh of exasperation, but it's hard to stop a habit of so many years. "What is it Starsky?"
He wanted us, as it turned out, to quit the jobs we were doing and transfer on the force. I was a little shocked at how he'd come to this decision, it seemed a hasty reaction to the shooting. What else was I supposed to do, I asked him, wash dishes? But the answer he came up with was sublime, stupendous. I wanted to kiss him. He thought I should go into forensics and he would go down to the shooting range and become an instructor. Sort of the beginning and ending of things, as far as guns were concerned. There would be less pay, and less prestige, less freedom.
"Less danger," said Starsky.
I looked at him as if to ask him why that was a concern.
"I remember you when I came out of my coma. You looked like death, but so happy, like a guy in the gas chamber given a reprieve just before they throw the switch."
I reminded him that they throw the switch for the electric chair, the electric chair, dummy.
He was not fazed. "I never want to go through that, not anymore. But I don't want to watch you go off into it either. How many more times will we pull through, Hutch?"
Considering how lucky we'd been until then, I wouldn't say we had too many more lives yet. And any life I had left, I wanted to spend with this man. Sounds goofy, doesn't it? Surely there was something wrong with me that I didn't want to chase the girlies anymore or spend money on some brainless thing just so I could get laid. My favorite person in the world was another man.
I didn't even care about enforcing the law anymore; the forensics work was very fascinating, just me and my lab coat and a thousand puzzles to solve. Down at the range, Starsky's nickname became "The Reaper" because he was deadly accurate. When he wasn't worried about covering my ass, he could concentrate on becoming an expert marksman. And he was a great teacher too, could teach anyone the basics of gun work without ever raising his voice or making cutting sarcastic remarks as some instructors did.
We didn't work together every day, but there wasn't a week went by that I didn't take a murder weapon down to the range to test some bullets or to ask Starsky's opinion. Or I would call him up to show him the ancient sword somebody found in a parking garage, or even a pair of stockings marked "Exhibit A". There was one week when I received a bullet to work on, and the case that it was attached to was incredibly complex and involved. Of course I never mentioned it to Starsky, as this same bullet had been removed from a victim much like St. Terry. And as much as I needed his input, I vowed I would cut off both my legs before I brought it up to him.
And then there was the week my car, Belle III, broke down. Starsky had to drive me to work for the next month because there wasn't a single LTD to be found, not for fifty, not even for a hundred dollars, not in all of L.A. It was like old times, driving back and forth with Starsky to work, but a heck of a lot more relaxing. We'd get donuts early and drive the long way in, and talk, both of us with our mouths full. About this or that or about Dobey selling his place at Pine Lake.
"Maybe we should buy it together," said Starsky.
"What?" I could hear my voice squeak with astonishment.
"Well," he replied logically, "one of us is never up there where the other one isn't too, and if we pool our resources . . . "
His voice trailed off, obviously he remembered the last time we'd pooled $3,000 for a shack on the wrong side of the tracks. A total disaster, both of us having to eat the loss as its nonsaleability wasn't tax deductible.
"Well, if it comes to that," I informed him dryly, "if we want to save money we should move in together, because I don't know when either one of us is home that the other one isn't also there." I said it because it was true and the idea of buying the Pine Lake cabin with Starsky for some country getaway sounded definitely appealing. And living with him didn't sound half bad either. I didn't look at him, though, because my Starsky had turned into a private, private man. I thought he would say no.
"Well, okay," he said slowly, taking a casual sip out of his coffee, looking at the traffic and driving with one hand. "But should one of us move into the other's apartment, or should we get some new, bigger place?"
That threw me, I must tell you. A memory of some earlier time flashed up before me, a series of them. Me eyeing Starsky with askance, a derisive roll of my eyes at his attire; Starsky's hand reaching up to pull me down out of the line of fire, and me falling on top of him; the look in his eyes when I tore him a new one for getting in the line of fire himself (a different line), and the realization that he was a little shocked at how angry I was and my own surprise at how much I cared. And now we were going to live together.
The house loan was easy to get, and we picked a nice little place six blocks from Dobey's.
"Aren't you going to give me the house loan optimism speech?" Starsky asked me the day we picked up the papers.
"What speech is that, Starsk?" I was busy making lists in my head and hadn't the foggiest what he was talking about.
"The one you gave me about being optimistic and knowing that the glass is half full and all that."
"No, don't you remember?"
"No, I don't. Quit going on."
"Listen a minute. We were in your green house, an' I was reading you an article about man-eating orangutans, and you started spouting off about optimism."
I remembered. All of a sudden, it came back to me, the green, damp air of the green house, Starsky reading aloud bits and pieces of his eternal nonsense, soothing and frivolous, and me talking to my plants, watering them one by one. That had been like living together, and the truth was we had been doing just that for quite some time now. Only difference was we'd be doing it at the same location, twenty-four hours a day.
After the first ten minutes of awkwardness, once all the crap was unpacked, it was like we'd never lived apart.
"Although," Starsky would say every once in a while, "sometimes I get the weirdest urge to drive over to your place."
At which point I knew that he would need to talk and we would hop in his car and drive up the coast a ways. Or just circle around L.A.
What would we talk about? Man, I don't know. Just stuff. Things. He was a quiet man, Starsky. Oh, yeah, he could talk to anyone, sometimes went on and on about the silly stuff, but that wasn't talking talking. Only to me, to my endless, jealous pride, in that car, driving along some dark canyon, or over a never silent highway.
I'd like to say that we got along like peaches and cream, me and Starsky, or watermelons in summer, or some other supurb combination wherein x + y would equal total happiness. But we had our ups and downs. I, for example, was forever leaving litters of dirty clothes throughout the house, like a trail for some imagined cleaning lady to follow. There was no cleaning lady, Starsky assured me on more than one occasion, nor was there ever likely to be one.
"Do you think clean towels grow on trees?" he would ask.
To which I would usually reply, mock-startled, "Don't they?"
Starsky, on the other hand, watched an inordinate amount of TV. Anything that was on, game shows, westerns (especially westerns) science fiction, old black and white movies, if it was on he would watch it. Simply fling himself on the couch and not move. Of course, if it was a nice day he was always out and about, so I tried not to bug him about it. But it was hard to watch him do this and occasionally I would fling a book at him and demand that he use his brain.
"Hey!" he'd shout as if I'd injured him. "That was my eye!"
But really, and it always amazes me to remember this part, was that we got along fabulously well.
Our workweeks were entirely too regular, we rarely had to work overtime. Sometimes I did, like during a crime wave, sometimes Starsky did, when class enrollment at the range increased. Which it had that fall, and he was coming home late on a regular basis, eating what I had kept warm for him and falling into a boneless collapse on the couch.
He liked to be fussed over and so I would, taking off his shoes and socks for him, getting him a pillow or whatever so he could relax on the couch. He liked it even better when I would sit on the couch so he could put his pillowed head against my thigh. And even though I didn't like those eternal westerns of his, I would watch the cable with him till he fell asleep. Midnight found me once that way, a half-drunken root beer of Starsky's resting in one hand on the arm of the couch, the other forearm resting warmly along his shoulder and chest. He was sleeping away, relaxed as a child in its father's arms. And I? On guard against the night, not really watching the tube, only listening, in the near darkness, to the sounds of his breathing.
He'd wormed his way into my life, that guy. Crawling in, tearing his way through sometimes, and nestling, all curled up, in my heart. Like he was now, sinking into the worn cushions, his body warm beneath my hand, his heart steady under my palm. I spread my fingers to encompass the beats, and could feel them, a tireless drum. Found myself stroking the upper muscles of his chest slowly, over and over. Slipped my hand up to circle behind his neck.
"'s nice," he mumbled, reaching up to pull my hand back down to his chest.
I froze a moment, not realizing he was awake. But he wasn't.
The next morning, his steady, ever clear gaze told me he didn't remember a thing. Or if he did, didn't think anything about it. And what I didn't want to do was to take that marvelous little moment and blow it out of proportion. Or ignore it if it meant something. Didn't want to ignore it if it had been real.
Starsky was the realest thing that had ever happened to me. Even realer than Gillian, whom I had loved as well as I could. Love? Well, sure I loved Starsky. How could I help myself? He'd always needed me, trusted me, allowed himself to depend on me. I couldn't resist him, or deny him anything. And I'd told him a thousand times if I'd told him once: "I love ya, Starsk." But I'd always said it like it I'd meant it, as a friend, as a partner, as another human being. Not like it felt now, nor even like it had begun to feel when we'd first talked about moving in together. Starsky was making it okay for me to be real.
Love. Such a serious word. Somehow incongruous with the way I felt around Starsky, the smile that invaded my soul whenever he would flash that quirky grin at me. Didn't match the urge I would sometimes get to bash something over his head. I mean, you can't be angry with someone you love, can you?
Well, you can. Starsky lit into me one time. Oh, I don't know, I had forgotten to do something he'd asked me to do, and he was furious. I don't think it had anything to do with me, but he was taking it out on me, you know? And I let him. How could I not? I mean, my temper had always been something Starsky had put up with and now it was time for a switch. He was doing a good bit of pointing and shouting and it reminded me so much of Dobey in a snit, that I had to smile. I wasn't laughing at him, I really wasn't, but it was kind of nice to know that I was probably one of the few that he would trust to fall apart like this. Knowing that I would catch him and not simply stand to one side and watch.
Well, my smile must have annoyed him because the next second I knew, I was on the floor rubbing a sore jaw and Starsky was standing over me, scowling.
"Don't you laugh at me, Hutch."
"Yes you are, goddamnit, so stop it!" He stood over me, pointing at me.
I tried to roll away to cover my snickering, but he was on me in an instant, straddling my hips with his thighs and hammering at me with a couch pillow. The more he scowled and pounded, the funnier it became and I was laughing so hard I was barely able to shield my face with my arms.
When he ran out of energy he flung the pillow across the room. "What the hell are you laughing at?" he demanded.
There should be a church hymn for this feeling, I decided, something along the lines of "How real thou makest me," or some such nonsense. I gave into the goofy feeling and flung my arms around his waist to slam him against the side of the couch. Gave in and planted a kiss right on his lips. A second later I shoved him away and leaped to my feet.
I wandered into the kitchen and wandered back out again with an apple in my hand. Starsky was still sitting on the floor, elbows behind him on the couch, legs spread on the wooden floor, knees slightly bent. He was looking at me, looking like someone had asked him the distance from the earth to the sun and he was trying very hard to remember.
"Whadja do that for?" he asked.
"Felt like it," I said, taking a bite from the apple and handing it to him. He took it, took a bite, and handed it back to me.
"No, you keep it."
"Oh," he said.
And that was the end of that conversation.
It was not too long after that that I was making a dent in a pile of dirty dishes. It was my week, but I had ignored them for as long as I could. So there I stood, elbow-deep in suds and that's when I felt this warmth behind me. I hadn't heard the door close or open so I knew it must be Starsky. Figured he was going to go "Boo" or something, but I was surprised to feel his arms slipping around my waist and the plane of his cheek resting between my shoulder blades. All of him was pressed against me, and I could feel him breathing.
"What are you doing back there?" I asked to cover my own confusion.
The hands began to slip away gingerly as if Starsky had decided he'd made a mistake and the tenseness of his arms told me it was something he would never repeat. My soapy hand grabbed hold of his wrists before they separated, and I knew that my grip should have been too slippery to do much good, but it managed to keep Starsky right where he was.
He did stay, squeezing me tight for a moment and then letting me and his breath go with a shudder.
"Felt like it," he said.
I felt him slip away that time, knowing he would be back, and he was. At odd times, when my back was turned or I was busy with something else, he would slip up behind me and very slowly, carefully, connect himself with me. I would remain very still at these times, so as not to scare him away. An arm sliding across my waist as we passed in the hall, an elbow hooked around my throat if I happened to be sitting down. Any way he could find to touch me and linger. It became more than our on the street "are-you-there" connection. It seemed very personal and intimate, on a different level somehow. And I realized that we hadn't talked about it or anything, which was not our usual style.
Not that it stopped him from doing it, or me from enjoying it. I figured that we would get to it eventually and that maybe some things should just be let to run their course.
Dobey never did sell Pine Lake to us, but we had our own set of keys, and a phone call, or a jog down the block, was all we needed to make sure the place wasn't double booked for the weekend. And what weekend weren't we up there? Jeeze, I don't know. Every weekend, except for the Fourth when the Dobey family went, we were chugging up that slatted dirt road. Groceries were a regular expected delivery upon our arrival; the town knew we were there and left us completely alone. Private.
Of course a case of the guilts struck me for all this generosity, and I managed to convince Starsky to help me with some handyman stuff.
"This weekend?" he complained. "But there's this book—"
"Look, Starsky," I said to him, trying to be stern. "Edith says when they were up there, the lights kept going out. And they never could get that blood off the door; it needs to be replaced. The front steps are rotted."
He looked at me with that noncommittal expression of his, where I would sometimes get uneasy about what he was thinking.
"Listen. I can't do it without you, I refuse to do it without you." I folded my arms across my chest and looked away. "Think of it as a thank-you effort; they've never asked us for any money to stay there."
He nodded, I nodded. Then I caught his eyes. Smiled.
He smiled back.
So up we went. The door took most of Saturday morning. We tried replacing several of the slats, but it looked patchy. We ended up painting the whole thing dark brown and hoped it was near enough to the same shade as the rest of the cabin.
"He'll never notice," I said to Starsky.
"Edith will," he said almost moaning. "Dja think we otta buy a new door?"
I sighed. "Let's think about it."
It was after I'd puttered around with the electricity for a bit that I discovered that there was merely a short in the wall switch. I sent Starsky to the store and proceeded to throw the breaker switch and unassembled the connection. It was late in the afternoon by the time he got back and I figured if I didn't get everything put back together quick, we'd be cooking over an open fire and going to bed by candlelight.
"Where have you been?" I demanded.
His reply was a shrug, and I shook my head and started in on the new switch. From behind me I felt his warmth; dark arms around my waist.
"Don't you think for one minute I'm going to forgive you—"
Then I realized that he was moving his body around to my front and I dipped my head to look at him and we were eye to eye. We'd never really gone this far before, our hips pressed together and my hands falling from the wall. The tools fell with several pings to the floor and I lowered my head to kiss him very lightly on the lips.
"Felt like that, did you?" asked Starsky, whispering.
The love we made that afternoon was different than any I'd had in such a long time. It wasn't just the fact that it was the first time or that Starsky was as strong as I was or that his body was covered with dark hair or that we both had erections. It wasn't that I missed that special indentation a woman's waist takes just above her hip or her long hair trailing about my shoulders. I can't say that I did miss them, what with both our bodies going in a synchronous rhythm, and Starsky grabbing my hardness and holding it in a way I'd always wanted it held, and it never had been.
Yes, the sex was marvelous, but not to bore anyone with details, suffice it to say that after we both came I felt like I was going to pass out. Starsky looked like he was too, that guy screamed so loud when he came I knew his throat was raw. And he looked done out, too. I gathered him in my arms and buried my face in his neck, knowing at that exact moment, what had been missing all the other times. This had meant something, something important, something not based just in sex, or hormones.
"I love you," I said in his ear, and that was when he passed out.
As I drifted off myself, I realized that I had not thought about my hall monitor's badge, or about being real or not real for a while now. Maybe with Starsky, my life was not so much that real stuff, or even doing something that mattered that made you real. My life had become being someone that mattered, and having someone that mattered to me. Starsky and I would talk about this very soon, I realized, and knew that there would be no hiding anything, no holding back, and no questions as to our commitment to each other. Just a matter of particulars, really, a negotiation of some very important details.