Partnerhood – Plus One
Huggy noticed him the minute he walked in. The swagger was missing its edge, the eyes not so bright. He watched him slide into a back booth, give a half smile to the waitress, and a nod to Huggy, who had already rounded the bar towards him.
Huggy squelched the ‘where’s Hutch,’ and slid in across from him.
“Hiya yourself. What’s shakin?”
“Nothing – you?”
“Same, my friend – nuthin, nada, nunca, dim, nein, zilch, zip a dee do dah . . .”
Starsky smiled wider now. Only Huggy could interrogate with a litany. He answered the non-question. “He’s at Dobey’s – Edith is feeding him roast beef and chocolate
cake – letting him watch PBS.”
“And you aren’t there, because . . .”
“Just needed a break, you know?”
Huggy laid his hand on top of Starsky’s. “I know. You don’t have to say another word.”
Starsky laid his other hand on top of Huggy’s. “Thanks, man.”
Huggy withdrew his hands and motioned to the waitress. “What are you having – beer, burger?”
“Sounds good.” Starsky leaned back, willing himself to relax. Wondered if he ever would relax again. It had been two weeks. Every muscle in his entire body had been on point now for two weeks. Two weeks of waiting for the relapse, waiting for the walls to come tumbling down on the house of cards he had hastily erected out of this fucking mess. So far, so good, though. Hutch was getting stronger every day. The nightmares had lost their intensity, the endless pacing had lessened. He had started eating again – which is why he was at the Dobey’s. Starsky had little to offer in the way of comfort food. Had little to offer in the way of comfort, at this point. He was almost as strung out as his partner. Edith had taken one look at the both of them, sent Hutch to the couch with a full plate, and Starsky out the door. Somehow she knew exactly what to do. Dobey was one lucky man.
“I hate to state the obvious, but you don’t look so good.”
“Yeah, well. Been a little busy.” Starsky looked around the bar. “You hear anything?”
Huggy shook his head. “Quiet as a tomb. I think we did it. As long as you got Glassman covered – it’s good from my end.”
“Yeah, he’s solid. And Dobey’s been a rock. Even got Forest transferred to solitary so he’d quit running his mouth to anyone who would listen about the junkie cop. DA says it should be a non-issue at the trial. Hutch might have to take a piss test . . .”
“He gonna pass a piss test?”
“What the hell does that mean?” Starsky sat up straight.
“Means what it means. You think he can stay clean?”
“Of course he can.”
“Why you so sure? Hell, you haven’t even left him alone for more than an hour, yet.”
“Because I know Hutch. And so do you.” Starsky felt the anger rising.
“You don’t know Horse.”
“Now you sound like a bad movie.”
The waitress brought the beer and the burger. They both sat back. Huggy watched Starsky take a bite, wash it down with the beer, and then push the plate away from him.
“Guess I’m not that hungry.”
“Uh huh.” Huggy folded his arms.
“Huggy, what do you want from me?”
Huggy leaned in. “I want you to be very clear about reality here. That’s what I want. I also want you to stop kicking yourself all over the goddamn city about this. How bout that? And I want you to give yourself a break. I want you to get some sleep, relax, get drunk, maybe get laid.”
“That an offer?”
“You wish.” Huggy swiped Starsky’s beer and took a drink. He handed it back and Starsky took a long pull and offered it back to Huggy, who took it again.
Starsky chuckled. “Remember when Hutch first saw you drinking my beer? Thought he’d come out of his shoes. Now he does it himself.”
Huggy smiled. “Yeah, brother was one tight screw back then.”
“I guess we loosened him up, huh?”
“You were harder to crack.”
“C’mon Hug – how can you say that. The first time I met you, I broke the law for you.”
“Yeah, I guess – you were just a baby back then, though.”
The bar fell away and they were sitting in Starsky’s squad car, arguing . . .
The young Officer Starsky had caught Mr. Brown in an alley, smoking a joint, and as Starsky was just six months out of the academy, he had arrested him. But Huggy knew that half a joint does not an arrest make, so he just sat in the back of the squad car and taunted the young man, waiting for some Sergeant to come by and spring him.
“Whatcha gonna do, baby cop? Send me up the river for a blunt? What’s the matter, don’t they let you catch real criminals yet?”
“Shut up,” Starsky growled from the front seat, where he was trying to get the car started. They had been halfway to the station when it had just died.
“Piece of shit,” he muttered.
“You talking to me?”
“No, this car is a piece of shit.”
“What do you drive – oh, let me guess – some custom job, right? All engine and wheels, flash and noise. Probably think it attracts chicks.”
“I wish. Hopefully, when I get promoted . . .”
“Promoted? Man, are you one of those cats that bleed blue? I don’t get that kind of vibe from you, I gotta tell you.”
“The only vibe you’re getting is from that joint.”
“Like you never got high?” Huggy saw Starsky’s head lift and frown at the rearview mirror. Gave him his answer, but he felt like pushing. Something about this man intrigued him. If he wasn’t in the middle of getting arrested by him, Huggy thought he might actually ask the man out for a beer.
“Come on, Officer, you telling me you never burned one? Even before all that serve and protect hoo-haw? That I find hard to believe. You got the look of the street about you. You weren’t always so dutiful – I’d lay book on it.”
Starsky shifted in his seat. For some reason, he didn’t mind the interrogation. He suddenly felt like talking. To the man in the back seat. Whom he had never seen before. Whom he had in custody. It was the damndest thing – he felt at ease with this man from the minute they started talking. It wasn’t the instant click that he had felt down to his toes when he met Hutch, but it was close. They came from different places –different planets, really, but he felt a sort of cosmic recognition of a kindred soul. And so he spilled his guts. Right there, sitting in the sun, waiting for a tow.
They talked about a lot of things that afternoon. About being a cop. About being a man. About how they had both been burned by friends in the past. About how Huggy had lived on the street for a while, and Starsky had almost joined a gang when he arrived in Bay City, fresh from the death of his father. How Huggy had joined the rival gang himself, wanting to forget a mother who had abandoned him to relatives when he started interfering with her tricks. Starsky talked about Hutch, about how they were just waiting for the transfer to come through, and then Hutch would join him on the streets. They would be partners. Huggy took note of the reverent tone Starsky used when he mentioned Hutch and partnership in the same sentence.
“Well, Officer . . .”
“Starsky – just call me Starsky, okay?”
“And you can call me Huggy Bear.”
“Huggy Bear? Man, that’s weird.”
“You’re weird. In a cute, people of the desert, kind of way.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Means that it’s gotta be your heritage keeping you cool, cause my black ass is frying like bacon back here. Care to crack a window?”
Starsky shook his head and smiled. “Well, Huggy Bear, you sure have a unique way of communication, I can say that about you.”
“Yo, Starsky, my man – what you say we abandon this heap and go find some refreshment?”
“But I gotta take you in.”
“You don’t gotta do nothing. You ain’t still gonna bust me, are you? After what we been through? After all I mean to you? Man, I thought we were friends . . .”
He looked up to see Starsky opening the back door, handcuff keys dangling in his fingers. Huggy scooted over and leaned down and Starsky unlocked the cuffs.
“Man, you weren’t kidding – you’re sweating like a pig.”
“I told you.” Huggy rubbed his right wrist. “I think you passed the handcuff class with an A – those were tight.”
“No worries, you can pay me back with a nice cold brew.”
Starsky stared at Huggy, who stood smirking at him, his hand on his hip. The image seared into his brain. Branded his heart. From somewhere deep, he knew the moment was an important one. Life decision time. And like so many other decisions he had made, he went with his instinct.
“Name the place.” He locked the car doors. “But I hope its close – cause we’re gonna have to walk.”
Huggy smiled. “You gonna make me walk all over the city with a cop? Ain’t you got some other clothes? You are gonna seriously destroy my reputation.”
“Yes, but you’re the one that kept insisting on flashing my badge at every woman we saw.” Starsky chuckled as he took the beer back from Huggy and drained it.
“Got myself some tasty morsels, too, if I remember.” Huggy rubbed his hands together at the memory.
“I remember a hangover, that’s what I remember. And Hutch. I remember Hutch. He almost shot you.”
“I told you the man was tight – he didn’t even care that I was wearing your uniform shirt . . . that we were obviously friends . . .” Huggy said.
“Actually, I think that’s what he did care about – maybe thought you’d taken advantage of me or something . . .”
“Not to repeat myself, but – you wish.”
“We got him calmed down, though.”
“You got him calmed down, you mean. You were the only one who could get him calmed down.”
Starsky frowned. “And now, I can’t do shit for him.”
Huggy looked at Starsky, and then motioned to Janice. “What you need is some lubrication.”
Starsky snorted. “And to repeat yourself – you wish.”
“Oh, now that was quick – nicely done.”
“Learned it all from you.”
“Yes, you did, my brother – but what I mean is that we need to jump start this party.” He smiled at the woman now standing in front of them. “Janice, will you bring me the bottle of Tequila that’s behind the cash register. The good stuff. And two shot glasses.”
Janice smiled and turned to go. “I take it you’ll be needing limes and salt . . .”
“God yes – lots of limes,” Starsky said. His shoulders relaxed another inch. He sighed, took a good look at the man sitting across from him and felt a tug in his chest. They had been through a lot since that first day, the day Starsky had ignored procedure and protocol, not to mention his newly sworn oath, and had tossed the joint in the sewer, took a half day, and followed Huggy on a pub crawl to end all pub crawls. They had ended up at Huggy’s apartment, which was where Hutch found them – on the front steps, singing at the top of their lungs, Huggy draped in Starsky’s uniform shirt, with the badge pinned to his denim apple hat. Hutch had practically tossed Huggy down the stairs, but Starsky had pulled him off, slurring an explanation. No wonder it took almost a year before he and Huggy could sit down together and carry on a civil conversation without Starsky running interference. And now Starsky couldn’t get them to stop talking.
Janice sat the bottle, two shot glasses and a bowlful of cut limes between them. Huggy reached for the bottle, screwed off the top, and filled both glasses. Starsky licked the inside of his wrist, shook some salt on it, and picked up the glass. He hadn’t done Tequila shots for a long time. Somehow, though, it felt right.
“So, what do we drink to?”
Huggy picked up his glass. “How about to life?”
“L’ Chaim,” Starsky said and clinked his glass against Huggy’s. He licked his wrist, sucked down the Tequila, and chomped on the lime. His eyes watered as the liquid burned his throat, the heat exploding when it hit his empty stomach.
Huggy refilled the glasses. “Your turn.”
“Okay, well – to Hutch.”
“To Hutch.” Huggy raised his glass. “Strongest mother I know.”
They tipped their heads and downed the shots. Starsky sucked hard on the lime. He felt the warmth down to his toes.
“And now, my brother,” Huggy continued, filling the glasses again, “I toast you.”
“Yeah, you. What you did for our Hutch . . .” Huggy swallowed hard. “Well, I mean, man, it was a beautiful thing to behold . . .”
Starsky’s eyes welled up. “Shit, Huggy – cut that out.”
Huggy held the glass higher, sniffed, and said, “I am honored to call you my friend.”
Starsky touched Huggy’s glass, downed the shot, and slammed his glass back on the table. He forgot about the lime and choked, “Just doing my job – keeping my partner alive.”
“Maybe you better start asking for hazard pay.” Huggy refilled the glasses.
“Funny.” Starsky wiped the tears from his eyes. His toes were definitely numb. He held up the glass again. “And now to you, my friend.” Starsky grinned at Huggy, who was already having a little trouble getting his own glass up.
“Oh, here it comes,” Huggy moaned. “Soap on a rope.”
Starsky ignored the dig. “I don’t know what I would do without you, Huggy.”
“Tell me about it,” Huggy snorted.
“I’m serious. I know sometimes me and Hutch don’t do enough . . .”
“You do plenty . . .”
“Jesus, will you let me finish?”
“I just don’t want you boohooing all over the limes.”
“To hell with the limes, can’t you see that I’m trying to thank you – trying to say what’s in my heart here – hell, Huggy, I love you, dammit!”
Starsky’s voice had risen during the speech so that the last part was close to a shout. The bar fell silent and all eyes turned to the back booth. Huggy slowly turned around, smiled at his patrons and gestured to Janice.
“Janice, why don’t we buy these nice folks a round – on the house.”
He turned back to Starsky. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Where we going?”
Starsky swallowed hard. He hadn’t been upstairs since . . .
“Why not just go back to my place or something?”
“So you love me, but you won’t follow me upstairs?”
“Is that a proposition?”
They said it together this time. “You wish.”
“Starsky, if we’re going to exorcise some demons tonight, we better exorcise some demons tonight. Now haul your ass up those stairs.”
Starsky slid out of the booth and stood. He was glad his legs felt steady. Relatively steady. He reached for his glass as Huggy grabbed the bottle and his own glass. They left the limes and made their way up the staircase, slowly.
They stood outside the closed door. Neither man wanted to be the first in the room. Then Starsky smacked his forehead, mad at himself.
“Shit, man – you must really hate this room. After Stryker’s goons and then Hutch . . .”
“Does kinda make it hard to use it for my crib.” Huggy opened the door.
They both stood for a minute. Then Starsky stepped through and stopped. Huggy squeezed past him and turned, gesturing to Starsky’s glass. Starsky held it up and Huggy splashed a few drops in and then into his own.
Starsky took another step into the room, turned to the bed and shuddered as the memory of the smell and the mess and Hutch’s desperate cries almost took him to a knee. He struggled to remember the room before that night. Instead, he remembered the day they had busted in, guns blazing, to save Huggy. He had been so flippant with his friend that day. Yelled at him, called him a black fink. And Huggy had just shaken it all off, wandered back downstairs, and started taking orders at the bar. Huggy had learned a long time ago to cope. To survive.
Starsky held his glass high. “To partnership.”
Huggy joined him. “Yeah, partnership – you and Hutch.” He started to drink but Starsky stopped him.
“No, Hug – I mean you and me.”
“You and me?”
“Yeah, you and me. We’re partners.”
“Damn Starsky, are you trying to make me cry now?” Huggy was touched. Knew the word was one Starsky did not take lightly. Ever.
“Huggy, you are just as much my partner as Hutch is. How many times you save my life, huh? How many times I crash at your place after work? How many friends I got would put up with my shit?”
“I’d say two.”
“Precisely – two. You and Hutch. My partners.”
“So now we’re a threesome?”
“Might get sticky – I for one would not like to be on the wrong side of the blond one during a fit of jealous rage, you know?”
Starsky just held his glass up. Huggy tapped it, emptied his glass and sank to a chair.
“I think I am officially hammered.”
Starsky walked toward the bathroom, stopped to finger the checkerboard now sitting on the dresser, every checker in place. Huggy had had the place cleaned, but Starsky could only see the mess. He shook his head, trying to clear it, but it made him dizzy. He joined Huggy in the other chair.
“I think I am officially sick.”
“Let’s drink to that.” Huggy chuckled, willing the room to stop spinning.
Starsky leaned over and put his head on Huggy’s shoulder. “I do love you, Hug.”
Huggy patted Starsky’s head. “Same here, man. You’re in my heart, hard.”
“You’re in my heart, too. Really hard.”
They sat silent for a few moments. The sounds from the bar drifted up to them, noise from the street wafted through the open window, and they sat. Lost in thought, in the past, in the Tequila. Huggy moved his arm around Starsky shoulders, and pulled him closer. Starsky patted Huggy on the leg.
“I love you Huggy, you know that, right?” Starsky muttered.
“Yeah, Starsk – you just told me like, five minutes ago.”
Starsky pushed himself upright and rubbed his eyes. Suddenly the room didn’t feel so wrong anymore. Suddenly his shoulders felt lighter, his misery relieved.
“I think we did it.” Starsky stood.
“If we did, I sure don’t remember – was it good for me?”
Starsky hauled Huggy to his feet. “No you ass – the exorcism. I think we did it.”
Huggy turned, taking a good look around the room. Bed, chair, table, dresser. No goons, no ghosts. “Hey, I think you’re right. How’d we do that?”
“Dunno. But it feels different. Better.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Huggy walked over and drew Starsky into his arms. “Thanks, man.”
Starsky hugged him back. “No thank you, Hug. Saved my life again.”
They parted, and without a word, headed out the door and down the steps. Huggy walked down in front of Starsky and stopped suddenly, which caused Starsky to crash into his back, which sent him stumbling down the rest of the steps. Starsky lunged forward to stop Huggy from falling, but ended up pushing him harder, losing his own balance and landing on top of him instead.
Huggy’s head hit the floor. Then Starsky’s head hit his head, and his head hit the floor again. Starsky rolled off Huggy, trying to untangle his legs and get up at the same time. He slipped and his head banged into Huggy’s head again, and Huggy’s head bounced off the floor for the hundredth time. He lay still for a minute, wondering if he had enough saved back for carpeting or maybe an area rug . . .
“I’ll be damned, Hutch was right.” A voice interrupted his redecorating plans.
He looked up at the face of Captain Dobey, the reason he had stopped suddenly on the steps, standing in the middle of his bar, the other customers crowded behind him, watching. Starsky was crawling toward the steps, and used the banister to haul himself up.
“Captain Dobey.” Huggy mustered all his strength and rose to a sitting position. “Welcome to my humble establishment. What can I get you – beer?”
Dobey shook his head. They were both obviously drunk. When Hutch had asked him to come down here to pick up Starsky, he had just thought it was silly. Starsky was a grown man – he could take care of himself. But Hutch had insisted, and Edith had given him a look, so he had gotten in the car and driven all the way across town. Now he was glad he did. No way was Starsky getting behind the wheel of anything tonight.
“Hiya Captain. Whatta you doing down here?” Starsky leaned against the pinball machine, trying to act casual.
“I’m here to pick you up.”
“You driving a hack now, Captain? Out trolling for fares?” Huggy managed to pull himself off the floor and stood, looking at Dobey.
“Funny, Huggy – real funny. No I’m not driving a cab, but you might be.” He gestured to the customers behind him. “Liquor Control gets a little hinky about a licensee’s public drunkenness . . .”
Huggy frowned, not understanding. Janice came around Dobey and patted her boss on the back.
“Yes, Captain, we were just closing.” She turned to the crowd. “Last call, everyone. Drink up.”
Dobey walked over to Starsky. “You okay, son?”
“Ready to go?”
“Back to my house. Hutch is there. Waiting.”
Starsky smiled and leaned into the captain, who caught him by his jacket and leaned him back against the pinball machine.
“Hutch is waiting for me?”
“Yes, Starsky, remember – you dropped him off earlier.”
“Oh yeah – hey, Hug, gotta go. Hutch is waiting for me.”
Huggy turned around to Starsky. “Cool, man. You gotta go – can’t keep the man waiting.”
“You are right there, my man.” Starsky walked over and patted Huggy on the back, and they clung to each other.
“I am right here, too, my man.”
“Yes you are – partner.”
Huggy just smiled and leaned Starsky into Dobey, who wrapped an arm around him and led him to the door.
“Bye, Hug – see you later,” Starsky called over his shoulder. “Gotta go take care of Hutch. It’s my job, you know?” Dobey held open the door, nodded back to Huggy, and they were gone.
“Yeah, go take care of Hutch. It’s your job.” Huggy collapsed on a stool at the end of the bar. “And I’ll take care of you, my friend. Cause that’s my job. We’re partners. All of us.”
Huggy laid his head on the bar and wondered who was going to take care of him.