Simon Says

by Salieri

troyswann@yahoo.ca

 

 

      “This,” Starsky says.

      Hutch leans low, bracing himself on the rail, because it’s hard to get close enough while he’s jogging along beside the gurney. “What’s that, partner?”

      The gurney hits the swinging doors, bullies through them into the noise of the ER, and there are nurses now, and down at the end of the hall a doctor raises her head from a chart to squint at them before heading in their direction. Everything’s converging. Lines coming together at the vanishing point.

      “This,” Starsky says again.

      Hutch finds a place to lay a hand on him, as light as he can, three fingers across the back of Starsky’s arm between strips of bandages. “It’s okay,” he says. “Don’t talk. It’s okay.”

      What he means is: Talk to me. Keep talking. Don’t stop.

 

      Hutch moves with measured slowness because he’s running inside. He’s already out in the street—some street, somewhere—he’s already crashing through the door, or through a gate or . . . or . . . or . . . 

      Starsky has been gone for just under two hours. Simon’s planned it. Hutch relinquishes his weapon and waits for the guard to open the door. Simon planned this, too.

      Simon lies about the future. His dreams are bullshit. The future isn’t made yet. It’s blank. If Hutch holds out his hand he’ll touch the nothing of it. He’s teetering on the edge of it. Vertigo. Some street, somewhere, a door, a gate, Starsky. He closes the door of the interview room slowly, hears the click of the bolt shooting home, tries to keep pace with time, to let everything catch up with him so he can sift it for clues. But inside he’s already running.

      Slowly, says Starsky. Slow down. Breathe. Think.

      The clock in Hutch’s head ticks, and one more second solidifies, unchangeable. In the unmade future, Starsky is . . . or isn’t.

      Hutch lays his hands on the table, anchors himself to the solid world and listens to Simon’s voice, sonorous, like carnival-tent prophesy. Begin at the ending, Simon says. It’s revenge dressed up like extortion. Simon isn’t bargaining for anything. Hutch doesn’t have to make an offer because Starsky’s not for sale, and that’s where he and Simon agree. But the future doesn’t belong to Simon, not yet. The arrogant fuck.

      The clock stumbles forward.

 

      He can feel Starsky in his mouth.

      They’re on their knees, Simon’s robots, blank-eyed, rocking on the filthy floor of the abandoned storefront, and they’re chanting his name—Si-mone, Si-mone, Si-mone, Si-mone—in time with the clock in Hutch’s head. Everything is jerking forward, one second lurching blindly after another toward the deadline. Less than twenty-one hours now. Hutch kneels in front of them and says gently, urgently, Help me. Help yourselves. The clock ticks on in the chanting voices as if Simon were as inevitable as time.

      I want some answers! Hutch shouts at them, and he can feel Starsky in his mouth, the New York in Starsky’s accent that wears away the r in “answers,” Hutch’s clipped Minnesotan giving way to the force of it. And Hutch hears it, feels Starsky in his own mouth.

      It’s too soon to be haunted.

      Si-mone, Si-mone, Si-mone throbs like a heartbeat. If it would stop time, Hutch would kill them.

      Outside, where Starsky’s badge lies disguised as a bomb in a box on the seat of the Torino, the shadows are leaning away from the sun.

 

      He can feel Starsky in his mouth. This, Starsky said. Starsky’s hand was warm against the side of Hutch’s head.

      Behind the Torino, dust rises and thins and falls, rearranging the road a mote at a time. In the valley below him, the answers to Hutch’s questions are scattered with the rest of the debris or locked up in what’s left of the rancher’s skull, and the damp hay in the barn is still sullenly refusing to burn. Lingering smoke from the explosion twists against the rectangle of blue in the rearview mirror. Ahead, the road drops away at the crest of a hill so that Hutch can see only sky. He guns the engine, feeling the wheels leave the dirt, an instant of weightlessness.

      The van is askew in the brush, empty. In the back, Starsky’s blood gleams in the corrugations on the floorboards, tacky when Hutch touches it, warm because of a whole day’s worth of sunlight crashing on the van’s metal roof.

      Balanced in the notch between the overlapping slopes of hills, the sun is beneath him like a reflection at the bottom of a well, and the shadows climb the hill behind him. From the top he could see everything, except that there was nothing to see.

       He’s paced the entire hillside, the valley below it, and now the radio hangs from his hand. Nothing, he told Dobey. No one.

 

      Starsky fell away from him, a hand flung outward, palm up and empty except for lamplight until Hutch followed, bowed low and pressed his lips to the creases on the inside of Starsky’s wrist. Then, Starsky’s hand spreads wide against the side of Hutch’s head. This, he said as he flexed his arm, cradling Hutch, drawing himself closer, rolling onto his side and rolling Hutch off of his stomach and onto his side, too, so that Starsky’s sweat-cool chest was pressed to Hutch’s back. This is the point, you dummy. It was hours, still, before the sun would come up. A few long breaths later Starsky’s arm fell again, openhanded. Hutch lay with his cheek against Starsky’s bicep and watched Starsky’s fingers curl slowly around a handful of sleep.

      Maybe Simon can see this. The light falls in Hutch’s eyes the way it falls in Simon’s. The dim interview room seems to recede into shadow until there’s nothing left but the two of them, only a few feet of table and Starsky between them. It’s possible that Simon can see on Hutch’s face what Hutch remembers. It’s clear that he understands it or he wouldn’t have attacked them there, where the nerves are closest to the surface, where the tearing would do the most damage. There’s something blasphemous about that understanding, grotesque, like a devil in the vestry, and the violence in Hutch’s hands makes his fingers stiff with resistance. He flattens them carefully on the table like weapons he doesn’t quite trust himself to control.

      Simon sees that. But that’s not why he tells Hutch the story of the first temple and the dead king. If he really wants to take Starsky away, Simon has to give him up first. For Simon to own the future, Hutch has to find Starsky. But not too soon. Not soon enough. Hutch understands this game.

 

      Outside the windows the city glittered under a ceiling of its own reflected light. Hutch couldn’t hear the sirens that howled past his building on the way to some small or large disaster. He could only hear Starsky’s breathing, the hitch in it as Hutch slowed the rhythm of his tongue. The lines of shadow cast by the blinds rippled across Starsky’s skin as he bucked against Hutch’s mouth and his fingers tightened in Hutch’s hair. On his knees, Hutch settled his forehead into the hollow of Starsky’s hip, held him up while he shuddered and let him go when he stumbled backward toward the bed. Starsky fell away from him, sprawled, one hand outflung, palm open and empty except for lamplight. Hutch followed, found the stutter of Starsky’s pulse with his lips just there at the crease of his wrist, the surge of time under the skin.

      He can feel Starsky in his mouth. The clocklike cadence of chanting in Hutch’s head almost gives way to the force of it, the steady thrumming of Starsky’s heart against Hutch’s tongue. Slouched down in the chair in the gloom of Dobey’s office, his clipboard and its useless scrawl of notes clasped to his chest, Hutch chews his pen to keep himself from pressing his fingers to his lips. Simon’s recorded voice drones on.

      Huggy pulls the cord on the blinds and daylight stuns Hutch with a backhanded slap. The night’s gone, drained from the sky. Across town, the sun is snarled in the branches of a tree.

 

      The point is: what’s the point? Hutch doesn’t remember what the argument was about, only that Starsky pulled up just inside the door and grabbed his arm and yanked him around and said, This, and kissed him hard, teeth and tongue, and walked him backward, steering them both around the coffee table and the end of the sofa. Starsky got a little lost in it himself and forgot he was driving and Hutch’s shoulder connected with a hanging plant, sending it swinging. Ow, Hutch said against his mouth just as Starsky said, Oops and it was hard to tell which one of them was laughing. It seemed like no time later that Starsky was naked and Hutch was kneeling, Starsky on his tongue like a prayer.

      The sun casts crazed shadows over the concrete blocks tumbled artfully to look like stone, and there are so many angles and hollows, and the cross-hatching of light and dark troubles Hutch’s eyes as he searches. He needs to see and needs so hard that place threatens to go blank. So he falls to a crouch behind a shivering screen of scrub and waits for everything to slow down enough that he can see again. The zoo no longer smells of caged animals, but their ghosts pace behind the rusting bars. Far behind Hutch, the black and whites howl, chased by the ambulance. The clock in Hutch’s head is like thunder.

      Below him, the cobblestone pathways wind among the cages. Where one path rises to the top of a knoll a crow opens its dark wings, an inverted crucifix in red on its back. Two more disappear around a bend, a fourth turns to look up at him. This one smiles and waves at Hutch before taking off at a run. Simon’s flock dispersing. Hutch lets them go, instead tracing their lines of flight backward to where they converge in a pool of darkness outside the bear pit.

      As Hutch skids and stumbles down the hill, there’s no sound at all.

 

      On his knees in the lamplight, Hutch held Starsky while he shuddered and then Hutch let him go. He fell away.

      He’s sprawled in the tattered folds of the dark robe, one hand outflung, palm up and empty. There’s so much blood.

      Hutch presses his hands to the wounds, but there are too many. He can’t hear his voice saying Starsky’s name, over and over.

      There’s movement, shadows turning around them. Medics and cops. Hutch is hunched low with his bloody hands holding Starsky’s head when finally Starsky’s fixed eyes close and then open again. Ow, Starsky says. Hutch’s laugh is the sound of something breaking.

 

      Everything is converging. Lines coming together at the vanishing point.

 

      Hutch lays three fingers on the back of Starsky’s arm between the strips of bandages. It’s the only uninjured skin he can find. He can’t touch the pulse point on Starsky’s wrist, so he stares fixedly at the monitor that counts off Starsky’s heartbeats. He’s gotten superstitious about it, can’t look away.

      His voice is flat and distant to his ears when he says, “Starsk, if you die I’m going to kill him.”

      Hours and thousands of heartbeats later, Starsky replies, “No you won’t.”

      “How do you know?”

      The sun is coming up and Hutch is numb from sitting like this for so long, bent over Starsky waiting for the answer. The monitor blinks in his peripheral vision, traces out a stuttering line. Hutch dreams with his eyes open, and in some of the dreams Starsky lives and in some he dies. In those ones, those dark ones, Hutch leaves the hospital and goes to the prison and waits for the guard to open the door and then to lock it behind him. He doesn’t sit across the table from Simon, but goes around it. He doesn’t have his weapon but he has his hands, and after that there are no more dreams for any of them.

       The future he’s watching is so real he doesn’t even notice at first that Starsky’s watching him back.

      “No you won’t,” Starsky says.

      “How do you know?”

      “Because you’re mine, not his.”

      Hutch lays his head on the pillow next to Starsky’s. He listens to the monitor and to Starsky’s labored breathing and hopes that Starsky’s right.

 

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