A dying man needs to die, as a sleeping man needs
to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong,
as well as useless, to resist. ~ Stewart Alsop
Starsky saw Hutch take the first bullet, and the sight startled him so badly he completely failed to notice the
second bullet when it hit his own arm. Or the third bullet – the one that buried itself in his side.
Instead, an indefinable time later, he opened his eyes and found himself looking up at a sky with entirely too many stars.
Night had fallen, but not in the usual manner. It had come down on him like a rockslide, slamming hard on the top of his
head and knocking him off his feet.
Starsky blinked and the stars spun sickeningly. He closed his eyes, trying to swallow past a dry throat. He could hear his
heart pounding in his ears, and beyond that, crickets. The distant sound of traffic.
Hutch had gone down like a rag doll, blond head hitting the ground with a hollow sounding thump. And if he wasn’t here,
then he was still there. A few yards away, on the side of the road.
Starsky got up and walked over to look at Hutch. His partner’s eyes were open, staring blankly, flies already settling
on the remains of a bullet-shattered skull –
Starsky shuddered awake, gasping. Fucking nightmare. He stood up, and started walking, but this time he didn’t go
looking for Hutch. The car was parked at the bottom of the hill. He could get help. Take the car and drive –
He could feel his hands gripping the wheel, but the car was floating along the road with unnatural smoothness and the motor
was silent. With a jolt, Starsky realized that he was dreaming.
He rolled over and, with great effort, pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He wobbled to his feet, and looked down
at himself, still on the ground.
It was beginning to piss him off.
The stars wheeled around him as Starsky struggled to open his eyes, for real this time. It had to be for real because
his head was buzzing. His limbs were too heavy to lift. He clenched his fists, and dimly felt the sensation of his nails
digging into his palms.
Then, without warning, his stomach convulsed and hot bile flooded his throat. He heard gravel crunch as he rolled over onto
his side. Convulsing, he gagged, coughing and choking. His arms collapsed under him and he landed on his side, his cheek
in a warm, sticky puddle. Its rank smell made his eyes water.
Sniffling, Starsky pushed himself back from the mess he’d made. He was on the side of a gravel road, not far from the
highway. His car was at the bottom of the hill.
Hutch had taken a bullet.
Starsky pulled his knees up under his chest, trying to force himself upright. He couldn’t feel his right arm. From
his shoulder to his fingers might just as well have been a lump of dead flesh. And there was something wrong with his head.
He couldn’t think.
There was a body a few feet away, and Starsky’s heart skipped a beat. He saw a nightmare vision of Hutch, his head
cracked open and his eyes blankly accusing. But the shadowed form was too bulky-looking. It was Melvin. Good old Melvin,
that low-down, double-dealing skunk.
Starsky sat down hard, as the memories ambushed him. They’d been looking out into the valley, in the direction Melvin
had pointed. There was supposed to be a body somewhere, or at least that’s what Melvin had said. Then Hutch had gone
down, and his head had made that sound when it hit the road. When Starsky had turned to see who was shooting at them, he’d
seen the gun in Melvin’s hand.
There was no sound in this memory. The setting sun was as red as blood, but everything else was painted in shades of gray.
Starsky raised his arm and pulled the trigger, and just like that the night had come crashing down on both their heads. It
looked like Melvin had taken the worst of the impact. He wouldn’t be getting up again.
Something metallic caught Starsky’s eye. His gun... Starsky dug his heels into the road and scooted closer. Gravel
piled up against his hip, and he heard his jeans tear. But he was within arm’s reach of the weapon now. Picking it
up, he thumbed the safety on and jammed it into the front of his jeans.
Melvin... They’d thought he was innocent. Harmless. Felt sorry for him when he’d wept over his missing wife.
All the clues were there, though. No one had seen him the night before. Ample opportunity to kill his wife and dump her
body in the hills. Given time, Hutch would have figured it out.
Starsky pushed himself one-handed up onto his knees. He didn’t look at where he’d seen Hutch go down. Instead,
he staggered to his feet and took a step toward the highway. He didn’t want to know if Hutch was dead. As long as
he didn’t look, he could believe Hutch was okay.
Because Hutch really was okay. Hurt, yes, but not dead. He’d survived worse. One bad night on a back road wasn’t
going to kill him.
A truck drove up, and stopped. Starsky climbed in, and was halfway back to Bay City when he realized he’d completely
forgotten Hutch. He was trying to explain to the driver – who looked a lot like his father – that they needed
to turn around and go back, when it hit him. He was dreaming. Again.
This time, when Starsky opened his eyes he found himself halfway down the hill. He didn’t know how he’d managed
it, but he was heartened to know he was at least making progress.
He didn’t try to stand this time; he crawled. It hurt. His gun was digging into his stomach. He still couldn’t
feel his right arm, but the throbbing in his side felt like someone was repeatedly jabbing him with a red hot poker. His
eyes were tearing as he reached up for the handle of the car door. And he sobbed as he pulled himself into the front seat.
Starsky thought about stopping then, just to rest for a moment, but he knew if he did the dreams would come back. His father
driving his grandfather’s old blue pick-up truck, and Hutch lying forgotten in a ditch, flies crawling through his shattered
skull. Starsky reached for the handset and thumbed the transmit button. “Of’er down,” he mumbled. “Ol’
Range Road.” There was a voice somewhere. Asking questions, demanding answers. Starsky didn’t listen. “Range
Road,” he said again.
They told him he was a hero. Took his picture and put it in the paper. Starsky said nothing. Dobey rumbled about applying
for a citation, and Starsky shrugged. Another medal. It would go into the box at the bottom of his underwear drawer with
all the rest.
It wasn’t until nearly a month later that he told Hutch, “I was scared.”
“Of course you were scared,” said Hutch. He was sitting on the edge of Starsky’s bed. “You had a
concussion and two bullet wounds.”
Starsky eased himself up onto the pillows, and adjusted his sling. “I should have looked for you. You know? Found
out if you were alive or dead.”
“You barely made it yourself.”
“I could have...”
“What? Dragged me to the car?” Hutch was grinning.
Starsky capitulated. “Okay, more likely I would have passed out beside you and we both would have died.”
“There, see? You’re a hero.”
“But you died,” said Starsky, suddenly knowing it was true. “You died.”
Hutch patted his ankle. “And you lived.”
Starsky didn’t open his eyes until the feeling of Hutch’s hand on his leg had faded completely away.