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 L.A. Vespers 1, in 1979. A longtime fan generously donated digital scanning, typing and proofreading for the archive. Enjoy!
A Sense of Duty
A stupid pet for anybody to have. If a man wants a pet, he should have a dog--something big and enthusiastic, an animal that will knock him down with an affectionate greeting every night when he gets home. 0r, at any rate, he should have a cat. Cats at least purr every once in a while.
But goldfish? Come on.
Trust my partner to choose a couple of those stupid fish for pets. And not even very pretty specimens of aquatic life at that. The yellow one is scrawny and the damned black one is just plain ugly. It figures, though. My partner has this thing for underdogs.
Starsk could also be trusted to finagle the Murphy extradition assignment, leaving me to feed those two denizens of the not-so-deep fish bowl. Not that Starsk really cared all that much about escorting a punk like Murphy back to our fair city. But there's this stewardess on the L.A./San Francisco run...oh, well. As a certain ethnic acquaintance of mine would say, what's a partner for, if not to make sacrifices?
It had been a long day, though, and I was thinking wistfully of the two plump lamb chops thawing at home. Could it hurt the fish to wait until morning to eat? But...duty is a hard habit to break, so I detoured on my way home and went by Starsky's place.
I let myself in with my key and shut the door. "Hello, boys," I said, "you ready for a nice meal of dried worms?" They didn't answer. See what I mean about fish? My plants are better company.
A shadowy figure appeared in the bedroom doorway. At first I thought that for some reason Starsk had come back early. I started to smile, then stopped. It wasn't Starsky, at least not David Starsky. "Hello, Nick."
"Hutch. Long time no see."
I'd have been disappointed if he hadn't said that. It was the facile, used-car-salesman kind of thing that Starsk's brother tossed off frequently. I made the effort at another smile. It was an effort because I didn't like Nicholas Marvin Starsky. I'd have never let my partner know that, of course. He was convinced that the kid was finally getting it all together. Starsk is a sucker for sincerity.
Hell, Nick wasn't a kid. He was just another punk, no different than all the others I've seen. But I guess it was hard for Starsk to see that. I don't have a brother, but I can understand the feelings involved. Anyway, I didn't feel too guilty for not being crazy about the bum. He didn't like me, either. But we had a kind of unspoken agreement that Starsky wouldn't know how we felt. Maybe we both wanted to protect him. Or maybe we were both afraid to force him into making a choice between his partner and his brother.
"So I smiled at him. "Starsk's in San Francisco."
The news seemed to irritate Nick, or upset him. "David is? Damn," he said more to himself than to me. "David went to Frisco?" He moved into the living room, his expensive white suit reflecting the last rays of the setting sun that were piercing the room. "Vacation or something?"
"Shit. I really wanted to see him."
"He'll be back tomorrow."
"Tomorrow might be too late," Nick muttered, He wiped both hands on the front of his trousers, leaving two dark patches of dampness. After a moment he took a deep, steadying breath. "What are you doing here if David's gone?" he asked suddenly.
His tone grated on my nerves, but I hid it behind the bland smile. "I came to feed the fish."
"Fish?" Nick glanced around the room blankly, then spotted the bowl. "Oh." He walked over and peered at the fish. "Stupid looking things, aren't they?"
I picked up the small box of food and sprinkled a little into the bowl. "Oh, they're okay."
"I didn't know David had fish."
"They're new. Somebody at headquarters was going to flush them down the john, so Starsk adopted them."
Nick laughed, but there was very little humor in the sound. "That's my brother. He never could resist a stray." He tapped the side of the bowl, sending the fish into a frenzy. "Probably even gave the damned things names, didn't he?"
I closed the box of food and replaced it on the shelf. "Butch and Sundance," I said, sounding more defensive than I'd intended. Which was pretty stupid, because I don't like the damned fish either.
But Nick had apparently lost interest in the conversation. He wandered over to the window and looked down into the street. "He'll be back tomorrow, you said?
"Early." I was being deliberately vague; the Murphy extradition was being kept very quiet. Nick's back was board-stiff. "Nick, are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No," he said too quickly. "Why?"
"Because if you are, maybe I can help."
"You're offering to help me?" he asked bitterly. "Why would you want to dirty your hands? You don't like me anymore than I like you."
The hostility was out in the open now. I walked toward the door, then stopped and turned to face him. "I told you once before--I may not give a damn what happens to you, because frankly you're just one more punk. But I do care very much what happens to your brother. Any trouble you're in could rub off on him. I won't let that happen."
Nick stood there a moment longer, then raised one hand in a gesture of dismissal. Or maybe it was resignation. "You must have more important things to do than worry about us. I'll take care of my brother."
I opened the door. When I spoke, the cold anger echoed in my voice. "Nick."
He looked at me. "What?"
"I'll watch out for my partner. And if you do anything to get him hurt, you'll have to deal with me personally. That'll be a mess you won't just walk away from like last time. I guarantee that."
He didn't answer me and I went out, closing the door quietly.
*~*~*~My conversation with Nick left a bad taste in my mouth that even the two beers I had while the lamb chops cooked couldn't quite wash away. Two men like that, brothers, shouldn't they be alike in some ways that are important? But with Starsk and Nick, it was like two sides of the same coin--total opposites.
When I got into bed, our talk kept nagging at me. Something wasn't quite right about Nick showing up out of the blue like that. He was up to something. But God only knew what, so there wasn't a damned thing I could do except go to sleep. I had to be at the airport by eight o'clock to meet Starsk and Murphy.
*~*~*~*The plane was late, of course. I waited at the gate until finally, after everyone else was off, Starsky and Murphy came out. From the look on my partner's face, I could tell that a jaunt with Reggie Murphy was not his idea of a good time. Murphy was a greasy little man who cracked his knuckles a lot and whose shiny black suit always seemed to smell like dusty tomato sauce.
Starsk stood as far away from his prisoner as the cuffs would permit. Obviously, in his opinion, that wasn't far enough. Starsk also looked a little tense and I knew why. He has this one hang-up about airplanes. "Hi," I said cheerfully.
He gave me a fleeting, somewhat pained grin. "Hi. Hey, Hutch..."
"Give me the key." I unlocked the cuff from Murphy's left wrist and clasped it onto his right. Taking the cuff from Starsky's wrist, I attached it to my own. Now Murphy and I were bound together. It was an unenviable position. "It's over there," I said, pointing with my free hand. Starsky nodded and took off in a half-gallop. I've never been able to figure out what he has against using the johns on planes. Just another charming peccadillo of his personality.
Murphy looked indignant, as if he took Starsk's abandonment personally. "Where's he going?" the little man whined.
"Shut up," I advised him kindly.
What happened next was a rapid muddle. From the corner of one eye, I saw several figures approaching and turned slightly in their direction. An alarm bell rang inside my head. "Get behind me. " I said to Murphy, and he scooted closer. A quick look over my shoulder showed three guys coming from that direction, too. The old squeeze play. I carefully reached toward my holster.
Before my fingertips touched leather, both groups of men rushed us. Someone took a swipe at the back of my head; I ducked, and the blow grazed my scalp. They were trying to pull Murphy away and I was trying to go the other way. As a tug-of-war, it was absurd. Six against one, with Murphy dangling between.
In the middle of the melee, I was peripherally aware that the door to the men's room had opened and Starsky was emerging. He was a blue blur as he pulled his gun and started toward us.
"Bring 'em both!" somebody in the crowd around me growled.
"Freeze everybody!" Starsky yelled.
Nobody paid him any attention; they were as aware as I that he couldn't risk a shot right then. It would be too easy to hit Murphy or me. They were pulling us both toward the door. I managed to get my hand on the key, as we were pulled closer to the exit, I inserted it. The cuff on my wrist popped open. No one noticed. I took a firm grip on Murphy's arm. "Starsk!" I yelled as loudly as I could, then with one tremendous jerk I pulled Murphy away from the hands gripping him. I shoved him toward my partner. Scrabbling and falling, Murphy landed practically in Starsky's arms. "Get him outa here!"
Starsky grabbed onto Murphy by the jacket and began pulling him away. He was looking at me. "Hutch?"
The two of them vanished around the corner just as two security men appeared. If I'd figured the snatch team would drop me as soon as they realized Murphy was gone, I found out different almost immediately. Instead of pushing me aside and taking off, they dragged me through the door and out onto the concrete walkway. Someone, one of the uniforms I guess, fired a shot. Trying to get out of the way, I fell down, scraping my face against the hard surface.
"Bring him," I heard somebody say.
Everything went black.
*~*~*~*The room smelled of fish.
I moved just enough to realize that I was bound to the chair by a rope around my waist. My own cuffs were on my wrists. I opened my eyes and then closed them again in rebellion against the harsh sun that streamed in through a small window set high on one wall. The room was small and bare, the only furnishings being the chair I was in and a table.
Someone in an adjoining room was talking, and I worked hard to understand what he was saying. It wasn't easy, because my head was pounding more loudly than he was talking. "...it ain't nobody's fault. It just happened." He was quiet, as if listening. "Well, look, it wasn't all bad. We didn't get Murphy like you wanted, but we got a...a whatchamacallit...a hostage." He sounded pleased with himself. "See, I figured that this was better than nothing. Maybe we can trade him for Murphy. He's a cop." There was another pause. "How the hell do I know what his name is? We ain't exactly been properly introduced. What difference does it make?" His put-upon sigh could be heard clearly even in the next room. "Well, he's tall, blond...yeah, okay. See you later."
A moment later, he walked into the room, a husky redhead in a plaid sportcoat. I vaguely remembered him from the airport. He saw that I was awake and stopped. "Woke up, huh? What's your name, pig?"'
"Hutchinson," I said, figuring that it was easiest to tell him. No sense hassling over the small points. "Detective Kenneth Hutchinson."
"That was a dumb move before," Redhead said. "You shoulda just let us have Murphy."
"That wasn't my job."
He sneered. "Tough cop. Look at you now."
I had to admit that he had a point. I moved against the ropes again, but they hadn't loosened at all. "Well, look at you, too," I replied, figuring that in lieu of any real action a snappy rejoinder was better than nothing. "You don't have Murphy either."
"We will. The situation's being handled."
"Yeah?" I wondered how. "Cops make rotten hostages, you know," I commented pleasantly. "Nobody'll trade for a cop."
"That's not what the boss says."
This guy, I could tell, was not one of the real brains of organized crime. That's probably what saves this whole country from being entirely taken over by the bad guys--they can' t get good help either. "Just what does your boss say?
"Ask him yourself. He'll be here in a few minutes." Redhead went out, leaving the door open,
Actually, it was nearly an hour before I heard the sound of a car pulling up out front. I could hear Redhead and someone else talking, but the voices were too low for me to understand what they were saying. It was a moment before footsteps approached the doorway.
I should've been surprised, I guess. To look up and see Nick Starsky standing there should've come as something of a shock. But it didn't. Starsk, forgive me, but it wasn't a surprise. I looked at him without blinking. "Nick," I said quietly
He came into the room, lit a cigarette with great deliberation, and leaned against the wall. "I was afraid at first that they'd snatched David, but when Danny described you, I knew we'd lucked out."
He smiled. "I don't want anything to happen to you, Hutchinson. And nothing will, if everybody just uses a little common sense."
I stared at him, trying to convey some of the contempt I was feeling. "You may not know it, boy," I said, stressing the title, "but you just made the biggest mistake of your life."
He blew a smoke ring and watched as it floated lazily toward the ceiling. "I don't think so. In fact, this might be just the break I've been waiting for. When I turn Murphy and the files he stole over to Mr. Tanio, there's no telling how far I might go in the company."
"You bastard," I said, "Do you know what this is going to do to your brother?"
"He'll get over it." He pushed himself away from the wall. "Speaking of David, I think maybe it's time we gave him a call. He must be wondering what happened to you. Danny," he said, raising his voice a little, "bring the phone in here."
Danny, which was Redhead's other name, came in and set the phone on the table. Nick smiled at me as he dialed. "Sergeant Starsky, please," he said before handing the receiver to me. "Tell him the deal. Murphy and the files for you."
It's not easy to hold a phone with two cuffed hands, but by balancing it between my ear and shoulder, I managed. "He won't go for it," I told Nick.
"Not even for you?"
I didn't bother to answer him.
"This is Starsky," a familiar, slightly nasal voice said in my ear. My partner sounded frazzled.
"Hutch?" The word was shot through with relief. "Hutch! Where the hell are you?"
"I don't know. They haven't told me."
He was quiet for a moment, absorbing that. "Oh, Shit."
"I agree. I've got a deal for you, partner."
There was another pause; Starsk knew damned well what was coming. "Well, give it to me," he said wearily.
"Murphy and the files for me.
"Yeah. So what else is new?" He sighed. "You okay?"
"For the moment."
I could almost see him run one hand through his hair in a gesture of frustration. "Even if Dobey'd go for the deal--which he couldn't--the Feds wouldn't stand still for it. They want Tanio."
"Oh, sure. I know that."
We both knew it. Cops are always expendable in a hostage situation. That's a simple fact of life.
Nick leaned close to me. "That's enough for now," he whispered. "Hang up. I don't want them tracing the call. Tell him we'll be in touch."
"Gotta go, buddy," I said. "Stand by for more later."
"Hey, Hutch," he said.
"Always." I hung up. "You didn't want to talk to your brother?"
"He doesn't have to know yet." Nick looked a little scared, and I didn't blame him. Starsk isn't a good man to have for an enemy. He's pretty scary when he gets mad.
We stared at one another for a moment. Nick bent over to put the cigarette under his heel and then slowly crushed it out. Without saying anything more, he left the room. I closed my eyes and tried to figure out what I'd be doing in Starsky's place. Worrying, mostly, I guessed.
*~*~*~*The afternoon was fading before anybody came back into the room. Nick entered, followed by Danny, who was drinking a can of beer. I moistened my lips wistfully. "I'm thirsty."
"Later," Nick replied shortly. "After we make another call." He put a handwritten paper on the table in front of me and moved the phone back onto the table. "Just tell him what's written here."
Starsky was out in the car, and it took a moment to patch the call through to him. I understood his feeling- --the need to be out on the street, trying somehow to make a crack in the case, running up and down alleys, talking to snitches. A guy has to try everything. "Hi," I said.
"Hi. Whatcha got for me?"
Glancing at the paper, I carefully read the words aloud. "Have you discussed this deal with your superiors?"
"Yes," Starsky answered. "We are prepared to reach some mutual agreement." He sounded like he was reading, too. It looked like they were going to try some kind of phony switch. Well, it wouldn't be the first time he and I had tried something like that. Let's hope it won't be the last.
I was watching Nick carefully. "Starsk," I said, ignoring the paper, "I think you should know who's behind this." Nick made a move toward the phone, but then he shrugged and sat back, apparently deciding that the truth might as well come out now as later.
"Yeah?" Starsk said.
His mind, I knew, was running over all the Nick's we'd encountered in the job. "Nick who?"
I hated like hell to tell him, especially like that. When you have to break bad news to somebody you care about, it should be done face-to-face, so there's someone to hold on to. But there was no choice. "Nick Starsky," I said bluntly. "Your brother."
There was a long silence. "What?" he said vaguely. "I don't understand."
"Talk to him yourself."
I held the receiver out, and with a deep breath, Nick took it. "Hello, David," he said.
I could hear Starsky's voice, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.
It was very clear to Nick, though. His face paled a little. "Look, I didn't want it to come down like this, but..." Starsky spoke again. "David," Nick said, breaking in, "we haven't hurt Hutchinson at all yet." His fingers were clenched around the phone so tightly that his knuckles were white. "Look, I'll call back. We can't talk if all you're going to do is..." He hung up abruptly. "Damn him!" he said.
"How did you expect him to react?"
"I expected him to at least try and understand. Sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to do."
I shook my head. "Murder and kidnapping are hard for somebody like your brother to understand. He's a good man." I paused, wondering if anything I could say had even the slightest chance of getting through. Probably not. But I sometimes like to play social worker--give a junkie a five spot for a decent meal, help a hooker get a job as a waitress. Doing things like that, maybe I make up for some of the not-so-nice things I have to do on this job, even when I know that the junkie puts the money right into his vein and the hooker starts sleeping with the customers of the diner. "Nick, you grabbed his partner," I finally said. "There's no way he can understand that."
"I'm his brother." There was an unexpected note of anguish in Nick's voice.
I raised both hands helplessly. "Yeah. Well, I'm his partner."
I wasn't expecting the blow. Nick suddenly had a gun in his hand and the barrel sliced across my face. Blood, hot and sticky, poured down my cheek. "You're nothing, pig, nothing! Understand?"
Nick left the room, taking the phone with him.
*~*~*~*Something had changed when he came back a couple of hours later, and I figured that he'd spoken to Mr. Big. He set the phone in front of me with a crash. "Call him," he said shortly. "Tell him that we make the switch at midnight or they find your body laying on the front steps of the police station in the morning. Got that?"
"I got it." I managed a faint smile. "Mr. Tanio's upset with you, huh?"
Apparently forgetting for the moment that I was the enemy, he nodded glumly. "He didn't like it that the boys snatched a cop." He gave me a sharp glance. "But I told him that you were a special case. David isn't going to let anything happen to his precious partner."
I dialed the precinct. "Starsk may not be able to do anything for me," I said, "but he'll get even." For some reason, the trite, childish phrase comforted me. I guess the ancient rule of an eye for an eye isn't buried as deeply within us as we would like to believe. I knew, as surely as I had ever known anything in my life, that Starsky would track down my killers and, one way or another, dispose of them.
Starsky must have been sitting on top of the phone. "Hutch?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Nicky really did it?" His voice sounded old and ragged.
"Yeah, buddy. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault. I guess I screwed up somewhere with him."
Nick gestured for me to get on with it. "Starsk, they want the switch to come off at midnight." I stopped there, but Nick leaned closer.
"Tell him what I said."
I sighed. Was there to be no mercy for Starsky at all? "He says, if you don't do it, you'll find my body on the steps of the station in the morning."
Starsky caught his breath in a half-gasp, half-sob. "Nick...Nicky would really kill you?"
I studied my enemy across the table that separated us; he fondled the gun in his hands. "I think so."
There was a pause and then Starsky's tone turned brisk and business-like. He's a damned good cop, you know. Probably the best. "Give me the details."
I gave the phone back to Nick. "He's ready to talk."
"This is how it's going down, David," Nick said sharply. "Listen good, because I won't repeat it." Nick gave directions that would lead Starsky to the house, and for the first time I realized that we were somewhere in the hills above the city. "You better be alone with Murphy," he warned, "or you'll be looking for a new partner." Starsky said something. "Don't make threats you won't keep," Nick replied softly. Then he hung up.
"My partner doesn't make threats," I said mildly.
"You know something?" Nick asked.
"I'm getting sick and tired of hearing about your partner. David Starsky is not necessarily God, no matter what you or my mother say. You're as bad as she is. Every wall has a picture of her son, the mensh detective. You know, she even has a picture of you in the living room? Her friends come in, saying, who's the blond goyim on your wall? And she says, that shaygets is Kenneth Hutchinson, the partner of my son the detective."
For a moment, I was able to see Nick Starsky as the pathetic person he really was and I felt a stab of sympathy. It didn't last long, though. Hard to feel sorry for a guy that would blow me away without a qualm. Or a guy who could hurt his own brother as much as Nick was hurting Starsk. I had nothing else to say to him.
Apparently he felt the same, because he took the phone and left the room.
*~*~*~*It was just a little after eleven--too early for Starsk--when I heard the sound of a car engine outside. A new voice entered the conversation in the other room.
The man who appeared in the doorway looked like what Nick might hope to be someday. His suit must have cost five hundred dollars and his shoes not much less. He puffed on a thin black cigar and looked at me with the mild curiosity most people show a laboratory animal. He wasn't Tanio, but he was certainly higher up the executive ladder than Nick. "Hello, Detective Hutchinson," he said.
"I do hope you'll forgive the clumsy way this was handled. Nicky is young; he still has a lot to learn."
"He's a quick study."
The man smiled a little. "Indeed. Mr. Tanio thinks highly of him; that's why he sent Nicky out here to handle this. The boy shows an ability to improvise. Our original plan called for a simple...disposal of the police escort at the airport and a quick absconding with Murphy. Unfortunately, Nicky expressed some reluctance to kill his brother. The alternative plan didn't work as well as expected. However, he seems to have turned the situation to our advantage."
The jerk sure liked to hear himself talk. "Clever Nicky."
His smile seemed carved in ice. "I suggest we all just relax and await the arrival of the other officer. He's reliable, would you say?"
"Good." He left, and I was alone again.
Maybe it could have been a good time to sit and reflect on my life and try to decide "what it all meant". That seemed sort of pointless, though. If my life had any meaning at all, it had already been settled and if it didn't...well, what was the use of thinking about it?
Besides, I was more worried about Starsk than I was about myself. I mean, if I got killed, that sort of settled everything for me. And if I somehow got out of this in one piece, then there was no problem. But Starsk, the poor bastard, was going to come up the loser no matter what. His brother was lost in any case. And maybe his partner. To lose your partner means a guilt trip under any circumstances. Add to that the fact that his own brother was the one holding the proverbial smoking pistol...poor Starsk. He's not had much experience with guilt trips. I didn't want to think about how he would cope with this.
Starsky was right on time. I could hear the Torino's approach, a lovely sound, then the echo of the car door slamming. "Come on out here, Nicky," I heard Starsky say. "And bring Hutch."
Danny came into the room, untied the ropes around my body, and shoved a gun barrel into my spine. "One false move," he growled in the best bad-guy tradition. I sometimes wonder how the bad guys would act if they didn't have the movies to set an example. Of course, the same might be said of us hero types.
I stepped out onto the porch, into the glowing circle of brightness cast by the porch light, and raised both hands in a half-wave.
"What happened to your face?" Starsky asked. I'd forgotten the blow from Nick's gun. Nick answered for me. "He fell. Where's Murphy?"
"We've decided that this is a two-part operation," Starsky said, taking a step closer.
"What do you mean?" Nick glanced over his shoulder to where the fancy dresser was standing just inside the door.
"We have two things you want--Murphy and the files. You have just one thing to offer us in return--him." It was a little strange to hear myself being discussed like part of a business deal, and a rather insignificant part at that.
"So?" Nick said.
"This is the way we want it to go down: I give you the files now and you give me Hutch. Murphy is in a car down the road. When Hutch is safe, Murphy gets sprung. I'll stay here until you have your hands on him."
"Hey," I said.
"Shut up," my partner said. "Well, Nicky?"
"You were supposed to bring him with you."
Starsk shrugged. "Take it or leave it."
"If we leave it, Hutch gets wasted.""That's the best deal I could arrange, Nick." Suddenly Starsky's tough-guy face seemed to crumple and he took another, shaky step toward his brother..." Nicky, why are you doing this to me?"
"I 'm not doing it to you, David. This whole thing only got so screwed 'up because I was trying to protect you. I was doing it for you."
"For me? By snatching my partner? By threatening to kill Hutch? That's supposed to be' for my good? Christ, Nicky, didn't it ever occur to you that if somebody's going to get blown away, I'd rather it was me? Don't save me at the expense of Hutch.
From the expression on Nick's face, it was obvious that Starsky's attitude bewildered him. "I didn't want you hurt, David," he repeated stubbornly.
Starsky shook his head. He wiped one hand across his face and stared at Nick. "I thought you were going to straighten out your life.""I tried, but it just didn't work out. I couldn't hack it. The work was too hard and the money wasn't big enough. I like what I do."
"You're filth," Starsky said hoarsely; pain grated in his voice like a fingernail being dragged across a blackboard. "Papa must be turning in his grave."
Nick dismissed his words with a wave. "Papa was a fool. You're a fool. Don't you understand that nobody cares if you run around fighting evil? It's a stupid way to live, a stupid reason to die."
"You have no right to pass judgment on my life." He clenched a fist "Damnit, Nicky, what happened? When we were kids it was never like this."
"Your problem, David, is that you never grew up. You're still playing cops and robbers. This is the real world, baby," he said savagely. "Grow up before it's too late."
"You're going to take a long fall for this."
"I don't think so. You won't turn in your own brother." "Won't I?" Starsky shook his head. "We don't really know each other, do we, Nicky?"
"We never did."
They both seemed to realize that the conversation was finished. Starsky tossed the black case he was holding to the ground. "There's the files," Nick gestured at Danny. "Take it inside."
I wondered what was actually in the case. Not the real files, that much I knew. The Feds wouldn't let the real ones get away. Hell, those guys wouldn't care if six cops got wasted as long as they made their case. This pathetic effort at rescue was a gallant folly that would probably get us both killed.
The case was inside now, and I figured it was time somebody took some action. Besides, it had been a long day and I was pretty tired of getting screwed by Nick and his friends.
I gave Starsky a look and he caught my meaning, of course. I bent over suddenly and shoved back against Nick, knocking him off balance. His gun wavered and fired a shot that crashed into Starsky's car. Starsk was stretched out, crawling toward the protection of the open car door. A shot from inside the house whizzed by my head. I rolled sideways and felt Nick grab my legs. Two kicks had no effect. There was more gunfire.
"Damn you, Hutchinson!" Nick yelled at me. "You've screwed up everything. Damn you!"
It all happened so fast, like a movie run through the projector too rapidly. Nick raised his gun and placed the barrel against my forehead. I figured it was all over. I tried to look at Starsk once more, but my vision was blurred.
I blinked twice and saw Starsk. He had reached the car and was crouching behind the door. His arm stuck through the window and I could see the gun in his hand. He fired just once. It was enough; Starsk's aim is usually good. Nick's finger jerked against the trigger of his own gun, but it was purely a reflex action, and the bullet hit the ground. Nick fell forward onto me.
The zone cars that had been sitting out on the highway finally squealed into the yard. Danny and the other guy came out of the house, their hands in the air.
I was still lying on the ground, feeling the warm wetness of Nick's blood covering me. A moment later, Starsk reached us. "Nicky?" he said in a hoarse whisper. Then I felt the weight of the other man's body lifted off my chest. Starsky rested his brother carefully, tenderly, on the ground. His hands grasped my shoulders. "Hutch?" He figured I was dead, too.
He tried to wipe the blood from my face. "Sure?"
"You didn't get hit?" His hands moved over my body, probing, as if he couldn't believe that I was alive and unhurt.
"I'm all right." I sat up to prove that I was okay.
He nodded, accepting it, and turned to Nick. Very gently, he took one of his brother's hands and rubbed it against his cheek. "Damn," he whispered. "Damn, Nicky. What happened to us? What the hell happened?" Tears began to roll down his face. "I'm sorry, Mama, I'm sorry."
I had never felt so goddamned helpless. "Will somebody take these cuffs off me?" I yelled into the milling crowd of cops. Someone finally bent down with a key and freed my hands. I touched Starsky's arm. "I'm sorry, buddy," I said softly, wondering with a part of my mind if he could bear to have me touch him.
I didn't think he heard me at first. But after a minute he looked up and met my gaze. "Hutch."
I put both arms around him and held on tightly. He returned the embrace, and then we moved apart. "I have to go call my mother," he said dully.
"Want me to do it?"
He shook his head. "No, I have to." He pushed himself up. "But I'd like you with me."
I nodded and stood slowly. The noise of the other cops flowed around us, but we weren't really a part of it. It was just the two of us that mattered as we headed for the car.
He didn't want to be alone during what was left of the night, so I went home with him. I took a fast shower and shoved my bloody clothes out of sight. Starsk's jeans were several inches too short, but the sweatshirt was okay.
I walked back into the living room. He was sitting in the almost dark room, watching the goldfish make lazy circles around the bowl. I got two beers from the kitchen and joined him on the couch.
He took the beer. "Thanks."
"Mama took it okay, don't you think?"
"Yeah." I watched the condensation on my beer can. "I think so."
"I think she knew for a long time that something was wrong, but..." He sighed. "I killed Nicky," he said. "My own brother." His voice was husky.
"Maybe if I hadn't done what I did," I began, painfully putting into words what had been hammering at me for the last two hours.
"Shut up," he said. "Don't say that. It wasn't your fault. Nicky was gonna blow your head off." I didn't say aloud the words that were in my mind, but he seemed to know them anyway. "Hutch, don't blame yourself. I had to do what I did. I wouldn't let anybody kill you. Not even Nicky."
I watched Butch chase Sundance around the bowl and wondered how to say what I felt needed to be said. Starsky had made a choice tonight, a choice between his brother and his partner. The victory, bitter and bloody, was mine. And also mine was the responsibility to make sure that he never wondered whether he had made the right decision. "Starsk," I said softly, "I never had a brother. Not until I met you."
A full five minutes passed before he spoke. "Thank you," he whispered.
I rested one hand on his shoulder. "Thank you."
He looked at me and smiled shakily. "We just keep on keeping on, don't we, buddy?"
I shrugged. "Sure. What else is there?"
"Nothing, I guess. Nothing that matters."
In a few minutes, he went to bed. Don't know if he got any sleep. I didn't. Couldn't. Figured it was my duty to sort of stand watch, in case he needed me. Like I said before, duty is a hard habit to break.