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Distant Shores

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BOOK TWO -- VIGIL

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CHAPTER I

 

June, 1981

As Starsky stepped into the hall outside Hutch's room, he realized it was late. A look at his watch told him he'd been sitting with his partner now for over three hours. He pushed the door open, stealing one more glance at the figure in the bed, then headed down the hall.

Even though it was nearly evening, he hoped Dr. Samuels was still in her office. She was. When he peeked around the half-open door, she smiled and motioned him into a chair.

"You look much better. Did you have a good visit? I told the nurses on duty to hold off coming in the room to turn him so that you wouldn't be disturbed."

"Yeah. It was a good visit." He couldn't hide his grin. "It's so great to see him after all this time, to know he's alive. And he looks so good... Doctor, I want to thank you." He turned serious eyes on the woman. "Guess Hutch has racked up quite a bill here by now."

"We can worry about that later."

Starsky nodded, bringing up the question he really wanted to ask. "I... I'd like to take him home. To the States, I mean."

Soft brown eyes widened a little. Starsky shifted uncomfortably under their look of pity. "I was afraid you might ask about that."

"Why? What would be the problem? You said he was stable..."

"Yes. He is stable. But would you risk that stability by trying to transport him so great a distance? There would be at least three plane changes in a trip from Adelaide to Los Angeles. I can't recommend it."

Starsky's heart rate stepped up. "No. It has to be possible. His home is in Los Angeles. I want to take care of him and I can't do that with him in Australia."

"Lt. Starsky, believe me, I understand how you must feel, but taking your friend back home with you is just not practical. If there were some way to obtain transportation on a private jet, with medical personnel aboard, it would be somewhat less dangerous, though I still wouldn't recommend it. And the cost of doing it that way..." She tapped her pencil against a kangaroo paperweight on the desk. "Does he have family? Would they take the responsibility?"

Starsky looked down at his clenched hands. "No. His parents died last year. They were in a car accident." He sighed. "The family did have money... and there's an account in his name that I've taken care of, but..." Floundering, he looked back up at the doctor. There was an expression of sympathy in her eyes that was a bit disconcerting. Starsky met her look steadily. "I'm Hutch's family now. I've taken the responsibility for caring for his home and his assets since he disappeared and I'm the one who'll take care of him now. We were partners for a long time. I even have his power of attorney."

Dr. Samuels leaned forward, her earnest gaze still on Starsky. "Okay. Believe me, I do see how important he is to you. And I understand why you'd like to take him home. But if it's Hutch's best interest you have at heart, I think you'll agree that the only way to handle this is to allow him to remain here. Can you arrange to stay in Adelaide for awhile?"

Starsky hadn't actually thought beyond finding out what had happened to Hutch. For the last two weeks, he'd been living like a vagabond, following clues, not thinking beyond the present moment. Now the logical next step did seem to be his arranging to stay. This had been the longest time he'd spent away from work since getting out of the hospital, but Dobey had told him to take as long as he needed. He nodded, feeling good about the decision. "Of course, I couldn't leave, not when I've just found him. You do think it will do Hutch good to have me here, don't you?"

"Not only Hutch, but you, too." Dr. Samuels sat forward, resting her elbows on the desk as she spoke earnestly. "You can see him every day, even help with some of the things the nurses do to take care of him. Since you won't be working as you would back in Los Angeles, you'll be able to concentrate on him."

"Yeah." Starsky rubbed a hand through his hair. "Back home, I am pretty busy with work most of the time. I'll get a room in town and call my Captain." His irrepressible smile broke out again. "I've been wantin' to let him know the good news all day, anyway. I'll stay as long as I have to. I'd like to help take care of Hutch. Maybe... maybe you have some books I can read or something. If there's anything, anything at all I can do, I'm willing." He grinned at Dr. Samuels again.

Her eyes were full of comprehension. "It must have been hard, not knowing what had happened to your friend."

"It was..." The twinge of pain left as soon as it had come. That's all over now. Starsky refused to dwell on the bleak past. Everything was going to be uphill from now on. "You just wait. Hutch is a fighter. I'll let him know I'm here and get his mind goin' again. You'll see, Doc. He's not gonna be out of it very much longer."

********

Heads turned at the nurses' station as denim-covered legs and a body obscured by an encumbering armload of goods emerged from the lift. Just the top fringe of dark curly hair was visible behind a large, potted fern. Starsky staggered past, aware of the stir he was causing on the way to Hutch's room.

It was difficult to push open the door without dropping any of his parcels. Once inside, he piled the whole conglomeration on the large bedside chair and moved to open the window shades.

Despite the cold outside, it was a sunny day. Starsky wanted to let the sunshine in. Hutch had always enjoyed the outdoors, the sun, the sand, the wind. The wintry light fell across his pale face now, exposing the shadows over the closed eyelids, the perfection of the profile, glaring off the narrow metal band on the tubing that was taped at his nose. Starsky sighed, undaunted by the picture. He crossed to stand next to the bed, his fingers reaching to pat Hutch's hair into a semblance of his usual style. It should be a little off the forehead, combed back on the sides, curling into a gentle wave in front. The blond hair gleamed in the morning light, feeling soft to Starsky's touch. It smelled fresh and clean. The nurses had been in early it seemed, to bathe their patient.

Starsky got busy then, lifting the heavy fern to the chest of drawers next to the bed. He had a basket with other, smaller plants, too; the spider plants that Hutch had always loved and a couple of flowering varieties more familiar to Australians than to Starsky's American-bred eyes. They were colorful, though, and already the hospital room looked more cheery.

From one of the bags he had carried in, Starsky extracted a bright mobile. Made of colored translucent plastic shapes depicting musical instruments, it caught and reflected the light, sending moving rainbows all over the dull green walls of the room. Starsky climbed up on a straight-back chair with hammer and nail, thinking back to Huggy hanging a kerosene lantern from the automatic sprinkler of his hospital room so long ago. He hadn't bothered to get permission to put a nail in the ceiling of Hutch's room, but Starsky didn't worry about that. Brightening Hutch's environment was more important than anything else. When Hutch woke up, Starsky wanted him to find himself in a pleasant place, not some sterile, empty cell.

Then came the best thing of all those Starsky had brought. He smiled, bringing out a brand new combination radio and cassette tape player. He opened a fresh package of batteries, and when they were inserted, he dialed a station on the radio. It worked great -- the reception was excellent. Starsky put a stack of tapes next to the radio. He had searched a record store for music familiar to Hutch, had found some Simon and Garfunkle, John Denver, and Beatles. The music would play continuously, keeping Hutch company, Starsky had decided. He adjusted the radio's volume, then pulled out a plastic watering can and gave all the plants a drink. He folded the paper bags and tucked them neatly away in the plant basket. Satisfied with his handiwork, Starsky sat back in the armchair he had pulled a bit closer to Hutch's bed.

The door to the room sighed on its hinges as it opened. Startled, Starsky turned, expecting to see Dr. Samuels. Instead, the newcomer was a blonde nurse.

She looked as surprised to see Starsky as he was. Her eyes traveled from the strange visitor to the greenery, to the gracefully swaying mobile, to the radio. Clearing her throat, she appeared to recover her composure and walked on in.

"Hi." Starsky knew he sounded a bit uncertain. "I'm... his friend. Dave Starsky." He extended a hand.

The nurse smiled. "I'm Mary Brownwell. I'm so glad Joey has a visitor."

"Joey?"

"Our nickname for him."

"I see." Starsky grinned, pleased that the staff had a pet name for their patient. The nurse hadn't said anything about the many changes he had so suddenly wrought on the room; maybe it was all right. "His name is Hutch. Kenneth Hutchinson."

Mary Brownwell nodded, looking down at the comatose man for a moment as if digesting the information. "That's nice. It suits him." Then she was all business again. "Come on, dear," she spoke up, addressing Hutch, "time to turn over a bit."

"You're going to turn him over?" Starsky looked at the large man, then at the small nurse.

"Every two hours." She seemed not to notice his doubts, proceeding to adjust the flow from the nutrient bag and making sure the tubing was not in the way. She pulled the covers down to Hutch's waist in order to keep them from tangling under him as he was moved. Then, standing on the opposite side of the bed, she slid both arms under his back, rolling him onto his right side. Extra pillows tucked behind his back and legs served to keep Hutch from rolling back to his original position. Another pillow was placed between his legs.

Starsky watched, his throat tight. Hutch remained oblivious during the procedure, his expression still closed, nonreactive. His arms shifted without resistance, one hand lying palm up on the covers, the other draped awkwardly across his chest. The sheet slipped down a little while the nurse was turning him, exposing a bare hip. Starsky glanced away, inexplicably embarrassed for his friend. Hutch looked so vulnerable, so helpless.

Starsky kept his eyes on the still face as the nurse finished smoothing the covers, adjusting his arms into an apparently more comfortable pose, resuming the flow of nutrient. Before she left, she knelt to empty the bag attached to the catheter. Starsky swallowed hard. It all seemed so impersonal. But the nurse patted Hutch's shoulder before she turned to go, speaking softly again, real affection in her voice.

"There now, Joey love, you rest there for a while. Oh, I mean, Hutch." With a nod in Starsky's direction, she turned and was gone.

Starsky sat still for a minute, then with new resolve, slid his chair up closer to the bed. Hutch's hair looked mussed again. He smoothed it back. He spoke, his voice a tender whisper.

"Ah, babe. What happened out there? Why'd they hurt you like this?" It was painful to look at the sleeper lying there, remembering the powerful strength that had once flowed through the long body. Starsky tried to visualize Hutch's eyes opening, a smile brightening his handsome features as he threw back the covers and climbed out of bed, ready to start a new day, dignity and intelligence intact, no traces of debilitating illness remaining.

No. Even if he would somehow magically wake up at this very moment, Starsky knew Hutch would not be in any shape to leap right out of that bed, not for a very long time.

Wake up anyway, Hutch. I miss your eyes, your smile.

"Hutch? Come on buddy. Can't you hear me? Don'tcha wanna wake up yet?"

Please, Hutch, wake up soon. I'm so lonely without you.

Starsky forced the depressing thoughts and wishes aside, reaching to stroke Hutch's bare arm. He determined to be patient. He had found Hutch. He was alive, well cared for. It would be all right. It had to be.

"I'm here now, babe. I'm gonna stay 'til you're ready to come back to me."

*********

Starsky slipped another tape in the recorder and pressed the play button. John Denver's high tenor filled the room, begging to be taken home by country roads. Starsky remembered how Hutch used to sing along with Denver on the radio, substituting Minnesota for West Virginia. He did it when he felt particularly fed up with the dirty city, and because he knew it drove Starsky, who preferred rock to the simple folk style of Denver, crazy. Starsky used to complain loudly about Hutch's singing, but his voice had always sounded better to him than John Denver's had.

He sat down again, his gaze fixed on Hutch's face, watching closely for any sign that the comatose man was aware of the music. Behind him, the door to the room opened and closed, but he didn't look up.

"How are you doing?" Melissa Samuels' soft voice, accompanied by her hand on his shoulder, broke into his concentration.

"Oh." Starsky turned to look up at her, smiling. "Okay, I guess."

Her eyes moved to the things he had brought to decorate the room. "You've been busy."

"Yeah. Hutch likes plants -- used to have 'em all over his apartment."

"This is pretty." She lifted a hand to touch the mobile and the colorful instruments began to sway.

"He was always into music. Plays guitar and piano." Starsky's eyes went back to study Hutch's face. The sunlight caught in the translucent shapes of the mobile and reflected in a dance of shadows over his features. "I just thought I should brighten the place up for him."

"It's a good idea, especially the tape recorder," the doctor observed. "Would you like to do some other things for him?"

"What can I do?" Starsky was willing to try anything.

"Range of motion exercises. All of his joints should be put through their complete range of movements each day. How are you at massage?"

Starsky lifted a shoulder. "Pretty good." He remembered being complimented on his massage technique -- by Hutch.

"That would help, too. He can't exercise his muscles himself, we have to do it for him. Deep massage keeps the muscles toned."

Starsky eyed the quiescent figure in the bed. "It won't hurt him to move him around so much, to really use my strength massaging him?"

"No. It's good for him. We raise the head of his bed from time to time -- and he's been put in that chair, sitting up, while the bed is being changed. Be a little careful, of course. We can disconnect the feeding tube. You have to watch out for the catheter."

Starsky's gaze darted over the still form, again feeling a sense of embarrassment. It was still difficult for him to think about the necessity for those devices. Dr. Samuels' voice was full of patience.

"You don't have to do any more than you feel comfortable with." She efficiently unhooked the tube that had been providing Hutch's nourishment.

Starsky turned to her, needing to explain. "It's not that I mind touching him -- I want to do for Hutch. It's just rough seeing him like this. You know, helpless."

"I know. But look at it this way. If he'd awaken, he'd have even more difficulty regaining his physical mobility if we didn't help him now. And not only that, the movement and massage is good tactile stimulation, the way the music provides aural stimulation."

"It will be good to actually do something after all this time." Starsky sighed. "It's been frustrating. Two years of knowing something had happened to him and not having any way I could do anything."

Samuels smiled. "See? It will make you both feel better."

Both of us... The words echoed in Starsky's ear. There hasn't been a 'both of us' in so long, Hutch.

Always before, they had shared their pain, and the sharing had helped ease and dissipate it. But without Hutch, Starsky's misery had built and built until the wall around his love had seemed insurmountable.

The doctor watched his face closely for a moment, apparently satisfied by the emotion she read there. She smiled. "Here, let me show you what to do."

She lifted the sheet, uncovering Hutch's left leg, draping the white material so that the rest of him stayed covered. The only garment Hutch wore was a brief hospital gown that had merely been slipped up over his arms and not tied in the back. The rest of him was bare.

He'd be blushing if he knew he was like this, Starsky thought, remembering how tightly Hutch had kept the strings of his hospital gown laced when the two of them had been put in isolation by Doctor Kaufman.

Melissa Samuels wasn't too much different from Judith. Both were completely professional, dedicated doctors, both were fighting against heavy odds for Hutch's health. If Hutch were awake, Starsky suspected he'd charm Melissa as easily as he had Judith. Then again, Starsky decided while watching the way she cared for him, she seemed to have been charmed already.

"He must have been quite a runner," she commented quietly as she touched one long thigh.

"He sure was." Starsky's voice was quiet, too. "It wasn't always easy keeping up with him."

Melissa moved to the foot of the bed, slid a hand under Hutch's heel and lifted it. "He was a good cop?"

Starsky cleared his throat. "A good cop," he agreed. "Good partner. The best..."

"Yes." Samuels' eyes flicked up to meet Starsky's, then returned to the limb she held. "Watch now." She rotated Hutch's ankle gently. "The full range of motion. The joints can't be allowed to stiffen up and the muscles have to be stretched and contracted." She flexed the foot, not forgetting the toes, and took a minute to check the reflex as she had demonstrated to Starsky the previous day. "Now the knee."

Starsky stood up. "Let me." He put his hands on the pale skin, taking the leg in an awkward grip. He held the warm weight of it under the thigh, raising the leg to bend the knee. "Seems kinda complicated," he said, covering his confusion with a short chuckle.

"You're doing just fine. Work on his hip joints, his hands and arms, and shoulders. Don't forget his neck. You mustn't force movement that is unnatural. He's pretty easy to work with, though. There's not much resistance."

Starsky finished with the left leg and lay it back down on the mattress. "Do the other leg next?"

The doctor nodded, readjusting the sheet so that it covered the leg they had finished with and exposed the other one. "Keep him well covered. We don't want him to get chilled or hit by a draft. Even during his bath, only the part being washed is uncovered."

"Okay." Starsky was already moving to the other side of the bed. He was concentrating on Hutch, his touch bringing them together, separating the two of them from the space outside. A touch between them had always sparked the magic that had set them apart in a world of their own, that place where they had spent so much working and off time, all their special time for so many years. Even in Dobey's office, or in the detectives' room with others around them, even on the street, they'd been able to find their place alone. Dr. Samuels, like so many others, faded into the background now.

The door to the room clicked as it opened. "Doctor, I've been looking for you." A young nurse stepped in, her eyes drawn to Starsky as he worked Hutch's leg. "There's an emergency down in four-twelve."

"I'll be right there. Lieutenant?"

"We're okay, Doc." Starsky answered without looking up.

He continued with his task, letting the steady movements weave a new peace around him. John Denver kept singing, "Rocky Mountain High." 'He was born in the winter of his twenty-seventh year, comin' home to a place he'd never been before...' The song could have been written for Hutch, for the hopes Starsky had for his rebirth.

Touching his partner felt good, but Hutch's passivity was strange. Starsky was bombarded by memories of other times he had held him, helped him. The struggling body he had held on Huggy's bed as he fought the craving for heroin had been anything but passive. Hutch had needed him, and had let him know. Starsky knew that his touch, his support, had been what carried Hutch through that time; his willingness to take on a portion of Hutch's misery had made the difference. He wanted his touch to make a difference now.

He remembered another occasion, much later, when they had held each other in Starsky's own hospital bed. Then Hutch's body had been responsive, assured, its movements sensual... No. Don't think about that. Starsky was embarrassed at what he thought of as an inappropriate feeling in this time and place.

"What would you say if you knew what I was thinking?" he asked the sleeper. He looked into the face he knew so well, and saw Hutch's patience, Hutch's understanding. "Nothin' to be ashamed of, huh? Okay buddy. I can keep it together if you can."

He put Hutch's right leg down and covered it, moving to pick up his arm. There was a pliancy in the muscles that had never been there before. The hard biceps and the strength of the forearms had melted away. Deprived of the sun, the golden tan of health had faded. Hutch's arm was limp, moving as Starsky dictated.

"Come on, Hutch. Work with me. You gotta get strong." His partner was out of it, though. "You never let me push you around before. Remember all those years you went to Vinnie's every morning? What would he say if he saw you like this?" He exercised the elbow, then the shoulder. "Okay. I won't bug you about it. You never could put up with teasing, could you?" He straightened, looking at the tube through which Hutch's liquid diet flowed. "At least you're back on the health gunk, I see. What's in there, goat's milk and desiccated liver?" His smile was brief and a little forced. If Hutch could perceive his presence, he didn't want him to detect worry and fear. He figured what Hutch needed was a positive attitude and encouragement. He kept talking, kept touching him.

"You gotta want to wake up, partner." Starsky straightened, looking down into Hutch's silent face. "Nothing can keep you down if you don't let it. You're the guy who's got a hundred plus years to go, remember? You're missin' out on 'em -- that's not what you want." He squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the sense of despair that threatened in the face of Hutch's unconsciousness.

I won't let it get to me. He's alive. Like Dr. Samuels said, his body is in good shape. He's thin, but it's not so bad. Could be lots worse. And his mind could wake up. He can recover. It's just a matter of being patient, not losing hope.

Never known for his patience in younger years, Starsky had learned a lot about waiting and accepting limitations in the past twenty-four months. I never gave up hope of finding Hutch alive -- and that paid off. Opening his eyes, the feeling of peace flowed over him again and Starsky released his doubts. He's here and I can touch him and help take care of him. That's more of a second chance than most people get. "Come on, babe. We got work to do."

He stood there a moment, considering how best to work on Hutch's neck and shoulders. "What you need is to sit up," Starsky told him. He bent, searching for the control mechanism to raise the head of the bed. He made the angle a gentle incline. Partially sitting up, Hutch seemed hunched to one side. Starsky took him by the shoulders to straighten him up, then placed a hand on each side of his neck.

No. Gotta be a better way. Holding Hutch by the shoulders again, Starsky put one knee up on the mattress. He let the unresisting body lean forward, making room for himself, then slid his leg behind and to the other side of Hutch. When he was settled, he drew his partner back against him. Starsky just sat for a moment, his arms folded around Hutch's slim form. Close, warm -- the embrace filled him with good feeling, a sense of cherishing Hutch, of really being with him at last.

He closed his eyes, inhaling the clean smell of Hutch's hair. Under his fingers, the skin along the side of the long throat was as satiny as he remembered. "I've got you, babe," he whispered into an ear covered by flyaway cornsilk. "I'm here, and everything's gonna be all right."

His hands rubbed soothing circles over the smooth chest. When his palm encountered the steady heartbeat, he held his breath, awed at the throbbing reality of it. He stroked long hair back from the broad forehead, his fingers going on to massage the scalp gently. Hutch's body seemed to relax against him. There was a subtle difference from when Starsky had first put his arms around him this way. His breathing had seemed to deepen, as if in restful sleep, demonstrating Hutch's utter trust in Starsky's embrace.

"This is good, isn't it?" Starsky asked the question in a hushed voice. "I think so, too. Any time you need me to hold you like this, I will. Promise. I'll give you anything you want, Hutch, everything you need. And if it takes a long time 'til you wake up, that's okay. Because I'll be here, don't you worry about that." He continued the loving litany, moving Hutch's head gently from side to side and forward and back as he spoke.

"There." He sighed, letting Hutch rest in the crook of his arm. His hand slipped under the edge of the open gown, stroking down along his partner's bare side. Starsky found himself feeling completely comfortable and at ease with Hutch now. It wasn't as if he were a stranger lying there. This was Hutch, as familiar as a brother, easy to be with, to care for, to touch. And even though his ability to participate was limited, Hutch, the man, was very much present, here with him. The feeling of intimacy between them, recaptured now, was very precious to Starsky.

"I better let you lie back and rest," he told him quietly. He eased out from behind his patient and bent to lower the incline of the bed once more. Remembering that it was nearly time for a nurse to come in and turn him, Starsky decided to undertake the task himself.

It wasn't too difficult to maneuver Hutch's body, using leverage. Starsky made him comfortable, propping pillows at his back, bending his top leg at the knee, the way Hutch did when sleeping on his side. He straightened the covers over him, making sure he was warm. Looking closely at the sleeping face, Starsky was pleased. Hutch's expression reflected no tension, no stress. Starsky felt good, satisfied that he had done well and could take an active part in Hutch's care.

Finishing, he resumed his seat in the bedside chair. The John Denver tape had come full circle, back to "Country Roads." Starsky was back to waiting again. Waiting... nothing to do but wait. Come on, Hutch. It's okay to wake up now.

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