This story first appeared in the zine,Remote Control #12 (1999). These zines can be obtained by contacting the editor at: http://www.thewateringhole.com/kathy.html Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
That usually worked. Felons knew cops had guns at the ready, especially after an armed assault, and most of them had no death wish. Despite desperation, adrenalin, and a uniform hatred for cops, very often that call was enough to force a surrender.
Not this time. Without hesitation, the man in black took off down the street.
Dave Starsky muttered a curse. "I got him," he yelled over his shoulder to his partner and set off after the guy at full tilt.
Down Gage, turning onto Normandie, then along the block to cross the street. Starsky registered that the car coming was still far enough to stop for them, and stop it did, though just barely. He kept running, feeling the burning in his legs but fueled by the thought of the crying, huddled victim in the alley, scarred for life because of the creep right in front of him. Starsky found a little more speed in himself.
The man had nearly reached the end of another block, when suddenly he disappeared. Three seconds later, Starsky saw the reason why as reached the same spot and could see the alley that stretched off to the right. Without waiting, he plowed in after the suspect.
It wasn't a long alley, but it turned at the end, and he turned with it. And realized almost at once that he was only a hundred feet from a dead end.
The other man had apparently come to the same conclusion because he'd already turned and was waiting for Starsky. With no cover in sight for either of them, he aimed and shot. Only Starsky's sudden stop saved him from the bullet that struck the fence right next to him.
The suspect knew Starsky was a cop and had been warned. Now, without cover to seek shelter behind and with the man re-aiming, Starsky had no more options. In one motion he brought the gun up, aimed for the man's chest and pulled the trigger.
The gunshot in the close alley was nearly deafening, but Starsky's mind wasn't on that. He saw his bullet hit its mark, the blood splashing, and the man fold instantly where he stood. Contrary to movies and television, bodies didn't dramatically fly back when hit, they just collapsed like an dropped marionette. Particularly when the victim was already dead.
Starsky slowly walked up to the felon, gun poised and ready, but he already knew that it was unnecessary. Starsky was familiar with death, but a close look confirmed it. Blood was everywhere; he'd hit the heart. He checked anyway, but there was no pulse and his fingers just came back covered in red.
It was over.
Before he could think about it any more than that, footsteps pounded behind him, and he turned automatically to see his blond partner, flushed with running, appear at the corner and, spying him, jog up.
"Wasn't easy finding you," he panted. Then, as he saw the dead man, the color faded from Ken Hutchinson's cheeks a little. "Dead?" he asked softly. He knew, too, had seen enough bodies, even killed, himself.
Starsky found no more energy in himself than to nod. Against his will, he was still studying the felon's face, his features, his final expression. The man had been a rapist, nearly as low as you could get, and an instant death seemed the easy way out for someone who caused lifelong pain. But still, killing him was something else. It was ending a life, the process that involved so much investment and so many people--parents, siblings, teachers, friends, neighbors, perhaps a spouse and kids. It was playing God. And it was permanent.
A hand gripped his shoulder hard, breaking his daze, and he looked up into his partner's concerned expression.
"He shot first, didn't he?"
Starsky silently nodded.
The hand patted his shoulder. "You didn't have any cover, Starsk. It was you or him."
Starsky sighed. Human conscience had a tendency to ask what gave one the right to choose between "you or him," but Starsky was no romantic. He knew exactly what did. The little piece of metal in his pocket, and that girl in the alley. The felon had made all the choices leading to his death long before Starsky pulled the trigger.
Hutch was still watching him, and the brunet found a wan smile for his partner.
"I know." And he really did. It just didn't automatically make it all better. He pulled himself up. "How's the girl?"
"Jim's with her; he'll take her to the hospital. You ready to go back?"
An Internal Affairs detective would soon be there, along with someone from the medical examiner. Starsky had no desire to see the investigation unfold. He'd hear plenty about it soon enough.
"Yeah," he muttered. In the jungle, it had been easier. He didn't really see those he shot at, didn't know who he killed or what they looked like. Buddies died around him, but as much as that hurt, it hadn't been by his hand. This time, unseeing grey eyes stared up at him, recognizing him as the killer. Here, his prey had a face.
Starsky didn't look at the body anymore. With Hutch right beside him, he spun and walked out of the alley without turning back.
The day was a blur of interrogation and paperwork. First the incident report and the shooting reports and all related paperwork. Then, a lengthy session with IA detectives for both him and Hutch. Starsky's gun was collected for testing, and despite the automatic suspension until the end of IA's investigation, there was yet more paperwork to do. Starsky silently did all that was required of him while his partner sat watchfully by, playing gatekeeper for him as much as possible.
None of it disturbed Starsky, really. The first-glance evidence was in his favor, and he knew he had done everything correctly. The shooting was a righteous one, and the final report would surely back him up. Even the IA detectives hadn't anticipated a problem and had been pleasant enough. As for the paperwork--well, it wasn't fun, but it was easy and it didn't bother him much.
The eyes did. The eyes of his colleagues as they covertly watched him, sympathetic and leery all at once. No one said anything--what condolences could be offered when duty had called upon you to kill someone?--but it still set him apart from those of his colleagues who'd never used deadly force before. The eyes of his partner contained no such conflict, uniformly concerned and sympathetic. That wouldn't have changed even if Starsky had cold-bloodedly murdered someone; that was his partner. And then there were the eyes that were glued into his memory, the grey lifeless ones. They stayed on him constantly, and Starsky couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. His own personal ghost.
Alexander Richarde Hecht, he'd learned was the name of the dead suspect. Age thirty-one, a car salesman, leaving behind a father and a sister. And a history of assault charges, no convictions. The girl was Dana Chu, a twenty-four-year old grad student at UCLA. And that was more than he cared to know about either one.
Suffocated, he closed the file. Hutch looked up at him again, always aware.
"Mostly." Starsky shrugged. "I'll come in tomorrow and finish it. Been a long day." Stringing together more complex sentences seemed beyond him.
"You'll have to come in tomorrow anyway to talk to Berrimen. You know the regs."
Oh yeah, the department shrink. Starsky winced at the thought. It might help some, but that wouldn't make it any more pleasant. "Yeah," was all he mumbled.
"You want some company tonight?"
That required a little more thought. He didn't, but then, Hutch wasn't really company. The offer was one to talk if he wanted to, or not if he didn't, but at least to not be alone. It was honestly tempting, but for now, he needed a little solitude. Maybe a chance to forget the day for a little while.
He smiled at his partner, the first real smile he'd been able to form all day. "Thanks, but I think I'm just gonna go home and watch some TV. Relax." He rolled his head on his stiff neck a little in illustration.
A nod, but no return of his smile. Damn those knowing blue eyes. "Okay. I'm going home for the night after this, too."
It was another offer, a standing one. Starsky stood and dropped a hand on the blond's shoulder as he passed him, a gesture less casual than it looked. He knew he had help if he needed or wanted it. "G'night, Hutch," he called over his shoulder.
"See ya later."
That evening, Starsky went to bed smashed drunk.
"David, how do you feel about the shooting?"
"I didn't have any choice. The guy was gonna shoot me if I didn't shoot first."
"Did you shoot first?"
"Uh-uh. He got off a shot at me just as I came 'round the corner."
"So he was going to kill you, no matter what."
"And you were shooting to kill?"
"That's what we're supposed t'do."
The psychologist paused. "Why were you in pursuit?"
"We got a call--261 in progress. Guy was just finishing up when we got there. The victim was lyin' in the alley. . . The creep took off and I took off after him."
"Where was your partner?"
"He stayed behind to check on the girl. She was in pretty bad shape."
"So there was no question that the suspect you were chasing was a rapist."
"So he deserved it."
A pause. "What?"
"There was no question he was a rapist, with at least one victim. So he deserved to die."
Starsky shifted in his seat. "That's not up t'me."
"But you killed him."
"I didn't have a choice! It was either that or he was going to shoot me, then get away and probably hit some other poor girl."
"Then if you'd had a choice, you'd rather have brought him in."
"And if you had not shot him, he quite possibly would've kept on raping women until he was stopped."
Another pause. "That's the pattern."
"Another policeman would've had to stop him, and with an armed rapist intent on evading capture, it probably would've still ended in violence."
"I guess." Softly.
"David, if it wasn't you sitting here, it probably would be someone else a few weeks or months from now. And who knows how many victimized women later."
"You were in Vietnam, weren't you?"
"Did you have to kill anybody?"
"How did you feel about that?"
"But you did it anyway."
"It was war. We had to."
"Is that murder?"
A cold blue glare. "Some call it that. Those who weren't there, tryin' to stay alive."
"Was this shooting any different?"
Long silence. Then a deflating sigh. "Yeah."
"This time I had a good reason."
"Duty? Defending yourself?"
More firmly now. "Protecting the public. My job."
"Do you agree with it?"
"So it wasn't really about killing him, it was about protecting others."
Several heartbeats. "Yeah. Necessary force. That's part of the Job."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Tired." Only a whisper now. "Just really, really tired."
Starsky came out of Berriman's office to the same sight as when he'd gone in: Hutch sitting on the bench across the hallway, smiling at him encouragingly. He jumped up as Starsky appeared. "So, how'd it go?"
Starsky started down the hall, knowing the blond would fall into step with him, and he did. "Y'know, they're gonna dock your pay if you hang around the halls instead of doin' your work," he answered wryly. Hutch's expression made him grin. It felt good.
"You're not going to tell me?"
Starsky tried to shrug it off, only, it wasn't that easy to get rid of. "We talked. He said some things that made a lot of sense."
Hutch nodded encouragingly. "That's good. What about you?"
"I'm still workin' on that one. Any word on Dana?"
The topic change was a transparent one, and the look on his partner's face told him it wasn't going to work for long, but Hutch let it go for the moment. "She's listed in good condition." He paused. "The family would like to talk to you," he said quietly.
Starsky slowed, then stopped, staring at the paper in his friend's hand.
"Starsk? You don't have to do this. I told them you might not be available and they were--"
"No--no, it's okay. Might help 'em." He forced stiff fingers to take the paper, then looked up at Hutch with a plastic smile. "Got a lot of time on my hands right now, anyway; might as well use it."
His partner's compassion was so tangible, it nearly undid his outward calm. "Starsk," Hutch said in a low voice, "we did this before. We can do it again."
Starsky's eyes warmed. He remembered those long nights spent up, talking, the private tears and the philosophizing and going together through the different procedures and trials following the use of deadly force. The killing of another human being. It was an offer of help he knew he needed, but he just wasn't ready for it yet.
His expression said as much, and Hutch sighed but didn't push. "Dobey wants to see you before you go," he just said, and with a last squeeze of the arm, left him there outside the captain's office.
Starsky stared after him a minute, fingers absently smoothing the paper. Then he turned to the door and knocked.
He opened the door a little, sticking his head inside. "You wanted t'see me, Cap'n?"
"Come in, Starsky," Dobey looked up at him, actually putting aside his paperwork so that his desk was clear and his attention solely on his detective. His face softened, too. "How are you holding up?"
"Okay," Starsky sat down in the big chair he usually commandeered. "Just talked to Berriman, and I finished all the paperwork this mornin'. I was just about to go home."
Dobey studied him. "IA will announce their decision tomorrow. Ten o'clock."
Starsky didn't bother to try to hide his surprise. "Already? They usually take longer than that."
"Seems the evidence was pretty cut-and-dried. Ballistics report matches your statement, and so do the victim's and Hutch's accounts."
"They talked to the girl already?" Another surprise.
Dobey nodded. "She's being released from the hospital today already. Besides, IA wanted to rush this one through, for everybody's sake. I don't think you have to worry about this one, Starsky; everyone knows you did what you had to."
That nearly left him speechless. "Uh, thanks, Cap'n. I appreciate that."
"Uh-huh. Now get out of here, go home."
Starsky privately grinned at the sudden change of demeanor as he got up and went. Captain Dobey guarded his gruff reputation very closely.
The door he left by was the one that led to the squadroom, and he walked right into the middle of an argument. Hutch stood near their desks, his back to Starsky and his arms raised placatingly as he faced two clearly upset people. One was a somber girl with short, dark hair who looked to be in about her twenties. She stood listening with sad green eyes as the older man next to her, large and florid, yelled at Hutch.
"--I don't care what she said! You can't tell me that my son--"
"Sir, I am telling you, my partner and I were witnesses." Hutch was trying to keep the man calm but it wasn't working. With instinctive protectiveness, Starsky hurried to back up his partner.
Hutch felt his approach and turned enough to hiss at him. "It's okay, Starsk, I'll handle this. Get out of here."
The red-faced man apparently heard. He turned his gaze immediately to Starsky, his anger impossibly growing. "Starsky? You're the detective who killed my son in cold blood. Murderer!"
Starsky felt the blood drain from his face. It had to be the senior Hecht and his daughter. He should've guessed, but his brain had been a little slow since the shootout.
That did it. Suddenly, Hutch was between him and Hecht, and every other detective in the room joined him. Already two of them had the big man firmly by the arms, ready to restrain or remove or, no doubt, even subdue him if Starsky wanted it. But an attack on his partner was personal for Hutch. The blond got up into Hecht's face, his voice now dangerously cold.
"Mr. Hecht, it is only out of sympathy for your loss that I'm going to let that pass. Because of your son, a young woman is in the hospital and my partner nearly lost his life. Your son was a rape suspect, and we would've arrested him and brought him in safely, except that he fired at Detective Starsky and forced him into a shootout that resulted in your son's death. Detective Starsky acted only out of necessity to save his own life and to protect the public."
The girl, silent until now, tugged at the man's arm pleadingly. "Daddy, he's right, it was Alex's fault, not the police's. We knew there was something wrong." She glanced briefly at Starsky. "Please don't blame the officer. He didn't want to--to do it." Turning back to the detectives, she added, "I'm sorry. We shouldn't have come, but. . . " Tears rolled down her cheeks.
That seemed to cool the other man's anger. His eyes shone with pain, too, as he awkwardly pulled the girl to him. Eney and Genarro warily released him, and he turned to go with the girl, casting a last look at Starsky as he did. It still held hate and anger, but even more so, sorrow. Then, pulling the girl with him, he turned his back on them and left.
The tension in the room dissipated slowly as everyone took a breath and quietly made their way back to their desks, many stopping to give Starsky a pat on the shoulder or a word of encouragement.
Hutch finally turned back to him, too, only then relaxing his defensive stance. In other circumstances, Starsky would've grinned at the mother hen protective posture, but now it didn't seem funny. He'd rarely felt that . . . vulnerable.
"Come on, Starsk." That frigid voice was suddenly so soft as he was taken by the arm and steered out of the room.
Halfway down the hall, he began to regain his balance, if shakily. "Hutch, lemme go, I'm okay. I'm just gonna--"
"Shut up, Starsky." Gentle. Starsky didn't like it, but he shut up. Truth be told, he was too washed out to argue, letting himself instead be silently led out to the LTD. It didn't occur to him until then that Hutch had picked him up in the morning and so the Torino wasn't even at the station for him to go home in.
Hutch turned the car toward Westchester. Starsky shifted tiredly in the seat, and the paper crinkled in his pocket, reminding him. "Hey, Hutch? Stop at the hospital on the way, wouldya?"
Hutch turned to frown at him. "West Adams? Why?"
"They're lettin' Dana out this afternoon."
Something flickered in Hutch's face. "Starsk--"
"I have to. With or without ya." Starsky met the look steadily.
Hutch studied him, then finally nodded once. "Okay. But I'm going in with you."
That produced a small smile, and Starsky didn't say a word. The comfortable silence stayed with them the rest of the trip, the first real peace he'd had all day.
Jails and cemeteries were about the only places he liked visiting less than hospitals. At least now there was some good news, Starsky thought. Dana Chu had been hurt, inside and out, but she was alive and mending. That was a lot.
Hutch made the inquiries, and a nurse Starsky didn't really pay attention to directed them to the third floor, where they were then taken to a small waiting room.
At the door, Hutch stopped him. "You sure you're up to this?"
Starsky took a breath and nodded, then stepped inside.
A whole family was gathered there, several generations of Chinese people, all of whom rose at once to meet him. In front was a couple in their fifties or sixties, their faces lined with pain and worry. Starsky unerringly moved toward them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Chu?" He waited for their nod. "I'm Detective David Starsky. I heard you wanted to speak to me?"
The woman's face immediately crumpled, though not in sorrow. She reached out with both hands to take Starsky's, clasping them tightly.
"Detective, we are honored to meet you. Another policeman told us what you did for Dana. We cannot thank you enough."
Starsky tried not to let his discomfort show. "I didn't really do much, ma'am. I wish we could've gotten there sooner."
The man nodded next to his wife. "I understand, Detective. But you stopped the man responsible. At least he will not be able to hurt others. That will help my daughter."
His voice was hard, making all too clear his opinion of Alex Hecht's fate. Mrs. Chu spoke more softly, compassionately. "It must have been hard for you, we are sorry. And we are sorry for the family that grieves for their child. But please know that you have given us back some peace in stopping that man. Our daughter, too, has asked us to thank you for her."
Starsky winced inside, but his voice stayed polite and careful. "Thank you. How is Dana doing?"
The husband and wife exchanged a sorrowful look, as if mentally shoring up each other. "She is not badly hurt," the man said slowly. "The doctor will let her go home with us today. But . . . she does not sleep well."
That was an understatement, Starsky suspected, but already more than he expected to get from the family. Oriental stoicism and the remaining shock of the attack were obviously at work, but his odd position of a stranger intimately bound to the family overcame many barriers. He nodded at them both respectfully, then at the rest of the family grouped around the Chus. "Please tell Dana that all of us at the department hope she's doing better, and . . ." he faltered. "I'm very sorry. I wish I could've done more."
They nodded at him with sad smiles and understanding eyes, and he'd had enough. Backing out of the room, he nearly ran into his partner.
"I'm going home," he said in clipped, nearly normal tones, then strode on.
He was halfway down the hall before Hutch caught up, and his concern was almost as unbearable as it was supportive. Starsky wondered briefly if his partner had been there and heard the exchange with the Chus, and thinking back he realized he'd felt him at his back, even without realizing it. Hutch seemed determined not to let him do any of this alone. But Starsky's tight-lipped silence invited no comment, and Hutch didn't try to make one. They walked down to the car together without a word.
At Starsky's place, Hutch parked the car and then followed him in without asking.
"You have anything at home or should I call out for pizza."
"Pizza." It was tense, but little less so than before. Though one wouldn't have guessed it from the way Starsky restlessly paced the room.
Hutch called out for dinner while keeping half an eye on his partner. That done, he flopped into the wingback chair by the television, still watching.
"I hate this," Starsky suddenly muttered.
That made the brunet stop and look up. "Didja see Mr. Chu at the hospital? He was happy Hecht was dead."
"His daughter had been attacked and raped. I think most dads would be," Hutch said quietly.
"And Mr. Hecht thinks I'm a killer."
"He's a dad, too. Hecht's sister didn't blame you; she knew her brother brought it on himself."
Starsky sighed. "Yeah, I guess." He dropped down on the couch opposite his partner. "Berriman asked me if this was like the war and I said no, this time I had a good reason." He looked up at Hutch, all pretense gone. "Partner, it didn't look like a very good reason when Hecht was lyin' there, dead."
Hutch leaned forward. "It wasn't a good reason for him to throw his life away, Starsk. But protecting ourselves and others is reason enough for pulling the trigger. There's a difference."
"'Pulling the trigger'," Starsky laughed humorlessly. "We don't even call it killing somebody. That's a, whatchamacallit, euphonium, isn't it?"
His partner smiled. "Close. Euphemism. I think a euphonium's a musical instrument." The humor faded. "I guess it is a euphemism. But if we talked about life and death all the time, Starsk, I don't think any of us could carry a gun or do our job."
"Yeah, I know," Starsky said tiredly, dragging a hand over his face. "It just . . . doesn't keep me from seein' Hecht's face all the time. Or his family."
"How about Dana Chu and the other women he raped? Or the women he'll never get a chance to?"
Starsky made a face. "Cheap argument, Hutch."
"Maybe. But it's still true. Hecht put those women through hell; that was his choice. No one made him be there in that alley with Dana and a gun, no one made him run, and no one sure made him shoot at you. Heck, if I'd been there, I'd have shot him myself at that."
That startled Starsky and he looked up with surprise, softening into appreciation. He didn't doubt it. He'd once shot to kill to save Hutch's life, and he'd had fewer second thoughts after that than any other time he'd ever fired a gun. "Yeah," he said softly.
Hutch briefly grinned back at him. "Besides, the law's no good if somebody isn't willing to enforce it. It's not like we go around shooting whomever we feel like, you know that. We just represent the law."
"I know, I know."
"I know you know, sometimes you just need to hear it anyway." Hutch paused. "Starsk, you're not really having second thoughts about what you did, are you?"
Starsky stared back at him. "No," he said honestly. "I just wish there'd been another way."
"If you didn't, partner, then I'd worry about you." The doorbell rang, and Hutch automatically rose to get it, slapping Starsky on the knee as he went. "Feeling bad's normal. You know it'll get easier." He opened the door to take care of the pizza delivery.
"I know," Starsky murmured to himself.
Hutch came back, pizza balanced on one hand. "What d'you say, Starsk?"
Starsky shook himself out of his thoughts. "Nothin'. What kind of pizza did you get?"
"Just cheese and pepperoni. None of those lethal piles of hot peppers and salami you like."
The brunet made a face at him. "You have no sense of adventure, Hutch."
"Maybe," Hutch agreed easily, "but I don't want to be up all night with indigestion, either." He disappeared into the kitchen, hollering back out a moment later, "Hey, what happened to all your beer?"
Starsky nearly choked on his bite of pizza. "I, uh, sorta drank it all last night."
The blond head poked out of the kitchen, one eyebrow raised. "All of it?"
He shrugged, embarrassed. "I think so. I've got some juice in the fridge, though."
Hutch came all the way out, studying him intently once more. "Starsky, you sure you're okay?"
Starsky nodded without hesitation. "Yeah, Hutch, I am. Like you said, it just takes a while."
His partner was apparently satisfied with what he saw. "All right. But I'm going in to IA with you tomorrow," he said before he disappeared back into the kitchen in search of alternative drinks.
Starsky smiled to himself. That was part of why he'd be okay. He'd known what police work demanded when he saw his father wrestle with it and, ultimately pay with his life for it. He'd found the strength in himself to live up to that on the city streets and in the jungles of Southeast Asia. He'd known exactly what he was agreeing to when he took the oath. And he believed in it, even the necessary force part, even after a shooting. But some of the reason why he could live with it day-to-day was because of the person whistling cheerfully in his kitchen. Oh yes, he'd be fine. Hutch wouldn't stand for it any other way.
Pizza tasted a lot better without ghosts, and Starsky dug into his with relish.
Written in 1998