The station wagon dropped fifteen feet down
into the river below the bridge, landing first on its hood and then flipping over to rest at an angle on the rocks. From the
top of the bank, the sight of the upended wreck with its wheels in the air brought to mind the uncomfortable analogy of an
insect, turned belly up in its final death struggle. The crumpled front of the car was entirely submerged in the white foaming
Starsky pulled the Torino off the road. There was no time to think about possibilities or odds, there was only time to act. Before Hutch had
finished explaining the situation to the sheriff’s office and arranging for emergency vehicles to be dispatched to the
scene, Starsky was out of the car and sliding down the rocks towards the wreck.
Hutch shrugged out of his jacket, leaving
his revolver on the seat, and followed him. For once, Starsky was at no disadvantage where speed was concerned. There was
no way for either of them to run, or even stand, on the slippery granite and shale. They simply had to scramble down on all
fours as best as they could.
Starsky felt the elbow of his shirt tear
as he skidded over the last rock, twisting to catch himself before he plummeted uncontrolled into the water. His feet landed
in the river, his sneakers soaking through instantly. The roar of the rapids filled his ears and the white water tugged at
his knees, so cold it literally took his breath away. He felt as if thousands of small knives were carving away at his calves.
He clung to the rock for a moment, gasping. Then, blinking to clear the shocked tears from his eyes, he focused on the car.
It was just below him.
Deliberately, he released his grip on the
rock and dropped into the rushing water. It seized him in an implacably icy grip, sweeping him downstream and slamming him
up against the wood-paneled side of the station wagon with enough force to make him grunt in pain. He felt the car shift fractionally
under his weight, and he clung to the side, trying desperately to pull air back into his lungs.
Hutch’s descent into the water was
far less intentional. Near the bottom, he had slipped on the rocks, tumbling out of control into the water and landing on
his back. The impact with the river combined with the shockingly cold immersion stunned him badly enough that, for a few minutes,
he lost his bearings. He was buffeted on the rocks, and blinded by water in his face, too shocked to even attempt to breathe.
He felt himself fetch up against something
hard and unyielding and he flailed for purchase, choking, his cold numbed fingers slipping over the crumpled metal. The river
was pulling him to the side, sweeping him around the body of the car. Then a strong arm wrapped itself across his shoulders.
He was pulled firmly back against a very familiar chest, his head supported out of the water.
His lungs spasmed painfully as they rediscovered
air. He wheezed and coughed up river water, struggling to compose himself. He could feel his partner’s body pressed
up against his back, his warm breath on his neck, hanging on.
Finally finding purchase on the slick river
bottom, and securing a grip on the undercarriage of the car, Hutch straightened and looked over his shoulder, briefly meeting
No words were necessary.
I’m fine now. You?
Reassured that Hutch had things under control
again, Starsky let him go. He pulled in as much oxygen as he could, filled his lungs, and then plunged underwater, searching
through the darkness for the rear door. His hands, so deadened by the cold that they felt as if they belonged to someone else
entirely, found the rear window. There was no glass, though he couldn’t
tell if it had shattered in the crash or if the windows had been down when the car went off the bridge. He pulled himself inside, bobbing up almost immediately into a pocket of air trapped in the rear seat.
Light filtered greenly in through the intact
rear window. The child was at the far side, thrashing silently, trapped in his seatbelt. The car was upside down. In order
to keep his head out of the water, the boy would have to contort his body to the side and force his face up against the seat
cushion, which was now the roof. He couldn’t do it. He was too young.
Starsky reached across and caught the child’s
shoulders, cradling them in both his hands, holding his head up into the pocket of air. He looked to be around two years old,
a toddler with shocked dark eyes and fine fair hair clinging to his scalp.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you…”
he started to say in the moment of silence that followed. Then the small body convulsed in his hands and he felt the child
draw in a huge breath followed by a scream so piercing, he flinched back instinctively. Shocked, he almost dropped the boy.
Then sense returned, and he braced his leg against the back seat and set his shoulder to the task of keeping the child’s
head supported in the air pocket.
Through the high pitched wailing, he continued
to murmur soothing words. “It’s okay. It’ll be okay. You’re not going to drown, I got you…”
He tried to pull the boy free, but the belt had twisted around his abdomen locking him in firmly. There was no room to maneuver
and the child was struggling, making his task more difficult. He reached across to find the seat belt release, but the door
of the station wagon had crumpled inwards. He could trace the length of the belt, but he could not feel the release at the
end. All his searching hands met was jagged metal. They were stuck. “It’s okay,” he said again, helplessly
He was vaguely aware of movement in the driver’s
seat, and he hoped Hutch was having more success extracting the woman.
Hutch heard the boy’s screams and thought
grimly to himself, At least one of them survived. The woman was motionless, floating
in the water, her hair spreading out, hiding her face. He found the belt buckle, disentangled her from her seatbelt, and pulled
her through the window. The car shifted with the removal of her weight, and the rear end rotated slightly, the left-hand corner
rising. He heard the child’s wail bubble, as if he’d inhaled a mouthful of water, followed by a very clear curse
The movement of the car had caused the air
bubble to rise to the left, away from the child’s face, and both of them had panicked for a moment until Starsky found
a new way to hold him. He had the boy’s chest pressed firmly against the seat now with his face turned to the side to
take advantage of the few scant inches of air remaining.
Starsky had rather more air available to
himself in the rear left corner of the wreck, but he was far from comfortable. He heard Hutch shouting. It was impossible
to make out his words between the roar of the river and the shrieking of the child.
“Knife! I need a knife!” he bellowed
back, giving the words as much force and clarity as he could. If he only had a knife, he could cut that belt and get the kid
out of here immediately.
To the boy, he said, “What’s
your name? Can ya tell me your name? Did’ya know I’m a p - police officer?”
His face felt numb and he was starting to
shake with the cold. He could hear his words beginning to slur, but he persisted, keeping up a steady patter of questions
and commentary. Gradually the child’s sobs began to weaken, and he prayed it was due to the fact that the boy was finally
calming down, and not because he was succumbing to the effects of hypothermia.
The lee of the car provided some protection
from the violence of the river. Hutch dragged the woman’s body up onto the rocks beside the vehicle and hauled himself
up next to her. A knife. Starsky had said he needed a knife. That meant that the child was trapped somehow, probably in his
belt, and Starsky couldn’t safely leave him.
Hutch could feel the familiar weight of his
pocketknife in his pants. He hesitated for a moment, and then knelt down to press his ear to the woman’s chest. Normally
he would have tried for the carotid artery in her neck, but his fingers were too numb with cold to trust. Her face was blue,
and she wasn’t breathing, but he thought he sensed a weak heartbeat.
His heart twisted at the thought of Starsky
still trapped under the wreck. Sorry, buddy. Pulling himself up to kneel over her
body, he tilted her head back and began resuscitation. I hope you can hang on just
a little while longer, because she can’t. Artificial respiration would have to start immediately, or the woman would
have no chance of making it out of this alive and undamaged. There was no time to go back to the car with the knife.
The boy’s movements had slowed considerably,
and he stopped crying. Starsky could feel his thin back struggling for each breath. They were both trembling violently now,
the water sloshing inside of the car. His body had ached fiercely for a while, but now he was simply numb and terrified that
the lack of sensation in his limbs might cause him to drop the child. He wondered what on earth was taking Hutch so long.
He would have shouted again, but his teeth were chattering with such force he wasn’t sure he could speak. He’d
probably bite his tongue, if he tried.
The air in his prison had grown hot and stale,
leading to a strange combination of sensations; freezing cold from the shoulders down and a sauna from the neck up. Distantly,
over the rushing water, he though he heard the sound of sirens. He focused on the child’s wide dark eyes and tried to
control the shaking of his body, attempting to conserve his air. Every time the water splashed over the boy’s nose and
mouth, he felt a stab of panic, followed by a rush of relief as the child kept fighting to breathe.
Hutch. I need that knife!
The body under Hutch’s hands jerked
suddenly and color rushed back into the woman’s face as she took a long shuddering breath.
Green eyes, nearly the color of the river,
met his, and a faint voice asked, “My baby?”
“He’s okay,” said Hutch,
praying it was true. The child’s screams had stopped several minutes ago, and he had heard nothing from Starsky.
Reaching into his back pocket, he extracted
his pocketknife and unfolded the blade with some difficulty, cutting his thumb in the process. He saw the blood well up in
a thin red line, but he felt no pain. He was too cold to feel anything but grief.
He glanced up at the road and saw the sheriff’s
car pulling up, lights flashing. Distantly, he thought he could hear other sirens as well. Good, he thought. Giving the woman a distracted pat, he slid off the rock back into the water and waded over to
He grabbed onto the crumpled hood of the
station wagon, only to feel it shift again. At the same moment, he heard a hoarse, agonized yell from Starsky. The frantic
sound in his partner’s voice sent him scrambling down the length of the car, ignoring the sharp jagged edges of the
rocks and the bruising force of the river.
This time, as the car had slipped further
off the rocks, the last of the air in the right-hand corner had vanished, and the child’s face was plunged under water.
Starsky tried frantically to pull the small body free of the belt, wordlessly screaming his frustration. He did not notice
that the rear of the car had risen another several feet, bringing the window behind him above the level of the river and allowing
a fresh infusion of air into his corner. The only thing that mattered to him now was that the boy was trapped under water.
A hand grabbed his arm, and he twisted to
find Hutch at the window of the car, his expression worried. Starsky let go of the small boy and reached back, grabbing at
his partner’s shirt. Hutch pressed the handle of his pocketknife into the palm of his right hand.
Starsky forced his numb fingers around it,
and pulled in a quick breath before ducking under the water to reach across the child’s body. It took him only a moment
to find the length of the belt in the dim green water. He slipped the knife under
and began sawing with as much strength and speed as he could muster. He felt his lungs beginning to strain for air, but he
dared not give up. If he was nearly out of air, how must worse could the little boy be faring?
The seconds passed with excruciating slowness.
Hutch felt his anxiety mount. How long could Starsky hold his breath? Was he stuck? He was just reaching forward to haul him
out when Starsky suddenly heaved backwards, his shoulders slamming into the door of the car and his head emerging from the
river with a noisy gasp and splutter amidst a fountaining spray of water. He had the boy’s limp form clutched against
his chest. The knife was gone.
Hutch reached into the window again and pulled
the child’s small body from his partner’s arms. As his hands tightened around the small torso, the child gurgled
and water dribbled out of his mouth. It wasn’t the most reassuring sound in the world, but Hutch took it as a positive
sign that at least he was alive enough to be still trying to breathe.
As he staggered up onto the rocks, he was
met by a heavyset man in a sheriff’s uniform. The sheriff took the child from him, and immediately turned to pass him
up the rocks to a second person, in a paramedic’s uniform. Hutch was vaguely aware of the fact that they were speaking
to him, but he could not focus on their words.
He turned back towards the river and was
relieved to see his partner pull himself out of the car. Their eyes met, and Hutch felt a sudden stab of panic. Starsky’s
expression was utterly blank.
It had taken all of Starsky’s remaining
strength to pull himself out of the car. The lengthy immersion in the freezing water and the oxygen deprivation due to breathing
the stale air under the car had both taken their toll. Once back in the river, he found he had nothing left with which to
reach the shore. The force of the rushing white water pressed him up against the side of the car, keeping him upright, but
he could no longer feel his limbs. He was still shivering, but not as violently as before. He saw Hutch standing few feet
away on the rocks at the side of the river, but as far as Starsky was concerned, he might have been a million miles away.
He was vaguely intrigued to notice that the
thought didn’t worry him particularly. Hutch was safe. The child was safe. The woman seemed to be okay. Even the water
wasn’t so very cold anymore. Or maybe it was just that he’d finally gotten used to it.
He smiled at Hutch, and was puzzled by his
partner’s reaction. Hutch looked really scared. He was trying to get back into the water, but that sheriff was holding
him back. Starsky wondered what the problem was. Didn’t he know everything was
going to be all right now?
Hutch tried to wrench his arm free of the
sheriff’s firm grip. “That’s my partner!” His face is almost
as white as the foam on the river, and his lips have lost all their color. I think he’s in shock or hypothermia or something.
He can’t get back to shore on his own. What if he slips? His balance isn't as good as it used to be. These were all the things Hutch wanted to say, but he couldn’t collect himself enough to put
them into coherent order.
As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary.
The larger man swung him around to face him,
and Hutch found a tangle of rope and harness thrust firmly up against his chest. “Put it on!” roared the sheriff.
“I’m not losing both you cowboys!”
sounds like Dobey, though Hutch,
distracted. With numb, clumsy hands, he tried to pull the harness over his head, nearly unbalancing on the rock and falling
into the river again. The sheriff helped him, his firm, calm authority helping to settle Hutch’s nerves.
“Here’s another harness. When
you get to your friend, drop it over his head, and fasten it if you can. If you can’t, don’t worry. It’s
just extra security in case the river gets him.”
acts like Dobey too, but he’s as white as the captain is black. Starsky would find that a funny comparison, Hutch knew. He’d have to tell him about it
later. All he had to do was get him out of that river. Starsky was only a few meters away. Hutch tried not to consider the
consequences of failure.
Hutch splashed back into the river, the water
foaming up around his knees, causing him to stagger on the slick black rocks. Starsky watched; his emotions nearly as anesthetized
by the cold as his body. He felt only mild interest mixed with a sort of drunken happiness at seeing his partner. Hutch was
nearly within arms reach, when the car slipped again, one final time.
Hutch watched in horror as the station wagon
rolled off the rocks completely and flipped down the river. Without thinking, he flung himself forward, grabbing for Starsky
before his friend could follow the vehicle down over the rapids. His arms locked around Starsky’s waist, his head landing
on his chest, as they both plummeted downriver.
They stopped with a sudden jerk, the rope
tightening, the harness digging into the sensitive skin under Hutch’s arms. He clung fiercely to Starsky as the river
tried to rip his partner out of his arms. The water frothed up behind his head, briefly choking him, but then he found enough
purchase on one rock to haul them both partially up out of the river. He could hear people shouting from the bank of the river,
and he knew that the sheriff was coordinating their rescue. It was over, and they would be safe on shore in a moment.
Belatedly, he realized that Starsky was patting
him on the back. “S’okay,” he heard his friend say, his voice slurred but amiable. “Don’ worry.”
His face pressed into Starsky’s chest,
feeling his heart beating reassuringly steady through the soaked shirt and smelling the familiar scent of a soggy partner,
Hutch began to laugh.
Then he cried.
And all the while, Starsky continued to try
to soothe him.
was arguing with the paramedic. “No, no! No h-hospit’l.” He had begun shaking violently again as the rescue
workers hauled them both out of the water and forty minutes later, he had yet to stop, despite being wrapped in multiple thermal
Hutch finished fastening his holster back
under his arm, shrugged into his leather jacket, and slogged wearily back across the grass having decided he’d better
intervene. His boots squished unpleasantly with every step.
Starsky looked up as he approached, dark
eyes pleading, his hair already beginning to dry in the chill autumn wind, the curls popping up one at a time.
“H-home, Hush-sh.” He was trembling
so badly, he could barely speak.
The paramedic looked frustrated. “He’s
suffering from severe exposure and hypothermia. He needs to be hospitalized, until we stabilize his internal temperature.”
The other ambulance had already left with the woman and child.
Hutch nodded at him, and knelt down in front
of Starsky. “Did you hear what the man said? You need to go to the hospital, buddy. I’ll call Dawn and Becky and
explain why we can’t make it back tonight. They’ll understand.”
Starsky kept shaking his head. “No.
You don’ unnerstan’.”
“What don’t I understand?”
His expression was urgent, begging him to
Hutch’s rear abruptly hit the grass
as his legs gave out from under him. Of course. Why didn’t he think of it earlier? Reg. He was still out there and he
knew where they both lived. Becky and Dawn were in danger.
“Home,” said Starsky.
“Yeah, buddy. I hear you.” Hutch
looked up at the paramedic. “We’ve got to get back to Bay City as soon as possible. What can I do for him myself?”
The other man paused and rubbed the back
of his head, a concerned expression on his face. “Well, I can’t force him to seek proper medical attention, but
I really don’t think a three hour car ride is going to do him any good. He needs warm dry clothes…”
“He’s got his sweat suit in the
trunk of his car.” Hutch stood up, his fingers unconsciously weaving themselves into Starsky’s hair, as if seeking
comfort in the physical contact.
The medic dubiously eyed the damp blond standing
in front of him. He was clearly cold and wet, exhausted and uncomfortable. The brunet was obviously hypothermic. Common sense
would say that neither of them should be traveling anywhere tonight, but there was an adamant look in the cop’s eyes
that shook his resolve. “He should drink something warm and sweet…” he said, reluctantly.
“There’s a coffee shop down the
road.” Hutch looked at him hopefully.
The medic shook his head. “Don’t
give him coffee, if you can help it. Cider would be best, or hot chocolate if they don’t have that.” He shrugged,
capitulating to the inevitable. “And take the blankets. Try to keep him warm. If he becomes irrational or confused,
or if he seems sleepy and unresponsive, you have to get him to the nearest hospital immediately.”
Hutch gave him a brilliantly grateful smile,
and then turned to help his partner up off the grass.
“Home?” asked Starsky, hopefully,
his hands grabbing the front of Hutch’s jacket as he wobbled up onto his feet.
“Yeah, buddy. We’re going home.”
He paused. “But I’m driving.”
He felt Starsky’s reaction to this
statement through the arm he had braced across his back. Hutch was already grinning before his friend could co-ordinate the
words to reply. “G-guess Reg’s th’least’ve m’wor-r-ries, huh?”
“I’m not going to wreck your
“I’ll s-send Reg a note. Say
don’ bother c-comin’ back. M’partner took care of things f-for ya.” Starsky rolled his eyes, sarcastically.
“Says the man who once landed us both
in the hospital with his crummy driving…”
The medic watched bemused as the two men
staggered back towards the red and white striped car, arguing heatedly the entire way.