I’d never felt more helpless or useless, two things I didn’t like at all. My life had been dedicated to being in control - of everything and everyone - at all times. But ever since Captain Harold Dobey called and told me and my wife that our son could be dying, I’d been completely out of my depth.
I had refused to allow Margaret to accompany me but caught the first flight and had spent the last few days at Lincoln Hospital, not bothering to check into a hotel. I’d not spoken to anyone in authority, or made demands of the staff, as I would normally have done. I had such a sense of impotence, I attempted to remain invisible. Instead of threatening, verbally abusing those who were busily going about their jobs, or insisting on information they may not have had, I mingled with the families of others struck down by some sort of… plague. How such a thing could happen, in this day and age of miracle drugs, was something I couldn’t comprehend. Why was Kenneth in critical condition in an isolation ward?
I’d never met Ken’s partner, David Starsky, and I didn’t introduce myself now. I watched. Since there was nothing I could physically do to affect the outcome of the search I learned was underway, I put all my roiling thoughts and emotions on hold, and observed.
To my astonishment, what I saw was the kind of dedication, loyalty, support and perseverance I’d only read about in books and studied in university psychology courses. Starsky displayed total commitment to a person, other than himself, and to a goal that seemed impossible: finding one man among thousands who held the cure for all those who hadn’t already died. Including and especially, it seemed, my son.
Dr. Kauffman and Dr. Meredith, whose names I’d heard from others in the waiting room, were doing everything possible but it wasn’t enough. Ken’s condition worsened and all I could do was stand where I was able to see through the window, when no one was around, to where he was beginning to struggle for his next breath.
Detective Starsky drew his name on that window in lipstick and I found myself hoping the letters would give Kenneth the will to continue fighting.
I listened to everyone talking to each other in the waiting room; family members of those stricken. They must have been saying things they’d overheard from staff members because the public wasn’t being told much, officially. We all knew, though, that the situation was critical and growing more so.
I was shocked when Dr. Kauffman led Starsky, gowned and masked, toward Ken’s room. He was the first non-medical person, other than Mrs. Yeager, who had been allowed to see a patient.
Starsky met my eyes for only a second and I knew he’d noted my presence at other times - he seemed to miss nothing. But since I was in no way hindering his mission, he dismissed me, possibly concentrating on whatever he planned to say to Ken.
I rose and walked to a position where I hoped I wouldn’t be noticed but where I could see what was happening in the farthest bed.
Whatever they said was inaudible but I was mesmerized by the intensity of the looks my son and his partner exchanged. After only a few words, Ken began to cough - something I could tell was tearing his lungs apart - and, suddenly, Starsky took my son’s right hand and clasped it tightly in both of his. Within moments, it was evident that Ken’s pain lessened and his breathing became slightly less agonized. I had just witnessed what appeared to be a miracle: Starsky had, somehow, drawn much of Ken’s pain away.
At that moment, my opinion of the course my son had chosen to follow, against my wishes and even commands, changed. Kenneth believed in his profession and had found a partner equally as devoted. And not simply to a job, but to each other.
I almost couldn’t wait to explain to Margaret that the man I had denigrated for not following in my footsteps and for not being able to stick to a profession of which I approved, had truly found his correct path in life. And he had done so not only without my help, but in spite of every obstacle I had thrown in front of him.
I wouldn’t tell her tonight, though, when I called. I’d wait for the final outcome of the drama that was unfolding before me; wait to see whether or not Ken would live. If he died, it would be one story to relate, face to face, after I got home. However, if he managed to live - if Starsky did, indeed, find this Callendar person for whom he and others, I was told, were searching, it would be another story entirely.
I spent many hours holding Helen Yeager’s hand, when she wasn’t in Richie’s room. We didn’t talk very much, we mostly silently supported each other. But the portions of her story she was willing to relate touched me: deserted by a husband who had run off to Canada; raising a son on her own; and now desperately in fear for the boy’s life.
Although I was tempted, I didn’t share my conflicting concerns with her. I couldn’t because Margaret deserved to know before anyone else. Except Ken, of course, if I ever got the chance to speak with him again.
When Captain Dobey agreed to immunity for Callendar and Dr. Kauffman and Helen went on live television with an appeal, everyone in the waiting room quieted. Their words, were moving but it was Starsky’s last statement that affected me most. He looked directly into the camera and allowed every viewer to see into his soul. “I know you got a heart, Callendar. Every mother’s son got a heart. No matter what gone down.”
He probably didn’t even realize that his tension had taken him back to what might have been the speech patterns of his childhood.
If Callendar had seen or heard that, I sincerely hoped he’d have the courage to help all the innocents who would probably die, if he didn’t turn himself in.
I waited, like everyone else, and did something I hadn’t done since I’d been very young. I prayed.
We all heard the shots fired outside the hospital but it wasn’t until later that I learned what had happened. Callendar had shown up and been ambushed by the man he’d been hired to kill, someone named Roper.
Callendar had been wounded but would very likely live to take advantage of the deal Starsky had offered. His blood would provide the antibodies needed to create a serum and save Ken’s life, as well as Richie’s, and all the others who would otherwise have died.
I finally checked into a hotel but spent every possible minute at the hospital, continuing to wait. When I did speak to Ken, I wanted it to be after I knew he was almost completely recovered. What I needed to say to him would probably surprise him and I didn’t want to be responsible for any untoward reactions.
A week later, I checked out of the hotel because I knew, from the hospital grapevine, that Dr. Kauffman was leaving and that Kenneth and his partner would be escorting her to the airport. I grabbed a taxi in front of the hospital and asked the driver to follow the bright red car, which I had discovered belonged to Starsky. How, I wondered, did he and my son ever manage to surveil a suspect in that distinctive vehicle? The thought had me smiling all the way to Bay City International.
When Ken, Starsky, and Dr. Kauffman entered the terminal, I paid my driver, took my valise, and went in, remaining well behind them as they said their goodbyes at the boarding gate.
Afterward, preceding my son and his partner down the escalator and outside, I waited next to the Torino.
As they came out of the doors, I saw Starsky spot me and his expression hardened immediately. He put a hand on Ken’s arm, stopping their progress. “That guy’s been following us, Hutch,” I heard him say.
The look on my son’s face went through several emotions: confusion, recognition, then complete surprise. “It’s okay, Starsk.”
With his partner trailing only half a step behind, a look of suspicion in his intense eyes, they crossed the traffic lanes toward me.
When we were all standing on the sidewalk, I held out my hand to Ken.
“Father,” he said, as he firmly shook my hand, his tone giving away nothing of what he might be feeling. “What may I ask are you doing here?”
“Your captain called us as soon as you were admitted to the hospital. I knew there was nothing I could do but I had to come.”
“She wanted to be here but I forbad it.”
“You forbad it?” Ken dropped my hand as if it had been scalded.
Never having been very good at apologies or asking for understanding, I tried to do both. “I know what that sounds like but please let me explain.”
As if remembering his manners, Ken turned to his partner. “Dave Starsky, meet Richard Hutchinson.”
Still wary, Starsky stuck his hand out to me. “You were at the hospital…. A lot.”
I took the offering; the grip was firm but not crushing, and nodded. “I was. And now you understand why.” I turned to Ken. “Can we go somewhere? I have about half an hour before my flight and I’d like to talk.”
Ken glanced at the waiting car before smiling at his partner. “Well, since you don’t have a ticket yet, maybe we could all go back to the coffee shop?”
Starsky shrugged. “Sure. Whatever you want, buddy.”
I picked up my valise and, without another look at me, my son led his partner and me back through the glass doors of the terminal and to the closest cafe. After we’d taken seats at a table and given the waitress our orders for “just coffee,” I stared at my son for a few moments, not having prepared a speech. It was somewhat difficult but, eventually, and without either of them pressing me, I found the words.
“It’s no secret that I’ve been somewhat displeased with the life choices you’ve made, Ken.”
My son actually chuckled and Starsky’s grin was crooked. Apparently, Ken hadn’t been reluctant to tell his partner about our family’s history.
“No, sir,” Ken replied. “That has never been a secret.”
The waitress brought our cups, I took the check, and she left. None of us drank, though. They waited me out.
“Well…” I swallowed the constriction in my throat. “What I wanted to say - before I go home and tell your mother everything I’ve seen recently - is that I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
The expression that finally settled on my son’s face was one of amazement.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people during the last week,” I went on quickly, “while you were recovering. I’ve even had conversations with your Captain Dobey, although I asked him to keep our talks confidential, until I’d had a chance to speak with you myself.”
“And…?” my son prodded.
“And what I’ve come to understand is that you…” I looked at Starsky - who was no longer staring daggers at me, but who was plainly undecided about what he thought of me - before turning back to Ken. “You both are doing what you were meant to do. You’re standing up for those who can’t defend themselves, and you’re helping people.”
My son was obviously taken aback.
Starsky blinked, then sat up straight, before he grinned at Ken. “There ya go, partner! Our second miracle in as many weeks!” He looked back at me and stood up. “Mr. Hutchinson --”
“Richard,” I said. “Please.”
“May I get you a bagel or something to go with that coffee, sir?” he asked.
“Yes, you may, Detective Starsky. Plain, please. No embellishments.”
He graced me with a version of the gentle, kind looks I’d seen him bestow on my son. “Dave,” he said. Without waiting for a response, he walked toward the counter.
I looked back at Ken. “He’s someone I would never have approved of as a friend for you, but now that I’ve seen him in action, and the results of his deep affection for you, I believe I understand why you’ve chosen him. He is, most definitely, one of a kind.”
Ken glanced fondly toward his partner, who was chatting with the waitress. “He’s a keeper, all right, Father.”
Dave brought bagels for himself and me, and wheat toast for Ken. In companionable silence, we ate until the public address system announced my flight.
I took out my wallet, extracted a five dollar bill and placed it, with the check, under my saucer.
We all stood and Ken stuck out his hand. “Thanks for coming. Give my love to Mother.”
I took it and held his gaze. “I certainly will. And believe me when I say I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!”
I picked up my case and walked away, knowing they were both staring at my back. What they said to each other after that I have no idea but I was extremely pleased that my son and I were on much better terms than we had ever been. I even had the idea that I should ask Margaret to invite them for Christmas.