This story first appeared in the zine, Compadres #18 (2000). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
Far From Home
K Hanna Korossy
"So what took you so long?" Ken Hutchinson asked his partner as the two of them climbed the station steps. "The guy was ready to grind me into the floor!"
Dave Starsky shrugged. "Hey, I figured you could handle one unarmed wanna-be rapist. I hadta take care of the girl, remember?" His eyes fairly glinted in delight. She hadn't been hurt yet when they got there and interrupted the attack on her, merely badly frightened, and had warmed up considerably to her "rescuer."
"Yeah, I remember." Hutch scowled in return. He shoved open the squadroom door and held it for both of them to pass through. "I think maybe we should reconsider some of the divisions of labor in this partnership, partner."
Starsky had just turned and was opening his mouth to a brilliant response when their boss's door swung wide behind them.
"Starsky! Hu--Oh." Captain Harold Dobey's holler cut off in mid-summons as he caught sight of them, replaced for a second by what Starsky thought seemed an odd reluctance before his expression went inscrutable. "I need to see both of you in my office." He waved to them and disappeared again.
Starsky traded a look with his partner. That didn't seem good. A hesitant Dobey was already a bad sign--very little cowed their chief--let alone a discomfited one. Something was definitely up.
Hutch leaned close. "Did you rearrange his office furniture again?"
"Nah, I thought three times would be kinda pushin' it. What about you, you do somethin'?"
Hutch looked affronted at the thought. "Not without you."
Starsky stifled a grin. It wasn't always easy, doing a job where you dealt regularly with guys like the turkey they'd arrested that afternoon, but the fact that he had someone with whom he could still relax and joke less than two hours later, helped unbelievably. Both of them were lucky.
"Guess we better find out what he wants," Hutch murmured, taking the lead into Dobey's office. Starsky followed at his partner's back.
Dobey wasn't alone. Against the far wall stood a middle-aged man in an ill-fitting suit, and Starsky's good humor faded along with his smile as he recognized the detective. "Lieutenant Steele," he said with grim cordiality.
Hutch had stepped aside to make room for his partner and now stood next to him. He also inclined his head in cool greeting. "To what do we owe the pleasure of a visit from IA?" And not just IA, but an Internal Affairs man who was no particular fan of theirs, Starsky mentally finished for his partner.
Steele nodded equally formally to them both. "Starsky. Hutchinson." Not surprisingly, he nodded at Hutch first.
Starsky made a face. "I'm Starsky." He turned to address their boss. "Cap'n, what's all this about? You wanted to see us?"
The IA man was the one who answered. "Just Hutchinson for now, actually. But we'll want to talk to you shortly, too, Starsky. After you write your report, we'll need to take a full statement."
"Full statement about what?" Starsky repeated, growing exasperated.
Hutch stepped forward at the same moment. "What's going on, Steele?"
"You just made an arrest, didn't you?" Steele asked him calmly. But then, IA guys were usually calm, even when they were handing you your head on a platter. Starsky felt an uneasy stir inside.
"Yeah," Hutch answered. "We don't have an ID yet, but the guy was trying to assault a young lady. We caught him in the act." A half wave toward Starsky included his partner in the "we" that came so naturally, and Starsky automatically shifted closer to his partner as he waited for the axe to fall. Either protecting him or sharing the line of fire.
"And you were the arresting officer?"
"I was the one who subdued and cuffed him, yeah." Hutch was beginning to get riled, aggravated by the lack of explanation and the man's attitude--directed at him--and Starsky briefly placed his hand against his partner's arm, willing him to back off. Starsky was far more likely to explode than Hutch, but then, it usually worked out that one of them stayed calm while the other blew; that was one of the ways they stayed balanced without thought.
"That's what I needed to know. Hutchinson, if you'll come with me..." Steele straightened, heading for the door that led out of the office and into the hallway.
Definitely time for intercession. Starsky's hand kept his partner from pouncing even as he stepped forward. "He's not goin' anywhere 'til you tell us what this is about."
Steele tugged at his coat, succeeding only minimally in making it hang better. "The suspect you arrested collapsed in the squad car on the way in. They've taken him to the hospital, where they've listed him as comatose and in serious condition. The preliminary finding is a head injury. From your arrest, Detective Hutchinson," he added pointedly. "As of now, you're suspended pending investigation of use of excessive force."
Starsky felt his jaw drop, no less shock emanating from the man beside him. Excessive force? They had used questionable amounts of it sometimes in the past, he had to admit, though they'd never unnecessarily endangered an innocent or an arrested suspect. The few complaints filed against them over the years had, on the whole, been dismissed. The department was still in transition from an era of defendants' rights into the "new wave of community friendly policing," and was prone to overlook complaints against officers with a good record. But that afternoon? True, Starsky hadn't actually seen the arrest, but...Hutch?
There wasn't much to be said at the moment, though, not out loud. Discussing the case wouldn't be permitted now until both their statements had been collected separately, and Steele would be listening carefully to anything they said. Dobey was still silent behind them, watching the scene play out with the regret of helplessness that Starsky recognized from experience.
As for Hutch. Starsky gave his partner's arm a squeeze, waiting until the dumbfounded blue eyes turned to him before offering them a ghost of a smile and a slight nod toward Steele. A complete private conversation, invisible to their audience, but Hutch's tight expression softened and he returned the faint nod. He walked out the door in front of Steele.
It closed after them, and Starsky stared at it absently for a moment before remembering the company he was in. He turned with a frown to Dobey.
"I suggest you do your paperwork
for IA, Starsky," the captain said with unusual quiet. "The sooner
they get it, the sooner we can clear this matter up."
Clearing the matter up--that was a major understatement, but Starsky had every intention of doing just that. Dobey obviously knew no more than he, so Starsky had some digging to do and an airtight report to prepare. And then a partner to look after.
Starsky left his captain's office by the opposite door Hutch and Steele had, no less disturbed than his partner had been.
He was still searching a few hours later, no information turning, when a sudden awareness of his partner's arrival made him look up. And silently wince.
Hutch trudged into the squadroom, lines of strain already visible in his face and his eyes troubled. IA certainly must have been persuasive to have rattled him so completely. From the moment he'd heard Steele's words, Starsky had known it would hit Hutch hard, for few people were as tough on themselves as his partner could be. But this wasn't just guilt, it was a shaking of his moral code and self-belief, and that was far harder to make right. Hutch wasn't easy to back down. And that only meant that what Steele had was pretty solid.
The blond didn't even look at his partner as he stuffed his empty holster into a desk drawer and collected his jacket, his jaw set and his movements stiff. They'd already taken his gun, and no doubt his badge, too, until Hutch was cleared or disciplined. One last sign of his censure, as if he needed any.
Hutch turned to leave, but not without casting a fleeting glance at Starsky before he did. The flash of pain was the only expression of helplessness he'd allow himself, but Starsky hadn't even needed that much. By the time his partner reached the squadroom doors, Starsky had reached him and they went out into the busy hall together.
Hutch immediately sagged against the wall next to the doors, his jacket clenched in one hand. "They don't think the guy's gonna make it," he muttered.
Starsky moved in close, sharing his partner's space. "What happened out there?" he asked just as quietly, the same question that had been going through his mind ever since Steele's visit. Technically, they weren't supposed to be talking about this at all, but there was no way he was letting his partner go without asking.
Hutch blew out a breath. "He picked up a pipe in the alley and started swinging it at me. When I had an opening, I took it. I slammed him against the wall and knocked the pipe out of his hand. He was still struggling but I managed to get the cuffs on him."
Starsky's eyebrows rose. "That's it?"
"That's it!" Hutch burst out, the jacket swinging in his hand at the sudden movement. "What else was I supposed to do, let him at me?" He swallowed, glancing away a second. "But, uh, they say the guy had a lump on the back of his head from when he hit the wall and now he's hemorrhaging into the brain." Hutch shook his head with a twisted smile, as if he appreciated the irony. "Figures, a guy tries to kill you and you're the one who ends up hung." His gaze turned distant. "I don't know, Starsk, maybe I did shove him too hard. I wasn't exactly treating him with kid gloves."
Starsky was already shaking his head. "Uh-uh. I didn't have to be there to know you didn't, Hutch. The creep was resistin' arrest and you had to get him under control, end of story."
Hutch refocused on him, a little too calm. "Did you get a make on the guy, some kind of record?"
Some kind of proof that the suspect had been prone to violence that would uphold Hutch's actions as necessary. Starsky knew what his partner was asking, and felt his own shoulders slump at the lack of a positive answer. It had been a hope of his own before he'd learned otherwise. He shook his head. "They sent over his prints from the hospital--no match, no record found. We don't even know who the guy is yet."
Suddenly Hutch was all motion again. "Look, I'm gonna go home, take a shower. I'll see you later, okay?"
He was being dismissed, conversation over. Starsky grimaced. The blond had always been a private man, but far more so when he was suffering. A martyr complex, Starsky would have called it, except that Hutch took no perverse joy in wallowing in his own misery. That was just his way. It was simply too hard for him to make the effort to share the burden when he was already hurting, even with someone who could help.
Starsky took hold of his partner's shoulder and pressed it hard. "Okay. I've got a few more leads to track down here, then I'll bring dinner."
"Starsky, I'm all right, I just need some time to think." Hutch was squirming under the kindness.
They'd have to see about that too. "You can be by yourself all you want after dinner, but I don't like eatin' alone," Starsky countered firmly. "I'll swing by around six."
Hutch hesitated, then sighed. He never could fight his partner when Starsky was determined. He shook his head. "Nothing floating in grease, okay?" Hutch canted his face toward his partner.
Starsky just grinned at him, then watched as Hutch walked down the hall and disappeared down the stairs. The grin faded. The blond's attempt at humor was reassuring, even if visibly forced. Hutch was just humoring him, feigning normalcy while churning inside, but then, he was still reeling from the news. Time and more information would help that. Or so Starsky prayed.
Their best hope now lay in the identity of their mystery suspect, and that was one thing he could work on himself. But first, Starsky squared his shoulders and headed resolutely for IA.
It was of little surprise to Starsky when he arrived at Venice Place to find the window dark and soft music barely making it past the front door into the hallway beyond. Starsky stood listening for a moment to the cheerless guitar chords before deliberately interrupting with a knock.
A pause of silence, then, "Come in."
Just as he suspected, the candle was lit, the lights off. Dusky sunbeams still spilled in through the front and side windows, casting the apartment in gloomy shadow and painting its occupant's golden hair dark. The face beneath it was unreadably shaded, but Starsky didn't have to see it to know what it showed. He'd seen this whole routine before: the candle, the dark, the guitar. Hutch's Bible would be out somewhere, too, as well as some of his letters from home, and Starsky would have bet his car that his partner had already been out to the beach. It was all part of how Hutch sought his peace when his spirit had been disturbed, a too-common occurrence with a combination of a job full of horrors and a soul that cared too much.
"I brought chicken," Starsky finally said, closing the door behind him and resisting the urge to turn some lights on. He didn't find the dark as peaceful as his partner did, and it gave Hutch one more thing to hide behind.
The guitar was still strumming, more aimlessly now, and Starsky listened to it as he automatically set the table. There were times, like then, when the instrument was the only way Hutch talked, expressing what was in his heart. And Starsky didn't like what he was hearing.
"You comin'?" he finally asked quietly as he finished setting out plates and utensils, and took his seat. "I'm starving." It was exaggeration, of course--he actually wasn't hungry at all--but it would set a good example.
Hutch sighed from over on the couch, then set the guitar gently aside and rose, blowing out the candle on the coffee table in front of him with one sharp puff as he did. "You're always starving, Starsky," he argued fondly. A detour to the switch by the front door bathed the room in light strong enough to make them both squint, highlighting the drawn lines of his face. Improved frame of mind, maybe, but not completely eased by any means.
Starsky grinned at him anyway as he watched the blond take the seat next to him instead of across from him. It was the little details like that that he watched for to make sure things hadn't soured completely. But even though the chicken wasn't the greasy kind, deliberately bought from a grill they both liked, his partner only began to pick disinterestedly at his food.
"Any news on the guy?" Hutch asked just as Starsky was about to break the silence himself.
He hated having to shake his head. "Uh-uh. It's like he was never born." He ignored his partner's wince and took a bite of his own chicken. It was flavorless but he managed to swallow the bite. "I checked everything I could think of, Hutch. If this guy's got a record, it's gotta be in Alaska or somethin'."
"You talk to the hospital?"
"Yeah. Guy hasn't changed. Still comatose and listed as serious." His plateful of chicken, badly battered but untasted, was finally abandoned for a wilted french fry that Hutch chewed absently. "They don't think he's gonna come out of it, Starsky," he said, eyes on the wall across the room.
"Whaddaya mean...'course he's gonna come out of it," Starsky argued with an attempt at a dismissive grin. His stomach was unhappy with the way the conversation was going, and he also gave up the chicken as a lost cause.
"Maybe," Hutch conceded. He looked back at his partner. "But what if he doesn't?"
"Still doesn't mean it was excessive force, Hutch, you know that. Could be the guy had a bad heart, or maybe that was just what you needed to do to get him under control. Reasonable force doesn't always mean kid gloves, partner."
"A bad heart doesn't put you in a coma, and once he lost the pipe, I didn't need to break his head." Hutch fell silent for a moment, regrouping his thoughts, and Starsky sat and waited. "I just...how did I get here, Starsky? I wanted to be in a job where I help people, not where I kill them. I even went to the anti-war rallies in college because--"
Starsky froze, disbelieving.
Apparently the same invisible splash of cold water that smacked Starsky in the face also cut off Hutch. His partner turned to him, his face showing his shock as he realized what he'd said and how it would be taken, looking as though he'd have given anything to take it back, but Starsky wasn't absorbing any of it. His mind had stopped comprehending at "anti-war rallies," and his own resulting flood of feelings were more than enough to deal with.
Hutch was shaking his head, stricken. "Starsk, I didn't mean--" he started, reaching out.
Starsky pulled away before he could make contact, not sure he could contain himself. The open kitchen suddenly felt too tight and he got to his feet, concentrating for the moment on not knocking into any furniture.
"So, you were a campus soldier, huh?" he finally asked, voice tight. "You never told me that." He sounded so controlled, for God's sake. He didn't feel like that inside. He'd dealt with his feelings about the war some time before, and about the country that had sent them and then turned on them. But to think that Hutch had been among those spitters and tomato-throwers...
"I didn't mention it because I didn't know how you'd take it," Hutch said quietly behind him.
How he'd take it--how was he taking it?, Starsky wondered as he reached the living room and sank into one corner of the sofa. He wasn't even sure if he was mad or stung or...really hurt.
A blur of movement to one side, and Hutch was in front of him again, though wisely giving him space. "Starsk, believe me, it's not like you think. It was about...Michael for me. He went off to a war like that one and never came back. I was sick of that--I wanted it to end and everyone to come back home, that's all. It wasn't demonstrating against you guys, it was for you."
The raw earnestness of the appeal wasn't what got through so much as the warm worry behind it. Starsky's gaze slid up to his partner's, and the blue eyes were as laid bare as he'd ever seen them. Hutch meant what he said clear through. But did that make it all okay?
Starsky shook his head, tired to the core. It was all too much for one day. The mess with IA and now Michael and the war...neither of them were in the shape for it. But, as ginger as the whole idea was, Starsky couldn't imagine his partner's face among all those hate-filled ones in his memory.
Hutch was still talking, body slumped, defeated. "Sometimes since then I've thought about it and even if I'd known you back then, I would have done the same thing. I didn't want anyone else to die, Starsky. And if you'd have gotten killed over there..."
Then they'd have never met and wouldn't know what they were missing or appreciate its loss, but "what ifs" were never rational. Starsky sighed, uncurling a little to lean forward, again in his partner's space. He wasn't ready yet to deal with Hutch's revelation, not right now. But he knew Hutch better than anyone in the world, and, ultimately, no uncovered skeletons could change what he knew and how he felt about his partner, not anymore.
Starsky clasped one of the denim-clad knees across from him, harder than was needed just to reassure his partner it was okay, and blinked to clear his eyes. "You're worried about maybe usin' excessive force on one monster, Hutch. You know how many people I killed, people who hadn't done anything except put on the wrong color uniform?" he asked roughly.
"That was war--"
"I know. I'm not beatin' myself up over it, not anymore. Sometimes it's just what you have to do." He finally met his partner's gaze. "That's life, Hutch."
"And death," Hutch murmured, quickly shaking his head as Starsky opened his mouth to protest. "I know what you mean. But that doesn't make it a whole heck of a lot easier, buddy."
There didn't seem to be much else to say.
And after they'd sat silently and watched the sun set in a bloody streak of light, Starsky went home and drank himself to sleep.
The next day he went in alone. It was no easier to ignore his partner's empty chair across from him than when Hutch was in the hospital or out on sick leave. Then at least Starsky knew Hutch would be back and the pain would be temporary. Now, there were no guarantees.
One difference, however, was that this time he could do something to aid his partner's speedy return.
They said that one day, computers would contain all the fingerprints and a match would be found in minutes, but that seemed pie-in-the-sky to Starsky. Realistically, it was sometimes weeks before the fingerprint techs would get to a particular print, and even an expedited request like this one could take days to match. If there was a match at all to be found. If their suspect was clean and his picture never drew a hit, it was possible they would never find out the felon's identity. But this was one thing Starsky could do, and so he continued to place calls and send out photos, hoping to get lucky somewhere on a long shot.
The first break of news, when it came during lunch time, made things worse instead of better, though.
The phone call from Dobey summoned Starsky into his boss's office. He had stood loosely in front of the massive desk, hands clasped behind his back, looking for all the world as if everything were fine. Even if his stomach felt like it was learning to knit.
"He's dead," was all Dobey said, and all he needed to.
Starsky shifted his stance a little. He'd been afraid it was that. The stakes had just risen from excessive force to manslaughter, maybe even murder. "When?"
"Just now. The hospital called." Dobey wasn't looking at him, no doubt knowing what Starsky was thinking. "IA will have to be notified."
Starsky nodded reluctantly. He knew what they'd do with that news. The investigation would be moved to Homicide, but Hutch would be their number one target, too, and IA would be watching every move.
Dobey cleared his throat. "The autopsy's tomorrow. I'll clear it if you want to be there, I don't care what Steele says."
Starsky nodded more firmly. "Thanks, Cap'n." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder toward the door. "I'm gonna call Hutch. I want him to hear it from me first."
Dobey just waved him toward the door, already reaching for his phone.
Which meant he had to hurry, and Starsky did, snatching up his own receiver before he even reached his chair. He knew the number better than his own.
"Hutchinson," came Hutch's none-too-welcoming greeting.
For the first time he could remember, Starsky found himself wishing he was talking to anyone but his partner. He swallowed. "Hutch? The hospital just called."
A silent pause. "He's dead."
Another pause. "Do they know how?"
"Autopsy's tomorrow. Dobey's clearing it so I can go."
"You always get sick at autopsies," Hutch said automatically.
"Yeah, well..." Starsky shut up and they sat in silence together over the phone. "You want me to come over?" he finally asked.
"What for?" Hutch said, not ungratefully. "Just call me if you've got something, huh?"
"Sure." He hesitated. "Hutch?"
For some reason, he couldn't say it.
"Yeah," Hutch finally said softly, and hung up.
A minute later, Starsky did, too.
The new shift had already come on by the time Starsky wearily hung up his phone for the last time and pushed back from his desk. Every call he'd made that day had been useless, Prints hadn't found a match yet, and the afternoon seemed like a total write-off just now when time seemed so precious. Every day brought them that much closer to possible charges and the formal end of his partner's career. And that, Starsky knew, no matter what the outcome, would leave Hutch forever changed.
There was still the autopsy the next day, he reminded himself as he shrugged into his jacket, but neither he nor Dobey had high hopes for that. The doctors were pretty certain that bleeding in the brain had caused the suspect's death, and though Starsky had little knowledge about medicine, he still knew that any kind of findings to that effect, no matter what the cause, would be another nail in Hutch's coffin.
For the first time in his life, Starsky vehemently hated their job.
He walked down to the Torino, indifferent to the looks he got on the way. The whole station would know already; cops were like that. He'd cursed the demands of the profession before, railed uselessly against it whenever it endangered, let alone nearly killed his partner, but that was just the way it was and the realist in Starsky could accept that. This, however, this being under attack from their own, disgusted him.
Starsky turned the car without hesitation toward Venice.
Hutch wouldn't see things that way, though. What had hit him so hard was the possibility that he'd been responsible for a man's death. Not that either of them were new to the idea of killing, unfortunately, because sometimes in their job that was a painful necessity, one that Hutch in particular had never easily swallowed. But he'd learned to live with it because that was the cost of law. This, however...Starsky knew what his partner was thinking, felt his struggle as if it were Starsky's own. This he would see as killing an innocent, regardless of whether the man was a felon or not, killing someone unnecessarily and out of anger. And even if somehow the whole IA and Homicide mess blew over without the loss of his job, that would still be something for which Hutch could never forgive himself, let alone trust himself again. IA had no idea how little power they held over Ken Hutchinson, for the man's hardest judge was himself.
A final turn put him on Ocean, and Starsky could see his partner's place down the street. And no car in front of it. He frowned. It was possible that Hutch had gone down to the beach, a place he often went to think, but somehow Starsky doubted it. It was already dark, storm clouds gathering in the sky, and while his partner tended to ignore such mundane concerns while communing with nature, somehow this didn't feel right. Starsky pulled in front of Venice Place, turned off the car, and went inside.
There was no sound or light coming from the apartment, and Starsky stood and debated a moment at the door before feeling around for the key above the lintel and letting himself in.
The place was empty, he knew it right away. The living room and kitchen were spotless, even the dirty dishes from the night before put away. Unlike Starsky, Hutch didn't let the house go to seed when he was worked up over something. Further exploration revealed the bathroom in similar form, though something seemed off. It took Starsky a minute to realize it was the absence of Hutch's usual toiletries. Toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving kit were all gone, and a quick check of the bathroom cabinets didn't turn them up.
Suspicions growing, Starsky headed for the bedroom next, going first to the closet where he knew Hutch kept his duffel. Missing. The clothes seemed to be mostly there, but his robe was also gone.
Starsky shook his head and sank down on the adjacent bed. After a moment, he reached for the phone and dialed Dobey's home phone by memory.
Thankfully, his boss was the one who answered.
"Cap'n, it's Starsky. I need an alert put on Hutch's credit cards. I gotta know if he uses any of 'em."
"He's gone?" Dobey asked in surprise. "You know if IA finds out--"
"I know, Cap'n," Starsky cut in tiredly. "But he's not runnin'. I think he just...needed to get away to think. I just wanna make sure he's back before there's trouble."
The older man sighed heavily. "All right, Starsky. But if that autopsy turns out badly tomorrow, they're going to want to see him right away and my hands are going to be tied."
Starsky managed a smile despite everything. At least someone was still on their side. "I'll take care of it, Cap'n. Thanks."
A grumble was his answer, but Starsky hung up a little lightened, knowing that Dobey would do everything he could now to help Hutch. And Starsky. Not that there was a difference.
So where was Hutch running to?
Starsky sighed, drawing a tired hand over his eyes. For now, he was exhausted and there was an autopsy to get ready for the next morning. Troubled, active thoughts or no, he had to get some sleep for the big day ahead.
With one last look around the quiet place, Starsky locked the apartment door behind him and headed home.
The ringing telephone was a welcome interruption to his nightmare. Starsky nearly knocked the phone off in his sleepy haste to answer it.
"Detective? It's Chan in Prints. I'm sorry to call you so early, but you said to let you know as soon as I got something?"
Starsky sat up, completely awake. "Yeah, that's fine. You found somethin'?" he asked hopefully.
"Yup. Got a match on your set of prints. Guy's name is Jacob Andrew Fenwick. He's got a sheet as long as my filing cabinet, mostly assaults, some sex charges, indecent exposure. I'll send the file up to your desk."
"Thanks, I'm on my way." Starsky hung up the phone and scrambled out of bed, pulling on clothes with indifferent haste, trying not to be too relieved. A record didn't clear Hutch, not by a long shot; even with a hardened criminal a cop could still be guilty of excessive force. But it helped. If nothing else, it made it far more likely that the guy had put up a serious struggle at arrest, supporting Hutch's story and justifying the possibility that considerable force had been needed to subdue him. Starsky almost reached for the phone again to call his partner with the bit of good news, only to frown as he remembered the evening before. Finding Hutch would be next, but first Starsky had to make sure he had some good news for his partner when he did.
Speaking of which, he had an autopsy to attend.
Starsky leaned against the tiled wall on legs unsteady from either nausea or relief, he wasn't sure which. Only his elation was keeping him from getting sick right then and there.
The door opened behind him, Steele and Grey, a homicide detective, following him out. After a quiet exchange Starsky ignored, Grey disappeared down the hall and Steele stepped into Starsky's line of vision.
"Homicide is dropping their investigation and so is Internal Affairs," he said in a neutral tone. "It seems your partner got away with it this time."
Starsky pushed himself up straight, clenching his teeth only in part because of his roiling stomach. "Sorry to ruin your day. We'll try to do better next time."
"I'm sure you will."
Starsky flushed, more at the slur on his partner than himself. "Listen up, Steele, if we had more cops with Hutch's conscience, you'd be out of a job. He beat himself up a lot more over maybe bein' responsible for killin' that turkey than you did about ending a good cop's career. You could learn somethin' from my partner."
The IA man made a face. "Hutchinson may have a bleeding heart, but that doesn't mean I agree with his methods, or yours, Starsky. I'll be keeping my eye on you."
"Knock yourself out," Starsky muttered, anger spent. As Hutch often told him, it wasn't worth it. Some people never understood.
Without another word, Steele walked away and Starsky forgot him just as quickly. He peeled off his gown instead, stuffing it into the bin by the door, as his thoughts returned to the autopsy.
It had been a one-in-a-thousand chance, but Starsky had seen the sickening proof for himself. The dark mass in the brain, the medical examiner had explained, would look like a hemorrhage on an x-ray, even on the angiogram. Only the autopsy had revealed its true nature, cancer spreading through the brain and, ultimately, ending Fenwick's life. No doubt it was partly to blame for his aggressiveness at arrest, the doctor added, affecting the man's behavior over the course of previous months. Starsky was willing to bet the man's record would show a corresponding escalation of behavior.
Not that it really mattered. The bottom line was a verdict of death by natural causes, and Hutch was a hundred percent cleared.
Now if he could only find his partner to tell him the good news, Starsky sobered. At least that was the first part he was looking forward to in this whole mess.
Starsky put a hand on his stomach, taking a few deep breaths until it finally felt more or less back in its place. Autopsies were not his thing, but he wouldn't have missed this one for any price. One more deep breath, then he set off down the hall back to his car, his slightly wobbly gait firming as he went.
Dobey was waiting for him at the station and pulled him aside.
"This just came in," he held up a piece of paper, giving Starsky a significant glance. "It's about that trace on your partner's credit cards."
"Yeah?" Starsky grabbed for the paper. "Where?"
"The Seashore Motel. In Goleta."
"Goleta?" Starsky frowned. "That's a couple of hours up the coast. What's he doin' up there?" The question was purely rhetorical; Starsky had a pretty good idea what his partner was doing up there. A heavy conscience could be a formidable driving force. "When was the hit?"
"Sometime this morning, which means he probably checked in last night. He might not even be in Goleta anymore," Dobey admonished kindly.
Starsky nodded, distracted. At least his partner's carelessness with leaving a trail was some proof that he was only running, not trying to hide. Not from him.
Dobey's voice lowered a little. "I heard about the autopsy results, Starsky. Tell Hutchinson he has tomorrow off, but I expect you both back the next morning." He couldn't quite hide a smile. "And tell him I'm glad things worked out okay."
Starsky looked up, startled, then gave his boss a quick grin. "Yessir. Thanks, Cap'n."
"Go on," Dobey said gruffly.
Starsky needed no invitation. He was already out the door, several detectives looking up with surprise in his wake.
With the early afternoon lull of traffic, PCH was fairly clear, and Starsky took full advantage of it. Dobey's note lay on his dash and the map was spread out across the passenger seat to serve as guides, but Starsky hardly looked at them, driving on automatic as his thoughts leaped ahead.
The relief was still extraordinary, like a constant bubbling up of happiness inside him. After being so worried about his partner and their future together, to have that weight suddenly gone made him feel light in contrast. It still bothered him to think that Hutch didn't know yet and was hurting, but Starsky could fix that soon enough. Then his contentment really would be complete.
Except...In all the furor over the excessive force investigation, Hutch's revelation of two nights before had almost become incidental. Indeed, Starsky knew his partner would hardly be thinking of that, too busy tearing himself up over the death of a sleazy felon to worry about an argument that hadn't even happened. But now, having been freed from the pressing weight of Hutch's possible misconduct and its consequences, sobering second thoughts crept back in.
Starsky had never felt shame about taking part in that unpopular war, never wallowed in the guilt of what he'd seen and done. It hadn't been long after his return to civilian life when he realized he couldn't live in the past that way, and finally made peace with yet another difficult chapter in his past. He'd learned to take others' reactions in stride, too, everything ranging from pity to hate. They didn't know him, didn't know who he was or why he'd done what he'd done. What they thought wasn't important.
He'd said he'd done it for Michael, and Starsky could well imagine that. The blond was haunted still by the death of his brother in yet another far-off war, and no doubt had been anxious to see the newest one come to an end. He'd also said he'd have done it for Starsky, too, to bring him home, and there was some part of Starsky that was touched by that. But there was also the part that remembered the hatred and anger and disgust, the twisted features that had spit on him and hurled words and rotten food and sometimes even rocks. Hutch surely hadn't been one of those, but the respondent emotions ran too deep in Starsky to be completely rational.
Starsky shifted in the driver's seat, troubled.
On the other hand, none of those ugly faces, or even well-meaning protestors, would have risked their lives even once for his, let alone time after time. None of them would have held him in that cluttered back room of an Italian restaurant as he hurt and bled from a bullet in the back. None would have sat hour after hour with him as his weakened body tried to fight off poison, holding his hand and relentlessly willing him strength. None would have temporarily moved in with him to ward off the spectacular nightmares after he'd been abused and held hostage by a bunch of crazy cultists. None of them could have been his partner.
They both had done things in their past the other didn't necessarily agree with. Starsky had much of his own teenage years to regret, a somewhat shady history Hutch had accepted without hesitation. Okay, so it wasn't quite the same, but maybe Starsky could accept this act of conscience of his partner's, then, too.
The matter continued to echo in him, unsettled, as Starsky took the exit to Goleta and deliberately set aside his doubts for more urgent matters.
Goleta wasn't tiny, but it was small enough that a stop at the first gas station he came to netted him immediate directions. Starsky thanked the attendant and set off in a hurry, hoping his partner would still be there to find.
The Seashore Motel, it turned out, was somewhat outside town limits, a small, somewhat remote row of suites that ran in two perpendicular rows. The walls and roof were weather-beaten, the style several decades old at the least, but its maintenance spoke of care and effort. Starsky hardly noticed any of it, though, once he saw the old LTD parked at one end of the lot. With some relief, he pulled in next to it and got out to peer inside the car. Hutch's duffel on the front seat immediately got his attention, and Starsky's eyebrows rose. Was he just getting ready to leave again, or had he never even used it? With a frown, Starsky headed toward the front office.
He was almost to the door before something else caught his eye. Starsky absently passed the motel lobby, going closer to get a better look.
Past the motel, past the row of trees and loose shrubs and debris, started the beach that stretched for some distance before it reached the ocean. Already the sound of crashing surf was audible, if faintly, the shoreline still some two hundred yards distant. And near it, sitting on an outcropping of dark rock, was the huddled figure of a man.
Starsky turned away from the motel, instead beginning to pick his way through the greenery, his eyes repeatedly drawn to the figure. It was too far yet to tell any features, and yet he already knew.
The sand soon was sucking at his shoes, but Starsky ignored it. As hurried as his trip up had been, suddenly he was content to go slow, oddly reluctant to break into the other's reverie.
He was close enough now that he could see the sun glint off white-blond hair, all tangled from the stiff wind off the ocean. The black-and-white varsity jacket was also so familiar, looking almost too big for the frame that was slumped in it. Dark jeans and old loafers completed the picture, jeans that, as Starsky drew close, he realized were darkened with saturation, and the golden hair curled from drying in the sun. Apparently it had rained there the night before, as well, and Hutch hadn't been inside at the time.
Starsky stopped a few feet away, just to the left and behind his partner, and gazed at the waves that Hutch seemed so intent on.
"Not a whole lot different a view than at home, buddy."
Hutch reacted a second or two too slowly, turning to blink at him. Circles rimmed his eyes and his expression was haggard, but it was with an unnatural calm that he glanced at Starsky, then back at the water. "IA sent you?" he asked, voice slightly rough from the wet salt air.
Acceptance of his fate. Starsky's voice softened. "Uh-uh. I came to bring you home."
Hutch looked at him a little more closely now, gaze mildly curious.
"You didn't kill him, Hutch. The guy had cancer in his brain, that's what got him."
It didn't seem to be what Hutch had been expecting, but only his eyes reflected his disbelief, his face still expressionless. "They're sure?"
"I was there myself, buddy. IA's already closed the case."
"I bet Steele was disappointed."
Starsky just snorted. "Yeah."
Hutch's gaze grew distant, turned inward. "I thought..." he murmured.
Hutch smiled briefly. "You wouldn't." He grew serious again, and drew a long, steadying breath, his back straightening as he turned away to stare at the ocean again.
Starsky just stood and waited.
That was it, and yet Starsky knew immediately what he was talking about. And found, to his only partial surprise, that it really didn't matter so much, after all.
"'S okay," he said quietly, and meant it.
The silence stretched for long minutes. Starsky studied his partner intently, seeing now, up close, the small shivers that shook him, the weight of fatigue that bowed his head. Hutch would be okay now, once he had time to digest what had happened and made peace with himself again. Starsky just had to make sure now that he got that far.
Softly he said, "Come home with me, Hutch."
Hutch's eyes closed, brow furrowed, body sagging a little more into his jacket.
Starsky moved up close to him, squeezing a damp shoulder. "Come on, partner." He tugged a little.
The blond shivered once more, then slowly uncurled, wavering a little as he gained his feet. Starsky was ready for that. He held on securely as Hutch steadied himself, then slowly led the way back toward the motel.
"You got a room, then spent the night out here?" he asked lightly as they neared the building.
The answer was tired but nevertheless slightly sheepish. "Yeah."
"Uh..." Hutch fumbled in his jacket pocket and Starsky took the key he offered.
"Fifteen." He squinted at the numbers of the nearest cabins. "That's just right over here. Why don't we stop and you can take a shower and get into some dry clothes? I'll try an' find us some food."
"I thought we were going home," Hutch wearily protested.
Starsky met his eyes. "We are," he promised, never more serious.
Hutch didn't argue after that, allowing himself to be directed into the room and then the shower, while Starsky went out to retrieve his duffel and collect a pile of sandwiches, drinks, and snacks from the row of vending machines in the motel front office.
When he returned, Hutch was just emerging from the shower, flushed and barely on his feet. Starsky shook his head. The idiot would probably come down with something from his cold overnight soak, but they'd deal with that if and when it came. Now, he waited patiently as Hutch slowly climbed into the warm change of clothes, and then coaxed the blond into downing most of a sandwich and a drink while he rushed through his own meal. Turning in the key, then, he dropped a blanket around Hutch's shoulders and got him into the passenger side of the Torino.
"What about my car?" Hutch asked, frowning.
"We'll come back for it first day off we have. It's not important right now, Hutch," Starsky said gently.
That appeared answer enough. Starsky started the car and pulled out of the lot, and, exhausted, Hutch curled up in the seat, head resting back against the window. Within a minute he was fast asleep.
Mission accomplished, Starsky thought contentedly. He felt truly at peace for the first time in days, and it was obvious why. Hutch's well-being was, in many ways, as important as his own, already reason enough for contentment, but it was because the feeling was mutual that he could truly forgive and forget. It was that same absolute knowledge of the kind of man Hutch was that had made Starsky so sure his partner had been innocent of IA's charges. Looking after him and bringing him home again had become all that mattered.
And with his partner safe at his side, as far as Starsky was concerned, they were already there.
Written in 2000