The distinctive tang of gunpowder made it real. Hutch sprinted around the Torino, body disconnected from brain.
"Starsky!" Why didn't he answer?
All the sounds around him—fast footsteps, shouts and screams—filtered and faded, slipping away behind the sound of his own heart.
"Officer down," someone yelled.
Only ten steps to get around the front of a car, why was it taking a lifetime?
Starsky lay crumpled beside the car, head cradled in the wheel well as if it were his lover's lap.
"No." This wasn't happening, wasn't going to happen. Hutch fell to his knees and got ready to do whatever it was that would save his partner.
"Right here, babe. Just lie still."
"What the hell happened? Did you see who the shooter was?"
"No. Some kind of ambush. Don't talk. The ambulance is coming, hear the siren?"
"Ambulance? What for?" He reached for Hutch's arm, grasping tight. "Are you okay? You're not hit are you?"
"No. I thought . . . I thought you were."
"I fell. I heard the shots and I turned to warn you. I guess I slipped. I think I hit my head." Starsky sat up and groaned. "Oh yeah. Hit my head." He put some gentle fingers into his hair and felt around. "Son of a bitch. Feel that." He turned his head a little so Hutch could admire the bump rising fast on the back of it.
"Jesus, Starsk, you scared the shit out of me."
"Sorry, pal." He turned around and grabbed the fender to pull himself up. "What the—my car! Look at my car! That son of a bitch. Hutch! Look at my car." He slumped back to the ground and they stared at the string of holes marring the finish, the bare metal showing at the edges, the glimpse through the blood-red paint into the insides, into the engine, the heart of the car.
All Hutch could think was, that's what I thought you were going to look like. To hell with the car.
"Starsky, to hell with the car."
"But she's been shot. I gotta get her to Merle right away."
Heavy footsteps, running. Dobey said, "What the hell is going on? I heard Starsky was shot."
"I'm okay, Cap. Just my thick skull had a date with the pavement, that's all."
Hutch looked into Dobey's eyes. "He'll be fine, Captain."
The paramedics arrived, looking grim, the way they always did. Hard life running around taking care of people on the worst day of their lives. One of them pushed Hutch aside and began to examine Starsky. The other one prepared a drip and stuck a needle into Starsky's left arm.
"This is just ridiculous. Hutch, come on. What do I need an IV for, huh?"
Hutch stood up and backed out of their way, and ignored Starsky's pleas.
"Hutch, come on, tell them I'm fine. I don't need to go to the hospital just for this. A bump on the head? This is ridiculous."
Hutch avoided his eyes. "Better be safe than sorry. You know that."
Dobey turned to him, and nodded.
"You're coming, too, right?" Starsky looked young and vulnerable on the gurney with the needles sticking into him and the hair all wild above his eyes.
"But you're coming, right?"
"I'll be right behind you, buddy."
The paramedics finished doing whatever they had to do and loaded up the still-protesting Starsky.
Hutch looked into his eyes as the doors closed, and saw his crooked grin and his little funny wave. "I'm right behind you, Starsk."
Dobey put a solid hand on Hutch's shoulder. "Come on, son," he said. "I'll drive you over."
Dobey's face looked ashy and drawn. Nothing like a drive-by shooting to make a perfectly ordinary day go rotten.
"Let's get out of here, huh?" Starsky looked around for his clothes.
"Ain't I always?" He pulled on his pants. "Don't know why they had to strip me down for a bump on the head. Where's my shirt?"
"You know no one can resist an opportunity to look at your bare chest," Hutch said, holding the shirt behind his back.
Starsky looked around to make sure the curtain was drawn, and tried to grab the shirt away. Hutch danced back and held it up over his head, grinning.
"Come and get it."
"I'll make you." Hutch dropped the game, and the shirt, and grabbed Starsky by his shoulders. "I'll make you get it and come."
"I'm still hungry, you know." Starsky reached down and felt around the front of Hutch's pants. "For a hotdog. Know where I can get a good one?"
"I do. Let's go, my treat."
In the dark, Hutch sat cross-legged on the floor of Starsky's living room. He could see everything in it as if it were daylight. The half-finished ship model on the little round table, Starsky's paintings on the shades in the kitchen. Some unopened mail on that ridiculous chair by the front door. And photographs everywhere: of himself, of the city, of Terry, one of Hutch with Starsky's mom from her last visit, and a new one that Starsky'd framed in antique silver of Hutch's parents, smiling into the camera—into Starsky's eyes—arms around each other's shoulders.
Starsky came up behind him, and played lightly with some wisps of his hair. "You ever thought about what we'd do if someday it wasn't just a close call?"
"Maybe we should have."
"Why? You planning on going somewhere?"
"No, of course not, but we've always known it's got to happen sooner or later."
Hutch turned himself around and rose to his knees, like a supplicant, a beggar.
"No, it doesn't. Don't let it, okay? Please." He looked up into Starsky's eyes. "'Cause without you, Starsk, there's no me."
"I ain't going nowhere, Hutch. And even if I did, I'd never leave you."
Hutch almost laughed. "That makes no sense at all."
"Yes it does. It means if I died, I'd still be with you." He bent down and kissed the top of Hutch's head. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
"Yes. As much as I love you."
"This is the only place you could think of? You won the bet. You could have chosen any restaurant you wanted."
"Well, there's no place else I'd rather go. Best burgers in town, right here at The Pits." Starsky finished off Hutch's beer and swiped some of his fries, and signaled to Huggy to bring over another round. "Ah, I'm stuffed. What's for dessert?"
"You're stuffed, and you want dessert?"
"Yeah, and some more beer. What's with Huggy?"
"I'll get it." Hutch took himself to the bar and sat on a stool next to where Huggy was deep into his books.
"Hutch. How you doing?" Huggy turned to look at Hutch, and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Jus' fine. Need some more beer though."
Huggy glanced over his shoulder at the corner booth. "Think maybe you've had enough, my brother."
Hutch looked up, face blank. "Fine. 'll go somewhere else, then."
Hutch avoided the hand Huggy tried to put on his arm, and the look in his eyes. He yanked his jacket from the back of the chair he'd thrown it on when he'd come in, and jerked his head toward the door.
"Starsk, let's go."
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. We're going."
"You didn't pay for the food. And what about dessert—?"
Hutch saw the helpless look Starsky threw at Huggy, and saw Huggy shake his head slowly and turn back to his books.
"I'll make you a sundae at home. Whipped cream." He leered. "Come on."
Hutch burst through the squad room doors at Metro and waved a sheaf of computer printouts around. One of the other detectives ducked to get out of his way and left the room.
"We got 'em, Starsk! We got the bastards! Two days of phone calls, leg work and pumping computers, but we've finally got the goods on 'em—names, dates, payoffs . . ."
Starsky lifted his legs from the desk and grinned. "Let me see."
Hutch kept waving the pages, and Starsky grabbed his arm to still it.
"I've followed every lead we had to the end of the line, and they all come back to Gunther. See, it's right there in black and white."
"Where?" Starsky gave up trying to look at the moving pages, and got up and stood behind Hutch, leaning over his shoulder. He blew into Hutch's ear, just a little, just once.
Hutch turned and grinned at him. "And you're gonna love this about McClellan."
"Federal Judge McClellan? The guy who was burned in that protected witness scam."
"It seems the good ol' judge served on the board of directors of a grand total of three Gunther-owned companies. And that's just for starters. Wait'll you hear the dirt I got on Clayburn. Deputy District Attorney of the entire city, and Gunther had more strings on him than a puppet."
Dobey stuck his head out of his office. "Hutchinson! Attorney General's waiting for you. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Sorry, Captain. Going now. Then up to San Francisco." He shoved the pages into a folder. "See you in a few days."
"I want a report as soon as Gunther's locked up."
"Will do, Sir."
Starsky grinned and grabbed his jacket. Hutch smiled when he saw him wave and make a face at Dobey, but the captain was already back in his office and missed the show.
"James Gunther." Hutch had worried that his voice would give away his anger, but it sounded strong and steady. Starsky nodded and made "keep going" gestures. He sure looked cool as a cucumber. Hutch felt a little envious of his calmness.
"Yes, that's correct."
"The James Gunther." A few steps closer to Gunther's desk, and his rage grew. He could smell expensive aftershave, and he could see the manicured nails, the flawless hair. This guy, this scum, had ordered a hit on them, and he was standing there like some fashion mannequin, a fancy suit on a plastic person, lightweight and worthless.
"Hutch," Starsky said. Nothing more, but it was enough. Hutch's pulse slowed, and his head cleared.
"James Marshall Gunther, to be correct," Gunther said. He seemed calm, and there was no way to tell what he was thinking. "You've met my butler, Thomas. Meet my assistant, Mr. Bates." He gestured toward a man in a leather chair. "He so looked forward to meeting you."
Hutch turned to acknowledge the man, but Bates, head back and coffee cup still in his hand, its contents spilled down his trousers, was clearly dead. Appalled, Hutch turned to Starsky, who just shrugged a shoulder. Hutch went on full alert, and he saw Starsky put a hand up near his gun.
"You've come to arrest me." Gunther seemed pretty goddamn composed. What was he up to?
Hutch held out the warrant, and as Gunther reached to take it, dropped it on the polished desk.
"Ah, yes, the warrant." Gunther nodded.
Starsky pulled out his handcuffs and started toward Gunther.
Gunther spoke. "Please," he said. He lifted a small silver gun, and pointed it straight at Hutch.
Starsky drew his gun before Hutch even realized he'd moved. Leveled it at Gunther's head, arms out, steady and cold.
"You're going to kill me?" Hutch said. "Try it." He stared at Gunther, unblinking, unmoving. "You tried to kill my partner how many times? You kill me, my partner will kill you. Kill him and there'll be somebody else. There'll always be somebody else."
Gunther looked confused, mystified even, just for one second, just long enough. Hutch watched Gunther's finger begin to pull the trigger, and was already on the move, knocking Gunther's arm up and aside, when Starsky fired. Gunther's shot went wild, hitting the ceiling, making an ugly hole in the beautiful paneling, and Hutch leaped and grabbed for Gunther's gun. He took it out of Gunther's unresisting hand, and turned it, pointing it back at the old man.
"Come here." Now his voice sounded strained. Starsky came around the side of the desk and stood beside him, holstering his gun.
Gunther didn't move.
"Come here," Hutch said, voice commanding and sure. "Assume the position."
Starsky turned and leaned against the desk, smiling a little, watching Hutch. Hutch smiled back. He couldn't help it. Gunther scowled.
"Want me to read him his rights?" Starsky said.
"Yeah, I do."
Gunther stared at him like he was nuts.
"What are you looking at, dirtbag?" Hutch, abandoning any pretense of professionalism, of restraint, shoved Gunther forward, bending him down across the desk like some lowlife street hood. That's what he was, after all.
Starsky said, "You got the right to be a total asshole, but I see you already know that."
Hutch nearly choked, and snapped his own cuffs on Gunther's wrists, tight as he could, tighter than he should.
"You got the right to protect your asshole from all your new little friends. If you can. Which I doubt." Starsky sauntered over to the door. "You got a right to a scum-sucking lawyer if you can afford one. Which you probably can't nowadays." He grinned at Hutch. "Maybe you better do it, after all, partner."
Hutch began the Miranda warning, and shoved Gunther through the door ahead of him. Behind him, Starsky tapped on his butt twice, and laughed.
They'd never been anywhere where they could be themselves in public. Had never been where no one knew them, where men could dance together, and hold hands. San Francisco. They had a whole night.
Hutch watched Starsky dancing, the reflected lights sliding over his body like spilled wine. He moved like a leaf in the wind, free and light, like a feather. Elusive and fragile, unique.
The music beat inside him like a second heart. The moving bodies, the flashing lights, the heat and the smell of beer. And Starsky, dancing like a wisp of fog, joyous and free.
"Can I buy you a drink, blue eyes?"
Hutch barely glanced at the man standing by the table. Didn't care what he looked like, or how he was dressed, or what kind of a man he might be.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm with someone."
The guy raised an eyebrow, and turned away, shrugging.
Starsky came back and plopped down beside him, pressing the length of his leg to Hutch's, and took his hand. Hutch could smell his sweat, clean and sharp, and feel his breath hot on the side of his face.
"I'm out of shape for this," Starsky said, out of breath. "Had to take a break. Dance with me, Hutch, come on."
"You know I can't dance for shit. I'd rather watch you. You're like smoke in a breeze. I love to watch you dance."
"So poetic. You surprise me."
"I want to kiss you."
He looked into Starsky's eyes, and saw the smile forming there.
"So what's stopping you?"
"I want to kiss you, Starsk."
"Let's go. Come on, let's go. Hurry up."
Hutch threw some money on the table and followed him out, bumping people as he passed, and not even apologizing.
Hutch splurged on a night at the Huntington. It cost almost a week's pay, and Starsky protested strongly.
"I don't have anything else to spend my money on," Hutch had said, checking in. "I need this."
They hadn't looked at the view of Nob Hill, or noticed the decadent luxury of the furnishings in their room. Just the bed. It held them, floating together, lost somewhere together.
Sleepy and loose-muscled, Hutch said, "I don't want to go home. Let's just stay here forever. Just like this." He kissed the bit of Starsky's skin nearest to his mouth, somewhere south of his right ear. It smelled good there and he kissed it again, tasting the salt, feeling the tickle of Starsky's hair against his eyelids.
Starsky wrapped his arms tighter and threw a leg across Hutch's, and kissed the top of his head.
"You have a job, Blondie. Did you forget?"
"Fuck the job. Let's move up here, buy a little house, open a gallery or something. For your photos. A wine bar with an open mike and I'll sing to you. Or a laundromat. Anything. We could be free here, it wouldn't matter who saw us, who knew about us. No guns. No bullets."
"And how long would you be happy? You're a cop, Hutch. Open your little shop with your pension."
"I was a cop. I don't think I am anymore."
"You gonna let Gunther take that away, too?"
"I love you so much. I don't want to lose you."
"You'll never lose me, baby. I ain't going anywhere. I told you that."
Hutch moved his head back, and put his hand on Starsky's face, touching his eyes, his lips.
"Sometimes I think I'm going crazy, Starsk. Sometimes I'm sure of it."
"I won't let you go."
He took a long breath and let it out like a sob against Starsky's face.
On the way home they stopped by Merle's to visit the Torino.
"You go," Starsky said. "I don't want to see her like that again."
Merle the Earl greeted him with a half smile, and wiped a hand down his coveralls before offering it to Hutch. "No good news, 'm afraid."
"Can't fix the engine?"
"Nope. I put the word out for another one. We'll find one, drop it right in, good as new." He scratched at his straggly beard, and left a black grease stain along his jaw.
"Here's some money for the body work, and an advance for the engine." Hutch took out his wallet but Merle stopped him with a look.
"That car's just as much my baby as Starsky's. I'll let you know what the engine costs. Forget the rest."
"Buy a new car for yourself, man. That'll satisfy the Earl."
Hutch grinned. "No promises."
"My mother called," Hutch said at breakfast. "They want me to visit for a while." He drank some coffee, and looked at his uneaten toast. He picked it up, and put it back down again, throat closing.
"You got plenty of sick leave. Might as well use it. You should go."
Starsky leaned back in his chair, far enough that Hutch was sure he'd go over backward. He knew better than to say anything.
"You think I should?"
"Yeah, babe. I do."
"I don't want to go without you."
"You should go, Hutch."
"What would you do while I'm away?"
"Miss you every second." He smiled, and brought the chair down to Earth. He leaned across the table so he could touch Hutch's cheek. "You need to go."
"I'll go, then."
"I want you to see Dr. McAllister," Dobey said.
"I'm not seeing a shrink, Captain. That's final."
"I'll say what's final, Detective. If you refuse, I'm going to put you on leave." His chair creaked as he got up, and he came around the desk, and leaned against the edge in front of Hutch's chair. "I'm worried about you, son."
"I wish people would stop saying that. There's nothing wrong with me."
"You look—well, you don't look good."
"I haven't been sleeping very well lately." He looked at his hands. They seemed to move of their own accord, opening and closing, and shaking a little. He put them flat on his knees and looked up to see if Dobey had noticed.
Dobey had. "I thought you'd feel better after you took down Gunther. Still having nightmares?"
"Will you see McAllister?"
"I'd rather have the leave, I think. My parents want me to visit."
"I'll go along with that." Dobey nodded and went back around the desk. He found the right papers. "How much time do you want?"
"I . . . don't know."
"I'm giving you a month. I want to know where you are, and I want you to check in once a week."
"I have paperwork to finish."
"Do it today, then, and start the leave tomorrow."
"I wish you'd let me go with you to the airport."
"Huggy wants to pick up something out on that end of Sepulveda anyway." Hutch put the last of his things into the small suitcase and latched it closed.
"You going to be okay?"
"No. I wish you'd come to Duluth."
He lifted the suitcase off the bed and sat in its place. Starsky stopped leaning against the wall and came over to stand in front of him. Hutch pressed his forehead against Starsky's belly and felt his arms circle his head, holding him in, holding him gently, as if he were just a small child. He put his arms tight around Starsky's waist and held onto him, as tight as he could.
"We've already been through this," Starsky said. "You know why I can't."
"I don't think I can do it." His voice was muffled, and sounded strange.
"I love you, you know that?"
Hutch nodded against Starsky's stomach, and felt him pulling gently on the ends of his hair.
"I love you," Hutch whispered. "You know that."
"You're the sun, Hutch. Even at night you keep me warm."
"You'll be okay."
Starsky didn't answer.
Hutch's mother smiled when she saw him, and then cried. In her arms he felt safe, and at the same time as if he were disintegrating, and that it was all right if he did. He topped her by inches, and felt tiny and young in her embrace. He pulled away and kissed her cheek.
"We're so glad you're here, dear." She looked around the terminal. "Let's get your bags and go home."
"I don't have any. Just the one carry-on."
She seemed surprised, and he knew she was wondering how long he would stay. But she didn't say anything, just tucked her arm into his. They wended their way out around and between the other travelers.
She let him drive them home. He felt disconnected, like a newcomer, but everything was so familiar, everything exactly where it was supposed to be. Time compressed. He'd never really left.
His sister was there at the house waiting, her boys playing with a small puppy on the front lawn. As soon as they saw the car, they ran to it, shouting and waving, the puppy close behind, barking happily, bounding back and forth and jumping up against everyone's legs. The kids hugged Hutch around his thighs, and tried to hold on as he walked with them, dragging them along and laughing.
"Oh, Kenny," Karen said. "I'm so glad you're here."
He pulled her close and growled into her ear. "Don't call me 'Kenny'!" He kissed her forehead.
"Sorry," she said, without remorse.
He looked up the wide front steps to the house. "Looks the same." He almost didn't want to go in. What was in there for him now?
"You're going to sleep in my old room. We thought you'd be more comfortable with the bathroom right there."
His old room was in the front of the house. Hers looked out across the back gardens and away over the lake. He looked at her eyes, and she blinked fast a few times and took his hand.
"Come on," he said. "I've got presents for the kids."
After dinner, he handed his mother a photograph, framed in silver. She looked up, startled.
"David took this, last time you were here," she said.
"I thought you'd like to have it."
"Oh, honey." She reached for him, and he turned and ran.
Hutch stood on the end of the dock, under the stars, above the stars reflected on the lake's surface. He felt a momentary urge to let himself fall in, into the stars, to let them pull him in and comfort him. He took a shaky breath and let it out in a long sigh.
Tiny vibrations in the wood under his feet made him turn fast, reaching for his gun that wasn't even there.
His father stopped short and lifted a hand. "Whoa, son. It's Dad. Sorry I startled you."
Hutch smiled and dropped his hand. "Sorry, Dad. Just instinct. Habit."
"I know." His father held out a sweater. "Thought you might be cold. It's still chilly here at night."
"Thanks." He pulled the sweater on, but it didn't make him feel any warmer.
"You all right? Why are you out here in the middle of the night?"
"I had a nightmare. Couldn't sleep afterward. Didn't want to."
His father sat down on the end of the dock and let his feet dangle. He tapped the planks next to him.
"Sit down and tell me," he said.
He sat with his father and let his legs hang off the end, the way he and Karen had as kids. The water made small sounds as it patted the shore, and sucked at the pilings under them.
"It's the same one. The one where I come around the end of Starsky's car and he's lying there covered with blood. The one where he looks into my eyes and begs me to help him. And I try, and there's nothing I can do. I don't even get to tell him I love him, and he's gone."
"He knew you loved him."
Hutch turned to his father, into his arms, and broke apart like a shattered sun.
Everyone except the puppy came to the airport to see him off.
"If you change your mind," his father said, "you know there's a place for you here."
His mother reached up and pushed some hair off his face. "I wish you'd stay longer. Are you sure you're ready to go back?"
"No, but I don't know that I'll ever really be ready."
The boys ran around the chairs in the gate area, and he watched their unselfconscious playfulness, and smiled.
"Bye, Kenny," Karen said, and grinned and ducked away from his swatting hand.
He walked onto the jetway, turned once to wave, and went home.
His apartment was empty. His neighbor had watered the plants and taken in his mail, and everything looked the same. Everything was where it should be, but it was empty.
"I missed you, Starsk."
There was no answer. His heart began to beat wildly.
"Starsky, you son of a bitch. You said you weren't going anywhere. You said you wouldn't let me go."
"It's what you needed to hear, Hutch." Starsky leaned against the wall, arms folded, and that little half smile played around his eyes.
"Oh God, Starsky, don't do that to me again."
"Sorry what? Sorry for what?"
"Sorry I can't keep my promise."
"No. Starsky, no. I need—there are things—" He couldn't breathe. "Wait! Your mother's coming. What do you want us to do with your stuff? Merle's going to fix up the Torino. You'll see, she'll be good as new."
"To hell with the car, Hutch." He grinned, but Hutch, a little shocked, looked down and didn't grin back. "It doesn't matter about my things. Everything's yours now, anyway." He stepped over to Hutch's bed, shoulders back, head turned and tipped a little to one side. Hutch watched his ass move and lift as he walked. "Come here."
Hutch sat on the bed next to him, shoulder to shoulder, and took hold of his hand.
"You're going, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I am."
"Please don't go."
"Remember how I said even if I left I'd still be with you?"
"Yes. I said it didn't make any sense."
"How about now? Does it make any more sense now?"
"I don't know how to do this, Starsk."
"Nobody does. It just gets done."
"What do I do now?"
"Kiss me, I guess. What else is there?"
Hutch tried, but there was nothing to hold on to.
"I love you, you know that."
"I love you, too, so much. You know that."
"I know it. I always knew it."
But the apartment was empty.
In the morning, the sun streamed in and warmed his face. Hutch turned to it for a moment, eyes closed.
There was no answer. He hadn't really expected one. He got up anyway, and went to work.
Read "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas
Feedback is tremendously appreciated. If you choose to offer it in public, though, I ask that you don't reveal the nature of this story. I really feel that much of its power will be lost to first-time readers if its outcome is revealed. Thanks in advance.