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The Sacrifice - Part Five
Eddie looked up from cleaning his gun as Capernicus walked out of the office. "How'd it go?"
His boss nodded briefly. "Dobey'll find Hutchinson. They're going to want proof."
"Figured as much. We'll just have to make the pig squeal."
Capernicus looked down to where Starsky lay. "Exactly. If he won't talk, we can always take a Polaroid of him with today's newspaper and have it delivered to the police station. That's worked in other situations before. Eddie, go round up Johnson and the others, I want a man posted on every entryway from here to the wharf. Anybody who even resembles Hutchinson gets within ten feet of this place, blow his head off."
"Sure thing, Mr. Capernicus." Eddie paused for a moment. "What if he brings more cops with him?"
"Then we stick with the original plan, Hutchinson in exchange for Starsky. It'd mean we'd have to make a fast trip out of the country, but it'd be worth it to drop Hutchinson out of a plane over the Pacific on our way."
As soon as the two men left the printing area, Kevin risked a look over the skid of paper he'd been hiding behind and moved to where Starsky lay pathetically struggling. Eddie had long since given up the need to bind him, knowing that the detective was in no condition to necessitate it.
"David, di-di-did you hear? Th-they're going t-t-t-to call Hutch and h-he'll c-c-c-come rescue you."
Starsky had a hard time forming words, though his mind was surprisingly clear. "Kevin...would you...let me have...a drink...of...your Coke?"
"Sure. I'll g-g-get it." Kevin crept back to the crate and returned quickly with the half-finished soda and a portion of his stale sandwich. "Let me h-h-help you sit up..."
Kevin began to lift Starsky into a sitting position, but the movement caused the detective to cry out in pain. At that same moment Eddie reentered the warehouse. Seeing Kevin with Starsky, he glared and rapidly crossed over to the young man. Kevin dropped the soda and Starsky, the fall sending the detective back into a state of semi-consciousness and smashing the Coke bottle on the floor in the process.
Eddie cuffed Kevin on the side of the head and dragged him out of the shop by the arm to the adjacent storeroom, leaving Starsky lying on his side. As his vision cleared, his eyes came to rest on the broken bottle, a scant foot from his face. Starsky remained motionless as Eddie flung open the storeroom door, hollering something at Kevin, then stomped back across the print shop and out the dock door.
Starsky fought against it the darkness that clawed at him. Focus, focus...think of other things besides the pain, think... Memories rolled over him like a flood. Hutch's arms around his shoulders when the poison burned his guts so badly all he could do was lay in his partner's arms and gasp in the torment. Hutch carrying him through the Italian restaurant when he was too stunned to move. Hutch's tears as they sat on the floor playing monopoly, unwrapping Terry's farewell gifts. The joy in Hutch's face at the hospital when he first woke up after Gunther's assassination attempt.
But this time... This time there would be no more rescues--no more last-second saves.
A sob escaped, and Starsky gagged as the tears brought up congestion from his fluid-filled lungs. He spit out what he was able to and managed to bring his hand up to wipe at the fluid on his mouth. Though his eyes were unfocused, he could still make out the fresh blood he had coughed up. With an uncanny certainty, he knew the blood was not from his injured mouth. He had seen too many fellow officers with gunshot wounds to the stomach, too many soldiers with punctured lungs. Starsky knew what coughing up blood meant.
He would be dead by evening.
As he lay there, two things became clear: first, if Capernicus contacted Hutch, nothing in heaven or hell would stop Hutch from coming for his partner; and second, Hutch would be dead before they ever saw each other again. There was no way Capernicus would let Hutch elude him again. If Capernicus forced Starsky to speak during a phone call, or showed him alive in a photograph, Hutch would risk coming alone, without Backup or protection. But if I were already gone...Hutch would know it, somehow. Yes, he would still come to retrieve his body, but would bring an army of cops to avenge his partner's death. But alive... Allowing Hutch to give himself up was never an option, so there was no need to further contemplate what he had to do.
Now all he needed to do was find a way out.
Starsky attempted to blink his vision clear again, and his eyes came to rest on the shattered soda bottle. The thought of dying should have terrified him, but he was beyond caring, beyond fear. His sacrifice would be the last thing he could do for his partner.
It took incredible effort to drag himself the remaining distance to the broken bottle. The exertion brought on a spell of coughing, bringing another batch of bloody froth trailing down his cheek. Starsky had to give himself a moment to regain his strength, but felt a grim sense of satisfaction. By not binding him, they had underestimated him again.
Swollen and clumsy fingers brushed over the pieces of glass, searching for a suitable piece from the breakage. The bottom of the bottle remained intact with an uneven scalloping of glass rising from its base. One portion stuck up an inch above the rest at a deadly point. Another muscle spasm from his abdomen jarred Starsky like a seizure. Be gone soon, anyway...just can't take any chances...and I'll be damned if they'll use me first to get to Hutch! After days of captivity and losing control over his own fate, there was a fierce satisfaction in knowing he still had control over how he would die.
The jagged bottle glowed dully from the dim overhead light. Starsky drew another shaky breath, overwhelmed by pain and the enormity of what he was about to do. Unsteadily, he extended his right arm, trying to judge the distance between his wrist and the free-standing piece of glass. Starsky raised his arm as high as he could and forced himself to keep his eyes open and locked in on the sharp point. The arm trembled in the air for a moment before plunging toward the jagged edge.
"Nothing!" Hutch felt himself at the end of his rope. The hour and a half spent interrogating Randolph and Capernicus' former employees yielded little. No early call from the extortionist had come through on any of the switchboard lines to Dobey, and the officers staking out Hutch's apartment had checked in, reporting no calls had been received there either. Hutch leaned heavily against the wall outside the holding tanks. "We haven't got a single thing we can use. Good God, what am I going to do?"
Dobey gripped Hutch's shoulder and gave it a quick shake. "First thing you're going to do is go get a sandwich and some coffee before you fall over, then you're going to meet me in my office. Something's gonna break soon, Hutch. We've just got to be ready when it does." I just hope it isn't you that breaks first, son.
Hutch tore his eyes away from the ceiling. Giving a brief nod, he made his way unsteadily down the hall toward the commissary.
Dobey watched Hutch stagger away, the effects of countless days without sleep evident in his every movement. "Good God, is right." The captain's eyes looked past the ceiling. "Dear Lord, what are we going to do?"
Starsky stared at where his arm lay on the cold cement, scant inches past the dagger-like glass. Survival instincts had kicked in and subconsciously forced his arm away from certain death at the last second. A self-incriminating sob escaped his lips. What kind of a man are you? You've lived your life for him, why should it be that hard to die for him?
The rebuke was enough to raise the shaking arm back into the air. God...please remind him how much I loved him.
Starsky's right arm plunged downward a second time, his eyes riveted on the broken bottle. Even with his agonized muscles screaming in protest, he was able to pierce his wrist on the shard. An uncontrollable cry escaped as the glass ripped through muscles and veins, slipping between bones and nicking the main artery. Blood immediately began to pool and flow from the critical wound.
Without conscious forethought, Starsky began to whisper what he remembered of Kaddish, the ancient prayer for the dead: "Y'hay shlomo rabbo min sh'mayo--May there be abundant peace from Heaven--v'chayim alaynu v'al kol Yisroel--and life, upon us and upon all Israel--v'imru Omein--and say Amen--Oseh sholom bimromov--He who makes peace in his high holy places-- hu ya'aseh sholom olaynu--may He bring peace upon us--v'al kol yisroel--and upon all Israel--vimru Omein--and say Amen."
A surge of fear coursed through Starsky with the thought that perhaps he had not severed enough of the major artery. If that were the case, then he would need to release the glass serving as a dam to hold back his life's blood. Shaking fingers reached out to pull the imbedded shard free, but Starsky found it increasingly difficult to get a sufficient hold on the slick surface.
Cutting the fingers of his left hand repeatedly with each attempt, the exertion left Starsky panting. As the comfortless darkness began to overtake him, the dying man prayed the initial wound would be fatal.
Kevin had found a large scrap of machine felt buried in a storage room that could serve as a blanket. As long as Mr. Capernicus and Eddie didn't know about it, it would be worth trying to get it to David. Coming upon the prone body, Kevin was overwhelmed by the amount of new blood draining from the unmoving man. The blanket was dropped, forgotten.
"Eddie! Mr. Capernicus! Oh, David..."
Kevin's distressed cries brought the two men quickly to where they had left the detective an hour earlier. Seeing the blood surrounding him, Eddie rushed forward and knelt beside Starsky.
"I don't believe it! The idiot tried to kill himself!"
"What the...? Is he still alive?"
Kevin dropped to his knees and began rocking, arms hugged around himself. Eddie found a weak and thready pulse in Starsky's throat. "Barely. He's bleeding like a stuck pig, though."
"Well, don't just sit there, wrap up his wrist, that'll help stop the bleeding. Don't bother taking the glass out, just raise his arm up or something." Capernicus ran an unsteady hand through his graying hair. The glare he focused on Eddie cowered him. "Do you want to tell me how this happened?"
"I...I mean...I just went outside..."
"What about him?" Capernicus jabbed an accusatory finger in Kevin's direction. "I thought he was supposed to be watching him."
"He...I didn't tell him to. I told him to go into the storeroom to stay out of the way..."
"Never mind, you imbecile!" Capernicus cut Eddie off with the slashing of his hand. The dirty rags Eddie was wrapping around Starsky's wrist were stemming the flow of blood, though there was still a considerable amount of seepage. "We still need him. You keep him alive until we get Hutchinson."
"That's crazy! In the shape he's in...how do you expect me to keep him alive?"
"That's your problem. If the cop dies before we get Hutchinson, you're gonna join him in Hell."
Four hours had passed since the initial call had come in. Hutch paced Dobey's office like a man possessed. "Are you sure there's no way we could've missed it if they called early?"
"Of course, I'm sure. And if they couldn't get through to me, do you honestly think they would have given up? They want you bad, Hutch. They're just letting us sweat a little."
"Do you think something could have gone wrong? What about Starsky? What if..."
"Don't. Don't start with the `what ifs'. We'll know when we know."
The energy that had propelled the blond across the room for the past two hours seemed to leave him instantly. Hutch slumped in the chair across from Dobey's desk. Placing his face in his hands, the detective hoped his intertwined fingers masked his silent tears.
When the call came into the precinct, it could have very easily been chalked up as one of the typical night shift crazies. If it hadn't been for a change in the duty roster, the call might not have even been taken seriously.
"BCPD, what's the nature of your emergency?" Tanya Bartonelli was dog-tired. It had been a long, long week full of life's little aggravations: a dead car battery, a sick puppy, and contract workers that were taking their own sweet time in finishing her deck. The last thing she needed on her shift was yet another prank call. At first, all she heard was heavy breathing, as if someone had been running or... Here we go again. With a bit of agitation in her voice she repeated herself.
"BCPD, what's the nature of your emergency?"
"Th-th-they...they're go-go-gonna k-k-k-kill h-h-him...I c-c-c-can't le-le-le-let them d-d-d-do that...th-th-they..."
Something in the man's voice caught Tanya's attention. The caller was either stoned or drunk, or something...something just wasn't quite right. The now alert dispatcher tried again.
"Sir, you need to slow down. What is your name, please?"
"Th-th-they're going t-t-t-to kill hi-hi-hi-him!"
Kevin had waited until Eddie and Capernicus had left him alone to watch over Starsky, then crept into the office. A quick yank on the center drawer revealed the detective's wallet and I.D. Kevin dug through both until he came across a business card with Starsky's name on it and a phone number. Nearing panic, he quickly dialed the precinct number, all the while looking fearfully through the broken window for Eddie and Capernicus' return.
"Yes, sir, I understand. But I can't help you unless you slow down and give me the information that we need. Do you understand?"
Kevin took a deep breath to steady himself. Mikey had always told him that when he got excited or upset no one could understand him. Anxiously, he swallowed hard and concentrated as he had been taught to do. "Ye-yes, I unde-de-derst-stand, bu-bu-but please hu-hurry. They're go-going to ki-kill him!"
The dispatcher sighed with eternal patience. She realized that the caller probably wasn't drunk, but could very well be one of the thousands of crazies living in the city who called to report a murder every time one of their favorite soap opera characters got offed.
"Who are they going to kill, sir?"
"D-D-David! M-m-m-my friend, D-d-d-David St-Starsky!"
"Who did you say?"
"They're c-c-coming!" Kevin breathed in terror. The receiver was slammed down against the cradle as Kevin sprinted from the room to his chair near the unconscious detective.
Bartonelli received no response to her repeated inquiries, but could hear muffled noises in the background. Apparently, her frantic caller had not hung up the receiver properly, leaving the line active. The dispatch operator's fingers flew over the keyboard, as the tracing device continued its search of the line.
Bartonelli pressed her headphones tighter to her ear to try and discern clues from the distant background noises. She could make out footsteps approaching the discarded receiver. The original caller or who? The killer?
A different, gruff voice barked into the phone, "Hello? Who's there?"
Intuition caused Bartonelli to hold her breath, praying her computer wouldn't choose to alert her that moment the trace was completed, and at the same time praying the man wouldn't hang up before she was able to discern their location.
Dobey scribbled out the address of a secluded warehouse section off pier thirty-eight as Bartonelli rolled the information off for him. Excitement welled up inside him as he barked out Hutch's name to get his attention. The intensity of his captain's voice propelled Hutch into the office.
"Captain?" The fear reflected in the detective's eyes was enough to make Dobey cringe. "What have you got?"
A feral grin graced Dobey's face. "Him."
Hutch jerked the wheel of the Torino to the left, narrowly missing the small coupe that had ventured through the intersection, unsuspecting of the red whirlwind that barreled down La Porte toward the ocean. Even with lights and siren, Hutch was moving through the business district so fast that he would be on top of any oncoming traffic before they heard the car's mournful wail. Tonight the siren sounded more like the hunting cry of a wolf closing in on its prey.
I'm coming, Starsk. Hang in there. Hang on, so when I show up you can ask me `what took you so long?'
Dobey barely agreed to let Hutch go out ahead of the patrol cars he was issuing, knowing there was nothing in heaven or on earth that could have stopped the desperate man. He did manage to make Hutch promise he would only search the area and not move in until Backup arrived.
They both knew it was a promise he wouldn't keep.
As Hutch made his way into the wharf-side warehouse district, he cut the siren and pulled the bubble light off of the dashboard. Getting out of the car, Hutch scanned the area, grateful for the remaining sunlight illuminating the docks. A flash of movement from the top of a nearby building caught his eye, and Hutch looked up in time to see the silhouette of a man armed with a rifle disappear from the roof.
The hunted was about to become the hunter.
Capernicus sent Wally Johnson back up to the rooftop with a two-way radio after he'd reported seeing Hutch through his field glasses drive onto the nearby dock. The detective would soon be in his range. Capernicus then crossed over to where Eddie was prodding the unconscious Starsky with his boot.
"Well, Eddie, it looks like our hand's been tipped even without making contact with Hutchinson."
"What do you mean?"
"He's here at the wharf. Somehow Hutchinson found out where we are, so it's just a matter of time before he finds this print shop."
"So what's the big deal? That's what you've wanted all along."
Capernicus grasped the bigger man by his shirt and drew him in until the two were scant inches apart.
"The `big deal' as you put it, and I'll use small words so you understand, is that first, somehow, someone tipped him off. And second, cops travel in packs like dogs. If Hutchinson is on his way, then you can be sure he's not alone." Capernicus shoved him away, causing Eddie to trip over Starsky's innate form and sprawl on the floor beside him. "That, you moron, is the `big deal'."
"Okay, okay, I get the picture. But I'm not the one who spilled it."
Capernicus gave him a thoughtful look. "No, probably not you. But who else?" He looked slowly around the room. "Eddie, have you seen Kevin lately?"
"Kevin? No, I...oh, come on now, Mr. Capernicus." Eddie stood up and crossed back over to his boss. "You don't think that Kevin was...was smart enough to do that?"
"Or dumb enough. I've learned in the last few days that he's just full of surprises, so let's find out. Kevin! Kevin, come on over here, I have something to discuss with you!"
The two men paused for a moment, listening intently. Finally, as Capernicus was about to call out a second time, a shuffling was heard behind some crates. "Kevin, come over here. I need to ask you a question."
The lilting tones did nothing to quell Kevin's fears as he stepped out into view. "That's a good boy." Capernicus' voice was like silk. "Come out here, Kevin. David's been asking for you."
Somehow Kevin didn't believe the older man, but hesitantly took a step out of the shadows. Capernicus drew his gun and fired, striking Kevin squarely in the chest. The bullet flung the young man backward, the overwhelming pain not erasing the look of surprise on his gentle face.
"What the...?" Eddie exclaimed. Disbelief and the explosive roar of the .38 rocking him back. "What if it wasn't him that squealed?"
"Doesn't matter." Capernicus calmly put the pistol back in his belt and returned to the small office to retrieve his briefcase. "He'd outlived his usefulness long ago. Get the body out of here."
Starsky tried to keep his rasping breathing even, maintaining the pretense of unconsciousness. Still, he couldn't prevent the single tear from escaping down his cheek.
Every nerve in Hutch's body was taut as he scanned the deserted buildings, the pounding of his heart sounding unnaturally loud in his ears. Silently, he padded along the walls, keeping himself deep in the shadows. As he reached the first corner, he crouched, then risked a look down the alley that separated the buildings. In the second doorway, no more than a few yards from him, was the unmistakable glow of a cigarette and the faint smell of tobacco wafting to him.
Without his eyes leaving the figure in the doorway, Hutch felt the ground around him for a stone. He then lobbed the rock at the corner of the next building, directly across from himself. The shadowy figure tossed down his cigarette and gripped his rifle, crossing the alleyway to investigate the noise. As the gunman paused at the corner, Hutch stole up behind him and brought down the butt of the Python behind his ear, knocking him to the ground, unconscious. Hutch quickly handcuffed and gagged the man with his own handkerchief. The hood's rifle was slung over Hutch's shoulder as he trotted back through the shadows to Starsky's car.
Hutch leaned into the Torino and depressed the button on the microphone. "All units, this is Zebra Three confirming address at Pier thirty-eight, southwest corner, lot area 1036, and requesting immediate assistance. Possible sighting of suspects at building Twelve A. Proceed Code Two, repeat Code Two. Possible Eleven-ninety-nine."
Hutch released the microphone and the static was immediately broken by a Baker unit's response. "Ten-four, Zebra Three, this is Baker Five confirming en route, ETA three minutes, no lights or sirens. Stand by for Captain Dobey."
Hutch fairly shook in his impatience. He was about to speak into the microphone again when the sound of a single gunshot from within the nearest building broke the silence of the wharf.
"Shot fired, I'm going in!" he barked and threw the microphone into the car. The blond's long strides ate up the tarmac as he made his way toward the warehouse, each footstep a prayer that he wasn't already too late.
The two-way radio at Capernicus' hip crackled to life. "He's coming, Mr. Capernicus."
Capernicus snatched the receiver off his belt. "You see him, Johnson?"
"Then take him out now!" The extortionist slammed the radio unit on top of the desk, followed by both of his hands to either side of it as he leaned heavily against the wooden top. Thinking furiously for a moment, he turned to the print shop in time to see Eddie shutting the door to the storeroom where he had placed Kevin's body.
Capernicus charged into the print shop and grabbed the bloodstained wooden chair, dragging it toward the office. Here he would have the best vantage point and the most protection from Hutchinson and his Backup. As Eddie returned he jabbed a finger in Starsky's direction. "Get him up. Yes, get him up."
Eddie unceremoniously hauled the unconscious detective to the chair and looked around the room for the handcuffs.
"No time for that." The extortionist picked a roll of duct tape off the floor and quickly bound Starsky's wounded arms behind him. Capernicus yanked the detective's head back by the hair, holding him up from where he slumped in the chair. The .38 appeared in his hand and rested against Starsky's temple.
"If Hutchinson makes it past our men on the roof, I still have my trump card to play."
Hutch's headlong flight toward the warehouse would have ended abruptly if he hadn't stumbled. Several consecutive days without sleep had sapped his coordination and agility. As the detective twisted to dodge a broken skid he hadn't seen until he was upon it, the sniper took aim from the roof and fired. As the shot blew past him, instincts kicked in and propelled Hutch to his left, tumbling behind some abandoned ink barrels. Hutch awkwardly holstered his Python and hefted the rifle, waiting for a second shot and popped up, firing in the general direction of the gunman. He waited a split second before ducking down, hoping to glimpse the flare from the sniper's rifle.
As a third shot rang out, Hutch shifted his position, hoping to elude the sniper, then popped back up and took aim. But before he had a chance to pull the trigger, the distinctive sound of a third rifle fired closer still. Instinct again sent him facedown on the cement. In looking up to locate the new shooter, Hutch caught sight of Wally Johnson falling gracelessly from the rooftop to the alley below.
The sound of several feet running greeted Hutch as he wearily pushed himself to his knees. Dobey transferred his own rifle to his left hand and extended his right to the detective. Hutch's blue eyes spoke his gratitude as he took the proffered hand and was assisted to his feet. Nodding to his captain, Hutch turned and sprinted toward the warehouse doors with Dobey, Agent Taylor and a dozen patrolmen close behind him.
Starsky drifted in and out of consciousness. Simply breathing took up all of his energy. Voices infiltrated his mind, volumes changing at disturbing rates. The pain that coursed through him seemed familiar now, almost as if it had always been a part of him. Occasionally it would intensify, forcing him to the brink of blacking out. But now he had to stay alert--Hutch's life depended on it.
He could barely make out Eddie's frantic, "He's coming!" and Capernicus', "Let him come. He won't leave here alive."
Starsky continued his struggle to remain conscious. There was still one more thing he could do before the darkness overtook him for the last time.
Hutch was so exhausted he gave up trying to kick in the warehouse door after one attempt. A well-meaning patrolman came forward to try as well, but Hutch handed him the rifle and waved him off, then blew the door lock apart with a single shot from the Python. Stealth had been nullified by the shootout with the sniper. Now the only thing left was taking out Capernicus and getting to his partner.
A fierce shove erupted the door open. Hutch burst through like an avenging angel with the wrath of God burning in his eyes. The room was filled with shadows, the only light trickling in stemming from the dwindling daylight. Capernicus and Eddie were merely phantoms planted before the office. A dozen purposeful steps placed Hutch in the middle of the room, his gun leveled at Capernicus' head. Eddie nervously stood behind and just to the side of his boss, obviously hiding something, though his hands were in plain sight.
Even the entrance of the dozen patrolmen couldn't drown out the sharp click of the Python's trigger cocking back. "You've been looking for me, Capernicus." Hutch ground out each word with a deadly precision. "Here I am."
Capernicus appeared to be unruffled, even facing fifteen gun barrels directed at him.
"So you are. It's about time you found me. Perhaps you're not the detective you think you are, Hutchinson."
"Shut up. Where's my partner?"
"Skipping the pleasantries? Very well, have it your way." The two men stepped aside, revealing the chair that held Starsky's ravaged body. Eddie shoved the chair from behind, moving it and its occupant ahead a few feet into the waning sunlight.
Hutch's blood froze in his veins, his weapon wavering from its deadly bead on Capernicus. That can't be...please, no! If it hadn't been the man whose face he knew better than his own, Hutch would never have recognized his partner.
Capernicus stood rigidly next to the grotesque figure hunched over in the chair. It appeared that only his grip on the matted curls kept Starsky from falling to the floor. Capernicus' other hand held a .38 pressed tightly against the detective's temple.
The sound of multiple hammers cocking behind him both alarmed and reassured Hutch. He held out his free hand to hold the reinforcements back, but his eyes never wavered from the grisly sight before him. "Stay back! Hold your fire!"
Out of his peripheral vision Hutch could see his captain take a hesitant step beside him. Dobey also called out for the uniforms to hold their position.
A moment of silence dominated the warehouse space, as if every man in the room quit breathing. Every man but Starsky. His breath came in shallow and tortured rasps that reached the ears of everyone in the room. Capernicus gave Hutch a moment to drink it all in before finally breaking the explosive silence.
"You were supposed to come alone, Hutchinson. Now that half of California's finest are here, we'll have to revise our plans." Capernicus looked on with perverse amusement as Hutch's face drained of color. "What's the matter, Hutchinson? You don't recognize your partner?" Capernicus jerked the hand holding Starsky's head back, revealing more of the battered face to his audience. Hutch's gut twisted into a knot at the sight of the destroyed features, hardly recognizable in its deformity. Starsky's skin seemed waxen and far, far too pale, a thin sheen of sweat glistened dully. The only sign of life came from the labored breathing and the fresh trail of blood that ran down his throat.
"You..." There were no words Hutch could bring to mind that embodied the hatred he had for the man before him. He involuntarily took a step forward, every muscle in his body trembling with a burning rage, except for the arm extending his gun. Only the cocking of Capernicus' .38's trigger froze Hutch's advance as nothing else could.
"I wouldn't advise it, Hutchinson. There's only one reason your partner's still alive. Drop your guns--all of you--or I will put him out of his misery right here and now."
No one in the room moved. Capernicus glared malevolently at Hutch. "Last chance. You drop your guns and get Hutchinson over here, or Starsky's dead."
Hutch hesitated for only a split second before slowly lowering the gun to the side of his body, stiffly crouching to set the Python down. Capernicus marginally relaxed his hold on Starsky's head.
The familiar sound of the Python's hammer being returned to its safe position was all the indication Starsky needed to know Hutch was surrendering. Utilizing the absolute end of his strength, he awkwardly threw his weight forward and fell out of the chair, taking everyone in the room by surprise. Capernicus' gun, still aimed at Starsky's head, unintentionally fired in response to the movement.
Reflexes allowed Hutch to continue his descent into a firing crouch. Six continuous slugs caught Capernicus high in his chest, abdomen and face, forcing him backward in a grotesque death dance until the weight of his corpse drew him to the ground. As Eddie attempted to draw his own gun and flee, one slug from Captain Dobey's service revolver struck him high in the shoulder and sent him to the floor.
Within a second the room was perfectly still, the silence only broken by the reverberating shots echoing through the deserted print shop. All eyes were focused on the broken and bleeding bodies lying on the floor, the forgotten wooden chair separating two of the still figures. Rage and anguish coursed through Hutch, finally erupting into a bellow of despair that propelled him forward, the Python dropping forgotten at his side. When he reached his partner, he fell to his knees, overwhelmed by the sight of the broken shell before him, fresh blood seeping from the bullet wound at the back of Starsky's head. All other sound and activity fell away as Hutch tenderly reached out to touch him, hesitating briefly at the suffering evident there, before laying his trembling hand on Starsky's back.
For me...you took all of this for me...how can I live with that? How can I live without you?
Hutch's heart skipped a beat when he realized the slight movement under his fingertips was not from his own shaking, but from Starsky's ragged breathing. His eyes widened with the awareness that his partner was not dead.
"Get an ambulance in here, now!" Hutch bellowed over his shoulder.
Captain Dobey was in the process of swallowing back tears as he picked up Hutch's discarded gun. At Hutch's cry he rushed over to his side.
"It's already en route, called in before we got to the wharf. The uniforms are directing it in. I..." Dobey paused at the sight of Starsky's almost indiscernible features. "Dear God..."
"But he's alive..." Hutch whispered in awe, afraid to move Starsky for fear of causing him additional pain. "Oh, Starsk..."
Starsky's eyes were blackened to a midnight hue. The left eyelid was torn, seemingly held in place with dried blood. A large protrusion and laceration over his right brow threatened a skull fracture. Vivid bruises layered his body in varying stages of age and color. Apprehensive hands explored the matted curls where blood continued to seep, determining the extent of the bullet wound. Rather than finding the penetration point, Hutch discovered a graze bleeding profusely from broken skin, but not from entering the skull. In light of the severity of Starsky's condition, the relief that should have been overwhelming was only marginal.
"It's only a flesh wound, it...it only grazed him."
"Thank God," the captain breathed. Dobey crouched across from Hutch, his eyes filling again with unshed tears as he took in the sight of his friend. He pulled out his clean handkerchief and applied gentle pressure to the back of Starsky's head. At a loss of what to do, Hutch pulled out his jackknife and began sawing away at his partner's restraints. Slowly, the duct tape began to fall away from the bound arms. A single, bulky piece remained wrapped tightly around Starsky's right wrist, securing a filthy rag and a hard object to it. Unsure of what lay beneath the makeshift bandage, Hutch left the cloth in place. The raspiness of his partner's breathing alarmed him.
"Cap'n, I know we shouldn't move him until the ambulance gets here, but I'm afraid he can't breathe well this way. Help me get him on his back." Dobey placed careful hands on either side of Starsky's head and, in unison, the two maneuvered him onto his back, cautious in the event of past trauma to the neck or spine. As Hutch continued to monitor his partner's breathing, a uniformed officer ran up to the captain.
"Sir, there's still more of Capernicus' men outside..." Gunfire punctuated the officer's statement. "Our unit has them surrounded, but they're blocking the ambulance from getting through." With a snarl Dobey propelled himself onto his feet and steered the uniform out of the warehouse, trailed by Agent Taylor. The captain would put an end to this siege if he had to pick off each gunman himself.
Left alone for a moment, Hutch began an endless litany to his partner, trying to offer comfort and encouragement. He tenderly repositioned Starsky's right hand off the floor and across his partner's stomach. "What's this from, huh, pal?" What kind of hell have you been through? Trembling hands traveled up the immobile man's arm. So cold--shock? Without a second thought, Hutch scissored his legs and eased himself under his partner's torso so Starsky nestled in the crook of his arm. The labored breathing seemed to sound less distressed than it had when he was lying flat, but it was still unnerving. Hutch wrapped his other arm around the cooling man, fighting the desire to pretend the mangled body he held was not his partner's.
A second officer jogged over to join Hutch with a blanket retrieved from his patrol car. With quiet efficiency he draped the blanket over the prone figure. "We've almost got it taken care of out there, Sergeant. Ambulance'll be here in a few minutes." The officer attempted to give Hutch a smile of encouragement.
Hutch turned his attention back to his partner, gently securing the blanket as best he could. Starsky's head lolled to one side, struggling to lift, too weak to even rise up. Hutch tenderly placed his hand into the matted curls and raised it so it rested against his chest, easing Starsky's discomfort.
"It's okay, buddy. It's me, I'm here." One eye opened a fraction against the swelling and crusted blood. Hutch searched the gaze for any sign of recognition, but the lack of response shook him to his core. How many times had he closed the eyes of friends? How many men had he killed in the name of justice, and mercifully lowered their eyelids in death? The single cobalt eye meeting his stare was like one already dead, the spark of life extinguished. The overwhelming remorse forced a sob from Hutch's throat as he turned his head away. He almost missed the voice as soft as the wind.
Hutch's head snapped back to his partner's face. He had lost hope of ever hearing his name spoken by his partner again. "Starsk! Thank God! I...just take it easy, I'm here. Everything's gonna be okay, now. Just hold on a little bit longer..."
Matted lashes fluttered, open fractionally. Hutch could see that the entirety of Starsky's right eye was bloodshot, showing no white around the midnight iris.
A second choking sob ripped from Hutch's throat. Tears that had been surfacing overflowed down his face.
"That's my line, pal. Starsk...I can't believe...just...just hang on, okay? Calvary's coming."
"You...n'hurt?" Starsky's words were breathy, barely audible. His breathing came in high-pitched wheezes, the result of flailed ribs and fluid-filled lungs.
"Yes! Yes, I'm fine...just...be still."
"Don't worry about it, just a few strays. We're okay now. Capernicus is dead, he can't hurt you anymore, I promise." Hutch brushed away the bright red blood that began to trickle again down his partner's jaw. It took a supreme effort not to give in to despair. "You...you just hang in there."
Hutch looked wildly around the room for additional officers not in the process of rousting Capernicus' remaining men. "Dickerson! Nann! There's another injured man in some sort of storeroom, check it out!"
The two uniformed officers nodded to him and began searching the warehouse for a storage room. Hutch quickly turned his attention back to his partner. "Okay, Starsk, they'll take care of him. Don't worry..."
A wave of agony lanced through Starsky, eliciting a strangled cry. His back arched with the severity of the pain, sapping the breath from him. One hand reached out blindly and Hutch interlaced his fingers between his partner's bruised ones.
"Easy, buddy, easy. Don't try and talk now, just....just hang on..."
The pain passed, but left Starsky gasping for breath and seemingly even weaker than before. Hutch's mind raced in desperation against the horror of the moment. Other times, so many times before, he had found his partner at the last possible instant and Starsky would grouse at him, a brave front to mask his fear. But not this time. This time there were no `what took you so long?' or `how do I look' gibes to offer relief.
"...'isten..." A single tear escaped from Starsky's left eye, mingling with the dried blood to leave a brown trail down his cheek. Hutch stroked the tear away, unmindful of his own, and shushed his partner, trying to keep him calm.
"No...lis'en...Hutch...I...I....we were...the best...huh?" Hutch felt a cold touch on his heart as surely as he felt his partner's chilled skin under his fingertips. "Tell...Dobey...'n Hug...tell `em...tell..."
"No." Hutch shook his head adamantly. "No, you can tell them later...just..."
Starsky's glazed eye opened a fraction wider and made contact with Hutch's tear-filled ones. The midnight gaze that Hutch knew so well cleared for an instant.
"...aw, Hutch...don't cry...s'okay..." Another jolt of pain lanced through him. "Hutch... r'member...I loved...you..."
"No...no! You're not doing this! You are not saying goodbye!"
"Hutch...s'time...I can't..." A racking cough convulsed through Starsky, bringing more frothing blood. Hutch recognized the unmistakable sound of the death rattle. "...you... hav'ta...let...me go now..."
"No! Not yet! You can't give up, Starsk!" Frantically, Hutch wiped at the stream running from his partner's mouth.
"Hutch, please...it's...hard...I can't....let me go..."
"No! You listen to me, Starsky! I need you here with me! I can't do this without you!"
"`M so tired...so...tired...of pain..."
Hutch encircled Starsky's shoulders, as if holding him tighter could hold him back from death.
"Starsky try! If you love me, then hold on!"
"Then don't leave me! Promise you'll hold on!"
Overwhelming fatigue and pain forced a sob from Starsky, all strength gone, the life running out of him. He wanted so much to simply let go and give in to the comforting darkness of death. Finally, he nodded marginally, silent sobs breaking forth as gasps.
"Say it! Say it, Starsky! You've never broken your word to me."
"...I..." Another onslaught of pain ripped through Starsky, arching his back and tearing the breath from him. Hutch's grip never wavered, never offered him release from the vow. "...I... promise..."
"Swear to it! By...by..." Hutch's mind raced. They both knew that Hutch would one day forgive him for breaking his word and slipping away. There had to be something more for Starsky to swear by that would demand his great heart to try. Hutch's blue eyes took on a darker glint. "Me and thee..."
Starsky's bloodshot gaze held his partner's for a heartbeat. There was no other oath by which he could promise that bound him more to Hutch.
"...me...'n thee..." Starsky finally succumbed to the blackness that clawed at his consciousness.
Panic seized Hutch as his partner's body fell lax. Rational thought left him until he was able to find the faint movement of the shattered chest, proving Starsky still held on to life, even if only by sheer stubbornness. No, Hutch thought savagely. By love.
Hutch pulled Starsky's body higher into his arms, absently rubbing his hand gently over a still arm in a gesture to comfort them both, and remaining oblivious to the chaos surrounding them. Starsky had given his word that he wouldn't leave him, and his partner had never broken his word.
Time, they say, is the great healer. Nine months had passed since Hutch found what was left of his partner's destroyed body. He bent over and selected another smooth, white stone from the beach and studied it for a moment. A Scripture verse, memorized decades ago during a lonely childhood, crept into his memory: "...I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it..." A new name...
A new life. A new beginning.
With an unconscious grace, Hutch drew his arm back and pitched the stone back into the ocean, skipping it across the waves. A sense of déjà vu overtook him for a moment, remembering a few years ago as he and Starsky stood on another beach. That day he had hurled the badge he had come to hate into the ocean, and the badge his partner still honored along side it. But Starsky had chosen their friendship over duty. Another stone followed the first. What am I throwing away this time?
He continued to watch the play of sunlight across the water, the reflection stinging his eyes. The lonely cry of a seagull broke through the sound of the waves lapping at the shoreline and the whistling breeze that lifted the hair from his brow. For some reason, the bird's mournful song brought a lump to his throat and tears to his eyes unbiddened. Tears came so much easier since then. It was funny how he measured the timeline of his life from when he found his partner... found out how much Starsky was willing to sacrifice for him. Sometimes the price of love was high. Too high.
A trembling hand darted up to wipe at his eyes. Starsky had always loved the ocean. Hated to get wet, but loved the water. Loved the waves, the gulls, the shells and the driftwood that washed ashore. For Hutch, it had once held great mystery, its hidden depths a treasure to be discovered. Now he simply enjoyed it for its beauty with an uncomplicated pleasure, much like Starsky always had.
Hutch continued starring out into the sunlit waves and didn't hear the other's approach until he was standing next to him.
Hutch smiled gently in response and turned, grateful as he always was for another day. "Sure, you?"
Starsky smiled knowingly and turned his gaze out to watch the waves. Hutch kept his eyes riveted on his friend's face, marveling at what he found there. For a heartbeat Hutch was back at the warehouse, staring in disbelief at the ruined shell of his partner. The trauma unit surgeon's voice rang through his memory. "Flail chest by blunt trauma, that's what's causing him to cough up blood. Scleral hemorrhage, lower mandible jaw fracture, fractured zygoma. Concussion, and subacute subdural hematoma. Multiple fractures of the femur, penetrated artery resulting in life threatening blood loss. Dehydration, shock...your partner should be dead, Detective Hutchinson."
Scars and healing tissue still lingered, but the reconstructive surgeries were nothing short of miraculous. The surgeon had been none other than the cousin of Romer Avelechez, the first uniformed officer murdered. The plastic surgeon did everything within his power to restore the detective who had withstood Capernicus, and his gratitude was extended to the partner that had administered "appropriate justice" in the doctor's eyes.
Only those who knew Starsky intimately could tell his features were minutely different. The nose was a bit straighter, the cheekbones a bit more pronounced, but perhaps that would fade when he put back on the considerable weight he lost since the first of the surgeries. The plastic surgeon had done an incredible job returning Starsky's destroyed features, though the patient joked this was his one opportunity to improve on "perfection", and perhaps fulfill his mother's secret wish for her son to look more like Paul Muni.
Strangers and acquaintances would only notice healing scars on a handsome face, evidence of an often violent profession. A fading scar followed the side of his head along the left earlobe; a thin disfigurement broke the curve of his right eyebrow, and another scar on his upper lip seemed only to show when he smiled, which was seemingly more often than Hutch.
Therapy was making considerable headway in regaining Starsky's strength and mobility, whereas months ago the future seemed bleak. The extensive internal damage had seemed to be a constant source of frustration. Infections had come and gone, reeking havoc on the surgical repair. Upon admittance to the hospital, Starsky had undergone emergency surgery to stop the internal bleeding, rebuilding the flail breakage of four ribs and a punctured lung. One kidney and his spleen had been removed, as well as a portion of the large intestine.
The self-inflicted damage to his wrist had been of great concern to the orthopedic specialist. It was almost four months before noticeable headway had been made in use of the right hand and forearm. However, Starsky was now able to grip and hold a glass on his own. The day he was able to accomplish this task marked a turning point in his recuperation. His left hand kept a tight grip on the cane assisting him in walking, which was significant in and of itself. Considerable damage had been done due to the multiple fractures in his left leg, but determination propelled him along from a wheel chair to a walker, then to a cane. Starsky kept a running bet with Huggy as to how soon he would begin walking unassisted. A loose fitting shirt masked more scars that few were privy to, but he simply attributed them to a lifetime's collection, and philosophized he'd probably get a few more in the next sixty or so years of active duty.
Active duty--that was the goal. While a few scoffed at his partner's determination to return one hundred percent to his former level of activity, those who knew Starsky--really knew him--didn't doubt for a moment the determination that fueled him toward a complete recovery.
You can't keep a good man down, Hutch thought to himself. Starsky turned to face him as if hearing the unspoken words, and reached out to grip his partner's elbow with his right hand. Both men relished the growing strength evident there.
"Hutch, how you really doin'?"
Hutch glanced quickly away from the probing blue eyes, coming to rest on the inside of his partner's wrist. Scar tissue puckered the flesh in a thick, two-inch line.
"I'm fine, Starsk." The huskiness of his voice betrayed his inner turmoil. "What do you say we head back now?"
Starsky glanced down to where his partner's gaze had lingered on the scar, then back to the troubled eyes. "Hutch..."
Hutch pulled himself away from the gentle grip. "Let's go."
"No. Nope. Not this time. We need to talk, and I'm tired of tap dancin' around this." Awkwardly, Starsky began lowering himself to the sand, trying to catch himself with one arm while balancing himself on the cane with the other. Hutch automatically reached out to help him, but threw his arms up in frustration when Starsky waved him off, wanting to do it himself. The result was Starsky falling on his backside with a grunt rather than the dignified sitting he was trying for, but he was pleased with the results, however graceless.
Stretching the stiffness out of his leg, Starsky rested his cane across his knees and looked up at his partner, squinting into the sun lighting Hutch from behind like a halo. "So talk to me."
Hutch paced a few steps in mild exasperation, clearly avoiding the unspoken topic. "Starsk, there's nothing to talk about. I'm fine. You're the one who's gone through hell and you're fine. Everybody's fine."
Starsky shook his head. "That's not the point and you know it. Yeah, I feel like I've been to Hell and back, but I didn't go there alone. Something's eating you up and I'm tired of waiting for you to want to talk about it."
Hutch merely rolled his eyes and avoided looking at him. Starsky extended his right hand. "C'mon, sit down for a minute. You're driving me nuts. C'mon."
Hutch finally looked at his friend's face and sighed. Reaching down to take the proffered hand, he hesitated at the sight of the scarred wrist. The increased strain around Hutch's eyes was not lost on Starsky.
"So that is it. I thought as much." Starsky exhaled softly, retracting the outstretched arm and holding it in his lap. The moments of slamming his wrist onto the shard of glass played before him in pieces him like a broken film. "Hutch, sit down. Please."
After a few tense seconds, Hutch unceremoniously threw himself down beside his partner and drew his knees up to his chest. Wrapping his arms around his legs, he stared out at the dancing waves. Hutch's voice was tight when he finally responded. "What do you want me to say?"
"Hutch...this is tearing you apart. I need for you to tell me what's going on inside that head of yours. We've always been able to talk through the mental garbage."
"Look, I'm fine. And we've been through all of this before...in the hospital...your counseling sessions...it's all been talked out."
"Yeah, we've talked, but apparently it isn't all out." Starsky turned his focus back out to the waves for a moment, looking beyond the seascape to the not-so-distant past. "I know it was really hard for you to quit feeling guilty about what Capernicus did to us, even though nobody blamed you, except you. Everybody thought you had gotten past it. Ya know, you're really good at covering stuff up, but the only person you had fooled was you. I know there's been something else you wouldn't talk about, even after all this time." Starsky looked back at his friend and extended his right arm, slipping it gently between the other man's chest and forearm. "It's about this isn't it?"
Immediately, Hutch's shoulders dropped from their tense position as he tenderly cradled his partner's arm against him. With his eyes squeezed tightly shut he turned his face away. "Starsk...I...my God, Starsk..."
Hutch couldn't find the words to describe how he felt when he learned the lengths to which his partner had gone in order to protect him. It happened during the interrogation of Eddie Fraiser, as the hood described all the horrors they had put Starsky through. Hutch had never come so close to losing complete control as he did that night, listening to Fraiser give his statement. Names, dates, and locations were rattled off, fingering several public officials in California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. At first, he refused to believe the hood's account of Starsky's attempt to end his own life, but then the pieces fell into place. Fraiser detailed the murders of DA Watkins, Avelechez, Perrigo, Randolph, the pilot and U.S. marshals on the helicopter flight, and the attempted murder of Kevin Franscoli, whom they found on the verge of bleeding to death in the print shop storage room. More than a few tears were later shed when Hutch was able to wheel the recovering Kevin into Starsky's hospital room. He had later spoken to the federal judge on Kevin's behalf, and the young man was placed in a state operated adult care program rather than tried along with Fraiser. The detectives began visiting Kevin every week at the care facility after Starsky's release from the hospital. Both men were encouraged to find him settling in to his new life and looking forward to being allowed to work with some of the younger students with their outdoor activities very soon.
Through the months of healing and therapy, Hutch tried his best to resolve the turbulent feelings gnawing at him. The last thing he wanted was for Starsky to be worried about him, or worse, that Starsky would somehow subconsciously blame him for what he went through as a hostage. Such an admission would destroy Hutch. It was better to try and bury his fear than have to embrace it if it were true.
"Aw, Hutch. I've told you before it was the only choice I could make then. Is it...?" Starsky struggled with a half-formed thought. "Is it because I lost hope? That I wanted to die? If you had come...I didn't want you to come, Hutch. They would've killed you. Buddy, what is it?"
Hutch remained silent, but shook his head. Starsky searched his mind for other reasons. "Hutch, look--I knew that there was no way anyone could possibly find me in time. I was coughing up blood, there just wasn't...wait, when you...when you were sick?" He still found it difficult to talk about the time that Hutch had the plague, it had been too close a call. "Remember? You were in the hospital and they were just about to put you in the oxygen tent. You knew that you were dying. You just knew, right?"
Hutch didn't speak, but merely turned his head a bit more in his partner's direction. "Well, at that point I knew it, too. It's weird, but somehow you do know. I wouldn't have lasted more than a couple of hours...the internal bleeding...they say I was going into shock. If they had gotten me to make the call to you, they would have killed me right then anyway because I had served my purpose. I heard them say so, and I had no reason to doubt they wouldn't do it. Hutch, I also knew that if you heard my voice, there wasn't anything on this earth you wouldn't do get to me, even if that meant giving up your own life. And that's what would have happened. Hutch I had to do this. There was no way out of this one. I was going to be dead soon anyway, so a few hours wasn't that big of a sacrifice."
As soon as the words were out of Starsky's mouth Hutch's head snapped around as if he'd been slapped. Pale blue eyes burned with an inward rage and self-loathing as he leapt to his feet. "A few hours? Starsky, you sacrificed everything because of me--for me. They beat you to within an inch of your life and left you for dead, drove you to the point of slamming your wrist into a chunk of glass, and you're telling me that finishing yourself off was no big deal? My God, Starsk!"
Starsky's expression softened under the delayed outpouring of Hutch's pain. "And I'd do it again."
The honesty and love that radiated from his partner's eyes felled Hutch and brought him to his knees beside him. "Starsk..."
Starsky's voice was warm, taking the sting out of his words. "Hutch, you idiot. You'd do the same thing for me and never think twice about it. It's always been that way with us. Why should it surprise you now?"
"`But, Starsk', nothing. You didn't do this to me, the bad guys did. This isn't your fault, it's the bad guys' fault, and the bad guys got theirs. That's what this is all about. I'm okay with this. I'm not saying that it's no big deal and that I'm not glad they're rotting in Hell right now, but I'm really okay. I need for you to be okay with it, too, but for real. No more guilt, no more beatin' yourself up over something you didn't do and you couldn't control."
"I don't know if I can..."
"Of course, you can. I'll be with you every step of the way." Starsky began to struggle to his feet. This time he didn't refuse Hutch's help. Once he got upright, Starsky quickly searched his partner's face, grateful to see a little less strain than he did before, and perhaps a small release of the guilt that had gripped him by the heart for so long. The pain and anguish weren't completely erased, but it was a start. With a chuckle Starsky drew his partner into a tight embrace, all but losing his balance in the process, threatening to pull Hutch down with him.
Steadying them both, Hutch returned the embrace. After a moment he pulled away, staring hard into the cobalt eyes. "You're really okay? You're not just saying it for my benefit?"
"I give you my word. When have I ever broken my word to you?"
Hutch remembered the promise made in a warehouse, cold as a tomb. "Never."
"All right then. We'll get through this together. I promise."
Hutch looked at Starsky with less haunted eyes. "Me and thee?"
"It couldn't be any other way."