free web hosting | free hosting | Web Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment only. No money is being made from it. No infringement on any copyright(s) is intended.

 

 

Suicide Watch

Written by Valerie Wells and Sue David

6/2001

 

Catherine parked the car by the side of the road and walked onto the bridge. It was quiet this time of night. No traffic to speak of. She went to the rail and looked down. The water was shallow at this end of the bridge, and the rocks at the water's edge far below looked ominous in the light of the full moon.

 

Her heart pounded in her chest and her breath came quickly. The wind stirred her hair, but she didn't notice, even when it flopped over her face. She wondered if it would hurt much, or if it would just be a moment's sharp agony and the pain would finally stop. Not the physical pain. That didn't worry her much, not if it would stop the pain inside.

 

A plane passing overhead made her look up and broke the spell. Now was not the time. Not today. But soon, she thought, looking down again and watching the water flow over the rocks. Soon.

 

Hutch had never known why Starsky objected so strongly to working on Sunday. Somebody had to, and it wasn't like he was missing church. Starsky rarely went to temple services and then only on big holidays like Yom Kippur. Jews didn't even attend church services on Sundays. Their service was Friday night, so if this was a religious thing, why didn't Starsky seem to mind working on Saturdays instead? Why was working Sunday such a big deal?

 

Right now, Starsky was muttering and complaining as he always did when they drew a Sunday shift, waving his hands at people they passed who apparently weren't working and listing all the things he could be doing if he weren't working. And he'd lost his favorite pair of jeans. He moaned and groaned about that between bouts of complaining about working.

 

"I know I had 'em last time I done laundry," he said for the third or fourth time. "I've looked everywhere. I remember puttin' 'em away in the closet where I keep all my jeans and now they're just not there!" Starsky slapped his leg for emphasis. "Losin' my favorite jeans AND having to work on Sunday. It just ain't fair, Hutch!"

 

Hutch bore it in silence as long as he could, but when Starsky continued to grouse and mentioned "fishing" as one of the activities he could be participating in on a sunny summer Sunday, Hutch snapped.

 

"Oh, come on, Starsk," he groaned, glancing over at his partner, slumped in the passenger seat dejectedly. "You hate fishing. It's just an excuse for you to hang around by the water and watch the bikinis go by."

 

"Not true!" Starsky protested, unaware that Hutch had been tuning out most of his whining. "I like fishing."

 

"Oh, yeah?" Hutch challenged. "You wouldn't go with me and Kiko last Sunday when we were off work."

 

"I figured you and him needed some time alone," Starsky said.

 

"That's crap and you know it," Hutch said. "You didn't think we needed to be

alone when we went to Disneyland two weeks ago, did you?"

 

"I figured you needed help watching him there," Starsky said, a little feebly.

 

Hutch rolled his eyes. "He's a teenager, Starsk, not three!"

 

"There's all kinds of crazies out there that might snatch a teenager -- "

 

Hutch made a sound deep in his throat and Starsky halted.

 

"All units," the radio interrupted. "Man with a gun, possible hostage situation, Grant Park. All units in the vicinity. Use extreme caution. Possible 5150."

 

A 5150 was a mental case. And this one was armed. Hutch hit the siren and Starsky threw the light on top of the car as they sped away.

 

They arrived with several other cars, and across the park, by the picnic tables, they could see an older man and a teenage girl. The girl didn't seem to be a hostage; the man was six or eight feet away from her, the gun dangling loosely from one hand.

 

"What's going on?" Hutch asked of the nearest uniformed officer.

 

"The girl called in," the officer said. "That's her granddad and he's threatening to kill himself."

 

"Has anybody tried talking to him?"

 

The officer shook his head. "Not yet."

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky and the two of them walked toward the man, slowly. But first, both took their guns out of the holsters and slid them into their belts at their backs.

 

When they were almost within earshot, the man saw them and started backing away. "Leave me be!" he cried, his voice trembling. "Don't try to stop me!"

 

"Easy, man," Hutch soothed. "We just want to talk to you."

 

"Grandpa, please," the girl begged, tears running down her face. "Please don't, Grandpa!"

 

"What's his name, honey?" Hutch asked the girl, lowering his voice.

 

"Harry," she said. "Harry Douglas."

 

Hutch nodded. "Okay. What's yours?"

 

"Krista."

 

"Okay, Krista, get behind my partner there," Hutch said, holding out his hand for her to take. "Just for safety's sake, please?"

 

"But Grandpa..."

 

"Let me try talking to your grandpa. Please."

 

Krista, her lips trembling, finally nodded and backed toward Starsky. He took her hand from Hutch and put her behind him.

 

"Kneel down, Krista," Starsky whispered to her. "And stay down, okay?"

 

She nodded, and Starsky reached behind him for his gun. Hutch motioned for Starsky to stay back and be ready, while he moved forward another couple of steps.

 

"Harry, let's talk about this," Hutch said. "Think about it. You don't want Krista to see this, do you? Take it easy. Maybe we can help you. Why do you want to die?"

 

"You can't help me," Harry said, shaking his head. Every time Hutch took a step toward him, he took a couple more steps away, keeping a distance between them.

 

"Krista, is there anything you can tell me that might help Hutch talk to him?" Starsky whispered to the girl.

 

"I think it's 'cause of Grandma," Krista whispered back, her voice still trembling from her tears. "Ever since she died, he's been depressed, but we kept thinking he'd be all right eventually."

 

Starsky nodded and pitched his voice low so Hutch would hear him, but maybe Harry wouldn't. There were about ten yards between Hutch and the man now. "Hutch, it's his wife," Starsky called softly. "She died."

 

Hutch inclined his head once to show he'd heard, and took another step toward Harry. "Look," he said, going for a friendly, casual tone, "maybe I can help. Tell me what's wrong. Is it your wife?"

 

Harry's face seemed to collapse, and tears started to fall. "No! Don't you mention her!" He raised the gun and laid it under his chin. Hutch could see his finger twitching on the trigger. Krista gasped, and Starsky reached behind him to grab her arm just before she rose.

 

"Stay down, Krista!" he ordered sharply. "Let us handle this."

 

Hutch put both hands out in front of him in a conciliatory gesture. "Harry, come on. Give me the gun."

 

"No!" Harry backed up again. He was almost in the thick trees that lined the park on one side. If he went much further, the other cops waiting a distance away wouldn't be able to see what was going on. "You don't understand!" Harry said, his voice breaking. "You don't know what it's like."

 

"I might," Hutch said. "She's gone, Harry. I know it hurts. I lost someone, too. You feel like your guts are hanging out. But it gets easier, Harry. It does. And she wouldn't want you to do this. I know she wouldn't."

 

Harry shook his head, and just as he seemed to be bringing the gun down, away

from himself, he glanced toward Krista and very deliberately pulled the trigger. She shrieked and ran toward him, but Hutch caught her and held her back. His face was drained of all color.

 

"No, sweetheart. Don't. You don't want to see it. You don't want to remember him that way."

 

"Grandpa! Grandpa!" she sobbed and fought Hutch, but he held on grimly. He glanced toward Starsky and the other cops, behind him, who were running toward them now.

 

Starsky turned and motioned to the other cops. "Get an ambulance down here!" He yelled. The one who had spoken to them went back to call, and Starsky went to Hutch. He laid his hand on his partner's shoulder, feeling the tension and the trembling there, and looked toward Harry. It wasn't pretty. The bullet, a large caliber, had made a mess of him. His whole head and face were covered with blood. Just to make sure, Starsky felt for a pulse. There was none. Harry's eyes were open and staring at the sky. Starsky pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and laid it over Harry's face. He turned back around, and Hutch was still standing there, holding the sobbing girl. Starsky went back to him. "You okay, buddy?"

 

Hutch nodded, but the pallor of his face and the rapid pulse beating in his throat belied the gesture. Starsky squeezed his shoulder again as they heard the sound of approaching sirens.

 

Starsky gave a gentle tug on Hutch's arm and steered him and Krista to a picnic table to sit down. She was crying so hard she couldn't speak, and Hutch just held onto her, his arms around her, one hand absently stroking her back. But Hutch's eyes held the blank, dazed expression of someone in shock. Starsky didn't like that look at all. The attendants rushed past them with a stretcher, and Hutch gently turned the girl so she couldn't watch as they loaded her grandfather onto it and covered him with a sheet. The blood on his face and head soaked through the sheet.

 

The other cops started back to their cars, leaving Starsky and Hutch alone with the girl to await the crime scene team. She was still crying, but her tears had slowed to a trickle.

 

"Can I call your parents for you, sweetheart?" Starsky asked when it appeared she'd be able to answer.

 

She sniffled and wiped at her eyes with the heels of her hands. "Yeah. 555-0122."

 

Starsky nodded and jogged back to the car to ask the dispatcher to call. When he returned, Hutch was still holding the girl, who clung to him as if she couldn't bear to let go. By the time the crime scene team arrived and started to collect evidence, her parents had arrived. They listened in stunned silence as Starsky explained as gently as possible what had happened, and they finally took Krista away.

 

Hutch continued to sit on the picnic table in silence, watching the crime scene team as they took photos, measured, and collected leaves and grass with bloodstains on them.

 

For several minutes, Starsky sat down beside him and watched them, too. Finally, he nudged him. "Hutch? We're done. Let's go."

 

Hutch blinked a couple of times as if to bring himself back to reality. "He shot himself, Starsk. Right in front of me. And that poor kid!"

 

"I know."

 

He shook his head and wearily rubbed his eyes. "I couldn't stop him."

 

"You tried."

 

"It wasn't enough."

 

"It's not your fault," Starsky said. "He wanted to die. Maybe he's at peace now."

 

"But what about that poor kid?" Hutch turned his eyes to Starsky and while the dazed look was gone, a deep pain had replaced it. "Can you imagine watching your grandfather shoot himself? She can't be more than 14 or 15!"

 

"You did everything you could, babe," Starsky said, sliding an arm around Hutch and gripping his arm with the other hand.

 

Hutch shook his head. "It wasn't enough," he repeated. "It just wasn't enough."

 

Starsky looked at him, concerned about the guilt trip on which the blond man was just embarking. He knew Hutch had a tendency to blame himself for things - even things completely out of his control. Giving Hutch's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, he said, "Look at me."

 

Hutch had dropped his face into one large hand and he didn't respond to Starsky's order to look up at him. Instead, he sat disconsolately with his eyes covered, as if masking them could somehow keep Starsky outside the circle of his pain.

 

Starsky let go of him and knelt on the ground in front of Hutch, looking up into his face. He gently pulled Hutch's hand away and his heart lurched at the sight.

 

"I said look at me, buddy. This ain't your fault. You're a good negotiator. You're so calm and collected in situations like this. But, Hutch, that man was beyond your help. He wanted to die -- wanted it more than anything. He'd gone past caring what happened to anyone else. As long as it was over for him."

 

Hutch stared at him, almost blankly for a few moments. Then, he wearily nodded his comprehension, if not his agreement. Starsky stood up and held out a hand to him.

 

"Come on, buddy. Let's get out of here." Hutch gripped his hand as if it were a lifeline. He allowed Starsky to pull him to his feet and he followed him back to the car. One look at the slumped shoulders and pained expression told Starsky this trip was only beginning.

 

Though his first instinct was to clock them out and take Hutch home, he decided instead that maybe moving through the motions of wrapping up this incident might help him snap Hutch out of his funk before it became too serious. Starsky drove them to Metro and led the way inside where they would file a report. Hutch numbly followed him into the building and up to the squad room. He sat down at the typewriter and put a report form in the platen.

 

"Hutch, why don't you let me type it?" Starsky asked.

 

The blond shook his head. "I'll do it."

 

He started to type, but he kept stopping and looking at the paper in confusion. Starsky was becoming increasingly concerned as his friend moved like an automaton through the motions of typing up their report.

 

Occasionally, he asked Starsky a question.

 

"What was his name, Starsk?"

 

"Harry Douglas."

 

"Right."

 

Hutch continued to type for a few minutes then paused again. "How old would you say he was?"

 

"Oh, maybe sixty-five. You sure you don't want me to type that?" Starsky was beginning to think this was not such a good idea. He got up and poured Hutch a cup of the squad room's strong coffee. This particular batch looked like more like used motor oil than coffee. During Hutch's next typing pause, Starsky put the cup of semi-liquid stimulant into Hutch's hand and said, "Drink it."

 

Hutch looked at him and said, "Huh?"

 

"The coffee in your hand, buddy. Drink it."

 

"Oh, okay." Hutch took a sip, making a face, but no comment. He put the cup down on the desk and continued to type.

 

"Be right back, Hutch."

 

"Mmm."

 

Starsky went down the hall to find a place to make a phone call. Being a Sunday, the station was quiet and it didn't take him long. He dialed Captain Dobey's home number from memory.

 

"Dobey."

 

"Cap, it's Starsky." He knew his voice had an edge to it and Captain Dobey noticed.

 

"Starsky? You all right?"

 

"Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry to call you at home on a Sunday, but I need to talk to you about something that happened today."

 

"Go ahead."

 

"We responded to an attempted suicide today, Cap. Hutch tried to talk the guy down, but he had a gun and his mind was made up before we even got there. Happened at Grant Park. Guy just blew his head off right in front of Hutch and his own grandchild."

 

"Oh, boy." Dobey said. "How's the kid?"

 

"Messed up. Cap, Hutch did everything he could. You know how good he is at that. This guy was done. No way anyone was talkin' him out of it."

 

"He taking it bad?"

 

"Bad ain't the half of if. I can't remember when I've seen him so shook. He's sittin' in the squad room typing our report. Reason I called is to ask for a coupla days off. He's not in any shape to be on the streets. I just want to take him home and try to get his mind off of it."

 

Dobey sighed into the phone. "Sure. Plan on taking a couple of days. I'll see you on Wednesday morning."

 

"Thanks, Cap."

 

"Call me."

 

"Yeah." He hung up the phone and headed for the candy machine. Maybe a little chocolate fortification would help. Just as he was yanking on the handle that would deliver his selection, he heard his name.

 

"Uh, Starsky?" When he looked up, candy bar safely in hand, Starsky saw Officer Gavin, a uniformed officer about ten years Starsky's junior. The look on his face was one of both worry and confusion.

 

"Somethin' wrong, Gavin?" Starsky hoped it didn't have anything to do with his partner, but his gut instinct was telling him it did.

 

"I think you'd better go check on your partner."

 

"Why?"

 

"I went into the squad room after some paperwork and well, he's not lookin' too good. He's kinda pale and sweaty and he just spilled a whole cup of coffee all over the desk and his lap. He's just sort of staring. I tried to talk to him, but he won't answer me."

 

"Thanks." Starsky stuffed the unopened candy bar in his pocket and rushed down the hall toward the squad room.

 

When he skidded into the room, he took in the exact sight Gavin had just described. Hutch looked shocky and he was sitting at the typewriter with his hands in his lap. Staring. The coffee cup was on its side and its contents still dripped off the edge of the desk. Starsky carefully approached his partner.

 

"Hutch? You all right?" Starsky grabbed some napkins and started to mop up the mess, sopping up the liquid that was threatening to ruin the report Hutch had just finished typing. Hutch didn't answer him.

 

"Hey, Hutch." He shook Hutch's shoulder gently and the blond looked up at him. Gavin wasn't kidding. Hutch looked terrible.

 

His voice laced with concern, Starsky quietly said, "Talk to me."

 

Hutch blinked a few times and said, "It wasn't enough."

 

Starsky put a few napkins into Hutch's hands and said, "You got coffee all over yourself, buddy. Clean that up and I'll get the rest."

 

"Oh, guess I musta knocked over the cup. Sorry." Hutch's hands were trembling as he obeyed his partner and attempted to clean up his lap. As soon as Starsky got the desk squared away, he took his wet napkins and Hutch's and tossed them into the wastebasket. Then he put one hand under Hutch's elbow and said, "Come on, Blondie. I'm taking you home."

 

"Home? What time is it?" Hutch looked confused and Starsky was increasingly uncomfortable with his demeanor. He convinced himself that Hutch needed some sleep. He'd be all right in a few hours.

 

"Time for home. Come on." Hutch moved to stand, but he stumbled a little and wound up back in his chair. He looked embarrassed, but he stood up again and let Starsky steer him toward the door. "Starsk, I b-blew it. He's dead 'cause I didn't say the right things."

 

The torment on Hutch's face was heartbreaking. Starsky had seen him in a fit of guilt before, but the disturbing image of Harry pulling that trigger while Hutch reached for him had obviously seared itself into his partner's psyche. The added element of the granddaughter watching what Hutch saw as a major league failure did nothing to help the situation.

 

"I shouldn't have said anything. Oh, God. What was I thinking, Starsk?" Hutch had stopped in the middle of the hall.

 

"Hutch, stop it."

 

Hutch closed his mouth on his next self-deprecating thought.

 

Starsky escorted the dazed man out to the car and they drove to Venice Place in silence. Hutch sat with his eyes closed, slumped in the passenger seat. The incident in the park had charged him up with adrenaline and the time he spent at the station had led to his current crash. He needed to be in bed.

 

After pulling up to the curb outside Hutch's place, Starsky reached over and touched his arm, trying to gently wake him for the trip up the stairs. Hutch opened his eyes and said, "Where are we?"

 

"Your place. Let's go."

 

"Yeah." Hutch nodded as he climbed somewhat unsteadily out of the car. Starsky went up the stairs behind him in case he fell, but they arrived in the apartment without incident. Hutch stood in the living room for a moment, as if he was unsure of what to do next. Starsky couldn't decide if he should plop him into bed or stuff him under the cold water in the shower. He went back and forth in his thinking on that as he took off Hutch's jacket, holster, and gun. In the end, he decided sleeping was a better choice than risking having Hutch collapse in the shower.

 

"Come on, buddy. You're goin' to sleep for a while." He guided Hutch to his bed and got him to lie down with one gentle push. He pulled Hutch's shoes off and covered him with a quilt from the closet. Though the day was warm, Hutch was still shivering. Starsky made the room as dark as he could and unplugged the phone before he went back to the living room. As he walked out, he heard Hutch quietly say, "Thanks, Starsk."

 

Starsky went into the kitchen and fetched himself a beer. Then he sat on the couch with the Sunday paper and tried to unwind. His worry for his partner had him feeling tightly wound and he wanted to be relaxed and ready for whatever he would find when Hutch was awake again.

 

Unable to concentrate on the newspaper, Starsky quietly wandered around the apartment. He admired Hutch's plants and looked through his albums. Then he headed for the bookshelves, smiling at the eclectic collection. Hutch was a man of many interests. His book collection included everything from a King James Bible to a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. His parents were fond of sending him detective novels, though Hutch rarely read them. Starsky chuckled at the well-worn copies of James Bond novels sent by Hutch's sister, Karen. He frowned at the law books Hutch had tossed into the corner. Mr. Hutchinson never seemed to lose the hope that his son would someday give up police work and become an attorney.

 

Suddenly feeling tired, Starsky decided to crash on the couch for a while. First he peeked in on Hutch. His friend was deeply asleep. Hutch's sleep was often restless and disturbed by nightmares. This time he was lying perfectly still. The trembling seemed to have left him and Starsky pulled the quilt back a little so Hutch wouldn't get overheated.

 

When he lay down on the couch, Starsky noticed how quiet the apartment was on a Sunday afternoon. Traffic was light outside and the sound of cars didn't mar the silence. From somewhere, probably a street or two back off the main drag where the houses had lawns, Starsky could hear the sound of a lawn mower. The only other sound was the ticking of Hutch's wind-up clock. Between the gentle breeze drifting through the open windows, the warm air, and the hypnotic lull of the clock and lawn mower, Starsky was asleep inside of five minutes.

 

It was full dark by the time Starsky woke up, starving. He got up and peeked into Hutch's bedroom, but though the covers were mussed, Hutch wasn't there. He wasn't in the bathroom, in the greenhouse, or the kitchen. Alarmed, Starsky ran down the stairs and looked out the door. Both the Squash and the Tomato were still there, so Hutch hadn't gone far.

 

Just when he was turning to go try the beach, he heard sneakered feet slapping against pavement and saw Hutch turning the corner. He'd gone for a run. Starsky sighed in relief and waited. Hutch slowed as he approached and stopped next to Starsky, winded, but with the color back in his cheeks and looking much better than he had a few hours ago.

 

"Looking for me?" Hutch asked between pants.

 

Starsky shook his head. "Nope. Hoping to meet a beautiful redhead."

 

"Idiot," Hutch said fondly, squeezing past him to head upstairs. Starsky followed. "Hungry?" Hutch asked as he went to the sink for a glass of water, which he downed without stopping.

 

"Starved."

 

"Chinese or pizza?"

 

"Chinese," Starsky said instantly. The Chinese take-out was less than a block away, and he'd smelled the food from the sidewalk.

 

"Okay. Will you go while I shower?"

 

"Damn," Starsky said, pretending great dismay. "I shoulda known I'd get to play delivery boy."

 

"I want an egg roll," Hutch said. "No, make that two. And sweet and sour pork."

 

"Okay, okay." Starsky shook his head and headed out the door.

 

By the time he got back, Hutch had showered and dressed. Starsky dumped the food on the table and went to the kitchen for a beer. They ate in comfortable silence for several minutes, until Starsky's hunger was somewhat assuaged. Finally, he said, "Wanna talk about it?"

 

Hutch froze in the middle of a bite and looked up at him. "I don't know what else to say," he answered when he'd finished chewing.

 

"You were freakin' pretty bad earlier," Starsky commented, pretending great interest in his lo mein.

 

"Yeah." Hutch was silent for a moment. "Still am, in a way."

 

"There wasn't anything else you coulda done," Starsky argued. "You didn't dare jump him, not while he had that damn gun, and shootin' him woulda defeated the purpose."

 

A slight quirk at the corner of Hutch's mouth rewarded him. "I know. I just feel so damned helpless!" He sighed and took another bite. "We're supposed to be the good guys," he went on at last. "We're supposed to be able to fix things. That poor kid, standing there watching her granddad blow his head off. And not a damned thing I could do about it."

 

"You had to watch him blow his head off, too."

 

Hutch winced. "Yeah." He shook his head, sighed, and took another bite. At least he was eating, Starsky thought. "Do you think I made it worse? Trying to talk to him? Maybe I should've let you do it. Or Krista."

 

"Krista had already tried," Starsky said. "They'd been driving around for a couple of hours with him threatenin' to do it and her tryin' to talk him out of it."

 

"How do you know that?"

 

"I called to see how she was doin'," Starsky said. "While I was out gettin' the food."

 

"How is she doing?"

 

"As well as can be expected," Starsky answered. "Her mom said she's pretty freaked out, too, but she's young. She'll be okay. Her best girlfriend came over to spend the night and the two of them are locked in Krista's room listening to Shaun Cassidy records."

 

Hutch's mouth quirked again. "Shaun Cassidy?"

 

Starsky gave a ghost of a grin. "You go for a run. I go take photos. Krista apparently listens to Shaun Cassidy."

 

"And talks to her best friend," Hutch added.

 

"Yeah." Starsky gave a one-shouldered shrug. "You did better than I could've done, buddy. I was panicked. I would've said something really stupid. You were perfect for that situation. You're reasonable, you care. You really do care. And people can tell. But that guy -- he was too far gone, Hutch. It wouldn't've mattered what you said. He'd made up his mind already. If he hadn't, maybe he'd have listened to you."

 

"Guess so." Hutch seemed more accepting of the idea, though Starsky knew he wasn't about to let it go completely. If he did, he wouldn't be Hutch.

 

"They teach us how to handle these situations, but they never really talk about what it's like. You know, what it FEELS like inside," Hutch said as he placed one hand on his chest. "I think maybe they should."

 

Starsky smiled at his best friend. Hutch was a great cop, but Starsky knew he could have done anything he wanted in life. He was glad Hutch decided on police work.

 

"What are you smiling about?" Hutch asked, his eyebrows arched with curiosity.

 

"Just you. You're too much, buddy. You should talk to Dobey. Bet they'd love it if you'd come and talk to the class at the academy when they cover how to handle suicides."

 

"You think?"

 

"I know. Talk to him."

 

Hutch nodded and looked reflective. Starsky had already decided he would talk to Dobey if Hutch didn't.

 

"I'll do the dishes." Hutch started gathering the empty containers to throw in the trash.

 

"Tough assignment, think you can handle it? Wouldn't want you to get dishpan hands or anything."

 

"No problem, partner. I've got Palmolive." Hutch laughed, just like he usually did at his own awful jokes.

 

After Hutch finished with the food trash, they moved out to the greenhouse to sit and enjoy a beer. Though Starsky was glad Hutch was feeling so much better, he still worried. Failure was not something Ken Hutchinson accepted well. He usually tore himself up with self-imposed harsh judgment when anything he did went awry. Though Starsky was a man of strong emotions, he tended to let them out, not allowing them to simmer inside without release. When Starsky was upset, he never hid it well. Hutch was more reflective and when he crashed, he crashed hard.

 

"You driving tomorrow?" Hutch asked.

 

"Nope. We're off the roster."

 

Hutch turned a suspicious eye on his partner. "Why? You talk to Dobey?"

 

"Yep. I told him we needed a couple of days."

 

"What'd you do that for? I'm okay. Really."

 

Starsky put a hand on Hutch's arm and looked at him with every bit of concern he could convey in his eyes. "I know you too well to believe everything is just fine now. You had me pretty worried this afternoon. We're taking a day off to decompress and that's it. You convince me you're all right by tomorrow night and I'll tell Dobey to put us back on for Tuesday. Otherwise, we don't go in 'til Wednesday."

 

Hutch started to protest, but then thought better of it. "All right. What are we going to do with the day off that I don't need?" His eyes were grateful, even if his words didn't sound that way.

 

"Thought we'd drive up the coast road to Las Gaviotas. Bigelow told me they've built a fishing dock up there where that little bay forms on the other side of the overpass. Feel like fishin?"

 

"Bigelow? You're kidding, and since when do you want to go fishing?" Hutch was surprised on both counts. "Didn't we just talk about fishing this morning?"

 

"First off, this ain't about me. You need to relax and fishing will do it. Second, I've been trying to make up to Biggie. He's not such a bad guy and I figured it'd be better to have him on our side. Got him talking about stuff he likes to do off hours one day when I went down for some supplies. Haven't you noticed he's been a little nicer lately?"

 

Hutch laughed. "Thought you said I was the negotiator. Yeah, I did notice. Way to go."

 

"Guess your smooth style is rubbing off on me. What do you say? We could run up there in the morning, get in some fishing, then come home and cook what you catch. We can always run over to Huggy's if you come up empty."

 

"Okay, you win. I won't need two days though, I'm telling you. Get here early, okay? Maybe seven. I don't want to get caught in the commute traffic."

 

"Your wish is my command."

 

"You just remember that the next time I want to eat vegetarian."

 

The two men enjoyed a long game of chess and then Starsky headed home. Though getting up at the crack of dawn on a day off was not his idea of fun, if that's what Hutch needed to make his day, he'd do it. His best friend did seem better; maybe one day would do it.

 

Hutch lay awake for a long time, worried about what happened with Douglas. When someone died because of a failure he perceived to be his, the guilt was, at times, almost unbearable. Hutch wished he had the ability to feel his emotions strongly and then put them aside like Starsky did. Worrying his best friend was not on his list of fun things to do. Starsky had enough to worry about just watching out for his physical safety. While lying in the dark second-guessing his actions, he also considered Starsky's suggestion and decided he would talk to Dobey. Their training was thorough, but the academy didn't spend much time on things like how it feels to shoot someone and how it feels when you are unsuccessful in a situation. That kind of pain was hard won in the field, but he wished someone had told them that it hurts like hell. The good guys just don't always win. He finally fell asleep around two in the morning.

 

++++++++++

 

As dawn was breaking over the eastern mountains, Catherine Loomis pulled her car into the lookout parking lot. From where she sat, she could see both the ocean and the lagoon. This was a peaceful place to die.

 

Catherine sat in the car, writing a suicide note. She wasn't sure how to say what was in her heart. For the past year, Catherine had been engaged to the man she believed was the love of her life. A week ago, Chris told her the engagement was off, he was in love with someone else. That other person was named Bill. Catherine was devastated by the loss and embarrassed that she was being thrown over for a man. How could Chris be almost thirty and never have known he was gay? They had been a steady item for almost five years. How could this happen? To add to her dismay, this was the second time she had been dumped while engaged. The first time was when she was only twenty. At least that time, she had been rejected for another woman.

 

Writing her note took a long time. How do you explain to your family and friends that you are not worthy of love? How can you sum up your angst and anger into one note that will help those you leave behind to understand that you did the right thing?

 

Around seven thirty, Catherine finished writing. With a heavy heart, she set the note on the dashboard of her car underneath her keys. She slipped her engagement ring off and laid it next to the keys. Then she got out and walked over to the bridge. The small bay behind her narrowed into an inlet, which flowed back and forth with the tide under the overpass. The tide had just come in and she knew the water would be deep so she positioned herself nearer to the side over the rocks. The bridge was part of the coast road and it was only about fifty feet high in the center. She wanted to be sure the leap would kill her.

 

The bay was used mostly by water skiers, but it had a new fishing dock in it now. Being a workday, no one was around yet. She stood for a while in the early morning breeze contemplating what she was about to do. Catherine had made her peace with her decision over the past few days, having come here on several occasions to think about it. She didn't notice the red and white car that passed her a few minutes later.

 

Starsky saw the young woman standing on the other side of the bridge as he passed, but he didn't think much of it. People often stopped here to take pictures of the ocean or the lagoon and it was a beautiful morning. The sun had just risen over the mountains and the bay behind them was only slightly choppy from the light breeze. He guessed she was a tourist.

 

The road leading up to the lookout was not busy yet, though lots of people used it as an alternate route to the freeway if it was too congested. This time of day, the only way down to the fishing dock was to park in the lot and take a long set of stairs down the cliff side to a foot path that led back under the bridge. A fence of pipes painted yellow barred the entrance to the road leading to the boat ramp, but Starsky couldn't have parked the car there anyway. The boat ramp had no parking space and was only big enough to turn a vehicle with a trailer around and back a boat down into the water. The steps would do.

 

Starsky turned into the dirt parking lot and backed into a space next to a white Volkswagen bug that he guessed belonged to the woman on the bridge. He noticed that the car had the old style yellow-on-black California plates and was definitely not a rental.

 

While Hutch climbed into the back seat to gather some things he had put there for their day, Starsky went back to the trunk to get a blanket and the ice chest. Something shiny caught his eye and he looked up at it. That's when he saw the piece of paper on the dashboard of the VW, sitting underneath the shiny object and a large collection of keys.

 

His cop alert mechanism ringing in his head, Starsky looked around first and then he walked to the driver's door and tried it. When the door opened, he reached inside, saw that the shiny object was a diamond ring and decided he'd better take a look at the paper.

 

After reading the note, his heart sank. // Dammit. Another suicide attempt? // Hutch stood up with the fishing gear in hand and saw what Starsky was doing. Before he could say anything, Starsky said, "Hutch," and he instantly knew something was wrong. Hutch had also seen the young woman when they passed. He looked back toward the bridge and saw her leaning on her hands, with both feet on the bottom railing.

 

"Dammit!" he exclaimed, dropping the gear. "Call it in!" He turned and walked toward her as quickly as he dared, not wanting to spook her.

 

"Her name's Catherine!" Starsky called after Hutch, who waved to indicate he heard.

 

Starsky grabbed the radio mike and said, "Zebra 3 to Control."

 

The dispatcher answered, "Morning, Starsky. Thought you boys were off today."

 

"Me too, Control. Listen, we've just run across a jumper out here on the Las Gaviotas Bridge. Hutch is goin' in to try and talk her down. Get us some backup. Code one, huh? We don't want to scare her over the railing."

 

"Roger, Zebra 3. Good luck."

 

"Thanks." Starsky dropped the mike and headed after his partner.

 

When Hutch got closer to her, the young woman saw him and was startled. Her first thought was that he couldn't know what she was planning, but she stepped back down anyway and turned toward him, not taking her hands off the railing.

 

"Hi," the handsome blond said, stopping several feet away from her. The look in his eyes told her that he knew what was really happening.

 

"Don't come any closer," she said as she took a step or two backward.

 

"Are you Catherine?" He asked gently.

 

Her eyes darted first to his face, then to the parking lot where she could see Starsky approaching. She nodded and took another step away from the blond.

 

"I'm Ken."

 

Hutch looked over the bridge rail and could see that if she jumped here, the impact would maim her if it didn't kill her. The water was shallow and rocks and boulders spilled down the embankment and under the water. He decided he'd try walking a little closer, edging her farther out along the bridge where if she did jump, rocks wouldn't break the fall. The inlet dropped off sharply to deep water fairly close to the edge.

 

"I said, don't come any closer," she warned him again, so he stopped. "I'm gonna jump no matter what you say, so you might as well just get back in your car and leave me alone."

 

Hutch put his hands up, palms angled toward the ground. "Let's talk about it, huh?"

 

Catherine shook her head and backed up again. // Good. Just a little farther and you'll be over deep water. // "Nothing to say," she said in a quiet, desperate voice.

 

Starsky stayed back at the end of the bridge. Not only was he afraid of heights -- and this bridge was high enough to make his stomach do back flips -- he didn't want to risk breaking the spell he hoped his partner was weaving on Catherine. He saw a black-and-white coming toward them and was glad backup had arrived. Then, he heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching. After spending time in the jungles of Vietnam, the sound of a helicopter overhead still had the power to make Starsky nervous. Having been pinned down under enemy fire many times, that sound often meant trouble. He was glad Hutch had his back to him as he cringed a little and felt the color drain from his face. Immediately feeling a bit foolish, he looked up to see if he could identify the chopper.

 

High above the bridge, Sam "Surf's Up" Taylor was riding shotgun in a traffic helicopter from one of the local radio stations. Sam was a surfer, and after he made his run up and down the local freeways reporting on the commute traffic, he liked to have the pilot swing past the coast for an impromptu surf report. That was part of his shtick.

 

Sam glanced down at what looked like an interesting development. He saw the two cars in the parking lot, and the people on the bridge. One was backing away from the other and a third person was standing still at the end of the bridge. That one looked up at the chopper. When he saw the squad car stop on the opposite side of the bridge, he knew he had scooped a jumper. Scanning up and down the coast road, he noticed other squad cars had blocked off the road in both directions so no other cars could approach.

 

"Take us down a little so I can see better," he told the pilot. When the helicopter descended close enough for him to see the people clearly, he could tell it was a woman who was threatening to jump and she was climbing up to sit on the railing near the center of the bridge.

 

"She looks serious. I'm calling it in to the station." The radio station was affiliated with a local television channel. After he reported the situation, they sent a news chopper and camera crews to join him. Within minutes, the quiet scene of an attempted suicide had become a media circus.

 

The traffic chopper was painted in a zebra striped motif. Starsky smiled at the irony, but he recognized it immediately. The traffic reporter from Z-106.8 was a friendly, but aggressive man. He had a reputation for being a bit of a news hound. His fears were realized as another chopper approached and he could see the camera crew hanging out the side.

 

Hearing a noise on the pavement behind him, Starsky looked back and saw a paramedic unit and fire truck being let through a roadblock. One of the firemen approached him and he reluctantly took his eyes off his partner.

 

"We scrambled Search and Rescue. They're coming in through the channel," the man said as he walked toward Starsky.

 

Starsky looked down the waterway and saw a boat approaching. "Good, I've got a feeling this one's not gonna end well." He handed the note to the fireman.

 

As time passed, Starsky's concern for what would happen to Hutch if she jumped increased. They weren't close enough to hear what Hutch was saying, but he was keeping up a steady stream of encouraging words for Catherine.

 

"I know everything seems hopeless now, Catherine, but you don't want to do this." Hutch was running out of things to say to the desperate woman and she had climbed up to sit on the railing. He tried for almost an hour and he feared she was getting closer to jumping, instead of closer to coming in from the cold of depression and despair.

 

By the time she was standing on the other side of the railing, clinging to it lightly, still demanding that Hutch stay out of reach, he was convinced he had lost. Starsky was starting to move closer to them from the end of the bridge. He knew she would jump and wanted to be next to Hutch when it happened. What happened next might only have been shown to Starsky in his worst nightmare.

 

Hutch put his hand out to Catherine. He had almost gotten close enough to touch her. His fingers almost brushed her hand on the top of the railing. When he edged a little closer to her, she quietly said, "I'm sorry, Ken." Then she let go and stepped back into the abyss.

 

Without hesitation, Hutch lunged forward over the railing just in time to catch Catherine by the arm. Starsky ran toward him as her falling weight pulled Hutch completely over the rail.

 

"Hutch!" Starsky yelled at him as he reached the side. Hutch had managed to grab onto one of the railing supports near the base of the bridge. He was dangling off the edge by his left hand and holding onto Catherine with his right. Starsky looked down at him, alarmed by many things in one hellish moment. The height of the impending drop, the fact that he couldn't quite reach Hutch, and the blood on the side of Hutch's forehead. He had smacked his head on the bottom of the bridge when he went over the side.

 

Shaking his head a little to clear it, and trying to decide what to do next, Hutch realized in a rush that he couldn't possibly haul Catherine up in time. His grip was slipping and she was wriggling in his grasp, begging him to let go. In a flash of inspiration, he called down to her, "I'm going to swing you out over the deeper water. Hold your breath and please don't die, Catherine."

 

Using whatever strength he could muster, he swung the squirming woman back toward the bridge and then out closer to the middle of the drop. That's when he lost his grip on her and he watched her fall into the water. He could hear Starsky yelling at him from the bridge and a look up toward his partner revealed he was preparing to climb over the railing to get to Hutch, ignoring his fear of heights in favor of saving his friend. Hutch looked back at the water and he didn't see Catherine surface. His head was pounding and he knew he was in danger of blacking out, but he had only one thing on his mind. He had to save Catherine.

 

Hutch looked back up at Starsky as he stepped out over the railing and their eyes met. He didn't say anything, but Starsky understood what he was transmitting. "I can't let her die." Starsky was horrified when Hutch looked back at the water and let go, plummeting in a straight, feet first plunge into the drink.

 

Hitting the water hard, Hutch went down a long way. The cold seawater cleared his head a little. As he kicked and fought his way to the surface, he knew he'd been snagged by something. Whatever it was dragged at him. Looking up, he saw Catherine slowly sinking in the water a few feet away. Hutch changed his angle and headed toward her, unable to take the time to figure out what had ensnared him. He managed to reach her and surfaced with her near the approaching rescue boat. His strength was ebbing and he fought to keep both their heads above water until the rescue team took her out of his hands. While they lifted her onto the boat deck and had their backs to the man in the water, he slid under without notice.

 

Up on the bridge, Starsky was frantic. Some of the uniforms had rushed forward and pulled him back over the railing. Now those same men were holding him back from diving over the side when he saw Hutch sink.

 

"Let go of me!" He screamed at them. "Nobody saw! Hutch went down!"

 

Starsky was wrong though. Someone noticed within moments. After they began CPR on Catherine, one of the men turned back to give Hutch a hand into the boat and realized what must have happened. He dove over the side to search for Hutch.

 

One of the firefighters saw it and he put a hand on Starsky's shoulder and yelled back at him. "They know! Someone went in after him."

 

Starsky relaxed a little and they let him return to the railing, though the fireman was not about to let the dark haired man get far enough away from him to jump in after Hutch. He put his hand on Starsky's arm and said, "Come with me down to the boat launch. We're taking the ambulance down there." One of the firemen had snapped the chain locking the fence to the boat ramp in anticipation of taking the paramedic unit down to it.

 

Starsky shook his head and said, "Not until I see them pull him onto that boat." He knew the situation was hopeless from his position. Even if he dove in, assuming the fall didn't hurt him, he could never get to Hutch faster than the men on the boat. That didn't mean he was willing to leave where he could watch the action. He would stay on the bridge until Hutch was safe. // Please God, help him. Please don't die, Hutch. // All he could do was wait and pray.

 

Hutch realized after he let the rescuers take Catherine that he couldn't stay afloat any longer. His vision was turning orange and black around the edges, signaling the end of consciousness and whatever was wrapped around his left leg weighed too much. He took a breath and then slid under the surface.

 

When he looked down with fading awareness, he saw a school of terrified Garibaldi as they swam away from him as fast as they could. Reaching down, he saw that a floating ball of kelp had captured him around the leg. The heavy mass was sinking and it was taking him with it -- the weight too much for him to fight. He reached for his pocketknife, praying he could stay conscious long enough to cut himself free, but that was not to be. As he sank to oblivion, he had the satisfaction of believing he had given his all to save Catherine. That thought gave him peace.

 

Carlos Hernandez was a long-term member of the Search and Rescue Team. He had seen people snagged by free-floating seaweed many times. He could see Hutch trying to unwind the kelp from his leg without success. Carlos knew he'd need a knife to free the man. He fought back to the surface as fast as he could, seeing that Hutch was about to lose consciousness.

 

When Starsky saw Hernandez surface without Hutch he went ballistic, yelling his partner's name and hurling obscenities at the man in the water who had returned to the boat for some reason. He demanded that one of the uniforms give him a pair of field glasses he had been using to watch the rescue. As he focused the lenses, he saw one of the men on the boat hand a long, unsheathed knife to Carlos, who immediately took a deep breath and dove again. As he stood on the bridge, trembling with fear for his partner, all Starsky could do was mumble, "Oh, my God. Please, Hutch."

 

Time seemed to have stopped passing. In Starsky's estimation, an eternity of anguish took place over the next minute as the stunned men watched the rescue attempt from the bridge.

 

Hernandez was a surfer and a strong ocean swimmer. He quickly swam back to Hutch, who was now completely out and floating limply approximately eight feet below the surface. Fortunately, the water was only about fifteen feet deep, and the large, slimy ball of kelp was now resting on the channel floor.

 

Hernandez quickly cut the ropy mass free from Hutch's leg; he grabbed him around the chest and surfaced with him as fast as he could. Starsky saw him come up again, this time with Hutch in tow. One look through his binoculars at the pale, bluish tint to Hutch's face told him in one terrifying instant that it was a real possibility that Hutch had drowned. Starsky continued to watch in grim fascination as Hernandez handed Hutch's limp body up to the men on the boat. They hauled him out and laid him on the deck, out of Starsky's line of sight. When the rescue boat revved its engine and headed for the launching ramp, he turned to the fireman and said, "Let's go."

 

Starsky reached the ramp far ahead of the fireman, driven by the haunting sight of Hutch's still face. The boat was just pulling in, and Hernandez was doing CPR on Hutch. Everyone nearby fell silent, watching, as Hernandez pumped and breathed and pumped and breathed for long, agonizing minutes with no response from the blond detective. Starsky held his own breath when he saw flecks of white foam on Hutch's lips. He'd never seen that before and the sight terrified him.

 

Hernandez was sweating freely and gasping for air himself by the time Hutch gave a gagging cough.

 

Hernandez hurriedly turned him on his side and Hutch retched, bringing up a great gush of dirty water.

 

// Thank, God // Starsky thought, rushing forward.

 

"Get him to the hospital!" Hernandez ordered the nearest paramedics, who dragged the stretcher to the river's edge. The rescue boat personnel lifted Hutch and carried him, still unconscious, through the shallow water and handed him to the attendants.

 

"Hutch? H-hutch, you okay?" Starsky asked, trembling. But the attendants brushed him off and hurried toward the waiting ambulance.

 

"We're taking him to Receiving, it's nearest," one of them said to Starsky.

 

"I wanna come with you - "

 

"No. Meet us there." They loaded the stretcher and slammed the doors. In moments, they were speeding away, leaving Starsky alone and terrified on the

boat ramp.

 

He turned to run to the Torino but froze in his tracks at the sight of more rescue personnel loading Catherine onto a second stretcher. She was shivering and wet and had a nasty bruise on her forehead, but otherwise seemed undamaged.

 

"Memorial," one of the rescue team said to the nearest paramedic in a low voice. "Fifth floor."

 

The fifth floor was the mental ward. Starsky saw the remark register on Catherine's pale face and her eyes turned to him with a plea in them. Knowing

what Hutch would want him to do, Starsky said to her, "Don't worry. Standard procedure. We'll - " he had to pause. It was so natural to say "we", but what if...? He swallowed. "We'll come and see you soon," he finished.

 

As the second ambulance sped away, Starsky became aware of the horde of media that surrounded the area. Television cameras, news photographers and reporters had recorded every moment of the rescue. Several rushed toward him, shouting questions and waving tape recorders and notebooks at him.

 

Unfortunately, he and Hutch were no strangers to a few of the reporters, and they knew their names.

 

"Starsky! Sergeant Starsky! Will Hutchinson be all right? How is he? What did they say?"

 

All he wanted right now was to be in the Torino, breaking speed limits and getting to his partner, but he knew they'd only follow him. "I don't know," he said. "He was breathing but unconscious when they left. I don't have any information to tell you."

 

"Why did he do that?" One reporter shouted.

 

Starsky stared at the young woman, who couldn't have been long out of college. What kind of a stupid question was that? Then he sighed. "It's his job," he said, turning away and heading for his car.

 

When he reached the hospital, he ran straight to the admitting desk in Emergency and gave Hutch's name.

 

The nurse at the desk sifted through a few files. "He's still being treated," she said. "Have a seat in the waiting area."

 

"How IS he?" Starsky demanded.

 

"I don't know," she said, more or less patiently. "He's still being treated."

 

Starsky went to the waiting area, but he didn't "have a seat." He paced. He fumed. He worried. He snarled when some of the more intrepid reporters tracked him down there and tried to get some quotes from him.

 

"Is he going to make it?" one asked.

 

"I don't KNOW," Starsky growled. "Get the hell away from me!"

 

They retreated, but didn't leave. They only moved out of his reach and sat down in a little group on the other side of the room. Starsky pointedly ignored them, even when the one who had asked if Hutch was going to make it got on the pay phone and held a hurried conference with his editor.

 

"Better hold the front page," the reporter said, one eye watching Starsky, who continued to ignore his existence. "We don't know if the cop's gonna make it or not." There was a pause, and the reporter said, "Nah. SHE's okay. They put her in the psych ward, and they won't tell me anything else. It's the cop that damned near drowned." Another pause. "Him?" The reporter lowered his voice. "He's half crazy, that's how he is, but he didn't go in the water, so he's not hurt. He's right here, but he won't talk to us...YOU wanna try it? I don't...Okay. Yeah, I'll let you know soon's I know." The reporter hung up and sat back down and started scribbling in his notebook, no doubt working on his story.

 

Starsky took two long steps and stopped in front of the reporter, glaring at him. The others shifted uneasily in their seats, making the one look up at the steely blue eyes boring into him. "Believe me," Starsky said, ice dripping from every syllable, "you don't WANT me to talk to you right now."

 

The reporter blanched a little, but held his ground. "I'm just doing my job."

 

For some reason, the words reminded Starsky of a call he and Hutch had answered a couple of weeks earlier. There'd been no other cars available or they wouldn't have had to. Suspected child abuse. They'd walked in and found a little boy, maybe four or five years old, so beaten up and bruised he looked like he'd gone a few rounds with a wildcat. They had to take him away, and the child had been terrified and angry, in spite of the abuse he'd suffered. They'd just been doing their jobs, too.

 

Starsky sighed. "You're right. Sorry. I'm just worried."

 

The reporter nodded. "It's okay. I'm pullin' for him, too."

 

At long last, several hours later, the doctor came in looking for Starsky. As soon as he saw him, Starsky was on his feet.

 

"David, whoa, slow down," said the doctor, startling Starsky, who hadn't even looked at him. It was Dr. Franklin, who had treated Starsky when Vic Bellamy had poisoned him.

 

"How is he?" Starsky asked breathlessly. "Straight, please, Doc. No medical calisthenics."

 

"He's going to be okay," Franklin said. "He swallowed a lot of water, and he got some into his lungs, too. He also bumped his head, but he doesn't have a concussion, just a bump and a headache. I'm keeping him here, at least overnight. There's always the chance of respiratory distress when a person comes as close to drowning as he did. Now will you calm down and not go charging in there upsetting him?"

 

Starsky relaxed. He trusted Franklin completely. The man had put in a damned near 24-hour day when Bellamy had poisoned him, and had driven himself to the point of exhaustion trying to figure out alternatives in case Starsky and Hutch couldn't find out what was in the poisonous compound. If Franklin said Hutch would be okay, that was good enough for Starsky. Except for one thing.

 

"I gotta see him," Starsky said.

 

"Of course you do," Franklin said with a smile twitching the corner of his mouth. "You can have 15 minutes, tops. Then get the hell out of here and let him rest. He's had a busy day. Room 714."

 

"Anything you say," Starsky said, ducking around him and heading for the elevator.

 

Hutch's hair was tousled, dried into the waves and loose curls he got when his hair dried naturally. They had cleaned the blood off his face. He was too pale and his eyes had taken on a bruised, sunken look. "Hey," he said weakly as Starsky came in. "What took you so long?"

 

"Reporters," Starsky said. "I ditched 'em though."

 

"They won't stay ditched," Hutch said. "You're going to have to talk to 'em."

 

"I know. Later. They can damned well wait. How ya feel?"

 

"Like hell," Hutch said. He looked it, too. If Starsky hadn't been standing right next to him, he'd never have been able to hear him talking, his voice was so thin and weak. Starsky had intended to demand what the hell Hutch was thinking when he went over that railing, but he decided he'd better let that wait. Hutch wasn't up to a scolding right now.

 

"Listen, you get some sleep, okay, partner? I'll be back tomorrow."

 

Hutch nodded, his eyes already going a little hazy, and Starsky gave his arm a gentle squeeze before he left.

 

Downstairs in the lobby, the media horde was swarming like killer bees, several of the reporters hogging the pay phones. As the elevator doors opened, Starsky could hear a few of them arguing with their editors.

 

"We don't know how he's doing yet!" One of them was shouting into the phone.

"I can't even find his damn doctor and the partner managed to get away from us and the woman at the desk down here says he's not even here!"

 

Starsky froze in the act of walking out of the elevator and was going to duck back in and find another way out of the hospital, but some of the reporters saw him. It was too late, and the ones who had been in the waiting room with Starsky had joined them. He surrendered. There was nothing else he could do.

 

"I'll give you a statement, but that's it, okay?"

 

The reporters crammed closer, extending tape recorders and microphones. Starsky hated this kind of circus, and preferred to let Dobey or someone else cope with the media, but he was going to have to do it this time.

 

"Sergeant Hutchinson will recover," he said. "He's going to be here for a day or two, but he'll be all right. He's too weak to talk to you himself, though, so you'd better not go slithering around trying to find out what room he's in. I'm going to order an armed guard."

 

"Sergeant," asked the reporter who'd been on the phone in the waiting room, "why did he go in after that girl? Wasn't that taking a terrible risk?"

 

Starsky wanted to roll his eyes, but the TV cameras were on him, so he didn't. Did they teach reporters to ask stupid questions in journalism college or something? "That's his job," he said, repeating the answer he'd given the young reporter at the bridge. "And my partner takes his job very seriously. If he thinks there's a chance to save someone, he'll try it, even at risk to himself. That's the kind of man he is."

 

He pushed his way through the throng, refusing to answer any more questions, and finally got outside to the relative peace of the Torino. He called in and gave Dobey a verbal report.

 

"We'll turn in a written one tomorrow or the next day, Cap," he finished.

 

"See that you do," Dobey growled, but it was his growl of relief, not of anger. "Now get your tail home and get some rest. That's an order."

 

"Yes, sir," Starsky said, only too glad to obey.

 

Starsky started the car, but when he looked up, he saw the man who had rescued Hutch walking across the parking lot toward the emergency entrance. He pulled the Torino toward him, waving him over as he approached. The man recognized him.

 

He stopped next to the man, put his hand out for him to shake it, and said, "Hi, Dave Starsky."

 

"Carlos Hernandez." He shook Starsky's hand and added, "How's your buddy?"

 

Starsky looked nervously behind him, wanting to ensure no reporters had spotted the interchange. "He's gonna make it. Hey, you mind coming for a short ride? I'd like to talk to you and I'm afraid the reporters will spot us if we stay around here too long."

 

"Sure." The man walked in front of the Torino and then climbed into the passenger seat.

 

"Thanks. I hate reporters. Already had to deal with 'em and I don't want to be followed." Starsky pulled the Torino out into traffic and drove a short distance from the hospital. When he was sure no one was following, he pulled into a small neighborhood park and found a shady spot for them to sit and talk. He shut off the engine and turned to face his passenger.

 

Hernandez said, "I got here as fast as I could. After we finished the rescue, we had to get the boat back to base, square away the equipment, etc. As soon as my shift ended, I came."

 

Starsky smiled at him. "Thanks, that'll mean a lot to Hutch." Hernandez nodded, his face registering the name of the man whose life he had saved.

 

"Listen, I wanna thank you for my partner's life. You were incredible."

 

Hernandez waved a hand at him in dismissal. "My job, man."

 

Starsky shook his head and snuffed a quiet laugh. "I gotta tell you, when I saw you come up without him, I was swearing at you in two or three languages." His passenger laughed at that. "Tell me what happened. Why did he go down like that and what was with the knife?"

 

"When he went into the water, he must have sunk into a big ball of seaweed. He was tangled in it. That stuff's really heavy. I've seen it before and it's ugly. Drags the victim until he can't keep his head out of the water. When I went back with the knife, he was already out cold. You sure he's gonna be okay?"

 

"Thanks to you. They're gonna keep him a day or two."

 

Hernandez smiled. "Great. Can I go see him?"

 

"How 'bout tomorrow? He's out now."

 

Starsky drove him back to his car and turned the Torino toward home.

 

The next day he showed up at the hospital with a smuggled breakfast from Huggy and a smile on his face. Hutch was already awake, but still on oxygen and coughing when Starsky walked into the room.

 

"Hey, buddy." Starsky crossed to Hutch's side and helped him sit up a little straighter. "You okay?"

 

Hutch stopped coughing and said, "Yeah, I'm okay."

 

Starsky took the keep-warm lid off of the hospital's breakfast offering and immediately replaced it in disgust. He produced the rescue food from inside his jacket and handed it to his partner. "Brought you some real food. I see you didn't eat the gray mush they call oatmeal."

 

"More gruel, sir?" Hutch quipped. "Thanks." He opened the bag and eyed the contents appreciatively. "How's Catherine?"

 

"I called Memorial. Physically, she's fine, better'n you I might add. They've got her on a 10-day paper. You want to go see her when they spring you?"

 

"That'd be great."

 

Pulling up a chair, Starsky sat down and faced his friend. "Ready to talk about it?"

 

Hutch shrugged and suddenly became fascinated with his egg-white and spinach burrito. Starsky put a hand on his arm and conveyed his 'look at me' message through that touch.

 

The blond looked up at him, his eyes tensed for the coming explosion. Starsky was doing his best to keep his temper in check, but it was a losing battle and Hutch could tell.

 

"Go ahead and yell at me," he said in resignation.

 

"I don't wanna yell at you," Starsky denied. The flash in his eyes spoke volumes, though. Hutch waited patiently, saying nothing. Within a minute or two, Starsky was up and pacing around the room, closing and opening his fists in a futile attempt to keep his anger under control. The tension and fright of the past two days overcame him and he lost his battle. When he spoke again, his tone had a hard edge.

 

"What the HELL were you thinking?" Starsky demanded.

 

"I...." Hutch started to speak, but was cut off immediately.

 

"Do you have ANY idea how I felt watching you let go of that bridge? What do you have to say for yourself?"

 

"Starsk, I...." Hutch tried again, unsuccessfully.

 

"Dammit, Hutch! You almost drowned. You scared the crap outta me!"

 

Just as Starsky finished that statement, a nurse came in to check on Hutch. She frowned at the dark haired detective and said, "What are you doing in here? Did I hear you yelling at my patient?"

 

"Yelling? Me?" Starsky looked as innocent as he could.

 

She put a thermometer under Hutch's tongue and shook her head disapprovingly at the contraband food. "That's what I thought." Still shaking her head and "tsking" them, she took Hutch's vital signs, and noted them in his chart. Before she left the room, she told Hutch someone would be coming to take him for an x-ray within the hour. As she passed the silent, brooding man leaning on the wall by the door, she quietly said, "I know all about you, tough guy. Give me any lip, or yell at my patient again and I'm gonna kick your butt." She smiled and patted him on the check as she walked out the door.

 

Hutch smiled sheepishly. "Guess your reputation proceeds you at every hospital in Bay City."

 

Starsky laughed at that, his anger now dissipated. "I'm sorry I yelled, buddy. I really do need you to tell me what happened though." He returned to his seat by the bed.

 

"I'm sorry, Starsk. I just couldn't let her die. If I hadn't gone after her, she might have drowned. After what happened with Douglas, I just couldn't stand it." His eyes were pleading for Starsky to understand him.

 

After a long pause, Starsky asked, "What am I gonna do with you?"

 

"Help me brush up on my negotiation skills so I don't have to play hero again?" Hutch smiled up at him.

 

"How about we stay the hell away from all suicide attempts instead?"

 

"That works for me, partner."

 

They enjoyed each other's company for another half-hour until an orderly came with a wheelchair to take Hutch to radiology. Starsky accompanied him to the elevator and then promised to come back after lunch. He headed for the precinct to file their report on the incident. He still needed to deal with his feelings about what happened and he knew a couple of hours of typing should take care of any remaining anger he had by redirecting it toward inanimate machinery. Starsky wanted all traces of it to be gone when he returned to the hospital that afternoon.

 

TAG

 

Three weeks after Catherine's suicide attempt, Starsky and Hutch were sitting in the precinct cafeteria having coffee and discussing a case when Hutch suddenly stopped talking and set his coffee mug down with a thunk. Starsky looked around to see what had stymied his partner and he saw Catherine walking toward them. They both stood and invited her to sit with them.

 

Hutch started the conversation, "Are you doing all right?"

 

"I'm fine now, thanks to you. How are you? I know you spent a couple of days in the hospital before you came to see me."

 

Hutch blushed. Starsky and he had told her they were not allowed to see her for the first couple of days. They didn't want her to know that Hutch was hurt.

 

Starsky asked, "He's fine now. How'd you know?"

 

"My mom saved the articles from the newspapers. She wanted me to thank you for her also." She reached across the table and patted Hutch on the hand.

 

"You're both welcome." Hutch took her hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry what I said wasn't enough to keep you from jumping that day."

 

"What? Oh, you're so wrong. You said all the right things. I hope you haven't been thinking it was something you said wrong or didn't do."

 

Starsky said, "He has." Hutch glared at him.

 

"You were terrific. I've been thinking about all the things you said to me that day. I was just out of my head. You know, at the end of my rope. Wouldn't have mattered what you said. But after, that's when I really thought about it. You saved my life in every way a person could." Her words sank into Hutch and acted as a healing salve to his soul. Although he had put the incident behind him, he still felt a sense of failure over it. Her words removed his lingering doubts.

 

Catherine told them she was attending therapy and getting better every day. She no longer had suicidal thoughts and she was sorry to have put them through what she did. Knowing that Hutch nearly died trying to save her weighed heavily on her conscience and talking to him helped her put those feelings into perspective. When she left half an hour later, she gave each of them a tearful hug and her promise that she was never going to try to kill herself again.

 

Hutch sat shaking his head and said, "I never expected that."

 

"So, you feel better now?"

 

"Lots. I know you've been trying to tell me the same thing for weeks now. Thanks. Sure did help to hear it from her, though."

 

"Maybe you'll listen to me sooner next time, Blondie."

 

As they walked out the door of the cafeteria, Starsky added, "I'm really glad you're feelin' better, Hutch. Don't go getting cocky on me, though. You ever pull a stunt like that again and I'm still gonna kick your butt."

 

"Noted."

 

The End

 

Feedback? cruellaboris@yahoo.com