Note: I'm not a native English speaker, so be patient with me when things sound a little strange at times ... Ta! You can contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Something wrong, Starsk?" Hutch fumbled with the wiring of the microphone handset in the Torino. He kept his eyes on the mike but his mind was on his partner, who was behind the wheel of his beloved Striped Tomato. Starsky was not his usual self, full of wit and liveliness. He was quiet and seemed absentminded. As a matter of fact, he'd been pretty much quiet for a couple of days already, Hutch thought.
"Mmm. To be honest, I'm not feeling all that whoopie." As if to illustrate his own words, an involuntary shiver ran over his back and brought goose bumps onto his arms. Hutch didn't miss it.
"Hey, buddy -- are you running a fever?"
"Dunno." A shrug from Starsky. Hutch looked sideways and studied Starsky a little bit closer. He was definitely looking paler than usual. But he knew better than to push. He also knew that Starsky was not such an idiot to NOT listen to his body.
"Stop examining me." Not much talk from a man who'd usually seize any opportunity for a quip.
"Shift's nearly over," Hutch said.
"Weekend starts tomorrow. Two days off. Plenty of time to sleep."
"Monday's far away," Hutch tried.
"You can hit the sack in a few hours." That was Hutch's last attempt.
Hutch grinned, mildly satisfied, though not very convinced, that was Starsky alright.
Starsky came home, took his clothes off, not caring one bit where they fell, took a quick shower and two aspirins. Then he crawled into bed, pulling his knees up to his chest. Not only was he running a fever, he was also bothered by a bad bellyache. It had been bothering him for a couple of days already, but now it was really getting in his way. He'd been shot, battered, and beaten up more than once, so he was no stranger to pain. But this time, it was different. It came from within and that worried him because he couldn't explain it and didn't know how to brace himself against it. He sank away in a restless sleep when the aspirins began to work and took the edges of the pain away. He woke up a couple of times, feeling worse every time. His belly began to hurt more and more and by the time it was morning he crawled out of bed, knowing he had to see a doctor. He tried to get up, but he could hardly stand up straight. He was burning up, sweating, and feeling miserable. He tried one more time to stand up, then gave up. He took the phone, dialed Hutch's number and waited. His hand, holding the phone, trembled. He counted to himself the seconds before Hutch picked up. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Sev—"
"Starsky? Hang on a mo. I'm..." Muffled sounds, Hutch struggling with the phone.
"Come 'n pick me up, will ya? I need a doctor."
"I'll be right over. Stay put." The drowsiness in his voice was gone instantly. Hutch, good old Hutch. No questions, just a helping hand.
"How long have you experienced the pain?" Doctor Flanagan, a long time acquaintance, probed Starsky's belly. He carefully studied the reactions of his patient.
"A day -AIE! -- or three, four maybe."
"Right. Does this hurt?" The doctor performed the same procedure on the other side.
"No. It's my right side, all over."
He went back and pushed with two fingers gently in Starsky's side. Then he slowly lowered to his groin and pushed more to the front. The reaction in the patient was obvious. He winced visibly, biting his lip. In a reflex his legs shot up. The doctor saw him shivering every time he pushed in the sore area.
"Right. And when did you begin to run a temperature?" Starsky tried not to give in to the urge of moving to his side and pull his legs up. That was, right now, the only position that seemed bearable. The doctor checked his pulse.
"Yesterday. Yesterday? Maybe the day before. I don't know. I took a few aspirins." To be honest, Starsky had been living on aspirins the last couple of days. He held his breath when another stab of pain rose in his abdomen. It felt... hot. As if someone was poking him with a red hot needle. A BIG needle.
"Your temperature is 104 and your pulse is like a runaway lorry in a downhill tunnel. You can sit up or turn to your side now, if that makes you feel more comfortable."
With a sigh of relief he did sit up. He would gladly have stayed the way he was, just a bit more to his side, but considered it a poor sign to stay down so he sat up, although it did take him a lot of self discipline to do so.
"Okay. Well, Mr. Starsky, I'll have to run two little tests, but as far as I'm concerned it's very obvious. You've got appendicitis and you need instant surgery. Did you eat or drink anything in the last ten hours?"
A bit taken aback by the forward way of the doctor, Starsky tried to reconstruct the past few hours. "I had a... no, I didn't take anything when I got home. No, I don't think so. I had some water... no... I didn't take anything."
"Good, that'll speed things up. I'll get a nurse to prep you."
A smile from the doctor. "Yes, of course. Or would you want to walk around like this for a couple of more days?"
With a sigh and a shrug Starsky agreed. "No use in trying to get out of this one, is there?" He shivered from the fever.
"I'm afraid not." The doctor offered him a smile and with the promise he'd be back soon, he left Starsky.
"What's the verdict?" Dobey's voice on the other side of the line was a bit distant amidst the sounds of children in the background. It was a Saturday and the captain was at home with his family but Hutch had decided on calling his superior anyway.
"Appendicitis, Captain. He's in the theaters right now."
"Well whaddayaknow. For once not beaten, shot, or poisoned?" Captain Dobey sounded relieved. "He'll be back faster than you know. I had that too, when I was a kid. Painful exercise that is, but once the bloody worm is out, it's a whole lot better."
"That's what the doctor said as well. He didn't use the word 'worm' though," Hutch said dryly. He thought of Starsky, whom he had not seen anymore when he had dropped him off in the examination room. He'd been taken away instantly. It felt unnatural not to be able to wish his partner good luck.
"Alright. I'll look in on him in a couple of days. Thanks for calling."
"Have a nice weekend, captain."
"You too, Ken. Don't worry about Starsky. In two days, he'll be bored stiff. In two weeks, he'll be back, behaving as if nothing has ever happened."
"Tell me something I don't know," Hutch replied lightly, but in his heart his knew that he wouldn't be convinced before he'd see his friend with his own eyes.
Starsky was dreaming horribly and confusingly. Haunted by criminals, murders, rapists, and muggers he ran through his nightmare, from one scene to the other. The anesthetic had been a heavy one, for he had been out of it longer than anticipated. The doctor had shaken his head when he had seen how far the infection of the appendix had been advanced. He had grumbled angrily below his breath to the assisting medics, "He's been walking around far too long with this. What d'you get? A status, extremely close to a rupture." To the non-hearing man on the operation table he snapped grumpily, "Congratulations, Detective Starsky. You were THIS close from have every cavity in your innards filled with pus. Very cool."
Detective Starsky was not cool at all right now. He tossed and turned, experiencing agonizing moments, skeletons in closets and ghosts that mocked him. He was wide-awake when a man entered his room. A man? Not just any man! It was Kaufman! Kaufman, the one who had tried to kill him before. And he was carrying a syringe! He was going to inject him with something. He was going to get poisoned, the same way professor Jennings had once tried to end his life. He had to get away... he had to get out of here.
"Hutch!" he screamed, hoarsely. He saw Kaufman approaching him, syringe up in his hands and ready. With all the power he could muster, Starsky swung wildly at him and knew he'd hit him firmly when his hand came in contact with Kaufman's temple. Kaufman sank to the ground with a muffled groan. Quickly. Quickly. He had to get out of here, warn somebody. Where was he? What place was this? Where was Hutch?
He got up. A nasty stab in his lower belly made him double over. He staggered away from the man on the floor. Undoubtedly, Kaufman would get his wits together any minute now and he needed some help. Why did he feel so weak? Had he been drugged? His legs refused service. He felt a painful sting when with a yank he knocked over a stand. A stand that held a bag of fluid -- fluid that went straight into the veins of his right arm.
Poison! More poison!
Starsky stumbled and swayed with legs that didn't listen to his head. He made it to the door and found himself in a long, half-darkened corridor. He heard things behind him, rumor, voices. He walked blindly into a cart that was filled with all kinds of equipment. It toppled over and sounds of glass breaking echoed in his ears.
He moved on, putting one foot in front of the other. He had to find a place to hide. Long enough for Hutch to find him. Where was Kaufman? He looked over his shoulder. Who was that? Was that Jimmy Lee Carson? No... that was impossible. But it was. It was!
Starsky struggled on and on, until he felt a door give way when he leaned against it. A door. Safety? He would hide in this room, wait until the men behind him were gone. Maybe there was a phone there. Maybe he could call Hutch. If only his belly didn't hurt so much. He placed his hands against the pain. His breath got stuck somewhere halfway in his throat. He felt a moist spot, he knew there must be blood, but it was too dark to see. He crouched in the corner of the room, behind the big door.
"Who's there?" A voice came from a bed that was placed opposite of him. A bed? Another bed?
A hospital. He was in a hospital. So he had been drugged once again and he hadn't noticed it all? Were they going to take his organs out? Sell them to the highest bidder? What part had they cut from his body already? What was here that was bleeding? His liver? Spleen?
A small light went on near the bed.
He saw her hair, her sweet face. A pang of pain, guilt, and love hit him like a wave.
"Terry? Have they got you too? What is this place? Can you get up?"
He pushed himself up against the wall, staggered over to her bed.
"I'm not Terry." The woman in the bed, pushing herself up a little, looked at him, her face a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and fear. "You're in a hospital."
"Where's Hutch? What have they done to him?"
She took the alarm and pushed a button. "Take it easy. Help is on the way."
"No!" cried Starsky, taking a step forward. "No! Hutch!"
The explosion in his abdomen made the world spin, red balls came dancing by and darkness took over.
"Your friend really made a scene at my ward," said the head nurse. She was in her fifties, and once attractive, but her looks had changed with the responsibilities she'd been given and she'd become a sour woman. "We don't like that in a hospital, Mr. Hutchinson."
Hutch disliked her instantly. "HE doesn't like to be in a hospital, ma'am. It wasn't his own free will. What happened?"
"He knocked a nurse out cold ..."
Hutch listened with growing surprise. "He did?"
"Undoubtedly he's a good policeman, but he managed to put one of my nurses on sick leave. So please tell the detective to act according to the hospital rules." She tightened her lips to a narrow line. Hutch had to fight the urge to tell where to stuff it, but he kept quiet. In the background he saw Doctor Flanagan, the doctor who'd been talking to him when he had brought Starsky in. Hutch knew him from earlier sessions. He was a good doctor, oddly lacking the professional distance that seemed obligatory in the line of work. It made him a warm, compassionate physician.
He brushed past the nurse and got the attention of the doctor.
"Doctor Flanagan? How's Starsky?"
"Ah, good morning, Detective Hutchinson. Detective Starsky played cowboys and Indians last night."
"The head nurse told me something similar."
Flanagan flashed a little smile and lowered his voice. "Certainly Agatha won't approve of that. She's tough, but an excellent nurse, Mr. Hutchinson."
Hutch couldn't care less at the moment. "Starsky?"
"The stage of the appendicitis was already a far advanced one. The surgery went fine, but took longer than anticipated and he had quite a fever last night. After effects of the anesthetic and the pain. He had a bad dream and seemed to think that one of the nurses who came to check on his blood pressure, was a bad guy. He knocked him unconscious and fled from the room."
Hutch could hardly believe his ears. Despite everything it made him chuckle. Even Doctor Flanagan seemed amused. "He smashed over a trolley with a lot of equipment, he ripped out his IV, he tore open his own stitches and ended up in one of our patient's rooms. There he passed out. Finally! He was brought back to his room, we had to fix some of the stitches that had come undone and we sedated him. Your partner is very strong, Mr. Hutchinson. Not many people can pull such a stunt after the anesthetic he'd been given."
"Can I see him?"
"Sure you can, but he'll be asleep for at least..." the doctor consulted his watch, "another four or five hours, if not more. And... he needs that, so don't wake him up." His beeper went off. "I'm needed elsewhere, I must go. Goodbye, Mr. Hutchinson." He nodded and hurried off.
Hutch decided to look in on his partner for a second, and then head for home. He'd been on the night shift the whole week and since he had little sleep the previous day, he was tired. When he entered Starsky's room, to his surprise there was a woman in a wheelchair sitting next to his bed. She looked at Starsky's face intensely, as if she was studying him. Hutch coughed a little before he got in, careful not to startle her.
She looked up. Then he noticed that she quickly pulled back her hand -- she'd been keeping her hand on his. Who was she?
She rolled back her wheel chair. "Excuse me, I'll leave," she said as if to apologize for being there.
"No, no," Hutch gestured her to stay, "absolutely no need. I'm just popping in to see how he's doing. I hear he went bananas last night."
She smiled. "He was pretty confused, yes."
Immediately Hutch picked up the educated tone in her voice. She looked nice. Common, but with an open, friendly face. Shortcut brown hair, curly, brown eyes, lips curled in a cautious smile. He estimated her to be somewhere in her late twenties. No make up, no jewelry. She wore an off-white robe, dark blue pajamas and had her legs covered with a light, thin blanket.
It dawned on him. This must be the woman whose room Starsky burst into.
"My name is Kenneth Hutchinson. I'm Starsky's colleague."
"Isobel Forrester," she said and shook his hand. "Mr. Starsky was taking refuge from the monsters in my room last night."
"How's he doing?"
"Sleeping. Calmly. At ease." That was true. Starsky was sound asleep, not hearing one thing of the two people in his room. Hutch saw the red glow on his cheeks and the paleness around his lips, the clear signs that he was still not out of the woods.
She wheeled backwards, spun around and headed for the door. "I should get going. I'll leave you. Bye-bye."
Hutch turned on his heels after a short glance on his partner. He needn't stay. He paced after Isobel Forrester, who was already in the corridor.
"Miss Forrester, wait up." He caught up with her.
She stopped. "Yes?"
"Did he say anything last night? When he was in your room?"
"No, not really. Nothing coherent, anyway. Names. He usually calls you Hutch? Then he said yours a couple of times. He called me Jerry or Terry. I didn't quite get it, he was a bit hard to follow." A soft laugh followed her words.
"You must excuse him. He didn't do it deliberately."
She was genuinely surprised and looked up at him. "I never said he did. I'm not blaming him for anything. He was clearly ill. That's why I came to see how he was doing today." She paused for two seconds and added, "To see if I'm going to have another exciting night."
"From the looks of it, I'd say he's not likely to be roaming the place any time soon," Hutch replied. "Thank you. It's kind of you to look in on him."
She nodded, smiled and stopped in front of a door. She pushed a button, the door swung open and she rolled herself in. "Goodbye, Mr. Hutch...? Hutchinson."
"Bye Miss Forrester."
Hutch turned around when the door closed behind her. He yawned, shook his head to chase an upcoming headache away and went home.
The first thing Starsky thought of when he opened his eyes was that he would give anything for something to drink. The second was that he wouldn't mind something to eat as well. He looked around. He was lying in bed in a well-lit room, with monitors that beeped and a tube that looked like it dissolved with the veins in his hand. It was connected to an IV bag that hung from a stand. An IV bag...
Flashes and confusing memories came back. He couldn't remember anything distinctively, but he did recall he'd seen this before.
"Ah, good morning Mr. Starsky. My name is Judith. How are we feeling today?" A female nurse with a broad face and her hair in a bun, stood next to his bed and took his pulse.
We? "I'm not sure about you, but I slept like a log," he answered with rasping voice. "I'm thirsty. And hungry." He pushed himself up. "Ouch!" Ah, yes. Appendicitis. He knew once he tried to sit up. He remembered. The spot in his belly was sore and tight, as if the strings from the stitches were pulling too hard at the skin.
"Much better," she said. "I'll get Doctor Flanagan to take a look at you. After that, we'll get you something to drink."
"There was something going on last night, wasn't there?" He asked it hesitantly.
"That was not last night, that was the night before that. You were chasing bad guys that weren't there," said the nurse. "You've slept for nearly 24 hours now, so that might be confusing."
"I slept a whole day?"
"Yes. After you caused some disturbance here." The nurse straightened his sheets and blankets. "I'll get the doctor." She leaned a little over to him. "If Nurse Agatha is giving you a hard time, just push the button. I'll come to save you."
Starsky was lost. He didn't understand what she was saying and held her before she could leave. Judith quickly brought him up to speed. The male nurse he knocked unconscious was back at work again. His name was Hugh and he held no grudge, although he had one giant bruise to show, Judith said. Indeed not long after that a big nurse came in, a grin and a beautiful black eye on his face.
When Flanagan was gone and had declared him well enough for something to drink and broth to start with, Starsky had the idea he was slowly coming back to earth again. In the afternoon, he carefully swung his legs over the side of the bed and tried to stand up. That was easier said than done. The room started moving in an awkward direction. Quickly he held on to the bed before he would have met with the floor. His plan was to haul himself into a wheelchair that stood ready in the corner of the room and maybe wheel around a little, but he wasn't sure if he would be able to get there without falling.
"Look who's up. G'd afternoon, buddy." Hutch's voice preceded the tall blond man who entered his room.
"Hey, Hutch." Starsky tried to straighten but instantly felt that that was not a good idea.
"You look much better. Had a good beauty sleep?"
The banter was light and merry. Hutch was obviously very pleased to see Starsky awake and on the edge of the bed already. "How are you feeling?"
"Fantastic. Great. Never been better. Could you roll that thing over here?"
"The wheelchair? Where are you off to?"
"The can. I need to pee."
"There's this nice, handy thing under your bed—" Hutch began. Starsky grabbed a pillow and threw it to his head. "Aie!" He regretted his action the second he did it. His body protested vigorously. He held his breath and closed his eyes until he felt the pain subside.
Hutch ducked the pillow, but was immediately with him. "Easy now, buddy. Easy."
"I'm alright," grumbled Starsky through clenched teeth.
"Sure you are. Plenty of time to play basketball when you're a little better." Hutch held him until he saw Starsky relaxing a little. He moved the wheelchair to the bed and helped his partner to it. Stubbornly, the curly haired man refused to be pushed. He insisted on propelling the wheelchair himself, but Hutch didn't miss the beads of sweat that soon formed and the breathing that got heavier. By the time Starsky was ready in the bathroom and he'd managed to bring himself back to his room, he was exhausted.
"Where have you been?" There was the nurse who'd been so immensely unfriendly to Hutch a couple of days ago. She looked at Hutch as to challenge her.
"The bathroom," Starsky said, panting heavily. He tried to get himself back into bed, but was hit by a spell when he stood up. "Oh boy," he whispered, and couldn't stop his knees from disobeying. Hutch was just in time to firmly grab him by the arms and help him to bed.
The nurse very professionally checked him out, brushing Hutch away with ill concealed disdain. "Don't you ever do that again, Mr. Hutchinson. This man is my patient and I will NOT tolerate that you prevent a quick recovery by disobeying the rules on MY ward."
"He didn't do anything," Starsky snapped angrily and hissed at the strain this caused. "I asked to be taken to the bathroom."
"You will stay in bed as long as I tell you." Nurse Agatha looked sternly. "I don't want you to stay here a day longer than necessary." She was called away before any of them could say anything else.
"Charming woman. Room service is fantastic here," muttered the patient. Hutch saw how pale and tired he was. He turned to his side. "I'm going to take a nap, Hutch. Thanks for coming."
"Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight, don't let the bedbugs or Agatha bite," whispered Hutch in a singing cadence. Starsky grinned, raised a hand in greeting and was off to sleep before Hutch had closed the door behind him.
Hutch walked past the room where Isobel Forrester had gone into the previous day. The door was open. Isobel sat on the bed and read a book. She sensed someone in the doorway and looked up. It took a moment before recognition showed, then she smiled at him.
"Mr. Hutchinson," she said.
"Please, it's Ken, Miss Forrester. How are you feeling today? No more nightly visits from my partner?"
She laughed a little and gestured him in. "Isobel, then. No, no surprises this time. How is your friend?"
"Being all tough and trying to avoid the wrath of a nurse named Agatha."
"You've met the Barracuda, I see."
"Absolutely." Hutch liked her more by the minute. "If all goes well, he should leave here in a week or so."
"That's good news. No more nightmares, then." She seemed curious about their lines of work but was too decent to ask. Hutch smiled at her.
"You must be wondering about our line of work?"
"Yes, but I don't mean to be nosey," Isobel answered quickly.
"You're not. We're detectives. Bay City P.D."
"And you've been working together for a while, I reckon?"
"Starsk and me? We've been a team since ... I can't even recall how long. Years. He's like a brother to me."
"Seen a lot, done a lot, right?"
Hutch nodded. She offered him a smile again, one that seemed to light up her otherwise rather plain face.
"Must be nice to feel like that. And difficult, too. Worries and all that."
Hutch was surprised by what she said. Not many people understood how much the life of one affected the other when it came to partnership on the work floor.
"Yes, it is. But worth every effort. And what's your story? When are they going to release you?"
The moment he asked, he regretted it. He shouldn't have. This was none of his business and he could see in her face the sudden pain his question caused.
"Not for a while. I'm recuperating from a bus accident. I'm in rehab and for the time being I'm still stuck here. I can't be home right now."
"I live in a two stories house with normal stairs and bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. I can't go up there. I can't even make dinner in my own home 'cos I can't reach the kitchen cabinets. The stove is too high, I wouldn't be able to lift the pans without endangering myself." She spoke calmly, explaining her problems, but Hutch felt the strain that was so carefully concealed by her words. "The toilet is too small for the chair. And so forth, and so forth."
"The chair is a permanent state?" He asked cautiously.
"I'm sorry. I'm not sure what to say. I didn't mean to..."
"I know. It's alright." Hutch wondered if she was going to tell him more. He could see in her eyes that she was pleased he'd come in and taken the time to talk to her, but he also sensed she was reluctant to give away too much in one go. There was a somewhat tensed silence between them for a second or two.
"I should get going," Hutch decided on saying. "I'm working actually. Monday, Monday..."
"So good to me..." Isobel picked up and the tension was gone. "I love Mondays. I am... I was... I am a teacher and little kids are always full of stories when they come to school after the weekend. The enthusiasm on their faces... no day like Monday for me."
"That's a nice credo to live with. No day like Monday for me," Hutch nodded in appreciation. "Although I wonder if most people agree with you. I should get going."
"Duty calls," she understood. "And not easy without your regular partner, I bet."
"I feel better now that I know he's got such a sweet neighbor keeping an eye on him."
"Is that your special mark?"
"You the charmer, Starsky the clown?"
Hutch laughed. "I never thought of it that way, but heck -- yeah, I suppose you could say that."
Isobel smiled. "Well then Prince Charming... Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Isobel. Maybe till the next time?"
"Hop on in whenever you feel like it."
Starsky straightened himself carefully. The stitches were still pulling like crazy, but the pain had subsided and he knew he was getting better again. He couldn't stand completely upright yet, but that too, was a matter of time. When he was well enough to stand and walk around the bed without spells to surprise him, he strolled slowly through the hallway in search of room 45b. That was the room of Isobel Forrester, the room he had so unceremoniously crashed into.
There was no one there.
"Mr. Starsky? You're in the wrong place, my friend." Behind him stood Black-eyed Hugh, not so black-eyed anymore. He was a great guy and a good nurse, and Starsky appreciated it a lot that he didn't have any hard feelings about the incident.
"I came to find Miss Forrester," said Starsky. "This is her room, isn't it?"
"It is. But as I said, you're in the wrong place. When the sun shines, she's outside."
"Yup. Soaking every bit of sun she can in the patio."
"There's a patio here?"
"Certainly. And well-loved by the patients who know it." Hugh explained where he could find it. "Can you manage on your own? Or do you need me to take you down there?"
"Nah, thanks. How can I keep up my cool exterior if I come swaying in at your arm?"
"It's not as if she hasn't seen you swaying already," Hugh remarked dryly. Starsky grinned.
"I'll manage. Down there, right?"
He found the patio all right. Hugh hadn't lied - the square shaped place was sunlit, wind still and quiet. At least here would be no nosey people who'd stare relentlessly at the patients. There was only one person there and she sat in the sun, reading. She sat in a wheelchair, a light blue blanket on her lap. Starsky couldn't tell why, but he knew she must be the woman he was looking for.
Starsky walked -- so pain streaking slowly, he wished he could move faster -- over to her. She wasn't even aware of him until he was close to her.
She looked up, slightly startled. "Err... no, actually. Boring stuff." Then she laughed, showing white, regular teeth. It made Starsky feel warm inside. "David Starsky, right?"
She extended her hand and he took it. Small, fragile fingers. "I'm Isobel Forrester. You certainly look a whole lot better than a couple of days back."
Starsky felt slightly embarrassed. "I... I came to apologize. I don't remember anything, but from what I've been told I scared the hell out of everyone, including you."
She chuckled. "Nah, not me. I was in desperate need of some distraction." She laughed again. Her eyes lit up. She was quite plain to see, not really a stunning beauty and not the kind of woman he'd usually found himself staring at. Yet she had an unexpected, bright smile that made him look twice. It brought the sun to his head.
"Well, I'm sorry anyway."
"Apology accepted, although it's not necessary," she said with a nod of her head. "How are you doing?"
"Fine, thanks. I'll be out here in a couple of days. I had appendicitis, but that's gone now. How about you?"
Isobel looked back, not blinking once. She lifted the cover from her lap and said, "I had a left leg. But that's gone now as well."
Starsky was so overwhelmed by her reaction that his throat turned dry. The lower half of her left leg was gone, amputated just a little above the knee. Her upper leg was wrapped in a thick bandage that looked like a brown stocking.
"Geez... I'm ... I'm sorry. 'Scuse me, I'm..." Not often Starsky didn't know what to say, but this was such a raw dish that it nearly choked him.
"Sorry. My mistake. I shouldn't be so blunt about it, not everyone is up to seeing it," she said and put the cover back in place. The dark-haired man swallowed. This was an upside down thing. She apologized to him, while he had lost his senses over it and should be apologizing to her. It was as if she heard him think.
"Let's stop saying sorry to each other, okay? I know nicer ways to get through the day."
Starsky nodded, grateful for her swift turn.
"I could use some inside information on how to go about with Nurse Agatha," he said softly, like conspirators.
She was into his game immediately and bent over to him. She lowered her voice and looked at him with twinkling eyes. "Inside information? Don't get me started..."
Starsky enjoyed Isobel's company a lot and they spent most of his remaining hospital days after that first sunny afternoon. She had a great sense of humor, she was quick-witted and very intelligent. He was surprised by her optimistic nature and her spirit. For someone going through the ordeal she was experiencing, she kept an admirable attitude towards the position she was in. Starsky was curious about her state, but he kept his questions to himself. He had blundered enough the first time and he didn't want to make such a mistake again. On the fifth day of his stay at the hospital with his release dawning at the horizon, Hutch told him that she'd been in a bus accident. Hutch had come to visit him as often as he could, accompanied by Huggy Bear once, but for the rest, when his buddy was working and visiting hours were over, Starsky was bored out of his wits. He found himself looking for her -- and not only to fight boredom. Isobel was the definitely the best thing that happened to him in this place.
Hutch perched on the edge of his desk and flipped the pages of the folder he'd been able to get his hands on. He had called the traffic police service, and asked them for details on the accident in which Isobel Forrester was involved. If anyone would have asked him why, he'd have to admit he didn't quite know. Morbid curiosity? Trouble prevention? Professional act? He couldn't tell.
The file was handed to him without questions.
The report was a good one. It was clear and precise, left little room for questions and put together with the thoroughness that's every captain's dream.
It contained the details of the accident and many photos. He looked at them in silent awe and wondered if Starsky was able to look at them without feeling horrible. Pictures of Isobel Forrester, lying very badly injured, trapped below the bus wreckage, were not exactly a sight to see.
The mini bus (owned by a small private cooperation which carried customers to a maximum of 14 people in one go) had crashed into the sidewall of a hardware store. The cause of the crash was declared to be the poor weather conditions. Quite unexpectedly, the rain that had fallen the whole day, started freezing over. The streets were shining like mirrors with the black ice. Witnesses to the accident declared that there was a car, right across the road, also troubled by the weather, yards from the bus. The bus driver gave a yank at the wheel to try and avoid a collision, couldn't hold the bus when it began to spin and it made an uncontrollable, furious burst into the store. The crash was so vehement that half the store came down, burying the bus and the people inside under a blanket of bricks, stone, cement, glass and all that hell could rouse. It took rescue teams more than four hours to free Isobel from her precarious position.
There were nine casualties, the bus driver included. Hutch's eyebrows shot up. Isobel Forrester was the only one who had come out alive. The others had died instantly, on their way to or in hospital. There was a list of names of all the victims.
Hutch's eyes ran over the names, the addresses and ages added behind them. Sad story. So many casualties, so many lives ripped away in the blink of an eye. He put the file in the drawer of his desk and fetched his coat. He saw himself reflected in the window and noticed his smile. In a few hours he was going to pick Starsky up. He was to be sent home tomorrow. Finally. A week or so and his partner would be back again.
Starsky looked at himself in the mirror. Dark curls as wild as ever, blue eyes lively, cheeky smile, the tension of the past misery gone from his face. He was happy, for tomorrow he'd be going home, but his heart was heavy at the same time. He wanted to be with Isobel. Never before had an involuntary stay in the hospital turned out such a nice one. He looked at himself again, realized what he was thinking and sighed.
"You're falling in love, you sucker."
In the evening he went to her room. She sat on her bed, and he took her wheelchair. The crutches, all ready for future exercises for Isobel, he put against the wall. He had Hutch bring a bottle of red wine and after uncorking they filled plastic hospital cups with the wine. It went down well.
"If Agatha catches us..."
"I'll save the cork," Starsky shrugged. "I'll put it where it'll be most useful."
"It's been a long time since I had a glass of wine."
"I haven't had wine in a plastic cup for years..."
Isobel laughed. "I'll miss you awfully when you're away."
"I'm on sick leave for at least another week." Starsky smiled. "You bet I'll be here more than just for the check up."
They drank wine and talked about all kinds of things. Isobel was glowing. Starsky looked at her, experiencing a warmth inside that he hadn't known for a long time.
"Dave... when you came into my room that night, you called me Terry. Or Jerry. Who was that?"
"Terry..." Her question took his mind back to a black period in his life. He told Isobel everything. Everything - and more. All the pain, the hurt, the emptiness, the void that followed Terry's death, and almost naturally he went on to tell her about Hutch and their partnership.
"He told me you were like brothers," Isobel nodded.
"That's doesn't even cover it," said Starsky a bit thick-tongued. He was well accustomed to alcohol, but this wine was a sturdy one and with the medication he was still on, it made him a bit fuzzy. "It's beyond that, you know. I have a brother and he's not half as close to me as Hutch is. Hutch is... embedded in me. He's... he's just embedded in me."
"And the other way around."
"Yup. Comes with the territory, I think, but still... I've had partners I worked with before Hutch and I were teamed up, but I never felt as close to any of them as I do to Hutch."
Isobel touched his cheek and let her finger run past his chin line. "You know... that's in the way of a serious relationship." Her voice was also somewhat slurred.
Starsky looked up to meet her eyes. "Come again?"
"You and he... you're both a half, and only if you two are together, you're complete. He's in your heart. And you're in his. There's no room for others there."
"It's not as if I want to marry the guy!"
"That's not what I mean and you know it. As long as he's the most important person in your life, your love life will remain a slow-go."
"'S Not true," Starsky protested. "I've got friends, lady friends as well. They're here too." He tapped on his chest.
Isobel shook her head. "I'm not saying you're incapable of loving a girl. You can, you're warm and gentle and sweet. But you can't fool me, Curlz. As long as you're doing this kind of work, Hutch is the most important person in your life. That tall blond man is the one person you can never afford to lose. He's the one who saves your hide AND your sanity. Just as much as that goes for him too. D'you honestly think there's room for a cripple like me?"
"I don't care about your legs. I mean, I DO care, but... it doesn't matter to me if you're disabled or not."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. It's about your partnership. Your work. Your colleague. Closer to you than anyone in your world can ever be. Not even someone you fall in love with can change that. Just for the sake of safety and sanity, it can't."
Starsky fell quiet. He had never looked at it that way.
"Don't worry, Dave. I won't tell anyone if you won't." She smiled and held out her cup. Starsky filled hers and his again. She giggled. "Are you trying to get me drunk, Officer Starsky?"
"Who? Me?" He hiccupped. "Oops. Sorry. I guess I'm getting rather filled myself."
"You want to know what happened to me, don't you?" she suddenly asked.
"You're too nice a guy to ask."
She raised her hand to stop him and told him about her fatal night. Her voice was flat, far away.
"I can't recall much of the evening. The weather was bad. Snow, rain, it was slippery. I took a mini bus home. It wasn't full yet, but soon there would be no more room. I can remember Henry Willard, the bus driver. I recall screaming. Who's? Mine? His? I don't know. The bus begins to spin. The lights outside look like a merry-go-round. My stomach protests. I think I hear the crash. Everything is a blur after that."
Starsky took her hand and entangled her fingers with his. "You don't have to talk about it."
"I woke up after four days. I've been stuck under the bus for hours on end. When they finally had me out, my lower left leg was lost. They amputated it the same day. It was that or my death. Apart from broken bones, many of the tendons and muscles in my right leg have been cut by pieces of metal from the bus. I can hardly use it. I've had five operations so far. I can't bend it. I feel everythin, but the damage makes it ... stiff... useless."
"What was the reason for this? Why was this happening to me? And what was the reason for living on? Where was the fun in being alive if I couldn't live life to the fullest? I couldn't even get myself to the roof of the hospital to take the final plunge. I cried, wallowed in self pity for six weeks until I had deprived myself of every kind of dignity."
Starsky was silent. Isobel's somewhat strangely glistening eyes stared into nothing, recalling the endless hours of darkness.
"It's a bad place to be, isn't it, Dave? Despair, utter, tangible despair. Abstract like a modern painting but more present than a festering wound."
He wanted to hush her. Tell her she shouldn't put herself through this, that she could tell it whenever she was ready.
But Isobel carried on. The tone in her voice changed. "Then I meet this little boy in the patio. He's five years old. His name is Robbie. He's bold. He has cancer. And he's blue because the hospital cuts down on the medical expenses and they have sent the teacher home. Why teach a terminal patient anything? And all that little boy wants to do is learn how to read and write. He brings me back into the world. To him, my half leg doesn't make a difference. I'm his heroine, his goddess... because I can write and I can read and I can teach him." Her eyes, facing down, suddenly locked with his. "He's dead. He died of cancer. But that little boy saved my life a thousand times."
She raised her cup and tipped it against his.
"Let's drink to that. Saving lives, 'ey?"
"They're taking him to X-ray. There might be a metal splinter left in his hand. After that stitch him up. In the mean time I could do with a smoke."
"You don't wanna wait inside?"
"No. I want a smoke. He'll be in for at least an hour. Busy and slow service."
Two men stood calmly propped against their car. Number one fished a package of cigarettes from his pocket, handed the other man one, lit one himself and smoked. The weather was nice and sunny and it was better to be outside than have the distinct hospital smell in your nose, number two agreed.
Number one inhaled and blew the smoke out slowly. Then something caught his eye. A man, briskly walking over to the entrance of the hospital.
"Bernie..." He poked number two and nodded.
Bernie followed the look of the other.
"Shit. Isn't that... whatshisname... Huntington?"
"No, that's the other one. Hutchinson. The tall blond. That there, is Starsky."
"What the hell is he doing here?" He stretched his neck to see the dark haired man go through the door into the hospital. "Jimmy... you don't think he's after Rafe, do you?"
Jimmy threw the cigarette on the ground and put his shoe on it. "I don't know. It's a hell of a coincidence. Wait here, be ready. I'm gonna find out."
Jimmy quickly went inside.
Starsky was a bit nervous. Isobel had been in surgery for hours. There was a specialist over from New York, who had taken an interest in Isobel's leg and who was now performing a repair operation on the damaged tendons. She had been very excited. Starsky thought of their talk yesterday evening. She'd had been light at first, but as the moment approached that he had to go home, she got quieter.
"Are you nervous?" he asked, holding her hand.
"Scared shitless," she admitted quietly. "What if this goes wrong again? What if... I'll be in surgery for four hours at least... what if... if things go wrong... if I don't wake up again ..."
Starsky pinched her hand. "Nah, babe, why worry? If you don't wake up again, at least you don't have to worry about legs anymore."
Isobel rolled her tears-filled eyes and smiled despite her fears. "David Starsky, that's about the worst piece of pep talk I've ever heard."
He got up, sat on the edge of her bed and brought his face real close to her. "You, my love, are going to show them something in surgery. You're strong and have a lust for life that's a sight for sore eyes. I'll be here when you wake up." He kissed her tenderly. "You're beautiful."
"Far from that. I'm average."
"Okay. Compromise. Pretty average."
Starsky laughed and kissed her again.
Isobel swallowed, touched by his tenderness. "You know what?"
"I'm falling in love with you, David Starsky."
That was yesterday. Now, the administration clerk nodded, then recognized him from previous meetings. "Hey, Mr. Starsky. How are you doing?"
"You're here for a check up?"
"No. I came to ask how Miss Forrester is doing?"
"Miss Isobel Forrester? Do you know her room number?" The clerk turned to her computer screen and held her fingers a little above the keys.
"45b. She's in surgery today."
"Let me see." Rapid tapping on the keys. "She's still in recovery."
"Can I see her?"
"I'll call the ward. Hang on." She did that and when she hung up, she shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not. Not yet anyway."
"How did it go? Was it a success?"
The woman shook her head. "I can't give out any information, you know that." She saw Starsky's anxiety. "She's asleep but came through all right."
He sighed gratefully.
"You can't go near here before tomorrow. She'll be in ICU for the remaining day and the night. If all goes as planned, she should be back on the ward tomorrow morning."
"In other words, Starsky, take a hike," he mumbled to himself. The nurse overheard him and grinned.
"If only half the people here had your sense of understanding, my work would be much easier."
"I'm not here to make your work easier, but for this time I'll let you off the hook. If there's any change, you call me, all right?"
Jimmy stood out of sight, but within hearing range when Starsky talked to the nurse behind the receptionist desk. He waited until the police officer was gone and left, a safe distance behind the dark haired man clad in jeans and sneakers. Outside, he saw him drive off in a red car with a white striping. In the beige Ford Bernie was waiting, a little on edge.
"False alarm. He asked for some bird." Jimmy looked at the disappearing car.
"I haven't seen him. You go see if he's ready by now."
Twenty minutes later Bernie and a handsome man came walking out. The man had his arm in a sling. His hand was completely wrapped in bandages.
"Rafe," nodded Jimmy. "How's the hand?"
"Stitched and taking it easy for a couple of days. Nothing broken though, no metal splinters."
"Bernie told you about the cop?"
"Yes. So one half of that infamous duo was here. You tell me again Jimmy what you heard and saw. He didn't come for me, did he?"
"Nope. He came for some woman. I followed him inside and listened when he talked to the receptionist."
"Did he mention my name?"
"No. Not once. I'm telling you, he was there for that girl. Isabel Foster or something like that."
Rafe froze. His handsome face hardened. "What did you say?"
Jimmy sensed the change immediately. "Rafe, I..."
"What did you say?" Rafe repeated with obvious anger and impatience. "Jimmy, what was that last again?"
"I said," Jimmy stuttered a little bit because of the threat in Rafe's face, "that he inquired after some girl named Isabel Foster."
"Isobel Forrester, is that the name you heard?" Rafe had the eerie habit of containing his anger very closely to himself, making his menace ooze from his pores. His voice turned soft, his eyes hard, his composure calm and controlled.
"Yeah... yeah! Yes, that was it."
Rafe let out a sigh and grumbled softly. "Let's go."
Isobel was in bed, looking so pale, glass-like almost, that Starsky's stomach knotted up.
"Heya gorgeous," he whispered and brought his face close to hers. Her lively eyes were dull, her skin was ash grey, beads of sweat glistened on her forehead and nose. He kissed her very carefully and took her hand. It felt cold; she shivered lightly. In the cupboard Starsky found another blanket and covered her with it. A little smile curled around her lips, which he found encouraging. At least she knew he was here. Her legs were hidden underneath a device the nurse referred to as a bed bridge - a metal instrument that kept the sheets and blankets from the injured leg as to not put any kind of pressure on it.
Tubes were going in and out her body, but she was not on life support, which reassured him a little.
"How are you?"
She didn't answer. He could tell how tired she was. Her eyelids fluttered and she sank back in a state between sleep and semi-awareness.
"I'll sit here a while," he said softly, "I'll be right here, baby. You sleep. I'll be right here."
And that's what he did. He sat down, put his legs on another chair and with her hand in his, he sat for long hours and dozed off every now and then.
Something nagged at Hutch, but he couldn't put his finger on it. It was something either Starsky said, or Captain Dobey, or maybe Huggy Bear... or perhaps he heard something... The disturbing feeling was like a whirlpool in his thoughts. Every time he thought he knew what it was, it just drained away like water in a tub.
He called Starsky. There was no answer. He remembered why - there was something important going on with Isobel today and he was sure his partner was on his way to, or in the hospital, to see how she was doing.
He took his coat and went to his car, sliding behind the wheel. His shift was nearly over. He'd been working with another cop who also had a partner on sick leave, and although Hutch liked James Bean, it was not like working with his regular pal.
His thoughts automatically took a turn towards Starsky. It was long ago that he had seen his friend truly in love, but this time it was the real thing. Sure, there were many women he dated, for Starsky was an easy-going guy with a natural thing about women that made them like him. But since Terry, he hadn't done anything serious with the opposite sex. Hutch knew how devastated Starsky had been after she died, how intense his questions were, how much he had doubted his own role in the entire story. It took a long time for such a thing to heal, if ever it did. But gradually he began to laugh again, live life again and return to his old self again.
And now, he found someone. Hutch was pleased for him, although he must admit it was awkward that his partner spent more time with the woman in the hospital than with him. They'd always been around to help out the other in case of injury or illness, but Hutch knew he was the odd man out when Isobel and Starsky were together. He took it as a distant resignation.
He liked Isobel, just as he had liked Terry. He knew instinctively she was the right one for Starsky. It was amazing how sometimes people met. If Starsky hadn't come up with that crazy dream when he was ill, he'd never have made a run in the hospital and ended up in Isobel's room.
How people met...
Hutch hit the breaks so hard that he felt the jerk of the safety belt on his chest. He spun the car around and raced to the station, ran inside, taking the steps three at a time. He ran into the office, pulled the drawer out so fast it tumbled out of the desk and snatched the folder he'd been going through earlier.
Rafe talked with Jimmy and Bernie about Isobel Forrester.
"Remember Jack Bush?"
"Yep. He died when that bus crashed," Bernie remembered. "Glad to be rid of him. I never liked the guy. Reminded me of a ferret."
"Listen to me, boys," said Rafe. His natural authority made the two men take in every word as if it was nectar. "Jack Bush died, but not by bad luck alone."
Bernie squinted his eyes a little. "Meaning...?"
"It was me who put that car sideways in the street. It made the bus spin and hit that wall."
"But..." Jimmy stuttered, grasping the full extent of Rafe's words. "But a lot of people were killed that day. It was an accident."
"A planned accident, Jimmy. I meant for the bus driver to pull over. I hadn't meant for it to crash into that store, but it happened. As it was, it worked excellently. Bush had the bag with the stones on him. I had it out of there in all the chaos and the hassle. Killed two birds with one stone."
"You killed more than two birds," Bernie said with tight lines around his mouth. The two men were neither stupid nor cruel. They were little crooks, but not fools and certainly not as dumb as some TV series might lead the viewer to believe. "You made a massacre of that, you idiot."
"Bernie." Rafe lifted a hand to calm an upcoming outburst, "I didn't plan for a whole busload of people to die. It was unfortunate, but it happened. I wanted to force the bus driver to stop, get the stones from Bush and get out, while everyone was still too surprised to say anything. The accident was unfortunate as I said, but it turned out all right. The mobsters would have killed Jack Bush anyway. We didn't even have to touch him. Jack Bush did something very stupid. He stole from the Mafia, and—"
"He didn't," Jimmy protested and added a little proudly, "We did."
"Yes, but the Mafia didn't know that, did they? They're convinced that Jack Bush ripped them off and that doesn't come down well, does it? He had over three million dollars on him in that little black velvet bag. I got back what was ours and we got rid of Bush in the same stroke."
"So what has this got to do with that Isobel woman?"
"She was in the bus. She's the only one who survived the bus crash."
"Fuck. And she's seeing this detective..."
"Who's been on our tail..."
"So much for coincidence."
"You're not going to hurt some bird who most likely doesn't remember anything?"
"She's seen me," Rafe said slowly. "She had her eyes open when I took the stones from him. She was less than three feet from me." He thought it through for a second, then shook his head.
"I can't take any risks. I have to act. For all our sakes."
Starsky could feel his head lolling to a side, then he bolted awake again. The kips he could take any moment betrayed he wasn't completely fit yet. He was easily tired still. The pain was gone and he didn't move around like an old man anymore. It was only vaguely present as some discomfort in his abdomen, but that was all.
He decided a cup of coffee and something from the vending machine would do him good. He looked at Isobel, who was sound asleep now, judging by her deep and steady breathing. There was even a little blush returning to her cheekbones. Starsky placed a feather light kiss on her forehead and left to find a bite and a drink. He decided to take the stairs to get some of the stiffness from his limbs and turned the corner.
Rafe and Jimmy took the elevator up. Rafe, his arm still in a sling, looked like any other patient on a check-up and Jimmy being there to help him.
"We're going to do this quickly and neatly," Rafe said. "You'll wait in the hallway, and if someone asks you'll tell them you're waiting for a friend to come back from a doctor's visit. Bernie is outside, waiting in the car." Jimmy didn't ask further. Rafe knew he'd be on his side.
They were an odd mix, Rafe Dartelli and the Jones twins. They'd been together since childhood and were lifetime friends. They got involved in some minor thefts, some bigger thefts, and then things grew from bad to worse. Since the three had stolen a million dollars worth of diamonds during the diamond smuggling caper of some mafia group, it had become necessary to learn to live with and accept violence. Rafe hated violence, but noticed that sometimes it was necessary to ensure his own existence.
It was a pity that Isobel Forrester had seen him. Sooner or later Starsky would find out, and they'd have the whole Met on their tails. No one knew where the diamonds had gone, but Isobel would come up with his face, and not long after that his name, and then...
Rafe shook his head. The doors slid open with a soft ping. Nurses were walking in one room, out the other, carts were standing on the sides, numbered boards told visitors were to find what. A janitor was mopping the floor. All in all a regular floor in a regular hospital.
"45B," mumbled Jimmy. "I'll wait here."
"Is there an entrance on the other side?"
"No. Only stairs."
"I'll be right back," Rafe said. He figured he had two choices - either he'd do something with a pillow or he'd fuss with tubes or IV's or something like that. Rafe was an intelligent man who usually took his steps thoughtfully, but he realized there was not always a point in planning something when you had absolutely no idea what was lying ahead. Maybe he'd come in her room and find three visitors there. He would just politely apologize and leave. No one would even remember his face, for his injured hand and arm would distract their attention. It was bad luck he had fallen in the garage and hurt his hand the way he did, but if this hadn't happened he would never have known about Forrester and the cop.
He found the room with the number 45B on the door. It was half open. He peeked inside. A woman was asleep on the bed, her face turned towards the door. There was no one else. He stepped in, pushed the door shut behind him and looked down on her. She was sound asleep. She would not suffer, he decided.
He carefully pulled one of the pillows away from under head and put it on her face. He pushed, first gently, then firmer. There was a reaction in her. She woke up, her hands grabbing in the air, finding his sleeves, pulling and pushing. He felt her body twitch.
"Hya, Izzy, I'm ba—"
Starsky came in, holding a snack and coffee, pushing the door open with his shoulder. For a second his mind didn't take in what his eyes witnessed - then he understood. He dropped everything and with a loud yell he jumped on the back of the man who held a pillow firmly pressed on Isobel's head.
A fierce fight broke loose. Just when Starsky had the idea he could overpower the attacker, he got a kick in the groin with a very pointy boot. His belly screamed, dark spots and flashing stars shot up in front of his eyes.
It wasn't the perp who kicked him - there was a second man. Starsky had no idea where he came from, but suddenly they were all over him. They kicked him and hit him. The second man crawled on top of him, closed his hands around Starsky's throat and began to squeeze. His pushed his knees in Starsky's belly. The detective kicked to free himself, but the pain in his still sensitive belly was unbearable, and the hands that tightened his throat were like a bench-vise. His mind raced to Isobel. Through the haze of tears and the dark spots that circled in his vision, he noticed the first man closing in on her.
Hutch leaped through the air like a cougar, landed on the back of the man at Isobel's bed and the two men rolled over the floor. Starsky clawed at his attacker, but he couldn't muster the energy to get the man off. His body strength was wearing off rapidly. The voices came from further and further.
Hutch gave a yelp. He had his opponent in a steady grip, but out of the blue a third person jumped into the room and he lunged his head straight into Hutch's ribcage. For a second, Starsky's attacker looked sideways, giving the curly-haired cop just enough space to get some air in his burning lungs.
"Hutch," he squeaked. It came out like a hiss. The hands gripped tighter - the man was much stronger than he'd appeared.
Hutch couldn't spare him an answer. He fought like a tiger, with two men all over him. He had number one down, but number three yanked his arm around Hutch's throat and stomped him in his kidneys. Hutch struggled, clenched his fist and hit the man on the ground as hard as he could. Still the lights in those eyes didn't go out.
And then there was Agatha.
Alarmed by the noise in the room, she came storming in. One look and she understood the situation. She grabbed one of the crutches that still stood against the wall and swung it with the flair of a baseball player at number three's head.
"Not. In. My. Ward. Period!" she spat furiously.
Number three sank to the floor soundlessly. Released from his tormentor, Hutch gave the final blow to the man on the ground and finally, the man's body relaxed. In one jump he pulled the last man from Starsky and unceremoniously knocked him unconscious.
"Starsk," he whispered, dragging the perp away and looking at his friend, while Agatha tended to Isobel. Starsky had his eyes closed, but when Hutch patted him gently in the face, he opened them and blinked confused, followed by a pain-induced grimace.
"Starsk? Can you hear me?"
"Hutch?" he croaked hoarsely. Then he remembered where he was. "Isobel!" A yelp followed his cry. "My belly. Geez... my belly."
"Stay down, Starsk." Hutch was calm and quiet. He saw his friend was in pain.
"No. No, help me up. Isobel..."
"Stay down, Mr. Starsky. Out of my way, Officer Hutchinson." That was Agatha's voice. Where everyone came from was a mystery, but the head nurse proved what she was made of. Within thirty seconds security came in and took the men away. Another team drove Isobel on her bed away. Agatha tended to Starsky, whose gut felt like it was split in half. There was blood dripping from somewhere in the sore area, seeping through the fabric of his shirt and dropping onto his fingers.
"Agatha... how is she?" Starsky could hardly talk.
"Hush. Stay down."
He grasped her arm, buried his fingers in her uniform. "Agatha. Tell me!"
"Alive," said Agatha curtly. Her grey eyes found Starsky's and he saw compassion and worry that he had not held possible in this seemingly cold, distant woman. She released him carefully. Her voice was less harsh. "Now lay down. Take it easy. Let me do my work. You're hurt."
Starsky obliged. He lowered his head onto Hutch's lap and closed his eyes.
Hutch stood next to Nurse Agatha and watched Starsky being taken through the operating doors for the second time in two weeks.
"Off he is," said Agatha. She straightened her uniform and her bonnet. "I have a ward to run. If you'll excuse me?"
"Nurse... Agatha... wait." Hutch put his hand on her arm. "Thank you."
For a couple of beats it seemed the world between him and her stood still. She looked at him with her impenetrable grey eyes. Hutch saw them looking directly into his soul, as clearly as if she were reading a book. He had to admit he had been wrong, completely wrong about her. There was a surprising care and tenderness deep inside of her. Welling-up, he bent over and kissed her on the cheek.
Hutch could swear she was moved by that kiss. She touched his chin lightly and nodded. "I told you. I don't like those things on my ward." The voice was back, the words were the same... but the tone was slightly different.
She nodded once again and left.
Starsky, half-drugged still, but insisting on seeing his friends, got a visit from Hutch and Isobel. She sat in the wheelchair and seemed to have come through her ordeal unharmed - at least, physically. She still looked shocked and distressed, but after a light tranquillizer the sharp edges of the nightmare were gone. She and Hutch talked for a long time while Starsky was out, and he tried to comfort her as much as he could. Talking was often the best way to take away the fears and the visions that hunted the victim. She was still pretty shaken up by everything that had happened, but Hutch recognized the fighter in her and knew she wouldn't give in.
Once Starsky was back from recovery and awake enough, the two were allowed in and Hutch explained everything he'd come to know.
"Rafael Dartelli and Jimmy and Bernie Jones were thieves. But good ones. They had a flourishing business running with all the things they knicked and sold. One day they ended up in the middle of a Mafia hold-up and took their chance: they stole a shipment of diamonds with a rough value of approximately three million dollars."
"Three million dollars? Wow..."
"Which the mobsters didn't take kindly to. Jack Bush was another petty thief, but he had witnessed the theft and decided to steal from the thieves. Bush didn't know he was dealing with Mafia stuff. Rafe decided to get the stones back and make it look like Bush still had them. He put a car sideways on the street, stopping the mini bus that Bush was in."
"How did he know Bush was in that mini bus?"
"Jimmy had followed him, and called Rafe. Easy. Jimmy got off the bus, Rafe stopped it."
"But it went berserk."
"It did and flew into that store, killing all the passengers but one."
"Yup. Rafe took the diamonds from Bush's body in all the chaos and panic, but Isobel had her eyes open and looked at him. At least, that's what he thinks."
"I can't remember anything of that," Isobel shrugged. "In fact, as I told Dave, I hardly recall anything. I don't understand he'd kill me for that."
"But he was going to, no doubt about it. He recognized Starsky, put two and two together and was convinced you'd be able to tell Big Softy here about the man you'd seen. Certainly that would eventually reach the ears of the mob... with all the consequences that come with stealing from that lovely bunch."
Starsky sank a little deeper in the pillows. He was so groggy, he could hardly keep his eyes open. Surgery had been necessary again and the fight hadn't done much good to his system. It was as if he'd been thrown back a week. He felt feeble as a kitten. But he had insisted on talking to Hutch. He needed to know what had happened and how Isobel was. He was very pleased when he saw him coming to him, pushing Isobel's wheelchair. She looked pale, but all right.
"Where did you come from all of a sudden?" Starsky asked.
"I read the report on the bus accident. The name Jack Bush was on the death list - but only after a while I realized that that was Jack Bush, mobster conman. I had seen it before, but it didn't ring any bells at the time. I'd kept nagging at me, you know. I knew you'd be in the hospital for Isobel and I wanted to talk to you about it. Apparently Bernie, Jimmy's twin brother, was outside, waiting in a getaway car, when he saw me going in. Jimmy and Rafe were already inside, and he knew he must warn them, so he followed me. I came here, saw the fight... you know the rest." Hutch grinned. "As for Agatha..."
"She swung a crutch at your attacker?"
"The story spreads like a fire. But it's true. She did. Homerun."
The three of them shared a chuckle.
"I'll leave you two," Hutch said when he noticed his friend's fatigue. "Get some rest, buddy." He kissed Isobel. "Make sure he doesn't take a hike, Isobel."
"Will do. Thanks, Ken. For your help and your listening ear," Isobel said and pinched his hand.
Hutch left after saying goodbye, leaving the two people in love to themselves. As soon as he was gone, Isobel began to cry. Starsky could hardly move, and she couldn't come any closer to him then she already was, so they just sat there, emotionally entangled but physically impossible to get any closer. Isobel rested her head on the bed, burying her eyes and her tears in Starsky's blanket.
"Don't cry, Izzy. It's over, girl. They can't harm you anymore."
"Hutch was in time. As always. And Agatha stunned us all."
Isobel shook her head. Muffled through the blanket and the tears, she said, "It didn't work, Dave. He couldn't fix my leg..."
"Oh baby..." Starsky looked at her hair, stroked it and realized she was still in shock. She did as if the attack hadn't gotten to her, but the combination of that and the bad news from the specialist, caused her to crack up.
"But I want to live, Dave," she sobbed unsteadily. "When that punk attacked me, I saw my life... and what I want... and I don't want to die... And I'm... I can't walk... I'm a cripple and I want to live... and... and..." Her voice broke again.
Starsky was not quickly lost for words. But now, he didn't know what to say. Too tired to be able to find the right words, too hurt by her pain himself to help the hurting.
"Back to work tomorrow! Up to it?" Hutch asked. Starsky was back to his usual self again. Witty and bubbling, he bounced around and there was no stopping him.
"Absolutely. All the way. I never thought I'd say it, but I've missed your ugly face."
"Hummm. Reminds you of how beautiful you are yourself, right?"
"Flowers for Isobel?"
Hutched looked quizzically at Starsky. He drove the Torino and headed for the hospital.
"I'll wait here." Hutch wasn't sure what he was going to do, but he had the feeling Starsky didn't need him on his side.
"Okidokie. I'll be right back."
Starsky knocked on the door of the head nurse's room. There was no one inside - undoubtedly Agatha was doing her rounds and keeping her ward clean and tight. He stood in the doorway with the flowers in his hand, then shrugged and put them on the chair. She'd find them when she would return. Pity, he would have liked to thank her in person.
He turned around and looked her straight in the face.
"Officer Starsky." A small nod of acknowledgement.
"Nurse Agatha." Under her looks he was twelve again. He cleared his throat. "I came to thank you."
"That's quite all right." She didn't give an inch, this woman. But a little smile played around the curve of her lips. Starsky took a step forward and wrapped his arms around her. He hugged her, then, embarrassed, let go.
Her hand touched his a curl of his hair, then dropped to her side again. The gesture was small, but revealed the true woman inside her, the one who cared for her patients and the people she worked with.
"I'm out of here." He coughed uncomfortably.
"Yes, you do that. Goodbye, David. Take good care of yourself. And of Officer Hutchinson."
"Goodbye, Nurse Agatha."
She looked at him as he hurried away.
Isobel was not in her room, which made Starsky head directly for the patio. She sat with headphones on covering her ears, her eyes on a book that she had on her lap. Her finger pointed to whatever it was she was reading. Starsky looked over her shoulder. To his surprise she was studying notes in a music book. He couldn't read notes himself but recognized it as such. Isobel took the headphones off and switched off the Walkman.
"Hi. What's that?"
"I've decided to take up the clarinet again. I used to play quite well when I was younger."
"Wow! Great. Don't tell Hutch. He'll make you do some weird act together with that friggin' guitar he carries around all the time." He gave her a cheerful wink - Hutch played guitar excellently and had a good singing voice as well.
Isobel took a letter she used as bookmarker.
"See this? It arrived yesterday. I've got a place in a rehab center. I can stay there for the next three years, I'm told. By the time I have to leave, I'm independent enough to be able to take care of myself."
Starsky sat down. He bent towards her. "Or you can come and live at my place," he said warmly. "I'd love to have you around. I'll revamp the place for you, any way you want."
But she shook her head. "No Dave. It's a great offer, but..."
"But it's not what you need. I am not what you need."
Starsky's eyes flashed non-understanding. He cupped his hands around her face and looked into her brown eyes. The eyes he wanted to drown in. His voice was soft and urgent, filled with love. "I want YOU, Isobel. I want you to be my wife, to grow old with me, I want children that sprout from your genes." He kissed her, not taking his eyes from hers. "I love you."
She smiled, but the sad look didn't escape Starsky's attention. "Listen to me, Dave. I love you very, very much. But I've seen how you and Hutch work and that's why I feel we should take it easy. If there's one thing you don't need is worrying about your cripple girl at home, while your mind and your attention should be focused on Hutch alone."
Starsky wanted to say something, but she tenderly placed her fingers on his lips. "Don't, Dave. I've made up my mind. You owe it to your pal and to yourself. If I'm around, one day you will find you've thought of me one time too much and you'll be standing over your friend's dead body."
"Hutch is in your veins, Dave. You know it, he knows it. Every move you make, he makes too. Every breath he takes is part of the air you use. Hutch is worth his weight in gold. And you're worth him. You two are hand in glove, right? If you love me, then please grant me my wish. Be my friend, but let's take it easy. There's plenty of time."
"Are you sure?" Starsky asked, his voice smaller than the littlest kid in school.
"No, of course not. My heart tells me a different thing than my head. But I mean it."
Starsky sat quietly next to her, holding her small hands in his much bigger ones. She was right, and he knew it. As long as Hutch was around, he was needed to watch his back.
"Did anyone ever tell you what a great person you are?" He kissed her tenderly.
She smiled and caressed his face. "Get out of here. Hutch is waiting for you downstairs, right?"
"Am I that transparent?"
"I must work on my cloaking techniques," Starsky said, shaking his head. They talked a while, until Isobel reminded him that his pal was still waiting for him outside. They kissed. He left, feeling strangely dangling between sadness and joy. God, what a great woman.
"You blue, Starsk? Or is it just me?"
"I'm not. I'm just... pensive."
"Hm. I miss her."
"No point in asking what you two discussed, is there?"
"You don't need to. You know it. She's got the perception of a natural-born detective."
Hutch thought back of what she had said the time they had a little talk in her room. Must be nice to feel like that. And difficult too. Worries and all that.
"Is that why you two're taking it slow?"
"She's got this incredible way of finding a way into your heart, hasn't she?"
"She sure has." Hutch caught the morose glance. "You want another beer?"
Hutch walked into the kitchen. From the room came the voice of his pal.
"You still owe me a game of monopoly."
"Get the board out. I'll squeeze you for every dollar you're worth."
"Tomorrow's Monday. Last time we played this it was five in the morning before you finally agreed you were bankrupt."
"No chance of that this time, buddy. I'll have your ass in an hour."
Starsky got up, got the game from the cupboard and spread it out on the table. He hummed to himself, with the typical mood swing that was so very much Starsky. Hutch smiled to himself. He told himself not to forget to buy flowers for Isobel.
"Tomorrow's Monday," Hutch repeated softly to himself. While Starsky got the game ready, he searched amongst his records until he found what he was looking for. The Mama's and the Papa's. He put it on and sat down opposite his friend. The music filled the room.
"Monday, Monday... so good to me."