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When his thoughts returned to the present, he found himself turning the two rings that now adorned his little finger.
Frankie and Javi. Two beautiful human beings. Two people who were his friends. Two victims, in different ways, of the evils of the jungle.
Dave shook his head then looked around, surprised to see that, as he sat lost in his memories, the families had left him alone in the clearing.
He stood up and stretched his body, a bit stiff from sitting too long. He then walked down towards the water, lighting yet another cigarette along the way.
He stood at the edge of the pond, just watching. The children had left, so the ducks had returned. He watched as they paddled lazily across the water. He smiled at one duck being closely followed by six ducklings.
“Be safe, little momma,” he whispered. “You take good care of those babies.”
“Oh, she will,” came a voice from behind him. “But who’s gonna be takin’ care of you?”
Dave turned, falling into a crouch, startled that someone had snuck up on him.
“Hey, easy there, soldier. It’s just harmless little ole me.”
“Huggy?” Dave slowly stood then, recognizing his oldest friend, and threw his arms around the skinny man. “Huggy!”
Huggy laughed as he returned the greeting then stepped back. “Let me have a look at your sorry self.”
Holding his arms out to his sides, Dave turned around, giving his friend a total view.
“Acceptable, acceptable.” Huggy smiled. As Dave dropped his arms, Huggy turned a bit more serious. “Sorry I’m late. Have you been waiting very long?”
“Not too long,” Dave said as both men walked back towards the tables. “It’s okay, though. Not like I got anything better to do.”
“Well, I got something better for us to do.” Huggy threw an arm around Dave’s shoulders. “How about a beer. I got something I want to show you.”
Dave agreed and both men began walking out of the park.
They walked for a few blocks, exchanging meaningless comments, until they came to a place that was obviously a bar, the name, “Jake’s,” lit up in neon. Huggy pulled open the door and ushered Dave inside.
Dave surveyed the place as they entered. It was adequately lit and, although a bit run down, appeared to be clean. There was a bar to one side of the room, with booths along the opposite wall. There were a scattering of tables in between, with a juke box on the short wall opposite the door. A few patrons were scattered around, some at the bar, some at tables.
At the end of the bar was a staircase leading to an upper level. Beyond the staircase was what appeared to be a kitchen and, down a narrow hallway, a door that Dave assumed lead to a back alley.
Huggy directed him to the last booth while he headed to the end of the bar. As Dave sat, facing the room, he saw Huggy say something to the guy in the kitchen then go behind the bar and draw a couple of beers. The bartender walked over and said something to Huggy, who responded with a smile and a nod and a few words. He saw the bartender look over at him then go back to tending his customers.
Dave continued to look the place over. It could use some improvements, he decided, but didn’t seem like a bad place.
“So, what do you think?” Huggy asked as he placed a beer in front of Dave and sat on the opposite side of the table with a glass of his own.
“Think about what?” Dave asked. He took a sip of the beer and pulled out his ever-present cigarettes, lighting one.
“This place?” Huggy waved his arm to encompass the entire room. “Ain’t it great?”
“It’s the pits.” Dave laughed.
“Hey, be gentle.” Huggy leaned back into the seat. “In the next year or two, this will all be mine.”
“Yeah.” He turned to face Dave. “See, the owner, Jake…that’s him over there,” he pointed to the bartender. “He’s an ex-cop and he’s kinda taken me under his wing, so to speak. He’s been showing me the ropes, teaching me all about the ins and outs of running a place like this. We have an agreement that when he retires, I buy the place.”
“And how you gonna afford to do that?”
“Well, right now, he takes a set amount out of my pay each week, for a start. Then, in a year or two, when he decides to retire, he’ll help me get the financing for the rest. It’s all on the up and up, all legal and documented. So,” Huggy asked again, “wha’d’ya think?”
Dave looked at his friend, taking in the smile on his face and the excitement in his eyes and he raised his glass. “It’s great, Hug.” They both drank and Dave set down his glass, smiling. “I mean, who’da ever thought the skinny kid I met in school would grow up to be a businessman.”
Huggy returned the smile. “Do you remember that day, when we first met?”
“Yeah.” Dave nodded. “I was …ten, I think. My first day at my new school and I didn’t know anybody. And there you were, all of maybe forty-fifty pounds, doin’ your best to explain to that sixth-grader, Bobby Hamilton, why it would be to his benefit to NOT beat you up.”
“I was negotiatin’ for my life and you were just standin’ there, watchin’!”
Dave laughed. “You were makin’ a good sell. You had me convinced.”
“Yeah, I thought so. Then he threw that first punch. And you,” Huggy leaned in, pointing his finger at Dave, “you went crazy. You jumped on his back, arms and legs flailing, punchin’ and kickin’ and pullin’ his hair. He didn’t know what hit him.”
“Hey, he had six inches and twenty pounds on you. I had to do somethin’!”
“And I appreciated it.” Huggy chuckled then shook his head. “You were like a wildcat. You finally got him down on the ground and all he kept yellin’ was ‘Get ‘im off me! Get ‘im off!’”
“And that’s when Jackson showed up.”
“Yep.” Huggy nodded. “Jackson walked over and grabbed you by the collar and pulled you offa Bobby. He held onto you and stood there, lookin’ down at Bobby, given’ off that ‘big, bad, black militant’ vibe. What was he, maybe two inches taller than you and me?”
“Yeah.” Dave laughed. “But Bobby Hamilton was afraid of him.”
“Yeah, he sure was. So Jackson was standin’ there, holdin’ on to your squirmin’ little body and he says, all quiet-like, he says, ‘You may want to rethink your plan on pickin’ on the smaller brother.’ And Bobby, he said, ‘And what if I don’t?’, still tryin’ to be his big bad self. Jackson just held you up by the collar and said, ‘Then I’ll just have ta let him go.’ You started swingin’ and kickin’ again and Bobby, well, he couldn’t get outta there fast enough!”
Dave smiled at the memory. “Yeah, yeah, I remember. That was the first time I met Jackson, too. And his family.”
“Yeah. After that, Jackson took us both to his house and introduced us to Mama Walters and she just fell in love with your cute self, all that curly hair and charming smile.”
“Yeah. She cleaned me up and made us all sit down and eat dinner. Then she had her neighbor…what was his name?”
“Yeah, she had Harold make sure I got home okay.” Dave shook his head. “I was worried I was gonna get in trouble for fightin’. But Harold just told me to be honest with my folks and, whatever punishment they handed out, to take it like a man.”
“You never did tell me. Did you get in trouble?”
“Nah.” Dave shook his head, putting out his cigarette and sticking the butt in his pocket. “Aunt Rosie, she was mad, talkin’ about callin’ the school and reportin’ those ‘evil boys’. Uncle Al just looked me over then said, ‘Did you give as good as you got?’ When I nodded, he patted me on the back and said, ‘Good boy.’ And John, John Blaine, he took one look at the scrapes and bruises on my face and said, ‘We’re gonna have to teach you how to fight.’”
“We sure had some great times back then.”
“Yeah, yeah we did,” Dave agreed, draining his glass.
Huggy did the same, pushing his empty glass to the side. “So, my brother, tell me. What’s goin’ on with you?” He held up his hand to halt Dave’s response. “And don’t tell me nothin’, cause I got eyes. You talk a good talk but the man I see before me is lookin’ a bit rough around the edges. So, talk to me.”
Dave looked at Huggy for a moment then down at the tabletop, a bit embarrassed. He’d forgotten how well Huggy could read him.
“I don’t know, Hug,” he started with a sigh, reaching into his pocket for another cigarette. “It’s like I’m outta step with…with everything! While I was in ‘Nam, all I wanted to do was get back home. Just make it through each day, each mission and just make it home. ‘Cus once I got home, everythin’ would be okay, ya know?”
“But nothin’s okay. Everything feels different. I went back to New York, thought I might settle back there with Mom and Nicky but….” Dave just shook his head and sat quietly for a moment.
“And when I got back here, I thought I could pick back up where I left off, ya know? But, even here, I feel…outta step. It’s like everything’s changed and I’m on the outside lookin’ in. John said that everything hasn’t changed, but I have. He says I’m searchin’ for my place.” Dave shrugged his shoulders. “Ma said pretty much the same thing. John said I needed to take time to figure out who I want to be now. But I just don’t know, Hug. I mean, look at me. I got no job, hell, I’m livin’ at the Y, for chrissake! I know there’s a problem but I just don’t know what it is.”
“Well, through my extraordinary powers of observation, I’ve formed a few opinions, if you don’t mind me offerin’.”
When Dave looked up, meeting his friend’s eyes, Huggy continued.
“In here,” Huggy tapped his finger on Dave’s chest, over his heart. “In here, you’re outta the Army and back home. But, in here,” he tapped Dave’s forehead, “here you’re still in ‘Nam.”
“You’re crazy,” Dave huffed as he took a drag of his cigarette.
“Yeah? Just look at you. Still in combat boots and army jacket. And your hair. You used to spend more time on that than most women ’cuz you knew the ladies just love your hair and here you are, lookin’ like a skin-head.”
“It’s easier…” Dave tried to explain as he rubbed a hand over his scalp.
“Yeah,” Huggy agreed. “If you’re in the jungle. But that’s not all. There are your actions.”
“Like what?” Dave challenged, suddenly feeling defensive.
“When you walked in here, the first thing you did was scope out the place. I watched you. You checked out the room, the people; you located the alternate exit. You did a recon.”
Dave looked away, tapping the ash off of his cigarette. Huggy place his hand on Dave’s arm, grabbing his attention again.
“Since we’ve been talkin’ you’ve been sittin’ here with your back to the wall scannin’ the room. Every thirty to forty-five seconds, you look around, checkin’ the people, the doors. You’re sitting sentry.”
Dave pinched the end of his cigarette and stuck the butt in his pocket.
“What?” Dave asked, looking back at him in surprise.
“That.” Huggy pointed to Dave’s pocket. “Since we’ve been sittin’ here, you’ve had three cigarettes. And every time you do that! You knock off the ash, brush it away, pinch the end of the butt then stick it in your pocket. You’re still policing your butts!”
They stared at each other for a moment then Huggy patted Dave’s arm. “You survived, my friend. You made it home. It’s time to let the soldier rest.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, Dave lost in thoughts and Huggy just watching. When a waitress walked by with a tray of empty dishes, Huggy grabbed an empty bowl off the tray and placed it on the table.
‘C’mon,” he said. “Empty your pockets.”
“What?” Dave, his attention pulled back to the present, just looked at him.
“Stand up and empty your pockets.” Huggy pushed the bowl toward Dave, who rolled his eyes and reluctantly slid out of the booth, stood and began emptying his pockets. When he was finished, there were about forty to fifty cigarette butts and matches in the bowl. He slid back into the seat as Huggy looked at him in shock.
“Please tell me they’re not all from today.” Dave just looked at him, cringing a bit. “You smoke way too much, my brother,” he said as he stood.
“I know,” Dave agreed. “I gotta cut down.”
“Cut down, nothin’! You gotta stop. Those things are gonna kill ya.”
“You smoke!” Dave challenged. “Pot…kettle…”
Huggy held up his hand to stop the comment. “Were you just gonna call me black?” he asked with a smile. Just then his name was shouted from across the room. “Stay here and I’ll be right back.”
Dave sat back in the booth and watched Huggy walk over to the bar, dumping his cigarette butts in the trash. His thoughts turned to the things Huggy had said. Was he still being the soldier, still being on guard?
He caught himself as his eyes began to scan the room again, realizing that Huggy was right. He was sitting sentry. He did the same thing at the park earlier today, sitting, watching the families and the kids.
And the cigarettes! In ‘Nam, no matter where you were or what you were doing, you always policed your area, making sure you never left behind anything that let the enemy know you were there. Especially cigarette butts.
He thought back to his time in New York, his time here, even his time in Mexico. He hadn’t even realized he was still doing it.
Huggy was right. In his mind, he was still the soldier. Well, he thought, It’s time to put the soldier to rest.
At that moment, Huggy came back to the table, placing another beer in front of him along with a plate of fries and a burger.
“Here,” Huggy said. ”Eat.”
“Huggy… I can’t…”
“Just eat, will ya? Mama Walters will skin me alive if she sees you being all skinny like that.” He pushed the plate closer to Dave. “You eat and I’ll fill you in on what’s gonna happen next.”
He waited for Dave to pick up the burger and take a bite before he continued. “Now, when you’re done here, we’re gonna head over to the Y and get your things.”
“Yeah?” Dave asked around his mouthful of food. “And where am I gonna live?”
Huggy pointed to the staircase at the end of the bar. “Upstairs are two rooms. I live in one of them but the other one is empty. Now, it ain’t much but there’s a bed and a private bath. You can stay there.”
Dave put his burger down, shaking his head. “Huggy, I can’t afford…”
Huggy held up his hand, cutting off his protest. “I’ve already squared it with Jake. You get to stay in the room until you get yourself together and, in return, you agree to help out here when needed. Maybe as a bartender, maybe as a dishwasher. Maybe you’ll be waiting on tables or maybe you’ll be bussing them. Whatever Jake needs. You cool with that?”
Dave thought a moment then nodded.
“And when you find yourself gainfully employed, you can give Jake twenty bucks a week for the room, at least until you find something better. Agreed?”
Dave nodded again. “Thanks, Hug. I…I really appreciate it.”
“Everybody needs a little help sometimes. You’ve always been there for me, my friend. Now it’s my turn to be here for you.”
Dave nodded again, a bit choked up.
“Great!” Huggy smiled, patting Dave’s arm. “Finish up then let’s get this show on the road.”
True to his word, Huggy helped him retrieve his belongings from the Y and moved him into the second room upstairs. And he was right…it wasn’t much: a bed, an easy chair, a small table and chair, a dresser. There was a small closet to hang his clothes and a bathroom, with a shower. Not much but it had everything he needed. And it was nice having Huggy nearby.
And true to his word, when he wasn’t out looking for a job, Dave helped out in the bar. Everything from tending bar to washing dishes to taking out the trash.
He had found some random jobs: doorman at a club for a couple of nights, delivery for a pharmacy for another few days. He even tried pizza delivery for one night before he decided it was definitely not for him. What he’d found was enough to put a few dollars in his pockets but, so far, nothing permanent.
He also starting working on getting himself together. Step one was keeping the soldier in him under control. Being vigilant was not a bad thing but he made a conscious effort to not become super-vigilant. It wasn’t easy but, gradually, he found himself feeling not so much on the outside anymore. Step two was cutting down on the cigarettes.
Now, two weeks after moving into the room over the bar, he was down to one pack of smokes day. He knew that wouldn’t sound like a big deal for anyone else, but for someone who had emptied almost two packs of butts out of his pockets two weeks before, it was an accomplishment.
He’d been working at the bar all morning, helping out in the kitchen. He was just coming in the back door after taking out the trash when he heard Huggy calling his name.
“Right here, Hug. What’s up?” he responded as walked past the kitchen, heading for the main room.
“There’s someone here that wants a word with you.”
He entered the room to be greeted by a face he hadn’t seen in far too long.
“Well, if it isn’t David Starsky, the little wildcat!”
“Jackson? Jackson Walters!” Dave moved forward, wrapping his arms around his old friend. Exchanging pats on the backs, both men stepped away, looking each other up and down.
Finally, Jackson spoke. “So how you doin’? You’re not looking half as bad as Huggy led me to believe.”
Dave laughed. “Well, I’m getting my act together here…with Huggy’s help, of course.”
“I’ve made but a small contribution to the rehabilitation of young Starsky here,” Huggy said. “Go, sit down. I’ll get your order. And a couple of beers, of course.”
“Not for me, Hug.” Dave headed to the kitchen. “I’ll get a coffee.”
Soon the three men were sitting in a booth, talking over old times, exchanging recent histories, while Jackson ate his burger.
“Hold on, hold on,” Jackson said, putting down his sandwich and pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “I’ve got something you’ve got to see.” He removed a picture from his wallet, passing it over to Dave. “Let me introduce you to Jackson Walters, Jr. My son.”
“Son?” Dave smiled as he looked at the picture of a boy of four-, maybe five-years-old, bright eyes and a big smile. “He’s beautiful, Jackson. Really.” He handed the picture back. “So, you’ve been busy while I’ve been gone.”
“Yeah.” Jackson beamed as he returned the picture to its place of safety. “It hasn’t been easy at times but, well, Junior’s worth it.”
Dave reached out to his friend, asking with just a look. Jackson nodded at the offer of comfort. “Do you remember Molly Hastings?”
“We got married about a month after you left town. And seven months later, Junior was born.” Jackson chuckled. “Yeah, it was like that. We were planning on getting married anyway but, well, we felt the need to move things up a bit, ya know?”
Dave nodded again, as his friend continued.
“Life was good for us. Then Molly got sick…cancer. She died when Junior was two. After that, we moved back in with Mama. Junior, he loves Mama and she just adores him, so life isn’t so bad.”
“And what are you doin’ with yourself?”
“Well, right now I’m driving a cab. I’ve got an application in for a public transit job but, until that comes through, I make enough to keep my family going.”
They talked for a while longer until Jackson finished his lunch. Pushing away his plate, Jackson started to get up. “Well, I’ve got to get going. Back to the grind, ya know.”
Dave smiled at his friend as he, too, stood.
“Hey, Starsky. You ever think about driving a cab?” Huggy asked, still sitting in the booth.
“Uh, no, not really,” Dave answered, looking at Huggy then back to Jackson.
“You interested?” Jackson asked. “My boss, he’s always looking for good drivers, and I know you can drive. He’s a fair man; he’ll work with you as far as scheduling.”
Dave was quiet for a moment. “Driving a cab, huh? I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Well, the pay isn’t great but it’s more than enough to keep you going until you decide what you really want to do. If you’re interested and you want to give it a shot, I’ll be happy to take you down and introduce you.”
“Let me think about it, okay?” Dave offered his hand to his friend.
Jackson took the hand, shaking it. “Sure. Give me a call in a day or so. Huggy’s got my number. You can come by the house for dinner. Mama will be so happy to see you.”
“What am I?” Huggy asked “Chopped liver?”
Both Jackson and Dave laughed. “All right,” Jackson said to Dave. “You can bring the skinny guy, too.”
They said their farewells and Jackson left. Dave sat back down in the booth, across the table from Huggy.
“So,” Huggy asked. “You thinkin’ about it?”
“Yeah,” Dave said, a bit distracted, thinking about the possibility of a steady job. “I’m thinkin’ about it.
I am really loving this story. It is progressing so well. Can’t wait for the next chapter!
Thank you for this lovely gift!
This is so engaging – I look forward to the next chapters.
Starsky’s backstory flows along like it actually happened that way. I’m eager to see how you get him and Hutch together.
This is turning into such a great story-roll on the next chapter!
I am so enjoying your story! I love how your introducing the various characters together to make up Starsky’s backstory. It is all very well written. Thanks!
So great to have Huggy and Jackson join in on Starsky’s search for self! Can’t wait to read what’s next.
All the great single-episode characters, and Huggy, joining this Starsky backstory are wonderful, brianna. Awaiting the next chapter.
I’m loving this story and all the details you’ve been including while delving into Starsky’s past. Can’t wait for the next chapter!
Huggy was always such an important part of their lives. Nice back story.
Better and better!
Love the backstory and anything with Starsky and Huggy when they were younger. Looking forward to more!
Good to have Huggy and Jackson around!
Another great installment. Loving it! Especially liked Huggy’s line, “acceptable, acceptable,” and Starsky describing the bar as the pits.