Gil dipped a chip in the salsa, ate it with the reverence due to Huggy’s salsa and raised a quizzical eyebrow at his companion.
“So. Why are we having lunch?”
“Because it’s too early for dinner?”
The eyebrow went higher.
“Because I like you?”
“Both true.” Gil ate another chip. “Why are you worried about Hutch?”
“David, if I didn’t have independent evidence, I’d never believe you were any good as an undercover cop - your face is an open book! Talk to me.”
“You know he’s back at work. Desk duty- but by the end of the day he can barely climb the stairs, he’s so tired. I know it’s bad because he lets me feed him and send him to bed without bitching. And he hasn’t told me to go home yet.”
“Yeah - it’ll take a while. You knew that.”
“Yeah, I did.” Starsky grinned. “And he tells me his doctor says he’s doing fine.”
Gil grinned back.
“Can confirm. Can also confirm his doctor said don’t send Starsky home, mushbrain, you’ve got a way to go yet. Glad he listened. So, as I said. Talk to me.”
Starsky hesitated, absently drawing patterns in a puddle of spilt beer on the table.
“Gil- he’s different. I don’t know how to explain......”
“He’s been through a lot”
“We’ve been through a lot before. We know how to deal with going through a lot. You know that’
“Do Not Disturb.”
“Yeah. We shut the door and keep it shut until we’re out the other side. May not be recommended by you guys in white coats but it works for us.”
“But not this time?”
“No. And now he’s gone away on this weekend retreat”
Gil smiled “oh yes,his Transcendental Meditation thing. And he’s supposed to stay with you, yes?”
Starsky caught the smile and returned it, a touch of self mockery in his eyes.
“Damn right he is - his brain’s my business! What’s a whacko meditation centre in Anaheim got that I haven’t?”
“Do you think he’s depressed?”
“No. Just not...talking. We get home. We eat. We watch the news and he goes to bed. Usually by this stage we’d have taken the whole thing apart, examined it from every angle until we understood it, then put it back together so we can file it away.”
“You’re not detectives, are you? Who’d have guessed?”
“Don’t be a smart-ass.”
“Sorry. What’s different this time?”
“I don’t know.”
‘You want dessert? My treat. I think I might know one reason. This is the first time Hutch couldn’t do a thing to help himself. Even when he was trapped under his car that time, his mind would have been busy. I bet he was tinkering with the radio and planning escape routes as long as he could. Same with Forrest. And when it’s been you, he’s like an avenging angel. Heaven help anyone who gets in his way. This time? There was nothing he could do. Absolutely nothing. He couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t help you. He couldn’t help anyone. That’s gonna throw someone like him.”
“Have you met Hutch’s folks?”
“Hutch doesn’t have folks. He has a mother and a father and a sister. Definitely not folks.”
“I see you have.”
“I’ve done time being the very kosher salt in a very WASP sugar bowl if that’s what you mean.”
“Yeah. Did they seem to you like the kind of people who’d bring their kid up to kick back and freewheel through life? He needs to know what’s going on, David. To have control. And he didn’t have any.”
“You said one reason....”
“Yeah” Gil hesitated, finishing his coke. “One reason I’m sure about anyway”
“Another that you’re not?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Nothing’s ever simple though. I reckon he’ll talk when he’s ready - I wouldn’t worry too much. Just give him some space. Do you want ice cream or chocolate cake? Or both? I’m having both. Then I really have to get back to work.”
Starsky felt restless and antsy. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do. After considering and rejected a list of possibilities he was almost at the point of going into work to do some filing when he remembered Hutch’s orange tree - “She’s setting fruit, Starsk. She needs a lot of care” - and turned the Torino towards Venice. He watered the tree, talking to it and feeling foolish as he attempted Hutch’s “encouraging plants” voice, but doing it because an expectant mother needed support even if she was a tree, and anyway, he liked oranges. Then he looked round for jobs. But he had spend hours in the apartment over the past two weeks while Hutch slept, and it was beyond immaculate. He changed the sheets so his friend would come home to a clean bed, liking how the dirty ones smelled of citrus cologne and herbs and growing things and healthy Hutch, after the weeks of fever-sweat and desperation, and put them in the bathroom hamper, resisting the temptation to bury his face in them and breathe in the scent again, shaking his head at himself.
He made coffee then went to lean on the deck rail to think about Hutch, wishing very much that he still smoked. He could see what Gil meant - lying helpless while other people held his life in their hands must have been torture. But wasn’t that something he would want to talk about? In a relationship with no boundaries it was practically unheard of for either of them to shut the other out as effectively as Hutch was shutting him out now. Perfectly friendly, good company. But opposite ends of the sofa. Bathroom door always meticulously shut. No feet in his lap while they watched the news. He was lonely for those feet. And for the tickle of unruly gold hair on his face as a weary head went down on his shoulder, suddenly too heavy to support itself. And....He found himself smiling fondly and jumped up. This wouldn’t do. It was the wrong time of the year for euphoric sentimentalism. He could just imagine the incredulity on Hutch’s face if he confessed to a longing to hold his partner’s ankle while they watched NewsWatch - he would never be allowed to forget it.
Then the idea struck him. Hutch had begged a ride to Anaheim and his car was parked outside. He could finally do it. The task he had been itching to take on for months-even years. He grabbed an empty box and a packet of refuse sacks and ran downstairs.
The back of Hutch’s car was daunting, even to a Starsky in a cleaning frenzy. He hesitated, then launched into the task. The collection of stuff was baffling. Books, papers, coffee mugs, their basketball, a collection of sweaters- fair enough. But the wagon wheel, the toy construction helmet and the football were puzzles- Starsky knew for a fact that Hutch had not played football since high school and had hated it then. He opened the trunk, shaking his head to find it empty, except for a folded blanket, a pair of work boots and a first aid kit. He added the umbrella and the raincoat, hesitated, then dropped in the basketball as a promise to himself that the days of one-on-one in the park would return. He took five minutes to use the parcel tape to secure the wagon wheel to the car’s steering wheel, then stacked everything else in the box. Gathering together an armful of letters and a brown paper sack he remembered Hutch stuffing with the last few things from his nightstand as he joyously said goodbye to the hospital, he went back upstairs. He found homes for the disparate objects and claimed back his own clothes and books. Then, the construction helmet and football arranged artistically on Hutch’s pillow, and armed with a beer, he settled at the kitchen table to sort the papers.
After half an hour he had several neat piles, all clipped together, newest to oldest. Personal letters, including 10 unopened Christmas cards- it was April. Bills of varying degrees of urgency and a stack of notes and work related scribbles. Done. With a smile of satisfaction, he went to get the vacuum cleaner, and tripped over the forgotten brown paper sack. Cursing and rubbing his knee, he picked it up and emptied it onto the table. He wrinkled his nose at the dirty laundry, grinning as he realised he had no desire to inhale that scent, and added to to his rubbish sack. The eleven get well cards from Rosie Dobey went on the piano, and the half read copy of Salem’s Lot on the nightstand. At last he was left with the final object. Hutch’s Book. Starsky had given Hutch the Book for his birthday in the summer. He remembered how excited he’d been to find it, and even though he winced at the price he had to buy it. It was thick, bound in plain leather, and containing alter nate pages of lined, plain and music paper. Hutch loved his Book, took it with him everywhere, scribbling sketches and music, and it had been close by him all time as he recovered. So why had it languished in the car for two weeks?
Starsky hesitated. Hutch had always been happy to let him see what he’d drawn or written in the Book, but he’d never opened it without invitation. He got up to put it back where it lived on the coffee table, next to Harold, The Ugliest Plant In The World, then, making the decision, sat down again and opened it.
Pages of drawings and music. Scribbled notes- a few completed songs. All things he had seen before. He turned pages until he reached a half finished not very successful sketch of Judith seen through the glass of the isolation room. It was roughly scribbled through and Starsky shivered at the memory. Then a hand. And another. A whole page of hands. With a shock, he realised they were all his own hands. And when he turned the page, two hands. One square and solid, rings on the little finger and bandaids on the index and middle. The other was different, indistinct and ghostly, long slender fingers sketched lightly in, hospital bracelet and cannula suggested by a few deft strokes. The ghostly hand was being firmly held, although there was a indeterminate feeling that it might pull away at any moment. Starsky recognised the skill even as his eyes blurred. And he recognised the time - between Callendar and recovery, when everything had hung hideously in the balance. He had sat for hours, holding that still, limp hand and talking endless nonsense, reminding Hutch which side of the divide he belonged. He shivered again and turned the page to see what the last entries were. An unfinished song. The music was done-Hutch was always clear about how he wanted tunes to go- but the verses were crossed out, rewritten, crossed out again, and then left hanging. Starsky read them through twice, then leaned back, eyes closed. He stayed vey still for a long time, then went to get Hutch’s guitar and leaned it against the open Book.
“Oh, partner, we need to talk. Boy, do we need to talk. But first, you’re going to sing to me.”
With a new lightness in his step, he set off, whistling, to bring Hutch home.
When I am lost
You are my ever present compass.
When darkness looms
Your presence brings me light.
When I’m adrift
You are my deep sea anchor.
When storms surround
Your strength keeps me afloat.
When I’m afraid
You make my spirit braver.
You are cool water
To the desert of my soul.
When I want
It’s you I long for.
When I’m alone
Only you can fill the void.
When I’m brave
One day I’ll tell you .............
Later, much later, they finished the song together.