By Nicola Ditty aka britwizz
PSR story: a silent cry for help
PG for language, themes, and inferences. Comments and feedback welcome. Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
~ Grateful and humble thanks to Morgan Logan for her invariable support, and for wrist-slapping as and when necessary. ~
He’s pretty amazing, my partner, a real life miracle. I have no idea how he got this far, this fast. He takes every hurdle in a flying leap…or knocks it down with his fists. Just simple, sheer pig-headedness, I guess.
But he’s doing way too much, too soon. But they just can’t give him enough meds to keep up with the pace he’s set himself. And some days I’m not even sure who he’s doing it for, ’cause he ends a physical therapy session saying, “See that? Five more reps than you said I would! Bet I could do another five…” But his smile looks more like a snarl. ’Cause he’s in screaming pain and there’s at least another hour to go before he can take anything.
The doctors hold him up as an example of the marvels of modern medicine. The nurses just think he’s cute and funny. Friends, and even perfect strangers, admire his tenacity, his good humor in the face of adversity.
But I have to tell you—and don’t get me wrong—there are days I could cheerfully punch his lights out, just to get him to slow down. The more I try to get him to ease up, the harder he tries, and the harder he tries, the more it hurts. Hurts both of us.
He keeps on pushing himself to new heights, and it’s clear he’s going to kill himself if I don’t do it first… Starsky’s gonna die, Hug…and I’m gonna be the one who kills him. God, I’m so tired of all this—
Every time he’s hurting, or tired, or frustrated, the realization slams home that he’s reached as far as is possible for now. And he lashes out. I have to dive right in ’cause I’m damned if anyone else is going to get to see him that way. Sometimes he’s like a mad-as-Hell little kid that can’t reach the cookie jar, and sometimes there is so much rage there that I know if I don’t get between him and the doctor, or him and the nurse, or even - get this - him and the hospital chaplain who stopped by one time on a bad day… If I’m not right there… blood will be shed.
He can’t go on like that. And I can’t keep doing this. This is killing me. This is killing us.
Lately I’ve turned into his whipping boy. No, scratch that, because even a whipping boy only gets it every now and then, and for a specific reason. I’m the punching bag at a busy gym, getting pounded morning, noon and night. Shit—who’d have ever imagined there’d come a day when I’d be glad to escape to a desk for eight hours. I get to do some pounding of my own on the keys of a typewriter.
Sometimes I’m almost sure it must’ve been me that got ripped to shreds and stitched back together. I’m feel like I’m leaking something vital. Bits of me are spilling out everywhere. There’s probably a fucking trail by now, all along the side of the road that goes from the hospital to the precinct. I’m worn out, abraded inside, hollow—and there sure as Hell isn’t enough of me left to go around. I don’t stretch that far. There’s a limit—
I swear to God, there are days that, five minutes after walking into his room, I’m ready to walk right back out again. Hightail it to the hills. Take off. Blow that particular popsicle stand.
And the thing that makes it worse is the way they all look at me. All those same doctors, nurses, friends and perfect fucking strangers. Every single day I show up I get that look, and it’s almost the same as the one they give Starsky—like I’m doing something wonderful, something heroic—
All I managed to do was duck.
I came right out and told them that, for all the good it did. They just said I had a great sense of humor. It’s like they think I’m being falsely modest—like I’m making some noble sacrifice by showing up each day. Somehow, I just don’t see myself as the Sydney Carton type. I sure as Hell can’t think of anything profound to say as I climb the stairs to the fourth floor. And note too, friends and neighbors, I’ve given up on the elevator—gets me there too quick. Can’t drag my heels when I’m standing in an elevator, now, can I?
I always say “Hey, buddy,” and slap on my best cheery smile, like I’m happy to see him—there. That I’m happy to be there. He doesn’t know—or maybe he does—that I’d rather be anywhere else on the planet but there. And there’s this dark little part of me—this black spot—that wonders if things might not have been better if—
I want-- It’s
like— We need—
Back when I was in uniform, I had to shoot a dog. Poor mutt was hit by a car. Back legs broken in a half-dozen places, and there were snapped ribs poking out through its skin. I mean, this dog had been creamed. When I walked over to check it out, it tried to get up. Two, three times it raised up its shoulders, and I tried to make it stay still—lay down. And when I petted it, I don’t know how, but it wagged its tail and then tried to get up again. It just wouldn’t stay down. I kept saying, “Good doggy. Lay still,” and “Be still, boy. Good little doggy.” And it tried so fucking hard to be a good little doggy, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to make it. So, I stuck my good little .38 in its ear and made it lay still—
I don’t know why I—
There has to be a reason. Something has to come out of all this, doesn’t it? There’s a purpose to everything. I need answers, goddammit.
Is that why I’m here? Somebody—please—help me out here. I think there’s something wrong with me.
Huggy knows. I mean, he knows there’s something going on, something ‘not right’. Which is why I’m stuck here, writing this—thing, whatever it is.
People underestimate Huggy, when they don’t overlook him completely. And he makes himself easy to overlook, in spite of his unique sense of style, and his peacock colors. I think it’s a reverse psychology thing – stand out in a crowd to become invisible. Smart move. Smart man.
Oh, sure, so he didn’t go to college—Huggy’s a very savvy individual. His knowledge is extensive, and I’m not just talking about who did what to whom, and where they might currently be holed up.
Huggy’s an alumnus of the school
of hard knocks, a professor in the
If he thinks this is the perfect place for me to get my head together, he doesn’t realize how far up my ass it is. Maybe there’s a twisted kind of logic to all this. Maybe “upstairs at Huggy’s” is where a fucked up Hutch has to be, like a law of Nature. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t the same the place as—that other time. But if I look up real fast, I think I can see piss stains on the bed, and smell the vomit. That proves I’m not exactly firing on all cylinders, right? So I guess I can understand why he figures this is where I need to come to when I’m broken—when I’m on the edge looking down.
Once upon a time in a place just like this—the thump of the jukebox coming up through the floor—a man named Starsky scooped up all the pieces of me. Put me back together, bit by bit, filled in the cracks and painted me whole, layer by layer. But Starsky’s not here—Starsky’s the one who’s broken this time. I don’t know what it is he needs and I don’t think I have what it takes to make it any better.
I want him to ease up. I can’t handle the pace he’s set—it’s killing me.
And this sure as hell isn’t helping anyone—I’m looking over what I wrote. Did I write this? I can’t believe I wrote this—I’m going to let Huggy read this? Just because he made me do this— How the fuck did he get me to do this?
Hug— you’re nothing but a thug and a bully, even though you look like you couldn’t hurt a fly? Take a
look at this later, tell me how full of shit I am - I am full of shit - and I damn well need to get over
* * *
Huggy stood in the doorway, arms full, studying Hutch as in his con man days he would have studied a mark. This had been a long time coming, so Dobey’s call when it finally came had been something of a relief. Everything was in place, with just a phone call or two required for the fine tuning.
He moved soundlessly and, from practice, managed to slip in behind his quarry, staying just outside the range of peripheral awareness but close enough to be able to see over the Hutch’s shoulder.
Timing the moment to perfection, he said, “Your last two lines are blurry. Spill something?”
Hutch’s reply was succinct, and wetly eloquent, a long sinus-y snort that reminded Huggy of the bar drain when it suddenly unclogged itself.
“Shift,” and Huggy reinforced his command with a sharp elbow, edging Hutch out of the way just enough to lay down his burden: a deep roasting pan, a gas lighter, and a seltzer bottle. He could almost hear the click and hum of Hutch’s brain circuitry. He smiled to himself when he reached for the notepad; Hutch huddled over his notes protectively and shot him a worried look.
“Hutch,” he said softly, “Give.” He gripped the pad and maintained a steady pressure as he eased the paper from beneath Hutch’s hands. “You were a Boy Scout, and every good Boy Scout knows what to do with shit in the wilderness. You gots to bury it or burn it; you don’t leave it laying around for other folk to clean up, and you sure as Hell can’t be carrying it with you everywhere…”
“Sea Scout, actually,” Hutch corrected, dredging up an unstable smile.
“Hutch,” Huggy began once more, “Shut up.” He tore the used pages from the front of the notepad, fully conscious of Hutch’s wary eyes tracking the motion. “I ain’t gonna read this. I got a feeling this is some bad shit. And you don’t need to keep it. So you’re gonna be a good Boy Scout.” With that, he dropped the papers into the pan and handed Hutch the lighter. “Go on, now. You got to burn it. Or you ain’t never gonna be able to let it go.”
Hutch regarded Huggy thoughtfully before turning his attention to the evidence of his offence. The paper was curled upwards along the edge where it had been torn from the pad, and that made a promising fuse. He clicked the lighter and touched its flaming tip to a raised corner of one of the pages. Yellow flame hesitated, then got down to business.
Both men watched in silence as the conflagration spread, advancing across the surface of the paper like a tidal bore, yellow crest over blue swell, washing away the writing. The under layers scorched, caught and burned to a crisp. The seltzer was unnecessary; the fire, lacking fuel once it reached the far edges, extinguished itself, but Huggy added a few quick sprays as insurance.
He set the seltzer bottle on the low bureau and returned to the table with two fingers gloved in glasses, and a bottle of bourbon. He quickly poured a pair of hefty measures and pushed one glass closer to Hutch, who curled his lip in a blatant expression of distaste.
“What’s this for,” Hutch asked, slipping his fingers around the glass, “A wake?” He sipped the bourbon slowly, letting its flavor roll around and over his tongue.
Huggy took a belt of liquor from his own glass and smacked his lips in appreciation. “Now we gots to sterilize. Anesthetize.” After another quick drink, he added. “Then maybe you can rest-your-eyes.”
Hutch’s laugh was little more than a whuff of air. He took a long swallow of bourbon this time. “Huggy, you suck.”
“Sure I do…but I never swallow.”
Hutch treated Huggy to a scathing look. And then, midway through transferring his interest back to his glass, his head snapped back around. Huggy met his gaze levelly, with just the merest suggestion of a shrug. “Drink up.”
There were maybe three more mouthfuls of liquor left in his glass but Hutch contrived to empty it in one airless swallow that ended with a sharp inhalation and a shuddering sigh.
Huggy pried the tumbler from Hutch’s fingers and tugged on
an arm to get the blond upright. “Taking you home to bed.” Hutch looked
momentarily alarmed, necessitating further explanation. “Your home, Hutch. Your bed. Yourself. Shit,
Hutch’s color deepened, a fever flush of embarrassment taking away for the moment the pallor of recent weeks. “I’m sorry, Hug. I wasn’t suggesting… I mean, I know you wouldn’t… Sorry, I’m…”
Huggy raised one hand in a call for silence. “I’m taking you home, fixing you a nightcap, and then you are going to sleep. And in the morning when Dobey calls and tells you to take some time off—couple, three days—you’re gonna do it.” As he outlined the agenda, he maneuvered the speechless Hutch towards the door. “I got a little vacation spot picked out for you; I’ll take care of your partner. You’re gonna have a break…take care of yourself for a while…”
They started down the stairs to the bar but at the halfway point Huggy turned suddenly and jogged back the way they had come.
The bottle of bourbon was still on the table beside his makeshift crucible. The burned paper now lay like a damp black blanket in the bottom of the pan, except for one spot of yellow that seemed to glow like a tiny sun, catching his eye. When he plucked at the sodden mass, this one portion separated easily. He puzzled over it for a moment, concluding that it must have already been damp before the ceremonial burning, escaping unscathed. He turned it in his fingers, discerning on the other side a few words in Hutch’s handwriting. Some of it was blurred, but two words stood out clearly and he smiled a little sadly at their aptness.
These past many weeks, he had watched Hutch, shored him up as best he could, for as long as he could, as the man slowly crumbled. It had been painful to watch…and in his time he’d seen some bad shit; as a boy of eight, he’d seen his Daddy beaten to death for refusing to pay the “special insurance” demanded by their landlord, and nursed his Mama through her final days of wasting away. And he’d witnessed Leo Elkins, stoned and terrified, saw off the first two fingers of his own right hand, so he could be stay Stateside…though the nightmares birthed that day hardly came at all anymore. Hardly at all.
And watching Hutch had been like none of those things. At the same time, it felt like all of those things…
Dobey’d said, “Wait…he’ll ask for help when he needs it. We just have to make sure we’re there to hear what he’s saying.”
And tonight he’d heard Hutch loud and clear, without a word having been spoken. And if a written declaration was required? Well, he had it in his hand right now, a clear affidavit.
“Yeah, man; you got yourself a bellyful of this… But you got friends who’re gonna fix that, best we can.”
He laid the paper fragment down, almost reverently, and grabbed the neck of the bottle of bourbon, hurrying from the room at the sudden realization that Hutch might not have it sufficiently together to realize he was supposed to wait.
A curtain fluttered in the draft from the closing door. The forgotten light continued to burn brightly, illuminating the table upon which sat a pen and a legal pad. A pair of dirty glasses. A roasting pan lined with burnt paper.
And a yellow scrap of paper the size of a quarter, that bore two words.