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Night Voices

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The other married men had left Huggy Bear’s bar at least an hour before, and those with children had left even earlier than that, if they’d shown up at all. It was perfectly understandable. Domestic bliss was highly preferable to washing down stale pretzels with two dollar beers alongside half a dozen weary co-workers. But Ken Hutchinson - who Dave Starsky knew for a fact had a wife with the looks of a goddess - lingered, nursing his beer and watching the competitive but good natured dart game between Starsky and Paul Engles.

After Starsky had beat his opponent four games to one, Paul finished off his drink and brushed the back of his hand across his mouth.

“I know when it's time to call it quits,” he said to Starsky and Hutch. “See you tomorrow.”

Starsky gave him a goodbye wave and turned his full attention to Hutch, now the lone holdout. He wondered again why Hutch was still there. Though he wasn’t shallow enough to think that physical appearance was all that mattered, Starsky considered that if he had someone waiting for him at home who looked like Vanessa Hutchinson, he wouldn’t be wasting time tossing darts at a circle on the wall.

Starsky thought back to his own childhood, remembering with the inevitable stab of pain the soft sound of his parents talking together late into the night as he lay in bed. Michael Starsky worked second shift as a beat cop back in Brooklyn and even though he usually didn’t come home until after midnight, Rachel waited up for him faithfully, keeping his dinner warm on the hot plate.

Starsky’s mom and pop were as different as night and day. His ma, Rachel, had eyes as soft and warm as brownies fresh from the oven, while Michael, his pop, was tough as a bristle brush. Nevertheless, the love between them was unwavering. Two branches of a strong tree that offered shelter against life’s battering storms.

When he was a kid, Starsky strained to hear their nightly conversation as his little brother slept in the bottom bunk -- Ma’s retelling of her conference with Starsky’s teacher, Pop’s description of climbing a fire escape to rescue a wayward cat. No event was too small to be brushed aside. The everyday became fascinating, colored in their love for each other. His parents’ rock solid relationship was the foundation Starsky’s life had been built on until the day his father was gunned down. He was a cop who’d been in the right place at the wrong time. Starsky’s youth had been the collateral damage.

Sometimes even now Starsky thought he heard them late at night when he couldn’t sleep - Michael’s quiet baritone, Rachel’s laugh as gentle as light rain on pavement. Yeah, if Starsky had someone he shared a connection with like his ma and pop had, maybe he wouldn’t have such sharply honed skills at darts, Starsky mused. His dinner wouldn’t consist of pretzels and beer.

He watched Hutch from across the table. The other man seemed in no hurry to leave. “Cops’ wives gotta be special, seeing how much waiting they have to do,” Starsky commented, almost without thinking.

Hutch looked back to him, an odd look on his face. “I doubt Vanessa’s doing any waiting.”

“Well, you’re here and she’s . . . ah . . . there.” Starsky replied, getting the sensation of stepping onto shaky ground.

“I’m sure she has lots of things occupying her time other than waiting for me.” Hutch took another swig of beer but the deflated look on his face said the taste was anything but refreshing.

“I just figured like she’d want to hear about your day - you’d want to hear about hers,” Starsky finished lamely.

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think my day was all that interesting.”

“Sure it was,” Starsky insisted. “You got that punk in the liquor store to hand over his gun without a fuss. Probably saved somebody from getting really hurt. And you traced that stolen diamond necklace to Big Al’s Pawn shop. We’ve been looking for it for weeks.”

Hutch shrugged. “I doubt my wife would be impressed. Now, if I could have brought her home the diamond necklace, she might get more interested.”

Typically, Starsky did his best to stay out of the personal lives of his fellow cops. It was some unwritten law somewhere. To reveal too much was unmanly. But he and Hutch had become especially close, despite the differences in their backgrounds and lifestyles. Their unique friendship had started at the academy and continued when they’d signed on with Bay City as rookies. Getting involved in a man’s relationship with his wife, however, - well, that seemed completely out of bounds, even for them.

Or maybe not.

“I’m sorry she feels that way,” Starsky said simply. “I’m here if you need to talk.”

Talk - the connection between two sentient beings. The difference between two lives being lived out side by side or shared - intertwined and strengthened like woven threads.

Hutch sagged back in his chair and signaled the waitress for another round. “Talk ... yeah ... I could use ... “ He cleared his throat. “Van never wants to hear about my job. Whenever I try to talk to her, she just shuts me down. The good stuff, the bad stuff, it doesn’t matter. It’s no better when I ask her about her day. I guess we just have nothing to say to each other. When I come home she’s either on the phone or has her nose stuck in some fashion magazine.” Starsky heard the pain that perched just beyond the edge of Hutch’s voice. A wild animal Hutch fought to hold at bay. “I don’t know how much longer we can go on this way.”

Starsky felt something burn deep in his gut, as if he’d unexpectedly bit into a jalapeno pepper.

“What? No judgment? No smart come back?” Hutch flung out the sarcasm like lashes of a tiny whip when Starsky didn’t immediately reply.

It wasn’t the first time Starsky had been on the receiving end of Hutch’s peculiar weapon. He’d come to understand that it was Hutch’s defense mechanism when anyone got too close to his perceived failings. But those little barbs - like thorns among roses - weren’t about to drive him away. Starsky’s skin, it seemed, was as thick as his head.

“Is that what you want to hear?” Starsky pushed.

Hutch sighed, his shoulders slumped in weariness rather than defeat. “No.”

“Okay then. I think I’ll just sit here and listen. I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

They sat in silence for several long minutes. In the meanwhile, their silence held a thousand private conversations. Gradually, words began to trickle off of Hutch’s tongue. At first haltingly - and then in a rush. A stream of hopes and dreams colliding with a river of disappointments and fears. Starsky listened as Hutch poured himself out. Between them there was no criticism, no condemnation. Just understanding.

A change came over Hutch then, like a weight shifting on his shoulders. He gave Starsky a wry smile. Starsky saw in it the quiet strength and integrity of Michael, the acceptance and warmth of Rachel. The qualities he admired most, residing in one person.

Sometimes all one needs is someone else to listen and to be heard - not to change what is. That’s when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

 

FIN