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A FRIEND REMOVED Part 2
Starsky's face was still angry as he stalked through the lobby and up the stairs. The people who worked there didn't intercept him this time, seeing the determined look on his face. Many of them watched only because Preston's money had given them incentive to keep an eye on this man. But none of them believed that this scene was worthy of any kind of report.
By the time he was half up the stairs, he realized he was running. Starsky didn't believe he was capable of unlocking a door so quickly, but in mere microseconds he was inside the room with his back up against the door. His chest heaved but he wasn't sure if it was from the exertion or from the anxiety. "I'm gonna take care of this right now!" He grabbed a candy bar from the fridge, then flopped himself down on the bed and picked up the entire phone, setting it in front of him on the bed.
"Hello, hotel operator? Yes, I'd like to make a long-distance phone call, please. Sure, the number is 619-555-3200. Thank you." He held the phone to his ear, waiting for the connection to be made, and took advantage of the moment by taking a large bite of the chocolate. He finally heard a click, then the ring began. "Brriinngg...briinngg...brriinngg. Hello, Los Angeles Police Department. May I help you?"
"Hi, this is Detective Sergeant David Starsky. Please connect me with Captain Harold Dobey."
"Sure, please hold one moment, sir."
It was only a minute before the silence ended. "Dobey here," came the gruff answer.
"Hi, Captain. It's me, Starsky."
"Hi, Starsky. How's the vacation going?"
"Strange, Captain. Strange."
"What do you mean?"
"Look, I'll explain it later. Right now, I need you to do me a favor."
"What is it you need?"
"I need you to get a copy of Hutch's picture from his personnel file and send it out here in the fastest way you can find."
"Ahhh, Starsky . . ." Dobey didn't go on.
"What is it, Captain?"
"Well, Starsky... You see, I'd be happy to get you a picture of whoever you want, but who is this 'Hutch' person?"
"Oh, c'mon, Captain. Joke's over. I'm in real trouble out here! Hutch's disappeared and I can't even prove he was ever here!"
"Well, whoever he is, I'm sure you'll find him eventually." A pause of silence. "Look, Starsky. I've gotta go. Enjoy the rest of your vacation, and come back refreshed. Hopkins will be glad to have you all rested up."
"Hopkins? Who's Hopkins?"
"You're partner, dummy," Dobey laughed. "Bye!" The phone clicked in his ear, but Starsky hung onto it for some time in stunned silence.
In an small, isolated room, the hotel operator clicked off the line and smiled up at the man who stood on her left. While not a man of imposing stature, he was definitely very big on talent. To her right stood Jackson Preston himself.
"That was perfect, Rich. Now I know why you're the best, biggest impressionist in Atlantic City. Maybe someday I'll actually buy tickets to one of your performances."
"Thanks a lot, Mr. Preston. When do I get the payment you promised?"
"It's being deposited in your bank account as we speak."
"Thanks again. Boy, you've sure got some sense of humor! What a great joke to play on a friend - and he really sounded scared! You really do spare no expense!"
"Remember, Rich. Your payment is contingent on your silence. The joke's no fun if someone finds out too soon." He smiled at Jackson as he walked out of the room, then Jackson turned to the operator. "You let me know any other calls Detective Starsky makes, huh? And if he tries to make any more calls to the coast, just tell him the lines are down. That'll delay him for a bit anyway."
"Yessir!" she said, but he'd already turned his back and was walking through the door.
Hutch stirred groggily, tired from what he believed was too much sleep, but was actually an aftereffect of the chloroform they'd used on him while he slept. "Feel like a bear in the spring," he mumbled to himself, even the quiet words echoing in the empty pool. He looked above to see the light once again shining through the skylight above him. It had been dark when he'd fallen asleep, but not for long, and he discerned from the shadow that the sun was now almost directly overhead. He had no way of knowing if it was just before or just after noon, but the mind, atrophied from sleep, didn't dwell on it.
He was still chained to the drain of the large pool, but he noticed as he shifted slightly an ache across the back of his shoulders and realized that his hands were no longer chained behind him: they were in front, where he could see the massive links and heavy padlock. "Now why would they do that?" he wondered to himself, and got his answer a few moments later when he noticed a small plate of food and can of soda laid near where he'd been sleeping. Must've changed my hands when they brought the food. I'm surprised it didn't wake me up. This was the first meal they'd brought him since he'd awoken to find himself in this place, and he realized he was famished. The portion on the plate was small, enough to sustain but not much more. He dug into it greedily, forgetting all the gentlemanly manners his mother had taught him.
As he pushed the food into his mouth, he looked around some more, hoping to find some sign that he hadn't been left here alone again but finding no one there. "Where are you, Starsk? Have you forgotten about me? Please, please come get me outta here, pal !"
The food was gone too soon, and with nothing else to occupy him, he fell once again asleep. As he drifted off, the thought occurred to him that this would make the meager meal last longer, burning as few calories as possible until someone came. Then he'd have the energy he'd need to overpower whoever kidnapped him and get back to Starsky. "Oh, Partner. If they'd do this to me, what are they planning for you?"
Starsky was never sure whether it was a sleeping dream or an awake hallucination, but it shook him to the very marrow of his bones. Hutch had been there...standing...silently...at the foot of his bed. His form had wavered, ghost like, beckoning him to come with him. NO! It wasn't a dream! He was really here! He'd sat there staring, open mouthed, as the form stayed for several minutes, then finally wavered one last time and disappeared.
"No! Don't go!" Starsky reached out for his partner and saw the fading figure reach toward him in return. When it had gone, he rubbed his eyes, trying to decide if he really believed them, and found the long dark lashes wet. He cringed in embarrassment, even though there was nobody there to see the tears. Then curled up in a fetal position on the bed, hiding his face when the whimpering started again. He pushed a hand on his chest, but the sobs weren't to be controlled. The escape of sleep finally claimed him, and the tense arms and legs finally relaxed. He wasn't looking forward to the dreams he'd surely, truthfully, have.
The sun through the window awoke the dark haired man early the next morning. He'd purposefully left the drapes and shades opened the night before, allowing nature's own alarm clock to wake him for another day of searching. However, after the vision he'd had during the night, he decided that he needed more help. "Gotta clear one thing up first," he said to himself as he ran cold fingers through his curls.
He flicked on the lights and rose from the bed, letting his bare feet touch the carpet in only one small area. "You WERE here! You WERE! I KNOW you were!" He bent down and examined the carpet next to his bed, then meticulously went over every inch of the carpet at the side and end of his bed, searching for any signs that someone had stood there. Dirt? No. Grass? No. Blond hair? No. He finally sat in a heap on the floor, looking dejected and lonesome. "You need help," a voice said in his head, and he wasn't sure if the voice was his own or Hutch's. He got up and dressed, his movements slower and less crisp than usual. Again, a different thought flew through his mind. Am I losing my mind?
He didn't take the time to shave or shower, having too many other things on his mind. Besides, Starsky didn't care how he looked to other people. "So what!" He said to himself as he walked to the rental car. "I don't know anyone in this stinkin' town but Hutch. And he'll take me no matter how I look!" As he crawled behind the wheel and put his keys in the ignition, it occurred to him that he had no idea where the local police station was. Well, that should be easy enough to remedy. He'd just ask the first patrolman or native once he got on the road.
As soon as he'd left the hotel room, Preston's men moved in, removing from the room the hidden projection equipment they'd so carefully concealed. They also removed the two remaining candy bars from the refrigerator and replaced them with new ones. "Can't have them running tests on these, huh?" one man asked another. The bars had been drugged, of course - only enough to encourage Starsky's little "waking nightmare".
Shortly the equipment was dropped on the table in Jackson Preston's house. "It's working like a charm, sir. He had no idea where his 'ghost' came from. Ran out like he was shot out of a cannon."
"I know," Jackson said. "I've got a whole city's worth of people keeping an eye on him. When he gets to wherever he's going, they'll let me know."
"Mr. Preston?" It was asked mildly, almost timidly. "What are you gonna do with Hutchinson once Starsky's taken care of?"
"Why, my dear boy, I don't intend to 'do' anything with him. Once Starsky's where I want him, we won't need him anymore. And when that happens, we'll just leave him where he is."
"Well then, sir, forgive me for asking, but why are we still bothering to feed him. I mean, we've got all the pictures we needed for the camera, and it just seems risky. And if anyone ever found him out there alive . . ."
"Rick, you are absolutely correct. I've been so caught up in thwarting Starsky that I haven't been thinking about blondie. Okay. Send out orders to all the men - there will be no more visits to 'The Palace'. Besides, anyone we send out there could be spotted by the cops or Starsky. That hotel is supposed to be deserted. We can't have people coming and going out there. Hutchinson will eventually just fade away."
The red car pulled up and parked in front of the police station, and Starsky noted the "Limit: 2 hours" parking sign on the curb. The station itself looked very much like the ones back home. He had a feeling, however misplaced, that this was "his" domain, and charged through the precinct doors as though he owned the place. Officers, suspects, and lawyers all rushed around, barely paying attention to the man as he stood in the middle of the hallway. After a few minutes of going unnoticed, Starsky snared a passing uniformed man by the arm.
"Excuse me, Officer," he said, remembering, finally, his manners. "Where can I go to fill out a missing persons report?"
` "Oh, that's easy. Go down this hall," he pointed, "then turn right at the first hallway. It'll be the third door on the left. Ask for Sergeant Bailey." Starsky politely thanked the man and made his way down the hall.
The room was awash with desks, and Starsky circled it until he finally found a name plaque that said "Bailey". The man at it was very apparently busy, with forms rather than people. The L.A. detective didn't feel so bad interrupting the kind of work he was slaving over.
"Yes, sir. That's me. What can I do for you?"
"One of your officers referred me to you. I need to fill out a missing persons report."
"Well, he steered you in the right direction, Mr. . . .?"
"Starsky. David Starsky. And, actually, it's Detective Sergeant."
"Oh? You a cop?"
"Yeah. I'm with the L.A.P.D., Homicide division."
"And what are you doing in Atlantic City, Detective Starsky?"
"We just came on vacation. I thought it might be fun to see some shows, try our luck...you know."
"You said 'we'. Who is 'we'?"
"Well, 'we' is who I came to see you about. I came to Atlantic City with my partner, Detective Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson. He, ahhhh, seems to have disappeared."
"Oh, he did? Look," he said, giving Starsky a look that spoke volumes, "are you sure he's not just playing some kind of joke on you. I mean, around here it seems partners are always playing tricks on each other. Especially the plainclothes ones."
"We are plainclothes back in L.A., but I'm sure he's not playing a trick."
"Okay," Bailey agreed, pulling out a light blue form. "Then let's get started looking for him. Please take a seat. I probably don't need to tell you the drill, so let's just get through this so we can put out an APB. We'll see what we can do to located this errant partner of yours." The officer smiled gently, noticing the worry lines creased in the dark man's forehead and the dark circles under his eyes.
"I'd start by monitoring the hospitals if I were you. Hutch'd have to be hurt in order to stay away like this. I called them all - at least all the ones I could find in the phone book - when he first disappeared, but you never know when he could show up!"
"When exactly did Sergeant Hutchinson disappear?"
"It'll be three days tonight. He vanished from our room in the middle of the night."
"Did he have any enemies that you know of in the city?"
"No. Most of our enemies are on the west coast. And for the most part, any enemies of Hutch's are enemies of mine. Y'see, we've been partners for a long, long time. It doesn't make sense that they'd do something to him and leave me alone."
"You keep referring to your partner as 'Hutch'. Is that his nickname?"
"Yeah. Most of the time he prefers it over 'Ken'. Do you think you can help me? I've been trying to find him myself, but this city of yours is just too big." He didn't tell him about the call to Dobey or the vision from the night before. That was information Bailey just didn't need.
After the form was completed, Starsky rose and shook hands. "Will you be checking in with your hotel? I'm presuming, of course, that you have no intention of giving up your own investigation."
"Yeah, I'll be checking in. If you find out anything, you can leave a message for me there. I'm in Room 302."
"I'm sure you'll be hearing from us, Sergeant Starsky. Just keep a stiff upper lip."
Starsky left the precinct house feeling much better and a little less alone now that he felt sure he was going to be getting some help in finding Hutch.
The "12" was no longer so distinct, as it fuzzed at the edges and flowed in and out of focus. It even wavered some, as though he were looking at it from under water. "Heh heh," Hutch feebly laughed. "Imagine that - water in an empty pool. You're losing it, Hutchinson." He pulled once again at the restraining chain, barely even able to lift it now.
Three days without food or water had left him weak. His stomach was long since past the point where it growled or ached, a period he'd endured the previous day. He couldn't afford to take the time to recognize the hunger, as his mind kept trying to stray away from him. You're not gonna leave me too? He deliriously questioned his own mind, and was a little hurt when he didn't get an answer. Why not? Everyone else's gone. No one left. Not Abby or Judith or Gillian. Not Dobey or Huggy or Starsky. Nobody but me. If someone would only come. Anyone at all. Just to let him know there still was a world beyond the four walls of this pool.
He suddenly had a moment's clarity, and he realized that unless he found something to concentrate on, he'd end up a blubbering fool. "Think, Hutchinson. Think!" The urgency of his tone covered some of the weakness, but could not conceal it all. "Why would someone do this to you. They haven't been back in God knows how long. If they wanted something from me, they'd've been here on and off. How long has it been? Days and days and days, I'm sure. And I haven't seen anything. What do they want from me? And where is Starsky?" His mind chose that inopportune moment to desert him again. He found himself unable to get a clear picture of his partner. The dark on top, then lighter below. Vibrant blue piercing from the light area. Somehow it seemed right, and yet wrong. Was that Starsky? No. Yes! No! Yes!
His mind finally gave up trying to convince itself, and he lay his thin body - thinner than it had been and accented by the nakedness of his arms, legs, shoulders, and chest - on the pool floor, letting the coolness of the stone seep into his bones. It made him even more tired, and he gave in to the sleep that was grasping at him with icy fingertips.
"But it's been four days!" Starsky shouted into the telephone receiver. The silence he received in response told him he'd stepped on somebody's toes. "Look, I'm sorry officer. Please!" It was almost a plea the way it came out, and Starsky quickly became aware of the tone in his voice. He calmed it to as close to normal as he could manage. "Please," he said, quieter this time. "Just check with Sergeant Bailey. He'll tell you about my case. Maybe he's even found out something."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I'm sure the Sergeant would have called you if he had anything new." The voice sounded almost apologetic. "I'll tell you what. When Sergeant Bailey comes back in, I'll ask him personally about your case, then either he or I will call you back. Whether or not he's found anything, you will hear from us."
"Yeah.... Yeah.... That sounds good. Thanks a lot - I'll be talking to you!" Starsky laid the receiver in the cradle, unconsciously rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed. It had been seven days...SEVEN DAYS...since he'd seen his partner.
Still with everything on his mind, that number kept coming back to him. Seven days. Seven days. Seven days. Finally, the subconscious floated to the conscious. "Damn! Seven days!! We're due back on duty today!" He reached for the phone. "Gotta call Dobey." His hand froze a half an inch above the receiver and hovered there while he gathered his thoughts. Remember last time you called him. The other side of his mind answered. It was nothing! I'm sure he was just kidding around! The first voice again. Dobey wouldn't kid after hearing about Hutch. And the second answering, He would if he thought we were kidding!
"SHUT UP!" Starsky finally screamed, silencing both voices. He grabbed the phone without hesitating this time. "Operator, I need to make a long distance call to the West Coast. Yes, to L.A." He listened into the receiver for a moment. "What do you mean all the lines to the West Coast are down? How can they all be down!" His voice dropped in volume when he realized he was harassing the woman. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to take it out on you. Can you tell me when you expect them to be back up?" The answer he received was very apparently unsatisfactory, as his face fell and he let his chin drop to his chest. "Yes, thank you. Yes, ma'am. Could you please ring my room when the lines are back up. I'm David Starsky in Room 302. Yes, thank you very much. Good-bye."
He hung up the phone for just an instant - an instant he used to pull the telephone book from the bottom shelf of the bedside table. He scanned the pages until he found the number he wanted. The dial on the telephone spun around once again. "Hello, I'd like to send a telegram. Yes, it's to Captain Harold Dobey, Los Angeles Police Department, Metropolitan Division, Los Angeles, California. You ready? Okay, here's what I want it to say. 'Captain, stop. Held up in Atlantic City, stop. Hutch missing seven days, stop. This is no joke, stop. Will call later, stop. Signed, Starsky'. Yes, ma'am. That's fine, ma'am. Thank you very much."
Starsky felt a little better after the telegram was dispatched, and prepared to grab something to eat and head out again. He'd long since exhausted the supplies he'd stored in the refrigerator, except for that horrible jar of nacho dip he'd been stuck with. He'd even managed to choke down all that yogurt. It actually wasn't that bad, and he swore he'd admit that to his partner if...no, "when", he ever saw him again.
Sending the telegram had somehow lifted his spirits, and there was a slight bounce in his step as he once again crossed the carpeted lobby on his way to the store. What he didn't expect was to be intercepted by Sergeant Bailey and three other, rather large, uniformed men. Bailey's expression was grim, and the sight of it ran a chill through Starsky. Oh, God! Please tell me you've found him and he's safe. Don't tell me he's dead, please! As they got closer, Starsky could also see sympathy in the green eyes, and knew for certain what the policeman's pronouncement would be.
"It's okay, Detective Starsky," Bailey said as he spread his arms. "It's okay, just keep calm. Everything is going to be all right." Starsky realized his tone was gentle, but patronizing. Could he tell how upsetting the disappearance of Hutch had been to his partner? Of course! He'd seen it in the squad room that first day. Starsky tried to get a word in, to ask what exactly they'd found. The officer didn't seem to want to tell him, and every time Starsky opened his mouth, he'd interrupt and talk more nonsense, soothing words.
After a half a minute of this, Starsky would finally be complacent no more. "CUT IT OUT!" he shouted, drawing the eyes of every person in the lobby. He cut it to half volume, but the tone was as intense as ever. "Whatever you have to tell me, I can take it! Did you find Hutch?"
"Sure we did. We know exactly where he is." Why did his tone sound so strange? "If you come with us, we'll take you to him."
"Is he all right? How is he? C'mon, I gotta know!"
"Yeah, yeah. He's just fine, and you're gonna be fine, too." The muscular officers he had with him each took an arm, escorting Starsky to the car.
"Well, hell, I know I'm gonna be fine! I'm just worried about my partner." One of the burly officers slid in next to him, with Bailey and the remaining cop utilizing the front seat. As the rear squad car door slammed shut, it occurred to Starsky that he was trapped. In any precinct in the country, squad car back seats are never able to be opened from the inside.
He discounted the thought as the car began to roll, leaning forward in the seat to talk to Bailey. "Where is he? Did you take him to the precinct, or is he in the hospital?" All the officers kept their silence. "C'mon, I've been looking for seven days! The least you can do it let me in on it. It can't be any worse than the things I've been imagining!"
There was silence again for a moment, then the officer seated next to him turned to Bailey as he drove. "Nutty as a fruitcake, huh, Sergeant?"
"Simms, you know better than to talk that way in front of a patient!" The reprimand silenced the officer, but certainly got Starsky's attention.
"Patient! Patient? Where are we going?" He finally took a good look around him. Although he was not very familiar with the city, he knew that this wasn't the way to the station he'd visited before. "This isn't the way to your headquarters. Then we must be goin' to a hospital. Is that it? Is Hutch in a hospital?"
"Take it easy, Sergeant Starsky. Yes, we're going to a hospital. We should be there in only another ten or so minutes." The officers all relaxed when they saw the out-of-state detective sit back with a small smile, content to wait the ten minutes until he'd see his partner again.
Even for the summer, the weather had taken a decidedly nasty turn, manifesting itself as torrential downpours with thunder and lightning. A man and woman, with two small children in tow, walked dripping toward the abandoned structure.
"But, Fred, it's probably locked tight. We'll never be able to get in! And the windows are all boarded up!"
"I'll find a way, honey. We are not spending one more storm under an overpass or in an alley, trying to find a roof over our head. I may be out of a job, but we're not rats to be drowned or ignored! I owe you, and the kids, better than that!" His tone was desperate, and his wife knew better than to push him when he was this determined.
Each adult carried a sack filled with whatever possessions they still had to their names, while the small girl, her face dirty and scared, clutched at a ragged doll whose hair appeared to be falling out. A boy, even younger than the girl, was also dirty-faced and he periodically toddled and was carried on their way. They listened carefully as they approached the abandoned hotel, knowing that they could be sent to jail for what they were about to do.
"Absolutely nothing," Fred said as he concentrated harder. "Looks and sounds like we're all clear." He found a large, flat stone laying nearby, and used it to pry one of the boards off the windows. When three of the four nails were free, he slid it aside, pivoting on one remaining nail, and finished breaking the already cracked window in the frame. He was very careful to leave no glass to cut tender legs and arms, then, just to be safe, he took off his soaking wet shirt and laid it over the bottom.
"You go in first," he said to his wife Karen. "I'll hand through the kids, then follow you in. Once the board is slid back, no one will know we're here." She did as he said, very grateful to be in out of the rain and thunder. The building was very dark, but no darker than some of the alleys they'd called home over the past three months since they'd lost their apartment. The children, whose eyes were quick to become accustomed to the dark, reveled in the wide open spaces of the hotel lobby and ran up and down the empty halls, investigating everything in sight.
The family, for once, felt secure, but it didn't keep Karen from worrying. "What if we get caught? If they put us in jail, they'll take away the kids!"
"Don't worry," Fred soothed, pressing her head against his shoulder. "We'll only stay until the storm is over, and no one will ever be able to tell we've been here!"
The parents spread their thin and fraying blankets on the carpeted floor - it was a much preferable place to sleep than they had been using. They had just settled down on them when Jacob, their young son, came toddling back. "Mama." He held his arms out and his mother scooped him into hers in a tight hug. She could tell he was ready for bed, tired from the walk, and decided they probably all were.
"Carol!" she called into the darkened halls. "Carol, come here. It's time for bed." The young girl, her blond waves dancing in the meager light, skipped back toward her parents.
"Oh, mom! Can't I please stay up just a few more minutes?! Please??? I want to look around some more!" Her smile expressed her excitement at their new place, her childlike innocence keeping her from being aware of her family's predicament. "Please???" she begged again.
"Oh...well, okay. But just fifteen more minutes. I'll call you again, so listen for my voice. And when your time's up, I want no more arguments."
The young girl threw her arms around her mother's waste. "Thank you, mommy. I promise I'll go right to bed when you call."
Jacob was already asleep by the time Karen returned to their makeshift beds, and she and her husband sat and held each other, knowing the peace would end all too soon. Karen guessed that about one quarter of an hour had passed, when she looked up into her husbands eyes and pushed away from him. "I'd better call Carol." She went to the same hall her daughter had disappeared down. "Carol, bedtime!" She listened for the echoing footsteps of her oldest child, but none came. "Carol Elizabeth, come here this instant!" She waited a few minutes but still got no response. Turning to her husband, she said, "I guess I'd better go look for her!" Her exasperation was as apparent as her exhaustion.
"No, honey," Fred stepped in, holding her back with one arm. "I'll go get her. You keep an eye on Jacob. She's probably just playing; I mean, what could happen to her in an abandoned hotel?" He kissed her lightly on the brow and headed off down the darkened hall. Room doors loomed on each side, and he opened each one and checked the room within. He could barely see, at the end of the hall as he approached it, a large glass wall which reflected what little light there was. What the glass separated from the hall he did not know, but thought how Carol was probably attracted to the view.
As he neared the glass, he jumped in astonishment only to realize it was his own reflection which had frightened him. "Carol, where are you, honey?" He walked to the right, keeping one hand on the all-glass wall to his left. His hand touched something cornered, and he realized he'd found a doorway in the glass wall. This area was as light as the lobby itself, and he realized that the slight bit of sunlight that the clouds had not dispelled was shining through the skylights in both here and the lobby. A left turn took him into the new room, and he beheld the statue-like outline of his young daughter, frozen in space and time. "Honey, why didn't you come when we called?" He placed gentle hands on the girl's shoulders, but she jumped nonetheless. Instead of an answer, she only pointed.
The skylight revealed a dim figure on the bottom of the pool, no more than a vague outline itself. Roughly man-sized, but he couldn't see anything else. "It's okay, honey. I'll check and see what that is. Why don't you go back to your mother?" He turned her by the shoulders and she numbly walked away. The pool was empty, but the end where the figure lay was very deep. "Maybe the other end is more shallow," he mumbled to himself. Sure enough, the bottom at the far end was only about three feet down, and it was an easy drop to the pool's bottom. He rushed down the sloping bottom toward the motionless figure, coming up short next to it.
"Oh, dear Lord! It's a man!" He looked over the prone figure carefully before approaching it. The man didn't move, only lay on his side. Clad only in undershorts, a fragmented blanket strewn over the legs, he did not shiver, but the movement of his chest indicated he was alive. The breath movement accentuated the protruding ribs and the blue eyes were open but vacant. "Hey, buddy! Hey, can you hear me?" When he got no response, he reached for a wrist to take his pulse - maybe he wasn't really breathing after all. The dim light made it hard to tell anything definite. He found the man's hands and moved up the fingers toward the wrists. His search was blocked, however, when he realized that, instead of feeling the soft flesh and the pulse, he was feeling hard metal. He followed the cuffs to the chain and the chain, in turn, to the floor drain. "Who would have done this to you?" He didn't expect a response, nor did he get one from the unresponsive figure. Fred couldn't figure if he was conscious or not, but decided to treat him as if he were. "Don't worry, buddy. I'll get some help for you!"
It took only moments for the man to fly from Hutch's side to his wife's. "There's a man back there!" he told her, panting and out of breath. "We've got to get an ambulance for him!"
"Carol told me she saw someone, but I couldn't imagine . . ."
"I don't know what's wrong, but he's alive and he needs help. He's been chained here God knows how long. Barely nothing to wear and, from how it looks, nothing to eat. We can't just leave him!"
"Okay, honey, calm down. You're right. No matter what it means to us, we've got to get him some help. Why don't you go find a phone and call an ambulance. I'll stay here with the kids."
The two youths were amazing, not awakening for more than a moment during the whole process. Lights flashed, voices yelled, and people came and went through the lobby; yet Carol and Jacob slept through it all. Fire/Rescue workers broke the chains, and ambulance attendants loaded the catatonic man onto a stretcher and took him away. The lights of the emergency vehicles faded away, and the couple who had found Hutch considered themselves lucky that no one, in all the confusion, had thought to ask what the homeless family had been doing in the hotel. Or, at least, if they wondered, they had the kindness not to voice it and create problems.
"It must be our reward from above for helping that poor man," Karen whispered to her husband, as they watched the children's steady breathing.
"Yeah. I wonder why someone would want to do that to anyone!"
"From the looks of him, I doubt even the doctors will ever know. His eyes looked so empty!"
"He didn't talk, he didn't react. No identification, no identity. He may be lost forever. But at least he's alive." Karen curled up next to her husband, sighing at the warmth and the unaccustomed comfort.
"I'm so tired. Think I'll go to sleep now." And she did just that, as Fred stroked her fine hair.
This is a nightmare! Detective Sergeant Starsky could hardly believe the events of the last few hours. His situation had gone from bad to worse since his visit by Sergeant Bailey and his compatriots. He thought back, now, on that ride in the squad care - the ride he believed would take him to Hutch. They'd been traveling about ten minutes when Starsky started to realize something.
"Hey! This isn't the way to the precinct! Where are we going?" When
the three officers failed to comment, he began to draw his own conclusions.
"We are going to the hospital, aren't we? Or worse, the morgue!"
They still didn't respond. "DAMMIT!! Tell me what's going on!" His agitation
was now blatant, and he was becoming more riled by the moment. "SAY
Sergeant Bailey's only response was into the radio. He had picked up the micro-
phone and spoke to his dispatcher. "Bailey to dispatch. Just an update to relay
to the doctors. Tell them the patient has become agitated bordering on violent.
We'll probably need restraints upon our arrival, which should be in about five
more minutes. Copy, dispatch?"
"Affirmative, Sergeant. Will relay to NJPC."
As the radio conversation ended, Bailey half-turned toward the back seat,
speaking to the officer there. "You'd better cuff him. I wouldn't want him
As he now stared at the white walls of his barren room, he though back on the entire process. The humiliation of being cuffed, then straight-jacketed, and thrown into this room. Doctors, nurses, and orderlies speaking to him with that condescending tone they used, as if he really belonged here. It reminded him of the time he'd gone under cover as a patient at Cabrillo State. But then he had Hutch to back him up and help him when he needed it.
This room is so different from that one. That one had a real bed, tables, chairs, almost like a regular hospital. He surveyed his current room with large eyes that held a touch of fear. These walls were white, cushioned, and the only bed was a plain, unsheeted cushion thrown carelessly in the corner. He finally voiced what he'd been afraid to think before. "They think I'm crazy. They can't find Hutch, so they think I'm insane - that I imagined him." He knew that any protests he made now would be ignored by the orderlies, and he didn't want to risk another sedative. Sure wish they hadn't felt the need to use that needle like a harpoon! he thought, wanting to rub the sore spot the injection had left in a sensitive area of his anatomy.
Starsky's eyes scanned the walls, looking for what? He wasn't sure. He just felt the need to be as familiar with this room as he could. There was nothing remarkable - not even a window to the outside world. He did finally note the small window, no more than nine inches by eight inches, in the door itself.
Getting to his feet was difficult without the steadying influence of his hands and arms. He struggled, leaning against the wall and slowly sliding his way to a standing position. Once vertical, it was easy for him to walk to the door. Still, his steps were slow and steady - the determined steps of a sane individual. If I can't convince them I'm normal with what I say, maybe I can do it with what I do. He stood at the window, peacefully watching the hospital staff moving through the halls, dealing with other patients. They were usually alone, but as a pair of doctors traversed by his door, Starsky realized that, along with everything else, his room was soundproof; the doctors' mouths moved, but he couldn't hear a whisper of what they were saying. I could scream my head off for a month and nobody'd hear me.
Starsky resigned himself to his situation, figuring his only choice was to wait until someone came into his room. He took a seat on the mattress, leaning his back up against the wall. He closed his eyes, resting, and tried to think of something to occupy his attention. "I know," he finally said aloud. His voice took on an announcer's tone, a poor imitation of Don Pardo. "Okay, Detective Starsky, the topic today is 'classic television shows'. Let's see how many you can name before your time's up." His voice reverted to its natural lilt, and he began with the shows he remembered from his youth. "Dennis the Menace, The Ed Sullivan Show, Car 54-Where Are you?, Ozzie & Harriet, Patty Duke, 77 Sunset Strip, Andy Griffith Show, Route 66 . . ."
The dark-haired man continued to drone on, listing every television show he could recall. Somewhere between Dr. Kildare and Perry Mason his eyelids began to get heavy, and once the general lighting went out, the entries on his list came slower and slower. "The Virginian.... Wagon Train.... The Man from Uncle.... My Three Sons...." His mind finally joined his body in shutting down, and he slid sideways along the wall until he lay on the makeshift bed, allowing sleep to claim him until the morning.
Starsky had been long since asleep when they wheeled the catatonic man past his door. The nurses had hastily tied a hospital gown around the nearly naked form, and the garment covered the evidence of the obvious malnourishment. He didn't move on the gurney as it rolled through the halls, his eyes open but not looking around. The orderlies moved the bed into a white padded room - similar to the one Starsky was in, yet equipped for a patient who was physically as well as mentally ill - gently lifting the patient from it and onto the large bed in the center. The orderlies took great care to attach the restraining straps to the patient's arms and legs in case he came around abruptly, and then moved quickly to remove the gurney and themselves from the room, leaving the patient still staring into space.
They were just about to slam the door shut when a long, trim arm halted the movement. Catherine Craig, Cathy to her friends, stepped in to bodily block them. In addition to being a kind and caring nurse, she was also assistant-head of the nursing staff on this floor. Even the most disturbed of patients, ones who responded to absolutely nobody else, would sometimes respond to Cathy.
"What's that for, Miss Craig?" one orderly inquired, nodding at the tray she carried.
"The doctor who checked out our John Doe in there said he's badly malnourished. If I can't get him to eat anything, we're going to have to put him on an IV. I'd like to avoid that if I can." She breezed past them, then glanced back just long enough to comment, "You can go. In the state he's in, I'm sure he won't hurt me. And even if he was inclined to do so, medically, he doesn't have the strength." Once at the bedside, she gazed disapprovingly at the straps around Hutch's wrists. "These really aren't necessary, Jerry!"
"I'm sorry, Miss Craig. Regulations."
The orderlies shrugged at her continued perusal and left the room, shutting the door behind them. One of them remained by the door to let her out when she was ready, as the door was set up to never open from the inside.
Cathy cranked up the head end of the hospital bed, then levered one knee onto the mattress beside the inactive body, looking sadly into the forlorn eyes. "Let's see if we can't get some food into you." She took the slumping blond figure by the shoulders, noticing how her touch elicited no response, and straightened his sitting position. He muscles were stiff, and it took all her strength before the patient was vertical enough to feed. Thank God the new dress code's letting us wear pants. I'd hate to try to do this in one of those stupid uniform dresses.
The substance in the bowl most nearly resembled babyfood, but she knew it was a nutrition-intensive concoction which the Dietary Department had pureed at her request. She filled the spoon halfway with the greenish substance and held it to the patient's mouth, but he did not open. A gentle hand on the blond's bottom jaw opened the orifice, and she emptied a mouthful inside. In one smooth motion Cathy closed the jaw and rubbed the throat, eliciting a swallow from the patient. The next mouthful was easier, and he swallowed without her touch.
"That's very good!" she said to him encouragingly, and although the eyes and mind still didn't seem to react, this time he opened his mouth on his own when the bowl of the spoon approached. "Keep this up and you'll be back to normal in no time!" The food was bland, practically tasteless. But the dietary staff really knew their business. Any food that was harsh or spicy would be rejected by the patient's digestive system after so long without food. Even this might give him difficulties, although nothing serious. And, of course, it contained all the essentials he needed to regain his strength.
"Oh, good morning, Mr. Preston. It's nice to see you again." The receptionist at the Psychiatric Hospital tended to be a little gabby for Jackson's liking, but he smiled at her and allowed her to ramble on. "Y'know, I think it's really nice the way you come so often to see your brother. I not sure that he's up yet, by the way. So many of our patients never get any visitors. And they're so lonely, too. Like this one guy . . ."
Jackson tuned the woman out, letting her ramble on for a short period. Then he cleared his throat to get her attention. The sound created a pause in her spiel, and he jumped at the chance to get a word in edgewise. "That's very nice, but I'm not visiting my brother this time. I'd like to see a patient that was admitted yesterday - his name is David Starsky."
"Oh, sure. Why didn't you say so in the first place?" She flipped through her book, searching for the assigned room number. Finally, her seeking finger found the correct listing. "Here it is." She paused for a moment. "Oh, I'm sorry. He's still in the evaluation stage. I'm afraid you won't be able to talk to him."
"That's okay, but can I at least look in on him. There can't be any harm in that, can there?" His smile was so warm that he cajoled her into approving.
"Of course, Mr. Preston. He's in Evaluation Room 15, down this corridor and to the left. If he's awake, please be sure your presence doesn't upset him."
"As you wish, my lady," he crooned, charmingly taking and kissing the young woman's hand. She giggled as he walked away and reclaimed her seat behind the receptionist's counter.
Finding Room 15 was simple, even in the dim lighting of the hallway. Preston stopped to the side of the small window, the same size as the one through which he monitored his brother's downward spiral. He snuck a quick glance into the room, like a 13-year-old boy peeking at his first girl. It was instantly apparent that Starsky was asleep on the mattress, so the man afforded himself a longer, more detailed perusal.
Even in sleep, Starsky's face looked haggard, worn with the slow degradation of his sanity. "Serves you right for what you did to my brother!" Preston growled under his breath. If he'd confronted Starsky face-to-face, Starsky would have informed him that his expression was not for the loss of his sanity - his hold was still secure in that department, despite what the staff kept assuming about him - but from the continued worry for his missing partner.
Starsky rolled over restlessly, and Preston smiled at his lack of comfort. With Hutchinson dead and Starsky locked up here, I've got everything I want. Somehow, though, knowing he'd finally gotten his revenge didn't lift his spirits quite like he'd imagined. He still felt a heaviness in his chest, and a moment later realized that it was because, regardless of what he did to the L.A. detective, his brother was still here and still unwell. And that, he thought resignedly, may never change.
It was hard for a man like Preston to admit his impotence in such a situation, but he did just that to himself now. He'd visited regularly, recruited the finest doctors to help Jesse in his struggle with the world he now resided in, but nothing seemed to help. He stood watching the sleeping figure for a few more minutes, then left the hospital, his conflicting emotions still warring with each other inside his head and his heart.