The phone rang. Yawning, Hutch picked it up, turned it around, held it to his ear. “Yeah?” He scrubbed a hand over his face and yawned wider than ever.
“I can’t sleep.” Starsky’s voice was half sullen, half defiant, and altogether wretched.
“Well, I could if you’d hang up.”
Sighing, Hutch resigned himself to a long talk, probably about something he had no interest in, till Starsky could calm down from a stressful day. It didn’t happen very often, but it did happen. Sometimes, he was the one who needed to talk. He knew he ought to be patient with his friend, but it was hard to be patient when you’d just started falling asleep and someone woke you up.
“Okay, okay, why can’t you sleep?”
Firmly expecting to hear that Starsky had been wondering whether Godzilla could eat New York as well as Tokyo, or something along that line, he blinked in surprise at Starsky’s answer.
“I have… a Visitor.”
“Uh-huh. And he’s keeping me awake.”
“Your brother?” guessed Hutch. Nick could be an annoyance at times.
“Worse than your brother?” This he couldn’t imagine.
“He’ll eat me out of house and home. He’s stomping around my bedroom and climbing the walls just when I start to go to sleep. Hutch, come over here and help me kill him!”
By now thoroughly confused, Hutch wondered if he was still asleep. Was Starsky talking about one of his endless uncles? He seemed to have a new uncle or aunt for every occasion. Perhaps Hutch had misheard the last part.
“You want me to come over and…” he started cautiously.
“Kill him,” prompted Starsky. “Come on, what’s so hard about it? You still have some of those rat traps, don’t you?”
“Well, bring them. And something to bait them with. I don’t know what he likes. Maybe peanut butter. Maybe salami. Maybe goat cheese! Just hurry and bring something! I’m low on groceries and I don’t think he’ll eat raw popcorn.”
“You—want to catch a rat,” said Hutch slowly. “Starsky, you woke me up for that?”
“Not a rat, a mouse. Come on, Hutch! I don’t have any mousetraps. But he sounds big. I’m sure a rat trap will work. Just get over here.”
“Because you have a mouse…stomping around your room.”
“And climbing the walls. That’s right.”
Hutch suppressed a snicker.
“Are you laughin’?” asked Starsky suspiciously. “It’s not funny.”
“No.” Hutch rubbed at his moustache, trying to wipe the grin away. “Heaven forbid. I mean, as long as you’re not scared of a little—”
“Little! There are littler rhinoceroses! And I didn’t say I was scared, I said every time I tried to get to sleep he started stomping around. He’s a real big mouse, Hutch. I want him gone, and I want you to help me. You dealt with that rat problem last year. Now come on before I start shootin’ holes in the walls wherever I see him!”
Hutch imagined his friend huddled on his bed, knees drawn towards his chest, a glower on his face while he aimed his gun at a small, scurrying rodent. Then he imagined the both of them, grumpy from lack of sleep, going around the house like Laurel and Hardy, snapping at each other and getting caught in rat traps. “Why don’t you come over here instead? You can stay over tonight and we’ll worry about the mouse tomorrow.”
“The Godzilla Mouse,” growled Starsky.
Hutch smiled tolerantly. “I figured Godzilla came into it somewhere.”
“It’s a menace.”
“So you’ll come over, get a good night’s sleep, and deal with this tomorrow?”
Silence. Then after a moment Starsky said, “Yeah, okay. I am kinda tired.”
“Good. The key’s over the door. If I’m asleep, don’t wake me.” He put down the received and flopped back to his pillow.
Now that he was awake, Hutch lay staring at the ceiling, thinking of a little mouse disturbing his big tough partner this much. Then he thought about how noisy Starsky’s car was and how it would wake him up. He kept almost drifting off and then awakening with a start and then—
Footsteps. Starsky’s familiar sneaker’s entering his room. “I’m not sleeping on the couch. It’s cold,” he informed Hutch, throwing another blanket onto Hutch’s bed. “Move over and make room. And you are helpin’ me catch him tomorrow.”
“You’re so bossy.” Hutch shielded his eyes against the bright light Starsky flicked on and peered at his friend. “Um, Starsky? You drove over here in your pajamas?”
“Uh-huh.” Starsky glowered at him as if challenging him to make something of it. He crawled under the covers and tugged at them.
“They’re, uh, very red. And… white,” suggested Hutch mildly, yielding up a few inches of sheets and quilts to his partner—a very few.
“Ma made them for me,” said Starsky. “But they’re warm and they match my cah, so shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes you did.” Starsky snuggled down into a big, fluffy pillow, squeezing one eye shut. The other watched Hutch with a wary sort of glare. “You said… very red and white.” He yawned.
“Well, they are.” Hutch reached out and gave his friend a soft rub on the hair. “Go to sleep and quit worrying.”
Starsky’s other eye drifted shut.
“Well, why didn’t you say so, my man?” Huggy laughed and thumped his chest. “I’m an ex-ter-min-at-or ex-tra-ordinaire!”
“You are not, Huggy,” said Starsky in a sensible voice. “Be reasonable. You can’t be EVERYTHING.” He raised his drink and took another slurp.
“I can and I am, regularly.” Huggy smiled at them. “But as it so happens, it’s a new business I just opened. Bear’s Pest Removal. Your pest control problems solved—guaranteed.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Hug,” said Starsky, lowering his drink. His expression, Hutch noted, said he was trying to be tactful and let their friend down gently. “Hutch said he was gonna help me, and—” He raised a hand, gesturing towards his partner.
Hutch pushed down the arm. “Now, wait just a second, Starsk. If the man’s starting a new business, don’t you think it’s your duty to support him?”
“Huh?” Starsky stared at him, mouth slightly open. “But you said we could—”
“Starsky, the point is your friend needs the work. Do you want to keep him from earning a living?”
“Now hold on, Captain America. I never said I was strapped for cash!”
Hutch held up a hand. “Just—just a minute, Huggy. I’m trying to help you here.” He turned to Starsky. “Don’t you think you owe it to him to at least give it a try? Or don’t you think he can manage to catch a simple little mouse, is that it?”
“Well?” Huggy raised his eyebrows, waiting for Starsky’s answer.
Starsky looked back and forth between them. He shut his mouth. “But I thought you and me were gonna catch a simple little mouse, Hutch. Hm? What happened to that?”
“Hey, my man, if you don’t appreciate having a pro-fessional on the job…” Huggy raised his hands.
“Okay! Okay! I know when I’m beat.” Starsky raised his hands in surrender. He smiled ruefully. “How much is this gonna run me, Hug?” He reached for his wallet.
Huggy looked offended. “My man, you pay for the service after it’s performed! I trust you. Besides, I can always add it to your tab.”
“My tab’s high enough already,” muttered Starsky. “All right. I’ll leave you a key to the place. When can you have it taken care of by?”
“That depends on the level of infestation.”
“Infestation? But it’s only one—”
Huggy raised a hand. “Leave it to the professionals, Starsky.”
Starsky’s shoulders slumped in resignation. Then he shrugged. “Okay, Hug, but I need it done quickly so I can get a good night’s sleep.”
“And so I can,” added Hutch with a grin.
“So I need it done yesterday,” finished Starsky, with a glower at his grinning friend. “C’mon, Hutch. We got work to do.” He sauntered from the bar, looking for all the world like a tough guy who’d never let a mouse bother him.
“Uh-huh. Okay. WHAT? You’re gonna charge me HOW MUCH?” Starsky spoke into the phone, gaping and looking both shocked and angry. “I can’t believe—I thought we were friends, Hug! You had to tear apart WHAT? You, my friend, had better have your—your malpractice insurance paid up because I’m gonna—”
Hurriedly, Hutch took the phone from him and hung it up.
“I wasn’t finished!”
“Just—just calm down, Starsk.” Hutch raised his hands placatingly. “Listen to reason.”
“No, YOU listen to reason, you big blintz!” He poked Hutch in the chest, glowering. “I never should’ve listened to you! You should’ve helped me trap it, not sicc’d Huggy on me with his brand new, fly-by-night, knock-holes-in-your-wall pest control business!”
“Starsky…” Hutch took one step back.
“No YOU listen!”
Hutch fell over a footstool and crashed to the floor.
Starsky reached down, caught his arm, and helped (yanked) him to his feet.
“Thanks. Starsk, if you would just—”
“I told you! I told you ‘Get over here and help me,’ but NO, you hadda—”
The tone Hutch now employed made Starsky look at him and blink once. “What?”
“If you would listen to me, you would find out what. Remember those rat traps I had? Because I had a rat in my kitchen?”
Starsky nodded. “A big sucker, gettin’ healthy eating all your vitamin pills. I remember.”
“Well, do you know why I still HAVE all those traps? It’s because they didn’t work, Starsk.” He poked his friend in the chest, twice. “I ended up almost snapping my fingers off with them.”
In spite of himself, Starsky’s angry expression lifted. His eyes widened and he almost grinned. “You’re too clumsy for your own good.”
“Maybe,” conceded Hutch. “But the rat also didn’t want to get near them. He was too smart. Do you know what happened? I ended up sleeping in a hotel for two days because I had to call the exterminator. He found a nest of them, and—”
Understanding dawned. “Those were the two days you drove into work on your own and got there early! Hey, Hutch, you never told me! Why not?”
“Because I told you I knew how to take care of it. Well, sometimes it’s best to let a professional handle it, okay? If that’s not Huggy, then he’ll have to make it right and hire somebody who can. But trust me, you’re better off—”
“I don’t believe this. I don’t believe it! The big blond farm boy cop couldn’t— You should’ve said!”
“Look.” Hutch grimaced a little and raised his hands, waving them a little. “The point isn’t who did or didn’t say anything. The point is you’ve gotta let the process work. You can stay here till it’s over. Till—” He swallowed, hard.
Something sparked in Starsky’s eyes and he grinned hard. “Aw, Hutch! You didn’t—I bet you couldn’t even bait the traps, could you?”
Hutch paled a little. “I don’t know what you—” He took another step backwards. Starsky caught his wrist before he could fall over the footstool again.
“Hutch, you can’t stand to kill things.”
“Now S-Starsk, I’ve never let you down yet. I’ve always watched your back, even if that meant—”
“I know.” Starsky nodded. “But since the rat wasn’t ready to kill me or some innocent civilian, you didn’t. You couldn’t. But isn’t it the same, hiring somebody to do it for you—?”
Hutch hung his head. His hair, which was getting slightly too long, hung over his eyes. “I h-hired a trap and release place,” he muttered quietly. “They said they’d return the rats t-to the wild, in the—the wilderness.”
“Hutch, they didn’t COME from the wilderness, so how can you ‘return’ them there?” He caught his partner’s arm and gave it a gentle shake.
Hutch shrugged miserably.
“Never mind.” Starsky’s voice held warm amusement now. He reached for the phone. “Just tell me, did they work?”
Again, Hutch nodded.
“Then give me the number.”
He gave Hutch’s arm a warm squeeze, before releasing him.
Hutch went to get the telephone book.