Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made from it. No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.
A fan suggested this story. She saw a scenario in an episode of another series and wanted to see how it would play out in a Starsky and Hutch story. We were happy to oblige and hope she likes the result. The basic premise and a few of the plot points are the same, but most of the story has been changed.
© August 2002
The soft sound of the Care Flight helicopter’s blades in idling speed carried through the canyon. The crashed out guardrail had alerted an early morning runner, who liked to take the canyon road. He had called the police. Two hours later, the fire department and Care Flight teams had extricated the man from the mangled car.
One of the firemen walked up to Bay City police officer Don Candelario and said, “Um, Officer, I’m afraid he’s one of yours.”
“What?” Candelario asked as he reached to take the car registration from the fireman. He read the name. “Are you sure it was him in the car?”
“Yeah, his ID was on him. We sent it along with him and the medics.”
“You’re sure he was alone?”
The fireman nodded. “We checked in and around the car. Single occupant.”
“Thanks. I’ll hang onto this.” The uniformed officer walked wearily back to his squad car. His partner was filling out some paperwork and waiting to help organize the tow trucks to pull out the car. He looked up when Don opened the driver’s door.
“What’s wrong?” he asked his partner. The look on his face made it obvious that something wasn’t right.
“Better call Captain Dobey,” Don answered as he handed the registration to his partner.
The pre-noon sun was warm and Starsky was enjoying washing his car in it. The slight breeze felt good and he was cheerily singing along with the radio. He had finished with the water and opened the windows so he could listen to some tunes. Hutch liked to tease him about his constantly changing car stereo. They almost never got to listen to it, but today they weren’t working. The police band was shut off and an oldies station was cranking. He was wiping dry the inside of the windshield when he noticed in the rear view mirror that Captain Dobey had pulled up behind him. Starsky stopped singing “Yellow Submarine,” turned off the radio, and got out of the car to go and speak with his boss. A typical Sunday morning, the Dobey family must have been on their way to church. The look on Dobey’s face wasn’t doing anything for Starsky’s heart rate.
“Starsky,” the captain greeted him.
“Cap,” Starsky said. He watched as Edith slid across the front seat to take over driving. Now he was beyond worried, all the way to scared.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Did something happen to Hutch?”
The almost psychic connection his two detectives shared served them well on the street. Still, the captain sometimes found it unnerving. Of course, his appearance in Starsky’s driveway, unannounced and on a Sunday morning when he should be heading for church could have caused Starsky’s quick mind to go into alert. He never tried to soft pedal his men. This would be no exception.
“Yes,” he said. “There’s been an accident. He’s at Bay City General.”
Starsky dropped the wad of paper towels he was using on the Torino’s windows onto the cement and said, “Is it bad?”
“Yes. Edith is going to take the children on to church. I’ll drive you over there.”
Edith called out from the car. “Try not to worry, David. He’ll be all right.”
Dobey said, “Go on upstairs and change.” He turned and waved to his wife, mouthing, “I’ll call you,” to her as she left.
“What?” Starsky asked. “No, I don’t need to, let’s just go.”
“Dave,” Dobey said softly. “You’re soaking wet and wearing cutoffs. We’ll be there for hours. He’s already in surgery.”
“Oh, God,” Starsky said. “Why? Tell me what happened.” Starsky turned and headed up the stairs, Dobey trailing him.
“I don’t know much, yet. They contacted me on the radio when I was on the way to church. I got a patch through to the hospital. All they could tell me was he had been taken to surgery.”
Starsky rushed through throwing on some clothes and was ready to leave in a flash. His active imagination was putting together every possible bad scenario. Fearing the worst, he wanted nothing more than to race to the hospital, but Dobey was insistent. He would drive the Torino.
“One accident at a time, Starsky. I’ll drive,” he said, his eyes full of both compassion and determination.
“Keys are in it,” Starsky said with resignation.
Captain Dobey knew the officers who had worked the accident site were waiting for them at the hospital. He’d decided that he and the other officers would have plenty of time to fill Starsky in on what happened while they waited for news on their friend, so he hadn’t sought too many details over the police radio, in the presence of his family. Hearing from Candelario that Hutch had to be cut out of the car and taken to the hospital via helicopter was enough to tell Dobey that he needed to go and get Starsky, before he heard about it on the radio or by telephone.
While Dobey didn’t drive as fast as Starsky, he made good enough time to keep his passenger from exploding. The hospital wasn’t that far. Starsky didn’t need to ask him to pull over to the emergency entrance before parking the car. Sighing, he watched his detective bolt from the car. He had to get out and shut the passenger door before he could move the Torino to the parking structure.
By the time Dobey got inside, Starsky had already gotten what little he could out of the reception desk. He had Candelario and his partner, Todd Jepson, cornered, anxiously trying to get any information from them they could offer.
“Captain Dobey,” Jepson said. “We were just telling Starsky what we know.”
“Sorry you have to repeat it, but please do.”
“We picked up the call and responded at about seven o’clock.” He consulted a small notebook and continued, “Charlie Coghill was running along the canyon road early, and he saw the busted out guardrail.”
Starsky interrupted, “Was he pushed?” His memories of the time Hutch was pushed into the canyon and left for dead were adding to his distress.
Candelario said, “Didn’t look that way to me. The car went over an embankment and crashed into some boulders below. He’s lucky they didn’t break free, or he’d be dead for sure. The canyon is pretty deep there.” He glanced at his partner again and looked at the floor before he said, “Um, the way the car went over the edge like that, and the angle of the break through the guard rail, well ... it almost looks like he drove off on purpose.”
Starsky’s face turned several shades in rapid succession, but Dobey put a hand on his arm to stop him from screaming at the uniformed officers. They were just doing their job.
“Where’s the car?” he asked as Starsky seethed and muttered, “No way, no way in hell,” almost under his breath.
“We had it hauled out and taken to Metro,” Jepson answered.
Dobey asked, “How’d he look?”
The partners looked at each other and shrugged. Candelario answered, “Not so good. He was unconscious and he looked pretty banged up to me. The medics thought it was bad enough for life flight.”
While Starsky tried again to get some information on Hutch from the young woman in emergency admitting, Dobey walked the other two officers to the door. He wanted to get any additional details on the crash outside of Starsky’s earshot.
“Anything else you need to tell me?” he asked them.
Jepson swallowed nervously and said, “I know it was makin’ Starsky pretty angry, Cap, but we had our reasons for saying that about him running off the road on purpose. There weren’t any skid marks.”
“Thanks. You boys go on back to headquarters and fill out your reports. For now, this crash is listed as ‘cause unknown’ until I get an investigative team on it.”
“Yes, sir.” The two officers nodded respectfully and left.
On the promise that someone would come out and tell them what was happening soon, the men went to the waiting room upstairs on the surgical floor. After watching Starsky pace for two hours, Dobey decided to call Huggy to see if he could come down and help him keep a lid on Starsky’s rising anxiety. Despite the promise, they hadn’t been told anything. The trauma doctors were working on Hutch and couldn’t come out and no one else seemed to have any information to share with them regarding the surgery.
“We were gonna meet for lunch,” Starsky muttered as he paced his way across the waiting room. “I got a new stereo in the Torino. I was going to let him razz me about it.”
“He’ll still do that,” Dobey said. He was glad when he heard the elevator doors open and saw Huggy striding toward them, carrying a bag that the captain hoped didn’t include anything with caffeine.
“Any news?” Huggy asked when he was close enough.
Starsky shook his head and paced away from him. Huggy reached in and grabbed a sandwich and a soda, handing them to Dobey. He could always be counted upon to take care of bringing edible food to the hospital.
“You want a sandwich, Starsky?” he asked.
Starsky turned to answer, but immediately forgot about it when he saw a doctor approaching.
“I’m sorry you’ve been kept waiting,” the man said. “I’m Doctor Edson. You must be here for Kenneth Hutchinson.” They were the only people in the waiting area, so it was a good guess.
Starsky introduced himself as Hutch’s partner, and then he introduced the captain and Huggy. They went through the usual round of questions about next of kin and Medical Power of Attorney. Satisfied with their answers, the doctor invited the men to sit as he explained the situation with Hutch. As the doctor spoke, Dobey was grateful that Starsky was seated.
“Your partner is being treated by several physicians and surgeons, but I’m going to be your primary contact.” The doctor proceeded to deliver his information in a mix of medical and lay terms to the three anxious men staring at him. “First, some good news. Your friend didn’t sustain any injury to his spine or his neck.” At that, his audience sighed with relief. “He has two broken ribs on the right side - blunt trauma probably caused by his steering wheel. One of them did some damage to his liver, which we’ve repaired. The other damaged his lung. We’ve placed some chest tubes and are treating him for hemopneumothorax. That basically means the injuries caused him to have both air and blood in the pleural space. When he got here, he was unconscious and shocky. His blood pressure is too low and he has a fever.”
Starsky was looking pale. The doctor stopped his recitation and asked, “Are you all right?”
“Is he going to be okay?” Starsky asked in a thin voice.
“Let me finish.” That remark caused the remaining color to drain from Starsky’s face. He leaned forward a little and Huggy moved closer to him, hoping to be a steadying presence. The doctor pointed to his right eye and said, “He was probably unconscious for some time at the site and he was in some degree of respiratory distress. He has a blow out orbital fracture. That fracture probably saved his eye, but we’ll be watching that closely. The odd thing is that this type of injury is often accompanied by corneal abrasion, but his cornea is uninjured. When he regains consciousness, we’ll test his visual acuity and neurological responses.”
“Do you think his brain is damaged?” Starsky asked.
“Too soon to tell. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when he comes around,” Dr. Edson replied.
“Is he going to lose the eye?” Dobey asked.
“Probably not. The thing we most need to watch for is retinal detachment and muscular entrapment. One to two weeks should tell for certain.”
Starsky took a deep breath and asked in a shaky voice, “Is that all? Is he going to be all right?”
The doctor still didn’t directly answer his question. “Both of the bones in his lower left arm are fractured. Those have been taken care of and his arm has been casted. He also has a severe concussion. To answer your question about his prognosis, he’s critical at the moment. He’s on a ventilator for now, but I hope to wean him off that soon. As soon as he regains consciousness, we’ll know more.”
“Is this where you tell me the next 24 - 48 hours are critical?” Starsky asked. He’d been down this road with his partner before ... on both sides of the ICU glass.
“I guess you’ve been through this before, Detective.” Starsky nodded. “You’re correct about the timing. The sooner he regains consciousness, the better. I probably don’t need to tell you that we’ll be monitoring him closely for a variety of complications.”
Dobey said, “No, you don’t. Thank you, Doctor.”
“I like to maintain what I call realistic optimism, gentlemen,” the doctor said. “Despite that, I think you should notify his family and any close friends. Right now, his chances are not that good.”
“We’ll call his parents, but we are his primary family here. I want to see him,” Starsky said.
“He’s in recovery right now. Even when we transfer him to SICU, I doubt he’ll be conscious.”
“I don’t care, Doc. He’ll know I’m there. Please, it’s important.”
Dr. Edson was a firm believer in the value of family in helping trauma patients to improve and recover. He could see how important it was to Starsky. “All right. I’ll leave word with the nurses in the SICU that you’re to be allowed family access. Just be there, but stay out of the way.”
“I understand. Thanks.”
“I’ll send someone to get you when he’s been moved.”
As the doctor walked away, Starsky put his head in his hands. Huggy patted his back and muttered something reassuring. “We were going out for lunch,” Starsky’s muffled voice said.
Dobey decided that he’d better try to get Starsky thinking, rather than dwelling. “When did you see him last?” he asked.
“Last night. He stopped by to borrow a corkscrew. His broke and he had a date. They were going to listen to jazz in the park and have a picnic.”
“Have you met this girl?”
“No. He just met her last week and this was going to be their first date. I do know her name -- Maggie Gregg.”
Since she was possibly the last person to speak with Hutch before his accident, the captain decided to get someone working on finding and interviewing her. He left Starsky in Huggy’s care to go in search of a phone. He also needed to let Edith know what was happening. Starsky wasn’t in a frame of mind to be asking too many questions about the accident ... not until Hutch was out of danger. Knowing that there were no skid marks at the accident site was troubling the captain.
After speaking with Edith, and arranging for Detectives Jack Hill and Sean Cavanaugh to meet him at the accident site in an hour, Dobey went in search of Hutch’s doctor. He wanted to be sure a blood alcohol level and toxicology screen had been ordered when Hutch was admitted. Important as those results were, that was something Starsky didn’t need to know.
Dobey took a taxi home to get his car and then drove to the accident site. Hill and Cavanaugh were waiting for him. “How’s Hutch?” Sean asked as the captain walked toward him and his partner.
“Not good. Thanks for coming in on your day off like this. I didn’t want to trust this investigation to just anyone.”
Jack Hill nodded. “Just wish it was under better circumstances, Cap. How’s Starsky takin’ it?”
“He’s hanging on by his fingernails. I left him with Huggy. What have you got here?”
They walked toward the broken area of the guardrail. Unfortunately, rescue personnel and vehicles had damaged the wreck site, but some important clues to what had happened remained. The guardrail wasn’t a metal and wood-beam structure. This was an old style one consisting of a low rock wall topped by a small diameter metal railing that had probably been in service since the days of the Great Depression. Not much of a challenge for a heavy car like Hutch’s, moving with any speed.
The ground was dry. None of Bay City’s average thirteen inches of rainfall per year had fallen in recent weeks. Jack noticed that there was a dug out patch of dirt on the soft shoulder where it appeared the rear tire from a heavy vehicle had spun in place. The guardrail was broken at a slight angle; the car didn’t go directly off the edge. Pale tan paint clung to the sides of a roughly LTD-shaped break in the rock and metal.
The detectives had stopped at Metro to pick up a copy of Candelario and Jepson’s report. Hill said, “Cap, this report says a runner discovered the wreck at approximately seven this morning. No witnesses were located who could pinpoint the time of the accident.” He looked down into the canyon and then up over his shoulder. High in the hills above where they stood, he could see a few houses.
Following his partner’s gaze, Sean said, “When we’re done here, Jack and I will go and see if anyone up there might have heard something.”
The captain nodded. “I’m ordering the car off limits to any investigative teams.” He pointed at each of them as he said, “Other than the three of us, the only people going near that car for now are going to be the lab team and Starsky.”
Sean asked, “Cap, what do you think is going on here?”
“I’m not sure, yet, but my gut is telling me this is a setup. If it is, Hutch may be in danger. Maybe Starsky, too. Could just be an accident, but I’m not buying that. Not yet.”
Sean fidgeted on his feet and nervously said, “Uh ... the uniforms put ‘cause unknown’ on the report, but we talked to them. They don’t know Hutch that well.” He was uncomfortable and he looked to his partner for help.
Jack finished for him. “They thought it looked like one of three things. He fell asleep at the wheel, he was drunk, or he was trying to off himself.”
The captain looked serious. Hutch was a moody man, prone to depressive bouts, but he didn’t believe that last scenario for an instant. If something caused him to feel that despondent, Starsky would already have been all over it. Other than times Hutch was worried about his partner, he was one of the most levelheaded men he’d ever had in his command. He also didn’t believe he would be driving under the influence. They had been working long hours lately, but not enough to make him so tired he’d be dangerous behind the wheel.
“What do you two think about those three scenarios?” he asked.
Sean was quick to say, “I think all three of them are full of shit. Uh, sorry, Cap.” Jack laughed at him as he stood in front of his boss, blushing.
“Don’t worry about it, Sean. I agree. Let’s see if we can find out what really happened.”
They agreed that the detectives would speak with the people in the nearest homes. After that, they would return to the station and start looking into where they could find Maggie Gregg. The captain was headed to Metro to have a look at Hutch’s car.
The senior lab team officer handed the captain some evidence bags and a pair of gloves. He understood Dobey’s desire to look at the car himself. Hutch was one of his top detectives. Although an accident investigation would be conducted later, officially, the car wasn’t a crime scene and that was just the way the captain wanted it -- for the moment.
The car was a mess. “Totaled,” Dobey muttered as he walked around it. He could see the scrapes made by the guardrail, matching the paint marks at the accident site. The engine compartment was mangled, shaped roughly like the boulders into which the car had crashed. The windshield was starred and the driver’s area was bloody. The steering wheel was broken both at the top and near the left side on the bottom. Miraculously, the area where the gas and brake pedals were was intact. Hutch was lucky. His legs could have been crushed in an accident like this. The force of the impact seemed to have pushed everything higher, accounting for his chest and head injuries. The driver’s door was twisted, having been pried open by the firefighters to gain access to Hutch.
He noticed the cigarette lighter on the floor on the passenger side. A glance around the floorboard and dashboard revealed two cigarette butts in the ashtray and the tiniest remains of a joint on the floor. In a parody of the dark haired half of the dynamic duo, he muttered, “Terrific.” As he bagged the items, he noticed the cigarettes were an obscure, German brand. Strong cigarettes with small filters. Dobey had gone through what he termed an “eclectic cigarette” phase when he was in college and he’d smoked this brand for a while -- before he met Edith and she got him to quit. He smiled at the memory of his fiancée informing him that he’d better stop smoking if he expected to be kissing her.
He snagged the keys, stood up out of the car, and put the bags in his jacket pocket. He would lock them up in his office until he knew what was next. He checked the trunk, but found nothing enlightening in it, or in the back seat. “I want the car dusted for prints,” he told the supervisor as he left.
Starsky had been sitting by Hutch’s side for hours. His best friend made no sign of a return to consciousness. At least the doctor was right about the ventilator. They’d already taken Hutch off of it, leaving just the oxygen tubing, IVs, and monitors. The soft, steady beat of the heart monitor was evidence that Hutch was fighting. Starsky took small comfort in that. He squeezed Hutch’s hand from time-to-time, hoping to get a response. Huggy peered in on them through the glass. Starsky had refused all his attempts to get him to eat or drink something, and he wasn’t looking well. When Hutch was recovering from the car accident he’d had where he’d been pushed into the canyon, he had asked Huggy to make sure Starsky ate and rested. His partner had been running himself ragged for days, and he refused to take care of himself until he was sure Hutch was safe and getting well. That included eating and sleeping.
“You know how he gets, Hug,” Hutch had said. “He won’t eat when he’s worried about me.”
“He’s okay, Blondie,” Huggy replied.
“I know I give him a tough time about his appetite, but he really does need to eat, Huggy. He gets sick and dizzy and--”
“Whoa, I can dig it. Don’t get yourself worked up. I’m s’posed to be watching you for him while he goes to work for a few hours. What’s he gonna say if you get worse while the Bear’s on duty?”
They had a long conversation about friendship and responsibility. The only way Hutch would relax was for Huggy to promise he’d watch out for Starsky whenever Hutch couldn’t. No matter what the reason. Huggy took that promise seriously and he’d vowed to himself he would keep it when the need arose. He never told Hutch that he’d had a similar discussion with his partner on a previous occasion.
Huggy decided enough was enough. He tapped lightly on the window and motioned to Starsky to come out and talk to him. Starsky looked reluctant, but he leaned over to whisper a reassurance to Hutch that he wouldn’t be long and he walked out to the hall.
“What’s up?” he asked.
Starsky looked pale and shaky. “Not you, amigo. Come on, we’re gonna take a break.”
Huggy tugged on Starsky’s arm, but met with resistance. “I can’t leave now, what if he wakes up?”
“He’s got all these people looking after him and all you got is me.” Huggy looked at Starsky with sincere and concerned eyes. “I promised him I’d look out for you, if--”
“Don’t. There’s not gonna be an ‘if’,” Starsky snapped.
“That ain’t what I meant. I just meant, I promised him if he was sick or hurt, I’d keep an eye on you. Just like I promised you when you were hurt that time, you remember?”
Starsky looked a little sheepish. “Sorry, Hug. Yeah, I remember.”
“Then when Curly needs care, the Bear is there,” Huggy replied with forced cheerfulness. He steered Starsky past the nurses’ station, letting them know they’d be back from the cafeteria in a while.
Starsky’s worry about Hutch coming around without him turned out to be justified. The nurses saw the changes on his monitors about twenty minutes after his friends left the floor. His nurse went in to check on things and discovered her patient was stirring. She paged the doctor and encouraged Hutch awake while she waited.
“Mr. Hutchinson,” she said firmly. “Open your eyes for me?”
Hutch turned his head from side to side and slowly opened his eyes. The right one saw only a blur, but he fought to focus with the left. He moaned a little and she brought him a cup of water, after hearing him attempt to rasp out a question.
“I’m Nurse Rogers. Do you know where you are, Mr. Hutchinson?” she asked.
He shook his head and looked around the room, reaching up with his right hand to touch his aching eye. The IV tubing pulled on his skin and the nurse pushed his hand back to the bed. “Just hold still for a minute. You’re in the hospital. Doctor is on his way.”
She jotted his pulse rate and blood pressure on his chart.
Another glance around told Hutch he was in a hospital. He had no recollection as to why or how he got there. He moved his left arm and groaned from the pain. The arm was heavy in its cast. He was confused and knew there was something he should be asking.
Before he had a lot of time to think about it, Dr. Edson arrived. He checked Hutch’s chest tubes and did a complete neurological exam. Although he struggled a little with some of the questions, Hutch knew his name, where he lived, and what he did for a living. He was a little fuzzy on things like his exact age and who the president was, but the doctor wasn’t too concerned about it.
“I don’t understand. How’d I get here and what’s wrong with my eye?” he asked as he reached for it again.
“Don’t,” Edson said. “You’ll wish you didn’t. The eye orbit is fractured and if you touch it, you just might go into orbit yourself,” he joked.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
Hutch furrowed his brow and winced from the pain it brought to his throbbing face. “I was at Starky’s....” Suddenly, he knew what it was that was bothering him. The ugly plastic chair beside the bed was unoccupied.
“Doc, what happened to me?” he demanded more forcefully.
“You had a rather serious car accident,” Edson replied, but Hutch instantly interrupted him.
“Where’s my partner?” he asked, becoming agitated. He couldn’t remember being in the car, so he couldn’t remember if Starsky was with him or not.
“I need you to calm down.” Edson had a bad habit of not answering a direct question with a direct answer. That was not a character feature detectives found endearing. Especially not this one, who had just been told he’d been in an accident and had awakened to find that his partner was not holding an anxious vigil beside him.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know where he is at the moment,” Dr. Edson said.
Starsky and Huggy had just stepped off the elevator when they heard Hutch’s voice shouting, “Tell me where he is!”
Breaking into a sprint, Starsky came skidding into the room in time to see Hutch struggling to sit up in bed. The tiny amount of color in Hutch’s face faded to a ghastly white as he fell back against the bed.
“Whoa, buddy, I’m right here,” Starsky said, pushing past the nurse, and taking Hutch’s right hand in his.
Dr. Edson wasn’t pleased. “You’ll have to leave if he won’t calm down, Detective Starsky.”
Starsky shot him the look he reserved for the most trying suspects. “He’s not going to calm down if I do leave,” he stated, his tone conveying how obvious this point was. For emphasis, he added, “Seems to me I’M not the one who upset him.”
The two men glared at each other for a few tense moments, before the doctor nodded his capitulation. Hutch was panting and sweaty, his eyes closed almost as tightly as the grip with which he clung to Starsky’s hand. The nurse had some pain medication with her. At a nod from Edson, she emptied it into Hutch’s IV line. Hutch felt the warm rush in his veins and opened panicked eyes.
“No,” he started to say, but the medication was already beginning to work. “Please, Starsk. Don’t let them....” His voice trailed off as his hand went limp in Starsky’s and his eyes closed in medication-induced sleep.
Starsky stroked the back of Hutch’s hand and softly told him he’d be right back as he left the room in Dr. Edson’s wake.
“What the hell was that?” Starsky asked, trying to keep his voice low. Huggy stood next to him in horrified silence.
“Pain medication, Detective. Your partner is in a lot of pain. He needs medication to keep it under control if he is going to heal.”
“No. He doesn’t like to take anything. Don’t give him anything else without asking first.”
The doctor sighed, trying his best to be patient with the situation. “Look. His lung is bruised and he has tubes in it, his ribs are broken, and it hurts like hell. If he hurts too much, he’ll physically guard against that pain and it will affect his breathing. If that happens, complications could result including pneumonia or atelectasis. He has to have pain medication.”
Starsky nodded and said, “I need to explain that to him. He doesn’t take morphine. Make it something else.”
The doctor worriedly searched in Hutch’s chart. “Is he allergic?” He hadn’t seen a notation for allergy to morphine.
“Not exactly. It’s a long story. He just doesn’t take morphine, okay?”
“All right, I’ll order another medication, but I’m ordering it for every few hours. He needs to take it.”
“I’ll see to it that he agrees, until he can control the pain enough himself. Acceptable?”
Dr. Edson smiled. “You’re a good friend. He’s lucky. Yes, that’s acceptable. Just make sure I know about it if he starts to refuse. I know this is pretty frightening. He looks like hell and he’s in a lot of pain right now. I did a neuro check on him while you were gone, though. Everything looks good. His vision isn’t back in the injured eye, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. I’ll have an ophthalmologist stop by in the morning, but don’t worry about that yet.”
Starsky smiled and extended his hand to the doctor. “I’m sorry I got a little tense with you in there. Watching out for him is what I do. He’s my partner.”
“No hard feelings. I’ll be back in the morning. Get some sleep tonight.” He turned to Huggy and said, “Is it your job to look after him?”
Huggy answered, “Right on.”
“See that you do. He’s looking a little ragged.”
After the doctor left, Huggy took a firm grip of Starsky's arm. "We are going to your place, and you are going to sleep."
"No, I'm not, I'm staying here --"
"No, you are going home," Huggy said sternly. "I ain't gonna face the Knight tomorrow with an exhausted sidekick and try to explain why I didn't do my job takin' care of ya. Now, move!"
Starsky couldn't recall ever seeing Huggy quite so determined, so he shrugged. He figured once Huggy had him "bedded down" at his place and had left, he could sneak back to the hospital. He hadn't counted on Huggy settling down on his couch and refusing to leave.
"I'm fine," he said for the dozenth time.
"And you're gonna stay fine," Huggy retorted, "because I'm gonna stay here and make sure of it. I know you, Starsk, the second the dust settles behind me you'll be out the damn door and on your way back to Blondie's bedside. Nothing doing. I'm stayin' put."
Starsky frowned in puzzlement. "I don't get it. When did you become Chief Babysitter?"
Huggy grinned. "The Bear keeps his promises. Now get your white ass to bed or the Bear'll have to get ugly."
"You couldn't get any uglier," Starsky informed him.
"Don't tempt me," Huggy said.
Drake stared at the TV in dismay. The anchor droned on about a cop found in his wrecked car near death and in intensive care at Bay City General.
"The officer, whose name has not been released, is in grave danger tonight," the anchor went on. "Police would say only that the accident is under investigation."
There was only a few seconds of footage showing the swarming police and rescue personnel, but Drake caught a glimpse of the car and knew it was Hutchinson's. He hadn't expected anyone to find it so soon, while there still might be drugs in his system. And he hadn't expected him to be alive, either. Of course, he had never intended to have to kill Hutchinson.
If Maggie hadn't been so unspeakably stupid and put the Valium in his wine, for crying out loud, Hutchinson wouldn't have reacted to it so badly, he'd have never remembered the beating Drake had given him or even seeing Drake, and everything would have been fine. That was the idea. He only wanted to give the cop enough to make him cooperative and to blot out his memory of what happened. But when Hutchinson had started having trouble breathing, Drake had panicked and on the spot had come up with the plan to wreck Hutchinson's car with Hutchinson in it to hide the evidence.
Now what could he do?
He couldn't move. Not at all. He could hear sounds, strange sounds, voices, a door slamming, dishes rattling together. But he couldn't move!
It felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest. He could breathe, but his head swam and ached with the effort. His heart beat too fast. He couldn't draw a deep breath, only shallow, panting, barely-enough-to-stay-conscious breaths.
He wanted to cry out for help, but he couldn't....
"Twenty-four's having distress," the duty nurse called to the floor supervisor.
"Can't tell. Increased heart rate and respiration. BP rising."
"I'll go see." The floor supervisor hurried down the hall to the policeman's room. Ken Hutchinson was thrashing in his sleep, his brow furrowed, fear and panic evident on his face. A bad dream, most likely, and no wonder, considering what she'd heard about his accident. She approached the bed and took his hand, sliding her fingers around to check his pulse and murmuring comforting words to him. His pulse was too fast, but when she touched him, it seemed to break whatever hold the dream had on him. He relaxed, though his respiration and heart rate were still too fast. Gradually, those also slowed, until he was again sleeping soundly. She put his hand down and gave it a gentle pat. Going back to the desk, she told the duty nurse, "A nightmare. He seems all right now."
The duty nurse nodded and pulled the chart to make a notation.
When Starsky awakened the next morning, he could hear the unmistakable sounds of someone cooking breakfast. Bacon and eggs, from the smell. He gave an affectionate grin. Huggy had definitely decided to take his job as partner in loco parentis very seriously indeed. He was cooking breakfast, for Pete’s sake.
Before he went out the kitchen, Starsky called the hospital to check on Hutch.
"The patient is holding his own," said a bored, official voice on the other end of the line.
"What does that mean?" Starsky asked impatiently. "I'm his partner and I hold power of attorney. I wanna talk to his doctor."
A sigh. "The doctor isn't in yet."
"Then put me through to whoever's in charge on his floor," Starsky commanded.
Another sigh, then a click and a long wait. Finally, a less bored voice came on the line. Starsky explained who he was and what he wanted and there was another pause while the nurse checked the chart. "He's doing fine, considering his injuries," she said. "He's up in X-ray now, but I can give him a message, if you like."
"I do like. Tell him Starsky called and I'll be there as soon as I can get away."
Starsky crawled out of bed and reached for his jeans. Yawning and scratching his stubbly morning whiskers, he wandered out toward the kitchen. "Morning, Hug."
"Starsky," Huggy said, too busy keeping the eggs from burning to turn around.
"You know, I'm not sick or anything," Starsky said.
Huggy deftly slid the eggs onto a plate and added bacon and toast before turning and handing the plate to Starsky. "I know that."
"I coulda cooked my own breakfast."
"Yeah. Bet you could."
"So why did you?" Starsky sat down at the table and started eating, keeping his face straight with an effort. Huggy had drawn his eyebrows down into a stubborn frown and was clearly not going to give an inch on whatever stand he'd decided to take.
"You got enough to worry about," Huggy said, picking up his own plate and taking a seat opposite Starsky. "Between Blondie and the case, you're gonna be busier than a cat on a hot tin roof. Me, all I gotta do is keep you outta trouble. Piece o' cake."
Starsky lost the battle to remain sober and laughed until the tears ran. Letting go of some tension felt good, and having a friend like Huggy felt even better. "Thanks, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart, I really do," he said, grinning across the table.
Huggy gave him a suspicious look, but must have decided to believe him. Finally, he returned the grin. "You're welcome. Eat. Dobey wants you down at headquarters by eight 'cause the toxicology thing is supposed to come in this morning. I promised you'd be on time," he added threateningly.
"Yes, sir," Starsky said, giving a solemn salute and attacking his breakfast again.
When Starsky reached the squad room, he headed straight for Dobey's office without even checking messages and studiously ignored the stack of paperwork waiting on the desk he and Hutch shared. This was more important. When he opened the door to the captain’s office, he noticed the door out to the hallway was just closing. Dobey looked angry, but Starsky didn’t ask him about it.
"It's not here yet," Dobey said in response to his question about the toxicology screen on Hutch. "They said this morning, though, so it should be here any time. But we both know what it'll say."
"Maybe not," Starsky argued. "Maybe somebody slipped him something."
Dobey shrugged one shoulder. "No way to tell who did it, though, unless he can remember what happened before the wreck. Why don't you get busy trying to track down Maggie Gregg? Cavanaugh and Hill already got started on that yesterday. See what they found out."
The X-ray department wasn’t fun for Hutch. As the morphine was wearing off, the nursing staff tried to administer additional pain medication, but Hutch was awake enough to fight them. He refused to accept it and they’d had no choice. They paged Dr. Edson, and he told them to allow Hutch to go to X-ray. He would speak with him about his medication regimen first thing in the morning. When he checked on him during early morning rounds, just after Hutch returned from X-ray, Dr. Edson discovered a man in severe pain. He continued to honor Starsky’s wishes about the morphine, but went ahead with his alternate medication, unwilling to let his patient suffer while they waited for Starsky to return to the hospital.
Hutch’s face was pinched with pain when Edson pulled up a chair to speak with him. He hoped to talk the doctor out of his plan, but it wasn’t going to happen. The pain was severe enough to make talking an effort. “No ... drugs ... please,” he said, stopping to catch another too-shallow breath between each word.
Edson shook his head. “I’m sorry about this, but you really need it. I’ve brought -- ”
“No ... morphine.”
“No, your partner explained that. I promise. You can’t go on like this. Do you want me to explain all the problems you’re going to have if you refuse?” Hutch shook his head. “Your partner is going to be here later. He already called and said he’d be here as soon as he can get away. He’s going to tell you what I just did. You need it.”
Hutch agreed, with reluctance. The doctor injected the medicine and watched as the painful expression smoothed. “Isn’t that better?” he asked.
“Uh- huh. Still makes me feel dopey.”
“This won’t be as bad as the morphine, but you need the sleep.” The doctor explained Hutch’s condition to him. In response to one of Hutch’s biggest concerns, Edson promised him that the ophthalmologist would be there to check on his eye that day. He took a look at it again. “Eyes aren’t my specialty, but it looks good. Now, about your accident. The last time I asked you about it, you got rather excited.” He smiled at his patient. “Do you remember anything?”
Hutch thought. He concentrated on it hard enough to deepen the line at the bridge of his nose. The doctor put a hand on his arm when he noticed the small beads of sweat forming on Hutch’s upper lip.
“Don’t worry about it. You may never remember. That’s fine. Long as you know who you are, we’re doing okay.”
Smiling wearily, Hutch said, “‘Course I know who I am. Captain Marvel.”
“Could Captain Marvel fly?”
“You’d have to ask my partner.”
“Whether he did or not, your flying days are finished, super hero. Hang up your cape.” Pronouncing that he had other patients to see, Dr. Edson left Hutch to slide back into sleep.
“Starsky!” Dobey bellowed from his office, loud enough to be heard through the closed door.
The door opened and Starsky stuck his head just inside. “You rang?”
“Test results are back,” Dobey said.
Starsky shut the door behind him before he sat down in one of Dobey’s chairs. He shook his head a little at the thought that almost every time he sat in this office without Hutch, something was terribly wrong.
“Just like we thought. Nothing. They tested for alcohol and illegal drugs.”
Despite his lack of surprise at the news, Starsky sighed deeply with relief. Simonetti had already called Dobey several times looking for the results. He had been waiting for the captain first thing that morning, sitting in one of his office chairs quietly drinking coffee when the captain opened the door. After his phone call to Hill and Cavanaugh, Starsky had run into Simonetti in the hallway near the candy machine, where he’d been hovering, waiting for a while to see if he’d have a chance to bait his least favorite detective. His mind wandered back to that conversation. The internal affairs officer was the person who had left Dobey’s office through the hallway door and Starsky had just missed him. No wonder the captain looked so angry. Despite knowing it was procedure, Starsky was sure Dobey had lost his composure with Simonetti, who was obviously sniffing around trying to prove Hutch had been driving drunk. His top team and Simonetti had a history of animosity. He hadn’t told Starsky about the conversation.
“Good morning, Starsky,” Simonetti said with a snake-like smile. “How’s Hutchinson?”
Starsky didn’t answer his question. He knew where Simonetti must have just been. “Did Dobey throw you out of his office?” he asked.
“Why would he do that? I’m just doing my job.”
“Uh-huh. Maybe you should just back off for a little bit while we figure out what happened.”
“Starsky, you know that a police officer nearly killed in an alcohol -- or worse -- drug related crash is a serious thing.” Simonetti smiled again. He knew what he was doing.
Detective Babcock was walking down the hall when he noticed Starsky and Simonetti in conversation. He slowed his pace and listened carefully, knowing that things could get out of control. He winced when he heard what Simonetti said, wondering why the man never seemed to be smart enough not to bait Starsky -- especially where his partner was concerned.
“No way!” Starsky growled. His voice suddenly lowered to a menacing tone. “Why do you always have to jump to the WRONG conclusions? Hutch wasn’t under the influence.”
Still unwilling to back away, Simonetti chuckled. “We’ll just see about that when the tests come back. While we wait, I think I’ll head over to the hospital and have a little chat with Hutchinson.”
Babcock stopped and pretended to be tying his shoe. He didn’t want to just walk up to them, but he was also not leaving until the other two men separated.
Starsky took a step closer to Simonetti, glaring at him with an intensity that could make the cockiest street punk cower. “You stay away from him. You’ll get your chance in a day or two when he’s better.”
“Or what?” Simonetti asked. “I heard the unspoken threat there. You’re dangerous, Starsky. That partner of yours is, too. I’m glad he survived the accident ... especially if he was under the influence. In that case, I’m taking him down.”
Babcock couldn’t get back to his feet fast enough to stop Starsky, who shoved Simonetti up against the wall, pinning him with an arm across his chest.
“Dangerous, huh?” Starsky hissed. “You keep talking about my partner that way, asshole, and you’re gonna find out just how dangerous.”
Starsky was so angry he barely heard Babcock; he was too focused on the spluttering, furious man under his physical control. Starsky felt hands pulling on his shoulders.
“Let it go, Starsky,” Babcock said for the third time before his command registered in Starsky’s brain. Fortunately for the angry detective, the altercation hadn’t been loud enough to draw any notice and there were no other witnesses. Starsky stood back from Simonetti and watched as the man jerked his chin at him and pulled his tie and jacket back into place.
“I’m gonna get you written up for that, Starsky,” he declared. “Babcock saw it. You stepped in it this time, hot shot.”
“Saw what?” Babcock said. “I didn’t see anything. Now get the hell out of here, Simonetti.”
“Did you hear me, Starsky?” Dobey said. He snapped his fingers and repeated himself. “Starsky, you all right?”
Coming back to the present with a jolt, Starsky blushed and said, “Sorry, Cap. Yeah, I heard you. Good news.”
“Sure is. At least I can get Simonetti off his scent.” Something occurred to Dobey. “Have you talked to Simonetti about this?”
Starsky gave him a crooked smile, with just a hint of guilt in his eyes. “Yeah, we talked. I’m glad he won’t be bugging Hutch at the hospital.”
“Yes, and you won’t have to ‘talk’ to Simonetti about it again. Right?”
“Right, Cap. Ain’t he old enough to retire yet?”
The captain laughed. “You know he’s only about five years older than you. He’ll probably stick it out until you retire, just so he doesn’t miss an opportunity to nail you to the wall before he hangs up his shield.”
The two men sat and discussed the implications of Hutch’s clean test results. If he had been given anything that caused the crash, whatever it was had run through his system before he made it to the emergency room. They wouldn’t get any clues there. Dobey had ordered the lab team to go over the car for signs of tampering. They couldn’t find any, although they did find fingerprints on the doors, the steering wheel, and throughout the car that didn’t belong to either Starsky or Hutch. The dry pavement precluded any chance that the car hydroplaned or slid off the roadway. Whatever had happened, if Hutch couldn’t remember, they might never know.
The captain pulled out the evidence bags he’d stashed in his desk. “I recovered these from inside Hutch’s car,” he said as he passed them to Starsky. “The cigarettes are a German brand -- named after a hotel in Cairo, if I remember correctly. The other butt appears to have been ... home made.”
Starsky let his curiosity about how his boss knew about the brand of cigarettes pass as his attention was drawn to the tiny remains of a joint. “Hutch never smoked this. No way, he wouldn’t do that.”
“I know that, Starsky. The tox screen proved it, but it got there somehow. We’d better figure out how. If someone is after him, I’m going to put a 24-hour guard outside his room.”
“Maybe Maggie smoked it. Still, I can’t see Hutch lettin’ her do that in his car. Who knows about this?”
“Just us, Hill and Cavanaugh, possibly Maggie, and Hutch, if we’re lucky. I didn’t tell Simonetti about it, if that’s what you mean.”
The phone rang and interrupted them. “Dobey,” he answered. “Sean, hang on, Starsky’s right here, I’m going to put you on speaker.”
When the captain told him to go ahead, Sean said, “Took us a couple of tries, but we found Maggie Gregg.”
“Great,” Starsky responded. “Can you bring her down here for questioning?”
“Oh, we’re gonna bring her down, but not to the station. And she won’t be answering any questions. She’s dead.”
Like it did to many people, pain medication caused Hutch to have strange dreams, and his tended to be dark, and disturbing. In this dream, he and Starsky were walking along a cliff above the ocean. Far below them, the sound of breakers hitting the rocks drifted up to their hearing. They were talking about the accident.
“You have to remember,” Starsky said. “I know someone got to you, but if you can’t remember, I can’t go after them.”
Hutch shook his head. He flexed his fingers and looked down at what should have been injuries severe enough to warrant heavy medication. For some reason, he was healed. They stood on the edge looking down at the image of his car, broken on the rocks below them. He looked back at Starsky, confused. The accident didn’t happen near the water.
“I don’t remember. Hey,” he said putting an arm out to stop Starsky from stepping so close to the edge, “stay back. Thought you were afraid of heights.”
“I am, but this is a dream, dummy.”
Suddenly, everything shifted. The sun was gone, dark storm clouds rolling across the sky covering its light and warmth. From nowhere, a dark-haired man without a face appeared and started to fight with Starsky.
Hutch was on the ground. All of his injuries were back and he couldn’t make a move to help his partner. His vision was all right, the better for him to witness what was going to happen next. He reached for his weapon with his still functioning right hand, but blinked in surprise at what he pulled from the holster. Instead of a Colt Python, his hand held an expensive bottle of a private reserve Pinot Noir -- 1975.
“Hutch!” Starsky shouted as he wrestled with his assailant. “You have to remember. I can’t see his face, unless you remember! I can’t stop him, unless you remember!”
“I can’t ... I can’t,” Hutch answered.
The faceless man didn’t look big enough to take Starsky down, but somehow he overpowered him. Standing over the unconscious man, he looked at Hutch and spoke. He had no mouth, no eyes, no face, yet he spoke. “Did you like that wine? That wine is going to cost you. Too bad you can’t remember. It could save you both.”
Hutch watched in horror as the dark man hefted his partner and heaved him over the side of the cliff.
“Nooooo!” Hutch shouted. He crawled to the edge and looked down at Starsky lying like a broken doll at the base of the cliff. A wave washed toward him and started to carry his body out to sea.
“No! I can’t remember, I can’t remember,” Hutch repeated.
The faceless man laughed at him. “You were supposed to die,” he said. “Too bad you didn’t.”
“Mr. Hutchinson,” the nurse said as she gently shook his shoulder, “wake up for me. Mr. Hutchinson?”
Hutch’s eyes flew open and he found himself staring up at a nurse. Once again, the physical stress brought on by the nightmare had summoned one of the nurses to his room to check on him. She talked soothingly to him, as she waited to be sure his heart rate and respiration would slow back down to a reasonable level.
Hutch watched her as she checked him and wrote things in his chart. “Has Detective Starsky called?” he asked.
“Yes, he did call again. He wanted to check on you and I told him you were sleeping. He’s going to be back in time to be here when Dr. Brookside comes at around three.” Seeing that Hutch didn’t recognize that name, she added, “Sorry, he’s the eye doctor.”
“Okay. What time is it?” he asked.
“Time for your next dose of pain medication.” She smiled at the face he made.
“Gives me nightmares.”
“We noticed. Sorry about that, but I’m sure you want to be awake when your partner and the doctor are here.” Hutch couldn’t argue with her logic. She gave him his medication and made a mental note to talk to Detective Starsky about the nightmares.
Starsky stared at his captain. "She's dead?"
"Yeah," Sean said, and weariness was evident in his voice. "We've already called the coroner. No sign of violence on her body. The post-mortem probably won’t be ‘til tomorrow."
Starsky shook his head and looked down at the floor. "That ain't a good sign, Cap."
"I'm ordering that guard right now," Dobey said, putting Sean on hold and pressing the button for another line. In a moment, he barked a few terse orders into it, then hung up and clicked back over to Sean. "A guard's on the way to Hutch's room now," he said. "We'll keep men posted twenty-four hours a day until we figure out what's going on, and Starsky --"
When he didn't continue, Starsky looked up, eyebrows raised.
"This time, you're not sneaking him out of the hospital and taking him home, got that?" Dobey frowned. "He's safer at the hospital. I want him to stay there until I say he can leave. Understood?"
Starsky sighed. "Yeah. I understand. Hutch ain't gonna like it."
"I don't give a damn what Hutch likes," Dobey said gruffly. "Now, we have to figure out how that joint and those cigarettes got there. Hutch ever smoke that brand?"
Starsky shook his head. "You know he quit smokin' a long time ago. He only smokes now if he thinks it'll look good undercover, and then he mostly sticks to cigars so he won't inhale and get hooked again."
"If it isn't a common brand," Sean said, "it's probably only obtainable in a specialty shop. How about Jack and me doin' a little nosing around, see if we can find a place that sells them? We might get lucky."
Dobey glanced at Starsky, who nodded. "Go ahead," Dobey said. "But be discreet, huh?"
"Always," Sean said.
"Sean?" Starsky looked up and his eyes had taken on a hollowed look of worry.
"What can I do for you, Starsk?" Sean asked.
"On my desk," Sean said. "On top of the blotter and clearly marked with her name."
"Anytime." Sean hung up and Dobey disconnected the speaker.
"Now we have murder and attempted murder," Dobey said. "What we lack is motive and the perp."
"I know that," Starsky flared. "I'm working on it."
"Then get over to the morgue and go through Maggie's stuff," Dobey said gruffly. "I'll get on the ME about getting those autopsy results to us as fast as he can."
"Right." Starsky left. At the morgue, he flashed his badge at the clerk, who was new, and explained his errand. The young woman nodded and took him to the back. She vanished into another room and came back with a small cardboard box, which she placed on the table in front of him.
"There are her personal effects," she said. She presented a clipboard. "Sign here, please."
Starsky sighed. The new ones were always big on "procedure." But he took the pen, signed his name, and finally she left the room. He started taking things out of the box. A set of keys -- two marked "Ford" and one that was probably to her apartment, and another he couldn't identify by sight. It was unmarked with a brand name and it was too small for a door or vehicle, but too large for a padlock. Maybe a locker key? He laid those aside and started going through her purse. According to her license, she was only 26. There was almost eighty dollars in her wallet and two major credit cards, both issued in her own name. That took robbery away as a motive.
He also found an almost empty package of ZigZag rolling papers and a Dug-Out, a one-hit marijuana pipe that came in a little wooden box that doubled as a carrying case for the dope itself. The Dug-Out was about half-full of marijuana and the pipe had obviously been well-used. He handled it carefully, with a handkerchief, to avoid smudging possible fingerprints. Other than that, her purse contained the usual litter of hairbrush, some makeup, a crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights and a package of matches from a bar downtown. He made note of the name of the bar. Someone there might be able to tell him something. No address book and her checkbook register wasn't much help, either. She wrote checks to utility companies, grocery stores and such. Some were written to Schwartz Properties, which was a fairly large company that owned several apartment complexes in Bay City.
Her clothes were nice but not particularly expensive. A wristwatch and a ring that might have been a diamond. An engagement ring, maybe? Starsky made note of that, too.
After turning in the items to the clerk, Starsky viewed the body. Sean had been right. She looked perfectly healthy except for the fact that she was dead. Not even a bruise on her anywhere. She had a small tattoo of a heart and rose on her left shoulder but no other distinguishing marks that Starsky could see at a glance. He automatically turned his head to say something to Hutch before he reminded himself he was going this one alone. In fact, he was totally alone. The clerk had gone back to her post and he was alone in the cooler with who knew how many dead bodies. He shuddered. He'd never liked this part of the job and all that ever got him through it was Hutch, who could pretend, at least, that looking at dead people didn't bother him.
It bothered Starsky, and it bothered him a lot more because he was alone in the room. Fighting the feeling down, he looked down at Maggie again. And this time he noticed a small, almost invisible mark in the crook of her right arm. He bent closer. It was a needle mark. He was sure of it. There was no bruising around the mark, just the wound itself, which must mean that she'd died almost immediately afterward. He didn't know a lot about forensics, but he thought he remembered that much. He pulled his notebook out and made a note to himself to ask the ME about that when the autopsy results came back.
Hutch was propped up at a slight angle when Starsky came into the room, but he looked miserable.
"Hey, whattya doing?" Starsky demanded. "You hadn't oughta be sitting up."
"This is hardly sitting UP," Hutch said wearily. "It's more like reclining."
Starsky came closer and looked at the dark circles under his partner's eyes. "You look like shit, buddy."
"Thanks," Hutch said with a wan grin. "It's nice to know you care."
"Mush brain," Starsky said, returning the grin with a much brighter one. "What's wrong? Not sleeping good?"
"You try sleeping in this place," Hutch said. "People coming in and out all night, food's lousy, bed's as hard as a rock --"
Starsky patted his hand. "Glad to see you're on the mend," he said approvingly. "When you start bitching, I know you feel better."
Truth be told, however, Starsky was alarmed at how weary Hutch looked. It wasn't just pain, though that was there, too. But Hutch needed his sleep if he was going to heal, and he looked as if he hadn't slept for days.
After Starsky caught him up on the progress on the case, he excused himself, pretending he was going to go get a soda from the machine out in the hall. In reality, he made a beeline for the duty nurse.
She'd been watching for him. "How's he doing?"
"Don't YOU know?" Starsky demanded. "You're the one taking care of him --" He broke off when she held up her hand.
"I wanted your opinion," she said gently. "I know you know him far better than we do."
Starsky nodded, looking a little ashamed of himself. "Sorry. Where my partner's concerned, I'm a little hair-trigger."
"You don't say," she remarked with a twitching mouth.
Starsky grinned. "Okay, okay. As far as Hutch goes, though, he ain't lookin' too hot, y'know?"
She pursed her lips. "I didn't think so, either. He's been having nightmares. A lot of them. Some very violent, apparently. He wakes up screaming."
Starsky's eyes widened. "Nightmares? How often?"
"Basically every time he goes to sleep."
Starsky swore softly.
"It's partly the medication," she said. "Pain medications often have that effect on people. But the dreams seem to be centered around you being in danger, and I thought it was possible you might know what brought that on."
Starsky nodded. "That's happened before when he was hurt. See, we watch out for each other out there, and when he's in here, ain't nobody watching out for me. At least, that's what he's thinking." He paused for a moment in thought. "You think maybe he's reliving whatever happened to him? The stuff he can't remember awake?"
"Possibly," she said. "I don't know. When he cries out in his sleep, we can only catch a word here and there. Nothing we can put together that makes any sense to us. I thought, maybe .... "
"What?" Starsky leaned forward.
"Can you spend the night here? Maybe you can make sense out of what he says."
"Yes," he said promptly. "I'll do that this very night."
He remembered to actually get a Pepsi before going back into Hutch's room, and if Hutch hadn't been so tired and out of it, he knew he would have asked what took so long to get a can of soda out of a machine that was ten feet away. As it was, Hutch simply opened his eyes and tried to smile when Starsky came back in.
"You look whipped, buddy," Starsky said with an attempt at casualness. "Maybe you ought to go back to sleep."
At the word "sleep," Hutch's face blanched, just a little, but enough for Starsky to notice. "No, I'm not sleepy," Hutch mumbled, his whole manner giving the lie to his statement. "It's just ...."
"I know how you hate being in the hospital," Starsky said. "Look, I got a lot of pavement to pound. There's a guard in the hall and there's gonna be one there constantly until we figure this thing out. You need anything, you holler, okay? It's all guys we know and trust."
Hutch nodded. "Wish I was going with you."
Starsky swallowed the lump that rose in his throat at the plaintive tone in his partner's voice. He patted his hand and squeezed. "Me, too, buddy. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you this or not, buddy, but you need to know. I know you don’t remember, but you were on a date with that new girl, Maggie Gregg, when this happened. I think she may have been in on what happened to you. I’m sorry, but ... she’s dead. Murdered, a few hours after they think you crashed over that embankment.”
Hutch looked shocked. “Oh, God. But, why? I hardly knew her....”
“I don’t know the answer to that, yet ... but I will. Get some sleep. I’m gonna go see what I can find out about all of this.”
Looking paler still, and like he was operating on the last of his reserves, Hutch nodded. “’Kay. Watch yourself.”
“I will. Close your eyes.” Starsky watched to be sure Hutch was sleeping before he left.
Starsky searched Maggie Gregg's apartment but didn't find anything that would help him discover who had killed her. The crime scene team had found several fingerprints that weren't hers and weren't Hutch's, but so far hadn't found a match in the files. Maggie’s prints did match some of the prints found in Hutch’s car. Starsky was disappointed to find that the others belonged to Merle, their mechanic. Whoever had done this, he’d worn gloves. He spent so long in her apartment that by the time he was done, it was getting late. He went back to the hospital to spend the night with Hutch and, with any luck, learn something from him.
"What are you doing here?" Hutch asked suspiciously when Starsky came in. "I didn't expect to see you again until tomorrow."
"I know," Starsky said. "Whatsamatter? You tired of my dashing good looks already?"
"Idiot," Hutch said with a chuckle. "No. But you aren't planning to stay, are you? There is a guard outside, you know."
"I know," Starsky said, settling into the visitor's chair. "But I know about the nightmares, buddy. And they tell me you talk in your sleep when you're having them. So I'm gonna sit here and listen, and maybe we'll get a clue to what happened to you from them."
"Starsky -- "
"Don't argue with me," Starsky said sternly, shaking his best imitation of the Hutchinson finger at his partner. "I'm willing to try anything right now, okay? We can't afford to miss anything."
Hutch sighed. "Okay. But you don't need to sit up all night. How are you going to work tomorrow with no sleep?"
"Don't worry about me," Starsky said. "I'll catnap in between showings."
But though Starsky woke up every time Hutch so much as stirred, his partner's mutterings and mumblings were no more intelligible to him than they had been to the nurses. Other than his own name and the occasional terrified, "No!" Starsky couldn't understand a word.
The next morning, Starsky waited with Dobey in his office for the ME's report. It took a while, but finally the phone rang and Dobey put it on speaker.
"I'm running a detailed tox screen," Dr. Abell told them, "but, based on my preliminary analysis, my money's on a Valium overdose."
"Valium?" Starsky exclaimed.
"Valium or something very similar," Abell said. "A sedative injected into her bloodstream. Such a high dose that she would have died very shortly after it was injected. I looked at the puncture wound on her arm, Starsky, and I'm positive that's where it was injected. It took effect too fast to have been in pill form."
"Anything else of note?" Dobey asked.
"No. She was healthy, no problems. She's had an abortion fairly recently, and not a very skillful one, either. But she had apparently recovered from that. She was a smoker and I would venture to guess she didn't smoke only cigarettes. But all in all, the drug has to be the cause of death."
"Could it have been accidental? Suicide?" Starsky asked.
"I doubt that very much," Abell said. "We're talking a very, very large dose, Starsky. If she had injected it herself, I don't think she could have let go of the syringe before it took effect."
"Was a syringe found near the body?" Starsky asked Dobey, who had read Sean's report of finding Maggie Gregg.
"There was a syringe in the bathroom," Dobey said, pulling the report file toward him and checking it again. "The body was on the bedroom floor about ten or twelve feet away."
"No way she injected it herself," Abell said after hearing that. "She couldn't have made it that far. She'd have passed out after a step or two, max."
"Nothing acts that fast, does it?" Starsky asked.
"This was an enormous dose of pure Valium," Abell said. "Yes, it would act that fast. Following rapid IV administration in a high concentration, she would quickly stop breathing, then her heart would stop, and that would be it."
"Then it was murder," Starsky said, and Dobey nodded in agreement.
“And if that’s the case, what if whoever did it tried to eliminate Hutch, too? That would support the notion that it wasn’t an accident,” Dobey said.
“What do you have for a time of death?” Starsky asked.
They could hear the sound of papers rustling. Then, Abell said, “I estimate between midnight and two in the morning the night of Hutch’s accident. What time did you fix for that?”
“Cavanaugh and Hill interviewed some people who live above where it happened. One of them thought she heard a crash about the time the eleven o’clock news was starting. Said she looked out over the deck, but couldn’t see anything and she went to bed.”
“Well,” Abell said, “Gregg died after that. I’d check with the hospital and see if Hutch had any Valium on board. Could be, someone slipped him a benzodiazepine Mickey.”
“Nothing on the tox screen,” Dobey said. “I asked the doc about that. He said that Hutch might have been out cold for eight or nine hours, trapped in the car. That was long enough for his blood to clear of any alcohol, at least.” He cleared his throat and added, “I had them check for marijuana. Nothing. You testing Gregg for that, too?” Starsky knew about the testing, but he didn’t like it. He was curious to see if anything turned up on Gregg.
“Yes, we’re looking for that. On Hutchinson, ask his doctor to order another test. Better yet, have them run a retest if the sample is still available. That should have shown up on the screen. Could be a false negative. Valium has a half-life that can be detected for a long time.”
Starsky made a note of that. “I’ll take care of it. There were no signs of a struggle on your victim. Why would she let someone inject her?”
“Could be the murderer chloroformed her, or maybe tricked her into thinking she was getting something else.”
The two men thanked Abell and hung up the phone. Starsky looked at Dobey suspiciously and asked, “You didn’t really believe they’d find that Hutch was smoking, did you?”
Dobey knew how Hutch felt about any kind of drug use. Still, he’d seen stranger things happen to other officers. He wasn’t surprised by the results, but he was relieved. That was more information than Starsky needed. “Of course not,” he stated simply. “Good thing I had those tests run, though. Got IA off his back, didn’t it?”
Starsky nodded. He understood what was unsaid. Changing the subject, he said, “I had the victim’s car towed in. I’m going downstairs to see what they found.”
When he reached the garage, Starsky learned the lab team had recovered a picnic basket from the trunk. The basket didn’t belong to Hutch. He had been amused that his date had only asked him to bring the corkscrew. She planned the evening and didn’t want him to have to do anything. Starsky asked the lab team to dust the wineglasses for fingerprints and immediately check if Hutch had used one of them. He also wanted any liquid still in the glasses and the wine bottle tested.
Pete, from the crime lab, raised an eyebrow and said, “I’ll have the residual from the inside of this small vial tested, too.” He held up a plastic evidence bag that contained an amber bottle about half the size of a test tube. A gray rubber plug rested in the top of the tube. Starsky was feeling increasingly concerned about this situation.
“Thanks, Pete. This is important, can you put a rush on it?”
“Sure thing. Hey, I’m sorry about what happened to Hutch. Tell him the crime lab team hopes he gets better real fast, okay?”
“Hutch’ll appreciate that.”
Before leaving the station, Starsky checked back in with Dobey and asked Cavanaugh to check if Maggie Gregg had a fiancé to go with that ring he saw in her effects. “I want his name and address as soon as possible.”
“Right. Jack’s down in R&I running a background check on her.”
“I have to go back to the hospital. Abell said he thinks Maggie Gregg died of a Valium overdose, probably injected. Still, I want to know if she had any in the house. Would you and Jack go back over to her place and check for that? I didn’t see any in the bathroom, but she might have had it shoved into her nightstand or an old purse or something.”
“Sure thing, Starsk. Tell Hutch we’ll stop by on the way home tonight, okay?”
Starsky’s next stop was the airport to pick up Hutch’s mother. She had insisted on flying out to be near her son. The last time he was hurt, she and her husband were out of the country and they couldn’t be reached before Hutch was home from the hospital, recovering comfortably. This time, Helen Hutchinson was determined.
Starsky liked Hutch’s mother. She was different than his mom in many ways -- quiet and soft spoken, where Mrs. Starsky was open and outgoing. Helen wasn’t as quick to hug as Rachel Starsky, either, but she’d learned over the years that Starsky never let that stop him. She easily stepped into his embrace as soon as she walked off the plane.
“David,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for rescuing me.”
Helen was an attractive woman of sixty. Her bright blue eyes were as piercing as her son’s and her almost white blonde hair came down just below her ears. Unlike Hutch, Helen was not tall. Standing at only five feet four inches, she looked small in Starsky’s arms.
“Wish the circumstances were better,” he said as he hugged her and let go, reaching down to capture the carry-on bag she’d dropped next to them.
“Me, too. How is he?”
“He’s going to be all right, don’t you worry. You know he didn’t want you to come. We’re worried that whoever tried to hurt him might try again.” He steered her toward the baggage claim area.
“I know he said not to and I don’t care. I’ve listened to him too many times when he was hurt. You, too, for that matter. Why, when he was so ill that time, you threatened to have both his father and me arrested if we showed up here.” She softened her words with a smile and patted Starsky on the arm. She never could bring herself to use the word “plague” to refer to the illness that had almost cost Hutch his life.
“Sorry about that, but Hutch would have killed me if I let you come. We didn’t know if we could find the guy who could cure everyone. Too risky.” Helen knew all of that. She remembered the telephone conversation she had with Starsky when Hutch was out of danger.
“Please, Mrs. H. He wants you to stay in Duluth. Believe me, it’s all over now but the shouting. He just needs to rest and when he’s feeling better, you can come for a visit.”
“Yes, dear, I know.” This time, despite the fact that someone might be after Hutch, nothing was going to stop Helen. She would sit in his guarded room without leaving until he was released. “If this had to happen, I guess I should be glad it wasn’t next week. Richard and I are going to Toronto to visit my sister. She’s been ill and we would have had to cancel on her.”
“You’ll make that trip,” Starsky said. “Don’t worry. Soon as you see he’s going to be fine, you’ll know it’s okay.” He hoped he was right.
Dr. Edson and Dr. Brookside, the ophthalmologist, were just exiting Hutch’s room when Starsky and Mrs. Hutchinson arrived. They had transferred Hutch to a regular room in the past hour. After the introductions, the doctors gave the anxious visitors their reports.
“I’ve done some more tests on your partner,” Dr. Brookside said. “I think the eye is going to be just fine.” Starsky sighed with relief over the positive prognosis. “We’ll still watch it for a couple of weeks, just to be sure. But, so far, he’s shown no signs of retinal detachment. He has movement in the eye, although it is extremely painful. His vision is improving, too. I’ve dimmed the lights in his room because they were bothering him.”
Edson contributed, “He’s much better. I’ve upgraded his condition to fair. He’s strong. If he keeps improving at this rate, I may discharge him in another two or three days. Especially now that I see he’ll be in such good hands.” He always enjoyed the smile and look of relief families shared when he was able to tell them things were looking up for their loved one.
After asking Edson to wait a moment, Starsky introduced Mrs. Hutchinson to Officer Daly, the assigned guard for this shift. He promised to keep an eye on her, too, as long as she was in Hutch’s room. Starsky sent Helen in to speak with her son, while he and Dr. Edson stepped down the hall to a waiting area to have a private conversation.
“Doc, some things are bothering me about his injuries. What do you think about them?”
Edson gave Starsky a serious look and said, “Well, I’m no detective, but they are strange. First, the fact that his eye wasn’t abraded is a bit odd. Usually, that sort of injury would have done some corneal damage. Not always, but ordinarily. That’s not the strangest thing, though.”
“Is it his arm?” Starsky asked. He smiled when the doctor raised an eyebrow in curiosity at how the man in front of him guessed that. Seeing that look, Starsky said, “I AM a detective.” He’d been giving this a lot of thought.
“Exactly so,” Dr. Edson said. “I suspect your partner may have been unconscious BEFORE he crashed. The nature of the breaks and the bruising pattern are strange. His ribs were broken on the right side, where damage from the steering wheel is obvious.” He moved his left arm in front of his body, bent at the elbow to demonstrate, pointing to the break locations. “To me, it almost looks like his arm was resting with the hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. He trapped it against there, breaking it with the force of his own body as his forward momentum was stopped by the crash. If anything, I would have expected his wrists to be broken.” Again, he demonstrated by putting his hands in front of him in a pantomime of someone gripping a steering wheel. “Given the severity of the accident, they could easily have been snapped by him bracing himself when he saw he was going to crash. Why didn’t he do that? Maybe he was unconscious. That would explain a lot of things, including that his eyes would be closed and he wouldn’t have any scratches on his corneas. The paramedics said a lot of glass and debris flew into his face. Some things, just don’t add up, Detective.”
“Really,” Starsky said. “I have another thing for you to think about. The woman he went out with that night was found dead. The ME suspects she died from an overdose of Valium, probably injected. Is there any chance something like that happened to Hutch?”
“Possibly. He came in having been in respiratory distress for some time. A massive dose of Valium could do that. If that’s what happened to him, he’s even luckier to be alive.”
As they talked it out, Edson became more intrigued by the idea. He confirmed the ME’s statement that the Valium should have been detected on the first tests. At Starsky’s request, the doctor went on to explain Valium’s uses and effects on the body. When he got to the part about how it can affect memory, Starsky was intrigued.
“Slow down, Doc. Did you say it could give you amnesia?”
“That’s something you’d expect from an injection in the proper amount, but I suppose it could happen orally. We sometimes give it to patients prior to surgery. It has a transient retrograde amnesia effect. Basically, that causes the patient to forget what happened while the drug was on board. That can be helpful in anxious patients, or in procedures that are done while the patient is awake, for instance a knee surgery performed under a spinal block, or maybe an endoscopy. The Valium could also explain why he’s forgotten so much. Forgetting the events leading up to an accident is common, but he tells me he can’t remember anything prior to six or seven in the evening. Again, not unheard of, but a little strange. I’m going to go order the tests. If he was given enough of it, we should still be able to detect it.” With that, the doctor left Starsky to think about what was next.
“Kenneth Hutchinson, being sullen and angry never worked on me when you were a child. What makes you think it will now?” Helen said as she adjusted the blankets on Hutch’s bed.
“I told Starsky not to call you, but he said he already had. I’m not gonna die no matter what the doctors said at first. You really didn’t need --”
She cut him off, saying, “That’s enough!” Her voice was as stern as she was ever able to make it. “You are worse than your father. Since you were in junior high school, if you were hurt or sick, you never wanted to let me near you. If I only had a nickel for every time I heard ‘I’m okay, Mom’! You’re not leaving me out of things this time. Do I need to remind you that I’m your mother? Honestly, Ken, even you have to admit it’s not the same thing as when you broke your collar bone in the tenth grade.”
Hutch looked up at his mother, smiling at him despite the scolding. “You know, you really stink at that,” he said with a grin that warmed her heart. She did look good standing next to his bed. Comforting. “I’m sorry, and I’m glad you came.”
Starsky walked into the room to find Hutch making small talk with his mother. He wasn’t about to admit how much he hurt or how scared he was. Having her there was helping Starsky, too. He could feel a little better about being on the street looking for answers with her there to keep an eye on medical matters. He walked up to the other side of the bed from Helen and put a hand on Hutch’s shoulder. He rested the back of his other hand on the patient’s cheek briefly, duplicating what Helen had done while he was out of the room. “Fever’s down. That’s good, buddy. The doctor told us about your vision, isn’t that great?”
“Yeah,” Hutch agreed. Still, the blurry vision was bothering him. He closed his bad eye and squinted up at Starsky with the other one, in a gesture that didn’t do much to calm Starsky’s worries, despite what he’d just said. “So spill it. When can I go home?”
“Didn’t Edson tell you?”
“No. He said he wanted to talk to you first. I told him you’d be around and I could go now.”
Starsky laughed at that. “I have no intention of carrying your stoic ass up the steps to your apartment. I suggest for both our sakes you just lie there and be a good boy. Doc said a few more days.”
Hutch groaned pitifully at that. Both Helen and Starsky chuckled. “That’s too bad, Ken,” Helen said. “You’ll just have to accept it. I’m not letting them send you home a minute before you should go.”
“That goes double for me. Not this time. I’m working on what happened. You’re nice and safe here.”
“You working alone? I don’t like it,” Hutch said, trying to look stern. Somehow, squinting with pain in a darkened room marred the effect.
“I’m just doing some legwork. Jack and Sean are on it. I’m not busting down any doors without you, Blintz. Now that your mom is here, I feel a little more comfortable going out to follow up on the leads.” Hutch started to protest again, but Starsky shushed him. “I swear I’ll stay out of trouble. You just enjoy your visit with your mom. I’ll be back later. Right now, if I don’t check back in with Dobey, you’re going to hear him holler all the way over here.” In truth, Dobey was less worried about that than Starsky was. With his partner hurt and probably in danger, the captain knew Starsky would put far more hours in on the job than he was assigned to, until things were resolved and Hutch was safe.
Starsky helped Hutch get into a more comfortable position and he stayed until the nurse came in with his next dose of pain medication. Promising to come back as soon as possible, and to call if anything happened, he left to find out what the lab had turned up on the evidence from Maggie’s trunk. He also gave Hutch the messages from the crime lab team and told him that Jack and Sean would stop by later.
Everyone at Crowley Pharmaceuticals was upset by Maggie Gregg’s death. She had worked there as an ordering clerk for five years and was well liked. Her death came as a shock, especially to her friend, Karen. When Drake arrived at work the day the staff had learned she was dead, he found Karen in tears. He had gotten a job there after he was released from prison. He worked out his probation period and then moved back to Bay City.
Drake had a friend in college who had worked in California after graduation, moved to Kansas at some point and was killed in an accident. Drake had assumed John’s name, and provided his references. A check beforehand had revealed that his California employers didn’t know John was dead. Changing his name to John Reno, and applying under false pretenses, he’d gotten a job as a pharmacy technician. Desperate for help, the company never checked his license or his education records. He had been there for over six months.
“Hi, Karen,” Drake said, attempting to sound as sad as she obviously was. He had already done his best to make it look as though he’d been crying.
Karen knew that Drake was seeing Maggie, but she didn’t know how serious the relationship was. Maggie didn’t wear her engagement ring on her left hand in the office and no one knew that her weeklong sick leave three months back was due to an abortion. Drake and Maggie had kept their relationship a secret. Maggie was afraid she’d get fired, because the company had a policy against coworkers dating. They had been seeing each other since right after he started at the company. Drake’s scheme had always included finding a young woman to lure into his plan to hurt Hutch. He hadn’t found it challenging.
“Hi, John,” she said. She stood up to hug him, and whispered, “Thanks, but what are you doing here? You should take a few days off.”
Drake sniffed. “I can’t. If I do that, they might figure out we were together. I don’t want to do anything to damage Maggie’s reputation.” He was quite the actor.
Karen nodded. “That’s sweet, John. Are you all right?”
“I will be. Better get to work.”
Drake walked into the lab, leaving the crying woman at her desk. Maggie had managed to get the Valium he wanted by falsifying ordering and receiving paperwork. The paper trail should be clean. She was anxious to help him. Drake had convinced her that Hutch had ruined his life when he arrested him. Maggie didn’t realize how unbalanced the man was. Hutch had been in uniform when he arrested Drake on a warrant. He hadn’t even done the investigation. He and one of his training partners had only served the warrant. The other officer had retired and moved to another state, leaving Hutch as a focal point for Drake’s anger. He and the other officer had arrested him in front of a pharmacy full of patrons and his coworkers. The charge was involuntary manslaughter. Drake had accidentally mistaken one medication for another and the patient had died. Convicted and sent to prison, his career was in ruins. That was almost less important to him than the embarrassment he felt when Hutch slapped the cuffs on him and forced him outside. He had resisted arrest and even took a swing at the older, training officer.
Drake had thought a lot about what to do with Hutch. He’d decided not to try again. He was confident that the combination of the drugs and the accident had successfully robbed him of his memories. He would never recall Drake. Hutch was out of it by the time Drake got to him. He’d nearly collapsed on the way to the car, but Drake had passed it off to passersby that he was drunk and he and Maggie were helping him. No, he would bide his time. When enough time had passed, he would quietly quit his job and leave town. After all, he didn’t really want to kill a cop. He just wanted him to suffer. A telephone check on Hutch’s condition revealed that he’d achieved that goal.
Among the items in the picnic basket in Maggie's car was an almost-empty bottle of wine. The tests on it, the small vial, and one of the two glasses were positive for Valium.
Starsky listened, fighting down his anger, as the lab tech told him the glass must have been used by Hutch. His fingerprints were all over it.
"Can you taste Valium?" Starsky asked.
The tech shook his head. "No, I don't think so, not in wine, anyway. And not unless you knew the taste. I'm guessing it was in liquid form, because there was no powder residue as there would have been if a pill had been dissolved in the wine. He might've thought it tasted 'funny,' at most. And even that's a stretch."
Hutch didn't take Valium. It was rare for him to take anything but aspirin. He was a big believer in healthy living and herbal medicine, and when he needed something soothing, his first choice was always an herbal tea and a session of meditation or playing his guitar or working in his greenhouse. Not Valium.
So someone had given it to him, most likely Maggie. But why?
By the time Starsky had finished with the lab, Jack had collected the report on her background and was waiting in the squad room with it. "Whatcha got?" Starsky asked.
"She was from Seattle," Jack said, reading from the report in his hands. "Moved here about six years ago. Was taking acting classes at one of those miniature studios in Hollywood, you know, the storefront kind of places all over down there?"
Starsky nodded. He knew them well. So many of the people who moved to Southern California had dreams of stardom and so few of them came true. But many were ripe for the ripoff artists who promised big things if they took classes or posed for pictures or paid an "agent's fee" -- all of those things costing far more than was reasonable, but paid gladly by people who wanted to believe it would lead to more.
"She worked at Crowley Pharmaceuticals," Jack continued. "Sean's already been there asking around about her and nobody was aware she was engaged. Apparently she either wasn't engaged, or didn't tell them."
"But didn't any of the other girls notice her ring?" Starsky asked. That ring bothered Starsky. If Hutch had noticed it, and Hutch would have, he would have asked. He wouldn't have wanted to date a girl engaged to marry another man.
"Sure, somebody named -- " Jack looked down again, "Karen Martin. But she said Maggie wore it on her right hand and told her it was a family heirloom."
Starsky supposed that was possible. "Any family we can contact?"
"A grandmother in a nursing home in Seattle," Jack said. "That's the only family we could find. And I'm afraid she won't be much help, Starsk. She's senile."
"Shit." Starsky shook his head. "Which leaves us nowhere."
"Not entirely," Jack corrected. "We've got a couple of the younger men making calls to Seattle trying to find friends or old classmates or somebody who might be able to tell us something."
Starsky patted Jack on the shoulder and took the file. "Thanks." He left the file at his desk and went to the impound lot to examine Hutch's car. Even though he'd seen it already, seeing it again was as painful and upsetting as seeing it the first time had been.
At first, he simply walked around it, wincing at the condition it was in. Hutch was damned lucky to be alive after a crash like that. The driver's door was still wide open, hanging from its hinges, from the "jaws of life" the firefighters had used. He sat down in the front seat and stared at the bloody mess the steering wheel was in, his heart beating a little faster at the sight.
But slowly he realized something was wrong. The steering wheel was too close. Hutch had long legs and pushed the seat back almost as far as it would go. Whenever he drove the Torino, Starsky always had to readjust the seat and had often complained that the least Hutch could do would be to put the seat back where it belonged.
"Oh, for crying out loud, Starsk!" Hutch had said last time they'd had that conversation. "Just adjust it yourself. Do I complain when you adjust the seat in my car?"
Starsky had to admit he didn't.
"Well, then, just fix it yourself. Of all the stupid...." Hutch had shaken his head and refused to discuss it further.
Starsky supposed the seat could have slid forward at impact. He tried to move it back and it adjusted easily, so the mechanism hadn't been damaged. But when he locked it in place, and threw his weight against it, it didn't budge. He made a mental note to ask one of the cops who specialized in accidents if that was usual.
He continued to examine the car. The radio had been on, and it was set to the top 40 station. That wasn't like Hutch, either. He liked talk radio and sometimes classical music. But it was possible he'd let Maggie tune the radio. Starsky made a note to ask Hutch about that before he remembered that Hutch couldn't recall any of that.
He got out of the car and knelt next to it to examine the floor and the underside of the car. His moving the seat back and forth had dislodged a large rock. He remembered to pull a handkerchief out of his pocket before picking it up, though the chances of finding fingerprints on the rough surface were slim to none. What was a rock doing in Hutch's car? He squatted there on the ground for several minutes, wondering.
No skid marks.
No defensive injuries as if Hutch had tried to brace himself for the crash.
The seat was in the wrong position for Hutch.
And then this rock ....
Starsky rose and hurried back to the squad room. He grabbed the phone and called the accident experts in Traffic. He got Dan Masters on the phone, an officer he and Hutch had dealt with a few times before, and put his question about the seat to him.
"Head-on impact? It's possible that could shift the position," Masters said, "but it's kind of unlikely. That's the whole point of seat belts, to keep you in the seat instead of letting you go flying into the windshield and the steering wheel. And for seat belts to work, the seat's gotta stay in place. Unless it was loose or broken, it should've stayed put."
Starsky didn't know what to do with the information at this point, but he filed it anyway. It would come in handy later, he was certain.
Now he had to figure out where Maggie Gregg fit into all of this.
Even though Sean had already questioned the employees at Crowley, Starsky thought it was worth another trip. Maybe another police appearance would shake up somebody who thought they'd gotten away with something.
"We're trying to track down a large amount of liquid Valium," Starsky told the manager. "We've discovered that Maggie and my partner were both given the drug, and we suspect it was against their will."
The manager frowned. "We keep a very close eye on those things," he said, a little tartly. "Are you suggesting --"
"I don't blame you, no," Starsky said hastily, wanting the man to be cooperative. "I'm wondering if you could have someone go back through the records and see if there seem to be any discrepancies anywhere, any paperwork that looks odd when you look at it again. Since Maggie was an ordering clerk, and had access to the paperwork, it's possible she was using it herself and," he paused, leaning forward a little, "perhaps her death was an accidental overdose."
It was a blatant fabrication, but the manager couldn't know that, and Starsky hoped his shot in the dark would bear fruit. Pure liquid Valium wasn't easily obtained, and the pharmaceutical company was the best lead he had.
"It's going to take some time," the man said after several moments to consider it. "We do have a business to run."
"I understand," Starsky said. "But as quickly as you can, please?"
The "please" seemed to do the trick. The manager nodded. "I'll give you a call."
Starsky gave the man his business card and scribbled his home number on the opposite side. "Any time of day or night," he said.
Something seemed to spark the manager’s curiosity as he accepted the card. “I don’t suppose it would have to be a large amount, really. Just something, odd, right?” the man asked with a frown.
“Exactly. Thanks,” Starsky replied.
As he walked past the receptionist, she said, “Oh, Officer Starsky? I have a message for you.”
Starsky reached for the piece of paper with an almost instant sense of dread, hoping it wasn’t about Hutch. He knew it was unlikely, but is still caused him a moment’s pause. The paper was a message from Karen. She had heard Starsky was in the building and wanted to see him before he left. He smirked a little. Word travels fast.
“Thanks. Would you please let Karen know I’m available?” The note asked if she could meet him outside. That was intriguing.
The receptionist blushed and smiled as she said, “Are you?”
Realizing how that sounded, Starsky said, “Oh, uh, well... yes, as a matter of fact, I am. But, I meant....” He laughed. “Tell her I’ll wait at that picnic table out front. Might as well enjoy the sunshine, right?”
She scribbled a phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to him. “In case you are ever available, that other way.”
“Thanks,” he said, looking down at the nameplate on her desk, “Brenda.” He walked outside and sat down to wait for Karen. A few minutes later, he heard a door open and turned to see a young woman walking toward him from near the back of the building.
“Hi,” she said when she was close enough. He stood up and gestured for her to take a seat. “I’m Karen Martin.”
“Detective Starsky.” He sat back down and said, “You already spoke with Detective Cavanaugh, right?” She nodded. “Do you have some more information?”
She looked nervous as she pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and used the time it took to light one to calm her jitters. Karen set the cigarettes and her lighter on the table in front of her, glad that Starsky was patiently waiting for her to start speaking. After she took a drag, she said, “I’m really not sure this is important, but I thought about something I didn’t think to mention to the other detective. I told him that Maggie wasn’t engaged. She was seeing someone, though, and I thought you might want to know about it.”
Pulling out his notebook and nodding, Starsky said, “Thanks. What’s his name?”
Karen looked around as if she needed to be certain no one would hear. “I don’t want to get him in trouble. He works here and we’re really not supposed to date each other.”
“Discretion is my middle name,” Starsky quipped.
She started to speak again, but her voice was drowned out by the lunch wagon pulling into the industrial park. The big truck drove right past them, blasting an annoying, short rendition of “La Cucaracha” on its speakers. Karen waited, smiling shyly. Starsky chuckled at the choice of tune, since most people called that type of truck a “roach coach.” The truck stopped across from the door Karen had just exited.
“Okay. His name is John Reno. He works in the back as a pharmacy tech. I’m not sure how serious it was, but they started dating a little while after he came to work here. Probably six or seven months ago, I’d guess.”
Starsky noted the name. “Is he at work today?”
“Yes, but please don’t talk to him here. I don’t want him to know I told you and I don’t want anyone to see you talking to him. Like I said, it probably isn’t important, but I just had a feeling I should tell you.”
“What made you think so?” He wondered if she thought Reno could have something to do with Maggie’s death.
She shrugged. “Just a hunch. Don’t you ever play a hunch, Officer?”
He smiled. “All the time. Thanks. Let me know if you think of anything else.” He stood to leave and something about the pack of cigarettes caught his eye. The red dog and the colors on the package looked familiar. The label read “Shepheard's Hotel.”
“Those are unusual cigarettes,” he remarked casually.
“Yeah, they’re from Germany. Kind of unique, sweet flavor to ‘em,” Karen replied. “Maggie got me hooked on them.”
“Really?” he asked calmly, without betraying his interest level. “Was that her usual brand?” He remembered the pack of ordinary, American cigarettes he’d found in her belongings at the morgue.
Karen shook her head. “No, she smoked Marlboros. I think John introduced her to these and she didn’t really like them. She gave them to me.”
Starsky was starting to get a hunch of his own. “Is John Reno a tall guy?”
“How tall do you think?”
She looked at him closely, tipping her head to one side and squinting slightly as if she were mentally comparing him to Reno. “Oh, probably two or three inches shorter than you. Just a guess.”
“Thanks for your help, Karen. Don’t worry, I’ll get a hold of him somewhere other than here. Call me anytime if you think of anything else.” He scribbled his home number on the back of the card he handed her, just like the one he’d given to the manager. He walked away from her toward the front lot where he’d parked the Torino. Neither of them noticed the man they had just been discussing standing slightly behind the lunch wagon, looking their way. He had heard that another cop was in the building and he was worried about what Karen might have told him. He watched her head back into the building through the front door.
When Karen returned to her desk, she was shocked to see Drake waiting for her. “Hi, John,” she said, unable to hide the slight fear in her voice.
“Hi, Karen. Who was that you were talking to outside the front office?” he asked, as nonchalantly as he could.
Karen flushed. She thought about lying about Starsky’s identity, but decided she’d better not. Word that a second cop was there had probably reached the back areas, too. She did lie about the content of their conversation. “Oh, just a cop. He wanted to know if Maggie had been depressed, that kind of thing.”
“I don’t know. He didn’t say.” She couldn’t tell if he believed her. “Did you need something, John? You were waiting for me.”
He shook his head. “No. I was just being nosy. Thought you might have a new boyfriend.” Drake winked at her and walked away. Now, she was both suspicious and frightened. He knew she was seeing someone. When she was sure he was gone, she walked away from her desk to an empty office and closed the door. Pulling out the card Starsky had just given her, she dialed the number on the front.
The dispatcher patched Karen through to Starsky. He was still in the car, on his way back to the hospital. Mrs. Hutchinson had called him to say that Dr. Edson wanted to see him. After Karen told him about her coworker’s distressing interest in their conversation, he asked her to tell her boss she didn’t feel well. She was to leave work immediately and go to stay with a friend or relative John Reno wouldn’t know. Starsky told her, “I don’t want to scare you more than you already are, but let’s not take any chances. Call the precinct and leave a number for me where you can be reached.” The rest of the drive to the hospital, Starsky thought about John Reno and why he might have wanted to kill Hutch.
“Thanks for stopping to see me,” the doctor said as Starsky walked into his office.
“Your message said not to worry. That true?”
“Of course. I’ve discovered something that I think probably proves our theory that your partner wasn’t driving when the car went off the ledge.”
That sounded good. “What did you find?”
“We noticed a slight problem with his arm this afternoon. The swelling was so bad, we had to remove and replace the cast. He’ll need another one when it improves. When we cut it off, we found suspicious bruising. I checked him over again and found similar bruises on his back and shoulder.”
“What kind of suspicious bruises and why didn’t you see them before now?”
“I’m sure they’ve gotten more obvious since he’s been here. They match the pattern you’d expect from someone’s hand gripping him so tightly, he left finger marks on the skin.”
Starsky’s face flashed with anger over that. Knowing that must be what happened and slowly putting together the pieces to prove it were two different things. “Too bad we can’t pull fingerprints off of bruises,” he remarked sarcastically. As soon as he said it, he had an idea. “Wait a minute. Hutch was wearing a leather jacket that night. What happened to it?”
“Might be in the closet in his room,” Edson replied as he stood. “Let’s go check.”
They saw a nurse rushing out of Hutch’s room as they were walking down the hall toward it. “Oh, Doctor Edson,” she said when she saw him, “I was just going to page you. Something has agitated Mr. Hutchinson.” They all rushed to Hutch’s room while she explained.
When they opened the door, Starsky was alarmed by what he heard. Helen was trying to calm his partner, obviously without success. “Please, dear,” she pleaded, “you’re scaring me.”
Hutch sounded panicked, almost hyperventilating, his voice strained. “Starsky... I need... Starsky!” he insisted, between rapid, inefficient breaths.
Rushing to his side, Starsky pried Hutch’s hand off the bed rail as he soothed, “Sh, I’m here. It’s okay.”
Helen stepped away from the other side of the bed to let the doctor in to check on her son. Starsky squeezed Hutch’s hand and brushed his other hand against his hair. “Whatever it is, you need to take it down a notch. I’m right here.” He was pleased when Hutch nodded and seemed to get calmer. He opened his mouth to speak again, but Starsky shushed him. “Shhhh. Just relax. You can tell me when you’re better.”
Edson chimed in, “Listen to your partner. Your heart rate is too high. If you don’t calm down, I’m going to have to order a sedative.”
Hutch’s eyes widened at that and he shook his head. “No. I’m okay.”
Starsky looked up at Helen. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “The nurse and I were chatting and Ken was almost asleep.”
“What were you talking about?” Starsky wondered if the conversation could have upset his partner in some way.
“Nothing, really,” the nurse replied. “We were talking about the weather here and how nice it is most of the time. Oh, Mrs. Hutchinson asked me about my perfume. I went over to change his IV and just as I finished, he started to go into a panic. He kept saying he couldn’t breathe.”
Hutch’s breathing had slowed and his pulse rate was dropping. The doctor was amazed that he calmed down so quickly, obviously because of his partner’s presence. “Whatever you’re doing,” he said to Starsky, “just keep doing it.”
Starsky used his foot to pull the nearby chair over and sat in it. “Helen, please check the closet for Hutch’s leather jacket, but don’t touch it if it’s there.”
She crossed the room and looked inside the small closet. “It’s here in a bag.”
“You okay, now, Blintz?” Starsky asked his still calming friend.
Hutch nodded. “I remember,” he quietly said. “Not everything. But, I remember.” Something had brought a sudden rush of memories back to him from the night he crashed. He was afraid he’d forget again and anxious to tell Starsky anything he could that would help him solve the mystery.
“What kind of perfume are you wearing?” Edson asked the nurse.
“White Shoulders. Why?”
The doctor shrugged and lifted an eyebrow. “Sometimes, a scent can be a powerful memory jogger.” He checked Hutch again and seemed to think everything was all right. With instructions to call if anything else happened, Edson and the nurse left.
Starsky left Hutch’s side long enough to step to the phone and call the crime lab to tell them he’d be bringing in Hutch’s jacket. He was hoping they’d be able to pick up a print from it. Maybe the attacker didn’t have gloves on when he grabbed Hutch. Even though the various medical personnel would have touched the jacket, if they were lucky, they might still find some evidence on the smooth leather. Starsky hoped something would match the unidentified prints from Maggie’s apartment.
Returning to Hutch’s side, he asked, “Think you can tell me what you remembered?”
Hutch nodded. “Yeah. I’m sorry, I don’t know why....”
“Don’t worry about that. Just tell me.”
“Okay. I was in the park. Felt terrible, dizzy, sick. I told Maggie to call you. Thought I’d pass out. Then, a man came.”
“What man? Did you recognize him?”
“Kind of familiar. I’ve seen him somewhere. I couldn’t breathe right. They were arguing about what to do with me. I remember him grabbing me, holding me up, and making me walk. That’s it. I can’t remember anything else.”
Starsky patted his hand and Helen brought him some water to drink. “That’s real good, buddy. Now, I need to ask you something. Does the name John Reno ring any bells?”
Hutch’s brow furrowed as he searched his memory. Starsky could tell he was holding his breath he was trying so hard. He expelled his breath and shook his head. “No bells.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Starsky said. “I have some ideas. You just rest. I’m going down to the station to see about getting Reno to come in for questioning. Do you remember what the man looked like?”
Closing his eyes to picture him better, Hutch answered, “Vaguely. Dark hair, kind of long. Medium height, a lot shorter than me. Strong, though.”
“Good. Rest,” Starsky said. “I’ll be back tonight.”
Starsky stood up to leave, but Hutch squeezed his hand and pulled him back toward him. “Be careful, huh? Take backup.”
“I promise,” Starsky reassured.
The lab team promised to make testing Hutch’s jacket for fingerprints a top priority. They were concerned that they’d find nothing useful, but Starsky was insistent. He told them to concentrate on the inside of the left arm, the right upper arm, and the shoulders.
Entering the squad room, he heard Jack on the phone. “Oh, wait a minute, Mr. Jasper, Detective Starsky just walked in.”
He covered the receiver with his hand and whispered, “The manager from Crowley,” before he handed the phone to Starsky.
“Mr. Jasper, this is Detective Starsky. Thanks for getting back to me so soon. Have you found something?”
Jasper cleared his throat. “Yes, as much as I hate to admit it, I have. My senior accountant and I went over the paperwork for our orders for Valium over the past two months. Then, I called the manufacturer and asked them to check their records. Seems there is a discrepancy. A week ago, we apparently ordered fourteen bottles of liquid Valium. The manufacturer packages those for us in boxes of a dozen. The extra two had to be packaged separately. Our records here showed that we ordered and received only twelve.”
Starsky had the phone cradled on his shoulder while he took notes. “Who ordered and received them?”
“Maggie Gregg ordered them. The receiving paperwork came through the back. This is another odd thing. We receive shipments from that manufacturer every Thursday. My regular receiving clerk was out sick with food poisoning. One of our techs filled in for him that day.”
Hoping his hunch was about to be confirmed, Starsky asked his question and held his breath. “Who was it that filled in?”
Jack smiled at Starsky when he pumped his fist in the air in victory. He still had no idea who this John Reno was, or why he’d want Hutch dead, but he was one step closer to hauling him in to get those answers. “Thanks. I need to talk to Mr. Reno. Is he still there?”
“No, he left for the day about thirty minutes ago. And, that’s not all.”
“We also discovered a discrepancy in intravenous Valium. Same story. Two extras ordered.”
Starsky wrote down the information. He found out from Mr. Jasper that John Reno had only worked for Crowley for approximately six months. When Starsky assured him that he only wanted to talk to Reno, hoping to gather some information about Maggie’s death and another crime, Jasper was happy to help. He provided Starsky with a description, and even allowed the detective to worm an address out of him without a warrant.
“I know I probably shouldn’t, but I suppose you could just get that information from the DMV or something, right?”
After he hung up the phone, Starsky dialed R&I. Playing a hunch, he asked them to do a search of arrests in Hutch’s files from before they were partners. He wanted to know if John Reno was in the records, and if not, the name and status of white, male suspects convicted and given sentences that could be complete already.
Sean cruised into the squad room carrying a bag of take out food with him just as Starsky was getting up to leave. “Sorry about the food, guys, but I need you for backup. I want to go have a chat with this Reno character and I promised Hutch.”
Jack and Sean followed him out. Sean tossed Starsky a burger, correctly noting that he’d probably not eaten all day. “Burgers and backup,” he quipped.
When Drake returned to Karen’s desk, only to hear that she had left suddenly, feeling ill, he decided that it was time to pull up stakes. No sense waiting until enough time had passed. Briefly, he thought of trying to find her, but he decided that would be pushing his luck. As soon as his shift ended, he clocked out and left Crowley, without a backward glance.
Drake looked around his dingy, studio apartment for what to take. He didn’t have much. He had gotten his clothes into a suitcase when he heard a knock on the door. The remaining Valium stash was still on the bathroom counter, so he closed the door quietly, before he answered.
“John Reno?” came a slightly muffled voice.
“Yes, who is it?” he asked through the still closed door.
“Detective Starsky, Metro Division.”
Drake felt a surge of adrenaline. If he had a fire escape, he would have gone down it, but this apartment didn’t have one. He decided to try playing it cool. Cracking the door slightly, he demanded to see a badge. Appearing satisfied, he closed the door, worked the chain loose, and then opened it. Glancing out into the hall, he was surprised to see that the police officer was alone. Though he didn’t know Starsky, Drake was aware that he was Hutchinson’s partner. Still, he can’t be alone.
As casually as he could, he said, “By yourself, Detective?” He knew he was clever. In his mind, the cop wouldn’t know why he was asking.
Ignoring the question, Starsky said, “I just want to ask you a few questions about Maggie Gregg. Can I come in?”
“Do you have a warrant?”
“No. I just need to ask a few questions. Don’t need a warrant for that, do I?” Starsky’s tone and body language clearly conveyed his intention to get his way.
Deciding he’d better give in if he hoped to maintain a veneer of innocence, Drake opened the door wider and stepped out of the way. He began to look around the apartment for something he could use as a weapon, if necessary. He had a gun, but it was already packed.
“Going somewhere?” Starsky asked when he saw the suitcase.
Drake was a consummate liar. “Up the coast to see my sister. She’s just had a baby. Now, how can I help you?”
As Starsky calmly walked around the small apartment, appearing to be looking at the few items on the shelves, he kept a wary eye on his suspect. “How well did you know Maggie Gregg?” he asked. Drake maneuvered himself between Starsky and the door, quietly getting close enough to pick up a heavy piece of geode from the bookshelf behind him. Starsky knew what he was doing.
“I wouldn’t,” he said threateningly.
“Wouldn’t what?” Drake answered, tightening his grip on the rock. He had hoped the cop would ask a few questions and leave. Now, that seemed unlikely.
Starsky’s left hand moved as he began to reach for his gun, but Drake was quick. He had the Beretta in his hand, but not in position when the rock Drake heaved at him knocked the gun out of his grip. The moment of pain was just what the criminal needed. He plowed into Starsky, knocking him to the floor. Starsky rolled away from him, but not before Drake had his hand on a tacky, turquoise and gold ceramic lamp from the 1960s they’d knocked to the ground in the scuffle.
A few minutes later, Jack caught Drake as he tried to go out the back door to the alley, suitcase in hand. He matched Starsky’s description of John Reno and he looked both disheveled, and like he was in a hurry.
“John Reno,” Jack said, his weapon already in his hand. The suspect froze, dropping the suitcase and raising his arms. “Don’t move!”
Jack cautiously approached Drake. He yelled for Sean as he spun the suspect around and cuffed him. “Where’s Detective Starsky?” he demanded. Drake refused to answer. Instead, he just smirked.
When Sean reached them, Jack said, “Better run up there and check on Starsky. He didn’t come out after this scum.” Sean was back through the lobby and starting to bolt up the stairs when he heard Jack say he’d put the suspect in their car. He and Sean had agreed to stay downstairs, out of sight from the upstairs windows, for two reasons. One, to avoid spooking the suspect. Starsky was hoping he’d get the man to cooperate and come down to Metro peacefully. Two, in case Starsky’s cynical side was more accurate than his glass-half-full side. The other two detectives would position themselves outside the front and rear entrances. One way or another, they’d have their man. Hill and Cavanaugh were to wait ten minutes, then come in after Starsky if he hadn’t returned.
When Sean reached the apartment, he found the door shut and locked. He didn’t hear anything from the inside. “Starsky?” he called through the door. No answer.
He tried one more time. “Starsky, are you all right? Open the door.” Shit. “If you can hear me, I’m gonna kick the door in.” A few seconds later, the door flew open, revealing an unconscious Starsky, lying face up on the floor, surrounded by lamp dust.
Sean knelt down next to him and shook him on the shoulder. “Starsky!”
When his friend moaned, but didn’t open his eyes, Cavanaugh lost no time in rushing to the phone to call for an ambulance. The bathroom door was standing open, so the worried man ran in and got his handkerchief wet on one end, so he could attempt to clean the dust and lamp shards away from the bleeding head wound. By the time he was back at Starsky’s side, he could hear backup units in the distance.
Starsky stirred when he felt the cool cloth on his temple. “Owwwww,” he moaned as he opened his eyes.
“Sh, take it easy,” Sean said, continuing to clean the fine dust from Starsky’s face.
Putting a swollen left hand up to his throbbing temple, Starsky struggled to sit up, leaning against Sean when it was clear to him that the room was spinning. “What the hell did he hit me with?” He let Sean steady him, glad when his vision returned to normal. When Starsky’s hand got to his eye level, he noticed that it was already swelling.
Relieved that it looked like Starsky was going to be okay, Sean smiled and said, “A lamp. An ugly one, based on the remains.”
They heard the sound of feet pounding up the stairs and then down the hall toward them. Jack scooted into the room and said, “You okay, Starsky? Paramedics are right behind me.”
“I don’t need an ambulance,” Starsky protested. “Where’s Reno?”
“Black-and-whites have him on the way to Metro already, and you’re gonna let the medics take a look at you. Was he out?” Jack asked his partner.
“Just like this former lamp that creep hit him with.”
At their insistence, Starsky sat and waited for the ambulance crew. They wanted him to let them take him to the hospital, but he refused. “I’m going to see my partner in the hospital. I know the deal. If anything happens, I’ll let them look at me there.” He left out the fact that he intended to go to Metro first. One scolding, two butterfly bandages, and two dissatisfied coworkers later, the three men were on their way down to the station to interrogate their suspect.
A few hours later, Starsky cruised into Hutch’s hospital room. Huggy was there, sitting in a chair reading a magazine, and Hutch’s eyes were closed. Huggy took one look at Starsky and said, “What the--”
“Hello to you, too, Hug. Where’s Mrs. H?”
Huggy walked over to him and whispered, “Cafeteria. Get your ass in that bathroom and clean up before he sees you like that.”
“Sees him like what?” Hutch mumbled from behind Huggy.
“It’s nothing, Blintz,” Starsky said as he stepped around Huggy. “Nothing wrong with your hearing.”
Hutch repeated what Huggy had said, “What the--”
“Oh, enough, already. I’m fine. I promise.”
Starsky made his way to a chair and tiredly plopped into it. “We got him, Hutch.”
“I’m glad, now tell me what happened to you? You look like you stepped in front of a truck.”
“No, a lamp. Oh, and a rock,” he said as he held up his bruised and swollen hand. “I told ya, I’m fine.”
Huggy was hovering in the semi-dark room, wondering if he should go find Hutch’s doctor to look at Starsky. Deciding against it, he took the other seat and settled in to hear the story Starsky was so obviously preparing to tell.
Starsky pulled out some photos and handed them to Hutch. “Recognize anyone?” He pushed the table over the bed so Hutch could lay out the pictures.
Hutch closed his injured eye to get a clearer look at the faces before him. They were mug shots, but Starsky had blocked out the names. He stared carefully at each photo before moving to the next. Out of the six pictures, he confidently handed one to Starsky and said, “Him. I don’t remember his name. I cuffed him and brought him in with my training partner back in my uniform days. Drugs?” He thought for a few moments, “No... something to do with a messed up prescription.”
Starsky pulled another set of photos out of his other jacket pocket. He handed those to Hutch and gathered the first set, sorting the one Hutch had identified to the top of the stack. “What about this bunch?”
Studying these photos, Hutch picked one and said, “This could be the guy from the other night. Wait a minute, let’s see that other one.”
Hutch compared the two photos and nodded. “This is him. Hair’s longer and darker, but it’s the same guy.”
Starsky explained to his attentive audience what he’d found out from John Reno AKA Kevin Drake. “He confessed. Sean and Jack are working with Dobey and the DA to get him a deal. Between some drug charges, killing Maggie Gregg, and trying to kill you, the best he’s gonna do is thirty to life, and eligible for parole in twenty with good behavior. In return, he saves the people of California a boatload of money and pleads guilty. No death penalty on Gregg.”
“What about resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer?” Hutch asked, pointing to Starsky’s bruised and cut forehead.
“I’ll get there. Seems he thought a lot in prison about how you embarrassed him, Blondie. You and Sergeant Winthrop arrested him in front of customers. Winthrop is retired and moved away, but you were still here. He claims he originally planned to slip you a Mickey -- Valium -- because it supposedly can make you forget things that happen when you’re on it. If you take enough. He was engaged to Maggie. She agreed to help him. She was supposed to trick you into taking it. Then, he was gonna take you somewhere remote, beat the crap out of you, and leave you stranded where you’d be found, but humiliated.”
“Nice dude,” Huggy remarked. “Creative. At least he didn’t plan to just plug ya.”
“Small comfort,” Hutch replied.
“Well, I’m glad he didn’t. He also didn’t count on Maggie, who was apparently not experienced with drugs, using wine to slip you the Valium. She also put a lot in it. By the time Drake got there, you were in trouble. He made a major mistake here. First, he thought you were gonna gack on him. Not in the plan, so he decided he’d better make it look like you did some wine and drugs, then drove your car over a cliff.”
“Mm, mm, mm,” Huggy muttered.
“No kidding,” Starsky continued. He reached for the photos, allowing Hutch the opportunity to get a good look at his left hand again. He caught it in his uninjured one and gently turned it.
“Pretty color. Nice expansion. When are you gonna go get that x-rayed?”
Starsky flexed his fingers, wincing as he did it. “Nah. Isn’t broken. Just hurts.”
Hutch frowned at him. “Finish your story. We’ll talk about that in a while.”
“The big mistake is that he didn’t have gloves on when he grabbed you and ‘helped’ you to your car. The lab pulled a clear print off of your jacket sleeve. That’s what convinced him to confess. No other way he could have touched your jacket.
“He and Maggie took you out to that hairpin curve up in the canyon. More mistakes. He left cigarette butts and a joint in your car. Also, he’s a lot shorter than you. The seat in the LTD was moved forward too far for you to have been driving. To top it all off, I found a rock under your seat. Must have rolled under there when they towed it to the station. They put you in the driver’s seat and put that rock on the accelerator. Then, Drake released the emergency brake and off you went.”
“Blam,” Huggy said. Both men glared at him. “Sorry.”
“So, he killed Maggie to cover his tracks?” Hutch asked.
Huggy said, “Is this guy a few pool balls short of a rack? How’d he figure no one would guess that it wasn’t an accident?”
“Yeah, he ain’t strung too tight anymore. Prison kinda whacked him, I guess.”
Hutch added, “Lotta criminals think they’re smarter than the cops, Hug.”
The three men discussed the clues Starsky, Sean, and Jack had used to solve the case, including the nature of Hutch’s injuries. They were still discussing the many twists in this strange case when Helen and Doctor Edson walked into the room. They were surprised to see that the uniformed officer was no longer on duty outside Hutch’s room. The danger having passed, Starsky sent him home.
“David,” Helen said in greeting, her smile quickly turning to a look of concern when she saw Starsky’s face and the blood stains on his light colored jacket. He hadn’t noticed them. “Oh, my God. Are you all right?”
Starsky stood up and hugged her. “Yes, Mom. Bad guy’s in jail, and your boy is safe. All’s right with my world.” He kissed her on the cheek and let her take his seat.
“Why didn’t I see you in my emergency room, Detective?” Edson asked.
“It’s nothing, Doc. I keep telling everyone, I’m fine. Doesn’t look that bad.”
Edson ignored him. He pulled out his penlight and checked Starsky’s pupils. “Follow my finger with your eyes,” he said, silencing Starsky’s impending protest with a glare, which was mirrored by the man in the hospital bed.
“Can you please look at his hand, too?” Hutch asked.
Continuing the impromptu exam, Edson declared, “You’re right. Doesn’t look that bad.” He paused long enough for Starsky to smile in triumph, then he burst his bubble. “But it DOES look like about five stitches. The good news? I think the hand is just bruised. If you’ll sit down, I’ll go get a suture kit and take care of that cut. Didn’t you notice it’s still bleeding?”
“I did,” Huggy and Hutch said simultaneously.
“Why don’t you just tell me what kind of car you got?” Starsky wheedled as he drove Hutch toward Merle’s garage.
“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Hutch replied, his eyes full of mischief.
He knew how surprised Starsky was going to be. Hutch’s father had given him the car. Mr. Hutchinson’s law firm always had a couple of company vehicles and they replaced them every five years. He smiled as he remembered the conversation.
“Dad, I can’t take it,” he’d protested.
“Nonsense, of course you can. I can’t get much for it, don’t worry about it.”
Hutch sighed into the phone. “Dad, I have to pay you for it.”
In as stern a voice as he could manage, Richard Hutchinson said, “That’s enough, Kenneth. You never let us do anything to help you. I’ve played along with your ‘be your own man’ wishes for a long time. Not this time. This time, I get to be your dad. If you insist, we’ll take it out of your inheritance.” He started to lose his edge when he heard Hutch’s soft laughter from the other end of the line. “Really, son. Please?”
Hutch thought about it for a moment. “All right, Dad. Thanks. Make it the most banged up one. Okay?”
The car was delivered directly to Merle’s the week after Hutch was released from the hospital. Merle promised to make the modifications Hutch had requested in time for his return to work. Somehow, the shiny white Ford Crown Victoria just didn’t fit with Hutch’s personality. Starsky hadn’t seen it, didn’t know what kind of car it was, and Merle was sworn to secrecy.
“Morning, Starkinson,” Merle said as the two men walked toward him. The feisty mechanic told them once they were interchangeable. That was why he called them that.
“Is she ready?” Hutch asked.
“As promised,” Merle said. He walked the men across the lot to where a large car sat under a tarp. “You know, I AM an artiste. Even the Earl hasn’t ever done a job quite like this one.”
“Nothing furry, though,” Hutch stated. “You promised.”
“To spec,” came the reply.
When Merle pulled back the tarp, Starsky was stunned. The five-year-old car looked like it had been straightened out after several wrecks. The rear bumper wasn’t straight, the right front quarter-panel had a basketball-sized dent in it, and it wasn’t exactly painted. The once-proud Crown Victoria appeared to be a mix of bondo, primer gray, and oxidized California Tan enamel.
“Your dad’s employees drove this thing?” Starsky said in dismay.
“Haven’t you got eyes?” Merle said with a smile. “Check it out real close. Like your partner says, this car’s got inner flash.” He walked away laughing.
“Get in,” Hutch said.
Begrudgingly, Starsky opened the passenger side door, amazed that it didn’t stick, and stood there, gaping.
“Your car has outer flash, Gordo. I wanted this one to blend. We’ll use it when we need a non-descript vehicle, just like we did the last one. I had custom bucket seats put in it, to keep you from sliding around when we’re chasing bad guys. There’s a rack underneath for the Mars light, and an organizer in the glove box for all of our cop gadgets.”
All that remained was for them to take the car to Metro for a radio, the rifle rack, and the other police issued equipment it would need.
“Here’s your key,” Hutch said, dangling a new key ring from the end of his finger.
Starsky noticed that the key ring had a letter on each side. One was an M and the other was a T. He got it right away -- “Me and Thee.”
“Back to work, partner?” Hutch said.
“Glad you’re back, buddy. I like the car.” He patted Hutch’s shoulder and they shared a look for a moment, both of them glad everything was going to be fine. Hutch’s vision was completely well, and his other injuries were healed enough for him to return to light duty. Active duty would be just one more week.
“I’ll drive,” they both said together.