The Hard Stop
By Maquis Leader
Rated R for strong language
Author’s note: Set in late 1973
I never liked Nancy to begin with.
Never thought she was right for Hutch. There was something about her eyes. Like a snake. Dead. Flat. Empty.
She pretended she liked me, only she didn’t. Which was okay, ‘cos I didn’t like her. We were civil for Hutch’s sake. Well, I was anyway, dunno what her motives are. Were.
He’s sitting in there staring out the window. Wipes tears sometimes. I want to go in there and put my arms around him and tell him it’ll be okay. I want to make it okay. But he pushed me away ‘cos he needs some time. I gotta respect that. I don’t like it – but I respect it.
That day he showed me the ring, I asked him, are you sure? Are you sure she loves you? I didn’t ask him do you love her, ‘cos I could see that. Hutch was crazy about her. So much in love with who he wanted her to be that he never saw who she really was.
He got mad at me the night before the wedding. All I was trying to do was make him take another look at her. It was the only blow up we’ve had. Not that we don’t bitch and yell at each other – but this was for real.
I’m not stupid. I knew he was gonna need me, and not just on the streets – but later when it all went to shit. So I pulled a dirty trick and used his feelings against him. What the hell, man, that’s what Nancy was doing. Did and done.
I looked him straight in those baby blues and said I love ya, blondie. I love ya and I’m scared this isn’t good for you. But I’ll stand right by you tomorrow and never say another word if that’s what you want.
Hutch went from madder than hell to guilty in a second. He does that. I’m manipulating him and he feels guilty. Not me. I never did and still don’t. I hugged him and slapped him on the back and tried not to think how bad he was gonna hurt later. And I swore I wouldn’t ever say I told you so. I’m not a complete asshole.
It lasted longer than I thought. I gave the marriage a year tops. It made it just past two – mostly ‘cos Nancy likes being taken care of and Hutch loved taking care of her. That’s his bag, taking care of people.
Hutch would come in after working all night tryin’ to get some lowlife turkey off the streets and make her breakfast in bed. He’d clean their apartment and do the laundry while she laid there like a fucking queen.
I don’t care if a woman’s pussy is lined with gold and has the tightest muscles in the world, she better get off her ass and act like a wife is supposed to. My pop treated my ma like she was the only woman in the world, but she would’ve cut her arm off before she let him do the housework.
Lately I’ve been seeing bruises and marks on him when we’ve showered down at the station. Stuff he can’t explain. Or wouldn’t. Suddenly, he’s Mr. Clumsy – more than usual. I tripped, I fell, I stumbled into – this is what I was hearing.
There’s a cut on his back, a half circle and deep enough I think it’s gonna scar. He gave me some cockamamie story about a pair of scissors Van left on the sofa.
I shoulda told him we’ve played this scene. We’ve been there when a woman’s had a bloody nose and a black eye and she’s suddenly changing her story. We know she didn’t walk into no door or fall down the stairs. She’s afraid to lose the only thing she has. But I didn’t say it. All I said was that I didn’t know Nancy sewed.
Hutch didn’t remind me that she’d changed her name to Vanessa, just gave me a look that begged me not to push. I let it slide, but it killed me inside.
Kept me awake nights thinking of him lying next to her, defenseless and not seeing it coming when she hit him or worse. I spent a lot of nights sitting in the car outside their apartment and watching them move back and forth in front of the windows. Watched them fight and argue, watched her slap him and shove him. Watched and tried to figure out if I could kill her and get away with it. She’s luckier than she knows.
Nancy – Vanessa – whatever the fuck she’s calling herself today – was using the thing Hutch craves against him. Not sex – though I had a feelin’ he wasn’t getting any – nah, it was touch. Hutch craves touch like a junkie craves a fix. Loves touching and being touched.
Folks think we’re queer sometimes on account of how close we sit and how we’re always patting each other on the shoulder and stuff, but it’s not true. Hutch is the only man I let touch me beyond a handshake and maybe a pat on the back. Once I figured out that touching was something that made him happy, I didn’t mind it coming from him. Yeah, it makes me feel good too, but for Hutch It’s like a drug.
Now me, I don’t care. My family is full of hugging and kissing – Ma’s side anyway, don’t know about Pop’s. I’ve been hugged and had my cheeks pinched and my curls ruffled till I was sick of it. When I came out here, Uncle Al did the manly backslap and Aunt Rosie gave little touches in that quiet way she has. So I don’t care about it.
Hutch though, his family just don’t go for it. Mr. Hutchinson shook my hand and Mrs. Hutchinson gave me a polite nod when we met. Mr. Starsky, they called me, like none of us had a first name. Mr. Starsky, you work with Kenneth? How nice. They treated me like I’m just a step or two above the gardener. You work with Kenneth? How nice. Would you take the fucking trash out now?
They gave Hutch the same treatment. Like he was somebody they’d just met. Mr. Hutchinson shook his hand and his ma – Mrs. Hutchinson – gave him a kiss about a foot from his face. I could see it in his eyes and his body. Tense. Trembling a little – he wanted them to hug him. Wanted them to love him. But they didn’t.
So I did. After we left their hotel. In the car, not giving a flying fuck who saw. I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tight. No talking, no nothin’. Just a long hug. Since we’re men, we’re not allowed to say I love you. Not without that disclaimer. I love you, but this or I love you, but that. Can’t just come out and say it.
Different story when my Ma came to visit. Right there in the middle of the airport, she’s hugging me and calling me baby and Davey and doing what moms do. I loved it, but I had to act like it was embarrassing me. It ain’t fair being a man sometimes.
Hutch held his hand out and said, nice to meet you, Mrs. Starsky. Got to the meet you part anyway before she hugged him and kissed his cheeks. I had to sit down, I was laughing so hard. Ma made over him like he was the only blonde she’d ever seen. Spun gold, I swear she said about his hair. And she called him Kenny – I don’t think anybody else ever has that I remember. And she made him call her Ma.
The whole time Ma was here Hutch was happy – really, really happy. He brought a sleeping bag over and slept on the floor so he could spend more time with her. You’d have thought he was twelve. She spoiled him and put fifteen pounds on him.
I wish she was here. I bet he’d let her hold him. I wish he’d grown up with me and Ma. I wish he’d never met Nancy. I wish wishing did me any good.
He’s rocking back and forth. I can see his shadow goin’ one way then the other in red yellow green. Funny choked off sounds like he’s trying not to cry. I want to go in there, but he’s not ready yet. He’s still trying to hold the pain in. I know that feeling. If I don’t let it out, it ain’t real. Only it is. Your life is in fucking pieces.
Fucking bitch! I oughta go put a bullet in her brain – right between those dead eyes of hers. Maybe blow that smirk off her face!
I saw what was coming. I could tell she was cheating on him. Hutch couldn’t see it. And what was I supposed to say? Hey, buddy, your wife is fucking some other guy? All that woulda done is put him in the middle between her and me.
There was no way I’d tell him and hurt him like that. Ah… be honest with yourself, Starsky, you knew there’d be a big fight and he wouldn’t believe you anyway. He didn’t want to believe – he had to have seen it. So I kept my mouth shut ‘cos I need him too much.
Yeah, you’re selfish as hell, Starsky. But I couldn’t stand the thought of losing him as my friend. He’d have had to choose her side ‘cos she was his wife. I’m his friend, but she gave him something I couldn’t – and not just pussy. Hutch could be her protector and take care of her in a way that would make me take his temperature if he tried it with me.
I ain’t never felt guilty for not saying nothing or for what I did the night before he shackled himself to the bitch. Why should I? I do love the big lug. In a lotta ways, he’s all I got. And I knew that it was going to end sooner rather than later and if I wasn’t there for him – I don’t wanna think about that.
Sometimes Hutch did wonder about something she’d said or done and I kept my mouth shut and kept out of it. The handwriting was on the wall, and sooner or later he’d have to see it.
And tonight he finally did.
I knew she was screwin’ around. And the way she looked at me – I think she knew I’d figured it out. Course, she knew I wasn’t going to tell Hutch.
The modeling lessons, the name change, the photographer that was teaching her all about the business – only a blind man woulda missed it. Or a man wanting to be loved no matter what it cost him.
Maybe I shoulda told him. Maybe he wouldn’t have walked in on her banging her photographer buddy in their bed. Hutch is gonna know now that I kept my mouth shut. I’ll have to tell him that I was scared as hell to risk our friendship and hope he understands.
‘Cos what if I hadn’t been there? Man, that was horrible following him into the bedroom to borrow a clean shirt – him joking that the extra chili was for the dog and not my shirt and me laughing my ass off – and there they were, just goin’ at it.
Both of us just stared. What the hell do you say for something like that? Hey buddy, your wife can really fuck? Let me just cut my tongue out now.
Nancy didn’t try to explain or say she was sorry. Just gave him that superior look of hers and said, really, Ken, if you’re going to come home early, you should call. And the long haired guy in bed with her laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.
It was probably the whole combination of hurt and anger and humiliation that made Hutch pull his gun. I grabbed him before it cleared the holster, shoved him out of the bedroom. If I hadn’t been there, he’d be in jail now. I wanted to kill her too – but not at the price of Hutch’s freedom. Or his fucking soul.
I told Nancy to get her shit and get out. Then I hear these funny moanin’ sounds and there’s Hutch, his hands pushing at his chest. For a minute I thought he was havin’ a heart attack and I’m trying to remember the CPR we learned. He’s staring through the doorway at them and bright guy that I am, it dawns on me that it’s just his heart being broken into pieces.
Nancy walked out of the bedroom stark naked like she’s the best piece of ass ever put on this earth. I suppose this is one way to tell you it’s over, Ken, she said, all smug and mean. There’s just no future in being a cop’s wife.
Lucky I had to hold Hutch up or I might’ve had my gun out and popped her. But he started heading for the floor and it’s my job to catch him. My job to help cushion that hard stop at the end of the fall.
In the car, he shoved me away and laid against the door. Wouldn’t let me touch him – not even a pat on the shoulder. He was like an animal that somebody’s hit with the car and left lying on the side of the road. Just curled against the door and made those moans like he was wanting to die.
I didn’t turn on the lights when we got here. Men aren’t pretty when we cry. Mostly ‘cos we’re trying so hard not to ‘cos we’re not allowed. So I gave him that little bit of dignity he had left and just followed him in through the dark. He sat down on the couch. When I sat down, he wouldn’t let me comfort him. Told me to get the fuck away.
So, I’m sittin’ here in the dark. Trying to see how he’s doing from here when the stoplight goes through its cycle. Red yellow green showing me the tears on his face before it goes to dark. He’s moaning and rocking, his arms wrapped around himself like he’s holding his guts in and I can’t take it no more.
I may get knocked on my ass, but I gotta risk it.
This time when I sit down next to Hutch, he doesn’t push me away. He lets me pull him into my arms and hold him. And he asks me what did he do wrong. My chest hurts like he punched me. Nancy used him, abused him, and cheated on him – and he thinks he did something wrong.
That’s not new, Hutch is always willing to take the blame just as long as he doesn’t lose a person’s love.
I grab his hair and pull his face back – make him look me in the eye. He looks at me, staring at me like I can fix it all. And I tell him you loved the wrong person. She saw the good in you, and she took advantage of it. He keeps shaking his head. He doesn’t want to believe that she never loved him. And I don’t blame him.
I saw it and I should’ve tried harder to get you to see it, I tell him. He just shakes his head again and says he wouldn’t have listened. Wouldn’t have believed.
It ain’t fair. It just ain’t fair that someone so good – who just wants to be loved – has to get sucked dry by someone who can’t love.
I pull him into my arms again, tucking his head under my chin and trying to soothe him when he starts crying again. It’s loud, and his body shakes like his insides are coming up with the tears. Ma always had this great back rub and shush thing she did, and I try it.
It seems to help a little.
By the time he’s cried himself out, my right shoulder is cramped up and my legs are completely numb from where he’s laying half on me. I don’t know how I’m gonna move without waking him –
He’s not asleep. I can feel him talking against my throat. Something about a lawyer and breaking the lease on the apartment and closing the bank account.
Hutch always feels better if there’s a plan. I feel better ‘cos he feels better.
I tell him he can bunk with me for as long as he wants. With me and not on me, ‘cos he weighs a fucking ton. I get a watery laugh. Weak and shaky. But a laugh.
He’ll be okay. It’ll take time, but he’ll be okay.
So will I, if I can get the big lug off my legs.