Road Trip

by Audrey

aaesposito@yahoo.com

 

 

As they sped through Illinois on I-70, he hung his arm from the window and pivoted his wrist back and forth, feeling the cool, spicy tingle as his hand sliced through the wind.

He had a passing fancy: if Hutch stuck his arm out the driver’s side, would the vehicle take off like a glider into the air?

 

****

 

Four days earlier . . .   

 

“You can have the dresser. She woulda wanted that.”

“Thanks, buddy.”

The answer was automatic. Starsky had offered him the dresser three times already. The only difference this time was they were on a plane to New York, instead of back at home.

But Hutch had more immediate concerns. Nick was supposed to be meeting them at the airport. Given Nick’s record of reliability, they would be lucky if they made it to the apartment before midnight.

“Nick knows the flight is a half-hour late, right?” he asked.

Starsky was looking out the window, lost in thoughts that obviously had nothing to do with travel logistics.

“Starsk?”

“Huh?”

“Nick knows we’re running late?”

“I called him from LAX. You need to relax.” He turned his head back toward the window.

Hutch couldn’t relax. Someone had to make sure this ran smoothly, and that someone wasn’t the Starsky brothers. David Starsky was consumed by grief. Nicholas Starsky was consumed by, well, whatever it was that passed for life’s concerns in Nicky’s world.

Nicky’s World. That would make a good TV show, Hutch mused. Science fiction. Horror maybe.

He rooted around in the seat pocket in front of him for something to amuse himself. He came up with a set of headphones for the in-flight music and a card detailing the plane’s many safety features in English, Spanish, French and German.

El asiento es un aparato de flotacion,” he read aloud. He looked at the accompanying picture: a cartoon man grabbing his cartoon seat cushion and jumping from the plane into a body of cartoon water.

He put the card back into the seat pocket and grabbed Starsky’s hand, letting go after a brief squeeze.

His partner turned to him with a puzzled look.

“Flotation device,” Hutch answered.

 

At the funeral a month before, the brothers had made plans to empty their mother’s apartment of belongings. She hadn’t lived there for months anyway, having spent her final days in a nursing home.

Originally the plan was that Nick would do it all, separating out the things that his brother wanted, putting them in storage. Hutch had almost kept a straight face as Starsky explained the plan to him. Almost.

“So as I understand it,” he said, barely repressing a laugh as he and Starsky had coffee at a late-night diner near the funeral home, “you are actually going to trust your brother first of all to figure out what you want to keep . . . ” he ticked off his points on his fingers, “ . . . and second of all not to hock it before you come back for it.”

Starsky started laughing, the long day’s events catching up with him. “A little too optimistic, huh?”

“Just a tad.”

“Well, we can’t bring it all home with us tomorrow.”

That was true enough. Starsky’s mood sobered visibly. Hutch waved down the waitress for their check.

“We can rent a truck,” Hutch said. He tossed a few bills on the counter next to the check. “And come back for it later. How long is your mom’s rent paid up?”

“No idea. I’ll ask Nicky tomorrow before we go.”

“We can fly down again when we can swing the time off. Rent a truck in New York, load it all up, and drive back.”

“Road trip?” Starsky questioned.

Hutch considered for a moment. “Yeah. I guess that’s what you could call it. A road trip.”

Starsky nodded and slid off his stool. Hutch followed, gently steering his friend to the door.

 

 Rumbling, shuddering, then pushing through the clouds—the takeoff pressed Starsky back into his seat. His first instinct was to tense up—it was against his nature to let anything, including physics, get the upper hand. Accepting the futility, he relaxed his neck. The clamor of propulsion filled his ears. For a moment it was just he and the plane, evading the bonds of memory and of the patchwork city below.

 

At her apartment, they slept on the floor of the front room, the three of them, sleeping bags unfurled amid stacked boxes, empty beer bottles and crumpled potato chip bags. The extra company didn’t bother Hutch overmuch; the death of Starsky’s mother had kept them out of each other’s beds, not to mention each other’s heads, for weeks now.

“It’s funny how it still smells like her,” Starsky said in the darkening gloom.

Hutch heard Nick shift his position. “Remember she’d make sauerbraten, and the vinegar would smell up the joint for days? I can’t understand how it always tasted so good when it smelled like shit.”

The brothers snickered in shared memory. Hutch put his hands behind his head, not understanding the appeal of cheap meat soaked in sweetened vinegar, not wanting to. Instead he watched the dark heads bob together in rare camaraderie, backlit by the pearly moonlight flowing through the front room window.

 

“Hey Hutch, I didn’t wanna bug Davey about this, but . . . ”

“Yeah?”

“ . . . the truck rental cost a little more than I expected.”

Yeah.   Right.   Of course it did. “How much more?”

“A hundred bucks.”

He reached into his pocket for the wad of twenties he was carrying for expenses on the road. He peeled off five. Then he peeled off five more and handed the cash over.

“For your troubles,” Hutch said icily.

Nick tensed, insult and relief battling for supremacy in his psyche. Then self-preservation instincts took over. “You don’t know the half of it, my man,” Nick said flippantly, taking the money and clapping his hand on Hutch’s upper arm before walking toward the truck to bid his brother goodbye.

 

Hutch had lost the coin toss, or maybe that was won . . . in any case, he was driving first, leaving Starsky to stare out the window and listen to the polluting echoes of internal combustion in the Battery and Holland tunnels.

It felt, well, anticlimactic. Or something.

Shouldn’t he be feeling something else? Wistful nostalgia as they hauled his mother’s belongings cross-country? Grief at leaving his childhood home for the last time? Anger at Hutch for giving his brother money? He’d seen the whole thing, including the tension in his partner’s back and the offense in Nicky’s eyes as the exchange took place.

But he felt nothing except the exhaustion of anticipation as the truck wound through New York highways toward the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. He couldn’t even muster up the energy to be pissed off at Hutch, who was muttering under his breath as his head swiveled between the over-folded map and the unfamiliar road ahead.

 

It wasn’t that he wanted Starsky to be upset. There was plenty of crying and carrying on at the funeral, almost more than his stoic Midwestern upbringing could bear. But he was increasingly puzzled as they made their way through what had to be the longest fucking state in the union.

Starsky wasn’t talking. Or sighing. Or reading, normally a favorite pastime on long car rides. Hutch knew he was awake. He could always feel the man’s presence and moods as surely as some dogs could predict seizures or Collandra could find a yellow rose. But at this moment in time, he sensed no real thoughts behind the face, no processing of the scenery before them.

“Pennsylvania has to be the longest fucking state in the union,” he said, in hopes of prompting a response.

Starsky turned away from the window and fiddled with the radio tuner. “No fucking radio reception either.”

Well, it was a start. But not much of one. Starsky turned his head back to the window. Hutch turned his attention back to the road.

“Deer,” Starsky said a few minutes later, pointing at the side of the road.

A gaggle? A herd? A bunch? Hutch settled on a bunch. A bunch of deer gathered on the shoulder. Hutch quickly swerved to avoid them.

“Remember Bambi’s mother?” Starsky asked.

“I remember she died,” he replied, unthinking, and then mentally kicked himself.

Starsky didn’t even flinch. “After she got shot, Bambi wandered through the woods yelling for his mother. Ma says . . . said . . . I was hysterical. She had to take me out of the theater.”

Hutch had a fleeting picture in his mind of a curly-headed little boy, tears streaking his face, being towed out of the theater by his mother.

“You know, she took me in the alley . . . I remember she yelled at me. Said I was ruining the movie for the other people. She said it was just pretend, and I’d better calm down or Dad would slap the crap out of me when he got home for wasting the ticket money. Then she took me back into the theater since Nicky was still in there.”

Starsky paused and fiddled briefly with the radio knob, turning it off again after nothing but static filled the cab.

“I don’t remember crying in the movie much,” he continued. “But I remember that alley, and Ma being all mad at me.”

“It didn’t bother Nick?”

“I don’t really remember. But I guess not.” Starsky reached into a bag behind the seat for a pop. “The thing is,” he said as he withdrew his pocketknife from his jeans, “it stuck with me, what Mom said.”

He unfolded the bottle opener from the knife and opened the pop bottle. “And when Dad died, I tried my damnedest not to cry. At least not in front of her and Nick. I didn’t want to . . . I don’t know . . . ruin the movie. You know?”

He took a swig from the bottle and held it out to Hutch. His partner grabbed it and drank deeply, ignoring the burning in his throat and eyes.

 

The soft mouth slid down his hip, tonguing gently across his stomach, edging down to his groin. He grabbed the brass headboard behind him, gripping tightly and groaning as hands settled on his balls, hefting them, lightly squeezing them. His pelvis pistoned upward helplessly, his cock seeking pressure, finding only air. The hands continued their attentions, one tickling through his pubic hair, the other massaging the area just underneath his balls, near his anus . . . then around . . . then in.

The mouth, which had briefly disappeared, came back to give the tip of his cock a quick suck before moving its way back up to his stomach, continuing the back and forth journey . . . cock . . . stomach . . . cock . . . stomach . . . until his only thought was to drive his dick into something. Anything. The mouth obliged, settling on him, enfolding him like a womb and accommodating his thrusts, deeper into the warm wetness, deeper, his whole life becoming the mouth on him.

His hands released the headboard and reached downward, grabbing the hair that belonged to the head that belonged to the warm, wonderful mouth. The hair—brittle and faded—came off in his hands. The face looked up, revealing sharp cheekbones and bloodshot blue eyes in emaciated sockets. He let go, thrusting into orgasm as the tears overwhelmed him.

“Wake up,” the face said.

“What?”

“Wake up. We’re stopping for gas.”

He woke up. He was in the truck, his sweaty face plastered against the sticky vinyl seat. Hutch was looking at him quizzically.

“Dream,” Starsky said by way of explanation. “Damn.” He was breathing hard, as if he had just run down a perp. The odor of his musk was overwhelming. Surely Hutch must smell it. Feel it.

But if he did, he showed no signs. “About your mom?” Hutch asked.

“What?”

“The dream. Was it about your mom?”

“No.”

He turned his head away, wiping his face with his shirtsleeve as they pulled into the gas station parking lot.

 

Starsky took over the driving. Hutch stretched out the best he could, long legs thrust under the dash, head askew on the headrest, an elbow pretzeled out the window.

Starsky grinned. “You look like Pops in the Studebaker.”

“I thought those were pretty roomy.”

“Sure, the sedan was. We had the coupe. Four of us squeezing into the front seat. Ma sat between Nick and me, so we wouldn’t fidget and fight.”

Hutch shifted in his seat. “Why did you have a coupe then?”

“Got it for free from Joe Durniak’s nephew. We were short on cash, and when Uncle Joey heard he sent the kid over with the car. Something about he’d just wrap it around a tree anyway.”

Hutch shifted again, uneasily remembering his private conversation with Durniak so many years ago.

Oblivious, Starsky continued. “I remember when it pulled into the driveway . . . you remember the funky shape those things had? All huge up front and those weird quarter panels? It was a ’47, and still looked like the day it came out of the factory. I guess the kid took good care of it. I still wonder how Joey got him to give it up, but then again Joey always took care of Pops.”

Why? Hutch mused. Why did Joey always take care of Pops?

“’Cuz Dad was an idealist. And idealism doesn’t put food on the table.”

Hutch started as Starsky answered the unasked question. He masked his surprise by shifting his cramped legs. His gaze was drawn out the window. Signs for Cleveland began to appear.

“I guess we’ll stop there for supper and a hotel.”

“Supper?” Starsky teased. “Can we have dinner too?” It was an old argument, and an endless source of amusement to the East Coast native.

“Ha ha,” Hutch said dryly. It was nice to see his partner smile, even over something as asinine as Midwest idioms.

“How does that work again? Dinner is supper and lunch is breakfast? Or something like that?”

“I’ve explained it before. Dinner is lunch. Supper is dinner.”

“Why can’t they call lunch lunch and dinner dinner?”

“Just to piss you off.”

“Did you know that Cleveland is famous for its mustard?”

“I don’t like mustard.”

“You eat it on hotdogs.”

“Not lately.”

“It’s brown, not yellow.”

“I don’t care if it’s purple. I don’t like mustard.”

“Supposedly it tastes better brown.”

“Starsk . . . ” Hutch growled.

“Look it up in the Mobil Travel Guide, behind the seat.”

Hutch grabbed the large travel book, and ignoring his partner’s request, perused the list of hotels instead. “Get off at the second Cleveland exit. There’s a Holiday Inn there that looks cheap.”

“Aye aye Captain,” Starsky said. Hutch couldn’t help but smile in return.

 

Later in bed, they watched Johnny Carson. Then the late movie. Then the late-late movie. Then the test pattern, although by then Hutch was fast asleep. Starsky got up and switched off the TV. Moving slowly through the darkness, he sat down in the nubby chair by the window and imagined the rise and fall of the sheets as his partner breathed.

 

Hutch could hear the conversation as he pumped the truck full of gas.

“Nick? Yeah, it’s me. We’re in Indiana now.”

Pause.

“Well, you wanted an update.”

Pause.

“Yeah, we got it.”

Pause.

“That’s bullshit. Absolute bullshit. You said it was okay. Now it’s not?”

Pause.

“All right. All right already. I’ll ship it back when we get home.”

Pause.

“Yeah, love you too.”

Hutch busied himself with the gas cap as Starsky walked from the payphone back to the truck. Starsky got into the passenger seat without a word and slumped against the door. Hutch finished up and climbed into the cab.

Normally, Hutch would ask about the conversation. Or Starsk would volunteer the information. But his mood had been unpredictable lately.

“How’s your brother?” Hutch asked circumspectly as he put the truck in gear and prepared to take off.

“Fine. We accidentally took a set of silverware he wanted. I’ll ship it back to him when we get home.”

“The one with the rosette pattern?”

“Yeah.”

“He said you could have that. I was there during the conversation.”

“We misunderstood. He wanted it.”

“I didn’t misunderstand.”

“Let it go.”

“Why the fuck should I let it go?” Hutch said, irate now, slamming the truck back into park as he spoke. “The little prick said you could have it. Now he’s taking it back. He’ll just sell the fucking things anyway, what does he need with a bunch of spoons?”

“You don’t know a fucking thing about it,” Starsky said angrily. “He wants the silverware. It means something to him. She’d want him to have it.”

“It doesn’t meant shit to him, and you know that.”

“No. What I do know is that my brother, my mother’s other son, wants his mother’s silverware to remember her by. He can have the fucking silverware. It’s no skin off my nose. It shouldn’t be any offa yours.”

“It’s the principle of the thing. He takes advantage of you. And you let him.”

“You don’t know nothin’ about it,” Starsky said, his voice ragged.

“I can’t sit by and let him always do this to you.”

“Well you’ll just fucking have to. He just lost his mother for crying out loud.”

“So did you, asshole.”

They sat there for a moment, Starsky breathing fast, Hutch's pale cheeks stained with red, angry blotches.

“Starsk . . . ” Hutch started.

“I know. Me too.”

“But I can’t turn a blind eye.”

“I’m not asking you to.”

“I love you.”

“And I love him.”

Starsky grabbed an oily rag and scrubbed at his face. Hutch blew out a deep breath, put the truck back into gear and steered them out of the truck stop, back onto the highway.

 

As they sped through Illinois on I-70, he hung his arm from the window and pivoted his wrist back and forth, feeling the cool, spicy tingle as his hand sliced through the wind.

He had a passing fancy: if Hutch stuck his arm out the driver’s side, would the vehicle take off like a glider into the air?

 

“Sixty miles to St. Louis.”

“So?”

“Bowling hall of fame is in St. Louis.”

“So?”

“Earl Anthony? Dick Weber? Dave Davis?”

“Again, I have to say . . . so?”

“Aw, c’mon Hutch.”

“We weren’t going to stop until Kansas City.”

“But there’s nothing to see in Kansas City.”

“Sure there is. I’ve got a list of jazz clubs.”

“There’s jazz in St. Louis.”

Hutch offered a noncommittal grunt.

“Miles Davis. Josephine Baker. Scott Joplin,” Starsky supplied.

“They’re all dead now, dummy.”

“There’s probably even a jazz hall of fame.”

Another noncommittal grunt.

“Let’s deal. I find you a jazzy-bluesy hall of fame, you’ll visit the bowling place.”

Hutch considered for a moment. It probably had taken Starsky weeks to memorize the names of Davis, Baker and Joplin, just for this moment. It was sweet in a weird sort of way. He couldn’t let that effort go unanswered.

“I’m going to regret this. But . . . deal.”

“Great!” Starsky bounced in his seat.

There were a few minutes of silence as the truck cut a swath through the flat, corn-fed highways of Illinois.

“Hutch?” he asked suddenly.

“Uh huh?”

“Ya think Miles Davis and Dave Davis are related?”

 

This time Hutch didn’t even make it to the test pattern, instead drifting off to sleep sometime during Carson’s chat with a lady who collected oddly shaped leaves. Starsky switched off the TV and navigated the darkness to the closet. He grabbed an extra blanket and pillow and settled into the under-stuffed chair by the window. Lights from the pool poured between the open curtains and illuminated the figure on the bed, lying on his back, snoring softly.

Starsky briefly wondered at Hutch sleeping on his back until he saw the telltale hump near his knees. His partner had put a pillow under his legs to ease his back pain, pain that he had successfully hidden from Starsky all day. Starsky made a mental note to do the majority of the driving the next day.

I should have known he was in pain. I should have felt it. He stared at the other man, fascinated at the way the minimal light reflected off the blond’s face, his long, pale eyelashes a soft scattering of speckles on his cheeks. His mind wandered, and soon he joined his partner in sleep.

 

Long arms encircled his waist as the figure knelt down between his legs. A brief embrace, a transference of warmth, then the hands wandered, one upward toward his chest and the other down toward his dick. Starsky arched his shoulders against the chair as the hands worked his nipples into hard nubs, his cock into a rigid shaft, drops of pre-come leaking from the tip. He moaned, and the hand on his chest paused, briefly making its way up to his lips, silencing him with a soft touch before coming back down to join the other hand. A skillful thumb rubbed the warm fluid around the tip of his penis as the other hand applied pressure to the base.

An electric buzz began to build deep in his stomach, filling his ears, drowning out the lapping of water in the pool, the soft conversation from an anonymous hotel guest down the hall. He thrust into the hands and they obliged, encircling the shaft, gripping it at the bottom. The buzz exploded into a pant of sweet relief as he came, warmth spraying over his belly. He looked down gratefully at the figure between his legs, smiling at the blue eyes that stared back at him from beneath a crooked wig.

 Starsky awoke in a cold sweat, sticky where he had creamed through his boxers and onto the rough wool blanket. Shaking, he got up and stumbled to the bathroom to clean up, fumbling for a towel, running the water in the dark so he wouldn’t have to see himself in the mirror.

Back in bed, he resisted the urge to turn the TV on. Hutch stirred in his sleep and turned on his side, dislodging his carefully placed pillows. Starsky looked over at the other man, wondering if he would feel his partner’s pain tomorrow.

 

In the end, Hutch got his wish. Granted, it was when the truck broke down about fifteen miles over the Missouri-Kansas border. But, he reasoned, Kansas City, Kansas was close enough to Kansas City, Missouri as made no odds. As they stood on the side of the road, hood up awaiting help, he soon realized the folly of his thinking.

Starsky was having similar thoughts. “What a dump,” he said, looking around them.

“You’re not kidding,” Hutch said, shaking his head.

“I can’t believe it’s the same town.”

“It’s not the same town.”

“Same name. Next to each other. Same town.”

It wasn’t worth arguing. Hutch paced to the back of the truck and sat on the tailboard. He picked idly at a rough spot on his pants. Starsky messed futilely with the engine for a few minutes, then joined his partner on the tailboard.

“It’s Sunday, you know. No one is going to help us on a Sunday.”

“It’s a major expressway, Starsk. Someone helpful will drive by.”

Starsky slapped at Hutch’s hand. “Stop picking at that before it makes a hole.”

“Yes Mom.” Hutch stopped picking at his pants. He sat for a moment, then sprang up again, hugging himself in the chill air. “Wet spring,” he said.

Starsky leaned his head back, resting it on the diamond plate step above the tailboard. “How’s your back?” he asked.

Hutch sat back down and leaned his head as well, contemplating the overcast skies. “Been worse, I guess.” He blinked a few times as a breeze caught his face at just the right angle. “Been better, too.”

“Kind of where I am right now. Been worse. Been better.”

“Tell me.”

“I miss her.”

“Of course you do.”

“But I wasn’t there for her. In the end. Do you think she’s mad at me?”

Hutch’s breath caught in his throat.

“’Cuz she had a temper, you know. She was a great mom, but she was human. And she had a temper to beat the band. And her own ideas of how things should be. If I was her, I’d be mad.”

“Mad at what?”

“I wasn’t there. When she was dead. When she was dying. Nicky called to say ‘this is it’ and by the time we got out there, she was already gone.”

Hutch slid over on the tailboard, close enough for worn corduroy to brush a blue-jeaned knee.

“You know, I didn’t see her at her worst. Nick did. When she was all skinny and her hair was falling out and she was puking and shitting all over the place. He was there for that.”

Hutch had his own ideas where Nick Starsky had been throughout this ordeal. He kept that opinion to himself.

“They let me see her before the funeral. She was shrunken down to nothing. A little old lady, only even more little. Her face was like a skeleton. She wore this awful wig. If I’d known, I’d a sent her money for a better wig. She deserved a better wig . . . ”

Hutch draped an arm around shaking shoulders. Starsky leaned into the arm.

That’s how a tow truck driver found them five minutes later, Hutch sitting on the tailboard, one hand in his partner’s hair, the other on his back. “Give us a minute,” he stage-whispered as he continued to mutter uselessly comforting phrases in the vicinity of Starsky’s ear.

 

Hutch dropped the keys into a dropbox at the mechanic’s front office. A phone call to the truck rental business back in New York had resulted in detailed instructions: get the truck towed to an “approved” mechanic, get an estimate, call the company Monday with the bad news. As it was currently noon on a Sunday, an estimate was not immediately forthcoming. The partners checked into a hotel across the street.

“Anything to do around here?” Starsky asked the front desk clerk, a thirtyish brunette wearing a well-filled tube top and peasant skirt.

“I could probably think of something,” she said, winking at the two men.

“I have no doubt you could,” Hutch said, smiling back. He took the room keys from the woman’s hand. “Will you be around later if we need . . . directions?”

“I’m here until midnight,” she replied, matching his smile. “And what about you?” she directed her question at Starsky, who was hovering over a brochure rack.

“Oh, I’m pretty good at finding my way around,” he said, flashing a grin. “But I may need other . . . assistance . . . later.” He fanned himself with a brochure. “C’mon Hutch, let’s get going.”

The two left the lobby, barely holding straight faces until they entered their room.

“I still got it, huh?” Starsky said, a cocky grin lighting up his face.

“You? She was all over me like stink on shit,” Hutch countered.

“Like ‘stink on shit’?” Starsky said, jumping up and pouncing on him like a kid in a little league game. “Like what?”

“You heard me,” Hutch laughed, trying to reach around to tickle his partner. The bed squeaked and sagged warningly. “Stop bouncing or we’ll have to explain a broken bed.”

Starsky obeyed, flopping down next to Hutch, his head on the blond’s thigh. “You know,” he said softly, wistfully, “you can have her if you want her.”

Hutch stuffed an extra pillow under his head and reached for the TV remote. “I don’t want her,” he responded, using his free hand to draw his partner up toward the pillow.

 

The truck needed a new water pump. They decided to wait the two days it would take for the repair rather than undergo the physically and emotionally painful task of moving the truck’s contents into another rental.

They spent most of their time across the river in Kansas City, Missouri. The hotel desk clerk joined them one night, sharing drinks and dinner at one of the jazz clubs on Hutch’s list, but—to her surprise and disappointment—nothing else.

 

“Molly Brown’s house is in Denver,” Starsky said as he flipped through the Mobil Travel Guide.

Hutch steered around a set of construction barriers on I-70. “Wasn’t she unsinkable?” he joked.

“Ha ha. That was the movie. This is the real thing. It says here they’re restoring her house.”

“Big deal.”

Starsky flipped through the guide some more. “How about gold mining?”

“At Molly Brown’s house?”

“I’m serious, dummy. Just west of Denver. They got a gold mine and you can get panning lessons and keep everything you find.”

Hutch was intrigued in spite of himself. “Does anyone find anything big?” he asked.

“No idea. But we gotta stop anyway. Might as well check it out.”

 

They laughed and snorted like boys on a field trip as they panned, shouting when they found something shiny, exclaiming “oh man” when the shiny objects turned out to be a pop-top or piece of grit.   

Much later, conjuring up images of the afternoon, Starsky would remember the sunlight, thin and high in the spring sky, glinting off the water. “There’s gold in them thar hills,” Hutch had hollered goofily for the millionth time, and Starsky had smiled at the image of a lanky, blond schoolboy splashing in the water’s reflection and thought, “Yes. Yes there is.”

 

“Las Vegas, two hundred miles,” Starsky said.

Hutch bit his tongue; he could read just fine, and he didn’t understand his partner’s compulsion to repeat every directional sign and billboard he saw.

“You wanna crash there for the night?” Starsky asked.

“Too expensive.” And too many memories. Of Jack Mitchell. Of their last, disastrous trip.

Starsky appeared ignorant of Hutch’s discomfort. “Vicky lived in Henderson, last I talked to her. It’s a burb. Probably cheaper to stay there anyway, and I can look her up when we get there.” He started rooting through the Mobil Travel Guide, the decision already made in his mind.

Vicky? Leave it to Starsky to keep up a correspondence with a dancer they’d met years ago. “Fine with me,” he said. It wasn’t. Starsky still wasn’t himself. And Hutch wasn’t sure that a visit with an old flame was going to make things better.

 

Luckily for Hutch anyway, Vicky was not home. The partners found a room in a cheap dive motor inn off the highway. The desk clerk was unpleasant and suspicious. The window screens were torn, letting in plenty of gnats along with the fresh air.

Starsky tossed his backpack on the bed and lay down, grabbing at the remote. He stabbed at the buttons with grumpy abandon. “I was really hopin’ for a nice dinner and stuff,” he said dejectedly. “I can’t believe she’s gone on vacation.”

“She has a kid,” Hutch reminded him. “I’m sure they don’t get away too often.” He ducked under the remote cord and tossed his own belongings on one of the chairs by the window.

“Fuck!”

Hutch whirled around. His partner had whipped the remote to the floor and was now rooting through his bag.

“You mad at that remote?” Hutch said tentatively, not knowing if gentle humor was the way to go in this situation.

“Nothing on.” Hutch couldn’t see his face, but he could hear the tears of frustration. “And I left my book in the truck.”

Without a word, Hutch walked out of the room and headed for the parking lot. He stood outside the truck for a moment, taking deep breaths before fishing Starsky’s latest reading material out from under the passenger seat and going back.

Starsky was lying on the bed, clothed only in his underwear, hands behind his head. Hutch handed him the book wordlessly. Starsky nodded his thanks and patted the bed next to him. Grabbing some extra pillows from the other bed, Hutch tossed them next to Starsky. He lay down on his side next to the dark-haired man, long legs stretched out, watching his partner slowly form words, like a sculptor forms clay.

“I guess it’s nice they could go on vacation,” Starsky started. He looked over at Hutch. “We never went on vacation much. Except Coney Island. I ate so many hotdogs once, I puked on the train.”

“I see your eating habits haven’t changed much,” Hutch said, smiling.

“Dad used to say I had a hollow leg, the way I put food away. I was a short little skinny shit. But I ate like a linebacker. Nicky, now he wasn’t much of an eater. Lived off of noodles, as far as I could tell.”

Starsky picked up his book and thumbed restlessly through it. “Ma wasn’t much of one of those punch and cookie moms. She was too busy cleaning our building. That’s how we covered rent—Mom cleaned when Dad was broke. Which was pretty much all the time. Her hands were in horrible shape from the lye and stuff she used to scrub the steps. It must have hurt to cook. But she managed. Man, she could cook up a storm, my mom.”

He put the book down again, looking up at the ceiling. “Dad would take leftovers with him the next day, and the guys he worked with would say that his leftovers were better than their firstovers.”

Starsky waved absently at a gnat that buzzed overhead. “You know,” he said suddenly, “I think Dad and Nicky killed Ma long before she died.”

Hutch’s eyebrows raised.

“Dad was so into the union thing and making things better for workers, he wasn’t so much involved in making things better at home. When he got killed and Joey told Ma who did it, it was like she died that day. Then later, Nicky started having all his troubles. The night she bailed him out for the first time, she died all over again.”

He swiped a tear away angrily. “Here she went and sent me away to keep me out of trouble. To give me a new life. And then he goes and kills her over and over. Maybe I wasn’t there when she died. But at least I never broke her heart.”

Hutch reached out a hand, resting it on Starsky’s forearm. Starsky put his hand on Hutch’s, and the pair remained like that as they sank into much-needed sleep.

 

A warm, wet mouth worked its way around Starsky’s neck, sucking gently on the skin, licking around the Adam’s apple, planting kisses along the jaw line. He reached down but was stopped by a pair of hands, making it clear that he wasn’t supposed to actively participate.

Starsky reached behind him, grasping the pillow as the mouth made its way to a nipple, licking and biting until it was flushed red and erect. The lips and tongue moved on to the other nipple as a hand began to gently massage the muscles of his inner thigh. The mouth suddenly left, the nipples tingling and burning, then cooling in the spring breeze from the open window.

A second hand joined the first, digging deeply into his thighs. He gasped as a hand accidentally brushed over his penis. The hand brushed again. It was no accident; he was being teased—brushed against, then massaged. His balls were rubbed through his cotton briefs. Then a whisper-soft touch to the tip of his cock, a quick tug at the pubic hair that peeked over the elastic.

His penis, swollen against his briefs, left a dime-sized wet spot. The hands slid his underwear off as a head bent down to inhale his scent. He looked down, curiously turned on by the sight of the veins that ran down his own penis. He caught a whiff of his own desire, and it shot through him like a thunderbolt, putting his senses on edge, momentarily driving away the black crows that lately hovered over his every emotion.

He reached down and grabbed, swiftly stroking, gasping with want, wishing some control over it. He expected a protest. Instead, the warm presence turned over, indicating with body position that Starsky was welcome to take what he needed.

Starsky wrapped his arms around the soft, inviting torso, offering a single, stingy kiss on a shoulder blade before the tip of his penis, dripping with fluid and hastily-applied spit, pressed at the tight entrance. The body under him jerked, and Starsky thrust forward in a sudden, almost painful frenzy. He hadn’t wanted this for weeks, didn’t think he wanted it now, yet his will to live, his love, his grief were focused on this single moment. There was a shudder and sudden intake of breath beneath him as his thrusts became faster and more violent. He forgot where he was, forgot what he felt, lost himself in the feel of his body, found himself again in the body below. The pressure built up in his cock, his balls, his chest. Grabbing a handful of blond hair, he pulled back, biting at a muscled neck.

The tears came as he did, shouting Hutch’s name into the air, holding on to the sweat-slicked body for dear life.

He blinked, looking down at the body beneath his. A head turned, and light blue eyes—eyes clouded with desire and pain—stared back.

“I’m so, so sorry,” Starsky whispered.

“Never be sorry,” Hutch responded with a ferociousness that surprised them both. “How dare you be sorry for needing me?”

 

It was dark when they pulled up to Venice Place.

“What time do you want your wake-up call?” Hutch asked.

“Wave some coffee under my nose around seven or so.” Starsky yawned cavernously as he spoke, rendering his words almost unintelligible. They both laughed.

“You don’t wanna stick around?” Starsky asked, already knowing the answer.

“Plants,” Hutch confirmed. “But after we get everything unloaded tomorrow . . .”

“ . . . dinner and . . .?”

“ . . . sure. Dinner and. Or maybe supper and,” he joked.

The pair fell silent. Years of caution and fear prevented public displays this close to home. Instead, their fingertips brushed, a feather’s touch; their eyes traded the embrace that arms could not.

Starsky finally broke the silence. “Make sure I give you Ma’s dresser tomorrow. She would’a wanted you to have it.”

“Thanks, buddy,” Hutch responded around the lump in his throat.

 

 

*******

 

 

Author’s note:

Thank you Kass, Susan and Nik for your help and guidance.

 

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