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Little Boy Lost

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Little Boy Lost

Monday 27th December 1976

Hutch was just finishing his breakfast when there was a knock at the door. It was too early yet for Starsky so he assumed it was Kiko. Even if it was still a school vacation day, Kiko was always up early. His teenage Little Brother usually popped in once a week on his way to school because he knew Hutch would be around then for a chat. It wasn’t so easy in the evenings to track down his Big Brother because sometimes Hutch’s shifts ran late. Hutch waited and was surprised when the door didn’t open. Not Kiko then. He dumped his glass in the sink before he went to answer the door. He was slightly surprised but pleased to see Molly standing there.

“Hey Pete, you’re up early. What can I do for you?”

“Hi Hutch. It’s not too early, is it? Mrs Ramos said it was okay for me to come see you this time of day.”

“It’s fine, sweetheart. Come on in,” Hutch said as he held the door open for Molly to pass by. “I’ve got a few minutes before Starsky arrives. How are you settling in with Kiko and his mother?”

“Good.” Molly sounded positive but she avoided looking at his eyes. She threw herself onto his couch with a small sigh.

Hutch went and sat next to her. “Something bothering you?”

“It’s just…I’ll be going to a new school when term starts and I know Mrs Ramos will make sure I go every day. My Dad didn’t always make me and, well, some of the foster homes didn’t care either way. It’ll be weird going every day.”

“You feeling nervous?”

He could see bravado and anxiety fighting a battle on Molly’s face.

“What if they don’t like me?”

“They’re going to love you.”

“What if I’m so far behind I have to go down a grade?”

“Well, don’t assume the worst. Let’s wait and see what happens,” Hutch advised her, “But if you need some extra tutoring to get you caught up, I’m sure I can help with getting a tutor for you.”

Molly made a face. “More school after school? That’ll be torture. I won’t get any free time. You might as well lock me up and throw away the key.”

Hutch couldn’t help chuckling and shaking his head. Molly frowned at him and he quickly hid his smile.

“Look. Try not to worry about it and if you do need to do a bit of extra schooling, it would only be short-term. It’s not your fault you missed so many days of school. You’re a bright kid. It wouldn’t take you long to catch up.”

“I ‘spose.”

“Everything else all right?”

Suddenly, Molly looked very sad. Hutch put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

“What’s the matter?” he asked softly.

“It’s just…Hutch, will my Dad have a proper gravestone or will it be one of those whatcha-call-its? You know, unmarked. Like nobody cares. Only I’d pay for it myself but I don’t have any money and I don’t know how I’m going to get any if I have to go to school and I know he did some bad things but he was a good guy really and it’s not right if-”

“-Pete. You don’t need to worry about that. Your Dad will have a proper stone, I promise.”

“How come? Who’s gonna pay for it?”

Hutch gave Molly a little squeeze.

“Did you pay for one?” Molly asked looking up into Hutch’s eyes.

“Yes, I did. I hope that’s okay with you.”

Molly burst into tears. “Oh Hutch, thank you. I’ll pay you back, I promise. Soon as I’m grown up.”

Trying not to tear up himself, Hutch put his chin on top of Molly’s head and held her closer.

“Don’t you worry about paying me back; I was happy to do it.”

Molly’s sniffles gradually quietened and Hutch let her go and handed her some tissues.

“Will you be okay now? Starsky will be here any minute so I’d better get ready to go.”

There was the sound of a horn beeping downstairs and Hutch looked at his watch.

“Right on time.”

Molly stood up. “When can I spend some time with you and your corny buddy again?”

“How about we try to go out and do something on Sunday? You, Kiko, Starsky and me? I’ll give you a call and let you know what time. Maybe bowling? Or if it’s good weather, we could go practise with your glove at the park.”

“That sounds good.”

Molly followed Hutch as he went to get his gun and jacket and watched as he put them on.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t get shot,” Molly said in a small voice. “Please.”

“I will do my very best to stay safe,” Hutch reassured her.

“Good.”

Molly surprised him by suddenly hugging him. Then she let him go and rushed out of the door. Hutch smiled as he followed her out of the apartment and locked the door behind him. It was nice to have another kid to watch out for. Molly had already wormed her way into his heart, finding a place right next to Kiko. She’d got to him as soon as he met her and he was so glad that he’d managed to help find her a good foster home with Catalina Ramos and her son.

As he walked down the steps and out onto the sidewalk to greet Starsky, he thought how true it was that you could never know how the little things you did could affect people. Every action could have consequences to the bad or influences to the good. If he hadn’t joined the Big Brother programme, he wouldn’t have met Kiko. He might not be living here in Venice Place near the Ramos family because he wouldn’t have seen the advertisement for the apartment when he was dropping Kiko home. And he wouldn’t have been able to help put Molly into a caring family. He had always tried his best to care for people. It was really nice to know that every so often his actions and decisions paid off. He was still smiling to himself as he filled his partner in on his morning so far.

 

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

 

Friday 31st December 1976

It was New Years’ Eve and as usual Hutch was feeling in a contemplative mood. He’d never been a big one for parties at New Year’s and this year was no different. He and Starsky were supposed to be having beers and pizza at Starsky’s place to say goodbye to 1976. They weren’t going to bother with going to The Pits as it would be crowded and noisy and too hard to hold a conversation. They both had casual girlfriends they could call on and go out with if they wanted to but they had mutually decided that they wouldn’t feel like it after they had spent the morning at the Courthouse hearing Simon Marcus being sentenced. All they would want to do was forget that particular madman and have a few quiet beers together. He’d been looking forward to spending the evening with his best friend.

That had been their plan but Simon Marcus had put paid to it. Hutch felt sick when he thought about what might be happening to Starsky right now. Simon Marcus had tortured and murdered nine people.

Well, he’d been convicted of the nine homicides they could prove. Who knew the real total number of victims? He’d also subjected some of his followers to ‘barbarous acts’. Hutch had been trying hard to forget some of the images he’d seen during the summer when he and Starsky had taken on the case to bring Marcus to justice. Months of intense, harrowing and difficult police work had finally come to fruition when they built their airtight case and brought the cult leader to trial. He had been found guilty in only two days. The evidence had been so compelling; the jury hadn’t taken long to deliberate. With the sentencing due to take place this morning, Hutch had hoped to start the New Year with Marcus behind bars for the rest of his life where he could never hurt another person. Instead, Hutch was now hunting high and low for his partner.

In order to block the horrific images of Marcus’s victims coming back into his mind, he was thinking about anything he could to keep his brain distracted.  If he didn’t, fear for Starsky and what might be being done to him would paralyse him and make him useless to his partner. With less than twenty –four hours to find Starsky, he couldn’t afford to be slowed down by anything. And so he let his mind wander and think about anything that it felt like contemplating rather than focus on what horrors might be being perpetrated on his best friend.

Hutch had seen the cult followers outside the courthouse and decided they were either out of their heads on drugs or weak-minded, lost souls who had allowed themselves to be brainwashed. They had to be from the blank look in their eyes and the constant chanting. But someone had orchestrated the abduction of Starsky from a Courthouse that was full of police and other officials. That person hadn’t been completely out of his mind. That person had been clever.

As he drove down the long dirt track, his thoughts wandered onto his role as a police detective. His was a job where it was easy to jump to conclusions about people but he and Starsky always tried to look beyond the obvious, to get right into the heart of things. Sometimes that meant they were a little more understanding than their fellow officers.  

Hutch had grown up in an era when it wasn’t considered wrong to make snap judgements about people. When everybody was given a label and you thought nothing of it. Maybe it stemmed from the High School system where everybody seemed to be put into categories and you couldn’t be in more than one. You couldn’t be a jock and also like Art. You couldn’t be good at Shop and also like English poetry. You couldn’t be good at Math, enjoy chess club and yet also want to excel at football. It just wasn’t possible.

“Who made the rules and why did we stick by them?” Hutch asked himself.

He didn’t know the answer but sometimes he wished he did. It had taken a long time to unlearn the impulse to make those foolish, instant judgements. It had taken a long time to realise that people were complex and that it was possible to be good at or enjoy totally diverse aspects of life all at the same time.

His parents were really good people. They’d do anything for anyone. Yet, they wouldn’t think twice about judging someone by what they wear or how they speak. Walk around without a tie, have a day’s worth of stubble and you’re clearly a slob. Speak with a New York accent, you’re a bum. Chew with your mouth open, you should be jailed for life.

“Well, maybe they never went quite that far but sometimes it was close,” Hutch thought ruefully.

He recalled conversations about an aunt who was artistic, really knowledgeable on certain subjects but knowing nothing about others. She had frequently gotten her words mixed up like Mrs Malaprop. She had also had a problem with numbers; she was always reading them wrong. Understandably, she had driven his father crazy with her inability to stay on track in a conversation. As a lawyer, he had to make every sentence count and keep focussed at all times. His aunt would ramble from one thought to the next, saying everything as it occurred to her and taking the family through every step of her thought processes. Hutch’s father always came away from visits to her house muttering dark mumblings about a failed education system and about her ‘butterfly mind’.

Hutch had realised long ago that some people’s brains just worked differently. Some people needed pictures along with the written instructions to put furniture together. Some people learnt for exams by walking and reading aloud at the same time. Some people couldn’t speak a word in a foreign language until they’d seen it written down and others learnt just by listening. There was probably some fancy word for it now but all he knew was everybody was different.

It didn’t make one person better than another, just different. That had been a hard lesson to learn but he was glad that he’d realised it before he got too far on in life. He figured it had made him a better person. At least he hoped so.

Like his parents, he cared about people and wanted to help them if he could, but he decided he was more understanding of folks in different walks of life than they would ever be. Maybe that had a lot to do with Hutch’s efforts to be as empathetic as he could be or maybe it had more to do with being best friends with a man who turned society’s assumptions upside down. He had certainly challenged Hutch’s from the moment he met him.

Starsky.

Hutch suddenly found he was talking out loud to himself as if by talking to Starsky he could conjure him from thin air: “Starsky. You speak with a New York accent but you are most definitely not a bum.  You get words muddled up just like my aunt but it doesn’t make you stupid. You’re clearly a person who learns with pictures and talking rather than words but I know too well that the narrow minded education of the 50s and 60s made you feel like you were dumb. You were even told that by more than one teacher. It makes me mad when I think about it.”

Hutch smiled to himself as he continued; “You’ve got a mind that’s full of eccentric and eclectic knowledge. Sometimes what you know about the most obscure subjects amazes me. Not that I’d ever tell you that. It would give you a swell head.”

An image popped into Hutch’s mind of his friend lying dead, all his eclectic knowledge silenced forever. Dwelling on possible outcomes wouldn’t help him find his partner. And he was going to find him, he promised himself. He swallowed hard and screwed the image up in a ball and threw it away.

“And you’re the most practical person I’ve ever met. My father couldn’t change a lightbulb, let alone fix a car and keep it running all year round.”

Hutch felt a wave of guilt running through him for all the times he’d been mean when he’d got irritated by his best friend.

“I’m sorry, buddy. I’m sorry that sometimes, I find my father rising up in me and I get irritated by the way you ramble on. But right now, buddy, I’d give anything to have you and your butterfly mind sat beside me in this car, talking my ear off while I try to concentrate on whatever dumb thing I’m reading or thinking about. None of my thoughts or ideas or judgements matter now. Only you matter, Starsk. Finding you alive is all that matters.”

A wave of despair rolled over Hutch and he gripped the steering wheel tightly between his hands. Unable to stop himself, he cried out to whatever deity might be listening, “Where are you, Starsk? Please God, help me find him. I need that butterfly and his mind to fill my life with all his ridiculous facts and glorious colours. Life without him would be dull and drab and I’m not sure I would be half the man I should be without him. Please God, help me find him. Starsk? Where are you?”

 For the time being, there was only silence. Hutch pushed his despair back down and continued with his search, desperately wondering where he could find the clue he needed to find his best friend and bring him home safe.

 

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

 

Saturday 1st January 1977

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

It was the first moment they’d been alone since Hutch had found his partner and if anything Hutch thought Starsky looked worse not better. The hospital staff had spent hours drawing blood, performing tests and checking for damage. Starsky still had some of the drugs going round his veins but Hutch had been assured that the IV Starsky was attached to would soon flush them out.

As he regarded his friend now, he could see Starsky was covered with bruises all at different stages of colouring. As well as the bruises, the right side of his face was almost glowing red as if he had a case of really bad sunburn. During the ambulance ride to the hospital, Starsky had muttered something about a cult member shoving a lighted torch in his face. Hutch had shuddered, remembering some of the burns he’d seen on some of Marcus’s other victims. Starsk was really lucky that the burn was minor and would heal within a matter of days.

There was a dressing on Starsky’s shoulder where he’d been nicked by a knife and bandages around his wrists, covering up the evidence of being shackled for hours at a time and his attempts to break free. Hutch knew his shoulders were hurting from being hung from his wrists while unconscious.

Starsky was also exhausted. He had black bags under his eyes from lack of sleep and yet he seemed unable to relax and get some much needed rest. Every time his head started to nod, he would start and straighten back up again as if he was afraid to go to sleep.

Hutch felt like weeping at what his friend had been put through in the twenty-three hours of his abduction and captivity. And that was just the physical wounds. Given how quickly, Marcus had managed to brainwash some of his cult members in the past, Hutch could only imagine the psychological beating Starsky had taken. He knew his friend was mentally tough. After all, Starsky had survived two tours of ‘Nam and had managed to put his traumatic stress behind him, but not without the help of some of his closest friends. Hutch knew that whatever he’d been subjected to had been horrific and Starsky was going to need to talk it all out with someone.

When Hutch had rescued Starsky and laid hands on him to reassure them both that the ordeal was over, Starsky had tried to joke as he always did but the laughter had quickly turned to crying. He’d become almost hysterical. Hutch could tell his friend had been badly frightened by facing his own imminent death, one that promised to be long, painful and barbaric. Looking into his eyes now, Hutch could see that Starsky was on the edge again. He needed to weep but was clearly unable to let himself go while he was surrounded by other people, no matter how well meaning they might be.

“Hutch? I want to go home.”

It was a whispered plea, louder than any shout could be, and one that Hutch couldn’t ignore. He stood up with purpose, squeezing the hand that was holding on to his, before saying, “I’ll make that happen, buddy, then I’ll be right back.”

Putting his toughest armour on, Hutch went out into the fray to find the doctor who stood between him and his goal. The doctor was new to Hutch. Therefore he didn’t know about the inseparable bond that was between Starsky and him but he was about to find out and to discover just how relentless Hutch could be when he was in ‘protect Starsky mode’.

Hutch was sure that the doctor was a good one but he was only concerned with Starsky’s physical condition. Hutch was more worried about providing what he knew Starsky needed emotionally, a safe space to cry in and be comforted. Hutch listened to the doctor’s objections and then latched on to the one thing that might swing things his way.

“Actually doctor, this is about his physical condition. You said he needs proper rest. He won’t get that here. He’s terrified. There are too many people coming and going. He won’t know any peace. At least, if he’s in his own home, he’ll sleep.”

Doctor Morgan considered this argument and finally conceded the fight. Maybe he’d just had enough of Hutch putting the pressure on. Hutch couldn’t blame him; he knew he’d been less relentless sweating perps in the box! Muttering, the doctor went off to see to the paperwork to get Starsky released but not before saying the medicine being pumped into him had to run its course first.

Hutch went to the payphones and made a quick phone call to Huggy and then hurried back to his partner. Starsky was dozing but slammed upright when he heard Hutch come in, fear pouring out of every bead of sweat on his brow. Hutch hated seeing him like this. He sat back down beside his partner as close as the chair would allow and took hold of his hand again, offering reassurance. Starsky’s fingers gripped his almost painfully, as if Hutch was a lifeline he was afraid to let go of.

“Hey, buddy. Soon as that drip’s finished its job, I can take you home. Try and get some sleep for the next hour then we’ll get out of here.”

Cracked lips murmured, “Thanks.”

Starsky closed his eyes and appeared to be dozing again but Hutch knew he wasn’t really out; the fingers that were clinging onto his were testament to that fact.

After an hour, a nurse came in and removed the needle and drip. Starsky smiled at her but his fingers told the true story of the barely concealed terror he was feeling every time a stranger came near him. She took some more blood before she left and Starsky ground his teeth. He was getting increasingly restless and looked ready to bolt so Hutch decided to help him get dress in the loose sweatpants that Huggy had dropped off earlier in the evening, hoping that the promise of his forthcoming freedom would soothe Starsky. As soon as Hutch had helped him back onto the bed, Starsky’s fingers were back wrapped around his. Hutch didn’t think his partner was even aware of it. His eyes were on the door, waiting for the doctor to appear to let him go home.

It was getting late by the time Doctor Morgan appeared with the paperwork. He spoke kindly to his patient and mentioned that he should come back in if he had any adverse reactions to the medication he’d been given. Starsky was so tired he could hardly string two words together. Doctor Morgan turned to Hutch and looked at him, asking with his eyes whether he was sure Starsky was ready to be released. Hutch nodded silently. The doctor sighed but reached into his pocket and handed Hutch a small box and tube of cream.

“That’s for the burn and these are very mild relaxants in case Detective Starsky has trouble relaxing enough to go to sleep. They’ll take the edge of any lingering anxiety and hopefully allow him to rest.”

Hutch took the box gratefully. “Thanks doc.”

Doctor Morgan nodded and left. A second later a nurse appeared with a wheelchair. When Hutch helped him into it, Starsky didn’t even make a half-hearted protest. Hutch swallowed down anxiety at the thought of how bad his friend must really be feeling.

Once he was safely aboard, Hutch allowed the nurse to wheel him as far as the elevator. Then he took over from her and she nodded a goodbye as she went back to her other patients. The elevator doors closed and they were alone. Starsky didn’t say a word as they travelled down to the ground floor. He just held his hand up and Hutch took it, squeezing reassurance through his fingers.

They stopped at the front desk to check Starsky out and then Hutch wheeled him down the long white corridor to the entrance to the parking lot. He helped him get up and placed his arm under his. As his exhausted friend leaned against him wearily, Hutch wondered idly which one of them was the most tired. Hutch hadn’t had much sleep himself either in the last day so it was a wonder he managed to keep upright. He glanced at Starsky. His friend’s eyes were half-closed and he looked really sleepy but Hutch could feel the thrumming of jangling nerves where an arm and shoulder touched his own. Starsky was literally vibrating with fear.

There was a brief flicker of happy recognition when Starsky saw his beloved car but then the shutters came down. He made no protest at all when Hutch led him round to the passenger side. As Hutch climbed into the driver’s seat, he thought wryly that he was almost getting used to driving the Torino after the last day of scouring the countryside looking for his partner. As he drove, Starsky’s hand found its way to his shoulder and clung there.

“Starsk. Do you want to go home? Or go to my place? Where would you feel most comfortable?”

There were a few moments of quiet then the reply, “Your place.”

He’d guessed right. But was it really a guess? Or did he just know his partner so well that he could predict his thoughts and wishes?

As they pulled up outside Venice Place, Hutch could see the lights were on and knew that the ever faithful Huggy was there with food and clothes for Starsky. Hutch had asked him to make the bed up with clean sheets and he knew that that job would have been done, too.

Starsky didn’t seem to be capable of noticing anything around him so Hutch warned him that Huggy was waiting inside. The door opened quietly as they reached the top of the stairs. Huggy’s visit to the hospital had shown him what kind of state Starsky was in so all of his movements were slow and quiet.

He spoke softly, “Good to see you, Starsky. There’s meatloaf keeping warm in the oven. Clothes are in the bedroom and the bed’s all made.”

Huggy looked like he wanted to embrace Starsky. He was so relieved and happy that Starsky was safe but he knew that his friend wasn’t ready for full physical contact from anyone except Hutch. Instead, he contented himself with placing a gentle hand on Starsk’s shoulder for three brief seconds.

“Thanks, Huggy,” Starsky murmured.

Hutch echoed Starsky’s words with feeling and gave his friend a look that said he appreciated everything that Huggy had done, including being instrumental in cracking Marcus’s dream imagery and helping Hutch find out where Starsky was being held. Huggy nodded back at him.

“I’ll leave you to it, compadres. Call if you need anything else.”

With a brief pat of Hutch’s shoulder, Huggy went out of the apartment, closing the door quietly behind him. Hutch looked at the exhausted man next to him and wondered where to start with trying to help his friend recover from his ordeal. Small steps were what were needed. Hutch knew he’d have to let Starsky tell him exactly what he’d been through at a time of his choosing. Right now, the first step for both of them would be getting some much needed sleep and food. Hutch hadn’t eaten much over the last day, feeling too keyed up with anxiety to do more than grab a sandwich and a candy bar just to have the energy to continue with his search. He’d been running on adrenaline and coffee for as long as he could remember.

“So meatloaf? Or sleep?”

Starsky swayed on his feet and glanced at him with a flicker of humour.

“Sleep.”

Hutch grinned back at him, trying to grasp and hang onto the brief moment of normality. He gently steered him towards the bedroom and the edge of the bed. Starsky sat and began trying to pull his sweatshirt over his head. It was too difficult an ask. Hutch pulled the top up over his friend’s head and then bent down to pull the sneakers from his feet. Starsky crawled under the covers immediately and lay his head down on the pillow with a relieved sigh.

“I’ll turn off the light and let you get some sleep,” Hutch said. “I’ll crash on the sofa so if you need me, just yell.”

“H-Hutch? Can you leave the door open?”

Hutch didn’t need any explanation to know that Starsky didn’t want to be left alone in the dark tonight and maybe for some time to come.

“Of course.”

Hutch went to the door and switched off the light. In the doorway, he hesitated, wanting to offer comfort to his friend but not sure how it would be taken. Starsky could be a very private person when it came to the big stuff. He heard Starsky swallow. It sounded loud in the stillness of the room.

“Hutch? Can you…?”

Hutch didn’t have to hear the end of the question to know he was needed. He didn’t answer, just nodded as he kicked off his shoes and crawled onto the bed beside his best friend and the person he thought of as his brother. He wrapped his arms around his best friend and Starsky buried his head in his shoulder; like a small child who’d just woken up from a nightmare and was trying to erase the memory by hiding in the comforting arms of his parent.

Hutch could feel Starsky’s taut muscles gradually relaxing over the next few minutes. When the waters finally broke and the torrent came rushing down, he was still there; acting as the life raft keeping Starsk afloat until the raging waters had passed by and all was calm again.

 

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

 

Sunday 2nd January 1977

Hutch stared into his greenhouse and began to plan what seeds he was going to get this year to sow, plant up and pot on. Last year, he’d had a good crop of cucumbers and zucchinis. He’d found even Starsky would eat the cucumbers if they were picked while they were still really small and had more flavour to them. Kiko had enjoyed picking some to take to school as a snack. Hutch wrote cucumbers on the list he was making and tapped his pencil thoughtfully against his lips.

His stomach growled and he realised that it must be nearly lunchtime. He felt momentarily guilty as he looked at the clock to confirm the time. Today was the day he had planned to take Molly and Kiko out but when he’d realised how hurt Starsky was and that he clearly needed several days to recover properly, Hutch had postponed the trip to the following weekend. Starsky needed him. He knew Kiko and Molly understood but it didn’t help the feeling of guilt. He was letting them both down but particularly Molly. The poor kid had only lost her father just over a week ago and her world had been turned upside down. He knew what she needed most was the stability of Catalina’s calm family home but he couldn’t help thinking that she also needed him. They’d made a connection that couldn’t be denied and he really wanted to be there to support her as she came to terms with her father’s death and the changes in her life.

He sighed. As soon as Starsky was feeling better, he’d spend some time with her and with Kiko.

As he walked into the kitchen to make a sandwich, Hutch wondered whether he should wake Starsky to make him eat or wait for him to rouse when he was ready. It had taken several hours the night before for Starsky to relax enough to sleep. The first three hours, he had drifted off only to wake twenty or thirty minutes later; startled awake by fear. He’d finally told Hutch that his captors had woken him every time he’d fallen asleep to make sure that he’d be confused about how much time had passed and to keep him off-balance. Starsky knew it was Saturday but he said it felt like he’d been gone a lot longer than a day.

In the end, he’d listened to Hutch’s advice and agreed to take one of the pills prescribed by Doctor Morgan. Hutch had continued to watch his friend until he was sure Starsky had fallen into a deep sleep then he’d allowed his own eyes to close and he had slept too. When Hutch woke up, it was close to ten-thirty. Starsky was still spark out. Hutch tiptoed out of the room and drew the door almost closed but not quite.

Deciding he was hungry now, Hutch made enough sandwiches for both of them and placed Starsky’s under another plate to keep them fresh. He poured himself some milk and went and sat at the kitchen table to eat. After a few minutes, he heard Starsky stir and saw him come out and go to the bathroom. When he came back, he nodded to Hutch and went into the bedroom to find a t-shirt from the bag Huggy had brought over for him. A moment later, he joined Hutch at the table.

“I’m starving,” he moaned.

“That’s good,” Hutch said as he went to retrieve the sandwich and set it in front of Starsky. “I made you this in case you woke up hungry. You want a coffee? Or something else?”

Starsky put his head on one side. “Got any ginger ale? My Mom always used to give me that when I’d been poorly. It was a little treat to help me feel better.” He stared off into space for a moment. “Sorry, that’s silly of me. Why would ya have ginger ale?”

Hutch handed him a glass of water.

“I don’t have any but if that’s what you want, I can pop to that little bodega on the next block over and get you some.”

“Nah, that’s too much trouble. Don’t worry about it.”

“Starsk, if that’s what you want, I’ll get it,” Hutch said. “I need some eggs and more milk anyway.”  He couldn’t help noticing the anxious look that had come over Starsky’s face. “As long as you don’t mind being here on your own for a few minutes?”

Starsky tried to shrug off his momentary fear.

“I gotta get used to being on my own again. You’ll be back at work tomorrow.”

“No, buddy, I won’t. I’ve got the day off. Dobey gave me leave to look after you.”

Starsky looked at him, surprised. “That’s supposed to be for looking after family members.”

“You are family, Starsk,” Hutch said and saw Starsky swallow down emotion. “You know Dobey understands that we’re family support for each other,” he added. “ I mean I’ve got no family in California so I told personnel you were my contact under next of kin ages ago. Dobey agreed to support my choice.”

“He did?”

“Yes, he did. I know you’ve got Al and Rosie and, if you’d rather go stay with them for a couple of days, I’ll drive you there myself but…”

“I love them but I can’t talk to them about…I only want to talk to you about…” Starsky wasn’t ready to mention his ordeal yet and Hutch didn’t press him. “Hutch, do you think they’d let me put you down as my next of kin, as well as Al and Rosie?”

“Don’t know but we can ask when you’re back at work…So, the ginger ale. Think you can manage on your own long enough for me to go get it?”

Starsky was saved from answering by a knock at the door. He stiffened and turned wide, anxious eyes towards the front door. Hutch patted his shoulder reassuringly and then went to see who was there. He was only half-surprised to see it was their captain.

“We were just on our way home from church,” Dobey explained gruffly, “And I thought I’d check in and see how you’re both doing. Oh and Edith made a pot roast for you to eat this evening.”

He handed a large, heavy crockpot to Hutch.

“Thank you, sir, that’s really kind of her.”

Hutch carried the pot over to the kitchen counter as Dobey walked over to Starsky and sat down opposite him.

“How are you doing, son? You gave us quite a scare.”

“I’m doing okay, I guess.”

Hutch interrupted: “Sir, would you mind keeping Starsky company while I just run an errand? I’ll be back in ten minutes at the most.”

“Of course,” Dobey said. “Just let Edith and the children know, would you? They’re waiting in the car.”

Starsky looked stricken with guilt but before he could say anything, Dobey added, “They’re happy to wait and they will be coming to see you in a couple of days to see for themselves that you’re in one piece. Edith will need her pot back anyway so I’ll bring them round one afternoon to collect it.”

“Thank you, that’s great, sir,” Hutch said and quickly made a beeline for the door.

He hurried down the steps and looked for the vehicle belonging to the Dobeys. He spotted the white car a little way down the street. Rosie waved at him as soon as she saw him. Hutch thanked Edith for the meal and then explained where he was going.

“Mumma, can I go with Uncle Ken? Please?” Rosie asked.

“Well, if Ken doesn’t mind,” Edith responded, leaving the decision up to Hutch.

“Yes, of course, that’s fine. Cal, do you want to come for a walk too?”

The youngster nodded and he and his sister both climbed out of the car and walked with Hutch up the street. They passed by the Ramos’ house and Hutch saw Molly looking out of the window. Her face lit up when she saw him then clouded over as she saw he wasn’t alone. She disappeared quickly from view. Hutch made a mental note to ring her later and explain what he was doing in case she was upset that he appeared to be taking two other kids out. She hadn’t met Cal and Rosie yet so she didn’t know who they were.

At the bodega, Hutch bought two bottles of ginger ale, Starsky’s favourite chips and a couple of candy bars, as well as milk, eggs, some cooked chicken and salad. Rosie and Cal helped him carry the brown paper bags back to his apartment and then he said goodbye to them and hurried back up the stairs. As soon as he opened the door, Dobey rose from his chair. He held out his hand to shake Starsky’s.

“Well, get well soon, Starsky. If you need more time off than the doctor initially signed off on, let me know. I want you fully recovered before you return.”

“Yes, Cap, and thanks.”

Dobey nodded and headed towards the door.

“See you on Tuesday, Hutchinson. Good to see you looking less strained but make sure you get some more rest. You need it just as much as your partner.”

“Yes, sir and thank you for everything.”

“It’s all part of my job.”

The response Dobey gave was matter of fact but they both knew that they meant more to him than most of his other officers. Yes, he’d always check in on wounded officers while they were in the hospital but they’d never heard of him visiting any of their colleagues at home. Dobey nodded at his surrogate sons and then went out to join his biological family and go home.

“Hey, buddy,” Hutch said, “I got you your ginger ale.”

He handed a bottle over to Starsky, who twisted the cap off and then slowly poured the bubbly golden liquid into the tall glass Hutch had just given him. He sniffed the air appreciatively and then took a long swallow. He gave a long sigh of contentment.

“Ah, that’s the stuff. Thanks, Hutch.”

“You’re welcome. If you’re still hungry, I’ve got you some of those chips that you like.”

Hutch offered a packet to Starsky and threw it to him when he received an affirmative nod.

“Shall we see if there’s the usual Sunday Movie Marathon on?”

“Yeah, why not?” Starsky agreed. He picked up his drink and chips and moved to the couch, placing his feet up on the coffee table.

Hutch unpacked the shopping and put things away while Starsky found the right channel. He suddenly remembered Molly.

“Oh, I just need to ring Catalina.”

“Problem?”

“I hope not.”

Hutch picked up the phone and dialled the number. After a few seconds, Kiko picked up.

“Hi Kiko.”

“Hutch! How’s Starsky?”

“He’s on the mend. I’m sorry about cancelling today but I’ll make it up to you next weekend.”

“That’s okay.”

“Is Pete there?”

“No, she went for a walk.”

“Oh…Look, when she comes back, can you tell her Captain Dobey popped round with his kids to see Starsky. I took them with me when I went to get some emergency shopping and then they went home. Pete might have got the wrong end of the stick when she saw me.”

“I’ll explain it to her, Hutch. Don’t worry. See you soon.”

“Thanks, Kiko.”

Hutch put the receiver down and went and joined Starsky on the couch.

“Everything all right, buddy?  I’m sorry you had to postpone the kids’ trip out. I’m messing everyone’s day up.”

“No, you’re not. What’s happened isn’t your fault. We’ll make it up to them next weekend.”

Starsky nodded but still looked guilty. Hutch shook his head at him.

“Stop worrying. Just relax and watch the movie.”

“Yes, mother.”

Starsky gave him a smile but it didn’t quite reach his eyes like it would normally and it faded far too fast. Hutch hoped it wouldn’t take too long for Starsky’s smile to come back. It had only been gone just over a day but he missed it already.

By the time they’d watched two movies and eaten Edith’s roast, Starsky was exhausted and ready to go back to bed. Hutch was glad to see that he seemed a lot more relaxed than he had the night before. When Hutch went to check on him after half an hour, Starsky was asleep and breathing deeply. Hutch was relieved. He read for a while but soon his eyelids started trying to close so he gave up and settled down to get some sleep on the couch.

Around midnight, he came to with a start, wondering what had woken him up. Then from the bedroom he heard the sound of Starsky talking in his sleep. The words and sounds his friend was making began to get more and more agitated. Hutch scrambled off the couch and walked quickly through to the bedroom. Starsky was sat up, fighting off people even as he slept. Hutch hesitated then carefully reached out and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and started talking to him, trying to calm him with soothing words and touches.

Abruptly, Starsky woke up and veered away from Hutch.

“Let go of me, you freaks!”

“Starsk, it’s me. Hutch. You’re at my place,” he tried to reassure his clearly confused friend.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah, buddy. It’s me.”

Starsky let out a long sigh of relief and settled back against the pillows. He rubbed his sweaty face.

“Sorry, buddy. What time is it? I guess I woke you up.”

“Yeah, it’s around midnight but don’t worry about that. You okay? Do you want to talk about your nightmare?”

Starsky reached over to the bedside table and put the lamp on. They both blinked at the sudden light.

“I guess now’s as good as time as any to tell you some of what happened to me.” Starsky patted the bed next to him. “You might as well get comfortable. It might take a while, buddy,” he said dryly.

Hutch nodded and sat down next to Starsky and listened as his friend told him as much as he could remember of his abduction and the subsequent drugging, beating and ritual cleansing. When he told Hutch about the bear, he paused uncertainly.

“There really was a bear, Hutch, I didn’t dream it.”

Hutch patted his leg. “I believe you, buddy. Marcus said something to me about the King of the Woods. All of his clues had layers to them and meant more than one thing. King of the Woods – the bear. Only a psycho like that would keep a poor bear in an old, disused zoo.”

“Yeah…It looked pretty crazed, ya know, like a dog with rabies…But it was scary. I knew I couldn’t escape that way so I tried to retrace my steps and find another way out.”

There was a long silence.

“They found me. That’s when they burned me,” Starsky said with a shudder.

He reached up and touched his red cheek carefully. It felt hot and was sore to touch but not quite as painful as it had been. He winced slightly and moved his fingers away again.

“You need some more cream on that,” Hutch stated.

He went out to the bathroom and came back with the burns cream that the hospital had issued.

“Here you go, buddy.”

Hutch settled himself back on the bed as Starsky rubbed the cream gently into his skin.

When he’d put the lid back on the tube and placed it on the table, Hutch asked, “Anything else you want to talk about now? Or do you want to try to get some more sleep?”

Starsky yawned. “Sleep. I’m too tired to talk anymore.”

Hutch stood up, saying, “Get some rest, buddy. Your body’s got a lot of healing to do. It’s working overtime.”

“Hutch? You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Hutch answered then realised Starsky was looking for honesty from him. He sighed. “I’m fine now. I was so angry with myself when you got snatched. I figured we should have known Marcus and his followers were crazy enough to do something as outrageous as grab a cop. But I just focussed on working the problem so I could find you before… I’m glad I got there in time. I was terrified I wouldn’t.”

Starsky whispered, “I was terrified you wouldn’t find me in time, too, but I kept telling myself ‘Hutch will find me’. That thought kept me holding on…till right at the end. That-that was sc-scary,” Starsky started stammering as he remembered the last few moments before Hutch arrived.

Hutch sat back down, facing Starsky, and placed his hand on his friend’s neck. He leaned towards him until their foreheads were touching. They sat there in silence for a few minutes, just using touch to rebuild their connection and reassure and comfort each other. Starsky yawned again.

Hutch pulled away and said softly, “Get some sleep, Starsk. It’s all over now. You’re safe.”

Starsky settled back under the covers and turned the lamp off as Hutch walked towards the door.

“Thanks, Hutch…for everything. Night. Hope you sleep well. Hope I don’t wake ya up again.”

“You too and don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter if you do. Dreams are your brain’s way of processing what’s happened. It’s part of the healing process.”

“If ya say so…Night,” Starsky mumbled sleepily.

“Night buddy,” Hutch said, and then added in a whisper, “Sweet dreams.”

 

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

 

Saturday 8th January 1977

The silence and seriousness weren’t right. Starsky could be serious when the need arose but it wasn’t his foremost personality trait. Hutch felt that if this latest ordeal had shifted his partner’s mood permanently to the sober, it was a change to be mourned. He prayed it wasn’t a perpetual shift, just a by-product of confronting mortality.

Starsky had made a steady recovery over the course of the last week. He’d had his dressings checked and changed to smaller ones. His face was almost back to normal colour and by the Wednesday, Hutch could tell Starsky was also sleeping better. His friend seemed confident going out and about. He’d driven Hutch over to Merle’s and had weathered Hutch’s rage over what Merle had done to his car. It was almost as if everything was back to normal. Except that his friend was still preoccupied with a few thoughts that he had yet to share with Hutch.

On Wednesday afternoon, Starsky had gone back to his own apartment and seemed perfectly at ease with being on his own. He assured Hutch that he’d confronted the demons that had been still hounding him. They’d had a long conversation that evening about Starsky’s ordeal and he’d acknowledged how terrified he’d been in the last few moments before Hutch had arrived to save the day. That he was prepared to share his feelings about those final moments with Hutch indicated he was ready to put the whole ordeal behind him.

On Thursday, Hutch rang him from work and again in the evening. They had a good chat but still there were no jokes. Starsky was too quiet for Hutch’s liking. On Friday, Dobey allowed Starsky to return to work on light duties and let Hutch work on cold cases so he could stay with his partner. They’d quickly found themselves back in synch and there was, at last, a little teasing banter but the grins didn’t last long and the silences were longer than was normal for his friend. They went for a drink after work and played pool but Starsky hadn’t wanted to linger, saying he was still tired.

“He probably is,” Hutch had thought, “Maybe I’m worrying over nothing and expecting too much too soon.”

As far as Hutch was concerned, Starsky was back physically but a large part of him was still missing in action. Usually total silence from his partner meant that he’d been goaded too far by someone. More often than not, Hutch himself.  Then Starsky would give him the silent treatment, during which he was plotting some sort of suitable retaliation, which was usually richly deserved. Hutch wished he could say Starsky had been plotting last evening as they’d played pool but it was more like part of Starsky was absent.

The kid inside, the one that helped Starsky find amusement and happiness in the simplest of things, was still hiding away from a world that had turned overwhelmingly frightening. Hutch hoped that kid was going to come back. He missed him. He made it easier for Hutch to remember the kid part of himself. Hanging out with ‘kid’ Starsky made it easier to switch off from the job by laughing hysterically at some silly prank that he and Hutch had pulled over on their colleagues or, better still, Dobey.

That Saturday morning, as Hutch got dressed and prepared some breakfast, he wondered, “Where’s the chatter, the endless musings over the weird and wonderful? Where are the jokes? All the things that drive me crazy but let me know all is well in my partner’s world. Where’s the child-like enjoyment of the silliest things? I want my partner back. All of him.”

Hutch sighed.

A soft knock at the door interrupted his musings. It was Molly. He’d meant to drop in on her during the week but, what with one thing and another, he’d forgotten. He had at least remembered to rearrange their outing. She looked at him quizzically. 

“Hutch? Is it okay to talk to you for a few minutes?”

“Yeah, come in. I’m really pleased to see you. I meant to drop by but I was a little busy looking after Starsky and then I was straight back into work.”

Molly nodded sagely. She walked over towards the kitchen and opened the fridge door. Then she grimaced.

“I should have brought some OJ with me,” she muttered.

Hutch peered over her shoulder and saw that the fridge was nearly bare. Suddenly, a memory came into his mind of Starsky peering at the offerings of granola, wheat-germ and All-Bran that he had laid out for Molly’s first breakfast with him.

“You didn’t make her eat any of this stuff, did ya?” Starsky had asked and then to Hutch’s look he’d added, “You’re heartless.”

A few moments later, he’d asked in a disappointed voice if Hutch had any salami. It was exactly the same question Molly had asked. She and Starsky had the strangest ideas of what constituted breakfast.

“How about we go to the store down the street and pick up a few items Starsky and you will both like? He’s coming over mid-morning. You could stay for brunch if it’s all right with Catalina. We’ll ask on the way past,” Hutch suggested. “Then we can have a chat.”

“Thanks, I’d like that,” Molly said.

They stopped to ask Mrs Ramos if it was okay if Molly went shopping with him and then had brunch. She gave permission and Molly happily set off to the bodega with Hutch.

“How is Starsky? Was he really badly treated?” Molly asked, in a voice that belonged to a child who had seen far too much in her few short years.

Hutch had kept the details from the Ramos household but he knew anyone watching the news the last few months would have some idea of what Marcus and his followers were capable of.

“Yeah, he’s doing a lot better. He’s definitely ready to see a few friends and I know he’s looking forward to going out with you and Kiko tomorrow.” They walked a little way down the block and Hutch asked, “So how are you doing?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“How did the first few days of school go?”

“Okay. Some of it was hard, some was easy.”

“Everyone treat you okay?”

“Yeah, okay so far.”

 They reached the store and went inside. Molly helped Hutch choose salami, eggs, cheese and white sliced bread so that they could make breakfast sandwiches for her and Starsky. Hutch’s stomach was perturbed at the thought so he brought himself a couple of English muffins and some honey to go on them. Molly shook her head at him as if he was some sad case, who didn’t know how to eat a proper breakfast.

As they were on their way back home, Molly suddenly asked, “Hutch? If something ever happened to Mrs Ramos, what would happen to me? And Kiko too? Would we get split up and have to go into foster care?”

Hutch had to admit this was something he hadn’t fully considered. He’d just been delighted that Catalina had offered Molly a place in her home and Social Services had agreed to it. He hadn’t given any thought to any possible future scenarios. He decided he’d better be truthful. Molly could see right through an adults’ hollow words.

“Well, I don’t know, Pete. I haven’t had a chance to think about that yet but I guess that’s something we should all talk about.”

Molly nodded and looked away from him.

Hutch tried to reassure her, “You know I wouldn’t let you and Kiko be spilt up.”

“You say you wouldn’t but do you really have the last say? I mean you couldn’t stop them putting me back with Mrs Williams for a bit.”

“Yeah. That’s true,” Hutch acknowledged. “Well, I guess I really need to talk about all of this with Kiko and his Mom and see if they’d let me be your guardian. Make it official if we can. Would you like that?”

Molly wrapped an arm around his waist by way of an answer.

As she pulled away again, she said, “What about if something ever happened to you?”

“Well, how about we ask Starsky if he’d like to be your guardian too? Then you’d know they’d always be someone to look after you whatever happens.”

“Yeah, I think that would be cool.”

“Good.”

They walked back to Hutch’s apartment. Molly started chatting to Hutch about baseball and whether he thought Starsky would bring his cards over sometime for her to have a look at it. She was still chatting about it when Starsky arrived.

“Hey, hey, I smell salami,” Starsky said with a lot more of his usual cheer. “I must be in the wrong house!”

“Funny!” Hutch said sarcastically.

Molly rushed over and gave Starsky a hug and then dragged him towards the kitchen.

“We’re making breakfast sandwiches. I made Hutch buy cheese and salami,” Molly informed him.

“Well, that sounds great,” Starsky said. “Remind me to get you to do the shopping every time Hutch offers to do brunch. You’ll save me from being fed carrot sticks.”

Hutch rolled his eyes. Starsky picked up a piece of paper on the table with pencil scribblings on it.

“What’s this? You getting a pet rabbit or something? Why the list of veggies?”

“I’ve been making a list of what I want to try growing this year,” Hutch said tartly, as he retrieved his list from Starsky’s hand and shoved it in a drawer.

“Oh. You gonna grow those little teeny cucumbers again? ‘Cause I didn’t mind those.”

Hutch smiled. “Yes, just for you, partner.”

Starsky looked happy and gave Hutch a shove. “T’riffic.”

Hutch started putting the eggs, salami and cheese into the sandwiches.

“Well, sit down both of you. It’s ready.”

As they tucked in with contented sounds, Hutch covered two muffins with honey and came and joined them at the table. Starsky eyed Hutch’s plate and then rolled his eyes at Molly, making her giggle.

As he got to his last bite, Starsky said, “So where are we taking Pete and Kiko tomorrow?”

Hutch finished his mouthful and answered, “I thought we could go to West Side Park and play a bit of football for Kiko and practise some baseball to keep Pete happy. Then I thought I could show you the where the tree is I bought in your name for Christmas.”

Starsky eyed him thoughtfully. He had never got around to asking Hutch what the thought was behind the present and knowing Hutch there had to be a good reason.

“Yeah, I been meaning to ask ya, why did ya buy me a tree?”

“Well, there were two reasons,” Hutch said. “One, I’d just read this poem by Samuel N Baxter. It’s called: ‘I Love a Tree’ and it just made me think a tree would be a cool thing to have your name on.”

Starsky raised his eyebrows and glanced at Molly. She shrugged.

“How’s it go then?” Starsky asked.

“What?”

“The poem. How’s it go? What’s it about? I mean apart from trees, obviously.”

“Well, I don’t know it off by heart but it’s about a man who wants to be remembered as someone who loved trees and all the benefits there are to trees.”

Starsky was eyeing him thoughtfully. “You said you read it. Read it to me.”

“What now?”

“Yes, now.”

“All right.”

Hutch went and dug out the book of nature poems by American poets he’d borrowed from the library. He read the whole poem aloud. Starsky snagged the book from him and read the whole thing again to himself. Like the poet’s wish, it was definitely a Hutch thing to want to be remembered for liking trees. Starsky found he liked the middle part of the poem that went:

If I transport a sapling oak
To rear its mighty head,
’Twill shade and shelter those who come
Long after I am dead.

If in the park I plant an elm,
Where children come to play,
To them ’twill be a childhood shrine
That will not soon decay.

Or if I plant a tree with fruit,
On which the birds may feed,
I’ve helped to foster feathered friends,
And that’s a worthy deed.

Starsky nodded as he handed the poetry book back to Hutch.

“I like that and I think I get my present now.”

Hutch smiled.

“What was the other reason?” Starsky asked. “You said you had two.”

“Oh, well, that was the species of tree I choose.”

“Which is?”

“Well, I choose a walnut tree. Lots of parks in California are trying to help reintroduce varieties of them because they are a source of food for animals and good for biodiversity. Actually, there are lots of different species of walnut; there’s Juglans Californica, Juglans Nigra and Juglans Hindsii to name but three. Native Americans on the East Coast grew lots of them near their campsites because it was an easy source of food. Walnut wood was used in medicines and they also used the wood to make talking sticks and flutes.”

As Hutch started clearing the table of the remains of breakfast, he carried on talking, clearly warming to his subject.

“I liked the idea of the walnut tree because it summed up lots of the elements mentioned in the poem about shade, food for animals, a place to play. And I liked the Native American connection because I found this old myth about the Walnut Cracker. You see the walnut trees were so important they had a man whose job was to look after and care for them. He was known as The Walnut Cracker. Legend says when the Walnut Cracker died, his spirit stayed close to the grove of walnuts to continue looking after them and he would provide healing to anyone who visited there. I thought the walnut grove in West Side Park might be a place we could visit when we need healing from the things that get us down on the job. I know it sounds a bit sentimental but you asked and that’s the reason.”

There was silence and then Hutch heard a giggle from Molly and a strange sound coming from Starsky. He turned around to see his partner clutching his stomach and tears pouring down his face.

“Nut cracker! Ouch!” were the only words he managed to get out and then he curled up in a paroxysm of laughter. He was soon joined by Molly.

Hutch tried to be cross. “I pour my heart out and you laugh at me.”

He couldn’t keep his face straight for long and was soon laughing and shaking his head at his hysterical partner. He threw a wet dishcloth at Starsky who just laughed even harder.

“The kid’s back,” Hutch thought, “And thank heaven for that!”