A Chess game
is a dialogue, a conversation between a player and his opponent.
FRUSTRATED, Hutch smacked the
side of the air conditioner. Something inside the box popped and there was a sudden acrid scent of burning plastic in the
“It’s dead, Jim.”
Hutch glanced over his shoulder
and saw Starsky standing in the bedroom door.
to be sleeping.”
“Too hot.” Starsky moved slowly over to the couch and sat down, drawing in on himself as the movement pulled at his
still healing wounds.
It took all of Hutch’s
control to refrain from pointing out the obvious. Which was that Starsky wouldn’t
be nearly so uncomfortable if he would take off the long sleeved shirt. Or at least undo the top few buttons of his collar.
Instead he turned back to the
air conditioner, and fiddled with the knobs. “I called Huggy. He said he’d try to track down a new air conditioner, but no promises. With the heat wave...” Hutch trailed off, unsure if
Starsky was listening.
“Oh, well,” said
Starsky, vaguely. He gazed out the window.
Hutch didn’t like the way
Starsky looked. He was flushed, his hair hanging in damp tendrils around his
face. His lips were pale, and his mouth was pinched in obvious pain. Hutch checked his wristwatch. Still an hour and a half to
go before he could have any more meds.
Pushing himself to his feet,
Hutch went to the kitchen to get Starsky a glass of cold water. Left to his own
devices, Starsky would simply endure in miserable silence until it was time to take his meds.
And that wouldn’t be any good for either of them.
I can’t do anything
about the pain of four bullets in the chest, but if I could get him cooled down...
He had no intention of trying
to bully the man into a cold shower. Or even of ordering him to take off his
shirt. Since the shooting, Starsky had by necessity been forced to give up a
lot of his personal dignity and autonomy. There was no way in hell Hutch was
going to rip the last shreds of that away from him now.
With a sigh, he re-entered the
living room. Starsky was in the same position he’d left him, still looking
out the window, still enduring.
“Here,” said Hutch,
holding the glass out.
There was a moment’s pause
before Starsky looked up. He gave him a grave smile as he accepted the water. “Thanks.”
“I know it’s a while
before you can take any more painkillers...”
“Eighty-two minutes...” Starsky rotated his wrist to bring his watch into view without raising his arm. “And fifteen seconds.”
Hutch paused. “Right.” Slightly off balance, it took him a minute
to remember what he’d been about to suggest. “So, if you aren’t
going to sleep, why don’t we play a game? We could play Monop–.” Hutch stopped at the look Starsky gave him.
“Okay, so we’ve played a lot of Monopoly lately. Checkers?”
Starsky shrugged. It wasn’t an outright refusal, but it was hardly the enthusiasm, however faint, that Hutch had hoped
He tried something else. “Chess?”
Now that got a reaction. Starsky gave him a curious glance. “I
thought you didn’t want to play with me anymore after I whupped you that one time.”
“That’s because you
didn’t play fair. You set me up, pretended you didn’t know how to
play, and then you distracted me!”
Starsky’s smile had a bit
more life in it this time. “You’re going to let me beat you again?”
“Hey, I’m onto you
now, buddy!” Hutch warned as he opened the cabinet beneath the television
set. “I was in the chess club in high school, you know...”
He missed Starsky’s mumbled
response. “Huh? What did you
“I said, me too.”
Hutch sat back on his heels,
the small wooden box containing the chess pieces in his hands. “You were
in the chess club?”
“You see, there was this
girl named Mary Ellen Petrovski. Nice Catholic girl, right down to her white
cotton undies...” Starsky grinned at Hutch’s surprised laugh. “She had a thing for chess.”
They set the game up on a TV
tray, so that Starsky could be as comfortable as possible while playing. Hutch
pulled the wicker chair over until he was on the other side. He frowned as he
watched Starsky pause to rub the sweat out of his eyes before reaching for the black queen.
All the windows were open, but
the air outside was nearly as stagnant as the air inside. The box fan, rattling
away with steady determination in the corner, served only to move hot air from one end of the room to the other. The atmosphere was heavy with sweat and illness and the scent of medicated lotions.
Too bad we’re not playing
strip poker. Hutch stopped, as a new thought occurred to him. “Hey, wanna make this more interesting?”
“How?” A black king found his way over to the spot next to the queen. Starsky
was moving at 33rpm in a 78rpm world, the bulk of his concentration on the pain he was feeling.
“Ever hear of strip chess?”
Starsky stopped, a bishop in
his hand. His eyebrows crawled up his forehead in an almost comical expression
of surprise. “I think you just made that up.”
“I swear to God, I used
to play it all the time,” Hutch lied without shame. “I’m shocked
you never played it with that Mary Jane of yours.”
“Mary Ellen,” corrected
Starsky, automatically. “And you are in no way as cute as she was.” He paused, his expression darkening. “Besides,
I know what you’re up to.”
Hutch leaned forward, and touched
Starsky’s forearm. “Look, it’s hot, and we’re the only
ones here. Why won’t you take off your shirt? It’s not like I haven’t seen your scars before.”
He refrained from pointing out just who it was who helped Starsky in and out of his bath, who applied ointment to the
places he couldn’t reach, and who dressed him every morning.
“It ever occur to you that
maybe I don’t like lookin’ at ‘em?”
“It’s probably a
hundred and thirty degrees in here! What’re you going to do?”
“At least give me a chance
to change your mind.” Hutch stroked Starsky’s arm and gave him his
best pleading look. “Please?”
“I’m not one of your
girls, Hutch. That doesn’t work on me.” But Starsky was having difficulty maintaining his scowl, and in a moment he relented. “How does this work?”
“For every one of your
pieces that your opponent captures, you have to remove one item of clothing.”
“Kinky.” Starsky examined the board for a moment, before dropping his last piece into place. “Okay, move your thingy.”
Hutch choked, then collected
himself and moved his king’s pawn out two spaces. “Why don’t
you call them by their right names?”
“Too hard to remember.” Starsky moved the black king’s pawn forward until it was face to face with Hutch’s. “Anyway, you don’t need fancy names if you know what they do. All these guys in the front row here, f’rinstance, are just like black-and-whites. They’re patrolmen. You can get them out the door of
Parker Center pretty fast, but after that they’re making their way one block at a time.”
“Okay,” said Hutch
as he moved his bishop out. “Then what about the bishops?”
“R and I,” said Starsky
without hesitation. “They got the angle on everything, and you need them
to back you up.” His bishop echoed Hutch’s, coming out to meet him.
Hutch’s Queen slid out
from behind the line of pawns. He didn’t want to draw attention to his
strategy, so he said, “Then what are we? Knights?”
“No way!” Starsky’s reaction was immediate and forceful. Hutch
watched with dismay as Starsky moved his black knight out into the board, blocking access to the bishop’s pawn. “The horsey guys, they’re obviously chippies.”
“Highway patrol?” Having lost any chance of a quick win, Hutch cautiously moved a pawn forward to back
up his own Bishop. “How do you figure that?”
“Two blocks forward, and
then they fall off their motorcycle.” Starsky picked up a black pawn and
used it to demonstrate, retracing the L-shaped movement of his knight, before placing it back down on the board, directly
behind his bishop.
Hutch frowned at the board. Starsky had done it again. Hutch had
gone into the game with a plan, then Starsky had started talking about something completely nonsensical, and now his plan
was shot. He moved a knight’s pawn forward, and tried to refocus on the
“Of course, if my guys
are all cops, then yours must be mobsters, or maybe Internal Affairs,” said Starsky, as he slid his queen’s pawn
forward, placing both Hutch’s Bishop and pawn in jeopardy. “Watch
out, or I’ll bust your right hand man next turn.”
“My pieces are not Simonetti
and Dryden! Or the Mafia,” protested Hutch. He used his pawn to capture
Starsky’s and smirked at him in triumph. “Okay, off with that shirt!”
“Nuh, uh.” Starsky started to shake his head, then clearly thought better of the movement as a brief wince crossed
his features. “You said each person only has to remove an item of
clothing. So, I’m taking off my pants.”
Hutch pulled the table back to
give him more room. “I suppose I should count myself lucky you aren’t
Starsky didn’t answer. His focus was centered on getting to his feet, and, once that had been accomplished,
on pushing his sweat pants down over his hips. Hutch waited, patiently, and tried
not to think about the jeans Starsky had once favored, none of which would have fit him as snugly these days as they once
Starsky let himself down carefully
on the couch, wheezing slightly but looking triumphant. “Bring that board
back here, it’s my turn.”
Hutch arranged the tray over
his partner’s bony knees. “I’ll make you lose your shirt yet,
you just wait.”
“Yeah, yeah, you talk big...” Starsky studied the board.
Hutch was expecting him to take
his pawn with another pawn, because surely Starsky wouldn’t risk his knight. Depending
on how this played out, they would both lose pieces, but he would come out ahead in the final count.
“Gotcha,” said Starsky,
sliding his other bishop out to threaten Hutch’s queen.
Hutch blinked. What the hell was he doing? Hutch almost took Starsky’s
bishop, then he noticed that the piece was being backed up by a knight. Did
he plan this?
He moved his queen into the only
safe square remaining, to the side.
“Now, you see this guy
here?” Starsky tapped his king. “He
doesn’t move so fast. Kinda lumbers, actually. But he can go anywhere he likes, and he’s the boss piece. We
lose him, we lose the whole game. So, I figure he’s our Captain Dobey.” Starsky moved the king two spaces to the left, and brought the rook over to his other
side, castling it behind a row of pawns. “And these pieces here? All straight edges and corners, they stand for Parker Center. I
just put Dobey back behind his desk here, safe as houses.”
Hutch stared at the black king. No, he just couldn’t buy it. That
piece was much too thin to be Dobey. Hutch shook his head, trying not to get
distracted from the real game. He spotted an undefended black pawn near the center
of the board and took it with his queen. “Okay, buddy. Now you’re losing that shirt.”
“I don’t think so,”
“We made a deal!”
“Yep, and I’m still
wearing two items of clothing.” Starsky held up two fingers for emphasis.
Hutch’s eyes widened. “Oh no, you’re not going to...”
“You made the rules, you
deal with the consequences. Get this table out of my way. I’m taking off my underwear.” He paused and gave
Hutch a challenging stare. “That is, unless you want to concede the game?”
“Oh for the love of... Starsky, you have no shame! And I’m
“Hey...” Starsky gasped, as he climbed to his feet for a second time. “Like
you said, we’re all alone here, and it ain’t nothing you haven’t seen before.” He blew out a long breath and swayed dangerously. Hutch tensed,
prepared to catch him if he lost his balance. But Starsky steadied and managed
to step out of his shorts.
He sat down with deliberate dignity,
as composed as if he were wearing a complete three piece suit, and not a tattered blue shirt over nothing at all. “My move,” he said. Then he paused and grinned
at Hutch, a real grin, not one of the forced ones Hutch had been seeing lately. “You
know, you were right? This is a lot more comfortable. I think I could get used to this. Do you suppose I could claim
nudism as a religion? Then I could go around like this all the time! Even at work!”
“Are you going to move?”
asked Hutch, pained at the thought of being partnered with a permanently naked Starsky.
Not that those jeans he used
to wear left much to the imagination...
“I’d have to come
up with some religious holidays...” Starsky moved his rook into the queen’s
file. He yawned and Hutch noticed that his eyes were sinking to half mast. It doesn’t take much to wear him out these days.
Hutch took Starsky’s rook. “Now you’re not only losing the shirt, but I think you’re also going
to back to bed. Because I’ve just put your king in check.” Hutch collected the rook from the board and waggled it in Starsky’s face.
Starsky shrugged with good humor
and began unbuttoning his shirt. “It’s lucky then that I won’t
be losing any more pieces or you’d be demanding my first born child.” He
paused, looking down at his chest, his smile dimming.
Softly, Hutch said, “It’s
really not that bad.”
Starsky didn’t answer. He kept working on his buttons. When
they were all undone, he slipped the shirt off and dropped it beside him on the couch.
Then he looked up with a determined expression in his eyes and said, “You think you’ve won, but I’m
still going to beat the pants off of you. Watch this.” The black queen took the white queen, and in one move the tables had been turned and Hutch was now the
player in check.
“Damn,” said Hutch,
honestly puzzled as to how that had happened. I’m a better player than
this, how did he get around me like that?
Starsky held up the white queen
and said, “You see this piece? This is us.”
Hutch forgot all about his impending
loss as the meaning of what Starsky had said hit him. “You just called
us queens!” He laughed heartily.
“Not that kind of queen!”
Hutch was sure that if Starsky
had been in better shape he’d have smacked him.
“Besides,” said Starsky,
“Real queens would be better dressed than us. Or… more dressed, anyway. Speaking of which, you’re wearing one too many items of clothing. Strip!”
Hutch removed his shirt and tossed
it onto the floor behind his chair. Then he used his knight to block Starsky’s
queen. “How do you figure we’re...” He swallowed a snicker. “Queens?”
“Most powerful pieces on
the board, right? We go everywhere and do everything. It’s way better than being some goofy horse-headed guy.”
Starsky used his queen to take Hutch’s knight. “What’cha
gonna lose next? Besides the game, I mean?”
Hutch took off his pants. Then he reached forward and tipped over his king.
“Yep, but I figure you
should lose the underwear, too. Because the king also counts as a capture, and
I’m not going to be the only one sitting here in my birthday suit.” Starsky
folded his arms over his chest, unsuccessfully trying to stifle another yawn. This
was followed by a wince of pain as the deep breath pulled on the delicately healing tissues inside his chest.
Hutch didn’t have to think
twice. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do, if it would help Starsky
feel better. “I’ll do it, if you lie down there and try to
get some sleep. There’s still...”
“Forty-three minutes and
“...before you get your
“You got a deal.” Starsky eased himself down on the cushions, letting his head fall back on the arm. He looked up at the ceiling, and Hutch was disturbed to see the resignation back in
his eyes. He would have suggested another game, but Starsky was clearly too tired.
After a moment’s thought,
Hutch stood, shucked off his underwear, and went to collect his guitar from where it rested in its case against the wall. Starsky rolled his eyes to the side, looking at him without moving his head. “What are you doing?”
“I thought I’d play
a little.” Hutch threw a cushion onto the wicker chair, before sitting
down with one leg folded beneath him. It definitely felt odd not having any clothes
on, but Starsky was right, it was something he could get used to. Especially
when it was this hot. “Don’t let me disturb you,” he said,
running through a few chords.
Starsky closed his eyes, a slight
smile on his face. “You never do.”
Hutch played until the lines
of pain smoothed away from Starsky’s face, and his breath evened out in sleep.
He’d never been so happy to lose a game of chess in all his life.
Huggy, on the other hand, maintained
for years after that his nightmares were regularly haunted by horrifying visions of Hutch, stark naked, playing Stairway to
Heaven on his guitar. Temporary embarrassment aside, Hutch was far more upset
about the fact that Huggy had dropped the new air conditioner.
Hugs and Kisses
to Ginalin for providing the inspiration for this story with her challenge sentance: "When the pain got too intense,
Hutch would find something new to distract Starsky, but the most memorable was a naked performance of "Stairway to Heaven"
on his guitar."