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This Just In....
Tuesday, May 15, 1979
Richard Hutchinson had spent a long day attending a board meeting. The presentations were boring and he displayed little interest. The past few weeks had seen him distracted. His thoughts were usually centered on his son. He was looking forward to visiting Ken in California over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. They were planning to spend some father/son time while celebrating Richard’s birthday. Both men were striving to improve their relationship, which had been strained for years.
Six months ago, Ken Hutchinson had been seriously wounded by a gunshot to his chest. That scare led to a realization by the older man that he had treated his son badly in the years since he announced his decision to become a police officer. His dangerous work could take Ken away at any time and he had reached out to his son. He wanted to mend fences and to make friends with Ken’s partner. After the shooting, Richard finally realized how important Starsky was in Ken’s life. The man was responsible for keeping his son safe, and he was his best friend. Suddenly, Richard Hutchinson knew he needed to show his appreciation and support to both men.
That incident was not the first time the Hutchinsons had feared for their son’s life. Just a year before that, he had nearly died from a plague. Early that same year, he was attacked by a hit man and came close to death when he was trapped beneath his car for days. They suspected there were other incidents that their son and his partner kept from them and they were right. Unknown to them, the two men had a pact not to tell either of their relatives about injuries they received on the job unless it was absolutely necessary. They had only heard about the shooting because their daughter, Karen, had called Starsky when she was unable to reach her brother at home.
Richard returned home to an early dinner with his wife. He was just heading into the den to read the evening paper when he heard the phone ring. When he picked it up, he barely had the chance to say hello before he heard his daughter’s frantic voice on the other end of the line.
“Dad? Turn on the CBS News right away!” she said breathlessly.
“Why? Karen, what’s wrong?” he said as he moved across the den to the television, dragging the phone on its long cord with him.
“Oh, God, Dad. They’re on a commercial, but they said the next story was about a shooting in a police garage in Bay City, California. I’m scared.”
By the time the evening news came back on, Richard Hutchinson was seated in his leather recliner, phone still up to his ear, eyes riveted to the broadcast. As his wife entered the room with coffee, the announcer was just saying they were switching live to the local Bay City affiliate. Richard sat in nervous silence, listening to Walter Cronkite.
assassination attempt on a Bay City detective today has left the officer near
death. Two men disguised as police officers, driving a stolen squad car,
assaulted the detective at Bay City Metro Headquarters this morning."
The shot of the anchor dissolved into footage of the police garage, showing the shot-up Torino, glass all over the ground and, most disturbing, a puddle of blood next to the driver's side rear wheel. Richard heard the sound of something breaking from the doorway, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of the screen.
A local reporter was on the scene, wearing an earphone. "Witnesses report the assailants were armed with an automatic rifle," he said, one hand holding the microphone and the other holding a notebook he was consulting. "The officer, whose identity is being withheld pending notification of the family, was shot at least three times as he attempted to draw his own weapon. He is in critical condition, but no information on his prognosis is available. His location is being kept secret due to the fact that the assailants are still at large."
The screen split to show the local reporter and Cronkite on air together – each occupying half of the screen. "Do we know anything about the officer, Gary?" Cronkite asked.
"Only that he is a decorated detective with several years' experience on the force, credited with several high-profile arrests," the reporter answered. "Authorities presume the assassination attempt was in retaliation for an arrest or investigation in this detective's files, but have released no information on the suspects or which case it might be."
"Was anyone else injured?"
"No," the reporter answered. "The assailants fled in the squad car. Apparently, the detective's partner returned fire, but did not give chase due to the condition of the injured officer, who required immediate medical assistance."
"Thanks, Gary," Cronkite said. The screen returned to the network newsroom alone. "We'll keep you updated, and there will be a special report on the late edition."
Helen had stood in the doorway of the den, watching the news report in horror. She looked at her husband, then down at the mess on the hardwood floor at her feet. She recognized Starsky’s car. A flash of guilt surged through her at the thought that she hoped it was Starsky and not Ken. Her face flushed and her ears were ringing.
“Daddy, that’s Starsky’s car!” Karen’s frantic voice came through the phone.
Mr. Hutchinson sounded calm. “I know, Karen. I have to hang up now. I’m going to call their captain.”
“Call me back.”
“I will.” He hung up the phone softly and turned to his wife. “Helen, please bring me Ken’s business card from the drawer by the phone in the kitchen.”
She nodded and silently slipped from the room. Richard put his head down in his hands and tried to regain his composure in preparation for the phone call. His mind swirled with thoughts of his son, and how he would feel if it turned out to be Ken who was hurt. So much blood – on the car and on the ground. The leftover medical supplies abandoned on the asphalt in haste to rush whoever was hurt to the hospital. The yellow police tape cordoning off the area, blowing softly in the California breeze. Dear God, please let him be all right. I haven’t told him anything. Please let me have the chance to tell him I love him.
Helen returned from the kitchen and put her son’s business card in Richard’s hand, letting her fingers hold onto it a little too long, as if it were a lifeline to California. She read the name on the card upside down as he held it. “Detective Sergeant Ken Hutchinson.”
“He’s going to be all right, Helen. You’ll see. They would have called us.” He wanted to believe.
“But, Richard, the news report said ‘pending notification of the family.’ We were gone all afternoon. What if....” Her voice was a little too high, panicky. She was pale and he could see her body trembling.
Afraid his wife might faint, Richard said, “Helen, please stop. Let me call.” He put a hand on her arm and looked her in the eyes. “Why don’t you clean up the broken cups? That will give you something to do while I find Captain Dobey.”
Her knees were wobbly, but Helen Hutchinson nodded and followed his suggestion. He started to dial the phone as she went back to the kitchen to retrieve the things she needed to clean up the spilled coffee and broken bits of porcelain. While she went through the movements on autopilot, Helen thought about Ken. Her boy. Even though he was a grown man, every mother’s son is her boy as long as she lives. Helen couldn’t help but think how unfair it would be to outlive her child.
Taking a deep breath, Richard dialed the number for the Metro division. The switchboard operator who answered sounded harried.
“Metro, may I help you?”
“I need to speak with Captain Dobey,” he stated calmly. The sound of lines ringing and commotion was clear in the background.
“I’m sorry sir, I’ll have to take a message for the captain.”
“You don’t understand....”
“Please hold a moment.” Before he could finish his sentence, she put him on hold. Probably to answer one of the other ringing lines. In a few moments, she returned.
“Now, sir, where can Captain Dobey reach you?” she asked.
“No, I need information now. Was Ken Hutchinson the officer hurt today?” He blurted it out quickly before she could cut him off again.
“I’m sorry, I can’t give out that information.”
Richard lost his temper. “He’s my son, dammit! Tell me!!”
She paused for a moment, considering giving him the information. Her training was too good, though. She had no way of knowing if this was Mr. Hutchinson or not.
“I’m very sorry. Please give me a number where the captain can call you.” She sounded compassionate, but firm in her resolve. He wasn’t sure if her refusal to answer him meant it really was Ken, or if it just meant she was too professional to be rattled by an overanxious parent.
Richard sighed heavily. “Can you just tell me what hospital they took the officer to, please?” He guessed that Dobey would be there.
“Sir, that information can’t be released. Please, just give me your number and I promise I’ll contact Captain Dobey right away.”
He knew there was no choice but to comply, so he gave her the number. Before he let her go, he said, “Please, I’m sorry I yelled at you. Can you at least tell me if he’s still alive or if they think he’ll make it?” Whether the injured man was his son or his partner, he wanted to know.
For a second, he thought she would refuse. The switchboard operator detected the note of sincerity and concern in his voice, though. She decided it would be all right to answer that question. If the man on the phone was one of the assassins, she might be helping Starsky by telling him. “He’s not expected to survive.”
“Thank you.” He hung up the phone and waited with it in his lap for Captain Dobey to call him and tell him if his son was gone.
Captain Dobey was surprised when the switchboard operator called him at the hospital. Why would Hutch’s father be trying to call him? He knew Hutch had called Starsky’s mother, but he probably hadn’t called his own parents. He wasn’t the one who was hurt. The operator made it clear that Mr. Hutchinson knew about the shooting and needed to know if the victim was Hutch. Of course, the media must have splashed this story all over the country. He suddenly realized he should have called Hutch’s parents to reassure them hours ago, but the thought that the assassination attempt would make it onto the news in Duluth never occurred to him.
After Helen finished cleaning up the floor, she returned to the den and sank down onto the sofa, quietly crying, but trying to stay calm. Richard moved to her side and sat next to her. She laid down, her head in his lap while they waited for the call to come.
When the phone finally rang, he picked it up and said, “Captain Dobey?”
“Yes, is this Mr. Hutchinson?”
“Richard. Please, tell me what’s going on out there. Is Ken all right?”
“He’s fine. I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I never thought about the possibility of news coverage. It’s Starsky who was hit.”
Richard put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, “It wasn’t Ken, Helen. He’s okay.” Then he returned to the conversation with Dobey, hearing his wife mutter, “Thank God, thank God.”
“Hutch, uh, Ken called Starsky’s mother, but we just didn’t think to call you. I’m so sorry you were worried. Things have been crazy here today.”
“I can imagine. Is David going to be all right?”
An uncomfortably long pause on the other end of the line gave Richard Hutchinson a chill. “No, I’m sorry to say they don’t expect him to make it through the next twenty-four hours. Honestly, that he made it out of the parking garage is a miracle.”
“I’m sorry, Captain. How’s Ken taking it?”
“He’s not doing too well.”
“Can you get him for me? Bring him to the phone?” Richard was not going to relax until he spoke with his son.
“That might not be a good idea. We’re waiting to hear from the trauma surgeons. I’m not sure I can get him to come to the phone.”
“Well, hold on and I’ll see what I can do.”
While the captain was gone, Richard considered what he might say. What words of comfort could he offer Ken? They’d never been demonstrative and had only really started communicating a few months ago. How could he help?
The voice that came to him on the phone was strained with fear, weary almost beyond recognition. This was not the confident, strong voice he hoped to hear.
“Ken, are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m all – all right.” The stammer in his voice revealed much to his father.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. He’s – oh, God. He’s not gonna make it this time, Dad.” The pain in Ken’s voice twisted the older man’s heart and he made a snap decision.
“I’m going to come out there, Ken.”
“Why? You need me, son. I can at least be there if you lose him.”
“Dad, you can’t come. I’m sorry. I don’t want you to worry, but there’s a chance the men who hit Starsky were after both of us. I have to stay focused on him to keep him safe. It’s just too hot right now.”
Richard didn’t like hearing that his son was still in danger. The idea of him standing vigil, on edge and hurting was unthinkable. He didn’t want to be shut out either, not this time. “Ken, you’ll be careful, won’t you?”
His son paused. “Sure. I’m sorry I raised my voice. I appreciate the offer.”
“I understand what you’re saying and I’ll abide by your wishes. But, please don’t shut me out, son. I want to help.”
Hutch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Inexplicably, he felt marginally lighter. He didn’t know how his dad heard about the shooting, but it helped to know that he cared enough to call. “How about I call you when things cool down? You could come then.”
“Fine. Please let us know how David is doing.”
“I will. Tell Mom I love her. Karen, too. Oh, and, Dad, thanks for calling. That means a lot to me.”
“I’ll tell them. Take care of yourself.”
Richard hung up the phone and called his daughter. She was relieved to hear her brother was uninjured, but wanted to go to him also. If his partner died, Ken would need her. She accepted that he didn’t want them to come just yet, but made her father promise to let her know the instant they could go.
Fate had left his son unharmed this time – so far. Knowing that he was still in danger made Richard Hutchinson more determined to be there for his son. This time, Ken would not pass through a crisis without his family. This time, they would be there to help him.