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Part Four, Chapter One

Hutch juggled the groceries one-handed as he let himself into Starsky’s apartment. Stepping inside, he heard a muffled voice ask, “Hutch?”

“Yes, it’s me. Go back to sleep.”

“Yeah, right!”

His attention caught by the frustrated note in his friend’s voice, Hutch placed his bag down by the front door and took a look inside the bedroom. Starsky was in the process of giving his pillow a despairing thump.  This action was followed by an uncharacteristically fluent string of curses.

It wasn’t hard to assess the problem. Starsky was flushed, his hair damp with sweat. His bed was in complete disarray, with pillows everywhere and his blanket hanging half on the floor. The heating pad had been plugged into the wall with an extension cord, but the cord had snarled in the sheets.

“Can’t get comfortable, huh?” asked Hutch, sympathetically. He moved forward to begin untangling some of the mess. Despite ample experience to the contrary, Starsky always seemed to expect that he’d be back to a hundred percent the moment he stepped outside the hospital. Of course, he never was, and that inevitably led to bouts of crankiness and mean temper -

“I’m just so damned tired, Hutch!”

 - and whining.

Hutch reminded himself, as he always did, that this was simply another sign that Starsky was well on his way to recovery. He did have to wonder, though, why it was the man always behaved himself so much better around the nurses at the hospital. He laid the heating pad over two of the pillows at the head of the bed, and slid another pillow under Starsky’s knees. He watched with some concern as his friend tried to settle himself. He was in obvious discomfort, moving restlessly, trying without success to find a pain-free position.

He shouldn’t be this uncomfortable, unless…

“When was the last time…?” Hutch started to ask.

Starsky’s rather excessively heated reply cut him off. “I’m sick of taking those pills!”

“I know you took some at lunch,” said Hutch slowly, feeling irritation build. There was only so much he could be expected to tolerate. “Don’t tell me you haven’t taken any since then!”

“They make me stupid,” said Starsky, mulishly.

Hutch rolled his eyes. “As if you need any help in that department,” he said, sarcastically. “C’mon, Starsk! If you don’t take your pills you won’t get any sleep. If you don’t sleep, you won’t get better. So, take the damn pills!”

A dark heavy-lidded gaze met his, the blue having turned muddy with resentment. “Don’ wanna.”

Hutch put his hands on his hips and frowned down at the man in the bed. He couldn’t quite fathom why Starsky was being so unreasonable, but he knew it couldn’t be allowed to continue.

The silent standoff lasted for several minutes, but eventually Starsky wilted under his partner’s formidable glare. “Fine,” he muttered, sulkily. “Give ‘em to me.”

Hutch looked around the room. “Where are they?”

A hand waved vaguely, “Check on the nightstand.”

Starsky pushed himself up, as Hutch crossed the room. He watched as Hutch moved a pillow and paused. There was a 9mm automatic pistol lying on the stand.

“What’s this?”

Starsky’s expression was unreadable, and his tone was flat. “Well, if after all these years you don’t know what that is, then I don’t know if you’ve got much of a future as a cop.”

“Starsky…” said Hutch, warningly.

“I jus’ feel better with it there.”

Starsky’s expression warned Hutch not to take it further, but he couldn’t let it lie. There was something going on here, and he needed to sort it out. Starsky wasn’t cleared to carry a service weapon, and he knew it. Hutch hadn’t seen him with a gun since before Gunther.

So, why now?

Hutch spotted the bottle of prescription painkillers next to the gun, and shook two out into his hand. He left for a moment to pour Starsky a glass of water. When he returned, Starsky took his medication and eased himself back down onto the bed to wait for it to kick in.

Hutch tried stating the obvious. “You’re worried that Reg will come back.”

“Mmph.” Starsky’s answer neither confirmed nor denied it. He closed his eyes, deliberately shutting Hutch out.

“I could stay…” suggested Hutch.

Starsky’s eyes flew open. “No, thanks!” he said, emphatically.

“You know, the doctor said…”

“I don’t care what the doctor said! I’ve been hurt worse’n this before, and I don’t need a damn babysitter!”

He saw Hutch flinch, and amended his tone. “Hutch, buddy, you got a wife who needs lookin’ after, and a job you got to show up for at least a couple times a week. You’re already over here every day making breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ve washed my dishes and done my laundry and fluffed my pillows. You’ve stuffed my pills down my throat. You’re all but wiping my ass for me!”

Starsky stopped abruptly, realizing that once again he’d lost the reasonable voice. He took a deep breath and said, pleadingly, “I just need some space, okay? Go home!”

Hutch dropped his head, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was trying very hard not to take this personally. The words hurt, but he could hear that there was something else underlying the anger. It was fear. The refusal to take the drugs that would dull his perceptions, the gun on his nightside table; Hutch thought, He’s all but jumping out of his skin. It was a reasonable reaction, under the circumstances. After all, Starsky had recently been ambushed in his sleep, kidnapped and beaten, and the guy who did it was still out on the street.

The problem was that, while Starsky would feel better if Hutch stayed, he would also resent him for it. He had fought hard for his independence after the shooting, and he wasn’t going to easily give it up now.

“Okay,” Hutch said, reluctantly, “I’ll go. But first I want to put the groceries away, okay?”

Starsky snorted, but kept his commentary to himself. He knew his resentment at Hutch’s conciliatory tone was irrational. The man was trying hard.  Even if, in Starsky’s opinion, he was trying much too hard, he still shouldn’t be punished for it.

He closed his eyes, and shifted again, trying once more to find a position in which to sleep. Between his bruised back and sides, and his sore ribs and aching shoulders, there just didn’t seem to be any way to lie comfortably. Gradually, he felt the medication begin to take effect. His breathing slowed and his thoughts began to drift.

The next time Hutch entered the room, he was surprised to hear the man he’d assumed was completely out ask sleepily, “So what’s the verdict on Dawn? Did th’doctor say why she was bleedin’ like that?” Starsky’s voice was slightly slurred, and his eyes remained closed.

Hutch sat down on the corner of the bed. “He said something about an overgrowth of blood vessels near her cervix. Apparently it’s pretty common. He says she might bleed a little more, but that it’s nothing to worry about.” He wished he could convince himself of the truth of that. It seemed as if all he did these days was worry – about Dawn, about Starsky, about where the hell Reg had vanished to…

“Tha’s good. She goin’ back t’work?”


Hutch’s voice must have betrayed some of his discontent with this state of affairs, because Starsky cracked open an inquisitive eye.

He met Starsky’s gaze, defensively. “She doesn’t have to work. I make enough money…”

Starsky was suddenly much more awake. He’d caught hints of this conflict between the two of them before, but this was the first time he’d heard it out in the open. Dawn wanted to work and hang out with her friends, and Hutch was walking around with some kind of half-baked notion of turning her into a housewife. Sometimes Starsky wondered how well those two knew each other. “Hutch, she likes her job.”

Concerned by Hutch’s lack of response, Starsky pressed on. “Hutch, she’s a cranky, pregnant lady. You start pullin’ some chauvinistic bull on her now, and she’s gonna take that kid and move halfway across the country. You’ll be lucky if you get your court ordered visitation once a year!” Sure, she loves him now, but man, Dawn could be hell-on-wheels as an ex-wife.

Hutch turned away, rubbing the back of his neck. “That’s not it. It… it’s… um…” He hadn’t really thought about the reason behind his objection to Dawn working before but, now that he did, it was perfectly obvious. Worry. He shrugged, and gave Starsky a rueful smile. “Hey, did I ever tell you how I met Dawn?”

“Huh?” The apparent change of direction left Starsky foundering.

“Consider it your bedtime story, then. It was when? About the time of your third round of surgeries? So, a year ago, August, I guess…”



Hutch brushed the shreds of the labels he’d picked off his bottles into a small pile. Huggy was going to kick him out soon. He wouldn’t let him drive; he’d probably already called the cab. The bar was empty except for himself, Huggy, and that pretty waitress. She was wiping down the tables one at a time and stacking the chairs on top of them. She seemed to be trying to leave his section of the room for last.

Hutch shaped the paper scraps into a rough cone and stared morosely at it. Starsky would have said it was a volcano. If he was here, they would have been competing for the attentions of that waitress, and he would have made some goofy joke. Probably about volcanoes.

Stupid, incompetent surgeons; Hutch dropped his head down onto his folded arms. Couldn’t they just patch him up right the first time? Where the hell did that infection come from this time? Starsky had been in so much pain, and he’d tried to tell them something wasn’t right, but they brushed him off. It wasn’t until he’d spiked that fever…

He rolled his head to the side and watched the waitress work. Beautiful lady; what was her name again?

Hutch’s table was near the rear exit, as far out of the way as he could manage. Huggy passed him, carrying a large bag of garbage. He had no comment this time, but Hutch was sure he saw him shake his head, tolerantly.

Yeah, well, what does he know anyway?

Huggy had his hands full, so the waitress stepped forward to hold the door open for him.

Hutch heard the alarm in Huggy’s voice before he registered the words. He looked up to see his skinny friend backing through the door with his hands raised. “Hey, now, brother, there ain’t no need for violence…”

The man with the gun was middle-aged, and more than a little overweight. He was wearing a rumpled suit, and his comb-over had flopped down over his ear. Despite his unlikely appearance, he moved quickly. Before Hutch could move, before he could draw his own weapon, the gunman had grabbed the waitress and yanked her in front of him, his arm across her chest and his gun pressed into her side.

“I want everything you got in your register! Just stick it in a bag and give it to me or your gal here gets one through the gut!”

Huggy had his hands in front of him, backing up until he bumped into the bar. “Just cool it, bro.”

“Get the money!” The gunman brought his weapon up and pointed it at Huggy, as if to emphasize the need for speed.

In that moment, the waitress threw her head back, slamming it into her assailant’s nose, then twisted in his arms and grabbed him by the crotch. The man screamed and fired blindly, the bullet shattering the mirror behind the bar. Huggy ducked for cover.

Hutch launched himself forward from his chair, intending to charge the man, but his feet became tangled with each other and he plowed uncontrolled into the gunman’s back, bringing them both down to the ground on top of the waitress. The gun went skidding across the floor, where it was retrieved by Huggy.

The hapless robber was screaming as Hutch tried to get his feet under him to haul him off the waitress, who was adding her own furious shrieks to the din. A two and a half inch spiked heel caught Hutch directly in the temple, stunning him for a moment. The man wrenched himself free and scrambled for the back door on all fours. Hutch threw himself after him, caught the back of his legs and brought him down to the floor.

It took him only a moment to secure the man’s arms in cuffs. “You’re under arrest for assault and attempted robbery and whatever the hell else I might think of later. You have the right to remain silent…” As Hutch rattled off the Miranda rights, he felt something warm trickling down the side of his face.

He reached up and touched his temple. Bringing his fingers down, he found them covered with bright red blood.

Huggy was furious, his arms waving in the air, ranting about the damage to his bar. “Never mind arresting the dude! Who’s gonna pay for my mirror?”

The waitress handed Hutch a damp cloth. He took it and looked up. She seemed amused as she said, “C’mon, hero man, let’s get that cut cleaned up.”

She offered him a hand and he took it as he wobbled to his feet. It had to be the alcohol in his system that was making him so unsteady. He blinked at her, as he held the cloth to the side of his face. Very pretty lady…

“I’m Dawn,” she said, smiling.


“And well… you know the rest,” said Hutch.

Starsky whistled in admiration. “Man, Dawn sure fights dirty! But I’m not surprised. Huggy only hires girls who can take care of themselves.”

“That’s not the point!” said Hutch, emphatically. “She could have been killed.” She could have died before I ever had a chance to know her. She could still die, like Gillian, or Vanessa… I don’t know if I can go through that again…

“So? Hutch, your job’s a lot more dangerous than hers. Are you gonna quit so she doesn’t have to worry ‘bout you?”

“It’s different,” said Hutch, frowning.

“Yeah, I know. Servin’ drinks’s got nothin’ on catchin’ bad guys…” The slur of Starsky’s words was becoming more pronounced. His voice was slow and heavy, and it was impossible to tell whether he meant what he was saying, or if he was being ironic. He yawned hugely, and then winced as his ribs reminded him once more why that still wasn’t such a great idea. One arm went out to the side, snagging a pillow and attempting to pull it closer. Hutch reached across and tucked it under his elbow, elevating his shoulder slightly. Starsky sighed and relaxed into unconsciousness.


Hutch was shrugging into his jacket when the phone rang. He picked it up quickly though it was unlikely the ringing would wake Starsky, given the meds currently in his system. It was Becky. She seemed a little surprised to find herself talking to him, instead of Starsky.

“Oh. Hi, Hutch! Um… how is Dave doing?” she asked, hesitantly.

“He’s doing pretty good, but he’s asleep right now,” said Hutch. “I can tell him you called…”

“No, that’s okay…” There was a long pause on Becky’s end of the line, as if she was debating something with herself. “I just wanted to ask him his opinion on something…”

Hutch pulled out the chair from the desk and sat down. He had a feeling this conversation might take a little while. “What’s that?”

“Well…” Another pause, followed by a slightly too-quick question, “Do you think it would be a very bad idea for me to move back to my house?”

“Eventually, I’m sure it’ll be a fine idea,” said Hutch, wondering what had prompted this call. She seems to be a bright girl; surely she has to know the reasons for moving out of her home as well as anyone. “But right now Reginald Malcolm is still at large, somewhere. Untill we’ve got him in custody, or until we’re sure he’s left the city, I don’t know that you’d be safe in your cottage.” He could hear muffled voices in the background at her end. They sounded agitated.

“Oh.” Becky seemed disappointed, but not entirely surprised by his answer. The background noise increased, and she said, “Excuse me.” Hutch winced as this statement was followed immediately by a bellow that was barely ameliorated by the fact that she had clearly pulled the phone away from her ear. “No, I will not open the door! I don’t care if I’m being immature!” There was a pause and then Becky’s sweet voice was back. “I’m sorry about that.”

Hutch was glad she couldn’t see the amused grin on his face. In as sympathetic a tone as he could manage, he said, “The family giving you a hard time?”

“Yesss,” answered Becky, sounding very much as if she’d forced that acknowledgement through clenched teeth. “I really do know I can’t go back. I just miss my home so much! And I don’t want to stay here anymore.”

Hutch heard her place a hand over the mouthpiece, and this time he was ready as she shouted to someone, presumably on the other side of the door, “Go stuff it in your ear!” To Hutch, she said, “I – I kind of messed up. Judith was on my case again about dating a cop, so I told her we got engaged. Now she thinks I’ve lost my mind, because she says I hardly know Dave at all. My brother thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Naomi’s got this stupid theory…”

Another pause gave Hutch just enough warning to move the phone away from his ear.  “Yeah, you heard me, it’s stupid!” Becky came back on and picked up her sentence as if she hadn’t stopped in the first place.  “That I’m subconsciously seeking a father figure, ‘cause of never knowing mine. And my mother’s crying.”

“She’s crying?” asked Hutch. He wondered if Starsky knew what he was getting into by way of in-laws. Maybe there were drawbacks to having a large family that he hadn’t considered before.

“Well, that’s actually not as bad as it sounds,” explained Becky. “She cried when each of the rest of them announced their engagements, too. Tomorrow, she’ll stop crying and invite Dave over for dinner. And then she’ll start trying to plan my wedding for me. I would have just called a cab and gone home, but I’ve got Monster with me!”

Becky was as upset as Hutch had ever heard her. Things had to be bad if she was willing to consider moving back to the house where she’d been attacked, just to escape from her family. It occurred to him that he might have a solution that would help everyone.

“How are you at getting invalids to take their pills?” he asked.

“I’m pretty good with cats and dogs,” said Becky, sounding puzzled. “I haven’t had much experience with people.”

Hutch chuckled at the image her answer brought to mind. “Well, you shouldn’t need to rub his throat to get him to swallow. Though, for all I know, he’d enjoy it.”

Her delighted reply confirmed his assessment of her astuteness. “You mean… I can stay with Dave?”

“I’m quite certain he won’t object,” said Hutch. He also won’t argue with you over whether he needs to take his meds, and he’ll rein in some of the attitude. “I’ll be by in half an hour to pick you up.”

“I’ll be waiting outside!” The dial tone cut in as Becky quickly hung up, and he had a mental image of the girl dashing for the door. He smiled as he placed the handset back into its cradle. With someone to stay with him, Starsky should feel more secure. Becky needed looking after, too, so her presence shouldn’t threaten his sense of independence and autonomy. He could protect her, she could make sure he rested and healed, and everyone should be happy.

Hutch was whistling softly as he headed out the door.


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