His world was fractured, the pieces loosely
assembled, a photo viewed through the broken glass of a shattered frame. When he first opened his eyes, what he saw was strange
to him, unrecognizable. He was utterly lost and it scared him. Then the familiar shape of the police radio came into focus.
That would have been reassuring, but for the fact that it was sideways. Reality lurched sickeningly, the universe tilted,
and he belatedly realized that the radio was fine after all. He was the one oriented incorrectly, lying across the seat of
He felt sick.
The shattered pieces of the world melted
and ran together into nauseating chaos as his body convulsed and he vomited painfully onto the passenger seat of his car.
Even as his stomach heaved and pain exploded behind his eyes, other bits of information began to slide into his consciousness.
Besides the stench of vomit, there was an acrid smell in the air, gasoline and something more. He heard a crackling sound
that inspired in him a sense of immediate danger strong enough that he kicked backwards at the door, even as his stomach continued
His limbs felt as if they were only loosely
attached to his body. He kicked again, and experienced a sense of mild astonishment at the sight of his leg extending and
connecting with the car door. There was no sensation of impact. His leg might just as easily have belonged to someone else.
This sense of remoteness caused him little apprehension. He was far more concerned with the fact that nothing looked the way
he thought it should. Everything around him had been altered in some inexplicable way, dumping him into a universe in which
things were just familiar enough to confuse him completely.
The hood of his car was crumpled, bent and
folded like so much discarded newspaper. The glass in the windshield had been shattered, and the side door, instead of swinging
open in response to the impact of his foot, simply fell off onto the ground with a dull thud.
He slid out of the car, pulled himself to
his feet, and stared at the scene in front of him. He wiped his mouth absently on his sleeve, unaware of the blood he smeared
across his cheek. A random collection of metal and smoke coalesced into a train, the cars tossed from the track. Somehow his
own car had ended up down against the concrete wall of a warehouse, the crossing several meters ahead. He had no idea how
any of this had come to be. One moment he had been picking up the phone to call Starsky’s house, and the next he was
here, at the railroad crossing, in the middle of something that looked not unlike a vision of hell. Disturbing as this was,
he found he could not concentrate on the problem for long. His thoughts slid away from him, almost as soon as they were formed.
He swayed, and grabbed the crumpled roof
of his car for balance, his eyes continuing to examine his surroundings.
People were beginning to gather along the
tracks. Incredibly, the locomotive had remained upright throughout the entire cataclysm, and two men emerged from it, looking
The crackling noise continued and, as he
searched for the source, he discovered orange flames beginning to lick up the sides of an upended tank car. Without consciously
having made any decision, without even being entirely sure why it was so very necessary, he let go of his car and stumbled
toward the crossing, shouting at the people standing there.
“Get back!” His voice sounded
strange in his ears. His tongue was thick, and he coughed, his chest contracting painfully and his stomach threatening to
turn over again. He felt as if he was trapped in a slow motion nightmare, unable to prevent the nameless but inevitable catastrophe.
He fumbled for his badge, using it to try
to wave people back from the cars. He heard some comments about ‘crazy cop’. A few of them began to turn back,
but they were too slow. He was becoming frantic, when another voice suddenly shouted, “Listen to the man! Those are
propane cars! They’re gonna to blow!”
The warnings spread quickly on both sides
of the road and, to Hutch’s astonishment, the crowds began to clear. It was almost enough.
The heat and force of the explosion hit fractionally
before the sound. Hutch was knocked off his feet and thrown forward onto the asphalt. He heard, rather than saw, a large chunk
of metal hit the ground not a foot from his head. Another slammed into the back of his thigh, but he felt only impact, not
pain. He stayed there a moment, staring at the pavement a few inches from his nose, which he finally noticed had started to
bleed again. Gradually he became aware of the fact that someone was tugging on his arm.
“Hey, man, are you all right?”
He rotated his head to the side and squinted
up at a young black man standing over him with a worried expression.
“Get ‘em back,” said Hutch,
but the man didn’t seem to understand him. He asked again if he was all right. Hutch pushed himself up onto his knees,
wiped his arm across his nose, and tried to shake some of the static out of his head.
That was a mistake. Lightning exploded behind
his eyes, and the pain nearly pushed him back to the ground again. He coughed, trying to pull air into his lungs, and felt
strong hands grab his shoulders.
“Whoa, you don’t look so good.”
Hutch snorted. No kidding. He didn’t feel so good, either. But the scattered pieces of his mind were starting to fit together
again, and he knew what he had to do. Grabbing the teenager’s arm, he pulled himself up onto his feet. Trying to ignore
the distracting way the young man’s face kept sliding out of focus, he said, very carefully, “Got to keep people
back. Set up a perimeter.”
“Sure, man, you’re the cop. You
just tell me and my brothers what you want us to do.”
He blinked. There was a definite spark of
laughter in the teenager’s voice. It took Hutch a moment, but when he put the pieces together, he had to smile in response.
The young man was surrounded by others, all of the same age, and all in gang colors. They were offering to help. All he had
to do was tell them how.
Carefully not shaking his head this time,
he said, “I love community outreach. Okay, here’s what we need…”
were supposed to be ripping off warehouses. That was why they’d come down to the industrial district. It was going to
be Bobby’s initiation into the Crimson Tide.
As far as Bobby was concerned, the exploding
train was a whole lot cooler.
Damon told him to make sure all the people
on this side of the tracks stayed well back, and to keep the road clear so that the emergency vehicles could get through.
Some of the other guys were trying to help the folks that got hit by flying chunks of wreckage. Bobby couldn’t stop
laughing. This was an honest-to-god disaster movie, happening right here, and he was on the side of the good guys for a change.
Gotta love it.
The people Bobby guarded weren’t happy.
They couldn’t see the fire as well from way back here among the warehouses. A fat jerk in overalls tried to shove right
past him, probably wanting to get a better view. Yeah, he surely thought he was too special to get his head blown off by another
of those exploding train cars, not that it would really matter if he did. But Damon had told him to keep these folks in line,
so Bobby stepped in and grabbed him.
The jerk said, “You little punk, who
do you think you are?”
Grinning, Bobby showed him his blade. He
hadn’t had a chance to use it on anyone yet but, hey, this guy could be his first. He must have been convincing, because
the big jerk stepped back into the crowd, his face red. As a matter of fact, everyone around him moved back several steps,
too. Bobby swaggered a bit. It was great to be The Man.
He was disappointed when a pair of uniformed
officers walked up a few minutes later and told him they were taking over crowd control. He turned to protest, and then froze
open-mouthed as the second tank car exploded.
It didn’t matter that he couldn’t
see the tracks. That second explosion hurled the train car right up into the air, right over the roof of the warehouse. It
tumbled end over end, trailing fire, and it impacted directly against the side of the building across the street. Bobby stood,
mouth agape, barely noticing the stinging debris pelting his skin as an enormous cloud of smoke billowed up into the sky and
then settled to the ground, collapsing inward on itself with the building. Around him, he could hear people screaming and
scrambling for cover as brick and steel collapsed into a heap of rubble.
A fierce joy welled up inside of him, much
too big to control. Bobby yelled and punched the air, turning to flash a wide smile at the officers beside him. “That
Damon couldn’t believe this cop. He wouldn’t quit. Emergency vehicles were arriving every minute and he
was in the middle of it all, shouting orders in a raggedly rasping voice that hurt just to hear, directing people where to
go and what to do. He’d hardly been able to stand on his own when Damon had first helped him up off that road, but with
each passing minute, he seemed to find new reserves of energy. And now look at him, he was a goddamned Viking.
All he needed was a sword, and you’d
think he’d walked right off some ancient battlefield.
Damon nodded at the paramedic and, crouching,
grabbed his end of the stretcher carrying a woman who’d been hit in the shoulder by a chunk of brick when that train
car had landed on the roof of the warehouse. As he waited for the medic to give him the signal to lift, he glanced back once
more at the cop. Remind me never to mess with that guy, he thought, just as the
third tank car exploded. He was hit by a wave of heat strong enough that he staggered forward, catching himself on his hands
so as not to fall on the wounded woman. She screamed in terror, and threw one arm up over her face. The medic crouched over
her, trying to shield her. But there was no debris this time, and after a moment, he looked up and caught Damon’s eyes,
nodding. Together, they lifted the woman and carried her to the ambulance.
Though he had not been in a position to see
it, the explosion ripped the rear half of the car off and sent it skidding 70 yards down the track. It collided with the side
of a tank car carrying chlorine, ripping a hole a yard long in the side. White smoke now joined the black that already billowed
towards the sky.
was an impossible task. There were so many things he needed to handle, and he struggled to reason through the fog that enveloped
his mind. Every new item that came to his attention pushed something else out of sight. There was too much to do, and he couldn’t
see his way clearly…
“Son, you can stop now.”
Hutch felt a hand on his arm and he turned
to face the speaker. He moved a little too quickly, and felt the world tilt again under his feet.
The senior fire officer caught the tall cop
as he swayed. This guy’s all played out, he thought. “The fire chief
and the commissioner are here. We’ve got things under control…” He paused. Control. That was quite an overstatement, wasn’t it?
The propane tankers were burning and there
was no way to put them out. Chlorine was leaking onto the site, turning to poison in the air. Never mind. It could have been a lot worse. At least this guy had been on the scene to clear away the civilians and
direct the first crews. What was his name? Hutchinson, wasn’t it?
The cop was leaning forward slightly, looking
intently into his face as if searching for confirmation that it was really all right to relax a little. The older man nodded,
reassuringly. “This is our scene. We’ll take it from here.”
Hutch gave him a vague smile and straightened.
Turning, he took two steps away. A look of astonishment crossed his face as his
legs gave out beneath him. The fire officer yelled for a paramedic as the cop who had been coordinating the scene suddenly
stumbled and pitched forward onto the dirt.
Starsky found him in all the confusion, he would never know. But it wouldn’t have surprised anyone who knew the two
He spotted Hutch’s figure sitting on
the bumper of an ambulance. A uniformed officer intercepted him as he made his way through the crowd. Starsky wasted no time
in explaining himself, only pausing long enough to flash his badge, his eyes fixed on his friend.
Hutch looked awful. He was slumped forward
with his arms resting on his knees and he was wearing someone else’s jacket. It was one of those black ones with ‘police’
printed in large yellow letters across the back. There was blood matted in his hair and smeared across his face. More of it
soaked the leg of his slacks. Another officer was trying to talk to him as the paramedic assessed him, but he didn’t
seem to be paying much attention to either of them.
He was alive.
How he was alive, Starsky had no idea. He’d
been hit by a train, and his car was wrecked, and yet here he was, not only alive, but conscious and apparently all in one
piece. Starsky couldn’t stop smiling as he moved up beside the small group by the ambulance.
The patrolman was saying, “Sir, I need
to get your version of what happened…”
“I’ll take his statement,”
offered Starsky, happily.
Hutch looked up at the familiar voice and
smiled, faintly. “Hey, Starsk.”
Starsky’s smile dimmed somewhat at
the slight slur in his partner’s words.
To both Starsky and the patrolman, the paramedic
said, “I don’t know how much either of you will get out of him. This man has a moderate to severe concussion.
I need to transport him as soon as possible.”
“Can I ride with him?” asked
Starsky. He thought briefly about his car, but decided he’d rather keep an eye on Hutch. The Torino should be safe enough for now, and he could get someone to give him a
ride back later. He’s alive.
The paramedic hesitated a moment, then shrugged.
“Sure, why not? We’ve got more transport than we need. Thanks to your friend here, there were only a handful of
“Of course, there wouldn’t have
been any injuries at all if his car hadn’t been on the tracks,” said the patrolman sharply.
Hutch paled, and looked up in open confusion.
I caused all of this?
Leaning on his cane, Starsky swiveled to
face the patrolman. He stared at the other man intently, deliberately positioning his own face only a few inches away and
forcing his adversary to step back. “Now you listen, Officer… Officer Brady, is it? I don’t know what happened
here, but whatever it was, I can assure you we’ll figure it out. In the meantime, we have a man here with concussion.
He needs to get to a hospital. Any questions you got can wait!”
Brady stiffened, reacting to Starsky’s
aggressive tone. “What we got is thirty-three cars derailed, a propane fire, and a chlorine leak. They’re gonna
have to evacuate this entire section of town, and maybe more. It’s a damned catastrophe, and from the looks of things,
your partner caused it. He’s not going to get off without one hell of a good explanation!”
“I don’t know where you think
you get off…” shouted Starsky, angrily.
A new voice cut them both off. “Save
it! I’m in charge here and I’m transporting this man, now!”
Starsky tore his eyes away from Brady’s
face to see that the senior partner of the paramedic team had arrived, looking distinctly ticked off. Glaring at both men,
he moved to assist his partner in restraining a very agitated Hutch, who was trying to stand up.
“Hutch, sit down!” said Starsky,
urgently, turning back to intercept his friend.
Hutch pushed the medic’s hands away
and lurched to his feet, grabbing for the front of Starsky’s jacket as he briefly overbalanced. “St-Starsky, my…
m-my car was… I mean, he’s right, but I didn’t…” He looked terrified. My fault. It’s all my fault.
Starsky dropped his cane and seized Hutch’s
shoulders, feeling the tremors that shook his friend’s frame. “Hey, hey, calm down, buddy. Let the nice men here
take care of you, okay? We’ll sort it out, later.” He looked worriedly into the other’s face, taking in
the glazed expression. At least his pupils appeared to be roughly the same size. Reaching up, he lightly brushed the hair
back, checking the severity of the wound and trying wordlessly to reassure him that everything would be okay.
“There’s a chlorine leak,”
said Hutch, plaintively. Please don’t let it be my fault.
“Yeah, and from what the radio’s
been saying those tank cars are goin’ up like popcorn,” said Starsky with a wry smile. “It’s okay,
Hutch. That’s what they got the HazMat teams and fire crews for. Now you gotta get into that ambulance and lie down,
before you fall down.”
To Brady, he said, “I’ll take
Brady shrugged. Detectives: pains in the neck, every last one of them. “Yes, sir. He’s all yours.”
As if anyone there would ever have thought
like to admit him for observation,” said the doctor to Starsky. The examination had been completed, the x-rays done,
and the wounds stitched. All that remained now was to decide what to do with Hutch.
“No,” said Hutch, flatly. He
pushed himself up on his elbows, and swung his legs off the examining table, hissing quietly as the bandage on his thigh snagged
on the edge of the bed. “I’m not staying here.” He couldn’t imagine what he’d done to cause
that train to derail, but according to the radio in the ambulance, there were almost a dozen injured. It was too much to cope
with all at once, especially with the pain rattling around inside of his skull, making it hard to think. He just wanted to
The doctor ignored him, and continued to
speak to Starsky. “If I don’t admit him, someone’s going to have to stay with him overnight and wake him
every two hours. Does he have any relatives?”
“My wife can look after me,”
snapped Hutch irritably, head down, trying to ride out the dizziness that came with his transition to a more upright position.
As he spoke, it occurred to him to wonder where she was. “Starsky, you called Dawn, didn’t you?” When he
didn’t receive an immediate answer, he looked up and stared intently at his friend. Starsky suddenly seemed to be very
interested in the tiled floor. “You called her, right?”
Starsky mumbled something incomprehensible.
“What? Why the hell not?”
Starsky’s head shot up and he said,
defensively, “I forgot, okay? I’ll go call her now!”
“Don’t bother,” said Dawn,
coldly, from the door of the examining room. Her cheeks were pale and there were shadows around her eyes, but her tone was
perfectly composed. She glared at Starsky, and he returned the expression, only belatedly noticing Captain Dobey standing
directly behind her.
“I thought you might be somewhat distracted,”
said Dobey in a carefully nonjudgmental voice. “So, I called.” He motioned towards the hall, saying, “Starsky,
I want to talk to you. Why don’t we give Hutchinson a little time alone with his wife?”
As Starsky passed Dawn in the doorway, she
tossed her head and made a rude face at him. He responded with one of his own, coupled with a dismissive snort. Dobey caught
the startlingly childish exchange and frowned. Glancing past them, he met Hutch’s gaze. The blond man sitting on the
edge of the examining table grimaced in silent agreement with his captain. Dobey found that he did not envy Hutch at all,
caught between these two.
Starsky stalked across the hallway towards
a bench against the far wall. Dobey noticed that his face was drawn, and his limp was rather more pronounced than usual. He
“How is he, Starsky?”
He threw himself down on the bench and leaned
back, closing his eyes before answering. “Well, he’s got road rash on both forearms, from when one of the explosions
knocked him down. He’s inhaled some fumes, but they’re not too worried about that. There was a cut on his leg
that needed some stitches, and whole lot of bruises that are going to hurt like hell tomorrow. As for his head, they said
he’s got a moderate concussion, but they don’t need to put in any stitches, which is a relief ‘cause you
know he hates it when they shave his head. Oh yeah, and he got another nosebleed, but it wasn’t anything like the last
one. I think that’s everything.”
“Another nosebleed?” Dobey’s
eyes narrowed in exasperation.
“Well, sure, besides the one he got
“And you were there, hmm?” commented
Starsky was tired, and his defenses were
down. He answered without thinking. “Of course I was! I mean…” It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps
Hutch hadn’t told Dobey everything. After all, he was technically still supposed to be on medical leave, not helping
with the Bayside Strangler investigation. Did Hutch tried to cover for me? “Um…”
Dobey shook his head. “Never mind.
We’ll discuss your extracurricular activities later. How much was Hutchinson able to tell you about the accident?”
“Not much, Cap. He remembers calling
my place, but after that?” Starsky shrugged. “He didn’t know there were three explosions. He only remembers
two of them, and even that’s not very clear. He’s pretty out of it. You know what head injuries are like.”
He paused, and looked up, remembering Brady’s comments at the scene of the accident. “Hutch isn’t in trouble,
“No,” said Dobey, reassuringly.
“We have a witness from the scene who says he saw Hutchinson’s car pushed in front of the train by another vehicle. He was apparently trying to clear
the tracks when the train impacted with the rear of his car and jackknifed off the tracks.”
“Someone pushed him in front of the
train…?” It made too much sense to really surprise Starsky. He nodded, thoughtfully. “Cap, did they get
a license number?”
“No, just a description,” said
Dobey regretfully. “The other car left the scene immediately after the accident.”
“I bet it was a tan sedan,” said
“That’s correct.” Dobey’s
eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “Starsky, what do you know about this?”
But Starsky had already grabbed his cane
and was back on his feet, heading for the examination room. He ignored Dobey’s shout and Dawn’s annoyed protests,
as he burst into the room. “Hutch! What did the DMV say about that license number I gave you?”
Puzzled blue eyes met his. “What license
number?” Hutch paused, slowly retrieving the answer from his memory. “Oh, that one. I haven’t run it yet.”
Starsky made an inarticulate noise of frustration
and threw his hands up in the air, his cane colliding with the dresser. “What were you thinking? I told you it was important!
What did you do with the paper I gave you? The one with the number on it?”
“What’s your problem, Starsky?”
returned Hutch, baffled and reacting to Starsky’s anger with anger of his own. “I’ve still got it. It’s
in my… in my pocket. Oh.” It occurred to him suddenly that he had no idea where his pants were at the moment.
The hospital must have them somewhere, as they didn’t seem to be in the room. He tried to remember the exact sequence
of events that had followed his arrival at Emergency, but Starsky was shouting at him and he couldn’t concentrate.
“’Oh’ is right! Hutch, you got pushed onto the tracks by a tan sedan just like the one that guy was driving
at the funeral today. He almost killed you!” Starsky slammed his hand down on the foot of the bed. “Damn it! What’s
wrong with you?”
“I think you’d better ask what’s
wrong with yourself,” snapped Dawn, angrily. She’d had quite enough of Starsky barging in here and yelling at
Hutch. Of all the insensitive, irrational…
Dobey placed a hand on Starsky’s shoulder,
clearly feeling the tension vibrating in the younger man’s frame. “Dave, calm down. Now!” His voice was
firm, brooking no argument.
Hutch, however, simply said very quietly,
“I was pushed in front of that train?” His expression begged for reassurance.
“Yes, of course you were,” said
Dawn. “You wouldn’t ever have done anything purposely to cause that accident.” She said that in the same
manner she would respond to someone asking if the sky was really blue. It was simply obvious. Ken was one of the most responsible
men she’d ever met. He’d never take chances at a railroad crossing. The only way he could have ever ended up in
front of that train was if someone had put him there. She’d known that from the first phone call.
Hutch’s eyes searched the faces around
him. “I didn’t know what happened.” I thought it was my fault.
winced, knowing his partner’s thoughts as clearly as if they’d been spoken aloud, “Ah, buddy, don’t. It ain’t, and we never thought it was.” He gripped Hutch’s shoulder,
and looked up to find Dawn regarding him with large, dark eyes. He read the fear she tried to conceal. It was easy enough
to identify, as it was in his mind, too.
had tried to kill Hutch once. They would almost certainly try again.