Author: Rebelcat

Gen or Slash: Slash

Warning: Death!

Rating: PG-13, for strong language

Category: Deathfic LJ Challenge, Old Guys, Established Relationship

Feedback/Critique: Yes, please!

Beta: Thanks go to Nik Ditty for the awesome beta, and for all her support during the writing of this story.  Also, EH was terrifically helpful, as well.


A Plague on Both Our Houses

I knew a man who once said,
"death smiles at us all; all a man can do is smile back."
~From the movie Gladiator




October 14, 2007



“What did I get?” asked Hutch.


I looked up.  Hutch was frowning at his newspaper.  If I could've seen what he was reading, I might have had some clue as to what he was on about.  But just as I was getting out of my chair to look, he closed it.


I leaned on the table.  “You’re doing it again.”


He pushed his glasses up and peered at me.  “Doing what?”


“Acting like you expect me to read your mind.”  Leaning was doing bad things to the stitches under my arm, so I hiked my hip up onto the table instead.


Hutch just sighed.  After this many years he’s given up telling me not to sit on the furniture.  He still gets mad if I walk on it, though.


“I was thinking,” he said.


“Really?” I asked, raising my eyebrows in exaggerated surprise.


He ignored me.  “I was thinking we should get our flu shots this year.”


Oh, I thought.  We’re back to this old argument again.  “Go right ahead.”


“Look,” said Hutch, opening his paper again.  “They’ve got a whole article about it in here.  They’re saying everyone should get a shot, especially people over sixty.  That’s us, Starsk.”


I got off the table.  There were breakfast dishes that needed doing.  And after that, the car needed a wash.  Sun isn’t good for new wax and it’s not often we get a nice cloudy Sunday like this.  Come Monday I’ll be facing a bunch of bright-eyed kids at the Academy range, all of them believing I can teach them how to send a bullet under a car’s door and over its hood, straight into the bad guy’s heart.  I love my job.


Hutch, on the other hand, is retired.  He says he’s writing our memoirs, but I haven’t seen anything yet.  Mostly he follows me around and bugs me.


Today he followed me to the sink, the paper still in his hand.  “Look, the science is perfectly sound!” 


“That’s what they always say.”  I started the water running.  “And then ten years from now we’ll find out that the shot messes with your DNA and everyone ends up with two-headed kids.”


“Kids?  After thirty-one years of sleeping with you, I think I’d have noticed if you were a woman.”  Hutch reached across and turned off the tap.  He doesn’t like it when I fill the sink all the way up.  Says it wastes water.


I dumped a bunch of dishes into the water and he grabbed the towel.


“Although,” Hutch added, “That sissy streak of yours does make me wonder sometimes.”


By the way, he didn’t grab that towel to dry the dishes.  He grabbed it so I couldn’t snap him with it.  I settled for throwing water at him instead.


“You know you’re cleaning that up,” he said.


Fat chance, I thought.  But I didn’t say it aloud.  Instead I said, “You haven’t gotten a flu shot either.”


“I’m going to, though.”  Hutch dried his face and then slung the towel over his shoulder.  “As soon as you get yours.”


I decided to ignore him.  Dishes.  Then the car.  My hypocritical partner could go and find someone else to bug.  Retirement had obviously left him with too much free time on his hands.


Oh, and for the record, we haven’t been sleeping together for thirty one years.  We made some bad decisions along the way, and hurt each other more times than I care to remember.  But Hutch likes to count from the beginning.  He’s romantic like that.


Then he said it again.  “I wonder what I had?”


This time, I knew what he meant.  Thirty one years ago he’d come as close as he’d ever come to dying, but didn’t, and that’s why he was here now, plaguing me.   “You know perfectly well what you had.”


“No, I don’t,” he said.


I handed him a dripping dish.  “You had the Plague.”


“What kind?”


I shrugged.  “I dunno.  The Black Death?”  To be honest I’d never really thought about it before.  Hutch had the Plague.  It didn’t kill him.  That’s all I needed to know.


Hutch snorted, and I knew right then that I’d walked into a trap.  He had that superior look he gets when he knows something I don’t.  “Can’t be,” he said.  “The Black Death was just another name for bubonic plague.  And I didn’t have any buboes.”


“Any what?”


“Buboes.  Your lymph glands swell up and turn black.”


I know all about lymph glands.  I had to have one biopsied last week.  I’m trying not to think about that too much.  “Okay, then maybe it was the pneumatic plague.”


I don’t think he needed to laugh so hard.  I mean, geez, anyone could make a mistake like that.


Eventually he noticed that I wasn’t talking to him.


“I’m sorry,” he said.


But he was still giggling, so I pretended I couldn’t hear him.


I felt him move up behind me.  I tried not to pay any attention to him, but the way he was breathing on the back of my neck made it very hard to concentrate on the dishes.


Then he wrapped his arms around me and I dropped the cup I was holding.  Thankfully, I dropped it into the sink or there’d have been more than water to clean up off the kitchen floor today.


He rested his chin on my shoulder.  “It couldn’t have been bubonic or pneumonic or even septicemic plague because those are all bacterial diseases.  And Dr. Meredith said I had a virus.  He even showed me a picture of it.”


Yep, he’d definitely been doing his research.


“So what was it, smart guy?”


“That’s the problem,” he said.  “I can’t figure it out.  It doesn’t match any virus description I can find.  Symptomatically, the closest match is hantavirus, but –.”


“Hey,” I interrupted.  “Isn’t that the one you get from mice?”


“Yes, and it’s not transmissible from person to person.  So that’s not it either.”


I suppose Hutch could have asked the hospital for a copy of his records.  If the virus we called “The Plague” had a proper name, then it’d be somewhere in there.  But both of us are feeling gun-shy about hospitals, what with me having to go in for a bunch of tests recently.


Hence all the dancing around flu shots.  Hutch even skipped his last blood donation, although he swears he’s going back soon.  Real soon.


“I know what you got,” I said, leaning back against him.


“Yeah?” he asked.  “What did I get?”


I smiled, remembering that day at the airport.  I told him I’d take him home and tuck him into bed, but he was too giddy to sleep.  He couldn’t stop talking about Azerbaijan – back then he really did believe it was some kind of eternal paradise, instead of a war-torn Balkan hellhole.  As for me, I couldn’t stop looking at him.  He was like some kind of miracle.  Still is.


“You got me,” I said.





October 15, 2007



Bad news shouldn’t arrive on good days.  Bad news should come with thunder crashing and rain pouring down, or if not all that, at least it should come along with some smog.  And maybe a high humidity index, or something.  When I got out of the car this afternoon, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and all I was thinking about was dinner and sex.  Not necessarily in that order.


Hutch met me at the door.  “The doctor’s office called.”


“Yeah?”  I was checking out Hutch and wondering if I could talk him into doing it in the hot tub.  We had one installed almost a year ago and he still hasn’t agreed to have sex in it.  We’ve got a six foot privacy fence.  Is he afraid people are going to fly over us in helicopters just so they can take pictures of his pasty white ass?


It’s a perfectly fine ass, I should add, even if it’s not what it was when he was thirty.  The paparazzi should be so lucky.


“Dr. Lincoln wants you to come in so he can discuss the results,” said Hutch.


And just like that, I wasn’t thinking about sex any more.  Because Hutch and me, we’ve been around the block enough times to know what “discuss the results” means.


“They found something,” I said, tossing my jacket onto the table in the hall.


I automatically reached up to unbuckle my shoulder holster before remembering that I don’t carry a handgun any more.  You’d think after seven years I’d have gotten used to it, but nope.  Every time I take my jacket off, I wonder where my gun’s gone.


Hutch was pale, his expression strained.  “The nurse wouldn’t say.  She just said we, I mean, you...  She said you had to come in.  So, I, uh... I made you an appointment.”


Oh boy, I thought.  “You made us an appointment, is what you’re trying to say.  When?”  I can’t believe the big dope thinks I won’t want him there with me.  How many years have we been together?


“Tomorrow,” Hutch said.  “Two-thirty.”


“Can’t do it,” I said.  “I’m on the range tomorrow afternoon.”


Hutch looked at me like I’d gone insane.  Maybe I had, but I wasn’t going to go changing my plans just because some doctor had found something in one of my lymph nodes.


“You’re just going to have to re-book the appointment.”  I strolled into the kitchen and opened the fridge door.  “Maybe sometime next week.”


“No.”  Hutch reached over my shoulder and closed the fridge.


No one gets between me and my food.  I glared at him.


“You’re not going to play this game,” snapped Hutch.  “Not again!  How the hell do you think you got into this mess in the first place?”


His index finger was an inch from my nose.  I was tempted to bite it.  Instead, I shouldered him aside and yanked the fridge door open.  I grabbed a beef jerky stick and bit into that instead.  He’s damn lucky I’m not a violent kind of person.


“Your appointment is at two thirty tomorrow afternoon,” said Hutch, his voice very controlled.  “You’re going to be there.”  And then he left, before I could tell him again that I wasn’t.  I stuck my tongue out at his back.  Bossy bastard.


I heaved myself up to sit on the counter and drummed my heels against the cupboards.  I’m not going, I told myself.  No way in hell.  No, no, no...


Aw, crap.


The thing is, he’s right.  This really is all my fault.


Just over six months ago, we were fooling around in bed when Hutch suddenly stopped and said, “What’s this?”


I tried to pull him back down, but he braced his palms against my chest and said, “Wait.”


I sighed.  “What?”


Hutch was rubbing his thumb over a spot about an inch right of my left nipple.  “You’ve got a lump.”


“I got lots of lumps,” I said.  “Why don’t you pay a bit more attention to the one between my legs?”


“I’m serious, Starsk.  This is weird.”


I told him it was a scar.


He said he knew all my scars, and this wasn’t one of them.  He made me promise to get it checked out.


Of course, when a naked Hutch is sitting on me, I’ll promise anything.  I’m sure I meant every word, too.  But afterwards...


So I had a lump.  Big deal.  I’m not exactly in mint condition these days.  I’ve got arthritis in my shoulder.  No gall bladder.  My appendix was shot off and I’ve got a foot and a half less intestine than everyone else, thanks to Gunther.


I have more important things to think about than some weird lump on my chest.  Like what am I going to do about that cadet who can’t hit the target one time out of ten?  He has to pass handgun to get his badge and things aren’t looking good.  And what about that little girl with the frizzy hair?  Good enough shot, but she won’t stop turning around to talk to the other cadets, forgetting to keep her weapon aimed down the range.  She nearly put a bullet in me!


A perforated Starsky is a much more serious problem than a lumpy one.


But Hutch kept bugging me about it.  And eventually he got on the phone, made me an appointment, and dragged my stubborn ass down to the clinic.  Dr. Lincoln was really cheerful and said it was probably just a benign cyst.  Men my age get them all the time.  But just to be on the safe side, he’d remove it and take a look at some of the cells.


That’s the sneaky thing about doctors.  It all starts with something simple, like hacking off a lump.  But then that little lump turns out to be something suspicious, and they won’t just tell you about it over the phone – nope, you’ve got to go back to hear the bad news in person.  And while they’ve got you trapped in their examining room, they invariably decide they might as well do a test.  One test, they’ll tell you, just a simple little thing to rule out any kind of trouble.  But one test leads to two tests, which leads to three tests, and the next thing you know they’re cutting into your armpits to check out your lymph nodes.  And suddenly your doctor’s not smiling at you anymore.


I finished my beef jerky and wandered out onto the back porch.  Hutch was right where I expected to find him, leaning on the railing, looking out over the bay.  The sun was sinking low, turning the water orange.


“Okay,” I said.  “We’ll see the doctor tomorrow.”


He just nodded, his eyes on the horizon.


No, I’m definitely not getting laid tonight.





October 16, 2007, afternoon



Dr. Lincoln is a young kid, right out of med school.  He’s black and skinny enough to be another of Huggy’s cousins.  Normally he smiles a lot, and tells really bad jokes.  Not this time, though.


This time he sat us down in plastic chairs on the other side of his desk, frowned down at his notes for a moment and then said, “You’ve got cancer.”  Just like that, no sugar coating to help the bitter pill go down.


“But I feel fine!” I said.


Poor Hutch didn’t say a thing.  He just sat there looking blank, like he was in shock.


Meanwhile, Dr. Lincoln kept talking.  Ductal carcinoma, invasive, have to do more tests to determine the stage...  All of it pretty much went over my head until I heard him say ‘breast cancer’.


That’s when I started laughing.  “Doc,” I said.  “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a guy.  I don’t have breasts!”


“Everyone has breast tissue,” said the doctor, earnestly.  “Men and women.”


“What do we have to do?” asked Hutch, leaning forward.  He’d had enough of listening to what was wrong with me.  Now he wanted to know what needed to be done to make me right again.


“Given the involvement of surrounding tissues, I think we’re looking at surgery–.”


“What if we called it pectoral cancer,” I interrupted.  “Wouldn’t that be more accurate?”


Dr. Lincoln explained that, while the cancer did appear to have spread into my pectoral muscle, its origin was in a breast duct.


“Ducts?  Are you trying to tell me I’ve got milk ducts in my breast – I mean, chest?”


“Starsky, will you shut up?” snapped Hutch.  “I’m trying to figure out what kind of treatment you’re going to need.”


“Hey!” I protested.  “I think I’ve got a right to ask questions.”


“So ask smart ones!”


“Fine!”  I turned back to Dr. Lincoln.  “What if we called it chest cancer?”


I swear to God, my doctor looked like he was about to cry.  And I don’t think it was because I might be dying.  This is what happens when they give medical degrees to kids.


“Go ahead,” said Hutch.  “After surgery, then what?”


Dr. Lincoln stared at his notes.  “After surgery, you’ll be given radiation treatments.  Depending on further testing, we may recommend removing your testes or adrenal glands–.”


“Excuse me?” I said.  I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  Did he just suggest chopping off my balls?


“And then chemotherapy,” continued Dr. Lincoln.  “There are also hormonal therapies available, but that will be up to your oncologist.”


I stood up.  “No.”


“What?” said Hutch.


“No,” I said, again.  “No surgery, no radiation, no chemotherapy, and no one’s touching my balls!”


“Starsk, wait!”


But I was already out the door.  As I stomped down the stairs to the parking lot, there was only one thought in my mind.




No, no, no.  No fucking way was I going to let them chop me up, irradiate me, and pump me full of drugs.


I sat on the hood of the car, crossed my arms, and waited for Hutch.


When he finally showed up, looking about a million years older than he actually is, I said, “No.”


“Get off my car,” he said, flatly.


“What’s yours is mine and mine is yours,” I said.  But I slid my butt off the hood, and got inside the car.


Hutch pulled out his car keys, but he didn’t start the engine.  “I made you an appointment for more tests.  They want to check you out head to toe.  Make sure the cancer isn’t hiding anywhere else in your body.”


I shifted uncomfortably.  I don’t like thinking I’ve got cancer crawling around inside me, like a long-legged black spider.


“And I also arranged for us to get a flu shot,” said Hutch.




Hutch turned to look right at me.  “This isn’t a joke.  You’ve got cancer.”  His voice broke on that last word.


I couldn’t look at him.  I had to turn away.  “Shit,” I said.


“Pretty much, yeah.”  He started the car.


The thing is, we’ve both been here before.  We know what dying is.  If I’m dying, my blood ought to be pouring out onto the ground.  I should be gasping for breath, falling down, and seeing double.  I should feel like I’m dying.  But I don’t.  I feel fine.


I know one thing for sure.  I’m definitely not dying today.


I looked at Hutch.  The corners of his mouth were pulled right down, and he was driving like the road ahead was all that existed in his universe.  Total concentration.


I’m not stupid.  I didn’t want Hutch to crack up the car and kill us both.  That’d just be embarrassing.  So I waited until he pulled into our driveway and parked before I said, “I’m not letting them cut off my stuff.  And no chemo, either.” 


“Why not?” asked Hutch, very quietly.


“I want to live as much as the next guy,” I said.  “But puking my guts out, losing my hair, having my balls surgically removed...  That ain’t living.”


Hutch folded his arms over the steering wheel and stared out the front windshield.  He didn’t say anything.


“Okay,” I said.  “I figured I’d make it to eighty, eighty-five.  But when you think about it, I’ve already beat the odds getting this far.”


It’s easy to be rational about it when you know you’re not dying today.  I bet I won’t die tomorrow, either.  So what’s there to worry about?  I told myself I could get run over crossing the street, or – more likely – shot by some overeager kid on the range.


Screw doctors.  If I hadn’t gotten that lump checked out, I’d still be going along perfectly happy and healthy.


Unfortunately, Hutch wasn’t following my line of thinking.


“You know what you are?” he said.




“Selfish!”  He got out of the car and slammed the door.





October 16, 2007, evening



What was it Hutch said, thirty one years ago?  “This ain’t no fun, and the game is Hutch is dying.”  Well, this time it’s my turn, and there’s no serum they can give me that will make it all better.  No last minute saves, no miracle shots.


I don’t think Hutch is coping well.


After he called me selfish, he took off to the back porch.  I followed him.


“Fuck off,” he growled.


Oh yeah, that’s sweet.


I thought about showing him that I could still kick his ass, but then decided it wasn’t worth it.  I’d had a long day, and I deserved a break.  I also deserved an understanding partner, but we can’t always have what we want.


I went inside, made a cold chicken sandwich, and poured myself a beer.  Then I loaded everything on a tray and took it all out to the hot tub.  I had to walk past Hutch to get there, but I pretended I didn’t see him.  He didn’t say anything.


Stripping down, I left my clothes in a heap by the stairs.  Then I turned the water up to ‘boil,’ or whatever they call that setting where it bubbles and your skin turns red, and I sank in almost up to my chest.  Deep enough to enjoy, not so deep I’d be soaking the bandage under my arm.


Selfish, huh?


I took a bite out of my sandwich.  It didn’t taste very good.  I sniffed it, wondering if the chicken had gone off.


He called me selfish, just because I don’t want to end up a bald barfing eunuch.


I tried a second bite.  The damn thing tasted like sawdust.


What brand of chicken was it?  I should find out, so I don’t buy it again.


Dying isn’t so hard, really.  All my affairs are in order – have been ever since I joined the force.  Some money’s going to the Policemen’s Widows and Orphan’s Fund, some is going to the school Terry taught at, and the rest is going to Hutch along with everything else I own.  There’s no one I need to tell, besides the Academy brass and a few friends.  Huggy will want to know, but Dobey’s dead, and so is Ma.  She died years ago, thankfully well before Nicky.


Hutch doesn’t know what I did about the guy who killed Nicky.  I still haven’t decided if I’ll ever tell him.


It’s scary how many friends and family we’ve buried in our lives.  Eighty years was a ridiculously optimistic goal, now that I think about it.  Even Hutch doesn’t talk about living to a hundred and forty-eight any more.


“You shouldn’t eat in there,” said Hutch, looking over the edge of the tub at me.  “The crumbs will clog up the filter.”


I took a third bite, defiantly, and scowled at him.  His eyes were red, but I wasn’t letting it affect me at all.  Nope, this was my cancer diagnosis.  We were not going to make it about him.


Selfish.  Bah.


The corners of Hutch’s mouth drooped.  He folded his arms over the edge of the tub and looked down at the water for a moment.  Then he looked back up at me.  “I don’t want to lose you,” he said.


I swear to God, when his voice shook it felt like a punch to my gut.  I had to swallow twice before I could say, “I don’t want to lose me, either.”


“Then we should do whatever it takes to save you,” said Hutch, earnestly.


“No,” I said.


Hutch erupted, hitting the water with the side of his fist.  “Why the hell not?”


Didn’t we just have this argument?  I took another bite of my sandwich and immediately regretted it.  My throat felt like it had shrunk to half its size.


Hutch pushed himself back from the tub and turned around in a complete circle.  He didn’t seem to know where he was going.  Then abruptly he snapped his fingers.  “I’ve got it!”


I just stared at him.


“You’re in denial,” said Hutch, like it was some kind of huge revelation.  “That’s what’s going on, you’re in denial.  Next it’s going to be anger.  You’re going through the stages of grief.”


“Keep it up, I’m getting closer to anger all the time.”


Hutch was counting them off on his fingers.  “Denial, anger, depression... no, bargaining, then depression, and the last stage is acceptance.”


“I’ve got cancer,” I said.  “I’ve accepted that it’s going to kill me.  You’re the one with the problem.”


He threw his hands up in the air.  “But it doesn’t have to kill you.  There are treatments for cancer.  Lots of people survive it.  Hell, we don’t even know for sure how bad this.  I mean, maybe they won’t have to give you chemotherapy at all.”


I noticed he didn’t mention the ball-ectomy.  That was tactful of him.


“After they finish the rest of the tests,” said Hutch, “I think we should get a second opinion.  We should talk to a real oncologist.  Someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.”


His enthusiasm was infectious.  I found myself thinking that maybe things weren’t as bad as I imagined.  People do survive cancer, and I’m definitely a survivor.  We both are.


And survivors don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves.


“Hey,” I said.  “Are you going to stand outside that tub all afternoon, or are you going to join me?”


“What do you think?” Hutch began unbuckling his belt.


“About you getting naked?”  A moment ago, I was ready to kick Hutch’s ass.  Now I was thinking that there were other things I wouldn’t mind doing to it.


“About us getting a second opinion,” he said, seriously.


“Well,” I said, slowly.  “I think I could be persuaded.”


Hutch stopped, his pants halfway down his hips.  From the expression on his face, he’d just figured out what I was after.  “Wait.  Did you just say naked?”


“Yup,” I said, trading the remains of my sandwich for my beer.  “Lose the underpants, apologize for calling me selfish, and we’ll talk.”  I leered at him over the top of my drink.


Do you know what?  He actually did it.  He shucked his clothes off right then and there, and climbed into the hot tub with me.  Naked as a jaybird.


My bandages got completely soaked, my sandwich ended up in the tub, and I almost drowned him when I pointed over the fence and said, “Hey, who’s that?”


Hutch yelped and went under the water like a rock.  I had to haul him up, spitting and coughing.  His face was bright red.


Not much of what happened after that could be described as ‘conversation’, and I don’t think it was five minutes before I promised him that yes, I would have the rest of the tests, and yes, I would get a second opinion, and yes, yes, yes, I would do my damndest to live forever just so long as he kept doing that to me for the rest of my life.


He never did apologize, though.





November 9, 2007



“That doctor’s a quack!”  Hutch smacked the dash.


I’m glad I decided to drive today.  If Hutch had been behind the wheel, we’d have ended up in a ditch.


“Dr. Bowes ought to have his license yanked!”  This time it was the door Hutch hit, and I decided I’d had enough.


“Stop beating up my car.”  Every ten years or so, I get a new car.  My first baby was a sunshine yellow Camaro, then my candy apple red Torino.  In the eighties, I drove a Firebird, also red, followed by a sensible blue Acura, and finally, in ’99 I picked up a Ford Mustang, red.  Ford was celebrating the car’s thirty-fifth anniversary – how could I say no?


“He’s a doctor.  Doctors treat people.  How can he sit there and say there’s nothing he can do?”


I thought about pointing out that Hutch had picked this guy.  That he was an oncologist, one of the best in his field, years and years of experience, and that he probably knew what he was talking about.


Instead, I said, “The cancer found my lymph nodes and now it’s on a grand tour of my body.  You saw the spots on my lungs, Hutch.  All those treatments, none of them are going to cure me.  Five to ten percent chance I might get another couple months out of life.”


“Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place,” said Hutch, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.  “The medical establishment doesn’t know everything.  Maybe we need to start looking at alternatives.  Uh... vitamins and supplements.”


Christ, I thought.  He’s going to be dumping seaweed and shark bits all over my food.


And right then I had such a vivid vision of the future that I almost drove us off the road myself.  I saw myself hooked up to machines in a hospital bed, one machine making my lungs work, another making my heart beat, and me nothing more than an animated – and bald – corpse.  And right beside my bed was Hutch, saying, “I saw Starsky twitch!  He’s getting better!”


Hutch isn’t going to let go.  Ever.


Right then, that’s when I started thinking about suicide.


The first thing that came to mind, of course, was going out with my car.  I imagined it as something like a Viking funeral – driving the car into a tree, the car exploding and both of us (my Mustang and me, that is) going up in flames, to meet our respective makers.


I glanced over at Hutch.


“The Chinese have a completely different approach to medicine,” he said.  “They’ve got herbs and stuff that we don’t even know about.  They’ve also got acupuncture, and this whole theory about realigning pathways in your body so that the energy flows better...”


I tuned him out.


The problem with killing myself that way is that cars don’t actually explode and burn.   Nope.  I’d drive into a tree, my airbags would go off, and all I’d have is a broken car and a broken nose.  And a pissed-off partner.


I suppose I could pack the car with dynamite first, but with my luck I wouldn’t die, I’d just end up in the burn ward.  Hutch would be at my bedside, giving me shit, and I’d have no way to escape.


Turning onto our road, I could see the bay sparkling between the dunes.  But drowning wasn’t an option either, because that would just turn me into a floater.  I’ve seen enough floaters to know that blue, bloated and chewed up by fishes ain’t the kind of corpse I want to leave behind.


Soon as I pulled into the driveway, Hutch jumped out of the car.  He said something about wanting to check stuff out on the computer, and ran inside.  I stayed where I was.


All his energy was wearing me out.  I don’t feel old very often, but right then I felt every day of my sixty-five years.


Six weeks to six months, that’s what the doctor said.


I think we can rule out six weeks.  I don’t feel sick.  A little tired, maybe, but that’s understandable considering everything that’s happened lately.


So, six months.


Thirty-one years ago, the doctors gave Hutch forty-eight hours to live.  He didn’t have a choice about how to spend his last hours on this earth – he was stuck in isolation.  As far as he knew, his last actions would be reading a movie magazine and playing solitaire.


I’ve got more options.  I could campaign for a cure, though they’d never discover it in time to save me.  I could climb Mt. Everest, though I never wanted to before.  I could write a book, if I liked writing.


The thing is, I’ve got pretty much everything I want out of life.  I’ve got Hutch, our home, my car, and the kids at the Academy.  I don’t want to go sky-diving or bull-fighting, or whatever it is people are supposed to do when they’re dying.  I just want to make sure Hutch is okay, and that my class graduates.  All of them.  Even the kid who can’t shoot.


I wonder if anyone’s checked his vision properly?  Maybe he needs glasses.


A sharp rap on the car window startled me out of my thoughts.  I looked up to see Hutch peering at me with a concerned expression.


Sighing, I opened the car door.


“Are you okay?” Hutch gave me a boost up.  I get a little stiff sometimes, when I’ve been sitting in one place too long.  I told him once that’s why I prefer sitting on furniture, rather than in a chair like everyone else.  He pointed out that I’ve never sat in a chair like everyone else, not as long as he’s known me.


“I’m fine,” I said.


But at the same moment, Hutch was correcting himself.  “I mean, I know you’re not okay, I just meant...”


“I’m fine,” I said again.


“Fine,” he said.


“Yeah.  Fine.”  I wanted him to believe me.  Still do.  Fact is, he has to believe me.  Otherwise, this is going to be the longest six months of our lives.


Inside, I took off my jacket and threw it on the table.


Then I reached for the holster I wasn’t wearing.


Lots of cops commit suicide by swallowing their gun, but I couldn’t do that to Hutch.  He’s hardly coping as it is.  Finding me on our living room couch with my head blown off would destroy him.


Hutch picked up my jacket and hung it in the closet.  When he turned around, he was rubbing his eyes again.  “What are we going to do?” he asked, sounding tired and bewildered.


“I’ll think of something,” I said.





December 19, 2007



There are things I’ll do for Hutch, and there’s things I won’t do. 


I’ll take the vitamins he shoves at me, but I won’t let him bankrupt himself buying them. Acupuncture is right out.  I don’t care how many times he calls me a chicken, I’m not having some guy stick needles all over me.


I’m keeping a close eye on him these days.  I don’t want him suddenly buying plane tickets and shipping us off to the other side of the world because he thinks he’s found a cure in Tibet.


Stages of Grief?  The man’s all over the place right now.  Anger, denial, bargaining, however the hell it goes, I think he’s been through all of them multiple times.  Every time he gets to the last stage, he starts over again at the beginning.  It’s making me dizzy.


When I started up with a little cough, instead of waiting a few days to see if it went away, I agreed to let him take me right into the clinic.  See?  I do stuff for him.  No one can call me selfish.


I’m still waiting for that apology, by the way.


At the clinic, Doctor Bowes listened to my chest and asked me about my symptoms.  He said he’d have to do an x-ray to be sure, but he thought I had fluid building up around my lungs.  Apparently there’s a space between some membranes, and when the fluid gets in there, it presses on my lungs.  Squishes them or something.


All I know is that I wasn’t too happy about finding out the only cure for my cough was having him stick a giant syringe into my chest.  Especially after he explained that it was likely to be a temporary cure at best.


I am so sick of needles.


I told Hutch that as we were sitting in the waiting room.


“I read they’re working on ways to deliver medicine right through your skin,” said Hutch, who was back into his optimistic headspace.  “Just like on Star Trek.”


Hutch has been doing a lot of reading lately.  In fact, just then he had his lap full of pamphlets he’d picked up off the table.  I saw “Caring for Someone With Advanced Cancer”, “Talking About Your Cancer”, and “Talking to Children About Cancer.”


I snagged that last one and waved it at him.  “You’d better not be thinking that this one applies to me.”


Hutch grinned.  “I thought I might find some tips for dealing with partners with the emotional development of a six year old.”


I smacked him with the pamphlet, and a piece of paper fell out and floated to the floor.  I bent over and scooped it up, trying not to cough too much.  Hutch worries when I cough.


He was already standing by the time I heaved myself back up again.


“I’ll get you some water,” he said.


“Sit down.”  I tugged on his pants until his butt hit the seat.  Then I took a look at the flyer.  It was tiny, just a scrap of paper folded over.  The front said, “Doc, I Have Cancer!” and underneath was, “Is there any hope?”  The doctor and his patient looked like the 1930’s ideal of Ubermen - blond and muscular.


I held it up so Hutch could see.  “Check out the picture.  I didn’t know cancer patients were so ripped.”


Hutch’s eyebrows shot up.  “That’s a religious tract.”


“I figure someone slipped it into the other pamphlets,” I said, opening the tract.  As soon as I saw what was inside, I started to laugh.


“What?” asked Hutch.


I passed it to him.


“The following is an actual conversation,” read Hutch, “between a terminally ill cancer patient we’ll call Dave...  Dave?”


I grabbed the pamphlet back from him.  “I’m scared!  Doc, is there any hope for me?  Why sure, Dave.  The Bible is full of good news about how you can enter Heaven.  But, Doc!  I’m Jewish!”


“Does he actually say he’s Jewish?”


“No, I just added that bit,” I said.  “So let’s see what they want me to do in order to get into Aryan heaven.”  I read a bit further.  “Apparently all I have to do is say out loud that Jesus is Lord, accept that I’m a sinner, pray a whole bunch...”


Hutch looked at the ceiling, shaking his head.  “Allah is the one God and Muhammad is his mouthpiece.”


“Yeah, basically the same thing ain’t it?  Recite a magic phrase and God’s your pal.”  I had to read the last sentence twice to be sure.  “Wow.  Our good buddy Dave was admitted into heaven four days later.”


Hutch blinked at me.  “Find God and four days later you die?”


“I guess so.”  I turned the flyer over and looked at the back.  “But hey, if you want to send them money before you kick off, they won’t say no.”




I haven’t really thought about the afterlife.  I’ve got more than enough on my plate in the Here and Now to spend any time worrying about the Ever After.  As we were sitting in that waiting room though, it occurred to me that I didn’t know a damn thing about what Hutch thought.


“What do you figure will happen after you die?” I asked.


Hutch picked at the knee of his jeans.  “I don’t know.”  He nodded at the tract I was holding.  “Those folks would probably say we’re going to Hell.”


“Gay cops,” I said.  “Hell, I got breast cancer.  How much gayer can you get?”


Hutch snickered.


“Anyway,” I said, “I bet Hell needs cops worse than most places.  I can see us spending an eternity busting damned souls.  Kicking demon butt.  It’d be just like when we had a beat, remember?”


Hutch stopped smiling.  “I should have known you’d get there early.”


“I’ll save you a seat at the bar.”


I liked this idea.  Still do.  Okay, ideally Hutch will be late for his shift – very late.  But I don’t mind keeping things warm for him until he shows up.


And it sounds a damn sight better than me sitting on some cloud trying to pick a tune out of a harp.


Of course, the thing that really keeps me awake at night is the possibility that there isn’t any heaven or hell.  That all we are is a bunch of funny little bugs crawling over a rock, spinning in space.  And when we’re gone, we gone, and that’s all she wrote.


I don’t want to believe in that.


I want to think that Hutch is only going to be alone for a little while, and then we’ll be back together again.  And it’s going to be okay.


A nurse stepped into the waiting room and looked at her clipboard.  “David Starsky?” she asked.  “The doctor will see you now.”


Hutch snagged the tract from me, crumpled it up and tossed it into the trash.  “We’re ready,” he said.


Not quite, I thought.  But close.





January 22, 2008



I had to pull over to the side of the road three times on the way home.  Coughing fits.  The last one left bright red drops of blood all over the palm of my hand.


I was not having a good day.


By the time I finally got home, Hutch was on the porch, looking worried.


“What took you so long?” he asked.


I sat down on the steps, trying to look casual about it.  There’s no way I could tell Hutch I’d been coughing too hard to drive.  He’d take my car keys away.


“The kids found out,” I said instead.


Hutch sat down next to me.  Leaning forward, he picked up a rock and tossed it into the driveway.  “News travels fast,” he said.


“Remember Tommy?”


“Big, blond, looks like a linebacker and has a cleft in his chin that could pass for a chasm?”


See?  This is why I love Hutch.  He always knows what to say to make me smile.  “Tommy asked me, in front of all the other cadets, if I really had terminal cancer.”


“I’ll beat him up for you,” said Hutch.  “Do you want me to beat him up?”  He slid over, pressing his knee against mine.


I laughed.  “At least he got it out in the open.  I’d rather that than have them all whispering behind my back.”


“So you told them.”


“I didn’t say I had breast cancer.”  Sometimes I really wonder why I couldn’t have gotten something a little more dignified.


Although I suppose I can be grateful it’s not testicular cancer.  I like my balls.  I want to keep them.


“God, what a day.  Stephanie...”


“Frizzy haired, red-headed girl, masses of freckles, never shuts up?”


“She shut up,” I said.  “Didn’t say a word all day.”


“Really?”  Hutch tried to wrap his arms around me.


I pulled away.  The pressure on my chest was making me want to cough again.


But the minute I moved, so did he, and the next thing I knew there was a good two feet of space between us.


I stared at him.


He looked back at me, guiltily.


So I reached over and pushed him back against the stair railing.  Then I shoved his knees apart and scooted around until I could sit leaning back against him.  It was almost right, but not quite.  I wiggled, trying to find the spot I wanted.  Hutch is more comfortable now than he used to be, but he still has a slightly bony chest.


Finally, I settled back with a sigh.


“Comfy?” he asked, dryly.


“Quite,” I said.


“What about...”  Hutch snapped his fingers.  “What’s his name?  The geeky kid who can’t shoot?”


“Elliot,” I said.  “Oh Christ, Elliot.”




“He keeps crying,” I said.  “The damn kid bursts into tears every time he sees me.  Even when all I’m doing is walking past him down the hall.  Jesus, Hutch!  How am I supposed to turn him into a cop when he keeps crying?”


“It’s the new millennium, Starsky.  Boys are allowed to cry.”


“It’s embarrassing, is what it is.”  My throat was starting to spasm, so I allowed myself one little cough.  Just one.


Okay, maybe two.


“And every time he starts crying,” I said, “his glasses fog up!”


“When did he get glasses?” asked Hutch, sounding surprised.


“Didn’t I tell you?”  Sometimes I assume Hutch knows everything I know.  I forget that I have to actually tell him things.  “I had them send Elliot to a proper eye doctor – not just some guy with a letter chart.  Now he’s got glasses with prisms in the lenses.”


“Can he shoot?”


“He’s improving,” I said.  “If his final exam involves a target the size of the Jolly Green Giant, he should do just fine.”


I felt Hutch laugh.


Tipping my head back against his chest, I looked up to see him grinning down at me. 


Have I mentioned I love this guy?  He’s changed a lot over the years, just like I have, but when he smiles like that I’d swear he hasn’t aged a day.


“Let’s go inside,” I said.  “I want my dessert before dinner tonight.”  And I gave him a look I knew he’d be able to interpret.


His cheeks got red.  “You’re going to have to get off me, then.”


I got up too fast.  The cough that had been an evil little tickle lurking at the back of my throat suddenly erupted full force.  I staggered, reaching blindly for the railing.


I felt Hutch grab me, wrapping his arms around me as I wheezed and gasped, trying to fight the cough into complete submission.


“Easy,” he said.  “Easy, just breathe.  C’mon, you can do it.”


I blinked tears out of my eyes and leaned on him for a moment.  Then I sniffled and wiped my nose on the back of my hand.


“Hold on,” he said, and started patting his pockets.


He froze.


Together we stared at the bright red blood mottling his shirt sleeve.


“Well,” said Hutch, very evenly.  “I think it’s time to get your lungs drained again.”


“Not tonight,” I said, hoarsely.  “Tonight we’re having sex.”




“No.”  I shook my head, ignoring the way everything wavered in front of my eyes.  “Sex.  Now.”


“Okay,” said Hutch.


See, this is the one good thing about dying.  Whatever you want, you get.


I’ve been making the most of it.  Last month I got Hutch to pull out all the stops decorating the house for the holidays.  We even threw a proper Christmas party, with a turkey, stuffing and heaps of potatoes.  And since we hadn’t yet told anyone about me, no one got weepy, silent or sentimental.


I wouldn’t have told them at the Academy either, except for the fact that I’ve been missing a lot of days lately.


Hutch got me back to the bedroom, and I started undoing the buttons on my shirt.  I felt wrung out, but I needed to do this.  I had to take my bad day and make it into something better.


Hutch sat on the bed and looked at me.  Catching his eye, I tried to do a sexy little striptease, skinning out of my jeans.  It wasn’t much – my hips don’t have quite the same wiggle these days – but it made him laugh.


“Marry me,” he said.


“What?”  I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  “Why?”  Then it hit me.  He was asking me for the same reason I'd asked Terry when she was dying.  The same as I would have asked him, if there’d been any such thing as gay marriage anywhere in the world when he had the Plague.


And, hell, we weren’t even sleeping together back then.


I pushed him down onto the bed, and climbed on top of him.  “I love you,” I said.


“So you’ll marry me?”


“No,” I said.  “I won’t.”  And then I bent down and kissed him, doing my damndest to erase some of the misery from his eyes.


I might have been more successful if I hadn’t had another coughing fit all over his chest.  When it was over, I rested my forehead on his.  “Sorry.”  My day just kept getting worse, and now I was dragging Hutch down with me.


“Let’s see,” he said.  “First you refuse my marriage proposal, and then you barf up blood on me.”


“Oh yeah, I’m sexy tonight.”  I rolled off him and lay on my back, wheezing a little.


He followed me over.  “It’s probably a sign of insanity, but actually I do think you’re sexy.”  He kissed me, and reached down between us.


And with that, my day suddenly got a whole lot better.





February 9th, 2008



Today, I wrecked my car.


It's bad that I don’t know how it happened.  Worse that Hutch was in the car with me.  But the absolute worst part is that I bullied him into letting me drive.


One minute I’m driving down the road and the sun is shining.  I’m thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I never got to my destination at all, just kept driving forever – and then, right out of the blue, a two-by-four smacks me in the face.


That was my initial impression, anyway.  White light exploded behind my eyes, instantly triggering a blinding headache.  Literally.  I couldn’t see a damn thing.


I hit the brake and cranked the wheel hard right, vaguely remembering that there was a ditch on that side.  I felt the Mustang’s nose drop, heard a crunch, and then the airbag punched me.


Things went a little weird after that.  The first thing I remember is Hutch saying my name.


He sounded scared.  I opened my eyes, but all I could see was the damn airbag.


“S’okay,” I said.  My voice sounded funny.


I heard Hutch on the cell phone, calling 911.  When I heard him stutter through “officer down” before correcting himself, I knew I had to pick myself up and sort things out.


Something was wrong with my head.  With some effort, I found my arm and reminded my brain that part of its job was moving limbs where I wanted them.


My hand landed on denim.  Hutch.


“It's o-kay,” I said carefully.


I felt him move, and then his hands were on me, unbuckling my seatbelt and moving me around so I could see him.  I blinked rapidly, trying to bring his face into focus, but it kept sliding around.


Airbags stink.  Did you know that?  I didn’t.


“I’ve called an ambulance,” said Hutch.  “It’s going to be okay.”


“Tha’s what I tol’ you.”  Good God, it felt like I was trying to talk through a mouthful of marbles.  “Dummy.”


Hutch’s laugh sounded more like a sob.  “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”


“Head hurts,” I said.  It was, by far, the worst headache I’ve ever had in my life, even counting all the times I’ve had concussions.  I decided I must have hit it on something, though I’d be damned if I could remember what.


“Look at me,” said Hutch.  “C’mon, babe, look at me.”


I focused on him again.  He was falling apart.  I needed to take charge of this situation immediately, or by the time we got to the hospital he would be on a rampage.  I didn’t want security to have to escort him off the premises – again.


I remember a lot more about what went on after Gunther had me shot than anyone realizes.


“Talk to me,” I said.  “Tell me ‘bout your book.”  Hey, I thought, that sounded almost normal.


Hutch was trying to peel my eyelids back.  “Did you hit your head?”


Goddamn, the light was bright.  I batted his hand away from my face.  “What part?”


Hutch caught my hand and squeezed.  “Can you feel this?”


“Yes!”  That was more or less true.  I mean, I could feel him.  I just had a suspicion that he might be squeezing a lot harder than was coming across.  I seemed to have taken a step back and put a bit of distance between myself and the world.


Maybe that was why Hutch wasn’t listening to me.  I decided to say something that would really get his attention.


“I killed Victor Barnes.”




Yep, I knew that would get his attention.


“Stop grinning,” he snapped.  “This isn’t a joke!  You’ve had some kind of attack.”


Attack?  I thought I’d hit my head.  I decided it wasn’t important.  The ambulance was going to be here any minute now and I needed to give Hutch something else to think about.


“I killed Victor Barnes,” I said again.


Hutch sighed, and his forehead touched mine.  I could smell coffee on his breath.  “Okay,” he said, “Tell me about it.”


“Remember Victor?”


“Yes, he killed Nicky.”


“Manslaughter,” I said.  “Five years.”  Nicky had been trying to go straight, in his own way.  He gave up dealing pot and selling hot televisions.  Unfortunately, he also tried to duck out on some of his old debts.


“Victor was stabbed in a prison yard fight,” said Hutch, slowly.


I touched Hutch’s lips with my fingertips.  “I put the word out,” I said.  “Told some people, who told some people.”


Getting all those words out in a row left me feeling like I’d just recited an epic speech.  I was exhausted, but there was still one more thing I needed to say.


“That’s for your book,” I said.


Hutch lifted his face away from mine.  “You’ve been saving that, haven’t you?”




“Fifteen years ago you had a guy killed and you didn’t tell me, because you figured you’d save it for a moment like this!”  Hutch’s voice was getting louder.  By the end, he was almost shouting.  I’d have been even more pleased with myself, if my head didn’t hurt so much.




“Fuck, Starsky!  That’s... that’s...”


Speechless is another excellent sign.  “That’s family.”


Hutch just stared at me, open mouthed.


“Do the same for you,” I explained.


His mouth snapped shut, and he got a startled look on his face, as if he’d just remembered something.  I had some idea what it might be.


“Gunther?” I suggested, carefully.


“I didn’t kill him,” said Hutch.  “But that’s only because he didn’t kill you.”


Flashing lights and a siren alerted me to the arrival of the ambulance.  Hutch was bossy when they arrived and he insisted on climbing into the ambulance with me, but he wasn’t overbearing.


“What else haven’t you told me?” he asked, as we rattled down the road to the hospital.


I glanced up at the medic who was busy attaching heart leads to my chest.




And I knew Hutch was okay – that he was confident I wasn’t dying – when he leaned back in his seat and pulled my car keys out of his pocket.


“See these?” he said.  “They’re mine!  You don’t drive anywhere from now on.  Goddamn it, Starsky.  I shouldn’t have listened to you.  You could have gotten us both killed!  What were you thinking, getting behind that wheel?  You know you’re not a hundred percent...”


I smiled and closed my eyes, content to let his rant fade into the background.  Hutch was going to be just fine.





February 12, 2007



I was in hospital for just over two days.  I was feeling fine within an hour or so of my arrival, but as long as they had me in their custody, they wanted to do a bunch more tests.


Transient ischemic attack.  That’s what the doctor called it.  What he meant was that a blood clot broke loose somewhere in my body and traveled to my brain before getting stuck.  For just a few minutes, I was getting no blood flow at all up there.


Hutch promptly told my doctor that me having restricted brain function wasn't such an unusual occurrence.  My partner’s a real comedian, sometimes.  Especially when he’s all giddy after a near-death experience like the one I'd just had.


The thing is, now that it’s happened once, there’s a real good chance it’s going to happen again.  And next time it might be a real stroke, the kind that will leave me a complete vegetable, drooling on myself in a hospital bed.


And there’d be Hutch, right there, wiping my chin.  My brain could turn to mush inside my skull, and he’d still be sitting in a chair by my bed, talking to me, convinced I was hanging on his every word.


I can’t let that happen.  Not to me, and certainly not to him.  When I die, I need to die.  Otherwise, there’s no way Hutch is going to be able to go on living.


Hell, I tried once to get a “do not resuscitate” order attached to my medical files, and Hutch somehow managed to bully the nurse into taking it right off again.  And that was before I had cancer.


So when we got home this morning, I sent Hutch back out again with a long list of things I wanted.  I threw in some easy things, like chocolate ice cream, as well as some harder stuff, like a particular brand of strawberry flavored warming lube he bought once six years ago.


When he started frowning suspiciously at me, I pointed out that Valentine’s Day is just the day after tomorrow.


That did it.  He’s not going to let my last Valentine’s Day on this planet be anything less than a memorable experience.


I smiled and waved goodbye, and as soon as he was gone I got right on the computer.


Methods of suicide.  Painless.  Easy.  No mess.


I was disappointed to learn that overdosing on pills is not generally a good way to die.  People who try that method of suicide have an unfortunate tendency to barf all over the place and not actually die.  I couldn’t do that to Hutch.  He’d never want to sleep in our bed again.


Morphine, on the other hand...  That’s something to think about.  Too much morphine and you just stop breathing.  I could probably handle going out like that.


Reading these euthanasia websites made me feel like I was Hutch’s beloved old dog.  Is Starsky still interested in his food?  Yes.  Does he still get excited at the prospect of a walk?  Yes.  Does he spend most of the day sleeping?  Not most of the day.  Has he lost weight recently?


I got up and walked into the bedroom to look at myself in the long mirror.


Yeah, I’d lost some weight.  Good thing I had some extra to spare.  I told Hutch all those burritos would come in useful some day.


The clock beside the bed caught my eye and I realized I’d better get back online and erase my browsing history before Hutch got home.  If he knew what kind of websites I’d been visiting, he’d flip out.  There’d be no more Happy Hutch, and I’d living be under lock and key.


Hutch may spend most of his time on the computer, writing, but I’m the one who keeps his antivirus software updated.  I’m not an expert, but I know my way around well enough.  While I was in there, I decided I might as well have a look at where he’s been lately.


Cancer information sites.


Caregiver support groups.


Breast cancer support groups.


Breast Cancer, marathon.




But, I thought, if this is what’s keeping him sane, then I suppose it’s okay.  Marathons sound like a healthy enough activity.  Hutch always liked running.


Then I clicked on one last page, and what should open up but an order confirmation form.  For a Pepto Bismol pink shirt.  It said “I’m running for...”


And underneath was a space for “your loved one’s photo,” and beneath that was “your loved one’s name.”


Oh no.


He wasn’t just planning to run in a marathon.  He was planning to run wearing a pink shirt with my face and my name plastered across the front.


I was still staring at the page in utter horror when Hutch walked in the front door.


“Do you want to explain this?” I said, pointing at the computer.


He didn’t answer right away.  First he put his bags down carefully on the couch.  Then he walked over and looked at the computer for a moment.  He said, “I would have thought you’d support the cause.”


“You want to use me as a poster boy for breast cancer!”


“That’s what you’ve got!”


“Actually, I’ve got all kinds of cancer,” I pointed out.  “I’ve got blood clots, too.  If you’ve got to campaign for something, why not campaign for lung cancer, or lymph node cancer, or big toe cancer?  God, anything but breast cancer!”


“See,” said Hutch, leaning over me and jabbing the computer screen with his finger.  “That’s exactly the problem.  There’s still this idea that real men don’t get breast cancer.  And when they do, they don’t get identified as early or treated as aggressively.  Men just get sent home to die!”


I slapped my hands down on the table and stood up, forcing him to step back.  The sudden movement made my head spin a bit, but I ignored it.  “Dr. Lincoln wanted to treat me aggressively, as you put it.  He wanted to chop my balls off.  And now you’re trying to do the same thing, only you’re doing it with a fucking pink t-shirt instead of a scalpel!”


“Starsk...,” said Hutch, sounding helpless.


I didn’t wait to hear his excuses.  I stomped out of the room, fuming.


Behind me, I could hear Hutch pulling the chair out to sit down at the computer.  It was too much to hope that he was canceling the order.  He was probably just getting on to ask a bunch of strangers for sympathy and advice in dealing with his nutjob of a “loved one.”


I decided I needed to get something to eat.  Just to prove that my appetite was terrific, and I was still a long way from needing to be put down by our friendly neighborhood vet.


I was chewing on an apple when I heard Hutch roar.




Oh, shit.  I’d forgotten to clear the cache.





February 14, 2008, morning



Two days later Hutch was still pissed.


You know, the last time I felt suicidal, he was a real sweetheart.  Coddled me right through mourning Terry and gave me a reason to live.


Not this time.


I don’t like seeing his knuckles white on the steering wheel when he’s driving me to work.  I don’t like lying next to him in bed, feeling the anger radiating off him.  I don’t like it when he won’t talk to me.  I thought about telling him that if he didn’t forgive me soon he’d be driving me to actual suicide, but the thought that he might very well kill me kept my mouth shut.


Then, this morning, I woke up feeling like an elephant had parked itself on my chest.  I wobbled up out of bed, and coughed a few times.  I could still breathe pretty well.  I just felt tired.


One more day, I thought.  I can squeeze in one more day of work.


Hutch rolled out of bed on the other side, took one look at me and said, “I’m calling you in sick.”


“No,” I said.


“Yes.”  He stood up.


The thing is, the phone’s on my side of the bed.  I grabbed it.  “I’m going to work today!”  Cough.  Wheeze.


Hutch propped his hands on his hips.  “And how are you going to get there?  Are you going to walk?”


I started pressing buttons on the phone.  “Go soak your head.  I’m calling myself a cab.”


I was halfway through dialing when he yanked the phone right out of my hand.  “Hey!”


“You’re staying home today!”


Hutch is scary when he’s mad, and right then he was towering over me, all red-faced and blotchy-looking.  I’d have been impressed, except that he’d been wearing pretty much that same look for the last forty-eight hours.


I grabbed my pants off the floor and started pulling them on.  My heart felt like it was trying to hammer its way right through my cancer-riddled rib cage, but it’s amazing how much energy you can get from rage.


“What are you doing now?” demanded Hutch.  He’d backed up until he was square in the doorway of our bedroom, his arms crossed over his chest.


I pointed at the window.  “I’m getting out of here.  I’m walking to Bill’s house, and when I get there, I’m calling the cops!”  Hack.  Gag.  Another couple coughs.  Damn, this was getting tough to control.  I felt like I was suffocating.


“You’re calling the cops?”


“Fucking right I am.  I can just see the headline now.”  I mimed it printed across the top of the newspaper.  “Hero cop held hostage by breast cancer marathon whacko!”  I'd almost lost my voice by the end of that.


He stepped forward.  “Yeah, well try this one on for size, buddy.  Hero cop held in detention for seventy-two hour suicide watch.”


“I’m not going to kill myself!” I bellowed.


Whoops, that did it.  Took my eye off the elephant for just a second to yell at Hutch, and the next thing I know she’s got my lungs in a vise grip.


It was bad this time.  I couldn’t breathe.  My lungs were refusing to inflate, my chest felt like it was getting sucked back against my spine, and my vision was graying out.  The floor tipped under me, and I was suddenly afraid I might fall right off the edge of the bed.


Hutch caught me.  He grabbed my shoulders and held me.  “Easy,” he said.  “Just relax.”


Oh yeah, try relaxing when your lungs are doing their best to batter their way right out of your chest.  Not that I could blame them.  I’d want to escape, too, if I was trapped in my body.


It went on for a long time.  Long enough I started to worry that maybe I wasn’t going to be able to stop.


Eventually, though, the one big coughing fit became several smaller ones, tapering off like popcorn in the microwave.  Cough-cough.  Cough.


It was all I could do to fall back into bed.  Goddamn, I was tired.


Hutch wiped snot and tears off my face, and pulled up the blanket.  “Hold on,” he said.  “I’ll get your medicine.”


“Aw, no...”


But he was already gone.


Fuck.  I wasn’t going to work.  If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have cried.  But as it was, Hutch had to wake me up by the time he came back with a glass of water and a handful of pills.  I recognized the codeine right away.


“C’mon, buddy,” he said, as he slid his arm behind my back.  “You’re going to have to sit up for this.”


Yeah, he was being all sweet about it now.  The bastard got his way.


“I’m sorry,” he said.


I paused.  I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  Did Hutch just apologize to me?


I tried to look at him, but he was behind me, fluffing my pillows.  Then he handed me the glass of water and told me to drink.


I did my best, but it felt like I was trying to suck water through a coffee stirrer.  My throat was too tight.  I looked at the pills on the dresser with dismay.  “I can’t,” I rasped.


Hutch sat down on the bed beside me.  “Have some more water,” he said.  “Take your pills.  Have a nap.  This afternoon we’ll drive down to the Academy.”


Really?  Wow, I thought.  I knew what my coughing jag had felt like from the inside, but it must have looked damn scary from the outside, too.  I took another drink, and it wasn’t so bad this time.  My throat had relaxed all the way to “straw.”


Hutch sighed gustily and leaned back against the headboard.  I would have moved over to make room for him, but I was too tired.  And besides, I liked the feel of him pressed up against me like that.


The pills went down one at a time, and by the end I was having trouble keeping my eyes open.  I yawned and coughed a few more times, but it was nothing serious.  Hutch must have thought I’d be worried about it, though, because he tucked me in tighter against him.


“I’ve got you,” he said.





February 14, 2008, afternoon



“Did you mean it?” asked Hutch.


I was picking my way through a very late breakfast in bed, having slept until noon.  The eggs were okay, but the turkey bacon wasn’t looking particularly appealing.  I don’t know why Hutch can’t buy the real stuff.  It’s not like I have to worry about my cholesterol.


I finished chewing and swallowed.  “About what?”  I was feeling pretty good.  Still wheezing a little, but it wasn’t bad.  I figured I should be able to go to work without embarrassing myself.


“You said you weren’t going to kill yourself.”  He looked at me, all wide-eyed and earnestly hopeful.


“I’m not going to kill myself,” I said.


“Today, or ever?”


He knows me too well.  I took a big bite of fake bacon in the hopes that chewing on the rubbery stuff might give me enough time to think of an answer.


“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Starsky!”  Hutch sounded like he was on the edge of tears.


I shuffled the bacon over into my cheek so I could explain things to him.  “Look, one way or another I’m shuffling off this mortal coil.  I figure I can either do it on my own two feet, with dignity, or I can leave in pieces, with nothing.”


Hutch collapsed back on the bed and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes.


I focused on my food.  This was my death we were talking about, after all.  He doesn’t get to dictate how it goes.


“Marry me,” said Hutch, suddenly.


Oh shit, I thought.  It’s Valentine’s Day.  I’d completely forgotten.


“C’mon, Starsk,” he said.  “You can do that much for me, can’t you?  Marry me.”




His face crumpled.


“No,” I said again.  “And I’ll tell you why.  If marriage was that important, we’d have married each other back when I was healthy.”


“It hasn’t been legal that long,” protested Hutch.


“I’m not even sure it’s legal now,” I said.  “Besides, we could have had it done in Canada.”


Hutch’s chin was on his chest.  I hate it when he looks at me like that.  Makes me feel like the biggest jerk in the universe.


“Marriage is the beginning of something,” I told him.  “It’s not the end.”  It’s the same thing Terry told me, when I asked her to marry me, years ago.


Hutch shrugged and rolled away from me.  Sitting up, he began collecting the dishes.  “Okay,” he said.  “Get dressed.  I’ll drive you down to the Academy.”




The look on his face was priceless.


“I’ve changed my mind.  I’ll go to the Academy tomorrow.  Today’s Valentine’s Day and I want to spend it with you.”


Hutch snorted.  “You only love me for my body.”


“Well, it sure ain’t for your charming personality.”  I grinned at him.


That son-of-a-bitch, do you know what he did next?  He hauled right off and slugged me.  Right in the arm.  Hard!




“That’s for twisting me into knots all day,” he said.


“You can’t hit me, I’ve got cancer!”


He hit me again, this time in the thigh.  “You don’t have cancer there.”


“How do you know?  Last night I might have grown another tumor.”  I took a swing at his chin, but he ducked.  “Stay still so I can hit you.”


He leaned in and kissed me right on the lips.


“Don’t ‘fink you can get aroun’ me...”  Oh hell.  I decided I might as well kiss him back.  You know, as long as his lips were right there.


My head was spinning and I was starting to cough again by the time he let me up for air.


Hutch leaned back and grinned at me.  “So what do you want to do today?”


What I really wanted to do was soak in that smile.  God, I missed seeing that.  But he was waiting for an answer, so I said, “Watch a movie?”


“Yeah?  What have we got?”


“Um,” I tried to remember what was in that last shipment from Amazon.  “There’s zombies on a plane.”


Hutch made a face.


“Okay, how about nudist zombies at a Christian camp,” I said.  “It’s a musical!”


He didn’t look impressed.


“A touching love story between a boy and his zombie?”


“Is that all you got?” he asked.  “Zombie movies?”


Can I help it if I’m feeling some sympathy for the walking dead these days?  I didn’t say that to him though.  I just shrugged.


“I’ll take the plane,” he said.


Man, Hutch has got it bad if he’s actually willing to spend Valentine’s Day with me watching zombies rip people into bloody shreds.  It occurred to me that I might have been just a tiny bit selfish lately.


Not that I didn’t have a perfect right to be selfish.


But maybe for one day, I could try being a little nicer to him.  “How about if we put on Titanic instead?”  Hutch loves Titanic.  I don’t know why.  I think it’s a big soggy wreck of a movie, but I supposed I could stand to watch it one more time.


“Really?” he said.  “You want to see Titanic?”


No, I thought.  I really don’t want to see Titanic.  Zombies I can get into.  Doomed love affairs, not so much.  “Sure,” I said, brightly.


“Great!” he bounced up out of the bed.  “I’ll set it up.”


The things I do for love.


I followed Hutch into the living room, and watched him set up the DVD player.  He’s still gorgeous.  A little thicker around the middle than he used to be, and a lot thinner up top – even taking into account that he didn’t have that much hair to start with.   But other than that, he’s the same guy I fell in love with all those years ago.


He turned around and caught me looking at him.  “What?”


I snapped my fingers.  “Hey, I just remembered something.”


He raised his eyebrows, inquiringly.


“Did you ever find that lube?  The strawberry flavored one?”


Hutch’s ass hit the carpet with a thump, and he stared at me.


Nope, I thought, I won’t ever get tired of looking at him.  Or touching him.  Or getting him all slippery and sweaty and grinning like a loon.


This Valentine’s Day is going to be terrific.





March 8, 2008



I did manage to put the strawberry lube to good use on Valentine’s Day, but then I fell asleep five minutes into watching Titanic.  And when I woke up the next morning, the elephant in my chest had put on soccer cleats and was stomping all over me.  “Just a cold” is a phrase that’s never going to apply to me again.


I spent another few days in hospital, and came home with a truckload of new meds.  I felt pretty good, but the first time I tried to hop up on the kitchen counter, I landed on my ass on the floor.


I ended up with a bruise the size of...  well, I say it’s an orange.  Hutch says it’s a cantaloupe.  I think we’ve agreed to settle on ‘grapefruit’.


The point is, that was almost two weeks ago, and I’m still hobbling around like a cripple.  I’m not healing up the way I should.  I miss the Academy.  Sometimes I look at the liquid morphine drops and wonder, but I’ve stayed away from the computer.


Today, Huggy called.  Hutch and I agreed to meet him and his family down at the beach.  Huggy’s children are cute, but after the scare we just had, Hutch doesn’t want juvenile germs all over the house.


We pulled into the parking lot a few minutes after they did.  No worries about missing them – Huggy’s wife had stripped the kids right down beside the car and was trying to squeeze them into their swimsuits.


I’m always a little surprised that they aren’t still babies.  Kids grow fast these days.  I think the older one is about six.


“Starsky, my man!”  Huggy slapped my hand and grinned.  “It’s been too long.”


That’s what I like about Huggy.  He never makes things awkward.  I took a step back and had a good look at him.  His wife is from Jamaica and has been doing her best to fatten him up.  I think she might be making some progress. 


We haven’t moved,” I pointed out.


Huggy looked down at the chubby toddler hanging off his leg and said, “I don’t know where the time went.  Just yesterday, I could park her in one place and she’d stay there.  Next thing I know, she’s running amok and eating mystery mushrooms.”


I was sure there was a story in there somewhere, but my hip was starting to ache with all the standing.  I looked around for Hutch.


He had already unloaded all of our stuff from the trunk of the car and was wrestling with a beach chair.  He caught me looking and waved.


“I love how you’ve got him trained,” said Huggy.


I was wheezing a bit by the time I got over to Hutch.  The sand was harder to negotiate than I’d expected.  I did my best not to let it show, though.  Hutch is a big old worrywart, sometimes.


“Oh look,” I said to Huggy’s little girl, soon as I’d caught my breath.  “Uncle Hutch brought chocolate cake and cherry cola.”


“Chocolate?” she asked.  Bright kid, that one.


“Thank you so very much,” said Huggy, dryly.  “I don’t suppose Uncle Hutch is offering to sit up with her tonight when she’s doing her hummingbird imitation?”


“It was his idea,” said Hutch, pointing at me.


Getting down onto the beach chair was a bit awkward.  I’m not bending too well right now.  But Hutch helped me get comfortable, and arranged an umbrella over me.  It was as close to heaven as I can imagine.  Huggy’s wife – what's her name again? – came over with their older child in tow and took both kids down to the water to play.  I could hear them shouting and splashing.


The air smelled salty, the seabirds called to each other, and the sun was warm.  I fell asleep almost instantly, and without even meaning to do it.


I’ve been doing that a lot, lately.  I think it’s the drugs.


I woke up when Huggy said my name.  I almost answered, but then I realized he was talking to Hutch, not me.


“Enough about Starsky,” said Huggy.  “How is the Hutchinson half managing these days?”


I almost drifted back to sleep, never even opening my eyes.


“I’m fine,” he said.


Which is exactly what I expected him to say.


“Okay,” said Hutch.  “Sometimes he gets on my nerves.”


What?  My ears pricked right up at that.


“It’s just he’s got this overwhelming need to control everything right now,” said Hutch.  “I know it’s important for him to feel like he’s in charge of his life, and I try to be accommodating, but sometimes I just want to –.”  Hutch cut himself off.


Huggy made his ‘I’m listening’ noise, and for a moment I could have been back sitting at the bar of the Pits.


When I started hearing the clink of glasses rather than the cries of gulls, I realized I was dreaming again.  With some difficulty I surfaced enough to hear some more of what Hutch had to say about me.


It wasn’t flattering.


“He’s more than just pushy.  Anything he wants, he gets.  We’re eating real bacon for breakfast every morning now because he said he didn’t want to spend his last days on Earth eating turkey bacon.  What am I supposed to say to that?”


“You’re spoiling him,” said Huggy.


That’s right, Huggy, I thought.  Just talk about me like I’m one of your kids.  Sheesh, a man becomes a father and the next thing you know he thinks he’s an expert on everything.


“He fights me on each and every pill,” said Hutch, sounding tired.  “He won’t follow his doctor’s orders.  He pushes himself too hard.”


Huggy started to say something, but Hutch interrupted him.  “Did you notice that he’s limping?  That’s because he tried to sit on the kitchen counter while I was washing the dishes.”


“He fell?” asked Huggy.


“Scared the living hell out me.”  Hutch’s voice wobbled slightly.  “And I don’t know.  Maybe it’s my fault.  I mean, would he have tried to get up on the counter if I hadn’t told him he couldn’t?  And dammit, he won’t go see a doctor to get it checked out.  He could be walking around with a fracture right now.  With all the drugs he’s on, how would he know?”


It’s a bruise, I thought.  It’s a goddamned bruise.


“It’s just Starsky being Starsky,” said Huggy, soothingly.  “It’s got nothing to do with you, my man.  Starsky’s a fighter; that’s his nature.  He’s got to fight something, and if he can’t fight the cancer, then he’ll fight the doctors and he’ll fight you.”


“I love him so damn much,” said Hutch.


Oh man.


I think they kept talking, but I missed the rest of their conversation because I fell asleep again.  I dreamed the Plague had us in its grip, but this time it was me, not Hutch, in the oxygen tent.  And Callendar had already left for Europe.


Hutch woke me up at lunch, cranked the back of my chair up, and gave me a slice of cake on a paper plate.


“Dessert first?” I asked, grinning.


“The kids were threatening to mutiny,” said Hutch.  “See that one there, the one with the pigtails and the crafty look on her face?  She was hatching a plan to steal the car and leave us stranded here.”


Huggy’s older daughter giggled, spraying chocolate crumbs on the blanket.


After lunch, Huggy told me all about his kids, including his littlest one’s recent trip to emergency after she’d stuffed a wild mushroom in her mouth.  Apparently I should remember never to wear white when trying to pour activated charcoal down a toddler’s throat.


Then Hutch decided I’d had enough, and announced it was time to go home.  I almost told him to go jump in the bay, but then I realized that I’d nearly fallen asleep again during Huggy’s last story.  So, maybe Hutch was right and it was time to pack it in for the day.


It hurt, but I forced myself not to argue with him.


I think the day at the beach was good for Hutch.  I don’t agree with everything he said to Huggy, but I’m sure it was healthy for him to get it off his chest.  And if my hip’s still sore tomorrow, I might even suggest we could go in to see Dr. Lincoln.  Just to put Hutch’s mind at ease.


Though if it turns out I’ve got some old lady’s broken hip, on top of breast cancer, I may have to shoot someone.





April 19, 2008



“Starsky, wake up.”


“Go away.”


“C’mon,” said Hutch.  “You’ve got to get up.  Today’s a big day.”


He sounded excited about something.  I frowned, trying to remember what might be special about today.  Then it hit me.


Graduation Day.  Today’s the day I get to see my students graduate.  Not that I taught them more than half the year, but still – they were my students first.


I opened my eyes.  The first thing I saw was Hutch, grinning like a kid on Christmas morning.


“I got you a present,” he said and there was all kinds of pride and anxiety mixed up in his voice.


“A present?”  I rolled over and heaved myself up on an elbow.  I had to blink a few times, but then it came into focus.


A wheelchair.  With a big fucking red bow tied to it.


My opinion of wheelchairs as presents must have shown on my face, because Hutch said, “Wait, just look at it, okay?”


I looked.  It was still a wheelchair.  There wasn’t anything on this planet that could make that anything else but a wheelchair.  A red wheelchair.  With white rims on the wheels.


I couldn’t help it; I started to laugh.


“I knew you’d get it,” said Hutch, happily.  “I didn’t have enough time, or I’d have figured out some way to put a racing stripe on that thing.  Still, the wheels are pretty close, right?”


“Do I get to run over your toes with it?” I asked.


“As many times as you like, if you promise to stay in it while we’re at the ceremony.”


That sobered me up.  “Aw, Hutch...”


“There’s no way around it, buddy.  You know that as well as I do.”


Yeah, I knew it.  I may not have broken my hip, but a couple days ago Hutch found a lump on my back.  We thought it was some kind of super-fast growing tumor, but it turned out to be my liver instead.  You shouldn’t be able to feel your liver through your back.  I’m getting a pot belly, too, but I don’t think it’s from eating too much.


I don’t want to think about this stuff.  It scares the hell out of me.


“Okay,” I said, letting my head fall back onto the pillow.


“Okay?” said Hutch, sounding confused.


“Yeah, okay, I’ll use the chair,” I said.  “Happy?”


He twisted his fingers into my hair, and tugged lightly.  “I think I liked it better when you fought me over stuff like this.”


I showed him my middle finger.  “How’s this?”


He chuckled.  “Much better, thanks.”


The graduation was outside, on the football field.  There were tents set up with food on trestle tables, and a large podium with a speaker’s lectern in the middle of everything.  It was great to see my class again, even though Elliot wasn’t among them.


Elliot stopped by the house to see me yesterday.


“I’m not graduating,” he said, fidgeting unhappily in the door of my bedroom.


“I heard,” I said.  “Care to explain yourself?”  Against all odds, Elliot had managed to squeak through.  He was all set.  And then right before graduation, the dumb kid up and quit.


“I’ve been accepted to medical school,” he said.


“Medical school?”


“I, um...”  He pushed his glasses up his nose and blinked rapidly.  “I always wanted to help people.  I just didn’t know how.  I thought I could be a cop, but now...  I just... I... uh...”


“Spit it out!”  You’ve got to be firm with Elliot or he’ll stand there stuttering at you all day.


“I want to research a cure for cancer!”




I told Elliot I thought he’d make a terrific doctor.  And then I told him I was proud of him.  Unfortunately, that opened the floodgates and he started sobbing.  Hutch got him out of my room before I could fill him in on the inadvisability of getting saltwater on the patients.


So, Elliot’s going to do just fine.


Stephanie found me almost as soon as Hutch rolled me through the door.


“Sergeant Starsky!  I was hoping you’d come.”  She was literally bouncing on her toes, curls flying.  “Wait right here.  Don’t move!  I got you a present.”


I watched her run off into the crowd, dodging around the other attendees.  Craning my head back, I looked up at Hutch.  “Were we ever that energetic?”


He chuckled.  “I wasn’t, but you were.”




“Starsky, you fidgeted so much in orientation the instructor asked if you needed to visit the bathroom.”


I remember that, actually.  Mainly because everyone laughed at me.


They weren’t laughing now.  They were lining up for a chance to shake my hand, like I was some kind of celebrity.  Stephanie bounced back into view and presented me with a box of chocolates.  I had to sample them, of course.  It would have been rude not to.


Then Commandant Morton came over and told me I was going to sit up on the stage with the senior staff for the commencement ceremony.  I didn’t want to, and I tried to tell him that, but he didn’t listen.  Maybe he’s so used to getting his way, he’s forgotten what the word ‘no’ sounds like.


“It’s going to be great,” said Hutch.  “Don’t worry about a thing.”


Worry?  Why would I worry?  Just because they were loading me up onto a stage in a wheelchair, in front of a thousand people?  Me, who might nod off at any moment without warning?  Oh yeah, that would look just terrific.


The ceremony was longer than I remembered it being in previous years.  I really had to fight to stay awake.  I was hurting a bit, too.


“Sergeant David Starsky,” said Commandant Morton.


“What?” I said, turning to Hutch.


Everyone was cheering and clapping.  Hutch started to wheel me forward.  “It’s your award!”


“Award?”  Shit, they were giving me an award?  What the hell for?  I really wished I’d been listening.  I reached down and grabbed the wheels of my chair, forcing a halt.


“Starsk,” began Hutch.


“I’m walking,” I said.  I might not know exactly why they were giving me an award, but I knew I wasn’t going to get pushed up to the lectern like some old cripple.


Hutch helped me out of the chair, but then he stepped back.  I walked up to the Commandant on my own two feet, and managed not to fall on my face when I got there.  He presented me with a plaque that said something about ‘meritorious service’ and shook my hand.


I was trying to figure out how you’re supposed to thank nice folks who want to give you a prize for dying, when the Commandant turned back to his microphone and announced that this wasn’t the only award he was handing out tonight.


“For a lifetime well spent in the service of our city, and for his continuing efforts in promoting cancer awareness and research, Lt. Ken Hutchinson, Retired!”


I looked across the stage just in time to see Hutch go bright pink.  As he joined me beside the lectern, I whispered, “What have you been up to?”


“Just a bit of fundraising,” he whispered back.  “I promise I didn’t stick your face on anything pink.”


Uh-oh, I thought.  That means he’s been putting my face on everything else.  “I’m going to kill you.”


“Smile,” he said.  “Everyone’s looking at us.”





April 22, 2008



I rolled over, expecting to bump up against Hutch.  He’s been in bed with me pretty much non-stop these last couple days.  But all I encountered today was empty space.


I was lying there, trying to figure that out, when I realized that I could hear him talking to someone out in the living room.


“I’m glad you could stop by,” said Hutch.  “I don’t think he’s up to the drive.”


“Let’s have a look at him.”


Ah-hah, I thought.  Dr. Lincoln.  I’ve more or less forgiven him for wanting to chop my balls off all those months ago. 


I was impressed that Hutch had managed to convince him to come all the way out to our house.  Dr. Bowes would never have agreed to a home visit, even if he wasn’t busy with patients he could actually cure.


Dr. Lincoln’s a good kid.  Just a bit over-enthusiastic.


I moved myself back up onto the pillows as Dr. Lincoln came into the room.


“Hello, Dave,” he said.  “I hear you’ve been lying down on the job lately.”


I grinned.  “I aspire to the life of the idle rich.”


He sat down on the side of my bed and started unpacking his bag.  I saw a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff, and some other stuff I didn’t recognize.


Hutch hovered nearby.  “We went to the Police Academy’s graduation ceremony last Saturday, and he hasn’t been out of bed since.”


“Hey,” I began, indignantly.


Then Dr. Lincoln distracted me by unbuttoning my pajama top.  I sat up a little more as he began poking and prodding me.  He picked up my arm and wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my bicep.  “Is there something you wanted to tell us, Dave?”


“What?”  Then I remembered.  “I did get up.”


“Bathroom trips,” said Hutch.  “Just four times in the past two days.”


“He’s slightly dehydrated,” said Dr. Lincoln.  “But I can feel a full bladder.  It’s likely he’s simply not feeling the signals very strongly.  You’ll need to make sure he drinks more, and just schedule the visits to the bathroom.  Every four hours should do it.”  He patted my stomach.  “We don’t want you getting a bladder infection.”


“I’m sure we don’t,” I said, sourly.  As I said, I’ve more or less forgiven Dr. Lincoln, but I still don’t like it when he talks about me like I’m Hutch’s elderly dog.  Woof.


More poking and prodding, and then Hutch got me up and we shuffled off to the bathroom with a plastic cup.  Dr. Lincoln wanted a sample to check for protein.  I threw Hutch out of the room so I could deal with things myself.  There are limits, after all.


I could hear them out in the living room.


“Have you given any more thought to palliative care?” asked Dr. Lincoln, quietly.


“We’re managing fine,” said Hutch.  He had that stern tone he gets when he wants to shut the conversation right down.


“He’s going to need increasingly specialized support,” said Dr. Lincoln, determinedly.  “If his appetite continues to decline, you’ll need to have him on an IV.  Eventually he won’t be able to get out of bed, and you’ll have to handle his toileting needs yourself.  If his discomfort increases, we may have to put him on a morphine pump.  That’s a lot to handle on your own.”


“I’ll do whatever needs to be done,” snapped Hutch.  “He’s not going into a home.”


Leaning on the other side of the bathroom door, I was strongly tempted to cheer.  Go, Hutch!


Dr. Lincoln didn’t press the issue.  “I’m signing you up for home visits from a palliative care nurse.  She can monitor his condition and advise you on what you’ll need.”


Since that seemed to be the end of the conversation, I finished up in the bathroom and presented the doctor with his nice warm cup of piss.  Then I staggered off to bed, leaving them to their conversation in the living room.


They obviously expected me to go back to sleep, but I didn’t.  Not right away.  I had a lot to think about.


For the first time since all this started, I really felt like I was dying.  For real.


Hutch keeps me well topped up with drugs, so I wasn’t in much pain.  But I was tired.  Desperately tired.  I tried to think if there was anything I hadn’t done, but everything seemed to be in order.


My kids had graduated, all except for Elliot and he was off to medical school.  Huggy was doing well for himself.  Even Hutch was busy trying to change the world, when he wasn’t catering to my every need.


I must have drifted off then, because I found myself tearing a strip off of Nicky for being dumb enough to think he could rip off the mob.  He should have asked me for help.  I would have paid his debts, and then he could have paid me back.  Or not.  Either way, I wouldn’t have shot him in the head for being a deadbeat.


I knew for sure I was dreaming when Nicky agreed with me.


Mom, Dad, Terry, one by one they paraded through my bedroom, stopping for a moment to chat, and then moving on.  The weirdest part of the dream was when Callendar crashed my party.


“You’re not dead,” I told him.  “They patched up that hole in your side, and then I put you on a plane to Nigeria.”


“No one lives forever,” he said, lighting a cigarette.


“Starsky,” interrupted a new voice.


Now wait one cotton-picking minute, I thought.  That was Hutch, and I knew for damn sure he wasn’t dead.  I turned around, looking for him.


“Starsky, wake up.”


He’s been saying that a lot to me, lately.


“C’mon, buddy.  Open your eyes.  Dr. Lincoln’s gone, and you need to sit up and eat something.”


I pried my eyes open and yawned.  Hutch was holding a tray, loaded with sandwiches, soup and orange juice.  It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him I wasn’t hungry, but then I remembered what the doctor had said about needing an IV if I didn’t start eating more.


Hutch looked ridiculously pleased when I picked up one of the peanut butter sandwiches.  It doesn’t much to make him happy these days.


I looked at Hutch for a moment.  His hair was catching the light from the window, flecks of silver and gold at the nape of his neck.  He was wearing a denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his hands looked strong and capable as he sorted out our lunches.  He was beautiful.


“I’ve got a list for you,” I said.


Hutch was eating a roast beef sandwich.  He paused.  “We get our groceries delivered now.”


Damn, I thought.  That was going to make it harder to think of things for him to pick up.  “I didn’t mean groceries.”


“Then what?”


“Books,” I said.


“Books?”  His eyebrows drew together.  I could understand his confusion.  I haven’t been reading at all lately.


“Not for me, for you.”  The more I thought about it, the better it sounded.  Hutch was going to need something to occupy his time, and take his mind off things.  “Get yourself something to read.”


“Starsk...”  Hutch wasn’t happy any more.  In fact, he looked like he might cry.


“Go on,” I said.  “Get out of here.”


Hutch put his sandwich down on the tray.  Leaning over he caught my face between his palms and stared intently at me.  “I love you,” he said.  “You’re not a burden.  You never will be.”


I leaned forward just far enough to close the gap between us and kiss him.  Then I said, “I love you, too.  Now go buy yourself a book.”


The corners of his mouth pulled down, but he did what I said.  Though between getting his coat on and finding his keys, he stopped in twice more to tell me he loved me.  He even tried to get me to promise I’d still be here when he came back.


“Make it a good book,” I said.  “Something thick.”  Hutch wasn’t going to be happy when he got back, but I knew he’d forgive me.


Assuming I pulled it off in the short amount of time I had available.  Fifteen minutes to the bookstore.  Maybe two minutes to grab the first book he saw, and then ten minutes back because he’d be speeding by then.


I waited until I heard the car pull out of the driveway, and then I sat up on the edge of the bed and started going through my bedside table.  Hutch keeps my meds in the top drawer.  Everything was there, except the morphine.


The bastard had hidden it.


I propped my elbows on my knees and rubbed my face.  Limited energy reserves meant I couldn’t go running all over the house searching every room.  Where would he have put it?  Somewhere he wouldn’t expect me to look, but also somewhere he could get to easily in case I needed a dose in the middle of the night.




I heaved myself up onto my feet and made my way over to the dresser.  I opened the second drawer from the top and there was the bottle of liquid morphine, tucked right in with his socks.  There was a notepad and a pen on top of the dresser, so I jotted down a short note before I collected the bottle and went back to bed.


Drinking that brown liquid was easy enough.  Hutch usually mixed it into apple juice for me, but I figured I could handle it straight up, even with the bitter aftertaste.  I put the empty bottle on the bedside table, got comfortable and tried to go back to sleep.


I probably should have done more research before jumping into things.  One moment I was doing okay and then suddenly it felt like my old friend the elephant had dropped right down out of the ceiling, crushing me into my bed.  I couldn’t move.  I was trapped and suffocating and I almost panicked until I remembered that was the whole point of this exercise.


I forced myself to relax.  I wanted this.  I could do this.


I thought about that dream I’d had, but there was something I wanted even more than my family and friends.


I wanted to be driving my red car down the wide open highway.  I wanted the wind in my hair and salt air in my face, and the sun shining above me.  Then something shifted in my brain, and it was all real.


I can feel the wheel in my hands, and the motor humming beneath my seat.  Reaching down, I pop the glove compartment and pull out my sunglasses.  The seat beside me is empty, but I know Hutch isn’t far behind.


The future is getting brighter with every passing mile.





Author's Note