Lauren Stockwell was engrossed in the task of fixing her dinner. She made a meatloaf sandwich, with lettuce tomato and pickles and finally poured a root beer in a glass. Once her meal was ready, she carried it to her living room. After a long day, she was looking forward only to sit down in her couch with Whiskers, her Siamese cat and have a quiet dinner while watching some TV before going off to bed. She only hoped that nothing would disrupt those plans.
The woman had just taken a first bite of her sandwich when, in raising her eyes, her gaze meet his.
"Hi." He said smiling warily and wiggling his fingers in greeting. A wistful look came over his face. "That sandwich looks great…I wish I could have some of it."
"Oh come on! Another one?... Really?" She mumbled under her breath, tossing her sandwich back onto the plate and wiping her fingers in the napkin. The older woman would've wished that to help earthbound spirits was a 9 to 5 job; however, it was nothing like that
"Another one?… Another one what?" The man asked as he stepped closer, peering about the room before his eyes locked back on her.
"Another… oh, never mind. Forget it." Lauren waved her hand while cautiously getting to her feet. Could he have been a good man? Or perhaps it was the earth-bound spirit of someone evil, or anger-ridden like the one she had been finally able to help to cross to the Other Side just that same morning? The effort of assisting that one had nearly exhausted her.
As always in the first moments of her encounter with them, Lauren could never be sure about the nature of her "visitors". Many years of experience had taught her that a mean ghost wasn't something she wanted to be anywhere near by if she could help it. Yet, in those first moments of being around him, her gut feeling told her that this one had been a kind-hearted person.
"Can you see me? Can you really see me?" He inquired anxiously as he leaned in and waved a hand in front of her eyes, like one might do in checking on someone's sight.
"Yeah. I can." The woman said in a matter of fact tone that was tinged with annoyance. That was nothing but the truth. She was seeing the man standing in front of her just like everyone else had seen him -while he was alive. The dark, thick curls, the tanned complexion, his ruggedly handsome face and expressive blue eyes. He even wore the same casual clothes he wore at the moment of his death. At least he'd arrived with clothes on. It could be quite embarrassing –um, awkward - when a spirit showed up naked on her proverbial doorstep.
"Great!" He exclaimed with enthusiasm, a big grin breaking across his face as he took in the appearance of the older, rather overweight woman standing in before him.
"However, I don't know anything about you. So, for starters, how about introductions? I'll go first. My name's Lauren Stockwell. What's yours?"
"David. David Starsky. I am… I mean, I was, police detective" He told the woman as a shadow of sadness clouded his eyes.
Police detective…Well, okay. At least the poor guy was in the good side of the line. She thought, relieved. And so far he hasn't started playing any nasty poltergeist tricks on me, like turning my whole living room upside down. Or turning my place into some sort of freezer while scaring me to death. That's a good start, I guess.
"What are you doing here, David?" She asked gently "Why haven't you crossed to the Other Side yet?"
"To the other side?... The other side of what?" Starsky asked, puzzled.
"The Other Side, you know, the place where you should be. The one where we all go after our time here is over…Well, it's okay. I guess that something keeps you bound here, and because of it, you haven't crossed yet-"
"Wait… wait a sec here." Starsky cut her off. "What're you talking about? What the hell do you mean by all this mumbo-jumbo about this 'side', 'the other side' and 'the crossing over'?"
Lauren didn't like the fact that he seemed a little upset. An earthbound spirit going ballistic in her living room was the last thing she needed at that moment. "Do you mean that you don't know what I am talking to you about? That you really don't know that you shouldn't be here?" She asked as tactfully as she could.
"Here? At your apartment, you mean?" The spirit detective questioned, all the while looking at Lauren in such a way, that it reminded her a lot of a confused child.
Terrific! She thought. Maybe this boy is as nice as he seems, but he's for sure going to be a handful to deal with!
"Okay David, could you tell me what you do know about your current… let's say condition?"
"About being dead, you mean?" He asked dejectedly.
Good! Lauren exclaimed inwardly. At least the guy does know what's going on with him. "Yes, David. About being dead"
"I only know that I was murdered -in cold blood- by a hitman hired by a powerful bastard who had a score to settle with me." The detective's eyes flashed a dark blue at the bitter words.
"Oh, David… I am very sorry." And the woman really was, for she knew that a murder was an atrocious act of evilness, one that went against the natural order of things. Ending a life before its true time had arrived; such things quite often leaving the victim's spirit bound to earth, and much grief and pain in its wake. She gave him a commiserating look.
"I've learn also that this of being dead is boring. And frustrating." Starsky elaborated further "No one can see, or hear me. Not even Hutch!... He's feeling so miserable! Blondie's just heartbroken. He's drinking way too much and that's just killing me! … Sorry. No pun intended." He added humorlessly, though for a moment, Lauren had to make an effort to stifle a chuckle.
"Listen David, unlike me, usually, living people can't see the dead ones, you know that don't you?"
"Yep. But I don't like it… it's boring." Starsky pouted.
"Yeah, I know; I know. You've just told me so. However, dead people have a place to go. There is where you should be right now. And in that place, you wouldn't feel alone, or bored, nor frustrated as you do feel here."
"How do you know?" He asked bluntly.
Here we go. Lauren thought in dismay. The million Dollar question… "I don't know for sure, David. But I've seen many people crossing to the other side. And all of them look very happy. Actually, as soon as they see the Light, they do look just elated. And this is how you'll feel when you go there. I'm sure about that."
"I can't go. Can't leave Hutch alone." The detective shook his head sadly.
"Listen David, I don't know who Hutch is, but…" She tried again.
"No, you listen!" Starsky said firmly.
Startled, Whiskers woke up from its nap. Uttering a scared hiss, with fur fluffing out madly in all directions, the cat stared for a second at the detective before bolting from the couch, running off to hide under Lauren's bed.
"Hey… Hey! How did it do that? I mean, the cat… it saw me, right? It saw me!" Starsky had momentarily forgotten his outburst. At that moment, he was just in awe.
"I don't know, David. Most likely Whiskers only sensed you, your energy or something. You've heard what they say about animals and their ability to sense things people can't, don't you?"
"Yes. However you do it. You can see and hear me."
"Yeah, I do. But don't ask me why, because I don't have a damn clue about the how or why. I only know that I found out about this gift of mine, many years ago, when I was just a child. And it has been with me ever since, all along my life, screwing it up a little too much for my liking, and quite often being a curse, rather than a gift."
"I'm sorry to hear that…" Starsky said. He seemed truly contrite.
"It's not your fault, David. Now tell me, how can I help you to cross to the Other Side?"
"I told you. I don't wanna go anywhere. I only want Hutch to see me. He has to know that I am still with him…Besides I must tell him who killed me."
"You mean… You know who did it?" Lauren was shocked.
"Yep. But I think it'll be much safer for you if I keep in the dark about it, so don't bother asking, 'cause I am not going to tell you, okay?" He gave her a stern look.
"Yeah; Okay, I got it." The woman sighed tiredly. "It looks like I've just gotten a new mission. Isn't that what you're telling me?"
"Dunno… Can you make Hutch to see me?"
"No. But I can give him a message from you. I can let him know that I can communicate with you."
"Sounds good enough to me." Starsky agreed.
"Now I need to know something. Who's this Hutch person?" Lauren asked.
"Hutch is my best friend. A great guy if you ask me… I really love him more than I've ever loved my own brother..." Starsky explained self-consciously "He has also been my partner on the force since we'd made detectives and until… Well, you know." He shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Yep, David, I know. Okay, now tell me, where can I find your friend? Does he live here, in New Hampshire?"
The detective looked away before turning his gaze back to her. "Well... uh no. Hutch doesn't live here… but in Bay City, California."
"HOLY COW!" Lauren exclaimed as she plopped onto her couch.
"Are you telling me that I should leave my apartment, my cat, my job, my Saturday cards game with my girl friends, my charity work in the church and go all the way to California to tell a perfect stranger that I've just met his deceased friend? And of course, I assume that you'll want me to stay there until I find a way to convince him that I am not a loony… a nutcase… someone who needs to be locked up- but someone who can really help him to talk to you, don't you?" She sputtered.
"Well…Yes. That'd be nice." Starsky said, smiling charmingly at the woman.
Having dealt with similar problems, she steeled herself to his obvious charisma. "No way David. I can't do that. I'm sorry, but I just can't."
"Why? Why you can't?" He asked, taken aback. "Not a minute ago you seemed willing to help me!"
"Because your friend lives in the other side of the country, that's why! I can't travel so far away from home, David. I am sorry but…" Just then the ring of the doorbell cut Lauren's tirade short.
"Lauren… Lauren, are you alright, honey?" A female voice asked from the other side of the wooden door.
"Oh, shit!" Lauren snapped annoyed, as she headed to open the door. "It's Charlotte. My next-door neighbor." She informed the former detective before opening the portal.
"Don't open the door." Starsky demanded. "We're busy here."
"You don't know Charlotte, David." Lauren shook her head "She must have heard me talking, and giving that I do live alone, she's not going to stop ringing my doorbell until she's sure that everything's okay in here. Now, keep quiet for a little while and let me handle her, okay?"
"Lauren? Lauren dear, are you okay? Who are you talking to?" Charlotte asked, her voice was muffled by the wood as she began knocking on the door.
"Yes, Charlotte I'm alright" Lauren said, as she quickly opened the door, barely dodging - by mere inches- Charlotte's fist as the woman attempted to knock it once more.
"Whoa! The lady's gotten quite a punch, huh?" Starsky teased.
Ill-mannered spirits -who didn't care about getting in the middle of a conversation between two living people- just grated on her nerves. I oughta write a book on proper ghostly etiquette. "Shut up!" Lauren gritted.
"Excuse me?" Charlotte asked bemused.
"T-the TV..." Lauren stuttered trying to look calm. "What you heard was the sound of the TV. I was watching a movie."
"Oh, really? I don't see the TV on." Charlotte had already stepped into the apartment and was discreetly looking around, in her search of something suspicious.
"Well, actually I've just turned it off and I was about going off to bed, I am kinda tired, you know…" Lauren broadened the hint to leave to Charlotte. The woman could be quite slow on the uptake sometimes.
"Get rid of that lady. Now. Do it or I'll scare the living crap outta her. I mean it." Starsky warned, closely following Lauren. Seeing that the woman didn't bother to answer him, he snapped impatiently. "Hey… Did you hear me? I'm talking to you, ya know."
"Shhht! Shut up!" Lauren hissed.
"Lauren, sweetie, you sure you're okay?" Charlotte asked, concerned "You look flushed, as if you were coming down with something… Maybe is that damn flu that is going around. You know, we aren't young girls any more. We must take good care of ourselves, because no one else's going to do it for us."
"I told you, Charlotte. I am fine, just a little ti- NO! LEAVE THAT ALONE! IT'S A FAMILY MEMENTO!" The older woman yelled as she rushed to grab a porcelain cat that was sliding dangerously close to the edge of the shelf it was placed on.
"Lauren? …What's it, Lauren? Who are you shouting at?" Charlotte asked, suddenly feeling uneasy. As impossible as it was, she could swear that she had seen the decorative item moving -on its own- towards the edge of the shelf.
I really think I should give up having a beer with dinner. The woman thought.
"Whi- Whiskers. My cat. It had just jumped onto the shelf." Lauren explained placing a hand onto her pounding heart.
"Whiskers?... Oh yeah, Whiskers." The nosey neighbor glanced apprehensively to her left and right, looking for the cat, who wasn't anywhere in sight. She shrugged, figuring that cats were generally pretty quick and Whiskers was edgier than most.
"Well, my dear, given that you seem to be okay, I'll better go. I am pretty tired myself." Charlotte was already retreating towards the front door, where she halted midway to fill Lauren in on the last gossip she heard in the grocery store. The talkative woman completely unaware of Lauren's discomfort was getting more and more engrossed in her account about a young woman who had caught her fiancé cheating with another woman two weeks before their wedding date.
Then, the front door slowly opened with a sinister, creaking sound coming from its hinges.
"Uh… oh" Charlotte gulped as her eyebrows shot upwards in alarm.
"Yeah…Uh… oh" Lauren echoed awkwardly, lowering her gaze to the floor while scratching the nape of her neck.
"Okay, Lauren. I just remembered… I gotta go. I've got a pot roast in the oven… yeah, that's it, a pot roast…" The door swung wider, again squeaking loudly. Charlotte's face lost all color and was now quite white. "I am in a hurry. We'll talk later!" The suddenly nervous neighbor announced curtly, striding rapidly out of the apartment.
"Yeah, okay. 'Night Charlotte. We'll talk tomorrow." Lauren said.
"I'll call you on the phone!" The woman hollered as she bolted for the safety of her own apartment.
Lauren hastily closed the door. It swung quietly shut on its well-oiled hinges. After taking a couple of seconds to drag in a deep, relieved lungful of air, the woman spun on her heel to confront Starsky.
"You just had to do it, don't you? I asked you to let me handle Charlotte on my own, but you had to act like a spoiled brat and make my place look like some sort of haunted house!" She scolded the ghost cop.
"She left, didn't she?" Starsky replied, cockily. "That was just what I wanted. Okay, now, no more chitchat. Are you gonna help me to get in touch with Hutch or not?"
"Listen David and try to understand me." Lauren sighed "I am not a young woman anymore. California is a long way from here. My car is too old for such a long drive. Besides, the road trip would be awfully long. On the other hand, plane tickets are quite expensive and I've got things to do here, I just can't leave, it isn't that easy."
"Call him on the phone then." Starsky tilted his head in the direction of the phone, which sat on a small corner table.
"Yeah sure. I can phone your friend to tell him that I got you right by my side and that you want me to give him a message. I'm sure he'd believe me right away, if he doesn't hang up on me first." Lauren mocked.
"Okay, okay… You got a point there. You don't need to go all sarcastic on me." Starsky groused, crossing his arms over his chest and fixing her with a disgruntled look.
"I'm sorry David, but it's not this simple. Actually, the whole thing is difficult enough when I do it face-to-face. To do it by phone is plainly unthinkable. I've tried it and it always fails."
"Okay then, it's settled. You'll just have to go to Bay City, ´cause I am not going to leave you alone until you do." Starsky said firmly. He didn't want to sound menacing, nor did he want to scare the woman. But, as far as he knew, she was the only one who could help him. And he needed that help more than he had needed anything else in his entire life -or after it, in this case- it was all that mattered to him now.
Lauren was about saying something else. However it took only a moment for her to realize that her visitor wasn't any longer there. As silently as he had appeared, Starsky's earthbound spirit had just vanished into thin air.
At that same moment, across the country, another miserable day of desk duty had just finished for Detective Ken Hutchinson.
Hutch hadn't quit the force after Starsky's murder, which had happened seven weeks earlier. There would be plenty of time for that. For now the blond detective had only one purpose. He wanted to stay in the force for a while longer. This would give him a better chance to catch Starsky's killer, and make that monster pay, and pay dearly. Hutch just didn't care what might happen afterwards.
As happened every day, a few minutes after 5 p.m. and wracked by his unending, overwhelming sorrow, he left the station and got into his battered car. He started the engine and drove towards Starsky's place.
He arrived and stepped in, stopping to look around the apartment. All of Starsky's personal effects were still there. But it was still empty, devoid of the vibrant life that his friend had imbued in it. In the dwelling, surrounded by his partner's belongings and the reminders of the many years their friendship had lasted, Hutch felt closer to Starsky than anywhere else. And somehow, he felt as if his partner was there, trying to console him. However, that feeling did nothing but aggravate his sorrow.
The blond one drew in a deep breath and slowly released it, contemplating the future.
One day he'd have to stop paying rent on two apartments. One day he'd have to chose where to live. Here or Venice Place. Or maybe somewhere else entirely.
But not today.
Hutch ran a hand through his hair, then scrubbed his face with his hands. He'd made it through one more day. Now, as he would at the end of each day, he'd drink shot after shot of the hard liquor until he'd be unaware of the fading daylight being replaced by the deepening shadows of the night.
And for one more day, he wouldn't care.
Shrugging off his jacket, he tossed it, his holster and gun onto the couch. Hutch went straight to the kitchen and produced a bottle of bourbon and a glass from one of the cabinets. Today, as many other days, the blond one had one purpose. He wanted to drink himself into oblivion. And that's just what he was going to do.
Since Starsky had been killed by an unknown assailant -in broad daylight and just a few steps from his own apartment- Hutch had lived in a bleak and gray world. He was only soothed by the false solace of the alcohol that temporarily numbed his despair. At present, he simply craved those brief moments of blessed emotional numbness.
Slowly, the full bottle of bourbon was reduced by half. Just like he was, now that Starsky was gone.
Hutch stared at the half empty bottle until it began to blur. He put the cap on it and struggled drunkenly to his feet. He headed off to bed, climbed in and cried himself to sleep in the loneliness of Starsky's bedroom.
A sad and lonely Hutch was unable to perceive, that beyond the barriers of the humanly comprehension and only a few inches away from him- an unseen presence had joined him in his suffering.
Lauren woke up in the middle of the night. She was sensing a presence. The woman only hoped it was not an unpleasant one. Rolling onto her side, she reached out her arm to turn on the nightstand lamp.
Then she saw him.
Starsky stood facing the window, and though Lauren couldn't see his face, his sorrow was so intense that she could feel it as clearly as if it was her own.
"You're the only one who can see me." He said, yet not turning to face her. "You're the only human being I can talk to in this whole rotten world. No one else can notice my presence. They can't tell how alone and lost I feel…I HATE THIS, LAUREN!" Starsky exploded, turning to look at the woman with such sadness in his eyes that his gaze made Lauren shiver. "I hate this of not being part of anything. Not the living, nor the dead… I think that if I could do it, I'd eat a bullet right now, just so I'd stop feeling this unhappy." He added, forlornly.
"David, listen…" Lauren got out of bed and approached Starsky.
However, he kept venting his despair, not paying any attention to the woman.
"I'd always thought that, if something like this ever happened, Hutch would be the only one able to see me… But no matter how hard I try -he can't. I'm by his side, hour after hour and day after day. Talking to him, trying to reach to him… And it's all for nothing. He just keeps on drowning in his misery… He's drinking the hard stuff -far too much of it. And he's mourning me." The ghostly detective paced, obviously agitated. "At first I even tried tossing some stuff to the floor around him. You know, a book here, a record there. Stuff like that. But he never caught the hints, so I finally quit doing it. I just didn't want Blondie to think that he was losing it."
Even if she had never met Starsky before; and though she didn't know anything about him and Hutch -hearing Starsky's words- how much love seeped through them. Lauren was quite able to realize the deep bond of friendship between those two men. A bond that not even death had broken.
Someone has to help ease all the suffering David and his friend are going through, she thought. And the woman knew that, no matter how taxing and exhausting it could be. She was the only one able to do it.
"It's okay, David." Lauren conceded. "Tomorrow I'll take care of a few personal issues, and then, as soon as possible, I'll buy a plane ticket to Bay City. Once there, I'll do my very best to try to convince your friend that you are with him."
"Are… Are you gonna talk to Hutch? Do you mean it?" A sparkle of a renewed hope shone in Starsky's eyes.
"Yes. I'll do it. No matter how much I can rant about all the things I must do to help all the people that -like you- are lost and suffering. It's my duty. My mission in this world, you could say. And I just can't give up on it. However, I can't promise you anything. I want you to be aware that, more than once I've failed. I've been unable to convince some people that, after death, their loved ones, or even their enemies, are still around. They –you- can't leave until you find the inner peace to do so."
"I told you that I am not going anywhere." Starsky stated stubbornly "I only want a way to be able to communicate with Hutch. I wanna stay with him."
"Trust me, son. When the moment comes, you'll want to leave, for your friend's sake, as much as for your own." Lauren stated confidently.
"Tell me something, Lauren… How the hell do you know what I am going to want, huh?" Starsky snapped. Sorrow and resentment were pouring from each one of his words. "Maybe do you know me well enough to know anything about my wishes, my feelings…the goals I had for my life?"
"You're right. I don't know anything about them. But I know what can happen if you stay." Without giving Starsky any chance to reply, the woman put on her robe and sat in the easy chair by the window and began telling him a painful memory from her childhood to illustrate her point.
"Many years ago, when I was just a child and still hadn't found out about my gift, one of my classmates, a girl by the name of Sandy Johansson, died in a car crash. Her parents were in that car accident too, but they both came through, almost unharmed, at least physically. The wounds they received that day could only be found in their souls. Those wounds were an entirely different matter. Sandy's father blamed himself, for he was the one doing the driving. Her mother felt as guilty as he did, because she thought she had failed to protect her little girl from harm. Both felt cheated and embittered because they had survived the accident and their eleven year old daughter hadn't. From then on, things began to go from bad to worse for them and their relationship began to quickly go downhill. Then, one day, out of the blue, Sandy just appeared in front of me-"
"Why're you telling me this?" Starsky broke in, moodily.
"Let me finish, David, please." The woman gently chided him. "Let me tell you the whole story, and perhaps you'll see my point… As I told you, one day, a few months after her death, Sandy's earthbound spirit showed in front of me, in broad daylight and while I was in my bedroom, doing my schoolwork. She didn't want to be dead. The girl was angry and frustrated and, needless to say -she scared the hell out of me. When you don't know about your ability to see earth bound souls, someone like Sandy isn't the best choice to start dealing with them."
"What was wrong with that kid anyway?" Starsky asked, despite himself, growing interested in the story
"Well, Sandy had been just a spoiled, rather mean girl. Actually, while she was alive, we had only been classmates, never friends and I had always tried to keep away from her as much as possible.
"Thing that, after her passing, you couldn't do any longer… right?" Starsky pointed ironically.
"Yeah." Lauren nodded "That's right. The matter was that Sandy had always been very attached to Mrs. Johansson -her mom- so of course, she asked me for help to get in touch with the woman; to stay with her. Rather out of sheer fear than any kind of sense of duty I complied. Pretty soon and mostly because she needed very badly to believe it, I managed to convince the woman that Sandy was really there and that I was the only possible link between her and her daughter." Lauren stopped talking for a moment to stare absentmindedly out the window, lost in her memories.
After a few moments, she took a fortifying breath and continued. "Well, to make a long story short, I'll tell you that the nightmare lasted about ten months. Ten long months in which, and much to my parents chagrin, I spent as much time as possible and then some at the Johansson's place. Along that time, Mrs. Johansson would only care about being with Sandy, talking to her, through me. Every other thing in her life, including her husband, became meaningless and eventually her mental balance began crumbling. The fear of losing Sandy again, this time for good, or of losing me, for all that matters was just consuming the poor woman."
"What happened after those ten months?" Starsky inquired, feeling that the answer was going to make a very big impact on him.
"What -sooner or later- was meant to happen, I guess." Lauren said soberly. "After eavesdropping in the neighborhood a few nasty and distorted gossips about Mrs. Johansson and our rather weird relationship, my parents put an end to it. They ordered me to quit visiting the poor woman. They threatened her with taking legal actions if she got close to me ever again. For weeks, Sandy was irked and mad as hell. She made my life a real, wide awake nightmare. So much so, that I stopped eating, sleeping, and I fell ill. But no matter what Sandy did, my parents wouldn't let me see Mrs. Johansson ever again, and of course, I'd never dare to tell them the truth about my ability to see Sandy…They hadn't never believed in this kind of stuff and I just didn't want to end in a loony bin before my twelfth birthday" Lauren joked feebly.
"Okay Lauren. Mind gettin' straight to the point?" Starsky's patience was growing thin.
"In realizing that her only chance to be with Sandy in this life had been taken way from her, a few weeks after the last time we were together, Mrs. Johansson killed herself. That's what happened, David. On the other hand, from the very day in which she died, Sandy also disappeared from my life. Though I must tell you that I never saw her crossing to the Other Side. She was just gone."
Starsky didn't utter a word. He only lowered his head to stare gloomily at the floor.
"Can you now picture how much havoc you could put into your friend's life if you stay and the only way he has to get in touch with you is through me? Have you pondered, if just for a moment, about what should we do for you both to keep in touch, huh? Should Hutch leave everything behind and move here, to New Hampshire? Or should I leave everything and everyone I know and move to California? What if I die, huh? Or if, for some reason I get too sick or hurt to be able to keep seeing you?"
"That ain't gonna happen!" Starsky retorted, snapping his head up.
"Damn it, David! We don't know that!" Lauren bit back "I am sixty-two years old, and for the record, three years ago, I had a heart attack! Currently I feel good. But -if nothing gets in the way- your friend is going to live many, many more years than me! What if some day I am not too longer here and he just can't cope with losing you a second time, huh?"
"He wouldn't lose me!" Starsky stubbornly stood his ground.
Lauren continued pressing her point. "Tell me how in hell he'd be able to know it? How he'd be aware that it's you and no other earthbound spirit the one to be still here if there's no one around to let him know? Are you going to start tossing stuff to the floor any time you want to communicate with him?... No David. Without my help, or the help of someone else with the ability to see you, Hutch would never be sure, and that uncertainty would drive him crazy. Do you want that kind of torture for your best friend? The person you claim to love dearly? Do you want him to lose his mind or perhaps kill himself just like Mrs. Johansson did?"
"Hutch would never do that!" Starsky thundered.
"That's another one of the many things you can't know for sure, son." She paused briefly to collect her thoughts "Listen David, I'm not going to force you to do anything you don't want to. I can't. It's out of my hands. But I've seen this same situation too many times. All the two of you really need for peace, is the chance to say good bye. Once your friend would be sure that this good bye is only temporary and that eventually, you'll meet each other again, you'll see things differently."
"We will? We'll meet again?" Despite the evidence, Starsky still had a hard time adjusting to his new and amazing circumstances.
"Of course you will David. You are the proof that death isn't the end, but just a new beginning."
The reassurance the woman's words conveyed seemed to ease a little Starsky's distress. Actually, Lauren had a point, and though he was too stubborn to let her know. He wasn't sure any longer if to stay with Hutch was the right thing to do.
"Are you really going to help Hutch to talk with me?" Starsky asked.
"I'll do my best, David. You have my word." Lauren said seriously.
"Thanks... Many thanks, Lauren. It means a lot to me." There was gratitude in the Brooklyn accented voice.
Once more, before she could say anything in return, Starsky was gone and Lauren was again alone in her bedroom.
A few days later in Bay City.
That morning, Hutch woke up feeling worn out and nursing a hangover. It was something that was becoming quite customary for the blond detective. He padded barefoot to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. The jarring of his bare feet hitting the floor sent shafts of pain through his skull. Some minutes later, he had gulped down a couple of cups of the brown liquid along with a few aspirin, hastily dressed and walked down the stairs of Starsky's apartment to his car. His stomach lurched; he leaned away from his car and vomited up his liquid breakfast. Feeling only marginally better, he got in and sighed. Another workday had begun.
Once in the squad room, and not bothering to greet any of his fellow officers, he headed straight to the coffee pot, to get his third cup in less than an hour. With it in hand, Hutch headed to his desk and started working on a report. He hadn't spent more than ten minutes working when someone called his name.
"Detective Hutchinson?... Ken Hutchinson?"
Hutch raised his bloodshot eyes from the sheet of paper he was typing on to meet the blue gaze of a plump woman in her mid sixties. She was dressed in brightly colored clothes and stood across from him on the other side of the desk he had shared for several years with Starsky.
"Yep, that's me." Hutch answered getting to his feet "May I help-"
The woman clapped her hands once together excitedly. "Thanks God I found you! That young man was starting to drive me nuts just because I've been unable to arrange things faster and travel here any earlier!" The woman ranted as she plopped unceremoniously onto the chair that had remained unoccupied ever since Starsky's death. However, she bolted to her feet as quickly as she had sat. She looked backwards at the empty seat and blushed as she mumbled an apology before settling in the next chair over.
"I beg your pardon?" Hutch asked, casting a concerned and puzzled look at the woman.
"Your friend… that's… He's… Well, never mind." She ran nervously her hands through her gray hair, neatly gathered in a braid. "Listen Detective, can we go to a more private place, like an empty office or something like that, to have a talk? I've got something to tell you. Something important." She glanced around. "And private."
"Look ma'am, I-"
"Lauren, Lauren Stockwell." She cut off Hutch again, stretching out her hand to shake his. "Actually, I know it isn't an interesting enough name, taking into account what I do most of time, but well…It can't be helped I guess. Maybe I could put madam in front of it. Madam Lauren… no, makes me sound like a-a madam… a brothel madam. That won't do at all." She shot a look to the empty chair at her left. "I'm getting to that!"
In reaction to such odd comments, Hutch's eyebrows fanned upwards. Everything that the woman had just said, told him that most likely she was one of those unfortunate, lonely older ladies that longed for a bit of attention and a few minutes of talking. Why, from all the things, she had chosen the Ninth Precinct and picked him to ease a little of her loneliness was something the blond one didn't care too much to find out.
There was a time when he might have helped her. Partly because Starsky had always had a soft spot for older women. Ever since his friend's death though, Hutch had little time for such things. He just wasn't in the mood to humor older, eccentric ladies. That had been always Starsky's speciality, not his.
In remembering his friend, his innate joy and kindness, all the happiness and love Starsky had brought to his life and how much his absence did hurt, Hutch's heart ached all over again.
Not now…this isn't the right time for it. The blond one chastised himself. He sat back in his chair and tried to pay some attention to the woman in front of him. "I'm sorry Mrs. Stockwell, but I am a very busy man. However, if you want to report a crime, I can direct you to another officer." Hutch said in professional tone. He only wanted to get rid of her as quickly as possible.
"No Detective. I don't want to report a crime, nor do I want to talk to anybody else." She said firmly "I only want to have a talk with you."
"You'll have to excuse me ma'am, but I told you that I am really very busy. I'm sure that whatever you've got to say-"
"I am here to talk you about your friend, about David." Again, Lauren interrupted Hutch. This time though, her words had the desired impact on him.
"David? …You mean Starsky?" He asked as his heart began a fitful fluttering in his chest. "Did you know him?"
"Yes. Well, no… I mean…um…well, let's say that I've met him, though not in a very conventional way." She hedged.
"'Not in a very conventional way'? Care to be more specific, Mrs. Stockwell?" Hutch asked suspiciously, there was no way for him to be ready for the kind of answer he was going to get from her.
The woman peered about the room, taking in the activity of the squad room. Then as if to gather courage, she inhaled deeply before answering. "I had never met David before his…his…Well, you know..." She said, whispering as she leaned in closer to Hutch, her eyes locking firmly onto his.
"No ma'am. As a matter of fact, I don't know." He answered tersely.
"I met him about a week ago. That's what I mean."
"A week ago?"
She nodded eagerly.
Hutch shook his head sadly. "That's impossible, Mrs. Stockwell. You are mistaken."
"I'm not, Detective. Last week David Starsky came to see me at my apartment. He does know who I am… what I do. And he needs my help. I'm here because of that."
That was far more than the grief-stricken detective could take. Hutch stared at the woman, talking to her in icy, deadly voice. "I'm warning you, lady. If this is a sort of sick joke, isn't funny. You couldn't have met Detective Starsky a week ago, because…because he died about a month and a half ago."
There it was. He had said it out loud. And the simple process of uttering those words reopened once again the deep wound in his soul.
"I know. He told me." The woman said, unruffled.
"Say what?" The blond one was near -dangerously near- the end of his rope. Only the woman didn't know it. Yet.
"Yes, Detective. David told me about his murder."
His fists clenched and his knuckles whitened under the tension. Hutch's voice was low and deathly quiet. "Listen Mrs. Stockwell. And listen well, because I'll ask you just once. And you'll better tell me the truth -for your own sake- do you happen to know who killed Detective Starsky? Or at least, can you provide me with any information regarding his murder?" Hutch's gaze as he spoke was cold, steady and frightening.
"I only know what he's cared to tell me. That someone shot him one morning, just when he was about getting into his car to drive here to work. The bullet entered just behind his left ear, killing him almost instantly. It was so quick that he was found still clutching his car keys in his right hand. David knows who did it, but he hasn't wanted to tell me so far. He says it can get me in trouble."
"Are you aware of the gravity of what you're telling me, ma'am?" Hutch inquired in calm voice. The specifics of Starsky's death had not been made public.
"Yes Detective, I am. But I swear you, this isn't what it seems. I haven't anything to do with David's murder. Nothing at all. I am here only to help him. To help you both, if you let me." She put out a hand imploringly.
His only response was to get to his feet, and using what little remained of his self control, opened a desk drawer and produced a pair of handcuffs. Stepping around the desk, Hutch grabbed the outstretched hand and rapidly fastened the manacles around her wrists while mechanically reciting the Miranda rights.
"Wait…wait a moment. You mean I'm being arrested?" Lauren asked, looking worriedly at her bound hands.
"´Fraid so." Hutch answered dryly. "I believe you were involved in the murder of Detective Sergeant David Michael Starsky. Robbins, take this lady to interrogation room eight. And don't leave until I get in there." He commanded to one of the uniformed officers in the squad room.
"Look Detective," Lauren Stockwell tried to reason with an increasingly upset Hutch. "I know how unbelievable this must sound, but you must listen-"
"OUT!" Hutch roared as he pointed with his index finger towards the squad room doors. Not caring in the least about the dumfounded stares his fellow police officers were giving him and the woman. "ROBBINS! TAKE HER OUTTA HERE RIGHT NOW!" Hutch shouted.
Robbins flinched and hurried over to Hutch's side to take control of the prisoner.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE, HUTCHINSON?" Dobey barked as he stormed out of his office and made a beeline for Hutch.
"I got a suspect in Starsky's murder, Cap, that's what's going on!" Hutch informed Dobey as the distraught blond hustled towards the squad room door.
"Wait Hutch! I'm coming with you!" The hefty captain moved swiftly after his departing detective.
Not bothering to wait for his superior officer, who was trotting a few steps behind him, the tall detective rushed downstairs to the parking garage and then back up the stairs, passing a bewildered Dobey.
"Hutch! What the devil are you doing?" The big man panted.
"Calming down before I speak to her again!" He didn't hear Dobey's response. He just heard the blood thundering in his ears.
After a few laps on the stairs, he finally felt ready to go to the interrogation area. He stopped off at the wash room to freshen up a bit after his need to calm himself down before talking to her again. This was the first break they'd had in this case and he didn't want to screw it up.
Case? He punched the wall. When had Starsky's murder become a case to him? He leaned against the cool tiled surface, needing something to support him while he gathered his scattered emotions.
Hutch slowly made his way into room number eight, where Dobey and Robbins were waiting outside for him. Taking a final, fortifying breath, the blond one opened the door to find that the woman was muttering to herself in a low whisper.
The three men exchanged a glance.
Lauren turned to them. "Your friend said…" She trailed off, hastily rephrasing her petition. "I need a lawyer, I have that right and I am not going to answer any of your questions until I get a lawyer. Oh and I can't afford one, I'm on a fixed income."
"Okay." Hutch conceded. "Robbins. Go call that public defender, what's his name?" He snapped his fingers. "Saunders. Tell him to get his butt over here right now to attend Mrs. Stockwell's interrogation."
"Saunders?" A voice only Lauren could hear repeated. "That moron? He's nothing but a wet-behind-the-ears Perry Mason wannabe. Oh, come on Hutch! That's not playing fair! That jerk could land anyone behind bars, even an innocent baby! How 'bout giving the lady a real chance of getting out of this mess, huh?"
"Oh….um…sorry, Detective Hutchinson." The woman interjected meekly "Can I have a different attorney? Anyone other then this Saunders person?"
"NO! YOU CAN'T! IT'S SAUNDERS OR NO ONE!" Hutch barked, making Lauren flinch.
Starsky moved from Mrs. Stockwell's side to his partner's. "Geez, buddy! Stop yellin', will ya? You don't know it, but you're scaring the only hope we've got." He groused before addressing Lauren "It's okay, Lauren. Don't worry about Saunders. I'll help you handle him."
Hutch and Dobey exited the interrogation room while they waited for the attorney to arrive. Lauren Stockwell stayed inside, under Officer Robbins watchful gaze.
Finally, about half an hour after being phoned, Jeremy Saunders, a slightly built, blond and tidily dressed man in his mid twenties stepped inside the room to meet his new client. Hutch and Dobey followed him.
"Well, well, well…What have we got here?" He asked in jovial tone, giving Lauren a patronizing look as he walked to the table and popped open his briefcase.
"What it does look like? A graduation party?" Starsky retorted grumpily as he paced the room like a bored zoo animal.
"Okay Saunders," Hutch said tersely, approaching the woman and propping his hands onto the table. "I don't know about you, but I'd like to get over with this as soon as possible, so let's just get started. Mrs. Stockwell, where were you on Friday, April 24 of this year, around 7.30 am?"
"Where were you on Friday, April 24 1981, around 7.30 am, Mrs. Stockwell?" Saunders repeated the question as he brought out a pen and a yellow legal pad.
"Oh come on, Saunders, cut the crap!" Starsky snapped "The lady isn't deaf, nor does she need a translator! She just needs a lawyer. A real lawyer."
"I was at work." Lauren stated after casting a brief look at Starsky. "I am literature teacher at the St Michael's High School in Concord, New Hampshire."
"Can you prove it, Mrs. Stockwell?" Hutch asked.
"There's a three hour time difference. So, around 7:30 a.m. here, is around 10:30 a.m. on the East Coast. I have 24 students in my classroom. Plus my fellow teachers saw me at different times all day. From 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.. Is that sufficient?" She smiled benignly at the tall, irate detective.
"24 Students and several teachers," The young lawyer repeated as he scribbled on his yellow legal pad. "I think that should be a sufficient number of witnesses. And that should be proof enough that my client couldn't have had anything to do with the death of Detective Starkey, Detective Huckchuffson." He deliberately misspoke the names and paused to see the reaction he'd get. Word had it that the blond detective's fuse had shortened considerably since his partner's death and that could easily work to his and his client's favor.
"Hutchinson." Hutch interjected working hard to keep his anger in check. He was sure that the irritating lawyer was misspelling their names on purpose
"Excuse me?" Was the unruffled response from Saunders.
"My name is Hutch-in-son. And my partner's name is Star-sky. David Starsky." The blond one enunciated each syllable while glaring at Saunders. "And you'd better not 'forget' them again, Attorney… and I'm using the word 'attorney' is it's loosest possible context." He glowered at the smaller man, his eyes turning a very threatening propane blue.
"Well, yeah, right." The lawyer tugged at his suddenly tight shirt collar. "Ahem… as I was saying, I think that –should Mrs. Stockwell choose to- She could sue you and this department for-"
Whatever Saunders had been about to say was cut off when a frigid gust of wind blew the papers he had carefully set on the table, flying all around the interrogation room, as if by a mini, indoor tornado. As quickly as it started, it stopped. The papers swooshing gently back and forth like falling leaves to the floor of the interrogation room.
"But….What?...What was that?" Saunders asked bewildered while bending down to collect his papers under Dobey and Hutch's equally puzzled looks.
"Hey! Look what I did!" Starsky said cheerfully to Lauren. "I need to practice a bit more, I guess. And what I'd really like to do is to make that idiot fly down some steps. But not bad for a beginner and kinda cool, huh?" He smugly smiled at the medium.
Unable to talk to Starsky without making things even worse for herself, the woman just rolled his eyes.
Starsky sidled up to Saunders, ginned evilly and whispered into the inept lawyer's unhearing ear. "Never pick on a man's partner."
The lawyer rubbed his arms as though he were suddenly cold, shivered and looked vaguely puzzled before returning to the task of collecting his papers. "Huh, someone must have just walked on my grave."
"I wish." Starsky and Hutch spoke in unison. Sadly, the blond did not hear his ghostly partner echoing him.
Starsky shook his head sorrowfully and walked to the window where he leaned on the frame and stared out at a world he was no longer a part of.
After that brief interruption, Lauren provided Hutch and Dobey with the phone number of the high school that she worked. As they were already figuring, the school's principal told Hutch that Lauren Stockwell had in fact been at work the day and time Starsky had been murdered.
To tell the truth, and as much as Hutch and Dobey wanted to find Starsky's killer, Mrs. Stockwell seemed absolutely incapable of doing something so heinous as commiting a cold-blooded murder. Nor was it likely that she was an accessory of any kind. Hutch and his Captain could see it clearly. Not just because of her answers, or the very little help Saunders was providing her with. It mostly had to do with their years as police officers and their vast experience interrogating suspects that told them so.
There was nothing more they could do now but release the woman. Dobey asked her not to leave Bay City until further notice.
However, as far as Hutch was concerned, he just hoped he wouldn't have to cross paths with Lauren Stockwell again.
His wish wasn't to be granted. Later that same afternoon, when he headed to his car to go home he found out that he had an unexpected and very unwelcomed person waiting for him there.
In the precinct parking lot, leaning against the hood of his battered LTD was Lauren.
"Get outta my way. Now." He grumbled, striding to the driver's side of the car with the woman right behind him, tugging gently at his sleeve.
"Please, Detective, you must listen to me!" Lauren implored "I have something very important to tell you. Very important for you and for David!"
In hearing Lauren mentioning Starsky's name again, Hutch stopped his motion of getting into his car. Stepping very close to the woman, he thrust his index finger in her face, until it was centimeters from her nose. "Don't dare to tarnish my best friend's name again with your ravings, or I'll be liable to do something that –under very different circumstances- I would regret forever." Hutch tone was low and deathly hostile.
Lauren was sure that he meant each one of his words. Mentally, she begged Starsky for help. She needed to find something, anything that would make Hutch at least give her the benefit of the doubt. And apparently Starsky was able to read her thoughts, because just then he told her what to say. And though it made no sense to her, she repeated it.
"David says he's sorry that he couldn't give you his boots."
In hearing those few words Hutch's body language changed completely, going from menacing to utterly shocked.
"Where- where did you hear that?" He stammered in faltering voice.
"Will you believe me if I tell you?"
"Don't answer my question with a question! I want an answer, not another question in return!" Hutch snapped, trying to regain his composure. "Where did you hear that?"
"David has said it to me, just now." Lauren stated, trying to guess what Hutch was going to do. "I know he's dead, but his spirit is still here. I can see him as clearly as I am seeing you. I can talk to him and hear him. That's the truth Detective, whether you believe me or not."
"THAT'S BULLSHIT, LADY! AND YOU'RE JUST A PESTERING, SORRY NUTCASE!" Hutch bellowed pounding hard the dented roof of his car. "STARSKY IS SIX FEET UNDER! HE'S GONE FOREVER FOR GOD'S SAKE!" That outburst was the catalyst to crumble Hutch's defenses. It was at that moment that he realized the finality of his relationship with Starsky. His friend was dead and never coming back, no matter how much he might wish it to be otherwise.
No longer caring about the presence of the woman near him, or sidelong glances that a couple of rookies cast in his direction, Hutch's legs lost their strength and he dropped to his knees, helplessly breaking into quiet sobs.
"It hurts… Starsky's absence hurts me more than I can bear. I'm trying to move on, to come to terms with it. But I can't… I just can't… and to make things worse, now, here you are, harassing me and telling me all this crap about him being around and talking to you and-"
"Shhht... It's okay, son. It's okay." Lauren said, crouching by Hutch side, motherly surrounding his shoulders with her arm attempting to comfort the obviously distraught and grieving young man.
"NO! It's not okay, dammit!" He shouted, pulling away from her and scrambling back to his feet. "It's not okay and it will never be okay ever again! I want to know why you're doing this to me!?" He shouted, glaring down at the still crouching woman. "I wonder who in hell could have hired you to torment me and how much money you're getting for it!? You've earned your pay, whatever it is!" At this last outburst, he bolted away from the woman and his car, sprinting down the street.
Aware that she hadn't the slightest chance of catching him, Lauren didn't even try. She slowly got to her feet and stood there, watching the lone detective sprint away. She then turned to look at the spirit detective who stood just inches away from her, grieving just as deeply as his blond friend.
David Starsky was hurting and grieving his own death. A death that was killing the other half of his soul.
Hutch was drunk.
Very drunk and mad as hell at the whole world.
Blurrily, he thought about how he'd ended up here, in this dive of a bar, intoxicated and pissed off.
After leaving the parking lot, he'd run without direction for several minutes, until he became winded and eased his pace. Hands resting on his knees as he sucked in big draughts of air, in doing so he ran through the options of retrieving his car. At first he thought about walking back, but there was the prospect of finding Lauren there, waiting for him. Finding that unbearable, Hutch dropped the idea. Nor did he feel like catching a cab and going home either. The tall detective wandered for a while longer until he found himself descending the steps to a shady and miserable looking bar.
Once inside, he shunned the dingy tables and sat tiredly on a stool at the bar. He had never been in this place. In here, he was a stranger, both to the bartender and other patrons as they were for him. And that was just what he wanted. In this place, unlike The Pits – where he hadn't gone back since Starsky was gone- the memories of his best friend and the many whiles they've spend together having a few beers, a couple of burgers or playing pool weren't looming at him from every corner.
"A beer and two shots of tequila" He told the bored-looking bartender, who served Hutch without even exchanging a glance with him. The blond detective was thankful for it. He didn't want to talk to anybody. He only wanted to be let alone and get drunk as soon as possible, as quickly as possible, to wipe from his mind the memory of that strange woman -Lauren and all she had told him. Words that kept echoing relentless in his mind….
I know he's dead, but his spirit is still here. I can see him as clearly as I am seeing you. I can talk to him, and hear him. That's the truth Detective, whether you believe me or not.
"Of course I don't believe you, lady!" Hutch muttered quietly to himself. He snorted derisively before gulping down his second shot of tequila. Despite being a down-to-earth kind of man, Hutch had read quite a few books about reincarnation and afterlife. The subject wasn't new to him, and, as a matter of fact, he couldn't deny totally his belief on the possibility of a new life after death. However, what that woman had told him was plainly unbelievable… a cruel lie meant to hurt him in the deepest of his soul, or simply the delusion of a sick mind …
Is it really so…? Is what that woman told me nothing but a load of bullshit? Hutch wondered for a moment. However he hadn't time to delve deeper into that uncanny doubt. At that moment, a muscled, rough-looking man who seemed to be way more inebriated than Hutch was came staggering to the bar.
Talking loudly, the drunk ordered bourbon, and once his first requirement had been fulfilled by the barman, the guy wanted his second requirement, which was a place to sit, his customary stool.
The one which Hutch currently occupied.
Sometime later, after Hutch had been taken to the hospital, he tried to remember what had happened.
There were bits and pieces that were somewhat clear.
He knew that out of the blue, a big, hulking gorilla of a man had ordered him -none too kindly- to stand up and give him his seat. A request that, of course, Hutch had refused to comply with. Then the gorilla simply pushed Hutch off of 'his' stool.
After falling unceremoniously to the floor, the blond one had gotten to his feet, and fueled by a hot rage, forcefully punched the big man's chest, making the guy lose his balance and fall backwards.
It was the beginning of what soon turned into a violent fight in which, to make things worse, Hutch was quickly outnumbered by a couple of pals of the huge man that -seemingly arrived out of thin air- to join the fray. The blond fought bravely for a few seconds, but his strong rivals and his alcohol-clouded brain prevented him from getting his badge or his gun.
During the fray, his opponents saw the Magnum hanging in its holster and before the blond one had any chance to dodge the impact, a broken bottle was sunk into in his midsection. At that moment, Hutch thought that his time had come -and he welcomed it. A piercing pain ignited in his belly and soon afterward, everything faded to black.
When he recovered consciousness, the aseptic, white environment around him, plus the unmistakable disinfectant smell told him that he was in a hospital bed. His first reaction, as he fought to clear the cobwebs in his mind was to call for his partner.
"Take it easy, son" A gentle voice said by his side. "Are you in pain? Want me to call the nurse?"
"Cap?" Hutch asked, carefully opening his eyes. In seeing his superior, grim reality sunk back in. Starsky wasn't there. No matter how many times Hutch might be rushed to a hospital in the future, no matter how badly injured or sick he'd possible be, his best friend just wouldn't be keeping vigil by his bedside ever again. A lump rose high in the blond one's throat. He forced it down.
"Don't worry, Hutch. You're going to be okay. Only you must get as much rest as possible, and you'll be back on your feet in no time." Dobey confidently assured him.
"What…what happened?" The blond detective asked, still disoriented and swamped with pain.
"You got involved in a bar fight last night. One of your opponents stuck a broken bottle in your belly. Lucky for you the bartender called for an ambulance. He also told us, that once you were down, your attackers were going through your wallet and found your badge. When they saw it, they fled the scene. And luckily, the wound is way less serious than the doctors thought it was when the ambulance brought you here. They thought it had nicked your bowels, they were quite concerned about peritonitis for a little while there."
"Oh…yeah, I remember." Hutch answered, turning his head to look vacantly at the wide sliding glass panel separating his room from the hospital corridor.
"Listen son…" Dobey said hesitantly. "I know that now isn't the time for it, but as soon as you're feeling stronger, we're going to have a serious talk. You must put a stop to this spiral of self destruction you've gotten into, Hutch. You must do it or you-"
"Who cares anyway?" Hutch said forlornly, still staring at the window.
"I care dammit! Edith, my kids and Huggy! A lot of people care! And most especially, Starsky would care! He'd be heartbroken in seeing how you're wasting your life and tainting his memory."
"I'm not-" Hutch began, attempting to defend himself.
Dobey cut him off. "Yes, Hutch, you are. And the memory of such a fine, honorable and kind man such as Dave, deserves much more respect than this." The big man brought out his handkerchief and mopped his sweaty brow. He harrumphed a few times before putting the hanky away.
"Please Captain… Just leave me alone." Hutch begged, feeling too weak and exhausted to continue verbally fighting with Dobey. He winced as he shifted in the bed.
"Sorry Hutch." Dobey apologized "You're right. I shouldn't have started talking about this now… It's just that it hurts me so much to see how-"
"Leave me alone, Cap! Now…Please!" Hutch demanded, gathering the little strength he had left. He wanted to be alone with his pain.
"I am gonna grab some coffee, son. I'll be back in a while." In a parting gesture, Dobey squeezed gently Hutch's shoulder. "I'll ask a nurse to check on you."
Hutch just turned his face to the wall.
Over the next few days, Hutch's body kept healing just as nicely as his doctors had expected it to.
What wasn't healing was his crumbled spirit. Despite the company of Dobey, Edith and their children, Huggy and even a slew of his fellow police officers; all of them very compassionate people, which he obstinately kept pushing away. The long, dull hours he had to spend in the hospital and the attempts of all those well intentioned people to soothe a despair that was engraved into Hutch's very soul were for naught. Then there was the disturbing lack of alcohol that he'd been using to numb that soul deep ache. His forced abstinence helped to show him the lonely path he was now on.
All of it making Hutch think seriously about putting an immediate end to his suffering.
Right after Starsky's murder, Hutch had wanted nothing more than catch his best friend's killer. But now, at this moment, neither justice nor revenge held appeal anymore. He was unable to savor any of such thoughts. No. Now he just wanted to get out of that hospital and go back home.
Home, to where his gun was. His Colt .357 Magnum and a hollow-point bullet, that would do the trick.
With that thought in mind, the blond one eased out of the bed. He was going to get dressed, take a cab and go home to do which he should have done right after Starsky's funeral.
Hutch slowly headed to the closet, hoping that he'd find some clothes there. He placed a hand onto the injured spot on his abdomen, where even his careful movements caused his healing wound to begin throbbing again. He opened the closet door and looked mutely at the bare shelves. Ultimately, it wasn't important what he wore, whether in his street clothes or just his pajamas, he was going home to meet his ultimate fate. His lips thinned into a determined line on his face.
Then he noticed it…
Instantly the temperature in the room plunged. It had been pleasantly warm. Now however, it dropped to the point of being almost chilling. It seemed to the blond colder than a winter day in Duluth. He could see his breath when he exhaled.
Trying to get warm, Hutch reached out for his orange bathrobe, which was slung over the back of a chair. As soon as he tried to pick it up, it dropped to the floor, as if jerked by an invisible hand.
"What the?…" Hutch was still puzzling over the fallen garment with a hint of uneasiness when a soft sound, like that of knuckles rapping on the sliding glass door grabbed his attention.
Looking at the source of the noise, the blood in his veins ran as chilly as the room now was. The glass was completely covered by a layer of frost. And there, written on the icy surface, he saw six letters.
The same six letters that just a few years ago had been written in lipstick and had provided him with much needed comfort when he was in an isolation room of another hospital, dying from the plague.
Those six letters had given him hope. Had kept him going when he'd wanted to give up and die. He rubbed his eyes and stared at those letters.
S T A R S K
"S-Starsky?..." Hutch spun about, looking around the empty room. "Starsk?… Is that you?" He hardly dared to hope and the rational part of his mind was telling him that none of this made any sense. However, right now, he didn't care about his rational side. Hutch continued talking to his deceased friend.
"Starsky… Are you here, Starsk?"
As if answering his question, the unmistakable scent of Starsky's leather jacket mixed with his favorite sandalwood cologne filled the room.
Hutch didn't need any further proof. With his heart pounding wildly in his chest, he reached for the phone and called the precinct to ask for the address of the hotel where Lauren Stockwell was staying. Too upset to listen to anybody's advice and against his doctor's best judgment, the blond one got himself released from the hospital. He left wearing some scrubs that his reluctant doctor gave him.
He took a cab to meet Lauren.
"Help me Mrs. Stockwell. Help me to talk to Starsk, please!" Hutch begged the woman as soon as she had opened the door.
"Come in Detective." Lauren said letting Hutch in. She didn't seem surprised by the unexpected visitor.
"Can you call him? Can you really make Starsky come?" Hutch asked straightforwardly. At that moment, all caution, all logic had lost their meaning.
"There's no need to, Detective. David is here." The woman stated looking at the spot to her right where Starsky stood.
"Starsk?... Starsky, are you really here?" Hutch asked as his eyes quickly scanned the room.
"He says 'Yes, Blintz, right in front of you.'" Lauren repeated Starsky's words.
The use of the pet name of Blintz made a lump grow in the tall detective's throat. Only Starsky ever called him that.
"But how… how can it be possible?" Hutch peered about, hoping to catch even a glimpse of his partner.
"Dunno, Hutch. But it is." The woman kept voicing all that Starsky was saying.
"Listen buddy. The 'how can it be possible' part of this isn't all that important, so let's skip it, huh?." The brunet continued with Lauren acting as his mouthpiece. "What counts, what really worries me, is you. You ain't doin' so well, are ya?"
"How could I, Starsky? I miss you. I miss you more than I can bear" Hutch kept looking about the room, hoping to spot his friend.
"I know Hutch. I know it all too well because though I've been by your side all this time, somehow I've been missing you too… I miss all that we had. All that that bastard has taken away from us."
"You… you saw your killer Starsky? Can you tell me who did it?" Feeling his legs about to buckle, Hutch plopped into the nearest chair.
"Gunther is behind it, so you'd better be careful as well Hutch. Ya know that I ain't the only intended target of the son of a bitch." Starsky paused meaningfully.
"Gunther." The tall detective muttered to himself. It made sense and the pieces began to fall into place in Hutch's mind as Starsky continued.
"The guy who shot me was a hitman Gunther had hired from his jail cell in the State pen. That damn bastard caught me off guard when I was about to get into my car. He shot me point blank from behind. He did it without giving me a chance to duck, run away or get my gun. While I lay dying, my vision was fading, I couldn't move, couldn't breathe, but I could hear…"
Starsky paused for a moment, reliving the horrible event. He then continued. "And he grabbed my hair, yanked my head up and told me who paid for the hit. The next thing I remember is the sight of my blood-spattered body lying on the ground beside the Tomato. It was then I realized I was… outside of my body… Sort of floating …Dead."
"DAMNIT! Hutch bolted to his feet "I am going to kill him! I am going to kill Gunther and the bastard who shot you! I am gonna-"
"No Hutch, you aren't gonna do any of that." Starsky, calmly cut off the rant. "You ain't gonna turn into a vigilante and throw your moral values, your career and your life out the window just to fulfill your revengeful wishes. That's not what I want."
"There's something you must know, Blondie." Lauren –still faithfully repeating all of Starsky's words- interrupted Hutch. "In the last weeks, and given that I don't need sleep I've been, let's say, quite busy… Though I was with you much of the time, I've paid a few visits to Gunther in his cell."
"You did WHAT?" Hutch was shocked.
"Yep… actually, I've pulled a few pretty cool stunts at him… ya know, ghostly stuff." Starsky whirled about the room, pantomiming. He stopped behind his best friend, making bunny ears in the back of Hutch's head. Smiling playfully, he made a face at Lauren from over the taller man's shoulder before returning to his original position, standing in front of his partner and next to the older woman.
"Hey, what's going on now?" Hutch asked impatiently upon seeing Lauren's gaze tracking what he assumed was Starsky. "Starsk, what are you doing?"
"Nothing, Detective." She fought the urge to laugh. "David was just giving me a little display of his newly acquired skills, that's all." Lauren couldn't convey it to Hutch, but childlike amusement colored Starsky's actions and words. She smiled as she continued to speak for the deceased detective.
The ghost grinned mischievously at her. His face then darkened and he was all business again. "And at this point, I am sure -that just with a bit of prodding from you- that son of a bitch will crumble. Actually, I bet he'd cut off his own arm if he thought it'd keep me away from him." He waggled his eyebrows.
Lauren did her best to convey the pride and satisfaction in Starsky's voice. "I really think we're very close to wrapping up our last case together, partner."
"'Our last case…'" Hutch repeated forlornly. "I don't like how this sounds, Starsk."
"Neither do I, but it can't be helped, I guess. Go see Gunther in prison, Hutch. Make him confess and let justice -men's justice and that other of a higher power take care of the rest… That's all I want. But also, I want you to have something."
"Something?... What Starsky? What do you want me to have?" Hutch asked, while part of him was still wondering if this all wasn't just a figment of his imagination, born of the deep desire to be with his best friend again. He swallowed hard.
"David wants you to reach out your hand, Detective." Lauren spoke, taking Hutch's hand. "Palm up. He wants to put something onto it." Too baffled to think, Hutch just did as Lauren requested, holding his hand out.
"That bastard hitman yanked them off my finger right after killing me. Gunther wanted them as some sort of proof the guy had done his job or maybe as a trophy. But they didn't belong to him, so I got 'em back and scared the hell outta that son of a bitch while I did it." There was a smug note to his voice. The tone changed to one of determination. "You're the only one who should have these rings now."
Starsky dropped the two rings one by one into his friend's open hand.
Tears tarnished Hutch's vision as the shining items fell softly into his palm. "Starsk…" He breathed in awe and sadness as he tightly clenched his fist around the cherished rings.
"I'm… I'm seeing a light, Hutch… A white, very bright, shinning light. It's beautiful." Starsky said then.
"You must go there, David." Lauren encouraged.
Hutch looked up from his fist. "What? Did Starsky say something?"
"He's seeing the Light, Detective." Lauren explained. "It's the passage to the other side." She turned back to Starsky. "You must go to the Light, David."
The spirit detective stared at the unearthly, yet welcoming glow and apprehension filled him. "I think I'm… I'm not sure about this… Lauren. What I am going to find in there?"
"For a man as kind-hearted and loved as you have been in life, there's nothing but peace, love and happiness waiting for you in there, David. The most happiness you can imagine. You've got nothing to be afraid of."
"But… What about Hutch? Is he going to be okay?" Starsky asked, very concerned.
"David wants to leave, Detective." Lauren told Hutch. "But he's worried about you. He wants to know if you're going to be okay."
"Sure Starsk… It may take me a while, but eventually I'll be okay." Hutch said as his eyes began to burn, tears fighting to form. "Go, buddy. Leave if that's what you want to do."
"I want to. It's beautiful. I see… POP! I'm seeing my Pop, and Terry and… Oh Hutch! This is… awesome!" All previous apprehension was now gone.
"David is seeing his loved ones, Detective. They're waiting for him." The woman explained to Hutch.
"Are… are you going to be there for me when my time comes, Starsky?" Hutch asked, though he was already sure about the answer.
"You can count on it, Blondie. I'll be the first one waiting in line to welcome you. I'll be there even if I must get outta bed earlier than ever and miss breakfast to be on time." Starsky joked.
By that point, Lauren was freely sobbing, while still doing her best to voice his words.
"I love you Starsk… You're the best thing that ever happened in my life. The very best friend a man can have. Don't you ever forget it." Hutch admonished fondly.
"I love you to, Hutch. No matter what, that'll never change."
Starsky twisted around to look at Lauren. "Thanks Lauren… For everything you've done for us. You sure are a very special lady."
Too moved to speak, the woman just nodded as she tearfully smiled at Starsky, the young man that she had met only a short time ago, but who already had stolen a piece of her heart.
Right at that moment, something incredible happened. Light began to bathe Starsky.
Hutch first saw a shimmer.
His jaw dropped and the blond detective thought his heart would burst. He was awestruck by that opportunity he was being given. For the first time in a month and a half, he could see, really see Starsky. Starsky stood about a foot from him and was looking directly at the blond one. Hutch immediately reached out a hand to touch his best friend. Touch was the glue that helped hold them together as friends. It had always been big part of their relationship.
Starsky reached out his hand as well.
Their hands passed through each other, with no resistance, no physical contact, not even a tingle.
Hutch's eyes brimmed with tears that he was holding back. "I-I guess this is really goodbye." The tears broke free of the wells of the light blue orbs and flowed in copious amounts down the blond one's face. He tried again to touch Starsky.
Starsky held his hand out as well. Tears filled the dark blue eyes. Physical contact could not be made, despite their best effort.
The brunet squared his shoulders. "This ain't goodbye. We'll meet again. See ya, partner."
For the first time, Hutch did not need Lauren's help to hear his friend speak, even though Mrs. Stockwell faithfully repeated the ghost detective's words.
"Starsk…" He reached out once more. Starsky mirrored the last attempt, but reached towards Hutch's chest instead of his hand. He said nothing more and slowly faded away.
"He's gone Detective." Lauren turned to the tall detective. "David has crossed to the Other Side."
Hutch palmed the tears away from his eyes. "No Lauren. You're wrong. He's not gone. He's here." He said placing his hand over his heart. "And here's where he's gonna stay. Forever."
Over the next few days things quickly slid into place. Only at Dobey's direct order had Hutch gone back to the hospital to finish recovering from his bar brawl. But before reluctantly obeying, the blond one made a short detour to the State Penitentiary to see Gunther.
The older man sat in a chair across a small table from Hutch. A bible and a tape recorder sat in the middle of it. Fighting the urge to strangle the life out of the man, the detective fingered Starsky's rings that now dangled from a chain around his neck, drawing a measure of strength and comfort from them.
Gunther's eyes locked on the rings and he gave an audible gasp.
Hutch instantly zeroed in on the gaze and sound. He wiped a hand over his mouth to cover the smile that formed there. Starsky's spirit may have moved on, but Gunther had no way of knowing that. And he used that knowledge to his advantage. He pointedly stared at a spot just over the criminal mastermind's shoulder and gave a short nod before returning his gaze to Gunther. He kept quiet and let the man come to his own conclusions.
The old man took the bait and looked to see who –or what- the tall detective was nodding at. Empty air and a blank wall was all he could see. But then, he'd never seen anyone or anything when the ghostly events took place around him. His breathing rate increased and fear widened his watery, slightly unfocused eyes. He whipped around and locked once more onto the silver rings.
"How-" His teeth audibility clicked together as he bit off the question.
A single blond brow arched upward. Hutch leaned nonchalantly against the wall behind him, carefully schooling an expression of mild interest on his face. He fingered the rings and tracked his eyes along the wall behind Gunther as though watching someone moving behind his enemy.
The old man shivered and cautiously peered over a shoulder, attempting to see what Hutch was looking at.
While the man's eyes were averted, Hutch quickly kicked the table, only just managing to pull his foot back before Gunther hurriedly turned back around.
Gunther's Adam's apple bobbed wildly at the 'ghostly' thump.
The blond one shook his head regretfully. "He can't rest, you know."
"W-who can't r-rest?"
Hutch gave him a lopsided smile. "I think you know who I'm talking about. And I think you know why he can't rest and the only way you're gonna be free of him, is to confess. And I would do it quickly. You know from personal experience he has a temper, don't you?" He smiled wolfishly at Gunther. "And an eternity to do you-know-what, to you-know-who." He shot a look to his right as though interrupted. The single bulb overhead flickered. Coincidence, it had to be. Hutch mentally shrugged and snapped. "I was gettin' to that!"
Gunther briefly hugged himself then put his hands on the table. His fingers twitched as he looked fearfully about the room. "K-keep him away from me."
"I can't keep him away, Gunther. Only you can do that and the only way you can do that is to confess." The overhead light flickered again.
Gunther shot out of his chair, it toppled over, clattering nosily. "I confess! I did it! I ordered the hit on Detective Starsky!" He broke down sobbing. "I ordered it! The man I hired to pull the trigger is named Benson. Charles Benson…and I'll give you his address too... I know where you can find him!"
Hutch smiled grimly and looked up at the light.
It never flickered again.
"Starsky loved this place." Hutch said to Lauren as they both walked barefoot along the shoreline. The old woman was flying back home next morning and she had asked Hutch to accompany her and show her the beautiful Bay City beach before leaving.
"It's very beautiful, indeed." She agreed, looking at the sinking sun.
"God, Lauren, what happened back at your hotel was so amazing. A true miracle. And I owe the chance to experience it, to you. Without you, I would have never gotten to see Starsky again." Hutch stated gratefully.
"No Ken. You don't owe me anything… I am only the humble servant for something much bigger and wiser than myself. Something that I'll never get to understand, and that I only can accept for what it is. A gift. My way to help people"
"Isn't frightening? I mean, being able to see earthbound spirits?" Hutch was reluctant to use the term ghosts.
"Well, at times. Though quite often, it's even scarier to have to deal with the reactions of the living ones who are still linked to the ones that have left."
"I am very sorry Lauren. I treated you like scum." Hutch apologized earnestly. "You don't know how much I regret it."
"It's okay, Ken, forget it. Anyway, getting back to David. The truth is that almost as soon as I saw him, somehow I knew that he wasn't going to hurt me, or give me any real trouble. He was a good man."
"The very best, Lauren. Starsky was the best; the most caring man you could ever meet." A sad smile played gently across Hutch's lips.
"Let me tell you, he was quite mischievous too. Rather like an overgrown kid." Lauren said, smiling fondly. "You should have seen it when he began moving a porcelain cat to the edge of a shelf I have in my living room, or when he opened my door with a scaring creaking sound. He did it just to try and get my neighbor to go back to her apartment and leave us alone."
"He did so?" Hutch asked amused by the anecdote, as he helped Lauren to sit in the sand, before sitting himself.
"Yeah, but in his behalf, I must say that he had warned me. David told me that if I didn't get rid of Charlotte fast, he was going to scare the hell out of her. And actually, when that nosy woman left, looking scared as if all the demons in hell were after her, David was plainly elated." In hearing such statement, Hutch couldn't help but laughing. He was laughing heartily for first time in weeks.
"I miss him, Lauren." Hutch sobered. "I miss Starsky every single minute of the day. Actually I don't know how I am going to cope with him not being here anymore." His hand crept up to the two rings that dangled from a chain around his neck.
Lauren reached over and placed her hand over his other one that remained on the sand. She gave it a reassuring pat. "You'll do it, Ken. I just know it. Eventually you'll move on with your life, and you'll welcome all that it has to offer you. You'll be happy again. You'll give and take love, and at the end of your journey here on this earth, when your time comes, you'll leave gladly, knowing that David is waiting for you. Not many people have such certainty. And though most likely you can't see things this way yet, I think that it does make you especially lucky."
"Guess what, Lauren," Hutch said thoughtfully. "I think I get it. I see how blessed I've been for having a friend like Starsky in my life, and how lucky still I am because he's out there, somewhere, waiting for me."
After Hutch spoke, during several more minutes, he and Lauren stayed where they were. They sat side by side, silently on the sand, letting the evening's breeze softly brush their faces and the heady scent of the ocean filling their senses. At that moment, in the distance, mingling with the sound of the surf, Hutch thought he could hear the echo of a warm laugh he knew all too well.
By then, the sun had disappeared below the horizon. And the same as Hutch knew that it wasn't gone for good, but just temporarily out of view, he was now certain that Starsky, along with all his love, kindness and friendship hadn't died with his body. He was just somewhere, beyond his reach and waiting for a new dawn.