October 14, 2007
“What did I get?”
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,”
“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
“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
“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
I dumped a bunch of dishes into
the water and he grabbed the towel.
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,”
I handed him a dripping dish. “You had the Plague.”
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.”
“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
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.
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
“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?
“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,
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
“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
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!”
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
“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
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!”
But I was already out the door. As I stomped down the stairs to the parking lot, there was only one thought in my
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,”
“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,
“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?”
“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
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.
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,”
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
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
Hutch grinned. “I thought I might find some tips for dealing with partners with the emotional development of a six
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
“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?”
“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
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
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,”
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?”
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.
“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
“Comfy?” he asked,
“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.”
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?”
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.
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.
“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
“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.
he said. “First you refuse my marriage proposal, and then you barf up blood
“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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
“Yes, he killed Nicky.”
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
“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
“Do the same for you,”
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,
“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
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
I smiled and waved goodbye, and
as soon as he was gone I got right on the computer.
Methods of suicide. Painless. Easy. No
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
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
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.”
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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.”
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
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 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
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,”
February 14, 2008, afternoon
“Did you mean it?”
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
Oh shit, I thought. It’s Valentine’s Day. I’d completely forgotten.
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
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
He leaned in and kissed me right
on the lips.
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,”
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
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
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.”
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.
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?”
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
“He fell?” asked
“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,”
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.
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.”
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
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
“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,
“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.
“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
“I want to research a cure
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
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
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
“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
Everyone was cheering and clapping. Hutch started to wheel me forward. “It’s
“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 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,
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
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
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
“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.”
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.
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
“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
“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
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
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.
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.”
“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
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
The future is getting brighter
with every passing mile.