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Starsky was so engrossed in the evening newspaper that he didn’t notice Hutch clear his throat. It took a jab to his thigh to grab his attention.

“You’re gonna hurt your eyes trying to read the paper with just the dome light, Starsky. Besides, it’s not the best thing to be lit up like a whorehouse for anyone to see us. This is a stakeout after all.”

“Almost done with this article. And are you callin’ my beautiful car a whorehouse?”

“If the description fits… What’s this article about, anyway?”

“Teddy Kennedy proposed this bill today that’d guarantee full health care to all Americans.”

“That would cost a boatload of Benjamins, though. Who’s gonna pay for that?”

“How do I know? But think about it, Hutch. Me or you gets a serious illness or injury, we wouldn’t go broke, or take years to pay it all back.”

“Well, it would be better if you did healthful things so you wouldn’t get sick, like eat a few vegetables and some fruit every once in a while.” When Starsky opened his mouth to protest, Hutch cut him off with “the finger-sword of Viking menace,” as Starsky had dubbed it years ago. “And the tomato sauce on the pizza or spaghetti isn’t enough.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll think about it. Anyway, we’re more likely to get hurt. Only way we can stop that is ta give up playing sports, stay outta bar fights, not pet stray dogs or bears or snakes, not date psycho nurses, not be cops no more. Oh, wait, we tried that, but people still tried to kill us.”

Hutch stiffened in his seat as a frigid breeze blew through him. Inexplicably panicked, he looked at Starsky, who seemed frayed and feathery around the edges, pale, distant, as if drifting away. He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and when they reopened, everything was back to normal.

Starsky put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Hutch, you okay, babe? You got this kinda weird look on your face for a couple seconds and you went kinda… frozen. You gettin’ sick?”

“Uh, no, no, I’m fine. Just a little... indigestion, I guess.” His reply sounded uneasy to his ears.

“Yeah, gas can be life-threatenin’, ya know. You gotta belch, well, let ‘er rip. You’re among friends here.” After a quick, reassuring squeeze, Starsky’s hand returned to holding the paper.

Hutch laughed softly through his nose. “That I am.” Quickly, he turned serious. “Uh, Starsk, let’s change the subject, okay? Let’s not talk about illness or injury or anything life-threatening. Okay?”

Two beats of silence, then Starsky said, “Sure thing, Blondie. Oh, did I tell ya I got some more ping-pong balls to replace the broke ones? Figured we could have a rematch tomorrow if things are still quiet.”

“Sure. You do know I’m gonna beat your sorry butt this time, right?”

“No way, ya big lummox. I’m more fleet of hand and foot than you.”

“More like hand-foot-and-mouth disease.”

“What’s that? Sounds like an insult, and not a very good one. Don Rickles you ain’t.”

“Look it up, mushbrain. You wanna make the game interesting?”

“Sure, if there’s a decent bet on it. Whatcha got in mind?” Starsky rubbed his hands together in delightful anticipation of a coming competition.

“How about country-western song titles while we play? Let’s work out the details while we wait for Boyle and Larson to show up.”

the end
May 2020