asked Starsky, sharply.
Hutch glanced around the
Dobeys’ backyard. There was his five year old son, Jack, trying to fish
floating “eyeballs” out of the tropical punch and getting his Batman costume soaked in the process. Dawn, aka Catwoman, was helping Edith clean up the dinner buffet.
And Becky, in her Supergirl costume was trying to control an increasingly crotchety old Monster, while keeping her
new spaniel puppy, Peanut, from piddling everywhere in excitement.
He scanned the crowd again. Rosie, dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West, was cackling as she chased several
of the younger girls. But none of them were Micaela.
“I don’t know,”
Receiving no answer, he
turned to discover that Starsky had already moved on and was now asking Becky. She
looked around with an alarmed expression and began checking under the tables. Monster
charged under the long folding table and knocked it over. The punch bowl upended
onto the grass and Peanut immediately tried to get her nose into the puddle for a taste.
Hutch snagged Jack by the
back of his collar.
Jack, happily. He had peeled grapes clutched in each dripping fist. “I know why vampires drink blood!”
“Did you see where
Micaela went?” asked Hutch. Then, feeling a twinge of parental conscience,
he added, “And you shouldn’t have been putting your hands in the punch bowl.
People might have wanted to drink that!”
“I saw her,”
said Jack. “You know how you said what would happen if you lost all the
blood in a body?” He popped a grape in his mouth.
“Yes, you die,”
said Hutch, impatiently. “Where’s Micaela?”
“She went inside,”
Starsky’s head swiveled
“She’s inside!” Hutch jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
Jack yanked on Hutch’s
shirt. “I want to tell you!”
“You can tell me
while we go look for Micaela,” said Hutch. He lengthened his stride to
catch up with Starsky, and winced as he heard several stitches pop in the shoulder of his shirt. Reaching back, he caught Jack’s arm and tried to disentangle him.
The shirt was made of polyester, not silk, but he would still rather not have to explain to the costume rental agency
how he’d managed to destroy it. Captain America costumes were
But at least he didn’t
have a cape for Jack to grab.
“I told her not to
run off!” said Starsky, as he opened the door into the kitchen. “I
specifically told her, in the car, on the way over!”
Jack was stubbornly hanging
onto the tail of Hutch’s shirt. “…and blood carries that ossifen…
oksisin… ah-ah-awkzin…, and red corpsuckles, and food, and stuff…”
“Maybe she just wanted
to use the bathroom,” said Hutch, ignoring his son.
“When she uses the
bathroom, she announces it to everyone so we can all applaud. No, she’s
up to something. I know it.” Starsky
paused in the middle of the kitchen, his hands on his hips, his clear irritation thoroughly undermined by the large red S
on his chest. “Where’s Dobey’s phone?”
Jack yanked on Hutch’s
shirt again. “Vampires, they’re dead.
“Why do you need
the phone?” asked Hutch. To his son he said, “Yes, vampires are dead.”
Hutch turned just in time
to see Micaela slap the receiver down on the phone that sat on the table in Dobey’s front hall. She turned, her Barbie princess outfit glittering and her thick brown curls bouncing. At the beginning of the evening she’d had tidy ringlets, but now her hair was back to its normal
she squealed, in clear contradiction to the evidence of their eyes.
“I saw you!”
Micaela burst into dramatic
Jack was completely unruffled
by this display. “I think vampires need blood in order to be alive, while
they’re dead, I mean,” he told his father.
Nobody responded to him.
“Oh, stuff the waterworks!”
Starsky snapped at his daughter. “What did we tell you about playing with
the phone? It’s not a toy!”
He looked as scary as any man could in blue tights, which judging from the patently false tears Micaela was generating,
was not terribly scary at all.
“Because they don’t
got any blood of their own,” said Jack, laconically. “That’s
why vampires drink blood.”
Wanting to give Starsky
some privacy to yell at his daughter, Hutch grabbed Jack. “Come on.”
But before he could take
a step towards the door, the phone rang. Starsky and his daughter were still
busy with each other, so Hutch picked it up. A woman’s voice on the other
end said, “This is dispatch at 911. A call was placed from your location?”
“Oh, uh… this
is Detective Sergeant Hutchinson. There’s no emergency here. My partner’s four year old daughter was playing with the phone.”
“Who did she call?”
“So is everything
all right there?” asked the operator.
told Starsky. To the operator, he said, “Everything’s fine, we’re
sorry for the inconvenience.”
“You called 911,”
exclaimed Starsky, his voice rising. “Again!”
Micaela stomped her foot,
and glared at her father. “I was practicing!”
Hutch soothingly to the operator. “You don’t need to send a unit. I’ll be happy to give you my badge number, if you need it…”
Briefly, there was quiet
as Hutch hung up the phone. Micaela had stopped screeching long enough to breathe,
and Starsky had temporarily run out of things to shout about.
It was in this moment of
silence, that Jack said, very clearly, “Does this mean you’re going to spank her?”
Starsky went white, appalled
realization suddenly crossing his face.
asked Micaela, curiously.
Starsky turned to Hutch
for help, but Hutch simply held his hands up. “It’s your call buddy.” Starsky had made the threat. He was the
one who would have to decide whether or not to carry through.
“Because when she
played with the phone yesterday? I heard.
You said next time…” Jack started.
Hutch seized the back of
his collar again. “Come on!”
Starsky caught Hutch’s
arm. His expression was stricken. “I’ve
got to,” he said. “Otherwise my word doesn’t mean anything.”
“Am I gonna get a
spanking?” asked Micaela, sounding far more excited than afraid.
Hutch patted Starsky’s
arm. “You have to do what you think is right.”
And then Hutch grabbed
his son, and fled.
Becky met them at the kitchen
door, her dogs finally leashed and at her heels. Jack spoke up before Hutch could
going to get spanked!”
Becky looked at Hutch,
questioningly. Peanut rolled onto her back and began chewing on her leash, while
Monster stood where he was with a martyred expression on his face.
Hutch grimaced. “She called 911 again.”
Becky, ruefully. “I never should have let her watch that news show about
the kid who saved his diabetic mother. Did she tell them any more lies?”
“No, Starsky caught
her and she hung up.”
Jack bounced happily. “And she’s going to get spanked!”
Hutch scowled at his son. “I might have to spank you, if you
don’t let it go. This is none of your business!”
His son, clearly understanding
the hollowness of his father’s threat, grinned and ran off to tell the other kids what Micaela had done.
Becky bent down and picked
up the puppy at her feet. “Honestly, Hutch,” she said. “I’m relieved it’s finally come to this. We’ve
been arguing over whether or not to spank for four years. He keeps saying if
the sainted Michael Starsky spanked his sons then it’s good enough for-”
Becky cut herself off abruptly
and blushed. “Oh, I’m sorry!
That was awful of me, wasn’t it? But for all Dave’s talk,
he’s never once raised his hand to Micaela.”
Hutch was startled. Becky was normally so pleasantly easy-going, it was surprising to hear her say anything
even mildly critical of Starsky. Peanut turned to look at him, and he gave her
ears a quick rub, trying to think of a response.
The door opened behind
him, and he turned to see Micaela standing dramatically in the entrance, looking very pleased with herself.
In a clear, high voice
she announced, “My daddy spanked me!” She waited a moment, ensuring
that she had everyone’s attention. “And he broke my heart!”
There was dead silence. Hutch could feel Becky cringing beside him.
Dobey stepped forward.
“And I’m sure you deserved every swat,” he rumbled.
The little girl’s
face fell. She looked around, clearly hoping to find more sympathy from the others. But they were all chuckling now.
She crossed her arms, and
her lower lip protruded, quivering. Becky quickly put the puppy down and gathered
up her daughter before she could start crying. “Are you going to play with
the phone any more?”
Micaela, much subdued. But Hutch though he saw a hint of smugness still lingering
in her expression which didn’t bode well for the future.
“Promise.” Then she twisted to look at her mother. “But
he did break my heart. And it was a little heart!”
Cal was leaning against the house, nearby.
“I didn’t know girls kept their hearts in their…”
“Cal!” snapped Edith, her arms full of empty serving dishes. “Don’t
think you’re too tall, young man!”
Cal laughed. “Oh no! She’s got the wooden spoon!”
Hutch excused himself. There was no sign of Starsky and he was beginning to wonder what had happened to his
He found him sitting on
Dobey’s couch, his head down and his hands dangling between his knees. He
looked utterly dejected.
Hutch sat down beside him.
“How did he do it?”
asked Starsky. “I hardly touched her, and now I feel like the world’s
“Your dad didn’t
have a little girl,” said Hutch, knowing perfectly well who Starsky was talking about.
“Oh god,” said
Starsky, covering his face with both hands. “I hit my little girl!”
Hutch snorted. “She doesn’t look bruised. If anything, I think
she’s enjoying the drama.”
Starsky didn’t answer.
Hutch bumped him with his
shoulder. “You gave her, what? Three
swats on her very well padded behind?”
“I don’t think
I even achieved anything,” said Starsky, miserably. “She’ll
probably still go straight for the phone the minute our backs are turned. And
what am I supposed to do then? Beat her with a stick?”
be able to go through with it,” said Hutch. “You’re too much
of a big ol’ mushball, and she knows it.”
Starsky scowled at him. “This is serious!”
Hutch held up his hands. “Look, you’re talking to the wrong guy.
Dawn does all the punishing in our house, and her big thing is taking stuff away from the kid. He doesn’t even have a bedroom door right now, because he kept slamming it. Remember that?”
Starsky ran both hands
through his hair distractedly, tugging on his curls. “I can’t spank
her. And Becky doesn’t believe in it.”
“Take something away
that she loves.” Hutch paused, thoughtfully, trying to remember what Micaela
liked best. “Confiscate her Barbies.
Put them all in jail.”
asked Starsky, intrigued.
Hutch. “And she can win parole for them if she behaves herself. Every day she stays away from the phone, one Barbie goes free.”
He was warming to the idea.
“Well, I can’t
say I’d mind seeing those dolls in jail,” said Starsky. “I
always thought they looked like a trashy bunch of lowlifes.”
spirit!” Hutch slapped Starsky on the back, encouragingly.
A noise from the kitchen
drew Hutch’s attention. He turned to see his son standing in the doorway. “Dad?”
Hutch. “And make it quick, I’m talking to Starsky.”
“Are vampires real?”
Starsky poked Hutch in
the leg. “Wait,” he said.
Hutch frowned at him warningly. If you tell him vampires are real…
Starsky sighed disgustedly,
then turned around on the couch until he was facing Jack. “What do you
“Maybe, maybe not,”
said Jack, seriously.
“You know what I
think?” said Hutch. He waited until he saw Jack shake his head. “I think vampires aren’t real.” He said
it as if he was imparting a great secret.
Jack giggled, just as Hutch
had intended. Absurd topic of conversation. But it was a nice break from Starsky beating himself up over having given his daughter
a well-deserved spanking.
“Vampires are just
a story people make up to scare themselves,” Hutch told his son.
“But vampires are
a story, and sometimes stories can be real,” protested Jack. “Just
like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Hutch was confused. “So, is Rudolph real?”
Jack in a tone of voice that clearly conveyed how ridiculous he thought that question was.
Starsky nodded emphatically. “You bet!” His tone of voice
dared Hutch to suggest that anything connected with Christmas wasn’t real.
Hutch could hear the rest
of Starsky’s words as clearly as if he’d spoken them aloud. You wouldn’t dare.
Hutch gave up. “You’re right,” he said to his son. “Sometimes
stories can be real.”
Jack seemed happy with
that conclusion to the conversation and ran back out into the yard. But Hutch
stayed where he was, having been suddenly struck by a revelation.
“Are you okay?”
asked Starsky, lightly slapping his cheek. “You look like someone hit you
between the eyes.”
“What?” Hutch shook his head. “No, wait,
never mind. Listen Starsky, sometimes stories can be real!”
“I’m not following
you, buddy. Unless you’ve finally decided to come around regarding vampires.”
Hutch waved his finger
at Starsky. “Vampires aren’t real, and only a huge chump would believe
in them anyway. No, I’m talking about your dad.”
Starsky’s eyes darkened. He stood abruptly, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“We should get back to the party.”
Hutch, gently. “Look, how much do you really remember about him? You were…”
“I was ten.” Starsky’s voice was flat. “I
“But I’ll bet
most of what you know about him comes from what your mother told you. And what
your aunt and uncle told you.” Hutch had a feeling that his words were
the only things holding Starsky in the room with him. It felt like a frighteningly
tenuous connection. “He’s a story, Starsky. You’re trying to measure up to a story.”
That earned him a flash
of real anger. “My father-”
“Was a man!” Hutch jumped to his feet. “He wasn’t
perfect Starsky, and you can’t go on trying to be exactly like him, because for God’s sake – you don’t
even know what he was really like!”
Starsky spun on his heel,
and for a moment Hutch really thought he might end up with a bloody nose –
and wouldn’t that be fun to explain to Dobey? But then Starsky’s hands dropped and he looked down.
“What am I supposed
to do, Hutch?” Starsky sounded defeated.
“How am I supposed to be a good father?”
“You already are
a good father,” said Hutch, trying to put all the conviction he felt into his voice.
“Sure, Micaela’s a handful, but she’s got some great qualities, too!
Look at how gentle she is with Peanut. She’s smart and kind and
plays well with the other children…”
“Not with Jack,”
said Starsky. But there was a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth.
Hutch shrugged. “Jack’s the closest thing she has to a brother. I
think she has to torment him. It’s in the rules somewhere.”
“She’s a good
kid,” said Starsky. “Most of the time.”
“So what if your
dad spanked? It doesn’t mean it works for you. You have to do your own thing.”
“Thank you, Donahue,”
said Starsky, sarcastically. But he looked happier. He straightened his cape and said, “Let’s get back to the party. I want to tell my daughter all about Barbie jail!”
“Lead on, Super-Dad,”
said Hutch, bowing.
As he followed Starsky
outside, it occurred to Hutch that Starsky’s father, for all that he’d been dead since Starsky was ten, still
wielded a huge amount of power over his son’s life. Hutch remembered Jack,
rattling on about vampires and death, and felt a moment’s shiver at the thought that maybe there was some truth to the
idea that death didn’t necessarily mean the end of a person’s influence over others.
Or even living people…
Hutch thought of his own father, of how deeply he’d resented him, and of his subsequent determination to do everything
differently with Jack.
All of which was entirely
too much deep thinking for a children’s Halloween costume party.
Hutch cleared his throat
and asked loudly, “So, when do we start bobbing for apples?”
Everyone cheered. The party returned to full swing, and all the old ghosts were laid to rest for the
time being. And if everyone knew they’d be back someday, at least it wouldn’t