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Brother let me be your shelter

I’ll never leave you all alone

I can be the one you call When you’re low.

Brother let me be your fortress

When the night winds are driving on

Be the one to light the way and Bring you home.

 “Brother” – NeedtoBreathe

 

“Damn.” That would be Starsky, looking up and up at the elegant Georgian revival-style house at the end of the curved drive. It was the kind of house that didn’t allow wet dogs and where dinner was served promptly at 6 p.m. As far as from a run-down Brooklyn row house or canal front cottage as one could imagine.

 “Isn’t it just.” Hutch deadpanned as he pulled the rental car into a space in front of the four car garage. “Come on, Starsk, put your tongue back in your mouth.”

It’s not as if his partner had never been to a home this impressive. Homicide was no respecter of persons and their investigations often led them to the most surprising places. But he could read Starsky’s mind as if he’d said the words aloud – he’d never been personally acquainted with someone who lived like this.  

 Personally acquainted - I guess we’d qualify, Hutch thought. He opened the back door of the rental car, pulled out the garment bag that held their tuxes and flipped it over his arm.    

 “I got the rest.” Starsky bounded around to the back of the sedan. His dark curls disappeared into the trunk and he emerged with a second bag. Hutch approached the front door of the house with Starsky following behind, a faithful hound, pulling from one side to the other to take in the manicured walkway and landscaping.

Hutch rapped loudly on the large door. He could feel his partner’s attention return to him along with a small nudge. “Lighten up, will ya? It’s not like we’re going to a funeral.”  

 “Don’t be too sure.”

 “It can’t be all that bad, Blintz. This is your family, after all.”

 It was unfortunate that the word held an entirely different meaning for Starsky than it did for Hutch. Like trying to explain the Rockies to a fish - unless the fish suddenly sprouted wings. It was something one had to experience for oneself.

 The door was opened by a slightly heavy-set, middle-aged woman in a dark dress and apron. A workmanlike bun held her graying hair out of kind eyes. Hutch’s rigid edges softened just a bit at the familiar face.

 “Hello, Nancy.” Hutch leaned in to kiss the woman on her cheek and a slight blush bloomed across her features.

 “Kenny! It’s so good to see you. Come in,” she greeted him warmly. Opening the door wide, she allowed both men into a large foyer gleaming with hardwood and white trim.  

“You look wonderful! A little thin, maybe.” She looked him up and down with motherly appraisal. “It’s been too long.”

 “My job keeps me pretty busy,” he deflected as he shifted his feet, uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He was relieved when her attention turned to Starsky.

 “And who do we have here?”

 “Nancy, this is my partner, Dave Starsky. We work together on the police force. Starsky, this is Nancy. She’s been with our family for years.”

 ‘Been with our family . . . . oh, right,’ his look told Hutch.

 “Hi there,” Starsky smiled at Nancy in that way that told Hutch he was not to be out-charmed.

 “I’m so glad to meet you. Are you keeping Ken out of trouble?”

 “I try.”

 “Just set your bags right here, Ken . . . Dave,” she gestured toward the foot of the wide, gracefully curving stairway that dominated the entrance hall. “I’ll see that they get to your rooms. Everyone’s having drinks in living room. They’ve been waiting for you.”

 Hutch set his overnight bag at the foot of the stairs, laid the garment bag over the rail and exchanged a tight look with his partner. Starsky set his bag down next to Hutch’s before following him down the hall, then stopped in his wake under the arched entrance to the living room.

 ‘Into the lion’s den.’

  ‘Right behind you.’

 It was as if they had stepped into the pages of one of the home decorating magazines Starsky was always taking from his dentist’s office. The generously proportioned room was tastefully decorated in creams and burgundy and set off by cherry wood. A dramatic fireplace, big enough to hide a body, was flanked by well-stocked bookshelves.

 Two woman, one older, one younger, perched across from each other on twin, cream-colored sofas, ankles demurely crossed. Two men, in ages to match the women, book-ended the fireplace, highball glasses hanging from their hands. The tweed jackets they wore looked like they were bought from the same menswear store. group stopped their conversation as the two men walked in. “Kenneth!” The older of the two woman was the first to react, setting a wine glass on the coffee table in front of her, next to strategically placed over-sized books and a vase overflowing with delphinium and lilies. She rose gracefully and took a few steps toward Hutch as he met her halfway across the room.

 Hutch kissed her cheek as she embraced him lightly. “You’re finally here! We missed you at dinner last night.” Mrs. Hutchinson’s inflection was part disappointment and part chastisement, as if she couldn’t quite decide. She was still a head-turner with back-swept blonde hair and a shape carefully maintained through long hours at a health club. Proof of the saying, ‘beautiful young women are a gift of nature, beautiful older women a work of art.’

“I’m sorry, Mother. Starsky, um, David and I,” he looked to his partner, “have been working on an important case and couldn’t get a flight out before this morning.”

 “You brought your partner?” Mrs. Hutchinson turned a clear blue gaze on Starsky. Her slightly surprised reaction indicated he wasn’t exactly the “plus one” she had hoped for, but Starsky didn’t miss a beat.

 “Dave Starsky,” Starsky enthusiastically stuck out a hand that she carefully accepted. Her lips pursed fractionally as she took in his flared jeans and worn leather jacket. Starsky was undeterred. While Hutch could have invited any one of a half-dozen women to be his guest at his sister’s wedding, this weekend he needed something more than a pretty dancing partner.

 Barely a month had passed since Starsky had held him, sweat-soaked and soul sick, as he fought off a heroin addiction that had taken over his body and his mind. On a rumpled bed in an apartment above an inner city bar no one else in this room would ever go by choice, the partners had clung together for the better part of forty-eight hours, until Hutch came back to himself. When Hutch found out later how much Starsky had risked to cover for him, he was humbled.

“No report, Bernie, I’ll take responsibility.”

“I’m so glad you made it.” Hutch’s younger sister, who had also stood when they walked in, now took her turn to embrace him. She had matured since he’d seen her two years ago at Christmas, a fresh dawn transfigured into radiance. Weddings had a way of doing that to a person. But where she had bloomed, he felt withered. No longer the fresh-faced Sea Scout, serious law student or even infatuated newlywed. He speculated what he must look like to his family in his faded khakis and half-zip pullover that sagged on his lanky frame. Chaucer was right. Time and tide waited for no man.

 “David is my partner with the police department. This is my sister, Lisa.”

 “Nice to finally meet you, Lisa.” Starsky turned a bright smile on the Dresden doll of a woman, as much a picture of golden feminine beauty as her brother was of the masculine kind, less the lingering effects his drug exposure. “Ken talks about you all the time.”  

 “Does he really?” She enthused, but was quickly interrupted by her fresh-faced fiancé.

 “Hi, I’m Gary.” The younger man broke in to extend an eager hand first to Hutch then to Starsky. He was well-built and clean cut in a way that spoke of prep schools and soccer matches. Open and friendly. The kind of guy who was hard not to like. “Glad to finally meet you. Lisa tells me you’re detectives. That’s sounds quite interesting.”

Hutch knew that Lisa had met Gary when he was a clerk at Hutch’s father’s law firm. After passing the bar he had moved easily into the roles of both junior associate and fiancé, as if the two came linked together. What Gary knew of him, Hutch could only guess.

 “Interesting. I suppose that’s one word to describe it,” the older man echoed. “Welcome home, Kenneth. Glad you could make it.”

Richard Hutchinson reached out to shake his son’s hand in a firm, business-like grip and gave a brief nod toward Starsky. He stood just a shade shorter than Hutch, and it was easy to see that at one time he had been as trim and athletic as his son. Now age had added just the right amount of weight to give the appearance of comfortable affluence.

Hutch found himself under his father’s steel blue gaze, one of the moments he had dreaded most. Richard Hutchinson had built his law firm on his ability to judge his adversaries and hone in on their weaknesses. There was little he missed. Hutch felt his palms begin to sweat and fought to keep from rubbing them against his pant legs. His arm tingled and he was thankful for long sleeves.

 “So, tell us what’s been keeping you so busy in California,” Mr. Hutchinson’s inquiry gave Hutch reason to sympathize with a reluctant witness on the stand and he felt Starsky move the smallest step closer.

 “Yes, I’d really like to hear more about your work,” Gary pressed. He had the open curiosity of one whom Starsky and Hutch liked to call the ‘happy naive.’ Those who have never seen the blackened arms of an assault victim or an addict lying face down in his own filth. The kind of images that reflect in your partner’s blue eyes and haunt you late at night when you’re sleeping on his couch because you can’t face going home alone.

 The partners exchanged a look. Hutch could attract or alienate as easily as flipping a switch for reasons all his own. Starsky had become adept at directing the current.

 “It’s just dealing with your typical pushers and pimps,” Hutch began.

 “Whippos and wiseguys,” Starsky picked up.  

 “Now, take the case that we’re working on,” Hutch continued with his personal brand of wide-eyed faux sincerity.

 “The one that made us have to change our flight,” Starsky returned.

 “They found this girl in a dumpster behind the apartment building where she’d been meeting her lover. . . ”

 Hutch watched with almost perverse pleasure as the cool politeness on the faces of their audience slowly melted away like ice cream in summer. It was a little game of one-upmanship he played when he felt most vulnerable. Starsky would no doubt call him on it later, but not now.

 “Maybe you boys can discuss this some other time.” Mrs. Hutchinson stepped in to grab the helm of the conversation with the ease of a seasoned hostess. She knew her role and played it well, deftly guiding the discussion toward calmer waters - the weather in California (rainy for the past several days), the cross-country flight (not too bad, just a bit tiring).

 Hutch was always amazed at how quickly they fell into the same old patterns no matter how long he went between visits. Like a daytime soap opera, no matter how many episodes you missed you could always tune right back in without losing the story line, he thought. But the backstory that played out behind the scenes was never acknowledged.

Nancy returned with an offer to refresh drinks and to bring something for Starsky and Hutch as well. Starsky declined for them both, taking the blame on himself, saying they’d rather get to bed early for the long day ahead. Their latest case had run into unexpected complications, he explained, and they had both put in extra hours to tie up loose ends before leaving for Minnesota.

 “You can use your old room, Kenneth, and David can have the guest room.” Mrs. Hutchinson directed.

 “Gary and I have a tee-time at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow at Northland. You and David should join us.”

That’s another thing that hasn’t changed, thought Hutch. His father’s invitations still sounded like commands.

 “We didn’t exactly pack clubs along,” he responded stiffly.

 “Your old set is still here, and between Gary and me, I’m sure we could come up with enough extras to make a set for David. You do golf, don’t you David?”

 “Golf? Yeah, sure.”

 Starsky had gone out a few times with Hutch taking his usual pleasure in giving him pointers. It was one thing to poke fun at his partner gamely floundering in unfamiliar waters when it was just the two of them. Hanging his Brooklyn-bred friend out to dry publicly at the WASPish country club was altogether different.

 “There won’t be much for you to do around here in the morning. The girls will be at the salon getting ready for the wedding,” Mr. Hutchinson persisted. For an instant Hutch’s head echoed with the voice of another silver-haired man in a three-piece suit who refused to take no for an answer.

“Where’s Jeannie? Where’s Jeannie?”

“I, I don’t know. . . ” Hutch continued to waiver. He fought the churning of his stomach.

Relax, Starsky’s look told him.“Sounds like fun,” he said aloud.

 

****************************

 

The guest room was elegant in its simplicity, designed with the same rich hardwoods favored throughout the house and earth-tones that spoke with self-confidence rather than shouted. Starsky set his bag down and looked around with a slack jaw. Back to just the two of them, he was once again his wide-eyed self. “Ya coulda warned me.”

“I did.” Hutch cast him a rueful smile, happy to have his Peter Pan partner reappear.

 “Not enough.” Starsky flopped heavily on the high bed like a five-year-old then caught the shadow that passed across the blond’s face.

 “Are you sure you’re okay with this golf thing tomorrow?”

 “Piece a cake.” Starsky winked at him. “Besides, this’ll give you more time to spend with your dad and get to know Gary before the wedding.”

 “Sure.” Hutch started to say something more, then thought better of it.

 “It doesn’t show, ya know,” Starsky gently reassured him. Not in a way that anyone other than I would notice, anyway.

Hutch caught the look in his partner’s eyes, not surprised at how easily the man was able to read him. It was a talent that wavered between a blessing and a curse. “My room’s just down the hall,” he told him, but instead of leaving he wilted against the wall. He crossed his arms against his chest as if holding himself in.

 Starsky turned to pull shorts from the overnight bag. “Go get some sleep. You need it.” Starsky eyed his partner with sympathy and gave a soft pat to his stomach as he took his shaving kit and toiletries into the en suite bathroom.

Hutch hadn’t moved from against the wall when Starsky came back out a few minutes later, drying his face with a towel. Starsky’s discerning look once again made Hutch feel as though he was being read like a book. “Would ya rather stay here?”

 Hutch knew why he was asking. The nightmares had only recently subsided. To wake up crying out and shaking in the middle of the night now would be the worst kind of humiliation. But then again, how could they explain two grown men sharing a bed?

“I’ll be okay. See you in the morning.” Shaking his head, Hutch pushed himself away and walked out into the hall. Starsky closed the door with familiar words of reassurance trailing after him.

 “I’ll be here. I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

 Hutch’s old room was a few doors down. None of the trophies, pennants or posters of youth remained. Everything had been efficiently packed away once Hutch had left for college. He wasn’t even sure if anything had actually been saved. The Hutchinsons had never been the sentimental type. His home life had been idyllic compared to some, he knew. He had no reason to feel short changed since he had never lacked for anything. It was only later that he discovered everything he had been missing.

Hutch looked around, sorting through the memories that still hung heavy in the room like smoke after a fire. It was bittersweet to realize that no matter how old you were, you became a child again whenever you returned to the place you grew up. He went to the window and looked out at the night sky. How could he have forgotten that the stars shone so much brighter here than in the city? He had often climbed out on roof ledge that ran beneath his window to watch them.

 When he was a Sea Scout he had been fascinated to learn how early sailors had used certain points of light as guides when they were far from home. Even now, he found himself in the habit of looking for Polaris, the North Star, wherever he went. He was afraid his guidepost might somehow have deserted him along with so many other things. His confidence, his self-respect, his dignity. He was consoled to see his stable marker still there, however, and he crawled into bed to pass the night.

 

**************************

Hutch was in Starsky’s room before the alarm clock had a chance to jangle his partner awake.

 “Come on, buddy, rise and shine. It’s 10 a.m. in Bay City.”

“Well, we’re on Minnesota time, which means I still have half an hour to sleep.” Starsky rolled over and cracked an eye at him. Hutch always tended to keep a neater appearance than Starsky, but this Hutch was more fresh-scrubbed than usual. He’d taken extra care in getting showered and shaved this morning as if soap and water could somehow wash away the filth he still felt clinging to him. The memory of his ordeal was creeping vine that twisted through and around everything and refused to let go.    

 “Here’s a shirt and pants to wear on the course.” Hutch tossed the clothes on a nearby chair.

 Starsky groaned as his partner sank down beside him. “What’s wrong with the clothes I brought?”

 “No jeans. Shirts have to have collars.”

 “What kind of place is this you’re takin’ me to?”

 “It’s a private club, Gordo. There’s a dress code.”

 “Terrific.”

 Starsky rolled out of bed and went to take his own shower while Hutch stretched out, eased by the warmth and scent that remained in the bedding. He had managed a few hours of sleep but could have used a few more. He had jerked awake before dawn in a sheen of perspiration, his heart pounding, and had clung white knuckled to the mattress to keep from going to wake Starsky. He needed to prove that he had moved on, for both their sakes.

“You sleep okay?” Starsky asked as he came out of the bathroom toweling his hair, noting how his partner had made himself comfortable in the spot he had vacated.

 “Fine.” Hutch responded, but his assurance didn’t stop Starsky from sitting down next to him and laying a hand on his knee as if he could gauge his mental state by a touch. Other than some weight loss, Hutch had made nearly a full physical recovery from the effects of heroin and withdrawal, but Starsky knew it was what went on inside the blond head that continued to cause pain.

Drug addiction is a horrible thing. It transforms you into something hideous and unrecognizable. It makes you do things you’d never dream of doing. Like give up a girlfriend’s whereabouts to a thug. It didn’t matter how many times Hutch relived the nightmare, he could never find another way out, another choice he could have made. After days of round-the-clock injections, his body had taken over his mind. He had become weak, helpless.

Hutch had wanted to back out of this trip. Starsky wouldn’t let him. They both knew Hutch would eventually regret not being around to see his little sister get married. Family get-togethers were not easy for Hutch and the timing of this trip couldn’t be worse. Hutch’s relationship with his family had become increasingly strained over the years. Dropping out of law school, getting divorced and moving to California to join the police force hadn’t earned him any points.

 There were so many things his parents didn’t understand about their son and plenty more they didn’t know. His recent adventure in forced heroin use topped the list. Have you heard the latest about Kenneth? He’s a junkie now. Hutch’s beautiful face twisted into a grimace imagining that dinner party conversation.

 Sometimes he didn’t know who he was anymore. Didn’t know why he’d left the security of the upscale suburbs of Minnesota and an assured position in his father’s law firm for the craziness of California. He could have had a walnut desk rather than a battered work station, a corner office rather than a crowded squad room, maybe even a pretty secretary to bring him something aromatic and freshly brewed instead of the stale brown water the homicide department called coffee.

Starsky understood. But then, Starsky somehow understood everything when it came to Hutch. He had found Hutch huddled and broken in a back alley and helped him fight his way out. Out of his pain. Out of his guilt. Hutch’s hiding away wouldn’t solve anything. That was never their way. So here they were in what to Hutch was an enemy camp. And although Hutch knew it might not be fair, he was trusting Starsky to guide him through the mine field.

 “Okay, then. Let’s get this show on the road.” Starsky got up and pulled on the borrowed slacks and light blue golf shirt, then turned to Hutch with his arms outstretched, palms up. “Do I pass inspection, Sergeant?”

Whether in a rented tuxedo or too-tight jeans, Starsky would always be Starsky, and thank God for that, thought Hutch. He walked over to him and straightened his collar, pushing back the dark hair that had curled over it, then stepped back. “You’ll do. Oh, one more thing,” he said, grabbing the bottom of Starsky’s shirt and pushing it into the waistband of his pants. “Shirts need to be tucked in.”

 “The things I do for you.” Starsky grinned.

 

 **************************************    

 The fresh, crisp September air set the stage for a perfect day, but Hutch knew a long Minnesota winter was waiting in the wings. The rolling hills and immaculate greens of Northland Country Club were a golfer’s dream, worlds away from the bars and strip clubs of Bay City. But the goal of the people who came here was no different - to socialize and make contacts, only in better clothes. Richard and Gary frequently nodded to other golfers, at times stopping for a few minutes to exchange pleasantries and introduce Starsky and Hutch along the way.

Friendly bantering aside, Richard approached his golf game the same as he did a business deal – with single minded determination to win. Fortunately, to Hutch’s way of thinking, his father’s focus on the game also served to head off awkward conversational pitfalls. He knew he couldn’t bring himself to actually care about the vagaries of the stock market or the profit margin of the latest business venture.

Hutch no longer played as he had in the past, although his natural athleticism allowed him to cling to a certain competitive edge. Anything less was sure to raise eye-brows or worse. It only took a well-timed comment from Starsky to draw the other players’ attention away from Hutch’s slight tremor on his grip. As for Starsky, what he lacked in skill he made up for in enthusiasm, helped along with unobtrusive tips from his partner. A small nod toward the best club for a particular shot, a subtly worded phrase to guide the direction of a swing, kept him in the game.

 They headed to the clubhouse afterward for lunch, a grand white structure that tried its best to look gracious, surrounded with beds of long-blooming perennials, statuettes of cranes and gazing balls. The clubhouse restaurant menu listed goat cheese flatbread and glazed calamari among the entrees. Starsky settled for a hamburger. His open and easy charm assured the kind of attention from the hostess and wait staff that money couldn’t buy. With disaster averted for the time being and Starsky digging into his lunch with characteristic gusto, Hutch allowed himself to finally take the deep breath he’d been holding for the past three hours.

The men were midway through their meal when they noticed an attractive young woman, her light brown hair cut in fashionable, shoulder-length waves, watching them. She approached timidly at first, then a bit more decisively with her attention focused on Hutch.

 “Ken? Ken Hutchinson?”

 Hutch turned to look at her more closely, pulling at a memory.

 “Do you remember me? I’m Laura Stevens.”

 

 He had gone to a house party during a break from college. Following the sound of sobbing coming from a back stairwell, he found Laura, then with longer hair, huddled on the stairs. He stooped down to her but she jerked away, pulling her arms around her. Then he saw the bruises.

‘What happened?’

‘Nothing. Just go away.’

"Who hurt you?’    

  ‘It doesn’t matter.’

  ‘It does to me.’

  ‘Back off, Hutchinson, this isn’t any of your business.’ Rory McAllister, one of the party-goers, came up behind him and Laura shrank even further away. Hutch could feel the weight of the second man’s shadow oppressive in the small space.

He reached around Hutch to grab Laura, intending to pull her to her feet. Hutch’s eyes focused on the fingers that splayed to match the marks on her arms. Hutch turned swiftly, his elbow connecting with Rory’s midsection. Rory let out a groan and clutched his stomach. Hutch, now raised to his full height, shoved Rory hard, his head jerking back and connecting with the wall. ‘Don’t you touch her again.’ He pointed his index finger straight in Rory’s face to drive the point home.

He drove the shaken girl to her house in another part of town, far removed from the luxurious living rooms of Congdon Park. She told Hutch she had met Rory at a restaurant where she worked. She had been thrilled to be invited to the party until she realized what he really brought her for. Rory told her that no one else in his circle would have given her another look and she should consider herself lucky to be there with him.

Hutch wanted to walk her to the door, to offer his support when she told her parents what had happened. But she begged him to stay quiet. Her father worked for McAllister Construction and she didn’t want to bring him any trouble. Respecting her decision and feeling helpless to do anything more, he left.    

The next morning his father was furious when he told Ken about a call he received from Mr. McAllister. The man had threatened to bring assault charges against Hutch for attacking Rory in a heated moment of insobriety. Charges like that wouldn’t sit well in the future with the Minnesota Bar Association. A small exchange of funds made the whole ugly situation disappear.

His father’s anger seethed and Kenneth accepted its full brunt. Mr. Hutchinson raged that his son, gifted in so many ways, always made such poor choices in how he spent his time, in whom he chose for his friends. He had been groomed for better things.

 

“Of course I remember you, Laura. How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well. I finished my degree in business administration at Lake Superior Community College a few years ago and I’m working here as an events coordinator.” She smiled and clasped the clipboard she was carrying tighter to her chest in an unconscious gesture.

 “That’s great. This is my father, Richard,” Hutch introduced. “And this is Gary Sinclair, my sister’s fiancé, and my partner, David Starsky.”

 “I heard you’re working as a police officer in California now.” Laura said.

 “Dave and I are homicide detectives.”

 Starsky bestowed her one of his wide, trademark smiles. “Nice to meet you, Laura.”

 “Ken’s a very special guy. I never forgot what he did for me,” she directed at Starsky.

 “He’s pretty special, alright.” Starsky’s smile swung from Laura to Hutch.

 “I knew you’d end up doing something that would really help other people,” Laura turned back to Hutch, as well, her tone warm and sincere, the painful past eased by time. “I’ll leave you to your lunch. I just wanted to stop and say hello.”

 

*********************

 

Face down in the desert now

there’s a cage locked around my heart

I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were

Now my hands can’t reach that far.

I ain’t made for rivalry;

I could never take the world alone

I know that in my weakness I am strong,

but It’s your love that brings me home.

 “Brother” – NeedtoBreathe

 

The ceiling of the church soared high above their heads in graceful arches, like arms reaching up toward heaven. Soft light filtered through the stained and fractured windows, the imperfections in the colored glass magnifying rather than detracting from their beauty. Hutch fought the fear that any moment he might be exposed for the sinner that he was. Junkie, coward, failure. He had always believed that no one was beyond redemption. Why was it he never seemed able to apply that belief to himself?

 Hutch’s posture and mood wasn’t lost on Starsky. His partner fidgeted with the cuffs of his jacket and Hutch felt the faintest of touches, a psychic connection of support, as Starsky’s arm brushed his.

The wedding ceremony was elegant, with enough pomp to impress but still retain the requisite reverence. Lisa floated on her father’s arm down the aisle to Trumpet Voluntary as three hundred guests looked on. They stood, they sat. They listened to Ave Maria. The minister reminded them that love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

 Vows were recited, rings were exchanged and tears were shed.

 As grown up as Lisa looked, underneath the layers of white satin and lace he could still see the little sister who was so often able to distract his parents from his own misadventures. After all, ballet recitals were much more pleasant that parent-teacher conferences. Lisa was blessed with the agreeable nature that Hutch lacked.

 Lisa had even developed a friendship with Vanessa. After his divorce, Hutch wanted to insulate his little sister from its ugliness. The thick wall he built to hold his pain in kept everyone else out. Phone calls and letters became fewer and further between and visits almost non-existent. Brother and sister had drifted apart like petals tossed on a pond and he had no one but himself to blame.

 

***********

The grand reception hall at Northwoods was decorated in shades of blue and white in counterpoint to the bride’s golden glow. A cocktail hour was followed by a dinner of rare roast beef, red-skinned potatoes and green beans with toasted almonds. Predictably, conversation at the family table was cordial and confined to the safest of topics. Hutch started to think that perhaps he’d survive the evening unscathed after all until his father rose for a toast. As soon as he began to speak, Hutch felt his stomach clench and the dinner he had just eaten threaten to come back up, a physical reminder of time spent in an upstairs apartment.  

 “I got to know Gary first as a law clerk at my firm, then as my daughter’s boyfriend and fiancé. I’m proud to welcome Gary into our family. I think of Gary not as just a son-in-law, but a son. Not just a golfing buddy or a valued member of my firm, but someone to follow in my footsteps.”

 His father’s words reverberated through him, painfully discordant, as he welcomed a replacement for the son who had failed to live up to his expectations. Hutch hadn’t wanted to disappoint him. Even more, he hadn’t wanted to disappoint himself. Now he’d done both. He felt deflated, useless. There was a time he actually believed he could help people. Now he wondered if he could even help himself.

 After dinner, the free-flowing cocktails and lively dance band put Starsky in his element. His dark good looks and charisma guaranteed him plenty of attention. He all but took over the dance floor with his own versions of the hustle and the bump. Even a few older women fell under his spell as he whirled them in a waltz or two, ending with a dramatic dip.

Hutch hung back but allowed himself a small smile as he looked on from the bar, glass in hand. Few could resist the Starsky charm when he turned it on. Hutch thought how he’d set his partner straight later, crediting his popularity to the snappy tux Hutch had picked out for him. The needling and teasing would help to ease him back into familiar territory.

 Dodging the minefields had worn Hutch down and left him exhausted. He leaned heavily against the bar. Hutch supposed he should have expected it but he didn’t want Starsky to cut his own fun short on his account. Not for the first time he wished he had the courage to cut Starsky loose, grant him reprieve from being partnered with a hype. But Starsky wouldn’t discuss it and Hutch couldn’t bear the thought of either of them working with someone else.

 “It shows, you know.” Gary had come up behind him and Hutch froze at his words. His glass hung in the air halfway to his mouth, his fingers tightening on the rim.

 “Whassa matter, Hutch? Ya look sick or something.”

 “What do you mean?” Hutch’s tone was filtered with deliberate care.

 “I watched you at the golf course. The way you looked out for Dave. I knew that wasn’t his scene. Your father shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that. But there was something else. I could tell Dave was looking out for you, too. I’m just not sure why. This is your old stomping ground, your family and friends, after all.” Gary’s words were loose and sloshed in his mouth like the gin and tonics he’d been drinking.

 “Habit I suppose. It’s just what partners do.” Hutch did his best to sound casual.

 “It’s more than that.” Gary carried on. “You really care about people. I can tell. Like Laura today. Whatever you did for her, she’s wanted to thank you for a long time. From what I’ve heard, it’s not the first time you’ve helped someone under the radar. Your father didn’t even know what Laura was talking about and there’s not much he misses.”

Hutch cocked his head, impressed with Gary’s perception. “Apparently you don’t either. Maybe you should’ve been a detective.”

 “We’ll never know.” Gary looked into his glass as if the swirling amber liquid might hold an answer and took another deep swallow to finish it off. “I envy you.” He lifted his eyes to Hutch with the same openness he had shown the previous night, only now with an alcohol-induced glaze. Hutch could almost hear him reciting the Boy Scout Oath and wondered how long it would be before his virtuous view of the world was lost.  How many dead bodies he would have to see, how many injections of a needle would pervert who he was . . .

 Hutch swallowed hard and looked away, defeat in his response. “What’s there to envy? You heard my father’s toast. You’re more one of the family than I am.”

 The words still echoed in Hutch’s head and he doubted they’d be leaving him anytime soon. They left him feeling open and raw. It didn’t matter how many barriers he put up, certain people had a way of knocking them down. He’d never exactly fit in. Now he’d been replaced.

Just one little fix will make all the pain go away.

Hutch tipped back his own glass and set it down too hard on the bar. Another drink would have to do. Mother hen Starsky would most likely be cutting him off soon enough. Gin wasn’t the best follow up to heroin.  

 “Those are just words. Words are cheap, especially when they’re expected.” Gary reached across the bar as the bartender slid him another drink. The family had paid handsomely to ensure top shelf cocktails in generous supply.

“Not that your family isn’t terrific, but you – you stood up to them all. The great Richard Hutchinson. Lisa’s told me stories . . . ” From experience Hutch knew that a man with a drink is the most honest kind, even if he regretted his truths in the morning. “You made your own way despite what your parents wanted. Me, I’m afraid my way’s always going to be made for me. You’re not afraid. I’m shaking in my shoes every day.”

 Shaking in my shoes, and then Huggy pulling them off. Twisting and grasping, with Starsky holding tight. ‘You’re gonna make it, ya big lummox.’

 “Hey, Gary. Great party!” Starsky left the dance floor and came to lean against the bar grinning widely, a light luster of sweat on his face.

 “Hi, Dave. I was just telling Ken how I envy him.” Gary smiled and waved his glass toward Hutch in a salute. “He didn’t let himself be pressured into a life he didn’t want.”

 Starsky threw a questioning look to Hutch while Gary rambled on.

 “Sometimes I just don’t know what I want. I never took the chance to figure it out for myself. Not that I don’t want to be married to Lisa. Don’t get me wrong.” Gary stumbled around searching for a verbal foothold. “She’s great. She’s beautiful and smart and . . . she’ll be a great wife. Everyone needs someone, you know? Someone you can lean on, someone you can trust.”

 “Sure, Gary. Lisa’s all that.” Gary swayed and Starsky reached out to help steady him.

 “Mind if I join you, or is this all ‘boy talk’?” Lisa approached them as if out of nowhere to put her arm around her new husband’s waist and Starsky surreptitiously eased Gary’s weight over to her.

 “Just swapping family stories.” Gary smiled at her indulgently and placed a wet kiss on her cheek as he continued to sway slightly.

 “It’s too late to be letting skeletons out of the closet.” She laughed and leaned back into him, deftly covering his instability. His little sister had become a beautiful woman with the grace of their mother, the backbone of their father. A force to be reckoned with.

“No skeletons, Lisa. Gary’s a lucky man,” Hutch assured her.

 “Thanks for coming, Kenny. For a while I wasn’t sure you would.”

 “I’m sorry if I gave you reason to think that.”

 “You’re always are so busy, like you don’t have time for us anymore.” She glanced down briefly, as if to inspect her dress, to conceal the sheen that appeared in her eyes. When she looked back up the sheen had been replaced with blue steel. “I know your work is really important to you. I’m glad you’re finally doing something that make you happy.” She leaned in to give Hutch a kiss on the cheek that robbed him of words.

“He wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Starsky filled in for his partner.

As different as those worlds may be.

 

*************************

Home: A place where something flourishes.

                                                The Oxford Dictionary

 

Hutch sat on the roof outside his bedroom window, clasping his knees to his chest. The night air was brisk, but not enough to drive him back inside just yet. The chill was helping to clear his head of the alcohol that had left his head uncomfortably fuzzy. The blissful haze too close to heroin’s first warm wave. He needed to think.

 Gary’s admission had taken him off guard. Gary envied him? He wouldn’t have said that if he’d seen him a month ago. Hutch let out an audible laugh, then was surprised by a familiar voice calling to him.

 “Hutch? Whaddya doin’ out there?” Starsky leaned his head out the partially opened window and saw his partner huddled on the roof. “I just wanted to . . .” He stopped and frowned at the slightly shivering form.

“I was looking at the stars. You came to check on me?” Hutch pulled his knees in tighter.

 “Well, yeah,” Starsky admitted. “But when I didn’t see ya . . .”

 “You got worried,” Hutch finished for him.

 One of the fallouts he most hated from the whole experience was Starsky’s continued worry for him. It rankled him that his partner would have that burden on top of everything else. Starsky had the sense not to admit just how concerned he’d gotten when he came in the room and found it empty. But he’d probably never lose the little ghost of fear that brushed against him now whenever his partner was not where he was supposed to be.  

 Starsky turned back, then returned after a few moments. He opened the window a little wider and crawled out, like Linus, dragging a blanket behind him.

“Nice wedding.” He hunkered down carefully next to Hutch, arranging the blanket around both of them.

 “Yes, it was.” Hutch hadn’t realized until just then how much he needed the warmth.

Knowing how Starsky felt about heights, he was a little surprised that his partner had climbed out onto the ledge. Apparently, Starsky had grown used to following him into precarious situations. Being Hutch’s partner meant constantly balancing his need for space with his need to feel secure; knowing when to push and when to hold tight. How ironic it was that the last time Starsky had drawn a blanket around him he’d felt as if he was being destroyed from the inside out. This time he felt safe and insulated from the world.  

 “Lisa was a beautiful bride,” Starsky commented.

 “Beautiful,” Hutch dutifully agreed.

 “Gary seems like a nice guy.”

 “He’ll be good for Lisa,” Hutch finished off before he let his attention drift away.

They sat for a few moments in companionable silence, watching their breath drift in wisps of white against the darkness. But Starsky could never stay quiet for long. “Hutch, ya think you’d wanna get married again?”

 “I don’t know. I had my chance.”

 “Maybe you’ll get another.”

 “How many chances do you think we get?”

 “Well, ya know what Babe Ruth said about every strike being one closer to the next home run.”

 Count on Starsky to relate even the sacrament of marriage to some quirky baseball fact.

 “I know ya still feel bad about Jeannie. But, let’s face it, Hutch. Jeannie was never gonna stick around anyway. With Forrest outta the way, at least ya gave her a chance. Just like Laura from the golf course. It’s up to her how she wants to use it.”

 Of course, Hutch had known from the beginning that Jeannie wasn’t going to be the One. But she was beautiful and needy. Just the kind he always seemed to fall for. The wrong kind. Perhaps he recognized too much of himself in them.

Vanessa had been wrong, too, for altogether different reasons. They were walking down the aisle before he even had a chance to find out who he was. Besides, his parents adored her. He thought that maybe in that, at least, he could find some level of approval.

 “I don’t just want to be with someone because it’s expected. I want to be with someone because they want to be with me.” The admission was painfully revealing.

“Sounds like something my mother would say.”

 “Smart lady.” Hutch gave a little laugh, paused, then posed a question so softly Starsky wouldn’t have heard it if they hadn’t been joined from shoulder to hip. “So why did you stick with me after you found me in that alley?” Strung out and barely human. “You could have lost your badge for helping me out like you did.”

 Hutch didn’t know what he was more afraid of, asking the question that had been plaguing him or hearing the answer. The last thing he wanted was to hear Starsky give him some platitude about expectations of loyalty between partners. Still he wanted, needed, to know.

Starsky rocked his shoulder into Hutch, nudging him slightly but not enough to unbalance him on the uneven roof. “Because, dummy, even at your weakest, you’re still the strongest person I know.”

 “How can you say that?”

 “Not everyone knows ya like I do. Your father’s not such a bad guy, but he only sees the person he wants ya to be. It’s not your fault that person doesn’t exist. But me, well, I see you. And that Hutch is so much more than Richard Hutchinson’s son. Not many people could have done what ya did a few weeks ago. Holding out after getting beat on for days. Breaking away when you were still strung out. Quittin’ the stuff cold turkey. Then goin’ after those goons when you could barely stand. Ya never stopped fightin’.”

Maybe all that Hutchinson pride and stubbornness, the need to cling to his own version of what was right, had an upside to it after all.

“One day, Hutch, the tables are gonna be turned and when my chips are down, there’s nobody else I’d want looking out for me other than you. ‘Cuz I know that no matter what anybody says or does, you’d never stop fightin’ for me.”

Til the last hour, til the last minute. That was one thing Hutch knew for sure.

                “And you won’t come looking for me?’ The beautiful mirage asked. “No,” he replied sadly.

 Hutch shook away the image. It was time he stopped looking for approval in places he’d never find it. Starsky had seen him at his worst and stuck by him through it all. He knew him better than anyone and still trusted him to put his career, his life, in his hands. Gary had said everyone needed someone to lean on, someone to trust. He was hopeful Gary and Lisa had found it with each other. As for Hutch, he knew he’d never need more than what he had right now.

 “When I was a kid I used to climb out here to watch the stars. See that bright one there?” Starsky’s eyes followed the line of Hutch’s finger. “That’s Polaris, the north star. If you’re ever lost, you can use it as a guide to direct you home,” he told him.

 “That’s great and all, but how ‘bout we call it a night, Blondie. We have a long flight back tomorrow.” Starsky gathered the blanket, eager to get his partner off the roof ledge.

“I suppose you’re right.” The battered work station they shared in a crowded squad room back in Bay City, even with the brown water for coffee, seemed pretty good right now. Once he got back home, he knew he’d be able to find his guidepost again, even in the city’s murkier sky.

 Starsky crawled back in through the window trailing the blanket, then turned to help his partner. Hutch grasped onto the arm Starsky offered. The world had been spinning dizzily since he first felt the needle invade his veins. But now he found himself safely back on solid ground.