Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made from it. No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.
Thanks to Julie, the artist for this piece, who graciously agreed to allow us to publish her beautiful drawings along with this story.
We thank our publishers, Keri and Paula, who printed this story in their Zine, Venice Place Times I, in October 2001. We also thank our editor, Donna Engle, who helps us look as good as we possibly can. Their support and friendship is a treasure. This was only the second story we wrote together as partners, so it has a special place in our hearts.
This is Part I of IV.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring
Detectives Ken Hutchinson and Dave Starsky drove their separate cars to work that morning. Hutch had to leave for an appointment at his attorney's office and Starsky agreed to stay late and finish their paperwork so he could go. He didn't know what his partner was up to, but he knew Hutch would tell him when he was ready.
They had been working hard on a drug running case. Homicide was a little light in the city at the moment and Captain Dobey had loaned his two best detectives to the narcotics team to help break this case. Earlier in the day, they had finally made an arrest. One of the drug runners had been snared in a trap they set for him. Terrified of prison, the man wanted to make a deal. He had already given them valuable information on the group's plans. Starsky wrapped up the paperwork and headed to Hutch's to discuss their next steps.
When Hutch returned to Venice Place after his appointment, he had no idea he wasn't alone. Word of the arrest had quickly reached some of the higher ups in the drug cartel they were chasing. Another drug gang member had seen the arrest go down and had gotten away. He recognized Starsky and Hutch. Finding out where the blond detective lived had been a disturbingly simple matter.
As Hutch walked toward the kitchen, he heard the familiar sound of a gun being cocked and he froze.
"Good evening, Detective," the voice behind him said. "Turn around slowly and keep your hands where I can see them."
Hutch did as he was instructed. Two men were standing in his apartment holding him at gunpoint. Hutch recognized one of them immediately as Jack Terrel, the head henchman for one of the biggest drug lords in the area. The detectives had arrested Terrel on a possession charge early in their partnership and he still bore a grudge against them for the time he had served. The other man moved toward him and disarmed him. He didn't recognize the second man, but he was a giant. Must be one of Terrel's goons.
"What do you want, Terrel?" Hutch asked. His irritation was evident in his tightly controlled tone. His stomach was already twisting into a knot with the realization that he and Starsky had stumbled onto a big fish with this current case.
"Why, we want you, Hutchinson. You are going to help us complete our next delivery."
"You're crazy. I'm not going to help you," Hutch snarled at him.
"Oh, but you are. If you don't, we'll kill your partner. Why don't you just behave yourself and maybe neither one of you will get hurt."
That certainly had Hutch's attention. He hadn't seen Starsky in a couple of hours. Possibly, these goons had done something to him already. He started to say something else when he heard the distinctive sounds of the Torino as it pulled to a stop on the street underneath the open front windows. Terrel heard it, too, and he crossed to peek out the window, still training his gun on Hutch.
He and the other man ducked into the bathroom, ordering Hutch to keep his mouth shut and to get rid of his partner. "You make a false move and he's dead." The man knew how to control Hutch. "I've got someone in my van down there. If you come down those stairs with anyone other than me, he has orders to kill whoever it is. Especially if it's your partner." Terrel closed the door almost shut, leaving a crack he could peek through to keep an eye on the two detectives.
Hutch had no doubt the man would make good on his threat. He frantically tried to think of an excuse to get Starsky out of the apartment without him figuring out something was wrong.
Starsky bounded up the stairs and knocked on the front door. "Hey, Blondie, open up!"
Hutch took a deep breath, formulating what he hoped was a good lie in his mind as he opened the door. "Hey."
He walked away from the door, putting his best undercover face on so he could fool Starsky. He prayed his partner didn't need the facilities, but Starsky headed straight for the refrigerator, pulling out a soda to drink.
"Wanna talk about tomorrow?"
I forgot, we're supposed to plan tomorrow's action. Hutch quickly regrouped in his head.
When Starsky finally turned around to look at Hutch, he couldn't quite put his finger on what looked funny to him, but something wasn't right.
"Yeah, but let's do it over dinner, okay?" He figured that wouldn't be a hard sell.
"Great. Why don't you head on over there, I'm gonna get cleaned up and I'll meet you."
Starsky looked at him closely. "You all right, Blintz ?"
Hutch did his best to hide his panic from his partner. He had to sell this and do it quickly.
"Yeah, of course, why?" Hutch did his best to sound casual.
"Don't you wanna ride down there together?" Starsky asked curiously.
Hutch had a ready answer for that and he hoped it would be enough. "I was thinking we could drop my car off at Merle's on the way back home. Almost didn't want to start again this afternoon and it's missing again."
The lie worked. Starsky was always on him to at least let Merle take a look at the car for him. "Okay. See you there in thirty?"
"That's great, thanks."
Hutch watched in relief as his partner left, but he didn't really relax until he heard the Torino pull away from the curb.
Terrel and his accomplice walked back into the room. "Very good, Hutchinson. Quite a performance."
"What's the plan, Terrel?" Hutch was worried about what would come next, but relieved he had gotten Starsky out of danger.
"Well, we hear you busted one of our runners this morning. No doubt he has already told you about our plans for tomorrow."
"I don't know what you're talkin' about. The man hasn't been in the lockup long enough to say much of anything. He hasn't even been arraigned." Hutch knew the lie wouldn't fool Terrel, but he had to attempt it.
"Nice try, Detective. Now, you're coming with us. We'll just give your partner a call later and warn him to keep everyone away from tomorrow's activities, if he wants you to live."
Hutch smirked at him, looking as confident as he could. "No way, Terrel. Starsky won't go for it and even if he would, the department won't. I'm a cop. Expendable."
"We'll see, Cop. Now move it."
While this discussion was taking place, Starsky had only made it a block from Hutch's place when he realized what had been bothering him. Hutch's holster was empty. No Magnum. Why would he take the gun out but leave the holster on empty? He swung the Torino into a quick u-turn and headed back to Venice Place.
Just as Terrel was telling Hutch to move, Starsky was creeping up the stairs with his gun drawn. Something bad was going on and he wasn't taking any chances. The other gunman heard the sound of someone on the stairs and moved to stand behind the door. When Starsky came through the door in a crouch, his gun pointed at Terrel, the other man quickly hit him across the back of the head with the butt of his pistol, sending Starsky unconscious to the floor.
Hutch took a step toward him, but Terrel pointed his gun at Hutch's head and told him not to move.
"Well, that's unfortunate. Brooks, take him into the bathroom and take care of him."
The other man grunted his understanding, picked Starsky up easily in a fireman's carry and took him into the bathroom. Tod Brooks was not a bright man. He laid Starsky on the floor, pondering what Terrel meant by "take care of him." He decided that must mean to kill him. How to kill him without making a lot of noise, though? He could drown him, but that would take too long. Besides, Starsky might come around and fight him. Suddenly, he had the solution. He pulled out a switchblade, and got to work.
A few minutes later, Hutch heard something clatter to the floor in the bathroom. When Brooks opened the bathroom door, he was horrified at what he saw. A bloody switchblade lay on the floor next to one of Starsky's arms. He could see a large puddle of blood forming under his partner's wrist and he went wild with the realization that the goon must have cut Starsky's wrists. He would bleed to death in minutes if Hutch didn’t help him.
Terrel had turned his gaze away from Hutch when Brooks walked out of the bathroom. He was yelling at the bigger man, "You moron! I didn't tell you to kill him!"
Hutch lunged for Terrel's gun, but Brooks saw what he was doing. Before Terrel could stop him, Brooks aimed at Hutch and fired. As Hutch fell, he hit his head on the sofa table. He lay on the floor bleeding and disoriented. He could hear the conversation going on over him.
"Dammit! Every cop in Bay City is gonna be here inside of five minutes. Check Starsky."
Hutch heard footsteps, then Brooks said, "He's dead."
Terrel yelled again, "Idiot! How's the plan supposed to work now? Bring Hutchinson. We'll take him along anyway. I'll think of something."
Hutch's mind was screaming. He weakly moaned, "No! Starsky!" He felt the big man pick him up as blackness overtook him.
The two men quickly left Venice Place, leaving a trail of Hutch's blood down the stairs. Brooks tossed Hutch into the back of a van the two men had left parked outside. He slid the door closed and opened the front passenger door to get into the van. Terrel aimed his gun at him and said, "Uh-uh, moron. One mistake too many." He fired a single shot, hitting Brooks in the head. The man was dead before he hit the concrete. Terrel sped away in the van. He had lied to Hutch. No other man had been waiting in the van.
Marjorie Taylor, one of Hutch's neighbors, had been out for a walk when she heard the shot coming from the apartment. She jumped at the sound, and stopped on the sidewalk below Hutch's place. She heard the yelling and could make out that someone was about to leave. She quickly ducked into a doorway to hide. From her vantage point she saw the men come out of the building carrying Hutch, but she didn't see his partner. Marjorie recognized Starsky's car parked at the curb across the street.
After the van sped away, Marjorie did something foolish. When she stepped out of her hiding place, she gulped at the sight of the dead man lying on the sidewalk, and then she assumed the bad guys were all gone and raced up the stairs to Hutch's apartment to see if Starsky was there.
Looking around the room, Marjorie took in several things quickly. Blood stained the floor in the living room and there was more on the sofa table. She had also seen a trail of blood on the stairs leading up to the apartment. When her eyes turned toward the bathroom, her heart nearly froze.
"Oh, my God, Starsky!"
Racing into the bathroom, Marjorie took one look at the pale, unconscious man on the floor and knew Starsky was in serious trouble. He still had a weak pulse, but he might bleed to death before help could arrive. Thinking quickly, she reached up and pulled the pony tail holders off of her long, dark braids. She used the elastic bands to help staunch the flow of blood from Starsky's wrists. Then she raced back to the living room, found the phone and called for an ambulance and the police. Cool and collected in an emergency, she had the presence of mind to tell them it was a police officer down, knowing that would get an extra measure of rapid response.
Returning to the bathroom, she grabbed some washcloths. Marjorie used them to apply pressure to both wounds, pulling Starsky's arms up well above his heart in an effort to slow down the bleeding. "Please don't die, Starsky. Help is coming!" she urged him. After what seemed like an eternity, she heard the mixed sounds of various emergency vehicles as they screamed up outside the apartment.
Knowing cops were about to charge in with their weapons drawn, she called out as soon as she heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs, "Help, I'm in here!"
A sandy-haired officer in plain clothes appeared in the bathroom doorway with gun drawn. He took one look and went a little pale. "Starsky? Oh, God. Sean, quick, call an ambulance!"
The other officer backed away, but Marjorie said, "I already called an ambulance."
"Who are you?" the first officer asked, kneeling next to them and feeling the fluttering pulse in Starsky's throat. Starsky gave a low moan but stayed unconscious.
"A neighbor," she said. "Some man took Hutch away in a van."
"Did you get a license number?" As he questioned her, the officer took over keeping pressure on the wounds. Marjorie let him; her own arms were going to sleep from the effort.
"No, just a piece of it," she said. "It all happened so fast."
The second officer – Sean, this one had called him – produced a notebook. "Tell me whatever you can remember."
"It was a dark blue van, a Chevy, with those little round windows in the sides," she said. "There was a dent in the passenger door and a big rusty spot on one of the back doors. California license, ABJ 4 and two more digits, but I didn't get those. I'm sorry."
Sean was staring at her wide-eyed. "That's a damned good description for a quick look."
She shrugged and started to answer when she heard the siren of the approaching ambulance.
"Go tell them we're up here," the first cop told Sean. "Otherwise, they'll see the stiff and waste a lot of time, and Starsky ain't got any to waste."
"Right." Sean launched himself out the door.
Marjorie felt Starsky's forehead and he was too cool – going into shock from loss of blood. "Starsky, dammit, don't you die!" she said, gently patting his cheeks. "Come on, honey, the ambulance is here now."
The attendants hurried in and took charge, leaving Marjorie and the officer to watch. "I'll need your name and address," the officer said to her.
"Shouldn't somebody go with him?" she said, indicating Starsky.
"We'll call his captain," the officer said. "We have to report Hutch missing, too. Did he look hurt or anything?"
She swallowed, suddenly remembering how pale and still Hutch had been. "Yeah. He did."
The first thing Hutch felt when he came to was nauseated. He didn't remember what had happened, but he was lying in a heap on the floor of a van and between the pain in his head and the rocking of the van, he thought he was going to be sick. He raised one shaky hand to his aching head and it came away bloody. Blood...?
Then he remembered. Starsky!
Starsky, lying on his bathroom floor with blood all around him...dead or dying and no one to help him.
His head was foggy and his ears were ringing. He remembered the big goon saying Starsky was dead. Oh, God, Starsk! You can't be dead. Please don't be dead! He knew there was little hope that Starsky was alive now, though. His wrists slashed and blood flowing out at a rapid pace, Starsky probably really was dead before they even left the apartment. Hutch thought about the look on Starsky's face when he burst through the front door, then flashed on the sight of him lying in his own blood. He felt sick.
Despite the fiery pain in his shoulder, Hutch turned to his side and was violently ill. In his pain over the thought that Starsky was dead, he had forgotten he had been shot.
His captor looked back in his direction from the driver's seat. "Great, Hutchinson. Lie down and knock that off or I'll have to gag you." The man let loose an evil laugh. He knew if he gagged Hutch while he was nauseated it could kill him.
He didn't have to tell Hutch twice. As he took a sharp turn, the dizziness overcame Hutch and he passed out again. Jack Terrel pulled into the Mandalay Heights airfield. Terrel was going to fly Hutch out of Bay City and down to Rosarito Beach in Baja California. This would be the first step in a long journey, if the blond cop lived long enough to complete it.
The ambulance carrying Starsky screamed into Memorial's emergency bay. The paramedics quickly transferred the gurney into the hospital. David Starsky was almost out of time.
The emergency team scrambled to save Starsky's life. He had lost much of his blood volume and they immediately started him on O negative blood while they typed and cross-matched him. Dr. James Sorrento wasted no time, "Who's on call for vascular?"
One of the nurses answered, "Dr. Koenig."
"Page him to the O.R. stat. Let's prep him to transfer up there."
Another nurse entered the room with more bags of blood. She recognized Starsky. "Oh, my God, that's David Starsky!"
Dr. Sorrento looked up grimly. "What a mess."
The team cut off Starsky's clothes, throwing everything into a bag, they hung another unit of blood, then they moved him out to the elevator on the way to the operating room. "Hustle, he's bleeding it out as fast as we're putting it in!"
Dr. Sorrento stood and shook his head as the elevator doors closed. "Such a young man."
He turned to the nurse standing next to him and said, "Suicide on the police force is a problem. What a shame." No one had ridden in with Starsky. The doctor made a natural assumption that his patient had tried to kill himself. As he turned away from the elevator, Dr. Sorrento made a silent prayer that he didn't succeed.
Back at Venice Place, the crime lab team was crawling all over every inch looking for clues to what had happened. They were taking pictures of the bloody mess in the bathroom when Captain Dobey appeared at the door.
Dobey hollered at the lab boys, "Don't forget to analyze that blood on the stairs."
A quiet female voice replied, "It's Hutch's blood."
Captain Dobey looked toward the sound and saw a young woman sitting in a chair at Hutch's kitchen table. Her hair hung down in long, partially unwound braids and her clothes were soaked in blood.
One of the lab team boys walked up to Dobey and said, "Slashed his wrists."
Dobey said, "Who did?"
"What!?" His voice was so loud, everyone in the place stopped what they were doing and stared. Dobey looked at them disapprovingly. "Well, don't just stand there, keep moving."
He walked over and sat at the table with the young woman. "I'm Captain Dobey. Hutchinson and his partner are my men."
Marjorie nodded. "Marjorie Taylor. I'm one of Hutch's neighbors. I know them both."
Captain Dobey looked at her with compassion and gently asked, "Can you tell me what happened here?"
Poor Marjorie was beginning to break down a little over everything she had seen. "So much blood. God."
"Starsky's blood?" he asked her kindly.
She nodded. "I tried to stop it." She reached up and touched her hair with a hand covered with dried blood. "Used my pony tail holders." Marjorie looked up at him, her dark brown eyes bright with tears that started to slide down her face. She wiped at them in frustration, "I'm sorry, Captain Dobey. I'm not helping. What can I tell you?"
Dobey was impressed with this young woman. She had obviously run into hell and done a good job of getting things under control. He thought she was entitled to lose it a little now.
"You're doing fine. What did you see?"
Marjorie recounted everything she had told the other officers. She told them how she had heard the gunshot and the argument from the sidewalk below. Marjorie had watched the man who drove away in the van shoot the dead man in the head. She pointed at the bloodstains on Hutch's floor and on the sofa table. The crime lab team had gotten blood and blond hairs off of the table.
"When I saw Starsky, I called for an ambulance. I told them there was an officer down. I thought they might go faster. Was that okay?" She looked lost and sad.
"Good thinking. Do you know what happened to Starsky?" Captain Dobey refused to believe Starsky had slashed his own wrists.
Marjorie shook her head. "I thought I heard Hutch scream 'No, Starsky!' just before the gunshot, but I'm not sure. I tried to help him. So much blood."
"Thank you," Captain Dobey said. "I'll have one of my officers take you home."
Her head snapped up at that, "No, I want to go to the hospital. He shouldn't be alone. "
How could Dobey deny her this request? She had acted so bravely and if Starsky lived, he would have her to thank for it.
"I'm going there in a few minutes. Would you like to clean up first?
She looked at her clothes and held her hands out in front of her, really noticing the dried blood and how much of it was on her. "Yes, thank you. I won't take long. Please wait."
Dobey held out his hand to help her to her feet. He watched her walk out of the apartment to go home. I hope it was enough too.
It was dark when Hutch came to again. At least he didn't feel like throwing up anymore, but his stomach was empty and rolling still. His shoulder was on fire with the pain from the bullet wound there and his headache was, if anything, worse.
But the pain in his heart hurt worst of all. He couldn't get the picture of Starsky lying there bleeding out of his mind, and he had no way of knowing if his buddy was dead or alive.
As his head cleared, he realized they weren't moving anymore. He blinked and raised his head a little to look around. He was in some sort of shelter, dirty and dark, lying on a dirt floor. He could hear the sounds of night insects outside but nothing else. No traffic. No voices. And except for himself, the shelter was empty. He struggled to a sitting position, gritting his teeth against the throbbing pain in his shoulder. The blood had dried and matted in his hair and his shirtsleeve was stiff with blood, too. So the bleeding had stopped. That was an encouraging sign, since Hutch was reasonably sure Terrel wasn't going to take him to a doctor.
His eyes adjusted a little to the dimness and he could make out the door. The shed appeared to be one of those small wooden garden sheds some people had in their backyards, but Hutch couldn't begin to guess where he was. There wasn't room to stand, and he wasn't too sure he could stand up, anyway, so he crawled over to the door and tried it. Locked. Of course. And with one arm all but useless, he didn't think he could break it down. He reached into his pocket for his watch, but it was gone. So was his wallet, his police ID and his holster.
Voices. Several yards away, but in the unearthly quiet of the night, the voices carried clearly to Hutch, listening in the shed.
"¿Debemos checar al gringo?" ("Should we look in on the American?")
"¿Por qué?" ("Why?")
"Podria estar muerto." ("He could be dead.")
A short laugh. "Hutchinson? No."
"Si está muerto, el señor estará muy enojado con nosotros." ("If he's dead, the man will be very angry with us.")
Low muttering, then footsteps approached the shed. Hutch immediately lay back down and shut his eyes. He was in no condition to try to overpower two men, and if they found him conscious, they might well do something else to him. He needed time to regain his strength.
The door opened and someone knelt beside him, felt his pulse, and pried one eye open.
"Está vivo. Cuídelo." ("Alive. You guard him.")
The door closed again and one set of footsteps retreated. Hutch heard the other man sit down and lean against the door, then he heard the sound of a lighter flicking. In a moment, he could smell marijuana burning.
Dobey and Marjorie arrived at the hospital while Starsky was still in surgery. No one was willing to tell them anything other than that he was being treated. So there was nothing they could do but wait.
In a couple of hours, a man wearing a suit and tie approached. "Captain Dobey?"
Dobey stood. "I'm Dobey."
"Dr. Petersen," the man said. "I'm a psychiatrist. We're admitting Mr. Starsky to the psychiatric ward if he survives the surgery."
"What?" Dobey roared, making Marjorie jump, and even the doctor took a step back.
"It's standard procedure in attempted suicides," the doctor said coldly.
"Starsky did not attempt suicide!" Dobey shouted. "He was attacked, and his partner was kidnapped! You are not admitting one of my best officers to the psych ward!"
"Captain," Petersen said, obviously trying to remain calm, "he slit his wrists."
Dobey opened his mouth again, but stopped when he saw Sean Cavanaugh hurrying down the corridor toward him. "Captain!" Cavanaugh called. "We lifted a good set of prints off the knife in the bathroom."
"The man who was shot outside Hutch's. Tod Brooks," Cavanaugh said, stopping next to Dobey and nodding at Marjorie and the doctor. "Dumb as a porch post, that guy. He's got a record a mile long. Hill's going through his files now trying to figure out who he mighta been workin' with because we figure that's who's got Hutch."
"Good work," Dobey said. He turned to the doctor and with exaggerated patience, added, "Don't you suppose Starsky's fingerprints would have been on that knife if he'd slit his own wrists, doctor?"
"What?" Cavanaugh stared at the doctor. "You thought Starsky tried to kill himself? No way! How's Starsky doin', Cap'n?"
"He's still in surgery."
"Damn." Cavanaugh shook his head. "You stayin' with him, then?"
"Then I'll get back to the precinct. You want me and Jack to stick with this, don't you?"
"Top priority," Dobey said.
"Right. I'll keep you posted. And I'll light a candle for the both of them soon's I get a chance, too." Cavanaugh turned to go, but as he passed the doctor, he muttered, loud enough to be heard, "Starsky commit suicide? No way...."
Captain Dobey turned back to the shocked psychiatrist. "Would you please tell them to check him for a blow to the head, too? If they think he slit his wrists, they probably didn't look for that. I guarantee you that David Starsky didn't go down without a fight. Especially if his partner's life was in danger."
Dr. Peterson nodded. "I will. Look, I'm sorry, you have to understand it was a natural assumption."
Dobey's face softened. "Of course, Doc. Just take care of him. I don't want to have to tell his partner if we lose him."
The door to the small shed flew open, letting a sudden shaft of light beam down on Hutch, lying on the ground, bloody and unconscious. The man who had been guarding the door stood aside while another man ducked his head in the doorway and took a step inside. The next thing he did was dump a bucket of cold water on Hutch's head, roughly bringing him back to consciousness.
"Despiérte, poli!" ("Wake up, Cop ")
Hutch groaned and rolled his head from side to side.
"Poli! ¿Hablas español?" ("Cop! You speak Spanish?")
Hutch managed to open his eyes a slit, squinting at the bright light. He wondered why he was hearing Spanish, but he answered, "Sí, un poco" ("Yes, a little")
"Levántese!" ("Get up!")
Hutch obliged, slowly. As he sat up, the shed began to spin. Rough hands grabbed him and hauled him up to his feet. Doing his best to stay on his feet, he felt the hands push his head down low enough to clear the doorframe and he staggered out into the morning breeze. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw he was standing next to a shed in the middle of a field of ocotillo and scrub. Looking to his right, he saw the ocean and felt the salt on his lips. A look at his two guardians and he was suddenly struck with a revelation. Oh, my God, I'm in Mexico.
"Where am I? Uh, dónde estoy?" He didn't believe they'd answer him, but he hoped they might at least confirm that he was in Mexico.
The two men just laughed at him and shoved him forward, toward the cliffs. The pain in his left shoulder was intense. A glance down at his shirt revealed that the bleeding had started again. He tried to reach up and move the shirt aside so he could look at the bullet wound, but his hand was grabbed and jerked behind him. When the guard yanked his left arm behind him to tie his wrists, he cried out from the pain and collapsed to his knees. His captor kicked him down to the ground, finishing the job of tying his wrists while Hutch retched. He had nothing in his stomach.
When the retching stopped, the large man dragged Hutch back to his feet. "Camina, perro!" ("Walk, dog!")
Hutch stumbled and tripped his way down near the edge, directly above the ocean. He blinked from the stinging in his eyes as he recognized Terrel walking toward him. He was holding a gun, a small bag, and a camera. Not a combination that made Hutch very comfortable at the moment.
Trying to sound tough, confident, and unintimidated while bleeding, dizzy, and nauseated is difficult. Hutch contemplated the irony briefly, then he said to Terrel, "What am I doing here? Where is my partner?"
Terrel smiled maliciously. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. All in good time, Hutchinson. Sosténgalo," ("Hold him") Terrel ordered the guards.
The two men each held Hutch securely, while Terrel stepped up to him. He handed the camera to one of the men, holstered his gun and opened up the bag. He pulled out a small jar and a not so small knife. Hutch swallowed hard, trying not to let any fear show on his face.
"What are you doing?"
"Patience, Detective. We have all the time in the world. Well, the rest of your time in it anyway."
Terrel pulled Hutch's sleeve up and dug the knife into the flesh of his upper left arm. Hutch gritted his teeth and fought the urge to pass out from the pain. The next thing Terrel did frightened and confused him. He put the jar up against Hutch's arm and allowed the blood to flow into it.
"Terrel?" he said through clenched teeth.
"You asked about your partner, hero. You don't need to worry about him. It's just you and me now."
Hutch's stomach felt like it had just dropped to his knees. "What do you mean by that crack?"
"Oh, not much. You see, he's dead. No need to worry about him"
"You're lying!" Hutch shouted at him as he tried unsuccessfully to jerk away from the vice-like grip of the guards holding him. His head was pounding, everything hurt, and he was sure he had a fever already. He was in serious trouble and still his heart ached.
"Don't you remember? My moronic assistant took care of him before we left your place. Slashed his wrists as I recall. Pity, such a young man bleeding to death like that. They'll probably think he killed himself."
Hutch struggled against the guards, his rage tiring him even more. He blinked back tears and snapped, "I'm gonna kill you, Terrel. Never pick on a man's partner." Hutch knew how ridiculous that sounded, but he didn't care. He was in shock and furious. Grief stole around his heart like a lead blanket. His only thought beyond the pain was that he would probably be dead soon and join Starsky.
Terrel was satisfied with the work he had done, and he nodded to the two guards, instructing them to walk Hutch right to the edge. After they did that, the two men forced the blond onto his knees.
"Hinquese!" ("On your knees!")
The two men released Hutch's arms and stood away from him. One of them pointed a gun at Hutch's head while Terrel took some pictures. Hutch was convinced they were about to execute him and he silently sent up his last prayers.
Hutch heard the shot and flinched, but he didn't feel the pain. The bullet struck the ground fifteen feet in front of him. Before he could turn his head to see what was happening, the guard walked toward him and hit him on the back of his head with the gun. Hutch fell over onto the dirt and rocks.
Terrel quickly walked forward and poured the jar of blood over the back of Hutch's head and across his face. He chuckled to himself. "Pretty convincing." He wanted just the right picture, so he stood back and snapped several fast shots of Hutch lying on the edge of the cliff. He looked dead. The sequence of pictures should fool the Bay City Police Department.
Terrel ordered his goons to pick up the injured and unconscious blond and take him back to the shed, which was set back from the cliffs in a small stand of eucalyptus and palm trees. "Tráiganlo." ("Bring him").
The breeze on his face revived Hutch slightly and he moaned. Terrel stopped the men dragging him and he picked Hutch's head up by the hair. Looking into the barely focusing eyes he sneered. "Now that your partner is dead, pig, the only thing remaining is to convince your captain that you are dead, too. These pictures should do the job. You're mine now." He released Hutch's head and they dragged him into the shed, dumping him onto the floor in the small, windowless shack. Sick and hurting, Hutch lay there and quietly cried angry tears. He was overcome with grief from the belief that these men had killed Starsky. The pain and sadness closed in on him and he slid into blackness.
Captain Dobey was sitting next to Starsky's bed when he started to come around after the surgery. The doctors had nearly lost him a few times during the lengthy operation. His right wrist was more badly damaged than the left, a small mercy for which Dobey was thankful. Orthopedic and vascular surgeons had spent hours making delicate repairs to the damaged tendons and nerves. For some reason, the cut on Starsky's left wrist had been made much higher on his arm, saving the median nerve and requiring only twenty-five stitches to close. The median nerve and tendons of his right wrist were severed or torn requiring meticulous reconstruction and over fifty stitches. They wouldn't know if he would regain full feeling in the right hand for some time.
Starsky's eyes fluttered open and struggled to focus. He was confused and he started to reach out with his left hand as he looked around the room and called out for his partner. The movement caused him severe pain and his face went instantly white.
"Dave, be still. Don't try to move." Dobey attempted to calm him. Starsky breathed heavily from the pain and Captain Dobey pushed the call button to ask for some medication for his detective. "Dave, open your eyes. I need to talk to you. Just don't move."
Starsky nodded and slowly opened his eyes. "Hutch?" He said it as a question, wondering where his partner was.
Dobey tried to change the subject, "Do you know where you are, Dave?"
"You're in the hospital. You gave us quite a scare."
The fog was lifting from Starsky's mind and he started to worry about why Dobey wasn't responding to his request for Hutch. "Cap, where's Hutch?"
"I'll answer your question in a minute, but first I need you to tell me what you can remember."
"Dammit, Cap, why isn't he here?"
"Starsky! I'll tell you all about it in a minute. They're gonna bring you something for the pain and I want you to tell me what you remember first. Do you remember what happened?"
Starsky struggled to remember. "Hutch's gun was gone. I came back to help him. A man was there. He had Hutch."
Dobey did his best to make sense of the disjointed statement. "Who was there?"
"I don't know. Didn't see his face. That's all I remember."
"Well, what did you see?"
"Dark clothes, tall, black hair, straight I think. Sorry, Cap, that's it." Starsky was out of breath from the exertion. He looked at his bandaged left wrist, and saw that the right one was in a thick cast. He jerked his head toward his arm and said, "What?"
Dobey put his hand on Starsky's shoulder and said, "Dave, they knocked you out and then slit your wrists. You're just lucky a neighbor found you before you bled to death."
"Marjorie Taylor. You owe that girl your life."
Starsky wanted desperately to understand all that had happened and he wanted to know what was going on with Hutch. "How did she find me and where's Hutch?"
The captain didn't want to upset the dark-haired man into disturbing his stitches and he knew he wouldn't take the news well. Dobey sat for a moment too long, unsure of how to tell Starsky his partner was badly wounded and missing.
Starsky was beginning to panic. Why won't he answer me? Oh, God!
"Cap!" Starsky demanded, fear showing in his eyes.
Dobey wanted to reassure him. "I'm going to tell you, but the doc says you have to be still. You have over seventy-five stitches between both of your wrists and you also have a mild concussion. I want you to listen carefully and remain calm."
Starsky's weak voice still managed to sound frantic. "Cap, is Hutch dead?"
"No, Dave, at least we think he's still alive. The neighbor found you because she heard a gunshot coming from Hutch's place. She watched someone carry Hutch off in a van and then she ran up to the apartment and took care of you. He's missing, Dave."
"What? Why didn't you tell me?" Starsky started to try and get out of bed, "I have to help find him. Dammit, Cap! Was he shot?"
Captain Dobey had both of his large hands on Starsky's shoulders trying to push him down again. "Yes, he was shot. Calm down now, stop it!"
Starsky was furious. "Let me go. I have to go!"
The nurse came in behind them and saw the struggle. "Keep him still, he'll pull out his stitches." She dashed out of the room, returning in a minute with a doctor and a sedative. Dobey tried to talk to Starsky and calm him. He physically pinned him to the bed, hoping he wasn't hurting him, while the doctor pushed a strong sedative into the IV line.
As soon as Starsky's struggle ceased, the angry doctor turned on Dobey. "He needs to remain calm and if you're going to upset him, you can't stay."
"I'm sorry, Doc. I had to ask him some questions if I hope to save his partner's life. I had no choice."
"Do you have your answers now?" the man bit out with thinly disguised hostility.
"Yes. He knows his partner is in trouble. If you want him calm, you're gonna have to keep him under or tie him down and I don't want you to do that."
The doctor nodded his understanding and softened toward the captain. He had already heard what happened to Starsky and his missing partner. "All right. I'm going to order that he be kept sedated for the next 24 – 48 hours to give his wounds a chance to start healing."
"Can I stay with him?"
Reluctantly, the doctor agreed. Starsky would be in a drug-induced sleep anyway. Maybe having someone familiar near him would help. "Just don't do anything else to make me have you escorted out of here."
Dobey wasn't used to being talked to like that and it took him by surprise. He was impressed with the doctor's intense desire to keep Starsky safe and calm. "I won't, Doc. The hard part's over now. I just hope we find his partner alive. I don't want to think about what it will do to Starsky if we don't."
"¿Que levas a hacer?" ("What do you want to do with him?")
"Lo llevaramos a la casa del sur mañana." ("We're taking him to the house in the south tomorrow.")
"¿Y si se muere antes?" ("And what if he dies before tomorrow?")
"No se morirá." ("He won't die.")
Hutch lay with his eyes closed and listened to this exchange, his heart pounding with dread. One voice was definitely Terrel's, but he didn't recognize the other one. He wondered where "the house in the south" was and what they planned to do with him when they got there. Obviously, they intended to keep him alive for a while for some purpose he couldn't fathom, but they didn't seem to care how much damage they did in the meantime. Probably in the end they were going to kill him.
And no one would know where he was. And – this thought hurt the most – if Starsky really was dead, no one would be moving heaven and earth to find him. Dobey would do his best, but it was Starsky who always seemed to have that psychic connection that led him to his partner no matter how great the odds.
For the first time since he and Starsky had been partners, Hutch was really and truly alone. A hot tear slid out of his eye and down his cheek and he turned away from the voices outside.
A little while later, Terrel came in to check on him. "Hey, Hutchinson, you still with us?" he said with a nasty laugh. He poked at Hutch, who refused to acknowledge him or respond in any way. "We're goin' for a little ride tomorrow, pig, and once we get there, you get to be a delivery boy. The border guards know everybody we got now, but they won't suspect a blond cop of carryin' dope into the country, now, will they?"
Hutch stubbornly refused to respond. He had no intention of doing anything for Terrel, especially not smuggling dope into the country. No matter what they did to him.
Terrel gave another laugh. "Playin' possum, huh? Okay, pig, go ahead. But listen to this." Terrel bent so close his foul breath tickled Hutch's ear. "Ain't nobody gonna be lookin' for ya this time. So resist me if you want. But your pig buddies are gonna think you're dead anyway, so if I kill ya, it ain't gonna matter. And they ain't gonna know where to start lookin' for the body."
Terrel went away again and left Hutch alone. As Hutch turned over on his back, he couldn't help picturing in his mind what would happen if Terrel sent those photos to Bay City. Starsky would freak out –
Starsky won't see them. Starsky's dead....
Hutch woke up some time later to a burning pain in the shoulder that had been shot. It felt like hundreds of hot needles were stabbing him all at the same time and it throbbed and ached so much he had to bite his lip to keep from crying out. Sweat poured down his face, yet he shivered in the warm Mexican night.
He hadn't studied medicine for nothing. He knew the bullet wound was infected. And he knew there was nothing he could do about it.
Starsky came out of the fog slowly. He couldn't remember, for several minutes, where he was or how he'd gotten there. It was completely dark in the room but there was a dim light coming under the door. He tried to sit up and couldn't, but the movement caused sharp pain to shoot through both arms.
And then he remembered. Hutch, oh, my God! He tried to reach for the call button for a nurse but even though it was lying next to his right hand, he couldn't force his hand to obey him and push the button. It just lay there, limp. He couldn't even feel his fingers. There was a little feeling in his left hand, but he couldn't reach far enough to get to the call button with that hand.
Okay, if I can't push the button, I'll just have to yell, he thought, and raising his voice, he shouted, "Nurse!"
It was only a moment before the door opened and a nurse hurried in. "Sshh!" she said severely. "You'll wake the whole floor! What's wrong? Why didn't you use the call button?"
"I can't," he said, nodding at it. "I can't feel my hand."
She turned on the light over his bed, almost blinding him, and looked at the bandages. "Can you feel the other one?"
"Yes," he said, and slowly it dawned on him how badly injured his right hand must be if he couldn't even feel it. He tried wiggling the fingers on his left, and though it hurt horribly, he could do it. Thank God. If he had to lose one, thank God it wasn't the left.
The nurse moved the button to his other side. "Is that better?"
He tried, and found that if he really concentrated, he'd be able to push the button. "Yeah. Thanks. Where's my captain? Big black man. Is he here?"
"It's the middle of the night," she began, but sure enough, Dobey had heard and recognized that bellow and came into the room.
"You're supposed to be asleep," Dobey said gruffly, but his eyes were sympathetic.
"Well, I ain't," Starsky said. "What's happening with Hutch? How's the case goin'? When are you jailers gonna let me out of here so I can go find him? Why aren't you answering my questions?" That last was directed angrily at Dobey.
"You won't shut up long enough," Dobey said mildly, but he gestured at the nurse. "Do you mind, please? I'd like to talk to him alone."
"I'm not supposed to let him get agitated," she said and didn't budge.
"I won't," Dobey said.
"I'm already agitated!" Starsky said, raising his voice again. "And I want some answers, Cap, and I want 'em now!"
"Starsky, shut up!" Dobey bellowed back at him. "I'll answer your questions. When we're alone."
Something in Dobey's voice caught Starsky's attention and he subsided.
The nurse felt Starsky's forehead, checked his pulse and peered at his bandaged hands. Finally she left the room, but not before a stern warning to both men that she didn't want any more disturbances from this room.
As soon as the door shut behind her, Dobey pulled a chair up next to Starsky's bed. "Hill and Cavanaugh might have a lead."
Starsky fastened his eyes on his captain's face and waited.
"They picked up a print from the knife in Hutch's bathroom, the one they used to do this to you," Dobey said. "It belonged to Tod Brooks."
"So they've picked him up?"
Dobey shook his head. "He's dead. Shot to death in the street in front of Hutch's place. Marjorie saw it happen, just before the other man took Hutch away in the van."
"H-how bad was Hutch hurt?"
"She doesn't know. He was unconscious, or mostly so, when the other man took him away," Dobey said. "We got a good description of the van from Marjorie, but it was stolen. Hill and Cavanaugh have been going through Brooks' file trying to find out who he was working with –"
"Do we know where all the guys are from the drug bust?" Starsky said, his mind working frantically. "Did somebody make bail? How long's Hutch been missing?"
Dobey didn't answer right away.
"Captain? How long've I been here?" Starsky demanded.
"Two days," Dobey said.
"Two DAYS????" Starsky struggled to a half-sitting position. "I've been layin' here on my ass while Hutch's been gone for two DAYS?"
"Listen to me," Dobey ordered. "You need time to heal. You can't help him right now. Sean and Jack are working on this night and day. They think Brooks was involved in the drug deal, but they can't prove it yet. They're tracing his contacts since he got out of prison the last time and something's bound to break any minute. But you are staying here. Starsky," Dobey leaned forward. "The doctor said you could lose the use of your right hand if you don't let it heal. The nerves are damaged. Hutch would kill us both if I didn't make you obey orders this time."
Starsky swallowed hard, letting that information sink in for a moment. "Cap, I can't just stay here doing nothing. Hutch is hurt. What if...." He couldn't finish the sentence.
Captain Dobey looked at him carefully and sighed. "Starsky, do you think Hutch would want you to take that kind of risk? You know he wouldn't. Trust Sean and Jack. They know how important it is."
"How long 'til I can bust outta here, then?"
The captain knew he wasn't going to like the answer. "At least a week, Dave. I'm sorry, but you really gotta listen this time. If you hurt yourself, I'm not gonna be the one to explain it to your partner."
Imagining what Hutch would say to him somehow didn't make it easier to be stuck in the hospital, knowing Hutch was out there in trouble. He was hurt, maybe badly. Starsky struggled with the decision, but in the end he knew he had no choice. If he lost the use of his hand, even the right one, he'd be put out to pasture. That would mean he couldn't be Hutch's partner anymore. That was not acceptable.
"All right, Cap. I got some things I want done, though."
"Starsky, " Dobey was going to admonish him to sleep now, but that became unnecessary as the nurse returned with a knockout shot for Starsky.
Seeing the nurse and her needle, Starsky forcefully said, "Oh, no, you don't. No more shots." He didn't want to slide back into a drug-induced sleep for another two days.
"This is just some pain medication, you'll only sleep a few hours. You need your rest."
"I said no." The look on Starsky's face rivaled Hutch's best icy glare. The nurse was intimidated enough to slow her progress, but she still walked toward his IV line.
"Look, Mr. Starsky, I have my orders. The doctor said...."
Starsky started to reach for her with his left hand, pain flashing across his face. He had to let his hand fall back down, instantly regretting the entire movement. His eyes shut tightly against the pain as he waited to feel the effects of the shot she was about to add to his IV. He was surprised to hear Dobey say, "He said no. Leave him alone."
When he could open his eyes again, he realized Dobey had stopped her. He wasn't falling asleep. The pain was severe, but at least he was awake.
"Thanks, Cap. I owe you one."
Captain Dobey felt slightly guilty, knowing he was the one who had asked for Starsky to be sedated in the first place. That was something he could wait to tell him after they found Hutch. "Dave, you need to rest. Get some sleep and we'll talk tomorrow."
"I want to see Cavanaugh and Hill tomorrow. Have them bring what they have down here so I can look at it." Starsky sounded determined.
"They've got it covered. Wait a few days."
"Hutch might not have a few days. I'll stay here, but not if you don't let me in on what's happening. We have to find Hutch. Nothing is more important to me."
Dobey considered the request. "Promise me you'll do like the doc says. Promise me and I'll tell them to come." He saw the reluctance on Starsky's face. To ensure his agreement he added, "Promise me for Hutch. I have to look after you for him till we find him. Help me."
"All right, I promise. As long as you promise to keep me in on the investigation from here and you also gotta promise to spring me the second the doc says I can go."
"Agreed. Now rest. I'll come back in the morning with Hill and Cavanaugh." Content that Starsky would not break a promise he made to Hutch through Dobey by proxy, the captain left the man to sleep.
Hutch was delirious. He lay on the floor, unaware of his surroundings, lost in a feverish haze. His mind kept playing scenes of his partner the last time he saw him. First, bursting through the door with his gun drawn, then lying on the bathroom floor with his wrists slashed. Hutch dreamt they dragged him into the bathroom to watch Starsky bleed to death. In his fever-induced dream, he struggled against his captors, finally being allowed to go to his partner, but it was too late. Starsky was dead. He cradled his friend in his arms and cried. "No, Gordo, you can't be dead!" Terrel stood behind him laughing.
The real Terrel was standing over the unconscious man. Hutchinson was going to interfere with his plans. He was too sick to be a delivery boy and Terrel was beginning to think he might die if they didn't get that bullet out of his shoulder. He turned and left Hutch lying in his fever, intent on finding a medic to take care of things. The blond cop would not be allowed to simply die. That was too easy.
Thankfully, Hutch was completely unconscious when the man Terrel brought back with him dug the bullet out of his shoulder without the benefit of any anesthetic. He drained the infection and gave Hutch an antibiotic injection.
Terrel asked the medic, "¿Él puede ser trasladado?" ("Can he be moved?")
"Si quieres que se muera." ("If you want him to die.") The man was angry at Hutch's condition. Terrel had taken him by gunpoint from a small local hospital. Terrel only allowed him to treat the wound and refused to let the man give Hutch anything for the pain.
That answer was not what Terrel wanted to hear. If Hutchinson was useless as a runner, he would move him south at first light. He pointed a gun at the medic and snapped, "Tu vienes. Asegúrate que sobreviva." ("You're coming. Make sure he stays alive.")
Terrel stood aside while his goons picked Hutch up and carried him out to the back of a truck with a camper shell on it. The floor where Hutch had spent the past two days was pooled with his blood. On an evil whim, Terrel bent down and wrote something on the wall using Hutch's blood as his ink. Then he dropped a broken necklace onto the floor and went out to the truck to begin the journey southeast to Chihuahua. Terrel wanted to put more distance between himself and any possibility the Bay City Police Department would find out where he was holding Hutch. He would mail the pictures on the way out of town. If anyone came this far looking, the three words he just wrote on the wall should convince them Hutch was really dead. The irony that Hutch had given him the words himself as part of his delirium was almost too perfect. Terrel had written, "I tried, Gordo."
The week he had to spend in the hospital passed slowly for Starsky. Though Hill and Cavanaugh brought him every scrap of information they found, he still was not satisfied with the pace of the investigation. Hutch had been missing for nine days and Starsky was beside himself with worry. The one unexpected thing that had kept him sane was Marjorie.
She had been at the hospital every day since he arrived. Marjorie was growing attached to Starsky. Knowing she had held his life in her hands brought them closer. Sick with worry over Hutch, Starsky needed someone to talk to who could lend a sympathetic ear. He had never experienced an injury without Hutch there with him. Captain Dobey and Huggy did their best, but they couldn't be with him all the time. Marjorie was just the right person. While he convalesced, she sat with him and kept him company. She kept him calm and made sure he didn't jeopardize the healing process by pushing his hands too far too fast. She came to pick him up from the hospital the day he was released. Hill and Cavanaugh had called in the morning with a hot lead. They suspected Hutch had been taken south of the border to Mexico, but they were not sure where. Marjorie agreed to drive Starsky to the precinct to meet with them.
She got out and came around to the passenger side to open the door for Starsky. His right hand was improving, but there was no way he could open the door with it. She asked, "How's it feeling?"
"Like it's been asleep for a week. Feels like a million pinpricks on my fingers. Doc says that's good, though. I can even wiggle them a little, but I'm not supposed to yet."
She smiled. "Great, Dave. What time do you want me to pick you up later, or do you want me to wait?"
"No, I'll be okay. If I can't get a ride from one of the guys, I'll call ya, 'kay?" He was grateful to Marjorie, but he didn't want her to feel obligated to keep helping him.
"I'll be home if you need me. Dave, I don't mind. I'm happy to help you." She kissed him on the cheek, pleased with the slight blush it elicited. After holding the door to the precinct open for him, she went back to the car. Looking up as she got in, she saw him standing at the glass door watching her and she waved.
Starsky turned away from the door, his head filled with conflicting thoughts. He was becoming attached to Marjorie, but he didn't have the time to think about where that could lead. He had to concentrate on Hutch and he didn't want to be unfair to Marjorie. She had been a welcome someone to lean on as he worried about his best friend. He trudged up the stairs to the squad room. His left hand was still in a lot of pain, but doing much better. If he continued to heal at this rate, he would be able to write with it in a few days. He wondered how long it would be until he could hold his gun.
Starsky decided to go into Captain Dobey's office first just to say hello and let him know he was there. He was hoping Dobey might approve him for desk duty. He awkwardly opened the door with his left hand and stepped inside.
Dobey didn't look up from his paperwork at first as he hollered, "Don't any of you people know how to knock!"
"Hi, Cap," Starsky said quietly.
Dobey's head snapped up and his expression softened immediately. "What are you doing here? I thought you were going straight home."
"Meeting with Sean and Jack. They have a new lead and I wanted to get in on it. Cap, what'd'ya say you put me on desk duty? That'd make it easier for me to keep up on the search."
"No. Not until the doctors release you." Dobey was firm and Starsky was sure he would not accept any argument.
"Half days?" Starsky cajoled.
"Starsky, you know you shouldn't even be here." Starsky was pleased to see that offer was not completely out of the question.
"Please, Cap. I'll be careful. Wouldn't want you to get in trouble with Hutch when we find him."
Captain Dobey looked at him with compassion. He knew Starsky was aware that every day that passed made it less likely they would ever find Hutch alive. He had been missing for nine days.
"Well, if you come in late and work no more than four hours, I'll okay it. You gotta promise me you'll behave yourself though. If you don't you're outta here."
"Thanks, Cap. I will."
"Why don't you go find Sean and Jack. Ask them to come in here with their new lead. We'll all talk about it." Dobey wanted in on it, too.
Before Starsky had a chance to take a step, they heard someone knock, and Hill stuck his head in the door. "Cap...oh, hi, Starsky. Glad you're here. I think you'll both want to take a look at this."
He walked in, his partner close behind him and placed a box on Dobey's desk. "Mail room just received this."
Starsky stepped closer to the desk to read the label. The box was addressed "Captain of Detectives" and it had Mexican stamps and postal cancellations on it. Starsky's heart skipped a beat as he touched it carefully with the fingers of his left hand. "Open it, Cap. I think it's about Hutch."
Dobey didn't question why he thought that. He had learned over the years to trust the two partners when it came to their intuition about each other. Dobey used a handkerchief and his letter opener to carefully cut away the brown wrapping from the box. When he pried up the box lid and saw what was inside he asked Cavanaugh to step out and get some gloves so they could handle the contents without damaging any fingerprints they might reveal. While Cavanaugh was gone, he used his handkerchief to pull out Hutch's badge. Starsky could barely contain himself long enough to wait for Cavanaugh and Dobey had to remind him of his promise to behave himself or be given a ride home. When all of them had on gloves except for Starsky who would have to content himself with letting the other men hold the items up for him to see, Dobey started to pull things out of the box
He had already extracted the badge. Next, he pulled out Hutch's wallet, keys, and ring. Then he opened a letter. His sense of dread was enormous as he read it. He looked up at Starsky, who was demanding to know what it said.
"I think you'd better sit down, Dave."
"No, just tell me what it says, Cap!" Starsky's eyes were wide with worry.
Dobey shot a glance at the other two detectives, hoping they would understand he wanted them to watch out for Starsky in case he needed to sit down suddenly. Then he nodded and read the short note aloud.
"Stop looking. He's dead. We tossed his body in the Pacific.
You'll never find it."
Though Starsky was looking a little pale, he stated the obvious. "That don't mean they did it, Cap."
Captain Dobey's eyes told him there was more and Starsky was afraid to ask. "Dave, they put pictures in here. I'm sorry."
"Let me see them." Starsky had to see them, didn't want to see them.
"No, I think maybe you'd better let us handle this." Dobey was horrified by what he had seen in that box and he had only caught a glimpse of the first picture.
"Cap! He's my partner. You gotta let me see them." Starsky was starting to tremble with fear, anger, and anticipation. Captain Dobey knew he'd have to give in because the man was right. Hutch was his partner. He nodded solemnly and pulled the pictures out, laying them one by one on the top of his desk for the other three men to see.
The first picture showed Hutch kneeling near the ocean with his side toward the camera and a man pointing a gun at his head. The next picture showed the muzzle flash from the gun. The last one, Starsky stood and stared at for a long minute. Hutch, lying dead on the ground, blood all over his head and face.
Dobey watched him carefully as all the color drained from Starsky's face. He heard the man quietly say, "Oh, my God, Hutch." Then he watched as Starsky's eyes rolled up and he started to collapse. Fortunately, the other two men were ready for that. They prevented him from hitting the floor and gently deposited him in one of the chairs against the wall. Cavanaugh poured a cup of water from the cooler as Hill and Dobey tried to revive Starsky.
"Dave, come on now, it's okay. Dave?" Dobey soothed. He was sick to his stomach. What this would do to Starsky was something he feared to contemplate. Hutch was dead and Starsky was bound to feel it was his fault on some level, no matter how ridiculous that was.
Starsky came around slowly. "Cap, oh, God, Cap. He can't be dead, Cap. He can't be. I would feel it. I can still feel him, Cap!" He was barely coherent and the other men were concerned.
"No, no, no," a string of denials came from the distraught man. Starsky thought furiously. This can't be, this just can't be happening. The other men were discussing how to get him home and in bed before he got any worse when a realization hit Starsky. He sat up suddenly, ignoring the annoying spinning in the room.
"Bring me that second picture, "he said.
"No, I think you've...."Dobey started, but Starsky cut him off before he could finish.
"Cap! Bring them all over here." Reluctantly, Dobey retrieved the photos and held them out for Starsky to see.
"These are staged, "Starsky said thinly. The other three men looked carefully, wondering if this was just wishful thinking on Starsky's part. They looked authentic to the other men, but they did have a perfectly sequenced look to them. As if someone set them up to make it appear that Hutch had been executed. Why? What could the kidnappers hope to accomplish by convincing them Hutch was dead?
Starsky perked up a little and exclaimed,"I know where this is. This is a cliff along Punta Banta. That's near Ensenada in Baja. Hutch took me down there fishing last year on a long weekend. I recognize this place."
Dobey looked hopeful. "Are you sure?"
"Yes! There's a landmark there. A sort of an ocean blowhole like a geyser. They call it La Bufadora. I'm positive." Starsky's eyes seemed all right and he had hope on his face.
"Hutch ain't dead, Cap. I can feel it. Cap, we gotta go down there."
"That's gonna be complicated. We won't have any jurisdiction and you know the local authorities might be difficult." Dobey knew Starsky was right, but he had no idea how to make it happen. Hill and Cavanaugh mentioned that they didn't have any contacts who could help them. That's when Starsky had an idea.
If he could have snapped his fingers, he would have. Starsky said, "I've got it. Paco Ortega. Remember he helped us out on that garment district case? He works with INS. Let's get him on the phone. He must have contacts down there working closely with immigration. Maybe he can help.
Dobey picked up the phone and called Immigration. He asked for Paco, and when he came on the line, he handed the phone to Starsky. Cavanaugh held it for him, since gripping the instrument was difficult for Starsky.
"Paco? Dave Starsky. I need a favor."
Hutch awoke to sunshine and a breeze blowing across his face. He was confused by the open window next to the filthy cot on which he was lying. He didn't know where he was or how he'd gotten there. He turned his head to look around and met the eyes of a very young Mexican girl who was seated on a wicker chair next to the cot.
"¿Como está?"("How are you?")
"No sé," Hutch answered. "¿Quien eres tu?"("I don't know. Who are you?")
"Me llamo Carmen. ¿Necesita algo de tomar?"("They call me Carmen. Do you need a drink?")
"Yes," Hutch said gratefully, lapsing into English. "Water would be terrific."
Carmen seemed to understand and brought him a glass of ice water. He drained it in a couple of gulps. "¿Más?"
"Sí," Hutch said, remembering to use Spanish. She brought another glass and he drank this one more slowly. The water cleared his head and he tried to sit up, but he was still too weak. Carmen stuffed some pillows behind his back and helped him. She couldn't have been more that 13 or 14, but she seemed to be an experienced nurse. She felt his forehead, peered under the bandage on his shoulder, and ran a cool cloth over his face. After making sure he was comfortable, she sat down again.
"¿Dónde estoy?" ("Where am I?")
"I know – I mean, ¿sí, pero en que parte de en México?"("Yes, but where in Mexico?")
Carmen looked over her shoulder and stood to peer out the window of the little room. Finally she came back, bent over Hutch as if to adjust his pillows and said in a whisper, "Chihuahua. No puedo decir más, señor, lo siento." ("I can't say any more, sir, I'm sorry.") In a louder tone, she said, "¿Como se llama usted?"
"Hutch," he said.
She smiled, showing beautiful white teeth. "Hutch," she repeated carefully. "Es un nombre extraño, señor."("That's an odd name, sir.")
He smiled, too, the first time he'd felt like smiling in a very long time. "Mi compadre me dice así."("My buddy calls me that.") Then he sobered instantly. No. Starsky used to call him that.
"¿Hay un problema, Hutch?" she asked, concerned. ("Is something wrong?")
He turned his head away from her to regain his composure. "Mi compadre...esta muerto." ("My buddy...he's dead.")
"Oh," she said in a stricken tone. "Lo siento mucho."("I'm so sorry.")
He turned back to look at her and was surprised to see real tears in her eyes. Somehow, he'd already gotten used to ill treatment and this girl's honest sympathy unnerved him a bit. Tears formed in his eyes, too. "Grácias."
"Tu compadre," she said. "¿Era un amigo querido?"("Your friend...was he a dear friend?")
Hutch nodded. "El mejor."("The best.")
She laid her hand over his and squeezed. Hers was trembling a bit. "Lo siento mucho."("I'm so sorry.") Then, very softly, she recited the Hail Mary and Hutch, though he wasn't Catholic, was deeply touched. She crossed herself, and he did, too, then she patted his hand again. "Tienes hambre?"("Are you hungry?")
"Sí. Tengo mucha hambre."("Yes. Very hungry.")
She smiled again and left the room. In a few minutes she came back with a tray containing soup and some toast. She fed him without spilling a drop and afterward, he felt his eyes start to get heavy.
"Duerma," she said. "Yo estaré aquí." ("You sleep. I'll be right here.")
"I'll do the talking, "Paco said to Starsky as they approached the offices of the Baja police.
"Go right ahead," Starsky said. "I don't trust my Spanish enough to order a burrito."
Paco grinned and opened the door. He approached the desk and spoke rapidly to the man sitting there. Starsky didn't catch a word of it. The man answered, also rapidly, waving his hands around a great deal, and Paco turned to Starsky. "They know there's been some kind of activity going on around Ensanada," he said. "They haven't be enable to catch anyone, though."
"Will they cooperate?" Starsky asked. "Can we go look around down there or not?"
Paco turned back to the man and talked again for several moments. "Yes," he said to Starsky. "They'll send one of their guys with us and we can search the area by La Bufadora. If we find anything, we'll have the guy with us who's got the authority to deal with it. Okay, amigo?"
It was a hot day, and both Starsky and Paco were sweating before they'd gone very far in the un-air-conditioned Mexican police car. When they arrived at Ensanada, they began asking everyone they saw if anyone had seen a blond American man in the vicinity. One after another, everyone said no, they hadn't. After several hours of this, Starsky was discouraged and half-sick to his stomach from disappointment and the heat.He hadn't eaten all day.
"Hey, amigo, you sit down here, okay? "Paco said at last, pointing Starsky toward a tree. "I'll keep asking around. But you look like hell."
Starsky sat down, reluctantly, but he knew he couldn't go much further without a break. He leaned his back against the tree and looked out at the water. There was the path leading out to La Bufadora, at almost the precise angle it had been in the photographs. Starsky shook his head. He was so worried about Hutch and what they – whoever "they" were – might be doing to him. If they wanted everyone to think Hutch was dead they probably intended to kill him eventually, when they were done with him.
Starsky laid his head back against the tree trunk and as he did so, his eye fell on a small building half-hidden among the thick trees a few hundred yards away. The door was partially open. He got to his feet and headed for it.
It was dark inside; there were no windows. Starsky pulled the door all the way open so that sunlight fell across the ground and saw a dried stain on the floor. His heart thudding in his chest, he went over and knelt to examine it.
It was blood.
Starsky sank down on his rear end and simply stared at the stain for several minutes. He couldn't have explained how he knew, but that was Hutch's blood. And there was so much of it....
Maybe he really was dead.
No! I'd know if he was dead. Somehow, I'd know....
The wind stirred the trees outside and a shaft of sunlight glanced off something shiny in the corner. Starsky shook off his depression and crawled over to see what it was. He painfully pulled a handkerchief out of his hip pocket and used it to pick up the object.
The chain was broken and the pendant was scratched, but he recognized it. The shiny object was the medallion he'd given Hutch for his last birthday some months before. Hands shaking, he turned it over and read the inscription on the back: "Me and Thee."
Hot tears burned his eyes, but he blinked them back stubbornly. It didn't mean Hutch was dead. The chain was delicate; any rough treatment and it could break. Or it was possible Hutch had left it behind on purpose, to give Starsky a clue that he'd been here –
But how would Hutch guess Starsky would track him here?
Easy. We always find each other. I only hope this time I'm not too late.
"Starsky!" Paco's voice came from outside.
"In here!" Starsky yelled, turning as he did so, and as he turned, his eyes fell on another bloodstain, this one on the wall. He stood and walked over to it. So much blood. Too much.
And then he realized the bloodstain was more than a stain. It was words, written in a shaky scrawl on the rough wood of the building's wall.
"I tried, Gordo."
Starsky sank to his knees and no amount of willpower could stop the tears this time. That's how Paco found him, still clutching the broken pendant.
Paco stood in the doorway a few moments as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. His gaze took in the small room in an instant. He saw the large amount of dried blood and Starsky kneeling on the floor, tears flowing down his face. Paco rushed to him. "Starsky?"
Putting a hand on Starsky's shoulder, Paco tried to get his attention, "Starsky? Dave? Hey, amigo, diga me, man. Talk to me."
Starsky was clutching some thing shiny as well as his injured hand could grasp it. Paco gently extricated it from his fingers. Starsky tried to hold on to it, but Paco reassured him, "Let me see it, amigo. I'll give it back. Come on, let me have it."
Paco turned the medallion over and read the inscription. He looked up at Starsky and they locked eyes. The pain in Starsky's eyes was clear.
"This don't mean he's dead, Dave." Paco didn't really believe that. He thought the amount of blood in the room meant the chance the victim was still alive was slim. If the person who bled in this room was Hutch, God help Starsky.
"What if he's really dead, Paco?" Starsky finally spoke. His eyes looked up at a spot on the wall and then they closed tightly, more tears flowing from under his closed lids.
Paco didn't know about Hutch's nickname for Starsky, but he could see the impact of those three words on his companion. He hated to do it, but he needed Starsky to come outside with him.
"Dave, I need you to come outside with me."
"What?" Starsky looked at him like he had no idea what he just said.
"Outside, amigo. There's a man we need to talk to out there. Let me help you." Paco put a hand underneath Starsky's elbow and helped him to stand. He put his other hand on Starsky's back and carefully led the shaking man outside the gruesome room.
A short man with leathered skin was waiting for them outside. Paco introduced him as Miguel, a local fisherman. "Miguel says he knows something about a blond American."
Starsky perked up. "Did you see him?"
Paco translated; the man spoke no English. "Lo vio?"
"Cuando? Donde?" ("When? Where?")
"Hace dos noches, en mi barco." ("Two nights ago on my boat.")
Starsky was only catching some of the words. "Paco, please. What did he say?"
Paco put a hand up to signal Miguelto wait. "He says he saw him two nights ago on his boat."
Starsky's heart was aching. The note in the box said they had dumped Hutch's body in the ocean. His mouth was dry and he was starting to feel dizzy. "Paco, ask him if he was alone. Ask him what he saw."
Paco translated Starsky's questions. Miguel looked at Starskywith fear in his eyes.
"Tres hombres. Ellos amenazaron a mi esposa. Ellos me obligaron a hacerlo."
"He says there were three men. They threatened his wife and made him do something."
"¿Que le hicieron hacer ellos?" Paco asked him ("What did they make you do?")
Starsky stood between the two men, watching and listening as he fidgeted. He tried to follow the threads of the conversation, but Paco and Miguel were speaking too rapidly.
"Ellos tenian al hombre rubio. Los saque al oceano. Ellos lo lanzaron al agua. Lo siento, lo siento. El hombre... estaba muerto." Paco looked at Starsky with concern. He could tell Starsky understood at least one word – muerto, dead.
Starsky was breathing rapidly and turning pale. "Paco, did he say Hutch was dead?"
Paco put a hand on Starsky's arm. "He said three men brought a blond man on his boat. They took him out to sea. I'm sorry, Starsky. Miguel says Hutch was dead. They threw him overboard."
Starsky's knees gave out and Paco caught him, gently lowering him to the ground. His head was down and shaking slowly back and forth as he mumbled, "No, please, Hutch, no."
Miguel held out his hand to Paco, and said, "Ellos dejaron caer esto." ("They dropped this."). When he opened his hand, Paco was saddened to see a beautiful gold pocket watch. He had seen it before when he worked with the blond detective in the past. Hutch's watch. "Esto pertenece a su amigo. Demelo, por favor." ("That belongs to his friend. Please give it tome.") He held out his hand and Miguel dropped the watch into it. Paco put it in his jacket pocket. He nodded to the waiting policeman who escorted Miguel away.
Starsky sat on the ground, quietly crying. He looked at his bandaged wrists, wondering why he survived it if he wasn't meant to find Hutch. As much as he wanted to believe Hutch was alive, he had to accept that he wasn't. Hutch was gone.
Paco knelt beside him. "Come on, man. Time to go home."
"Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Hutch." Starsky didn't budge. His body shook and after a few minutes he turned to his side and retched.
Paco waited for him to recover somewhat. Then he helped Starsky to his feet and led him back to the patrol car. They could do nothing else for Hutch and they had no authority to conduct an investigation. Paco would get that in motion before they left Mexico. His primary worry was getting the barely responsive man beside him home. This would be the longest ride of Paco's life – one hundred miles to the border at San Ysidro and then another one hundred twenty mile drive home.
Paco pulled off Interstate-5 in Chula Vista. He knew of a pay phone where he could park the car and keep an eye on Starsky while he placed the most painful call he had ever made. Before another hour passed, he needed to tell Captain Dobey what they had found.
"Dobey here." The man always sounded a little gruff when he answered the telephone.
"Captain Dobey, it's Paco Ortega." He could not keep the sadness out of his voice and Dobey could hear the strain.
"Tell me about it."
"I'm sorry, Captain. Hutchinson is dead."
The captain felt his chest tighten. The shock of the news was also colored by his fears for Starsky.
"The note was true, Captain. They dumped his body at sea. We'll never recover it."
"How's Starsky?" Dobey needed to hear, but he already knew the answer.
"Man, I've never seen him like this. I've never seen anybody like this."
"Don't let him out of your sight, Paco. I want you to bring him to my house when you get up here. I'll tell Edith you're coming." Captain Dobey gave him the address and directions. After he hung up, he decided to wait until he got all of the details before calling Hutch's parents. He didn't want to keep the men and women of Metro waiting any longer to find out, though.
Walking out to the squad room, Dobey spotted Hill. He waved him over and said, "Get everyone who's in the house in here. I've got something to tell them." Based on the grim look the captain wore, Hill thought he knew what the captain had to say.
The squad room was filled within ten minutes. The doors were opened onto the hall and more Metro staff stood out there. Captain Dobey finally decided it was time.
"I have the worst news for all of you today. I'm sorry to tell you that Ken Hutchinson is dead." A collective gasp came from the spectators. Dobey let the news sink in for a minute before he continued. "I don't have a lot of details yet, but it happened in Mexico somewhere near Ensenda."
Office Minnie Kaplan was crying softly. She took a step forward and asked, "What about Starsky? Is he all right?"
Dobey replied, "Paco Ortega is bringing him back from Mexico. He's taking it about like we would expect."
Cavanaugh asked, "What about the body?"
"We don't have a body. The bastards dumped him in the ocean. Paco says we'll never be able to recover it."
"Poor Starsky," Minnie sobbed. "He can't even bring his buddy home."
The squad room was buzzing, everyone shocked that they would never see Hutch again.
"All right, we're all upset by this, but there's work to do. I want everyone who's worked on Hutch's case to put an updated report on my desk before the end of this shift. We've got to keep moving so we can nail whoever got to him. Now get back to work." Dobey waved his arm at them and then he turned and shut himself in his office. He leaned heavily against the door and steeled himself for the phone call he needed to place to his wife. Edith Dobey was attached to his two best detectives. She was going to take it hard.