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DINNER FOR TWO

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“Mornin’.” Hutch swung the doors to the squad room open and moved over to his desk, suppressing a yawn.

 

“Hey, had an exciting night?” Starsky wiggled an eyebrow but then he noticed how exhausted Hutch looked. Dark circles around his eyes were indication of another bad night. After being released from hospital, He hadn’t recovered the way he was supposed to and he had setbacks with stomach cramps and fever attacks. The plague had taken its toll, and Starsky sighed, “More painful than exciting, wasn’t it?”

 

Hutch smiled at his partner. “No worries. Shouldn’t have eaten the enchiladas you talked me into yesterday. Still have to keep up the diet from the hospital, I think. What’s new?” Hutch changed the subject, bending over the folders on his desk.

 

Starsky nibbled on his pencil. Now he felt guilty for having coaxed Hutch into lunch at the new taco stand. Absent-mindedly, he opened a folder and started to work.

 

At lunchtime, Hutch refused to go to the cafeteria. He told Starsky that he wasn’t hungry at all.

 

“Hutch, you have to eat!” Starsky fidgeted with his pencil, not letting the subject slide.

 

“It’s okay.” Hutch softened and got up from his chair. “I’ll try a glass of milk and a sandwich.”

 

“Yeah, only the healthy stuff!” Starsky beamed at him and let his partner go through the door.

 

Hutch’s stomach tolerated the lunch and Starsky felt better. The rest of the day was uneventful.

 

After work, they met at Hutch’s for a quiet evening. After a soup and salad for dinner, Hutch settled in the big armchair, while Starsky lay down on the couch, his head on the soft cushions. He flicked through the TV programs, while Hutch leafed through a book about deep sea fishing.

 

“Hey, Hutch, see those aliens in that movie – don’t they look weird?” He got no answer and looked at his partner. Hutch had fallen asleep, his head lolled to the side, the open book still in his lax hands in his lap.

 

“Boy, you can’t be comfortable this way,” Starsky mumbled, stretched his limbs, and got up from the couch. Carefully he took the book out of Hutch’s hands. Hutch stirred by the unexpected movement; it seemed as if he wanted to save the book from an intruder. “It’s only me, dummy. Let’s get you into bed, or your back is going to kill you tomorrow,” Starsky said softly, looking into sleepy eyes that finally recognized him.

 

“Starsk, where..?”

 

“At your place. C’mon. I help you.”

 

Hutch managed to stand up. Straightening, he made a grimace and trudged toward the bedroom.

 

“You should see a doctor with your back,” Starsky noted, and saw his stubborn partner shake his head.

 

“Need only a good night of sleep, pal.”

 

Hutch slumped onto the bed, fully dressed, and closed his eyes.

 

“Woah, buddy, not this way. Get undressed, it’s much more comfortable, don’t you think?”

 

Starsky didn’t wait for an answer but unlaced Hutch’s shoes and removed them with the socks. Hutch seemed to understand what was going on. He turned onto his back and groped for the belt to unbuckle it. Halfway done, his grip went loose and he drifted off.

 

“You let me do all the work alone, don’t you?” Starsky chuckled, and went to work stripping Hutch from the jeans and shirt.

 

Afterwards, Starsky sat on the edge of the bed catching his breath. A look at his partner and best friend convinced him that Hutch was still much too thin. The prominent rips and the too flat stomach had nothing to do with the health-conscious man Hutch had always been. His condition was understandable when you kept in mind that he had been at the hospital for over two weeks, being in mortal agony.

 

Starsky swallowed a lump in his throat thinking of the times he had spent at the hospital, hoping desperately that Callendar would show up, while Hutch’s condition weakened from day to day. The worst had been that he wasn’t allowed to be with Hutch in his room, to assure him by touching him that everything was going to be all right again. The scribbling with the lipstick on the glass window had been a last attempt to stay connected with his best friend. Later, Hutch had told him that the word “Starsk” had kept him sane and had helped him not to feel alone.

 

Starsky sighed. He ran his hand over Hutch’s bare shoulder, then covered him with a blanket and got up.

 

“Sleep well.” Starsky switched off the light and was half out of the room, when he heard a soft voice.

 

“You’ll stay, won’t you?”

 

“You can’t get rid of me, pal,” Starsky smiled and left the room.

 

***

 

Starsky woke up in the middle of the night, not knowing why he was awake. He looked around and remembered that he was at Hutch’s place, lying on the couch. Then he heard noises from the bedroom and was fully awake in an instant. Something was wrong with . Hutch.

Starsky sat up and spent a moment, composing himself. Barefoot, he padded to the bedroom and opened the door.

 

“Buddy?” In the darkness all he could see was a writhing form on the bed moaning slightly. “What’s wrong?”

 

In two strides, Starsky was near the bed. Hutch clutched his stomach and tried to get comfortable, curling into a ball, but it seemed to be in vain.

 

“You’re in pain. Where’s your medication?”

 

“Need none, it’ll be better in a while,” Hutch hissed, but Starsky was already out of the door, hurrying to the bathroom, where he found the bottles of pills Judith Kauffman had prescribed for Hutch in case the pain would increase.

 

“Take these, you hear me? I can’t stand seeing you in pain.” Starsky offered the pills with a glass of water, and finally Hutch conceded and gulped two pills down. He lay back and exhaled a long breath.

 

“Thanks,” he groped for Starsky’s hand and squeezed, “for being here.”

 

“Didn’t you have a hot water bottle somewhere?” Starsky asked, and when he only got an unintelligible mutter, he went to search for it on his own.

 

“Here we go.” Starsky emerged near the bed, holding a filled bottle in his hand. Hutch had curled up again and at first resisted Starsky’s efforts to put him on his back.

 

“Lemme sleep,” he mumbled, and Starsky put a hand on Hutch’s forehead in a soothing touch.

 

“You’ll be better soon. Let me put this on your stomach. Hope it isn’t too hot.” Starsky pulled the covers down so he could put the hot bottle on Hutch’s stomach.

 

First Hutch made a grimace at the warm sensation, but then he held the bottle and moaned appreciatively.

 

“It’s gonna be okay, Starsk. Go to bed. ‘M feeling already better. G’night.”

 

This time Starsky left the door ajar, just in case. He fell into a deep sleep till the alarm clock announced another working day.

 

 

***

 

“Judith Kauffman?” This is Dave Starsky, you remember me?” Starsky had taken the chance to call the doctor while Hutch was at a meeting with the Commissioner. Dr. Judith Kauffman had treated Hutch during the plague, and she had shown special interest in Hutch’s wellbeing. Starsky explained to her the problems Hutch still had and asked her for help. He nodded several times and said finally, “That would be great, Judith! I’ll arrange everything. You said at seven? No problem at all. You have the address? See you soon – and thanks again, doctor!”

 

Starsky hung up and rubbed his hands in anticipation.

 

“What’s up?”

 

Hutch’s voice made Starsky startle. Quickly he put on a serious expression and said, “I’m glad the Bullitt case is almost solved. Babcock managed to get some information from a snitch. How was your meeting?”

 

They talked back and forth and everything worked out like usual. About 4 p.m., Starsky put his last report into the rack and snapped his fingers. “Done. I’m leaving earlier, have some errands to do. See you tonight, Blondie, okay? Dinner is on me.” With that, Starsky had grabbed his jacket and was out of the room before Hutch could give an appropriate answer.

 

***

 

“Excuse me. I need potatoes, veal, bacon,… No, ham is better. It has to be a light meal. Then sage, lemon, sour cream – and spices. Can you tell me where I can find these things?” Starsky felt lost in the big supermarket and addressed an older lady who was just about to buy some poultry.

 

“Young man, of course I can help you. When I was young it was the housewife’s job to get the food though. But nowadays the young women only care for their career. I can tell you…”

 

“Please madam, I only need to know where I can find veal, po…”

 

“Don’t worry, mister, the meat section is over there, and here you can find the spices, and the best potatoes are…”

 

“Thanks, now I can help myself,” Starsky put some distance between the talkative woman and himself. He found what he was looking for and hurried over to the checkout.

 

“Shit.” He turned back to beverages to fetch a light red wine. “That’s it.”

 

Contented, he left the supermarket. It would be a wonderful dinner for Hutch and Judith Kauffman. She had given him the recipe for “Saltimbocca”, and without the bacon, it would be a light dinner, just the right meal for a recovering Hutch with his sensible stomach. Starsky grinned in anticipation. Judith had agreed to visit Hutch because she was going to stay at a medical convention in Bay City. In two hours she would arrive at Hutch’s place. Starsky chuckled, imagining Hutch’s face when Judith appeared all of a sudden. Hutch liked her. When she had left for Alabama, Hutch had kissed her and had asked her if she could stay in Bay City. She had only smiled and was gone. Now there was a chance for his best friend to have dinner with a woman he liked.

 

***

 

“What are friends for,” Starsky hummed, and wiped his hands on his apron. The dinner was almost ready. It smelled promising and Starsky tasted the sauce. “Some paprika would be good,” he murmured, added some more spice and put the casserole in the oven.

 

Whistling, he went into the living room to set the table. He stopped shortly, thinking about where Hutch may have some candles. He found them in the cabinet over the record player.

 

When Hutch got home and opened the door, he was rooted to the spot. The room was dark except for the light of two big candles that illuminated the dining table and the person who stood next to it. At first glance the person looked like a woman in a bikini. Soon Hutch realized that it was Starsky in the apron Huggy had given him last Christmas. The apron had the picture of a half naked woman on it and it looked quite realistic. Barry Manilow’s voice could be heard in the background.

 

“What’s going on here?” Irritated, Hutch let his gaze flicker over the festively set table.

 

“I’ve made dinner. What did you expect?” Starsky put two napkins next to each plate and eyed his work contentedly.

 

“Expect? At least not this! Starsk, are you nuts? You’ve made dinner for us and are acting like…” Hutch was at a loss of words and stared at the apron.

 

Starsky looked down at himself and chuckled. “Not bad, huh? Did I frighten you? I made this dinner for you and...”

 

The doorbell rang and Hutch turned to open the door still shaking his head.

 

“Dr. Kauffman? Judith?” he croaked, and couldn’t believe that the doctor, who he had fallen in love with during his time at the hospital, was standing in front of him, smiling softly.

 

“Good to see you again, Ken. Wanted to make a personal visit and check up on you.” She reached her arms out and Hutch gave her a hug.

 

“Dinner is served. Saltimbocca!” Starsky got rid of the apron, checked again that nothing was missing on the table, and took his jacket from the armchair.

 

“Have a nice dinner, you two – and a wonderful evening!” Starsky smiled mischievously and walked past the pair to the door.

 

“Not so fast, pal.” A large hand grabbed his collar and drew him back.

 

“Was it your idea?” Hutch looked at Starsky and then at Judith who smiled and said, “David called me and as I was in Bay City anyway, he decided to try a recipe I gave him. So here I am and I’m starved. And David, you should at least stay and taste the meal.” She moved to the table, followed by Starsky and Hutch who kept his hand around Starsky’s neck squeezing gently.

 

“Only for a minute.” Starsky admitted. They sat down and Starsky filled their glasses with wine.

 

“For a fast recovery, Hutch,” he said, clinking his glass with his best friend’s and the doctor who had worked till exhaustion to ease Hutch’s pain during the plague. Starsky looked into his friend’s misty eyes, and he knew how pleased Hutch was with Judith Kauffman’s presence.

 

“Enjoy your meal!” Starsk beamed at them. Hopefully the two of them would have a nice evening together and he would call Chrissie later…”

 

“Phewww!” Hutch made a face and held his napkin over his mouth. At the same moment Judith choked and made a gagging sound.

 

“What…?” Starsky looked puzzled. Then he put his fork into the casserole and shoveled an amount of Saltimbocca into his mouth. Immediately he tasted a weird flavor. The meal wasn’t eatable at all.

 

“I don’t understand, I did everything they said in the recipe and it tasted well” Starsky mumbled, gulping the contents down. Then he shuddered.

 

“Starsk, that’s…” Hutch spat the content from his mouth into the napkin and looked over at Judith, who was still choking. Her breathing became labored and little red spots appeared on her neck.

 

“You okay?” Hutch asked her, full of concern. The meal tasted odd, but Judith showed a strong reaction.

 

“Hutch, I didn’t do anything wrong. I stuck with the recipe,” Starsky’s voice trembled, seeing Judith gasping for air.

 

“Allergic. I’m allergic to cinnamon,” Judith gasped.

 

Starsky repeated, “Cinnamon?” not understanding a word.

 

“Buddy, let’s talk about it later. We have to take Judith to the hospital,” Hutch said. Together they hurried to get Judith’s jacket and purse. The drive to Memorial was piece of cake for Starsky who had put the mars light on and rushed through every intersection in full speed.

 

When they knew Judith was in good hands and was assured that there was a treatment for that kind of allergy, Starsky slumped down on a sofa in the waiting room while Hutch still spoke with a nurse. Starsky couldn’t understand that the meal, he had cooked, tasted that odd. Judith seemed to be allergic to cinnamon but what had cinnamon to do with Saltimbocca? When he had tasted it before putting it into the oven, it had been great.

 

“So, you put cinnamon into the meal by mistake,” Hutch interrupted his thoughts, sitting down next to him.

 

Starsky looked at his best friend and suddenly he slapped his hand against his head. “Now I know how it happened. I added some paprika to the meal. Must have been cinnamon.” Starsky bent his head and blushed. That was so embarrassing.

 

Hutch’s hand settled on his thigh. “Not your masterpiece, buddy, but I appreciate your efforts.” A growling sound let them look at each other. “I’m starved. What about you?” they said in unison. Then they smiled.

 

“Well, may I invite you to a late dinner at the cafeteria of this wonderful place?” Starsky said mockingly, got up and reached his hand out to help Hutch up.

 

A short time later they were sitting under the neon light of the sparsely populated cafeteria in the hospital. Starsky was struggling to get a dry cheese-ham sandwich down, while Hutch was picking at a limp salad.

 

“I’m glad that Judith is gonna be released tomorrow,” Starsky said. “I never wanted her to become ill because of my cooking.”

 

“You planned a dinner for two – now you have it,” Hutch smiled and quirked an eyebrow.

 

“Yeah, first class…” Starsky said, eyeing the inhospitable ambience. “I know!” Starsky’s face lit up. “Tomorrow is another day. Judith is going to feel better and she will stay one more day in Bay City. I’m going to cook another dinner for you two. I remember Huggy telling me about a light meal that is easy to cook and has a unique taste. Let’s…”

 

“Thanks buddy.” Hutch’s hand covered Starsky’s and he smiled affectionately.

 

“You took me by surprise tonight when I came home and saw the set table and the candles and the music… for a moment I was confused,” Hutch chuckled, and squeezed Starsky’s hand once more. “Thanks for arranging the date with Judith, pal. If Judith is feeling better tomorrow, let’s try the new restaurant near my place. I want you to be with us, including your hot date from last Friday…”

 

“Chrissie? Yeah, I can call her.” Starsky locked glances with his friend. The spark was back in Hutch’s eyes, and the lightly flushed cheeks were proof enough for Starsky that his friend was on his way to recover completely. Thanks to Judith.

 

“Thank you for being here with me, pal,” Hutch said. Both leaned back, knowing that come what may they went through it together.

 

 

 

The end

 

 

 

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