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Hour of Separation
The third interrogation room was hot, the bars across the windows generating their own heat. Starsky could tell Hutch was snickering into his ice-tea anyway, that soundless laugh accompanied by only the smallest of smiles. And it wasn't easy keeping a straight face when he did it either; Hutch's smile pulled at the corners of Starsky's mouth while he tried to remain stern as he faced their suspect. Suspect, hell. They knew he was involved in the drug racket; Hutch had caught him with his hands full of dope in the midst of flushing it down the john and inhaling it up his nose.
But he was only a little fish and the streets were full of them.
"Why don't we just throw him in the slammer?" he'd demanded of Hutch earlier.
"We want the big one, Starsky, not this guppy."
Of course Hutch was right, as he usually was. But there was still something hugely satisfying about snagging a guppy or two on the way up to the "big one" that kept getting away.
"So, you talk, an' you walk. Follow me?" Starsky demanded, shoving his face close to Mike "The Blade" Rolo.
"Tough guy," snarled Rolo. He really was quite big, even sitting his head was almost level with Starsky's. The snarl came from somewhere in his chest, rumbling forth like a growl from a bear.
Starsky looked up at Hutch, exasperated, and Hutch raised his eyebrows with that slight, sideways jerk of his head, as if to say, Well, that's the end of that.
"Tell him what he's won, Starsky," Hutch said aloud, casually tipping back a swallow of his tea.
"15 to 20 years for possession," said Starsky, low, "plus 10 more for obstruction of justice, with no time off feh good behavior, unless you talk, NOW!"
"NOW?" Rolo bellowed, leaping to his feet. He picked Starsky up by the sides of his chest and slammed him against the door. Starsky's head hit the wood and bounced off; if Rolo had been holding his throat, he knew it would have broken his neck.
In that second before Rolo pulled him away for another body slam, he saw Hutch toss away his drink, the glass shattering in the corner, and come after them. The laughter was gone, replaced by some blond heat, eyes exploding with angry darkness, hands digging into Rolo with no thought to standard procedure or even the Hutchinson decorum. Starsky had seen Hutch plenty mad before, furious even, but always going in the other direction, never aimed his way. And it was only a second before Hutch was gripping Rolo's neck in a headlock, his teeth white in a silent grimace.
"Let me ooouuut!" howled Rolo, and he slammed Starsky again and the three of them, their weight and velocity, plowed through the oft slammed door, landing in splinters and shards of wood in the corridor. On Starsky.
"Oh, jeeze, oh jeeze," Starsky moaned, his breath coming in gasps.
Instantly, Hutch was on his feet, kicking Rolo in his rather solid side. "Get off him, asshole, off, OFF!"
A pair of feet appeared in front of Starsky, spread far apart. It was Brown and he had his fists on his hips. Just like Dobey, whom Brown was replacing while Dobey took a long vacation. It had been either that or lose a month's worth of accumulated leave, which Edith wouldn't hear of.
"In my office, NOW!"
Starsky kept himself from giggling as Rolo was pulled off him by unseen hands and Brown stormed away down the hall. Usually it was himself that played "bad cop," but it was nice to be rescued. Starsky ducked his head as Hutch wrapped his long arms around Starsky's ribs and gently hauled him to his feet.
"Are you okay?" Hutch asked from behind. "Did he squish you?"
The arms didn't quite release him as Starsky pivoted around, their bodies not quite disconnecting. Their eyes met for a second and Starsky grinned.
"Naw, he squashed me."
Hutch let him go, pushing at him affectionately. "Squish, squash," he said.
"I was takin' a bath," Starsky replied.
That earned him a silent, wide-mouthed laugh from Hutch, who slapped at his shoulders, shrugging with it and trying to hide it. He froze and Starsky turned.
Brown stood at the end of the hall, making a "come-here" gesture with the tips of his fingers, and Starsky knew that Brown didn't find, or couldn't find, the humor in the situation.
The two partners stood in the office with the door closed a full minute before Brown spoke. "Would either of you two gentlemen care to explain what that was all about?"
No need to explain what that was, Starsky could read in his eyes that he was thoroughly disgusted with both of them.
"It was an accident," said Starsky quickly. "My fault."
"An accident?" Brown's eyes brightened dangerously. "You call Rolo tearing down the door an accident? The man almost got away! Do you realize the potential for disruption if this probable suspect had evaded recapture?"
"What he means, Starsky-"
"I know what he means. I can understand words of more than one syllable, you know."
"Well, if you hadn't gotten in the big lug's way--"
"I woulda been okay if you hadn't added your thick skull to his!"
"ENOUGH!" thundered Brown. Both detectives' heads snapped to face him.
"I am hereby, as of this minute, assigning you to new partners. Hutchinson, you will be working with Jeff Batos, he's the new guy with the desk near the window. Move your stuff so Starsky's new partner Andrews, on loan from vice, can move in."
Hutch felt the shock freeze his face. "What are you saying?"
Brown snorted. "I thought at the very least Dobey's men understood plain English." He paused as if deciding something. "You are far too excitable together."
"I don't think so. With all due respect, Captain Brown," said Hutch attempting to be pleasant, "Dobey isn't going to take well to someone rearranging his department while he's gone."
Starsky added his two cents. "Hutch 'n me work together." It didn't help.
"Not any more, you don't," said Brown.
"I'll be damned if I'm taking on a new partner when I've got this perfectly good one right here." Hutch hoped some humor would alleviate the tension, but it only seemed to irritate Brown, who shook his head with an ugly frown.
"Now wait just a goddamn minute!" Hutch felt his face grow hot. He jabbed a finger in the air. "You can't just waltz in here and separate us. Starsky and I have worked together for over five years."
"Yeah," said Starsky.
"Even if you did have the authority to separate us, which I don't think you do--"
"Yeah," interrupted Starsky.
"Hush. --which I don't think you do, you don't even have cause for this sort of thing. We aren't on probation, you haven't written us up--
"Yesterday, Hutchinson," said Brown, as if Hutch had not been speaking, "I got complaints that you used unnecessary force on that gentleman from the candy store about his brother, who, I might add, is merely a suspect at this time and not actually under arrest."
"But he's guilty!" Hutch shot a look at Starsky to keep his mouth shut.
"Innocent until proven so, may I add."
"Captain," said Hutch, tipping his head to one side warningly, "I used the force which I thought was necessary to get the information which I knew that guy had, and--"
"My POINT, gentlemen, is that-- and your total disregard of what I've just said is proof of this-- is that you two act like you run this department. Like you two are the captains and whomever is sitting in this chair is just someone who runs MVR's for you whenever you need them."
"Tha's not so!" sputtered Starsky.
"And it's gone on long enough. I have full authority to separate you, which I am doing so as of this moment. I've heard plenty about you two from Dobey, and any more complaints or outright rebellion and I'll put in the recommendation that this separation be permanent. Is that clear?"
Starsky was pulling himself taller, drawing all his bouncing and strutting together in one dark line. One more second and Brown would find himself swamped by a one-man tsunami. Hutch did not enjoy pulling bodies out of the aftermath.
"Just one second, Captain..."
He caught Starsky's eye with a jerk of his head and urged him out into the hallway. "This will just take a second," he added, not taking his eyes off his partner. One more breath and he would feel it, that release of tension from Starsky's frame; one more ounce of his will and the other would give in without him ever having said a word.
But words were important to Starsky, as was the hand he lay on the other's forearm when the door shut behind them.
"I'm gonna quit," Starsky said under his breath.
"C'mon, Starsk, you don't really want to do that, do you?"
Hutch's hands, almost cupping the dark-haired man's face, slid to his shoulders with a solid grip.
Starsky nodded seeming to agree. "But the Cap'n would never separate us!" he retorted anyway, slamming the wall beside Hutch's head. Hutch didn't blink.
"It's only for a month," replied Hutch quietly.
Starsky dipped his head. "One day is too long," he mumbled.
Hutch leaned forward, tilting his head sideways. "What was that?"
Starsky smiled, knowing perfectly well the other had heard him. He lifted his head, a mock frown on his face. "One day is too long, ya lummox," he growled through his teeth, "gotta keep an eye on you."
Hutch's hand came down to cuff lightly across the top of his head. "You're the one that needs a keeper," Hutch said. "Promise me you'll keep your badge; don't let some new broom drive you away."
Starsky didn't say anything for a moment, but Hutch knew there was nothing he could do but give in. Starsky nodded, swallowing, and Hutch squeezed the back of his neck briefly and sent him off towards his new partner.
Hutch stuck his head in back through the doorway. Brown didn't even look up and Hutch felt his whole face narrow with dislike. "It's all set, Captain," he said.
Brown looked up then. "Get back to work," was his reply.
It started off bad, but then Starsky had known it would. He shifted his feet across the pile of trash on the passenger side of Gary Andrews' car. Starsky himself realized that he was a slob, but this was really bad. And he would never trash up his car this way. Beneath his feet were at least six months worth of hamburger boxes, empty pop cans, an assortment of candy wrappers (mostly containing coconut, he was disgusted to see), and a half eaten slice of pizza right next to his left heel. The windows were streaked inside and out, and if he moved any further away from an uncomfortable spring, he knew, just knew, that the seat cover would tear even further. At a direct contrast, Andrews himself looked like he was on his way to church or something, his tie only slightly loosened after several hours on stakeout. Every strand of his slightly grey hair was in place.
They were, at present, waiting for the light to go on in "Black" Jack Terry's apartment window - a major dealer who had the quaint habit, according to the word on the street, of selling from his living room. But after four hours, well past midnight, there had not been a single flicker from the third floor.
"Otta be a law," he mumbled.
"What was that?" Andrews asked, not taking his eyes from the building.
It was exasperating to think he'd have to explain; Hutch would have known what he was trying to say and even, most likely, have finished the sentence for him, even if only in his own head. Or he would have smiled and said, "Yeah, I know, daylight hours," and that would have been that. Explaining it to Andrews was too much like real work.
He answered by grunting a negative and threw himself in the back seat only to land on a litter of old coats and a collection of pizza boxes.
Andrews jerked his head around, the first time, Starsky was sure, that he'd taken his eyes off the building all night. As if realizing what he was doing, he whipped his head back around and refocused his glittering eyes on his target.
"What are you doing?"
Starsky halted, his hands in mid-fold on a coat he was planning to use for a pillow, thinking that if pizza boxes were valuable, somebody would make a killing. "What?"
"What the hell are you doing back there?" This was asked through gritted teeth as if not looking at Starsky while he was talking to him was painful.
Feeling as though he were explaining things to a child, Starsky spoke very slowly. "I'm going to get some shut-eye, jeeze!"
Andrews whirled around again, and Starsky thought briefly that with his luck, this would be the precise moment that Terry came home. He flicked his eyes up to the window, but nothing was happening.
"Fer chrissakes, we're on a stakeout! You can't sleep now!"
Starsky's face tightened at the outburst. It wasn't enough to remind himself that Hutch would have let him catch twenty; Hutch wasn't here.
"Just a coupla minutes, you c'n wake me if anything starts to happen."
"Wake you, my ass! Get your butt up here."
He told himself that Andrews was probably right, sleeping on a stakeout was probably not kosher. But Hutch, hell, even Dobey, understood that 1 am was not Starsky's best time unless something exciting was happening. He was simply not disciplined enough to make it through an eight hour stakeout without a small catnap. And probably, even if Andrews did allow him some sleep, he would most definitely not wake his new partner up with fresh coffee and donuts, as Hutch often did. Or allow him to sleep with his head in a lap instead of wedged against the door frame.
He crawled carefully to the front seat, realizing almost too late that Andrews would not be amused, even irritably so, if Starsky landed with his head in his lap.
"Keep your elbows to yourself," snapped Andrews.
Starsky settled himself in the passenger seat and began the uncomfortable process of sleeping sitting up.
By 7 am their shift was over and they drove to a small breakfast place for some food to go. All was well until Starsky reached for some of Andrews's orange juice, which he had forgotten to order for himself.
"Hey! Gimme that! Get your own."
Of course, in his confusion regarding Andrews' irate state, Starsky managed to dump the contents all over both of them and their breakfasts.
It didn't sound that way when Hutch said it; Andrews sounded really pissed.
The day shift will suit me, Hutch told himself. It gave him the opportunity to pretend he led a regular life: up at 6am, a quick jog and breakfast cooking on the stove to be eaten when the rest of the country was eating theirs, in the morning, when the sun was still low in the east. He wouldn't let himself think about how weird it would be not to be working with Starsky every day.
The eggs were almost done, just a touch of butter and cheese; Hutch wiped his damp hands on the back of his jeans. The toast popped up, he buttered it and arranged it on the plate. He enjoyed eggs but usually only got them late at night. This was entirely too regular.
There had to be no better combination than a bite of eggs followed by a sip of fresh coffee. Hutch savored the flavors on his tongue and swallowed just as a knock came at the door. He sighed and took another bite, knowing who it must be.
"Door's open," he said over a mouthful of toast.
He waved a fork at Starsky as his partner came through the kitchen doorway, motioning for him to sit down. Starsky did this in his usual way, swinging a leg over the top of the chair, sneakered foot just missing the table. He landed like a cat.
Hutch returned his attention to his plate, then did a double take. As Starsky was reaching for some toast, hesitating slightly as his fingers closed around a slice, Hutch noticed that his shirt was damp.
"What is that?"
"Orange juice," grunted Starsky around his toast.
After a harder look, Hutch realized that Starsky was pissed off, eyes slitted, mouth in a thin scowl. Except...
"What happened to your mouth?"
His erstwhile partner reached over and took a large swig of his coffee. "Andrews didn't want to share, and I got clipped with his elbow."
Hutch swallowed quickly, jerking his head up. "On purpose?"
"No." The response came slowly. "I only wish he had. Woulda given me a reason to slug him."
"Sounds like someone does not work well with others. Or at least that's what Brown's report is going to say."
"Damnit, Hutch, I was just trying to be friendly!"
Hutch threw him a mild look. "I didn't mean you," he said quietly.
"Babe, we have to do this. Otherwise it'll be permanent."
They looked at each other silently for a moment, and Hutch knew that Starsky understood that this was hard on him, too. But Starsky looked so tired that what he needed was a place to lay his head for an hour and something to eat when he woke up. It looked like he hadn't gotten his midnight nap.
He looked at his watch. Damn.
"Look, Starsk," he said standing, pushing back his chair, "I gotta go." He did have to go. If he didn't leave now he'd be late, and he didn't think Mr. John fresh-from-the-Academy Batos would consider not reporting that fact. He looked at his watch again, telling himself he didn't feel like he was abandoning Oliver Twist, that he wouldn't much rather stay and watch over his partner while he slept, and putter quietly around the house. They were on different shifts now, and Starsky catching him at this time was pure luck. Night shift and day shift were like two different worlds.
He leaned forward and pushed the remains of his breakfast across the table. "There's juice in the fridge," he said, slipping on his jacket.
"I'll lock up," said Starsky, taking Hutch's fork. "Go," he said, putting on a long-suffering smile, "have fun. Don't worry about me."
As he closed the door behind him, Hutch decided that he hated the day shift.
"It's a piece of crap and I won't ride in it."
"Fine," Hutch said, not bristling, "then we'll take your car." He smiled-- the not very nice one that Starsky would have recognized as oncoming trouble --and made a slight bow. It was funny that when Starsky told him his car was a piece of crap he never felt like killing something. He did now.
Batos' vehicle was nice, it had power everything, including turbo air conditioning. Hutch felt the sweat freeze on him the second Batos pushed the little blue button. But with him sealed up inside and the rest of the world out there, he felt cut off.
"This isn't a druggie's car," he said as they wheeled through an alleyway, slick with pools of melting oil and papered with ugly grey scraps of paper. Only New York had dirtier alleys than L.A.
"It's a dealer's car," said Batos without a pause. "They'll think we've got some, and come running."
"Go running, more like," muttered Hutch looking out the window. "Who would drive a nice car in an area like this?"
"Only a dealer," chirped Batos.
"Or a fool."
Batos smiled. "Brown told me about that temper of yours," he said, turning up the air even harder.
"Yeah?" God, what an inane conversation this was. "What else did he tell you?"
"Oh, I'm sure you're well aware of Brown's opinion of you. Pumping me won't help you."
"I wasn't pumping." Hutch tried breathing slowly, but felt like ice crystals were forming in his lungs. "I was merely-- could you turn that damn thing down --merely trying to tell you that no real addict would trust a dealer who flashed too much."
"The newest research proves that to the contrary, Hutchinson. They'll see the car and then we can land some."
"They'll think they're seeing a mirage in all of this heat," he replied. "No self respecting addict, or dealer for that matter, works in daylight hours. Dobey usually just had us patrol the streets for trouble."
"Your Captain Dobey is sorrowfully behind the times."
What could a guy say to that? It was bouncing a ball off a rubber wall, too much spring, no resistance. There was nothing Batos said that was really irritating, Hutch told himself, just everything added altogether made for a mighty prickly relationship. Could I get another partner, he wondered, just for the duration? No, better not. If he had too many new partners, by the time Dobey came back, Starsky would be so far up the list that Hutch would never work with him again.
Hang in there, Hutch, Starsky had said in a recent, hurried conversation over the phone.
You too, buddy.
By six pm, LA was like a broiler oven, and Hutch felt like a frozen piece of bacon soon to be placed in the roasting pan.
"Let me out here," he said.
"Beg your pardon?"
Hutch shook his head and unlocked the door. "Let me out here, I said."
"But..." Looking truly confused, Batos surveyed the neighborhood. He was about to say, Hutch knew, that this was not a safe place to be, it was a bad area. Hutch knew that, Batos surely knew it too. Hutch was a cop; he knew where the bad neighborhoods were. But he was fed up with Batos and his car; didn't think he could stand another four weeks of its atmospheric purity. Besides which, and what Batos didn't know, Starsky's place was a mere two miles from this very corner. Half an hour if he walked, quicker if he jogged, which he didn't think he should do in this heat.
"What about your, I mean our, report?"
As Hutch slid out of the car, feeling the heat swirl around him like a wave of hot water, he smiled. "See you at the station, tomorrow. We'll do it then."
He slammed the door on Batos's smiling, confused face, before the younger man could protest or remind him that Brown had decided that reports would be done directly after a shift and not right before the next one. The day Dobey returned was an eternity away, and thoughts of panic that he might really leave them this way were crowding in Hutch's head.
He tried not to run, but his feet wouldn't let him. The heat, however, was making his head swim, and Hutch knew he would be courting a heat stroke if he didn't slow down. So he compromised. Walk one block, run one block. Walk, run. Walk, run. Run. Run. He finally turned onto Starsky's street, cutting through the brown crackle that was the corner lot's lawn and had to stop in the shade of a blessedly healthy sycamore tree to breathe. When he could do that, he made himself walk slowly to the apartment building. And asked himself why he was in such a hurry.
Sanity, my friend, sanity.
Hutch knocked and let himself in at Starsky's door-muffled greeting. His partner sat with his bare feet on the table, dressed in minimal shorts and an unbuttoned shirt. Starsky tipped back his head to suck down a swallow of what was, most assuredly, ice-cold root beer and smiled at Hutch before returning his attention to his comic book. An elderly, black, spidery-looking fan sat in the open window, catching the non-existent breeze and turning it back and forth to cool the room. Another window was open on the other side of the room, creating a causeway where the air, certainly somewhat cooler than that standing still outside, brushed across Hutch's skin almost tentatively. Drying the sweat on the side of his neck, and sweeping the damp hair away from his forehead.
No, not just sanity. Bliss.
"Help yourself to some root beer, my friend," he heard Starsky say. "Whadja do, walk in this heat?"
Hutch lifted his head, taking in the man in the chair, wishing, knowing he'd give all the money in the world if he didn't have to work with Batos tomorrow. "Yes," he answered. He saw with new eyes a situation that was very familiar and was hit with the realization that it was going to be difficult for them to see each other as much as they were used to. Being with Starsky now, after Batos, was too damn easy. Just standing there, he was swimming in comfort.
"Jeezus," said Starsky, "well, hop in the shower. Cool yourself off. Ya look kinda peaked."
"I feel peaked," Hutch confessed. "Batos has got an air conditioner like a deep freeze." He peeled off his jacket as he walked towards the bathroom.
When he came out, dressed in some old cutoffs of Starsky's that almost fit, he felt entirely better. On the table sat a bottle of root beer, just opened by the curl of carbonation rising from the opening, and a tall glass, no ice. Starsky apparently hadn't forgotten that Hutch didn't like ice with his root beer. Sacrilege, Hutch had once complained. Too damn easy, he thought again, being with you.
He poured out his beverage and took a huge swallow, tonguing the foam from his upper lip. "I feel almost cool now," he said, tipping his head to look at Starsky, who looked like he hadn't moved an inch.
"Sun's gone down," Starsky said, putting down his comic book and now empty bottle.
"Is that the latest?" he asked, nodding his head toward the comic.
"Nah, just an old one. I like it 'cause it's the one where ole Spidey almost reveals himself to his aunt." Starsky stood up, looking as glad as Hutch felt, to see him. "Ya hungry? We could order in and wait for a breeze to come in off the ocean. I'm not on until--"
Hutch cut him off. "I know what time you go on, dummy. Why don't we pick up something and drive down to the ocean." Starsky's face brightened at this prospect, then Hutch remembered. "Only..."
"Only what?" asked Starsky, bending to get his laceless sneakers.
"Only, I don't have my car, I walked remember?"
Hutch crossed his arms and tried to look like it was very difficult for him to remain patient. "Only the beach is covered with sand, and with your devotion to that paint job on that car of yours..." He trailed off, frowning with seriousness.
Starsky must have seen the light in his eyes. "Only if we drive very, very slowly," he replied gravely, "and if you promise to get out and push if we get stuck."
Brown's idea of good police operations during a crime wave that straddled a heat wave was to double up the shifts of his street and undercover cops. When the call came in for an officer assist, Hutch and Batos were officially on their break between shifts.
"Better call it in," said Batos.
"Yes," replied Hutch, his voice seeming over-sweet to his ears. He had been just reaching for the mike. "This is Zebra Seven, come in please."
Neither he nor Starsky had wanted Zebra Three. He knew they were both saving it.
The reply came back, laced with heat static. It was a report regarding Lion Eight, Starsky's new designation, ambulance requested. Hair started to stand up all over Hutch's body, in places he didn't even know he had hair.
"Corner of Larkspur and 98th, do you know the alleyway?" he demanded.
It only took Batos and his supercar 10 minutes to tear through rush hour traffic, but for Hutch it was too long. The call hadn't been "officer down," just "assist," but even so, by the time they careened to a halt outside the ring of ambulances, sweat was pouring down his neck. Air conditioner or no.
He jumped out, narrowing his eyes against the whirl of lights in the early evening haze, orange with dust. Once in the shade of the tall, worn brick, he moved along the edge of the crowd, flashing his badge when necessary, scanning for a familiar head of hair.
He found it, leaning against an ambulance into which not one but three zippered-closed black body bags were being loaded. Starsky looked okay, at least from this distance, but it was the angle of his body, the slump of his shoulders that worried Hutch. Closer, he saw that Starsky's eyes were half-lidded, arms across his chest. He stood perfectly still, seeming oblivious to the rush of equipment and personnel around him.
His hand reached out to touch before his mouth could form around a greeting. Ever the way between him and Starsky.
A rush of heat pushed up from the exhaust just as the back door slammed shut. Starsky stepped away from the vehicle and walked off, as if not realizing that Hutch was right behind him, though Hutch knew this was not so. He realized that Starsky had dust all over his back, and chips of plaster were in his hair. He looked like he'd been roughed up.
He waited while Starsky propped himself up against a brick wall. One glance told him that two more bodies littered the alley and that Andrews was practically snarling at them while he filled out some paperwork by himself. Hutch stretched to lean on one hand and propped himself against the wall, too.
"What's up, Starsk?"
Starsky looked up, his eyes somehow deeper than they had been a day ago. He looked at Hutch as if just seeing him, just realizing that he was standing right there. His expression was flat, but he tried on a smile anyway as he patted Hutch's arm.
"Are you hurt?" asked Hutch. "What happened?"
"There was a shoot-out," said Starsky, low. "Those three guys and these two here." He waved vaguely at the body bags, now full. "It was a drug bust, me an' Andrews, an' we got caught in the middle of the dealer and dealee right when the whole thing fell apart."
Captain Brown appeared at the end of the alleyway and started walking toward them, the only two people standing absolutely still.
"But are you okay?" Hutch asked, knowing that Starsky would understand the difference between "hurt" and "okay."
Starsky looked down again and Hutch stared at the back of his head as if willing him to look up. He even had to duck his head to listen to the response.
"You know...you know those rose-colored glasses you always accuse me of wearin'?"
Hutch nodded, staring, unfocused, at the brick wall. He didn't think he was going to like what was coming. He took in the bodies and bags, EMT personnel moving, for them at least, in slow motion and shrugged. Another police report and that would be all; he wouldn't have to notify a loved one, or even escort anyone down to the morgue.
But to Starsky, he knew, each body that went down added to his own personal list of failures; even the bad guys he'd killed went on it. And he knew that Starsky carried it with him everywhere, the exact number known and mourned for.
Hutch often imagined that his own object was to get the villains, to lay them low or lock them up - whatever would get them off the street. Starsky, on the other hand, was out to protect the innocent, to stand between them and the evil.
We meet somewhere in the middle, I suppose. Negative and positive, high and low.
"Well, they're gone." Starsky spoke quickly, realizing that they didn't have the luxury of working through it as they always had. They weren't going to be able to drive off together and discuss it along the way. "I saw these guys go down, the body bags come out and it was like this wall went up. I didn't care. Ya know a wall like that?"
The face, earnest, turned towards him and Hutch nodded, feeling like a piece of crashing glass. "There are walls, and there are walls," Hutch said. It was horribly ineffectual, like watching one of those films of a forest being uprooted. The walls Starsky had spoken of were familiar to Hutch instantly. They had always existed for him; he often wondered if that sense of objectivity made him a "good" cop. Emotional distance. But not for his partner.
"Aw, Starsk," he whispered, leaning close, almost enough to touch, "Starsky." The hand against the wall became a fist, and he longed to bring it down with softness, a protective curve. To clasp Starsky on his arm or somewhere, anywhere. Starsky himself seemed not overwhelmed by his own personal reaction, but instead dazed by his lack of it. But then Brown and Andrews appeared, somehow not noticing that Starsky was close to shock. Or if they did notice, decided not to care.
"Back to work, Hutchinson," drawled Brown, "we'll take care of Starsky here."
Hutch thrust out his chin and narrowed his eyes. But just as he was about to take a step forward and Brown was, seemingly, willing to meet him halfway, he heard Starsky clearly, for the first time that night.
"It's okay, Hutch, I'm okay."
Of course that's what Starsky would say, and Hutch could only stare at his partner, disbelieving. Brown stood on one side of him, Andrews on the other; they couldn't very well discuss it more here. Hutch began to panic deep inside, and then Starsky did something: he lifted up his hand to chest level and clenched it into a fist. His face was calm, and in his eyes, light there. Like this, he'd once said to Huggy, Hutch and me're like this. And then he'd made a fist.
Okay, Hutch nodded, silent. Okay. There was nothing more he could do but walk back to Batos' car and ride off in the deep freeze.
Starsky watched him go. Swallowed. Of course Hutch knew about walls, his whole life was a series of them. Some were only for show, and served no practical purpose but to warn away strangers. Others were more permanent. You had to know how to get around them and very few did. At worst you didn't build them up any higher with some foolishness, and they stayed the same. Brown, naturally, had come equipped with tools, even a ladder. Behind those walls, of course, Hutch was like butter in the sun, but each year, each crime wave, added layer after durable layer to the barrier.
And the last thing he wanted to do was to watch Hutch's retreating back, watch him slip into someone else's car and drive off into the smoky evening.
"Go to the station," clipped Brown, "and I want to see some reports on what the hell went down out here."
Naturally, thought Starsky, they can't wait till morning.
Andrews drove in his usual grandmother fashion. He seemed to smile at Starsky's irritation.
"Can't this piece of crap go any faster?" If Hutch was going to the station and he was going to the station, then maybe their paths would cross at the station, maybe he could just stand next to Hutch and absorb some of his calm.
"That ex-partner of yours is quite a mother hen," said Andrews.
Starsky tried closing his eyes to pretend he wasn't angry, like Hutch sometimes did. It didn't work.
"He's not my ex-anything, moron. And he's not a mother-hen, he's good people."
Andrews tipped back his head in a silent laugh. "He coddles you like you were his baby. Batos said it only took them ten minutes to arrive at the scene, but it wasn't fast enough for Hutch; he practically got out and pushed!"
"He was worried," snarled Starsky, wishing that someone would shut Andrews up. Maybe that somebody should be him.
"And what's with him and that air conditioner? Batos said it was a hundred degrees and he still wanted it off."
"It's too cold, it reminds him of Minnesota in the winter."
"Did he tell you this?"
"Jeeze, what is with you two, anyway?"
"Will you shut up?"
"What, I mean--"
"Just SHUT UP!"
"Boy, aren't we testy tonight."
That was it. Last straw time. At the next stoplight, Starsky leaned over and with both hands on Andrews' shirt, shoved him against the door of the car. Shoved his face in close till it was mere inches away from the shocked expression of the other man.
"Ken Hutchinson is the best partner, the best friend, I have ever had," he ground out slowly. It was important that Andrews get this the first time. "He loves me like a brother, and any snide comments you might be considering makin', just consider again."
Andrews latched onto his hands and pried them from his clothes. "I see."
"You think you see," said Starsky. He let Andrews go, and ignored him for the rest of the drive.
A fellow had to sleep sometime. And eat. And go to work. By the time things had calmed down enough to where Hutch could claim a day, it was a week later. Double shifts did that to a person.
And it was almost impossible to get hold of Starsky: phone calls at his apartment went unanswered, messages at the station went haywire and were probably never even delivered. And he needed to make sure Starsky was all right, that the loss of his "spectacles" hadn't ruined him, that the world hadn't gotten to him completely.
At the end of his shift, Hutch ignored Batos' offer of a ride and went over to the desk he and Starsky used to share. It was much neater than it used to be, which probably meant that Andrews hounded Starsky to death about it. That, or he enjoyed Hutch nagging him and he used to leave it messy on purpose. The problem was that now that it was tidy, Hutch couldn't find anything.
He found a pencil, strangely enough, in the round container that was made for it. A little more shoving produced a clean, square pad of scratch paper, not even dog-eared at the edges. He sat down in Starsky's chair to write the note.
As he pushed some files aside to give himself some more elbow room, he found himself staring at the glass desk-top protector. At the pictures that Starsky used to remind himself to be careful, the definitive reasons why he should make a Herculean effort to come home at night. There was, as there had been for as long as Hutch had known him, a picture of Starsky's mom and dad, a more recent one of his mom, and one of him and Nick as kids.
But there was a new one. It was of Hutch himself, taken at a party some months ago that he only dimly remembered attending. He was standing slouched against the wall in a dark t-shirt, one leg propped up, arms across his chest, a long, tall cool one tucked in the crook of an elbow. By the relaxed expression, he knew it was fairly well along in the party, enough beer having been consumed so that no one he knew was trying to engage him in any real, meaningful conversation.
And there he stood, at the edge of things, watching. He thought he looked somewhat judgmental, and then remembered smirking at Starsky's seduction of a tiny redhead. Starsky had just smiled at him to let him know what she meant (a one-nighter, as usual) and he'd thought about smiling, really smiling, but had restrained himself. It wouldn't "do" to overtly encourage Starsky. So the camera man, an artistic friend of Huggy's he remembered vaguely, had snapped him as he was: watching after Starsky, trying not to let on how he really felt, and thinking. Mostly the former and not too much of the latter. With the bluntness of his fingertips he touched the glass. There was a small tightness in his chest.