The bleak silence in the Torino was almost as unbearable as the heat slowly cooking them like chickens in a smoker. Even Hutch had the top three buttons of his shirt undone.
And the silence hadn’t only been in the car. For the last two days, the only words Starsky and Hutch had for each other -- and everyone else for that matter -- were strictly work-related. As monosyllabic as possible as well.
Starsky was the first to break. He didn’t have the patience of Job and the lack of meaningful communication with his best friend had short-circuited almost every nerve he had. He didn’t have a clue what was bothering Hutch, but at least he had an inkling of what was so troublesome for himself. The time for mutual revelations was at hand and that meant this instant.
That sudden decision had him pulling off the road in a squeal of tires and into the parking lot of a small park. He had the radio mic in his hand before both the car and Hutch could stop rocking from the abrupt stop.
“Dispatch, this is Zebra Three. Sign us out for, uh, fifteen minutes, ‘kay?” Starsky said evenly despite the threatening glare Hutch was giving him. The only thing missing was that damn pointy finger aimed at him for emphasis or chest-poking.
“Ten-four, Zebra Three.”
“Starsky, what the --”
“Jus’ shuddup, Hutch. I stopped ‘cause I can’t stand it no more. It’s bad enough when one of us is all huffy, but both? We’re gonna work out why, got it, pal? Then we’re gonna work on fixin’ it.”
“Fine. You go first.”
“Sorry, Hutch, the early bird caught the worm.”
Hutch, not shy about showing his disgruntlement, muttered squarely at Starsky, “Yeah, if that bird was a vulture.”
Starsky turned until his right leg formed an L on the seat. “No need to be rude, ya dirtball. Now, what’s got your mood blacker than my underwear?”
“You’re wearing black underwear?”
“I didn’t say I was wearin’ it now, even if it is after Labor Day. And no changing the subject. ‘Fess up.”
Hutch looked away then down. He sighed audibly and stroked his bare upper chest lightly. “I got an anniversary comin’ up in a few days,” he said morosely. “And it’s not one I want to celebrate.”
Starsky turned on his memory machine as he sometimes referred to it but couldn’t come up with anything significant right away. Not that he was thinking or feeling that great himself. Then it clicked that he had his own unwanted anniversary coming up. From an inkling to a flood. That wasn’t enough to kick his machine into gear, though.
“Care to be more specific, buddy?” he asked gently.
Hutch sighed again. This time, Starsky thought it sounded wet and shaky. “I killed Corman a year ago.”
“Oh.” Starsky couldn’t think of anything to say to comfort his partner, even though he knew how much Hutch ached.
“I killed a cop, Starsky. One of our brothers. Sure, he was dirty and he was about to waste me, but he was a cop.” Hutch, like himself, took the brotherhood of police officers seriously. Dirty cops just sullied that sacred covenant, which made any betrayal that much worse.
Now the machine shifted into full gear. He remembered all too well how devastated Hutch was for weeks. How a few of their brethren cast nasty looks his way. How talks with the department’s shrink were a waste of time. How Starsky couldn’t seem to reach him and simply being there for him was all he could do to help.
Just like Hutch did for him after he’d killed a teenage boy about three weeks after Corman’s death. Hutch got him through the lousy looks and thinly veiled vicious comments thrown his way. Got him through the inquest. Got him through his rage at the twisted notion that a shrink who’d never killed anyone, never been in war or on the streets, could possibly understand and help him.
Starsky inhaled loudly through pursed lips before saying, “I got an anniversary comin’ up soon, too.” He cupped his hand around the back of Hutch’s neck.
Without lifting his head, Hutch looked sideways at Starsky. “Yeah, I guess you do.”
Starsky looked out the windshield and into the distance, the sadness and pain of memory in Hutch’s eyes too much for him to bear at the moment. “I killed a sixteen-year-old boy. If I hadn’t shot him, me or some innocent citizen would be dead.” He paused. “Don’t make it easier, though.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel better by telling me it was harder to kill a boy than a grown man, well, you’d lose because this isn’t a competition. I’d lose too, because there are no winners here.” Hutch’s tone was almost cruel and it stung Starsky right in the heart. He pulled his hand away from Hutch’s neck quickly.
His voice quavered when he finally replied, “I didn’t say it was, didn’t mean it that way. I was just --”
Hutch sat up straight and softly gripped Starsky’s lower thigh. “God, I’m sorry, buddy. I didn’t mean that. I’m pretty… edgy right now. Just about anything can set me off, ya know?”
Starsky placed his hand, sweaty from being on Hutch’s skin, on top of Hutch's hand and squeezed. “Yeah, I know. Me too.” He caught his friend’s eyes with his own.
They were quiet for a while, simply looked at each other, sharing strength and trust and understanding and love, all of which were so desperately needed in the presence of self-loathing and -disappointment.
“It’s bad enough when we kill a bad guy. But a cop? A kid? Why is that so much worse, huh? Tell me, Starsk.”
Starsky shrugged. “Do I look like a guy with answers to that?”
Hutch gave a listless, humorless chuckle. “No, and neither do I.”
“So like Huggy says sometimes, Hutch, it is what it is.”
“I wish our erudite friend had an epigram for this.”
Starsky puffed a weak laugh. “Right now I’d take an epigram, telegram, anagram, even a plain ol’ gram if it’d help.” He’d ask Hutch later what erudite meant.
“Starsk, does it ever get easier to bear? I mean, feeling guilty for killing someone like...”
After a few heartbeats, Starsky replied, “It’s been a year and so far, it ain’t easier, Hutch. Not for me, and not for you.”
Silence returned, during which Starsky brushed away a tear that threatened to escape his eye. He could see Hutch’s eyes beginning to fill as well.
“I just want to feel a little better about killing Corman, buddy, ya know? I know it’ll never go away, but this… deep burn doesn’t seem to heal at all.”
Starsky knew exactly what he meant. Though he wouldn’t call what he felt a burn, it was still an ever-present-in-the-background agony that never softened. And Lonnie Craig was just the latest contributor to his walled guilt. And the anniversary of his mercy killing of a platoon mate who was dying an excruciating death was coming up in December.
Not for the first time, he was thankful Hutch had both marriage and college deferments and never had to serve in that hell-on-earth. Even as strong as Hutch was, Starsky was certain that he would’ve been one of those vets that were broken because his empathetic heart, his giving soul, would’ve been wounded too deeply to recover.
Starsky moved his hand to cover Hutch’s chest over his heart. He was stunned at how hard and fast it was beating, how tight the chest muscles were, until he realized his heart and muscles were doing the same.
“Guess we just live with it, Hutch, and move on best we can.”
Slowly, Hutch’s hand left Starsky’s leg and landed on the back of his curly head. “Think we ought to try talking with a shrink again, Starsk?”
Starsky thought about that for all of one second. “Nah. Why should we? Didn’t help the first time. ‘Sides, we got each other, babe.”
Hutch smiled with his mouth and eyes -- the first time in days. Starsky was gratified when, at the same time, Hutch’s muscles relaxed. “That we do, partner. Me and thee.”
Starsky grinned. “Always and forever, brother.”