TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND
"When the light hits your eyes in the morning
And the fight to survive is bringing you down,
You see a chance for an answer
To fill the empty spaces
But you still don't know what to do.
You're too close to the ground...."
Even if someone had taken the time and trouble to ask, Ken Hutchinson could not have explained what had lured him to Los Angeles in that Autumn of 1969. Maybe it was the spirit of freedom that clung to the city, the promise that here at least was a place in which a man could see the realisation of his dreams, no matter how unusual they may be. An illusion, of course, as elusive as the rainbow's pot of gold, but for a wanderer in search of a place to set down roots, it was as good a starting point as any.
Start? Perhaps start over was closer to the mark. Once, in the recent past, he had thought his life settled, future assured; a good job, nice home, standard wife and two kids - Utopia, Hutchinson style. Looking back, it seemed that everything had fallen apart overnight; his choice of medicine as a career, rather than following his father into the army... Steven's death, and the anger and recrimination that followed... his father's subsequent decline... his own hasty marriage to Nancy. And now? Divorce, quick, clean and relatively painless. He wondered - had he ever really loved her, his sweet, Titian elf?
He glanced across at the man who occupied the passenger seat, wondering what he would make of it all. The sparse information he had gathered over the last twenty-four hours told him that Starsky - what was his first name? - was the type to only see things in black and white, leaving little room for life's subtleties. So, what would he think of the colonel's son turned medic, turned college drop out? Already he found himself envying Starsky. The man had freedom, self-assurance, a solid family background - all things that had hardly figured prominently in Hutchinson's life thus far. The last he could do little to change, however had he might try, but maybe here in L.A. he would discover the key to his own secret garden.
"You can drop me anyplace around here," Starsky announced suddenly.
Hutch ran his gaze along the street. The houses were small, two or three bedrooms, but well-maintained, their white walls gleaming in the noon sun. Each was divided from the sidewalk by a wide strip of lawn and screened from its neighbours by evergreens that stood shoulder high. A far cry from the eight-bedroom mausoleum in which the Hutchinson brood had been raised.
"Which one is your uncle's?" asked Hutch.
Starsky pointed further down the street. "Four up from the intersection, just past the hydrant."
The house was a clone of the others, a froth of white net billowing, sail-like, through the open front window, almost as if the house itself was waving a welcome. Hutch felt the constriction begin in his chest, spreading up to clog his throat. Even from this distance he could sense the love and pride, could see it in Starsky's contented smile.
"C'mon in and have a beer? 'm sure Uncle Al's got a few put by."
Hutch knew he should refuse - after all, this was Starsky's family reunion - but this feeling of companionship was too rare in his life to be relinquished so soon. He accepted, and watched Starsky's smile turn to a toothpaste-add grin as the latter tumbled from the car, dragging the battered pack with him. Hutch held back for a moment, watching as his companion bounded up the path like an overeager puppy and punched the doorbell with a flourish.
The woman who opened the door was tall and thin, her face angular, eyes hooded. Not a bit as he had expected, if Starsky's looks were anything to go by. But the, he reminded himself, this was only Starsky's aunt by marriage. The blood line ran through his uncle, his father's brother.
In an instant the woman's whole demeanour was transformed, he cautious scowl breaking into a smile of pure delight. Hutch could hear her squeals of joy for fifty feet away as she flung her arms around her nephew's neck. Sadly, he recalled his last ever trip home, just before he pulled out of med-school. The icy stare of his father, his mother's cold, emotionless peck on the cheek, sure signs that neither cared if they saw him or not. Only Adams, the hatchet-faced housekeeper, had shown him any affection.
It had not always been that way. Long ago there had been a time when the house was full of light and laughter, where there were winter parties and summer picnics, long vacations spent on his grandfather's farm and exciting trips to Europe. His mother was beautiful, full of life, doting on her sons and, on special occasions, father would take him and Steven into his private study, where finely crafted miniature soldiers - "Never call them 'toys', Kenneth" - would once again fight their campaigns on fields of rich green baize.
Back in the present, he became aware of someone calling his name and looked up to find Starsky beckoning to him, one arm wrapped tightly around the woman's waist. There was still time for him to leave, and Hutch knew that would be the most prudent thing to do, but already his feet were carrying him up the path, towards the house.
"Aunt Rosa... Like you to meet a friend of mine, Ken Hutchinson. Hutch... say 'hello' to my Aunt Rosa..."
Hutch swallowed hard. it was al long time since he had been introduced to anyone so warmly. Starsky was so open and unselfconscious it hurt. he took the proffered hand, finding it firm and pleasantly dry, the fingers long and unusually strong for a woman of her build.
The trio moved into the house, to a bright, airy room full of sturdy furniture that seemed to match the woman for strength and character. Any lingering uneasiness ebbed away as Hutch relaxed in their company. The depth of affection between aunt and nephew was plain to see, in Starsky's frequent hugs and in the way Rosa sat beside him and clung to his hand. Now that he was close to her, Hutch could see that, for all the severity of her looks, Rosa was a very gentle, loving woman. Thick, chestnut hair, winged with silver, was combed into waves around a face that was etched with the telltale signs of a happy life. How much of that happiness had come from the young man at her side, he wondered.
"There's beer in the ice box, Davey," she offered brightly. "You uncle's at work, but he'll be home in time for dinner... perhaps your friend would like to join us?"
Davey. David. So, that was his name. David Starsky. Hutch let his eyes follow the lithe figure as it vanished into the kitchen. David Starsky. Yes, he nodded, it suited him.
"That's very kind of you, Mrs Starsky, but I can't intrude."
"You're not intruding," Laughed Starsky. "Aunt Rosa always makes enough of everything to feed an army." The blue eyes suddenly sobered. "Anyhow, I owe you, remember? You sprung for dinner and the motel last night, least we can do is feed you now."
Hutch accepted gratefully, as much out of respect for Starsky's pride than from his own need for companionship. They sat for a long time, talking and laughing, Hutch adding the freely given facts to the growing mental file on David Starsky. it didn't take him long to decide that here was a man who could fill his image of what a best friend should be, and that was a feeling he had not known for a long time. Not since Jack...
The unhappy thoughts were driven abruptly from his mind by the arrival of Starsky's uncle. He walked in through the front door, smiling broadly at the little group, and Hutch identified him at once. The man was unmistakable. Not over-tall, he had the same sapphire eyes, the same sweeping lashes, the same thick curls, though age had threaded them with silver.
"David!" Even the voice was the same, rich velvet, slightly nasal, although the accent here was more West Coast than Bronx. Before anyone could move he was across the room, pulling the younger man to his feet and into a bone-crushing hug. "You're really safe!" he sighed. "I told your aunt you would be, but - well, y'know what these women are."
"Don't you believe a word of it, Davey! Three rugs he's worn through these last two years."
Husband and nephew - so alike that they could easily pass for father and son - wrapped arms over each other's shoulders and laughed. Hutch, watching them, wondered again if he had been right to stay. What gave him the right to intrude into this reunion?
"Let me look at you..." Al ordered, holding Starsky at arm's length.
"I'm all here..."
Al tugged at a lock of the collar-length curls. "So I see. What, they don't have barbers in the army anymore?"
"I been out the army since May! Wanted to see how the other half live."
The thought seemed to remind him of Hutch's presence because the blond suddenly found himself pulled to his feet and introduced enthusiastically, and once again he found himself moved by Starsky's openness. If this was a signpost to the direction his life here could take, then he must guard it with infinite care.
The rest of the evening passed in a comfortable haze of companionship for Hutch as the dinner conversation turned naturally to family matters, both past and present. There was, he discovered, a kid brother named Nick, who was forever in and out of trouble. David, too, had had more than one brush with the law in his youth but, according to Al, his attitude had undergone a rapid change when his father had been gunned down for refusing to give in to the local mob.
Now and then Hutch's gaze would travel to the two older Starskys, acknowledging the strength and compassion that had helped prevent their young charge from becoming just another street punk. What was it about these people that made them so different from his own family? Surely it was not just a matter of money?
He remembered the last time he had brought a stranger home for dinner. His mother, coldly polite, not daring to overstep the narrow lines of etiquette; father hardly speaking, once he had discovered that Keith was totally against all forms of weapons and warfare. Breakfast the next day had comprised one argument after another until, in desperation, Hutch had fled back to the sanctuary of college. Keith had never visited again.
"Hey, Blondie! Ya fallin' asleep on us?"
Starsky's laughter jolted him from the sad daydreams. "Ah - No. Just - thinking. Starsky --" He paused, wondering if he should ask, in the same moment pushing the hesitation aside. "Tell me some more about your father."
They were alone at the table, the clatter of china from the other side of the door telling him that Al had been shanghaied into kitchen detail.
Starsky leaned across to refill their coffee cups. "Whaddaya wanna know?"
"Anything. Unless y-you'd rather not. I don't want to - pry."
Starsky giggled, relaxed by the pleasure of homecoming. "Shit - Ain't no skeletons in this family's closet, Hutch. 'Sides, I like talking about him, y'know? Keeps his memory alive. What's that they say, about a person don't really die so long as someone remembers him."
Hutch took a sip of his coffee, too conscious of his own friendless state to dare relate that theory to his own life.
Starsky sat back, cup cradled between his hands. "Did I tell you he was born here?" he asked suddenly. "Not in this house a'course. In L.A."
"How come he laded up in New York?"
"Went east to marry my ma. See, they met in the hospital during the war. She was his nurse - one of 'em anyhow. Fixed him up so well they sent him back in but - well, they kinda - ah - hit things off big time, if you see what I mean." he paused, grinning, to sip his cooling brew. "Got one helluva surprise when he heard about me!"
Hutch found himself staring in wonder at the two pinpoints of embarrassment that appeared on Starsky's cheeks. For all his brash exterior, it seemed that there was still an innocence about the man, like a child hiding within a man's body.
"Didn't get to see me till I was nearly two, when the war finished and they shipped him home. First thing he did was whisk Ma off and make an honest woman of her."
"Before your grandfather made a corpse out of him," laughed a voice from the doorway.
"He woulda married her anyway," Starsky protested amiably, relieving his uncle of two cans of beer.
"True," the older man nodded. "Your bother was proof of that."
Starsky nodded sadly. "I just wish Nicky'd known him better, maybe he'd be more settled now. Pa'd never have let him get away with half the stuff Vic does."
Vic. A new name for Hutch to add to the growing list. Maybe another uncle? As if sensing his question, Starsky added "Vic's our stepfather. Ma married him when Nick was eleven - that's why he never came out here to live with us, the way she planned."
The older Starsky reached to squeeze the younger's suddenly bowed shoulder, offering comfort. "She did what she thought was best for him, Davey. Nick was never independent, not like you. Always needed someone to wipe his nose for him."
"Still does. He's a regular Peter Pan, a kid playing grown up games, 'cept he never bothered to find out the rules first. He needs someone to watch out for him, Al."
"Sure he does - but it's not gonna be you, Davey. You gotta take care of your own future first. Decided what you want to do, now you're finished with the army?"
And so the conversation was steered away from past to present and on into Starsky's possible future. It was midnight before Hutch climbed back into the battered Ford, heading for the heart of the city, hoping that he could find a room. Two hours later he lay in the neon-infused darkness of a cheap hotel room that gave the impression that it usually rented by the hour. Tomorrow he would have to start looking for something more permanent.
Drifting towards sleep, he found himself thinking about the last two days - days that had carried him back to a lost friendship. he had not realised, until this evening, just how much he had missed those days. Was it too much to hope that, with Starsky's help, he could win them back again?
As he surrendered himself to a deep, dreamless sleep, he knew he owned it to himself to find out.
John Blaine wound a towel around his waist and stepped from the shower stall.
"So - You still work out, Dave?"
Leaning against the locker, Starsky grinned. "Got enough exercise in the army. An' I useta think you were tough on me!" Glancing downwards, he patted his stomach. "Guess I'll have to think about taking it up again, though. Aunt Rosa's cooking's gonna put pounds on me."
"She's proud of you, Dave - we all are. You've grown up these last three years."
Starsky rolled an empty paper cup thoughtfully between his palms. Sure, Rosa and Al seemed proud, as did his mother, but that didn't make the memories of things he had seen and done any easier to bear. "Glad to be away from it now," he confessed. "All of it."
Blaine nodded. This was the first real chance he had had to talk to Starsky since the boy had come home - almost three months ago now - but he had heard a good deal of the story from Al one night and it hadn't been pretty. That David had survived with both body and sanity intact seemed nothing short of a miracle.
"Decided yet what you're gonna do next?" Blaine asked.
The dark head wavered. "Planned on coming back and settlin' down with Chris, but I guess she decided she just couldn't wait any longer. Still lookin' for a job, but it ain't easy. Nobody wants to hire 'vets' these days." He crumpled the cup and aimed a vicious lob at the waste bin. Blaine sighed and sat down beside him on the bench.
"I know a place you could put that jungle training to good use," he hinted.
"Yeah? Where's that?"
For answer, Blaine jerked a thumb towards the high window. "Out there, on the streets."
Confusion, comprehension and then astonishment paraded across Starsky's face. "Me? A cop? C'mon, John!"
"Why not? Think about it. You can already handle a gun, you've got that sixth sense a street cop needs, you know the territory and -" he paused, wanting to be sure he had Starsky's undivided attention, then: "you've got compassion, Dave. That's what separates the good cops from the bad, keeps you ahead of the rest of those punks." He gave Starsky's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "You'd make a damn fine cop, Dave."
But Starsky was already shaking his head. He knew that Blaine was trying to help, but - a cop? He just couldn't see himself pounding a beat for the rest of his days, running down hookers and drunks and scared little kids.
"Nah. Thanks for the thought, john, but it's not my scene."
"That the only reason?" Blaine asked, dragging a pale blue sports shirt from his bag.
Starsky watched him in silence, turning the suggestion over in his mind. He recalled the first time he had met Detective John Blaine. That day, he had been one of those scared little kids, fourteen years old, lonely and homesick. John had been twenty-five, freshly graduated from the police academy. he and his wife, Maggie, lived with Maggie's widowed father in the house next door to the Starskys, so it was inevitable that Al and Rosa would turn to him when their young charge fell in with bad company and Blaine, in his turn, had been more than willing to help, assuming a kind of surrogate older brother role, which had eventually deepened into a lasting friendship. Starsky did not like to dwell on where he might be now, had it not been for John's help and advice. Even so...
"For one," he began to answer, "I ain't exactly whiter 'n' white. You know the kinda crowd I useta run with."
"All kids run wild for a time. You've been clean since you got out of school."
"An' that's another thing," said Starsky, grasping at straws now, "I thought cops hadta have a
Now it was Blaine's turn to show surprise. "You can't pull that one on me, Dave Starsky! I know you too well for that. Anyhow, these college kids... they're a pain in the ass, always buckin' for captain - before they've even finished probation. Hah!"
A sigh dropped from Starsky's lips. It looked as if john had been planning this ambush for a long time. He certainly had all the bases covered, finding an answer to each and every excuse that Starsky could think of.
Suddenly, the older man sat down, a shoe dangling by its laces from his hands. "Look, Dave, I can't tell you what to do with your life, that's up to you to decide, but it seems to me you're carrying a lot of guilt here. Al tells me you didn't like what went down over there..."
For a moment, Starsky felt a spark of resentment that his uncle had been talking about him behind his back, but it faded quickly under the knowledge that John was only showing the same concern he had always felt.
"Okay, so some stuff happened I didn't agree with," he conceded. "What can being a cop do to put that right?"
"Give you a second chance? You told me one of the reasons you joined up was to try to make the world a better place. Just because it all went sour over there, don't mean you can't try again. Or don't you care anymore?"
Despite his misgivings, Starsky had to admit that what Blaine was saying made sense. He had long ago ceased to believe that he could change things single-handed but maybe, as part of a team... At the very least, it was a job and a wage that would give him another stab at independence.
"You really think I could do it?" he mused.
"I wouldn't lie to you, Dave. The potential's there - if you're willing to work at it. Waddaya think?"
Starsky met the challenge, hesitated one final moment, then: "Okay. So, where so I pick up my uniform?"
"Well, Ken... What do you think?"
Hutch pivoted slowly, keen gaze taking in the yellowed paintwork and the peeling wallpaper of the empty living room. This was the fourth house that had viewed that day - he had long ago lost count of the overall total - and, from his wife's enthusiasm, obviously her favourite.
he had to admit that the place had character, even though it would need a lot of work to make it habitable. At least it was close to the bank where he had been working for the last month, so he wouldn't have to spend hours commuting. And it was cheap, well within their self-imposed budget.
A second room led off the bow-fronted lounge, its sliding door hanging sickly from the runner.
"We can make that the dining room," enthused Vanessa, "and use the smaller room at the front for your study."
Hutch laughed. "What do I need with a study? I'm a bank clerk!"
"At the moment, yes..." she responded with a smile, letting the rest of the thought hang in mid-air. "Let's take a look upstairs."
He let her lead the way, aware that the decision had already been made. In the two weeks of their whirlwind marriage he had come to realise that he could deny his beautiful bride nothing. He was in love - for the first time in his life. Really in love, not the way it had been with Nancy. That had been just a desperate bid for escape from parents and the lifestyle they had imposed ion him. Vanessa was different, she had made him want to stop running, settle down, and this time he was sure that it would work.
"This could be our room," she said, throwing open the door onto a west-facing room that was full of light, despite the years of grime encrusting the windows. Full-blown blue tea-roses and lilac paintwork assaulted his eyes and he pulled a wry face.. "Whoever lived here before had great taste in interior decorating," he snickered.
A bathroom led of the bedroom, a second bedroom reached by a connecting door, both rooms displaying the same combination of neglect and lack of taste. It would take years to get the place as they wanted it. He smiled to himself, liking the sound of that, building their home as they built their life together.
He became aware that Vanessa was no longer at his side and turned to find her leaning in the doorway of the third bedroom, a soft, dreamy smile on her face. Resting his chin on her shoulder, he peered into the room. Butterflies and rainbows, primary colours, greeted his gaze, interspersed with Disney characters. Mickey and Pluto, Dumbo and Donald - all were there.
Hutch slid his arms around her, drawing her back against him. "It won't be easy," he cautioned. "We'll have to save every cent. And that --" he nodded towards the nursery "-- will have to wait a while."
"We'll manage," she assured him. "We can do most of the work ourselves, and the summer collections will be showing soon. I'm sure Andrew can get me a spot."
She turned within the circle of his arms and he knew that he was lost. Her eyes held the same look he had seen on that first night, the promise of Foreverville. He kissed her gently.
"You really want this place, don't you" he said, not bothering to make it a question.
"It feels right, Ken. I know we can be happy here."
Happy. A few months ago he would never have hoped to apply that word to his life again. Then, one night, he had walked into a crowded room and everything had changed. Five weeks later they were married in the parish church near his home in Duluth. Amazingly, his family had approved, despite the fact that Vanessa was not from the creme de la creme of Minnesota Society, as they would have liked. Nevertheless, to them she seemed the ideal daughter-in-law, intelligent, beautiful, well educated but, above all, ambitious. She would coax their wayward son back to the right path, show him the error of his ways. Already she had persuaded him to find a good, solid job. Grandfather Willet had been a banker and, with Vanessa's encouragement, young Kenneth had taken a position in the LA. branch of the family firm which, to Arthur Hutchinson, was the next best thing to West Point. To Hutch, the situation smacked of betrayal, though he had insisted that if banking was to be his future, he would start at the bottom, the way Grandfather Willet had done...
"Okay," he said, and she hugged him close, the scent of her filling his senses. Maybe they really would be happy here, in their own home, with their own things around them. Their own life. "I'll call the agent when we get home, get him to push things through as soon as he can." He ran his gaze over the ageing decoration, wondering just how much extra work he had let himself in for. Then he laughed. "I think I know just the person to help us out with the heavy stuff," he said.
As a child growing up in the immigrant melting-pot that was New York, Starsky had learned at an early age the many delights that December brought. What with Hanukkah and Christmas, and a half dozen other religious festivals being celebrated around him, it seemed that from Thanksgiving to the end of January was one long round of treats and little gifts. There might not have been much money to spare, but it was still a great time to be a kid.
A year ago he had huddled in a mud-swamped hooch with six other guys, too shit-scared to spare much through for the festivities going on back home, except maybe the hope that next year things would be better. Only when that year rolled around, it was a far cry from what he had imagined. Sitting on a wooden crate, food and drink spread out on a door panel that had been propped precariously between two ladders, he found himself thinking of all the friends he had left behind. How many of them were home, sharing Christmas with their families? How many would never come home, except in a box? They had promised him, on the day he was discharged, that he would soon learn to forget, but what they had not told him was how long 'soon' might be. Seven months on and the memories were as raw as they had ever been.
"More wine, Dave?" Her eyes were grey and wide, not slanted, like the eyes that haunted his dreams, and her skin was like cream satin. He gave himself a mental shake and nodded.
"Thanks." He held out his glass for her to refill. "That was a terrific mean, Vanessa."
"Thank you. The condition that kitchen was in when we moved in, it's a miracle we had this much. If it wasn't for you..."
Starsky felt his face grow warm. He hated slushy, sentimental scenes, particularly when friends were involved. After all, he hadn't really done that much, just pulling down a few units and slapping on a coat or two of paint to make the house look brighter. Vanessa's prediction about the fashion scene had come rapidly true, whisking her away for several days at a time, to be filmed and photographed and paraded for the clothes-buying public, while Hutch had been enmeshed in the usual pre-Christmas feeding frenzy at the bank. It was obvious they would never have time to put the place straight in time for the seasonal celebrations. He, on the other hand, had no claims on his time until after the new year.
"Call it a late wedding present," he told her. "Can't have my friends spending their first
Christmas together in a dump, can I?"
"Even so, we're really grateful, Starsk." Hutch picked up his own glass and tipped it towards their guest. "Here's to a dusty Colorado roadside and the friend I made along the way."
Starsky winced: this was getting awful soapy. He wished they would remember he was not used to all this open sentiment, it was embarrassing and he got enough of it from his Aunt Rosa. He decided it was time to change the subject.
"How's things going at the bank?"
For a moment Hutch looked taken aback by the sudden change of track, then understanding dawned in his eyes and he smiled. "It's okay. Hard work at time. Guess it'll be awhile before I reach the president's office."
Vanessa reached across the makeshift table and patted her husband's cheek. "But you'll get there one day. You'll show your family you really can make it without their help."
Hutch laughed at that. "Behind every successful man..." he teased, but the laughter never quite made it to his eyes.
Starsky felt sorry for him. He knew how much it had cost Hutch to abandon his freedom for what, despite his feelings for Vanessa, he secretly regarded as a ball and chain around his neck. Starsky would be eternally grateful to Al and Rosa for allowing him to go his won way in life.
"How are things for you, Dave?" Vanessa was asking.
"If ya mean did I find a job yet..." A little bubble of triumph turned his smile into a broad grin.
"I got the letter yesterday."
"You've been accepted?" Hutch prompted eagerly.
"Uh-huh. Dunno how or why, with my record. I don't think John pulled any strings."
Vanessa was frowning from one to the other, clearly confused. "Accepted where?" she asked at last.
"The police?" Is Starsky had expected her to be pleased for his news, he was mistaken. Her smile was quickly replaced by a look of first shock, then horror. "Are you crazy?"
"Van!" There was a note of warning in Hutch's voice - the first time that Starsky had ever heard him speak harshly to her. "Leave it."
"Leave it?" She rounded on her husband, eyes blazing. "I thought he was your friend."
"Well, you don't sound very concerned about this. A cop? He may as well save everyone the time and put a gun to his own head now. A cop? My God..."
She rose from the table and moved away, shaking her head as if she found the news too much to truly comprehend. A tense silence spread through the room, wiping away all thought of celebration, negating every feeling of peace and goodwill. Standing behind her husband, Vanessa twisted a damask napkin between her elegant fingers, the daggers of pain in her eyes pinning Starsky to his seat. Below her, and unseen by her, Hutch's face was stained with embarrassment.
Starsky looked from one to the other, wondering if it would be better to apologise and leave - although he was not entirely certain what it was he had to apologise for. Needing to do something, he picked up his glass and drained it, whistled softly and ran a hand over his face.
"Well... Somethin' tells me I shoulda kept my trap shut. I'm sorry, Vanessa. If it's any consolation, you're the last person I woulda thought had a hang-up about cops."
Hutch cleared his throat and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and propping his chin against his folded hands. "It's not your fault, Starsk. Van's father was with the police department up in Sacramento. Couple of years back some acid-brain killed his partner and left harry with a bullet in his spine. He's been in a wheelchair ever since."
"Shit!" Starsky ran a hand through his hair, tugging angrily at the curls. Next moment he was on his feet and rounding the table to Vanessa's side, his own face twisted with remorse. "I'm sorry, Vanessa. Really. I didn't know. Hutch never said..." He caught her hand, pressing it between his. There were tears in her eyes and he knew they were as much for him as they were for her father.
"Don't be a cop, Dave," she whispered. "If you can't give it up for yourself, do it for your family. Don't make your mother go through what mine suffered since the day dad first pinned on his badge."
"Just because Harry got shot it doesn't mean the same thing will happen to Starsky," objected Hutch.
She nodded. "I know that, Ken. It's a gamble, the way it's always been. But what about his family, sitting there, waiting, day after day. Seeing him go off to work every morning and wondering if he'll come home that night."
"I can take care of myself -- "
"I know. You did it in Vietnam and you can do it here..." There was anger in her voice, and pain. "That's what Dad said after Korea. Well, the bullet that put him in that chair wasn't the only one he caught, and every time they took him to the hospital, I saw my mother die a little with him. I watched her grow old, Dave, long before she should. Is that what you want for your mother, or Al, or Rosa? Is it?"
He felt crowded, suddenly unsure of his ability and his motives. When Blaine had given him the tour of the precinct, shown him some of the work of a detective, his growing interest had seemed to kick-start his thoughts about what the future could offer. It felt - right, somehow, a fitting way to compensate for all the waste he had been a part of in the last couple of years. Now, listening to Vanessa's tortured pleas, his confidence was floundering.
He thought of the last time he had seen his mother, before he left for 'Nam. She had cried a little - they always did - but underneath the wrench of separation, he had sensed a very deep pride that her son was doing something he believed in. The independence that she had so desperately wanted for him had come to fruition, and if it all went wrong she would still be proud of him for trying. In that memory, he had his answer. Better to try and fail than to back off because the scales seemed tipped against him.
In the background, the radio switched again to music, the rich harmony of Simon and Garfunkel juxtaposed against the nine o'clock news.
To Starsky, that said it all.
Thin January sunlight struggled to penetrate the early morning smog that hung over LA, too weak yet to burn away the pollution.
He stood alone by the gates of the Police Academy, his bag on the ground at his feet. Blue eyes followed the parade of faces as they passed by, all of them betraying the same nervous tension that he could feel running through his own body, wondering what the next few weeks would hold for them, wondering if the horror stories they had heard were true. The age range and basic physical characteristics were about the same, but in actual looks - colouring as well as social and ethnic background - a wider cross-section of the American population would be hard to find.
A quick glance at his watch told him there was less than an hour to go before they we required to assemble in the main hall. An hour in which to change his mind. Was he doing the right thing? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but how about deep down, where it mattered? Did he really have what it took to be a cop - assuming, of course, that he even made it through the training.
A cab pulled in at the kerb and a familiar figure stepped out, waving across to him. He quickly catalogued the changes, few that they were: shorter hair, black pants and casual jacket, a shirt and tie...
"John's idea," Starsky explained, following the line of his gaze. "He said they always give the scruffs a hard time." He smoothed a hand over his neatly shorn hair, close-cropped to his nape.
"You look like a sheep," grinned Hutch, grateful that his own trip to the barber had not produced such drastic results.
Starsky grinned - "I'll survive," - then his expression turned suddenly serious. "How were things this morning?"
"If you mean, did we have another row - yeah. Like yesterday, and the day before. Like every day since I told her I quit the bank and signed up here." He sighed, scuffing at the ground with the toe of his high-polished shoes.
"You knew from the off she wouldn't like the idea, what did you expect her to do?"
"She could try to understand how I feel about this, but all she can see is how I've wrecked her life."
"And how do you feel about it?" Starsky asked.
"I want it, Starsk. You want to know the truth?" Starsky nodded slowly. "I've thought about nothing else since you told me you were applying, and when you got accepted... I knew I had to be right there beside you. Sitting in that bank all day - that's not what I want. I know I can make a difference with this."
"Even at the cost of your marriage?" Starsky asked bluntly.
Hutch sighed. He had thought about that, too, night after night, as he and Vanessa lay side by side, both unable to sleep, neither able to tear down the barrier growing between them, but he had convinced himself that it was only a temporary glitch, that once she realised he was right, she would stop fighting him over it and let him get on with it. Their love, he told himself, was too strong to be corroded by something so simple.
"It won't come to that," he said, hoping Starsky heard more conviction in his voice than was actually there.
"A lot of cops never even get to draw their guns the whole time they're on the force."
"An' a lot of them do, and they end up dead - or worse, like Van's dad. You gotta be realistic, buddy. You walk through those gates and sometime, someplace, you're gonna end up putting your life - and the life of whoever gets stuck with you as a partner - on the line. Can you do that if you're worrying about leaving a wife and kids to make it on their own?"
Hutch stuck out his chin in challenge. "Can you?"
"It's different for me, I got no-one and nothin' to tie me down. If I had, maybe I wouldn't be doing this."
To his surprise, Hutch found himself unable to meet Starsky's eyes, afraid that his friend would read the conflict that his words had rekindled. Part of him knew that Starsky was right, but part of him also knew that Starsky was pushing him for his own good, making him stop and think one last time, be sure that this really was what he wanted to do. It was well-intentioned, but unnecessary.
All his life, Hutch had done what people expected of him. The perfect son, the perfect student, he would follow his father into business and, naturally, he would succeed and take over the Hutchinson empire at the appropriate time. He had the feeling that his future had been written in stone long before he was even out of the womb. But he was tired of sitting around, waiting for other people to change things for him. The move from Duluth to LA had been in search of independence, the need to build his own life, and Vanessa had been a part of that plan, but it seemed that marrying her had only served to draw him back into the web of the safe, conservative lifestyle of his parents. Just as he had before his brief marriage to Nancy, he felt trapped and he had to wonder if the recent problems with Van were all down to his decision to join the police force, or if they had been living in a bubble of post-nuptial euphoria that had suddenly burst. Either way, he had to take this opportunity , knowing that if he didn't get out of the rut now, he never would.
"It'll all work out," he said softly. "Give her time to get used to the idea, till we're more settled. Once she sees it doesn't have to be the way it was with Harry, she'll be okay." He picked up his bag and ran a hand through his hair to brush it back into place. Discussion over, the choice was made. "Ready?"
"If you're sure. Last chance, Hutch."
"I'm sure," he grinned fondly, patting Starsky on the back. "C'mon, Supercop. Don't want to start our first day by being late."
Starsky stared at him a moment longer, as if trying to gauge did Hutch really understand what he was getting into? Then he shrugged and hefted the battered pack - the same one he had been carrying on that dusty road in Colorado - and nodded.
And, as Ken Hutchinson turned and walked through the gates of the Police Academy, David Starsky fell naturally into step at his side.