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The Letter

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This is a hard one to read...it was equally hard to write

 

 

The precinct had been a three-ring circus all day and I'd been stuck
behind a desk way too long. When the young rookie burst into my
office without knocking, I recognized the perfect scapegoat for my
wrath and let him have it. After apologizing profusely, he handed me
a thin manila envelope, which I took reluctantly. I knew the
handwriting well. It had red-lined the margins of my reports many
times in past years. It was at this point that I feared my day was
far from over.

I scrutinized the fresh-faced recruit before I dismissed him. Had I
ever been that young….that green? I wasn't anxious to own up to
those days.

Putting my work aside, I opened the packet. I'd only been Captain
for a few months and was still trying to get a handle on my new
duties. I was already feeling the weight of my job settling into the
narrow space between my shoulder blades.

Dumping the contents onto my desk, I found several sheets of crisp
white paper, filled with neatly typed lines. In my memory, the
author stood out as a particularly well-ordered individual, always
extremely precise with his reports. As I started to peruse the
lines, time reversed and I recalled those rookie years….

____________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _


To Captain Jeffrey K.
Baker
October 23, 2005

Today, I realized what an old man I am. Normally, I avoid the
mirror. Not on purpose; I just feel little need to check out how I
look. I haven't for many years. But the get- together was for me,
and the entryway of Huggy's new place was lined with rather cruel
ornate looking-glasses. Nowhere else would have sufficed for my
retirement party and the crew was well aware of that. I didn't
really want any kind of celebration, but the outgoing Captain just
can't fade away without some sort of fanfare. Remember that, Baker,
when your turn comes.

My memory of the day Captain Dobey hung up his gun and turned in his
badge is very clear. I was a lieutenant and as the incumbent
commanding officer, I was already dreading the added stress and
responsibility I was taking on. It was a good run, and I probably
would have cashed it in on a few occasions if I hadn't had the job to
keep me busy.

There's a good deal of politics in police work and through the years,
I've amassed a few secrets that I didn't feel compelled to put into
my reports. There is something that I'd like to set down on paper,
however; something that weighs heavily on my conscience. Whether you
feel it should go into the record books is entirely your call. I
know this is a decision that you probably don't need on top of your
workload, but I've held onto it too long. As this date rolls around
each year, I tend to dwell on things that can't be changed.

In May of '83, Starsky and I were pressed into working long hours.
This was brought on by the latest occurrence of the "pig flu." If
you remember, there were some labor disputes and the only recourse
some of the officers felt they had was to call in sick to bring on a
decision in their favor. As I said….politics. Anyway, my partner
and I were called out on a domestic violence case. Not one of my
favorites, for sure.

It was a trailer park in the middle class section of the city. When
we got there, the young woman who'd made the call was standing by the
office, a baby in her arms. She was young, not more than eighteen.
She and the baby were both crying and it seemed natural for me to
reach out for the child, who looked to be a little over a year old.
I've always been drawn to children and he came to me right away. He
was a chubby baby and seemed content to play with the buttons on my
jacket. Starsky was left to deal with the mother. I remember
watching him gather the young woman into his arms and wondering
whether I shouldn't have done things differently. If there was any
fault in my best friend's job performance, it was maybe that he cared
too much. We both did, at times.

Mother and child quieted quickly and I studied her more closely. I
saw that she was probably older than I'd thought at first. She'd
obviously been beaten severely. Her face was starting to show
bruises and swelling. She had an innocent naivety and seemed shy,
withdrawn and weary, as though she'd been through trauma that not
many share. I've seen the same look in the eyes of others….a kind of
hopelessness. At the same time, it was obvious that she had a strong
will, a way of coping with the situation that she now found herself
in. The dispatcher had stated that this was going to be a repeat of
several calls made to the address to establish order.

Starsky saw the same things that I did, but his head had been in a
different place the last few months. We were both approaching forty
and he'd become increasingly restless. Looking back, I realize that
he felt he was in danger of losing his "picket-fence dream", as he
called it and some kind of mid-life crisis was in play. He had
finally become disillusioned with his work, a state that I'd reached
years earlier. But for him, it was more traumatic. He'd clung
tightly to the premise that he was doing some good in the world, but
was beginning to realize that too many of the "whippos and wise guys"
he despised were destined to slip through the cracks in the system.
At first, increasingly vigilant, he tried to whip our brother cops
into a frenzy, but after finding that they were rather apathetic
about just doing their job and getting a paycheck, he became
depressed and quiet. I was sympathetic, but I had a hidden agenda
that I just couldn't reveal. I knew that he still had hopes of a
normal life with a wife and kids, even though the majority of cops
around us either had unhappy marriages or were separated or
divorced. In the aftermath of the Gunther case and almost losing
Starsky, I'd discovered that I loved him as more than a partner and
friend. I know that this admission won't go any further than your
desk, Jeff. You've been a good friend these last few years and I
trust you to be discreet.

Anyway, when we took Erin….that was her name….back to her house to
pick up some of her things; I could see that Starsky was already
becoming more than a little protective of her. I was thankful that
her husband had left, as I could visualize a confrontation between
the two. We both abhorred violence against women and she was
obviously more than a little intimidated by the man she was married
to. I was glad to get out of there without incident and drop her off
at her parent's home.

On the way back to the station to file a report, Starsky seemed
unusually thoughtful.

"Okay, Starsk?" I questioned him.

"Why do they do it, Hutch? Why do women stay with assholes like
that?"

"Love or need….maybe obsession. Who knows?" I mumbled. "You want
to stop and eat now or wait until we're done?"

He looked at me as though I'd suggested a human sacrifice.

"This is important. I can't seem to hold onto someone, no matter how
I treat `em. What is it with women, anyway?"

"Maybe it's not the women, maybe it's you, moron." The look on his
face told me that the thought had already crossed his mind more times
than once, so I softened my approach. "Aw, c'mon, Starsk. It's the
times….this country's still reeling from the effects of the war and
the `free love' movement. Everybody's just trying to get by the best
way they can."

"That's a shitty way to live, ya know it?" He put his head back and
closed his eyes and I knew that the door had been slammed shut.

I put the whole thing out of my mind and was totally blown away when,
a few days later, Starsky showed up at my apartment on our day off.
That in itself wasn't unusual; we almost always found some way to see
each other when we weren't working, but the bundle in his arms was
not his dirty laundry. I recognized the chubby infant as Danny,
Erin's son.

I held out my hands and the youngster came to me. Starsky put down
the bag he was carrying and went to the fridge for a beer, while I
took Danny's jacket off. My partner slumped into a chair and met my
gaze somewhat reluctantly.

"What's going on, Starsk?" I questioned.

"It was on the way over, so I stopped off to see how Erin was doing
and she was about to call in sick `cause she didn't have a
babysitter, so I offered." He flipped his hand casually in the air
as if he ran a day care center in his spare time. "No big deal."

"Looks like you're breaking your own number one rule, getting too
involved in a case."

"Not just a case, man. These are real human beings you're talking
about."

"So are the ten or twelve other thousand people we've dealt with over
the years. What makes this case so special?"

"I don't know….I just don't know, Hutch." He scrubbed his face, like
he was trying to sandpaper the skin off of it. "Lay off me, would
ya?"

"All I'm saying is that you can't save `em all, buddy." I kept
trying. I had a personal stake in this, whether he knew it or not.

"Ah…. Pearls of wisdom from the white knight himself." He quipped
sarcastically.

I threw my hands in the air. "Just trying to help."

"Don't need it….don't want it….thanks anyway." And I knew enough to
quit. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't, but that's something I try not
to think about now.

Having a child around was a diversion and we were soon involved in
his antics, but I had the feeling that nothing but trouble was on the
horizon.

From then on, Erin was the third party in whatever event we
attended. She was all he could talk about when we were alone
together. It didn't seem to matter to Starsky that she was married;
he'd decided that she represented his future and whatever I'd had to
say to him about us, the time for confession was over. I tried to
broach the subject of her husband many times, but he was blind and
deaf as far as anything resembling sanity was concerned.

Don't get me wrong, she was a doll, but she was also somebody's wife
and that was a line that both of us had tried to avoid crossing in
the past. Worse, I had the feeling that her husband wasn't the type
to give her up as easily as it seemed.

I hated being right. Starsky was on a high that nearly made him
impossible to be around. You remember the way he was when things
were going right for him? Kinda like a kid left overnight in a store
full of candy? I was beginning to think this was it for him, his
dream….it left a bittersweet ache in the barren, withered regions of
my heart….the place where I just couldn't be happy for him without
admitting that our relationship was doomed to change drastically.
Deep inside there was a selfish soul howling at the unfairness of
someone else having what I knew should be mine.

The more involved he got in the relationship, the less we saw of each
other, until our association was that of co-workers and anything of a
personal nature was met with a firm, but instant change of subject.
Only the weather, sports and work-related topics were considered safe
by the time I got a call from him one night several months later. He
was taking up valuable space in his least favorite haunt, the ER at
Memorial and they wouldn't let him drive home. I lost no time in
getting there.

I'd seen him struggle with a wide variety of emotions during our
years together, but it didn't take an acquaintance with a great deal
of experience to tell that Starsky was a beaten man. Not only beaten
up, but beaten down. All I'd gotten on the phone was a terse demand
to pick him up, no explanation, and none of his usual variety of
excuses to explain his appearance, which was shocking, at best. He
looked like he'd tangled with an entire family of the wild bears he
was especially fond of mentioning whenever the subject of revisiting
Captain Dobey's cabin came up.

I decided caution was the better part of valor and held my tongue,
following meekly in his wake as he stalked angrily out of the
building. Once I'd gotten him settled, I delayed starting the car,
well aware that my action would precipitate an unequal and extremely
volatile reaction, which was simmering so close to the surface that I
could almost see it roiling under his skin.

I was surprised when he finally looked into my eyes and asked, "Why
didn't you ever tell me I was stupid?"

"I think I've mentioned it a time or two over the years." I smiled
to take the sting out of the words. "World War Three happen and
nobody called me?" I indicated his condition, trying hard to seem
objective. Inside, I wanted to kill whoever had hurt him so badly.

"Just my own private war, I guess." He tried to smile and
winced. "Erin's husband and a couple of his buddies jumped me."

"Erin? Was she with you?"

Starsky laughed….a sardonic, bitter, choking sound I'd never heard
him make before in our years together.

"Seems she went back to him." He avoided looking at me. "I've been
warned not to come anywhere near her or I'm a dead man."

"Starsk…"

"I can't get it through my head, Hutch. Why would she do that?"
Starsky slapped his palms lightly on each side of his head,
forgetting the lumps he'd taken and grimaced self consciously. "See,
told you I wasn't too bright."

I caught both his hands so he wouldn't do it again. "I think maybe I
can try to clear that up for you."

"My ignorance?"

"No….why she might have gone back to her husband. I've had some
personal experience."

He looked puzzled for a minute, and then I saw awareness creep into
his dark, expressive eyes.

"You….and Vanessa?" he asked, hesitantly.

"A lot of sewage under that particular bridge before you came into
the picture, Starsk." I told him. "We split up a few times, too."

"But she treated you like shit. Why would you go back for more?"

"That is the question and the answer's complicated. I imagine Erin's
husband is a lot like she was….a real control freak."

"And you're not?" Starsky asked.

"I am now….wasn't always that way, though."

I remember smiling at his fair and honest assessment. Starsky was
like that, he accepted his friends, warts and all.

I invited him to stop at my place and talk about it over a beer and
he agreed, anxious to hear what I had to say. I was glad to see that
he looked less haggard and seemed more like the Starsky I'd loved for
so long.

He flopped down on the couch and looked at me expectantly. I sighed,
got us both a Coors and settled in next to him. I loved the way he
instinctively leaned in my direction. It was like that for both of
us, you know. We just seemed to nearly share the same space, chair,
couch….whatever. Never the same bed, though, regrettably.

"You see, Starsk, it takes a major power freak and they seem to
intuitively gravitate toward the right kind of person, sort of like a
homing pigeon zeroing in on his way back to the coop. Usually it's
someone a little naïve, who's been sheltered by parents who are
rather intolerant, judgmental, quite often rigidly religious….parents
who're not known for doling out massive amounts of affection on their
offspring. One of the main personality traits these predators look
for, though, is a lousy self image."

"And you had an inferiority complex?"

"Starsk, you've met my father….even when I did things to the letter,
they weren't done right." I explained to him.

"Then what?"

"They're on their best behavior until they get their victims hooked.
Then they systematically begin to strip away their defenses. First
they alienate them from their family and friends…"

Starsky balled up the fist that wasn't holding the beer. "Jeezus,
Hutch! Erin told me that Jim started not wanting to be around her
parents, and then he wouldn't let her go see them. And every time
she made a good friend, he put the moves on her, so she either
stopped seeing Erin anymore or she gave in and slept with him. Then
he'd come home and tell her what her friend had done with him in
detail. Finally she felt like she couldn't trust anyone. I thought
maybe she was exaggerating a little."

"That's the pattern. Before long, the abuse starts. With Van, it
took the form of verbal and mental battery, but there were the
occasional times when she lashed out. Of course, I couldn't hit her
back. Wasn't brought up that way and there had never been a divorce
in our family, so I didn't even consider that an option at first.
The kicker was that every time we got into it and she lost control,
she turned it on me. `Look what you made me do!' was her favorite
phrase. Eventually, I started to believe it."

Starsky looked puzzled. "But if you left her, why would you go back,
Hutch?"

"I've studied the whole phenomenon, Starsk. I had to know that,
too." I paused to gather my thoughts. "I loved her and there had
been good times. I felt isolated, my family looked down on me, and I
didn't have any friends left. When I did try to date, I felt like I
wasn't worthy of being loved by anyone else….after all, I was
conditioned to believe that my marital problems were my fault and I
didn't want to hurt anyone else. Sooner or later, I found some way
of pushing away anyone I was with."

"Erin could have done anything and I'd have stayed…"

I laughed. "Starsk, barnacles don't attach themselves to a ship as
tightly as you hold onto your friends. In fact, meeting you provided
the impetus for me. I even picked fights with you at first. I
treated you like shit; still do at times….but you just never go
away. You're my rock, you gave me the guts to leave Van for good and
you've been there for me ever since."

"Then how come I can't do that for Erin?" he asked, still looking
puzzled.

"Knowing the type, her husband's probably got more of a hold on her.
Most likely, he's threatened to kill her, her family….even Danny, if
she leaves him. That's a powerful motivator."

"She can get a restraining order, keep him away…"

"You know damn well those things are about as useless as a screen
door in a sub. They can't really protect her if he wants to get to
her and she knows it. Besides, in cases like this, the guy becomes
almost superhuman to the one being abused. They seem to believe they
are capable of finding them wherever they go."

"You want to know something, Hutch….I don't really know if I loved
her or not. I cared a lot, but in a way it's a relief that it's
over."

The words welled out from somewhere deep inside of me before I could
think about it.

"You know, sometimes love can be right in front of you and you don't
recognize it because it's not exactly what you've been searching for."

There was a silence pregnant with thought as I watched his beautiful
eyes skewer and dissect me. Then he reached out and pulled me close
and kissed me.

I've had a long time to think about that kiss. It was like the whole
universe shattered into a million slivers and then reassembled itself
in a second of time. When it coalesced, all the things wrong with
this life seemed to right themselves and I saw things the way they
could be and indeed should be. It was almost a religious experience.

Evidently, Starsky was feeling the same thing. All he said
was "Whoa." I didn't know if he meant that we needed to pull up on
the reins or what, but he immediately initiated another kiss, which
left no doubt in my mind that this horse was going to run.

From that day, we experienced love and life in a way neither of us
ever had before. We never looked back; thinking we had the rest of
our lives together. We were married in every sense of the word and
there was perfect harmony between us. There was no trauma about
being homosexual. Neither of us had ever felt the least bit interested
in another man before, nor have I since. We were Me and Thee,
eternal and blissfully powerful, invincible...untouchable, like Eliot
Ness.

I had no clue that our happiness was short-lived. Less than three
weeks later, we were at Starsky's apartment. I left him cleaning his
gun and went out to get what I needed for a romantic dinner I was
planning to cook for him. I came back to an empty apartment. There
was a hastily-scribbled note, on the table, left next to his gun,
which was still broken down. `Erin's in trouble,' was the terse
message.

I remember being thankful that he'd left so quickly he hadn't
taken his gun and then a thought skittered across my mind, prompting
me to open the closet door and find my weapon missing.

When I was almost to the mobile home park, I heard two gunshots. My
heart beating in triple time, I reached the residence and after
yelling "Police!" I burst into the house.

I nearly stumbled over Starsky just inside the door. I only had time
to grab my gun, which was lying next to him, before Erin's husband
came barreling out of another room. We stood there for a few
seconds, guns leveled at each other. I remember hearing Starsky's
labored gasps behind me and feeling enormous relief that he was still
alive.

"Where's Erin?" I yelled at the crazed-looking man, wanting only to
get to Starsky.

"She's where she should be, in hell. And that's where he's gonna be
before very long, unless I miss my guess, pig." was his answer. I
could hear Danny screaming from the other end of the house. At least
he was safe.

"Put the gun down….now!" I said forcefully, seeing him as the only
obstacle between myself and my partner.

Instead he put the gun to his own head.

"There's nothing you can do, cop. We're gonna just wait here until
he's dead and then you can take me in." He laughed….an evil, bestial
growl that sounded more like a feral animal than a human. "I can do
a few years in the loony bin standin' on my head."

I had no time for this; I had to get to Starsky. Something snapped
inside me and a picture flashed through my mind. Me softly
murmuring "Starsk?" just as I thought he was about to put a bullet
through the head of George Prudholm. If I hadn't spoken, Terry might
have lived to marry my friend. Didn't I owe him this? I didn't take
the time to agonize over it.

I'll never forget the look of shock and surprise on his face as I
pulled the trigger and shot him point blank through his black heart.

I quickly moved to Starsky and saw that he was conscious and there
was no condemnation in his eyes, only relief that I was all right.

I'd always thought that when one of us left this world, there would
be a rift in the universe, a horrific death knell perhaps heard round
the world. But it was a silent blow, a sigh of release, witnessed
only by me, that split my existence wide open. There were no death-
bed declarations, no earth-shaking words to explain how this could
have happened to us, no "I'll wait for you" proclamations. Starsky's
last thought was for me. He made me promise him that I would say
that he'd been the one who shot the son-of-a-bitch. I would have
gladly told the world that I'd put an end to the man's worthless
existence, but I gave my word and I'd never lied to my partner.
There was a look of pure, golden love that I've carried with me over
the years and then the light faded from his eyes and he was gone,
leaving me with the echo of words long past said….a painfully true,
if inappropriately inane remark about `the ones left behind' and an
aching loneliness that has never eased nor dissipated for even one
day since.

My official statement has never been in question. I couldn't have
cared less. After all, what did I have left to lose?

There have been few regrets in my life and I've tried to right as
many wrongs as possible over the years. But often I wonder, if only
I'd confessed the `sin' of loving him sooner…

Anyway, I wanted to set the record straight on this one thing before
my time comes.

I've never been a religious man, but lately I've realized that there
is some kind of order in the universe; if not a higher power, then a
rightness….maybe Karmic, maybe not. But I've come to believe that
there will be a place for us, Starsky and I….in the future….a time to
be together….to be how we are, what we are….in this form or another.
It's meant to be, the two of us. It's too big not to be.
Personally, I think some day, in my next existence, I'll meet an
individual and look into his or her eyes and see, deep within the
outward hue of blue, brown or green, a twinkle of deep, dark blue,
alive with laughter and excitement and I'll know. I'll just know.

I suppose it seemed like I was completely unmoved by Starsky's death,
but I really felt that he was still with me and it's always been that
way. Spiritually, I've never come close to sharing anyone's soul
again and I never will. I'm sure there were more than a few people
who wondered who sent the spray of red roses placed near his
head. `From the one who loved you more than life itself' I wrote on
the card and it was true. Many times I've had to draw from a deep
well to find the resolve to go on, but Starsky was there to help. I
know he'll always be there.

So, whatever you think best, Jeff. Life goes on and death becomes a
part of that life and I'll be ready to go whenever that time comes.
Do yourself and me a favor and don't let the job become your life.
Best of luck and I know you'll be the kind of leader that this force
needs.

Sincerely, Kenneth Hutchinson

____________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _

My day was over. I folded the letter and put it in my pocket. It
needed no more filing than that. I would not stain the Captain's
record with his confession, nor would I ever say a word to anyone
about what was written on these few white sheets of paper. I put my
work away, determined to go home and spend more time with my wife and
kids while I still have them in my life.

I remember my rookie days now, the legends that I learned from. They
lived their lives without an abundance of recognition, they did their
jobs well and they shone like comets…stars blazing fiercely
throughout a short, unheralded life, spiraling spectacularly from the
heights, creating a fiery tracery in the night sky and finally
exploding in a brilliantly bursting flame of glory. They shared
their humor and the lessons they'd learned unselfishly and without
prejudice, censure or condemnation. They cared deeply, gave fully
and without expecting recompense or reward. They are my heroes.

My last act for the day was nothing official. I stopped in at a
florist near my home and ordered a spray of red roses to be delivered
in the morning for Captain Hutchinson's funeral service.

 The End