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Distant Shores

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BOOK ONE -- SEARCH

 

CHAPTER I

 

April, 1981

Starsky sat at his desk in his office, sorting papers, straightening files, trying to kill a little more time with busy work. It had been a long, busy day and he had accomplished a lot. Following the briefing with detectives Griggs and Smith on the Gardner case, he had finished up the paperwork on two cases concluded over the weekend, testified in court on a drug bust he had engineered two months ago and even managed to get in a little street investigation time on a new homicide that had come across his desk. Now, though, he knew Dobey was waiting for him, probably impatiently. It wouldn't do any good to put off the meeting. After all these years Harold Dobey felt he had a right to know what was going on in Starsky's head. Dobey was still his superior officer, but he was also his friend.

Stuffing some take-home work in his briefcase, Starsky stood. He retrieved his jacket and locked the desk, then the door to his office. Then he crossed the hall to find Dobey.

"You wanted to see me, Cap?" Starsky fell back into the easy, old patterns, adopting a look of innocence that he knew wouldn't fool Dobey one bit.

The heavyset man looked up and sighed. Starsky shifted uncomfortably as the brown eyes regarded him. The look of concern was damned hard to take.

"Sit down, Starsky." Dobey spent a few seconds shuffling memos while the younger man made himself comfortable. "Dave," the Captain said, finally meeting his eyes, "I thought everything was all right with you."

You hear that? He called me Dave. Starsky swallowed. "Everything is all right, Captain. I don't know why you think it isn't." When Dobey did not answer but instead stared intently at him, his look almost a challenge, Starsky grew defensive. "Okay. So I get depressed. So it still happens, sometimes. I'm only human, just like you. As long as my job gets done, I don't see why you're worrying."

Dobey pulled himself up out of his chair, came close and sat on the desk facing Starsky.

"I am worried, son. Just because you're functioning doesn't mean you're happy."

Starsky examined his clenched knuckles intently. "So where is it written that I get to be happy?" The comment was muttered in a bitter tone.

"Dave." Dobey's large hand found Starsky's shoulder. "You're a good man. An honest man. A man with feelings. It just kills me to see you continuing to punish yourself over something you never had any control over."

"Is that what you think?" Starsky looked up, real contrition in his eyes. "That I'm on some kind of guilt trip? I know it wasn't my fault we lost Hutch. I know it's not my fault we couldn't find him. But... that doesn't make it any easier to live with. Damn it, Cap'n, can't you understand that I miss him?" Starsky ran a hand through his tangled hair, feeling desperate, recognizing the feeling as familiar. "There were never enough answers." His voice dropped. "If only we had found some answers. Maybe then I could let go."

"Grieving takes a long time."

"That's just it! I can't grieve!" It wouldn't be right. It would be a betrayal. He squeezed his eyes shut. No tears. Tears mean defeat. They mean death. No one had ever seen him cry about Hutch, and they never would. Yet there had been many nights when he woke up with his pillow soaked and his throat raw from crying in his sleep.

Dobey shifted, looking embarrassed. "Starsky, you know as well as I do that just because we never found the body doesn't mean Hutch isn't dead. It's been two years, for God's sake! If he was alive, we would have found him, heard from him. But he disappeared without a trace. All the so-called clues added up to a big fat zero, a dead end."

"Finding his gun in an airport locker wasn't a zero! If Hutch got on a plane, he would have had to stash his gun, because the suspect he was tailing would have made him as a cop." It was an old argument; Starsky felt he was listening to a tape unravel in his mind.

"Starsky, we don't know that he got on a plane. Anyone could have put that gun there; it could have been a red herring. His car was found ten miles from the damned airport!"

"There were too many things that didn't add up. Too many people who wanted him out of the way. I've never been convinced that Gunther wasn't at the bottom of it." He looked at Dobey, who was shaking his head.

"You know the case was sewed up by then. We had Gunther."

"His organization was so extensive he could get to Hutch and me from prison, from the grave, even, if necessary. And he'd want to!"

"But no one ever came after you, Starsky." Dobey's voice calmed, became maddeningly reasonable. "And Gunther wanted you both dead, not just hurt."

"I've died every day for the last two years." Starsky stood, bringing the conversation to an end. They had gone around and around on this subject endlessly and never resolved anything. If he stayed any longer, he knew he would begin the hopeless cycle of self-recrimination and blame. He managed to function, most of the time, but talking too much about the disappearance brought those hopeless feelings back.

"G'night, Captain."

"Get some rest, Starsky." The captain's kind words followed him out of the room, but Starsky knew it was going to be one of those nights when sleep would elude him.

********

Back at his apartment, Starsky spent the night drinking, letting the liquor bring back the memories. He didn't drink too often, just occasionally had some wine in the hopes it would dull his mind enough so that the events of the past could not haunt his dreams. Now he wanted to see it all again, and the glass of bourbon brought it back with glaring clarity.

He rubbed a hand across his chest as long-faded aches were recalled. The scars had become less noticeable over time, but on the day he was released from Memorial Hospital, they had been ugly reminders of how close he had come to losing his life. Hutch had touched him as if he were something fragile and precious, and Starsky had basked under his friend's solicitous attention. Even though his body was physically scarred, he had felt pristine, like life was just beginning for him... and for Hutch.

He had been tired and aching from the ride home, and Hutch had seemed to realize how much pain he'd been hiding. He'd helped Starsky into bed, then lay down next to him. They had so many plans to make, so much to look forward to. Now, nearly two years later, Starsky couldn't really remember exactly what they had talked about, he just retained the impression of promise, of eagerness. He remembered listening as Hutch poured out his heart to him. He'd talked about all the accumulated frustrations and fears of the last year, particularly the last weeks since Starsky had been shot. He'd grown drowsy as Hutch's voice wound down. They had held each other, shared a few sleepy kisses. Reluctantly, Hutch had climbed off the bed and got ready to go back to work. He promised he'd come home in time to cook dinner for Starsky.

But he hadn't come home. No call, no explanation ever came.

He didn't report in, didn't appear at Starsky's for dinner as they had planned. Calls to his apartment brought no answer hours after he was overdue, and an already worried Starsky had checked with Captain Dobey. He'd learned that Hutch's last report had come during the early afternoon when he had called in to say that he had stumbled onto something and was following it up. The suspect he'd been observing may have realized he was being tailed. He was leaving his car to follow the man on foot. After that, no one could determine Hutch's movements.

The same day he brought Starsky home from the hospital, while tailing an unnamed suspect, Kenneth Hutchinson simply dropped off the face of the earth.

Starsky shuddered as he drained the last bitter drops from his glass and moved to open a new bottle. What were you working on, Hutch? Why'd you have to get into something crazy alone, without a back-up?

********

July, 1979

They'd found Hutch's car easily enough, but it yielded no clues to where he had gone or what had happened to him. The detective had apparently sensed no danger; he had not requested help when he made his last call to dispatch. Whatever had happened to him had been swift, unexpected -- and quite possibly, deadly.

A day later, a routine emptying of lockers at the airport revealed only one other trace of the L.A. cop. His Magnum, in its holster, had been left there. But no airline manifest showed the name Ken Hutchinson or any of the undercover aliases he used when working. There had been no fingerprints, save his own on the gun. Dead end.

Starsky, stunned and worried, refused to accept that Hutch could not be found, that there were absolutely no clues at all. It was too frustrating staying at home waiting for the phone to ring, so after two days he put an end to his brief convalescence, got dressed and drove out to the airport himself.

Walking the long distance through the huge terminal to the office of the head of security was taxing. Starsky was tempted to rest a few moments on one of the benches provided for weary travelers, but he was driven to keep moving. By the time he stood before Captain Martin Hedgeway of the airport police, he was sweating and his breathing was labored. His side ached with a bad stitch and his chest hurt.

Hedgeway motioned him into a chair. "I wish I had more information for you, Sergeant. But all I can tell you is what we told your captain when we called him after finding your partner's weapon. The only thing we know is that it was discovered when the lockers were opened, as we do every twenty-four hours."

"And you're certain there's nothing in any trip manifest that would indicate he'd gone out of here on a plane?"

"No. Your department's men went over all passenger lists already. They found nothing."

"What about the flight plans filed on private planes?" Starsky was having trouble speaking past the tension winding tight in his chest. He let one hand rub surreptitiously at his throbbing wounds.

"All of those planes which took off from here in the last two days have been checked out and there was nothing to indicate anything illegal about any of them," Hedgeway answered. He looked closely at Starsk. "Of course, that doesn't prove anything at all. You know as well as I do that many private planes engaged in criminal activities can easily slip into and out of an airport."

Starsky ran a hand over his face. "I know. And there's been an APB out on Hutch since we first realized he was missing. It's been on the news too, and there haven't been any calls from citizens saying they saw anything out here." His gaze wandered, focusing on the sunny day outside the window. He could see a view of the private plane terminal. "How about the workers? Have all of them been questioned?"

Hedgeway nodded. "I don't know what more you could find out from them."

Starsky sighed. "Let me look around, talk to some people. One of them might have remembered something by now."

"That couldn't hurt, I suppose," Hedgeway returned. He cast Starsky an appraising look. "Are you sure you're up to this Officer? Captain Dobey mentioned you were just released from the hospital."

"I'm fine." Starsky stood, abruptly ending the conversation, ignoring the discomfort the quick movement caused him.

He left Hedgeway's office, walking slowly. Allowing for his weakened condition gave him time to think. He was convinced no one could have taken Hutch out of the airport against his will without being observed. Someone had to have seen something, and Starsky was determined to make them tell him everything they could remember.

He stayed at the airport for hours, talking to workers, stopping passengers to ask if they came and went from LAX on a regular basis, if they'd seen anything the day before yesterday. He knew he must seem slightly crazy to them as the day wore on; the lack of information made him frustrated and upset. He discovered he was practically shouting his questions to the women behind the Rent-A-Car desk and awkwardly apologized. Finally, he just sat, watching, waiting, trying to fathom any possibility he could have missed.

It was after midnight when he finally dragged himself home. He had overtaxed his not yet recovered body and he was mentally exhausted from trying to come up with clues where none existed.

He dropped his clothes on the floor and fell into his unmade bed, expecting to be asleep instantly. He stayed awake though, tormented by thoughts that wouldn't quit, an imagination that couldn't stop depicting horrors. The pain was bad, but he feared taking the prescribed medication, afraid it would put him too soundly asleep to hear the phone in case Hutch managed to call. He lay listening for it to ring, tossing and turning, very aware of his recent wounds. No position was comfortable, no matter how he tried shifting, some part of him rebounded with pain. The bed was uncomfortable, empty. Lying in Hutch's arms for a few brief hours had given him joy. Now the memory mocked him. He and Hutch had held each other close, keeping each other warm and safe and full of hope. Now that he knew Hutch wasn't safe, warmth and hope seemed very far away.

At five a.m. Starsky gave up and got dressed. He let himself out of his apartment and went to his car. He started the Torino and sat listening to the engine's purr a few minutes. The car represented constancy in his life. To him, and to Hutch too, it had always been their good omen, their space together, like a home away from home where the two of them belonged. He put the car in drive and headed out of his parking space to cruise the city streets.

There was no Torino-generated magic now, though. There was no sign of Hutch, not a clue, not a word. None of the street snitches had anything that could help, even in the most remote way. Hutch had bought no information from them and none admitted having been asked about Sergeant Hutchinson by anyone else in the last week. Starsky tried to retrace his partner's movements, but the trail ended where his car had been abandoned.

Back home, Starsky turned off the Torino's engine, just sitting again. He couldn't even come up with anything to provide a clue or inspiration. Hutch had simply vanished.

That night, Starsky gave in to pain and fatigue, taking two of the Percodan his doctor had sent home with him. He slept but he did not rest. There could be no respite for him, not without learning what had happened to Hutch.

He awoke feeling groggy. When his bleary gaze registered on the bedside clock, the shock of seeing that it was ten-thirty rudely revived him. He felt guilty, as if he had slept away valuable searching time.

He pulled on the same clothes he'd worn the day before, his body protesting at every movement. His chest felt incredibly tight, the healing muscles were a constricting band that would not let him move normally; his lungs had to fight for air, which made him cough a lot. He dismissed the pain, going to the car and heading for Metro.

Starsky was pouring a cup of coffee when Dobey opened his office door. The big man's voice was gruff with concern.

"What are you doing here, Starsky?"

The detective took a sip of the strong, black brew before answering. "My partner's missing."

"Starsky, we have every cop in the city looking for Hutch. I just got off the phone with the regional director of the FBI. Everything that can be done is being done."

"I can't stay home doing nothing, Captain." Infinitely weary, Starsky felt explaining was a useless waste of energy. He pulled out his desk chair and sank down. His eyes came to rest on the empty seat across from him.

He tore his gaze away. He didn't have to look to know Hutch wasn't there. He didn't have to try very hard to imagine all the terrible things that could have happened to him by now. It had been four days. The hard work was in not visualizing all the details of every deadly scenario that clambered for his attention.

Four days... That was long enough for Forrest to addict him to heroin. Four days... If I'd taken that long to find him when his car went into the canyon, I'd have found a dead man. Four days... I only had forty-eight hours to find Calendar and save Hutch's life. Four days... Hutch...

He coughed again. Starsky closed his eyes, trying to force himself to relax. He had to hang on, because if he couldn't control the pain, he'd never be able to control the terror.

He spent hours on the phone. First, he called the airport with more questions, then neighboring police departments, everyone he could think of who owed him a favor. He had to tell his story over and over, explain that Hutch had disappeared, and that was hurtful, physically and emotionally draining. Just speaking the words seemed to require more strength than he had.

Maybe another cup of coffee... He had lost count of how many he'd drunk. Starsky pushed back his chair and stood. The blood seemed to drain from his skull quickly, making him dizzy. He staggered to the coffee urn, leaning against the wall, feeling hot and cold at the same time.

"Starsky... Starsky!" Dobey's voice came at him from a great distance.

He thought about answering. Later, when I can stand up. Right now the floor looked like a good place to lie down.

He came to in an ambulance. Panic swept over him at the sight of the IV tubing, the concerned paramedics' faces. He craned his neck and recognized Dobey sitting up front with the driver.

No time for this. Gotta keep searching for Hutch. He tried to push the oxygen mask off his face, but the trembling weakness of his hands made the simple action impossible.

His own doctor came to see him in the emergency room. Starsky put up with his examination, utterly disinterested in his words of concern.

"Are you through yet, Doc? I have to get back to work." Starsky pushed himself up and reached for his shirt.

The doctor removed the ends of the stethoscope from his ears. "You're not going anywhere. You've got pneumonia, David. I'm having you re-admitted."

"Come on, Doctor. I just came out of the hospital -- with your clean bill of health." Starsky tried to draw a breath, noting the fire that seemed to catch at his lungs as he did so.

"That was four days ago. Now you're running a fever of a hundred and three and your lungs are full of pneumonia. I don't know how you didn't notice the symptoms."

He was serious, Starsky could tell. Dread swept over him. "No, I can't... can't go back in the hospital. Hutch might call me at home. What if... I'm not there to answer?"

Dr. Webber looked to Captain Dobey for an explanation. Starsky went back to buttoning his shirt. As he slid off the examining table, both men turned to look at him. The doctor spoke first.

"Are you trying to kill yourself, young man?"

"Dave," Dobey intervened softly. "Hutch will want you to get well."

That's not fair, Starsky wanted to tell him. But he could see that it was also true. He wouldn't do Hutch any good if he couldn't hold himself together. When we find him, I'll brain the guy for putting me through this...

"Okay." He sat back down on the exam table, wheezing, rubbing a hand through his sweaty hair. "But I don't want to be hospitalized. Can't I stay at my own place?"

"Can you call someone to take care of you?"

Hutch would. The irony of that thought pricked at his soul. Starsky closed his eyes, too worn out to concentrate. Dobey's voice spoke up. "Edith would be glad to look in on you. And couldn't you call your Aunt -- what's her name?"

"Rosie."

"Aunt Rosie. She could maybe come stay with you at night. Doctor?"

The medical man sighed, but Starsky looked up in time to see him nod. "I suppose I could make a few house calls. All right. Let me write out a couple of prescriptions. But I want you to get to bed and stay there until I say you can get up."

There was no fight left in Starsky. He gave in and followed his doctor's orders, resting, taking the antibiotics, letting his aunt and Edith Dobey take turns nursing him. More bed rest was the last thing he wanted, but the medication kept him drowsing during the day. Late at night, on the other hand, he would lie awake, still listening for a phone call from Hutch that never came.

I always found you before. You always found me. Did we think it was some kind of game? Guess we did, partner. Looks like the game is up this time. I'm not havin' any fun. The feeling of terror, the notion that he had to rush, to beat some arbitrary deadline sank slowly. Starsky began to feel numb. He was living in a state of suspended anticipation, waiting, always waiting. His life had been cleaved in two as neatly as the bullets from the assassin's gun that had torn across his body. There was before and there was now. After wouldn't come until he found Hutch.

As soon as his doctor said his lungs were clear, Starsky went back on the streets. After three weeks, there still was no sign, no trace of Hutch. The detective stubbornly repeated his phone calls, re-questioned everyone with whom he had spoken. He made a nuisance of himself at every police department within miles. He even went to see James Gunther, and the loud questions and accusations he threw at the jailed man brought the guards on a run to throw Starsky out before he did the prisoner bodily harm. Starsky left, his unvented frustration settling in his gut. He was getting very used to the feeling.

He called the hospitals again, still learning nothing. He couldn't bring himself to phone the morgues. Someone in the department had done that portion of the job, and it had been the only one he'd been content to delegate. Hutch wouldn't be found in any of them, anyway. I'd know, I'd feel it... wouldn't I? Always thought that was the way it would be. Now I'm not sure. Of that, or anything. No, I can't give up. Hutch -- where are you?

He had not been found dead, but if he were alive, why hadn't Starsky heard from him? He knew Hutch would keep trying to escape, trying to call... if he could. The circular reasoning was driving him crazy. Starsky refused to think about why Hutch might not be able to reach him.

He wanted answers, and none of the police agencies seemed able to do anything to find them. He had been scared at first, then, lying in his sick bed, depressed. Now Starsky was driven by another emotion. He was angry at the ineffective police and FBI. They didn't care, one missing detective from Metro meant nothing to them. So much for the fabled brotherhood of law enforcement officials. He found himself arguing with everyone he talked to, complaining about what they'd done -- and especially what they hadn't done -- to find his missing partner. None of his anger did a bit of good though, not even the kind he directed at himself.

He felt aimless, without direction. There were days when he used two tanks of gas just driving up and down the L.A. streets. Some nights, he staked out Hutch's apartment, but he was the only visitor to Venice Place. He'd searched the place in the first days of the disappearance, but that act had been as fruitless as the rest. He went inside occasionally, watered plants, dusted the furniture, picked up and sorted the mail. Just once in those early days he even wandered into the bedroom. He couldn't stay, however. The brass bed looked as empty as his own. He couldn't let himself think about what he and Hutch might have done there.

Starsky had always figured that Hutch would be a part of his life -- even before he had considered they might love each other physically. To think of life without him was impossible. Thought the only way I'd never see you again was if they cut out my eyes. But being blind could never be as bad as this. If they'd ripped you out of my side I couldn't feel as empty as I do now.

Never seeing Hutch again was inconceivable. And yet Starsky did see him, kept seeing him. On the street, a tall man moving with a graceful stride. A beat-up Ford with a blond driver. A guy leaning laconically over the bar at Huggy's... Hutch was everywhere. And nowhere. Each time his eyes played the trick on him, a nerve in Starsky jumped. He lost count of the times he'd nearly grabbed a stranger only to realize belatedly that it wasn't Hutch. Everything reminded him of his missing friend. A joke on Johnny Carson that Hutch would have laughed at, a restaurant that catered to the food he liked, a song on the radio... Thinking of something he wanted to tell him, Starsky turned to the empty seat in the Torino a dozen times, reached for the phone a hundred. The reactions to those occurrences tied his stomach in knots, feelings winding tight as he tried to control them, to hang onto his sanity. He didn't rant and rave, didn't let anyone observe his intense feelings. Yet out on the freeway, in the privacy of his car, Starsky would think of Hutch and curse and pound the steering wheel in an agony of denial and loss.

Goddamnit, why? Where are you?

He went to Dobey, begging for work to take his mind off the fruitless searching, the loneliness. The Captain refused, saying Starsky was not fit for duty, that the review board wouldn't even consider his case at this time. Starsky ignored him. Angry at the world, he went out on his own, answering radio calls, wading in to arrest anyone he saw breaking any law from armed robbery to jaywalking.

Starsky was cruising a street in a barrio neighborhood when he spotted a gang of kids fighting in a garbage-strewn playground. It could have been punks like these -- killing a cop and hiding the body for the fun of it. Some of them had bats; others had broken bottles and chains. He knew in a few minutes the knives would be coming out. Starsky pulled the Torino to the curb and got out.

"Come on, tough guys. Break it up." He pulled out his badge and held it up for them to see. Interfering alone in something like this was dangerous, but Starsky didn't think about it, didn't care at this point.

Both groups turned on him, taunting and making insults. Starsky moved closer, threatening to arrest the teenagers. Someone threw a bottle, it just missed his head. Starsky made a grab for one of them.

It was all over in a few minutes. Outnumbered by the stronger youths, Starsky was beaten badly. They left him bleeding from cuts on his head and arms, bruised and battered, lying on the ground. He had to crawl back to the car. Reaching for the mike and switching on the radio, he felt a tearing sensation in his chest. He barely had breath to call for assistance, and then blackness pulled him down to unconsciousness.

He woke up back in the hospital. He had a concussion and had torn some cartilage in a lung, the one more seriously damaged when he'd been shot.

"You may have seriously damaged your chances of recovering, Sergeant," Dr. Webber told him emphatically. "If you don't stay here and follow orders, you are likely to remain an invalid for the rest of your life."

Starsky turned away from the look of compassionate concern on the physician's face. Deep down, he knew Webber was right. Though he didn't care one way or another about his own condition, Starsky feared lying in bed for weeks or months -- how could he keep his mind off the loss of Hutch if he had nothing to do? Still, he wondered what possible use recovery would be with Hutch gone from his life.

********

August, 1979

Starsky pushed the untouched dinner tray aside and turned to stare out the window of his hospital room. It was sunset, and the whole world looked gold under the descending rays. Life was going on out there, the beauty of the world was undiminished. Except for here, in this room. Starsky lay back against his pillows, eyes squinting under the cold illumination of the overhead fluorescent light. He thought about how it would feel to be outside right now. Somehow, he knew the sun wouldn't warm him, and from his perspective, its light wouldn't look golden.

He reached for the telephone beside his bed. The last time he had used it, days ago, had been to call Captain Dobey, asking him to tell his aunt and Huggy and other friends that he didn't want to see them for a while. Starsky was sick of their concern, of their sympathy. Their soft voices and admonitions not to worry made him irritable; he had decided to ask Dobey to make them all stay away.

Now, he had made another decision. He waited impatiently for Dobey to answer, wanting to get on with what he had to say.

"Captain Dobey."

"Cap, it's Starsky."

"Dave, good to hear your voice!" The Captain sounded pleased, as if he supposed Starsky was calling to let him know he wanted to have visitors again. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay. Listen, Captain. I thought I should call you as soon as I decided about this. I'm quitting the force." Starsky closed his eyes, drawing in a steadying breath. Saying the words hadn't hurt one bit. He didn't feel anything inside at all.

Dobey was talking, loud and excited, trying to persuade Starsky to change his mind. Starsky listened a few moments, feeling strangely removed. Finally, he just hung up the phone.

********

It was late afternoon the following day. Starsky was staring sightlessly out the window again, this time while he ignored his physical therapist, who was once again trying to persuade him to go to the therapy sessions he had been avoiding.

He heard her sigh in frustration and turn to go. Then came the sound of his door opening and another person coming into the room.

"I'll talk to him."

Starsky stiffened. Mother? What -- who called her? There was a note of anger in her familiar voice, but he recognized the expression as the one her speech took on only when she was very, very worried.

He turned in time to see the therapist leaving. His mother stood before him, her eyes wide with emotion, her look both reproving and full of love.

"What are you doing here?" His own voice was ragged with the effort of hanging onto his feelings. He didn't know whether he wanted to lash out in annoyance or reach out for her in desperation.

"Your captain called me yesterday. He said you needed me." Her eyes held his gaze.

"I'm all right. You were just out here when I was shot; you didn't have to disrupt your whole life again just because I'm back in the hospital."

She came closer, sitting on the bed beside him. "Davey, what are you doing to yourself?" She reached for his hand.

It looked so odd to see his own hand surrounded by her small one. How long ago had his hand been the smaller, helpless one? Her fingers felt the same, though strong, gentle. Her eyes were the same, too, shining with pride and love and worry. They were as blue as his own, and right now they looked very full. Her concern tore at Starsky's heart; her touch destroyed his tenuous control. He had ignored others who had tried to help him, had been rude and uncooperative, not caring whose feelings he stepped on in his desire to shield his own. But this was his mother. He could not reject her the way he had everyone else. His own pain was crippling, but he couldn't deflect it on the one other person in the world he loved and who loved him.

Starsky drew in a breath, knowing, however, that if he began to talk, he'd never regain his control. He sat looking down at their joined hands.

His mother was so gentle and patient. "It's all right to talk about it, Davey."

His head pressed back against the pillows, his eyes squeezed shut in denial. "No..."

"It might help. When someone we're close to dies senselessly -- "

"Shut up!" He immediately regretted his sharp words, but there was no taking them back. "I'm sorry. It's just... he isn't dead. There's no proof of that. And I won't believe it without proof."

Her eyes had focused on some place far away; Starsky had seen her go there many times. The place where her love died...

"Okay. I understand. I shouldn't have said it like that. Hutch has disappeared. You've lost him, suddenly and without explanation. You're hurting. But you can't go on like this. Son, you've got your whole life ahead of you. Don't jeopardize your health this way."

"None of that matters. I don't care what's ahead of me."

"I know it's hard. Hutch was your partner, your best friend..."

"Mom, don't say anymore. You just don't understand." It killed him to hear people refer to Hutch in the past tense. But what was worse, he and Hutch had shared a love, and now not only might he never find it again, he had no way to explain it to anyone.

His mother reached to cradle the hand she held in both of hers. "I know, son. A man's partner is..." He sighed and she hesitated again, looking into him as if she could read his emotions as well as she had when he'd been a child. "Please. Talk to me and explain. I'm your mother and there isn't anything I won't understand."

He looked into the world-weary, worldly-wise eyes of his mother. He couldn't remember them ever looking at him in condemnation. When he was a kid at home, she'd always let him know he could tell her anything. Even when he'd come to live out here with Aunt Rosie, his mother had remained a loving confidant.

Lying in his hospital bed, alone and hurting, what had passed between him and Hutch had come to seem almost like something he had fantasized. No one else knew what they had really meant to each other. If all he was ever to have of their love was a memory, he wanted to know it had been real.

"A man's partner..." he began somewhat nervously. "Mom, you know what that is. It's more than a friendship. But Hutch and I... it goes further for us, deeper..."

His hand was held more firmly. Encouraged, Starsky went on, feelings slipping out with the words. "We've been through so much, especially this last year. Both of us have loved and lost, been hurt... guess we finally realized that the only thing either of us has is each other." Her expression showed no resistance to what he was saying, only a compassion born of true understanding.

"I... love him, Mom. And he loves me. We'd only just realized we meant that in every sense of the word." He swallowed, went on raggedly. "And he needs me -- and I'm afraid I'll never get him back. Never have another chance to show him..." He broke off, breathing hard, his voice trembling under the strain of his helpless need. "He's my whole life!"

He let go of her hand, folding his arms to clutch them tight around his chest, rocking back and forth. It hurt so bad.

A long silence stretched between them. Starsky's mother moved closer to him, placing her hands on his shoulders. The quiet space seemed warmer somehow, enclosing them, rather than keeping them apart.

"David, I know you'd like to think that even if people die, love never does. I've always believed that, and tried to teach it to you and your brother. If you and Hutch loved each other, it's all right to hang on to that. We need those memories. But hang on to something else, too. What do you think Hutch would say if he saw you like this? He wouldn't want to see you sick, weak, uncaring -- quitting your job, turning away everyone who tried to help you. Son, if you aren't willing to give up on Hutch, how can you give up on yourself?"

Her words reached directly into his pain. I can't give up on you, can I, babe? And I guess you wouldn't give up on me. You're out there somewhere. I have to get myself together or I'll be no good to you -- or to your memory. He looked into his mother's eyes, not wanting to let her down, yet uncertain he could do what she asked of him.

His mother stayed for a couple of weeks. She argued, cajoled, and nagged him to go to physical therapy, to eat, to follow doctor's orders. When he began trying, he found that working hard to get back into decent physical condition was easier than thinking about life without Hutch. Once on the road to recovery, though, he was faced with time to go over all those things that might have been and that he should have done. His mother had another suggestion that helped. College courses would be a way to occupy his mind. Statsky listened without much enthusiasm at first, but when he realized that a degree would make him eligible for promotion and that a promotion would get him off the streets and allow him to work alone without having to accept another partner, he decided to follow her advice.

********

May, 1981

Nearly two years. Next month, it'll be two whole years. Starsky knew his police work was as efficient as ever. Just four months ago, after many long hours at night school, he had earned his degree. A lieutenant's spot had opened up in Metro, and Dobey had pulled strings to help Starsky get it. He was in charge of twelve detectives and took pride in the work he did, the things he accomplished. Yet, busy as he was, he still maintained an interest in the one case he would never consider closed. The time had passed so slowly, yet its reality was the hardest thing Starsky had ever endured. But if time was real, so was love. And so was Starsky's hope.

Few people knew that he still took care of Hutch's apartment and possessions. Making changes, getting rid of anything, would mean Hutch was gone forever, and when Hutch came home, he would need to find things just as he'd left them. He knew Dobey assumed his obsession was the result of guilt, but his reasons went deeper than that. The Captain never knew about the dreams that haunted Starsky's sleep at night, where the days of futile searching still went on and on, and the loss seemed as fresh as a new-opened wound.

Starsky got up from the couch and paced across the living room. He hated the dreams; recalling them often destroyed his sleep for days before they stopped. He entered the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face, trying to stop the downward spiral of depression.

Maybe I need to talk to someone. He went into the bedroom and flopped down on the bed, reaching for the phone.

"Starsky? That really you?" Huggy Bear's voice sounded pleasantly surprised.

"It's me, Hug. Are... you busy?" Starsky felt awkward calling his old friend. He'd virtually stopped socializing all together. That left him lonely, but he no longer felt like forming or keeping up friendships.

"'Course I'm not busy. 'Specially since I don't hardly hear from you no more. What can I do for you, man?"

"I just felt like talking. I realize it's been a while..."

"Why don't I come over? You had dinner yet?"

"No..."

"I'll bring a pizza."

"Thanks, Huggy." Starsky felt warm with embarrassment; it was tough admitting he needed the company tonight.

********

The last of the pizza had disappeared before Huggy brought up Hutch's name. Starsky winced, knowing Huggy must realize that having his missing partner on his mind had prompted his call. Then he realized it was all right. He didn't have to make up pretenses with Huggy. Starsky had all but forgotten what unconditional friendship felt like.

"So, you're thinkin' about Hutch?" The question was repeated, louder this time. "What happened, Starsky?"

"Nothing really, Hug. I guess I can put it out of my mind for just so long before it all starts comin' back. I start reliving the whole nightmare all over again. Damn! If I'd just been with him..."

"There was nothing you coulda done, my man." Huggy's voice was sympathetic.

"I know that. But do you realize how ironic it is? I manage to survive the hit, and Hutch turns around and..." He let the sentence go unfinished.

Huggy met his eyes. "I've never believed he's dead, either. Hutch was always one tough dude. Maybe somehow, some way..."

Starsky looked away, remembering that he had not finished cleaning Hutch's gun that morning. "Do you think it's crazy, me still believing he's alive?"

"The only thing I think is crazy is this world we live in."

"Really."

Huggy stayed a while longer, and for a time, Starsky felt somewhat cheered by his friend's presence. I should see more of Huggy, get down to his new restaurant sometime. His work routine was comfortable, acceptable. He couldn't see himself dropping in at Huggy's to spending an evening playing pool without Hutch. Yet Huggy wasn't difficult to be around; he never tried to break down the defenses Starsky had devised for himself.

********

The dreams he had sought to banish came back to him anyway that night. Starsky fell into the dark, suffocating netherworld he had inhabited during those first, bleak months without Hutch...

***

He was running down a long, dark tunnel, trying to keep going despite the terrible pains in his chest and back warning him of impending collapse.

"Hutch! Hutch!" He tried calling out, but his voice wasn't strong enough to carry.

There! What was that sound? He stopped, trying to still his ragged breathing enough to listen. It sounded like...

...someone crying. Sobs, torn from the heart of a grieving man. Starsky rubbed his chin, feeling the ache where Hutch had slugged him. He had to reach out, take away the pain, make him understand. Gillian was gone but he was still there. Starsky reached, but fell flat on the tunnel floor, his arms empty. The sobbing ceased.

He got to his knees, reaching blindly, all his senses searching through the dark and the silence. There... harsh, pain wracked gasps, lungs fighting for air. And he could do nothing, couldn't press his hands against Hutch's chest to help him fight the pain. Hutch was dying, alone, far from Starsky's comfort and love.

Starsky staggered to his feet, beginning to run again, but he tripped, falling as the ground gave way to drop him into an endless chasm.

He was floating, swimming through murky mists that strangled the voice inside him, made his arms and legs tremble with weakness. But there, down below, was Hutch, shaking and sweating in the horror of heroin withdrawal. An ugly man stood over him, readying the dirty needle that would end his pain but make his addiction certain.

"No!" Starsky cried out. "Let me help you, Hutch!"

The tears dried on Hutch's battered face as he sadly watched Starsky's useless struggle. Then, a vacant smile appeared on his lips, his gaze turned toward the man with the needle. He extended his arm...

"Huuuutch!" The name was uttered as half-scream, half-moan. Starsky found himself naked on a bed, watching Hutch lean over him. Weak with relief, he realized all that had happened had been only dreams. This was now, this was real. They were together. Eyes of crystal blue sparkled with desire as they devoured the sight of Starsky's arousal and both strong hands reached out to caress his writhing body.

Hutch's mouth touched him, swallowing him whole, sucking him in a form of slow, intimate torture that made him beg for completion. Hutch's fingers traced pathways on his trembling body, down his rib cage, across his belly, combing through the dark curls that led down his abdomen.

Starsky spread his legs, his hips thrusting, wanting to end, wanting never to end. His eyes closed, his body aware only of the stimulation, but his hands sought Hutch's head. He sank his fingers deep in the silky hair, and held his lover close, felt his throat muscles working as the exquisite suction continued. But his hands closed on emptiness and cold shock swept over him.

***

Starsky opened his eyes. He was alone, his heart filled with confusion and hurt. How could Hutch leave him this way? Tears of frustration slid down his cheeks as he curled into a ball on the cold, empty bed.

********

The idiotically cheerful chirping of birds told him it was finally morning. His body aching from the night spent on the couch, he dragged himself to a sitting position, rubbing a hand across his tear-stained face. No question what that dream had meant, he thought ruefully. Unfinished business, the love we started but never fully consummated. He hadn't kept up much of a social life; his sex life was the same. Having sex meant coming into close physical contact with another person, and Starsky knew he couldn't handle that. He took care of his occasional sexual frustration, evoked usually by dreams like the one he'd had last night, the way he took care of everything else in his life, by himself.

On the job, he had decent working relationships; other cops understood. But aside from Huggy, he didn't associate with friends who had known Hutch. Their sympathy and sincere offers of help were too much to bear. Starsky couldn't talk about his feelings. He was alone. Friendships had drifted. There was work, and there were memories.

Like last night, he called Huggy every once in a while. Occasionally, he had dinner with Captain Dobey and his wife. He called his mother regularly, but took no vacation time. He was grateful for her help and understanding, but opening himself up to her cost him, too. He hoped she understood why he hadn't come to see her. For a while, he had been in touch with Hutch's parents, but both Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson had been killed a few months ago in a car accident.

Their deaths had been something of a relief. From the beginning, they had blamed Starsky for not being able to find their son, adding to his guilt. They certainly didn't hold out much hope of finding him. Before even six months had elapsed, they had begun to discuss the possibility of having Hutch declared legally dead. Now that they had passed away, other Hutchinson relatives wanted the same thing. There were uncles and aunts, a few cousins, but Hutch had no brothers or sisters. The law was that a person had to be missing seven years before the courts officially declared him dead. Until then, Hutch's parents' wills would not be out of probate and the family fortune could not be distributed to the other family members.

Starsky had a lot of Hutch's things at his own apartment; it was comforting to have his possessions nearby. He'd kept Venice Place in Hutch's name, depositing the rentals from Chez Helene and the two other tenants in an account he had established for the purpose. There was quite a sizeable amount in the account now; Starsky hadn't touched a penny of it. If Hutch ever did come back, he'd probably need the money. And he'd want his home the way he'd left it, his plants, his guitar, his paintings. Starsky knew that he was rationalizing. To the world, Kenneth Hutchinson was a dead man. It was almost as if he'd never really existed at all, except in Starsky's mind. Yet there, and in his heart, Hutch was still very much alive. All he could do was bide his time. He refused to look toward the future, and the past only reminded him how lonely he was now.

Damn it, Hutch, why didn't we even have time to make love again? He got up and headed toward the shower, intending to wash off the effects of alcohol and nightmares. If only we'd been allowed the time to love each other... maybe I could live with this sense of having lost what I never had. Without answers, there could be no closure. Instead, Starsky lived always with the anguish of loss, of unfinished business. Until he learned what exactly had happened to his partner, Starsky knew he would never really be able to get on with his life.