“Done!” Starsky slammed the file drawer shut and turned to his partner. “Our weekend is free and clear! What say we get an early start and head over to Papa’s for some pasta and vino?”
Hutch leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him. “Oh, I don’t know, Starsk. I’m ready to pack it in as it is. Can we make it tomorrow night?”
Starsky dipped his head in disappointment and examined the toe of his shoe. “Yeah, I guess.” Then he brightened a little, raising his head. “Can we throw in a movie, too?”
“Sure,” agreed Hutch. “I’ll even let you pick.”
“Deal!” Starsky grabbed his jacket and flung it over his shoulder. “I’ll pick you up around six.”
“I’ll count the minutes,” Hutch waved him out the door. He relaxed back in his chair and closed his eyes, exhausted. In spite of the activity of the evening shift, he drifted off. But the ringing of the telephone jarred him back to life, and he lurched forward to grab the receiver.
“Hutchinson,” he answered a little too loudly. “What? Who?” He was suddenly awake. “Slow down, wait a second, calm down. Where are you?” He reached for a pencil and jotted down an address. “No. Stay right there. I can be there in—“he glanced at his watch, “—fifteen minutes.” Hutch hung up the phone, grabbed his jacket, and hurried out of the squadroom.
Hutch pulled up alongside the 24-hour mart and peered inside, eyes sweeping the aisles for the late-night caller. Suddenly, there she was, appearing from behind a huge poster advertising 69-cent potato chips. Recognition lit her face, and she walked quickly out to the car.
Hutch slid over and opened the door for her. She stooped to look inside, but didn’t get in.
“Hello, Handsome Hutch,” she said.
He motioned to her. “Get in, Sweet Alice.”
She hesitated, then slid into the car and shut the door. She stared straight ahead.
Hutch reached over, took her chin in his hand, and turned her face to him. “Oh, Alice. Not again.”
“Again,” she laughed weakly. She pulled away, embarrassed.
“Was it a john, or Frankie?”
“Frankie,” she answered honestly. “Seems he feels I’m not pullin’ in my fair share.” She sniffled.
Hutch handed her his handkerchief. “Let me take you to the emergency room.”
“No!” She wiped her eyes and nose. “I mean, couldn’t y’all just drive me around for a while, sugar?”
Hutch started the car and pulled away from the mart. “And then where to, Alice, back to Frankie’s?” Sarcasm added an ugly edge to his voice.
Sweet Alice didn’t answer.
They drove around the streets for a while, the silence broken only by an occasional sniffle.
“What’s this?” asked Sweet Alice as the car pulled up alongside Venice Place.
“This is where I live,” answered Hutch. He got out of the car and walked around to the passenger side, opening the door and offering his hand to the woman inside.
She looked at him quizzically, but took his hand. Hutch helped her from the car and escorted her silently up to his apartment.
“It’s you,” she decided, gazing around the room. “Lots of livin’ things, lots of space.”
Hutch smiled and removed his jacket and holster. “I’m going to fix us some dinner. The bathroom’s behind you, why don’t you get cleaned up?”
Touching the bruised side of her face, she smiled slightly and followed his suggestion.
It was almost an hour later before Hutch heard the door to the bathroom open. “I thought you might have drowned,” he said, setting a dish on the table. “I was ready to come in after you.” He looked up to see Sweet Alice wrapped in his bathrobe.
“I hope y’all don’t mind,” she smoothed her hand over the terrycloth.
“No—no, of course not,” Hutch replied. He looked down at the table. “Would you like to sit down?” He pulled a chair out for her.
Sweet Alice padded over to the table and seated herself. Hutch poured them some wine, and sat down opposite her.
“The bruises don’t look so bad in this light.”
Sweet Alice smiled self-consciously, and served herself from the dishes around her. Hutch did likewise.
“Very tasty,” she complimented.
Hutch shrugged. “It’s just leftovers.”
“But good leftovers, sugar. I should’ve known y’all could cook, too.” She took a sip of wine.
“Isn’t this somethin’,” Sweet Alice continued. “I’ve known y’all for twelve years, and until now I never even knew where y’all lived.”
“Has it been twelve years?” Hutch set his fork down and smiled in amazement. “Twelve?”
“Sure ‘nuff, sugar.” She took another drink. “I can remember when y’all used to strut your stuff in blue.”
Hutch laughed. “That seems ages ago.” I’m not even sure I could find my uniform if I wanted to.”
“Y’all were mighty handsome back then,” Sweet Alice had a faraway look in her eyes. “Mighty handsome.”
“And you were some kind of lady. Still are.”
Sweet blushed. “I’m gettin’ old. Little lines here, little wrinkles there. I can’t pull in near what I used to. They all want the young stuff now.”
Hutch cupped his wine glass in his hand. “Why?” he asked quietly. “Why you, Sweet Alice?”
Her face went blank, and she abruptly got up from the table. She walked over to the couch, sat down, and hugged herself tightly.
“I’ve been waitin’ for that question for years.” She forced a smile.
Hutch turned in his chair to face her across the room. “One old friend to another?” he prodded.
Sweet Alice looked at him, then turned to gaze out at the porch. “I came out here to be famous, just like everybody else,” she began softly. “Back home, in Alabama, I was somethin’ else. Everyone was always tellin’ me how pretty I was, and how outgoin’ I was. All the boys used to follow me around everywhere. My daddy sure did hate that.” She smiled wistfully. “And I just knew I could make the whole world fall in love with me if I could just get up there in front of it.”
Hutch poured more wine into their glasses, and carried them over to the couch. He eased down next to her and offered her a glass, which she accepted gratefully.
“When I was sixteen, I scrapped together enough money to buy myself a bus ticket out to Hollywood. I ‘spect my daddy had a fit when he found out what I’d done.” She paused to sip her wine. “Well, sugar, y’all know what’s waitin’ for every young thing that steps off a bus. I met me a man who promised me everything I’d dreamed of. Movies, and money, and love…” her voice trailed off. “And he sure kept his promise. He set me up doin’ dirty movies, had me makin’ him a lot of money, and gave me lovin’ at the end of his fist.”
Hutch reached over and gently stroked her unbruised cheek. “You should’ve gone back home.”
“Oh, sugar,” she laughed. “There wasn’t nothin’ at home for me. My daddy would’ve killed me if I’d gone back. And if I didn’t think about it too hard, I could almost imagine that bus ticket had been worth the price.”
Hutch continued to caress her face. Why don’t you leave now? Before it’s too late. You don’t need Frankie. You don’t need that kind of life. You’re worth more than that.”
Sweet Alice reached up and patted Hutch’s hand. “Honey, I don’t know nothin’ else. I’m afraid I’m never goin’ to be nothing but a whore.” She dropped her head and turned her face from Hutch.
“Alice,” Hutch said firmly. “Look at me. Look.”
She lifted her face and looked into her eyes.
“If you really want to change, you can. If you really want to get away from the dirt, and the disease, and the pain, you can.” He set his glass down and took her face in his hands. “I’ll help you. I’ll help you find a decent job. I’ll help you find a place to live. I’ll even buy you a bus ticket to anywhere you’d like to make a new start.”
Sweet Alice closed her eyes. “You’d do that for me?”
“Tonight,” Hutch said. “Just say the word.”
She opened her tear-filled eyes and gazed at Hutch. “Tonight,” she repeated.
Hutch held her face a moment longer, then leaned forward and kissed her. Her lips parted to meet his with a gentle pressure. She pulled away, and Hutch searched her face.
“I always said if I was gonna go straight, it’d be for you,” she said softly.
Hutch slid his arms around her and pressed her to him. “Do it for yourself,” he breathed into her hair.
Sweet Alice molded her body to his, and raised her mouth to kiss him hungrily. He sought out her tongue and tasted the bittersweet of the wine.
Hutch fumbled to undo the belt of the robe, sliding his hand under the material and over her skin. He held her waist and felt its warmth, then slowly slid his hand up to caress her breast.
Sweet Alice pressed against Hutch. He ended the kiss, then pushed the robe from her shoulders. Sweet Alice teased the top button on his shirt before she undid it, all the while looking into his eyes. When he was undressed, he lay down on top of her.
Hutch awoke to bright sunlight and a clock that read 11:00 a.m. He lifted himself up on his elbows and squinted at the room. The dishes from last night had been washed and put away; his clothes were neatly folded on a chair. Hutch slumped forward, then slowly got out of the bed and headed for the bathroom. There, on the bathroom door, a note was taped.
Handsome Hutch, it read.
It was a beautiful dream
and worth the price.
Hutch crumpled the note, tossed it into the toilet, and flushed.