Chapter 1: Day One
If you press me to say why I loved him,
I can say no more than it was because
he was he and I was I
--Michel Eyquem Montaigne Essays, "On Friendship"
As the effect of quantum leaping faded from his senses, Sam found himself standing in front of a desk. Seated at the desk was a large black man with a fierce expression on his face.
"Well?" the man asked, "What do you say?"
Sam looked around the office in bewilderment, trying to gain some clue to help him answer. "Uhh...about what?" he asked hesitantly.
The man at the desk sighed irritably. "Are you willing to partner up with Detective Hutchinson in these circumstances?"
Under his breath Sam muttered, "Oh, boy." He smiled weakly at the man and opened his mouth to begin stalling when another, very welcome voice, interrupted.
"Say yes, Sam."
"Yes," Sam said immediately. The man behind the desk relaxed and smiled approvingly. Sam glanced around and found Al walking toward him, fingers busy on the handlink. Al looked up at him briefly, then returned his attention to the handlink.
"Good," the black man said. "I know it won't be easy but Hutchinson is a good detective. He just needs some time to adjust." He gazed at nothing for a moment, his expression unreadable to Sam, then shook himself and stood up, saying, "I'll call him in." As he passed Sam he added: "And don't pay attention to his reaction. I haven't told him I'm assigning him a partner."
Sam rolled his eyes at Al, his expression clearly asking for some explanations.
Al took the cigar out of his mouth and quickly informed him: "You're name is Michael Jennings. You're a police detective, newly assigned here. We're in L.A.,1977, that's Captain Dobey. Just play along, Sam."
Captain Dobey opened the door and called out for Hutchinson, then returned to stand by Sam. They waited silently until another man came into the office.
Detective Sergeant Hutchinson was tall, blond, and blue-eyed. He was dressed neatly in brown slacks with a black sweater, but Sam, looking at his too-pale face, knew who he was here to help. A gun hung by Hutchinson's side in a shoulder holster. Hutchinson glanced at Sam indifferently, then looked at Captain Dobey.
"Hutch," Captain Dobey began, his voice muted, "I'd like you to meet Mike Jennings." He indicated Sam.
"How do you do?" Sam smiled tentatively.
Hutchinson nodded at him but kept his attention focused on Dobey.
"He's your new partner," Dobey stated.
The expressions that crossed Hutchinson's face transmuted so quickly that they barely registered with Sam. He thought he saw pain, grief, anger, then the face sealed itself away from the world and Hutchinson, in a quiet voice said, "We've been over this--I don't want a partner. I work alone."
Dobey reacted right away, almost before the words were out of Hutch, as if he had expected them. "No, you don't work alone. Not if you want to stay in this Department. Everyone has a partner, not excepting you. And after that last escapade..."
Hutch interrupted, "Nothing happened, Captain."
"You could have died," Captain Dobey said flatly. Hutch looked like he was about to interrupt again, but Dobey quelled him with a look, then spoke softly: "Hutch, you're the best detective I have and I'm not going to lose you, too."
The two men locked gazes, still arguing but silently. Then Hutch looked away and down. Sam, watching Dobey, saw a look of great empathy pass over that fierce face, but the expression was gone by the time Hutchinson looked up again.
Hutchinson looked from Dobey to Sam, then shrugged and nodded in one economical motion.
Dobey softened, and sighed. "It's been three weeks..."
"All right," Hutch snapped at Dobey. "I said all right."
"Fine," Captain Dobey said, his expression rigid again. "Look, why don't you show Mike his desk. Then come back and see me while he's getting settled."
Hutch nodded, his face shuttered. He gestured for Sam to precede him out the door. Sam looked at Al who made a shooing motion with his hands.
They went out of Captain Dobey's office and into a room filled with wide, two-sided desks arranged in rows. There were both plainclothed and uniformed police officers in the room. As Hutch led Sam to the desks, Al stepped up beside him and said, "We need to talk, Sam. Ask him where the men's room is."
Hutch stopped at a desk at the end of the first row. The far side was covered with files and papers, a cup of coffee and, somewhat incongruously, a large plastic piggy bank. The near side was cleared, with only a few pens and pencils set in meticulous order on its surface. "This will be your desk," Hutch said, still not making eye contact with Sam. He pointed out the office supplies already present. "Anything else you need you can pick up over there," Hutch nodded in the direction of a cabinet marked supplies, then he looked back at the office door. "I have to go talk to Dobey. You'll be all right here?"
"Yeah," Sam said, then saw Al signaling to him. "Uhh, actually I do have a question." Hutch looked at him inquiringly. "Can you direct me to the men's room?"
A few minutes later, after checking to make sure no one else was in the restroom, Sam turned to Al and demanded, "Will you tell me what's going on here now, please?"
Al, despite his natty green jacket, yellow shirt and red fedora, looked harried. "Well, we don't know exactly..." he began.
Sam interrupted. "You don't know? Why'd you tell me to say 'yes' then?"
"Because that's what the guy in the waiting room was saying," Al retorted. He raised the handlink, ostentatiously poking at the buttons. "Now let's see if Ziggy can tell us anything else, okay?" Sam shrugged acceptance and turned to study himself in the mirror while Al conferred with the handlink. He saw a young, dark haired man, with brown eyes and a handsome face. He was dressed in a white shirt, with a tie, and black slacks.
Al continued, reading from the handlink. "Ziggy says you're Mike Jennings and you were a nar...cot..." Al looked puzzled. "A nar...oh! A narcotics officer in Chicago. Your cover was blown and you moved out here to California. You've been assigned to Captain Dobey's division as a detective." Al beamed, pleased to be able to give so much information.
"That's fine, Al," Sam congratulated him. "Why am I here?"
"Oh. Well." Al returned his attention to the handlink. "Ziggy's best guess is that you're here to help Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, known as 'Hutch'. That's the guy you just met," Al added helpfully.
"Thank you," Sam said, with exaggerated patience. "What happens to him?"
Al studied the handlink, then looked up at Sam with a grim expression. Sam braced himself. "Ziggy says he commits suicide in three days."
"Suicide?" Sam repeated, shocked. "Why?"
Al shook his head and shrugged. "We don't know, yet. Ziggy's trying to access the police reports to see if we can find out anything. But he gives it an 86% chance right now that you're here to keep Hutchinson from committing suicide."
Sam took a deep breath, then nodded his understanding. "All right. Find out what you can, and meanwhile I'll see what I can do." He turned toward the door, noting in passing the anxious expression crossing his new persona's face.
"Yeah, okay," Al agreed, using the handlink to bring the imaging chamber door. He paused and looked back at Sam. "Hey listen," he said in a soft voice, "you take it easy out there huh? Being a cop can be kind of dangerous--especially with a partner who's suicidal."
Sam's grin drove the anxious expression away. "I'll be okay," he assured Al. "You just get to work and bring me more information."
Sam spent the next several hours reading over the pending case files and getting acquainted with the Department and its officers. He also found "he" had an apartment and where it was located. Later, he went out with Hutch to cruise the neighborhood, familiarizing himself with their territory. He found Hutch to be polite and informative when questioned about cases or the neighborhood, but reticent to the point of monosyllables on all other topics. They traveled in Hutch's car, a battered Ford of indeterminate color that seemed to have no shock absorbers at all.
It was nearing 4:00 when the police radio suddenly crackled and a female voice said, "All units in the vicinity of 30th and Larpenter, gunshots reported at 132 Larpenter. All units please respond."
"That's us," Hutch said. "Tell them we're responding."
Gingerly, Sam picked up the radio mike. "Uhh, this is...Zebra 3," Sam said, remembering their call letters. "We're responding to the call you just made. Um, over." Sam ignored Hutch's raised eyebrows, and reached for the attachable flasher to put on the roof of the car. Hutch flipped the siren switch and they raced to 132 Larpenter.
When they arrived they found a black and white police unit already there, along with an ambulance, in front of a modest ranch-style home with a neatly kept small yard. They hurried inside, nearly colliding with the paramedics as they wheeled out a gurney. The paramedics ignored them, working as they were walking, trying to stabilize the victim of the shooting before transport to the hospital. Sam caught a glimpse of their patient and was stunned to see it was a young boy, maybe 8 years of age.
Sam's immediate impression once they were inside the home, was one of chaos. There was blood spattered and pooling before the sofa in the living room. To one side, a small, anxious knot of pre-teen boys were clumped together, nervously eyeing a uniformed police officer who was walking back into the living room through the kitchen.
"Hi Linda," Hutch greeted the police officer. "What's going on?"
"I'm glad you got here," Linda replied. She was of medium height, with short chestnut hair and green eyes that looked very worried. She glanced at Sam with some curiosity but was quick to inform Hutch of the situation. "There's a boy out back with the gun. He's threatening to kill himself." She gestured for Hutch and Sam to follow her and led them hurriedly through the kitchen to the back door. "His name is Jason," she continued as they walked. "It was his younger brother, Stevie, who was shot."
The back yard was fenced in, with a garden along the back bursting with flowers and vegetables. A small deck led from the kitchen to the yard. To one side of the yard was a small shed, the door ajar.
"It looks like it was an accident," Linda said as they drew to a halt just outside the back door. "But Jason was holding the gun when it went off."
Hutch nodded. "I'll talk to him. You two go back in and see about the other boys."
"Hutch, wait." Linda objected, stepping in front of him. "I've already established some contact with Jason; let me go talk to him."
"No, I'll do it," Hutch insisted.
"I know the promotion is important to you, Linda," Hutch said brusquely, "but I'm handling this one." Linda blinked in surprise and backed up as Hutch brushed by her, moving slowly toward the shed.
Grimacing, Linda came to stand beside Sam near the back door, the two of them watching tensely as Hutch approached the shed.
"Jason," they heard Hutch call, "my name is Ken Hutchinson. Can we talk for just a little bit?" Any reply that Hutch received was unintelligible to the two watching. "I just want to talk," Hutch said, easing toward the door.
"Stay away!" a boy's voice cried loudly. "I'll shoot you. I'll kill you! Just like..." The voice broke off into a sob. Hutch reached the door and paused, half-in and half-out. Sam heard him speaking, and the boy replying, but couldn't make out the words. He looked at Linda and saw that she too was straining to hear what was being said.
Linda sighed, and glanced at Sam, though most of her attention remained focused on the shed. "I'm Linda Perillo," she introduced herself."
"Mike Jennings," Sam replied. "I'm working with Hutch."
"Oh, lucky you," she said with sarcasm. Immediately her expression changed and she said, "I'm sorry; I didn't mean that. I guess I'm sensitive to 'grandstanding' at the moment."
Sam looked an inquiry. "Promotion," she explained laconically. Her eyes fastened on the shed again. "That kid's on the edge," she said, the worry evident in her voice.
From the shed they heard the boy's voice again, sounding anguished. "No! You don't understand..."
There was a commotion behind Sam and Linda, and through the back door came a small blonde woman."What's going on?" the woman cried. "Where are my sons?" She looked wildly around the yard, then zeroed in on the shed. Sam and Linda both grabbed her before she could move past them.
"Mrs. Hatch," Linda said to the distraught woman. "Are you Mrs. Hatch?" The woman nodded, fixing anxious eyes on the police woman. "Mrs. Hatch, I'm Officer Perillo and this is Detective Jennings." She urged the woman back toward the house. "Let's go inside to talk for a moment."
Mrs. Hatch resisted the urging. "My sons? Where are they?"
"I'll explain everything, Mrs. Hatch," Linda assured her. "But just come with us right now." Reluctantly Mrs. Hatch allowed Linda and Sam to take her back into the house. They stood in the kitchen, able to keep an eye on both the shed and the other boys still in the living room.
As gently as she could, Linda explained the situation to Mrs. Hatch.
"Shot?" Mrs. Hatch exclaimed in a horrified voice. "Oh my God, Stevie..."
"He's on the way to the hospital right now," Linda reassured her.
"I have to go to him," Mrs. Hatch said, wringing her hands, but her gaze was fixed on the shed in the back yard. "But Jason. Why can't I see him?"
"He's blaming himself for what happened," Sam explained softly. "He might not be able to face you right now."
Mrs. Hatch raised a trembling hand to her lips. "I don't understand any of this," she said in a shaking voice. "You say that Jason shot him. We don't even own a gun!"
"Mrs. Hatch," Linda began to explain, laying a gentle hand on the woman's arm, "we think one of the other boys brought the gun to show. They were playing around with it and it accidentally went off, wounding Stevie."
"Oh my God," Mrs. Hatch moaned. "Oh my God." She looked up and her eyes fixed on a sight outside the window. "Jason, " she said softly, then more loudly, as she started toward the door. "Jason!"
Sam and Linda turned to see Hutch walking across the yard, one arm around a boy's thin shoulders, urging him forward. When they came into the house Jason halted, pulling Hutch to a stop with him. His eyes were full with tears, his expression anguished. "Mom," he choked out, "I--I didn't mean to hurt him. Oh, Mom!"
Mrs. Hatch opened her arms and Jason flung himself at her, burying his head against her chest and sobbing.
Hutch walked over and handed the gun to Linda saying, "Here, you'll need this." His face might have been chiseled in granite, the lips pressed tightly together and every feature accented. His eyes held a terrible, aching expression as he turned away from them to look back at the mother and son.
"Hutch," Linda said with concern, reaching out to lay a hand on his arm. "Are you all right?"
Hutch disengaged from her hold, answering shortly, "I'm fine." With a helpless gesture, Linda dropped her hand and moved back a few steps.
"I promised Jason I'd take him to the hospital to wait for word on his brother," Hutch informed them in a flat voice. "I'll take the two of them in my car while you and Mike finish up here." He glanced at Linda. "Harry's not with you today?"
"He called in sick this morning," she replied.
Hutch nodded. "Then would you drop Mike off at the hospital when you're finished?"
"Sure," Linda said, and Sam nodded agreement.
Hutch paused, and his face softened. "I'm sorry," he said quietly to Linda. "About what I said earlier. There was no cause for it."
Linda smiled with a great deal of understanding in her eyes. "It's all right, " she assured him.
As Hutch, Mrs. Hatch and Jason went to the hospital, Sam and Linda returned to the living room to interview the young witnesses. The story confirmed their speculation on what had happened and Linda and Sam then spent some time contacting parents, explaining the situation, and waiting until all of the boys had been picked up by a family member.
They were quiet in the car as they drove to the hospital, until Sam broke the silence. "Have you known Hutch for a long time?" He wanted to gather some more information on his partner.
Linda, who was driving, glanced at him. "A few years. Why?"
"Well, I just met him today. I'm his new partner."
She nodded. "I heard Captain Dobey assigned him one." She gave Sam a sly smile. "Gossip goes around the police station pretty quickly. How are you holding up?"
"He seems...distant," Sam ventured.
Linda nodded again, as if she were expecting that. "He has been, ever since the funeral," she explained with a sigh. "He's shutting himself off from other people--even his friends." There was concern in the green eyes that turned to Sam. "I know he's hurting, but he won't let anyone in to help."
"Funeral?" Sam asked cautiously.
Linda's eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed. "Captain Dobey told you about the situation, didn't he?"
"Well...uh..." Sam stammered, not certain what to say.
Linda was concentrating on traffic, but Sam could see the puzzled expression on her face. "His partner was killed" she finally said, in a voice that indicated that should explain everything. And for Sam, it did. He felt like he'd been kicked in the gut. To lose a partner...
Maybe he didn't tell you how close they were," Linda suggested slowly.
Sam shook his head. "Tell me," he invited.
"They were a team," Linda began, her expression shadowed with grief. "They relied on each other completely. I've never seen any friendship as tight as theirs. And they were...balance for each other." She glanced at Sam. "You know as cops we have to keep a distance, maintain an emotional separation to avoid clouding our judgment. Sometimes I wonder if that distance hurts as much as it helps. Well, they were able to walk closer to that edge because of each other. One of them could vent the emotions for both, and if he went over, the other would grab hold and bring him back. That gave them tremendous freedom to act and think and feel. They not only trusted their lives to each other, they entrusted their souls. Now Hutch is having to relearn how to deal with cases, and this life, without that support."
She drew in a deep breath, not looking at Sam as she dropped her next bombshell. "And on top of that, Dobey probably didn't tell you that Hutch blames himself for what happened."
Sam's head turned quickly. "No."
"He does," Linda said grimly. "He wasn't responsible, of course, but what matters is what he thinks. And he thinks he let his partner down." She sighed again, and a somewhat rueful look lightened the somberness. "Why do you think he insisted on speaking with Jason just now?"
Sam shook his head.
"He understands what Jason's going through--blaming himself. I'll bet you a week's pay he went in that shed and talked to him about Starsky, and about responsibility."
Sam thought about Hutch's expression when he came out of the shed with Jason. "He opened up his own wound, in order to help Jason?"
"He's a very good cop," Linda explained quietly.
They arrived at the hospital to find Hutch, Mrs. Hatch and Jason waiting anxiously for news on Stevie. Happily the information soon arrived that Stevie would be all right. He had lost a lot of blood, and it would take time for complete rehabilitation, but he would be fine. Mrs. Hatch thanked the three officers profusely but Hutch pointed out that if Jason hadn't called for an ambulance right away, Stevie might not have made it. Mrs. Hatch, with an arm around her elder son, agreed and Jason gave them both a shy, tentative smile, through his tears. The terror that had gripped him was now fading into relief and joy.
Sam and Hutch headed for Hutch's car in the hospital parking lot, intending to return to headquarters to wrap up their shift. By now it was early evening and Sam was beginning to realize that he rather urgently wanted dinner. As they reached the car, dispatch called to say that a man named 'Huggy' wanted to see them at The Rafters. Hutch responded to dispatch that they were on their way, and to log them as off shift. He gestured for Sam to get into the car.
"Huggy?" Sam questioned, as they drove from the parking lot.
"Huggy Bear," Hutch told him. "He's a friend. Not an informant, but he finds out what the word is on the street. Currently, he's managing a restaurant/bar sort of place for a friend of his."
"Any chance we could get some dinner while we're there?" Sam asked
Hutch shrugged. "I'm not hungry. But you might want to eat there--the food is reasonably good."
"Will you join me, at least for a little while?" Sam pressed. "I have some more questions about these cases."
Hutch paused, then shrugged. "All right," he agreed quietly.
At The Rafters Hutch led Sam to a table inside. They were just settling in when a tall, wiry black man dressed in a tight-fitting black and pink outfit made of silk, called out to Hutch and made his way over.
"Huggy," Hutch acknowledged.
"Hutch, my man!" Huggy said, fairly jumping up and down with pleasure. "It's been too long since you last graced this humble establishment." Hutch rolled his eyes at the effusiveness and slumped back in his chair. "And who is this?" Huggy asked, peering at Sam.
"This is Mike Jennings, Huggy. He's working with me."
"I see," Huggy said, and for a moment his dark eyes met Hutch's blue. Then Hutch looked away and Huggy's smile came back full force as he turned to Sam. "Mike," he said, "a real pleasure to meet you."
"How do you do, uh...Huggy?" Sam smiled.
"Huggy Bear is my name, and pleasurin' folks is my game," Huggy confirmed.
"What did you want to see us about, Huggy? " Hutch prompted. "Oh, and Mike's looking for some food."
"Ahh, goin' to try out some of the Raft's culinary delights, eh?" Huggy beamed. "Well tonight is your lucky night 'cause we're having a special on catfish that's so fresh you might as well be out in the wilds catchin' it yourself!"
"That sounds fine," Sam said.
"The call, Huggy," Hutch reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm gettin' to that," Huggy said. "It'll wait 'til after dinner. What do you want to eat, Hutch?"
Hutch shook his head. "Nothing to eat, but I would like a drink. Tequila."
Huggy hesitated, looking uncomfortable. "Uhh, Hutch," he said, lowering his voice. "When was the last time you ate, huh? You remember what happened last time..."
Hutch looked up at Huggy, his eyes hard, but he said mildly enough, "I asked for tequila, Huggy. Are you going to bring it or not?"
Huggy's lips drew down in a frown but he sighed and said, "Yeah, tequila, comin' up." He glanced at Sam. "You want anything to drink?" Sam asked for beer and Huggy retreated to get the drinks.
A somewhat strained silence fell at the table. Sam was wondering about the exchange of words and thinking about the connection between alcohol and suicide.
Hutch surprised him, however, when he gave Sam a considering look and in a surprisingly casual voice explained, "Huggy thinks I've been drinking too much recently."
"Have you?" Sam asked, keeping his expression neutral.
There was a rather long silence, then Hutch sighed and closed his eyes. "Maybe."
"It's...understandable," Sam offered.
Hutch looked at him and he smiled slightly as he leveraged himself out of the chair. "Look, I'm going to the john. When Huggy gets back tell him I'd like some dinner too. Catfish. Beer to drink with it."
"Okay," Sam acknowledged with a smile. He hesitated, then said, "And the tequila...?"
"One drink," Hutch said quietly. "I...do want one." He walked away toward the back of the restaurant.
Sam sat back, realizing only then how tense he had become. This conversation had reminded him of something...
"I've seen guys like him," Al suddenly commented, popping in beside Sam. "I've been guys like him."
"Al!" Sam said, diverted from his thoughts. "Where have you been?"
Al looked exasperated. "Where have I been?" he repeated. "I've been tracking down all that information you asked for. That's where I've been."
"Oh," Sam said, abashed. "What'd you find?"
Al gestured with his cigar, "I'll tell you later, it looks like you're about to have company."
Sam followed Al's gesture and saw Huggy coming back, carrying two glasses, a bottle, and a plate with a lime slice on it.
"Where'd he go?" Huggy asked Sam, nodding toward the empty chair as he put the drinks down on the table.
"Bathroom," Sam explained. "He said to let you know he would like the catfish for dinner and beer with it." Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Al examining Huggy's attire with a rapturous expression.
Huggy looked both pleased and relieved. He snagged a chair and sat down at the table, talking to Sam as he poured the tequila. "How long've you been working with Hutch?"
Sam let out a slight sigh, "This is the first day," he said.
"I see. Dobey partnered you with him?"
"You must be aware of the circumstances."
Sam glanced at Al, then back to Huggy. "I know that his partner died," Sam said cautiously.
Al looked surprised. "Hey, how'd you find out about that?" he asked.
Huggy nodded, his expression somber. "Yeah. Starsky. It was a terrible thing. And Hutch...he hasn't been the same. You should understand," he continued earnestly, "Starsky was his best friend. They were closer than brothers. I-- I lost a good friend, but Hutch..." Huggy shook his head, at a loss for words. "Hutch lost his partner. They'd have done anything for each other--and they did." Huggy hesitated, searching for a way to explain when there were no words. Then he caught Sam's gaze with his own. "Starsky explained it to me this way: He said, 'Like this,'" Huggy lifted his hand to chest level. "'Hutch and me are like this.'" And Huggy's fingers closed into a tight fist. Sam looked at the clenched hand and swallowed. Beside him, Al stood solemn and still. Huggy exhaled slowly and relaxed his hand. "Now Starsky's gone. Can you understand how that left Hutch?"
Sam's eyes fastened on Al. "Yes," he said, nodding slowly. "I understand very well." Al gazed back at him, and nodded, but with an unreadable expression that puzzled Sam.
Huggy nodded as well, looking pleased. "Good," he said. "Maybe it's not my place to say all this, but could be it'll help you deal with Hutch--and then maybe you can help him." There was sincere worry in Huggy's expression as he talked to Sam. "The only thing that's kept him going is his sense of duty. Being his partner is gonna be tough, but...he shouldn't be alone." Huggy looked up and saw that Hutch was coming back to the table. "Listen," he said quickly, "any time you need help or advice or anything about Hutch, you just let me know."
Sam nodded, saying, "Thank you Huggy," just as Hutch arrived.
"'Thank you Huggy' for what?" Hutch asked, sinking down into his chair.
"He's thankin' me for all the sage advice I've been givin' him," Huggy announced. "Particularly the bits about pickin' up some of them fine lookin' foxes that come into this wonderful establishment," he added, gesturing toward a group of young and very attractive women who had just arrived.
Hutch snorted, arranging the salt, time and tequila as he said to Sam, "Don't listen to Huggy if that's your game."
"Hmmpf," Huggy said, standing up. "I'm not gonna stay here and be insulted." He glanced toward the women again. "Instead I'm gonna go do my hosting dooties..." He sauntered away in the direction of the women.
"I'm right behind you," Al said, walking off in Huggy's wake."
"Al!" Sam hissed. The hologram ignored him, of course.
"Al?" Hutch inquired, after performing the tequila ritual.
"Al...lright!" Sam corrected himself. "That Huggy is really something, isn't he?"
Hutch looked at him strangely, but agreed equably enough.
Huggy was right, the catfish was delicious. The two men talked over the dinner, mostly about the cases the Department was currently working on. Sam tried to steer the conversation to more personal topics, but Hutch always politely steered it back to the job. Eventually Huggy came back their way to talk about what he had called them for. Al, Sam noticed, had disappeared--or was busy ogling. When Huggy told them that a woman named Grace Keller wanted to set up a meeting with Hutch for the next morning, Hutch looked astonished.
"You're sure she wanted to see me?" He asked Huggy. Huggy nodded in confirmation, and Hutch protested, "That doesn't make sense, Huggy. Grace Keller inviting a cop to meet with her?"
"Who is she?" Sam asked.
"She runs one of the biggest bordellos in the city," Hutch replied.
Huggy shook his head, a disgusted look on his face. "She doesn't run a bordello, Hutch. She runs a classy place for companionship," he explained to Sam.
"It's a bordello," Hutch insisted stubbornly.
"Why does she want to see Hutch?" Sam asked practically.
Huggy looked uncertain. "I think I'll leave that for Grace to explain. She wants to meet you tomorrow morning at 10:00 at Parson's Park. She said to tell you it was important."
Hutch shrugged, looking perplexed. "Okay," he said, "we'll meet with her."
Huggy went to contact Grace that the meeting was set up. Sam and Hutch finished their meal then went back to police headquarters for Sam to pick up his car.
Sam drove to his apartment (after checking a city map), mulling over the events of the day. All in all he thought he was making progress on his mission. Hutch might be keeping a wall between them right now, but Sam thought he'd be able to scale it, or break through. Mostly he wanted Al to show up again and fill him in on some details.
Sam wasn't surprised when Al met him at the door of his apartment, but he wasn't prepared for Al to pop out through the door. "Don't do that!" Sam exclaimed, trying to keep his heart from jumping out his throat.
Al's contrite expression was belied by the wicked gleam in his dark eyes. Sam just rolled his own eyes and went inside. The apartment was a simple one bedroom, with the look of a newly occupied furnished apartment. After exploring the interior for a few moments, Sam settled down on the couch, loosened his tie and top shirt button, leaned back and looked expectantly at Al.
"How'd your day go?" Al asked. He seemed more nervous than usual to Sam, almost edgy.
Sam shrugged, studying Al. "It went all right. Hutch managed to keep a kid from killing himself."
"Yeah?" Al was looking down at the handlink.
"Yeah. What's going on Al? What's bothering you?"
"Nothing's bothering me," Al said, turning away from Sam. He looked back over his shoulder. "How're you getting along with Hutchinson?"
Sam was puzzled. "As well as can be expected. He's barricading himself away from other people, but I like him. I'm worried about him, too."
Al nodded, as if he had expected that. "That's fine," he said, "but you be careful, all right? He's not exactly operating on all cylinders right now, if you know what I mean."
Sam, relieved, said, "Is that all? Al, Hutch may be going through some problems, but he's a good man. I'll be fine. Now, what did you find out?"
Al began pacing, squinting at the handlink from time to time, and gesturing with all his usual enthusiasm. "Well, you heard about his partner."
"Yes," Sam confirmed. "But I thought he told Dobey he worked alone."
"No," Al shook his head. "It was only a little over three weeks ago that his partner, umm...David Starsky, was killed in an explosion." Al paused, looking at Sam as he continued. "According to the report filed by Detective Hutchinson, he blamed himself for the death."
"That's what Linda said," Sam nodded. "But she also said that he wasn't responsible."
"No, he wasn't," Al agreed, but his expression was dark.
"What else did you find out?" Sam asked, watching Al curiously.
"They had been partners for about 6 years. Their record was impressive, lots of commendations, even a medal of valor for each of them, although there were some complaints about, umm, unorthodox methods and insubordination." Al's expression was mixed. As an admiral he disapproved of insubordination in the ranks, as a person he practiced it regularly.
"Tell me how his partner died," Sam prompted, watching Al's movements with some amusement. The story Al told, however, drove the humor away.
"They were investigating a series of arson bombings," Al began quietly. They had a suspect they were looking for and received a tip about his location--an abandoned insane asylum out of town. When they arrived they separated to cover the building. Someone, probably the suspect, lured Hutchinson into a room in the main building, and managed to lock him in after pinning him with gunfire. He was looking for a way out when he heard shots out back. There was a small window in the room and from there he was able to see the suspect--uh, Evan Thorpe--dragging Detective Starsky into an auxiliary building."
"Was he dead or just unconscious?"
Al shrugged. "No one knows," he said. He punched at the handlink again and continued. "Unable to get out any other way, Hutchinson went through the window. That's when the auxiliary building exploded. Huge fireball. The firemen discovered two bodies in the wreckage. One was identified as Evan Thorpe, the other was unable to be identified. There wasn't enough left." Al smacked the handlink once, and paced.
"And Hutch blames himself for getting locked in that room."
Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "That's why he commits suicide?"
Al shrugged his shoulders. "Hutchinson's body was found back at that asylum, one shot in the brain, fingerprints on his gun. The police report said that his friends and co-workers said he had been drinking more than usual leading up to the suicide." Al shook his head. "Guilt eats away at you," he said somberly. "And some things can't be lived with." He was thinking of a few things he knew about.
"Al..." Sam said, disturbed by the undertones. He sat up, reaching for the hologram, although he knew he couldn't touch his friend.
Al looked at him, and a small smile broke the intensity. "All of my ghosts are laid to rest," he assured Sam. "Or at least under control," he added under his breath. "But I never blamed myself for my best friend's death, either."
"Yeah," Sam agreed heavily. After a moment he shook his head. "Is that all?"
Al nodded, his expression still pensive. The handlink, however, squealed at him and he jumped.
"What?" Sam prompted.
Al glared at the handlink but replied to Sam. "Well, there were a couple of strange things in the report. For one, the autopsy on Hutchinson showed only a small amount of alcohol in the blood. You'd think if alcohol were a contributing factor to the suicide that there'd have been more present. And one of his friends swore up and down that it wasn't a suicide."
"Who was that?"
"Um, Officer Linda Perillo. She was a beat cop--still is for that matter," Al added, peering at the handlink.
"She didn't get the promotion," Sam commented to himself.
"Huh? What?" Al asked, distracted.
"Nothing." Sam shook his head. "So except for Linda, everyone else believed it was suicide with alcohol as a contributing factor?"
"Yeah. And Ziggy says you have to keep him from doing that."
Sam rubbed his forehead. "From what Linda told me, I'd think it would be hard for him to adjust to a new partner. Maybe that's why I'm here. That, and to keep him from drinking," Sam added, then he looked at Al hopefully. "He chose not to drink tonight after all."
Al shrugged. "We both know it takes more than just one time," he said. "And we don't know what he's doing right now. You've only got three days, Sam."
"I have to do something," Sam said with conviction.
"It took months, with me," Al reminded him pessimistically.
Sam gazed at him, with the glimmer of a smile in his eyes. "Well, you had been drinking a lot longer. And now I know the pattern."
"We had also been friends longer," Al pointed out.
Now the smile spread openly. "You're also more stubborn than anyone I've ever met," Sam countered. "After you, anyone else would be a snap."
"That's because you've never met yourself," Al said somewhat indignantly. "You're the stubbornest person in the world."
"Exactly," Sam agreed, and grinned.
Chapter 2: Day Two
The next morning, Sam found Hutch already hard at work when he arrived in the squad room. Studying him for a moment, Sam thought he looked tired, but his eyes weren't as bloodshot as the day before, and he seemed more animated.
"When did you arrive?" he asked Hutch, settling in at his desk.
Hutch looked up briefly from the files he'd been checking, and waved a hand. "Oh," he said vaguely, "I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. So, I thought I'd come in. I've had an idea about the Bergner case..." and he launched into detail about an ongoing murder investigation, with Sam working hard to keep up. Trying to fit in a job he wasn't trained for was always one of the most difficult aspects of leaping. And on this leap Sam was worried he wouldn't know what to do during a critical point (like a shootout). The morning, however, was mostly spent on the phone and digging in files, working on a distressingly large number of cases. Sam also found that as the new person he was the object of attention around the station. People stopped by to say hello and ask how he was doing. He realized after a while, however, that many of the people were also curious about Hutch--some out of concern, but others out of the same sort of macabre interest that sends people to observe disaster sites.
They went to meet Grace Keller in Sam's car (much to his relief), which had been outfitted at the police garage with a siren and other appropriate accoutrements. Parson's Park was a small place, with a fountain, walkway and playground for children. Hutch headed for the fountain, where a distinguished-looking woman was waiting for them.
Sam was astonished by Grace Keller. She was older than he had expected, and possessed all of the air and assurance of a leader of society. She was dressed in a beautifully tailored light cream dress suit that set off her complexion. Bright dark eyes regarded the two men as they approached, and she languidly waved away a grey-haired man dressed in a chauffeur's outfit. He backed away a few feet, leaving the three of them to privacy.
"Thank you for coming, Detective Hutchinson," the woman said.
"Hello, Grace," Hutch nodded, ignoring the slight look of displeasure at the use of her first name. "This is Mike Jennings, who's working with me," he introduced Sam.
"How do you do Detective Jennings," Grace smiled at Sam.
Sam nodded and said "Ma'am."
"Huggy said it was important, Grace," Hutch prompted.
Grace shrugged. "To business, then," she agreed. She reached into the white purse she was carrying and pulled out a large, wide gold bracelet. Diamonds glittered in the sun as she handed it to Hutch. "Do you recognize this?"
Hutch examined the bracelet, then handed it over to Sam. "Should I?"
"If it's the one I think it is it should match the description of the bracelet taken about two months ago by the so-called 'Specialist'."
Sam looked carefully at the bracelet, trying to remember the description of the items taken in a jewelry store robbery two months ago. The 'Specialist', he remembered, was the name of a thief who had been active for more than fifteen years in California. He was known for hitting jewelry stores, getting into their safes and departing with any uncut stones. In all those years he had never taken anything else, except occasionally money. Then recently there had been a string of identical robberies in the city but this time some of the finished pieces had been taken as well. And in the last robbery, a night watchman had been killed. "This does look like the bracelet taken from Fordham's," Sam told Hutch.
"What do you have to say about this, Grace?" Hutch asked.
Grace nodded at the bracelet. "One of my employees brought me that. They aren't supposed to accept expensive gifts from clients, you understand." Hutch looked skeptical, and Grace smiled sweetly. "Of course I recognized it. I'm not involved in anything like that, Detective Hutchinson, as you well know. I contacted Huggy so we could have a private talk about it." She looked at Hutch steadily. "The word is that you're a straight person to deal with."
"Who gave the bracelet to one of your girls?"
Grace shook her head. "You know I can't tell you that. My business depends on discretion."
"You have possession of stolen property; we could book you right now. Your 'business' would be closed if we have to start investigating," Hutch warned.
"Of course," Grace said impatiently. "Don't you think I understand that? If necessary, I will relocate. But perhaps we can work together on this so that I don't have to be involved and my business stays as it is."
Hutch considered her. "What do you have in mind?" He asked finally.
"I cannot tell you who it is," she said. "But if you wanted to put someone in undercover at my place, that person might be able to discover his identity. We would have to agree, however, that no word about my involvement would come out. I would be as shocked as anyone that the police had put someone in my place of business."
"It'd be a lot easier if you'd just tell us," Hutch said reasonably.
"I have my standards," Grace said with dignity. "You may not agree with them, but they are mine. I don't finger my own clients."
"Why are you willing to help on this?" Sam asked. "I mean why come to us with this information in the first place?"
Grace hesitated, her eyes dwelling thoughtfully on the figure of her chauffeur. Finally, choosing her words with care, she replied, "Suffice it to say that I have a great personal desire to stop the activities of the man who had that bracelet." She looked from Hutch to Sam and back. "Are you willing to follow my plan?"
Hutch nodded. "Yes, if our Captain agrees. We'll send someone to you this afternoon."
"Thank you, gentlemen, I believe we have an agreement." Grace nodded graciously, then turned and walked in a stately manner to her waiting car. The chauffeur opened the door and helped her in.
Sam and Hutch turned toward their own vehicle, discussing the plan for apprehending the jewel thief. Sam suggested that Linda would be a good choice for the undercover agent. Hutch disagreed, vehemently.
"Why?" Sam asked, settling in behind the wheel. "What's wrong with Linda?"
"She's not an undercover officer," Hutch said. "She doesn't have enough experience."
"Well how can she get experience if she isn't sent out on cases?" Sam asked reasonably.
"We'll find someone else."
"She told me yesterday she's up for promotion. Don't you think she's capable of doing the job?"
There was a short silence. "It's not that she's not capable..."
"Then what is it?"
"It could be dangerous," Hutch said.
Sam looked at him. "Everything in police work could be dangerous," he pointed out. "What she's doing right now could be dangerous. Why don't we ask her if she's willing to take the risk? This is her dream."
Hutch sighed. "All right," he agreed, reluctantly. "We'll ask her."
When they located Linda at police headquarters, Hutch tried to sell the dangers of the job first, to discourage Linda. She, however, was ecstatic at the opportunity and couldn't stop saying thank you to both of them. Hutch gave it up, shaking his head and smiling. He offered to go to Captain Dobey first, to convince him that Linda was the right person for the job. Sam took Linda off to the cafeteria for an early lunch, hoping to calm her down before Dobey called for her.
Over sandwiches, chips and pop the two chatted like old friends, and Sam found himself liking this young, ambitious policewoman very much. She explained that she grew up with three older brothers, so she learned to assert herself early. By the time they realized that several of their friends were interested in their sister, and began taking a proprietary air with her, she was well able to put them in their places and go out with whomever she pleased. The family sounded very close, and Sam thought wistfully of his own sister.
Gradually, Sam brought the conversation around to Hutch, and found the opportunity to ask some of the questions he had been saving from the night before.
"Suicide?" Linda exclaimed, loudly enough to turn some heads. She looked around, and lowered her voice. "You've got to be kidding."
"That's what I'm worried about," Sam insisted. "You said yourself he's shutting himself off from his friends, and he's drinking too much..."
"I haven't noticed him drinking," Linda countered. "And you haven't been here long enough to know anything about that anyway. Who've you been talking to?"
"Just some people," Sam said vaguely.
"Well you might be careful who you talk to. There are some people around here who don't like Hutch."
"One of them is a close friend," Sam said, thinking of Huggy.
Linda gazed at him, then sighed. "I don't know about that," she admitted. "I know that whatever he's doing on his time off, it's not affecting his work." Even as she said the words, however, an arrested expression stole into her eyes.
"What?" Sam asked.
"Well," Linda said slowly, "I did hear that he...he went in on an arrest without any backup last week. And it ended up a shootout."
"Not the wisest decision," Sam commented.
"No," Linda agreed, her eyes falling.
"He seems to have a lot of friends around here," Sam said, shaking his head. "They've been asking me about him because he won't talk about anything except business."
Linda was looking at her hands, twisting her fingers nervously. "He's always been rather reticent about his feelings." She gave Sam a wry smile. "Macho male types are pretty common around here, you know." Then slowly she shook her head, the smile dying. "But this is different. I used to be able to read him, but now, ever since the funeral, I haven't been able to read anything. He's just...closed up." Linda's concern was palpable to Sam. "And I don't think there's anyone close enough to break through to him now. There was a woman last year, Gillian. She might have done it, but...she was murdered. Starsky's the one who pulled him through when Gillian died. Who's going to pull him through now?"
"Yet you're so sure he wouldn't commit suicide?" Sam asked softly.
She nodded her head, emphatically. "I'm as positive of that as I am of anything in my life," she said.
She gazed up at him, her hands stilled. "Because of Starsky," she said bluntly.
"What?" Sam asked, not understanding.
"Because of Starsky," she repeated. "Hutch knows what Starsky would think of him killing himself. He can't do anything for his partner now, but he can keep faith with him. Look, why do you think he's holding on to Starsky's car? He knows Starsky would want him to find the right person for it. Friendship like they had isn't bound by life and death," she said intensely. "It's a commitment of honor. There's no way Hutch would commit suicide. He's not going to break faith when it's all he has left.
Sam was silent for a long time, thinking about what she had said, then a small smile touched the corner of his mouth. "Honor and faith," he said. "That's not something you hear a lot about these days."
"It's what we live our lives by," she said quietly. "And what do you think he was telling that kid about yesterday?" Linda's gaze suddenly shifted to something behind Sam, and a smile broke out on her face. "Hutch," she called, "what'd Captain Dobey say?"
Hutch walked over to the table and pulled up a chair to sit down. "What else could he say after I turned my persuasive charm on him?" he asked with a grin.
Linda shrieked and Hutch winced, but he threw a wink in Sam's direction.
That afternoon Sam and Hutch were traveling again in Sam's car, on their way to the city courthouse where Hutch was to testify in a preliminary hearing. They had left Linda in Captain Dobey's office, going over the plan for her undercover employment at Grace Keller's establishment. Hutch and Sam had both wanted to be Linda's backup for the assignment, but Dobey decided to call in a combined team of homicide and robbery detectives for the case. As he was driving, Sam was thinking that he was getting the hang of this police business when suddenly the radio crackled at them with the call he had been dreading.
"All units in the vicinity of Lincoln and 73rd, a 211 in progress at George's Grocery."
Hutch reached for the microphone. "This is Zebra 3, we are in the vicinity and responding to the 211."
Sam looked over at Hutch with some panic as Hutch reached for the flasher to attach to the roof of the car.
"Go two blocks and take a right," Hutch told him, not knowing that there was more to the panic than not knowing the neighborhood. Sam nodded, flipped on the siren, and floored the pedal.
When they were close to the store Hutch had Sam turn off the siren and he removed the flasher. They rolled to a quiet stop near the grocery store. From the outside everything was peaceful. Sam and Hutch moved cautiously toward the front of the store, Sam following Hutch's lead and drawing his gun. George's Grocery was a small old-fashioned neighborhood store. On one side was a parking lot, on the other a dry cleaning shop. Hutch carefully maneuvered himself around the corner of the front of the building and peered through one of the large front windows. He drew back immediately and returned to Sam around the corner.
"Looks like two men, with guns and ski masks. I can see a store clerk and a couple of customers over to the far side. You go around to the back entrance. I'll go in the front, as if I were a customer."
Sam nodded, and hurried to the back of the building. Adrenalin kicked his heart rate up. He had just rounded the back corner when he heard gunshots. Sam raced to the service entrance door, praying it was unlocked. It was, and he dashed inside, trying to remember all the police movies he had ever watched. He found himself in a large storage area, with boxes and crates of food and other supplies. No one else was in the vicinity so he worked his way up to the main part of the store. Cautiously, Sam went through a curtain that separated the storage area from the rest of the store, his gun at the ready. He didn't see anyone, but he heard voices from the front of the store, and among them he heard Hutch's. Sam hurried up an aisle of canned goods, and peered around the corner to assess the situation.
"Hey Mike," Hutch called, catching sight of Sam. "Cuff 'em for me, will you?" Hutch was standing with his gun trained on the two would-be robbers. One was on the floor with his hand clasped to his shoulder, the other was next to him, his hands raised to the back of his head. A store clerk and four customers were milling around in the background. Breathing a sigh of relief, Sam pulled out his handcuffs and headed toward Hutch.
By this time other police units had begun to arrive. They came in to take charge of the robbers while the few customers talked and compared notes--interested observers of the whole affair, now that the shooting had stopped.
"He was really something," one elderly man commented to Sam, nodding toward Hutch who was talking to the store clerk. "Coming in here with guns blazing--just like in the movies!" The man laughed and said it would give him a great story for the grandkids when they next visited. Sam nodded, and waited until the business details had been taken care of and he and Hutch were walking back to his car. Then he started yelling.
"Just what the hell was that?" Sam asked Hutch as they reached the car.
Hutch turned to him. "What was what?" He asked, but there was a tell-tale blush starting to rise.
"Going in there 'with guns blazing'. Someone could have been killed! Any of the people in there--or you yourself!"
"No one was," Hutch objected. "I knew what I was doing."
"We're supposed to be working together," Sam reminded him. "You told me to go in the back while you went in as a customer. You didn't give me a chance to even get to the back door before opening up like Rambo."
"I reacted as I read the situation," Hutch started to say, but Sam overrode him.
"What are you trying to do?" he asked furiously. "Commit suicide?" The words were out before he could stop them, and they brought him up short.
"Of course not!" Hutch denied angrily.
"Then what? You don't trust me to hold up my end? Is that it?"
"It's not a matter of not trusting you," Hutch began, a certain weariness entering his voice.
Sudden understanding flared in Sam's eyes. "No," he agreed, his voice softening "It wasn't a matter of not trusting me. You took on all the risks in there because you don't trust yourself. You were afraid of letting me down, weren't you?" There was a strained pause as their eyes met, then Hutch looked away. "What would you have done in that situation if I'd been Starsky?" Sam asked deliberately.
Hutch's eyes jerked back to Sam's, their expression a combination of anger and painful vulnerability. Then he yanked open the car door, and climbed in.
Sam nodded to himself; he knew the answer. And instead of going around to his side of the car he leaned down towards Hutch's open window. "Listen," he said. "For better or worse we're going to be partners now. And that means sharing the dangers. It's not fair for one partner to take all the risks, while the other one stays safe. You know that's not what being partners is about."
Hutch closed his eyes.
Sam hesitated, then reached a hand out to lay it on Hutch's arm. The muscles were tight under his fingers. "I know what you're blaming yourself for," he said treading carefully. "But I don't blame you for what happened. And," he paused for a heartbeat, "I don't believe Starsky would, either." Sam waited, holding his breath, wondering how hard he could push their fragile relationship.
"No," Hutch finally said, very softly. "That's the problem." He let out a long sigh.
When it starts to give, push a little more, Sam thought. "Hutch, how do you think I'd feel if you got killed while I was safe in the background?"
Hutch turned his head to look at him, and in that gaze Sam saw the despair Hutch had been living with for three weeks. Sam held his gaze through sheer force of will and it was Hutch who broke the look, closing his eyes and turning away.
"You're right," Hutch said in a quiet, tired voice. He glanced at Sam. "I'll work on it, okay?" he asked, not offering any promises.
"Okay," Sam agreed, choosing to accept it as one anyway.
Hutch took in a deep breath and changed the subject. "Isn't it about time we went to the courthouse?"
Sam looked at him, not sure what, if anything, had been decided. But he nodded and pulled himself up, saying, "Yeah, definitely."
It was as they were driving away from the grocery store that Hutch suddenly asked, "Mike? Who's Rambo?"
They parked in a lot next to the city courthouse, a large modern building of white stone. Sam tagged along with Hutch, curious about the proceedings. At the hearing, everything went as expected and the suspect was bound over for trial. As Sam and Hutch headed out of the building, their shift at an end, Sam brought up the topic of dinner. Hutch was mentioning a place that Sam might like to try, when he broke off at the sight of a man leaving an office further up the hallway.
Sam turned his head to see what Hutch was finding so interesting. He saw an impeccably dressed middle-aged man, with light brown hair and very light grey eyes. "Why, Detective Hutchinson!" the man called out in a tenor voice. "How nice to see you again."
Beside him Sam felt Hutch stiffen, and he tensed, not understanding the situation. In a very cool voice Hutch acknowledged the greeting. "Cameron."
The man called Cameron smiled gently, and moved down the hallway towards Hutch. He was accompanied by a short man with dark hair and a nervous manner, and by two large men with the look of professional bodyguards. "I was so sorry to read about your partner," Cameron said. "I was thinking of sending a card but, well, Theo here thought it wouldn't have been in the best taste, under the circumstances." Cameron sighed. "How are you getting along, my dear Hutch?"
"Better as soon as we bring you down, Cameron," Hutch answered shortly.
"Always so polite," Cameron murmured. He looked inquisitively at Sam. "And who do we have here?"
"Mike Jennings," Hutch said briefly. He turned to Sam and said, "This is Vernon Cameron, Mike. A sleazy two-bit drug dealer." He smiled at Cameron, with no humor.
Beside Cameron, the nervous man stirred as if to object, but Cameron silenced him with a gesture.
"Not 'sleazy'," Cameron corrected, holding out a hand to Sam, "And definitely not 'two-bit'. How do you do Mr. Jennings." Sam took the hand and murmured something indistinct.
"Last I heard you were having some difficulties with your 'clients' back east Cameron," Hutch said.
A beaming smile spread across Cameron's face. "All taken care of, my dear boy. Merely a slight misunderstanding. Well, well," he continued, surveying Sam. "Are you by any chance his new partner?"
Sam nodded, guardedly.
"Hmmm, better looking than the other one, don't you think?" Cameron asked at large. "And better manners too, no doubt. How lovely. Perhaps the loss was your gain after all, my dear Hutch."
Hutch's jaw clenched with an almost audible snap, and his expression changed to such fierce antagonism that Sam reached out an arm to restrain him, although Hutch hadn't moved. The suave man merely looked slightly bewildered. "My dear Detective Hutchinson I assure you I meant no disrespect. How can the truth be disrespectful? I'm just trying to find something good for you in this situation."
The fierceness dimmed in Hutch, like a lightbulb reaching the end of its power. "Get the hell out of my sight, Cameron," he said in a tired voice.
Cameron studied Hutch, then signaled for his men to precede him down the hallway. "Of course. I seem to be upsetting you. Never let it be said that I am insensitive! I will remove myself and leave you to each other. Good day." With a final, charming smile, Cameron followed in the wake of his men.
"What was that all about?" Sam asked Hutch. But the other man was silent, watching as Cameron and his party disappeared down the hallway.
"We're not on the best of terms," Hutch finally said distantly, his eyes bleak. "He's...getting a lot of pleasure out of this." He turned to Sam. "Look," he said, "I...uh...I have some things I have to do. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam said, but Hutch was already walking rapidly away.
"What was all of that about?" Al suddenly asked from behind Sam. Sam jumped, not expecting anyone to be there. "Take it easy Sam," Al advised, "it's just me." The hologram was dressed fairly conservatively today in a pink shirt, dark slacks and white tie. He was holding his ever-present cigar in one hand and the handlink in the other.
"Al!" Sam said, glaring at him, "why do you do that to me?" He started down the hallway himself, heading for the exit to the courthouse. Al fell into step beside him.
"Do what?" Al asked innocently. "It's not my fault you're not paying attention when I come around."
Sam shot a look at Al, not caring if anyone noticed he was talking to thin air. "You take perverse delight in scaring me!" He accused.
Al shrugged. "Well," he said, "I learned long ago to take my delights where I can get them." They arrived at the parking lot by the courthouse and Sam got into his car, wondering what Hutch had done about transportation. Al joined him in the car. "What's eating you, Sam?"
Sam sighed, then looked sideways at his friend. "It's this whole situation," he confessed. "I just don't know if I can do any good here."
"You're doing the best you can, Sam," Al comforted.
"It's not good enough," Sam insisted. "There are things going on here that I don't understand. Linda says Hutch couldn't possibly commit suicide, yet we know he does in three days..."
"Two," Al interrupted mildly.
Sam sighed. "Two days. And meanwhile he's throwing himself into danger like he's the last superhero in existence. Which seems suicidal, but I don't think it is."
"What danger?" Al asked, suspiciously. "What happened?"
Briefly, Sam told him about the grocery store. Al's reaction surprised him. "Dammit Sam," Al said heatedly. "I told you to be careful!"
"Me?" Sam squeaked. "It wasn't me who was in any danger! What's wrong with you, Al?"
"I don't trust this guy, Sam," Al said. "He's a loose cannon right now and he could get you killed."
"He's more likely to get himself killed," Sam said, dispirited. He stared at the courthouse, then suddenly pounded his hand on the steering wheel in front of him in frustration. "Dammit, Al. Why couldn't God, Time, Fate or whatever have put me here three weeks ago? He doesn't need me now--what he needs is his partner."
"Well, he doesn't have his partner anymore," Al replied harshly.
Sam stared at Al, startled by his vehemence. Any hasty words he was about to say died on his lips when he took a good look at his friend. "What's going on Al? You were on edge last night--now this. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Al denied, but he fixed his eyes on the handlink.
Sam considered his partner, and the answer came to him. "You think he was responsible for what happened, don't you Al?" he asked in a voice compounded of comprehension and disbelief.
Al still didn't look at him. "I don't know," he muttered.
"Al, he was locked in a room!"
"He wasn't there when his partner needed him." Al said curtly, turning back to Sam.
"It wasn't his fault!" Sam said fiercely.
"I know!" Al agreed, surprising Sam. He rubbed at his forehead. "I know that," he repeated more quietly.
"Al," Sam reached for his friend, his expression wistful. "I need your help. I like this guy; he's a good man. I don't want anything to happen to him and I'm afraid something will. Please help me to keep him safe?"
As Al met Sam's gaze, some of the tension went out of him. "All right, kid," he said, his eyes softening. "I'll trust your instincts, any day. What can I do?"
Sam nodded, and smiled at his friend. "I was wondering," he said, "do you know where that asylum is located?"
"Yeah, sure--why?" Al asked, surprised.
"Because I want to go out there. Now."
"What's the point of this, Sam?" Al asked, not for the first time, as they arrived at the old Ashton Asylum. They were out quite far from the city--it would be another 5 years before the suburbs began expanding into this country. The man and hologram walked to the large brick building that was the old asylum. It was built in the shape of a long rectangle, rising to three stories, with the entrance in the middle after a flight of entry steps. Some of the windows, of assorted shapes, were boarded up while others were broken. Trash was caught in the overgrown shrubbery along the front of the building, adding to the neglected feel of the place. "This is creepy," Al commented, looking around.
"I'm not sure, Al," Sam said, answering his first question. "I just wanted to get a look at this place. Maybe we'll find something that'll help." Sam's voice trailed off as he gently pushed open the sagging front door.
"I don't think it's such a good idea to go in there Sam," Al said, hanging back.
Sam ignored him and went inside. Al hesitated, grimacing, then poked at the buttons on the handlink and joined his friend inside. The interior was gloomy, the only light coming from the few windows still un-boarded and the open front door.
"Where was the room Hutch was in?" Sam asked.
"On the second floor, to your right," Al replied. He followed Sam through a door leading to a hallway and staircase. Sam glanced into rooms as they passed, many still containing assorted pieces of furniture.
"What do you know about this place, Al?" he asked. "How long has it been abandoned?" He started up the staircase.
Al consulted with the handlink. "It was first a private asylum, built in 1909 by a guy named Ashton. It was taken over by the state in 1930. The state abandoned it in 1965 and put the property up for sale some years later, but no buyers until...uh 1980." Al was quiet for a moment, then murmured to himself, "Ashton...Ashton Asylum...," as if he was trying to remember something.
"Which room was it?" Sam asked as they reached the top of the stairs. Two hallways stretched out before them, one running back along the length of the building, the other leading to the right. Al indicated the right hallway, then pointed out the room to Sam as they rounded the corner. It was a small room, bare of any furniture, with only one small window. Sam walked over to the broken window and looked out. The view was of the back of the property and the ruins of the auxiliary building. Sam peered down toward the ground and shivered a little.
"Ashton Asylum," Al said in a voice of recognition. "Now I remember!"
"Oh, geez Sam," Al said urgently, "we've gotta get out of here--this place is haunted!" He headed back to the door, jerking his head for Sam to hurry up.
"What are you talking about?" Sam asked.
"I heard about this place. It was on TV once--you remember that show 'Unsolved Mysteries'...naw, you don't remember that, of course you don't. But, look, they reported on this place, and it's haunted."
"Who haunts it?" Sam asked, smiling.
Al gave him an exasperated expression. "Who do you think? We're only standing in an old asylum. Who knows what happened here?" He looked around nervously. "And," he added as his thoughts jogged his memory, "there was a cop who committed suicide..." he trailed off, looking at Sam round-eyed.
"He's not going to do that," Sam said fiercely. "And this place is not haunted."
"He might not be here," Al said, still looking worried, "but that doesn't mean all those other ghosts aren't!"
Sam shook his head, sighing. "Have Ziggy run a check on this place and its 'haunted legend'," he said, walking around the room to examine it. "Maybe there'll be something there for us. And in any case you're a hologram, remember? No ghost can touch you so you can stop acting so...so..."
"So...so...what?" Al demanded, momentarily diverted.
"So terrified!" Sam said. "Okay now look, Hutch was in this room, pinned by gunfire..." Sam's voice broke off as he checked out angles from the doorway.
"I am not terrified," Al muttered.
Sam ignored him, "And the door closed..." Sam walked back to the door to look at it. "Hey, Al," he said suddenly, "look at this."
"I'm not terrified at all," Al was still muttering. "Look at what?"
Sam was examining the hall side of the door, looking carefully at the bolt lock. "This lock, look how easy it is to slide." He demonstrated to Al.
Sam looked at him. "So, it's been oiled. What's a well-oiled bolt lock doing in an abandoned building where everything else is falling to ruin?"
"Well..." Al paused, looking perplexed.
"Look," Sam continued, crossing the hall to another small room, "look at this one." He tried the action on the bolt, and after some struggle managed to move it, with loud protest from the bolt. He looked meaningfully at Al.
Al looked from one lock to the other. "So," he said, gesturing with the handlink, "someone oiled that lock, expecting to use it."
"Maybe someone planned to lock Hutch in here," Sam concluded.
"Or at least lock someone in. Or maybe they just wanted to lock something in. So what, Sam?"
"I know it's flimsy," Sam began, "but listen, what if someone planned to bring those two here, separate them, and kill one of them."
Al looked very skeptical. "That's awfully complicated for something that's really simple. Why go to all that trouble when the guy could've just shot them? Why run the risk to lock up one, and then get the other and drag him into that auxiliary building?"
"I just think there's some questions here," Sam said, starting off down the hallway and back toward the stair.
Al followed along, pondering. The handlink chirped at him, startling him so much he almost dropped it. He sighed in exasperation and then punched at the buttons to see what Ziggy wanted. His expression changed as he read the data. "Hey, Sam," he called, catching up with Sam at the bottom of the stairs. "There was more to that story than I told you."
"Which story?" Sam asked, preoccupied.
"The haunted one," Al said with unnecessary emphasis. "Yeah, now I remember! That's what made it such an interesting feature on that show. There was more than one unsolved mystery associated with it."
"What?" Sam prompted, as Al fell silent, still peering at the handlink.
Al looked up at him. "There was a body found here in 1993, when they were finally starting to develop the property. It was never identified."
"Was the cause of death determined?"
"Yeah, he'd been beat up and shot in the head. They were figuring a robbery, or a mob hit or something."
"When had he died?"
Al shrugged. "The best they could figure was that the body had been buried here for about 15-20 years. There wasn't much left besides bones."
"15-20 years...so that was around the same time as Hutch and Starsky..."
"Yeah, that's the point they made in that show," Al interrupted excitedly. "Some people were speculating that maybe Hutch had killed this guy and that was why he committed suicide."
"Where was the body found?"
"Uhh," Al took a moment to orient himself. "Northeast corner," he said. "Out back."
The two men headed out through the back entrance to the main building. Al, dividing his attention between the handlink and the surroundings, located the ground where the body was found, in a sheltered area beside the back entrance steps.
"Do you suppose...it's here now?" Al asked somewhat nervously as Sam examined the area.
Sam shook his head, "No, I don't think...." he broke off, then continued in a curiously restrained voice. "Al, have Ziggy run a check on the body and cross it with any records available on Starsky."
"What?" Al asked, staring at him. "Why?"
"Just a hunch," Sam said. "Humor me, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Al agreed. He fiddled with the handlink and said to the air, "Gooshie, I want Ziggy to run a check..."
Sam turned to look across the back lot of the asylum, at the burned out shell of the auxiliary building, thinking hard about oiled locks and bodies that were conveniently blown to unidentifiable bits.
Al disappeared to prod Ziggy as Sam headed for his apartment. He was convinced there was more to the events at the asylum than Al had told him. And maybe that would be the way he could help Hutch. Sam made a sandwich for himself from the meager fixings in Mike Jennings' refrigerator, then tried to read a book as the evening wore on. But he was restless, wanting Al to come back, and wanting to know what Hutch was doing. Waiting was a hard thing, and he wasn't very good at it--he wanted to be doing. That thought triggered something that had been pushed into his subconscious. Something that had happened that day, or been said--something he had wanted to think about.... Sam gave up after a few moments. He was too fidgety to pull up subconscious thoughts. The clock on the television showed 10:45--and Sam made a decision.
He reached for the telephone and dialed Hutch's number. If Hutch was home he'd make up an excuse for calling so late, if not...well at least he'd know. There was no answer at Hutch's place. Sam put the receiver down, pondered, then pulled out a matchbook he had picked up from The Rafters. He dialed the number for the restaurant and asked for the colorful manager.
"Huggy," Sam said, when he heard the other man's voice on the phone, "This is Mike Jennings. Listen, Hutch had kind of a rough day, and I called his place just now but he's not home. Have you seen him?"
"Yeah, Mike, I'm glad you called," Huggy replied. "As a matter of fact Hutch came into my place about an hour ago. And I think he should be leaving, if you know what I mean."
Sam nodded, his fears confirmed. "I'm coming down," he told Huggy.
When Sam arrived at the restaurant, Huggy met him and indicated Hutch sitting at the bar, a gap between him and the other people there.
"He'd already been drinking before he got here," Huggy said quietly. He looked at Sam with concern. "I haven't seen him this bad since...well, since Starsky died. What happened?"
Sam, his eyes on the isolated figure at the bar, let out a soft sigh. "He keeps being reminded of what he's lost," he explained softly. He glanced at Huggy. "You remember that fist you told me about? It's around his heart." The two men shared a look, then in silent agreement headed toward the bar, and the detective.
Hutch looked around as the two men approached, his eyes bleary. He gazed from Sam to Huggy, then back again. "What do you want?" he asked, his words slurred.
"I think it's time for you to be heading home," Sam suggested gently.
"You called him, huh?" Hutch asked Huggy. "Well, I don't need any h--help." He swayed on the bar stool.
Sam reached out for him, "Come on Hutch, "he said, "let's go home."
Hutch shoved him away. "Keep away from me," he snarled, and for the first time there was open hostility in his voice. "I don't want any help. Not from you, or anybody." He stumbled to a standing position, still glaring at Sam. "You're not my partner, you hear me? You're not! I don't want any partners...I don't..." His voice broke off as he staggered against the bar.
Huggy moved in to steady Hutch. "C'mon now," he said softly. "C'mon now, we're just trying to help."
Hutch stared at him, then at Sam, looking perhaps for a face that wasn't there. The hostility slowly drained from him and he muttered, "Sorry. I'm sorry."
Huggy helped Sam get Hutch to his car and told him where Hutch lived. They were quiet on the way to Hutch's apartment--or maybe Hutch had passed out, Sam wasn't sure.
When they arrived, however, Hutch was alert enough to take most of the responsibility for getting himself up to the second-floor apartment, although he seemed to be fading fast. Sam helped him inside, and got his jacket and shoes off, then steered Hutch toward the bed that was screened off from the rest of the large apartment. Hutch collapsed on the bed, murmuring, "Thanks, Starsk," before he was out.
Sam studied Hutch for a moment, his expression bleak as he listened to the steady breathing. He quietly returned to the main room of the apartment, and went looking for the makings for tea. He had decided he was going to stay with Hutch tonight.
Some minutes later, he sat in a comfortable chair in the living area of the apartment, meditating while he drank tea. He was thinking about friendship and partners, and suddenly, in his head, he heard his own voice saying: It's not fair for one partner to take all the risks, while the other one stays safe. Sam's breath caught--he felt like he was in free fall, with vertigo swirling his senses. He stared unseeingly across the room, wondering for the first time just what Al was feeling each time Sam ended up in a dangerous leap. Sam had been furious with Hutch for leaving him out of the action earlier in the day, putting him in the position of bystander while Hutch met all the dangers. The fury stemmed from terror at the thought of a death he could have prevented. How would it be if he had to watch his friend--his best friend--in danger of losing his life and not able to help in any way except by talking? Wasn't that what Al was going through? He knew Al loved him and worried about him--wasn't that why he was always telling Sam to be careful? But what Sam had never considered before, was Al's reaction if Sam died during a leap. He had always assumed Al would just go on as he was. But now he heard Al's voice, with undertones he had missed before: He wasn't there when his partner needed him.
Sam's stomach twisted into knots, and his eyes fastened with something like horror on the divider blocking Hutch's bed. It wouldn't be like that, he thought to himself, trying to be comforting. Al's tough; he's lost people before and survived. His thoughts shied away from the manner of the survival. He knows the risks involved, and he wouldn't blame himself if I died.
He'd adjust. Sam tried to convince himself, but his eyes stayed glued on the divider, and he shuddered. He didn't want to admit how much he meant to Al, because then he would have to face what he was doing to his best friend, and he couldn't do that. Not now, at any rate. Not when he needed him so much. Not when he couldn't do a damn thing about it.
Sam heard the imaging chamber door open and close. He twisted quickly around, looking for his partner--and spilled his tea in his lap.
"Dammit," Sam said forcefully. He climbed out of the chair to go look for a towel. "Look at what you made me do!"
"It's good to see you too, pal," Al said sardonically, watching as Sam mopped up the tea.
"What're you doing here so late, anyway?" Sam asked, trying to pull himself together. He spoke in low tones, although he didn't expect Hutch to wake up.
"Well, I thought you'd be interested in what we found out." Al walked toward Sam, puffing on his cigar.
"About what?" Sam asked, still feeling out of it.
Al rolled his eyes. "About the body," he reminded Sam.
"Yeah? What?" Sam looked at Al intently.
"We got ourselves a match. Looks like your hunch was correct."
Sam blew out a breath. "It was Starsky then?"
"Yeah," Al nodded. "Meaning that he didn't get blown up in that explosion, but he died sometime afterward."
Sam began to pace, deeply disturbed. "Why would he want to fake his own death?" He asked Al. How could he have put Hutch through that?
"Whoa," Al said. "Slow down there Sherlock. What makes you think Starsky was responsible?"
"Well, who else, Al?" Sam asked his friend reasonably. "Why would anyone else want to make it look like Starsky died? On the other hand, all sorts of people have tried to fake their own deaths to get out of whatever trouble they're in. Maybe he got into something he couldn't get out of any other way."
"And killed two people when the explosion went off," Al reminded him. "Does that sound like Starsky to you?"
"I don't know Starsky," Sam replied swiftly. "Maybe something went wrong."
"Then who killed Starsky?"
"I don't know." Sam stopped pacing, and pointed at Al. "You said it yourself--at the asylum. Maybe Hutch killed him. Maybe he called Hutch and told him to meet him at the asylum and they got into an argument and Hutch killed him and then killed himself."
"He was beaten, too," Al pointed out. "His bones broken. Badly. You saying that Hutch beat him up, first?"
"I don't know!" Sam exclaimed, resuming his pacing. "I don't have all the answers. There must have been other people involved to pull this off anyway." He met Al's skeptical look. "Do you have any better explanations?"
Al shrugged. "I don't have any explanations. I just think you're leaping to conclusions before you know enough about it. Maybe somebody wanted revenge on them and came up with this little scenario."
"Why would anyone fake a death and then kill them both?" Sam shook his head. "Just to torment Hutch? I don't buy it."
"Well I don't buy that Starsky would do that to his partner," Al said quietly.
Sam met Al's eyes. Well, this is kind of unusual," he said finally. "Aren't you usually the cynical one? Aren't you the one telling me that life is filled with betrayals?"
"Yeah, I am," Al agreed. "But this time I don't think that's what happened."
Al hesitated, turning a little away from Sam. "I...look, just call it faith."
"Faith?" Sam repeated.
"Yeah. Hey, you're the guy that keeps saying what a good guy Hutch is," Al pointed out, almost belligerently.
"Yes, but you're the one who doubts him!" Sam exclaimed, not understanding.
Al sighed. "It's not the friendship that I'm doubting," he said. "I never questioned that." Al's eyes met Sam's and held. "It's a hunch, okay?"
Sam gazed at his partner, his head tilted, a smile slowly growing in his eyes. "Well," he acknowledged softly, "I'd trust your instincts any day, too. So I'll look into other possibilities."
An answering smile lit Al's eyes. "Thanks, Sam." He nodded toward the bedroom area. "How's he doing?"
Sam shrugged. "He's sleeping it off. He's going to be a bear to be around tomorrow."
The smile turned into a gleam. "It'll seem like old times," Al promised.
Sam groaned and threw one of the couch pillows at (and through) the hologram. "In that case," he said, "you'd better get out of here so I can get whatever sleep I can get."
"All right. Good night Sam," Al said, poking at the handlink to open the imaging chamber door.
"Night Al." Sam watched his friend disappear. His smile slowly faded, and his expression turned a little grim. Al was his best friend in the whole world. He owed him so much that could never be repaid. He felt humbled by all Al had given him, and ashamed to have given so little in return. The prospect of leaping without Al's support scared Sam to his soul--but Al's welfare was more important than anything else. Even if Al didn't agree. He didn't know how he would do it, but Sam vowed he would find a way out for Al--find a way to protect Al from himself. Al was his responsibility; that was the privilege of friendship.
Still thoughtful, but more at peace after coming to that resolve, Sam cleaned up the remains of the tea, then found some blankets to throw over the couch. He settled down, afraid that he wouldn't be able to sleep, but he was out almost before his head hit the pillows.
Chapter 3: Day Three
Sam woke suddenly, startled by some noise. He peered blearily at his watch and thought it said 5:00. He heard Hutch cry out, and he dived off the couch, banging his ankle on the coffee table in his haste to get to the bedroom. On the bed Hutch was thrashing about, mumbling words, obviously caught up in a dream.
"No!" Hutch cried clearly. He started up, flailing.
"Hutch." Sam grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him a little. "Hutch, wake up!"
Hutch's eyes snapped open. He looked dazedly at Sam, then raised a shaking hand to his head. "What?" he whispered.
"It's okay," Sam soothed. "You were just having a nightmare, I think."
Hutch stared at him, comprehension gradually replacing the confusion. He fell back on the pillow, his eyes closing. "No," he said, almost too softly for Sam to hear. "I'm still living it." After a moment, he opened his eyes, and regarded Sam. "Is there a reason why you're here?"
"You needed a little help getting home last night."
"Oh," Hutch said. "I see. Sorry about that."
"How are you feeling?" Sam shrugged off the apology.
"Like my head's in a vise, but otherwise okay," Hutch answered. "Is there any coffee around?"
"Yeah, out in the kitchen. Shall I bring you some?"
"No, I'll come out. Just...give me a few minutes to get vertical."
Some time later, the two men sat at Hutch's kitchen table, sharing a cup of coffee. The sun was up and shining through the kitchen window. Hutch, after a quick squint, sat with his back to the window.
"Remind me not to do that again," Hutch said, holding his head.
"What? Look at the sun?"
"No. Drown my sorrows at Huggy's." Hutch gave Sam the ghost of a rueful smile. He seemed more relaxed this morning in Sam's company.
Sam smiled, sipped his coffee, and wondered if this was his chance to ask Hutch about Starsky. He wanted Hutch's perspective, but he was wary of losing the little trust he had gained in the past two days. Finally Sam put fate to the test and said quietly: "Tell me about your partner."
Hutch grew still, and Sam held his breath. Like a diamond cutter he had made his first cut --and he waited to see if it would open up riches or crumble to dust. "Why do you want to know?" Hutch asked in a low voice.
Sam chose his words carefully. "Because you're hurting," he said. "There are a lot of people who are concerned about you. And sometimes it really does help to talk. Even to a stranger--perhaps most easily to a stranger."
Hutch regarded Sam for a moment, then looked away. Sam braced himself for a retreat to arctic coldness, but then Hutch spoke again, his eyes still averted. "He was the best friend I ever had," he said, and swallowed. "Those words seem so inadequate to describe it. He was my partner and...I loved him." He fell silent.
"Not all partners are so close," Sam ventured.
"No," Hutch agreed. "We were. It got so we didn't even need to talk to know what the other was thinking." He stared into the distance, a look of sorrow and longing in his eyes. "'Me and thee,'" he murmured to himself, as if quoting.
Sam hesitated, then asked softly: "How'd you meet?"
Hutch's eyes refocused and he drew in a breath. "We met at the Academy, but we didn't really know each other until Captain Dobey put us on a case." The glimmer of a smile tugged at his mouth. "I think he thought we'd either kill each other or wind up a team. Considering the difficulties he'd been having with us individually, I don't think he cared much which way it went."
"And you ended up a team."
"Mm-hmm," Hutch nodded, "After a while."
Sam looked at him questioningly. "Not right away?"
"No," Hutch said, and the smile blossomed to a grin at some private thought. "I think you could safely say we didn't get along right away."
"What happened?" Sam asked, curious. "What changed it?"
Hutch was gazing into the past, his smile turning reminiscent. "Our differences ended up being a bonus. We complemented each other." He transferred his gaze to his cup. "We felt the same on the important stuff." He fell silent again, contemplating his coffee. Sam held still; sometimes waiting was the best encouragement.
Hutch shook his head, almost in amazement. "He was so different from me. He'd eat the most God-awful food, thinking it gourmet cuisine. He prided himself on that souped up Torino. Drove me crazy with his enthusiasms and his bizarre sense of humor. He was by turns wise and silly, cynical and naive. Sometimes he could be a real jerk; others...a better friend than I ever believed possible." Hutch closed his eyes for a moment. "Yet for all his wise-cracking and that tough exterior, he never could separate his heart from the job. He was a very good cop."
Sam, watching Hutch, saw despair creep across his face as he continued. "He saw right through me to the core." Hutch's eyes lifted to meet Sam's, their expression a curious mix of grief, wistfulness and pride. "He was himself," he said simply, "And I was myself with him."
It was Sam's turn to look away, hiding his reaction, thinking there was no better way to describe a friend. When he could trust his voice, he asked softly, "And now?"
"Now," Hutch said, taking a deep breath, "he's gone and I feel...unbalanced--like I've a leg and have to learn how to walk all over again." He shook his head. "No, it's worse than that. I've lost my center. No matter how crazy things became around here--kids raped, innocent people dying for stupid reasons, leaks in the Department, bad cops...I could always count on him. For my life; for my sanity. He was the one thing I was absolutely sure of."
The hair on the back of Sam's neck rose as he heard the conviction in Hutch's voice. What if Starsky had betrayed him?
"You must have known," Sam said, after a pause, and seeking perhaps an answer himself, "You must have known that one or both of you could die..."
"Yes," Hutch agreed,"we knew. We never talked about it. The risks were part of the friendship--maybe they were part of the reason it grew so deep." He hesitated, then admitted with difficulty, "There were times when I thought maybe we'd be better off not caring so much. More than once he almost died--and God that scared me. I know it scared him, too, when I was in danger. I would have spared him that, if I could."
Hutch was staring into the distance again, his face settling into desolate planes. "Then it happened, and I wasn't there when he needed me."
"It wasn't your fault," Sam said weakly, knowing it wouldn't help.
Hutch shook his head. "It's not so much a question of fault," he explained. "It's simply the fact that I wasn't there. That, and the helplessness--I never felt so helpless. All those times before, when he was in danger, there was always something I could do. Even if it seemed like nothing at the time. What I can't forget now is what I felt when I saw that building blow up...and when I couldn't find him, after." Hutch was staring at a vision only he could see, and Sam prayed he'd never see it himself--or that Al would.
Sam, diverted from his purpose, spoke urgently from the heart, "How do you survive that? Risking your own life is one thing, but how do you survive allowing your best friend to risk his life--or his sanity--repeatedly. Maybe even for you?"
"We're cops," Hutch shrugged. "I couldn't very well keep him out of danger."
Sam brushed that aside impatiently. "I know that; it's too easy an answer. He was in double-jeopardy wasn't he? Risking his own life, and risking yours--what your death would do to him. Look at what his death has done to you. You just said you'd have spared him that. Where does your duty lie then, in friendship?"
Hutch gazed at him for a long time, and Sam saw strength and conviction gathering in his expression. "You do what's right for your friend," Hutch said quietly, with steadfast faith. "Even if I could have kept him out of danger, I never would have. Being a cop and throwing himself into those situations was too much a part of who he was. How could I be his friend and not allow him to make his own choices? Including the ones that kept him by my side, despite everything and against all reason." A small smile quirked one corner of his mouth, and his eyes warmed. "You were right yesterday, you know--about partners and risks. Maybe that's the best way to describe how we felt about each other. I allowed him to risk his life, and he allowed me to risk mine--and we both tried our damnedest to keep each other alive." There was something like joy now, growing at the back of the serious blue eyes. "It's a wonderful privilege to have a partner like that--and a terrible responsibility."
Caught in that gaze, Sam was silent, struggling with his own conflicting feelings of responsibility for the well-being of his friend and partner.
Sam left to get an early start on work, hoping to get a look at Starsky's and Hutch's files before Hutch arrived. The events of yesterday and that morning had served to breach the barrier that Hutch had put around himself. But Sam had a pretty good idea what Hutch would think of his going through the files. With some adroit maneuvering in R&I, Sam was able to collect the files and then found an empty interrogation room to read them in. Al appeared some time later to check on his progress.
"Find anything?" Al inquired. Today he was in a blue metallic-looking suit with a purple shirt and black bow-tie, with white squares on it. Sam took the time to study his partner, relieved to see that the unusual nervousness of the last two days had disappeared. Al seemed to have come to terms with the situation--or else he was hiding it better.
"Yeah," Sam replied to Al, "that all sorts of people might want to kill either or both of them. I don't know how they survived this long."
"Well, they are cops," Al said, coming around to peer over Sam's shoulder.
"Yes, and that's the other point," Sam said. "Regardless of how these people felt, they were smart enough to know there'd be hell to pay if they killed a cop."
"So the guy set them up to make it look like a tragedy rather than an execution," Al explained.
"Or we're back to Starsky," Sam said depressingly.
"Well keep looking," Al ordered, "'cause I don't want to believe that."
Sam turned his attention back to the files. After a few moments he said "Al, this is kind of interesting..." He read some more. "Al," he said with growing excitement, "how many days was it after Starsky 'died' that Hutch committed suicide?"
"Uhh," Al poked at the handlink until it squeaked out an answer. "Twenty-five. Why?"
Sam raised his eyes, a look of understanding spreading over his face. "We might have it," he said with suppressed triumph.
Suddenly the door opened, and Hutch walked into the interrogation room, his face shut tight and his eyes hostile.
"Oh-oh," Al said, "I think you're in trouble, Sam." He began manipulating the handlink. "And I think I'll go for a little walk..."
Under his breath Sam hissed, "Al!" He turned to Hutch and said, rather feebly, "Morning, Hutch."
"Just what the hell is this all about?" Hutch inquired in a deceptively pleasant voice, that didn't fool Sam. He closed the door and walked forward, fingering the files on the table before Sam. "Starsky's and my files," he nodded. "Peterson said you were into them. What's going on?"
"I just wanted to check something," Sam began gingerly, standing up to talk to Hutch.
"And you couldn't ask me?" Hutch asked, with raised eyebrows. "You working for I.A?"
"No," Sam shook his head. "Look I know this looks like I'm prying..."
"Damn right," Hutch agreed. "And all those questions about Starsky this morning..."
"I was just trying to help," Sam insisted.
"I think you'd better tell him your theories Sam," Al said, surveying Hutch's tense frame. "Not the one about Starsky, though," he added strongly.
"I think you can stop 'helping'," Hutch said heatedly.
"Look, " Sam said, rattled. "I know this doesn't look right, but I am trying to help. I think you and Starsky were set up at that asylum and," he hesitated, then plunged ahead, "I don't think Starsky was killed."
"What?" Hutch asked incredulously. "You think what?"
"I've been looking at the report at the asylum," Sam continued, ignoring Hutch's response. "The guy they identified, Evan Thorpe? The medical examiner said there was a contusion on his head as if something had struck him from behind. But the wound wasn't consistent with the other injuries from the explosion. He concluded that he couldn't tell how it had gotten there. I think Evan Thorpe was knocked out before the explosion, which means that either Starsky hit him or someone else was in that building."
"Maybe Starsky did hit him, and then tried to get to the bomb..." Hutch broke off, not wanting to continue.
"Maybe," Sam conceded. "But maybe someone else was in that building. Look at the other things. Did you know that the lock on the door of the room you were trapped in was the only well-oiled and working lock in the place?"
Hutch was silent, but Al commented in an aside, "Not that you actually checked every other lock in the place, Sam."
"I saw Thorpe drag Starsky into that building," Hutch said in a level voice. I saw the explosion. They found him."
"They found a body they couldn't identify," Sam interrupted.
"If Starsky didn't die, then where is he?" Hutch was working hard to keep his voice controlled.
"I have a guess," Sam began cautiously.
"Don't tell him that one, Sam," Al warned.
"I--I thought at first that maybe Starsky was involved in it--had faked his own death--"
"Aww, Sam," Al shook his head.
Hutch stared at him, a myriad of emotions passing over his face. To Sam's great surprise, the one that finally surfaced was laughter. Hutch shook his head. "Where the hell did you ever get that idea?" he said finally, when he was able to speak. The laughter had worked as a release and he was now more relaxed.
"I...uh," Sam hesitated, at a loss for words. He glanced at Al who threw up his hands, then looked back at Hutch. "A...part of me told me it was impossible, but..."
"But it seemed a reasonable hypothesis," Hutch concluded. "I'd have thought the same thing if I were you," he nodded. "Of course I'd have first had to think of this wild idea."
"I think I know who's responsible," Sam blurted out.
Hutch closed his eyes, the laughter suddenly replaced by fatigue. "Who?"
"Cameron," Sam said, "I think it was Cameron."
"Who's Cameron?" Al asked with interest.
Hutch opened his eyes. "In revenge for his brother?" he said dubiously. "That was more than a year ago."
"He wanted to get it just right," Sam argued. "So he set it up perfectly. He made you think that Starsky had died--kind of like how his younger brother 'died' when you shot him and he was paralyzed."
"He chose to shoot it out, in the drug bust," Hutch said.
"What drug bust?" Al asked. "What's going on, Sam?"
"I know," Sam agreed. "I know how it happened. But listen, it was exactly 25 days after the shooting that Richard Cameron died in the hospital. I think that Cameron planned to put you through two deaths, just like he felt he had gone through. I think he's got Starsky and he's going to call you to come get him tomorrow and then he's going to kill you both."
Hutch stared at Sam for a long moment. "That's crazy," he said. "That can't possibly be right," but his voice wavered with the slightest bit of uncertainty. His eyes were looking at Sam with a haunted expression.
"I know," Sam began, and his voice cracked. "I know it sounds crazy. Maybe it is, even. But it seems certain that whatever happened you two were set up. Why don't we try to find out who did that, at least?"
Hutch visibly pulled himself together. "Yeah," he said, his voice rough. "Sure, we can do that. And I know where to start."
"With the tip that sent us there," Hutch said with conviction. "Let's go see Huggy." He turned, and headed out of the room.
Under cover of gathering the files, Sam whispered to Al, "Find out all you can about a Vernon Cameron."
At that time in the morning there were only a few people in The Rafters, enjoying breakfast. Huggy himself was there, however, and he greeted Sam and Hutch with pleasure.
"Huggy," Hutch said, wasting no time, "who told you where Starsky and I could find Evan Thorpe?"
"Umm, Hutch," Huggy looked uncomfortable, "you know I don't name names."
"It's important, Huggy. Mike's been looking at the case and it looks like we were set up."
"Not by the dude who told me," Huggy said with conviction.
"Then maybe he was set up by someone else," Hutch said. He watched as Huggy hesitated. "Huggy," there was an an ache in his voice, "they killed Starsky."
Huggy looked up and met Hutch's gaze. "Not a 'he'," he sighed. "She. Her name's Rosa Martinez. You can find her at the Strawberry Lounge."
"Thanks, Huggy," Hutch said, squeezing his arm. He and Sam headed back for the car.
The Strawberry Lounge was closed at that time of the morning, but the barkeep was there, stocking for the night. With the aid of some presidents, he was persuaded to reveal Rosa Martinez' home address.
Rosa Martinez lived in a run-down apartment building close to the lounge. She was not at all pleased to be wakened by the police. "What do you want, cops?" She asked belligerently, as Hutch showed her his badge. She kept the chain on to keep them from coming in. She was a petite Chicana, with sparkling dark eyes and black hair that curled wildly around her face.
"We need to talk to you, Rosa," Hutch said. "It's important."
"So is my sleep," she said. "I gotta dance tonight."
"You'll be dancing in jail tonight, if you don't cooperate," Hutch warned.
"On what charge?" she asked angrily. "I know my rights--you don't have nothin' on me."
"Now, look, Rosa..." Hutch began, but Sam pushed him aside to talk to the woman himself.
"Miss Martinez," he said in a friendly voice. "Please. All we want to do is ask you a few questions. It's very important. And I assure you, it's nothing that involves you in any trouble."
Rosa hesitated, but something in Sam's eyes told her he was telling the truth. She sighed and detached the chain, allowing them into her apartment.
"Thank you," Sam said, smiling pleasantly.
Rosa narrowed her eyes at Hutch. "Hey, I know you," she said. "You're, uhh, Hutchinson, right? At Metro."
"Yeah," Hutch said, surprised.
She nodded. "You busted a girlfriend of mine once, for prostitution." She looked him over. "She said you did right by her though, and you took care of that pimp that was hittin' her. So maybe I owe you a favor. What do you want?"
"A little over three weeks ago, my partner and I received a tip that Evan Thorpe was hiding out at an asylum outside of town. Was that you?"
She looked wary, "Why?"
"It was a set up." Hutch told her.
"I didn't set up no cops!" she protested.
"Rosa," Sam interrupted. "We know you didn't do it, but who told you about it?"
She was staring, lost in thought. "My God," she said to herself. "That must be what happened."
"What?" Hutch asked, urgently.
She looked at him, with round eyes. "My friend, who told me about this. Well, he wasn't really a friend, just a guy I let hang around me now and then. Anyway, he told me about Thorpe and said that he was out of control. He wanted me to tell the cops about him." She nodded to herself. "And he knew I'd go to Huggy for that--everyone knows he won't rat on you, but that he has the ear of the police. Though he did tell you about me," she said, momentarily diverted by this thought.
"Who told you about Thorpe?" Sam pressed.
"Harry Marker," she said. "But it won't do you no good. He was killed."
"When?" Hutch asked.
"Three weeks ago," she replied with a knowing expression. "It would have been a few days after you went to that asylum."
Hutch and Sam looked at each other.
"There's probably a police report," Sam suggested.
"Let's go," Hutch said.
"Hey," Rosa said, reaching toward Hutch. "I heard what happened. To your partner, I mean. I hope you nail the bastards. For Harry, too."
Hutch nodded, and his eyes softened in thanks. He and Sam hurried out of the apartment and back to the station.
The report on Harry Marker was terse and to the point. He had been shot once in the head, motive unknown. He hadn't been robbed, but given his known gambling predilection, the best guess was that he had run out of time on his debts.
"There's not much here," Sam said, discouraged.
"There is one thing," Hutch said pensively, looking at the report.
"They have the bullet."
"So?" Sam asked, feeling lost.
"So, I think I'll have ballistics run a comparison on this bullet with the ones found at the asylum."
"Ah," Sam said. "Good idea."
Hutch called in a few favors to get ballistics to run the comparison right away. Even so, there were several hours to wait before they could expect to hear anything. Hutch reviewed Cameron's file, while Sam put in some work on other pending cases. Or tried to. He mostly wondered what was taking Al so long. Neither man talked about the asylum case, or Starsky. Hutch seemed to have withdrawn from Sam again, putting him at a distance; Sam wasn't surprised. When the phone rang, at about the time ballistics had predicted, both men jumped.
Hutch glanced at Sam and reached for the phone. "Hutchinson here," he said. He listened, his face impassive, then said, "Thanks Sarah, I owe you one." He listened for a moment more. "Okay, I owe you two," he acknowledged. He hung up the phone and looked at Sam. "It's a match," he said quietly. "Whoever shot at me in the asylum, also killed Harry Marker two days later. Or at least the same gun was involved."
"Cameron," Sam said with conviction.
"There's nothing to tie him to this," Hutch said. "And no one else is going to believe your idea. It's too insane."
Sam didn't pursue it, but he noticed the phrase no one else. "All right, then. What can we get Cameron on?"
"We know he's shipping drugs around the city; we just can't find out how he does it. The closest we ever came was when his brother was getting involved. The kid pulled risks that Cameron never would."
"Like shooting it out when it was hopeless," Sam said.
"Yeah," Hutch said grimly. "Cameron's lawyer managed to get Cameron off that time by arguing it was the kid who'd set the distribution up. All we found was marijuana. Cameron had probably given Richard that end of the business to ease him into it. No one's ever been able to catch Cameron with anything. His trucking operation would be the logical place, but it's clean as far as we can tell."
"Tell him it's the school buses," Al suddenly interrupted, startling Sam enough that he fell off the chair he had tipped back.
"You okay, Mike?" Hutch asked, peering over the desk to where Sam sprawled on the floor.
"Yeah, fine," Sam said, getting up and glaring at Al. "I've just had an idea, though."
"Didn't it say in the file on Cameron that he runs a private school bus company?"
"So, in uhh...where I worked before," Sam began.
"Chicago," Al prompted helpfully.
"Chicago," Sam confirmed. "There was a guy who ran drugs using school buses. He figured no one would ever guess."
"School buses?" Hutch asked incredulously. "But..."
"Think about it," Sam urged. "Who'd suspect? But I'll bet the buses go all over the city. And then there's field trips. Who notices what buses do after they've delivered the kids?
"That's the ticket," Al confirmed. "In 1985 Cameron gets convicted of running drugs in school buses all over the county."
"I suppose it's possible," Hutch said dubiously.
"What do you say we go take a look?" Sam suggested.
Locating one of Cameron's buses proved easy enough--he had close to a monopoly on the private school busing. Sam and Hutch discreetly trailed the bus as it made its rounds after school in the afternoon. They watched the bus pull into a quiet park drive, after letting the last child off. Sam and Hutch positioned themselves on an overlooking hillside, watching through binoculars as several men helped the bus driver unload bags from the storage compartment, dividing the bags amongst themselves.
"I guess you were right," Hutch said to Sam, as he peered through the binoculars.
"Well of course he was right," Al said impatiently. "I told him, didn't I?"
Hutch continued, "But it's still going to be tough to nail Cameron on this. We'll have to catch him in the act of receiving the drugs, or the money, to pin it on him."
"Couldn't we get someone to testify against him?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, sure. But that kind of testimony doesn't necessarily get a conviction. And he's got powerful friends."
"What are you saying?"
Hutch glanced at Sam, then returned to the binoculars. "I'm saying we have to play this slow, watch the setup for a while, and make him play into our hands."
"We don't have time for that," Sam objected. "If I'm right about Starsky..."
Hutch's hands tightened on the binoculars. "That's right," he said in a steady voice. "We don't have the time. But without the drugs there's no way we can justify busting in on Cameron. I'm not going to go over there and present myself to him, asking for Starsky, if that's the game he's playing. We need help, but Captain Dobey will not authorize a search and seizure at the bus company unless he can get Cameron, too."
"Maybe you could explain..." Sam suggested tentatively.
Hutch laughed, mirthlessly. "Look, I'm not sure I even believe you. You can forget about Dobey."
Sam was silent for a moment. "We're sure about the set up," he argued. "We can tell him about that, and then maybe he'd authorize picking up Cameron--except we can't tie it to Cameron without explaining why we think he'd do it, which he wouldn't believe," he objected to himself.
"Oh, good, Sam," Al congratulated him, hooting.
"Hey!" Hutch said, tensing as he saw something through the binoculars. "Look who just showed up!"
"Who? What?" Sam asked, looking toward the group below them, but unable to see clearly without the binoculars.
"Theodore Graham," Hutch said with satisfaction. "Well, well, well."
"Theodore Graham?" Sam questioned.
"Cameron's business manager," Al supplied, also peering down the hill.
"Come on," Hutch said, slithering back from the crest of the hill. I think he's taking a sample back to his boss. Let's go pull him over for a traffic violation."
They headed back for Sam's car and set off in pursuit of Graham. A few blocks away they pulled him over in a secluded area, and got out of the car. Al was still tagging along, very interested in all of these proceedings.
"Why, hello there Teddy," Hutch said cheerfully, walking up to the man on the driver's side.
"Detective Hutchinson," Graham identified him. Sam, peering at the man from behind Hutch, recognized him as the nervous man who had been with Cameron that day in the courthouse. "What do you want?" Graham asked Hutch, twitching.
"You were speeding," Hutch said. "Step out of the car, please."
"This is harassment," Graham said, with more conviction in his voice. "I'll file a protest."
"File away," Hutch said, "but step out of the car, please."
"See, Sam?" Al said. "I told you cops make up that bit about speeding. No way I was going 85 on that road the other day." Sam ignored him.
Grumbling, Graham got out of the car, Hutch walked him forward a bit to stand in front of the car. "I'll need your license and the car registration," he said.
"Is this what you've been reduced to Hutchinson?" sneered Graham. "Are you a traffic cop now?"
"Your license and car registration," Hutch prompted.
Graham reached for his wallet and gave Hutch the license. "The registration is in the car," he said.
"I'll get it," Sam volunteered, and reached into the car.
"No, I'll get it," Graham said urgently, moving back toward Sam.
Hutch grabbed him, and said "Let him get it, I'm not through with this yet."
Reluctantly, Graham stayed put. "It's in the glove compartment," he called to Sam.
"Right, okay," Sam acknowledged, and in his haste he tipped the briefcase that had been on the front seat, out of the car and into the street. Unfortunately the clasp was undone, and the case opened up to reveal it's contents to the world.
"Good job, Sam," Al complimented.
"Why, what's this?" Hutch asked, staring at the bag of white powder, and the rolls of bills. "Mike," he said, "come out here."
Sam got out of the car and picked up the case. He examined the bag carefully, "It looks like cocaine to me."
Graham, in desperation, jerked away from Hutch and started running.
"I'll shoot you if you don't get back here," Hutch casually called after him, pulling out his gun.
Graham slowed, then stopped and looked back. Hutch waved him to return, and after a moment, he did. Hutch had Graham assume the position, then discovered the business manager had a gun tucked away in his coat pocket.
"Tsk-tsk," Hutch said. "Drugs, money and a gun. You're in serious trouble, my friend." He handed the gun to Sam, finished frisking Graham, then turned him around, "Now we're going to have a little talk."
"What have we got to talk about?" Graham asked nervously.
"About drugs, and money and where you were on the night of August 6th."
Graham paled noticeably. "August 6th?" he asked questioningly. "That was a long time ago--I can't remember that far."
"You'd better," Hutch said in a hard voice. "Unless you want to be charged with accessory to murder."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Graham protested, eyes darting from Hutch to Sam and back.
Sam was examining the gun, along with Al. "Hutch," he said in an quiet voice. "This is a .38. Think it could be the same gun?"
Graham's eyes widened. "The same gun as what?"
"The same gun," Hutch said, leaning closer to Graham, "that was used on August 6th to pin me in a room while my partner was killed. The same gun that was used to murder Harry Marker two days later."
"I-- I don't know what you're talking about," Graham said. "Lots of people own .38's. And I've never even heard of this Marker fellow."
"We'll check that out," Hutch promised. "If you did know him, you're only digging yourself in deeper by lying about it."
Graham stared at him, then ran a tongue along dry lips. "Marker?" he asked. "Did you say Harry Marker?" Hutch nodded. "Well, maybe I did know him--but not well. And I didn't have anything to do with his murder."
"Got him," Al said with satisfaction.
Hutch grabbed Graham, one hand at his throat. "Look," he said in a menacing voice. "We know what went down. We know that Cameron had you tell Marker to tip us off to Evan Thorpe in that asylum. We know it was a set up to kill Starsky out of revenge for Cameron's brother. We know that Marker was killed two days later, with the same gun that was used at the asylum. Even if it's not your gun, you're going to have to account for those two nights. Right now you're looking at charges of drug possession, and murder or accessory to murder for Marker and for my partner. You're taking a fall Teddy--the only questions are how far and how long, and whether you'll be alone or not.
During this recitation Graham had started shaking. "No," he groaned, shaking his head. "It's not me; I wasn't involved!"
Hutch leaned closer. "You know how the courts deal with cop killers."
Graham" shrank back. But he's not dead!"
Hutch's eyes blazed blue fire, and his hand tightened on Cameron's throat, choking him. "Where is he?" he ground out.
"I-- I," Graham stuttered, trying and failing to push Hutch off him. "Cameron's got him!" he finally cried out.
"Hutch," Sam ran forward, "Let him go, let him go." He eased Hutch's hand off Graham.
The business manager, badly frightened, breathed a few deep breaths, then stammered. "Cameron is holding him. I told him it was stupid--going after cops. But he was so determined to get revenge. He wasn't thinking about anything else." He looked from Sam to Hutch, pleadingly. "I wasn't involved. I-- Iknew about it, and I did contact Harry, but I didn't do anything else!"
Hutch turned away, struggling for control.
Graham looked to Sam. "They-- They might have used my gun," he said in a terrified whisper. "Cameron said it was to make sure I wouldn't interfere. But I wasn't there, I didn't do it. You have to believe me!"
"I believe you," Sam replied, glancing at Hutch. "But I don't think it's going to do you much good."
"Would you turn evidence against Cameron?" Hutch asked in a hard voice, turning back.
"Would you testify against you boss?"
"He'd kill me," Graham protested. But he looked at the implacable faces of Hutch and Sam, and shivered. "If I did, what would it benefit me?"
Hutch looked at him with disfavor and in clipped accents said, "We'll put the word in with the D.A. That we believe your story."
Slowly, Graham nodded. "I'll do it," he said.
Hutch glanced at Sam. "We'll take him back to headquarters to get his confession." He turned his head toward Graham, his expression fierce. "Where's my partner?"
In a quavering voice Graham answered, "Vernon has him at his estate."
"Where at the estate?"
"In a bedroom on the back, on the second floor. Vernon had bars put on the window. There's usually a guard at his door, too."
"How is he?" Hutch asked in a carefully neutral voice.
Graham looked helplessly at Sam, then answered faintly, "Not very well, I think. At first, Vernon was content to just hold him, but..." He looked almost accusingly at Hutch. "Your partner's got a mouth on him, and he wouldn't shut up!"
A very slight smile broke the severity of Hutch's face. "That sounds like Starsky," he murmured to Sam.
Graham continued, "Well, Vernon got angry, and they beat him. Now Vernon says he won't cooperate."
"Cooperate? In what way?"
"Vernon wants him to call you, when the time is right. To get you to go to the asylum again. He says he won't do it. Vernon says he needs to be convinced."
Hutch's whole face clenched, and Graham pulled back from the expression in his eyes. Hutch grabbed Graham, roughly herding him toward Sam's car. "Let's go," he said tightly to Sam.
At police headquarters, they booked Graham and set him up with a stenographer for a full confession and deposition against Cameron. Ten they went to brief Captain Dobey. Sam listened as Hutch filled the Captain in on the school buses, and Graham's confession about the drug operation. Dobey looked from Sam to Hutch with a great deal of surprise.
"How did you manage to put all of that together?" he asked.
"Mike thought some things didn't add up about the asylum," Hutch explained. "He said the school bus scheme was used in Chicago while he was there. The rest just fell into place. Captain, we should raid that bus company right away, and get a warrant out for Cameron. He's bound to miss Graham pretty soon."
"Right," Dobey said, reaching for the phone.
"And, Captain, I'd like to serve the warrant myself," Hutch suggested.
Still with the receiver in his hand, Dobey frowned at Hutch. "I don't think that's such a good idea. You're too close to this."
"Please Captain," Hutch said. He gestured toward Sam, and there was the warmth of spring in his eyes. "Remember, my partner will be with me. We want to do this for Starsky." Sam smiled softly, feeling honored.
Dobey considered Hutch, then nodded. "All right," he said gruffly. "Let me get it all set up. You can deliver the warrant when I call you from the raid."
"Thanks, Captain," Hutch said sincerely. He and Sam left the office.
"Why didn't you tell him about Starsky?" Sam asked Hutch softly. "With Graham's confession he'd have believed you."
"Cameron still has him," Hutch answered grimly. "I'm not setting up a hostage situation--Cameron would kill him." He glanced at Sam. "We'll have to play this carefully to get him out. Are you sure you want in?"
"Just try to exclude me this time," Sam threatened. Slowly, Hutch grinned at him, and Sam saw a light in his eyes that hadn't been there since he had known him.
A few hours later, as the sun was setting in a late summer day, Sam and Hutch (and Al) sat in Sam's car near the entrance to Cameron's estate. The house was southwestern in style--two stories of white adobe, with a gently sloping tiled roof. A wall ran around the grounds, with an iron gate at the entrance. They were waiting for official word on the drug raid before going in.
"You realize," Sam said, breaking the silence, "when you serve that warrant, he'll hold Starsky to your head like a gun."
"Why don't you let me serve the warrant," Sam suggested.
"No," Hutch said. "You're going to be my ace. If I go in, I'll be able to keep him talking about his plans for me and Starsky. He won't be able to resist. Meanwhile you're going in the back and getting to Starsky." For all the uncertainty of the situation, Hutch seemed at peace with himself. Maybe, Sam reflected, because he could finally act.
"It's risky," Sam said. "Graham thought there were only two men there with Cameron today, but he could easily be wrong."
"We'll just have to handle it," Hutch said.
From the back seat Sam heard Al sigh, and start to fiddle irritably with the handlink.
"I'll be careful," Sam said, to the hologram.
"Me too," Hutch concurred. He sighed, his expression turning rueful. "And when I see Starsky, I'm going to kill him."
"What?" Sam overplayed the astonishment.
Hutch, with a smile hiding in his eyes, nodded. "You bet. How'd he let himself get knocked unconscious in the first place? Putting me through all this."
"Well," Sam suggested drily, "I wouldn't tell him about that locked room, then."
"Ah. Good idea," Hutch agreed. He fell silent, staring out the window at Cameron's estate.
Sam glanced at him. "Penny," he said.
"What?" Hutch raised his eyebrows.
"For your thoughts."
"Oh. I was just thinking about the past--about the time he found me when I was the one missing."
"When were you missing?" Sam asked curiously, knowing who the "he" was.
"Some months ago, a hit man knocked me off the road. I was trapped under my car for two days and no one knew where I was. I thought I was going to die. Do you know what kept me going?"
"Sheer stubbornness?" Sam hazarded.
A smile touched Hutch's lips. "Naturally. But also, I knew Starsky was looking for me. And I wasn't going to have him find me dead."
From the back seat Al complained, "Hit men, crazy revenge schemes. What is it with these guys?"
The radio suddenly sprang to life. "Zebra 3, come in." Hutch reached for the microphone.
"This is Zebra 3, over."
"Hutch, this is Dobey. The raid's on and we found the jackpot. Go on in and get the bastard."
"Roger, Captain, over and out." Hutch looked at Sam. "Let's go, " he said.
To make it appear that Hutch was alone, Sam traveled in the trunk of his own car as it passed through the front gates of the estate. Al seemed to find this very amusing, and enjoyed himself hugely by popping his head in periodically to talk to Sam.
"All comfy?" he asked solicitously, one of those times.
"So help me Al," Sam threatened, as he tried to ease the ache in his joints. "How close are we?"
Al disappeared, then reappeared. "Almost there," he said. And indeed, Sam felt the car glide to a stop. He heard voices, then the sound of a slamming door and feet crunching on gravel.
"Let me know when I can get out," Sam said to Al.
"Now's fine," Al said in reply. "No one's here. One nozzle came out to escort Hutch in but now the coast is clear."
Sam eased out of the trunk, and used the cover of the car, and then various conveniently placed bushes to skirt around the house to the back. He scanned the building, picking out the barred window. Al followed along with him.
"I already checked and the back door is locked," he told Sam, all business. "But you can get up to the second story balcony with that tree over there. The window on this side is unlocked."
"When did you have time to check all of this out?" Sam asked.
"When you were playing least-in-sight in the trunk," Al replied. "You'd better get going, Sam."
"And be careful," Al told him gruffly.
Sam paused, and looked back at Al. "I'll be all right," he assured his friend. "Don't worry."
"Why should I worry?" Al demanded, hiding his feelings in bravado. Sam just smiled and headed for the tree.
As Al had promised, it was easy to get to the balcony and the window was open. Sam quietly went through the bedroom. Al joined him before he reached the door.
"There's a guy coming up the stairs with a dinner tray," Al informed him "I checked on Starsky. He's in that room at the end of the hall, with one nozzle guard in there with him. The nozzle's armed. You can get the guy with the tray as he goes by, but try not to make enough noise to get the guard's attention.
Sam nodded. "Tell me when he goes by, after delivering the tray."
Al stood, half-in and half-out of the room, as Sam eased the door open slightly. Sam heard the footsteps of the tray-bearer, and then the sound of voices. He heard the footsteps returning. "Now Sam!" Al called.
Sam lunged out of the room, catching the man by surprise, and delivered a quick blow that knocked the man out as quietly as Al could have wished. Unfortunately, Al hadn't taken into account that there might be a third man, in the bathroom on that floor. He came out just as Sam was pulling the first man into the bedroom. "Hey!" yelled the new man, and he charged into Sam. They wrestled, crashing into the doorway of the bedroom, then out into the hallway. Finally Sam managed to break free and launched a kick that knocked the guy flat, and out.
"Sam! Look out!" Al shouted.
Sam looked up to see a guard at the end of the hallway facing him, with his gun drawn and pointed. The gun barrel looked very big and very deadly to Sam, and for once time seemed to stop, completely.
Hutch followed the man who had met him to a room on the ground floor of the house. The room was obviously a study, with bookshelves on either side of a window across from the door. A couch was placed along the wall to his left, and a large mahogany desk to his right. Cameron, sitting behind the desk, looked up as Hutch entered.
"Well, well," he said. "My favorite police detective! And to what do I owe this pleasure?"
Hutch pulled out the warrant. "I told you we'd get you Cameron," he said, laying the paper on the desk.
Cameron raised his eyebrows and reached for the paper. "It's a warrant for my arrest, Bergie," Cameron said to the man escorting Hutch. "For dealing drugs, it says. How interesting." He let the paper slip back to the desk, and sat back in his chair. "No doubt a misunderstanding," he said carelessly. "We'll have it cleared up in short order."
"Not this time," Hutch shook his head. "We've got a full confession from Graham. He's willing to testify against you." Hutch watched with pleasure as Cameron registered some shock at that announcement. "We're raiding your school bus center at this very moment. Your operation is collapsing all around you, Cameron."
"I always knew Graham was a weak link," Cameron said thoughtfully. "I didn't think he was this stupid, however."
"We've got you, Cameron," Hutch said, with satisfaction.
"Oh, I wouldn't go so far as to say that," Cameron countered. "You may have interfered with my operation here; I may even need to relocate. But you hardly have me." Cameron stretched out a hand toward his desk drawer. "In fact," he said, "it would be far more accurate to say I have you."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Cameron," Hutch said, eyeing the hand reaching toward the drawer. He drew his gun. "Keep your hands in sight," he ordered.
Cameron held up both hands in a placating gesture. "I'm not reaching for a gun," he assured Hutch.
"Speaking of guns," Hutch said, and he gestured meaningfully at the man Cameron had called Bergie.
"Go ahead, Bergie, show him our good faith," Cameron smiled. The assurance was back in his manner. Reluctantly, Bergie handed over a large handgun, placing it on the desk between Hutch and Cameron. "May I?" Cameron asked, gesturing toward the drawer again.
Hutch nodded, watching warily as Cameron reached into the drawer and pulled out a photograph. He laid it on the desk. "Take a look," he invited Hutch.
Hutch looked, and saw Starsky, glaring defiantly at someone out of camera range. He was wearing the same clothes he had been that night--jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt. Beside him was a copy of today's newspaper. Hutch drew his breath in sharply as he saw the condition Starsky was in. Both eyes were blackened and swollen, with a terrible cut and bruise on his brow above his left eye. His jaw, too, was bruised and swollen out of shape. Hutch looked up at Cameron through a red haze, and the man almost flinched from what he read in Hutch's face. But then Cameron smiled, well-pleased.
"Yes," he said with barely suppressed glee. "I have him. I've had him all this time. I've made him pay for what you did to my brother."
"I'll kill you," Hutch said, in a deadly voice. He raised the gun and pointed it at Cameron. "Where is he?"
Cameron leaned back again in his chair. "What will you do?" he asked. "Shoot me? My men have orders to kill Starsky at the first sound of a shot. There's a guard in his room right now. Go ahead--kill your partner. As surely as if you had pulled the trigger yourself."
Hutch reluctantly lowered, then holstered his gun. "What do you want, Cameron?" Hutch asked levelly.
"What do I want?" hissed Cameron. "What do I want? I want to kill you. But first I want you to suffer, as I suffered. I lost a brother, so you lose a partner. Mind you," he continued, "this worked out rather better than I expected. I didn't think the body would be unidentified, and there would be an investigation with fingers pointing at your 'missing' partner. I was terribly disappointed at first but, as it turned out, this was much better. I watched you, grieving, drinking yourself into a maudlin state, wallowing in guilt. While all the time he was here, praying for you to come. And you didn't even know it!"
"If it's me you want," Hutch said, still in that carefully controlled voice, "you can have me. But you'll let Starsky go first."
Cameron smiled with great joy. "I knew you'd say that," he confided. "Of course you'd say that. That's why this is going to be so very satisfying. You'd do anything to keep him alive, wouldn't you? But you're going to watch him die, knowing it's your fault that he's dying. And the only thing that will make it somewhat bearable, I imagine, is knowing that you won't have to live long with the guilt."
Hutch lunged, not toward Cameron, but at Bergie, standing to the side behind him. Once he had the bodyguard out of the way he would deal with Cameron. Bergie fell to the floor under Hutch's assault, but he managed to grab hold of Hutch, dragging him down with him. They rolled back and forth, struggling to take advantage, both landing blows with their fists. Bergie was the heavier and he used his weight to pull Hutch around, lifting and then slamming him to the floor. Hutch, momentarily stunned, felt Bergie's hands pulling at his holster. Sudden fear galvanized him and he rolled up just as Bergie freed the gun and staggered to his feet. In desperation, Hutch grabbed Bergie's arm with his left, while using his leg to hook the bodyguard's legs out from beneath him. Bergie fell and Hutch, followed through, slamming his right fist full into the guard's face. Bergie collapsed in a heap, and Hutch was left holding tightly onto the gun. He breathed deeply for a moment, then twisted around to look for Cameron.
Cameron stood by the desk, smiling sweetly, madly. He held Bergie's gun in his hand, pointed toward the ceiling. "Say goodbye," he said, and fired the gun into the air. Hutch stared, too shocked to move. From upstairs came the sound of a single gunshot.
"Sam!" Al cried.
Sam ducked, instinctively as the gun roared. Knowing it was his last action. Wishing as he had never wished for anything before--even for his Dad or Tom--that Al hadn't been there. That Al adn't had to witness his death.
But then he realized he hadn't died.
"Sam! Get up!" Al was calling to him. Sam opened his eyes and looked in confusion up the hall. He saw the guard, struggling to right himself against the side wall, and another man with curly dark hair and bound hands sprawled on the floor trying, not very successfully, to get up before the guard did. The gun the guard had been holding lay on the floor, near the wall.
Sam jerked himself up and tore down the hallway, grabbing the guard and slamming his head against the wall. He slid down, unconscious. Sam collected the guard's gun, then knelt by the other man.
"Detective Starsky," he said urgently, laying gentle hands on the man. "Are you all right?"
"Who wants to know," the other man mumbled. He lifted his head as Sam helped him to sit up. Sam was shocked by the bruises and the cuts.
"It's all right," Sam assured him, reaching to untie the hands. "I'm Mike Jennings. I'm working with Hutch."
"Hutch," Starsky murmured, still somewhat dazed. Deep blue eyes suddenly focused on Sam. "Hutch!" he said quickly. "Cameron'll kill him. Get me up!" Sam helped him to stand, but was supporting most of his weight. "I've got to get to him," Starsky fretted, struggling to move down the hall.
"I heard a gunshot," Sam said worriedly, looking at Al.
"I'll go check," Al said. "Gooshie, center me on Hutch!" Al disappeared.
"Go on," Starsky said, urging Sam with one hand, while he used the other to prop himself up against the wall. "Go on and help Hutch. I'll make it down on my own."
Sam checked to be sure Starsky was able to stay standing, then nodded and hurried down the stairs.
Al met him at the bottom of the flight, saying, "He's alive, but he and Cameron are fighting. I think you'd better get in there."
Sam raced to the room Al indicated, close to the stairs. He flung open the door and saw Hutch and Cameron swinging at each other. Hutch's expression was anguished, as if he had received a blow he'd never recover from. Cameron looked triumphant. In fury, Hutch grabbed hold and slammed Cameron with a powerful right that sent him crashing to the floor. Hutch reached for him again, but Cameron kicked him viciously and sent him sprawling. The two men staggered up and weighed in, trading wicked blows. It was obvious, however, that Cameron was tiring and Hutch had all the power of black despair. He landed a quick right and left combination to Cameron's stomach that doubled him, then finished him with another right to the jaw. Cameron staggered back and fell against the wall, dislodging a lamp in the process. Hutch followed, his face savage. All the pent up grief and rage of three weeks was finally coming out. He wrenched Cameron up against the wall and hit him again, full in the face. Blood flowed from Cameron's nose. He was beyond asserting himself, only raising his arms in a futile effort to protect his head. But Hutch didn't stop, he threw another blow at Cameron, and another.
"Hutch!" Sam ran to him, reaching for his arm. "Enough. He's finished!"
Hutch flung Sam aside, seeing him only as an impediment in his terrible need to hurt Cameron--as he had been hurt, as Starsky had been hurt. He grabbed Cameron, who was sliding down the wall, and hauled him upright again, only to knock him down harder.
"Hutch!" Sam cried, struggling to his feet.
Then a new voice interrupted. "Hutch." The voice was thready and weak but it stopped Hutch abruptly, like a bullet to the heart. He stilled, his hands holding Cameron upright, frozen in position. "Hutch," the voice said again. And with a little cry that was almost a sob, Hutch turned, dropping Cameron. He stared across the room at Starsky swaying in the doorway. "Leave some for me," Starsky called, as he started sliding down the doorjamb.
Hutch, his eyes alight, reached his partner in two steps and grabbed hold of him with infinite care, lifting him up again. "Wait a minute, Starsk," he said softly. "Let me get you somewhere more comfortable."
"Hutch?" Starsky asked, groping blindly with one hand for his partner.
"I'm right here, buddy," Hutch said, beginning to ease Starsky toward the couch. "Right here."
"Where? I see three of you," Starsky complained.
"The one in the middle," Hutch advised him. Starsky's hand found Hutch's shoulder and latched on, as if to a lifeline. Hutch settled Starsky carefully on the couch, his hand slipping to the back of his partner's neck, then down to his shoulder to pull him close. Starsky sighed, the hand on Hutch's shoulder tightening as two heads, one dark and one blond, met briefly in thankful communion. Sam, watching the two men, felt his throat tighten with emotion--joy and relief mingled with something close to envy at the ease of the embrace.
In a voice that didn't hide its shakiness, Hutch said to his partner, "I heard a shot. I thought they'd killed you."
Starsky grinned at him tiredly. "Well, that makes two of us." He winced as an inadvertent movement caused pain.
"Let me check you out," Hutch said gently. He looked to see how badly Starsky was injured. His face still held a look of wonder as he probed his friend.
"Watch out for the ribs," Starsky commented, flinching. "I think they busted one of 'em."
"Hmm, I guess so," Hutch agreed. "It's going to be the hospital for you, buddy."
"Terrific." Starsky grimaced.
Sam turned his attention to Bergie and Cameron, handcuffing them together, just to make sure there was no trouble. Cameron was still out, but Bergie had begun to stir slightly. "I'll call for some squad cars," he said to Hutch. "And an ambulance." He glanced at Cameron.
"Two," Starsky called. "I'm not riding in one with him."
Hutch chuckled. He finished his examination of Starsky and made sure he was comfortably propped up on the couch, then he looked over at Sam. "What about the other guards?" he asked, after Sam finished his phone call.
"There were three of them upstairs," Sam said.
"Let's go make sure they're secure, then." Hutch retrieved his gun from the floor. He brought Bergie's gun over to Starsky, but pointed a finger at him. "You stay put," he ordered severely. "And don't get lost again."
"I ain't goin' nowhere," Starsky assured him. " But don't you go gettin' yourself killed, before I have a chance to talk to you about a few things," he threatened, as Hutch and Sam moved through the door.
They arrived upstairs and peered around the corner of the hallway. "Two bodies," Sam whispered to Hutch. "There should be three." Quietly, with guns drawn, the two men moved out into the hallway. They came to the first door, and with one on either side, opened it with guns trained on the interior. No one was there, so they moved on to the next room.
Al came up the stairway and began peering into rooms to try to locate the missing man. He was two rooms ahead of Hutch and Sam when he poked his head out and said to Sam. "He's in here, the nozzle. It's the one that was carrying the tray. He's got a gun, Sam."
Sam nodded, and indicated to Hutch that he had heard something from that room. The two of them split to either side of the door, and Hutch pounded on it with his foot. "Police!" he shouted, "Come out with your hands up." The only response was gunfire through the closed door.
"Give it up!" Hutch called. "Cameron's in custody downstairs. The police are on their way. Don't make it any worse for you than it already is!"
Nothing but silence came from the room. Hutch looked at Sam, eyebrows raised. Sam nodded, and prepared himself. Hutch slammed the door open with his foot, but stayed to the side of the door. Gunfire again erupted through the open doorway. As soon as it faded, Hutch and Sam burst through the doorway, Hutch going high and Sam going low, firing as they came. The man inside the room screamed and fell prone on the floor, his gun skidding away from him. Sam and Hutch slowly advanced and Hutch picked up the gun while Sam checked the guard's condition. He found a graze from one of the bullets, but nothing else. Sam hauled the guard to his feet and escorted him out to the hallway where the other guards were stirring. Hutch handcuffed the two guards already in the hallway and herded them toward the stairs, while Sam brought along the wounded man. At the top of the stairs, however, Hutch paused. He turned to Sam and stopped him with a light touch on his arm. Sam looked at the detective inquiringly.
"I...I just want to say thank you," Hutch said quietly. "For giving me back my partner." The expression in the blue eyes told Sam how deeply those words were felt.
Sam felt his throat close up again, and struggled to speak normally. "You're welcome," he managed, then nodded and smiled, blinking rather rapidly.
Hutch put a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezed. The gesture was one of thanks and respect. "If you ever need anything," Hutch promised, his eyes serious, and he nodded once, in affirmation of the vow. Then the detective turned back to the handcuffed guards, gesturing for them to precede him down the stairs.
Sam's eyes found Al, and his heart turned over as he saw the expression shining on the face of his friend. "You did good, Sam," Al said with complete satisfaction. "Real good. I'm proud of you, kid." Sam nodded again, but he was thinking of all Al had done for Starsky and Hutch. And for him--just by being himself. Sam's breath caught as he suddenly realized what Hutch had been trying to say--was it only this morning?--in his apartment. He reached for Al, his face alight with discovery, but he was interrupted by a voice coming from below.
"Hey Mike, you coming?" It was Hutch, pausing halfway down the stairs to see what was taking Sam so long to follow.
Sam started, and saw that Al was now peering at him with a perplexed expression. "Take the guard downstairs Sam," Al advised him dryly. Sam hesitated, then turned to comply, knowing that now was not the time for a discussion with his partner.
When the group arrived at the study they found Starsky dragging himself along the floor toward the door. He sighed in relief as Hutch and Sam appeared, then collapsed to rest for a moment. Hutch glanced at his partner, as he pushed the two handcuffed guards to the other side of the room. Sam took charge of them while Hutch went over to Starsky. "What are you doing on the floor, Starsk?" Hutch asked, lending a hand to help him back to the couch.
"Would you please stop shooting guns all over the place," Starsky complained, causing his partner to grin. Hutch settled wearily next to Starsky on the couch, watching as Sam secured the prisoners--handcuffing Bergie and the wounded guard together, leaving the still unconscious Cameron free this time. It was rather like a game of musical handcuffs.
So what took you so long to find me, huh?" Starsky asked his partner.
"Well, everyone thought you were dead, buddy," Hutch explained.
Starsky nodded. "Cameron showed me my obituary. You thought so too, huh?"
Hutch glanced at him. "Yes," he admitted quietly.
Starsky grimaced. "Score one for Cameron." He took a deep breath. "So, why are you here today? Did he contact you? He said he would."
"No. I think he was planning on doing that tonight--or maybe tomorrow. He had a picture of you, you know."
"One of my better ones, I'm sure."
"I thought so. No, we're here today because Mike figured this whole thing out."
"My new partner," Hutch explained, gesturing toward Sam.
"And what am I? Chopped liver?"
"You're my dead partner." Hutch shrugged.
"Sounds kinda kinky to me," Starsky commented. He looked across the room at Sam, who was leaning against the desk, relaxing. "So he figured it all out, huh?"
"Yeah," Hutch confirmed.
"Hey, Mike," Starksy called out. "You wanna be my partner, next?" Beside him, Hutch snorted. In the distance they could hear sirens approaching.
"I think you two are dangerous," Sam said from the desk. "I'm going back to Chicago. At least I know who's out to kill me there."
"You'd be bored," Hutch assured him.
"Yeah, stick with us," Starsky agreed. "We've got, let's see: vengeful relatives, people who are facing conviction, hit men, cultists, ex-cons..."
"Relatives of people facing conviction," Hutch chimed in.
"Who was that?" Starsky turned to him.
"Remember the look-a-likes?"
"Oh, yeah. But they didn't try to kill us, exactly."
"No, they only wanted to get us kicked off the force. Oh, and don't forget the vigilantes," Hutch reminded him.
"Oh, yeah. Them too," Starsky grinned at Sam.
Sam rolled his eyes and looked to Al.
"I wish you'd hurry up and leap, Sam," the hologram grumbled.
The sirens were growing quite loud, and soon they saw flashing lights in the driveway. Hutch got up to look out the window. "Three black and whites, one unmarked and, yep, two ambulances." He glanced at Sam. "What'd you tell them, anyway?"
From the hallway came a familiar bellowing voice: "Hutchinson! Jennings!"
Starsky winced, and looked at Hutch. "Did you tell Dobey about me?"
Before Hutch could answer, Captain Dobey erupted into the room, followed quickly by uniformed police officers. The Captain glared around the room, taking in the sight of Cameron and his men, Sam, Hutch...and Starsky on the couch. His mouth fell open and Starsky and Hutch both enjoyed the rare sight of their Captain at a complete loss for words. Then a scowl descended. "Starsky!"
Starsky held up a hand. "It wasn't my fault, Captain, honest! Ask Hutch."
"Get those paramedics in here," Dobey growled at one of the uniformed police officers. He advanced toward Starsky and Hutch, who had returned to his partner's side. He shook his head. "Revenge for the brother?" he hazarded.
"Yes," Hutch answered.
Dobey nodded. "And you knew he was here when you came with that warrant?"
"Uh, well, not exact--that is, I thought maybe he...I... Yes, sir." Hutch admitted, squirming under his Captain's glare.
"I like this guy," Al commented to Sam, looking at Dobey with admiration. "He'd make a good naval officer."
"We'll talk about it later," Dobey said, as the paramedics swarmed into the room. He looked at Starsky, and his face softened. "It's good to have you back, Starsky."
"It's good to be back," Starsky replied, with a smile. The paramedics then descended on him, and soon he was transferred to a gurney to be wheeled to one of the waiting ambulances. Hutch hovered near him, until Dobey finally ordered him to go to the hospital with Starsky.
"Boy, I can't wait to get back to my own bed," Sam heard Starsky say to Hutch as the paramedics began wheeling him out of the room.
"Uh, Stark, they thought you were dead..."
"What do you mean? You mean my apartment's gone?"
"What about all my stuff?"
"We had a good sale," Hutch said heartlessly.
Suddenly, to the consternation of the paramedics, Starsky struggled to sit up. "What about my car?!" he cried.
"Uh, well..." Hutch began.
"Hutch...!" Sam heard Starsky wail, as the gurney was taken out of the house, and he shared a grin with Al.
"What happens to them, Al?" Sam murmured, as Dobey took charge of the situation. Cameron and his men would be carted off; the evidence would be collected that would convict them all of kidnapping, multiple attempted murders, and drug dealing.
Al pulled out the handlink to consult with it. Then he smiled at Sam. "They go on being who they are."
Sam smiled, feeling extraordinarily light-hearted. But as he looked at Al, his smile wavered. He wanted to explain to Al everything he had learned on this leap. Most especially what he had learned about Al's daily decision to stand and watch as his friend exposed himself to countless dangers. The partnership he had entered into with Al was never meant to be tested by the crucible of leaping. But it had been, and each had grown as a result, and their friendship and partnership had deepened. Al wouldn't be Al if he weren't willing to keep coming back while Sam faced all the dangers. Sam might have wanted to spare him that, but he heard Hutch's voice echoing in his mind: He was himself. And I could be myself with him. Hutch was right. It was a wonderful privilege to have a partner like that--and a terrible responsibility.
"It's probably time for you to be leaping, Sam." Al said. There was a hint of sadness in the eyes regarding Sam.
Sam blinked at his partner, feeling tears at the back of his own eyes. "Al," he said, then stopped at a loss for words. He shook his head, and simply said, "Thank you."
"For what?" Al asked, surprised.
"For being my partner."
Al looked at him sideways, some puzzlement in his expression. But then his face changed and his eyes took on a light very like the one Hutch's had gained when he had learned Starsky was alive. "Just keeping faith," he told Sam.
And they both expected Sam to leap. But he didn't.
"Why am I still here, Al?" Sam demanded, as he walked into the squad room the next morning. He was late. His alarm clock hadn't gone off (he had forgotten to set it), there was no hot water in his apartment, he had hit every red light between his place and headquarters, and he was feeling grumpy.
"I don't know, Sam," Al complained. "Ziggy doesn't understand it, either. There must be something else you're supposed to do."
"But what?" Sam asked, in no mood to deal with hybrid computers that couldn't do the job.
"Ahh, Mike, good morning!" Captain Dobey came out of his office. "I'd like to see you for a moment in my office."
"Yes, sir," Sam said, wondering if he was going to get chewed out for not telling Dobey about Starsky yesterday. But the Captain didn't look very upset this morning. Then he realized that Dobey was looking over his shoulder at something behind him. Sam turned around and saw Hutch, accompanied by a grinning Starksy, making their way down the hallway to the squad room. Every few steps they were stopped by people exclaiming over Starsky.
Dobey frowned as the two detectives arrived in the squad room. "What the hell are you doing here, Starsky? You're supposed to be in the hospital!"
"I work here, Captain," Starsky replied happily. He still looked battered, and he moved with care, but he was obviously enjoying himself.
"He's going home, Captain," Hutch said. "As soon as we figure out where that is."
"What'd the doctors at the hospital have to say?" Dobey demanded.
"They said it was up to him," Hutch said, and his expression showed what he thought of that.
"Well, get in here to my office, I want to talk to all of you," Dobey said.
Their progression was slowed, however, by the congratulations of the other members of the squad room.
"This ain't bad," Starsky commented to Hutch as they went into Dobey's office. "I think I'll die more often."
"Uh-uh," Hutch disagreed. "It's my turn next."
Inside the office, all three men were surprised to find Linda Perillo waiting. Dobey waited out the little storm of emotion as Linda greeted Starsky, then he spoke primarily to Hutch and Sam. "I thought you'd like to know that while you two were off conducting secret, and highly improper, rescue efforts, Linda here was arresting the Specialist, More or less."
Hutch turned to Linda, with a big smile. "You did? How?"
Sam grinned at her too. "Congratulations!"
"What's going on?" Starsky complained.
"I'm with you, pal," Al seconded.
"Not the Specialist," Linda corrected. "I caught the Specialist's understudy. The Specialist, I'm reliably informed, is retired."
"Do you know who he is?" Dobey demanded.
Linda glanced at Starsky and Hutch, as if gathering inspiration from them. "I have no evidence of who he is," she replied carefully.
Hutch looked at Starsky, and they both knew she was leaving something out in her report.
Dobey grunted skeptically, but let it rest.
"How did you do it?" Sam asked, to change the subject.
Linda shrugged. "The plan worked. I was able to find out which man it was who had given the bracelet to one of Grace's girls. And, as it turned out, he has a thing for red hair--and he showed up last night. I went home with him and the rest, as they say, is history."
"You ran a considerable risk," Dobey frowned at her. "You should have communicated with your backup before going to his house."
"There wasn't time, Captain," Linda protested. "I filled them in as soon as I could."
"She did a good job, Captain," Hutch intervened. "I'd have done the same thing, in her shoes."
"That's just the point!" Dobey pounced. "It's the example you and your partner set that causes officers like Linda here to take unnecessary risks."
"But Captain--" Hutch protested.
"And now you've got Mike doing the same thing. We're still going to have a talk about last night!"
"I think I'll go out and shake some more hands," Starsky said, edging toward the door.
"And don't think I don't know about the stunts you've been pulling." Dobey turned on Starsky. "You're all four of you too damn ready to throw yourselves into needless danger, and I'm tired of it. I'm putting all of you on probation. One more unnecessary incident and you'll be on report. Is that clear?
They all nodded, even Starsky, although he muttered "I haven't done anything for at least three weeks. I don't know why he should be so mad at me!"
Hutch nudged him to be quiet.
"I like that," Al said to Sam. "Probation. Keep that in mind, Sam."
Dobey's fierce glare then changed miraculously into a beaming smile. "But," he said, "as long as that is understood, I do want to congratulate all of you for jobs well done. There will be commendations all around." The four looked at each other with wide eyes. Linda, who wasn't used to dealing with Dobey one-on-one like this, was looking a little overwhelmed.
"Now," Dobey continued, "there're just two more things to be settled. One, Linda here got her promotion, and its into homicide with us."
Linda stared at him, and at the other three as they poured congratulations on her. She grinned."
You deserve it, Linda," Dobey said. "You proved it last night."
"Thank you, sir," Linda said, her eyes shining.
"As for the second thing," Dobey continued, subduing the other three by sheer voice volume. "We have to rearrange the assignments around here." He looked at Starsky and Hutch who were standing together. "I'm assuming you two still want to be partners? Although, God knows, you'd probably both be safer with other people."
Hutch grinned. "Oh, I don't know," he said. "I've gotten kind of used to bailing him out of hot water. I'd hate to inflict him on anyone else."
Starsky narrowed his eyes at Hutch and gave him an evil smile. "Just remember, it's your turn next, buddy-boy."
"So," Dobey said, hiding a smile, "that leaves me with Mike here with no partner, and Linda here with no partner..."
"Hey, Sam, this is great!" Al interrupted. "Linda and Mike become partners and they go on to be one of the best detective teams on the force."
Linda smiled, and sent a wink off in Sam's direction. "That's a great idea, Captain," she said.
"Well?" Dobey asked Sam. "What do you say?"
Sam opened his mouth to reply...and felt the leaping effect claim him. He sent a farewell and good luck to the people he was leaving behind. He thought he heard Al say, "I'll see you on the other side, Sam," before his senses were washed out in blue electricity and he was on his way to his next assignment.
Written in 1994; slightly edited for posting, 2010