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Postscript

Part Two, Chapter Six

“You’re gonna love this,” said Starsky, as he paid the delivery boy. “These guys make the best pizza in town.”

Closing the door, he turned to face Becky and, balancing the pizza box one-handed, bowed with a flourish. “Presenting, one Ricardo’s Super Special. It’s got everything!”

Firmly suppressing the grin that tugged at the corners of her mouth, Becky gave the pizza a doubtful look. “Does it have anchovies?”

Starsky opened the box and peeked inside. “No, no little fishes,” he said sadly.

“How about pineapple? Does it have pineapple?”

Starsky’s expression was tragic. “No tropical fruit, either.”

“Well, then, does it at least have olives?”

“Olives it has! As a matter of fact, this pizza has both the green and the black varieties of olive. It also has ground beef, Canadian back bacon, Italian sausage, red and green peppers, Spanish onions, several kinds of cheeses including Swiss, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, and I’m not sure, but I think this green stuff here might be spinach.”

Becky made a happily appreciative noise as Starsky brought the box over to the coffee table. “It sounds like the whole United Nations in a box.”

She trotted into the kitchen to find paper towels, plates and a knife. Starsky took a moment to watch her as she moved around his apartment. He paid little attention to her happy chatter, instead appreciating the way she looked in her black dress. She had kicked off her sandals as soon as she stepped indoors, and when she sat down, she extended her bare legs and flexed her toes, taking obvious pleasure in finally being free of her shoes. Despite her careless manner, she moved with grace. Tendrils of brown hair escaped from the clip at the back of her head and floated down around her face, framing it with softness.

This shouldn’t be a complicated equation. A beautiful girl, an empty apartment, an evening to spend together… But he was tired, and there was a black shadow in the back of his mind, one that had been dogging him since the first moment in the hospital that he’d been awake enough to see what the doctors had done to save him.

Even now, over a year later, he was reluctant to look at himself. He’d been proud of his body once. He shoved a small hand weight to the side as he sat down on the couch. Strength and muscle could be rebuilt, but the scars could not be erased.

If they bothered him this much, he could only imagine what anyone else’s reaction might be the first time they saw them. Ordinary folks, that is; not the nurses at the hospital whom you could expect to be used to seeing stuff like that. You see this large red scar on the side of my abdomen, baby? You know why that one looks so different from the others? It got infected, and they had to open it back up to let the let the pus drain out, and then they couldn’t stitch it closed again, so it stayed open for almost two months until it finally healed over on its own. Want me to tell you about that?

Starsky sighed, suddenly not at all amorous, and reached for a piece of pizza. Becky gave him a concerned glance, but he smiled and made some mild joke to reassure her. She didn’t need to know about his problems; she had enough of her own to deal with.

*******

Blame the warm weather, a full stomach, a long day or the lingering effects of the drugs; perhaps he was just too comfortable leaning back on the couch with Becky in his arms and Chris de Burgh on the turntable. Certainly, Becky didn’t want to think that maybe she had put him to sleep by talking too much, though that was undeniably a possibility.

As she eased herself out of his lax embrace, a tiny frown appeared between his eyebrows and his lips moved slightly. Then his expression relaxed and he slipped deeper into sleep.

The effect this had on Becky was complicated. She ran a hand through her hair, unable to take her eyes off his face. He was unspeakably adorable. She wanted to run to Anna, and tell her all about it, and whisper and squeal and gush as they had back when they were both little girls agog over pinups of Paul McCartney.

But Anna was gone, and there was something terribly lonely about liking a man so very much without a girlfriend around to share the moment. Anna hadn’t had a chance to even find out about Dave, much less meet him, before she’d died. Becky was sure she would have liked him, but it would have been nice to have heard it said aloud.

Becky stood, causing Starsky to shift again in his sleep, which sent her thoughts and emotions into even more of a tailspin. How could the sight of him sleeping make her feel so happy and sad all at once? Frowning pensively, she began gathering up the remains of the pizza and collecting the empty pop cans. Her mind drifted to the unfortunate conversation she’d had with her mother that afternoon, the one that had led to the comment about ‘tucking him in’.

It had started off innocuously enough. As the funeral was ending, her mother had once again mentioned her concerns about Becky walking Monster down along the beach each morning at sunrise. “And don’t tell me that dog will protect you,” Sarah said sternly to her daughter.

“Dave’s been walking with me, too,” protested Becky, without thinking.

“Every morning?” asked her mother, her eyebrows rising.

“Um…” It suddenly occurred to Becky that perhaps she shouldn’t have mentioned that small detail.

“Well,” said Sarah, decisively. “I’m glad to hear it. I like him. He’s a little old for you, maybe, but he seems like a decent man. Of course, I thought Mark was a good man, too…”

“Mom!” wailed Becky. “I’m not going to discuss my boyfriends with you!”

“So, you’re saying that Dave Starsky is a boyfriend, then?”

“No! I mean… Mom, stop it!”

That was Sarah. She watched carefully over the lives of each of her children, freely offering advice where she could and serenely ignoring their protests. They all needed her help, to some degree. Judith’s marriage was in good shape, but her children were running wild. Naomi still hadn’t produced any children at all, preferring to focus on her career. Ben worked too hard and his wife didn’t appreciate him, and Becky, her youngest child, was already well into her twenties without either career or fiancÚ anywhere on the horizon.

No, Becky did not want to discuss Dave with her mother. It was bad enough that Sarah approved of him. Becky would have been happier if she didn’t. How many men had she already dated simply to discomfit her mother? Unemployed drummers, free spirits, amateur political agitators… They had all drifted away once they learned that she had no intention of sleeping with them. One ex-boyfriend had accused her of mindlessly adhering to the rigid rules of the establishment, and another had suggested she might be emotionally repressed. Really, all Becky had wanted to know was if they would stay for any reason other than sex.

And of course they didn’t.

Even Anna had made it clear that she thought Becky’s idealism was cute but rather impractical, and that her taste in men was generally appalling.

Becky was starting to agree with her.

She ran some water in the sink, glancing over her shoulder to see if the noise would wake Dave. She could see his dark curly head resting on the arm of the couch. He did not move.

She’d always done her best thinking while washing dishes. It was a mindless task that occupied her hands, allowing her to mentally focus on the issues that were most important.

At the moment, Dave Starsky was the issue topmost in her mind.

It occurred to her that he hadn’t pressured her at any point over the last week. Sure, he’d kissed her, but mostly they’d simply talked. As much as she loved to talk, there was something that felt not quite right about it, especially tonight. Here was a reasonably healthy, sexy, adult male, and he wasn’t pushing? Becky could think of only two possible explanations for that. Either she’d entirely misinterpreted his level of interest and he really did think of her as nothing more than a friend, or he was waiting for something else.

Becky’s hands paused in the soapy water, as an appalling thought suddenly occurred to her. He couldn’t be waiting for me to make the first move, could he?

The phone rang, startling her badly. She squeaked involuntarily and dropped the plate back into the sink with a splash.

She looked at the couch, but Dave did not move. The phone rang again. Tentatively, she picked up the receiver and said, “This is Dave Starsky’s house.”

“Becky?” said the voice on the other end. “Hi, it’s Hutch. Give me Starsky, will you?”

“Um…” She took another look at the motionless figure on the couch. “He’s asleep. Do you want me to wake him up?”

“No, no, don’t wake him.” She heard a chuckle. “He’s going to be kicking himself tomorrow morning.”

“Why?” asked Becky, innocently.

“Because he invited a gorgeous lady over for dinner, and then fell asleep on her, of course,” said Hutch, too amused to resist the obvious response.

Becky was embarrassed. “I’m not gorgeous!”

“Clearly you haven’t looked in a mirror recently. And now I’m not going to say any more than that, because if I do, I’ll be in trouble with both Starsky and my wife. How are you getting home?”

“I was going to call a cab.” She knew she had to leave soon. She was already having visions of poor Monster standing by the front door with all four legs crossed, and his eyeballs swimming.

“Never mind that, I’m on the road now. If you can be ready in about ten minutes, I’ll swing by and pick you up. Save yourself the cab fare.” His tone was so efficiently practical, it didn’t occur to her to protest.

“Thank you; that would be great!”

*******

Hutch smiled as he ended the patch through to Starsky’s house, and replaced his handset in the car. The traffic was fairly light down in the industrial park but, as Hutch approached the train tracks, the bell started ringing, and the red light began flashing. He settled comfortably into his seat anticipating a long wait, as the barrier dropped across the road. These freight trains could go on for miles. Briefly he considered calling Becky back and telling her that he would be a few minutes late, but then decided that it wasn’t that important.

 

A tan sedan pulled up and stopped just behind him.

He was tired. It had been a long and intense day, starting with that near death experience above a warehouse floor, and ending with the mindless drudgery of visiting pawnshops and showing them the sketch of his redheaded jackrabbit. Huggy Bear promised to put out some feelers, but he did not sound particularly hopeful. This kid wasn’t one of the regular denizens of the street.

Maybe I ought to be canvassing the high schools, Hutch mused.

The train came into sight down the long concrete canyon formed by the warehouses on either side, blowing a blast on its whistle as it neared the crossing. Hutch watched it with interest. You couldn’t help but be impressed with a vehicle as large and powerful as a train. The engine roared, the wheels clacked and he could feel the vibrations through the seat of his car.

Suddenly something slammed into the rear of his LTD, throwing him forward against the steering wheel. His car rolled forward. He was briefly aware of the gate arm breaking across the front of his windshield, and then suddenly he was on the tracks. Instinctively he braked, resisting the force from behind that was pushing his vehicle in front of the train. He thought he heard his car scream, but that wasn’t possible. Machines don’t scream, do they? He had a brief glimpse of the tan sedan in his rearview mirror, too close. There was no retreat. The train was almost on top of him when he abruptly changed tactics and hit the gas, trying to pull through the crossing, trying to clear the tracks before impact.

He almost made it. The train impacted with the rear of Hutch’s car, knocking it violently to the side. Metal scraped against metal as the car spun in a complete circle and the left front fender impacted again with the train. Hutch hit the side door with his shoulder, his head slamming into the window. The last thing he was aware of was the large wheel of the train filling his entire field of vision while, beyond that, the whole long stretch of it jackknifed off of the tracks. His final conscious thought was that he had been wrong. Machines do scream. The train was screaming so loudly, the sound of it followed him right down into the red black darkness.

*******

“Dave?”

“Hmm?” It took Starsky a moment to identify the voice. Becky? He opened his eyes a crack. My house. Another moment, and then, oh.

He had fallen asleep. Terrific. Invite a girl over for dinner and what do you do? Ya fall asleep.

Starsky pushed himself upright, ignoring the protests from his back, and scrubbed his face with both hands. “I’m sorry, Becky. Do you want a drive home?”

“I wouldn’t have woken you,” she said, and he looked up at the clear worry in her voice. “But Hutch said he was going to drive me home.”

“Aw, he doesn’t have to do that,” said Starsky.

“That’s not the point,” said Becky. “He said he’d be by in ten minutes, and it’s been a lot longer than that.”

Starsky’s expression shifted subtly, and he was suddenly very much awake and alert.  “How much longer?”

“Almost an hour,” she said hesitantly. “I don’t know his number at work, and I wasn’t sure if it’s something to worry about… I did call my neighbor, though, and she’s let Monster out, so he’s okay for now.”

But Starsky had stopped listening after her first words. He was already off the sofa and over at the phone. After a moment, he pressed down the button, cutting the connection. “He’s not at his desk.” He picked it up again and dialed another number. “Hey, Dawn, is Hutch there? No? Okay, thanks.” He tried again. “Dispatch? Can you patch me through to Detective Hutchinson? Zebra 3?” A minute or two dragged by. “What do you mean, ‘there’s no response’?”

Becky watched wide-eyed as Starsky’s voice rose. She’d never seen him this agitated before. Even when they had discovered Anna’s body, he’d been relatively calm. He listened to the voice on the other line for several more minutes, then spun around and barked, “Turn on the TV. Channel Three. Now!”

As Becky scrambled for the small set, she heard him slam the phone back down into its cradle. The television hummed for several seconds, warming up, and then the bright dot in the centre expanded to fill the screen. The picture jumped several times, before settling down and a voice was heard to say, “…breaking news… this footage of the train derailment in central Bay City is coming to you live from our traffic helicopter…”

Starsky crouched in front of the TV, one hand on the side of the set, studying the footage intently. Several minutes passed, as the helicopter trained a spotlight on the long, broken length of the train. The camera zoomed in on the crossing, as the helicopter turned and came around on the other side of the train. A crumpled, battered car could be seen. It had been dragged well down the tracks before being deposited up against the long concrete wall of a warehouse.

When Starsky spoke, his voice was frighteningly calm. “That’s Hutch’s car.”

He stood abruptly, catching himself one-handed on the top of the TV when his leg wobbled beneath him. His eyes landed on Becky, who was holding both of her hands together over her mouth, staring at him in horror. Distractedly, but still with a strangely flat tone to his voice, he said, “Um… stay here, take a cab, do what you have to. I… I have to go.”

She simply nodded as he grabbed his coat and his cane and left the house without a backward glance.

*******

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