This story is an amateur publication and does not intend to infringe upon copyrights held by any party. No reproductions without permission. Originally published in the Starsky & Hutch zine Half You, Half Me 1, in 1982. A longtime fan generously donated digital scanning, typing and proofreading for the archive. Enjoy!
"Starsky...Hutch, come here," Captain Harold Dobey called into the squad room from the door of his office.
"Whatcha want, Cap?" Starsky bounced into Dobey's office, picked up a straight-backed chair, spun it around, and straddled it, resting his chin on his forearms. Hutch followed, shutting the door behind him. Both waited expectantly.
Dobey cleared his throat. "That guy you caught running the hot car ring, Ralph Anderson... New York has prior warrants out on him. Four counts armed robbery, one count murder one. Copkiller," he said succinctly. Starsky let out a low whistle and glanced at Hutch. "They want us to escort him home. Since it was your bust, I'm giving you two first dibs."
"What precinct issued the warrants?" Starsky asked eagerly.
"Shit." Starsky's eagerness ebbed perceptibly.
"You know the Forty-first, Starsk?" Hutch asked with a slight smile.
"Let's just say they know me."
Dobey looked at him wryly. "Well, since they know you so well," he tossed three airline tickets onto the desk, "you and Hutch get the baby. I left the return date open, thought you might want to visit your family for a couple of days."
Starsky grinned. "Cap'n, you're all heart. An' a yard wide." To Hutch, "You never have been to my ma's place. I can show you the old neighborhood, and you can meet the rest of the family."
"Un-uh, Starsk. You have a nice visit, and I'll just come straight on home. Or maybe I'll look up some friends."
"Aw, c'mon. Ma'd be disappointed if you were in New York and didn't drop in. Besides, you've only met Nicky one time."
To Dobey, the look on Hutch's face said, "and that was plenty," but all the blond man answered was, "Okay. For a day or so, if you're sure your mother won't mind."
"Mind? It'll be just like coming home."
* * *
The next day, after an uneventful flight, Starsky, Hutch, and their prisoner landed at LaGuardia, where they were met by two uniformed police officers. Starsky temporarily transferred his end of the handcuff to one of the patrolmen, went to claim their luggage, and a short time later all five men were riding through the mid-afternoon city traffic. As the New York cop alternately braked and raced the squad car through the streets, Hutch was reminded where Starsky had learned his mania for fast starts and stops.
Arriving at the Forty-first Precinct stationhouse, the three in the backseat got out and jogged up the stone steps to the entrance. Hutch pushed open the door, allowing Starsky and Anderson to file past, cuffed together. The burly uniformed sergeant behind the desk looked up, grinned. "Ah, Sergeant...Hutchinson, isn't it? Welcome to New York. I see you've brought us two prisoners instead of one."
Before Hutch could respond, Starsky stepped forward and slapped the extradition papers onto the desk. "Cut the crap, Bernie. I'm not in the mood for games."
The older man let out a loud guffaw as he entered Anderson's name in the log book. "Still have that temper, huh, Davy? But we're all happy that you joined the force, even in a scumtown like L.A. Your mother's kept us posted on you." He handed the papers back to Starsky. "Take him to the holding tank. Murphy'll be happy to see you, too."
"Murphy was never happy to see me," Starsky said sourly, but he gave the older man a reluctant smile as he headed for the rear of the room. "C'mon, Hutch. Don' t mind Arnie Bernstein here. He's been the stationhouse clown for more'n thirty years now. Follow me."
As Hutch did so, Bernie called after him, "Yeah, follow your partner, Sergeant. He's pretty well acquainted with the holding tank."
Starsky scowled and pushed open the gate of the wooden railing. Hutch shrugged mentally and steered Anderson down the dimly lit hall deep into' the interior of the old building. The walls were Institutional Grey, marred by gouges and scuff marks where prisoners had resisted the lockup. At the end of the corridor they entered a large room, separated into two unequal halves by a wall of iron bars: the holding tank. Immediately to there left was a scarred wooden desk manned by a ruddy-faced older man. He was short--Hutch supposed he had only just made the required height for the police academy when he had signed up, thirty or forty years ago. His chest had sagged to his belt, and dirty grey wire brushes were suspended over his eyes for eyebrows. A magnificent black moustache below more than made up for the shiny dome above. The man stood as they entered and grinned broadly as his eyes lit on Starsky.
"Sure, and it's Sergeant Starsky, is it now, lad...and glad I am that it is."
"Here you go, Sergeant Mike, he's all yours," Starsky said, handing over the extradition papers. Then he and Hutch unlocked their cuffs from the prisoner's wrists, and stood guard as Sergeant Mike methodically frisked Anderson, removing his tie and suitcoat, and locked him in the cell.
"Things have changed a little since I was here last," Starsky said, looking from side to side. "I thought the desk was on that side of the room."
"That desk's where it's been for twenty years, bolted to the floor. What's changed is yer perspective. This is the first time you've watched me lock up from outside the cell," Murphy chuckled.
"Now Sergeant Mike--" Starsky protested, as Hutch let his amusement show. He'd known Starsky had been in trouble with the law in his younger days, but Starsky's embarrassment and the old policeman's fatherly chaffing were hard to take seriously.
The Irishman made shooing motions. "On with ye, David Starsky, before I forget you're one of us now." The pair retraced their way back to the entrance, claimed their luggage from Sergeant Bernstein, and walked outside.
As they descended the stairs, Hutch could no longer keep quiet. "You know, Starsk, I've always said you can't go home -- but maybe you can."
Starsky replied irritably, "Yeah, well, 'home' is where we're headed now."
As they stepped off the curb, a late model sedan, horn blaring, darted in front of them and stopped abruptly. Nick Starsky stuck his head out the passenger window. "Bernie let Ma know you were in, so she sent me to get you. Throw your bags in the trunk." He tossed the keys to Starsky and ducked back into the driver's seat.
Starsky caught the keys and went to load the luggage, while Hutch climbed into the back seat. "Hi, Nick," he said neutrally.
"Yeah. Hi," Nick answered.
Starsky yanked open the passenger door and jumped into the car, dropping the keys onto Nick's palm. As he slammed the door, his brother swung the car into traffic, cutting off a cab. Hutch grabbed for the front seat back and hung on. "How come you're not at work?" Starsky said.
Nick shrugged. "How else were ya suppose't'get home?"
"I figured we'd take a cab. We're--"
"A cab." Nick laughed derisively. "To our neighborhood--in the summer when it's gettin' late? Alone, you might make it, but the Hawks'd stop 'pretty boy' with the moustache there in a minute." Hutch flushed, but said nothing, merely sitting back in the farthest corner from Nick. It wasn't as if he had expected any better from this particular Starsky.
Meanwhile his partner sat in silence for a few minutes, a troubled look on his face. "I wish Ma would move to a better neighborhood. I don't like her where she is. I mean, I could help her, or she could move out to the West Coast."
Nick shot a suddenly furious look at his brother. "You know she won't move! You spent three days arguing with her the last time you were here. 'This is the house where Poppa lived until he died and that's where I'll stay till I die,'" he mimicked. "So stop trying to change her. Just visit quietly, let her tell you about Uncle Sol and Aunt Sophie, then getcher ass back on that plane for L.A. It'll be six months before I stop hearing about your wonderful visit," he finished spitefully.
"Aw, shit," Starsky muttered, but Hutch knew the mixture of guilt and resentment behind it. Neither brother spoke further the rest of the drive to the South Bronx apartment. Acutely uncomfortable, Hutch watched the streets slide by. As in most big cities, there was the smell of concrete, soot, and gradual decay. The littered alleys and rotting buildings contrasted with his memories of rural Minnesota. He remembered a summer when some kids from the West Side of Chicago had visited his grandfather's farm. He hadn't believed them when they said they'd never seen a tree before. What a dismal place to grow up. Finally, the car jerked to a stop in front of a brownstone, one in a succession of identically decaying brownstones that made up the brick and concrete street.
* * *
Starsky had no sooner gotten out of the car than he was snagged roughly but kindly in a tight embrace by a small, grey-haired lady. Returning the hug, he cried, "Ma! Good to see my favorite girl again!"
She pushed him back, her hands stretched up to his shoulders, and examined him critically. "Let me take a good look at you. So thin, not eating a proper diet!"
"Don't 'now Ma' me, I know how you eat." Starsky let her go as she turned to Hutch, who had finally unfolded himself from the backseat. "Kenneth! How good to see you! Let me hug yet another son."
Starsky grinned as his mother attacked his partner with a hug, and Hutch reciprocated by bowing and dropping a kiss on the older woman's hand. "Afternoon, ma'am. Is your mother t'home?"
"Oh, you flatterer," Mrs. Starsky scolded. Linking her arms through both Starsky's and Hutch's arms and caroling, "I can't believe it. You're both really here!" she led the two men joyfully up the steps, leaving Nicky to deal with the luggage.
Inside the brownstone, his mother showed Starsky and his partner to a first floor apartment. The heavy, dark wood dining room chairs and brocade upholstered furniture in the living room, worn and scarred but well cared for, had been the same ever since Starsky could remember. The sun-bleached curtains at the windows were drawn against the light; a single window was open to catch any stray breeze. Home, thought Starsky, feeling peace overtake him in the dim room.
His mother's chattering broke into his reverie. "Your room is all ready, David, just like you left it. Kenneth can have Nicky's--he can use the sofa while you're here."
"No, Ma, it's okay," he protested. "Give Hutch my room, and I'll use the couch."
"Or I can sleep on the couch," Hutch offered.
"Nonsense! Nicky is here all the time--you and Kenneth are guests. I have to check on supper. Pot roast with potatoes and carrots, your favorite. And wait until you see what I've got for dessert...homemade apple pie and ice cream!" Her voice trailed off as she bustled into the kitchen.
Several thuds resounded on the door and Starsky hurried to open it. Nick stumbled in, laden with all their luggage. "Son of a bitch! What am I, your bellboy?" he snarled.
"I hope not. Then I'd have t'tip ya." Starsky grabbed the two larger suitcases, handing one to Hutch, and led the way down the back hallway to the bedrooms. "That there's Nick's room," he said to Hutch. "Might as well use it--that couch'd be murder on your back. Sorry ya came?"
"Nah. Hot as the devil, though."
"No air conditioner. Get changed and be ready t'meet th' family, schweetheart." With a quick squeeze on Hutch's shoulder, he proceeded down the hall for his own, long-unused bedroom. It was exactly the same, from the days he was fourteen, just before being sent west to live with Uncle Al. Quickly he changed into jeans, t-shirt and Adidas. Hefting his gun and holster in his hand for several seconds, he debated putting it back on. On one hand, Ma would have a fit; on the other, he felt uneasy about leaving it off. New York, especially the Bronx, wasn't known for its friendly inhabitants, and his ID was all the permit he needed. Trusting his gut feelings, he slipped the holster strap on over his shoulder.
* * *
Evidently not wishing to incur his mother's wrath, Nick stayed home that evening, and the four enjoyed a leisurely meal. Hutch listened politely but uncomprehendingly as Anna Starsky poured forth the news of aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews. When she was slowing down, the relatives themselves started arriving in half-hour shifts. After the third or fourth load of well-wishers, Hutch stopped trying to keep the names straight and simply sat at Starsky's side smiling.
Three hours later the smile was a little weary and so was he. Anna was plainly in seventh heaven, even though most of the relatives had gone home and only the most die-hard visitors remained. So for her sake he decided to see the evening out. A yawn ballooned up in him; he tried to suppress it.
But his partner had noticed it, and drew Hutch aside. "Sorry, babe. This can't be a whole lot of fun for you. Wanna hit the sack an' I'll finish up with Ma?"
Hutch shook his head, smiling. "Thanks, Starsk, I'm not really tired. But you know what I would like to do is take a quick run around the block to clear my head. Didn't do my mile this morning."
Starsky looked uneasy. "It's ten o'clock at night. I'll go with you."
"Don't be ridiculous. Your mother hasn't seen you in nearly a year, and you've got company."
"This is the South Bronx, Hutch."
"No worse than Venice."
"I don't care. I'm goin' witcha."
"You're going where with him?" Anna Starsky demanded, having come up behind them.
"Aw, Hutch wants t'go jogging," Starsky explained. "In the middle of the night. I told him it wasn't safe, so I'd go with him."
"Nonsense," Anna said decisively. "Uncle Moe came all the way from New Jersey just to see you. If he really wants to go out, Nicky can go with Kenneth."
"What?!" yelled Nick from across the room. Hutch felt trapped. He needed Nick for a backup like he needed a hole in the head. But he couldn't very well refuse his partner's mother.
"Go on," Anna insisted, pushing Hutch toward the door. "Go have a run. It keeps you healthy. And when you get back we can have a second helping of dessert. Nicky," she called, turning toward the kitchen, "go get your tennis shoes on."
Hutch then caught Starsky's apologetic head tilt. You don't like it much, either, do you? "Don't worry about it. I'll be fine," he said, patting Starsky's arm and heading down the hall to change into his running shorts.
* * *
Hutch set his pace deliberately faster than usual. Nick, he was sure, wasn't used to jogging; moreover, he was a chainsmoker. Gleefully, Hutch pressed the pace a little harder, wanting to be sure Nick had all he could do just to breathe. After that crack in the car today, Hutch did not want any more of the creep's small talk. The sultry city streets were empty, even of car traffic, and at least half of the streetlights had been shattered out of commission.
As he waited at one corner for the traffic light to change, Nick caught up with him, huffing and puffing and sweat dripping off his nose. "Hey... can we...walk awhile?"
"Yeah. If you need to." Hutch smiled to himself, reveling in the evidence of Nick's poor physical shape.
Nick shot him a dirty look as he mopped his brow and gasped for breath. "You're a lunatic, Blondie. It's the middle of July!"
Hutch looked down his nose at him. "Gets hotter in California. Shall we head back now, Superman?" as the light changed.
They crossed the street, walking, but Hutch saw to it that their speed was still too fast for Nick's comfort. They rounded the next corner, and were crossing the mouth of an alley when Hutch stopped. His ears had picked up a familiar sound coming from the darkness. Turning to Nick, he motioned him to follow quietly.
Tiptoeing down the alley a few yards confirmed Hutch's suspicions. In the dim light shed by nearby apartment windows, he saw three young men brutally beating an old man. The man was only semi-conscious, weakly fending off the blows pummeling his head and body. Hutch had no gun, but the punks didn't appear to be carrying any weapons. "C'mon, Nick," he said quietly, and broke into a run toward them.
Behind him, Nick cried out, "Where're you-- Leave 'em alone, asshole! It's none of our business."
Hutch only ran faster. One of the toughs looked up, saw him coming. But Hutch had reached the old man, pulled off the closest attacker, and shoved him roughly against the wall, knocking him out of the way for a few counts. Then he turned to the next mugger. But the element of surprise was gone, and to Hutch's dismay, Nick hadn't followed him in. The remaining two youths hefted bricks and lengths of chain, circling in on Hutch.
Nick's voice floated to him from the street. "You stupid idiot, you're gonna get the crap beat outta ya. Can't you mind your own business--you're not a cop here!"
At the word "cop", the two attackers' attitude changed, as did their weaponry. The shorter one reached into his jacket, pulled out a Saturday Night Special. Hutch felt his stomach go cold, and began to back up toward the alley mouth.
Then the first shot came. Masonry splintered off the bricks near Hutch's face. He dove behind a pile of rubbish, wincing as his shoulder landed on broken glass. Ears straining, he listened for the muggers' next move. Damn that fathead Nick. If the son of a bitch wasn't going to help, he could've at least kept his trap shut. Why the hell didn't I bring my gun?
Hutch raised his head up slowly, trying to see if Nick was gone. It would mean leaving the old guy, but he had a clear path to the street, and he felt relatively sure he could get away and find the Starsky apartment if he didn't have Nick to babysit. His eyes strained to pick out forms from the shadows. Another shot ricocheted wildly off the alley wall and he ducked, but not before seeing Nick crouched behind some garbage near the alley entrance. Damn. Hutch bobbed his head up again quickly to be sure Nick was still okay, and saw Nick gathering himself to rise,
"Stay down, I'm coming out!" Hutch stage whispered at him. But his words were either too soft or too late. Nick's body, as he stood, was perfectly silhouetted by the streetlight at the entrance. A single shot rang out and Nick fell.
You stupid bastard--how can you two even be related? I should let you bleed there. But you're his brother, so that makes me obligated. Hutch eased his way around a half-rotted overstuffed chair. He could still hear the shuffles and whisperings of the punks at the far end of the alley. Looking up at the windows above him, he saw not a single light on. After the first gunshot they had blinked off as automatically as if the shot itself had thrown the switch. Nice city you got here, Starsk. Crawling on his belly, Hutch was almost close enough to reach for Nick's foot when a sudden light from a basement apartment stabbed through the darkness, outlining Hutch like limelight.
"Shit!" he spat as he rolled for the shadows on the opposite side of the alley. Several shots thundered and the world exploded in blinding pain and a prism of colors. He clutched his head, dimly felt warm blood. Unconsciousness met him as he hit the ground.
* * *
The last of the relatives had departed. Starsky and his mother were enjoying their first moments alone together, when Nick stumbled through the door. His breathing was ragged, his face ashen and glistening with sweat. His left hand clutched a blood-soaked handkerchief to his right shoulder. As he swayed, unable to go further, instantly Starsky was there. Kicking a folding chair out of the way, he helped his brother to the couch.
Kneeling by the edge, Starsky pulled off Nick's jacket. "What the hell happened? Where's Hutch?"
Nick looked up with reddened, unfocused eyes. "In the alley behind Simmons Furniture...he was shot in the head...he's dead."
"Saw him... get shot in the head... tryin' t'stop some guys...I couldn't--"
By this time Starsky had the shirt off and had seen that the bullet had passed clear through the shoulder. He exploded. "You left him!" He rocked back on his heels, shoving away from Nick roughly. Nick yelled in pain.
His mother took a step forward, anxiety written on her face. "David, be gentle... he's hurt."
"Yeah, he's hurt, all right. Poor Nicky--you bastard!" Low, cold, deadly, "You ran and left Hutch in that alley. You better be wrong, because if he's really dead I'll beat the living shit outta you."
"David! Such language!"
"Not now, Ma." Starsky barely spared her a glance.
"He was dead, man, an' I didn't want to be there when the cops came. I'm still on probation, remember?"
"I don't give a damn about your fuckin' probation. You left my partner."
"David! He's your brother. We have to take him to the hospital," Mrs. Starsky interjected, trying to get a grip on Starsky's shoulder. He shook her off.
"I don' t give a shit about 'my brother'. You get him to the hospital if you want to. I'm gonna find Hutch. He wouldn't have left Nicky behind."
Starsky grabbed his jacket and stalked out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. He raced down the short flight of stairs to the street, his heart pounding in his chest and his stomach burning as if a fire had been lit inside. Hutch was shot in the head, and Nicky had left him to die. But Hutch wasn't dead yet, Starsky felt almost certain of that. He's too smart to get really hurt, he knows better than t'get shot in the head. As he ran, another thought hit him like a sledgehammer. Terri had been shot in the head. His eyes squeezed shut, but he kept on running.
* * *
Hutch shuddered and stirred. There was a thumping in his head, and his ears roared. As he opened his eyes, his stomach lurched and he came near to vomiting; he lay still for a second and it abated. The roaring in his ears resolved into a dull buzz and a higher-pitched howling. Pawing above his head, he tried to turn off the siren, but all he found was the dirt and debris around him. He reopened his eyes and kept them open, struggling to focus, wiped a shaky hand across his face. It came away sticky. Even in the darkness, he knew it was blood. His blurred gaze fell on a dimly lit pile of rags further up the alley. Painfully, he crawled closer on hands and knees, to find an old man lying in a bloody heap. The ancient face was a mask of mottled bruises amidst raw flesh. His respirations were gurgling and irregular.
What happened? Last I remember, Starsk... He turned over his shaking hands. The knuckles of the right were swollen and skinned. D'I do this...? His mind swirled with an incoherent storm of images and impressions, but everything was either confused or blank. He couldn't remember what he was doing in this particular alley with a dying man. The sirens in his ears had grown louder. A spear of light slanted down the alley, nearly finding him. Keep out of the light! registered from somewhere. He struggled to his feet, though it nearly cost him his consciousness, flattened against the brick wall. The light widened, filling the alley. Only a small, dark slot in the wooden fence at the back offered cover. "C'mon, ol' man," he gasped, stumbling round the garbage cans, making for the missing board in the fence. It was a tight squeeze--the backboard scraped against his raw scalp and he cried out.
Safe on the other side from the light and the noisy people who now filled the other end of the alley, he fell back against the fence, slumped to the ground, and slipped again into unconsciousness.
* * *
Starsky rounded the corner at a dead run, his Adidas slapping the pavement. Ahead he could see the lights of several squad cars and an ambulance. Someone must have called the police. Then they found Hutch! Is he alright?
He frantically pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered. Refusing to think about what he might find, he kept his face professionally blank. At the crowd barrier, he flipped his ID so that the badge caught the light, but without giving the patrolman time to see which police department had issued it. Once inside, he scanned the area, but Hutch was nowhere in sight. He spotted the ambulance attendants as they were loading a stretcher and hurried to them. Not Hutch, just some old man. He turned from the ambulance to two plainclothes officers, their badges pinned to their coats. "What'd ya do with the other victim?"
The older detective looked Starsky up and down. "Who are you?"
Starsky repeated his badge trick. "Starsky. Homicide. There were two victims. Where's the other one?"
The detective started to scribble in his notebook, glancing up at Starsky. "There was only the old man, and he's on his way to Angel of Mercy. There was some blood on the street." He pointed to the alley opening. "Was that from his assailant?"
"That wasn't his assailant, that was my partner, Ken Hutchinson."
The detective turned to his partner. "Hey, Joe, we've got a witness who can describe the suspect."
Joe looked mildly interested. "Yeah? Shoot."
Starsky felt his jaw tighten, but he showed his ID again. "I'm David Starsky, LAPD. My partner Detective Sergeant Kenneth R. Hutchinson and I escorted a prisoner, a Ralph Anderson, to the Forty-first earlier today. I've got reason to believe he was shot in this alley a little while ago while trying to stop the muggers."
The two detectives examined the ID carefully. "And you say the missing man was your partner?" Joe asked.
"Is my partner. He was jogging with my brother, Nick Starsky, when this happened. Nick's at my mother's. He saw it all, and can tell you about the real assailants."
"Well, we'll want t'talk with him. Describe Hutchinson."
"Couple inches taller'n me--six-two, weighs one-seventy, blond, blue-eyed. He was wearing jogging shorts and running shoes, and he's got a moustache."
"Where can we reach you if we locate him?"
"KLondike 5-7121. That's my mother's number. You can leave a message with her, 'cause I'll be out looking for him, too."
"Wait a sec', bub," Joe's partner put in. "This ain't Los Angeles. We'll find your buddy."
Anger flared in Starsky. "He's my partner, I'm gonna look for him."
"You gotta be kidding. You'll get yourself killed."
"I grew up in this neighborhood. Don't sweat about me. You find the punks that did this, an' I'll find Hutch."
He turned away from the locals. Stepping around the other investigators, he conducted his own private examination of the scene; he noted where the old man's body had been, saw the signs of a scuffle in the dirt, now almost obscured by the dozen crime lab people, checked out the blood that might have been Hutch's. No worthwhile clues--it was as if Hutch had vanished into the air. Finally Joe and his partner chased Starsky away, growling about him destroying evidence, and he began the trek back to the apartment. Hutch was not dead. That was the important thing, and he clung to that thought as if to a lifepreserver. But if not dead, where was he, and how was he? Gotta talk to Nick, find out exactly what happened, and then get back on the streets. Transportation wouldn't be a problem. He'd take Nick's car--Nick wouldn't be needing one for a while.
It was almost midnight by the time he got back to the apartment. Stripping off his jacket, Starsky saw his mother come out of Nick's bedroom carrying a tray. He headed for the bedroom, but his mother blocked the way.
"Let me by, Ma. I'm going to talk to Nick."
"Mrs. Agronski from upstairs came down to bandage up your brother, who you are not going to bother, David," she said with a sniff.
Grimacing, he took her by the upper arms, shifted her aside, and went into the bedroom.
Mrs. Agronski was bending over Nick, adjusting a compress on his shoulder. She looked up as Starsky barged in, his mother on his heels. "Anna honey, we ought to get Nick to the hospital. He's lost some blood, and he's starting to run a fever."
"I don't wanna go to the hospital," Nick snarled.
"I don't care if you go t'hell," said Starsky, folding his arms on his chest. "I want to know what happened back there, and I wanna know now."
"That's enough!" Anna Starsky said firmly, hands on hips. "Nicholas, you will go to the hospital as Mrs. Agronski says."
"Not before he tells me what happened to Hutch. I got to that alley an' he was gone--"
"David." Her fingernails sank into his forearm and he broke off, wincing. "You can talk to your brother on the way to the hospital... talk, not interrogate. He's your brother, not a prisoner. Do you understand me, David?"
Starsky stared down at her steadily, rubbing his arm. "I'll talk t'him, Ma, but I will get the information I want, one way or another."
He walked to the dresser, picked up Nick's car keys from where they lay, and left the room, ignoring his mother's cry of "David, wait!" He strode out of the apartment, down the steps, and to the car, fuming all the while. She's babied him for so long, she can't see it when he does something really wrong. He left Hutch. He left him for dead. Hutch coulda been dead an' Nick woulda only worried about his fuckin' probation. How did I get such a brother?
The back door opened and Mrs. Agronski and his mother settled Nick on the seat, propped up with a pillow. Anna climbed in with him, and Mrs. Agronski shut the door. "I'll call the emergency room, tell them you're coming."
Starsky gripped the steering wheel and pulled sharply into traffic. It irritated him that he couldn't see Nick's face while he asked his questions. Half his information would be lost because he couldn't see his brother's reactions. It was sometimes hard enough to tell when Nicky was giving the truth.
"So what happened?" He kept his voice quiet, emotionless.
He heard Nick gulp. "Dave, you gotta believe me. I... I tried to save him. But when he fell, I panicked. My probation--I don't want t'go to jail."
Starsky was exasperated, but he managed, just barely, to keep it in check. "Nicky, you won't go to jail. You didn't violate your probation. Hutch isn't a known felon and you sure didn't beat up that old man, did you?"
"David Michael! Of course he didn't!"
Starsky sighed. Rule number one, never interrogate a witness with your mother in the car.
"No, I didn't beat up the guy. I didn't even recognize the ones who did. They had guns--"
Starsky cut him off. "Look, start from the beginning." He glanced in the rearview mirror. Nick looked shaky, but it might've been from the bullet wound.
"Okay. We were running. We ran about eight blocks, just up to Tremont--and that crazy SOB you call a partner wasn't even sweating. He slowed down once I asked him to, and we were coming back, when we heard the fight in the alley. I tried to talk him out of it, but he hadda charge to the rescue. Who does he think he is, the U. S. Cavalry?"
"Not quite, but it helps to have someone willing to back you up. " Starsky negotiated a turn. "So you both went in?"
"Uh..." Nick hesitated. "We both went in the alley, yeah, and then they started shooting. They hit me first, knocked me flat." He sounded scared. "I never was shot before."
"You get used to it," Starsky muttered.
"And the next thing I knew," Nick went on, "he was laying there and I was alone. So I ran."
"And left Hutch." Bitterly.
"To get help! And they shot me!"
"Yeah, well, you just tell that same story to the police and your ass'll be safe. Where did Hutch fall?"
"Where did--? In the alley. --About two-thirds of the way up," Nick amended as Starsky started to turn around. "About ten feet from the old guy."
They had arrived at the hospital. Starsky pulled to a stop at the emergency room entrance and helped Nick into the building. Once Nick was safely in the keeping of a nurse, Starsky checked with the admissions desk for John Does of Hutch's description. There were none, but the woman agreed to call around at the city's hospitals for any on his behalf. He turned and headed for the door.
"David." His mother stopped him, laying her hand on his arm and looking up with compassion in her eyes. "I forgive you for yelling at your brother. You were worried about Kenneth, I know. You'll find him. Everything will be all right."
My mother, the cock-eyed optimist. "Will it, Ma? I hope so." He shook off her hand. "I gotta go now. Can you call somebody to take you home?" She nodded. "All right. I love ya," he said, dropping a kiss on her cheek and pushing through the door.
* * *
Hutch opened one eye, then closed it again. The nausea was back. Taking a deep breath, he tried it again, this time succeeding. God...m'head hurts...where th'hell'm I? His hand traveled shakily to his right temple, exploring the tender area under the stiff, matted hair. Got shot...I think. Where's Starsk?
His attention was drawn to a dark blur of movement in the far corner. Cat, he identified hazily. The beast moved again, this time venturing out further from the shadows, then darting back again, its rope-like tail whipping around after it.
"Holy shit, it's a rat!" He scrambled to his feet, and wished he hadn't, as his head swum again. He leaned back against the slat fence till it cleared. Somebody... he was rescuing somebody, when he got hit. Starsky? Was he rescuing Starsky? An image of a ragged, battered man appeared in his mind. But the alley in front of him was vacant. He closed his eyes tightly against the confusion and the relentless pain in his head. The picture of a dark-haired man falling kept flashing through his mind, like the neon sign on the opposite side of the street. Starsky? Where did you go?
He shambled to the mouth of the alley, hand pressed to his wound, reached the street, and turned to the right.
* * *
Nothing, not a damn thing. Starsky rounded the corner, heading back for the alley behind Simmons. The local police wouldn't let him question the old man, who supposedly had regained consciousness; they'd practically thrown him out of Angel of Mercy. No other hospital reported receiving anyone who resembled Hutch, no cop or bum shelter had taken him in. So it's back to the scene of the crime. The alley was vacant, the investigators having finished and left. No one barred his entry. By the glow of his flashlight, the chalked outline of the old man was still visible. Not far from it was a smallish, sticky puddle; he felt a twinge as he realized that it had to be where Hutch had fallen. But the stain was isolated, with nothing to show which way his partner had gone. If he went toward the street, we'd've found him. So logically...
The alley was cut down the middle by a fence. At one side was a missing board, and on the inside edge, right about eyelevel, were more of the brownish stains with a few fine hairs caught in them. Had the lab boys seen them? At any rate, he was willing to bet Hutch had gone that way. Why, however, was another question.
The hot, abandoned odor of the alley filled his nostrils, and the vague memory of using just such a place to hide after a rumble or to smoke pot when he was a probationary member of the Hawks flickered across his mind. But that was years ago. Coming back to the present, he left the missing board; the only way to cross the fence without disturbing the stains was to go over it. Starsky faded back for a running start, sprung, vaulted over the fence, and fell to the other side. Right into the middle of a trio of kids smoking pot.
"Well, look what dropped outta the sky."
Deja vu. Unless the rules had changed, their colors showed these kids were all members of the Hawks. "I hate to bust yer bubble, kid, but I ain't exactly manna." At that, the one on the right giggled.
But the one in front of Starsky got to his feet, assuming an ersatz sobriety. Starsky eyed him, realizing all three were high as kites. He slipped his hand into the flap of his jacket, reaching for his automatic before they could get to the switchblades he knew were in their pockets.
The Hawks picked up his thoughts as if they could read his mind, standing up and three hands snaking toward the knives in their jeans. "He's packin', man," one of them hissed.
"A Hawk has t'defend himself. And his brothers," Starsky said evenly.
The leader hesitated. "Wadda you know about it?"
A familiarity about the kid tugged at his memory. He looked at him closer. "You related to Rudy Levinstein?"
"Who wants t'know, chuckmeat?"
With a sudden snarl, Starsky grabbed the kid by his t-shirt, swung him around for a shield, and backed up to the alley wall. "I ain't no chuckmeat, dogface. The name's Starsky. It may be ancient history, but I used t'be a member of yer gang. I'm the one that scored the keys to the Forty-first's armory the night the Hawks raided the station."
Nervously, as the other kids shifted their feet, unable to get to Starsky, the leader stammered, "Okay, okay, so Rudy Levinstein's my dad. What's it to ya?"
"Take me to him." The three hesitated, glancing covertly at each other. "Now!" Starsky ended the silent debate.
"Yeah...yeah, sure. Whaddaya say, guys?"
The nodding of heads conveyed their agreement. Starsky pushed all three ahead of him as they jogged down the alley, came to the street, and turned left.
* * *
Hutch stumbled along the sidewalk, stopping periodically against the storefronts to regain his balance. A few people passed him, but nobody stopped. One young, thin, black man walked by carrying a large radio. Hutch started to approach him, but drew back as the loud music amplified in painful cacophony inside his head. Finally it abated and he started moving again, searching the faces of the people on the street.
Don't see anybody familiar. Feeling the sides of his shorts for money revealed he didn't even have pockets, let alone change for the phone. Blinking in an attempt to clear his vision, he looked for a landmark. There was a street sign: 37th Street. Lessee. If this is 37th, then Alhambra ought to be two blocks down. Didn't know there was a pizza place here, used to be a cleaners.
A ghostly, monstrous face lurched in the depths of a darkened doorway as he passed. He spun, almost losing his balance, then recognized it as his own reflection in the chicken-wire-protected doorglass. "Christ, no wunner nobody'll help. Look like hell," he muttered.
Up ahead the lights of an all-night diner showed and he homed in on it. Inside, the smell of sweaty bodies, beer, and rancid Italian sausage tugged at his stomach. He spied the door marked "men" and made for it. The smell there was different, although no better, but the closed door muted the blaring jukebox somewhat. He considered his image in the murky mirror with detachment. "You're a mess." One eye was purple and swollen, and his hair was spiky with dried blood. As he splashed cold water over his face, flashes of bodies and lights kept flitting like a filmstrip moving too fast to focus on. The rhythmic booming in his head congealed into one loud bang and he saw a dark, curly-haired man fall in the pool of light under a streetlamp. Starsky? Where the hell are you? Gotta call in...gotta find you...
Outside the bathroom Hutch located a pay phone, but the receiver was missing. Walking slowly, trying to keep his stomach on an even keel, he went to the counter and caught the eye of the retired sumo wrestler behind the cash register.
"'Scuse me...need a phone."
The large man barely glanced up. "Do I look like Ma Bell?"
The pounding in his head was getting worse. He pulled in a deep breath. "Police officer... Need t'use your phone."
The man finally looked up, scanning Hutch with rheumy eyes. "Lessee it."
"Ya badge. Lessee it."
Hutch's hand automatically went to his side, where his jacket pocket would be, but touched only his sodden t-shirt. "Uh-don' have it right now, but..."
"Dinn't think so. Geddoudda here before I black ya other eye."
"But wait... y' don't understand--" Hutch reached for the hamlike arm.
The man nodded in the direction of the corner. A hulk that could have been his clone appeared out of the smoke-filled haze, grabbed Hutch, and bodily threw him out the door.
Hutch tried to relax and roll, but couldn't quite manage it. As he hit the pavement, the jar of impact localized in his right temple and he rose only as far as his knees before he began retching into the gutter, thick, sour-bitter slime. Each heave threatened to blow off the top of his skull, but he couldn't stop. A car whipped by near his head, someone's yell of "--uckin' drunk--" dopplering weirdly. At last it ended, and he wiped his quivering chin with his shirtfront. After a few minutes he got to his feet, shaking from humiliation as much as from injury, and again started down the street.
Carmel usually works this corner, if I can find her, she'll help. Find her and we're home free. He began to weave, stumbling over feet that wouldn't obey him anymore. Passersby side-stepped him and continued on without a word. The vision in his right eye was blurred beyond use, and without warning, large blackened area appeared in his other eye's sight.
Reaching the intersection, he looked up at the streetsign, confused. Monroe? What the hell--Monroe? It should be Alhambra. Grabbing at a couple standing close by, he asked, "When'd this street change? It was Alhambra." They stepped back, away from him, their fear mirrored in their faces.
Hutch felt himself beginning to panic. "Gimme a quarter f'the phone. I need t'get to a phone," he demanded, his voice rising.
The man retreated a little farther from Hutch, keeping his girl behind him, out of reach. "Go sleep it off, man. You musta got some bad shit."
"No, no, I haven't--listen t'me!" But they were gone, walking briskly away.
Nothing was familiar. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. Starsky was missing, probably hurt, and he himself was utterly lost. Thoughts and images swirled, dragging the nausea back, as he wandered aimlessly, tired, frightened, weary. Need to rest. Think. If I could rest a little, then things'd make sense.
A wide, vacant lot opened up on his right, unlit, crowded with twisted metal shapes. But there, not too far in, was a familiar outline. It was his car! His own LTD. He headed for it gratefully, crawled in the open passenger door. The radio was gone--someone musta ripped it off, he sighed mentally. But at last he knew where he was. He lay back, relieved to have made it this far safely, and slowly fell asleep.
* * *
Starsky kept pace with the three youngsters effortlessly, herding them along before him. But all the time his mind was on Hutch. Where are you? Why did you run? And from what? Where are you now? Why didn't you go back to Ma's place? He had an ominous feeling there was something Nick had left out...something vital.
"Here we are." The junior Levinstein stopped in front of a grimy news agency. "My old man's upstairs doin' the day's receipts." As the rest of the gang dispersed, he opened the side door, clumped up the stairs to the second floor apartment, yelling, "Hey, Pop, someone t'see ya!"
Old home week, Starsky thought, upon seeing the familiar storefront. He remembered coming to buy candy and comic books from old man Levinstein when he was barely old enough to find the way. Later, he'd heard about Levinstein's kid Rudy and his gang, and he knew even then that he wanted to be tough, just like Rudy Levinstein. And the day came: when he was thirteen, Rudy had let him in on a trial basis. Two years later Rudy had knocked up Ruth Lieberman and they'd gotten married, but by then Starsky was in California.
"Yeah, yeah, waddaya want, awready?"
Starsky looked up from his memories at the plump, balding, forty-year-old man in front of him. A skullcap clung precariously to the hairless dome, supported by the band of greying hair that ringed his head from ear to ear. Rudy had always worn a yamulka; his family was the closest thing to Orthodox in the neighborhood. With the dark vest over the white shirt, sleeves rolled up, tie loosened at the neck, he reminded Starsky of the elder Levinstein of many years ago. "Just some help, Rudy," Starsky answered fervently.
Rudy peered at him through the wire-rim glasses perched on the tip of his nose, "Do I know you?"
Starsky grinned. "What the hell happened to your hair?"
"My God, it's Dybbuk Starsky!" Rudy nearly dropped his glasses. "Siddown, siddown! God, how long has it been?" He turned to his son. "Andy, get me the homemade and some tumblers. And then go to bed."
"Do as I say." Starsky sat at the scarred table where the bald man had been doing his accounts, as Rudy continued, "Someone said you were a cop in Los Angeles. What brings ya here? Visitin' your mother?"
Starsky heaved a deep sigh and ran weary fingers through his hair. "Basically. Right now I'm looking for my partner. He got himself hurt bad tonight and disappeared."
Andy brought a bottle of murky wine and two glasses. Rudy poured a few inches into each and waved the youth away. "You checked all the hospitals?"
"Of course I have! Y'think I don't know how to conduct an investigation?" Starsky exploded.
"All right, all right. How'd you find out what happened?"
"Your brother? Can you trust him?"
"Shit, I don't know, but right now he's all I got. Hutch is out there hurt, with no wallet, no gun, no nothim'. I need extra eyes, Rudy, people t'help me look, and I'm thinking you still have the contacts. Am I right?"
Rudy shrugged. "I could have Andy and his friends start looking in the morning. Maybe someone else, too. Where can I reach you? At your mother's?"
"Yeah, when I'm not on the streets. Thanks, Rudy."
"Hey, since when do you thank a brother? Even a former one. Listen, give me a call tomorrow and I'll introduce you to someone who might help. Whatever happens, you're not alone. You have friends, family--and brothers."
"Yeah." But not as close as Hutch. Starsky stood and held out his hand. "I'll see ya tomorrow."
Rudy shook it firmly. "Do what we can."
Do what we can, As Starsky tromped down the stairs to the street, the words echoed in his mind. He was doing what he could to find Hutch, but he wasn't getting anywhere. Sure, Rudy could get people to help, but they wouldn't be on the job until morning, and something had to be done right now.
Thoughts of Terri insisted on intruding, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore them. Every time he wondered how Hutch had managed to run after being shot, he remembered Terri. Both had called him their best friend, the one they counted on when the chips were down. But what good am I? I couldn't protect either one. The day Terri died--he cut off the thought. Then he noticed his surroundings and saw that unconsciously he had walked home. He hesitated for a moment, then climbed the stairs and let himself into the apartment.
"David, is that you?" His mother came out of the living room, still dressed, obviously waiting up for him.
"It's okay, Ma. I only came back to see if anyone had news of Hutch."
She pursed her lips. "No, none. Aren't you going to ask about your brother?"
"Nick wouldn't've been scratched if they shot him in the head," Starsky said exasperatedly. "An' I almost wish they had. I'm sorry I kept you up," he added a little more contritely. "I gotta go back out."
"You'll run yourself into the ground. It's past three in the morning! Try to get some sleep."
"I can't, Ma. I'm all wound up. Besides, my body says it's only midnight. I'll be all right."
"Where are you going?"
"To the precinct. See if they'll tell me something. Don't worry, Ma, I'm always like this when I'm up against a blind alley."
On the walk back to the car and the drive to the Forty-first, he refused to let himself think, concentrating on the traffic. Inside the stationhouse, the admitting officer looked at him suspiciously, and he was undecided what to do next, when he saw Murphy come out of the dayroom. "Hey, Sergeant Mike, you workin' twenty-four hours now?"
"I sign on at four a.m. Gotta keep up wi' the paperwork, me young smartass. What've ye been up to?"
"I lost my partner. Somebody shot at him."
"Then you're the one." Murphy peered at him. "Daneeka and Hale mentioned you in their report."
"They catch the guys yet?" Starsky asked desultorily.
"Ye're joking. Joe and Lou talked t'yer brother, but he knows from nothing. The old guy just died, too. Damned cold trail, Davido."
Starsky slumped down on a bench. "Yeah. F'me, too." He scrubbed his palms against his face, trying to fight back the weariness. "Wish I was home," he burst out. "Wish there was somethin' I could do!"
"Have you talked to the Pole yet?"
Starsky stared at him dumbfounded. Why didn't I think of talking to Poppa's partner? Ed Jarowski'd do what he could to help, but most of all, he'd understand.
Murphy nodded knowingly. "I thought maybe you would be needing someone to talk to about now, lad."
"Thanks, Mike." Recharged, Starsky jumped up and was on his way.
"Just stay out of trouble. Remember, it won't be yer Ma I'll be callin' this time--it'll be yer captain," he heard as the glass door swung shut.
A quick stop at a pay phone got the information from his mother that Ed Jarowski still lived at the same address. His wife had died several years ago, "So don't ask," his mother admonished. A few minutes later he was parked at Lieutenant Jarowski's address, and trudging up the stairs to the third floor apartment.
The door was opened almost before Starsky could knock. The man who faced him hadn't altered much over the years. A few grey hairs in the thick mane of dark hair and a few added pounds to his already massive bulk were the only changes Starsky could see. He had felt small and insignificant next to the man as a child, and he still felt dwarfed by him, even though a grown man.
"Morning, Davy. Your mother called."
Starsky entered the small apartment. "Yeah. I needed t'talk to you. Sorry to get you up." He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the couch, then got up to look out the window. Ed Jarowski sat watching him silently, until Starsky finally returned to the couch and settled.
"Beer 'r coffee?"
"Beer, no, coffee...beer. Hell, I don't know." All of a sudden his defenses crumbled and he knew he couldn't keep them up in the presence of this man.
"Tell me about it. Your mother only said you were on your way here." Ed stepped over to the tiny kitchenette and quickly poured two cups of coffee, all the while listening as Starsky related the events of the night.
"...And that's it. I don't know where he is, or even where to look. Nobody's seen him, or if they have, they don't tell me. I don't have any contacts-shit, I barely know this city anymore. What am I doing wrong?" Spent, he dropped his face into his hands.
"Maybe he isn't where you can find him."
Starsky's head snapped up. "What do you mean?"
Jarowski refilled his cup, then answered patiently, "You said he seemed to be wandering. He could wander into another mugging, and this time be even less lucky. They're a lot of hiding places in New York. You might never find a body."
"No. Hutch isn't dead. I'd know it if he was. Damn it, Ed, I'd know!" Tears came unbidden to his eyes and he blinked them back.
"I understand what you're saying...of course you'd know," Jarowski said soothingly. "Your dad--" He stopped, shut his eyes. Both men were silent for a long moment, then Jarowski sat up. "Look, I'm on duty in an hour, I'll see what I can find out. Do you have some extra prints of his ID sheet?"
Starsky shook his head. "But L.A. would fax them if you asked."
"I'll do that. We'll find him, Davy, if he can be found. I promise you."
Starsky tried to speak, but could only yawn. Suddenly, handing the problem over to this familiar, fatherly man had taken the weight off him, and replaced it with the urge to rest. He sank back on the couch, half aware of Jarowski putting Starsky's feet up on it, a pillow under his head, and a light blanket over him. Jarowski had shared his pain, Starsky realized, just before sleep took over, and maybe he knew better than Starsky how to deal with it.
* * *
Hutch was running, down an alley that stretched forever. His lungs burned with each respiration and he hurt all over. Cars veered toward him, looming up out of nowhere, sending him diving to the dirt to escape. He was so very tired. Rising became more difficult each time, until finally he couldn't get up again at all. Headlights glowed over a rise in the road and there was a squeal of tires on the pavement. He steeled himself against the expected impact of the car, but none came. Peering toward the glaring headlights, he saw a tall, dark-haired man run toward him.
"Starsky! Thank God!" Relief washed over him, but was short-lived. Illuminated by the headlights, the dark-haired man was a stranger.
"Where's Starsky?" Hutch yelled at the unfamiliar face. "Where is he?!"
Hutch awoke with a start, flinching as the motion jarred his head. He pushed him self up on one elbow and looked around. The effort cost him as lights blurred and images drifted, washed by waves of nausea. There was nothing to see, no one there. He slowly lowered himself back to the seat, willing himself not to gag. His rebellious stomach gradually ceased its churning, and he dreamed again.
He was walking on the beach. The wind was strong and it whipped his hair and clothing. He was going to meet a man who wanted to kill him. A yell came from the reed and grass-covered dune to his right. He hit and rolled, hearing gunshots, two different types. Brushing the sand from his face, he watched the sniper Starsky had shot roll downward from her ambuscade. They both rose and walked toward the crumpled body. In gratitude and relief, Hutch reached for his friend.
Starsky's face became anguished and the surroundings changed to a rough-hewn platform. Suddenly out of arm's reach from him, Starsky wore a black monk's robe and lay on the ground, his hands tied.
Hutch tried to run again, his legs leaden as he made no progress toward his partner. Every muscle strained, yet he could get no closer. All around, other figures were multiplying before his eyes, black-cowled, faceless, menacing, pushing him further away from Starsky.
"No--I'm here, Starsk! I'll save you! Starsky..."
"Simone, Simone," droned in his ears, but not so loudly as to obliterate the sound of Starsky's sobs.
Wham! A tin can thrown from a passing car woke him. Rubbing his eyes, he realized the sobs had been his own. That realization broke the last thread of his control and he let the tears flow. He was exhausted, hungry, and hurt. Everything was all screwed up, nothing was where it was supposed to be. Nothing made any sense. He was scared, and the loneliness beat down on him like a tangible pain that hurt far more than the ache in his head.
He rolled to his side and let the tears mingle with the blood that oozed from the swollen wound over his temple. I'll find you, Starsk. I will. Just... let me get some sleep first. Went for a whole day lookin' for you, without any sleep... His breaths slowed and his arm dangled limp off the seat.
* * *
Starsky woke with a start and sat up. For a moment he was confused, not recognizing where he was. Then he remembered the conversation last night with Jarowski. He threw back the blanket, staggered to the table, and spotted a note. "Davy," it read, "Rudy called and wants to see you before noon. You can reach me through central dispatch. Here's a copy of the ID sheet--no news yet. Ed."
He crumpled the note and threw it at the wastebasket, then glanced at the clock. A little after eleven. He felt better for the sleep, but how did the delay affect his partner? Picking up his gun and holster, jacket, and the ID sheet, he left the apartment and sped away from the curb in a cloud of exhaust. Nick's car didn't respond like his own Torino, and he made a mental note to tell him so.
Where is Hutch? It was becoming an ache in his gut, as if some part of him had been chopped away. We're a team. We don't work right without each other. Hutch was his perspective, Hutch channeled his explosions of energy and made them work, like the engine of a car. Hutch gave him a reason to exist. Without him, he might have been only a lonely, sad man like Ed Jarowski, or an ex-punk newsdealer like Rudy.
Yet, hard though it was to bear the gnawing fear of searching for Hutch, Starsky knew it was preferable to finding Hutch--and finding him dead. He'd rather see Nick dead, almost his mother dead, first. He'd rather search forever, than come upon his closest friend lifeless. As much as he wanted to find Hutch, the fear of what he might find scared the shit out of him. What would he have left if he lost his partner?
He squealed to a stop in front of Levinstein's News Agency and stalked in. Rudy stood behind the cash register reading a newspaper. Two black youths leaned against the counter sipping cans of pop. Both wore red berets and white t-shirts emblazoned with a stylized angel and the legend "Guardian Angels". They looked like fairly typical street kids, a little cleaner, and maybe less cocky. "Hey, Rudy. I got your message."
Rudy looked up from his paper. "God, you look like death warmed over. Okay, I promised to introduce you to friends that could help. Meet Jerry Lomax and Tyler Green." He waved at the two blacks. Both executed an abbreviated salute.
"Angel Lomax and Angel Green," Starsky acknowledged. "I've heard of you guys back in L.A. Gimme a coke, Rudy," flinging a couple of quarters on the counter.
"Rudy said you needed some help. What can we do?" the one called Tyler asked.
Starsky put down his coke and pulled out the copy of Hutch's ID sheet. "Find this man."
"What's he done?"
"Nothing, not a damn thing. Tried to help an old man out of a bind. Just find him and get back to me through Rudy or Lieutenant Jarowski in the Police Department."
Tyler took the page from Starsky. "'Kay. We'll xerox this 'n spread it around to our patrols, an' we'll find him." He again touched the edge of his beret in a quick salute, and the two Angels left the store.
Rudy leaned across the counter and laid a hand on Starsky's shoulder. "Hey, Dybbuk, with the Hawks, the Guardian Angels, and the New York Police Department all looking, it can't take long. Want something to nosh?"
"No, I'll go home, let Ma feed me. Been gone too long. She's gonna kill me for not calling." He finished the coke, took Rudy's thumb in the old Hawks' handshake. "Brother t' brother."
Back in the car, he crossed his forearms over the steering wheel and rested his head on them for a minute. Hang on, Hutch, I'm coming. His mind slipped back to another time, when Hutch's life depended on his finding him in time. But then they'd both been on home ground. Now, Hutch was a stranger here, and Starsky wasn't feeling right either. It just ain't my home turf anymore.
Several minutes later he pulled to the curb in front of his mother's. He sat there undecided for a moment. Do I really want to go up there now? Ma will be pissed at me for staying away this long. But I need to change and eat. Aw, what the hell. He mounted the steps and entered the apartment.
The scene that greeted him did nothing to raise his basement-level spirits. Nicky, one arm in a sling, sat at the table packing away a platterful of food. As Starsky came further in, he saw Nick's good cheer fade out.
A sudden fury shook him, and he struggled to control himself. He kicked the door shut behind him with a little more force than necessary, the slam causing his mother to jump as she entered the dining room. "Goodness, David, you startled me! What have I told you--" His expression must have registered, for she interrupted herself. "The doctor said Nick was fine. I brought him home this morning. You were right, he didn't violate his probation. Isn't that nice?"
"Terrific," he growled. So Nick's off the hook with everyone, huh? Well, he ain't with me.
Nick offered, "You can still use my car. The doctor says I can't drive yet."
Starsky clenched his jaw. "Go to hell." He started toward his bedroom, too angry to trust his voice. He had gotten two steps when Nick's plaintive whine stopped him.
"Don't be mad at me. It's his own damn fault! He didn't have any business butting in--this ain't L.A. Stupid shit shoulda run when I told 'im to."
Starsky halted as the significance of Nick's words registered. Hutch was way up the alley when he got shot. Nick was-- He suddenly remembered the detective pointing to the street, away from Hutch's position, to minor bloodstains at the alley mouth. A deadly, white-hot anger began to rise in him. He turned and said to Nick, very low, "You told me you and he had gone into that alley together. You lied, didn't you?"
Mrs. Starsky looked shocked, and Nick sat for a second, mouth opening and closing. "F'God's sake, Dave," he yelled at last. "waddaya want from me? Okay--I didn't run in after him. I'm not a cop. I don't appreciate getting shot at!"
But another thought had taken Starsky as he towered over his brother, glaring down at him. "The old guy--he'd been beaten to death. But Hutch was shot. How come they pulled a gun, Nicky? It was three against one."
"What th'-- I dunno why they-- I just yelled, 'You're not a cop here,' and they--"
Starsky lashed out, backhanding Nick out of his chair, then grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him up. "You let him go in alone. You called him a cop and got him shot. And then you left him. God damn you, Nick--if somebody hadda get wasted, why couldn't it've been you?!"
"Don't you dare talk to your brother that way!" Anna Starsky stepped forward and slapped her elder son on the face.
Starsky's jaw stung from the force of it, and his fingertips came up to feel the hot hand-sized mark. His mother pulled Nick out of his grip, holding him safely out of Starsky's reach. With tears in her eyes, "Whatever he may have done, he is my son and your brother. You're so wrapped up in your life and your friend, that you've forgotten this. But Nicky's stayed by me. After your Poppa died and you left, he was all I had. Nicky," she whispered fiercely, "never left me."
Starsky stared, feeling slapped a second time by the resentment in her voice. Yet whatever he might have said was forestalled by the phone ringing. He turned away and lifted the receiver from the cradle. "Starsky."
"Bernie," the caller said. "Dave, one of the Angels claims to've found your partner over in a junkyard--alive. We're sending the Pole out to investigate, thought you'd like to check it out too. 3273 Eastchester."
His heart leaped. "Thanks, Bernie. I'll meet him there." He hung up the phone, glanced at Nick and his mother, huddled together, and left without further comment.
All the way from his mother's apartment to the salvage yard, he went alternately hot and cold. Ma slapped me. Hutch is alive. Nick's responsible. She hit me. He's alive. "Nicky never left me." The words went round and round in his head.
He screeched to a halt near the scrapyard and bolted out the door. There was a small crowd gathered near a four-man Guardian angel patrol and two squad cars, protecting--good grief--an old, stripped-down, beat-up, rusting, brown LTD. The back door hung open and he could see Hutch curled up on the back seat. His hair was matted with dried blood, but he was moving on his own.
Starsky pressed forward, breathing out a huge sigh of relief. He leaned over his partner, shading the man's face from the sun. Hutch looked up at him, weaving a bit. "There y'are," he said with a frown. "...Know how much y'had me worried?"
The gentle admonition made Starsky want to laugh and cry at the same time. He slid into the rusted-out car and leaned Hutch against his shoulder. "Careful," said Jarowski. He gestured at Hutch's wound. "Looks like just a graze, but probably caused a concussion. We've called for an ambulance." He gazed at them a moment more, almost enviously, then left to chase the spectators away.
"Where the hell have ya been?" Starsky demanded softly, letting Hutch slide down to lie in his lap. "How come you didn't come home to the apartment last night? I had everyone shorta th' Coast Guard lookin' for you."
"...Guess I got lost..." Hutch answered hazily. "Thought you were hurt, and I went looking for you...I don' think this is Los Angeles, Starsky."
Starsky bent over the grimy blond head. "Shit, can't even remember what city you're in, an' you still find a clone of that deathtrap you drive t'hide in. I swear, Hutch--"
But the ambulance had arrived and white-jacketed attendants lifted Hutch away from him, taking him away on a stretcher. "He'll be okay," Jarowski's voice comforted. "It looks a lot worse than it probably is. He was lucky."
"Yeah." Starsky leaned back on the ratty upholstery. The day's heat pressed down on him, but no longer menacingly. "Me too. Thanks," he added.
* * *
This was the hardest part for every policeman--trusting his partner to someone else while being banished to the waiting room. Even when it wasn't his partner they were waiting for, Jarowski felt the frustratingly slow passage of time and the pressure of not knowing. Trying to lighten things a little, he made several attempts at conversation, only to be answered by grunts and monosyllables from Davy. The younger man just sat and stared at the closed door as if by the intensity of his will he could control the events on the other side.
Ed rose and stretched his legs. He took the rebuff from Davy, understanding the reasons behind it. Mike was a lot like that--he'd shut down on himself and you could forget about getting in till he was 'ready t'letcha'.
Mike...Though he thought about his former partner a little almost every day, he'd missed him more in the past ten hours than he had in the past ten years. Davy and his partner--Mike and me. I bet they're just as tight as we were. How come Lady Luck turned her back on Mike and me, and yet left these two together so long?
He continued to stare out the window, letting his mind drift back many years. The events of the last two days had hit too close for a lonely man; too many memories had surfaced. He remembered Mike sitting in a waiting room much like this, looking almost exactly as Davy looked now, waiting for news that his second son had been born. Then eight years later little Davy sat, waiting to hear that his father was dead. It hurt me as much as you, Davy, when your father died. I couldn't save you the grief that time, but maybe I helped a little now. When you came to the door this morning, looking just like Mike, it hurt, but it's better now, knowing I helped. God, it's like a trap, repeating this waiting routine over and over again.
He turned toward the younger man, walked over and sat in the chair kittycorner from David's. "Cigarette?" he offered, pulling one from the pack for himself.
Davy didn't answer, didn't look away from the double doors.
Tired, and irritated, Jarowski snapped, "Not even a 'thanks' for Uncle Ed?"
Davy faced him. His eyes were bloodshot and his skin a pasty grey, though it was only four in the afternoon. He lowered his head. "Sorry. Thanks." He paused. "We don't belong here."
Jarowski lit his cigarette. "Your partner and you? You mean, in this hospital?"
"No. In New York." Davy shut his eyes for a second. "I really left twenty years ago. Shouldn't'a tried to come back."
"This is where your people are. Your family."
"No they aren't. Hutch is the only one."
Just then a voice called, "Lieutenant Jarowski? Mr. Starsky?" Ed turned to see a doctor that had emerged from the inner sanctum of the hospital.
Davy jumped up. "Hutch okay?" The doctor nodded. "Can I take him home then?"
The doctor came toward Davy. "The bullet glanced off Mr. Hutchinson's skull, giving him a slight concussion and a largish scalp wound. It's been stitched up. I believe he'll be all right, but I want to keep him for a few days' observation."
"Can I see him?"
"Surely. Through those doors and take the elevator to the third floor. Room 306."
Davy vanished through the double doors without a second's hesitation, leaving Ed with his smoking cigarette and a feeling of abandonment. He sat back with a sigh. Must be jealousy. I'm jealous how close they are. I used to be close to people, especially before Martha died. He closed his eyes, waiting for Davy to come back.
* * *
In less than a minute, Starsky was in his partner's room. Hutch was awake, and turned his head on the pillow toward him.
"Well, you look a little better," Starsky remarked as he came closer to the bed.
"Than what?" Hutch pressed the knuckles of his right hand to his temple, close to the shaved, bandaged patch on his scalp. "'M not thinking too clearly yet. Everything's fuzzy...What the hell happened?"
"How should I know. I wasn't there, remember?" Starsky pointed out dryly.
"Last thing I remember was jogging with your jerkoff brother."
"Yeah. And then?"
"We came on this old man--getting it from three punks--"
"And you, you stupid shit, you went in like the goddamn white knight, without a backup," Starsky exploded.
Looking startled, Hutch protested, "What was I supposed to do? They were beating up an old man." His eyes searched Starsky's face, as if for the rest of the story.
Almost unconsciously, Starsky let his face harden and turned away. Don't ask, buddy. You didn't help anybody. Not the old man, not Nicky, not me, not even yourself. "You could've minded your own business." He kept his voice low and flat, and he didn't turn around.
There was a pause. "What did you say?" Hutch asked confusedly.
"This ain't L.A. You don't understand how it is out here." Starsky turned, with a sudden need to make Hutch understand without being told what he himself didn't quite understand.
But his partner sank deeper into the pillow, deflated. "You're right, I don't know how it is. I see an old man getting mugged, I try to help him, I get shot. I see some creep holding a gun, I see you fall--didn't I see you fall?" he asked, confused.
"Not this time," Starsky murmured.
"I thought I saw you fall, I thought you were shot... And then...everything was crazy, everything was lost and crazy, and I couldn't find you and nobody helped me--" His breathing became faster, and he clawed for Starsky's arm to pull up on.
Grimly, Starsky gathered the shivering man into his arms. "Easy, hey, it's okay. I'm fine. Nick was shot, but he's fine. You tried to save the old guy, but it ain't your fault."
"He's dead?" Hutch whispered.
"They catch the bad guys?"
"No, babe. All the bad guys are still out there."
* * *
In his bedroom, Starsky bent low, tying his shoelaces, but froze when he heard a soft knock at the door. He held still and his breathing nearly stopped as he willed away the unexpected and unwelcome visitor.
"David, please, son, we have to talk."
He said nothing, hoping she would think him gone and leave. For the past two days he had deliberately risen early and retired late, just to avoid this confrontation. The dim light of the single lamp showed 6:30 on the nightstand clock.
"I know you're up. I've watched these last two hours for the light to show under your door."
Mentally cursing his mother's persistence, he straightened. "Come on in, it's open." Four more hours and we'd be gone. Just four more hours.
Anna Starsky entered the room and looked up at her son. Her expression was sorrowful. He kept still, holding back on his anger. After a pause, she said, "What happened that you should turn your back on your family?"
"You turned your back on me a long time ago, Ma. 'Nicky never left me,' you said. I didn't leave either. You sent me away."
"I only did what I had to at the time. Your Poppa so recently gone and you headed fast for prison. I couldn't let that happen to you and I could no longer control you."
He turned away from the hurt in her eyes. Hurt that matched his own. He had thought he had come to terms with the grief, fear, and confusion of those awful days so long ago. But now, all the buried feelings shot up through him again, touching each raw spot as if afresh. He remembered the roar of the gun as it discharged the shots that blew away his world. He remembered the blood, all the wet, sticky blood--some had gotten on him and he had scrubbed furiously at it for hours later. The horror and fear, too much for a thirteen-year-old mind.
All I wanted was someone to hold me. Tell me it would be okay. What if that man came after me? I saw him, I didn't want to die.
His mother put her fingers round his elbow. "You're right, you didn't leave. I sent you to my only brother. You needed a man's hand. I only wanted what was right for you."
His throat was dry as he spoke. "All I wanted, Ma, was to know I was safe. To know that someone would protect me. All I was told was that I had to be strong because I was the man of the family. I didn't feel like a man. I was scared shitless."
He felt her arms go around him and the warmth of her tears through the back of his shirt. "I'm sorry, Davy. I didn't understand then anymore than I do now. What has all of this to do with Nicky? Why turn on him for something I did?"
Her voice shook and he turned. He held her gently away from him so he could look into her eyes. "It's nothing you did. I just don't know Nicky. The only time I hear from him is when he's in trouble. We were worlds apart when Poppa died and he's like a stranger now."
"And Kenneth is not a stranger?"
"Oh, Ma. Can't you see? Hutch is my best friend, closer to me than anyone in the world. We've shared just about everything together. I trust him and he's never let me down. Nick... almost took that away from me."
"You want more from him than he has to give."
"He hasn't got enough to be my brother, then."
Mother and son stood quietly watching each other. She seemed to let his words settle on her and he saw understanding--if not acceptance-dawn in her face. "I suppose this is the way Rebecca felt, with Jacob and Esau. All right," she said tiredly. "I can't make you love each other. Go to your friend, go back to California, but remember this: I love you, David Michael."
"I love you too, Ma." He smiled, and gently stroked her hair. "Always have and always will. I'll call you when we get back." A quick embrace and he was out the door on his way to the hospital. Hutch was to be released today, and he had already confirmed the return flight to Los Angeles.
* * *
Hutch sat on one side of the cab and watched Starsky stare out the window of the other, shoulders tensed, dark curls turned to Hutch, fingers absently drumming a tattoo on his knee. He hadn't said one word since telling the driver the address, and very few since picking Hutch up at the hospital one hour ago. "What is wrong with you?" Hutch said, a little loud.
Starsky jumped like he'd been stung. "Nothin'. What could be wrong? You're here and we're headin' home today. Everything's great!"
Sure it is. That's why you've hardly spoken. Nobody has. I've seen your mother once, not that I expected a visit from Nick--Nick! "How's Nicky, Starsk? You never told me how he's doing."
"Nick? Uh--he's fine. Shoulder's a little sore, but he's okay."
The cab slid to a stop in front of the familiar brownstone and Starsky jumped out. "You stay here, Hutch. Keep the cabbie company so he won't get nervous and leave," he said over his shoulder as he pushed the door closed behind him and started towards the stoop. He got a couple of steps forward, then he stopped and dashed back to the cab. He ducked in the window and looked closely at Hutch for a few seconds. "You mean a helluva lot to me, you know that? A helluva lot." He turned and this time disappeared into the building.
Hutch blinked, startled, pleased, curious as to what had sparked the rare compliment. Not that Starsky would be likely to tell him. Even partners need secrets, he reminded himself. But maybe there'd be a clue during the flight home.
He glanced at the back of the cabbie's sweaty bald head. "You might as well turn off the motor," he said, and slouched back to wait for his partner.
* * *
As Starsky was pulling Hutch's clothes out of Nick's dresser and packing them away in his own suitcase, the bedroom door opened and his brother sauntered in, arm in a sling.
"Getting it all'together, huh? Need any help?"
The cocky voice grated on him. Starsky answered the question with a sub-zero glare.
"That glad to see me, are you?"
"Get out, Nick. We've said it all."
"We know that, but Ma doesn't. Hey, I'm sorry. I'm not you, okay?"
As Starsky stared, Nick stood there shifting his weight uncomfortably. "You sure as hell aren't," Starsky said at last.
Nick exploded. "Well, what the hell do you want from me? Huh? A fuckin' Purple Heart?"
"From you? Not a damn thing. I'm getting my stuff and Hutch's outta here, getting in that cab outside, and taking our asses back to L.A., and I don't care if I never see you again."
"You sanctimonious bastard! Nothing happened to your goyish boyfriend, but you gotta make a federal case outta' it anyway. You're always trying to blame me..."
Anna Starsky opened the door and stepped inside. "Nicky, please leave. I asked you not to bother David, he has a plane to catch."
"But Ma, I just tried..."
"Nick. Go to the kitchen. I want to talk to David."
Sullenly, he complied, pulling the door shut as he left.
She put trembling hands on her older son's chest. "I wish you didn't have to leave like this, with such anger between you. Isn't there anything that can be done?"
Starsky covered his mother's hands, wrinkled, age-spotted, and looked into blue eyes much like his own. "I'm sorry, Ma. But I meant what I said. If you ever need me, I'll do whatever I can. Come visit, stay as long as you want. But as long as he is here, I won't be."
Words hung in the air, a permanent barrier. She lowered her head. Starsky bent and kissed her softly, then turned to close the suitcase. Without a backward glance, he picked it up and left the room.