Ken Hutchinson watched as his partner made a bigger and bigger mess on the dining room table of his Venice Place apartment while humming and singing snatches of Christmas songs. He was pretty sure Starsky had made up at least one of them, since he’d never heard of “Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney Again.”
Hutch hadn’t been a fan of commercial holidays before he met Starsky because the strict, regimented celebrations his family insisted on had done nothing but depress him. However, having known Dave Starsky since their academy days, and being partnered with him for four years, now, he was beginning to see what he’d missed. Starsky loved any and all holidays and, this Christmas, after the horrors of the previous year, Starsky’s enjoyment was proving infectious.
“Whatcha lookin’ at, Hutch?” Starsky didn’t take his attention away from the piece of Scotch tape he was applying to the carefully and colorfully clad package in front of him.
Caught, but not wanting Starsky to know what a kick he was getting out of his partner’s performance, Hutch bent studiously over the box he was wrapping. “Just thinking about how different this holiday season has been, compared to last year.”
Starsky sobered. “No kidding. We lost Christmas completely, thanks to that wacko hitman, Joey.”
Hutch winced; he hadn’t intended to cause those bad memories. “You’re making up for it now, partner! You’ve got enough there to inundate the Dobeys and the Ramoses!”
“You bet! They’re our families, Hutch, and families deserve gifts!” Starsky grinned as he spun a long strand of crinkle-ribbon off its bobbin. Suddenly, he dropped both items, his expressive face screwed up in pain. “Shit! That’s the second time!” He stuck the first two fingers of his left hand into his mouth.
“Another paper cut?” Hutch made sure his tone didn’t have a trace of humor.
Starsky shook his head. “That was the first time. These are worse.” He held the hand out toward Hutch and whined, “Ribbon cuts. They’re bleeding!”
Hutch grimaced at the slices in both fingers. “Sure are.” When he noticed a drop of blood fall, he cupped his hand underneath. “Watch it, buddy! You’re dripping on the card for Rosie’s present.”
Starsky grabbed a sheet of stickers, tore off a reindeer, and licked the back before returning the bleeding digits to his mouth. He was about to slap the stamp over the drop when Hutch pulled the card out of harm’s way.
“We need to blot first.” Hutch drew a napkin out from under rolls of bright paper, bags of ribbons and bows, tags, stickers, and ballpoint pens, plus already wrapped presents. Hutch soaked up the drop, then motioned for Starsky to cover it with Rudolph.
All Starsky’s cheer seemed to have disappeared with the new wounds and that snuffed out Hutch’s own happiness. Taking the bleeding hand in his, he led Starsky to the sink where he washed and dried the cuts. Grabbing a paper towel, he wrapped both fingers together. “There. As soon as they’ve stopped bleeding, we’ll put some First Aid Cream on them and big Band-Aids. I don’t think they need stitches.”
Starsky jerked his hand away and slumped back to the table. “‘Course they don’t need stitches, dummy. They’re only paper cuts.”
“Ribbon cuts, Starsk.”
Hutch was pleased to see that, by the time they finished the wrapping, had packed everything into two shopping bags for the Dobeys’ gifts — he’d take care of straightening up later — and driven to their captain’s house, Starsky’s ebullience had returned. As soon as their little girl opened the door, his “Ho, Ho, Ho’s,” rang as gustily as any self-respecting Santa’s.
Rosie Dobey backed up, her hands to her mouth, trying to hide her sheer happiness and act grown up but failing completely. “Presents, Uncle Dave? For me?”
Starsky set his bag down and knelt in front of her. She ran into his arms. “Some of ‘em, Rosie, that’s for sure.” He glanced up at Hutch who had followed him inside and closed the door. “Uncle Ken has some, too.” When the captain, Edith Dobey, and Rosie’s older brother, Cal, walked into the hallway, Starsky let Rosie go and stood up. “We wanted to make up for not coming by last year.”
Rosie’s happy expression turned sad. “You got shot.”
Starsky nodded. “Yes, I did.”
She tried a small smile. “But you’re all better now. Aren’t you?”
He cocked his head and gave her his patented lop-sided grin. “I sure am, schweetheart.”
Edith stepped forward. “That’s very sweet of you, Dave.” She nodded at Hutch. “Ken.” Gesturing toward the living room, she added, “Won’t you come in and have some eggnog and cookies?”
“We don’t want to intrude, Mrs. Dobey,” Hutch said.
Captain Dobey waved a big hand. “Nonsense. Come on in. There’s plenty!”
As Starsky bent to pick up the handles of his shopping bag, Rosie noticed the bandaged fingers and her face turned solemn. “Ouch. That must’ve hurt.”
Starsky almost blushed. “A little.”
Everyone assembled in the living room, the brightly decorated tree taking up the front window. Under it were a dozen or so gaily wrapped packages. With some ceremony, Dobey added the ones Starsky and Hutch had brought to the pile. “You boys didn’t have to do this, but we’re grateful.”
Edith beamed. “I’ll wrap a can of cookies up for each of you to take home.” When Hutch started to protest, she shook her head. “It’s the least we can do. And they’re homemade. Rosie helped me.” She looked at her daughter. “Didn’t you, honey?”
Rosie, plainly enjoying the spotlight, nodded.
“I love homemade cookies, Mrs. Dobey!” Starsky chortled. “I’ll take as many as you want to give me!”
Hutch nudged his partner none too gently, but everyone laughed.
Once they were all settled and sipping eggnog and eating gingerbread Santas and colorful wreaths, plus other kinds he’d never had before, Rosie scooted closer to Starsky’s left side and stared at the bandages on his hand. “What happened this year, Uncle Dave?”
Hutch could see his partner’s mind racing, trying to come up with an explanation that would be a little scary but that wouldn’t give the girl nightmares.
“Well, it was like this, Rosie,” Starsky began. “Hutch and I… Uncle Ken and I were chasing down some bad guys who’d just robbed a convenience store and… well… they had knives.”
She gasped and her hands were instantly back at her mouth.
Dobey and Edith appeared worried but Cal’s face lit up. “Whoa! That’s almost as rad as guns. Tell us about it!”
Starsky cast Hutch a despairing glance and he took up the gauntlet. “They were both pretty young, not much older than you, Cal, and we didn’t want to hurt them.”
“Yeah,” Starsky added, clearly inspired now. “So Hutch used a few wrestling moves on his perp, and I pretended I was back in Brooklyn, defending myself against some of the tough kids I grew up with.”
Hutch checked silently with the elder Dobeys to make sure they understood that this was a made-up situation. Both parents smiled.
“So, where are they now?” Rosie asked.
“I’d bet they’re in jail, silly,” Cal guessed. “Where do you think they’d end up, with Uncle Dave and Uncle Ken on the job?”
“You’re exactly right, son,” Dobey said. “Starsky and Hutch always get their man. Uh, young thieves, in this case.”
A flush began to creep up Starsky’s neck but before the situation could get worse, Rosie leaned forward and took Starsky’s bandaged hand. “Did you have to go to the hospital this time?”
Starsky tried to draw his hand back. “Ah… no, Rosie. I didn’t think –”
She held on tight. “You should have! You don’t know what kind of germs were on that knife!” She jumped to her feet. “I’ll take care of you.”
Rosie raced out of the room while everyone looked at each other, not quite sure of what was happening.
Within a minute, the child was back. She ran to Starsky, knelt at his knees and put a First Aid kit on the floor. Gently, she took his hand and began unpeeling the Band-Aids. Starsky tried not to flinch.
Rosie tsk’d professionally and opened her kit. Unwrapping a sterile gauze pad, she applied antiseptic to it and gently wiped each of the three cuts. No one in the room said a word while she worked.
When each cut had been covered with salve and re-bandaged, using yards of gauze and tape, she smiled at Starsky. “There! Doesn’t that feel better, Uncle Dave?”
He pulled her into his arms and hugged her fiercely. “Sure does, Rosie. I couldn’t have hoped for better, even if I’d gone to the emergency room.” He held her at arm’s length. “You should think about becoming a doctor.”
That thought seemed to appeal to her and she grinned. “Maybe I will.”
Hutch and Starsky both declined more eggnog so Edith went to prepare their tins of cookies while Rosie packed up her medical supplies and Dobey walked them to the front door.
Out of earshot of Rosie, Edith, and Cal, Dobey halted their progress with a quiet, “Uh…” When they turned to face him, he went on, softly, “Not to demean your injuries, Starsky, but those looked like paper cuts to me.”
“Ribbon, Captain,” Hutch corrected. “Ribbon cuts.”
Dobey winced. “I’ve had those myself. And they sure did hurt.” He shook Starsky’s hand. “Thanks for making my daughter happy.”
Starsky’s face split into his room-lighting smile. “My pleasure, Cap’n!”
Hutch slung his arm around Starsky’s shoulders on the way to the Torino. “That was well done, buddy.”
“Thanks.” He raised his left hand and studied the large, white coverings. “Do you think I could ditch these before we go see Kiko and Pete tomorrow?”
“Molly. Remember, Starsk? We’re going to call her Molly from now on.”
“Oh, yeah, right! Molly! But, Hutch, they know what we’ve been doing lately and it ain’t been chasing knife-wielding kids!”
Hutch thought about it as they walked down the block. “Tell you what. I have some flesh-colored Band-Aids and, when you come over in the morning, we’ll change Rosie’s rather… extravagant treatment for those, and nobody will even notice them.”
Starsky bounced out from under Hutch’s arm. “That’s a great idea!” He turned and, still on his tiptoes, hopped backward, both hands up in a ‘wait’ gesture. “You are gonna love what I got for you, Hutch!” He danced around the hood of the car, unlocked the door, jumped inside, leaned across and opened Hutch’s. “Get in, get in, get in!”
Cautiously, now, Hutch climbed in on his side as Starsky fired up the engine and pulled out on the no-traffic street. “It’s scientific, and natural, and… well, it’s just plain cool.”
Hutch was suddenly having second thoughts about the present he’d gotten for his sometimes childlike partner. Would Starsky understand what Hutch was trying to say? A planted tree was a gift to the future, to their future! To the hope that he and Starsky would be around, together, for a long time. Maybe they’d even go visit it while it grew.
Well, he’d find out tomorrow. In the meantime, he smiled at his best friend. “You didn’t only make Rosie happy today, Starsk, you made me happy, too. Thank you.”
Starsky’s grin widened even further. “Hey, you’re welcome! Kiko and Pe… Molly tomorrow, where we’ll get to unwrap our own presents. Whad’ya get me, Hutch? Huh? Huh?”
Hutch sighed and mentally crossed his fingers. “Something I hope you’ll like, Starsk.”
“Whatever it is, partner, I know I’ll love it!”
“Remember you said that, okay?”