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Perchance to Dream

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PERCHANCE TO DREAM

Elizabeth Lowry

 

 

"I’m the investigating officer here, I ask the questions.” Huntley turned and marched off in front of the two officers.

The uniforms followed behind him. “Brown nose,” Jackson snorted, just out of earshot. “He’s only out to impress the Lieutenant. Trying to put one more bust in his jacket before they decide who they’re assigning to that new unit in Division.”

Hutch ignored him, didn’t even bother to look at him. Contempt flared briefly, but the day was just too hot for contempt, so he settled for disdain. He straightened to his full height, shoulders back and head erect. His stride was long and easy. Full of power. Full of youth. He knew it, and so did stubby, pot-bellied Jackson. That would be enough to show his partner what he thought of him. Hutch smothered the impulse to smile.

Huntley stepped in the path of the electric eye, and a blast of cold air from the opening doors caused Hutch to shiver. They walked straight to the elevator, not bothering to pause at the free-standing reception desk in the middle of the lobby.

“She’s on four.” Huntley pressed the corresponding button.

Jackson grunted non-comittally. Hutch rolled his eyes. The information wasn’t meant for Jackson anyway, it was meant for him. From that one bit of information he was to glean that Luke had done his homework, that he had already spoken with someone from the DA’s office, and he had already called ahead to the hospital. Police work. Hutch allowed the smile to surface. Detective work.

The doors opened. Huntley led, Hutch followed, Jackson plodded behind them. “I want you to check us in at the nurse’s station.” Huntley stopped and directed his remark at Jackson.

Jackson’s eyes narrowed, his mouth opened, but whatever thought he was forming was not allowed to escape. The slitted eyes glanced at his partner with enough irritation evident to force another smile from Hutch. Jackson thudded over to the desk.

Hutch took a step closer to Huntley. “He thinks  you’re a brown nose.”

“I think he’s a fat slob trying to do as little as possible until he gets in his twenty,” Huntley replied, Hutch nodded. “Stick with me, kid. He’ll only drown you in his own grease.” He gave Hutch a quick pat on the back.

Jackson wandered back over to them. “We’re in. Room 432.” He rested a hand on his gun and stretched the holster leather.

“Get your hand off your butt,” Huntley commanded. “Jackson, I don’t want to hear one word from you once we’re in that room. You stand by the door and look like it would take an army to move you. I want her to believe it when I say we can protect her. Hutch, you stay close to me. If the father-figure routine doesn’t work, maybe big brother will. Are we clear? Jackson?”

Jackson buried his hands under his armpits. “Sure, Sarge, we’re clear. Right, kid?”

Hutch didn’t answer, but Huntley hadn’t needed for him to. He was off down the corridor, and Hutch followed without waiting for Jackson.

The room was at the end of the corridor. Hutch kept his eyes focused on the wall at the end, resisting the impulse to peek in the open doors lining the hallway. Jackson was doing enough looking for all of them.

“Ready?” Huntley stopped. Hutch nodded, once. Huntley rapped on the opened door. He stuck his head around it cautiously. “Miss Hall?”

Huntley disappeared around the edge of the door. Hutch took a deep breath and followed suit. He stepped into the room and moved over to the bed. Glancing back, he saw that Jackson was leaning with one shoulder against the wall, looking bored and put-upon.

Hutch turned his attention back to the girl in the bed. The Polaroids in the case file had been accurate, except that bruises which were once black and purple were now green and yellow. He released his breath slowly, and drew another one from deep in his diaphragm. This is what he would see when he closed his eyes to sleep tonight.

“Miss Hall?” Huntley leaned over and place his hand over her unbandaged one. “I’m Sergeant Huntley, and these are Officers Hutchinson,” he nodded at Hutch, “and Jackson,” he motioned back at the lump holding up the wall. “I believe Mrs. Cole, from the DA’s office, told you we’d be coming.”

The girl under the frayed, thin hospital blanket looked at Huntley, but didn’t answer. Blue eyes were hidden under multi-colored puff of skin; the mouth was a grim line formed by wires holding together a jaw.

“Miss Hall,” Huntley continued, “we’d like you to help us. We’d like to catch the people who did this to you, and we’d like to put them in jail for a long, long time. Will you help us do that?” He patted the uninjured hand.

Her eyes flicked to Hutch. They seemed to be appraising him, assessing him as a body in a uniform, nothing more. He felt the tell-tale warmth of a blush, and looked away. When he looked back, he was almost sure he saw an answering blush under her bruises. He took a step closer.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” Huntley asked. Her writ flicked, and he sat down beside her. “I know this isn’t easy, but we’re here to help you. The woman who called the ambulance, and came in with you, Shari? Shari wouldn’t tell us anything. She said she  didn’t know who hurt you, that she’d just been looking for you and found you in that motel room by chance. Now, you know, and I know, that’s not exactly what happened. But Shari’s disappeared, and we can’t find her to ask anymore questions.”

By concentrating on her eyes, Hutch could almost ignore the tubes and gauze and tape. This time, he thought he detected—relief? Relief that Shari had gotten away? Sure, why not? She still had enough feeling left inside not to want someone else to go through what she had. She must be beautiful, he mused, and wondered what she looked like without all the bruises.

“I’ll tell you what.” Huntley’s voice was even and soothing. “I’ll ask you questions, and you can nod once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’. Hutch, why don’t you shut those blinds a little? That afternoon sun is getting pretty bright and looks like it might be hurting Miss Hall’s eyes.” He smiled down at the girl.

Hutch moved quietly to the window and rolled the wand until the slats blotted out most of the light. He returned to her bedside. Her eyes once again met his. He smiled and relaxed his posture. Her lashes lowered shyly and she looked back to Huntley.

“We know you were beaten at the motel. The room was registered to you. Were you with a john?”

The girl was motionless, then nodded twice.

“No?” Huntley looked mildly surprised. “Miss Hall, you have been picked up a couple of times for soliciting, haven’t you?”

The eyes closed, and she nodded once.

“Miss Hall, I want you to know that we’re going to charge and prosecute whoever did this to you, regardless of why you were with them.” He pointed to Hutch. “This officer here has been specifically assigned to your case, at my request. If you tell us who hurt you, we’ll find hi and put him away.”

The blanket stirred, but there was no sign the girl believed Huntley’s promise.

Huntley again took her hand. “Maybe it was your pimp?” His thumb stroked the back of her hand. Hutch allowed his gaze to travel down to that hand. Long, delicate fingers ended in ragged, broken nails, another sign of the violence she had lived.

“I don’t think it was your pimp.” Huntley stroked the pale skin. “And I don’t think it was a john. I think maybe it was your boyfriend.”

The long fingers curled and clutched at the blanket. Hutch looked back up at her face, but her expression hadn’t changed. Long hair fell limply on the pillow. He couldn’t tell if it was red or gold.

“What do you think, Hutch?”

Hutch started. “What?” He tore his gaze away and stared at Huntley.

“Can we help Miss Hall?”

Hutch felt his face flush again. “Yes. Sure. Of course.” He attempted to regain his composure. He looked down at her, captured her eyes. No, she allowed him to capture her eyes. “We—I—we want to help you, Miss Hall. If you’ll just cooperate, we’ll do our best to make sure this guy can’t get to you again. I know it doesn’t seem like that right now, but—“

“You see Miss Hall?” Huntley interrupted. “We all want the same thing, now, won’t you please tell us who did this to you?” He leaned forward, his face sincere and open.

She responded by closing her eyes. A hiss, probably as much of a sigh as she could muster, escaped between her teeth.

“I’ll tell you what.” Huntley gave her hand a final pat, then stood up. “Why don’t you rest now, and we’ll come back sometime later when you’re feeling a little stronger. You can tell us then.” He looked over at Hutch. “In the meantime, we’ll see to it no one bothers you.” He turned and walked to the door. “Let’s go.”

Jackson lifted himself from the wall and walked out in front of Huntley. Hutch took one last look at the girl. She appeared to be asleep. He reached toward her, then jerked his hand back and looked around guiltily. Yet another flush warmed his face, and he left quickly.

He caught up with the other two men and joined them in front of the elevator.

“What does the doctor say?” Hutch asked.

Jackson snorted.

Huntley concentrated on the numbers that indicated where the elevator was. “Says she’ll be fine. No permanent damage. In six months no one will be able to tell where a bruise was or wasn’t. Not even a trick.”

“Are we going to post a guard?”

“Shit no!” Huntley tapped the dial, as if that would make the elevator come quicker. “We don’t have the manpower for that.”

“But we practically promised.”

“Hell!” Huntley finally looked at Hutch. “She’s a hooker, kid! They’re a dime a dozen on the streets. Losing one of them’s like losing a pimple on your ass.”

The doors to the elevator opened, and the trio stepped inside. The car jerked as the cable lowered it, leaving Hutch’s stomach on the fourth floor.

 

 

A warm hand slapped Hutch on the butt. Hutch whirled, water spraying from his hair as he whipped around in the shower. He relaxed when the man who stepped up beside him grinned wickedly.

“Who’d you think it was, Don and his musical dong?” Eyebrows wiggled lasciviously, and Starsky turned on a warm spray.

“Nah.” Hutch scooped up the soap he’d dropped. “You just startled me, that’s all.” He reworked a lather, trying to cover the flush he knew was turning his whole body crimson.

Starsky was too busy concentrating on his own lather. “How’d your day go?” He rubbed soap into his shoulders and chest.

Hutch tilted his head back and let the water rush over his chest, forcing the suds down his body. “We interviewed the victim of that hooker beating.” He let some water run into his mouth, then spit it out. “You should’ve see her, Starsk. The only part of her body that wasn’t bruised was the little finger on her right hand. Somebody played quite a number on her.” He bowed his head and let the water spill over him.

Starsky moved on to his arms. “Bad, huh? You know who did it?”

Hutch shook his head, watching the water droplets spray around him. “I—we think it’s a boyfriend.”

“Maybe,” Starsky mused. He finished up his legs. “Did you hear they put me on over at McKinley?” He began to lather his hair.

“Huh? No, really?” Hutch looked over at Starsky.

Starsky grinned back as he attacked his scalp. “Yeah! Great, huh? They’ve got me enrolled as a senior, and I’ve already made a few connections. Plainclothes, here I come!” He dove under the water, suds disappearing from the force of the spray. Short hair that was normally combed straight snapped into tight curls.

Hutch shut off his shower and grabbed for a towel. “This could be just the trick,” he agreed. “A good bust with you on the inside would make you a prime candidate for promotion. If,” he grinned, “you pass the exam.”

Starsky turned off his tap. “You’ll get me through,” he stated. Hutch handed him a towel. “I have confidence in you.”

Hutch shook his head resignedly. “Luke says he’s going to ask to be partnered with me when they assign him to the new unit.”

If,” Starsky corrected.

When,” Hutch insisted.

Starsky tossed his towel in the hamper and walked around to his locker. Hutch looked at the towel in his hand, then wrapped it around his hips. He joined Starsky by the lockers.

“Did I tell you I’m having a party Saturday night?” Starsky stared at the contents of his locker, hands on his hips.

Hutch worked his combination. “No, you didn’t. What am I down for?” He opened the locker door.

Starsky pulled a pair of briefs from under a pile of sweats and jeans. “Beer, chips, and pretzels.” He slipped into the briefs and reached for the jeans.

“That all?” Hutch adjusted his mirror and combed his hair.

“Oh, and ice cream.” A clean shirt miraculously appeared from the dark interior of the locker. Starsky held onto it, waiting.

“Ice cream?” Hutch put the finishing touches on his hair.

“Maple rum,” Starsky elaborated. “And banana fudge.”

“Anything else?” Hutch found his deodorant and used it. Starsky held out his hand. Hutch hesitated, then handed it over.

“I probably should warn you,” Starsky used the roll-on and handed it back. “My john’s not real dependable right now.” He shrugged into the shirt.

“Terrific.” Hutch stepped into short, then corduroy slacks. “You went and invited people to a beer party in an apartment where the porcelain is plugged up.”

“Clever.” Starsky put on his jacket and shut his locker. “All those p’s in a row.”

Hutch sighed. “Then we might as well have it at my place.” The buttoned an Oxford shirt and adjusted the cuffs and collar.

“I thought you’d say that. I told everyone to show up at your place at eight.”

Hutch pursed his lips. “Clever.”

“Thank you.” Starsky settled on the bench and waited for Hutch to finish his grooming. A few moments passed. “She was hurt bad, huh?”

Hutch took a blazer from his locker and closed it. “Yes. I never get used to it, you know?”

“It’ll come,” Starsky reassured him. “You’ll get used to it.”

“I don’t know,” Hutch shook his head. “Starsky, she was so beat up—how can one person do that to another?”

Starsky shrugged. “Probably got his rocks off. It ain’t that uncommon, you know? Lotta people are confused like that.”

Hutch smiled.

“What?” Starsky frowned questioningly.

“Nothing. Sometimes you surprise me is all.”

“That’s me!” Starsky lit up. “Full of surprised! Want to go out for a beer?”

Hutch thought a moment. “Not tonight. Rain check?”

“Sure. Listen, I may not be around very regular now that I’m back in high school.” He grinned. “Want to go to the prom with me?”

“Sorry. I’m going with the captain of the football team.”

“Your loss.” Starsky got up and headed for the door.

“How so?” Hutch called after him.

Starsky paused at the door. “I guess you’ll never know!” He disappeared.

Hutch grinned after him.

 

 

“What is it?” Hutch whispered, stepping into the dimly lit conference room.

Huntley pulled him over to a couple of chairs in the middle of the room. “Looks like we found some film of that hooker. Sit.”

Hutch lowered himself slowly. “Miss Hall?”

“Yeah.” Huntley twisted around and spoke to a detective behind him. “You almost ready, Joe?”

The officer finished threading the projector and took up the slack on the reel. “Ready.”

“Let her rip,” Huntley commanded. The projector clattered into life. A grainy but clear picture appeared on the wall, and cheap violins played too loudly from the speaker.

“Where’d you find this?” Hutch leaned over and asked Huntley.

“Let’s cut the music, huh, Joe?” The sound lowered and Huntley leaned toward Hutch. “Joe works vice up in Hollywood. They busted a nickel and dime dealer, who was also doing a pretty fair trade in your more specialized porno films. Found a boxful in his closet. This was one of them.”

Hutch focused on the film. The set looked like a cheap motel room, the one where the girl had been found. There was some attempt at lighting, but that was its only production value.

A man with weasel features and thinning hair, fully clothed, was kneeling on the bed, slowly undressing the girl he straddled. She was on her back, lying crosswise on the bed, her head tilted back over the edge of the mattress. Red and gold hair spilled over and brushed the carpet.

Hutch looked down at the floor, glad for the darkened room. It was Miss Hall.

“Look at this, kid.” Huntley nudged him. “I want you to see this.”

Hutch looked up. The man had removed her blouse and was flinging it off camera. Then the man turned himself around until he was facing her feet, and began pulling off her sandals. He did it slowly, deliberately, caressing her skin all the while. He scooted back until he could unzip her jeans, which required him to sit on her breasts. He peeled them off while the girl under him stroked his back, ass and thighs. Once the jeans were on the floor, he again turned and faced her. He reached down and removed her lacy bra, tossing it toward the camera. The man tweaked her nipples, and she smiled, reaching up for him.

The back of his hand smashed into her face. Hutch’s head snapped back reflexively and his hands balled into fists. Blow after carefully time blow fell, and muffled moans found their way out of the projector’s tinny speaker.

“That towering example of man’s humanity to man is a piece of scum named Janos Martini.” Grateful for the diversion, Hutch turned in his seat to focus his attention on Joe.

“He’s bee in the film business for a couple of years now. Lately, he’s been doing special orders for some of his more dependable clients.” Joe was balanced on the edge of the table, arms folded across his chest, eyes glued to the screen. “The girl is his squeeze. He uses her as a fluffer. I guess this was her big move to stardom. We’ve never been able to get him on anything more than petty theft, a couple of lousy possession charges, that sort of thing.”

Huntley grinned back. “We got an APB out on him.”

“You won’t find him.” Joe picked his nose. “Word is he skipped after this masterpiece of filmmaking. One of our honeypots says he moved his studio to Gotham at the special request of one of his clients. Probably just got scared after he’d seen the finished product and freaked on what he’d gotten himself into. Actually, I’m surprised he didn’t finish the job.”

Hutch rested his forehead on his arm. He drew a breath, then turned back to the screen. The girl was motionless on the now-bloodied sheets. The man walked into the frame, apparently back from the bathroom, as he was wiping his hands on a towel. The man grinned, tossed the towel onto her still form, and walked away. The picture faded to black.

“Light,” Huntley called.

Hutch stumbled over to the wall and found the switch. He flipped it on, then pulled open the door and slipped through it. He made his way as steadily as possible to the john, then collapsed over one of the toilets.

All of his senses succumbed to uncontrollable heaving. Gradually, his insides relaxed, his vision cleared, and the roaring in his ears faded. Someone offered damp paper towels, and he gratefully wiped his face. He dropped the towels into the bowl, flushed, and two strong arms lifted him to his feet. He was walked over to the wall and leaned against it.

“Okay?”

Hutch looked into two concerned, sky blue eyes. “Starsk?” he rasped.

“Good guess,” Starsky grinned. “I thought I saw you stumble in here. What’s wrong?”

Hutch shut his eyes tightly. “Aw, Starsky, they found a film of that girl that was beaten. I don’t understand….” Moisture formed on his lashes.

“Hey, kid, you in here?” The door opened and Luke Poked his head in. “There you are.” He walked over to the two men. “I can handle this.” He tapped Starsky on the shoulder. “Beat it.”

Starsky didn’t bother to look at Huntley. He squeezed Hutch’s arms and gave them a pat before releasing them. “Are you going to be all right?”

Hutch nodded and opened his eyes. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“See you around.” Starsky backed toward the door. “Call me, okay?”

“All right.” Hutch waved weakly. Starsky left.

“Come on, kid.” Huntley patted his shoulder. “Put your socks back on. You don’t want to look like a little girl to those guys from Vice.”

Hutch drew a shaky breath. “Okay.” He straightened up. “Let’s go.”

“My man!” Huntley approved. He pushed Hutch toward the door.

 

 

He’d been all over town looking for daffodils, finally finding them at a Korean florist’s on Olympic. He carried them a little sheepishly through the hospital corridors, aware of what he must look like, dressed in his navy blue uniform and carrying brilliant yellow flowers.

He found room 432 and peeked inside. He was caught in the act as gray-blue eyes met his. “Miss Hall?” He stepped inside.

“Yes?” She spoke in honeyed tones that her wired jaw couldn’t hide.

“Uh, I, uh—“ Hutch bit his lip and began again. “I don’t know if you remember me, bit I was here before when we questioned you.”

“I remember you,” she spoke softly. “Hutchinson.”

“You don’t have to talk,” Hutch stammered. He moved closer to her bed. “I just came by to see how you’re feeling.” He frowned. “I brought you these.” He offered her the flowers.

She took them gently and buried her face in the blooms. “They’re beautiful,” she managed.

Hutch felt himself growing warm. “Here, let me put them in water.” She returned the bouquet. Hutch looked around, then dropped them into her water pitcher. “The nurse can find something later.”

She nodded, smiled, then closed her eyes. A shadow of pain crossed her face.

“Maybe I’d better go.” Hutch stared at the skyline outside the window. “I guess they told you we’ve been looking for Martini.” He paused. “I really think you should reconsider about pressing charges. We can protect you.”

Her eyes didn’t open.

Hutch didn’t speak for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.

“Y’all are sweet, Officer Hutchinson,” she said with a faint lisp. “Thank you.” Her eyes opened.

“Hutch,” he replied. “Everybody calls me ‘Hutch’.” He felt himself blush under her gaze.

She smiled just enough to avoid any pain. “Hutch.” She offered her unbandaged hand. “I’m Alice. Everyone calls me Sweet Alice.”

“Alice.” Hutch took the hand, then impulsively bent down and kissed it. This time she blushed.

“Listen,” he fumbled for his notebook and a pencil stub. “If you ever—if you need—here’s where you can reach me.” He tore a sheet from the pad and laid it on the bedside table. “I guess I’d better go.” He turned and left without looking back.

“’Bye, Hutch,” he heard her call softly. “See y’all around.”

 

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