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Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it.  No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.

 

What Did I Miss?

By Valerie Wells and Sue David

© March 2002

 

The months since Starsky was gunned down in an assassination attempt had been painful both for him and for Hutch.  As horrible as it was for Starsky, Hutch suffered, too. Seeing your best friend slipping away, and then climbing slowly and painfully back from the abyss was difficult.  Hutch’s scars were not physical, but they were just as deep.  Starsky’s complete recovery was both miraculous and a testament to the bond between the two detectives.  His return to active duty brought a sense of pride, joy, and accomplishment to both Starsky and Hutch.  However, a month after his return, both men knew there were some lingering problems.  One problem in particular.  Hutch was afraid to let his partner out of his sight. 

 

Hutch’s constant worry over Starsky’s safety and health was getting to them both.  He knew he needed to let it go… to let things return to normal.  Starsky had begun to chafe under his friend’s ever-watchful expression and anxiety.  He had an idea about something that might help.  After a long shift followed by dinner and beers at Huggy’s, he decided the time was right to mention it.

 

“I’ve got an idea, Blintz,” he said as he pulled the Torino over to let Hutch out at Venice Place.

 

“Should I be worried?”  Hutch replied with a smirk.

 

“Ha, ha.  No, really.  I was thinking about driving up to Santa Marta this weekend for the ‘57 Thunderbird car show.  What do you think?”

 

Hutch hesitated for a moment before he answered, “Well, I would think it was a great idea, except you know I can’t go this weekend.  Branson Joyce is flying through here on his way to Singapore and I promised to pick him up at the airport for lunch on Saturday at around noon.  He’s got a four hour layover.”

 

Starsky knew that.  Branson was one of Hutch’s college friends.  Starsky had already begged off on attending the lunch, knowing Hutch would have more fun if he didn’t feel like Starsky was sitting there bored to tears.  He thought this was the perfect opportunity for Hutch to let go a little.  He wanted to see the car show and it would only take him out of town overnight.   Just the break he needed to get his friend to finally realize that he was fine and he didn’t need to be watched over constantly.

 

Starsky shut off the engine and turned to look at Hutch.  “Buddy, I really want to go to the car show.  I know you’d enjoy it, but it’s only on Saturday.  Besides, I haven’t been out of Bay City since May.”

 

Hutch’s face paled a little at that as he nodded his understanding of why his partner hadn’t been out of town in months.  “I know, Gordo, but.…”

 

“No buts, buddy.  Not this time.”  Hutch started to protest but Starsky put a hand on his arm and fixed him with his most purposeful stare.  “Listen to me.  You have to let go.  I’m fine.  Really.  I swear to you that I don’t need to be carried around on a satin pillow.”

 

“I know you don’t….”

 

“No, you don’t know that.  I know you mean well, but I need to feel like things are back to normal.  This will give us a chance to be apart for a couple of days and nothing is going to happen.  That has to help.”

 

“Two days?  I thought it was just a one day show.”

 

“Well, you wouldn’t want me driving back all exhausted, would you?  I know I still have a few limitations, like I can’t burn the candle at both ends like I used to.  I’ll go to the show, then spend the night up there.  That way, I can get plenty of rest and drive back in time to go out to lunch with you on Sunday.  I’ll tell you all about it.”

 

Hutch knew he wasn’t going to win an argument against this trip.  He also knew that Starsky was right.  This was a good opportunity for them both to get a break from the constant tension between them since Starsky came back to active duty. 

 

“You’ll call me Saturday night?” he asked tentatively.

 

“I promise.  I won’t take any wooden nickels, I won’t take candy from strangers, I’ll eat my vegetables, and if you’re good the rest of the week, I’ll even take my vitamins,” Starsky quipped with a grin. 

 

Resisting that sincere, hopeful grin was something Hutch never seemed to be able to do.  “I know you’re going to go no matter what I say, buddy.  You don’t need my permission.  I want you to know how much I appreciate you making it seem like I had a say.  I really do.”

 

“You always have a say, Hutch.  I know I don’t need permission, but you have a say.”  Starsky squeezed Hutch’s arm affectionately and added, “Promise me you won’t spend the whole time worried.”

 

Hutch laughed at the suggestion.  “Funny, Gordo.  I’ll see you in the morning.”  He climbed out of the car and waved from the door as Starsky pulled away into the night.

 

The detectives worked a lot of overtime that week.  By the time Thursday rolled around, they had logged so many hours, Captain Dobey gave them an extra day off, allowing them the first three day weekend they’d had since Starsky’s return.  Starsky decided to leave on Friday afternoon instead of Saturday morning.  After sleeping late, he went to Hutch’s for lunch and to break it to his friend that he was making a weekend of it.  Hutch stood at his front window, watching Starsky drive off in the middle of the afternoon.  His stomach was in knots, but he had smiled and wished Starsky a good trip.

 

“This is ridiculous, Hutchinson,” he said to himself as he paced into the greenhouse and started to check his jungle, “he’s a grown man and he’s fine.  Stop worrying.”

 

He watered a little, misted a few ferns and then started talking to himself again. “Stop worrying. Right.  Stop breathing?”  In frustration, he set the watering can down hard enough to slosh water onto the floor.  Maybe he needed a distraction.  He decided to go down to The Pits for a beer and some of Huggy’s cheerful conversation. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky headed up the coast road and was enjoying every minute of the drive.  The Torino had been more easily restored to her pre-shooting state than her owner had.  Merle the Earl fixed everything from the broken out glass to the bullet scars on her front grille.  The damage to her nose caused the engine to need an overhaul and Merle did such a good job, she purred.  Getting Hutch to agree to ride in the car after it was fixed was a challenge.  He had put the repairs in motion and even paid for them, with a hefty discount from Merle.  That didn’t keep him from breaking out in a cold sweat the first few times they’d ridden in it.

 

The sunset over the Pacific was salve to Starsky’s soul.  He had to admit to himself that the few hours it would take to get up the coast would have been more fun with his partner, but he knew this was the right thing to do. 

 

As was typical on a Friday afternoon, the coast road was crowded.  His progress was slower than he would have liked.  He never noticed the car that had been behind him since Venice.  Several cars back, a primer gray Mercury Comet was his shadow.  Randy was following him.  He had the day off, and after eating breakfast with his mother, he hoped to quietly tail the two detectives.  When Starsky didn’t come out of his apartment until mid-morning, Randy knew he didn’t plan to go to work that day.  He had followed him to Hutch’s and waited.  When Starsky headed for the northbound side of the coast road, he knew the man was leaving town early.

 

Randy Langley was not well.  He had suffered from severe psychosis for years.  His parents got him a job he managed to hang onto as a janitor at Memorial Hospital.  That’s where he first noticed Detective David Starsky.  When they brought Starsky to the hospital, bleeding to death and teetering on the brink, Randy was there doing his job.  He watched with fascination as they rushed the critically wounded officer into the trauma unit and desperately tried to save his life.  Randy was intelligent, even if he was psychotic.  When he was on his medications, he didn’t hear the voices and he was able to function. However, one of his problems was a tendency toward obsessive behavior.  The drama of the doctors’ life saving efforts and the subsequent days where they were still sure their patient would die held his attention like nothing ever had.  When Starsky survived, he hovered as much as he could, being unobtrusive and listening to conversations.  He was continually amazed by how little people noticed janitors.  Randy was able to blend into almost any setting he wanted.  He couldn’t go into the operating rooms, but almost nowhere else was barred to him. 

 

In time, Randy’s fascination took a dangerous turn.  He began to imagine that he WAS Detective David Starsky.  His already striking resemblance to the healing cop aided his fantasies.  Over the following months, he started to dress like Starsky and pick up his mannerisms.  He had plenty of chances for observation through the long hospital stay.  When Starsky left the hospital and began his physical therapy at the adjacent ambulatory care center, Randy asked for a transfer to that building.  Having no reason to refuse, his boss had allowed it.  Randy was a good worker.  He was quiet and kept to himself.  The crew supervisor had no idea that his employee was stalking a patient.

 

When Starsky returned to duty, Randy continued to follow him whenever he could.  He was clever and careful.  No one knew what he was doing, not even his mother.  She did wonder where he went when he wasn’t working at the hospital, and why he had taken to a new style of dress, but as long as he was cooperative and seemed well enough, she didn’t meddle.

 

Not long after he decided that he was the real David Starsky, he also decided that he needed to do something to reclaim his life.  He’d have to get the other man out of the way somehow, but the problem was that his target was never alone.  His blond partner was always there.  Morning, noon, and night.  Where the imposter went, the partner was sure to follow. 

 

Randy didn’t want to kill the other man.  He just wanted his identity.  He wanted to know why Hutchinson didn’t recognize that this other man wasn’t his partner.  He wanted his place.  When he overheard their conversation about the car show at a diner one day, he knew that would be his perfect chance.  He had followed the imposter there, complete with a ball cap pulled down over his ears and dark glasses.  He knew it would be bad if the imposter recognized him.  He might do something to prevent what was going to happen.  If he didn’t, his confused partner might.  Yes, Randy was careful.

 

A few times, Hutch did have the sense that they were being watched.  He’d look around as if he expected to see something, but he could never put his finger on it.  This lingering discomfort had contributed to his recent overprotectiveness and that worked in Randy’s favor.  Instead of believing it, the imposter chalked it up to simple worrying.

 

Starsky checked in at his hotel and got ready to go out for a late dinner.  Before he left, he decided to give Hutch a call.  Although he didn’t want to encourage Hutch’s guard dog instincts, he also didn’t want to drive his partner over the edge with worry.  When he didn’t find him at home, he tried The Pits.

 

“Hey, Blondie,” he said cheerfully when Hutch came to the phone.  “You okay?”

 

“Who me?” Hutch asked.  “I’m just fine, how ‘bout you?”

 

Hutch sounded a little toasted.  Starsky chuckled, knowing that Hutch must have gone over to Huggy’s for some brews and pool to take his mind off of his absent partner.  “Well, you sound extra fine, buddy.  You let Huggy drive you home, okay?”

 

Hutch laughed.  “I will.  He already took my keys.  I’m just playing a little pool and kicking back.  Drive okay?”

 

“Perfect.  Uneventful.  Look, Hutch, you go have a good time and don’t worry. I’m not gonna call again, so don’t freak.  I’ll be at your place on Sunday by noon.  Now lemme talk to Huggy, okay?”

 

“Okay.  Have fun,” Hutch said as he handed the phone back to Huggy.

 

“What it is?” Huggy asked.

 

“Keep an eye on him for me, will ya?  He said you took his keys.”

 

“I snagged ‘em after the first three brews.  The Bear’s on it.”

 

“Thanks, Hug.  He’s got a friend to see at the airport tomorrow around noon.  Will you make sure he’s among the living in time?” 

 

“Can’t be late, to make that date,” Huggy said.  “You got it.”

 

Starsky hung up the phone with a smile.  Huggy was a good friend.  He’d make sure that Hutch made it home safely and that he got up to make his trip to the airport to see Branson.

 

He left the hotel and walked down to a local pub for dinner, some brews, and to play a little pool.  Hutch had the right idea, just the thing to relax.  After enjoying his dinner, he managed to get into a couple of productive pool games, winning fifty dollars during the evening.  He didn’t usually bet that much with anyone other than his close friends, but no one knew him here, so he decided to have some fun.  Starsky was an excellent pool player.  After his last win, he amiably bought a round for the men he’d played against.  Raising a beer in a toast to his pool buddies, he absent-mindedly pushed forty dollars into the watch pocket of his jeans.  He had no idea how handy that would be by the next day.

 

Done for the evening and getting sleepy, Starsky slipped out the back door to the pub into the alley.  He was planning to take a shortcut back to the hotel.  He wasn’t planning on Randy Langley. 

 

After following Starsky into the dark alley, Randy crept up behind him.  Starsky’s mind was on other things and he didn’t expect to hear the voice behind him that ordered him to freeze. 

 

Raising his hands, he did as he was told.  “Take it easy,” he said to his unseen assailant.  He had no way of knowing if the man behind him had a gun.

 

“Don’t turn around,” Randy said.  “You’ve been impersonating a police officer and I’m here to take back my identity.”

 

Oh, great.  A mental case.  “Don’t know what you mean.  Let me turn around and talk to you.”

 

“I said don’t turn around,” Randy repeated menacingly.  He had come prepared.  Randy didn’t have a gun, but he did have a police style nightstick with him.  He swung and hit Starsky on the head with it before any additional words were spoken between them.  Langley stood looking down at the bleeding, unconscious man at his feet.  He grabbed Starsky by the arms and dragged him into an adjacent alley, behind a dumpster.  He quickly bent to retrieve Starsky’s wallet, jewelry, keys, badge, holster, and gun.  Starsky always carried it since his recovery, no matter where he was... both on and off duty. 

 

After strapping on the holster and settling the other items, Langley bent to feel for a pulse.  Starsky was so still, for a brief moment he feared the blow had killed him.  Satisfied that the man who used to call himself David Starsky wasn’t dead, he smiled before he turned to leave him and said, “You... have the right to remain silent.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch’s phone rang the next morning.  After seven rings, he scooped up the receiver and muttered, “H’lo.” Just that one word set his head pounding.

 

“Rise and shine, Blondie,” Huggy’s too cheerful voice called. 

 

“Huggy?” Hutch tried to focus on the clock.  “What the hell time is it?”

 

“Ten-thirty.  You have a friend to meet at the airport, right?”

 

Hutch rubbed his hand across his eyes and said, “Right.  Shit. How’d I get back here?”

 

“I drove you home last night. Your car’s there.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Hutch hung up and dragged himself out of bed for a glass of water, some aspirin, and a shower.  Maybe by the time he reached the airport, he’d be feeling human again.  Catching a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror, he mumbled, “Better wear sunglasses.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Sitting outside at a sidewalk café, the dark haired man was watching a pretty young girl who was eating a solitary breakfast while reading the paper.  The car show was just a few blocks away but he was in no hurry.  He stepped inside the café and picked up the coffee carafe.

 

“Morning,” he said to her with his most winning smile, pouring her another cup of coffee.

 

“Good morning,” she answered looking up at him.  “Hey, you’re not my waiter, you were just sitting over there,” she said as she pointed to his recently vacated table. 

 

“Nope, not a waiter,” he said, smiling again.  He stepped inside to return the carafe and then returned to her table.  “Mind if I join you?”

 

“Please,” she invited.

 

“I’m Laura Douglas,” she said extending her hand to him.

 

“David Starsky, pleased to meet you.”

 

They sat in pleasant conversation, drinking coffee and getting to know each other.  Laura was an interior decorator on vacation from Vermont.  Her aunt lived in the area.  She found out that her breakfast companion was a Bay City police detective.  Homicide.  The man seemed nice enough, and her relative was busy for the day.  She agreed to accompany him to the car show he’d driven up the coast to see, grateful to have someone to talk to on her next to last day of vacation. 

 

Over the course of the day, the couple enjoyed the car show.  Starsky knew a lot about ‘57 Thunderbirds.  Laura enjoyed his company so much, she agreed to let him give her a ride back to her aunt’s house, to let her know she was going out with her new friend for the evening.    Her aunt was less than thrilled, but the stranger seemed all right.  Something was odd about him, but he didn’t appear to be dangerous.

 

Laura thought that the conversation over their early dinner was a little strained.  Her companion seemed to have endless information to share about his recent life.  He’d described his brush with death and his recovery.  Yet, he seemed strangely quiet on the subject of his more distant past.  She told him about her parents, her sisters, her life in Vermont, where she went to high school, and all of the other things couples tell each other in the getting-to-know-you stage.  Beyond telling her about his boss, and his partner, David Starsky was not forthcoming with any additional facts about his life.  When he hedged her questions about police work and cases he’d been involved in, she started to get wary.  His recitation became increasingly repetitive and sketchy, bouncing from topic to topic without warning.

 

“Dave,” she said, “I think maybe it’s getting a little cold out here.  Maybe you’d better give me a ride home, now.”  They had gone for a walk on a secluded beach, leaving the Torino parked nearby.  Laura was beginning to worry that there was something wrong with her new friend and it made her uncomfortable.

 

“Why?” he asked her.  “Don’t you like me?”

 

The look on his face spelled trouble.  Laura had seen that look before in a friend from school who was more than a little unstable.  Her wariness was becoming fear. 

 

“Sure, I do, Dave,” she soothed.  “I’m just tired, you know.  I’m leaving early tomorrow morning and I need to get home and pack.  You understand.”  She laid a hand on his arm.

 

The man next to her looked completely deflated.  He felt off and his mental condition was swinging wildly.   Randy had been off his medications for too long and he was no longer able to control his thoughts or behavior.  He had enjoyed his day as David Starsky, but he’d started to lose the threads of who he was.  He could hear the voices in his head, telling him he was worthless... telling him that he knew what he had to do.  

 

He sat down heavily in the sand and put his hands over his ears.  “Tell them to stop,” he said, looking up at Laura with dark blue eyes filled with pain and confusion.

 

“Tell who to stop?” she asked gently, kneeling beside him.

 

“I can’t... Everything that’s happened, Laura.  Everything that I’ve done.”

 

Laura’s worry was increasing.  She looked around the beach to see if anyone else might be around to help her if she needed it, but they were alone. 

 

“Whatever’s wrong can’t be that bad,” she said, trying to make him feel better. 

 

Before she knew what was happening, Starsky had pulled out the gun he’d shown her earlier in the day.  Fearful of what would happen next, she watched him with wide eyes as he turned it over and over in his hands.

 

“I thought people would like me.  I thought it would all be okay.”  This turn of the conversation was bordering on incoherent as Randy’s reality randomly shifted.

 

“Please put it away,” she begged him quietly.  “Let’s go.  Maybe we can call your friend, was it Hutch?”

 

He looked up at her in what appeared to be terror.  “NO!” he shouted.  “I can’t.  He won’t understand, he won’t like what I’ve done.”

 

Laura was desperate to find the right words, but didn’t know how to help a man she barely knew.  “But you said he was your best friend.  You said he helped you get better after you were hurt.  I know he’d want to help you now.  Please, Dave.”

 

The look on his face crossed rapidly from fear, to hurt, to self-loathing, to sudden acceptance. 

 

“No,” he said calmly, his eyes bright.  “Tell him I’m sorry.  Tell him I never meant to hurt him.”

 

That was the last thing he said to her, before he turned the gun on himself and fired a single shot.  He was dead before he fell back on the sand. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

At seven in the evening, the phone rang at the Dobey house.  Edith answered it in the kitchen.  Her husband was in the living room helping Cal build a science project, but the call was for him.

 

“Hal,” Edith called from the kitchen doorway, “the phone is for you.”

 

“I’m kind of tied up here, can you ask who it is?”  The Dobey men were putting the finishing touches on the tri-fold mounting board Cal would use at the science fair the following week.  When Edith returned to the living room and told him it was the Santa Marta medical examiner, he sighed and told her he’d take it in his den.

 

Captain Dobey closed the door behind him and went to sit behind his desk.  He hated it when work interfered with the small amount of time he had with his family, but it couldn’t be helped.

 

“I have it, Edith,” he said as he picked up the phone.  He waited to hear her hang up the extension and said, “This is Captain Harold Dobey.”

 

“Captain Dobey,” the taut voice on the other end of the line started.  “This is Doctor Michael Goldwyn, Santa Marta medical examiner.  I’m sorry to disturb you at your home and on a Saturday.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, what can I do for you?”

 

The man hesitated.  Then he started to speak slowly,  “Does a Detective David Starsky work for you?”

 

The hairs on the back of Dobey’s neck stood on end when he heard that name.  He knew Starsky had gone up the coast for the weekend.  The man had talked about the trip all week.  Even the other night over a dinner at a diner near Metro, he had talked about how happy he was to be going to that car show.  Dobey knew what it was all about, but he played along and said nothing to let on that he knew Starsky’s motivations.  He didn’t often go out for dinner with his detectives, but they were all working late and he had a hard time refusing Starsky’s invitation that night.

 

“Captain Dobey?” Goldwyn said when the other man had been silent for too long.

 

“Yes, I’m sorry.  Yes, he’s one of my men.  Is there some problem?”  He dreaded the answer to that question.

 

“He had an emergency contact number in his wallet. I tried to contact his partner, Detective Ken Hutchinson, but I couldn’t locate him.”  Goldwyn was not anxious to deliver this kind of news.

 

“What’s happened?”  Dobey asked.

 

“Well, there’s no easy way to say this, Captain Dobey.  I have your detective here at my facility.  I’m terribly sorry, but he’s dead.”

 

Dobey was silent again for a few moments.  He was glad he was sitting down already.  Finally, he said, “Did you say that David Starsky is dead?”

 

“Yes, I’m very sorry.”

 

“Dear God,” Dobey said, feeling his heart sink to his knees.  “How did it happen?”

 

Goldwyn cleared his throat.  “I’m really sorry to tell you, but I’m afraid he committed suicide.”

 

“He WHAT?” Dobey shouted into the phone.

 

On the other side of the door, Cal heard his father’s raised voice.  Concerned, he went into the kitchen to get his mother. 

 

“He committed suicide, Captain, at around five-thirty this evening.” 

 

“No,” Dobey said, shaking his head in disbelief as if the man on the other end of the phone could see it.  “No.  No way.  Not Dave Starsky, he would never....” Dobey stopped and switched into investigative mode.  “Are you sure it’s David Starsky you have?”

 

“Yes, I’m sure.  A young woman who witnessed and reported the suicide identified the body.  He had all of his identification with him, even his badge.  There’s no doubt.”

 

Dobey didn’t want to hear the answer to the next question, but he had to ask.  “How?”

 

“Well, I haven’t done an autopsy, yet.  But, based on the weapon found in his hand, and the condition of the body, I’d say he died of a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head fired from a 9mm semi-automatic pistol.”

 

The captain was stunned beyond belief.  “What’s next?” he quietly asked.

 

“Since this happened in my jurisdiction, I’ll have to do a post mortem.  I’m willing to wait a couple of days on that if you or his partner want to come up here before we proceed.  When do you think someone could get here?”

 

“Thanks.  Yes, I think his partner will want to do that.  We’ll be there sometime in the morning.”

 

The other man paused and then said, “I’ll just come on in at around ten and wait until you arrive.  Please accept my sincere condolences.  I know how hard this must be for you.”

 

After they hung up, the captain dropped his head into his hands.  He heard a light knock on the closed door and Edith’s voice calling to him.

 

“Harold?  Is everything all right?”

 

“Come on in,” he answered. 

 

Stepping into the room and closing the door behind her, Edith was dismayed by the look on her husband’s face.  A single tear running down his cheek caught her eye and frightened her.  She hadn’t seen her husband cry since his partner died, many years in the past. 

 

“This is going to kill him,” the big man muttered.

 

“Hal, what’s happened?”

 

“How can I tell him?” he asked, ignoring her question.

 

In answer, Dobey stood up and walked toward her.  He put his arms around her and told her what he’d just heard.  How could this happen?  Everything was going right for Starsky.  He’d bounced back from his injuries and come back to the police force, defying all the odds. 

 

After she’d calmed down a bit, with tears running down her face, Edith said, “Sweet Jesus, Harold.  Ken.  How are you going to tell him?  You’re right.  This will kill him.  Oh, dear Lord, what could have happened?”

 

The two adults composed themselves before they left the den.  They agreed that Edith would tell the children that something had happened to Starsky, but not that he’d killed himself. 

 

“Go find Ken,” she said.  “I’ll tell them after you’re gone.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

“This is Missing Persons,” Officer Kovack said.

 

“Hello, this is Mrs. Roberta Langley.  I’d like to report my son missing.”

 

“Yes ma’am.”  Kovack sat up straighter in his chair and got a pad and pencil to take the report.

 

“Name and age of the child?” he asked, assuming the missing son was just a little boy.

 

“Randall Peter Langley,” she answered, “and he’s not a child.  He’s thirty-two.”

 

The officer’s face hardened a little. “Oh.  How long has he been gone?”

 

“I haven’t seen him since yesterday at breakfast.”

 

“Ma’am, your son is not a minor. What makes you think he’s missing?”

 

Roberta Langley sobbed softly on the other end of the line.  “You don’t understand, Officer Kovack.  Randy isn’t right.  I’ve been in his room and found out he hasn’t been taking his medications.  Randy is a paranoid schizophrenic with several other mental problems.  He’s tried to commit suicide in the past.  I’m concerned that he may be a danger to himself or to someone else.”  The mother of a schizophrenic knew the right words to get the action she wanted.

 

That got Kovack’s attention.  “All right, Mrs. Langley.  Give me your address and I’ll send some officers over to speak with you.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Branson’s plane was delayed.  He and Hutch sat in the airport lounge enjoying a little more conversation before he finally boarded.  The two men had passed a pleasant afternoon reminiscing.  When they were done rehashing old times, Branson talked about his job and Hutch about his.  The conversation inevitably turned to his absent partner and what he’d been through.

 

“I really would like to meet Starsky.  I’ll be back through here in two weeks.  Maybe I can arrange a longer layover.”

 

“He’d like that.  Let me know when you’ll be here and we’ll come get you.  Try to stay a couple of days.  There’s a lot to do around here.  We might have to work some of it, but I’ll see what I can do.”

 

They shook hands and Branson headed off through the gate, leaving Hutch standing in the waiting area at loose ends on a Saturday evening.  He looked at his watch, seeing that it was a little before six p.m.  He thought briefly about going to the movies, but decided against it.  For lack of a better idea, he headed back over to The Pits.

 

When he walked in and sat at the bar, Huggy smiled at him and said, “Round two, Blondie?”

 

“No, thanks, Huggy.  No hair of the dog.  Just get me a cup of coffee and a chef’s salad, will ya?”

 

“Comin’ right up.  I’ll even join you for dinner.”

 

A little before eight o’clock, Hutch was surprised to see Captain Dobey walk into Huggy’s bar.  He didn’t like the look on the captain’s face at all.  In fact, that look scared him.  A lot.

 

The captain had driven over to Hutch’s, but didn’t see his car there and the lights were off in the apartment.  After that, he tried to contact his detective on the police radio, but there was no answer.  Hutch was off duty.  He could be anywhere.  Hoping that Hutch would seek out Huggy’s company for the evening, since Starsky was away, he’d headed for The Pits on the chance that Hutch would be there.  Seeing Hutch’s latest beat-up, nondescript Ford parked there left him both relieved and dismayed.  This might be the hardest thing he’d ever had to tell one of his officers.  He’d given news like this to other partners, but other partners were not the dynamic duo.

 

“Hutch,” Dobey said as he approached the back booth.  “Huggy,” he greeted the other man.

 

“Cap?” Hutch questioned.  “Something wrong?”

 

Dobey’s eyes couldn’t hide that something terrible was wrong.  All he said was, “Is there somewhere we can go to talk?”

 

“You can go in my office,” Huggy answered.

 

“Thanks, Huggy.”

 

“Cap,” Hutch interrupted, staying his boss’ progress with one of his hands.  “What is it?”

 

Dobey shook his head.  “Not out here.  It’s important, but not out here.” 

 

Huggy was chilled.  “Right back there,” he said pointing the way for Dobey, even though he knew Hutch would know where his office was.

 

“Huggy, I think you’d better come, too.”

 

Now, Hutch wasn’t just scared.  He was terrified.  He followed the other two men back to Huggy’s office and took a seat while Huggy closed the door.  Dobey remained standing, eyes on the floor, and there were several moments of tense silence before he spoke.

 

“Hutch, I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said, his voice choked with the effort it took to speak at all.

 

Hutch’s heart nearly stopped beating and wordlessly, Huggy moved closer and put a hand on his shoulder. “Just tell us, Cap’n,” Huggy said quietly, deliberately choosing the word “us” to let Hutch know he would stand by him and help in any way he could.

 

Dobey nodded. “I got a call from Santa Marta today,” he said. “The – the medical examiner’s office.”

 

Huggy’s hand tightened on Hutch’s shoulder.

 

Dobey met Hutch’s eyes. “Hutch – Starsky’s dead.”

 

“No,” Hutch whispered.

 

“How?” Huggy demanded. “What happened?”

 

Dobey shook his head and waited a moment to collect himself. “Suicide,” he finally said, very softly. “A single shot to the head.”

 

“No!” Hutch said. His temples throbbed and his heart pounded now, where a moment before he’d felt as if it had stopped for good. “That isn’t possible!”

 

“He had his ID on him, son,” Dobey said gently. “His badge, his wallet–”

 

“Why would Starsky kill himself?” Hutch was now trembling all over, and Huggy slid his arm all the way around his shoulders. It didn’t seem to do any good. “He had everything to live for! He hasn’t been depressed! He ...” Hutch’s voice failed and he had to stop for fear of falling apart in front of the other two.

 

“Maybe he didn’t let you see it,” Dobey offered sympathetically. “Sometimes once the decision is made –” 

 

“No!” Hutch shot to his feet. “I know him inside and out. He can’t hide anything from me. He couldn’t pretend everything was fine if he was that despondent!”

 

Huggy tugged him gently back and gave him a little push to make him sit back down. “Easy, Hutch.”

 

“My God,” Hutch said. “My God.”

 

“I’m going there tomorrow to – to claim the body,” Dobey said. “I haven’t called his mother yet. I wanted to tell you first.”

 

Hutch had gone so pale that both the other men looked at each other worriedly. “I’m going, too,” Hutch said, lifting anguished eyes to his captain. “I’m going, too.”

 

“Sure, sure,” Dobey said. “I’ll come by and get you before I go.”

 

“Don’t you call Rachel until we’ve seen him,” Hutch said.

 

“I won’t.”

 

“Are you positive there ain’t been some mistake?” Huggy asked.

 

“He had his badge and wallet,” Dobey said.

 

“God,” Huggy said bleakly, sinking down beside Hutch. “God, what could have happened?” Once he was seated, he realized how badly Hutch was trembling and tightened his arm around him. Hutch’s eyes were like glowing blue coals in the pallor of his face, so filled with shock and pain that it hurt Huggy to look into them. “Hutch, m’man, you know we’re here for ya, right?”

 

Hutch shook his head blankly and looked down at the floor. He was breathing in short, raspy bursts, struggling to maintain control and losing the battle. “Starsk, oh, my God, Starsk,” he whispered. “Why didn’t you –” Suddenly, he pulled away from Huggy and staggered to his feet, wrenching the door open and leaving so quickly that neither Huggy nor Dobey could stop him.

 

“Go after him!” Dobey bellowed at Huggy, knowing he couldn’t keep up himself.

 

Huggy shot out the door without a word, and Dobey finally sat down, in the chair Hutch had vacated, and dropped his head in his hands.

 

Huggy reached the back door of The Pits just in time to see Hutch spin the tires of his car as he sped off down the alley, ignoring Huggy’s frantic calling of his name.

 

Huggy sagged against the doorway and watched him go, shaking his head and swallowing a lump in his throat. Now was no time for Hutch to be alone and worse still, behind the wheel. Dobey came up behind him. The captain had given in to his own grief for a few minutes but was back in control now.

 

“Missed him?”

 

Huggy nodded. “He tore outta here like a blond tornado.”

 

Dobey sighed. “I’ll put out a call –”

 

“No, don’t,” Huggy said. “Leave him be. Maybe he needs to be alone right now. I don’t like it. Starsky wouldn’t like it. But chasin’ him might just spook him.”

 

Dobey considered that and finally made a “harrumph” noise in his throat. “All right. I don’t like it, either, though. And if he doesn’t come back or we don’t hear from him pretty soon, I’m making that call anyway.”

 

“I’ll make it if you don’t,” Huggy said.

 

~*~*~*~

 

He awoke with a blinding pain in his head and no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there. He sat up gingerly, feeling the goose egg on the back of his head. A little blood was dried there, but apparently it hadn’t bled much. Damn, but it hurt, though.

 

His vision was a little off, and the pounding headache was making him sick to his stomach. Concussion? If so, he needed a hospital. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, his vision was better. Still distorted, but a little less so. He scooted carefully until he could rest his back against the dumpster. He wasn’t up to trying to stand, just yet. But where was he?

 

Gently, he turned his head and looked up and down the alley. It wasn’t familiar. Nothing rang a bell. He looked down at his hands and noticed a lighter band of skin around his left wrist. A watch? Then it was gone. That made him think to feel his pockets for a wallet. That, too, was gone, though he could tell by the sag of his hip pocket that he habitually carried one there. In fact, there was nothing in any of his pockets except a couple of twenty-dollar bills folded tightly and wedged into his watch pocket. He’d been robbed, apparently, and the robber had missed that money because of where it was.

 

Dimly in his memory, he heard a voice saying, “No pants? No badge? No gun? No dignity?”

 

It made no sense. Maybe it was something he’d heard on a TV show? What would he be doing with a badge or a gun?

 

And that made him realize he not only didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know who he was. He couldn’t remember his own name.

 

That was ridiculous, he tried to tell himself. Of course he knew his own name. He was just hurting so bad it wouldn’t immediately come to him. He had a head injury, after all, and if it was bad enough he didn’t know his name, then he definitely needed a doctor. Using the dumpster to steady himself, he cautiously rose to his feet. That made his stomach roil and his vision went black briefly, but he stubbornly hung onto the dumpster and after a few minutes, his legs steadied and his stomach settled down. There was a door nearby, and as he stood there trying to muster the will to walk, that door opened and a girl in her early twenties came out carrying a plastic bag toward the dumpster.

 

She stopped when she saw him, her eyes wide with dismay, and not a little fear.

 

“Don’t be scared,” he said. “I’ve been robbed. Is there a phone someplace I could use?”

 

She shifted her weight uncertainly, and he could see her looking him over. Whatever she saw must have convinced her he was telling the truth. She came a little closer. “Did he hurt you?”

 

“Knocked me on the head,” he said. “I’m feelin’ kinda woozy. Think I need a doctor.”

 

She dropped the garbage and took his arm. “Come on in here. We got a phone you can use.”

 

It was a bar, the place she took him to, moving slowly once she realized he really was hurt. It looked vaguely familiar, but when he tried to concentrate on that feeling, his headache worsened noticeably. So he stopped that and sank wearily down on a stool at the bar. It had only been a short walk, but he was as winded and weak as if he’d run a marathon.

 

“Let me call you an ambulance,” she said. “You look awful. No offense.”

 

He gave a weak grin. “None taken. I imagine I do look pretty bad.”

 

She turned toward the phone, but before she could make the call, an older man came from the back room. “We’re not open yet,” he barked. “Don’t you think you took enough money from my customers last night?”

 

“He’s hurt, Mel,” the girl said. “Somebody jumped him and hit him on the head.”

 

“What do you mean, I took money from your customers?”

 

“Hustlin’ pool, David,” Mel said, softening it with a grin that showed he hadn’t really been angry, but just fooling around. “I never saw the like in all my born days. You even whomped Howie, and nobody whomps Howie!”

 

David. His name was David. Okay, that sounded right. It felt comfortable and familiar. And now that his head was beginning to clear a bit, he remembered playing pool the night before. That’s where the $40 had come from. He’d won it.

 

“So how bad ya hurt?” Mel came closer and peered at him.

 

“Lump on the noggin,” David said.

 

“Need an aspirin?”

 

“He needs a doctor, dummy,” the girl said tartly. “Get out of my way so I can call an ambulance.”

 

“Naw, I don’t need an ambulance,” David said. “I think an aspirin and some coffee will fix me up.”

 

It had suddenly occurred to him that if he made money hustling pool, he probably lived a little outside the law, if not a lot outside the law. An ambulance might mean a police report on the robbery and that might mean a sticky situation for HIM. No, he’d take the aspirin and skip the cops.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch drove too fast and half-blinded by the tears he refused to let fall, not even sure where he was going, just knowing he had to go somewhere.

 

It just couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t be. Starsky had been cheerful, happy, excited about the car show, intent to prove he was really okay –

 

Or had he?

 

Dobey had a point. Often, suicide victims’ families insisted their loved ones had not only been fine, but had been especially cheerful in the last days leading up to the suicide. Hutch couldn’t remember the technical jargon, but for some reason really depressed people, once they’d made up their minds to end their lives, often felt a giddy sort of relief that the decision was made and acted accordingly.

 

“No!” he said aloud and angrily.

 

That wasn’t the man he knew better than he knew himself. He knew every shade of Starsky’s moods. He knew when Starsky was lying to him. He knew when Starsky was hiding a surprise from him. He knew when Starsky was sick and trying not to let on.

 

He’d have known if Starsky had been depressed, despondent or, dear God, suicidal!

 

Wouldn’t he?

 

But what if he didn’t know Starsky as well as he thought? He remembered all the suicides he’d had to deal with over the years of his police career. How stunned many of the families were. Some had known, somewhere deep inside, and had refused to deal with it. Others had known and feared that this would happen. But some had had no idea, no clue, that their son or daughter or brother or wife would actually take that fatal step.

 

Sometimes, he’d thought – and had said to Starsky aloud – that the families who didn’t seem to know anything was wrong must not have been as close to the victim as they’d believed they were.

 

No. He and Starsky were like brothers. Closer than brothers.

 

Weren’t they?

 

If something had been wrong – if Starsky had been that depressed (but over WHAT? He was so much better, healthier, soon to be completely back to normal!) – wouldn’t Hutch have known? Guessed? Seen something different in Starsky’s manner, mood, expression?

 

He searched his memory. He couldn’t think of anything.

 

Except ... Starsky had grown tired of Hutch’s babying him. He’d mentioned it more than once. He’d complained, mostly jokingly, but still complaining, that Hutch was making him feel like an invalid.

 

It had hurt Starsky’s pride, Hutch knew, to be weak, in need of assistance. Starsky was a man used to taking care of himself. He’d had to be, for many years now. Independence was important to Starsky. He depended on Hutch for friendship, loyalty, emotional support, and to watch his back on the streets, but he could and did take care of himself. And though he had recognized that he needed help while he recovered, he had worked hard to get back his strength – and independence.

 

And Hutch had been reluctant to relinquish the role of caregiver.

 

Could that be it? Starsky had given up hope? Had he believed that the reason Hutch had not let go was because Starsky was never going to be back to normal? Had he decided death was preferable to living that way?

 

Had Hutch somehow missed the signs that Starsky wanted to die?

 

If he had seen something, if he had asked the right questions, if he had reached out at the right moment, could he have prevented this?

 

Hutch realized he’d left the city some time ago and was driving along a two-lane highway with trees on either side. He pulled off on a country road and stopped the car, trembling, with an ache in his gut and chest. He looked down at his hands on the wheel, trying to center himself, stop the world from spinning. It didn’t work. He struggled against the burning ache in his heart and finally lost. Folding his arms over the steering wheel, he laid his head down and cried.

 

“Starsky...” he whispered brokenly. “I want you back!”

 

Captain Dobey and Huggy were both worried about their friend.  They waited at The Pits for a while, then Dobey headed back home to be with his family.  Huggy had driven around town three times looking for Hutch.  He found no sign of him in any of the places he hoped he’d be.  Hutch had been gone for a few hours when the captain decided he’d better call out an APB for his missing detective.  The phone rang before he had a chance to make that call.

 

“No sign of him, Captain,” Huggy said.  “I’ve looked everywhere our blond brother goes when he’s worked up and then some.”

 

“Thanks, Huggy.  I guess I’d better call it in,” Dobey said with a weary sigh.  His thoughts were interrupted by a quiet knock on the kitchen door.  Through the glass in the door, he could see it was Hutch.  Edith went to answer it.  “Wait, Huggy, he’s here.”

 

“Thank God,” Huggy said.

 

“I’ll call you later.”  Dobey hung up the phone and crossed the kitchen to where his wife stood with her arms wrapped around the remaining half of the dynamic duo.  The hour was late and Cal and Rosie were already in bed.  The captain was glad they weren’t up to see Hutch in this state.  He was pale, shaking, and had obviously been crying.

 

“Oh, Ken, I’m so sorry,” Edith soothed. 

 

Hutch had dropped his head onto Edith’s shoulder.  He nodded weakly.  Captain Dobey had never seen him look so devastated.  When the doctor told him that Starsky would die after Gunther’s hit, the look on Hutch’s face was close to this.  Then, his partner was still alive. Barely clinging to life, but alive.  Also, if he had died, Starsky would have gone out on the job, under fire.  Not giving up on life.  Not destroying his life and his partner’s with a single bullet.  Just as Dobey was wondering if Hutch could survive it, the distraught man started to crumble.  He leaned too heavily on Edith for her to support.  Dobey quickly put an arm under Hutch and maneuvered him into a chair at the kitchen table. 

 

“Brandy,” he said to Edith quietly as he pulled a chair over to face Hutch.  He let go of Hutch’s shoulder cautiously, unsure as to whether the man could sit up in the chair. 

 

“I want to go up there now,” Hutch said.

 

Dobey shook his head.  “No.  You need to get some sleep first.”  He took the glass of brandy from Edith and put it in Hutch’s hand.  “Drink it.”

 

Hutch shook his head, but Dobey insisted.  He drank it, with a wry chuckle.

 

“What’s funny?” Dobey asked.

 

“Starsky,” Hutch said wearily.  “Last time someone made me drink a shot of brandy, it was him.  That’s what he said to me when he came over after Van was killed.  Drink it.”

 

Dobey didn’t know how to respond to that.  Everything would remind Hutch of Starsky.  He knew this was going to be difficult. “I know how devastated you are, Hutch.  I am, too,” he said.  “We need to be strong through this.  We’ll go up tomorrow morning.  We can leave early, but Edith is going to go get the guest room ready and you’re staying here tonight.”

 

“No, I need to go home,” Hutch replied.

 

“No way.  You had us all worried.  You’ve been gone for hours.”

 

Edith was back in the doorway of the kitchen.  “That’s right, Ken.  We don’t want you to be alone right now.  I put some clean towels on the bed.  You’re staying here.  Harold will drive you over to your place in the morning for a change of clothes.”

 

“Okay.”  Hutch didn’t move.  Instead, he looked at the captain with anguish in his eyes.  “Why?” he asked plaintively.

 

“I don’t know, son.  We may never know.  I’m sorry.  We’ll just have to see what we can find out when we get up there tomorrow.”

 

“Did I push him there, Cap?”

 

“What?”

 

“I, he... he wanted me to stop hovering.  Maybe he felt like that was all he could do.  Oh, God, Cap.  What if it’s my fault?  What if... what if I made him think he’d never be all right again?”

 

Hutch’s capacity to shoulder the blame for anything bad that happened to his partner was not news to Captain Dobey.  He was afraid that Hutch would start blaming himself.  Even in his shock and grief over what had happened, the captain was angry with Starsky.  How he could do this to Ken Hutchinson was something Dobey would never understand.  Starsky must have been out of his mind and somehow they had all missed it.  He never would have intentionally hurt Hutch and, if he’d been in his right mind, he would have known that his suicide would destroy his best friend. 

 

“It’s not your fault.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  Starsky must have lost his mind, Hutch.  Please, let’s go up there and get the facts.  Whatever caused this, we all missed it.  Don’t start blaming yourself.  He wouldn’t want that.”

 

Hutch reluctantly agreed to go to bed.  The few times he drifted off to sleep, he had terrible nightmares that caused him to wake up, sweating and shaking.  In every one, Starsky was trying to tell him something important that was bothering him and Hutch wasn’t listening.  Each one ended the same... with Starsky putting his Beretta to his head and pulling the trigger as Hutch jerked awake.

 

The following morning, Edith couldn’t get either her husband or Hutch to eat anything.  They left at seven, hoping to be in Santa Marta by eleven or twelve.

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

When the medical examiner reached his office to wait for the men from Bay City, he started to gather everything they would need for release of the body.  Despite the fact that it was a Sunday, he’d decided to have the autopsy completed that day if the victim’s friends wanted it done that quickly.  Suicide was such an uncomfortable situation for the surviving friends and family.  He wanted to release Starsky to them as soon as possible.

 

He reviewed the toxicology screen he’d run.  No alcohol or illegal drugs had been detected in the victim’s bloodstream.  Goldwyn almost hoped he would find that Starsky had taken something that could explain his behavior. 

 

Walking into the back of the facility, Goldwyn was surprised to see his assistant, Frank Green. 

 

“Morning, Frank, what are you doing here on a Sunday?”

 

“Morning, boss.  I had a lot of paperwork to do.  I also promised to get a body sent off to Martin Brothers this morning.  The family is anxious to get the funeral done.”

 

“Okay.  Well, I’m expecting two policemen from Bay City for David Starsky.  I’ll be taking care of some things.  Let me know when they arrive.  I’ll be in my office.”

 

“Sure thing.”

 

Before going to his office to wait, Goldwyn went to his mailbox to find that his secretary, Mary, had transcribed the notes from the police interview with Laura Douglas.  At his request, she came in the night before and did the work.  They all felt terrible about the young man’s death.  Laura had an early flight scheduled to return to Vermont.  She was overwrought and pleaded with them to let her go home.  Since she wasn’t under any suspicion in the obvious suicide, the sheriff had agreed to let her go if she would give a statement.  With a heavy heart, Goldwyn took the report back to his office to read through it. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Here, try and eat some of this,” Mel said as he set a plate of breakfast in front of the bleary eyed man sitting at his bar.

 

“Thanks, but, I don’t know....” The toast looked like a possibility, but the scrambled eggs were enough to send his aching head into a spin again.

 

“At least eat the toast.  You need something to chase down that aspirin.  Wish you’d just let us call you an ambulance, David.”

 

David.  David.  Not quite right.  “Dave.  That’s good enough.” 

 

Mel put a cup of coffee in David’s hand.  Looking up at the young woman who had helped him get back into the bar, he smiled and asked her, “What’s your name?”

 

“Rachel,” she answered.

 

Rachel?  He had no way of knowing that his face had grown a shade paler.  His smile faded as he turned his head slightly down and to one side, his eyes looking at nothing.  The gesture made him look like he was trying to hear something no one else could hear.

 

The young woman put a hand on his arm and said, “Dave?  You okay?”

 

When he didn’t answer right away, she looked up at Mel.  Maybe they should ignore his wishes and call an ambulance anyway.  Just as she was going to suggest that, their customer shook his head a little and looked back at her.

 

“Huh?”

 

“You sure you’re all right?  You looked like you were a million miles away for a few seconds,” Rachel said.

 

“Sorry.  Your name... familiar.”  David shook his head a little, hoping it would clear it.  He didn’t want to admit to them that he was so confused.  That might cause them to call an ambulance or the police.  He started to pick at the toast and did his best to look like he wasn’t going to fall off the bar stool. 

 

“Do you think the guy that hit ya was here in the bar last night?” Mel asked.

 

David thought about that.  “I don’t know.  I don’t remember.  He hit me from behind.  Guess I never saw him.”

 

Mel didn’t like it that one of his customers had been roughed up outside his place and he wanted to help David.  He invited him to stay there while they went about their tasks and David took him up on the offer.  Over the next hour, he sat and watched Mel and Rachel work.  When he felt a little better, he got up and helped Mel put away a large collection of dried bar glasses.  Bending down to pick up a box, he suddenly felt worse.  His vision was flecked with little sparks and he sat down suddenly on the floor.  Mel was in the back room and Rachel was sweeping, so neither of them saw him sitting there for a few minutes as he tried to get his head clear again.  That was stupid.  Rule number one today, no bending.  He managed to get back to his feet before the others noticed anything was wrong. 

 

“Dave,” Mel said, “I’ve got a room upstairs.  You’re welcome to try and get some rest.  Maybe wash up.  I’ve got some extra shirts up there.  Why don’t you get a shower and borrow one of them.” Mel was about his size.

 

“Thanks, but you don’t have to do that.  I should get out of your hair.”

 

Rachel piped up, “Nonsense.  No one uses that room unless somebody needs to sleep off a bender.”  She winked at her boss and gave him a knowing look. 

 

“Okay, but I’ll return the shirt later.  After I wash it, okay?”

 

Mel smiled at him.  “Nah, don’t be silly.  Grab one of the ones with the name of the pub on it.  You’ll be a walking ad.”

 

Mel showed him to the room at the top of the stairs and left him alone.  David stood in the middle of the room and turned around.  His head hurt and he kept having strange little flashbacks.  For some reason, this room was causing another one.  He couldn’t understand it.  This was just a regular room.  A little tattered, with an old, stained carpet, a double bed, and a bathroom.  His pounding head reminded him that he probably should try to stay awake, but it just wasn’t going to happen.  David made it through a quick shower and then got into bed.  For the few minutes before he slid into sleep, he stared at the ceiling, trying to remember more... trying to figure out who he really was and where he was supposed to be.  

 

~*~*~*~

 

Traffic up the coast was heavy.  Hutch and the captain didn’t arrive until after noon.  Dobey stopped for gas and directions to the address he’d gotten for the medical examiner’s office.  Most of the way up the coast, his passenger remained silent.  He answered Dobey’s questions, but offered little other conversation.  Hutch was naturally a quiet person, but the silence in the car was oppressive.  Dobey saw him brush a tear away a few times... the only tears he’d ever seen Hutch shed other than when his partner was gunned down the previous May. 

 

They pulled into the gravel parking lot behind the medical examiner’s office and Dobey stopped.  He took a deep breath and said, “This is it.”

 

Hutch nodded and slowly got out of the car.  He did everything he could to climb into his investigator’s persona before they got inside the office.  He thought that might be the only way he could get through the next hour.

 

“Mike,” Frank said as he stuck his head into his boss’ office, “Captain Dobey and Detective Hutchinson are here.”

 

“Thanks, Frank.  Show them in.”

 

The men shook hands and sat down in Goldwyn’s office. 

 

The captain was surprised when he saw a different look come into Hutch’s eyes.  He’d seen his detective in what he might call steely determination mode many times.  In this situation, that was the last thing he expected.

 

“I want to see my partner,” Hutch said without preamble.

 

“We’ll take care of that in a little while.  First, I’d like you to look through his effects and I’ll answer your questions.”  Goldwyn had dealt with grief throughout his career.  He knew what it looked like in all of its forms, and the man across the desk from him was consumed by it.  He believed the detective and his captain needed a few minutes to prepare themselves.  Goldwyn spun around in his chair and grabbed a box.  He turned back toward the desk and set it on the top in front of Hutch.

 

The box was almost Hutch’s undoing.  His resolve began to fade as he looked down into it and saw his best friend’s things staring back at him.  If they could talk, he wondered what they would say.  The leather jacket he’d bought Starsky to replace the one that Gunther’s bullets destroyed was in the bottom.  Goldwyn had cleaned the blood off of it, but the stains were still visible.  Hutch reached a shaking hand into the box and touched Starsky’s holster.  The gun was missing, and the medical examiner told them that he had the Beretta locked up, but that it would be released with the body. 

 

“There’s no question about what happened, I won’t need to keep it.”

 

Hutch took out Starsky’s badge.  He opened the case and looked at the picture and the metal badge that had been so hard won after Starsky’s nearly fatal run-in with James Gunther’s hit squad.  He put it into his pocket.  Then, he opened the plastic bag with Starsky’s watch and rings in it, retrieved the rings and put them on his own finger. 

 

Sitting with his fist clenched, the fingers on the other hand brushing against the rings, Hutch asked in a choked voice, “Was there a note?”

 

Goldwyn shook his head.  “I’m sorry, but there was none.”

 

“On the phone, you said that a young woman was a witness,” Dobey stated.  “We’d like to speak with her.”

 

“I’m sorry, but she was here on vacation.  She left for Vermont early this morning.”  He passed the report to Dobey and added, “I didn’t see a reason to detain her.  She was extremely upset and wanted to go home.  She gave the police a complete statement.  It’s all in that transcript.”

 

Hutch reached a hand out for it.  Dobey moved his chair closer, so they could both read the report.  He wanted to read it as much as Hutch did. 

 

“Some of what’s in there may be difficult for you to take.  I’ll give you a few minutes while I make a fresh pot of coffee.  You both look like you could use it.”  Goldwyn left the two men to their reading.

 

When they reached the part where Laura recounted the things Starsky was saying in the last part of his life, Hutch couldn’t believe what he was reading.  “What was wrong with him?” he asked.  “Something must have happened.  Maybe he was sick or... I don’t know, but look,” he said as he pointed to one paragraph in particular.

 

“He sounded pretty incoherent,” Dobey said. 

 

Hutch let go of the paper and put his head down in his hands after he read that Starsky had asked Laura to tell him he was sorry and that he didn’t mean to hurt him.  She had offered to call Hutch for him, but Starsky refused.  “Ah, Starsk,” Hutch said aloud.  “Why, buddy?”

 

The medical examiner returned with coffee for them.  When he saw the condition Hutch was in, he looked at Dobey for reassurance.  “Do you need to lie down?” he asked Hutch.

 

“No,” he answered softly, “I just want to see him.  I want to see him now.”

 

Hutch stood and squared his shoulders, determined to get through this.  I will NOT fall apart now.  They walked into the back where the bodies were kept.  Dobey looked at him and said, “I can do this, son.”

 

“No.  I have to do it for him.  I wasn’t there when he needed me, Cap.  This is the least I can do.”

 

Captain Dobey sighed.  He’d have to work on Hutch about the guilt that was gnawing at him later.  That’s one thing he was hoping Huggy would be able to help him do.  They’d invited Huggy to come with them, but he declined.  He didn’t talk to Hutch about it, but he told Dobey on the phone that he just couldn’t stand the thought of seeing Starsky like that.  He’d try to get some rest and arrange for some friends to help him with the bar while they were gone.  When Dobey brought Hutch back to Bay City, he wanted to be available to his friend at all times through the funeral process and at least the week after that.  He and Dobey knew that nothing would be enough, but they had to keep Hutch going long enough to get his legs back underneath him.

 

Goldwyn pulled out the drawer containing Starsky’s body and was surprised to find it was empty. “Sorry, I must have the wrong drawer.”  He pulled open the drawer next to it.  When he pulled the sheet back from the body, he was as surprised as the two men standing there with him that the man in the drawer was not David Starsky.

 

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said.  “I just need to ask my assistant where he’s moved the body.”  Possibly, Frank had put him in the other room in the back, near where the hearses came to collect remains.

 

Goldwyn walked into the front office and said, “Frank, where is David Starsky’s body?”

 

“I haven’t moved it,” Frank answered. 

 

“Are you sure?  I put him in 3d last night and it’s empty.”

 

Frank swallowed hard and said, “Did you say 3d?”

 

The medical examiner didn’t like the tone in his assistant’s voice.  “Yes, I did.  Why do you ask?”

 

“Remember when I told you I had to get a body off to Martin Brothers early this morning?  Well... I may have read the drawer number wrong.  The body I sent was Dale Starland.” Frank pulled out a clipboard and showed him.  “I thought that said 3d.  Maybe it was 3c?”  Goldwyn’s handwriting was difficult to decipher at times.

 

This was a terrible situation.  He’d seen it happen before, but rarely.  “All right.  Get on the phone with Martin Brothers and see if we can take these men over there to reclaim that body.  Mr. Starland must be the one they just looked at.” 

 

“I’m really sorry, boss. The initials were the same and, well... I’m sorry.  Man, what a stupid thing to do.  There’s another problem, though.  The Martin Brothers he went to isn’t the one down the street.  I sent that body up to the one in Monterey.  I’d imagine they’re up there already, but it’s about four hours away.”

 

Goldwyn wasn’t looking forward to telling the tense blond detective this news. But he didn’t have any choice, so he went back to where Hutchinson and Dobey were waiting.

 

“What’s wrong?” Hutch asked as soon as he saw Goldwyn’s face.

 

“Is it that obvious?” Goldwyn shook his head. “There’s no point in beating around the bush, gentlemen. My assistant sent your friend’s body to a funeral home in Monterey, thinking it was someone else.” Before Hutch could explode – as it was clear he was ready to – Goldwyn added hastily, “Partially my fault, I think. My handwriting is worse than most doctors’ and the two men had very similar names.”

 

“Monterey?” Hutch spat. His face was flushed and his eyes shot sparks at Goldwyn. “How the fuck did you make a damned fool mistake like –”

 

“Hutchinson!” Dobey bellowed, but Goldwyn could see when he glanced at the captain that the bellow was for effect. His eyes weren’t angry. They were full of concern.

 

Nevertheless, it worked, and Hutchinson shut up, though the effort it cost him to do so was clearly visible on his face.

 

“Will they release the body to us?” Dobey asked.

 

Goldwyn nodded. “My assistant’s calling them right now. I am sorry about this.”

 

“We’ll just go there and get him,” Dobey said to Hutchinson, who nodded tightly.

 

Since Monterey was such a long drive and they’d already been under so much stress, Dobey insisted they get a motel room and wait until the next day to go up there. In spite of Hutch’s protests, Dobey won. They checked into a Super 8 near the highway.

 

“Why don’t I go get us some burgers or something and you try to get some rest, Hutch?” Dobey suggested, not liking Hutch’s pallor or the dark circles under his eyes.

 

“I can’t just sit here,” Hutch said.

 

“Then take a shower or watch TV,” Dobey said. “There’s a Dairy Queen down the road. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 

“Okay,” Hutch said, flopping onto the bed and putting his hands behind his head. Dobey shut the door softly behind him as he left, and Hutch stared up at the ceiling, not seeing it. All he could see was Starsky’s face as he imagined it must have looked in the last moment before the bullet ended his life.

 

Hutch had seen Starsky in deep pain, both physical and emotional. He’d seen the look in his best friend’s eyes when he’d told him Terry’s prognosis and when Starsky had told him that Gillian had worked for Grossman. He’d seen the resignation when Starsky thought he was dying from Bellamy’s poison. But no matter how bad things had ever been, there had always been a spark there, a determination to fight to the bitter end.  Starsky had frightened him once after Terry’s death, but it passed quickly... and they had made a pact between them.

 

It just wasn’t like Starsky to give up.

 

A tear trickled out of Hutch’s eye and he wiped it away. He didn’t dare give in to his grief, not yet. Not until he’d seen the body. Not until he was sure. Somehow, he thought, he’d know when he saw the body what had driven Starsky to this.

 

Dobey came back a few minutes later, loaded down with food. Hutch tried to eat, partly so Dobey wouldn’t hassle him and partly because he knew he needed to, but it was hard going. He barely choked down one hamburger and part of a Coke in the time it took Dobey to go through two burgers, a large order of fries, and a chocolate sundae.

 

“I’m going to take a shower,” Hutch said when he realized he couldn’t swallow another bite.

 

Dobey nodded and made a “go ahead” motion with his hand. His mouth was too full to speak.

 

Hutch let the water run until it was so hot he could barely stand it. He ached all over and hoped the heat would help, though he knew deep down the ache was coming from his heart, not his muscles. Once he was in the water, he let a few quiet tears escape. He was so tired of holding it all in and being strong for Dobey, Huggy, even Goldwyn.

 

He needed Starsky.

 

He’d never had to hold in emotions in front of Starsky. With him, he could be completely himself and never had to put on a show.

 

But Starsky wasn’t here. Starsky would never be here again.

 

Hutch sank to his knees under the shower, trembling, until the water began to cool. Finally he forced himself to stand and turn the water off. He wrapped himself in a towel and went to the mirror to shave. His hands were still shaking, and when he tried to slide the razor under his chin, he cut himself.

 

“God DAMN it!” Hutch threw the razor across the bathroom and then, for good measure, drew back his fist and hit the mirror as hard as he could. It shattered, badly slicing the back of his hand. Hutch swore again and thrust his bleeding hand under the running water just as Dobey burst through the door.

 

“Hutch, what the hell –” He stopped and stared at the broken mirror and his bleeding officer.

 

“I’m fine,” Hutch snapped. “Do you mind? I’m not dressed.”

 

“Hutch –”  Dobey began uncertainly.

 

“Get OUT!” Hutch roared, and Dobey took the hint and retreated hastily.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When David woke up, it was dark in the room and he realized he must have slept for several hours. Faintly, he could hear sounds coming from the barroom below: laughter, pool balls clicking together, music from the jukebox.

 

For some reason, he kept thinking of Bay City. It was a long way south of here, almost 200 miles, but he had a feeling he should be there. Maybe that’s where he was from ... maybe if he went there, he’d remember who he was.

 

And maybe he’d wind up in jail, too. If Bay City was familiar, maybe it was because that’s where he’d learned to hustle pool.

 

He sighed and rolled over onto his stomach. What the hell should he do? Forty bucks wasn’t going to get him very far no matter where he went.

 

There was only one answer. He’d have to hustle a little bit longer, long enough to make himself a grub stake, and then get out of this town and try to get to Bay City. Maybe the answers he sought were there.

 

 ~*~*~*~

 

Hutch ran cold water over his hand until the bleeding slowed to a trickle and examined the damage. Not too bad; mostly superficial cuts. Nothing that would need stitches. He did, however, need first aid supplies and that was something they hadn’t brought with them. He sighed and looked in what was left of the mirror. A couple of large pieces still clung to the frame, enough so that he could see how bad he looked. He hadn’t slept or eaten enough since they’d received the news.

 

Awkwardly, with his left hand, Hutch combed his hair, finished shaving – more carefully this time – and dressed. He knelt and picked up the pieces of broken mirror, tossing them into the wastebasket and idly wondering how much the motel would charge for the damage. Finally, there was nothing more to keep him in the relative privacy of the bathroom and he opened the door. Dobey was sitting in the one chair, watching a ball game on the TV with the sound turned down. He looked up when Hutch came in.

 

“I borrowed a first aid kit from the front desk,” he said, pointing to it on the dresser. “Figured you might need it.”

 

“Thanks,” Hutch said, moving toward it.

 

Dobey stayed where he was and watched as Hutch bandaged his hand. As Hutch was finishing the job, Dobey said quietly, “Do you feel any better now?”

 

Hutch gave a rueful laugh. “No.”

 

“Need a doctor for that hand?”

 

“No.”

 

“Hutch....” Dobey waited until Hutch turned to look at him. “I know how you feel. I loved him, too. Both of you boys are like sons to me.”

 

“You don’t know how I feel,” Hutch growled. “You know how YOU feel.”

 

Dobey nodded, accepting that. “Okay, okay. But you can’t let this destroy you. He wouldn’t want that.”

 

Hutch knew that was true. In a quiet moment during the frantic day they’d spent searching for the culprit when Starsky was poisoned, Starsky had said as much to him.

 

“Hutch, if I don’t make it –”

 

“You’re going to make it!” Hutch snapped angrily. “Don’t even think it.”

 

“I might not,” Starsky insisted. “We gotta face that, partner. I want you to promise me something.”

 

Hutch opened his mouth to argue, but the pleading look in Starsky’s eyes stopped him. “What?”

 

“That you’ll be okay.”

 

Hutch didn’t trust his voice, not with that look in Starsky’s eyes and the gray look of suffering all over his face. So he nodded, patted Starsky’s shoulder, and made the promise.

 

~*~*~*~

 

After a shower, David felt much better than he had earlier. The dizziness was mostly gone and his headache had subsided to a dull roar. He entered the barroom with a jaunty step and looked around for his first victim.

 

Some instinct warned him not to show his hand too soon. He played a few games casually, losing one on purpose but not letting that be obvious. He didn’t play cutthroat, just relaxed, as if he were only killing time. It wasn’t long, as he’d known somehow it wouldn’t be, before someone suggested a friendly wager “to make the game more interesting.” He agreed readily, suggested they play for a beer, and won that game, but barely. He flubbed a couple of easy shots during the game to give his opponent confidence.

 

He took on another couple of opponents with the same bet – a beer – being careful not to let himself get too intoxicated. After awhile, he suggested they play for money instead. At first, he played for five dollars a game. Gradually, he worked up to twenty. And by closing time, with a supper break for a hamburger, he’d made two hundred bucks.

 

That was enough for a bus ticket to Bay City and some money to hold him for a couple of days until he could find a good bar to hustle in there.

 

Mel agreed to let him sleep in the upstairs room one more night and David made up his mind he’d leave Santa Marta in the morning.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Eric Martin propped up the photograph of Dale Starland and opened a bottle of Chianti before he started working on the body. He’d once told the obit clerk at the Monterey paper that he always drank wine while he embalmed customers and her reaction had been amusing. People outside the business were always repulsed by the idea of an undertaker’s work, but Eric came from a long line of undertakers, and considered the work he did to be necessary and fulfilling. His worst case had been a teenager who had committed suicide by shotgun in his mother’s kitchen. The family had insisted on an open casket and it had taken Eric all night to put the poor boy back together. All night and enormous amounts of putty and makeup. But he’d done it, and the family had been able to have their visitation and funeral with an open casket, as they wanted.

 

Dale would be easier, he mused, arranging his materials before pulling the sheet back. Dale – Eric always thought of the bodies by their first names, to help him feel close to them and care about them enough to do his very best work – had died of cancer. He would be thin and pale but that was easily fixed with makeup. Eric glanced at the photo again, taken before Dale had been diagnosed. It showed a smiling, healthy-looking man in his late forties and Eric smiled back at it. That’s the way the family wanted to remember Dale, and Eric was going to help them achieve that.

 

He pulled the sheet back and stared in astonishment at the body lying there.  This man wasn’t Dale Starland and he hadn’t died of cancer.  The damage wasn’t as severe as that teenager who died from a shotgun blast, but it was bad enough.  The man lying on the table had put a bullet in his head, probably from a handgun.

 

Eric covered the body again and rechecked his paperwork.  This was a dilemma. He picked up the phone to call the Santa Marta medical examiner.  By the time he placed the call, everyone in the medical examiner’s office had gone home.  He told the answering service that it wasn’t an emergency, but he left a message that he’d be returning first thing in the morning to exchange a body. 

 

“Exchange a body?” the woman asked.

 

“Yes.  Seems there’s been some kind of mix up.  I don’t want to wait until they can come back up here.  I’ll be there when they open in the morning.”

 

“Yes, sir.  Are you sure you don’t want me to page the medical examiner?”

 

“No, it’s late.  Thanks, anyway.”  Eric hung up the phone. He got the body ready to transport in the morning and then went home to get a few hours sleep before his road trip.  Eric didn’t know the medical examiner had been trying to reach him.  The front line to the funeral home wasn’t answered on the weekends, only the back line.  He had missed the calls.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The captain and Hutch rose early, just as they had when they left Bay City.  They were on the road by the time there was light in the eastern sky.  Hutch sat staring out the window, watching the sky as it turned pink.  He’d refused to eat any breakfast and hadn’t said a word since they pulled away from the hotel.  An hour out of Santa Marta, he finally spoke.

 

“Used to be, he never would watch a sunset,” Hutch said, almost too softly for Dobey to hear.

 

“What?” Dobey asked.

 

“Sunsets.  Sunrises.  He always said they had them every day,” Hutch continued.

 

Dobey didn’t mind that what Hutch was saying seemed incongruous with the situation.  The man was talking, and he hoped that was a good sign.  He didn’t know how to respond... or if he should respond, so he maintained his silence.

 

Hutch sighed deeply.  He didn’t take his eyes off of the sky.  “That was before the shooting, Cap.  About a month after he came home from the hospital, he... he was lying on the couch one day, looking out the window.  Just kind of staring.  He looked... I don’t know, kind of sad or far away.  I asked him if he was all right and you know what he said?”

 

“Probably told you to quit hovering,” Dobey answered with a wry grin.

 

Hutch turned to look at him.  “Good guess, but not that time.  No.  ‘I get it.’ That’s what he said and I knew what he meant.  He told me I was right all along.  Sunsets were pretty and we should enjoy them.”  Hutch was getting choked up.  He blinked a few times and turned back toward the side window.  “Said he thought he was never gonna see another one and he meant to savor them.”

 

Neither man said anything for a few minutes.  Hutch shook his head and said, “I just don’t get it, Cap.  It doesn’t track.  He went through all of the pain and hard work to come back.  The physical therapist said he’d never seen a patient try so hard, or be so stubborn.  Why?  What did I miss?”

 

Dobey had no answers.  He watched Hutch put his hand in his jacket pocket where he was still carrying Starsky’s badge.  For years Starsky had been Hutch’s touchstone. The friend against which all others were measured, just as Hutch had been for him.  The captain was at as much a loss to divine the truth in what had happened to their friend as Hutch was.  He never would have guessed that Starsky would give up on life.  The only thing he could imagine was that Starsky had somehow come to believe he was a danger to Hutch or that he’d hurt him somehow.  Beyond his life’s work as a cop – to protect and serve the public – David Starsky’s primary mission was to protect his partner.  Dobey knew Starsky would have freely given up his life to save Hutch and that he wouldn’t willingly do something to hurt him so irreparably. 

 

Conversation alternated for the rest of the drive between non-existent and Dobey listening to Hutch’s painful speculations.  The captain tried to be supportive and to offer comment when it seemed to be a good idea, but nothing helped.  Hutch varied between inconsolability and a barely controlled rage that worried his boss.  That the man would have to be put on an extended leave of absence from work on the streets was a given in Dobey’s mind.  As he listened, Dobey worried that Hutch might never be safe on active duty.  Not only was the department suffering the devastating loss of Starsky, he feared Metro would also lose his partner – one way or another.

 

When they reached Monterey, they found Martin Brothers and pulled into the quiet, tree lined parking lot.  Hutch shook off his feeling of dread as much as he could and got out of the car. 

 

“You’re doing all right,” Dobey said to Hutch as he put a hand on his back and opened the front door for him.  A brief flash of pain crossed Hutch’s face. 

 

Hutch stopped and faced him.  “I just want this part to be over, Cap.  I want to take him home.  I need to.”

 

“I know.  Let’s just get it done.”

 

The two men went into the funeral home and were invited to take a seat in the front office.  Dobey accepted two cups of strong looking coffee and encouraged Hutch to drink some.  He wanted to get Hutch back to Bay City as soon as possible.  Dobey didn’t like it that they were so far from their family and friends.  He didn’t know how much longer he could hold Hutch together without their support.

 

After a few minutes, a conservatively dressed woman entered the room and closed the sliding doors behind her.  “I’m Shirley Martin.  Are you the gentlemen who drove up from Santa Marta?”

 

“Yes,” Dobey answered.  He introduced himself and Hutch and explained why they were there.  Shirley Martin squirmed a little and looked uncomfortable.  The captain’s heart sank when he realized that something else must have gone wrong. He looked at Hutch to see if he had picked up on her demeanor, and it was obvious to him that he had.  If anything else happened to his tightly stretched detective, Dobey was concerned that he would snap.  Hutch’s eyes flashed with barely submerged anger.  The captain decided he’d better maintain control of the situation.

 

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

 

“I am so sorry you two drove all the way up here.  Apparently, you left before anyone could reach you,” she replied.  Hutch visibly tensed and prepared to say something, but Dobey stayed his comment by putting a hand on his arm.  Mrs. Martin continued, “As you know, a body was delivered to us yesterday.  Late last night, my husband got ready to prepare the body and he realized that the man who was brought here wasn’t the one we expected. The Santa Marta medical examiner made an error.  We were expecting the body of a man who died of cancer.  The man they sent to us was a suicide.”

 

The underlying rage in Hutch’s voice was not lost on either of the room’s other occupants.  “That man is not ‘a suicide.’  He’s a person.  David Starsky.  MY best friend.  Where is he?”

 

Mrs. Martin was used to dealing with family members in grief.  Sometimes they were angry, but this man was a volcano on the edge of eruption.  She spoke as calmly as she could.  “I’m sorry, Detective Hutchinson.  Please accept my sympathy in what must be a terribly painful situation.  I meant no disrespect.”  She took a deep breath, and told Hutch the thing she was afraid would bring about the eruption.  “Regrettably, we didn’t know you were coming for the body.  Our regular driver is on vacation and my husband didn’t want to wait.  He drove your friend back to Santa Marta.  He left early this morning.”  She watched Hutch carefully, becoming increasingly concerned as the trembling in his hands progressed until his entire body shook with rage.

 

Hutch dropped the coffee cup on the oriental carpet and stood quickly, tipping the chair over in the process.  Dobey reached out for him and called his name a few times, but the enraged man was not listening.  Hutch turned and stalked toward the doors. He grabbed them and slid them apart so roughly, they disappeared into the wall pockets and banged into the stops hard enough to knock two pictures off of the adjacent walls.  Captain Dobey looked at Mrs. Martin apologetically as Hutch stormed out of the room, but she waved him off, her face full of sympathy.

 

“You’d better go after him.  I’m sorry,” she said.

 

Hutch stomped out an angry pace back and forth in the parking lot. He ran both of his hands through his hair and pressed down on his head, as if he feared it would explode off of his neck if he didn’t hold on tight.  By the time Dobey reached him, he was railing out a string of invective the likes of which Dobey had never heard from him.  Dobey had seen many facets of Hutchinson anger, but this was a new level.  The usually collected blond was unraveling right in front of him.

 

Dobey stepped toward Hutch and put a hand out to stop him.  In the brief moment before the furious man shook him off, Dobey could feel the anger vibrating through Hutch like an electric current.  Hutch’s face was red and he paced away from Dobey with one hand on his chest, close to hyperventilating.  The captain found himself worried that Hutch could have a heart attack.

 

“Hutch, I want you to calm down,” he said, pitching his voice low and steady.

 

“CALM DOWN!” Hutch shouted as he spun around from his pacing.  “How? They’ve lost him, AGAIN!”

 

Dobey continued to attempt to placate the furious blond.  “I know, Ken.  I’m angry about this, too.  This is a ridiculous situation.”

 

“She called him ‘A SUICIDE’, Cap.  Like he wasn’t a person.” Hutch’s voice was shaking and his harsh breathing had Dobey worried.  “Son of a bitch!” Hutch shouted.  His eyes were full of angry tears.  Soothing tones weren’t working and Dobey was afraid for Hutch.  He decided to try the tough approach. 

 

“Be calm!  I know you’re angry.  We’ll go back down there and get him.”

 

“Don’t tell me to be calm again,” Hutch warned.  For a brief second, Dobey imagined what it must have been like to be that mechanic who tried to kill Hutch in the hospital parking garage months ago.  Before he was killed in lockup, the man had complained that the enraged detective had fired his gun beside him and he was afraid he was going to gun him down, despite the fact that he had surrendered.

 

“You’re out of line, Hutchinson, and this isn’t helping.  Starsky isn’t going to be any less dead when we get down there.”

 

Ordinarily, Dobey was the soul of both professionalism and knowing the right thing to say. He realized as soon as the words left his mouth that what he just said to Hutch was the wrong thing.  His attempt to play “bad cop” to get his friend back under control was about to fail miserably.

 

The look of fury on Hutch’s face clearly conveyed what he was about to do.  In an instant, he slid over the edge completely and hit his boss with a right cross that knocked the large man off his feet onto the ground.

 

For a few stunned moments, Hutch looked down at the man he’d just hit.  The fact that the action had split open the cuts on his fist, which were now bleeding through the bandages, didn’t faze him.  The thoughts that flew through his mind left him reeling and a red haze began to crowd over his vision.  Hutch couldn’t believe he’d struck his boss.  A flashback to the time he hit Starsky like that rushed at him.

 

“Look around you.  What do you think bought this place?” Those were the words that prompted Hutch to slug his best friend, knocking him to the floor.  He pulled Starsky up and tried to convince him that he was wrong about Gillian.  He accused his best friend of not liking the woman lying dead a few feet from them.  When Starsky asked if Hutch wanted to hit him again, Hutch started to fall apart.

 

“Hey... How many years’ve we known each other, huh?  You’re the best friend I got in the whole world.  You think I like saying things like this to you?” Starsky had said in a voice choked with emotion.  That’s when Hutch completely crumbled, collapsing against Starsky and clinging to him like a lifeline while they both cried.

 

Oh, God, Starsk.  Who can I cling to, now? Damn!  “C-Cap,” he said, his shaky voice barely recognizable, “I’m sorry, I....” Hutch suddenly needed to get away from Dobey.  He couldn’t believe what he’d done and he couldn’t face the look on Dobey’s face – not anger, just shock and worry.  Without another word, he turned and ran out of the parking lot, leaving Dobey sitting on the asphalt and shaking his head.

 

“Brilliant,” Dobey said to himself as he climbed to his feet, rubbing his jaw.  He spotted a bench under a gazebo among the trees behind the parking lot.  He walked toward it to sit in the shade and wait for Hutch to return.  Dobey knew he would come back, he just needed to run off some steam.  He said a little prayer that Hutch would be physically safe until he came back, and sat thinking about how Starsky told him that Hutch had a punch like an air hammer.  How he was going to explain the bruise he was already developing was going to be a challenge. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Roberta Langley was well past worry over where her son was.  Her interview with the policemen who came to take her report had given her no peace and she’d had no word of her son all weekend.  She decided to try going through his room again.  The first three times she’d searched it turned up nothing, but at least it gave her something to do. This time, she pulled the mattress off the bed and took everything out of the drawers. Her son was paranoid, so she was looking for anything he might be concealing.  The drawers revealed nothing, so she turned to the closet.

 

After removing everything from the floor of the closet, Roberta noticed a framed picture she hadn’t seen before, leaning against the back wall.  Randy’s closet shared a wall with the stairs in the entryway.  Behind the picture, Randy had cut away the drywall and Roberta could see a stash of papers and items in the dark recess under the stairs.  Mrs. Langley pulled everything out into the center of the room and sat on the floor looking through what she’d found. 

 

The first thing she looked at was a scrapbook.  Every item in it concerned Detective David Starsky.  She recognized him immediately.  The story of Starsky’s shooting was big news in Bay City.  The book contained what looked like every article printed about the incident.

 

In addition to the newspaper photos of the officer’s shot up car and his distraught friends at the hospital, she found candid photos of Starsky.  They appeared to have been taken without the man’s knowledge and they included pictures of him in the ICU, during physical therapy sessions, and in the park with the blond man Roberta recognized as his partner.  Randy worked at the hospital and she knew he was interested in the injured detective. When he switched his work location to the ambulatory center next to the hospital, Roberta hadn’t given it much thought.  Now, she realized what all of this might mean.  She knew Starsky worked for the Metro division, and she decided she’d better give them a call.

 

Captain Dobey hadn’t told anyone at Metro about Starsky.  That was the kind of news he preferred to give in person.  He hadn’t counted on all of the problems they were having claiming Starsky’s body.  He had left word that he was out of town for the day and that both Starsky and Hutch were off of the roster.  That was all Detective Jack Hill knew when he picked up the call in the squad room that morning.  A woman had called looking for Dobey and the secretary asked him if he would be willing to speak with her.

 

“She’s pretty insistent, Jack.”

 

“Who’d she ask for?” Hill asked.

 

“She started off with Starsky.  When I told her he was not in today, she asked if his partner was here.  Then, she asked to speak with Cap.  She says it has something to do with a missing person report she filed on her son the other day and that it might involve Starsky.”

 

Jack sighed.  “All right, I’ll take it.”

 

“This is Mrs. Roberta Langley,” the worried sounding woman said.  “Thank you for talking to me.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Jack said.  “This is the homicide division, so I’m not sure what I can do for you.  Do you have some information regarding Detective Starsky?”

 

Roberta sighed and said, “I really hope I don’t, but I’m afraid I do.  You see, my son is missing.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.  Do you think Detective Starsky has something to do with his disappearance?”  Jack was having a hard time figuring out where this might lead.

 

“No.  I’m afraid it’s just the opposite.  My son is a paranoid schizophrenic.  A long time ago, in high school, he became obsessed with a classmate.  He actually started to believe he was the other boy.  That’s when he was diagnosed.  He had a breakdown and tried to kill himself after he hurt the other boy.  I... I’m concerned for your detective.  My son can be dangerous when his medications are off and, well, he is missing.  Do you know how to get in touch with your officer?”

 

“No, ma’am, I don’t. I’m afraid I don’t understand why you’re concerned about Detective Starsky.”

 

Mrs. Langley told him about the items in the closet.

 

Jack let out a low whistle. “I understand. Where can we reach you?”

 

She gave him a phone number and promised to stay close to the phone. Hill told her he’d send a uniform unit over to pick up a photo of her son and they’d get started looking for him. After he hung up, he dropped his forehead into his hand. Starsky didn’t need this now. Not after all he’d already been through. He tried calling both Starsky and Hutch, but there was no answer at either place. Then he dialed the Dobey residence. Home from school for lunch, Cal answered.

 

“Hi, it’s Jack Hill,” he said. “Is your dad or mom around?”

 

“Dad’s out of town,” Cal said. “Mom’s upstairs. Hold on.”

 

Hill waited.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Mrs. Dobey, it’s Jack Hill at Metro.”

 

“Hello, Jack. How are you?”

 

Jack frowned. Her voice sounded as if she’d been crying. “I’m okay,” he said. “Are you? You sound like you have a cold or something.”

 

Edith hesitated. She didn’t want to lie, but Harold had made her promise to let him break the news to the other officers. Finally, she said, “I’m fine. What can I do for you?”

 

He didn’t like the hesitation, but whatever was going on was probably none of his business. “I need to get a message to the captain,” he said. “It’s urgent or I wouldn’t bother you with it. It concerns Starsky.”

 

She gasped. “What about him?”

 

Hill explained about Langley’s call. “We need to find Starsk right away and let him know what’s going on so he and Hutch can be on their guard. But I don’t know where he is. Does the cap?”

 

“Dear God,” she said, sounding dazed. “I’ll call him. Thank you, Jack.” She hung up without another word, and now Jack was really worried. Something was definitely up and he was going to find out what.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dave got off the bus and stretched. He hated buses. He remembered that much about his life. Too many stops, too crowded, too many noisy kids....

 

He looked around. Downtown Bay City did look familiar. That made him feel both better and worse. Better, because he thought he’d done the right thing by coming here. Worse, because it might mean his next stop would be jail, if he was right about being on the wrong side of the law. He started walking.

 

A few blocks away, something made him want to turn right. He followed the instinct and started down that street and every building was familiar. His memory was hovering right on the edge of coming back. He could feel it. As he passed a seedy residential hotel, he stopped and looked up at it. He remembered it. Someone he cared about had lived there, but he couldn’t remember who or even if the somebody had been a man or a woman. A prostitute stumbled past him and went in, her hair badly in need of a shampoo, her clothes rumpled and filthy.

 

Sharman.

 

Dave frowned. He followed the woman and caught another glimpse of her as she started up the stairs. No, he didn’t know her. But he knew somehow that “Sharman” was the person he’d known who had lived here. She hadn’t belonged here, but he couldn’t remember why.

 

He went back out to the street and continued walking, letting that faint instinct drive his feet. Two blocks further, he turned again. Now he walked faster. He knew where he was going. There was a restaurant or a bar or something just a little further on, and he knew the place. He’d spent a lot of time there. Maybe someone there knew him. He was so tired of not knowing who he was, he would almost welcome the police at this point.

 

Nevertheless, when he caught sight of a black-and-white, he ducked into an alley and waited until it passed before continuing.

 

Finally, he saw it. “The Pits.” That was it. He knew that place. He knew it well. He hurried to get inside.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dobey sat on the bench for over an hour before he saw a dejected blond figure coming toward him. Hutch’s hair was mussed and his shirt was half-untucked and he moved as slowly as an arthritic old man. Dobey’s heart ached for him. Hutch reached the bench and sat down heavily, without speaking. He folded his hands in his lap – the bandage on the right one was dirty and bloodstained – and looked down at them.

 

Dobey waited. He was a patient man when he had to be.

 

Finally, after many minutes had passed, Hutch very softly said, “God, Cap’n, I’m sorry I hit you.”

 

The pain in his voice was almost tangible. Dobey laid his hand on Hutch’s shoulder. “I forgive you.”

 

Hutch took a shuddering deep breath and a tear fell from his eye on onto his cheek. He didn’t wipe it away; Dobey didn’t think he even realized it was there. Starsky, did you spare a thought for the pain you were inflicting on this man when you pulled that trigger? Did you even think about him?

 

“What should we do now?” Hutch asked, still in that low voice. He sounded like a lost child.

 

Dobey cleared his throat. He hadn’t been trying to make Hutch feel better when he’d told him that he and Starsky were like sons to him. They were. And hearing that helplessness in Hutch’s voice brought out Dobey’s paternal instinct. His hand was still on Hutch’s shoulder and he squeezed gently. “We’re going to go get him, son.”

 

Before they left, Dobey used the phone in the funeral home to call Goldwyn in Santa Marta.  Goldwyn confirmed that the body had arrived there and promised not to let it out of his sight until Dobey and Hutch arrived. “And your wife called,” Goldwyn said. “She said it was urgent that you call her right away.”

 

“Thank you,” Dobey said. He broke the connection and dialed his home number.

 

Edith must have been sitting on the phone. She answered before the first ring was complete. “Harold?”

 

“What’s wrong? Are the kids okay?”

 

“The kids are fine. It’s about Starsky.” She told him about Langley’s call to Jack Hill.

 

“Damn,” Dobey said, glancing at Hutch. “Any word on where the boy is now?”

 

“No. I haven’t heard back from Jack.”

 

“Can you call him and tell him to give that top priority? Hutch and I are on our way back to Santa Marta now.”

 

“Be careful, Harold.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dave entered the dark and noisy bar. The after-work rush was in full swing, people eating and drinking and playing pool. The place was packed. Dave squeezed through the crowd and managed to get as far as the corner of the bar. A harried woman took his order for a beer and gave it to him without even looking at him. She just took his money and stuffed his change into his hand. Dave took his beer and looked for a place to sit. There weren’t any.

 

But there was a lot of action going on near the pool table, so he worked his way over there and leaned against a wall to watch. Neither of the two men now playing were familiar to him, but he noticed a very slender black man across the barroom who did look familiar. Very much so. The man didn’t see him; he was too busy waiting on customers. But Dave heard someone yell, “Hey, Huggy, bring me a beer, dammit!” and the man waved a hand back at him in reply.

 

Huggy. Yeah, that was right. He knew Huggy, sure he did. Huggy ... Huggy ... what? His head began to hurt and he stopped trying. He’d wait until things calmed a bit and go talk to Huggy.

 

Huggy was finding it hard to concentrate. He kept wondering what kind of shape Hutch was in, and how hard it must have been to look at Starsky’s body, and what he and Dobey would be able to do to keep the blond in one piece during the coming weeks. And the bar was absolutely overrun with customers, which would delight him any other time, but tonight it was the very last thing he needed. He took another tray of dirty glasses back to the bar and picked up a food order from the kitchen, balancing that tray on one hand while he juggled two draft beers in the other hand. He deposited the food in front of a couple of overweight ladies at a table near the back and handed the beer mugs to the pool players. “Two dollars,” he said to the nearest one.

 

The guy started digging into the pocket of his tight jeans and while he waited, Huggy glanced at the crowd indifferently. Several men were leaning on the nearby wall, waiting their turn to play pool. His gaze froze on one of them and he shook his head. No. It couldn’t be. He’d just been thinking about Starsky so much he was imagining he saw him. But he couldn’t be seeing him, because he was dead....

 

“Here ya go, man,” the customer said. “Somethin’ wrong? Whatcha starin’ at?”

 

Huggy took the money without looking at it. His eyes were glued to the curly-haired man leaning against the far wall with a beer mug in his hand. Somehow he managed to squeeze through the half dozen people between him and that man, and when he reached him, he grabbed his arm roughly.

 

Dave turned. The look on Huggy’s face frightened him for a moment. He looked angry or upset about something and Dave suddenly wondered if this place being familiar might turn out to be a bad thing.

 

“S-St-Starsky?” Huggy’s eyes were wide with some deep emotion and the hand clutching his arm was clammy with sweat.

 

Starsky? Is that my name?

 

Suddenly it all flooded back.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It was late in the afternoon by the time Dobey stopped the car outside the medical examiner’s office. Hutch had hardly spoken during the drive, and what little he did say sounded defeated and exhausted. Dobey wanted to get the body claimed, arrange for it to be sent home, and get Hutch back to Bay City. He’d already decided to take Hutch to Edith rather than to his apartment, and let her take care of him. She loved him, too, and maybe her gentle manner would help where his own gruff sympathy did not.

 

Goldwyn was waiting for them. “I can’t apologize enough,” he greeted them. “This was inexcusably inefficient of us and –”

 

Dobey raised a hand and gave Goldwyn a look that the detectives back at Metro would have called his “shut up or I’ll kill you” look. Goldwyn shut up. “Just show us the body.”

 

Goldwyn nodded and led the way to the locker room. He walked straight to one of the drawers and pulled it open. The body was covered with a sheet. He looked up at Dobey. “You’re a cop. You know suicide victims look –” 

 

“I know,” Dobey said gruffly. He realized Hutch wasn’t beside him and looked back toward the door. Hutch was leaning against it, ghastly pale. “Hutch?”

 

“Cap’n, I – I – can’t,” Hutch said, his voice trembling. “I thought I could but I just ... can’t.”

 

Dobey nodded. “I’ll do it. Stay there.” He gave Goldwyn an expectant look.

 

Goldwyn, with a nervous look at Hutch, pulled the sheet back just enough to reveal the face. His heart sank when he saw the blank look on Dobey’s face, followed immediately by rage.

 

“I thought you told me you had the body back!”

 

“I did! I do!” Goldwyn looked down at the body again just to be sure. “This is David Starsky.”

 

“This is NOT David Starsky!” Dobey bellowed. “I’ve known that boy for years and this is NOT his body! Where the hell is Starsky? Did you lose him again?”

 

“I’m telling you –” 

 

“And I’m telling YOU –”

 

By this time, Hutch had recovered himself enough to come closer and he, too, stared blankly at the body in the drawer. When he looked up at Goldwyn, the rage in his eyes was enough to make Goldwyn take a step backward. Hutch looked capable of killing Goldwyn with his bare hands. “You told us you weren’t going to lose him again.”

 

“I didn’t!” Goldwyn was adamant. “This is the body that came in with the personal effects I showed you. I checked him in myself.”

 

Hutch and Dobey exchanged a look. “It’s not Starsky,” Hutch said, and a little life had come back into his voice. “If he had Starsky’s stuff –” 

 

“Then maybe Starsky isn’t dead,” Dobey finished.

 

“Then where is he?” Hutch demanded. He turned on Goldwyn. “Where’s the phone?”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky swayed a little on his feet. The sudden shock of his memory returning made his head start to pound and his vision swam. Huggy slid an arm around his back and pulled Starsky’s arm over his own shoulders. “Come on, Starsk, let me take you upstairs. You look like you need to lay down.”

 

“Thanks, Hug,” Starsky said, swallowing hard because his stomach had suddenly started to roil. It took some doing to get through the crowd and reach the stairs, but Huggy was stronger than his physique suggested and he supported Starsky all the way to the small apartment above the bar. He gently laid him down on the bed, said he’d be right back, and left again. In a few moments, he returned with a cold 7Up and a bucket of ice. He found a hand towel in the bathroom and wrapped some ice in it to make an ice pack, and placed it gently on Starsky’s head. “Drink the soda, friend,” he said soothingly. “You’re a little green.” Explanations could wait until a little of the color came back into Starsky’s face.

 

Starsky sipped the soda carefully and it did help. Huggy plumped the pillows and stacked them behind him so he could lean back and relax. Starsky closed his eyes and Huggy took the glass and set it on the floor. Finally, Starsky opened his eyes again and Huggy was relieved to see they were clear and focused.

 

“Okay, pal, wanna tell me what happened to you?”

 

Starsky looked up at him and was disturbed at what he saw there. Huggy looked like he’d been through emotional hell. His eyes were puffy and tired, his face was haggard and he hadn’t shaved. Huggy ALWAYS shaved. “I got rolled in Santa Marta,” Starsky said. “Took one hell of a knock on the head. I didn’t know my own name, Huggy.”

 

Huggy’s mouth dropped open, but he recovered and said, “You kiddin’, Starsk?”

 

Starsky shook his head and winced at the movement. “Wish I was. I really didn’t. I spent a coupla days hustling pool to make a few bucks so I could get back here. I knew Bay City was familiar but I didn’t know why. Somehow I found my way here and when you called me ‘Starsky’ I remembered everything.”

 

Huggy studied him. “Geez, that’s scary. You sure you’re all right? Need a doc? If you got hit that hard....”

 

“No, I’m okay. Or I will be. Have you seen Hutch? I was supposed to be back yesterday. He must be worried sick.”

 

Huggy froze. “Oh, shit.”

 

Starsky sat up straight. “What? Tell me, Huggy. What’s wrong?” He grabbed Huggy’s arms and gave him a little shake. “What is it?”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch hung up the phone from speaking with the Santa Marta police department.  He’d asked for a missing officer report to be put out on his partner.  When he was finished, he walked out without another word.  Captain Dobey thanked Goldwyn and followed Hutch out the door.

 

When Dobey got into the car, Hutch said, “The PD put out a missing officer report for us.  They told me they have the Torino in the impound lot behind the police station.”

 

Dobey knew what Hutch had in mind.  “Good thinking.  Maybe there will be something in the car that will give us a lead.” 

 

The two men hadn’t taken the time to search the car prior to this.  They were too busy running up and down the coast searching for a body that turned out not to be Starsky after all.  Hutch was so irate he sat with his jaw clenched and both hands curled into fists.  His few outbursts had bled off some of his anger, but the captain knew that he was still steaming just under the surface.  The captain made a note that he either needed to get some butterfly bandages to fix up Hutch’s damaged right hand, or they would need to go in for some stitches.  Hutch’s repair job wasn’t helping much, and Dobey believed that the cuts were probably deeper than Hutch thought.  They still hadn’t taken the time to repair the damage Hutch did when he slugged the captain. 

 

Dobey and Hutch searched the interior of the Torino and found the program from the car show and a couple of leftover drink cups tossed in the backseat.  Hutch reached for the trash and noticed something else.  He picked up a bracelet and turned it over in his hand. 

 

“Cap,” Hutch said, “I found one of those emergency medical bracelets back here.” He stood up out of the car and turned the bracelet over again to examine the back.

 

“Starsky didn’t have one of those.”

 

“No, he didn’t.  This one has a phone number on it and it says that the wearer takes medications.” 

 

“Maybe we can find out whose it is if we call the number,” Dobey said. 

 

They quickly went through the rest of the car, finding nothing that would help them with either Starsky’s whereabouts, or the person who was lying in the morgue.  They left the impound yard, with a promise to pick the car up when they were leaving for Bay City. Hutch would drive it home.

 

Next, they went inside the police station and let them copy Starsky’s police ID photo for the APB.  Hutch sat and looked through some mug books to see if he could spot anyone who resembled Starsky while the captain called the company whose number was on the back of the bracelet they’d found.  He was finally able to get some information after he’d identified himself to increasingly higher levels of supervisors and managers, followed by a long wait while they called Metro to confirm his identity.  The Santa Marta Chief of Police had extended professional courtesy and jurisdiction to the two Bay City cops.  An officer was assigned to help them with the investigation, now that it was looking like a crime may have been committed.

 

“Thank you for waiting, Captain Dobey,” the cheerful, but professional woman on the other end of the line said.  “I’m sorry it took so long, but we can’t be too careful with our members’ private medical information.”

 

“Perfectly understandable,” Dobey answered.  “You had no way of knowing I was who I said I was.  Now, what can you tell me about the person associated with this bracelet?”  The captain had already explained several times about the bracelet being part of a criminal investigation and about the importance of him being given the information to help track down the person associated with it.  Telling the third level of supervisor that a cop’s life might depend upon it had gotten him bumped up to this woman.

 

“The bracelet belongs to a man named Randall Peter Langley.  He’s thirty-two years old and he lives in Bay City.”

 

“Bay City?” Dobey said raising an eyebrow.  Hutch heard that and looked up from his mug book.  “Can you give me his address and the name and number for his emergency contact?”

 

“Yes, sir.  Mrs. Roberta Langley is his contact.  Her number is 213-555-8468.  His home telephone number is the same, so they must live together.  The address is 5241 La Plaza Street, Bay City.  Is there anything else?”

 

“Yes. What is the medical condition listed?  The bracelet just indicates that he takes medications.  Oh, and what kind of medications?”

 

“Let me check.  The medications are on this screen, so I’ll read you those first.  The file says the patient may be taking medications from this list as his condition warrants, so I’m guessing he doesn’t take them all.  Here goes – Valium, Stelazine, Haldol, Largactil, and Lithium.   Now, as for the condition, that’s on the next screen.  Our computers were down for a long time this morning and they are still running pretty slowly.  Just give me a minute.”

 

“Take your time.”  Dobey sat fiddling with his pencil while they waited.  The captain thought he recognized some of those medication names, but he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

 

The woman on the phone took a deep, audible breath before she said, “The condition is listed as schizophrenia with paranoia and complicating mood disorder.”

 

Dobey sighed and a look crossed his face that told Hutch the news was not good.  “Thank you, you’ve been helpful.”  He hung up the phone.

 

“Hutch,” he said, trying to soften what he had to say. “The man who owns this bracelet lives in Bay City.  I’m going to get on the horn with Metro and have them run him down through records.”

 

“What?” Hutch demanded when Dobey paused for a few heartbeats.  “Why do you look like what they just told you pulled the rug out from under you?”

 

Dobey read off some of the medications listed for Langley.  Hutch recognized them, too.  The color had already drained from his face before Captain Dobey mentioned that those drugs were for the treatment of schizophrenia.  Hutch sat back in his seat, and started to try to say something, but nothing came out of his mouth. 

 

“Now, son,” Dobey said calmly, “that doesn’t mean anything necessarily.”

 

Hutch said, “Oh, my God.”

 

“I’m going to call Metro right now.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

 

“Starsky’s badge, Cap, and his gun.  Do you think he would have given those up without some kind of a fight?  I was so relieved that the dead guy wasn’t him… I didn’t think.  The guy was a mental patient.  What if…?”

 

“Don’t.  Let’s get some more information.”

 

Hutch shook his head and looked down as he quietly replied, “What if he killed Starsky?”

 

Seeing that hoping Hutch would hold together for a while without making assumptions was getting him nowhere, Dobey placed the call to Metro. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Huggy swallowed the huge lump in his throat and sat down next to Starsky.  He wasn’t answering fast enough for the frantic detective. “Huggy, did something happen to Hutch?  Why do you look like someone died?”  Starsky’s heart beat furiously.

 

“Oh, man,” Huggy said, shaking his head, “slow down, Starsky.  First, Hutch ain’t hurt.”  Huggy didn’t want to say that he was all right.  Hutch was as far from all right as he had been since he was told that Starsky would die all those months ago after Gunther.  Huggy wasn’t going to lie to Starsky, but he struggled to find the words to describe what had happened over the past two days.

 

“Starsk,” he said, a little too gently.

 

“TELL ME!” Starsky yelled at him.  The agitation made his head throb again and he closed his eyes against the pain and the sight of his friend’s wavering image.

 

“Okay, okay, but you just sit back and calm down, or I’m gonna have to take you to a doc.  You’re not looking too good.”

 

Starsky opened his eyes again and said, “What’s wrong with Hutch?  You said he isn’t hurt, but you didn’t say he’s all right.”

 

Huggy smiled wryly.  “You don’t miss much.  Should be a detective,” he joked.

 

“Huggy!” Starsky insisted.

 

Huggy nodded.  “You promise me you’re gonna sit there and listen until I’m done talkin’, amigo.  Agreed?”

 

“Agreed.  Start talking.”

 

“You got hit up there by the car show, huh?”

 

“Yeah.  I never made it to the car show.  I don’t remember what happened, though.  I just... I know I woke up in an alley behind the bar where I hustled pool to earn the money to come home.  I don’t remember much of anything between driving up there and waking up in that alley.”

 

“Oh.  Well, while you were gettin’ bonked on the head, and trying to remember what was scramblin’ around up there, we heard something.”

 

Suddenly, Starsky felt chilled.  “Huggy, where’s Hutch?”

 

“He’s in Santa Marta.  The captain’s with him.”

 

“Why?”

 

Huggy put a hand on Starsky’s arm and quietly said, “They think you’re dead, Curly.”

 

“They what?” Starsky asked, not much louder than a whisper. 

 

“We all did.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I don’t know what happened, but the medical examiner called from up there and told Dobey that they had you in the morgue.”

 

“I was missing for a couple of days, but I ain’t dead, for God’s sake.  How did they make such a huge mistake?  What did I supposedly die of?”

 

Huggy’s expressive eyes were filled with sadness and compassion.  “They said you killed yourself.”

 

Starsky looked stunned and his face was ashen. “Oh, my God. Hutch.”  He made a move to get up, but Huggy held him back.  “I have to go up there and find him.  Why don’t they know I’m not dead?  Huggy!”

 

“Look, you just stay put.  Something must’ve gone wrong.  Starsky, they even had a body.”

 

“Well, it wasn’t me!  Huggy, I have to find him.  He must be out of his mind!”

 

“If you go running off up the coast, you might miss him.  Just stay put.  Like I said, you don’t look good.  You need to rest.  I’ll call up there and see if I can reach them, if you promise to stay here.”

 

Starsky knew he was right.  He was exhausted, his head hurt, and now he was heartsick. 

“I can’t believe it.  Poor Hutch.”  Starsky really looked at his friend’s drawn, but now relieved features.  “Oh, Huggy, I’m so sorry.  You all must have been....”

 

“Blown away?”  Huggy provided. 

 

“Yeah.  God.  Hutch has to know I would never...  We both....  Aw, Huggy, we made a promise to each other a long time ago, when Terry died.”

 

Huggy remembered how bad it was for Starsky after Terry’s death.  He and Hutch were crazy with worry about him.  After a bad scare, Hutch made him promise that he’d never even consider suicide, but call his best friend if he ever felt that desperate.  Hutch promised to do the same... and they kept their word to each other.  The few times in the intervening years that either of them had felt despair, they’d turned to the other.  Huggy didn’t know about the promise.  That was something private between the partners.  After hearing what Starsky just said, he knew why Hutch had reacted so badly, beyond the raw grief he felt.

 

Starsky looked sick to his stomach when he asked the next question.  “Tell me they didn’t say I shot myself.”

 

Huggy couldn’t answer him.  He just nodded.

 

“How’d he act? Was he okay?”

 

“No, he wasn’t okay, what do you think?  He was crazy, man.  He tore out of here like if he ran fast enough it wouldn’t be true.  Showed up at the Dobeys’ a few hours later, right about the time the captain was gonna put out an APB on him.  He’s with Dobey now.  Try not to worry, the cap’n’ll keep him together.”

 

Starsky doubted that would be possible.  He knew exactly how he would have reacted in Hutch’s place and he was terrified.  “Oh, God.  He thinks I broke my promise.  Call.  Find out what the hell is going on up there, okay?”

 

“Right now. You rest.  I’m gonna go down and get you some soup or something.  Can I trust you to stay put, or do I have to find something to tie you up with?” Huggy tried to make it a joke, but Starsky knew his friend would do his best to hold him if necessary.

 

“No, I promise.  Just find Hutch, huh?”

 

Huggy was halfway to the door when a horrifying thought occurred to Starsky.  “Oh, God, Huggy!  Tell me they didn’t call my mother!”

 

Huggy smiled at him.  “At least I can give you good news there. Dobey wanted to tell Hutch first, and Blondie insisted he go and see you up there before they made the call.  I’m pretty sure nobody knows but us three, Edith... and you.”

 

“Thanks, Hug.”  That much was comforting.

 

Starsky settled back against the pillows. He kicked his shoes off and wiggled his way under the covers, trying to fight back the chill he felt.  His thoughts were haunted by what Hutch must have been going through since he’d been given the news.  He rubbed the scars on his chest, thinking about everything they’d been through together since Gunther.  He was worried about his best friend.  If Hutch thought Starsky put a bullet in his head without even calling him to say goodbye, he knew the man would be blaming himself.  Hutch would be playing every contact with Starsky over and over in his mind, searching for the clues he must have missed to his friend’s despondency.  “Oh, buddy, I’m all right,” Starsky said aloud, but softly.  “Please hold it together.  Please be okay.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Jack Hill was relieved to hear from Captain Dobey.  “Cap! Damn, I’m glad you called.  We got trouble,” he said, the tension obvious in his voice.

 

“Well, whatever it is, it’ll have to wait.  If it can’t, get Captain Reynolds to handle it.  I’ve got trouble up here, too, Jack.  I need you to run a record down for me.”

 

“But, Cap, this might involve Starsky.  You know where he is?  I can’t find him or his partner.”

 

Dobey answered, “Hutch is with me in Santa Marta.  What about Starsky?”

 

Jack explained about the woman who had called in a missing person report on her son.  “She said she found a stash of stuff about Starsky.”

 

“What’s her name, Jack?”

 

“Mrs. Roberta Langley.”

 

Dobey was quiet for a moment as the puzzle pieces began to slide together.  “Did you by any chance run a records search on the son?”

 

“Already done our homework, Cap.  Randall Peter Langley.  He’s been arrested a few times for disturbing the peace and for shoplifting.  Done a few stints in mental institutions.  He’s been clean the past four years.  Works at Memorial Hospital.”

 

“Good job.  I’m going to call the mother and ask her to come up here.  Will you and Sean go over and pick her up right away?  I’ll call you back as soon as I speak with her.”

 

“Pick her up?” Jack asked, curious as to what Dobey wanted.

 

“Yes.  We have a body up here that might be her son.  I’m going to call and explain it to her and I need you to bring her up here for an ID. She’ll know about it by the time you get there.”

 

“Sure, Cap.  Is Starsky all right?”  That was the one question Jack Hill most wanted answered.

 

“I wish I could say yes.  We just don’t know.”

 

Dobey hung up and called Roberta Langley.  She was home, waiting by the phone for any word on her son. 

 

“Mrs. Langley, can you please describe your son to me?”

 

“He does bear a resemblance to Detective Starsky.  I’ve seen the news articles, too.  Randy is not quite six feet tall, he has curly, dark brown hair, blue eyes, and he’s got olive skin.  He got that from his father.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.  Did he ever say anything to you that would make you believe he’d want to hurt Detective Starsky?”

 

“No, that’s the odd thing.  He talked about him constantly when he first was in the hospital.  Over time, he just stopped saying anything.”

 

“Mrs. Langley, I’m sorry to tell you that I may know where your son is.”

 

Captain Dobey went on to explain all that had happened, and he told her, as gently as he could, that Randy might be the man lying in the morgue who had been mistaken for David Starsky.  She agreed to come up there immediately, and she said she’d bring the box of items she’d found in Randy’s closet.  She hung up the phone and settled down to wait for Hill and Cavanaugh to come for her.  Captain Dobey was glad he’d have something to tell Hutch.  In another four or five hours, they would know who the dead man was.  Meanwhile, they could go through the town looking for additional clues.  Their next stop was to be the largest local hospital.  At least Dobey thought he could get Hutch’s hand looked at there, even if there was no sign of Starsky.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Huggy called the medical examiner’s office in Santa Marta and couldn’t get past the receptionist. He told her it was urgent that he get a message to Captain Dobey and, at first, she said she didn’t know anyone named Captain Dobey. He described both the captain and Hutch in minute detail and still she put him off. He was about ready to get rude with her when finally she said, “Wait a minute. Did they come for a David Starsky?”

 

“Yes!” Huggy almost shouted.

 

“They’ve been here several times, but they’re gone again,” she said.

 

“Several times?”

 

“The body was –” She paused. “Are you a member of the family?”

 

“Yes, I am,” Huggy said.

 

“Hold on. I’ll see if Dr. Goldwyn is available.”

 

Huggy waited impatiently, fuming. Finally another voice came on the line and he had to go through the whole rigmarole again. There was a long silence.

 

“It seems there’s been a mistake,” Goldwyn said at last. “The body we have is not David Starsky’s.”

 

“I know that!” Huggy said. “That’s why I gotta talk to Hutch! Starsky’s here! He ain’t dead!”

 

“Oh, dear,” Goldwyn said, sounding upset. “But I don’t know where they went.”

 

Huggy resisted the temptation to say one of the foul words that rose to his lips. “Look, can I leave a message? In case they call or come back? Please. They gotta be told that Starsky’s okay.”

 

“Yes, of course.” There was a pause, then Goldwyn said, “I’m ready.”

 

“Just tell ‘em to call Huggy. They know the number. Tell ‘em Starsky’s with me and he’s not dead and to call, okay? Can you do that for me?”

 

“Yes, I’ll do that.”

 

Goldwyn must be an idiot, Huggy thought. “Don’t you have any idea where they are?”

 

“I’m sorry, no,” Goldwyn said. “They did make a phone call before they left. Mr. Hutchinson told someone to ‘issue a missing officer report.’”

 

Huggy rolled his eyes and the movement showed him Starsky, standing at the head of the stairs, listening. “That was the cops he was callin’,” he said. “You got more than one precinct there?” When the only response was silence, Huggy said, “Look, just tell me the number, okay? I gotta find ‘em.”

 

There was a rustling sound and Goldwyn gave him a number, which he scribbled on the wall next to the phone. There was no time to go hunting for a piece of paper and what the hell did he pay a cleaning service for, anyway?

 

Once he had the number, he said a hasty “good-bye” and broke the connection. To Starsky, he called, “Get your ass back in that bed or I’ll come up and make ya, and it won’t be pretty.”

 

Starsky gave a weak grin and went back. Huggy shook his head in disgust and dialed the number.

 

“Santa Marta City Police.”

 

“I have to speak to Captain Harold Dobey of the Bay City PD,” Huggy said. “It’s urgent. He’s looking for a missing officer and he might be there making out a report.”

 

“Hold on.”

 

Huggy waited, even more impatiently, for what seemed like a very long time. Finally, she came back.

 

“I’m sorry, Captain Dobey already left.”

 

Huggy swore, silently. “Do you have any idea where he is? The officer he’s looking for is here in Bay City.”

 

“Officer Cameron is assisting in that investigation, but he’s off duty now.”

 

Starsky and Hutch, Huggy reflected, were never so “off duty” that they couldn’t be reached in an emergency. “Can you please take a message? Call Officer Cameron and ask him if he knows where they went? This is an emergency. They think Starsky’s dead!”

 

“Your name?”

 

“Huggy Bear,” he said.

 

There was a long pause. “Huggy Bear,” she said at last, and he heard a pen scratching. “Number where you can be reached, Mr. Bear?”

 

He gave her the number.

 

“I’ll give the message to Officer Cameron,” she said.

 

“Thank you,” Huggy said. He hung up and never knew that the desk sergeant on the other end of the line shook her head, re-reading the name “Huggy Bear,” and then crumpled up the message and threw it away, believing it was a prank call.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dobey pulled up in the parking lot of the hospital and he and Hutch got out. The captain deliberately steered his detective right through the emergency room doors and stopped at the desk. “This man is injured,” he said to the nurse.

 

Hutch started to splutter. “Hey, wait just a damned minute –”

 

“Hutchinson,” Dobey said evenly, glaring at him, “this is an order, so pay attention. You are going to get that hand cared for properly. I am going to do the investigating while they do that. Understood? I used to be a detective, you know.”

 

Hutch opened his mouth, looked into his captain’s eyes, and closed it again. “Yes, sir,” he said sullenly.

 

“Good.” Dobey pointed at the waiting area. “I’ll expect to find you there when I come back. If you’re not there, you’d better be in there,” he waved his hand toward the treatment area, “because if you’re not, I’m writing you up. Got that?”

 

Hutch nodded. He knew when to stop arguing.

 

Dobey went to admitting and records and pulled his badge from his pocket. “I’m looking for a missing man,” he told the nurse at the desk. “I don’t know what kind of condition he might have arrived in, and I don’t know for a fact that he even came here. But have you had any John Does come in since Friday?”

 

She examined his badge closely before answering. “I don’t know. I was off all weekend. Let me try the computer records.”

 

It took a long time, and Dobey found himself praying that the answer would be “no.” Because if it was “yes,” it probably meant that Starsky was dead. If not dead, completely incapacitated.  He’d never lie in a strange hospital for two or three days and let Hutch worry about him if he was able to call.  This was the only area hospital with a trauma unit.  If Starsky had been severely injured, he’d have been brought here.

 

“We have two John Does,” the nurse said at last. “Both DOA.”

 

Dobey took a long, unsteady breath. “Description?”

 

The nurse peered at the screen. “The first one is a black male in his 50s.”

 

“That’s not him,” Dobey said with relief. “And the other one?”

 

“White male in his 30s.” She stopped and raised her eyes to look up at him. “Um, he was drowned. Hard to give a closer description than that. No ID.”

 

Dobey closed his eyes. “Damn. Can I see him?”

 

“He’s in the morgue.” She indicated the elevator. “Lower level. I’ll call and tell them you’re coming.”

 

Dobey nodded and moved toward the elevator. No point in saying anything to Hutch until he’d seen the body.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“They know the body wasn’t you,” Huggy said, depositing a bowl of soup and a pot of coffee on a table at the side of the bed. “They put out a missing officer and some cop in Santa Marta is helpin’ ‘em look for ya.”

 

“But they don’t know I’m not dead?” Starsky shook his head and tried to force some soup down. His stomach didn’t know whether to be grateful or reject the food. He doggedly kept eating. He hadn’t had anything decent to eat for a couple of days.

 

“Not as far as I know.” Huggy lit a cigarette and settled into a chair.

 

“Thought you quit.”

 

“I started again,” Huggy said. “Besides, I only quit for a couple of days. Damn near went crazy wantin’ one.”

 

Starsky grinned.

 

“I left a message for the cop that’s helpin’ them,” Huggy said. “Cameron, they said his name is. But he’s off duty and I guess that means he can’t be ‘disturbed.’” He rolled his eyes.

 

Starsky stopped eating and stared at him. “What? He’s supposed to be helpin’ on a missing and presumed dead officer, and he goes off duty and can’t be reached? What the hell is THAT?”

 

Huggy shrugged. “Not everybody’s as dedicated as you two.”

 

“Shit.” Starsky shook his head and went back to the soup. Once he got past the first few bites, he realized how hungry he was, and it wasn’t long before the soup was gone.

 

“Want more?”

 

“No, better not,” Starsky said, leaning back against the pillows. “Not for a while, anyway. I wanna keep it down.”

 

“Nobody knows where they went,” Huggy said. “Where would they go? Where would you go?”

 

Starsky frowned. “They’re not at the medical examiner’s and not at the station. Hospitals? Maybe they went to a hospital.”

 

“Ain’t gonna be easy trackin’ ‘em down at one of them,” Huggy observed. “Not like they gotta check in or anything.”

 

“No, but it’s worth a try,” Starsky insisted.

 

“Okay, okay, I’ll try.” Huggy sighed. “You sure are demanding.”

 

Starsky shrugged. “Be glad it ain’t Hutch layin’ here.”

 

Huggy chuckled. “You’re right. You’re demanding, but he’d be bouncin’ off the walls. Sure you don’t want some more soup?”

 

Starsky glanced at the empty bowl. “Well....”

 

“That’s what I thought. Back in a flash.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch fumed and winced in turns as the doctor dressed and bandaged his hand. A couple of the cuts were getting infected already because he hadn’t taken care of them properly, so he also had to have a shot. He was not happy.

 

“Keep it dry,” the doctor instructed him. “Don’t use it for at least a week. Your own doctor can take the stitches out then.”

 

Gee, thanks, Hutch wanted to say, but he simply nodded. He slid off the table, accepted the printed instructions the nurse gave him, and went back out to the waiting room. No sign of Dobey yet. He sank down in a chair, wincing again when his sore backside came in contact with the hard plastic seat, and reached for a magazine. He hardly noticed what he was looking at.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“What a shame,” the morgue attendant said to Dobey. “Such a young man, too. We’re sending him over to the medical examiner’s in an hour. You just barely got here in time.”  Dobey fidgeted, waiting, while the attendant wheeled the body out. He braced himself.

 

“It isn’t pretty,” the attendant warned cheerfully. “Drownings never are.” He pulled the sheet back.

 

The bloated body was almost unrecognizable as human. There was no way to be absolutely certain of the man’s age or physical condition. But he had red hair. That, at least, had not been altered by his death. “It’s not him,” Dobey said, dizzy with relief. “Thank God.”

 

“You’re looking for somebody you know, then?” The attendant pulled the sheet back over the face.

 

“Yes,” Dobey said, turning to go.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The captain was gone for a long time.  Hutch was sitting disconsolately in a chair, a magazine open on his lap, staring into space, when Dobey came back. “He’s not here,” Dobey said as soon as Hutch looked up. “Two John Does, but neither one’s him.”

 

“Then let’s go back to Goldwyn’s office,” Hutch said. “It must be almost time for Mrs. Langley to arrive.”

 

Dobey nodded and led the way out to the car.

 

No one was in the outer office by the time they reached the medical examiner’s office. Dobey saw a bell on the counter and struck it three times before anyone came. “Can I help you?” asked the young woman who came in from the back wearing a lab coat.

 

“I’m Dobey. Where’s Goldwyn?”

 

She looked slightly puzzled. “He’s been called to a multiple-car accident on the highway. He’ll probably head home from there. Business hours are over.”

 

“Look,” Hutch said evenly, with a slight tremor in his voice from strain and anger, “we’ve danced all around the ballroom already over a body you got back there that Goldwyn told us was my best friend! Only it’s NOT my best friend, and we’re meeting somebody here any minute who might be able to identify that body. We are not going anywhere, you got that?”

 

“Hutchinson,” Dobey warned. “Watch your tone of voice.”

 

Hutch threw both hands in the air in a gesture of frustration and turned his back to regain his composure.

 

Dobey gave the young woman his best smile and explained, much more calmly than Hutch had, what they’d already been through. Her puzzlement changed to sympathy.

 

“Oh, brother. No wonder you guys look whipped,” she said. “Here, have a seat and I’ll get that body out for the lady to look at. Just holler when she gets here and maybe we can get this cleared up.”

 

Dobey thanked her and firmly steered Hutch to a chair. “Sit your ass down,” he ordered. “I don’t know why Starsky puts – put – up with you.”

 

“Me, either,” Hutch said, very softly.

 

Dobey cursed himself – again – for not watching his words more carefully. They sat in uncomfortable silence until they heard a car pull up outside. Hutch shot to his feet and recognized Sean’s car.

 

“They’re here.”

 

Sean Cavanaugh and Jack Hill came in with a woman who was pale but otherwise composed. After introductions were completed, Dobey called the assistant from the back room.

 

“Does he look very bad?” Mrs. Langley asked, her voice trembling slightly.

 

“He shot himself with a 9mm pistol,” Hutch said gently, putting his hand on her arm. “The shot was clean, but there is an obvious wound.”

 

She nodded, took a deep breath and wet her lips. “As long as I know what to expect,” she said quietly.

 

Dobey stood back and let Hutch and Mrs. Langley go first. He knew he wouldn’t have to scold Hutch any more for a while. The White Knight always came out when a victim needed a gentle touch, and Hutch excelled at sympathy and kindness in these situations.

 

The assistant waited until Mrs. Langley nodded that she was ready, then pulled back the sheet. Mrs. Langley looked down at the body. She made no sound, but her eyes filled with tears, which spilled over and flowed down her cheeks. Hutch put his arm around her shoulders.

 

“That’s Randy,” she said unsteadily after a few moments. “Oh, God, my poor baby.”

 

Hutch gave the high sign to the attendant, who nodded and replaced the sheet. “I’ll get the paperwork,” she said.

 

After Mrs. Langley had filled out the forms and signed them, she turned to Hutch. “I brought the box of things I found in Randy’s room,” she said. “I think you should look at them. They might help you find your friend.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

When a couple of hours had passed and Dobey still had not called, Starsky lost the ability to be patient.

 

“I’m going back,” he told Huggy, reaching for his Adidas and starting to put them on. “You and I both know Hutch is goin’ nuts and for all we know, the slime that got to me might be gunnin’ for him, too.”

 

“Starsky –”

 

“I’m going,” Starsky said with that cold, even tone that Huggy recognized meant arguing wouldn’t do any good. “I’ll need to borrow your car. I don’t know what happened to mine.”

 

“It’s probably in the Santa Marta impound lot,” Huggy said. “But you ain’t drivin’, brother. I’m coming with you. I’ll drive.”

 

Starsky softened and gave him a grateful smile. Truth be told, he still felt pretty woozy and knew he wouldn’t be safe behind the wheel.

 

“I don’t even know where to start lookin’,” Huggy grumbled. “I hope you got some kinda homing instinct, Starsk.”

 

“We’ll find him,” Starsky said.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Mrs. Langley brought the box inside from Sean’s car and gave it to Hutch. He sat down and started going through it. First, he found all the newspaper clippings and she explained that Randy had seemed unnaturally fascinated by the Gunther case.

 

“He’s always been interested in crime,” she said. “I mean, in following crimes in the paper, watching police shows, that kind of thing.”

 

Hutch nodded without speaking, sorting through the rest of the items. His jaw tightened when he looked at the snapshots. He realized, as Mrs. Langley had, that Randy must have been stalking his partner. Hutch cursed himself for not noticing, forgetting that his attention had been consumed by his fear for Starsky and his search for Gunther.

 

At the bottom of the box, he found a spiral-bound notebook.

 

“That’s apparently a diary,” Mrs. Langley said. “I only read part of it before I called the station. I’m afraid ... I think Randy had completely lost touch with reality.”

 

Hutch opened it, forcing his hands to remain steady. The first few pages weren’t so bad. Randy had written about the Gunther case, had called Gunther some of the same things Hutch had called Gunther and had sworn that if the man was ever so unfortunate as to wind up at the hospital where Randy worked, Randy would see to it he didn’t leave alive. Hutch sympathized with the emotion. Arresting Gunther and not killing him in the process had been one of the most difficult things he’d ever had to do.

 

But the writing got more erratic after that. Randy began to refer to himself as “Starsky.” He began to threaten to “get rid” of the “imposter” who was posing as Starsky.

 

The next-to-last entry made Hutch’s blood run cold.

 

This has gone on long enough. The imposter cannot be allowed to continue to live my life. At first, I was willing to let him have his delusion for a time. I’m not willing any longer.

 

He’s going to a car show in Santa Marta this weekend. I’m going to follow him and end this once and for all. I’m going to take my identity back. The imposter won’t be coming back to Bay City. I will.

 

“Jesus,” Hutch whispered without realizing he’d spoken aloud. “This son of a bitch killed my partner!”

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Can’t you go any faster?” Starsky demanded.

 

“Not without gettin’ a ticket, hotshot,” Huggy retorted. “You got a badge, but I don’t.”

 

“I don’t have a badge at the moment, “ Starsky said with a sigh and leaned back, trying to be patient. It was becoming increasingly difficult.

 

At last, they entered the Santa Marta city limits. Starsky made Huggy stop at the first gas station to ask directions to the medical examiner’s office.

 

“They’ll be closed by now,” the clerk said, gesturing to the clock on the wall.

 

“Somebody’s gotta be there,” Starsky said. “Or we’ll go to the police station if we can’t find ‘em there. Come ON, Hug.”

 

Huggy sighed and followed Starsky back outside.

 

It wasn’t far to the medical examiner’s office and when he pulled up in the parking lot, Starsky made a strangled sound. “That’s Cavanaugh’s car!” he hissed, pointing at the dark green sedan. Huggy barely had time to stop before Starsky was out of the car and running for the door. Huggy scrambled out and followed him.  Neither of them noticed Dobey’s car as they rushed inside the building.

 

When Starsky burst through the door, everyone in the outer office raised their heads at the sound. Hutch had just risen to lead Mrs. Langley out to the car and when he saw Starsky, all the color drained from his face. The box he was still holding fell from his suddenly nerveless hands, and he whispered, “Starsky?” just as he pitched forward and fell, out cold, to the floor at Starsky’s feet.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky wasn’t able to break Hutch’s fall.  He dropped to the floor, pushed away the spilled box and its contents, and gently turned Hutch over, putting his head in his lap.  He patted Hutch on the cheek and called his name as he reached for a handkerchief to press against the quickly bruising gash on Hutch’s forehead. 

 

The other three Bay City cops were calling Starsky’s name and trying to get his attention, but all of Starsky’s focus was on his unconscious partner. 

 

Sean said, “Maybe we should call an ambulance.”

 

“Hutch?  Please wake up, buddy,” Starsky pleaded, ignoring Sean’s remark.

 

“He’s probably just fainted,” Dobey offered.  He thought that the strain of everything that had happened must have overwhelmed Hutch.  He looked at the assistant, who had come into the room when she heard the commotion.  She nodded and disappeared into the other room, quickly returning with a small item, which she handed to the captain.

 

Dobey stood next to Starsky and put his hand on his shoulder, gently pushing against it until the frantic blue eyes looked up into his.  “He looks terrible, Cap,” Starsky muttered.

 

“Of course he does,” Dobey stated, “you’ve been dead for the past few days.  Here.”  He handed some smelling salts to Starsky and patted him on the shoulder. His gentle smile was meant to convey calm.

 

Starsky broke open the smelling salts and waved them under Hutch’s nose.  He was thankful when Hutch responded by turning his head and moaning, as he raised his arms to bat away whatever was producing the pungent aroma.  His eyes opened and focused on his partner’s worried face.

 

“Good morning,” Starsky said with a smile that didn’t hide his concern.

 

Hutch just stared at him for a few moments, his lips silently forming Starsky’s name.  He finally managed to squeak out, “How?”

 

“Everything’s all right, babe.  I’ll tell you all about it,” Starsky said as he took note of Hutch’s racing heart rate by placing one hand where he could feel the pulse.  Hutch tried to sit up, but Starsky pushed him down again, soothingly telling him to, “Take it slow.”

 

“Are you all right, Starsky?” Dobey asked.

 

Starsky nodded, but didn’t notice Dobey’s eyes dart to Huggy, who was silently shaking his head to indicate that Starsky was not fine.  Dobey nodded

 

Jack had eased Mrs. Langley into a chair.  She was seated with her head in her hands, quietly crying and repeatedly saying, “Thank God.”  Although she could see from Starsky’s pale, shaky appearance that he wasn’t unharmed, she was indescribably grateful that her son hadn’t killed the detective.  She looked up at Jack and said, “I’m so glad he’s alive.  It doesn’t bring Randy back, but at least he didn’t kill anyone.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Jack said.  “Would you like us to take you home, now?”

 

“Please.”

 

Jack helped her to her feet.  Sean saw his partner rise.  “Cap,” he said, “if you don’t need us right now, we’re gonna take Mrs. Langley home.” 

 

“Go ahead.”

 

Sean said, “Starsky, I’m glad you’re okay.  We’ll call later and see how everything is.”  Starsky looked up at him and at Jack, who smiled reassuringly as he passed on the way out with Randy’s mother. 

 

“Let’s see if we can get you up,” Dobey said, putting a hand out to Hutch.  “Easy.”  He and Starsky helped Hutch sit up, and Huggy brought him a cup of water from the cooler in the corner.  Hutch’s hands were shaking so badly, Starsky had to steady them.  Hutch turned around, dropping the empty cup to the floor and grabbed Starsky in a tight hug that didn’t stop his trembling. 

 

“I think he needs to be looked at,” Starsky said to Dobey.

 

“Me?” Hutch spluttered, letting go and pushing back, still holding onto Starsky’s arms. “Me?” he repeated.  “Where have you been?”  He took an assessing look at his partner, unhappy with what he saw. 

 

Starsky laughed and shook his head.  “That’s kind of a long story.”

 

“I’m all ears,” Hutch said, pinning him with a determined stare.  “Are you hurt?” He ran his hands down Starsky’s arms and then reached up with his bandaged hand to touch Starsky’s hair.

 

Starsky said, “No,” just as Huggy said, “Yes.”

 

Captain Dobey made the decision.  “Huggy, I’m gonna go get my car.  Think you can keep these two out of trouble long enough to get them outside?”

 

“Sure can,” Huggy replied.  Dobey walked out and Huggy helped Starsky with getting Hutch to his feet. 

 

As they walked outside, Starsky asked, “Is the Torino okay?”

 

“It’s fine,” Hutch said.  Huggy and Starsky had to make sure Hutch didn’t trip.  Not only was he unsteady on his feet, he wasn’t watching where he was going.  He was too busy watching Starsky. 

 

They helped Hutch into the back seat of Dobey’s car and Hutch practically dragged Starsky in to sit next to him.  Huggy hopped in the front, and the captain took off for the hospital where they’d looked for Starsky.  Hutch didn’t know where to start asking questions.  He sat staring at Starsky, afraid he’d lose it if he asked too much, afraid the man in question would disappear if he looked away from him.  The two men in the front seat knew better than to ask too many questions just yet.  They looked at each other and nodded, each one understanding that explanations could wait.

 

When they reached the hospital, both detectives were taken back to the treatment area.  As they waited for a doctor, Starsky tried to engage Hutch in conversation, but he wasn’t interested in talking.  He was only interested in looking.  Starsky sat on a round rolling stool, trying to stay still enough to keep his nausea at bay.  Hutch paced in silence, never taking his eyes off his partner.

 

After they’d waited awhile, a doctor walked in and said, “I’m Dr. Carroll.”  He had a thick Texas accent, noticeably out of place in California.  He continued, “I spoke with your captain, Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson.  Seems to be some confusion as to which one of you is my patient.” 

 

The doctor was curious as to what they’d say.  The man looked to be in his middle sixties, with hair that was more salt than pepper and pale blue eyes that held a clear spark of interest in the two men he was greeting. 

 

Starsky opened his mouth to speak, but Hutch beat him to it.  “He is, Doc.”

 

“What?” Starsky exclaimed, rising and stepping up to get in Hutch’s space.  “I’m not the one who passed out, you did that.  Doc, this is your patient.”  He pointed at the goose egg on Hutch’s forehead.

 

“I’m not the one who’s been dead for three days,” Hutch argued back.

 

“But I wasn’t dead,” Starsky continued, “and you....”

 

The doctor shook his head and put both hands up to stop the discussion.  “That’s enough, boys.  I’ll settle this in a hot minute.  You,” he said pointing at Starsky, “sit up on that examining table.  I’ll get to you directly.”

 

“But, Doc,” Starsky started to argue, but he stopped at a glare from both his partner and the doctor. 

 

After Starsky complied, the doctor said, “Passed out, huh?” to Hutch.  He took a look at the knot on Hutch’s head and ordered him to sit in the plastic chair.

 

“I’m fine, Doctor, really.”

 

The doctor was ignoring him, taking his pulse and blood pressure.  “Fine, hm.  I saw you pacing ‘round in here, young man.  You’re more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory.”  He continued his exam by shining a light in both of Hutch’s eyes in succession, registering the snickering coming from the man on the examining table behind him. 

 

“You might not think this is so funny when it’s your turn,” Carroll said without turning. Hutch chuckled.  He was careful to keep it under control.  The man was on the edge, with anger, relief, and hysteria arguing for a purchase in his nearly fractured psyche. 

 

The doctor sensed that Hutch was a man close to imploding from the competing emotions just beneath the surface.  His brief discussion with Captain Dobey had given him some information with which to approach the situation.  At first, the admitting nurse had refused to allow the conversation.  She was already annoyed that neither detective would tell her who was there to be seen, nor would they allow themselves to be separated.  Dr. Carroll had walked over to them when the conversation appeared to be getting warmer than he liked in his emergency room.  Fortunately, they were in a slow period.  He instructed the nurse to humor the two men while he spoke with their superior. 

 

Starsky strained to hear as the doctor spoke quietly to his partner, but he couldn’t quite make out what was being said.  “Your captain told me what’s been happening this past few days.  I also had them pull your chart.  How’s the hand?”  The doctor picked up the injured hand and pulled the bandage off for a look.

 

Hutch had forgotten about his cut hand.  “It’s all right, Doc.  Really, I just want you to look him over, okay?  He’s been through something this past few days and I don’t know what.  I... can’t talk to him about it.  Not yet.”

 

“All right, Detective.  You look okay.  Just a bump, but I’m going to have one of the other doctors check it out while I look at your partner.  I’m also going to order a blood sugar test, and I want you to eat something and have some juice after that.”  Hutch started to object, but the doctor threatened him with an IV, so he agreed.  “Wise choice.  Now, I’m going to send you back to another treatment area.”

 

Hutch put a hand on the doctor’s arm and said, “Please, Doc, can’t you do it in here?”

 

Captain Dobey had explained as much of the situation as he could.  The doctor knew there were things he needed to ask Starsky about that the distraught blond looking at him so intensely wasn’t ready to hear.  He shook his head.  “I’ll take good care of him, I promise.”  He put his head out the door and called for one of the nurses.  “Please take Detective Hutchinson back to Treatment Three and ask Dr. Rivera to take care of cleaning and bandaging this cut.”  He scribbled some additional instructions and handed the note to the nurse to give to the other physician.

 

“Yes, Doctor,” she answered. 

 

The doctor helped Hutch to his feet and whispered, “He’ll be right here when you’re all done.”  Hutch nodded at him.

 

“I’ll be back in a while, Starsk,” he said, waiting for a nod of acceptance from his partner. 

 

After they left, the doctor sat down and started to talk to Starsky.  “So, you got knocked on the head pretty hard.”

 

Starsky nodded, and added, “Is he really okay, Doc?”

 

“He’ll be fine.  He seems a little edgy.  I thought it might be better if we talked about you without him here.  Do you know how long you were out?”

 

“No.  A long time, I think.  Probably somewhere between eight and twelve hours.”

 

“How’s your vision?” Carroll asked as he gave Starsky the pen light exam.

 

“Pretty much back to normal.  Sometimes things look a little fuzzy.”

 

“Um-hm.” 

 

The doctor made some notes – while muttering something Starsky couldn’t quite make out about a cow and an open barn door.  He asked Starsky to show him where he’d been hit.  They talked about what had happened.  The doctor wasn’t pleased to hear that his patient couldn’t remember who he was for a couple of days and he’d been sleeping on an untreated head injury.  In addition to the neurological exam, the doctor carefully checked Starsky for the possibility that he’d suffered any additional damage to his recently healed body. 

 

“Other than the sick stomach, which I’d say is related to the head injury, I think you’re all right.  I reckon if that knock on the head hasn’t killed you yet, it won’t... but if you were any luckier, you’d be twins.”

 

Starsky laughed.  “Where are you from, Doc?” he asked.

 

“I’m from East Texas.  Now, let’s see about getting some pictures of that thick skull of yours.”

 

A few hours later, both detectives were discharged with medications, instructions, and orders for follow up visits with their Bay City physicians.  While they were being treated, Dobey and Huggy had taken care of picking up the Torino.  They were hoping that one of the two injured men would be cleared to drive, and fortunately, Hutch was.  After some rest and food, the doctor decided he would be all right to drive home, but not Starsky.  He would have to wait another week to be rechecked in Bay City.  Dr. Carroll wanted to be certain his nausea was gone, that he wasn’t suffering from any more dizzy spells, and that his vision was completely back to normal before he got behind the wheel or returned to work.  He’d laughed when the sullen detective declared that “Terrific,” in a tone of voice that meant it was anything but.

 

“Now that we’re sure a nap won’t kill you, see that you get one,” he told Starsky as he shook hands with him. 

 

“He will,” Hutch promised from behind him.  He would make sure of it.

 

As they walked out of the emergency room, Starsky noticed the swelling on the lower left side of Dobey’s face.  Earlier, in the rush to get to the hospital, he hadn’t noticed it.  “Hey, Cap,” he said as he pointed, “what’s with the lump?”

 

Dobey put a hand up and touched his swollen face.  He looked over at Hutch with a twinkle in his eye and a barely noticeable smile.  “Oh, it’s nothing.  I walked into a door.”

 

Starsky saw that look.  “A door, huh?  Hm.”  He let it drop.

 

As much as he wanted to hear everything that had happened to his best friend, Hutch didn’t trust his barely maintained sense of equilibrium to discuss it on the road. 

 

Before they took off down the coast, Starsky asked about the hotel.  He finally remembered which one he’d stayed in and he wanted to get his bag and make sure the bill was squared away with the manager. 

 

“Dobey did that already, Starsk.  We took care of it the first night.  I think they put your things in the trunk.”

 

The three vehicles made an odd convoy heading down the coast.  Neither Dobey nor Huggy were willing to trust Hutch on the road without an escort after all he’d been through.  As they drove along at the pace Dobey set as lead car, Huggy was singing to some tunes in his Cadillac and the captain was listening to various radio talk shows.  The inside of the Torino remained silent.  Starsky was having a hard time sleeping, knowing his partner was in serious emotional pain.  He could feel it flowing away from Hutch in electrically charged waves. 

 

“You want to talk about it?” he asked after the first hour on the road.

 

Hutch sighed and shook his head.  He reached over and squeezed Starsky’s shoulder.  “Not now, Gordo.  I just want to drive.  We’ll talk at home.”

 

Oh, boy.  He’s in bad shape.  Starsky knew how he’d be feeling if their positions were reversed.  Hutch had just received the worst shock of his life.  Worse than Gunther.  This time, he’d been told his best friend was dead by his own hand.  After the months of fear, worry, therapy, and recovery from the shooting, Hutch’s nerves were at their limit.  The point of Starsky’s trip had partially been to help his partner let go a little... begin to relax.  Yep, this was relaxing for him.  Starsky remembered what the doctor had told him about being lucky.  He might be lucky from the standpoint of survival, but he and his partner were decidedly unlucky in the personal safety department. 

 

Hutch decided that Starsky would be most comfortable in his own place.  Dobey and Huggy made sure they got there safely, and then waved as they drove off toward their respective homes.  The exhausted partners trudged up to the apartment.

 

Starsky crashed on the couch, listening as his partner prepared something for them to eat.  He caught sight of Hutch as he paced in and out of the kitchen.  Closing his eyes, he imagined that Hutch was like a teakettle, his emotions boiling up a good head of steam.  He didn’t have to wait long for the whistle.

 

Hutch set two sandwiches and two bottles of soda on the coffee table.  He got Starsky’s medications out, the habit from months of caring for his wounded partner still with him.

 

“Don’t forget yours, Blintz,” Starsky said, almost hoping the comment would bring about the impending explosion.  He wasn’t disappointed.   Five, four, three, two, one....

 

“WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU?” Hutch shouted at him. Starsky winced a little at the decibel level, but he was relieved the kettle was singing loudly.  He knew Hutch needed to explode before the weight of everything brought him down again.

 

“Hutch....”

 

“I swear to God, Starsky!” Hutch yelled, pacing back and forth in front of the French doors.  He spun around and pointed his finger at Starsky, jabbing it in the air.  “You scared the SHIT out of me!  Why the hell didn’t you call?”

 

Starsky had hoped Dr. Carroll would explain some things to Hutch, but he could see the man hadn’t.  He took a deep, steadying breath as he thought about how to explain everything to Hutch without making it worse.  That was the last thing he needed.  The only way forward was through the truth.  They didn’t lie to each other.  Hutch wasn’t going to like it, but he had to know.

 

“I didn’t know I should call you,” Starsky said, keeping a wary eye on the furious man now staring at him with his jaw dropped.

 

“Y-you didn’t know?” Hutch said.  “What the hell does that mean?”

 

“Hutch, please sit down and I’ll tell you everything.”

 

“I think I’d better stand up for this, buddy,” Hutch said, exercising as much self-restraint as he could at the moment.

 

“I mean it.  You’d better sit.”

 

Seeing the look on Starsky’s face, he crossed over and sat on the other end of the couch, after Starsky pulled his feet up and patted the cushion.

 

“Just let me talk, Blondie.”  He waited to see that Hutch accepted that, and then continued.  “I went to a bar in Santa Marta and played some pool and apparently won some money –”

 

“Apparently?” Hutch narrowed his eyes.

 

“Let me finish,” Starsky pleaded, and Hutch bit his lip and nodded. “I don’t remember everything that happened that night. The next thing I remember is waking up in the alley behind the bar the next morning and not even knowing my own name.”

 

Hutch’s eyes widened, but though it was obvious he wanted to say something, he didn’t.

 

“My badge, my wallet, my gun, everything was gone,” Starsky said. “I didn’t know who I was or how I’d gotten there. A girl came outta the bar to dump garbage in the dumpster I was hangin’ onto and took me inside and they called me ‘David.’ I recognized that as my name but I couldn’t remember the rest, and they were teasing me about having beat their best pool player the night before. Best I could figure, I was a hustler, and since I only had the forty bucks I’d won the night before, and I kept thinkin’ about Bay City, I thought maybe if I came back here I’d remember the rest.”

 

Hutch’s anger had melted into concern as Starsky talked and now he began to look worried. He still didn’t speak, allowing Starsky to tell his story in his own way, but he did reach forward and lay a hand on Starsky’s leg.

 

“So I hung around that night and managed to win a couple o’hundred bucks, enough to –”

 

“Two hundred dollars?” Hutch exploded.

 

Starsky gave a grin. “Yeah. Still got some, too. So I bought a bus ticket to Bay City and when I got here, I just started walkin’. Downtown looked familiar and I just followed my nose and somehow found my way to The Pits. I was gonna do some hustlin’ in there, but Huggy recognized me and he called me ‘Starsky’ and it all came back.”

 

“You didn’t know your own name for two days?” Hutch stared at him.

 

Starsky nodded. “It was scary, buddy. That’s why I didn’t call. I didn’t remember you, either. I didn’t remember anything. I only knew I was ‘David’ ‘cause that bar owner in Santa Marta called me ‘David’ and it felt right and I needed something to hang onto that felt right.”

 

Hutch swallowed. He couldn’t imagine how awful that must have been.

 

“I’m sorry,” Starsky said softly. “I went off to that car show so you could have some free time, without worryin’ about me, and I just made it a hundred times worse, didn’t I?”

 

“We thought you were dead!” Hutch let go of Starsky’s leg and turned so he wasn’t directly facing his partner. “The medical examiner called and said he had your body in his cooler and you’d had all your ID on you and some girl had given a statement telling the cops everything you’d said leading up to shooting yourself!”

 

“It wasn’t me,” Starsky said, not realizing until the words were out how silly they sounded. “It was that Randy guy –”

 

“I know that!” Hutch snapped, sounding angry but really just coming down from all the tension of the last few days. “We went up there to claim your body. And some moron had sent the body off to a funeral home in Monterey, but by the time we got there, THEY’D sent it back –”

 

Aw, shit, Starsky thought, seeing the lines of tension around Hutch’s eyes and realizing what he must have been through. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, but Hutch wasn’t finished.

 

“I spent the whole weekend asking myself how I could have missed the signs that you were that far gone, that you’d want to shoot yourself,” Hutch said, his voice beginning to shake. “I thought you were feeling pretty good. Then, I was scared that you offed yourself because my overprotectiveness made you feel like you’d never be a hundred percent again.  I...  I thought I’d have known somehow if something was wrong. I –”

 

Starsky saw the breakdown coming and scooted closer just in time. He pulled Hutch to him in a one-armed hug. “Before you get there,” he said quietly, “know this: I am fine. I’m not depressed. I would never kill myself. We got a deal, remember? I wouldn’t do that to ya. You would know if something was that wrong, because you can read me like a book. Aw, buddy,” he rested his cheek against the top of Hutch’s head and felt the trembling as Hutch fought to regain control, “I’m so sorry.”

 

Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky’s waist and held on in silence for a few minutes until he could trust his voice. Finally, he said, “I just couldn’t believe you’d have been able to fool me.  I couldn’t believe you broke your promise.”

 

“I didn’t break my promise and I didn’t fool you,” Starsky said. “But you did believe it, enough so you thought it was me, didn’t you?”

 

“I should have known better,” Hutch admitted. “But they had your badge and your wallet –” He pulled away to sit up, but not too far away, and met Starsky’s eyes. “I don’t think we ought to go on any trips alone. We always get into trouble.”

 

Starsky grinned. “Okay. But we gotta take turns pickin’ the places. I ain’t spending every weekend in Mosquito Canyon.”

 

“And I’m not going to every hot rod show in southern California,” Hutch retorted.

 

“Deal.” Starsky solemnly offered his hand, eyes dancing, and Hutch shook it.

 

Hutch had forgotten about Starsky’s rings.  He slid them off his finger and handed them to his partner.  “I’ll feel better when you put these back on,” he said.  Starsky accepted them and put them on his pinky.  He saw a look on Hutch’s face that seemed to seal the return to normalcy between them.  Hutch’s next statement proved it.

 

“And if you ever kill yourself again,” Hutch went on, fixing his partner with a very stern look, “I will hunt you down and make you wish you really were dead.”

 

Starsky burst out laughing.

 

The End

 

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