A desperate road trip through the desert reveals what one partner will do to save the other.
1. a stumble or fall
2. an experience caused by taking mind-altering drugs
3. a journey
Ordinarily, Hutch would be the one holding the map. Instead, Starsky had the damn thing propped up against the armrest of the passenger seat, but it kept getting blown off by the air conditioning. After the first few times, he was tempted to chuck it out the window. After all, it wasn’t like he was in danger of getting lost. Miles and miles of nothing lay between them and everywhere else. It was so easy to leave everything behind. Head east, across 66, through San Bernardino, and turn off at the sign marked “Other Desert Cities.” Heading nowhere. No map required. But the cup-half-full side of Starsky was holding onto some hope for that map. He wanted very badly to believe that Hutch would want it for the drive home.
Hutch was the one who usually cared about where they were going. He’d always loved maps. For a while, he belonged to National Geographic’s “Map of the Month Club” until he let his subscription expire last year. Told Starsky there was no point in renewing it – he never really left LA anyways. Hutch enjoyed a trip as long as he had a clear destination in mind. Starsky, on the other hand, preferred the view along the way. Didn’t always need to know where he was going. It was enough to be heading in the right direction, with the windows down, the radio cranked up obnoxiously loud, and his best friend in the passenger seat, griping about the volume and choice of song. It was about their partnership. Starsky drove. Hutch sat beside him telling him where to go, even if it was to hell sometimes.
Not this time, partner.
Starsky checked the rear view mirror, and from the back seat, Hutch met his eyes with a steady glare. He looked terrible, but at least, the shakes hadn’t started yet. Starsky was pretty sure they were almost ready for the next dose, but he’d been trying to stretch out the intervals as long as he could.
“Hey partner,” Starsky said as cheerfully, as he could manage. Couldn't remember ever going this long without coffee. “Did you get some sleep? Feeling any better?”
Hutch didn’t even blink, impressive given the circumstances. Instead, he asked calmly, “Are you planning to unlock these any time soon?”
From his vantage point, Starsky couldn’t see the handcuffs that bound his partner’s wrists, but he knew they were there.
Starsky had spent plenty of time overseeing the attachment of a small metal bar to the back of the passenger seat in the Torino. Merle had cussed him out in perfect street poetry after Starsky’d changed his mind on the positioning for the third time. But Starsky needed it to be just right. It was the first step in Starsky’s plan and the most drastic in many ways, but it set their course as surely as any map.
Merle had suggested fastening the cuffs to the bottom of the seat rather than mess up the leather, but Starsky didn’t want to do that to Hutch’s back. That was all they needed – a real reason for all those pills Starsky had stashed in the trunk. Besides, Starsky couldn’t stand the idea of his partner being uncomfortable. He’d actually sat in that back seat himself with his hands cuffed in front, trying to find the best position for the bar. Too high and it would hurt Hutch’s shoulders. Too low – Hutch’s lower back. He’d thought ahead. Had packed every pillow he owned and bought a couple more for good measure, so Hutch would have plenty of support for his elbows and arms. He’d even lined the cuffs with gauze so that…
“Answer me, dammit. I deserve that much.” Hutch said from the back.
“Can’t do it, Hutch,” he said. No games. No jokes. Hutch deserved his answer straight up. “Told you. Not yet. You’re not ready.”
Terrific. Starsky looked back and saw that the shakes were back, after all. Hutch was sweating away all the water Starsky’d been giving him, but he still looked cold. It had been at least five hours since his last dose. At the beginning of the trip, Hutch had admitted taking something every couple hours. Usually, he didn’t go two hours at a stretch. That was the first thing Starsky swore to change. Hutch was never, ever, ever going to take those damn things every two hours again...
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, Starsk.”
Aw, there it was. The soft voice. The pet name. Hutch was changing his game, trying a different tactic.
“Not yet. We’re still somewhere. When we’re nowhere, I’ll tell you.”
“Go to hell, Starsky,” Hutch said, but he sounded more exhausted than anything else.
“Do you need me to pull over?” Starsky asked. “Are you ready for another dose?”
Hutch swallowed, and tears welled up. Starsky had to warn himself to keep his own eyes on the road. Somehow, he’d been able to do what he needed to, by convincing himself that this wasn’t really his partner in the back seat. The familiar vulnerability only made it that much worse.
Starsky pulled over, making sure he was well off the road. He unfolded his body out of the driver’s seat, feeling the ache in his own legs and arms. He couldn’t imagine how miserable Hutch must be back there. Cramping had been one of the worst side effects the last time they’d gone through this, along with the shakes. But he shrugged off that memory, not wanting to think about what was to come. It was going to be different this time. Starsky’d spent the past couple weeks learning about what he was up against and planning this out. The first time around, Hutch had been the victim and he’d been the savior. This time, their roles in relation to each other weren’t so easily defined.
He took just a minute to get his bearings and look around. Godforsaken was the word that came to mind, and that was kind of generous. It had been a good long while since they’d passed another car, and everywhere around them, the brown earth was dotted with scrub and yucca. Dust was drifting around the car, kicked up by the warm wind, and Starsky realized that the Torino had finally gone undercover, beneath its shroud of dirt and insect remains. No detail work at Ray’s Auto Wash was ever going to fix this. A single day of driving across the desert was pitting the perfect paint job, probably irrevocably. Starsky shrugged and let it go. There was nothing perfect left in anything he loved.
He went around to the trunk and hefted out a jug of water. Of course, he’d planned ahead and packed more than the two of them would ever need, but that didn’t stop him from eying their hoard uneasily. Next time he stopped for gas he’d fill up all the jugs. According to Huggy, there should be a gas station another forty or so miles up the road. Huggy never really left Bay City, but Starsky was sure he was right. Huggy had connections that defied every law of reason, probability, and common sense.
Together, they’d planned out the trip, with multiple maps spread across a back table at the Pits. They’d chosen mostly back roads, skirting civilization. No city streets, no police, no doctors. No hospitals. No matter what happened to the two of them, Starsky would be damned if he ever let his partner anywhere near another hospital ever again. Huggy told him he was being unreasonable and that most likely, Hutch would have to go to a hospital at some point in his life, but Starsky was still too raw to think far down the road.
Taking a deep breath, Starsky reached for the army-green duffle he’d shoved in the corner of the trunk. God, he hated this. Crammed in with the other provisions, it almost looked like an afterthought. It was, however, the main event.
Starsky pulled out the right bottle by feel… he was getting good at this. Codeine was the squat bottle, the one with the pull off top. Morphine was the thin amber bottle, the one with the lid that took some muscle to open. Then, there were a couple experimental opiates, ones that even Huggy hadn’t recognized by name, which must have been prescribed by one of Hutch’s more creative doctors. Huggy’s connection had suggested that Starsky keep alternating medications, given Hutch had been doing the same on his own.
Before the kidnapping, Starsky had taken the time to consolidate pills, trying to make sense of the various opiates, organizing prescriptions. He’d tossed the empty bottles into an opaque garbage bag and had handed it over to Huggy to be taken to the dump. No sense having anyone loot through the garbage can outside Hutch’s apartment and come to any unfortunate conclusions. When Starsky was done organizing, he’d ended up with just over a dozen assorted bottles of every kind of opiate a law-abiding citizen could purchase from any friendly neighborhood pharmacy. Never mind the fact that the name of doctor and pharmacy was different on every bottle. Hutch had been keeping himself busy.
Starsky shook out a couple pills from the bottle of codeine. Frowning, he pulled out the steno pad he’d stashed in the duffel and consulted his own notes. Dutifully, he logged the date, time, and the dosage, double-checking his notes and the doctor’s instructions, before he zipped it up. As it turned out, Hutch had gone six hours between pills, which was an hour longer than he’d gone before. Progress, he noted grimly, was now measured in hours, miles, and milligrams.
Balancing the cup of water and the pills, Starsky ambled to the passenger door, careful not to lean in too close. He’d already learned that while Hutch couldn’t slug him handcuffed, he could most definitely kick and wasn’t terribly concerned about controlling his aim. It had been a while since their last pit stop. He’d have to let his partner out soon to take a leak, but he wanted him a little more doped up for that. Starsky swung open the passenger side door. He leaned over the seat with the cup of water and the pills.
“Open up,” he said.
God, the look Hutch aimed his way before opening his mouth… Starsky didn’t think he’d ever get over that little preview of hell. Watching his fingers, he placed the two white tablets on the back of Hutch’s tongue and brought up the cup to his partner’s lips. Hutch tilted his head and took a mouthful, holding it, as if thinking it over first. But then he swallowed.
Starsky felt like the oldest man in the world. Could feel the blood drying up in his veins, could hold onto every breath like it might be his last.
“Next time, you’re only taking one, Hutch.”
Hutch looked up, his eyes bloodshot and terrible on his broken face.
“I hate you,” he said.
Starsky shuddered, absorbing the words, as if his partner had injected them in a vein. But he nodded and backed off slowly.
“Be back in a minute.”
Starsky shut the door gently and began walking away. When he got far enough, Starsky braced himself on his knees and heaved and retched until he was empty again. The voices in his head were persistent and damning.
You can’t control this.
You can’t fix this.
You can’t save him.
He’s lost, already lost.
He rubbed his fingers over his eyes, wiping away tears that he couldn’t afford. Then Starsky got himself together and found his way back to his partner.