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Postscript

Part One, Chapter Five

Starsky’s anger increased as he fumbled with his door key. He dropped the key ring and swore, as he braced himself against the wall to bend down and retrieve it. Pushing himself upright, he managed to get the lock open on his next try.

The door had to be slammed shut twice, his first attempt causing it to bounce back into his shoulder. In a sidearm pitch that would have impressed his physical therapist had she the opportunity to witness it, he sent his cane flying the length of the room. It clattered against the far wall, knocking the phone off its hook.

He was almost at the couch, in his rage walking with a pace that very much resembled his old stride, when his left leg collapsed beneath him and dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.

At which point, the only thing left for him to do was throw back his head and incoherently roar his frustration at the world.

*******

Hutch dialed again, and again all he heard was a busy signal. Replacing the handset, he frowned. The hurt he had felt earlier was slowly turning to anger.

Fine! Let him deal with it his own way. I’m tired of being a target!

*******

Still seated on the floor, Starsky leaned back against the couch and felt his anger drain away. He was tired; deep down, bone weary tired. Nothing worked right anymore, and he thought he’d already come to terms with that, but obviously he hadn’t done as well as he’d hoped.  Aw, damn.

Hutch.

He rolled his head to the side and saw the empty phone cradle on the wall by the kitchen, the handset hanging off the end of the cord, somewhere out of sight.

Nice going, Starsky. Your friend’s feeling like crap, so what do you do? Kick him a few times while he’s down.

His arm dragged heavily as he raised his wrist to look at his watch. Three thirty. Hutch would still be at the precinct. He thought about calling, but he drew a blank on what he could possibly say to make things better. He wondered if Hutch would agree to meet him for a beer after work. It would be best to talk face to face, though he wouldn’t blame his friend if he refused. Leaving him hanging like that, letting him think he’d really resigned; that’d been a dirty thing to do to the poor guy.

But after all, it wasn’t as if he wouldn’t resign for real as soon as his six weeks were up, right?

Right?

The events of the past two days had left Starsky both physically and emotionally drained. As he leaned against the couch trying to decide what the hell he was supposed to do next, it all finally caught up with him and for the second time in as many days, he fell asleep on the floor.

*******

It didn’t take Hutch long to find a familiar face among the nurses at the hospital. Over the last year he’d become far more intimate with the place than he’d ever have wished.

Cynthia’s eyes widened at the sight of him. “Don’t tell me…”

Hutch shook his head reassuringly, “No, no, Starsky’s fine.” As far as I know, anyway, he thought, his smile fading. Pushing his anger at Starsky aside for the moment he said, “I’m here about a woman who was brought in this afternoon. A pedestrian hit by a sedan.” Shuffling through his memory, he dug the name out of the report he’d read, “Alice Kaminski?”

“Oh, the Kaminski woman!” the pretty nurse’s eyes lit up with quick recognition. “She came out of surgery about two hours ago. Are you a friend?”

“No, I was at the scene when she got hurt,” explained Hutch. “I was just wondering how she was doing.”

Cynthia gave the handsome detective an affectionate pat on the arm. Once again he had reinforced her belief that he was one of the most caring human beings on the planet. Technically, she wasn’t supposed to give out information about patients to anyone who wasn’t family, but for Detective Hutchinson, she was quite willing to make an exception.

“She’s doing well,” she said. “She had some internal bleeding from blunt force trauma, but the doctor said the patch-up was fairly uncomplicated.” She tugged on his sleeve, “Come with me, I want to show you something.”

Hutch followed curiously as she led him down the hall. He could hear the babble of many excited voices long before they came into sight of the small waiting room. The area was packed with more than a dozen people of all ages. Each one of them bore a striking resemblance to the next, from the teenager sulking in the corner to the eldest grandmother sobbing dramatically into her handkerchief.

“Those,” said Cynthia with open amusement in her voice, “are the Kaminskis.”

Hutch blinked. Starsky was the only person he’d ever known with a family like that, and he had no doubt that only the distance between New York and Bay City had kept there from being scenes just like this one every time his friend had wound up in hospital.

“Alice Kaminski will be just fine, if her family has anything to say about it.” Cynthia’s laughter turned wry. “We’re going to have our hands full getting them out of here so she can rest.”

“That’s a lot of love packed into one little room,” said Hutch, appreciating the sight and relieved to know that things were working out well.

Cynthia returned his smile. “It certainly is.”

*******

Dawn sighed in frustration. A customer had been dogging her all evening, drinking steadily, and coming up with one excuse after another to get in her face. At this particular moment, he had her pinned against the bar with an arm on either side of her and his face about three inches from her own. He reeked of beer and stale sweat, and she was seriously considering sticking a fork up his nose, when she heard a throat clear behind him.

She looked past the customer to see her husband standing just behind him, hands on hips, and with a look of exasperation in his blue eyes. The man hassling her turned as well, and barked, “What? Can’t ya see I’m busy here?”

Hutch pointed at Dawn and said, very clearly and deliberately, “My. Wife.”

The customer looked up, taking in Hutch’s entire six foot one inch form. His eyes widened as they landed on the holstered gun, visible under the jacket that had fallen open. He slid sideways towards the door, stumbled over a stool, and caught himself on the bar, his eyes still fixed on the armed and irritated man. He mumbled something about, “M’mistake…” and scrambled for the exit.

Hutch rolled his eyes dismissively and, stepping forward to place his hands on the bar behind Dawn, leaned in for a kiss. Dawn was amused as she realized that he was quite blatantly asserting his claim on her by duplicating the other man’s stance.

She draped her arms around his neck and said, “Mm, I love it when you get all macho and possessive.”

He could hear the affection beneath the sarcasm in her voice and, as he disentangled himself from her, he stoutly replied, “Damn right! I’m the only one who gets to do that kind of thing around here.”

“So, husband, what kind of man-food will I be serving you tonight?” asked Dawn as she headed behind the counter. “A steak so rare it’s still mooing?”

He deflated, and sheepishly said, “Actually, I was wondering if Huggy’s got any more of that tomato bisque.”

Laughing, Dawn went to the kitchen to find out what was available. Hutch pulled a stool up to the bar and snagged a nearby newspaper, spreading it open on the counter. His visit to the hospital had left him feeling sentimental about the whole concept of wife and family. Yes, stupid things could happen, you could end up in the path of drunk drivers or even hoods with machine guns, but having people around who cared about you seemed to make it all more manageable, somehow.

He’d seen that illustrated clearly in the weeks following Starsky’s release from the hospital. Starsky’s mother had come down to Bay City to help Hutch look after his friend. She had stayed for months, and her warm presence had gone a long way towards keeping everyone on an even keel. Nicky had stopped by several times, and had more or less stayed out of trouble. He was even almost useful once or twice. And then there were all the rest of them, friends and family, people from the neighborhood, folks Starsky had grown up with, brother – and many sister - cops, each of them trying to find out what they could do to support his recovery and show him how much they loved him.

Reflecting on the events of the past year, Hutch realized that he couldn’t stay angry at Starsky. He’s just having some trouble dealing with the changes in his life right now. He needs time to cool off and think things through.

Dawn returned with a bowl of soup and a thick slice of toasted bread. Placing it on the counter beside Ken, she leaned over to see him looking at the real estate section of the paper.

“Now, what’s so interesting in there?” she asked, curiously.

He looked up at her, complex emotions working their way across his face. After a moment, he said, “I think we should have more kids.”

Dawn glanced around The Pits. It was quiet for the moment. Antoine was falling asleep behind the bar and Vicki seemed to be handling the dinner side of things well enough. She could take a moment to try to unravel some of the stuff going on in Ken’s head. Giving him a wry smile, she said, “Shouldn’t we finish the one we’ve started first?”

He acknowledged her quip with half of a smile, and then said something that Dawn had never expected to hear from him, “I mean it; I’ve decided I want a large family. I know it’s just you and me, but between the two of us, we could start something great together.”

It’s just you and me. They both knew what he meant by that. Ken had never been particularly close to his family, but he had always felt some of the responsibility of living up to the Hutchinson name. His parents had been less than thrilled to discover that he had managed to knock up a waitress and was now marrying her instead of discreetly paying her off, but they were still gracious enough about it to begin talking about a quiet wedding on the family estate. After all, there was finally a Hutchinson heir on the way, however illegitimately it might have been conceived, and that was reason for celebration. Ken had taken her up to meet them, and that was when she discovered just how very na´ve her tough guy lover could still be.

In all his recent phone conversations to his parents, he hadn’t once mentioned her race. It hadn’t occurred to him that anyone in his family might care.

To Dawn, they had been impeccably polite, though the chill was palpable. Dawn, for her part, was not unaccustomed to dealing with this sort of thing and had returned frozen nicety for frozen nicety. She held her own, but she made no friends.

She was not witness to whatever passed between Ken and his parents that night, but the next morning the two of them were on the plane again, heading straight back to Bay City. Ken was white-faced and tight lipped. When she asked him what had happened, he flatly refused to discuss it. She made some guesses, several of which she was positive hit close to the mark, but he stubbornly maintained his silence.

It’s just you and me.

Dawn sat down next to him and looked at the newspaper. He had the page open to Houses for Sale. Ken was in a decidedly unusual state of mind and his wife wondered briefly what had happened to him that day to cause it. “You mean you want to start a Hutchinson dynasty?” she teased gently.

His mouth twisted, as if he’d bitten down into something bitter. “No, not a dynasty,” he said, firmly. “A clan.”

“A clan?”

Hutch explained, “In a clan, there’s no worry about living up to the family name. No expectations. There’s just a lot of love and people being there for each other. That’s what we should have; a clan.”

Dawn was having some trouble envisioning herself as a matriarch. Not to mention the rather appalling idea of producing dozens of small Hutchinsons when she had yet to survive the production of even one. She was quite certain that she didn’t like this idea at all, but she decided to go with the flow of things. No doubt he’d come to his senses in the morning. “So, what does that make us?” she asked. “Adam and Eve?”

“Well,” said Hutch with a grin, “‘Dawn’ and ‘Eve’ do bear certain similarities to each other in meaning…”

She quirked an eyebrow at him, sarcastically, “Yes, but Ken is just a little plastic doll with manhood issues.”

He gave a mock growl and his arm slid around her waist. “Manhood issues?” he demanded, pulling her close and speaking directly into her ear. “Are you suggesting I have issues with my manhood?”

A voice broke into their communion. “Children, you got to get yourselves a sense of propriety about things. Just because you married my best waitress, Mister Hutchinson, doesn’t mean you get to monopolize her company whenever you feel like dropping by. Otherwise, I’ll have to start charging you two by the hour for the use of my fine premises.” They both turned to see Huggy Bear looking at them haughtily.

Dawn stuck her tongue out at him.

Huggy gave her a look of exaggerated outrage, then turned to Hutch and said, “You got to stop spoiling that woman. She’s been putting on all kinds of airs lately.” Belying his reproachful words, he was chuckling as he ducked under the counter, retrieved a rag, and began wiping down the bar.

Hutch caught Dawn’s arm as she turned away and said, very quietly, “I’ll deal with you later.”

She replied with a grin, “I certainly hope that’s a promise, not an empty threat.”

“I never make threats,” he said, folding his newspaper so that he could eat and read at the same time. When Dawn had first moved into Venice Place, she had assured him that babies didn’t take up very much room. However, the baby would grow, and the Hutchinson clan would need space. It was time to start looking for another place to live.

*******

At some point during the evening, the chill autumn air and his cramping muscles roused Starsky enough that he climbed onto the couch, pulled the Navaho blanket over his shoulders and went back to sleep for several more hours. When he woke again, it was fully dark. He yawned, and tried to remember how he had ended up on the couch. A tendency to fall asleep wherever he happened to be was another persistent reminder of the shooting, and he didn’t care for this one any more than the rest.

He tried to stretch and stopped immediately with a pained groan.

Crap.

He lay still and tried to assess the damage. His left shoulder, where the scapula had been shattered and patched together again, was the source of most of the pain, but the tightness radiated across his entire back. Experimentally, he tried to sit up, only to discover that his body would not obey his commands.

The first time this had happened, he’d panicked. It’s a frightening thing to wake up in bed expecting everything to be more or less normal, only to find that you are completely unable to sit up. Hutch had helped him that time, and they’d gone to the doctor to discover that it was nothing more than a severely cramped shoulder muscle. He had been surprised to learn that if your shoulder checks out, it’s likely to take your neck with it, and without your neck, there’s precious little you can do by way of moving around.

However, Hutch wasn’t here now, and even if he had been, Starsky wouldn’t have asked for his help. Rolling his head to the side, he allowed his legs to fall off the side of the couch. He landed on his knees and grabbed the couch before he could hit the floor face first. Hanging onto that piece of furniture, he managed with some effort to push himself up onto his feet. Then, looking and feeling very much like an old man, he hobbled across the room towards the shower.

His sneakers were easy enough to kick off, and his jeans could be pushed down without too much effort. However, getting his t-shirt off was a long and painful ordeal, due to his current inability to lift his arms any higher than waist level. By the time he was ready for his shower, his shoulder was burning, and the tension had radiated around into his chest, making him wheeze.

That was another thing about cramped muscles; they have a sneaky way of convincing all the other muscles to join in the fun.

Standing under the hot spray of the shower, he began carefully working his way through the routines his physical therapist had taught him. By the time the water ran cold, he was breathing easier and he had regained some of his usual range of movement in his left shoulder.

Wrapping himself in a bathrobe, he retrieved his clothes from the bathroom floor. The dirty clothes went into the laundry hamper, and he pulled out a clean pair of jeans from his dresser. He chose a plain denim shirt from his closet, one that had once belonged to Hutch before it had somehow migrated over to his house. It wasn’t his preferred style, but it was warm, and at the moment the snaps down the front were easier for him to manage than anything he would have to button or pull over his head.

At least it looked better than that thing with the guitar printed across the back. He had no idea how that one had found its way over here. It used to be one of Hutch’s favorites. Maybe it still was, and he’d simply forgotten where he’d left it. Starsky decided to mention it to him the next time he saw him.

That was assuming Hutch was still talking to him.

Starsky sighed pensively as he glanced over at the clock by his bed. 4:45. He had no doubt Hutch would forgive him.  He always did, but that didn’t make Starsky feel any better about it.

After he finished dressing, he made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, before heading out the door to drive to Becky’s house.

*******

Becky had a restless night, sleeping with one ear open, expecting to hear Anna walk in the front door at any moment. Sometimes she drifted into sleep, only to startle awake convinced that she’d just heard Anna laugh or say her name in that particular manner she only used with her best friend.

By the time Monster clattered up to her bed, squeaking his toy hopefully, she was thoroughly unnerved. The usual routine of letting Monster out into the back yard, feeding the cats, and making breakfast, did little to settle her. When Monster suddenly started to bark wildly, she startled so badly that she dropped her coffee cup. The hot drink splashed down her front, the porcelain mug shattering as it hit the kitchen floor.

The knock on the front door caused her to throw up her hands in frustration.

Dave looked a bit startled to see her answer the door covered in coffee, shaking a scalded hand and looking distinctly out of sorts.

“I dropped my coffee,” she explained hastily. “If you just want to sit down, I’ll clean up.”

“It’s okay,” he said, with a glance at her reddening hand. “Why don’t you run that under some cold water, and I’ll see what I can do to help.”

He didn’t offer to deal with any of the mess on the floor, but he let the overexcited Monster back into the house, wiped down the cupboard doors and made more coffee. While Becky cleaned up the rest of the mess, she told him that she’d called all the local hospitals and none of them had any patients matching Anna’s description. Her neighbor hadn’t recalled anything of interest on Thursday night either.

And she was the likeliest one to know. Mrs. Green was more than their neighbor, more even, than their landlady. Appearing dutifully the first of every month, she seemed almost apologetic on the days she collected their rent, grateful to have at last secured for herself a pair of responsible tenants who caused her no loss of sleep through wild parties and no fear for the safety of her property.

Adopting for herself the role of matriarch, she maintained a gentle surveillance on her charges, aware at all times of their comings and goings, and in return, the cheerfully casual manner in which 'her girls' included her in their lives eased the persistent loneliness that had dogged her ever since Edward had died.

But she’d been out visiting a sick friend on Thursday, and as a result Becky ended up having to spend quite some time reassuring a very dismayed Mrs. Green that she hadn’t somehow failed Anna by not being there when she’d returned home from work.

By the time Becky finished relating all of this, she was feeling quite frustrated with her failure to make any useful progress in the investigation. Dave, on the other hand, was calm. Moving the orange cat out of the way, he sat down on her couch with a cup of coffee in hand and asked, “What sort of things did Anna do in the evening? Is there anyone she liked to visit? Stores? If she went anywhere, where would she have gone?”

Becky sat down next to him, and sipped her coffee, thinking about it. “Sometimes she likes to go walking down by the beach.” Becky gestured around herself, “She found most of these rocks and shells and stuff.”

“Did she have a usual route?”

“Not like Monster and me, no.” The dog looked up briefly at the sound of his name and then dropped his head back down to the floor with a long suffering yet patient sigh.

Starsky looked over at the dog, noticing that the expressively mournful eyes were fixed on Becky. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He wants his walk,” said Becky with a fond smile at her pet.

“Do you have to take the same route every time?” asked Starsky.

“No,” said Becky. “It’s just habit. There are fewer houses the way we go, but there’s no reason we couldn’t walk down towards the docks instead. I doubt we’ll run into many people this early in the morning.”

Starsky nodded, put his cup down on the table, and said, “Why don’t we try that, then. Maybe we’ll be able to retrace Anna’s steps for Thursday night.”

*******

The wind had picked up overnight, blowing in a number of clouds and bringing with it a drenching humidity. The waves on the bay had turned choppy, and small piping birds darted in and out, dodging the whitecaps. Monster took off after them, barking joyfully.

Starsky took his time walking between the dunes. The knots in his muscles were slowly working their way out, and he was enjoying the warm air, knowing full well that it would turn to a stifling heat by the time the sun had fully risen.

Becky seemed comfortable with his pace, sometimes walking with him, other times veering off to investigate jellyfish or interesting bits of driftwood washed up onto the beach. He enjoyed her company. She was lively without being overbearing, and as capable of companionable silence as she was of entertaining chatter. She seemed to be interested in everything, and she had an impressive store of trivia.  As they talked, he learned that she had been born and raised in Bay City, that she had two sisters and a brother, and that she was twenty-four years old.

That last bit of information gave him pause, as it meant she was a good thirteen years younger than he was. He’d known she was younger, but he honestly hadn’t really thought about exactly how much younger until now.

“How old are you?” she asked, innocently.

“I’m an old man,” he said. “Too old for you.”

She laughed. “I think you’re thirty-something. C’mon, tell me how old you are.”

“I was in junior high when you were born,” he said, sourly.

She tilted her head thoughtfully and he tried very hard not to notice how very adorable it made her look. “I know you aren’t all that old. So, let’s say you were in seventh grade… That means you’re thirty-seven now? Did I guess right?” He nodded, and she continued, “Well, then that means that when you turn forty, I’ll still be in my twenties. I can tell people you’re twice as old as I am.” She seemed entirely delighted by this scenario.

“You’re just a baby. They’ll accuse me of cradle robbing.” Starsky stopped walking, startled to realize that he had fallen into talking as if they actually had a future together. When did that happen?

Becky touched his arm and looked up at him. “I like it,” she said. “This way I’ll always be younger and cuter than you.”

Starsky met her gaze. “So you only want me around ‘cause I make you look good?” He was still smiling, but there was something else in his expression as well.

“You make good coffee too,” she said, no longer laughing. Her eyes studied him expectantly, and her hand tightened fractionally on his arm.

He had encircled her waist with his free hand and was just leaning down to meet her lips when Monster suddenly began barking frantically down by the waterside.

Starsky stopped and closed his eyes in resignation. Becky pulled away and said, apologetically, “I should go check on him. He sounds really upset.”

She ran ahead down the beach to where Monster, standing in the water, was barking at something submerged a few feet from shore. There was a note in his voice that she had never heard before, deep and warning. The first thing she noticed was that all of the hair on his back was standing on end.

The next thing she noticed was the body in the water.

*******

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salt water kills the vroom

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