This story first appeared in the zine, A Small Circle of Friends #6 (2000). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/. This story is based on the Stargate SG-1 episode, "Cor-Ai." Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
The Torino screeched up to the curb in front of the store, the mars light on the roof flashing but the siren silent. Behind it, two black-and-whites pulled up the same way, four uniforms climbing low out of the car to follow the detectives as they took the lead.
Detective David Starsky worked his way around to the left side of the double doors, flattening himself against the red brick wall of the store, while his partner, Ken Hutchinson, slipped to the right, mirroring Starsky's position.
Starsky had already peered inside by the time Hutch got there, and he gave his partner a quick shake of the head. No one visible inside. Hutch nodded, waving several of the uniforms to go around back, then nodded once more to Starsky. On a silent count of three, they burst into the store, Hutch high, Starsky low as they always did.
Both guns lowered a bit while still at ready--it was uncommon for a 211 suspect or suspects to lie low and either ambush or escape the police. More likely they were already long gone, or they would quickly be either surrendering or trying to take a hostage and bluff their way out. But wrong assumptions in this job were deadly, and there was still the clerk to account for. Hutch's heart sank a little. Usually that meant the clerk was already lying in a pool of blood, and calls like that haunted him for weeks to come.
But there was a job to be done. He jerked his head to one side to indicate his direction and Starsky fluidly moved off the opposite way to canvass the store. Hutch started down his end of the aisles, his gun clutched in a hand that was steady but already beginning to sweat, the adrenalin sharpening all his senses to extreme alertness even while it threatened to beat his heart right out of his chest.
So he was ready and had his gun aimed the moment the woman jumped out at him.
"Hold it right there!"
She echoed his words nearly in stereo, as the woman also held a small revolver with the grip of someone who knew what she was doing. Hutch frowned, taking in the woman's determined look...and the name badge she wore and the checkered bandana that tied most of her long honey-blonde hair back. None of his cop instincts were reacting to her as a suspect, except for the gun held in his face. Perhaps she was the--
"Give it up, doll."
That was Starsky, coming in so low behind her that even Hutch hadn't seen him, though he'd known his partner would be there. Starsky's voice was soft and cold, his resolution clear as he stood just in back of her, his Smith & Wesson pressed behind her ear. If she gave even a flicker of intention of shooting his partner, Hutch had no doubt Starsky's shot would kill her before she could follow through. That was simply protecting your partner, though the fire in Starsky's eyes was one of personal intent.
The woman had frozen, her gaze narrowing as she stared straight ahead at Hutch. "So it's gonna take two of ya to rob one woman at gunpoint? Cowards!" She spat the word, even as she stayed motionless.
Hutch eased up, seeing Starsky do the same. "You're the owner?" he asked her cautiously. "We're police." One-handed, he carefully pulled out his badge and flipped it open. "Detective Hutchinson. That's Detective Starsky," he pointed. The uniforms chose that moment to burst into the store and he indicated them as well, then waved them off. The four men retreated to outside the store.
The woman's arms eased down, her eyes widening with disbelief. "You're cops?" She didn't fight when Starsky reached over and scooped the gun out of her hand. Hutch put his own away, accepting the confiscated gun from Starsky while his partner also holstered his. Hutch checked it quickly--loaded, though he'd thought no less--and dumped the bullets into his hand, reaching the empty gun and handful of ammunition back to the woman.
"Yes, ma'am. We got a call of an armed burglary in progress." He tilted his head toward the empty gun. "You got a permit for that...uh, Ms. Everson?" The adrenalin was beginning to wash away with the knowledge of the false alarm, leaving a little more edge in his voice than he would have chosen.
"Yeah, I do." Her cheeks were flushed both from the excitement and embarrassment, but her voice held defiance. "They were here before, two guys, only I didn't get a look at 'em. They held me up from behind, told me to get down on the floor. When you two came busting in here...well," she shrugged unapologetically, "you don't exactly look like cops."
"So we've been told," Starsky muttered behind her, letting his jacket fall over his holster.
She turned to measure him up as well. "Look, if you'd have been robbed as many times as I have and had a dad who was killed by some vandals, you'd probably be a little edgy too."
Hutch almost smiled, watching his partner soften immediately. Starsky could be tough enough to face down the worst scum on the street, but he was a marshmallow with the innocents and victims. "I'm sorry. How bad did they hit ya?"
Everson was still watching him, frowning in almost puzzlement, but she answered absently, "Not too bad--just today's take, about 200 dollars...Did you say your name was Starsky?"
Starsky grinned, that stupid smirk he thought charmed the women but that never worked. Hutch worked to hide his own growing smile. "My partner said, actually, but yeah, I'm Dave Starsky."
Her reaction was the last thing either of them expected. Her face suddenly flushing, she raised her hand and slapped him hard in the face.
Hutch had her restrained instantly, pulling her arms none-too-gently behind her back while he gave his partner a quick glance. But Starsky looked more astonished than hurt, his hand cradling a cheek that looked painfully red as he stared at the woman.
She cut him off, her voice rising in fury even as she struggled in Hutch's grasp. "You were one of them! I almost didn't recognize you anymore but I never forgot your names! Creeps! You have a lot of nerve coming back here after what you did!"
Starsky's bewildered gaze traveled up to meet Hutch's, but Hutch just gave a helpless shrug. He had no idea what the woman was ranting about either.
Everson squirmed in his hold, trying to turn back toward Hutch. "Arrest him! Aren't you gonna arrest him?" She was pleading, suddenly pitiable.
But Hutch didn't take attacks on his partner too kindly. "For what, lady? He's a cop, he hasn't done anything," he said harshly.
"A cop." Voice full of scorn again, she turned back to the still-frozen Starsky with a sneer. "Did you think becoming a cop could make up for what you did?"
His partner was no pushover, certainly not someone Hutch ever had to worry about defending. But Starsky was standing silent and shell-shocked in the face of the woman's obvious sincere passion, his palm still curled against his face as if he'd forgotten it was there.
Hutch was beginning to curse this whole 211 call, no matter what the explanation. "What do you think he did?" he asked impatiently, giving Everson a slight shake.
The hatred in her voice was nothing compared to her answer.
"He killed my father."
There was a moment of shocked silence, Starsky and the woman staring at each other while Hutch divided his gaze between the two, unease beginning to gnaw in earnest at his instincts. Then Starsky finally seemed to shake himself out of his stupor, his hand dropping as he attempted to smile away the ridiculous claim. "What're you talkin' about? I never killed--"
The woman had stopped struggling, and Hutch released her. Only her words threatened to hurt his partner now, and he was helpless to stop those.
"Not now," she said evenly. "Eighteen years ago. You and another kid named McCullough. You stole some candy and my father called the police on the two of you. And then you came back that night and broke the window with some rocks. Except my father caught you in the act and started chasing you. He didn't get far--he had a heart attack and died. Too much for him, the doctor said. I was 12 years old and I lost my father because of you."
Hutch had watched his partner with concern while the woman talked, Starsky's confused expression slowly changing into recognition, then horror. And any doubts he'd had of the woman's veracity or correctness sank into dread.
"I didn't know," Starsky murmured, dazed. He met the woman's eyes. "I didn't know. I knew he was chasin' us but after a while I looked back and he was gone. I thought he just couldn't keep up. I didn't know..."
Her mouth curved into a humorless smile, one Hutch felt like shaking right off her cold, pretty little face. "Well, now you know. Murderer," she hissed. She turned back to Hutch again. "I want him arrested."
Hutch shook his head, his response on automatic pilot as he kept a worried eye on his partner. "It doesn't work that way, ma'am. If you'll come down to the station, you can talk to a detective and there'll be an investigation. But I can't arrest Detective Starsky on a crime you say he committed eighteen years ago, one that doesn't even sound like he's directly responsible for." Starsky's head came up at that, but his eyes were wounded, hopeless, and the acid in Hutch's stomach churned a little harder. Don't listen to her, he begged silently. We don't know what happened yet.
But Starsky certainly seemed to, and no one was harder on him than himself. For being as footloose and free-spirited as he was, Starsky had one of the most strict, moral consciences of anyone Hutch had ever met.
The woman was still staring at Starsky, her gaze venom and, to be fair, honest pain. That silent, directed hate, Hutch decided, was what he'd have to do something about first. "Ma'am, if you'll just wait here," he said briskly, stepping around her and sliding a surreptitious hand under his partner's elbow. "I'm going to call in and one of the units outside can give you a ride to the station. We'll already be there." And without waiting for an answer, he led Starsky outside.
In the bright sunlight of outdoors, Starsky seemed to wilt a little, folding in on himself. Hutch grimaced. "We don't know what happened yet," he said softly. "She could have you mixed up with someone else, or--"
"She mentioned Pete," Starsky said. "An' I remember--"
"We'll talk in a little bit about what you remember, buddy, but first things first. I'm gonna go talk to Dan--why don't you get in the car? Then we'll go down to Parker and get this whole mess straightened out."
Starsky didn't argue, dispiritedly obedient as he climbed into the passenger side and sat, unmoving. Another bad sign. Hutch chewed the inside of his lip, but they'd sort this out. There was no way he'd let Starsky take the rap for this, not in their justice system or before his own conscience. With a wince, Hutch turned from his partner and went to talk to the senior uniform.
"He what?!" Hutch's eyes had widened at the shock of the news, but now he narrowed them suspiciously. "I don't believe it."
"Believe it, Hutchinson." The IA man, Gallagher, sat easily in one of the two chairs in Dobey's office, his gaze calm and unsympathetic as he watched Hutch. "I just took Sergeant Starsky's statement myself. Not only has he agreed to the investigation, he admits to every one of Ms. Everson's accusations. Starsky's already been suspended pending the conclusion of the investigation, and we're considering recommending criminal charges."
It was just unreal. Hutch's head spun with it as he paced the small room--the idea that Starsky was guilty of manslaughter was ridiculous, let alone the second degree murder charge that the IA detective was hinting at, but that his partner didn't fight the charge, even admitting to it...
He really shouldn't have been surprised. The accusation, and the awareness that he'd had at least some part in it, had rocked Starsky to the core. Hutch had barely been able to coax two words out of his partner on the way back to Parker, let alone any kind of defense or spirit. And if he thought he was guilty, Starsky wouldn't try to get out of anything they threw at him, Hutch was certain of that. Even if it were undeserved punishment for an act he would never have willfully committed. That was what Hutch was determined to save his partner from: himself.
"This is ridiculous," he burst out. "We're talking about a prank that went wrong almost twenty years ago, not some deliberate murder Starsky's tried to cover up. And no one can even prove he did it. If she knew who was responsible, why wasn't this investigated back then?"
"There's no statute of limitations on homicide," Gallagher answered promptly. "A report was made eighteen years ago, but there were insufficient facts to back it up. McCullough was questioned but denied any involvement, and Starsky was never questioned."
Hutch leaned angrily closer. "So why drag him through it now if there wasn't enough evidence even back then?"
"We have a credible eyewitness identification now, and a confession. Ms. Everson says she saw Detective Starsky and a Peter McCullough--now deceased--commit the act of vandalism that led to her father's death."
"Of a heart attack," Hutch added, starting to pace once more. "I don't believe this."
The man from IA fidgeted a little in his seat, the first sign of discomfort he'd given. "It is true that mistakes were made eighteen years ago. Detective Starsky should have been interviewed, and Ms. Everson was not taken very seriously, being only 12 years of age. But that does not change Sergeant Starsky's culpability under the law, even if justice has been denied for so long."
"Justice," Hutch snorted. He wheeled sharply to face his silent-till-now boss. "Cap'n, you can't seriously let them do this to Starsky. It's not fair--he doesn't deserve this."
Captain Harold Dobey stirred himself from his thoughts, his expression not unsympathetic as he met Hutch's eyes. "Hutchinson, I can't change the law for Starsky, you know that. If this Ms. Everson's made a positive ID and Starsky's confessed, like it or not, my hands are tied."
"I don't believe this," Hutch repeated dumbly. He half-turned to include Gallagher in his address. "Starsky's a good cop. More than that--he's a good man. Sure, maybe he made a mistake as a kid, but that doesn't mean we should throw him to the wolves. He's already punishing himself plenty, and he didn't even kill Everson, a bad heart did." He leaned over Dobey's desk again, pleading now. "Cap'n, this is not justice."
Gallagher rose from his seat, eyeing Hutch. "I suspect Karen Everson wouldn't agree with you, Detective," he said easily, then turned and walked out of the office.
Hutch flinched, caught between anger and fear. Already he wasn't certain this whole thing was repairable, not in Starsky's soul where it counted. But if they added formal charges to that, railroaded his partner for some delayed, misaligned sense of justice, the Starsky he knew would be gone for good.
He straightened slowly, shoulders sagging under the weight of the day, and gave his captain a last, desperate look.
"I'm sorry, Hutch," Dobey said quietly, soberly. "I'll do what I can but that's not much. You'd better go see to your partner."
That was what he'd been trying to do, but it seemed he was the only one. Funny, through all the bullets and fists and knives, that it was their own who proved the greatest threat. Well, Hutch straightened, he wasn't just going to sit around and let it happen. Even if Starsky had given up, a thought almost incomprehensible, and Hutch had to fight in his place, by God, he'd do it.
He strode out of the office with the fresh energy of determination, not looking back.
All the roads went back to Starsky, and that was where Hutch went.
It took a little longer than he'd expected to track down his partner, each office directing him to another, but where he finally found him filled Hutch with quiet fury.
He shoved the interrogation room door in with more force than necessary, glowering at the officer who stood just inside, until the man finally flushed and stepped out of the room. Only then did Hutch allow himself to look at the figure hunched over the bare wooden table, his hands idly fiddling with an empty Styrofoam cup as his eyes gazed at something far away.
Hutch's anger, even at his partner for Starsky's passiveness, thawed and trickled away at the sight. It was impossible to stay angry at someone who was that devastated, let alone someone he cared so much about.
"Starsk?" he said softly, stepping to the nearest side of the table and fumbling for a chair. He dropped into it, drawing it up so that his knees brushed his partner's and his hand, resting on the scarred tabletop, could easily reach out to still Starsky's restless fingers. "Partner? How ya doin'?"
Starsky finally turned his head to look at him, offering a sober smile. "I was just thinkin' about Pete."
Pete McCullough. He didn't come up in conversation much, not since Starsky's boyhood friend had turned out to be a high-end drug dealer and Hutch had been forced to shoot him to protect his partner. They had only discussed McCullough and Starsky's past a little in the days that followed, enough that Hutch knew his partner didn't hold the shooting against him and that his grief was merely for the betrayal and death of an old friend. Starsky had also told him then about some of the things he and McCullough's gang had done, the petty crimes, vandalism and misdemeanor destruction of property, but no felonies. And all of which had stopped after Starsky began spending time with a robbery detective who'd taken him under his wing. The detective who'd offered a future other than the one Pete McCullough had promised.
At Hutch's silence, Starsky quietly went on. "I don't think he knew about Everson, either. We did a lot of stupid stuff back then, Hutch, but never..." he trailed off.
Hutch rescued the tattered Styrofoam cup from the hands that had begun another restless assault on it. "What do you remember?" he asked.
Starsky sighed, leaning back in the chair. "I dunno...it was a long time ago. A bunch of us were in Everson's store, liftin' some candy. Next thing I know, there was this big cop in the store, and he had me and Pete collared. Took us down t'the station and then sent Pete off with another guy while he sat me down t'have a talk." Starsky glanced up, smiling. "I was so scared, I thought I was gonna be sick, but he showed me around the station, all the punks who ended up in jail. You know, the whole scared straight bit. But he made sense."
"John Blaine," Hutch ventured with a soft smile of his own. He'd heard some of this story about Starsky's mentor before.
"Yeah," Starsky said fondly, then grew serious. "I guess Pete got the same talk but it didn't stick. That night after Blaine took us home, Pete turned up again and said we should pay back Everson for turnin' us in."
"Did you want to?"
Starsky shrugged. "I was fourteen, Hutch. Pete was my pal. I didn't think it was right, but I went."
"And you two broke the window of the store."
"Yeah, that was Pete's idea. We didn't know Everson lived right above the store, an' when we saw him comin' down after us, we took off. I never went back there again."
That made sense--there would have been no reason he would have known what happened to Everson, and in a way Hutch was glad for it. Knowledge then of what he may have inadvertently done would have caused far more damage to a young adolescent David Starsky than to the adult he was now, and even now it was tearing him up inside. Starsky probably wouldn't have even gone to the Academy or met Hutch, and that "what if" was one Hutch didn't care to contemplate.
But the here and now was what mattered. And the present consequences of one rash deed in the past.
"You split up with Pete after that?" he asked carefully, feeling the muscles tense under the hand that now rested reassuringly on Starsky's forearm.
"Not long after, yeah. I started spendin' more time with Blaine and Pete didn't like it." Starsky's mouth quirked again, nowhere near smiling. "Truth is, I didn't have much stomach for the stuff they were doin' by then, anyway."
Hutch did smile at that; even troubled and rebellious, the younger version of his partner wasn't that far from the adult. It made the accusations now all the more sickening.
Starsky suddenly looked up at him. "Do you think Blaine knew about this?"
Hutch started at the question. Unfortunately, John Blaine was off on an involved undercover assignment and in no position to be asked. Not that it really mattered. "I don't know," he said slowly. "Maybe not--it wasn't in his department. Or," Hutch looked steadily at his partner, "maybe he thought it wasn't something you should have known then."
Starsky's eyes darkened, the first signs of anger kindling, the first since the store. "That wasn't his call to make. Or yours. Because o' me, somebody died, Hutch, some little girl's dad."
Ah, so that was part of it--the light finally went on. Karen Everson had been twelve when her father had died, only four years older than a young David Michael Starsky when he'd lost his dad. As if Starsky needed that extra weight of recrimination. Hutch leaned a little closer. "Is that why you confessed, Starsk?" he asked gently.
The fire went out just as quickly in Starsky's eyes, and he shook his head with only calm resignation. "Uh-uh. I did it 'cause I was there, Hutch. Everything she said was true."
"Not about you being a murderer." Hutch frowned darkly.
Starsky shook his head. "Just 'cause I didn't mean for it t'happen doesn't mean I didn't do it."
Hutch blew out a frustrated breath. Maybe there was such a thing as being a little too upright. "Starsky...Everson had a bad heart, that's what killed him, not two kids who broke a ten dollar window. I don't care what you think you are, that does not make you a murderer. Did you tell them you didn't know about Everson?"
"And did you tell them this was all Pete's idea?"
Even quieter. "No."
Hutch threw up his hands. "Did you even throw any of those rocks, Starsky?"
Starsky shook his head silently, eyes on his lap.
"Did it ever occur to you that you're not responsible then for this?" Hutch couldn't keep the incredulity from his voice. "You need to tell them everything, partner--stick up for yourself, darn it! You can beat this if you try, but you're just lettin' 'em roll all over you!"
Starsky's head lifted. "Somebody died because of me, Hutch. I don't want to beat this." His voice, like his gaze, was firm, certain and steady.
Hutch stood, his tone matching his partner's. "I don't care what you say, Starsk, I'm not gonna let you throw away your career--your life!--because of this if I can help it."
But Hutch was already striding out of the room. He had to get out of there, before his anger boiled over and burned the one person in this whole mess whose welfare mattered to him. He was acutely aware of leaving Starsky even more distressed behind him, but that couldn't be helped right now. If Starsky was so certain that what he got under the law was deserved, then Hutch's only recourse left was to make sure he got nothing more than he deserved.
"Sharon Freemont, Assistant District Attorney," the office door read in gold letters. Neither of them had had a chance yet to meet the new assistant DA, but the word was that she was accessible, always a plus to a cop. Hutch was counting on it now, and he knocked softly on the door.
The voice sounded young, and the face that went with it was even younger. Short, sandy blonde hair framed a round face with pleasant features. In other circumstances, Hutch would have considered exploring just how accessible the lady was, but it was unimportant now.
"Ms. Freemont?" he ventured, stepping inside. "I'm Detective Ken Hutchinson. Thank you for agreeing to see me."
She smiled warmly at him, gesturing him to the chair in front of her desk. "Detective Hutchinson. I was expecting your call, actually, as soon as I went over Detective Starsky's file."
That wasn't a good sign; if the assistant DA had the file already, formal charges wouldn't be far behind. "IA's made their recommendation already?" Hutch asked carefully.
Freemont shook her head, blonde hair bobbing. "Not yet, though Detective Gallagher seemed pretty certain that they'd be asking for a charge of second degree murder."
Hutch felt his face flush, not even sure if it was with anger or fear anymore.
The assistant DA leaned forward sympathetically. "I don't think that's feasible, though. Looking over their case, I doubt anything more than manslaughter is reasonable. And even if Detective Starsky gets convicted on that charge, with the case being as old as it is and his current good record, I can't see him getting more than probation and maybe community service."
It was hard to talk, his mouth was so dry. "But even if he isn't convicted, it'll probably mean the end of his career."
Her gaze fell away from him. "Probably," she quietly agreed.
Hutch shot to his feet. "I don't get it--how can they even take this to court?! The case is almost twenty years old. Starsky was just a kid then, a kid who committed a destruction of property misdemeanor. He didn't even know the owner of the store was there, for Pete's sake, let alone do anything to him deliberately! How can they make this stick?"
"Detective, please sit down," Freemont said gently. She waited until Hutch sank back into his seat. "Personally, I agree with you. I don't think there's any point in prosecuting your partner for something that was incidental to a misdemeanor he allegedly committed. But," she had to raise her voice to override Hutch's interruption, and he fell silent. "But we have a sympathetic, credible witness who won't let this go, and if that weren't enough, Detective's Starsky's confessed to his involvement. Our office won't have much choice in pursuing the matter."
"Even if it means ruining a good cop's career and life," Hutch said bitterly.
"Unfortunately, that's our system of justice."
"Thanks for your time," Hutch said, voice chilled as he rose from his seat and stalked toward the door. He'd been naive to think he'd get help there.
"Detective?" Freemont's voice stopped him nearly at the door, and Hutch turned sharply. The assistant DA gave him a sad look. "I honestly do sympathize, Detective. But regardless of Detective Starsky's intentions back then, or who he is today, that still doesn't change the consequences of what he did or the fact that Ms. Everson grew up without a father."
"This won't bring him back, Ms. Freemont," Hutch answered. "It'll just wreck another life. And there's nothing just about that." He opened the door and left.
The fresher air and noise in the hallway cleared his head a little, and Hutch took a deep breath. Okay, the DA wasn't going to be much help. IA was also a dead end, and Dobey couldn't do anything. And Starsky...Hutch winced. His partner was not himself, leaving Hutch more handicapped than usual. He already missed Starsky working beside him, often catching what he himself missed, making the work fun, or sometimes at least bearable. It was more than he could handle right now to even think about losing that for good. But this time he could have used what only Starsky knew: what exactly had happened that night. Something still felt missing, but Hutch had gotten all he was going to out of his friend. Pete McCullough was dead, John Blaine out of the picture, and Karen Everson would have just as soon spit on him as talk to him. Which left...
Hutch stopped in his tracks, the businessman behind him giving him a cross glance as he skirted the detective. Gin--why hadn't he thought of the informant before? Starsky didn't talk much about his former fellow gang member, but Gin had been the one who had set up McCullough for them, and Hutch had picked up enough over the years to know that Gin knew most everything that had gone on in their little gang. Maybe... Hutch started down the hall again at a half-sprint. Maybe Huggy would know where to find Gin, and maybe Gin would know about that night in 1957. It was a lot of maybes. But, Hutch thought grimly as he bounded through the building door and to his car, he was down to his last card, and the pot was too large for either of them to lose.
Huggy Bear, informant extraordinaire, seemed to know everyone on the streets in their precinct. Within an hour, Hutch had a meet time and place. A quick check on his partner revealed that IA had released Starsky and the detective had gone home, though Hutch's repeated calls to the Westchester flat went unanswered. Reluctantly, he finally gave up the attempt and left to meet his partner's old friend.
An unobtrusive spot, Huggy had said, and that was an understatement. The address was hard to find, a small storage building tucked among sprawling warehouses near the docks. Hutch's car blended in with all the other derelicts that lined the street, but there was no sign of another living soul as far as the eye could see. Hutch unzipped his jacket, gun ready just in case, and cautiously entered the warehouse through the nearest, gaping wide door.
"Gin?" Hutch called hesitantly, slowly creeping around the towers of barrels that lined the maze he was in. "It's Hutchinson."
"I know," echoed a calm voice around him. "What can I do for you, Detective?"
Hutch stopped, hand uneasily inside his jacket. So it was to be one of those meets. "I came to talk to you about my partner, David Starsky," he called, eyes fruitlessly scanning the warehouse around him. The way sound carried, Gin could have been at the opposite end. Hutch straightened. "He's about to be charged with something he and Pete McCullough allegedly did almost twenty years ago. I thought...maybe you might know something about it that could help him out."
"Something Davey doesn't know?" The voice rang with a trace of humor. "I doubt it."
Hutch shook his head. "No..." This was tricky; Gin was Starsky's old friend, not his, and he didn't know how far the man could be trusted. "Starsky's not talking much. He thinks he deserves whatever they throw at him. I don't."
Soft footsteps sounded, and the shadow of a small man appeared beside some crates, his features too shaded for Hutch to see. "Davey always was too straight for his own good." The humor was back again. "Ask me what you want, Detective."
Hutch's hand eased out of his jacket and he relaxed his stance a fraction. "Eighteen years ago, Starsky and Pete McCullough were caught shoplifting from a store owned by a man named Everson."
A slight bob of the head. "I remember."
"That night, McCullough came back to Starsky, said he wanted to get revenge, and they went back to Everson's store. McCullough threw some rocks and broke in the window, but Everson was upstairs and heard the noise and came down after them. While he was chasing them, he had a heart attack and died."
"That what Davey told you?"
Hutch's stare sharpened. "That's all I know. Why?"
Gin shook his head. "You're Davey's friend, aren't you?"
It was more a statement than a question, but Hutch answered it emphatically. "Yes."
"Do you think that's what happened?"
Hutch frowned. "I don't know. I know Starsky got into some trouble when he was a kid--"
"Let me tell you something about Davey Starsky, Detective. He joined up with us, became Pete's right hand man, yeah. But Davey was never really one of us. Some of the things we did, it bothered him. Pete knew he was a do-gooder, but he liked Davey, so he didn't push."
It wasn't a surprise, but inside him the deep respect for his partner grew even stronger. "So what happened that night?" Hutch asked softly.
"Pete didn't just want to trash Everson's store, Detective. He wanted to burn it. I don't think he knew Everson and his family lived there, either, but it wouldn't have mattered. Pete never much cared about anybody, 'cept maybe Davey."
"So why didn't he do it?" But Hutch already knew the answer.
"Why do you think? Davey talked him out of it. Said the pigs would just figure out it was them and lock them up. So Pete decided just to break a few windows, make his point."
"He didn't even want to be there," Hutch whispered.
"Davey?" A twin row of white teeth glistened in the dark. "He never had the stomach for that kinda stuff. If he's blaming himself for Everson, it's only 'cause he couldn't talk Pete all the way out of doing something."
Hutch started. "How did you know he's--"
Gin tipped his head. "You're not the only one who's been Davey's friend." And with that he melted away, only the last echoes of his voice any sign of his having been there.
Hutch made no effort to follow. One day, it was quite possible he and Starsky would meet Gin on the other side of the law, but for now, all he felt toward the little man was gratitude. Along with profound relief. I should've known. I should've known that even back then Starsky wouldn't have been so different from what he is today. It wouldn't have mattered ultimately, but the knowledge of his friend's character made him quietly proud.
There was only one next step possible. Hutch slipped out of the warehouse and returned to his car, then headed toward Westchester.
He hadn't honestly expected a warm and welcome response at Starsky's house; Hutch knew from experience the kind of guilt and desolation that could drive you to pull the covers over your head and not come out. But Starsky had never let him get away with that, either. Hutch was ready to return the favor. When his repeated knocks received no response, he dug out his key and opened the door.
Starsky was on the sofa, actually, not the bed, but the uninterested stare he aimed at the ceiling had the same effect of escape. Nor did he look over as Hutch shut the door firmly behind himself, only sighed.
"I don't wanna talk, Hutch."
"I noticed," Hutch retorted, pulling his jacket off and hanging it on the coat rack by the door. He walked into the living room and sat on the edge of the chair next to the sofa. "I just met with Gin."
That caught Starsky's attention. His head whipped up and around to stare at Hutch. "Gin? How--"
"Huggy set up a meet."
Starsky stiffened, eyes clouding. "You had no right--"
"To what, try to help you? To worry about you? To care about you, you stubborn idiot? What haven't I got have any right to do?"
Starsky's mouth opened, closed, and a tense several seconds passed. Then, to Hutch's relief, his partner's face suddenly crinkled into a fond, slightly sheepish smile. "You know, my mother used t'get that same look when she was yellin' at me and Nicky."
Taken off guard, Hutch couldn't stop his snort of laughter. No matter how dark things were, Starsky could always manage to do that to him. Even when life looked its bleakest...his smile disappeared, Starsky's already gone. Hutch leaned forward, closer to his partner, his voice growing gentle. "I know about what you did, how you talked Pete out of burning down Everson's store."
"But not out of vandalizin' it." Starsky's gaze returned to the ceiling. "If I had, maybe Everson would still be alive today."
"I doubt it," Hutch immediately countered. "If his heart gave out just from running down the block, he probably didn't have much longer anyway, Starsky."
A dismissive half-wave. "Doesn't change what happened."
"Partner, listen to me," Hutch said sincerely. "You got caught for the misdemeanor you did commit--the shoplifting. You didn't want to get back at Everson, right? In fact, you did everything you could to talk Pete out of going and managed to talk him out of arson, which could have killed the whole family and who knows how many others. But when he wouldn't give up revenge, you went with him--knowing you, to try to keep him from going too far. Everson heard you two and started chasing you instead of calling the police, but his heart was bad. Starsk, as far as I can see, none of this was your fault."
Starsky had turned to listen to him, eyes an opaque blue. "You don't get it," he muttered when Hutch fell silent.
"Explain it to me."
"Hutch..." He sat up on the sofa, leaning forward. "We did a lot of stuff like that. If it wasn't Everson's place, it was someplace else. Maybe I didn't break that window, but I broke other ones. This is just the one I got caught for."
Hutch shook his head. "Doesn't wash, partner. Gin told me the illegal stuff they did bothered you. You were a good kid, Starsky. Maybe you still did stuff you shouldn't have--a lot of kids do. But the point is you learned from them, and not even the law expects you to pay for things like that years down the line." Hutch smiled slightly. "I bet you've pretty well beat yourself up about it over the years, anyway. Maybe that's even part of why you became a cop, I don't know. But taking the rap now for what you didn't do isn't going to pay for anything, buddy. It's just gonna mess up even more lives." He took a breath, then softly added, "Like mine."
Starsky swallowed, blinking hard at the floor.
"I think we oughta go talk to Karen Everson. You should tell her the truth, Starsk, for both your sakes. Maybe she won't buy it, but at least she'll hear it."
There was silence for a moment, then Starsky tilted his head to one side, a faint, lopsided smile on his face. "You know you're stubborn?"
Hutch raised an eyebrow unrepentantly. "Who do you think I learned it from?"
Starsky shook his head. "Just my luck, an impressionable partner," he muttered. His voice wasn't wholly steady, or his smile, but he was already rising to get his jacket. And when Hutch walked out the door a minute later, he was no longer alone.
Karen Everson, her hair once more tied up, crouched in the aisle nearest the door, restocking Milky Ways from the box that sat on the floor beside her. Her welcoming smile as she turned disappeared at the sight of them.
"What do you want?" She stood, scowling.
Hutch let his partner off the hook and took the initiative. "Ms. Everson, we're sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if we could talk for a minute? It's...about that night."
The shopkeeper planted her hands on her hips and stared at Starsky even as she answered Hutch. "I don't think there's anything to talk about."
"Well, I think there is. Please. It'll only take a minute."
She was still measuring up Starsky, but finally gave a grudging nod. "Okay. You've got a minute."
His partner spoke before Hutch could answer. "Ms. Everson, I'm very sorry about your father. I know what that's like--mine died when I was eight. I'd give anything to go back and change what happened eighteen years ago--"
"You can't. Nobody can. Is this what you wanted to tell me?" she demanded.
Hutch silently cursed her impatience. This was hard enough on his partner as it was. But Starsky didn't flinch, his tone still soft and sympathetic.
"Ms. Everson, I never wanted t'hurt anyone, not you, not your father, not even the store. I tried to talk Pete out of it, but he wanted to torch the place."
The woman frowned. "What?"
Hutch picked it up. "He wanted to burn the store down. Starsky talked him into just breaking the windows. He probably saved your life."
Disdain replaced her confusion. "That's what you came here to tell me? That he's really not a murderer, but that he actually saved our lives? You really expected me to believe that." She shook her head with a short laugh. "Boy, you must be desperate to think I'd go for it. Just because you're a cop now doesn't mean anything's changed. You're still a murderer."
Starsky flinched, but Hutch was relieved to see his partner wasn't backing down. "I did some things back then that I'm ashamed of, Ms. Everson. But I never--"
The entrance door swung open. The two men who entered, both in long coats with caps pulled down to shade their faces, pulled Hutch's attention away from the conversation for a minute. His gaze lingered on the men, instantly suspicious as the two idly looked around and Everson went on.
It didn't take long for him to figure out what was bothering him.
The shorter of the two, a thin man with dark hair, stared at them hard. And then without warning, the men reached inside their coats, each pulling out a firearm--one a rifle, the other an automatic--before Hutch could even reach for his own gun. Starsky, his back to them, turned only when the smaller man called out.
"This is a hold-up. Just do what we tell you and nobody'll get hurt."
The other man was already coming toward them, and in the split second that Hutch realized his face looked familiar, the man's face was already contorting with angry recognition.
"Hey, these two are--"
Karen Everson took the same moment to act. She suddenly broke toward the counter just behind the dark-haired man. Her path took her directly in front of him, and he instantly turned to aim for her. And Hutch saw at the same moment as his partner that there was no way she'd make it.
They acted as one, in instinctive unison. Hutch threw himself at the advancing, larger man, catching him off-guard in his midsection and sending the two of them into a heap on the floor. He was aware of his partner moving in the same second toward Everson and the other man, then knew nothing more than the wrestling match he was suddenly in.
And the gunshot that sounded behind him.
It was the small automatic, not the rifle, which he'd knocked from his man's hands with his charge, but that wouldn't matter if the aim was good. There was no time to check, though. His gunman had regained his feet and was swinging at him. Hutch sidestepped the blow, letting the momentum carry the man just past him, then he swung his hands down in a double chop to the neck. The man fell hard and lay still.
The sound of a second gunshot whipped Hutch's head around, just in time to see the other hold-up man's gun go flying, his shoulder already leaking blood as he clamped his good hand around it.
The shooter was Starsky, on the floor on his back, looking too white. Probably because of the red already soaking his own leg. Karen Everson crouched beside him, staring with wide eyes at the scene before her. Starsky's one arm was still around her waist from dragging her out of the line of fire, the other dropping to the floor as if he had no more strength to hold it up, his gun still clenched in his hand.
Hutch didn't waste time. Jerking out his handcuffs, he grabbed the smaller gunman's good hand and snapped them on. Then Hutch shoved him down on the ground next to his accomplice and threaded the cuffs through the nearest shelf, before affixing the other end to the unconscious man. His eyes kept straying back to his silent partner and the blood that was beginning to streak the floor under his shin.
"Starsky? You all right?"
A weak nod. "'M okay," Starsky mumbled. His hand had loosened its grip on his gun, and he now pressed it against his leg instead, breaking out in a sweat as he did. He turned awkwardly to the woman next to him. "You okay?"
"I'm...I'm fine," she faltered, then snapped herself out of it, jumping to her feet. "I'd better find something to stop that bleeding."
Finished with his prisoners, Hutch was already hurrying over to them and he crouched down beside his partner. "I'll take care of that--call an ambulance, would ya? Tell them there's an officer down. And give me one of those aprons."
If she minded being ordered around, she didn't show it, an apron shoved into his hand within a moment. Hutch gave her a glance, saw the lingering shock in her eyes but that she was moving all right, decisively. She'd be fine.
Which left his partner. "When are you gonna learn to duck, buddy?" Hutch chided softly as he tore open the pants leg and found the wound, near enough to the calf that he hoped the bullet had missed bone altogether. He folded the apron and pressed down carefully, watching his partner's face as he did.
Starsky was swallowing hard, face blanched and damp, and his hand curled around Hutch's as if wanting to relieve the pressure though he didn't protest. "I w-was trying t'duck. 'S not my fault...'ve got lousy luck."
Hutch smiled briefly. "That what you call it?" With his free hand he felt for an exit wound but could find none. That meant they'd have to dig the bullet out, but it also meant less bleeding and, from the pallor of his partner's face, that was probably a fortunate thing. As it was, all the blood Starsky had already lost indicated a larger blood vessel hit. The bleeding still hadn't stopped under Hutch's hands and he pressed more firmly, wincing at his partner's gasp.
"Hutch..." The other hand went blindly questing for him, and Hutch freed one of his own long enough to grab it and lay it over his own leg where it clung hard. It was all the admission of pain his partner would give, but it was plenty for Hutch to know how much it hurt.
"Ambulance is on its way." Karen Everson dropped breathlessly beside them, reaching out another apron as she gave Starsky a worried look. "Is there anything else I can do?"
The bleeding was finally slowing, but the makeshift bandage was soaked through, and Hutch gratefully pressed the second apron over the first. He felt Starsky's grip on him tighten a little but concentrated on winding the apron strings around Starsky's leg to tie the material in place. "No...the bullet's still in there but the bleeding's stopping. That's all we can do until we get him to the hospital." The wail of a siren broke through, still distant but approaching, and Hutch silently thanked their record-breaking speed.
"He saved my life," Karen Everson quietly spoke next to him.
Hutch looked up at her, then solemnly nodded. "Yes, he did. And he'd do the same for anybody else."
She almost smiled at him. "But I'm not just anybody." She looked down at Starsky, who lay still, eyes closed. His grasp hadn't loosened and Hutch knew he was still at least partly with them though he gave no sign of awareness.
His hands freed now, Hutch pulled his jacket off and balled it up to slip under the dark-curled head. He loosened Starsky's desperate clasp on his leg and let Starsky crush his hand instead, the cold fingers tightening and loosening as the pain swelled and ebbed. "Help's almost here, partner," he said quietly, squeezing back. The corner of Starsky's mouth lifted a little in response.
"I was wrong."
Hutch glanced up at Everson again, aware he should have been keeping an eye on her for shock symptoms, but she seemed together enough. "About what?" he asked.
"About him." She nodded toward Starsky. "He's not the kid I saw that night after all. I don't think that kid's around anymore. I'm going to withdraw my statement."
He studied her soberly. "Pete McCullough died two years ago and any responsibility for what happened to your father died with him. But Starsky hasn't changed all that much. He may be wiser now, but he's still loyal and cares about people just as much as he did back then." Hutch stared hard at her, challenging her to deny it.
She didn't, just nodded slowly as her gaze dropped back to the wounded man.
A few moments later, the ambulance attendants burst through the door and Hutch forgot all about her as he helped them take his partner in.
"They dropped it just like that?" Starsky asked doubtfully, shifting in the passenger seat of the LTD as he looked at his partner.
Hutch nodded. "Just like that. Without Karen's statement, their whole case pretty much fell apart." He turned a corner with a quiet satisfaction completely unrelated to the smooth handling of the car that day.
"What about my confession?"
"Confessions by themselves are pretty weak, buddy, you know that. Besides, all you confessed to was being there that night, and they can't prosecute you eighteen years later for possible aiding & abetting."
"Over. You're home free, partner."
Starsky seemed a little dazed by the news, falling into silence beside him. After a minute, Hutch gave him a glance and a nudge.
Starsky looked up. "Huh?"
Hutch grinned cheerfully at him. "Welcome back."
Starsky grinned in return, and Hutch's lingering worries faded. "Yeah. Kinda had my doubts there for a little while," Starsky admitted softly.
This time he only saw the smile reflected in the passenger window, but it was one of touched pleasure. Hutch turned back to the road, still grinning.
A minute later, he was pulling the LTD in front of the store, and he shut off the ignition. Hutch looked at his partner, following Starsky's gaze to the apartment window above the store.
"You want me to come in?" he asked gently. "Probably some stairs to climb."
Starsky shook his head. "Uh-uh, I can do it. 'S my turn now." And with a more nervous smile at his partner, he opened the door and eased first his leg and crutches, then the rest of himself out, surveying the building a few seconds longer before resolutely hobbling inside.
The invitation from Karen Everson had surprised Hutch far more than it seemed to his partner, who'd leapt at the opportunity despite being just days out of the hospital. Not that Hutch disapproved. The visit was part of recovery, too, for both of them. Justice had many means, not all of them official.
Whistling cheerfully in the quiet, sun-warmed car, Hutch sat back to wait for his partner.
Written in 2000