Let the Wolves Come
I thought I knew all my partner’s moods and facial expressions. We can usually convey a whole conversation in a single look but, right now, there are no words, not even silent ones. The only communication coming from him is the sound of crashing waves of emotion that only I can hear. As a uniformed officer (I know only by face) states that the perpetrator of the armed robbery is dead and is just a kid, Starsky looks down in shock at the still figure lying on the ground. Blood is beginning to pool from the single shot to the chest. Centre mass, just like we were taught.
A shadow passes over my partner’s face. I thought I knew what sadness looked like but now I realise I knew nothing.
As I look at Starsky’s stunned expression, I realise that whatever I’d seen before was just a small bucket of water compared with this moment. Right now, Starsky is a well full of anguish and it’s impossible to tell from the surface just how deep that well goes. Like the water in the bottom of an old quarry, his emotions are also muddied and intermingled; sadness is mixed with anger, guilt, horror and despair.
Suddenly, a man’s voice stridently and loudly declares that Lonnie (for that’s the kid’s name apparently) was about to surrender and “that cop just shot him down”. A murmur of outrage runs around the bystanders and I instinctively take a step closer to my partner.
Abruptly the anger is cut in half by the horrified cry of a woman, who hurries to Lonnie’s side and prays that he’s not dead. As Lonnie’s mother begins weeping, I feel a lump form in my throat. I feel for her loss although I know that her son is not an innocent victim. He and his partner had hit and tied up the owner of the shop they were trying to rob; shot at uniformed officers, injuring one; and fired at Starsky and me when we arrived on the scene.
I know my partner would never have shot someone trying to surrender. I believe the choice was between my partner’s life and the kid’s. Even though I’m sorry that the boy is dead, I’m glad that it’s not Starsky lying there on the ground. I’m glad he didn’t hesitate. Would he have hesitated if Lonnie hadn’t been wearing a mask and he had seen how young he was? Would I? I don’t know the answer to that although I suspect the answer is we would both have done exactly the same. Young or not, if someone is about to shoot you, we’ve been trained to react in a certain way, without hesitation.
As he continues to yell that Lonnie had his arms up and was trying to surrender, the loud, articulate friend of Mrs Craig is pulled back by neighbours into the safety of the middle of the throng. I want to confront him but I know it won’t do any good. Witnesses don’t always see what they think they see. People’s versions of the same events can differ widely and today’s shooting is no different. I just know that whatever Starsky says happened is what happened. No questions. No doubt in my mind.
More black and white units appear on the scene to move the crowd back so that the different departments of the police can get on with the job at hand. The first of the ambulances arrives and the crew deal with the injured officer, quickly placing him inside and heading off with sirens blasting to the nearest hospital.
The rumble of the crowd grows louder and more dangerous as the coroner and his team arrive to deal with the scene. They struggle to make their way through the crowd to get to the body. Mrs Craig holds onto Lonnie for a long time before she is finally persuaded to let the coroner do his job. Supported by many hands, Mrs Craig is slowly led away by her neighbours and friends. The sound of her sobbing pierces me to the bone. Heaven knows what it’s doing to Starsky.
As the coroner loads the body of young Lonnie into the back of the wagon, members of Internal Affairs arrive to interview Starsky and me. This is standard operating procedure but it always seems completely callous to me. I know they want to get our initial reports while it’s still all fresh in our minds but… Can’t they see how he’s hurting? Can’t they see he’s in shock? Where’s the support in these situations for the officer that has been through something traumatic. I think their procedures are long overdue for a radical shake-up.
They interview us separately as dictated by procedure. I know that’s the reason I’m taken to stand at the back of the shop and Starsky is led further down the alleyway, where the crowd and I can’t hear his answers. Yes, I know that’s the reason but I resent having to leave his side when my partner is hurting. I’m curt with Lieutenant Armitage because I want this over with. I want to be with my partner, to offer some comfort and ease the pain. I’m a hundred yards away and I can still read him; observe the twitch in his cheek caused by tension; see the frown on his face as he precisely recalls in a monotone the details of what happened and how he responded; and notice the rigid set of his shoulders as he holds his emotions in check.
Around us the crowd is still growing in numbers and decibel level. The noise is a cacophony of shock, anger and sorrow. As a second ambulance takes the shop owner to be checked out and the coroner’s wagon also leaves the scene, the sound of outrage grows louder. At last, Armitage releases us and says we can leave the scene and report into Dobey. I make straight for my partner. He looks at me grimly and gives me a little nod to let me know he’s all right.
“Let’s go report in,” I say.
We both take a deep breath and head towards the crowd. We’ve got to run the gauntlet before we can get to Starsky’s car, which is still sitting where he abandoned it when we arrived on the scene. It seems several hours ago at least that this incident started but in reality only just over an hour has passed. As we push our way through to the car, some of the crowd hurl insults at Starsky. With every angry cry of “murderer”, Starsky’s jaw twitches. I find it hard not to glare at the crowd or to try to defend my partner from the taunts. It takes several of the additional officers to hold the crowd back and allow us safe passage to the relative haven of Starsky’s car. We slam the doors shut and both breathe out a sigh of relief.
He doesn’t need to say anything else. After years of practice, I can read between the lines and know that he can’t talk about how he’s feeling until all the official stuff is over. If he starts talking, he might not be able to hold it together. I squeeze his shoulder; partly to let him know I’ve got the message and partly to remind him I’m there and I’m not going anywhere, that he’s not alone, no matter how alone he feels right now.
Starsky is too quiet as we drive back to the Parker Centre. I glance at him a few times to make sure he’s okay, physically at least. We’re both horrified to see journalists are already gathering outside of the building. Every day in this vast city there are incidents and shootings. Sometimes in the past we’ve wished a story had been taken up by the press when we’ve seen an injustice take place. But not today. I want to wind down the window and tell them where to go, that there’s nothing to see here. Just a cop going about his duty, laying his life on the line as he does every day; and that firing his weapon today was something he had to do, not something he wanted to do.
The Press are like vultures picking over the bones of a crippled animal but the carcass they are circling here is my best friend, who’s been wounded and incapacitated by what he’s had to do. Again, I can feel a protective instinct kicking in. I’m not going to let any of them get to my partner. I won’t let him be found guilty when he’s done nothing wrong.
When we get inside the building, Starsky makes for the nearest men’s room.
“I need a minute.”
I watch him as he checks no-one is inside and then goes in, shutting the door firmly behind him. I want to follow him in but I don’t. Instead I stand guard outside, giving him the privacy he needs for a few all too brief moments before the grilling has to restart. Five minutes later, he comes out and nods at me and we silently make our way up to the squad room.
Dobey is just heading out of the door, looking harassed. His look says he understands what Starsky’s going through but the wad of papers in his hand shows he’s being pressured from above to deal immediately with the accusations that seem to have arrived at the station ahead of us.
“Hutchinson.” He nods at me then looks at my partner. “Starsky, I’ve been given a very brief outline of what went down. How are you holding up, son?”
Starsky shrugs silently but I can’t keep quiet any longer.
“Captain. What’s going on? How has this become such big news already?”
“Perfect storm,” Dobey says. “Craig was young. Black. We’re always under scrutiny but something like this…”
He looks apologetically at Starsky but Starsky doesn’t even seem to care anymore.
“Look. I’ll be back in a few minutes. City Attorney Collins is waiting in my office. Cooperate with him. He’s got a job to do, advising us on how to proceed in the way that’s best for the department.”
I bite back what I want to say -“To hell with the department!” - and nod at him instead.
Dobey hurries away and I turn to look at Starsky.
“Let’s get this over with,” he mutters and then heads towards Dobey’s office and opens the door.
Collins introduces himself and then asks Starsky to run through the incident yet again. He picks on every single thing my partner says and questions every detail over and over again and Starsky patiently answers him. Normally, my hot-headed partner would have shoved the man through the wall for questioning his account of events. Today, he just takes it like he’s lost the will to fight. To me, it’s clear that he’s now in shock and Collins doesn’t give a Tinker’s dam. Can’t he see he’s traumatised?
The City Attorney is grilling him like he’s a criminal or a dirty cop. Collins would fit in well with the rat squad. He’s only concerned with departmental law suits. He doesn’t care about Starsky as an individual cop who’s been involved in a shocking incident and needs time to process what he’s been through. There were two victims today and Starsky was one of them.
“There was no other action you could have taken? You had to shoot?” Collins demands to know.
“How many times does Starsky have to tell you the same thing?” I think. I can tell Starsky’s about at the end of his tether. The wooden monotone he’s been using is starting to slip. I expect to see Collins against the wall at any second but, no, instead I hear the little break in my partner’s voice as he states firmly:
“Yes, I had to shoot. How many times do I have to tell you? There was a crowd of innocent bystanders behind me. If that kid pulled the trigger, anyone could have been killed.”
Before I can concur with Starsky, Dobey strides back into the room.
“How’s it going?” Collins asks him.
Dobey gives him a look of disbelief and then runs through all the things that are piling on the pressure; the crowds demanding justice, the press and the Chief of Police.
With growing anger, I listen to the memo from the Chief stating that the coroner’s inquest will be broadcast live on television. What the hell? That’s tantamount to washing his hands of one of his own men.
I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer. “What you’re doing is throwing him to the wolves!”
Collins can’t help himself; he comes back with a reason that has nothing to do with justice, only politics. “We’re trying to keep the incident from exploding.”
I’m disgusted with Collins, the Chief of Police...even Dobey if he doesn’t say something soon. They’re basically hanging Starsky out to dry; sending the message he’s guilty, you can have him.
“Want me to read him his rights?” I demand angrily.
Dobey remonstrates with me and Starsky, who hasn’t said a single word about the way this is being handled, finally speaks. Not to Dobey, not to Collins, to me.
“Hey hold it, hold it. I think they’re right, Hutch. The sooner this thing’s out in the open, the better. Besides, if throwing me to the wolves is what it takes, let them do it. I don’t go down so easy.”
He gives me that crooked little smile that’s his way of trying to reassure me and keep me from doing something I’ll get into trouble for. He’s trying to keep me calm. He never ceases to amaze me with his strength and ability to endure. But this time, I wish he hadn’t decided he’s going to endure whatever comes. This time, I wish he’d stand up for himself and fight.
Collins takes the memo from Dobey and asks him to stand with him as he reads it to the Press. He tells Starsky he’ll be in touch and then hurries out with Dobey on his heels. At least Dobey has the grace to look apologetic.
There’s a long silence.
I don’t know what to say and Starsky’s not volunteering anything.
“What they’re doing to you stinks,” I offer quietly. I may have got my anger under control for Starsky’s sake but it doesn’t mean I’m not furious about how he’s being treated.
Starsky gives me a small smile and agrees.
Then suddenly as if the whole thing has just hit him, he collapses into the leather chair and lays his head against the back of it, looking at me with tortured eyes.
“Oh god, Hutch. He was sixteen years old.”
“I know it. I know how old he was. I know how bad you feel, partner. I feel bad too but if he wasn’t dead, you might not be here,” I think to myself. I need Starsky to keep the right perspective on this. I need to remind him that he did the right thing in the situation.
“He was also an armed felon who was about to blow your head off,” I remind him quietly.
Starsky acknowledges this and that he did what he’s been taught to do but his last words show the sorrow he’s feeling: “That doesn’t change the fact that a sixteen year old kid ain’t never going to grow up.”
What can I say?
There’s another long silence. I sigh and rub my hands over my face.
“Let’s get out of here, huh?”
“I probably gotta hang around for IA or Dobey to tell me what they’re going to do with me until the inquest.”
Suddenly, my anger is spilling over again. “Stuff IA, stuff Dobey. I’m taking you out of here. Come on!”
I open the door to the corridor and stick my head out to make sure no-one is around. When I look back, Starsky hasn’t moved. He’s staring blankly at the ceiling.
“Come on, Starsk. Please!”
He looks at me and then gets slowly to his feet.
“All right, buddy. I’m coming.”
We walk quickly along the corridor and then I lead us both through the emergency doors and down the stairs, avoiding the elevator that Dobey’s bound to use on his way back up. We make it to the car park without being spotted. As I had hoped, the Press are all outside the front of the Parker Centre listening to the briefing. This is probably our only chance to get out of here without Starsky’s car being spotted. We climb inside the striped red vehicle and Starsky reverses out of the parking space and quickly heads out onto the street and turns away from the city centre.
“You want me to drop you off on the way?”
“No. I want you to stop at Giovanni’s so I can get us a pizza and then take us to your place.”
“I’m not hungry.” Starsky actually grimaces, almost as if he can’t stomach the thought of pizza. “I can order something in later.”
I shake my head. “No. We’re getting pizza and if you’re not hungry now, we’ll re-heat it later. Giovanni’s is the best and they don’t deliver… And you deserve the best today, Starsk.”
I see him swallow. He doesn’t say anything, just looks ahead, but he turns the Torino in the direction of Giovanni’s and within ten minutes we’re there and I go in and order a large with all the toppings I can think of. A few minutes later, I return to the car carefully carrying the large box housing tonight’s dinner.
“You want to stay at my place tonight? In case…you know…in case the Press decide to camp outside your place.”
Starsky looks worried. “You think someone will give them my address? Really? Even Collins wouldn’t be that irresponsible, would he?”
“You’re right, Starsk. Sorry. Guess I’m feeling a little paranoid.”
He nods and continues on towards his place. We’re both relieved when we arrive outside and no-one is there.
Once inside, Starsky takes himself off for a shower and change of clothes and I put the pizza in the kitchen and get two beers out of the fridge. I suspect they will be the first of many. Starsky comes back in and flops onto the couch. As I hand him his beer, I notice that his eyes look suspiciously wet around the corners and feel my chest tighten at the sorrow that is building up again in his eyes. A couple of minutes later, the phone rings and, with a groan, Starsky goes to answer it.
“Yes, sir.” Starsky’s obviously talking to Dobey. He listens for several minutes before he says, “I understand.”
He puts the phone back on the hook and walks slowly back to the couch. His face is a mask and I have no idea what Dobey has said to him. I wait. And wait.
“Collins recommended ‘modified assignment’ until the inquest. I gotta be a desk jockey for a few days.”
He sighs and then shrugs. I stare at him in disbelief.
“THAT STINKS.” I don’t mean to shout but that’s how my response comes out. “You didn’t do anything wrong. First, they throw you to the wolves. Now, they’re punishing you before you’ve even been tried.”
Starsky sips on his beer and looks away.
“What happened to ‘We’re all part of a team’? What happened to ‘The department’s always got your back’? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?! Aren’t you mad?” I demand.
He swallows hard and then turns to look at me.
“I will be, Hutch. I will be mad as hell. But right now…right now, I’m just s-sad.”
His voice breaks and tears start rolling down his face. All I can do is place my hand on his neck, pull him in close and hold onto him as long as he needs. From now and until the inquest is over and he’s exonerated, I will be standing by his side; letting him know I’ve got his back even if no-one else has; and keeping the wolves at bay with every ounce of my strength and determination.
Let the wolves come. They won’t get through me. Just let them try.