Babysitting on a sunny afternoon off wouldn’t have been at the top of Ken Hutchinson’s list of things to do, but he did make exceptions. He was already stuck inside, keeping an eye on his convalescing partner. Starsky had just been released from the hospital. He had been shot right in front of Hutch in an Italian restaurant. Since Hutch didn’t feel comfortable leaving Starsky alone, when Edith Dobey asked if he could take care of Rosie for a few hours to finish her Christmas shopping, he had amiably agreed. He and Starsky both loved Rosie and he hoped she might cheer the injured man up a bit. If anyone could take Starsky’s mind off of the pain he was in, Rosie could.
Hutch looked up from the table, and frowned at the pained expression on Starsky’s face. Even in sleep he was hurting. A glance at the clock told him it was another hour before he could give Starsky more pain medication.
Rosie sat across from Hutch, coloring a picture of a Christmas tree for Starsky. She reached for a green crayon and accidentally knocked over the container, sending crayons rolling across the table and into Hutch’s workspace. He was busy cleaning and oiling both his gun and Starsky’s. He had just finished with Starsky’s and put the unloaded weapon back in its holster. Rosie put a hand over her mouth and blushed. She didn’t reach for the crayons, knowing she wasn’t supposed to get anywhere near guns or anything to do with them. Starsky had already pointedly told Hutch not to take his eyes off of her while he worked and admonished Rosie to keep her distance. Hutch’s nonverbal reply to Starsky’s inquiry about whether he didn’t have something else he could do would not have been a nice thing to say aloud in front of a small child.
“I know, Uncle Starsky,” she had said with an exasperated roll of her eyes. Her expression clearly conveyed that she was a cop’s daughter and had already received that lecture several hundred times in her young life.
“Sorry, Uncle Hutch,” she said with a sheepish smile.
“It’s okay, honey.” Hutch gathered the escapees and handed them to the child.
She took them and then sat and watched as he started to work on his gun. The .357 Magnum was a big weapon. Much bigger than the guns she’d seen most other police officers carry, including Starsky and her dad.
“Uncle Hutch?” she asked tentatively. “Why do you have such a big gun?”
Hutched smiled at her as he thought about how to answer that question. Deciding on evasiveness, he answered, “I have big hands.”
That was a fact, but it didn’t fool the little girl. Rosie was bright and quick thinking. “So does my daddy, but he doesn’t have such a big gun.”
Smiling slightly and blushing a faint pink, the blond detective regrouped. He could be honest without giving her more detail than she needed. “It’s your Uncle Starsky’s fault,” he replied.
“What’s my fault?” came a groggy voice from the couch. Propped up with pillows, dark curls askew all over his head, Starsky blinked medication-dulled eyes several times and focused on the two people sitting at his table.
Before Hutch could respond, Rosie turned around in her chair and said, “That Uncle Hutch has that big gun.”
Starsky chuckled. “Oh, my fault, huh? That’s a good one.”
“It is and you know it, you big lug,” Hutch responded.
“Ego, Rosie, darlin’,” Starsky said, winking at his partner to let him know he was kidding. “Pure ego.”
“What’s ego?” she asked.
Hutch laughed. “Yeah, go ahead, smart a-- uh, aleck.”
Starsky glared at him. “That means he thinks he’s tough stuff, Rosie. Big guy. Betchya he told you it was because he has big hands, didn’t he?” Starsky hadn’t heard that part, but Hutch had used that line on others, so it was a good guess.
“All right, you two. What’s this, the gang up on Hutch hour? I remind you I haven’t made lunch for either of you yet.”
Rosie’s eyes danced when she said, “I can make us peanut butter sandwiches.”
Starsky laughed a little too hard at the implication that he and Rosie weren’t dependent on Hutch for sustenance. He winced at the pain in his back and closed his eyes tightly.
“Take it easy, buddy,” Hutch soothed, watching Rosie get up and walk over to stand next to Starsky.
Starsky nodded, breathing through his mouth and getting the pain back under control. “I’m okay, it’s okay,” he said.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“You’re already helping, sunshine,” Starsky told her. “Having you here to look at today instead of just his ugly mug made it worth getting out of bed.”
She giggled at that remark, looking back to see if Hutch was mad. He obviously wasn’t, but he did have a concerned look on his face.
Rosie Dobey was determined if she was nothing else. She still wanted an answer to her question. “So, why does he have that big gun, Uncle Starsky?”
Starsky hoped he was about to start on a path that would help his partner, not make him feel bad. “He has it to protect me with.”
Hutch looked down and started to work on the Magnum. Starsky wished he’d meet his eyes again, but he could feel Hutch pulling back from him. “For all the good it does sometimes,” he mumbled.
As he gradually recovered from the shooting, Starsky noticed that Hutch felt guilty about it. He never said anything specific, but Starsky’s Hutch-radar was telling him that his partner felt responsible, as if he had somehow failed to protect him. Everything happened so quickly; nothing Hutch could have done would have prevented it. Incredibly, he didn’t seem to see himself as the hero of the situation, having saved the lives of everyone in the restaurant. Hutch seemed determined to minimize that part of the experience and focus on his inability to stop Joey Martin from shooting Starsky. Helplessness was not something Hutch dealt with well.
“Hutch,” Starsky started, but Hutch shook his head at him, and looked up, his eyes saying “Don’t.” He decided to ignore the silent directive and proceed with his explanation until apprehended. Starsky looked at Rosie and said, “Well, he has it to protect himself, too, sunshine. But, Uncle Hutch is really good at watching out for me. Oh, he doesn’t think so right now, on account of me getting shot and all. But that wasn’t his fault.”
Earlier in their careers....
Starsky and Hutch had spent the better part of two weeks tracking a pair of robbery homicide suspects. Their hits in the detectives’ district had resulted in two liquor store employees being murdered. One was shot with a snub nose during the crime. The other was beaten to death in the alley behind his store. Hearing approaching sirens, the suspect with the gun ran out the front entrance and his accomplice fled out the back, running into the man coming back from emptying the trash. He had bludgeoned the victim with what the medical examiner said was probably a wooden baseball bat and escaped before the police got there.
After the killings, the case moved up to top priority. Only the most violent criminals would beat a person to death. When a witness identified the suspects from the mug books, the heat was on to find them.
“Thanks,” Starsky said before he hung up the phone. A tip to call one of their informants looked like it was going to be their best lead to date. He turned to Hutch. “Fat Rolly says their bolt hole is over at the St. Anthony. Room 35.”
They jumped in the Torino, called for backup, and took off toward the dilapidated hotel. One of the many, seamy establishments on their beat, the St. Anthony was the kind of place where no one asked any questions. They’d already been there once in their investigation, but the desk clerks and the other residents wouldn’t give them any information.
After confirming the room number and breezing past the front desk with a warning to the clerk not to pick up the phone, they ran up the stairs to the third floor. The clerk didn’t listen. He was much more afraid of the suspects than he was of two Bay City policemen.
By the time they were positioned outside the room, the suspects were already on the fire escape. The two cops discovered this quickly when they kicked in the door. Hutch went out the window and Starsky ran back out to take the inside stairs to the alley.
The suspect in the lead was an enormous man. Topping out at six feet, seven inches and over 350 lbs, he was agile for such a giant. He made it down the fire escape ahead of his partner and past the back door before Starsky reached ground level. He ran into the adjacent alley, behind the stairs and out of Hutch’s field of vision. Hutch was busy trying to run down the other suspect, a lanky twenty-five year old who was the only one of the pair to carry a firearm. When Starsky burst through the back door, Hutch shouted to him that the other man had darted into the alley. Then, he lost sight of Starsky as he traded shots with the armed robber and subdued him after wounding the man in the shoulder. Hearing a black-and-white’s siren headed their way, Hutch disarmed the man and cuffed him to the fire escape so he could run after Starsky.
“Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutch!” came a frantic call from the alley.
Hutch responded, “You okay, Starsk?” He could hear the sounds of a fight and he jumped to his feet as soon as he was finished cuffing his suspect. Starsky didn’t answer him.
When Starsky ran into the alley, his target was waiting. He’d grabbed the lid from a metal trashcan and used it to blindside Starsky, knocking the Beretta out of the detective’s hand. Unarmed and outmatched, Starsky was in trouble immediately. Hutch rounded the corner to see the suspect using the trashcan lid to hit Starsky in the head. He was down on the ground with the man looming over him.
“Police, freeze!” Hutch shouted, firing one shot in the air, but the man only looked at him like he might be insane. High on PCP, the naturally strong suspect looked unstoppable. He ignored Hutch’s warning and took aim to hit Starsky again.
Fearing for Starsky’s life, Hutch aimed his .38 and fired at the man trying to kill his best friend. The bullet bit home, but didn’t stop the man. A feral growl escaped his throat as he kicked his victim and smashed the lid into the already unconscious Starsky again. Hutch fired again. And again. The final shot hit him in the head and stopped the man in his tracks. By now, Hutch was shaking with adrenaline pumped anger and fear. With three bullets in him, one in the head, the suspect took a step toward Starsky and finally fell backward to the ground with a heavy thud.
Two uniformed officers ran into the alley just as Hutch confirmed that the man was really dead, his black eyes staring blankly at the sky.
“Starsky!” Hutch called as he knelt beside his partner and started to look him over for injuries. “Get a couple of ambulances!” he shouted at the arriving cops.
Hutch holstered his gun and reached shaky hands out to try and revive Starsky, getting a pained moan for his efforts. When Starsky opened his eyes, he couldn’t pass Hutch’s “how many fingers” inspection and he quickly blacked out again.
During the long, tense wait in the emergency room to hear that his partner would be fine with some rest, Hutch had lots of time to think about the incident. The next day he stopped by the police academy to see one of the shooting instructors. He trusted Sergeant Evans implicitly and needed some advice.
“Jack, I need your help. Yesterday, my partner was almost killed by the biggest suspect I’ve ever seen. I plugged him three times with my .38 and I didn’t think it would ever stop him.”
Seeing the guilt cross the younger man’s features, Jack Evans said, “You were obviously right on it, Hutch. Don’t kick yourself. What are you thinking? A semi or a revolver?”
“Revolver. I don’t like the semis like my partner does. They have a tendency to jam. I want something big and dependable. Big enough to stop an elephant.” Hutch was determined to do everything he could to prevent anything like this from happening again.
Jack nodded and led Hutch into his office. He handed Hutch a catalog to look at while he got his keys to retrieve a sample weapon. The gun he put in Hutch’s hand was large -- a Colt Python .357 Magnum. “Unequaled stopping power on this baby,” he said. “Not for everybody, though.”
Hutch felt the weight and looked at it carefully. “I thought these had longer barrels. Like in Magnum Force.”
“They can. You can special order one with a barrel as long as eight inches. You might want to take that down to the range and try it out first.” Evans looked at the weapon in Hutch’s hand. “A Magnum’s got a powerful kick, but your hands and wrists are strong enough. Once you get used to it, I guarantee you won’t have to fire three bullets into any suspect, no matter how big. A lot of damage and a big responsibility. You sure?”
Hutch nodded. “I’m sure. Man, it’s big. Starsky’s gonna say it’s a cannon.”
Evans laughed. “Probably. But if your object is to protect your partner, you can’t get anything bigger or more powerful in a revolver-type sidearm.”
Starsky continued, “See, Rosie, once upon a time in an alley far away, I got into trouble with a guy a lot bigger than even Blondie over there. Uncle Hutch decided that he’d better get a bigger gun if he was going to keep me out of trouble.”
Rosie giggled. “You still get into trouble,” she said, pointing at Starsky’s sling.
Starsky looked up at Hutch and smiled. “Like I said, that wasn’t Uncle Hutch’s fault. Wasn’t mine, either. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He does a great job watching my back. Uncle Hutch is the best partner ever.”
Rosie leaned over and kissed Starsky on the cheek and then went to the table, where Hutch was still looking uncomfortable. “Thanks for taking care of Uncle Starsky,” she said, following with a hug.
Hutch melted at the youngster’s comment. He wondered whom Rosie’s visit was supposed to cheer, because it was working wonders for him.
“Thanks, sweetheart. I do my best.”