He can tell when Hutch walks in, even in a space as big as this, the new underground car park at the precinct. He still gets that feeling in his gut and knows. The infamous “telepathy” he supposes, and grins a grin that lasts only seconds before fading. If he were telepathic he wouldn’t be feeling this scared, this unsure of himself.
And that’s off-kilter, too – everyone who knew Starsky knew that he was full of it, shit-eating grin, back chat and banter for every occasion - Dave Starsky would never skulk in the shadows, not unless he and Hutch were on a stakeout, then there was no limit to the places they’d hang out. This time the smile that flashes briefly on his face holds genuine warmth before it slides off again.
He’s been doing a lot of that lately, remembering, looking back. There was a time. A big, big chunk of time when he wouldn’t let himself, hell, couldn’t let himself think of any of it. Past was past and he struggled enough trying to get on with the future.
Now it was over. Since he’d seen the headlines screaming of the mob assassination. Since he’d seen Toby Skarrech’s body in the morgue. He’d known it was finally all over. Now he could afford to think again.
He’d upped sticks the day he’d seen Toby the stiff. Despite appearances, he’d always been the calm one, the one to look at the bigger picture. Hutch had always been the one to lose it when the bad guys pushed him over the edge. It had been up to Starsky to cool things down, calm his partner.
Not this time, though – when Starsky’d stood over Toby’s body, even seeing the neat little bullet hole right in the centre of the forehead hadn’t been enough to calm him. He’d been so angry it scared him. He’d felt his blood boiling and his fists clenching. Seven years this worm had ruled his life, seven years of hiding and waiting. He’d laughed at himself then, standing over a corpse, wanting to punch it senseless. Instead he’d thanked the attendant and walked away. Walked away from a cruddy apartment, from the Feds and from the fake life he’d been forced to lead.
Two weeks later here he was, on the edge of his old life, skulking in a parking garage waiting for his buddy.
Hutch walked toward the car, looking behind him over his shoulder as he called his farewell to two officers Starsky didn’t recognise. Hutch didn’t see Starsky stepping out of the shadows until they were suddenly face to face.
The ’tache had gone again, but that wasn’t the only change: his hair, still white blonde, soft and fine, was shorter, tidier than it used to be. The blue eyes, even now widening in shock, were watchful, and the youthful leanness he had possessed was replaced by a figure that was harder somehow. Starsk took all this in as he searched the person in front of him for reaction.
“Hutch” Starsk took a step forward, arms tentatively spread wide, waiting for a smile, for a reaction. “Look who it is, bud.”
“Hey, it’s me... Starsk…”
“I know who it is.” Hutch’s voice is quiet, trembling a little. As is the hand that is slowly reaching out.
Starsk can’t quite shut up
“Hey,... Hutch… how...”
The hand reaches him and is touching the hair at his temple.
“Hey, I know... it’s getting grey; it must be old age huh? I’m gonna have to dye it soon, like old Arnie did, huh? What do you reckon? Or does it make me look distinguished, you know ... debonair?”
The hand touching his hair moves down to cup his cheek. It’s warm and dry and almost a caress. Starsky wants to lean into it. He opens his mouth once more to speak, but Hutch gets there first.
“I missed you.”
Blue eyes staring into his own.
And then suddenly the hand is gone, a car door slams and Starsky is left behind, head spinning as Hutch drives away amidst the squeal of wheels and brakes and gasoline fumes.
“That went well.” He speaks aloud, hey, he’s the flippant one, he’ll deal with this anyway he wants… as soon as he’s worked out what that is, he’ll do it. He’s ok.
Starsky starts walking, hands deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the cold, which, when he registers the strange looks he’s getting, he realises is all in his head, because the sun is high and the streets are teeming with pretty girls in small tops and guys in shorts and vests. And this makes him feel the chill more, and after a few more blocks he hails a cab. Besides, he’s noticed that it isn’t just the body beautiful who are giving him the eye. He realises that these aren’t his streets anymore.
In the cab he sits a few moments before he realises the cabbie is speaking to him and has been waiting for an answer. He clarifies his destination and sits back.
What the hell happened back there? He runs through a scenario in his head ... a warm embrace, a few half-hearted punches maybe, a joke. Then he sees Huggy, strutting his bony-assed stuff over to them both and he knows he’s living in the past.
He remembers instead the headlines, the obituary and the sense of frustration he’d felt knowing the Bear had his funeral without his old friends Starsky and Hutch to wave him off. He’d been angry, hell, he’d been mad at himself for not going, no wonder Hutch was...
Hutch was what, though? Sure, there’d been no sweet cherry pie hugs and welcomes, but if Hutch was mad, where was the argument? He didn’t want those blue eyes flashing at him in anger, but he’d take that over the hollow stare out of the empty face that he’d just seen.
“That’s twelve bucks.” There’s a tone to the cabbie’s voice that tells him this isn’t the first time he’s asked, and Starsky throws a twenty at him and climbs out
The front door needs a lick of paint, and there’s a careless feel to it. Starsky kinds of knows before he even knocks that Hutch don’t live here no more. He feels a flash of indignation, a ‘how could he leave without telling me’ feeling, which even as he thinks it he knows is ridiculous, but moves nonetheless into ‘how could he just drive away from me’ before he has time to tell himself so.
And that’s when he slumps down on the stoop. Hutch walked away from him. Looked him in the eye, leapt into his car and sped away from him, leaving Starsky standing there alone.
And what had he expected? He flashes back to the Huggy fantasy once more. No, not that, realistically not that. He’d expected words, anger, hurt? Any of that, but not indifference.
When he’d been in hiding, he’d shut down the Starsky and Hutch side of his brain. Walking away had been too hard. Hell, he couldn’t even do that. The Feds had taken him when he was unconscious. Kept him whilst they’d worked Toby Skarrech’s bullet out of his skull. Held him there when he came round and locked him down for three weeks when his desire to return home threatened to blow their “operation.” It was only when they played the wire tap of Toby telling one of his sidekicks that Starsky was dead and they could leave Hutchinson alone that he’d been convinced.
He’d known Hutch would go crazy looking for him, but knew also that Skarrech was keeping an eye on things. If Starsky came back, they knew he’d tell Hutch what he knew, and then they would both be disposed of. Instead the Feds had done the whole witness protection trip on him: Paul Solberg; new ID, new life.
And when three years ago it all seemed to die down and he wanted to come home but the Feds said no, he’d pushed it a little bit. Started sending Huggy cute little baseball cards, trying to make oblique contact, feeling sure Huggy would run it by Hutch. Only Hug met a bullet before he had chance to do so. And even now, though Starsky isn’t sure whether it was a Fed or a mob bullet, he still knows that he was the one who pulled the trigger
So he’d closed down Starsky and Hutch. They didn’t exist anymore, and if Paul Solberg lived a hollow and lonely life, it was no more than he deserved. And if Paul Solberg woke up sweating and shaking at night, it was more likely to be from a dream of being held by his partner as they hunted for the man who’d poisoned him than it was from a nightmare of mob violence.
“I’m going to call the police if you don’t get up from there right away.”
He is brought back to the present by a nervous young woman, clutching her keys and looking anxiously at her front door.
Starsk smiles at the irony, then clambers up from the step.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I was trying to contact the previous occupant of this apartment, Kenneth Hutchison.”
He turns on the charm. He too is harder, leaner and meaner than the old days, but he finds the sparkle he thought he’d lost, the twinkle in his eye and digs up the Starsky magic. Soon he’s leaving with Hutch’s address in his head and Susan’s number in his hand.
Another cab ride and he’s standing outside a new pad – one that’s similar to Hutch’s original place, individual, a small garden. No white picket fence though ... but Hutch’s car is slewed across the driveway, and he can see Hutch inside pacing fast and agitated. Lights full on and glaring out. Starsky can see right in, and having done so, he turns and walks away.
It’s three a.m. before he has the courage to walk up the drive. “Get up and Go” Dave Starsky has been hovering and wavering, undecided. He walked round the park a few times till it got dark and the slightly wary looks of the young girls jogging turned into the clearly lascivious looks of the young guys “hanging out.”
Paul Solberg wore slacks and loafers. Had neatly trimmed hair and even, for a while, wore a beard. The only way Starsky could handle being him was to treat it like one massive undercover operation.
When Toby Skarrech died, Paul Solberg got buried with him, and the snug jeans and scruffy sneakers Dave Starsky favoured came out and still did the business. Even changing fashions didn’t stop his cute behind waving howdy and hello to anyone checking him out.
Starsky didn’t mind. Hell, Paul Solberg had practically been sexless. For a long time Starsky didn’t let anyone near him at all. The injury and the anger carried him through the first few months. After that, well, he was “consolidating” his role, and by the time he’d done all that he’d learned that Paul Solberg didn’t go for getting close to anybody.
When the Feds waved Huggy’s death notice in front of him (the only info from his past life they’d allowed him to see, making sure he got the message), it had just served to emphasise that fact. And if Paul’s neighbours thought he was quietly odd, then Starsky didn’t give a rat’s ass.
And now Dave Starsky was back, and well, it was ok to walk the walk and talk the talk, but all he could think about at the moment was getting to Hutch. There was all the time in the world for the ladies after that.
And at three a.m., he’s finally able to rap on the door. A timid tap initially, then all at once he’s hammering on the door. Thumping his fist against the wood over and over. Until it’s flung open and Hutch is standing there fully dressed, clearly exhausted.
Starsky, arm raised mid-thump, is left at the door speechless as Hutch turns and walks back down the hallway, leaving the door wide behind him. He has no option but to follow and he steps in, carefully wipes his feet and closes the door behind him quietly. He hovers in the hallway for a second. Trying to moisten his lips with a dry, dry mouth, then giving up and following his partner.
It’s a big room, multi-functional, open plan, across the whole of the ground floor. Hutch is standing opposite the door, arms hanging limply at his sides, hands loose. His stance relaxed. Starsky on the other side is bouncing on the balls of his feet with nervous energy, his hands clenching and unclenching at his side. He feels sick. He hasn’t eaten since six a.m. and it’s old habit to glance across at the refrigerator. He almost wonders aloud what there is in there, but it’s Hutch’s house and he knows there’d be nothing in there for him (Paul Solberg ate seeds, granola and yogurt for breakfast). He licks his lips again
“New place, huh?” His voice feels rusty. “Very nice. Hadda track you down, it took a while.”
As he speaks he knows it’s already going wrong.
“Seven years? It’s only across town.” Very calm.
Those bloody blue eyes, just looking at him.
“What do you want, Starsky?”
“What do I want?” What do I want?
“It’s a reasonable question. It’s three a.m., it’s late.”
He’s speechless now. And they’re just standing there. And it’s as if Starsky hears the ping as the bond that’s kept him alive for the last seven years, hell, for his adult life, snaps and is broken.
And it feels like a lifetime, but can only be seconds as they stand across the room from each other.
Starsky’s eyes snap up from the floor as Hutch speaks. He takes a small half step to turn toward the door, and it’s like Paul Solberg is standing there waiting for him, holding out a grey suit jacket, ready to help him into it. A suit jacket that turns into a straitjacket, and Huggy Bear is there, prompting him to speak.
“That’s it? Go? All this time to think and that’s what you come up with? ”
“It’s what you’re good at.”
And there it is.
Starsky almost shakes with relief. Something other than indifference.
“Don’t you wanna know?”
“Seven years ago, maybe.”
“Now? Does it matter?”
“You … you musta known I had a reason.”
And suddenly Starsky finds himself trying to defend a decision he didn’t make. To defend seven years of anger, of loss, of fear.
And Hutch is listening, but he doesn’t hear, and it’s as if they’re on either side of a glass wall, as meaning bounces off randomly around the room and neither hears the other.
“You had no right!” Hutch shouts the words. Then sags. While they’ve been yelling, they’ve stood apart, fighter stance, poised. Now Starsky slumps too. Just standing. Just staring.
Hutch takes a step forward and says, quietly now, “It wasn’t your choice to make Starsk; you didn’t have the right…” He pauses, and for a second he’s visibly shaking, but then he swallows and continues. “And you don’t have the right to come back now.” Another swallow. “Go Starsk, just …go.”
They share one more look, then Starsky really does turn toward the door.
“I … it’s… Hutch…” His legs don’t want to carry him. He turns back. “It’s us, Hutch, come on… who do we trust, hey? Come on, pal… me and thee, remember?”
For a second he thinks Hutch really is going to punch him, but instead he shoves him, violently, so that his back slams into the door
“Remember? Dear God... remember? You want to play the memory game? Huh? Ok, I’ve got one … remember when I had to identify the stiff they hauled out of the water six months after you went ’cos he had your ID in his pocket? Remember that one? No? Ok, ok, how about when Dobey got stiffed by IA because he wouldn’t let them close down the investigation into your disappearance? That was a good one. Eh? What about Huggy’s funeral, eh Starsk? Oh but no, you weren’t there, were you? Remember all the partners I went through ’cos I couldn’t work with anyone else after you’d gone? Do you? No? Well, remember this one, Starsk. Learn it. I did. Who do I trust? I trust me. No one else. Me.”
Hutch is looming over Starsky. Hands either side of his head. Red-faced and angry. Blue eyes grey with emotion.
And they’re broken.
Starsky turns and rests his forehead against the door. Me, I trust me. He hears it echoing, and knows he’ll hear it for the rest of his life.
His hand searches for the door handle. Hutch is right there behind him, hands still on the door, head bowed. Knuckles white, fingers tensing. And then, for one miraculous moment, he lowers his head and rests his forehead on the springy curls at the back of Starsky’s head.
Starsky’s breath hitches just once as they stand there.
It’s been seven years, and he realises now that he came to say goodbye.
He moves his head, just a fraction, and Hutch takes a shuddering breath and stepsback. Without looking back, Starsky opens the door and walks out into the night.