Starsky’s head was a little muzzy from Coors and spent adrenaline. Close calls with bombs on cruise ships, talent shows with cheesy birdcalls, and Huggy’s dangerous magic acts were messing with his brain. He knew Hutch had to be reeling from the events of the last few days as well.
He popped open another beer and tossed Hutch’s book back on to the coffee table.
"You think the guy’s right, that all happy families are alike?"
"You’ve been reading ‘Anna Karenina’?" Hutch asked, his voice slightly slurred from the same brew of drained-off stress and alcohol.
"Hutch, it’s the first sentence of the book. And a pretty famous one at that."
"That it is." Hutch stood up and headed toward the kitchen. Starsky hoped it was to put a frozen pizza in the oven. Instead, Hutch grabbed a glass from the dish drainer and got a drink of water. He drained it in one swallow.
"Are happy families all alike?" Starsky persisted.
"What do you think?"
"Who am I to argue with a dead Russian author?" Starsky nudged the book with his foot. "You know, my dad was a big Tolstoy reader."
"I didn’t know that." Hutch returned the glass to the drainer and turned off the kitchen light.
"We’ve known each other a long time, Hutch, but there’s still lots of stuff we don’t know about each other."
"Why am I thinking this is leading somewhere?"
Starsky ignored that. "How come you never go back home to Minnesota to visit your family? And for that matter, why don’t they don’t ever come out here?"
"Starsky, what brings all this on, besides our almost getting blown to smithereens two days ago?"
"Hutch, being ten seconds from going down with the ship just might entitle a guy a pointed question or two. Humor me."
Hutch smiled. "Okay."
"It was that remark you made about how it wasn’t easy to become a Sea Scout in Duluth. It made me think of you as kid up there in the frozen wasteland."
"It’s not frozen all the time, Starsk."
Starsky leaned back against the couch. "I want to know why you don’t go home, even for Christmas."
"Listen. My parents have some idiosyncrasies that make personal visits a little… uncomfortable."
"Hutch. I’ve talked with them on the phone. They ask about the weather, your mom wants make sure you’re eating right, and if there’s a girl in your life that may lead to ‘prospects’."
"And your dad, blondie, he asks if I see the Vikings getting to the Superbowl, and whether gas rationing ever makes me think of getting a car with better gas mileage. It’s pretty normal parent stuff."
"Starsky, my parents have some personal beliefs that make it difficult for me to see them… ahh… face to face."
Starsky laughed. "How bad can that be? My Uncle Emil is convinced aliens inhabit the doghouse in his back yard. And my Aunt Dorian is obsessed by Elvis."
"It’s worse than that, Starsk."
"Oh, come on. Are you telling me they’re ax murderers? Are in the Witness Protection Program? Or that they believe ---"
"They’re nudists, Starsky."
"Buddhists? That’s not so---"
"Not Buddhists. Starsky, my parents are nudists."
"Like, they don’t believe in wearing clothes."
"You’re kidding." Starsky studied his partner’s face, looking for a sign that Hutch was pulling his leg.
"I wouldn’t kid about something like that."
"No clothes, huh?"
"Not a stitch."
"Is this something new, like a hippy thing? ‘Cause I gotta say, while I admire old folks for taking up new interests, I think that this would---"
"They’ve been nudists their whole life, Starsky."
"You grew up in a nudist colony?"
"Not a colony. Just a single farm five miles west of Duluth. And it was only until I was twelve. That’s when I asked to go live with my Aunt Francine who lived in town. I told my parents I was sick of being taught at home and wanted to go to the public high school. Which was a nice way of saying I wanted to wear clothes like other people. My folks saw it as some sort of teenage rebellion thing, something I’d grow out of. They hoped I’d change my mind, come back and become a farmers like they were."
"Yes, naked farmers."
"And this Aunt Francine, she wore clothes?"
"She’s what we call ‘left-handed’ in our family. It’s code for someone who takes on the trappings of cloth and leather."
"No. I’m not."
"It couldn’t have been easy."
"Simply being naked in Duluth is difficult. The winters are long and cold and tend to freeze extremities right off. And in the summer, the mosquitoes will eat you alive."
"Your grandfather with the tractor? You said he lived with you until he died. Surely, he---" Starsky was desperately trying to get his head around this whole thing.
"Naturalism has been a long-standing tradition with the Hutchinsons. My grandfather was no exception. He’d lay a bath towel on the hot metal seat of his John Deere and hit the fields with nothing but his grit and determination."
"He farmed naked."
"Naked as the day he was born. Skin cancer took him out at the age of fifty-six, a common family ailment."
"So, your mother’s remark about wearing clean underwear in case of an accident?"
"It was purely a metaphor for keeping a calm head in crisis. That’s all." Hutch shrugged. Listen, my upbringing was unorthodox, and while it wasn’t unhappy, I’m not comfortable going back to visit. And since my folks refuse to put clothes on to make the trip out here, we’re pretty much at a impasse."
"So, you’re telling me that when I’m talking on the phone with your mom and dad, that they’re sitting in their living room without anything on?"
"You’re pulling my leg," Starsky repeated.
Hutch started to head for the bathroom. "You wanted to know."
"I was thinking you were going to tell me you had a falling out about your becoming a cop, or something mundane."
"My parents are pretty mundane. They’re just naked all the time." Hutch headed for the bathroom. "Listen, I’m going to take a quick shower. My parents may have heard about the Amapola thing the news. If they call, keep them on the line until I get out."
"Hutch, how am I supposed to talk to your parents knowing they aren’t wearing clothes?"
"You’ve been doing it for years, dummy." Hutch shut the bathroom door behind him.
"Maybe you should close your eyes!" Hutch yelled as he turned the water on.
When the phone rang ten minutes later, Starsky did just that and made very, very small talk.
As Hutch emerged from the bathroom, a towel around his waist and dripping wet, Starsky handed phone over. "Guess who?" he said.
"I think I know," Hutch said with a wink.
And that’s when Starsky realized he’d been had. He grabbed Hutch’s towel, pulled it off, and tossed it into the dark kitchen, too far for the phone cord to reach.
Then he beat a hasty getaway, laughing all the way down the stairs.