Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made from it. No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.
By Sue David
Officer Denny Hayes was still in shock. He sat dejectedly in a hard plastic emergency room chair, eyes on his feet. Denny didn’t look up, but he did grasp the cup of sludge-like vending machine coffee placed in his hand. He felt a gentle squeeze on his shoulder and he looked up into a pair of blue eyes filled with understanding and compassion. Eyes that were older than his, full of experience and the knowing look that said, “I’ve been where you are.”
“You okay, Denny?”
Hayes shook his head, and said, “I don’t think so, Sarge. I-I, oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
The young officer’s face was haunted. The older man sat next to him and sighed. “Ben’s going to make it. You’ll see,” he said. Nice try. Never works on you.
Denny’s coffee cup shook in his hand. That drew the older man’s attention and he noticed just how disheveled the rookie officer looked. His uniform was stiff and sticky with blood, none of it his.
“We need to get you cleaned up, Denny.”
“I’m not going anywhere until they tell me what’s happening.”
The number of times he’d had this same conversation with his superior officer, and others, replayed in the older man’s mind. What goes around, comes around. “Trust me on this. They’ll be a long time. I sent my partner down to keep an eye on things. He’s good at that.” He smiled at Denny, knowing his words were starting to make sense.
“Come on.” He took Denny by the elbow and guided him to his feet. “The nurses said you could use the doctors’ lounge. They have a shower in there and you can put on some scrubs. Believe me, they don’t want you sitting out here for hours looking like this.”
Denny Hayes complied, plodding along at an exhausted pace. He stopped outside the lounge. “I killed a man and my partner still might die.” He looked down at his hands.
“I know. Nothing really prepares you for that.”
“Do you get used to it?” Denny asked earnestly.
“I pray to God I never do. You did what you had to do to protect your partner.”
“I failed my partner. That scum got the drop on him, because I misread Ben’s signals.”
“That happens. You do your best.”
Denny Hayes stared incredulously at the man standing in front of him. He was twelve years older and twenty years more streetwise than Hayes. Denny knew that. He also knew the sergeant and his partner were legend for their ability to read each other in any situation, with or without speaking.
“Oh, it happens?” Unintended sarcasm colored Denny’s words. “Bet it doesn’t happen to you guys.”
Starsky laughed. “Oh, you think so? Get on in there and clean up. When you’re done, let me tell you all about missed signals and letting your partner down.”
Twenty minutes later the two men were back in the waiting room. Starsky sat back and leaned against the wall, stretching out his legs. Denny took a seat across from him. Starsky had sent Hutch out to Hayes’ squad car to stow the dirty uniform and to check in with Captain Dobey. Starsky would take advantage of the opportunity to at least start his story outside of Hutch’s earshot. His partner didn’t like it when Starsky talked about a night long ago when misread signals almost ended their partnership... with Hutch’s death. If nothing else, his desire to respectfully listen to a remembered experience from a veteran cop he greatly admired kept Denny in his seat, instead of pacing.
“We’d only been partnered for a couple of months. Our first undercover assignment, busting some drug dealers at the high school, went great.” Starsky caught the surprised look on Denny’s face.
“Hey, we were once greener’n you and Ben,” he said, knowing the younger man had a hard time imagining either detective passing as high school students. “That was a long time ago. We weren’t born this old, you know.”
Denny smiled at him. “Sorry, Sarge.”
Starsky continued. “Dobey had us working a couple of related homicides. The suspect was a collector on our beat. Two men turned up strangled. We knew it had to be muscle. Powerful.” Denny Hayes sat mesmerized as Starsky related one of the scariest moments of his career.
Starsky and Hutch were only on their third assignment together as undercover detectives. They’d been friends throughout their days at the police academy and their time on the streets with other partners. When Captain Dobey decided to pair the extroverted Starsky with his quiet Midwestern friend, he wasn’t sure it would work. He’d given Starsky a lengthy lecture on how different the two men appeared to be and how that might not work in their favor, but Starsky won him over and got his wish. The detectives worked smoothly together on the high school assignment, with few miscues. They’d made several arrests with no resistance. Quiet and professional. A clean bust. Their second assignment didn’t go as well. Starsky had misread a signal from Hutch. Thinking his partner was in danger, he had instantly reacted, blowing their cover and making for a nasty arrest. In the end, his error in judgment enabled the man arrested to plea down to some lesser-included charges. He’d be out of county jail in two months, instead of in state prison for two years.
Although Dobey understood what went wrong, as Hutch did, Starsky promised himself he wouldn’t jump in too quickly again. Both men found learning the ropes of protecting each other, while doing effective police work, was a challenge. They were best friends, and sometimes that meant they needed to temper their natural instincts to do the job.
“I don’t like you bein’ in there by your lonesome,” Starsky said.
“He already saw you the last time he was in there, Starsk. If you’re in the store every time he shows, you’ll blow our cover, you know that.”
“Yeah, I know it, but I don’t have to like it.”
“You just listen to the conversation and keep an eye on things from across the street. I’ll let you know if I need you. If I’m in trouble, I’ll say something about knowing it was time for him to come in, okay?”
Starsky was glad they had a set phrase. They were getting better at reading each other’s non-verbal cues and anticipating what was going to happen next, but it was a skill still under development.
That evening, when Big George Canter walked into the store to pick up a payment, Starsky’s eyes were on him. He watched as the man browsed, waiting for Hutch to finish the transaction he was completing with a customer. He did his best to look nervous, without alarming the man writing out a check. He needn’t have worried. His customer was chattering away about how excited his daughter was going to be with the tape recorder he was buying for her birthday. He took his package and walked out of the store, completely oblivious to the rough looking character moving toward the young proprietor.
“Good evening, Tom,” George said with false friendliness. “You have an envelope ready for me?”
“N-no, I’m not ready,” Hutch stammered.
George’s eyes and voice both lowered menacingly, “That’s really too bad for you, then,” he said. “My boss doesn’t like it when he don’t get his money.”
Starsky tensed. Hutch had a gun on, in an ankle holster, but Starsky didn’t like it that George was blocking his view of Hutch’s face. Rather than risk wiring Hutch, they’d disguised the transmitter in a radio Hutch had placed beside the cash register. He didn’t have to pretend to jump when Canter grabbed it unexpectedly and threw it at the wall behind the counter, smashing it to bits. The transmission crackled and went dead.
“Terrific,” Starsky muttered. He was hunkered behind the curtained display window of a vacant store across from the action. Now, he had only his eyes to read Hutch’s signals. He moved down a little and adjusted his binoculars, trying to see around Canter.
The two dead men were found in the warehouse district. The detectives thought they were each probably lured there to make a payment, and killed when it was still short. They hoped this meeting with Canter would be to set up such an appointment with Hutch.
Starsky noticed when the second man crossed the street from the nearest corner and walked into the store, but he was so busy watching Hutch for signals, he didn’t consider that the tall man might be with Canter.
Both of the other men had their backs to Starsky, but Hutch immediately suspected they were together. He also knew that Starsky probably couldn’t hear what was happening.
“Look,” he said, injecting a tremor into his voice, “I’ll give you a couple of these nice radios for your boss. He turned around and got two of the expensive radios off the shelf behind him and placed them on the counter. He was trying to let his partner know that he suspected the two men were together.
“What the hell do you think he’d want with those?” Canter demanded. Starsky continued to watch Hutch’s face. Canter got in the way a few times, so he couldn’t read Hutch’s lips. He caught the word two and saw Hutch put two fingers in the air. Starsky assumed that was the time the goon wanted Hutch to show up with his next payment. Something didn’t feel right, but he ignored his growing unease. That last incident left him feeling inadequate and foolish. He wasn’t rushing in this time.
“I don’t have more right now,” Hutch said. “Give me two or three days. Tuesday?” He was hoping Starsky was watching him closely.
“No dice,” Canter replied. “You come tonight to 301 South Market, down in the warehouse district. Ten o’clock. I’ll be in the front office. You’d better have at least half of it, or the boss will insist I take it out of your hide.”
“Okay, okay,” Hutch said. “I’ll be there.” He was stunned when Canter turned and left the store. Maybe he’d been wrong about the other man. Could be, he was the one overreacting this time. The customer was dressed for stealth, all black, including a black hat. Maybe that was what had set Hutch’s danger sense on edge. He asked the man if he could help him.
Starsky watched Canter leave the store. He followed him with his binoculars making sure the man didn’t return. He wanted to go ask Hutch what was said, but not until he was convinced Canter wouldn’t change his mind and come back to the store. His intuition had told him things were going to get rough. Then, they didn’t. Starsky sighed his relief. His next glance into the store showed Hutch talking to the tall man. He didn’t look worried, so Starsky decided to bide his time, completely unaware of what would happen next.
Big George had gone around the corner, just two stores away, and then back through the alley to the rear of the store. The boss was getting worried about a connection being made to him, so he’d instructed Canter to kill the shopkeeper in his own store if he didn’t have all of the money on him. All he needed was an accomplice to herd the blond into the back of the store, where George would get the drop on him.
“I came to pick up my TV,” the man said.
The store was a repair shop, but Hutch didn’t know a lot about that operation. The real owner had briefed him on what was in the back. He’d been making the repairs during the day at another location, around the corner. Hutch had a list of sets on a clipboard by the register. Starsky watched as he pulled out the list and started looking through it. He sighed and looked at his watch, hoping the customer would leave soon so he could go find out where the meet was. He was sure Hutch had set a time.
“Do you have a claim ticket? What kind of set?” Hutch asked.
“No, I lost it. I don’t know what kind it is, either, but I know what it looks like. The set belongs to my son.”
Hutch didn’t trust him, but he nodded and agreed to let the man come to the back with him to try identifying the set. He did have three in the back that had been finished earlier that day. Just in case, he motioned for the man to follow him with a broad gesture, hoping that Starsky would get it that Hutch wanted him to join them. Starsky misread that gesture, thinking Hutch intended it for the customer. Still, he readied himself to make his move, not liking it that his partner was now out of sight.
When they were both all the way behind the curtain hanging in the doorway, Hutch was surprised to see George step out of the shadows.
The “customer” said, “I have a gun.” Hutch froze. “Take two or three steps toward the back and turn around, slowly, hands in the air.”
Knowing he was in trouble, Hutch’s mind raced. Had Starsky seen his signal? He put his hands up about half way, slowly turned, and said, “What’s going on here?” His customer wasn’t lying about the gun.
The muscle-bound hit man was behind him, now. Hutch felt George step toward him and a movement behind his back. Ignoring the gun on the hope that his assailant wouldn’t fire and risk discovery, Hutch put his hands up higher, tensing for a fight, but he never had the chance. Before he could do anything, George had brought a leather cord around in front of Hutch’s face and tightened it around his neck. Hutch managed to get his right hand under the cord, and it was now pinned between his neck and the weapon choking the life out of him.
George pulled harder, using all of his strength to complete his task for the evening, bumping off another bad debtor. The victim was strong, but he was already weakening, his struggle useless. Word was already all over the street. After this third killing, no one would dare be late for a payment. Hearing the sound of the bones in Hutch’s hand snapping under the strain, George smiled malevolently at his accomplice.
The man in black had no desire to stay for the finale. His job was finished and the shopkeeper was already turning purple, his eyes closing. With a nod to the occupied hit man, he turned on his heel and headed back out into the shop.
Across the street, Starsky reacted immediately to seeing the customer walk out without a TV and with no sign of Hutch. The man quickly strode to the front, taking the time to flip the sign to “closed” as he opened the door into the night. He wasn’t expecting to be confronted by the determined cop with a gun trained on him from behind a parked car across the street.
The man quickly dove behind a car, pulling out his gun. Starsky was prepared for that. A brief exchange of gunfire resulted in the suspect taking a bullet to his shoulder. Starsky raced across to him and snagged his gun.
In the back of the store, George heard the gunfire just as his victim went completely limp. He held the pressure on for a few more seconds as he followed the blond to the floor. George was wearing gloves, so he didn’t bother to take the weapon from around Hutch’s neck. He abandoned it and fled through the back door before the commotion out front had a chance to drift back to him. Hutch lay still, face down on the back room floor.
Starsky was frantic as he handcuffed his wounded suspect to a bike rack outside the store. He rushed inside and straight for the doorway behind the counter. The curtain blocked his view, so Starsky stood to one side of it, his chest against the wall. He peered through the gap where the curtain met the doorframe. The only person in sight was Hutch.
In one fluid motion, Starsky flipped the curtain to the side, thrusting his gun before him, sweeping the room for threats. From where he stood, he could see the back door, banging in the breeze. If there had been anyone else there, that person was gone.
Holstering his gun, Starsky dropped to the ground next to Hutch. “Oh, my God!” he exclaimed as he unwrapped the cord and turned his partner onto his back. Unable to find a pulse at Hutch’s wrist, he reached for his carotid. Detecting a slow heartbeat was a short-lived relief as he soon realized Hutch wasn’t breathing.
“Shit!” Starsky started breathing for his partner, grateful when he heard sirens approaching from the distance. One of the neighboring shop owners must have called the police after hearing the gunfire.
By the time the uniforms scrambled into the store, Hutch had taken a breath. “Get me an ambulance!” Starsky shouted at the first officer he saw. He yanked out his badge and flashed it at the younger man who stood staring at him for longer than Starsky could bear. “MOVE!”
Hutch reached up to his neck with his injured right hand, but Starsky gently stopped him, turning the hand and noting that it was swelling already. He pulled Hutch up onto his lap, shaking as much from relief, as from the fear he’d messed up again, and Hutch had paid with his life.
“Sh,” he urged in response to the groan from his partner. “I’ve got you. You’re gonna be okay.”
Hutch’s face was blotched with purple, but his color was coming back. His eyes opened and looked up at Starsky. He couldn’t talk, though he tried. Instead, he mouthed, “Thanks.”
Starsky tried to straighten out Hutch’s tousled hair as he soothed his injured partner and apologized again and again for misreading the signals. His heart was heavy with the thought that someday he might make a mistake from which there was no salvation... for either of them.
“Thanks,” Starsky repeated somewhat miserably to the man who sat across from him open mouthed. “Know what I said to him?”
“What are you thanking me for, you big dummy. I almost got you killed,” Hutch filled in from behind Denny.
Starsky’s eyes were closed, but he wasn’t surprised to hear his partner’s voice, despite his nearly silent approach across the carpeted waiting room floor. Long ago, he’d perfected his ability to sense Hutch’s presence. Denny Hayes had no such advantage and he jumped in his seat. Starsky smiled mischievously.
“Geez, don’t do that,” Denny said, putting a hand on his heart.
“Sorry. Glad to see your Hutchinson-detection-radar is still intact, partner,” Hutch quipped. He sat next to Starsky and patted him on the arm.
“Ping!” Starsky replied, sitting up and smiling. Then, he blushed and said, “I was just convincing Denny that missing a cue can happen anytime, to anybody.”
“Yeah, and I thought you weren’t going to tell that story anymore.”
Officer Hayes watched the interaction and listened to the banter between the older cops in fascination. He and Ben hadn’t achieved that easy level of communication and obvious comfort with each other. The more he listened, the more he hoped they would... if he were given that chance.
Starsky explained, “I haven’t, in a long time. Thought Denny needed to hear it.”
“You still feel guilty?” Hutch asked, knowing the answer.
“You gotta ask?” Starsky turned his attention to Denny and said, “Tell you one thing. I learned that night not to ignore my intuition. Develop that with Ben. It’ll save your hides.”
Hutch tossed Denny the keys to his squad car. Denny caught them, and then looked down dejectedly, saying, “If he ever trusts me again.”
“Don’t do that to yourself,” Hutch said. “That’s against the partner’s code.”
“Partner’s code?” Denny asked, completely baffled.
Starsky interjected, “Yeah, right there in the Partner’s Manual.”
“Chapter 4, Section G,” Hutch added.
Starsky nodded and said, “Subparagraph 2. Guilt is a waste. You’ll do better next time.”
Both of the older men looked completely serious. Denny stared at each of them in turn, trying to detect any subterfuge. He couldn’t remember ever seeing a Partner’s Manual. Just about the time he was convinced he’d better ask where to get a copy, he saw a distinct twinkle in Hutch’s eyes. Starsky knew Hutch was starting to let on, even though his eyes were on Denny. He elbowed Hutch in the ribs.
“Some undercover actor YOU are,” he teased.
Hutch absent-mindedly rubbed his neck, thinking about the story his partner had just retold. “Funny thing about a garrote, kid,” he said soberly. “A perfectly silent weapon, just like the knife that got Ben today was silent. Starsky had no way of knowing what was going down, but he figured it out and he got to me in time. Just like you did. Have a little faith in your partner. He knows you did everything you could.”
Before Denny had a chance to protest, they heard a doctor calling for him. He jumped up and ran to the man, leaving the two detectives in their seats. They both rose and followed, standing at a discreet distance. They were pleased by what they overheard.
“Your partner is out of Recovery and he’ll be just fine,” the doctor said. He smiled at the enormously relieved young officer. “He lost a lot of blood. Lucky for him you were so on the ball, or he wouldn’t have made it to the emergency room. The paramedics said you did a good job and you were smart to leave the knife in. If you’d pulled it,” he shook his head to indicate that the outcome would have been deadly.
“Can I see him?” Denny asked, ignoring the praise.
“No, he’s gone up to the ICU for post surgical observation. He’ll be out for hours.”
Hutch stepped closer and said, “Doc, can’t you give him a break? He almost lost his partner.”
Dr. Greene recognized the two other men from when he’d treated them a few months earlier after a car accident. He remembered how the blond had extended his temporary, but frightening, confusion after waking up in the ER into a day of faked amnesia. He glanced at Starsky, remembering how he had reacted to the news that his partner’s head injury might have caused him to permanently forget who he was. Hutch recognized the doctor and his face flushed. Greene smiled just enough for Hutch to realize what he was thinking.
“Oh, yes, Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson,” Greene said. “Glad to see you looking so well.”
“Ya-yeah, we’re fine,” Hutch said. “How ‘bout it, Doc?”
Denny knew something was passing between the other three men, but he had no idea what, and he didn’t care. “Please?” he pleaded.
“All right,” Greene relented. He had a soft spot in his heart for all of the police officers he saw far too frequently in his treatment rooms. “SICU is up on four. Stop at the nurses’ station and tell them Dr. Greene gave you permission. I’ll be up to check on him in an hour.”
Denny thanked him and dashed for the elevators, forgetting to say goodbye to his coworkers. The detectives thanked him also, and they left, content that Denny and Ben would both be all right.
Hutch’s shoulders were slumped and he stared at the ground in deep contemplation as they walked out through the sliding glass ER doors. Starsky put an arm around his back, squeezing his shoulder.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“About what?” Hutch asked, feebly hoping Starsky hadn’t picked up on his thoughts.
“Guilt, buddy. That thing we just told Denny was a waste.”
Hutch stopped and turned, smiling at Starsky. “You’re right. That subparagraph clearly means there’s nothing to say.”
“But you’re forgetting Amendment 1 to Subparagraph 2.”
Hutch furrowed his brow. That was a new one on him. “Amendment 1?”
“If your partner ignores Subparagraph 2, listen to his angst.”
“Angst?” Hutch said with a chuckle.
“Angst,” Starsky repeated.
They both started walking toward the parking structure. Hutch’s laughter chased away the bad feelings and he knew that was exactly what Starsky was trying to do. “I don’t have any angst, Gordo. I do have a partner who’s as crazy as everyone thinks he is.”
Starsky laughed at that. “Yeah, well, it’s part of my irresistible charm.”