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The Interview, Part 2
"Life. Death. Forward. Backward. Alone. Not." Starsky pushed away from the window, went to the aquarium, touched a finger to the water for a goldfish to investigate.
"Your records indicate that you've spent your life in service to others. First a detective, then a private investigator, currently a bounty hunter. Pardon me for asking, but I thought bounty hunting went out with the old west."
"Just think of me as a modern Steve McQueen. There are more criminals on the street than ever, doctor. More than any police force can ever track. Bounty hunting can be a very profitable line of work."
"And probably very stressful, lonely. Do you travel a lot?"
The doctor fell silent, watching his client prowl across the room, a tiger in a cage. "Perhaps we should back up. You were once a police officer?"
"A detective, I believe."
"That's correct. In Los Angeles."
"Why did you leave?"
Starsky finally settled in the chair, angled it toward the sun and put one booted foot on the corner of the desk. He met the doctor's eyes, expecting a reprimand, and not getting it, leaned his head back into the soft cushions. "Got tired, I guess, lost interest. Lost my drive. Lost my edge."
"You can't be a cop on the street and not have an edge, doctor. You're dead in no time."
"I see. What about the private investigator venture?"
Starsky smiled a rueful smile. "About starved. Couldn't generate any motive to take photographs of some fat cat's wife having an affair with some other fat cat. And there was nobody there that cared whether you did a good job or not. If you did a good job, you might get paid, then again you might not. Depended on if your boss liked the answers you got. Plus L.A. has P.I.s out the nose."
"What got you into bounty hunting?"
"Hunger. Saw this fugitive on the street one day. Dragged him down to the local precinct headquarters. Turned out there was a $1,000 reward on him. Fifteen minutes work, a thousand bucks. Seemed like something I could do. Turned out to be something that I was good at. All you gotta do to catch a crook is think like one. And I'm good at that." There was a flash of white teeth, a brief crooked smile. "If I hadn't fallen into that, I'd probably ended up robbing banks in Bolivia."
"So what do you want from me?"
Starsky looked at him, blue eyes serious. "I'm not getting any younger, Doc. I've made lots of money, got employees doing the dangerous stuff. I've got a home in L.A., another one in Miami. But with everything that I've got going for me, it's just me. The jobs I've had didn't allow for a relationship to develop. I've come to realize that if I don't do something, I'm going to be a grumpy old man, all alone. And I don't think I can handle that."
"Were you ever married?"
"No. The one time that I was serious, she was murdered."
"How about long term relationships, friendships?"
"There was one, a long time ago. But we had a fight and I haven't seen him since."
"Him?" Dr. Thompson made a mental note. An idea was beginning to form.
"Yeah, when I was a cop. I had a partner. We were real close, but something happened."
"Tell me about it."
Starsky dropped his head to the back of the chair, looked briefly at the ceiling, sighed. His voice was soft, sad. "His name was Hutch. We'd been partners for about eight years when we both made a fool of ourselves over this woman. Turned out she was playing us both, one against the other. After her, we couldn't find each other again. Something had died. I don't know what." Starsky's voice was lost in the distant memories."
"Do you know what happened to him? Is he still on the police force?"
"No. He quit, went to college, became a big shot lawyer in San Fran. I followed some of his crazier cases for awhile but then lost track of him. I haven't seen him in almost twenty years."
"What about friends now? Do you have anyone that you're close to?"
"Nah. Couple of occasional lovers, you know. If I'm not busy and she's not busy sort of things. But I can be in L.A. today, Las Vegas tomorrow. Depends on the bounty that I'm hunting." He pushed out of the chair, went back to the fish tank. He stood staring at it in silence. "I had a dog once. But some low life I was holding over for trial killed it. Thought he'd get even before he was sentenced to life."
"What did you do about the death of your dog?"
"Charged the state for the replacement of a high bred Lab. Took the money and gave it to a charity that provides Seeing Eye dogs to kids." He swirled his finger at the curious goldfish, sending them scurrying. "They got three dogs for the price of that Lab."
A flash of insight caused the doctor to blurt out his next question without thinking. "What was your dogs' name?"
The sun had set and the doctor turned on a small lamp on his desk. "What do you want most in life, Mr. Starsky? If you could sum it up in a few words. What would make you happy?"
"Companionship. Someone to be there, watch my back. Someone I could trust to stand beside me." The answer was shot back with rifle intensity. He looked out the window, face absorbing the last of the color of the sky.
"In your line of work, I can see why that would be hard to come by. Perhaps you're not looking in the right places."
"What do you recommend, advertise? 'SWM, bounty hunter, wishes a long term relationship with person that can shoot, drive, likes long walks, intense discussions over any subject, old movies, Mexican food, pizza and beer. Must be willing to accept mass numbers of broken dates, and promises, and can be placed in mortal jeopardy at any time.' I can see the responses now."
"Perhaps. But there are other alternatives." He glanced at his watch. "Our hour is up, Mr. Starsky. My secretary will schedule for another appointment later this week. I think we have a chance to make real headway if you are willing to work at this."
"I'm willing to try, doc. But you must realize that I'm a realist. I don't expect miracles."
"I never claimed to be a miracle worker. Good evening, sir."
When Starsky left, the doctor dropped his head into his hands. He'd been given a golden opportunity to help two people. Now if he just could keep them separated during their time here.
Over the next two weeks Dr. Thompson worked tirelessly to keep the two men away from each other. Therapy was scheduled in the mornings for one, evenings for the other. He made arrangements with other staff members, keeping them busy, at opposite ends of the clinic, with different staff members, with small social functions. And he listened to them, drawing each one out, trying to be sure the idea that had started earlier would truly work. He never knew that being a matchmaker could be so complicated.
On the third week of his project, the doctor entered his office, closed the door and leaned against it. He was about to put in motion the idea that he had started almost a month ago. He was nervous, almost like an expectant parent. The following interview could go several different ways. He took a deep breath, walked to his desk, took out a cigarette, lit it.
The intercom beeped. "Your 3 o'clock is here, doctor."
"Send him in please, Nancy."
The door opened, and Hutchinson entered. He was thinner than he had been earlier in the month. The expensive suit was gone, replaced with expensive exercise clothing and a matching turtleneck. There were dark rings under his eyes.
"Mr. Hutchinson. How are you, sir?"
"Hanging in there. Who would have guessed that booze could have such a hold over somebody. This has been the hardest month of my life."
"How many days have you been sober?"
"Thirty. And no cigarettes for the last 24 hours. If I'm gonna kick this stuff, I'm gonna kick it all."
"Have you ever had to kick any other type of drug addiction?"
"Yeah, years ago I got strung out on heroin. I kicked it, cold turkey. But this doesn't even come close to that."
The intercom beeped again. "Your other client has arrived."
"Thank you Nancy. Hold him there for a couple of minutes, then send him in." He un-keyed the intercom, looked at Hutchinson.
"Other client? I thought these sessions were private?"
"They are Mr. Hutchinson. I thought this person might help you get through what you're going through." The doctor reached over, flicked on the desk lamp, but did not sit down.
The door opened. Hutchinson turned and froze. The figure at the door froze half in, half out.
"Come in, Mr. Starsky. Close the door behind you."
Two pair of blue eyes met, held.
Starsky let the door close with its own weight, barely got his fingers clear. He took one step, two, swallowed. "Hutch." It was a whisper. He looked at the doctor, back to the man in front of him. "Oh God, Hutch." Starsky stared at the thin man in front of him, taking in at a glance the changes that twenty years had brought, dismissing all of them to meet the pale blue eyes. He felt his knees tremble, forced them to move. Closer to the pale ghost in front of him.
Hutch was frozen with shock. The world began to turn grey, the only light in the room was from Starsky's eyes. He tried to speak, but the name came out as "Sta-" before his knees gave way.
Starsky caught him as he fell, settled him into the chair, took the offered glass of water, touched it to Hutch's mouth. Hutch's hand covered his and he took a sip of water, then opened his eyes.
The dark blue eyes that met his never wavered. "Starsk- how?" The voice whispered, quivered. His felt his heart pound in his chest, close off his throat. He reached up, trembling hand touching the cheek, slid up to touch a dark brown curl, sprinkled with silver. He closed his eyes, realized that tears were starting down his face. When he opened them again, Starsky had rocked back on his heels, his face split with a lopsided grin that was edged with tears.
Behind them, the door closed and they were left alone.
"Starsky?" Hutch tried to push himself into a sitting position. The movement forced Starsky to give him some space.
"Is my name all you can say? Hutch, you look awful." The grin was still there, a beacon in the dim room, blue eyes bright with unshed tears. Hutch found strength in his legs, pushed off the chair and directly into Starsky's waiting arms. They both ended up on the floor.
Starsky found his arms full and he wrapped them around the sobbing figure. He tried to rock him, but couldn't, so he lay on the floor, Hutch's dead weight pinning him to the carpet. After a few minutes he rolled them both on their sides so he could breathe. Hutch's tears had soaked his shirt and showed no sign of letting up.
"Hey, buddy. It's okay. Enough with the waterworks. You're gonna drown us both. Hutch, do you hear me? Hutch?" Somewhere he registered that the man he held was wire-thin and shaking, cold and hot at the same time. He stroked the silver blond hair, noticing that it was thin on top. A lone strand curled around his fingers.
Hands that had wrapped in Starsky's shirt crept around his neck and Hutch cried harder. Starsky held on, waiting for the catharsis to subside, barely under control himself, but needing the control for Hutch. His friend. He felt a huge weight roll off his chest. Twenty years of sorrow melted away. What he was hunting for was in his arms. This friend that he had walked away from years before. And his tears flowed, to join his friend's.
It was a long time before the two men found the strength to control themselves. Finally, Hutch untangled his arms from Starsky's neck, eased back from him. Starsky met his eyes, blinking away the last of the tears.
"How did you know I needed you? Oh, Starsky, I'm so sorry. For all the pain, for all the years, for everything I said to you. When you didn't love me anymore I couldn't take it, I had to leave." Hutch was on his knees, babbling through the tears, hands gripping Starsky's. "Can you ever forgive me?" His face was open, every emotion that he'd ever felt showing.
"I never stopped loving you. But you closed yourself off. I couldn't reach you. There was a wall and the longer it went on, the harder it was to climb over. It was easier to let you go than try to scale it. I forgave you years ago. I forgave both of us years ago." Starsky took a deep breath, rolled to his knees, never letting go of Hutch's cold, trembling hands. "Hutch, I never had another partner after you left. I haven't had anyone."
Starsky helped him up, and they stood together, knees a little shaky, face to face, hand in hand, afraid to let go, afraid to go on. Starsky studied the face in front of him, saw someone tired, sick, worn to the bone with twenty years of sorrow. "You look awful Hutch. What have you done to yourself?"
"You don't want to know." Hutch took a deep breath, feeling the tremors subside in his chest. A chest that was filling with sunshine and hope. "Starsky, where have you been? How did you know to come here?" He surveyed his friend, saw the gold coin at the throat, the suede sports jacket, snakeskin boots. "What have you been doing?"
"Whoa, buddy. Too many questions. Where are you staying?"
"Me too." They eyed each other at the revelation. "Look, let's tell the good doctor that we won't be needing his services anymore, go back to my suite and talk. I'll order us some dinner."
Hutch held his friend back from opening the door for a moment. "I've missed you, Starsky." He pulled the man into a bone crushing hug.
"I've missed you, too...partner. We've got a lot of catching up to do." The hug felt good, right, safe. Starsky returned it whole-heartedly. They released each other, arms falling to each others' waist and stared into each other's eyes.
Daringly, hesitantly, Hutch leaned over and placed his lips on his friend's, a tremulously shy kiss, letting himself breathe the other man's air for a second, then pulled away, watching for a reaction. Starsky's eyes were wide, his mouth open. The shocked silence lingered and finally Hutch's eyes dropped and he flushed with embarrassment.
"'m sorry. I won't ever do it again."
Starsky took the lowered face in one hand, tipped it up, met the blue eyes bright with unshed tears. "Oh yes you will." And kissed him back, hard, with every bit of power he could put into it, arms pulling his friend tight to him, crushing Hutch close.
It was Hutch's turn to be shocked, but only for a moment. He relaxed into the embrace, into the kiss and returned it, lips bruising lips, tongues touching briefly, shared breath forcing them closer. His world spun around him, knees suddenly weak.
They pulled back, gasping for air. They looked at each other again, both equally shocked at their actions. Starsky started to giggle. Hutch caught the humor of their situation and joined in. Starsky leaned on his blond friend and giggled so hard that Hutch found himself holding him up. The giggles resumed every time they met each other's eyes, until they were leaning on each other, holding their sides, tears running down their faces. To find each other again, in this place, at this time, who would have thought?
"Don't you think it's time we go somewhere and talk?" Starsky, trying to control his breathing, draped an arm around his friend.
"Is talking all you have in mind?" Hutch was suddenly dead serious. He took the invitation for a hug and gathered his dark-haired friend close, nesting his body down the length of Starsky's, feeling the power and strength there.
"One step at a time." Starsky returned the hug, nipped Hutch's ear. "We've got a lot of sorting out to do." His hands around Hutch's ribs felt the thinness in the man. He rubbed his fingers upward, already planning how to fill him out.
"Yeah, you're right. Plus I'm starved." They separated and after a moment to regain their composure, Starsky opened the door to the outer office.
Their doctor was lounging on the sofa, cigarette in hand. His eyes met theirs, saw the tear stains on faces and clothing, and grinned. "Bet you think I'm a miracle worker now, don't you."
Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances. "Just send us the bill," Hutch called back as Starsky opened the outer door and pushed Hutch through it. Starsky looked back at the doctor and winked.
The doctor winked back.