Rebuilding The Future With The Past
By Maquis Leader
Author’s note: The story is set in 1992. Thanks to my friends out in Live Journal land for the Italian word for “go”!
“Sure, sure, not a problem. I can handle the three you’ve got before noon.”
“What?” Starsky looked up from the bag he was stuffing sunblock into. “You’re gonna be on the beach by noon.”
“No, it’s all right.” Hutch waved Starsky away.
“It’s not all right.” Starsky had known the minute the phone rang that it was bad news. “Come on, Hutch! Little umbrellas in the drinks, pretty girls in bikinis.”
“These things happen.” Ignoring Starsky’s glare, Hutch shook his head. “Babies have their own ideas on when they’re ready to be born.”
“Oh.” Starsky plopped down into one of the kitchen chairs. “Damn.”
“Kyle’s wife went into labor about an hour ago.” Hutch told him as he hung the phone up. “I’m going to help cover his appointments.”
“That’s not fair. I can’t even be angry.” Sighing, Starsky took the sunblock back out of the bag. “I’ll cancel our reservations – “
“Starsky, there’s no reason we can’t go. You go on up, and I’ll drive up this afternoon.” Hutch put the sunblock back in the bag. “I’m only taking three appointments – the last one comes in at eleven thirty. I’ll be out of there by twelve thirty or so.”
“Sure, I’m sure. We haven’t had a vacation – “
“Shh!” Holding a finger to his lips, Starsky glared at his partner. “Don’t say the ‘v’ word! It’s bad luck!”
“Starsk – Jesus.” He shook his head, showing his contempt for luck in general and bad luck in particular. “We haven’t had a va – “
“A holiday where anything weird happened in a long time.”
“True, but don’t push our luck.” The sapphire eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. “Guess it’s ‘cos we’re not cops anymore.”
“Maybe because it’s finally someone else’s turn to get the devil worshippers, voodoo priests, and life threatening fun times.”
“You go on up, get us checked in and unpacked.” Hutch patted Starsky’s shoulder. “By the time you scope out the place and the girls – I’ll be there.”
“I can do that.” Zipping up the bag, Starsky hefted it onto his shoulder. “Oh, and next time – you buy your own rubbers.”
“Condoms, Starsky.” He laughed and shook his head. “No one calls them rubbers anymore.”
“Whatever you want to call them – next time buy your own. Going to the store and getting two kinds of rubbers gets you funny looks.”
“I don’t know why you don’t use the same ones I do.”
“’Cos I don’t like yours – hell, I don’t like the ones I use. But – “ Starsky held his hands up and apart. “Magnum! What the hell kind of name is that for a rubber?”
“It’s a name.” Hutch’s face flushed. Damn it, was he never going to be too old to blush?
“Yeah. You know – as big as your dick is – I wouldn’t think you’d feel so…” The lopsided smile came a beat before the punch line. “Inadequate.”
“I don’t feel inadequate – “
“Look at your gun – what was it? A nine inch barrel on that thing?” Starsky waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “What message were you sending?”
“One that said ‘Hello, I can blow your head off’.” He shot back. “What did yours say?”
“Stamina.” He nodded smugly. “I had fifteen shots – you only had six.”
“This is a ridiculous conversation.”
“It is.” Starsky agreed. “Not as ridiculous as what happened at the checkout, however.”
“What happened at the checkout?”
“The girl rings mine up, right? And then she picks yours up and she goes – “ He set the bag on the table and pantomimed the checkout girl holding up a box of condoms. “’These aren’t the same kind, sir’, like I’m an idiot.”
Hutch snickered. “Maybe she’s waited on you before?”
“Ha. Ha. See how I’m laughing at that?” Starsky deadpanned. “So I tell her ‘oh those aren’t mine, they’re his’.”
“Oh my God – you didn’t – “
“The second the words were out of my mouth – “ He threw his hands up. “I knew I’d said the wrong thing.”
“What – what did she say – “ Biting his tongue helped a bit, but the laughter was trying hard to get out.
“She said she understood. And the more I tried to explain – “ He glared at Hutch as the blonde fought not to laugh. “The worse it got. I don’t think we can shop there anymore.”
The picture of Starsky trying to explain he wasn’t half of a gay couple did him in, and Hutch burst into laughter. Sitting down at the table, he wiped at his eyes. “That’s – that’s – funny – “
“Yeah?” Starsky leaned down until his face was close to Hutch’s. “I told her you didn’t need to buy rubbers as often as I did – ‘cos you’re the bottom.”
“What?” The baby blue eyes narrowed and the laughs stopped. “You didn’t.”
He let Hutch twist in the wind for a minute. “Nah, I just paid up and left.”
“From now on, I’ll get my own.” The chuckles started again. “We’ll never be able to shop there again.”
“Wish we didn’t need the damn things.” Starsky unzipped the bag to double check and be sure the boxes of condoms were packed. “Takes a lot of the fun out of it. Not all the fun – but, you know?”
“Times change, buddy.” Hutch didn’t care for the damn things either, but once they’d become aware of AIDS and the deadly consequences, they’d both agreed that safety was worth a little inconvenience. Every pretty girl was a potential time bomb.
“Yeah.” Starsky picked the bag up again. “All right, I’m going – you make sure and get out of there as quick as you can.”
“I will.” He promised.
“It’s harder to line up girls these days. And we have to have two, remember?” Pausing with his hand on the door, Starsky grinned. “No more sharing.”
Hutch returned the grin. Women who were willing to do a threesome were fewer and farther between, and they’d begun to shy away from the idea after the last time.
Seeing each other with condoms on had started a laughing fit that had lasted just long enough for the woman they were with to put her clothes on and leave in an outraged huff.
“No more sharing.” He agreed.
Watching Starsky get into his Mustang, Hutch hollered after him. “Drive careful!”
“Yeah, yeah!” The Mustang shot out into the street and roared away.
“He’ll never grow up.” Shaking his head, Hutch went back inside.
“Hey, Ken, thought you were going up the coast.”
“That’s the plan, Aimee.” Hutch opened his locker and took out a clean set of scrubs. “Kyle’s wife went into labor. I’m covering his morning appointments and then I’m driving up there.”
"I'll have to go see the baby later." She watched as he sat down and kicked his shoes off. “Is Dave going up there?”
“He’s already left.” Hutch tossed his shoes in the locker and pulled out the comfortable tennis shoes he wore to work in.
“All weekend at a hot resort – bet that’ll be fun.” Aimee followed Hutch to the dressing area. “How come Dave won’t go out with me, anyway?”
He stepped into one of the small dressing rooms, pulling the curtain shut. The little blonde was hot, but barely twenty five. “You know how it is, Starsky’s afraid he can’t keep up with you.”
“I bet he could.” Twisting the corner of the curtain back, she licked her lips. “I like older men.”
I’ll just bet you do. “I’m sorry, Aimee, I’ve really got to get dressed.”
“Alone.” He pulled the curtain shut and waited until she’d walked away before pulling his shirt off. Even in the old days, Aimee’s appetite for men would have turned him off. He didn’t like his women that well used.
Kyle’s morning patients were children, so Hutch chose a scrub shirt with blue bears and yellow ducks; it helped them to relax more than the standard green did.
On the way out to the floor, he reviewed the first chart. Hannah, age nine, left ankle badly broken when a car backed over it. He grimaced. It could have been worse – but it was certainly a traumatic injury. Kyle’s notes said that Hannah was shy and self-conscious of the scars from her surgeries.
“Okay, where’s Hannah?” Hutch asked as he walked around the room. Patients were working with various machines and other items as part of their physical therapy. A couple of the other therapists looked up and smiled at him. One pointed to a dark haired girl sitting on one of the exam tables.
“Are you Hannah?” He asked as he walked up to her. When she nodded, he looked her up and down. “Are you sure?”
“I don’t know… let me see…” Pulling a pair of plastic Groucho glasses from his pocket, Hutch put them on and peered at the chart. “I think you’re too old to be Hannah. Are you sure?”
Hannah nodded, giggling at the big plastic nose and fake mustache.
“Well, okay then.” He took the glasses off. “But if I get into trouble…”
“You won’t.” She promised.
“I’m…” He looked down at his badge. “Ken Hutchinson. At least for today.”
Her eyebrows went up and she peered at his ID badge.
“It says here that we need to look at your ear.” Hutch pulled the tool he used to measure range of motion from his other pocket. “You sprained your earlobe?”
“No! My ankle’s hurt!”
“Your ankle?” He tossed the chart on the table. “Did I mention I failed anatomy?”
“You’re silly.” She laughed.
“Am I?” Smiling, he patted her shoulder. “At least I’m good at something. Let’s take a look at your ankle.”
Her smile faded, and she covered her ankle with both hands. “It’s ugly.”
“Ugly? You want to see ugly?” Leaning on the exam table, Hutch toed off his left shoe and tugged off his sock. He pulled up the leg of his loose scrub pants and showed her the scars on his leg. “Now this is ugly.”
“Oh my gosh!” She stared wide eyed at the scars on his leg. “What happened?”
“My car went off the edge of the road. Went over and over and over – then thump at the bottom.” He rubbed at one long scar. “I was trapped under it for a couple of days.”
“Were you scared?” Tentatively, Hannah reached out and touched the edge of the scar.
“My best friend found me and took me to the hospital.” That was the nice, clean version of what had happened, at any rate.
“Does he think they’re ugly?”
“No. He’s got scars of his own.” Hutch put his leg down and took out the picture of Starsky that he carried. “Wanna see?”
“Sure.” She took the picture and started giggling when she saw that the dark haired man in the picture had on the same glasses with the fake nose and mustache Hutch had had on a few moments ago.
“You see why we’re friends?” Hutch turned the picture over so she could see what Starsky looked like sans Groucho gear. “His name is Dave Starsky.”
She looked at the picture seriously. Starsky was leaning against his car, his shirt open and showing a modest strip of chest and belly. “He does have scars.”
“Yes, he does.” Hutch had posed Starsky carefully before taking the picture, so that a part of the scarring showed – a small portion. He’d found that with his younger patients, it helped them to feel better about their own scars to see someone else’s. “And they’re ugly. But I hardly notice them anymore.”
“Really?” Hannah looked skeptical.
“Really. Friends don’t notice that type of thing.” Hutch rolled her pant leg up to look at her ankle. The scars weren’t too bad, although he supposed to a child’s mind they were hideous. “Sometimes I do and I get sad – but then I’m happy he’s here. It could have been much worse.”
“What happened to him?” She looked at the picture again – at the scars.
“He was shot – he was a policeman – and a very bad man shot him. Point your toes for me?” He measured how far she could point her toes downward. “Point up for me?”
“Were you a policeman, too?” She moved her foot up and held it while he measured.
“Yep. Starsky and I were partners.”
“Did you get shot, too?”
“Not then, no. Just Starsky. Lucky for me, the bad guy missed me and I was able to put him in jail.” Again, a much sanitized version of the truth. “Starsky almost died, so I don’t mind the scars.”
“Why aren’t you a policeman anymore?”
“Well, they decided that Starsky wasn’t going to be able to be a policeman anymore – “ Hutch shrugged as he noted the numbers on her chart. “So, I quit.”
“Well, he’s my best friend.” He smiled at her. “Best friends stick together.”
“What does he do? Is he a doctor, too?”
“Starsky?” Hutch laughed. “Doctor Starsky? There’s a picture. No, sweetheart, Starsky helps people buy cars.”
“He’s a car salesman?” Hannah frowned. “My daddy says car salesmen are lying thieves.”
“Well… normally I’d agree with your daddy. But Starsky’s different.” Wasn’t he always? “He likes to see people get a good car they’re happy with.”
“I guess if you say he’s okay…”
“He’s okay – he’s the best.” Of course, he’d never admit that to Starsky. Lifting her down from the table, Hutch took a plastic dish from the cabinet underneath it. “Want to play monkey toes?”
“Monkey toes?” Her nose wrinkled up. “No.”
“You’ve never played monkey toes?” He let his jaw drop open dramatically. “Really? You poor thing!”
“It sounds stupid.”
“It’s fun, here, sit down and watch.” Sitting on the floor, Hutch took the lid off the dish and showed her the marbles inside before pouring them out. “Now take your foot – and – and – “
Hannah laughed as Hutch tried to pick up a marble with his toes. He kept pushing the marble over the carpet but couldn’t seem to catch it.
“Quit laughing and help me!”
Sitting down next to him, she trapped a marble under the ball of her foot and wiggled around until she managed to get her toes clamped on it. “Look!”
“You did it!” He patted her shoulder. “Can you put it in the bowl?”
“I think so – “ Her tongue stuck out as she concentrated on getting the marble into the bowl. “No – “
“Keep trying, I bet you can get at least ten of them in there.”
“Bet I can get more.”
Hutch settled back to watch Hannah chase the marbles around with her toes. The game seemed silly, but it would help her regain flexibility in her foot and ankle. The same warm feeling he always got from helping someone washed over him.
Pulling his sock and shoe back on, he tied the laces, watching the young girl until she faded into a memory of Starsky. The same determined look – the same grin of triumph.
When the BCPD had decided to force Starsky into medical retirement, Hutch had been so angry that he’d quit the force. He’d been working a desk job, waiting for Starsky to get clearance to return to light duty.
Starsky had called and told him what the letter from the review board said, and Hutch had lost his temper. He’d stormed into Captain Dobey’s office, dropped his gun and badge on the desk, and told Dobey where to stuff them.
Now that he was looking back on it, it didn’t seem like it was the wisest decision he’d ever made. He was unemployed and Starsky was suddenly on disability and the bills began piling up.
Hutch blinked and came back to the present as Hannah squealed that she’d put ten marbles in the bowl. “Ten? Are you sure?” Picking up the bowl, he rolled the marbles around. “You’re not cheating, are you?”
“Watch me do ten more.” She took the bowl from him and set it back down.
He was glad now that he’d made the hasty decision. Helping Starsky recover from the damage Gunther’s hit men had done to his body had given Hutch a sense of accomplishment and made him consider returning to the medical training he’d abandoned years before.
Medical school was out of the question at his age, even if he’d had the money, and a short stint as a nurse’s aide had proven he wasn’t cut out for nursing. He couldn’t maintain the distance. Working with people who were desperately ill and dying depressed him – he got too involved in their fight.
It had been Starsky who had finally pointed him in the right direction. He’d been crying in his beer one night after a patient in his ward had died, when Starsky had reminded him of how rewarding it had been helping him recover. What you need is that feelin’ that you’re makin’ a difference.
Starsky had been right. He’d enjoyed watching his friend build his strength back, celebrated each milestone and achievement as if they were his own. A career as a physical therapist was perfect. The length of the training program was reasonable and so was the tuition. Every day he went to work and helped people get back to their lives. And nobody took a shot at him for it.
“Do you think I should show my scars to my best friend?” Hannah asked Hutch as he helped her lace her shoe up.
“I think you should. But remember – she’s going to be surprised at how it looks.” He tugged her pant leg down. “It may take her a bit to get used to it. She might be a little sad – just remind her that it could be worse.”
“I will.” She hugged him. “Tell Starsky I think he’s cute.”
Watching her limp to where her mother waited, Hutch shook his head. “Story of my life.”
True to his word, Hutch finished up Kyle’s last appointment a little after noon and after a quick shower and change of clothing, he was on the road by twelve thirty.
Friday afternoon traffic was going to slow him down, so he skirted around, taking a lesser traveled highway instead of the freeway. It wound through a few small towns, but he’d lose less time than dealing with people trying to get out of Bay City for the weekend.
Setting the cruise control to exactly fifty-five, Hutch leaned back and relaxed. Starsky thought his Taurus was boring, but it was a good, practical car. Unlike some people he could mention, he didn’t need a car that was too fast and too loud.
Hutch smiled and turned up the radio – the one indulgence he had let Starsky talk him into was a good stereo system. Donna Summer’s Last Dance filled the car, bringing back memories. “Disco wasn’t all bad.”
He turned it up a little more, singing along. “Yes, it’s my last chance for romance – crap!” Too late, he saw the two by four in the road.
Jerking the car into the other lane, he almost missed the long piece of wood. The front passenger tire ran over it and flipped it up underneath the car. There was a thud, and splintered pieces of wood flew out behind him.
“Damn it!” Hutch pulled over and got out of the car. He didn’t see any damage beyond a dent in the back bumper, and his license plate was bent in half. “Could have been worse… Starsky could have seen it.”
Getting back in the car, he pulled out onto the highway once again. “Donna, you’re a bad girl.” He turned the radio down.
He’d traveled for only a few minutes when the oil light began to flicker as if trying to decide if it wanted to tell him there was a problem or not. Finally it decided to stay on. The temperature gauge joined in the act, the needle creeping toward the big, red, threatening H at the end.
“Just great.” Turning on the heater full blast to pull heat off the engine, Hutch rolled down the windows to let air in the car before he roasted. “You were right, Starsk, it’s what I get for saying the ‘v’ word.”
A sign alerted him that Linnwood was two miles ahead, and he crossed his fingers that two miles was doable. “Come on, remember how I’ve told Starsky that you’re better than that flashy gas guzzler he drives?”
Two miles and three blocks later, Hutch pulled into Robby’s Garage. Shutting the Taurus off, he got out and raised the hood. The ominous scent of burned oil made him sneeze.
“Looks like you’ve got some trouble.”
The voice made him jump. Turning, Hutch found an older man standing behind him. The name on the man’s coveralls said Robby. “Looks like you’d be right, Robby.”
“I ran over a two by four a few miles back. Guess I knocked something loose.”
“Could be.” Robby peered under the hood. “You should watch where you’re driving.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Hutch glared at the old man’s back.
“Let’s push her inside.”
“If you ain’t blown the engine yet – “ The old man shrugged. “Best to push.”
There was no arguing with that logic, and Hutch slipped the car into neutral and turned the key on so that he could steer as they pushed the car inside the garage.
Robby climbed down into the work bay and walked under the Taurus, looking up at the underside. “Yep, I can see what you’ve done here.”
“What is it?” Hutch knelt down next to the car and looked down into the bay where the man was standing.
“Your oil pan’s leaking.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Yep. New pan and gasket.” The old man climbed up out of the work bay. “Be about fifty dollars.”
“Fine. How long will it take?” Repair rates in Bay City were a lot higher than this; he was getting off lucky.
“No more n’ hour.”
“Great. Any place I can grab a sandwich? Maybe a soda?”
“Next door.” He pointed across the street. “Marve’s. The meatloaf is good.”
Next door across the street? “Thanks.” Grabbing his camera out of the front seat, Hutch walked across the street to sample the local cuisine.
An hour later, full of excellent meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Hutch made a quick call to let Starsky know he was on his way before he walked back to Robby’s.
The old man had the oil pan off and was hammering at the inside of it. “Don’t need replacing after all. Just a ding or two.”
“A ding?” He looked at the oil pan. “A ding made all the oil leak out?”
“Nope.” Robby tapped at the dent, straightening it out. “The torn gasket did that.”
“And what’s that going to cost me?” Here was where the old guy would go for his wallet.
“That’s easier to fix. Only cost you about twenty five.”
“Oh, well, that’s even better.” Maybe he hadn’t jinxed their vac – tri – holiday after all.
“Be about another half hour is all.”
“I’m going to walk around and take some pictures.” Hutch held up his camera. “I’m an amateur shutterbug.”
“It’ll be about a half hour.” Robby went back to banging the ding out of the oil pan.
“Right.” Walking outside, Hutch wandered around the garage. There was a large tree with an engine hanging from it. “Not your usual tire swing.”
He took a few shots of the engine hanging forlorn and forgotten. Photography was a hobby he’d only recently picked up. Starsky had always been the photographer of the two, but during the long recovery, Hutch had learned how to handle the camera and take decent pictures – wanting to document Starsky’s progress.
The scarring had made Starsky self-conscious; for the first time he’d starting wearing t-shirts rather than go bare-chested in the summer heat. And his shirts were always buttoned up nearly to his throat.
It had taken days of coaxing, arguing, and pleading to get Starsky to let him take the pictures of him without a shirt on. The majority of those pictures had ended up in photo albums stored in the back of his closet. A few had gone with him to work – helping his shyer patients. And one pair, one very special pair, had been his first sale.
Bay City Magazine had been putting together a story on the Gunther trial after Gunther had been found guilty. They’d asked to take a picture of Starsky, but his partner had refused. Instead he’d told them to use one Hutch had taken. The magazine editor had snapped the pair of pictures up and paid Hutch his first money as a professional photographer.
The first picture was of Starsky crouched next to the Torino, his hands on the rear fender. His shirt was off, the trio of scars across his back stark and ugly. The Torino’s own scars were still exposed – as evidence, the car had been kept in the impound lot during the trial – bullet holes and spatters of blood disfigured the white stripe.
The second picture showed the bullet holes on the passenger side of the car. Hutch had sat on the ground by the front fender. He had used a double exposure to make Starsky appear faded and ghostly as he crouched next the rear fender again, his scarred chest and belly exposed. To Hutch it represented how Starsky had nearly became a ghost that day.
Shaking off the dismal thoughts, Hutch walked through a fenced lot that held rusted cars parked in neat rows. Weeds and wildflowers grew up between them, reminding him of a cemetery.
“The fabled auto graveyard, I presume.” Moving among the cars, he snapped pictures now and then. An Edsel with its hood missing and a colorful profusion of wildflowers growing up where the engine should have been, a Pinto with the front grill smashed into a painful frown.
An old VW van caught his eye, and he walked toward it. Peace signs and flowers were painted on it, fading but still cheery. Wildflowers grew all around it. “Now we know where all the flowers have gone.”
Moving around the van for a better shot, Hutch froze as the car parked a few feet away demanded his attention. A long white stripe against faded red. Hutch peered through the lens, zooming in on the car. The camera snapped a picture as he jerked in surprise. “No, it can’t be.”
Hutch let the camera dangle loosely around his neck as he approached the car. The Torino was faded, rusted, dented, and primered in places – but there was that stripe. “You just can’t be…”
“Your car’s fixed.”
“Jesus!” The unexpected voice startled Hutch. He jumped and turned to find Robby standing behind him. “Give a person some warning, would you?”
“Figured you heard me comin’ through the weeds.” The old man shrugged. “Your car’s fixed.”
“Good. Ah… “ He pointed to the Torino. “Where did you get that car?”
“Oh, had it ‘bout three, maybe four, years now I guess.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “The kid that had it tore the tranny out. He didn’t know how to drive it, mind you.”
“So, it just needs a transmission?”
“No, needs more than that. It cost too much to fix, so he sold it to me. Been parting it out. Used to anyway.” Robby shook his head. “Used to be a popular car, but not much call for these parts anymore.”
“If I wanted to buy it – you have the title?”
“Don’t run.” The other man looked at him quizzically. “Most of the working parts is gone.”
“That’s okay.” Hutch smiled slightly. “Maybe I can fix it up.”
“Well… I suppose I could let you have it for five hundred dollars.” There was a shrewd look in the old man’s eyes. “She’s an odd looking car – kinda unique.”
You don’t know the half of it. “Two hundred and fifty.” He wanted the car, but at the same time, he didn’t want to get screwed.
“Three hundred.” Robby said firmly.
“Three hundred.” Hutch shook the man’s hand.
“Be back with the title.” He turned to look at the car. “You’ll be needing a tow.”
“One of those flatbeds?” There were no tires or wheels on the Torino.
“I’ll call John over to Hedges.” The old man walked away and Hutch moved to the passenger side of the car and opened the door. The seats were ripped and tattered, but he sat down anyway.
Memories went by.
“…Zebra Three, forty zebras…”
“This is Zebra Three, we are in the area and are responding…”
“Zebra Three, see the man…”
“…I’ll drive – you jump…”
“Are you the real thing?” He asked the car. “Or did someone else get this crazy paint job?”
“Not going to answer me, huh? Well, you were the detective, Hutchinson – detect.”
On the underside of the dashboard he found the bracket where the radio had been, and under the seat, there were holes where the rack for the shotgun had been bolted down, allowing it to slide under the seat and out of sight.
The door panel on the driver’s door was rotted and hanging off. Leaning over, Hutch pulled it away to see the patched holes underneath. Holes from where the bullets had passed through Starsky’s body and into the car. Resting an elbow on the driver’s seat, he ran his fingers over the scarred metal.
A memory hit him – flashed him back – he was lying on the seat, puking his guts out onto the floorboard and clinging to Starsky’s leg for dear life. A strong hand rubbing his back. “Hang on, Hutch, we’re almost there – we’ll dry you out – you’ll be okay – nobody will know – “
“Oh, man...” Sitting up, Hutch took a shaky breath. Those days rarely came to him anymore. Only he, Starsky, and Huggy knew about the heroin addiction that had been forced on him. If the beat cop hadn’t been a hallucination, he might know. But not a word – not a whisper – had ever surfaced.
He got out of the car and raised the hood. It was stiff and he had to force it up, ignoring the agonized squeal of the rusted hinges. “What a mess.” The motor block was still there, lying amidst a ruin of wires and hoses, but even his untrained eye could tell that mortal pieces had been removed, leaving only junk behind. “I can’t let him see you like this.”
A spot on the inside of the driver’s side fender caught his eye. It was a patched spot, one of several. More bullet holes? There were none on the passenger side. “Hmm… must have hit the engine.”
Closing the hood, Hutch walked back to the passenger door to close it. The door panel came loose and fell, blocking the door open. He picked it up, noticing the patched bullet holes on the inside of the door. He crouched down, lining them up with the ones in the driver’s door. “Damn… he almost got us both, didn’t he?”
“Where was I?” The door closed with a painful clunk. “I was on the ground…” The memories of that day were dominated by Starsky’s still and bloody form – everything else was unimportant.
“I was on the ground… where…” When the shooting had stopped, he’d been near the front fender. If he’d stayed by the door, he might be dead. “Guess Starsky was right – this striped hunk of junk did save my life.”
There were scuff marks on the roof. Starsky was forever buffing those out. Every time he’d slapped the mars light up on the roof, his partner had cringed. Unconsciously, Hutch ran his hands over the marks. He’d get the Torino restored. Or if it was too expensive, it could be a yard ornament. The paint sharpened to bright tomato red under his hands. A very bright and shiny one.
With one last pat to the dingy roof, Hutch walked out of the graveyard.
“Got the title, son.” Robby waved the title at him as he came into the garage. “Called John and he’ll be here to take the car back to Bay City for you – won’t charge you too much.”
“How’d you know I’m from Bay City?”
“Sticker in the window.”
“Sticker? Oh, yeah, the hospital parking sticker.” Hutch took the title and folded it carefully. “I need to make a phone call – and can I give you a check? I’m not carrying that much cash.”
“A check?” He pointed to a sign on the wall. “There’s my policy, son.”
“In God we trust.” The sign read. “All others pay cash.”
“I’ll run by the bank – just tell me how to get there.” Hutch put the title in to his wallet. “And the phone?”
“Bank’s down about three – four blocks.” Robbie unearthed the phone from a pile of shop rags. “I’ll go help John get her up on the truck.”
“Thanks.” He dialed a familiar number and waited anxiously until it was answered. “Huggy? You’ll never guess what I just bought.”
“Where’ve you been?”
“Had a little car trouble.”
“Thought yours was the dependable one.” Starsky took Hutch’s arm and led him to their table. “I met two very nice girls.”
“Not too nice, I hope?”
“Looks promising.” Starsky grinned. At the table, he patted Hutch on the back. “Here he is, ladies. I told you he’d be here.”
“Hi.” Hutch smiled at the two women seated at the table, waiting for the signal from Starsky.
“This is Stacy.” Starsky pointed to the brunette and then to the redhead. “And this is Mandy.”
The way Starsky angled toward the redhead told Hutch the brunette was his. He pulled out the empty chair next to Stacy and sat down.
“Are you really a doctor?” She asked.
“A doctor?” He shot a look at Starsky. “Well, I’m actually a physical therapist.”
“He helps people recover from terrible accidents.” Starsky slipped an arm around Mandy.
“And then Starsky sells them a car.”
“Hey!” He glared at Hutch. “I help people buy cars – there’s a difference.”
“There is?” Mandy looked skeptical.
“Of course there is, sweetheart.” He smiled at her. “Let’s say you come in and you want a car that’s affordable, dependable – but cute. Some salesmen might try to sell you some old person’s car – like a Taurus. Not me.”
“No, he’d put you in some souped up monster.” Hutch snorted. He only picked on Starsky out of habit, he knew that his partner was good at his job, and honest.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Sliding a hand along Mandy’s shoulder, Starsky pulled her closer. “Now, you’re a secretary, right?”
“Right.” She nestled against his side.
“So, you should get one of those cute little Escorts. Good on gas, economical, but very cute.”
“Not a Camaro or a Mustang? That’s what they tried to get me to buy the last time I went looking at cars.”
“Not unless you make more money than your average secretary.”
Hutch listened to the conversation with half an ear. The Torino must be halfway home by now.
They’d finished dinner and were at a small table on the beach, waiting for the girls to freshen up. Starsky nudged Hutch. “Where are you at?”
“What?” He turned to look at Starsky. “I’m right here.”
“You have not been ‘right here’ all night. I just told you I saw a pink whale go by, and you said ‘that’s nice’. So give.”
“I’m sorry. Just a little distracted.” He took a sip from his drink. It was a piña colada. “How did I end up with this?”
“You didn’t answer when the waitress asked what you’d like.” Starsky grinned. “So I ordered you one of those.”
“Thanks a lot.” The creamy drink wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t something he would have ordered.
“Wanna tell me what’s got you so distracted?” Starsky waved at one of the waiters. “Did you meet another pretty girl on the way here?”
“You might say that.” He smiled. The Torino had to be safely home by now. “A redhead.”
“My friend here would like to trade his girly drink for a beer.” Starsky told the waiter. After the man left, he turned back to Hutch. “Tell me about this redhead.”
“Oh, she’s… probably… home by now. All tucked in for the night.” If sitting in one of the bays in Merle’s garage counted as being tucked in. “Let me tell you about this little girl I worked with today.”
“Tell me you didn’t show her my picture.”
“She thinks you’re cute.”
“Oh, yeah?” Starsky perked up.
“Yeah. Too bad she’s only nine.”
“Story of my life.” He signed the tab the waiter gave him as he set Hutch’s beer on the table.
“She doesn’t like the scars on her ankle, but she’s decided to show them to her best friend.”
“Yeah?” Smiling, Starsky raised his beer bottle and clinked it against Hutch’s. “I’m sure her best friend will understand.”
“I’m sure she will.” Hutch took a drink. “Thank you. Much better than coconut surprise.”
“So what happened to her?” He knew that the kids always took a special place in Hutch’s work.
“Her ankle – her mother accidentally backed over her ankle with her car.”
“Oh, that’s awful!” Stacy said as she sat down next to Hutch.
“It could have been worse.” Hutch stood up quickly as Mandy sat down next to Starsky. He hadn’t even noticed they’d come back. “She’s alive and that’s the important thing.”
“So you work with children?” Stacy leaned closer to him, slipping her arm around his waist. “That’s so sweet.”
Starsky smiled and pulled Mandy closer to his side. “Did you play monkey toes?” One of the perks of Hutch’s work – kids and the monkey toes story reeled in the women like trout.
“Monkey toes?” Mandy giggled. “What in the world is monkey toes?”
Hutch smiled back as he recognized Starsky’s move. Partner, you have no shame. “Well, it’s a game – with marbles.” Luckily, neither do I.