Hutch’s stomach took a sudden dive
and ended up somewhere in the vicinity of his ears. His world swung crazily, and it was only after several seconds of panicked
gasping that he realized that his head had not, after all, impacted with the concrete thirty feet below.
That was the good news. The bad news filtered
in more slowly. He was hanging head down from a tangle of cables, suspended from the catwalk. His nose was throbbing fiercely,
and there was a copper taste in his mouth that, along with the sensation of running liquid on his face, informed him of the
likelihood that there was a significant nosebleed in progress. His ears were humming, and he could feel a headache building
behind his eyes.
He curled his neck, trying to get a look
at what had caught his foot, only to feel the cables slip, dropping him another several feet before bringing him up short
again with an abrupt jerk. He hollered once, but the effort caused him to choke on the blood pooling in the back of his throat.
He attempted to spit it out, but that triggered a bout of coughing that led to another, thankfully smaller, slip of the rope.
Terrified, Hutch froze. A steady trickle
of blood was now running into his right eye, and he was forced to close it. His other eye watered in sympathy as he tried
to calm himself and assess the situation. At least one cable had wrapped itself around the calf of his left leg. His other
foot felt as if it was hooked by nothing more than the heel of his boot. He tensed as he realized that his foot had slipped
part way out of the boot.
There was a rope near his right hand, and
he latched onto it firmly. He did not, however, dare to pull on it just yet. There was no way to tell, half blinded and suspended,
what yanking on it might accomplish or even if it could support his weight. He tried, carefully, to wipe the blood out of
his eye with his left hand, but he was clumsy, disoriented, and unsure as to the current location of his various facial features.
The blood ran over his fingers and then diverted into his left eye, blinding him completely.
Having succeeded in only making matters worse,
he gave up the effort.Hutch had done all he could for the moment. Grimly, he
tried to force himself to relax against the pounding in his chest and the terror that had seized his lungs in a vice grip.
The blood from his nose was clogging his sinuses and his throat. His breath bubbled and he swallowed, thinking to himself
that there had to be a better way to die than this.
He was certain he’d never been so happy
to hear anything as he was to hear Starsky’s panicked, “HUUUTCH!”
”Get me down!” Or, rather, that
was what Hutch had intended to say, but once more the blood in his mouth choked off his words after the first syllable. It
came out sounding more like, “G’t…” followed by a lot of gagging, and another terrifying slip of the
“Don’t move!” The words
were sharp, but the fear had already vanished completely from Starsky’s voice. “Just hold still and let me think.”
He was all business now, and some of the constriction in Hutch’s chest eased at the confidence he heard in his friend’s
voice. I’m not going anywhere, buddy, he thought.
“I’m climbing up, now,”
said Starsky, very calmly. “It’s going to take me a little while, though, so why don’t you talk to me. Did
you hit your head?”
Hutch swallowed more blood. Carefully, he
replied, “Id my node.”
“Uh huh, god a nodebleed.” His
voice sounded very nasal to his ears.
“Oh, is that all?”
“Id’s nod very nice.” And, oh damn, now he was whining.
He heard a soft chuckle amidst the roaring
in his head. “I guess it’s not, is it?”
There was pause, and then Hutch felt the
rope in his hands move slightly. “This is good,” said Starsky. “I think I can lower you down. I don’t
suppose you could tie this one around your waist, could you?”
Hutch considered that suggestion carefully.
Perhaps he considered it too long, because after a moment he heard Starsky sigh. “No, I guess not, huh?” Another
pause. “Well, could you wrap it a few times around your wrist, anyway?”
That was something he thought he could do.
Holding tight with his left hand, he reached up with his right arm and twisted the rope around. This caused the ropes holding
his feet to slip again, and abruptly his orientation changed from upside down to more or less upright. He felt his boot slip
off his foot, followed by the unnerving sound of it hitting the floor. His head spun, and distantly he heard Starsky shouting,
“It’s all right; I’ve got you!”
got me? How has he got me?
Blindly, Hutch tipped his head up in the
direction of Starsky’s voice. The blood running from his nose abruptly changed direction and now gushed down over his
chin. He spat, and then asked, “Starsk, ‘ow…?”
“Physics,” was the short answer.
There was another pause, and then Starsky said, “I’m going to lower you the rest of the way down. Right now you’re
about twenty feet above the floor.”
There was another stomach wrenching drop,
and then he was yanked up abruptly by his arm. His shoulder was jarred painfully, and the rope dug into his forearm. He must
have made some sort of sound then, because he heard Starsky frantically asking if he was all right. His friend’s cool
professionalism had definitely slipped this time.
Hutch spat again and tried to make a calming
gesture with his free hand. “S’okay. Is okay.” It wasn’t okay, really. His shoulder was on fire. Another
drop like that one and he might dislocate it completely. On the other hand, he had to be fairly close to the floor now. The
emptiness under his feet was unnerving. He had no sense of distance at all. He rubbed his eyes, and tried to look down.
“You’re almost there,”
said Starsky. Hutch could hear the strain in his voice, and he wondered how much physical exertion this was costing his friend.
“Ten feet,” said Hutch, blinking
rapidly. Except for his shoulder, he was now starting to feel a whole lot better, if still somewhat lightheaded. It was remarkable
what the proper orientation could do for a person.
“Ready?” Starsky’s voice
had a quality to it that said Hutch had damn well better be ready, because he wasn’t going to be able to hold on much
“Red… eee!” Oh, nowthat’s dignified, Hutchinson, thought Hutch as his voice
slipped into one of the highest registers he was capable of, just as the rope dropped him again. He heard a pained grunt from
somewhere above as his feet touched ground in a more or less controlled fashion. “I’m down, I’m okay!”
he shouted, quickly freeing his arm from the rope and massaging his aching shoulder.
“Oh, good,” came the breathless
reply. “Now, if it’s all right with you I’ll just stay up here for a few minutes.”
no, thought Hutch. What did he do to himself? Aloud, he said, “I’m coming up!”
“Aw, shit. No, Hutch, don’t do
Starsky quickly freed himself from the rope,
which he had wrapped around three struts and his midsection, and hoisted himself painfully up onto his feet. He was hurting
in a way he hadn’t hurt in months. His chest felt as if it were constructed of broken glass and packing tape. That,
however, was less important to him at this moment than making sure Hutch didn’t try to climb back up.
He had thought his heart would stop when
he saw Hutch suspended up there like that, unmoving, with blood dripping off his face. For a moment, he’d thought…
But then that initial horror had been replaced by the long sickening minutes of having to look down on his best friend swinging
headfirst above a concrete floor, all the while unable to escape the terrifying knowledge that Hutch’s life rested in
his own not-particularly-reliable hands. I’m going to have nightmares about this,
I just know it.
So Hutch was going to keep those two big
feet of his planted firmly on the ground, if Starsky had anything at all to say about it.
It had been obvious from the start that his
cane was going to be worse than useless on the metal grating of the steps, so he had abandoned it at the foot of the stairs.
This meant he had both hands free to brace himself on the railings as he painfully picked his way down. He hadn’t made
it even as far as the first landing when his leg went out from under him. He hung onto the railing as he slid down several
steps, landing on his rear.
“Starsky! Just stop, I’m coming!”
He looked down. Hutch was several steps up
from the bottom, leaning on the railing, and looking none too steady himself. More to the point, he now resembled an extra
from a late night slasher flick. His blue eyes stared unnervingly from the center of a face painted red both by his own blood
and by the natural effect of having recently been suspended by his heels for some time. His hair stuck up from his forehead
in gummy spikes, and his nose was dripping steadily onto his shirt, a fact of which he seemed entirely oblivious.
Starsky stared, and then began to laugh,
gasping, his arms wrapped around his chest as if he could in that fashion somehow hold all the fractured pieces together.
He bumped down several more steps, before catching himself again.
“What?” came Hutch’s voice,
puzzled and a little hurt.
It took Starsky a moment to get himself under
control. Wiping his eyes, he said, “Man, you should see yourself. You’re a disaster!”
Hutch stopped and looked down at the stains
on his shirt, and on his hands. He tried to wipe his face, but he had a strong suspicion he was only making matters worse
as the laughter above him increased, a hint of hysteria underlying it.
“It’s in your hair, buddy!”
called Starsky, between pained giggles.
He wiped his hand on the seat of his jeans
and gingerly touched his hair, feeling the sticky mess. “Damn…”
“Look, Hutch. Just stay there, okay?
I’ll get down on my own. You need to be patient.”
Worried blue eyes looked up at him. “What
if you fall?”
“I won’t fall.”
“You already did.”
“That wasn’t a fall. That was
“Oh, I see!”
As he bickered with Hutch, Starsky picked
his way down the steps. He took a flight on his rear, and then he pulled himself back up onto his feet, and somehow managed
to hobble the rest of the way down. Hutch reached out as if to help him down the last few steps and Starsky was just turning
to tell him not to worry, when he suddenly saw the color drain from Hutch’s face. He went from beet red to sheet white
in a matter of moments. Then he swayed on his feet, and staggered backwards, almost losing his footing entirely. Starsky grabbed
his arm, and hooked his left elbow around the railing to prevent them both from falling off the stairs.
That hand flapped at him again. “I’m
“No, you’re not. Sit down!”
Starsky tugged on his arm. Hutch resisted for a moment, and then folded himself carefully onto the bottom few steps.
“I feel sick…”
Starsky sat down beside him and touched his
cheek. It was cold. He didn’t think a person could lose enough blood from his nose to really put himself in serious
danger, but he was still worried. “Hey, buddy, look at me.” He pulled Hutch’s face towards him, and began
probing the area around his cheekbones and nose.
“Ow!” Hutch batted at him.
“Hey, it looks like you still have
“As if I could have missed it,”
said Hutch sourly. His nose was still throbbing steadily, and now it seemed to have acquired a kind of steady burn in counterpoint.
At least, he thought, it’s finally
stopped bleeding. “Is it really twice the size of my head?”
“Not only is it notthat big, but I don’t think you’ve even broken it,” said Starsky cheerfully.
Hutch started to answer then cut himself
off as his face twisted and he suddenly lurched forward. Starsky had just enough time to pull his sneakers back, before Hutch
deposited the entirety of his breakfast, along with a lot of recently swallowed blood, onto the floor.
When his stomach finally stopped heaving,
Hutch rested his forehead on his knees, only to realize that the exertion had started his nose bleeding once more. “Oooh…
There it goes again…” he said, miserably.
Starsky rubbed his back sympathetically,
and tried not to look at the stomach churning mess in front of him. “Poor baby…”
fished a relatively clean dry rag out of the trunk of the Torino, discarding the damp bloodstained one he’d
been using on his face a moment before. Two of three bottles of water had been emptied in his attempts to tidy up before getting
into Starsky’s precious car. “If you get blood on my seats, you’re paying to get ‘em cleaned!”
had been his partner’s irritable comment.
As he dried off, he gave the slumped figure
in the passenger seat another worried glance. Starsky had barely made it back to the Torino under his own steam. He seemed to be relying on his cane in a manner Hutch hadn’t
seen since he’d first graduated from a wheelchair. He’d also been keeping his left arm wrapped around his midsection
in a way that concerned Hutch deeply. Most distressing of all, however, had been the fact that Starsky had simply fished his
keys out of his pocket and handed them to Hutch before his friend even had time to think of a way to talk him into letting
A muffled curse brought him trotting quickly
over to the side of the car. Through the open window, he could see that Starsky had popped open the glove compartment and
was now struggling to open a small white pill bottle. His hands didn’t seem to be co-operating with him.
Hutch leaned against the side of the car
and said, “Can I help?”
There was a pause, as Starsky quite obviously
weighed his desire to do it himself against his immediate need for pain medication. Finally, making a dispirited noise deep
in his throat, he passed the bottle to Hutch. He didn’t look up.
“Hang on,” said Hutch. He quickly
retrieved the last bottle of water from the trunk before closing it. He opened the bottle of pills and shook out two. After
a moment’s thought, and another look at Starsky’s face, he added one more. Starsky’s tolerance for these
things had increased considerably over the last year, and Hutch wanted to make sure his friend got at least some of the normal
analgesic benefit. He handed them over, along with the open bottle of water.
As Starsky took the pills, Hutch climbed
into the driver’s seat. Taking the water back and capping it, he asked, “So, how did you do it?”
“Do what?” asked Starsky, obtusely.
He knew perfectly well what Hutch meant, but he wasn’t in the mood to discuss anything at the moment. Now that he knew
Hutch was safe, the buoyant feeling of relief had worn off, and pain and depression were setting in. Why do I have to pay so damn high a price every time?
“How did you keep me from doing my
best imitation of a ripe melon on the floor of that warehouse?”
Starsky winced at the image. “I told
“Yeah, well, let’s pretend I’m
slow. Explain it in more detail.”
“Pretend?” an eyebrow quirked
in his direction.
Hutch pulled the key out of the ignition
and crossed his arms. “Okay. How about, I’m not going anywhere until you tell me exactly what you did.”
Heaving a giant sigh that would have been
a lot more effective if it weren’t for the spasm of pain that crossed his face as a result, Starsky said, “I wrapped
the rope around three of the struts in the railing, kind of like a pulley system. As I said; physics.”
“And then, what?”
Hutch turned and fixed Starsky with a penetrating
gaze. “Starsky, lift up your shirt.”
“What? No!” He had both his arms
wrapped around his middle now, but to Hutch’s eyes he looked rather more scared than affronted.
“You tied the rope to yourself, didn’t
you.” It wasn’t a question.
“I wouldn’t say ‘tie’
“Damn it, Starsky! What were you thinking? What on earth possessed you to do something like that?” Hutch’s
voice rose into a roar.
Immediately, Starsky went on the defensive,
his own temper flaring. “Oh, I don’t know, a little something like my partner
hanging by his toes off a catwalk about to get hisbrains splattered all over the place.”
There was silence in the car.
Finally, Hutch asked in a carefully controlled
voice, “How bad is it?”
“Just bruises, and a few strained muscles,
I think,” said Starsky.
Hutch nodded at the glove compartment in
front of Starsky. “I know you’ve got some muscle relaxants in there. Take some.”
Biting back a snappish response at his partner’s
stubborn irrationalism, Hutch instead said, very deliberately, “Mind telling me why?”
“Because those things knock me right
out, and I promised Becky I’d be there for Anna’s funeral.”
Hutch’s forehead crinkled as he considered
all the various angles to this one. He rather thought Becky would understand if Starsky missed the funeral, but Starsky would
take it badly. He’d be embarrassed and ashamed; however unreasonable Hutch might think he was being. On the other hand,
he was hardly in any shape to go anywhere at the moment, and he needed the medication. He should also probably see a doctor,
but it was highly unlikely he would. If Hutch pushed him too hard, he’d dig his heels in. This would become a battle
of wills neither of them could win, and Starsky would pay for it in a currency of pain.
“Here’s the deal,” said
Hutch, after a few minutes of careful consideration. “If you take those pills, I’ll go with you to the funeral.”
Starsky began to protest, but Hutch wasn’t finished. “If you don’t, I’m going to stuff those pills
down your throat anyway, and then I won’t take you anywhere.”
The angry glare on Starsky’s face slowly
turned to amusement. The corner of his mouth twitched. “Yeah? Jus’ try it. I dare ya!”
Hutch pointed The Finger at him. “Don’t
“If I take them, I’ll fall asleep.”
“I promise I’ll wake you up.”
Hutch leaned over Starsky and opened the glove box, fishing out the appropriate medicine bottle.
“The funeral’s at two,”
said Starsky, reluctantly eyeing the pills his friend had dropped in his hand.
“I’ll wake you at .” Hutch handed him the water bottle.
“Make it one. I wanna wear something
nice.” Starsky took his medicine, and settled back into his seat with his eyes closed to wait for it to take effect.
Hutch started the car, glancing at his partner
as he did. He wondered if he’d been right in allowing Starsky to help him with this investigation. But if he hadn’t,
he might have been alone in that warehouse. Would any other partner have guessed where to look? Or arrived in time? Dismayed,
Hutch shook his head.However he calculated the cost of the day, he still found