It's My Party, And I'll Cry If I Want To
By Maquis Leader
Author’s note: The Sunday Discussion at Love of Me and Thee sparked what was supposed to be a quick little story about Hutch’s birthday. A couple of quick paragraphs I figured... I blame Kimberlyfdr for this one...
“What the hell?” Hutch put the phone down. “Three hundred and fifty balloons? He ordered three hundred and fifty balloons?”
“What’s that, partner?” Starsky sat down at his side of the table. Ripping open the candy bar wrapper, he took a bite. “Sure you didn’t want me to get you something while I was out there?”
“No? So you want me to go back?” He licked chocolate off his fingers.
“No, I’m sure I didn’t want anything.” Hutch rubbed at his forehead, trying to stall the headache before it started. Today was his birthday and Starsky always did something outrageous. This year looked to be no different. The phone call had been to confirm Starsky’s order of three hundred and fifty balloons.
“You should get something to eat.” Crumpling the candy wrapper into a ball, Starsky shot it into the wastebasket. “That rabbit food you had for breakfast isn’t enough to keep… a rabbit alive.”
“It’s perfectly healthy, and has everything I need.”
“Hey…” Leaning on the table, Starsky reached out and patted Hutch’s hand. “If it makes you happy – then I’m happy. You’re the birthday boy.”
“I’m an adult, not a kid.” He batted Starsky’s hand away after a moment. “And please – please don’t plan a party.”
“I’m not.” The sapphire eyes were wide and innocent.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Standing up, Hutch glared at his partner. “I’ve seen what happens when you use that look.”
“Don’t worry, it's not like I’m trying to get into your pants.” A grin turned the innocent look into pure wickedness. "You're not my type, sweetheart."
“Starsky!” Captain Dobey’s voice carried through the squad room.
“Coming, mon capitaine.” Getting up, Starsky patted his partner on the shoulder. “Take it easy, Hutch, at your age you might sprain something.”
“You’re older than I am, smartass.”
“Not by much.”
“And not mentally.” Hutch laughed at the look on Starsky’s face. “Go see what Dobey wants.”
“Hey, do me a favor.” Starsky paused in the doorway. “I left my book in the car, would you get it?”
“Starsky, that’s not a book.” Starsky had spent most of last night reading to him from Brewing Beer for Fun and Profit while they staked out a suspected drug dealer. “That’s an instruction book on how to get drunk – if you don’t poison yourself first.”
“I’m telling you – soon there’ll be a hundred types of beer to drink – “ Starsky looked over his shoulder as Captain Dobey bellowed his name again. “We can get in on the start of something big.”
“Next you’ll be telling me that they’ll make little tiny computers you can carry around.”
“Hey! That’s a thought!” Snapping his fingers, Starsky grinned again. “Or phones with no cords!”
Hutch shook his head as the door closed behind Starsky. “I should have him committed.”
Walking out of the squad room, Hutch went down to the garage, nodding at people who wished him a happy birthday. In the Torino, he opened the glove box and dug around for the book Starsky had been reading. “Where the hell did it go?”
The memory of Starsky sliding it under the seat came to him, and Hutch leaned down to reach under the driver’s seat. His fingers hit paper and he pulled out a receipt of some kind. “Getting sloppy, Starsk.” He felt around under the seat again until he found the book. “Gotcha!”
Sitting up, Hutch took a second to glance at the receipt and see if it was important enough to keep or if it was something he could throw away. “Oh no…”
The receipt was from Wanda’s House Of Fun for one large cake with stripper. Starsky’s scrawling handwriting noted the desire for “a redhead with big ones”.
“Oh my God, this is going to be worse than last year.” Hutch closed his eyes, remembering the surprise fireworks that had resulted in the fire department being called and his landlord raising his damage deposit.
“I’m going to tell him – “ Hutch remembered Starsky’s smile as he'd opened the present Starsky had given him last year. A book that he had been searching for and that Starsky had somehow tracked down. There was no way he could shoot down whatever had been planned. The resulting party would no doubt land them in jail, but there was no way Hutch could disappoint his partner.
Stuffing the receipt back under the seat, where Starsky had hidden it, Hutch locked the door and headed back upstairs. “A few days in jail could be a nice vacation. I can read this and learn to brew beer for fun and profit.”
Back upstairs, Hutch walked into the squad room in time to hear Starsky tell someone on the phone that he needed a hundred cans of whipped cream. Closing his eyes, Hutch considered turning and going home.
Instead he walked over and dropped the book onto the table. Starsky jumped and hung the phone up. “You didn’t say goodbye, Starsk.”
“Uh… already did?” He smiled and looked guilty.
“Starsky, listen, I know you’ve got a secret birthday party planned but – “
“Me? Plan a birthday party?” Shaking his head, Starsky smiled wider. “After last year? I promised no more birthday parties. Just me and you and a couple of cold beers. Maybe we can go sit on the beach?”
“Now, see, that’s more like it. No more wild parties. Maybe a steak dinner first?” Hutch watched the smile fade from his partner’s face. “Oh hell, just promise me no trips to the emergency room this year.”
“Hey, it wasn’t my fault the fireman dropped that hose on your foot.” He reminded Hutch. “He should have been more careful.”
“You shouldn’t have set my apartment on fire.”
“It wasn’t your apartment, just the kitchen.” Starsky defended. “And I didn’t think the sparklers would catch the tablecloth on fire.”
“Starsky…” His head ached, and Hutch rubbed at his temples. “Please… I’m turning thirty five, not five.”
“And we should celebrate.” Starsky tapped his chest. “Some of us are happy to be thirty five.”
The reminder of the shooting and Starsky’s long road to recovery made Hutch feel like the biggest jerk on the planet. Last year, Starsky had talked Huggy into smuggling him out of the hospital so he could set up a birthday party that had somehow gone up in flames, and they’d both ended up back at the hospital.
Starsky had gotten a lungful of smoke despite Hutch’s efforts to get him out into the hallway. Wheeling him out of the apartment had allowed the fire time to jump from the tablecloth to the rug to the curtains, and forced Hutch to call the fire department. Starsky had wheeled himself back inside to get the present he’d gotten for Hutch, stubbornly refusing to leave it behind.
Why the fireman had chosen to drop the heavy brass end of the fire hose on Hutch's foot was still a mystery. Possibly because he’d been laughing his ass off at seeing Hutch sitting on the curb with Starsky on his lap to keep him off the cold, wet sidewalk, Starsky clutching a scorched present, and both of them with blackened faces because they hadn’t been able to get the damn wheelchair down the stairs.
Later, in the ambulance, Starsky had handed him the package and out had come a smoky copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, copyrighted 1957, just like the one he’d had as a gift from his grandfather on his twelfth birthday. A book that Van had given away to some charity group. “It was old and tattered and ugly. Really, Ken, what is the problem?”
“I’m very happy we’re thirty five.” Hutch reached out and patted his partner’s hand. “Let’s just make sure we make it to thirty six.”
“We will.” Starsky pushed his chair and stood up. “Come on, we’ve got a lead on the case.”
“Reliable?” He was already up and following his partner out of the squad room.
“That remains to be seen.”
The lead was reliable and soon Hutch was handcuffing the latest sleazebag in a long line of sleazebags who thought they could sell smack in their precinct. “Read him his rights, Starsk. Starsky?”
He turned to look for his partner. Starsky was talking to one of the witnesses and taking notes on his hand. “Typical. All right, get in the car.”
Reciting the Miranda rights from memory, he shoved the man into the backseat of the Torino before sliding into the passenger seat to wait for Starsky to wrap things up. The radio called for his attention, and he reached down to pick up the mic.
“Zebra Three, here.”
“Zebra Three, stand by for a patched through call.”
“Zebra Three standing by.” Hutch peered out the window at Starsky; he was still talking to a young woman who was trying to talk on a pay phone. “I don’t think she’s going to be much help, partner.”
“Is this Starsky?” A voice crackled through the speaker.
“This is Detective Hutchinson.”
“Starsky, okay, well it wasn’t easy.” A scratchy laugh. “But I got the stuff you wanted.”
“What stuff? This is Detective Hutchinson.”
“What? You’re all scratchy sounding.” There was a banging sound as if the caller was smacking the receiver on something metal. “I found a mariachi band like you wanted. They just lost their job at Los Tres Cochinitos – I mean finished up their job there. I told them they were hired. Okay?”
“A mariachi band?” Hutch’s eyes went wide. “No! No! Tell them no!”
“It’s a go? Good!”
“No! Tell them they’re not hired!” He yelled into the mic. “Tell them – hello?”
There was nothing from the radio for a moment. Then Mildred came back on. “Zebra Three, is there a problem?”
“Would you like a list?” He snarled and threw the mic down. Starsky was walking back to the car, a smile on his face, and Hutch had the urge to pull his gun and shoot him. It was not possible for his birthday to be any worse.
“Hey.” Starsky got in and shut the door. “What’s wrong? Your face is all red.”
“Nothing.” He snapped. “Not a damn thing. Can we drop this turkey off?”
“Sure.” Looking over his shoulder at the pusher, Starsky frowned. “What did you say to him?”
“Nothing, man.” The guy shook his head. He’d heard these two were strange as hell. He was just keeping his mouth shut and hoping his new cellmate wouldn’t want to snuggle.
Patting Hutch’s arm, Starsky started the Torino and pulled out into traffic.
“You know, I’m kind of tired.” Hutch gave an exaggerated yawn. “I should go home and get some shut eye.”
“Nice try, blondie.” Starsky shook his head. “Get in the car.”
“Wait, did we do all our paperwork?”
“Come on.” He pushed Hutch toward where the Torino was parked. “Walk with me.”
Starsky turned, a questioning look on his face. "Maybe it's time – "
"I didn't mean it like that." Not for a second would he have Starsky think that he resented helping him. "Let's go."
The only hitch in Starsky’s recovery was walking through the garage and the parking lot. The nightmares had faded away and he no longer jumped at loud noises, but the Metro garage and parking lot still made him shake. Having Hutch walk with him made the walk easier. Which meant that Hutch was going to have to walk right into the birthday party from hell. “Take deep breaths.”
“I am.” It was late afternoon, the same time it had been over a year ago when Gunther’s mechanics had used them for target practice. “Deep breaths… deep breaths…”
Hutch put his hand on Starsky’s shoulder as they neared the spot where the Torino was parked facing out into the lot. They wouldn’t be caught again with the car pinning them out in the open. “Almost there. You’re doing good.”
The muscles under his hand were trembling, and Hutch resisted the urge to throw an arm around Starsky’s shoulders. His partner insisted on meeting his fears head on, and the hand on his shoulder was all he’d allow. “Almost there, buddy.”
“Keys out… deep breaths…” Starsky’s hand shook but the key slid into the lock on the first try. Opening the door, he slid in and unlocked Hutch’s door.
The Torino roared to life and squealed out of the lot almost before Hutch had his door shut. He grabbed the dashboard as the turn onto the street nearly pitched him into Starsky’s lap. “Starsky, slow down, it’s okay.”
“I know, I just need air.” The window slid down, and he gulped in the cool air. “Weather’s nice for August.”
“It rained this morning.” Opening his own window, Hutch relaxed back in his seat as the car settled into a normal pace. A normal Starsky pace. “Why don’t we go back to my place? I’ll cook dinner and we’ll have a beer.”
“It’s your birthday, and I’m taking you someplace special.” The panic attack was gone and Starsky grinned at Hutch. “You spent damn near the whole year taking care of me, so I’m gonna take care of you.”
“Really, you don’t have to.” You’re an ungrateful asshole, Hutchinson. He’s going all out for you and all you can think of is how embarrassed you’re going to be. “Just having you around to drive me crazy is gift enough.”
“You always say the sweetest things.” Laughing, Starsky fed more gas to the Torino, cutting through the late afternoon traffic. “I can’t wait to call Ma and tell her you’re the man for me.”
“Smartass.” He reached over and grabbed Starsky’s thigh. “One of these days I’m going to take you seriously and kiss you.”
“Now who’s crazy?” Smacking Hutch’s hand, he guided the car up the onramp and onto the freeway.
“Where are we going?” They were headed out of Bay City and up the coast. Which could work in his favor. He would be embarrassed in front of total strangers rather than friends.
“That’s a ways out of town.” He turned to look at Starsky. “Why there?”
“I thought it’d be nice.” The sapphire eyes twinkled with mischief. “Great beach – lots of room for a party.”
“Starsky, really – “ Whipped cream and sand? “You don’t have to go to all this trouble.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“Let’s hope not.” Hutch sighed and leaned back in his seat as the car raced down the freeway.
“Here we are.” Starsky pulled off the road and into the parking lot. “It’s almost sunset, perfect timing.”
“Starsky, I’m not really dressed for the beach.” Hutch looked down at his boots and jeans.
“S’okay, I got some clothes for you.” Reaching into the backseat, Starsky hauled a duffel bag over the seats and dropped it in between them, grimacing as he did so.
“You okay?” He resisted the urge to reach out and rub Starsky's shoulder. His partner could get snappish over the lingering aches left by the wounds.
“Yeah, shouldn’t have pulled it over like that.” Starsky got out of the car, slinging the bag over his right shoulder as he slammed the car door.
Shutting his own door, Hutch followed him toward the beach. The hardest part of Starsky’s recovery had been his own urge to keep helping after Starsky could manage on his own.
They stopped at the public bathrooms and changed clothes, Starsky taking a pair of shorts and t-shirt out of the bag before tossing it to him. Inside he found a pair of his shorts and a t-shirt. No present was hiding in the bag, however.
Stuffing their clothes and guns in the bag, they left the bathrooms and walked down to the beach. Hutch looked nervously for signs of a big party. They passed couples and small groups, but they were all strangers.
Where are they? He searched up and down the beach for signs of balloons and a giant cake. Nothing. Where the hell are they hiding?
“Here’s our spot.” Starsky dropped the bag next to two beach chairs. A small bonfire had been built and was flickering warmly. An ice chest sat between the two chairs, and there was a small table with a covered tray on it. “Everything is set up.”
“Everything?” Hutch looked around at the nearby dunes and rocks.
“Yep.” Dropping into one of the chairs, Starsky lifted the cover off the tray. “Lobster – nice and warm.”
“I love lobster.” Hutch eyed the two huge lobsters sitting on the tray as he sat down in the other chair.
“And beer.” After fishing a beer out of the ice and opening it, Starsky handed it to Hutch. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” Hutch took the beer and looked around again. “This is it?”
“What were you expecting?”
“Um… I don’t know.” He smiled but he kept wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. “This is a little subtle for you.”
“Subtle is my middle name.”
“Your middle name is Michael.” Were they going to come swooping down from that little bend in the beach?
“You’re expecting balloons? Whipped cream maybe?”
Hutch’s eyes narrowed as he turned to look at his partner. The innocent look was back on Starsky’s face.
“Maybe a stripper jumping out of a cake?” Starsky was quickly losing his innocent face. “A mariachi band that’s so bad they got fired from their last gig?”
“You son of a – you set me up!”
“And you bought it.” He took a drink of his beer. “Hook, line, and sinker. Give you a stick, buddy, you’re a sucker.”
“And why not? Look at what you’ve done in the past. Remember the year you got us thrown out of the roller skating rink? And the Chuck E. Cheese incident?” Not sure if he should be angry or not, Hutch took a bite of his lobster. “Oh… this is… perfect…”
“I’ll tell Huggy tomorrow.” Starsky took a piece of lobster and dipped it in butter. “And how was I supposed to know skating naked was against the rules, and the pizza joint never asked how old you were when I set the party up.”
“So this is my birthday present?” One consolation to the crazy birthday parties was that Starsky had always gotten him the perfect gift. The Steinbeck book, having his songs printed and bound for him, the antique piano.
“You want more?” Getting up, Starsky walked out to the edge of the water.
“Starsk, hey – “ Hutch got up and followed him. “This is great.”
“Look at the sunset.” The beer bottle in Starsky’s hand pointed out the vividly setting sun. “And the water – all orangey and pink.”
“It’s beautiful.” Kicking himself for sounding like a child and asking where his real present was, Hutch laid a hand on the back of Starsky’s neck and rubbed gently. “Perfect.”
“Hope so. It’s what you asked for.”
“It is?” He frowned. “When did I ask for dinner on the beach?”
“Well, it wasn’t dinner specifically.” Starsky admitted. “When I was in the hospital. I heard you one night.”
“I – “ Hutch searched his memory. There were so many nights he’d sat by Starsky’s bedside, they’d all run mercifully together in his memory. Even after recovering from the shooting, Starsky had ended up back in the hospital with a bout of pneumonia that had him once again fighting for his life. “I don’t – it’s all a blur, Starsk. I’m sorry.”
“The first time. Right after you got back from arresting Gunther.” The night was crystal clear in his mind. “You’d been reading from our sick book to me. And then I guess you thought I was asleep.”
The sick book was a Michener novel they’d started reading to each other during various hospital stays and recoveries from shootings, stabbings, illness, and whatever else had laid one or the other of them low over the years. It had taken almost ten years to work through the Michener novel and start another one. This time they’d gone through three Micheners and a couple of Sheldons.
“What did I say?” He’d said a lot of things when he thought Starsky was sleeping or unconscious. Hutch rubbed Starsky’s neck again. He’d made a lot of promises to any deity that would listen.
“You said that all you wanted was to be able to sit on the beach with me and watch the sunset.”
Hutch blinked back sudden tears. “I remember.” He’d sat in the quiet, listening to Starsky’s raspy breaths, and the beeping of the heart monitor the doctor had ordered put back on him after Starsky’d had chest pains and trouble breathing one night. Listened and counted each struggling breath and told God he’d give up everything he had and that he never wanted another thing in his life if he could just walk out of here and sit on the beach with Starsky and watch the sun set.
“So…” He put an arm around Hutch’s shoulders. “Happy birthday.”
“I – thanks – it's – “ It was hard to talk.
“Unless you really want me to find you a mariachi band?”
“Shut up.” Sitting down on the sand, Hutch watched the sun dip into the waves.
“That’s what I thought.” Starsky yelped as Hutch pulled him down to sit next to him. “My ass is getting wet!”
“So’s mine.” Hutch held his beer out and waited until Starsky clinked his against it.
“This is carrying me and thee just a little too far, buddy.”
“This is perfect.” The water sloshed up around them, and Hutch laughed. “This is perfect."
*For timeline purposes, my research into their backstory led me to set the year they were born as 1945.