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GUARDIAN

 

                                                                                                      Elizabeth Lowry

 

 

Dobey ushered them in through the front door.

“Where’s Rosie?” Starsky immediately asked. He was holding something behind his back.

“She’s with Edith.” Dobey led them through the house. “They’re staying with her sister for the weekend. They’re going to go to the San Diego Zoo, and do some girl shopping.” The trio made their way to the kitchen, then out the back door. “Cal’s up at Mammoth with a friend. Skiing.”

“Oh.” Starsky pulled a box from behind his back, well-wrapped in the Sunday comics section of the LA Times. “I guess we can just leave this, then.” He set it down on the white enamel patio table.

“What is it?” Dobey took up his position behind the grill.

“A black Barbie.” Starsky rubbed a thumb over a piece of tape.

“Christie,” Hutch corrected. “But we’re not supplying the complete wardrobe. We thought we’d leave that up to you.” He smiled wickedly.

“Thanks,” Dobey growled. “Did I ever tell you how much we appreciated that starter set of Legos you gave us?”

“Think nothing of it.” Hutch walked over to the cooler and plucked out a beer. “Anyone else?”

“Me.” Starsky sauntered over and accepted an icy bottle.

“Cap?” Hutch asked.

Dobey lifted a half-empty bottle from the side table. “Still working on this one.”

Starsky walked over to the grill and appraised it with a critical eye. “Hey, Hutch! You’re not going to believe this! He’s cooking steaks!”

“No kidding?” Hutch sat down on a patio chair. “We must be in bigger trouble than we thought.”

Starsky sniffed the smoke. “Hickory?”

“Apple,” Dobey corrected.

Starsky took a swig of beer. He picked up a fork and poked at a piece of meat sitting off to the side.

“Get away from there!” Dobey grabbed the fork and swung it at Starsky. “I know what I’m doing!”

Starsky laughed and backed off. “Okay, okay! Just trying to be helpful!”

“You can help by sitting next to your partner.” Dobey gestured toward Hutch. “I am a master at the grill. How do you like your steaks?”

“Rare.” Starsky pulled a chair next to Hutch’s and plopped himself in it.

“Rare.” Hutch also made his order. “And when Starsky says ‘rare,’ he really means medium rare,” Hutch interpreted

“And when Hutch says rare, he means bleeding,” Starsky interpreted back. “You’re going to get trichinosis,” he said to his partner.

“Not from beef.” Hutch took another swallow. “Didn’t your mother teach you  you can only get that from pork?”

“We didn’t eat pork,” Starsky admonished.

“You eat it now,” Hutch said.

“I also mix my milk and meat, eat shrimp, and traipse after shiksas,” Starsky said under his breath.

Hutch smiled as he placed the bottle once again to his lips.

“So what’s up, Cap?” Starsky slid further down in his chair, stretching his legs out and crossing his ankles.

Dobey poked at the coals. “I can’t invite two of my detectives over for backyard barbecue?” he asked.

“Sure,” Hutch replied. “But usually it’s a family affair, with Starsky here chasing after the kids while the adults engage in stimulating conversation.”

Starsky glanced sadly at the neglected gift.

“You seem to have sent the family away so we could have some privacy.” Hutch balanced his beer on the edge of the chair seat between his legs.

Dobey wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand.

“You always were a good detective, Hutchinson.” Dobey flipped the steaks. “I do want to talk.”

Hutch looked over at Starsky. “That bad, huh? Can’t do it in the office?”

“What did we do, offend the Chief again?” Starsky asked. “IA? DA? FBI?” he grinned.

Dobey concentrated on his fire. “This isn’t easy for me,” he began.

Hutch frowned at Starsky. Starsky shrugged his shoulders.

“And if I’m out of line, then tell me.” He patted one of the steaks. “But I need to know some things.”

Hutch shifted in his chair, taking a very long drink from his bottle. Starsky didn’t move.

Dobey moved the steaks off the grill and closed the lid. “I didn’t expect to get into this right away.” He stayed still a moment, then walked over to the patio table and picked up a chair. He set it down in front of Starsky and Hutch, dropping his massive form into it.

Dobey sat slightly bent forward, his hands clasped in his lap. He didn’t look at the two detectives. Their captain parted his hands, opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut his mouth and reclasped his hands.

“Just say it,” breathed Hutch.

Dobey looked up, fixing Hutch with his eyes. “Are you two, uh, a couple?” His brown skin turned copper.

Starsky blanched. Hutch turned a contrasting scarlet.

Starsky swallowed the lump in his throat. “A couple of what?” He went for the joke, and missed.

“I mean,” Dobey stammered, “are you…do you…is there something I should know?” He focused on the concrete under his feet.

Starsky didn’t move. Hutch took a deep breath. “Uh . . .”

Dobey leaned a little further forward. “It’s not just a personal question. It’s also professional. The department—the police force, sometimes it can be--there are unwritten rules….”

Hutch brought the bottle to his mouth automatically, finishing off the beer. Starsky finally struggled to an upright position.

“Cap,” Starsky began.

“Who’s asking?” Hutch set his bottle down at the side of his chair.

“I am.” Dobey met his eyes.

“No, I mean, who is asking,” Hutch persisted.

“Just me,” Dobey insisted. “This isn’t official.”

“How did you--?” Starsky attempted again.

“He means, why are you asking?” Hutch corrected.

“I’m asking because it matters.” Dobey settled a bit. “I’m asking because it’s important.”

“To whom?” Hutch said.

“To me,” Dobey answered.

Hutch sat back in his chair, eyes narrowed. “People have always talked about us. That’s nothing new.”

“Me and Hutch,” Starsky supplemented, “we’ve always been close. Partners.” He looked over at Hutch confidently. “If people spread rumors….”

“Do you know how many Negroes there were on the force when I applied to the Academy?” Dobey began softly. “That’s what we were back then, Negroes. Just starting to become Black. Just starting to become Human.

“Maybe three in a hundred officers were colored. They kept us separated, off to one side. Expected us to be different, to segregate ourselves. Assumed if they had to take us in, we’d gladly accept the shit assignments.

“We fought for every promotion we got, for every rank we received. Brother cops vandalized our lockers and equipment, threatened our lives and the lives of our families, purposely abandoned us to life-threatening situations.”

Dobey stopped. Sweat slipped down his temples. His laced fingers squeezed his palms together.

“We can take care of ourselves,” Hutch said softly.

“Do you know why my partner died?” Dobey asked.

Starsky’s eyes narrowed. “He was killed because Woodfield made him as a cop.”

Dobey shook his head. “Elmo Jackson was given up.”

Starsky glanced at Hutch. Hutch met his eyes, trying to alleviate their obvious concern.

“A cop down in Rampart handed him over. Just because he was black.”

Hutch shifted slightly. “Why didn’t you turn him in?”

“Turn him in?” Dobey laughed bleakly. “You think IA would believe a black cop over a white cop? You think I could get evidence to prove it? You think anyone would believe me?”

“I believe you,” Starsky murmured.

“He died because of what he was,” Dobey continued. “Black. My best friend. My partner. He died from prejudice.”

Hutch shut his eyes. “Cap, we appreciate your concern, but we’re not in any danger. We can handle gossip and innuendo.”

Dobey ignored Hutch. “Do you know how many of my peers objected when I became a Captain? Do you know how many officers assigned to my command have requested transfers because I’m black?

“I’m sorry.” Dobey again wiped sweat from his face. “But you need to know what it means to be different in a world that actively oppresses difference. Especially our world.”

The three men sat in silence for a few minutes. Hutch finally rose, and fished another beer from the cooler. He stood beside the cooler and gulped the amber liquid.

Starsky looked back at Hutch, then at Dobey. “Did somebody say something specific recently?”

Dobey shook his head. “No more than what anyone’s ever suggested about you two.”

“Fags. Homos.” Starsky’s words were barely audible. “The usual.”

Dobey nodded. “I don’t think the boys in IA pay much attention anymore. Everyone understands you two have an exceptionally close partnership. But if there were reasons to suspect you were homosexuals….”

“And we’re not!” Hutch managed to point his finger at Dobey even though his hand had a tight grip on his beer bottle. “No, I don’t fuck men. Well, except for my partner!”

Starsky winced at the decibel level.

Hutch took a couple of steps forward. “Just because we love each other does not mean we fuck men!”

Dobey held up his hands, trying to elicit peace. “Hutch, sit down. Please. We’re just talking.”

“What do they say about all the women we fuck?” Hutch edged closer, still poking the air with his finger and the bottle. “What do they call us then? There’s got to be enough policewomen around to corroborate that!”

“Hutch, sit down,” Starsky said calmly.

Hutch spun and stomped to the edge of the patio, swigging his beer and glaring at the lemon trees bordering the backyard.

“Dave.” Dobey looked at Starsky. “I don’t care what you and Hutch are, besides cops. My cops. I don’t want to see you get hurt. But I want you to think about the consequences.”

“You don’t care?” Hutch snorted from his sentry position.

Dobey ran a hand over his trim Afro. “My religion says it’s wrong.” He paused. “The Bible says it’s wrong.”

“Leviticus,” Hutch snorted again. He drained his bottle.

“But I can’t resolve what I’ve been taught with what I’ve seen…the good and the bad…the evil men do to others in the name of the Lord…the victims….” His voice trailed off.

“I don’t know much about the Bible . . .” Starsky was leaning forward, his clasped hands hanging between his knees. “But I know the difference between good people and bad people. I know the difference between right and wrong.” He looked over at Hutch. “I know what love is. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving someone.”

Dobey nodded. “I know, son. But there are a lot of people out there who do think there’s something wrong with it, and they will go to great lengths to hurt those who say—and do—otherwise.”

“We can take care of each other.” Hutch turned, this time gesticulating with his free hand.

“Me and Hutch, we watch each other’s backs,” Starsky concurred. “Always have, always will.”

“But sometimes that’s not enough,” Dobey reasoned. “Reprisals don’t have to be official or obvious. They can be as subtle as showing up late for a backup.”

“We work alone,” Hutch countered.

“No, you don’t.” Dobey straightened, his attention toward Hutch. “You work for me, with me, and with the officers of the entire department. And beyond that you work for the people of this city. Remember that, Hutchinson.”

Hutch was breathing rapidly. He flushed, and turned his back on the conversants again.

“We don’t want to get you in trouble,” Starsky said.

“Don’t worry about that,” Dobey reassured him. “I can handle anything upstairs throws at me. How do you think you two could—or would—have remained on the force this long if I wasn’t running interference?”

Starsky smiled.

“It’s nobody’s business.” Hutch addressed himself to the backyard. “As long as we do our job and don’t bother anybody.”

“You’re right,” Dobey said. “In a perfect world, differences wouldn’t matter and no one would bother anyone else. In a perfect world, there’d be no separate bathrooms and no lynchings.”

“In a perfect world, there’d be no crime and we could all go home,” Starsky offered.

“Perfect World,” Hutch grunted.

“You understand what I’m saying?” Dobey spoke to Starsky. “I don’t want to lose two of my best officers to something stupid.”

Starsky nodded. “We understand. We’ll be careful.”

Dobey rose. “I’ll get those steaks back on the fire.” He walked back to the grill, raised the lid, and tended to his meat.

Starsky got up and walked over to Hutch. He stood behind him, grasping his upper arms.

“‘Something Stupid’,” Hutch repeated.

Starsky squeezed Hutch’s arms. “He’s just watching out for us. He’s trying.”

“We are not fags,” Hutch insisted.

Starsky leaned his forehead against Hutch’s shoulder. “Let ‘em call us whatever they want. We know the truth.”

“What is the truth?” Hutch asked, sarcasm coloring the words.

Starsky lifted his chin to rest on Hutch’s shoulder. He whispered into Hutch’s ear. “I don’t know.”

“That’s profound,” Hutch muttered back.

“You want profound, find a philosopher,” Starsky murmured back. “You want to be loved till the end of your days, stay with me.” Starsky planted a quick and lively kiss on Hutch’s ear lobe.

Hutch reached up and patted Starsky’s hand. “Not in front of your father, okay? He’s extremely overprotective.”

Starsky squeezed his partner again, then released him and ambled back to the grill. Hutch stayed to maintain his vigil over the backyard.