Once the aggressive stranger forced Hutch into a deadly confrontation, the situation spiraled toward an irreversible climax. Hutch's brief interaction with the woman was confusing at best, although her death did not carry the same sort of personal burden that Diana's demise had wrought.
The details of the relationship between Diana and the mysterious woman were destined to remain murky. She was eventually identified as Lila Cortez - a previous employee of the hospital where Diana was housed before her release. Lila had quit her job the same week Diana was released from inpatient care. A newly expanded investigation was underway to uncover the relationship between the two women, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that both of them were now deceased.
Forty-eight hours after Lila's death, Starsky and Hutch were back in Bay City, recovering from their four-night excursion in the woods. Although Hutch's mood seemed a little somber, Starsky understood why. Shooting and killing a woman was never a comfortable decision, not even in self-defense. Lila's unexpected appearance, in conjunction with a crisis-filled weekend, had taken a complicated situation and made it temporarily worse for both of them.
Although Hutch was at last at peace with the bulk of the circumstances, the additional aspects of an established investigation would be a long time reaching an official conclusion. As a formality, Hutch had surrendered his weapon until the department could finalize its own investigation of the shooting. Although Starsky had been present, Hutch was the only actual eyewitness to Lila Cruz's death. It was anticipated the department's internal review would be completed in just a few days.
Judging by the manner in which Hutch was able to concentrate on the endless paperwork to the way he sat comfortably in an uncomfortable chair, Starsky could tell that Hutch was doing fine. A whole pot of emotions had been stirred to the boiling point during their long weekend in the woods. Now that a lot of the fallout had been exposed and left behind, Starsky was no longer as worried about Hutch.
"Are you about done?" Starsky asked. "I'm hungry."
Hutch looked at Starsky in a way that cautioned him to be patient.
"Almost," Hutch answered, pulling his attention back to the form he was reading. Quickly, he signed and dated the last paper before adding it to the stack between them.
"I'm done now," Hutch said, glancing at the clock on the wall. "It's time for us to meet the medics for dinner anyway."
"Now that's what I want to hear," Starsky replied, standing and reaching for his jacket.
Sliding into the Torino a few minutes later, Starsky put the key in the ignition and started the engine. It always did him good to hear his car come to life.
The drive to The Pits was short despite a predictable amount of commuter traffic. Hutch was actually thankful for the reprieve as he'd been sitting down most of the day. For the first time in weeks, he felt up to a game of pool. Perhaps Collins or Benson would be interested in joining him.
The parking lot was only about half full as Starsky found a spot and pulled over.
"Huggy was excited to hear we were dropping by tonight."
Hutch smiled almost bashfully, nodding at Starsky as they entered The Pits. A full-blown shout of happiness soon greeted him once Hutch entered the bar.
"Hutch, my man!" Huggy exclaimed, meeting him halfway across the room. "You made it!" he added, gathering Hutch in a tight hug.
"Huggy, good to see you," Hutch exclaimed, returning the embrace.
"And Starsky," Huggy added next. "I'm impressed to see that you made it back as well, my friend."
"Don't hug him!" Hutch blurted out suddenly, his eyes wide with apprehension.
Surprised, both Starsky and Huggy looked intently at Hutch.
"I mean, he has a few war wounds underneath his clothes," Hutch tried to explain. "He can tell you all about it if you want to know."
"Yeah, that's right," Starsky confirmed. "Just lead me to a booth before I hurt myself out here, Hug. The paramedics have already been called."
Approximately twenty minutes later, Collins and Benson had found their way to The Pits and joined them in the back of the bar. Each man appeared to be happy with the tall glass of beer in front of them.
"So Huggy," Collins was asking. "How long have you known these two guys?"
"A long time," Huggy replied without hesitation. "Starsky since we were both kids really. Hutch since he hooked up with Starsky roughly seven or eight years ago?"
"Something like that," Hutch agreed. "It doesn't seem like it, but it has been a few years now."
"So what happened to you out there in the woods, Starsky?" Huggy asked. "Meaning - whatever Hutch was referring to," Huggy clarified.
"Oh," Starsky began, looking unexcited. "You know - a small knife wound, a near-drowning, and of course, a wolf attack. The usual stuff. And lastly, I got shot for good measure. The slug only grazed me though."
"A wolf attack!" Huggy blurted out, nearly spitting out his beer.
Huggy looked at Hutch to help him decide if the other man was kidding. Hutch was nodding in support of Starsky's story.
"Yeah, it was a bit unbelievable. Even for us."
Starsky rolled up his shirt sleeve so Huggy could have a look at his forearm.
"I'm tellin' ya, if you go camping someday, take these guys with ya, Hug," Starsky said, indicating Collins and Benson. "They'll make sure you live through it."
"Umm, umm, umm," Huggy said. "No offense, Starsky, but I ain't never leavin' the city with you."
The other men at the table laughed openly.
"Oh, you can go, Hug," Hutch said. "The key to survival is that you have to take your weaponry with you."
"Since when are there wolves anywhere around here?" Huggy asked.
"Since Hutch and I went camping last weekend. Yeah, I know what you're sayin'. No one was more surprised than we were - no one outside of the other two guys who were out there with us."
"We don't really have a good answer," Collins said. "Hutch shot two of them, not including the one he and I gunned down together. The rest disappeared, including one of the two that was with the woman who tried to shoot Starsky."
Huggy shook his head in disbelief.
"Did you talk to Fish and Game?" Hutch asked.
"Yep. I'm going back out there tomorrow. Everyone in that department is extremely interested in having a look at those wolves."
"No offense if I stay here?" Starsky asked.
"None at all, Starsky," Collins replied. "In fact, from what I've seen, you're safer with Hutch anyway."
"Well then," Huggy said next, lifting his glass. "In that case, here's to Hutch and all the rest of you who brought him safely back home. I thank you!"
September 27, 2021