Twin Spin, Popsicles, and the Baseball Jacket (by Barbara)

Summary:    Hutch is ill and vanishes, and after unsuccessfully finding his partner, Starsky comes to the realization that Hutch is dead.
Category:  Starsky & Hutch
Genre:  Crime
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  10,822


 

PART ONE

“Hello plants.” Hutch sighed as he entered his Venice Place flat.

His day had been tedious and long. It was Friday night and he was glad to be home. All Hutch wanted to do was hit the shower, have a beer and watch the game.

His partner, David Starsky, had tried to convince him to go out for dinner that evening, but the lanky cop was not up to it. Starsky always tried to convince his best friend to join him for dinner and Hutch always obliged, but tonight he wasn’t even hungry. As a matter of fact, he was feeling down right lousy.

He’d felt unwell all day. His head ached and his throat hurt and heat radiated from his forehead. Starsky noticed that Hutch seemed a little off during their rounds that day, but just assumed he was in a bad mood. It wasn’t until his partner asked for an aspirin and downed it with a quart of orange juice that Starsky clued in to Hutch’s oncoming flu. He’d noticed too, that Hutch’s interaction with female cops had changed from his usual flirtation to a pathetic cry for sympathy. Starsky even witnessed a policewoman feel Hutch’s cheek.

Hutch began to peel off his clothes and coughed and sputtered as he moved into his open concept bedroom. Out of habit, he started to hum a tune but stopped because it made his throat feel like it was coated with acid. He swallowed with great difficulty, stretched his neck upwards swanlike then grabbed it and gently squeezed. He hacked again, stuck out his tongue then tried to shake off the discomfort. He threw on his robe and sauntered into the bathroom.

It only took minutes for the cedar-lined room to fill with steam after Hutch had turned on the taps full blast. The warm moisture seeped into his nostrils and down into his lungs, which helped his breathing and the soreness. He stepped into the tub placed one hand on the wall and leaned into the force of the waterfall. The hot water steeped his body like a tea bag. The top of his head, only inches from the showerhead, took the brunt of the high-pressure stream. He held that position for a long time before he reached for his Old Spice soap-on-a-rope.

After drying off, Hutch pulled on some jeans and a fresh tee shirt. It was 8:40 p.m. The shower had revitalized him and he felt slightly better. He grabbed a beer, scooped up his guitar, turned on the TV and sat squarely in front of it. He flipped the channels in search of the ball game then sat back. The Dodgers lead the Reds by two. It was the bottom of the fourth.

Hutch plucked his Ovation casually, not playing anything in particular. It was common for him to unwind caressing his guitar as if it were a pet. It was one of his best friends. He leaned over and reached for his brew when the phone rang.

“’Lo.”

“Hey.” Starsky asked cheerfully. “How you doin’?”

“Okay. What’s up with you?”

“Just checkin’ on you. You feelin’ any better?”

“A bit.”

“So are you going to be able to make it tomorrow?”

“Make it? Where?”

“The picnic with me and Laura, Hutch.” Starsky whined impatiently. “I told you about it a couple days ago. Rememba. Laura is bringing her cousin and you’re supposed to keep her company?”

“That’s tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

“Awww, I don’t know, Starsk.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“Last blind date you set me up with made me wish I was blind.”

“Heeey.”

“Let’s face it Starsky, you stink when it comes to matchmaking.” Hutch coughed between words.

“This isn’t a blind date.”

“Oh no? What is it then?”

“It’s a… “ The detective stammered. “…well, just come. If you don’t then Laura won’t come.”

“Why?”

“Because, she has to baby-sit her cousin from Des Moines – I just told you.”

“How old IS her cousin?”

“Hutch. Just this once buddy.” Starsky sniveled like a kid wanting to get his way. “Please… come on.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be there.” Hutch resigned. “What time?”

“I’ll pick you up at 1:00?”

“Okay.”

There was a pause and Starsky could hear Vin Scully broadcasting the baseball game in the background. “Tom Seaver pitches to Garvey…. line drive to Perez … great catch by the first baseman and that will end the inning!”

“Who’s winning?”

“Dodger’s.”

“So, you’re feelin’ pretty bad huh? You don’t sound too good.”

“I’ll survive.”

“Well, you know what helps me when I have a cold?”

“This I gotta hear.” Hutch patronized.

“Popsicle’s.”

“What?”

“Popsicle’s!”

“Starsky. You know I don’t eat that kinda stuff.” Hutch sounded disgusted.

“It’s just sugar and water.”

“How does this help you feel better when you have a cold?”

“Well, you eat the Popsicle’s and they’re cold and it brings down your fever and numbs your throat.”

“Oh yeah? Sounds logical… I guess.”

“My mom used to give me Popsicle’s when I was a kid and I had a cold.”

“Maybe I’ll go out and get some.”

“Get the blue ones.”

“Blue?”

“Yeah. They’re raspberry flavored.”

“Then why are they blue?”

“I don’t know. They just are.”

“I think I’ll stick with orange.”

“ORANGE!” Starsky barked repulsed by the idea. “NOBODY likes orange.”

“I do.”

“Okay, well get orange then. But get some blue ones for me.” Starsky concluded. “I’ll see you tomorrow at one. Oh and Hutch?”

“Yeah?”

“Go to bed and get lots of sleep and put some Vicks Vapo rub on your chest.”

“Yes mom.” Hutch chuckled. “Should I take two aspirins and call you in the morning?”

“Just trying to help.”

“I know.”

“Nite.”

“See you tomorrow.”

Hutch leaned back and put the guitar in the corner of the couch as if it were a baby. Even placing his fingers on the frets was a chore this evening. He laid his head back and sprawled himself out and tried to make himself comfortable. The symptoms of the flu were becoming more apparent. He had the chills but perspired from fever.

“Popsicle’s, huh?”

Hutch thought a moment before mustering up the energy to stand. He pushed his wallet in his back pocket, threw on his black baseball jacket with white leather sleeves and headed down to the corner store. Everything was an effort. Maybe some fresh air would help and he just HAD to try Starsky’s cold remedy.

He left the TV on and the door unlocked, exited the apartment and lazily shuffled down the stairs to the street. He wiped the perspiration from his brow with the wool cuff of his jacket.

“Manny’s should have Popsicle’s.” Hutch whispered to himself.

He needed milk and orange juice anyway. And some antihistamine wouldn’t hurt either. Pushing himself forward, he walked down to where Ocean Blvd and Rose Ave met and he turned the corner.

*****

PART TWO

“Hutch?” Starsky bellowed as he walked through the door into Hutch’s apartment at 1:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. “Hutch? We’re here.”

The television was still on and blared a Gillette electric razor commercial. “I liked it so much… I bought the company.”

Starsky’s latest girlfriend Laura and her cousin Jody stood in the doorway too polite to enter. Both ladies were dressed nicely in crisp sundresses. Both had longish blonde hair and were quite lovely ladies.

“Huh.” Starsky huffed with confusion. “Door’s open – TV’s on. He must be around here somewhere.”

He swaggered through the bedroom and out to the terrace that was a jungle of healthy, well-kept plants.

“HUTCH!”

Nothing. As he moved back into the living area he noticed Hutch’s holster and gun slung over the screen that partially separated the two rooms.

“This is weird.” He queried. “I just talked to him last night and he said he’d be here. Maybe he just stepped out for moment. Have a seat ladies.”

Laura and Jody sat primly on the sofa as they watched Starsky head for the icebox.

“Can I get you girls a beer?”

“Yes David. Thank you.” Laura answered.

“Jody?”

“Ice water for me please.”

“Alright. Ice water it is.”

Starsky grabbed two beers and popped off the caps and handed a bottle to Laura who took the beverage with apprehension.

“Oh. Sorry. Let me pour that in a glass for you.” He smiled with embarrassment.

Laura was not a “straight-out-of-the-bottle” sort of girl. No, she was definitely “I drink beer from a glass” sort of girl.

They continued to eye Starsky as he fumbled around the small kitchenette. He knew where everything was, he just felt a little self-conscious as Jody intimidated him somewhat. He wasn’t sure why. She just did. And, he was worried that yet again, Hutch would be put on the spot with one of Starsky’s romantic set-ups. He opened the freezer to hunt for ice cubes.

He noticed immediately that there were no Popsicle’s in sight. Not even the blue ones he’d requested. He slammed the freezer door and pondered. He dropped the cubes in the empty glass and filled it with water from the tap preoccupied by Hutch’s absence. The fact that there was still no sign of him made his stomach knot.

“So what do you do back in Iowa, Jody?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Oh.” Starsky tried to sound enthusiastic but now he knew why Jody made him so uneasy.

“How long have you been a police officer, David?” She asked.

“Oh I guess it’s been about ten years now.” He took a seat in the chair next to the sofa. “Started on the street you know, uniform – walkin’ a beat. Then me and Hutch were promoted to detective and that was just over seven years ago now.”

“I see. And you and Hutch have been partner’s since the beginning.”

“Yup. Yeah… “ Starsky glanced at his watch in between the small talk. “Excuse me.” He said abruptly as he stood and approached the bathroom.

He didn’t need to use it; he was more interested in gathering evidence. He closed the door and scouted the place. There was no Kleenex boxes or cold medicine anywhere. The dark haired cop was becoming more and more anxious as it was becoming more and more clear to him that Hutch left the previous evening and never returned. He came out of the bathroom and stood at the door.

“Listen girls.” He announced. “I think we are going to have to take a rain check. Hutch is never late and I’m a bit worried about him. So, let me call you a cab and we’ll get together later this week.”

“Oh Dave. Don’t be such a mother hen. He probably just forgot. You said he wasn’t feeling very well. You are probably right, maybe he’s just gone for a walk or to the store or something.”

“No. If Hutch is sick, he’d be in bed. And he doesn’t forget.”

“Dave.” Laura got up from her seat and walked over and put her arms around his mid section.

“He’s fine.” She comforted. “Let’s give him a few more minutes.”

“No. Something’s wrong. My gut never lies especially where Hutch is concerned. I’ll get you home and I’ll call you later, okay?”

“If you insist.”

“I do.”

Starsky escorted the ladies down to the street and hailed a cab. He opened the back door of the car and coaxed the girls like a shepherd herding sheep into a pen. He gave the cabby the destination and a twenty-dollar bill and sent them on their way. Then he headed for the corner store where Hutch usually bought his odds and ends. The door jingled when Starsky entered Manny’s Market.

“You seen Hutch?” He asked the proprietor before he’d even reached the counter.

“He was in here last night around nine.”

“Oh yeah?”

“He said he was getting a cold and needed some stuff. He didn’t sound or look very good. He looked like shit actually.” Manny elaborated.

“What did he buy?”

“Some pills, some boxes of tissue – usual cold stuff.” He shrugged.

“Did he buy any Popsicle’s?”

“Oh yeah. He did.”

“Did he buy any blue ones?”

“I don’t know. I don’t look at the colour. What do I care what flavor he gets. Why?”

“Nothin’. Just curious.” Starsky scanned the place as he continued his questioning. “When did he leave?”

“I guess he left around quarter after…. What’s going on Starsky? What’s this all about?”

The cop didn’t answer.

“When he left did you see where he went? Which direction I mean? Was he with anyone?”

“No. Wasn’t really paying attention. I was kinda busy last night. He brought the items to the counter, he paid, I bagged’em and he left. End of story.”

“Okay. Thanks Manny.”

“Sure.”

“Listen, if you see him let him know I’m lookin’ for him, will you?”

“Sure.” Manny repeated.

Starsky exited the tiny shop and stood on the sidewalk just outside the door. He spied the street in both directions deciding which way to go. He had to sidestep a couple who was trying to get into the store.

He leaned to the right and followed his intuition down Rose Ave scanning it for his friend or any sign of strangeness. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first glance. But as he moved further down the street his stomach became more and more tense. He felt like a seven-foot wrestler had a strangle hold on his abdomen. His heart rippled. He spied the alleys as he went and was drawn into the third one down.

It was like he had Hutch radar. Both men were extremely in tune with one other whether they were together or not. It was uncanny really. They’d been told it was the same sort of instinct that twins had for each other. Today, their chemistry would pay off. Starsky tripped over a brown paper bag and he turned to investigate. He crouched and began to wade through its contents. Inside were two boxes of tissue, a bottle of cold medicine, orange juice, milk, and what was left of five orange Popsicle’s and one blue one. The bottom of the bag was a sticky mess of sugary food colouring.

*****

PART THREE

Starsky busted through the doors of the squad room like a cowhand into a saloon and stampeded toward Captain Dobey’s office. It was Monday morning and he’d not slept. He spent the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday in search of Hutch. He’d visited every informant he knew and turned over every rock in the greater Bay City area and ended up back at Hutch’s apartment early Monday morning. He hoped he’d find his buddy there but the place was still vacant.

Starsky looked like he’d spent the last 36 hours on a high-speed roller coaster and when he burst into his boss’s office he stood in the center of the room breathing heavily.

“What’s the matter with you?” Dobey asked after swallowing a bite of donut and chasing it with a sip of coffee.

“I know you’ve heard this before Captain.”

“Heard what? And what are you doing here? I thought you and Hutch weren’t back on duty until tomorrow?”

“He’s gone.”

“Who?”

“Hutch.”

“What do you mean he’s gone?”

“Last time I talked to him was Friday night. And we made plans for Saturday afternoon and when I got to his place he wasn’t there.” He panted.

“So.”

“So? What do you mean so?” Starsky leaned both hands on Dobey’s desk.

“Maybe he just wasn’t up for another one of your blind dates and fled the country.” The captain found his own quip quite funny.

“He was sick. If he needed an excuse he could’ve used that.”

“Sick?”

“Yeah… flu or a cold or I don’t know… he was sick Cap.”

“Okay, okay.”

“So I’ve been on the streets since Saturday afternoon lookin’ for him. He’s just vanished.”

“Has anyone seen him?”

“Yeah. The guy at the corner market talked to him on Friday night and he said Hutch bought some stuff. Thing is, I found his grocery bag in an alley. It had everything in it he said Hutch bought that night.”

“Could it be a coincidence?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why?”

“Well, I told him to buy Popsicle’s to make him feel better.”

“Popsicle’s?”

“It’s a long story. I told him to buy blue ones because I like blue and he said he liked orange and I said no one likes orange and he said he did and I said get some orange ones for you but get some blue ones for me.” Dobey looked confused as Starsky roamed the office rambling about Popsicle’s. “Anyway, I found the grocery bag and it had cold medicine and Kleenex and orange juice and milk and 5 melted orange Popsicle’s and one blue one. That is too much of a coincidence for me. Something is very wrong.”

“Where’s his car?”

“Outside his apartment.”

“Have you checked the emergency wards?” Dobey said reluctantly.

“Every single one.”

“Have you checked….”

“Don’t even say it.” Starsky stopped Dobey cold with an out stretched hand knowing full well that the morgue was his next inquisition.

The large man grabbed his telephone receiver and pressed the extension for missing persons. The anxious detective stood by the water cooler with his hands on his hips and watched as Dobey blasted his orders.

“Put out an APB on Kenneth Hutchinson – Detective. Six feet, blonde hair, 170 lbs. – age 34.” The captain put his hand over the mouthpiece. “Do you know what he was wearing Starsky?”

He simply shook his head.

“No clothing description available.” Dobey concluded and hung up. “Guess that is all I can do for now. What have you two been working on lately?”

“It’s been slow. Not much. Why?”

“Just wondering about a grudge.”

“Grudges can go back for years Cap.”

“Well, let’s pull some files and find out who’s been released recently.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

“That’s why I’m the captain and you’re the sergeant.” Dobey gloated.

Starsky allowed himself a grin at his boss’s jab. It helped to break the tension but it soon returned – that dizzying feeling of worry. The two men entered the squad room.

“I’m heading down to the file room. I’ll be right back.”

“Starsky!”

“Yeah Captain.”

“What’s this?”

“What’s what?”

“This package on your desk.”

“Package?”

Sitting conspicuously on Starsky’s desk blotter was a cube-shaped box about one foot high wrapped in brown craft paper. It was simply tied with baker’s string. It had no name or address.

There were no markings on it whatsoever. It was perfectly clean all around.

“Did anyone see who put this on my desk?” Starsky inquired to the police officers that shared the room. All he got was shrugs and shaking heads.

“I’m calling the bomb squad.” Captain Dobey announced. “Everybody out!”

Starsky ignored the captain’s order and approached the box carefully as the other officers shuffled by him to the outside as if a bomb scare was an everyday occurrence. He stood squarely in front of it sizing it up. Starsky stroked his chin then leaned over and placed his hands on his knees.

“What do you think? This have anything to do with Hutch’s disappearance?” Dobey asked after he put down the phone.

“Well, it’s not my birthday and it sure ain’t Christmas.”

The bomb team of three arrived in full gear and entered the squad room. By this time the entire station had been evacuated and only Starsky and Dobey were left to witness the disarming. They watched precariously through the large window that separated the room from the hallway.

The bomb squad had the box secured within moments and placed it in a lead container. They gingerly wheeled it down to the elevator and then to the basement where they would disassemble it. Dobey and Starsky followed.

The two men waited anxiously outside the lead-lined room where the squad removed the contents of the box. There turned out to be no wires or devices of any kind. It only contained one item and they brought it out to show Starsky.

“What was it? What did you find?” He asked impatiently.

“Just this.” The fresh-faced officer said as he held it up for identification.

Both Starsky and Dobey were speechless as the man held a jacket by the back of its neck. It was a black baseball bomber jacket with white leather sleeves. The left shoulder was coated with blood and it dripped down the arm in narrow rivers.

“Oh shit.” Starsky said quietly. “That’s Hutch’s jacket.”

He looked at Dobey who stared blankly at the stained garment.

“Was there anything else in the box?” The curly-hair cop asked the young officer.

“Nope… sorry. This was the only thing in there, Sarge.”

*****

PART FOUR

The stabbing pain in his head was matched only by the discomfort of his blocked sinuses. He felt like his head had been packed with old rags dowsed with motor oil. The pressure and vacuum it created was unbearable. His mouth was covered with some sort of tape and breathing was incredibly difficult. Hutch tried not to panic.

He was also blindfolded and his hands were tethered above his head and tied to something. He was flat on his back and he assumed he was on a bed.

Even though he was in pitch darkness from the cloth that was tightly wrapped around his eyes, he could see bursts of light waving like a psychedelic slide show in front of him. The patterns appeared and disappeared with the rhythm of Hutch’s pulse. He tried to move and free himself, but couldn’t.

He could hear someone in the room and he grunted trying to get their attention. He felt like he was suffocating. He WAS suffocating. Then came the sudden rip of the tape from his mouth and Hutch gulped a lung full of air. The tearing of the adhesive stung and he winced and worked his lips against each other.

“Who’s there?” He whispered. “What do you want?”

“We want to make you a movie star.” Came a robotic voice.

Hutch thought it was a woman but couldn’t be sure.

“What?” He replied.

“State your name.”

“What is this?” Hutch protested as much as a captive man could.

“State – your – name.” The voice was more forceful this time.

Hutch did not answer. Then there was incredible pain – burning on the inside of his forearm.

He released a guttural yelp.

“STATE – YOUR – NAME!”

“Hutchinson.” He said submissively. His voice sounded like he had a load of gravel in his throat.

“Your full name.”

Again, he refused but was encouraged to answer by the burning of flesh.

“Ken!” He yelled. “Ken Hutchinson.”

Then calm. Hutch thought he could hear the humming of a movie camera in the room. He couldn’t make it out exactly. His head was so full of flu – everything was hard to distinguish. He did have a sense that he was near the ocean. What air he could manage to breathe clearly was moist, cool and salty. The unmistakable shriek of sea gulls wafted in the distance.

“It’s easy to be tough on a sailor tied up and blind folded.” Hutch said with disgust.

The blow to his jaw was ferocious and he was driven back into unconsciousness.

*****

PART FIVE

“Nothin’” Starsky blasted as he threw a file across his desk in frustration just missing Dobey’s nose.

The Captain sat in Hutch’s usual chair and he too, searched the mound of files that separated him from Starsky. The orbited file folder took him by surprise.

“Hey! Watch it!”

“Sorry Captain.” Starsky rose from his seat and started to pace. “Somebody’s taken him – by force – and I can’t do a damn thing about it!” He ranted.

“You’re doing something.”

“What? What am I doing Cap?”

Dobey stayed silent and let his subordinate vent.

“There must be a clue in the jacket. I’m going down to forensics and going through it myself.”

“Starsky. Let them do their job.”

“Well, I’m at least going to give’em a push. They’ve had it for over five hours now. Hutch could be dead for all we know.”

“That’s enough of that kind of talk.”

“YOU were the one that mentioned morgues not me!” The detective raged.

“Hey! Who do you think you’re talking to Starsky! Settle down!”

“I’m sorry Captain.” The detective digressed. “There’s gotta be something here… I’ve got no leads at all. Nothing… and Hutch is out there some where waiting for me to find him and I can’t.”

“Alright. Just take it easy.”

“I’m goin’ down to Huggy’s – see if anything’s come up.” Starsky announced physically and mentally changing gears.

“Wouldn’t he have called if he’d heard something?”

“Yeah, but I just can’t sit around here anymore.”

Starsky started to leave the room when a lady police officer flagged him down.

“Hey! Davy! There’s another package here for you.”

He grabbed it from her and tore back into the squad room and took his seat again. He looked over at Dobey asking for approval to open it without the bomb team investigating and he got a reluctant nod.

Starsky placed the small box on the table warily. It too, had no markings and was much smaller than the first package. He started to unwrap it and his gut festered with anticipation. Using a pen to protect incriminating fingerprints, he pulled out a 16mm reel. There was no note – nothing but the film. The room fell silent until Dobey suggested the obvious.

“I guess we should go take a look at this.”

“I don’t know if I want to.”

“I’ll watch it by myself if you want.” He offered.

Starsky pondered a moment but realized he had to watch it.

“Who gave this to you Geena?” He asked the policewoman who stood over him.

“It was in your mail slot.”

“Did anyone see who put it there?”

“Don’t know. I’ll check.”

“Thanks.”

Starsky’s body felt like it was about to cave in. He dreaded seeing what might be on the film and entered the AV room at the police station with incredible apprehension. He watched Dobey hand the reel to the AV manager who threaded the film through the machine expertly. Not only did he place the film into the projector with skill; he managed to do so by holding the film by its edge preserving evidence.

Dobey took a seat at the large round table that was central to the room and gazed up at the pearl white screen anxiously. He folded his arms and braced himself.

Starsky pressed his body against the back wall in the corner where it was dark. He remained standing. Subliminally, he tried to hide from what he was about to see. He crossed his arms and his aged leather jacket squeaked. He swallowed hard several times as the projector sprayed a snowy image onto the screen. At first all they could see was a dank and windowless room and then a sudden spotlight on Hutch. The sudden image of his captive partner got Starsky’s attention instantly as he watched the film in horror. His worst nightmare was materializing right in front of his eyes. He wanted to look away but couldn’t.

Hutch was laid out on a bare and decaying mattress. He was blindfolded and tied to plumbing pipes that stuck out of the wall and floor like enormous fingers.

“Who’s there? – What do you want?”

“We want to make you a movie star.”

“What?”

“State your name.”

“What is this?”

“State your name.”

The flash of a lighter slit the darkness and its flame placed on Hutch’s forearm. He screamed which made Starsky flinch.

“State… your… name.”

“Hutchinson.”

“Your full name.”

The lighter flashed again and Hutch let out a piercing cry.

“Ken! … Ken Hutchinson.”

The camera held steadily on the blonde cop.

“It’s easy to be tough on a sailor tied up and blind folded.”

Then there was a swift blow to Hutch’s jaw – a cowboy booted foot from the shadows. Again, Starsky winced and this time he had to look away. Quiet fell again until a voice announced its demands. The camera focused in on Hutch’s face – bloodied, swollen and pained.

“Release Vincent Pascolli or next time we’ll send this cop back in a box…. You’ve got 48 hours.”

The film ran out and whipped around the spool, flapping like a fan. Starsky couldn’t breath. His saliva had dried up and he felt nauseous. He pushed himself into the wall as hard as he could until he collapsed into a crouch.

“Oh my God.” He hissed into his hands, which now completely covered his face.

“Vincent Pascolli? Who the HELL is Vincent Pascolli?” Dobey barked finally taking his eyes from the screen and swiveling his chair to face Starsky.

“Captain. I have no idea.” He said dazed. “Never heard of him.”

The exhausted cop pulled himself into a standing position like a marionette on strings. He placed his hands on his hips instantly changing his mood from helplessness to ire. “Let’s find out who this guy is… get that film downstairs…” The detective ordered the AV manager. “… and get it analyzed.”

As the two men powered down the corridor, they hastily discussed what they’d just seen. They dodged a steady flow of oncoming people traffic but ploughed through them with determination.

“Sounded like a women.” Starsky concluded – his face cross and focused.

“And, what was that talk about a sailor?”

“Hutch thinks he’s being held near the ocean, Captain.”

“How could he possibly know that?”

“He’s a clever boy.”

“I’ll round up as many units as I can to scour the docks.”

“Thanks.”

The men separated and went in two different directions. Dobey back to his office to organize the search and Starsky toward the data center to find out just exactly who Vincent Pascolli was.

*****

PART SIX

The shake, rattle and roll of the van jarred Hutch back to his dulled senses. Now his hands were bound in front of him and they in turn were tied to his knees. He laid on his side in the fetal position and his head knocked against the floor of the vehicle. The ropes cut off the circulation to his lower legs and feet and they felt like they’d been injected with ginger ale. He tried to flex them to dissolve the numbness.

He had no idea where he was or even if it was day or night. It was hot, but he wasn’t sure if it was the weather or the fever that made it so.

He struggled to remove the bandana that kept him in darkness by rubbing the side of his head against any surface he could. Finally, it came free and brilliant sunlight flooded his pupils. They shrunk to pin heads and it made Hutch squint and blink rapidly.

He tried to orient himself and realized that indeed he was in a van. The back cargo area where he laid was totally empty and was open right up to the windshield. It had windows all the way around including one on each back door. He could see the back of the two front seats. The only other thing in the vehicle was the driver who seemed focused on the bumpy road ahead. She had not yet discovered that Hutch had come to.

Scheming an escape through the fog of head trauma and flu, he held his position – working on loosening the ropes. The sweat on his hands made the binding easier to slip through and he eventually managed to get one hand free. He prayed that the van would continue its journey. It would help camouflage his struggle and keep his captor occupied.

Hutch was now untangled and lay in wait for an opportunity to confront the woman who had nabbed him several days before. Who is she? He thought as the van bounced and swerved over rough terrain. Where am I?

Without warning the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. It made Hutch slide forward into the base of the driver’s seat. The bolts holding it to the floor tore into his shoulder. Despite the pain it caused, he remained in the fetal position, hoping it would disguise the fact that he was conscious. He would use the surprise attack to its full advantage.

The back doors swung open and the woman stepped in to the back of the van. As she bent over him, Hutch coiled his legs up like a spring and shoved the woman with every ounce of strength he had. The blow hit her squarely in the chest and she was sent flying out of the van and onto her back landing with a loud thud.

Hutch scrambled after her. Before she could regroup he was standing over her with his foot on her throat. His sudden rush made Hutch dizzy. His head spun as the blood raced from his face down to his unsteady knees. He wobbled slightly, visibly searching for balance.

The woman grabbed his ankle and twisted. Hutch lost his footing and grabbed at the air as if it would save him. He did a nosedive into the dirt and then rolled onto his back. He pushed himself up onto his elbows in an effort to charge at her again but was stopped cold by the cocking of the gun that she now held on him.

“Don’t even try it.” She ordered calmly.

Hutch let himself collapse onto his back. The brief fight had taken its toll on his ailing body and he lay there defeated. He couldn’t muster up anything else. He was exhausted, beaten and sick – a combination that would founder any man.

“Who are you…” Hutch gasped, “… and what the hell is this all about?”

“Get up.” She demanded.

“Where are we?”

“GET UP, I said!”

Hutch slowly gathered himself onto his knees and struggled to his feet. He stood directly in front of the women, swaying from heat and fatigue. He held his hands out like Oliver Twist asking for more.

“What do you want with me lady? For Christ’s sake, who are you?”

“Turn around.”

Hutch didn’t protest – he couldn’t. He turned his back on her and he closed his eyes fearful that he was about to be executed. His heart pounded against the wall of his chest and his saliva dried up.

He said a prayer.

Then he heard the crackle of gravel under foot and the door of the van open and shut. The engine started and the woman began to drive away. Hutch reeled and ran after her – powered only by pure adrenaline.

“HEY! Wait!” He shouted. “You can’t leave me out here!”

The van picked up speed but Hutch managed to run it down and grab onto the driver door handle. He struggled with the door but she had locked it. He ran along side but eventually had to let go. She swerved away from Hutch and the force pushed him to the ground where he rolled like tumbleweed. The impulsion was so strong he ended up back on his feet where he stood in a cloud of grit the tires had thrown back at him. He shielded his face from the flying stones.

When the dust settled, he finally took notice of where he was. Desert surrounded him. The flatness and whiteness of it sent a wave of fright into Hutch’s gut. He was in the middle of nowhere with no food, water or shelter. It was mid day and the sun beat down on his flaxen hair giving it the look of white gold. He spun in one spot staring up at the cloudless sky until he could stand no longer. Hutch dropped to the gravel in a heap, his captivity finally over but his fight for survival just about to begin.

*****

PART SEVEN

“Vincent Pascolli, AKA Michael Stemner, AKA Robert Ramirez.” The data clerk announced to Starsky who curiously peered over his shoulder viewing the computer screen.

“Robert Ramirez.” The detective said with a spark of recognition. “Print out everything you’ve got on him will you, Jim.”

“Sure thing, Sarge.”

“Thanks.”

Starsky waited for the printout then raced down the hallway back to the squad room where Dobey was still stationed at Hutch’s desk rifling through files.

“Robert Ramirez.” He stated before he reached his chair and sat down. “Why does that name ring a bell, Captain?”

“Rogue cop.” He answered without hesitation.

“Oh yeah. I remember him. About three years ago right?”

“Yeah, he’s serving three life sentences for murder and an assortment of other mob related crimes.”

“What’s his story?”

“Turned out he became a cop to use as a cover for his underworld ties.”

“He was from Reno wasn’t he?”

“That’s where he started his career, then he transferred down here in… 1972 I think.”

“Yeah. 1972.” Starsky confirmed. “Says here his ex-wife is dead and he has twin daughters. But, what’s he got to do with Hutch?”

“Where’ve they got him?”

“Chino.”

The phone on Starsky’s desk rang and he picked it up on the first ring.

“The clock is ticking.” said the same voice that was on the 16mm film.

“Where’s Hutch?” Starsky demanded. “If you touch one more hair on his head, I swear I’ll track you down and… “

“And what? I assure you, you are in no position to make threats Detective Starsky.”

“Who are you?”

“You have 36 hours to release Vincent Pascolli.”

“We don’t deal with kidnappers.” Starsky said defiantly.

“Your partner’s life depends on it so I would suggest you start. I will contact you at six am tomorrow morning at Detective Hutchinson’s home and advise you where and when the transfer will occur.”

“Transfer?”

“Pascolli for the whereabouts of your friend.”

“Whereabouts? NO WAY! Pascolli for Hutch. Straight exchange.”

“That is not possible.”

Dobey picked up and listened in on the conversation after he’d ordered a trace on the call.

“What do you mean it’s not possible?”

“I mean I no longer have your partner in custody.”

“Well, where the hell is he then?”

“I will contact you tomorrow.”

The woman hung up and Starsky was left holding the hand piece – the dial tone buzzing into space.

“In custody?” Dobey asked. “Who talks like that?”

“Cops Captain. Cops talk like that.”

Starsky collected the file on Robert Ramirez and detailed his next move to Dobey as he began his scramble out of the squad room.

“I’m going to pay Mr. Ramirez a visit up at Chino and then I’ll be back at Hutch’s by 6:00 am. I’ll be in touch.”

“I’ll make sure Chino has Ramirez ready to go by the time you get there.”

Starsky stopped his rush out the door.

“Ready to go? What do you mean have him ready to go?” He asked as he returned to face Dobey.

“If trading him for Hutch is what it takes, then that is what I am prepared to do. I’ve already discussed it with the DA and he’s given me the power to release Ramirez to you.”

“What? But, we don’t negotiate with kidnappers.”

“I don’t think we have a choice here do you?”

“Well, I’m thinkin’ that if Hutch isn’t dead already he probably will be. So, releasing Ramirez is rewarding them for murdering my partner.”

“They’ve already released him, Dave. You heard her say she didn’t have him in custody any more. Where ever he is, we’ll find him.”

“I don’t believe this.” Starsky said dumbfounded. “You’re trusting a kidnapper? What makes you think she’s telling the truth? My gut is telling me that Hutch is already dead. I’m going up to Chino to interrogate Ramirez, not to bring him back here and give him his freedom. No way! Hutch wouldn’t want me to. Hutch knows we don’t deal with terrorists.”

“Starsky, get your ass up to Chino, pick up Ramirez and get him back here and that’s an order!”

“I won’t do it. I will not buckle under to these people. I’ll do it my way and I will find Hutch – dead or alive.”

“YES YOU WILL DO IT, DAMN IT!”

“GIVE ME ONE GOOD REASON WHY I SHOULD!”

“Because I’m running this show and what I say goes… UNDERSTOOD?”

Starsky and Dobey were nose-to-nose burning stares into each other like weapons. Their argument had escalated to a point where Starsky had no retort. He clenched his fists and coiled to fire.

“Don’t – you – dare.” Captain Dobey warned with a cool whisper.

The other officers that shared the squad room watched the shouting match and held their collective breaths. Then the ringing of the phone on Hutch’s desk broke the silence. Dobey picked it up. He jotted down information and stared at Starsky as if to hold him there with his glare. The captain ended the telephone conversation by slamming the hand piece on the cradle, venting his anger with his detective on the innocent piece of equipment.

“They found where they were holding Hutch on the docks.”

“And…”

“And, it’s empty.”

“Empty? What do you mean empty?”

“They’ve moved him. They’re gone.”

“SHIT!” Starsky punched the wall. “GOD DAMN IT!”

“I’m going down there and you’re heading up to Chino. And, you’re bringing Ramirez back here. Is that understood?”

“Yes.” Starsky submitted.

“Yes what?”

“Yes. I’m going up to Chino to get Ramirez and bring him back.” Starsky announced defeated the heat of the argument now somewhat cooled.

“GOOD!” Dobey gloated.

The two men bolted out of the police station on separate missions. Dobey to the docks to investigate the crime scene and Starsky up to Chino prison to reluctantly retrieve Robert Ramirez.

PART EIGHT

His twitching muscles and the coldness of the air jolted Hutch awake. He had no idea how long he’d been lying there. He’d curled himself into a ball at some point – his tucked position the only shield from the elements. He stretched himself out onto his back and stared up at the indigo blue of dawn. The stars were fading, but still filled the sky like rhinestones on a country singer’s, denim jacket.

Hutch rolled onto his side and groaned. His arm slapped against the gravel desert floor. The last time he felt this bad, Starsky had him locked in a room at Huggy’s to rid him of a heroin habit. It was an episode that he never wanted to repeat or even be reminded of. It was the worst time of his life. He’d never felt that terrible – at least not until now.

He forced himself onto his knees and used them as support to stand. He snuffled and coughed. That familiar nauseating feeling engulfed him and zapped his energy, but he knew he had to start walking. Hutch knew that staying where he was, was suicide. Firstly, he had to find water, then some sort of shelter. From where he stood, this seemed unlikely.

Peering over his shoulder he saw the orange bands of sunshine creeping over the horizon. It looked like marmalade.

“East.” He mumbled.

He wasn’t sure what desert he was in. It could be Mexico or even Africa for all he knew. But he decided to go west. Assuming he was in fact still in the United States, Hutch reasoned that he was probably in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California. Going west meant heading for home. A long way home mind you, but home nonetheless. He took his first step of thousands away from the rising sun.

At miday, Hutch finally had to stop. He tore off the bottom of his tee shirt and covered his head with it. The fireball that hovered above him felt like it was burning a hole threw the top of his platinum head. His strength was slowly waning and he feared he’d not make it to the rock formations that were his target. He’d been walking for hours.

His thirst was painful; his arms and face burnt to a neon pink from the unrelenting sun. Strange images entered his brain and he began to speak incoherently as if keeping sane by conversing with himself. But, he finally succumbed to exhaustion, heatstroke and fever and dropped to his knees. A hawk screeched overhead.

“Starsky.” He whispered. “Where are you?”

*****

PART NINE

Robert Ramirez entered the small visitor’s room and sat across the table from Starsky. His wrists and feet were shackled but he displayed a cocky attitude despite the chains. He stared brazenly into the detective’s steel, blue eyes.

“Wipe that grin off your face, Ramirez.” Starsky hissed.

He breathed deeply and tried to keep some semblance of calm but feared he may explode with anger before he got the information he wanted.

“Seems you have some friends who want you outta here and they’re using my partner as currency.”

“Oh yeah?”

“You know damned well how a cop feels about his partner or have you forgotten?”

“Precisely. Maybe you should learn not to become so emotionally attached. Then it couldn’t be used against you.”

“If anything… anything at all has happened to Hutch, I’ll see to it you never see the light of day.”

“I haven’t seen the light of day for quite some time detective. Threatening me with incarceration is a bit… late, wouldn’t you say?”

“Don’t play games with me. Where is he?” Starsky asked forcefully.

He could feel himself loosing control but fought it.

“Where’s who?” Ramirez taunted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about asshole.”

“Well then.” Starsky seethed, “Let me fill you in on the facts.”

“I’m listening.”

“Four days ago my partner went missing.” Starsky blistered – his face flush with the heat of ire and his eyes blazing fury. “Yesterday I received his blood stained jacket and a home movie of him laid out like a sacrifice and someone demanding to release you in exchange for his life. Now, I’m not an unreasonable man. But, when someone messes with Hutch I get a little testy.”

“Hutch? What’s a Hutch?”

“You don’t want to see me upset Ramirez. You really don’t…. now who’s taken him and where is he?”

“Screw you.”

Starsky shot across the table and grabbed Ramirez by the collar. They were nose-to-nose.

“TALK!” Starsky demanded. “Where is he, God damn it?”

“In hell for all I care.” Ramirez reciprocated casually.

Starsky bolted around the table and pulled the convict out of his chair and threw him against the wall. The back of his head slammed against the brick and it echoed like a melon being thumped. Ramirez winced and slowly slid to the floor like the juice of a splattered tomato. He grabbed his head and groaned. The detective rushed him and bent down to meet Ramirez’ dazed face. He pointed his finger right between Ramirez’ eyes as if holding a gun.

“I don’t think you understand. When Hutch bleeds – I bleed.”

Ramirez stayed quiet fearful he may provoke another eruption.

“Now. I’ve been ordered to take you back and that’s what I intend to do. You’re in for the ride of your life you bottom feeder… now GET UP!”

The prisoner slowly gathered himself up and stood with a wobble. The chains jingled like Christmas bells. Starsky snagged his man by the scruff of the neck and pushed him out the door and into the main waiting area.

“Get him ready to go.” He ordered the guards and then handed him over with a shove.

*****

PART TEN

The apartment had an eerie feel to it when Hutch wasn’t there. Dawn was imminent. The cool blue of sunrise shone through the blinds marking the hardwood with a moray of stripes. It looked like a herd of purple zebras.

It was 5:56 a.m. and Starsky sat on the couch with the telephone placed squarely on the coffee table in front of him. He leaned forward with his forearms set on his knees and his hands out in front of him – fingers tightly laced. Exhaustion was etched on his face. He hadn’t slept since he’d realized Hutch had been abducted and was running on sheer willpower and raw terror.

Ramirez sat on the toilet with his hands stretched back around the tank and cuffed. He was extremely uncomfortable but Starsky didn’t care. He relished in removing as much of Ramirez’ dignity as he could. The more uncomfortable he was the better.

Starsky stared at the phone in anticipation of its ring and when it did, it made his heart flip.

“Hello?” He answered anxiously.

“Do you have Pascolli?”

“Yes. Just name where and when.”

“Disneyland. In an hour.”

Starsky looked at his watch.

“Disneyland is a big place.” The detective stated calmly.

“There is a bank of pay phones at the entrance. At seven a.m. sharp, I will contact you on the center phone. Leave Pascolli there. You will be given instructions on where to find your partner. No games, no cops – no problems. Got it?”

“I’ll be there.”

Starsky hung up the phone and sighed apprehensively. Again he peered at his watch then rose to approach the bathroom.

“Let’s go.” Starsky ordered Ramirez as he unshackled him and pulled him into a standing position by the front of his shirt. He also grabbed a fist full of chest hair, which made Ramirez wince. They shuffled down to the street and into the car – the prisoner in the back seat on the passenger side.

Starsky had resigned himself to the fact that he had no choice but to play by the kidnapper’s rules. He didn’t like it one bit but he knew Dobey was right. They had no other leads. He just prayed that Hutch was alive and they would be reunited.

As he sped toward the rendezvous point, he couldn’t help but wonder why Hutch had been the chosen one. Was he just convenient – in the wrong place at the wrong time? Had Ramirez and his cohorts targeted Hutch because of revenge or spite or just plain hatred? The motive at this point really wasn’t important but the detective in Starsky wanted to know. It gnawed at him like hunger pangs.

He looked into his review mirror and leered at Ramirez who seemed to be enjoying this whole adventure – smugly satisfied with having total control. The wind from the open front window played havoc with his salt and pepper hair. He had his eyes closed and leaned his face into the breeze as a dog would out of a pick up truck.

“Glad to see you’re enjoying yourself.” The detective stated with malice.

“Yes I am. Thank you.”

“Who’s behind this Ramirez? Why Hutch?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, right now it doesn’t. I’m just curious.”

“Your partner was an unfortunate victim of availability. He just happened to become vulnerable and we took advantage of it.”

“Vulnerable?”

“He was alone and sick.”

“How could you have known?”

“My daughters do their research, David.”

“Your twins kidnapped Hutch?”

“Yes.”

“How did you get those packages to me without being seen?”

“Geena.”

“Geena?”

“Constable Geena Singleton.”

“She’s your daughter? Hutch has been asking her out for months.”

“I know.”

“Shit!” Starsky slapped the stirring wheel.

“Your detective skills need brushing up. If you’d done a screening of your staff you would have noticed that Geena’s maiden name was Pascolli. This was an oversight on my part, but not as big as yours… much to my surprise. You see Detective Starsky; my daughter joined the department about a year ago to work undercover for me. We staked out several partnerships and yours seemed to be the most… useful. You and your partner are quite close aren’t you?”

“Hutch and me are one person.” Starsky confessed – surprised he’d divulged such personal feelings.

“Geena noticed. We bided our time until one of you became an easy mark and last week Detective Hutchinson became just that. My daughters are very resourceful women.”

“So Hutch thinks Geena did this?”

“My daughters are not identical twins. If Hutchinson has seen Marie he will not know who she is. They bare absolutely no physical resemblance to one another.”

“Is Hutch alive?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I won’t lie to you sergeant, our intent has always been to return your partner alive. We have nothing to gain by killing him. He was simply currency as you put it. But some things are beyond my control. When you speak with my daughter you will be given instructions as to where to find him. His survival from that point quite frankly, is up to him.”

“God damn – son of a bitch!” Starsky gripped the stirring wheel so tightly it turned his knuckles white.

*****

Disneyland had not yet opened. Starsky drove up the winding road that led to the parking area and the entrance to the park. The attendants readied their stations for the onslaught of people that would engulf the place by 8:30. Several of them had formed a coffee clutch and Starsky pulled along side them and flashed his badge. They in turn raised the gate for him to pass.

As he moved closer to the entrance his alertness peaked. He hoped that Hutch would be there but in his gut, Starsky knew that his partner was as far away from Disneyland as his captors could get him. He pulled up to the phones. It was 6:55 a.m. He got Ramirez out of the car and cuffed him to a pole.

Starsky glanced at his watch again. It reminded him of the badgering he’d get from Hutch about his choice of complicated time pieces and how much he’d paid for them. It was a running joke between them – one of many. The sound of the phone shattered his memories.

“I’m here.” Starsky hissed into the receiver.

“I couldn’t care less about you. Is Pascolli there?”

“Yes.”

“Is he captive in anyway?”

“Yes.”

“Set him free Detective Starsky and I will tell you where your partner is.”

He dropped the hand piece and it dangled like a pendulum as he unfastened Ramirez. Overhead the unmistakable sound of a helicopter resonated. It was getting closer.

“He’s free. Now where’s Hutch?”

“There is a map on your partner’s bedside table. The X marks the spot. Oh and Detective Starsky?”

“Yeah?”

“I would suggest that in the future your partner not keep the key to his apartment on the top of his doorframe. It’s made my job far too easy. Thank him for me when you see him.”

“So help me God. If he’s dead, you’ll see ME again.”

“Nice doing business with you. And… good luck.”

PART ELEVEN

“Patch me through to Captain Dobey.” Starsky blared into his radio.

He had the Torino at full throttle as he flew back up number one highway back to Venice Beach.

“Copy that zebra three.” The static voice answered.

“Starsky?” Dobey shouted. “Where the hell are you? I told you to keep in touch, God damn it!”

“I am keeping in touch.”

“What’s going on? Have you got Ramirez? Where’s Hutch?”

“I’ll fill you in later Cap. A helicopter just picked up Ramirez from the parking lot at Disneyland.”

“Disneyland?”

“Captain will you listen?”

“Go ahead.” Dobey said realizing the time to ask questions was later.

“Can you get it tracked? I’m on my way to Hutch’s place. There’s a map there that show’s where he is.”

“I’ll get right on it.”

“Thanks.”

“And Starsky?”

“Yeah Captain.”

“Keep in touch.”

*****

The map sat on Hutch’s table plain as day and Starsky wondered if it had been there all along. He scrambled over to it and splayed it out on the bed. It was a map of Nevada and a large red X was drawn south of Tonopah in the mid-western section of the state.

“They didn’t just dump him there did they?” Starsky asked himself aloud.

Again he rushed for the phone to call his superior.

“Captain?”

“I’ve got the BCPD chopper and the channel 12 chopper tracking the suspect.”

“I need another one.”

“What?”

“They’ve dumped Hutch in the desert south of Tonopah.”

“Nevada?” Dobey barked into the phone.

“So I need one of those choppers or another one if you can get one.”

“We’ve only got one helicopter, Starsky. You know that.”

“Forget about Ramirez then. We’ll catch up with him later. I need that chopper and I need it now, Hutch’s life may depend on it.”

“Let me do some calling around and I’ll get back to you. Where are you?”

“I’m at Hutch’s place.”

“Give me ten minutes.”

“Thanks Captain.”

Captain Dobey called Starsky back when he said he would and gave him directions to a private airport near Huntington Beach. He had contacted a volunteer search and rescue unit. They would take Starsky into Nevada and search the area for Hutch.

It was 1:30 p.m. when they lifted off the ground and headed northeast toward Tonopah. It would take several hours for them to get there. In the meantime, Dobey had alerted police in the area where Hutch was dropped and an official search was underway.

“You might as well get some sleep if you can sir.” The helicopter pilot advised Starsky over the thunderous noise of the router.

“I could use a nap.”

“Well, if you can, now’s the time.”

“Thanks.”

“How long will it take to get there?” Starsky shouted.

“Three to four hours and we’ll have to stop for fuel along the way.”

The detective settled in for the long haul and tried desperately to grab at least a few winks, but he was too worried to sleep. He tried to stay positive, but prepared himself for the worst. He feared Hutch was dead. His gut told him so and his intuition where Hutch was concerned were never wrong. He just prayed that just this once it would be.

The maze of city finally disappeared beneath them and melted into forest and then barren land. It looked so daunting to Starsky. The closer he got to Tonopah the more he realized that no one could survive out there – no one.

*****

PART TWELVE

Starsky entered the squad room after returning from Nevada. He’d gone straight to the lab to retrieve Hutch’s baseball jacket. He wanted it. Besides the memories of his best friend, the jacket was all he had left of his partner it seemed. He had it slung over his shoulder when he arrived at the police station to pack up his and Hutch’s stuff. It was still stained with Hutch’s blood. He started placing their piggybank and several other personal items into an empty cardboard box when he was interrupted by a familiar order.

“Come into my office please.” Captain Dobey said softly.

Starsky obliged.

“Take a seat.”

“I’ll stand.”

“Sit!” Dobey said forcefully as he pointed to the chair in front of his desk.

Starsky sat.

“Listen Dave.” Dobey sighed. “The search has been called off. It’s been two weeks and there’s been no sign of him.”

“The official search has been yes. I’m just here to pack up our stuff and pick up some things before I head back up there.”

“Dave.”

“Yeah Cap.” Starsky said optimistically, trying desperately to hide his anguish.

“You are going to have to face facts… Hutch is … gone.”

“No.”

“Dave… he’s dead.”

“NO! I won’t believe it until I see a body. I won’t stop until I find him.”

“Do I have to spell it out for you Starsky… there may not be a body to find.”

“Then I’ll find his bones if I have to.”

“I won’t allow it.”

“What do you mean, you won’t allow it?”

“I mean you’ve been through enough. It’s time to let him go.”

“Here’s my badge Captain. You have no jurisdiction over me now.” He flung the leather folder across the desk as if it were a coffee lid.

“What can I say to make you stay?” Dobey asked after a short pause.

“Nothing Cap.”

Starsky now seemed despondent. He lowered his head and stared at his hands.

“I let Hutch down. I let everyone down. Ramirez is gone and Hutch is… Oh God… he’s ….”

Starsky finally broke down. He slumped in the chair and let the tears flow. He gasped for air between guttural yelps of sorrow. He sounded like a wounded animal. Dobey’s eyes welled up too and he could not muster the courage to comfort him for fear of losing it himself.

“I have to find him… I have to bury him … I can’t…” Starsky wailed.

“I understand.” Dobey finally submitted. “You take all the time you want. When you’re ready, your job will be here waiting for you.”

“I can’t be a cop without him.”

“Time will tell, Dave.”

Starsky took some time to gain control and wiped his face with the sleeve of his jacket. Dobey offered him a handkerchief and he took it.

“You go wash up and I’ll get your paperwork together and cut you a check. You’re going to need some cash.”

“Yeah.” He agreed tears still streaming uncontrollably down his face. “Thanks.”

“Sure thing… you okay?”

“No.” Starsky sputtered, “I’m not.”

“The guys are talking about a memorial service. He’ll get quite a send off, you know.”

“Captain please. Just give me one more week. If I can’t find him by then I’ll make funeral arrangements.”

“Okay. Whatever you want. Now go on and get cleaned up.”

The defeated detective struggled to his feet and exited the side door of Dobey’s office that lead directly to the hallway. The men’s room was several doors down and he could freshen up there before taking the trek back up to Tonopah.

He entered the men’s restroom and washed his face using the cold water to mask yet another round of sobbing. He raised his head with his eyes tightly closed and took in several deep breaths. Guilt and grief engulfed him. At that moment he realized that his life would be irreversibly changed. He felt like a piece of him had been amputated. At that moment he came to terms with the fact that Hutch was indeed dead. But, he had to find his body, bring him home and bury him. That was the least he could do for the man who’d saved his life so many times. The man who was his closest confidant – his soul mate – his twin. He dried his face and left the room with a feeling of loneliness he had never experienced before.

When he re-entered the hallway he couldn’t help but notice a commotion at the main entrance of the station. It momentarily distracted him from his pain. He stopped to try and find out what was going on. He wiped his eyes and sniffed.

As the crowd dispersed a disheveled man broke free. His skin looked like someone had taken a blowtorch to it. It looked scorched. He wore a pair of dust-covered jeans and a white tee shirt so dirty and torn it barely resembled clothing anymore. His ivory hair was disguised by grim. He carried a small brown paper bag.

Starsky centered himself in the corridor in disbelief and squinted at the man who approached him.

“Hutch?” He whispered as he forced himself into a slow jog. “HUTCH!?”

Was he seeing things? Was he so deeply grieved that he was mistaking this man for Hutch? Was it simply wishful thinking? Was this an apparition – a mirage?

The people in the hall parted like the Red Sea to let him pass. Starsky stopped cold several feet in front of the man. Again tears filled his eyes. The two men stood face-to-face and paused before Starsky gently embraced his friend. The two seemed to fuse together.

“Where did you come from?” Starsky said pulling back to look at Hutch again as if he were making sure he was real. “Are… are you alright?”

“I will be, Starsk.”

“I’m so… so sorry, Hutch. I’m so sorry I couldn’t…”

“I know.” Hutch said wearily.

“I’ve been looking for you for weeks. We all have.”

“I know.” Hutch said again.

There was a hesitation as the two men embraced again simply because they didn’t know what to say to one another. Starsky overwhelmed with relief and Hutch too exhausted to speak. Hutch hung on his partner with his arm slung over his shoulder as they began to walk down the hallway to Dobey’s office.

“I was making arrangements for your funeral, you know.”

“You can’t get rid of me that easily.” Hutch joked sending a wave of relief over Starsky.

“I’ve got your jacket.”

“Good. Thanks. Wouldn’t want to be without that.”

“Whatcha got in the bag?” Starsky asked.

“Last time I talked to you, you wanted me to pick something up for you.”

“Huh?”

Hutch handed the bag to his partner and he took it and looked inside. He pulled out a blue Popsicle and smiled. He sauntered over to the door and snapped it in two on its edge.

“Want half?” He offered.

“No thanks, buddy. I told you… I like orange.”

***The End***

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One thought on “Twin Spin, Popsicles, and the Baseball Jacket (by Barbara)

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