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Claustrophobia

Written by Valerie Wells

 

Part 1

“Hutch!” Starsky hissed. He crouched down and peered around the corner, but there was still no sign of his partner. Dammit. Where the hell is he?

He tried to calm his fast-beating heart and slow his breathing so he could hear better. It was deathly still in the hotel hallway. No sound of a scuffle, no voices. Nothing. When the bomb threat had been called in a couple of hours ago, the staff had cleared the floor and evacuated the hotel. He and Hutch and several other officers had waited for the bomb squad to search the place, but then a man holed up in a vacant room had called the switchboard, hysterically threatening to detonate the bombs unless he was given passage to Venezuela -- of all places! Starsky thought disgustedly -- and $100,000.

So all the officers had dispersed over the floor, trying to find which room he was in -- or the bombs. Starsky and Hutch had stationed themselves at opposite ends of the hall, hoping to surprise the man. But since Hutch had vanished around the next corner, Starsky hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him. Or any of the other officers. But the other officers weren’t his responsibility. Hutch was.

Starsky peered around the corner again and thought he caught a flash of blond hair. The hallway was only dimly lit, for atmosphere, Starsky supposed. But that golden hair always caught any light available. “Hutch!” he hissed again.

Then the blond head appeared as Hutch peeked around a large artificial plant and made a shushing motion with his free hand. The other held his gun, and he gestured frantically at the door next to the plant. Starsky understood. The perp was in that room. Hutch beckoned to Starsky, and Starsky darted soundlessly down the hallway.

Hutch grabbed his jacket sleeve and yanked him a little way down the hall, then bent his head close and whispered, “I heard him in there talking to himself. Saying crazy stuff. Talking about how he was gonna get away before the Nazis got him. I think he said ‘Nazis.’ Hell, who knows. Anyway, maybe if we bust in there suddenly we can grab him before he detonates the bomb.”

“If there is a bomb,” Starsky whispered back. “Maybe he’s fakin’ that part.”

“I don’t think I want to take that chance, Starsk,” Hutch said dryly. “Do you?”

Starsky shook his head.

“Whattya think? Wanna try it?”

Starsky nodded. “Okay. Might as well.”

Both tiptoed back down to the door, took positions on either side of it, and then Hutch reared back and gave the door a mighty kick which sent it crashing inward. Starsky dove through low, Hutch high, as they always did, guns drawn and pointed at a man who, Starsky saw with a sinking heart and a cold feeling in his gut, was covered in sticks of dynamite, wire, some kind of electronic device, and was holding a switch in one hand and one hell of a big handgun in the other, pointed straight at them. “Huuuuuuutch!” he hollered, his finger tightening on the trigger, but before he could pull it, the man shot, and Hutch fell on top of Starsky without making a sound. Yanking his gun hand free from Hutch, Starsky shot the man, but even though Starsky knew he’d hit the man in the center of the chest -- he saw it hit -- the perp coolly shot again, this time hitting Starsky. The impact knocked him backward into the frame of the bathroom door, stunning him temporarily and making him drop his gun. He blinked, trying to clear his head.

“Bulletproof vest,” the man said, walking over and kicking Starsky’s gun out of his reach. The man’s eyes were the lightest gray Starsky had ever seen, and absolutely empty. He stood over the two men, then gave Hutch, whose eyes were closed, a contemptuous kick. “You think I’m gonna let you bastards take me out? Fuckin’ forget it!” He grinned slowly and walked around the two men a couple of times, still grinning, then pulled a passkey out of a pocket. “See ya. Pigs.” He left the room.

Starsky grimaced against the pain in his shoulder, but by moving very slowly, managed to get to a seated position and pull Hutch up on his lap. Hutch’s color had faded completely away. His face was the color of chalk. But he was still breathing.

“Hutch? Hutch? Come on, buddy. Open your eyes. Hutch?” Starsky fought his rising panic. He pulled Hutch’s jacket open and saw a huge red stain spreading over his partner’s shirt -- right above his belt. “Oh, my God,” he breathed, quickly unbuttoning the shirt and yanking Hutch’s t-shirt out of his jeans so he could see how bad it was. It was bad. Hutch had taken a shot right in the gut.

He didn’t have a radio. They were supposed to be quiet, so Dobey had told them not to take them in -- and they’d also been afraid of accidentally detonating the bomb themselves with the frequency. Dammit! Of all times not to have a fuckin’ radio!

He didn’t know where the perp had gone. Hutch needed help, and he needed it right now. Starsky looked toward the telephone, but the bomber had ripped it out of the wall. All the other rooms on this floor were locked, and Starsky knew without trying that he didn’t have the strength to kick any doors in now.

Starsky eased Hutch down on the floor and crawled to the door. His right arm was on fire from the shoulder down, and he could feel warm blood seeping through his shirt, soaking it. He was dizzy and sick to his stomach, but somehow he managed to get as far as the doorway and peek through it. There was no sign of the perp, in either direction. The elevator was right down the hall, maybe 100 yards, maybe not that far. Starsky turned and looked at Hutch. There was only one thing to do. Somehow, he had to get Hutch to that elevator and down to the lobby, where they could call for help.

Part 2

Starsky knew he couldn’t carry Hutch on his best day, and this wasn’t it. He crawled back to Hutch, fighting his own dizziness, and checked his pulse and breathing. He wasn’t happy with the state of either one, but at least Hutch was still doing both. Reaching in through the bathroom door, Starsky grabbed as many towels as he could reach and covered Hutch’s wound with them, tucking the t-shirt back in to keep them there. He then wet another and tried, again, to bring Hutch back to consciousness. Nothing.

“Shit!” he swore aloud, then regretted it. He didn’t want the perp coming back. Let the others deal with him. He heaved his partner up to a half-sitting position, wrapped his left arm around Hutch’s middle, then picked up his gun in his right hand. Moving slowly, painfully, inch by inch, Starsky dragged Hutch’s inert form into the hallway and started the long trip down to the elevator. He had to stop often to rest, because his own loss of blood was beginning to make the hallway swim before his eyes. He used the wet towel to wipe his face, dripping with perspiration.

If that son-of-a-bitch comes back, we’re sitting ducks, Starsky thought miserably, his shoulder and head both throbbing, his breath coming in ragged gasps as he crept backward down the hall, crawling, pulling Hutch with one arm.

So far, Hutch hadn’t even groaned. Hadn’t moved. Hadn’t opened his eyes. His breathing was too shallow. The chalk-white of his face had given way to a frightening gray.

Starsky pulled again, fighting against his darkening vision, panting with the exertion. He looked again. The elevator didn’t look much closer than it had when he started. Where the hell is everybody? He hadn’t heard any more shots. That was one very small comfort.

He didn’t know how long it took -- though it seemed like hours -- but he finally looked back and saw the elevator right behind him. Still holding Hutch, he reached up with his right hand and a stab of such excruciating pain went through his shoulder that he involuntarily gasped. He changed hands and this time managed to hit the “down” button. Several seconds passed before the door opened, and Starsky summoned the last of his strength to drag himself and Hutch through the door and into the elevator. Gasping in ragged, painful breaths, he hit the button marked “L” and sank against the wall, still cradling his unconscious partner.

“It’s gonna be okay, buddy,” he said, stroking the blond hair away from Hutch’s eyes. “We’re gonna make it now.”

He felt the elevator start down the shaft, shaking a little, but was too exhausted to even open his eyes. Then he heard a deafening BOOM which shook the whole building. The lights went out. And the elevator stopped dead.

It was pitch black in the elevator, except for a dim, flickering red light on the keypad.

“Starsk?” Hutch’s voice came weakly through the darkness. “Starsky?”

He felt Hutch’s hand groping against his chest and took it with a reassuring squeeze. “It’s okay, buddy,” he said, trying to sound sure of himself, though his heart sank. He knew what had happened. And he didn’t know what the hell to do about it.

“What...what was...that?”

“I think the bastard just blew himself up, pal,” Starsky said.

“Is that why...it’s dark?” Hutch’s voice was barely more than a whisper, and Starsky, holding his friend’s hand against his chest, could feel how weakly his pulse was fluttering.

Starsky leaned his head against the wall of the elevator, unable to see a damn thing. “We’re trapped in an elevator, buddy. I was takin’ you down to get help. We both been shot, Hutch. But when the bomb blew...” he stopped and took a breath to steady his voice, “...the elevator stopped.”

Hutch was silent, and Starsky turned his eyes and realized what the flickering red light was -- the emergency phone.

“Hutch,” he said gently, “you’re gonna have to get off my lap for a minute. I can’t reach the phone.”

“Phone?”

“The emergency phone, buddy.” Starsky struggled out of his jacket, folded it up, and eased Hutch off his lap, using the jacket as a pillow. He reached over and felt for the door to the emergency phone. But when he found it, it didn’t work. He didn’t know whether to cry or cuss, but just then Hutch groaned, such a painful groan that Starsky forgot about the phone for the moment. Instead, he felt his way back to Hutch and pulled him up into his lap again, stroking his hair and his upper arms and making soothing sounds.

“It hurts, Starsk,” Hutch gasped, clinging to Starsky’s arms with both hands. His breathing was ragged.

“I know, buddy. I know it does. Lay still now, huh? Take it easy.”

“Didja...did you call for help?”

Starsky bit his lip. “I can’t, buddy. Phone don’t work.”

“What?” Hutch gripped Starsky’s arms tighter. “It’s gotta. They got...they got backup...systems.”

Starsky grinned a little. Trust Hutch to be convinced that technology always works. But he sobered again almost immediately. “God only knows what this place looks like, Hutch,” he said grimly. “That guy had enough dynamite wrapped around him to blow the place to kingdom come. Half the building may have fallen down around us.”

Hutch groaned again, but this time it wasn’t a groan of pain so much as despair.

“Ssshh, buddy,” Starsky said gently. “Maybe it ain’t that bad. They know we’re here. They’re bound to find us.”

“They don’t know we’re in the elevator,” Hutch said bleakly.

Starsky shuddered inwardly. Hutch was right.

~*~*~*~

Long moments passed while both men tried to think of a way out, but neither one could. Starsky, every now and then, would pick up Hutch’s wrist and feel for his pulse, or lay a hand against his chest to feel his breathing. Hutch fought against unconsciousness and tried not to let on how much pain he was in, to spare Starsky. And Starsky tried not to let on how much pain he was in, to spare Hutch.

But the time came when Hutch reached up to hang on to Starsky as a wave of pain went through him so suddenly and so fiercely that he had to fight not to cry out, and as he grabbed at Starsky’s arm, he felt him flinch, hard. “Starsk? What’s the matter?”

It took a moment before Starsky could trust his voice to answer, “Nothin’.”

“Starsk.” Hutch waited, and when he got no answer but Starsky’s attempt to breathe normally, he remembered, dimly, Starsky saying they’d both been shot. “Where were you hit, buddy?”

A long silence, then, “Right arm.”

“Where?” Hutch tried to sit up, but couldn’t. His midsection was one great wave of pain, and he was so weak he knew he’d lost a lot of blood.

“Shoulder,” Starsky finally said.

“How bad?”

“Bad enough.”

“Fuck.” He couldn’t say more just then, biting his lip as pain gripped him and an involuntary moan escaped.

“Hutch?”

“I’m...I’m okay,” Hutch managed after a moment.

“We gotta get outta here,” Starsky said, reaching blindly for the phone and trying it again. Still nothing.

“We’re just gonna have to wait for help,” Hutch said, unable to reach behind him now for Starsky, and settling for a weak but comforting pat on the blue-jeaned leg instead.

Starsky’s left arm squeezed briefly. “Maybe I could find a way through the top of this damn thing.”

“Come on, Starsky. You can’t shinny up there in your condition,” Hutch said, trying hard to put some strength into his voice.

“Neither can you,” Starsky pointed out. “You’re in worse shape than me.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Hutch said, trying to joke, but it fell flat.

Starsky gently eased his legs out straight, trying not to jar Hutch too much, and got his partner into a leaning position against him, with his legs on either side of Hutch. That helped make both of them a little more comfortable. Hutch gave a little sigh and leaned his head back against Starsky’s chest. Starsky laid his cheek against the top of Hutch’s head and closed his eyes. “We’re in a bad spot, buddy.”

“I know,” came the quiet reply.

“How ya feel?”

“Like somebody built a campfire in my gut and they keep adding more wood. You?”

“I’ve been better.” In spite of the pain, Starsky reached down to feel the towels he’d packed on Hutch’s abdomen. He could feel how wet they were even in the darkness and grimaced. Shit. He’s still bleeding.

“Starsk.”

“Yeah, buddy.”

“We could die in here.”

Starsky winced and blinked hard to keep the tears back. “No, we won’t. They’ll find us in time. Don’t worry.”

“Starsky.” Hutch groped and found Starsky’s hands, and gripped them in both of his, holding them gently against his chest. “They might not. We gotta face that.”

“Come on,” Starsky said. “We’re too tough for that. We been through so much--”

“That’s what I mean,” Hutch said slowly. “We always made it before, yeah. But if we don’t this time...” he stopped, and Starsky waited, sensing he shouldn’t interrupt. “I’ve said this before, but I always made it sound like a joke,” Hutch finally went on. Another long silence. “I love you, buddy.”

Starsky couldn’t hold back the tears this time. And he could tell by the ragged breathing of the man leaning against him that Hutch wasn’t trying to, either. He didn’t trust his voice. Instead, he again laid his cheek against the silky blond hair he couldn’t see and tightened his grip on the hands he still held. After an even longer silence, he managed to whisper, “I love you, too, buddy.”

There didn’t seem to be a lot more to say.

 

Starsky lost track of time. His watch didn’t have a glow-in-the-dark dial and neither of them had a light of any kind. Sitting in the darkness, feeling Hutch’s breathing get more shallow and his pulse get weaker, Starsky could do nothing but wait, and pray. He hadn’t prayed much since he was a boy, but he did now, fiercely, especially after Hutch lost consciousness again and the dead weight (no,not dead, please, God, don’t let him die! ) made his legs go to sleep and his hope slowly shrink to nothing. But he wouldn’t have moved Hutch away for the world, not if his whole damned body went to sleep. If they were going to go, they would go together. And even if Hutch wasn’t aware of it, Starsky would hang onto him and give what little comfort he could by his touch. Though he had to admit, if only to himself, that he was drawing as much comfort as he was giving.

Part 4

Hutch moved restlessly and moaned, but didn’t come out of it. Starsky had been dozing a little, but that brought him round, and he felt Hutch’s face. It was clammy. The towels were even wetter with blood. And thirst and the need to relieve himself was making Starsky even more miserable, if possible. How many hours had they been here? For once, Starsky wished he was a smoker. Then, at least, he’d have a lighter or matches with him and could see his watch. Or try to find a way out. Although he was so weak himself he doubted he could even stand up at this point, much less be able to jump high enough to get through a trapdoor -- if there even was a trap door.

“Starsk...” Hutch’s voice was so weak and pitiful it wrung Starsky’s heart. He stroked Hutch’s head.

“Yeah, babe? I’m right here. Ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“I’m...afraid...I can’t...see.”

Starsky’s insides twisted with pain at that. He had a sudden vision of Terry, turning sightlessly toward him on a playground, saying almost the same words: “Dave, I can’t see.” Hutch had been his rock through all that -- through everything -- the one constant in his life was Hutch. “You can’t see because there’s no light in here, buddy. Nothin’ wrong with your eyes. I promise.”

Hutch didn’t answer, and Starsky gently felt his face. His eyes were closed. It had only been a momentary return of consciousness. He was still breathing, shallowly, painfully, but still breathing.

 

Some time later -- Starsky couldn’t tell how long -- he couldn’t deny the need to relieve himself any longer. He shrank from it, but he had to do it. He gently laid Hutch down on the floor, on the still rolled-up jacket, and dragged himself to the far side of the elevator, where he did what he had to do, then crawled back, breathing hard, exhausted from even that little effort.

He looked up, even though he couldn’t see. Gotta be a trapdoor. He reached for where the handrail ought to be on the wall, and found it. Gripping it tight with both hands, he tried to stand up. He got up about halfway and got so dizzy he had to wait several moments before he dared try to continue. Finally, with a deep breath and a mighty effort, he managed to stand. But he immediately realized it was no use. It was too dark to figure out how far it was to the ceiling, and his knees were wobbling so badly he knew he couldn’t summon the strength necessary to get up there.

He sank back down to the floor and once more pulled Hutch against his chest, finding what comfort he could in the warm weight.

Part 5

Every now and then, he tried the phone in the vain hope that, by some miracle, it would work. But it never did. He tried calling out loud for help, though he was afraid it would disturb Hutch, but Hutch never stirred, no matter how loud Starsky yelled and beat on the door. And no one came, either.

Hutch had another few moments of lucidity much later. He moved, then tried to roll over onto his side, giving a sudden cry of pain and freezing where he was.

“Easy, boy,” Starsky said gently. “Don’t thrash around. Lay still. You’re hurt, remember? We’re waiting for help to come.”

“I remember,” Hutch said in a hoarse whisper. “You okay?”

“I’m okay,” Starsky said, though he had been getting colder and colder as time wore on, so that he’d retrieved his jacket and put it back on. It had helped, but not much.

Hutch groped for his hand and squeezed, but so weakly it scared Starsky. “You’re...cold,” he said.

“Yeah. But it’s not too bad,” Starsky fibbed, reassuringly squeezing Hutch’s hand and then rubbing it when he realized Hutch, too, was cold.

“Starsk--”

“Yeah?” When Hutch didn’t answer, Starsky said, “Hutch? What is it?”

But Hutch only mumbled incoherently. A few words were recognizable, but they didn’t make sense, and Starsky pulled him closer. Oh, God.

~*~*~*~

“I’ve got missing men in that building!” Dobey thundered at the rescue squad, who had sifted through rubble for a whole day already and found only bodies so far.

“We’re aware of that, sir,” the other captain said, wiping his sweating face with a red bandanna. “We’re doing our best. But I can’t risk my own men’s lives--”

“My men’s lives are at risk!” Dobey said, wiping his own face against the 90 degree heat and pacing back and forth.

“I know,” Phillips said. He looked toward what used to be a hotel, now little more than a shell. “We’ve sent for a dog. He’ll be here in a little while. Maybe he can find them. How many more are there?”

“Two!” Dobey stopped pacing and looked toward the hotel, too. “Starsky and Hutchinson. I’ve told you that a dozen times. Starsky and Hutchinson!”

“Sir,” Phillips said hesitantly, “perhaps you should...well, it’s unlikely they’ve survived.”

Dobey grabbed the man by the jacket. “I want them found, Captain. You understand me? I want them found!”

Phillips backed away. “Yes, sir. We’ll resume the search as soon as the dog arrives.”

~*~*~*~

Starsky bit his lip and tried not to notice the pain in his shoulder, which had been growing steadily until he thought he couldn’t stand it another moment. He’d gotten so sick and cold and woozy that he was having trouble holding his head up. And Hutch hadn’t moved for many long, long minutes, perhaps hours. The towels under his shirt were now completely soaked. He couldn’t last much longer. And Starsky was beginning to think he couldn’t, either.

“Hutch? Buddy? Come on, wake up.”

It would be easier if Hutch would just talk to him. Even if he was incoherent, if he could just hear Hutch’s voice, just once more.

“Hutch, please!”

Finally, a weak, “Starsk?”

Starsky breathed a sigh of relief. “How ya doin’, buddy? You hangin’ in there?”

“It...it hurts.”

“I know.”

“Nobody’s...nobody’s coming, are they?” Hutch said, barely able to form the words.

“They’re comin’,” Starsky said firmly. “You don’t think Dobey’s sittin’ on his ass, do ya? They’re lookin’. I know they are.” He felt Hutch’s weak attempt to reach for him, but the hand fell limply to the floor. Starsky reached for it, picked it up, but there was no answering grip. Hutch just didn’t have it in him anymore. “Come on, boy, hang on,” he whispered desperately. “You gotta hang on.”

“I’m trying.”

“I know you are.” Starsky held on tight, as if he could keep Hutch alive by force of will alone. “Stick with me. We’ll get out of this. I promise.”

Hutch smiled a little in the darkness, even though Starsky couldn’t see it. He didn’t have the strength to speak again.

 

Eventually, Hutch lost consciousness again, and after a long time more, so did Starsky.

 

And when the rescue squad dog alerted at the ruins of the elevator shaft, and the squad forced open the door, they saw the two men, both with blood-soaked shirts, both pale and haggard, in a heap against the wall of the elevator, with Starsky’s arms still around Hutch, Hutch’s head lolling limply against Starsky’s chest, and Starsky’s cheek leaning against the top of Hutch’s head. Both were out cold, and it took two of the rescue squad to unlock the grip Starsky had of Hutch’s hand, to put them into an ambulance and race them to the nearest hospital.

 

TAG

Starsky opened his eyes and immediately squinted them tight against the glare of the overhead light. His right arm was bandaged and bound to his body and an IV dripped steadily into his other arm. He squinted up at it: Blood. His vision was fuzzy. His head ached. But he turned and looked at the other bed and saw the blond hair of his partner spread over the pillow, a huge white bandage over Hutch’s midsection, and watched for several minutes the glad sight of that chest moving up and down in a regular rhythm. “Hutch?” he said softly.

Hutch’s eyes opened and turned painfully in his direction, but they were mostly clear. Blinking, Hutch said, “Starsk? Did we make it?”

Starsky grinned. “Yeah.”

Dobey opened the door just a crack and peeked through. He’d been given his orders by the biggest, meanest nurse he’d ever seen.

“If they’re sleeping, and you wake them up,” she’d said, glaring him down, “you will have to answer to me, Captain, and I don’t care how many men you boss around every day, around here I am the boss. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he’d said, so meekly that none of his officers would have recognized it as his voice.

So he didn’t want to wake Starsky or Hutch up, because he knew as well as anyone that they needed all the rest they could get. When he’d poked his head around the doorway, he saw the two men, lying on their backs, but he couldn’t tell if they were awake or not. He tiptoed into the room, and Starsky turned his head. “Captain,” he said, surprised and pleased at the same time. “It’s good to see ya.”

Dobey stretched his neck to look at Hutchinson.

“Hutch is asleep,” Starsky said, understanding. “But you won’t wake him. He’s out cold.”

“How do you feel, Starsky?” Dobey said, a little gruffly. He never knew what to say to his men when they were injured in the line of duty.

“Aw, we’ll be okay eventually,” Starsky said with that 1000-watt grin. “What the hell happened, Cap?”

“The perp set off six bombs, planted in various locations throughout the hotel,” Dobey said. “The rescue squad told me that the only thing that saved you and Hutch was being in that elevator. It was between floors, and it protected you.”

Starsky’s grin faded. “There were no other survivors?”

Dobey shook his head.

“Damn.” Starsky closed his eyes, remembering the six other officers that had been in that hotel. A couple of them had been in the academy with him and Hutch. And they were all good cops.

“You were lucky, Starsky.”

“Yeah,” Starsky said, but without much conviction.

Hutch shifted restlessly and opened his eyes. He blinked at the ceiling for a moment, until he remembered where he was. He looked over, saw Starsky and Dobey, and tried to smile. “Hey, Captain,” he said, his voice reedy and thin.

“Hutch,” Dobey said, his face relaxing into a smile.

“You’re not gonna put us on traffic duty again this time, are ya, Cap?” Starsky asked, the twinkle coming back into his eye as he remembered the last time both of them had been injured, when Hutch pretended to have amnesia to punish Starsky for wrecking the car.

Dobey couldn’t help laughing, and even Hutch gave a grin.

 

The End

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