Shadows of Doubt (by Barbara)

Summary:    Hutch is blinded by paranoia when Starsky becomes ill under mysterious circumstances.
Category:  Starsky & Hutch
Genre:  Crime
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  11,435


 

PART ONE

Hutch was filled with anguish. His mouth generated no saliva at all and felt pasty and stale. Knots tightened in his stomach making him feel nauseous. At first he was cold but then seemed to percolate with heat. Beads of sweat formed on his upper lip. His face was the color of day old, mashed potato, as the blood seemed to have drain from his head. He felt as if no juices flowed through his veins at all. Only suspicion and vengeance surged through his bloodstream. Hutch was etched with concern. He sat at his partner’s bedside in silent vigil.

It was 4:38 in the morning. A nurse had called Hutch several hours before. She found his phone number in Starsky’s wallet. Stuffed into a credit card slot was a yellowed, crumpled up card that simply read, “In case of emergency, contact Ken Hutchinson at 555-3298.”

When the phone rang, Hutch was fast asleep. Its sudden sound made him jump. He fumbled in the dark to answer it. He knew intuitively that something was wrong. At 1:15 a.m. there was rarely good news to be told.

“Hello?” He said alertly.

“Is this Ken Hutchinson?” A sweet, female voice asked calmly.

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“My name is Jennifer Weir. I’m a nurse at Memorial hospital.”

Hutch sat up with alarm as he listened intently. The word “hospital” made his heart miss a beat.

“Yes.” He replied curiously. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand.

“I found your name and number in a… Detective Starsky’s wallet?”

“Yes.” Hutch said again with deliberate confirmation.

“Your friend has been admitted here, sir.” Her voice was firm but unobtrusive. “Could you come down as soon as possible?”

“Is he alright? What happened?”

“I’m just the messenger Mr. Hutchinson. Mr. Starsky’s doctor can answer any questions about his condition when you get here.”

“I’m on my way.” Hutch answered positively.

He sprang from his bed like a squirrel from a branch and grabbed the pair of pants he’d left in a heap on the floor the night before. He pulled on a turtleneck sweater and strapped on his shoulder holster. He threw on his brown, leather jacket over that and was out the door within minutes.

As he sped toward the hospital his head swam with only the worst possible scenarios. His imagination ran wild. Maybe Starsky was dead. Or, maybe he’d just broken a bone or had food poisoning. Maybe… maybe. Despite the thousands of reasons one might be admitted to hospital, Hutch couldn’t help but wonder… who was responsible. What nutcase had reared his ugly head now? What scumbag from their past had surfaced and targeted his partner this time? Hutch struggled to control his brain activity until he found out exactly what had happened to Starsky.

When they parted the evening before, all was well. They ate at one of Starsky’s notoriously iffy restaurants, discussed the few cases they were working on and ended up at Huggy’s for a beer before heading home. Starsky dropped Hutch off at his apartment around nine. The last time Hutch saw his partner, he seemed happy and healthy. Things had obviously changed.

After hastily parking his junked car, he ran into the hospital and up to the admitting desk. He scanned the parking lot and hospital lobby for anything suspicious as he went. A young man informed him that Starsky was on the third floor – intensive care. Hutch jogged to the elevator and rode up. There, he was met by the nurse who had contacted him. The place was dimly lit and eerily quiet. Not a soul roamed the shiny hallways. The thick smell of antiseptic hung in the air like August smog.

“Mr. Hutchinson?” A tiny woman probed.

“Yes? Where’s my partner?”

“I’m Jennifer Weir. I’ll take you to see him. Then I’ll call the doctor so you can speak with her.”

“Thank-you.”

Nurse Weir led the way down the hall to an open ward where several beds were set with people attached to tubes and various medical apparatus. Hutch scanned the room for Starsky, fearful of what was in store. He was also wary of everyone and everything as the pair creped there way through the maze. She turned a corner and walked toward a glassed in cubical. It was then that Hutch could see Starsky laid out on a sterile gurney.

“Right in here Mr. Hutchinson. But, you’ll have to put on this gown and mask first.” She instructed as she held out her hand to usher him to Starsky’s bed. “I’ll page the doctor for you.”

After suiting up, Hutch forced a thankful grin at nurse Weir and slowly approached his partner. He felt as if he’d been kicked in the stomach when he saw him. He looked so sick. He was attached to a ventilator and it hissed and clicked loudly. Starsky’s eyes were half open but Hutch knew he was unconscious. There were no apparent injuries – no cuts or bruises. He just looked terribly ill. His complexion looked like slate. His trademark curly hair was wet and laid flat against his scalp. Swirls of threadlike strands stuck to his forehead. After staring at his partner for several moments, trying to take it all in, he finally took a seat next to him. He placed his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. It was damp with sweat.

“Starsk?” He murmured. “I’m here. You’re going to be fine. Can you hear me Starsk? Everything’s going to be all right. Hang in there, buddy.”

He pulled the sheet up to Starsky’s neck in an attempt to comfort him and then waited. Several moments passed but it seemed like hours. He barely noticed when the doctor arrived and she startled him when she spoke. She too wore a surgical mask.

“Detective Hutchinson?”

“Hutch.” He corrected her cordially after he’d recovered from his start. He shook her hand.

“Hutch.” She repeated and then sat down beside him. “I’m doctor Ledyard. Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Yes.” He replied simply.

“When was the last time you saw your partner?”

“Around nine o’clock last night.”

“How was he?”

“He was fine.”

“How is his overall health?”

“Good… great.”

“Is he on any medications? Does he have a history of illness… diabetes, asthma?”

“No, nothing.” Hutch answered dutifully, but then shook his head perplexed. “What’s wrong with him doctor? What happened? Who did this?”

“We don’t know.” She said dispiritedly.

“What do you mean you don’t know? How did he get here?”

“A woman jogger found him lying on the street around 10:45 last night.”

“Lying on the street? Where?”

“She found him on the curb, face down on Cedar Ave. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes. It’s right around the corner from where he lives.”

Hutch looked vexed. He glanced over at Starsky who seemed to struggle for life.

“What’s going on here? Was he hit by a car, was he attacked… shot…what?”

“Like I said Mr. Hutchinson… Hutch… we are trying to diagnose the problem but we just can’t seem to nail down exactly why your partner is in a coma.”

“Coma?”

“Yes. I’m afraid that is the only thing we know for certain, right now. That and the fact that his temperature is hovering around 106˚.”

“106˚?” Again, Hutch turned his attention to his partner – his face pale with worry. “Well, is he going to be okay?”

“All I can advise is that his family be notified. We are doing a battery of tests to determine his condition and prognosis.”

Hutch was bewildered – speechless.

“Come on.” She said, “Let’s go down to the cafeteria and get ourselves a coffee. I sure could use one. How about you?”

“But…”

“It’s okay. Jennifer will take good care of David. We won’t be long.”

Reluctantly, Hutch rose from his seat and followed the doctor out of the intensive care unit. In unison they pulled off their protective garb. Then in silence, they rode the elevator down to the basement and entered the small, vacant café. Hutch pointed to a table and for her to sit.

“How do you like it?”

“Just cream, please.”

Hutch went up to the counter where a coffee machine sat. It held several half filled pots of what looked like black treacle. Despite the unappetizing look and odor of the stuff, he poured two cups and returned to the table for an in depth discussion about why his partner had lapsed into a coma for no apparent reason.

“Thank you.” Dr. Ledyard said as Hutch placed the paper cup in front of her.

“Careful, it’s hot.” He warned. “So, ah… what do you want to know?”

“Has your partner had the flu or a cold lately?”

“No.”

“Has he been hiking or camping?”

“Hiking or camping? We’re cops. We spend twelve hours a day on the streets. Sometimes more.” He replied curtly.

“I know my questions may sound silly and mundane,” she retorted firmly, “but I need to rule things out. Mosquitoes and ticks can carry all sorts of nasty diseases. I don’t know where your partner has been. I’m just trying to do my job Mr. Hutchinson.”

“Hutch.” He smiled apologetically.

“Hutch.” Dr. Ledyard grinned with acceptance then got back to business. “Does he have any pets? Has he been bitten or scratched at all?”

“No, nothing.”

“No minor bruises or scrapes?”

“We had a bit of a skirmish last week but he seemed fine afterward. No complains, besides the usual.”

“The usual?”

“Ah… he can be needy sometimes.” Hutch confessed fondly.

“Oh, I see.” She said with a smirk. “Just friend stuff, huh?”

“Yeah, just friend stuff.” Hutch confirmed with a pleasant grin.

“What about joint pain?”

“No. I don’t have any joint pain.”

“Not you… you’re partner.” She sighed.

“Oh… no. Not that I know of.”

“Abdominal discomfort?” Dr. Ledyard continued the interrogation.

“No.”

“Headaches?”

“No.”

“Blurred vision?”

“Nope.”

“Has he been forgetful or dizzy?”

“Negative.”

“Does he have any enemies?”

“Enemies? Yes, we have LOTS of enemies.”

“Do you think someone might want to hurt your partner?”

“It’s been known to happen. That was my first instinct.” Hutch took a sip of his coffee and winced at its taste.

“Oh?”

“A couple years ago, Starsky was injected with a poison that almost killed him.”

“Well, his tox screen shows no signs of anything unusual in his system. Besides a small level of alcohol, there isn’t a trace of as much as an aspirin. All of his organs are in good working order. His kidneys show no sign of shut down. His heart is stronger than a bull elephants. His brain shows no swelling or abnormality. It seems his genetics are perfect. All we know for sure is that his temperature has sky rocketed. And, according to this report I just picked up from the lab, his fever is not caused by anything of an infectious nature… TB, typhoid, measles.” Dr. Ledyard thought a moment. “Right now, I’m focusing on finding some sort of internal infection. It’s the only other thing that could cause such a high temperature in such a short time. But, that can be like finding a needle in a haystack. I’m sorry Mr. Hutchinson…”

“Hutch.”

“I’m sorry Hutch, I’m at a loss. We are trying desperately to cool him down to prevent any seizures or brain damage. I’ll put him on ice if I have to. We’ll keep running tests and scans until we find out what exactly is ailing your partner, but as for right now… it’s a mystery. Are you sure there hasn’t been anything in the last few days that have seemed out of the ordinary? Even the smallest thing.”

“Doctor.” Hutch focused intently on her pale green eyes. “Starsky hasn’t so much as stubbed his toe. And, believe me, if he had he would have told me about it. He’s just that kind of person. He has a very low pain threshold and if anything was bothering him, he would have told me.”

“I see.”

“What about the ventilator.” Hutch quarried.

“What about it.”

“Well, you said all his organs were fine, so why the ventilator?”

“It’s just a precaution. As is the isolation room now that we’ve ruled out infectious disease. I’ll take him off it when I know he can breathe on his own. He’ll also be moved out of intensive care this afternoon. There seems to be no need.” She shrugged. “Is there anything else?”

“Well, I don’t know if you know this.” Hutch remarked.

“Know what?”

“I happen to be a pretty good detective.”

“That’s the rumor.” She jibbed precociously.

“Do you have the name of that woman jogger? I’d like to talk to her.”

“Nurse Weir can get that information for you.”

“Thank you for all your help.” Hutch’s tone brimmed with sincerity. He reached over and placed his hand on hers.

“I just wish I had more to tell you.” She winked. “Don’t worry Mr. Hutchinson, we’ll get to the bottom of this and Mr. Starsky will be up and around in no time.”

“Doctor Ledyard?”

“Yes?”

“Call me Hutch.”

*****

PART TWO

He spent the rest of the morning with Starsky. Hutch waited until his partner was taken off the ventilator and settled into a private room. Only then, did he call Captain Dobey. It was 10:56 a.m.

“Captain? It’s Hutch.”

“WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU TWO?”

“Take it easy Captain. Starsky’s sick.”

“SICK? He was fine yesterday. Has he got a new girlfriend or something? You tell him to get his sorry butt in here…NOW!”

“Captain. He’s in the hospital. He’s…Starsky’s in a coma.”

“He’s WHAT?”

“You heard me.” Hutch sounded irritated.

“What happened?”

“No body knows.”

“What do you mean nobody knows?”

“The doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with him. He’s really sick Captain. I’m very… well; I’m going to track down the woman who found him. I’ll be in touch.”

“I’ll come down there. Somebody should be with him.”

“Thanks Captain. He’s in room 412.”

“I’m on my way.”

Hutch pressed on the lever to disconnect but kept the receiver in his hand. He rummaged around his pockets for spare change. Then he dialed the operator.

“What city please?”

“New York.”

“What name please?”

“Mrs. Marie Starsky.”

“Please deposit one dollar and five cents so we can connect you.” Came the robotic voice.

Hutch counted out the coins and slotted them one-by-one into the pay phone making it jingle musically. Finally, it began to ring. He took a deep breath.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice answered.

“Mrs. Starsky?”

“Yes.”

“This is Ken Hutchinson. David’s partner.”

“What’s happened to Davy?” Her response was maternally intuitive. “Is he alright?”

“He’s… well, he’s quite ill ma’am.” Hutch fumbled, trying his best to be diplomatic. “I just wanted you and Nick to know that he’s in the hospital. The doctors aren’t sure what’s wrong with him yet, but they thought it best that you be notified.”

“Oh dear.” Her voice sounded frail.

“I’m going to give you a phone number where you can call and ask about David’s condition. All right, Mrs. Starsky? Just call 555-0909. Anytime. Have you got that?”

“Yes. I have it Ken.” She paused briefly. “Take care of my boy.”

“I will Mrs. Starsky. I will.” Hutch affirmed. “I’ll call you as soon as I have more information. Try not to worry. He’s going to be okay. I promise.”

“Thank you, Ken.”

“Bye for now.”

Hutch hung up the phone and exhaled with puffed cheeks. He looked back in on Starsky before he left the hospital to pay Teresa Wilson a visit. Nurse Weir had given Hutch her address and it was his first stop in his investigation. He’d work his way back from where Starsky was found.

He got into his car and started the engine, but before he set out he placed his forehead on his hands that clasped the top of the steering wheel. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to change his focus from concern for his partner to the task at hand – discovering what happened to Starsky and who was responsible for his sudden, mysterious illness. After another loud sigh, he put his heap in gear and drove off toward Cedar Ave.

*****

Teresa Wilson lived on the street where Starsky was found. As a matter of fact, he was lying at the foot of her front walkway. Hutch pulled up across the street from her home and got out to inspect the area. Nothing seemed out of place at all. It all seemed spick and span. He crouched by the curb to get a different perspective when a woman peered out her front door.

“Can I help you?” She called down to him.

“Teresa Wilson?” Hutch answered back.

“Yes. That’s me.”

“I’m detective Hutchinson.” He replied as he pulled out his badge and began to walk up the path that led to her porch. “You found my partner lying here last night. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“He was a cop?”

“Yes. That’s right. Do you have a few moments?”

“Of course. Come on in.”

“Thank-you.”

A friendly, little beagle welcomed him as he entered the small foyer. Teresa steered Hutch into the living room and offered him a seat. After giving the dog a scratch behind the ears, he pulled out his notepad and poised his pen.

“Would you like some coffee?” She asked.

“No ma’am, I’m fine. Can you tell me exactly what happened last night?”

“Sure.” She began as see took the armchair across from him. “I always take my dog out before I go to bed. You know to empty his tanks. That’s when I do my run for the day. You know, kill two birds with one stone.”

“Good idea.” Hutch said somewhat impatiently.

“Well, as soon as I opened the front door, Blazer started howling. It was pitch dark, and I didn’t see anything at first. But, he dragged me down to the street where I saw a man lying against the curb. At first I thought he was drunk. But, then I recognized him.”

“You did?”

“Yes. I’ve seen him around the neighborhood. He drives that hideous red car with the bent, white stripe. He drives way too fast for my liking.” She chastised. “I had no idea he was a police officer.”

Hutch sniffed a slightly embarrassed chuckle.

“I’ve seen him at the local grocery store and he jogs by here sometimes.”

“He does, does he?”

“Yes… sometimes.”

“So, then what?”

“Well, I didn’t want to move him or anything. That’s what they tell you, you know… in case he’s broken his neck or something. Don’t want to injure him anymore than he already is. I took a course in first aid one time, so I knew what to do and that was to just leave him be. That was one of the best things I ever did, taking that first aid course.” She rambled.

“Ms. Wilson.” Hutch tried to move it along. “What happened next?”

“So, like I said, I just left him be and went right back inside and called the ambulance and about 5 minutes later they were here and rushed him off to the hospital. After everything calmed down, I went for my jog and emptied my dog’s tanks. I came home, had a shower and went to bed. End of story.”

“What time was that?”

“Oh, around 11:30 or so.”

“And you didn’t notice anything strange or unusual when you found him? There was nobody else around? Could you see any injuries? Anything at all?”

“Not a thing. I thought it was strange that my dog didn’t hear or see anything earlier. Usually if there is someone about, he lets me know. Beagles love to bark at just about anything you know.”

Hutch looked down at the lovely dog that sat leaning against his leg. He reached down to pet him on the head and the dog looked up at him soulfully. Blazer’s tongue fell out of the side of his mouth.

“Nice dog.” Hutch complimented her.

“Yes. He’s a good boy.”

“Well, thank you Ms Wilson. I appreciate you talking to me and for helping my partner last night. If you think of anything, you can call me at this number.”

Hutch passed her his card as he made his way back to the front door to leave. The dog followed him, wagging his tail and seemingly smiling.

“Is your partner alright?” She probed.

“No. He’s, ah… he’s very sick.”

“Oh dear. Well, I sure hope he’ll be okay. I liked him. He was always very nice to me.”

“You spoke to him?”

“I have in the past… just ‘good mornings’ and ‘hellos’. He’s very cute, your partner. I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, as they say.”

Hutch smiled, but was somewhat taken aback by her comment.

“Well, thanks again Teresa.” He looked down at the dog. “Bye Blazer.”

Hutch walked toward his car and glanced back at the woman who waved at him from behind her screen door. His gut was telling him to be suspicious of her. Something was strange about her demeanor. She seemed too eager to please… almost too helpful. When he got into his car he made some more notes before heading over to Starsky’s apartment.

*****

As he turned the corner he could see the red Ford Torino gleaming in the mid day sun. It shone like a ruby as it sat in its home spot seemingly waiting for his owner to take it for a spin. Hutch smirked, as he had never related to the car like a living being before. He’d never much cared for Starsky’s taste in automobiles. He actually hated that car. It was one of the few subjects on which they did not see eye-to-eye. That, along with Starsky’s eating habits and passion for expensive watches. But, here he was feeling sorry for a car. It was uncharacteristic and Hutch deliberately shook off his melancholy.

He parked behind the Torino and got out. He took a tour around the building to see if anything was out of place. Nothing. All was in order. He moved up the stairs to the front door and got out the key Starsky had given him for times such as this. But, he didn’t need it. The door was slightly ajar. It was the first sign of something amiss. Hutch’s heart began to pound. He pulled his gun from its holster and tentatively pushed on the door. It swung all the way until the far wall stopped it. Hutch cautiously entered Starsky’s apartment.

The place was neat and tidy. There was a single beer bottle on the coffee table. It was half full. He felt it for temperature. It was warm. As Hutch made his way to the kitchen on the far side of the apartment, he glanced over at the bedroom. The bed had been slept in. The sheets were tussled and the pillows dented. He continued on. There were several dirty dishes in the sink but besides that, nothing seemed eschew.

“There must be something.” Hutch mumbled aloud.

He opened the refrigerator and rummaged through all the closets. He turned over cushions and opened draws. He went through Starsky’s garbage desperate for any clue that might expose any covert activity. Frustration set in.

In the bedroom he crouched down to see if anything was under the bed. He checked the window, but it was closed tightly. Just as he was about to give up, he noticed that the phone on the side table was off the hook. He went back to the kitchen to get a cloth and bag to handle it with. He hoped it might hold fingerprints or something… anything. Right now, all he had was an open front door, a warm beer and an unplaced phone receiver. It wasn’t much.

He bagged the piece, locked the door behind him and returned to his car. With the door wide open and his feet still on the pavement he radioed for a nearby black and white to come and pick up his meager evidence and return it to the lab for analysis. After that he asked to be patched through to the hospital to check on Starsky. It took a few moments to get an answer.

“Fourth floor.” Came the simple response.

“This is detective Hutchinson. Could you give me an update on David Starsky?”

“One moment, sir.”

He waited.

“Hello? Hutch?”

“Yeah, Captain. How’s he doing?”

“He’s the same. No change.”

“Have you heard anything from Dr. Ledyard?”

“No. I haven’t seen him.”

“Dr. Ledyard is a woman, Captain.”

“I still have seen her, Hutchinson!”

“Okay. Well, I’m heading over to Huggy’s. We were there last night. Maybe something will turn up there.”

“Did you talk to the jogger?”

“Yes. There’s something funny about her.”

“Like what?”

“I’m not sure Captain. It’s just a hunch.”

“Hutch?”

“Yes?”

An enormous pause hung in the air like wafts of dry ice. Hutch scanned the neighborhood as he waited for an answer. It was long in coming.

“Captain?” He probed.

“Yeah, ah… listen, I know what you’re thinking. I know you two have had some problems in the past but…well, maybe Starsky is just sick.” Dobey said sheepishly. “There might not be anything more to it than that. You maybe on a wild goose chase.”

Hutch did not respond to Captain Dobey’s theory. That possibility and probability had occurred to him. But, with the vibes he got from Teresa Wilson, Starsky’s open front door and the misplaced telephone, Hutch had to stay suspicious of everybody and everything. Maybe Starsky was just plain sick, but Hutch could not ignore the fact that he and his partner had been targeted before. He had to follow every lead. If Starsky died, he’d have to know exactly why and how and that he had done everything in his power to prevent it.

“I’ll be in touch.” Hutch responded coolly.

He pulled in his legs, slammed his car door and screeched out of the driveway toward The Pits.

*****

“Well, if it isn’t Captain America.” Huggy Bear greeted from behind the bar as Hutch wandered in from the back entrance. The lanky proprietor leaned over it looking for Starsky as the two were rarely seen apart. “Where’s your better half? Can’t find a parking spot for that oversized tomato soup can he calls a car?”

“Can I see you over here, please?” Hutch huffed as he passed and headed toward a booth in the back. His expression was more than intense.

“Whatsa matter Hutch? Somebody put India ink in your peroxide?” Huggy jabbed. He chuckled at his own joke as he dutifully followed the detective to the table and slid in across from him. Hutch looked at him squarely.

“Have you heard of any of your customers getting sick?” Hutch asked.

“What chew mean, man?” Huggy replied with insolence. “You sayin’ my food is crude?”

“What I’m saying is…” Hutch leaned forward and whispered. “Starsky is sick. Really sick.”

“He’s sick? He was fine when he left here last night. What’s he sick with?” Huggy’s tone changed from mild ire to concern.

“He’s in the hospital. He’s in a coma with a fever higher than Albert Einstein’s IQ. They don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

“And you think that something he had here last night might have made him sick?”

“I don’t know.” Hutch sounded lost and desperate. “Some woman found him lying on the street in front of her house last night around 10:30. The hospital called me around one. When I got there, the doctor tells me that they can’t find anything wrong with him except that he’s running a fever of 106˚ and he’s lapsed into a coma. I’ve questioned the woman who found him. Her story seems cut and dried but there’s something about her that just rubs me the wrong way.”

“What’s her name?”

“Teresa Wilson. You know her?”

“Nope. Can’t as I do.”

“Then, I go to Starsky’s apartment and his door is open. The phone is off the hook. Something’s just not right here. I’ve got a really bad feeling about this, Hug. Really bad. Starsky could die. What am I going to do if he dies?”

“Hold on now. Take it easy. He’s not going to die.” Huggy replied trying to calm his friend. “You know Starsky. He’s tough. He’ll pull through.” He shrugged casually. “He always does.”

“Have you had any complaints from anyone who was here last night?”

“Not a word. Haven’t heard of anyone getting sick. All Starsky had was a couple of beers anyway. He drank what you drank. You’re not sick. You guys ate before you got here remember.”

“Yeah.”

“What did the doc say?”

“Huggy. They’ve ruled out infectious diseases, dog bites, organ shut down, diabetes, toxins.” Hutch counted off his fingers. “They think it might be some kind of infection, but they have more questions than answers. Something’s got his body raging hotter than a Louisiana hooker. And, if he gets any hotter he’s just going to blow.”

“What does that mean?” Huggy looked puzzled.

“Brain damage.”

“Huuuutccch…Starsky’s brain can’t get any more damaged than it already is.” Huggy tried to lighten the mood.

Hutch couldn’t help but grin at his friend’s attempt to quell the seriousness of the moment. Then his complexion sagged. He glanced up at Huggy from below his brow. His forehead crinkled and his eyes drooped with fatigue. The crease at the top of his nose deepened.

“It’s bad. You should see him. He looks like he’s… oh man he’s so sick.” Hutch rubbed is face with both hands in despair.

“Hey…listen.” Huggy said. “I’ll head on over and pay our man a visit. I’ll bring him some of my Aunt Ella’s soup. It cures everything from the plague to athlete’s foot.”

“You do that. Dobey’s with him now.”

“Okay. I’ll relieve Dobey then. Don’t worry, Hutch. You go home and get some rest. You look like a chewed up piece of string. Get some sleep. I’ll call you if there’s anything to tell.”

“No.” Hutch shook his head woefully. “No, I’ve got to check out the restaurant where we ate last night and then get to the station and go through some files. Maybe somebody’s been released that we should know about. Someone with a grudge.”

“You know, Hutch.” Huggy pondered.

“What.”

“Maybe, Starsky’s just sick is all.”

“That’s what Dobey said.”

“He’s probably right.” Huggy advised. “I know you two have had your problems in the past with vendetta’s and such but it probably isn’t this time.”

“Yeah. Maybe. But, I’ve got to do something. I can’t just sit around and…, God I feel so helpless.” Hutch looked up again with an expression of desolate possibility. “It could be a vendetta.”

“Okay. Fine. You stay paranoid if you want to.”

“Huggy. In our line of work we have to be paranoid.”

“It’s a tough way to live, my man. It’s a dangerous way to live.”

“It’s the only way I know.” Hutch took a moment to regroup. “Can I use your phone, Hug? I want to check on Starsk.”

“Sure. Use the phone in my office.”

“Thanks.”

Hutch dragged himself out of the booth, walked through the bar, side stepped some patrons and scaled the stairs to a room that was all too familiar. He and his partner had taken refuge there many times in the past. It held a vat of bad memories. Even the smell of it brought back times Hutch would prefer to forget. There was a lot about his life as a cop he wished he could forget. He and Starsky had endured more than their fair share of pain, both physically and mentally. Being in Huggy’s office just added to the shadows of doubt that haunted him.

He approached the small desk and rested half of his derriere on the edge of it and picked up the phone. He patted his pockets trying to remember where he’d put the hospital’s number. He found it and dialed.

“Fourth floor.” A man’s voice answered.

“I’m calling about David Starsky’s condition? Is Dr. Ledyard there?”

“One moment.”

Again Hutch waited. He was truly tired and didn’t even try to stifle an enormous yawn.

“I’m sorry sir. Dr. Ledyard is in surgery. May I ask who’s calling?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s detective Hutchinson. Is Captain Dobey there?”

“One moment please.”

Hutch released an exasperated sigh. He just wanted to know if Starsky had gotten any worse.

“Hutch?”

“Yes, Captain. Got any news for me? Please make it good.” He scrunched his face as if preparing to be slapped.

“He’s the same. He might even be worse.”

“What about Dr. Ledyard? Has she been by to talk to you at all?”

“Just to say they’re working on a diagnosis.”

“Oh.” Hutch sounded deflated. “Well, I’m going to the station to go through some files. Just in case someone is back on the streets that shouldn’t be. Huggy said he’d come down and relieve you.”

“I want you to get some rest.” The Captain doted. “Don’t want you getting sick too.”

“Don’t worry, mom.” Hutch quipped. “I’ll call you later.”

*****

PART THREE

After a futile trip to Reggie’s Fire Pit, where the owner assured him that he’d received no complaints of food poisoning or otherwise, Hutch spent the remainder of the day rifling through computer print outs and old case files. Periodically, he’d phone the hospital to check on Starsky. His condition was no better or worse. By, the time dinnertime rolled around, Hutch was not only famished but was blinder than a one-eyed bat. He could no longer focus. He could not comprehend another word.

To his dismay, absolutely nothing suspicious surfaced from his hours of research. Not one single lead. The analysis of Starsky’s telephone receiver rendered nothing either. As he poured over the pile of paper work, Teresa Wilson kept popping into Hutch’s tortured brain. She had something to do with this. Hutch was certain of it. His intuition was usually right – he depended on it as much as he depended on Starsky. With eight years of police work under his belt, he’d mastered the art of reading people and Ms. Wilson, Hutch decided, needed further attention.

With yet another call to Huggy to inquire about his partner, and with nothing new to report, Hutch planned to return to Teresa’s home to stake it out. He grabbed a few packages of salted peanuts from the venting machine in the hallway outside the squad room and headed to the garage.

He threw the morsels in his mouth as he drove toward Starsky’s neighborhood. He passed by his partner’s apartment just to check on it. All was dark. The Torino continued to wait. Hutch drove on to the corner of Starsky’s street and Cedar Ave. and slowly nestled into a parking spot by the curb several houses down from Teresa’s place.

It was 8:30 p.m. and the sun was just about to call it quits. Darkness fell over the area like a shroud. When the streetlights popped on, the remaining kids that skateboarded up and down the sidewalks quickly disappeared into the safety of their homes. It was a school night after all. The only other activity was a few passing cars and the odd jogger and dog walker.

As the night aged, Hutch’s paranoia set in like an abscess. It ate at him. It festered like a caldron of hot fat – spewing nothing but suspicion and rage. Rage about his past. His forced heroine addiction, the murder of Gillian & Terry and Starsky’s poisoning all fueled the fire that smoldered in Hutch’s gut.

Now, any sound became as loud as a gunshot. The movement of the leaves in the breeze became a villain in the shadows. Every car, every piece of litter blowing down the pavement gave Hutch cause for concern. He consciously scolded himself, trying to conquer his over-active imagination but his weariness and besieged history was impossible to overcome.

He slumped in the driver seat and folded his arms fighting to stay awake. He hated stakeouts and without his partner beside him playing his obtuse games to avoid the inevitable napping, he was suddenly shaken by the fact that he was alone. A feeling of emptiness engulfed him and he wondered if it was a feeling he may have to live with. It shook him to his very core. Life without his best friend was simply unthinkable.

An eerie hush fell over the street. It was unsettling. It too fed Hutch’s fear and skepticism. Hours passed like seconds until right on schedule, Teresa Wilson appeared at her front door with her dog. She trotted down the front steps of her house and Hutch watched as she did some lame stretching exercises. She straightened up and started to jog down the sidewalk toward Starsky’s place. When she passed Hutch’s car and was half way down the street, he got out and followed her on foot.

Neither Teresa nor her dog were aware of Hutch behind them, stocking like a puma ready to pounce on a rabbit. Blazer was preoccupied with the job at hand, sniffing at trees and fire hydrants. Teresa ran in place as she waited for the hound to assess each obstacle. Hutch stayed in the shadows, moving from shrubs to alleyways for cover. When Teresa reached the foot of Starsky’s driveway, curiously she stopped dead behind the Torino. Hutch too, stopped in his tracks. She seemed frozen there as Hutch looked on with great interest.

Slowly, Teresa moved up beside the car. She cupped her hand around the side of her eyes, leaned forward and peered into the front driver seat window. Hutch’s heart pounded. Teresa straightened up and scanned the neighborhood before walking around to the front of the Torino and up the stairs to the small landing outside Starsky’s front door. Blazer followed without protest. Again, she shaded her eyes and looked through the peep window and into Starsky’s apartment. She shook the doorknob.

“HOLD IT!” Hutch ordered from the bottom of the stairs. His gun was drawn and he had it aimed squarely at the young woman.

Teresa screeched with terror and the dog spooked as well and started to bark.

“Come down here.” Hutch said rigidly, “Slowly.”

“Oh my gosh!” Teresa breathed as she unsteadily made her way toward Hutch. Blazer continued to bark furiously.

“Control your dog Ms. Wilson.” He commanded.

“Is that you detective Hutchinson?” She asked, as she got closer to him, recognizing his halolike hair.

“Yes. Ma’am. Please control your dog.” Hutch sounded even but firm.

“Blazer!” She raised her voice at the pup. “Quiet! Hush now. What’s this all about detective?”

“Raise your arms and put your hands behind your head.” He said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said…” He was more forceful this time. “Put your hands behind your head.”

She obeyed and he stepped toward her and spun her around. He patted her body gingerly for any sign of weapons, then spun her back to face him. Blazer sat between them, now wagging his tail.

“You’re under arrest for attempted murder Ms. Wilson. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you refuse that right…”

“Attempted murder?” She replied terrorized. “And, just whom have I attempted to murder, might I ask?”

“Detective Sergeant David Starsky.”

“Your partner? You think I hurt your partner?”

“Yes… I do.” Hutch replied as he roughly pulled her hands behind her back and handcuffed her.

“This is ridiculous. I helped him. I didn’t do anything to hurt him.”

“We’ll discuss this downtown Ms. Wilson.”

Hutch almost picked up the woman by her upper arm and dragged her back to her home. There they placed the dog back in the house and then was forced into the back of Hutch’s crumpled, chartreuse-colored car. After slamming the back door, Hutch circled the car and threw himself into the driver’s seat and drove to the station.

*****

With little care, Hutch stampeded Teresa Wilson down the hall to interrogation room three. He removed the cuffs and steered her into a chair. She started to cry. She was absolutely terrified. Hutch’s eyes beamed fiery ire. They were bluer than a match at its base – so hot, they were ice cold. Teresa trembled with fear. Hutch took a deep breath to compose himself but was unsuccessful. Blind paranoia and anger raged through his stressed body. He took the seat opposite his prisoner.

“What were you doing at Starsky’s house tonight Ms. Wilson?” He asked with cold angst.

“I… I just wanted to see if he was alright. If…if he was home from the hospital yet.”

“Why?”

“I was worried about him, that’s… that’s all.” She sputtered.

“Why were you worried about him? You said you hardly knew him. You said that you and he have only exchanged a few words in passing.”

“I was just curious, I guess.”

“Curious?”

“Yes. I thought if he was home, and he was still feeling ill, I could buy him some groceries or maybe cook him a casserole. I was just… trying, trying to be a good neighbor.” Teresa broke down again.

“You’ve been stalking my partner. Haven’t you?” Hutch charged, desperate for anything to accuse her with. Anything to explain Starsky’s illness.

“What do you mean… stalking him.”

“You wanted to be more than just acquaintances, didn’t you?” Hutch accused, clouded by ravenous cynicism.

She looked up at her capture with eyes as red as pomegranates. Her stare was of utter confusion and panic.

“DIDN’T YOU!” Hutch shouted, pounding his fist on the desk and making it shake.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” She wept. “I want to see a lawyer. You can’t terrorize me like this. I’ve done nothing. NOTHING! I don’t want anything from your partner. I never did!” Teresa fought back.

“You said you were attracted to him.” Hutch blared back.

“I never did. I want to make a phone call. I want to speak to my lawyer.”

“Admit it Ms. Wilson.” Hutch continued to pump, “Starsky turned you down and you wanted to hurt him for ignoring your advances.”

“I… DID… NOTHING… OF THE KIND! You’re crazy!” She screamed. “CRAZY!”

Hutch stormed out of the room. Even he feared what he might do next. Anxiety filled his entire being and he felt like he might pass out. He felt out of control – wild. He pressed his body against the far wall of the corridor struggling to calm himself and gain his sanity. After several moments of deliberate breathing he seemed to level out. It was then that Captain Dobey distracted him. He had no clue that Hutch was in the middle of a midnight interrogation.

“Where the hell have you been?” Dobey reprimanded as he walked down the corridor to confront him.

Hutch did not answer but rather leaned forward placing his hands on his knees as if he’d just finished a marathon. He continued to ventilate.

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.” The large black man scolded.

“Why?” Hutch puffed.

“Dr. Ledyard has found out what’s wrong with Starsky.”

Hutch didn’t wait for an explanation from his superior. Without a word he ran toward the exit leaving Dobey with his hand in the air and shouting after his detective.

“HEY! Don’t you want to …”

But, Hutch was out of sight and earshot.

*****

“Where’s Doctor Ledyard?” Hutch asked vehemently as he rushed past the fourth floor nurses station.

“Keep you voice down sir. This is a hospital, not a baseball stadium.” An older nurse lectured.

“Where is she?”

“Doctor Ledyard is in surgery. May I ask who you are?” She asked curtly.

“Detective Hutchinson. My partner is under her care. My boss said she’d diagnosed him and I want to see her… now!” He pointed.

“Listen… Mr. Hutchinson, if you don’t calm down I’m going to have to call security.”

Hutch took a step back and put his hands on his hips. His head dropped between his shoulders as he visibly tried to cool down. A moment passed and when he finally raised his head again, he stared at the nurse begging his questions silently.

“Alright then. Who is your partner?”

“David… Starsky.” Hutch replied with frustration.

“Yes. David is the patient Dr. Ledyard is operating on.”

“Starsky’s in surgery?”

“As we speak.”

“Well, what happened? What was wrong with him?”

“I’m afraid, his condition can only be discussed with family members.”

“Look lady… I am his family, okay!”

“Are you brothers?”

“No, I’m his mother.” Hutch fumed.

“I really don’t appreciate your attitude Mr. Hutchinson. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until your FRIEND is out of surgery. Dr. Ledyard will fill you in on your FRIEND’S condition then.”

“I don’t believe this.” Hutch seethed.

“Believe it. I’m just following procedures.”

“But…”

“The waiting room is at the end of the hall. Second door to your left.”

“But…” Hutch tried again.

The nurse ignored his final plea and returned to her desk behind the half wall of the nurse’s station. She opened a file and began to study it. She did not acknowledge Hutch’s glare even though it could electrify a fence. Finally, he surrendered and walked defiantly down the hall and into the stark waiting room. It was 12:34 a.m.

*****

“Where the hell have you been?” Huggy asked irritably.

Hutch crossed the floor and threw himself in the corner of the couch that Huggy Bear occupied. He slouched and placed his entire face in the palm of his hand.

“What do you know, Hug?” He mumbled as he rubbed his forehead until it turned bright pink.

“Not a thing, ‘cept Starsky’s in surgery. I called Dobey to try and find you.”

“Well, I’m here.”

“They just took him about an hour ago. I think we have a long wait.”

“Damn.”

“Hutch. You okay?” Huggy looked at his friend suspiciously. He’d never seen this side of him before. Hutch simply didn’t look like Hutch.

“I’m fine.”

“You sure don’t look fine.”

“HUGGY!!” Hutch blasted.

“Okay, okay. Take it easy. Just askin’. Take a pill man. Everything’s going to be alright. Chill out.”

Hutch sat motionless. His hand continued to shade his eyes as he stared at the floor like a zombie. Huggy left well enough alone and read a magazine unaware of the turmoil that swirled like a tornado in Hutch’s brain.

Hutch had fallen into a well of doubt so deep he thought he might drown. His life seemingly a shambles. A career filled with hatred and violence. His breaking point had been building for years, and now it had all come to a head. The dread he felt was debilitating. Madness seemed inevitable. Hutch was absolutely spent – done.

*****

They waited in silence for any word on Starsky. Hours passed like days. Then, finally just as the sun was coming up Dr. Ledyard appeared like an angelic apparition – her form silhouetted against the brightness of a new morning. Hutch had not moved his position and had slipped into a devastated trance. Huggy too, sprawled out on the couch on the opposite side of the room.

“Hutch?” The doctor said softly as she nudged the detective.

Instantly, he was alert and ready to hear the verdict. She was surprised he could change gears so quickly.

“How is he? What was it?”

Doctor Ledyard sat directly beside him.

“Osteomyelitis.”

“English please.”

“A bone infection. It took me quite awhile to find it. But, when I did yet another exam, I noticed a scar behind his left shoulder blade. I ordered a scan and x-ray of the area and there it was. Do you know how David got that scar?”

“Yeah… ah, we were in a restaurant.” Hutch sounded bewildered as he recalled the tale. “We got entangled in a mob hit that went wrong and Starsky got shot.”

“Has David ever complained about stiffness or soreness in his back or shoulder?”

“Yeah, yeah… all the time.”

“That was it then.” Dr. Ledyard resolved gleefully.

“It? What’s it? That was years ago, doctor. How could that have almost killed him two days ago?”

“Sometimes fragments can sit dormant for years. Something can trigger them and an abscess can begin to eat its way into the bone. Maybe that skirmish you had last week was the trigger. It’s extremely rare but I have heard of old gunshot wounds rearing their ugly heads years later. I’ve read about World War II veterans experiencing the same sort of fevers due to undetected fragments. It just never occurred to me.”

“And… how is he?”

“Once we drilled into the bone, drained the abscess and released the pressure his temperature dropped immediately. We extracted the piece of bullet too. It was very tiny, but we managed to find it. He’s no longer comatose. He’s going to be fine, Hutch.” She smiled warmly.

“Thank you so much.”

“I’m glad it worked out. I was beginning to think we’d never find what was wrong with him.”

“So, he was just sick then.” Hutch realized as he sat up straight and braced himself.

“Yes. You must be finally running out of enemies. Nothing sinister about this at all. You can go and see him anytime. He’s out of recovery.”

“Oh my God.” Hutch said with alarm. A serge of blood gushed to his face and it became radiated with heat.

“What’s wrong?”

“Teresa Wilson.” He said urgently.

“Who?”

“Teresa Wilson. What have I done?” Hutch whispered.

“Hutch? Are you alright? Who’s Teresa Wilson?”

“Phone… I need a phone!” Hutch’s expression was engraved with panic.

“You can use the one in my office. It’s just down the hall.”

The pair left Huggy, still fast asleep, and raced down to Doctor Ledyard’s small, corner office. Hutch stepped around the desk and picked up the receiver. The doctor looked at him with concern; worried she may have another patient on her hands. She stood still and watched him dial.

“Captain!”

“HUTCHINSON!!” Dobey blared. “Do you know that you left a woman in an interrogation room ALL NIGHT!!”

“Yes. Captain that’s why I’m calling.” He answered with honest concern.

“What the hell is going on? She’s looking for your head on a platter!” He raged. “Internal Affairs is going to have a field day with this! You’ve got a lot of explaining to do!”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” Hutch placed his fingertips to his brow and then squinted. He sucked air through his gritted teeth. “I’ll apologize to her. As soon as I go check on Starsky.”

“APOLOGIZE! You’ve got a lot more to do than apologize this time Hutchinson!”

“Captain. Send her home. I’ll go and see her as soon as possible.”

“What were you thinking, Hutch? She says you accused her of attempting to murder Starsky? Are you out of your mind?!”

“I WASN’T thinking. I wasn’t thinking at all and yes, I was out of my mind.” Hutch’s shadows of doubt began to fade as the conversation progressed. Hutch was now seeing light at the end of his obsessive tunnel. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“HUTCH? HUTCH!!” Dobey shouted furiously – the sound of his voice drifting farther and farther away as Hutch hung up the phone.

“Can I go see Starsky now?” He asked directly.

“Sure. He’s back in his room. Or, he should be by now.” The doctor looked at her watch. “If he isn’t, he will be soon. Wow, look at the time! I’ve gotta go.”

“Thank you, doctor. Thank you.” Hutch looked at her intently.

“My pleasure Mr. Hutchinson.”

“Dr. Ledyard…” He replied.

“I know, I know… call you Hutch.”

*****

Hutch passed by the waiting room and peered in on Huggy. He had not moved a muscle and was still asleep. The magazine he was reading still lay over his face. Hutch decided not to wake him and traveled down the maze of hallways until he found room 412. Starsky’s room. First he stuck his head around the doorframe and then proceeded in.

Starsky was sitting up, and being fed oatmeal by a very pretty nurse. He didn’t see Hutch arrive.

“Good morning.” Hutch said cheerfully.

He teetered on his feet, swaying backward and forward from heel to toe. He smiled like Stan Laurel, blinking rapidly.

“Heeeey…” Starsky replied.

His left arm was firmly placed against his abdomen and his left shoulder and torso were tightly bandaged.

“Feeling better I see.”

“Ah… yeah, much bedda. Much, much bedda.” Starsky smiled so brightly it competed with the brilliant sunshine that poured through the blinds.

“Miss?” Hutch stood with his hands behind his back. “Would you excuse us for a moment, please. You can come back later and help David finish his breakfast.”

The nurse, who had seated herself on Starsky’s bed, stood and left the room without saying a word. She turned to give her patient a flirtatious wink though. Starsky winked right back. Hutch took notice of her curves and then sauntered across the room and took a seat beside the steel-framed bed. He paused momentarily, thankful and relieved to see that his partner was alert and smiling.

“So…” Hutch asked quietly. “What happened?”

“What happened? What do you mean what happened? I got sick!” Starsky’s voice cracked.

“Yes, I know that Starsky. But, do you know what I’ve been through the last 48 hours?”

“What you’ve been through? What about me? I’m the one in the hospital bed remember?”

“But, we didn’t know why.”

“Yeah, so.”

“Starsky…”

“What?” He seemed to have trouble following Hutch’s train of thought.

“When you dropped me off Monday night you were fine.”

“Well, I…”

“Well, you what?” Hutch looked at his partner side ways.

“Well, I really wasn’t fine.” Starsky confessed.

“Come again?” Hutch raised his eyebrows.

“I wasn’t really feeling very well. Hadn’t been for a couple days.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought I just had the flu or somethin’.”

“The flu.” Hutch stated blankly.

“Yeah.”

“Since when do you keep your aches and pains a secret? You can’t even have a hang nail without complaining about it.” Hutch accused. “And, then when you get really sick you forget to fill me in. Sometimes I just can’t figure you out!”

“Heeeey…”

“Starsky?”

“Umm?”

“I’m in trouble.” Hutch’s tone quickly changed from irritated to despondent. “BIG trouble.”

“Why?”

“Well, when the hospital called me early Tuesday morning, and told me you were sick, I immediately thought that someone was responsible for you being here. And, then when the doctor said they didn’t know what was wrong with you, I just sort of went… mad.” Hutch furrowed his brow.

“Mad? What do you mean… mad?” Starsky returned the frown.

“I sort of went on a mission to find out who had done this to you.”

“Nobody did anything to me, Hutch? A piece of dat bullet I took a few years back caused an infection.”

“Yes, Starsk, we know that now. But, a few days ago you were in a coma with a fever of 106˚ and the doctor had no idea why. So, my mind kind of went wild. I started thinking about all the run-in’s we’ve had over the years with all the hoods and scumbags. Prudolm, Arnie Sulkin …Ben Forest and Munk. I just… I just lost it.”

“What do you mean you lost it?” Starsky asked fearful of Hutch’s reply.

“I arrested someone. Someone who was innocent. Someone I targeted out of shear paranoia.”

“Who?”

“The woman who found you.”

“A woman found me?”

“Yes, she found you laying on Cedar Street unconscious.”

“She did?”

“Yes. She did and instead of thanking her… I terrorized her.” Hutch sounded wretched. “Our lives Starsky have been tainted. Our careers as cops have been filled with so much crap it clouded my judgment. I’ve done a terrible thing. I went ballistic on that poor girl and I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it right.”

“Well, just go over and apologize to her.”

“It won’t be enough. I was horrible to her. Just awful.” Again, Hutch placed his face in his palms and rested his elbows on his knees. “Oh my God, the things I accused her of. I blew it Starsk. I totally blew it.”

“She’ll understand when you explain it all to her. Just like you told me.”

“I hope so Starsk. I hope so.” Hutch then visibly shifted gears. “Hey… wait a moment.”

“Huh?” Starsky sounded surprised at his partner’s sudden change in tone.

“What about the open door and your phone?”

“Hutch. What are you talking about?”

“When I went to your apartment to see if anything looked suspicious, your front door was open and your phone was off the hook. And, how did you get on Cedar Ave.?”

“Well, I don’t remember too well, but I was feeling pretty bad by the time I got home that night.” Starsky started to explain. “I grabbed a beer to cool me off. I only drank half of it but I really just wanted it to hold against my forehead. I was so hot. Then I thought I should go to bed. It was early, so I took the phone off the hook. Then around ten, I started sweating really bad. My sheets were soaked. My head was pounding. I just had to cool down somehow. I decided to take a walk. I thought the air would help. I guess I didn’t close the front door and I only got so far before I passed out. I guess that’s where the lady found me.”

Hutch stared at his partner throughout the entire story without so much as a blink. It all made sense when the scenario was told back to him.

“Oh.” Was all Hutch could muster. He removed his dumbfounded gaze from Starsky and looked to the side. He then stared at his hands.

“You okay, Hutch?”

“I don’t know.” He answered faintly. “No, I guess I’m not. I was such an idiot.”

“What was the name of the lady who found me?”

“Teresa. Teresa Wilson.”

“What does she look like?” Starsky asked when the name didn’t ring a bell.

“She’s middle-aged, about five four, with shoulder length blond hair.”

“Does she have a little black beagle?”

“Yeah. Blazer.”

“Sure, sure. I know her. She’s the one who found me, huh? I’ve talked her a couple times, just in passing… you know.”

“She saved your life, Starsk.”

“She’s a nice lady, Hutch. She’ll forgive you as soon as you explain everything to her. Now, get over there and get it over with. Then when you come back you can bring me a couple of hamburgers and maybe a strawberry shake.”

“You’re too much you know that.” Hutch hissed at his partner.

“What?” Starsky defended. “I’m hungry. I can’t eat this food.”

“Not even when it’s being spooned to you by a healthy nurse?”

“Well, it has its perks but I’d rather have some real food spooned to me by a healthy nurse, if you know what I mean.”

“I’ll see you later.” Hutch said as he rose from the chair to leave.

“Hey Hutch?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s gonna be okay.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Starsk.” Hutch sounded happy and sad all at once. “I’ll be back later tonight.”

“Hey Hutch?”

“Yes, Starsky?” He sounded testy.

“Don’t forget to get fries with that.”

*****

Hutch walked up the path that led to Teresa Wilson’s front porch and stood hesitantly at the bottom of the steps. The afternoon sun beat down on him making him glow. Its warm rays were somewhat comforting, but did nothing to subdue the shame Hutch felt for terrorizing a perfectly innocent person. He knew better than that. With a heavy heart, he slowly made his way up the stairs and rapped on the screen door.

Teresa peered through her front drapes to see who was calling. When she saw Hutch, she immediately hid from him. He saw her though, and he tapped on the door again.

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to talk to me Ms. Wilson. But, I’ve come to apologize.”

“Go away detective Hutchinson. You can talk to my lawyer. Your Captain has all the details.” She scoffed.

“Please let me explain.” Hutch pleaded. “I won’t hurt you. I just want to tell you how sorry I am and how wrong I was.”

The scene became quiet. Only the sound of far off cars and the chirping of small birds chipped the air. Hutch hesitated a moment before he tried again.

“Please Ms. Wilson. Teresa? Please, let me talk to you.”

The woman cracked open her front door and Blazer began to bark. She was understandably petrified and kept the chain on.

“Okay. Talk.” She offered.

“Can I come in?” Hutch’s voice was even and as soft as cashmere.

“What makes you think I’d let a madman like you into my house again.”

“I don’t blame you for being afraid of me. But, I really need to come in and tell you why I was so… well, why I did what I did.”

Teresa squinted her eyes mulling over his plea and pondering if she could trust him.

“Please?” Hutch asked again with slight desperation.

“Alright. But, if you try anything, I will set my dog on you.”

Teresa tentatively opened the front door and Hutch tentatively stepped inside. He presented her with a dozen pink roses that were surrounded with baby’s breath. She took them cautiously.

“I’ll put these in water. You can go into the living room and sit down.”

“Thank you.”

Blazer followed Hutch and again, leaned against his leg hoping for a scratch behind the ears. Hutch obliged and couldn’t help but smirk at Teresa’s threat to sick the dog on him. He knew this dog didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. He was as gentle as a day old kitten.

“So, Detective Hutchinson.” She said as she entered the living room and sat down across from him. She crossed her arms. “What have you got to say for yourself?”

“I just wanted to say how sorry I am for what I did to you last night. I was totally out of line. I should have known better.”

“And, just why didn’t you know better?”

“Well, you see. Starsky and I have had some pretty bad things happen to us over our careers and when the doctor couldn’t find out what was wrong with him I assumed that someone had tried to hurt him.”

“Why would someone want to hurt him?”

“We’ve made a lot of enemies in the past eight years ma’am. Lots of them have tried to get revenge.”

“Like how?” Teresa sounded like she was interested in the gory details.

“Well, let’s just say, Starsky and I have paid a huge price for our work on the streets. I didn’t realize until last night how it truly has affected me. You helped me see that.”

“What could they possibly have done to make you do what you did to me?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes.” She insisted. “I do.”

“Starsky’s fiancé was murdered. And, my girlfriend was murdered.”

Hutch’s blatant confession took Teresa completely off guard. She silently gasped and held her hand to her breast. Hutch continued.

“We’ve been poisoned and shot. I almost had my hand blown off. There was a bomb planted in the trunk of my car. Innocent people have been used to get back at Starsky and me. They’ve been injured even killed. We live a tough life. It’s a life that fosters paranoia and fear.” Hutch paused for a moment. He was finding his speech therapeutic. “You see. My partner and I are very close. He’s more important to me than anyone in my life. And, me to him. We are like one person. And, when something happens to him, it happens to me too. If Starsky bleeds, I bleed just as much. Do you understand?”

“I’m not sure if I do or not.”

“Well, all I really want to say is that I’m so sorry that I hurt you. I became the very person I thought I was hunting last night. This experience has opened my eyes and it will never happen again. And, I want to thank you for not only saving Starsky’s life but also for restoring my faith in human nature. I had no idea how bitter I’d become.”

Teresa gave Hutch the once over. She’d already forgiven him but didn’t want to divulge it quite yet. She couldn’t resist his blatant charm. Not many women could.

“So, how is your partner?” She asked after a short pause.

“He’s going to be fine. It turned out to be an infection. Nothing sinister at all, which makes what I did to you even worse.”

“Yes. It does.” She agreed.

“Well?” Hutch begged the question. “Am I forgiven?”

“You’re off the hook this time detective Hutchinson. But, for only one reason.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I happen to be a very nice person.”

*****

EPILOGUE

“Hutch.” Starsky chewed happily. “You are a life saver.”

“Yeah, this burger is pretty good actually. And, Teresa sent some of her home-made cookies too.”

Hutch leaned over and picked up the box of chocolate chip cookies, opened the top and shoved them under Starsky’s nose. The men leaned in to sniff their buttery aroma.

“Life is good Hutch. Life is good.” Starsky beamed a toothy grin. “So, she let you off the hook huh? You silver tongued devil, you.”

“I think it was the desperate pleading that did it. And, I told her about some of the things we’ve been through.”

“Oh yeah? Like what.”

“Ah, Starsky, we’re having a nice time here, I don’t want to drum it all up again.”

“Did you tell her about Terry?” Starsky asked bluntly.

“Yes. I did.”

“Did you tell her about Gillian?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell her about the heroine and the time that psycho shot me up with dat poison. What about Arnie Sulkin? Did you tell her about that wacko?”

“Well, I didn’t divulge all the specifics but she got the message. Enough to understand why I did what I did.”

The pair took a moment. They seemed to silently reminisce about the tragedies they’d endured.

“You know, Starsky?” Hutch sounded philosophical as he too ate his meal with great pleasure.

“Um?”

“I’m glad you got sick.”

“Whaaaa?” Starsky made a face after swallowing hard.

“Yeah. I’ve really learned a lesson because of all this.”

“I’m glad my pain could be of service to you.” Starsky sounded sour.

“It really has you know. I had no idea how paranoid I was until this.”

“You’ve always been paranoid, Hutch. Thats just your nature.”

“It is not.” Hutch dismissed hurtfully. “You’re the one who’s always looking on the down side of things. I’m the one who is the bright and shiny one. If it was me lying there instead of you, you’d have done the exact same thing I did.”

“Okay, okay. Don’t get huffy.”

“I’m not getting huffy.”

“Yes you are.”

Hutch placed the remainder of his mangled burger back onto its wrapper. He wiped his hands on his pants. He leaned back in his chair and stared over at his partner who concentrated on sucking his milkshake through a straw that was too narrow.

“Starsky?”

“Um?”

“This has been hard. Really hard.”

“You know it. I almost died.”

“No, no, no.” Hutch mumbled with closed eyes and a shaking head. “Our lives. Our careers as policemen.”

“Hard?”

“The price we’ve paid. Has it all been worth it?”

“Sure, it has.”

“How can you say that after all this. After all the crap we’ve been through.”

“I can say it because… I’m happy.” He shrugged casually.

“You are?”

“Yes.” Starsky affirmed. “I can’t think of any other way I’d rather live my life. We were meant to do this Hutch. No matter what the cost.”

Hutch threw his partner a slanted smirk. He was right. There was no other way for the pair to be. There was nothing else on earth they would rather do. They were cops. The best cops in the city and they’d continue to be. There would be good and bad times in their future. But, that was their life and they were prepared to live it no matter what.

“Starsk?”

“Yeah.”

“Next time you’re feeling under the weather. Make sure you tell me.”

“Surely.”

“Starsk?”

“Um?”

“Don’t call me Shirley.”

***The End***

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