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Captain Harold Dobey snaked around in his office, trying to avoid the ladders and drop cloths, Minnie following closely behind him.
"I needed the file to go over the reports before it goes to the DA's office," he explained, feeling her eyes boring into the back of his head. "God knows, this meeting is going to be tough enough! Hutchinson's really got my butt in the Commissioner's sling this time!"
"Captain, you know there are procedures for checking files out of the file room. What if you dropped dead tomorrow? How would anybody know where that information was?"
"Well, if I were dead, somebody would get stuck cleaning out my desk," he smiled. "It's right in my top drawer." Minnie watched as he slid the drawer opened and began laying items on the desktop. The first was a box of candy.
"That's not it," she said, trying hard not to smile.
"I know, I know! Just wait a minute." The candy was followed by a stapler, a baseball, a framed photograph of Edith and the kids, and a bottle of aspirin. "Here it is!" he declared triumphantly, handing Minnie the file.
"Thank you," she answered, her eyes roaming the items as he began to put them back in the drawer. "I thought you were on a diet?"
"I am. But some little cub scout came in here selling these. He's a friend of Rosie's, so how could I resist?"
"Oh. Then you wouldn't mind if I bought them from you? My sweet tooth has been dying for some chocolate all day! I'll pay you whatever they cost, and you'll be able to stay on your diet." It was her turn to smile, though Dobey detected a hint of the devil in her grin.
"Okay, it's a deal," he agreed, his willpower reinforcing itself with a little help. He handed her the package as Minnie promised to return with the money.
"Hey," she said, turning back from where she was headed for the door. "People with ulcers aren't supposed to take aspirin. What are you doing with that!" She pointed at the offending bottle.
"Not using them for myself, that's for sure. I don't think my stomach could take it. But it always seems like one of the men is looking for some, so I keep a bottle. Especially certain officers who have a knack for getting into sticky situations."
"Meaning Sergeant Starsky and/or Sergeant Hutchinson, huh?" She laughed a little and left with the file with a pert, "Good-bye!".
Dobey settled in behind his desk, picking up another report and reading it carefully. He'd gotten so used to having the painter in the room with him over the past few days, he didn't even think about his being there until the man announced that he was taking his lunch break. Nobody even noticed when the painter, instead of heading for the cafeteria, rapidly made his way to the pay phone, then spoke in whispers. Greg Sullivan, part-time painter--only long enough to get close to Dobey--and full-time worker at a plant nursery, had a evil idea for extracting his revenge.
"I've got the perfect idea for getting even with Dobey, little brother. He'll be sorry he ever had you sent to jail, I promise. He's going to know exactly what it's like to be locked up!" There was a pause while he listened. "I can work as late or as early as I want. I can go in early tomorrow morning, leaving me alone in his office, and make the plant before he ever gets in."
Dave Starsky wasn't sure, but he thought his heart might actually pound out of his chest. Finally, he had his cuffs on the suspect, despite the fact that the man was at least three inches taller than the brunet. The arrestee and his partner-in-crime had taken off from the crime scene, trying to stay ahead of Starsky and his own partner as they chased them down. The unfortunate thing about being a body-builder was that you weren't always as fast as these little guys.
"I got this one," Starsky gritted out as the cuffed man continued to resist. Hutch didn't hear him, though, as he was doing his best to restrain the other suspect. The man the blond struggled with was bigger than the one Starsky had caught, but since he knew Hutch was both bigger and quite probably stronger than he himself was, Starsky wasn't worried. His faith wasn't displaced either, as Hutch finally managed to get both of the man's hands behind him.
"Be there in a sec," Hutch managed, using every ounce of his muscle to keep the suspect in control. He spared a glance to see Starsky walking out of the alley as he pushed his suspect's wrists further up his back, allowing him to hold them there with his stronger right hand while reaching for his own cuffs with his left. He heard the grind as each one was tightened around a large wrist, finally relaxing a little bit.
"On our way," he yelled, feeling much more secure until, unexpectedly, he heard a slight metal scraping sound and was suddenly looking into the eyes of the man he'd just pronounced "under arrest."
Hutch only had a moment for the man's wicked smile to register before he was shoved backward into the wall. His upper back hit first, lessening the impact, but not enough to keep his head from snapping back into the wall. Dazed and stunned, he slid down the wall, his eyes closing to the gleam from the silver cuffs laying on the pavement.
The large shadow emerged from the alley an instant after Starsky had slammed the car door on the suspect he'd just cuffed to the back seat of the Torino. Freedom was within the shadow's reach, except that Starsky could draw his weapon several times faster than the man could run to the nearest corner. "Freeze!" Starsky shouted, and the man turned instantly to ice. Keeping the gun in the man's back, the brunet led the man back to the car, where he retrieved a spare set of cuffs from the glove compartment and put him in next to the other perp.
"Thank God," Starsky breathed, panting heavily, as a black-and-white finally screeched to a halt in front of him. He shouted a terse, "take care of them," before sprinting into the alley.
"Hutch!" Starsky exclaimed, seeing the silhouette of his partner against the wall. His sprint turned into a mad dash to his partner's side, the relief rushing over him like the tide when he saw the blue eyes open and, for the most part, alert. "Hey, partner," he spoke, just above a whisper. "Sitting down on the job again?"
Hutch's beginning of a laugh turned into a moan. "Not by choice, believe me," he said groggily, reaching up to rub his neck and head.
"What happened?" Starsky asked, becoming serious. "Can you get up?" He offered the blond a hand, which his partner took gratefully. Hutch swayed for just a second before Starsky steadied him, still looking at him questioningly.
"Thanks. I don't know what happened, Starsk. One minute he was cuffed and I was leading him away, and the next he was free and throwing me up against the wall. I'm afraid I was out for a second, because I didn't even see him run off."
Feeling secure enough that his partner would stay on his feet, Starsky left him for a moment, looking around the dim alley. A glint of light reflecting off of something on the ground a few feet away caught his eye. He stooped to pick up the shining cuffs. "Here's your trouble," he said, studying them. "Looks like the lock's broken. They don't even catch any more." He demonstrated, showing how the cuffs were malfunctioning.
"Damn," Hutch muttered. "And that crumb got away because of it."
"Think again, partner," Starsky responded, leading Hutch out of the alley. "I caught him coming out. By now he's in the back seat of a cruiser, right alongside of his buddy." Hutch saw that he was right, the two suspects sitting docilely in the back seat of a black-and-white while the officers waited for the detectives.
The officers were coming toward them. "Is he okay?" one asked, nodding toward Hutch.
"I'm fine," he answered for himself. "Why does everybody keep asking me that?"
"Because your eyes are still spinnin' in circles, buddy!" Starsky turned his attention to the uniformed officers. "Take them in, would ya? I'll be in to make the report in a bit." Essentially dismissed by a superior officer, they returned to the cruiser and drove off as Starsky focused again on his partner. "And we're gettin' you to a doctor to be checked out."
"No, Starsk. I'm okay, really."
"Why am I having such a hard time believing that?"
"I don't know, but believe it. Because there's no way I'm letting you take me to a hospital." It was clear he'd brook no argument on this point.
"Hutch, you can't refuse to go back to the hospital ever again just because of that damn plague." He spoke gently, trying to encourage his partner. It hadn't been that long since he'd nearly lost his best friend to that all-encompassing virus, and he knew that was an experience Hutch would never truly get over.
"I know that!" Hutch snapped, immediately regretting it. "But I sure can avoid it as much as possible."
"Okay, okay. But if I see the slightest sign that you're gettin' dizzy or somethin', you're going if I have to cuff you myself."
"Just so long as you use those cuffs," Hutch laughed, motioning toward the broken pair in Starsky's pocket.
Since the painter was on his break, Dobey took the opportunity to talk to his men in his office uninterrupted. The room was too small to have three people plus the workman in at the same time, anyway.
"You got another big case for us, Captain?" Starsky asked, looking forward to the challenge almost as much as he regretted that there was a case at all.
"Miraculously, no, I don't. All the current cases have been assigned, which means that you two," his eyes flicked from Starsky to Hutch and back again, "have the perfect opportunity to catch up on all those reports you owe me!"
"But Captain, can't we..." Starsky began, before his superior cut him off, shaking his head.
"There's no gettin' out of it this time, Starsky." He turned his attention to Hutch, so far conspicuously quiet. "Neither of you."
Resigned, Starsky stood and headed for the door. He heard his partner behind him, talking to Dobey. "Captain, have you got an aspirin?" Hutch was rubbing his neck and head again, obviously still in pain from this morning's go-round.
"Yeah," Dobey responded, tossing a bottle of white pills to the tall blond. "I'm beginning to think you should carry a bottle with you, Hutchinson. You use `em more than anybody else in this department. "As a matter of fact, most of the time, you're the only one who uses them!"
"What can I say, Captain?" Hutch remarked, handing the bottle back after extracting two pills. "I can't be at my peak with my head pounding. And they sure can't do me any harm, can they?" He walked out, not waiting for a response, to see Starsky staring at him again. "Staring again? C'mon Starsk! You're really turnin' into a mother hen! It's just a little ache."
Starsky nodded, not saying anything, as he sat down at his desk to begin the pile of paperwork somebody had dumped there while they were in with Dobey.
Deciding that it was just as well to get it over with, and since neither had a previous engagement for that evening, Starsky and Hutch worked late trying to clean up the backlog of paperwork. "This is the last one, thank God. Maybe if we get this done, something will come up tomorrow that Dobey can assign to us," Starsky hoped aloud over the clicking of the typewriter his partner was using.
"I sure hope so," Hutch said, grimacing. "I don't think I can do another day of this; I'm gettin' cabin fever, buddy."
"I got ya," Starsky responded, shutting a folder. "How's the typin' comin'?"
Appropriately, at that moment, Hutch pulled the paper from the typewriter, laying in on the top of a stack. "Done," he answered, smiling across the desk. "Let's get out of here."
"I'm with ya," Starsky laughed, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair and leading the way out of the precinct. "How about supper and a game of pool at Huggy's?"
"Sounds fantastic. I could use some `wind down' time." The Torino took the lead out of the parking lot, the LTD following closely behind.
Since it was late, they ate first before adjourning to the pool table, then the pinball machine for a little mindless fun. Hutch took an early lead in victories before, halfway into the evening, Starsky managed to catch up and pass the tall blond.
When Huggy's "Genesee Beer" clock said 11:15, Hutch set down his pool cue. "What say we call it a night, Starsk?"
"You fully realize," Starsk challenged, not yet ready to go home, "that if we quit now, you're conceding defeat. I'll have won, partner. Ya sure you wanna do that?"
"I know and I do. Let's go." Starsky slid his cue in the rack beside Hutch's and they both went toward the door.
"It's not that late," Starsky muttered. "Why do you wanna go already?" He was disturbed when Hutch seemed hesitant to answer, his mouth clamped shut, with a determined look on his face showing under the street lights. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not feeling very well," Hutch said through clenched teeth. Starsky had seen him do it before on occasion; it meant his partner was trying to talk, yet keep his mouth shut enough to prevent the contents of his stomach from making a return appearance.
Looking more closely this time, Starsky could see that Hutch looked pale and was even sweating slightly with the effort to control his body. "Maybe I'd better drive you home, buddy. Just in case."
Clenching his lips together, the blond nodded tightly before climbing into the passenger side of the Torino. "I'll pick you up in the morning so we can come back for your car," Starsky suggested as he climbed in behind the wheel. Once settled, he took Hutch's left hand and laid it on his own shoulder. "Now, if you need me to pull over, just squeeze. I'm sorry you're sick, but I really don't want you to throw up inside my car." Hutch's nod satisfied Starsky, who turned the wheel, careening into the street.
"Hutch," Starsky said, disrupting the silence that had fallen inside the car on the way to Venice Place. "I think I should take you to the hospital instead of home. This upset stomach could be a sign of a concussion, partner!"
"And how did you figure that out?" Hutch said, his stomach feeling slightly better since Starsky had pulled over and he'd run to the bushes.
"I saw it on an episode of Marcus Welby. Throwing up and people not bein' able to wake ya up are sure signs."
"Starsk, medical TV shows aren't always accurate. It's fiction--you have to remember that."
"Well, all the same, I'll be by in the mornin' to pick you up, so ya better be awake."
Starsky looked concerned, so Hutch acquiesced. "I'll be fine, don't worry."
"I know, ya big blond beauty," Starsky laughed. The Torino slid into the space out front of Hutch's apartment, the blond immediately reaching for the door lever. "You gonna be okay? Or d'you need some help?"
"I'll be fine getting into my own apartment, Starsk. I'll see ya tomorrow." Still, Starsky stayed long enough to see Hutch go through Venice Place's front door and the lights come on in his upstairs window. Only then did he put the Torino back in gear and pull away, heading for his own home.
The sun was just rising, shining brightly through the window of Hutch's apartment, but it didn't wake up the tenant since he was already awake. Hutch had been up most of the night and now lay on the bathroom floor, the cold from the ceramic tiles having long since seeped into his shivering form. It wasn't worth moving all the way to the bed; he'd just be back here within minutes anyway. He felt the knives in his stomach as they bent him over in sharp pain in between the horrifying bouts of throwing up and diarrhea. He'd long since run out of anything in his stomach to expel, now suffering from dry heaves that made the pain all the worse.
The flu, he thought, reasoning with himself. What a horrible time to come down with the flu! If I don't want Starsky dragging me to the hospital in a few minutes, I've gotta call him. He pushed himself up weakly, pausing on his knees before he managed to get on his feet. It seemed a million miles to the phone, which sat on the end table next to the couch, but he finally made it, sinking down quickly to curl up on the sofa, one arm wrapped around his aching stomach.
He listened with his eyes closed as the phone rang. It was still early, but he wanted to catch his partner before he left to pick him up for work. Finally, a groggy voice answered.
"`allo?" Starsky was definitely still in bed.
"It's me, Starsk," Hutch breathed heavily, starting to feel nauseous again. He clenched his teeth. "Don't bother comin' t'pick me up. Tell Dobey for me. I'm sick."
"Sick?" Starsky questioned, suddenly fully awake.
"Yeah. Must be the flu or somethin'. Can't seem to stop throwin' up."
Starsky could hear the weakness in his voice. "Are you sure that's all it is?" he asked, worried. "Did you get any sleep at all?"
"Maybe a grand total of ten minutes, and that's bein' generous."
"Hutch, maybe I should come by and take ya to the hospital. This could have somethin' to do with that knock you took yesterday."
"No, Starsk, I don't think so. Besides, I've got other things goin' on that couldn't be caused by that."
"Like what, partner?
"Let's just say that I haven't been away from the john for more than five minutes all night." There was silence on the line for a moment, then Hutch gasped.
"What is it?! Hutch, talk t'me!" Starsky held on, listening to his friend's ragged breaths, until he was able to speak again.
"It's okay. Just a stomach ache. You go on to work, and I'll be right here."
"Okay, if you're sure."
"I'm sure, but for now, I've gotta run!" The note of urgency in the blond's tone was clear to Starsky.
"You go on. I'll stop by after shift. And don't worry about work; I'll talk to Dobey." The connection was abruptly broken as Hutch hung up, racing again for the bathroom.
It was a quiet shift, with nothing more serious than a simple purse thief, and finally Starsky was headed to his friend's apartment in Venice Place. He grabbed takeout food--Chinese, Hutch's favorite--hoping to entice his partner into putting something into his stomach. Hopefully, it had settled enough to at least let the blond eat a little.
He let himself into the apartment quietly, expecting to find Hutch curled up in bed, but it was empty. He froze, listening, until he heard moaning from the bathroom.
The door to the bathroom would only open about a foot before it was halted by something keeping it closed. Starsky was able to fit his head through the space, and peered in to see that it was his partner, lying on the floor, blocking the door. He was curled over, cradling his stomach, sweating profusely. He had on only a T-shirt and his shorts, both of which were stained with sweat and other nauseating body fluids.
"Oh, my God," Starsky muttered. This was definitely no minor case of the flu. "Hutch...! Hutch, can you move a little? I can't get in." Somehow, the urgency got through and the blond moved slightly, allowing Starsky to open the door. He rushed to kneel next to his partner. "Aw, Hutch. Why didn't you call me?"
"Couldn't get to the phone anymore," whispered Hutch between gasps at the knives in his stomach. Starsky touched his partner's face and was surprised that he didn't seem to have a fever.
"You wait right here, partner. I'm going to call an ambulance." Hutch moaned, but Starsky wasn't about to let it stop him. "I know you don't like it, but I'm calling the shots now." He made the call quickly, almost frantically, then rushed to the bed, pulling off the heaviest blanket.
"They'll be here soon," he told his partner as he wrapped him in the blanket. It was like taking care of a baby, Hutch having no strength left to either help or fight him. Once he was covered, Starsky pulled him into his lap, rubbing his arms and temples and talking soothingly. Hutch lay back and let the softness in his friend's voice console him, easing his spirit even if it couldn't heal his body.
Starsky paced the waiting room at the hospital, trying to convince himself that there was no reason to worry. Hutch was just sick, it was no big deal. He'd get treated and be back on his feet soon. But the argument didn't hold enough weight, and Starsky continued to worry and pace.
It had been over an hour since the ambulance had arrived at the hospital and the paramedics had rolled his partner through those large, forbidding doors. Why won't somebody tell me what's going on? He'd taken out a quick moment from his vigil in the waiting room to call Dobey and let him know what was happening, receiving strict instructions to call the captain at home as soon as he knew anything more definite.
Finally, he saw a figure in white and green headed toward him. "Thank God!" he said as Dr. Green drew near. "What's goin' on, Doc? He's gonna be okay, right?"
"To be perfectly blunt, Mr. Starsky, I don't know. You were right in your original deduction that this isn't influenza. He doesn't have a fever, and there was no sign of the virus in the blood sample we took, but we did find something else." He took a seat, motioning to Starsky to take the one next to him. "There were signs of toxins in his blood; we've identified them as related to the cyclopeptide group, but that's not specific enough for us to begin treatment."
How could this be happening again?! Starsky was screaming inside. "You mean he was poisoned? Like I was a couple years ago?"
"No, thankfully it's nothing like that. Cyclopeptides are naturally occurring principles. Wherever he got it, it was most likely accidental and was quite probably ingested orally."
"So what can I do?"
"Well, we're very limited right now on how we can treat him. We don't dare give him any drugs until we know what's in his system, and we have no idea what direction it'll go. He could improve and get over this, or his condition could continue to degrade until...."
"Until what, Doc?" Dr. Green looked sympathetically at Starsky, but said no more. "You mean until he dies, right?" His eyes were horrified, and Green wished he were anyplace but sitting next to the distraught man.
"Yes. I'm sorry, but you should be aware of the possibility."
"So what's his condition now? How is he since we got him here?"
"About the same, only the stomach pains seem to be worse. I don't know if they're really becoming more severe or if he's just becoming too weak to deal with them."
"Can't you give him something for the pain," Starsky was almost begging now, imagining his friend's suffering again the way he had such a short time ago in that isolation room.
"We don't dare. Not until we know what's in his system. We've put him on an IV to help replenish the fluids he's lost, but beyond that, our hands are tied by this damn toxin."
"What can I do?" Starsky whispered, not denying the crack in his voice.
"There's really nothing you can do here, but there is something that might help. It's tough, though."
"I'll find a way, Doc, if it'll help Hutch." The determination was clear in his voice and his face.
"We need a sample of everything Sergeant Hutchinson ingested in the last twenty-four hours in order to identify the specific toxin. Everything. Including samples of the water he drank, toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamins, everything. Do you think you can do that?"
"Yeah," Starsky muttered after thinking a moment. "I'm the best person to do it; I know him better than anybody." The brunet rose from the chair. "Can I see him before I go?"
"I suppose it would be okay. But just for five minutes. He needs to rest as much as he can."
"I promise, Doc."
"He's in room 108. I've got other patients to see, so you're on your honor." Dr. Green left him to find the room by himself.
Starsky pushed the door open gently, preferring not to wake his partner if he'd actually managed to sleep. It was a good thought, but fruitless; he was greeted instead by the sound of Hutch's gagging. Rushing to his partner's side, he relieved him of the bile-filled pan before he could drop it in his weakness. The nurse who'd entered unnoticed right behind Starsky hung back and let the brunet help.
"Thanks," Hutch sighed as he let Starsky take control of it. Unseeing, Starsky set it on the bedside table, taking his partner's hand in his, their thumbs intertwined. He was doing his best to show his support, give his partner strength, and draw his attention.
"Fight it, Hutch. C'mon, buddy! You can shake it." Instead of relaxing, though, the grip suddenly grew fierce and tight.
"Uh...." Hutch grunted. His other hand, with the IV running into it, went to his stomach as he nearly sat up in bed, riding out the stomach cramps. "It hurts!" he exclaimed, clamping down even tighter.
Starsky had a flash of dizziness, remembering less than four months ago when he'd last heard his partner cry those words. But at least this time, he was there for him. Not gowned and robed and sterilized, but solidly there. Skin against skin, hand against hand, so they could fight this thing together.
"Hold on, Hutch. Hold on t'me. You'll be okay, I promise." He noted the figure in white coming closer, but was too intent on his friend to notice more.
"Can't hold on," the blond muttered weakly through clenched teeth. "Please, make it stop!"
"I'll do what I can, partner," Starsky vowed, squeezing the hand even tighter until the seizure seemed to ebb slightly, Hutch taking huge gulps of oxygen from the mask the nurse had just affixed over his nose and mouth. "Better?"
Hutch nodded wordlessly, stiffly, afraid that moving too much would bring back the agony.
"I'm sorry, partner, but I've gotta go. They won't let me stay, and I'm gonna find out what's happenin' to you. I need to get a bunch of samples of what you ate."
"No...!" his partner managed, clenching the hand even tighter. "Don't go...please!...can't...take it...without...ya."
Starsky's heart bled for his friend, and for himself. He felt like he was being torn in two, a part of him telling him he had to go in order to give Hutch the best chance at surviving, and the other wanting nothing more than to stay here with Hutch for as long as they had. "I'm sorry, buddy," he said, his eyes burning. "I can't stay." Hutch shook his head, and the fingers clenching his hand didn't loosen. Starsky made a feeble attempt at prying Hutch's hand from his own. His heart wrenched with each attempt to free himself, wanting no more than to stay with his partner. He'd almost gotten himself free from the vice-like grip when it was suddenly relaxed, the rest of the blond along with it. "Oh, my God! Hutch? Hutch, wake up!"
Hutch was unconscious and Starsky was frantic as he pushed the call button on the headboard. Dr. Green and a nurse were there within seconds, checking his partner over thoroughly. "It's okay, Detective," the doctor assured the hovering man. "He's experiencing some excruciating stomach cramps. He just passed out from the pain."
"Can't you give him something?" Starsky demanded.
"Not until we know what's in his system."
"Then I'm gonna find out," Starsky said, turning for the door. I guess it's a blessing; I'd never've been able to leave if he were awake and begging me. "When Hutch wakes up, you tell him I'll be back soon." He took one more long look at the man in the bed, then tore away his gaze and left before he gave in to his impulse to stay.
In the early morning, after a fitful night spent not sleeping, Starsky thanked Huggy for helping by giving him the samples of what Hutch had eaten the night before, and the brunet added the takeout containers to the bags in the Torino's trunk containing just about the entire contents of Hutch's refrigerator and his own, since he wasn't sure in what or where he'd gotten the poison.
"You goin' to the hospital?" Huggy asked over the car's roof. Starsky didn't notice that the deep brown eyes were strained, worried.
"I've gotta stop in at the station first. I'm hopin' that Hutch left some of his coffee in the cup there."
"Does Dobey know yet?"
"He knows Hutch is in the hospital, but I promised him a full explanation when I get there. I hope he doesn't keep me too long; I don't have the time to waste." He slid in behind the wheel, no less agitated than he'd been when he'd stopped fifteen minutes before. Huggy waved, muttering an old African prayer, as his friend pulled away.
The station was a flurry of activity. All except for one small corner, where a pair of desks sat peaceful and silent. Starsky studied the desks, taking in the emptiness of the chair across from where he usually sat. For just a second, he felt a stabbing in his chest, but it was fleeting, gone before he could even react to it. You've got a job to do, he reminded himself sternly, his eyes soon searching Hutch's desktop for the blond's coffee cup.
He picked it up, thankfully feeling the sloshing of the cold liquid still inside it. Thank God everybody's too busy to clean up! He pulled a tiny vial that the doctor had given him from his pocket, carefully trying to pour the coffee into the tiny opening. When Dobey slammed out of his office, he nearly dropped both containers.
"Captain!" Starsky reprimanded. "You could scare the life outta a guy!" It didn't even occur to him that it was unacceptable to talk to his superior that way. He snapped the lid on the vial before he had another chance to spill it, averting his Captain's dark, intense eyes.
"Starsky...I was wondering when you were gonna finally report in! What's all this about Hutch? Why's he in the hospital? And why didn't you call me back last night?"
"Maybe it'd be better if we talked about this in your office," Starsky suggested, already heading in that direction.
By the time Dobey was behind his desk again, Starsky was seated in a chair across from him, hands rubbing tired eyes. "Okay, Dave. What's going on?"
"The Doc says it's some kind of poison."
"Oh, dear Lord! Not again!" Dobey's face fell, remembering when it had been Starsky who was poisoned.
"Not necessarily this time. It's some kind of natural poison--not man-made--and he says he probably got it in something he ate. Kinda like a real bad food poisoning, I guess. He told me to get a sample of everything Hutch ate in the last 24 hours. The coffee here at the station is my last stop."
"A natural poison in Hutch's food?" the Captain asked, stunned. He knew there was a possibility that even a natural poison had help getting into something Hutch ate. But perhaps he was being paranoid. With these two around, it was easy. "Well, then, I'd suggest you get back to the hospital with those samples." As he looked up again, he couldn't ignore the slump in Starsky's shoulders and the hang of his head. "Starsky?"
"Oh, God, Captain. He's so sick! It's like someone is sticking a knife in his gut and turning it, only they're not stopping. The doctors are afraid to give him a painkiller until they know what's causin' it, and the only rest he's gettin' is when he passes out from the pain! Why is this happening?" He knew there was no answer for that particular question, but it had been screaming in his head for so long that it finally had to be asked aloud.
""C'mon, Dave. Get back to the hospital," Dobey told him gently. "The doctors need the samples and Hutch needs you." He watched as Starsky slowly rose, taking what seemed to be a tremendous effort. Even the doorknob turned hard today.
"Wait!" Dobey said, stopping Starsky in his tracks.
"I really don't think it means anything, but if you're gonna be thorough, you'd better take these, too." He threw a bottle of white pills in Starsky's direction, who caught it, studying the label.
"Aspirin?" His capacity seemed to be diminishing to one-word statements.
"Yeah. Hutch had three of `em yesterday. I suppose there always could have been an error at the manufacturer. Take them. I'll get another bottle."
"Good," Starsky answered. "Hutch'll need `em when he gets back to work." The answer was falsely optimistic. A person didn't have to know Starsky as well as Dobey did to hear the worry in his voice.
"Tell him I said to hang in there," the Captain said as Starsky left, pocketing the bottle along with the vial.
Dr. Green was totally unprepared for the figure that practically broke down his door, nor was he able to see the man behind the boxes and grocery bags he carried until he'd dropped them all on the desk in front of him. Thankfully, he hadn't had any patient files sitting there, or something could have spilled on them. Each item was marked with the source from which Starsky had taken it. If the poison came from something from Huggy's, there could be a whole city to worry about. Starsky had been amazingly accurate and thorough.
"Detective Starsky! What is all this?"
"Are you crazy?" Starsky asked, forgetting his manners once again. "This is exactly what you asked me for: a sample of everything Hutch ate in the last day. Actually, it's everything he might have eaten. I don't know what he had when I wasn't with him."
"Oh! That's fantastic!" Green reached for a telephone, quickly giving orders to have the stuff picked up and taken to the lab. "We need to have all this evaluated right away! It's urgent!" There was a pause while both he and Starsky waited and listened. "Yes, it's top priority. A man's life depends on it!" He hung up the phone, looking up into horrified bright blue eyes.
"He's not gettin' any better?" The eyes begged him to say otherwise, but he had to agree.
"I'm afraid not. If anything, the pain's been getting progressively worse and we dare not give him anything to eat. We've put him on a second IV to give him fluids."
"And now?" Starsky asked, afraid of what the answer would be.
"Now we wait. And hope the lab finds whatever's in him." The doctor's sympathetic eyes weren't hidden behind his glasses.
"Can I see him?" He didn't care if the doctor noticed the catch in his voice.
"I think that would be a good idea. He seemed to have a stronger hold when you were with him." The words were barely out of the doctor's mouth before Starsky left, passing a pair of lab assistants on their way into the office.
Starsky paused outside of Hutch's door, screwing up his courage and arranging his face into a smile he hoped was convincing. He almost thought he had it when he heard a moan and a sob from inside the room, immediately wiping the expression. Getting the smile back while continuing to hear the sounds from in the room was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, and he felt no sense of accomplishment when he finally attained it.
"Hi, partner!" he said cheerfully as he finally went into the room.
And was stopped dead in his tracks. Hutch looked even worse than he sounded, which was unbelievable. His skin was gray and sweaty on his face, arms, and around the white knuckles that clenched at the hospital gown at his stomach. His forehead was beaded with sweat, the area under his eyes drenched with a different kind of moisture. Slowly, the light blue eyes opened.
"Star..." his breath caught before he could finish the name, but it brought the brunet to his bedside in a blink, a gentle hand laying on his stomach.
"I'm here, partner. I won't leave again."
Hutch looked as though he were trying to speak again but it was simply beyond him now. A hand shifted to clasp his partner's, squeezing tightly and he tried to get his voice to cooperate. "Can't...take this...." he managed before the dry heaves started again.
"It's okay, partner. It's gonna be okay," Starsky soothed. "The lab's got all the samples they need. They'll know soon how to make you better." He didn't know if it was the truth, but he didn't care. He just wanted Hutch to believe it.
Hutch nodded slightly as the pair settled down to wait together. The hours passed in pretty much the same fashion, with Hutch rotating between bouts of stomach cramps, dry heaves, and unconsciousness when the pain got too bad. The nurse came in twice to clean Hutch up when he could no longer control his own bowels, although he'd been catheterized at least. Starsky felt humiliated for his partner, but the man himself was far beyond feeling anything about what the staff was doing to him.
The sun set, then rose, and still Starsky remained at his partner's side, catching snatches of sleep in his chair while the blond was unconscious. It had been light out for several hours when Doctor Green rushed into the room.
"We've got it, Detective!" It should have been a shout of victory, but the look on the doctor's face told Starsky it wasn't.
"What? What did you find?" Starsky was immediately awake, but Hutch, in one of his unconscious periods, wasn't hearing. Still, the doctor drew Starsky aside, motioning the nurse with him to administer an injection to the patient.
"What's she givin' him?" Starsky asked, distracted for a moment.
"It's a painkiller. We can give it to him now."
"Thank God," Starsky said, for about the hundredth time since all this started. The ups and downs of the situation were beginning to take their toll on him. "Now what did the lab find? Why don't you look happier?"
"Because I wish the news was as good as you wanted." The doctor looked downcast, afraid of telling Starsky the whole truth.
"What's the news?" Starsky managed around the lump suddenly taking over his throat. He was terrified, that much he could put a name to.
"I was right about the nature of the poison. It comes from a plant called Amanita phalloides."
"What?" Starsky was confused by the Latin.
"It's better known as the Destroying Angel."
"Destroying Angel," Starsky repeated. "That doesn't sound too good."
"I'm afraid not, Detective Starsky. I had to look this one up in the medical journals because I've never seen a case. The bad news," the doctor said after taking a deep breath, "is that there is no antidote for this kind of poison, so..."
"You mean he's gonna die and there's nothing we can do about it?" Starsky yelled, interrupting.
"Not necessarily, Sergeant. There's no antidote, but now that we know what the poison is, we know what symptoms to expect and can fight each one individually. If we can beat the symptoms, we beat the poison. It'll be tough, but we'll try."
"Did that journal of yours say what his chances are?" Starsky asked, terrified of the answer he was going to receive, but needing to know what he and his best friend were up against.
"I'm sorry, but it said 50 to 90 percent mortality rate." He paused as the man before him gasped painfully. "It did recommend some things we can give him, doses of Corticosteroids, antibiotics, vitamins, dextrose and sodium chloride solutions. It may help, but there are no guarantees."
"When will we know?" It was choked out brokenly, painfully.
"Not for a while. The next step could be renal and liver involvement in three or four days, and after that, the central nervous system. I'm afraid if it goes that far, he'll almost definitely die."
"What can I do?" The dark blue eyes were begging now.
"Your part is done, except for staying with your friend if you want. Now it's up to us and the police department's Internal Affairs Division."
"Internal Affairs? What the hell do they have to do with this?"
"The poison was found in something from the station. I wasn't sure what to do about it, so I called the police department. The officer who answered the phone referred me to them, and since it couldn't possibly have been administered accidentally, they're very interested."
Starsky was in the process of mentally counting all the people who had access to the coffee pot or Hutch's cup at the station. I can't believe that anyone at the station would do this to him.
Before Starsky could speak, Hutch began to stir; Starsky rushed to his side. "Hey, buddy," he whispered as the blond lashes fluttered. "How's it now?"
"Better," Hutch whispered, seeming surprised. "Must be on the mend, huh?"
"The doc's given you a painkiller, partner. It should help with the cramps. You still feel like throwin' up?"
"A little..." Hutch blinked, his eyes taking longer each time to open after they closed. "Starsk, what's wrong with me?" It was the first time since he'd been admitted to the hospital that the pain ebbed enough to let him consider his situation.
"Seems you ate somethin' that didn't quite agree with ya, partner. You're havin' a reaction to it."
"Shoulda known that junk you make me eat on duty would do this some day. Next time, I'm sticking to my health food."
"Actually," Starsky said, taking Hutch's hand again and trying to gauge how much he should tell him, "ya got it in your coffee at the station."
"No, Sergeant," came the doctor's voice, interrupting Hutch's further questions. "It wasn't in the coffee; I'm sorry if I gave you that impression. We found large quantities of the plant laced in the pills in a bottle of aspirin. A bottle which, I understand, was given to Detective Hutchinson by another officer named Dobey."
"Dobey?!" Starsky repeated, astonished.
"Yes, Detective. By now, Internal Affairs should be questioning this man."
"No," Hutch breathed, "the Captain wouldn't...."
"Doctor," Starsky interrupted for him. "It couldn't possibly have been our Captain! He's our friend!"
"Well, that's not mine to say. I just reported it to the people who needed to know. You'll have to take it up with them. I'm sorry if that sounds callous, Sergeant Starsky, but I can't...I won't...stand idly by while one human being intentionally tries to take the life of another."
"Somebody tried to kill me?" Hutch asked, sounding like a small child.
Starsky glared at the doctor for saying that in front of Hutch. "It'll be okay," He comforted, patting the blond's shoulder. Hutch raised a hand to cover his partner's.
"Wasn't Dobey, I'm sure," he managed. "Gotta find out who did it...."
"We will," Starsky muttered, trying to figure out how much he should tell his friend. The doctor made the decision for him.
"I'm afraid it's going to be a while before you're ready to be released, Officer. For now, you just have to concentrate on getting better."
"You gotta fight it, Hutch. And do what the doctors tell ya."
"I will," Hutch agreed. "Go check on Dobey, would ya?"
"I will. Those IA guys will run all over him, just like they always do to us. Don't forget, they believe a man is guilty first and innocent only if he can prove it." Starsky hesitated, not wanting to leave his partner, even to help his Captain.
"Go, Starsk," Hutch muttered. "He needs you."
"Okay, buddy. I'll go if you promise to get some sleep."
"I've been sleeping," Hutch whined, feeling tired but not wanting to miss out on anything more.
"No, you've been passed out. I mean real sleep, partner." He waited until his determined look was met with a nod from the blond. He was satisfied. "You hang in there. I'll be back as soon as I can." He squeezed the weakened hand once before releasing it and following the doctor out the door, leaving the patient alone in the room, still weak and tired. Maybe now he'd be able to get some genuine sleep.
The Internal Affairs Division was not a place that Starsky had ever gone willingly before. But this time was different. This time they were trying to pin something on an innocent man who'd dedicated his whole life to this department. Not six or seven years like he and Hutch, but twenty-six years!
"Where've you got Dobey?!" he demanded of the first person in the department he saw.
The man wasn't about to be bullied. "He's being questioned right now, Detective. You can't see him."
Starsky recognized the man slightly, seeming to remember that his name was Donald Simmons. "I know the way you guys operate! And you're not gonna keep me from helping him. You guys are on the wrong track big-time here!"
"I'd think you'd be happy we found the man who poisoned your partner. I've heard stories that you two are real close." Simmons smirked, making Starsky wonder if that was an expression they taught you when you transferred into this department.
"I don't believe for a second that Captain Dobey did it and neither does Hutch!"
"Well, Sergeant, be that as it may, we do believe it. And we're going to act on that belief until we have proof that he wasn't involved." The snide expression made Starsky want to reach out and knock the man on his pompous ass, but he knew he'd be no help to Dobey on suspension for striking a fellow officer.
"Well, then, I'll get you that proof," he snapped, turning his back and walking away.
He made his first stop R&I. Whoever had wanted to poison Hutch quite probably had revenge as a motive. "Check the jails and hospitals," he told the clerk. "Find out if anybody with a motive for revenge against Hutch was released or escaped in past the couple of weeks. I'll be in the squadroom for awhile, then the hospital."
"Yessir," the female clerk said, noticing it was the first time she'd encountered the handsome brunet that he hadn't hit on her. He must be really worried about his partner, she thought, appreciating the view from the rear as he walked away.
Minnie caught up with him on his way into the squadroom. "How's your partner, Starsky?" She was good at being concerned, finding herself almost as worried about the well half of this team as the sick one.
"Hangin' in there, Minnie. Hangin' in there."
"Did you hear about the Captain?" She practically had to run to keep up with the rushing man.
"Just came from IA. They wouldn't let me in. I gotta find something to prove that he didn't do this to Hutch."
"Anything I can do to help, Starsky honey. Just ask."
"Actually, there is something," Starsky said, pulling up short and thinking. "I need a list of everybody who has access to Dobey's office."
"Practically everybody in the building's been in there at one time or another! You're asking for a very long list!"
"Not everybody in the building can get in there when the Captain's off duty! And whoever planted those pills in there had to have done it when Dobey wasn't around."
"I have another question, Starsky. How did the creep who did this know it would be Hutch who asked him for aspirin? He's not the only one who gets aches, you know?"
"I know. I've been thinking about that, too. Somebody would have to know the workings of this division very well to know how often Hutch relies on the captain's bottle of aspirin. We just gotta figure out how they got so much knowledge."
"So you need to know who has a key to Dobey's office who was also around during the day to study you guys' habits."
"That's it, Minnie. Get back to me as soon as you can, would ya? And have Dobey call me at the hospital as soon as he gets back from IA. I wanna know how far they've taken this stupid theory of theirs!"
"Will do, Starsky. If he doesn't call ya, I will. I don't believe this either, and none of the guys do, either." She looked more worried than Starsky had ever seen her.
"Well, we're gonna prove it. But I gotta get back to Hutch." Starsky rubbed his eyes as he ran down the front steps of the precinct. He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep stretching himself between being with Hutch and trying to help Dobey, but he knew he didn't want to slack off on either right now. Sliding on his sunglasses even though the day was overcast, he directed the Torino back toward County General.
The telephone on Hutch's bedside table rang, and Starsky quickly grabbed it before it could disturb his partner. The patient stirred slightly and went back to sleep. Starsky whispered, hoping the person on the line would be able to hear him.
"Starsky, is that you, honey?" He'd recognize Minnie's telephone-filtered voice anywhere.
"Yeah. I don't wanna wake Hutch. What's goin' on?"
"The Captain just left here. I didn't get to talk to him much, just long enough for him to tell me he's taking the rest of the day off and will be at home if we need him."
"He's gone to tell Edith what's happening," Starsky predicted. But the fact that he'd been free was a good sign; it meant that IA didn't have enough evidence for an arrest. "Did he say if he'll be in tomorrow?"
"Yeah, God and Internal Affairs willing. I don't think I've ever seen him so worried. Except when he's worryin' about one of you two. What are you gonna do?"
"Do you have that list for me yet?" he asked.
"It's almost done. Personnel said another half hour or so."
"Good! I'll come by and pick it up, then I'm goin' to visit Dobey." His voice sounded angry and determined, which worried Minnie.
"To interrogate him?" She just wanted to be sure.
"No, of course not. To let him know that Hutch and me don't believe it for a second. And to tell him that I'm gonna figure out who's behind this."
She sighed in relief, feeling secure that Starsky would solve this case. "Good. I'll see ya in a bit, sweetie." She hung up the phone, managing a slight smile as she went back to her filing.
Greg Sullivan watched from around the corner as Dobey made his way to his old green sedan. He'd finished his task just in time, throwing the receipt well under the driver's seat and wiping his prints from the car's interior before making his way to his vantage point.
Now, all it'll take is an anonymous call to Internal Affairs to get him. They'll search his car, find the receipt, and bang! We've got him!
Getting that job in the exotic plant nursery across town was a stroke of genius, he thought. Not only could he remove clippings unnoticed from the plants there, but he could also dummy the receipt when he needed it and serve as "witness" to Dobey's purchase of the Destroying Angel. It was perfect.
Once he was sure Dobey had driven away, he made his way to the precinct, "accidentally" finding himself in the Internal Affairs Division. His hubris, his sense of pride, peaked as he congratulated himself on remembering to disguise himself in Dobey's office so that he wouldn't have to now. He'd have to appear as himself to testify in court against the Captain.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, approaching a man who looked like he belonged there. "Could you help me?" Of course, he knew the man. He'd done his research well. Donald Simmons. He'd found his way into the police department a few years prior to his cousin Kurt, and since then everybody was amazed at the differences between the two. Kurt was one member of a partnership known to be second only to Starsky and Hutchinson and also a good friend to both. On the other hand, Donald Simmons was determined to be the black to his cousin's white, easily matching the suspicious nature and animosity of a few older, overzealous IA men like Simonetti. Greg knew that this was just the man to help him get Dobey right where he wanted him.
"Yes, sir," Simmons said politely. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Well," Greg said, doing his best to look nervous. Donald apparently bought it. "I'm not sure if there is a problem. I work in an exotic nursery and I'm a little worried about a sale I made a few days ago."
"A sale? How unusual. Let's go into my office." Simmons led the man to a small cubical of an office, motioning him to be seated in a metal chair. "Now what worried you about this particular sale?"
"The man who came in," he said, wringing his hands in pretend anguish, "he seemed very angry. Mumbled a lot about getting even with somebody who was insubordinate." Simmons looked doubtful, but Sullivan knew he had his attention. "I know it's probably nothing. Just being silly, but...."
"But what, Mr...?"
"Sullivan. Greg Sullivan. I'm really afraid that this customer could try to harm whoever made him so angry."
"And what makes you think that?" Patience was an asset in this job, but this man was even getting on Simmons' nerves.
"Because the plant he bought was very poisonous, and he came in asking for it specifically. He was so mad," Greg went on, trying his best to sound timid and small, "I was afraid to even ask his name. And since he paid cash, there was no excuse to."
"Okay, Mr. Sullivan. Can you describe the customer to me?" This was starting to get interesting, and interesting was something Simmons craved.
"Well, he was big, that's for sure. About six feet tall and almost as wide. And he was black."
"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"
"Most definitely, sir." Sullivan knew the unnecessary show of respect would endear him even further to the IA man.
"And what kind of plant was it that he bought?" Donald paused with his pen froze above the page on which he was taking notes.
"Well, we in the business call it Amanita phalloides, but it's commonly referred to as the Destroying Angel. We don't even usually carry it, but we got a couple of flats in by mistake a week or so ago, and since it's an attractive plant, we kept them around." He looked up into the eyes of the IA man and saw recognition there and something akin to excitement.
Yes, this could be a real boom to his career, that was for sure. From a drawer in his desk Simmons withdrew a file and from it, a police ID. "This doesn't happen to be the man who made the purchase, does it?"
He handed a photo to Greg. "Officer, this is him!" declared Sullivan.
Simmons' smile grew in brightness and size as the witness uttered the final verdict on Captain Harold Dobey. "Good. Very good, Mr. Sullivan. If you'd wait just a minute, I'd like to get a stenographer in here to take down your statement, then we'll need to have your address and phone number so we can call you when it comes time to testify."
"Of course, sir," Greg said, sitting back in his chair. "I always believe in doing my duty as a good citizen." It was hard not to smile at his victory, but he managed somehow.
"If you'll excuse me," Donald Simmons said, smiling, "I have some things to arrange." He stepped out, using the phone at the front desk to first call the District Attorney's office, then to summon a pair of uniformed officers. They weren't happy about their assignment, but since it came from somebody who outranked them, they didn't have much to say about it.
"Find him and bring him in," Simmons instructed them sternly. "The charge is attempted murder. You can pick up the warrant at the DA's office on the way."
They shook their heads in astonishment, finding it nearly impossible to believe that a man with Dobey's reputation could do such a thing. On the other side of the coin, Simmons was practically jumping with glee at the case he'd just broken. Taking down a man of Dobey's prestige was just the feather his cap needed, and was certain to secure him a place on the promotion list. So, Captain Harold Dobey! You thought you had everyone fooled with that good-guy family-man act. But I know better now, and I'm gonna see that you pay for trying to murder one of our own.
Edith Dobey looked up suddenly from the pie she was baking at the sound of the car in the driveway. The kids were still in school, and her beloved husband wasn't expected home for many hours; it was still mid-morning. "Not another salesman," she muttered, running her flour-covered hands under a stream of water in the sink before drying them on a towel, then she headed toward the door.
She was surprised when, instead of a ringing doorbell, the door opened and her husband came in. He looked terrible, tired and worn out and, most of all, worried.
"Harold!" she said in her surprise. She hugged him, but his lackluster response and slight squeeze also emphasized his mood. "Honey, what's wrong? Why are you home so early?"
"Can't I spend a little private time with my favorite lady?" Dobey said, trying his best to muster a smile.
"You know you can do that anytime, honey. I've been living with you too long not to know that face, though. You've got bad news, don't you?"
Dobey flopped down onto the couch, his wife following him down more gently. "You know me too well, sweetheart. Yeah, I'd say this is worse than bad." He looked into his wife's eyes, seeing the comfort there, and started at the beginning. "Hutch is in the hospital; he's been poisoned."
Edith gasped, then spoke through the hand with which she'd covered her mouth. "Is he going to be all right?"
"It's doubtful. There is a chance he could recover, but his odds aren't too good."
"Oh, dear. I'm so sorry. I know how much Starsky and Hutch mean to you." She hugged him gently, kissing him on the cheek.
"That's not all," he said after taking a deep breath. "The poison was planted in some aspirin he took. Some aspirin I gave him."
"Yeah. And IA is real interested in who put it in there." They sat there for a moment, drinking in each other's faces. "Baby, Internal Affairs suspects me of doing it."
"YOU?!" She let her astonishment settle before managing to continue. "How can they suspect you? You love those boys like they were your own. They're like members of our family! Nobody who knows you could believe you'd do such a thing!"
"Well, those men in IA don't know me!" he said, his anxiety showing clearly to his wife. "They grilled me for hours this morning. No matter what I said, I couldn't convince them it was the truth." Edith hugged him tightly, comfort for times when there were no words. "Hutch is in the hospital, maybe dying, and I'm just waiting for them to come with a warrant for my arrest."
The comment about Hutch diverted Edith's concern from her beloved husband to the black sheep of his squadroom. "How is Dave holding up? This must be horrible for him. Can he do anything to help Ken?"
"No, I'm afraid not. The poison's got no antidote. All they can do is treat his symptoms and pray he pulls through."
"I'll go and visit Ken; he'll need all our support to fight this thing." She looked determined, and he wasn't about to argue with her. On the contrary, he hoped it would keep her mind off his own predicament.
"That's a good idea," he said, managing a smile this time. "But I don't want either one of them to know about this IA business. They've got enough to worry about without having to think about me." He looked into her eyes again, sternly, when she didn't respond. "Promise me, sweetheart. It's what I want."
The request would be difficult, but she couldn't refuse the love of her life this one favor. "Very well, Harold." Dobey stood, kissing his wife's cheek as they rose together.
"I'm going to the hospital to visit Hutch. Tell the kids I love them and, no matter what happens, not to believe what they hear."
"Are they really that close to accusing you?"
"I don't know, honey. But I wanted to say that, just in case." He hugged her tightly to his chest, and she buried her face in his large arm, trying very hard not to let him see the tears that were saturating his sleeve. They clung there, together, for a few minutes before they finally pushed away. Her eyes were red, but at least they were now dry.
"I love you," she said simply.
"You'd better," he said, smiling gently. "I love you, too." He pecked her on the forehead, then on the cheek, then on the lips before leaving the house, needing to get out before he decided to never leave again.
The situation at LA County Hospital had not improved. If anything, it was worse. Hutch was groggy from painkillers most of the time and was still suffering from dry heaves. The doctors tried a new anti-nausea medicine as soon as the prior failed one was out of his system, and still he suffered whenever he was awake. When the pain medicine was wearing off, he felt the ache in his ribs and shoulders from hunching over the basin kept nearby in case the heaves brought up bile or, God forbid, blood.
And worse than that, he was becoming weaker. Starsky could see it clearly, saw the differences from when Hutch was first administered the morphine. His ability to fight what was happening to his body seemed to be lessening as the time passed. The brunet squeezed the pale, thin hand as tightly as he felt was safe. Hutch wouldn't be able to tell him when it hurt; he was too loaded with drugs.
Starsky half-turned in his chair at the knock on the door, wincing at the stitch in his back from being frozen there for so long. "Come in," he said. He managed a small smile when he saw the round, hopeful face of his captain.
"Starsky," Dobey said, taking in the condition of his officer before letting his eyes stray to his partner in the bed. What he saw there shocked him. "How's he doing?"
"Not so good. He's still too sick for them to feed him anything." Dobey saw fear behind the sapphire blue eyes, echoed back by his own brown ones. "I heard about IA callin' you in, Cap. It's a good thing they seem to have come to their senses."
Dobey apparently didn't want to discuss it. "Is the pain any better?" The Captain moved further into the room, leaning against the foot of Hutch's bed.
"It's hard to tell; he's on so much painkiller that he wouldn't feel it even if it was there. It makes him sleep, though, so I suppose it can't be all bad...."
Dobey's eyes strayed again to the disheveled man in the bed. "Has the doctor said anything about why his color is so strange?"
Starsky looked confused. "The doctor hasn't been in for awhile," he said a moment before the rest of the Captain's statement sunk in. "What d'you mean `his color is strange'?"
Could Starsky really not have noticed? "His skin tone. It's yellow. Like a newborn with jaundice." He watched as the expressions flew over Starsky's face.
Starsky heard the doctor's words of two days ago echoing in his mind. Kidney and liver involvement in three to four days. Hutch was getting worse, and his two vital organs were beginning to shut down. He didn't even realize that the "Oh, God" had escaped his lips until Dobey shook his shoulder. Then, instead of reacting to the large black man, he jumped up and ran to the call button. It was only a manner of seconds before Lynn, Hutch's nurse, poked her head in the room.
"Get Dr. Green in here now!" Starsky ordered, forgetting the niceties. She was about to tell him off when her cornflower blue eyes noted the patient and his change in color.
"I'll put through an emergency page right away," she answered as she shut the door. She hadn't even gotten all the way into the room, but it had been sufficient. Dr. Green arrived soon with Lynn, carrying some equipment, at his side.
Dobey and Starsky were silent as the doctor checked over the blond, noting temperature and reflexes, then drawing some blood which Lynn left to take to the lab. Finally, he stood back with the two concerned friends.
"Is it...?" Starsky asked, not even able to mutter the words. Dobey knew the symptoms, knew what they meant to Hutch.
"Yes, Officer. It appears his liver and kidneys are in distress." He scribbled some notes on Hutch's chart. "I'm taking him off the pain medication so we can gauge the progress by his mental state.
"His mental state?" Starsky questioned, not understanding. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"The liver and kidneys," the doctor began in a voice that sounded more like he was teaching school than delivering medical information, "both screen toxins out of the body. When they stop working or aren't working correctly, that toxin can get backed up into the person's system, eventually interfering with the neural impulses to and in the brain. The first sign of this is an agitated emotional state."
"Thank you," Dobey muttered, noticing how the news had affected Starsky. The poor man looked stunned and very, very worried. "What can you do about it, Doctor?"
"Well, there are some drugs, a few even controversial ones, that may help get the liver functioning up to par again, and they could help the kidneys, too. If none of the medication helps in that area, we'll have to put him on dialysis."
Starsky did know what that was. "Oh, my God," he whispered, returning to Hutch's side. He took his partner's hand again, and this time got a reaction as the fair lashes fluttered open. He looked at Starsky, but the brunet wasn't sure he was actually seeing him.
"Hey, partner," Starsky managed, smiling slightly. "Welcome back." It was something he said every time Hutch awoke, and the blond smiled at the familiarity of the phrase and the man who said it.
"Hi," he said weakly, licking his lips.
"How's the pain?" Starsky asked, noticing that at least the patient didn't look like he was hurting.
"Fine. Even feel like I could keep something down. Can I have some water?" He licked his lips again. Starsky reached for the pitcher of water but was interrupted by the doctor.
"No water, but you can give him a little chipped ice." Lynn returned long enough to bring it, then left to tend other patients.
The coolness and moisture seemed to help Hutch awaken; he grew more alert and aware of what was going on around him. His eyes went from Starsky to Dr. Green to Dobey. "Hi, Captain. How's it going?"
Starsky shook his head faintly to his Captain, implying without speaking that he hadn't told the blond about the problems with IA or their suspicion of Dobey. The message came across clearly.
"I'm doing okay, Ken," he said softly. "You just do what the doctors tell you and get better."
"Yessir!" Hutch answered, smiling and making a weak attempt at a salute. The slowness of the movement wasn't missed by the doctor or the other two officers. The blond licked his lips again.
The pitcher now empty of the ice it had contained, Starsky got up to go fill it with water. Maybe Hutch couldn't drink, but he could at least wet his lips and wipe his forehead with the much-wanted liquid. Dobey heard the water begin to run when the door opened, admitting another visitor.
Starsky was unable to hear what was going on in the room until he turned off the faucet, but what he heard then wrenched him from the bathroom. Hutch was yelling with every ounce of strength he had left.
"You can't do this.... What the hell d'you think you're up to, Simmons." He was plainly angry.
"What's all the yelling about?!" Starsky's voice overpowered Hutch's objections. Hutch turned to him, clearly agitated and sweating. One sweeping glance took in Hutch, Dr. Green, Dobey, and, amazingly enough, Donald Simmons, standing beside the Captain with his handcuffs in his grip.
"This lunatic wants to put Dobey in jail..." Hutch said plaintively.
"I have," Simmons interrupted before Hutch could go on, " a warrant for the arrest of Captain Harold Dobey." As he spoke, he snapped the cuffs around Dobey's wrists.
"A warrant?!" Starsky said, astonished. "A warrant for what? What's he supposed to have done?"
"Captain Dobey is charged with the attempted murder of Detective Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson." The answer stunned everybody in the room, and it was a moment before anybody was able to respond.
Finally, Starsky found his voice. "The Captain tried to kill Hutch? That's ridiculous! More than ridiculous, only a total moron could dream up a charge like that!"
"It's no dream, Starsky," Simmons said, waving a small sheet of white paper. "On the way in, I and a few uniforms took the liberty to search the good Captain's car. I had a warrant for that, too, of course. And we just so happen to have found a receipt for the poisonous plant in question hidden under his seat."
"Then someone planted it there!" exclaimed Starsky.
Hutch's quieter voice joined his partners, becoming more upset by the second. "Look, I'm the injured party here, and I know that he would never do something like that. So you can just take off those handcuffs, Simmons, because I have no intention of pressing charges."
"Hutch," Simmons said, "you know I don't need you to press charges in order to put him under arrest. The suspect is a threat to the safety of the public at large."
"Oh, hell!" Hutch responded, trying in vain to push himself up in bed. Starsky's hand holding him down felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. "The only thing Harold Dobey is a threat to is the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet on Bleaker!" The agitation was finally catching up to the blond, who suddenly stopped struggling, nearly unconscious.
"He can't take this kind of anxiety," Dr. Green stepped in. "You people are going to have to take this argument out of here. Mr. Hutchinson is worn out and needs his rest."
"No!" Hutch whispered. "Can't let them put him in jail. He's our friend!"
It occurred to Starsky that, although they'd considered Harold Dobey a friend for years now, it was one of the first times either of them had actually used the word aloud to describe their Captain.
"You people in IA are crazy if you think we're going to let you pin this on him!" Hutch yelled as loud as he could muster, barely surpassing his normal tone of voice. "It's not right! It's not fair! I'll get you, Simmons! I'll teach you to accuse a friend of mine!" The anger in Hutch's words was clear and plain, even through his weakness, and the doctor's words echoed back at Starsky. When they stop working or aren't working correctly, that toxin can get backed up into the person's system, eventually interfering with the neural impulses to and in the brain. The first sign of this is an agitated emotional state. Heaven knew, there was good reason for Hutch to be upset, but could this be something more?
"Don't worry, Hutch," Starsky said, laying a gentle hand on the blond's shoulder again. "I'll take care of it. You just get some rest." Their eyes met for a few moments, Hutch reading in the deep blue depths that his partner was worried yet sincere. He could rest; Starsky would see to getting the charges against Dobey dropped. Starsky reached forward and squeezed his partner's hand, releasing it and leaving only when Hutch closed his eyes and seemed to be resting.
Once outside the room, Starsky took the IA man to task. "What the hell were you thinking, trying to arrest Dobey right in front of Hutch?!" He bore down on the man, trying to use all his 5'11" to his benefit. "He can't afford to get riled up right now! Especially not by you arresting an innocent man who happens to be a very good friend!"
"Starsky," Donald said, holding his own, "nobody is going to keep me from taking in someone for premeditated murder in this case. So just get out of my way, before I decide to take you in too for obstructing an officer serving a warrant." Starsky would have gone after the man again if Dobey's serene voice hadn't intercepted him.
"Dave, it's okay. The system will work and I'll be out before you know it. But I need you to call Edith for me. Please," he added, and Starsky saw more worry in his dark brown eyes than he outwardly showed. "Help her with Cal and Rosie until I can get back." Simmons began to lead the large black man away toward two officers waiting at the end of the hall.
"I'll take care of it, Captain!" Starsky called after the departing men. "And I'll clear you, too. Count on it!" Dobey barely heard the promise as the elevator closed on them.
David Starsky never felt so conflicted in his whole life. Never had he had so many things he wanted to do at once. The choice he had made felt wrong, yet right, creating a twisting somewhere in his chest. He rubbed at it absently as he guided the Torino through LA's streets, taking the fastest route possible from the hospital, where he'd wanted to stay with his ailing partner, to the Dobey residence. If he was really lucky, he'd get there before Cal and Rosie arrived home from school.
He half-hoped that the doorbell wouldn't work, or that Edith wouldn't be home, although he knew it would only be delaying the inevitable. Moments later, though, the door opened to Mrs. Dobey's smiling face. "David Starsky, my heavens! What in the world are you doing here, with Ken so sick?" He hardly needed the words to remind him that he'd abandoned his partner. He found he didn't want to break the news and lose that smile.
"He's resting easily right now," he said, not sure if it was a lie or not. "And I had a promise to keep." She was looking at him curiously, and he forged ahead. "Can we go into the living room?"
"Sure," she said, leading him into the comfortable room where, rather than taking the chair she indicated, Starsky guided her to a chair of her own. The move confused the woman, reminding her of Harold's street days when she feared this kind of a visit would be to tell her that her beloved husband had been hurt or killed. "Did you see Harold at the hospital?" she asked, chuckling nervously and not knowing why.
"Yes, I did," Starsky answered softly. "We had a nice visit."
"Did he tell Ken hello for me? I asked him to be sure to do that, but you know how he can be sometimes. He can remember the most miniscule little things and forget something very important..." She rambled on, long after Starsky had tuned out her words. She was becoming more and more nervous as each minute passed with Starsky still not revealing the reason for his visit. Finally, he stopped her.
"Edith..." he said quietly, taking her hands, and she fell silent.
She looked at their long-time family friend expectantly. "Yes, David?"
"Edith, we had a visitor we weren't counting on. I just don't know how to tell you this, but the Internal Affairs guys showed up. They put the Captain under arrest, Edith." The plaintiveness in his voice was clear. The woman before him sat there stunned, unable to respond to what she'd been told. "Edith, did you hear me?"
"They arrested my Harold?" she said, her eyes beginning to tear.
"I'm afraid so. He made me promise to come tell you myself, not that I would've let anybody else do it anyway." She started to weep openly, and he put his arms around her hesitantly as she folded into his arms. He let her cry on his shoulder for several minutes, staying silent and supportive, until she finally felt strong enough to pull away, rubbing at her deep brown eyes. "Are you okay?"
"As okay as I'm going to get until my baby is home." He pulled out his handkerchief and gently wiped her face until it was dry. She began to fan her eyes, trying to clear the redness in them. "The kids are going to be home any minute; I can't face them this way."
Right on cue, the front door opened and Cal and Rosie Dobey ran in, the older boy in hot pursuit of his little sister. "I'm gonna get you for that, kid," he said as the small girl ran into her mother's arms to avoid her brother. Neither of them noticed that their mother seemed upset.
"Mommy," Rosie said, smiling slightly while trying to look very scared. "Don't let him hurt me!"
"Now, Calvin," Edith said, stopping her son in his tracks, "what could she possibly have done to upset so you so badly?"
"Do you remember Jenny Martin, Mom?"
Edith seemed to think a second, then the name finally clicked. "Oh, yes! The girl who sits behind you in home room and just moved up the street!"
"Yeah, that's her. Well, your darling daughter just told her that I liked her!" It was as if it was the most horrible thing he could conceive.
"Well, don't you?" Edith smiled, happy to have such a normal thing happening amid the chaos.
"I...I...." Calvin stammered, prompting Rosie to begin chanting.
"Calvin loves Jenny. Calvin loves Jenny. Calvin and Jenny, sitting in a tree..." Calvin slapped a hand over his sister's mouth, trying to keep her quiet. Starsky, until now unobserved, laughed. He remembered more than a few similar incidents where he'd been in Calvin's shoes and Nicky had been the taunter.
"Rosie, honey. You really shouldn't tease him like that! You have no idea how much trouble he'll be able to cause you when you get to be his age."
Rosie seemed to think for a moment before falling silent and stopping her struggle against her brother's arms. "Uncle Dave, why are you here?" she asked when her brother had freed her mouth. "And where's Uncle Ken?"
"Hutch couldn't make it this time, kids. He's in the hospital `cause he got sick. Maybe you could visit him sometime; it sure would cheer him up. But that's not why I came to see your mother."
Edith interrupted before he could continue, knowing how she wanted to handle this matter with her kids. "He just came to give me a message, sweetheart. Your Daddy won't be able to come home for a few days because of work."
Rosie's face fell, as did her brother's. "But what about my dance recital?! He promised to be there!"
"And what about my baseball game! He's always there to help the coach!"
"I'm sorry, kids, but there's nothing we can do about it. Rosie, why don't you go play while I talk to your brother." The young girl turned dejectedly towards the stairs and was soon on the second floor and out of earshot. Edith drew her only son down on the couch next to her.
"Calvin, I didn't want your sister to hear the whole reason your dad can't come home, but I think you're old enough to handle it. You heard Uncle Dave say that Hutch was sick. Well, the truth is, he's not just sick. Somebody tried to kill him. And some of the people at the department think that your father did it. That's why he can't come home."
"You mean he's in jail?!" Calvin almost shouted, astonished, as Starsky and Edith shushed him. "How could anybody in their right mind think that Dad would do anything like that to him. They're friends, Ma!"
"I know, sweetie," Edith said, fighting tears again, as she patted her son's leg.
"And I'm going to do everything in my power to prove his innocence," Starsky said, trying to encourage the boy.
"In school they teach us that you don't have to prove you didn't do something; they have to prove you did do it!"
"They've got a lot of circumstantial evidence, they won't even tell me about some of it. We won't know everything they've got until the arraignment first thing in the morning."
"Will both of you be with Dad for that?"
"I'll be there, and I've got a feeling wild horses couldn't keep your Mom away. I've got to go to the hospital first thing in the morning to see Hutch, then I'll be there. I promise." Calvin knew that Starsky's promises were good, and relaxed a little. He remembered his father telling him once--at one time when their lives were in danger from an escaped man that the Captain had put in jail--that Starsky and Hutch were the best detectives he'd ever seen. He knew his father hadn't said that easily, and felt confident the brunet would clear his father, even if he didn't have his blond partner to help him.
"How is Hutch, really?" Cal voiced the though, honestly wanting to know.
"Not so good, I'm afraid. Somebody poisoned him; there's no antidote. We just have to hope he pulls through it with what help the doctors can give him." There was no mistaking the sense of loss on Starsky's face, along with a sense of incompleteness.
"We'll all say a prayer for him," Edith announced, patting her son on the arm. "The Good Lord will keep him with us. And with Dave." She looked again at Starsky just a moment before he bolted from his chair.
"I've gotta get goin'," he said, trying hard to hide the strain in his voice. "Need to check up on Hutch." He was at the door before she was able to catch up to him.
"Tell Ken that we're thinking about him, and to fight. With the Lord's help, he'll be able to beat this thing."
"I'll tell `im," Starsky muttered, brushing his lips on her cheek before he sped out the door. After he'd gone, Cal put an arm around his mother.
"Starsky and Hutch are like brothers," he said, almost whispering. "What'll happen to Starsky if Hutch dies?"
"I hope we never have to find out," Edith whispered back, hugging her son.
"Well, it's about time!" Starsky exclaimed, seeing the doctor finally coming into his partner's room. It was very late and Hutch was asleep. It had been several hours since Starsky had returned to the hospital from the Dobey residence. "Do you have any idea how many times your staff's come in and taken blood tonight? Without even a single one of `em bein' able to tell me how he's doin'!"
"I'm sorry, Officer Starsky," Dr. Green said calmly. When a patient is experiencing kidney problems, we have to take blood often to determine if his conditioning is worsening, improving, or staying level."
"And which one is it?" Starsky asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
"Well, it's not good, but he doesn't seem to be getting any worse at least."
Starsky closed his eyes, breathing a deep sigh of relief. His comfort was broken by the doctor again.
"I don't want you to get your hopes up, Sergeant. Just because it's staying level for now doesn't necessarily mean it'll stay that way or that he's getting better. We can hope, though."
Starsky's face fell as quickly as his mood did, feeling the knives again in his heart. He didn't know there was a witness until he heard the soft voice. "C'mon, partner. Have a little faith in me." He spun around to see Hutch, eyes vague but undoubtedly resting on his best friend.
Starsky wasn't aware he was moving toward him, just that he was suddenly at his side with the thin hand grasped in his own. "Hey," he said, smiling. "That's supposed to be my line, partner. Remember all those times when I was layin' there, sayin' it to you?"
Dr. Green slipped out, leaving the two of them alone.
"Yeah," the blond whispered, letting his eyes close again. "Prudholm, Bellamy, Simon, those freaks in the Italian restaurant.... Guess I'm catchin' up t'you, huh, buddy?"
"Well, you just listen to me, partner. You're not allowed to catch up to me, so just cut out this hospital business. When we get you outta here, I don't want you makin' no more trips here." Starsky blinked away fogginess as he felt Hutch's weak squeeze back.
"Didja get Dobey out yet?" Hutch asked, his eyes still closed.
"I'm workin' on it, partner. You just rest for now. I'll be here with ya until mornin', then I'm goin' to the courthouse. Don't you worry; I'll clear him."
"Wish I could help `im...." Hutch drifted off again.
"I wish you could, too," Starsky whispered, lowering himself into the chair beside the bed and looking intently at Hutch's sickly face. He propped his legs on the edge of the mattress, slumping down, and folded his hands in his lap, trying to get some sleep himself before his friend's next wakeful period.
The courthouse was mobbed with reporters, all trying to get pictures and a comment from the accused. Dobey's lawyer, a former officer who was donating his services, and Starsky, were by his side as soon as he was led from the van, shielding him from the shouts of the press. It wasn't the first time a member of the police force was taken to trial, but it was the first time anybody could remember where an officer in good standing was accused of trying to murder one of his own.
My God, Starsky thought, staring at the throng. And this is just the arraignment. What's gonna happen if this thing actually goes to trial?
Once inside the courthouse, things calmed down considerably. The halls echoed hollowly as the three, and their uniformed escorts, moved toward the courtroom. Starsky had offered to serve as escort himself, but the commissioner had been suspicious of the brunet and had refused the request. He'd made sure that the men serving as Dobey's guards were from another division.
As for the accused himself, he remained solemn. He greeted Starsky pleasantly enough when he first arrived, but didn't truly smile until he entered the courtroom, seeing his dedicated wife standing there waiting for him. He half expected her to jump up, yelling surprise, and tell him this was all a joke for his birthday or their anniversary. But her eyes told him that it wasn't true. He fondly remembered her visit of just an hour ago.
"How are you holding up, honey?" he asked her across the barrier between them. He wanted no more than to bury her in his large form, but knew the law wouldn't allow it.
"How am I?" she repeated, incredulous. "I should be asking you that!"
"I'm just fine," he answered the never-really-asked question. "Because I'm an officer, they keep me separate from the rest of the jailbirds." He laughed lightly, for her benefit, at his use of the old-fashioned word. "Now how are you and the kids?"
"I'm fine, too. Dave came and was so sweet; it really helped me feel better. I made the kids go to school today, as usual. No reason to disrupt their lives any more than we have to, right?"
"You know me so well," he said, wishing again that he could hug her. "That's exactly what I would have had you do." Dobey's lips moved, but no one couldn't hear whatever he was trying to communicate to the woman, but she understood, and it elicited a smile from her.
Dobey's eyes held Edith's until he arrived at the front of the courtroom. Hesitantly, she took her seat in the first row and watched as he sat behind the defendant's table.
Starsky raced back into the hospital, taking the stairs rather than the elevator up to Hutch's room, knowing that he had some pent up aggression to get out of his system. The arraignment hearing had been a disaster, a striking blow for the prosecution, and the judge had held over the case for trial, setting the bail at an unreachable amount.
He stopped and visibly calmed himself before going into the room. He knew it wouldn't be good to upset Hutch, although he had every intention of telling him everything that had happened. Just not all at once or abruptly.
"Hi," Hutch said softly as soon as he recognized the brown curls. He must've been staring at the door, waiting, to see him so quickly, Starsky thought.
"Hey," Starsky said, approaching the bed for what seemed like the millionth time. "Why aren't you asleep?"
"Couldn't," Hutch said simply. "I couldn't keep my mind off the hearing. So how'd it go?"
"Well...." Starsky began, noticing his partner's worried expression. "The judge handed down an indictment. Attempted murder. He set the bail at $750,000." He looked at his extremely pale friend, hearing again the judge's echoing words that, should Hutch not make it, the charge would be elevated to Murder One. Hutch had to make it!
"Three quarters of a million dollars?" exclaimed Hutch. "That's ridiculous!"
Starsky was surprised at the vehemence in his best friend's voice. Was it his imagination, or was that voice stronger? "The DA said something to him about the possible flight risk and that he might incite other members of the force to assist him."
"And how are the other cops taking this? Not everybody knows the Captain as well as we do."
"Near as I can tell, it's about half and half. Half want to see Dobey's neck in a noose for what he supposedly did to you, and the other half would like to throttle the DA's office for even thinking he could do something like this."
"I know you'll clear him," Hutch said groggily, apparently spent from his energetic conversation with his partner. "And I'll be okay. Don't look so worried."
"Yeah, I know, buddy," Starsky said, patting Hutch's arm.
"Really.... I just need...a little rest.... Be up and around...." But Hutch was never able to finish the sentence. He drifted off, his lips still moving slightly, but nothing coming out.
"I sure hope so," Starsky whispered, moving his hand from Hutch's arm to the blond strand of hair that had fallen down his forehead. Brushing it aside, he noticed that Hutch's temperature seemed normal. Now that he thought about it, his color was a little better, too. Maybe....
He pushed the button to call the nurse, and was happy to see that Lynn was on duty. "May I help you?" she asked, smiling gently as she came through the door.
"Yeah, I hope so. Can you tell me how he's doing really? The doctor keeps side-stepping me when I ask, but I think he looks less yellow at least."
Lynn treated Starsky to a whiff of soap as she walked to the foot of Hutch's bed, retrieving his chart. Opening it to examine the latest test results, her grin grew slightly. "Well, according to this, his last blood tests showed that his kidney and liver function improved slightly. Still not up to par, but it's a good sign."
"So you think Hutch'll be okay?" he asked.
"We hope he'll be okay," she stressed, replacing the chart. "But I'm afraid, with this case, there's nothing we can be sure of. Hopefully, he'll continue to improve, but it's not by any means a certainty. My best recommendation is to let him rest." She stopped, looking closely at the brunet by the bedside. "You look like you could use some rest, too. When is the last time you had something to eat?"
"I grabbed a couple of doughnuts before the hearing this morning."
"That was what? Nine o'clock this morning? You can't possibly survive on that junk." She glanced briefly at her watch. "I'm off in ten minutes. Why don't I take you to a great place I know near here. If you don't eat something, you're going to pass out. And then how much help can you be to your friend and your captain."
Starsky was surprised by the reference to Dobey. "How'd you know about all of that?"
"Ken isn't asleep all the time, you know. When he's awake, he likes to talk. Mostly about you, your captain, and this case."
"And you've been keeping him company?" Starsky said smiling.
"When I can, and when my duties permit. He seems like such a nice man...." She looked at Hutch for a few moments before turning back to his partner. "He says you're his best friend. So, best friend...what about that food?"
"It sounds good," Starsky agreed, "but I've got to go after that. If I'm going to clear Captain Dobey of the charges, I've gotta get going."
"Agreed. I've got things I have to take care of too, tonight. I'm going to a show with my best friend! I can't wait! It's the newest hit musical!" With that, she excused herself to check on the other patients. Starsky immediately felt better about Hutch's being here; with care like this woman could give, he was confident they'd pull Hutch through.
Greg Sullivan paced the living room of the small house, muttering quietly to himself.
"What's the matter?" a quieter voice asked, coming closer in the dim room.
"It's that damn cop! He's not dead yet, and the charge against Dobey is only attempted murder." His voice and face were filled with rage, even more so than the man now beside him.
"Attempted Murder will still get him sent up for a long time, Greg. It'll still work!"
"No, Drew," Greg said, sitting down on the coffee table to face his younger brother. "It's gotta be Murder One, just like the false charge he pinned on you. He's gonna find out how hard it is to survive in that hell hole. Dobey put you in that chair by sending you up, and now he's gonna pay for it."
Drew Sullivan rolled his wheelchair as close as he could get to his older brother, enfolding him in his arms. "Thanks, big brother. It's all I want." After a thoughtful pause, he asked, "You haven't forgotten your promise, have you?"
"No, I haven't. I promise, you'll be in the courtroom when they send Dobey up. And you're going to get to smile and know there ain't a damn thing he can do to change the verdict!"
The man in the wheelchair suddenly began to cry, holding his brother even closer. "Thank you, Greg. Dad would be so proud of you. You promised to take care of me, and now you are."
"It's nothing," Greg said, with an evil smile as he patted his brother on the back. "You'd do the same for me."
"I would. You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know."
After finishing dinner with Lynn at the taco place around the corner, Starsky checked on Hutch, only to find he was still sleeping, condition the same, Starsky hesitantly left the hospital to head back to headquarters. He had to check in with Minnie to see if she'd found anything.
The station seemed filled with tension. Starsky wondered briefly if it was his imagination; coming to the station alone, without his partner, always left him a little tense, but nothing like this. No, this was definitely something more.
"Hiya, dollface," he said, forcing a smile, as he approached Minnie's desk. "Please tell me you found somethin' that's gonna help."
"I'm afraid not, Starsky, honey. Dead end, all the way."
"Damn!" Starsky cursed, pounding a fist on the smooth surface, causing Minnie to jump.
"You know, this might be a long shot," Minnie suggested, "but maybe you should try Dobey's office. I don't think anybody's been in there since the arrest. Maybe the guy who did it wasn't smart enough to wear gloves."
"Fingerprints?" Starsky asked, thinking. "Didn't IA do that already?"
"No, they haven't been around. They believe they've already caught their man."
"That's a great idea," he smiled, genuinely this time. "The thing that's really been bothering me is all the `hows' of this. How did somebody get access to Dobey's office in the first place, how did they know Hutch would want aspirin, and not somebody else, and how did they get past a precinct full of cops to do it? It just doesn't make sense."
"It probably would if you knew the answers," Minnie answered logically.
"It would have to be somebody who knew the precinct extremely well, knew the routines, and was able to observe when Dobey came and went. Put that way, the only people who qualify are..." He paused, not liking what was coming into his mind.
Minnie picked up on his thoughts, though. "Do you know what you're saying?"
"I'm afraid so. Captain Dobey may not have been the one to poison Hutch, but that doesn't mean it couldn't have been someone else in the precinct."
"Another cop." It was a statement, not a question.
"I think that's our next angle." Starsky didn't look happy about it.
"But why would another officer be out to get either one of you? It just doesn't make sense!"
"I'm afraid it does in some cases, Minnie. Lee McLaine never did forgive Hutch for standing up to him when he was on my case about the cops Prudholm killed."
"Yeah, but is that enough reason to want to kill Hutch?"
"Lee was angry because Hutch stopped him, essentially, from avenging a good friend's murder. Never mind that it was me he wanted to take it out on. I've heard of men killing for less." Minnie looked unhappy, but made a note to check McLaine's records. "I guess he's on the top of my list," Starsky continued, "but there are others too. I'm sure there are guys on the force who aren't too happy with the way we busted those vigilante uniforms awhile ago, either. Or maybe we didn't get them all after all. I guess we've ruffled a few feathers by not going by the book sometimes, too. I'll try to get you a list by the end of the day."
"But none of that sounds like a good enough reason to murder somebody," Minnie observed, chewing on the end of her pencil.
"No, it sure as hell doesn't," Starsky mumbled as he walked away.
"Wait a minute!" she called after him. "Where're you goin', in case I find something?"
"To the hospital first, then to Dobey's house, then the holding center. I'll keep in touch!" In a flash, he was gone out the swinging doors.
When he arrived at Hutch's room, Starsky was shocked to find the blond leaning on his IV stand, using every ounce of his strength in an attempt to get out of bed.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked before Hutch even noticed he was there.
"I gotta go to the john, and I hate that stupid bedpan." Starsky was relieved to see that the catheter had been removed.
Distracted from the tremendous effort he was putting forth, Hutch lost what hold he had on his standing position and fell back on the bed. "Damn," he said quietly.
"Well, if you gotta go, at least that must mean your kidneys're still workin'. C'mon, Blintz. I'll give ya a hand." After checking the arm with the IV, just to be sure it hadn't been pulled it out, Starsky hauled him up by the other, draping it over his shoulder and guiding him to the bathroom. He knew the staff would have a fit if they knew he'd helped Hutch get out of bed, but he was incapable of resisting those eyes. He released him when they got to the doorway, Hutch nodding an exhausted-looking face at his partner, indicating that he'd manage from there. As Starsky waited for him to finish, he thought about Hutch's appearance. He still looked a mess, sick and totally depleted, but he couldn't imagine him trying to get up yesterday like he had today. He prayed that it was a good sign.
Getting the blond back to bed was easier than getting him to the bathroom, and soon, Hutch was again nestled under the blankets. Starsky had just covered Hutch's bare thighs--the result of a too-short gown that seemed determined to ride up--when there was a knock on the door. Starsky and Hutch exchanged a silent communication, then Hutch nodded his head.
"Come in," Starsky said, speaking for his partner.
Even Edith Dobey's forced smile was enough to dispel some of their dark mood; but both officers were surprised when Cal and Rosie followed her into the room. Cal seemed typically restrained, remembering what his mother had said about not getting Hutch too upset. Rosie, however, in her childish excitement, forgot, and was soon bouncing up on the bed next to the blond.
"Hi, Uncle Ken! Are you feeling better? I been waiting all day to get to see you!"
Hutch managed a smile, not quite equaling the bright one Starsky wore, and said, "I'm doin' okay. How are you, sweetheart?"
"The kids at school today were teasing me." Rosie suddenly looked so downtrodden that both men's hearts went out to her. They each remembered the merciless teasing that school-aged kids could deliver, and knew how much it hurt, even if it was nothing of real importance.
"I'm sorry, darlin'," Starsky said, stroking her hair. "What were they saying? Do you want to tell us?"
"That's why I wanted to talk to Uncle Ken so bad." With a very serious expression, she turned to Hutch, who was slightly propped up in the bed. "Uncle Ken, why would my Daddy want to make you sick?"
Hutch's chest hurt with the sharp gasp he took, hearing an identical one from his partner. He looked up to see Edith's horror-stricken face; this was apparently the first time Rosie had mentioned this to anyone.
"Rosie, your Daddy didn't do this to me. He's our friend."
"But the kids at school said he did. They said he tried to make you sick, so you'd die. Is that why he's been gone away?"
Hutch looked with tired eyes to Starsky for help, Starsky seeing in them that he was too exhausted to get into something so stressful. The brunet picked up Rosie from the bed and sat down, placing her in his lap. "The kids at school are wrong, sweetheart. Your Daddy didn't do this to Hutch, but somebody wants everybody to think he did."
"Those kids can be so dumb!" Rosie exclaimed petulantly.
"Well, they're not so dumb," Hutch said quietly. "The person who did this fooled a whole lot of policemen too. That's why your daddy hasn't been able to come home."
"Can't we catch the bad man who really did this so my daddy can come home?" Rosie's eyes were beseeching, and Starsky didn't think he'd have been able to turn her down, even if she'd asked for the heart of a dead sun.
"I'm working on that right now, sweetheart. I just stopped by to check on Hutch before I go out looking again. It'll be all right." He glanced at Edith, who seemed to be as content to let the duo handle her daughter. Calvin, however, was looking angry and proud.
"Starsky, I want to come with you, to help you. Since Hutch is stuck here, you'll need a partner."
"I'm sorry, Cal, I can't let you. It's not safe, and you're not a trained police officer."
"But I will be in a few years!"
"What?!" The exclamation was simultaneously spoken by all three adults in the room.
"I've decided, Mom," the boy said, turning to his mother. "After I graduate from High School, I'm going to become a cop."
"But, Calvin," she said, "we've saved so much for your college fund. You can be anything you want! Why would you want to pick a career that's so dangerous?"
"Because Dad did it, and Starsky and Hutch both do it. Mom, I know it's dangerous, but I'm not a kid anymore. I see that it's something that needs to be done, and I can do it, I'm sure. Besides," he said, smiling and lightening the mood, "I hear the babes really go for a man in uniform!"
Everybody chuckled as Edith made a mental note to discuss this with her husband and for both of them to sit down with Cal after this was all through. At 16 years of age, he was close enough to graduation for her to be worried he'd actually carry through on his plan.
"Well, that decision is up to you and your folks," Starsky said, "but until then, you take care of your Mom and Rosie, and I'll take care of whoever did this." He turned to get one last look at Hutch before leaving and was surprised to find that, at some point during the conversation, the blond had fallen asleep. Judith Kaufman was right, thought Starsky. Even when he's sick, he looks like a little boy.
Edith had noticed, too, that Hutch was asleep. "Come on, kids," she whispered, shepherding the two children, "let's go home. Uncle Ken needs to get his sleep and Uncle Dave has to go to work." Rosie surprised Starsky by throwing her arms around him in a hug before following her mother, who was also followed by a grumbling Cal, still mumbling that he was perfectly capable of going along with Starsky.
Starsky felt for the young man. He remembered the feeling well, even though he'd been considerably younger. He knew the desire--the need, even--to go after the people who had killed his father. But looking back on it as an adult, he knew he hadn't been any more capable than Cal was now.
Finally tearing his eyes from his partner, he left the room, then was surprised when he ran into Dr. Green in the hallway. "Hey, Doc. I just came from seeing Hutch. He seems better, huh?"
"Sergeant Starsky," the doctor said, stopping before him. "I was just trying to reach you myself. Yes, it does look like his condition is improving. There's a remote possibility of relapse, but right now, it looks as though the threat of shutdown of his kidneys and liver is negated."
"You're tellin' me! Hutch was just usin' the bathroom, and I don't remember the last time I saw him do somethin' so great!" At the strange look from the doctor, he added, "That means his kidneys are workin', right?"
"Yes, it does. Did you call the nurse to take care of the bedpan?" He couldn't have things like that lying around a patient's room.
"Didn't need to," Starsky smiled. "When I say he went to the bathroom, I mean he went to the bathroom."
"Do you mean to tell me that he was out of bed?" Starsky nodded, his smile growing even larger. "Detective Starsky, that's very dangerous. He never should've been allowed to be up, and by letting him, you've increased his chances of his having a relapse. I'm surprised he even had the strength to get up on his own." Starsky chose not to reveal to the agitated physician that Hutch had had help.
"Well, don't worry, `cause he's sleepin' now. I'm sure it didn't do any damage and it made him feel better. How can there be anything wrong with that?"
"Since it was just to the restroom and back, there probably really wasn't. But until and unless he's fully recovered, he can't afford to exert himself. Please keep that in mind, Detective." Dr. Green walked away, somewhat riled, toward Hutch's room, probably to check on the patient himself.
Starsky walked in the other direction, to the exit. Since he didn't need to check on Edith and the children now, his next stop had to be the holding center. Maybe Dobey would have an idea of who could be out to get Hutch badly enough to try to poison him right under the department's collective eyes.