A Beautiful Mess

by Kaye






I. Prologue

In the beginning, there was only darkness and skin and aching need.  There were no words – they hadn’t learned to speak, they barely knew how to fuck. Sometimes awkward, sometimes painful, always arched up against a wall, a door, a car.  Heads thrown back against mirrors, fists tangled in chests, jeans ripped past hips that thrust too hard, too fast, too young to know that slow was even an option. The need obscured the desire for anything else. For a while.


And then they talked. And it became lighter. And the desire tempered the need, forging the ties that remained unbroken long after the ache eased into the sweet familiar of a hand on a thigh. The brush of a cheek. A whispered word in a crowded bar.  Desire allowed them to confess in long nights tangled together, spinning their lives into recognizable shapes. Gathering strength for everything else.


And then they grew up. And neither one of them thought about that time. Much. Except on those nights when it all slowed down enough that the past echoed back in through an open window and they reached for the phone at the exact same time and the whispered, “hiya,” “hiya yourself,” made it better and worse at the same damn time. When a casual touch sent them reeling far away and the explanation always came up short. When they couldn’t stop. When they couldn’t start. When they couldn’t. So they didn’t. And then they were friends. Nothing more. And that was okay.


Until it wasn’t.




II. Where it Gets Complicated


Huggy knew it was Starsky without turning around. The way the door swung open, the soft slap of shoes in full swagger, the change in air pressure. The tightness in his chest. He glanced at the clock.  One a.m. and alone.  Not a good sign.


He turned to speak, but his voice got caught in his throat when he looked at Starsky’s face. That damn face. Flushed, lips tight, the glare in his eyes usually reserved for the guilty. Or the condemned. Never for him.


“You told him?” Starsky’s voice clawed through Huggy’s chest.  


“I told him. He already knew. He’s not stupid.”  He’d actually known since the beginning, but Starsky never believed it. And last week, when Huggy confirmed everything in a last ditch attempt to stop them from imploding right before his eyes, it didn’t seem like Hutch cared who fucked who. It was just all so fucked.


Starsky leaned over the bar, grabbed his shoulders and pulled him closer. Close enough so that he could feel his breath on his throat.  He struggled, but Starsky had a three drink and a fifty pound advantage. It was never a fair fight.


“You promised.”


“So did you. And you broke that promise the minute you walked in here like this.” He pried Starsky’s fingers off his shirt. “So we’re even.” He turned his back and poured himself a shot. “Now go home and figure it out with Hutch. Make-up. Make out. I don’t care. I checked out of this story a long time ago. Remember?”


Starsky came around the bar, never taking his eyes off Huggy. “I remember.”  He took the drink out of Huggy’s hand and set it down.


Huggy could feel his heart hammering against his ribs. He didn’t know the precise catalyst for tonight’s visit, but he had a good idea its name was Marianne.  Last month it was Meredith.  Tomorrow it would be . . . names didn’t seem to matter.  Interchangeable pussy – same method of torture. Over and over.  Huggy was tired of watching it.  It had been a while since he stopped believing they’d ever figure it out themselves. Felt a last flicker of hope after they buried Walter Jackson. Knew that one had shaken them all. Knew they had finally turned to each other. Knew his phone didn’t ring for weeks.  But no, they found a way to fuck that up, too . . .


“What’s the matter?”


Huggy looked up to see Starsky staring at him.


“You know what’s the matter. Don’t come in my bar like this. You know it doesn’t play here.”


Starsky pressed his chest against Huggy, backing him against the bar. “Come on, Huggy – you want to . . .”


“You’re drunk. And an asshole. You don’t want me. You want Hutch.”


“I want you.”


“That, my friend, ain’t never gonna happen.”


“Double negative.” Starsky was now nose to nose with Huggy.


Huggy felt Starsky’s cock through his jeans. He closed his eyes briefly, and then laid his hands on Starsky’s shoulders.


“Just go home.” A plea that sounded so pathetic, Huggy almost believed it himself.


“I need you.” Starsky pressed harder, reaching down and pulling Huggy close against him.

Huggy knew he was in danger of just tossing it all away and fucking Starsky right on the floor of his bar.  He seemed to be the only one who gave a damn. About any of them. It would be so easy.


The problem was that he knew if he leaned in and trailed his tongue against the back of Starsky’s ear, the man would come in his arms, over and over. That if he scraped his teeth against a nipple right before he came, he would buck so hard it would probably send them both crashing into the mirror. That sometimes he fell asleep with his fist tucked under his chin . . .


So instead, he ground the heel of his boot into Starsky’s instep and twisted out of his grasp.


“Ow-what the fuck? That hurt . . .” Starsky hopped against the cash register, knocking a stack of highball glasses to the floor.


Huggy rounded the end of the bar, grabbed the whiskey bottle, and settled onto a stool. “Now clean that up and go home.” He took a swallow. He really didn’t need to be sober for this.


“What the hell are you doing?” The voice that came from the doorway was both a shock and a relief.


“Stay out of this, Hutch.” Starsky ignored Huggy and grabbed the last unbroken glass, poured himself a liberal shot, and leaned against the bar.


“Stay out of what?”


Hutch looked worse than Starsky, beer in his hand, a cigarette in his fingers, his eyes blood-shot – the left one showing signs of a significant shiner. He walked slowly across the room, nodded to Huggy, and slid onto the stool halfway down the bar.


Huggy shook his head, working quickly through all the scenarios where this scene came out right, and coming up empty every time. He took another swig and held out the bottle to Hutch, who just lifted his beer.  Starsky ignored them both. Drained his glass. Rubbed his foot.


“I interrupt something?”


Huggy knew that voice. Hated that voice. The quiet storm. He took another drink. He wasn’t drunk enough. He needed to get very loaded very fast. A nice old-fashioned black-out would be a welcome relief to the growing tension that threatened to tear his bar apart. He knew what was coming next.


“Fuck you, Hutch.” Starsky found his voice.


“Tried that one already, buddy.”


Huggy raised a hand. “Well, this is where I came in.” He fumbled in his pockets for the keys. He pulled them out and slid them down the bar. “You two lock up. I’ll send you a bill tomorrow . . .”


Starsky grabbed the keys and slid them back down to Huggy, never taking his eyes off Hutch when he said, “You need to leave. Me and Hug are having a conversation.”


Huggy sighed. It used to be so easy. He wished this incarnation of his bar had a room upstairs. He settled back down on his stool. Maybe he should offer to blow them both. He felt a chuckle rise in his chest and hid it with a cough. Well, at least he felt less sober.


“Is that what you call it?” Hutch dropped his cigarette in his beer bottle, rose up and swiped a bottle of Jameson from the other side of the bar. He glanced down at Huggy. “Put it on my tab.”


Huggy held up both hands. What else was he going to do? He knew at this point he was just background noise. He knew his place in this familiar scenario. And it was that thought that finally compelled him into action.


“Stick it up your ass, Hutch.” He stood and moved toward Hutch. “And get the hell out of my bar.” He whirled around to Starsky. “And you too. Both of you get the fuck out of here.”


“Hug . . .” Hutch stood and faced him.


“You motherfuckers have disrespected me for the last time. You want to fuck up everything you ever had, everything that ever meant anything to you – well, there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about that. But I’m not gonna watch it. Not anymore.”


Huggy moved to the front door and flung it open. He turned back to see that they had both come into the middle of the bar, side by side, mouths open. “Now drag your sorry asses out of here before I forget we’re friends and fuck you up myself.” He could barely see now, the pent up frustration mixing with the booze into a molten core of bad ass.


Starsky took a step forward and Huggy held up a hand. “No – you don’t get to say another word, Starsky – you knew better. You know better.”


Hutch touched Starsky’s arm and nodded towards the door. They moved together slowly. This pissed off Huggy even more. He jammed his hands in his pocket as they passed him, in case he gave into the urge to shove his fists into their throats, and kicked the door shut the minute they were on the sidewalk.


He turned the lock, slapped off the lights, and then collapsed against the door, his chest heaving, hands shaking as he shoved the keys back in his pocket. He heard the slam of the Torino’s big heavy doors and the familiar squeal. He wondered if they left together. Then he smacked his leg in an effort to stop thinking like that. He was done wondering about those two. They were circling the drain and his momma had taught him better than to follow them down. Of course his momma was a junkie who also taught him how to buy a dime bag by the time he was seven, but that was another story.


He pulled himself up off the door and turned back to the shattered glass and the empty bottles and the hinky feeling that this night was the beginning of nothing good.



III. Where it Breaks Down


A few months later, on a busy Saturday night, he watched them walk through his door. He looked different. A tie around his neck and the wrong blonde on his arm. He recognized her right away. Didn’t know her name, but knew her place in the pecking order. Substitute pussy. He sighed and poured two shots of Jack Daniels, shoved two beers under his arm, and walked it all over to the two guys in the back booth. He didn’t have time for this tonight.


“Hey Hug – you got a table for me and this beautiful woman?”


Huggy just nodded to the table in the corner. Starsky flashed him that thousand watt smile and carefully led blonde number twelve to the table. He looked around to see if Anita was available, knew that she always left Starsky to him. He grimaced at the irony of that sentence, and ambled over – trying to look as nonchalant as possible. Failed.


“Where’s Hutch?”  Couldn’t help it. Always the first words out of his mouth.


“No idea – not his babysitter.” Starsky took the question better than Huggy thought, except the look that flashed right before the smile. Starsky knew. Huggy knew. Only . . .


“I want you to meet Kira Hardesty.” Only Kira didn’t know.


“Welcome to my establishment, Kira. Though why you’re out on a fine Saturday night with this joker is a mystery to me.”  Best to stick to his shtick – joke and jive he could do.


“Nice to finally meet you, Huggy. I’ve heard a lot about you.”


Huggy raised his eyebrow and waited until Starsky’s eyes met his. Starsky just grinned and wriggled his own eyebrows. Fucking asshole. The man had the balls of a giant.  


“Two of your best burgers and beers, Hug.” 


Starsky scooted his chair next to Kira and draped an arm around her. She smiled and reached down below the table. Starsky’s low chuckle chased Huggy back to the kitchen, where he stayed the rest of the night. Anita came in twice, saying that Starsky “needed something” and Huggy just sent out another round, claiming to have things to deal with.


Finally, after most of the rush was gone and Huggy couldn’t find another corner to scrub or another column to subtract, he walked out of the back room just as Starsky headed his way.


“You avoiding me, Hug?” Starsky moved in close, forcing Huggy back through the kitchen doors.


“It’s called a business, Starsky – doesn’t run itself, you know.” Huggy reached for a towel, wound it around his hands. Tried to look harried.


“Missed you.” Starsky leaned against a counter, crossed his arms. Smiled.


“Oh yeah, I’m sure you’re up nights. Cut the crap, will you? Shit got old years ago. Go take care of your lady . . . Kira what’s-her-blonde-ness.”

Starsky sighed. Settled in for a chat. Man either didn’t get or chose to ignore the subtle hint embedded in Huggy’s comment. His look. His entire body.


“Hardesty. She’s a cop.”


Huggy tried to look uninterested. “Uh, really? Another blonde cop. Quite a pattern you got going.”


“She’s good. Got promoted into Homicide. Likes my car.”


Huggy wasn’t sure what this conversation was about. “Well, that’s a switch.”


“Yeah . . .” Starsky trailed off. Huggy could tell he wanted to say something else, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the something else. Knew he couldn’t deal with the something else. Not with Starsky this close, this . . .


Starsky stood up straight, grabbed Huggy’s shoulders and pulled him close. “I’m sorry, Hug.”


Huggy lived for a moment in the embrace. The heat. The smell. Allowed it to carry him back to the other kitchen, to the other Saturday night, to the other conversation about a blond . . .




“I’m sorry, Hug.”


Huggy raked a hand down Starsky’s back, grabbed his ass and pulled him too close for anyone’s comfort. “Shut the hell up, Davey. I want conversation, I can go back in there . . .” he nodded towards the door into the bar.


“But I can’t talk to you like this.”


Huggy nipped at Starsky’s neck, grinding his hips into Starsky’s hips, which were pressed against the wall. He felt Starsky’s windbreaker sliding up against the bricks, Starsky’s erection against his hip bone. Could feel Starsky’s heart thudding against his own. He dipped his head and took Starsky’s bottom lip in his teeth.


Starsky growled from deep in his chest and the next thing Huggy knew, it was his back scraping against the wall, his jeans ripping open. His dick throbbing against a rough hand.


“That’s more like it,” he murmured in Starsky’s ear. “Gimme all you got, you nasty bastard.”


He reached down and unzipped Starsky’s pants and Starsky sucked in a breath and then fell hard against Huggy, writhing and shoving and knocking, trying to find the familiar friction, the sweet spot.


It was always like this. Hot and dirty and fast. Neither one had time anymore. Starsky was on the streets, Huggy was behind the bar. And tonight, the urgency carried something else. Something new. Something called “Hutch.”


Starsky came with a grunt, pinning Huggy to the wall, riding it out and then staying still against Huggy’s chest for a precious few seconds after. Huggy had lost any chance of his own the minute he had thought of Starsky’s new partner. Starsky’s new friend. Starsky’s . . .


“You okay, Hug?” Starsky stepped back and zipped his pants. Pulled down his windbreaker.


Huggy watched him for a moment, and then did what he was being asked to do. He shrugged his shoulders and he filed it all away under “things I do not think about” and he zipped up his pants and he cranked himself off the wall.


“If this dude is half as good as you say he is – I’ll be okay.” Huggy fought the urge to fall at Starsky’s feet, beg, plead, cry, suck his dick – anything to keep him from walking through that door. Because he knew that the minute they walked back into that bar – into reality – into the world that had a something called “Hutch” – he and Starsky would just be the thing he jacked off to on Sunday nights.


“He is, Hug.”


Huggy slapped him on the back. “Okay, then. But never forget who has your back, my man.”


“Never, Huggy – you know that.”



. . . and it’s just been so fucked up and it’s not right for us to drag you into it . . .”


He had missed most of what he figured was Starsky’s apology of the week, and so he held up his hand to stop the stale old crap coming out of that stupidly sexy mouth. Took a moment to trail a finger across the bottom lip of that stupidly sexy mouth. Leaned down and whispered into Starsky’s ear.


 “I get it, Starsk – really. But is there no other bar where you can drag these unfortunate females?” He nuzzled Starsky’s neck, giving into the urge for once; figured Starsky owed him a good grope for all the crap he put him through lately.


“And you still didn’t tell me where Hutch is tonight.” Huggy felt even better when Starsky tensed at the mention of Hutch. Assholes the both of them.  “Answer those questions and I might let you roll out that sad, old, sorry cart again.”


Starsky pushed against Huggy’s chest, but Huggy wouldn’t let go. He suffered through a few seconds of the scorching eye fuck, and then Starsky kissed him hard on the mouth, and the intensity forced Huggy to let go. Starsky broke off the kiss and took a step back. They stood still, staring.


“Quit pushing me at Hutch.” Starsky swiped a hand through his hair. “I mean it.”


“Oh, you mean it? You mean it? Well, fuck you. I didn’t ask to get dragged into your mess. You asked me a long time ago to step away. And I did. But you never did. You just keep coming back, over and over again.”


Starsky took a step closer, but Huggy had finally reached the end. He held up his hand, for what seemed like the hundredth time. “No. Stay away. My dick may not understand, but I can’t keep doing this tired dance with you. Just leave me the hell alone.”


He ducked around Starsky’s arm, and pushed open the door out into the bar.  And was surprised when the door pushed back. And then flung open to reveal blonde-nice-tits what’s her name – who had obviously been listening at the door.


“Oh, sorry, I was looking for Dave . . .”


Huggy frowned and finally took a good look at the woman. Attractive, in a white girl wonder bread kind of way. Good tits. Nice ass. Fluffy hair. But the eyes . . . not nice. Staring at him, challenging him. Nice job, Starsk – looks like you reeled in a shark this time. Serves you right.


“He’s in there – you’re welcome to him.” Huggy flipped a towel over his shoulder and headed for the cash register. “Tell him I’m about to close up. You two need to find somewhere else to play.”


He heard the door swing open, a muffled conversation, and the back door slammed. After about five minutes, he poked his head into the kitchen, relieved to find it empty, and walked over to lock the back door.


Took one minute to wonder where he took her, what he was telling Hutch about her, what she heard of their conversation, and why a beautiful woman could make his skin crawl. Took an extra thirty seconds debating whether to call Minnie, see what he could learn about this “Kira-cuda.” Chuckled at his cleverness. Then he forced himself to forget about the whole thing. He had a business to run. Those boys would just have to figure it out themselves. Or not.


He heard the familiar knock on the front door and was relieved when he opened it to find his friend, Lionel, who shoved two stogies and a half bottle of Glenlivet at his chest, and walked into the bar. Finally, the evening was looking up. All the worry about Starsky and the rotating blondes whispered away as he slapped Lionel on the back, and locked the door to the world.


“Saw the cop leave.” Lionel pulled his drumsticks out of his back pocket and hopped on a bar stool.

“He has a name, Lionel.” Huggy reached around for two glasses. Poured a rich man’s shot they clinked and toasted.


“Cops don’t have names, man – they have badges.”


Huggy smiled and reached in his pocket for matches. “You’re awfully twitchy tonight, brother.  And it’s more than that home-grown stuff you tried to kill me with last week.”


Lionel sighed and stuck the cigar in his mouth. Huggy lit his own and then bent down to light Lionel’s. They enjoyed the silence for a moment. Huggy allowed himself to relax, wished his friend would do the same.


“Spill it, my friend. I got nowhere to go.”


“It’s bad, real bad. The kind of information I got could get me out of a lot of trouble. But the kind of information I got? Could get me killed. Will get me killed. You gotta help me Huggy.”


Huggy nodded to every beat of Lionel’s words, eyes half closed. He poured them both another shot and then began carefully figuring out a plan to keep his friend alive and out of trouble. He was good at this part. He should probably stick to this part. As the night wore on, and the air grew thick, he couldn’t help but wonder if he should be figuring out a plan for his other friends. But then he remembered it was probably time for them to start taking care of themselves. He didn’t give them a chance in hell that they actually could. Or would. Or had the first clue how to start.  He just wished he didn’t have to watch it anymore. Made himself a deal that he wouldn’t watch it anymore. Should have made him feel better. Made him feel way worse.



IV. Where It Had to End


Huggy couldn’t remember when the bar looked better. All new shiny booths lined the walls, a new pool table, new glassware, a new sign above the bar, with Huggy’s spelled across the length in neon blue. The kitchen sounded busy, smelled divine, looked spotless. The tables were full, the jukebox had Al and Otis on constant repeat. He was a man on top of his game.


“It’s really great, Hug.” Anita came over and gave him a hug. “And you look good enough to eat.”


He glanced at himself in the mirror. From his white fedora to his white leather shoes, to the white tip on his silver cane, he did look good. Wished he could shake the feeling of doom that threatened to bring him down, though, here on his fourth grand opening of the third incarnation of his blood, sweat and tears.


Anita lifted his chin and gave him a kiss, then stood back and shook her head. “They’ll be here. Now you just send those clouds away, Huggy – won’t do you any good to stand here looking so fine and feeling like that – they’ll be here.”


Huggy gave Anita a swat. “Don’t you have work to do, woman? My bar to run?”


Anita chuckled. “That’s more like it.”


Huggy tried to follow Anita’s advice, circling the bar, collecting congratulations and bar tabs from all the regulars who had come to celebrate the re-opening of Huggy’s formerly The Pits formerly Huggy’s. After the insurance money had come through, he had decided to go back to the old name – Huggy’s. His first bar. His first love.  


He was talking to Bernie Glassman and his partner Mark Harris when he felt the air shift. Without turning around, he knew they were here. Felt the recognition roll like a wave through the bar. Watched Bernie and Mark turn to the door, their faces light up. He didn’t need the confirmation, though. He knew. He always knew.


“Hey Hug – whatsa guy gotta do to get a beer in here?”


He turned slowly, allowing himself time to calm his racing heart, as well as time for everyone to admire his outfit. He swallowed hard when those eyes hit him from across the room, laughing, intense, and something else.


“Jeez, Huggy – you could blind a guy – how white are you trying to be?”


Huggy took the length of the room like a runway model. Stopped in front of them, leaned down and wrapped his arms around Starsky’s chest, careful not to squeeze too hard. Noticed Hutch flinch, but then he reached up and put his hand over Hutch’s hand, which was resting on the handles of the chair.


“You, my friend, could use about two dozen of my special double chili cheeseburgers. Need to fatten you back up.”


Starsky shook his head. “Don’t I know it – Julia Childs here won’t let me eat anything with taste.”


Hutch leaned down and patted Starsky on the shoulder. “For your own good, Starsk.” Then he walked out from behind the wheelchair and pulled Huggy close.


“Good to see you, Hug. The bar looks great.”


Huggy had promised himself he was not going to cry, but felt the tears threaten when he hugged Hutch and caught a glimpse of Starsky looking at them both. Beaming. So happy. Would never know he was almost dead three months ago. Almost hell, he was dead three months ago.


When Huggy got that call – just a simple, it’s Starsky and it’s bad – from Captain Dobey, which sent him running to the hospital into the middle of a nightmare, he didn’t think things could get worse. When he came back to find his bar wrecked beyond repair, he knew he was wrong. Apparently the reach of James Gunther was long and fast. The only reason Huggy was alive to be wearing this sweet double breasted, double stitched double f-i-n-e suit tonight was that he had spent that entire week at the hospital.


And then he had spent the next week with Anita, whom he had found to be much more than just his waitress. Hadn’t spent a night without her since. She’s the one who convinced him to rebuild his bar. She and the sight of those two assholes, blown to bits back together. If he had known all it would have taken was a few bullet holes and a flat line, he would have shot them himself a long time ago.


He watched as the bar crowded around them. Heroes of the evening. He nodded as Dobey and his wife came through the door. Late as usual. Looking way too officious in his brown button down. But with a mighty fine bottle of single malt shoved under his arm. Watched Hutch, always behind Starsky’s wheelchair, always a hand on Starsky’s shoulder. They were hoping to be out of that contraption before the party, but Starsky was still too weak, although the docs said maybe another month. Watched Starsky lean into Hutch’s hand once in a while, probably checking to see if he was still there.


Was glad to see that Starsky looked up to find him in the crowd as well – always wriggling an eyebrow, rolling his eyes, blowing him a kiss. The man would never learn. Could never learn.


“That man flirting with you again, sugar?” Anita came up behind Huggy, wrapped her arm around him. “I really gotta do something about that. Got his own sweet thing, and always wanting to shake it out in my yard . . .”


Huggy laughed. “Oh girl, that man ain’t got no shake could match yours.”


Hutch walked up to them both, took the offered beer from the very attentive new bartender, and leaned against the bar.


“It’s really great, Huggy.”


Huggy smiled. “He doesn’t look bad either, Hutch. You’ve done real good with our boy.”


Anita poked Hutch in the stomach. “Now if you could stop him from trying to steal my man . . .”


Hutch choked a bit on his beer. Looked at Huggy. Huggy just threw his head back and laughed at the sheepish grin on Hutch’s face. Which was a beauty.


“Uh, well Anita, I  . . .”


Huggy rescued Hutch – for the hundredth time in his sorry assed blond life. “Anita, what Hutch is trying to say is that it will be a cold day in hell before you can get David Starsky to stop flirting and shaking and baking. It’s just his nature. Sexy assed mother.”



V. Where it Will Remain


A few hours later, the party wound down to him alone, drinking the special bottle of single malt, thinking. Anita had gone upstairs, with a kiss and a warning not to be too long, and he had nodded and slid into the back booth. To brood. To contemplate this night, this bar. This life.


He didn’t even look up when he heard the back door creak open. Wheels might have replaced the swagger, but he would always know when that man entered his bar.


“Bar’s closed.” He poured himself two fingers.


“Not healthy – drinking alone.” Starsky rolled up the booth too fast, and just caught his fingers on the edge of the table. Huggy held a hand out and caught Starsky’s shoulder.


“How many times you wreck this thing?” Huggy shook his head and, after he was sure Starsky wasn’t headed into the tables or the bar or down the basement stairs, slid the glass over to him.


“I don’t wreck my rides.” Starsky winked and took a swallow. And coughed. And choked. He bent forward, his face red, his hands gripping the end of the table. “Damn,” he managed when the coughing subsided a bit, “what is that?”


“That, my friend, is a grown-up drink.”


“That, my friend, is poison.”


Huggy took the glass and drained it. Folded his arms and stared at Starsky. “So . . . you forget something?”


Starsky reached over and put his hand over Huggy’s arm. “Just wanted to say thanks.”


“Said thanks the last time you left.” Huggy wondered where Hutch had been stashed. Wondered what Starsky really wanted.


“Wanted to say sorry, too.”


Huggy sighed. “Said sorry about eight hundred times the last time I saw you.”


“Mean it this time.”


“Didn’t mean it all the other eight hundred times?”


Starsky frowned and blew out a breath. Huggy remained still. Let the man squirm. If this was going to be the happily ever after speech, he should work for it.


“Hug, c’mon. Don’t act like you don’t know why I’m here.”


“It’s no act.”


Starsky looked around the empty bar. “You got any beer?”


“Your handler allow you beer?”


“Fuck off.” Starsky started to roll away, but Huggy caught the arm rest.


“Now who’s acting like he doesn’t know why he’s here? Put on your brakes – I’ll get you a beer.”


Huggy brought back two beers and another glass. Figured he had about half an hour before Hutch wandered in, so he might as well be ready. Starsky smiled at the extra glass.


“He’s dropping off Sweet Alice.”


Huggy slid back into the booth. “Now that could take a while. She was looking, well, very lady-like tonight, if I do say so.”


Starsky popped the top off the beer. “She always looks lady-like. And Hutch will always be looking.”


Huggy raised an eyebrow. “And that’s okay with you?”


“Oh, it’s okay. I’m not going to say there haven’t been times I haven’t wanted to run her in, lock her up – the way he looks at her – but that’s pretty much over.” Starsky tapped his chest with the beer bottle. “This ticker doesn’t have time for that kind of stress anymore.”


Huggy held up his bottle and Starsky clinked and drank.


“Truth that, my friend. Now, besides getting all groovy with Hutch’s wandering eye, what else you need to say this late at night, this late in the game, this late date?”


“I told you. I just want you to hear me this time. I’m really sorry, Hug. Really. About a lot of shit. About all of it.”


“All of it?”


“You want me to make a list?”


“You want me to get you some paper?”


Starsky smiled and shook his head. “I’m just going to ignore you and say my piece, okay? Then you can do what you need to do.”


Huggy leaned over and laid a hand on Starsky’s arm. “Anita would kill me if I did what I need to do . . .” He trailed a finger across Starsky’s hand.


Starsky pulled his hand away, tucked it against the sides of his chair. “And Hutch would kill me for breaking the rehab rules. And you would kill me for not being able to get it up. And then I’d have to kill you so you wouldn’t tell anyone I couldn’t get it up.”


Huggy snorted his beer. “I think getting shot made you funnier.”


Starsky chuckled. “That’s what Hutch keeps saying.”


Huggy sighed. He loved this man. Both of them. Leaned his head back and let the bar and the booze and the man next to him and the woman upstairs swirl together in his brain. In his head. In his heart. He was a lucky man. No way round that truth. He finally sat up and saw Starsky just staring at him. Decided he was going to have to be the one who did the happily ever after part. He hoped Starsky could take it.


“So, you sit here wanting to apologize. For what? For fucking me senseless too many times to count? Back when we could lose count – did it so much. No need. For teaching me that thing you do with your tongue, which has served me well for the past ten years or so, including that angel sleeping above us? No way. For telling me the truth about Hutch. Right from the beginning? No fucking way – most righteous thing you did for me. For taking damn near a decade to get your shit figured out, dragging me right down the middle of misery highway with you and him for way too long? Okay, maybe. For trying to use me to get at him, to get at me? To get off? Yes, I accept that one. For Lionel and all the shit that went down with that? Already paid for that one. We all did. Paid way too much. But I’ll accept that one, too.”


“But damn, Starsky. That’s it. You dig? We’ve been at this game too long now. You finally got your shit together – thanks to Smith and Wesson and me and Hutch. I got a new bar, a woman who doesn’t care that you eye fuck me every time you come in here, or that I have to know where, what and how every minute of every day you and Hutch are out on the streets.” 


Starsky opened his mouth to respond, but Huggy held up a hand. He was having church now, heading for the home stretch. The benediction. No one was going to stop him.


“So we have to figure out a way to lay it all to rest. To put it to bed.” Huggy paused as Starsky wriggled his eyebrows. “Down, Fido. What I mean is – it’s like we’ve moved past it everywhere but here. In the middle of the night. In this bar – you and me. We keep chasing ghosts. And we don’t need to.”


Huggy heard the door creak and knew his sermon now had an audience of two. “You and me – we’ll always be this fucked up mess. But it’s a beautiful mess. And you and Hutch – well you’re this beautiful piece of art. All balance and composition and light and dark. So quit being sorry all the goddamn time and regretting things you can’t do a damn thing about and start bringing all your new doctor friends into my bar. Need to class up my clientele. Need to pay my bills. Need to start having children . . .”




So in the end, the beginning melted into the middle and what remained carried them through the rest of it. And after a while none of them thought about that time. Much. Except on those nights when it all slowed down enough and the past echoed back in through an open window and they reached for the phone at the exact same time and the whispered, “hiya,” “hiya yourself,” made it real again. Made it better. And that was okay.









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