TRAVEL OF THE HEART

 

 

 

This story was written purely for entertainment and is not for profit, and is not meant to trespass in any way on the holders of the rights to Starsky and Hutch.

All my thanks to Tonya Dotson for all her help correcting and making much better this story.

 

(Christmas story)

 

Every year, it was the same. Any moment, usually about late November, Starsky would listen to the radio or maybe he’d watch on TV or would see on the street the first sign that Christmas was close, and from then on, he would simply turn into a kid. A noisy, over-excited and happy kid.

 

Hutch, on the other hand used to hate Christmas; well, at least that was what happened in the past. The years spent beside Starsky had taught him, if not to like the season, at least to share a bit of his best friend’s ´dumb Christmas joy´ as Hutch liked to call Starsky’s demeanour, mostly to tease him.

 

That year though, something seemed wrong. Hutch had noticed it for first time during a commercial in the middle of an old western they were watching in the tube. One moment both partners were sitting down on Starsky’s couch, eating pizza and watching the black and white movie, and the next one the colorful images of Toys ´R Us stuffed animals, Lego’s and dolls filled the living room. Hutch, expecting to see that look he knew so well, the smile that would grow broader, lighting up his partner’s face, and waiting to hear those already familiar comments about the images, looked at Starsky from the corner of his eye. Wondering once more how the strongest, the bravest man he’d ever know could keep that childlike innocence in his heart, but this time something seemed to be missing.

 

Starsky just looked silently at the toys with an expression that, for Hutch, seemed to be nothing but one of sadness. In fact, Hutch had to admit that his best friend had looked pretty subdued and silent most of the day.

 

“Hey, partner…” The blond detective said squeezing fondly Starsky´s leg. “Something’s wrong, Starsk?” He was inwardly surprised. It wasn’t like Starsky to show even the slightest bit of sadness when it came to anything related to Christmas

 

“That kid, Hutch” Starsky answered tossing absent-mindedly the label of his beer’s bottle.

 

“Kid? What kid are you talking about?” Hutch kept asking, guessing by his partner’s tone of voice that his answer was about to open a box filled with a painful memory.

 

“Zach”

 

“Zach?”

 

“I didn't know what happened Hutch…I was only three. Too young to remember it. But last night, when I called mom, I noticed that she had been crying. Then I asked her, and she filled me in the whole story.”

 

“Okay Starsk. Talk to me, buddy. I´m listening. Who’s Zach? And what’s going on with him?” Starsky needed a friendly ear to pour out whatever sadness was right at that moment tarnishing his usual joy for the Christmas season, and Hutch was more than willing to listen, to help him any way he could.

 

“Zack was Mrs. Pollack´s only son. She was a former neighbour of ours, back in New York who died a few days ago…Ill, alone, and forgotten. She lived in a retirement home for more than five years. And now, she’s dead. After years of despair and grief, after a life wasted, she’s gone, Hutch.” Starsky stared at Hutch with his deep blue eyes; his look filled with more sorrow than his best friend could bear.

 

“Mrs Pollack lived just a few blocks away from our house. Back then she was a young widow, and she had a four old child; Zach. They were poor…And I mean, really poor. You know, we weren’t too well-off either; in fact none of our neighbours were, you know where I’m coming from,” Starsky said candidly, knowing too well that Hutch never cared about his humble origin.

 

“But at least pop had a job. And we had money enough to eat, to get clothes and to pay our bills, and even, in our birthday or for Christmas, mom and pop did manage to get a little present for Nick or me, besides a good meal and a cake, you know; those kind of things.” He keep on talking; revisiting his childhood memories. “Mrs Pollack and Zack instead…Well, pretty often, mom and other neighbours would help that poor woman and her child out, getting food or clothes for them. Besides, more than once, the rabbi of our synagogue would pay the rent on that little house of hers.”

 

Starsky drank a sip from his beer before speaking again. “Then, Christmas came, and that poor kid asked his mommy for a toy. A simple teddy bear he saw in a toy store’s window. Mrs. Pollack already felt ashamed for all the help she’d already gotten from all the neighbours that she couldn’t ask anybody for money to buy the teddy bear. But the fact was that Zack wanted it so badly, in that way that only a little kid can want something, with all his heart. So Mrs Pollack, sick and tired of being unable to buy even the cheapest present for her kid, went out to sell the only valuable thing she had left. Her wedding ring. That day, according what mom told me, was cold. A real cold one. It was snowing heavily, but since she had planned to be out just for a little while, the poor woman made the worst mistake she could make.” Feeling obviously uncomfortable with what he was telling, Starsky got to his feet and headed to the window to peer out into the dark night.

 

“What happened then, Starsk?” Hutch asked rising from the couch and approached Starsky, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Did Mrs. Pollack get hurt? Somebody attacked her in the street?” He noticed the slight tremor in Starsky´s shoulders.

 

“She’d left Zach alone, and no one knows what happened for sure; the stove, I guess but the fact is that while she was out, the house caught fire.” Starsky’s voice wavered a little.

 

“Good heavens…” Hutch whispered, feeling a shiver going up his spine

 

“When Mrs Pollack came back home after selling her ring, the firemen were already there trying to put out the fire, and save the kid, but it was too late for him…Zack was already dead. And he never got his teddy bear…” Starsky cleared his throat “At that very moment, Mrs Pollack broke down. She lost her mind and spent a lot of years in a mental hospital. Unaware of everything or everybody around, she was out of her mind. Maybe too buried in her own grief to care about anything else, I guess. Years later she was transferred to an retirement home for old people, since she never was dangerous or aggressive, and that’s where she lived her last years…And that’s the whole story”

 

“Starsk…I´m so sorry.” Hutch knew that it was a pretty silly thing to say, but feeling as he did at the moment, out of words, he couldn’t think of anything else.

 

I'm the one who is sorry, Hutch.  I know that I shouldn’t feel that bad for something that happened so many years ago, but, you know. He was just a little kid…And, well; when mom told me about him earlier , I couldn’t help it…I felt… ”

 

“I know partner. I know how you feel.” Hutch patted Starsky’s shoulder “But you can’t do anything to help them now, Starsky. Nobody cans.”

 

“Yeah, nobody…Oh, man! This sucks!”

 

“Yeah Starsk. You´re right…This sucks.” Hutch simply stood beside Starsky, his hand gently squeezing his friend’s shoulder. Just offering a little of comfort.

 

“Okay partner. Wanna another beer?” The blond one asked trying to take Starsky from his gloomy thoughts

 

“No, thanks, Hutch. In fact, if you don't mind I think that I’d rather get some sleep. I´m pretty tired.” The brunet said smiling limply.

 

“It's okay Starsk. Go to bed. I’ll clean up the table.”

 

“Hmm…Hutch?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Mind staying here tonight?”

 

“Sure partner, in fact, I was about to ask you.”

 

“Thanks, Blondie. I’ll bring you a pillow and a blanket.” Starsky went to his closet to get the blanket and pillow for Hutch and placed them on the couch. After what he’d told to his partner, neither one of them seemed to be in the mood to watch the end of the movie or talk so, Hutch turned off the TV set, cleared up the table, and they went to bed.

 

*******

 

The next few weeks, life went on uneventfully for both detectives. Starsky didn’t bring the subject of the Pollack kid up any more, but as well as Hutch knew his partner, he was sure that he hadn’t forgotten the sad history of that unlucky family.

 

And almost without noticing it, Christmas came. That year, since they didn’t have any special plans, Starsky all of sudden asked Hutch to go with him to New York to spend the holidays with his mom. An idea that the blond one liked instantly. In fact he was always happy to be given the chance to see his partner’s lovely mother and spend a few days with them both.

 

After a quiet flight on the day of their arrival, one day before Christmas Eve, their plane landed at J. F. K international Airport. As expected, the evening welcomed them with an intense cold.

 

“Oh, man!” Starsky complained pulling up the collar of his thick jacket “I really should try and convince mom to move to California. These winters are only good for penguins and polar bears.”

 

“I doubt you’d be able to make Rachel leave this place, partner, but maybe It’d be worth a try.” Hutch said zipping up his own jacket.

 

They rented a car in the airport, and a while later Starsky was parking in front of his childhood home. Rachel was too busy cooking, which they knew would be a huge and great meal, so instead of meeting them at the airport, the elder Starsky agreed to wait for them at home.

 

Both men got out of the car, and with baggage in hand they climbed the stairs up the entrance, and rang the doorbell. As soon as Rachel opened the door, Hutch felt, once more, that he was at home. As much at home as Starsky was.

 

Davey! Ken! Glad to have you both here! Come in, sons!”

 

“Hi mom! You look just wonderful!” Starsky flattered Rachel. Both, mother and son got entwined in a warm embrace, as the woman, spilled a few tears of joy as she did every time she’d see Starsky.

 

“Hey!...hey mommy! No tears, okay? I don't like to see you crying. We came here to spend a happy Christmas together, to have fun…And to eat lots of that terrific food you are cooking for us, by the way.” Starsky said naughtily, lifting his head and smelling the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, with his mother still wrapped in his arms.

 

“Oh, Davey! You´re hungry as usual, aren’t you?” The mother fondly scolded her son. Pulling away from his arms and cupping his face with both hands, all her being oozed pride by looking at the kind, decent and intelligent man her little Davey had turned into.

 

“Hi Rachel, thanks for inviting me” Hutch said stepping forward.

 

“You are always welcome here, Ken! You’re a son to me too; come here and give your mom a hug!” She commanded as they hugged each other before all three went into the living room that looked especially beautiful with a Christmas tree standing in a corner, and some ornaments all around the room.

 

That’s what, since the day they had met, Starsky had taught Hutch…to like Christmas. The love that both Starsky and his mother felt for him and the warm welcome he got every time he was in his partner’s house. Things that, as sad as it sounded, he’d never come to find in his own parents’ place.

 

As they guessed, Mrs. Starsky’s work in the kitchen had been a fine one. For both detectives, nothing tasted as good as Rachel’s cooking, and soon they had a chance to test it again.  Several dishes were tidily setting on the table: Roasted chicken with small potatoes, a huge, steaming casserole, cold cuts, homemade garlic bread, and hot tomato salad. Starsky was, as usual, the one to do better justice to the meal, while Hutch wondered once more how a fit man without a single ounce of fat on his body could eat as much as his  partner could.

 

They ate dinner among nice chatter, while outside a thick snowfall covered the streets. All three talked about what had happen in their lives since the last time both men had seen Rachel last summer. She filled them on Nick’s current activities. Turned out that the youngest Starsky had gotten employment in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago, and was living there.

 

“I wish he’d meet a nice girl.” Rachel complained “I’d love to see Nick settling down and giving me a few grandchildren to run around here. Which reminds me Davey; is there any chance that my oldest and nice son will be gracing his equally nice mom with a daughter-in-law and a couple of little Starsky’s some day soon?” She asked with that naughty expression that seemed a trademark of both them.

 

“Oh, well, mom. Who knows? No hurry. Let’s see what happens in the future, huh?” Starsky shrugged his shoulders, feeling flustered like the kid, that at times, he still was.

 

Later as Starsky’s mother filled both men’s plates, this time with huge slices of homemade chocolate pie covered with whipped cream, the conversation drifted towards Mrs. Pollack´s death.

 

“For many years, I hadn’t any idea what had happened to the poor Beth...Where they took her after...After Zach’s death.” A shadow of guilt tinged Rachel’s beautiful features as she spoke.

 

“Come on, ma. Don't feel bad for her. You helped that lady a lot while she was living in the neighborhood. I don't think you could possibly have helped her more than you already did.” Starsky said, softly squeezing his mother’s hand.

 

“Yeah son, you’re right, I guess, but however…”

 

“No, Rachel, Starsky’s right.” Hutch pointed out “Your life wasn’t easy either. You had a lot of things to take care of, and life goes by too fast for everybody. Then, one day you find out that an old acquaintance of yours has just passed away and at that moment, you start wondering if maybe you should have paid more attention to that person, but you couldn’t have. You know that.”

 

“I know, honey. Surely you both are right, but you know how troublesome us, the old ones can be at times. Always worrying about something. The fact is, that when I found out about Beth’s death, a lot of memories came back; especially those of her poor son. He was such a lovely little kid, with those huge, beautiful, brown eyes of his.” Rachel stopped talking for a moment and stared dreamily out the window. “Well, at least he can finally rest in peace with his mom. They buried Beth in the Washington Cemetery, the same place where Zack is…And now, let’s forget the matter. I don't wanna spoil your night…So, you liked the dinner?” Rachel asked changing the subject

 

“Oh, sure. The dinner was great, mom” Starsky said, glad to let go of such sad memories.

 

“Yes, Rachel. The best one I’ve eaten in a long time. If that’s the meal you cook for a normal dinner, I can't picture what a huge Christmas Eve banquet will be waiting for us tomorrow!” Hutch said as both men got to their feet and began to clear the table.

 

“Hey young men, what are you doing?” Rachel asked “You´re my guests. Let me to do that.”

 

“No Rachel. No way. You’ve already done enough for us today; now Starsky and I are in charge of clearing the table and the dishes.” Hutch said as Starsky led his mother to sit down on the couch

 

“Just sit down for a while, and let us to take care of things in the kitchen, okay?” He asked, kissing his mother’s forehead.

 

“It’s okay, boys, thanks. Do it your way. I don't expect to have a plate or glass left after this though, but the kitchen is all yours.” Raquel joked.

 

“Hey, mom! Thanks for your trust!” Starsky said with a mocked pout.

 

Starsky and Hutch heard Rachel’s soft laugh coming from the living room as an answer.

 

They finished clearing the table and washing up the dishes, exchanging just a few words, simply enjoying the little pleasure of being together, safe and doing ordinary things. The exhaustion of the day, added to the hours they’d spent on the plane, began to take its toll on their tired bodies, and at that moment, both friends were just looking forward to getting into the warm beds that were ready for them upstairs.

 

Once they were done in the kitchen, and after saying good night to Rachel, both men climbed the stairs up to the bedroom they shared every time Hutch came to his partner’s home. It was the same one Starsky and Nick had when they were just two little kids. A few posters and pictures of their baseball idols were still there, on the walls where the boys had hung them up almost twenty years earlier.

 

“It’s always nice to come back here, just to see that some things never changes, huh?” Hutch asked looking around while unbuttoning his shirt.

 

“Yep.” Starsky said absent-mindedly, sitting down on his bed and running his eyes over his old belongings.

 

“You okay Starsk?” Hutch asked after seeing an unidentifiable expression in his friend’s face.

 

“Oh, sure. I´m okay Hutch. Just thinking.” The curly haired man began to get undressed.

 

“Thinking? Mind telling me about what, buddy?”

 

“Nothing important, I guess. I was thinking about Mrs Pollack’s death, about how mom feels about it, about little Zach, well, you know…Looks like I can't get what happened to those poor people out of my mind, I mean, the reason that caused the tragedy. It’s plainly absurd, besides awful…Just because of a teddy bear, that, on top of everything, the poor kid never got.

 

“Remember what I said to you a few weeks ago, Starsk?” Hutch asked.

 

“Yeah, sure, I do. Nobody can help them. It's too late for that.” Starsky answered while putting in his pyjama bottoms.

 

“That’s the point, Starsky, just that.” Hutch said as both men got into their beds.

 

“But it seems that the old people aren’t the only ones to always be worrying about something.” Starsky stated with a wry smile. “Okay Hutch, let’s get some sleep, it has been a long day.”

 

“Good idea.  Night, buddy.” Hutch turned off the lamp on the nightstand.

 

“Night Hutch.” Starsky said wrapping himself deeper into the covers. For a little while all was silence in the bedroom, until Hutch spoke again.

 

“Starsk?…You asleep?”

 

“Nope. What´s up, partner?”

 

“Nothing, I just wanted to say thank you for letting me be part of your wonderful family.”

 

“Anytime, Blondie. Anytime.” Shortly after that, they both fell into a peaceful sleep while outside, the snow kept falling.

 

*******

 

On Christmas Eve morning, when Hutch woke up, Starsky´s bed was empty and neatly made. The blond detective, still in bed, yawned as he looked at his wristwatch

 

“Nine o’clock!…Geez! I really had a good night of sleep! Even Starsky got out of bed earlier than me this time.” He said to himself, while getting out of bed, lazily stretching his body. Then, he put on his robe, picked out clean clothes from his suitcase and his weekend bag and headed to the bathroom in the hall.

 

Once showered, shaved and dressed in a black turtleneck and blue jeans, Hutch went downstairs, stepping into the kitchen and hoping to see Starsky there. But the only one there was Rachel. Starsky’s mother was busy mixing milk and some fruits in the blender

 

“Good morning Rachel.” Hutch said reaching out for the coffee pot and a mug.

 

“Good morning, son. Did you sleep well?”

 

“Too well, I’d say. I haven’t waked up this late since the day after our graduation party from the Academy, I guess. And that day, I had the worst hangover of all my life.” Hutch joked, pouring himself some coffee.

 

Rachel smiled softly. “It’s okay, Ken. If you woke up later than usual this morning, it’s because your body needed those few extra hours of rest.” She said holding out for Hutch, a large glass with the fruit and milk shake she had just fixed. “Hope you’ll like this, honey. Now, I’ll fix you some cereal with milk.”

 

“Oh, thanks Rachel. But the shake will be enough, I’m not that hungry. Besides, I’ve got to leave some room for lunch.” Hutch drank a large drink of his shake. “Hey, that’s good!” Starsky´s mother smiled pleased.

 

“Where’s Starsk, by the way?” He asked.

 

“Oh, he woke up awhile ago, ate his breakfast and went out to run some errands”

 

“Errands? What kind of errands?” Hutch asked nonchalantly, guessing that maybe his partner could have gone shopping to get his Christmas present or Rachel’s, but then, the blond detective reminded how Starsky had spent the whole last week doing nothing but teasing about the surprise he had gotten for him....Besides, we went together to buy that coat for his mother…

 

“I haven’t the slightest idea; he just asked me if Mr Martin still had his toy store open, then he left.” The woman answered.

 

“Toy store?”

 

“Yep” Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “You know, honey. My Davey can be a little mysterious at times…”

 

You´re right, Rachel, but I think I know where he went.” Hutch answered as a fond smile curled his lips.

 

 

*******

 

A little scary, besides lonely and cold was how the cemetery looked that morning. The snow kept falling around the graves and tombstones, with names and dates carved on their surfaces. Besides a few bunches of flowers here and there, nobody was walking through the white-covered aisles or standing in front of their loved ones graves.

 

…Nobody but Starsky.

 

He was kneeling down in front of a grey tombstone, carefully placing a big blue teddy bear in front of it.

 

“Hi Zach…I hope you’ll like the present I brought for you…” Starsky wasn´t sure about why he was there. He simply felt like he needed to do so. “Uh...I, well, I’m sorry, kid. I didn't know what had happened to you until a few weeks ago.” He kept talking, feeling a little embarrassed, as if he had been late in fulfilling a long time given promise. “If I had known it, then, you know...I would have brought this to you much earlier, you bet…It's just that nobody told me about…I know; I know. It sounds pretty much like a dumb pretext, but it’s true, Zach. I didn't know anything about it. And I am sorry, kiddo. Very sorry for what happened to you. And because you never got your teddy bear.”

 

The cold breeze stirred the naked trees’ branches producing strange sounds; like soft, sad moans. Starsky looked around a bit apprehensively, wrapping his coat tighter around his body. “Well, little one. Now I gotta go. Blondie must be already awake and wondering where the hell I got off to…Besides, I don't much like this place. Maybe ´cause my time to be here hasn’t come yet, I guess.” The curly haired man, feeling a lump in his throat, caressed the frozen surface of stone with his fingertips before getting to his feet. “Enjoy your teddy, kiddo. Happy Christmas.” Then, turning on his heels he walked slowly towards the cemetery exit. As he did so, behind the fence, he saw his partner getting out of a cab.

 

´Smart old Hutch´ Starsky thought with a smile. ´Always guessing what am I up, huh? ´ Starsky walked faster, feeling the sudden need to get out the cemetery and to go back home with Hutch. Then, coming from nowhere, someone greeted him.

 

“Hi, sir” The tiny voice came from a little kid standing in front of him. The child was about four years old, and wore an outdated-looking grey coat and woollen black cap. Starsky also saw that he held in his arms a teddy bear like the one he had placed on Zach’s tomb minutes earlier.

 

“Hi, little one.” Starsky crouched down, smiling at the kid while pulling up the collar of his small coat “What are you doin’ here, alone, huh? Got you lost?”

 

“Oh, no, sir. Mom and dad are over there.” The kid pointed with his little forefinger to a spot some feet away, but Starsky didn’t see anybody.

 

“Know something? I was missing my mom a lot, but finally, one day when I wasn’t expecting to see her any more, she came.” He explained candidly to Starsky “Oh!…She asked me to thank you for the teddy bear. It's very beautiful…Much more beautiful than the one I saw in the toyshop. And I like it very much. Thanks, sir.” The child said, staring at Starsky with his huge, beautiful brown eyes and the deepest look the curly-haired detective had ever seen.

 

“Where did you find that teddy, honey?” Starsky asked looking at the toy. It was undoubtedly the same one he had placed on Zack Pollack’s grave minutes earlier.

 

The child laughed amused with a soft and clear laughter. “You gave it to me; back there…Did you forget that, sir?” He asked.

 

“Uh…Well, I...” Starsky stuttered. What he was thinking right at that moment, didn’t make the least bit of sense. Simply; it couldn’t be possible.

 

“Hey, Starsk!” Hutch’s voice made the brunet raise his eyes to look at the aisle where his partner was trotting towards him.

 

“Hi Blondie!” Starsky stood, waving his hand to Hutch “Wait a sec, will ya? I got a little...” Then, he looked down at the unknown child, but there was nobody there. Astonished, Starsky looked around, calling out for the kid, but it seemed that he had vanished in the air.

 

“But?…Where?” Still unwilling to believe that idea that, against any logic kept crawling into his mind, Starsky turned to look at Zach’s tomb. There was the teddy bear, in the same spot he’d left it…Oddly though, it was the only thing uncovered by the snowflakes that at that moment fell thicker than a while earlier and with full force.

 

“Giving his long-awaited Christmas present to the kid, huh?” Hutch asked, already by Starsky’s side, surrounding his friend’s shoulders with his arm.

 

“You must be thinking that what I did is a pretty dumb thing to do, I guess.” Starsky asked shyly.

 

“No partner. I don't think that. What you did, is just part of who you are. The best guy I have never known.” Hutch answered pulling Starsky closer. “By the way, Starsky.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Who were you calling out to? I didn’t see anybody around here”

 

“Oh, it doesn’t matter, forget it.” Starsky answered, still staring at the teddy bear settled over the tomb.

 

“Hutch?”

 

“What?”

 

“Think he can see it? I mean, little Zach…Will he be able to see the teddy?”

 

“I don't know, Starsk.” Hutch stated, feeling as he did at times, as if he were talking to the child living in Starsky’s soul. “But wherever the kid is right now, it would be nice to believe that he can."

 

“And that he’s going to, somehow play with it.” Starsky added, lifting his eyes to look dreamily at the grey sky.

 

 “Know something, partner?” Hutch asked suddenly, changing his mind.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I believe it. I truly think the kid got his present. He’s seeing it right now and he’ll be able to play with it, too. You made him happy, buddy.”

 

Starsky’s face lit up with one of his ear-to-ear smiles “T’rrific…”

 

“Yeah. T’rrific. And now, let’s go home. I´m freezing out here.”

 

“How about a cup of hot chocolate before going home, Hutch? My treat.”

 

“Sounds great, Starsk. Let’s get that chocolate.”

 

With arms around each other shoulders, both friends walked towards the cemetery gates. Around them, a cold breeze waved the naked tree’s branches, making hissing noises mixed with which for Starsky sounded like the joyful laughing of a child, while, in the street, a few kids were sweetly singing ´Holy night´

 

Their Christmas together was going to be a great one. About that they were sure. And whatever it was the present his partner had in store for him could be, Hutch was sure that it would be nothing as valuable as all the love that the big, innocent and generous heart of Starsky kept giving him day after day. That heart that kept beating in unison with his own since the very first moment in which their friendship began.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

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