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The Gift

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“But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi

December 24th

Five hundred dollars -- that was all. He had looked at his bank statement carefully before leaving the house that morning, shook his head, and then looked at it again. Five hundred dollars – all that his bank account held – it seemed like such a miserly amount, and it could not accommodate the price being asked for the gold chain, for the greedy proprietor had the impudence to ask fifteen hundred dollars for it!

She had carefully explained that it was 24-karat gold and haughtily elucidated what that meant for her seemingly uninformed customer. It was 100% pure gold with no fillers or lesser metals.

He answered fretfully that he simply didn’t have that much money to spare.

“But is the pocket watch not also 24-karat gold,” she enquired?

“It is,” he sadly confirmed. “But tomorrow is Christmas!”

“Fifteen hundred dollars,” she repeated stubbornly, “and not a penny less.”

Dejectedly, he exited the establishment and headed towards the car Huggy had loaned him that was parked at the curb. Turning his head one final time, he looked longingly at the Sofronie Jewelers sign which hung over the establishment’s door, and then he drove away.

December 22nd

Late for work, Starsky got into his Torino and started the engine. But as he turned the key, the engine coughed and sputtered, and then sputtered and coughed, before finally catching, as he cursed at it in all manner of impropriety.

If one were a passerby, one would have simply blushed upon hearing the vulgar obscenities being shouted at the car by the man in the brown leather jacket and dark, curly hair.

Finally humbled, Starsky called Hutch on the police radio and asked him to meet him at Merle’s, saying he was dropping off the car to be looked at.

December 23rd

Dobey was just finishing his frosted donut when his telephone rang. “Dobey, here!” he bellowed into the receiver, annoyed that his breakfast had been interrupted.

“Yeah, I’m looking for Starkinson,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

“Who?” Dobey yelled into the phone.

“Starsky or Hutch, either one will do, although I should probably talk to Starsky if he’s available.”

“Who is this?”

“Tell him it’s Merle the Earl calling about his car.”

“Starsky!” Dobey poked his head out of his office. “Some joker named Merle is calling about your car.”

“Terrific!” Starsky exclaimed as he picked up the phone. “Hey Merle, what ya got? Is my car ready?”

“Ready? No, that’s not exactly what I’d call it. You see, there’s a slight problem.”

“What’s that?”

“Your wheels are gone.”

“Whatta ya mean, my wheels are gone?”

“They’re gone, man! As in, they’re no longer here. Know what I’m sayin’? Someone musta stole ‘em last night. You dig?”

“No, I don’t dig!!! You’re sayin’ someone stole my tires?”

“No man, didn’t you hear what I said? They stole your wheels – rims, tires, and everything! There’s nothin’ left but that sad red chassis with the jive white stripe on it.”

“They stole my mag wheels? Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? I just had those put on the car last year! They cost a fortune! What am I supposed to do now?”

“How should I know? File a police report?”

Hutch, returning from interrogation just in time to witness his partner’s phone tirade, headed towards Starsky and the coffee machine beyond, pouring himself a cup as he listened. Curious as to what was upsetting him, he watched Starsky’s face grow redder and his anger grow more intense.

“You’re a regular barrel of laughs, ya know that, Merle?” Starsky slammed down the phone. “Sonofabitch!”

“Something the matter, partner?” Hutch enquired, taking a sip of coffee while trying to hide the expression on his face that would have given away his amusement.

“Someone stole the wheels off my car last night while it was at Merle’s bein’ fixed! Can you believe that!”

“They nicked your tires?”

“You deaf or what? I said wheels, mag wheels! I paid fifteen hundred dollars for them last year, and that don’t even include the tires!”

The other cops in the squad room had turned their heads towards the source of the commotion and now a young, unassuming, uniformed cop named Dillingham headed towards them. “Detective Starsky?”

“Yeah, what is it?” Starsky snapped.

“There’s been a string of cars vandalized downtown over the past couple of weeks. The bad guys hit auto repair shops late at night, strip the cars and sell them off for parts. I know because my buddy works down the hall in Robbery Division and he’s been working the case.”

Hutch put down the still-full coffee cup.

“Thanks, Jim,” Starsky said, patting the black-and-white on the back as he and Hutch hustled out the door and trotted down the hall to confer with their compatriot.

*****

“So whatta we do now, huh? There’s a million automotive repair shops in downtown Bay City and no tellin’ where these turkeys might strike next,” Starsky griped as he poured a fresh cup of coffee and handed it to Hutch. They had returned from Robbery Division no closer to getting answers than when they had started.

Then Hutch got an idea. “Hey, why don’t we plot out the places they’ve already hit? Then maybe we can stay one step ahead of them.” He walked over to the map of Bay City that was tacked to the wall near their desk, pulled out a box of thumbtacks, and began poking them into the map. “Merle’s is on 13th Street, and according to Robbery, was the sixth place to be hit in the last two weeks, right?”

“Right,” Starsky answered, becoming interested now. “Henry’s Auto Body was the first, over on Alameda.”

Hutch poked another thumbtack into the map. After placing the other four thumbtacks accordingly, he stood back and together they looked at the map. Then, standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they leaned against the file cabinet, they leafed through the yellow pages, looking for the names of all the auto repair places in the vicinity.

“There!” Hutch pointed proudly. “Della Custom Car Painting, on Buena Vista. That’s gotta be the next place they go!” He triumphantly poked another thumbtack into the map.

“But this time,” Starsky added, “We’ll be there waitin’ for ‘em.”

*****

They sat in Hutch’s car, parked in the shadows at the edge of Della’s parking lot and settled in for the long night ahead.

“Those sons a bitches better make an appearance tonight, or I swear—“

“Hey, what’s that?” He tapped Starsky on the arm, scanning the area for sudden movement.

“That’s just a cat, dummy! I betcha these guys don’t show up ‘til midnight.”

For a few minutes, neither of them spoke, each lost in his own thoughts.

Then Hutch broke the silence. “Hey, Starsk? Don’t worry buddy, we’ll catch them. And then we’ll get your wheels back.” He patted Starsky’s shoulder.

“We better. Can’t exactly drive my Torino without ‘em,” Starsky replied glumly.

At 11:54pm, they spotted someone cutting a hole in the chain link fence with a bolt cutter.

“There they are!” Starsky announced jubilantly.

They watched as three men carrying various tools entered the darkened parking lot and proceeded to jack up one of the cars, and then they quietly exited Hutch’s car and made their way towards the perps. Sneaking up on the thieves in the dark, Starsky grabbed one of the men and punched him, wrestling with him as Hutch jammed his gun against the second man’s back. But they were caught off guard as the third man, still holding the bolt cutter, swung it at them, just barely missing.

In the ensuing scuffle, all three offenders began to run as the sound of gunfire followed them across the lot.

The two detectives gave chase, and Hutch being of longer legs had almost caught up with one of them, but in the end, all three got away.

“That’s great!” Starsky yelled, lobbing a hard punch into the air. “Now what?” They walked back to Hutch’s car and climbed in. “Hey, what time ya got?” Starsky asked. He had been without a watch since his fancy Yamamoto had been destroyed after they’d been trapped in the barn.

Hutch reached into his pocket and pulled out his grandfather’s prized gold pocket watch. “It’s…oh fuck, where’s the chain!”

“Whatsa matter?”

“The gold chain! It’s gone!” Hutch lamented. “I must have lost it in the scuffle. Looks like we’re zero for two tonight. Damn it!”

“Lemme see that!” Starsky grabbed the watch out of Hutch’s hand and confirmed that the gold chain was, indeed, gone. “I told ya not to carry that thing around with you, didn’t I?”

“Starsky, this pocket watch saved your life in that Italian restaurant and don’t you ever forget it! It’s my good luck charm.” A sad expression passed over Hutch’s face. “At least, it was.”

“Let’s look around for it, it’s gotta be here somewhere,” Starsky tried to reassure him.

They got out of the car and looked around the darkened lot and up and down the street where they had chased the perps, but turned up nothing.

Dejectedly, Hutch climbed back into the car and started the engine.

“Hey, don’t let it get to you. We’ll come back in the morning and check it out. Okay?”

“If it’s anywhere around here, someone will have picked it up by then.”

“Are you sure you lost it tonight?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

They checked the area the next morning but there was no sign of the gold chain. Starsky suggested that Hutch get a cheap leather strap for the watch, but his partner, still fretting over the missing chain and chastising himself for losing it, was lost in his own thoughts and absently waved off his suggestion.

December 24th

Starsky pulled up to Merle’s in the loaner car and looked at the Torino woefully sitting wheel-less and squat on the ground of the asphalt lot. As he looked longingly at his disabled car, a thought began forming in his mind. A few tears threatened to well up in his eyes but he swiftly attended to them with a swipe of his sleeve. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and he had only five hundred dollars with which to buy Hutch the chain.

Had he known months ago he would find himself in this predicament, he’d have saved every penny he could. His cop salary only went so far, but he admitted to himself that if he hadn’t wasted so much money on overpriced gadget-laden watches and other personal effects, perhaps he’d be in a better financial position now. But his expenses had been greater than he had calculated. They always are, aren’t they, he reflected.

Only five hundred dollars to buy the present for Hutch. His Hutch. He thought about all the times that Hutch had planned something nice for him, all the dinners he’d cooked, all the times he’d supported him unconditionally. And he in turn had bought Hutch a replacement car after his previous one had been destroyed. And while he had often threatened to hock his Torino to save Hutch -- whether from devastating news or from dying -- it had never quite come to that. But Hutch was his partner and his friend, and it was an honor he was most proud of.

Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar predicament. If so, you’ve been very lucky indeed.

Now, there were two possessions of the pair that Merle affectionately called Starkinson in which they each took immense pride. One was Hutch’s gold antique pocket watch that had belonged to his beloved grandfather. The other was Starsky’s prized Torino.

With sudden determination, Starsky turned and walked towards the door to the office, his blue eyes shining radiantly and his face ruddy with emotion.

After a brief negotiation, Merle handed Starsky a wad of crisp green bills. For a moment, Starsky felt himself faltering and stood still while a tear again threatened to out itself, but with a quick nod to the Torino and the sparkle still in his eyes, he hustled out the door, stepped into the loaner car, and headed towards the jewelers, hoping they hadn’t yet closed for the holiday.

*****

He asked Hutch over to his place for dinner that night. He didn’t often cook for his partner, but tonight, he was positively giddy with joy as he took some eggs out of the fridge to accompany the steak he was pan-frying on the stove, anxiously glancing at the wall clock every few minutes while he awaited his partner’s arrival.

“Hope Hutch doesn’t kill me,” he said to himself, “but then again, he hates my car, so he’ll probably be dancing for joy when he finds out. Besides, what could I have done with only five hundred dollars and not another penny!”

At 7 o’clock the steak was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the eggs.

Hutch was never late. Starsky clasped the beribboned gift and sat on the wicker chair near the front door, anxiously awaiting his partner’s entry. Just then, he heard Hutch’s step on the stair outside and his heart momentarily fluttered.

The door opened and Hutch stepped in. Starsky thought he looked very proper and serious, and possibly a little underweight--gotta get him to eat more junk food, maybe, he thought.

Hutch closed the door behind him and fixed his eyes upon Starsky, who had not moved from his position on the chair. He tried to read his partner’s expression, but as was often the case, Starsky’s face betrayed no emotion within. Then Hutch noticed that his partner was tightly gripping a small box bedecked in brown paper and red bow, and he gave him a bemused look.

Starsky, finally remembering the gift he held in his hands, eagerly dispensed it to Hutch with a wink and a smile as he raised himself up from the chair. “Got this for you. Merry Christmas, Blondie.”

“What’s this?”

“Open it.”

Hutch unwrapped the present, within which lay a gleaming gold chain. It had a T-bar at one end and a clasp at the other, and he carefully held it up to the light, examining it in all its lustrous fineness.

“It’s 24-karat gold, just like your pocket watch,” Starsky proudly told him. “I hocked my Torino to buy it. Figured it wouldn’t do me much good without wheels, anyway, and I know how distressed you were about losing the chain.”

“Oh, Starsk,” was all Hutch could answer in reply, and then he wrapped his arms around his friend and held him in a long embrace.

“So, what’d you get me?” Starsky asked eagerly after they pulled apart. “Lemme guess – a sweater?”

Hutch’s face went pale at the enquiry.

“Somethin’ the matter?”

“Look outside,” Hutch sighed, pointing towards the front door.

Starsky did as he was told. “Hey, there are four mag wheels in my driveway!” he exclaimed.

“I know, and they are heavy as hell. Expensive as hell, too. I was gonna drop them off at Merle’s later. He already has the tires. But uh, I sold my watch to buy them.”

“You did what?”

“Starsk,” Hutch answered, his voice trembling slightly, “let’s put aside our Christmas presents for a while. They’re too precious to use.” Then he dropped down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head as he smiled at his friend. Taking note of the tempting aroma emanating from the kitchen, he added, “I suppose we should eat dinner now.”

But he made no move to rise from the sofa.

Starsky sat down next to him, grasping Hutch’s arm with a hand that was shaking ever so slightly. “I love you, ya big dummy.”

“I love you, too, meathead.”

And then they made love for the first time.

*****

The magi, as you might know, were wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in the manger in long-ago Bethlehem. In fact, they invented the custom of giving Christmas presents. But, wise as they were, they knew not of true love, nor sacrifice.

And here I have clumsily related to you the most eventful chronicle of two fools who most unwisely sacrificed for each other their most precious treasures.

But in a last word, let it be said that the fools were very wise men indeed.