Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot
a hand my trusty friend,
And give us a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll take a right good-friendly draught,
auld lang syne.
“So are you going to grow
up and marry me, or will you be playing cops and robbers for the rest of your life?”
Her voice was pitched low, the
cutting tone intended for only one set of ears, and well masked by the raucous crowd around them. The television mounted above the bar was showing a grainy image of the ball dropping in Times Square, and the countdown had
But Hutch heard.
Starsky and his girlfriend had
been fighting all evening. Hutch sat just far enough away not to intrude, but
close enough to witness. He felt as if he was watching a disaster unfold in slow
motion. Something like the Hindenburg.
A relationship built on nothing but hot air, collapsing in on itself and going down in flames. Oh, the humanity.
There was no stopping the catastrophe. Hutch’s job would be picking up the pieces when it was over, assuming there
was anything left to salvage.
The patrons of the bar began
to shout the last ten seconds. Hutch’s date tugged at his sleeve, but her
words were lost in the noise. Starsky still hadn’t answered the challenge,
and Hutch felt a prickle of apprehension. A silent Starsky was never a good thing.
Hutch pushed his chair back and
stood, turning towards Starsky. Not because he thought Starsky would hit her. He wouldn’t. He’d never hit
a girl, no matter the provocation. But he was obviously going to do something,
and between the alcohol and the emotions running high, whatever it was couldn’t be good.
Starsky slapped his palms down
on the table, and she protested as her beer sloshed over the rim of her glass. He
rose to his feet, leaning forward, braced on his arms, so that she was forced to look up at him.
And then, abruptly, Starsky straightened,
turned and grabbed Hutch’s face between his palms. Without warning, he
planted a kiss directly on Hutch’s lips.
Startled, Hutch tried to step
back, his mouth opening in protest. But Starsky shifted his grip to Hutch’s
waist, hooking his foot behind Hutch’s ankle and dipping him over backwards. Hutch
had a moment of bewildered deja-vu, except surely Starsky’s tongue hadn’t been in his mouth last time.
Happy New Year!
And then he was back on his feet,
and his own girlfriend was hanging off his arm and laughing hysterically, saying something about, “But, Dave! Ken was supposed to be my date tonight!” While Starsky
was saying to the woman he’d just broken up with, “I’m sorry I ever told you I’d marry you. I can’t. I’m already married to my job.”
Hutch watched his partner push
his way out of the crowded bar.
What just happened?
Something had changed.
Starsky leaned over Hutch’s
shoulder, commenting on the report, and the details Hutch had left out. But he
found himself distracted, noticing the smell of Hutch’s aftershave and the way his hair curled over the edge of his
collar. The flat planes of his muscled back under his blue cotton shirt, and
the way the hair on his forearms caught the light from the window...
There had been a lot of these
moments over the last two months, enough that even Starsky couldn’t dismiss them entirely. Hutch made him feel good.
He supposed it had something
to do with finally giving up that ridiculous plan he’d once had, the one with the wife and the two-point-three kids
and the white picket fence. It was obviously time to give up wishing for things
he could never have, and simply enjoy what he did have.
Grinning, Starsky gave one of
the blond curls a tug as he headed back to his side of the desk.
Hutch gave him another one of
the puzzled looks he’d been directing his way for weeks. “What are
you so happy about?”
Starsky tipped his chair back
and crossed his heels on his desk. Folding his hands over his belly, he said,
“I like playing cops and robbers.”
Hutch snorted, but he was smiling
Yes, Starsky decided, life was
That feeling of warm contentment
stayed with him right through the night, and into the next morning. It was Hutch’s
day to drive, since they were both due at court.
He didn’t show up. And he didn’t answer his phone.
Starsky was no longer a happy
His mouth was dry.
Hutch tried to swallow, and discovered
he couldn’t. Eventually, after much careful consideration, he concluded
that the reason he couldn’t swallow had to be because his mouth had been stuffed with fabric. The gag pulled on his cheeks, and the knot dug into the back of his head.
Hazily he wondered if it was
cotton or polyester. If he had to be beaten, gagged and dumped, he would prefer
his kidnappers use natural fabrics.
Then again, it might be a blend.
In any case, regardless of what
it was made of, he didn’t want it in his mouth. He worked his jaws, trying
to loosen the gag. Pain ignited along the right side of his face, and he froze,
his eyes stinging with sudden tears. His face felt swollen, and his cheek throbbed
in time with the roaring in his ears. He tasted a metallic tang, and identified
it as blood.
Bad idea, he thought,
just before the fog moved back in, obscuring everything.
When it lifted again, his first
coherent thought was that his mouth was dry. Sluggishly, he worked through his
previous train of thought again, deciding to skip the part where he moved his jaw. His
face felt numb at the moment, and he wasn’t inclined to do anything to upset that state of affairs.
Water would be nice. Or beer. Even that kind of bitter grapefruit juice that came
in the little cans. Hutch wasn’t inclined to be picky. He’d take anything. Anyone.
He felt a jolt of alarm at that
last thought. No, not anyone.
Just one person. Hutch thought of dark curls and blue eyes and a crooked smile, and relaxed.
A vague memory surfaced through the fog, of a promise and a date...
Shit. It was a court date. At eleven. And Starsky was waiting for Hutch to pick him up.
Gonna be late.
Starsky’ll be upset
Hutch lifted his head, intending
to sit up. This small movement had a startling effect on him, not unlike flipping
on a light switch in a dark room, while staring directly at the naked bulb, while also nursing a hang-over. Brilliant, white-hot pain exploded behind his eyes.
He choked back a sob, not from
any sense of pride, but because even that sound echoed painfully loud inside his aching skull.
His head hurt, his face hurt, his shoulders, his ribs... The thump of
the back of his head hitting the cement went almost unnoticed among the cacophony of other physical complaints.
Hutch lay very still for a long
time. The fog pressed close in around him, and all he could sense in any direction
Eventually, though, the bad weather
began to clear, and in the course of cataloguing all of the damage, it occurred to Hutch that somewhere he must have hands. He smiled, and then lost the thought for a short time as pain ran up and down the
side of his face and his jaw thrummed in time to his heart.
Once more he thought about how
much he’d give for a nice tall cool glass of water. It was funny, considering
everything else that was wrong with him, that all he could think of was his dry mouth.
That thought led him on a circle around to where he’d left off, just before he’d unwisely tried to smile.
Hands. Imagine that.
He was pleased with himself. Hands were useful things. With them a
clever person might remove the gag, swallow, and even sit up. Find his car. Maybe the day wasn’t a complete write-off.
Starsky would understand why he’d been late, right?
Hutch located his hands without
too much difficulty - they were still attached to the ends of his wrists, though at the present that was not something he
was inclined to take for granted. In his current state, if someone had informed
him that his hands had fallen off and been lost, his only reaction would have been mild surprise.
He tried to move his hands, and
discovered that he couldn’t. He wiggled his fingers and concluded that
his hands were currently stuck somewhere down near his belt. Something rattled,
metal on metal. Very slowly, trying to keep the encroaching fog at bay, Hutch
rolled his head to the right and tried to pry his eyes open. He was only partially
successful. At some point when he’d been out, someone had glued his right
eye shut. His left eye, however, gave him a decent view of the long length of
his body. His jacket was missing, his shirt was untucked, and his wrists had
been fastened together with his own cuffs, the chain looped through his belt.
Damn. So much for his grand plan.
He supposed he shouldn’t
be surprised. None of his plans ever worked out.
If Starsky was here he’d know what to do. Starsky. In sudden despair, Hutch moaned low in the back of his throat. The
court date. He was supposed to pick up Starsky.
Starsky would be waiting for him, and he was already late...
You’re a screw-up, Ken
Hutch started to shake his head
in protest, but was forced to stop almost immediately, rapidly losing his bearings.
He tried to tell himself that it hadn’t been his fault. He’d
been tricked... It was a dirty trick, too.
But he’d be damned if he
could remember how or why. He tried to grab the memory, only to find it just
out of reach and turning insubstantial. And in any case that wasn’t what
mattered right now. All that mattered was the court date, and Starsky.
Above himself, Hutch saw a rough
brick wall, windowless. A single light bulb flickered above an empty doorway. In the distance he could hear traffic, but nothing nearer. No voices, and no signs of life. He was alone, staring up
at an empty patch of nighttime sky.
He’d missed the court date.
And he’d missed Starsky.
The patch of sky above him was
empty, utterly devoid of stars. He knew they had to be there somewhere, but the
light was blocking them out. It was, he thought, a hell of a time to realize
that he’d been looking right at something all this time and not seeing it.
How many times does a man need
to get hit on the head before he realizes who the most important person in his life is?
Hutch thought of Abby, whom he’d
been too busy to visit in the hospital until after the case was closed. A twinge
of guilt slowed him briefly, but he pressed on, dredging up whichever memories were accessible and finding that they were
all former lovers. Jeanie, who’d never picked up the phone to help him,
though she could have called anyone at any time. Gillian, beautiful Gillian,
who had understood what Starsky meant to him, even before he understood it himself.
Van... he moved on from Van, quickly, and tried not to look too close. Their
faces were emerging from the fog, each of them regarding him with affection, but Van’s face was too white, too bloodless,
and he felt cold terror in his gut at the sight of her.
I didn’t kill her. It wasn’t my fault.
I was tricked.
He tried to remember others. Anna had been hardly more than a passing dream.
And after her there was Marianne, and Kira... It occurred to Hutch that he could hardly protest having one put over
him, given the dirty tricks he’d played on others in his day.
But I never beat anyone and
left them in an alley. With a dry mouth.
And no water.
No, Hutch had just betrayed his
best friend by sleeping with the woman he said he loved. Hutch wondered which
option Starsky would have chosen, if he’d had the choice.
The one solid thread running
through his whole ridiculous life was Starsky. Constant, dependable, and unreasonably
forgiving. Even if he was being a little strange lately. Not in a bad way. It was just that Hutch was fairly certain
that a simple, friendly pat on the rear between best friends wasn’t supposed to impart quite that much electricity. There was something about that... Hutch’s
mind skidded off on another tangent. A safer one.
When Starsky had been shot and
Hutch had given up, thought he was dead and gone for good, crashed through the hospital doors convinced he was too late to
even say goodbye... Starsky had still come back.
In the dark, alone, it seemed safe to finally wonder if Starsky had come back to life because he knew Hutch needed
Absurd idea. And yet...
He’d probably even forgive
Hutch for not picking him up, and for missing the court date. Hutch felt the
sting of salt on his raw cheeks, and concluded that he was getting sentimental in his old age.
Starsky would laugh at him.
Oddly, the eyes he saw then weren’t
laughing. They looked worried. A
lot more than any of the other faces he’d seen passing by in the last while. It
confused him, hoping as he’d been for a little affection, and fearing flat anger.
It wasn’t until Hutch felt
hands moving over his body, checking him out with gentle urgency, that he realized Starsky might be more than just a memory.
Not yet completely sure about
that, Hutch studied the face above him. Starsky was lit from behind by the flickering
back alley light, his face in shadow. The starless night sky was still visible
behind him. Hutch felt fingers on the side of his neck, checking his pulse. Starsky turned his head and the light fell in a different way, features revealed.
Hutch looked at that familiar
face, and wondered why he’d never really seen it before. The stubble on
a neglected chin, a mole high on the cheekbone, long lashes and heavy brows drawn together in an expression of tight concentration. Bright eyes. A much more welcome sight
than any pale star could ever be.
Hutch suddenly realized that
the expressive mouth was moving. He tried to concentrate, retrieving the words
from memory with some difficulty and laboriously arranging sound into sense.
Are you all right?
Hutch felt his head gently lifted,
and the gag was removed from his mouth. He flexed his jaw and tried to smile,
never minding the lightning coursing along his nerves from his neck to his temple.
He managed one last thought before
the smothering fog rolled in and blotted out everything.
I am now.
Starsky looked up from his book
in time to see a foot move under the sheets. Just a small shifting of position,
a soft rustle, but it was enough to make him drop the book he hadn’t been reading anyway, and lean over the railing
of the bed.
The uninjured side of Hutch’s
face twitched, the corners of his mouth drawing down in unconscious protest, and Starsky grinned, unaccountably warmed by
True, Hutch wasn’t at his
most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the moment, with half of his face turning black and his ribs taped, but to Starsky’s
eyes he looked terrific. Without a doubt, the best thing he’d seen all
day. And getting better each time he woke up, a little more coherent if not yet
always sure where he was.
Starsky crossed his arms on the raised rail of the hospital bed and rested
his chin on his wrist. The nurse had insisted on raising the rails this time. Concussion victims were apparently notorious for falling out of beds. Starsky mused that he should have brought a camera, take a picture of Hutch all curled up sweetly in a
crib, post it all over the squad room the day he got back.... Starsky’s
It wasn’t that funny, really. They’d done this too many times, both of them.
Turning the city upside down, terrified they’d never find their partner in time.
It got to the point they’d even tried turning it into a game one time, and Hutch had nearly died.
We don’t need bad guys
out to do us in, give us enough rein and we’ll do it ourselves.
Starsky pushed back from the
bed, his hand finding its way under his shirt in a practiced gesture. Nervously,
he rubbed the ridge of scar tissue on his stomach. One near death experience
would be enough for most people, but apparently he and Hutch were slow learners. One
of these days...
One of these days Hutch would
go missing and Starsky would have heart failure from sheer terror long before he could rescue him. He felt an irrational surge of anger towards the semi-conscious figure in the hospital bed, and he struggled
to tamp it down before Hutch woke up. He could imagine the hospital’s reaction
if a nurse walked in on him shaking the invalid and shouting, How could you do this to me?
How could you scare me like that?
Hutch stirred, the crease between
his eyes deepening as he struggled towards consciousness. Starsky felt his anger
drain away all at once as one blood-rimmed left pupil focused blearily on him. He
tried not to wince, reminding himself that it was just a broken blood vessel in the eye.
Dramatic, but not nearly as serious as some of Hutch’s other injuries.
Such as the concussion, for instance.
Starsky hooked one elbow over
the railing and leaned forward. “How many fingers?”
Hutch sighed wearily, his eye
sliding back to stare at the ceiling for a moment before returning to Starsky. His
other eye was swollen shut. “That wasn’t even funny the first time.”
Starsky folded down the middle
finger he’d extended, his grin genuine this time. “You remember!” The last five times he’d tried this on Hutch, he’d reacted as if he’d
never seen Starsky do it before.
Not that he’d been amused
by it then, either. But that wasn’t the point, was it? Retrograde amnesia, the doctor had said, which had given Starsky a bit of an unpleasant jolt until the
doctor had explained that it wasn’t amnesia in the “he’s totally forgotten everything and everyone
he’s ever known” sense. Nope, it was just that he’d got his
brains a bit rattled. He needed time for everything to settle back into place.
Which was a relief, because, Been there, done that, the amnesia thing’s
getting old real old, buddy.
He must have let too much of
his thoughts show on his face, because Hutch said, “I knew you were going to be mad at me.”
Hutch’s voice cracked,
and the last words came out in a hoarse whisper. Starsky automatically reached
for the glass on the side table, and helped Hutch tip his head forward far enough to drink.
“I’m not mad at you,”
said Starsky. The look Hutch gave him over the top of the glass was skeptical
and Starsky amended his statement. “You scared me, that’s all. After all these years, I don’t think I’m up to starting all over again
with a new partner.”
“Mm,” said Hutch,
closing his eyes.
Starsky put the glass back on
the side table. “Don’t go to sleep again,” he said. “Talk to me. Do you know what day it is?”
Hutch’s eyes remained closed,
but Starsky could see by the concentration on his face that he was trying to remember.
“March thirty-first?” he finally offered.
Starsky shook his head. “April first.”
Hutch’s eyes flew open
in shock, and for a moment Starsky thought he was reacting to the traditional meaning of the day. Then Hutch said, “Oh shit, the trial! We missed the
Well, that was clearly one thing
he didn’t recall from all the previous times they’d talked. Starsky felt a touch a disappointment. Not quite all back yet, huh?
He’d repeated this particular
bit of information so many times for Hutch, that he was beginning to feel more than a little flippant about it. “You missed the trial,” Starsky said, straightening his collar and buffing his nails
on his shirt. “My testimony was more than enough to convince the
Hutch looked relieved. “We got a conviction?”
“Yeah,” said Starsky,
his mood darkening. “When you didn’t show up yesterday morning, I
figured there had to be something wrong. Before I could head over to your place,
Dobey called me saying that they’d found your car, abandoned.” He
knew this was the moment to say something sarcastic about Hutch’s taste in cars, and how it was a wonder anyone had
ever suspected it wasn’t dumped on purpose, but he couldn’t. The
fear was still too close to the surface, sitting in an ugly lump in the pit of his stomach.
Starsky continued, “Dobey had me escorted to the trial, in case they
were intending to try to take me out, as well.” He decided not to mention
that the escort had been less for his own protection than it had been to make sure he actually showed for the trial, instead
of hitting the streets immediately, looking for Hutch. Dobey had threatened to
cuff him and have him dragged into court by his heels, if necessary, and it had very nearly come to that. He was sure others in the department would be happy to fill Hutch in on the shouting match that had gone
down in Dobey’s office. And the broken water cooler.
Probably be legendary. Be hearing about it for years.
Hutch was looking at him quizzically. Starsky gazed out the window instead, trying to stay focused on the story. “They never intended to kill us,” he said. “They
just wanted us out of commission until the trial was over. They got you, but
they missed their chance at me. Soon as they realized that they’d lost,
we got an anonymous tip about your location. Except, they weren’t exactly
specific. Do you have any idea how many dead end alleys there are down in the
Richmond Industrial Park?”
Peripherally, Starsky was aware
of Hutch starting to shake his head. A small movement, immediately stopped as
he obviously thought better of it. Starsky continued to look out the window. The smog was heavy today, obscuring the view in a dirty grey haze. He didn’t mind. Some things didn’t bear looking
at too closely. We’ve been through this before. Nothing changed then, so why should anything change now?
He wanted to smash something. Break things. Tear the whole city down...
Starsky felt a thumb rub gently
across the back of his hand. He looked down and saw that his knuckles had turned
white. With deliberate effort, he forced himself to release the bed rail. Hutch tried to reach for his hand, but Starsky pulled back, tucking his hands under
his thighs, literally sitting on them.
Starsky reluctantly met his gaze. The look he saw there undid him completely, and suddenly he found himself suppressing
a ridiculous urge to cry. “I was scared,” he said, plaintively. Hutch’s crumpled body, at the end of the alley, too still, too cold. The fear that he’d been too late, followed by the fear he felt at Hutch’s blank gaze, and his
complete lack of response. And then later, never mind all the reassuring things
the doctor had to say, the fear that maybe this was just one knock on the head too many.
Hutch said, “You found
me. I always knew you were cleverer than me.”
Starsky’s surprised bark
of laughter held more than a hint of hysteria. He made a show of checking the
IV stand, almost knocking it over. “What kind of drugs have they got you
on?” Leaning over the bed, he reached for the bandage wrapped around Hutch’s
head. “You sure that knock on the head didn’t shake something loose?”
Hutch pulled away and winced
at the movement. “Shut up. I
did some thinking.”
Starsky paused. If he didn’t
know better, he’d think Hutch looked... nervous?
Suddenly, Starsky thought he
knew where this was going, and it was just one more thing to fear. Too new, too
strange - he took refuge in the familiar. Teasing, he said, “I don’t
know how you could have done any quality thinking last night. You were out of
your head. Kept going on and on about my eyes being like the stars...”
“You did. The nurses all thought you were absolutely adorable. Cutest
thing they’d ever seen.” Starsky shrugged. “Well, except for your face. I can’t say there’s
anything cute about that, right now.”
Except, he was lying. Because now Hutch covered his face with both hands, groaning in humiliation, and Starsky honestly thought
he did look adorable.
Starsky started to laugh. Couldn’t have picked a better time to fall in love, could he? With the object of his affections confined to a hospital bed, and entirely the wrong gender at that. April fool, David Starsky’s a world-class chump.
And apparently very slow on the
uptake, as well. What was your first clue, Dave? When you slipped him the tongue in that bar on New Year’s Eve?
And you call yourself a detective.
But that was just a joke,
wasn’t it? And anyway, it was his fault for kissing me back with his mouth
Hutch glared. “Why didn’t you stop me?”
It took Starsky a moment to realize
that Hutch was referring to his emergency room declarations of undying love. “Buddy,
you had all the attention span of... of a guy with serious head trauma. Every
three minutes it was like you had just discovered me all over again. You kept
asking how I got here and then apologizing for being late picking me up. Don’t
worry. No one’s taking you seriously.
Your reputation as a tough guy is safe.”
“Oh,” said Hutch. He sounded disappointed.
Because Starsky had said no one
would take him seriously? About what? Surely
not about being late. So if not that, then...
Starsky bent down and picked his book up off the floor. He said, “There’s chapters here about all the major holidays, like New Year’s, and even
April Fool’s Day.” He held the book up so that Hutch could see the
cover. It was another in the series of Golden True Fact books the hospital gift
shop stocked. Technically, he supposed, a kid’s book, but better reading
than the romances. He waited for Hutch to make some kind of snide comment about
his choice of reading material, but Hutch simply waited patiently, looking interested.
His confidence growing, Starsky
said, “You know, April first wasn’t always about playing tricks on people.
Way back when, it used to be the first day of the year.”
Hutch regarded him cautiously. “Really?”
“Yep.” Starsky took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. They were
usually on the same wavelength. After this many years as partners, they rarely
misread each other anymore. Operating in synch, always, never needing to think
It was just terribly hard to
believe that their partnership might even extend to this.
Starsky glanced down at the book
and found that the pages had fallen open back at New Year’s Day. His eyes
landed on the paragraph about the Feast of the Circumcision, and he thought, Hutch isn’t... Starsky felt his face grow hot. That part of Hutch’s
anatomy was definitely not a good thing to think about right now.
Though maybe later...
Starsky’s throat was tight,
as he said, “People used to celebrate New Year’s on April first. Sounds
like a good day to start something new, huh?” His voice squeaked on the
last word, and he closed his eyes in agonized embarrassment. This whole thing
was insane. He hadn’t had time to really think about it. He had no idea how it would work, and there was still the rest of the world to consider. Yeah, okay, guys did it, but it wasn’t exactly natural, was it?
There would be consequences. It was great that Hutch was with him this
far, but, oh god.
He felt a hand lightly touch
his cheek, and his eyes flew open. At the gently understanding smile on Hutch’s
face, Starsky felt all of his fears disappear. No matter what happened he’d
have Hutch. It was enough. More
Hutch’s thumb rubbed over
Starsky’s lips. “Happy New Year.”