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Split Decision

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Starsky was slightly out of breath because of his dead run to Hutch’s boring brown Fairlane. He opened the passenger door and dropped his butt onto the seat before swinging his legs inside.

After a deep breath, he said, “Mornin’, partner.”

“Yes, Starsky, it is morning.”

Uh-oh. Hutch is pissed about something. And I know what it is. “Whattsa matter? What’s makin’ you a veritable sourpuss this be-you-tee-ful morning?”

Starsky answered Hutch’s semi-deadly glare with a contrite smile plastered on his face, which was also plastered with little bits of toilet paper. He quickly brushed the paper from his freshly shaved skin with one hand and into his other then pitched the scraps into the back seat with all the other trash. If Hutch had been in the army, he’d’ve pulled KP every day.

Hutch’s glare morphed into a tight-lipped inspection of him. And he’d’ve been a drill sergeant. Starsky was beginning to feel uncomfortable -- and a little ticked -- at Hutch’s increasingly judgmental expression.

“Is there something about me botherin’ you, Hutch? My hair ain’t covering up my devil horns? My eyeliner crooked?”

Hutch looked skyward and sighed loudly. “Yes, there is something bothering me. In fact, there are several somethings bothering me.” He faced Starsky. “First, you’re late. We have depositions to give for our undercover operation. I’d like to make a good first impression on Deputy DA Clayburn and getting there late isn’t the best way to do that. He and all of the other prosecutors need to respect us.”

“Aw, Hutch, partner, closin’ cases as tight as possible so Lady Justice can balance her scales, not bein’ a slave to a clock, is what gets us respect.”

“That may be so, but I’d like to have all our bases covered.”

Starsky shrugged. “Okay, I’ll give ya that. But that punk kid Prudholm ain’t gonna be released from jail just ‘cause we’re a few minutes late. And if you’re so concerned about us bein’ late, why is this bucket-a bolts you call a car not movin’?”

Hutch scowled, struggled to work the cantankerous gear shift, which Starsky was sure loved to vex Hutch, into reverse. The grinding gave credence to Starsky’s description of Hutch’s beater.

“Well, it’s simply not professional to be late when it can be avoided,” Hutch mumbled with some embarrassment. He backed out once traffic was clear. Hutch smiled when the transmission shifted into first with only a little grating fanfare.

“Well, this couldn’t be avoided.”

“Oh? What’s your excuse this time, buddy?”

Starsky flinched slightly at the tone that had nothing in common with the dictionary meaning of Hutch’s last word. “I couldn’t find a tie that went with my suit.”

“And that’s the second thing. That suit is, well, it’s something even a naked man risking frostbite wouldn’t wear. You’d be turned away at a, a… hobo convention in that thing.”

“Hey, what’s wrong with this suit? It’s my suit for all seasons. You know, temple, church, wedding, funeral.”

“Starsky, it doesn’t fit. The sleeves are halfway between your wrists and elbows, you can’t button the coat, and the pants are perfect only for wading in the deep end of the ocean.”

“Whaddya expect? I got this suit before my last growth spurt.”

Without warning, Hutch stomped on the brake. Starsky was thankful no one was behind them; he wasn’t up for a case of whiplash. But he didn’t entirely escape harm; he was quick enough to brace himself against the dashboard, which sent a sharp pain up his arm, just in time to keep from flying through the windshield. “Ow,” he muttered.

“Well, that explains a lot! Including how shiny it is. I can see myself in it.”

“Kinda convenient, don’tcha think.”

“How so?” Hutch sounded rather perturbed.

 “If your hair gets mussed up, you don’t need a mirror to fix it. You can use my suit instead.”

Starsky would swear on a Bible and a Torah that Hutch’s lips twitched in a near-smile, but that possibility died when Hutch snarled at the indignant honk coming from the vehicle behind the Fairlane. “Back off,” he grouched through clenched teeth as he peered into the rearview mirror. This time, he stomped on the accelerator, narrowly missing a Cadillac’s rear bumper and forcing Starsky against the seat-back as if he was taking off on a space rocket.

Starsky thought it was the better part of valor and personal safety to keep his chili-piehole shut while Hutch maneuvered the rattle trap through heavy traffic and seemingly having fun speeding up at yellow lights. Once the traffic had thinned a bit, Hutch asked, “Why the hell do you still have that suit, and I use the term as an insult to all other suits past, present, and future, anyway?”

A pause, then Starsky said meekly, “Nostalgia?” I’d say backup, but Hutch prob’ly don’t think a suit can be a backup.

“Where is your nice one? You know, the one that fits a full-grown man and doesn’t resemble a... polished black rock.”

Starsky closed his eyes. He knew Hutch would yell about this, too. “Still at the dry cleaner’s,” he said softly.

“That was almost two weeks ago! Are they having trouble getting the spaghetti sauce stains out?”

“Uh, no…”

Hutch tapped his fingers on the steering wheel before finally asking, “Well, what is it?”

“I don’t have the money to pay for it.”

“Starsk, we got paid three days ago. You can’t be broke already.”

“Remember when I tol’ you Ma broke her arm and hand ‘bout three weeks ago?”

Hutch nodded.

“Well, I been payin’ for this neighbor lady of Ma’s to help her ‘cause she can’t cook or clean. I’m, uh, tapped out.” He sighed. “Why do you think I’ve been packin’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sayin’ I’m not hungry when we’re on patrol over lunch time?” He moaned; he hoped it was pitiful enough that Hutch would calm down a little about the damned suit. And being late. And whatever other somethings were pissing him off this morning. “And my dates’ve been treated to popcorn, soda, and old movies on the tube in the Starsky home theater. They haven’t been real thrilled, ya know.”

Hutch’s attitude, to Starsky’s relief, softened. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve loaned you whatever you needed. It’s not like it’d be the first time.”

“That’s nickel-and-dime stuff. I couldn’t ask you to give me a lot more money to take care of my mother.” He chuckled when he realized this was the perfect time to lay some Starsky wisdom on his college-boy partner. “‘Sides, my pop told me ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be.’”

“That’s from Shakespeare. Hamlet, to be specific. Your pop committed plagiarism.”

“Oh.” That’s what I get for not even reading the Cliff Notes in high school. “I always thought Hamlet was about a little pig.” Which was true years ago, but now he knew it was about a really messed-up Danish family. Mmmm...Danish, he thought, his mouth beginning to water.

Hutch shook his head, rolled his eyes. Starsky was tempted to punch his arm. “You know, Starsk, you could’ve used your money for that and used the money I loaned you for you.”

“Oh,” he repeated, wondering if Hutch was aware that Starsky was sounding like a broken record. Of course, what Hutch said made sense. Sort of. Like money could be sorted in trays like in cash registers instead of one big pot. Hutch had a different way of thinking. Which made them a team destined for the top of whatever the top was for cops. Which did not include being brass.

Suddenly they were at their destination. “The parking god is on our side today,” Hutch stated as he pulled into a space near the entrance to the County Justice Building. He manhandled the gear stick into first and turned off the engine.

Hutch smiled sympathetically. Patting Starsky’s thigh several times, he said, “Let’s go on in. I’m thinking Clayburn and the ADA on the case will forget all about us being late.”

Starsky perked up considerably. “Really? Ya really think so?” He wasn’t sure if he heard or imagined Hutch snickering under his breath.

“Oh, I’m positive.” This time, Starsky thought he saw a snicker on Hutch’s face. Which reminded him that he hadn’t had a Snickers bar for days. He was surprised he hadn’t gone through withdrawal. Or broke into the vending machine at work. Or found some kid to steal candy from. Or jimmy open Dobey’s locked food stash drawer.

Hutch opened his door. He frowned on seeing Starsky hadn’t done the same. “Well? Expecting me to open the door for you, your majesty?”

“Keep your pants on, willya, Hutch?” Starsky opened his door, stretched his right leg over the door frame, and…

RRRRRRIP!

They stared at each other for a few seconds, Starsky’s face covered with guilt and shame, Hutch’s scowling and threatening. Starsky gulped so hard and fast that he thought his Adam’s apple might have slid into his stomach. “Uh…”

“Please tell me you broke wind, Starsky.” Hutch’s tone was almost menacing. Definitely annoyed.

Oh, crap and double crap. “Uh… yeah?” He agreed, sort of, just to delay the inevitable scolding.

As both hands gripped the steering wheel hard enough to bleach the color right out, Hutch touched his forehead to the top of the wheel. “Please tell me the coat is long enough to cover your butt, which, by the way, is in big trouble.”

“Uh… no.” Starsky cringed at the feral growl that escaped Hutch’s mouth. “I got some jeans that aren’t all that dirty. You can barely see the blood on ‘em, you know, from that fight with Bashful Bobby. We can run Code Three back to my place and back. Unless I can use your spare jeans in the trunk.”

Hutch raised his head then gave Starsky a peeved look. “I moved those to my locker yesterday, remember?”

Again with the clenched jaw. You’re gonna need false teeth before you’re forty if you keep doin’ that. “Oh, yeah.” Starsky paused. “Did you replace your pants this morning?”

“No, because I’m doing laundry tonight.”

Well, there goes that idea out the window. “Okay, I got an idea. Still have that black electrical tape in the supply box?”

Hutch’s expression slowly changed to a much more favorable one. “Yeah, I think so. You know, that just might work. Take off your pants and I’ll fix ‘em.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t? Or you won’t. I got news for you, buddy. I’m not gonna tape ‘em while you’re wearing them.”

He’s gonna kill me when he knows there’s a full moon this morning. “I, uh, got no underwear on.”

“You what?”

Now Hutch looked angry. Really, really angry. And sounded that way, too. Not to mention the red face that indicated a high level of ballisticism, or whatever the noun was for ballistic. “You heard me.”

“Dammit, Starsky, you picked a fine day to go commando!”

“It ain’t like it’s the first time!”

“But you’re in a suit! Or what might be considered one in some warped universe. Who the hell wears a suit without boxers or at least briefs?! Jesus H. Christ, Starsky!”

“I couldn’t help it!”

“And why not?”

“I didn’t have enough change to do a load of laundry! Hell, I haven’t had a candy bar in days!”

“What, the sinks in your kitchen and bathroom don’t work?”

Starsky gulped again; this time he was certain his Adam’s apple wound up in his stomach. “Didn’t think of that.”

“Of course you didn’t. You hate wearing underwear.”

“I think that started ‘cause Ma kept harpin’ on always wearin’ clean underwear with no holes in ‘em in case I had to go to the hospital. She blew her top when I told her new underpants came with four holes in ‘em already.” He paused for a beat. “Didn’t your mama ever tell you that?”

Hutch shook his head once more and snorted quietly; again Starsky thought he might have seen a ghost of a grin on Hutch’s mouth. “That is, uh, peripheral to the issue at hand, Starsky. But I gotta know how long you had to stand in the corner for that little smart-aleck gem? Or did she spank you?”

Starsky chuckled. “No supper. Ma knew what really hurt. Anyway, It’s easier to go without wearin’ ‘em. Kinda… freeing, ya know?” Starsky gave an incredulous Hutch a lopsided smile that pleaded for understanding.

Hutch blew out a heavy sigh, which did little to hide his amusement at Starsky’s revelations. “If you say so. But right now, we need to decide on some plan of action or our careers could stall and you could be jailed for indecent exposure.”

Starsky sighed and hung his head. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Hutch. I know meeting the guy who’s probably gonna be the next DA head cheese is important to you. I been so worried about Ma, calling her every day, tryin’ to track down Nicky to tell him to get his fanny over to Ma’s more than once a month, that doing laundry just wasn’t important, ya know?”

Finally releasing his right hand’s grip on the steering wheel, Hutch reached over and placed it on the back of Starsky’s neck.

Starsky jumped slightly at the touch. He cautiously turned his head to look at his partner. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Hutch’s indulgent and understanding smile. So he’s not gonna break my neck.

“Me and thee, remember, partner?”

“I remember.” He gently grasped Hutch’s forearm. “I’m outta ideas, and we’re gettin’ later and later.”

Hutch twirled the curls at Starsky’s neck while he thought. When he tapped the base of Starsky’s skull, Starsky knew a solution was forthcoming. Or at least something that would keep him from being arrested for indecent exposure.

“You wear my backup jacket. It’s long enough to cover my rear so it’ll cover yours.” Hutch shook his head. “Can’t believe neither one of us thought of this sooner,” he muttered.

“That’s great! Assumin’ you replaced it after that brawl with the Mad Hitters.”

“Of course I replaced it, jackass.”

Starsky was positive that Hutch’s word choice and the emphasis on the second syllable were intentional. He, more grateful than he could say considering this latest SNAFU of his, smiled his thanks and said while patting Hutch’s thigh, “‘Kay. So let’s roll.” He began wrestling his way out of the too-small jacket. When one sleeve declared its independence, Starsky thanked his lucky stars that Hutch was already out of the car and probably hadn’t heard it. Or the seconding of that declaration by the other sleeve. So tied up in what he was doing, he didn’t notice how long Hutch was taking.

Starsky had just finished tossing the now three-piece coat into the back seat when Hutch appeared at his door. He opened it and said, “Turn your back toward me and I’ll help you get into this.”

“Thanks, Hutch. You’re a pal.”

The garment was Hutch’s olive green bush jacket. Reminded Starsky of his army fatigues but this smelled lots better. Wondered if he should ask for the pith helmet that went with it, but decided not to tease the hand that figuratively covered his butt.

“Hey, what’s that crunchy sound?” Starsky asked as he settled the jacket on his shoulders.

“I didn’t hear anything. Now, get your bare ass out of the car and let’s get to the meeting before my fiftieth birthday, huh?”

“Okay, okay, don’t get your undies in a bunch.”

“At least I have undies on to bunch.”

Starsky sighed when he realized his attempt to lighten the mood had fallen short. He levered himself carefully out of the car, stood, adjusted the jacket again, and said, “Ready.”

“Finally,” Hutch muttered. Louder, he said, “Take your time and small steps so the kick pleat doesn’t flap open. I’ll run ahead and let ‘em know we’re here.” Hutch turned and trotted off, but not before Starsky caught a glimpse of a laugh line at the edge of Hutch’s mouth.

Once inside the busy lobby, Starsky headed straight for the men’s room to take care of a little bladder business. Everyone was giving him strange looks, but what made him uncomfortable were the titters and chuckles and one out-right guffaw. Ain’t they never seen anybody in high-water pants?

He breathed a sigh of relief as his bladder got down to business. Then something came to his attention in his peripheral vision. Checking it out in the mirror, he thought it might be a large piece of paper. And he got a really bad feeling about it. He zipped up and shed the jacket, all within a few seconds.

And there it was: a thin piece of cardboard all cops kept in their cars to make impromptu signs, with the message on this one of Caution: Cracked Rear View neatly penned on it and fastened to the top of the pleat with black electrical tape.

An angry growl began to grow in Starsky’s throat, but it was overcome by the hearty belly laugh.

Deciding to play the innocent, he left the sign in place and put the jacket back on. His revenge would be the startled hurt look on his face and his question of how could his partner play such a cruel joke on him.

He smiled and peacock-strutted out of the restroom.

the end
July 2020