This story was originally printed in the S/H zine LIFELINE: A DECADE OF SWEET REVENGE, published by Jenn and Molly D. as Jenny Brown Enterprises in 1989. Terri Beckett, with Chris Power, is the author of TRIBUTE TRAIL. See www.speculationpress.com for details! Comments about this story can be sent to: kmankatz@CandW.ky
He must have dozed where he sat, but he only realized it when a clonic reflex jerked his head up and his eyes open. Somehow he was no longer in the squad room, staring at the mute telephone, but it didn't seem odd - light was pooling cobwebby dimness, pale gold glowing warm on grey stone, white marble, rich dark fabric; on the gem-set silver of the cup on the altar, and the gilded, jewel-colored figures in the flanking panels.
There was a bier before the altar, and a man in silver mail knelt before it, wearing a white surcoat girdled by a broad swordbelt of white leather that supported a matching scabbard. Empty. The sword, plain and unadorned, was held cross-hilt upwards between his hands, and the blade was broken. Four tall candles, two at the head and two at the foot of the catafalque, shed a gentle light over the tableau, the bareheaded blond knight keeping vigil with his dead.
Hutch knew, even before the blond knight looked up, that the face he would see was his own, as he could taste the tears on that remote face. That he was, as Simon Marcus had claimed so long ago, the White Knight.
He did not want to see who lay motionless on the bier, but he had to look. He could see embroidery on the white silk of the cerement - lilies and falcons - white on white. The cloth had been folded back. Silent, death-still, hands crossed on his breast, David Michael Starsky lay lifeless. Death had leached away all the vitality, all the color from his face, leaving it drained and empty as an effigy on a crusader tomb. Not even the strength of the bones beneath the waxen skin could give an illusion of life - that was a sculptor's trick, and it failed. Death lay on the bier, and Hutch knew it and felt the weight of that knowledge on his heart as the mail weighed on his shoulders. He closed his eyes, bent his head until the cold pommel of the sword pressed between his brows, and felt the tears of despair ooze between his lashes.
The sound of his name pierced his grief - he looked up, blinking, and saw the angels of the panels - stiff, Byzantine angels, haloed and winged, long hands clasped in prayer - through a haze of tears. In the wavering candlelight they seemed almost to move -
- right out of their panels, and the haloes were crowns, thin circlets binding their hair. They'd lost the wings completely, somewhere, and the robes were less angelic coveralls than clinging drapery that disguised nothing. They wore familiar faces, too, but he was beyond surprise now. The one with Kira's face drifted towards him, almost dancing, and he was looking into laughing blue eyes - the other was Laura's double, and she was bending over the dead man, kissing him most unangelically on the mouth. Then she took his hands and helped him to sit up.
Relief almost buckled Hutch's knees as Kira urged him to his feet. Starsky wasn't dead, and he wanted to shout aloud with joy, to grab the man and hug him until his ribs cracked, but the two angels led them forward to stand at the altar, and between them lifted the silver cup and held it out. It was brimful of what looked like wine - or blood. And suddenly he knew it was blood, and he knew whose blood it contained - Starsky's, or his, or maybe both. We be of one blood, thou and I.
"Drink," said Kira's voice. And Laura's - "Life and Death, and Life again."
The cup - chalice? Grail? - was heavy, and Starsky's hands joined with his around the bowl, steadying it as he lifted it to his lips and drank -
- not blood, nor wine, but water. Cold, fresh, and clear. Sweet spring water after long thirst.
- and the altar and the angels and the cup were gone, and he stood shoulder to shoulder with Starsky in a dark-paneled room, facing what could only be some kind of Grand Jury. But these were faceless hooded figures, silent and motionless as statues, and Starsky took a pace forward to stand alone. Hutch tried to join him, found he couldn't, and heard a disembodied voice, quietly authoritative.
"Let the Dead speak ..."
It was a voice he knew from somewhere, naggingly familiar, but he couldn't place it, any more than he could work out what the hell it meant.
But someone knew. The first of the figures came into focus, a little uncertainly, as if seen through distorting glass. Thickened coarse features out of a day-long nightmare - Vic Bellamy, gloating - became the thinner, older face of Professor Jennings. "You killed my son ..." The accusing wail of a man broken by grief, deranged by it. The next face was clearer, and even now Vanessa's classic beauty was enough to catch the breath, dark hair drifting about her face like a mourning veil.
Hutch found his voice. "No. No,Van. You're not dead because of him!"
She wouldn't look at him directly. "But my marriage - that couldn't survive, could it. Not in the face of your precious partnership. The team was more important to you than I ever was."
"Not true -" Hutch denied it desperately, knowing he lied.
"Isn't it?" The third figure did speak to him. John Colby, friend become enemy, turned icy eyes on them both. "You'd sacrifice anything, anyone, for that team of yours. I got in the way, didn't I? Right from the first. Now you're going to see what it's like to be alone. See how you like it -"
"It's tough enough being a cop," the next cut in, and with a surge of hope Hutch recognized John Blain. At least he knew the score. "You need to be able to rely on a partner. But nothing lasts forever, son. You have to know when to let go."
The craggy, wily-peasant features of Joe Durniak firmed into focus. "Just like your poppa, huh, li'l Davey? Real chip off the old block. Following in father's footsteps ..."
"Serve and Protect," Lionel Rigger murmured. "Serve and protect who? I trusted you guys. Should have guessed - should have known -"
"What about me?" Hutch burst out, sweating. "Don't I get a chance to say anything?"
"Only the Dead may be heard here," said the first voice, and the cowl was lifted back to reveal the cropped silver hair and clean-cut features of Judge McClellan, smiling and urbane and utterly corrupt.
All the frustration that had been building up in Hutch finally found violent release. "This is a set-up, dammit! The whole thing's rigged -"
And he lashed out blindly, in red fury - to see the seven figures of the tribunal shatter into falling shards, like a slow-motion explosion in a hall of mirrors, leaving only darkness.
The blackness was thick, chokingly dense, tangible, but he groped for and found Starsky's hand, so it didn't matter. They were on their way out, he and Starsky. Me and thee.
He didn't know the way out, but that didn't matter either. They'd find it. The heart of the labyrinth lay behind them - what lay ahead was the labyrinth of the heart ...
He could feel Starsky's hand gripped in his, long fingers relaxed in his grasp, lightly curled around his palm, no tension, no nervousness, only confidence and trust ...
Orpheus had lost his Eurydice because he had dared to look back. Hutch didn't need to look back. The hand he held was warm and living, he could even feel the thread of a pulse as they walked the serpentine path leading out of the close darkness towards the light -
- and surely there was light ahead. Hutch's spirit lifted, and he laughed aloud. "We made it, partner! We made it!"
"Ah, Hutch ..." A whisper, gentle, regretful, yearning. "Oh, babe, didn't you know I wouldn't go without saying goodbye?"
Hutch whipped around.
Features gaunt, flesh discolored, sunken, the bones beginning to show through, skeletal -
- and the hand was wrenched from his grasp and Starsky was shredding apart like mist in the wind -
Hutch's own howl of anguish and loss shocked him awake. The squad room, deserted, mocked him in echoes of emptiness, dim and still to his panicked gaze. Drenched in icy sweat, heart racing, Hutch could not shake off the horror of the dream.
But at least it had been only a dream - a phantasm born of exhaustion and worry. The phone squatted silent on the desk like a malicious toad ...
Cracking up, Hutchinson. You should get some sleep.
Somehow, the idea wasn't very appealing. Abandoned on the desktop lay the ping-pong paddles and ball.
If the phone don't ring, darlin'
The ball, escaping his distracted fingers, bounced monotonously.
you'll know it's me
He could bear the waiting no longer. He snatched the phone up, punched out the hospital number. Heard them call Dobey - and then almost couldn't ask the question. Afraid of the answer.
"How's he doin', Captain?"
Dobey's voice was heavy, stricken.
"I think you'd better get down here right away, Hutch -"