God, this hurts.
I'm not sure how long I've been here. Time kind of quits on you once all the external reference points get taken away. No watch or clock. No daylight. No way to look at somebody's face to see if he's got five o'clock shadow or just rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
I know I've pissed myself twice, but since the second time was because of—well, something they did to me, my mind isn't quite letting me think about what it was and I don't blame it one bit—I guess that's not too reliable an indicator. I also don't know how long I was unconscious before all the festivities started, so my time sense is even more screwed up.
If you figure I could go maybe eight hours without a pee, ten pushing it, then let's see—
The last thing I remember is going to bed, and that was around eleven o'clock at night. So let's add on nine hours to that, to be conservative, makes it eight the next morning. After that, it does get kinda hazy, because being hurt fucks with your time sense even more than being blindfolded.
Part of me wants to say it's maybe another eight or ten hours. Part of me wants to make it less, because, Jesus, if they were doing this stuff to me for eight hours—
No. It can't have been eight hours. I'd be dead.
So maybe it's around noon, maybe a little later. By now Dobey will be mad as hell and Starsky will be climbing the walls. They'll have everybody out looking for me, shaking every tree, hunting down every snitch.
Dear God, I hope. Because it doesn't seem like there's going to be an end to this, and I don't know how much more of it I can survive.
All right, Hutchinson, get a grip.
Ha, ha. Kind of hard to do with my hands cuffed the way they are. My arms are pulled up tight above my head, straining my shoulders and back. I can get some relief if I push up on my toes, but I can't hold that position very long, it's too hard on my leg muscles. When I have to let down, the strain goes back on my shoulders. And every time I do it, I can't hold it as long as I did before. Soon, all I'll be able to do is hang here.
The worst thing is I can't even scream. They've got some kind of a contraption in my mouth that's half-choking me and keeping me totally quiet. I can still scream inside—my throat is raw, feels like it's maybe even bleeding—but nothing's coming out.
The worst, the absolutely worst thing, is that they're trying to make me think one of them is Starsky. Whoever the bastard is, he's got the voice right, that's for sure.
I can hear the squeak of sneakers on the floor as he walks around, smell sandalwood when he comes close.
Speaking of which—
"Hey, blondie. Time to rock and roll."
"C'mon Huggy, there's gotta be something! Hutch didn't just vanish like a fuckin' ghost! Somebody has to know something!"
"Man, I called in every favor I got going out there. Nobody's heard diddly, and if they did, they ain't sayin'."
That was . . . bad.
I can hear a dripping sound coming from somewhere around my feet. It's blood, I think. My back hurts too much for me to feel anything except the pain, but there's this steady trickle running down my thighs, so I guess I'm bleeding pretty good.
I'm torn up inside, too. I couldn't get myself up on my toes anymore even if my legs would still hold me. There's a godawful ripping pain up in there that hits whenever I try to shift position. It feels like half my guts are torn loose. I keep telling myself it can't be that bad; internal bleeding will send you into shock pretty fast, and as much as I'm hurting, I'm pretty sure I'm not going shocky yet.
I'm thinking some weird stuff right now, like do I remember any of the symptoms of peritonitis, and how long does it take to set in anyway? I say weird, because I'm pretty sure if somebody doesn't get me out of this fast, I won't live long enough to worry about infections.
Of course, if I do get rescued, I might have a whole other set of things to worry about. Like, say, will I still be able to be a cop with a colostomy bag? Will Starsky still want me if I need reconstructive surgery before we can fuck again?
Please, buddy. I need you.
It's not Starsky. He wouldn't do this to me. No matter how angry he got, no matter what happened. He couldn't.
It's not him.
"Gimme a break, Huggy. I can't say nothin', you know that. Man, anybody even finds out you're here, my ass is grass."
"Your ass gonna be grass a long time before that, unless you feed me. Something's wrong, you know it, I know it, everybody on the damn street knows it, and I'm gettin' some answers one way or the other."
It's not Starsky.
I knew that. I mean, in my heart—which is the only place that counts right now—I knew it. When push came to shove, he couldn't shoot Prudholm, and what that sick bastard did was a million times worse than . . . whatever it is I've done.
So Starsky couldn't do this to me.
But now I've got proof.
See, I know Starsky's hands. I've touched them, looked at them, had them all over my body more often than I can count. I know how he cuts his nails straight across, but always a little bent on the left hand, because he's a lefty. I know the feel of the callus at the base of his left thumb where the gun butt rests, a little rough at the sides, but mainly just hard and smoother than the surrounding skin. The scar on the inside of his right forefinger makes a tiny ridge, shaped like the bottom half on an R, where his boy scout knife pinched him good one time.
I even know the feel of the rings. This bastard, whoever he is, is wearing rings too, but they aren't Starsky's. They don't feel right. Too smooth, too new. Starsky's have a, what's the word? Patina?
Damn, gotta hold this together. I used to know words like that.
Character. Starsky's rings have character. They've been on his finger so long they've taken on part of his personality. They're worn on one side, where he's always rubbing or brushing against stuff. The bottom one's a little dented, because when he throws a punch, his hand kinda twists and he always leads a little with his pinky. Surprised he's never broken it, the way he hits.
This guy—those rings aren't right. He doesn't punch like Starsky either. Okay, so Starsky hasn't punched me a lot, but I know even that about him. About us. The way it feels when his fist makes contact with my skin. The sound he makes, like it's hurting him just as much as it hurts me.
I wonder if they think I'd know that. Or that I wouldn't? Do they know that I'd know Starsky's hands better than anybody else's, anywhere on earth?
"Elijah, are you sure it was Hutch?"
"Well, sure, I know Hutch. He give me five dollars."
"Last night he gave you five dollars?"
"No, that's why I 'member. 'Cause last night he didn't even look at me. Those two boys just carried him right by and he never even said hello. Just laid him in that car and drove off, never said a word to me."
I think I'm supposed to live through this.
I mean, think about it. What's the point of making me think Starsky's torturing me, and then kill me? What's the point?
It only has a point if I survive and—
What? What's the point?
Okay. So I have to hang on. We're good at that. I hung on two days under a car, Starsky hung on after he got shot, we hung on through everything we did and lost and played.
So, yep, hanging on here.
Not like I can do much else. Can't feel my arms anymore, which I know is bad, but it's such a relief that something doesn't hurt I don't care. I keep feeling these little jerks and realizing my legs have given out and I'm just dangling. Seems like it's too much effort to keep trying to get my legs to work.
Gotta hang on.
Think about it. The good news is, I'm going to live.
The bad news is, it's not over yet.
"Dispatch, this is Adam 15. We are in pursuit of BOLO vehicle blue Dodge Challenger, license number three seven two, Able Charlie Romeo, westbound on 84th Street. Patch through to Zebra 3."
"Ten-four, Adam 15, we have you in pursuit, westbound on 84th. Stand by for patch through to Zebra 3. Zebra 3, Zebra 3, come in."
I can't any more.
Oh, God, Starsk, I'm sorry, I can't.
Hurts so bad.
"We got him! Warehouse on 83rd, down by the old lumber yard. All units, I repeat—Starsky! Get back here!"
Well, this is different.
Everything's so white.
I can't feel anything.
"I need to see him."
"Detective, I'm not sure that's advisable right now. He's just come out of surgery and he'll be unconscious for a while yet."
"I need to see him."
"In a couple of hours, when—"
"Doctor, you won't win this one. You might as well let him go up."
"The voice of experience, Captain Dobey?"
"More than I want to think about."
I'm in the hospital.
I'd recognize that smell anywhere. Disinfectant, sickness, stale air freshener, fear. God knows I've spent enough time in places like this to last me the rest of my life.
Now that it looks like I'm going to have a rest of my life.
There's some irony in there somewhere, I think.
Or was that a pun?
I must be on some pretty heavy drugs. My brain usually can keep track of stuff like that. Did more in college than play darts. Really.
Must be good drugs. I recognize that comfortable feeling: everything's toasty warm, I'm floating on a nice fluffy cotton-wool cloud and I don't have a care in the world. Underneath all that, I can tell there's some bad stuff going on lower down, and when those nice drugs wear off I'm gonna be real sorry.
But right now—
The door's opening.
My mind has so far been pretty good about not thinking about why I'm here, but one look at Starsky's face tells me that yes, I'm not imagining it, there is something pretty awful going on lower down, and when the drugs wear off "sorry" isn't gonna come within a country mile of where I'll be. He looks so scared and so angry that my fluffy cotton cloud starts to droop a little.
Did I go through all that just to die now?
I try to say his name, but all that comes out is a grinding croaking noise, like something small and fragile getting crushed in a set of rusty gears. He makes a noise too, and then he's beside the bed, clutching onto my arm with his left hand, and petting my hair with his right. I can feel the need in him: he wants to grab me and yank all the sheets away and touch and squeeze and know every bruise and . . . whatever else there is wrong with me. But he doesn't dare.
And that alone tells me how bad things are.
But he's here, and he's got hold of me, and I can feel it: it's him. This is Starsky. The callus at the base of his thumb, and the smooth patina of the rings digging into my hand, and yeah, he smells like sandalwood, but even more he smells like coffee and sweat and total wiped out relief.
One tear splashes down onto the back of my hand, and I can feel that too. That little warm drop seems to spread all through my hand and up along my arm, right to my heart.
My fluffy cotton cloud gets a little of its bounce back. But this time it's not from the drugs.
Eventually, he'll tell me how bad things are, and what we'll have to do to get through it all. And God help me, I'll have to tell him what they did to me, and we'll have to find out who and why.
But right now, he's here, and that's really his hand, and that's enough.