This story first appeared in the zine,A Small Circle of Friends #4 (1999). 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. This story is based on the Real Ghostbusters episode, "Cry Uncle". Fan-Q Winner
Honor Thy Father
"What time is it, Starsky?"
Starsky ducked back behind the dumpster as a bullet whizzed past near his head, then stared incredulously across the alley at his partner. "We're chasin' four guys with guns, all of 'em shootin' at us, and you want to know what time it is?" he asked, voice rising in disbelief.
"You're the one with the wristwatch!" Hutch hissed back, pausing to shoot once more blindly down the alley. "Mine is in my pocket right now and I'm a little busy to check it."
Starsky gave him as aggrieved a look as he could manage, half-distracted. Trust his partner to come up with lousy logic like that. He glanced at his wrist. "Five-oh-three."
Hutch pulled back deeper into his cover as a shot came too close to where he'd been standing. "Dad's plane's gonna be coming in soon. You think we can round up these jokers in the next five minutes?" He had to raise his voice for the last few words to be heard over the gunfire.
For an answer, Starsky held out three fingers, then two, then dove out of cover, Hutch simultaneously leaning out to cover him as he moved closer. Suddenly all that mattered was staying alive and, even more importantly, keeping the other that way. Mr. Hutchinson Sr. disappeared from thought as they carefully worked their way toward their goal.
PO2 Rose Parlon looked up from her desk at the tall, silver-haired man who had just walked into Parker and now stood before her. "My name is John Hutchinson. I'm here to see--"
"Hutch!" she exclaimed.
"I beg your pardon?" The man frowned at her.
Parlon flushed. "I'm sorry, but you look exactly like him. Your son, right?"
The man nodded with the slightest hesitation.
"You'll have to wear one of these," she went on, reaching out a badge. "Hutch--uh, Detective Hutchinson works up on the fifth floor, in the Special Units Division. You go up on the elevator right there," she pointed, "then to your left as you come out. You can't miss it. Room 519."
"Er, thank you, Officer." With a polite nod, the distinguished man affixed the badge to the breast pocket of his expensive suit, then picked up a suitcase and his briefcase and strode toward the elevators Parlon had pointed out.
With a sigh, Rose leaned back in her chair and watched the retreating figure. He even sounded like Hutch. Two of them; it just wasn't fair.
Shaking off the wishful thinking, she went back to her work.
The farther he went into the building, then along the corridor on the fifth floor, the more disappointed John Hutchinson was. Well . . . disappointed wasn't really the word. Ken's choice of occupation wouldn't have been either his or his wife's first option, but he'd reluctantly respected his son's rights to make his own decisions, his own life, and policing was a necessary and honorable--if unpleasant and dirty--job. He'd never tried to talk Ken out of it, even if he'd always been secretly sorry his son had not chosen to follow in his footsteps.
But this . . . this was worse than he'd ever expected. An unkempt figure with a beard and an earring walked past, the silver badge glinting on his chest the only sign that he belonged in the building. Another officer went by in the other direction, this one in uniform but pulling with her a handcuffed woman in tight, tasteless clothing. The prisoner leered at him with entirely-too-clear intent, and Hutchinson disdainfully ignored her. Such a place to work in. It had little in common with the order and decency Jack Webb had always showed the LAPD as having.
The squadroom didn't do much to boost his opinion. Several older men in badly fitting suits were crammed around tables placed end-to-end to serve as desks, wading tiredly through paperwork. The odd touches here and there: a Mickey Mouse doll on the filing cabinet, the red-and-white pig on one of the desks, only served to add a more . . . bizarre twist to the place. How could anyone work here, let alone serious men doing good jobs?
A door opened in the wall on his left, and a large, black man stepped out. "Todesco!" he barked, before turning back toward the door, his posture and voice exuding authority. Hutchinson stepped reluctantly toward him.
The man noticed him at the same time, blinking once and quickly looking him over. "Hmm. Mr. Hutchinson, I presume?" He lost his growl from a moment before, smiling at John with friendliness. "Hu--uh, Ken mentioned you were arriving today. Did you get in early?"
"No. My plane was on time but I'm afraid my son wasn't, Officer . . . "
"Captain. Harold Dobey." The captain extended a large hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Ah, yes, Ken's captain. He's told us about you. How do you do?" The handshake was a heartier one than he was used to, but the man seemed competent enough, and the first person John had seen in that building who seemed to evoke any respect.
Dobey was frowning. "I know your son and his partner were tracking down a lead on a case they were on . . . I guess they got more caught up than they expected. I'll see if I can find out where he is."
"You don't know where my son is?" John Hutchinson stared at the man, feeling worry in the pit of his stomach and refusing to recognize it as anything but annoyance that they would not keep better track of their officers. He always could find out within moments where any of his people were, and they were in far less . . . touchy situations than police officers were likely to be.
The captain's friendliness didn't drop, but it did cool a little. "I don't know exactly where my officers are all the time, Mr. Hutchinson, but that's because they have the authority to follow their own investigations wherever they lead. I know where your son last checked in from and we can contact him and let him know you're here."
"I'd appreciate that, Captain," John said formally, straightening his suit jacket a little. Finally, some progress.
"If you'd just care to wait at your son's desk, sir, I'll see what we can find out for you." Dobey pointed to a chair and then turned back to his office without waiting for a response.
John approached the desk with mild curiosity, stifling a grimace at the realization that it was the one on which the garish red-and-white pig sat. Otherwise, the desk was more-or-less organized, stacks of paper sitting on one corner, a coffee cup on another, devoid of any personal touches beyond the plastic pig. The desk just across from it, however, was a mess of paperwork, candybar wrappers, a dried half-doughnut, a baseball card. A single framed picture was turned so it was visible to both desks, a picture of a brown-haired, smiling woman holding a teddybear. A gift from some amorous girlfriend, no doubt. Good gracious--these were the kinds of people his son worked with? And upon whom the city depended for protection and order?
John hadn't heard the squadroom doors open, but his son's voice snapped his head up at once. His instant smile of welcome dimmed at the sight of his middle child.
Ken looked, simply put, as if he'd been rolling around in a garbage heap. His jeans and plaid shirt were dirty and torn, smelling fiercely of something the elder Hutchinson didn't even want to think about. His fair hair was tousled, but what drew John's eyes next was far worse than that. A white bandage encircled his palm, extending up his wrist and disappearing under his shirt sleeve.
"Ken? What happened?" Long experience with poker-expressioned business dealings kept his concern off his face, but the worry had chilled into something solid in the pit of his stomach.
Ken strode toward him. "Gee, Dad, I'm sorry. One minute I was telling Starsky we had to leave to get you soon, the next we were already running late and we had to book these guys--" John had stood to meet him and they stood nearly eye-to-eye, Ken reaching out to shake with his good right hand.
John Hutchinson was still too surprised to pay attention to that, pointing instead at the gauze. "No, I mean that."
"Oh." Ken looked as though he were noticing it for the first time. "That's nothing, Dad, just cut my hand a little while we were--well, it's not important. I'm fine, really. Starsky wrapped it up a lot more than it needed." His outstretched hand, still not taken, finally fell back to his side.
Starsky. John hadn't noticed the man at first, but he must have come in with his son, standing just behind Ken with a half-smile on his face and the same concern echoed in his eyes that John had felt. John Hutchinson was a businessman and he knew how to read people. Even if Ken's every call home hadn't been half-full of "Starsky said," or "Starsk & I," he could still have identified the shorter man as his son's partner by the way he watched over Ken, and as seemingly a good man. John held out his hand. "Detective Starsky."
The half-grin became full-blown and his hand was shaken warmly. "Dave. Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hutchinson."
His hand was clean, but the rest of him was as filthy as Ken, and Starsky must have noticed his raised eyebrow because he laughed.
"You'll have to excuse us, sir, we were arrestin' some people who didn't want to be arrested and we ended up a little messy. We're usually a little cleaner than this. And Hutch really is okay, didn't even need to go to the hospital to get his hand stitched up."
John narrowed his eyes at his son's partner. "Indeed? You have some medical training?"
Ken stiffened a little next to him, but Starsky gamely answered, "No, sir, but I've done a little doctoring before. It was just a scratch." He exchanged a glance with Ken that wasn't lost on John, but the older man could only speculate at the meaning. He knew when he wasn't being told the whole truth, but this was neither the time nor place to pursue it.
"Yes, well . . . Ken, I think I'll take a taxi to your apartment and wait for you there until you're cleaned up and finished your work for today." He stepped back for his bags.
"Uh, Dad? I thought maybe you'd like to go out with us. We've only got an hour left, and the paperwork can wait until tomorrow. You could see what we do?"
There was a timid hopefulness in his son's voice that stopped John's automatic denial. Well, it was hardly his first choice, but if he was to do what he came out to do, perhaps it would be best to see what Ken and his partner dealt with every day.
"All right, son." He straightened up. "I'd like that."
The flash of relief and even pleasure that lit up his son's face made him fondly smile inside. It had been some time since he'd seen such joy in Kenny directed at him, certainly absent in the serious young man who'd left Duluth against his parents' wishes. John Hutchinson realized with some surprise that he had missed it, a lot. Well, if all went well then they'd have a lot more chances together to make up for lost time. And meanwhile, perhaps going out and seeing what his son did would quell some of his misgivings about the last eight years.
It didn't, at all.
One hour wasn't that much time, and yet he was amazed at how much trouble his son and Starsky managed to get into in that time. Only five minutes into their patrol, Starsky had spotted some man by the unlikely name of "Toots," and the car, as garishly colored as the plastic pig, had sped off after him, nearly upsetting John Hutchinson in the back seat as he'd grimly held on. They finally cornered "Toots" in the alley, but that had not been discouraging enough to the sleazy, dark-haired man who'd then tried to climb a tall fence. Ken had jumped out of the car after him, followed instantly by his partner, and John had watched with appalled fascination as they'd had to fight the man into submission. Starsky finally literally sat on the handcuffed man while Ken had called for a patrol car to take the prisoner in. The grin he'd offered his father as he hung up the radio was more than a little sheepish. John hadn't been able to offer one back. He saw no humor at all in the situation, and Ken quickly grew serious and stiff, too. He'd finally gone to join Starsky in sitting on the felon, while John loosened his tie and cautiously leaned back in his seat.
Next had been a call on the radio for something called a "211," which promptly set the car off full-speed again, careening around corners with a madness that John hoped was only faked. Starsky seemed to know what he was doing, and the flashing police light Ken had smacked onto the roof was also of some small comfort, but John Hutchinson still hung on uneasily and hoped that the ordeal would be over soon. And that Starsky had been a race car driver before he'd become a policeman.
They pulled up in front of the kind of small convenience store that John Hutchinson would've normally never given a second glance. Starsky and Ken were out the door almost instantly, pulling their guns as they did. "Dad, stay down," his son hissed at him. John was about to protest as a sharp crack resounded from the store. Gunfire? He'd never heard it before. It sounded much less dramatic than on television, more like a firecracker, and yet it chilled his blood. Without a word, he crouched down behind his son's seat and, heart pounding, listened.
The next few minutes were pure hell. John heard Starsky's voice once, and then there were several other shots, all of which he imagined directed at the two detectives. From Ken there wasn't a sound. What if something happened to both his son and Ken's partner? John didn't know if he could operate their radio. Why weren't any other officers coming; didn't they back up their own? His other son had been cut down by an enemy's bullet in far off Korea--surely he wouldn't lose Ken the same way . . .
There had been silence for some time, heavy silence filled only with his loud breathing, as John listened for any sign his son was all right. When the car door suddenly opened, he nearly gasped with the tension.
"Dad? It's over now. Are you all right?"
Ken was looking over the back seat at him worriedly. John quickly forced himself back up onto the seat, examining his son for any sign of injury. Finding none, he found his worry displaced by anger. Or maybe that was just safer. "I'm fine," he answered curtly.
Ken seemed ready to say something, then thought better of it. Starsky chose that moment to come out of the building, tugging a man with him who had a red stain on the cuff of his jacket, and Ken went to join them instead. After noting that his son's partner also seemed unharmed, John turned his gaze away, across the street. He didn't care to think any further about the stain, about the deceptive backfiring-car sounds, about the large gun he'd seen his son wield with the ease with which John handled a telephone. Nor did he say another word until the two detectives dropped him off at his son's place before going off to do their paperwork. He didn't look back as he strode into the building.
"I blew it, Starsky."
His partner glanced at Hutch as they drove back toward Venice, finally done for the day. "It wasn't your fault. How were we supposed to know Toots was gonna go nuts on us? And the 211 went pretty good."
"Maybe by our definition." Hutch shook his head slowly. "Not for somebody who isn't used to this stuff. You should've seen the look he gave me when I got back to the car. He'll probably never come to L.A. again." Never come see me again.
"Hutch, he's your dad."
The blond smiled a little at that, wistfully. "Not every father's like yours was, Starsk. He and Mom never really said it, but I always knew they weren't too thrilled by my becoming a cop. And what he saw today sure isn't going to change his mind."
"You sure he was mad? Maybe he was just worried," Starsky offered.
Hutch thought about that a moment. "I think he is some. I know he loves me and he worries, but Dad's never made it a secret that I came after Mom and Chris in his life, and that all of us came second to business. When I decided to become a cop instead of a doctor, let alone joining the family company, he wasn't very happy."
Starsky's face crinkled into a smile. "I don't know, I can't picture ya sellin' farm equipment, partner."
That made Hutch grin, too. "Hey, don't knock it. That's how he met my mom."
The humor eased a little of the ache in his stomach at the thought of going home and facing his father. Starsky usually could do that for him somehow.
They turned on to Ocean. "Starsk, you sure you don't want to stay for dinner?" Hutch suddenly spoke up. He didn't know if he really wanted his partner to stay to keep the conversation light, or if he really didn't want Starsky to be there in case things turned sour.
Starsky made the decision for him with his usual simple wisdom. "Nah, you don't want me there. It's his first night in town; you two gotta lot to talk about." He canted his head as he said it, his expression encouraging and not at all as flip as his tone implied. He knew the talk was exactly what Hutch was afraid of. And that while it wasn't his place to be there that evening, he'd be close and on call.
"Yeah. Okay." Hutch slowly unfolded himself from the car. "See you in the morning."
He'd nearly slammed the door before leaning down again. "Thanks."
Starsky grinned at him.
Hutch shut the door and turned to face the music.
It was actually going better than he'd hoped. His father, with typical precision, had unpacked just enough to make himself comfortable and was engrossed in neat piles of paperwork at the coffee table as Hutch walked in. His greeting was amiable enough, none of the frozenness of earlier evident in his manner, and Hutch found himself correspondingly relaxing. Maybe Starsky had been right and it had just been the stress and worry of the situation. Humming softly to himself, he'd washed up and set to fixing dinner, his father continuing to work in the living room behind him.
Dinner was simple but elegant, one of the skills of bachelorhood he'd picked up, and the conversation was light to match: the latest news of his mother and grandmother and sister, their home and neighborhood and circle of friends, even some business. The company's continued expansion was no surprise. His father had always excelled at business, an interest he'd not been able to pass on to his son. All that was avoided was any mention of the day's events.
That was saved for dessert.
"Ken . . . " His father's hesitation was an immediate warning. John Hutchinson always knew what he wanted to say. "What it was like today, the shootouts and violence--is your job always like that?"
It was a fair enough question, one Hutch had expected, and he answered it earnestly and just as honestly. "Sometimes. Not often. Unfortunately, you probably saw the worst of it today, Dad. We've usually got more than enough back-up and most felons don't want to risk a gun fight and getting killed."
His father's gaze was steady on him even as he ate his slice of cake. "But it happens."
"We're the law," Hutch shrugged it off. "Sometimes people don't want to follow the law and we have to get tough. It's a lot more paperwork and boredom than guns, Dad."
John Hutchinson put down his fork. "Like when your partner was shot last year?"
Hutch froze. The questions he'd been ready for, but not the raw memories. "I--I did everything I could then, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It just h--happened too fast." He could hear himself stuttering in his shock and was ashamed at the weakness in front of his father.
To his surprise, John put a comforting hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, Ken, I didn't mean to make it sound like that. Of course you did everything you could--your mother said you saved Starsky's life. I just meant that sometimes things like that happen anyway. It's a dangerous, dirty job."
The initial shock past, defensiveness took over. "What we do is important."
"There's no question of that. It's just that, well, maybe you've done your part already."
Hutch stared at him, his expression far more bland than the stir of anger he felt.
"Ken," his father continued mildly. "Do you remember the promise you made to me when you graduated?"
And then it all drained away, the anger, the cool defensiveness. So that's what the whole trip was about. And here I thought he just came to see me. The thought almost made him laugh. As if hurt feelings were the least of his worries. "Yes," he answered quietly. "I remember."
"You promised me that you'd return home if I ever needed you in the company."
Never mind that it was the only way his father had let him go to California with his blessing, or that Hutch had thought the offer was meant for emergencies.
"Well, I need you now, son," his father finished, kindly.
"Now," Hutch hollowly repeated. His cake was long forgotten except for the cold lump in his stomach of what he'd already eaten.
"Not right away now--I know you'll need time to sell this place, of course, and put in notice and pack, but I figured maybe in a month or so. As soon as you could."
"Why, Dad? What's so important that you need me now?" Uproot my life, my friends, my job. No longer a cop. And . . . Starsky?
"I'm going to retire next year, Ken. It's not common knowledge yet, but your mother and I made the decision recently. I always wanted to pass the company on to you, but I'll need the time to show you the ropes, let you work your way up a little. Before I get any older."
His dad was as sincere as Hutch had ever seen him, the pride and interest in his son that Hutch had always yearned for, now lighting the still-vibrant blue eyes. He really thought he was doing the best for his son. Hutch softened a little. "Dad, I have a life here. I have friends, a job I love. Starsky's my best friend. This is my home now. I don't . . . I'm sorry, but I don't want to leave."
John's expression didn't change at all. "I know that, Ken, and I wouldn't ask this lightly. But you made a promise to me and you've never broken your promises before. I'd be disappointed if you started now. I can't do this alone and I really do need you back home. Can I count on you?"
That was it? Hutch had said how much he didn't want to go, what he had to stay for, and it hadn't changed anything. Promised. He never had broken a promise, but wasn't his oath to the department a promise, too? And what about the one he'd made to his partner?
Honor your parents. It didn't mean letting them run your life, but it did mean being there if at all possible. And then there was honoring promises . . .
Hutch didn't register the savagely mashed pile of cake crumbs on his plate that he dumped in the sink some time later, or much of anything else the rest of the evening.
Late night calls from Dobey were never good news. That it wasn't the call from his partner that Starsky had half-expected was the one small comfort, and that turned out to be no comfort at all.
"Starsky, has Hutch talked to you?"
"Hello to you, too, Cap'n." Starsky grinned at the receiver. Okay, no big surprise that it wasn't a social call. "Talked to me about what?"
"Your partner just called me, told me he was going to drop off his resignation tomorrow morning and he 'just wanted me to know'." Dobey's sarcasm said amply what he thought about that. Then, a little more cautiously, "He didn't tell you about any of this?"
Starsky was still trying to digest the first part, shocked into silence. "What--uh, no, sir." He flinched at the thought. "Thanks . . . thanks for tellin' me. I'll talk to him."
"Dave, do you know what this is about?"
The use of his first name was a dead giveaway; Starsky appreciated the concern although even that couldn't lift his heart from where it had sunk. "I have an idea, but I'm gonna find out for sure. I'll talk to ya later, Cap'n." He hung up the phone before Dobey could respond, then sat hunched on the couch for some time, thinking.
No wonder you were scared. I knew this was gonna be tough on ya, but what did he say . . . Well, that wasn't even a hard one. Hutch had a formidable will, but it was all but impossible for him to say no to those he loved. Starsky himself had taken advantage of that more times than he could count. His partner was no pushover and he didn't let anyone run his life for him, but with his parents asking, and probably a good reason . . .
What's he got hangin' over you? I know it wasn't anything he offered 'cause you wouldn't leave unless you didn't have any other choice.
Starsky sighed into the quiet of the apartment. Ah, Hutch, what're we gonna do?
As much as he longed to rush over there, was dying inside with the waiting, it wasn't the time or place. Hutch had been coerced into a painful decision that evening, of that much Starsky was sure, and going over to badger him that night would only hurt him more. Not to mention put him dangerously on the offense, and he had no desire to be on the wrong end of an angry Hutch. Besides, Starsky had to talk to him away from his father, find out what was really behind his partner's choice and what they could do about it.
They. All comes down to that, buddy. You gonna talk to me? Starsky idly turned the TV on to something mindless and curled up on the sofa. That was the biggest question. And if he had to follow his friend all the way back to Duluth to find the answer, that was what he'd do.
"Hey, Dan, you seen Hutch this morning?"
The uniformed officer stopped in the hallway at Starsky's question, turning back for a moment. "Uh, yeah, just saw him upstairs a few minutes ago, comin' out of the captain's office."
Without another word, Starsky wheeled around and ran back toward the parking lot. Figured Hutch would try to slip in with his resignation and leave before he had to talk to anyone, especially his partner. It was a defensive measure Starsky could understand even as it stung a little.
The downturned blond head was bobbing back toward the far corner where the LTD sat, halfway across the parking lot. Starsky picked up his pace, both of them almost at the car before he came within calling distance. "Hutch! Wait a minute."
Hutch jerked to a stop, his stance tense and unyielding. Starsky could almost see his partner reinforcing himself against the confrontation. Really got to you, didn't he. Now you're gonna hide from me, too?
Starsky reached him in a few more short steps, and slid around to face him. I don't think so. "Hutch? What's goin' on? Dobey called me last night and said you were quittin'." And you didn't even tell me.
"Starsky, let it go. Decision's been made." The clipped voice had been warning enough to countless on the streets, but Starsky had a not-inconsiderable will of his own.
"Not likely. You gonna talk to me here or someplace private?"
He let some frost he didn't feel seep into his words. "If you wanna be a martyr, fine, but don't punish me along with you, Hutch."
The defiance in Hutch's eyes flinched. Bullseye. "That's not what I meant and you know it." It didn't sound near as angry as Hutch clearly would've liked it to.
Starsky smiled, soothing instead of mocking. "I know." A crack in the fortification was all he'd needed. "But we have to talk, you know that."
A heavy sigh, both resigned and relieved. "Yeah." As much as he knew Hutch had been hoping to slip away without any confrontations, talking, working things out was always what helped him in the long run. Both of them.
They went back to the building, Hutch's shoulder brushing his as they walked. Starsky usually didn't even think about it anymore, the proximity that most would find stifling and that he took for granted. The thought of losing this one special exception to all his norms would have worried him, except that together like this, he didn't think there was anything they couldn't lick. Ninety-two percent of their cases and difficult parents included.
Hutch followed his lead, into Parker and silently on until they found an unoccupied interrogation room. There, Starsky shut the door behind them and watched as Hutch sat wearily into one of the chairs in the small cubicle. Taking his cue, he perched on the table within touching distance.
Hutch's eyes were on the crumbling edge of the table where he picked at a sliver of wood that stuck out. "When I told my parents I was leaving medical school and coming out to L.A. to try out for the LAPD, my dad said they'd let me go if I promised him something."
Starsky's eyes narrowed. "Let you go?"
Hutch shook his head impatiently. "It was my decision. I just wanted their blessing. All he asked me was if I would promise to come back if he needed me in the company. I said yes."
Ah. "And now he says he needs you back."
A mute nod, Hutch still intent on the slice of wood he'd nearly worked loose.
"He say why?" Starsky asked quietly.
"He's retiring in a year and he wants me to take over the company, says he can't do it alone."
"Can't, or won't?"
Hutch threw up his hands in exasperation, looking nearly ready to bounce out of his chair. "I don't know! He says he can't. He's my dad, Starsky, and I promised."
Starsky would have smiled at the shift in his partner's views on the sanctity of fatherhood if not for Hutch's agitation. "Okay, okay," he soothed, sliding a little closer on the table. "So you promised and now he's callin' to collect. What do you think about goin' back to take over the company?"
He knew the answer to that one, he really did, or else everything he thought about his partner was false. Hutch's scowl faded into a misery that left no doubt.
Starsky nodded. "That's what I thought."
"I'm sorry, I should've called you last night, but I had a lot to think about and I knew you wouldn't . . . " He tapered off, worrying the piece of wood again.
Wouldn't like it? Wouldn't let you go easy? Darn right. "What did he say when you told him you liked bein' here, bein' a cop?"
"He's never thought much about my choice in careers. I guess he thinks once I see what business is like, I'll be happy I went back." Hutch finally couldn't sit still any longer, jumping up to pace the small room. "I don't like it, Starsky, but I don't know what else to do. Wouldn't you go home again if your Mom said she needed you there?"
Starsky thought about that a moment and shrugged. "Considerin' she's the one who sent me out here . . . And she's got Nicky there with her. Just like your folks have got Chris and Greg."
Hutch's face softened at the words, still sympathetic to his partner's old painful memories even in the midst of his own worries. "Are you tellin' me you wouldn't go back if she really asked you?" he asked softly, anger forgotten for the moment.
It was Starsky's turn to fidget. "Guess it depends on whether I thought she really needed me."
Hutch nodded, his eyes back on the ground and the slump in his shoulders again. "Yeah."
Starsky paused for a moment. "Look, Hutch, your dad probably got the whole wrong idea about what we do from what he saw yesterday. Why don'tcha ask him to come out with us again today and we can really show him how important your job is. Maybe he'd change his mind."
The blond head tilted to one side, a gleam of hope in his eyes as he looked at Starsky. "You really think so?"
"Worth a try. You're the only one who can find that snitch of yours, uh, what's his name, Petey? to ask about that armored car heist, anyway. No guns, no chasin' felons, just some real detective work. How 'bout it?"
His partner straightened a little. "Maybe. He's not leaving until tomorrow, after all. And I'm still a cop until Dobey processes the paperwork."
Starsky hopped off the desk, thumping his partner on the shoulder once before squeezing gently. "So let's go talk to the cap'n."
Hutch grinned at him for real, and it lit Starsky up inside with warmth. "Yeah."
As it turned out, it was just the two of them when they went to find Petey and followed that lead to several other stops before finding the right person to talk to. And thus cracked one of their most stubborn and high-profile cases. It was with relief and self-satisfaction that they turned back to the station, if also with some regret.
"Dad should be waiting there for us by now," Hutch said quietly.
Starsky winced. "Man, I wish he could've seen us today. He would've been proud of you, Hutch. That was a good call with Sweeney, made the case."
Hutch dismissed that with a wave of his hand. "I wasn't working solo, partner. Question is, what do we do for an encore? Most of our work isn't very pretty or interesting."
Starsky just nodded. What now, indeed. Since the senior Hutchinson hadn't been free to meet them at Parker before noon, he'd missed their hard work, and Hutch's contributions, coming to meet them just in time for the boring follow-up paperwork. Starsky was fresh out of ideas for what to do next, and that meant their days as partners were numbered.
With a sigh, they both lapsed into the same melancholy thoughts all the way back to the station.
"Back again, Mr. Hutchinson?" Rose smiled as she handed a visitor's badge to the man who stood in front of her desk.
"Yes, well, for the last time, I think. I'm to meet my son here again."
"You know the way, sir," she waved him on toward the elevators. "And please tell Hutch I said hi."
"Quite." John Hutchinson offered the merest hint of a smile. Ken always had been popular with the ladies, but this "Hutch" business rankled him a little. His own father would have been appalled at the bastardization of the family name, and yet everyone seemed to know his son by the nickname. Hutch, he mentally tried it out and shook his head. No, that wouldn't do. His son just didn't realize the dignity of being "Mr. Hutchinson." He'd learn that soon enough.
Back up to the fifth floor, past a benchful of miscreants he didn't even care to look at, into the squadroom and to his son's desk. It was almost exactly noon; with any luck Ken would actually manage to be on time for once. There were only one or two others in the room and no one gave him a second glance. Gossip got around quickly as to his identity in a place like this, no doubt.
He was about to open his briefcase when the phone on Ken's desk suddenly rang. John stared at it, then around the room. All the desks had phones on them and this one alone was ringing; clearly it was Ken's own extension and no one else was about to pick it up. Perhaps it was important, maybe even a matter of life and death. The phone rang on, heedless. There didn't even seem to be any message service.
John hesitated a moment longer, then reached for the ringing phone. It was his son's, after all, and he could always just take a message. "Hello?"
"Hutch? It's Sweet Alice." The voice lilted with southern accent.
Sweet Alice? "Er, no, I'm sorry, Officer Hutchinson isn't here. May I take a message for him?" John said carefully.
The girl hesitated so long, he thought she would hang up. Then, even more softly, "I need t'talk to Hutch. Please, tell him I found out Janos knows 'bout me, 'bout what I did. Hutch'll know where t'find me."
Dawning realization of just what kind of "lady" he was talking to had begun to break in John Hutchinson's mind, but it was the last sentence that made his jaw set. The dignity of policework, indeed. So that was the kind of company his son kept, derelicts and prostitutes? "I'll tell him," was all he said, shortly, and didn't wait for the phone to hang up before he broke the line. Ken knew where to find her . . . John didn't even want to think about that one. His only regret was that he hadn't come sooner for his son. With mounting restless distaste, he dug out a report to read to pass the time.
They strode down the hall, once more side by side, Starsky slowing his steps to accommodate his partner's more reluctant gait, compensating for each other as usual. He was the first to catch sight of the silver-haired figure sitting tall at Hutch's desk, and he mutely nudged his partner, then inclined his head toward the squadroom window.
Hutch made a face. "Terrific."
"Hey, that's my line." Starsky grinned at him and earned as much a smile back as his partner could manage at the moment.
Through the doors, almost a repeat of the day before except that the tension had increased tenfold as Hutch went forward to greet his father. Starsky found himself studying more curiously the man he'd only briefly met the day before, looking for any signs of the monster Hutch seemed to fear. His own memories of his father were fuzzy and full of holes, but they were of someone very much like this, tall and strong and worthy of respect. Only, Michael Starsky had had eyes that were usually filled with laughter and warmth. John Hutchinson, while not quite cold, held his emotions in check and well-shielded, not open for the world to see. The blue eyes were two shades darker than Hutch's and yet so vastly different from his partner's clear gaze and open soul. But still, Starsky could find no callousness in the older man, no sign that he was willing to selfishly wreck his son's life or that he held no concern at all for Hutch's feelings. His gut backed up the impression. Maybe it was all just a case of bad communication and misunderstanding.
Hutch had apologized for their tardiness already and found another chair, apologizing again that they had some work to do at the office and that his father would have to wait for a while before they could talk further. John Hutchinson sat uncomfortably off to the side of their desks and continued to work out of his own apparently ever-present briefcase in the meantime. Unusually awkward silence descended, and Starsky traded a long look with his unhappy partner before settling down to wade through the paperwork as quickly as possible.
Concentration was nigh impossible, but Hutch threw himself into his work nevertheless, hoping to drown his worries and doubts, as he had so many times before, in the comfort of rote, familiar work. He'd partly succeeded by the time the ringing phone startled him out of his thoughts some time later.
"Hutch, it's Melba," the nearly frantic voice exploded in his ear. "He got her. Oh, God, she was hoping you'd come before he found her . . . "
"Melba, calm down." Hutch had to raise his voice to be heard over the hysterical woman, drawing his partner's full attention. "Are you talking about Sweet Alice? Who got her?" His father also looked up, he could see from the corner of his vision.
"Oh, Hutch, she called for you before t'tell you Janos found out she was the one who snitched to y'all about him. He said he was gonna kill her--she was so scared, Hutch. And then he came and knocked her around a little, and now they're both gone! Hutch, you havta find her!"
"Slow down, slow down. Alice called here? When was that? Starsky and I were out on the streets."
"About an hour ago. Hutch, please--"
"I know, Melba, we'll get out there right away. You have any idea where Janos would've taken her?" He had already scrawled most of the details down for Starsky and now shoved the notepad across their desks. His partner met his worried gaze with a grave nod, already reaching for his jacket.
"I don't know. I don't know, Hutch. Maybe over to his studio. One of his girls might know where his pad is now. Um, Sherry, maybe? I don't know--"
"It's okay, Melba, listen to me. We'll find her, all right? Just calm down and give us a little time."
Alice's friend had tapered off now, and she sniffed soggily. "She trusts you, Hutch."
"I know," he said quietly. "We'll find her, I promise." He was already standing and pulling his own jacket on. His father, nearly forgotten next to him, had snapped his briefcase shut.
"Okay. Lemme know, huh?"
"Sure. I'll call you." And he hung up, casting his partner a pained glance. "Janos found out she talked to us about him."
"Mm-hmm. Melba have any ideas where t'start looking?"
"She said maybe Sherry would know where he's set up shop and his pad."
A nod, and they were both turning to go.
His father's unusually subdued voice turned Hutch back, his impatience dying at his father's odd expression. "Yeah, Dad? We have to go--"
"That, er, young lady, Sweet Alice is her name, I believe? She called while you were out."
Hutch went cold the moment the words sunk in, though whether from anger or dread, he wasn't sure. He stepped closer to his father, ignoring Starsky's warning tug on his jacket. "She what?"
"She called, said something like that, about Janos having found out about her and that she needed to talk to you. It didn't sound all that urgent."
The "why?" on Hutch's lips died as he realized the answer to that. His father would've been smart enough to figure out what Alice was, and had disdainfully relegated anything she'd said to unimportance. Hutch's voice was frigid with contempt.
"Well, Dad, you might just have gotten her killed. And maybe her life doesn't mean anything to you, but it does to me."
With that, he spun around and stalked out of the room.
Ten seconds later, Starsky had caught up to him, and if his partner had talked with his father, he couldn't care less. "He didn't know, Hutch," was all Starsky quietly said.
The words were so full of concern, he swallowed his angry retort. The damage was done and now all they could do was try to keep it from getting worse. And when his father hurried after him and stood, subdued, by the car, Hutch held his tongue, only giving the older man a withering glance as he opened the door for John and slammed it after them.
He thought about promises all the way to Sherry's.
Cops were not usually their allies, but street girls protected their own and Sherry was more than willing to give them an address when she found out why they were asking. The shack they pulled up to was even more rundown than Janos' first "studio" that they'd once tracked down under even more dismal circumstances.
Starsky kept an eye on his partner as Hutch studiously avoided talking to or even looking at his father. Hutch took a lot from people, but when he reached his limit and got fed up, it was very hard to gain back his trust. Starsky only hoped John Hutchinson knew that and was willing to do what it took.
It probably wasn't wise, but Starsky didn't say a word as Mr. Hutchinson climbed out of the car and trailed after them into Janos's place. Hutch hadn't said anything, probably wanting his father to see the damage he'd wrought, and Starsky was willing to let his partner call the shots for now, as long as the brunet could keep his eyes on Hutch so he knew when he was needed.
It was a feeling of déja vu, the same motions of busting in to the film studio with equipment and crew and some scantily clad girls in position, following his angry, marauding partner as Hutch knocked over whatever was in his path. They were unpleasant memories; the last time, he'd been poisoned and so sick and in pain, he'd had to let Hutch take the lead because he'd had no strength to do it himself. The blond had been running on rage and desperation to find the antidote then and had quickly learned what he wanted. Much like now. As if knowing his thoughts, Hutch turned for a second mid-rampage to give him a quick, questioning look, and Starsky offered a faint smile in return, a reassurance he was okay. It was enough, and Hutch stormed on, looking for Martini, as Starsky grinned in earnest. Maybe Hutch had known his thoughts; that wasn't so inconceivable anymore.
Mr. Hutchinson stayed close to the door, looking at the scene with shock even his stoicism couldn't quite hide. Starsky's grin became grim. The girls on the bed looked far too young, and the back-up "actresses" to one side were clearly stoned out of their minds--it wasn't exactly the education they'd had in mind for Hutch's father, but maybe it would do the old man some good.
Hutch had cornered a cameraman in the meantime and was pelting the man with questions, and Starsky hurried over before damage was done, half-aware of Mr. Hutchinson hurrying over to stay close behind him.
"Where . . . is . . . Janos?" Steel words; the cameraman was shrinking under their weight.
"I don't--I don't know. Said he was going out for a little bit. Maybe he's in back in his pad," the man jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward a door.
One of the few things Starsky enjoyed more than getting to play bad cop, was seeing Hutch take his turn. The brunet could do a fair job of scaring perps into compliance with his explosive temper, but Hutch managed to get the same effect by going the opposite way, growing quieter and more restrained. Only, this time he wasn't acting.
Hutch tossed the man to one side as unimportant, and pulled his gun before steaming right through the door, Starsky following. He was beginning to feel as much along for the ride as John. Sweet Alice had always had a special place in his partner's heart.
The next room was a living room decorated with far too much velvet and leather. They fell into their search pattern, always in each other's sight as they efficiently swept the room and all the doors off of it. Then it was on into a narrow hall, past a filthy kitchen. Neither of them needed to say anything to John, who hung back at a safe distance, watching warily.
Then they heard the screams.
That did it; there was no stopping Hutch as he crashed through one of the two other doors into what turned out to be the bedroom. His momentum carried him right into Janos Martini, standing by the bed half-dressed. And on the king-size bed, the first thing Starsky saw, was the battered and bleeding Sweet Alice, curled into a ball and her clothing in shreds as she cried.
Hutch was on the floor, straddling the smaller Martini and laying several punches into the pimp. Starsky took that in at the same moment, and a second later had his gun holstered and was pulling his partner up off the felon.
"Hutch. Hutch!" It took several tries and all his strength to restrain the furious blond and pull his attention away from his prey. "She needs you," Starsky said more quietly, nodding toward the bed. "I'll take care of him." Janos wasn't going anywhere, moaning on the ground as blood streamed from his nose and mouth.
Hutch stared at him for a moment, gulping for breath, until the words sank in. Without hesitation, he let go of the fistful of Janos' clothing still twisted in his hands, and moved aside to let Starsky in, going over to the bed instead.
Starsky secured the prisoner without any difficulty, turning the man roughly over to cuff his hands behind his back, then leaving him bleeding on the ground. His injuries were hardly serious--Hutch hadn't had enough time--and a little pain and humility would only do the turkey good. The scene secured, Starsky grabbed the telephone beside the bed and called for an ambulance, then glanced up to find John Hutchinson standing white-faced in the doorway.
Starsky pushed himself to his feet, stepping over Janos on the floor and moving to his friend's father. He followed the elder Hutchinson's stare to Hutch, who had coaxed a sobbing Sweet Alice into his arms, wrapping a blanket around her and now sitting and rocking her gently, talking quietly as he did. His eyes met Starsky's for a moment of sorrow before sliding past his father's with pain of a different kind, and then all his attention was back on the girl.
"I . . . I didn't know," John murmured next to Starsky, and the detective turned back to him.
"I know. Hutch does, too, but it's gonna take a while for him t'listen."
"He cares for her, doesn't he."
Starsky studied the face that was so much like his partner's and yet had such different expressions and hid such different feelings. "With all due respect, Mr. Hutchinson, you don't get it. Yeah, I guess Sweet Alice is kinda special t'Hutch--I always thought maybe it had to do with her lookin' so much like his sister. He's been almost a big brother to her," Starsky ignored the other's start, "and it doesn't help that the reason she got in trouble this time was because she helped save my life a few months back by snitchin' to us about Janos." Another look of surprise, this one directed at him. He stared steadily at the older man. "But you know, it doesn't really matter who she is because Hutch worries like that about everybody. That's what makes him such a good cop. We're supposed t'protect everybody, no matter who they are, but your son doesn't just do that, he really cares about people. You don't know how rare that is. It makes it hard on him, bein' a police officer, but it also makes him the kinda cop you'd want out there lookin' after you."
His piece said, Starsky left the man to think and crossed back to Hutch, gingerly kneeling on the bed to stroke the girl's long, blonde hair, then casting a questioning look up at his partner.
"I think she's okay, just bruised and cut up a little," Hutch whispered back in the same tones he'd been consoling Alice with. "We got here in time." The look of relief almost wiped away the lingering worry and ache.
Starsky rested his hand for a moment on the other blond head with a nod and a quick smile, then retreated off the bed as Alice shifted and Hutch went back to comforting. John Hutchinson had found a chair by the door and sunk into it, the self-confident air gone, his eyes on his son and his attention directed inward. Starsky watched him speculatively, alternating his gaze with checking on his partner and the still-motionless Janos. He was still standing there watching when the paramedics and back-up came to help clean up.
He'd been wrong. It wasn't a thing he'd often had to admit to himself, but John Hutchinson was a fair man and he didn't try to bluff his way out of it when he'd made a mistake.
The paramedics had taken the distraught girl away, and his son had gone with them, perhaps in part because the girl clung to him with desperate need. A day before, John might've looked at the scene with disgust. Now, he saw it with pity, and a newfound respect for his son.
Starsky had stayed behind to direct the removal of the monster, Martini, and John had only noticed then the battered face of the felon. A quick glance at Starsky's unbruised knuckles told him exactly where the damage had come from, and he was surprised at how easy it was for him to accept the fact that his son could have reacted like that. There were more grays in the world that even John, for all his experience, had realized, and it took character to face them and make some sense of them. With what had clearly gone on in that room, his only surprise was that Ken had been able to restrain himself from doing more. John wasn't sure he could have. Although, his glance went to the occupied Starsky, perhaps Ken had help in that quarter. The New Yorker, as uncultured and rough as he seemed, seemed to have more than his share of wisdom, and he balanced Ken well. And, most importantly, he cared about Ken with a concern that was everything a parent could wish for in the person who watched over his son.
He drove back with Starsky, the car comfortably quiet. John ventured a question occasionally on the procedure of what was to follow or how exactly they'd traced down Janos or just what he'd seen going on in the "movie studio," and the brunet answered all his questions politely and candidly. He had no doubt Starsky knew about the promise he'd exacted from his son, yet the man never mentioned it and didn't seem to be holding it against him. And John got the impression that that was more a testament to the detective's respect for his partner's parents than for any lack of feelings on the subject. It gave John even more to think about.
Ken met them some time later at the station, his jacket not quite hiding the stains from the girl's blood and his face lined with new signs of strain and distress, even as he seemed lightened by the good news of Alice's prognosis. His son had aged some with the ordeal, perhaps most of the change temporary, some of it undoubtedly lingering. It was a far more eloquent argument than any John had made before as to the logic of leaving the Force and going home to work in the business. Business was not an easy life, but it didn't drain the soul like this one did.
And yet . . .
"Hey, Hutch, we should go out this evening for dinner, the three of us, celebrate. Whaddaya think?" Starsky was leaning against the edge of Ken's desk, smiling as he tried to catch the blond's eyes.
"Aw, c'mon, Starsk, where are we gonna find a place that serves both filet mignon and chiliburgers, huh?"
John's attention sharpened, drawn by the teasing in his son's voice, so contrary to the heaviness of a moment before.
"Well, we could try that new Thai place that opened near Huggy's."
Ken rolled his eyes as he looked up at his partner. "Starsky, that place looks like the health inspector passed it by for fear of his life. I bet even Huggy doesn't eat there."
Huggy? Didn't the boys know anyone with a normal name? But John found his mouth turning up at the exchange. Or maybe at the shine in his son's eyes.
"Fine," Starsky humphed, looking far too aggrieved to be sincere. "You pick a place then."
"How about Bertolini's?"
Starsky made a face. "I'm not goin' anywhere I need a tie. 'Sides, you know we don't make that kinda money."
John stepped forward. "Actually, boys, I'd like this to be my treat. Anywhere you choose."
Two pairs of blue eyes turned to him, one wary, one pleased. "Dad--" his son began.
"Ken, it's my last night in town and it'll probably be some time before I see either of you again. Let me take you two out to dinner at least."
Ken frowned at him, confused at his words, and stepped closer. Starsky, John noted approvingly, moved farther away to give them some space. "Dad, what's going on?" Ken asked, still cautious and not quite forgiving.
"Son . . . " John hesitated. The crowded squadroom wasn't his first choice for where he wanted to talk, but this was important. He made his decision. "I was wrong to ask you to leave your job and your life here to come back home. I have to admit, it would've been good to have you close again, and your mother and I still worry about you being out there, doing the job that you do."
He raised a hand to forestall the protest he could see forming on Ken's lips. If there was one thing John wanted now, it was for his son to lose his defensiveness and regain some of the joy he'd first shown upon his father's arrival. It was probably the one thing he'd ever really wanted from his son, and hopefully this was the first step toward that conciliation.
"But what you do is important and you seem to be very good at it. In fact, to hear your partner talk," he glanced wryly at Starsky, "you're one of the best. And from what I've seen, I can believe it. It would be wrong of me to ask you to give this up just so we can have you close to home or so you can meet my idea of happiness."
Ken was watching him, weighing his words and his expression in much the same way John could imagine him examining a felon, trying to find the truth in what he said. Starsky had been right: his son was exactly the kind of officer John would have wanted working out there to protect him and his own. And while it hurt him to see his son hurt, there was a fortitude of spirit in his flesh-and-blood that he'd never given Ken credit for, that was already dealing with the nightmare he'd faced that day. Strength of spirit, and a certain partner.
"What about the company and your retirement?" Ken finally asked.
"Well, to be honest, I did have an alternate in mind. You've always been my first choice, Ken, especially when we lost Michael." He saw his own grief reflected in the eyes so like his own, and felt a twinge of regret that he'd not spent more time with and better gotten to know his only remaining son. He hurried on. "Greg has been working his way up in the company, too, and he's got a fine head on his shoulders. I think he'll do a good job." A son-in-law was secondary to a son, but he'd always told his children to pursue their own lives. Although he'd regretted Ken's choice from the start, maybe the advice had been sound, after all. "And you're always welcome back home, you know that, don't you?"
Ken nodded quietly. "Yeah, I do. I've got a home here now, Dad, but I'll come visit."
"Fine. Just . . . take care of yourself, Ken."
His son finally smiled at him, gentle and sincere like his mother, and curled a hand around John's arm briefly. It felt like good progress.
The moment broke at long last, and John suddenly looked up, glancing past his son to the other young man who waited patiently by the doors. "And you, Starsky, I expect you to keep an eye on him, too, make sure he looks after himself."
Starsky grinned widely at him. "Yes, sir. I try to, only, he's not so easy to keep outta trouble." He leaned casually against the door, pushing it open for them and then falling into step beside them. John could see his son watching Starsky with chary, disguised amusement. Starsky went on, unaffected. "He ever tell you about the time he told this professional wrestler that what they did in the ring was all acting, and then agreed to go a round with the guy? I mean, this guy was huge . . . "
John's smile grew as the story became a yarn and Kenny become redder and redder, all his attempts to interrupt rebuffed by his partner. John had no doubts that Starsky did watch his son's back and kept him as safe as he could. He would always worry; it was a parental right. But Ken had, indeed, found himself a home, a place he belonged, doing a job that was difficult and sometimes unpleasant, but needed. And John respected him for that.
" . . . So anyway, he finally climbs into the ring and first thing he does . . . " Starsky pushed away his partner's hands as they reached out to attempt to shut him up, and went on without missing a beat. " . . . Hutch gets his feet tangled in the ropes and falls flat on his face . . . "
But, John winced good-naturedly, they would still have to talk about this "Hutch" business . . .
Written in 1999