CALL IT A DAY

By: Karen B.

Summary: An ordinary day story

Thank you: CC, very much, for sharing your friendship, time, and open eyes!

The vibrant colors of the sunset gave way to the darkness of night. Wind rattled the tall grass and cattails near the canal, filled to its highest peak a day ago by a late summer squall. Bullfrogs sang a duet, hidden behind billows of fog that rose up off the water. The gentle push of lapping water rippling along the bank's edge added to their music.

Enjoying the cool of the evening, Starsky and Hutch sat on the porch steps of the tiny cottage, withonly a small cooler between them. A neat row of empty brown bottles lined the porch rail, and bottle caps littered the ground, along with an empty cardboard pizza box. Both men were quiet, heavy with fatigue, but content to sit in silence watching the moon on its rise in the east. It felt good to just be still, to settle down the noise in their heads, and rekindle their strength after a long week of mental and physical madness.

Hutch fidgeted his gaze, trailing from the moon to his partner. "Anymore brew in the cooler, Stars?"

Hutch awaited confirmation as Starsky opened the cooler and dug around in the ice. Finding two bottles near the bottom, Starsky uncapped them and passed one over to his waiting partner.

"Here's to getting through another day." Starsky aimed his beer toward Hutch.

"I'll drink to that," Hutch said, clinking his bottle against his partner's.

The life of a cop was a 'hold on to your hat, fist in your face, adrenaline-pumping, beat the hell out of you, scuffles in dark alleys, tiptoeing through minefields, and following cold trails that often amounted to squat,job'. A job that could be full of fear, a job where you were lucky if a bullet didn't find you. But while fear was the logical conclusion of such a job,Starsky and Hutch also knew fear could be your friend. Without it, you knew you were in trouble. Without it,you could find yourself in the lowest of places. Fear kept you straight. Kept you from sitting down at the bargaining table. Kept you making the right decisions, and kept your beer tab from getting too big to handle. The streets were a real crapshoot;yet, ironically, they both loved the job.

Hutch shifted to relieve the numbness he felt in his ass from sitting for so long. "Call me crazy, Starsky, but--"

"You're not crazy, Hutch, just totally nuts," Starsky interrupted with loud liquored-up laughter.

Ignoring his partner Hutch continued, "Tell me again why we do this?" he asked,taking another long draw from his beer bottle.

The laughter stopped, and Starsky got serious. "I don't know, blondie, but we love it. Right?"

"Two double day shifts followed up by three graves... hell yeah,we love it," Hutch said and slugged back more beer.

"It's not a bad gig," Starsky took another glug.

"Not a bad gig if you like sewage-treatment plants," Hutch added. "Other than that, we're home free, huh, partner?"

"It's in our blood. Way I see it Hutch--" Starsky paused. Gulp. You can either fight the bad guys or join 'em," frankly said.

Hutch looked at Starsky with a whisper of a smile on his face. His best friend always had a universal way of seeing the world in simple black and white. Hutch stretched out his arm, holding his beer toward his friend. "Here's to fighting the bad guys," he said, clinking his container against Starsky's.

"That's the partner I know and love." Starsky joined his friend in slugging down their drink. "You know, Hutch, we see things. Things most people never see. Things they wouldn't want to know. Things they probably wouldn't be able to believe. Brrr…aaaaaaaaa!" He rewarded Hutch with a loud exaggerated belch, wiping his mouth with his shirt sleeve and not bothering to excuse his lapse of manners.

Hutch raised his bottle to his lips,ignoring his friend. "You say something, Starsk?" He asked, in monotone, deciding he didn't want to think about those things tonight.

"You ever think about it, Hutch? What we look at day in and day out. What we have to try and figure out? What we--"

"Let's talk about something else," Hutch sighed.

"Like what?"

"Anything but the job."Hutch rubbed his chin in thought.

Starsky casually sucked on his beer. Silence once again ambled through the air, but it wasn't a needle fine sharp silence. It was an unwritten language only they understood. Comfortable, warm, and just as important as any lengthy sappy talk they could have. For Starsky and Hutch, the experience of speaking without words was just as effective, maybe even more so. It was a passionate thing between them. Something special, something real, something only they could share.

"You ever think what you'd of done, Hutch, if you didn't become a cop?"

"Maybe," Hutch softly said. He lifted his beer, swallowing until he drained it, then stared wistfully at the empty bottle, lost in thought.

Starsky opened the cooler, dug out two more beers, and popped the caps. "I hate to break the news to you," Starsky continued, retrieving Hutch's empty bottle and replacing it with a full one. "I didn't always want to be a cop."

Hutch's head snapped around, eyes flashing serious. "Starsk, you thinking of quitting? 'Cause damned if I'm going to get another partner at this stage of the game."

"Fat chance, buddy. I'd give my left arm to stay on the force and retire by your side."

"I'd give your left arm too, Starsk," Hutch snickered, relaxing further back against the porch stoop. "I suppose the day comes to everyone when you question why you are on the road you're on," Hutch said somberly, then took a long pull of his drink.

"I suppose," Starsky agreed, then was quiet for a long time, suddenlymore interested in toeing a bottle cap than continuing on talking.

Hutch looked up at his partner, who had a glassy far off look in his eyes. He knew thatlook. Starsky often talked about his father being the reason he was what and where he was today. He recalled Starsky once saying the man's shadow never left him.

"Hey," Hutch cheered, "I thought we weren't going to talk about the job, Starsk?"

Things were quiet again. They never did catch the man who killed his father. Starsky often wondered who did it and why the hell--he shook his head of the memories, instead taking several more long drinks until his bottle was empty. Setting it aside,he reached inside the cooler, broke open another bottle cap, and nervously rolled his beer bottle between his palms. He had to talk about something to chase away the thoughts in his head.

"Hutch, did you hear who was released from prison--"

Hutch knew alright, but didn't want to talk about it. He wanted to get him and his partner off that fast downhill track. "Starsk, I don't care if it was Bonnie and Clyde. I told you--no shop talk."

"Hutch, that was just a movie. 'Sides they both died in the end. Don't you want to know?"

"Fine, Starsk who got cut loose?" Hutch grumbled, stretching his legs out and nursing his beer. Starsky always did get overly chatty when he was drinking.

"Tommy the Pork Chop, believe it or not. He's gone straight, Hutch. Owns a fruit and vegetable stand on Maple."

"That's poetic justice," Hutch chimed in.

Starsky kept on. "And did you hear the rumor? About the new rookie, Temps? He decided to go to martial art school after being beat up by old lady Mills and her cane, for dropping her cat out of the tree? And Johnson in records raises angora rabbits and knits gym socks, and ladies panties out of their hair?

"That's a little weird," Hutch quirked a brow.

"And you know what else?"

"You and I are having an affair?" Hutch said dryly, raising his bottle to his lips once again

"We are?" Starsky jerked straight.

Hutch hunched slightly forward, spitting out a mouthful of beer "Starsky, I'm kidding."

"I don't know how I missed that one?"

"Starsky, I said I was kid--"

"Anyway, Hutch," Starsky wandered off the point. "Did you catch the story about the drunk grocery store burglar?"

"Nope."

Starsky moved in a little closer to Hutch, as if it were some big secret. "Trace and Sanders arrested him Tuesday night. The guy--"

"Starsky," Hutch said sharply, waving a hand in front of his face, smelling the beer and anchovies on his partner's breath. "Will you just stop."

"Hutch, don't you want to know?"

"Would it make a difference if I told you,no?" Hutch talked around his beer bottle.

Starsky didn't answer,nor did he stop. "The guy broke into the store the middle of the night. He must have already been drunk."

"He isn't the only one," Hutch muttered.

"Helped himself to a few more beers, 'cause by the time Trace and Sanders found him he was snoring, passed out cold."

Hutch closed his eyes, feeling really tired, downing another swallow, but continued to listen.

"And, did you hear--" Starsky took a breath. "About the teenager who was caught vandalizing headstones at Hillcrest Cemetery? Uniforms found him trapped. His hand caught under one of the headstones he was trying to turn over. And then there was that 2-11 at--"

Hutch had had enough. His body stiffened and he frowned, looking Starsky square in the eyes and holding him off with an upheld hand.

Starskyshrunk back. "Eh, never mind, Hutch, it's nothing that can't wait," Starsky said. Seeing his partner's annoyance, he looked away, swallowing another swig of beer along with his tongue. Swallowing a cat would be easier. What could they talk about if they didn't talk about work?

Hutch sighed exasperated. "Just finish the story, Starsky."

"Nope. It can hold."

"You sure?"

"Yes."

"Can you think of anything else you want to tell me about work?" Hutch prodded his partner to get it out of his system.

"Not yet," Starsky said, casually, slugging back another gulp, then gave a curt smile a moment later,the glassy look in his eyes replaced with wonderment.

"Hey!" Starsky's voice held pure pleasure, causing Hutch to cringe, making him wonder what 'beer logic' Starsky would come up with now.

"Hutch, did I ever tell you when I was a kid I wanted to be a magician?"

Hutch snorted. Okay,this was better. At least he didn't have to hear another crazy work- related story.

"Serious, blondie. When I was twelve I went to the library. Got every book I could find about Houdini and magic." "Seemed like the best job ever back then. Rabbit's feet. Do-it- yourself magic kits. Rubbing Aladdin's lamp. Making wishes, making magic, making something out of nothing."

Hutch felt more relaxed and settled back against the steps onto his elbows, chuckling under his breath while processing the image he now had in his head.

"What's so funny?" Starsky asked.

"Nothing too funny, buddy," Hutch said, gazing off toward the canal. "I just keep picturing you magically pulling a hot ham and cheese sandwich out of Dobey's Sunday hat." Hutch laughed out loud.

Snapping his fingers, Starsky suddenly got an idea. He polished off his beer and slapped the empty next to him. "Just a minute," he said with excitement, getting up, he half dashed, half staggered into the cottage.

Used to his partner's exuberance, Hutch continued to study the water, watching the way the light of the moon reflected off its surface. The white noise of the waves lapping at the bank almost lulled him to sleep, and he closed his eyes. A moment later Starsky was back,causing his eyes to snap back open. Starsky sat down,scooting real close to Hutch. In his hand he expertly shuffled a deck of playing cards, squared them, fanned them out, and shoved them at Hutch.

"Pick a card, Hutch, any card," Starsky drawled confidently.

"Oh come on, Starsky, that old scam?"

"Pick one. Any one," Starsky insisted, wiggling closer, anxious to show his trick.

"Look out, Houdini," Hutch teased, setting his beer down, then sitting straighter. "Hmmm?" He peered at the cards, taking his good old time.

"Will you come on, Blondie." Starsky rolled his eyes. "'S not like I'm asking you to do something illegal. Just pick a card." Starsky's patience wasclearly waning.

Hutch suddenly reached out, quickly plucking a card from the deck and holding it close to his face. "Have you got it?" Starsky questioned with a mischievous grin.

"I got it, Starsky."

"Good. Then memorize it. Don't just look at the card, Hutch. Stare hard at it. Remember it. Become one with it. Whisper its name over and over in your head, and don't forget--"

"Starsky! I got it!"

"Okay," Starsky snickered, having a good time with the whole thing. "Place it anywhere back in the deck," he said, shoving the fanned cards Hutch's way again. Hutch skeptically slipped his card back between the others, turning only slightly to retrieve his beer. Starsky waved his hands flamboyantly about,mumbling some magical gibberish. He shuffled the cards several times, then squared the deck once more. Closing his eyes, he pulled a single card from the deck and showed it to Hutch. "Is this your card?" he proudly announced.

"Nope."

Starsky tossed the card over his shoulder, and randomly pulled another. "Is this your card?"

"No, that's not my card." Hutch watched the card flutter to the porch.

"This?" Starsky pulled another.

"No."

Another card was pulled. "This?"

"No, gordo," Hutch huffed.

Starsky scratched his head,looking for all the worldbaffled. "Hutch, check your back left pocket, for me."

"Oh for--"

"Just check."

Hutch lifted his butt just enough to slip his fingers into his back jean pocket,certain he would find nothing. His eyes went wide when he felt a card,and his eyes went even wider when he pulled it out and looked at it.

"Is that your card, partner?" Starsky grinned from ear to ear, knowingly.

Hutch peered up at his friend; drunken eyes flashing with both confusion and delight. "Eight of diamonds." Hutch's mouth gapingas he turned the card around so Starsky could see. "Starsky, how the hell did you?"

Starsky raised a stiff finger, waggling it back and forth. "Magician's code, partner. If I told you, I'd have to turn you into a toad," Starsky laughed.

"Hell." Hutch leaned back onto his elbows, his expression of amazement still on his face. "That was terrific."

The night air was fresh and crisp, and Hutch found himself quiet again, drawn to the water. He had picked the cottage by the canal because of the peace he felt there. You could watch the sunset. The water-colored sky, the reflection of the light on the channel, the sweet smell of wet earth, and the kaleidoscope of nature that lived in and around its bank; it inspired him. Hutch thought of his grandfather, who'd told him just before he'd died if it were up to him, he'd come back as a ship, blithely sailing the swells, encountering dolphin and whale, and watching the sunset in the eye of hurricanes.

Hutch sighed heavily, running his fingers through his short blond hair. "I grew up with dreams of becoming a sailor."

Starsky could feel the change in his partner. He reached a hand over and clapped Hutch's shoulder for a brief moment. Hutch remained quiet. "A sailor, huh?" Starsky asked, a dubious smile coming to his face. "Hutch, you mean as in, ahoy there, barefoot treasure seeking pirates with an eye patch, swinging across the deck with swords?" Starsky laughed, giving Hutch's shoulder one squeeze then releasing his hold.

Hutch smiled back , acknowledging his partner's care and comfort. "No, buddy. More like of crossing the ocean. The freedom of being in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around you but water, beautiful sunsets, fresh sea air. Seemed like a romantic sort of life"

Hutch looked back out to the canal and Starsky followed his gaze, quietly sipping on his beer and letting Hutch talk.

"I used to sit at the kitchen table with a magnifying glass and all these maps in front of me. Charting my course. I was in love with the idea of setting sail. The adventure of it. Used to have this old ratty blue couch in our basement. I'd turn it upside down, use a broomstick for oars, and Mom's good white sheets as sails. Then I'd perch on top of it, pretend it was my ship. I spent hours being a captain, sailing off to distant deserted islands, tossing my nets into the sea, and racing the wind. Dad frowned on it."

Starsky looked at Hutch to see the disappointment on his face.

"But my Mom," Hutch's expression brightened again. "She finally signed me up for the Sea Scouts. I was fourteen." Hutch adjusted his position, sitting up again and looking right at his partner. "You know, buddy," Hutch said, with a yearning in his eyes. " It pales in comparison to the ocean, but Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Three hundred and fifty miles east to west, and one hundred and sixty miles north to south, with an average depth of 483 feet. Hell, it was big enough, and I had a good imagination. We learned about bowlines, how to heave a lifeline out, anchoring, coming alongside the dock, celestial navigation, and how to read when bad weather was headed your way."

"All the skills to become a good sailor," Starsky announcedwith a lopsided grin. "What about getting seasick? Huh, buddy?"

Hutch tore his gaze from Starsky, taking another swallow of beer. "Two kinds of sailors, in this world, Starsk. Those who have been seasick. And those who have not. Those who have run aground. And those who have not."

"Which are you?"

"Both," Hutch said with a wink, looking over at Starsky again. "You know what,partner?"

"What?" Starsky asked, seeing Hutch's eyes become a clearer blue right before his own.

"When I finally got my seamanship badge," Hutch took a long drink, gulping it down hard. "Was the first time I knew what it felt like to have a dream come true," he said in an emotionally-strained voice.

"Yeah." Starsky nodded his understanding.

"So, sailorman, you gonna tell me where you buried the treasure?" Starsky prodded, watching Hutch

"If I would I could Starsk. Sailor's code. If I told you, I'd have to lock you in a tower," Hutch laughed, then tipped his head far back,letting the last of his beer drain into his mouth.

"What does a tower have to do with being a sailor?" Starsky polished off his beer. "Don't you mean walk the plank?

Hutch slowly stood, stretching his tired and cramped muscles. "Misunderstood legend," Hutch grinned, holding a hand down toward his partner. "Come on,old man, whatd'yasay we head in? You can take the couch."

Starsky reached up, letting Hutch pull him to his feet. "That lumpy thing? I won't be able to move in the morning," he complained.

"Sure you will. It's all in the way you stack the pillows, buddy."

"Yeah?" Starsky leaned closer to his friend, feeling a bit dizzy, and nowherenear as talkative.

"Stake my reputation on it, buddy," Hutch slung an arm around his partner's shoulder and they walked toward the screen door. "I'll make it up to you, Starsk. I got cold pizza for breakfast. I'll even sprinkle on some extra cheese."

"Trying a new strategy, huh, Hutch? Don't bother pretending. I know your plan. You're going to pile on some of that weird health powder on top my pie." Starsky one handedly pushed the door open.

Hutch walked them both through the entrance. "You know. Starsky, I only have your best interest in mind. Where's the problem in that, buddy boy?

"That, Hutch, is part of the problem.," Starsky said, letting the screen swing shut behind them.

A few minutes later, the lights went out inside the cottage, and all you could see were moving shadows on the walls. It was quiet, the moon shone bright, waves lapped at the banks of the canal, the grass stirred, frogs croaked, and two best friends called it a day.

The end.