A Thousand Thousand
The evening carried ever cooler puffs of wind across the open water, but it couldn't compete with the chill Hutch felt deep inside. He hunched in his jacket and heaved his detective’s badge far out into water where it sunk quickly beneath the surface. A second badge mirrored it. If only despair could be as easily tossed away, he thought. Instead, it dogged him like the twilight shadows. The only thing worse was the feeling that he'd dragged his partner down with him.
“You shouldn't have done that,” Hutch murmured, dropping down to his knees in the damp sand.
“Done what?” Starsky asked and crouched next to him. He wasn't immune to his partner’s pain. Like a modern day Corsican, when Hutch was wounded, Starsky bled. He’d accepted it long ago and even now didn't want to change a thing.
“Thrown away your dreams along with mine,” said Hutch. “I would have understood if you'd have just walked away. You deserve so much more.”
“Don't talk crazy, Hutch.” The evening breeze pulled at Starsky’s windbreaker but Hutch’s words pulled even more at his heart.
“Maybe I am crazy,” Hutch admitted. “What other explanation could there be for the mess I’ve made of my life? I should have listened to my father. Stayed in Duluth. Joined him in his law practice. I've made a fool of myself.”
Starsky chuffed. “You think you belong stuck behind a desk? No way.”
“Isn't that what successful people do? Wear a tie. Follow the rules. Put money in the bank. Look at me now. Sitting in the dark with a damp ass and empty pockets. I can’t stand the thought that I've brought you down, too.” Hutch spared Starsky a timid look before turning his gaze back to the sapphire ocean.
“You haven't taken me anywhere I didn't wanna go. Besides, there's more than one definition of success, Hutch,” Starsky insisted.
“There’s only one that matters.”
“To who, Hutch? Tell me that.” Starsky shot back hotly. It wasn't anger that leached through his voice. It was more like desperation - a fear that he was losing Hutch to the chimeras in his head. Ideas drummed into him by a litany of relatives, teachers and others who thought they knew best. Sometimes Starsky longed to put his hands around their ghostly necks and squeeze, the way they were squeezing the life from Hutch.
Starsky didn’t pretend to know everything there was about success, but he had to believe one size didn’t fit all. Hutch was completely unique. Like the way he admired the changing colors of a sunset or shed unmanly tears over a hurting child. How he sang like an angel or handed coins to a vagrant. Hutch’s smile could generate more electricity than Hoover Dam. Starsky would take that over a fancy suit and a fat bank account in a heartbeat.
I appreciate your loyalty,” Hutch said. “But you should have walked away when you had the chance. You're a good cop. I only hold you back.”
“Your head’s all twisted around. You ain’t seein’ things straight,” Starsky persisted.
“I'm facing reality, Starsk.”
“Fuck that.” Starsky dug the heel of his shoe into the sand making an angry imprint. Hutch was nearing rock bottom and Starsky was determined to lift him back up. To make him see himself the way Starsky did.
The evening deepened around the two men as the waves lapped at the sand with a gentle pulse. The dark shape of a bird circled over head then flew off, disinterested in the problems of such earth bound creatures.
“Did I ever tell you about the time my pop took Nicky and me to the circus in Madison Square Garden?” Starsky asked after the silence between them had become deafening. He didn’t wait for Hutch’s response. “It was one of those shows with three rings. I was so excited I didn't know what ta look at first. The clowns with their painted faces and big, floppy shoes, the acrobats flyin’ overhead in skimpy costumes or the wild animals that performed like trained dogs at the crack of a whip.”
Hutch remained quiet as he stared out at the water, seemingly unmindful of Starsky’s chatter. It wasn’t irritating the way Hutch had claimed. On the contrary, it soothed him like white noise on a sleepless night. He’d admit that one day.
“All the way home Nicky and I argued about what act was the best. Pop was ready to knock our heads together. He swore he'd never take us again.” Starsky grinned crookedly at the memory.
“Anyway, when we got back we couldn't wait to tell Ma all about it. But we were still arguing like cats and dogs. We couldn’t agree on anything. We were tryin’ to describe the elephants and Nick was goin’ on and on about their ears bein’ so big they could have used ‘em like wings. Now me, I couldn't get over their long trunks. Hell, one of those elephants picked up a lady in a sequined dress and she rode all around the ring sittin’ on its trunk like a swing.”
“That's a nice story, Starsk. But we're a little too old to be running away with the circus.” Hutch finally broke in softly, although the thought of running away with Starsky had crossed his mind more than once.
“Oh I don’t know, Hutch. I think you'd look pretty good in a pair of tights.” Starsky smirked, encouraged by the shadow of a smile he thought he saw cross Hutch’s face.
“Anyway, Ma got tired of us bickering. I swear she could take charge of the United Nations all by herself. She told us Nicky was right, but that I was right, too. That there were countless ways to look at any one thing. She reminded us that those huge ears, that long trunk, even the stringy tail, thick skin and legs like tree trunks were all part of same animal.”
“I figure success may be kinda like that elephant,” Starsky finished.
Hutch sent him a sidelong look that said ‘you’ve come up with some wild things before, but this might take the cake.’
“No, really,” Starsky said. “What success looks like to your father, Vanessa, Huggy, hell even Cap’n Doby, is all different. There’s a thousand different ways to be successful. Besides, sometimes I think maybe success isn’t something you have, but more like somethin’ you give away. Ya know, ta make the world a better place.
“When I look at you I don't see a guy who needs a suit and tie, big fancy house, or a bunch a’ framed papers hangin’ on a wall to show how important he is. I see someone who's so much more than that. Someone with a heart as big as this ocean. A guy who gives and gives and gives. Who anyone would be lucky to call a friend. The one person I trust with my life.”
Starsky reached out his hand and stroked Hutch’s hair. He felt Hutch tremble beneath his touch and dared to hope it wasn’t just from the cold. “As for that badge, I didn't throw anything away. The way I see it, I gained something.”
Hutch’s heart thrummed in his chest. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Because now you're all mine - and I'm all yours - not because of an assignment on a clipboard but because we want to be.”
Starsky leaned over and kissed Hutch’s cheek, tasting the salt that he wished was merely from the spray of the ocean.
Despite the coolness of the air, Starsky's breath felt heated on Hutch’s skin. His eyes flickered like sparks. It made Hutch aware that a fire must be burning deep within. How long had it been there? Days, months, years? The thought chased away all remnants of the chill that had enveloped him.
He blinked. “How’d you get so damn smart?” Would a reciprocal kiss be just one more screw up? Surely respectable men weren’t supposed to feel like this. Or would Starsky merely say there were a thousand kinds of passion, too?
Hutch moved in to Starsky’s lips and when Starsky didn't pull away Hutch felt it might have been the first thing he'd done right in a long time. Or the best thing he’d ever do. His feelings of failure drifted away and he knew he had all he'd ever need.