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A FRIEND REMOVED Part 3
"Hello, Long Distant Operator? Get me the Aladdin Hotel in Atlantic City, please." Captain Harold Dobey sat behind his desk, frowning down at the puzzling telegram he'd received. "Those dumb kids," he said under his breath. "Who do they think they're trying to pull one over on? Well, this little stunt is not gonna get then even one more day of vacation time." The line clicked, and a feminine voice came on the line.
"Aladdin Hotel - where your wish is our command. Registrations Desk, how may I help you?"
"Yeah, could you connect me with David Starsky's room, please?"
"Just one moment, sir." He held the line again, listening to the silence. Shortly, the same voice returned. "I'm sorry, sir. I have no one registered under that name."
"But I know that's where he's staying! Try looking under Kenneth Hutchinson."
"Yessir, I'd be happy to." He heard the sound of papers shuffling for a few seconds. "No, nothing under that name, either. Are you sure they told you they were staying at the Aladdin?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I'm not likely to screw up a simple name like that!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't know what to tell you. There is currently nobody registered in either of those names."
"They would have checked in eight days ago. They were on vacation."
"Eight days ago, huh? Why don't you hold on and I'll check to see exactly when they signed in."
"What'll that prove?!" Dobey's voice was becoming gruff, and the girl on the phone was starting to sound a little scared. He tried to remind himself that she was helping him, and attempted to be more gentle with her.
"I'm not sure, exactly. But it will prove if they were ever here."
"Okay, check then. I'll hold."
It didn't take long for the girl to return. "I did find a record of a David Starsky signing in. It looks like he checked out yesterday morning."
"Checked out? But where'd they go? You can't just lose two grown men, even if the city is the size of Atlantic City."
"I am sorry, sir - really I am. But Mr. Starsky didn't leave any kind of forwarding information, and I can't find a record of that other gentleman, Mr. Hutchinson, at all."
Captain Dobey rubbed his scratchy eyes tiredly. This day was already adding up to one big disaster. "Well, thank you for checking, Miss. I appreciate it. Good-bye." His voice was tired, matching his demeanor. "Those two boys are more work than my own kids. I just hope they don't contaminate Cal."
The phone buzzed again, and Dobey grabbed up the receiver before the second buzz could sound. "Dobey."
"Excuse me, Captain," the police switchboard operator said. "I have a long-distance call for you from New Jersey. Shall I put it through?"
"Well, it's about time those guys checked in! Yeah, put 'em on!" They're not gonna know what hit 'em when I get my hands on them! But the voice on the phone didn't belong to either of his officers.
"Captain Harold Dobey?" The unidentified voice was questioning.
"Yeah, that's me. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I'm from the New Jersey Psychiatric Center. It seems we've admitted one of your men. He had your name on him as the person to contact in an emergency. Do you know a young man named 'David Starsky'?"
"I sure do. He's one of my best officers!" The question occurred to him why Starsky would carry his name as a contact. Why not Hutch's? It only took a moment for him to realize. He probably figured that, if something happened, he and Hutch would be together. That question was quickly replaced with a more important question. "What's he doing there?"
"I'm afraid he's had a breakdown, Captain Dobey. He's been suffering from delusions, and when the police tried to help him, he became violent."
"Are you sure you're talking about David Starsky? He's the most level-headed man I know. Are you his doctor?"
"No, I'm not medical personnel. I work in the office keeping the records and helping with contacting families."
"Can I speak to his doctor, please? I need to know how bad this really is." It occurred to him that Starsky's breakdown was very real. If the telegram he'd sent was true, and not just a joke, the stress of Hutch's disappearance alone might be enough to cause the man to snap. Heaven knows he'd seem him -both of them, actually - come close enough when one or the other was missing or in danger.
"I'm sorry. Doctor Jones isn't in at the moment. The file says that Mr. Starsky is in observation and evaluation, but it also says he's been sedated at least once because they couldn't control him. Can I have Dr. Jones return your call?"
"No, that's quite all right. I'll be on the next plane there. Thanks for calling, Miss."
Dobey hit the button to disconnect the line, then dialed another number. "Hi, sweetheart. Did you have a good day at school? Good, I'm glad you had fun. Can I talk to mommy, please?" He began to clean the items off the top of his desk, sliding them into drawers or stowing them wherever there was room.
"Hi, honey," he said suddenly as his wife came on the line. "I need you to do something for me. Pack me a carry-on size suitcase with enough clothes for a few days. One suit and some casual clothes. I have to catch the next flight out to Atlantic City. Starsky and Hutch have gotten themselves into something again."
"What is it, dear? They're not in legal trouble, are they?"
"No, it's not that. Now, I don't want you to get upset, so try to keep calm. I just got a call from a psychiatric hospital out there. They say Starsky had a breakdown and was admitted there. And earlier today I got a cable from him saying that Hutch had disappeared! Until this came up, I thought it was a joke. I'm going to go straighten this out myself."
"But, Harold, what if he really did have a breakdown? What if Hutch really disappeared - God knows they've both got enough enemies."
"If Starsky's really sick, I can at least have him transferred home. And I can help the police in looking for Hutch - if Starsky was okay enough to send the telegram, he must have filled out a Missing Persons report with the local cops."
"I think you're right, dear. They need you. I'll put together your suitcase and get you booked on the next flight. You can come home, clean up, and say good-bye to the kids."
"Don't tell them too much - they'll just worry. Just tell them I'm going to help Uncle Dave and Uncle Ken. They don't need to know any more than that."
"Okay. Good-bye. I'll see you in awhile."
The last thing he did before leaving the office was to retrieve the photograph of Hutch from his personnel file. He was sure that Starsky would have had one, but you never know what happened to his possessions when he was committed. He frowned with distaste as the word went through his mind. "Committed" was such an ugly term, and it was one he never thought he'd hear applied to the dark half of the pair.
After what seemed like an eternity in the observation ward, but was actually only a couple days, a burly orderly finally arrived to take Starsky away from the isolation. He'd long since decided that he hated the color white, and concluded that he would repaint or wallpaper any white surface in his apartment as soon as he got home. The straightjacket, which he'd been relieved of for awhile, was reapplied, but it still felt great to get out and walk the corridors.
It shocked him, when the jacket was first removed, to see the fear in the eyes of those who came to his room. The same huge orderly who walked beside him now had stood by the side of a petite, actually tiny, woman who had brought his food tray three times yesterday. She had looked terrified, and the orderly, who might as well have been called a guard, stood poised to move at a moment's notice. She's scared of me?! Starsky marveled.
Their leisurely stroll ended in another wing of the hospital, where Starsky was admitted to a tidily-kept office. Behind the desk, with his back to the door, sat a short man with sandy hair. Starsky noticed the plaque on the desk: Dr. Cornelius Jones. The orderly cleared his throat loudly, pushed Starsky further into the room, and left, closing the door behind him. At the slight noise, Dr. Jones spun around in his chair to face the patient.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Starsky. I'm Cornelius Jones, but feel free to just call me 'Neal'. Why don't you take a seat." He gestured to one of two chairs which sat opposite the immaculate desk, and Starsky awkwardly plopped himself into it. He already didn't like this man. Though his words were polite, his tone was condescending, and Starsky felt like he was back in the first grade. "How are we feeling today?" Jones went on.
"Y'know, Doc," Starsky spoke up, already irritated by the situation. "I really don't understand why all you medical people can't seem to live life in the singular. If 'we' means you, then how do I know? If 'we' means me, then I'd be a helluva lot more comfortable out of this damn straightjacket." He struggled a little against the straps for effect.
"I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that yet." He began to straighten the few sheets of paper on his desktop. "This will be your preliminary exam. After we're through with our talk, I have to file a report on whether I think you should be allowed to interact with our non-violent residents. Now the first few questions are purely a formality - I need to verify your identity for the tape recorder I'm going to use. You don't have a problem with my taping this, do you?"
"Just so you don't send it to my mother."
"No, Dave. There's no chance of that. Okay, here we go." He pushed down the record button.
"Please state your name."
"I am Detective Sergeant David Michael Starsky."
"And where do you live, Detective Starsky?"
"In an apartment in Los Angeles."
"Yeah. Where else?"
"And where do you work, Detective Starsky."
"Metropolitan Division of the Los Angeles Police Department."
"Why did you come to our city, Detective Starsky?"
"I'm supposed to be on vacation. And I don't appreciate your condescending tone."
"I'm sorry if my tone is bothering you. I just want to make sure you understand."
"A five-year-old would understand. Let's just get on with it!"
"Okay, Detective Starsky. Do you believe that you came to New Jersey alone?"
"No, I didn't come alone. I flew in with my friend Hutch." He said it so reasonably that Dr. Jones almost believed it. But there was no disputing the facts.
"But nobody at the airline saw him. He wasn't checked in...there was no seat reservation for him...and not a single person at the hotel where you stayed has seen him either. Are you sure about his coming with you?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Starsky said, and he could feel the control of his temper slipping away as the stupid questions kept coming.
"Now, David, I want you to think carefully. Is it possible that this man, the one you called 'Hutch' doesn't really exist? Could you just have imagined him?"
"Look, Dr. Jones," Starsky said, clenching his teeth together to keep from yelling at the man, "Hutch is as real as I am. I did not imagine him, and I did not dream him up during the night."
"While you were cruising the city, were you able to find anyone who remembered seeing 'Hutch'?"
"That's 'Detective Hutchinson', pal. He's also my partner."
"Your partner? Did you happen to check in with your superiors in L.A. when he 'disappeared'?"
"Yes, I did. I needed a photo to flash around town."
"And what did he say?"
Starsky's voice became a quiet whisper at this point. Maybe I really have lost my mind! "He didn't even know who Hutch was. He said my partner was some guy back home named Hopkins. I don't even know anyone named Hopkins. He must've been joking."
"Really?" Dr. Jones asked, the disbelief clear in his voice. "Is your Captain the kind of guy who jokes a lot? And I'd think you'd at least remember your partner. I mean, police officers rely on their partners for their very lives."
"BUT HUTCH IS MY PARTNER!"
"I'm sorry this interview is irritating you, Detective Starsky. Maybe we should switch to another topic. Has anything else strange happened since you've been in Atlantic City?"
"Our officers talked to some people. It seems there was an incident with a rental care and where it was parked? And then there was something else about a mom-and-pop grocery store near the hotel?"
"Okay, yeah, those things really did happen - and there was that deal with things disappearing out of my hotel room refrigerator - but I am not crazy!"
"Nobody said you were crazy, Detective Starsky. There are just some people who think you need a little rest and some help." He opened a folder and started scribbling on the charts inside. "I'm going to recommend you be transferred to our standard-security area with a room of your own. And there won't be any need for the restraints, I believe. I hope you can learn to relax here - we're only trying to help."
Starsky resigned himself to the fact that arguing with the Doctor was getting him nowhere. He'd just have to bide his time until he could convince them, or prove to them, that he wasn't insane and get them to release him. Besides, it would give him time to write to some people who might be able to help. He was lost in thought when Dr. Jones summoned the orderly to take Starsky to his new room. But as he was being led through the door, he turned for just a moment.
"Doctor, am I allowed to write letters to people?"
"Of course, Detective Starsky."
"Will they be censored?"
"No, they won't. They will be reviewed for destinations, but nothing more."
"Can I have some paper and envelopes?"
"Sure, I'll arrange to have some brought to you. Goodnight, Detective Starsky."
The plane landed at 10:30 Eastern Time, and Dobey looked out at the darkness from the terminal while he waited for his suitcase to come around on the carousel. He knew it would be too late to visit Starsky, and that his doctor had probably already gone home for the night. The next best thing, he thought, would be to start on the missing Hutch.
Avis had a car ready, and by 10:45 he was headed in the direction the clerk had indicated as Precinct 14, the station responsible for the area where the hotel his officers used was located. As he expected, the halls of the building were quiet, but every now and then a suspect was brought through screaming or cursing at an officer, the system in general, or the world at large. It reminded him of Metro back home, with all its conflicts and variances.
"Good evening, Officer," he said as he approached the desk sergeant. He pulled out his captain's badge. "I'm Captain Harold Dobey from the L.A.P.D. I'd like to check and see if a 'missing persons' report has been filed for one of my officers. Can you help me?"
"You lost one of your men?" the dark-haired sergeant laughed around the large wad of gum he slobbered over. This was obviously not an example of this city's finest. And it irritated Dobey even more that he seemed to find the whole situation very amusing.
"It just so happens that one of my men came her on vacation and vanished. I need to know if his partner filed that report."
"Ahhhh.... sorry, Captain. So, can I presume that this officer is still missing? I mean, I don't have to go into the inactive reports, too?"
"No, he's still missing, so it should be in the 'active' file."
While now more cooperative, the man's obsession with his gum continued to irritate the already-ruffled captain. "Okay, sir," chomp, chomp, "what's your officer's name?" Chomp, chomp.
"Detective Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson. He's about 6'1" with blond hair. Early thirties."
Chomp, chomp. "Any identifying marks?" Chomp, chomp.
"Yeah, he has a scar on his lower back."
"Okay, lemme take a look." Dobey could swear he still heard the chomping as he walked away.
Fifteen minutes passed while Dobey waited. He utilized the first five calling his wife, letting her know he'd arrived safely. He felt a little guilty that he hadn't thought to call her from the airport, and apologized profusely for waiting this long to call. As he hung up the phone, his eyes finally lit on an unoccupied chair near the sergeant's desk. The seat, however, was uncomfortable, and Dobey shifted positions several times before the sergeant finally returned.
"Captain?" Thankfully, the man had ditched the gum, and actually began to fit the impression Dobey believed an officer should present. The captain jumped to his feet.
"Right here, Sergeant. What did you find?"
"It's the strangest thing, Captain. I did find an MP report for a Kenneth Hutchinson from California, but it was filed in the 'closed cases' file, waiting to be put in the 'inactive' cabinet. And where we usually fill in the information on how the person was found, all it says is 'see Sergeant Bailey for details'. I've never seen a report filled out like this!"
"So you can't tell whether he was found or not, just that the case was closed?"
"Yessir. Sergeant Bailey's off duty right now, but if you want to come back in the morning, I'm sure he could shed some more light on the situation."
Dobey heaved a very tired sigh, and resigned himself to the wait. "Okay, I'll be back tomorrow. I have another matter to take care of here, too, so I'm not sure when I'll get here. What time does Bailey come on?"
"7:00 sharp. And Sergeant Bailey's always on time." He said it as if, instead of being a compliment, it was an insult.
"Oh!" Dobey's face brightened just a little. "Since he comes on so early, I should be able to come here before taking care of that other business. Thank you for your help, Sergeant."
"Your welcome, Captain. When you get here in the morning, all you have to do is go down this hall," he pointed, "turn right at the first hallway, and it'll be the third door on the left. Sergeant Bailey's desk is in there."
"Okay, Sergeant. Goodnight." The wish didn't sound at all happy, as Dobey mulled over the possibilities the missing persons report brought to mind.
Cathy would have hesitated to admit that the blond John Doe had quickly become her favorite patient. There was something that spoke to her from his eyes, begging her for answers where she had none. His physical condition had improved immeasurably, although his returning strength was never a threat. The restraints were removed, but Hutch remained inactive.
After several consultations, the doctors had finally diagnosed his mental situation as "hysterical amnesia" of a very rare form: this patient had not only forgotten the facts of his life and the world around him, but had also forgotten how to do anything. He was like a newborn, not knowing how to walk or talk or even crawl. At least, they concluded, that if he never regained his memory, he could still relearn everything he's lost. He didn't seem to be impaired in any other way, and the staff had set about spending their time re-educating the blond.
Cathy sat at the foot of Hutch's bed now, trying to teach him again to talk. He looked at her intensely, her long, dark curls pinned up off her neck, although she wore no nurse's cap. For some unexplainable reason, the patient was more attentive and learned better from Cathy than any other person who worked with him. He didn't even understand why he was attracted to the brunette curls of this woman. Somehow their impression made him feel safe, comfortable, and he was temporarily distracted from the loneliness and solitude his situation put him in.
"Come on, John. Just try...'hello'." His eyes strayed from her face, and she took his chin in her gentle fingers to pull his attention back to her mouth. "Just watch me - try to do what I do. 'Hello'. Please?.... Do it for me, John..... Let's prove to those doctors that you can do anything you set your mind to! C'mon, we're partners, aren't we? Then we've got to work at this together.... Watch my mouth: 'Hello'." The blue eyes suddenly filled with a determination she hadn't seen before, as if her statements made him feel not quite so alone in this task. But nothing came from the patient's lips.
"That's okay, John," she said dispiritedly, patting the fair cheek. "We can try again later. I've got to go now." She jumped off the bed and headed for the door, but only got as far as placing her hand on the knob when she spun around in astonishment.
"Lo." It was quiet and garbled, but there was no doubt that it had come from the bedridden patient.
"John! John, did you just say that?!" In a fraction of a second she had jumped back up on the bed, her knees digging into the mattress. "Say it again!! C'mon, you can do it! One more time!"
Her praise encouraged him, and this time he managed to get out a slightly stronger "ello". No "H" sound yet, but then that was one of the most difficult sounds in the English language.
"Bravo!" She shouted aloud, throwing her arms around Hutch with the glee of a child. He felt his face become warm, but wasn't sure what he was supposed to do in return. Hesitantly, very hesitantly, he raised his arms - stiff from being still for so long - and put them around the white-covered body. After a few moments, she pushed away, and he fell back against the bed, tired from all the new developments.
"That was wonderful, John! And you even moved your arms!! Well, now that we know you can, we're just going to have to get you down to the gym for some exercise." Her smile made him feel relaxed, finally comfortable with something he was able to do. "I do have to go, but I promise, I'll be back later." The corners of his mouth rose slightly in the shadow of the smile he was feeling inside. But even that, Cathy knew, was an indication of his progress into a fully functional adult.
She left Hutch's room feeling fulfilled, as so few cases here could because she could actually see some improvement in her patient. She took a deep breath, composed herself into a professional facade, and went off to her next duty.
Dobey grabbed the first blue-suited body as he came through the doorway. "Where can I find Sergeant Bailey?" The man pointed and then pushed his way past the imposing presence in their squadroom. The Captain approached the desk, noticing the man behind it did not seem to be occupied with anyone else at the moment.
"Sergeant Bailey, I'm Captain Harold Dobey, L.A.P.D. I need to talk to you about a 'missing persons' report."
"Yeah, Captain. The desk sergeant last night left it for me. Said you'd be in first thing. What exactly did you not understand about it?"
Dobey didn't understand the man's non-chalance. "Why was that report filed under the closed cases? It didn't say anything about the missing man being located or that he was killed."
"Well, I didn't want it to become public knowledge that one of the L.A.P.D.'s finest was so unstable. At least in New Jersey, Missing Persons Reports are available for public viewing whenever they're asked for. I'd think that you'd appreciate my covering for that..." he searched for the correct word. Lunatic...! "unfortunate man."
"Sergeant," Dobey hissed, becoming more impatient with the man's tone and lack of cooperation. "I know that David Starsky, the man who filed that report, was taken to the hospital with what they're calling a 'nervous breakdown'. What I want to know is, what have you done since his breakdown to find my other officer!"
"Other officer?" Bailey began to redden, not wanting to admit that he could have made a mistake and jumped to an abrupt, and incorrect, conclusion.
"Yeah! My other man! For God's sake, man! His name and description is right there on your report. Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson! Starsky's partner! Why aren't you out there looking for him?"
"Are you trying to tell me," Bailey voice cracked, incredulous, "that this Hutchinson is a real person? That he really exists?"
"Of course he exists! What in the living hell is going on around here."
"Aaaaaaa.... Captain Dobey, please have a seat. I think there may have been a mistake."
"Sure sounds like it to me," Dobey answered as he sat.
"Let me start from the top and tell you exactly what my experience was with Detective Starsky. Then maybe you'll understand what's been going on here. Your man Starsky came in a few days ago and filled out this missing persons report." He handed the sheet across the desk to Dobey. "I took down all the information he was able to provide on this 'Hutchinson', but he wasn't able to provide me with a picture. I started out my investigation at the place he was supposed to have been last seen, the hotel, but not a single person there had seen anyone matching his description. The desk clerk showed me the registration book, and only Starsky's name was on it. From there I decided to check with the airlines - I mean, who knows? Maybe he had something come up - or they had a falling out - and he'd gone home. The airline Starsky flew in on did not have a reservation for a Hutchinson, and hadn't had one for at least the last six weeks. I went to every club, restaurant, bar, and casino Starsky claimed they went to together, and while lots of people recognized the photo I had taken of Starsky, not one remembered a blond man with him, and several adamantly insisted that he'd been alone.
"Now, during this investigation, I also uncovered some other facts about your Officer Starsky. He apparently created quite a ruckus in a local grocery by getting into an argument with the owner over an item than he claimed he bought there, but couldn't possibly have. The concierge at the hotel said he didn't seem to be able to keep track of where his rental car was parked, and one person reported hearing him talking to himself - something about people sneaking in his room and stealing food from the refrigerator! From all these things, and my inability to find any evidence that this Hutchinson existed, it was deduced by local doctors that Starsky was suffering from a breakdown, and imagining a partner that didn't really exist." His story finally ended, and he sat in silence waiting for the eruption he knew was coming.
The growl started low, coming from Dobey's very gut. It finally pushed the words through his chest, throat, and out the large man's mouth. "YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THAT YOU HAD STARSKY COMMITTED, DECLARED INSANE, BECAUSE YOU COULDN'T PROVE THAT HIS PARTNER WAS REAL???" He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the photo of Hutch he'd brought along. "DOES THIS MAN LOOK REAL ENOUGH TO YOU??" he yelled as he threw the picture on the desktop.
Bailey picked up the photo and looked into the blue eyes. "I'm sorry, Captain Dobey. There was obviously a very serious mistake made. I'm sure that the Psych Center will release Detective Starsky into your custody. If you want, I'll go out there with you right now. I'm really sorry, Captain."
Dobey seemed to have calmed himself slightly, so at least his next words weren't at the top of his lungs. "I think you'd better, Sergeant. And if he's not okay, I promise you, some heads will roll!"
"I'm sure he's fine," Bailey said, trying to mollify the angry man.
"He'd better be! You know, being a police detective, Dave's made a lot of enemies over the years. And if he's susceptible to the desire for revenge of one of them because you locked him up, everyone up to and including the governor is going to hear about it!" Dobey stalked out of the room, and Bailey jumped up from his desk and followed meekly behind.
Starsky sat in a quiet corner of the day room, where bright sunlight shone through the shatter-proof windows. He ripped a page from the notebook he held, laying it with several others on a nearby table. He silently ticked off on his fingers who he'd already written to, trying to come up with anyone left who might be able to help. Finally, at a loss, he set down the pad and picked up the loose sheets, reviewing them one by one. He stopped at the one he'd written to Dobey. This one shouldn't really be necessary! I don't get it! We're way past due getting back for work, and he hasn't heard from me in ages! He should be pounding down doors looking for us. But, nothing! It occurred to him that something could have happened to Dobey - he was in the same dangerous business they were in - and he made a wish that it wasn't true. It was always horrible when an officer fell, but it seemed so much worse when there was a family left behind. Starsky remembered little Rosie, smiling up at him so sweet, and couldn't think of her having to grow up without her father.
The dark head turned its gaze out the window, as if the grass and trees out there could offer him some answers. He knew that Hutch must still be missing, otherwise he would be here if at all possible. Once they'd put their minds together, this puzzle would be child's play to solve.
The receptionist was talking on the phone when Dobey and Bailey strolled through the reception area and up to her counter. It was very apparent that the phone call was not work-related, as she relayed a story about a certain libidinous young man she'd been seeing lately. Dobey, the larger and more imposing of the pair, stood in front, and when she didn't react, he cleared his throat loudly. She glanced up, but made no other overtures to help him. When a second "mm-hmm" elicited the same response, Bailey stepped in between the black man and the desk. His uniform garnered him a somewhat higher level of respect, as she suddenly stopped her conversation with a quick, "I gotta go, Sally. Better get back to work."
She was suddenly all sweetness and light. "May I help you gentlemen?"
"Yes, Miss Cavanaugh," Bailey put in, eyeing the "Grace Cavanaugh" name plaque which sat on the desk. "We need to speak with Dr. Cornelius Jones right away."
"But I think he's with a patient."
Dobey stepped toward her at this point, and the girl virtually shivered at his implied threat. "He said right away! This is an urgent matter, and nothing less than death is going to keep me from seeing him!"
"Ahhhh.... I'll see if I can find him." She picked up the receiver and dialed a three-digit number. "Yes, I need to locate Doctor Jones.... No, it can't wait. I've got two gentlemen here at the front desk who insist this is an emergency...." She dropped her voice, whispering into the phone, even though it was still loud enough for Dobey and Bailey to hear. "At least one of them's a cop! And the other one looks like he's ready to chew tar. Just find him!" She listened for a few moments and then replaced the receiver in the cradle. "They're going to send him up right away. You can take a seat until he gets here."
As they sat, Bailey once again tried to apologize for the mistake. "Really, Captain Dobey. I'm so sorry. But tell me, what was I supposed to think! Even the airport said that Starsky had been alone."
"I know, Sergeant. I guess I'm more angry at the situation than at you in particular. I know there wasn't much else you could've thought." He sat back and put his hands behind his head, resting it against them since the chair didn't go high enough to provide a headrest. "After we get Starsky out of here, while we're looking for Hutch, I wanna take a good, close look at what exactly happened. A man doesn't simply vanish, and it would take a helluva lot of financial resources and power to 'disappear' someone as thoroughly as Hutch was."
"The problem, Captain, is that in Atlantic City, there are lots of people with enough money and power to do it. This city attracts the rich, and, unfortunately, the gambling brings in folks who don't always walk on the right side of the law. Combine the two, and you've got real trouble."
A short, balding man rushed to the counter, and Grace jumped from her chair when he addressed her. "What the hell is this about an emergency?! I was busy with a patient!" He was forceful in a way many men of small stature were, using his voice to obtain the control a taller man's presence alone would provide.
The pair of officers practically jumped on the doctor, rescuing Grace from his verbal flogging. "We needed to see you right away, Dr. Jones," Bailey injected.
"Oh. Hi, Sergeant Bailey. I'm sorry I didn't see you there. It's been one of those days - you know!" He gave the policeman a quirky half-grin.
"This is Captain Harold Dobey, Doctor. He's David Starsky's C.O. And I'm afraid I've made a huge mistake." Dobey felt a sliver of respect for the officer begin to grow at his courageously admitting to having made such a major blunder.
"What is this mistake?" Dr. Jones asked, for some reason directing the question at the large, black man.
"Okay, I'll spell it out for you, Doctor. Then I want to see my man. Now, it's my understanding that Starsky was admitted here because he had a breakdown. That is what the clerk said when she called me. Now, since he's been here, I want you to tell me what you've observed that reinforced that diagnosis."
"Well...his biggest psychosis seems to be the existence of a friend. A purely made-up, imaginary character who, he claims, travels around with him. He calls this personality 'Hutch', but I really think it's just a way for him to express desires and beliefs that he's afraid to express himself. Then there were several violent episodes when he was first admitted. He had to be tranquilized on more than one occasion." When no further information was forthcoming, Dobey stepped in, and Bailey stood by his side, content to take the back seat from here on in.
"Now that you're done, I'm going to tell you a little something about my Detective Starsky. First off, and strongest, you should know that he doesn't work alone. His partner, and his best friend in this world, is one 'Kenneth Hutchinson'." A light began to dawn on the doctor's face. "Yeah, Doc. 'Hutch'. And 11 days ago I saw them *both* leave for a non-stop flight to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Starsky would never have gotten on that plane alone." Dobey grabbed the doctor's hand, and before Jones could pull it back, he'd slapped the photo of Hutch into his palm. "THAT is Ken Hutchinson. He is not an illusion, or a delusion for that matter. Now tell me something else, Doctor. In your medical opinion, is it reasonable for a perfectly sane man, unfairly and incorrectly committed to this nuthouse, to become agitated? Hostile? Perhaps even mildly violent?"
"Well, this does alter my diagnosis in David Starsky's case. I would deduce, given the facts that you have just given me, that he probably does not need to be a resident of this facility. But, Captain, he's still a loose canon - is it appropriate to have a man like that on your force?"
"It's precisely because he's a loose canon that makes him such a damn good cop. You see, he and Hutch are the perfect partners. Starsky sometimes can be a loose canon, yes. But Hutch is almost always level headed - sometimes too much. Starsky's impulsiveness is controlled by Hutch's caution, and Hutch's contemplativeness is controlled by Starsky's need to act. They're the best team I've got. And I hope to hell I can find Hutchinson and reunite them." He took a deep breath and concentrated on slowing down his speech. "Now, will you please release Detective Starsky?"
"Officers, why don't we go to my office. I'll have Starsky brought to us there." He motioned for the duo to precede him down the hall, then spoke to Grace. "Call the dayroom - I think I saw Starsky there. Have one of the orderlies bring him to my office."
The reunion between Captain and Sergeant was one worthy of balloons and confetti, but Captain knew it dulled in comparison to the joy he'd see if he could manage to bring the separated partners back together. Both men tried not to think of the possibility that Hutch could still be dead - gone from both of their lives forever. They stood side by side facing Dr. Jones, who sat behind his desk flipping through some papers. Finally, he picked up a pen and scrawled his name.
"I'm really sorry about all this, Detective Starsky. Here are your release papers. And since you should never have been here in the first place, I'll be sure that all records of your stay here are destroyed. That way, they can never be used against you."
Starsky grabbed the sheets from the man, who looked sheepishly at the small precinct assembled in his office. The curly-haired man carefully folded the papers and pushed them into the pocket of his newly retrieved Levi's. The doctor spoke again as he rose from his chair. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I have patients to treat. And I'm sure you can take it from here. Feel free to use my office as long as you wish." He shut the door behind him, leaving the three officers together.
"Now Dave," Dobey began, feeling free to speak in front of Bailey, "start from the top and tell me everything that's happened since you and Hutch landed in New Jersey." Starsky spoke for almost half an hour, outlining each event specifically and his own reactions to it.
"...and then they brought me here. I've been biding my time ever since, trying to get someone to listen to me and spring me from this joint. I even have a whole stack of letters I was gonna send to friends back home so someone would come and get me out of here. And finally, here you are!"
"I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, Dave." The concerned look on the man's face touched Starsky, but he wasn't about to let it get soapy.
"Well, now that I've got my papers, let's go find Hutch!" Starsky jumped up from the chair, heading for the door, but Dobey caught his arm before he could escape.
"Wait, Starsky. Please sit back down, I want to talk to you." Starsky hesitantly obeyed, looking into Dobey's face for an answer.
"Okay, Cap. What's the matter?"
Dobey placed a huge, gentle hand on his man's shoulder. "Starsky, I know you're riding a high right now - getting out of this prison and all - but you need to realize something. With all that's happened, it's still very possible that Hutch is dead."
"No, Captain. He can't be dead. He can't be."
"Starsky, think about it. If someone grabbed Hutch, then made it look like he was never here in the first place, why would he risk keeping him alive. I know it hurts, but you've gotta face facts."
"I can face facts. And I will when I have to, but not yet." He turned to directly face Dobey, looking him square in the eyes, his shining dark blue meeting Dobey's brown. "I know I can't make you understand this, but I know Hutch is alive. I can feel it here," Starsky pounded a fist on his chest, "and here," he laid his flat hand on his stomach. "It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense here!" He tapped his index finger at his temple. He said it with such conviction that Dobey almost believed it too.
Dobey gave up with a sigh, remembering that he would have reacted the same way if he were in Starsky's shoes and it had been Mike who'd disappeared. And we weren't quite as close as these two are, Mike. Closer than most, but these two are unmatched! He tried to lighten the mood.
"Hey! Speaking of your papers, I think we should have a little celebration." Dobey poked around until he located the doctor's small metal garbage can, conveniently recently emptied of any other contents. He pushed it in front of Starsky, then began patting his pockets, searching for something.
"What's that for?" Starsky asked, confused.
"What do you need, Captain?" Bailey inquired at the same moment.
Dobey chose to answer Bailey's question first. "I'm looking for matches. You need matches to properly burn those commitment papers!" Bailey reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small packet, which he handed to Dobey. Dobey, in turn, held them out to Starsky.
"Burn my papers? Are you crazy? No way! I'm going to keep these forever!"
"But why, Starsky?"
"Well, Hutch is always tellin' me I'm crazy. And after we find him - and we will find him - he'll probably at some point tell me again. Then I'm gonna hit him with these!" He grinned devilishly, imagining his fun at his partner's expense. "Absolute, total, irrevocable proof that I am completely and totally sane!" Starsky burst out laughing, and Dobey's deep growling laugh and Bailey's cackling chuckle joined his until all three had tears in their eyes.
While all this activity was going on in one small office, a totally ignorant Jackson Preston sauntered up to the receptionist's desk one again. He barely stopped to greet her, heading instead directly toward the hall where he'd watched Starsky before.
"Good afternoon, Miss Cavanaugh. I'm just going to go look in on my friend, David Starsky, again." Grace scrambled from her chair and raced around the desk, catching him before he could get too far down the hall.
"Mr. Preston, Officer Starsky isn't down there anymore!"
"Why isn't he?" Preston asked, trying to keep calm. "Did something happen to him? He didn't do something stupid like kill himself did he?" Please, please, please let it be true! Tell me that he lost hope and committed suicide. Finally, I can have my justice! But Grace's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Oh, nothing terrible like that! You're going to be so happy!! You're friend is being released! It seems it was all a mistake - a misunderstanding. They're signing the papers now!"
The receptionist's broad smile fell quickly when the reaction was not what she expected. "DAMN!! I didn't go through all this to have it ruined!!" He slammed a fist against his thigh, and she jumped at the sound.
"But I thought you'd be happy! He should be out any minute - you could even wait for him if you want."
"In that case, I'd better get out of here." He turned on his heels and walked away, headed for the double doors.
"Aren't you even going to go visit your brother? You haven't seen him all week!"
"What's the use!" Jackson shouted over his shoulder. "He doesn't even know I'm there anyway!"