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"1983 - A Pilgrimage"

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“Hutch?”

Lieutenant Ken Hutchinson marked his place in the file he was reading and looked across the desks at his partner, Lieutenant Dave Starsky. “Hm?”

“Have we got any vacation time accumulated?”

“Sure we do, Starsk. We haven’t taken more than a weekend off in over two years. Where do you want to go?”

“It’s not that I want to so much as I need to.”

Hutch closed the folder and laced his fingers on top. “Ah…. The Vietnam Memorial?”

“Yeah.”

“I was wondering…”

“You never ask, Hutch, you never pry. You’re the best person I’ve ever known for not trying to dig into my secrets.”

“Aw, Starsk -”

“I’ll amend that. You’re the best person I’ve ever known. Period!”

“Hey, come on, buddy, I’m not a saint.”

“Never said you were. You’re just my best friend and you always give me space when I need it.”

Hutch tried to accept the compliment with grace. “I have been wondering.”

“So you said. And I really appreciate your letting me get to this place on my own. But I think I need to talk about it with you. Not right now, but soon.”

“Okay.”

“You know I read everything I could about the proposed monument, all through the competition phase. Then there was the controversy, the ugly comments from a few opponents, after Maya Lin’s brilliant design was chosen.”

“I remember.”

“But I couldn’t talk about it. Any of it.”

“I know.” Hutch got up and poured each of them a cup of coffee from the relatively fresh pot. He put one next to Starsky’s elbow and sat back down with his own. “It was dedicated last Fall, wasn’t it?”

Starsky nodded and swallowed a gulp. “November thirteenth. But we were too busy, what with me finally being allowed to take the Lieutenant’s exam, and the studying we had to do.”

Hutch didn’t try to hide his reminiscent smile. “Our biggest benefit from that Miami operation.”

“Took those bastards on the commission long enough,” Starsky huffed. “They dicked around, not givin’ me a straight answer, while we spent almost two years and lots of Federal funds going back and forth to Florida.”

“After we finally got convictions on Martinez and his crowd, Dobey held their feet to the fire, though. Made them make good on their implied promise.”

“He sure backed us to the hilt.”

“Always has, Starsk.”

“Then we were in meetings with the brass, them trying to figure out what to do with two brand new LTs and no place to put ‘em.”

“The problem was, of course, we refused to be split up.”

“Thought they were gonna fire us at one point.”

Hutch laughed. “You know they couldn’t have done that. We were media darlings by that time.”

Starsky grinned. “Yeah, I guess we were. But they were fit to be tied until you told them about your Cold Case idea.”

Our idea, partner. You were reading that departmental memo about the advances in DNA testing and we almost said the words at the same time.”

“We did, didn’t we? All the new technology’s great but nobody was taking advantage of it to try and clear unsolveds.”

“Now,” Hutch patted the file in front of him, “we are!”

“Six closed and in the hands of the prosecution in the first four months of our new squad! That’s pretty good, huh?”

“You bet it is, Starsk.”

“Sure has kept us busy.”

“But you’ve apparently had time to think about The Wall.”

“Yeah, I have.”

“Well then, let’s check with the Chief tomorrow and see if he’ll let us take some time off. The team has more than enough to keep them busy for a week or so.”

“You’ve never asked me about anything I did in the army, Hutch. Why is that? I’d have thought you’d be curious.”

“I was, Starsk. Believe me, I was! If you’d ever broached the subject, I’d have been happy to listen. But you never brought it up and I was hesitant to ask. They were your experiences, babe, your memories. I didn’t want to intrude. Besides… I never served. How could I understand anything that you’d been through.”

“You listen, Hutch, that’s a rare talent. And, because you listen, you’ll understand.”

“You want to talk about it now?”

“‘Nam was only the last year, eleven months actually, but they were the reason why I didn’t re-up again, after I got back to the States. Sixty-one to sixty-seven were good years to be in the army. I was stationed all over the world and, for a guy with a hunger for structure and stability in his life, it was great. But ‘Nam was a different story.”

“Go on.”

“Not right now. Maybe on the flight. Or when we get there.”

“Okay. We’ll talk to the chief in the morning.”

*******

The two seats behind the bulkhead on the right side of the plane in Economy Class were available and Starsky and Hutch grabbed them. Starsky, in the aisle seat, had easy access to the lavatory on the other side of the partition and Hutch had almost enough room to stretch out his long legs.

When they reached cruising altitude, the very pretty flight attendant brought coffee and packets of peanuts. “Press the call button, fellas, when you’re ready for a refill.”

Hutch flipped through the in-flight magazine, giving Starsky as much time as he needed. His partner was tense and Hutch figured the next five hours might either go quickly or drag, depending on whether or not Starsky was ready to talk.

After the pilot had welcomed them aboard and told them their flying time, cruising altitude, and significant landmarks they’d be able to see, and the stewardess had re-filled their cups, Hutch continued to wait patiently.

Somewhere past Lake Powell, Starsky drew in a deep breath. “If you’ve read my personnel file, you know I scraped through high school by the skin of my teeth.”

“Why would I read your personnel file, Starsk? Anything I need to know about you, you tell me.”

Starsky shrugged. “Just thought you might have, at some point. We’ve been through so much, maybe there were times when you doubted my sanity. Or my worthiness to carry a badge. Much less a gun.”

Hutch put his hand on Starsky’s arm. “Never.” Starsky patted the hand and Hutch withdrew it.

“Thanks” Starsky drank half his cup of coffee before putting it down on his tray table. “Huggy and I were more inseparable than ever the summer after graduation but his family in Jamaica had some sort of a crisis and his aunts, uncles and cousins, the ones that lived in California, were called home. He had to go with them, and I was suddenly alone. More alone than I’d been since Pop died.”

“Uncle Al? Aunt Rose?”

“Oh, they tried to help but I must have been like a lump of rock; wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t tell ‘em what was wrong. I did my chores, helped Uncle Al at the car lot, but I felt like I was breathin’ from habit.”

“Didn’t you know John Blaine by then?”

“Yeah. He’s the one who suggested I join the army. Told me I was too young for the police academy. I needed… seasoning, he called it. Said the Army would shape me up or kill me.”

“So you joined.”

Starsky nodded. “Late summer of sixty-one. I was eighteen. Boot camp was the toughest six weeks of my life but I made it through without any real hassles or black marks on my record, and Private David Michael Starsky was posted to Germany.”

*******

They drank coffee, Starsky visited the head several times, they ate a pretty decent meal, and while his best friend talked, Hutch listened. He offered single-word comments or questions when he thought they were needed but, otherwise, kept silent. After the pilot announced they were crossing the Mississippi, he felt Starsky steel himself to get to what was really on his mind.

“I was never very good with history, Hutch, but I think our involvement in Vietnam was like no other war we’ve ever been in. I got there in January, sixty-eight, just before the Tet Offensive was launched, and what I saw for the rest of that year made me question every member of the brass and every order I was given. Oh, the Viet Cong were the bad guys, all right, and we heard horror stories about what happened to G.I.s and shot-down pilots, if they were taken prisoner. But there didn’t seem to be anyone at the top who knew how to use all the resources we had on the ground, and in the air, so we could win the fucking war!”

“I heard it was a real mess.”

“You got that right!” Starsky finished his coffee and hit his call button.

The stewardess showed up almost immediately with a fresh pot, filling each of their cups, and slipping packets of peanuts and a couple of sleeves of cookies onto their tray tables. She moved off toward the rear of the plane, offering coffee, snacks, and smiles.

“Ever heard the term, ‘friendly fire’?” Starsky’s voice was so soft Hutch wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.

“‘Friendly fire’?” he repeated. When Starsky nodded, Hutch shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“The VC had captured one of our radios and they had someone who spoke English so well, with perfect inflections and slang, the guys at the base never questioned it when the fake radioman called in an air strike.”

Hutch sucked in a breath but said nothing; there was nothing he could say.

Starsky closed his eyes and drank the scalding coffee. “Right onto my patrol’s position.”

“Oh, God…” Hutch breathed.

“September second. Four of my squad were hit in the first run. The LT and I, both wounded, dragged the guys into one of their tunnels that got opened up by a near-miss. We hunkered down and tried to stop the bleeding while a second Thud came in.”

Hutch couldn’t help asking, “‘Thud’?”

“F-One-Oh-Five. Thunderchief.” Starsky tried to smile but it was more like a grimace. “Those air force jocks were damn good!”

Hutch covered his partner’s hand with one of his own. “I don’t know what to say, Starsk.”

Starsky gently waved off the sympathy. “Nothing anyone can say. The VC were clever that way. We never knew what they’d come up with next but it was always sneaky and terrible.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“And we could almost never pin them down. They had tunnels everywhere and could move from place to place without being spotted from the air. It was a nightmare.”

“How did you escape that day?”

“After the one-oh-fives were gone, we crawled out. Our first aid hadn’t done any good; Mickey, Stilts, Red, and Billy were dead. The radio still worked though. The LT called the base and screamed until somebody believed him. He gave the real coordinates and another strike was sent. But we don’t know if the VC were still there by the time the missiles smoked in.”

“And after that?”

“Choppers came, and we got all the bodies out; didn’t have to leave them behind.” He took a detailed schematic of the memorial out of his pocket and unfolded it. “If what I’ve read is correct, their names will be on Panel W45, under the date they died.”

Starsky studied the drawing intently and Hutch grew concerned. “You’re not blaming yourself for what happened, are you?” He attempted to keep the worry off his face and out of his voice but was afraid he’d failed.

Starsky folded the page and returned it to his pocket. “‘Course not, Hutch. But it was a pretty big nail in the coffin of that war for me. Nobody had any real idea about why we were there, what we were supposed to be doing, and how we were going to win! It was all senseless. But guys kept dyin’.”

“And you need to pay your respects to those who did.”

“Something like that.”

*******

When Hutch woke up the next morning he was alone in the bed, which was unusual, since he was almost always the first one awake. Glancing around, he saw Starsky standing at the window. He was naked and, from the way the curtains moved, he could tell his partner was shivering. Grabbing their robes from the foot of the bed, Hutch shrugged into his own and moved to Starsky, draping the second one over the tense shoulders.

Starsky slipped his arms into the sleeves and tied the belt. “We lucked out on the weather.”

Hutch glanced out at the brilliantly blue sky and bright sunshine. “Sure did.” People on the street were scurrying though, and it looked like it was a bit chilly. He drew his partner back against his chest and clasped his hands in front.

Starsky covered Hutch’s hands with his own and leaned his head against Hutch’s shoulder. “Thanks for coming with me.”

Rather than state the obvious, Hutch pressed his lips to Starsky’s temple. “Ready for some breakfast? The bellhop said they have a restaurant downstairs. Or room service is pretty good.”

Starsky unfolded Hutch’s hands and moved out of the circle of his arms, headed for the bathroom. “My stomach’s a little unsettled. Get what you want while I grab a shower.”

As the door closed, Hutch decided he wasn’t interested in food, either. “We’ll find someplace later and have a big lunch,” he called before the sound of the shower drowned him out.

*******

They walked down Twenty-Third Street from their hotel and entered Constitution Gardens, the western portion of the National Mall. The Vietnam War Memorial was positioned in the northwest corner.

In photographs, the memorial was impressive. In reality, Hutch found it mesmerizing. Sections of highly polished black granite had been set vertically against a mound of grass-covered earth. The left half pointed toward the close-by Lincoln Memorial; the right led visitors’ eyes to the Washington Monument, farther away. The two halves, angled at one-hundred-twenty-five degrees, joined in the center. Each end began near the ground and sloped upward toward the apex where the two sides met. The dark surface was like a mirror, showing a broad walkway that fronted it, as well as the grass, plantings, and Reflecting Pool beyond.

“We’re fairly early, Hutch, but we’re sure not the first people here.”

Scores of men, women and children were already wandering around. Some were in uniform but most were dressed in civilian clothes. A few individuals stood off the path, right next to the monument’s wall, their fingers tracing a name. Others appeared to be frozen in front of a particular panel. Some were clearly praying. One man was on his knees, his hands and forehead pressed against the unyielding stone, while his friend knelt behind him with both hands holding tightly to the sobbing man’s shoulders. Most of the visitors paced the walkway slowly; voices were muted. The children were very well-behaved, as befitted a place dedicated to over fifty-seven thousand lost lives.

“The names are listed chronologically,” Starsky said, softly, “according to the date they were killed, or wounded so badly they died later.”

Not wanting to intrude on his partner’s contemplation, Hutch hung back while Starsky began at the west end of the wall, where the first casualty’s name was carved. As he moved forward, looking for panel W45, he reached out and trailed the fingers of his left hand lightly across the silent reminders of those who never came home.

Noticing the stuffed animals, letters, framed photographs, single flowers and whole bouquets, as well as other objects, leaning against the base of the wall, Hutch stopped and gazed the length of the stark blackness. Hundreds of mementos lent their color and sparkle to the scene. He moved close to his partner and kept his voice low as he made a subtle gesture. “What happens to all the things being left, Starsk?”

Starsky shook his head. “Not sure. I read somewhere that an organization is collecting them once a week, more often during bad weather, and cataloging everything. Supposedly, nothing will be discarded, ever. Someday, when they have enough money, they’ll put it all together into some sort of museum.”

As Starsky reached the first of the many panels required by all the deaths which had occurred during 1968, Hutch could tell by the rigidity of his partner’s body and the stiffness in the hand and arm that trailed over the names, that he was getting close to the date he was looking for. Slowing, Starsky stopped, his hand resting on ‘September 2.’

Hutch could see that there were more than four names under that date and he reasoned that others had died, or been fatally wounded, in different parts of the country, at almost the same time as Starsky’s squad. He wondered how many had been from ‘friendly fire.’

While Hutch watched, Starsky reached up and reverently traced each letter of four names. Only afterward did he seem to notice a piece of paper taped next to the date. Hesitating for a moment, he detached the note before reading it. A minute or so later, he walked to Hutch and held it out.

“‘Sargent Dave…’” Hutch smiled a little at the misspelling. “‘I here every morning, 6:00. You come please? Tran Binh’.” He looked at Starsky’s pale face. “Sergeant Dave is you?”

“I guess so. She knew the date I was wounded that first time; the date my guys died.”

Hutch handed the note back. “Who is she?”

“A South Vietnamese nurse.” Starsky walked slowly to a bench and sat down.

Hutch followed and sat next to him, making sure their bodies were touching, shoulder to ankle. “Tell me about her.”

“I wasn’t hurt badly enough in the September second incident to be sent home, but I spent a week in the base hospital. Binh was a volunteer there.”

“Binh is her first name?”

Starsky nodded. “Last name first, over there. Tran is the family name. Binh means ‘peaceful’.” Starsky choked off what might have been a sob. “It suited her, too. In the craziness of that place, she was always calm and caring…. She made every person in that hospital feel peaceful.” Starsky had tears in his eyes but they weren’t falling when he looked at Hutch. “I fell in love with her. She saved my life.”

“I thought you weren’t hurt that badly.”

“I wasn’t. But her presence kept me from going off the deep end after our own planes had killed four of my guys. I don’t think I’d have made it through another patrol if I hadn’t met Binh.”

Hutch gestured to the piece of paper in Starsky’s hand. “And now she’s here in D.C.”

Starsky stared down at the note. “Looks that way.”

“How much longer, after that incident, were you in-country?”

Starsky smiled a little at the phrase. “Didn’t think you knew that term.”

“Can’t be a protestor and not learn something, buddy.”

“Oh, that’s right. You and your college friends probably went to all the anti-war rallies.”

“Some of them did. I didn’t. I was opposed to the war, yes, but I knew guys were over there fighting for their lives, if not for a recognizably good cause. I really didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize everyone who was there, whether they’d volunteered or been drafted.”

“I wouldn’t have held it against you, babe.”

Hutch put an arm around his partner’s shoulders. “I know you wouldn’t but I’m glad I didn’t go to those rallies. Somehow, from this point in our lives, I’d have felt I betrayed you.” Starsky leaned against him and Hutch soaked in the closeness. “When did you finally get away from over there?”

“Couple of months later, on what was supposed to be a routine patrol, a VC sniper took out Russ, we called him Rusty, our point man. The bullet went through his helmet, burst his head like a melon, and hit me in the left leg. It was tumbling by that time so it shattered the thigh bone and tore up the muscles.” Hutch tightened his hold on the shoulders but didn’t make a sound. “I got evac’d out that same night. Binh wasn’t at the hospital that day and I never got to say goodbye.”

“Did you try writing to her?”

“You bet I did! Every day in Hawaii, while they were putting my leg back together, then at least once a week after I got to California.”

“She didn’t answer?”

Starsky laid his head on Hutch’s shoulder. “Not a word.” For a minute or two they sat and watched as the man who was crying got his tears under control and rested in his friend’s arms. Then, without a word, the one guy helped his friend to his feet and they walked slowly away.

Hutch dropped his arm when Starsky sat up, shaking himself as if just waking up. “I told Blaine all about her and he wrote a few letters himself but nothing worked. I never heard from her. When John realized my leg had gotten better but I hadn’t, he talked me into applying at the academy.”

“And the rest, as they say, is history.” Hutch caught Starsky’s eyes and gently smiled.

Almost reluctantly, it seemed, Starsky’s face broke into one of his patented crooked grins. “Yeah.”

“So…” Hutch stood up and made a show of brushing off the seat of his cords. “Are we coming back here tomorrow morning?”

Starsky thought about it for a minute before taking a deep breath and standing up. “I am. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“You know better than that, Starsk. Where you go, I go.”

Starsky's smile was thin but it was there as he started off along the wall again. "Gotta find Rusty's name first, then we can go."

*******

That night Hutch made long, slow, tender love to his partner. He didn’t allow Starsky to do anything except lie quietly while Hutch used his hands and mouth to soothe and relax every tense muscle in the taut body.

“Hutch… let me -”

“Shhhh.”

“I love you.”

“I know. And I’m going to show you how much I love you for the next couple of hours. If you can talk after that… well, we’ll see.”

A smile ghosted across Starsky’s face and the only sounds he made for a long time were moans of pleasure. Hutch was well satisfied when Starsky fell asleep with a final “…utchhh.”

*******

The next day was partly cloudy, although it wasn’t raining, and the forecast was for sunshine by afternoon. They had coffee in the hotel’s restaurant but Starsky was too nervous to eat and Hutch felt his partner’s jitters. They were walking down Twenty-Third Street by five-forty-five.

The weather, and the very early hour, were probably responsible for the fewer number of visitors at the monument and Starsky spotted the small woman immediately. She was seated on the same bench Starsky and Hutch had occupied the day before. He broke into a run but slowed quickly and Hutch knew his partner was afraid of scaring this person he hadn’t seen in almost fifteen years.

Hutch followed at a respectful distance and watched as Starsky approached the seated lady. As soon as she noticed him, she rose, her exotically beautiful face breaking into a radiant smile. Who needs sunshine? Hutch thought. She reached bird-like hands toward Starsky and he enclosed them in his larger ones.

By the time Hutch was close enough to hear them, Starsky had persuaded Tran Binh to sit back down and he was kneeling at her feet. She put a tiny hand to his cheek. “You look same.” Her voice was melodic and gentle. ‘Peaceful,’ Hutch remembered.

“So do you.” Starsky caught her hand and kissed the palm. “I wrote to you, Binh. I wrote every day for weeks.”

“I know.”

“Why didn’t you answer?”

She folded her hands in her lap and looked down. “My family… they not… allow.”

Starsky threw an incredulous look over his shoulder at Hutch, apparently needing to know if Hutch had heard. When Hutch nodded that he had, Starsky got to his feet and sat next to Binh. He took one of her hands back into his. “I wanted to marry you, Binh. I’d have come back for you. I’d have brought you and your whole family to this country. I loved you!”

The tears were coursing down her cheeks by this time. “They not believe. Hear too many stories. G.I.s make promises. Never fulfill. Never come back.”

“That’s not me, Binh. I wanted to, I would have!”

“I believe. They not. I not able… what word?… defy… not able defy them. They my family.”

Starsky slumped but didn’t let go of her hand. “Why are you here, Binh? Why did you leave me that message? How did you think I’d ever see it?”

When Starsky motioned him closer, Hutch moved forward and sat down in front of them, crossing his ankles. Visitors would have to walk around him but he didn’t care; he didn’t want to miss a single word.

“All time I be nurse to you, I feel your grief.” She patted Starsky’s hand in a sweet gesture. “You lost friends. You hurt.” Her gaze traveled the length of the black wall. “When they build this, I know you come someday. I wait.”

Starsky was visibly stunned. “You’ve been here every day?”

“Yes. They take message down, I put up new one. I wait.”

“Why, Binh? When you wouldn’t even answer my letters?”

“I married,” she whispered. “He diplomat. Come near end of war, before Saigon fall. He tour hospital. We meet. He want meet my family. They approve. He bring me to America, marry me. Bring mother, father, later.” She cast a shy glance at Starsky. “Also Bian.”

Hutch had a flash of what was coming but kept silent.

Starsky shook his head. “Who’s Bian?”

In response to a slight gesture from Binh’s right hand, a slender girl who appeared to be about fourteen, materialized from behind a family on the walkway. She approached the bench, gliding as if her feet weren’t touching the ground, and knelt at Binh’s feet. She was slender, with short, curly, dark brown hair that showed auburn highlights when a milky beam of sunshine dusted her head. Her eyes though, were what riveted Hutch; they were indigo blue.

Binh put her hand lightly against the girl’s cheek. “This… Bian.” She looked at Starsky. “You know meaning of name?” Starsky shook his head and Binh whispered, “woman of secrets.”

At that moment, Bian looked straight at Starsky and, though he was plainly shocked, he reached forward and took both the girl’s hands in his. “My daughter?”

Binh’s smile was beatific and Hutch understood why his partner had fallen in love with this woman. After a few moments, her expression turned sad. “My family… they not let me write, tell you.”

Starsky opened his mouth but was struck speechless. He turned to Hutch. “Can you believe this, Hutch? I have a daughter!” He turned back to stare at the beautiful child. “Isn’t she the most gorgeous… the most precious person you’ve ever seen?”

“Pretty darn close.” Hutch patted Starsky’s knee. “Congratulations, partner.”

Starsky appeared, suddenly, to recognize his oversight and put a hand on Hutch’s shoulder. “Binh, this is Hutch. Ken Hutchinson. We’re policemen in Bay City, California.”

She reached out a hand. “I pleased meet you.”

Hutch enfolded the small bones and the delicate skin that covered them. “It’s my pleasure, believe me.”

Starsky took the hand from Hutch and kissed the fingers. “Now that we’ve found each other again, Binh, I want to be part of your lives. I need to get to know Bian.”

Binh’s face clouded over more heavily than the sky. “That not possible.”

“Of course it is. I won’t let it not be! She’s my daughter, my flesh and blood.”

“She not yours, Sergeant Dave.” Binh’s voice was soft but firm. “Husband adopt her. She his.”

Starsky was clearly reeling. He let go of her hands and sat back. “Does he know about me?”

“No. I not tell. My parents not tell. He only know a G.I. her father.”

“Well, that’s just not good enough! I want -”

“I need you listen.” Her firm voice stopped Starsky in mid-word. “I not write messages, wait here, months, so you can be….” English words had obviously failed her. Instead, she gestured to herself and Bian. “Me, she, husband, mother, father, we family.” She looked at Starsky, her eyes sadly determined. “You not.” Starsky flushed but she hurried on. “You give me Bian. I grateful forever. I hope you come…” She gestured around, “this place. I want her see you, know I love you, always. But you not family.” She put a hand to Starsky’s cheek and wiped away his tears. “I sorry.” Her hand lingered on his face as she stood up. “Thank you. Good bye.”

Taking Bian’s hand, the two women turned and began to walk away.

Starsky surged to his feet. “Wait! Please, Binh. Wait a minute.” As they turned back, his dug out the card holder Hutch had given him the month before, for his birthday. When he took a step toward them, extracted one and extended it, Binh shook her head.

Bian stared at her mother for what seemed like forever until, finally, Binh nodded slightly. Bian took the card.

“If either of you needs anything. Ever!” Starsky’s voice broke. “Please call me. Binh… Bian… Please?”

Bian slipped the card into a pocket and took her mother’s hand before they hurried away.

*******

Hutch changed their reservations to the next Bay City flight and checked them out of the hotel. Starsky said nothing while they packed, nor during the long drive out to the airport. Hutch felt as if he’d been gutted and knew his partner could only be feeling worse.

The two bulkhead seats were available again and Hutch told the gate attendant they’d take them. Starsky drank no coffee, ate no peanuts, declined lunch when it was offered, and made only one trip to the head. As the pilot announced the beginning of their descent and the Fasten Seat Belts signs lit up, Starsky drew in one long, deep breath, letting it out slowly. “She’s one beautiful lady, isn’t she, Hutch?”

Hutch was so relieved by the soft, sweet words, he wanted to cheer. Instead, he kept his response quiet and infused it with understanding. “No argument on that one, Starsk.”

“And Bian is… well, I can’t find words.”

“You’ll think of them, babe. They’ll come to you.”

“I hope so. ‘Cause I don’t ever want to forget either one of them.”

Hutch patted his partner’s knee. “You couldn’t do that even if you tried, Sergeant Dave.”

A very small smile cracked Starsky’s solemn face. “That’s Lieutenant Dave to you, partner.”

*******

The Wall beckoned him
Disillusion, pain, regret
Softened by a smile