Hutch began to notice a quiet voice reciting something. He crawled up toward wakefulness, the sound of the voice tugging him forward. His feverish mind struggled to translate and he realized he was hearing the sound of the Hail Mary for the second time.
The night air was warm, but he was shivering, his fever higher than when he fell asleep. He felt something cool and damp on his face. Carmen was wiping his face with a cool cloth and softly reciting the prayer.
"Dios te salve María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo, bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres, y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús. Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros los pecadores ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amén."
He cautiously opened his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was a hoarse whisper. "Thank you, Carmen. Gracias."
She put a finger on his lips to quiet him while she finished her prayers. "En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén"
"De nada, Señor Hutch." She smiled at him, still amused by his name.
He didn't want to hurt her feelings, but he had to ask. "¿Por qué me ayudan? Ellos van a matarme" ("Why are you helping me? They're gonna kill me.")
"No sé" ("I don't know.") "La Madre Santa quiere que nosotros nos precupemos para de los enfermos" ("The Holy Mother wants us to take care of the sick.")
Hutch quieted down and listened to the sound of his own raspy breathing. He knew he was sick and thought it might be pneumonia. His shoulder was still on fire, but it felt a little different. Hutch had vague memories of someone digging the bullet out of his shoulder. He shuddered at the thought, thankful that he had been so out of it. Then he turned his thoughts to his grief, shedding quiet tears. Starsky was dead. He had lost his best friend. Several times he tried to push the child away from him.
"Déjeme morir" ("Let me die.")
She did her best to cheer up the sick man, but she made little progress. Carmen discovered if she could get him talking, he didn't fight her. Somehow she got him to settle down and tell her who he was. Hutch told her was an American, that he was a police officer, and he had been kidnapped from Bay City, California. He hoped she might get word to the United States somehow after he was dead.
In another part of the house, a phone rang. Terrel picked it up, "Bueno."
"Señor Terrel, es Miguel Santos." Miguel was the fisherman Terrel had paid to tell anyone asking that he had taken Hutch's body out to sea under duress.
Miguel was a little breathless. "Señor Terrel. El policia que usted dijo que mató. Starsky. Él está vivo. Lo vi hoy. " ("Mr. Terrel. The cop you told me you killed. Starsky. He's alive. I saw him today.")
"Pensé que usted quería saber" ("I thought you'd want to know.")
"¿Él le creyó?" ("Did he buy it?")
"Si. Él ha sido destruído " ("Yes. It destroyed him.")
"Gracias." Terrel hung up the phone, seething with anger. How could Starsky possibly have survived? He saw the blood. He couldn't risk that Starsky might figure out Hutch was alive. At least for now Starsky believed his partner was dead. Suddenly, Terrel had an idea of how to finish off the dark-haired detective without drawing any attention until it was too late.
Paco shot another sidelong look at the silent man in the passenger seat. Starsky had hardly spoken since they'd talked to the fisherman at Ensenada and all Paco's attempts to get him to say something – anything – had been fruitless. Every now and then Paco thought he saw a tear roll down Starsky's cheek, but when he'd look again, Starsky would be staring out the window, dry-eyed, but with more anguish in his face than he could remember ever seeing on someone before.
"Starsky? Hey, man, we'll be home in about an hour. You want something to eat yet?"
Starsky shook his head.
"Come on, amigo, you haven't eaten for almost 24 hours."
Paco sighed. He knew how close Starsky and Hutch had been, but this was more than grief at the loss of a friend. This was also guilt that Starsky hadn't gotten there in time. He was blaming himself. Never mind that there hadn't been anything more he could have done.
An hour later, Paco pulled up outside Dobey's house. Starsky frowned, first at the house, then at Paco. "What are we doin' here?"
"Dobey's orders," Paco said, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'm on loan to your department, compadre. I gotta answer to that man."
Paco stayed a little behind as they approached the door. Edith was waiting. She wordlessly put her arms around Starsky and held him tight for several moments, tears in her eyes. He returned the hug listlessly.
"Come inside, David," she said, pulling a little away at last. "Supper's ready. You, too, Paco."
Paco opened his mouth to refuse, but Edith gave him a stern look and he didn't. He followed them inside. Dobey, his tie loose and his suit jacket off, was going over some papers at the dining room table. When he saw Starsky, he rose. "I'm sorry, Dave."
"Yeah," Starsky said bleakly. "Me, too."
"I called his parents," Dobey said. "They'll be here late tomorrow."
Dobey looked miserable. "To pack up his things and make the arrangements."
"What arrangements?" Starsky demanded, with the first spark he'd shown in hours.
"The memorial service," Dobey said.
Starsky stared at his captain with something akin to hatred in his eyes for several tense moments. Finally, he rubbed his eyes and nodded. "Yeah. I guess we have to do something, don't we? God."
Dobey put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
Carmen hummed softly to herself as she bathed Hutch's face with cool water again. His fever was high, too high, and she was more frightened than she wanted to let on. Señor Terrel had been gone for hours and had ordered her not to leave until he came back, and she didn't want to leave with Hutch in this condition, anyway. He needed to be in a hospital, but Señor wouldn't hear of it.
Hutch moved restlessly and moaned a name under his breath. He opened his eyes, fever-bright, and fixed them on her face. "Starsky?" he said, groping with his good hand. "Starsk, buddy? Is that you?"
Carmen didn't understand, but she wanted to comfort him. She knew English was his own language, and while she only knew a few words, she tried to speak to him in that language. "Sí. Yes, Hutch. Sshh. It's okay. Aquí estoy. I am here. Duerma, querido. ("Sleep, dear.") It's okay."
Hutch's eyes drifted shut again and he mumbled, "You're not dead...."
Carmen stroked his damp hair away from his face, re-wet the cloth, and bathed his face one more time. She clasped his hot hand in both of her own and closed her eyes to pray. She thought Starsky must be the American's friend who had died, and if it comforted him in his pain to think his friend was taking care of him instead of a frightened girl, she did not want to tell him otherwise. She would ask the Holy Mother to intercede for him and comfort his heart.
Terrel finally returned around daybreak and walked into the room without knocking, scaring Carmen, who had been dozing. She still held Hutch's hand.
"Que tierno!" he sneered. "Quieres al perro?" ("How sweet! Are you in love with the dog?")
Carmen dropped her eyes and shook her head. "No. Trato de ayudarle. El señor necesita un doctor. Yo no puedo sustituirlo." ("I'm trying to help him. The man needs a doctor. I'm a poor substitute.")
Terrel made an ugly sound in his throat. "No doctor! Si muere, se nos quita un problema de encima." ("No doctor! If he dies, that's one less problem.") He came closer and peered at Hutch's flushed and sweaty face. Carmen shrank away from being near him. "Haga lo que pueda," Terrel said, turning away. ("Do the best you can.") He left, slamming the door behind him.
Carmen resumed her seat next to Hutch and took his hand again. The sweat encouraged her. His fever must be breaking. She bathed his face again, and about an hour later, he opened his eyes.
"Starsky?" he said weakly, his eyes unfocused.
Hutch turned his head toward her voice, wincing as the pain in his head intensified. "Carmen?" It took him a moment to remember who she was and where he was, but when he did, a different kind of pain crossed his face. "You should've let me die," he said, too weak and dispirited to grope for the Spanish.
Carmen didn't understand the words, but she did understand the emotion. She stroked his hair gently. "Mi mamá es enfermera," she said. "Permiteme pedirle que te ayude." ("My mother is a nurse. Let me ask her to help you.")
"Terrel...." Hutch said hoarsely.
"El señor sale de casa por muchas horas todos los días," she said in a low voice. "No se enterará." ("The man leaves the house for hours every day. He won't know.")
"¿Por qué estás aquí?" Hutch asked. "¿Por qué tienes interés en mi?" ("Why are you here? Why do you care what happens to me?")
Carmen kept stroking his hair with a practiced, gentle touch. She was silent for several moments before answering. Finally, she said, "El señor me paga por cuidarlo. Y mi familia necesita el dinero. Pero, no puedo abandonarlo en esta condición." ("The man pays me to take care of you. And my family needs the money. But I can't abandon you in this condition.")
"Eres una muchacha muy buena," Hutch said softly. ("You're a good girl.")
Starsky sat in his car outside Venice Place waiting for the Hutchinsons to arrive. Huggy had given him a ride, and he found the Torino still parked where he left it that horrible day. He couldn't bear to go into the apartment yet. Huggy left him there, knowing he'd want a few minutes by himself before everyone else got there. Dobey had offered to pick Hutch's parents up at the hotel and bring them over. He knew Starsky had a key and could open up the apartment. Dobey said he and Huggy would come back and help Starsky get the car back to his place when they were done at Hutch's.
Starsky gazed up at the windows. Hutch didn't have much stuff to go through and dispose of. He wasn't a "keeper." He liked his apartment bare and Spartan, with only the necessities and a few plants and books to make it "homey." Starsky thought about how Hutch hadn't replaced his old black and white portable TV when it shot craps a couple of months ago. His stereo only keeps working because he keeps tinkering with it.
Dammit. Why can't I stop thinking of him in the present tense? Starsky asked himself, swallowing the thickness in his throat. He kept expecting the door to open and for Hutch to come through it, complaining that Starsky was late, or balancing toast and orange juice which he would spill all over the car seat. He simply couldn't take it in that Hutch wasn't there and would never be there again.
Dobey's car pulled up behind the Torino, and Starsky got out, pulling on a mask of non-emotion. He wouldn't break down. He'd be strong. Hutch would want that.
"Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson," Starsky said. He kissed Hutch's mom on the cheek and offered his hand to Hutch's dad without thinking. Seeing the brace, Richard declined to shake hands, but he patted Starsky on the shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze instead. The gesture was achingly like something Hutch would do.
Hutch's dad, blond like his son and looking very much like Hutch would in 20 years – would have, Starsky mentally corrected himself with a twinge – tried to smile. "How many times do we have to ask you to call us 'Dick' and 'Helen,' David?" he asked.
Starsky gave a wan grin in return. He didn't know the Hutchinsons very well, and his mother had always instilled respect for one's elders in him, but if they wanted him to call them by their first names, he'd try. After the next few days were over, it was unlikely he'd ever see them again, anyway. "Sorry." He glanced at Helen Hutchinson. Her eyes were red from crying, but she had a stubborn, resolute set to her jaw that Starsky had often seen on her son. She was going to maintain her composure if it killed her.
He led the way up the stairs into Hutch's place, and already it felt abandoned. Some of the plants had died in the two weeks since Hutch had vanished, and even though Marjorie had cleaned up the blood in the bathroom and living room, Starsky imagined he could still see it.
Helen halted inside the door and looked around, her eyes bleak. "I hate this," she said, almost too softly to be heard. "When my father died, Ken packed up his things. He said he wanted to 'spare' me."
Dick put his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. To Starsky, he said, "There must be something of Ken's you'd like to have. Please don't hesitate to say so."
Starsky shook his head. He had Hutch's watch – the one that had belonged to his grandfather – and the pendant he'd given Hutch for his birthday. The Hutchinsons knew he had those things. There wasn't anything else in the apartment that he wanted. He had the most important thing, anyway: his memories. Those would never rust or wear out. "No, thanks," he said.
Helen finally moved away from the door and wandered through the apartment, touching things here and there, occasionally wiping away a tear. She finally sat down on the sofa and looked up at Starsky. "Would you speak at the – the service, David? You knew Ken better than anyone."
Starsky was stricken. In one way, he wanted to. He hated funerals where the minister didn't know the deceased, yet tried to sound as if he did. It always made it worse. Yet he knew he wouldn't be able to say the right things to really let people know who Hutch was and why he'd been important. His throat closed up at the very thought.
"Please, David," Dick put in. "I know it won't be easy, but it would mean so much to us."
He couldn't say "no." So he nodded. "Sure." Starsky had agreed, but he was completely unsure as to how he would get through it.
For Starsky, the worst part of the time they spent in Hutch's apartment was when they came across his best friend's guitar. The Hutchinsons wanted to give it to him. He just shook his head as tears came to his eyes. He couldn't possibly accept it. The instrument was so much a part of who his best friend was he could not bear it. Starsky managed to mumble an apology before he walked out the front door and down the steps. He sat about half way down and tried to calm his thoughts.
"I'm going to see if he's all right, " Helen said.
"No. Let him be. He needs to be alone for a while."
The Hutchinsons got through the apartment that day. Hutch's paintings and music went off to Minnesota to his sister. She was eight months pregnant and her health had been poor. Her parents had insisted she remain at home close to her doctor or she would have been there with them to help dispose of Hutch's things.
They packed his photographs in a box to give to Starsky when he was ready for them. Dick Hutchinson decided to ask the Dobeys to keep them until that time. Anything incidental was donated to a thrift shop that benefited Big Brothers of America. At Starsky's insistence, the guitar would go to Kiko, Hutch's little brother. They did manage to talk Starsky into keeping his partner's black and white varsity jacket.
Starsky got through that day like a zombie. He went where he was asked to go and spoke when he was spoken to most of the time. Getting his mind off the memorial service was difficult. While the Hutchinsons went through the apartment, Starsky looked through Hutch's books for something appropriate to read at the service. He found just the right thing and asked them if he could keep the book. They were happy he had asked for something.
Over the next two days they made all the arrangements they needed to make. Marjorie was spending as much time with Starsky as she could, wishing his spirit would heal along with his hands. The left was doing well and his right hand was regaining more feeling. The doctor had advised him to begin some exercises with it. He still couldn't grip with it and it caused him a lot of pain, but at least it was looking like he would keep the use of it. Marjorie encouraged him but he displayed little interest, almost seeming to think it wasn't important anymore.
The day before the funeral, the Hutchinsons called Starsky and told him they needed to see him about something important. When they arrived at his apartment, Marjorie was there. Helen followed her into the kitchen to help her make some tea.
"How is David doing?" she asked. "When he's with us he seems so despondent."
Marjorie looked sad. "I wish I could say he is getting better, but I can't. They say time heals all wounds, but I'm not so sure. They were so close. He just seems completely lost without your son. He told me yesterday that Hutch was his compass. Now he doesn't know where to go or how to get there."
Mr. Hutchinson sat on the couch with Starsky, unsure of how to tell him what he needed to say, and unsure of how he would react to it. He and his wife had not been terribly surprised by it, but Starsky certainly would be.
"David, I'm afraid I don't know how to say what I need to say to you. Please hear me out, okay?"
Starsky was worried about what it could be. Then he thought to himself that Hutch was dead, what could be worse than that? "Mr. Hutch... um, Dick. I've already been given the worst news I could be given. Please, whatever it is, just tell me."
"All right, David. Were you aware that Ken went to see his attorney the afternoon he disappeared?"
"What? Attorney?" Starsky thought back to that awful day. He did remember it, though, and he remembered thinking Hutch would explain it over dinner that night. "Yeah, I remember. He didn't tell me why. I figured he'd tell me when we went for dinner that night. We were supposed to go to Huggy's." Starsky looked away from Hutch's father as he thought about that afternoon.
"I know why he went. I am not sure if you are aware that Ken had a lot of personal wealth. He had a sizable trust fund and several bank accounts with large balances. David, Ken had papers drawn up to put your name on his accounts and his trust fund. When the findings from the coroner's inquest are made final, officially declaring him dead, that money will go to you."
Starsky was stunned. He sat with his mouth dropped open a little, not knowing what to say. The only thing he was able to say was, "Why?"
"Because he loved you, David. The attorney says that Ken told him you were his best friend and he wanted to be sure you were taken care of if anything happened to him. Apparently this has been in the works for some time. He had just finished putting your name on the accounts that day and had gone to sign some paperwork. Since you have been placed on his accounts, you won't even have to pay any taxes on the funds. He also wanted to be sure you had access to all of his money in case you needed to take care of things for him if he were injured again or became ill."
Starsky was crying again. "Oh, Hutch." He closed his eyes and softly said, "I don't want the money." Somehow, knowing this did make it worse for him. Did Hutch have some premonition that he was going to die soon? If so, why didn't he say something?
"Can't I challenge it somehow? I don't want it. I won't fight you if you want me to sign it over to you."
Mr. Hutchinson stared at him apprehensively. "David, we don't want to fight you on this. No, you can't change it. Nothing says you have to use the money, but it's what Kenneth wanted and I think you should honor his wishes. His mother and I want you to do that."
"Thank you for telling me. I'm sorry, I just can't deal with this now. Someday I will. Maybe I'll give it to a charity or something. Not now. I don't know if I can handle anything else, now." Starsky shook his head in dismay. He looked like he was teetering on the edge of a precipice. One more thing and he was going over that edge. Mr. Hutchinson decided not to push it.
"All right. The attorney's name is C. Jarod Crawford." He pulled an envelope out of his inner jacket pocket and placed it on the couch next to Starsky. "All of the information you need is in this envelope. Don't make any rash decisions, David. I can help you when you are ready."
Starsky nodded and explained that he needed to finish preparing for the eulogy. He excused himself and went into his bedroom, shutting the door and leaving the Hutchinsons with Marjorie and their tea.
"How did he take it, dear?" Helen asked.
"Not too well. I'm not sure he ever knew that Ken had money. We just have to give him time to accept this. He'll be all right." He patted his wife on the hand and drank his tea. Marjorie made polite conversation with them until they left.
The next morning, the Dobeys and Huggy Bear picked Starsky and Marjorie up for the service. Starsky wanted to hold a small service on the beach, but he was overruled. The death of a police officer was often the subject of media attention and this case was no exception. Hutch's death was a spectacular news story. A police officer kidnapped, dragged south of the border, and killed was bound to attract attention. The media had latched on to the story and every local outlet would be represented at the funeral. Captain Dobey had located a large Lutheran church in the city that would accommodate both the media, at a discreet distance, and the throng of people expected to attend. Every off duty police officer in the area was planning to be there.
Captain Dobey ordered the media to be cordoned off from the people attending the service. In particular, he wanted to assure that not a single reporter would get to Starsky. The man would be having enough difficulty getting through the service without the added burden of being hounded by the press and local television stations.
Starsky always looked uncomfortable in his dress blues. On this day, he looked numb. Flanked by Captain Dobey on one side and Huggy on the other, he wearily walked into the church and was seated on the front row, waiting for his time to deliver the eulogy he had prepared. After a few hymns were sung and the minister had spoken, the church became still as Starsky walked up to the pulpit.
He stood in front of the microphone for a few moments, looking out at the crowd of friends, family, and fellow officers.
Starsky took a deep breath to compose himself and then began. "The other day I went to Hutch's apartment to help his parents go through his things. One of the things we came across was a book by his favorite poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson. I chose a poem to read from that book called "The Path by Which We Twain Did Go." I think it says a lot about Hutch and me." He opened the book and read the poem aloud.
"The path by which we twain did go,
Which led by tracts that pleased us well,
Thro' four sweet years arose and fell,
From flower to flower, from snow to snow:
And we with singing cheer'd the way,
And, crown'd with all the season lent,
From April on to April went,
And glad at heart from May to May:
But where the path we walk'd began
To slant the fifth autumnal slope,
As we descended following Hope,
There sat the Shadow fear'd of man;
Who broke our fair companionship,
And spread his mantle dark and cold,
And wrapt thee formless in the fold,
And dull'd the murmur on thy lip,
And bore thee where I could not see
Nor follow, tho' I walk in haste,
And think, that somewhere in the waste
The Shadow sits and waits for me"
He closed the book and looked out at the faces looking at him. "A lot of people have called me since Hutch died. They try to be kind and say the same things. 'I know it hurts now, but you'll be okay,' or 'Give it time, Dave.' Some of them have told me that Hutch wouldn't want me to be sad. That he'd want me to go on with my life and find happiness. Some of them have even said that I'd get used to it and eventually it won't hurt so much. I really would like to thank everyone for thinkin' of me and Hutch and for tryin' so hard to make me feel better. I wish I could. Everyone who said that Hutch wouldn't want me to be sad is right. He wouldn't. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to face."
The silence in the church was interrupted by the sounds of people crying. He looked over at the Dobeys, watching as Edith wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. The only way he was going to get through the eulogy, and maybe the only way he would get through the rest of his life, was by detaching himself from their reactions, closing in on himself, allowing only his own grief to register in his heart.
"How do I get used to him being gone? Who's gonna spill boysenberry jelly on my car seats? Who's gonna make sure I take care of myself when I'm hurt or sick? Who's gonna watch my back on the job? Can I even do this job without him? Hutch was more than just my partner, he was my best friend – closer to me than my own brother. What takes the place of that? What could ever possibly fill the emptiness in my heart?"
By this time, everyone in the church was in tears, all of them moved by Starsky's pain and loss. Captain Dobey was both surprised and impressed with Starsky's quiet dignity while delivering this most painful speech of his life. He only hoped it was a good decision to allow him to do it and he was worried about the wall of grief Starsky had erected between himself and the rest of the world. Possibly, others might not see how he had just turned in on himself, but Dobey saw. Huggy Bear saw it, too, and he was just as worried for his friend. Both men had given thought in the past to what might happen to the one left behind if either Starsky or Hutch died. Seeing Starsky so devastated was more painful than thinking about it in the abstract – more painful by orders of magnitude.
Starsky continued, "Most of all I wonder how I'm ever supposed to get used to missing half of my soul?" He looked up at the sky, as if beseeching his friend to hear him from heaven. "Hutch, if you're listening, I wish I could do like you'd want, buddy. I wish I could try to be happy someday. You know I'd do anything for you. I can't do that, though. I just can't and I'm sorry. I love you, Hutch."
He gave one last look at the crowd staring back at him. Then he stepped down from the pulpit and walked back to his seat. As he got closer, Captain Dobey stood and embraced him. He could tell that Starsky was running on empty, so he helped him sit down again. Huggy put his arm around Starsky's shoulders and whispered, "That was beautiful, bro. Blondie would be proud." Starsky didn't acknowledge him, though. He sat silently, staring ahead and letting the tears flow down his cheeks without even an attempt to wipe them away. Huggy leaned back behind him and shot a worried look at Captain Dobey. They both knew they had a long road ahead to help their friend heal, if it was possible.
Hutch's mother cried throughout the service. When the time came for them to leave, she began to sob. One of the officers at Metro played the bagpipes. He was standing in the doorway to the church playing Amazing Grace as the Hutchinsons, the Dobeys, Starsky, Huggy, and Marjorie walked up the center aisle of the church. The keening sound of the bagpipes was more than Helen Hutchinson could bear. She collapsed in a faint, caught by her husband before she hit the floor.
After they revived Helen, they all got back in their cars to return to Starsky's apartment. Some friends and coworkers had been invited to stop by to pay their respects in a smaller setting. Many more people showed up than they had expected. Even Captain Dobey didn't know who they all were. Starsky shut himself in his room while they were there, refusing to see anyone. Several of the guests brought food with them, hoping to leave something Starsky might eat later. He never understood what it was about a funeral that brought out the need in some people to attempt to feed the bereaved. Marjorie put everything away for him and thanked everyone for coming when they left. Each of them gave her soft words of encouragement to pass along to the Starsky.
No one was surprised that Starsky was making himself scarce. After his eulogy, none of them knew what to say to him, anyway. Without resorting to the usual platitudes offered to the grieving at such times, what could any of them say in the face of his sorrow?
As soon as Terrel left the next morning, Carmen ran home and fetched her mother and brought her to Terrel's compound to see to Hutch. He hadn't been able to talk her out of it. The bullet wound had been cleaned ineffectually and the resulting infection had caused it to fester. Without antibiotics, Hutch knew he was in trouble. And he doubted a Mexican peasant woman could get any of those.
But when Carmen came back with her mother, Hutch was startled. She wasn't dressed like a peasant woman and she was carrying a doctor's bag.
"Hutch," Carmen said, smiling, "esta es mi mamá, Señora Ana Diáz de Gutierrez."
Hutch struggled to sit up and extended his hand. "Mucho gusto."
"How are you feeling, señor?" Ana asked, taking his hand and examining his face very closely. She felt his forehead and opened his shirt – ragged now – to look at the bullet wound.
"You speak English?"
She smiled again. "Un poco. Enough, I think, to help you, Hutch. Your name, I like it. Carmen dijo que un amigo give it to you."
"Yes," Hutch said quietly. "My best friend."
"Then we use it also, to honor him," Ana said gently. She opened her bag and produced a stethoscope and a thermometer. She gave him quite a thorough examination, clucking her tongue occasionally. "Not good, this," she said, removing the bandage. "Chica," she said to her daughter, "Traiga agua y jabón, por favor." ("Little girl, bring water and soap, please.")
Carmen vanished and came back in a few moments with a basin, soap and clean cloths. "This will hurt," Ana said to Hutch. She told Carmen to hold his hand and she did so. Then Ana gently, quickly and efficiently cleaned the wound while Hutch clenched his teeth and tried not to squeeze Carmen's hand too tightly. When Ana was finished, she covered it with antibiotic cream and a fresh bandage, then she produced a bottle of pills and shook out two of them for him. "Take these," she said.
In Bay City, Hutch would never have dreamed of accepting pills from a stranger, but here he didn't give it a second thought. There was something so comforting and trustworthy about Carmen and her mother that he knew instinctively they would not harm him. Ana gave the bottle to him and told him to conceal it or Terrel would find it and take it from him.
"He is bad," she said gravely. "Very bad."
Ana left after giving Hutch instructions on how often to take the pills and when to stop – in Spanish, for fear she wouldn't have the words in English – and when she left him, she stroked his hair back in a motherly way and kissed his forehead. "Vaya con Dios, querido," she said softly. ("Go with God, dear.")
Carmen stayed behind to make his lunch for him and while he was eating it, he suddenly felt Starsky's presence very strongly. Carmen noticed his face change and asked him if he was in pain.
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "Pensé que sentí a mi compadre." ("I thought I felt my friend.")
Carmen patted his hand. "Mi mamá dice que cuando eso pasa, tu ser querido está cerca de ti." ("My mother says when that happens your loved one is near to you.")
"Es posíble," Hutch said doubtfully. ("It's possible.")
"El padre dice que podremos hablar a nuestros seres queridos cuando estan en el cielo," Carmen went on. ("The priest says we can talk to our loved ones when they are in heaven.")
"No estoy católico," Hutch said. ("I'm not Catholic.")
Carmen shrugged. "Eso no importa. Cuál es el nombre de tu compadre?" ("That's not important. What is your friend's name?")
"Starsky," Hutch said.
Carmen smiled, took both of Hutch's hands, being very careful with his left one so as not to disturb his wound, and closed her eyes. "En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo," she said softly. "Starsky, tu amigo Hutch te ama mucho y está triste sin ti...." ("Your friend Hutch loves you a lot and he is sad without you....")
Terrel kicked the door open and both of them jumped. He sneered. "Now you've got this dumb kid prayin' to Starsky for ya?" he said to Hutch. "I may be sick."
Hutch did not answer, and Carmen watched Terrel with fear in her big brown eyes.
Terrel reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. He handed it to Carmen and told her to go home, her employment with him was over. She took the money and rose, but stopped to look back at Hutch.
"Vaya," he said to her. "Y grácias, chica." ("Go on. And thank you, little girl.")
"Que Dios te bendiga," she said, tears in her eyes. ("God bless you.")
"Y a ti también," Hutch said. ("And you.")
As soon as she was gone, Terrel grabbed Hutch by the arm and hauled him to his feet. He was still so weak that his knees buckled and he almost fell. Terrel called for one of his goons and between them they got Hutch outside and into a car.
"Where are we going?" Hutch demanded.
"You'll find out," Terrel said. "Now shut up."
They drove about 20 minutes to a small airfield, and got aboard a light plane. The engine was already running, and as soon as all four were aboard, the pilot started taxiing the plane. In a few moments they were airborne.
Terrel turned in his seat. "You wanted to know where we were going, Hutch?" he asked. "Guatemala's where we're going. It's safer than Mexico and closer to our supply."
And farther away from home, Hutch thought bleakly.
He lost track of how long they'd been in the air. The exertion of getting to the plane – Terrel and his men hadn't spared him – had worn him out and he drifted in and out of consciousness as they flew. But a stream of curses in Spanish from the pilot and Terrel's panicked voice demanding to know what was wrong jerked him awake.
Hutch struggled upright and looked out the window and realized they were descending rapidly, and the engine on his side of the plane wasn't working.
He shot a glance out the opposite window. That engine was sputtering, barely working. Below them were trees – too many trees – no open space for an emergency landing.
"Do something!" Terrel was demanding, terrified, forgetting to speak in Spanish in his fear.
The pilot shook his head, frantically moving levers and switches, but the plane continued to go down, picking up speed as it went.
Hutch closed his eyes as the trees came closer and closer. He wished for a little of Carmen's unshakeable faith, but he hadn't had that since he was her age. At least, I won't be alone much longer... he thought.
Starsky woke up late the morning after Hutch's memorial service. He hadn't realized how it had exhausted him. Dobey had insisted he take another week off work and wouldn't be moved by Starsky's argument that he needed something to do. So here he was, alone in his apartment, nothing to do, no one to call.
He got out of bed and padded to the kitchen to make coffee. He opened the refrigerator and saw all the food people had brought over the day before. He recognized Huggy's famous breakfast burritos – invented, Hutch used to tease him, just for him – and pulled out a couple of those to warm up. He wasn't hungry, but he knew he had to eat. He read the paper while he ate and it was nothing but bad news, as usual.
Late in the afternoon, after she got off work, Marjorie came by. Starsky was napping on the couch with an afternoon movie on the TV. He didn't even know what it was.
She knocked and poked her head in. "For shame," she said with a teasing smile. "Leaving your door unlocked."
Starsky roused and rubbed his eyes. "Guess I just forgot about it."
She came closer and sat down next to him, rubbing her hand up and down his arm. "Have you eaten today?"
"I'll bet," she said. "I'm going to warm up one of those casseroles people left for you and I'm going to stand over you while you eat it, understand?"
"Only if you eat with me," he said. "Frankly, I'm sick of sitting here by myself."
"Sure, Dave." She wandered into the kitchen and looked through the things in the refrigerator. Finally she chose a dish, turned on the oven and stuck it in. "Be about half an hour," she called in to Starsky. "Want something to drink?"
"How about a beer?" he said.
She brought him a beer and a glass of water for herself, then sat with him and told him about her day and asked him about his – he didn't have anything to tell her – while they waited for the casserole to get warm. She dished it up and set the table and he forced himself to sit there with her.
"I wonder who brought this one," she said, trying to be cheerful. "Odd taste, whoever it was."
"Why?" he asked, more to keep her talking than out of any real interest.
"Well, look. It's got almonds in it. Can you imagine? Why would you put almonds in tuna casserole?"
She gave him a plateful and took one for herself and began eating. "It's pretty good, actually," she said. "I'll have to try making it this way sometime." She looked up a few minutes later. "You're not eating, David."
Starsky had taken a small bite, but he hated tuna casserole and the almond flavor was too overwhelming. "Sorry," he said. "I'm just not hungry and I'm not crazy about almonds, anyway."
"I can warm up something else," she offered.
"No," he held up a hand. "I'm really not hungry. Honest. Please, go ahead without me. I don't mind."
"I mind," she said. She started to say something else, but seemed to think better of it. "Is it stuffy in here?" she asked instead.
"Stuffy?" Starsky looked around at the open windows. "No, I don't think so. Why?"
Her face had gone a strange gray color and she had a hand at her throat. "I – I'm having trouble breathing," she said faintly.
Starsky got up and went around to her, concerned. "Put your head down between your knees," he said. "Is there anything in this you might be allergic to?"
She shook her head and started to obey and put her head down, when she started having convulsions. Starsky tried frantically to help her, but he didn't know what to do. He didn't have any but the most rudimentary first aid knowledge and the thought, "Call Hutch" went through his mind by instinct before he remembered he couldn't call Hutch.
He could call an ambulance, however. As he hurried past the table to the kitchen phone, he bumped the table and knocked his plate off, spilling some of the casserole onto his sleeve. He never noticed, but while he was giving his address and Marjorie's symptoms to the emergency operator, he raised his sleeve to his face to wipe his sweaty forehead and noticed the strong scent of almonds.
"Oh, my God," he said, suddenly realizing what must have happened. "Operator, she's been poisoned. It's cyanide. Hurry!"
By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late. Starsky could do nothing but watch, stricken, as the attendants lifted Marjorie's limp body to a stretcher and carried her away. The police officer who had come in response to the call collected the leftover casserole to be analyzed. He paused before he left to speak to Starsky.
"Hey, man, I wanted to say I'm sorry about Hutch."
"Thanks," Starsky said automatically, but he didn't really hear. In a moment, the officer left, shaking his head. And Starsky sank down on his couch, stunned. Marjorie was dead. Poisoned. By poison meant for him. He knew it as well as he knew his own name. And it must mean that whoever had killed Hutch wanted to kill him, too.
Hutch moaned and opened his eyes. His head felt as if it would explode, and when he put his hand to his forehead, it came away bloody. It took several moments for his vision to clear, and when it did, he realized he was lying in brush a few yards away from the plane, which was broken into two pieces, a mangled wreck. The leg he'd broken when he'd been trapped under his car for two days a couple of years ago was broken again – he could tell at a glance – and his shoulder wound had reopened and was trickling blood down his arm. Inside the wreckage, he could see the bodies of Terrel, his two goons and the pilot. They all appeared dead, but he didn't want to take any chances. He slowly dragged himself to the plane and checked. All four were dead and a couple of the bodies were so mangled it was going to take dental records to identify them. He took their guns in case he needed them and tried the plane's radio to call for help.
Starsky walked down the stairs at his apartment late in the evening on the day after Marjorie died. He noticed the black-and-white sitting on the street and walked over to have a word with the officer.
"Evening," he said cordially but without any cheer.
"Evening, Starsky. Sure sorry about Hutch."
"Thanks. Dobey send you over here?" He was sure that was the case. His phone had started ringing shortly after everyone left him alone in the apartment. Knowing that it was probably Dobey didn't make him any more inclined to answer. He had ignored the ringing for the past few hours while he decided what he needed to do.
"Yep. Said we need to keep an eye out in case whoever killed your friend comes back."
Starsky nodded. "I need to go to the precinct and fill out a report. You can go now."
Looking determined, the officer replied, "Sorry, I can't do that. Captain Dobey wants you under protection."
Starsky had no energy to argue about it. He was going to do what he had to do regardless of what Dobey wanted.
"Fine, then you'd better follow me 'cause I'm going." Then he turned around and walked toward his car.
Starsky's wrists were still bandaged and the right one was in a brace. The other officer called to him. "Hey, you supposed to be driving?"
"Watch me," Starsky replied.
Though he hadn't been cleared to drive, Starsky believed he had no options. He used his left hand for as much as he could. Shifting required his right and the pain was excruciating, making his progress slow.
Starsky went into the station and had his guard dog help him fill out a report on what had happened. He thanked the man and spent the next two hours clumsily typing out letters to Captain Dobey and Huggy using just two fingers on his left hand. Before leaving the station, he put his gun, his badge, his keys, and both letters on Dobey's desk. Next, he told the uniform who was supposed to be watching him that he would be right back, he was just going to the cafeteria. Instead, he went down the stairs and left the building. Stopping at the Torino, he pulled out the backpack he had thrown into the car before he left home. Taking a last look around, and pulling his jacket closer around him, he headed off down the street on foot at around one in the morning.
Starsky's guard dog waited over an hour before he decided he'd better go looking for him. A complete search of the station revealed no sign of the man, but his car was still parked in the garage. The uniform decided maybe Starsky was working on something in an interrogation room or with another officer. He couldn't figure out any other reason why his car would still be there. Not about to call Captain Dobey at this ungodly hour to report that he had lost track of Sergeant Starsky, the man decided to wait in the squad room instead. After another two hours, and another search, he reported to the desk sergeant that Starsky was nowhere to be found but his car was still at the station. Since his orders had been to guard Starsky at his apartment, the desk sergeant decided to dismiss the younger officer and wait for morning to report to Captain Dobey. The man considered it unlikely that Starsky had been abducted from inside the precinct. Captain Dobey would probably know Starsky's whereabouts.
Captain Dobey arrived at the station the next morning at around eight and was surprised to see the Torino in the lot. He was glad Starsky was there, wanting to talk to him about Marjorie's death. One of the other detectives had called him about it. Dobey had tried to call, but Starsky didn't pick up his phone and Dobey had decided to give him until the next day before he went to the apartment to speak with him in person. He had ordered a black-and-white to sit outside Starsky's apartment in case anyone else showed up with the idea of hurting him.
Walking into the squad room first, he looked around for the detective. He was nowhere in sight. As soon as he opened his office door, Dobey saw the items left on his desk. His heart beat a little faster.
He took a seat at his desk and stared at the envelopes, steeling himself for what he would read inside. His sense of dread mounting, the captain opened the typewritten letter addressed to him.
Dear Captain Dobey –
This letter is my resignation. I've left you my gun and my badge. I also left you the keys to my car and my apartment. There's enough money in a check for Huggy to pay off my landlady and close out my house accounts. Do whatever you want with my stuff; I won't need any of it. I'm sorry this is such short notice but that's just the way it is.
Hutch dying was my fault. I should have known something was wrong sooner. He was my partner and I was supposed to keep him safe. I blew it. Now, the guys who killed him are after me. Marjorie is dead because of me. I can't do this anymore. I'm not worth it. Being around me is like a death sentence. I know what I have to do. Don't bother looking for me. I won't be anywhere. Please forgive me.
Captain Dobey read the letter again and again. He could not believe what was happening. Beyond that, the letter was so despondent. He was concerned for Starsky's state of mind and worried he might even be suicidal. Although he had left his gun, the captain knew Starsky still had his father's service revolver.
The first phone call he placed was to put an APB out on Starsky. Then he called Huggy and asked him to come down to the precinct to read his letter. He spoke with the desk sergeant and found out when Starsky was last seen at the station. Although he was angry that the young officer had allowed Starsky to give him the slip, he didn't waste too much time being mad about it. Anger wouldn't help them find Starsky. He was still making calls when Huggy rushed into his office without knocking. Hanging up the phone, Dobey handed Huggy the letter Starsky had left for him.
Dear Huggy –
I'm sorry things have to be this way. Thanks for everything you've done for me and Hutch. You've always been a good friend and I know I can count on you to take care of things for me. Use the money in this check to settle everything up for me. You can keep whatever you want and get rid of the rest of the stuff in my place. None of it matters anymore.
I can't be here anymore. I hope you can forgive me for not saying goodbye. I have to do this and I can't let anyone stop me.
Huggy looked stricken. "Oh, God." He passed the letter to Dobey for him to read. Tears were in his eyes when he said, "Captain, that letter sounded so down. You don't suppose he'd hurt himself, do ya?"
"I hope not, Huggy." The look on Dobey's face was not reassuring.
Huggy shook his head and wiped a tear away as it started to trickle down his face. "I can't believe we've lost them both."
"We haven't lost Starsky!" Captain Dobey yelled. "We just have to find him!" His voice softened when he saw Huggy's shocked reaction to his outburst. "I know what you mean, Huggy. Get on out there and do your thing. Find him. I've got an APB out on him."
Huggy nodded. "Something'll turn. If I have to turn over every street contact I've got under every rock out there I will."
"I already sent Simmons, Babcock, Hill, and Cavanaugh out looking for him in all of his haunts. I'll let you know if I hear anything."
Hutch's mayday from the crashed plane resulted in a search. He was unable to give the controller he spoke with any positional information other than that he had seen a patch of ocean and the jungle before they crashed. The controller tried to keep him talking. Hutch told him he had been kidnapped and that he was an American. Unfortunately, he was not completely lucid. He hadn't been able to tell them his name or where he was from before he became increasingly incoherent and finally lost consciousness. He was still unconscious when the searchers found the plane two days later, crashed in the Guatemalan jungle between Puerto Quezal and Monterrico.
Hutch had no identification on him. They transported him to a small local hospital where he remained unconscious with a high fever. The level of care was unsophisticated, but they treated his injuries as best they could. They began a search to determine his identity.
The Guatemalan authorities were able to trace the small plane back to Chihuahua over the next several days. Hutch remained delirious from a fever and their search had revealed nothing about a missing person matching his description. Though the authorities worked with the American Consulate who in turn contacted authorities throughout the United States, nothing helpful materialized. No one seemed to be looking for the mysterious blond man.
In Chihuahua, local authorities put out the word that they were looking for information on a small plane that had taken off a week ago. They showed a picture of the blond man in the marketplace and Carmen's mother saw it. She went home to pick up her daughter and take her to the local police station to report what they knew.
Mrs. Gutierrez and Carmen were both relieved to hear that Hutch had survived the plane crash and that Terrel was dead. Carmen was able to tell them that the blond man's name was Hutch and that he was a policeman from Bay City, California. Carmen and her mother also did their best to describe what had happened to him while he was Terrel's prisoner. One week after the plane crash, the Mexican authorities were on the phone to the Bay City Police Department.
Captain Dobey was getting ready to go home for the day when his phone rang. He almost didn't answer it. On the off chance it could be Starsky, he changed his mind.
"Captain, this is Melinda at the switchboard. I have a man on the phone who says he's calling from a police station in Mexico and that he needs to speak with the man in charge of Hutch." Melinda sounded apprehensive.
"It's all right, Melinda. Put him through."
The man on the other end of the line had a thick Mexican accent. "Captain Dobey? My name is Roberto Martinez. I am a police captain in Chihuahua, Mexico."
Dobey was intrigued, wondering if this call could be information about the drug smugglers that Starsky and Hutch were trying to nail. "What can I do for you, Captain Martinez?"
"I have information for you. Are you missing an officer who is called Hutch?"
The captain sat back down at his desk, his heart beating a little faster. "That would be Ken Hutchinson. He's not missing, though, he's dead."
"I think he's not, Captain. We know where he is."
Now Dobey was getting a little angry, suspecting that some of the men responsible for Hutch's death might be trying to pull something. "If this is some kind of sick joke, I'm not laughing. Ken Hutchinson was a fine officer and his death was hard on us."
Roberto Martinez quickly said, "No, no. Por favor, this is no joke. Your man is not dead. He is hurt, but he is alive."
Dobey could not believe what he was hearing – Hutch alive? "Where is he?"
Martinez explained the situation with the details he had. They made arrangements to move Hutch to Bay City by air ambulance the next day.
The next thing Dobey did was to call Huggy Bear.
"Huggy, this is Captain Dobey."
"What can I do you for?" Huggy asked.
"I need some information on Starsky."
"Captain, you know I don't know where Curly is. I wish I did." Huggy had prayed Starsky would contact him, but he hadn't and it had been days since he disappeared.
"Look, Huggy, I know you and Starsky go back a long way. I also know he might have asked you to keep it quiet if he called and you know where he is."
"If I knew where he was, I'd be there." Huggy sounded definite. Dobey could not detect any attempt at deception in his voice, only concern for their missing friend. "What's happenin'?"
"Maybe you'd better be sitting down for this one, Huggy. I need you to keep this quiet until we see what we're up against, but I have news about Hutch. Huggy, he's alive."
"I just got off the phone with a police captain in Mexico. Hutch was in a plane crash and is in a hospital in Guatemala."
"Oh, my God. We've gotta find Starsk." Huggy was suddenly hopeful for Starsky. They could only help him if they could find him, though.
"Do what you can, Huggy. They're gonna bring Hutch to Memorial tomorrow afternoon around four. You want to meet me there?" He knew that was a foolish question.
"You kiddin'? I'll be there with bells on, Captain." For the first time in weeks, Huggy was starting to feel a little better.
"Save the bells, just be there. Call me if you find anything on Starsky."
Dobey hung up the phone. He decided to tell Edith in person and not to tell anyone else at Metro or to call the Hutchinsons until he saw Hutch and knew everything was going to be all right with him. His joy at hearing Hutch was alive was tainted by his worry for Starsky. As he pulled away from the station he looked up at the flag, still flying at half-staff. He smiled for the first time in weeks and thought to himself that the first thing he was going to do after seeing Hutch was to call and tell them to put the flag back where it belonged.
Dobey and Huggy were both waiting in the ambulance bay when they pulled in with Hutch. They barely recognized him from the brief look they got as he was pushed past them. Hutch was markedly thinner and he had a beard. He had an IV line in and was on oxygen. His left leg was in a cast, his head was swathed in gauze, and he was unconscious. Several hours later, the doctor was sitting with them describing Hutch's condition.
"First, let me tell you that he will be all right with a little time. Still, your friend is in bad shape. He has a broken leg and he's recovering from a head injury, but that is not why he is unconscious. Mr. Hutchinson was shot in the shoulder and the wound was poorly tended. I suspect it was infected for some time before the plane crash. Also, I understand he was in the jungle for a couple of days before he was rescued. That was long enough for him to contract something called Dengue Fever. The high fever is keeping him out, but he did wake up a little for us, briefly. That will improve as we get the fever under control."
The two men looked at each other. Captain Dobey said, "What is that?"
"The Guatemalan doctor sent a report on it with Mr. Hutchinson. The fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, like malaria is. We really can't do a lot for it, but it isn't life threatening. Only about five percent of Dengue Fever victims die from it. He will need another week in the hospital to get past it, though. We're treating the fever and watching for signs of any complications."
"Can we see him?" Huggy asked.
"Sure. I'll bet he could use a friend now. He's being taken up to the ICU. Just don't stay too long. The fever isn't contagious unless we have mosquitoes in the ICU." The doctor smiled and shook their hands. "Try not to worry. He just needs some time. In all, he's a lucky man."
As he was walking down the corridor, the doctor turned back and said, "Hey, does he have a friend named Starsky by any chance? He keeps asking for him."
Dobey looked at Huggy and said, "Yeah. Don't worry, Doc. We'll handle it."
Hutch's eyes were closed when they walked into his room. Huggy reacted visibly to the pallor of the blond's face and the sight of the bandages and cast. Dobey put a hand on Huggy's back briefly before moving over to the bed. Neither of them had made any noise, but Hutch's eyes opened and he focused on Dobey.
"Cap'n," he whispered hoarsely. "God, it's good to see you."
Dobey smiled reassuringly and patted his arm. "Not half as good as it is to see you, son. Huggy's here, too."
"Hug?" Hutch's eyes traveled past Dobey, but Huggy had hung back and was out of his range of vision. At Hutch speaking his name, he came closer and stood on the other side of the bed.
"Blondie, you is a sight for sore eyes," Huggy said, laying the jive on thick to hide his emotion. "Didn't know you could even grow a beard, m'man."
Hutch gave a lopsided grin. "Didn't mean to," he said. "Does it..." he paused for a moment; even a little talking tired him out. "...make me look like a hippie?"
Huggy chuckled. "No, and I would recommend disposin' of it as soon as possible. It just ain't 'you,' if ya know what I mean."
Hutch held his eyes for a moment more, then looked back toward his captain. "Did I miss the service?"
"The service?" Dobey glanced fearfully at Huggy.
"For – for Starsky. The funeral."
"For STARSKY?" Huggy blurted. "Starsky ain't dead."
Hutch's eyes rolled back to Huggy, and in them was a slowly dawning hope. "What'd you say?"
"You could break it a little more gently," Dobey said.
Huggy looked ashamed, but not very. "I said, Starsk ain't dead, Hutch. We thought YOU was, though."
"You thought I was dead?" Hutch closed his eyes again and a tear rolled out and down his cheek. "And I thought he was. Oh, God." He drew another long breath and tried to reach for Dobey. "You gotta tell him. Right away. Tell him I'm okay."
Huggy opened his mouth, but a look from Dobey made him close it again.
"We will," Dobey said. "Just as soon as we can get a hold of him."
Hutch nodded once, winced at the movement, and in a few moments was out again. Dobey motioned to Huggy and got him outside the room.
"Listen to me," he said in a low voice. "He can't handle knowing Starsky's vanished. We are not going to tell him until he's stronger. You got that?"
Huggy gazed at him thoughtfully. "That'd be just fine, 'cept ain't he gonna wonder why Starsky don't come and see him? You know you can't pry them away from each other when one of 'em's hurt."
"I'll think of something," Dobey said. "Just don't tell him yet. We may even find Starsky before we have to worry about it."
It was almost unbearably hot alongside Interstate 10 outside Phoenix. Starsky had caught a ride with a businessman who'd taken him that far before turning off to go to Tucson.
"Wish I were going farther," the man had said with a friendly smile.
"Thanks," Starsky'd said. "I appreciate the ride."
But Starsky wanted to go east, not south, so he'd gotten out at a rest area and had been walking since then. So far it had been three hours and no one showed any inclination to give him another ride. The soda he'd bought from a vending machine at the rest area was long gone, and he hadn't passed any small towns yet. He intended to put California and Bay City far behind him, even if he had to walk every step of the way.
Not that he had a destination in mind. Just somewhere that wasn't Bay City.
Sweat trickled down his back and the knapsack, small as it was, was beginning to get pretty heavy by the time a trucker pulled over. "Need a ride, son?"
"Yeah," Starsky said gratefully, climbing in.
"Where you goin'?"
"East," Starsky said.
"Okay," the trucker said, seeming to understand he didn't want to say more. "My name's Scott. I'm goin' to El Paso."
"El Paso would be just fine," Starsky said.
"Got a name?"
"Nice to meet ya," Scott said, offering a handshake. Starsky's right hand and forearm were still in a brace. Unable to shake hands, he just waved it at him so Scott would get the idea. The man nodded and then he put the truck in gear and pulled back out onto the highway.
Scott chattered amiably about everything and nothing as the miles rolled under the wheels. He didn't seem to notice or care whether Starsky answered or even if he was listening. And Starsky, lost in his own thoughts, didn't listen to most of it. The chatter on the CB and Scott's talking washed over him without making any impression.
"Gettin' hungry, partner?" Scott asked some hours later.
Starsky was startled out of his reverie, not by Scott's speaking to him, which he'd been doing for hours, but by the "partner." He choked back the angry answer that rose to his lips. Only one person in the world had had the right to call him "partner."
Instead, he took a deep breath. "No. But if you want to stop and get something, go ahead."
Scott shrugged and pulled into the next truck stop, about three miles down the road. Starsky got out, too, and stretched his legs.
"Meet ya back here in an hour," Scott said, strolling toward the restaurant. Starsky acknowledged him with a half-hearted wave and went in search of a bathroom. He yawned and glanced at his watch. By now Dobey and Huggy had read his notes and Dobey'd probably put out an APB on him. But they'd begin looking in Bay City and from there would spread their net throughout California. No one would think to look in Arizona or Texas. But on the off chance they might put out a nationwide missing persons report, Starsky thought, he'd better come up with an alias and a story to go with it. That way if anyone asked at places like truck stops and rest areas, he wouldn't fit the description.
He glanced into the mirror as he washed his hands. He already had a good stubble going because it had been a couple of days since he shaved. He'd just let his beard grow; that would help disguise him. All the years he'd spent doing undercover assignments ought to come in handy now. Scott had a marked Texas twang. He'd listen more closely to the trucker's talking the rest of the way to El Paso, and when they parted ways, he'd adopt that accent, too.
And he needed a different name, but what? He knew he didn't dare tell anyone his name was "Starsky." That was too unusual anywhere but in New York. He'd already told the trucker "David," and if he was going to remember to answer to it, maybe he'd better keep that part. David...David what?
Hutch used to tease him mercilessly about his comic book collection. He knew he was a little too old for comics, but he'd loved them so much as a kid and he'd kept all of them. Some were worth some money now. Maybe there was a name from one of them he could use.
And then he had it. David Banner. The Incredible Hulk's alter ego. A nice, normal, American-sounding, bland name. No one would notice it or remember it. He'd avoid giving a last name whenever he could, but if he couldn't, he'd tell people his name was David Banner.
He went into the lounge where truckers could nap and take showers and sat down on one of the cots. The room happened to be empty at the moment. He opened his knapsack to make sure he hadn't lost anything in his mad dash to get out of California.
He'd stopped by his bank and cleaned out his savings and checking accounts, so he had enough money to live on for a while. He'd brought Hutch's watch and his dad's service revolver. Some clothes – not many, because places like this always had laundry facilities. A few treasured photos – of him and Hutch, of him and Terry, his mom and dad's wedding picture. The Tennyson book with Hutch's memorial poem in it. That was about all. And Hutch's jacket. He didn't fully understand why he'd done it, but he'd worn Hutch's letterman's jacket rather than one of his own. It was a little too big and the sleeves were too long, but they helped hide the scars on his wrists and the jacket seemed to bring Hutch a little nearer to him.
He replaced the things in his bag and laid his head back against the wall.
He didn't know where he was going, but he knew he was never going back to where he'd been.
When Hutch awoke the next morning, it took him awhile to realize where he was. A doctor was standing by the bed, making notations on his chart and Hutch, forgetting he was back in Bay City, said, "¿Como se llama, señor?"
The doctor turned and smiled at him. "You're awake. Good. How do you feel?"
Hutch blinked, confused, but memory slowly came back. He also remembered talking to Dobey and Huggy the night before. "A little fuzzy," he said. "But better."
"Where's my partner?" he asked next. He also remembered that Starsky wasn't dead – thank God! – and he knew nothing would keep his partner from being by his side. He must be outside waiting for the doctor to finish whatever it was he was doing.
"Curly hair. Blue eyes. Ratty jeans."
The doctor shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't know. There's a Captain Dobey here. I'll tell him you're awake."
Dobey came in a few minutes later, carrying the inevitable bouquet of flowers he always took to people in hospitals and wearing a smile. "How are you this morning, Hutch?"
"Fine," Hutch said. "Where's Starsky?"
Dobey paused, only for a moment, but that was long enough to send chills down Hutch's spine. "He's not here," he said.
"Did you tell him I'm not dead? Is he okay? Where is he?"
Dobey had lain awake most of the previous night concocting the story he was about to tell Hutch to hold him off for a few days. He hoped he could pull this off. He glanced over his shoulder, as if afraid he'd be overheard, and lowered his voice. "He's on assignment," he said quietly. "Deep under. I can't contact him for fear of blowing his cover. But he checks in when it's safe, and when he does, I'll tell him then."
"He's under?" Hutch hissed. "Alone? Are you nuts?"
"He insisted," Dobey said. "Besides, it wouldn't have worked otherwise. Don't worry."
Hutch shut his eyes. Don't worry. Sure. He wouldn't worry. His partner was deep under without him and couldn't even check in regularly, and Dobey told him not to worry. "How often does he check in?"
"There's no regular schedule," Dobey said. "Just when he can."
"When was the last time?" Hutch demanded.
"Couple of days ago. Right before we got the call about you."
"Dammit!" Hutch closed his eyes again. "What's the case?"
"That drug cartel. Some of 'em slipped the noose."
"Obviously," Hutch said.
"You know Starsky," Dobey said. "He wouldn't rest until we went after the rest of them."
"I know," Hutch growled, "and I also know how dangerous they are! How could you let him go under in a situation like that?"
"We didn't have any choice," Dobey said, more or less truthfully.
Hutch closed his eyes and thought about Starsky. He knew how he had felt when he thought Starsky was dead. Having his partner out there undercover and believing Hutch was dead was unthinkable. "You know, Cap, he might not be thinking too clearly right now. Thinking I'm dead might make him take..." Hutch paused and took a deep breath to steady his voice, "unnecessary chances."
Captain Dobey knew what Hutch meant. He was right, but he didn't want Hutch to know how right. "I know it's impossible for you to not worry. You're right, he's hurting. He's gonna be okay, though." The captain prayed to God he was right about that. Hutch nodded, telling him he had more time. Dobey decided to change the subject.
"Can you tell me what happened to you after you were taken?"
Hutch's eyes opened. He looked feverish and tired. "Yeah, but first you tell me what happened with Starsky."
"You've been gone for weeks, Hutch."
"I know that, Cap. Please, tell me." He sank down a little more into the pillows, breathing a little too hard. Dobey squirmed inside wondering how much to reveal.
"Maybe you should get some rest now. I'll fill you in later."
As tired as he was, Hutch successfully issued his best "spill it" look to his captain.
Dobey carefully explained what happened in Hutch's apartment. Every time he left something out to spare Hutch, the man sensed it and grilled him even more. The captain had never been on the receiving end of one of Hutch's interrogations. He was beginning to feel a little sorry for the criminals, especially when he thought about how much more effective Hutch was with Starsky to play off of while questioning a suspect.
Hutch suddenly realized that his parents thought he was dead, too. "Oh, God, Cap. What about my parents?" Hutch felt guilty that he hadn't even thought about them or his sister until now.
"They've been called. Unfortunately, they aren't home. Your mother was very upset at the funeral. Apparently your dad took her off to Europe somewhere. The housekeeper said even she couldn't reach them. I'm sure they'll call home soon."
"What about my sister? Did she have her baby?" Hutch asked.
Dobey had no answer to that since he didn't know how to find Hutch's sister. The conversation went back and forth like that, Hutch grilling, and Dobey answering or tap dancing as the situation required. Hutch was growing increasingly tired and there were sometimes long pauses between his questions as he drifted off to sleep frequently. Dobey was thankful that Hutch was completely out before he asked too many questions about Starsky at the memorial service and before he had to tell Hutch the woman who had saved his partner's life was killed by poison meant for Starsky.
Passing through Arizona and New Mexico with the talkative trucker was uneventful. The man occasionally stopped for food that Starsky never seemed to want, but he did manage to get some water and sodas into his mostly quiet passenger. Once when Starsky was sleeping, he shifted his position, exposing his left wrist. Scott saw the long, red scar on his wrist and he stole another glance at the brace on Starsky's other arm. He realized in an instant that his passenger had recently attempted suicide. Whatever he was running from, the man hoped Starsky would be all right.
As they were pulling into the outskirts of El Paso, Starsky started to wake up again, flexing the fingers of his right hand stiffly. He noticed the way his left arm was laying on his lap and that it gave his host a clear view of his scar. Starsky moved it and looked over at Scott.
"Where are we?" he asked, hoping the man hadn't noticed. He really didn't care what anyone thought – he was past that. Starsky just didn't want anyone to ask too many questions or to provide any means by which he might be recognized.
"Just getting into El Paso. You all right?"
Starsky sighed. Scott had seen the scars. "Yeah." He wasn't going to offer any information.
"I'm going to a distribution center here. Thought I'd drop you off over near the bus station. That okay by you?" Starsky was grateful the man was going to respect his privacy.
Scott was silent the rest of the way to the bus station. He pulled up a block away and stopped. "End of the road, David. You sure you want to get out here? I'll be heading back in the morning."
"Thanks, but this is fine." Starsky climbed down from the cab and waved Scott off as he pulled down the street.
The bus station in El Paso was in about as good a neighborhood as the bus station in any city. Trudging down the street, Starsky was lost in thoughts of where he should go next. He decided he had better call his mom, but he wouldn't tell her where he was. If the drug cartel was still after him, she could be in danger, too. Starsky was determined that no one would ever be hurt again because of him.
He walked into the El Paso Greyhound Station and scanned the lobby for a pay phone. Looking at his watch, he realized that it was three in the morning in New York. That couldn't be helped. He reached into his knapsack and pulled out enough change to make the call. He didn't need much, he was only going to be on long enough to tell her he was all right and to say goodbye.
Starsky dialed his mom's number and put in the amount of change he was told to deposit. On the third ring, his mother's sleepy voice answered.
"Ma, it's me."
"Davy?" She suddenly sounded more awake.
"I just wanted to tell you I love you."
"Where are you, Davy? You're scaring me. Your Captain called me and asked about you. He said I should call him if you called me."
Starsky was afraid of that. He knew he couldn't risk calling her again.
"I've gotta go, Ma. I shouldn't have called. I won't call again. I love you."
"Davy, please wait...."
"I'm sorry, Ma." Starsky hung up the phone and stood with his head down on the receiver for a few minutes, fighting back tears. When he had recovered from the conversation, Starsky found the ticket counter and purchased a one-way ticket from El Paso to Lubbock. Then he went to the men's room to clean up a little. He didn't know why he had chosen Lubbock. He was just putting more distance between him and the pain of the life he had lost in California.
Despite the lateness of the hour, Rachel Starsky retrieved Captain Dobey's telephone number and called him.
"Dobey." He sounded wide-awake. She had no way of knowing the man hadn't had more than a few hours of sleep each night since her son mysteriously left Bay City.
"Captain Dobey, this is Rachel Starsky. I'm sorry to call you so late, I know it's after midnight there." She was apologetic since she rarely called anyone after nine in the evening.
"No problem, Mrs. Starsky. Did David call you?" He sounded so hopeful.
"I'm sorry I don't have much to give you, but yes he just did. I couldn't get him to tell me where he was."
"What did he say?"
"I'm frightened for him, Captain. He sounded so depressed. Davy's never sounded like that. He told me he loved me, that he wouldn't call again, and that he was sorry. Why is he sorry? Please tell me what's going on with my son." Her worry was undeniable and Dobey didn't want to deceive her. He also didn't want her to know how worried he was.
"I can't tell you too much, ma'am. He just left after Hutch's funeral and we are all worried about him. I was going to call you tomorrow to give you a message for him. Hutch has been found alive. If David calls again, you have to tell him that. Can you do that for me?" Dobey was mentally kicking himself. He should have called her and told her about Hutch before now. If he had, Starsky might be on his way back to Bay City.
"Of course. I'm glad Ken is all right. Please be honest with me, Captain Dobey. How worried should I be about Davy?"
How could he lie in the face of such a direct and heart-rending question? Dobey answered honestly. "Very worried, Mrs. Starsky. I'm sorry to tell you, we are all very worried. You just give him that message if he calls and we'll let you know as soon as we hear something, okay?"
"Yes, thank you. Goodnight." She hung up the phone and had a long cry about her oldest son. She knew that if Captain Dobey was so worried her son was in serious trouble. She prayed for him, hoping he would call again. Rachel Starsky knew her son though. He had said he wouldn't call and now she was afraid that was the last time she'd ever speak with him.
Starsky was leaning into a sink in the men's room. He looked up at the mirror and saw how haggard he looked. Eating hadn't been high on his list of priorities and he was looking thin. He splashed a little water on his face with his left hand and then he stood and stared down at the scar. As he had for weeks, Starsky couldn't help but wonder again why he had been spared. If he had just bled out in Hutch's apartment, they'd be together. That would have been much easier.
He looked down at the knapsack on the floor, knowing his dad's gun was in there. Starsky had thought about turning it on himself many times. Once he had even sat down with it in his hand, loaded and ready. The only thing that stopped him was the thought of Hutch's disappointment. Starsky knew he couldn't take that. As much as he wanted to die, he couldn't imagine meeting Hutch in heaven and explaining to him that he had eaten a bullet. In his heart he knew he had given up on life. If he kept on his current course, he wouldn't have to wait for death much longer and he wouldn't need the gun to do it.
Lost in his despair, Starsky never heard the two thugs who had followed him into the men's room. One of them walked quickly up behind Starsky and grabbed him. Even though his instincts kicked in to fight them off, Starsky was no match for the two men. He hadn't eaten in days and his hands were in no shape for defense. They easily overcame him, shoving him head first into the wall and laughing as he slid unconscious to the tile floor.
They rifled his pockets, pulling out his wallet. Pocketing his identification, cash, and credit cards they tossed the wallet on the floor next to Starsky. One of the men had gotten Starsky's watch off and was working on his rings while the other started to open the knapsack. They were startled when they heard the bathroom door open and a man's voice yell at them.
"What are you doing there?"
The two men looked at the intruder like deer in headlights. The man was a priest. By silent assent, they dropped Starsky's knapsack and barreled out of the men's room past the stunned man. He quickly crossed to the unconscious man on the floor.
Relieved to find a strong pulse, he realized Starsky was just dazed when he started to moan and stir in response to his touch.
"Young man, wake up. Are you all right?"
Starsky opened his eyes and blinked at the man hovering over him. The priest said, "Stay still. I'm going to call the police and an ambulance."
Starsky reached up for him gripping him by his wrist. "No. I'm okay. Just help me up."
"You know you have to be more careful, son. The bus station is a dangerous place." He helped Starsky to a sitting position. "Looks like they got what was in your wallet and your watch."
Realization dawning on him, Starsky frantically searched the knapsack. Hutch's watch and jacket were still there along with most of his cash and his dad's gun. They hadn't gotten anything important. "I don't care. Thanks."
"I'm Father Paul Dolan. What's your name?"
"David Banner." Starsky decided to try out his new alias and it looked like the priest believed him.
"Well, David Banner, why don't you come with me? I just got back from Dallas and I'm on my way to the church. You look like you could use a good night's sleep and a nice hot shower."
"No thanks, Father. I'm supposed to catch the next bus out to Lubbock."
The priest looked at him closely. He had seen a lot of young people in trouble during his career and the man in front of him looked like he was in trouble. He had noticed the wrist brace and the angry scar on Starsky's other wrist.
"That'll keep, David. Please, let me help you. I'm sort of in the lost sheep business and you look a little lost." Father Dolan smiled at him, hoping it would put him at ease.
Starsky thought about protesting, but decided maybe it would be nice to sleep in a real bed for one night. What did he have to lose?
"Okay, thanks." As they exited the washroom he said, "You know I ain't a Catholic. I'm Jewish, Father."
"The bed won't care." He walked Starsky out of the bus station and into a taxi for the ride to his church.
When Hutch woke up the next time, Captain Dobey was seated in the chair next to his bed. "Hey," he said quietly.
"Good morning. Feeling any better? Doc says your fever is down a little."
"A little. Starsky call in yet?" Dobey sighed. Hutch was more persistent than a pit bull. He wasn't sure how much longer he could fool him.
"Not yet. Maybe today."
"Cap, I just don't get it. That's not like Starsky. What aren't you telling me?"
Dobey was relieved to hear the door open and see Hill and Cavanaugh walking into the room.
"Hey, Hutch!" Hill said cheerily.
Hutch smiled at them. "Hill, Cavanaugh. What are you guys doing here?"
"Just checking up on our biggest unsolved case to date, man," Cavanaugh replied.
Hutch looked curious and glanced at Dobey. "Uh, Jack and Sean were assigned to your case. After we thought you were dead, the leads dried up completely."
"Where was Starsky when that was going down, Cap?" Dobey was worried and scrambling in his head for the right answer. He took a second too long and what happened next made him feel like he was having an out of body experience.
Cavanaugh answered, "Damn, Hutch. He was in the hospital around a week. I never saw so much blood. Any luck with the APB on him yet, Cap?"
If it were possible, Captain Dobey would have turned completely white at the remark. He realized too late that he hadn't told the other two detectives that Hutch didn't know the truth about his partner.
Hutch looked at him, his eyes wide and flashing with concern. "What APB?"
The room was suddenly silent.
"Cap? Answer me!" Hutch was angry now.
"Could you two give me a few minutes alone with Hutch?" Dobey asked Hill and Cavanaugh. They were both delighted to comply.
"We'll come back later, Hutch." They slunk out of the room as fast as they could. Though they couldn't make out the words, they could hear that Hutch was yelling all the way down the hall.
"Dammit, Cap. WHAT APB!" Furious. Hutch was definitely furious.
"Calm down and let me explain!" Dobey yelled back at him.
"Explain what! You've been lying to me for days. What the HELL is going on with my partner!" Hutch struggled to sit up, but he didn't have the strength yet. He was already winded by his shouting.
"Hutch, I'm sorry. I didn't want to lie to you. Just shut up and let me explain. You needed some time to get stronger and I didn't want to tell you everything 'til then."
"Tell me now and don't leave out anything." Hutch's eyes were smoldering.
Dobey explained everything that had happened. He admitted how badly Starsky had been hurt and told Hutch about the funeral. When he told him about Marjorie, Hutch was stunned.
"He disappeared the day after she died. We've been looking ever since."
"You mean to tell me Starsky has been missing for over a week?" Hutch was incredulous. Dobey remembered having a similar conversation with Starsky when he discovered Hutch was gone and they had kept him sedated. "Didn't he leave you any clues as to where he might have gone? What about a note?"
"Honestly, I had hoped you wouldn't ask that. Yes, he left a note." Dobey had carried both notes from Starsky every day to the hospital, dreading the inevitable time when Hutch would have to see them. He reached into his vest pocket, pulled them out, and put them in Hutch's hands.
Hutch opened the notes and read them. Dobey noticed the paper shaking from the trembling in Hutch's hands. When he looked up from the notes, Hutch's eyes were wet. "My God. He sounds... well, suicidal."
"I know, Hutch. Huggy is doing everything he can and I've had as many men as I can spare looking into it. I know how bad it sounds, but the good news is he hasn't turned up in any hospital or morgue in California. He called his mother last night so we know he was still alive then. Maybe he's all right." He knew he wasn't offering much comfort to Hutch, but it was all he had.
"That's supposed to make me feel better? Doesn't. Just because he called his mom doesn't mean he's okay. I have to get out of here and start looking for him. Go and call the doc in here, okay?"
"You can't yet, son. Be practical. You can't even sit up in bed. Just give it a few days. We're doing everything we can. As soon as you're cleared, I'll give you the time you need."
Hutch shook his head, fighting back tears. He couldn't stand the thought that Starsky was out there alone and hurting, thinking he was dead. "He's in real trouble. You know if his hands were hurt that badly, he can't even defend himself."
"I know, but you're not gonna do him any good if you really wind up dead trying to find him. Please. Give yourself a little while longer here."
Hutch reluctantly agreed, knowing he had little choice in his condition. He hoped Starsky would be all right until he could find him, but he had no idea where to look.
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