My sincere thanks to Linda C and Kathy K for allowing me to borrow Linda’s wonderful character, Dr. Kellerman, and for any references made to events that happened in their fabulous story Judgement Day.
Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made from it.
Three weeks had passed since James Gunther had been convicted of the charges leveled against him related to his attempt to have Starsky and Hutch assassinated. That attempt had resulted in the near fatal shooting of Detective David Starsky, followed by months of pain and rehabilitation from the trauma. He was still taking heavy doses of painkillers, although the doctor had dropped back his daily dosage somewhat. Every day was still a challenge, filled with pain for Starsky and worry for Hutch.
Hutch had done his best to be everything Starsky needed him to be. When Starsky was released from the hospital, Hutch took a leave of absence from the department to take care of his partner full time. Thankful that his partner had survived, Hutch promised himself he would do whatever it took to nurse him back to health and see to it that he was safe.
Sleeping had been tough for Hutch since the shooting. When it first happened, the doctors said there was no hope. Starsky was going to die. The deathwatch had taken nearly everything out of Hutch. If Starsky had died, he might just have gone with him.
Then, by some miracle his best friend survived. Every day had been a struggle for Starsky to become strong enough to leave the hospital. Although it was no longer a deathwatch, the process was still stressful. Poor Hutch spent every waking hour worrying about Starsky. He ate little and slept less.
Then came the stress of the trial. The District Attorney had insisted that Starsky be at the trial and that he not take any pain medication. Watching his best friend go through the agony of sitting all day in severe pain hurt Hutch.
The day Starsky testified was the worst. The shock of seeing his bloody leather jacket, and the pictures of the bullet-riddled Torino with his blood smeared down its side had severely upset Starsky. The picture of the ground covered with Starsky’s blood was the final straw. He was in such a bad way he collapsed from the pain and shock as he left the witness stand. Hutch was nearly at the end of his rope.
Thankfully, the jury found Gunther guilty on all counts. He was going to jail for the rest of his life. Hutch hated it that Gunther had a life when he had taken so much of Starsky’s from him. Still, the satisfaction of knowing he was going away forever seemed to help both of the detectives. Over the past few weeks, Starsky had made good progress physically and emotionally.
Hutch’s nightly ritual of coaxing his friend into eating something was becoming more successful. Starsky had lost so much weight, Hutch constantly worried about him having enough strength to endure his painful therapy sessions. The small amount of food he did get Starsky to eat came back up half the time.
One afternoon, while Starsky was sleeping off his noon pain medication, Hutch finally crashed. He was sitting at the kitchen table, trying to read through some case files Captain Dobey had asked him to review when his head slowly sank to the table top and he fell asleep right there. Between his partner’s pain, his nightmares, and Hutch’s own recurring nightmares of losing Starsky, Hutch hadn’t had more than a few hours sleep in the past several days. He did his best to hide it from Starsky, but he was not entirely successful. This time, he was so tired he didn’t even budge when Starsky called for him around five in the afternoon.
Getting no answer, Starsky eased himself out of bed and made his painful way out of his room to look for Hutch. When he saw Hutch sprawled on the kitchen table he nearly panicked. He cursed himself for being unable to move any faster as he tried to get to Hutch. By the time he crossed the room, Starsky was sweating and breathing heavily. His injured lung could barely take any exertion.
He shook Hutch’s shoulder and called to him again. “Hey, Hutch! You okay, buddy?”
His friend didn’t respond at all. He might as well have been in a coma. He could see Hutch was breathing regularly, and his pulse was strong, but it was beating fast. Starsky was frightened for him.
“Oh, God, Hutch. I can’t even help you!” Starsky was beside himself. As quickly as he could, he crossed the kitchen to the phone and dialed The Pits with shaking hands.
“The Pits. What it is?”
“Starsky, my man. You all right?”
“Oh, God, Huggy, I need your help. “
“Starsk, where’s Hutch?”
“He won’t wake up, Huggy. Please come over here.”
“You want me to call an ambulance?”
“No, I just want you to come. Please!”
“Sit tight. I’ll be right over. Starsk, sit down somewhere. If you get sick again, we’ll both be in trouble.”
“Okay, Hug. Please hurry.”
Starsky continued his efforts to revive his friend without success. Hutch just seemed to be in a deep sleep, but Starsky would be glad when Huggy arrived to help. He was so frustrated. He had to leave Hutch the way he was. Starsky didn’t have the strength to even pick Hutch’s head up off the table to lay something soft under it. Instead he sat next to Hutch, holding his hand and praying he was just sleeping.
The fifteen minutes it took Huggy to reach the apartment seemed an eternity to Starsky. By the time their friend came bounding through the front door, Starsky was frantic.
“God, Huggy. Maybe I should have let you call an ambulance.”
Huggy rushed to Hutch’s side and looked at him. He felt for a pulse, did all the same things Starsky had done. To him, Hutch looked like he was in the deepest sleep possible. He knew the man hadn’t slept in days. Hutch had confided in him just that morning how tired he was and how many nights he had gone without sleep.
Huggy shook Hutch’s shoulder.
“Hutch. Hey, wake up, bro.” Hutch still didn’t move. Huggy looked up at Starsky whose face was a mask of pain and concern. Huggy shook him a little harder and raised his voice a bit.
“Hey, Hutch. You need to wake up now, man. Come on, amigo. You’re scarin’ me and Curly here.”
Hutch groaned a little and moved the hand Starsky was holding.
“That’s it, Blondie. Come on and open your eyes.”
Starsky tried, “Hutch, hey, please? You can’t be sleepin’ at the table like this.” He was trying to get Hutch’s attention with a little humor.
Huggy looked up at Starsky with concerned eyes. “Starsk, if we can’t get him to wake up, we’re gonna have to call an ambulance. This just ain’t right. How long’s he been like this?”
“I don’t know for sure. I fell asleep after lunch, around noon I guess. When I got up at five, I found him like this.”
Huggy looked at his watch. Hutch could have been this way for several hours. He decided to try one more time, but this time Hutch didn’t acknowledge him at all.
“I’m callin’ an ambulance.”
Huggy walked to the phone and dialed for help. When he came back to the table, he really looked at Starsky. The man was pale, shaking, and sweating. Huggy knew what it looked like when the pain was really getting to his healing friend.
“Starsk, when was the last time you took your pain pills?”
“I’m gonna get you one now.”
“No! I have to go with Hutch. I can’t be getting sleepy.”
“You ain’t goin’ with him this time.”
“Nuh-uh, my man. When Blondie here wakes up, he’ll skin me alive.”
“I have to go, Huggy. Please?” Starsky was desperate. He couldn’t drive, but he could struggle down the stairs to take a taxi if necessary. Huggy knew that, so he used it as leverage.
“Well, I’ll drive you over there, but only if you take your pills.”
Starsky knew he had been had, but it would be better if Huggy helped him get there. He nodded agreement and stayed with Hutch while Huggy got his pills and a glass of water. He was relieved when he heard the sound of approaching sirens in the distance.
Huggy was worried about Starsky. He needed to lie down somewhere, not sit in uncomfortable, hard plastic chairs for hours. He wasn’t looking well and Huggy was regretting bringing him. Thankfully, the Emergency Room was not too busy and they only had to wait an hour before getting some word on Hutch. Starsky had never seen this doctor. She sat down in a chair next to him and introduced herself.
“I’m Doctor Farley. You must be David Starsky.”
Starsky nodded at her. “Yes, and this is Huggy Bear. How’s he doing?”
“He’s going to be all right. He’s been asking about you.”
Starsky started to struggle to his feet, but fell back on his chair and winced from the pain.
“Whoa, take it easy. I want to talk to you before you go in there. Are YOU okay?”
Starsky took a few breaths to get his pain back in control. “Yes. Please, what happened to Hutch? Why wouldn’t he wake up?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Mr. Starsky.”
“All right, Dave. Ken has told me about your situation.”
Starsky was hurting and starting to feel sick. He was also losing his patience. All he wanted was to see Hutch and to hear everything was going to be all right. The doctor could see his distress.
“Dave, just give me a minute to explain, then you can go and see him. Your friend is completely exhausted. He has been running for a long time on very little sleep and he tells me he hasn’t slept at all in the past three days. His body is trying to tell him something. That’s why you couldn’t wake him.”
Starsky’s face fell. Huggy could almost hear the gears turning inside his friend’s head.
“Doc, Hutch has been taking care of me since I was shot. This is all my fault.” Starsky hung his head dejectedly.
“Ah, Starsk, you know that ain’t true.” Huggy tried to calm his friend.
The doctor continued, “He really needs to rest. The body can’t go forever without sleep. I have him on an IV to replenish his fluids. He was dehydrated.”
Huggy knew he’d better fix this situation as fast as possible. Starsky was feeling guilty enough.
“Don’t worry, Doc. I’ll make sure he gets some sleep.”
“If you can ensure he rests for the next 24 hours, I’ll let him go home as soon as the IV is finished.”
“You got it, Doc.”
“Good. If he keeps going this way, he’s going to get sick and that won’t help either of you. Go ahead and see him now. Take it easy. You don’t look well yet yourself.”
Starksy had gotten stiff sitting in the waiting room chair, so Huggy had to help him to his feet. Then he kept one hand on Starsky’s arm to steady him as they walked in to see Hutch. His eyes were closed and he still looked pale. Starsky walked up to him and took his hand.
“Hey, buddy, you okay now?”
He slowly opened his eyes. They still looked tired, but at least Hutch was awake.
“You scared me, Blintz.”
“I’m sorry, Starsk. Should have woken up. Just so tired. You okay?”
“Yeah, I just need you to get better.”
Huggy stepped up to Hutch’s side. “Hey, Blondie. Don’t worry about it, you need some sleep.”
“Huggy, take care of Starsk, huh?”
“Don’t worry about a thing, the Bear is on it.”
Hutch nodded and fell asleep again. Starsky was still standing, but beginning to sway on his feet a little. Huggy knew he’d need another pain pill before they got back to the apartment but there was nothing he could do about that.
“Starsky, sit down, man.” Huggy pulled a chair over next to Hutch.
“I’m gonna go call Dobey. Hutch is wiped and we ain’t gonna be able to get him up the stairs without some help.”
Dobey met them at the hospital and helped Huggy get Hutch back to the apartment and safely tucked into bed. Huggy got some more pain medication for Starsky and they all put their heads together in the living room to discuss the situation.
Dobey rubbed his hands on his head and sighed. Starsky sat on the couch, pain clearly etched on his face.
“It’s my fault. Hutch can’t do everything for me. He needs a break.”
Dobey knew Starsky was feeling guilty, but he also knew Hutch wouldn’t like that.
“Dave, you know Hutch wants to do this. You’re not to blame. He just needs to rest for a while. Hutch is gonna be just fine. He’s just worn out is all.”
Starsky knew part of the problem was the bad dreams – his nightmares and Hutch’s too. No one could help them with the dreams. Still, maybe they could figure out some way to get Hutch some rest.
Huggy said, “Starsk, we’ve just got to figure out a way to get him to let us help. I’ve tried, but he likes to handle everything by himself.”
Starsky had an idea.
“Hey, I know what to do, but I’m gonna need your help to talk Hutch into doin’ it.”
“Shoot.” Huggy said.
“Hutch talked to his friend Andrew today, a guy who went to college with him. He’s some big shot doctor in Duluth now. He just inherited a lodge up in the mountains above Duluth and he’s having a reunion of some of his fraternity brothers to celebrate. He wants Hutch to come.”
Dobey asked, “When?”
“They’re all supposed to meet there day after tomorrow.”
“That’s pretty short notice.”
“Yeah, but this Andrew guy sent Hutch a plane ticket – only Hutch said he couldn’t go.”
Starsky dropped his eyes and added, “Because of me. I told him he should go.”
Dobey nodded. “We’ll convince him. Now, what about you, Starsky? Maybe you’d better come and stay with me and Edith while he’s gone.”
Starsky didn’t want to impose on his friends. “Nah, Cap. I’ll be okay here by myself for a few days. He’s only gonna be gone a week.”
Huggy snorted at that. “Starsk, you can’t be here all by yourself. You can barely get up off the couch without help. Blondie’ll never go if you put it to him like that. ‘Sides, he’s gonna know you won’t eat if nobody’s watchin’ ya.”
The captain said, “I’ve got an idea. We’ll work out a schedule. How does this sound? Huggy, you come over here after you close up every night. You’ll spend the night, get up in the morning and make Starsky some breakfast and a lunch for later. Then you can head back to your place. In the afternoon, Edith will come by after she picks Rosie up from school. She can make dinner and stay here for a while, then come back to our house. After dinner and the kids’ homework is done, I’ll come over and stay with him until midnight or so. Then you come back after closing and it starts all over again. This way, Starsky, you’ll only be alone a few hours at a time and we’ll all get enough sleep.”
“Yeah, Starsk. Maybe if it all works out right, Hutchie will let us help when he gets back from his trip.”
“I don’t know, you guys would be doin’ an awful lot of work. I’m sure I can handle it.”
Captain Dobey put a hand on Starsky’s arm and said, “Dave, let us help you both.”
Starsky was touched that his friends cared so much. He nodded his agreement and followed it by a yawn.
“Huggy, why don’t you go on back to the bar. I’ll stay with sleeping beauty and his sidekick here.”
“Okay. Call me if you need me. Hey, I’ll be back tomorrow night to help you break it to him. You’re gonna need the backup.”
The pain medication was making Starsky sleepy. He settled himself onto the couch to spend the night. They had put Hutch in Starsky’s bed. Hutch had been sleeping on a cot in Starsky’s room since he brought his partner home from the hospital, but on this night, Starsky had insisted they put Hutch in his bed.
“Hutch wouldn’t want you to sleep all night on this couch, Starsky. Why don’t you go lie down in the other room on Hutch’s cot?”
“No, Cap. He won’t sleep right if I’m in the room. Sometimes I’m restless. Might wake him up and I’m not gonna take the chance. Go home, Cap, we’ll be okay now.”
“I think I’ll stay and make sure you stay that way.”
Captain Dobey covered Starsky up with a quilt from the back of the couch and then settled down in the chair for an uncomfortable night of vertical sleep. Dobey knew Hutch would appreciate him staying. Starsky was getting better, but it had only been a few weeks since his last trip to the Emergency Room after he testified in the Gunther trial. He wasn’t ready to be alone for more than the number of hours between his medications yet.
Starsky did have a restless night. Many of his nights were filled with nightmares and his pain medication never carried him completely through a night’s sleep. That was something his captain hadn’t known. At least on this night, he didn’t wake up screaming. That might have disturbed both the captain and Hutch.
The next morning, Dobey made sure Starsky got something to eat. He noticed how little the man actually put in his mouth. The rest he just pushed around on his plate. No wonder Hutch was concerned. Hutch was right, he’d heal faster if he could regain some weight. That was something he’d talk to Huggy about later. The captain was exhausted so he headed home after checking on Hutch and making sure Starsky’s pain medication had started working again. He called Huggy and asked him to stop by with lunch later.
This day was one of the longest Starsky had experienced since he came home from the hospital. The only other time Hutch had been apart from him this long was when he testified at the Gunther trial. Hutch had refused to allow Starsky to come with him and his day was unbearably difficult.
At least once an hour, Starsky went into the bedroom to be sure Hutch was all right. He was sleeping so soundly, he hadn’t moved since they tucked him in the previous night. Starsky was glad when Huggy showed up with some lunch and to keep him company until Hutch awoke. By the time he arrived, Starsky was climbing the walls. He had read all of the books Hutch had gotten him and he was afraid to turn on the television in case it disturbed his partner. Hutch finally started to wake up at around four in the afternoon.
Hutch’s head felt like it weighed a ton. He struggled awake and opened his eyes. Disoriented, he looked around Starsky’s room. How the hell did I get in here?
The last thing he remembered was reading some case folders at the kitchen table. He looked at the clock, four in the afternoon. Starsky! Hutch sat up and tried to jump out of bed. That was a bad decision as the room started to spin and he fell to his knees.
He put his hands on the floor, trying to steady himself and called for his partner.
Huggy and Starsky heard the crash, then the shout. Starsky tried to stand up too fast and wound up slipping back onto the couch with a painful crunch. Huggy was on it, though, in the bedroom in a flash.
“Hutch, whoa, kimosabe!”
Huggy knelt next to his friend and helped him to his feet. He could feel Hutch’s body trembling slightly.
“Maybe you should lie down again, bro.”
Hutch had a frantic expression on his face. Starsky still hadn’t made it into the room and he was worried about where his partner might be.
“Huggy, where’s Starsky? Is he all right?”
Huggy pushed him to sit on the bed and answered him. “Yeah, he’s fine. How are you?”
Starsky finally made it into the room. He stopped to lean on the door frame for a moment, short of breath.
“Hutch! How ya feeling?”
Huggy helped him over to the bed to sit next to his partner, shaking his head at how each of them worried so much about the other, but not about himself.
“What the hell happened? How did I get in here? Starsk?”
“Uh, you fell asleep sometime yesterday afternoon.”
“Yesterday!” Hutch had no idea that four in the afternoon meant the following day. He was stunned. He had no memory of the Emergency Room or of Huggy and Dobey helping him up the stairs.
“Ah, buddy, I’m sorry. How stupid!”
Huggy said, “Hutch, we couldn’t get you to wake up for us.”
Starsky nodded, “I was scared, Hutch. I called Huggy and he couldn’t wake you up either. We had to call an ambulance.”
Hutch turned white. “You did? I’m sorry, man.”
“You feelin’ okay now?”
“A little wobbly, but I’m okay. I guess I just needed the sleep.”
“The master of understatement, Huggy.”
They all chuckled. Huggy excused himself to go to the kitchen and heat up their dinner. He knew Hutch would be hungry.
“I’m really sorry I worried you like that. I don’t even remember going to the hospital. How did I get back here?”
“Huggy and Dobey brought you in and put you in my bed. I felt so useless. I can’t even do anything to help you now.” Starsky looked away from Hutch, down to the floor.
Hutch knew exactly how he would have felt if their roles had been reversed. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m just sorry I scared you like that. You didn’t go down there did you?”
“Of course I did.”
“Starsk, you don’t need to be running around, going up and down stairs, and sitting up waiting for me at the hospital. You should have stayed here. Are you okay?”
Starsky looked hurt. “How can you think I could stay here, Hutch? I had to go. You’re still my partner.”
Hutch patted him on the leg and said, “I’m sorry.” He laughed. “I just keep saying that, don’t I? I just worry about you. I’m all right, Gordo. Let’s go see what Huggy’s cookin’ up in the kitchen.”
Hutch stood up, slowly this time, and held his hand out for Starsky. “Hey, where did you sleep last night?”
Hutch flinched. He knew Starsky must be in extra pain after sleeping on that uncomfortable couch all night. As soon as he ate something, he would get Starsky’s medications back under control.
“I do feel better. Guess I can’t go three days without sleep anymore. Getting to be an old man.”
Starsky was still worried. He and Huggy would corner him about his trip over dinner.
Huggy had brought a pot of stew for dinner. He knew Hutch would like it and Starsky was only going to pick at whatever he put in front of him anyway. When they all were seated at the table, Starsky started the conversation.
“Um, Hutch, you know that trip your friend Andrew wants you to take?”
“The one I already turned down, Starsk?”
“That’s the one. Only thing, I called him back today and told him you’d be there.”
“You did what?”
Huggy stepped in, “Look it, the doc said you needed a break. We all think you should go.”
“Oh, you do? “
“That’s right, Hutch. Dobey agrees,” Starsky added.
Hutch looked at his two friends incredulously. Were they joking? He couldn’t possibly leave Starsky in his condition to go gallivanting off with his old college friends. That just wasn’t a consideration.
“I know what you’re thinkin’, Blintz. You can’t go anywhere ‘cause of me. You can, though.” Starsky looked Hutch in the eye trying to convey his sincerity.
“Starsky, you’re just not ready to be on your own. I don’t like it that you were probably here today with no one looking after things while I took an extended nap.”
“I was all right. The phone works, you know.”
Hutch looked to Huggy for help.
“Don’t look at me, I want you to go, too.”
“Huggy, I can’t.”
“Damn it, Hutch! Listen to me, will ya? I can’t go on like this day after day knowing that I’m a burden to you. Knowing that you can’t do anything because of me.”
“Whoa, partner! We’ve had this talk before. You’re not a burden. You know there’s nothing else I want to do or need to do except take care of you until you’re well.”
Starsky sighed. “Doc said you were gonna get sick if you don’t take a break. How’s that supposed to make me feel? Please, Hutch.”
“No! That’s it, I’m not going!”
“Yes, you are!” Starsky was getting agitated. His face was a little too pale, sweat was breaking out on his forehead, and his breathing was getting a wheezy. He wasn’t feeling well and he knew that wasn’t going to help his argument.
Huggy tried to divert Hutch’s attention to him by slamming his hand down on the table. Starsky flinched and Hutch whipped his head around to glare at Huggy. “Hey!”
“Don’t you ‘Hey’ me, Hutch. Listen to your partner. This is a great opportunity for you to get away for a few days. You’ll only be gone a week. Dobey and me can hold the fort for ya while you’re gone.”
Starsky was grateful for Huggy’s successful diversionary tactic. Hutch hadn’t seemed to notice how he looked.
“You and Dobey can’t be here twenty-four/seven, Hug.”
Starsky piped up again. “They don’t have to, Hutch. Cap thought up a good plan.”
“In case you were wondering, Gordo, you’re not fooling me. I can tell you’re not feeling well,” Hutch said as he pinned his partner with a serious look.
“Will you just listen to the plan. Please?”
Hutch couldn’t have been more irritated. He was already kicking himself for the hospital trip. He loved his partner, but he couldn’t help thinking he was also the most exasperating man he knew. That not withstanding, Hutch couldn’t resist Starsky when he used that puppy-dog look on him. “All right, Starsk, hit me with the plan.” He couldn’t help sounding dismissive, but Starsky didn’t let that dissuade him.
Starsky explained the captain’s plan careful while Hutch listened with interest. They had thought of almost everything, except the plan still left Starsky alone for several hours at a stretch. That didn’t work for Hutch. He attempted to reason with Starsky. “Well, Starsk, that all seems fine when someone will be here. How do you expect me to go knowing you’ll be alone for hours at a time? Also, you forgot about physical therapy.”
“Dr. K said I could do my exercises at home for one week. Only just got started on ‘em anyway. I’m much better now, Hutch. I’ll be fine. They’ll leave the phone right where I can reach it and somebody will be here to make sure I take my medications. We won’t miss any.”
Hutch chuckled. Starsky sounded like a kid trying to get permission to stay home while his folks went away for a weekend. “Come on, Gordo. You know I can’t. I just wouldn’t feel right about it. I’d worry too much.” He reached across the table and gave Starsky’s arm a squeeze. Hutch didn’t want to hurt his feelings or to make him feel even more dependent. He knew how hard being hurt like this was on his independent friend.
Starsky was determined not to accept Hutch’s answer. He saw the soft smile cross Hutch’s face and he zeroed in for the kill. If reasonable talking didn’t work, maybe guilt would.
Changing his face to look dejected, Starsky tried to sound a little angry. “That’s just terrific. Here you are practically keeling over on me from bein’ so tired and the doc says you’re gonna get sick. If you do get sick, I can’t take care of you and where does that leave me anyway? Did you think of that, huh?”
Hutch was surprised by this new tactic. He knew he was being manipulated, but he was touched anyway. Maybe he was acting like a mother hen.
“Bet you didn’t think of that,” Starsky added. “You’re gonna get sick if you don’t slow down and then Dobey and Huggy will wind up watching out for me anyway.”
Starsky tried to hide his excitement at seeing he was finally winning this argument. “Please go, Hutch. Have some fun and relax. I’ll be fine and I promise you when you get home you can mother hen me all you want. Just do this. For me, ‘kay?”
Oh boy, how am I supposed to resist that? Hutch looked at Starsky, then at Huggy. His black friend’s face was a mask of determination. He could see he was outnumbered.
“I don’t have time to get ready.”
Starsky smiled, “I had Huggy stop by your place and pack you a bag. All you have to do is go to the airport tomorrow and Huggy said he’d take you.”
Hutch laughed, out loud this time. “All right, partner. You win, but only if you promise to follow instructions and be good while I’m gone.”
Starsky whooped with excitement, then coughed from the exertion. Hutch put his warning finger up and said, “I mean it. You take it easy, take your medication, eat when you’re supposed to, and don’t overdo it. If anything happens, you know I would never forgive myself.”
“What’s gonna happen? You’ll only be gone a week. The past week worked out pretty good, didn’t it?”
Hutch nodded, knowing it had worked out well because he had dogged his restless partner to sleep enough and eat more.
Pleased that he was finally doing something to help Hutch, Starsky spent the rest of the evening in a good mood. He and Huggy helped Hutch make his final arrangements for the trip and they firmed up what they were now calling the “Starsky Schedule.” Everyone was in agreement and Hutch was as satisfied as he was going to be over the whole arrangement.
In the morning, when it was time for Huggy to drive Hutch to the airport, Starsky wanted to go. Hutch insisted he stay behind, though. A light rain was falling and he didn’t want Starsky to get cold.
“No, Gordo, you stay here,” he insisted gently.
“Aw, come on, Blintz....”
“Keep it up and I’ll stay here.” Hutch had allowed himself to be manipulated into taking this trip and he was determined to win this argument. Starsky was instantly quiet.
Hutch put his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. “Look, I don’t want you going out in the damp and catching a cold. Your lung couldn’t take that right now and you know Dr. Kellerman would have my hide. Oh yeah, make sure Rosie Dobey is over that cold she had last week before she comes up here, would ya?” Hutch had gone over to the Dobey’s to drop some paperwork off the previous week and Rosie was home sick with a cold. He had politely asked the Dobey’s not to let her visit Starsky until she was better, but it couldn’t help for Starsky to remind them.
“All right, Hutch. Now go on and have fun, huh? I want you rested and ready to slide back into mother hen mode in a week.”
Hutch ruffled Starsky’s hair a little, unable to leave without a concerned look flashing across his face. “You be sure you’re okay while I’m gone. I’ll call tonight from my folks’ house.”
Starsky smiled and nodded, then watched Hutch walk out the door with Huggy. When the door shut behind them, Starsky stood there for a few minutes. The apartment was suddenly quiet. Following the first of Hutch’s instructions, he settled himself down on the couch to rest. Hutch had written lists for Huggy, the Dobeys, and Starsky. He picked up Hutch’s list for him and laughed as he read it.
Take your pills every four hours with food. One of the white ones and one of the blue ones, unless the pain is really bad, then you can take two of the blue ones. If it’s that bad, though, better call Dr. K then call me.
Breakfast (eat more than you want to eat)
Drink plenty of liquids (that means water or juice, Gordo, not just root beer)
Oh, no more than one beer a day (you’re taking pain pills, mush brain)
Lunch (eat more than you did at breakfast.)
When Edith gets there, she’ll help you with your exercises.
Eat dinner (really eat it. Don’t just move it around your plate. That won’t fool Edith any more than it does me).
Go to bed by eleven, after you take your pills. Don’t stay up late watching movies till Huggy gets there. You need to sleep.
Repeat above instructions for six more days. Don’t go anywhere by yourself either. I don’t want you climbing up and down the stairs. If you want to go for a walk, don’t. We’ll go when I get home.
Starsky smiled and settled down for his first nap of many over the next several days. He fell asleep thinking about how lucky he was to have Hutch and that he didn’t want to take his partner for granted. Reading that list made him even more aware of all the things Hutch was taking care of for him while he recuperated.
Sitting on the airplane, Hutch tried to read a magazine. He found himself reading the same page repeatedly. Concentration was to be denied him on this trip. All he could think about was his healing partner, his thoughts laced with worry. He was still tired and he decided to give in to his body’s need for rest, sleeping until the plane landed in Minnesota – a universe away from Starsky.
Andrew Hyde was one of Hutch’s closest friends in college. He had gone on to medical school when Hutch moved to California and became a cop. Andrew was a prominent Pulmonologist in Duluth.
Hutch recognized his friend immediately when he stepped into the airport.
“Ken!” Andrew said with a smile and a wave.
Hutch walked toward his friend and gave him a big hug. “Andrew, long time no see, man.”
Andrew ruffled Hutch’s already messy hair. “Sleep all the way here, Ken?”
Hutch blushed. “Yeah, I’ve been a little tired lately.”
“Your partner told me about it. You okay?”
“Oh he did, huh? Dirtball.” Hutch laughed softly. “Yeah, I’m okay now. Looking forward to seeing your new place.”
“I’m glad you came. Starsky seems like a good guy.”
“The best, Andrew. To be honest, I’m a little nervous leaving him right now.”
“He told me you would be. Said I should make sure you had a good time and told me to tell you to quit being a mother hen. I hope that makes sense to you.”
Hutch smiled. “Yep. Perfect sense, I’m afraid. Scary.”
After they walked along in silence for a few moments, Andrew felt compelled to get something out of the way. “I heard about Vanessa, Ken. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” Hutch thought about his beautiful ex-wife, killed in his own apartment by the criminals she was trying to outsmart. Those events seemed long ago in his mind.
The awkward moment had passed by the time they were on the road to the Hutchinson home. Soon, the two men were chatting about old times. In addition to the fact that he was now a successful physician, Andrew was a newlywed. Hutch was happy for him.
“Your mom is supposed to have dinner waiting for us when we get there. Said it was going to be something healthy, just for you.”
“I’m starting to feel a little ganged up on here! Does everyone know how tired I’ve been lately?” Hutch was amused and irritated at the same time. Okay, motor mouth. Just wait ‘til I get home!
“I think your partner covered all of your bases for you,” Andrew said. He laughed and added, “I hope I get to meet this guy someday.”
Hutch’s mother was true to her word. She had a big dinner laid out for the two men when they arrived. She was worried about her son when she saw him. He looked so tired.
While she picked up their dishes after dinner, Mrs. Hutchinson finally asked the question she had been dying to ask throughout the meal. “Kenny, why don’t you get a nurse to come in and help with David so you can rest more?”
Fighting back annoyance, Hutch answered her quietly. “We’ve talked about this before, Mom. Starsky and I are fine without that. He’s getting better every day.”
Andrew couldn’t stand his curiosity any longer and he let it get the better of his natural politeness. “Ken, tell me about what happened to your partner.”
Mrs. Hutchinson excused herself to go and make some coffee while her son and his friend went out to sit in the front room by the fireplace. She wasn’t sure she could stand to hear the details of how her son’s best friend had almost lost his life. The miracle that Kenny wasn’t injured was still more than she could understand.
When they were settled in two large, comfortable leather wingbacks, Hutch sat staring into the fire for a few moments. Andrew was concerned that he was pushing his old friend too much.
“Hey, Ken, I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand.”
Hutch sighed and looked at Andrew. “No, I don’t mind telling you. That day was just so hard. I’m not sure where to begin. I had no idea that day back in May that our lives were about to be turned upside down in a flash.”
Andrew knew Ken Hutchinson was a police officer and that his work was dangerous. He hadn’t heard any of the details about what had happened, just the rumors that passed around town. He was grateful his friend was willing to discuss it and thought it might even be good for him.
Hutch looked back at the fire and began to speak. “They were painting in the squad room that day. We were bored and Starsky had suggested a game of trivia ping-pong. He’s always making up funny twists to games like that. We had a bet riding on the game. Loser buys a three-course dinner at the winner’s pick of restaurants. He won the game. We walked out to the parking garage at the precinct, chattering about where we’d go for his dinner.”
He paused as his mother came into the room with the coffee. They thanked her politely and waited until she left.
Hutch felt the need to explain his mother’s distant behavior to his friend. “She doesn’t want to hear this, Andrew. I think it makes her realize how close we are to death every day.”
He took a sip of his coffee and then continued. “I heard it first. We were getting into Starsky’s car. He was on the driveway side, and the car was between us. Suddenly, I saw a black-and-white patrol car pulling out a short distance from where we were. The driver had cut his wheels too close and was scraping the side of the unit along the bumper of another patrol car. I knew it wasn’t right when he just kept coming – tires squealing, side scraping. I yelled for my partner to get down and I dove for cover.”
When Hutch stopped talking for a moment to drink some more coffee, Andrew noticed a slight tremor in his hand. His friend was staring at the flames in the fireplace, mesmerized by them as if they were taking him back in time to the worst day of his life.
“They had an automatic gun, Andrew. He never stood a chance. They mowed him down right next to the car, the bullets going through him and the car. The windows shattered and all I could hear was the sound of the glass, the bullets firing, and a stifled cry from my partner. I got to my feet and went after the car, shouting for Starsky and firing my weapon. He never answered me and I couldn’t hear his gun, so I knew he had to be hit.”
Andrew was riveted by his friend’s story. His heart was beating just a little faster and he watched Hutch in fascination. Hutch’s life as a cop in a big city was distant from Andrew’s life in a quiet Minnesota town.
“When I’d emptied my gun, I spun around and ran back to the front of the car. I’ve been afraid at times in my work, but not like this. He was lying there, quietly bleeding to death. Gunned down right in front of me without a thing I could do to stop it.”
Hutch dipped his head down and took a shuddering breath. “God, Andrew. I’ve never seen so much blood. I just stood there for several heartbeats. My feet felt like they were glued to the pavement. I was sure he was dead. Then, I snapped out of it and ran to him. I was so afraid. I wanted to try and control the bleeding, but there was just so much. I could see he had been hit at least three times and the bullets had gone straight through him. People were shouting all around me, but they sounded distant, muffled. Instinct took over then. By the time the paramedics got there and pulled me away from him, I had been giving him CPR for what seemed like a lifetime. He was choking on his own blood.”
He stopped again and ran a hand through his hair. Then he closed his eyes tightly, like he was trying to push back the memory. Hutch slowly shook his head, opened his eyes and made eye contact with Andrew. His friend was shocked by the anguish there.
“Ken, you don’t have to finish. I can see this is painful for you. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry into things you might not want to discuss.”
Hutch waved his hand dismissively. “No, it’s all right. I can’t shut it out of my head anyway. The whole thing just plays over and over in my dreams. Almost every night.”
“I don’t even remember getting to the hospital. Hours later, I remember I was sitting in the waiting room with my captain. When the doc finally came out to talk to us, I knew right away it was as bad as I feared. You know it’s bad when they make you sit down in a quiet room before they’ll talk to you.”
Andrew swallowed hard and cleared his throat. He had done that himself and Hutch was right.
“The doc said he wouldn’t make it through the night. He said the damage was too massive. My best friend was dying and all I could do was watch. After I sat and stared through the ICU window for hours, the doc let me go in to see him. He told me later he was sure Starsky would be gone within a few hours and he wanted to give me a chance to say goodbye.”
Hutch stood and walked over to the fireplace, putting his hands on the mantle and leaning his head down between his arms. His voice became so quiet Andrew could barely hear him. “I couldn’t say goodbye, Andrew. What was I supposed to do if he died? He was slipping away from me and I felt like I was going down with him. I sat and stared at him, reaching out to touch him a few times. I was afraid to, though. Sort of like... if I touched him I might upset the balance of all the machines and tubes. He looked so fragile I was afraid just my touch could break him.”
“After one of Gunther’s goons snuck into the ICU to try and finish him off, my anger was white hot. I went into what Starsky calls a blond rage. Spent the next few hours trying to track down the people responsible. They wanted to kill me too and I was determined not to die until I had made them pay for Starsky. Then, when I called in to check on him, the captain told me I’d better get back to the hospital fast. I knew we were losing him. His heart had stopped and they had to shock him three times to get him back, but he made it.”
Andrew could see what the ordeal had done to his friend. Hutch still looked worried, even after all these months, knowing Starsky was going to be all right.
Hutch continued to explain about Gunther’s arrest, Starsky’s recovery, the trial, and the past few weeks. He told Andrew how hard his best friend had struggled and that he was still in considerable pain every day.
“He takes it all and keeps going. When I first brought him home from the hospital, he could barely make it up the stairs into the apartment. I had to carry him sometimes. He has come a long way, but he is still so weak. I can barely get him to eat and he still has to take strong pain medications every day. I’m sorry I was so reluctant to come on this trip. I just didn’t want to leave him. If anything happened to him, I’d never get over it.”
“You know, you’ve been under tremendous stress for months now, Ken. You needed this break. When I spoke with Starsky, he sounded good. He said your friends had worked everything out so he would be just fine while you are here. Try to relax.”
Hutch laughed at that. “Relax, huh? Well, I’ll try, but I think I may not really relax until I know he can take care of himself again. He can’t even tie his own shoes yet.”
Andrew reached over and patted his friend on the arm. “We’ll drive up into the mountains tomorrow and you can let all that stress and worry fade for a few days. You’ll see.”
“I’m going to give him a call, make sure everything’s okay. Then I’m going to bed. I’m feeling pretty tired.” Hutch showed Andrew to the guest room just at the top of the stairs, and then he returned to the kitchen for a glass of milk and to call Starsky.
The phone ringing woke Starsky from an extended nap. He had eaten the dinner Mrs. Dobey brought him and taken two of his pain pills. The extra exertion of the past two or three days had taken its toll on him and he was hurting. The pills made him extra sleepy and Edith had left him crashed on the couch with the quilt thrown over him.
Hutch looked at his watch, only eight p.m. in California, too early for Starsky to be asleep for the night. “Hey, Gordo, you okay?”
Starsky tried to wake up more so he could talk to Hutch without him worrying. “Yep, just dozed off for a bit. You said to rest.”
“Uh-huh. Did you eat dinner?”
“Yeah, Edith brought me fried sh-icken. I ate some.”
Hutch thought he still sounded groggy. “Lot of pain tonight, buddy? You sound like you might have taken two pain pills with dinner.”
Starsky sighed, “Lighten up, Blondie. I’m a’right. Jus’ a little sore today.” He shook his head trying to become more alert. “You havin’ fun yet?”
“Well, Dad’s out of town for a couple days. Mom made a nice dinner and I sat and talked with Andrew for a long time. He’s a good listener. You alone right now?”
Starsky looked at the clock. “Yeah, Dobey’ll be here in about a half hour.”
“Okay. Hey, I forgot to tell you, please don’t get in the shower unless someone is there.”
Starsky grumbled back at the phone. “Hutch, relax. I’m not made of glass. Have a good time and you can rag on me in person next week, okay?” He knew Hutch was right, but he didn’t want to admit it.
Hutch was apologetic. “I’m sorry, Starsk, I know you’re not. I’m just having a hard time not worrying. I’ll try harder.”
“Yeah, okay. Get some sleep, you sound tired too.”
“I will. We’re leaving pretty early, so I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon when we get up to Andrew’s place.” Hutch didn’t like it that there would be so many hours until his next call.
“I’m fine. Night.”
“Night, Starsk.” Hutch waited to hear Starsky hang up the phone before he did. He had a funny feeling he was going to regret this whole thing, but he pushed that feeling aside. Starsky had assured him everything was fine and his friends were perfectly capable of caring for his patient for a few days. He was feeling pretty achy himself as he climbed the stairs to his room.
The next morning, Andrew and Hutch were in the car by eight. First they drove to Andrew’s home in Duluth to pick up his wife, Patty. Then they stopped to pick up a few more supplies and turned up to the mountains toward Andrew’s new vacation home. Their other friends were supposed to meet them anytime after one in the afternoon and they wanted to be sure to get there early.
Hutch was starting to feel like he was getting sick and the winding mountain road did little to help that feeling. When they pulled up outside the mountain retreat, Andrew looked at him with concern. “You feeling all right, Ken?”
“Oh, I guess just a little car sick. No big deal.” He proceeded to help Andrew unload the car, feeling queasy the whole time.
They migrated to the kitchen when they were done unloading. Patty was putting all the groceries away. She was a nurse and she scrutinized the tall blond she had just met, thinking he didn’t look well. Putting a hand on his forehead, she said, “ Ken, car sickness doesn’t give you a fever. Why don’t you lie down for a little while?”
“Great, this is all I need. Thanks, Patty. I need to use the phone first, though, where is it?” She pointed it out at the end of the kitchen.
Starsky had woken up that morning with a cough. Knowing that would set Huggy to worrying, he stifled it as best he could. When he snuck into the bathroom, he could see Huggy was still sleeping on the couch. He quietly shut the door and started rifling the contents of his medicine cabinet in search of cold medication. Anything he could take to keep Huggy from finding out he was getting sick.
Starsky took some stuff he had left over from the last time he had a cold and climbed into the shower. He was doing his best to follow Hutch’s instructions and Huggy was just in the other room if he needed him. He was sure the cold medication would work before Huggy saw him.
Huggy heard the shower when he woke up, surprised to see that Starsky had gotten up first. He went into the kitchen to fix his friend some breakfast and had it all ready when Starsky appeared after his shower.
Starsky sat at the kitchen table – attempting to eat the breakfast Huggy had given him. Huggy was looking at him, his brow furrowed.
“You doin’ okay, Starsk?”
“I’m okay. How you doin’, Hug?”
“Don’t get cute. How I’m doin’ ain’t the issue. You don’t look very good today and I don’t want to get in trouble with your better half. What’s up?”
Starsky was frantic to come up with any explanation other than the truth. He hated to lie to Huggy, but Hutch had only been gone for a day and he didn’t want him to find out his friend was getting sick. That might make him dump the trip and come back early. He wasn’t sure if Huggy was buying his act. Starsky only had to fool him for an hour or so. After breakfast, Huggy would make his lunch for later and leave for The Pits. Then Starsky could rest and make sure he looked decent by the time Edith Dobey got there.
“Ha, ha. Nothin’s up. I’m okay.”
He did his best to eat and took his medication. The cold medication had worked and he wasn’t coughing, but he hoped it wouldn’t knock him out to take pain pills on top of the cough medicine.
Starsky managed to hold it together long enough to fool Huggy. When his friend left, Starsky went to sleep for a while. When the phone rang at around eleven, he woke up with a start. He knew it would be Hutch and he struggled to get his voice under control before he picked up the phone.
“How ya doin’, Blintz,” he said as cheerfully as he could.
Hutch replied, “I’m okay. What did Huggy make you for lunch?”
“Dunno. I haven’t been in there to look.”
Hutch was suspicious of that. Starsky should have been in there by now at least to get something to drink. “Whatever it is, see that you eat it.”
Starsky put his hand over the receiver, suppressing a cough. He wasn’t entirely successful.
“You coughing?” Hutch said, concern coming through in his voice.
“Uh, yeah, sorry. I swallowed wrong. Somebody’s always naggin’ me to drink more, so I’m doin’ it.”
Starsky felt guilty, but the lie worked. He was doing what he thought was best for
Hutch. Starsky continued, “How was the
drive up to the lodge?”
“Okay. Andrew’s wife, Patty, is really nice. She’s gonna be the only lady up here this weekend with a bunch of old fraternity friends. I hope she knows what she’s getting into here.” Hutch laughed. Starsky smiled, happy to hear his friend sounding a little more relaxed. Hutch didn’t tell him he was feeling bad. No reason for Starsky to worry about him.
Starsky was worried that Hutch would hear him cough some more if he didn’t get off the phone. “Well, if you don’t mind, I need my beauty sleep. Somebody is also always naggin’ me to rest more.”
“Okay, smart guy. Be sure you eat your lunch. I’ll call you tonight.”
“Not that I don’t want to talk to you, big guy, but just call me tomorrow. You have fun with your friends. I’m fine here.”
Hutch gave Starsky the number at Andrew’s and hung up feeling pretty content that Starsky was okay for yet another day. Despite Starsky’s request, he planned to call him that night before bedtime. He let Patty show him to the guest room and took a nap, hoping he’d feel better later.
Several hours later he woke up hearing voices and laughter in the other part of the house. He found his head was pounding and he had a cough. Great. Well, at least if I have to be sick, I’m not around Starsky. He doesn’t need that.
His eyes hurt when the light from the hallway hit them and he knew he still had a fever. When he walked into the kitchen coughing, Patty looked up at him.
“Ken, you look worse. Come sit at the table and let me get you some juice.”
Hutch wasn’t used to anyone other than Starsky noticing when he was sick and trying to take care of him. He wasn’t sure how to react. “Thanks.”
She put the juice in front of him and told him she’d be back in a few minutes. He sat at the kitchen table, nursing the glass of juice until a wave of nausea over took him. He had seen a bathroom in the hall on his way to the kitchen and he headed to it top speed.
Hutch couldn’t help thinking that the only good thing about throwing up was that it usually made him feel better. He washed his face and rinsed his mouth out with some mouthwash he found under the sink. Then he went back to the kitchen.
Andrew was waiting for him when he got there. “I see you’re not feeling any better. Patty was right, you look awful.”
“Thanks, I think.” Hutch smiled wryly and sat back down at the table. Patty appeared with a couple of aspirin for him to take.
“Why don’t you let me take a look at you, Ken.” Andrew said, his voice heavy with concern.
“Naw, just a cold. Hey, did I hear some of the guys?” Hutch was trying to change the subject. He hated being the center of attention. The obvious ploy wasn’t lost on his friend, but he let it slide anyway.
“Feel like coming into the living room? The guys are all here?” The glint in Andrew’s eyes told Hutch he was hoping he’d say yes.
“Sure do.” Hutch got up and followed Andrew into the other room.
Walking into the living room, Hutch saw five of his college friends sitting around laughing. They all got up when they saw him.
“Ken!” several voices said at once.
He smiled, in spite of the nausea and put a hand up, “Guys! Happy to see you, but I’m sick, so stay back if you don’t want the crud.”
Ignoring his warning, his old friends gave him big hugs and slaps on the back, which only caused him to cough some more. He didn’t care. Seeing his friends was worth it.
Soon, they were enjoying conversation, reminiscing about their fraternity days. No one but Andrew and Hutch noticed when Patty slipped in with some cough medicine for Hutch. He looked at the clock, thinking he should call Starsky again, but decided to wait. He was caught up in the conversation and he figured Starsky would be okay for a few more hours. He didn’t want to drive his best friend crazy.
While Hutch was having a long visit with his friends, Starsky was downing yet another dose of cough medicine. Edith Dobey was there and had just called him in to eat dinner. Starsky didn’t answer her and she became concerned. She stuck her head in his partially open bedroom door just in time to see him chugging cough medicine.
“David, what are you doing?” She asked.
He didn’t know she was standing there and it startled him.
“Geez, Edith. You tryin’ to give me a heart attack?” He hoped she hadn’t seen the bottle of cough syrup.
“I’m sorry I startled you, but why are you taking cough medicine?” She crossed the room and put a wary hand on his forehead. “David, you have a fever. I’m going to call Harold.”
He grabbed her wrist as she moved away and said, “No!”
She looked at him in disbelief. “Why not?”
“Please, Edith. I just have a little cold. Woke up with it. I didn’t want anyone to know.” His eyes were pleading with her. Despite the cough medicine, he started to cough and she could see it was causing him pain.
She sat down next to him on the bed. “David, you know you shouldn’t take a cold lightly. Your lung is still weak and I’m sure you should be looked at for this.”
“Oh no, not that. Please. I’ll be okay in a day or two. Before Hutch comes back, I promise.” He was trying to catch his breath, his hand held up to his chest like it should help the breathing.
Edith thought about it for a minute. “This is about Hutch, isn’t it? You know he’d already have you out the door to see the doctor. Are you afraid he’ll come home if he gets wind of this?”
Starsky nodded. “He would. I want him to have this week off. Please, I’ll be careful.”
Against her better judgment, she agreed. She made him let her take his temperature and it was only 100.2. Not a serious fever. Maybe this was just a cold after all. She helped him into the kitchen and made sure he ate some dinner and took his medication. Rosie still had the sniffles so she had left the little girl with a neighbor for the second day in a row while she visited Starsky, but she needed to go get her. “Will you be all right here until Harold comes?”
“Yes, I’m okay.” He knew Edith would tell the captain about his cold. “He won’t call Hutch, will he?”
“No, I’ll make him promise. I understand what you’re doing, but you’d better not get any worse. I hate to think what your partner would say to all of us if we let you get sick.”
Starsky smiled at her and thanked her for coming. When she was gone, he fell back asleep on the couch. He didn’t hear the door when Captain Dobey entered. He approached the restlessly sleeping man and touched him. He could tell Starsky had a fever still. His touch roused Starsky.
“Hi, Cap. Sorry, didn’t hear the door.” His voice sounded terrible, like laryngitis was starting.
“Oh, you sound just great. Has Hutch called?”
Starsky was frantic. What would he do when the phone rang? He couldn’t let Hutch hear him sounding like this. “Cap, you talk to him. Don’t tell him.”
“How am I supposed to do that? He’ll want to talk to you.”
Dobey sounded gruffer than he intended to and he felt bad when Starsky
started to cough again and shake his head.
“No. Sleeping. Tell him.” Starsky was reaching for the cough medicine when the phone rang. “Kitchen,” Starsky choked out, hoping the captain would realize what he meant.
Captain Dobey nodded and quickly crossed into the kitchen to answer the phone in there.
“Cap, that you?” Hutch asked.
“Yeah. You having a good time, Hutch?”
Starsky had pulled a couch pillow over his face so there was no way Hutch could hear him coughing.
“Yeah, Cap. Let me talk to Starsky.”
“He’s asleep right now.” Dobey hated to lie to him, but he understood what Starsky was trying to do. After all, this was just a cold. In light of all that had happened as a result of Gunther’s attempt on Starsky’s life, this was a minor detail.
“Asleep so early? That’s two nights in a row. What’s going on with him?”
“Nothing, didn’t you tell him to rest?”
“Yes, I did, but....”
“Lighten up, Hutch. He wanted me to tell you everything is fine. He’s just tired.”
Hutch sat for a moment, trying to decide if his boss would lie to him about this. Dismissing the thought, he said, “Well, if you’re sure. Tell him I’ll call tomorrow morning.”
“I will. Have fun, Hutch.” Captain Dobey hung up the phone and sighed with relief.
Starsky managed to say, “Did it work?” between coughs.
“I think so. You know we should be going to the doctor.” Dobey pointed out the same thing Edith had.
“No doctor. Just a cold.”
Dobey insisted on taking the sick man’s temperature to see if it had risen since Edith took it. His fever was up to 101 now.
“Starsky, if this gets any worse, you’re going to the doctor whether you want to or not. We’ll decide what to do about telling your partner when the time comes. You have until Edith comes tomorrow afternoon, understood?”
Knowing an argument would be fruitless, Starsky nodded. The captain helped him get into bed. He waited awhile before he slipped out of the apartment to return home. He left a note for Huggy, letting him in on the sleeping man’s situation. When Huggy arrived just before three in the morning, he found the note and a sleeping Starsky. He wanted to check Starsky’s temperature, but he didn’t want to wake him. That could wait until morning.
The next morning, Starsky woke himself up with his own coughing. His throat was raw and his head was pounding. As if he didn’t have enough pain from the healing wounds, now he had to contend with a chest cold. Terrific.
Huggy heard him moving and called to him from the kitchen. “Mornin’, sit tight, I’ll be right there.”
His friend appeared from the kitchen with a glass of water and Starsky’s medication. “Wait a minute, Starsk. Cap’n Dobey left me a note. I’m s’posed to take your temperature first.”
Starsky was cranky and in no mood to try and hide his fever. “Gimme a break, Hug. Since when did you start following Dobey’s orders?”
“Since your partner put us in charge of your well being, amigo. No shut up and put this under your tongue before I have to get rough.”
Starsky obediently put the thermometer in his mouth. He knew his fever was worse, but he wasn’t sure how he could hide it with Huggy watching him. He had an idea, and he started to struggle to his feet.
“Hold on a minute, where do you think you’re going?”
Starsky pulled out the thermometer and said, “Bathroom, you mind?”
“Oh, course not. Just keep that thing in your mouth, okay?”
Starsky nodded and let Huggy help him to his feet. He shuffled off to the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Starsky thought it wasn’t quite a lie since he really did need to go. This was just a little subterfuge and it was for Hutch. He felt terrible, but he wasn’t about to let a cold ruin Hutch’s vacation.
Before he left the bathroom, he took the thermometer out of his mouth and read it. The reading was just a little over 103 and it was only eight in the morning. He knew Huggy would make him go to the doctor if he saw it. Ignoring the pain of doing it, Starsky shook the thermometer down below 101 before he went back into the living room. He put it back in his mouth, stepped out of the bathroom and took it out immediately giving it to the waiting Huggy Bear.
“Well, what is it?” he said as innocently as he could.
Huggy turned his back to the light coming from the kitchen and read the thermometer. “Well, it’s around 101. No worse than last night. Guess you get a reprieve, Curly.”
Huggy didn’t see the sigh of relief as he walked back into the kitchen to finish putting Starsky’s breakfast together. Starsky was having trouble breathing, each breath feeling like fire in his chest. He did his best to collect himself and headed toward the kitchen table to pretend he was eating his breakfast. Starsky knew he was getting worse, but he still didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. His health had been out of his control for months and, as foolish as he knew it was, he felt a little control come back to him with his decision to hide the severity of his cold.
When Hutch woke up that morning, he realized he had overslept. The clock said ten when he opened his eyes. By now, Huggy would be probably be gone and he should be able to get Starsky if he called. After a quick shower, Hutch walked into the kitchen to use the phone. Looking through the kitchen windows, he laughed at the sight of his college friends having a snowball fight in the yard outside.
Patty was at the sink washing breakfast dishes when she heard him laughing behind her. She smiled brightly and said, “Morning, Ken. Feeling any better?”
His voice sounded a little rough when he answered, “Well, my stomach feels better, but my ears hurt now. This stinks. Uh, thanks for asking.”
She poured him a cup of coffee and handed it to him with some more cold medication and a smile. He looked at her gratefully and said, “Too bad you’re already taken, Patty. I hope Andrew knows how good he’s got it.”
Patty blushed. “Andrew said you were a charmer. Take your pills and I’ll make you some breakfast.”
“No thanks, I’m not sure I can eat right now. I’m just going to call home if that’s okay.”
“You don’t have to ask, Ken. Call anytime.”
When he picked up the receiver, he heard nothing.
“No dial tone,” he said.
Patty replied, “What? Let me see.” She took the phone from him and hit the hook switch a few times. “I’m sorry, Ken. That snowstorm last night must have taken out the lines. The phones go out up here all the time. Maybe it’ll be back later.”
Hutch’s mind was racing. No phone service? How was he going to check on Starsky? “How long does it stay down when it goes?”
“Well, we’re pretty remote up here. Could be as long as a week.” She could see he was looking a bit panicked, but was unsure as to the reason. “Don’t worry, sometimes they get it back fast. Is everything okay?”
Hutch tried to look calmer. “Yeah, I just need to check on my partner.”
Patty knew about Starsky. Andrew had told her about it when Ken initially refused their invitation. Though she didn’t know many of the details, she was sure Hutch was worried.
Andrew walked into the kitchen then and greeted Hutch. “Good morning, sleepyhead. You better?” He walked over and put his hand, icy cold from the outside on Hutch’s warm forehead.
“Hey! Your hands are like ice!”
“Come on in the den, I have my bag in there and I want to listen to your chest.”
“Aw, quit being a doctor.
“Sure, sure. You sound just great. Quit arguing.”
Andrew steered his friend into the den and sat him down on the sofa while he got his medical bag. He listened to Hutch’s chest through his stethoscope and took his temperature. He was sure to say “Uh-huh,” a lot when he noticed how much it irritated Hutch.
“Well, you’re sick,” he pronounced after his examination.
“All those years of medical school and that’s what you find? Humph. I coulda told you that,” Hutch said amiably.
“All right, that’s low. Your temperature is 101 and your lungs are telling me you have an upper respiratory infection. I’m going to have to drive into town to get you some antibiotics.”
“What? I thought it was just a cold.”
Suddenly, Hutch realized if Andrew went to town, maybe they had working phones. “Hey, I’m coming with you.”
“No, you’re not. Stay here and rest.”
“Nothing doing. Your phone is out and I need to check on Starsky. Maybe they’re working in town.”
Andrew looked at him with concern. “Well, I guess it’s okay. The phones are probably not working there either, though.”
As they left the house, Hutch remarked at how glad he was that he wasn’t around Starsky with his infection. Andrew knew that Hutch had probably exposed his friend before he left town, but he thought that was a burden Hutch didn’t need, so he said nothing.
In the car on the way into town, Andrew thought Hutch seemed quiet, even for Hutch. “You quiet just because you don’t feel well, Ken?”
“Huh?” Hutch was 1600 miles away in Bay City. “Oh, I’m sorry, Andrew. I guess I’m just a little worried. My partner and I usually know when something is wrong with each other and I have a bad feeling.”
“Ken, your concern is perfectly understandable. You almost lost him just a few months ago. You’ve been taking care of him, probably to the exclusion of all else for months. Just relax, I’m sure he’s fine.”
Hutch smiled at him, knowing that his friend couldn’t really understand about the connection he had with Starsky. “I admit to being a mother hen. That’s what he always calls me. This is different, though. I just have a funny feeling. Ah, you must think I’m nuts.” Hutch shook his head, sure he was right.
“No, I don’t. You’re just a good friend,” Andrew reassured him.
“Uh, I never said thanks for listening to me the other night. I usually don’t talk about the shooting, but I guess I just needed to then.”
“You’re welcome. Everyone needs to talk to someone once in a while.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever stop seeing him lying there.” Hutch rubbed his eyes in yet another useless attempt to remove the image of Starsky bleeding to death on the ground from his mind’s eye.
When they reached the small mountain town, Hutch followed his friend into the local drug store. He looked around, amused to see an old-fashioned soda fountain in the store. Hutch couldn’t help thinking about how much Starsky would enjoy that. Starsky loved chocolate malts.
Andrew was talking to the pharmacist while writing out a prescription for an antibiotic and some cough medicine with codeine. Hutch put a hand on his friend’s arm.
“No, codeine. Uh, makes me have nightmares. I’ll stick with the non-prescription kind.”
Thinking he had seen a flash of something else in his friend’s eyes, Andrew let it drop and agreed.
Hutch asked the pharmacist, “Do you have a pay phone here?”
The man looked at Hutch and said, “Sorry, phones are out all over town.”
Andrew could see the disappointment on Hutch’s face. While they waited for the prescription, Hutch paced nervously through the store, snapping his fingers absentmindedly while he walked. The pacing increased his coughing. Andrew was glad when it was time to get back into the car.
Pulling out of town, he said as casually as he could, “Look, Ken, try not to worry. You couldn’t be around Starsky sick like this anyway.”
He knew before the words were barely out of his mouth that he had made a mistake. Hutch was suddenly alert. “Oh, my God. Starsky. I got sick the first night I was here. You don’t think I could have exposed him to this, do you?”
Andrew couldn’t lie to him. “Possibly, but that doesn’t mean he’ll catch it.”
“Andrew, his lung is in bad shape still. An infection like this could be dangerous. I need to go home.”
“Ken, you can’t go like this. Even if he didn’t catch it before now, he sure would if you go back there with a fever and that cough. Wait a couple of days on the antibiotics, then go.”
Of course Hutch knew that his friend was right, but he didn’t like it. “Maybe the phones will come back on and I can at least talk to him.”
After Huggy left, Starsky tried to rest as much as his nagging cough would allow. He was coughing up gunk and it didn’t make him feel any more at ease. He swigged cough medicine, noting that he would soon have none. Around ten in the morning, he called the pharmacy in his neighborhood and asked them to bring him some cough medicine. The pharmacist knew both Starsky and Hutch, having filled Starsky’s prescriptions since he came home from the hospital. When he explained that Hutch was away for a few more days and he was home alone, the man was happy to send a clerk over with a care package of cold supplies.
The pharmacy clerk knocked on Starsky’s door at around noon. He stood there for several minutes, knocking again and again. Finally, a weary, sick looking Starsky appeared at the door to accept the package. By then, Starsky could barely talk. Still, he thanked the kid who brought the medicine. At least this meant he could possibly continue to hide his symptoms from his friends.
Starsky tried to sleep after that, but he couldn’t get comfortable and breathing was difficult. The constant coughing was giving him sharp pains in his lungs and his healing tissue ached. His breathing had developed a wheezing sound. He was beginning to wonder why Hutch hadn’t called, but he was also relieved that he hadn’t. Starsky could not have hidden his illness from Hutch this time. His voice would have betrayed him.
He hadn’t felt like eating his lunch and had not taken his noon pain medication. Starsky finally got back to his feet to go to the bathroom at around one. He knew Edith would be there in a couple hours and he thought he had better find something to take for the fever. Everything hurt and he had the chills. He decided maybe he had better take his temperature again first and when he saw that it read 104.8, he started to get scared. Knowing he had better stop trying to hide this, he attempted to make it to the phone in the living room. He was going to call Huggy and ask him to take him to the doctor. Unfortunately, he never made it. Somewhere between the bathroom door and the couch, Starsky collapsed and he lay on the floor unconscious.
Two hours later, Edith Dobey was coming in through Starsky’s front door. Her arms filled with grocery bags, she balanced them on one arm while she turned to shut the door behind her. When she turned back and saw Starsky lying on the floor she dropped the bags.
Rushing to his side, she quickly noted he was shivering. “Dave?” She shook his shoulder gently and called his name again. “Dave? Honey, it’s Edith. I want you to wake up for me, Dave.” The man on the floor was unresponsive. His skin felt like it was on fire, his breathing was rapid and wheezy, he was soaked in sweat, and his pulse was racing. Edith wasted no more time trying to revive him. She rushed to the phone and called for the paramedics.
She ran for some towels and quickly soaked them in cool water, then used them to wipe Starsky’s face and arms, hoping it would bring the fever down some. Edith sat on the floor and pulled Starsky up as much as she could in the hope of easing his breathing. His lips were a little blue and she was terrified. Edith propped him up against her, held onto him, and prayed while she waited for the ambulance. The heat radiating off Starsky was frightening. She hated to think what his temperature might be.
Though it seemed to take much longer, she heard the sound of the approaching siren within five minutes of placing the call. “Dave, the ambulance is here, honey. Just breathe for me.” He started to come around a little, but was agitated and confused. He weakly tried to push her hands away from him and called for his best friend, “Hutch? Hutch?”
“Sh, Dave. Hold still. You’re going to the hospital now. Don’t worry, I’m going to call Hutch.”
Starsky’s eyes shot open and he said, “No! No!” Then he passed out again.
The paramedics told Edith they were taking Starsky to Memorial Hospital. She thanked them and watched as they rushed the sick man out the door. Before she left the apartment to follow Starsky, Edith grabbed the instructions with numbers for reaching Hutch. She called and told Huggy what was happening, and then she called her husband.
The police commissioner’s secretary apologized to Mrs. Dobey, “I’m sorry, ma’am. Captain Dobey is in a meeting with the commissioner and they can’t be disturbed.”
“Will you at least take him a message? Please, this is an emergency.”
A few minutes after Edith hung up the phone and headed to Memorial, the secretary was quietly handing Captain Dobey the message. “Harold, please come to Memorial Hospital right away. It’s Starsky.”
Dobey was sure his heart had missed a beat. Feeling his chest tighten with worry, he interrupted the commissioner, who was talking to him and a group of other captains about ways to trim departmental budgets. “Commissioner, I apologize, I have a family emergency and I have to leave. Please excuse me.” The large man didn’t wait for a reply. He stood and left the room.
When Captain Dobey arrived at Memorial, Huggy and Edith were nervously sitting in the Emergency Room waiting area. Edith had been trying to call Hutch off and on since she arrived. Apparently the phones were down where Hutch was staying.
Dobey hugged his wife and asked, “What happened?”
“I don’t know, Harold. I found him on the floor. He has a high fever.”
They all looked at each other. Each of them had witnessed signs the Starsky was getting sick and each of them felt responsible. Edith explained that she had been trying to call Hutch but the phone lines didn’t seem to be working on his end.
“What are we gonna tell Hutch?” Huggy asked.
Dobey quickly said, “Look, I don’t want to keep this from Hutch if it’s bad, but let’s not jump to call him. Let’s wait and see what the doctor says. Maybe he’ll be all right. Did he say anything at all to you?”
“He woke up a little and asked for Hutch. Then he said ‘No’ when I told him I was going to call Hutch for him. I’m not sure if he meant no to that or no that he didn’t want to go to the hospital. He was out of it.”
An hour later, they saw Dr. Kellerman walking toward them with another doctor. They all knew Dr. Kellerman from Starsky’s recent stay in the hospital.
“I’d like you all to meet my colleague, Dr. Linda Haines. She is a pulmonary specialist I’ve asked to treat David.”
They all shook hands with Dr. Haines and she explained about Starsky’s condition.
“David’s lung is still compromised from his recent shooting. Dr. Kellerman and I have gone over his case and medical record. My best guess is that he was exposed to someone with a respiratory infection of some kind. His immune system is also compromised right now and that coupled with the damage to his lung has led him to develop pneumonia. Has he been sick over the past week? He really should have come in to be seen before now.”
Starsky’s temporary caretakers looked stunned. Dobey offered, “He has been working on getting a cold for the past few days. He insisted it was just a cold and that we were all worrying too much. I guess we should have made him see a doctor. How could he get this sick so fast?”
“We’ve had him taken up to the ICU,” Dr. Haines continued.
Huggy interrupted her to say, “Doc, how serious is this?”
“I’m sorry to say he is in critical condition. The infection is severe, his temperature is 105.6, and he stopped breathing on his own a few minutes ago. He’s on a respirator and we have begun administering IV antibiotics. We’ll just have to see how he does over the next twelve to twenty-four hours. I’m sorry, but you’ll want to call any family members or other friends who might want to be here.”
She left off the “just in case” that all three of his friends heard. She explained that she would let them see Starsky one at a time for five-minute intervals. Then she excused herself to return to the ICU and order some more tests. Dr. Kellerman stayed.
“Where is Ken?” he asked.
“He’s out of town, Doc.” Dobey answered. “We were looking after Dave for him while he attended a reunion of sorts. This was supposed to be his chance to get a break and relax a little.”
Dr. Kellerman looked concerned. “I think you’d better get him here right away. After all he’s been through, David didn’t need this. We could lose him.”
Edith was fighting back tears and Captain Dobey put his arm around her. He promised Dr. Kellerman they would get Hutch. Edith gave her husband the paper with Hutch’s emergency numbers and he went to a phone to try one more time. When he found the number still out of service, he did the only thing he knew to do. He called Hutch’s parents.
When Richard Hutchinson came to the phone, Captain Dobey explained the situation. “Mr. Hutchinson, this is Captain Dobey. Do you have any way of contacting Ken?”
“I have a phone number for Andrew’s place,” came the answer.
“The phone seems to be out of order there.”
“Oh, well there have been some storms this past few days. The phone service is probably off up there. What’s wrong?”
“We need to reach Ken immediately. I’m afraid it’s David.”
“Oh, no, I thought he was getting better.” Captain Dobey was surprised to hear the note of concern in the man’s voice. His dislike for Starsky and lack of approval of his friendship with Hutch was no secret.
“He was getting better, but he’s back in the hospital. He has pneumonia and it’s bad. They think we may lose him.”
“My God. All right, Captain Dobey, if I can find out exactly where Andrew’s place is, I’ll go and get Ken myself. I know he would want to be there.” Despite his opinion, Mr. Hutchinson knew what Starsky’s death would mean to his son.
Captain Dobey thanked him for his help and hung up the phone. He was stunned by Richard Hutchinson’s reaction. He always believed that Hutch’s father thought that street-wise Starsky was not good enough for his son. Be that as it may, he was going to come through for Hutch now. The small group moved up to the ICU waiting area.
After trying to get a dial tone every half hour for hours, Hutch was becoming increasingly agitated. He knew something was wrong and he hated it that he had no way to check. “Thought this was supposed to be the age of communication,” he muttered under his breath after his tenth time trying the telephone. He reluctantly returned to the living room to socialize with his friends again. Having no choice but to wait, he thought maybe a few games of Monopoly and some serious trips down Memory Lane might keep his mind occupied. He participated in the group’s activities half-heartedly.
“Hey, Andrew, I don’t suppose you have any carrier pigeons here,” Hutch joked.
“Nope, had to send them to Florida for the winter.” Andrew always did have a good sense of humor. He could see what the waiting was doing to Hutch. His friend had forgotten that he was sick. Andrew had to remind him to take his medicine and drink liquids. He prayed that Hutch was worried for nothing.
The guys all teased Hutch about being a cop. One of them, Tim Reiss, was especially amused. “Hey, Ken, do you remember the rally we went to protesting gun violence?”
Hutch grinned, “Well, mostly. If memory serves, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders that afternoon. Didn’t your girlfriend bake us a batch of brownies to take with us to the rally?” His sly smile embarrassed Tim. He had forgotten the “special brownies” part of the rally. “What made you think of that?” Hutch asked.
“I just think it’s funny that you ended up a cop and you must have to deal with gun violence all the time,” Tim replied.
“Yeah, that’s true. I guess it is sort of ironic.”
“What kind of gun do you carry?” Tim asked, his eyes twinkling with delight at Hutch’s blushing face.
“Aw, you guys don’t want to hear about that.”
The guys were all interested, so Hutch told them. “Uh, I carry a Colt Python .357 Magnum.”
“Whoa,” Tim said. “That’s a big gun.”
Hutch cracked one of his trademark bad jokes, “Well, I’m a big guy!”
As his friends booed him, Hutch was beaned on the head by several couch pillows.
That is how the evening went until shortly before midnight when there was a knock on the front door. Andrew excused himself from the festivities and went to see who would be knocking at that late hour. Hutch’s cop antennae were up, thinking it was unusual for someone to be knocking on the door in such a remote location at almost midnight. He was already getting to his feet when Andrew walked into the room with Hutch’s dad.
Hutch’s heart started to beat faster when he saw his father. Whatever the reason he was there, Hutch knew it couldn’t be good. “Dad, what are you doing here?”
Richard Hutchinson wasted no time explaining the situation. “Ken, you need to come with me. They’ve been trying to reach you. I’m sorry, but David is in the hospital.”
“What? Wh-Why?” Hutch asked, frantically grabbing his dad by both forearms.
Hutch saw a compassion in his father’s eyes that he wasn’t used to seeing there and it scared him.
“Your captain says he has pneumonia. He’s very sick, Ken.”
Hutch swallowed hard and took a deep breath. He was not happy to have his fears confirmed. “I’ll get my things.” He jogged down the hall to the guest room and gathered his belongings, quickly stuffing everything into his bag. While he was doing that, Andrew was talking to his wife.
Hutch’s friends all told him they hoped his friend would be okay. Then, Andrew announced he was going to California with Hutch.
“No, Andrew, you don’t have to do that, but thanks.”
“Come on, Ken. I want to do it. I’m on vacation for another week anyway and maybe I can help. Patty said she’d stay with the guys and close up the house when they’re gone.”
Hutch agreed, grateful to Andrew for his company. He was already feeling frantic and Andrew was a calming influence. Andrew quickly threw a few things in a bag and they all got into Hutch’s dad’s car for the long trip down the mountain.
Mr. Hutchinson explained the travel arrangements. “I called the airlines before I left the house, Ken. No commercial flights were available before tomorrow at ten in the morning and you’d still have to connect in Minneapolis. You wouldn’t make it to California before six tomorrow evening.”
Hutch was frustrated. How could it take so long? “Dad, isn’t there anything earlier?”
“I chartered a plane, Ken. You will be on the ground there by seven or eight in the morning, depending on how long it takes us to get to the airport. They are standing by for us.”
Hutch could not believe his dad had done this for him. He hated Starsky. Though he was grateful, he was even more scared by his dad’s efforts. Andrew sat quietly in the back seat, knowing Starsky must be in bad shape.
“Level with me, Dad. Did Dobey say anything about how serious this is?” Hutch almost didn’t want the answer.
Hutch’s dad hesitated a moment. “Dad!” Hutch exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, Ken. Captain Dobey says they’re afraid he won’t make it.”
“Damn it!” Hutch punctuated that remark by slamming his palm into the dashboard in front of him. “This is m-my fault.” He was working himself into a fret and his excited state was causing his coughing to worsen.
“I don’t see how you can think that, Ken.”
After he recovered from the latest bout of coughing, Hutch said, “Don’t you see, Dad? I’ve been sick since I got here. I exposed him to this.”
Hutch was shaking his head back and forth and mumbling, “This isn’t happening. I was so careful....” when he felt Andrew’s hand on his shoulder. He turned to the back seat to face his friend.
“Ken, stop it. You can’t know it was you. Besides, you almost never know you are sick until you’ve already exposed the people around you. Surely you know that.”
Hutch appreciated the kindness, but he was not ready to see reason. He was feeling guilty and there was nothing his friend or his dad could do to help him. Hutch was quiet for the rest of the trip to the airport. Andrew and Mr. Hutchinson tried to get him talking a few times, but he was too busy fighting back his panic to make conversation.
As they pulled into the Duluth Airport parking lot, Mr. Hutchinson announced his intention to go along with Andrew and his son.
“No, Dad, go home. Thanks for everything you’ve done, but you should go home and stay with Mom. Didn’t you just get home from a trip this morning?”
“Yes, and I have nothing on my calendar until next Wednesday’s board meeting. I’m going with you and that’s final. That way, I can fly Andrew back with me later.”
Mr. Hutchinson was making the final flight arrangements, so Hutch took advantage of the time to find a payphone and call the hospital to check on his partner’s condition. One of the ICU nurses brought Captain Dobey to the phone.
“Hutch, that you?” Dobey asked.
“Yeah, how is he?”
The pause on the other end of the line reached into Hutch’s
heart and twisted it.
“How soon will you be here, Hutch?”
“Oh, God, Cap, is it that bad?”
“It’s bad, Hutch. When will you be here?”
“I’m not sure, but around seven or eight, I hope. Cap, don’t let him die.”
“I’m doing everything I can for him, Hutch. I’m praying.”
Seeing his dad waving for him to come on, Hutch thanked Dobey and hung up the phone He knew his dad believed that Starsky was going to die or he would not have offered to take the trip. That gave him no comfort. Within a few minutes the three men were onboard the chartered aircraft taxiing down the runway on their way to California.
While Hutch was on his way from Minnesota, Starsky’s condition went rapidly downhill. His temperature was still above 104 and his lungs were full of secretions. He was delirious and on a respirator.
Edith had gone home to be with her children, but Huggy and Captain Dobey stayed at the hospital. Every time they got a new report from Starsky’s doctor they looked at the clock and prayed Hutch was going to make it in time to say goodbye to his best friend. Both of them were starting to give up hope as the prognosis worsened throughout the night.
Captain Dobey was in sitting with Starsky for a few minutes at around six in the morning when his condition took a sudden dive. First, his temperature spiked up to 106, resulting in a seizure and then, almost as suddenly, plunged to near normal. His agitated, delirious state gave way to a coma. Hutch was running into the ICU from the stairwell just as the doctor was attempting to explain the latest development in Starsky’s condition to Huggy and Captain Dobey.
Hutch skidded to a stop in front of the doctor, coughing from the exertion. The doctor quickly led him into a small conference room and ordered him to sit. Dobey, Huggy, Andrew, and Mr. Hutchinson joined them and the doctor continued.
“David’s condition is worse than when he was brought in last night. His blood pressure has dropped to 80 over 60, urine production has almost stopped, and his body temperature has now dropped to 97.6. An hour ago it was up to 106. These are symptoms of septicemia. We need to get that under control before it leads to septic shock. He’s in a coma. I’m going to try a different antibiotic this morning. Does anyone have any questions?”
Captain Dobey had explained to the doctor that Hutch would be there soon and what to expect from him. She didn’t miss a beat when Hutch launched into a frantic interrogation.
“I don’t understand how this happened so fast?”
“Why isn’t he responding to the medications?”
“Why didn’t somebody call me before now?”
“Isn’t there anything else you can do?”
Then he asked the hardest question, “Is he going to make it?”
Dr. Haines looked into Hutch’s still feverish eyes. He seemed close to the edge to her. She hated giving loved ones a negative prognosis, but she always tried to be completely forthcoming about her patients, no matter how painful the information was to hear.
“The illness has progressed rapidly and we have had no success getting it under control. We’re doing everything we can think of, but I’m afraid it may not be enough. If things continue like they are, I believe we will lose him. I’m sorry.”
She laid her hand on Hutch’s arm for a minute, trying to convey her sympathy. When she said they might lose Starsky, the pain in the intense blue eyes staring at her was almost too much to look at. She hoped she was wrong. The next thing the blond man said to her was so quiet she almost couldn’t hear it.
“Please don’t let him die, Doc.”
Dr. Haines stepped out into the hall with Andrew. He explained that he was also a Pulmonologist and there as a friend to Hutch. The two doctors discussed what the next course of action would be in detail. Andrew was hoping he could help Hutch understand better because he had the time to spend making everything clear. He didn’t have to rush because he really needed to be treating Starsky.
Hutch sat quietly in the conference room for a few minutes, his head in his hands. Huggy and Dobey watched him carefully. Hutch obviously didn’t feel well himself and the other two men were not sure if he might be crying.
After a few minutes, Hutch looked up at them with haunted eyes and said, “If he dies, Gunther wins after all and I’m responsible.”
His friends were familiar with the usual spate of Hutchinson guilt that followed any injury to Starsky. This was different, though, and neither man understood how Hutch could have reached that conclusion. Mr. Hutchinson tried to reason with him, “Son, you....” Hutch cut him off before he could finish.
“I have to go see him now.” Hutch stood and walked out of the room, leaving the others sitting there wondering what to do to help him.
Captain Dobey sighed. “Mr. Hutchinson, what’s that about? Ken’s not responsible for this.”
“He’s been sick, Captain. He’s blaming himself for exposing David to his illness before he left for Duluth. “
Huggy said, “I wish he wouldn’t get down on himself like that. He had no way of knowing he was gettin’ sick. ‘Sides, if anyone’s to blame it’s me and the Cap here. We knew Starsk was getting sick, but he conned us into keepin’ quiet.”
“Why would David take such an unnecessary risk?” Richard was appalled.
Captain Dobey looked at him warmly. He knew the man didn’t approve of his son’s work, his life, or his friendship with Starsky. That was something Dobey would never understand. “He did it so your son wouldn’t come home early. He wanted Ken to have a good time, rest, and not worry about him for a few days.”
Mr. Hutchinson was stunned. He couldn’t help feeling a bit sheepish. Maybe he had been wrong to think ill of Starsky. He had always thought Starsky took too much from his son, but he was now considering that maybe he gave a lot too.
Hutch stopped in the hall to speak with the doctors. He realized he might still be contagious. “Can I see him? I’m still sick, maybe I shouldn’t.”
Dr. Haines nodded. “I think it’s all right. Stop one of the nurses and ask for some gloves and a mask. You are probably more at risk from him than he is from you.”
Once he was gloved and had a mask on, Hutch quietly walked up to Starsky’s bed and took a seat in the chair next to it. He didn’t like it that he couldn’t touch his partner with his bare hand. The gloves between them felt strange. He sat looking at Starsky, hooked up to IV’s and the respirator. He’d forgotten to ask about the respirator. Hutch hadn’t slept in almost twenty-four hours. Still not feeling well himself, sitting in the chair was causing him to fade. When he took Starsky’s limp, cold hand in his, he was reminded of his own time in the hospital with the plague. Thoughts of Starsky holding his hands while he was desperately trying to breathe flooded his mind and the comparison was jarring. Hutch felt a cold shiver travel up his back remembering those days.
One of the nurses slipped into the room to check Starsky’s vital signs. He recognized her from the time he’d spent sitting in the ICU when his partner was shot. “Hi, Leslie. Has he asked for me?” Hutch didn’t know why he asked that. Maybe because he knew the answer would make him feel worse.
“Hi, Ken. Yes, he asked for you a lot before... well, when he was awake and before we had to put him on the respirator.”
He was right. The answer made him feel worse. Good. I should feel guilty. Hutch sat staring at Starsky, afraid if he looked away his friend would die.
“Hey, buddy, I’m here now. I know you can hear me in there. I want you to fight, Gordo. Don’t you dare think of leaving me now. We’ve worked too hard to get this far.”
Andrew walked into the room and stood quietly watching as Hutch talked soothingly to his partner. “You look like you’ve had some practice with your bedside manner.”
“Too much practice, Andrew. He’s had it pretty rough this past six months.”
“Ken, you didn’t look like all of Dr. Haines’ information registered. Can I explain what’s going on with him to you?”
“Yeah, but not in here. I don’t know if he can hear us, but I don’t want to take a chance.” Andrew was impressed by Hutch’s compassionate concern for his best friend.
Out in the hallway, Andrew explained more about septicemia. “Dr. Haines believes he has bacteria in his bloodstream now. That is affecting his other systems and is the reason for some of his symptoms. The spiking fever, for example. He may have a low body temperature right now, but suddenly it will spike up again. Dr. Haines suspects he may also have a complication called empyema.”
Hutch blurted out, his voice tense, “Andrew, how much more is there? Can he take much more?” Hutch’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. His mind was in constant motion, torturing him over his responsibility for Starsky being so ill.
“I know it’s frightening. Do you want to know all of this?”
Hutch was apologetic. “I’m sorry. Thank you. Yes, I need to know.”
“They are going to take another x-ray to see what is happening in his lungs. Empyema happens occasionally as a result of trauma or surgery to the chest, and it is a complication of pneumonia sometimes. David meets both criteria. Basically, the infection in his lungs may have spread to the plural space between the lungs and the membrane around them. If that has happened, they’ll do a thoracentesis. Using a needle, they’ll drain off the infection. Rarely, surgery is needed if the drainage is too thick for a needle, but that probably won’t happen. Cultures of the drained material, along with the blood tests they already have running stat, will help them nail down the right antibiotics.”
Hutch hated the thought of them putting a large needle into Starsky’s chest. “Will it help?”
“I hope so. The good news is that empyema usually does not result in any permanent pulmonary damage.” Andrew was glad to be able to give his friend a piece of good news.
“Dr. Haines mentioned he might be headed for septic shock. What happens then?”
“I’m sorry. If he develops septic shock, his survival chances drop precipitously.”
Hutch closed his eyes and ran his hand over his face. When he opened his eyes again, the room was not remaining as stationary as he usually expected a room to be. Andrew noticed that Hutch’s eyes looked slightly out of focus and he swayed a little on his feet, putting a hand on Andrew’s arm to steady himself.
“Come on, Ken. You have to sit down for a while.”
“I’m all right, I just want to sit with him.”
Andrew steered him back into the small conference room where Hutch’s dad, Huggy, and Dobey were still waiting. Leaving the blond detective in their care, he made Hutch sit for a few minutes with his head between his knees while he went to the nurses’ station to request some orange juice.
Returning to the room, Andrew explained that they were about to do some tests and procedures on Starsky and that no one could be with him for a while.
Feeling a little better, Hutch picked his head up and saw his friends and his father looking at him with concern on their faces. Hutch thought his dad looked different than he had ever seen him and he couldn’t figure out what it meant.
“Why is he on a respirator? Did he stop breathing?”
“Not exactly, Ken. David is so ill he is too tired to breathe on his own. Putting him on a respirator will help him have the energy to fight the infection. The machine assists his breathing so that isn’t tiring him out too much to heal. Does that make sense?”
Hutch nodded. “Thanks for being here. I’m glad you came.”
The group waited nervously for the next few hours while Starsky was put through more tests and procedures. Hutch fell asleep in a chair despite his best efforts to stay awake. When Doctor Haines returned, she looked grim. Sitting across from Hutch, she briefly reviewed her notes before explaining what had happened to Starsky while they were waiting.
“David did have empyema. We’ve successfully drained the infection and cultures are being run to help us find the right antibiotic. Unfortunately, his temperature spiked back up to 105. His blood pressure is low, his heart rate is over 120 and the level of oxygen in his blood is low. I’m afraid we can say he is in septic shock.”
Hutch was pale, remembering what Andrew said about Starsky’s chances dropping precipitously. “What can you do for him?”
“We elevated his legs to help increase blood flow to his brain. He’s being given more IV fluids to increase his blood volume. If luck is with him, the combination of antibiotics, oxygen support on the respirator, and vasoactive medications to treat his low blood pressure will help him turn the corner.” Dr. Haines tried to sound somewhat optimistic, despite her feeling this patient would not survive. “Ken, you can go back in there after you’ve had some food. You’re not looking well and you won’t be of any help to David if we have to admit you, too.”
The group of men thanked Dr. Haines and she left. Hutch sat shaking his head, wondering why Murphy’s Law always seemed to afflict his partner with a vengeance.
Captain Dobey went to phone Edith while Huggy went in search of something to tempt Hutch into eating. Knowing he had a little time before Huggy would return, Hutch decided it was time to have a talk with his father.
“Dad,” he started tentatively, “we need to talk.” Mr. Hutchinson looked at his son inquisitively. “I want to thank you for coming. I know I haven’t said much, but it means a lot to me that you are here. Please don’t take this the wrong way. Why? You don’t even like Starsky.”
Richard Hutchinson suddenly felt guilty for his attitude toward his son’s best friend. He knew how devastated Hutch had been when Starsky was shot and the doctors said he would die. “Ken, when David was shot, I wasn’t here for you. I apologize for that. I could have come, but my stubbornness kept me away when you needed me. Sitting here has given me the chance to reflect on some things.”
Hutch was stunned by his father’s revelation. He stared at the man before him as if an alien pod in one of Starsky’s science fiction movie classics had replaced him. His mind couldn’t comprehend that his father had just apologized to him and he was tempted to ask him who he was and what he had done with his father. Instead, he tried to look interested instead of surprised and a little nervous.
“I can see how confused you are, Ken. Tell me, do you remember Lund Jorgenson?”
Hutch thought about it for a minute and said, “Yeah, sure I do. Geez, that’s been a long time, Dad. Maybe thirty years. I think I was only about nine or ten years old when he went away.”
“That’s just it. Lund didn’t go away. He died, Ken. Lund Jorgenson was my best friend. We were every bit as close as you are to your partner. He stayed in the military after World War II and went to Korea. When you were still in elementary school, he was shot down over Korea and died. I was around your age at the time. I’m sure you don’t remember how devastated I was. I’ve never really gotten over it. You see, I know what it means and how it feels to lose your best friend. I hope David makes it, but if he doesn’t, I wanted to be here for you. I am truly sorry I failed you when he was shot.”
Tears were beginning to trickle down Hutch’s face. Although his father was never demonstrative, Hutch pulled him into an embrace and held onto him so he wouldn’t push him away. Mr. Hutchinson didn’t push him away, though. He was a little stiff, but he patted Hutch on the back and enjoyed the new sensation of his son’s approval for a few minutes. They were still holding onto each other when Captain Dobey started back into the room. Seeing what was happening, he quietly backed out into the hall with a smile. What he had just witnessed gave him some hope that anything could happen. Maybe Starsky would make it.
Hutch did his best to finish the sandwich Huggy brought him. Then he headed back to Starsky’s bedside. Andrew had reminded him to take his medication and his infection was improving. If things went well, his fever would be completely gone soon and he could at least shed the mask and gloves.
Starsky looked frailer than he had the last time Hutch was with him. Hutch’s heart was heavy, knowing his friend was still getting worse. He sat next to the bed again and took Starsky’s hand. Fighting back tears, Hutch didn’t know what to say. He touched Starsky’s hair and softly spoke his usual words of encouragement.
“I’m sorry, Starsk. So sorry. I hope you can forgive me. I hope you have the chance to forgive me. Please don’t leave me.” His words were spoken quietly and filled with pain. He pulled the chair around closer to the bed so he could face his partner. Then he rested his head on the bed, watching his friend’s face until he fell into a restless sleep. Hutch needed sleep. His body was trying to fight an infection and he was out of fuel again. Not as exhausted as before he left for Minnesota, but getting close. One of the nurses covered him with a blanket when she came in for her regular check on Starsky. Dr. Haines had left word that Hutch was allowed to stay with Starsky as long as he wanted. She still did not expect him to survive and she did not want to deprive Hutch of the chance to be there at the end, even though she could see how much it would hurt him.
Hutch’s sleep was not restful. He had nightmares – every one a dream that ended with Starsky leaving him in some way. In one, Starsky was taken away on a speeding train while Hutch chased it. In another, his friend was in the back of a pickup truck like he had been when they were working the tainted moonshine case. The result was the same in each dream. Starsky slipped away from him.
Dr. Kellerman walked into the room several hours later and saw Hutch sleeping fitfully, draped over the side of Starsky’s bed. He knew the man had to be uncomfortable. Hutch was quietly muttering in his sleep and Dr. Kellerman thought he was saying something about quicksand. He touched Hutch on the shoulder.
“Ken, wake up.”
Hutch started awake, his eyes unfocused and frantic. “Dr. K? What’s wrong?”
He sat up and felt the rush of adrenaline seeing Starsky’s doctor caused him. Hutch could see that Starsky was still breathing and he relaxed a little. “I’m sorry, Doc. Bad dream.”
“You were mumbling in your sleep. Something about quicksand so I thought I should wake you.”
“Thanks. Is he worse”
“No, he’s holding his own. The results of his latest tests should be back shortly. How long have you been sleeping?”
Hutch looked at his watch, shocked to find he had slept for four hours. His back wasn’t shocked, though. Every hour registered on it. “Four hours. I think I needed it. Doc, do you think it would be okay for me to take this mask off now. I’m sure I don’t have a fever anymore and the coughing is much better.”
Dr. Kellerman felt his forehead and it did feel cool. “How long have you been on the antibiotic?”
“More than 24 hours.”
Andrew walked in behind them and overheard that part of the conversation. “I’m sure it’s okay now, Ken.”
Hutch pulled his mask and gloves off with great relief. Coughing with the mask on his face had been unpleasant. “Thanks, Andrew. Did you hear anything while I was asleep?” Hutch stood and walked the two doctors out with him to the hallway. He needed to stretch his legs and none of them wanted to disturb the patient.
Andrew explained what had happened while Hutch slept. “Dr. Haines tells me they have identified the bacteria from the material they drained. He has been switched to another antibiotic that targets this kind of bacteria. That’s good. I hope we will begin to see some improvement, but we’ll just have to wait and see.” He paused for a moment, watching the glimmer of hope pass through Hutch’s eyes. “Also, they’ve stabilized his blood pressure with the medications.”
“Andrew, do all doctors take a special ‘wait and see’ course in their first year of medical school?” Hutch asked him with a small sarcastic smile.
“Yep, that class follows the one about unintelligible handwriting.”
Dr. Kellerman smiled at Hutch and said, “Ken, don’t give up on him yet. You know he’s a fighter.”
“I know. I just feel so awful, Doc. I can’t believe I got him this sick.”
In the time since Starsky’s shooting, Dr. Kellerman had gotten to know both detectives well. He had seen Hutch feel guilty for not protecting his partner from the shooting. His behavior was not surprising, but he wished Hutch would not beat himself up so much.
“Ken, you had no way of knowing. Stop kicking yourself for things outside your control. You have taken such good care of David. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”
“My head knows you’re right, Doc. Now if I could just get my gut to agree with it.”
“Captain Dobey told me your father is here. I’d like to meet him.”
Andrew said, “He went down to the cafeteria to get some dinner.”
Dr. Kellerman nodded and said, “I have some patients to see, Ken. I’ll check on you both later.” He walked away thinking about how fond he had become of both Starsky and Hutch. If they lost Starsky, he was concerned about what it would do to Hutch. He headed off to find Dr. Haines and warn her she needed to watch Hutch and call him immediately if Starsky died. Then he went to the cafeteria to look for Mr. Hutchinson. When he saw the handsome blond man who looked so much like an older version of Ken Hutchinson, he walked over to the table and introduced himself. Dr. Kellerman sat down to have a chat with him and he got to the point. “Mr. Hutchinson, I need to explain something to you about your son.”
“Please call me Richard. What is it?”
“You weren’t here when David was admitted after the shooting so you didn’t see how Ken was. He and David are like two halves of a whole. We expected that David would not live through the night and Ken was a wreck. He was quiet and intense, but I could see on his face that he was slipping away with his friend.”
Hutch’s father listened with concern. “You were able to save David that time. I hope you can again.”
“I hope so, too, but please understand that if David dies, you will need to keep a close eye on Ken.”
“Surely you don’t believe Ken would harm himself.”
“No, Richard. I’m just saying I don’t know what it will do to him. He might collapse or become ill himself. God willing, we won’t find out the answer to that question. In my many years of practice I have not seen a bond of friendship tighter between two people than the one shared by Ken and David. They would do anything for each other – even die for each other. David is so much a part of your son; I believe Ken would be lost without him. I’ve asked Dr. Haines to page me immediately if David dies. Ken will need support and he may even need a sedative. I’m not trying to frighten you, but I assure you my concerns are valid.”
Hutch’s father had never dreamed this could happen. He knew how close Hutch was to his partner. Although Richard knew that Hutch would be devastated if Starsky died, he hadn’t thought much about the real impact losing his best friend would have on his son.
“Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate your concern for my son.”
Dr. Kellerman nodded. “Starsky wasn’t the only victim of the shooting. Your son was a victim too. He wasn’t shot, but having Starsky gunned down in front of him traumatized him. Ken also feels terrible guilt because he wasn’t able to shield his partner. David has had a rough time and Ken has been there for him every step of the way. You should be proud of them both for their courage and loyalty to each other. I just wanted you to know how it is with them.”
Dr. Kellerman stood and extended his hand to Richard. “I’m glad I had a chance to meet you. I’ll keep checking in on David.”
After Dr. Kellerman left, Richard sat and reflected on his words. His son had many friends who thought highly of both men. Maybe it wasn’t the life he wanted for his son, but it was obviously a life that affected others deeply. Having a friend as close as Starsky was to Hutch was a rare thing. He wondered why it was that others seemed able to see what a special person his son was and he had never taken the time to notice it himself.
The next several hours passed stressfully for Hutch. Starsky’s temperature stopped spiking, but it hovered near 104. Andrew said it was a good sign that his temperature was stabilized, even if it was high. All Hutch could do was maintain yet another bedside vigil for his friend. He was tired and discouraged.
Throughout the evening, Hutch’s friends did their best to comfort him and help him see that feeling guilty about Starsky’s illness wasn’t right and it wouldn’t help Starsky. Hutch was inconsolable.
A little before midnight, he was surprised to hear Edith Dobey calling his name. She was standing in the doorway, motioning for him to come out and speak with her, and Hutch’s dad was right behind her.
“I’ll sit with him, Ken.” Richard offered.
“I’ll be right back, Starsk. Don’t go anywhere.” Every time Hutch left Starsky’s side he feared he would be gone when he returned.
Edith gave him a hug and looked at him closely as she led him down the hall a short distance from Starsky’s room. His eyes were dark with pain and fear. She brushed some stray hair back from his forehead and said, “How are you holding up, Ken?”
“I’m all right. Edith. I just wish he’d wake up for me.”
“I wanted to apologize to you.”
“Apologize? What for?” Hutch was confused.
“We knew he was getting sick. He just wanted so badly for you to have a good time on your trip. He begged us not to tell you.”
Hutch smiled weakly. “Yeah, that’s something he and I are gonna have a little talk about. He has to get better so I can strangle him.” He shook his head, the fleeting smile disappearing as quickly as it had appeared and said, “I’m the one who needs to apologize – to him. I got him sick. Geez, Edith, I can’t believe it. I tried to be careful. I guess I didn’t do a very good job. If he dies....” His voice broke.
Edith looked at Hutch, trying to decide how best to help him. She had a knack for dealing with him and she hoped it would help her now. “If he dies it will be my fault, not yours.” She hoped this was a good tack.
Hutch looked at her in disbelief. How could she think that? Edith didn’t expose Starsky to any germs.
“You know, Ken, if you come right down to it, the blame probably belongs to Rosie.”
“Rosie? How do you figure that? I’m the one who gave him the germs.”
“Maybe so, but you probably got them from Rosie. You were over at our house the week before David got sick. Rosie had bronchitis, remember? She gave you a hug. Before you left you even asked me not to let her come over to see David until she was well so she wouldn’t give him her germs.”
Hutch was stunned. How could he blame Rosie if Starsky didn’t make it? “But, Edith, this isn’t Rosie’s fault. She can’t help it if she got sick.”
Edith Dobey looked at him and said nothing. Hutch was usually fast on the uptake, but it took him a few moments to realize what Edith had done. Her logic was flawless and it hit the mark.
Hutch smiled at her and gave her a hug. “You tricked me.”
“Yes, Ken, I did. Now go on back in there and sit with David. No more talk about blame, okay?”
“How come you can always paint me into a corner like that? Does Cap know how devious you are?”
“He knows and you’re welcome.”
Hutch’s father suddenly appeared in the hallway calling him. “Ken, get in here.” Then he turned around and went back to Starsky’s side.
Hutch’s heart felt like it had turned into a rock. He ran back to Starsky’s room, terrified he had died. When he reached the bedside, he was relieved to see Starsky’s eyes open and to hear his father telling Starsky he had a tube in his throat and not to try to talk.
Placing himself in Starsky’s line of vision, Hutch smiled down at him. “Hi, buddy. I’m right here.” Although Starsky’s eyes burned from his fever, Hutch saw recognition in them. “I know you’re scared, Gordo, but everything is okay.”
Starsky nodded slightly, his eyes already showing signs of closing. A nurse appeared in the doorway, attempting to shoo everyone out of the room. As Hutch moved away from the bed, Starsky reached for him, his eyes snapping open again and clearly conveying a “please don’t go” message. The nurse smiled and said, “All right, you can stay, but don’t get in the way.”
“I’m gonna stay, buddy. I’ll be right over here until they’re done checking you out, don’t worry.”
Starsky settled down and relaxed while the nurse checked him. When she left, Hutch moved back where Starsky could see him, taking his hand again. “Hey, buddy, I’m here.”
Feverish eyes looked at him, grateful that Hutch was there. At first he didn’t remember what happened to land him in the hospital again
Hutch knew what his partner was thinking. “You’ve been really sick, buddy. You have pneumonia. They put you on the respirator to help you breath. I’m sure they’ll take you off it soon. Just relax and rest, okay?”
He didn’t have to say that twice. Starsky was already falling asleep when Edith Dobey walked in the room again. She whispered to Hutch that Dr. Haines was waiting for them in the small conference room with the results of Starsky’s latest tests. Seeing that Starsky was asleep again, Hutch left the room with Edith to go listen to the doctor’s report.
Dr. Haines was happy to report an upturn in Starsky’s condition. He had regained consciousness, his temperature was stable, but now down to 103.4, his heart rate was improving, and his blood pressure was low, but not dangerously so.
“David is fortunate. Septic shock can be fatal in 50 – 60% of cases. Given all of his concomitant issues, I’m pleasantly surprised he made it this far. I’m upgrading his condition to serious. If he keeps responding this well to the current course of antibiotics, I am optimistic about his chances. His blood work is also improving. I’m ordering some more chest x-rays and within a few hours I hope to begin weaning him off the respirator. In short, he is not completely out of danger, but I think we can all begin to relax just a little.”
Hutch relaxed more than a little. Any time a doctor moved his partner off the critical list looked like a good sign to him.
The Dobeys went home promising they would return the next day. Hutch called Huggy to let him know that Starsky was getting better. Huggy had to work that night since Diane was off sick. He promised to come the next day, too. Then Hutch gave Andrew his address so he and Hutch’s dad could take a taxi there and get some rest. They would drive Hutch’s car back to the hospital in the morning.
Throughout the next day, Starsky woke for increasingly long periods. His fever continued to drop and he was responding well to being weaned from the respirator.
Starsky had some questions, but he was too weak to hold the pencil Hutch put in his hand. He would have to wait until he could talk to ask them.
After the doctor took the breathing tube out, Starsky couldn’t talk for a little while. Even when he finally could say something, his hoarse voice came out only as a whisper. He motioned for Hutch to come close so he could hear him and said just one thing, but it made Hutch chuckle. He nodded at Starsky that he understood.
Andrew was also in the room with them at the time. He asked what Starsky said.
“What he said was his way of telling me he was going to be fine. He told me that he was right, he isn’t made of glass.”
A few days later, when Starsky was moved into a regular room, Andrew and Mr. Hutchinson were ready to return to Minnesota. Starsky was out of danger and Hutch seemed to be doing well. Captain Dobey had offered to drive them to the airport so Hutch could remain at the hospital.
Hutch hugged Andrew goodbye and thanked him for all he did. “You don’t know how much help you were to me.”
“You’re welcome, Ken. Concentrate on getting your partner well again. When he’s feeling up to it, you can bring him to see me.”
Hutch turned to his dad and hesitated a little before he hugged him. He still wasn’t comfortable with the shaky new relationship he and his father had formed during this crisis. He hoped it would last.
“Dad, what can I say? You were really there for me this time. Thank you.”
“I intend to be there for you whenever you need me. I know it feels strange. Does to me too. Your captain told me it’s never too late and I guess he’s right. Oh, are you coming out for Christmas? You’re mother will want to know.”
“I’m sorry, Dad. Starsky won’t be well enough to travel and I’m just going to stay here this year.” He saw the look of disappointment on his father’s face. “Uh, why don’t you bring Mom out and spend it here with us?”
Both men were making steps toward building a better relationship. Those steps felt awkward, but right. “I’ll see what your mother says. I’d like that, though.”
“Come on, Dad, you don’t know what it’s like to be around my partner at Christmas. He does this unique Christmas/Hanukkah hybrid. You kinda have to see it to believe it.”
Seeing his father laugh at one of his jokes warmed Hutch’s heart. “Okay, son, I’ll convince her. I’ll call you.”
After one last hug goodbye, he was gone. Hutch watched Dobey drive out of the hospital parking lot. Whatever had happened to change his dad’s attitude toward him, Hutch was grateful for it. He couldn’t believe his dad was considering coming to California for Christmas. No snow, no house full of the myriad cousins. He knew that most of the work getting this holiday season pulled together for Starsky was going to be his. As he returned to the hospital and headed toward his best friend’s room, he made a mental note to find out more about Hanukkah. His usual “I hate Christmas” routine wasn’t going to fly this year.
Hutch believed Starsky was feeling well enough for them to have a little talk about all that had happened. He didn’t want to push, but he wanted to discuss it. He walked back into Starsky’s room in time to see him push aside his barely touched food.
Starsky looked up at him, pleading in his eyes. “I wanna go home.”
“I know, buddy, but you can’t yet. The doc wants to be sure nothing is going to happen before she lets you go. You need rest, breathing treatments, and IV antibiotics still. Sorry. You’re on the right track, though. We’ll bust you outta here before you know it.”
“We need to talk, partner. This fiasco just proves that you are not a good judge of when you are sick. What were you thinking?”
Starsky blushed. “I didn’t know I was getting so sick, Hutch. I just wanted you to have your vacation. I thought it was just a cold. No big deal.”
“No big deal? You almost died. Do you know how I would have felt if you died from an infection I gave you?” He put his warning finger up in the air and threatened to personally beat the daylights out of his partner if he ever tried anything so stupid again.
At first Starsky looked contrite, but as Hutch’s rant continued he started to smile.
“And just WHAT are you smiling at?”
“I figured that. What? Do you find it amusing to scare the crap out of me? Do you enjoy making me worry?”
“I promised you could slide back into mother hen mode when you came home. Congratulations, you just slid.”
Hutch couldn’t help himself. He tried to maintain his stern expression, but he quickly succumbed to laughter. No one had the power to disarm him has quickly as his partner. “You just make sure you listen. No more lying about how you’re feeling. You got that?”
Starsky nodded his agreement. “Only if you promise to take care of yourself, not just me. Otherwise, my lips are sealed.”
Both partners could be stubborn, but that day they managed to reach a new détente in their rivalry to be the most stubborn. Hutch would get more rest and do something for himself, without Starsky, at least once a week until Starsky was well enough to be on his own again. Starsky would quit trying to hide his condition from Hutch and he would eat more. Hutch figured he’d work that in since they were already at the negotiating table.