1st Place 2007 Torino Award Winner for “Outstanding Canon Good Guy Portrayal - Merl”


Merl

A post-Sweet Revenge missing scene

by Brit

 

 

He hesitated for the hundredth time outside the open hospital room door.  More than once he had stopped to ask for directions to the room, lost among the maze of corridors and nurses’ stations.  The last nurse he’d stopped smiled slightly as she pointed the way, quipping almost affectionately that they should name a wing after the pair, as often as they were treated there. 

 

Taking a quick breath and swearing at the nerves he couldn’t control, he peered around the corner into the dimly lit room.  A single fluorescent bulb melted its light down from above the bed, barely illuminating the two figures.  They were close enough to touch each other, but not needing to.  The soft light, or something more, enveloped them like a blanket, drawing into its warmth anyone who happened by.  Starsky was sitting up in his bed.  He had never seen the vivacious man so pale or thin—frail, almost—as if the merest wind would steal his last breath.  Hutch looked almost as haggard, as if he suffered equally with his partner, but without the still-healing wounds to bear evidence.  The blond sat in a stiff hospital-issued plastic chair, leaning forward as if to capture every word, every nuance, of the conversation and hold onto it forever in case the other slipped away. 

 

He knew that feeling. 

 

The last thing he wanted to do was to intrude or eavesdrop, and would have turned and fled in an instant if he hadn’t been so drawn into the quiet intensity of the tableau.

 

“...so much that we don’t know yet, Starsk.  You’ve got to give it more time.”

 

“But you heard the doctor.  Doctors.  Neither one of them thought I’d be able to return to active duty.  What if they’re right?  What am I gonna do then?  If I can’t—”

 

It was Starsky who saw him first, when he turned his frustrated gaze away from his partner’s sympathetic one.  His tired eyes widened with recognition and surprise before he broke into a small exhausted smile.  Hutch instinctively followed his partner’s line of sight and turned toward the door. 

 

Merl stepped a few feet into the room at their unspoken invitation, lifting a hand in greeting, then nervously turning his hat over in his grip.  “Hi, Starskinson.  I...I, uh...was in the neighborhood....”

 

Hutch’s smile widened as he shifted in his seat to get a better look at Merl.  He was also surprised by the visit and knew full well that Merl had to travel clear across town to reach the hospital.  “It’s good to see you.  Come on in.”

 

At Starsky’s nod of agreement, Merl moved closer to the foot of the bed, as if to enter the room only as far as he politely had to.  He cleared his throat.  “I ain’t been in a hospital since—  Since my wife was so sick back in ’62.  Since she died, havin’ our baby boy too early.  Since he died a couple days after we buried Jenny on a cold February mornin’.  Every year since, during that same week each February, Merl woke up with a vicious hangover in the bed of a woman whose name he wouldn’t remember because he’d never asked.  “—in a long while.”

 

“Wish I could say the same,” Starsky quipped, his voice still raspy from the ventilator that had helped keep him alive. 

 

“Anyways, I was real glad to hear you was okay, Starsky.  I’d hate for anything to happen to my favorite meal ticket.” Even though his remarks were flippant, the mechanic’s concern was genuine.  The bit of conversation he’d overheard added to his uneasiness.  The partners belonged out there on the streets, together.  That’s just the way things were supposed to be in his corner of the world.

 

Both detectives chuckled at Merl’s off-handed comment.  Aside from the LTD’s ill-fated “decking-out” a few years prior, Merl had worked on both of their cars exclusively, and he’d been the only one to touch the Torino since the day Starsky brought it home from the lot.  The partners looked at Merl expectantly, mildly puzzled by the typically flamboyant man’s subdued demeanor. 

 

“They, uh...them other cops, they towed that Tomato of yours to my place.  Said Dobey told ’em to.  I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to do with her; you know what I’m sayin’?” 

 

“How bad is it?” Starsky asked, then swung his eyes over to his partner. 

 

Hutch’s focus was on his hands, but his mind had already traveled back to the shooting, back to the sight of his partner lying in his own blood, his head against the wheel well.  His memory also flashed back to a moment when he paused from following the paramedics as they lifted Starsky’s stretcher into the ambulance.  For some unexplainable reason, he had glanced back at the horrific scene to see Starsky’s blood spotting the car’s broken windows and streaking down its white stripe.  It was as if the Torino were bleeding as well.

 

Hutch exhaled slowly to dispel the memories and tried to smile, belaying the rawness of his heart.  His eyes held a note of mischief, though, when he spoke.  “Starsk, don’t you think it’s about time to get a car an adult would drive?  I mean, that thing has got a lot of miles on it.”

 

Starsky gave Hutch a sour look.  “I didn’t hear you complain when that thing saved your sorry can more than once.”  He turned his attention back to Merl.  “How bad is it?”

 

Merl cocked an eyebrow as he responded.  “I don’t know if it’s worth trying to fix, Starskinson.  It’s never been shot up this bad before.  ’Sides the tic-tac-toe job on the side, a stray bullet went through the engine and did some major damage.” 

 

“But you can fix it, right?  Patch it back up.  New paint job.  Windows.  I’ll be—” Starsky’s brow furrowed at the unconscious slip that wasn’t missed by the other two men.  He closed his eyes for a heartbeat, but when he looked back up, his jaw was set.  It’ll be fine.”

 

“Still...”  Merl wanted to crow as he watched Starsky’s fire rekindle.  “That thing’s been pretty beat up over the years.  Maybe it’s just time to call it quits.”

 

“Quits?” Starsky sputtered, his anger causing him to sit up straighter.  “What are you talkin’ about?  Okay, so maybe it won’t run as good as it used to, but just because it’s been shot up worse than it’s ever been, doesn’t mean it’s still not worth trying!”

 

“That’s right.”  Merl smiled and smugly drew his arms across his chest.  “And don’t you forget it.”

 

Hutch had watched the intense exchange with mild concern, then broke into a smile at the other’s underhanded encouragement.  “Okay.  So, Merlcan you fix it?”

 

Merl looked indignant, some of his old bluster returning.  “The Earl will not honor such a ridiculous and insulting inquiry with an answer.”  He swiftly pulled his cap back onto his head and dug some small pieces of metal out of the pocket of his denim jacket.  Grumbling “Can I fix it” under his breath, he thrust the chips out to Hutch.  

 

“What are these?” Hutch asked, accepting the colorful assortment.

 

“Be careful, them edges are sharp.  They’re paint chips.  I figured if I was gonna work my magic on that Tomato, maybe it wouldn’t stay a tomato, dig?”

 

“You did this for me?”  Starsky was moved by the gesture and took the samples from Hutch.  The chips were made out of sheet metal, their edges roughly folded back onto themselves.  It was obvious Merl had handmade the pieces in a hurry and airbrushed on various examples of colors, knowing Starsky wouldn’t be able to come to his shop any time soon to see the regular color display mounted on the wall.

 

Ain’t no big deal.  I just wanted to get the ball rollin’, is all.  Another big check from your police department for fixin’ that hunk of junk will bankroll a ’72 Barracuda I got my eye on.”

 

The partners grinned as Merl made his way back toward the door.  “Anyways, you look them colors over, Starskinson.  When you bust outta here, you let me know if you’re finally gonna put some class in your ride or not.  And for what it’s worth...”  Merl hesitated for only a moment to gift them with a surprisingly gentle smile, “...I think that car has a few more good years left.” 

 

And then he was gone, as quickly as he had come.

 

˜

 

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