A day like any other, so it would seem, or maybe better than any other.
Warm, fuggy Bay City weather, just the first light sprinklings of a drizzle at 8am. Hutch woke up with a tune running round his head. Feeling strong and energized he sweated it out in the gym first thing and got to work smothered in good health, his water bottle poking out of his pocket, blond hair clumped from the toweling he gave it in the locker-room. Starsky took a "scenic" route and arrived late at Metro with one doughnut in his mouth like a dog with a bone and a crumpled bag with two more inside tucked under his arm. Captain Dobey, immune to their good spirits, prowled his office grumpy with indigestion and pressure from Deputy McMichaels. A pile of reports that needed doing three days ago sat on the desk between them and there was the usual, slow-burning chaos in the corridor and squadroom. Just a regular day.
"Morning, freak," Starsky offered cheerfully, after dropping the doughnut out of his mouth on to the desk where it landed plumb on a memo from Internal Affairs.
"I may be a freak, but you're going to die, Starsk," Hutch responded, cutting but good-natured, reaching across and poking the doughnut with the end of a pen. "Eat something sensible will you?"
They were on good form and both realized it, running with the feeling. Hutch got them both coffee, his partner did some theatrical shuffling of papers, they descended into a short game of paper-ball soccer before Dobey growled at them, and only then was there a serious attempt to tackle the reports, initiated by Hutch who was always more conscientious. Starsky got up from his desk often, wired and hyper, in and out to the candy machine; Hutch was much better able to apply concentration, but got impatient with the crashing pandemonium all around. A ritual disagreement occurred over lunch.
Hutch had just put the phone down from Todd Alberts over at 77th Street and was wondering where Starsky had got to when Dobey appeared in the door frame of his office. Hutch knew the bark in his voice indicated that the trundling pace of the day was about to accelerate.
"Hutchinson, find your partner and get out to La Cuenca." Dobey waved one hand vaguely in the air, apparently in the direction of their destination and seemed to expect mind-reading to be one of Hutch's skills, but Hutch was used to it and struggled obediently into his jacket while Dobey did the briefest of fill-ins. "Dean needs back-up. He's tailing those youths that tried that lame-brained Sunday hold-up on Jackson." He frowned at the scene before him. Starsky's desk was littered with candy-wrappers but no reports. Hutch's looked like a bomb had hit it. There was paper on his chair, under the desk, piled up in precarious mounds. "Do you have anything to give me?" he demanded pointedly.
"Later, Cap." Hutch was already regretting having had the lunch Starsky had eventually fetched. Carb-heavy, it was sitting moodily in the centre of his stomach. Out in the corridor he discovered his partner hitting on the new woman from Human Resources who was patrolling her new beat with her brown wavy hair and a clipboard. Hutch swung by, dumping Starsky's jacket in his arms and propelling him along by the elbow.
"What are you doing? I'm busy!" Starsky protested.
"We have work to do, somewhere to go," Hutch said pleasantly. "And it gets us away from Dobey who just noticed we haven't done much."
Starsky, still being propelled, cast a look over his shoulder as if his superior was coming up behind him. "OK, OK, I got it! Leave me alone. I can walk."
"Well walk fast," Hutch said. "Jay Dean's on the tail of those Jackson Avenue kids. And, Starsk ..."
"The HR woman ... so not your type."
They made it through downtown and east to La Cuenca in just over forty, held up a bit by the weather and the lunchtime traffic, Hutch in contact with Officer Dean all the way. They left the Torino up on the highway and went down to meet Dean at the head of the canal basin, clattering after him through the rain into the maze of dried-up waterways and abandoned boats and freight. Somehow he had got the squadcar down the ramp and it was parked at the head of the basin. Everything smelt of sewage. "Where's Laney?" Starsky asked of Dean's partner.
"She's trying to talk to their uncle in Port Alta," Dean had replied and Starsky sent a questioning look Hutch's way. Did uniforms never follow the rulebook anymore? What was the point of having a freelance partner? No wonder Dean needed backup.
The two youths from the hold-up on Jackson Avenue were hunkered down by now. Dean had tailed them right back from downtown, and they all saw them pop up in a mess of rusty ironworks that maybe used to be part of a lock. They were just kids fizzing out of control. On a rampage. Getting more confident, more reckless. Steaming trains, mugging tourists, now armed robbery. Needed to be brought in before something went badly wrong and someone got hurt. They were both teenagers, young latinos. One of them was hooded and desperate to be away and the other wanted to confront them. Dean confirmed that he was sure the hoodie was not carrying a gun; he did not know about the other one with the crazy eyes. Hutch was just wondering what lunacy or narcotic inspired these two to want to square up to three armed cops. Perhaps it was just that they felt at home here and they saw the cops slithering and stumbling their way through the slimy alleyways between the metal.
The three of them all had the measure of what they were up against. Kids. Not sophisticated, but often unpredictable. Had to be real careful though. Juveniles were trouble in so many ways. Treat them with kid gloves or someone, somewhere will be screaming. These ones hated cops, that much was evident.
"Take it easy, huh?" Hutch remembered saying evenly to his two colleagues. "Maybe we can talk them in." He was the one with the facility in Spanish. He was the one taking the lead and he already knew the other two were deferring to him. You're a natural born leader, Hutch, Starsky had said once, and he was being serious. It had been Dean's tail but now it was Hutch's call. The sputtering rain was in his eyes while he was trying to catch up with Dean, who seemed a bit over-excited. He was aware that Starsky was very close behind him, could feel the tension of his concentration. The familiar proximity of his partner made Hutch feel easy. They all had their weapons under wraps. The kids had headed into a dead end in this labyrinth they seemed to know so well. Their faces loomed out of the misty atmosphere, so young, so angry. Nothing they hated more than white cops.
Then the day ceased, in a moment, to be ordinary. Approaching Dean's shoulder, Hutch had held up his hands in a gesture of peace, showing them no gun, and told them in Spanish to take it easy. As the kids wandered, nervous, trapped, a little nearer and then a little nearer still, Hutch remembered the suddenness of Starsky lurching past him, which he was not expecting, barging him accidentally so that he stumbled, his shoes hissing on the wet tarmac. What he heard at the time was indistinct, but it later came back to him clearly, and Jason Dean had heard the same. They both heard Starsky say, not in a sharp way, but calm and controlled, "Jay - a blade ..." Just that. Jay, a blade, and then Jason saw it coming at him at full speed in the hand of this young guy they didn't know. It was enough to make him back out of the way instinctively, by falling over a metal crate, and Hutch felt distracted that the kid in the hood had taken his chance and streaked away to the left all of a sudden, over a huge wall, out of sight. He saw Starsky's momentum filling the gap that Jay had left, and meeting the kid head-on, moving too quickly to control himself. There was a weird thumping sound of fist meeting solar plexus, the sound of a man winded, and then the latino kid's hand came out and back, ready to punch again. Only it was not a fist. It was a thick, flat blade, held easily, like an extension of his arm, already creamily coated with blood. The blade, somehow graceful even in those dreamlike seconds, met the useless human resistance again, this time jamming in even more deeply through layers of clothing and flesh. The winded sound came again, although it was abruptly cut off as the knife reached the furthest point it could slide. The kid was confident enough to twist it as he stabbed it in. Plainly disbelieving, Starsky took a swift glance down, remained frozen for a second and then began to tilt forward, bending double, the kid letting go the knife and backing off, amazed at himself, amazed to see the uniform still lying spreadeagled over the crate, cursing, and the blond cop's face not turned to him but to the dark-haired cop, splashed in rain and realization. He knew he would get away from here; he could move like lightning and already he saw that the cops would be crushed, disorientated - they'd leave him to go. They were not going to pull their pieces. He had known that all along, even if Raul hadn't. He had wanted his knife back - it was Montino's - but too late now. What did the gangs say in Port Alta? .. stab a cop and go to Heaven .... Well, he was on his way. He jumped. He was quick, springs in his heels, following Raul while the cops went into meltdown back there on the concrete.
Starsky sank slowly on to his knees as his strength flowed out of him in a rush - he would have fallen forward except he sensed the hilt sticking out from under his ribs and he so got only one hand to the ground. He tried to turn around, to do the only thing that occurred to him, which was to find his partner to sort it all out.
"Oh that's ... fuck, that's .... Hutch, what is that?"
"Don't touch it!" Hutch said commandingly, having reached him by then, grabbing him under the arms and taking the weight of him, the soles of his shoes sliding on the wet ground. "Oh crap will you look at this, Jay? ... Easy, Starsk, don't do that, let us handle it. Stay quiet."
Starsky obeyed for a second, laying his cheek on the soaked concrete. Hutch's agonized face was close to his. Something was pouring into his lungs, he could feel it. There were dark shapes flapping around his face, shutting out the sodden light. There was ten inches of metal inside him, something heavy outside him, just beyond his grasping fingers. Hutch was holding them away. He was trying to get at it, to pull it out because it was killing him but Hutch's hands, slippery with blood, were stronger.
"Oh god, take it out," he heard a voice groan. His voice.
"Buddy it'd take your guts out with it, leave it will you."
"Hutch, take it out, what is that?"
"It's a blade, buddy, a big one, and I'm not pulling on it."
Starsky heard Jason say, "An ambulance will never get down here, Hutch, we have to take him in the squadcar." He did not catch Hutch's reply as just then a rushing sound cascaded through his brain and then he tuned in again to Jason, on his knees by his side, talking to him. "Hang on in there, Davey, we're gonna get you to a hospital. Leave it alone, man, come on." There was another pair of hands along with Hutch's, grappling with the knife. "Leave it, my man, we'll take care of it. Look, I'm gonna lift you up now, Dave, and it's gonna hurt you. Sorry, man - shit, I'm so sorry." Then Starsky heard Jay get to his feet, felt himself being moved and rain spattering down on to his face and into his mouth and coming out again and he could hear his own voice barking with the pain. His hand was swinging in the air. Everything was wet. Buzzing in his ears and a kind of grey semi-consciousness that seemed to last an age. Then he was on the backseat of the squadcar, half sitting up like he was riding home a regular passenger. Hutch had clambered in there beside him, easing him down so he was lying low across his knees. He used one hand to hold Starsky's head at the back, the other to keep his grasping fingers away from the knife. "Shit I need more hands, Jay," Starsky heard him say. He had left the knife now and was trying to stem the lower bleeding with a t-shirt he had found on the seat. He was breathless, Starsky could hear it even in all the confusion of his mind, desperate not to make things worse. Starsky knew he was moaning, and he was trying not to, trying to hold in the panic and pain, the shocking sensation that half his insides were now hanging out of him, pulled out by that sharp thing. Jeez, yes, the big blade. Was it still in there? He had to get that out, pull it out now, get his fingers to it, if he could. There was a lurch as the black and white's engine roared into life and Jay reversed at speed up the ramp. Starsky rolled towards the floor but felt strong arms steadying him, hauling him back up. Are you trying to shake it out of me? Let me get it out, I can pull it, just let me pull it for God's sake!
"Easy, Starsk ... no, no you can't." Hutch's voice, hoarse but controlled. "Leave it, buddy, the hospital will do it."
Now that was funny, really funny. Why leave it so long, a whole car ride? Get it out, get it out now, it's killing me. He had said that last bit out loud.
"Damnit - he won't leave it alone," Hutch said. "What's our ETA, Jay?"
"Ten minutes, maybe, "Dean said through gritted teeth. He was on the radio, his driving arm spinning the wheel, sending the car careering round a corner so it practically lifted two wheels. The brief thought struck Hutch that Starsk would have appreciated that. Normally. "Yeah, Memorial," Jay huffed down the radio, "this is Metropolitan squadcar Five Zero Niner. We are on our way to you with an officer down. We have double stab wounds, chest and abdomen... what's that? Uh, conscious, bleeding profusely from both wounds, weapon still embedded in the ... in the ...Hutch?"
"In the right chest area. Yes ... got you. Blood type? Blood ty ...? Hutch? .... it's ... it's on record with you, A Positive ... Yuh, we are coming to you on the siren, we will be with you in ten.... Roger - not touch it, we're leaving it alone. Keep him awake. Got it. Keep him awake, Hutch."
"Hear that, buddy?" Hutch leaned down. Starsky's ribs were pressing on his knees and Hutch was hanging on to him, taking the weight - they were a tangle of limbs, soaked in blood. There was no way to get him comfortable, no way to protect him from the journey. "You have to stay with us, only five minutes, Starsk, stay right with me."
It's ten minutes! Don't lie to me! He had not said that out loud. Brain disconnected from mouth. "Oh god, oh god, oh god, Hutch." Was that him? One hand plucked feebly at the knife hilt and found it blocked. Resentment spiralled up inside, incomprehension. The knife was killing him. He just wanted to take it out. And still Hutch was whispering no, no, leave it alone, just stop it. Quieter now. Oh god, Hutch.
"I know, buddy. I hear you. I'm here. Hang in there."
"Tell me how he's doing, Hutch?" Jay said, twisting in the driver's seat.
Blood from waist to neck. There was warm, pulsing blood coming onto Hutch's hand, the one guarding the hilt. He had it splayed in a v-shape, his thumb and index finger either side. His fingers could feel the edges of the wound, wide and open. Somehow he had shifted himself off the seat so his partner could half lay down, and so he could try and press the makeshift pad over the lower wound, and keep Starsky's stubbornly wandering hand off the knife.
"Not good, Jay," Hutch said as if Starsky could not hear him. I hear you, Blintz, you're right. It's not good. Not good at all. Can't breathe. He wanted to say that last out loud but it did not come. Just oh god, Hutch. He remembered the second stab really clearly. Not his heart, the other side. He could feel that now. There were bubbles swelling under his ribs, sucking up the air he needed. Only Hutch was stopping him from crashing down through the floor of the car and disappearing forever.
"Keep with me, Starsk, keep your eyes open and look at me. Look, I'm right here." That was Hutch. Yes, that was his face, his eyes, large and intensely blue, fizzing with fear, willing him on. He was leaning right down, talking, encouraging him, touching his face, keeping the connection, and it helped, it was good to have Hutch there. Only Hutch could save him. It hurt to keep looking at him though. There was a quiet dark place he could go to so easily. Close your eyes, and you'll go there and all this will float away, gone, but then the bubbles came there too. He felt sick, suddenly, violently. He felt Hutch holding him desperately as he retched. The dark pink froth made a weird gargling noise as it came up. Hutch tightened his grip as if to turn back the tide, save Starsky from drowning like this. "Hold on, buddy," he was saying, "hold on for me. Come on, now. You can do it." As Starsky fought and drowned the squadcar bounced and swerved, but everything seemed very quiet, he could not hear the engine noise all of a sudden, or the siren, the hissing of the tyres on the wet roads or the air rushing in at the open window. Then he took some breaths, free of the choking froth, and all the sounds came back online again and there was just that one patch of warmth, Hutch's hand across his forehead, and everything else was icy cold. Jay was saying, "What, Hutch? What's happening?" Hutch was still talking, distraught, but calm in that low, serene way of his. The familiar voice in his ear. "Only a few minutes, buddy, keep breathing, try and make it easy .... in and out, calm and slow .... that's it, that's nice, you can do it. Breathe with me. Look, I'm doing it. Slow, easy, in ... and out ... Look at me, Starsk. With me. That's it ... terrific ... in ... and out ... keep your eyes open. On me, buddy, on me ... "
A few minutes! Don't lie to me! I can't do it, it's too hard. Let me go, Hutch.
"I won't let you go." It surprised him when Hutch said that, just as he was beginning to float down again. He had not spoken out loud, he knew it. Was he doing their weird psychic thing again? "I'm not letting you go. Fuck it, Starsky, will you listen to me? Jay's driving like a madman here, there's a whole ER waiting for you, fuck it, Starsky, just keep doing it. Come on. Where are we, Jay? I'm losing him, here." Hutch was angry now, Starsky could hear that break in his voice. That was OK. Sometimes only Hutch's anger could get him to do things.
"One block out, the traffic's letting us coast through -- you got him, Hutch?"
Hutch squinted down to see. Starsky had his face pressed down on the seat, his eyes squeezed shut. Hutch stroked his palm from his forehead down the nearest cheek and saw his eyes come open. "I got him. I got you, Starsk. You're doing great, and hey, I can see the hospital from here. They're waiting for you, stay with me, buddy. Here, look, I got your hand." Hutch had slid his guardian hand away and got hold of Starsky's. Their fingers slid and slithered with one another. Too much blood. It had dripped in large, dark patches on to the car floor. Starsky's face was white like a paper plate. His lips were turning a little blue, a very faint rasping sound was coming out. It was all wrong. It just sounded all wrong. Fuck it. On that last bump the eyes had jumped shut again, the shoulders sagged.
"Starsky? .... He may have stopped breathing, Jay - damnit, I'm losing him. Come on, Starsk, come on, buddy. It's not time to go." The car bumped over a ramp at speed. One inhalation came from Starsky. Inside it felt fleeting, the touch of Hutch's hand, the bubbles, then gone again.
"I see the guys in green," Jay said. "We're here, Hutch." The car slewed to a standstill.
"He's not breathing!" Hutch said as someone wrenched open the door.
"Maybe one or two minutes."
"OK, we got him." Starsky's hand slithered from his. It had stopped raining. Blood on the seat, on the floor, on Hutch's trousers, his shirt. Starsky disappeared, and as Hutch crawled out of the car he heard the clatter of the gurney. Jay was leaning forward over his wheel, breathing deeply. Hutch pressed a hand on his shoulder.
"You go in, Hutch, I'm right behind you. I'll radio Dobey, do all that stuff. You go help your buddy. And, Hutch .... Say something will you, if you get the chance. He took the fuckin' thing for me."
"Move the car!" someone shouted.
Hutch stumbled towards the already closed doors. Inside it was bedlam. He saw an ER nurse give a shocked look at him and realized he looked like he'd been mauled by a tiger. The blood felt wet against his skin, seeping through the shirt. Such fresh blood. So much of it.
"I'm with the cop who was stabbed," he said.
"Trauma 2, over there," she said, waving at swinging glass doors. "You hurt?"
"No, not my blood."
There were maybe three doctors, if he could recognize doctors, a couple of nurses. Just a glimpse of Starsky's dark hair, slicked back, unusual. They hadn't bagged him yet, so he was breathing, a pulse was beeping. Hutch wandered towards the little jumping green light. A doctor turned, eyes wary behind the shield. There was already blood on his gown.
"Detective Hutchinson," Hutch said, formal, helpful, still calm. "I'm his partner."
"Starsky." Raised brows. "David. Dave." Hutch saw the doctor's face saying to the nearest nurse, we've got one in shock here.
"OK, David, can you hear me? My name's Doctor Swift. Do you know where you are? We're doing our best to help you, you're in Memorial, you have two stab wounds. Your partner's here, you've got to try and stick with it, OK? We're going to try and get this knife out of you now."
Hutch moved into Starsky's eyeline and was startled to find his eyes open, a stunning electric blue under the fierce lights. His chest was moving up and down with a slow, grinding effort. They both heard all the sounds around them, both registered it and each other, the panic and the fear. They always had communicated with their eyes. Ideas, sentences, emotions.
"How's the chest?"
"Still bleeding, wound looks deep, could be a lung. Page the OR will you, Matthew? We have to get this thing out and get him transfused. Jeez, where's this coming from?"
"It's the lower wound, there's a lot of tearing."
"We need this thing out, guys."
"We need to stop the bleeding."
Hutch listened in confusion. To him it all seemed plain. Too much blood had been lost, Starsky was awake and he had to be freaked out and in agony. The ping-pong of conversation yapped about blood pressure, heartrate, what they could see, what they needed to do, who had to do what.
"OK get ready to pack it, quickly. It's coming out now, Dave."
All Hutch could do was try and calm him silently with his eyes, for Starsky's were wide now with fear and anticipation of pain. It seemed there were suddenly about three pairs of hands around the hilt and then Starsky felt like his legs had fallen off. Hutch heard him making a peculiar gurning sound, very deep, trying to keep it in, watched his eyes snap shut, his face go slack, watched the knife clunking heavily into a metal dish . He made a feeble gesture towards it, but one of the doctors, a guy younger than him and vastly confident said,
"Yeah, we know, Detective. We'll hand it straight to forensics -- you need the evidence. You can stay here while he stabilizes. We got him back, he doesn't want to go down just yet. Look, he's here." Starsky's eyes were still open, registering shock, expressing a thousand things as they always did, darting around the trauma room, seeing who was there, what he could see, what he liked and did not like.
"Starsk?" They let him through. "Hey, they got that thing out. You're doing great." Starsky looked panicked. Where the hell had he just been? That was not dark and quiet, that place. It wanted him back. "I'm staying here," he heard Hutch saying, and he saw him standing there, covered in blood, face stretched and flat white. "You keep doing your thing, you hear me?"
"Likes to stick with things, huh, your buddy?" observed one of the doctors. "He doesn't want be out."
"We'll keep him with us if he can do it. How's he handling?"
"First unit's in, we got good movement. Chest wound contained, but I think they're gonna have to work both together up there. Who else is in the OR? Sinclair? Good, get him wound up. I don't want to lose this one, he's asking to stay."
"Is he going to be alright?" Hutch heard himself ask that stupid, useless question, the only one that occurred to him right now. He never even processed the answer. Looking back into triage he could see Jay hanging about. He looked very lost.
"Here," said a female doctor. "Let's go talk out there." There were hand signals to the others and then she ushered Hutch out. "OK, how much of all that did you get?"
"All what?" Hutch said dully, acknowledging Jason Dean's hand on his shoulder.
"Detective, your partner is critically wounded. The weapon has damaged one lung, maybe the other too, we can't see that until he's open. There's major damage at the site of both wounds and he has lost serious amounts of blood. We can only do what we can with this mess. Candidly, it really does not look good. Are his next of kin on the way?"
"I did it," Jay said, his voice coming out of his boots, "I got Dobey to contact his Mom and brother in New York. That's all isn't it, Hutch?"
"Do you want percentages?" Hutch winced. This woman was something else! Percentages! Clinical! But she had to be clinical, to prep him for the worst.
"Looking at his condition right now I would give him only a five to ten per cent chance of surviving surgery." She paused while the despair settled deep into Hutch, then she pressed on. "He's clearly still driving from the brain. He's alert, responding to us, feeling pain, all of which is very surprising given the trauma. If he did survive, and the surgery was as successful as it could be, then we would maybe be looking at the same sort of longer-term survival rate. Ten per cent. It sounds pretty lousy, doesn't it."
"But there's not no chance?"
No encouraging comeback. "His body is in severe shock from the damage and ongoing blood loss, Detective, but to have him breathing at all at this point seems to suggest to me he's fighting every step of the way."
"Yes," said Hutch. "He would do. Can I see him before he goes to the OR?"
"Sure. Take it quietly, we need to keep the rhythm calm."
It was strangely serene in Trauma 2 now. Only one doctor, one nurse, glued to the cardiogram, Starsky labouring under the oxygen mask, the blood swinging gently down the tube. His eyes snapped up to Hutch at once, as soon as Hutch got hold of his hand, clean now but looking bloodless. It did not grip. Hutch saw his eyes travel slowly down his shirt. You're covered in blood. "Yeah, it belongs to you, Starsk, you've been pretty careless with it, to tell you the truth," Hutch answered mechanically. He did not notice the look the nurse gave him. "Good to see your eyes open, buddy. Struggling, huh?" There was no breath for Starsky to speak words, but he fixed Hutch with his eyes and asked him. Level with me, these guys won't.
"OK. So here's the thing, buddy. The surgeon gives you a better than fifty fifty. Good odds, don't you think?" Hutch's voice was tell-tale shaky but he gave him an encouraging smile that it took a superhuman effort to dredge out.
Don't lie to me! Hutch, just don't stand there and lie to me. Those eyes, full of knowledge, bored into him.
"Fuck, OK, you got me. Ten per cent, her best shot. Crap odds. It sucks, Starsk. But hey, listen, you're the longshot kid, right? and they're real impressed you're sticking in there - just keep doing it." He paused a second. "I know it's hard, Starsky, I can see that, buddy, but you gotta keep doing it."
Ten per cent, huh? Yeah, it felt like that, the second one. That second one is the one that'll get me. Keep talking, Hutch.
"See all this good stuff going in there? Never mind what you left in Jay's car -- this is premium blend. Are you kidding? Half the precinct will be down here donating. Now your Mom's on her way, buddy, Jay had Dobey call her. So you've really got to keep pumping, she's coming a long way. Nicky will be here too. Hey, hey, come back to me .... Whoah, that's it, here you are. That's it, that's my buddy. Just till they bring the nice sleepy juice and fix you up."
I'm really trying, Hutch, but to tell you the truth it's getting too much. Are we cool, though, Hutch, is everything OK?
"It's all fine, buddy." A soothing smile, a small, instinctive caress of his hand. How was Hutch doing this?
Starsky saw weird shadows overhead and his eyes ranged over them, feeling them otherwordly and threatening, even while he knew Hutch was talking him up, trying to keep his attention. He was working very hard. Starsky felt bad for him. It was the scene that was just a fingertip's length away from them the whole time they were out. And it was playing itself now. Starsky had always, always imagined a bullet, just a single one. Never a knife. He knew about bullets, knew how they felt inside, knew their shape and texture, how they moved. He took knives off perps all the time, but he never really looked at them, held them. A huge sigh vibrated through him then and he felt Hutch's hand slip away.
"The OR's ready for you now, Dave. Can you hear me? We're taking you up. Sorry about the banging about, we're having to move fast. This is Doctor Lehman along for the ride here, he's helping the breathing."
Hutch brought up the rear. The Lehman guy really was riding the gurney. He had mobile paddles. They were expecting a crash before they even got to the OR. Hutch could not keep up. Once they reached the corridors outside theater, the doors banged shut and he was left behind. After a minute or two in which he stood in suspended animation in the silence that remained, a nurse came out. She was masked up, but pulled it aside.
"I'll show you where to wait," she said kindly, taking him around a corner and through some doors to an open area with a couple of chairs, a coffee machine and a window to the suddenly darkening world. "If his relatives arrive, they'll be shown up here."
"How long is this going to be?"
She shook her head. "No idea. Long, I guess, there's a lot of work to do. Don't expect to hear much for awhile, but we'll come out and talk to you when we can."
Hutch was pacing when Jay arrived. The knife was with forensics, there was a team down at the canal basin, Dobey was going to come down to Memorial, the squadroom was in shock and everyone was with them, Mrs Starsky and her other son were booked on a flight out of New York leaving anytime now. The information sloshed around Hutch leaving him more weary.
"They told me he's in the OR now. I'm going back to La Cuenca -- I just wanted to check things out."
"Ten percent," Hutch said. "Can you believe it? The chances of him coming out of the OR are a goddamn fucking ten per cent." He passed a shaking hand over his eyes. There was blood pulsing at his temples, his fingers tingled and his chest was tight. "What do you think, Jay, ten per cent as odds, would you take it?"
"What do I think?" said Jay. "I think you need to get a grip, Hutch. Your buddy is going to need you like he's never needed you before, whether he stays or goes, you know what I'm saying? Whether he stays or goes. Come on, man. Believe in him. Believe in him until they come through those doors with that face on them. Right now, Starsky's still pumping." He shrugged. "That's all."
Hutch shook his head. "I'm here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Cool," Jay said. "Keep in touch."
It was half past five. Only about an hour and a half since the knife went in.
The waiting area was quiet and dreamy. Odd, disjointed noises, muffled by walls came seeping along every so often, or staff crossing the corridor in the distance. Once or twice an OR technician would come out of the doors, keeping a low profile, and walk off. Eventually Hutch sat down. The tingling fingers and tight chest would not go away. He knew it was anxiety so he kept trying to take deep breaths. Funny, it was Starsky who could always tell when a full-blown panic attack was approaching. How many times had the guy talked him through it? He searched himself to see if he was hungry, or thirsty, or needed coffee. None of it seemed appropriate. His head was not here. He thought it was probably still back in the canal-basin, the moment he had realized what was happening.
At seven Dobey arrived, smart coat in hand, a layer of sweat on his forehead. He had spoken to Jay but they went over it all again.
"I can't get Dean to go home," Dobey said. "He thinks he needs to find that guy. Forensics couldn't get fingerprints - well, apart from yours and Starsky's."
"He kept trying to take it out," said Hutch absently.
"If you get a chance, Hutch, speak to Dean will you? Persuade him to let go of it, for a while anyway. He's wound up tighter than a drum."
"Yeah, I saw him," said Hutch, thinking that Jay would tell him where to stick it. With a great effort he tried to pull himself together, as that young man had entreated him. "Cap, you go home. I'm going to stay until we know how it went. I'll call you."
Hutch couldn't help an ironic squawk of a laugh. "It's not me you need to worry about, Cap. It's Starsky, fighting for his life in there."
"Sure, and you look terrible."
"I got all my blood, Cap. It may be misbehaving, but at least it's still there. You go, I'm fine."
"I can stay and talk to Mrs. Starsky," Dobey offered, but Hutch waved him away. He regretted it almost as soon as the wide figure had disappeared and he was left alone again.
After three hours the OR nurse came out, looking a little bug-eyed. "It's going very slowly," she said. That was all. Another surgeon arrived, walking quickly past the blond-haired man who had half got up from his seat and disappearing.
Very slow hours later, maybe around one o'clock, footsteps came up the corridor. Even in the circumstances it seemed very odd to see Starsky's Mom and brother. They were trailing along uncertainly, Mrs. Starsky in jeans and a leopard-print t-shirt slightly in the lead. She caught sight of Hutch and quickened her pace.
Slight, birdlike, with dyed blond hair and David's blue-spectrum eyes, Trisha Starsky dropped the bag she was carrying and opened her arms to Hutch, enveloping him in a hug so warm, so caring that his head span. "Ken, honey, am I glad to see you," she said into his ear. "How are you doing, babe? You look shattered." It was typical, so typical of this woman. As far as she was concerned, Hutch was one of her boys. Tiny, sharp-edged tears sprang into Hutch's eyes. One blink and they were gone. He held her hands, nodding as he could not speak. Over her shoulder he registered Nick Starsky, taller, chewing his bottom lip, holding a bigger bag, dressed in denim.
"Hutch," he said.
Hutch let go Trisha and extended one hand. "Nick. How you doing?"
"OK. How's Davey?"
"Still in surgery. It's been over six hours. What did the Captain tell you?"
"That he was stabbed," said Nick, and he and Hutch tangled glances for a split second. Same dark curly hair, but that was it. David and Nick Starsky, as unalike as they could be. Nick was nervy where David was laidback, angry where David was resigned, suspicious where David was openhearted, afraid of life while David jumped into it. Nick was all the things that David should be, given what had happened to him as a child. There had always been a gulf between him and Hutch. Who knew what it was. Shame, jealousy, personality clash.
"We know you were on a case, and that a young man stabbed him twice," Trisha said. "That it's serious. Life-threatening. That's all."
"Come sit down," Hutch said. "You want coffee?"
"Sure. Coffee. Cigarettes. Whisky," she said.
"I'll get it," Nick said. "Hutch?"
"Thanks. Black, sugared up."
Trisha sat next to him on the foamy plastic orange banquette. She sought his hands again and held them in her lap. "So, the full story," she said. She knew anyway that Hutch needed to tell it to her. She could see in his eyes that he was full to bursting.
"OK. We got called out to back up a uniformed officer, young guy. Jason Dean, Jay Dean."
"Where was his partner?"
"Yes, there should have been four of us. Jay's partner was following another lead on the same case -- they shouldn't have been separated." A long pause. "It wouldn't have made any difference."
"Go on, babe. I'm not Captain Dobey." She squeezed his hand.
"So, we joined Jay on the tail of these two .... kids. They're kind of out on their own, not even in one of the gangs. Jay had followed them to this place -- way east of here -- where there's some dried-up canals. A great place to hide. It was just the usual stuff, but when they were cornered .... We didn't want to go in too hard. Starsky saw the blade coming for Jay, and he warned him. It was all so damn quick .... Jay kinda fell out the way ... and Starsk took the knife." Another long pause. "What the hell were we doing? We brought him here in the squadcar. He was conscious all the time, even talking a little. Really bleeding badly -- you can see." He knew Trisha's eyes had traveled more than once down his blood-soaked clothes.
"Was he in pain?" Trisha asked.
"In distress," Hutch said carefully. "He wanted to pull out the knife." She squeezed his hand again.
"I'm so glad you were with him all the time," she said. "So glad he wasn't hurt out on his own. Thank you, Ken."
"Here," Nick said, handing down two coffees. He stayed standing, staring at the doors into the OR. Then he turned to Hutch. "So Davey took the knife -- for this other guy?"
"I guess. It was kinda instinctive. I don't know what was in his mind. He was trying to protect Jay ... Jay's only a kid. A good cop."
"And the medics say what?"
"That his chances are poor," Hutch said, knowing he had to be honest.
"Did he know that?" asked Trisha.
"I told him -- he wanted to know."
"So he was talking?" said Nick.
"No -- I just knew he wanted to know."
The longest pause. More of a heavy silence. Nick Starsky took a little walk around the waiting area.
"The day he joined up I wondered what this was going to feel like," said Trisha eventually.
"How does it feel, Ma?" asked Nick from his perambulation.
She shrugged. The younger son wandered over and pressed her shoulder. She still held on to Hutch's hands.
It was crawling along to two-fifteen when the theater doors drifted open and a tall man in green, who had evidently just washed his hands, and who still had his mask around his forehead like a bandana, came out to them.
"For David Starsky?" he said, taking in at once the facial resemblance between the woman before him and his patient. "Mrs Starsky? Hello, I'm Doctor Sinclair, one of the surgeons who's been working on your son." He was handsome, efficient and British. "Can we talk?" He seemed to be gesturing Hutch away.
"He is David's family," Trisha said, a trifle haughtily. A honey drip of gratitude soothed Hutch's aching for a second.
"I'm sorry. No offence." Sinclair seemed very, very tired. "Well, David is still with us. It has been a long piece of surgery -- complicated by his severe blood loss. We found much damage to one lung, which we hope we have repaired, and also to several major organs of the abdomen. He is stable for now, in intensive care, but still very critically ill. He has two major problems now -- breathing ... he is on a ventilator at present -- and his heart which has taken some heavy trauma with the shock of losing that amount of blood, so consistently. Also he is at high risk of infection, blood poisoning ... we can't do too much more just now other than monitor him, give pain relief and treat the fever he has developed. He may need more surgery but he needs to get through the next twelve hours."
"Can we see him?" Trisha's voice was hardly more than a dry whisper.
"Very soon. We are maintaining him under sedation -- he is deeply unconscious. A nurse from ICU will come and find you shortly.. Do you have any questions?"
None came to mind except is he going to live?
"Thank you, Doctor Sinclair," Trisha said. "For all you've done. We appreciate it." A flicker of a warm smile crossed his face.
"Things look very bleak," he said. "I have to say that in all honesty. But David has surprised us so far with his tenacity."
You mean bloody-mindedness, thought Hutch.
"The hospital can sort out a bed for you, Mrs Starsky, if you'd like. Not in ICU, but not far away. Would you like me to sort that out?"
"That would be good, thank you."
When he had gone, Trisha leaned for a while on Nick's shoulder while Hutch did the perambulating. Then she said,
"Ken, honey -- you go home, have a shower, wash those clothes. On second thoughts, trash the clothes. We'll be here."
"You'll call me?"
"The minute we have to."
"OK, I'll go, but I'll be back."
In the cab he felt cold to his bones, weak and shivery, and the driver had looked at him very warily at first. The further they got to Venice Place and away from Memorial the more he felt the peculiar sensation that he was leaving part of himself behind. Hutch was desperate now to get his clothes off. As soon as he was in the front door he was peeling off his shirt, and his trousers which were stuck to him. The dried blood was dark and clotted in some places. Everything came off and he took it all straight into the kitchen, found a trash bag and dumped it in. Trisha was right. It was all gone -- shirt, pants, underwear, socks, even the jacket, the expensive Harrington from Paul Smith. All gone, the bag sealed up and put out the back door. Then he went and stood in a hot shower, scrubbing, sluicing, shampooing, but he found he couldn't wash away the feel of the bloody, slippery hand of his partner. Robed up he stood at the counter eating a banana, staring into space. He drank water, loads of it, which swilled, cold, around his stomach and then headed for the couch with the phone.
It was creeping into the next day. Annaliese had a big morning in court tomorrow and Hutch knew that she would still be up, working, sat before her computer in an old t-shirt of Hutch's and her sheepskin slippers her mother sent her at Christmas, surrounded by open books and piles of paper. "Hello?" she answered in a hopeful, low voice, that sexy voice with the tang of Sweden in it.
"Anna, hi, it's me."
"Hey, at last! I've been waiting all night to hear from you. I thought you were going to call earlier?"
"Yeah, I was tied up. Listen, bad news."
"Me, fine. Starsky's in Memorial -- stab wounds -- it happened this afternoon."
"Oh, Ken." A silence as she gathered her thoughts, tried to say the right thing. "Oh, that's awful, so awful .... Poor David. Is it serious?"
"Very. As bad as it can be. Not much hope, really."
"Oh God." It reminded Hutch of Starsky -- oh god, oh god, oh god.
"Yeah, well God's looking the other way right now. Anyhow, I thought you should know. I'm at home. His Mom and brother are with him."
"What about Clem?"
"Have you called her?"
"I know they split, Ken, but really .... You know how they were. She would want to know. If things go .... If ....well, you know."
"Most of the reason they split was because of the job," said Hutch tensely. "How's telling her going to help?"
"I didn't say it would help, Hutchinson, but she cares for him," came back Annaliese, every inch the lawyer now. "She should know. Isn't she in UK? Do you want me to call her?"
"Oh shit," Hutch said resignedly. "No, I'll call. I'll do it now, I have to sleep. Listen, sweetheart, I'll see you soon."
"Yes, soon. Listen, Ken, you'll let me know how David is, right? Give him a kiss from me ... or something."
Then he was rustling through his agenda looking for Clem's cellphone number. He got through almost at once and a man answered.
"Hi, can I speak to Clementine please? Tell her it's Hutch."
He wondered fiercely who the man was. He sounded foreign and sleepy. It was eleven o'clock in the morning in London. Clem came on, flustered.
"Hutch? What's up?" When Hutch found the words sticking in his throat, she immediately said, "It's David, isn't it? What's happened?"
"I'm sorry to call you, Clem, like this. Starsky's been hurt, today, on a case. He's in a bad way and I thought you should know."
"I'm here, I just .... What does in a bad way mean?" Her voice sounded thick all of a sudden.
"Oh, Christ, I don't know. Critical, they say, survival unlikely." He regretted all the words immediately as he heard her beginning to cry, all those miles away. There was the muffled sound of someone -- the man -- trying to comfort her.
"I'm sorry, Clem. It's crap, I know."
"So what .... What happened?"
"He was stabbed, twice. He's been in surgery for hours, but he's having breathing problems and he lost a lot of blood. He's in Intensive Care. I'm really sorry to call you like this -- what are you doing?"
"No you did right, Hutch. I'm due in class in half an hour -- then we're rehearsing, performance tonight. And Hutch? The guy here -- it's Sergey, my dance partner. We've been talking about tonight. That's all."
"Hey, sweetheart, it's between you and Starsky. You don't need to tell me."
"Yes I do. Things haven't worked out, but maybe they will. You have to let me know what's going on, right? It's late for you, yeah? Well, when you can, call me again, it doesn't matter what time. If I'm in class or on stage I'll leave my phone with someone who can contact me, but I have to know, right away. Do you understand? I'll come back if I have to. Just don't leave me out. OK? OK, Hutch?" She was crying again.
"OK. I'll call when I know something. Break a leg tonight. You and Sergey."
He lay back on the couch, knowing he had to go to bed. He could doze here, but what was the point? The phone would ring wherever he was, he might as well be comfortable.
By three he was in a deep, flat sleep in bed, unmoving. Annaliese the insomniac had stopped working, her glasses were off. She sat at her computer staring at the wall, thinking. In London, Clem turned up at company class red-eyed. She had processed what Hutch said, diagnosed his tone. She felt it was a matter of time only. Just a matter of when the phone would ring. She took her place at the barre and let her training overtake her mind, trying to focus on the shape of her foot as it swung up before her, but her limbs would not her obey her, somehow, that morning, and Maitre Rochaud shouted at her.