walked from the commuter drop, glad of a chance to stretch his
legs and breathe fresh air after a day underground at work. He'd
known that Starsky had given up the car when he and Hutch bought
the beach cottage, but this was the first time it had touched
Kiko personally, brought home the fact that Starsky now had to
carry groceries on foot or wheel them in a cart. It had been
a long time since Starsky had last played chauffeur. That had
been their time alone together, a frame around Kiko's visits
Of course there was no place for a car here. The narrow street
had been blocked off for a decade; garages, if there ever were
any, would be media centers or home offices now. He caught the
tang of woodsmoke among the flower scents as he started up the
hill. On each rooftop, whether Disney cottage, tipsy shanty or
adobe box, spark protectors perched like birds, beaks pointing
into the wind. Kiko wondered if everyone had illegal wood-burners
or if there was a variance this close to the ocean. He imagined
it had been Hutch who went for the charm of an individual dwelling,
and Starsky who saw to the perimeter, but this street didn't
look troubled by gangs or roadmen, and it certainly seemed more
livable than the megablocks being built in the valley.
Starsky had given him the address and asked him to come for the
evening tide. The sun was setting now, wallowing in fire out
beyond the offshore power rigs. The hot light gilded the shingled
walls of one house and striped the stucco wall of the next with
orange. At the top of the hill Starsky walked out of a cottage
designed in driftwood gingerbread. He leaned on the weathered
wooden gate and, seeing him clad in a sweatshirt and denim cutoffs,
Kiko relaxed a little. The unruly curls were threaded with silver
now, but it was the same, essential Starsky, as trim and vital
"C'mon in," Starsky said. "Glad you could make
it. Have any trouble getting here?"
"No. You still give good directions. I'm sorry I was in
Japan, Starsky. I would have come back if I could."
"Doesn't matter. Funerals are pretty much alike. You look
great, Kiko, no more gut." Starsky reached out and patted
"They're on fifteen hundred calories in Japan. I got the
foreigner's allowance, but they look at you. Good chance to diet.
This is a great place, Starsk."
It was. The hibiscus hedges hung lanterns of bloom over bright,
dry-scented geraniums, lantana, and nasturtiums so thick they
hardly left a path to walk on. Water rationing didn't mean much
to plants that could thrive on a sea mist.
"Really great," Kiko repeated. "How long have
you been here?"
"Four years. We were spending half our time at the beach
anyway. The big house was too much to keep up. Here, it takes
an hour a day and we have our own beach."
Four years? And he hadn't seen them for two before that? Kiko
stumbled and Starsky grabbed his elbow.
"Watch out for that cat. He won't move 'til you step on
Small talk, Kiko thought. Why should he be worrying about my
feelings? But Starsky was promising to show him the beach later.
"We won the sand castle contest last year."
Kiko paused in a shadowed hall, fighting a stinging in his eyes.
"Yeah? I can't picture Hutch making mudpies."
"It was his idea. We built a Viking longboat being rammed
by a whale. Hutch gave directions and I shoveled fourteen fucking
tons of sand in six hours." Starsky steered him around a
corner and down a step into a blaze of light. "Some view,
The burning west poured gold into a long, book-lined room. Two
chairs faced the glory and Starsky pushed Kiko into one of them,
bustled away, and came back with two drinks chiming faintly of
ice. He sank into the other chair with his and silently toasted
the sunset, then leaned back with a comfortable sigh.
Kiko rubbed his palm over the butter-yellow leather of the overstuffed
wing chair. It would have been Hutch's, of course, substantial
to its hardwood bones, a style that centuries couldn't better.
He could see Hutch in it, tan skin, pale gold hair, his eyes
that startling, northern blue. Looking around the room, Kiko
could see Hutch everywhere -- in the books, the plants, the oriental
carpets on the shining floor, the blackened andirons in the stone
fireplace. It had been that way in the big house, too -- a quiet
and order demanded by a room where everything was there because
it belonged, because it was loved.
"I confine the slums to the basement. This room was Hutch's."
Starsky had always been willing to credit Hutch with the class
in the partnership. "He loved it,"
"It's beautiful, Starsk. The love shows. I--"
Starsky shook his head, not willing to be derailed. "He
left you something. A letter." He made a long arm toward
the bookshelf, retrieved a white envelope and passed it over.
"G'wan an' read it. I helped with the hard parts."
The sun blurred on the horizon, its fire breaking up and turning
liquid as it sank out of sight. Kiko read until his eyes filled
and he couldn't see any more. He held the letter back toward
"I can't take it, Starsk, I -- I wasn't that close to Hutch
any more. I don't deserve it." He tried to inject a little
adult control into his voice. "This must be everything you
both owned. You'll need it."
Starsky's long lashes masked his eyes for a moment as he drew
circles with his glass on the arm of his chair. "Wait 'til
you get old, kid. You'll find out how little you really do need.
The house is paid for; I've got my medical insurance and my pension,
wouldn't want to travel without Hutch. I'm set. We talked it
over before we moved out here. How many kids have you got now?
"Yeah, well, that's plenty to educate. That's what we want
to use it for, so you might as well have it when you need it."
"But--" Kiko gestured weakly with the letter, "--almost
a million? After I--" His voice quit on him. Damn it, he
thought, I'm a grown man. I've got three kids and two of them
are in high school. But he couldn't finish.
Starsky got up and leaned over the back of Hutch's chair, rubbing
Kiko's neck and shoulders with practiced hands. He didn't say
"I hadn't been to see him in six years," Kiko said
The circling hands stopped long enough to shake him. "You
were busy -- out of the country half the time. Oh, maybe he didn't
understand at first. All he could see was that it was hard on
you and Mona to pay him back. Hell, Kiko, he knew your mother
couldn't afford college for you. He had the money; he'd been
saving for it half your life." Starsky squeezed his shoulders
once more and went to stare out the window. "It wasn't hurting
him to help you."
"I know, Starsk. He'd just done so much for me, I couldn't
take that, too."
Starsky nodded, black silhouette against a sky the color of wine.
"Oh, he came around. He was proud of you."
"Proud of a software designer? Come on. If I'd been a cop
or an architect or a cellist, Hutch would have understood it,
but he hated computers. I disappointed him. It wasn't right to
keep the money for something he didn't--"
"Bullshit. You're so damn good at what you do half the time
a civilian can't even track you down. He was proud of that. And
he was proud of you for doing what you thought was right. Hell,
every cent you paid him back was reinvested the same day for
your kids, and I can tell you where it's going if you don't take
it!" He gestured dramatically at the Pacific.
Kiko snorted. "You'd do it, too! I'm grateful, Starsk. I
just feel bad that I didn't come out -- bring the kids more-something.
I felt awkward. It wasn't because I didn't care."
"He knew that." Starsky took deep breath and shifted
his weight back on his heels. "Blow your nose and come on.
I'm gonna show you something I want you to do for me."
Kiko put the letter in his pocket and followed Starsky to the
kitchen. The one-time detective opened the refrigerator and took
out a white cardboard container.
"Ashes," he said matter-of-factly. "That damn
urn in the cemetery is just to keep the environmentalists and
the brainless bureaucrats off my back."
"You've been keeping his ashes in a take-out food box?"
"Who'd suspect left-over Chinese? C'mon. I promised Hutch
I'd do this."
Starsky led the way out the kitchen door to a rickety stairway
stretching down to the beach. It was as overgrown with flowers
as the front of the house. Kiko followed him down to where a
scant twelve feet of dry sand separated the rocking waves from
the pale cliff. Starsky inhaled deeply, facing west. The sky
had faded to rose and green, but there was enough color left
to highlight the distinctive bone structure of his lean, mobile
"Tide's going to turn any time now." He looked back
at Kiko in his business suit and the crooked grin flashed for
a moment. "Better wear old clothes next time, kid. You got
to get wet to do this right. He wanted his ashes to go out with
The water was marbled with violet and indigo and dark kelp green
under moving veins of foam. Starsky walked out into it, thigh
deep, and waited until a big wave ran past him toward the shore
and began to pull out again. Bracing himself against the undertow,
he flung the contents of the box outward in a smoky plume that
fell hissing into the rush and whisper of the waves. He stood
for a moment, then turned and waded back to shore.
"Just like that, kid. I aim to catch up with him."
Kiko took a deep steadying breath and promised, "I'll do
it, Starsk." They faced each other for a moment and he knew
he had to say something else or start crying. "Of course,
I may have to disguise you as a burrito."
Starsky punched his shoulder, accepting the promise, the need
for lightness now. "I always knew you got something from
me, Kiko. Musta been good taste."
They climbed the stairs and walked back to the front gate in
companionable silence, Starsky's shoes squelching water, Kiko's
letter shifting crisply in his pocket. Outside the gate, Kiko
turned, wondering why they hadn't talked more about Hutch, wondering
what he could say to one friend of the other, feeling his own
life at full tide, while Starsky's must inevitably ebb. He tried
to sum up what Hutch had meant to a scared kid whose own father
split when the barrio presented so many options for destruction.
The only words that came to him were ones like big and clean
and bright. That would sound stupid. Instead, he asked a question.
"Would you tell me something?"
"You don't -- I mean, you really seem okay, Starsk. Are
you? With Hutch going first and all?" The minute he got
it out he wished he hadn't asked. He hated to turn the knife,
but Starsky made it all seem so casual, so natural, and Kiko
had to know what it was like to lose someone you loved that much.
Starsky stood still in the twilight, his face shadowed. There
was a breath of sea salt and male sweat and flowers around him.
He ran a long forefinger across the top of the gate.
"I don't mind too much. Hutch -- always took things hard.
It would have been worse for him. So it ain't too bad."
The tears he hadn't shed before spilled silently down Kiko's
face. Starsky never had thought anything was too hard to accomplish,
or too much to endure if it would save Hutch pain or make him
happy. The desperate phone calls or fatal accident Kiko had half
dreaded would never happen, because bad as it was to be left
behind, Starsky could always believe he had saved Hutch that
much pain, that much loneliness.
A hot hand of premonition squeezed Kiko's heart. Losing Hutch
was like losing the sun, but when Starsky went it would be like
the earth falling out from under his feet. And he would have
to go on living. Starsky had just shown him how it was done.
Starsky had shown him a lot.
Kiko made his voice level. "I guess it's not so bad, if
you look at it that way." The pain eased a little. Starsky
hated soapy scenes, but he also understood debts had to be paid.
"Starsk -- thanks. Thank you for everything."
The man was almost invisible in the quick-falling shadows, but
his voice came warmly from the dark.
"You're welcome, son."
Author's comment: This little story, lost for years, came back to me
as a kind of time capsule. It was what I predicted for the future
twenty years ago. Some of what I envisioned hasn't happened --
yet. I also find it interesting that Ebb Tide was written before
I scattered my mother's ashes in the Pacific, and before I had
a social worker's knowledge or personal experience of the bonds
children build with the people who simply transport them from
place to place -- people without expectations, who accept without
judging. Makes you wonder about foreknowledge. I'm glad to have
it back. It holds up for me. I hope it does for you.