This story first appeared in the zine, Of Dreams & Schemes #16 (2001). This zine is still available at the Dreams & Schemes website: http://members.aol.com/wwwfan/ or http://members.aol.com/wwwfan/dreams.html< /a>. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
She was perfect. He'd known it the moment he'd first seen her, and it had been sweet agony to stalk her until the right moment. That she was female was a plus--there weren't that many female cops on the street--but really that she was a cop was all that mattered. And that she was now his to do with as he pleased.
Her eyes were covered, blindfolded like all the others had been, partly because he didn't want to risk identification and partly because the eyes made him uncomfortable. But the rest of her body expressed her terror exquisitely well in itself. She wasn't gagged yet--that would come when the screaming began in earnest and he had to be careful of being overheard--and he loved every whimper and plea. The body was stripped and tied down spread-eagled, and he enjoyed its terrified and humiliated writhing. And when he'd had a chance to do to it all the things he'd been dreaming about...the thought itself was already a turn-on.
Licking his lips in hungry anticipation, he reached for his first tool.
Another one. The word spread around the station faster than seemed possible for human speech. And not just another one, but a female cop this time, and one from the Ninth. Cops had few friends outside the brotherhood of blue, few who could understand, let alone empathize with what they did each day. It made them all the closer to each other, and when one of their own was attacked, suddenly it became personal.
"It's yours," Dobey said soberly, throwing the file down on his desk before suddenly rising and beginning to pace behind his desk. "The Sixth and Fifteenth already have detectives working on the two cases in their districts. You'll work together with them."
Across from the captain's desk, Starsky traded a glance with his partner before reaching for the file. He flipped it open before he could think too much about the contents, tilting it so Hutch could see it as well.
Officer Jennifer Bernoll, a meter maid not quite two years out of the Academy. Blond and blue, 5'6", pretty without being striking. High marks for self-defense training, yet she'd been snatched in bright daylight without anyone noticing. And then...
Starsky turned the page, swallowing as he did, hearing his partner's shudder of breath next to him. The list of injuries would have nauseated him even without the photos: severe beating, burn marks, signs of sodomy and partial asphyxia. It had been a miracle she'd survived, and even that only for the grace of a homeless man who had stumbled onto the crime scene where she'd been left for discovery, dead or alive. The humiliating posing of the body was already a clear taunt, but the fact that she'd been a cop was an outright declaration of war.
And she was the third.
PO2 Brice Caulfield from the Sixth had been the first only three weeks before, worked over with a variety of instruments and left bound in a degrading position to be found, also accidentally, by a construction foreman. He was still out on disability leave. Detective Samuel "Sandy" Marino from the Fifteenth had been less fortunate. The cuts the young robbery detective had sustained on top of the beating had been too severe for him to survive the night. An anonymous call the next day had led his colleagues to the body, also posed. Moving seemingly randomly from precinct to precinct, someone was hunting the LAPD.
"How's she doing?" Hutch asked their boss quietly.
Dobey shook his head. "As of this morning, she's serious but stable, whatever that means." He waved a hand, almost talking to himself. "You never think it'll happen in your own backyard..."
Starsky straightened in his chair, shutting the file. "We'll find him, Cap'n. Guy like this--he's already gettin' cocky. He's gonna make a mistake."
The captain focused a stare on him. "And how many more lives will he ruin before then, Starsky? That's not good enough--we have to stop him *before* he has a chance to make any mistakes." He raised a finger to point at them both, including Hutch in his severe look now. "And listen, you two, he doesn't seem to care whether the officer's wearing blue or not. I want you to be careful out there."
Starsky gave him a small smile, equal parts amused and touched by their boss's concern. "Yessir. That all, Cap'n?"
"For now. Keep me posted."
Starsky wasn't smiling anymore as he rose, catching his partner's eyes as he did. Hutch's blazed with as much anger and disgust as burned in Starsky's belly, along with the edge of empathy that sometimes threatened to get him into trouble, feeling more than was good for him. Starsky would have to watch his partner on this one, he made a mental note.
They came out into the squadroom, settling into their chairs opposite each other, Starsky already sorting the contents of the file in half. If they were to meet with the other precinct detectives soon, they had a lot of homework to do first.
"What do you think about this guy going after cops?" Hutch asked as he straightened his own portion of the pile, already thumbing through it as he kept an eye on Starsky.
Starsky shrugged. "Revenge? Maybe he was mad at 'em for something?"
"You think they all crossed paths with him before? Even Bernoll?"
"Maybe she gave him a parking ticket, who knows? Grabbin' them in broad daylight, looks like he planned the jobs. It would explain why he moved around so much."
Hutch made a face. "That would also make sense with why he crossed genders in choosing victims. I'll work on it. Maybe there's a pattern with the three victims."
Starsky was studying his partner, the tight lines of his face. The attacks had everyone with a badge feeling pretty edgy and vulnerable, and Hutch had a tendency to feel in triplicate, but even the routine conversation between them felt strained. Starsky suddenly tilted his head as an idea struck. "Hey, didn't you ask Bernoll out once?"
Hutch half-shrugged, eyes on the paperwork. "She turned me down. Said I reminded her too much of her brother." He gave Starsky an ironic grin. "I didn't even realize 'til she said it that she reminded me of Chris some, too."
His sister and romantic interest--double baggage, Starsky winced. Definitely something to keep an eye on. He leveled a solemn look at the blond. "We're gonna catch this turkey, Hutch, lock him up where he can't hurt anybody else."
Caught up in the tone of avowal, Hutch simply nodded his own determination, and then they turned back to their respective work. They had a monster to find.
The need seemed to come more quickly and urgently each time. Luckily, there was no scarcity of potentials, even if it took time to find the right one at the right moment. He'd already made his next choice; now he just had to wait. His prey didn't even know he was being stalked, and that made the anticipation all the more exciting. They all were worried, though--his officer "friends" at the bar had told him as much. The thought of the fear he'd incited increased the pleasure and stimulation, too. It would be enough to keep him going until he could do what he planned. And, oh, he had some wonderful new plans for this one...
The meet with the other detectives had provided far less help than they'd hoped: no prints or other clues found at the scene, no witnesses to the abductions. The victims had all presumably been moved by the suspect in his car, but there was no information on the car, either. No discernible motive, no patterns, and no descriptions from the surviving, blindfolded, victims. In other words, nothing to go on. And the days were slipping by.
"You get the feeling we're chasin' a ghost?" Starsky blew out a frustrated breath as he flopped into the driver's seat and slammed the car door after himself.
Hutch moved with more restraint but no less frustration. He sat in thought a minute, staring vaguely at the windshield as Starsky studied the steering wheel. "Maybe we're going at it the wrong way," he finally said, turning to his partner.
"What way?" Starsky muttered, starting the engine. "If we keep talkin' to the victims' families, something's gotta turn up."
"Unless he really is picking his victims at random. Maybe he's just out to get any cop he can."
Starsky hesitated before pulling out into the traffic. "Okay, why?"
"I don't know, ego? Maybe he's just showing he can get to anyone? That jives with the posing. Or maybe he just hates cops."
Starsky's eyebrow rose. "Hutch, half the city hates cops."
Hutch winced. "Yeah, well, I know it's a long shot, but half the city doesn't want to actually kill us."
"Oh, yeah?" Starsky merged with the traffic, heading back to Parker. He had to admit, though, however unpleasant the thought was, it was better than the fruitless interviews they and the other two detectives had been conducting for the last two days, all the slight tendrils of leads they'd been following one by one. And Hutch had come up with some pretty dead-on ideas before.
"What's the matter with you?" Hutch suddenly asked. He was watching Starsky now, frowning in that way he did when he'd picked up something off in his partner.
Starsky shook his head, knowing better than to try to lie. "I just got a bad feeling about this one. I think we'd better watch our backs 'til we stop this creep, huh?"
Hutch's face hadn't cleared but he wasn't arguing. They'd learned long ago to trust each other's instincts, even the seemingly strange ones. "Okay," was all he finally said, turning to face forward and leaning back in his seat. But the same tension stayed in the lines of his body that Starsky felt tightening his own. Even if they caught the monster before he claimed any more victims, it wouldn't be soon enough for Starsky.
But he had a really ugly feeling there would be more before it was all over.
He was desperate. His prey had been busy and the right moment wasn't forthcoming. If it didn't work that night, he'd have to find someone else, anyone who could be his. He needed it. He deserved it. And they owed him.
"So what have you got?" Dobey sat down again with the tiny cup of water in his hand, drained in a short sip. He tossed the crumpled cup absently aside.
Starsky followed its trajectory to the trash can before pulling his gaze back to his boss. He swallowed a sigh. "Not a whole lot, Cap'n. The usual--nobody heard or saw a thing. Victims' descriptions give us a white male, approximately 25 to 35. That's all we've got to go on."
"Beautiful, that only leaves thousands of people in the city," Dobey drawled sarcastically. "What about the other detectives you're working with?"
"We've been checking in with them, sir, but they're as licked as we are," Hutch spoke up. "None of the victims seem related, and we haven't got any on-scene clues to go on. The guy even takes his toys with him when he goes. Looks like he knows what he's doing."
"Hutch's got an idea we're workin' on, though, Cap'n," Starsky added with a glance at his partner. "We figure this guy's a cop-hater so we're checkin' arrests, families of suspects killed by an officer, somebody like that."
Dobey looked engaged by the thought. "Any luck yet?"
Starsky deflated, frustrated by the answer. From next to him, Hutch said mutedly, "Not yet, Cap'n."
Maybe Dobey had noticed their fatigue, or maybe he had just used his anger up already on their unknown suspect, but he suddenly softened. "You two have been going at this all day. Go on home and get some sleep." He waved his dismissal.
Tired didn't begin to cover it, though sleep was elusive when the case wasn't one you could leave at the office. Criminals didn't take time out when cops did. Starsky pulled himself up out of the chair before tapping his distracted partner on the shoulder. "You comin'?"
"Hmm? Oh." Hutch rose to follow him, and Starsky hid a grin as the blond nearly bumped into him while closing the door, amusement that turned to sympathy when he took a good look at the bloodshot blue eyes.
"Hey, why don't ya get some sleep like Dobey said? Don't wanna have to carry you out there tomorrow."
That provoked the indignant look he'd intended. "Carry me?" Hutch repeated incredulously. "Listen, turkey, the day you have to carry me is the day I turn in my badge."
"That's so. I think you're forgetting who the brains of this partnership is, Starsky."
"Yeah? Who's the one puttin' on my jacket, brain?" Starsky mildly countered.
Hutch looked down at the garment he had half on, cheeks going a pleasant shade of red as he began to sputter.
Definitely a long day. Starsky smiled softly as he accepted the jacket, affectionate instead of teasing now. "See ya tomorrow, partner."
"Night," Hutch muttered, striding toward the squadroom door. Suddenly he stopped and turned. "You watch your back, too," he said seriously.
Starsky nodded. He watched the blond figure disappear down the hall before shrugging into his own jacket and wearily heading for home.
Finally, he had his chance. It was time.
His partner's chair sat empty when Starsky arrived, bag of donuts clutched in one hand. He was already looking forward to tormenting his partner with them, before revealing that he also had two of those whole-wheat muffins Hutch loved at the bottom of the bag. They'd probably be smeared with chocolate and jam from Starsky's goodies, but the sweets would do Hutch good. Starsky could hardly wait for his partner to get in.
Ten minutes later, the chair still sat empty and Starsky shrugged and settled into work.
Ten minutes after that, and the chair was even emptier than before. Starsky stared at it as one phone call after another to his partner's apartment went unanswered.
Ten minutes more, and he left the empty chair behind to go talk to Dobey.
Ten minutes later, there were two empty chairs and a wildly swinging squadroom door in a frantic Starsky's wake.
There was no way. There were tens of thousands of police officers in the LAPD. The chances of Hutch being the next victim...of a second victim disappearing from the same precinct... It was far likelier that the LTD had broken down somewhere en route to Parker, or that Hutch had overslept, or even that he'd slipped and cracked that hard head of his on the kitchen table, than that he'd been the cop-hunter's next victim. And yet the agitated premonition that was turning Starsky's insides said otherwise.
The mars light helped get him to Hutch's house in impressive time, and the sight of the battered Ford in front of his partner's building flared equal parts hope and fear in Starsky. The car being there meant he'd made it home the night before, that maybe he was only tied up with something inside the building. Or that he'd left Venice another way.
There was still a good chance that there was a logical, innocent explanation to it all, of course. A hundred things could have distracted Hutch before he set out to work: a long jog, a neighbor, a close-by call for help. Every precinct was jumping whenever an officer didn't show up for his or her shift on time. It could have been anything.
A minute later, Starsky was at the top of the stairs, staring at that morning's paper still lying on the doorstep. Checking out the apartment after that was sheer habit, but he knew he wouldn't find anyone.
Cops weren't supposed to panic. They'd been trained to deal with emergencies calmly and rationally; sometimes they were the only ones steady enough to settle things down or take needed action. And Starsky found himself going to the phone with extreme self-possession to call Dobey and get the ball rolling on the missing officer report.
But inside, fear was chewing his guts to shreds and only one thought circulated in his mind with any real meaning. Oh, God, he's got Hutch...
He'd traded the necessary cuffs and gun for the so much more appealing rope and set of tools. Guns weren't very fulfilling; he wanted to feel their fear and agony. His complete domination. That was what made it so wonderful.
But first, it always worked so much better when he shared his plans with his catch. Not too much, for surprise held its own pleasure, but enough that he could feed off its anticipation almost as much as his own. The blond head was still held high, defiant, silent, but that only made him smile. He'd change that. He was in control, and proving it would be delectable.
In a barely restrained voice, he began to detail his plans as he reached for the first tool.
There was nothing there in all the records, nothing that hadn't been there before. No clue to tell him where to look for Hutch now when he needed it so badly.
Starsky sucked in a sigh, as well as the extreme desire to hit something, hard. It wouldn't help, of course, he knew that, but the frustration would tear him up if he didn't do something. Starsky shoved the file across the table and shot to his feet, pacing along the row of desks.
"You got something?" One of the visiting detectives from the Fifteenth--Shackell? Shakett?--looked up at him from Starsky's own desk. Most of Dobey's Special Units Division was on the case now as well as the guest detectives, now that Hutch was missing, and the men from the three districts had quickly become a unified, determined team.
Starsky just shook his head, jaw set. Thirty-six hours since he'd last seen his partner, and of that Hutch had been missing at least twenty-four. Which left an awful lot of time for a sadist to play his games.
Stalking around the room wouldn't help Hutch a whole lot, though, even if it made Starsky feel a tiny bit less like he was about to crack. He sat stiffly down in the chair once more, reaching for the abandoned file with one hand while the other curled into a white fist on the shiny desktop. Hutch's desk. Starsky hadn't been able to bring himself to loan it out to one of their guests, so had finally borrowed it himself and shared his own. It didn't help a whole lot. Flinching, Starsky opened the file in front of him, reading without comprehension.
None of the victims had disappeared for longer than forty-eight hours. The one that hadn't been found accidentally the next day had been called in anonymously after two days. There was even speculation that the monster was the one who'd called, unwilling to let his handiwork go unappreciated, and Starsky silently hoped that, sick as it was, that would happen again. It was possibly Hutch's only chance. Even if the one victim who had gone that long had died of his injuries before rescue...
Starsky's groan was silent but no less deep.
If only there was a key, some clue. Some method to the cop-hunter's madness. If not victim, then motive, geography, something. The randomness was almost as revolting as the acts themselves. Starsky wearily reached for a pad of paper. Maybe if he mapped it out--
Dobey's door swung open suddenly and every head in the squadroom lifted. But Dobey was staring straight at him, expression closed.
"Starsky, they just got a call at the front desk. Anonymous tip. Sounds like it's about Hutch."
There was a moment's paralysis of confusion as too many thoughts and emotions hit at once. And then Starsky was gone.
He didn't even remember grabbing the slip of paper or dashing down to his car or the lights-and-siren drive. Rationality only prevailed enough to keep him from totaling the Torino, and to remember to call for an ambulance to meet him at the scene, the dispatcher promising one a few minutes after his ETA. He didn't call for back-up. Dobey would probably do that, anyway, but if the guy was there, Starsky wanted first crack at him. And if it really was Hutch...he didn't want anyone else there.
The house was like any other in that block, crumbling with decay and disuse, sure to be torn down any day by a city planner or a strong gust of wind, whichever came first. Just like the previous crime scenes. Starsky snatched the blanket out of the back and dashed from the car, leaving the trunk wide open behind him.
The door gave with little effort--he hadn't even tried it to see if it was locked--and Starsky barreled in, his gun tracking for the suspect he knew would already be long gone. And then Starsky saw the figure in the main room just inside, and his quarry became only a minor concern.
It was as bad as anything his imagination had conjured, and a hundred times more wrenching in person. Stripped of clothing, the lean body showed in vivid color the abuse it had received, bruises and blood splotching it like an obscene disease. They trailed up the torso into the shadows cast by the lolling blond head, a black blindfold encircling it. That wasn't the worst of it, though. Suspended by rope from his stretched wrists, the blond barely reached the ground, resting most of his weight on his wrists. The hands above it were already swollen to twice their size and deeply discolored, but even more frightening was the way the constricted ribs struggled to draw in air against that heavy weight. Each hoarse gasp seemed to take more strength than the exhausted man had left. Starsky's relief at seeing that sign of life was quickly replaced at the horror of the cost to his partner.
"Hutch," Starsky whispered, too shocked to say anything else coherent. He was already bolting forward, one hand fumbling in his pocket for his knife.
The faintly blue-tinged skin was chilled and clammy from shock and the cool room, not helped by the slick of sweat from the effort to breathe. There wasn't even time for Starsky to be delicate. Speechless with terror and rage, he sawed at the nearest binding. The body next to him swayed, rigid with effort but helpless to brace itself, but Starsky couldn't afford to take it easy. Not with Hutch's each attempt at air twisting his body in losing battle.
The rope gave way. Starsky instantly shot out his arm to catch his partner, as Hutch swung free, keeping a determined grip as he attacked the other rope. The new angle provided him a view of fresh insult; welts crossed Hutch's back at all angles. Starsky gritted his teeth against the sting of furious tears. He transferred the wrath to his work instead. The blond was too heavy for him to lift one-handed to ease some of the weight, but he worked as urgently as he could.
"Easy, Hutch...almost gotcha free..."
The second rope snapped, and Hutch pitched fully into his arms, as limp as a discarded piece of clothing.
Starsky was ready, lowering his partner with as much gentleness as his captivity had been brutal, curling under him to keep him from resting on the chilly floor. "God...Hutch..." His tongue was finding its own way, for Starsky had long lost any conception of language to cover this. Nor did Hutch seem conscious at any but the most reactive level, too long in his hell to be aware of anything else.
Starsky pulled the blindfold loose, unsurprised to reveal eyes clamped shut. They winced tighter as another tremor of cold brought new pain, and Starsky immediately reached for the blanket, tucking it with hurried care around the body he held. Hutch's arms, cramped and locked into position from their long strain, refused to bend. Starsky started there, massaging them hard to relieve some of the rigor, until he could slowly lower first one, then the other, re-wrapping the blanket carefully around them.
It had taken a minute for Hutch's body to realize the ease of strain, but he was finally beginning to breathe easier, his chest no longer straining for each breath. The lips, taut with anguish, softened with each draw of air. Starsky pulled his partner up a little straighter, using his shoulder to support the trembling body. Surely the ambulance was on its way... He fought the helplessness and Hutch's suffering, the current enemies.
Without the immediate struggle for air, Hutch was becoming more aware and other injuries were asserting themselves. He groaned, a tired, strengthless sound, twisting slightly as if to escape the onslaught of pain.
Starsky suddenly found himself talking. "Easy...you're free now, partner, free and safe." He went to work on the ropes that still cut into Hutch's wrists. "It's gonna be over soon, Hutch. You'll be warmer by the time the ambulance comes, then they'll take you in and fix ya up. Didn't I tell you to watch your back?"
The last came out a little too despairingly. Starsky swallowed, voice sliding into a softer register.
"Listen to me, buddy, everything's gonna be okay. I know it doesn't feel like it right now but it will, I promise." The bloody ropes were both off, and he began to chafe the distended hands, remembering all too well the tortuous feeling when Hutch had done the same for him once, after freeing him from Simon Marcus's men.
Hutch groaned again, stirring against his shoulder in useless protest.
"Easy, boy. That's right, Hutch, come back. Open your eyes for me," Starsky coaxed urgently. He felt badly to be asking even that much when Hutch was clearly at the end of his strength, but it was important.
The eyelids moved, slowly blinking. The blue eyes were drugged with more than just pain and exhaustion, but after a moment they turned decidedly toward him. Starsky grinned, lightened immeasurably by that achievement.
"That's good, buddy," he said softly, reaching up to give the bruised cheek a gentle pat. "I'll take it from here, you just rest."
His partner's whole body was shaking from over-fatigue and strain and chill, but Starsky could feel Hutch's conscious effort to relax against him. The blond head sagged onto Starsky's shoulder, the drawn face turning inward against the warm skin of Starsky's neck, retreating from everything beyond. Spasming muscles began to ease, and Hutch leaned more heavily on his partner, letting Starsky take the weight he himself could no longer support. And the fight. The shudders changed from physical reaction to emotional, as Hutch gave in to the release he hadn't allowed himself until then.
"Easy, Hutch. I've got ya," Starsky murmured, one arm around his partner to keep him close and warm, the other resting on the damp head. The extremes of despair and relief made his voice rough. "I've got ya."
After a minute, he went back to rubbing his friend's hands, listening to each gasp of breath, until the ambulance arrived to take them both in.
Sated, he began the leisurely search for his next target. So many to choose from...all of them the same, all of them deserving his anger. A city full of means to pleasure. He deserved that much, and their attempts to deny him was typical of their worthlessness. He had a right to punish them for such selfishness. Maybe they had laughed at him once, but who was getting the last laugh now?
Perhaps he'd take another female this time. The cop the night before had been a little too tight-lipped. He liked it when they screamed for mercy, saying whatever he told them to, and the last one hadn't given him that pleasure, had only cried out at the pain. It had made him angry, driven him to do more than he'd expected to...but that was a thrill in itself. Even the memory excited him. Yeah, he'd definitely have to go further on the next one. Then he'd discard it as his newest marker, staking out the territory he was claiming as his own.
He set out again on the hunt.
The doctor had been reassuring; apparently the partial suffocation had been the greatest danger Hutch had faced, along with shock, and alleviating both left him in fair condition. The list of injuries had been horrific but non-lethal: evidence of beating with a blunt instrument, ligature asphyxia, restraint and bite marks, strained shoulders and arms from the suspension, infected welts from the whipping his back had received, signs of drugging and foreign-body oral insertion. The last two bothered Starsky the most; the drug was almost gone from Hutch's system, but the conjecture was that its effect had been to force helpless compliance. And while "foreign body" wasn't sodomy at least, the violation still enraged Starsky. The wounds were dressed, painkillers and antibiotics administered, but otherwise the prescription was simply rest and rehydration, and trying to heal from the unimaginable.
Still, despite the drugs and fatigue, even in heavy sleep, Hutch's face remained grooved with tension, a seemingly permanent line etched in his forehead. The effects of the ordeal, physical and mental, soaked even the unconscious. Not being in intensive care, he was allowed to have a visitor indefinitely and Starsky was taking full advantage of it. At least until he saw some of that troubled look eased from his partner's expression.
The heavy eyes did open occasionally, a murky blue from the painkillers, to stare unseeingly at Starsky for long minutes. As if trying to remember something his mind wanted to forget, he would struggle briefly for coherence and no amount of reassurance seemed to reach him. Finally, Starsky took to stroking the blond hair until Hutch sank back into sleep again. It was the least threatening, most caring gesture he could think of to try to get through what words couldn't.
And it soothed Starsky, too.
He took a deep breath, listening to Hutch do the same with only slight unevenness now, remnants of a stripped-dry throat and aching ribs, but at least it wasn't that terrible fight for life with each inhalation. That was something Starsky couldn't even dwell on now for all the restless rage it stirred up in him again. Most crime scenes involved strangers, which was how cops could stay detached and uninvolved and relatively unscathed. But when it was your best friend...Starsky cringed. Training did nothing for that.
Dobey had looked in on them once, and Starsky suspected the captain was keeping all others at bay, for which he was grateful. Hutch needed the peace, and Starsky needed the time to regroup. And to start thinking passionately about how to catch this monster.
Hutch stirred again, head turning a little against the pillow. Placed on his stomach in deference to his torn back--beating with an electrical cord, the doctor had confided while Starsky struggled not to react--his range of motion and vision was limited. He blinked at Starsky.
"Hey." Starsky leaned forward, fingering the freshly washed hair. "How ya doin'?"
Hutch's gaze moved past him, puzzled, to the white walls, then back again.
"Hospital," Starsky clarified. "You're doin' just fine. Get some more sleep, partner, then I'll take ya home with me."
"Starsk..." Hutch sighed, closing his eyes. Much like the one word Starsky had been able to utter when he'd first walked into that crumbling room and seen his hurting partner. Why was it that when they couldn't say anything else, each other's name was still there to draw on?
But it was beautiful to Starsky's ears. With a small smile, he leaned his chin forward on his hand next to his partner's head and started thinking again about the case.
The choice of victim was almost certainly a dead-end. The only physical trait they seemed to have in common was that they were all white, which was consistent with serial offending patterns. Most only struck within their race, which gave only the not-very-helpful clue that their suspect was white. They also usually stayed in the same gender, too, but apparently this monster drew his satisfaction more from the badge than from the kind of person who wore it. His M.O. stayed the same in his abductions, always from behind at gunpoint, but not in his treatment of his victims, except for the signature elements of sadism, humiliation, and posing, with some escalation with each attack. Again, a typical pattern that didn't tell them much. There had to be something more they weren't catching, though, some clue to the monster's actions, some pattern. Only psychotics attacked completely at random, and even then they usually struck close to home.
Close to home...
The vague idea from before crystallized a little more. Starsky straightened, reaching for the notepad next to the bed, and began to sketch.
The map of LA was lumpy but recognizable, and he began to mark the approximate sites, abduction and crime scenes. The first abduction scene would be the most significant, as initial crimes tended to be close to home, then moved out as the suspect gained confidence. Which would put him... Starsky marked a broad circle. So where did that leave the crime scenes? They seemed totally random compared to the snatch sites, looping through the circle he'd drawn.
Starsky suddenly frowned. Looping? With a little imagination, the four crime scenes did sketch out a section of another circle. Each point even connected chronologically to the one next to it, ending in that decaying house...
His attention strayed back, as it had been wont to do all day, to the sleeping sprawl of butter-blond hair and gangly limbs next to him. And every time, the gratitude and sheer relief made him lightheaded. Resting his right hand against his partner's jaw where the strong carotid beat thumped against his fingers, Starsky went back to his drawing.
Okay, two circles. One was a possible home-base for their monster, the other...what? Something known only to him? But even if they didn't know the significance, maybe they could finish the circle, figure out approximately where the next crime scene would be.
Starsky gave a frustrated sigh. Which only left about fifty square miles to search. Sure, piece o' cake.
So maybe Hutch had the right idea, maybe the key really was the guy himself. Serial killers and signature torturers had histories of bedwetting, animal mutilation, and arson. The first two weren't much help, but the last could be checked, if he'd ever been caught. He would most likely be a sociopath: charming, sexually active, employed, but with some stressor that had set him off, and a consequent increase in alcohol use and odd behavior. All they had to do was take all that and cross-check it with his home-base area and the history of someone who had a reason to hate cops...
That was what it always came back to--why cops? The high-risk targets and the ease with which he'd done the snatches spoke of above-average intelligence. Why would he turn that against cops, of all people?
Starsky dropped the pencil with a grimace. Well, that was the ten million dollar question, wasn't it?
He found her. She was perfect.
Biding his time only made the hunt more exciting, the throb in him more powerful as he waited for his pleasure. It helped to learn a little of his prey's routine, anyway, to learn where the vulnerable spots were. The one before had hardly had any, usually hanging out with another cop, but this one traveled beautifully alone most of the time. She knew he deserved her.
He never got too close, though, not wanting to know his prey too intimately, especially not her name. That wasn't nearly so satisfying, nagging doubts bothering him then, impeding the pleasure. No, it was just a body that he had a right to enjoy. Look at her walking like that. She was practically asking for it.
But weren't all cops, meddling where they weren't wanted and not getting involved when they should...protecting their worthless own...thinking they could ruin his life and not pay? Just like... He shook his head. His mother had deserved so much better. So much better.
Oh, yeah, he'd make them pay.
She disappeared into the police station, and he sank back into the shadows to wait.
The pile of dimes was getting low; sooner or later he'd have to go down to the gift shop again and change more bills. The clerk there flirted with him each time, and Starsky wasn't above taking advantage of that to get around the policy neatly typed and taped on the cash register: No Change.
But for now he only had a few calls left to make and then it was time to go back to his partner, anyway.
No one seemed surprised or bothered when Starsky had set up a makeshift office in his partner's hospital room. Starsky just found he couldn't seem to concentrate anywhere else. Already another table had been commandeered to hold the flood of paper, but the telephone made too much noise and could disturb the patient, so Starsky had taken charge of the pay phone down the hallway to coordinate the search. Hence the run on dimes.
Two days had gone by since he'd found Hutch, and Starsky had no idea if he had anything to show for it. Running all his half-baked theories through the computer had produced a list of possible suspects, and a nominal eye was being kept on them. Another cross of the crime scene zone with areas of abandoned or condemned housing had generated a second list to stake out as soon as the monster struck again, but it would leave the force stretched painfully thin--and Starsky definitely out on a limb. If his ideas turned out wrong and another officer died because of it...
He thunked the receiver down, sweeping the remaining dimes back into his pocket. He had to see Hutch.
The hospital door was well-oiled and silent, but he eased it open anyway, not wanting to disturb the patient's rest. The sight that greeted his eyes immediately calmed all his nerves, and Starsky crept in without taking his eyes off the bed.
Hutch slept more comfortably on his side now, a pillow tucked against his chest both for support and something to hold on to. A little healthy red had appeared in his skin tone again, vying with the grotesque rainbow of his bruises. His hands, nearly their normal size now, were tucked close to his face. The body was healing, the bruises and strain improving each day, but the defensive posture was one of the signs that the spirit wasn't so quick to rebound. In a way, Starsky was grateful his partner slept so much, delaying until he was stronger the need to deal with his trauma.
But he was alive, and Starsky would take his miracles where he could get them. He carefully eased himself down into what had become "his" chair, resisting the immature urge to reach out and touch and have tangible proof of his partner's life. He deliberately picked up instead the list of suspects Dobey had sent over earlier that day.
Even without looking, he knew the moment Hutch dropped out of sleep, as quickly as he still seemed to drop into it.
Starsky set the list aside and grinned. "'Bout time you woke up. You know the nurses are beginnin' to call you 'Sleepin' Beauty'?"
Hutch blinked, forehead wrinkling, but his eyes stared blankly ahead.
Starsky grimaced at the empty look. He leaned forward, gently taking one of the still-stiff hands. "Hutch, you with me?" Starsky had been through the recovery routine before, knew that sometimes it took days of short awakenings before any real coherence or comprehension appeared, and there had been some of that already, but not like this. This was distance by choice. Shutting the world out indefinitely would hurt Hutch, slowing down his recovery. Shutting Starsky out hurt them both.
Hutch took a cautious breath, closing his eyes for a moment. They were focused when he opened them again. "Yeah." His voice was still painfully raw from the near-suffocation.
"Remember where y'are?"
A tired nod, and he closed his eyes again. "Did you catch him yet?"
He could never lie to Hutch. "Not yet. But we're close."
Another nod, this one merely acknowledgement. Hutch wasn't buying it.
"You want some water?" Starsky said after a minute of the silence.
A pause, then, "Yeah."
His throat undoubtedly as rough as his voice, Hutch drank nearly half the glass Starsky offered before dropping his head back to the pillow. Again, silence fell. Starsky still held on to the hand in his own, and Hutch hadn't made any effort to pull loose. Actions often spoke louder than words.
"When'll they let me out of here?" Hutch was looking at him again, but the question and the gaze held little genuine interest.
"Today, they said, if you get some more rest."
"Hard to rest in this place," Hutch groused.
Starsky's mouth twitched. "I know. Won't be much longer, buddy."
Then what, he didn't know.
The hospital door suddenly swung open and a nurse stuck her head in. "Detective Starsky? You're wanted on the phone."
Another officer's report probably; he'd been taking them all day. Starsky nodded tiredly and she disappeared. He turned back to his partner. "Gotta go take a call, partner. I'll be right back."
Hutch didn't answer, only curled more tightly around the pillow.
Starsky silently rose and hurried out to the phone, inwardly cursing their profession, the case, and the monster who'd done this to his partner and was still out running loose.
It was ten minutes later before he returned, shutting the door only to remain slouched against it.
Hutch hadn't moved, still balled up in the bed, eyes tightly shut. But after a moment he softly said, "He grabbed someone else, didn't he?"
Starsky swallowed. "Yeah." Rookie officer Jill Taft from the Eighth, age twenty-four and third generation police in her family. Numb, Starsky crossed to his chair and sat, reaching out after a minute to find Hutch's hand again, and the blond grabbed hold with desperate strength.
Neither of them moved until Hutch finally fell back into restless sleep and Starsky returned to his work one-handed.
Funny, the things you learned hanging out with cops. None of them had any idea that the person they were talking about was the one they were drinking beer with, and that knowledge was another secret thrill. But then he'd learned that the last cop, the blond one, had been one of those detectives who had been looking for him. What power, and he'd not even known it!
Nearly over-excited by the thought, he slid off his seat and said good-bye to his "friends," and returned to where he'd stashed his prize to wait for him in helpless fear. This time he didn't even bother with stealth. The cops were so stupid, they didn't even know it was him, and they'd never figure it out. He'd even had to call them twice to lead them to his discarded handiworks. The feeling of invulnerability was intoxicating. He was so much better at this than they.
This would be good, he salivated at the thought; females had higher pain thresholds, but they were also a lot more expressive. It would be a perfect evening.
"You sure you wanna go back to your place?" Starsky asked, casting his hundredth worried glance at his passenger.
"I'm sure," Hutch answered flatly. He certainly provided plenty of reason for worry. The effort of dressing and getting down to the Torino, even in a wheelchair, had taken its toll, and he looked ready to fade into the leather upholstery of the car. Even sitting sideways in the seat to avoid pressure on his back, facing Starsky, he still was hunched in obvious discomfort. He'd insisted he was ready to go home and Starsky hadn't argued, sharing his partner's distaste for hospitals. Now, though, Starsky wasn't so sure.
"We'll stop for your painkillers on the way," he said quietly.
"I don't need 'em." Then, before Starsky could argue, "Aren't you supposed to be out there looking for him?"
Starsky kept his eyes levelly on the road. "We're already watchin' everybody we can think of, every place we can think of, Hutch," he answered with extreme patience. "I can't--"
"Zebra-3, Zebra-3, meet 16-Mary-7 on TAC-2."
Starsky reached over and switched the radio to the private band. "9-Zebra-3."
"9-Zebra-3, this is 16-Mary-7. I think I may have something."
"Whatcha got, 16-Mary-7?" Starsky asked. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hutch shift in his seat.
"I was making a pass through your lookout area and there's a car here that wasn't here before. Ran the plate--it's one of your possibles."
Starsky's heart began to thud. "Tell me where ya are, then call for back-up."
The motorcycle unit did, signing off a half-minute later to call in. Starsky sped up.
"Where you goin'?" Hutch suddenly asked from next to him.
"I'm gonna drop ya off at home, then go after this turkey."
"No, you're not." Hutch sat up a little straighter. "I'm going with you."
"No, you're not. You just got out of the hospital. You belong at home, not chasin' after some monster."
"Not just some monster," Hutch said softly.
Aw, heck. Starsky gave his partner an exasperated glance, but the look in the blue eyes wasn't one he could argue with. It figured that the first thing Hutch would show any interest in would be something the brunet would have never let him otherwise do.
Starsky's shoulders sagged. With one hard motion, he turned the car sharply north.
Hutch settled back a little again, this time watching the streets on Starsky's side as they passed by, some semblance of his normal behavior returning. Starsky only shook his head and fished out the mars light to slap onto the roof. His partner wanted to get this guy bad, but not as much as Starsky did.
Two blocks from the address, they cut the siren, converging with several black-and-whites and unmarked cars that did the same. They all pulled aside several houses down from where the car was parked.
"Creep probably parked right in front of the building," Starsky thought aloud.
"He did," Hutch quietly agreed. Starsky glanced at him, but Hutch was clearly elsewhere again, his gaze frozen on the house. The brunet shook his head.
"I'm gonna go in. Stay here," he said firmly. No answer. Hutch didn't even seem to hear him.
The uniforms were already piling out of the car, crawling in low to take up strategic positions around the house. He couldn't wait any longer.
"I'll be back soon," Starsky vowed, touching the rigid leg. Then he was lunging out the door, gun already in his hand.
On TV maybe it looked long and complicated. In real life, a take-down usually took some planning ahead of time but only seconds to execute. After a terse discussion, Starsky took his own position and, on signal, they burst in.
It was over almost as soon as it started. Once they were in, Starsky and a half-dozen other officers already had their guns leveled at the man who stood with his back to them. He had scruffy jeans and a t-shirt on, longish black hair, and a hammer in his hand. And beyond him, tied spread-eagled to the floor, a battered and bleeding petite redhead lay motionless, blindfolded. Jill Taft. Starsky swallowed his revulsion at both the deja vu and the hideous scene.
The man didn't even try to rabbit. Within seconds, he was face down on the ground and cuffed. Anger and disgust twisted the face of every officer in the room, but they were professionals, only a minimum of force and orders needed. Starsky wasn't so sure he would have been as restrained had he been alone.
He did allow himself to approach the restrained man, crouching next to him as he filled in the faceless monster in his mind with the not-unpleasant features of the man. And those very inhuman green eyes that regarded him with disinterest. Starsky's fury slowly dissipated, only disgust in its place, much like the inhuman being before him must have felt for his victims.
"Goin' after cops was stupid," Starsky finally said, coldly. "Goin' after my partner was suicide." It had been his territory the cop-hunter had unknowingly violated.
The green eyes didn't even blink, apathetic. Feeling strangely spent, Starsky stood, turning his back to the felon.
It was over just like that.
A sharp intake of breath in front of him jerked his head up. His ashen-faced partner stood unsteadily in the doorway, staring at the scene inside the room.
"Hutch, what the..." Starsky sputtered as he was already holstering his gun and heading for his friend. "Didn't I tell you to stay in the car?"
Hutch was shaking, he realized, about ready to collapse where he stood. Starsky shelved the lecture for a moment and gently looped an arm around Hutch's waist, steering the unresisting blond to a nearby crate and setting him down. "Haven't been outta bed for more than an hour and you're walkin' into crime scenes!" he scolded, but it was empty bluster. Hutch couldn't seem to stop shivering, and Starsky quickly crouched before him in concern, rubbing his arms as vigorously as he dared around still-healing injuries. "Hutch?"
But Hutch wasn't paying any attention to him, staring at the bound woman. Even as Starsky turned back to see what was happening, two officers urgently began to untie her while a third covered her with a blanket. Already there was the sound of an ambulance in the distance.
As for the monster... Starsky gestured to the nearest uniform. "Take him out the back, huh?"
"Sure, Sergeant." They were out of their precinct, guests of their neighboring Eighth, but brotherhood transcended districts. A minute later, the creep was gone and paramedics were already attending to the attacked officer.
"Was he hurt, too?" The voice next to them almost made Starsky jump, but he shook his head at the paramedic who'd come up on his other side and was now watching Hutch with concern.
"Uh-uh, he's just a little shook up." He hoped. The paramedic nodded and left, and Starsky turned back to his partner. Frowning at the continued tremors, he pulled off his jacket and bundled it around the blond's shoulders. "Hutch? It's all over now, partner. Let's go home, huh?"
Hutch shook his head jerkily. He licked his lips and said hoarsely, "I want t'go to the hospital."
Starsky frowned. "You all right? You need to see a doctor?"
Another violent shake of the head. Hutch still hadn't taken his eyes off the knot of people around the victim. "Want to...make sure she's okay."
Starsky softened. "We can have them call us when they know. Could be hours, buddy--"
"I want to go to the hospital. It's important, Starsky." Hutch finally tore his gaze away to look at his partner.
The dazed look was definitely not reassuring, but Starsky could at least somewhat understand. There was a bond between those who had suffered a similar ordeal, not to mention a sense of closure in the fate of this last victim. Reluctantly, he found himself nodding.
"Okay. But just until we find out." He hated this. Hutch's skin was freezing, almost as if he were on the edge of shock, and he was nearly as white as when he'd first been rescued. Reaction, catharsis, whatever, he couldn't seem to stop trembling so hard that his teeth rattled. Not promising.
And yet Starsky found himself carefully shepherding his shaken partner out after the stretcher, glancing back once as he did at the now-empty room, only a little blood staining the floor in reminder of what had happened there. It had been a high cost, but they'd done it, caught the monster. Now it was time to start rebuilding.
Drawing his arm tighter around Hutch to keep him warm, Starsky turned his back to the scene and headed toward the car.
They had caught him. Fine. It didn't matter. They couldn't take the memories he still had to live off of. That would be enough until he was free and could hunt again.
He smiled at the blank wall of the interrogation room. They thought they'd won. One had even mocked him, but he'd gotten what he'd wanted, exacted his price, and what did they get? Nothing. Who was the one who had really been successful?
The rest was as unimportant as the empty lives he'd dominated.
Contentedly, he sat back to wait for whatever came next.
Starsky had never been in that hospital before, several miles outside their precinct, but it didn't matter much. The small, partitioned waiting rooms painted in bland colors were pretty universal, as was the crowd of cops waiting to hear about a colleague.
What Starsky was far more concerned about was the bowed figure who walked back and forth along one end of the small room. Just watching him was making Starsky tired, and he wasn't the one who was still very much mending.
"Hutch," he finally said quietly, for his partner's ears alone. "You're not strong enough to pace yet. Sit down." He patted the couch next to him once.
Hutch glanced at him distractedly, face so awash with fatigue that Starsky was momentarily impressed he was even standing. Only adrenalin and worry was keeping his drained body going.
Starsky rose from the short couch, gently but firmly taking the blond's arm. "You can wait for the doctor sittin' down," he said.
Hutch gave him an annoyed look that made Starsky grin, but the blond reluctantly sat down next to his partner. For several seconds, anyway, before shifting to the edge of the seat in frustration.
"I can't sit like that, Starsky--it hurts my back."
Oh. Starsky blinked, then pulled off his holster, tucking it safely under his end of the couch. "C'mere, blondie," he said softly.
Hutch eyed him uncertainly.
Starsky leaned forward, less then twelve inches now between them. "You're out on your feet, Hutch," he said soberly, not bothering to hide his concern. "If we're gonna stay, you need to rest a little."
"I need to know if she's okay," Hutch whispered.
"I know. I'll tell ya if we get any news."
Indecision, traces of fear, then embarrassment flickered through Hutch's eyes. Even among fellow cops there was a strong pressure not to show weakness, and Hutch was a proud man. But there were no boundaries between them anymore, and that trust in his partner, along with utter depletion, finally prevailed. Wearily, he moved closer and leaned against Starsky, tentativeness soon overcome by exhaustion as he slumped against Starsky's chest. "I'm so tired," he murmured.
"I know, partner. Just relax," Starsky soothed. With his free hand he adjusted his askew jacket over Hutch's back. "Get some sleep."
"Mmm." It was a thanks of sorts, as Hutch shifted to a more comfortable position and went under altogether.
Starsky sat and absently fingered the curling blond hair at nape of the neck, feeling humbly grateful. Things could have gone down so many worse ways, including some he couldn't even bear to think about. But the monster had been trapped before he'd become the serial killer that Starsky was certain he'd been headed toward. Hutch had been badly bruised but not broken, and that he was finally beginning to accept help meant the start of real healing. They'd truly been blessed.
A vaguely familiar voice caught his attention, and he looked up at the uniform standing over him. The one he'd talked to at the scene, Starsky realized, and he nodded. "Yeah?" He indicated the chair next to him.
The officer took it, perching on the edge with his hat in his hand. He sent Hutch only a brief glance but spoke quietly. "We did some digging on the guy. Turns out his stepfather was a cop, with several uninvestigated charges of child and spouse abuse against him. Died a few years back, but some of the guys even recognize the suspect, say he hung out with them at the bar, listening to them talk about the investigation. Even made some suggestions." The older man shook his head. "Classic story. Mom died a few weeks ago, probably set him off."
Starsky nodded agreement. It was textbook, right down to injecting himself into the investigation. A true classic, all right, the making of a serial killer.
Another uniform stepped up to them, and Starsky and the other officer looked up at him.
The ruddy young face broke out in a grin. "We just got word. Jill--Officer Taft--is going to be okay."
It wasn't that hard to grin, albeit tiredly. "Terrific," Starsky said with feeling.
The younger officer left to spread the news, and the older one stood. He nodded at Hutch before looking again at Starsky. "Tell your partner we're all glad he's okay."
"Thanks." Starsky smiled, more softly this time, watching as the older man returned to the group of fellow officers across the room. Despite Hutch's reservations, everyone there knew what he'd gone through and, more so, about partners, and no one had even given the two of them a second look.
Score one more for the good guys, Starsky thought with satisfaction. He was looking forward to telling Hutch about Taft, but the injured detective needed sleep more for the moment. Even the demons were resting now.
With vast contentment, Starsky leaned his head back against the sofa to rest and watch over his partner.
Written in 2000