"Your call, buddy. Where to?"
Starsky squints across at me. We're outside Huggy's and I can just tell the mid-morning beer we pretended was the norm has done him no good. Since the ski-mask went up on Lonnie, he thinks his stomach is right to be churning acid. Fountain of patience that I now am on this day of days, I wait for him to decide.
He looks down at himself and wrinkles his nose. "Outta this monkey suit as fast as possible."
A suit and tie never does belong to him. He always shifts around as if he's never worn one before. I cuff his shoulder to get him moving. "Well, if you will look like you stole it, Starsk."
On any other day, this would get me something back. But not today. Not even a grunt.
Me first. He waits in the car, fingers tapping the wheel, glaring at the world out the windshield. I change quickly. Next, we pull up outside his place and with a curt, "be right back," he exits, not quite slamming the door.
I take him at his word and stay where I am. He heads for the door, removing his tie in three savage jerks and for a second I think he's going to toss it. Not for the first time I wonder how I'm going to get him through this. It's not the weight of the world, but it's close enough. An untimely death is always going to keep a cop's head bowed and his eyes bloodshot. And so it should be, I know this. If Starsk had bounced back as soon as the court decision came in, we'd both have a bad taste in our mouths right now.
But just because I know this doesn't help me fix it. The way I see it, my best course is keeping him tethered and bound. Tethered to the every day, to here with me in the Torino, to the case, to finding Tremaine, and then tethered to arresting and successfully prosecuting the son of a bitch when we do. In other words, bound to the badge and his place as my partner.
Starsky re-enters the car some ten minutes later. His relief at being back in the comfort of jeans and sneakers is palpable.
"Much better, Starsk. No one's gonna arrest you for stealing any of that."
I can see he's still too tense for a rejoinder, but I get a fleeting smile, the first of the day. Amazing what jeans and sneakers can do when all else fails.
He leans forwards to turn the key in the ignition and I put my left hand on his shoulder, just to ask.
"Need to talk to Eunice Craig. 'Bout Tremaine."
His voice is steady, but not even a glance in my direction and there's a tremor in the hand on the key. I resist the urge to pinch my nose and exhale.
Two and a half years, day in day out, can teach you a lot about tremors and tone, and I understand the adrenaline and distress of the day are not done with him yet. I also understand what he needs from me right now, is nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing spoken in comfort, nothing in contradiction. He needs me to let it be any other case on any other day for as long as the tremor takes to smooth itself out.
I make it casual and no more words pass between us on the short ride there. No words, but my fingers don't come off his shoulder.
Tethered and bound, Starsk, tethered and bound.
I notice the mourners first. As Starsky draws up to park, I see the knot of people on the opposite side of the road and feel a peverse relief. I didn't need to sit next to him to realize the effect Eunice Craig had on him in court, exoneration be damned. Now we have no choice but to wait until the small wake is over. Maybe by then he'll be a little more distanced from her court-side tears and ready to face her. Or maybe I'll go and question--
"Be right back." Soft this time. A hand on my left arm, the ghost of a wink, and he's out the door.
Two seconds behind him, I get out. He flips his collar up, zips his jacket and walks off toward the house opposite. The swell of pride almost takes my composure and I lean back on the Torino.
And I have been wondering how I will get him through this. I feel a little small. A little small and incredibly grateful to whatever universe has let me have this man in my life. This man whose backbone and heart will get both of us through.