FIRST IMPRESSIONS

By: Karen B.

I am ever thankful to Dawn. Her input brought a profoundly clearer image to this dream!

Summary: SH first time meeting. Academy days.

There was a coolness about Sergeant Dunlap. The way he carried his six foot two inch frame, how he held his clipboard in his hand, his polished boots, his glittering shield, the way his gun belt hung comfortably around his hip. To look at him made one feel like he were born capable of handling anything. It was a warm sunny day as he walked with an air of confidence across the parking lot toward the large structure that would house the 500 new police recruits. Today was the first day for this years training program and his last as an instructor, yet even after all these years the first day always brought a nervous excitement to him.

It took twenty-six weeks of intense training to make a cop. To make a man or woman ready for hell. To become a cop you have to see things differently. Had to learn to be observant. Cast suspicious eyes upon subtle things most people would miss. Right off, he would question each recruit. What made them want to pursue a job that could easily have deadly consequences? He always made sure to teach each cadet how dangerous the job could be. Dunlap knew the making of a cop was more that just a romantic notion. Being injured or killed in the line of duty could happen at anytime. A cop has to be ready to deal with every element in society you could think of, and there were laws that went along with each of those elements. Everyone has rights, you can't just pull back the hammer, squeeze the trigger and kill the bad guys.

He knew there was nothing routine about being a policeman. Traffic stops. Robberies. Shootings. Raids. Often times working on skid row, casing drug corners. You didn't deal with nice people most times. It is a civil service that ends up being not just a career, but defining who you are.

Everyone knows an approaching policeman carries a gun, a nightstick, handcuffs, a badge that gives the authority to right what is wrong. Most times officers have no clue what they're in for when they approach a suspect, vehicle, or scene. The first thing the academy does is pound into the rookie recruit's head how dangerous this job is and how on the ball you have to be. They get a front seat view right off the bat. It's not all book training. Not all lessons can be taught in the classroom, and the cadets are trained like athletes. Put through mental and physical duress.

One day on the job, one step out onto the streets, is all it takes to find out if the blood that runs through one's veins is red or blue. The shadow of death follows an officer around every single day he is out there. Most officers' first impression of the job is simple, and they find that they do it for the love of the job. Not for the heroics or dazzling display of authority, but because they want to make a difference. Because it feels right to be good and to be true.

The sun didn't shine any brighter in LA. nor was the grass any greener, but Ken Hutchinson knew, even if the grass were greener he'd still have to cut it. If he hadn't had to deal with his father over this whole thing, it'd be a no-brainer. But he was off that bench now. After all he was a grown man, and if he wanted to turn a blind eye on ritzy luncheons, pressed suits, and fortunes made in heaven to follow his own game plan; that was his choice to make. Law school was his father's passion, not his. His father tried to do everything in his top dollar buying power to make his son follow his lead. No Sale. It only made Ken buck him all the more.

Ken was going to be a cop. He was going to help the homeless who were carelessly tossed away like old tin cans, who lived under the lids of cold cardboard boxes instead of a warm house roof. He was going to get the pimps off the streets that snatched young girls turning them into a smorgasbord to anyone who was willing to pay the price. So many times he had heard people say."'There is nothing you can do." Damn it! He hated those words with a passion. One man could change the world! One man's dream. One man's imagination. One man's blood. One brave soul, taking one step forward. There was always something one could do, and by all that was in him, he was going to do it!

Sitting down at the academy to eat for the first time seemed a bit cold and lonely. Long unsteady tables and metal folding chairs were lined up from one end of the room to the other. The old brick walls were painted off white, and the menu would flunk every health code he could think of. No self respecting Hutchinson would be caught dead eating here, but Ken happily shoved a piece of blueberry pie into his mouth.

His happiness didn't last to long, however, when he started to think about the last few fights he had with his coldhearted father. More of an ambush than a fight. He and his father had never been especially close. His father never could play the part of mentor or 'I'll be by your side no matter what, son ' role. Love was something seen only one way, his way. When Ken had announced to his father mid-term that he was dropping out of law school, to go into the police academy, tough love took on a whole new meaning. His father refused to even stand five feet in front of him.

"You'd make more money herding sheep," his father had said. "That honey throated voice of yours yelling 'freeze police' wouldn't stop a rock from rolling. Sing on a street corner, paint a picture, anything but a cop." The older Hutchinson shook his head in disgust, then turned on his heels mumbling as he went back into his study. "With you as a cop the bad guys are going to really luck out."

Several more days passed, and his father spoke loudly of hellfire and brimstone, but Ken's heart spoke louder. Eventually his father had bled himself dry of things to say or do to get his son to come around to his way of thinking. Twelve days later, Ken found himself in LA. Out. Gone from his father's high-class profile of who he should be, and all the happier for it.

Ken smiled, he was where he was supposed to be. He took another bite of pie, quickly forgetting his father, and thinking blueberry really would go well with goat's milk.

Maybe it had only been out of pure desperation that David Starsky had made it back alive. As he saw it, there were only three ways out of the jungle. By maggot, pine box, or air-lift. He was glad for the latter, had risen up out of the hellhole overseas. A lot of guys had gone over there betting like high rollers that they'd smatter anything that moved, and live to tell the tale. They went off to war with thoughts of guts and glitter, only to find the reality of horror waiting for them. Worse, when they had come back from what should have been considered a rare act of bravery; they were spit upon, even shunned, and been unable to find work. They'd have gotten more respect from the devil, than their own fellow countrymen. Yet, David just considered himself lucky to break even, a lot of guys didn't even make it back dead or alive.

The lights on the bus flickered, bringing him from his thoughts, as they finally pulled through the police academy front gate. He straightened his slumped shoulders and tiredly gathered his duffle bag. This was his hope now. He was here for the one thing he always wanted to be; the guy who wore the white hat, not the black one. The good guy. A cop. A good cop. Like his Dad was. It'd broken his heart; burying his father when he was only thirteen, saddened that he would never again hear the words 'I'm proud of you, son.'

David stumbled off the bus. This was nothing like the New York cold he was used to. The warm sunny afternoon brought new life to his tired body, and made his stomach rumble with hunger. The place was already packed and booming with action even before class began. He watched for a moment as the morning flag was raised. He glanced around, and noticed everyone seemed in quite a rush, as they veered in all different directions. Out of the chaotic crowd, a gray haired officer stepped up to the bus, holding a clipboard.

"You men are the last bunch to arrive. Check in with me. Settle your gear in the dormitory, then head over to the chow hole," he roughly announced. Clenching his cigar tight between his teeth, he looked to his wrist watch. "Eat good. At fourteen hundred, we're out on the obstacle course." The officer looked back up to the new arrivals. "That's where you're going to start to learn what it takes to be a cop."

David smiled, adjusted his pack, and got in line to give his name. The first day here, and he got to launch his career off with one of his favorite past times. Eating.

David was one of the last cadets to make it into the cafeteria. The loud babble, and closed-in, windowless walls made him feel uncomfortable. He didn't know a soul here, and it still felt weird not to be packing a piece after months of patrolling the jungle with a fully-loaded weapon. There wasn't much in the way of food to choose from, and it took him a few minutes of charming the older lady behind the food counter into serving him lunch, not breakfast. David ended up with yesterday's dried-up pastrami sandwich, flat root beer, and a runny red jell-0 cup. He walked up and down the tight aisles, scanning the room for a seat. He carefully balanced his tray in front of him as he squeezed past chairs and feet that hung out, threatening to trip him. No one paid him any attention, even when he tried to smile at a few cadets. They all seemed in a trance-like fever, reading their manuals, or chatting with one another. He felt closed off from the world, ever since he'd gotten back from his tour of duty, and he wondered if he'd ever fit into society again.

"Right here, buddy, you can have my seat." A friendly voice made David turn to see a man scooting his chair back to stand. He quickly wiped his mouth with a napkin and gathered up his trash.

David teetered, gripping his tray tighter, slightly stunned that someone actually had spoken to him. He couldn't help but notice the light blond hair, blue eyes, and the letter perfect way the tall guy moved.

"It's not the most elegant meal, but it fills you up fast," he said.

Before David could juggle his tray to offer a handshake, and tell him thank you, the tall guy had wiggled his way past with his own tray and headed toward the trash can near the exit. Shrugging, David gratefully sat down to eat.

The cadets stood ready and rigid behind the yellow 'do not cross--police' tape. Their sprits raged like thoroughbreds at the starting gate, nostrils flaring, breath coming fast, hearts pulsing in an unnatural rhythm. They clearly were ready for the obstacle course challenge to begin.

Standing on a small platform with clipboard in hand, was Sergeant Dunlap, the head training officer. He was an older man, yet in excellent physical shape, with bulging arm muscles that looked like he could wrestle a lion and win. Smoke from the fat cigar he held in his teeth circled his head, his silver hair cut tight around his ears. His fox-like eyes had a sharp, no nonsense attitude, but their soft hazel color betrayed a heart that was in the right place.

Dunlap drew his pistol from his hip. The sunshine bounced off his black boots, and he squinted at the faces of his new recruits. They almost appeared exactly alike in their light blue uniforms, with only their nameplates telling them apart. Most of them looked more like kids to him, chomping at the bit, wanting to draw their guns and become instantaneous heros. Dunlap could see the desire brimming their eyes.

'Everyone always starts off that way, ' he thought. Fire-breathing, fresh, full of vigor. Young, that was how he had been when the shield was first pinned to his shirt. Not stiff and jaded the way he felt now.

He knew what lay ahead for these rookies. Sometimes he wanted to grab each one by the shoulders and shout, 'Are you sure? Do you know what you're in for?'

An urban wasteland of death and danger. Sorrow and pain. Cities teaming with bad guys. The streets could consume you. Burn a pathway through to your soul. Murder, rape, drugs, police corruption, or the haunted eyes of suicide victims invading your dreams. The death of strangers, family, friends, partner's. He'd worked his beat for years, and the filth he experienced went far beyond what these tough guy recruits could ever imagine right now.

Still, none of that mattered. Seeing these hungry, athletic, glory hounds; eyes wide and ready, brought an inner smile to him. Saving lives. That's what it was all about, and he'd take that well-traveled road to hell all over again, just to save one, just one life. As it was, he knew he'd saved hundreds. God help him if he ever forgot that. In a few months, Ralph Dunlap would be drawing a police issue pen instead of a pistol, sitting behind an administrative desk for a few more years, until he could retire.

But for now he was a training officer, and he'd make damn sure these young men, would leave here with every bit of knowledge he housed inside him. Readying them the best he could to walk the walk.

"Ready, ladies? Dunlap snickered, his cigar wobbling between his teeth. Not waiting for an answer, he raised his starter pistol skyward , extended his finger over the trigger, and fired. "Go!" he yelled, watching his new recruits dig into the dirt and head high-speed across a football sized field, toward the woodland training course.

The sound of feet softly plodding through grassland swiftly turned to crunching sounds, as the cadets entered a forest. A few dead leaves fell from the branches of large gnarled trees, and in the distance the noisy sound of woodpeckers boring new holes into the bark echoed around them. The men paid little attention as they moved between cracked rocks, overgrown roots, and fallen logs, beneath the shade that gave little comfort.

A strong breeze wafted through the air. It ruffled Ken's neatly cut hair, but it did little to cool the sweat that ran down his face and back as he ran. The well traveled obstacle course was full of deep watery pits, high walls to scale, tunnels to crawl through, and hurdles to jump. At the end of the course awaited the 'job well done' slap on the back from the Sergeant. The last five to finish would be awarded with latrine duty; scrubbing every toilet bowl on campus with his own toothbrush. For the first five to cross the finish line; the opportunity to go out onto the streets in patrol cars.

'Hell, he wanted that', Ken thought, as he easily vaulted a five-foot cinder-block wall. He wanted it so badly he could taste it, and so did every other eager cadet who was hot on his heels.

Ken was a runner, but not to these extremes. He wasn't used to this sort of rigorous training. It was mile four, and his shirt was sweat soaked, his feet and muscles beginning to hurt. A blister forming on his left foot made him briefly close his eyes and suck in more air, slowing him down. When he reopened his eyes a second later, he saw several cadets flying past him with ease, and he tried to keep up, clearing his mind and focusing in on their backs. Another hurdle lay ahead, this one a steep wall built out of stones piled loosely on top of one another. Ken got a good toehold into a crevice, and gripped at the stones as he pulled himself up and over. Halfway down the other side, several rocks came loose, and he lost his footing, tumbling to the ground, the breath knocked out of him. Mouth wide open, he gathered air quickly, as more cadets jumped from the pile and nearly trampled him in their own effort to keep going. It only took Ken a moment to compose himself. He scrambled to crabwalk backward until he was out of the way of the feet of over anxious cadets. Leaning against a pile of stone he waited to continue because his lungs still needed more oxygen.

He was bruised, dirty, and defeated. Maybe his father was right? Maybe he just wasn't cut out for this. Maybe he should just stop now. Ken hung his head low, breathing in heavily, when a hand to his shoulder startled him and he looked up wide-eyed.

"Any broken bones?" Ken was surprised to see the forlorn curly haired guy from the food hall.

"I'd be better off if there were," he groaned, thinking of the next twenty-four hours scrubbing toilets on hands and knees with his toothbrush.

"You always this klutzy?"

"It's an art form."

"So is cleaning toilets with a toothbrush." A crooked grin formed. "You okay?" The crooked grin faded to serious.

"Yep."

"Good, get up," he said, pulling the fallen man to his feet. The blonde staggered and David held him by the arm a moment longer. "Steady." Dark blue eyes peered at baby blues with a lot of skepticism.

Ken felt his face flush with an odd sense of embarrassment, and he straightened his shoulders, taking a quick step backward. "You ought to be running, not stopping to help me. You're falling behind," he said, trying to raise his failing self-confidence. "What?" Ken raised one brow, scrutinizing the curly haired cadet. "You short on brains?"

"Guess I left them back in New York," David said, with a slight shrug. He gave one last look to the blond before turning to run full out trying to catch up with the rest of the group. "Don't stop now. Keep going, Blondie!" he yelled as he jumped the next hurdle and disappeared into the forest.

Ken smiled. "I intend to," he said, as he began running, feeling a new force flood his gut.

It'd been one long hard first day. David lay in his bunk, listening to the buzz saw sound coming from his roommate. He sighed as he watched the clock on his nightstand strike the one o'clock hour. Tossing his covers off, he slipped out of bed, shucked on a tee-shirt and pair of raggedy jeans, and quietly, as not to wake the lumberjack in the next bed, left the room. If there were a taco stand or donut shop near-by, he'd be there.

'The food here was less than elegant.' He chuckled at his minds involuntary use of Blond'swords. It was odd. He didn't trust people so easily, and held his guard up high, but this man had been helpful, friendly, and kind. When he was near him, David felt like he'd captured something he'd lost long ago.

The lights in the hallway were dim, as David walked down the narrow passage. The bold colors of the carpet almost made him feel dizzy and were no contrast to the washed out blue of the tightly enclosed walls. Maybe it was the lack of food that was making his head spin? Or all those toilets he ended up scrubbing.

David turned a corner, and a smile came to his face quickly. He knew he'd seen a candy machine around here somewhere. He licked his lips, nearly pressing his nose to the glass to examine the contents. Deciding on a Hershey bar, he quickly dug his fingers into his front pocket for change. His smile faded when he found none, and he frantically began to check other pockets front and back, as his stomach grumbled its demands.

"Damn it," David swore under his breath, when he found none.

He glared at the machine, debating if he could give it a few swift kicks or maybe shove his arm up high enough to nab the object of his desire. Making his choice, he squatted, then crammed his arm up to his elbows crease, inside the machine. He grunted and groaned stretching as far as he could his fingers wiggling around trying to snatch anything he could. Suddenly he froze when he noticed a shadow that was not his own fall perfectly onto the ground next to him.

"Caught another criminal in the act," a tough enforcement tone of voice boomed behind him. With great effort David yanked his arm out of the machine and grimaced, looking up to see a tall blond man staring down at him with a wide smile on his face. "Gonna have to bring you in," he said, pale blue eyes laughing.

David struggled, gripping the side of the candy machine to pull himself up to standing. "What are you? The candy police?" he said, trying to keep his embarrassment in check.

"Justice must prevail," the blond man laughed out right, then seemed to get serious. "Look, take some advice, there's better ways to tear up your insides than eating that junk, you know?"

David gathered his wits. "Man's gotta keep up his strength, somehow."

Ken Hutchinson dug into his front pocket and tossed the dark haired man a quarter. "Guess you left your change back in New York too, huh?" Ken gave a little snort.

"Can't keep depending on the kindness of strangers." David looked the blond man in the eye with defiance, and tossed the quarter back to him.

Ken caught the coin in his fist, looking down at it he shook his head. Glancing back up, he took two steps forward. "Ken Hutchinson." He offered his hand.

David hesitated only a moment before he took a step, then presented his hand in return. Clasping firmly, they shook. "David Starsky," he announced, desperately trying to quiet his stomach's attempt at getting in on the conversation.

Ken smiled, pressing the quarter into David's hand. "'Fraid we're not strangers anymore," he gave a knowing nod, then walked away.

Grateful, David only half turned to the machine, then looked back over his shoulder at the retreating man. "Hey, 'eh…'eh…'eh…" He stumbled to think. "Hutch." The word slipped out with ease. "What about justice prevailing?"

Ken kept walking. "Let you off with a warning this time, Starsky." He waved a hand then rounded a corner out of sight.

The end