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Starsky felt his stomach in his throat as he sped along the winding canyon road away from the pavement and hustle of LA. It just has to be him - he has to be all right! I don't think I could take going through all this only to find him dead. He hadn't really let himself think about the possibility that the injured man the kid heard on the radio wasn't Hutch, but he knew, in the back of his mind, that he couldn't rest until he checked every possibility. And he felt, from an area deep inside that he couldn't even explain, that the voice on the radio was definitely Hutch and he was in real trouble.
The Torino rounded a curve and Starsky saw what he knew was Humphrey's car parked by the side of the road. It struck him how much the car reminded him of its owner. The air vents on each side and its gray color gave the distinct impression of a shark, and it occurred to him that this particular shark was waiting to devour his weakened or possibly dead best friend. He sped up beside it and hit the brakes, bringing the Torino along side of the other car. How long has Humphreys been here! Am I in time? He felt a dark cloud come over him when he thought that he could lose Hutch now because he was a mere couple of minutes behind the man who wanted him dead.
Starsky ran to the edge of the embankment and spied the rapidly fleeing top of Humphreys' cheap toupee. The grim thought occurred to him that he could spy that piece of hair, which mostly resembled the artificial hair found on a young girl's doll, from a mile away. He quickly overtook the portly man and gave in to some of his basic desires to see the man in as bad a shape as he imagined his partner to be in. He would have loved to have taken it even farther, but from where Humphreys fell he could see the underside of Hutch's overturned Ford. Every little voice in his head screamed forget Humphreys - got to get to Hutch. He no longer doubted that the victim in the car was Hutch - no one else would drive a heap like that one! he thought with grim irony.
"HUTCH! HUTCH!" he screamed, hoping to hear an answering call from his partner, but the only response was silence. The first thing he noticed as he raced closer to the LTD was the blond hair against the dark background of the canyon floor. Then he saw that the face under the hair was dirty and slightly sunburned, but even through these he could see that he was frighteningly pale. He threw himself down next to Hutch, setting his hand on Hutch's chest, meaning to feel for a heartbeat but instead just taking reassurance that this really was his best friend, and that he was alive. He gently lifted the head and spoke to Hutch, trying to get some kind of a response. After what seemed like an eternity, the head in his hands moved, and Hutch let out a weak cough. But to Starsky it was the most wonderful sound in the world.
"We made it, partner," he assured Hutch. He wasn't sure if Hutch could understand what he was saying, but he felt certain that Hutch would at least get some comfort from just knowing that he was there. Starsky stared at the pale face, and noticed how Hutch's lips were cracked and dry, creating white seams up and down what was usually the warm reddish tone. It occurred to him that Hutch had been out here for two days and nights with no food or water; this fact was now reflected in the condition of his lips and the reddish/pale hue of his skin. But he's alive! The relief flowed so freely that Starsky didn't at first realize that, along with the flow of relief, tears were sliding down his face and dropping down onto the dirty shirt of his partner and best friend. Who cares?! No one to see anyway. And Hutch'll never remember it later. After a few minutes Hutch was able to focus on the curly brown hair that hovered over him, and felt a surge of relief as it sunk in that Starsky was finally here.
"Glad you could join me, pal," Hutch said in a quivering voice. "Wasn't sure I was going to make it this time."
Starsky remembered the last time he had spent days looking for Hutch, the time Forrest had kidnapped him and got him hooked on heroin. "You know," he said with a smile he only half felt, "I can't spend all my time on duty looking for you. There are other bad guys out there!" He purposefully tried to make it light, and even got a small smile out of his partner.
A moment later the slight grin turned to a grimace as he tried to move. The aching in his body was reflected in creases in the corner of Hutch's eyes and mouth, and the familiar crease between his brows which appeared whenever he was stressed. Starsky gently pushed the shoulders back onto the ground, knowing that Hutch could have any number of injuries from an accident like this. The cut on his head was clearly evident, which could mean a concussion or worse. The feeling had long since left the pinned leg, and it was little relief to Starsky that his friend would not have to endure that, too.
Starsky sat holding Hutch's head in his lap for a few more minutes, and then gathered himself together to do what came next. "Hutch, I have to leave you for a few minutes." He could feel every muscle in Hutch's body tense at this remark. "I have to go and call in for help! We can't stay here forever, you know. Before I go, though, I need you to listen: you've got to try to stay awake while I'm gone. It's really important!" Starsky knew that falling asleep with a head injury could lead to coma and death - had seen it happen more than once. Hutch started to speak, but when the words caught in his dry throat, decided not to try again and simply nodded that he understood. Starsky lowered the blond head onto a makeshift pillow made out of his jacket, then headed back up to the Torino. On his way back up he stopped to snag Humphreys, who was coming to, and cuffed him to the door handle of the Torino. He called in for an ambulance, backup squad car and fire & rescue squad. He wished he had some water to help ease Hutch's thirst. "Why don't I keep a bottle in the trunk!" he admonished himself aloud. Being this is California, you'd think I would have thought of it before.
He was back at Hutch's side in a manner of minutes, and felt reassurance that his partner's eyes were open and clear, and he seemed lucid. Starsky reclaimed his place by Hutch's side and waited for help to arrive.
Seemingly hours passed while they waited. It had actually only been twenty minutes when the fire department rescue squad, fire truck, and ambulance pulled into view above. The wind blew slightly, and Hutch shut his eyes to keep out the dust and dirt. Starsky noticed for the first time that, although the overturned car was invisible from the road above, the trucks' arrival was clearly visible from where they were. "Look, ya Blintz," he said to Hutch, gently nudging his arm, "the rescue party has arrived!"
Hutch opened his eyes to see two men in fire helmets and blue uniforms making their way down the trail that Starsky had so recently traversed. Their arms were laden with cases and equipment, and Starsky noticed that still more firefighters in turnout coats with even more first aid equipment were following the first two men.
"Over here!" he shouted, and both of the men turned a curve and headed in the direction of the wreck. When they approached, Starsky began to move away, giving them room to work.
Suddenly, Hutch's hand squeezed his with surprising strength and would not let go. "No!", Hutch croaked, trying not to let Starsky get too far away.
This isn't like Hutch - he's acting like he's terrified that he's going to be left alone. Well, I s'pose he's got a right after the last two days. He decided to stay close, but looked up to greet the paramedics already setting up their equipment.
"I'm Detective Starsky, and this is my partner Hutch - I mean, Ken Hutchinson."
The older, strawberry blond fireman smiled and introduced himself as Roy. His dark haired, younger partner was John. The young paramedic opened a red case and pulled out a telephone receiver, flipping switches as he put the receiver to his ear. Although Starsky had not met these particular firemen before, he had seen the equipment operated, and knew that there was a doctor on the other end of the line, ready to give instructions to help Hutch quickly and efficiently. John relayed information on Hutch's condition and situation to the doctor, and waited for instructions as to what steps to take to treat him. Roy seemed to understand the desire, even need, the victim had to keep his partner close, so he checked Hutch over without insisting Starsky move out of the way.
After consulting with the doctor on the radio/phone, Roy and John put a cervical collar around Hutch's neck - protection against neck injury, and slid a backboard as far under his body as they could. Then they started an IV to administer the much needed fluid to replenish his water-starved system. Starsky watched as they inserted the needle into the vein on Hutch's arm.
Just like Forrest's men did. But this time, it's to save Hutch, not torture him!
While all this was going on, the Fire Truck Captain walked up behind the paramedics to watch The men around him held heavy-looking cases. "What's in those?" Starsky asked warily. He returned his gave to Hutch as soon as the question was asked, but listened attentively as the firemen explained about the portable electric jacks they would use to lift the car off Hutch's prone figure. They positioned the jacks while Roy continued to work on Hutch. John, meanwhile, was on the phone to the hospital again.
"Understood, doctor. All procedures have been completed and we're ready to extricate the victim from under the wreckage. Will contact you again once he's out." He set the phone down and moved the case and other equipment away from where there could be any damage from the car's movements.
Roy bent over Hutch, wanting to make not only Starsky understand, but Hutch too, as much as his condition would allow. "Officer Hutchinson, do you understand me?" At Hutch's short nod, he went on. "We're going to lift the car off your leg. I wanted to warn you in advance that it will be painful. Circulation is mostly cut off from that leg right now, but when it starts flowing again, it will probably hurt like nothing you've ever experienced. But you need to ride it through as best as you can. We can't give you anything for the pain because of your head injury, so it's up to you." Both Hutch and Starsky nodded their understanding, but Roy could see by the look on Starsky's face that he was not happy about what lay ahead.
Roy pulled Starsky by the arm away from the wreckage. "You need to get back to avoid any flying debris." Starsky yanked his arm out of Roy's grasp with a look of determination.
"I'm not leaving him to face this alone! And he ain't strong enough to do it without me."
"Are the two of you very close?"
"As close as two people can be. As close as identical twins!"
"If you're going to stay with him through this, I need to tell you one thing. I didn't mention this to your partner because I didn't want to upset him, but what I said about the pain was true to a point. The whole truth is that you had better hope he feels the pain I told you about. Because if he doesn't, it could mean that the leg has been oxygen and blood-starved long enough to have done permanent damage. If this happens, he could - only could mind you - lose some or all of the use of that leg. So stay with him if you want, but if the pain does not come, don't let him see how concerned you are. We'll get him to the hospital as fast as we can, and see what can be done from there."
Roy's speech left a stunned look on Starsky's face, and the firemen could see him arranging his face in a more calm expression as he returned to Hutch's side.
"It's almost over, buddy. Just this one little thing, and we'll get you outta here and to the hospital." Hutch nodded again once and reach up to take both of Starsky's hands in his own, steeling himself for the sensations coming. John and Roy covered both men with a heavy tarp to protect them from any flying glass or metal when the car was moved.
"OK, go ahead!" Roy yelled to the firemen at the controls of the jacks, and as a motor roared to life, the car began to raise, inch by inch, off of Hutch.
When Starsky peeked out from under the tarp, he could clearly see the space between the car and Hutch's leg. His heart fell at the absence of any sound from Hutch. He talked to him, saying nonsensical things so Hutch wouldn't notice the progress of the car's rising or the absence of the pain that the paramedics and doctors had said was coming.
When the car was about six inches above Hutch's thigh, the noise of the jacks stopped and Roy and John cautiously approached, pulled back the drop cloth, and slid the backboard, with Hutch on it, out from under the car. Starsky stayed by his side and held each of Hutch's hands in his own. I'm not sure if I'm supporting him or he's supporting me! For someone as active, as health-conscious as Hutch, the idea of permanent disability was one Starsky did not want to think about very long. Plenty of time to deal with that if and when we need to, pal!
Suddenly, Hutch's hands clamped down on his own, and Starsky saw his eyes become glassy and strained. He yelled out, the pain even more intense than he expected, and he struggled to stay awake and conscious through it. Stop it! Stop it! Please, no more!, Hutch though as a few tears escaped from the corners of his eyes and slid down over his sideburns.
I'd `a never believed I could be so relieved and so hurt by any single thing at the same time, Starsky thought, his eyes watering as well. He hated to see Hutch hurting so bad, but the pain was like a baptism of fire, because it meant that there was a good possibility that Hutch was going to be OK eventually.
He looked Hutch straight in the face, not allowing his attention to be drawn to anything else. "Hutch, keep a focus on me. Stay awake, don't let the pain get the better of you." Hutch strained and squeezed Starsky's hands until he thought they might be crushed. He didn't think Hutch had that much strength left. Now that he'd decided to stay conscious, even more tears flowed from the glassy blue eyes and ran down the face, alternately falling down the cheeks and out the corners to fall into the blond hair. Starsky freed one hand from Hutch's grasp and pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket, using it to wipe the water from Hutch's face.
"You know, pal, you really can't afford to be losing any more water from your body right now," he said, his tone light. After awhile, the vibrant pain settled back a little, and Starsky heard Hutch release the breath he had been holding.
Hutch clamped his teeth shut and spoke through them. "Boy, would I love a beer right now!" he managed. John laughed as he overheard the remark, impressed at the comfortable support the two police officers gave each other. "I'm afraid you'll have to put that off for awhile. Dr. Brackett will have your hide if he finds you in his hospital with anything but water, juice, coffee, or milk on your breath!"
They all laughed at the remark, and did their best to keep laughing while Roy pulled a pair of scissors out of one of the cases and cut Hutch's pants leg from bottom to upper thigh. They all saw Hutch flinch at the movement, but he bit his lip and didn't complain. He kept the same expression while they put on a splint, the pain showing on his face, but not voicing it. What he needs is a distraction.
"Hey, it's a good thing you guys are putting a splint on that bare leg. If the nurses get a sight of it, we'll never get them out of the treatment room!" It won't hurt just this once to admit that a lot of the women really do go for my blond partner. Saying it out loud doesn't change that I get my share, too! Hutch's smile grew to the biggest yet. Mission: Accomplished!
The paramedics and Starsky gently lifted Hutch into a litter, a large basket designed for carrying injured victims out of difficult-to-get-at places. He was strapped in and they began to head for the top. When they got there, a uniformed officer came over and asked Starsky for the key to his cuffs. He'd take Humphreys off his hands, he said, and Starsky wondered why he hadn't come down for them or used his own. "I figured it wouldn't hurt to let him stew for awhile," the officer answered Starsky's unvoiced question.
Once up top, Hutch was lifted from the litter and slid into the ambulance. John jumped in beside him, with Starsky hot on his heels. "What about your car?" Hutch's weak voice asked, wondering how Starsky was going to get his car to the hospital or the station if he rode with him.
"After all this, there's no way I'm leaving you now!" Starsky snapped back. He turned to the fire captain. "Would it be possible for one of your men to drive my car to the hospital and then ride back to the station with John & Roy?" Hutch was so incredulous, he started to laugh but ended up coughing shallowly. The coughing, in turn, sent shots of pain through just about every bone and muscle in his body, but Hutch didn't care.
"You're going to let someone else, someone you don't even know, drive your `baby'?" he said. "This is a historic occasion." The captain agreed to let one of his men follow the ambulance to the hospital in Starsky's Torino, and so each person got into his respective vehicle and the parade left the scene of the accident. Along the way, they passed a flatbed wrecker headed in the other direction, and Starsky knew it was going to pick up Hutch's totaled car.
"Honest, partner, I know I always hated your car, but you didn't have to go through all this just to keep me happy!", Starsky told him. And all three occupants of the ambulance laughed again.
Starsky entered Hutch's hospital room as soon as the doctors would let him in. Hutch's leg, it had turned out, had been broken in three places, but no permanent damage was done. It was cast from his toes all the way to his thigh, and he wore pajama bottoms cut off just above the beginning of the cast. I don't think I'll tell him what might have happened. That threat's over now, so he really doesn't need to know. Just give him something else to stew about anyway!
"So," Starsky said in greeting, "what did the docs have to say about all your various bumps and bruises?"
Hutch was in his serious mode, and wasn't going to answer with the same light tone with which the question was asked. "Leg's broken in three places, slight concussion, broken ribs, and lots and lots of sore muscles and scrapes. Oh, and dehydration, too. That's why I have to have this rotten IV." Starsky felt in his gut the reason for Hutch's sullen mood.
I've never seen Hutch let himself need someone like he did at the accident scene. Hutch had showed what he felt was a weakness in himself and would have to work it through to get back to his usual good mood.
Hutch continued to talk, interrupting Starsky's thoughts. "It could have been a lot worse, they tell me."
You're telling me! You don't know the half of it! But Starsky only said, "Did they give you any idea when you can get out of here?"
"Probably a week. Cast will be on another six weeks after that at least. Guess that means desk duty. I swear, Starsk, that ought to be listed in the dictionary under `vulgar words and expressions'."
A week - that's perfect! Starsky smiled. It'll give me just enough time to get my surprise ready. Can't wait to see your face, buddy! You'll never believe it! You're gonna love your new wheels, partner. But he only said, "That's what you get for pulling this stunt! Next time you get called for a meet, at least let a guy know where you're going, so he knows where to look when you disappear."
"I don't intend on letting it happen again, so don't worry!" Starsky could already hear some of Hutch's good mood slipping into the sentence, taking some of the sharpness off the exclamation.
As Starsky sat on the edge of the bed, a silence descended on the room - the silence of longtime friends who don't need to speak all the time when they're together. Each had his thoughts, realizing what could very easily have happened, and knowing how lucky they were to have each other to lean on when things went wrong.
Thanks for coming after me, partner. I was really scared out there - didn't think I was ever going to get to argue with you again!
Don't know what I'd do without you, you big blond lug. Hope I never have to find out. You really scared me this time!
They sat in companionable silence until Hutch started to doze off, his body still needed the rest required to heal itself. Starsky rose and stood next to him with his hand resting on Hutch's until he was completely asleep, then snuck out of the room with a satisfied smile on his face. Everything is all right!