Return to Never Saying Sorry, CHAPTER EIGHT



Wednesday, February 29, 1978


7:46 a.m.


Consciousness returned. More or less.


His sleep-encrusted eyes still glued shut, Hutch experienced the all too familiar sensation of his grey matter trying to slide out of his ears, no doubt hoping to escape to some haven less soaked in alcohol. Hutch released a careful breath and tried to relax, hoping that he was overestimating the amount of pain lying in wait for him.


That must have been some party.


Morning light filtered red through his eyelids, and Hutch slowly became aware that he was uncomfortably hot. Further sensory information trickled past the throbbing pulse behind his eyes, identifying the source of the heat under his cheek as the living warmth of a body. Hutch gradually realized that his left arm was flung across a waist, and that the person he embraced did not have the generous, smooth curves of a female friend. Instead, his head was resting on the hard muscles of an unmistakeably male body, thick hair tickling his nose as the chest beneath his cheek rose and fell in the slow rhythms of sleep.


Deeply confused, Hutch risked prying open his eyes. Ignoring as best he could the resulting surge in pain, he found himself squinting up at a stubbled chin, instantly recognizable despite the unfamiliar angle.


“Starsk?” Hutch’s voice was a barely audible croak. It felt like the sides of his larynx were scraping together.


The steady rise and fall of the chest beneath his cheek stopped for a moment, before resuming its rhythm, and the body beneath him began to stir. Which meant Hutch had less than a minute to figure out how he’d ended up in his partner’s bed, in nothing more than his underwear, clinging to Starsky as if the man had turned overnight into a large, sweaty teddy bear.


However it had happened, this was most definitely a compromising position. Hutch felt a sudden jolt of panic at the thought of what Starsky’s formidable mother would say if she caught him almost naked in bed with her son.


Hutch pushed himself up onto his arms, and whimpered as the monster lying in wait dug its sharp claws into his brain. Blinking through the agony of his crushed skull, he saw Starsky lift his head off his pillow, only half-awake.


“Starsk, where’s your mom?” Hutch told himself that the tremor in his voice was due to the throbbing in his head, rather than the terror in his gut.


Starsky’s face twisted into a grimace and he flung an arm across his face. From behind his elbow he groused, “Shit, Hutch. What crawled into your mouth and died?”


Hutch pushed himself back. Frantic, he looked around for his jeans, and spotted them neatly folded on the chair beside the bed. “Starsky, your mom!”


“Relax, already,” the muffled, sleepy voice scolded. “She caught the last plane back to New York yesterday. Our reputation’s intact.” A faint snicker. “Not that you ever had much of one t’preserve.”


Hutch’s brain was operating at somewhat less than 33 rpm. “Last plane?”


“Yeah, she has a life, ya know. When she’s not interfering with mine.”


Relieved, Hutch eyed his pants, and wondered if he had the energy to stand up and collect them. “You’re lucky she did,” he said without thinking.


“Am I?”


A chill ran down Hutch’s back, and he turned his head to find that Starsky had dropped his arm, and was regarding him with the same impenetrable expression he’d worn in the interrogation room on Saturday night. Despite the oddness of finding himself in Starsky’s bed, his partner’s initial banter had been so normal that it felt like a kick in the stomach to end up back there again.


Starsky broke the silence first. “What do ya remember about last night?”


Hutch tried to organize his fragments of memory into a coherent whole. He definitely remembered Huggy’s bar, but a close-up image of the dark wood grain of a table confused him. Where was the usual green checked table cloth? Hutch also recalled using his index finger to draw pictures in a sticky puddle of beer spilled on the . . .


No, that couldn’t be right. Though the disturbingly clear memory he had of the floor of The Pits might explain why he also remembered an extremely irritated Huggy.


Then, Starsky was there. Picking him up, and pouring him into the passenger seat of the Torino. Hutch recalled his amazement that Starsky had come to get him, and a wistful hope that perhaps his partner still cared.


Now, it occurred to Hutch that Huggy had probably called Starsky and insisted that he come and scrape his partner up off the floor of his bar. I’ll bet he said I was bringing down the tone of the place.


Meeting Starsky’s penetrating gaze, Hutch slowly shook his head, the care he took having as much to do with the sense of impending doom as it did with the semi-liquid state of his brain. “I – was in your car.”


“You got some pretty messed up ideas in that head of yours,” said Starsky, evenly.


“M-messed up?”


Starsky rolled over and swung his legs off the side of the bed, sitting next to Hutch. His expression was calculating, and Hutch felt the layers of his soul being peeled back and laid bare.


“I spend a few days locked up in jail and look what happens to you. You don’t eat. You don’t sleep.” He wrinkled his nose. “And you start smoking again.”


“I did not!”


“If you didn’t, it was only ‘cause Huggy threatened to ban anyone who gave you anything resembling a cigarette.” Starsky scowled. “Yeah, I heard about that. He also told me to tell you that you’re not allowed back in The Pits without a chaperone.”


Hutch shook his head again, this time in futile denial, and tried to stand up. His vision greyed at the edges and his head hummed. He swayed, but a strong hand caught his arm, steadying him.


“Go take a shower,” Starsky said. “We’ll talk later.”


Hutch felt ridiculously grateful for the compassion he hoped he wasn’t imagining in his friend’s voice. God, I hope he’s still my friend. Clutching a clean towel, his jeans, and a borrowed shirt, Hutch let Starsky steer him toward the bathroom.


Hutch helped himself to a couple of aspirin and several glasses of water. His stomach didn’t appreciate the latter, but at least his mouth and throat felt less like they were made of sandpaper. He stared blearily at his reflection, before deciding that was a mistake, and waited with closed eyes for the nausea to pass. He knew he'd probably feel better if he did vomit, he had no desire to compete with Starsky’s spectacular performance on Monday night.


Once his stomach had settled, Hutch decided he wasn’t up to shaving, and turned on the shower instead.  He stepped under the spray and then realized he’d forgotten to strip off his underwear. He was halfway through washing when his chemically battered brain suggested yet another reason to panic. They were both supposed to report to Dobey’s office at 8:30 this morning. He finished in a rush and, still dripping, retrieved Starsky’s watch from his jeans. It was 8:07.


Shit, getting shot at dawn would be merciful compared to what Dobey’s gonna do to us now.


Barefooted and with shirt untucked, Hutch emerged from the bathroom and noticed the changes he’d missed in his earlier post-alcoholic fog. Starsky’s place had been cleaned up, the furniture righted, and the smashed items discarded. Even the blood stains had been scrubbed out of the carpet. Some of the shelves looked conspicuously bare, and the white chair had acquired a noticeable tilt to the right, but otherwise all evidence of Saturday night’s violence had been erased.


There was a heavy smell in the air of eggs fried in bacon grease, and Hutch’s stomach lurched in protest.


“Sit.” Starsky was holding two plates. He gestured at the couch with his chin.


“I can’t,” said Hutch, certain that he’d never smelled anything less appetizing in his life.


“Sit down! I dunno when you ate last, but I know you’re going to eat now, if I have to shove it down your throat.”


Hutch swallowed, trying to settle his roiling stomach. If this was what Starsky always ate when he had a hangover, he really must have an iron constitution. “We’ll be late for Dobey . . .”


“I already called him and let him exercise his lungs at me. We’ve got an extra half hour.” Starsky advanced on Hutch until he was backed up against the couch. “You’re gonna sit your ass down, eat what I made you, and listen to what I got to say.”


Before Hutch knew how it’d happened, he found himself on the couch with a plate of bacon and eggs on his knees. He tentatively poked his fork at the yellow mass, and cringed when it slid sideways, leaving a greasy trail behind. He looked up and found Starsky looming over him with a threatening scowl on his face.


Resigned to the inevitable, Hutch speared a tiny curd of egg with the tip of his fork and placed it in his mouth, where he proceeded to chew it into oblivion, negating the necessity of actually swallowing. With a little luck, his stomach would never suspect a thing.


Satisfied, Starsky sat down in the chair opposite the couch and started in on his own breakfast.


Hutch rearranged the contents of his plate, and wondered what Starsky felt he needed to say. It occurred to him that his friend might want to talk about Williamson and the events of twenty years ago, after all.


Looking up, Hutch said, “You know I’m always here for you--”


The abrupt clatter of Starsky’s plate hitting the coffee table cut him off. Hutch flinched at the sudden fury on his partner’s face.


“That’s exactly your problem! You’re so busy trying to be here for me, even when I make it clear I don’t want you to, that you forget to look after yourself!”


“I don’t--.”


“What? You don’t know what I mean? Of course not.” His voice became a low snarl. “Crawling inside of a bottle of whiskey at The Pits last night must have been for the good of your health.” He shook his head. “Saddest goddamn drunk I’ve ever seen.”


The injustice of the accusation, especially coming from a man who’d been puking his guts out less than two nights ago, ignited Hutch’s own temper. “Now, wait a minute!”


Starsky leaned forward, catching Hutch’s gaze with an intensity that stopped him in mid-protest. “Do you think I like seeing my partner in pain? Knowin’ I’m the cause of it?”


The raw emotion exposed by Starsky’s words robbed Hutch of his anger. He was paralysed, unable to speak or look away.


“What were you trying to do, huh?”


It took Hutch a moment to realize that he was referring to the previous night. “Um . . . celebrate?” he said. Starsky scowled, and Hutch hastily amended his answer. “I thought I’d lost you.”


Starsky slouched back down into his chair. “Yeah, that’s what you said last night, just before you declared you were never letting me out of your sight again. Which was about five seconds before you attached yourself to me like some kind of drunken giant squid.”


Hutch cringed. “Uh . . .”


“All night I was having nightmares that I’d be hitting the streets in the morning with my partner permanently wrapped around my waist. Now, where’s the dignity in that, huh?”


Hutch shook his head. His brain was still refusing to come to his aid either with memories of the night before, or with suggestions on how to mollify Starsky.


Fortunately, Starsky’s ire now vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He shook his head. “Aw, Hutch, what am I supposed to do with you? You got any idea what kind of responsibility this is? I didn’t know you’d fall apart if I ever tried to break us up. I thought I was doin’ you a favor.”


This sympathetic affection was worse than his anger. Hutch looked down, noticing his forgotten breakfast still balanced on his knees.


Starsky tapped the edge of Hutch’s plate, and commanded, “Eat.”


Obediently, Hutch took another tiny bite of egg. It was cold now, but his interest in food was at such an all-time low ebb that it didn’t make any difference. After a minute of unenthusiastic chewing, he heard Starsky collect his own plate and carry it back to the kitchen.


The moment he was gone, Hutch scraped his breakfast into the closest wastebasket and placed his plate on the coffee table. He then looked around for his jacket, finding it hanging off the mirror by the front door, smelling strongly of smoke and booze.


“Take my windbreaker,” said Starsky, coming up behind him. “You’ve already done your share of stinking up my car, you don’t need to make it worse.” His head tilted to one side, and that familiar cocky grin appeared on his face. “And don’t think I didn’t notice what you did with your breakfast.”


“I couldn’t eat it.” Hutch shrugged into the borrowed jacket.


“Never mind, we’ll stop somewhere on the way to work, and you can buy yourself one of those disgusting health shakes, while you get me something decent.”


“What?” Hutch protested, as he followed Starsky outside. “Why am I buying you anything?”


“I slept with you last night, and now you won’t even buy me breakfast? If this is how you treat all your dates, it’s no wonder you can’t get anyone steady.”




But Starsky had picked up his pace and was already at the car before Hutch could extract any sort of vengeance. “Taking advantage of a man with a hangover, that’s just not fair.”


“Cry me a river, ol’ pal!”


But as good as his word, Starsky drove him to Mother Nature’s Buffet, and hauled him inside. Hutch peered at the choices for breakfast takeaway, and decided that a yogurt was probably the safest choice.


“Gimme one of those wheat germy bran muffin things,” Starsky instructed the young woman behind the counter.


Hutch’s eyebrows lifted, but Starsky just shoved it at him. “Like there’s anything here I’m goin’ to want to eat.”


“But --.”


“Don’t care if you think eating yogurt will make you live to 140, you’re eatin’ more than that.”


Hutch obediently bought both, along with a newspaper for Starsky. Hutch started toward the door, but Starsky blocked him, steering him toward a table. “Uh uh, I’m not takin’ the chance of all that healthy crap coming back up all over my seats. You eat in here, keep it down, then you’re allowed back in the car.”


“But we might end up being—” Hutch placed his food on the table, and glanced up at the clock on the wall, “well, later.”


“Like Dobey isn’t going to yell at me anyway. I’m in for a penny, might as well be in for the whole enchilada. Now eat.”


Hutch sat down, not allowing his already aching brain to wrap itself around this latest example of Starsky’s mixed metaphors. Hutch managed to choke down the yogurt, and despite his partner’s grousing about the food here, Starsky’s glance over the newspaper looked satisfied. Hutch wondered how much the first greasy attempt at breakfast had just been Starsky getting back at him, and decided that he’d rather not know.


Starting on his bran muffin, Hutch decided that Starsky looked at ease, unconcerned about the upcoming confrontation with Dobey. Then again, Starsky was never truly scared of Dobey. He’d most recently proved that when he had gone on the lam with his partner, rather than arrest him for Vanessa’s murder.


Hutch reflected that Starsky had no reason to worry about being late today because, no matter how bad the chewing out, he was going to have his badge back at the end of it. Plus, Starsky had no idea about the plan his partner had set in motion last night. Hutch felt a twinge of guilt, but pushed it down, reminding himself it was for his partner’s own good.


He stretched, and sighed. Despite the hangover, he was happy, knowing that soon they’d be back on the streets together, just as it should be. He then realized that their legs were now brushing against each other under the table. Starsky continued to read the paper, either unaware, or not caring. But suddenly Hutch did, and he carefully retreated from the contact.


Hutch now remembered his realization the previous night that Starsky’d had all of his personal boundaries ripped away from him by a predator. Hutch’s conscience assailed him, because what had he done afterwards? He’d attached himself to his partner like a -- how had Starsky put it? Like a drunken squid.


I didn’t just invade his personal space; I invaded his bed, for God’s sake.


The newspaper swatted his head. “Wake up, will ya? I’ve asked you twice already if we can go now.”


Hutch blinked. “You trust me in the Torino now?”


“Your color’s lookin’ a lot less scary—I’m willin’ to risk it. ‘Course, at the first sign of pukin’, I’m tossing you out.”


Hutch rose to his feet, and noticed that despite the residual pain and dizziness, he did feel a lot healthier. “Will you slow down first?”


“You wish.” Starsky got up, and turned his head as a pretty girl passed them. Hutch saw that a young man in a hurry was about to plow into his distracted partner, and he automatically extended his arm to maneuver Starsky out of harm’s way. Hutch snatched it back at the last moment. As he watched his partner avoid the collision on his own, he realized that giving Starsky personal space was going to be a lot tougher than he’d thought.


In fact, as they both headed out of Mother Nature’s Buffet, Hutch noticed that, as usual, they were practically walking on top of each other. Once again, he had to put distance between them, and it felt unnatural.


He walked over to the passenger’s side of the car, and was about to get in, when he noticed his partner glaring at him above the roof of the Torino. “’Fraid you’re goin’ to catch something, Hutch?”


Hutch’s jaw dropped, but Starsky didn’t give him a chance to respond. He slid inside the car, and slammed the door.


Cautiously, Hutch climbed into the vehicle, and closed the door. Starsky still hadn’t started the car, but was gripping the steering wheel, his knuckles white. The silence extended, only to be broken when Starsky slammed the heels of his hands against the wheel.


“Damn her, I knew --.” Starsky’s jaw clamped shut. The tension in his body was painful to see.


Hutch was appalled. Starsky thought he was avoiding contact because he was. . . was what? Disgusted by him? Considered him unclean, somehow? Part of him protested that surely his actions last night, and the previous morning had demonstrated that he wasn’t going to judge Starsky that way. But the saner half of his brain pointed out that some drunken declarations combined with a single, silent hug were unlikely to overturn decades of secrecy and shame. 


Great going, Hutchinson, you don’t even need to open your mouth to really put your foot in it.


Starsky reached to put the key in the ignition, and Hutch lunged, grabbing his wrist. “Don’t ever think that, ever.”


Starsky wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”


“No.” Hutch’s hand released his wrist, only to clamp down on his shoulder. “Stop that right now. Would you hold it against me if Williamson had done that to me?”


Starsky squeezed his eyes shut, and he rubbed his left hand against his forehead. “I know what you’re doing, you’re using that backwards psychology on me. And if you don’t knock it off, I’m gonna belt ya one.”


Backwards? Rather than correct his partner, Hutch decided to use it to his advantage. “Here’s some forwards psychology then. I don’t blame you, I’d never blame you.” He squeezed his partner’s shoulder hard, “Look at me, Starsk.” When there was no response, he snapped, “I said look at me, damn it!”


Starsky obeyed, and Hutch hated what he saw in the man’s eyes. “Nothing’s changed. You’re my partner, my best friend, and no matter what stupid things I might do or say, trust me, nothing’s changed.”


Starsky shook his head, and glanced away.


Hutch’s index finger stabbed him in the chest. “Who do you trust?” He demanded.


“Aw, Hutch, that’s not --.”


“Say it!”


Starsky closed his eyes, and mumbled, “Me and thee, same as always.”


“Don’t you dare forget that.” Hutch released Starsky’s shoulder, and leaned back into his seat. “Now, let’s get to the station, so we can get this partnership back in gear.”


After a moment’s hesitation, Starsky started up the Torino, and pulled out into traffic. Hutch forced himself to relax physically, and berated himself for his well-intentioned but utterly misguided idea. Regardless of how he’d ended up that way, Starsky was the way he was. The best thing to do was treat him as he always did.


Starsky parked the car in the lot. When he didn’t immediately open the door, Hutch decided a little extra reinforcement couldn’t hurt. “Nothing’s changed. Nothing could ever change what’s between us.”


“Heard you the first time,” his partner growled, and Hutch was relieved by how normal it sounded. 


Starsky got out, and Hutch followed. He was surprised to find his partner once more eyeing him over the roof of the Torino. “Nothin’ huh?” he challenged. “Pretty damn confident, ain’t ya?”


Hutch looked closely, and caught the mischievous glint in Starsky’s eyes. “Why, you’ve got some other big, ugly secret I should know about?”


“Nope,” said Starsky. “I’m more worried about your deep, dark past.”


“Well,” Hutch leaned on the hood of the Torino. “I did cheat on my fifth grade civics exam, but then I wrote it again because I felt guilty about it. I also used to read comics in the drug store without ever buying them.”


“Well on your way to the FBI’s Most Wanted, you were.”


Encouraged by Starsky’s teasing, Hutch continued. “I once gave Christine Stevenson two sticks of gum in exchange for a look at her panties. I used the telescope I got for my thirteenth birthday to peep into Sara Kessler’s bedroom window. I got caught parking with Janey Faber when I was fourteen. Mostly, though, I got into trouble for smoking. I got caught smoking out behind the tennis courts, the swimming pool, the boy’s locker room at school, the girl’s washroom . . .”


As Hutch rattled off the long list of his juvenile crimes, Starsky’s eyes grew wider and wider. Finally, he began to grin. “Shit, Hutch. You were like some kind of chain-smoking, sex-obsessed Beaver Cleaver.”


Hutch jammed his fists into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “That’s because I didn’t have you around to keep me on the straight and narrow.”


The half-embarrassed but pleased expression on Starsky’s face was all the reassurance Hutch needed.