Actions

Work Header

Partners

Chapter Text

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"

Day One

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.

"But..."

"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?"

"Yes."

"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."

"Yeah."

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.