Paralysis had him trapped in a petrified shell. A short episode-related story.
Thank you to my wonderful friend, Sandy, for your feedback on my draft.
Special kudos to John, critical friend and my partner-in-crime.
I acknowledge William Blinn as the original creator of "Starsky & Hutch," along with Aaron Spelling, William Goldberg, Joseph Naar, David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, Bernie Hamilton, Antonio Fargas and Company.
He sat with his partner in the Torino for what felt the longest time. Finally, his partner opened the car door and stepped out onto the night's sidewalk. He knew he should do the same, but paralysis had him trapped in a petrified shell.
His partner leaned down into the car from the kerb. Fragments of his words filtered through the open door to his frozen consciousness.
"You OK?" … "Right here, buddy" … "Going to love it" … "Come on" … Encouraging. Cajoling him to move. To face his demons.
But it was all he could do to look back up at his partner, with eyes leaden with dread. How could he go inside the restaurant after what had happened there three weeks ago? Besides, the shoulder injury was still healing. It had hurt like blazes. Irrationally he was sure going inside would make the wound flare up again. The restaurant's neon "Giovanni's" sign alone was enough to make everything the color of blood.
"I know it's been hard," he could hear his partner say, perched halfway back onto the car seat and looking with concern at him. "But it'll be OK. I promise. I'm here with you."
Words of love and reassurance. These were the gifts they gave to each other. Every day. Whether the words were wrapped in sincerity or humor or irony or a prank, they all said the same thing – "I love you." "I'm here for you."
He surely had been there for his partner that night at Giovanni's. Gun shots blazed and rang in his head, remembering yet again … reliving over and over the moment the bullets sent the detective catapulting over the tray table and crashing down onto the floor. A glancing wing to the forehead and a shot shattering the back of his shoulder. A few inches closer and- oh God, perish the thought! Pain engulfing him. Nausea. Beads of sweat. Then sweet numbness, that dubious angel of mercy to anaesthetize the pain.
"I could get the waiter to bring our meal to our car," his partner's words cut across his scrambled visions. "But it would be so much nicer to go inside," his partner gently added with a hopeful smile.
"'Nicer?'" he thought. How could his partner think that? There was nothing "nice" about this restaurant! Not any more. No beneficent Grandma Starsky living over the top there. A grandmother in murderous gangland clothing, more like.
"My, what big guns you have!" he grimly thought. "All the better to shoot you with!" he cried out loud.
"What …?" his startled partner exclaimed.
Voices. Gun shots. Screams. All ricocheting in a mind he felt he was losing.
Other voices merged … "Nothing to be ashamed of" … "Quite common" … "Totally understandable" … "Post-traumatic stress disorder." Yeah, that's what the doctors called it. Fancy words for having been laid down at death's door, bleeding your life out on the floor while others held your fate in their hands. That explanation made sense for his partner – he was the one after all who had been shot. But for himself?
"What if …" Hutch murmured and stopped, his nerve fossilized at the very thought.
"Go on," Starsky softly encouraged, sitting fully back in the car now.
"What if," Hutch began again, trying to free himself from the place he was entombed. "What if I had failed?"
"What?" Starsky replied, flabbergasted at his friend who could never fail in his eyes. For crying out loud, this man had been his life line!
"Y-you, you'd be dead, and it'd be my fault," Hutch finished his thought. There. He'd said it. Like a man who has quarried treasure in a petrified forest, he studied the truth he had unearthed from deep inside himself and now held in his hands. Both men sat quietly.
"I couldn't live with that," Hutch whispered into the silence.
"You couldn't live with that?" Starsky rejoined with characteristic humor to loosen the moment and the choking sensation creeping around his throat. "Imagine how I'd feel, huh?"
But the strained humor went unheeded. "Your life was in my hands," Hutch said with greater urgency.
"Where it was safe," Starsky added. But Hutch wasn't assured.
"Hutch. Hey!" Starsky pressed on. "We live with that phantom every day we go out on the streets. Every time we pull the guns out of our holsters. The time Ben For-" Starsky pulled himself up, uncertain he should do down that route right now. Hutch's encounter with the heroin Forest and his goons had enforced on him had been a near thing. But he pulled through, with Starsky at his side every step of the way, then and in the aftermath.
"I know," Hutch acknowledged. "I'd be dead if not for you. You didn't fail."
"And nor did you." Starsky rejoined as he moved himself fully back into the car. He gently pulled his car door to, leaving it a little open still. "Hey, if you're not ready to do this, 's OK."
Hutch looked at his partner. Starsk had come a long way. He was healing. He was alive. And so were all the other innocent folk held hostage that night at Giovanni's. And it was all thanks to himself. His Medal of Valor commendation said it all. Hell, what was the point of that medal if he didn't have the guts now to go through that restaurant's door?
Most of all, Starsky was here. With him and that reassuring look on his face. He owed this man his life. And the chance to walk through that door together. They both needed to do that.
New resolve seeped through the chinks of Hutch's shell that was beginning to crack. He girded his loins with revived mobility. Fixing his focus on the clam linguini he'd buy his friend once they made it inside, he took in a deep breath and reached for the car door.
"Well then, partner," Hutch said with all the courage he could muster. "Let's get to it."