| The needle was clean—he
made sure by dipping it into the rubbing alcohol kept under the
sink. He paused to look over the rest of the "fixings"—carefully
handling the spoon, sterno can and rubber hose. And the heroin,
spilling whitely against the darkened room. He had pulled the
curtains close to the window—not out of shame—it wasn’t shame or
fear or loathing that brought him to grip the needle in his right
hand and shake the alcohol free. He was here because he wanted to
Hutch laid the needle on the paper cloth and lit the sterno can. The flame sizzled and he tried to remember exactly how hot and how long it would take to melt the heroin to the proper consistency. How did the other neophytes learn to do it right? Lucky he was a cop and the information and opportunity had always been staring him in the face. He’d never wanted—needed—to act on the urging before. But after his first taste of the drug, when the pain had finally turned into a smooth glide of pleasure, he knew that the desire to feel the needle would always be with him. Like most things in life, it was just a matter of time.
The sizzling flame kept him on edge, giving him the first faint tingling of anticipation. It would be good. It had always been good. Better than the rush on the street, better than bringing down the big time crooks and the small operators, better than sex, better than his feelings for Starsky…. The drug spoke to him again, singing the promise of a perfect world where doubt and fear were washed back into a small corner. The drug was good. It was worth anything he had to pay. He had no idea why he hadn’t seen that earlier.
He expected that a lot of it had to do with Starsky…. Hold on to me, partner. We’ll beat the drug together. Don’t let anyone know. My partner is not a junkie dammit! Starsky’s moral certitude had always hung between them like a signpost, warning the evildoers away and drawing Hutch down the paths of right conduct.
He was sick of it. Starsky. The force. Doing the right thing. He had been hung between thought and action for far too many months. Today he’d break free and let the lifeline slip to the wind. How many years on the force, how many corrupt cops and judges, how many bullets in the legs, shoulders, back and chest?—and they were still expected to be pure and clean and bleached white. Remove the unsightly colors and offensive odors of the streets.
And after Starsky’s shooting it had only gotten worse. But no one seemed to notice—least of all Starsky. His attention had been focused outwards—trying to regain lost strength and lost certainty, Starsky kept reaching for the brass ring, not knowing that it was all worthless. Refusing to know or notice Hutch.
He had given everything to his job. He had given every bit of courage and caring to hunting down Starsky’s killers and praying it would be enough to even the scales. It wasn’t. Nothing had changed. Gunther had gone free. No matter how much they bled, the streets were as dark as ever. And night after night, he dreamt of Starsky’s death.
None of it could compete with what he now held. Lowering the spoon to the table, he fumbled awkwardly for the needle. One-handed he pulled on the syringe, sucking the fluid upwards. The last time he had seen this done, he had been fighting, his world tilting from side to side as his mind waged war against the body’s urging. This time, body and mind spoke as one. The needle pricking his enlarged vein was silent. No fanfare, no outpouring of speeches or benedictions—not like yesterday’s award ceremony where he and Starsky were given yet another commendation to measure against their wasted lives. Hutch watched the downward slide of the plunger and felt at peace for the first time in four years. With himself, with his choices, with his desires and his inevitable failures. There were no failures in eternity. No futile desires in nirvana. No doubts inside the needle. The warmth leapt to his lips, causing his head to tingle. His arm dropped and the whiteness spread through his limbs, slowing everything into a haze. This was heaven for as long as he could stand it.
Starsky shut the door. He didn’t care that his entrance caused the frame to reverberate through the small apartment. He didn’t care that it was past midnight. He didn’t care that he entered Hutch’s apartment without discretion or deference.
He walked by memory, touch and hearing guiding him through the darkness. When he reached the center of the room, he turned on the reading lamp. The light fell weakly over his tennis shoes and, for a moment, he considered leaving. Like a thief, he thought, my own partner and I step through his life like I was the criminal.
He breathed deeply, shutting his eyes, remembering the con who had witnessed Hutch’s score. "Yeah man. I saw it go down. In San Diego when I was meeting my connection. Mr. H scoring some H. Go figure." Casually, Starsky had turned the conversation away from Hutch to safer topics. And made certain that when the con was reassigned, it was outside of Los Angeles County. Just in case.
Starsky’s eyes crept open and he gazed blindly around the room. Just in case what? It was true? How could it be true? He’d’ve noticed sooner. He was, after all, a cop. They both were. And more than just cops, just partners….
But being a cop hadn’t protected Hutch from addiction before. Starsky had always wondered just how long Hutch had been able to hold out before giving Jeannie’s location. Hutch’s whispered confession of how he had broken under the pressure had been shameful to hear. But the flow of heroin had pulled more than just an address from Hutch’s lips. Hutch’s pleas and cries, his anguished reaching past Starsky for the comfort of the opiate, still hurt to remember. Helplessly, Starsky had held his partner and watched self-respect being wrung from the shuddering body. No matter that Hutch had beat it cold turkey—the memory rested coldly now in Starsky’s consciousness.
Other memories shifted into focus. The long depressions, the growing cynicism. His partner had changed so much over the years. After the shooting he had become worse. The shooting had taken more than Starsky could ever replace. Dying was easy, it seemed. Learning to live afterwards was the tricky part. Why couldn’t Hutch just give them both a rest?
Starsky’s hands tugged at his hair and he shifted his tight stance. The pressure building in his chest begged for movement. His fingers itched. Each step increased his speed until, whirling like a top without direction, he began shoving furniture and opening drawers. Button, button, who’s got the button? his mind sang. His stomach knew the answer.
Too many years on the street led him to the obvious hiding place. As Starsky glared at the needle, the spoon, and the small white bag, he felt insulted. "Couldn’t have found a better location, could we Sgt. Hutchinson?" The floor was hard and he fought the temptation to use it as a launching pad for the building rage. He remembered how it had been the last time. The vomiting, the shakes, the pleas and manipulations. The hollow-eyed victory. Starsky held the trembling body, heard the desperate breathing, and saw the look in Hutch’s eyes. How could Hutch pick up the needle and hold it and not see it all like he did? How could Hutch do it to them again? How could he not remember what it had cost them to break free?
Starsky returned the kit to the hiding place. His chest hurt and a pulsing beat kept pace with each movement. He needed to cry, shout, or bang something. He’d be dammed if he’d go through it again. He had done it once already. How many more times did he have to fix the same mistake? Starsky walked slowly and carefully to the couch and turned off the light. His world spun with questions, problems without solutions. The darkness swallowed him as he left the apartment behind.
It wasn’t the ping of the bullet that brought Hutch back into focus. His mind, already slowed by the creeping need he was beginning to feel more each day, had picked up on the smell of blood. He looked down to see the slick circle sliding away from the body next to him, pooling under his feet. The alley tilted sideways and his hand reached out for support. The air, unforgiving, allowed him to slip until both knees were soaked in red. Another unwritten hazard of police work, he thought as he got to his feet and looked at the body. Nothing gets the blood out.
When he entered the hallway some minutes later, he didn’t need to know that he had screwed up again. The faces, the snide comments, the shaking heads behind his back were well worn tracks. Like the ones on his arms and now on his feet, he knew each tracing and each line. God, they were so predictable.
Starsky stood in the hall. Hutch waved at him but was ignored. The drug bust had gone sour long before his hesitant charge up the alley. He looked over another bloody room and then moved on. Just another day. Sometimes things happened so fast that he worried about keeping up. Other times, it all crept by. The boredom he’d used to hate was now his salvation. He’d have to get another fix soon.
Lost again in his wandering, he was unprepared for the shove that sent him against the wall. Starsky had hit the cop he’d been talking to. Hutch caught the tail end of the words. Unfortunately, so did the rest of the squad.
"…And if you hadn’t blown the whistle so late he’d have been on time in the alley! Stop trying to carve your promotion outta my partner’s hide. The cut won’t fit your big head, Haney!"
Without thinking, Hutch reached out to separate the two men. It was an old gesture, but this time it lacked conviction. Starsky brushed him off and shouldered down the hall and back into the alley. Hutch followed, glancing at his watch to measure the interval again. Another hour at least.
The bright sun overhead cast a glamour over the blood and garbage. Nothing could sanitize the dead body, but Hutch wasn’t looking for death. At least not yet. Starsky stood quietly next to the door. As Hutch slid his sunglasses on, he caught Starsky watching him. The cool blue eyes took in his pallor, his trembling hand pressed against his leg. Hutch prayed the light would hide his imperfections. Starsky’s face did not waver, nothing passed his lips, but as he turned away to head towards the car, Hutch knew that Starsky knew. Through all the years of deception and half-truths, suddenly Starsky, ole-blind-eyes-let’s-pretend-my-partner- the-junkie-never-happened, had discovered it.
Or maybe just rediscovered it. Maybe Starsky had never stopped looking for the signs of weakness, the resurgence of a moral void. Hutch stood in the alley and felt sick. Of course, that was it, he’d always known. He probably never stopped knowing. After all, Hutch had been the one crawling on the floor, his guts heaving, begging for release. Who could forget?
Starsky called out to another cop and gestured towards the building behind them. The blue uniform stepped past Hutch, ignoring him. Starsky glared at the cop’s back. If he knew, then why hadn’t he said something? Why was he standing in some shit-smelling hallway arguing with Haney and covering for him?
And of course, that was exactly it. Starsky was covering for him. Saving his reputation. Protecting the partnership, the ever holy trinity of me, thee, and us. Sweat shivered through him in the warm sunshine. His face, stiff and offended, stared out over Starsky’s head. So what if he knew? Son of a bitch deserved every anxious moment, every cautious glance, every worry. So typical of Starsky—act first and ask for permission later. I know what’s best. Trust me.
And through the cold sensation rising past his heart to settle on his lips and shadowed eyes, was the hate he could never speak in their perfect partnership.
Starsky juggled his change. The setting sun had touched the windshield of his parked car, causing him to squint. His stomach rumbled in time with his aching neck and shoulder. The last few days had worn them both to a weary detachment. Day-night-day. Stakeout-paperwork-stake-out. Only momentary privacy with tension slowly screwing their words and expressions into stillness.
Hutch was crazy. He was also slipping more each day. Starsky was certain the fixes had grown larger. His concentration was for shit, his aim and judgment worse, Starsky’s shoulder and neck only the latest victims. And the way he treated Starsky—it continuously reminded Starsky that where the drug was concerned, the partnership stood last in line.
His turn at the window came next. By habit, he ordered the largest, messiest combination on the hand printed menu. And then added a shake. He ordered nothing for Hutch. Even before, Hutch had only snacked on the sidelines—officially disdaining Starsky’s menu, he’d usually eat about half. Now it’d be at most a bite or swallow. All Starsky could do was nag. You’d think Hutch would at least tell him to fuck off.
Except he wasn’t. He wasn’t listening. He certainly hadn’t learned anything. Starsky knew when Hutch had fixed—the harsh edges and sliced grins would relax and merge into sad emptiness. And when Starsky looked into Hutch’s face, a face he had lived with for so many years, he saw only a stranger, a strung out junkie flying high. Me and thee had settled into a comatose partnership. There had never been any need for speeches or professions of loyalty. Starsky had always been there for Hutch. Any other way of thinking was ungraspable, foreign, to be rejected. Yet now every word and every risk that used to be shared was met with hostility, hate aching in every move Hutch made.
And all of it directed at Starsky. The food in his hands felt heavy and greasy. Even though his stomach gurgled, his hunger had left. No matter, it didn’t matter, none of it mattered. But if it didn’t work itself out soon…. He turned away from the thought and walked towards the car. Opening the door, he slid into the driver’s seat.
The flick of the needle in the sun, tip glistening as it bit into Hutch’s flesh, caught his eye. He drew a sharp breath, then another, and then another. The bare arm was fully extended, almost touching his thigh. He stared, fascinated, seeing the drug flow out of the needle and into Hutch. Starsky watched the subtle shift of expressions, tasting each sensation, each pleasure, as if it were his own. Hutch was oblivious, inward facing, excluding comment or communication. Only his eyes faced outwards, defiant even as they dimmed.
"What the hell are you doing!" Starsky mouthed bitterly. Hutch did not reply. The silence was insulting. He sharpened his voice, hoping volume would force a reply. "What do you want me to do? Put the needle in your arm the next time?" If Hutch would only talk, then maybe they’d have a chance.
Pity Hutch didn’t see it that way. "Back off Starsky," he whispered. "This is none of your business—"
"Like hell it is," Starsky cut in. "You’re fucking up and leaving me to clean up the mess."
"What mess? Oh, you mean the mess in here?" Hutch gestured contemptuously towards the rear filled with bits of food and waste threatening to come into life. "Seems to me I should be the one complaining here."
The old joke fell sourly. It reminded Starsky that once they had been partners who could laugh about eating habits and cars. "Stop lying to yourself." His voice floated between them, disconnected from his body. "Lie to me all you want, but stop lying to yourself. That stuff is killing you. You can’t stand, you can’t think, hell, you couldn’t even give the right codes when we responded to our last call out." Starsky held himself close, afraid that if he moved he wouldn’t be able to stop.
Hutch acted as if he hadn’t spoken. Starsky could see that the drug held him tighter than he ever could. Hutch was turning away, blind eyes tracking the sun. "Christ, do I have to sit around and listen to you moan all day? Get a life, partner!" The last bit had a particular spin to it. It reminded Starsky of past arguments, past storms they had weathered, past hurts he had been able to heal. But Hutch’s world was spinning away as the high kicked in.
Starsky reached out to touch, to connect, to shatter the nightmare before it grew to fullness. His heart reached capacity and overflowed. There was nothing left to give. No more risks he could take, no more protection he could offer, no more love and support to lay down. Hutch would take and keep on taking, using Starsky faster than any drug. And once Starsky was gone, who would take his place?
Starsky wished he could see into Hutch’s mind. He wished he had the words to capture Hutch before it was too late. But only his anger flowed, born of helpless frustration. Even as he spoke, he knew they were the wrong words, the wrong tone, the wrong way. "Damn you. I’ve stood next to you when all kinds of shit came down. And now, just because I nearly died, you act as if it’s the end of the world. The end of our partnership. Well let me tell you a secret, bugle boy. It’s not the end. And-I-am-still-here! Where the fuck are you gonna be in two years? Dead. Go ahead and piss your life away!"
Fear and anger stressed his voice. He paused, licking his lips, buying time and composure. But by then Hutch was gone. His strong, deadly partner had slipped past him, entering a beauty of his own making. A beauty that left no room for anyone or anything else.
Starsky opened the door and walked across the road. He threw the food into the trash bin and walked faster. His legs moved him past the Torino on the other side of the street, past Hutch, past their shared present and blighted future. By the time he reached the corner, he was running without breathing.
Hutch drummed loudly on the desk. The noise irritated, so he picked up the pace. The precinct was crawling with activity. His roster sheet was thin, however. The work had been dwindling for several months. Routine heists and bicycle burglaries were their new sub-specialty.
Hutch rubbed his mustache and wondered why Starsky hadn’t told him about the eight a.m. meeting. He knew it was difficult for Hutch to get up that early. So here he was, fifty minutes late, playing footsie with himself. No point in barging in and calling attention to his tardiness. Starsky would fill him in eventually.
He was getting tired. The scene in the Torino was just another joyless encounter with the hypocrite. Says nothing, covers for him, gets off on playing the silent martyr. But let him shoot up in the precious car, then it’s like you had fucked the pope. All that shit about how he was slipping on the job was just more mother Starsky. Well what did he expect when Starsky kept signing them up for those stakeouts? No privacy, no breaks, and nowhere to go. You place your bet, you spin the wheel, and you live with your choices. The grim act was just another piss-ass stab at Hutch. It wouldn’t work.
Besides, Starsky would come around. Bastard he may be, but they’d always pulled each other through no matter what went down. Hutch snapped a pencil into the wastebasket. The tip had broken under his hand. He almost preferred the yelling to the silence. It was too quiet in the room. Twenty other people in an airless, glass enclosure and Hutch sat stranded, one man in an oarless boat, watching the world drift away.
He stopped drumming.
They were staring at him. Something wasn’t right. What the hell was going on in there? The door clicked and Hutch forced himself to stay seated. He picked up a file and pretended to read.
Starsky walked out of Captain Dobey’s office, face pale. Hutch looked and then looked again. Starsky’s hand rested on the doorjamb. Stepping into the room, his movements slow, his eyes looked straight ahead. Hutch’s legs began to tremble. His fingers and hands followed. He looked harder at Starsky, trying to force a response. What the hell, he thought, what the hell?
Another movement at the door to Dobey’s office caught Hutch’s eye. He recognized Milano and Walker from Internal Affairs, their predatory instincts now focused on him.
Hutch stared directly at Starsky. "Fuck…" was all he whispered, his soft breath lost even to his own ears. But he knew Starsky had heard. Starsky could have heard the most silent of screams, the gentlest unspoken pain, the lost soul’s wandering. If they were Hutch’s screams, pain, and wanderings that is.
He would not beg Starsky to meet his gaze, but Starsky did. A pair of eyes flashed dark blue and for a moment Hutch thought Starsky would break first. But then, in a smooth and unwavering motion, Starsky reached into his jacket and pulled out his sunglasses. The lenses covered his eyes, shutting out the man Hutch had known and loved. Hutch sensed Starsky’s chill through the layers of glass, air and distance. He watched his partner walk past him, through the doors and into the hallway. The link between them, worn thin over these past months, stretched painfully and then snapped. He wondered that the whole precinct did not hear. He knew he should follow, that if he didn’t follow he’d regret it time and time again, whenever a laughing face or a flash of love would pass him by. At that moment he needed Starsky more than anything he’d ever experienced in his life. The feeling left him hollow and gutted.
Don’t panic, he thought, except panic could not describe his melting muscle and bone. The mother fucker—he’d done it. The one man he thought he could trust. The one man he had trusted. All that they had been through and it had come to this—two sallow-face pricks and a partner who walked away, silent and condemning. Why hadn’t he said something? Why had he sat there, day after day, doing nothing? The answer lay bitter in his heart. Starsky had spoken. Hutch had chosen not to listen. And there would be more than enough time to pull it out and let the knowledge shred him again and again.
Hutch wanted to cry. The tears burnt his throat but he knew they would never show. He wanted to stand—he needed to stand and face the approaching men with some dignity. Except he had nothing left. Childhood dreams of a life with love and meaning had withered under Starsky’s direct blue gaze. The child he had been had never dreamed of the life of a policeman. The child he had been could not touch the filth of his addiction. The child he was would never understand how he had come to be alone.