Starsky was having trouble stowing
his carry-on luggage under his seat. After the third time he elbowed Hutch in
the side of the head, Hutch irritably demanded to know why he couldn’t just put his bag in the overhead compartment.
“I’ve got my camera
in here,” said Starsky. “What if it fell out?” His eyes were a little too bright, showing the influence of the time they’d passed in the airport
bar while waiting for their last connection.
your camera,” said Hutch, flatly.
“Yeah,” said Starsky,
who was bent nearly double, trying to force his bag under his seat.
Hutch had a feeling that Starsky’s
camera probably didn’t appreciate the rough treatment on the floor either. But
there were bigger issues. “You’re bringing your camera to Vanessa’s
That got Starsky’s attention. “No,” he said. “I’m
bringing my camera to the place where you grew up. I want to see your childhood
home. The wide open fields, the swing in the tree, the old swimming hole...”
“I grew up in Duluth,
Starsky. Not Mayberry.”
“It’s a small town,
right?” Starsky sat up, giving his carry-on bag one last shove with his
“It’s a fully modern
city with a rich history dating back to the sixteen hundreds!” Hutch would
have gone on, but Starsky shushed him. The stewardess was starting her safety
demonstration at the front of the plane.
Hutch suspected Starsky’s
rapt attention more to do with her D-cups than it did with her gripping recital of the procedure for safely exiting the plane.
Hutch closed his eyes and massaged
his forehead, not relishing the conversation he had to have with Starsky on this flight.
He’d put it off as long as he could, had even thought a little alcohol might make it easier to talk about, but
now there was almost no time left.
“Anyway,” said Starsky. “It’s not like you’re actually mourning her death, right?”
Hutch glared at Starsky. With Vanessa’s body on ice in the cargo hold of this very same plane, it seemed
tactless to acknowledge how unlamented she really was.
Starsky, looking concerned.
“No, of course not. She’s just the woman I fell in love with, married, and then found dead on my
living room floor!” Hutch snapped his mouth shut, suddenly aware that he
was almost shouting.
“Sorry,” said Starsky,
A woman sitting across the aisle
asked her husband if she could have the window seat instead.
“I’m just excited
to be visiting the place you grew up,” explained Starsky. “I can’t
wait to meet your parents.”
Hutch’s headache suddenly
erupted full force, and he groaned.
“What?” asked Starsky. “I’m sure they’re nice people.”
“Oh, they’re very
nice,” said Hutch. “Especially my mother.”
“And your dad?” asked
Starsky. When Hutch didn’t answer immediately, he snapped his fingers and
said, “I knew it! He’s a rich doctor or a lawyer or something, and
he disapproves of your choice of career.”
“Missed it by a mile,”
said Hutch. “My dad’s worked his whole life as a railroad engineer.”
“Neat,” said Starsky. “Did you ever get to pull the whistle on the train?”
Hutch smiled at the memory. “Yeah, actually I did.”
“Okay, so what’s
the problem?” asked Starsky. “Was he too hard on you? Did he expect straight As, and beat you every night whether you deserved it or not?”
The more Hutch shook his head,
more outlandish Starsky’s guesses became.
“He was a German spy,”
said Starsky. “And you’re the result of a secret Aryan cloning project!”
Hutch rubbed his mouth. There was no way around it. His father
was going to drive the old family Buick down to the airport to pick them up. He
would be waiting right on the tarmac when they disembarked from the plane, and God only knew what he’d say then.
said Hutch, all in one breath. There, he thought, that wasn’t so hard to
say after all.
Starsky tugged on his sleeve. “What did you say? You’ve
got your hand over your mouth.”
Hutch sighed. “My dad thinks I’m gay.”
“Gay?” asked Starsky,
“Yes, gay,” said
Hutch, losing his temper. “My dad thinks I’m gay. He thinks I like boys more than girls. And because you’re
my partner, he’s going to assume you’re gay, too. My gay partner! Got it?”
Across the aisle, a man turned
to glare at them. Two seats back, a woman sighed loudly and significantly. A child asked, in a high-pitched voice, “What’s gay?” Hutch ignored them all.
Starsky tried to hush him. “Geez, Hutch. You’re going
to get us kicked off the plane!”
Hutch didn’t think that
was much of a risk, considering that the plane was already climbing into the air. He
swallowed against the pressure in his ears.
Starsky leaned close. “Why would your father think that? Do I look gay?”
he asked, quietly.
“Do I?” demanded
“Tell you the truth,”
said Starsky, ruefully. “I don’t know what gay looks like any more.”
Hutch nodded, remembering John
“So why does your dad think
you’re gay?” asked Starsky.
That was the six million dollar
question, wasn’t it? Hutch sighed.
“My dad’s a practical man,” he said. “Very black
and white. Things either are, or they aren’t.”
“Are you going to answer
my question, or not?”
“Look,” said Hutch,
pointing past him. “Clouds!”
Starsky crossed his arms and
stared at him.
Hutch gave up. “When I was four,” he said. “I liked playing
with my sister’s dolls.”
Starsky chuckled, surprised. “That’s it? I had whole towns
of imaginary people. Doodletown, remember?”
“I also liked to walk around
in what I called her clippety-clop shoes,” said Hutch, grimly.
“High heels?” asked
Starsky, his eyebrows lifting.
“And I liked to wear her
ballerina skirt. Because it was sparkly.”
Starsky snickered. “Okay, but you were four, right?”
“My father said I couldn’t
wear them any more,” said Hutch. “But then he found me hiding in
her closet, wearing every bit of clothing I could drag off the hangers.”
Starsky laughed loudly.
Hutch felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked around the back of his seat to see an elderly woman frowning severely at
“Young man,” she
said. “There are children on this plane.”
Hutch glanced up the aisle and
saw a woman with her hands pressed over a small boy’s ears.
“Excuse me,” he said,
“So?” asked Starsky,
when Hutch settled back in his seat. “What did your dad do?”
Hutch shrugged. “He’s a great guy, Starsk. He decided he was going
to love me no matter what. He didn’t want to force me into a closet. All he’s ever wanted is for me to trust him enough to be open and honest with
him. And I’ve been nothing but a disappointment to him.”
The stewardess pushed a trolley
into the aisle at the front of the plane. Starsky straightened and watched with
interest. “Because you’re gay?
I mean,” he corrected quickly, “Because he thinks you’re gay.”
Hutch pointed his index finger
at Starsky. “Don’t you start.
He’s disappointed because I’ve never admitted I’m gay. And
the reason I haven’t is because I’m not!”
“It’d be okay with
me if you were,” said Starsky, his eyes still on the stewardess. He reached
forward and lowered his seat back tray.
“Only because you think
you’d have a better chance with the girls.” Hutch pasted a smile
on his face as the stewardess approached. “Do you come here often?”
The smile she gave him back was
strained. “I’ve never heard that one before. Tea, coffee, or orange juice?”
“Orange juice,” said
Starsky, grinning widely.
“Coffee,” said Hutch,
who was beginning to think maybe he shouldn’t have had that second beer.
Hutch appreciated the view as
she leaned over him to place the small plastic cup on Starsky’s tray.
“Don’t mind my friend,”
said Starsky. “He’s confused about his – eep!”
Hutch pulled his foot back, prepared
to kick Starsky again, if necessary. “It must be exciting to travel all
over the world,” he told the stewardess. “Have you ever been to California?”
“Aren’t you two accompanying
the body in the hold?” asked the girl, pointedly. “I’m so sorry
for your loss.”
Hutch slumped back in his seat. As the stewardess pushed the trolley past him, he said, “They’re never
going to let us fly on this airline again.”
said Starsky, confidently. “She thinks I’m cute.”
Hutch looked back over his shoulder. “And she never gave me my coffee!”
“Anyway.” Starsky peeled back the foil lid on his orange juice and finished it in one gulp. “Didn’t your dad clue in that you liked girls when you got to high school?”
“I didn’t date very
much,” said Hutch. “I was busy with my music. And I spent most of my free time hanging out with Jack.”
said Starsky, nodding seriously. “My momma always told me to watch out
for you artistic types.”
“Stop that,” said
Hutch. “I couldn’t bring Jack around the house at all. Dad kept trying so damn hard to ‘accept’ him, and Jack just thought it was all hilarious. Do you know I joined the football team just so he’d understand that I wasn’t
“Did it work?” Starsky tipped his head back, trying to coax one more drop of orange juice out of
“No, instead he gave me
a long lecture about locker room etiquette, and how it was rude to stare.”
“Okay,” said Starsky. “But then you got married, right? What
did he think about that?”
“He kept talking about
honesty and asking me if I was sure she was the one. And then when we got divorced...” Hutch gestured helplessly. “What
could I say?”
“You did everything you
could to make that marriage work,” said Starsky, indignantly.
“While Van was sleeping
with half the police force.” Hutch tried not to sound bitter.
The old woman behind Hutch cleared
her throat loudly and poked the back of his seat. Hutch shifted position and
waited for Starsky to say something.
Starsky had an odd expression
on his face. He said nothing.
Jesus Christ, thought Hutch. But the look of guilt on Starsky’s face was unmistakable. He’d definitely slept with Vanessa. “Do I need
to arrange for a second funeral?”
Starsky’s eyes widened
in panic. “Look, it wasn’t my fault!
I was drunk! And I don’t even think it really happened, because
I woke up and my pants were around my ankles and I was so surprised to see her and...”
the old woman sharply, waving her hand over Hutch’s head.
“My God, that was the 1972
Christmas Party at Parker Center.” Hutch slapped the arm of his seat. “I
found you behind the Duty Sergeant’s desk half-naked and screaming!”
“I didn’t scream!”
“You were shrieking like
a little girl.”
The stewardess arrived in a hurry
and leaned over Hutch. “Gentlemen, can I please ask you to keep it down? Your conversation is disturbing the
“Sorry,” said Hutch,
“Sorry,” said Starsky. He was blushing.
Hutch waited until she was gone
before he leaned over and said quietly, “And I can guarantee that you didn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Buddy, you weren’t
capable,” whispered Hutch. “If you’d been any limper, you’d
have been the pasta entrée.”
Starsky looked as if he was torn
between feeling offended and relieved. “Good thing I always drink too much
at those parties,” he finally managed.
Hutch nodded and settled back
into his seat. He was honestly not at all surprised to learn that Van had made
a play for Starsky. That was just before their marriage had broken down and she
had been angry enough to try anything she could to hurt him.
The strange thing, however, was
that he really did mourn her. He closed his eyes and saw her the way he’d
seen her that first time. Dark hair and dark eyes, a beautiful smart lady. She burned with life, throwing off bright sparks in every direction.
Starsky’s knee bumped into
his. “She’s not worth it, babe.”
“She was ambitious. It’s hard being ambitious, and a woman,” said Hutch, without opening his
“She was greedy,”
said Starsky. There was no forgiveness in his voice.
Hutch patted his knee. Starsky reminded Hutch of his father, sometimes, with his black and white view of the world. There were no shades of gray in their worlds, no uncertainty.
Hutch dozed for the rest of the
flight, his thoughts a jumble of memories. He thought of a dark eyed girl and
his first guitar, the sound of a train whistle and his father’s strong hands, engine grease in the lines of his palm.
Then the plane was landing with
a rattling series of bumps and a bounce that made the woman at the window seat across the aisle scream. Starsky struggled to extract his carry on bag from under the seat, and the passengers who squeezed past
them looked annoyed. Hutch was fairly certain it was not an accident when the
old lady smacked both his shins with her cane.
When they disembarked, a small
crowd was waiting for them on the tarmac, just on the other side of a plastic fence.
There was Hutch’s father,
possibly a little greyer than he’d seen him last, but otherwise unchanged. He
was the same tall man with broad shoulders and thick, muscled arms that Hutch remembered from his childhood. The first thing he did was pull Hutch into a bear hug. Hutch
endured it with good humor, trying not to wince as his father pounded him on the back.
Then Hutch’s father looked
at Starsky and said, “Is this your partner?”
Starsky grinned. “Yes, sir! I’m the guy who watches Hutch’s
Hutch’s father looked nonplussed
for a moment, and then shrugged. Grabbing Starsky, he hugged him as well. “Welcome to the family!”
And Hutch decided that Van’s
wouldn’t be the only funeral that weekend after all. There might even have
to be three funerals, he thought, as his father slung his arm over Starsky’s shoulder and said, “So tell me how
you two boys met!”