There’s a tear in the tan vinyl covering the stiff upright chair opposite Hutch, and through it protrudes a tendril of soft white fluff. Underneath he can see a glimpse of the expected yellow foam, but that puff of white is what catches his eye. He wonders who tugged it out: some bored kid waiting for test results; some absent-minded, agonized adult with his mind elsewhere.
Starsky, he thinks, a smile on his lips at how natural the image feels. His curious partner would be completely unable to resist poking a finger inside like a seven-year-old.
‘Detective Hutchinson?’ asks a voice at his side and he flushes at being caught smiling. Now. Today, here. And, apparently, in front of Starsky’s doctor.
‘Sorry. Doctor - ?’ Hutch mumbles, rising and smoothing nervous hands down his jacket.
‘Monroe. I’ve been treating your partner, Detective Starsky.’
Monroe looks solemn, and Hutch’s heart pounds.
‘Is he - ?’
‘He’s recovering, he’s not in any danger. But there’s something I’d like to discuss with you, if you don’t mind.’
Hutch follows him without a word, through the corridor that’s begun to bustle with morning patients, into a private room. The kind you take families to break bad news: neutral painting of flowers on the wall, a box of tissues, a blind over the window.
‘I’ve met you and Detective Starsky before, as it happens,’ Monroe says, taking a seat and gesturing for Hutch to do the same. ‘I worked on the survivors who came out of Marcus’s last church, as I believe he styled it. Two men, one woman, very young. I was struck by – ’ Monroe hesitates. ‘You called, after you’d taken statements, over the following days. Not for evidence, testimony. Just to see if they made it.’
Hutch remembers. After walking in on that crime scene, he was hardly going to forget.
‘Miriam Scott. Rafael Hernandez. Marcus Bloch. Sixteen, seventeen years old. I’m sorry, I don’t remember you, Doctor, but I know they were treated well, even if…’
The statements had been ravings, pseudo-religious nonsense; they were too far gone. Miriam was transferred to a psych unit which Hutch knows she’ll never leave. Rafael passed. Only Marcus left the hospital for a return to normal life, and he died of an overdose two months later.
Monroe nods. ‘Poor children. I wish I could have done more for them. I mention it because – well, some familiarity with the case happens to be relevant. From his general condition – vomiting, tremors, malaise – and that past experience we’ve been working on the presumption that your partner was drugged.’
Hutch nods slowly. ‘Marcus’s followers gave the kids something to make them compliant for whatever ritual they were supposed to be doing. Could be the same?’
‘We’ve assumed so, and that’s limited us on his pain relief until now. We’ve run some tests and the results are as I’d expected. In addition to the drugs in his bloodstream, we tested the stomach contents. Judging from that and the bruising to his mouth and throat, I believe your partner was assaulted. Probably multiple times.’
‘Of course he was assaulted, they beat the hell out of – ’
The words die on his lips.
He means –
He’s saying -
Hutch can’t face that so he looks at the wall. At the painted flowers, with their self-consciously bland neutrality. A vase on a blue tablecloth. Roses, yellow and peach. A mistake, where the background of pinkish terracotta mingles with the paint on a green leaf and leaves it smudged. It’s infuriating. He could do better, any amateur could do better.
Hutch looks from the painting to his hands.
Doctor Monroe waits, polite. He must be used to this, Hutch guesses.
‘Did they – are there any other signs of – ?’
‘No. He’s being managed physically, we’re treating his injuries – none of which are serious – and trying to make him comfortable now we can safely give him pain relief. He’s on a drip for rehydration, and we’re monitoring his fluids. But he’s been mute since we brought him in. No eye contact, reluctant to allow any intervention. He’s traumatized. I wanted to – you two were memorable, Detective Hutchinson. I thought you’d want to know before you saw him. And, I guess, I hoped you might be able to give him a little help of the kind we can’t.’
‘Thank you,’ Hutch says, looking up as Monroe stands to shake the man’s hand and unintentionally meeting a set of clear brown eyes that are pained at what’s he’s just had to relate. Hutch feels himself quake.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Monroe says quietly, wrapping his other hand over Hutch’s. ‘Please, take all the time you need, you won’t be disturbed in here.’
The door clicks shut and Hutch drops his face into his hands.
He’s a fool. He knew what they did to those kids when Marcus’s cult first started. He knew once it started growing, attracting teens, it had turned into some warped abusive sex cult that was beyond anything they’d ever seen from any of their regular sickos. He’d hoped the single-mindedness of their focus on murder for Marcus’s release might have spared his partner.
He’d hoped because he couldn’t face thinking about what Starsky might really be enduring. Driving out there, frantic, yelling inside his head not to go there. Because it was life or death, and that was all that mattered at the end of the day.
He’s alive. Starsky’s alive. It’s not nothing. But – god. Hutch took statements from those kids: Marcus, Miriam. Starsky talked to Rafael, heard it first hand.
He must have guessed what was coming. Known it was possible from the moment they took him.
And now Hutch is hiding in some private room away from helping him because he finds it too much?
He’s up and out in a heartbeat, berating himself as he stalks down the corridor to the private room they’ve secured for Starsky, safely at the end of a corridor where he’s least disturbed. He pauses, wondering whether to knock; wondering if he’ll even be welcome, before deciding he’s being an ass and opening the door.
On the bed is a mound under a sheet. Starsky’s back is turned to the door – not a great sign from a cop – and the sheet is pulled right up to his mouth. Just a curly head is visible, alongside one pallid arm (his left, dammit, why do they never check) with a cannula hooking him up to a bag on a trolley. There’s another trolley at the end of the bed; presumably a catheter.
‘Hey Starsk, it’s me,’ Hutch announces, just to be sure. He approaches the bed, hitching up onto it and resting a hip against the curve of Starsky’s spine. ‘I just came to… see if I could help.’
His voice hitches on the last word, rising absurdly, and the figure below the sheet visibly shudders.
Hutch reaches out instinctively, resting a hand on Starsky’s shoulder. To his relief, it seems to be welcome. Starsky takes in a breath, relaxing some as he breathes it out. Hutch squeezes the shoulder, and it earns a sigh.
It’s barely audible, a raw rasp mumbled into the pillow like a prayer, a plea for help.
‘I’m so sorry.’
I’m so sorry I didn’t get there in time. I’m so sorry I didn’t stop them. I’m so sorry you’re in pain I can’t begin to comprehend.
Hutch wants to say it all but it’s not about him. What Starsky needs is to be heard, and helped. That’s what he can do.
‘What do you need, partner?’
Christ. The simplicity of the request is devastating.
‘I’ll get you one. What else?’
Hutch could ask for a medical intervention, but he figures that’s not going to give Starsky any real rest.
The decision is apparently too much. There’s another shiver under his palm, and eventually Starsky’s right hand snakes out from beneath the sheet to catch at his fingers and grip on tight.
Don’t leave, but also, please. Both, it means.
‘I’ll be out of here for a minute, that’s it. Just a minute, ok?’
The fingers squeeze tight then let go.
Hutch darts outside, to the nurses’ station, explaining quickly.
The first looks blank: ‘Sir, you need to go to a store for personal items.’
But behind him is another who looks dimly familiar from earlier. ‘For David Starsky? I’m about to go on break, I can pick him up a personal care package on my way out. Follow me.’
She picks up her purse, giving her co-worker a stare that could turn milk. It’s painful, imagining something so awful being common knowledge amongst who knows how many staff. But if it gets Starsky what he needs, so be it.
A few minutes later, Hutch is back with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a pack of other personal items. There’s no sink in the room, so he finds an emesis bowl and a glass of water, and makes do.
Starsky crouches on the bed, back to Hutch. There’s swelling, bleeding to take into account as well as the rest, and the slow sound of brushing, heavy breaths, pauses before he can go on is agony to watch when there’s nothing he can do to make it easier. When Starsky spits into the bowl he retches automatically, unable to stop. Hutch finds himself grabbing the bowl with one hand and gripping shoulders with the other, trying to convey some kind of comfort.
Eventually Starsky shakes his head: he’s done.
Hutch clears up as well as he can and strokes Starsky’s back as he lays down on his side.
‘You sleep, partner. I’m here. I’m going to be right here, ok? No one’s going to get to you.’
Hutch remembers the tear in the vinyl, the image of Starsky like a mischievous seven-year-old. He sounds like a kid, but not one playing; just agonizingly vulnerable.
‘I promise. Any nurse who tries to turf me out after visiting hours is getting arrested.’
Starsky shuffles under the bedsheets, letting go of Hutch’s hand and wrapping himself up under the sheet even tighter. It’s not eye contact, not talking, but it’ll do.
The soft snoring that follows, even more so.
Hutch stays perched on the bed longer than is comfortable, unwilling to risk waking him. Eventually he rises to sit on another tan vinyl chair, and gives in to his own fatigue.
Grabbing at him like a piece of meat, like –
Eyes shut while Hutch yells.
Vital signs. Necessary. Lucky to be allowed to stay, all that shit, as if he’s not here, as if he doesn’t get a say in what happens to –
Next he’s on the floor in a tangle of sheets and tubes and metal, getting bruises on his bruises. Fuck, he didn’t mean that.
‘Just, please! Just tell him what you’re doing before you do it, ok? You never worked with a traumatized patient before?’
Not like this. Unless. Maybe they were here last time around. With Rafael, maybe the brokenest person he’s ever had to interview, and –
It’s Hutch’s hands that get him back up on the bed and he leans into his body like a shield, head against his chest and safe from it all.
‘Lie down, Mr Starsky, we need to examine you.’
He is lying down. On his side, so what. It’s going to have to be good enough, lady.
‘Blood pressure, Starsk, ok? Right arm.’
He feels the pressure build, sound of a pump. It’s ok.
‘Open up for the thermometer, please.’
He thinks about it. Feels snakes in his belly and wraps up tight around them.
‘Under his arm, could you try that?’
‘It’s not hospital protocol.’
‘Make an exception.’
He can see Hutch’s laser-eye cold stare without looking and it should be funny apart from how he feels like all the skin is being flayed off his body.
Needs it to stop, now, no grit your teeth get through, none of that left.
Can’t make it stop, because it’s in him, in – he got away, Hutch got him away but – he’s the thing he wants to stop.
He’s the thing he wants to stop.
Rafael slit his wrists, that’s how he died. Still mopping the blood off the wall when he came back to see him. Starsky brought a gift basket: fruit, candy. Stood holding it in the lobby like a fool.
Didn’t get it, ‘cause the kid got out.
Gets it now.
There is no out.
Hutch sits out in the waiting area, like he has been doing on and off for the last three days of hell.
The wisp of fluff is still there, poking from the tear in the seat opposite. Same one, perhaps; maybe some other from the recesses that different nervous fingers have tugged on and dragged out into the light. God knows he gets why. He needs something to do with his hands while they can’t do what he wishes they could: swat this misery away from his partner, lift him bodily away from here and all of it. Saving Starsky was a nightmare but he was moving, thinking, racing against the clock. This slow, bleak helplessness is brutal in its own way.
There’s a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back to now. Doctor Monroe, wordlessly gesturing to follow him back to the room with the flower painting and the bland walls.
‘David’s not making the progress we’d hoped.’
First names, now, ever since it became apparent Starsky was sticking around a while and that meant so was Hutch, for as many hours a day as they’d allow him.
‘You know what he’s been through. What were you expecting, a miracle?’
‘No. But he’s currently on a medical ward, and to be blunt, there is a limit to how long it’s appropriate to keep him here.’
‘Fine. Discharge him. I can take him home, let him get some real rest, some real peace – ’
It’s what he needs. To be surrounded by the familiar, the normal; to get back to himself. Here it’s nothing but cold hands and reminders. But Monroe shakes his head.
‘He still hasn’t eaten or drunk since he was admitted; he’s being sustained purely on an IV and that’s not a condition we can release him in, nor is it a realistic long-term option. Don’t promise me you’re confident he’ll be fine once he’s out, Ken, because if you’re honest that’s not a promise you can make. He remains unresponsive to anyone but you, and that’s not sustainable either.’
‘I’m here for whatever he needs.’
‘No, you’re not. You’re his friend, and your willingness to support him is admirable, but you’re not a professional and I’m sure you have your own responsibilities to manage. David has been through a significant trauma. I believe he needs specialist treatment. Above and beyond what we can give him here.’
Hutch shakes his head.
‘So I can’t take him home but he can’t stay here? I don’t understand, doctor. What exactly are you proposing?’
Monroe steeples his hands.
‘We have a number of facilities in the county which might be more suitable. Short-term, I would hope, but with the kind of professional therapeutic care he needs. Some talking therapy, medication, rest; specialist care.’
Hutch feels vomit at the back of his throat and has to shut his eyes tight against the rising horror in his chest.
‘You want to lock him up in a mental institution?’
Monroe frowns, shaking his head. ‘You’re making it sound like a prison. It’s just another medical facility, with treatment more tailored to his needs.’
‘Like Miriam got? You ever go see her after she left this place, doctor? Because I did, to try to get a statement for Marcus’s sentencing. What’s left of that girl is barely a person. And the treatment she’s getting is being locked in a room, medicated and restrained to a bed. Starsky needs therapy, care, I don’t disagree with a word of that – but he’s not going to recover strapped down against his will and doped up to his eyeballs when that’s the thing he needs to recover from!’
Hutch’s voice rises in anger and he can tell from Monroe’s expression that it’s not helping his case, but he can’t help it. Starsky’s hanging by a thread. Hutch has never seen him this fragile. It’s not complex, not surprising. Starsky’s the most directly reactive person he’s ever met, open with every feeling, those expressive hands and eyes and limbs talking out loud without a word. Right now? He’s desperately trying not to let the pain show and doing so all the more, in closed eyes and hunched shoulders, silence, shutdown. Trying to hide from the damage, because expressing this, acknowledging this, is too much.
He needs kindness, and time; space to work through this, and choices about what help looks like. Right now he can barely stand to be touched. He can’t tolerate being laid flat on his back. Even if Miriam’s experience was an outlier – and Hutch is far from convinced of that – Starsky won’t cope in an environment of locked doors, rigid rules and strangers. And the only one who can stop it happening is Hutch, if he can just talk Monroe around.
‘You treated those kids, doctor. You know how badly this can go. They didn’t have anyone once they left that cult; not a soul to offer them a way back from where they’d been taken. Starsky has a way back.’
‘That’s what I’m trying to offer. As his doctor, it is my medical opinion that the best course of treatment for David is transfer to a setting which can more appropriately handle his needs.’
‘If I can get him eating and drinking, over the next couple of days, here: would you consider discharging him?’
‘I know you mean well, but given his current state – ’
‘Would you at least let me try? You’re his doctor, you have the medical knowledge, I don’t doubt that. But I’m his friend, his partner. I have knowledge too.’
The doctor considers it, pausing to glance at the painting of flowers and frowning at it, clearly as annoyed by it as Hutch. Then he raises his hands in a small gesture of defeat, or at least détente.
‘I can’t ignore how he responds to you, or how his past experience might limit his capacity to accept a new environment. I’ll give you 24 hours, 36 at a push if you’re making progress. But – Ken? I want you to seriously consider what’s best for David, and what’s practical. I can’t reasonably withhold what I believe is the best care for my patient – and I don’t think you’d want me to. Wanting to help him isn’t the same as being able to help him. Just remember that.’
‘There’s orphans in Africa starving, David, you know that?’
She says it every damn time, so yeah, he knows.
He also feels guilty as hell about wasting everybody’s time like this let alone the food, so thanks for making the worst situation of his entire life just a tiny little touch more awful, ma’am.
He hears her dump the untouched plate on her tray and wheel it out; hears Hutch issue a polite apology as he meets her in the doorway.
‘She really does not like you,’ he says, a smile in his voice as slots into his usual chair.
There’s something weird and it takes him a second to clock that it’s a smell: something fresh, warm, a little tang of something familiar. His guts do a little twist at it and he can’t tell if it’s interest or revulsion.
‘So, I wondered, since you weren’t too keen on the daily diet of creamed corn and green jello, you might want to give something else a whirl.’
‘Take a look.’
He feels Hutch place it on the bed, alongside his arm. It’s warm.
He cracks open one eye, peering down at the long, squat, paper-wrapped package with a little red stain oozing out across the edges.
Meatball sub. Probably from Martino’s. Heavy on the oregano, light on the chili.
It’s kind. He’s eaten a hundred of these, usually in the car with Hutch whining about crumbs or carbs or just whining.
His one open eye slides to look at Hutch and he’s staring back like something’s eating at him from the inside out. He draws in a deep breath, long fingers planted on his thighs, gearing up.
‘Starsk, I know you want to get out of here, get home. I don’t know if they told you already, but they’re not going to discharge you until you start eating. I don’t want to make this worse, and I – I know you would be already if you could stand to. But. I thought maybe we might give something familiar a try, see if it helps. You want to give it a go?’
No, he doesn’t.
Shuts his one open eye. Turns his face into the pillow. Feels like a baby, wants to cry, feels worse. It’s a fucking sandwich. He’s hiding from a fucking sandwich, and from Hutch, who is trying to help and tiptoeing around him like he’s glass, soft words, gentle coaxing, without even being wrong to.
He misses being strong.
Been in hospital plenty, got his head messed up plenty. Never this.
Never thought –
‘Would it help if I left you to it?’
Nothing’s gonna help, Hutch. Nothing’s gonna help.
But he nods into the pillow, because Hutch waiting and waiting and watching him fail isn’t gonna help either.
Hutch promised himself when he left this place he’d never come back.
But he’s out of options, out of time, and he won’t forgive himself if he doesn’t try this because of some long-buried sense of shame and guilt.
Wanting to help him isn’t the same as being able to help him, Monroe said. And Ruth helped Hutch, after his darkest hour. Maybe she might do the same for Starsky.
He knows it’ll take more than a badge and a smile to get past reception, but once he starts raising his voice she comes out and, with one calmly raised hand both silences and beckons him.
Doctor Ruth Gandy is a psychologist specializing in trauma, with a long track record with the BCPD. Hutch was mandated to attend four appointments with her after his brush with Forest; in theory to confirm he was clean, in practice to confirm for himself he was still Ken Hutchinson: cop, partner, functioning human being. Smack turned him into someone he didn’t know: desperate for one thing, and willing to give up a woman he loved for it no matter the consequences. Ruth talked him through the physiology of it. But it was the rest that worked. She could listen to him talk and strip a meaning from it as if there was a second language he spoke at the same time that only she could hear. His need to be a paragon, beyond reproach. His need to be in the right, and why. He left feeling seen, and, if chastened by that, made something like a whole person again.
He needs that for Starsky too.
‘I can’t possibly make a hospital visit, it would be completely inappropriate,’ she says the moment he sits down in her private consulting room, evidently aware of the phone calls he made before coming in person. ‘Your partner is already in a doctor’s care, it would be utterly unprofessional to intervene – like another officer demanding to take over your case, if you will.’
‘If the doctor there confirmed he was happy with the referral, would that make a difference?’
‘In theory, yes. But this isn’t how this works, Ken. I have a patient scheduled to see me in literally three minutes’ time. I don’t have an appointment available until a month from now.’
‘Could you come out of hours? After work, lunch hour? I’ll pay whatever your private rate is, I’ll pay double. The city would cover it through the usual channels, but I don’t have time for that to get cleared.’
‘You don’t have time?’
There it is: that skewering look.
Hutch swallows. He hasn’t missed this. Being in this room felt like digging down into the deepest recesses of his soul and, too often, coming up with handfuls of nothing. But it helped, in the end, and he remembers the process even if he resisted it then and resists it now. The only way through in this room is forward through honesty.
‘I’m trying to help my partner. He was kidnapped, assaulted… He won’t speak to anyone but me, he won’t eat, they’re talking about transferring him to a psychiatric facility and I don’t think if he goes into a place like that he’s going to come back out. I think he needs someone like you, to help him like you helped me.’
‘And you have to help him because…?’
‘Because if I’d found him sooner he wouldn’t have – they might not have – I didn’t get there in time to stop him from going through this. He’s saved me before now. We save each other. And – you helped me. I think he’s where I was, kind of. It’s like he’s lost who he is. And I need him back.’
Ruth is making notes, he realizes.
‘David Starsky. I remember.’
She writes another note and Hutch wonders at the speed of her recognition. They both must have been referred at one time or another; never talked about it.
‘I’ll see him here today at noon. I’ll make the arrangements.’
Hutch blinks. ‘I don’t – I don’t know if he can be out of the hospital.’
Not just because of Monroe. Just at all.
She shakes her head, dismissing it. ‘He’ll manage.’
Hutch brings him his clothes and damn, jeans feel good. No catheter feels good too, even if getting there wasn’t so hot. The nurses are mad at him for getting sprung, like they think he’s cheating, and for a second he wonders if Hutch is just scooping him up out of there regardless of orders – but he knows better. They left the cannula in his arm, to hook him back up when he comes back. This is like his one of hour of exercise daily, when they let him off the prison ward.
The clothes hang off him a little already. He feels loose all over, like his legs might not hold him up. He’s not used to focusing his eyes, not used to being out in the world. He feels papery, like a doll cut out by a kid, shaped like a person but not exactly human.
He used to drive a car and hold a gun. Used to tell people what to do and expect them to do it.
He used to like himself.
That’s not gonna get fixed easy. Not even by Dr Gandy. She’s a real smart lady and she went at his head like a can opener last time they talked, after the whole imminent death poison thing, but that time he was basically ok. Like, he thought he was going to die, and he didn’t die, so it was all good, and even if she didn’t think so he wasn’t too bothered. This time – he didn’t die, but it’s not good. He doesn’t know if he can tell her the heart of it. Feels sick just thinking about sitting there and trying to get the words out.
‘We’re here.’ Hutch pulls up, hopping out of the car and offering an arm for him to grab, which he needs, because he’s that pathetic.
Dr Gandy comes out to meet him in the waiting room and tells Hutch to go put some food in himself, which is more than Starsky’s managed, and he feels an extra helping of guilt weigh him down as she walks him into her small, quiet room with its familiar couch. He skips it, heads for one of the two chairs instead. She doesn’t need to be writing it down for him to know she’s noticed it.
‘Thank you for coming. Though perhaps you’re not sorry to be away from a hospital bed for a spell.’
He manages a twitchy smile.
‘Yeah. This is about the most normal thing I’ve done since – ’
He looks at his hands. Runs a fingertip down his forearm to where the cannula sticks out. There are bruises round his wrists like mottled bangles, a thick cuff of greenish yellow and purple fingerprints under scabbed broken skin from the ropes. Hasn’t noticed till now. Wonders what else she can see.
‘What shall we talk about, David?’
She did this last time and he thought it was dumb, because he didn’t want to talk about anything, he just wanted to go back to work and forget it ever happened. But it turned out he couldn’t sleep in his own bed, couldn’t relax inside his own front door even with six extra locks and bolts screwed onto it, so it turned out he had a thing or two to talk about after all.
This time –
He knows what he has to say this time. He just doesn’t want to.
So he talks about being taken, and a cave, and a bear, and Hutch saving him. The good story. The one that’ll go in the reports; to trial if any of them make it that far.
Dr Gandy lets him talk. She knows he’s trying to run the clock.
‘What else shall we talk about, David?’
Hutch tried real hard with the no pressure in the car but he’s no fool. This is his shot at getting fixed. If he can’t do this he’s back in that hospital room, in that bed, for who knows how long, and that’s never going to fix a damn thing.
‘If I tell you… it’s like it’s real. Like, right now only the people in there know what went down, and we’re all messed up anyway. I say it out loud in this room, then it really happened.’
‘Did it really happen?’
‘Yeah.’ It comes out a whisper.
‘Then saying it out loud isn’t about it becoming real – it already is real. It’s about you accepting that it is real. Why is that difficult?’
His tongue dies in his mouth. He feels dried up from the inside out.
‘I didn’t know I was like that.’
She waits him out, knowing he still hasn’t said it.
‘I did to her what they were doing to me.’
It’s another whisper but she hears him, he can tell from her face. He shuts his eyes.
‘What does that mean?’
He tries keeping his eyes shut but he sees Gail moving on top of him, hands clutched in her hair, and he opens them again with a shudder and fixes his gaze on the wall.
‘Gail. She was a follower, part of the cult, but she wasn’t all in, she knew it wasn’t right. Was like they’d got her partway through the brainwashing and the last part didn’t take. There was a drink, a drug they gave us and with me it just made me kind of like I wasn’t in my body no more, and for her – I don’t know. They told her what to do and where to be and she did it. Was like she wasn’t the same person: she was all, I don’t know. Sexual. Touching herself when they told her to. Talking the nonsense they told her to talk.’
‘She was drugged, like you were.’
‘I think she was scared. Like she knew it wasn’t right, but she knew they’d hurt her and she knew what they wanted to see, so she gave them that. I don’t know. Her eyes went wild a few times, like she was way out of it. Maybe they gave her more of a hit than me.’
‘She knew it wasn’t right. What did she know wasn’t right?’
He waits for a question but she’s not going to ask one. He has to ask it, of himself.
‘They – I was lying down and – I guess it was an altar, kind of, something like that. Everybody’s naked. Dark, torches and candles, fully weird. They were chanting, and all tugging on their, you know. Sex cults, not so much for privacy. And then the main guy starts off on this whole speech about a ritual, and how Simon’s gonna pass from the pilgrim to the innocent in the form of new life. And I’m the pilgrim, and Gail’s the innocent, so.’
She still doesn’t ask.
‘So apparently I need to be filled with the seed. From the followers, like from Simon.’
‘What did that mean?’
‘They didn’t fuck me.’ He says it angry then blanches, hands up. ‘Excuse the language.’
Dr Gandy gently shakes her head, absolving him. She’s been around the block, he knows it, but this is a nice office and he already feels like he’s making it dirty.
‘Does that make a difference?’
He doesn’t know. He thinks about the breathless terror of hands gripping his wrists to stop him fighting, the pull at his neck as they dragged his head down – thumbs in his mouth to prize his jaw open – choking, no breath, just –
‘I work homicide,’ he says eventually, trying to get back to something like solid ground. ‘But there’s a lot of rape cases in the mix, like you might guess. I never worked one with a guy victim we got to trial. Not one. I worked a few with women with, uh, forced oral. Goes under sexual assault and battery. Law puts it all together. So, I guess, it’s all together.’
‘Does framing it through work make it easier to manage?’
No. He just remembers all the people he took statements from thinking he was being nice and gentle when he had no fucking idea how they felt or what they needed.
And no idea he’d be another one of the motherfuckers contributing to that kind of pain.
‘I can see this is very painful. Can you tell me what’s happening?’
He scrubs the heels of his hands across his eyes, feeling pathetic, ignoring the box of tissues she nudges towards him.
‘After they were done with me, they made her – get on top. Like, for sex. Crowded around while she used her hand and then – she was on me. I didn’t want it, I swear I didn’t want it. By then I was – I mean, I wasn’t doing so well, but she was crying. Like a part of her was awake, like me. Like she hated it as much as I did. They stood watching, close, could smell their breath, chanting and chanting like they were keeping time or something. But I still – I, uh, finished. And they carried her away and forgot about me till they strung me up at sunrise.’
‘You feel responsible for what happened to Gail?’
‘I am responsible.’
‘From what you’ve told me you were drugged, and forced into a cult ritual that violated both of you, against your wishes. You didn’t choose for your body to be used like that any more than Gail did.’
‘Tell that to my dick.’
Dr Gandy looks at him with that firm plain look that means he’s about to get schooled.
‘Your body reacted to physical stimuli because it’s what bodies do. Your mind, your natural horror of what was being done to you both – that isn’t enough to override basic human programming. But it doesn’t make you responsible. It makes you a victim of an awful sexual assault, just as Gail is a victim of an awful sexual assault. Do you blame Gail for forcing herself on you?’
‘God no. She – she didn’t want it.’
‘And neither did you. You aren’t responsible for what happened to her any more than she is responsible for what happened to you. You were both forced to have sexual intercourse. That’s rape. Men can be raped too, David. Like that; in other ways, like you were.’
He finds the blank wall and stares into it. He needs nothingness, blankness. No thinking. No remembering.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ he says eventually, his voice a ghost. ‘I feel it, all the time. Like it changed me, like I’m different now and I can’t go back, like maybe I never was that good guy. I just want to stop, I want to be over, I feel like it’s never going to be over and I can’t, I can’t do that, I can’t.’
‘Are you planning to harm yourself?’
‘No.’ He shakes his head, firm. He’d never. He just doesn’t know how to keep waking up every day.
‘What would help?’
Nothing, he thinks, and then.
Home. Rest, comfort. Time to get back to the person he was. Help to believe he’s still that guy, could be.
‘Hutch,’ he says, because it’s the same thing.
Dr Gandy blinks, once. She opens her mouth, then closes it, evidently recomposing her thoughts.
‘Perhaps we can talk about that another time. For now: I’m not your physician, I’m a consultant doing a favor,’ she says. ‘But I’ll make a professional recommendation for an outpatient treatment plan, with an in-home nurse initially, paid for by the department. And I’d like to see you again. I’ve worked with many of Marcus’s cult victims, I don’t know if you knew that. With the right care you can make a full recovery, David. You’re coping remarkably. Don’t let the horror of it let you forget that. You’re still here and we’d like you to stay that way.’
This time when she pushes the tissues closer he takes a handful, and lets the tears come.
It’s his last appointment with Dr Gandy, but the first time he drives himself.
Feels like it should be a breakthrough, not relying on Hutch to carry him. It’s good to be behind the wheel but he misses the solidity of a body beside him that wants him to do this; that undercurrent of having someone to live up to. As the Torino makes the final turn he slows to crawl and contemplates just driving past her consulting room. I forgot. I had a flat. I’m still broken past fixing so let’s call it a day.
But he can imagine Hutch’s face when he finds out and the man’s been through enough of his bullshit over the last three weeks. Hutch has crashed on his sofa since the hospital, up at 3am when Starsky gets the night terrors, making him some awful herb tea and staying up to play checkers even though Dobey has him back on days. At this point Starsky’s probably the one in better shape.
He parks up, taking a few last breaths before he faces up to himself again.
Dr Gandy shows no sign of suspecting he might have done anything other than show up, on time, ready to go.
‘I nearly didn’t come,’ he tells her anyway, because he can’t stand feeling dishonest right now. ‘I mean – I thought about it.’
Duh, he wants to say, but she’s not going to let him get away with that.
‘It’s still hard, I guess.’
She waits him out, why already in the air.
‘Like… before all this I just was, and I didn’t think about it. I was just happy with being me. Thought that was pretty ok. Now… not so much. And now I have to go back, where everyone expects the same guy, and instead all they got is this weak punk who’s scared to walk into a room and sit with himself for an hour.’
She nods, making a note.
‘That version of yourself you were happy with: how would you describe him?’
Starsky shrugs automatically.
‘Just a good guy, I guess. Like the kind of guy you’d come to if you were in trouble. Good cop. Fair. Friendly, kind. Capable. A pal who’d have your back, fix your car, you’d trust him with your sister – well, up to a point anyways. You know – just a regular guy.’
‘And what parts of that do you think have changed?’
‘I guess I thought I was tough, and I’m not.’
‘You didn’t mention tough. You said – capable, good cop, a friend.’
‘You gotta be tough to be a good cop.’ She lets him sit with it a little. ‘I guess I don’t feel like a regular guy any more.’
‘What makes you not a regular guy?’
He lets out a sarcastic eyeroll before he can stop himself.
‘Because you were assaulted?’
He nods once, just barely, chin in his hand half covering his mouth. Then he sighs, sitting back.
‘Cops aren’t meant to be victims. Not like that. There’s twenty guys I can shoot the breeze with in the cafeteria about how the old gunshot in my back aches like hell if it storms. This… everyone’s just gonna walk on eggshells till they feel safe that I’m never gonna mention it.’
‘You feel the need to put them at ease, above your own needs.’
‘My own needs is them at ease. They can’t help, wouldn’t know how. That’s what you’re for, right?’
She narrows her eyes, smiling a little as if acknowledging he’s not entirely serious.
‘What made you change your mind? About coming here today.’
‘Hutch.’ He says it fast, before really thinking about it. ‘He has a lot of respect for you – like I do, I mean, I do too. I just – he set this whole thing up, and he really wants it to work. Damn, I sound ungrateful, and I’m not, I swear. You make me talk about stuff I don’t want to but that’s your job, and I know I wouldn’t be as close to getting back to myself without this.’
‘Tell me about Hutch.’
Starsky takes a breath, because where do you start.
‘He’s the one guy I can talk to, I guess – or the one I don’t need to talk to for him to get what’s needed. He’s my partner. If I fall down, he picks me up. He falls down, the same. We’ve been through some stuff, so. We’re close.’
‘It sounds like a transactional relationship: you give to get something in return, same for him.’
Starsky shakes his head.
‘It’s nothing like that. At all.’
‘But you feel a need to repay him for what he’s done for you.’
‘We’re not keeping score. But - he saved my life. Like, for real. Out there I was minutes from getting hacked up into pieces, no exaggeration; it was that close. And – after. Now.’
He was headed for the nuthouse, he knows now; a little detail Hutch failed to mention. Everything he has right now, every inch of progress is down to Hutch.
‘And what was your role in that? Your survival, your recovery?’
Starsky sits quiet.
‘I got lucky.’
Dr Gandy smiles weakly, tilting her head. ‘I don’t think most people would describe you as lucky.’
‘I mean. With the help I got.’
She sighs, brow furrowed.
‘I wonder if there’s another way to view it; one that acknowledges you as an active participant. My understanding is that when you were taken, you tried to escape, tried to fight your captors.’
‘During the assault on you and Gail, you fought then too; you have the bruises to prove it, although you were drugged.’
He manages a shrug.
‘Before Hutch got there, you tried to talk Gail into helping you; you tried to save her too. And then, when Hutch was there, you fought, physically, to try to stay alive.’
‘Yeah. But after that…’
He can see where she’s headed and he can take it that far, just about, if he’s being kind, but then it drives off a cliff.
‘After that I didn’t have anything left to fight with.’
‘In the hospital, you communicated through the tools you had available to you. You allowed your partner enough access to your personal needs for him to be able to help you practically. Is that fair to say?’
He says nothing, stuck in the memory: hospital, and powerless again.
‘There are many ways of asking for help, David. In trauma, the obvious ones aren’t available. So we find other ways, if we can. That takes courage.’
‘I just lay in a bed. Hutch did the work.’
‘You could have refused to see him, refused to talk to him as you did with others. You didn’t. You understood he could help, would try to help, and you allowed him to. You’ve participated in our conversations honestly, despite the challenge of discussing such difficult experiences. You came here today, despite your reservations. Perhaps it’s not weakness that brought you to my door but exactly those regular guy traits you recognized in yourself before. Being here demonstrates that you’re still capable, trustworthy, a pal. Tough, yes, but engaged in the world around you; a good cop with a Captain who wants you back at work enough to secure my services. Able to accept help as well as offer it. Able to value yourself enough to fight for yourself. The same traits that allowed you to survive in the first place are now helping you take these slow steps to recovery.’
He wants to believe it. Sometimes when he kicks back with Hutch on the couch, feet up, watching a crummy B movie because Hutch is soft enough to let him pick and he’s not going to miss out on an opportunity – it feels like before. He smiles sometimes. Some nights he sleeps ok. There’s still reminders, though. He’s eating, but not like he used to, like a chore not a joy and Hutch not stealing the opportunity back to ply him with raw greens and stinky shakes is daily proof that it’s not back to before after all. He still ducks his eyes in the mirror. Can’t picture being with a girl again, not without flashing back.
‘I don’t wanna just survive,’ he says softly. ‘I want to be like I was. How come it still feels so bad?’
She puts her head on one side.
‘Because you’re a regular guy in an irregular situation.’ She shakes her head, thinking. ‘I don’t know that you can go back. But I believe you can go forward. You have the resources – not just in Hutch; in yourself. You talked about being a stand up-guy, a pal people could rely on. Maybe, in time, you could be that for yourself too.’
Hutch hears a commotion out in the hall and then recognizes a laugh that he hasn’t heard in three weeks.
He abandons his typewriter at once, grateful for the excuse.
Out in the hall, Starsky is attempting to fend off the well wishes of approximately every cop in the precinct, and looking touched and appreciative and entirely fried by the effort. Unsurprising, since this is one hour after his last therapy appointment, and the first time he’s left the apartment without Hutch being there to steer him through the world.
‘Sorry, fellas, need to borrow my partner here,’ he announces.
Starsky looks so overwhelmed he can barely manage relief as the crowd disperses with kind words and pats on the back. He stands stiff in the hallway, a little hunched, brows knitted.
‘Squad room, or car?’ Hutch asks gently, cutting the distance between them in one stride.
‘Home,’ says Hutch firmly.
He sees the Torino parked up but takes them both in the LTD and Starsky’s lack of reaction confirms it was the right choice. He keeps his hand in the small of Starsky’s back up the stairs to his apartment, waiting as Starsky fumbles with the keys. Enters and fetches them a beer apiece, along with a glass of water.
Starsky drops onto his couch without argument, accepting a beer the same way.
Hutch takes a long pull on his, needing it. It’s been such a rough road to get here. He needs to brace if they’re taking a step backwards.
‘Tough session with Ruth, huh?’
Starsky looks at his hands, seeming surprised to find a beer there. He blinks, catching up to himself.
‘Not really. She just kicked my brains around a little, I guess.’
‘She does that.’
Hutch smiles, thinking back at her uncompromising conviction that his addiction was a one-off, derived from circumstance, and no reflection on his character. As if what mattered was him and how he reacted, and not how his partner quietly pulled him through the nightmare and back to himself.
‘You want to talk about it?’
‘I want to eat a pizza and watch a movie and go to sleep.’
Hutch remembers that feeling too.
‘You ok, Starsk?’
Hutch glances across and catches Starsky’s eye at the exact right moment to see him flounder: eyes closing in pain, chest rising to draw in a long deep breath.
‘I’m gonna be,’ he says quietly. ‘Just gonna take a while. And you yelling at me for wanting pizza two nights in a row.’
Hutch hesitates. Then he’s all in.
‘Deal. You’re not having that crap clogging up your arteries until the weekend at the earliest, because that stuff’ll kill you. I’m going to make you an omelet.’
‘Aw, Hutch. Come on.’
‘Yeah, with a bunch of veggies and herbs and whatnot if you got anything to do with it. How about a burrito, huh? I saw you put that ground beef in the fridge.’
Hutch knows he’ll manage no more than a couple of bites, but that’s not the point.
‘OK,’ he says grudgingly, then raises a wagging finger. ‘This once you can have sour cream and guac. Next time you pick one.’
Hutch smiles as he heads for the kitchen to prep the avocados. He’s just dicing tomatoes when there’s a quiet call from the couch.
‘Hey, Hutch? You mind crashing back at your place tonight? Think I might need a night to myself.’
Hutch stills the knife. The temptation to turn and give Starsky a grin that’s the equivalent to a round of applause is potent. But the man waited until they were barely in the same room. No fuss.
‘Sure, partner. Though if you call me at 3am I’ll yell at you. While I get in the car.’
‘You’re welcome. Starsk. Always.’