At first glance the car park seemed full, but on the second circuit, Ben spotted a space near the entrance marked “Reserved for the Assistant Commissioner”and reversed the rented cabriolet neatly into it with a grin. He hauled his battered duffel into the front to find the security pass he’d been sent, deciding as he did that maybe Margaret and the kids were right-maybe he did need a briefcase or something more suited to his new status. And then the world went mad. With a deafening squeal of brakes and roar of protesting engine, a police car hurtled past him, clipping his fender as it fishtailed. There was shouting, a rattle of gunfire, and the noise of the car faded into the distance. Before he knew what he was doing, Ben was out of his car, and running as he had not run for nearly 30 years- knowing something very bad had happened.
The only thing that made sense to him was the crumpled body and the blood. Everything else was just shapes. Red and white, blue and white, yellow.... he could sort that out later. He skidded to his knees. Right now, everything in him was focused on the blood, and where it was coming from. Shit. Three major wounds. Arterial blood. At least the heart was still beating. His left hand found the damage and sealed it. His right closed over the marginally less catastrophic hole. That might buy a few minutes. He looked up. The nearest person was on the other side of the red and white object- which turned out to be a car.
“Hey, Blondie- some help here!”
The man did not respond, and turned away, towards the door where a crowd of people were flooding out.
“Don’t want blood on your nice white jacket, huh? OK.”
Dismissing the man in the white jacket, not noticing him stagger to lean against the wall, his eyes quickly scanned the newcomers, and fell on a small uniformed woman, who looked as shocked as they all did, but who was dry eyed and alert.
“You! Yes, you. Come here! You going to bug out on me?
She hesitated, yelled “Someone see to Hutch!” and came.
“Good. Put your hand here and press hard. You know this guy?”
“What’s his name?
“Keep that pressure up. Harder. That’s right.”
Ben rubbed his now free hand on his pants to get rid of some of the blood and used it to cup David’s icy ashen face. He held the fading eyes with his own.
“David-l think you can hear me, so listen. You need to keep breathing. You’ll get some help with that real soon, but right now it’s up to you. I know you’re in more pain than you ever imagined and it’ll make it worse, but just take a breath. That’s great. Now another one...”
Minnie shuddered at the sound the breaths made, but kept her hands steady on the wound. Around them a semi circle of silent watchers took in the drama being played out before them, appalled and morbidly fascinated in equal measure.
The wail of an ambulance.
“Thank you, sir, madam. Step back now, we’ll take over.”
“If we step back he’ll bleed out in 60 seconds. Another breath, David. You’re doing great. We’ll have you in the hospital in no time. Just hang in there a little longer.”
“I have to insist.....”
“No. You have to scoop this guy and run. With us still attached. Another breath, David. You can bag him and get fluids going in the meat wagon. Now!”
“Another breath, David. You! What’s-your-name-paramedic. I’m a fucking Professor of Cardio-Thoracic surgery.. I outrank you. Now MOVE!’
The paramedic moved.
It was three hours later that Ben emerged through the “No Entry To The Public” door of the surgical floor. He had helped all he could, managed to shower and blag some clothes to replace his own blood soaked ones. Now he could only wait.
As he arrived at the surgical waiting room, the white jacketed man from the car park strode out blindly, practically crashing into him as he headed for the lift. Ben looked after him for a moment then shrugged, and went to sit beside the big man uncomfortably occupying one of the plastic waiting room chairs- his face a mask of grief.
“Been a while.”
“You’re looking good.”
“Your shadow’s not growing less.”
A breath of almost laughter.
“You haven’t changed.”
“Is he one of yours?”
“Yeah. Any news?”
“He made it to the table alive. Always a good sign.”
“Thanks to you, they tell me.”
“Right place, right time. You could say he was lucky.”
“You could. I suppose.”
“How’re you doing?”
.”I feel like it’s my kid, Ben. I feel-well, how would you feel if it was John or Maggie?”
Ben shuddered, sat down next to his old friend and stretched out long legs, wearily pushing back the silvering hair that flopped over his forehead.
“Who’s the blond guy?”
“Oh shit. What sort of partner?”
“Work. Joined at the hip for the nine to five. Outside that? Who knows...”
“Oh shit. You mean....”
“I mean nothing. It’s don’t ask don’t tell in this man’s police department.”
“You remember my big mouth?”
“Once met never forgotten.”
“This time I might have gone too far. Where is he?”
“He’s gone to do his job. Felons to apprehend.”
“You need to tell me how to find him later. You eaten recently? Drunk anything?”
“Me neither. I’ll get us something. Then I’ll go find a hotel- I won’t impose on you and Edith at a time like this. Hey, Prince Hal....
“I reckon he’s going to make it to the chopper out.”
“Your mouth to God’s ear, Hawkeye. Your mouth to God’s ear.”
The first of Ben’s preconceptions was shattered when he pulled up at the address Dobey had given him. He hadn’t imagined a cop would live in in this hippy, bohemian neighborhood with garlic and weed in the air, and shops selling rainbows and crystals. Another one went, when he ran up the stairs and heard piano music through the green door. Not what he expected a cop to have on his turntable, he thought, as he identified Chopin and knocked. The music faltered, stopped, and picked up again as a voice shouted “Fuck Off!” Not a turntable then.
“Give me 5 minutes then I will, I promise. Please.”
The music stopped again, and the door opened.
“What the fuck.... Oh. You. You’d better come in.”
He stood back, and Ben went in, silently acknowledging that he knew nothing as he looked round the plant and book filled room, noting the open piano, and the unfinished paintings leaning against the wall.
“Not what you were expecting from a cop’s apartment?” The voice was soft now, but challenging. Ben winced at being so easily read.
“No. But they tell me I don’t look like a professor either. My name’s Ben. You’re Kenneth? Hutch?”
“Hutch. I believe I have you to thank for S....my partner making it to the hospital”
“Just his lucky day, I guess...ah, shit, I’m sorry. When I get nervous I get flip.”
“Star.....he does that.”
“What do you do?”
“I get angry”
Ben looked at him.
“Yeah. I can see that. I came to say I’m sorry I made the worst day of your life even worse.”
“Nothing could make it worse. It’s as bad as it’s possible to be so don’t worry about it. Now, if you don’t mind - thank you very much for calling but I’m.....”
For a moment, despite the well brought up Mid Western courtesy, the mouth behind the mustache quivered, and the tense body turned in on itself-and looked about to fall. Then the rigid control kicked back in.
Ben reached out- but the anger flashed again.
“One thing I’m not is a kid.”
“Yes - I can see that too. I keep putting my foot in it. You want to talk?”
“About what happened.”
“You saw what happened. I froze. I’m a fucking trained first responder and when it really mattered I froze.”
“Of course you froze. I’m a cardio-thoracic surgeon- when my dad had a coronary, I froze. What did you expect?”
Hutch dropped onto the sofa and put his head in his hands.
“I expected to protect my partner. That’s my job. I failed. I expected to look after my partner. I failed at that too. And now I can’t even.......”
Ben sat down next to him and ventured a hand on the rigid shoulder.
“I can’t even go sit with him while he dies. The hospital said it was fine to....but I just can’t. I can’t bear it. He’s the single most important thing in my life- and I can’t bear to touch his hand.”
Ben ached to take the man in his arms as he would his own son, but knew this would be a mistake. Too soon. Instead, he said,
“You got any booze?”
“I don’t keep it in the house.”
“You got a problem?”
“No” The unspoken “yet” hung in the air.
“Get some glasses then. Martini, if you’ve got ‘em.”
Hutch hesitated, then did as he was told. Ben pulled a flask out of his pocket and poured.
Hutch drank and choked.
“Jesus-did you forget the martini?”
“Hey, I showed it the bottle.”
For a moment, Hutch almost smiled. Then, belatedly he looked properly at this unexpected visitor.
“I have no idea who you are and why you’re here. Except that you’re some sort of fucking miracle.”
“No miracle. Just here. I came to see my kids-they’ve just started at UCLA. And to visit with Harold. He’s an old friend from Korea.”
“Dobey was in Korea?”
“Yep-he was an MP- and cute as a button. Didn't you know? That figures. Some of us talk about it too much- others not enough. I’ll tell you some stories one day”
“Sta.....David was in Vietnam.”
“He talk about it?”
“He would if I asked.”
“So you don’t ask?”
“Maybe you should.”
“Yeah. Well, I’m not going to get the chance now.”
Ben sipped his drink thoughtfully and came to a decision.
“What have they told you?”
“He’s going to die. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“In Korea, we used to say if we can get them to the table we can get them to the chopper home. Hutch-I’ve seen more gunshot wounds and chest trauma than anyone in that hospital-and I think he’s going to make it.”
Hutch’s head went up, a dreadful hope in his eyes.
‘A friend of mine once said that if you love someone, you’re in a lot of trouble. All you can do is stop loving them, or just love them a whole lot more. I don’t reckon you’re going to stop loving, are you? You’re the love them a whole lot more type. You want to finish that drink and go get showered and changed then I’ll give you a ride to the hospital. There’s someone there who needs all that love as close to him as it can get.”