Starsky hated roll call.
Roll call was one of the reasons he had been so glad to move to Homicide. There was no roll call in Homicide. Everyone arrived on shift at a slightly different time, early or late depending on their caseload and how late they'd had to stay the day before. It was rare that the whole squad was in one place at the same time. Roll call was only for special occasions.
Apparently this was a special occasion.
The entire division had been ordered to attend roll call this morning, so now Starsky found himself listening to the Desk Sergeant drone on endlessly about stolen cars and liquor store robberies and all the things that had been his bread and butter as a beat cop. He didn't miss those days.
The Sergeant finished, and still there had been nothing that warranted the whole division's being here. He looked around, making eye contact with Dobey. Starsky asked a question with his eyes. Dobey merely frowned. Sighing, Starsky settled back into place, making himself as comfortable as he could squashed into a corner of the room. He looked around the room, taking in the sight of uniforms and detectives alike shifting uncomfortably, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It didn't take long.
The Colonel himself was taking the podium, a severe look marring his already severe face. Starsky quickly roused himself from the boredom he had been falling into. Something told him that this wasn't going to be good.
"I know you're all wondering why you've all been asked to attend roll call today." No kidding, Starsky thought to himself, amazed as ever at the people who got promoted to the top brass. "We have a situation and we want everyone's help in solving it as soon as possible."
"One of our detectives in Vice, Ken Hutchinson, has gone missing. It appears he has been kidnapped."
Starsky paid definite attention now. A missing cop was bad. Really bad.
"Hutchinson had been off duty for two days and failed to appear on his next shift. A black and white was sent to his home and found signs of a struggle. The detective's gun was lying in the living room, with the safety off, though it hadn't been fired. His car was missing."
"We're asking all officers to keep an eye out for Detective Hutchinson. Check with your informants. We will also be setting up a special investigation task force to handle this case. All units will be supplying manpower for the task force. You can volunteer through your captain."
"As you're leaving, we're going to hand out an information circular on the missing detective. Please study it."
With no further discussion, the Colonel left the room.
Starsky let out a low whistle. Definitely bad. Especially since it seemed like no one knew exactly what had happened. Cops got shot. They got stabbed. They didn't just disappear without a trace.
And this wasn't just some faceless brother cop. Ken Hutchinson had been at the Academy with him. They hadn't been friends, exactly, but they'd gotten along, had beers together occasionally. Hutchinson had seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
Starsky grabbed a flyer on the way out and studied it as he walked to the squad room. They must have taken Hutchinson's picture from his Academy records, since the face that looked back at him from the flyer was young, and impossibly eager. He remembered that about Hutchinson: he was always ready to do a good job, to make a difference. He'd liked that about the other man.
He tossed the flyer on his desk and made a decision.
"Don't you ever knock, Starsky?"
"Sorry," he said, trying to look contrite.
"What do you want?" Dobey was even more short-tempered than usual today.
"Jeez, Cap, what's eatin' you?"
"The top brass, if you have to know. They're after everyone to find that missing cop. It's making them look bad." Dobey started shuffling through the papers on his desk. "Now where did I put that report."
"That's what I came to talk to you about. I don't have any current cases, so I was wonderin' if I could take that case on for a day or two. See what I can find out."
Dobey stopped shuffling papers and looked up at his detective.
"That's great Starsky," Dobey said, his tone of voice making it clear that he did not think this was a great thing. "My best detective is volunteering to join that damn task force. And we both know how well those kind of teams do."
Starsky held up his hands.
"Hold on. I didn't volunteer to join a task force. This is me, remember? David "Does Not Play Well With Others" Starsky. The one detective you let work solo. I just want to investigate a little on my own."
"So that means I'll have to pull someone else for the task force. Even better." Dobey slammed the papers he was holding down on the desk. "Why are you so interested in this Hutchinson?"
"I was at the Academy with him. He always seemed like a good guy. I just think that I could help."
"Hmmph," Dobey snorted. "Well, if you've made up your mind you're probably just going to go ahead anyway. You might as well do it with my blessing."
"Thanks a lot," Starsky said, bestowing his widest grin on Dobey.
"You've got what you wanted, now get out of my office. And you better come back with one missing Vice cop."
"Sure, Cap, whatever you say."
Starsky left the office quickly, not wanting to push his luck, and strolled back to his desk. Sitting, he swung his feet onto his desk and picked up the flyer that he'd tossed a few minutes before. The missing cop's picture smiled back at him, and he was struck by an inexplicable sense of 'rightness', as if Fate had selected him to go off on a quest for a fondly, if dimly remembered acquaintance from days gone by.
"Okay, Hutchinson, let's see where you've gotten to."
Starsky went through all the available information on Hutchinson. His arrest records from the last few months, his service record. He even went through his grades at the Academy, noting with surprise that the guy had scored as highly as he had himself.
At the end of the paper trail, Starsky found himself with precisely zip, nada, nothing. Which wasn't totally unexpected. If it had been that easy to find Hutchinson, they wouldn't have had a divisional roll call.
Putting down the last piece of paper, Starsky considered his next move. He could start hitting the streets, letting his usual sources of information know that he was looking for a missing cop.
But before he did that, there was one last source of information he could try here at headquarters.
"Hey Phillips. Mind if I talk with ya for a minute?"
Owen Phillips was Hutchinson's partner in Vice. He was an older officer, approaching retirement but with a few years to go yet. Starsky knew him to see him, but not much better. He did know that Phillips had a reputation for being bad tempered, something he proved with his first words.
"Whaddaya want, Starsky." Phillips didn't even look back or break his stride. "Some of us got work to do."
"C'mon, you can spare a couple of minutes outta your busy schedule of bustin' massage parlours."
"Okay, Mr. Hotshot. You've got a couple of minutes."
"Thanks." Starsky paused to catch his breath and collect his thoughts before continuing. "I was just wonderin' if you had any idea 'bout what's happened to you partner."
"What do you care?"
"I was at the Academy with the guy. Thought I might ask around a bit. See if I hear anything."
"Yeah? Well good luck. My guess is he's already fish food somewhere."
Starsky stopped cold. Cops didn't talk about other cops that way. Cops especially didn't talk about their partners that way.
"Fer Christ's sake, Phillips, he's your partner."
"I just worked with him. Doesn't mean I had to like him. Hutchinson always was a pain in the ass. Always trying to rock the boat, playing the White Knight. Always thought he was better than everyone else.
"Sounds like he's loads better 'n you." Starsky deliberately did not fall into the past tense about Hutchinson, as the man's partner was already doing.
"Watch your mouth, Starsky. I been in this job a lot longer than you. I know the score. You young guys got no idea."
"If I ever get the idea like you, Phillips, I hope I have the sense to quit." He walked away, suddenly unable to stand the presence of this man. He sometimes forgot that not everyone on the force had the integrity of Captain Dobey or his colleagues in Homicide.
"I hope you find Hutchinson. You two deserve each other," Phillips shouted after him.
"He sure deserves better than you," Starsky mumbled under his breath as he headed for his car.
So much for information from within the department. It was time to try some footwork.
Ten hours later, it was a frustrated David Starsky who rolled into The Pits. He had thought this morning that this job was something that Fate had given him. If that was true then Fate was a real bitch.
The Pits was crowded with the end of the evening rush. Starsky managed to find a corner table. Not his usual place, but it would do.
Huggy was busy, so he flagged down Diane and ordered a beer. He needed a drink before anything right now. He'd think about food in a minute. At the moment he didn't want to think at all.
His beer was placed in front of him, and he grabbed it appreciatively.
"Thanks, Diane. You're a doll."
"Why, thank you, Starsky. I didn't know you cared."
"Huggy." Starsky started slightly. "Jeez, don't sneak up on me like that, wouldja?"
"I didn't sneak up on you, my friend. You were a million miles away."
"I wish I were a million miles away." He took a drink, savouring the taste of the beer as it eased his parched throat.
Huggy sat across from him.
"Care to talk 'bout it, my man?"
"Just a frustrating case. You hear we've got a missing detective?"
"I've heard rumours."
"Well, rumours are about all I've heard, and I'm looking into the mess."
"It can't be that bad. I mean, the guy's a cop. Cops don't just vanish into thin air."
"This guy ain't a cop; he's a ghost. I can't get any solid information on him, except the usual name and address crap. The other detectives in Vice like him well enough, but they don't see him much outside of work. His Captain didn't think he was working on any cases that were likely to get him kidnapped. And his partner is a real jerk who's already written him off.
He's got a load of acquaintances, but I can't find one really good friend. His family is back in Minnesota, and they haven't talked to him for months. In fact, I don't think they care if he's alive or dead. He may, or may not have a girlfriend, but no one is sure what her name is or where she lives or what she looks like. 'Cept she may be a blonde, unless she's a brunette. It's a nightmare."
Starsky stopped his rant long enough to take a long draught of beer.
"I'm starting to think that Detective Hutchinson was abducted by aliens, 'cause I can't find anyone on earth who knows what happened to him."
"Hutchinson?" Huggy sat up straight in his chair. "Ken Hutchinson?"
"Yeah. Don't tell me know actually know him."
"Not well, no..."
"Big surprise," Starsky said with a bitter grin.
"But I have met his girlfriend, and I do know her name."
"What!" Starsky choked as he swallowed his beer the wrong way. "Huggy, you've been holding out on me."
"I have not," Huggy said indignantly. "You never asked me."
"I didn't think you'd know him."
"You are not my only acquaintance in the law enforcement community."
"You snitched for him?"
"I beg your pardon," Huggy said indignantly. "I provided him with information services, same's I do for you."
"Sorry, Hug. You gave him information. Anything that was likely to get him kidnapped?"
"Nah. I've given him leads on a few especially nasty pimps. They're bad customers, but they stick to beating up their girls. They don't have the guts to go after anyone who might fight back."
"Okay, what about the girlfriend. What's her name?"
"Jeanie Walton. I can give you her address, and even her Social Security Number if you like."
"Huggy, I could kiss you."
"I trust you'll restrain yourself."
"Don't worry, I think I can manage. But how the heck do you know about her?"
"She worked here for a few weeks. One of the best waitresses I've ever had, except for Diane." He nodded and smiled as the woman in question walked by and gave him a dubious look. "Hutchinson brought her in looking for a job. He'd always been a nice guy, so I thought I'd give her a chance. Glad I did, too. She worked real hard." Huggy frowned. "She always looked just a little bit scared, though. Always kept her eye on the door. And one day she just left in the middle of her shift. Called Hutch to take her home. She didn't come back."
"Yeah, that's what most people called him."
"I'd almost forgotten. He asked us to call him that at the Academy too." Starsky gave a small smile as he remembered the skinny Minnesotan insisting that no one call him Ken. "So, when was Jeanie Walton's last day?"
"A month or two ago."
"Did Hutch," he paused, getting used to the name, "tell you why she left?"
"Not really. He mentioned something about an ex-boyfriend giving her some trouble, but he didn't give me details."
"Well, at least that gives me something to start with. Thanks Hug."
"Anytime I can help a friend."
Starsky felt truly hungry for the first time all day.
"Now could I get one of your special burgers before I die from hunger, here?"
"Coming right up."
Starsky called down to Records as soon as he finished his burger to request information on Jeanie Walton. The file was waiting on his desk when he pulled into headquarters the next morning.
There wasn't much in the file, but there was enough that Starsky was beginning to get a definite idea of what had happened.
Jeanie Walton seemed to have arrived in L.A. from the Midwest a few years back. There was one bust, for prostitution, on her sheet, but no conviction. Other than that, she was clean.
What was interesting is that she had made a number of complaints against one Ben Forest. There were a variety of charges--assault, coercion, violating a restraining order--all leading to a picture of intimidation and obsession. Starsky had seen the same story time and again. But there was one difference this time.
Ben Forest was a crime boss.
Not one of the bigger players, but bad enough. The man was into prostitution, extortion and drugs. Starsky had also investigated more than one murder that Forest was probably responsible for, though he'd never been able to get enough proof for a conviction.
Starsky hoped he was wrong about this. He hoped that Hutch had just decided to take an extended vacation with his girl and had forgotten to tell anyone in the department. Because anyone Forest got mad at tended to turn up dead.
Sending up a prayer to a God he hadn't thought of in years, Starsky pulled out his own files on Forest and started a process of calling in every favour he could manage.
It was going to be a long day.
Starsky spent the better part of two days hunting for Hutchinson. He pestered records constantly, trying to form connections. He hounded his sources, trying to dredge up information that the street didn't seem to have. He visited Huggy several times, bouncing ideas off him, and sometimes just kvetching about the frustration of it all.
In the end, it wasn't brilliant detective work that found Hutch. It wasn't even hard work.
It was blind luck.
Starsky had been cruising the strip, trying to chase down a couple of thugs that Forest had been known to hire, when he'd heard a call come through on the radio.
A black and white had spotted Hutchinson a couple of blocks away. Starsky made a quick u-turn and headed in the direction the call had come from. He spotted the squad car, but no Hutch. The patrolman, Lewis, waved him in the direction of an alley.
Starsky drove into the alley and saw another uniform, Bernie Glassman, crouched beside a bum in the alley. Starsky was trying to figure out where Hutch was and what Bernie was doing standing beside the bum when he noticed the guy had blonde hair. Like Hutch.
Starsky was running before he knew what he was doing.
This wasn't the ending Starsky had been picturing.
He had figured that he'd find Hutch, maybe a little bashed up but basically okay. They'd put away the bad guys and then maybe the two of them would have a burger at The Pits, talk about old times at the Academy and tease Huggy Bear about waitresses. At least that had been his fantasy.
His fantasy had not included finding a scared, beaten cop laying in an alley, knees hugged to his chest. Starsky was frozen for a moment, not knowing what to do, what he could do.
Keeping his eyes on Hutch, he spoke to the uniform.
"You the one who found him, Bernie?"
"Yeah. We saw him run into this alley, so I followed. My partner recognized him. He sure doesn't look much like his picture."
That was an understatement.
Hutch's Academy picture showed the man Starsky remember from those days: freshly scrubbed, neatly dressed, smiling with the confidence of one who knows they're going to make a difference.
The man in front of him had clearly gone through hell. His clothes were dirty and torn. His face was bruised and cut. He had been badly beaten and was probably in shock.
But there was something else.
Shock was one thing, but Hutch was beyond that. He was staring glassily into space, barely reacting at all to the two men crouched in front of him.
Starsky's instincts started whispering, telling him things that were impossible to think about a fellow officer. But after all these years, he knew enough to pay attention to his instincts.
Moving carefully towards Hutch, he took hold of one of his hands. That got a reaction. The other man flinched violently away from him.
"Take it easy." Starsky rubbed Hutch's other arm. "I just gotta check something."
Unbelievably, Hutch quieted beneath his touch.
He waited until Hutch was still again, then gently rolled up the sleeve of the arm he held. The tracks on the arm were unmistakable.
"He's a junkie!"
Starsky started nearly as much as Hutch at the sound of the uniform's voice.
"Shut up," Starsky snapped back as Hutch tried to pull away from him. Not knowing what else he could do, he hugged the other man close to him. Hutch clutched him like a lifeline, his breathing harsh and laboured.
"We gotta report this."
"No." Starsky thought about what a report like that could do to the man he held. How it would ruin his career, possibly destroy him. He wasn't sure why, but he knew he couldn't let that happen. He grabbed the uniform by the shirt front.
"Look at him. He's been beaten and tied up. He's probably been tortured. You report this and they'll probably kick him off the force. And what good would that do?"
"But nothing, Bernie," Starsky said, not giving him time to think. "We're not reporting anything. I'll take responsibility. I'll tell my Captain. But you gotta promise me you're not going to tell anyone, not even your partner, what you saw here."
The other cop didn't say anything for a full minute. Starsky knew, 'cause he counted the seconds. At long last, the other man answered.
"Okay. I won't say anything." He looked dubiously at Hutch. "I hope he's worth it."
"So do I Bernie. So do I. Now could you help me get him to my car?"
What did you do with a cop who was strung out on heroin?
It wasn't a question that Starsky had ever considered, but now he had a cop in exactly that condition lying in his back seat. He checked on his passenger in the rear view mirror, biting his lip as he went over his options.
Hospital was out. If he took the guy to a hospital he might as well write up the report and kick him off the force himself. He couldn't take him home, either. His neighbours were way too nosey, and it would be the first place the department would look if they found out what he was doing. And Hutch had already been kidnapped from his own house.
There weren't a whole lot of options left.
Then he had a brilliant idea.
There was only one other person who had seemed to actually care about the guy wrapped in a blanket in his back seat.
And the apartment over The Pits that Huggy rented was empty right now. The place wasn't a palace, but Hutch wasn't going to mind. And hopefully no one would think of looking for him in Huggy's neighbourhood.
It might just work.
"Where are you taking me?"
He almost didn't hear the question. The man's voice was barely a whisper, and it cracked on each syllable.
He looked back at his passenger with what he hoped was an encouraging look.
"We're going to a safe place. Somewhere you can get straightened out."
"Oh." The voice seemed lost.
There was silence for another few minutes, and Starsky thought Hutch might have passed out. Then the voice returned.
"Why are you doing this for me?"
Starsky thought a minute before answering, then gave the only response he could under the circumstances.
"Damned if I know, partner. Damned if I know."
They were both quiet for the rest of the ride.
Huggy was far from quiet when Starsky found him at The Pits.
"You want me to what!"
They were in the back room of The Pits, surrounded by cartons of ketchup and serviettes. Starsky was leaning against the wall, while Huggy sat on a crate in front of him.
"Lend me the apartment above The Pits for a week or two. Just till Hutch can get clean."
"Just till he gets clean." Huggy shook his head. "You don't have any idea what you're getting into, do you?"
"I've seen junkie's before, Hug. I know what withdrawal's like."
"Yeah, but have you ever helped someone kick? 'Cause it ain't pretty."
"No, I don't think you do, my friend." Huggy stood and put a hand on his shoulder. "He's going to be in bad shape. He's going to have chills and fever. He's going to ache all over. He's going to throw up. And the worst part is he's going to want to get back on smack."
"No buts, Starsk. I don't care if he was forced to take the drug. His system's decided it likes it now, and it's going to hurt him till he gets some again. You're gonna have to watch him like a hawk. You still so sure you want to do this?"
"Yeah." Starsky knew his voice was quieter than before, but he was just as determined.
"Shit, Starsk, I always knew you were crazy." Huggy took his hand away and started pacing around the small room, chewing at his lip. Starsky waited quietly, knowing that his friend needed to work this out on his own.
Finally after a minute that felt like an eternity, Huggy stopped his pacing.
"Okay, I'll lend you the room. But you have to answer a question first."
"Sure, Huggy. Shoot."
"Why the hell are you doing this?"
First Hutch, and now Huggy. Everyone seemed to want to know his motivations. And when it came right down to it, he still didn't know why he felt he had to do this. Why he was willing to risk his career to help out a man he barely knew. So he gave the only answer he could.
"I'm not sure, Huggy. All I know is that it feels right. It feels like this is what I'm s'posed to be doing." He looked closely at his friend. "Does that sound completely crazy?"
"Nah. It just sounds like Starsky. I already knew you were nuts. "Huggy grabbed his arm. "Let's get our guest installed in his quarters, shall we?"
"Yeah, sure Huggy." He sighed. "I don't suppose you'd like to call Dobey for me, wouldja?"
"Don't push your luck. That's one call you're making on your own."
"Can't blame me for trying."
It took both of them to get Hutch up the back stairs. What little strength he'd had seemed to abandon him. His legs collapsed underneath him at every step.
They installed him in the apartment's double bed. Starsky stripped him down to his T-shirt and jeans, removing his shirt and shoes. He was going to have to ask Huggy to get some clothes for Hutch. Something baggy and comfortable. But that could wait for later.
After some tossing and turning Hutch finally fell asleep, although it was a fitful rest at best.
"You need anything?" Huggy asked.
"Maybe something to drink. Soda and juice, maybe. Stuff for sandwiches."
"Sugar will help him." Huggy nodded in Hutch's direction. "It helps takes the edge off withdrawal."
"Sure, maybe some candy bars. And sugar cereal. Cocoa Puffs are great."
"You're too much, Starsk. Just make sure that he gets some of the junk food, huh?" Huggy turned to leave, a concerned look on his face. "You gonna be okay up here on your own?"
"Yeah, we'll be fine. Get out of here Huggy."
"All right. I'll send Diane out for groceries and bring it up myself later. But you call downstairs if you need anything."
Starsky nodded agreement, and then Huggy was gone.
Starsky looked around for something to do. Hutch seemed to be okay for now. Or as okay as he could be. There was nothing he could do around the apartment, at least not until Huggy came back with some groceries.
No, there was no avoiding it. He was going to have to call Captain Dobey.
Surrendering to the inevitable, he picked up the phone and dialed, hoping that for once his boss was in a good mood.
The phone rang for what seemed like a long time, but was probably only ten rings. Starsky was nearly about to hang up and try again later when the phone was picked up.
"What?" Dobey barked. Starsky could almost see the annoyed look on his boss' face. This was not a good start.
"Yeah. Listen, I've got some good news. I found Hutchinson." Might as well start with the positive, Starsky reasoned. The negative was going to follow soon enough.
"That's good, Starsky. Where are you?"
"I'd rather not tell you that."
"Why do I think that I'm not going to like this?"
"'Cause you're probably not, Cap'n. He'd been kidnapped. He's been beaten pretty bad. He got away from his captors somehow, but I'm not sure how."
"Why aren't you sure?" Starsky could hear the suspicion in Dobey's voice.
"Well, they did something to him besides beating him up. They, uh..." Somehow saying this was harder than he'd thought it would be.
"Just tell me Starsky."
"They got him addicted to heroin." There it was, out on the table.
"Christ, Starsky." There was a long pause at the end of the line. He could imagine what was going through Dobey's mind. He could even guess what his next words would be. And he was right. "You have to bring him in."
"If I do that's the end of his career. You know it and I know it. He deserves better."
"You can't rescue every stray cat, Starsky."
"I can rescue this one, and I'm gonna."
"I suppose ordering you to come in won't make a difference?" Dobey sounded resigned, as if he knew what was coming.
"No, Cap'n. I've gotta do this."
Another pause. From experience, Starsky knew Dobey was cursing the moment he'd been landed with a certain headstrong detective. He hoped that Dobey would support him. If past experience was anything to go by, he would, but then Starsky had never brought a problem this big to Dobey before.
"All right, Starsky. We'll do this your way."
"Great, Cap'n." Starsky couldn't believe how relieved he felt.
"What do you need from me?"
"I've got a month of vacation built up. I wanna take a couple of weeks, starting now."
"And we can't let anyone know that he's been found."
"I can't do that, Starsky. There's a task force looking for him. We've got to go through official channels."
"Let anyone officially know and we've just officially told them he's a junkie. You gotta give me time to get him clean."
There was silence at the other end of the line. Starsky found himself holding his breath, waiting for Dobey to pronounce judgment.
"Fine." Starsky began to breathe again. "But you better let me know the moment he's presentable."
"Will do, Cap'n. Thanks."
"And you better try and find out what the hell happened. It'll look better for us all if we have all the answers when we can finally produce him."
"I'll get right on it, Cap'n"
"Hmmph," was the only comment his boss gave before hanging up.
Starsky put the receiver back in the phone's cradle and looked at the cause of his and Dobey's problems. Hutch was sleeping restlessly, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. He was frowning, as if in intense concentration and had a pillow clutched to his chest.
Starsky kept remembering the young man he'd know at the Academy--was it really eight years ago? That man had been idealistic, confident and seemingly free from any kind of pain. The man lying on the bed in front of him had clearly seen some hardship since then and it wasn't just this latest misadventure. Starsky could see lines on his face that had been put there by care, not joy.
He felt a hard place in the centre of his gut, thinking what must have happened to this man, what had turned him from the outgoing cadet he'd been to an officer that seemed to be liked by most but known well by no one. He was struck more than ever by the sense that it shouldn't have been this way, that Hutch shouldn't have ended up like this, that there should be someone more than a casual acquaintance standing by him at this time in his life.
Starsky pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down. The noise seemed to disturb Hutch and he stirred uncomfortably, abandoning the pillow in his grasp and throwing an arm across the edge of the bed. Starsky took the man's hand, holding it firmly till Hutch calmed down and settled back into sleep. Even then he didn't let go. He wanted Hutchinson to know, even in sleep that there was someone here, someone keeping vigil.
"Looks like I've become a knight protector," Starsky said to himself, then laughed quietly at the mental image of himself in full armour that sprang to mind. "Then again, maybe I'm just the court jester."
He sighed, and settled in for the long haul ahead.
He awoke in a strange room with no memory of how he'd gotten there.
He wasn't tied, wasn't blindfolded, but that didn't mean he was safe. It might all be some trick.
He looked around, trying his best to focus. He seemed to be in a small bachelor apartment, shabbily furnished, but neat. Definitely not the same place they had been holding him.
A dark-haired man sat in a chair beside the bed. His eyes were closed, his arms crossed in front of him. He was not one of the men who had been holding him, but he seemed familiar.
As if he was suddenly aware that he was being observed, the man opened his eyes.
"You're awake," he said, sounding surprised. Hutch could think of no response, so made none.
The man leaned in closer towards him.
"Huggy thought you might sleep a bit longer."
Huggy? Did Huggy know this man?
"Do you want anything to drink?"
Hutch shook his head, vaguely aware that he was thirsty, but wanting some answers first.
"Who," he managed to croak out.
That brought back a vague memory from years before.
"Dave Starsky?" He noted how small his voice sounded, how shaky, but he couldn't react to the information.
"Yeah. We were at the Academy together." The man smiled reassuringly.
"Oh." He tried to think of something else he could say, but he was drifting. All he could think of was how much he hurt, how much that hated needle would be welcome, how it would make the hurting go away, make it so he wouldn't have to think. Thinking was too hard.
"Hey, buddy." The voice was far away. "You okay?"
He tried to nod, even though he was very definitely not okay, but he couldn't even manage that. Instead, he started shaking, suddenly overcome by a feeling of intense cold. The more he tried to control he tremors, the worse they got.
The other man was saying something, but he couldn't resolve the sounds into words, couldn't understand anything except how cold he felt, how much he hurt.
There was a sudden flurry of movement, and then he felt himself wrapped in a blanket, surrounded by strong arms. Words were softly spoken in his ear. He couldn't understand them, but they were comforting nonetheless.
His world narrowed to few sensations: the tremors wracking his body, the pain that burned his nerves like cold fire and the embrace that held him together in spite of everything else.
It was still unbearable, beyond comprehension, but somehow his pain lessened slightly as long as those arms held him.
The first few days were the worst.
At least, he thought it must be the first few days. Time seemed to have lost all meaning for him.
He seemed to be lost in a perpetual night, but a night unbroken by sleep. Such comfort had deserted him. He spent his time awake, but continually uncertain as to what was happening around him. Nothing was making sense, and he knew he wasn't making sense himself. Starsky continued to talk to him, but didn't seem to expect any response. Which was good, because he was incapable of making one.
He was alternately chilled and fevered. He was constantly wracked by nausea and pain, and lost track of how many times he managed to throw up the little Starsky was able to get him to eat or drink.
And in the back of it all was the constant itching, aching pain that kept tormenting him, making him feel that it would be easiest to succumb, to seek out the drug and the euphoria it would bring.
The fight against the pain was constant. He knew he had begged Starsky to get him a fix, and would probably do so again. He knew that the drug would not do him any good, but the desire for it was rooted deeply in his mind.
Starsky ignored such requests. He flat out refused to acknowledge them. Would just give a faint lopsided grin and pass him another candy bar, or hold him until the latest bout of shakes passed.
And gradually, the worst of the feelings faded. The tremors became less frequent and he was able to keep food and drink down, mostly.
Unfortunately, with the symptoms fading, he found that he could actually think, could remember at least some of what had been done to him. And that meant that he began to remember why he had been kidnapped, why he had been fed the drugs.
He remembered Jeanie, and he remembered that he had told them where she was. He remembered flashes of her face, when they had brought her to where he was being held, could remember the sadness in her eyes even if he hadn't understood what she had said to him.
Those memories were worse than everything else and caused him more pain than the withdrawal.
So he pulled inside himself, stopped responding to Starsky's small talk, stopped responding to everything. He knew it was stupid, but some part of him seemed to think if he didn't face it, maybe it hadn't happened. Maybe he hadn't really betrayed the woman who had loved him, who had trusted him.
Of course it didn't work.
It was almost as if Starsky could read his mind. As soon as he started to pull away, to hide from the world, Starsky was right there to drag him back.
He sat him down in one of the apartment's hard-backed chairs and started asking him questions trying to pry some fragment of useful information from the shattered remnants of Hutch's memory. Who was it had kidnapped him? Where had they taken him? How many had there been? Had he heard any names?
He couldn't answer, too afraid that his betrayal might be found out. But Starsky had clearly done his homework, and asked the right question. Or the wrong one.
"Were they after Jeanie Walton?"
It was like being struck. Hutch curled in on himself, hugging his knees. It was as if the withdrawal pains had redoubled, only this time the sensation wasn't physical.
The worst part was that he couldn't look up. He couldn't meet Starsky's eyes. Starsky would never have been weak enough to betray someone he cared about. He'd known this man, really known him, only these few days, but he already knew that Starsky had a strength that wouldn't be broken as easily as his own. And that made him ashamed.
He would quite willingly have disappeared at that moment, taken to the streets and sunk to the bottom of the gutter that would no doubt have gladly claimed him.
But Starsky wouldn't let him go.
Starsky pried one of his hands from where it hung onto his own leg in a death grip and leaned his forehead against the top of Hutch's head. And then he started talking.
"I know it was tough. I can't know how tough it was, but I know it was bad. You should be proud that you survived, that you got away from them. It's not your fault they got Jeanie."
"Yes, it is," Hutch managed to hiss out from between clenched teeth.
Starsky squeezed his hand before answering.
"That bullshit. Forest is a creep. He would have gone after her without you around. If anything, you protected her from him."
"She would have been better off without me."
"Ya gotta stop thinking like that. You helped her. You protected her as best you could, to the limit of your strength. That counts for a lot."
"But it wasn't enough." Hutch squeezed his eyes tightly shut and tried to pull his hand away. Starsky kept a firm grip on his hand and patted his back.
"I know you don't believe me, but you did good. You did more than most of us would have. And I know it's not fair, but now you have to help Jeanie some more. You gotta try and remember something about those guys so that we can find them, and her."
Hutch knew Starsky was making sense, but he couldn't face this. He shook his head helplessly.
"I can't," he managed to choke out.
"Oh, Hutch." Starsky's voice was full of an emotion he couldn't begin to name.
His hand was released, and Hutch snatched it back with relief, and a slight measure of disappointment. He remained hunched over, shutting out the world as best he could.
He should have known that Starsky would not leave him like that.
Two hands grasped his shoulders and forced him to sit up. One hand released a shoulder, only to hold his chin, lifting his head up.
"Open your eyes, Hutch."
He shook his head again.
"I'm not kidding, open 'em." Simply from the quality of his voice, Hutch knew that Starsky wouldn't be put off. He opened his eyes slightly, to find himself looking into a pair of eyes far bluer than his own, the brow above them creased in concentration and concern.
"Look, I know you're hurting and this is probably going to make it worse. But only for a while. Face it, and the pain will stop. Eventually."
"Eventually," Hutch parroted back, his voice horse.
"Yeah." Starsky gave a weak grin. "Best I can offer."
"Your best isn't too good." Hutch didn't want to sound churlish, but couldn't help it.
"No. I guess not."
"Guess it's all I've got." Hutch could only be resigned.
"C'mon, it's not that bad." Starsky couldn't be discouraged. "It'll help, you'll see."
"Sure." Hutch tried to believe him. He really did. But he couldn't see a time ahead when he could possibly feel better.
But he found that there was something that he could believe in. Or someone. He believed in David Starsky. He believed that Starsky would do the right thing, find the bad guys and rescue the fair maiden. He might even manage, somehow, to make a damaged Vice cop feel ever so slightly better.
Armed with that belief, Hutch began to answer Starsky's questions as best he could.
He hoped that this time his best would be enough. Buoyed by Starsky's irrational optimism, he almost began to believe that it would be.
The physical symptoms of withdrawal faded further.
The fever and chills were nearly a thing of the past. The nausea was rare. His attention span was increasing.
He should have felt better, but somehow it wasn't working that way. The lessening of the pain brought not relief, but an increasing awareness of how much he craved a return to the drug.
The desire for heroin was not the fierce hunger it had been in the first few days, but a constant whispering in his ear.
The longing for the drug was changing him.
Before the kidnapping, he was sure that everyone who knew him would have said that he was an easy-going guy. "That Ken Hutchinson, he gets along with everyone." He prided himself on being the calm at the centre of the storm. But now he was the storm itself, roiling inside with no stillness remaining.
He was irritable, easily angered. He lashed out, at himself, at Huggy, at Starsky. Especially at Starsky.
It was as if he were making Starsky pay the price for forcing him to open up, to talk about the kidnapping, and Jeanie. He was transferring his own guilt to Starsky because he couldn't bear it himself.
And Starsky took it. He was understanding when Hutch's temper frayed to the breaking point and he struck out. He was there to pick up the debris when Hutch gave in to his frustration and threw things: the monopoly set, the dishes--which were switched to plastic after the first such outburst--the checkerboard. He was there to pass Hutch candy bars and cups of sugared coffee when the drug craving became too intense. And he was there just to hold Hutch's hand, to keep him sane by talking about nonsense, to provide a shoulder to cry on, to hold him when the nausea overcame him and he found himself retching over the toilet bowl.
Hutch didn't know how Starsky did it. Didn't know why he did it.
During his better moments, when the drug's whispering had receded into the background, he wondered why it was that David Starsky, Detective Sergeant, Homicide, had made one Ken Hutchinson, a.k.a. Hutch, his personal crusade.
He'd asked Starsky that first day when he'd been barely able to talk, to think, and Starsky hadn't been able to answer him. He hadn't asked the question again.
He was worried because he was beginning to need Starsky's strength.
He had never done that before. He had always been self-sufficient. He didn't need the support of other people. Not his family, not his few friends, not even his now ex-wife. He had never looked to Vanessa to support him through anything. Not that Vanessa had been a particularly supportive person. And his relationship with Jeanie had always been about him supporting her.
But now he was looking to Starsky to keep him from his worst desires, to keep him afloat when all he really wanted to do was surrender to the currents dragging him under.
He knew Starsky still didn't know why he was doing this either. Though Starsky hadn't talked with him about it, he'd heard him talking to others--Huggy, the unseen Captain Dobey--when he thought Hutch was asleep, unaware. Starsky always said the same things. "It's something I have to do. It feels right. I can't explain why."
Hutch was beginning to be terrified that Starsky would realize that taking care of a junkie cop was a no win situation. He also knew that he didn't want to go back to being a self-contained unit, couldn't survive that way any more.
It was the simplest things he'd begun to count on Starsky for.
In the first few days, that awful dark time when Hutch hadn't known whether it was day or night nor even where he was, Starsky had started sleeping in the same bed, holding him to stop the shakes. Even after the worst time was past, he continued to share Hutch's bed. And Hutch wasn't going to question it because he needed the presence of that body with him, needed to wake up and find that Starsky had casually invaded his space, resting a hand on his arm or chest.
He was still worried for Jeanie, hoped she was all right, hoped Starsky would be able to find her. He supposed he was still partly in love with her. But a larger part of his soul seemed to have been given over to a scruffy murder cop.
He began thinking about this more often as he had more frequent moments of clarity. Was Starsky a friend? He hoped so. Did he love Starsky? It seemed so, but what did that mean? Was he in love with him? How could he be?
What was happening to him?
As soon as Hutch was able to talk about his kidnapping, Starsky felt that things began to get better. He had new leads for the investigation, including the name of one of Hutch's kidnappers: Monk. Hutch improved daily, his strength gradually returning to him, his shakes subsiding. His concentration seemed to increase too, at least as far a finishing a game of Monopoly was concerned.
Not that things were perfect. For someone who was weak as a kitten, Hutch had one hell of a temper. Starsky still found himself picking up after one of Hutch's explosions at least once a day, and more than once he was convinced that Hutch had aimed a projectile at his head. He didn't let the mood swings bother him, though. Hell, if he'd been through half of what Hutch had, he'd be throwing things too.
Instead, Starsky focussed on the victories, however small. Hutch keeping his food down, remembering the colour of the car he'd escaped from, sleeping for more that a few hours at a time. Starsky celebrated every step forward, and hid his disappointment when Hutch's fever returned or he begged Starsky to get him a fix.
And as Hutch improved, Starsky tried to spend more time trying to find the men who were responsible for addicting him to heroin.
He started by using the phone. He called any contact he had who might have information on Forest. He also called a few of Hutch's snitches to see what they'd heard. Not wanting to be tracked down, he had all his messages routed through the station.
According to everyone, Forest and his organization had become invisible. Starsky couldn't get leads on any of Forest's main guys. That was bad enough. Worse were the other rumours he began to hear: that Forest was looking for a blond cop.
When he started hearing those reports, Starsky felt time running out on him. He had to find Forest before Forest got too close to Hutch. Protecting Hutch was everything.
Somewhere down the line in the last, was it only six days, Hutch had become the most important person in Starsky's life. He wanted to see him kick and get back on the streets, wanted to see him more as he remembered him from the Academy, confident and carefree.
After years of working alone, he wanted Hutch as his partner.
He knew it made no sense.
Before this week, he hadn't exchanged more than a few words with Hutch since they were new recruits together. He didn't really know what kind of a police officer the other man had become, and he certainly couldn't tell now. But the same impulse that had sent him looking for Hutch in the first place and made him risk everything to get him off heroin was now telling him that the two of them should be together, should have been together before this.
It was an act of faith.
Not that he'd suddenly got religion. He hadn't been inside a synagogue for years, and that wasn't about to change. No, this faith was not in an unseen god, but in a real human being who'd landed in his path. And he knew, beyond a doubt, that his faith would be returned in kind.
In the meantime, he was going to have to work to get them to a point where they could work together. That meant finding Forest. And since all of his leads so far had gone no where, that meant he had to get back on the streets.
He was going to have to leave Hutch and that worried him.
He hadn't been out of the apartment, hadn't left Hutch on his own in the week they'd been here. Huggy had occasionally dropped by to bring them a meal or make sure they didn't need anything, but other than that there had only been the two of them. And if he had placed all his faith in Hutch, he was sometimes worried at how much Hutch depended on him in return.
The sleeping thing bothered him most.
Hutch slept best when Starsky slept with him. It had started on that first day. With Hutch wracked with the tremors of withdrawal, Starsky had crawled into bed with him and held him while he rode it out. It had seemed only natural. Still did seem natural. He'd continued to sleep with Hutch, noticing that the nightmares and shakes took hold most often when the other man slept on his own.
Of course, he slept better himself with Hutch beside him. Hell, he didn't sleep as soundly with most of the women he'd bedded. And that thought led him to other places that he wasn't sure he wanted to go. Not yet, anyway.
So for now, he would just deal with leaving Hutch. Huggy had already volunteered to stay with Hutch when he could get away from The Pits. They were going to try it this afternoon, and he was going to have to tell Hutch now.
Hutch wasn't having a good day. He'd had a couple of minor blowups, though he hadn't thrown anything yet. He seemed to be constantly on the verge of asking Starsky to find a hit, but had managed to restrain himself. And he'd had no real food since the morning, only a couple of candy bars. Junk food addict that he was, Starsky was beginning to cringe at the amount of sugar that Hutch was putting away.
But good day or not, he was going to get this over with.
"What?" The single word came out sharp as a knife thrust.
"Siddown, wouldja? I gotta tell you somethin'." Starsky gestured at the dining table and sat down himself.
Hutch gave up the pacing he'd been doing most of the morning and sat down. Starsky noticed that even sitting down Hutch couldn't keep still. His fingers beat a tattoo on the table and his eyes shifted all over the room.
"I've gotta run a few errands this afternoon. Huggy's gonna stay with you while I'm gone. It should only be for a few hours."
That got Hutch's attention. Suddenly he focussed firmly on Starsky.
"What do you have to do?"
Starsky knew he couldn't lie.
"I'm going to try and track down a few leads on Forest. I've gone as far as I can without being on the streets myself."
Hutch nodded and frowned.
"Maybe I could come with you." It was heart-breaking how tentatively Hutch put this idea forward. It was especially bad because Starsky knew he had to say no.
"I don't think that would be a good idea right now. Maybe in a few days. When you're stronger."
Starsky half-expected a fight, but he didn't get one. Hutch merely nodded.
"Yeah, you're right. I wouldn't be any good out there."
The despair in the other man's voice tore at Starsky.
"You will be, buddy. Just give it a bit more time." He held Hutch's hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. Hutch smiled weakly in response. Starsky was suddenly uneasy with his plan.
"Listen, you gonna be okay with this? I can wait a day..."
Hutch cut him off.
"No, you should go. The longer you wait the harder it's going to be to track Forest down. I'll be fine."
"Okay. But if anything comes up, call the station and leave a message. I'll come right back."
"I'm not a baby, Starsky. I'll be fine."
Starsky wasn't convinced, but he wasn't going to argue the point any more. And Hutch was right. The longer he waited, the more time Forest would have to disappear completely.
"Well, that's that. How 'bout playing some checkers?"
They settled in to play the game. They were both just a little surprised when Hutch won.
Maybe things were looking better.
They fell into a routine. Every day, for at least a few hours, Starsky would hit the streets and try to find some information on Jeanie, Forest or Forest's men. While Starsky was away, Huggy would sit with Hutch, playing Monopoly, reading the paper out loud or listening to a ball game on the radio. Then Starsky would get back and tell them both what he'd found. Or what he'd failed to find.
In spite of the fact that the investigation seemed to be going nowhere, Hutch felt that things were improving. That he was improving.
He seemed to be able to go an hour or more without thinking how much better he'd feel if he just could have one fix. The constant itching was fading from his skin, his body, his bones. He could concentrate better. After winning that one game of checkers several days back, he suddenly found he could offer more than token opposition to Starsky and Huggy.
He even was becoming a help in the search to find Forest. He'd built up a store of information on the man in his quest to protect Jeanie, and he found that some of it was new to Starsky. He began to feel that perhaps he could return to work, could be a cop again.
The time spent with Huggy was something he began to look forward to. Huggy had gone from being a respected source of information to a friend. He trusted Huggy almost as much as he trusted Starsky. He began to drop his barriers when he was around Huggy. And once he dropped them far more than he should have.
It was in the afternoon and they were waiting for Starsky to return. Hutch had sprawled on the bed and was flipping through a car magazine of Starsky's. Huggy had a game of solitaire laid out on the table and was caught up in trying to find the most elegant ways of cheating.
Bored, Hutch began talking.
"Huggy, how did you and Starsky meet?"
"Same's you and me. He asked me for some information and I just happened to have it."
Hutch absently flipped another page.
"It's gotta be more than that. I mean, you've given me information, but I don't think we were quite friends. Until now," he added hastily.
"I suppose it's 'cause he treated me like he would anyone else, not like a lot of cops do their snitches." Huggy put a red jack onto a black queen. "Not that you do that either. But Starsky is just very open, you know. You can be a bit uptight. No offense."
"None taken. I know what you mean." Suddenly the magazine didn't interest him at all. He threw it onto the floor. "I've never met anyone like him before."
"And you won't. Starsky's one of a kind."
"I owe him everything." Hutch didn't mean for it to happen, but his feelings, confused and jumbled and strong, must have come through with his words. Huggy lost interest in his cards and looked up at him in a way that made Hutch feel absolutely exposed.
"You really care about him, don't you?"
Hutch froze, unable to say anything. His mouth had gone dry and he struggled to swallow. Huggy seemed to know exactly what was going through his thoughts. He smiled and said, "Yeah, I thought so."
"You thought what?" Hutch asked fearfully.
"You really care about him," Huggy repeated. "Ain't nothin' to be scared of, Hutch."
"Isn't it?" Hutch tried to get his breathing under control. "I don't even know exactly what I'm feeling any more."
"Any fool could tell you. There's been something between the two of you since he showed up with your sorry ass last week."
"What is it?" Hutch was fearful of the answer, but had to ask the question.
"It's love." Huggy said the words so matter-of-factly that it almost hid how earth shattering the idea was.
"Love?" Hutch let the word slip from his tongue, amazed that he could say it when he'd been in doubt about whether to even think it.
"Love," Huggy said with finality, before going back to his cards.
"Jesus," Hutch said, lying down with a sigh. "What the hell am I going to do?"
"Do what feels right. Do what you have to. Just don't worry about it."
"How can I not worry about it?"
"Everything happens for a reason, my man. Maybe all this shit with Forest happened to get the two of you together. Seems to me that you should have been like this from the start."
"I doubt Starsky is gonna think that."
"Don't underestimate Starsky." Huggy's voice was suddenly sharp. "He's risked a lot for you. Ask yourself why he did it."
Hutch had no answer. But he suddenly had even more to think about.
Starsky got ready to leave, as he had been doing for nearly a week now. He jammed a few scraps of paper with notes and messages into his back pocket and put on his shoulder holster. Then he checked his gun and put it in the holster, pulling it out a couple of times to make sure it came out smoothly. He threw on a jacket to conceal the gun.
"I'm just about ready to get out of here. Huggy should be up soon."
"Uh-huh." Hutch was stretched out on his belly on the bed, reading a book that Huggy had picked up for him from the library.
"You two have any big plans for the day?" He tried one more draw with the jacket on, just to make sure.
"Nah. Just the usual orgy we have while you're gone. Nothing exciting."
"Very funny." It was a lame joke, but at least it was a joke. Hutch was definitely getting better. Nearly all the way there, in fact.
Starsky turned and looked at Hutch. He still didn't have much strength, but his mind was nearly fully recovered. The fact that he could concentrate long enough to read a book was a great leap forward, even if it was just a crappy western. The bruises were nearly faded from his face and body, although there was a deep cut by his mouth that was still visible. The track marks, too, had blessedly all healed. He was about ready to face the rest of the world.
But with the improvements, there had also come a new hesitancy. The connection he had felt with Hutch seemed not exactly broken, but slightly askew. As if Hutch was trying to put some distance between the two of them.
It hurt more than he thought possible. Especially since he had begun to finally face some cold hard truths about himself.
Like the fact that Hutch was important to him. That he loved Hutch. That he was in love with Hutch.
Unthinkable, but there you go. Macho, womanizing David Starsky falls in love for the first time in a long time and it's with a man. A man who didn't seem to want him around much. What a joke.
He sighed quietly and sat at the table to wait for Huggy. It was too painful right now to try and make small talk with Hutch and watch him nearly flinch if he said the wrong thing or got too close to him. Too damn painful.
Huggy knocked, more or less on time, and Starsky let him in.
"Hey Hug, how's it going?"
"Fine man. Hey Hutch."
Hutch looked up from his book long enough to wave hello before returning to the world of Zane Grey.
Huggy grabbed Starsky's arm and steered him to the corner of the room.
"I got some bad news," Huggy dropped his voice, sparing a quick look in Hutch's direction.
"What is it?" Starsky was getting a bad feeling in his gut, like he had a piece of metal sitting there.
"There were a couple of guys in here this afternoon asking if anyone had seen a blond cop. Seems like they were probably looking for our mutual friend."
"Shit," Starsky swore. They were getting too close. Much too close. "Did anyone tell them anything?"
"Nah, not as far as I know. Diane played it cool, and I don't think any of the customers knew anything. I just hope you hid that candy coloured pop can you call a car well enough."
"I've been parking it in a garage down the street. Guy who owns it owes me a favour."
"Well, I hope he doesn't owe Forest any favours."
There was a rustling from the bed.
"What's up over there."
Double shit. Starsky froze for a second, not wanting to worry Hutch, but also not wanting to shut him out. He'd just been thinking how well Hutch'd been doing. Time to act on it.
"Huggy says a couple of Forest's goons have been asking about you in The Pits." Huggy shot him a look that could have peeled paint. He shrugged. "It's only fair that we tell him."
Hutch moved over to where they were.
"I'm glad you told me. It's better than not knowing."
"I don't want to hide things from you, Hutch." But I have to hide some things from you. Things I've been hiding from myself. But he couldn't say any of that.
"Thanks." Hutch gave him a glowing smile. It was a smile that nearly made him forget all his doubts and fears. He lifted a hand to put it on Hutch's shoulder, but checked the movement almost before it started. Hutch noticed though, and the smile faded as his gaze lingered on that hand for a second longer than he should have. Starsky felt like a spike was being driven through his guts as he saw fear mingled with reluctance pass across Hutch's face.
"Well, I gotta get goin'. See if I can track down the bad guys."
"Here's a description of the creeps who were in here. They were pretty generic rent a thugs, but I got their license plate." Huggy pressed a scrap of paper into his hand.
"Thanks, Hug. Take care of him."
"Don't I always?" Huggy slapped him on the back. "Now get outta here, man."
He spared a glance at Hutch and they exchanged wan smiles.
"Bye," Hutch returned.
He nearly bolted through the door in his eagerness to be away from the apartment.
He stood at the top of the stairs for a moment, collecting his thoughts.
He didn't know what to do.
He still wanted desperately to work with Hutch, but he was beginning to want so much more than that. He wanted to share his life with the guy. Hell, he'd marry him, if he could.
And yet he wasn't sure if Hutch even wanted anything to do with him. Or how he could begin to tell him about what he was feeling.
It sucked, and there was nothing he could do about it. So he might as well stop whining and get on with his job.
He headed out to try and catch some bad guys.
Huggy and Hutch spent the afternoon playing Monopoly. Hutch found he was developing a real cutthroat affinity for the game. He'd managed to accumulate Boardwalk, Park Place and all the utilities, and was in the process of bankrupting Huggy.
Besides, if he concentrated on the game, then he didn't have to think about Starsky. Didn't have to think about how he'd been avoiding Starsky since that conversation with Huggy. Didn't have to think that Starsky seemed to find it increasingly difficult to touch him. Didn't have to think about the hurt that they seemed to be inflicting on each other the last two days.
Huggy had just landed on Park Place and was trying to argue his way out of paying the rent on it.
"C'mon, man, I'm good for it. I'll be passing Go next turn."
"No way. You've gotta pay now. You can mortgage something."
"You're just a slum landlord," Huggy grumbled as he mortgaged his last property. "I hope you're happy."
They were both surprised by a knock at the door. Huggy was closest, so he got up to answer it.
"What's the matter Starsky? Didja forget your keys?"
He unbolted the door and started to open it, only to be pushed aside. Three strange men burst in, all holding guns, all looking at Hutch.
Hutch looked back, and found that they weren't complete strangers after all. They were the men who had kidnapped him, who had been going to dump him in the ocean.
"What the hell is going on?" Huggy tried to distract them. They barely looked in his direction. The biggest one, who was built like the Hulk, just took him out with a firm blow to the stomach.
"Don't!" Hutch managed to break his paralysis and yell. "Don't hurt him. It's me you want."
The middle man answered him. He seemed to be the leader, and Hutch knew in his gut that this was Monk.
"Yeah, you're right there. It is you we want."
Hutch stood and put the chair between himself and the men.
It was like being in a nightmare. Everything slowed down to a crawl and his vision seemed remarkably clear. He could see the fine detailing on the revolver Monk held in his hand. He could see the lint on the Hulk's tie and the wrinkles in the jacket of the weaselly third man.
Part of his mind started whispering that this was an easy way out. Just let them shoot him. There would be no more craving for the drug, no more worrying about his feelings for Starsky. It would all be over.
Then Monk pulled a small case from his breast pocket. Hutch recognized it even before it was opened to reveal a syringe and packet of heroin.
That galvanized him. He might, in some part of his mind, welcome death, but he couldn't face the thought of the drug in his system again. He didn't want to die like that. He had come too far. He had to act and he knew now what he had to do. He only hoped that his strength would hold up long enough to do it.
He gripped the chair in front of him more firmly and tensed, readying himself to act. He would only have seconds if this were to work.
He watched Huggy, trying to judge what condition he was in. He didn't want to jeopardize his friend's safety. He waited till Huggy looked like he was capable of reacting the way he needed to then he moved.
He picked up the chair in front of him and swung it at the three men closing in on him. He hoped they would remain distracted for the few seconds he needed.
"Huggy, get out of here now!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. This wouldn't work if they had Huggy as a hostage. Fortunately, he saw the other man move quickly out of the apartment and heard him run down the stairs.
Weasel went to run after him, but Hutch swung the chair in his direction to distract him further. It worked as he concentrated on Hutch again.
Part one complete; Huggy was clear. Now one last thing left.
Throwing the chair straight into Monk, Hutch bolted for the bathroom. He ran in a slammed the door behind him, then braced himself against the door, hoping he could hold out long enough for help to arrive, counting on them wanting to kill him by overdose, counting on them not firing through the door to finish him that way.
He was counting on an awful lot, actually.
He heard yelling in the other room as the men tried to decide what to do. He couldn't distinguish their words over the pounding of the blood in his ears.
He just kept thinking one thing, over and over.
Starsky, get here soon.
It had been a frustrating afternoon for Starsky.
He'd had a few leads that he'd chased down to find absolutely nothing at the end of them.
He'd called in the license plate that Huggy had given him. The license had belonged to
one Alan Monk Philos. He'd had real hopes about that, and had gone to the address on the registration. The house had been abandoned, but not too long before. And there was enough crap lying around that he figured it was a pretty good bet that it was the place they'd kept Hutch. He called Dobey and gave him the address. Forensics could probably get some of the evidence they'd need to convict these guys. If they ever found them.
Starsky was beginning to have his doubts that'd ever happen.
He sighed, and decided to make one last sweep of his usual stomping grounds, see if anyone had any good information for him.
Then he got the call.
"Assault in progress. Location: The Pits. See Huggy Bear. Zebra Three especially requested to respond."
He was spinning the wheel to make a fast u-turn before he could consciously think about what he was doing.
Dread burned through his gut, his nerves. The bad guys had found Hutch. They'd found him, and Starsky wasn't there to protect him.
He hit the steering wheel with a balled up fist, feeling the frustration build in his stomach, along with the fear. He had to go faster. He had to be in time. He couldn't let anything happen to Hutch.
Considering the distance he'd had to go, he made it to The Pits in record time, just under five minutes. He double-parked his car outside, not caring who he blocked in, and ran inside. He had his gun out before he was inside the door.
Huggy was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs.
"Where have you been, man? They've got Hutch trapped upstairs."
Starsky read the fear on Huggy's face and felt it mirrored in his own.
"Three guys forced their way in. Clocked me and went for Hutch. He held them off long enough for me to get out, and I think he locked himself in the bathroom. They've been banging at somethin'. But it's been a long time."
Starsky was flying up the stairs before Huggy could finish. He paused at the top, listening at the door of the apartment.
There were definitely the sounds of a struggle, then he heard a voice shout "No!" Hutch's voice.
He didn't allow himself time to think, but just kicked open the door, his gun at the ready.
Hutch kept his back to the door, thankful that whoever had built this fleapit hadn't skimped on some details. The door was a solid piece of Victorian wood that was giving the goons on the other side more than a bit of trouble.
He'd been right about them wanting to kill him by OD. They had only shot one bullet through the door, and it had thankfully gone high and into the ceiling. There had been shouting after that as one of his would be assassins had told the other two to lay off the guns.
It was cold comfort, really. He'd rather have a quick death from a bullet than face the drug again.
So, here he was, back braced against the door as three men at the other side chipped away at its strength and his, piece by piece.
How long had he been here? One minute? Two? Time had ceased to have any meaning. Every second he was stuck here and Starsky wasn't was too long.
The door began to give way. He could feel the wood splintering behind him. He dug in the heels and held on as best he could.
The goons gave one more heave, and the jamb shattered. He was thrown forward as the door crashed open, half off its hinges. He scrambled to regain his feet, to put up a good fight. He managed to turn and swing at punch at Weasel. The punch connected hard enough to make the man flinch, but it didn't put him down. He tried swinging at Hulk, but couldn't make contact. His hand was grabbed and twisted up behind him. He struggled, but he knew it was useless. At his best, he probably couldn't have broken out of this hold. Right now he had no chance.
He didn't give up.
Hulk dragged him out of the bathroom, and he gave him as much trouble as he could without dislocating his own shoulder. It didn't do any good, but it made Hutch feel better when he lashed out with his free hand and gave Weasel a bloody nose.
"Hold him down." The order came from Monk. Hutch felt a spike of adrenaline enter his system at those three words. He struggled harder, all conscious thought nearly overwhelmed in the face of blind panic. He heard a whimper and realized it was coming from his own throat. He stifled the sound. He would not show these men his fear.
They stretched him out on the floor, Hulk practically lying across his body while Weasel held his feet. He couldn't move an inch.
Then Monk pulled the case out of his pocket again. Hutch watched in mute fascination as he cooked a fix and sucked it into the syringe. He couldn't move, couldn't think. Could only watch as the poison meant to kill him was prepared.
Monk finished and started to move toward him.
"Just relax, cop. It'll all be over soon," Monk said. The man's voice held no malice, but was matter-of-fact. This was just a job to him. And that was what broke Hutch's paralysis, the thought this was just another part of this guy's job.
Hutch drew on all his strength to twist against his captors and shouted one word, his denial of his fate.
The universe seemed to be listening to him. The door to the apartment burst open, and Starsky appeared, gun in hand.
Monk turned toward the intruder, and Hutch saw him reach for what could only be a gun under his jacket. Hutch tried to shout a warning, but it wasn't needed. Starsky had seen the movement too and didn't hesitate to act. He fired once, then again, hitting his target both times. The syringe fell from Monk's hand. Starsky kept his aim on the man prepared to fire again. Monk remained standing for another ten seconds, then the life drained from him and he dropped to the floor in a heap, a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Starsky turned to the men who still held Hutch in their grip.
"Let him go." They complied. "Okay, now face first on the floor, hands behind your back."
Starsky waited until they were in the position, then came over to Hutch, kicking the syringe on the floor viciously out of the way. He kept his gun on the two thugs, but offered one hand down to Hutch. Hutch took it gladly and stood up.
"You okay?" Starsky asked. He didn't take his eyes off Weasel and Hulk, but he also didn't let go of Hutch's hand.
"Yeah," Hutch answered, not at all surprised when his voice shook just a little. "How's Huggy?"
"He's fine. He made the call." Starsky gave his hand a firm squeeze before letting go. That simple touch somehow made all the difference. He looked Starsky directly in the eye and saw affection and concern and something else. Starsky smiled then, and Hutch suddenly knew that the something else was love.
Everything was going to be okay.
"You ready to do some real police work?"
Hutch nodded, too unsure of his own voice to trust it this time.
Starsky tossed him his handcuffs.
"Cuff 'em," he ordered. And Hutch did.
Starsky was never sure quite how he or Hutch made it through the next few hours. The apartment became the centre of a maelstrom as two uniforms arrived as backup. Dobey appeared soon after, followed by IA, come to investigate a police involved shooting.
As soon as the uniforms realized who Hutch was, things got even more nuts. The uniforms started congratulating Hutch and Starsky, IA started giving everyone suspicious looks and someone started using the dreaded phrase "press conference."
One look at Hutch told Starsky that he was in no shape to face a grilling by the press, or anyone else. Starsky had a quick conversation with Dobey and the two of them were cleared to leave for headquarters. The uniforms took charge of the prisoners.
Through it all, Starsky had not let Hutch stray more than a few feet from him. Most of the time he kept an arm slung loosely over Hutch's shoulder, providing physical reminder of the support he was there to give.
Hutch did good.
He stayed calm in the face of so many people and didn't once show how vulnerable he really was. He answered the questions he could, and deferred to Starsky and Dobey when things strayed too close to dangerous territory. Starsky was proud of him.
For their parts, Starsky and Dobey stuck to the story they'd agreed upon a week before. They'd found Sergeant Hutchinson the week before, but had not revealed his whereabouts to avoid a leak of information. They had captured two of his kidnappers, killed another and were about to move in on the ringleader.
By the time they arrived at headquarters, word of what had happened had spread. They were greeted by a crowd of uniforms and plainclothes detectives eager to shake hands and slap backs. Everyone was glad to see the return of one of their own. Starsky even saw Hutch's partner, Philips, at the edge of the crowd, a slight smile on his face.
Starsky had a hand protectively on Hutch's arm. When he started to feel slight tremors running through the man's body he called an end to the impromptu party and guided Hutch through to the Homicide squad room, blocking everyone who tried to follow. As a further precaution, he barricaded the two of them in one of the interrogation rooms. The windowless room gave them as much privacy as they were going to get in this building.
Starsky steered Hutch to a chair then sat across from him. He took one of Hutch's hands in his own and simply held it. Neither man said anything for the longest time, both content to enjoy the silence after the chaos of the last hour. Starsky also found that he couldn't meet Hutch's eyes, but stared resolutely at the hand held in his own.
The silence between them was comfortable, but Starsky was also aware of all that was unsaid between them. The remnants of the tension from the last few days surrounded them like a broken spider web, not trapping them but leaving the memory of its touch on their skin.
It was Starsky who eventually broke the quiet.
"You want to talk?"
There was a pause and the hand in his was shifted, nearly pulled away.
"No. Not yet."
Starsky could hear the disappointment in his own voice. Hutch must have heard it to.
"We need to talk later. After all this is over." Hutch sounded almost panicked. "But for now I just want to get through all this stuff. IA. You know."
Say it. Say it Starsky, you stupid idiot. I love you. It ain't hard, you've said it a million times.
But he couldn't. He just held Hutch's hand harder and waited until Dobey came and dragged them out and the circus began again.
The rest of the process seemed a complete anticlimax to Hutch.
Hulk and Weasel, a.k.a. Coney and Sousa, gave up Forest in about ten seconds during interrogation. Hutch had been allowed to watch their questioning, though he couldn't participate.
An arrest warrant was granted in record time, and Starsky somehow managed to get himself and Hutch assigned to pick up the bastard, with a black and white as backup.
The arrest was the hardest part for Hutch. Not because he had to face Forest, but because he had to face Jeanie.
Forest must have been warned, because he was about to get in his car when they approached the house that had been his hiding place for the last week. Jeanie was with him, a defeated look on her face. When she saw Hutch she seemed overcome by equal amounts of relief and horror. Hutch knew how she felt.
He let Starsky deal with Forest, not even paying attention to the insults and threats he threw at Jeanie and himself. They had enough to put the man away for a long time, and his organization, never the strongest, seemed about broken.
He approached Jeanie carefully, afraid she might bolt like a wild horse. Afraid he might bolt himself.
He was overwhelmed by a swirl of conflicting emotions: concern and shame, affection and aversion. He had thought he loved this woman, but the love had been too tenuous a thing to survive what they had gone through. Looking in her eyes, Hutch could see that she knew it too.
He took her very gently in his arms and gave her a brief hug before releasing her. She ran a hand lightly down Hutch's face, almost but not quite making contact with the cut that had been so long healing.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"So am I."
"I have to leave Los Angeles."
"And you have to promise to let me go. Don't follow me."
Hutch hesitated before responding. In spite of everything, he still felt the need to protect her. But he knew that he couldn't become one more man who couldn't let her go. He had to give her this.
A weak smile bloomed on her face. She looked behind him.
"Is he your partner?" He knew she must be talking about Starsky.
"Yeah," he said, desperately hoping it was true.
"Tell him to look after you."
"You look after yourself, Jeanie. And if you need anything, call me."
She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. Then she turned and disappeared into the house. Hutch knew she would be gone within the hour.
He turned back to Starsky. The uniforms had Forest and were taking him back to their squad car.
"We done here?" Starsky asked.
"Uh-huh." Hutch couldn't say any more.
"She seems like a nice lady." Starsky nodded towards the house.
"She is. She's just had some rough luck."
"C'mon, let's get out of here."
He followed Starsky into the car. They couldn't drive away fast enough for him.
The uniforms dealt with getting Forest to headquarters, but Starsky insisted that they be there for the booking. He wanted to remove any power that the man had over Hutch, and he thought that taking him through the routine, boring process of booking might make Hutch see the guy as the worm he was.
It seemed to work. Hutch was a bit nervous at first, a slight stutter marring his speech once or twice. But by the end, the familiar ritual had taken over and he showed no more concern for the man who had wreaked such havoc on his body and his life than he would for a common street pimp.
The booking complete, Forest was taken to lockup. With any luck, they wouldn't have to be troubled by him for a few days. The D.A.'s office could take over for the moment.
Starsky slapped Hutch on the shoulder, suddenly eager to get out of headquarters.
"C'mon, I'll drive you home."
Hutch visibly tensed and shook his head firmly.
"No. I can't go back there. Not yet."
Starsky supposed he could understand that. Hutch had been kidnapped from his own place. He probably would have avoided that kind of bad memory himself.
But if Hutch couldn't go home, where could he go? He didn't want to just take him to a hotel. He gave in to an impulse.
"You can stay with me." Hutch gave him a quizzical look that was completely unreadable. "I've got a couch that's pretty comfortable. I'll even make you breakfast." Starsky knew he was close to babbling, so he shut up and waited for an answer.
Hutch continued to stare at him, making up his mind. He finally nodded.
"Sure. That would be great."
"Yeah, and we can look for a new place for you tomorrow." Starsky knew he was presuming a lot, but he didn't think Hutch would ever be comfortable in his own place again.
Starsky rubbed his hands together, letting his own enthusiasm take over. "This'll be great. We can watch old movies and get a pizza. I hope you like anchovies. It'll be like camping out."
To his great relief, Hutch laughed.
"I'm willing to try anchovies. I hope you're willing to try goat's milk for breakfast."
"Ah, don't tell me you're one of those health nuts."
"Not a nut. I like to take care of my body."
"So do I. I just think we have different definitions of 'taking care'." Starsky smiled, and was pleased as Hutch returned the expression.
Once they were in the car, Starsky realized that Hutch didn't really have anything with him. He'd gotten Huggy to buy them both toiletries at a discount store, and the clothes Hutch was wearing came from the same place.
"We should probably pick up some of your stuff. You don't want to be wearing that forever." He waved a hand at the t-shirt and jeans the Hutch currently had on.
Hutch stiffened again, his good humour temporarily gone, but after a second he eased up.
"You're right. And I'll have to go back some time."
"I'll be right with you, babe."
"Then let's go."
The visit to Hutch's bungalow wasn't as bad as it could have been, but Hutch did get a haunted look in his eyes as soon as he stepped through the door. He opened the closet, and stared dumbly at the empty hook. Starsky quickly realized what he must be looking for from the scene reports he'd read.
"They've got your gun at the station. We can pick it up tomorrow, if you want."
He grabbed an overnight bag from the top of the shelf and quickly closed the closet. Then he disappeared into the bedroom. Starsky could hear drawers being opened and clothes being stuffed into the bag. He took the opportunity to walk around the apartment.
It was a nice place. Not opulent or anything--no one could be opulent on a cop's salary--but pleasant. Neat and tidy. Quite unlike Starsky's own place, as a matter of fact. Starsky was struck by how little the two of them actually knew about each other, and how little alike they seemed to be. Maybe opposites really did attract.
Hutch emerged from the bedroom.
"Then let's get out of here," Starsky said.
Back in the car, Starsky was suddenly reluctant to return to his own place. He turned to Hutch.
"Hey, do you want to go down to the beach? You haven't really gotten any fresh air in a while."
Starsky took his time driving through the streets, enjoying the feel of the early autumn air on his face. Hutch also seemed to relax, letting his hand rest on the side of the door, tapping his fingers to the music from the radio. It was, thought Starsky, as if all the bad parts of the past two weeks had been suddenly wiped out, leaving only two friends enjoying an early evening drive.
He took them to a beach he knew that was slightly off the beaten path. The sun was just dropping below the horizon as they arrived, and there were only a few stragglers left on the beach: a few kids fooling around at the ocean's edge, surfers getting one last ride in.
Starsky steered them down the beach, to an outcropping of rock that provided an oasis of privacy. He dropped onto one of the flatter rocks, enjoying the heat that radiated from its surface and soaked into his body. Hutch dropped down beside him.
The two of them sat watching the last of the sunset. Starsky was amazed at the spectacular colours that saturated the sky, deep purples and oranges, and made a promise to himself that he'd take the time to do this more often. Especially if he could come with the man beside him. He looked over at Hutch, and found him fascinated by the sky as well.
Eventually, the colours faded from the sky, leaving a darkening indigo. Starsky turned towards Hutch. He was struck by the sense of calm that suffused the other man's face. He'd never seen Hutch look so at peace, not even when he was sleeping.
It took his breath away.
He realized all over again how much Hutch had come to mean to him, how much he wanted to spend as much time as possible with him. And he knew if he wanted any of that, he was going to have to take a risk. Here. Now.
The other man turned to him.
"D'you wanna talk now."
Starsky found his courage failing him. He decided to talk about work.
"I just want you to know, that I really respect you. You did really good today." He swallowed himself. "I was wonderin' if maybe you wanted to transfer to Homicide. So we could be partners." He felt himself trail off, and hit himself mentally. This wasn't what he really wanted to say.
Hutch smiled, but there was disappointment in his eyes, too.
"That would be good, but I doubt Captain Dobey would want a junkie cop on his squad."
"Don't." Starsky felt an unexpected anger boil up inside him. "Don't you ever call yourself that. It's not true."
"Yeah, it is, Starsk. I've gotta face that."
"That's not who you really are. We both know that, and that's what you've gotta hold on to. Not some stupid label that doesn't mean anything." Starsky took a breath, and forced himself to slow down. "Besides, I already got Dobey to agree to the transfer. He'd do anything to get me to work with a partner, and you're the partner I want."
"Jeez, you work fast."
"Uh-huh." Starsky leaned back on his elbows and smiled in satisfaction.
Hutch lay back on the stone, shaking his head. Starsky sank back to join him.
They stayed that way for a long time, the silence between them comfortable. Starsky figured that since Hutch hadn't argued any more, he'd accepted the idea of transferring to Homicide. Now, he just had one more hurdle to cross. A big hurdle.
Hutch must have read his mind, since he was the one who broke the silence.
"Was that all you wanted to talk about?" Hutch's voice was barely a whisper, but to Starsky it seemed like a shout. The smile faded from his face and he felt his heart speed up.
"No, not all."
He didn't elaborate, and Hutch didn't push him. They lay in silence again, but this time the tension between them was a tangible thing.
Then Hutch reached out and took his hand.
"Is this what you wanted to talk about?" Hutch's question was even quieter than his last. Starsky was stunned by the courage that it took for him to do this, courage that he had found himself lacking.
"Yeah." Brilliant Starsky. You really oughta get paid for making these speeches. But he was still frozen, caught at the cusp, unable to either move forward or retreat.
Fortunately, Hutch wasn't frozen. Starsky found himself held by a strong pair of arms, his head tucked under Hutch's chin. The embrace was tentative at first, as if Hutch was waiting to see if he would be welcomed or rejected. When Starsky didn't try to move away, the arms tightened around him. He enjoyed the feel of hands moving up and down his back, comforting him as if he were a small child just woken from a nightmare.
He found the ability to move, and returned Hutch's caresses, enjoying the play of Hutch's muscles under his hands.
"I think," Hutch started, then stopped, unable to continue.
"What do you think?" Starsky encouraged him with his hands, trying to convey that whatever he said was okay, was fine, would be accepted.
"I think I love you." Hutch's voice was rock steady, all hesitation gone.
Starsky gasped, and held on tighter than before. He searched for his own courage, and finally found it.
"I love you," he said.
He finally looked up into Hutch's face. The expression he saw there, in the half-light of the beach, made everything right. Hutch had the look of a medieval saint who had just experienced divinity first hand.
He opened his mouth, in awe, and then they were kissing. The kiss began chastely, a kiss of innocent affection. But it went beyond that. Starsky felt the heat of Hutch's mouth, tasted him, felt the texture of tongue and teeth.
Starsky broke off the kiss, leaving them both gasping. He hugged Hutch to him more closely,
He looked at Hutch and found uncertainty beginning to infect the joy on his face.
"Don't worry, babe." He stroked Hutch's cheek with his thumb. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Good." Hutch drew himself into Starsky's body even more closely. He could feel the other man relax in his arms and gradually fall into an easy, light sleep.
Starsky continued to look at the man he held struck by equal parts amazement, shock and love. But he knew, beyond all doubt, that this was right.
It was going to take a lot of work, and they would probably piss each other off a lot, but it was right. It would work. It was what he had been looking for.
He stroked Hutch's back and waited for his lover to awaken and their lives together to begin.