Kids all over Bay City were opening the first door of their Advent calendars despite the temperatures being unseasonably warm. Ken Hutchinson sat on a boardwalk bench, huddled into his jacket, dark glasses keeping away the brightness of sunlight. He felt a chill right down to his bones as he looked out over the ocean at Venice Beach.
In his mind’s eye he saw his partner, Joon, smiling as he formed snow balls to chuck at his lover. Joon loved the snow and was born with skates on his feet. They had toyed with the idea of Joon trying out for the Olympic figure skating team, but he was happy with his work as a police officer. Skating as a job was a dream come true for him. And Ken Hutchinson was okay with anything that made Joon happy. Because Joon Kim made Ken happy. They were partners on and off the job and life was rich and full.
Starsky scanned the odd crowd that frequented Venice Beach. A bunch of muscle bound men were lifting weights as bikini clad girls on skateboards circled around them. A mime was performing for a group of tourists who were busy snapping photos of his escape from an imaginary box.
Farther down the beach he spied a lone figure on a park bench. His blond hair fluttered in the light ocean breeze. He seemed as unreachable as the Great Lakes from the Pacific and gave the impression of being frozen stiff despite the California sun.
Starsky tried to come up with the right way to approach the sullen man. It had to be hard to lose a partner, almost like losing a spouse. Maybe harder because you were always watching each other’s backs. A dead partner meant you didn’t do your job. And guilt could cripple a man. He thought of how he would have approached Simmons if Babcock had died in his arms that day at the drug bust.
Starsky plucked up his courage then swaggered down the boardwalk. “Detective Hutchinson. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Hutchinson stiffened but kept looking straight ahead. He dug his hands further into his pockets as if there were a brisk winter wind blowing. “You can talk. I might not listen.”
Starsky climbed on the bench and sat on the back, his sneakered feet on the seat. Hutchinson looked sideways at his blue Adidas and made a sound like a growl.
“Well. here’s the thing. I got this crazy captain who wants an ice show in the worst way. And so far that’s exactly what he’s getting, an ice show in the worst way possible. Putting me in charge with an offer of Detective First Class dangling in front of my nose was a bad choice on his part. What’s the first thing I do? Alienate and insult a damn fine detective who just wants to do his job and be left alone.
“I want to apologize. I had no idea about your past other than you could skate. I just want you to know that no one at BCP is against you. A lot of guys have lost or come close to losing their partners on the job, like Simmons almost lost Babcock last year. They have been where you are now and would understand how you feel. I’ve only heard good things about you. That’s all I wanted to say. Except if you ever need help with anything, being new here and all, give me a call. I’m a pretty good listener too, if you can get me to shut up…. I’ll leave you alone now.”
Starsky jumped down onto the boardwalk and started to walk away.
“Detective Starsky,” Hutchinson called after him and Starsky turned on a dime. Hutchinson removed his sunglasses and Starsky felt like blue arrows entered his heart. He gasped quietly as his heart fluttered in his chest. Willing his voice not to break, he answered, “Yes, Detective Hutchinson?”
“There is one thing you could help me with. Do you know a place that has Coors beer on tap?”
Starsky’s slow smile lit up his face. “I know just the place.”
Three hours and five rounds of Coors later, Starsky and Hutchinson were deep in a conversation with the owner of the Pits, Huggy Bear Brown. Hutchinson had been quiet at first and Starsky rattled on about his work in Vice and his wish to move on. He centered the conversation around himself on purpose, not asking any personal questions of his booth companion and keeping the subject off the ice. Until Huggy joined them, slipping into the booth beside Hutchinson, wanting to give Starsky some ideas about the ice show.
“I’m telling you, my man,“ insisted Huggy, “you need to enlist some fine ladies to keep the audience interested.”
“Well, maybe some of the lady cops in Vice would do it. They love to dress up as ladies of the night.”
Hutchinson leaned in, finally giving an opinion. He seemed a little under the influence. “Cops on Ice is now Prostitutes on Ice? Look, you’ll do fine if you bring in a solo skater, a pair, and a group of six to eight guys as your chorus line. Then add some cute kids from the rink’s skating clubs or maybe a couple of officers’ children who can skate. Add a theme, the music, costumes, and lighting. Lighting is very important. Oh, and Starsky, you’ll need to learn how to skate.”
“What? No. Really? I can’t. I’ll be directing the whole thing on my ass!”
Huggy and Hutchinson began to laugh and Hutchinson leaned against Huggy resting his head for a moment on his shoulder.
Starsky pouted into his beer, but the sound of Hutchinson’s relaxed laugh was doing strange quivery things to his insides. He couldn’t help but smile. “Will you teach me how to skate, buddy?”
Hutchinson froze at the question. He put down his beer and excused himself. Huggy moved out of the booth and the blond followed awkwardly and opened his wallet, leaving two twenties on the table. More than enough to pay for the beers. “Huggy, it was a pleasure. Please, have another round on me. But I’ve got to go.”
“Hey, my blond brother, I can’t let you drive home.”
“It’s okay, Huggy. I’ll have the waitress call me a cab and wait outside.” He turned to Starsky and nodded. “Thanks, Starsky. I enjoyed the beers and the company. But… I… I can’t help you. I can’t s-s… skate again. Good luck with your show.”
Hutchinson left quickly, grabbing onto a chair or two to steady himself on his way to the bar.
Starsky leaned back and sighed. “I did it again, Hug. I hurt him. I’m an insensitive lout.”
“That you are, bro. But am I picking up the vibe of an insensitive lout in love?”
A few days later, a morose Hutchinson was called into his captain’s office. Hutchinson liked the large and in-charge attitude of the gruff black captain and hoped he hadn’t screwed up. He knocked before he entered Captain Dobey’s office.
The big man waved Hutchinson into a waiting chair. “Hutchinson, I was making out the holiday work schedule. Your vacation time was rolled over when you came on board and you have plenty. You gonna need some time off to go back home to Minnesota for Christmas?”
Hutchinson sank in his chair and shrugged. “Not my home anymore, Captain. There’s nothing left for me in Duluth. I’d rather work the holidays. Let the guys with kids take off.”
“Hummm. Well, I appreciate the offer. You can cover for Babcock and Simmons when Babcock’s wife has the baby. I’ll pencil you in as on call. Babies always pick the most hectic time to be born.”
Hutchinson nodded and started to rise. “Sure, Captain. I’d be happy to. Is that all, sir?”
“Sit down, Hutchinson. I think we need to have a talk.”
“Captain Dobey, I appreciate your concern, but I’m alright. I enjoy being a homicide detective. Just let me do the job I’m being paid for and I’ll be fine.”
“Hutchinson, you can’t fool me. You are competent, brilliant even. But you are far from fine. Babcock voiced a concern about you being without a partner and I agree. Bay City has some real high crime areas. I don’t like my men out there alone on the streets. It’s an unnecessary risk. You need a partner to watch your back.”
Dobey patted a short stack of files on his desk. “These are Detectives Second Class that I’d like you to choose from. I’d like you to pass on your knowledge to your new partner and bring them up to speed.”
“Captain. I appreciate this. I do. But I want to work alone. I don’t want to be responsible for–”
Dobey finished his sentence. “–For another man’s life?”
Hutchinson looked down at the floor and wrung his hands. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “I’m not ready, sir.”
Dobey stood and sat at the end of his desk, looking down at his young detective. “Hutchinson? You see that picture over there on the wall of me in uniform?”
Hutchinson looked up; he had never noticed the picture before. “Yes, sir?”
“Well, that’s me and my partner, Elmo. We were closer than close. He was my best man, my best friend, and so much more. He was my brother from another mother. I’m not ashamed to say I loved him.”
“He died in my arms, just like your partner. I understand, son. It took me a long time to be able to look Elmo there in the eye. But I knew he would be so proud of me making captain. I had to include him. Now I look at that shit-eating grin of his and he always grounds me. It’s a great comfort to me. I know you’re not ready to have Detective Kim’s picture on your wall, so to speak. But it is time to let go a little. You need a work partner. You need someone to watch your back, son. I know that’s what Detective Kim would want.”
Dobey picked up the files and handed them to Hutchinson.
He took them and nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”
Hutchinson left and sat at his desk. He looked at the names on the files. The last one caught his eye and he slowly smiled. The label on the file said “Detective Second Class David Starsky.”
Bay City kids’ excitement was growing as day fifteen on the Advent Calendar was opened. The evening found Starsky at the Bay City Ice Palace on the ice, ankles throbbing, ass sore as he grasped the handrail around the rink for dear life. Hutchinson had been right. He couldn’t direct from the sidelines. So he laced up his rented skates and tried not to fall too often. Things were coming together, much to his surprise.
Hutchinson would never know how much Starsky had taken his advice to heart. Or how much Starsky’s heart ached for those icy blue eyes and long legs. Especially when working with his temperamental star, Jake Simmons.
“Damnit, Simmons! Quit messing with your blade and get on the ice! I want to rehearse the opening number.”
Huggy came up with their theme: A Musical Christmas. It worked really well, especially the White Christmas medley, where the hockey skaters’ deep voices sang as they skated to Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army with gusto. They were even able to fit in the Sabbath Prayer song from Fiddler on the Roof and had Babcock’s two darling daughters skate in under Uncle Jake’s watchful eye and light the candles on a menorah center ice.
Starsky had also recruited two motorcycle cops, Davis and Wallace, who both loved to figure skate, but had never met before. They took to each other immediately, and their synchronized pair skating was like magic on the ice. The hockey team was an enthusiastic bunch and didn’t mind donning tights for a good cause.
The only problem was the hockey team captain, Moose Mulligan, who hated figure skating and the idea of his team taking time away from hockey games for it. The miserable creep had decided to heckle the proceedings whenever he could.
“Yeah, Simmons,” yelled Mulligan. “That’s right. Quit beating your blade and get your fairy ass on the ice!”
“Shut up, Moose! You dickless wonder. You come by to see what you’re missing?” Simmons grabbed his balls through his tights and wiggled his tongue obscenely at Mulligan. Davis and Wallace grabbed Mulligan before he could reach Simmons.
Starsky yelled from the edge of the rink, still too unsure of his footing to skate over to the ruckus.
“Davis, Wallace, get him outta here. We paid for this rehearsal time and it is not open to the public. Mulligan, I swear if you cause any more trouble, I’m arresting you!”
“You and what army, you pansy-assed Jew.”
Everyone milling around the rink looked up in horror at what Mulligan had said. One strong voice addressed him.
“Officer Mulligan. I am reporting this anti-Semitic behavior to Captain Dobey. Be ready to report to him in the morning. Now leave on your own or I will arrest you for creating a public nuisance and conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Mulligan shook off Davis and Wallace and faced the tall blond detective who had dressed him down.
“Yes, sir, Detective Hutchinson,” he answered with defiance in his tone as he stormed out the door.
“Hey, Hutchinson!” Simmons called brightly as he walked over and patted his back. ”Thanks for that. Mulligan is an idiot. Last time he mouthed off, Babcock cold cocked him. Took three of us to pull him off of the prick. Guess he thought he was safe since Hank’s not here yet. Mulligan hassles you, you let us know. You’re just in time to see my opening number. Take a seat. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
Simmons slipped off and Hutchinson glanced around looking a little lost. He smiled as Starsky beckoned him over to the railing. “Starsky, you’re on the ice!”
“Yeah, can’t skate worth a damn, but everyone can hear me yelling from here.”
“Well, that’s good for a director.” Hutchinson cleared his throat nervously and looked down at Starsky’s feet. “Ummm, you know skating isn’t that hard to learn. The trick is in balance and a controlled slide. Let go of the railing and give me your hands.”
Starsky did as Hutchinson asked. He tried to ignore the electric current surging through their clasped hands. He knew he’d do anything that voice asked of him.
“Now stand up very straight. Make believe there is a string at the top of your head pulling you up.”
Hutchinson slowly pulled Starsky to the opening of the railing and stopped, positioning himself in front of Starsky.
“Feel the balance of the blades on the ice. Tip your blades slowly to the inside then the outside. Good. Find the spot where your ankles don’t wobble and stay there. Don’t look down. Head up. Knees slightly bent. Back straight. Close your eyes and feel.”
Starsky could feel many things. The tingling of his hands. His heart beating fast. Hutchinson’s breath tickling his face. The ice beneath his feet and balance. He opened his eyes in surprise, and the blond beauty smiled at him.
“You got it. Now keep it.”
Hutchinson gently pushed Starsky out on the ice while he stood at the very edge of the rink.
“Good, Starsky. Arms straight out to your sides. Now, keep yourself balanced and walk slowly forward on the ice, just like you were walking on a sidewalk. Great. Slowly push off with your right foot and glide, count to two and follow with your left, One. Two. Glide. One, two. Glide. That’s it, buddy.”
Hutchinson’s encouragement gave Starsky confidence. He went a little further out on the ice and was doing well until he tried to turn to see the blond’s face. He bobbled and waved his arms. He was going down.
Suddenly, strong, warm arms wrapped around him holding him securely. He looked up into icy blue eyes watching them melt into the soft blue of longing. They looked into each other’s eyes for an endless moment then Hutchinson blinked and looked away.
Starsky smiled softly, holding fast with trembling arms. “Detective Hutchinson. You are on the ice.”
“Couldn’t let you fall, pal. And you can call me Hutch. I’d like you to call me Hutch.”
Hutch was so at home on ice that he forgot for a minute that he was wearing boots. He took Starsky’s hand to lead him back to the railing and his leg slipped from under him. They both tumbled to the ice huffing and laughing until they were weak. Hutch was spread out on his back with Starsky held tightly against his chest.
Starsky lifted his hand and gently tucked Hutch’s hair behind his ear. “Hey, Hutch. You saved my ass.”
“It’s an ass worth saving, Starsk.”
Just then a pair of men’s black skates stopped by their heads and sprayed them with ice chips.
“Come on, Starsky,” said Simmons as he peeled Starsky off Hutch. “I’m ready. Cue the lights and music.”
Hutchinson got to his feet and grabbed Starsky’s arm and led him back to the railing.
“Don’t leave, Hutch, okay? Maybe we can grab a bite after?”
Hutch nodded and smiled as he awkwardly moved off the ice. He spotted Babcock sitting on the bleachers near two young girls skating and practicing beginner spins with two feet on the ice while giggling loudly. Hutch made his way over and sat down next to his fellow detective.
“Hello, Ken. I’m glad you could make it. I heard from Davis on the way in that Mulligan was starting trouble again. Thanks for stepping in. Jake can certainly take care of himself, but nobody bad mouths my partner while I’m still standing.”
Hutch nodded, remembering feeling the same way about Joon. “Guy’s a Neanderthal. I’ll suggest to Captain Dobey that Mulligan attend one of those new diversity and inclusion training seminars in San Francisco.”
Hank chuckled. “Great idea. He’ll hate every second.”
Hutch looked out over the ice rink where Starsky and his crew were setting up. The cold air and frantic excitement brought back memories of the competitions Joon took part in. Memories of early morning practices and stolen kisses on the ice, supporting the man he loved.
Hank poked his arm and pointed, bringing him back to the present. “Those two dark haired giggle pusses in purple are my girls, Barbara and Bethany. They love to watch their Uncle Jake perform.”
“Oh, Hank. They are heartbreakers.”
“Don’t I know it. Beauties, just like their mother. Girls! Quiet down and watch Uncle Jake.”
The girls skated to the rail and sat down on the floor near Hutch, smiling up at him and Hutch gave them a wave. They stretched their little legs out on the ice, the younger wiggling into her sister’s lap as the lights dimmed.
Jake got into position. His costume was a tuned down version of Elvis, his dark wig dropped one black curl on his forehead. The lights went to blue and the music started.
I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same, dear, if you’re not here with me.
Hutch thought he could handle being near ice again. He really wanted to support his new friends and get to know Starsky better. Starsky was an attractive man with a great personality and a good heart. He had to admit that anyone would be lucky to have him as a partner.
He watched Simmons skate. Simmons skating technique was not unlike his own. His sit-spins were tight for such a large man. And his camel spins were heartstopping. Watching the man figure skate to such a melancholy song brought back memories of past holidays with Joon. Suddenly, the air around Hutch froze. He forced himself to take a deep breath, but his lungs felt like he was breathing in ice. It was no use; it was more than he could take. He excused himself and ran for the exit seeking the warm California breezes of the December night.
And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling