He faced the door with trepidation, holding the key loosely in his long fingers. Drawing in a slow, deep breath, he admonished himself with a firm ‘get a grip Hutchinson.’ For too long, this had been the most uncomfortable moment of his day – walking through his own front door, never knowing what to expect, whether the artic chill of Vanessa’s cold indifference or the blazing heat of her fury. Not even following a perp into a dead end alley made him feel so off balance.
But then, when he was facing down a perp he felt confident of his abilities and knew he could always count on his partner, Starsky, to watch his back. Not so with his wife – make that ex-wife since the legal paperwork had been signed, sealed and delivered as of yesterday. Now Vanessa was gone and wouldn’t be coming back. He was well and truly alone.
Ken Hutchinson gathered himself after a moment and turned the key in the lock. As he walked into the apartment the emptiness hit him full in the face. It occurred to him that nothing weighs so heavily on the ears as the sound of silence. He took off his uniform jacket and hung it up in the closet. His police issue gun and holster carefully followed.
His tall frame moved woodenly through the apartment to the refrigerator in the kitchen. He reached for a beer with little thought, twisted off the cap and took a deep swig. He then went to the couch in the living room and sunk down, finishing off the beer in a few more gulps. At least she didn’t take all the furniture, he thought. It made him perversely happy to think that since his cop’s salary had been unable to accommodate her upscale tastes she had chosen to leave almost everything behind.
Surely the loneliness he was feeling now had to be better than the way Vanessa had ultimately made him feel – insignificant and impotent. It hadn’t started out that way. Hutch’s mind wandered back to the beginning, when he and Van were Duluth’s golden couple. People parted like the Red Sea when he and Van walked in a room. Vanessa was stunning, yes, but sometimes people joked (out of Van’s hearing, of course) that they couldn’t decide who was more beautiful, Van with her super model figure and luxuriously long locks, or Hutch, with his hair of gold and face of an angel.
Van convinced him that they’d make an unbeatable pair and have the world by the tail once they were married and he’d earned his law degree. “We’ll make a great team,” she had told him, her words flowing around him like melted honey, sticky and sweet, drawing him in.
For a time Vanessa had made him believe he was special, despite how he felt deep down inside. Deep down he knew he wasn’t what everyone else thought he was. Deep down he knew his golden boy persona, that rare combination of gifted athlete and top scholar, was an illusion. It only took six months of law school for him to realize that being a lawyer wasn’t what he wanted for his life. He couldn’t bear to wear a suit all day, keep his hands lily white and make decisions that would affect the lives of others like he had the right. He knew he wasn’t above other people, no matter what Van, his parents, or anyone else said.
His eyes strayed to the wedding picture that still hung on the wall. Hutch wasn’t surprised that Van didn’t bother to take even that. He almost laughed aloud thinking how he was almost unrecognizable – both inside and out -- from the clean cut choir boy in the ridiculous black tie and tails.
The first time Van threatened to leave was when he told her how he had been accepted into the police academy in Los Angeles. He hoped that maybe a move to the sunshine of California and away from the bitter cold of Duluth winters would appease her. Hutch tried to explain what he really wanted was to meet people where they were, work with them at their own level, make a difference to the people he saw everyday out on the street, even if it took faded jeans and dirty hands to do it. While Van fumed in anger for a while, insisting he was making a huge mistake, she eventually seemed to accept, if not embrace, his dream. By then the elaborate wedding plans had taken on a life of their own and to cancel would have been too humiliating to contemplate. So the vows were said and the rings exchanged in front of three hundred of their closest friends and family.
A month later the newlyweds made the move to California. Vanessa had grand expectations, true, he mused, but in hindsight, perhaps the drastic change from their lifestyle in Minnesota, had been too much to expect of her. Nevertheless, Hutch found the police academy an unexpectedly satisfying challenge. While Vanessa thought he may have made a good lawyer, he had started to think that he could be an even better police officer. He also found something else unexpected - David Starsky.
A brisk knock at the door brought Hutch back to the present. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there, but where there had been a bottle of beer dangling in his hand there were now four more empties strewn on the coffee table. “Hey, Hutch, you in there?” he heard his partner call from the outside hallway. Starsky knocked loudly once more before Hutch was able to draw his long form up from the couch and make his way to let Starsky in.
If it was true that the tall, cool, blond put one in mind of some mythic Nordic figure, then Starsky, if one overlooked his dark curly hair and Brooklyn accent, could bring to mind, Loki, the god of mischief. Despite their differences, or maybe because of them, they had soon become inseparable -- shadowing each other’s moves and sometimes even seeming to read each other’s minds. As of now they were partners in uniform who dreamed of eventually becoming full-fledged detectives. But when Hutch reached his goal, as he was determined he would, he’d be doing it without Vanessa.
His curly haired partner bounced through the door like Tigger let loose from the Hundred-Acre Wood, an aromatic pizza box in his hand. “You’re never gonna guess what,” Starsky began before Hutch could say a word. “I stopped by Mama Leone’s to pick up a pizza and can you believe it? They’re running a special on their extra-large super-deluxe - on a Monday! Even I can’t finish one of those bad boys all by myself. So I thought I’d just come over and share.”
Starsky sashayed through the apartment without further invitation and laid the large flat box on the coffee table with a flourish. The sparkle in his deep blue eyes softened as he took in the empty beer bottles but quickly regained their warmth as he looked around at Hutch. “Ya didn’t eat already, did ya?”
“No, I . . . ” Hutch stammered, realizing that his partner had seen right through him. Again. But Starsky quickly interrupted. “Then you are in for a treat. No one makes super-deluxe pizzas like Mama Leone. Grab some plates, will ya? And a beer for me, too.” Starsky flipped open the lid of the box, pulled away a warm, gooey slice and settled himself on the couch as Hutch handed him a plate. “Help yourself,” Starsky gestured, his mouth half-full.
“I’m not really hungry,” Hutch replied as he fell into a chair next to the couch.
“How can you not be after the day we had, aye partner? I, for one, am starved. Besides, you hardly ate a bite at lunch.”
A domestic disturbance call had come in that day – the kind of call dreaded for its unpredictability – and Starsky and Hutch had been first on the scene. As they approached the door of the house, Hutch called out “police” then nodded to Starsky who swiftly went around to the back using the silent divide-and-conquer strategy they had perfected over the months. Inside, a highly agitated man, weighing well over two hundred pounds, was swinging a gun back and forth between his wife cowering in a corner and himself.
Hutch approached the unstable man stealthily. “You don’t have to do this, buddy,” Hutch said, his blue eyes focused entirely on him. He reached out slowly as he said “let’s just calm down and talk this out.” The big man had suddenly swung his gun to point it directly at Hutch with a loud cry of “keep away from me!“ Hutch froze and in the next instant his dark-haired partner reached around from behind the enraged man to grab his gun. Starsky jerked the man’s arm around and took him down to the floor. Hutch then smoothly moved to hand cuff the man and immediately the danger was over.
Back at the station, after booking the angry man and interviewing his frightened wife, Starsky and Hutch had run into Captain Dobey in the hall. “I heard how you handled that hairy domestic call,” he told them. “You two make a great team.” The partners had shared a quick smile as he moved on.
Hutch now watched Starsky as he bit into another piece of pizza with gusto. He shouldn’t be surprised that his partner had noted what he did or did not eat that day. He was studying to be a detective, too, after all. But Hutch could still be disconcerted at times by how much Starsky picked up on, especially when it came to Hutch. Sometimes, he thought, it was downright eerie. But that was a good thing since they were partners after all, wasn’t it? It was just that in the relatively short time he’d known him he felt Starsky could read him so much better than Vanessa ever did.
“So what’s on the agenda for tonight?” asked Starsky once he had swallowed down his meal.
“You’re looking at it.”
“Anything on the tube?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t checked.”
Starsky got up and turned on the TV, briefly flipping through the channels until he landed on a Jerry Lewis comedy. “Hey, this is a good one.” He turned brightly toward Hutch but instantly knew his partner’s mind was in another place. Time for another approach. He shut off the TV and squatted down next to the blond, laying a gentle hand on his knee. “Wanna talk?” He asked softly.
Hutch looked at his friend now at eye level and tried to pull together a smile. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had asked him that simple question with the intent of actually listening. Besides Starsky, that is. Still, he thought, there was no point in making his misery Starsky’s misery as well.
Hutch sighed. “I’m not very good company right now.”
“I didn’t come over here looking for good company. If I wanted good company I would have called that hot red-headed number who just started workin’ in records.” When Starsky gave him that lopsided grin, Hutch knew he wasn’t going to be let off easy. From their earliest days at the policy academy his dark-haired counterpart had never been one to let Hutch sink too deeply when his moods and self-doubts threatened to pull him under. He always seemed to know just what to say to bring him back. Brash, fierce, funny Starsky.
Starsky stood up, pulling Hutch with him by the arm and over to the couch. Hutch bobbled for a moment before Starsky set him down then sat next to him, putting his arm around the back of Hutch’s shoulders. With anyone else Hutch would have felt a little foolish at the move but the alcohol and the darkness of his mood were starting to get the better of him. The security and comfort he found in the intimate contact was worlds apart from anything he had experienced before. Not in the all-too-infrequent embraces of his mother and especially not in sex with his ex-wife. That, he mused bitterly, had ended up only being another way Van had made him feel he had failed to meet her expectations. But in this moment there were no expectations. Only acceptance.
“I just wasn’t enough for her,” he murmured as the moment drew out, too diminished to keep the thought to himself any longer. “Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be enough,” he admitted.
While coldly intimidating during an interrogation, Starsky was amazingly gentle when it came to his partner. He turned his violet blue eyes to search the sky blue of Hutch’s. “Not that I know anything about being married, but ya’ know all that all that stuff ya say when you’re all dressed up standing at the altar about ‘for better or for worse – ‘till death do us part?’ He asked. “Well, I think that to some people that’s only words. But to you and me, Hutch, well, we don’t have ta say it cuz we live it every day. You’re my partner, Hutch, and to me that’ll always enough.”
As Hutch let his words settle in the darkness in him drew back a fraction. Starsky’s grip on his shoulder was warm and sure. He smelled faintly now of Italian spices and Hutch was reminded of his partner’s stories of his grandmother whom he said had lived above an Italian restaurant. In his mind’s eye the blond pictured corded hands lovingly doling out pastries and pinches to the cheeks of dark, curly headed boys. Hutch breathed in deeply against Starsky’s sweatshirt and imagined that maybe this is what he had expected home to have felt like all along.
“How do you do it, Starsk?” He asked huskily.
“I’m not alone, dummy. Sure my family’s across the country but we keep touch. I got friends, my job, and don’t forget my little black book packed full of the numbers the beautiful women . . . “
“But living alone . . . “
“Believe me, buddy boy, when I was growing up I couldn’t wait to have my own space. Our apartment in Brooklyn was so small and with Nicky and me sharing a bedroom we were constantly steppin’ on each other’s toes. Then when I moved out here to stay with my aunt and uncle, they really weren’t set up to handle an obnoxious teenager, so I usually just hung out on the streets after school. When I joined the army, well, who really wants to share a room with a hundred other sweaty guys, if ya know what I mean.” Starsky smiled affectionately at Hutch leaning back against his arm as he continued.
“Havin’ my own place after all that was like heaven to me, let me tell ya. No more havin’ ta share my stuff, no more waitin’ in line to use the bathroom, no more havin’ somebody tell me to get my feet off the table.” At this last he quickly removed his feet from where they had been propped up on the coffee table and put them down on the floor. He turned to look sheepishly at Hutch. He needn’t have worried. The look on Hutch’s face told him Starsky’s feet were the last thing on his mind. He may look calm and in charge when they were out on patrol, but at this moment the handsome blond had retreated into a lonely little boy.
“Having a nice place isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Hutch quietly mused. “I had a big beautiful house in Duluth but I couldn’t say I was happy there. With my dad gone so much of the time and mom always busy, I was alone pretty much all the time. A bunch of noisy relatives underfoot would have been a nice change.” He allowed himself a small smile as he imagined a dozen little Hutchinsons galloping up and down the glowing hardwood halls. “I thought Van and I might have a kid ourselves someday,” he added, almost as if to himself.
“Ya know, Hutch, just because you live by yourself doesn’t mean you’re alone,” Starsky told him.
“How’s that, Starsk?” Hutch’s voice was thick with the lingering lethargy of alcohol and sadness.
“Cuz you always have me.” Hutch felt rather than saw Starsky’s soft smile.
Hutch let his head lean heavily against his partner’s shoulder. He hadn’t felt this vulnerable yet still relaxed with another person in, well, maybe never. “Til death do us part?” he mumbled as he felt the darkness receding even as the evening shadows lengthened. How long the friends sat together lulled by the gentle whoosh of their breathing he couldn’t be sure.
When Hutch woke up on the couch the next morning it took him a few minutes to realize he hadn’t slept there because Vanessa had again claimed the bed to herself. No, Vanessa was gone and Hutch was alone.
Not alone, just by himself, he corrected as the memory of last night’s impromptu pizza party slowly returned. He must have drunk himself dopey and dozed off. Starsky had apparently put away the left over pizza and tossed the beer bottles before going back to his own place, Hutch thought guiltily. Next time he’d tell partner to just stay the night. He smiled a little to himself as he realized that his ex-wife wouldn’t be around to say otherwise.
He just might check out one of those cottages down by the canal once his lease was up, he thought. The apartment had been Van’s choice anyway. He’d rather be closer to the water. The fact that he’d also be closer to Starsky went without saying.