The autobiography was somewhat controversial when it came out, more for the details it revealed about the corruption of the time—and the famous personalities implicated—than for its quiet revelation about the nature of the relationship between two legendary Bay City police detectives. In 2015, two male cops getting it on wasn't big news.
The book did very well, making the New York Times best-seller list and prompting the paper to send someone out to interview the reclusive author at his home in Mendocino, California. Mark Riser, the rookie reporter who pulled the assignment, wasn't too enchanted. He gave the book a cursory glance, but all the dry facts about events from thirty-five years previous made his head ache. The only real information of interest to him was the answer to the mystery of why, after all these years, Captain Kenneth Richard Hutchinson, retired, had finally come out about his relationship with Detective Sergeant First Class David Michael Starsky, now deceased.
Gay and out, himself, Riser husbanded more than a little contempt for the older generation and their closeted ways. In his opinion, had more of those guys been a little braver early on, it wouldn't have taken so long for the gay community to acquire the same rights as the average Joe. Hell, Title XXX, making gay marriage legal, had only just passed two years earlier.
On the long flight to San Francisco, Riser put on a headset and listened to the audio version of the book narrated by the author, himself. Hutchinson had an appealing speaking voice, Riser had to admit; a little rough, but well-modulated and with good enunciation. It was strange hearing him speak of events that had occurred in a place that no longer existed. Riser had been to Bay City a few times, and that glittery town full of perfect people bore no resemblance to the gritty, dangerous city the man described. Hearing the book spoken aloud brought it to life for Riser, and he sank into it, fascinated almost against his will by the stories of drug busts, Satanists, and dirty judges. Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson had led colorful, dangerous careers.
Riser deplaned at the San Francisco International Airport and obtained his rental car. On the long drive to Mendocino, as he wended his way across the Golden Gate Bridge north, and then west toward the Pacific, he admitted to himself the book deserved its popularity. Midway through his second listening of the tale involving Hutchinson's abduction and subsequent forcible addiction to heroin, Riser entered the Mendocino town limits. He pulled to the side of the road to listen a while longer.
"We were holed up above the bar Huggy's Place. In Huggy's own apartment upstairs, Starsky held me as I sweated the junk out of my system. 'Forty-eight hours of sweat and pain,' is what Huggy warned, but I was too out of it at the time to understand what he meant.
It was Hell. If it weren't for the loyal determination of my friends, I could easily have died a junkie's death on the streets. I was a begging, shaking, puking mess. I would have given anything for a 'fix.' We weren't lovers at the time, but I'm sure if it had occurred to me I would have offered to blow Starsky for a measly pop, just like any junkie whore. Thank God it didn't occur to me, because that's how low the addiction had brought me."
Nowadays, of course, physical addiction wasn't really a problem, except for those few who were allergic to the synth drugs. Still, Riser could sympathize with a tough, good cop who found himself suddenly in the role of a criminal.
Riser started up the car again and followed the precise directions. Hutchinson's email correspondences had all been brief and concise. His requirements for the interview had been firm—he would answer questions about the book and the writing of it, but none about his private life. Still, Riser had managed to glean a few facts about the man from other sources. He lived alone in the house he and his partner had built with their pensions. He had a Jack Russell Terrier named Tomato, and he liked to garden.
Riser, himself, was a bit of an amateur gardener, and thought he might use the common interest to break the ice. He revised his opinion immediately as he knocked, and the door opened to reveal two glacier-blue eyes that fixed on him coldly. They filled with a startled look, almost of recognition, before they chilled again.
"Captain Hutchinson? I'm Mark Riser," he said respectfully.
There was an unnaturally long pause before the man replied. "Yes, come in." He waved him in. "Thank you for being prompt," Hutchinson said behind him, closing the door.
"It was a nice drive, not much traffic," Riser said, looking eagerly around the small house. He could tell a lot about people by the things they chose to surround themselves with. It was one reason why Riser preferred to do interviews on his subject's home turf. In this case, what he saw was...simplicity, combined with lushness. A strange combination.
The living room was sparsely furnished, with no knick-knacks to speak of. In the corner sat a laptop and a small lamp on top of an old-fashioned desk. There was a couch facing two overstuffed chairs. No vid center, Riser noticed, but lots and lots of books lining one wall. The odd thing was the room was flush with almost every available surface covered with plants, some even hanging from the ceiling.
"Please, have a seat," came the gruff voice. Riser recognized the distinctive, husky timbre from the book audio. He sat down on one of the couches and Hutchinson sat on the chair opposite, lowering himself into it as if his back pained him. Still, he was spry-looking for a seventy-three year-old, if a bit stooped. His hair was white mixed with gold, and quite thin.
"Can I offer you something to drink?" Hutchinson asked politely.
"Maybe later, thanks." Riser was eager to begin. He lifted his bag and pulled out his laptop, then rummaged for his clip mic, which he attached to the top of the screen. "Do you mind if I record this?"
"No, that's fine," Hutchinson said patiently.
Riser spent a little time getting set up, then sat back and looked up at the older man. "I guess you must be proud of how your book is doing?"
Hutchinson's response was unexpected. "Not necessarily. Just because people are buying it doesn't mean they are reading it. People don't seem to read much, these days."
Riser flushed a little, thinking of his own unwillingness to delve into the printed words. "But they do listen to audio; certainly your narrated version will capture their attention. The New York Times best-sellers statistics also include audio sales, now."
"Yes, I am aware of that." Hutchinson looked to the side, a wistful look crossing his face. "I hope they do listen, then."
"What is it you want them to hear?" Riser asked, realizing only after he had spoken that he was responding to the sad expression instead of sticking to his carefully scripted interview. It seemed to be the right question to ask, though, because Hutchinson's attention returned to his face, his eyes warming a bit.
"I guess...I want them to know about a time...and about the people who lived it. So much seems to be forgotten. I didn't want them to forget." Hutchinson stopped abruptly, and his face hardened. "Not that it matters."
Riser wasn't sure how to follow up on that, so he fell back on his next question, "It appears you and your partner got into a lot of dangerous situations—more than most cops. Why do you think that was?"
Hutchinson shrugged, "That was just the way things went down. Our Captain—" he drifted off, his lips creeping into a fond smile before he clarified, "That's Captain Harold Dobey—he gave us the slack we needed to get it done. We were good at the tough ones, and he tended to trust us with those. But it's the tough ones to break that usually get...messy." He shrugged once again, as if kidnappings, beatings and blood rituals were just your everyday thing on the job.
Riser shook his head, "It seemed to me, reading between the lines, that your partner was a bit of a hotdog." It was a provocative question. He wanted to crack the man open a little.
But Hutchinson just stared at him with eyes that saw too clearly. "Trying to get a rise?" Hutchinson made a wry expression, "Rather, you should say I was a little too cautious, sometimes. Starsky took it right up to the edge. It's just one of the reasons he was the best damned cop there ever was." The last was stated with quiet vehemence, the blue eyes glinting.
"Until the Gunther thing," Riser said, knowing as he said it that he might be risking the whole interview.
But Hutchinson surprised him again by nodding his head, the third nod ending with his head dropped. "Until Gunther," he agreed, his voice thick. Riser felt somewhat guilty, but pressed on.
"And he never thought of trying to be a cop again? I know he was pretty badly injured, but—"
Hutchinson's head snapped up.
"But, what? But he should've taken three bullets and then jumped back out there for more? Jesus, what people want from their heroes never ceases to amaze me. And he was, you know. A fucking hero." Hutchinson ran out of breath, and then quieted while Riser continued to hold his. Was he going to get thrown out? He tilted his head and tried to look disarming.
The air left Hutchinson like a punctured tire and he leaned back in his chair, all the fight gone out of him.
"No, Starsky never tried to re-qualify. And I think he might have. He certainly got back into great shape after the shooting. But I think he knew—" Hutchinson stopped suddenly.
"Knew...?" Riser prompted cautiously.
"Knew I couldn't have...handled it. Having him back out there in danger again. He'd already died one time too many. God, If only it had been me...." There was such profound regret in his voice that Riser felt his stomach clench. "He was always stronger than I was, in so many ways."
"So, if you had been the one injured, you think Detective Starsky could have dealt with it? Seeing his lover at risk again?"
Hutchinson's head jerked, and wariness filled his face. Riser saw him drop his eyes to the microphone.
"It's already out there, sir," Riser said softly, surprised at his own sympathy for the man's fear. How terrible, to live your entire life in the closet. "Were you already lovers by then? You didn't say in your book."
Resigned, Hutchinson said, "We'd always been lovers. We just didn't know it." The answer was evasive, but Riser dropped the line of questioning, knowing he'd already pushed enough.
Curious, he asked, "What was he like? Detective Starsky, I mean. You tell us in the book what he was like as a cop, but what about otherwise?"
Hutchinson seemed grateful for the change in subject. "He was...a total contradiction. Like a little kid one second, delighting in things most people take for granted; and in the next, unbelievably wise about human nature and the way the world worked. And tough—Jesus, he was tough. But he could be so gentle...." Hutchinson paused and asked, a little hesitantly, "Would you like to see some pictures of him?"
Riser nodded eagerly and stood at Hutchinson's gesture, following him to another room. He left his laptop behind.
They were in some kind of study, perhaps where Hutchinson had written his book. The walls were covered with photographs; so many that Riser's eyes just took them in as a whole before settling on the central image.
Two men stood close together, one dark-haired, the other blond. They were turned slightly toward each other, the blond looking down with a small smile on his face. The brunet was staring at the camera, his expression almost fierce, but a twinkle in his eyes softened his expression. With a start, Riser realized the blond, of course, had to be Hutchinson. God, but he was beautiful in his youth. As was the brunet, but in a completely different way. Light and dark, he marveled, like the god with two faces.
His eye drifted to the right, and another picture. Riser received a second shock, for in this one David Starsky was smiling, and with that lopsided grin on his face he bore a more than passing resemblance to Riser, himself. He looked over at Hutchinson to find he was being observed closely.
"He looks...he looks a bit like...."
"You," Hutchinson nodded. "I'd wondered how you managed to get me talking so easily. Starsky could always crack me open like a bad walnut." Hutchinson turned away sharply and stared at the picture before him. Riser's eyes followed. In this photo, obviously taken when he was quite young, Starsky was in a police officer's uniform, his head tilted to the side, cap cocked back. He was smiling broadly, and his left hand held a badge out toward the camera. Riser looked back to Hutchinson's face and was embarrassed by the terrible yearning he saw there.
"Starsky loved being a cop," Hutchinson said softly, his voice torn with guilt.
"Maybe he loved you more," Riser said, moved to speak.
Hutchinson turned to face him and looked at him piercingly. He seemed to find what he was looking for, for he said quietly, "Maybe that's why I...why we became lovers just then. Maybe I was trying to make him love me that much, so he wouldn't go back to the streets." Hutchinson raised a large hand, knuckles somewhat misshapen with arthritis, and rubbed his forehead with his fingers.
"I can't answer that. But do you really think your relationship could have lasted twenty-five years if it weren't something you both wanted and needed?" Riser made a snort of disgust. "Hell, I've only been with Tyler a year and a half, and sometimes it's all I can do not to smother him with a pillow."
There was a surprised grunt of laughter from the older man, and Riser grinned. He turned his attention to another photograph, this one of Hutchinson, obviously taken when he was unaware. He was on the beach, in swimming trunks, sitting on the sand with one tanned knee raised, his elbow resting on it. His hand was furrowed in his hair, which caught the sun. His eyes were on the ocean, a matching aquamarine. Riser whistled low.
"What?" came the dry voice.
"It's just...you were really good-looking." Riser blushed at making such a back-handed compliment. But Hutchinson didn't seem put out at his use of the past tense.
"Yeah, well. I have to admit it was nice having hair. Once." Hutchinson said, sounding amused. He straightened and nodded toward the door. "Come on. Let's get you a beer."
Riser followed the tall man to the spacious kitchen. Out the window, he saw a white and brown dog rolling around on the grass.
"Can I ask you something?" Riser said as he accepted the bottle and took a sip of the cold drink.
"Well, that is what you're here for, isn't it?" Hutchinson reminded him with a sardonic look.
"You keep calling him 'Starsky,'" Riser said, then stammered out, "Did you...I mean when you were...did you always?" He finished and took another quick gulp to hide his embarrassment.
Hutchinson seemed to consider his answer. "No. Sometimes I called him 'dirtball.' Or, if he was being especially obtuse, 'mushbrain,'" he said, quirking his lip.
"What did he call you?" Riser asked, smiling back.
"Sometimes he called me 'Blintz,' other times, 'Blondie.' I think he was a little obsessed with my hair. But mostly, he called me 'Hutch.' He started calling me that in the Academy, and since we were together all the time, that's pretty much what people called me the rest of my life." Hutchinson smiled sadly. "It's like he renamed me."
"'Hutch,'" Riser repeated, and then looked a question.
Hutchinson nodded his acceptance.
"Okay, Hutch. Well, you've succeeded in completely derailing my interview, and I'm sure my boss is going to kill me, but I find I don't care." Riser made the confession with a shy smile.
Hutchinson looked a little surprised, and then wariness returned to his eyes for the first time in a while. Riser wondered what he had done to screw up their rapport; but before he could say anything, Hutchinson turned away and walked back to the living room without a word. Riser followed and took his seat, putting his beer down to lift his laptop and rest his fingers on the keys. Hutchinson was looking at him evenly.
Riser drew a breath. He'd been hoping, seeing the man so relaxed in the kitchen, that he could ask this next question and get the answer he was seeking. But now the face staring at him was set, eyes slitted, making the wrinkles around them more pronounced. Still, Riser had enough to write his interview, so he might as well go for broke.
"So, Hutch, I guess my next question is what took you so long? Why did you wait twenty-five years before coming out of the closet?" Against his intent, his voice was abrupt, almost angry. He saw Hutchinson react to the question by stiffening his spine.
"The enemy without." Hutchinson's answer was delivered in a reflective tone. It sounded like a quote. Riser raised his eyebrows.
"We talked about it a lot," Hutchinson explained slowly, his eyes resting levelly on Riser's, no apology in them. "And we decided, with so many damned people trying to kill us, that maybe we shouldn't add to the list by acquiring enemies within." Hutchinson frowned a little, focusing intently on him. "Do you understand what I mean?"
Riser did, sort of, but shook his head in a silent request for elaboration.
"The BCPD at the time was not the most...tolerant bunch of guys on the planet, Mark. You might even say they were, for the most part, real sons of bitches." Hutchinson sounded sad and angry, both. "If a cop were suspected of being gay, he could be targeted for harassment, or even find that no one would show to back him up in a bad situation. Or maybe he'd get caught in a little crossfire." Hutchinson sighed and looked away. "I told Starsky I didn't care. I wanted to try. Hell, I could always quit the force. But he wouldn't hear of it. It's one of the few real arguments we ever had." He looked defeated.
"Sounds like you loved him enough to hide that you loved him." Riser was, again, surprised at the sympathy he felt for this man, and his partner. Hutchinson glanced at him briefly in acknowledgement of his statement, but his grim expression didn't lighten.
"So, what made you decide to write this book now? I mean, Detective Starsky died over ten years ago—" He halted when the man's face contorted with grief, unwittingly inspired. He watched as Hutchinson controlled his features, the wrinkled face settling back into a calm mask.
"Just seemed like it was time," he answered, but his tone was evasive.
"Bullshit," Riser said, his voice low and impatient. Hutchinson's eyes flicked over to him, and something like admiration rippled in his glance.
"Truth, then," Hutchinson said firmly. "I started this book two years ago, right after they passed Title XXX. If Starsky had just lived eight more years...." Sorrow creased his brow again.
"How did he die?"
"Heart-attack," Hutchinson said shortly. "Told the idiot to lay off the fatty foods, but he always laughed me off." The anger in his voice was painful to hear. "Never been able to forgive him for that. For making me be the one left behind."
A small silence pooled between them. Riser broke it, "You said that's when you started it," he said in a questioning tone, sensing there was more to the story. Hutchinson's eyes met his, and again the admiring look made an appearance.
"You know, you wouldn't have made a bad cop," he said, musingly. "Yeah, I started it, but probably never would have finished it. Except, I got some bad news. I won't be around much longer, is the thing."
Riser felt a pang, but Hutchinson looked almost relieved. He continued, "I wanted...no, I needed to know that he would be remembered. Everything he had accomplished. Everything he was—at least, on the job. The rest...will be forgotten, lost. But at least there will be a record of that much. And...that I loved him." His voice cracked on the last words like a broken branch, and Riser lowered his eyes, feeling them well unexpectedly.
He cleared his throat.
Hutchinson looked up, and his expression was calm, his gaze steady. Riser had a feeling his moment of access to the deeper side of Kenneth Hutchinson had come to an end.
"Well, sir, I think that does it." Riser was appalled to discover his voice was shaking some.
"'Hutch,' Mark. And thank you for coming all this way." Smooth, polite words.
"Yes, well. Not a lot of choice, since you wouldn't come to Manhattan," Riser said crankily, feeling a little deflated by the abrupt transformation.
He saw something flash in Hutchinson's eyes then, and they gentled. "Okay, Mark," he said, somehow responding to his disquiet. Riser felt better, hearing it. He packed up his things and trailed behind Hutchinson to the front door. On the steps, he paused and offered his hand, taking Hutchinson's in his, careful not to apply too much pressure to the swollen joints.
"Thank you," he said as he released the hand, feeling absurdly grateful.
Hutchinson merely nodded and closed the door.
On the drive back to the San Francisco, Riser put the audio back on and Hutchinson's whiskey-rough voice filled the car.
"When it was over, and the shakes were done and I no longer felt like an evil son-of-a-bitch was controlling my mouth, I tried to apologize to Starsky for all the rotten things I'd said and done while going through withdrawal—trying to thank him, as impossible as that was. Starsky just gave me a funny look and said, 'That's what partners are for.'
But I knew there were no other partners who would have gone to such lengths. We'd always been incredibly close, but something changed on that day. He had joined me in the crucible, and our friendship was burned to absolute purity. I knew then that I would give my life for his without any hesitation, and he would do the same for me. We were so lucky to have found that. Even though I hated Forest for what he had done to me, the truth is he inadvertently gave me the greatest gift I've ever received—the knowledge that I was loved deeply and unconditionally by at least one person in this world. It changed my life forever."
Riser turned off the narrative and let the tears fall unchecked down his face.
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon in bed, Riser lying tangled with his lover beneath the sheets, when he heard the mail drop through the slot in the front door. He nudged Tyler with his elbow. "Get the mail?"
Tyler nudged him back, and his fingers drifted dangerously close to the ticklish zone near Riser's ribs. "How come I'm the one?"
Riser jerked his torso away, laughing, "Because, mushbrain, my paycheck should be in that pile, and that means we should be able to afford that new vid box-set you've been begging for."
Tyler shouted with glee and hopped off the bed, inadvertently dragging the sheet partway with him as he ran off to get the mail. He returned in under thirty seconds with a padded envelope in one hand and a wad of letters in the other. He tossed the package at Riser and it smacked him in the chest.
"Oof!" Riser grinned at his lover. "What's this?"
"Something for you," Tyler said absently as he shuffled through the envelopes. "From California, I think."
Riser frowned, puzzled, and turned the package over to check the return address. It was from an H.B. Brown in Bay City. He tore it open and a smaller, flat cardboard box slid out along with a card addressed to 'Mark Riser, Esquire.' He opened it.
Dear Mr. Riser,
It is with great sadness I impart to you that our dear friend Kenneth Hutchinson passed away two weeks ago. It was an aneurysm. I'm told by his doctor that he wasn't in any pain, and that he went quickly.
Among his personal effects was this package, which he requested be forwarded to you in the event of his death.
He was a great man, and will be missed, always.
Yours most sincerely,
Horatio "Huggy Bear" Brown
Riser blinked, his chest suddenly heavy. He felt the bed dip as Tyler joined him, saying, "What is it, sweetheart?" Silently, Riser handed Tyler the note and then turned to the box, opening it with shaky fingers. He removed a framed photograph and a single sheet of paper.
He looked at the picture long enough to identify it as the central shot from Hutchinson's study—the one of the two of them standing close—and then he lifted the sheet of paper and read the neat hand.
If you're reading this, it's a fair guess that I have shuffled off. But before I go, I need to ask a favor of you.
Enclosed you will find a photograph of Starsky and me. It was taken in 1979, shortly before Gunther put an end to Starsky's career as a cop. We had just gotten our badges back and were flying high. I remember vividly the day it was taken at the annual Department picnic. Starsky and I were clowning around after the softball game, fighting over a hotdog, and Babcock came over with a camera. He made some kind of smart remark, like, 'Why don't you two love-birds cozy up for the camera.'
Starsky and I were always touching, see, and some of the guys ragged us about it. But Starsky was never one to put up with shit from anyone. Instead, he reached over, grabbed me, and planted a big, sloppy kiss on my cheek, then turned to Babcock as if to say, 'Make something of it.'
And it was in that moment that I knew. Really knew. That he could kiss me pretty much anytime, anywhere, and he wouldn't catch me complaining.
Riser held up the picture again and examined Hutchinson's down-turned face. There was a faint blush on his cheeks, and a tender, secretive smile on his lips, almost hidden by his moustache. Riser smiled himself, and read on.
It took me a while—too long, really—to let Starsky in on it, and I regret each lost second when I could have been loving him as I should. My David. Yeah, I did call him that, occasionally.
You know, you should hang onto that Tyler of yours. I think it's a pretty good sign that he makes you want to strangle him sometimes. God knows there was a time or two when I could have happily throttled Starsky.
God, I miss him. Every damned day.
It's too bad I don't believe in the Afterlife and all that crap; it would be nice to think I could see him again. But, I guess if I did believe, I wouldn't have bothered writing the book, and would never have had a chance to meet you.
So, the favor I have to ask of you is a simple one. When I'm gone, there will hardly be anyone left who remembers him. Will you do that, for me?
Please, remember him.
Riser slowly put down the letter and then lifted the photograph again, but his eyes were too blurry to see. I promise I will, Hutch. And I'll remember you, too. He felt Tyler touch his arm, concerned, and Riser put the picture and the letter to one side and pounced on him, pushing him down and kissing his cheeks, his forehead, his eyes and his lips, over and over, tasting the salt of his own tears on the beloved skin. He planted his fingers in Tyler's silky blond hair, holding his head close.
"Love you, love you," he whispered between kisses, and Tyler's arms came up to embrace him strongly.
"I know," Tyler said. He pulled back and stroked the wetness from Riser's cheeks. "I love you, too." He grinned. "Dirtball."
San Francisco, CA