This story first appeared in the zine, Of Dreams & Schemes #15 (2000). This zine is still available at the Dreams & Schemes website: http://members.aol.com/wwwfan/or http://members.aol.com/wwwfan/dreams.html< /a> (direct page for #15). Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and they will be forwarded to the author
Some Kind of Friend
K. Hanna Korossy
If Hutch hadn't been there, Starsky might have almost convinced himself he'd heard wrong. Wishful thinking, perhaps. But a name he never wanted to hear, not in this context, tripped off his unknowing partner's tongue in confirmation.
The suspect they were questioning, a greasy little weasel with lank black hair and drug-dulled eyes, nodded eagerly. "Uh-huh. That's him. He's the one in charge."
Starsky was finding it hard to breathe in the small interrogation room.
Hutch went on without looking at him, intent on their prey. "So this McCullough is the head of the whole operation?"
"Yeah, yeah. Well, the west side, anyway. I dunno who does the east side. He's got a couple dozen pushers out there who deal his stuff. I dunno who he gets his stuff from, but he's the main guy." Another series of emphatic nods.
Hutch glanced up at Starsky, perhaps wondering why the interrogation had suddenly become a solo job, but the brunet didn't meet his eyes, staring instead at their fidgety informant. They'd arrested him only two hours before on the first impressive drug bust the two detectives had ever coordinated, and had thought they might be able to squeeze a name out of him. Ending up with a real canary should have been a coup, making their job a whole lot easier and the bust even more productive than they had expected. And then the stoolie had brought Pete into it.
His partner gave up trying to get his input, if only for the moment, and turned back to the interrogation. And before he even thought about what he was doing, Starsky rose and fled the room.
Old habits were hard to break. Home was no respite, just like it hadn't been twenty years before. A house full of cousins, an aunt and uncle who were practically strangers to him: it had hardly been a home at all. He'd escaped then, too, seeking a place uncharacteristically quiet and lonely for someone who was as outgoing as he was. A place like the empty warehouse where Pete McCullough had first found him. Or the impound lot at the station now.
The call was just loud enough to be heard throughout the silent garage without breaking its peace or startling its lone occupant. He should have known; maybe he had. His partner was not one to leave him stew by himself when something was wrong.
Starsky didn't answer, waiting for the blond to find him as he had no doubt Hutch would. Partners barely a year, yet the sixth sense about each other that most partners could only hope to develop, was already strong between them. He liked Hutch. A lot. Even more, he trusted him.
Trust . . .
"Hey, Davey, don't worry. You got all of us now. You can trust us."
Starsky closed his eyes, hunching a little more tightly against the pang of that word.
"Starsky?" Hutch had reached him, rounding the car Starsky was leaning against. Concern deepened the light voice. "What's wrong?" The voice only came so close, then stopped, giving him space.
He shook his head wearily, more in sadness than denial. "Pete McCullough," was all he said, almost bitterly.
"You know him?"
A momentary silence as Hutch processed that and tried to figure out how to proceed. They were as second nature to each other as Starsky had ever been to anyone, but sometimes it still took testing waters, figuring out what to say and how to react. Starsky saved him the trouble.
"We grew up together."
"You and he were friends, huh?" Understanding was beginning to dawn in the quiet voice, and Starsky found himself irrationally annoyed by it.
"He wasn't just a friend." Starsky finally looked up at his partner. "He saved my life, Hutch. We were pals."
It seemed maybe an understatement, yet he caught the flash of real comprehension in Hutch's eyes.
Starsky sighed. The story would have to be told sooner or later, anyway, and it might as well be gotten over with. "I met him soon after I got to LA. I was having some problems fittin' in at my uncle's . . ." A quick glance added a you know this part, and Hutch nodded once. "I was out a lot, just walkin' around, and one night I ended up in this warehouse. I didn't know it was a bad part of town." He trailed off again. Considering what he knew about the city now, it was a miracle he'd even lived to tell this story. "And then these guys showed up with knives and bottles . . ."
Hutch edged a little closer and Starsky let him, knowing that would be acceptance enough of the unspoken support. Before, it might have been violation of his space, but that was one of the many things that had changed in the past year.
Starsky broke himself out of thought. "Anyway, it didn't look good. And then Pete showed up with the sorriest bunch of kids I'd ever seen." He smiled a little, sensing the echo on his partner's face. "Walked right in there like he owned the place and started talkin' to the guys . . . Before I knew it, they were gone. I wasn't an easy mark anymore." Another rueful smile. "Pete didn't tell me until a lot later how scared he was back there."
"And you two became pals."
"We ran around together for a while. The whole bunch of us. But Pete was . . ." Starsky gave an uncomfortable shrug. "Like a replacement for Nicky. Sorta like a brother."
"Blood brothers. Ain't no one can separate us now, Davey, you got that?"
"What happened?" Hutch asked quietly.
"We were gettin' into trouble." Starsky hesitated. There were still things his partner didn't know about him, and he was never sure if he should tell. He took a breath. "It was a gang, Hutch. We lifted some cars, petty theft, stuff like that. Then John Blaine—you know, from Robbery?—caught me shoplifting one day and instead of arrestin' me, he took me on a tour of the station, started workin' with me. I was hangin' out with the guys less and less, and Pete finally said they didn't want a pigeon around. I didn't see him after that."
If he'd expected any condemnation from straight-arrow Hutchinson, he didn't get any. "That must have been hard, splitting up like that," Hutch said softly, laying a hand on Starsky's shoulder. The act said a lot more than any words could. Touching as communication was one more thing Starsky had learned since the Academy.
He shrugged, pulling himself together. Friendships weren't that permanent, were they?
The hand stayed put, not letting him go altogether. "So what do we do now?" Hutch was giving him the ball.
"We're cops," Starsky said simply, straightening up. He met the gentle blue eyes, wincing away from the kindness in them. It just made harder what he had to do. "Why don't you finish up with our guest? I gotta go see somebody."
The hand tightened a little, and Starsky regretted the words immediately even though he didn't intend to take them back. But the implied without you was hard to miss, and a little hurt replaced the blond's compassion of a moment before. "Who?" Hutch asked carefully, still willing to try to understand.
Starsky withdrew even more, hating himself. "'S not important. I'll be back soon."
Hutch released him at once, also pulling back, his eyes growing cool.
Starsky refused to let himself dwell on the fact that he'd stomped on vulnerable feelings that were still as relatively new and tentative for Hutch as they were for himself—or on how he suddenly missed the support he'd grown accustomed to leaning on. Maybe friendships weren't permanent, but he was quite possibly finishing off this one, the most special he'd known, when it was just starting.
"See ya later," was all he said, brushing by the blond as he headed for the gate, and not looking back.
It took a few phone calls to find what he sought, but knowing who to ask helped the search considerably. Within an hour, Starsky was pulling up in front of the impressive office building, the slip with an address scrawled on it, clutched in his nervous hand.
The office he was looking for was on the tenth floor, down a long, ornate hallway. He passed a union office and a law firm on the way, feeling suddenly self-conscious in his torn jeans and old jacket. Starsky had no apologies for his way of life, never had, and the Job had instilled a lot more confidence into him to find his own place in nearly every setting—short of the concerts and ballets his partner sometimes dragged him to—but for once he felt acutely out of place.
The polished door at the end of the hall bore the right number, but if there was any doubt, the carved placard next to it was proof enough. "McCullough Importers, Ltd.," it read.
Starsky swallowed the sick feeling in his stomach, pushed the door open, and went inside.
A secretary in a trim suit and upswept hair glanced at him as he walked in, then took another look, one eyebrow climbing. Starsky ignored the implicit message and strode up to the desk, determined to at least keep an outward cool. "I'd like to see Mr. McCullough."
"You have an appointment?" the woman asked frigidly.
He would have normally pulled his badge at that point, but that wasn't the role he was playing. Not yet. He shook his head. "Tell him Dave Starsky's here to talk him. I think he'll see me."
"Sir—" The woman shook her head, beginning to protest.
"Tell him." Starsky leaned in a bit, using a little police presence after all.
The woman snatched up the phone, dialing it while glaring at him. Starsky couldn't care less.
A half-minute and a few quiet words later, her whole attitude changed.
"Of course, Mr. Starsky. Mr. McCullough says you can go right in." Her smile was patently fake, but Starsky returned it with equal sincerity.
Another long hallway, this one lined in plush carpet and beautiful paintings, to an even fancier set of doors. Starsky walked right through them without pause.
The room was everything he'd expected it to be, the same kind of room he'd been in several times before on investigations, with the same kind of crooked stuffed shirt sitting behind the polished desk. At first glance, this office's owner seemed no different: tailored suit, gold cufflinks, manicured nails and perfect hair, and something Hutch had once called "refined bearing." But somewhere in that chiseled face was a boy Starsky knew very well, and when the face broke into a wide smile and the grey eyes lit with real pleasure, he found himself grinning ear to ear in return.
Pete got up and was around the enormous
desk in a moment to throw his arms around the detective. And Starsky clung back
without hesitation, suddenly feeling twenty years younger and home again.
They finally drew back, Pete searching his face as Starsky had studied his old friend's, looking for the kid he once knew. He must have found what he was looking for, because Pete's smile grew even wider. "It's been too long, Davey. What've you been doing all these years?"
Starsky shrugged with more self-consciousness than he felt. "This an' that. Finished school. Took a tour o' Southeast Asia courtesy of Uncle Sam."
A wry expression. "Took that tour myself."
"Yeah?" What do you know, a fellow vet, too. Twenty years wasn't such a long time, was it? "Hung around for a while after I got back, then ended up joining the LAPD."
"You're a cop?" There was something akin to amazement in Pete's voice, and he sat on the edge of his desk to listen more comfortably. "Who'd have guessed?"
"You look like you did pretty good for yourself, too," Starsky nodded toward the room around them. "What'd you do, con your way into somebody's good graces?"
That short, familiar deep laugh. "Would you believe I started at the bottom and worked my way up? I'm as surprised as you are sometimes, but here I am."
"Someday, I'm gonna be the head guy on the streets, and you can be my lieutenant, huh, Dave? Nobody's gonna mess with us!"
The reason for his visit asserted itself and Starsky sobered, taking another, more critical look around the room, job instincts reluctantly registering the expensive decorations, the vague business they represented. The initial ease of an old friendship had lulled him into pretending maybe it was all a lie, and he wanted to believe in Pete, more than anything. But there was something . . .
Pete was watching him look around even as he talked on about the past twenty years. And something was shifting in his voice and manner too, a small change in the atmosphere of the room. Pete knew why he was there, Starsky abruptly realized. And there was only one way he'd even have guessed that.
McCullough was finally finished, and Starsky's attention snapped back. He grinned. "So what do they pay you all this money for?" he asked with cheerful lightness that was only half real.
Pete must have sensed it, too—heck, the Pete he knew could read him better than anyone else on the planet—for he moved back around his desk to comfortably recline in his chair. A lot more than a desk suddenly seemed between them. "Import/export. You wouldn't believe how much money there is in this line of work, Davey."
"Hmm," Starsky nodded noncommittally. "What d'you import?"
McCullough's face was still stretched in a good-natured grin, but his eyes no longer reflected it. "You're almost beginning to sound like a cop. Is this an official question?"
Pete shrugged. "Lot of things. You want a list?" He reached toward his intercom.
"Uh, no. 'S okay." Starsky shook his head a little. "Pete . . ." He sat down on the edge of the desk this time, leaning a little bit toward his old friend. "I'm a good cop. If you're doing anything illegal, I'm gonna find it, and I'll arrest you. I hope to God you're not, but us bein' old friends isn't gonna help ya if you are."
"Davey, I have no idea what you're talking about."
Pete's grin never faded, but there was a glint of challenge that Starsky remembered well in the now-cold grey eyes. Familiarity worked both ways. He no longer had any doubt what Pete had become, and that one of them would end up bringing the other down before it was over. And instead of anger, something inside grieved at the thought.
He nodded slowly. "I'll be seein' ya, Pete." Starsky stood, all of a sudden anxious to get out of there.
"Don't make it another twenty years, Davey, all right? Give me a call and we'll have dinner together, talk about old times."
Starsky's lip curled. "Yeah." And he walked out without looking back.
"Anyone threatens you, Davey, I'll kill 'em, I swear. It'll be just you and me, kid."
Twenty years was a very long time, after all. He refused to acknowledge the bereft feeling in his gut that ate at him all the way back to the station.
The blond head bowed over their shared table was the first sight he saw as he came into the squadroom, and Starsky grinned, only to tense again at the recollection of how they'd parted. But he couldn't do what was needed to fix that, not yet, no matter how much he wanted to.
Hutch looked up a moment later, knowing his partner was there just like he often seemed to. Starsky couldn't remember if Pete had been like that too . . .
"Well?" There was still a distance to Hutch's voice, but also a willingness to go on.
Starsky shook his head. He wasn't ready to share, not yet. He just couldn't. "You get anything else?"
Wary blue eyes studied him a moment longer before apparently deciding not to push. "Nope. Our canary was pretty much at the bottom of the chain. I'm surprised he knew McCullough's name." There was no reaction to Starsky's wince.
"Terrific. How 'bout any of the others?"
"Lawyers got to them first."
Starsky sighed. Sometimes he forgot why he'd gotten into this line of work in the first place.
Hutch stood, picking up a piece of paper on his desk. "Look, we've still got a bunch of people to talk to, why don't we start there?" He reached for his jacket.
"You go ahead," Starsky nodded at the list. "I got a few more places to call."
"Starsky—" Hutch sighed, almost pleading. This wasn't the way they did things and they both knew it.
"Leave it alone, Hutchinson." With his effort at reserve, it came out a lot more hostile than he'd have wished, and Starsky winced inside.
His partner opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Fine," was all he said, and he could have been talking to a felon on the street for all the warmth in his voice. In three long, stiff strides, he was gone.
Starsky chewed his lip for a moment, fighting the urge to go after his partner and finally winning, though it felt like a loss. But while he could never have explained it to Hutch, this was his dirty laundry to clean, and he wanted to keep his fair-haired, idealist partner out of it. If that meant breaking up their strengthening partnership . . . Starsky's bravado failed at the thought. Surely it wouldn't mean that? In many ways, Hutch had become a better friend than Pete could have ever become, and each time he thought they'd gotten as close as was possible, their friendship grew even more. He trusted Hutch beyond what that one word could cover, beyond just knowing his back was protected, to a feeling that had taken root inside him. In some ways, it was like learning for the first time what friendship really meant.
And now he was jeopardizing that, both by continuing on his own and by his treatment of his partner. But Pete . . . Pete had been his best friend once, a part of his still-present past, and he was Starsky's responsibility.
Starsky sank into his chair, huddled in his jacket as he pulled the phone close. Any other friends he could completely alienate that day? There were a few on his list yet, and he was going to have to contact every one of them. Someone had to know something about Pete, and if they did, he'd find out what. Friendship was no longer an issue. Regardless how alone he felt, Starsky couldn't let it be.
The shadow of a nearby lamppost lengthened even as Starsky shifted impatiently. It was dusk, the sounds of late afternoon rush hour in the distance, muted in this section of town where few worked nine-to-five. Pretty soon people would start coming out under cover of darkness to begin their work on the streets, and Starsky wanted to be long gone by then. Five more minutes, then—
The reed-thin voice was almost carried away by street noise before it reached his ears, but he heard it anyway, whirling around to find the speaker. He blinked uncertainly at a shape in the shadows. "Gin?"
The shape resolved itself into a small, raincoat-clad figure. Gin, nicknamed after his complementary last name, Toneck, had always been the tagalong in the group, often forgotten because of his size and ability to keep his mouth shut. People thus tended to speak freely around him, and Starsky had always suspected the kid knew far more about everything than anyone else in the group.
Gin's smile was honest, if a little awkward. "Davey. I heard you became a detective."
Starsky grinned back. "Yup. Ninth precinct. Who woulda guessed, huh?"
"I'm not surprised," Gin answered, suddenly serious. He brushed thick black hair out of his eyes. "Y'always were different from us, Davey."
The answer left him at a loss. "Uh . . . Gin, you said you could tell me 'bout Pete?"
A quick wave of the hand motioned him to follow, and Gin disappeared into the alley next to them.
Starsky obeyed. They skirted a trashbin, disappearing into the nearly complete darkness of its shadow.
"Y'already know about Pete." Gin's soft voice wasn't questioning.
"We got a tip from one of his pushers that he's heading the west side."
"Gin, I want him."
Silence. Then, even more quietly, "Why?"
That was a hard one and Starsky hadn't seen it coming. "He's dirty—"
"So're a thousand other guys. Why d'you want to bring down Pete? He was your pal." There was no accusation in Gin's voice, just level inquiry.
"Blood brothers, Davey, to the end."
That was his old life and Starsky was anxious to put it behind him . . . but was that why getting Pete had suddenly become so personal? "Times change," he answered just as evenly, then faltered a little. "Gin . . . I havta do this. I got a tip and I havta follow it. This is my life now. I can't let Pete go because of how things were twenty years ago." The thought of having to bring McCullough down hadn't even sunk in yet, but he knew without question that he was the one who had to pursue this. Starsky only hoped his motives were pure enough to let him sleep afterwards.
A pause. "Okay. What do you want from me?"
Starsky really wished he could see the smaller man's face, but though Gin never said much, Starsky knew he wouldn't promise what he didn't mean. "I need you to help me set him up. Can you fix up a buy?"
"You gonna arrest me, too, Davey?" There was a taste of humor in the disembodied voice now.
He went with it, playing the game. "Not if you help me, Gin."
"Uh-huh." Heavily sarcastic. "All right. Tomorrow night, eleven p.m. Pete owns a warehouse in San Pedro—shouldn't be hard for you to find it. After the buy, I'll walk away first, then you can move in."
Starsky blinked in the darkness. "How do you know he's gonna go for all this?" he asked.
"It's already set up." Then, before Starsky could say anything, "I don't usually play this game, Davey, but Pete's not gonna be surprised to see me there."
"Am I gonna have to bust you someday, too, kid?" Starsky asked softly.
"Maybe, friend. Maybe. But not this time."
"No," Starsky agreed, "not this time." He paused. "Thanks, Gin."
"It's too bad it had to come to this. You and Pete were blood."
"Yeah." There were some soft sounds of movement, shifting of shadows, and then Gin was gone.
Starsky stayed where he was for several long minutes, Gin's words on his mind. In all honesty, part of him did want to get back at Pete for the feeling of betrayal that had lodged in his heart since the whole mess had started that morning. And maybe the worst of it was that there had been a time when he'd trusted Pete more than he'd ever trusted anyone else. Until the past year, anyway. What kind of friend . . .
With a frustrated sigh, Starsky left the alley for his car and hurried home. Another lengthy internal debate, this time as to whether or not to call his partner about the buy, and he finally left the phone untouched and turned in early for the night. When the phone rang a little while later, he stared at it until it stopped, then rolled over and closed his eyes. But sleep was elusive that night. Just like peace of mind.
The next day was . . . not good.
Almost at the station, Starsky realized that it had been his day to pick up his partner for work, and with a long stream of curses at the forgetfulness of his tired mind, he turned back toward Venice. Not surprisingly, the old LTD wasn't in front of the cottage, and a quick knock confirmed that Hutch had undoubtedly gotten tired of waiting for him and left on his own. Terrific. Well, at least it meant no awkward silences on the way in.
Hutch was working at their table again when he got in, a silent glance up at Starsky the only acknowledgment of the brunet's arrival. No remonstrations about not picking him up, nor of having disappeared the day before by the time Hutch had returned to the station from his fruitless canvassing. Not a word. They didn't seem to need them much of the time anymore, usually an asset but this time a rebuke.
Feeling defensive, Starsky dropped into his chair and got to work. As if by previous agreement, attention was turned from the bust to several of the other open cases on their desk. They usually had a dozen or so to juggle at any given point and apparently neither of them wanted any confrontations over Peter McCullough.
It worked, until lunchtime. By then he'd begun to relax, almost able to forget what was going down that evening, unwinding in his partner's presence and jokes and comfortable company.
And then, over his hamburger and Hutch's bean sprouts-and-something-yellow sandwich, came the question he hadn't wanted to hear.
"Starsky, what's going on with McCullough?" Casual but careful. Typical Hutch.
The hamburger lost all taste. "Whaddaya mean?" It was an obvious stall.
Hutch put his sandwich down, too. "You went to see him, didn't you."
"It doesn't have anything to do with the case—"
"Of course it has something to do with the case!" Hutch flared, then lowered his voice at the looks they drew. "Look, Starsky, maybe we shouldn't work this one if it's that personal."
He could hear the temperature of his own voice drop, angry at himself for it and at his partner for forcing him into it. "I can do this just fine."
Hutch grimaced, clearly frustrated. "You shouldn't have to! We're in this together, remember, partner?"
"This one's my problem." There was no way he could say those words so they wouldn't sound nasty.
He expected anger, but Hutch deflated at that, wounded. Always transparent to his partner. "Starsky . . ." he sighed.
Starsky cringed. This wasn't worth . . . nothing was worth . . . "Hutch, I need to do this myself," he finally managed, just as softly, asking for what he knew was excessive and unfair.
Hutch's expression confirmed as much.
A few minutes later, Starsky dumped his mostly uneaten hamburger and went back to work.
It was almost business as usual after that, as if lunchtime had never happened, discussing the cases and possibilities before leaving to do some legwork. Light banter, Hutch's soft laugh at some lame joke, their usual clicking when they investigated together. Starsky had never been sure if the last came from their friendship or vice versa.
But Hutch was like that. If he didn't like you, it was very, very clear, and street-toughened scum had folded under his anger. But to anyone else, the stranger on the street or the frightened victim, Hutch was friendly, kind, caring. It was just his nature. It had taken some time and trust before he'd let his partner past that apparently open exterior, to the person for whom real trust wasn't that easy but who had nevertheless offered it to the brunet. For whom concern for his partner was no longer just a natural attitude but a conscious decision, above his own needs and wants. That was the man Starsky had as his partner, and with whom life and the Job had truly become a pleasure.
Now, they were back to the cursory pleasantness Hutch offered to all. The blond wasn't mad at him, but lack of confidence had been repaid with lack of confidence, and Starsky found himself shut out of the usual closeness his partner allowed. Starsky was surprised at how much he missed that trust. It wouldn't affect their work, and to the outside observer nothing had changed, but it was the difference between riches and just breaking even. It hurt like the loss that it was.
He begged off work early, rationalizing to himself that he was getting ready for that night, and left with heavy steps and the feel of an equally heavy gaze on his back.
That afternoon left far too much time to second guess himself about everything, from bringing Pete down to trusting Gin to—most of all—not telling Hutch. The times with Pete and the gang, the fun and ease they'd found together, had been among the few happy times Starsky remembered in those years. And still, even then, there had been an uneasiness in him, the knowledge that some of what they did wasn't right, that Pete wasn't the ideal friend he seemed. But acceptance was a rare treasure and Starsky had held on tightly to it . . . until John Blaine had introduced him to a whole other brotherhood.
No matter the doubts, though, ten-thirty p.m. found him inside the warehouse he'd tracked down through R&I, ready and silently waiting. The large interior was ringed with a hierarchy of halls along the inside walls of the building, opening outward into small offices and, at places, inward to the large, open middle area. It was at one of those doorways that Starsky had hidden himself to watch, with a view of nearly the whole central area spread out before him.
At ten minutes to eleven, the door at one end squeaked open and Gin walked in, two men trailing behind him, each holding a briefcase. One quick glance up and around the area said Gin knew he was there and acknowledged the detective's presence. Starsky drew back further into the darkness and pulled his gun.
That was when he saw it, movement across the open space of the warehouse, through a doorway on the same level as he. Only the merest flash of gold, but he knew that blond head anywhere. With a stifled curse, Starsky eased back from the doorway and headed down the hallway to his left, moving to intercept.
Rounding one corner only led to another, shorter hallway that ran the width of the building. He was halfway down it when Hutch appeared. And after an initial start, his partner didn't look the least bit surprised to see him.
"What are you doin' here?" Starsky furiously hissed at him when he got close enough. Through a doorway a few feet away, Starsky could see Gin reach the middle of the warehouse and stop, waiting, his two men flanking him. McCullough wasn't even there yet and already things were going wrong—why couldn't Hutch have stayed out of it?
"Followed you," the blond whispered evenly in return, unruffled. "Maybe this is 'your' call, but you're still my partner and I'm backing you up."
Starsky swore again. "I said—"
A door below squeaked again, and he bit his tongue, turning angrily from his partner to the doorway to watch the scene in front them. Hutch slipped up next to him but Starsky ignored the blond.
Pete McCullough came in through the doors opposite Starsky's end of the warehouse, also followed by two men. His walk was the familiar stride of a predator Starsky recognized from years before, now smooth with experience. His men were doing a visual search of the area, and Starsky pulled back out of sight again, jerking Hutch with him. But Pete's eyes were only on Gin, and his mouth curled into a friendly smile as he approached the three waiting men.
"Gin! Long time, no see. How come I have the pleasure of doing business with you tonight?"
"Just doin' a favor." Gin's soft voice barely carried up to Starsky.
McCullough nodded. "How is Benny?"
Gin smiled a little at him, knowingly. "Now, Pete, you know Benny's off takin' a long vacation. Shirl was the one you made the deal with."
Pete's smile warmed. "Sorry, the coincidence of seeing you and Davey Starsky in one week just made me a little suspicious. You know Davey's one of LA's finest now?"
Gin nodded equivocally. "I heard." If McCullough had been looking for a giveaway, he wasn't getting it from the smaller man.
"Well, anyway, shall we do some business?"
Another brief nod, and briefcases were opened and shown without another word. Gin sampled the powder-filled bags while Pete flipped through some of the bundles of money, both of them nodding satisfaction. The exchange was made.
"It's a pleasure doin' business with you, Pete." Gin touched his forehead in half-salute. "Same thing, two weeks?"
"Naturally," Pete said, beginning to arrange the money back into the case.
Gin and his men turned and left, the door squeaking loudly behind them as if a signal that they were gone.
"What about—" Hutch began to whisper into his partner's ear.
"Gin's on our side," Starsky muttered back through clenched teeth, his insides wound so tight, it was a real effort to keep still and quiet. "Pete's who we're here for." McCullough had nearly finished what he was doing, closing one briefcase and shifting to the other.
"So let's go." Hutch began to move into the doorway.
"Just you and me, Davey . . ."
"NO!" Starsky spit out quickly, but Hutch wasn't listening, about to step out into the open. To kill Pete, or be killed; Pete wouldn't give in to anyone else, and he was Starsky's responsibility . . .
The tension in him snapped.
Starsky lunged in front of his partner and shoved him back, hard, against the far wall. Taken by surprise, Hutch hit hard with a groan and slid to the floor before he could catch himself.
Starsky didn't spare him another glance, frustrated at the way things were happening, furious at himself for letting them get so out of hand. He should've sent Hutch home before. With a shake of his head, Starsky stepped out into the open doorway and hollered.
McCullough had already stopped and turned at the noise of the scuffle, and soon located Starsky, staring up at him in surprise. And then, even as his two men brought up their guns, his face broke into a smile.
Starsky had his gun in hand and aimed, too, as he quickly descended to the ground level, his eyes never leaving the armed pair. "Put 'em down!"
"Put those down," Pete echoed over his shoulder. "David is an old friend. Though I must say," he addressed himself to Starsky, "you don't have the best timing."
The two men had placed their guns down on the floor. "Kick 'em over," Starsky continued as he approached, not yet looking at Pete. The guns skittered to his feet. "Now down on the ground." That, too, was reluctantly obeyed.
"Are you satisfied now?" Pete asked cheerfully. "Davey, remember the promise I made you once, about being my lieutenant? There's no reason you can't still be. We watched each other's backs a long time out on the streets—I trust you. There aren't too many out there I can say that of. Together we could be quite formidable."
"I'm a cop, Pete," Starsky said quietly, stopping several feet away.
"There's no reason you can't keep being one. Call it a side business. You wouldn't believe how rich you could get in this business."
"Money is everything, Davey. Money and someone you can trust at your back." But the second part wasn't the creed of the street. Maybe it hadn't all been just words, a lonely kid's need to believe. Once.
Starsky shook his head, despairing of what he knew he had to do. "Pete . . ."
Lingering trust distracted him. Movement out of the corner of Starsky's eye made him half turn, in time to see McCullough's henchman raise the gun he'd just pulled out of an ankle holster. Starsky cursed his inattentiveness, aiming and firing in one motion, sending the gun flying and the man clutching his bloody hand. And another shot followed on the heels of his own.
Starsky was already scanning frantically for the second threat when McCullough began to topple. The white shirt under his blazer was turning red. And Starsky stopped breathing.
"You and me . . ." The memory shattered like a piece of glass, unreal.
He was by his old friend's side in the next moment, knowing at once that there was nothing he could do. Already the grey eyes were clouding over with death.
"Davey . . ." The familiar features stretched into a smile he knew so well. "Blood . . . brothers . . . eh?"
And then he was gone.
Starsky blinked hard. Gone, just like that, twenty years and his oldest friend. This was just what he'd been afraid of, what he'd tried so hard to avoid. But now . . .
"'M sorry, Pete," Starsky whispered. Numb to the core, he gently reached forward to shut the empty eyes that stared at him.
The motion jarred the body enough that it rolled to one side. And the gun hidden in one hand suddenly flopped into view.
Pete must have been drawing it, Starsky realized in shock, and he hadn't seen it. His old friend . . . Starsky suppressed a shudder. The thought seared—no matter what, he never thought that Pete would go so far. But then, he'd not exactly been clearsighted of late, either.
Duty imposed itself, and he rose silently to frisk and cuff both the other men. He only had one pair of handcuffs, and with Hutch not forthcoming with another, ended up threading the cuffs through a heavy iron loop in the floor and attaching one man to each end.
Speaking of his partner . . . Starsky glanced over his shoulder in puzzlement. Where was Hutch? The second shot had clearly come from the blond behind him, but he would have expected Hutch to have joined him already with the wrap-up.
One last glance over the scene, lingering for a moment on Pete's body, assured him everything was secure. Starsky turned and trudged back to the stairway that led to the second hallway door, climbing two steps at a time. He wanted to go home so badly, crawl into bed and forget the day had happened. One friend dead, the other—
The last few stairs finally brought his partner into his line of vision, and Starsky's stride suddenly faltered.
Hutch had moved across the hall to the left of the doorway but was still sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. His gun rested in his lap, his right hand protectively hugging his left arm against his body. A too-pale and sweaty face, dilated blue eyes, and gasps of breath completed the picture of a man in pain.
"Hutch!" Starsky bounded up the last few steps at once, immediately dropping to his knees next to his partner. "What—"
"Shoulder," Hutch ground out between clenched teeth. "Dislocated . . . I think."
It was; the flat plane of it and the odd angle of the arm were unmistakable. And Starsky was horrifyingly aware how it had gotten that way. Surely he hadn't shoved that hard? But he'd been angry, and if his partner hadn't been expecting it . . .
"Oh, my God . . . Hutch . . ." Starsky nearly reached out to skim the blond head, then caught himself and drew back. He rather doubted his touch would bring much comfort now. First aid was the priority, anyway; dislocations were excruciating, and Hutch was getting whiter by the second. "I'm gonna put it back, Hutch. Try to relax."
It was a laughable suggestion, Starsky knew that, but his partner just gave a jerky nod and leaned his head back against the wall with effort.
Starsky set both their weapons to one side and then gently pried Hutch's right hand free, giving it a squeeze before resting it on his own thigh. "Might help if you hold on," he said softly, not commenting when the fingers dug sharply into his leg. It was his fault, every bit of this; he should be the one hurt, not Hutch, and, oh, God, certainly not by his own hand. What had he done . . . ?
There was no time for this now, though, and he braved a glance up into the blue eyes dilated with pain. They watched his every move, but not with anger or condemnation. In fact, try as he could, he found no blame in them, only trust that he'd take care of things. Trust, still? Even as he stared, caught aback, his partner's mouth curled with effort into a ghost of a smile, for his sake.
Starsky shuddered inside, but this time he did reach out and gave the clammy face a quick caress. "I'll be as careful as I can," he whispered.
Another slight bob of acknowledgment.
He took hold of Hutch's left arm with one hand, and braced the other against the clavicle, his touch as light as possible but still eliciting a moan. Hutch's eyes squeezed shut and he was panting, body taut against the agony from his shoulder. Starsky had been trained for the procedure both in the Army and the Academy, but that didn't help in the face of causing his friend, his partner, this much pain. His eyes stung in shared misery.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, then pulled hard.
Hutch's back arched, his head flung back as he cried out. His fingers spasmed on Starsky's leg, sure to leave bruises. And then, just as abruptly, he went completely slack, slumping against the wall behind him.
Starsky frantically checked for a pulse even though he could hear the harsh breaths that slowly began to ease, not able to breathe himself until he felt the heartbeat pound against his fingers, as frenetic as his own. Hutch had only passed out, Starsky realized, exhaling in a rush at the relief. He stripped off his jacket and devised a makeshift sling, knotting the arms to make sure it was sturdy before easing it over Hutch's head and around the injured limb.
Then he rocked forward on his heels, cupping his hand against his partner's cheek to gently lift the sagging head and tilt it back. "Hutch?" he tried. "Buddy? You with me?"
The bloodless lips moved first, silently, then fair lashes trembled and finally rose, blinking at him in confusion through tears of pain. "Starsk?"
He drew his hand back. "Yeah, it's me. How you doin'?"
"Feels better." His voice was rusty but improving. Hutch moved gingerly, straightening a little and wincing as he pulled at his shoulder, then noticing the sling for the first time. A simple tired raise of an eyebrow conveyed his thoughts.
Starsky gave him a sad smile. "Have to keep you from movin' it until the doc checks you out."
Hutch just nodded, accepting that, then turned his head to one side, inclining it toward the interior of the warehouse. "What happened?"
"Pete's dead." The confusion from before was gone with the inevitability of what had occurred; Starsky had never been one to beat his breast over the past. But that didn't change the results of his actions.
Hutch's face drew with grief, and Starsky winced. He had lost a friend, but his soft-hearted partner had been the one who'd had to shoot to kill.
"I'm sorry, Starsk."
The whisper threw him off balance. What? "Sorry for what?" he asked.
"He was your friend."
The compassion of that statement and the look with which it was made choked the words in his throat. "So're you," Starsky finally said, faintly. Even if he hadn't acted like it, it didn't affect what he felt. Only, maybe, what Hutch felt about him.
But the blond seemed too exhausted, or unwilling, to hear it, his eyes closing again as he marshalled strength.
Starsky pulled himself together. Yeah, well, all right, he hadn't expected absolution. "Hang on a minute, okay? I'm gonna call it in."
Hutch nodded tiredly as he rested back against the wall. Starsky patted him helplessly once on the leg, then rushed off to his radio, feeling twice his thirty years.
They took Hutch away while Starsky wasn't even there, instead walking through the crime scene with a pair of IA men. There were some raised eyebrows at the revelation that he'd known McCullough, but for God-only-knew-what reason, Hutch had claimed his injury was an accident, so they left Starsky otherwise alone. Hutch, as the one who'd fired the fatal shot, would be the one they would grill thoroughly and put on suspension until a decision was made. Starsky knew his relationship with Pete would make things even harder on his partner in the investigation, but that was just one more thing he was to blame for and that he somehow would have to try to make up to Hutch. If that was possible.
Hutch swallowed a lot from people, even forgave them, but it was almost impossible for him to forget personal betrayals. Starsky had wondered several times what had happened in his friend's past to make him that easy to hurt, then finally decided Hutch would tell him in time if he wanted to. But Starsky had seen firsthand his future partner's self-protectiveness when one of their fellow cadets at the Academy, a pal of Hutch's, cheated once on an exam by copying off Hutch's work. Both Hutch and the kid, Geld, had been called up on the carpet for grilling before lack of proof had cleared Hutch and earned Geld a reprimand. He hadn't been a bad kid, really, just struggling, but Hutch never treated him the same after that. He was cordial when they met, even pleasant, but the cadet had been locked out of the blond's good graces permanently.
Starsky wasn't sure he could stand that. Hutch had seemed okay with him before, but he'd been out of his head with pain and it could have easily been just his sympathy for Starsky's loss. If that was all that was left between them . . . Starsky would go to the captain and ask for a transfer before he'd ride with an alienated partner to whom he was just another fellow cop. Partners were supposed to be more than that. He'd learned that from Hutch.
They told him the ambulance had taken his partner to the hospital, and he didn't inquire beyond that. If Hutch hadn't asked for him, he didn't want to know it.
It was after two a.m. before they let him go. Starsky made it as far as his car, then just sat in the driver's seat, the keys loose in his hand, too tired to figure out what to do next. Pete weighed heavily on his mind; there would be a funeral, of course, at which he probably wouldn't be welcome, and Pete's family would have to be told. Mrs. McCullough had always been so nice to him, but Starsky had heard somewhere that she'd died a year or two back. He hoped it was without the knowledge of what her son had become. At least she wouldn't find out this way.
And then there was Hutch—they didn't keep you overnight for a dislocated shoulder, did they? But it wasn't as though he could drive himself home. A quick glance around confirmed the presence of the LTD almost out of sight down the block.
Without thinking about it, Starsky got out of his car and locked it up, then dug out the key to his partner's car that he kept in his wallet. The least he could do was get the blond's car back to him, and no one would mess with his own old Datsun overnight, even in that neighborhood. He'd almost saved up for a new car, anyway.
The drive to the hospital was quick with middle-of-the-night traffic, the walk inside much longer. Starsky had no idea of his welcome, and the thought of his partner's pity made him almost as ill as the thought of his censure. Not that it mattered. Hutch had been the one injured—by you, his mind ruthlessly added—and the one who'd had to kill Pete. What he needed was the only important thing now. The numbness of Pete's betrayal and death bearably dulled the unforgiveable guilt of what Starsky had done to his partner, anyway.
Starsky pushed open the door to the emergency area, then stopped in surprise at the sight of his partner, in a real sling now, dozing uncomfortably in a waiting room chair across the way. He stepped forward uncertainly.
"Hutch?" Starsky crouched down before the sleeper and reached forward automatically to right the lean body that had sagged to one side. "Hutch? Hey."
This time Hutch woke almost at once, his better color and immediate smile relaxing Starsky's immediate worry. He yawned. "Fell asleep—'s these drugs."
"What're you doin' out here?" Starsky asked gently, adjusting the jacket—Starsky's jacket—that had half slid off his shoulders.
"Waiting for you. They done with you yet?"
Starsky was sure he looked as puzzled as he felt, but Hutch was too drowsy to be noticing much of anything. "IA? Yeah, for now. They're gonna talk to you in the morning."
Starsky frowned, now completely confused. Fine—that was it? "Uh, what about you, you through here?"
For answer, Hutch shoved some crumpled slips of paper into his hand—a prescription and a list of instructions, Starsky found as he smoothed them out—and then struggled to his feet, accepting without reaction Starsky's help as he weaved.
"Whoa. What'd they give ya?"
"I dunno, but my shoulder doesn't hurt anymore. Can we go home now?"
"Sure." He wound an arm around his partner's waist and they slowly and slightly unsteadily set off down the hall.
"I'm sorry about Pete," Hutch said out of the blue, his voice less drunken as the movement cleared his head.
Starsky swallowed. "It's not your fault. If anyone's to blame, it's me for gettin' you into this."
"As I recall, you were tryin' to keep me out." Was that humor in his voice?
They turned a corner at snail's pace, but still Hutch leaned against him for a moment, dizzy. "Just a little farther, partner," Starsky coaxed.
The blond head rubbed against his curls in a nod.
They started moving again. "That was my fault, too," Starsky returned to the earlier train of conversation. "I shouldn't've tried to keep you out."
"Yeah." The word was drawn out into a sigh. "I'm still mad at you for that."
"You should be."
"Not how we work."
"I know," Starsky said quietly.
Hutch blurred a little during the rest of the trip down to the car, eyes half shut, only groaning as Starsky eased him into the LTD and buckled him in.
He thought the blond was asleep, his head awkwardly propped against the passenger side door, when Hutch's sleepy voice startled him. "'S my car."
"Yeah, I brought it with me."
"Oh." A long pause, obviously time needed to process that. "Thanks."
Another pause long enough that he again thought Hutch had gone to sleep. Then, so softly that he could barely hear, "I'm sorry about Pete."
Starsky's fingers clenched the steering wheel. "Go to sleep, Hutch."
Hutch never did listen to him; his partner shifted a little more upright, opening his eyes to look at Starsky. "I didn't have a choice, Starsk."
He frowned, not sure he'd heard right. Starsky divided his gaze between his passenger and the street, but his partner had his full attention. "What, about shooting him? You saved my life, dummy."
A tired sigh. "He was your friend."
"Would you stop saying that!" Starsky burst out.
Uncomfortable silence fell. No doubt if there were any more ways to kick his downed partner, he'd find them before the night was through.
They reached the cottage and he turned off the car, but neither of them made a move to get out.
"Hutch . . ." The events of the night had worn away all of Starsky's fortifications, his voice rough. "I'm sorry, about everything. I'm sorry I didn't let you in on it, I'm sorry you had to kill Pete, and I'm sorry as anything that I hurt you. I never . . ." God, what could he say? "Look, if you want a different partner—"
Hutch's head snapped around, nothing sluggish now about his eyes as he stared at Starsky. "Is that what you want?"
"No," Starsky said miserably. That was the one thing he never wanted and yet truly deserved.
And then Hutch did the last thing he expected. Fumbling to unbuckle his seatbelt with one hand, Starsky was sure his partner was leaving, but instead Hutch slid a little closer to him and with his good arm circled Starsky's shoulder and reeled him in.
He was being forgiven. No, more than that, he was being comforted. Starsky would have laughed in disbelief if he hadn't been sure he'd end up crying instead. It didn't make sense . . . but then, a lot about his partner didn't make sense to him. What mattered was that Starsky hadn't lost him. And burying his face in the denim of his partner's jacket, everything else suddenly seemed manageable, the unsettled ground under his feet slowing, then stopping. It was a little strange, being held like that. But not strange enough that he wanted to move.
Pete was gone, but in some ways he'd never even been there, not like this. This was what lasted, even through blind stupidity and carelessness, because this went far deeper. And this feeling of acceptance and belonging he could trust completely. Starsky sighed deeply, his fear and tension all leaving in that one long breath.
"Better?" came the soft query from above.
He nodded, the denim rubbing against his cheek.
"I'm still mad at you for shutting me out, you know, and you're gonna have to do the cooking and cleaning around here 'til I get my arm back in shape," Hutch continued mildly, not sounding very upset by it.
Starsky chuckled, easing back to grin at his partner. "I'm not cookin' that stuff you call food."
Hutch's eyes were rimmed with fatigue and lingering pain, but they were unreservedly warm as they watched him. "I'll never get better on that junk you eat. I'm surprised your stomach hasn't fallen out yet." He was slowly shifting back toward his door, and Starsky jumped out to hurry around and help him out. "You staying?" the blond added, glancing at him sideways as they made their way up to the door.
Hutch's lumpy couch had never held much appeal, but Starsky nodded without hesitation. "Oh, yeah," he breathed, promising much more than just help for that night. And as they made their way to the house, a squeeze of the hand draped over his shoulder told him the feeling was mutual.
But then, Starsky already knew that.
Written in 1999