Hutch got four hours. It seemed a lot. When he woke up and realized the phone had not rung all night he felt a frantic surge of urgency to get to ICU.
"Bedhead," said the gay guy in Benjy's Bagels appreciatively when he whirled in. Somehow a Starsky breakfast was all he wanted. "Suits you." He looked keenly at the blond guy's ass as he walked out the door.
"He's a cop," said the manager scoldingly.
"And he's straight."
"So I can dream."
In the ICU family room Nick Starsky had made himself a camp out of several chairs and the contents of his bag. The room was strewn with empty cups and takeaway wrappers. He rolled to his feet as Hutch appeared.
"Nicky, what's going on?"
"He's still here," Nick said. "They've been buzzing around him all night, nervous as hell. No change in his status. My Mom has gone to get some rest -- there's a little room with a bed in it."
"Are we allowed in?"
"If you really want. He's not very entertaining at the moment."
The stare went between them again. Eventually Nick shrugged.
"You know how me and Davey are," he said, defending himself. "The opposite of you guys." Hutch had several times over the last twelve hours recalled Starsky's regular assertion that Hutch was more of a brother to him than Nicky had ever been. "We argued," Nick went on. "About two months ago, you probably know."
"No," said Hutch, surprised.
"I thought you guys talked about everything."
"Not quite. So what did you argue about?"
"Oh, who knows? We both said stuff. I finished it by telling him he'd regret being a cop one day, and that I'd be glad then. Funny, huh?"
"Not really, Nicky."
"No. Not really. We haven't spoken since then." He fussed in his back pocket for a cigarette and then remembered he couldn't have one. "He called me a loser, though. And a jerk." He hung his head. It was a very Nick Starsky pose.
"Well, maybe it'll be OK," said Hutch.
"Are you kidding? You should see the way these guys are making faces around him. They're just waiting for the end, that guy Sinclair more or less said so. My Mom thinks so, too, but she won't say it."
"Listen, I'm going to go in. Go have a cigarette, Nick."
"Yeah, good idea....." He paused. "You know all about our Dad, right?" Hutch did a quick mental inventory of what he knew. Good cop, tough father, drunk, admired and feared in equal measure. "Well," Nick went on, oblivious of what had passed through the blond man's mind, "one of the reasons he gave Davey a bit of a rough ride was that he knew, he could see, that Davey was going to go this way, be one of the good guys. And me maybe not. And he wanted Davey to be one of the good guys, so he was hard on him to make him tough."
Hutch held it in. He motioned an open-handed yes but said nothing. To him, beating your ten-year-old with a leather belt and locking him in a cellar did not equate to a bit of a rough ride. He wondered why it suited Nick to come up with his tortured logic and forget those details. Maybe he had been scared, so he took his father's part while Davey cried in the cellar. So he lied to the police and social care about where Davey and his Mom got their cuts and bruises. Only a year older, but Davey had carried him through it all. Taken all the heat, shouldered all the responsibility, buried all the pain.
"Go have your smoke, Nick. I'll see you later."
The ICU was dark. It was busy, too. There were a handful of nurses, some techie monitoring something, and a young doctor. All moved aside quietly as Hutch came in. He found Starsky in a sickly pool of light, stretched out under the hospital sheets, lost under the technology, more on a shelf than a bed. Fluids going in and out. Arms attached to monitors. A respirator that seemed incredibly hard work for him. An austere machine registering the slightly fast heartbeat. The face obscured by the taped-on mask and thick, ridged tube was damp and colourless.
"Hey, Starsk," Hutch could not help saying. There was nothing to hold. One hand had two lines going in the back, one had an electrode on the middle finger. He stood watching the monitors, the sound and light transfixing him. A nurse was at his shoulder.
"It's a bit shocking on first sight," she said. "I'm Jane Dickens, senior ICU nurse. Are you a family member?"
"No, a friend. I'm his partner."
"Do you want me to tell you what all these things are?" He nodded and she ran through it, technical terms and all, but he was only half listening. "We're a team of four nurses -- we cover a forty-eight hour period between us -- David's our most seriously ill patient at present. He's in a state of very deep sedation."
"The respirator," Hutch said. "It seems like hard work"
"Dr Sinclair may speak to you and Mrs Starsky about that later," said Nurse Dickens. "You can go on talking to him, even though he's so far down -- we encourage it." She went away. Hutch pulled up the chair and sat down gingerly. He glanced at the drip feed of yellowish fluid.
"No beef burritos in there," he said. And then, "We're going to get the kid, Starsk."
Funny, despite what they had said, he had expected Starsky to suddenly open his eyes. He had not bargained on the guy being so very far away.
"Listen, you probably know, your Mom's been here all night. I'll bet she's been talking to you, Nick too. I've spoken to Clem, hope that's alright. I wasn't sure. Anna said I should, and she sends her love. Dobey's been. Jay's been. He's pretty cut up so you'd better come through this. I'm going down to the precinct now -- I want to see how the investigation is going. So, Starsk ... this is important." He leaned right forward, so his breath moved a corkscrew of dark hair. "Don't bail out on me while I'm gone. Just ... don't." The respirator strained and pushed. Not a flicker of eyelash or a tremor of tiny muscle.
"You're going in to work?" Nick Starsky said in open-mouthed disbelief when they passed in the corridor. A halo of smoke still hung about him. The smell of tobacco brought back a sharp longing to Hutch. He thought about asking Nick for a cigarette and hanging about with him in the car park to smoke it. Whenever he and Starsky used cigarettes on undercover cases there was always a rush to be the first to light one. When he got drunk Starsky would get the urge to smoke and smoke for real, until it made him sick. Hutch usually resisted, but just now the link between stress and nicotine jumped all over him.
"I need to see the Captain, do some stuff. We want to get the guy who had the knife."
"Hmm. It's kinda depressing in there isn't it," said Nick, nodding at the elevator which went back up to ICU. "You in the car? Can I have a ride to Davey's?"
Hutch was shocked. "And leave him alone?"
Nick back-tracked. "Yeah, you're right. It would be just like him, stealing away when we're not looking."
No it wouldn't, thought Hutch. It wouldn't be like him at all.
"I'll wait until my Mom comes to, then I'll get a cab," Nick said obediently. "I just can't stand that room, those machines. And I can't talk to him. It seems crazy."
Nicky, you are such a kid, thought Hutch. He shook himself a little. "OK, Nick. I'll see you later, I'll be back. You get on the phone, right away, if you need me."
"Sure, Hutch." Nick yawned ostentatiously. "Go be a good cop."
Hutch wriggled his anger down inside him, Nick's tone was, as often, verging on the sarcastic.
The precinct was only half surprised to see Hutch. An air of gloom and anxiety hung over the squadroom, and when they heard Hutch was in the building a steady procession of people from all over the department came up to see him, find out the real news and offer hopes. Booking clerks, uniforms, secretaries, even the guys from Maintenance. Dobey thought he should just take time off.
Port Alta had swallowed its own. The gangs all knew a cop had been stabbed and that it might be murder one, but even Montino's worst enemies were not going to lead anyone to the teenaged cousins who even now were sweating it out in their uncle's hotel deep in the barrio. You could practically hear the gates clanging shut. Jason Dean had been down there with some of the precinct's latino detectives but it was as closed down as South Central after a riot.
"Jay," said Hutch when he came upon him in the car lot.
"Hutch, am I glad to see you. You haven't called."
"Starsky's still alive."
"How's he doing?"
"Oh, the same. He's on a respirator. What's going on?"
"Not much. They've disappeared, but we'll winkle them out. There's a team on the street in Port Alta and some more down in La Cuenca -- something will turn."
"You need to go home," Hutch offered.
"Oh. Like you?"
"I've had some sleep."
"Yeah, well I was going. You'll call me?"
"You're first on the list, Jay."
Hutch went from the precinct downtown to the offices of Wells, Marsh and Kleinberg. Annaliese was in her sharpest suit, her hair a tight coil. They had coffee over the road from her office. She rested one hand on his upper thigh under the table and they talked of inconsequential things. He was called on his cellphone on the way back home. The Mozartian tinkling set his heart racing painfully. There was an echoing quality to the line. Clem.
"I'm in the wings," she said. "My cue is in about three minutes, can you believe it? I had to speak to you, just to check."
Hutch smiled, in spite of himself, imagining the setting, the buzz of the backstage, the lights out front, the air of tension and Clem in some sharp, slick costume buzzing about with her cell clamped to her ear. He had really wanted Starsk and Clem to work things out, had felt early on that, despite their combative relationship, they were perfect for one another. But she travelled all the time, and he was a cop. They both hated one another's lifestyles, they both wanted the other to be at home for them at the end of the day. They argued all the time, big, passionate rows, but they both made each other laugh hysterically. They both hated cooking, but Clem favoured ethnic food over American. Starsky loved Bay City, she hated it. She feared for his life, he was jealous of her colleagues. He knew nothing about dance, and she thought the whole force was on the take. It was hopeless.
"Get your pointe shoes out there, Clementine, and give them hell."
"What, my shoes, or the punters?"
"Both. He's still with us."
Deep breaths. "OK. I felt like I couldn't move without just checking."
"I'll call you if I have to," Hutch said meaningfully. "Is this the first night?"
"We opened here two days ago -- three more to ... shoot, I have to go."
Shoot. It was Clem's trademark epithet.
"Love you, Hutch." He heard a weird swell of music as the call ended. He pictured the spotlight falling on her shiny black head as she went out there.
He made a stir-fry. He ate it in front of the TV and gave himself indigestion. He read the Tribune and fell asleep.
It was nearly midnight again when he awoke, stiff, his stomach tender. Plenty of water, three glassfuls. A shower, several suspicious looks at the telephone. No messages. No calls. He finally got through to Huggy, shrouded in the screech of the Pits. Huggy had been calling Memorial all day, he said.
"Man it's going to be alright," Huggy said in his singsong, confident way. "They said twelve hours, right? He's made it through twelve hours hasn't he? Don't you start acting like he's already dead, Hutch, I know what you're doing. C'n hear it in your voice. Get down there, pull him through." A pause. "He owes me fifty dollars."
"I hear you, Hug."
At Memorial Nick Starsky was absent. Trisha said he had gone back to Starsky's apartment to sleep. She was tight-lipped, her optimism waning, her eyes smudged by purple, puffy skin. But she kissed Hutch, gave him her big smile. That night, she slept in the little bunkroom one floor up and he sat long hours in the chair by the bed in ICU watching Starsky struggling with the respirator. Early in the morning as he and Trisha drank coffee in the waiting room, Dr Sinclair came along.
"We need to talk," he said.
Hutch, blond hair sticking up with the force of his constant raking, put one arm along Trisha's shoulder, exerting a light pressure. She moved in towards him.
"I think we should take him off the respirator," Sinclair said.
"Good," said Trisha, feeling relief, but the doctor's face remained grave.
"Switch it off?" Hutch said shakily.
"Not in that sense, no. I think he
may be able to cope, just about, without it. But he's clearly having trouble
with it and I worry about the strain on his system. I would recommend we take
him off it this morning."
"And you think he'll breathe on his own?"
"I believe he will. But I also believe there is a chance he may not be able to sustain it. If we have to put him back on the machine, I feel he may stay on it."
"What do you mean, stay on it?"
"Until we do have to switch it off. Until there is no chance of meaningful recovery. Although of course any such action would have to be at your behest, Mrs Starsky, as next of kin."
"So, wait a minute," Hutch said, getting his head round it. "You think his best chance is to come off it, but if he can't manage, then it means permanent life support."
"Until such time as ...."
"Yes, I got that bit."
"And what will happen if you leave him on the respirator now?" asked Trisha. She had felt Hutch's hand tightening and loosening on her shoulder.
"Well, we can't be sure," Sinclair said. "But some people don't get the ongoing benefit -- there's something about their metabolism that does not respond well over time to assisted breathing. David is one of these -- you can see that it is taking tremendous effort to co-exist with the machine. He's in a tiny minority, in fact. These are the great life-sustainers of intensive medicine, normally."
"He's just cussed," Trisha said. Sinclair almost smiled. She looked along and up at Hutch, her eyebrows raised.
"Oh, it has to be your call," Hutch said.
"No, not just me. I mean it, Ken, you're my boy too and you're David's other half. You know him inside out, you know exactly what he would want."
"He wants off the machine," Hutch said without hesitation. Trisha nodded.
"Of course he does."
"Alright," Sinclair said. "Although you should be aware that it won't necessarily improve his situation. Indeed, it may hasten things negatively."
Hasten things negatively! Hutch had to file that one, for Starsky, later. He was pleased at this thought.
"Are you going to call Nick?" Hutch asked.
Trisha shook her head. "No, Nicky wouldn't know what to do. He already said he wants me to make all the decisions. If you pushed him, you can guess what he would say."
"The opposite of us?"
"For sure, honey. He would just be scared of the leap. He's scared of the machine, but he's more scared of just being out there."
Hutch glanced at Sinclair, so glowing and healthy-looking even in this unflattering place. "Can we be there?" he asked, but Sinclair shook his head.
"I wouldn't recommend it," he said. "There may be some distress, and we will need to stabilize him again quickly. Now you have given your consent we will do it right away and let you know when it's over."
When he had gone, Trisha gave in to her first tears, hot and bitter. It had been the word 'distress'. "I can't stand not being able to help him, Ken. It kills me, my boy lying there so bad and I can't make things better for him."
"Come on, let's go get some air," said Hutch. "We can't help here."
They walked all around the block. It was a bright and warm day, no rain. Even the congested air of downtown seemed sweet compared to the wearying atmosphere inside Memorial. They went and sat in the Square under the campanile, feeling detatched from the dropouts and homeless sunning themselves in a group around the concrete seats. Hutch bought them coffee, juice and doughnuts and Trisha told him how her job was going, how Nicky had moved back in with her although she had not thought it a good idea, and how her sister Rosie was. She also told him she was dating an accountant with a condo on Long Island but neither of her sons knew about it.
"What about you, Ken?" It was a relief to talk about something else. "Still with your lawyer lady?"
"I am. We're not going anywhere, but it's still worth it, I guess."
"Ah. Not the marrying kind?"
"Me or her?"
She just looked at him.
"No, she's not, definitely not," Hutch said, embarrassed by the penetrating look, seeing Starsky in those eyes saying wordlessly, what's the point, Hutch? She's going to dump on you bigtime, man. "And if she was, she wouldn't choose a cop, would she?"
"Well she's crazy," Trisha said firmly. She smiled. "Perhaps you should date another cop instead. You could marry another cop." The perfect solution.
"Trish, I don't want to get married again."
"Sure you do, honey. Just like David does. Only you both don't know it yet."
Hutch laughed. There was a long quiet time. Then he said, "We'd better go and face it."
It was all quiet now in ICU. The ventilator was gone, Starsky had got more of his face back. Just the cardiogram, a nasal canula and the drips now. But still the laboured breathing. A nurse now in constant attendance, sitting by his shoulder.
"He's breathing alone," she said quietly. "We're reducing the sedative drugs, but he may not regain consciousness for a while."
"He's hot," commented Trisha, moving in close to Starsky's other side. She stroked the wet hair back from his forehead, once, twice, three times, then ran her palm down his cheek. "Davey, you're burning up. Why is he so hot?"
"Infections," said the nurse. "Septicaemia -- blood poisoning. We're doing what we can."
Hutch kept his eyes on the cardiogram. It was quivering, not steady. He saw the nurse glance at it. She adjusted one of the lines, opened a valve and injected in another load of anti-pyretics. Starsky's arm jumped. He seemed to go stiff from the neck down. Hutch could have sworn that his eyes opened. A sharp crack of energy seemed to rattle through him.
"David?" Trisha said wildly, even as the nurse had hit the red button. The quivering peaks of the cardiogram faltered and then flatlined. Hutch stepped backwards to let the crash team past him. He could hear the paddles whining, and Trisha saying "David?". No breathing, no heartbeat. He was jumping ship. Someone shouted "Clear!" and they heard the deep thump of the electricity, the soft thump of Starsky landing back on the bed. Not enough. Still the flat line. Hutch moved forward again, caught hold of Trisha's arm, dragged her back as they began compressions.
"We should have kept him on the respirator!" she wailed, but even now, as Starsky went whirling away towards the light Hutch did not agree. They went up to 250 volts. Nothing. Then 300. Hutch could not see Starsky's head, just one arm tensed on the bed. So tense. Shouldn't it be relaxed, if life was racing out of it? He was fighting them. He was trying to get out. But they were too good. Three hundred and fifty did it. A massive crack and then the cardiogram jumped into a little pointy skyline, then into a rhythm.
"He's back," someone said. Hutch heard his own breathing, Trisha gasping and then turning feebly away and being sick. Starsky's arm tensed and relaxed, tensed again and then relaxed, giving in, crawling back. The laboured breathing had begun again. Without a doubt he made a sound, a faint, choked-off, frustrated sound. No-one but Hutch seemed to register. They had called for Sinclair. Jane Dickens had helped Trisha out by then, and Hutch was alone at the back of the room while the two doctors of the crash team and the other nurse -- her name was Eileen; she was Irish and acted like no-one in the world mattered except Starsky -- assessed the damage.
One of the lines was dislodged from the force. The other had been pulled half out of Starsky's arm. There was blood and fluid dripping on to the sheet. Eileen was working fast. Hutch watched her swift movements, cleaning the wounds meticulously, fresh gloves for each one, peeling them off as she finished, getting some more, sliding the needle back in, the plastic lifeline, taping them down tenderly. Then placing the mask over Starsky's mouth and nose to give him some help. Wiping away the beaded sweat. All the while Sinclair was bent low over his patient with his stethoscope.
The tingling was back. The tightness in his own chest, the feeling that he could not take even one more breath. Panic attack. God, not now. Not helpful. He closed his eyes a minute, trying to focus on his breaths, trying to keep them quiet, trying to imagine Starsky's coaxing voice steadying him through it.
"Are you alright, Detective Hutchinson?"
It was Sinclair, next to him. How much time had past?
Cold, sweaty, out of sync. "I .... I'm fine. Thank you. Where are we at?"
"A quite violent reaction," Sinclair said musingly. "I'm sorry his mother had to be here for that. You too."
"Will it happen again?"
"I can't say. Anyway, he came back. Remarkable. But I'm very concerned about the fever and the infection. I want to x-ray the chest."
"What, take him to the x-ray department?"
"No, we don't have to do that, thank goodness. No, we'll bring the x-ray department here."
"What do you think?"
"I'm not sure. Well, that is ... well, I'll tell you if I'm right."
By that evening they knew he was right.
"He has pneumonia in both lungs," Hutch told Keeley on the phone. He had just stopped off at Starsky's apartment on Ridgeway. Nick was out, the apartment was in chaos. Hutch, depressed, just stood in the middle.
"He what? How come? Oh Hutch, that's so unfair." It was six in the morning in London, but she had called him, not able to sleep. "Can they treat it?"
"Well it's just drugs, more and more drugs. I swear he's had enough, but they're so good in the ICU, they're keeping him hanging on. This guy Sinclair seems to feel it's a mission. The nurses are the same."
"I'm with them," said Keeley. "Aren't you?"
Hutch could not bring himself to tell her what he thought, what he felt Starsky was going through. So he said, "Of course." Meanwhile there was the apartment. Starsky was pretty tidy, he imposed a certain order on his belongings and he made intermittent efforts to clean in a relaxed, bachelor sort of way. Nick had reduced the place to a hell of unwashed, piled crockery, abandoned clothes, discarded newspapers, CDs out of cases, furniture moved, water in puddles, beer bottles, cigarette ash and rubbish. Just in two or so days. Even to Hutch's chaotic style this was painful, and oddly disrespectful. But he knew, if he did anything to sort it out, Nick would be angry, and Nicky Starsky angry was not something Hutch wanted right now. So he left it, regretful, annoyed.
Starsky did not respond to the drug treatment. He remained in crisis, crushed by a delirium they could not control. During the day it sank a little, and he sank accordingly, into a near-comatose state beyond unconscious. As night fell the fever clawed back. A weird kind of routine had established with Hutch and the Starskys. Trisha was in a state of fear and depression that could only be alleviated by sleep, so she stayed at the hospital with Nick during the day and then crashed into oblivion overnight while Hutch covered the nightshift. He had given up going into work, although he responded to Jay Dean's request for him to come down when they brought in the latino teenager who had used the knife, finally apprehended after another botched hold-up at a fishing store down on the docks. Apprehended in possession of a bag full of knives.
Sullen, unrepentant, the nineteen year-old would not give up his cousin Raul and faced up to both Jason Dean and Hutch.
"Is this the youth responsible for the attack on Detective Starsky?" asked Detective Bestic from the Pacific East precinct who had gone into La Cuenca.
"That's him," said Jay. Hutch nodded mutely.
Bestic swung into the routine, wondering to himself if this was the same Hutchinson who rode in that weird red and white car. "Jorge Tenesta, you are hereby charged with wounding a police officer, attempted armed robbery and resisting arrest."
The teenager just stared at them.
"If Detective Starsky doesn't make it," Jay Dean said angrily, "You are going down for murder one. Nothing to say to that?"
"Jay," said Hutch evenly. "Read him his rights."
That night, lonely in the room in ICU, Hutch told Starsky. It was like all the nights that week, a helpless watch while Starsky, unwillingly, battled. They pumped fluid and penicillin and anti-pyretics into him and it seemed to pour back out of him all night while his sick lungs stretched and strained. The heartrate remained relatively stable, cantering slightly sometimes in response to unknown stresses. He had not come near to regaining consciousness.
"You know, buddy," Hutch said to him, almost delirious himself with fatigue and tension, when the clock was crawling towards four in the morning, Thursday into Friday, a week on. Four am. Hutch knew it was the hour at which the highest proportion of deaths occurred. Whenever it came around he always had a sense that the nursing staff were just that little bit more alert, carrying out observations more frequently than ever. "You know you don't have to keep going if you don't want to." His voice sounded clear and decisive in the dim room. "If you want out, that's OK. I don't want you to leave." He stopped. His throat had just clogged up. There were tears and he could hardly draw a breath. It had taken a week to get to it and now the damn things were dripping, unchecked, down his face, plopping on to his knees. "I don't want you to. But ... if you can't do this anymore .... Shit. Let me know at least, will you, Starsk? Because I feel like you want to go."
Knowing the vibration of the damn machines so well, he realized that it had started its tiny gallop again. Brushing a sleeve across his face he half glanced towards the glass to see if the nurses were on their way, but then his heart began to hammer as if it was trying to escape from his chest.
The voice was small, clipped. There was hardly any breath to push it out, but nevertheless it was wonderful in its clarity. Hutch moved his eyes around. Starsky still had his eyes shut, but there was a flicker of the lashes, tiny and brave.
"I'm here, buddy. Right here." He got hold of the cold-tipped fingers nearest him and pressed them with his own warm ones.
It seemed to take a massive effort, brutal and wearing, but somehow Starsky managed to lift his lids. Hutch searched the eyes that were before him, the sign of life not yet relinquished. They were full of fever, hurting eyes, but they were his own, not those of a man overcome.
"Hey," said Hutch gently. "You're here." He patted the icy fingers. Starsky tried to speak but it was too much. Hutch shook his head at him. "Just can it for now will you, Starsk, shush." Starsky swallowed, moved his head, closed his eyes, opened them again. "You know what I was saying, don't you, bud?" Hutch pressed on.
A nod. More effort to speak, but there was no breath.
"Well you're here now, guess that answers my question." A dissenting squeeze on his hand. Dissenting? Or agreeing? Again Hutch searched the familiar eyes. He felt like he was getting the message again. Their mind meld was years old. "I can see you're hurting, Starsk. The doctors here are willing you on like you wouldn't believe. The nurses. Your Mom, Nicky. And Clem. The guys. Goddamnit even that weird old man who lives next door to you ... and me too. We've been trying to drag you back ... but I can see it's costing. I think I know the answer, but give me a sign will you? DNR?"
Those eyes were watching him, long. A sigh interrupted the crushing breaths. He kept putting a little pressure on Hutch's hand. It spoke volumes. Hutch sat there until the fever took big hold again, until Starsky drifted away into the hard place once more, when his hand went limp. But still the breaths went in and out, trying to find a way, and his brain bubbled with the heat of the infection.
Nothing changed. The battle went on, although Hutch knew, he knew deep down that his partner was tired of fighting. On Sunday afternoon he drove to BCI to pick up Clem from her London flight. He parked in the terminal lot and went in to meet her right off the plane. The flight was half an hour late but she only had hand luggage -- her kit was being brought back by the company. Standing behind the barrier Hutch saw her come through next to a group of teenage Londoners in a high state of excitement. She was small and slight, strong-looking with unmistakeable steely limbs, her dark bob all messed up from the journey. She wore cut-off track pants and a sleeveless hoodie, her bag slung on her back. It was so great to see her. What a contrast she was to all the women Starsky had ever dated in the past. Quick-witted, sharp-tongued, extrovert and independent. They should be together, Hutch was convinced of it, even though they would drive each other crazy. Clem practically jumped into his arms. He staggered, realizing how weak and strung out he was.
The traffic coming back from BCI was slow-moving. So they sat drifting along Franklin Boulevard, Clem talking about the tour constantly, making sure Hutch knew that Sergey was indeed only her first-choice dancing partner, and friend, but nothing more. Again Hutch would not be drawn. He wondered if she was protesting too much, but then again he was in a particularly pessimistic frame of mind. They went straight to Memorial. Trisha was at Starsky's sleeping, and Nicky was supposed to be in ICU. Hutch was not surprised to find him absent. He showed Clem into the pale, dim room and went to back out but found that she had grabbed his sleeve and was holding on to it with a vicelike grip. She was shaking, because she had already seen what was there, the array of technology and human endurance on display, the wracked face, the intermittent murmuring. Clem pulled Hutch forward with her, although almost unaware of him.
At the bedside she let go. Her expressive face was working, taking in the reality. The cheerfulness of the journey back from BCI evaporated. Limply she took hold of the nearest hand.
"Cold," she said, surprised. "Honey are you cold?" She shook her head. "No, you're not. Shoot, you're hot. You're so damn hot ...Hutch, he's burning up, can't they stop it? Look at him!"
"I know," said Hutch, so weary. "It never seems to go away."
"He's saying something," said Clem. "Can you hear?"
Starsky's lips were moving slightly, there was a faint sound. "This is new," said Hutch. He leant down but the sound seemed more like a rasping breath than words.
"David, can you hear me?" Clem asked. "Can he hear me?"
"I'm not sure," said Hutch non-committally although he was pretty sure that Starsky could hear him. "Listen, Clem, I'm going to go get a cup of coffee or something. Talk to him -- warm up that hand." He slipped out.
He took Clem home later, back to the apartment in Hampton she shared with two other company members. He did not go in for a drink. She seemed exhausted, tearful.
It was Wednesday when Dr Sinclair said they were at the transition phase. Nicky had been at the hospital when things started to change and, terrified, he summoned Trisha and Hutch right away -- they had been picking at a takeaway at Hutch's.
"Transition?" said Trisha, remembering the term from her two labours when it had been seen as hard but wonderful.
They were in the family room, where they knew recently bereaved relatives were taken, all three of them, Trisha looking wild, Hutch crushed and Nicky like he wanted to bolt.
"Transition," Sinclair confirmed. "It's a term we use to describe the ... final stage of a chronic delirium. We might see sudden incongruous strength from a patient at this stage .. maybe speech and open eyes .... Sometimes attempts to get up and walk. It signals the brain's cutting loose, if you like, going for broke. Release or recovery." He had not thought they would ever reach this. "I think he needs you all with him."
"Oh jeez," said Nicky in his spectacularly unguarded way, "this is the fucking deathbed scene, I can't do that."
Trisha held her hand out to him, but Hutch just stared at the floor.
"Honey, you gotta," said Trisha in her persuasive way, as if she were trying to get him to go to work in the morning. She glanced at Hutch to help her but he remained staring stonily at the scratched linoleum.
"Shit," said Nicky, "Shit, shit, this is shit."
"Isn't it though," Hutch said. He headed out of the family room, past Dr Sinclair, down the corridor, so familiar now that he felt he had become institutionalized, and in the doors to that grim, shadowy place.
Starsky's condition had changed for sure. There was Eileen hanging on to one of his hands, the other with a wet, green hospital cloth clamped to his forehead. It was not clear if she was mopping his brow or holding him down. She was murmuring sweet nothings of encouragement to him. Jane Dickens was on the other side attaching a new bottle of fluid. There was a strange voice in the room. Somebody new.
Hiding said the voice. It was fierce and cracked, dried out and desperate.
Hutch swallowed several times, getting rid of the tightness. He had learned some great new techniques for anxiety this past nine days.
Gotta get out said the voice. Eileen motioned to Hutch to take over from her. As he slipped to Starsky's side and took a grip on his hand he saw Trisha come in, Nicky behind her, face ashen with fear. The hold Starsky got on him was a shock. He caught hold like a drowning man, but one with the strength to pull his rescuer down with him.
"Whoa," said Hutch, "Alright, alright, I'm here. You got me."
Get me out said the voice.
Jane had finished her job and moved aside to let Trisha in on Starsky's other side.
"Here's your Mom, David, try and relax now." Trisha sought her boy's other hand.
"It's OK, honey, I'm here. Try and calm down now. Shush, baby, sshhh."
Nicky stood rooted to the end of the bed with one hand across his lower jaw. Eileen wiped the brow again. Jane spoke soothingly.
Starsky did want to get off the bed. They could only stop him with Nicky's help, and Hutch noticed how the younger brother's expression opened up suddenly, like a ray of light had got in, and he saw underneath the face for the first time.
"Lay back, Davey," he said, much louder and more aggressive than the nurses or Trisha. "You can't get up, bro. Stay laying down, we'll help you. You got Mom and your buddy here, Davey. Hutch is right here. You hang on to him, but you gotta quieten down."
"We're right outside if you need us," Eileen said in Hutch's ear. She pulled the clear oxygen mask up next to his arm. "You may want this."
"Listen to me, Davey, quieten down, will you, this ain't helping." Suddenly Nicky sounded so like David. Trisha bent low over the hand she held, not able to speak now. She heard Nicky sounding like Davey, and this harsh other voice talking back to him. She did not ever remember hearing Nicky take control before. She could not look up at Davey's face, but sat there hearing everything he was saying.
Nicky, let me out. Dad's locked me in. Get the key will you. There's no light in here. Nicky, I don't like it in here. Dad might come home. I'm scared, Nick. Can you hear me? Nicky. Nick. Nick, let me out. Please, Nick.
And pushing, pushing against the door in the pitch black.
"Easy, Starsk, easy does it. It's OK. Hold on, but ease up there, buddy." Hutch's voice was the bassline under the insistent top notes of his partner. Nicky stood and listened to the pleas, his face crumpled. He remembered it all. He remembered hearing it as he crept out the back door. He remembered passing his father in uniform, staggering with whisky, coming the other way and his frisson of terror at what might happen. He remembered breaking into a run, to get away.
Did you hear me, Nick? Where were you? It was too dark, that's why I shouted. I thought you were there. Dad came back. Dad came back. Did you know, Nick? Were you there? Don't tell Mom, Nicky.
"It's all over, buddy, you're not there now. Hold my hand. You're not there."
Oh god, what is that? Get it out, get it out of me. Dad's real mad tonight, Nick, I think I did something. I musta done something. Hutch will help me. Where are you, Hutch? Did you hear me?
"I hear you, buddy. I'll help you."
The scene played over again a few times more. A mix of past and present. Other scenes. Much confusion, mumbling, the names of people none of them knew. There was some restless thrashing about during which Nick kept his hand clamped down on his brother's chest, looking fearfully over at Hutch from time to time to get validation for what he was doing. Hutch nodded at him, his hand locked in Starsky's. Then there were periods of straight fighting for breath with no words, during which they all three thought he was taking his last gasps of life, and then the harsh speech came back, roving over insignificance as well as hard life.
Dad's mad tonight. Stay close to Mom, Nick. Look after Mom, Nick.
"I will!" Nick shouted out at him. "I do! Tell him, Mom!"
But Trisha could not speak.
This is hard, Hutch. Too hard. I could go, Hutch, gotta go, Hutch. Nick, can you get me out of here? Dad's home. Mad again.
Drifting away. A dark place with a hill, steep on one side and easy the other, like an optical illusion. The hill had been there all the time but now it was becoming clearer. It was time to get over it. Not stop on the summit this time and turn back. Over the hill and head towards the good place. Never mind Nick. Never mind Dad. He was what he was. He didn't kill me. But that knife has. Gotta get over the hill. Hutch will understand.
Help me, Hutch, help me.
"I'm trying, buddy, I'm trying."
Quiet now. Suddenly much quieter. Trisha kneading his hand between her own, I love you, I love you, honey. No more to say. No strength. Just breathe it out. Is that Hutch there? God I hope so. Where did Nicky go?
Hutch reached for the oxygen mask. Starsky still had his left hand tightly in his own. The grip had not lessened, but he was struggling for air again now. Hard and harsh. Agonizing. Each breath a shudder.
All the time he breathed down Starsky kept hold of Hutch's hand. He was coming over the hill now. The breaths got longer and slower. Hard still, but longer and slower. Nearly there. Hutch became aware of a new rhythm. Going up softer, coming down quieter. The harsh breaths were gone. It sounded like breathing now, not grasping. Still the hand gripped. He was not going. He had come over the hill and it was easier down the other side. Hutch felt it.
Trisha did not know, not yet. She thought her son was almost gone, disappeared over the brow of that hard, pitiless hill. Nicky mis-read it too.
"It's alright," Hutch said, keeping the mask there.
Trisha looked up. "David?"
"He's breathing quiet," Hutch said. "Look. He's quiet. Nick, go get the nurses." He stayed in position, mask in place, hand in place, while Eileen and Jane did the obs they thought they wouldn't need. The heart monitor bumped raggedly on, but the raggedness was regular.
"Temperature down a few points," Eileen said, taking the ear thermometer and showing it to Jane,who glanced quickly, keenly at Trisha and Hutch. "David, can you hear me?"
"He still has my hand," Hutch said, marveling. "I mean, he's never stopped gripping it. He still has it." He moved his own hand and felt Starsky respond. "He knows I'm here."
Sinclair had come in. Hutch tried to move aside but Starsky would not let go. The doctor waved him back in place.
"Pressure's good. Temperature down a shade. Pupils reactive. Cardiac arrhythmia still present. David, you're doing so great, keep going." He glanced at Hutch. "Keep hold."
"He won't let me go."
The quieter breathing went on. It did not fade away, and when Trisha realized this, she looked up again, starting to believe. She looked over at Hutch. He nodded. He looked down at Nick, who was clear now too.
"Doc, are we in business here?" he said. It was David again -- his voice, the childish optimism, but coming from Nick.
"We may be," Sinclair said. Hutch noticed for the first time that he had a thin sheen of sweat on his cultured upper lip. "Stay right where you are, Ken, and Mrs Starsky. Let's see if David can keep this going."
"Of course he can keep it going," Eileen said unexpectedly. She was at Hutch's elbow. "We're going to make sure of it."