The Flatbush Bowl, Brooklyn, Saturday afternoon
It all went off more or less as Nick's bride, Lulu, had planned. She was in frothy white, her Mom in a large pink hat with feathers, her Mom's boyfriend in a loud green suit. Hutch had not imagined that any group could make the Starskys seem quiet and decorous, but somehow Lulu's family did.
"What kind of a man gets married in a bowling alley?" Hutch heard a voice hiss behind him.
"A Starsky," came the reply.
A progressive rabbi had been in attendance to give a short blessing, the only part of the whole ceremony that made sense. The clunking self-penned poetry had made Hutch wince and grind his teeth but Nick Starsky seemed very pleased with it, and turned around to get approval from the guests. Starsky himself produced the rings with such a flourish that Hutch held his breath for a minute, picturing them flying out of his hand and rolling down between the floorboards. Ma Starsky regarded her two boys, standing together as they had stood so many times before. David and Nick. They would have turned her hair grey if she hadn't taken the precaution of dyeing it blonde. She was loudly sniffing before the ink was dry on the marriage register.
Before they had got everybody outside and into Lester's Bar next door for the food Nick had managed to pick a fight with one of Lulu's cousins. Starsky came between them, somehow, while still smiling, managing to make his voice louder, throwing his large personality over the little conflagration like a rug.
"I told you it'd be fun," he said in Hutch's ear.
After the goulash and the speeches and the cake came dancing.
It was very late when Hutch took a wayward route around the bar, past Ma Starsky and her sisters, past Uncle Maury, Uncle Al, Uncle Roy and... who was that other Uncle? Past Nick in his shirtsleeves with his gang of friends from the transit company, past the pink feather hat and loud green suit... and finally slid down in a seat next to Starsky.
"Hey," Starsky greeted him, waving a hand around. "Do you know what this place reminds me of?" Hutch nudged him with one knee but did not reply. It was an old joke. "Dontcha just love weddings?"
"Yeah, you made a great Best Man, buddy."
"Aw, Hush... and you... you made a great Best Man's Best Friend."
They laughed for a moment, leaning in close. "Yeah but what's the matter with you, Starsky? Letting your little brother tie the knot before you? What's that all about?"
Starsky gave him a long, long look. Hutch blinked before the gaze. Then they both stared out through the throng across the restaurant to the table at the far end where they could see two heads, one blonde, one dark.
"We could have a double wedding," Starsky said.
Hutch sneaked a glance at him. "If they'd have us," he muttered.
"Oh, ya don't think Clem would say yes, huh?"
"Well... you don't normally agree on anything."
Hutch gave a nonchalant shrug. "I think maybe she would."
"Oh yeah?" Starsky was doubtful, challenging even.
"Yeah," Hutch said firmly.
"OK then, prove it. Let's both do it and see who's got the touch."
Hutch now did the long look. Starsky was unflinching, having that stubborn way about him that told Hutch he was serious. Rising to the challenge Hutch unfurled his long legs and stood up unsteadily. "You jus' watch me," he said, heading off in the general direction of the opposite side of the room. He turned round briefly and came back to lean down close to Starsky. "But we're not having a double wedding in a bowling alley, OK?"
"Whatever you say, Casanova."
JFK, Sunday morning
"Can you believe it?" Starsky grumped. Hutch and Annaliese had just arrived, scooting across the seething check-in concourse, aware that they were cutting it fine. They had all left Lester's Bar at around three am and it was now approaching nine-thirty. Annaliese was flushed and giggling, Hutch trying to be serious and conciliatory. Clem was sitting on the luggage trolley, her hood over her head. Starsky glared at them, instantly aware that they were holding hands and did not let go even while standing at the counter. "'S'no good," he said. "We're late checking-in, we all gotta sit separate."
"Oh well," Hutch said, his shoulder brushing hers. They seemed unaware of Starsky and Clem for the moment.
When Hutch turned around to find his partner, Annaliese nudged him. Starsky and Clem were now both sitting on the luggage trolley, her leg swung over his. They looked tired, hung-over, but very cosy. Hutch pursed his lips briefly. Then he glanced at Annaliese and grinned. Starsky caught the grin.
They managed two seats together in the end, and the girls flipped for them. Hutch was left two rows back watching their heads, wondering what was so fascinating that they hardly stopped talking the whole flight. Starsky was out of sight, sunk behind his dark glasses.
Bay City International, Sunday evening
The girls locked in a long embrace.
"Isn't that supposed to be for us?" Hutch questioned. They were standing back around the luggage carousel, Hutch watching them wonderingly, Starsky turning the parking-lot ticket around in his hand trying to decipher the numbers printed on it.
"They've just had a wonderful and memorable weekend," Starsky said to him.
"Yes, but not with each other."
"Well, they're very happy and emotional after sharing a touching experience."
"And what touching experience would that be?"
"My brother's wedding, dummy."
Finally they came over.
Starsky dragged his eyes from the ticket, chewing the inside of his cheek as Hutch said his goodbyes. Lots of whispering, certainly. A knowing glance his way. Extra hugging. A very long kiss. Then Clem tugged at his sleeve.
Hutch watched them over the top of Anna's head. Sharing a secret, certainly. Lots of nodding, some serious nodding.
"You know where your car is?" he said, when the two girls had finally waved and run off to get cabs, still intent on discussing something with one another.
"Of course I know," said Starsky. "Level 4, Row 88. Here," and he waved the ticket confidently. Hutch plucked it out of his hand and squinted at it for a second.
"That's Level 6, Row 98," he said.
Starsky snatched it back.
In the Torino, stuck on the freeway going downtown, there was nothing to do but contemplate the flickering night sky. It was Hutch who eventually broke the silence that had enveloped them.
"Good week, huh?" he said.
"Hmm. So long's Lulu knows what she's taking on."
"That what you're thinking about?"
"I'm just thinking about my bed," Starsky said.
"No you're not, you're thinking about something else, I know you."
"Look, you're the one who's tense and irritable."
"Tense and...? What's that supposed to mean? How about you come clean and tell me what's on your mind?"
"Well how about you come clean and tell me what's on yours?"
Hutch drummed his fingers. The suspense was killing him. "OK, OK," he said. "When's the wedding? She said yes, right?"
Starsky stole a sideways glance. His partner was worried. Definitely worried.
"Alright, alright. She mighta said no."
"Well which is it?"
"Well I never asked."
"Ha!" said Hutch. "You lost your nerve!"
"So, no wedding."
"No, not for us." A hanging silence. Then Starsky said, "But maybe I might be Best Man again, huh? You reckon?"
Hutch looked sideways out of the window. The Torino had not moved now for about three minutes. There was still the same scrubby trees sillhouetted against the dark sky out there.
"Well, you have to be my Best Man," he acknowledged. "No one else but you."
Starsky swallowed. "Really?"
"Of course, Starsk. No-one better."
"How soon?" He sounded desolate. Hutch scratched his chin.
"Well I don't know, I really don't know."
"You mean you haven't decided?"
"Well I was waiting to see what you and Clem were doing."
The Torino nudged forward. "She'll want you to leave the force," Starsky said. "Just like Vanessa. In fact, she probably only said yes once you promised."
"Well when I get married I might leave the force," Hutch agreed.
Starsky's face screwed up.
"The thing is, Starsk..."
"What?" Starsky asked miserably.
"The thing is... I'm not getting married."
Starsky stamped on the brake. "She said no?"
"Well I never asked."
"So how come they're so happy then?" Starsky demanded.
Hutch contemplated the unthinkable for a while. "Maybe," he said, "Maybe they're just relieved."
Starsky accelerated bad-temperedly but then was forced to slow down again. He sent a quick, apologetic glance Hutch's way as his partner instinctively reached out to the dashboard to steady himself. Hutch accepted the unspoken offering with a small gesture.
"It's good then," Starsky said, staring forward. "Good that nothing's going to change."
Ticking over in the stalled traffic, the Torino's engine growled comfortingly. Any second now Starsky was going to say "Hey! How about a cup of coffee?"
Hutch slithered down in his seat and closed his eyes.