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This story is dedicated to Kate, aka KatoTomato, who insisted I could do a better job, then showed me how. If this story has any merit its because of her. Thank you, Kate.
Always On My Mind
Capt. Dobey didnt like the whole set-up, but he couldnt pass up the chance to nab one of the biggest cocaine dealers on the coast. Most of the big busts went to the feds and they werent exactly keen on sharing information with the locals. That rivalry even extended to the federal agencies. No one wanted someone else to step in and pick up their bust.
"Im agreeing to this, but I want you two to know I dont like it. I dont like it at all. I dont trust these guys."
"Who, Captain?" Hutchinson asked, turning a bit in the chair to stretch his long legs.
"Who? Everybody involved in this case, thats who! Starsky, stop that!" Dobey yelled. Starsky, whod been drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair, quit and looked up at the man, who was now standing.
"I dont get it, Cap. Weve got a chance to catch Fat Freddie with the biggest cocaine haul hes ever had and ice his supplier and you dont want to do it?" Starsky asked.
"I dont like Brinson," Dobey said, referring to the lead federal agent on the case. Dobey and Brinson had butted heads many times.
"Why not?" Hutch interjected.
"Because hes a liar and a horses ass, thats why. I dont trust him and if this case wasnt so important, I wouldnt let you two get involved in it."
"Whats our job?" Starsky picked up a paperweight on the captains desk and tossed it into the air. Dobey reached out and caught it on its way down.
"My daughter made that for me. Leave my desk alone." He placed the paperweight back on the desk.
"You two are local contacts. You help them with the names, faces, places, etc.," Dobey said. "No more."
"That sounds like pretty dull stuff. So were just liaisons?" Hutch asked.
"Sort of like that. They may have you out trolling for some information, too. I dont trust Brinson, but I know you two have enough sense to keep him in check. Isnt that right?"
Starskys face split into a huge grin. "Of course we do. Were about the most sensible two cops on the force. Isnt that right, Detective Hutchinson?"
"Both of you get out of here or Ill indubitably cancel all your future time off," Dobey said, sitting back down at his desk. The pair stood and started out the door.
"Starsky, Hutchinson "
They stopped and turned back to Dobey.
"Be careful around Brinson. Got it?"
"Got it," Hutch said.
Three weeks later, the deal was set to go down. Theyd spent most of their time sifting through criminal records, talking to informants, collecting information and identifying the lower level druggies for Brinson and his men.
Fat Freddie had been burned and turned and was working with them grudgingly trying to avoid an active sentence. He was to take an undercover operative in with him for the main buy hundreds of kilos. Enough dope to blanket the state and a big enough bust to send Brinson up the ladder to a promotion out of the field.
The buy would go down the next day and Starsky and Hutch had been cut loose from the case.
"Thanks, boys. Well take it from here," Brinson had told them as they left.
"Nice of him to let us wonder how it turns out," Starsky said, angry that after weeks of work, they were being left out of the final action.
"Ah, Starsk, you know how those glory hounds are. They want to make sure we dont steal their thunder. I say to hell with them. Lets go grab a bite at The Pits and drink a beer or two. Ill even buy," Hutch said.
The thought of a big, greasy cheeseburger nested in a bed of fries did a lot to cheer Starsky. The thought of Hutch paying for it was even better.
"Youre on," he said, steering the Torino toward their favorite hangout.
Dobey called them back to the office before they reached their destination. Starsky complained all the way to the station that he was starving. Hutch ignored him.
They pushed their way into the Captains office to find Dobey on the phone, apparently engaged in an argument.
"I told you Id let you know. Wait, theyre here now. Ill talk with them and call you back. Yes, I know you have a tight deadline, but theyre MY men. And Ill do it MY way. You got that?" He slammed the phone down and looked up at the pair.
"You wanted to see us, Capn?" Starsky asked, sliding into his usual seat.
"I guess. Tell me, what do you two think of Brinson?"
"A jerk," Starsky said. "Now that were finished with that, can we go eat, Cap? Im starving and "
"Shut up, Starsky. A jerk, huh? Hutch?"
"I wouldnt want him to marry my sister. Heck, I wouldnt even want that turkey washing my windows. Why?"
"How would you feel about working undercover for him?" Dobey asked Hutchinson.
"Undercover? Why would he want me? He threw us off the case a couple of hours ago. Said he didnt need us any more. It was relayed in a nice, official manner, but that was the upshot," Hutchinson said. Starsky pulled a pack of gum out of his pocket and started to unwrap a piece.
"Why the change of heart, Cap?" He pulled a stick out and peeled off the wrapper, dropping it on the floor.
"Pick that crap up, Starsky, or Ill transfer you to the dog pound. And the change of hearts because Hutch matches the description of an agent that was supposed to make the buy for him. Fat Freddie was to take the guy in for Brinson."
"Handsome fellow, huh?" Hutch said.
"Tall, blond, nicknamed "Swede" sound like anyone in this room?"
"So Im not good enough to work the case, but when his boy cant do it, Brinson wants me, huh? I dont think so."
"Hey Hutch, dont be so quick," Starsky tossed the balled up gum wrapper into Dobeys trash can, then swiveled to face his partner. "Going in there and making Brinsons case after he threw us off would be kind of sweet, dont you think? We ought to save the day for the jackass. Maybe hell get transferred."
"When does this thing go down?" Hutch asked.
"Seventeen hours from now. Their man had an appendix attack. They wheeled him into surgery a few minutes ago. Brinson cant call it off theres too much involved. And he cant risk planting someone who isnt familiar with the case. You fit the description, Hutchinson," Dobey said.
"What about me?" Starsky asked.
"They didnt ask for any comedians, Starsky, so sit down," Dobey said.
"The hell I will. If he goes, I go."
"I guess Ill do it, Captain. And dont worry, Starsky. Ill be OK. Its been planned out like the invasion of Normandy. Therell be a million cops around " Hutch began.
"Correction. A million and one. Im in. Im there to watch your back, especially where Brinson is concerned."
Dobey sighed. "All right. To tell the truth, I prefer Starsky to be there, looking out for your interests. Ill tell Brinson its a package deal. You two head over to Brinsons office for a briefing. Ill call him and tell him youre on your way." The two men rose and prepared to leave, but were called back by their superior officer.
"Always do," said Hutch.
Hutch had been briefed on what Fat Freddie had told the "Big Man" as Fred referred to him. A mid-level drug dealer, Freddie was nervous nervous about crossing the Big Man a major supplier on both coasts and nervous about taking a cop into his territory.
"If he figures it out, Im dead and so are you, Hutchinson," Freddie said, wiping his sweaty palms on his bright purple pants. Freddie dressed like a pimp, only without the style or fashion sense. Hutch hated to be seen with him.
Hutch chose to dress a little more flamboyantly than usual himself. He rummaged through his closet until he found a soft silk shirt matching his eyes a gift from an old girlfriend. The shirt was a little fancy for his tastes, but perfect for a drug dealer. He wore it halfway unbuttoned over his lean, lightly muscled chest, with a couple of gold chains thrown around his neck for good measure and a pair of tight pants, with a jacket to hide his shoulder holster and gun.
Although well-prepared, Hutch was on edge Brinson had given him a pile of information to commit to memory before the buy went down. He had to get it letter-perfect or risk having the whole deal go bad.
Starsky was worried when he saw all the material his partner had to master in such a short time. "Theres not much room to learn all this stuff. Maybe I shouldnt have talked you into it. Maybe youre right, after all. Maybe you should call it off," he told his partner later the previous night at Hutchs apartment, where the two shared a pizza one half everything and one half tomato, sprouts and some suspicious white stuff Hutch claimed was cheese.
"Back out now? Nah, I cant do that, Starsky. I gave Brinson my word." Hutch talked between bites of pizza.
"Sure. Besides, Ill only be in there for a few minutes. The conversationll be short and mostly about how the exchangell be made. Theres nothing to worry about. Im the careful type, you know that. And youll be there to back me up if things get hairy." Hutch grinned and put his arm around Starskys shoulder.
"I know you wont let anything happen to me, Starsk, because if it does, youll have to break in a new partner and I know how much you get on everyones nerves. I doubt theres another officer at that department who could stand being cooped up in a car with you eight ten hours a day."
"Is that right?" Starsky asked, grinning "Better be careful or Ill start eating extra-spicy burritos for breakfast every day."
When the deal went down, Hutch and Freddie were both wired and the pair drove 20 miles out of town to meet the Big Man, who had just flown in from Miami. Hutch let out a sigh of relief when he glanced around the room and discovered he didnt recognize anyone. They knew the Big Man brought his own people and had gambled he wouldnt have anyone with him who could make Hutch.
Starsky, who was sitting in a mobile receiving unit with some of the back-up team, could hear as the conversation progressed. Hutch easily carried his end, talking confidently about grade, cut and packaging of the drug.
"Now, I want to introduce you gentlemen to someone you need to get to know. My good friend, and my new West Coast representative, Carl Morales. Carl and I have been friends since we were children. Hes coming to work for me and will be handling all my deals out here."
Starsky heard Hutch suck in his breath. Morales? Jesus, theyd arrested him themselves about two years ago. Ripping off the headset, he climbed out of the back of the van and took off down the street to where Brinson was sitting in a parked car. Brinson rolled his window down.
"What the hell do you want, Starsky?"
"Morales can make Hutch, you asshole. We need to move now."
"Not yet. Morales has been in the room for several minutes and hasnt said anything. Hold on. We dont want to rush it before Hutch closes the deal."
"Closes the deal? Dammit, Im telling you, Hutch is getting ready to be busted. You know the drugs are there. Lets move!"
"Not until I give the word, Starsky. Now get back on post or else," Brinson dismissed him.
"Thats my partners life youre fooling with. Im moving in closer so I can go in faster if Hutch needs help."
"You blow this and Ill have your career."
"You get my partner killed and Ill have your ass," Starsky said, then turned and began working his way toward the house where the meeting was taking place. He planned to get to the window and take a peek to see how Hutch was making out.
Starsky eliminated two guards and finally made it close enough to look inside. There he saw his partner being held at gunpoint. Morales and the Big Man were deep in conversation. Another guard had a gun on Freddie. Starsky counted four more guards. The odds werent too hot. He pulled out his radio, turned the sound down and whispered: "Theyre busted!"
Suddenly a shot rang out and Starsky, seized with sudden panic, turned to look back into the room just in time to see Fat Freddie fall to the floor like a boneless hunk of meat. Freddie didnt move, but beneath him an alarmingly large puddle of blood began to seep out onto the floor.
"Freddies down, Im going in!" Starsky said, then ditched the handheld radio and, in one fluid movement, kicked in the glass window, cutting himself in the process.
He entered the room balled up and flying, landing hard on the floor, bringing the gun up just in time to nail one of the Big Mans henchmen. Regaining his footing, Starsky came up in a low crouch and moved quickly across the room, grabbing the man who held Hutch at gunpoint by the throat in a chokehold.
"Drop it!" He yelled. Around him, the room boiled with activity. Federal agents on the outside fired into the building. On the inside, Starsky tightened his grip and, using the man as a shield, pointed his own gun at the Big Man, who had started to rise.
"Sit back down, Fatso. Hutch, get their guns." Hutchinson started to move toward the Big Man when a shot fired from outside struck Starsky in the back. Try as he could, Starsky couldnt hold on to either the man or the gun.
"Im hit," he said to Hutch, then began to lose his grip on the man he was holding. It felt like a mule had kicked him in the back. Hutch confiscated gun in hand moved quickly over to Starskys side as the smaller mans knees buckled. Hutch grabbed his arm and lowered him carefully to the floor.
"Hold on, Buddy."
Taking his partner by the scruff of his shirt, Hutch pulled him across the linoleum floor, looking for cover from the hail of bullets now falling, and both inside and out. He never made it.
As he was dragging Starsky, one of the Big Mans men came from behind Hutch and seized his gun hand. Hutch lost his grip on Starsky, letting him slide to the floor. Starsky, whod left a bloody trail across the floor, lay barely conscious and unable to move as his partner fought for the gun.
Starsky yelled, but it was all in his mind. He couldnt seem to make his mouth work, no matter how hard he tried. Ignoring the painful wound in his back and the rapidly spreading pool of blood beneath him, Starsky tried desperately to come to his partners aid, but the only thing that still worked were his thoughts.
(Hutch, behind you!)
A second man moved in behind Hutch. Starsky saw him, saw the knife in his hand, but when he tried to warn Hutch, all that came out was a ragged whisper. It wasnt enough.
He watched in agony as the man plunged a knife into Hutch's back.
The detective stopped struggling with the other man, a look of disbelief on his face. His arm went slack and the gun dropped, while his attacker took advantage of the moment to drive the knife home a second time.
The man smiled. Bullets bounced off the walls as the federal agents continued to assault the building. And time stopped forever for Detective David Starsky.
Starsky watched in horror it was all he could do as a weakened Hutch reached out and tried to wrestle the knife from his attacker. He wasnt going to go down easy, but he was losing too much blood to win that fight. Hutchs hands were cut and bleeding from his attempt to grab the knife, and he couldnt avoid the third and final assault as his attacker sank the knife into his stomach and pulled it out, letting the mortally wounded officer fall to the already blood-soaked floor.
(Oh God, Hutch.)
On the floor, Starsky forgot his own pain in the unqualified horror of watching his partner die. Hutch fell next to him, on his stomach and, with a terrible effort, turned his head to Starsky.
(Tell me youll be OK, Hutch. Tell me its not that bad.)
"Starsky," Hutch whispered, placing his bloody hand over his partners.
(Stay with me, Hutch.)
Starsky looked into Hutchs eyes and saw his own anguish reflected in his partners. Desperately, Starsky reached out the only way he could with his mind.
(Dont go, Hutch. Please, dont go. Open your eyes, look at me. Tell me you hear me, Hutch. Give me some sign. Please, Hutch. Dont go without me. Please.)
Then David Starskys world shattered as he watched his partners eyes flutter closed with one last shuddering breath.
Starsky didnt remember anything that happened after that. He was taken to the hospital by a team of paramedics who were convinced their patient wouldnt live long enough to get there.
Hours of surgery followed, with Dobey and Huggy standing vigil. News of Hutchinsons death had come hard and Dobey was bitter at the outcome.
He should never have allowed it. He knew it when Brinson called him. His instincts shouted no commanded him to ignore the request for assistance, no matter how good the cause. And yet they went. It was all that bastard Brinsons fault, thought Dobey. Now one of his best men was dead and the other might as well be.
Starskys outlook was not good. The doctors told them not to expect miracles. The bullet had nicked his spinal cord and they werent certain whether his mobility would return. If he lived, that is.
Dobey wasnt sure Starsky would want to live at least not without Hutch. He also didnt know how much Starsky had seen. He himself had been notified several hours after the incident. The scene had been cleaned up, the bodies removed and Starsky was in surgery by the time Dobey had been contacted.
Starsky slept in the ICU during the government autopsy that concluded his partner had died of multiple stab wounds. Defensive wounds to the hand completed the ugly story. Dobey read the report with a sick heart. Hutch had fought hard for his life. So many stab wounds in so many vital places it read like a blueprint for death. Dobey locked up the report. He didnt want Starsky to ever see it.
Hutchs body was cremated at his familys request and his ashes sent to Minnesota for a funeral service and interment in the Hutchinson family mausoleum. His friends at home wanted to say "goodbye" though, and held a memorial service of their own. It took place on the beach on a fine, cool day, with the seagulls in attendance. The sky, full of fluffy, white clouds that shifted shape in the breeze, was a shade of blue that echoed Hutchs eyes. His friends and co-workers talked about the friend they loved, sang a few of Hutchs favorite songs and left with heavy hearts because they knew that Starsky still had to walk down that same road.
Death would have been easier for Hutch to accept than the knowledge his partner was in a coma, near death, and he could do nothing about it. He could feel himself encased in bandages, hooked up to machines, IVs running out of his arms. And it hurt oh God, did it hurt.
Drifting up from the deep well of unconsciousness to skim the surface, he found nothing but pain. He also heard enough to know Starsky was alive, for the moment. No one, it appeared, expected either of them to live. Hutch could contend with his own death, but the idea his partner was dying and he wasnt there, cut him to the core. His heart urged him to wake up and find Starsky and he tried, he really tried. But before he could fully process that thought, someone put a needle in his arm and he dove deep again into that blessed abyss where pain and loss couldnt follow him.
It was almost as though Starksy thought that if he didnt wake up, he wouldnt have to deal with Hutchs death. No one could bring him around and many tried. Huggy and Dobey visited Starksy and talked to him, read to him, played a little radio they brought with them. Others came and did the same. But still, Starsky slept on, trapped in a land of dreams.
(There was a church of some sort and at the front of the sanctuary sat a coffin bathed in a stream of pure, white light. People were in the pews people he knew and soft organ music played.
As he passed through the doors, everyone turned to look, but he paid little attention to the crowd, fixing his eyes only on the coffin at the end of the aisle. His heart felt as though it was thumping out of his chest as he walked slowly towards it, compelled by the need to know and the horror of having his worst fears confirmed. The coffin was closed, so he reached down and opened the heavy lid.
His heart broke quietly into little pieces. It was true: Hutch was nestled in blue satin, satin the color of his eyes. But those eyes were closed against the light, thick lashes sprinkled against the curve of his cheek. The fine, golden hair was carefully combed, the hands so often strong and steadying were folded across his chest over a suit of fine blue wool. He looked peaceful and innocent -- there was nothing to betray the violence of his death.
Hot tears filled Starskys eyes, spilling over into the coffin, staining the delicate blue. He reached down and gently touched Hutchs face one last time, running a finger along the jaw line, feeling the cold smoothness of his skin, disturbing the picture-perfect hair, so soft against his own rough hands.
There was no warmth, no life inside that coffin, and there was no life for Starsky outside it. Overcome with grief and guilt, he turned and stumbled back down the aisle, his tears clouding his vision, grabbing the pews for support, and as he passed each row, the occupants turned as one and hissed, "Its your fault, Starsky. You killed your best friend."
When Starsky reached the last pew, he launched himself blindly toward the doors, but they refused to open. So he pounded on them, screaming his partners name over and over and over again.)
The breakthrough came nearly six weeks after the shooting, when no one expected it. An orderly came into the room to do a few things and Dobey who was spending his lunch hour reading to Starsky spoke to the man. When he answered, he sounded startlingly like Ken Hutchinson. So much like him, in fact, that the usually unflappable Dobey felt goosebumps appear on his arm.
Starsky must have heard it, too. Without warning, he turned his head toward the man, and said, "Hutch? Hutch, is that you?"
Dobey jumped from his chair and hit the call button.
"David, can you hear me?" Dobey asked.
"I heard Hutch," Starsky said. His eyes were flickering open and closed, as though he was having a hard time keeping them open.
"Stay with me, Dave, theyre coming," Dobey said, squeezing the mans hand.
Now, thought Dobey, here comes the hard part.
Doctors filled Starskys room, throwing Dobey out into the hall. Huggy showed up shortly after and waited with him. An hour later, the lead physician on Starskys case stepped out and asked them to accompany him to a waiting room a few doors down.
"Captain Dobey, its good to see you again," the doctor said, extending his hand to Dobey, who nodded and introduced Huggy.
"Detective Starsky keeps asking for someone called Hutch," the doctor said. Dobey felt his heart break in half.
"Hutch Ken Hutchinson he was Daves partner."
"And this Hutch I assume from your terminology that hes now deceased?"
Dobey nodded again. "Multiple stab wounds at the same time Starsky was hurt. We dont know how much Dave saw, if anything."
It was the doctors turn to nod.
"Hes going to have to learn the truth, you realize that? It could be a devastating blow for him. Is there anyone who might be able to help him through this? Understand that we still dont know to what degree he will recover. There are a lot of tests ahead and a positive attitude would go a long way toward recovery."
It was Huggys turn. "Doc," he said, "Aint nothing going to make that man positive again when he finds out Hutch is gone. Nothing."
Dobey and Huggy were called upon to do the dirty deed. It was one of the worst moments in the captains life. They let Starsky bring it up.
"Captain, wheres Hutch? Shouldnt he be here?"
Dobey felt his stomach knot. The moment couldnt be avoided. Sometimes hed give anything to be back in a black and white.
"What do you remember, Dave?"
Starsky leaned back and squinted. His eyesight was getting better, but things still blurred a bit around the edges.
"Big Man! That federal case. Brinson, yes things went sour. They made Hutch. Told Brinson I was getting closer. They they shot someone." He shut his eyes, trying to remember.
"Freddie. It was Freddie. Then I saw Hutch. And guns. They had their guns on him. I went in. Through the window. Someone someone shot me. Remember that. And Hutch, Hutch " Starsky stopped and shut his eyes. When he opened them, he looked at Dobey.
"He was hurt. Stabbed. So much blood, God, so much blood. It was all over me his blood. Oh God. I remember. Captain Dobey, please. Where is he? Is he here, in this hospital?" Starsky knew and Dobey understood that. But he had to have someone say it and Dobey was the one elected. Dobey placed his big hand on top of Starskys and looked him in the eye. When he spoke his voice was gentle and full of sorrow.
"Hes dead, Dave. Ken died before the ambulance ever got there. There was nothing anyone could do for him. His injuries " Dobey trailed off, unwilling to continue.
"Hutch is dead." Starsky said flatly, then his eyes welled up with tears.
("Come on, Hutch, you can do it. Ill be right behind you. You can count on me I wont let anything happen to you.")
"I know what youre thinking, but youre wrong. Its not your fault, Dave. Hutch was a big boy. He knew what he was getting in to," Dobey said. Starsky ignored him.
(I let him down. Hutch is dead and I let him down.)
"When can I see him?" A tear crept slowly down Starskys cheek.
"Dave, Kens been dead for nearly two months. His remains were cremated and flown back to Minnesota. Im sorry."
(Two months! Hes been gone for two months.)
Starsky shut his eyes. He could see Hutchs blood-streaked face as he lay dying, his blue eyes gazing at Starsky with such love and anguish. He could still feel Hutchs hand closing over his own.
(His last thoughts were of me. He died thinking I went first.)
(Hutch is dead. Theres nothing left but cold ashes. Ill never see him again. Never! Oh, God, how am I going to stand this?)
"Dave, are you OK?"
Starsky didnt answer. Turning his face away from his captain, he let the tears come. Dobey and Huggy left him alone to grieve in private.
Hutch ran his tongue over his cracked lips. His mouth was so dry. He heard someone in the room, nearby.
(Starsky, are you here?)
"Please, water." All he heard was an intake of breath, then the door opening and closing. A moment later several people entered the room.
"Detective Hutchinson, can you hear me?" Hutch heard the voice but couldnt place it.
(Where are you, Starsk? Why arent you here?)
"Throat dry," Hutch managed to say. His raspy voice sounded foreign, even to his own ears. Someone put a couple of ice chips in his mouth. They tasted good.
"More." Another ice chip.
"Hutchinson, can you hear me?" That voice again. He didnt recognize it.
"My partner. Where is he?"
"Im not concerned about your partner. Im concerned about you. Can you hear me?"
Hutch was suddenly filled with panic.
(Starsky! Why wouldnt they tell him? Was he dead?)
Hutch tried to sit up, but a strong arm held him down and soon another needle went smoothly into his arm.
As he went under again, he called Starskys name. No one answered.
It was several weeks before Starsky was released from the hospital. By that time he was walking with a cane. He wasnt fast, but he didnt need help getting around and he made it clear to both Huggy and Dobey that he would not be babysat.
When Huggy picked him up from the hospital and turned toward Starskys apartment, Starsky stopped him.
"You want to go to The Pits for a burger before I take you home?" Huggy asked him, taking in Starskys lifeless appearance.
"No, I want to go to Hutchs."
(I have to see it. Have to know hes not there. Please understand. Please dont make me say it.)
"Man, you dont want to go there."
"You dont know what the hell I want!" Starsky spat.
Huggy paused, then patted Starsky on the shoulder. "Its OK, my man. The Bear will take you there."
The apartment was just as Hutch left it. Even his plants were still alive. It was obvious someone had been watering them. The pair found his landlady.
"Dont know whos keeping up the rent and utilities. I get a money order in the mail every month, just like clockwork." She looked at Starskys cane.
"You know I was real sorry to hear about Mr. Hutchinson. He was a nice young man." Starsky felt his eyes suddenly sting. He pushed past the woman to climb back up to Hutchs place. The climb was slow and arduous. His wounds had healed, but the scars were still there and the pain he wasnt sure that would ever go away. He wasnt sure he wanted it to not after what hed done.
"Why would anyone keep it up? Why, Huggy?"
"I dont know. Maybe his parents are doing it until they can come and clean out his stuff. I know thats why they had him cremated. Something to do with his Mom being sick and unable to travel. Maybe theyre waiting until the times right. Who knows? Come on Starsky. Lets go."
Starsky gingerly lowered himself to Hutchs couch. It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit and it hurt even more to move.
"You go on, Huggy. I have some things I need to do here," Starsky looked at the other man, his eyes pleading for him to understand.
(I need to be alone, Huggy.)
"Sure, Starsky. Call me when youre needing a ride home, OK?"
Starsky nodded and waited until he heard the door click shut. Then he pulled himself up and walked around the apartment slowly, leaning on his cane, ignoring the fire that spread through him as he toured the apartment. Occasionally he would pick something up and look at it, feel it. Each item was as familiar to him as the things in his own place.
There were photos of Hutch and photos of him and photos of the two of them together. There was his guitar and piles of sheet music. There were his plants and his books and his records and his clothes. Starsky spent a long time looking through Hutchs closet, fingering the shirts and jackets. Remembering.
(I remember this shirt. You wore it when I was shot in that Italian restaurant. You never could get all the blood out, could you? You stayed by me, protected me, risked your life for me, Hutch. And when it was my turn )
The place held a lifetime of memories. The nights theyd sat in front of the TV, eating popcorn and watching movies. Hutch, sick, and at the mercy of Starskys chicken soup. The two of them, drunkenly maneuvering the staircases, singing loud and off-key. Starsky, swaying while Hutch tried to unlock the door. Waking up the next morning, feeling like death warmed over and Hutch compounding it by trying to force him to drink one of his noxious health shakes.
(What am I going to do without you, Hutch?)
Starsky shivered. The place seemed colorless and empty, like a box after the gift has been removed. Tired, Starsky crawled into Hutchs bed, finally falling into an exhausted sleep.
And then the dream came again.
(Starsky in the church, opening the coffin to find Hutch, beautiful in life, beautiful in death, his fine, light hair cradled in Hutch-blue satin. His lips resting in a half smile, refusing to divulge the source of his amusement, his long, lean body forever resting. Once again, Starsky touched his partner, this time running his hand along the line of his arms, placing his warm, living hand over Hutchs lifeless one. And when he could take it no more, when his vision was clouded with grief, he took off running down the aisle, accusations following behind him like black crows, waiting to polish off what remained of the man he used to be )
Huggy kept a steady parade of what he called "foxes" before him, but Starsky wasnt interested. He knew he would only resent anyone who tried to come between him and his seemingly depthless sorrow. He missed Hutch more each day that passed and women even sex had no appeal for him. It was as though Starsky believed by denying himself pleasure he could make up for Hutchs death.
The years theyd been together were the best in Starskys life. Funny how, despite everything they had been through together, all that was good about their friendship came down to one terrible moment, the one where he failed his partner and best friend. And he couldnt stop blaming himself, couldnt stop replaying the scenario every time he closed his eyes. Thats when it was really bad when he couldnt mask it with work or some mindless past time.
Hed seen with terrible clarity -- the person he cared most about, die. He saw the blade, soiled with fresh blood, as it plunged down and into his partners body, over and over God! There had been nothing he could do to stop it. He knew it now, he knew it then, but it didnt assuage his guilt to recognize his own helplessness. And it didnt put a stop to the nightmares.
(Dont die, Hutch, please dont die.)
If anything, it made him rethink the whole affair. Could he have changed the outcome? Could he have saved his partner? Hed never know, although everyone said it wasnt his fault. It was like a mantra "You did your best" "He would have understood" "No one could have predicted this" hed heard it all. It was their way of placating his guilt.
(Guilt I deserve.)
He didnt believe them. No matter what they said, no matter what the evidence indicated, he was there, watching when his best friend died. And to his ever-present sorrow, he was the reason Hutch was there in the first place.
(I talked him into it. Said, "Come on, Hutch" lets do it. He didnt want to, he really didnt, but I insisted. Hes dead because he listened to me. And Im alive when I shouldnt be, dont want to be. Not without you, Hutch, not without you.)
Capt. Dobey, his fellow officers, their mutual friends, especially Huggy, all tried to reassure him. Yet he wondered, most often in the dead of night, when everyone who gave him dark-eyed looks of sympathy were home asleep in their beds. He wondered could he ever forgive himself for not being able to help Hutch? Could life ever slip back into a normal rhythm with Hutch gone?
And more important would his heart ever stop aching?
Before hed fall asleep at night hed try to shut out the sight of his partner falling under the knife, his blood spraying the room a bright red, as he watched from the floor, helpless, unable to move, screaming with his mind.
Starsky! Hutch had called to him and he could still hear his voice, feel Hutchs agony as he fell under the knife. But he couldnt move, couldnt do anything to stop it -- except beg.
(Dont, please dont!)
Mentally begging his tormentors to stop, he tried to will his limbs to move.
(Please, God, if You exist -- just this once, help me. Ill promise anything. Just dont let him die. )
But even God, abandoned him that day. Starsky saw his partner fall next to him, close enough to touch if only he could have moved. He saw Hutch look at him with such deep sadness in his eyes, such regret, and Stasky knew his partners grief wasnt selfish Hutch grieved for Starsky, the partner he thought was dead or dying.
He remembered Hutch reaching over and placing his bloody hand on top of Starskys as the man who stabbed his partner wiped the blood off the knife, leaving the two side by side, their lifes blood mingling, one to die and one to live.
No, he didnt die, at least on the outside. He ignored his physical pain, instead slipping into a murderous self-hatred that grew by day and gave way at night to enormous guilt and dreams of blue-lined coffins holding dead men with corn silk hair and wool suits.
And each day he when he awoke he wondered anew how something so good could end in a way that was so wrong?
Hutch steadily improved. He was still weak, although physical therapy helped. And it
hurt to move. Just climbing out the bed for the first time to stand on rubbery, traitorous
legs took monumental effort on his part.
He was tired of the hospital, tired of the recovery process, tired of the whole operation. And he wanted to see Starsky. Had to see Starsky. Had to know he was alive.
Brinson had appeared one day and told him Starsky had come out of his coma and was being discharged from the hospital. Hutch said a silent prayer of thanks.
"When can I see him?"
"Not any time soon, Hutchinson. Besides, he thinks youre dead."
Horror washed over Hutch. Starsky thought he was dead! He knew how hard it would be for his partner.
"You bastard," he said, glaring at Brinson.
"Sorry, Hutchinson. Cant let anyone know youre still kicking around. The Fat Man is much too big a fish to lose just because your partner cant take the thought of your being dead. I understand your funeral was quite nice if it makes you feel any better."
Starsky returned to work three weeks before the trials were to start, still walking with a cane, leaning on the wood instead of Hutch. And each day he forced himself to use the stairs instead of the elevator, even though it hurt like hell to force his wooden legs to move up one step, then another.
Yes, it hurt. It hurt so much it brought tears to his eyes. But he made himself do it, welcoming each painful movement as punishment for sending Hutch to his death.
Sometimes he would stop on a landing and lean against the wall, putting his forehead against the cool cinderblocks until they were slippery with his sweat. Hed stand there, ignoring the looks from the infrequent others who chose the staircase, shrugging off their hands, ignoring queries. He stood there and let the pain consume him, grateful that it gave him respite from his other thoughts. But even as his mind would surf the waves of physical pain washing over him, he could feel Hutch standing behind him, beside him, with him, always. Always there, no matter what.
Eventually, hed finish the climb and start his day. But even a day of paperwork was draining. Starsky kept pushing himself, holding up with one clear purpose: to make certain Hutchs killers got what was coming to them. After that all bets were off.
Around the station, other cops steered clear of him. He was a mountain of molten lava, spreading the heat of his self-loathing everywhere he went. Especially at the people who mentioned his partner.
"Hey Captain Dobey, any chance I can move into Hutchinsons desk? Its bigger than mine and " the unfortunate detective stopped in mid-sentence when he felt a hand reach out and grab the back of his neck.
"Leave his desk alone, you slime ball." Starsky gave the man a push. The other detective, Bonner, stumbled, then turned around, his face a mask of irritation.
"Keep your hands off me, Starsky. What are you going to do? Keep his desk like some sort of shrine? Hutchinson sure as hell doesnt need it and you ought to know by now that you cant bring him back by pretending it didnt happen."
Starsky reached for him just as Dobey opened the door and yelled. The detective pointed a finger at Bonner.
"If you have a death wish, then screw with Hutchs desk. Ill be happy to accommodate you, asswipe."
Dobey spoke with Starsky about burying his anger, but it was useless. The subject of Hutch was taboo.
"You want me to act like nothings happened? Just pretend Hutch never existed?" Starsky asked in amazement. "My best friend dies right in front of me and you think Im over-reacting? I dont even believe this."
"Im getting complaints, Starsky. From other officers, people with whom you deal youre acting like a jerk and its not good for you or for this department. Now straighten up. You want to hit someone, get a punching bag. But dont go slamming doors and screaming at everyone you meet. They didnt kill Hutch."
Starsky was quiet for a moment. He turned red-rimmed eyes eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep and too many tears toward the captain.
"No," he said quietly, "They didnt kill him. I have that distinction all to myself."
"I dont know where you got the idea its your fault. Its not and you need to stop beating yourself up like this." Dobey rose and walked around to the front of his desk, perching on the edge. When he spoke, his voice was gentle.
"Dave, we all miss Hutch and we know what youre going through. But destroying your own life wont bring him back. Hed hate this to see you doing daily penance for a crime you didnt commit. Dont darken his memory this way." Starsky jumped up as though hed grabbed a hot wire.
"But Im the reason hes dead, Captain. Dont you understand that? You were here when I talked him into playing Brinsons game. HUTCH DIDNT WANT TO DO IT!" Starsky slammed his fist against Dobeys desk, then fixed his captain with a look so haunting that Dobey was momentarily taken aback.
"You cant be serious" Dobey told him.
"Sure I can. I changed his mind. He wasnt going to work the op until I opened my big fat mouth and said it was a good idea," he trailed off as he turned to leave, then half-twisted back around to Dobey.
"I said hed be OK. I promised him Id be there to back him up. He believed me, Cap. He believed in me. And I let him down."
Big Man was out on bond and Starsky who could remember every detail of his partners death was scheduled to testify. Meeting with the federal prosecutor and Brinson before the trial, Starsky found being in the same room as Brinson almost unbearable. He hated the man more than he hated Hutchs murderer himself.
After the conference, Brinson offered the detective a ride back to his department.
"Ill call for a car," Starsky said, turning away. Brinson put his hand on his shoulder. Starsky turned back and roughly shoved the mans hand off.
"Dont touch me," Starsky said.
"All right. I wont. But Ill still drive you to the department, if you like," Brinson said. Starsky faced Brinson.
"Lets get one thing straight, Brinson," Starsky pushed the federal agent up against the wall and held him there, his hand on Brinsons throat. "I dont like you. If youd listened to me, my partner might be alive right now. I have a vested interest in this case, and Im not going to do anything to jeopardize it. But when its over, youre mine, mister, all mine. And if you want to take that as a threat, then go right ahead. Thats how I meant it." Starsky turned abruptly and limped away.
Brinson straightened his tie as he watched him leave. The prosecutor walked up.
"Feisty, isnt he?"
"You might say that," Brinson said. "And the bastards not very forgiving, either."
"Think hell hold up for the trial?"
Brinson nodded. "He wants his pound of flesh. Speaking of which, when do we have to respond to their motion for discovery?"
"You mean our witness list?"
"Im holding off until the last moment. Ive got to do it, but I can stretch it out a bit."
"Good. Theres little doubt the Big Man is going to go after our witnesses. Thats his only hope. I dont relish being the one to tell Detective Starsky he has to lay low."
"I know what you mean, but perhaps he wont be as difficult as you think."
Brinson smiled. "Youve got a point."
Dobey looked with disbelief at the document in his hand.
What the hell are those bunch of assholes up to this time?
Slamming the paper on his desk, he grabbed the phone and made a call. By the time he hung up, he was already reaching for his coat and heading out the door.
"Where you going, Captain?" Starsky looked up from his desk.
"Ive got to meet a man about a horse," Dobey said, stomping out of the room and slamming the door behind him. A moment later he stuck his head back in.
"Where the hell are you going to be tonight, Starsky?"
"Ive got to water Hutchs plants. I thought Id tidy up a bit there, then go home. I dont really know. Why?"
"Wait for me at Hutchinsons," Dobey said, then slammed out the door again.
Two hours later, Starsky let himself into Hutchs apartment. He watered the plants and picked off the dead leaves, then dusted the place. Finally, like he had so many nights before, he crawled into Hutchs bed and rested. He tired easily these days.
Starsky didnt know why he kept coming back there or why he felt so at peace in his partners place. Maybe it was because there was so much of Hutch in that apartment. He could pretend if just for a moment that nothing had ever happened. Still tired and not quite up to speed, he drifted off to sleep.
An hour later he awoke, sweating and nauseous.
The dream, he thought, that damned dream. How many times am I going to relive it? How many times do I have to walk up that aisle, see him in that damned coffin? How many? Starsky crawled heavily out of the bed and sat for a moment on the edge, head cradled in his hands, lost in thought. He ignored the pounding in his brain, the rush of blood to his ears.
"OK," he finally said out loud. "Its time for us to talk, Hutch. Yeah, I know. Youre dead now, but you left before I could say good-bye, so you owe me this.
"You know, I never really believed that youd die first. I always thought it would be me. Im the hothead, the one who jumped in without looking. I never expected it would be you," Starsky took a deep breath.
"And thats why this is so hard. I just cant imagine spending the rest of my life without you there to pull me out of the messes I always get myself into. I dont even want to think about it. Maybe thats why I dont look too far ahead anymore what kind of future do I have now that youre gone?
"Im lonely, buddy. Damn, I miss you. I even miss all the things I complained about your car, all the weird food youd try to get me to eat. Hell, losing you was like having my heart cut out. It just hurts so bad, I know I cant make it without you. I just cant.
"I have a confession to make. I see you die every time I shut my eyes. And the dreams youd think Id know to stop lifting the lid on that coffin, wouldnt you? But I keep thinking that maybe you wont be in there. Maybe it was all just a nightmare." He sighed. "But its not. I know that now. Five months and its like it happened just yesterday. It hasnt gotten any easier. And I know Im the main reason youre not here with me. I talked you into going and then wasnt fast enough or smart enough or whatever it took to keep you alive. I let you down and Ill carry that with me for the rest of my life."
Starsky paused for a moment and shifted slightly to relieve the pressure on his still throbbing back. As he spoke, he reached out and softly caressed the blanket on the bed. Hutchs blanket.
"Next week we go to trial and I plan to make sure that Big Man and all the sorry bastards pay for what they did to you. Then I have a few things to take care of personal matters, you know. And when Im finished, well, forgive me. But I just cant live with the guilt anymore, you know what I mean?"
He bowed his head again and stopped fighting with the emotions threatening to escape, so he never heard the door open. Didnt know someone was listening. He was still on the bed; head down, lost in his own personal hell when he heard the voice.
"Excuse me, is this a one-man show, or can I join in?"
HUTCH? The thought cut into his subconscious like someone had set off fireworks in the bedroom. Pulling his hands away from his face, he looked up and there, pale, much too thin and leaning on a cane of his own, was Hutch. He was the most beautiful sight Starsky had ever seen
"Hutch?" Starsky asked, not believing what he was seeing. Dobey, propped unnoticed in the open doorway, watched for a moment, then quietly tiptoed into the living room, leaving the partners alone. Starsky stood and put both his arms around his partner, then leaned into his chest and let the tears fall. Hutch was not doing much better at holding it back.
"But youre dead!" Starsky said. "I saw you die."
"I nearly did, partner. In fact, the doc told me I was clinically dead when I arrived at the hospital."
"But how ."
"I was moved to a hospital up north of here. Private one, under a different name. The feds were afraid to leave me where Big Man could find me. They figured if I was dead hed leave me alone. The only people they told the truth to were my parents. I didnt know anything about it for a long, long time. I couldnt protest. I wasnt really expected to live. Got carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey," Hutch said.
"They brought me back down here to testify. The prosecutor had to disclose me as a witness so Im in hiding here, waiting for the trial. I thought theyd killed you. I didnt want to wake up if you were dead. I tried to die with you, but the medical staff wouldnt let me. They just kept resuscitating me." His grin was crooked.
"Why didnt anyone tell me? That bastard Brinson! He let me think you were gone. God, Hutch, these past few weeks have been a living hell. I kept thinking about that night, how I just laid there and watched you die "
"But Im not dead."
"No. Thank God. But why did they let me go on thinking you were? Why did they keep it a secret?"
"Brinson was terrified someone would blow his case. Even Dobey didnt know Starsk. And I was in no position to contact you. I was kept under lock and key. Couldnt even use the bathroom without one of Brinsons men following me." Hutch was starting to look tired
"Mind if I sit down?" He carefully lowered himself to the edge of the bed with Starskys help. "Thats better."
"Are you gonna be all right?" Starsky asked, placing a steadying hand on his shoulder. "You dont look so good. Youre going to get well, arent you?"
Hutch smiled at him. "I was going to ask you the same questions."
"Im fine, but you "
"For Gods sake, you were shot in the back. Ill be OK. Dont worry about me. I was half crazy in the hospital, worrying about you. They wouldnt tell me much. I didnt know if you were going to make it or not. It was such a relief," Hutch stopped, overcome with emotion. "I just wasnt sure youd still be here, Starsk."
"You know Im too mean to die."
"Yeah?" Starsky sat down next to Hutch. Their shoulders touched.
"What did you mean when you said you couldnt carry the guilt any more?" Hutch shifted a bit so he could look into his partners eyes.
"You heard that, huh?"
"I was standing right there," Hutch said pointing to the doorway. "Couldnt help but overhear you. Tell me you werent thinking of doing something stupid, were you?"
"Me? Stupid? Nah. You know me. Level-headed, dependable, dull old Starsky."
"Like hell, partner. I know what I heard. Talk to me."
Starsky took a deep breath. "OK. But you arent going to like it. I missed you. And I felt so alone so terribly alone. Do you know how hard it was to keep on going after watching you die? I only did it to nail the creep who hurt you. But I didnt want to go on after that, especially since it was my fault you were hurt. Maybe thats not the answer you want to hear, but its the truth."
Hutch looked thoughtful, then put his hand on Starskys, the same hand hed used to comfort his wounded partner months before. "First off, youre not to blame for what happened to me. You nearly died trying to help me. How could any man have a better friend than you, Starsky? You put your own life on the line for me and I will never forget it. But thinking you might be dead .you have no idea how hard that was. Then I heard someone say you were alive and realized you thought Id died. I knew what you were going through. I hated it and I hated them, but there was nothing I could do." He paused for a moment, remembering.
"I was terrified youd try to avenge me. I told Brinson if anything happened to you, Id refuse to testify then Id kill him," Hutch put his arm across his partners shoulder. "I want you to promise me something."
"Anything. You name it."
"Promise that if something ever happens to me, youll stick around."
"I dont know that I can promise that. You promise me something."
"Whats that?" Hutch asked.
"That if something happens and youre the first to go youll leave the lights on for me so I can find you?"
"If youll do the same for me."
"And no more of this guilt complex, OK? Im a big boy and I made my decision on my own. I dont want to hear any more about you being at fault. I mean it." Hutch winced.
"Yeah. Just did too much today. Im afraid Im still not up to speed."
"OK you two, enough," Dobey opened the door and stuck his head in. "Ive gotta get him back. You, too, Starsky."
"Yep," Hutch said. "Now that they know Im alive, theyre worried the Big Man will come after you to cut the odds. So it looks like youre going to have to spend the next few weeks locked up with a cripple," Hutch smiled and held out his cane.
Starsky smiled and held out his own cane. "Make that two."
It had been six months to the day since the Big Man and his crowd had been sent away. Starsky and Hutch bounded up the steps and into their office.
"Captain wants to see you," one of the other detectives said, motioning with his thumb to Dobeys office. The two looked at one another and Starsky shrugged.
"Dont ask me. I havent run any red lights lately."
"Unless you count the one on the way to work this morning," Hutch said.
"That was yellow."
"It was red."
"Red." Hutch opened the door. Dobey threw him a fierce look.
"Uh oh. I dont think were getting ready to have a medal pinned on. Hi Captain. Nice day?" Hutch smiled hopefully.
"Youre dead wrong, Hutchinson." Dobey tossed a piece a paper at him. Hutch read it, his eyes widening.
"Hey Starsk. No lie. Weve won a medal."
"Yeah? What for?" Starsky took the paper from Hutch.
"For putting one of the largest drug operations in the country out of business, thats what. Now will you two heroes get out of my office and go do something constructive?" Dobey waved at the door.
Starsky opened the door and bowed.
"After you, partner," he said as Hutch passed through. Starsky looked over at Dobey and grinned. "Never thought Id say that again, you know?" Then he followed his partner out of the door.
"I know," Dobey said to the walls. "Believe me, I know."