This story was inspired by a Friday Fiction prompt on the Starsky&Hutch Fans&FanFiction FaceBook page. The challenge? A story on a boat. As always, thanks, Paula!
Dave Starsky was glad he was no longer in the Army where he had access to weapons of any sort because three days of listening to patently insincere praise of painted-on beauty, overpriced gowns, and glittering jewelry was driving him crazy! And going nuts with a gun in your hand was never a good idea.
Why Sol, his boss at the cab company, had stuck him with this gig, Starsky didn’t know.
“Go on, Starsky!” Sol had said. “Mingle with the rich and famous. This fashion magazine’s usual go-fer’s sick. They just need you to hang around, take people where they have to go and bring ‘em back, pick up stuff, shit like that! They offered good money and I’m takin’ it! Get outta here!” Starsky had turned to go. “And you can keep your tips!”
He’d been driving Sol’s cabs for six months and had never complained at being assigned late shifts or pick-up-and-delivery runs most of the other drivers hated; he’d been able to use all the hours when he didn’t have a passenger to come to terms with his experiences in Vietnam.
Ranking right behind the month after his father had been killed, serving in ‘Nam had been the roughest period of his life. But he’d lived through it. His leg injury was finally healing and his nightmares were backing off in intensity, and weren’t coming as often.
Now, all he had to do was decide where he was going with the rest of his life. Because of his wound, continuing in the army hadn’t been an option, so he’d taken his honorable discharge without a backward glance.
Three days before, Sol had sent Starsky to report to Long Beach.
The Queen Mary, formerly the flagship of Cunard’s luxury ocean liners, had been bought in 1967 by the city of Long Beach and permanently berthed next to the white dome that housed Howard Hughes’ mammoth aircraft, the Spruce Goose. The Queen had then undergone two years of retrofitting and renovations, turning it into a resort hotel and entertainment center. As part of the pre-grand-opening advertising campaign, Vogue had agreed to do an extended photo shoot onboard the former Atlantic-crossing monarch.
The ballroom was currently the setting for a lavish party, where magnificent dresses and even more elegant gemstones were displayed on the bodies of the world’s top fashion models.
“Oh, Drew, baby, that sequence was sublime,” Gordon, a flashily-dressed, obviously gay man gushed. “We’re never going to be able to choose which shots to use for the layout. You’re the best, darling! Absolutely the best!”
“If I am, sweetie,” Drew replied, with one camera Starsky knew had to have cost two thousand dollars in his hand, and two more around his neck, “it’s because it’s impossible to take an uncomplimentary photograph of Vanessa.” Drew turned away and busied himself with a case of lenses his assistant was holding for him.
Of all the models walking the runway, Vanessa was the most sought-after.
Watching her, Starsky admitted to himself that she was gorgeous but, if he had to choose one word to describe her character, having watched her for three days, it would be… haughty. She seemed to look down on everyone and when she spoke, it was with too much superiority, in his opinion. Beautiful Bitch was the nickname he had mentally given her.
As his gaze wandered around the crowded room, voices buzzing and giving him a headache, he spotted someone he hadn’t seen before. A lean, blond man, who looked like he’d be an inch or two taller than Starsky when he stood up, was sitting as far out of everyone’s way as it was possible to get. He was intently reading a large book and writing things in a notebook. Wearing tan dress slacks, expensive-looking loafers, a button-down long-sleeved light blue shirt, and a tailored leather jacket, he appeared to be a member of the fashion crowd but wasn’t taking any part in the activities.
Hmmmm, Starsky thought, very studious. Looks like he belongs here but wishes he weren’t. Not knowing exactly why, Starsky approached and waited until the blond looked up. “If you’re the bookish type, you’re about as out-of-place on this boat as a… a tree in Brooklyn.”
The shy smile that lit the handsome face made Starsky wish he’d thought of something friendlier to say.
“It’s a ship, actually.” The man’s voice was soft, with what sounded like a mid-west accent to Starsky’s untrained ear. “And a tree does grow in Brooklyn, you know.” His long-fingered right hand — one that looked like it should belong to a piano player — gestured around. “And you? It would appear that you’re no more comfortable in these surroundings than I am.” He nodded toward the tiny straight-backed chair next to the equally tiny table he was sitting at. “Have a seat. If they need you, I’m sure someone will call you.”
Starsky sat, suddenly aware that his sneakers, ragged jeans, t-shirt, and worn bomber jacket were more disreputable among the well-dressed crowd than he’d realized. It made him slightly uncomfortable but there was nothing he could do about it. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your reading — studying — whatever you’re doing.”
The blond closed the book. “Not a problem. I’m only reviewing what I think I already know. I have an exam tomorrow.” He placed the notebook on top and pushed them as far away as the table allowed. “Had one yesterday and the day before, too. Which is why you haven’t seen me here until now.”
Starsky was intrigued. The sky-blue eyes had obvious intelligence behind them and something else… maybe compassion. It was a gaze he didn’t want to look away from. “What’s your major?”
“Goin’ for the money, huh?” Starsky didn’t know why he’d said that and the way those intense eyes instantly clouded made him sorry. “Listen, that was uncalled for. My apologies.”
As quickly as they had dulled, the man’s eyes brightened. “No need. It’s what my classmates are after. But I want to help people, make them well, relieve their suffering. Van scoffs at that. She’s decided I need to specialize in plastic surgery so we can be filthy rich.”
“Van?” Starsky was having trouble believing what he’s just heard.
The blond colored slightly, plainly embarrassed. “Vanessa’s my wife.”
“Oh.” Starsky didn’t know what else to say.
The man extended his hand. “Ken Hutchinson.”
Starsky took it. “Dave Starsky.”
“You’re the cab driver?” Hutchinson asked. “Van told me their regular go-fer got sick.”
“That’s me,” Starsky said, his sarcasm leaking through. “Errand Boy to this overblown extravaganza.”
Hutchinson laughed. “You and I must be the only two people aboard who feel that way.”
Starsky wanted to know much more about the unassuming man who was married to the extremely assuming model. “So, what are you –?” His next words were drowned out by shrieks and shouts.
Jumping to his feet, Starsky tried to get a picture of what had suddenly become a chaotic scene in the ballroom. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Hutchinson was on his feet, too, seeming to study the goings-on with equal intensity.
Two young men, dressed as cabin boys, were running through the crowd, tearing necklaces off women, earrings from their ears, and bracelets and watches off their wrists and generally making a shambles of the room.
Screams of pain and surprise were overridden by Drew’s shout. “Stop! Don’t do this! Nothing’s real! It’s all fake!” But his words had no effect on the thieves.
As one of them stuffed the last of his stolen objects in a cloth bag and ran toward the doors, Starsky yanked what he had learned was called a ‘flag’ out of the cameraman’s accessories box. It was a large piece of heavy white cardboard mounted in a metal frame and attached to a long steel shaft, used for reflecting light onto whatever surface the photographer wanted. Starsky took a solid hold on the rod and swung.
The flat side of the flag struck one of the cabin boys in the face and tumbled him backward.
At the same moment, Hutchinson ran past Starsky and tackled the other thief. Starsky kept part of his attention on the kid he had sent skidding across the polished floor on his back, the bag still clutched in his fist, and part on Hutchinson.
His new friend took the second cabin boy down and quickly locked him in a wrestling hold.
Starsky put a foot on the chest of his half of the criminal pair, and took the sack of valuables from the kid’s hand. “Somebody call the police,” he shouted.
“They’re on their way,” Drew replied.
Starsky dragged his captive to his feet and led him toward Hutchinson.
Hutchinson also stood, bringing the sullen young man with him.
The surrounding chaos was beginning to settle and Drew approached, with half a dozen hefty-looking crew members. “My men will take charge of these thieves until the police arrive.”
Starsky and Hutchinson handed them over as sirens sounded outside and uniformed officers swarmed the ballroom.
Starsky and Hutchinson withdrew from the crowd and sat back at their table.
As officers took the men into custody, others began to take statements from everyone. Medics arrived, tending to anyone injured.
Starsky really didn’t want to break the companionable silence but remembered what Drew had shouted during the melee. “Do you really think everything was fake?”
Hutchinson nodded. “Van said the insurance that would have been required was prohibitive. So they brought in the best paste they could find.”
Starsky shook his head. “Fooled me. Fooled those stupid kids, too, I guess.”
Eventually, a man in a suit approached. “I’m Detective Anderson,” he said. “It’s my understanding that you two foiled the robbery. Is that correct?”
Starsky and Hutchinson both stood. Starsky nodded. “I swatted the one who has the broken nose. Hutchinson tackled the other one.”
The detective held out his hand and first Starsky, then Hutchinson shook it. “The Long Beach Police Department is grateful, gentlemen. If you’ll kindly come to the Bursar’s Office with me, I’ll take your statements.”
An hour later, Starsky found himself back at the tiny table in the ballroom. Scanning the remains of what had been an elegant location, Starsky sat in his uncomfortable chair. “Fun’s over for today, I guess.”
Hutchinson sat in the other chair. “That’s it for the shoot, too. Van said they had to wrap by this afternoon.”
Starsky glanced around at all the people he still considered phony and probably over-paid. “Interesting while it lasted.”
Hutchinson gathered up his study materials. “I should probably go see how Van’s doing.”
“I’ll bet she’s in her glory,” Starsky said, without thinking. “Center of attention and all that.”
Hutchinson chuckled. “After only three days, you know her perfectly, Mr. Starsky.”
Starsky shook his head. “Shouldn’t have said that. Sorry. Sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain.”
“Again, no apology necessary.”
A uniformed Long Beach officer approached, dragged up a nearby chair, and sat down. “I understand that one of you is a med student and the other one drives a cab. Is that right?”
Starsky pointed at Hutchinson. “He’s the college boy.”
The officer smiled. “Well, it’s none of my business, of course, but the way you both handled yourselves is impressive. Have either of you ever thought about becoming a police officer?”
Starsky was stunned. His father had been a cop, and it was an idea that had been kicking around in the back of his head ever since he’d returned to the States. He’d never brought it to the forefront before, though. He looked at Hutchinson and saw what might be a spark of interest in those blue eyes.
“Sounds like a plan to me, Hutch, but you’re gonna be a doctor, remember? You said you want to help people.”
Hutchinson appeared startled to hear his shortened surname but recovered quickly. “Cops help people, too, Starsk.” Hutch looked down at the book on his lap. “I shouldn’t admit this, but I really hate medical school. Almost as much as I hated law school.”
Starsky had a sudden mental image. “Vanessa might not be happy.”
Hutch drew in a breath. “That’s the truth.”
The officer laughed. “Well, if either of you is interested, I can tell you the Long Beach Police Department is under a hiring freeze right now but the Bay City Police Academy is taking applicants for its Fall class.” He stood up and put the chair back where it came from. “Think about it.” He walked away.
Starsky wasn’t sure what the suddenly-wary look on Hutch’s face meant. “What’s wrong? Was it my crack about your wife? I didn’t mean –”
Hutchinson shook his head, cutting him off. “Why did you call me that?”
“Call you what? Hutch?”
“I don’t know.” Starsky shrugged. “Just seemed right. Hutchinson’s too long and I got the feeling you don’t like your first name.”
“A few people called my grandfather that, but never me.”
Starsky smiled at the shyness he heard in Hutch’s cultured voice. “Well, they should have. It suits you.”
“You think so?”
“Pretty sure. And I like the way you called me Starsk. Nobody ever has.”
The smile that lit Hutch’s face brightened the room. “Maybe we’ll both be different people after this.”
“Maybe.” Remembering what the officer had suggested, Starsky tried to tamp down the excitement that was beginning to pump through him. “Did you mean what you said, before?” he asked. “Cops help people, too?”
Hutch made eye contact and didn’t look away. “Yes. I did.” But sudden uncertainty pushed resolve aside. “However, it was a thought I can’t afford to pursue, I’m afraid.”
Starsky was stunned. He was sure he’d read him correctly. “Why not?”
Another flush worked its way up Hutchinson’s face. “I’ve already been too scattered with my choices in life. Van, my folks, and her folks aren’t going to put up with much more.”
Starsky gestured toward the books in Hutchinson’s lap. “Don’t try and tell me you really want to take that exam tomorrow.”
“No, but –”
Before Hutchinson could finish his answer, a shrill voice sliced through the background noise. “Kenneth! Where are you? Why aren’t you here with me?”
Hutch visibly smothered whatever feelings he was about to express and stood up, tucking his book and notebook under his arm. “Duty calls.”
Starsky caught his arm, dug in his jacket pocket and came up with a small pad of paper and pencil. Quickly, he scribbled a name and address, tore off the sheet and handed it to Hutch. “If you can get away for a little while later, meet me here, okay?”
Hutchinson glanced at the page. “What’s this?”
“A friend of mine, Huggy Bear — long story — runs the place,” Starsky answered. “Best burgers in So Cal.”
Hutchinson slipped the paper into his book. “It’s somewhere I’ve certainly never been.”
Starsky stood up next to him. “Good! It can be part of the new person you’re going to be. We can talk about our future as Bay City’s finest.”
Hutch looked doubtful. “I don’t know. It sounded enticing for a minute. I’m just not at liberty…”
The unhappy vulnerability in those blue eyes nearly broke Starsky’s heart. “Listen, Hutch, I don’t usually put any faith in things like fate and destiny but maybe you and I were both here today for a reason. Maybe we were meant to meet, meant to foil those stupid kids, meant to apply to the Bay City Police Academy.”
“You really think we –”
“Yeah!” Starsky interrupted, putting a hand lightly on Hutch’s arm. “I really do! My father was a cop and I guess I’ve just been waiting for something to nudge me in that direction.”
Hutch still looked uncertain. “I haven’t.”
“You hate med school; you hated law school,” Starsky said, his voice harsher than he intended. “What have you got to lose?”
“Kenneth!” cut the air like a knife.
Hutchinson winced. “I can’t promise.”
Starsky patted Hutch’s arm and withdrew his hand, grinning like a fool. “Sure you can. Give some excuse to Van and meet me tonight. We don’t have to make any decisions; we’ll just talk about possibilities.”
Like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, Hutch smiled for the second time since the attempted robbery. “Okay. I will. What time?”
“Whenever you can get there,” Starsky replied. “I’ll wait for ya!”
Hutch nodded. “All right then. Later.” With that, he turned away, still smiling.
Starsky watched him walk across the room and knew, instinctively, he’d met the man who was going to be his best friend in the whole world.