Actions

Work Header

The Bumpy Road to Love

Work Text:

The Bumpy Road to Love

September 1981 – October 1981

 

Chapter One

After six months of marriage, Hutch could say he was feeling truly contented. The job could still be tough but he had Starsky to share the worst of it with and now he also had Laura to come home to. His wife was able to both understand his moods and distract him from them. She understood the sorrows and frustrations of his work because of the stresses and strains in her own job as a Head Nurse in the cardiac department; she was able to divert him through their shared love of gardening and walking; and, of course, she could simply distract him because he loved her so much and she absorbed his attention when they were together. Similarly, he was able to do the same for her and offer her support when she needed it; it felt good to be part of a relationship that was shared and equal after being in so many where he was expected to do the majority of the work or be some sort of comic-book hero without needs of his own.

Despite his feeling of contentment, Hutch sighed as he looked out of the bedroom window onto the quiet residential street where they lived. The only shadow across his otherwise happy life was the knowledge that the last six months had not been so care-free for his best friend. Ali’s father had suffered a massive heart attack four and a half months ago and had not survived the journey to the hospital. Ali had taken care of all the funeral arrangements and had moved in with her mother for a while to help her through the initial shock and grieving as well as supporting her sister, who had a young family.

Starsky had been solid as a rock; being there for Ali and supporting her family as best he could even when he knew he was not yet one of the clan. Hutch knew that the past few months had been emotionally draining for Starsky. His and Ali’s relationship was ticking along but they weren’t seeing each other as often as Starsky would like and all of their wedding plans had been shelved. Hutch was worried about him. It wasn’t that Starsky was acting depressed exactly – to the outward eye, he was his normal chipper self – but every so often Hutch would catch him staring wistfully off into space, thinking who knew what thoughts. When Hutch asked, Starsky insisted he was all right - it was everyone else that needed support and comfort - but Hutch knew his friend was hurting. He just wished he could find a way to get Starsky to open up to him. They saw each other at work and at least once a week after their shift for a drink or a meal. They had a regular guys’ night but it wasn’t the same as being together nearly all the time and made it harder to start difficult or intensely personal conversations. Hutch finished loosely buttoning his green and blue plaid shirt over his white tee and squared his shoulders. He was just going to have to try harder and not take no for an answer. They’d got a guys’ night arranged for tomorrow – it was time to tackle Starsky at his home where he couldn’t escape Hutch’s questions and would be forced to talk about what was bugging him the most.

Hutch walked down the stairs and joined Laura in the kitchen. She was just finishing her coffee and trying to put her jacket on at the same time. She pushed a glass of orange juice across the counter towards him and pointed at the oven.

“I fancied croissants this morning so I’ve left you a couple warming in case you’d like some too.”

Hutch snaked an arm around her waist as she walked past and pulled her close.

“Thanks sweetheart. That sounds nice.”

Laura kissed him then said, “I’d better be off or I’ll be late.” She paused. “Everything all right? Only you’ve got that little crinkle appearing between your eyebrows – the one that means you’re worried about something, usually your partner.”

Hutch shook his head. Laura was beginning to know him far too well.

“You got me - I am worried about him. I think he’s actually taken John’s death pretty hard – he really got on well with him – and I think he’s upset that the wedding’s been postponed indefinitely but he keeps avoiding the subject when I’ve tried to talk to him about it.”

Laura nodded and, with concern and exasperation edging her voice, said, “I don’t think Ali actually realises what all of this is doing to Dave. She’s so busy trying to support her Mom, sister and nieces; he’s sort of got left out. I tried talking to her about it but she says everything’s fine. She and Dave are so alike sometimes – good at looking after everybody else not so good at looking after themselves and they’re both as stubborn as mules.”

Hutch laughed. “That’s so true.”

“Are you going to tackle him tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d give it a try.”

“Good. I’ll try to talk to Ali and see how everything is…I’d better get going. See you later, honey. Be safe.”

“You too,” Hutch said, as he reluctantly let Laura go.

He watched her until she went out of the front door and closed it behind her then he turned his attention to the oven and felt his mouth watering at the delicious smell of the croissants.

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

 “Starsky?…Starsky? Did you hear what I said?”

“What?” Starsky turned a blank look towards his partner. “Sorry, did you ask me something?”

Hutch let out a frustrated breath. “Yes. I asked you what you wanted to eat.”

Starsky finally noticed that they’d pulled up outside one of his favourite places – the Taco Bell on Eighth Street. His face broke into a smile.

“Hey! You chose Taco Bell? Thanks partner! What’s the occasion?”

Hutch shrugged. “What’ll you have?”

“I’ll have the burrito combo and a Pepsi.”

Hutch made a face but went off to place the order anyway. He came back a few minutes later and banged on Starsky’s window, making him jump.

“Starsk, a little help?”

“Sorry,” Starsky said, as he wound down the window and grabbed his items from Hutch. “Want me to hold your drink while you get in?”

Hutch passed his orange juice in through the window and then went round to the driver’s side. Once he had safely placed his cardboard tray on the dashboard, he took his drink back.

“Thanks.”

“What ya got?” Starsky asked, as he bit into his burrito.

“I got the chicken enchilito without the red sauce. It’s the least spicy thing they have.”

Starsky shook his head. “That’s hardly enough to keep a man alive. One bite and it’s gone.”

Hutch rolled his eyes. “For you, maybe that’s true but some of us don’t inhale our food! It’ll do me just fine.”

Starsky shook his head again and carried on eating. Hutch thought about his plan to tackle Starsky about what was going on with him. Why was he waiting for tomorrow? Starsky’s level of distraction was enough cause for alarm and could be dangerous on the job. Now that he was really looking at him, he could see the shadowing under his eyes from another sleepless night and the little twitch in his cheek caused by stress. Hutch put his food down and turned to face his partner.

“Starsk…What’s got you so distracted today?”

Starsky swallowed the mouthful he was in the middle of eating and crinkled his nose. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore ya earlier.”

“I’m not worried about that, I’m worried about you. Everything all right with you? And with Ali?”

Starsky shrugged. “All fine.”

Hutch lifted his finger and just pointed it at Starsky.

Starsky sighed. “All right. Everything’s not fine but it’s as fine as it’s going to get at the moment.” Starsky shoved the last third of his burrito back onto the cardboard bowl and threw it onto the dashboard. “I’m not hungry anymore.”

Hutch sighed. “Buddy…I’m not trying to make you lose your appetite. I’m just worried about you.”

Starsky looked out of the front windscreen and Hutch could see him wrinkling his nose again. It was something his partner did occasionally – either when he was about to admit to doing something Hutch wouldn’t approve of or when a confession of his real feelings was about to take place. Hutch waited for him to start talking.

Abruptly, the radio sprang to life and the Dispatcher said, “Zebra Three, Zebra Three. Report to the Jewellery Store on Minton Street. The owner has reported a theft.”

“Damn,” Hutch said.

“Zebra Three responding. We’re on our way,” Starsky said into the mic that he’d just grabbed.

Feeling partially relieved not to have to respond to Hutch’s concern, Starsky collected up their uneaten food and jumped out to deposit it in the bin while his partner started the engine of the car.

As they pulled away from the kerb, Hutch said, “We need to talk, Starsk. How about tonight?”

“Nah, it’ll have to be tomorrow, Hutch. I’m going round to Ali’s tonight for dinner. I haven’t seen her for over a week so I gotta be there.”

“Tomorrow then. Hope you have a good time tonight.”

Starsky nodded and then they both turned their attention to the road and the job ahead.

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

Starsky took the stairs to Ali’s apartment two steps at a time. He was clutching an arrangement of red roses and white baby’s breath in one hand and a bottle of red wine in the other. He tapped the door gently with the bottle and waited for Ali to let him in. When the door opened, he gave her his best and brightest smile – just delighted to see her and be able to spend some time with her. She smiled back and gave him a kiss.

He handed her the roses and she buried her face in them, sniffing the light scent.

“Thank you. These are lovely.”

“You’re welcome and so are you…lovely I mean.”

His compliment was rewarded by a blush and a pleased smile.

As Ali arranged the flowers in a vase, Starsky uncorked the wine and left it to breathe on the table that Ali had already lain with a green cloth, her best place mats and a white candle, as yet unlit.

“What are we having for dinner?”

“I made my lasagne, as you like it so much. I’m afraid there’s only ice cream for dessert. I didn’t have time to make anything.”

Starsky came over and wrapped his arms around her.

“I’m surprised you had the time or the energy to make anything from scratch so I think you’re amazing!”

“Thanks…I don’t feel amazing. I feel tired out.”

“Oh sweetheart. What can I do to help?”

Ali looked at him with teary eyes as she replied, “I don’t think you can do any more than you have been. I just gotta try and sort my head out.”

Starsky pulled her closer. After a few minutes, Ali pulled away.

“Well, we’d better eat or the lasagne will go up in flames.”

As they ate, they chatted about work and Hutch and Laura; avoiding anything to do with Ali’s family by silent consent. They took dessert over to the sofa and sat next to each other as they ate their ice cream. A quiet descended that filled Starsky with a nervous tension; he could sense something had shifted in Ali’s body language and her nervousness put him on edge.

She put her bowl down on the coffee table and turned to face him, saying abruptly, “I love you Dave.”

There was a tone there that immediately had him mentally adding the word ‘but’ to her declaration.

Starsky swallowed and looked away. “But?”

“I need some space to get my head straight. I’ve been so busy helping Mom I haven’t had any time to myself to go through how I’m feeling…Does that make sense? Do you understand?”

Starsky’s first instinct was to bolt then he felt like lashing out with frustration but he did neither. Struggling to keep his emotions in check, he tried to think through what was happening from Ali’s point of view. He remembered how he’d felt after Terry had died; how he’d wanted to hide away for a while and just grieve by himself.

Speaking carefully, he said, “Yeah, I reckon, I understand…Ya need some time to grieve by yourself but, honey, too much time on your own ain’t good – I know that from experience.”

Ali bit her lower lip then nodded. “I know that too, and I promise this won’t be forever, but I just need some space. I’m trying to carry on with my job; I’m trying to look after my Mom; I haven’t got time to give you the attention you deserve; I haven’t got the energy to put anything into us at the moment and that’s not fair to you.”

 Starsky took her hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry on my account. I’m okay with whatever ya can give me but, if you need space, I’ll stay away. Are you sure that’s what you need at the moment?...Can I call you? To check how you’re doing?”

“I’m not sure…Maybe it’s better if you don’t. I’ll call you if I want to talk.”

Ali started to look as if she was going to cry. Starsky pulled her into an embrace.

“That’s okay, honey. Take whatever time ya need. I won’t bother ya but if you need me you just call and I’ll be here. Promise?”

Ali nodded against his chest and Starsky swallowed hard; outwardly keeping his face neutral, inwardly he was thinking that this was probably the beginning of the end, maybe it would be the last time he would ever get to hold her; he felt a pain in his chest as if his heart was being slowly ripped right down the middle.

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

“He was just about to tell me what was going on and then we got called to a robbery,” Hutch was telling Laura. They’d eaten dinner and were just clearing up the kitchen. “I shoulda known better than to start a conversation while we were on duty. We never get to finish them.”

“Never mind. At least it seemed as if he was going to talk to you. Maybe tomorrow we’ll both find out how they’re coping?”

“Hopefully. At least he and Ali are having dinner together tonight. Starsk said he hasn’t seen her for over a week.”

There was a knock at the front door. Hutch looked surprised.

“Are we expecting anyone?”

“Not that I know of.”

Hutch put down the tea towel he’d been holding and went to answer the door. He opened it to find Starsky standing there on the doorstep. It had become a wet night and the pouring rain tried to follow Starsky in as Hutch ushered his partner inside. Hutch could see Starsky was soaked to the skin, raindrops running down his face. He went to offer Starsky a towel and halted mid-word as he took a second look at his partner. There weren’t just raindrops on Starsky’s face; his eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

“Starsk? What’s wrong?”

As Starsky’s face crumpled, Hutch pulled him into a fierce embrace, wanting to protect his partner from whatever was causing such anguish. Laura came out into the hallway and her eyes caught her husband’s gaze.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” she said softly before going back into the kitchen.

When Starsky had calmed, Hutch released him and suggested they go into the kitchen. They found Laura waiting with three hot toddies and a towel.

“Dave, get that wet jacket off. I’ll put it on the airer. You dry yourself off a bit or you’ll get a chill. You gotta be careful, remember.”

Starsky slipped out of his soggy jacket and handed it over. He took the offered towel with a small smile.

“Thanks Mac. You made hot toddies, I see.”

Laura grinned. “Of course. The Scottish cure-all for everything that ails you. My Dad swears by it, as you know.”     

As they settled at the table, Starsky took a sip of the hot drink. Laura had made it for him before and the combination of whiskey, lemon, honey and tea was starting to grow on him. Starsky stared down into his mug.

“Sorry to drop by without phoning first.”

“Don’t be daft Dave,” Laura said. “You have the key to Castle Hutchinson and you’re allowed to use it whenever you like, you know that.”

“Thanks.”

Starsky swallowed and looked at Laura gratefully with slightly misty eyes. Hutch placed a hand on Starsky’s wrist.

“Starsk? What’s the matter? Did something happen tonight?”

“It’s Ali.”

“Is she all right? Did you have dinner with her?”

“Yeah.”

“And? How’s she coping?”

“She doesn’t want to see me anymore,” Starsky said flatly.

“What?” Laura said with some astonishment.

“Aw buddy. Is that what she said?” Hutch asked.

“Well, she asked me to give her space to grieve. I feel totally useless. She’s hurting and she won’t let me help her. I thought she needed me but clearly she doesn’t. She asked me to stay away for a while and if she don’t need me then…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

Laura moved her chair closer and wrapped an arm around Starsky’s shoulders.

“Dave. First of all you can’t fix how Ali’s feeling. Nobody can. All you can do is be there for her…and I know you have been because Ali’s told me that. Secondly, she does need you. A little while ago, she told me she didn’t know how she would have got through any of this without you.”

“She did?”

“Yes.” Laura gave him a squeeze and kissed his cheek. “And if she said she needs space for just a little while, I’m sure she means it. She loves you. I know she does.”

Starsky let out a long slow breath. “Thanks, that helps a bit but I’m not sure about anything. Everything’s so messed up. We should have been getting married this weekend instead...” Starsky’s voice stuttered and he wiped a hand quickly across his eyes. “Never mind, can’t change what happened. Just got to learn to live with it, I guess.”

Hutch swallowed down the lump in his throat caused by the pain in his friend’s voice and squeezed Starsky’s wrist.

Laura sighed. “These last few months must have been really difficult for you. You’ve had to put all your wedding plans on hold. It must have really upset you.”

Starsky shrugged. “I guess that has been bothering me some. I’m-I’m longing to have what you guys have. I want to start my life with Ali but…the last few weeks, it’s been on my mind but I didn’t know whether it was okay to mention the wedding or not. It never seemed the right time so I didn’t…and now…now it’s too late.”

Hutch said softly, “I’m sure it isn’t, pal. Give her time. It’ll work out.”

Starsky looked down.

 “You want to stay over tonight?” Laura asked. “I really don’t think you should go out in that rain again.”

Starsky nodded. “I’d like that if it’s not a bother for ya.”

“No trouble at all and, like I said, our house is open for you any time.”

“Thanks Mac.”

Laura stood up, saying, “I’ll go make up the spare room and then get ready for bed. I’ll see you in the morning Dave.” She turned to Hutch. “See you in a bit honey. I’ll leave the lamp on.”

Hutch kissed her and said, “Thanks sweetheart.”

While Laura headed upstairs, Hutch picked up his drink and suggested, “Why don’t we go sit in the lounge? We can talk in there for a while without keeping Laura awake.”

Starsky followed Hutch into the living room and settled onto the deep red couch. He could see Hutch’s plants were gradually taking over the space in one corner of the room and more new acquisitions were dripping off Laura’s bookcase. He smiled to himself.

“Why are you smiling, pal?” Hutch asked as he came and sat down next to his friend.

“Just thinking that it’s lucky Mac likes plants too. You’ve turned her lounge into a jungle!”

Hutch looked around the room. He shrugged and turned a smiling face towards Starsky.

“Lucky on lots of counts, buddy.”

Starsky smiled gently back at him. “Yeah, I can see that. I’m pleased for ya.”

Hutch’s smile diminished a little and his blue eyes turned slightly grey as he looked worriedly at his friend.

“Starsk…How come you didn’t mention any of this before now? About all your worries and how upset you were? We work together every day and you never said anything.”

“Didn’t want to bring you down, pal. You’re so happy. I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Starsk.” Hutch shook his head at his friend’s thoughtfulness. “Yes, I’m happy but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to me if you’re not…We promised we weren’t going to keep anything from each other ever again. Gotta keep talking to me, buddy, else how can I help?”

Starsky finished off his toddy and put the mug down on one of Mac’s shiny red coasters.

“I suppose I didn’t think anyone could help if I couldn’t think how to help myself. Does that make sense?”

“Complete sense in one way but talk to me now, Starsk. Even if I can’t help I can listen.”

Starsky shifted in his seat. “All right…It’s not been all bad. Just lately I started to wonder if Ali’s having second thoughts about being with me and not just ‘cause she doesn’t seem to need me. Then tonight happened.”

Hutch’s eyebrows shot up.

“Why’d you think that she’s having second thoughts?”

“She’s trying to be there for her Mom and her sister…trying to fit me into the mix is difficult for her…I’ve started to think she wishes she didn’t have to include me in her plans…I’ve tried to keep out of the way when I know she needs to be with her family and be there when I think she needs me but I’m not sure I got the balance right...and now she clearly don’t want me around.”

Starsky sighed and looked sadly at Hutch.

“Aw buddy. I’m sorry. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everything better but I think you’ve done the best you can and Ali’s clearly appreciated all you’ve done – like Laura said. She just needs a little space. She wouldn’t want to be without you permanently.”

“I hope you’re both right.”

“We are…She loves you Starsk.”

Starsky swallowed.

“I can’t lose her Hutch,” he suddenly blurted out, “It’ll kill me…I can’t lose someone else.” He covered his face with his hands as tears started falling down his cheeks.

“Oh buddy.” Hutch pulled his friend close and held him as he cried. Trying to soothe him, he spoke soft words of comfort, “It’ll all be okay. You’ll see. Ali loves you and she needs you. You’ll see.”

 

 

Chapter Two

A week later, they wrapped up the jewellery store robbery case and were about to head off duty when the phone went on Starsky’s desk. He thought about ignoring it and then sighed and lifted the receiver.

“Detective Starsky here…Hey Huggy, what can I do for ya?”

Hutch stopped putting on his jacket and waited to hear what Huggy wanted.

“Yeah, I can call in. No problem…I’ll ask.” Starsky looked up at Hutch and found him nodding at him. He grinned back. “Yeah, we’ll both be there in a few minutes, Hug.”

Starsky put the phone down and picked up his jacket. “Huggy says there’s something he needs to tell us but he didn’t want to talk about it over the phone.”

Hutch pulled his jacket on. “Well, let’s go find out what’s on his mind and then maybe we could stop for a meal,” he suggested.

Starsky’s face brightened. “You got time to hang out with me tonight? Is Mac working?”

Hutch followed him out of the squad room doors. “No, she’s not working but she’s happy for us to hang out this evening. Means she gets some peace and quiet.”

As the took the elevator to the parking garage, Starsky said, “I’m all right, Hutch, you don’t need to-“

“Starsky, just shut up. I want to hang out with you…Truth is, I don’t think I’ve been a very good friend the last few months and I-“

“Your turn to shut up, buddy,” it was Starsky’s turn to interrupt. “It’s all good between us. I ain’t got no complaints but…it’ll be good to hang out with ya, ya big lug.”

Hutch just grinned at him as the doors opened on the elevator and they headed out to their cars.

“See you at Huggy’s in a minute,” Hutch said, as he headed off towards his car.

Starsky called after him: “I’ll follow ya in case that old heap of yours breaks down again!”

Hutch shook his head at him and rolled his eyes. He was never going to live it down: his car had stopped twice last week and now he had Starsky and Laura muttering hints that he needed a new car. Well, he would resist as long as he could. There was nothing wrong with the Galaxie that a little gentle coaxing couldn’t get over.

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

“Hey Huggy! We’ll have two burgers, fries and two beers,” Starsky said, as soon as the pair of them walked into the bar.

Huggy nodded at them from across the room and wrote their order down on his pad before tucking the pencil behind his ear and going up to the window where he passed their choices through to his kitchen. Business had been good and Huggy had managed recently to acquire the building next door so he’d been able to expand his premises and do a little remodelling. The Pits was essentially the same, just a little bigger and busier but still low-key and comfortable. It was getting a better reputation for good food thanks to Huggy finding a chef, who was good at his job and who seemed to have happily settled in the kitchen. Despite the larger room and the greater number of patrons, Starsky and Hutch were still able to sit in their preferred booth.

A waitress came over and gave them their beers. She smiled at them and said, “The Boss will join you in a few minutes.”

Starsky snorted as she went off to serve some other diners. “The Boss? Huggy’ll always be Huggy. Ya can’t call him anything else, it just don’t sound right. She must be new around here.”

Hutch nodded as he sipped his beer.

“When you gonna retire that old rust-bucket of yours and get something newer?” Starsky suddenly asked. “I mean it was probably fourth hand when I got it for ya to replace that other heap you had. You’ve had it what? Four and a half years? No wonder it keeps breaking down.”

Hutch groaned. “Do we have to talk about my car tonight? It’s been fixed. It’s good for another four and a half years.”

Starsky made a face. “Waste of money keep fixing it. You’ve replaced nearly every part but the rust that’s holding it together is bound to fall apart one day. I can see it now: you’ll be driving Mac out to dinner somewhere and they’ll be a creaking noise and the car will unfold around ya till you’re just sitting on your seats in the middle of a pile of rust.”

Hutch rolled his eyes. “You’ve still got that vivid imagination, Starsky.”

“Well, what does Mac think about your car?” Starsky wanted to know.

Hutch was saved from answering by the appearance of Huggy.

“What it is,” he drawled as he slid into the booth beside Starsky. “Thanks for coming fellas.”

“What can we do for you, Huggy?” Hutch asked.

Huggy looked at him, a slightly odd expression on his face, as if he didn’t want to say what he was about to say. “Well, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but…I heard a rumour that an old friend of yours got released a couple of days ago.”

Hutch frowned. “Who would that be?”

“An unpleasant character by the name of Solkin.”

Starsky hissed a breath between his teeth as Hutch blanched.

“That can’t be right,” Hutch said. “He got seven years. It’s only been what? Five?”

Hutch looked at his partner for confirmation and Starsky nodded.

Huggy grimaced. “Sorry man. Heard he got released early on good behaviour. My friend, Tony, swears he saw him at that dive over on King Street. Tony went to see a man about some slightly, shall we say, off the book imports and he saw Solkin.”

“How does he know Solkin anyway?” Starsky wondered.

A look of disgust crossed Huggy’s face. “Solkin tried to recruit him when he was a teen. He got a pretty good idea he wasn’t wanting him just for thieving so he got as far away from him as he could. He says he’d know him anywhere.”

Hutch sighed. “I hope he doesn’t find a place back on our patch. I’d rather not set eyes on that piece of work again.”

“He’s the turkey who caused you those burns on your hand, isn’t he?” Huggy said.

Hutch looked down at his hand. There was still a very small scar on his thumb from the incident.

“Yeah…Cost me Abbie too.”

“Well, I thought you ought to know he’s back around and Tony said he was talking to some real unsavoury types. The sort who might do dirty work for someone with money to pay them.”

Starsky exchanged worried glances with Hutch.

“Don’t think he’s got that kind of money to his name,” Starsky said, “But we’ll keep an eye out for him…and I’ll keep a close eye on my partner here. Thanks for letting us know, Hug.”

“The Bear’s always happy to help his favourite compadres,” Huggy said. “Now eat your dinner and don’t think about that cockroach for a while.”

The waitress from earlier was approaching with their food piled up high on a tray. Huggy slid out of the booth as she placed their plates on the table.

“June-bug, when these fine gentlemen finish their meal, bring them a piece of that apple strudel Freddie made this afternoon. There’s two portions reserved in the Frigidaire just in case these two came by.” Huggy winked at the two of them.

June nodded. “Sure thing, Boss.” She hurried away.

Starsky grinned and said, “Thanks, Boss. Nice of you to keep a special dessert ready for us.”

Huggy gave the pair of them a little bow then he smiled serenely and glided away. Starsky had taken two large bites of his burger before he realised Hutch was staring worriedly off into space.

“Hey Hutch? Don’t let Artie ruin our night. He wouldn’t dare show his face anywhere near us. He’d have to be crazy to try anything.”

Hutch tried to smile but he still looked worried. He swallowed and said quietly, “I think he is slightly crazy, Starsk. Don’t you? Look at what he got that poor kid to do to Abbie; all to get back at me for some perceived slight…What if he tries to go after Laura?”

Starsky frowned then tried to speak reassuringly, “He knows he can’t mess with you ever again. The court’d throw away the key if he goes after a cop again, buddy. Eat your dinner, enjoy the evening and then…If you’re really worried…Well, d’ya want me to come to yours and we’ll warn Mac to be extra vigilant from now on?”

Hutch thought about this for a moment. “I don’t want to scare her but I think I ought to warn her…It’s all right - I’ll do it. If we both talk to her, she might think it’s really serious and get anxious. I don’t want to upset her and like you said, I may be worrying about nothing.”

“All right. Eat…and then how about I beat you at pool?”

Hutch couldn’t help laughing. “I suppose there has to be a first time for everything!”

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

The following Saturday was bright and warm; a beautiful late September day. Laura walked out of the house, followed slowly by Hutch; she had the look of a woman on a mission. Reluctantly, Hutch walked round to the driver’s side of the car and pulled his keys from his pocket. He paused and spoke to Laura across the roof of the car.

“I still don’t see why I have to get a new car. There’s nothing wrong with this one.”

Laura raised her eyebrows at him. Her silence said more than any words.

“Well, yes, it’s seen better days and I know it sometimes takes a couple of tries to get started but you’re hardly in it so I don’t see why it should bother you.”

“It’s broken down twice in the last month. It’s covered with rust. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Laura said. “You told me yourself that you couldn’t open the trunk last week. What if you get a flat and you need to change the tyre?”

They both became aware of the sound of a car driving at some speed along the street.

“Is that the King boy again?” Hutch said, turning to look.

“I don’t think so, honey, but whoever it is, is going awfully fast.

Laura shielded her eyes from the sun and squinted at the rapidly approaching car. A second later, Hutch realised that the car had manoeuvred so it was on a direct line towards him. He froze for a second and then instinct kicked in. He scrambled as fast as he could towards the hood of the car and rolled across it out of the way just in time to avoid being hit by the wing of the black car, which screamed with a metallic ripping sound as it scraped a trail along the side of his precious Galaxie and carried on past.

Shaken more than he would like to admit, Hutch got to his feet, trying to catch the licence plate before the car was out of sight. Laura was at his side a second later and the next door neighbours came running out of their house.

“Oh man! Are you both okay? That guy must have been drunk to be driving like that!”

“Yeah, Bob, we’re fine. Thanks for coming to check. Don’t suppose you got the licence? I only got two letters.”

“Sorry, I was looking at you not the car.”

“Never mind,” Hutch said. “As you say, probably a drunk and he’ll get picked up further along his journey.”

After reassuring themselves that both Hutch and Laura were okay, the neighbours went back indoors. Hutch checked that the car was still driveable, grimacing at the unsightly gash that had been torn across both doors, before climbing in the driver’s side. Frowning, he went to start the engine but was stopped by Laura placing her hand on his shoulder.

“Honey? Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. He missed me.”

“Mmm. Only your hand’s shaking.”

Hutch looked down at his hands and realised that his left hand was indeed trembling. He swallowed and closed his eyes. A second later, he felt Laura’s arms enfolding him in a hug.

“Do you think this has got something to do with what’s his name? Artie?” Laura whispered.

Hutch kissed the top of her head before saying, “Hopefully not. Hopefully it was just a drunk.”

Laura pulled away from him and regarded him with a mixture of worry and determination.

“Let’s leave the car shopping and go see Dave. See what he thinks about it.”

Hutch paused and then nodded. They drove in silence to Starsky’s apartment. When they got there, they filled him in on their morning so far.

“I’m going to kill Solkin when I see him,” Starsky said vehemently.

“Well, we don’t know it was anything to do with him…and anyway I’m all right, Starsk. He didn’t hurt me.”

“No, Hutch, but ya were finally going to get a new car and he stopped ya. I’m going to kill him!”

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

Artie shook his head at the young teen trembling in front of him and then stalked out of the room, taking his fury and frustration with him. “Why is the kid so incompetent?” he thought. “Or is it that Hutchinson has nine lives?...If he does, I must have made him lose at least two, one with that fire bomb, one with the narrow miss today. Only seven to go then!”

Artie stomped along the damp, mould-laden, beige corridor and unlocked the door to his bed-sit. This was quite possibly the worst place he’d ever lived and it was all Hutchinson’s fault. He’d been onto a nice little extortion racket before Hutchinson had interfered. He’d have moved up in the world and been living in a nice place by now but no; instead his lot had been prison and now this. Well, he’d kept his nose clean in the joint and made the best of his special talent at listening and finding things out about people. There were a lot of people that weren’t particularly fond of either Hutchinson or his partner and Artie had managed to get a little crew together that had the necessary loose ethical standards to want to cause maximum pain and damage to the arrogant detective. They would get Hutchinson for him – he’d make sure of it.

“And,” Artie thought to himself with pleasure, “If we destroy Hutchinson, that’ll finish his partner off too. It’s a two for one deal and I’ve always liked a bargain.”

Artie lowered himself into his threadbare navy armchair and tried to sit so the loose springs wouldn’t stick into him. He sat quietly, putting his considerable talent at planning shady scenarios to work. What could he do to draw Hutchinson out? Which of his gang’s peculiar skills could he put to good use? After a half an hour of determined thinking, a slow smile crept across his face. The sort of smile a tarantula might have contemplating its prey.

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

“That’s the third pawnshop that’s been broken into in the last two weeks,” Starsky said. “Dobey’s right - it’s becoming a pattern, don’t ya agree?”

“Looks like it. Where’s that map of the city?” Hutch asked. He jumped up and started rummaging in the filing cabinet behind Starsky’s seat. After a few minutes, he exclaimed triumphantly, “Here it is!”

He started unfolding it and spread it across both their desks while Starsky rang down to robbery for the previous two files. At Dobey’s request, he and Hutch were investigating the third robbery as it had also resulted in a homicide when the thief had hit and killed a homeless man as he was leaving the scene. Hutch marked the latest robbery on the map. The doors opened and a nervous looking young man appeared carrying two manila folders.

“Er Detective Starsky? Detective Lewis said you needed these.”

“Thanks, Harve.” Starsky recognised the young rookie, Harvey White. “How’s Bernie treating you?”

“O-okay, I guess.”

“He’s all bark, no bite,” Starsky said. “Tell him I said thanks and I’ll buy him a beer next time he’s at The Pits.”

Harvey White nodded and hurried back out of the room.

“Were we ever that young?” Starsky asked no-one in particular.

Hutch held out his hand for one of the files and took a quick look through it. “Well, this pawn shop is on Sloane Street, same district where most of them are. What about that one?”

“Maxwell Street.” Starsky marked the pawn shop on the map. “Is it me or are the robberies gradually moving across town?”

Hutch scratched his neck. “Maybe. Could do with another robbery to happen and then we’d be more able to say for sure. What about staking out Cornwall Street just in case? That’s the next block along from the last robbery. Hey, didn’t we know a guy on Cornwall Street?”

Starsky frowned. “Marty? Morty?”

“That’s it. Morty Wallace.”

“Think he’d still remember he owes us?”

Hutch picked up his jacket. “Let’s go remind him and see if the premises are suitable for us to use for a stake out. Then we can come up with a plan and fill in Dobey.”

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

Cornwall Street was about as far from having any connection to Cornwall as you could get. No quaint cobbled streets or picturesque views to encourage tourists to visit. In fact visitors to Bay City were actively discouraged from going anywhere near this end of the city. Here, not quite legal massage parlours vied for trade alongside ‘spit and sawdust’ bars, chop shops, pawn shops and cheap cafes. It wasn’t the worst street in the area but it was definitely rundown and not a place to linger after dark.

Hutch pulled his car up to the kerb and turned the engine off. Morty’s place was on the opposite side of the road – there were two pawn shops on this street and they faced each other. Presumably in these days of high unemployment and recession, there was enough work for both of the pawnbrokers to break even or even make a profit. Hutch noted the two homeless men peering out from the edge of an alleyway.

“Starsk?”

Starsky nodded his head and the two of them walked over to the men, who shuffled nervously away from them. Both detectives smiled reassuringly at them.

“Heard it’s going to be wet again tonight, fellas. Why don’t you get some hot food inside you?”

They each handed the men a couple of dollars apiece.

“Bless you,” one of them said.

They smiled at the two men and then turned away to head over the street to Morty’s pawn shop. The bell rang above their heads as they opened the door and entered the brightly lit shop. Morty’s place was always clean and as far as they knew he ran it legally. They’d certainly never had cause to come to him looking for stolen goods. In fact a few years ago, he had been robbed and they had been able to return the items to him – as he had receipts showing proof of ownership for all of them.

Morty came out of the back room at the sound of the bell. He was followed by a small girl, who peeked shyly around his back. She was clutching a pink rabbit by its long ears. Starsky stuck his tongue out at her and she giggled.

“Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky. Nice to see you again. What can I do for you?”

“Hi Morty,” Starsky said. “We’re here about the recent spate of pawn shop robberies. You’ve heard about them?”

“Yes, word tends to travel fast in my business.” Morty looked enquiringly at them. “You think I might be a target?”

The little girl frowned and tugged on Morty’s hand. “Grandpa? What’s a target?”

“Nothing for you to worry about, Lily.”

Hutch bent down and spoke to Lily. “Hello, my name’s Hutch. What’s your rabbit called?”

“Arthur.”

“Pleased to meet you Arthur,” Hutch said, shaking hands with the rabbit’s paw. “Lily, how about you and me go and get a glass of milk…if that’s okay with your grandpa?”

Morty nodded. “Yeah, that’s all right. Lily, you can have a couple of cookies too. You’ve been a very good girl this afternoon.”

The little girl beamed and grabbed Hutch’s hand and dragged him towards the back room and through to where a small kitchen was situated.

“The cookie jar’s up there,” Lily said, pointing to a white china barrel on top of one of the kitchen cupboards.

Hutch helped Lily to sit on a chair at the small table and then carefully lifted the cookies down. Then he opened some cupboard doors until he found a plate for Lily’s cookies and three clean glasses. He poured some milk for Lily, Arthur and himself and sat down next to the little girl. She dipped her cookie in her milk and then took a bite, scrunching up her face and shoulders in pleasure. She reminded Hutch of Starsky, when he ate something he really liked, and he had to stifle a laugh.

“What’s so funny?” his partner’s voice asked softly from the doorway.

Hutch shook his head. “Nothing buddy. Just enjoying Lily and Arthur’s company.”

Starsky mouthed the words, “You softy,” at him.

Hutch shrugged and finished his milk. “We done?”

Starsky nodded. “Yeah, all set.”

Hutch spoke to the little girl, “I’ve got to go, Lily, but I hope to see you and Arthur again sometime. Carry on being a good girl for your grandpa.”

Lily nodded and started nibbling on the second cookie that Hutch handed to her. Hutch smiled at her and placed a gentle hand on her head. A wistful look crossed Hutch’s face – one that Starsky had seen more than once. Seeing the rapport he instantly had with children, Starsky had often thought that Hutch would make a great father and he hoped it would happen for his partner soon.

Starsky waited but Hutch didn’t move - he seemed lost in a daydream. Starsky pulled at his sleeve gently.

“Come on, partner. We got to go see Cap and fill him in.”

Hutch came back from whatever it was he’d been thinking or daydreaming about. “Yeah, sorry, I’m ready to go, Starsk.”

 

 

Chapter Three

Artie picked up the ringing phone. “Yeah?”

“It’s me, Denny. You was right Artie. They been to see Morty. Saw ‘em leaving his place so I called in to have a chat. He said they was worried our shops might be the next targets and they’re going to use his place for a stake-out for a couple of nights.” Denny chuckled in Artie’s ear.

“That’s good news.”

“You said that’s what would happen, Artie. Your scheme’s working.”

 Artie grinned to himself before asking, “Are Frankie, the kid and No-fingers Louis ready to go to work?”

“Yeah, just give the word and they’ll do what you want ‘em to do. Tomorrow night? That’s when them cops is starting their stake-out.”

“Yeah, tomorrow night. I’ll pay ‘em when the job’s done. Tell ‘em to meet me at Harry’s Bar. They know the place I mean. Nine pm day after.”

“Sure thing Artie. I’ll tell ‘em.”

Artie put the phone down and pulled a thin cigar out of his top pocket and bit off the end. He lit it and puffed a couple of times then he settled back, watching the smoke drifting up towards the ceiling. His lips began to curl in a smile.

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

“Well, we figure it’s worth a shot, Cap,” Starsky was saying as Hutch came in carrying two mugs.

Hutch handed over the mug full of coffee, cream and one sugar to his partner before he sat down. True to his word, Starsky was trying to cut down on his sugar intake – just because he’d promised Hutch he would – but it didn’t mean he particularly enjoyed having less sugar. He made a face as he sipped his coffee.

Dobey spoke to Hutch, “You really think this man will rob one of the pawnshops on Cornwall Street in the next couple of days. You’re that sure?”

“Well, no,” Hutch admitted, “But it does seem as if the man’s working his way through the city in a linear pattern. If he doesn’t hit Cornwall Street but chooses somewhere else, we won’t have lost anything by trying and we might just get lucky.”

Starsky sniffed the air and frowned. Dobey looked at him with a confused expression. When the detective didn’t say anything, Dobey sat back in his chair. He tapped his pencil on the desk in front of him while he thought.

After a moment, Dobey said, “I hope your gut instinct is right on this. After all, we know next to nothing except the person is male, seems to be working alone, appears to break in between midnight and two. We don’t know if he carries a weapon. We don’t know if the killing of the hobo with his car was accidental or on purpose. In fact, if there hadn’t been a witness to the hit and run, we wouldn’t even be sure it was a man. We know precious little.”

Hutch shrugged. “Well, if he hits again, we’ll know more whether we see him on Cornwall Street or not…So? Are we allowed to stake out Morty’s tomorrow night and the next night?”

“Yes, I guess you may as well. Follow the usual protocols. Be careful.”

“We’re always careful, Cap,” Starsky said. He sniffed the air again. “What is that smell?” He sniffed in Hutch’s direction. “I think it’s you, Hutch. What have you got in that mug? It smells vile.”

“Rooibos tea, Starsk. It’s going to add years to my life. It’s much better for you than coffee or tea. No caffeine you see and recent studies show it’s full of anti-oxidants.”

Starsky looked completely blank. “Well, drink that near me again and I’ll take years off your life. It stinks!”

“It’s an acquired taste,” Hutch admitted. “Maybe if you tried it, you’d get to like it.”

“Only someone crazy would want to acquire that taste, buddy. It smells like…I don’t know what…like something horrible curled up and died and then was stewed in water for a hundred years. Yuck!”

“Starsk, it’s not that bad. Sir, what do you think?”

“Take it outside, both of you,” Dobey said. “I’m not getting involved in this one.” Personally, he agreed with Starsky, the drink stank. Dobey rolled his eyes as the two detectives left his office, still disagreeing loudly.

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

Hutch came round for Starsky just after nine the next evening. They’d both had the day off and had tried to get some sleep during the afternoon but it was always difficult to rest when the rest of the city was going about its usual business. Starsky came jogging down his steps carrying a bag full of provisions, mostly crisps and candy bars. Hutch refrained from comment but just said, “Laura packed us a picnic too so we won’t starve.”

“Ooh, one of Mac’s picnics! What’s she put in there?”

“Why don’t you have a look?” Hutch offered.

Starsky leaned over the seat and opened the picnic basket up. “Ooh, is that one of Mac’s lamb and everything pies?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“What’s in the flasks?”

“Soup – one’s vegetable, one’s beef.”

“I know which one’s mine,” Starsky said, laying claim to the beef one.

Hutch rolled his eyes. “Heaven forfend a vegetable should ever cross your lips!”

Starsky shook his head at his comment.

“So we sticking to the same plan?”

They’d decided that one of them would sit in Hutch’s car just up from the other pawn shop and one of them would sit inside Morty’s; that way one of them could keep an eye on the front of both shops and the person inside the building could keep an ear out for any activity at the back of Morty’s shop, the rear of which opened out onto a lane that ran the length of the street. They would swap over every couple of hours.

Hutch nodded. “Yeah, I think so. Do you want car or shop first?”

Starsky thought for a minute then said, “I’ll take car. Swap with you at midnight?”

“Yeah, all right.”

They’d arrived on Cornwall Street. This end of the street was quiet but there was some activity at a rundown bar further along. Hutch parked the car a few yards from Morty’s shop and away from the only street light on that side of the road. Starsky reached into the glove box and pulled out the two radios. He double-checked that both of these were working and then handed one to Hutch.

“I’ll take my soup with me,” Hutch said. “Don’t eat all the pie, Starsk, I might want some later to help me stay awake.”

“All right, buddy. I’ll save you some.”

They looked at each other; giving the ‘keep your wits about you and be safe’ speech without saying a word. They both nodded and then Hutch climbed out of the car, looking around as he did so to make sure no-one was watching. Quietly, he let himself into the pawn shop with the key Morty had lent the department and locked the door behind him. He flicked his flashlight on and made his way carefully over to a chair set to one side of the shop. Morty had left it out ready for him. Hutch settled himself down for a long, boring night. At least there was access to water in the kitchen if he wanted and another door led through to a toilet and washbasin if it was required.

The radio crackled. He grinned into the darkness.

“Goldilocks. You all set? Over.”

“Yeah, Baby Bear, all set. Over.”

“Hey, it’s Papa Bear not Baby Bear. Stick to the agreed codename. Over.”

Hutch’s grin grew wider at the irritation in Starsky’s voice.

“Sorry, Papa Bear. Goldilocks out for now.”

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

“Not yet,” Frankie whispered.

“Why not?” Teddy hissed back.

“’Cause it’ll be easier to get at Hutchinson when he’s outside in the car and his partner’s inside, that’s why.”

“Oh.”

No-fingers Louis picked some dirt out of his fingernails, nibbled at his fingertips and then spat out onto the ground of the alleyway. Teddy looked at him nervously. He’d made the mistake of asking Frankie why Louis was called No-fingers when all of his fingers were intact; he now knew it was because most of his victims didn’t have all of theirs after he’d finished with them. Teddy would be glad when this job was over. He didn’t mind giving someone a straightforward beating for some eating money – you had to do what you had to do to get by - but getting involved with a psycho like No-fingers Louis was a mistake; he didn’t like him or the way he made him feel. After tonight, he hoped their paths would never cross again.

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

“Goldilocks, you still awake? Over.”

Hutch’s head jolted upright and he rubbed at his eyes. He’d nearly been asleep but not quite.

“Of course, I’m still awake.”

“You’re supposed to say over. Over.”

Hutch rolled his eyes in the dark. “Yeah, yeah…Over.”

“I know we’re supposed to wait another half hour to swap over but I need the john. Can we swap now? Over.”

“Sure. Did Baby Bear drink too much soup? Over.”

“Ha ha and it’s Papa Bear. Over.”

Hutch stood up and stretched his stiff limbs. “I’m going to unlock the door now. See you in a minute…” He paused, knowing it would drive Starsky crazy, before adding, “Over and out.”

Hutch flicked his flashlight on before cautiously crossing the shop floor and turning the key in the lock of the door. He turned the handle and opened the door to his partner, who was carrying his flask and his bag of candy bars and crisps. Starsky pushed past him.

“I left you some pie, before ya ask.”

“Thanks. All quiet out there?”

“Yeah the bar’s not busy – saw a few patrons stagger away already. All quiet.”

“See you in a couple of hours then. Try not to fall asleep.”

Starsky grimaced. “Yeah, yeah. Get going. I told ya I need the john.”

Hutch found the door being shut in his face and heard the sound of the key turning in the lock. He grinned at the closed door and then walked along the road. He stretched his slightly stiff muscles before he went to get in the car. The front seat was still warm where his partner had been sitting. Hutch placed the radio on the dashboard and leaned over towards the back seat to get at the picnic basket. Starsky had left some pie, not a lot, but some.

He picked up the radio. “Starsky! This bit of pie you left me is hardly enough for a mouse.”

It was a minute before Starsky answered, “Thought you didn’t need much to survive on, over.”

Hutch shook his head at his partner even though Starsky couldn’t see him and then took a bite out of the pie. It was good. As he chewed, he noticed a drunk weaving his way up the street. He kept a vague eye on him as he ate, swallowing another mouthful just as the drunk drew level with the car. With a shocking abruptness, the man suddenly grabbed the handle of the car door and jerked it open. Hutch tried to grab for the radio. He depressed the call button and tried to yell for his partner as he was dragged bodily from the car. He heard a squawk of static from the radio and hoped his partner had heard his cry before the radio had been knocked from his hands.

Two other younger looking men had appeared from nowhere. One grabbed his gun from his holster before he could get a hand on it, the other punched him in the stomach as he tried to resist and Hutch doubled over, gasping for breath. Two of the men grabbed his arms and pulled him semi-upright while the third covered his mouth before he could catch his breath and shout out for help. Only a second passed before he was being dragged down the nearest alleyway.

He could feel his heart hammering in his chest as panic flashed through him. What did they want? Clearly, this wasn’t a car-jacking. Why grab him? Whatever they wanted it couldn’t be good. He mustered his strength and tried to break free of their hold on him. One of the men kicked him viciously in the back of his knee, causing his leg to crumple. Then he was released so suddenly, he stumbled sideways and fell heavily against the brick wall bumping his head with a painful crack.

Through blurring vision, he tried to ask, “Who are you? What do you want?”

“We just want you, Hutchinson,” a deep, cold voice said. “Gonna have ourselves a little fun.”

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

Starsky heard a click from the radio and waited for Hutch to speak but the click was followed by static and then silence. He shook his head as he lifted the radio to his mouth.

“Did ya drop the radio, Goldilocks? Over.”

There was no response.

“Goldilocks? Over.”

There was still no response. Starsky stood up and started walking towards the door of the shop.

“Hutch? Talk to me buddy.”

A slither of worry ran down Starsky’s spine as he unlocked the front door and stepped out onto the street. He looked towards Hutch’s car and saw that the front door was hanging open and there was no Hutch anywhere in sight. He ran to the car and looked inside. A piece of pie that had been dropped on the floor was the only indicator that Hutch had been sat there. As Starsky stepped back to look up and down the street, he spotted the radio laying down in the gutter just under the car. He lent into the car and grabbed the mic.

“Control. This is Zebra Three. Code 30, repeat code 30.”

“Zebra Three. What is your emergency?”

“Detective Hutchinson is missing. Requesting back-up to our location on Cornwall Street. I think he’s been grabbed. I’m going to look for him.”

Before the Dispatcher could advise him to wait for other officers to arrive, Starsky let go of the mic and headed down the street at a quick jog, drawing his gun from his holster as he went. “Where are ya, Hutch?” he whispered, as he tried to strain to hear the slightest noise that might indicate where his partner was. He figured wherever Hutch had been taken he must have started out by being dragged there on foot as he hadn’t heard a vehicle from inside the pawn shop. He also reckoned he must have been taken in the direction opposite to the bar or else the whippos would have run the risk of being seen by someone going in or coming out. Whether they had had time to bundle Hutch into a vehicle before he’d come out of the shop was debatable; he didn’t think it had been that long since the radio click but he wasn’t sure.

He noticed an alleyway coming up on the right and slowed his footsteps, weapon at the ready. From some distance, he thought he heard muttered words and a groan. He eased his way around the corner and in the dim light thought he could make out two or three shadows at the other end of the alleyway.

“Police. Freeze.”

The shadows spun around to face him. There was a moment of silence and then Starsky saw a muzzle flash in the darkness. He returned fire as he dove for cover behind a large metal refuse bin. He heard footsteps running away and ventured a glance from behind his hiding place. What he saw was confusing. Two figures appeared to have dropped to the ground; one in a huddle against the brick wall; one in a crumpled heap in the centre. Another was running away out of the other end of the alley - he was too far away for Starsky to do anything about it. A third figure, the one Starsky thought had fired the gun, was moving towards the fallen figures with intent. With his gun still held in front of him, the man backed up towards the figures. He lifted his foot and fired at Starsky at the same time. As Starsky ducked his head, he saw one huddled figure leap up and knock into the gunman, who stumbled sideways.

Starsky jumped up, firing as he did so and hit the man in the shoulder. As the gunman stumbled backwards and dropped his gun from his numb fingers, the shorter man who had knocked into him made a run for it. Starsky ran as fast as could towards the gunman, kicked the gun away and then grabbed his arms and forced them behind his back. He clipped the handcuffs around the man’s wrists and shoved him onto the ground. The man grunted but kept silent. Starsky looked into his face and saw the look of a hardened criminal. In the distance, he heard sirens headed his way.

At last, he was able to look at the figure lying still on the ground. Hutch.

Starsky dropped to his knees and felt for his partner’s pulse. It was there but seemed faint. He used his torch to assess the damage done to his friend; Hutch’s face was pale in the dim light, his lip was bleeding, he had a black eye developing and he had other bruises appearing on his face. When Starsky ran his hands over his partner’s body to check for broken bones or wounds, Hutch groaned but didn’t regain consciousness. Starsky couldn’t find any evidence that Hutch had been shot but in moving his jacket and shirt, he could see evidence of marks on Hutch’s stomach and side. Clearly he’d been hit or kicked several times. Gently, Starsky framed Hutch’s face with his hands.

“Hey buddy. Can you hear me?”

There was no response. Starsky knew he needed to get Hutch to a hospital fast. With anger building in his chest, he grabbed the gunman and hauled him roughly to his feet.

“Why?” he snarled into the face of the man who looked back at him completely impassively. Starsky gritted his teeth. He’d have to try to find answers later. As he pushed the assailant down the alleyway towards the street, he could hear squad cars arriving. As he emerged from the passage, he was immediately spotted by the incumbents of the first squad car.

He waved and yelled at them loudly, “Call an ambulance! My partner’s hurt.”

Two officers from a second car came running up. Starsky shoved his prisoner at them.

“Take this piece of filth in. I got to get back to my partner.”

As the officers responded to his commands, Starsky spun on his heels and rushed back towards Hutch, who was still lying where Starsky had left him. Starsky hadn’t seen him so pale or still since he’d found him trapped under his car all those years ago. At least he wasn’t as badly injured as he had been on that occasion. At least, Starsky hoped that was the case. He knelt down beside him and took his own jacket off, placing it carefully under Hutch’s head. As he did so, he realised Hutch’s hair was wet and his hand came away covered with blood.

“You musta gone down with one helluva bang, buddy. Hang in there, help’s on the way.”

He heard footsteps behind him and a voice asked, “How’s he doing Detective Starsky?”

“Not sure,” Starsky responded without taking his eyes from his friend’s face. “Where’s that ambulance?”

“Any minute now,” the voice reassured him. “I got a message from Captain Dobey – he’ll meet you at the hospital.”

Starsky heard a siren in the distance. “It’s about time,” he muttered.

 

 

Chapter Four

Starsky picked up the phone, slid the dime into the slot and made the call he had hoped he wouldn’t have to make so soon into Hutch’s marriage.

“Hello,” a woman’s voice answered.

“Ali? It’s Dave.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to call. You said you’d-”

“-I’m not phoning to see how you are…although I hope you’re okay…I’m phoning ‘cause I need ya to go see Mac for me.”

He heard Ali swallow on the other end of the phone.

“What’s happened? Is Hutch…? Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s going to be fine. He’s just a bit beat up after our stakeout last night went a bit wrong. He’s in the hospital, got a pretty bad concussion and they want to keep him in for observation. Can you go tell Mac and bring her to the hospital? She’s got a day off today so she don’t know anything’s happened yet but she’ll be expecting him home soon. I gotta get back to Hutch.”

“Sure. I’ll do that Dave. Are you - are you okay, love?”

Starsky blinked back tears at the endearment. He felt a glimmer of hope; it seemed Ali did still care about him. “Yeah, I’m fine, sweetheart. Thanks. I gotta go. See ya later.”

“Bye.”

As he put the phone down, Starsky allowed himself a small smile and then hurried quickly back upstairs to keep his partner company. He got back in time to hear Hutch complaining loudly.

“I do not need assistance to go to the bathroom, thank you. I am perfectly capable of-”

“-Mr Hutchinson, I have my orders and it says here that you’re not to go anywhere on your-”

“That’s Detective Hutchinson and I don’t care what it says there. In fact, you can-”

“Hey, buddy, easy,” Starsky interrupted his partner’s frustrated rant. “Settle down.” He looked at the woman’s badge quickly, “Nurse Hannah here is just trying to do her job.” He gave the nurse a disarming smile. “If I take my buddy and stay with him, will that work?”

The nurse sighed and put the clipboard back on the rail at the end of the bed. She pushed the wheelchair towards Starsky. “Yes, I guess that will be fine. But he’s not to be left on his own.”

“Thanks, schweetheart. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

As the nurse turned to leave, Hutch started to protest but Starsky quickly gave him a warning look.

As soon as the nurse was out of earshot, Hutch said, “And you can get that thing away from me. I am not an invalid.”

He swung his legs out of the bed and lowered his feet gingerly to the floor. Starsky started to move the wheelchair towards him but Hutch held up a warning finger. Starsky backed off with his hands up in the air, surrendering.

“All right but I’m going to follow ya, buddy, and ya can’t stop me…if ya do, I’ll tell Mac.”

“That’s low, Starsk.”

“I know buddy but she’ll have my hide if anything happens to ya before she gets here…She’ll be on her way now so how about ya just shut up and let me help ya and then ya’ll be all back in bed looking pretty before she gets here.”

“Okay, you win. I’m too tired to argue.”

Hutch sighed then held out his hand for Starsky to pull him to his feet. He winced; his right leg was screaming at him, protesting at being used after the kick one of the thugs had given him; his chest was burning around his broken rib; and his brain felt like it was being squeezed in a vice despite the painkillers he’d been given. He felt dizzy for a second.

Starsky voice was soft with concern. “How are ya really feeling, buddy?”

“Sore but I’ll live.” Hutch held onto Starsky until the world felt stable. “Thanks Starsk.”

“No problem.”

Starsky kept a firm hand under Hutch’s arm, half-supporting his friend’s weight. It was clear Hutch was in a lot of pain but he made it to the bathroom and Starsky left him to do what he needed to do. He hovered close to the door so he could assist Hutch as soon as he was ready to come back out. Whatever Hutch said, he was going to need help for a couple of days. Starsky had been shocked when he’d seen Hutch straight after he’d been patched up. The skin on his back and leg were quickly colouring up, an ugly and painful reminder of what had happened. He wouldn’t have believed that so much damage could have been inflicted so quickly but then there had been three of the scum.

The door to the toilet opened and Hutch limped forward, giving his partner a grateful glance as he allowed Starsky to support him again. It was a slow process to make his way back to the bed. He sat down on the edge of the mattress and didn’t argue when Starsky gently helped him swing his legs back onto the bed. Starsky fussed with his pillows until Hutch was sat up in a more comfortable position. Hutch watched his friend’s face as he fussed around him and noticed the look of deep concern. Finally satisfied that Hutch was as comfortable as he could make him, Starsky took a step towards the plastic chair. Hutch grabbed his wrist, preventing him from sitting down. Starsky looked at him enquiringly.

“I’m all right, Starsk. You don’t need to worry so much.”

“Can’t seem to help worrying even more than usual this time,” Starsky said. His dark eyes spoke to Hutch silently and he squeezed his partner’s hand. Then he pulled away, attempting to smile as he said, “It’s too many years spent with you. I think your bad habits are rubbing off on me.”

“Ha ha.” Hutch tried to shake his head and regretted it. “Ow, remind me not to move my head. It hurts.”

“Don’t move your head, dummy.”

“Well, thanks, Starsk.”

The door opened and Laura came rushing in. She was followed slowly by an uncertain Ali, who hovered in the doorway. Starsky smiled reassuringly and nodded at her to come into the room. Laura hugged her husband, trying to hold back tears as she demanded to know what had occurred.

“Are you okay? What happened? Ali said you had concussion. What’s that bandage on your chest for? Have you got broken ribs?”

“Hey, slow down, honey.”

Starsky cleared his throat. “How about me and Ali go get drinks for everyone? Whatcha want Mac?”

Laura didn’t look away from her husband as she responded. “Coffee, thanks Dave.”

“Hutch?”

“Nothing for me. Thanks, pal.”

“We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Starsky walked Ali out of the room and led them towards the cafeteria. “I thought those two needed some time to themselves,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Want to have a snack with me. It’s been a long night and I need some fuel to keep going.”

“Sure, that would be nice.”

Starsky smiled at Ali and she smiled back.

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

“Safe to come in?” Starsky asked, as he pushed open the door to Hutch’s room and stuck his head around the door frame.

“Yes, of course,” Laura answered quietly from the chair next to Hutch’s bed.

Hutch himself looked as if he was asleep. Starsky came in and handed her a coffee in a cardboard cup.

“He all right?” Starsky whispered.

“Yes, he definitely needs some sleep now…and from the looks of you, I think you do too. I guess you were both awake all night.”

Starsky shrugged. “I’ll get some later.”

“Ali gone?”

“Yeah, she’s got classes today.”

“You manage to talk about anything?”

“A little. It was nice to see her anyway…She seems to have missed me.”

“’Course she’s missing you. No doubt about that.”

Starsky nodded and smiled hopefully. He let his gaze fall on his partner’s face, watching him silently for a few minutes. Then he said softly, “When Hutch wakes up, tell him I’ll come back tonight. I gotta go interview the man I arrested and find out what the hell this was all about.”

“Have you got any idea why this happened, Dave?”

Starsky sighed and looked down at Laura, considering his response before he answered: “My gut says this has something to do with Solkin. I just gotta find some way to prove it.”

“Be careful, Dave. I don’t want anything happening to you either. Ken would never forgive me if I let you go without saying please wait for him before you go after anyone.”

Starsky lent down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be careful. Look after that partner of mine for me while I’m gone.”

“I will. I’ll make sure he behaves.”

Starsky chuckled. “Good luck with that!”

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

“Why’d you go for my partner?”

The silence was deafening. No matter what Starsky tried, Louis Stratton wouldn’t respond. Starsky only knew who the man was because he was in the mug book, having been arrested a couple of times in previous years for grievous bodily harm.

“You made a big mistake going after a police officer. The judge will lock the door and throw away the key. You want to get out before you’re old, tell me who put you up to it.”

Louis chewed on his fingernail and then looked at Starsky with contempt.

“You done? I think I’ll speak to a lawyer now.”

Starsky clenched his fist and leaned forward. In the corner of the room, the officer Dobey had told to go into interrogation with him coughed quietly. Starsky contented himself with imagining hitting Stratton so hard that he would hit the wall and leave an imprint in it. Then he stood up and said, “Get him his lawyer and then take him to holding.”

Oozing frustration, Starsky went back to his desk and began poring through Stratton’s old files to see if he could find some connection that might lead to someone who knew where Artie Solkin was. Heaven help Solkin if he found that lead; there was nowhere in Bay City that Solkin would be safe from his wrath. He could feel a rage building that was fuelled not only by what had been done to Hutch but also what he believed No-fingers Louis had meant to do to Hutch. Starsky was beyond grateful that he’d got there in time to stop him.

Captain Dobey came into the squad room. “Starsky? Did you get anywhere with Stratton?”

“No, he won’t talk. He’s not going to give up who paid him.”

Dobey frowned. “Can I see you in my office for a moment?”

Starsky followed his captain into the room and closed the door behind him. He stayed standing, feeling too antsy to sit.

Once he was settled in his own chair, Dobey looked kindly at the harried younger man. “How’s Hutch doing?”

“Okay. Thank God I wasn’t any longer getting to him.”

Dobey pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow. “Yes, indeed. From what I’ve heard, No-fingers is usually good at his job. Starsky, I get the feeling you have someone in mind as to who ordered the attack. I’ve authorised two officers to guard Detective’s Hutchinson’s room, as you requested, but I would like to know why you think he’s in further danger. What do you know that I don’t?”

Starsky sat down with a sigh. “Artie Solkin’s out and rumour is he has his eyes set on Hutch.”

“And that’s it?”

“Well, a little over a week ago, someone tried to run Hutch down outside his place.”

Dobey frowned and said gruffly, “Why am I only just now hearing about this? You know how I feel about private parties! How long have you been worried about Solkin?”

Starsky tried to placate his captain. “We didn’t know anything for sure. The car trying to run Hutch down might just have been a drunk…It’s just a gut feeling we both had that it wasn’t… but I wasn’t even sure of my gut reaction until last night happened.”

“Well, I’ll make sure Hutchinson is protected. You don’t think you’re in danger as well?”

Starsky shrugged.

“Well, keep looking for Solkin, turn over all the stones you need to. Tell me if you need help. But Starsky, I want you to take Callaghan along if you go looking for Solkin…I don’t want to be visiting you in jail. You understand me, Detective Starsky.”

Starsky went to open his mouth to argue but thought better of it. Instead he let out a sigh and then said, “Yes, Cap. Everything I do, I’ll keep to the law. I promise ya.”

“Good. Get back to it and, when you next see Hutchinson, tell him I’ll look in again tomorrow.”

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

It was early evening and Huggy had not long put the phone down after an update from Starsky. The bar was quite quiet, as the evening crowd were still working and most of the afternoon customers had long since gone. The front door opened and an anxious looking youth came into the bar, darting looks around nervously. He walked up to the far end of the bar and leaned on the counter, trying to seem as if he belonged in such a place. Huggy picked up a glass from under the counter and then walked slowly along the bar’s length as he cleaned it.

“You in here for directions, kid? Only I don’t serve drinks to minors, ya dig.”

The kid swallowed. “You Huggy Bear?”

“The one and only. And who am I chewing the fat with?”

“I need to get a message to Detective Hutchinson or his partner. I heard you might be able to do that.”

Huggy looked at him suspiciously. Suspicion softened into compassion. On closer inspection, the kid looked scared and hungry.

“I can do that. You want a burger while you wait?”

The kid twisted his lip and looked hopeful. Then a shadow passed over his face and he shook his head. “I need to lay low. I’ll come back in an hour.”

As he turned to go, Huggy said kindly, “I got a safe place upstairs you can hang out in and I’ll bring you a burger while you’re waiting.”

The kid looked grateful. “I’ll take the room. I can’t pay for the burger. Got no money at the moment.”

“Follow me,” Huggy said and led the young man upstairs. He unlocked the door and then gave the key to the kid. “You lock the door after me and only open it to me. I’ll knock like this.” Huggy did a demonstration and the kid nodded.

“What’s your name and what’s your message?”

“T-Teddy. Tell him I know who ordered No-fingers to grab him.”

Huggy nodded. “All right. Hang tight and I’ll be back soon with a burger.”

“But I-“

“Don’t worry about it, kid, it’s on the house. You help my friends, I help you.”

“Thanks.”

Thoughtfully, Huggy closed the door and went back downstairs to make the call to the precinct to Starsky.

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

Huggy let the Teddy eat most of his burger before he asked, “So how do you know who paid for No-fingers Louis to grab mon ami Hutch?”

Teddy swallowed his mouthful and looked at Huggy nervously. After a moment, he said hesitantly, “I was there.”

Huggy bristled. Teddy tensed and waited for the reaction he was fully expecting but, instead, Huggy said calmly, “Want to tell me your story?”

Teddy blinked back tears. “Got no money. My Mom lost her job a few weeks ago and I got a little sister. There’s no jobs anywhere. I been looking. My cousin knew a guy called Frankie. Said he did odd jobs for a guy who’d pay cash.”

“What kind of jobs?”

Teddy sighed. “Stuff that’s not quite legal. Beating up slow paying gamblers. That kind of thing. I don’t like doing it but I’m desperate.”

“And someone paid you to beat up Hutch?”

“I didn’t know he was a cop till just before the grab. I wouldn’t have done it, if I’d known before but…No-fingers appeared with Frankie when he came to pick me up and take me to Cornwall Street. I’m scared of him, man. I couldn’t back out.”

Huggy knew No-fingers’ reputation too well. He could see how the kid had been stuck between a rock and hard place. Before he could respond, there was knock on the door. Teddy jumped up, looking panicked, but Huggy put his hands out to say ‘be still’. Teddy sat down again nervously.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, Hug. Starsky.”

Huggy smiled reassuringly at Teddy and went to unlock the door. Starsky came in and looked Teddy over appraisingly. Huggy motioned to him to sit down at the small table opposite Teddy.

“Teddy, this is Detective Starsky. Starsky, this is my friend Teddy.”

Starsky nodded at the kid and said, “I hear you know who paid people to grab my partner.”

Teddy nodded.

“So?”

“It was a man called Artie Solkin.”

“How’d ya know that?”

Teddy looked down. “’Cause I was there. I helped.”

Starsky froze for a second and then his face filled with anger. He jumped up and moved as if he was going to grab the kid by the throat. Huggy stepped in his way.

“Starsky!”

“Huggy! Hutch is in hospital because of this kid!”

Huggy held his hands up in front of Starsky. “Peace, man. Listen to his story then you can decide what to do about it…Starsky, he’s a kid and he’s scared.”

The last observation was made so softly, it caught Starsky’s attention and brought his rage under control. He grabbed a chair and spun it around to straddle it, needing to do something physical to let go some of the anger filling him.

“All right. I’m listening.”

“Tell him what you told me,” Huggy encouraged.

Teddy told Starsky the same things he had told Huggy then asked, “How bad is he? The cop. Is he going to be okay?”

“Bad concussion and a busted rib no thanks to you…but he’ll live,” Starsky said gruffly.

Teddy looked relieved and then explained that he was hiding now in case friends of No-fingers or Solkin came after him.

“Why would they come after you?”

Teddy swallowed hard. “I couldn’t let No-fingers do it.”

“Do what?”

“You interrupted him from doing the full job Artie’s paying him for. He was told to…” Teddy couldn’t bring himself to say what No-fingers had been going to do. “When you interrupted us, No-fingers tried to do half of the job. He was going to stomp that cop’s hand, I couldn’t let him do that. It wasn’t right.”

Starsky looked at him thoughtfully. “You shoved Stratton away from my partner, didn’t ya. I saw ya.”

Teddy nodded and looked down.

Starsky let out a long breath. “Thanks Teddy.”

Teddy looked up startled.

“Because of you, my friend will still be able to play the guitar and the piano which are things he loves to do…so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Teddy wiped his hands over his eyes and sniffed. “I want to make it right, my part in it. I’ll tell whoever you need me to that Solkin was going to pay us for doing the job. But can you help me get out of town. I don’t want to go but I’m scared what will happen to me and my Mom and sister if I stay.”

“I’ll see what we can do for ya,” Starsky promised. He sat back a little, thinking. “You said Solkin’s going to pay you. When and where?”

“Harry’s Bar on the corner opposite St Michael’s Mission. Nine tonight.”

“I know the place…Teddy?...Would ya be willing to still go to the meeting? Would ya wear a wire?”

Huggy protested. “Starsky, man, he’s too young! You can’t ask him to do that! Captain Dobey won’t allow it.”

Before Starsky could reply, Teddy said, “If it’ll help put Solkin and No-fingers away for a long time, I’ll do it. Tell your captain, I’ll do it gladly. I want to put things right.”

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

“Hey buddy, how are ya feeling?” Starsky asked, when he arrived at Hutch’s room around seven thirty that evening.

“I think the pain killers are finally working – my head’s not so sore.”

“Good. Oh, Dobey said he’d look in on ya tomorrow.” Starsky threw himself into the chair bedside the bed. “Mac gone?”

“Yeah, I sent her home. She’s working tomorrow. She doesn’t need to sit here with me all evening.”

Starsky nodded. “Ya need anything?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks. How have you got on?”

“All right. Might have a lead on Solkin. In fact, it means I can’t stay long, buddy. I’m hoping to snatch him up tonight.”

“What?!”

Starsky filled Hutch on Teddy’s information and his part in the assault. “I wanted to knock his block off at first but after I listened I realised he was real sorry about it, Hutch.”

“Poor kid. Sounds like he had no choice.”

“Yeah, but he wants to help put it right so he’s going to wear a wire when he goes to get his pay from Solkin tonight.”

“And Dobey agreed to this crazy plan of yours?” Hutch wondered.

“Yeah. Took a little persuading but he agreed in the end.”

“Starsk…Who are you taking with you?”

Starsky smiled reassuringly at the concern in Hutch’s voice. “Wish I was taking you, pal, but Callaghan’s going to back me up. He’ll do. And Dobey won’t be far away. I’d better take off.”

“Starsk, be careful.”

Starsky flashed him a grin. “Always am, buddy. Don’t you worry about me. You get some sleep so I can get you outta this place as soon as possible.”

As Starsky headed towards the door, Hutch called after him, “Wait! Starsk, I won’t get a wink of sleep if you don’t let me know how it goes down. You get a message to me, you hear me.”

Starsky paused in the doorway. “Of course, buddy. I’ll get your guards to come in and tell ya what happened before they go off duty. After we get Solkin, they won’t be needed here anymore. They’ll tell you before they go.”

“Okay.”

Hutch held Starsky’s gaze for a moment. Starsky nodded and then was gone. Hutch sighed and started praying as hard as he could for the safe return of his partner.

 

Chapter Five

“All right Teddy. We can hear everything ya say. Loud and clear. Just keep calm. Artie knows No-fingers is in custody but he’ll believe ya been staying out of sight all day. Ya got nothing to worry about.”

Teddy nodded, trying to look braver than he felt. Starsky placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll do fine. Just get Solkin talking before ya get paid if ya can. Ya get spooked just mention ya sister and we’ll come in. Otherwise, get paid, get clear and then we’ll be in to get Solkin.”

Teddy nodded and climbed out of the back of the grey van which was parked around the corner from Harry’s Bar. He crossed the road and headed towards the door of the Bar.

From inside the van, the four officers heard the sudden noise as he entered the bar and pushed his way through the crowded room.  The technician fiddled with a dial to lessen the volume.

“Teddy.”

“Hi Frankie.”

“Where you been? I thought something had happened to you.”

“Been lying low in case the cops was looking for me.”

“You heard about No-fingers?”

“No, what?”

“Got caught by that cop’s partner. Artie’s furious.”

Teddy laughed nervously. “I bet. Where is Artie? I want my money and then I’m going to lay low for a couple of weeks.”

“Artie’s in the back room. He didn’t want anyone to see us meeting. Follow me.”

The men listening heard the noise die down and the sound of footsteps. Starsky grimaced and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he heard Solkin’s voice.

“Where you been then young Teddy?”

“Hiding in case the cops were looking for me.”

“Why’d they be looking for you? ‘Less you been talking to people you shouldn’t have?”

Teddy cleared his throat nervously. “Well, we done the cop like you asked Artie. Stands to reason cops will be asking questions, trying to find out who did him.”

There was silence for a moment and Starsky could imagine Artie smoking his cigar and thinking.

“Well, no-one knows it was you so you got nothing to worry about. No-fingers won’t talk. He’s a professional – he knows he gets a bonus for keeping his trap shut even if he didn’t complete the job.”

“So, our money?” Frankie asked.

They heard the sound of something being opened and then a rustling sound.

“This is short by half,” Frankie protested.

“You only did half the job,” Artie said, “And I’m assuming you ran away as No-fingers was the only one who got collared.”

“We did what you asked; we beat that cop good,” Teddy said.

“But Hutchinson still has all his fingers,” Arte said, “You should have kept his partner busy so No-fingers could finish what I’m going to pay him for.”

“It’s not our fault,” Frankie started to protest but Artie cut in.

“You want to earn the rest, you keep an eye on the hospital. Let me know when Hutchinson gets out. I’ve got more things planned for him.”

“I’ve heard enough!” Starsky growled. He looked at Dobey and the technician who was recording the conversation. “We got enough, don’t we?” Both men nodded at him.

He heard Teddy speaking. “I don’t want to go near that place. Too many cops around. Frankie, if you got any sense, you’ll leave with your money and keep your nose clean for a while.”

They heard footsteps again and then the noises from the bar got louder.

Starsky turned to Callaghan. “He’s on his way out. That’s our cue. You take Frankie if he’s still there. I want Solkin.”

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

It was nearly midnight but Hutch wasn’t asleep. The main light was out but he still had the little lamp on above his bed and kept darting looks at his watch and then the door. He was just thinking about struggling into his clothes and persuading the two officers outside his door to help him go looking for his partner when the door opened and a curly-haired head appeared.

“Oh thank God,” Hutch said with relief.

Starsky grinned and came into the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

“What happened? Did you get him?” Hutch demanded.

“Ssh, not so loud, partner, or you’ll get me thrown out. I had to creep past the nurse’s station while she was looking for a file.”

Starsky pushed the chair nearer to the bed and slipped into it.

“Well?” Hutch asked more quietly.

“Got him, partner. Got him good. Stupid cockroach talked about what he’d tried to do to you and even said he had more plans. He’s going away for a long, long time.”

“He give you any trouble?”

“Nah, you know Artie, he’s got no backbone. That’s why he gets other people to do his dirty work.”

“What about Stratton?”

“He’d have been all right. We had trouble connecting him to Artie but Artie…Artie folded like a piece of paper and took Stratton with him. He won’t be trying to take no more fingers till he’s an old, old man.”

Hutch shuddered.

“Sorry, buddy, didn’t mean to remind ya of what might have happened.”

“What about Teddy and Frankie? What’s going to happen to them?”

“Well, Frankie will get a couple of years for beating ya but I think Dobey’s going to talk to the DA tomorrow and see if something can be worked out for Teddy. The kid did good by helping us.”

“Yes, sounds like there’s hope for him.  Desperation makes people make stupid choices. Pity we can’t find a way to help him and his family.”

Starsky patted Hutch’s arm. “Way ahead of ya partner. Uncle Al was telling me the other day that he needs someone trustworthy to wash and clean his cars, detail them, keep an eye on them when he’s out on test drives. I thought maybe I’d ask him if he’d give Teddy the job.”

“Brilliant idea, buddy,” Hutch said. He suddenly sagged against his pillows and yawned.

“You should get some shut-eye,” Starsky said.

“You should too.”

“As soon as I can muster up the energy to get out of this chair, I’ll head on home,” Starsky said, joining Hutch in a yawn. “Don’t mind me. Settle down. I’ll head off in a minute. See ya in the morning.”

“See ya,” Hutch yawned, closing his eyes.

When a nurse came in to check on Hutch early the next morning, she found the two partners fast asleep. Starsky was sprawled across the chair with his head hanging off the side – the nurse couldn’t help smiling and wondering how anybody could sleep in such an uncomfortable position.

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

Starsky had made an effort with dinner, producing pasta with a cream sauce containing chicken, ham and even some vegetables, and heating up an apple pie in the oven. Ever since Hutch had been in the hospital, he’d seen more of Ali. She had called him the day Hutch got out, saying that she’d been upset at the thought that something could have happened to him and he might not have called her; that he would have assumed that she didn’t want to be with him, to take care of him. They had talked for more than an hour and Ali had asked if they could start seeing each other again but take it slow. They started by having dinner once a week and calling each other every other day. It didn’t take long for things between them to get back to more how they had been; talking daily and meeting for dinner a couple of times a week and trying to spend some of the weekend together. Starsky was feeling a lot happier and was starting to think it might be the right time to try and move things forward even more. He decided to wait until a suitable opportunity presented itself and if it felt right, to go with it.

Tonight, he felt the timing might be right. The whole evening had been really enjoyable and, although Ali seemed quieter than usual, she seemed to have enjoyed it too. Starsky handed her a glass of wine and told her to sit on the sofa while he cleared up a bit. As he sorted out pans, washed china and left things drying in the rack, he chattered to her about his work that week and how her job was going.

“So honey, now you’re feeling more like yourself, ya think we can start making some plans?”

There was no reply. Starsky turned around just in time to see Ali heading towards the door.

“Ali?”

Her response was to shake her head without looking at him and grab her coat from the peg near the door. Then she was gone.

“Damn it!” Starsky threw the spatula he was still holding across the room in exasperation. He didn’t bother to go after her. What was the point? It was clear she wasn’t ready to talk about the future. Maybe she never would be.

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

Later that night found Starsky pacing his frustration out on the rug in the Hutchinsons’ living room. “I don’t know what to do. She just walked out when I started talking about the future.”

Laura frowned. “She’s bound to be very emotional at the moment. It would have been John’s birthday tomorrow.”

Starsky swore under his breath. “I didn’t know that.” He sighed. “I’ve messed up, haven’t I? I should have realised Ali was more subdued than normal. Ugh.”

Hutch had heard the conversation, as he came in carrying beers for all of them. “Hey, don’t beat yourself up. You weren’t to know, Starsk.”

Starsky took the beer and threw himself down on the sofa next to Laura.

“I’m doomed. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her I want to get on with our life together. It’s hopeless.”

Laura patted his hand, trying not to smile at his outburst. “You’re not doomed. I think you need to try again to talk to her about it. You’re entitled to want to get on with your future.”

“But don’t you think it sounds as if I don’t care that John’s gone…I do care, I really liked him,” Starsky said with a little hitch in his voice, “And I know it’ll upset her because he can’t give her away…even though we were planning on having a courthouse ceremony so I suppose it’s not so important but…”

“But?”

“I’m tired of travelling between two homes. I’m tired of having to book time to see her…I just want to be there to hold her through the night, if that what she needs, and have her be the first thing I see when I wake up.”

Laura took his hand and squeezed it. She stared off into the distance for the moment. Then she turned back to Starsky. “Why don’t you ask her if she’d like it if you moved in together?”

Starsky looked surprised. “Didn’t think you’d come up with a suggestion like that Mac. I mean I thought you’d disapprove, being a church goer and all.”

Laura shrugged slightly. “It wouldn’t have worked for me…but you two know you want to get married, you clearly both want to be together and I think, right now, you need to be together in whatever way works for you under the current circumstances. Who knows, maybe if you ask her, it will open up the question and you can at least start talking about the future again.”

Starsky looked at Hutch and asked, “What do ya think, buddy?”

“I think my wife makes very good sense,” Hutch said with a small smile. “Do it, Starsk. It will at least mean you have to talk about what you both want and, hopefully, it will sound less pressured than asking about wedding plans.”

Starsky nodded. “Thanks. Thanks both of you. I’ll let John’s birthday pass and then I think I will ask her.”

“Good,” Laura said. “Why don’t you stay for dinner? I think it’s high time we had a game of monopoly.”

Hutch groaned.

“Thanks. I’d like that, Mac,” Starsky said.

As Laura headed out of the room to make a start on dinner, Starsky said, “What are you groaning for? You normally win.”

Hutch laid a hand on Starsky’s shoulder. “Buddy, leave while you still can. Laura looks like a normal person but when it comes to monopoly, I’ve never met anyone so competitive!”

“She can’t possibly be that bad.”

Hutch shook his head. “Don’t say you weren’t warned!”

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

The phone was ringing as Laura walked into the kitchen to put the coffee on for breakfast.

“Laura?”

“Ali? Everything okay?”

“Yes, no, I don’t know. Is Dave with you?”

“Yes, he came over last night and stayed.”

Laura heard Ali burst into tears.

“Ali, darling, don’t cry.”

“I-I-I tried to c-c-call him and h-h-he wasn’t there. I-I-I…” Whatever Ali was trying to say was lost in sobs.

“Where are you? Home? Or your Mom’s?”

“H-h-home.”

“Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming right over.”

Laura put the phone down. She scribbled a note on the pad lying next to the telephone and then ripped the sheet off, leaving it next to the coffee pot for her husband to see. Then she collected her key and her jacket and headed out of the front door. Half an hour later, Hutch came downstairs and walked into the kitchen. He was surprised not to see Laura. He went and looked in the living room but she wasn’t there. As he walked back towards the kitchen, Starsky came down the stairs. He looked a lot happier than he had last night.

“Morning.”

“Morning Starsk. You sleep okay?”

“Yeah, lot better than I have been recently. Thanks buddy, just needed to let all my frustrations out, I guess.”

Hutch nodded. He headed back to the kitchen with Starsky following behind. This time he saw the note next to the coffee pot and picked it up.

“Oh.”

“Everything all right?”

“Yeah, I think so. Apparently, Ali rang this morning and Laura’s gone over to see her.”

Starsky instantly looked worried.

“Laura says she’ll ring when she gets there and sees how she is. Try not to worry. How about we have some coffee and I’ll make some pancakes for us.”

Starsky’s mood lifted instantly. “Bapz?” he asked hopefully.

Hutch groaned. “Yeah all right. Wish I’d never invented it!” he joked as he got out the flour, milk, eggs and bacon.

“Ah, don’t say that buddy. You know I love them.”

Hutch smiled as he mixed up the batter for the pancakes. It was worth the effort and time just to see Starsky smile.

“I know partner. Just joking. I’ll cook you bapz all the day long if it makes you happy.”

Starsky finished pouring two mugs of coffee and put one next to where Hutch was cooking. He looked over Hutch’s shoulder, close enough for Hutch to feel his friend’s chin touch his shoulder.

“Thanks Hutch…for everything.”

“No problem buddy…You’d better move back so I can get these things cooking. Don’t want to burn you.”

Starsky dragged a stool over and sat close enough to watch Hutch working at his creation.

They both heard the front door open and shut.

“Laura honey, we’re in the kitchen cooking breakfast,” Hutch called.

“Is that bacon I smell?” Laura called back.

“Yeah, Hutch has got his bapz on the go,” Starsky answered as Laura came into the kitchen. Suddenly, they both realised she wasn’t alone.

Starsky stood up and took one step forward. “Ali?”

Looking very teary-eyed, Ali walked straight over to Starsky and hugged him.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry about walking out last night. I d-don’t know w-why I did that. I was j-just m-missing my Dad.”

As she started crying again, Starsky hugged her tight. He whispered in her ear, “That’s okay, honey. You’re allowed to miss him.”

“I-I d-didn’t want you to see m-me crying yet again. Thought you’d b-be fed up with m-me.”

“Never. I’ll never be fed up with you,” Starsky declared and squeezed Ali tighter.

After a couple of minutes, Laura tapped Ali on the shoulder and, as she pulled herself away from Starsky’s hug, handed her a large box of tissues. She started smiling even though she was still crying. Hutch caught her eye and pretended to look hurt.

“At least wait until you’ve tried my bacon and pancake stack sandwich before you start crying! It doesn’t taste that bad, honest!”

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

On a Thursday evening towards the end of October, there was a knock on Starsky’s door and a few seconds later, Hutch came striding in across the lounge, past all the stacked cardboard boxes. He joined Starsky in the kitchen area where he was shoving kitchen equipment into yet another box.

“Hey buddy, how’s the packing going?”

“Nearly there, I think. Just clothes and bedding left really. I’m about ready to move.” Starsky’s voice betrayed his excitement.

Hutch grinned at him. “Great…You still excited about last night?”

“Yeah, ecstatic! I still wish the Dodgers were based back in Brooklyn but I’m glad they won the Series. Fourth time in a row too!”

“Calm down, Starsk. It’s only a baseball game.”

“Only a baseball game, he says. You just here to annoy me or are you here to help me with the last of the packing?”

Unexpectedly, Hutch turned and went through to the bedroom. He opened Starsky’s closet door and rummaged around until he found a medium sized suitcase. He pushed Starsky’s clothes along on their hangars and selected three shirts and a jacket. From the shelves and drawers he picked two t-shirts and two pairs of jeans. Then he went back to the closet and dragged out a suit that was still covered in a dry-cleaning cover; it was the one Starsky had worn for Hutch’s wedding.

Watching from the doorway with a bemused expression on his face, Starsky finally asked, “Hutch? What are you doing?”

“I’m kidnapping you. You need to grab some pyjamas, underwear, your toothbrush and shaving kit and then we can go to my house.”

“Why?”

“’Cause you’re spending the night at my place.”

“I am?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“Because we got an early start in the morning.”

“We do?”

“Yeah, we do,” Hutch said, looking straight at his friend, “because you’re getting married tomorrow and we need to get down to the Courthouse early to get the licence part done. That reminds me; make sure you got some ID on you.”

Starsky opened his mouth but couldn’t seem to speak. He blinked. “What did you say? It sounded like ya said I’m getting married.”

“Yep, that’s right. You. Married. Tomorrow.”

“Hutch? You hit your head again or something?...Or did I? What are ya talking about?”

“Hey, I got my instructions – take you to my place and get you to the courthouse by nine-thirty tomorrow. That’s my job as Best Man. Ali’s in charge.”

Starsky’s face looked even more surprised.

“You’re serious?”

“Never more so, pal. Grab your stuff and we’ll get going.”

Starsky closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Next thing he knew, Hutch had his arms around him in a reassuring hug.

“You all right, Starsk?”

Starsky shook his head.

“Time to start that married life you wanted, buddy. Okay?”

Starsky pulled back and searched Hutch’s face. “This is real? I’m not going to wake up in a minute and find I’m in the hospital or I’m in my bed but I’ve been having a dream. This is real?”

“Yeah, it’s real, Starsk. You’re going to get married to the woman you love tomorrow and tonight we’re going to have a laugh and a drink…but not too much, I’m under strict instructions that you have to be sober tomorrow. The soon-to-be Mrs Starsky’s orders.”

Starsky blinked again and then a huge grin began to form on his face. “Mrs Starsky…I love the sound of that.” Then a cloud passed over his face. “What about my mom? I can’t get married without my mom there, Hutch.”

“Already taken care of. Ali’s picking her up…” Hutch looked at his watch before continuing, “Right about now in fact and she’s going to stay the night with Ali’s mom.”

“When? How?”

“Ali’s been planning this for a couple of weeks. Laura and I were sworn to secrecy but I can tell you now that you’re going have a big party tomorrow night with everyone you want at Huggy’s place and then you’re heading away for a mini honeymoon weekend. Ali could only get a couple of days off because it’s term time.”

“Where are we going?”

“Can’t tell you that; that’s Ali’s last surprise for you.”

Starsky looked around his apartment. “What about moving house this weekend?”

“All sorted; me and Laura and a bunch of other people are going to get you moved while you’re away…So?...You ready to go?”

“I’ll grab my stuff and then ya can take me wherever ya want, buddy.”

Hutch grinned after his partner’s hurrying form as Starsky practically ran into the bathroom to get his shaving kit.

 

/\/\/\/\/\FINIS/\/\/\/\/\