"I have to," Hutch fumbled for the phone, trying not to disengage completely. With a desperate lurch, extracting a
loud complaint from the blonde woman on the couch beneath him, he snagged the handset off of the coffee table. Hutch could
think of only one person who would be calling him this late his day off.
"Starsky,” he snapped. “This had better be life or death."
"Hutchinson, I need you down at the precinct. Now."
His date wrapped one leg around his hip, and began nibbling on his neck. Hutch knew he was the luckiest man in the
world tonight, and he’d be damned if he was going anywhere.
“Captain,” said Hutch, trying not to breathe too heavily into the phone. “Starsky and I’ve
been working our asses off the last few weeks. We’ve earned some time off.”The woman laughed, her green eyes alight with mirth, and he clapped his free hand over her mouth. Undeterred, she began
to suck on his index finger.
“Can’t you get some other guys to deal with it?” This beautiful lady deserved his full attention,
Hutch thought, as he retrieved his finger and cupped her face in prelude to a kiss.
Dobey’s next words stopped him cold.
“Starsky’s the reason I need to see you.”
Hutch rolled off of his date, ignoring her protests. "What happened to Starsky?" Trying not to panic, he reached for
his clothes, balancing the phone between his shoulder and his ear.
"He's not hurt! I’ll fill you in when you get here."
Giving up on the search for his underwear, Hutch hopped on one leg while jamming the other into his jeans. "If he's
not hurt, then why isn't he the one calling me? What’s going on?" He dropped the phone while pulling on his shirt, and
scrambled to retrieve it, knocking over the green vase. It rolled off the coffee table and onto the orange shag rug, unbroken.
" . . . argue with me! Just get down here, now!"
"Cap, you can’t--" But Dobey had already hung up. With a curse, Hutch replaced the handset, and began to fasten
his shirt. His fingers kept fumbling the task, so he left the top four buttons undone.
"In case you haven't noticed, we're not done here yet."
"What?" Hutch turned and blinked at the indignant woman sitting on his couch, her arms crossed over her chest.What was her name again? Carol . . . Carol, something. One of the nurses
from Memorial. "I have to go, Carol. It's an emergency."
"But we're not done!"
"Look, we’ll just have to finish this another time." One sock in hand, Hutch searched for its partner. He could
see his shoes, but the other sock was nowhere in sight.
"There won't be another time if you don't get back here right now!"
Hutch found his missing item under her abandoned skirt. Crap, he thought,
glancing at Carol's flushed, angry face.
"Hang on a sec." He grabbed the phone again and dialed from memory. He saw some of Carol’s fury replaced by confusion
as she listened to the brief instructions he gave to the person on the other end of the line. Hanging up, he told her, “I’ve
called you a cab, you’d better get dressed.”
That at least got her moving, grabbing her clothes and muttering some distinctly ominous threats. During his brush
with the plague a few months earlier, Hutch had learned that the impressively brutal language of homicide detectives had nothing
on that of nurses. Under different circumstances, he would’ve been impressed.
As he waited impatiently for Carol, Hutch ran down the mental checklist of what he needed. Slapping his pockets, he
confirmed that his wallet and badge were still in his jeans. His gun was in its holster hanging over the closet door in his
bedroom. Retrieving it, he automatically verified that his Magnum was loaded and the safety was on, before buckling the harness
over the left shoulder.
Leaving his bedroom, Hutch threw on his tan jacket, and checked for his car keys in the pocket. He noticed that the
candles on the table in front of the couch were still burning, and the record on the player was beginning to skip. He dealt
with them while Carol finished dressing.
She grabbed her coat before he could offer to help her with it. He held the front door open and she swept down the
stairs ahead of him without a word. Once on the street he jogged past her to get to his car, and then stopped himself. Damn. He chided himself for his thoughtlessness, and turned back. Pulling out his
wallet, he shoved a ten at the irate woman. "For the cab. I'll call you.”
As Hutch pulled the LTD away from the curb, Carol was still screaming highly detailed and imaginatively painful things
she could do to his internal organs. He winced as he saw his neighbors' lights coming on. He slapped the Mars light onto the
roof of his car, and kept his foot down all the way to the station.
Hutch took the stairs three at a time, ignoring the people he barreled past in the hallway. A glance around the squad
room revealed no sign of his partner, so he headed for Dobey’s office, shoving the door open without breaking stride.
At first, Hutch thought he'd located his partner, but the dark-haired man seated across from Dobey was a stranger wearing
a sports jacket and tie Starsky wouldn’t be caught dead in.
Captain Dobey looked up from behind his desk, scowling in a way that Hutch recognized as concern, rather than anger.
The young man glanced up from the file he was reading, startled by Hutch’s sudden entrance.
“Where’s Starsky?” Hutch demanded.
Dobey growled, “Hutchinson, didn’t your mother ever teach you to knock?”
“You didn’t call me in the middle of the night to lecture me on my manners. Where’s Starsky?”
His partner was nowhere to be seen, and it was scaring the hell out of him. Starsky wasn’t injured, or Dobey would have
had him meet him at the hospital. He couldn’t be dead. Dobey wouldn’t tell
me like this.
“Sit down, Hutchinson.”
Hutch started to protest.
Unaware of any conscious decision to obey, Hutch dropped into the chair next to the silent stranger, his attention
focused entirely on Dobey.
Dobey heaved a huge sigh, and shuffled a few papers on his desk. Digging his handkerchief out of his jacket, he mopped
his face, and then shoved the handkerchief back into his pocket. “At about seven thirty this evening Detective Starsky
. . .We received a request for an ambulance at his address.”
Hutch tensed. Oh God, he is going to tell me he’s dead . . . .
“When the crew got there they found a white male, approximately sixty-five years old, unconscious. He’d
been badly beaten.”
Hutch had stopped breathing at the white male description. He’s dead.
That’s why Dobey . . .Wait. Did he say approximately sixty-five years
Dobey’s eyes were compassionate. “Your partner told the officers on the scene that he was responsible for
the, ah . . . condition of the victim. He requested that they, um, take him into custody.”
Again, all Hutch could come up with was, “What?”
A smug voice came from behind him, “I believe Detective Starsky’s exact words were, ‘Lock me up and
throw away the key, because I don’t give a damn.’”
Hutch turned in his chair, and saw that Simonetti had entered the office. His partner Dryden was blocking the doorway.
For the first time since Dobey’s call, Hutch felt that he was back on solid ground. Persecution by Internal Affairs
was something he understood all too well. “Didn’t know IA worked around the clock. You getting overtime?”
Simonetti smiled, his lips stretched thin over his teeth. “I’d do this one for free.”
Hutch turned back to Dobey. Starsky had been taken into custody? That couldn’t
be right. I must have misunderstood. “Where’s Starsky?”
Dryden closed the office door. “When was the last time you saw your partner, Detective Hutchinson?”
Hutch sent a silent protest Dobey’s way, but his captain shook his head regretfully. Using the chair’s
arms to push himself to his feet, Hutch turned to face Simonetti and Dryden. “We spent most of today together. We played
some pick up in the park, stopped by The Pits for a late lunch and then just hung out at my place for a few hours. Starsky
left around seven.” He ran a hand through his hair, wracking his brain. His partner
had seemed perfectly happy. Had he missed something important?
“Why so early?”
Hutch glared at Simonetti, wondering how this man managed to make even the most benign question sound malignantly insinuating.
“My date showed up. Starsky cleared out to give us some time alone.”
“Thoughtful of him,” commented Dryden. Hutch shot him a look, but his expression seemed sincere. Hutch
didn’t trust it. Dryden always played the good cop with sycophantic sliminess, while Simonetti . . .
“I’m impressed, Hutchinson. Your ex-wife’s been dead for what? Not much more than a week. But then
you weren’t real broken up over her anyway.”
“Hutchinson, stand down!” Dobey’s roar froze Hutch in mid-step, his fists clenched.
“Son, you won’t do Starsky any good on suspension for assaulting a fellow officer.” His voice when addressing
Hutch had been a gentle rumble, but when he scowled at the two IA officers his tone was as unyielding as granite. “Unless
you have further questions for my man, I suggest you leave.”
“We’ll need your date’s name and contact information.” Dryden sounded apologetic.
Simonetti did not. “Just to establish that you were where you say you were.”
“Can it!” snapped Dobey. “I can verify myself that Hutchinson
was at home when I called him. And you know perfectly well that Starsky was the only one at the scene.”
Hutch took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten. “Her name is Carol Thompson. She’s a nurse at Memorial.
I don’t have her number on me at the moment, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding her.” Stepping forward,
he got right into Simonetti’s face. “I’ve answered your questions. Now, where the hell is my partner?”
Simonetti hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and coolly met Hutch’s gaze. Then with a shark-like
grin, he glanced over his shoulder at Dryden and asked, “Presently?”
“I believe he’s cooling his heels down in Interrogation,” was Dryden’s bland reply.
Simonetti nodded his head with satisfaction. “You see, Detective Hutchinson, your partner is being held as a
material witness, pending charges.”
“What charges?” Hutch barked, outraged. “Starsky wouldn’t--. What did he say?”
“I already told you,” said Simonetti, smug satisfaction oozing from every pore.
Dryden consulted his notes. “Your partner refused to explain his actions or his motivations to the arresting
“He just gets stubborn sometimes,” Hutch said, inwardly cursing Starsky’s obstinate streak. “That
doesn’t mean you have to . . . What are you charging him with?”
“It all depends on whether his victim lives or dies, doesn’t it?” Simonetti licked his lips as if
the mere thought of charging Starsky with Murder One tasted sweet.
“Enough!” Dobey slammed his palms onto his desk. “We’re done here!”
Simonetti and Dryden exchanged a glance, before shrugging in unison. As they exited, Simonetti promised Hutch, “We’ll
It took Hutch a moment to gather his thoughts, and then he lunged for the door. “I have to see Starsky.”
“Freeze!” Dobey ordered.
Hutch halted, but didn’t release the doorknob. “What?”
“Until we get this mess cleared up, I’m assigning you a new . . . a temporary partner.”
Hutch felt the betrayal hit him like a blow to the gut. “No.” He was disgusted that his refusal sounded
more like a plea.
“You can’t work this one alone. With Simonetti out for blood, you’ve got to play it straight.”
“You mean I’ve got to have a babysitter!”
“If I followed procedure,” Dobey snapped, “you wouldn’t even be on this case!”
“Then why the hell am I?”
“Because you’re the only one who can talk sense into that mule-headed partner of yours!” Dobey took
a deep breath and deliberately softened his tone. “You know and I know that there has to be some explanation for what
Starsky did. But until he tells us what it is, we can’t help him.”
Hutch dropped his head and pressed the heels of his palms into his temples, trying to will all of this insanity away.
But he had to face facts; Starsky was in custody waiting to be charged with either assault or murder. If accepting a new partner was what it took to help his best friend, then he would simply have to do it.
“All right, who’re you sticking me with?” Wearily, he lifted his head, hoping it wasn’t anyone
they knew well. Talking to Starsky was going to be hard enough without one of their friends making it worse by trying to help.
Dobey cleared his throat and nodded significantly at the third person in the room. “Hutchinson,
this is Detective Andy Puckett.”
Hutch had completely forgotten about the man seated across from Dobey; who had kept silent throughout the confrontation
with Simonetti and Dryden. He eyed the neatly-dressed young man, whose pants were pressed to a sharp edge, and concluded that
he was probably a newly-minted detective. The kid was looking more than a little wall-eyed from the show he’d just witnessed.
“Puckett’s just transferred over from the 14th Precinct,” Dobey explained.
Hutch nodded, telling himself that it wasn’t fair to take his frustration out on this guy; he hadn’t chosen
the situation any more than Hutch had, and as babysitters went, at least Dobey had chosen an unobtrusive one.
“Fine.” Hutch pulled the door open and looked back at his temporary partner, who was still glued to his
seat. “C’mon . . . ?” He frowned. Somehow he’d missed his name.
Hutch ignored the kid scrambling after him, focused on getting to his real partner. Striding down the hall, he debated
what approach would work best. The problem was that all of his interrogation techniques had been honed with Starsky, not against him.
On the last turn before Interrogation, Hutch realized there was one thing he needed to take care of first. He came
to an abrupt halt, and turned back. The kid skidded to a stop, almost colliding with Hutch’s chest. Stumbling back a
step, he stared at the senior detective, wide-eyed.
“Let’s just get one thing straight, here, Tuckett,” Hutch told him. “This is my show. You’re
here, and that’s fine, but keep your mouth shut and stay out of my way. Got it?” Without waiting for an answer,
Hutch unlocked the door to Interrogation.
A stranger wearing his best friend's face regarded him as he entered the room.
Starsky was sitting behind the battered table, with his chair pushed up against the wall. His arms were crossed and
his right ankle rested on his left knee. Barriers, Hutch noted. Oddly, he wasn’t
abusing his chair in a typical Starsky manner, but sitting in it properly, facing forward.
Disappointed by the lack of welcome, Hutch nonetheless tried reaching out to his friend. He smiled, and offered up
a Laurel and Hardy quote as a peace offering. "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten us into." Work with me, buddy.
Starsky's voice was flat. "Hope ya got your rocks off tonight, Hutch, ‘cause I sure as hell didn't set out to
ruin your date."
Hutch felt the forced smile slip off his face. Fine, tough guy, we'll play it
your way. Striding to the table, he positioned himself opposite his sullen partner, and glared down at him. Starsky was
still wearing the worn jeans and striped knit shirt from earlier, but the white bandage around the knuckles of his left hand
"Starsky, what the hell is going on?"
But Starsky's eyes had already moved past him, and settled on the young detective who'd followed Hutch into the room.
"Well, that didn't take long."
Hutch bristled at the implied accusation. "Dobey's just playing it by the rules."
Starsky ignored him. "Where'd the hell you steal him from? Nursery school? What's your name, kid?"
The neatly dressed young man ran his hand nervously through his short, dark hair. “Andy--"
"His name's Tuckett, okay Starsk? Just leave him alone."
"Actually, it's Pu--"
"Tuckett and Hutch, doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?" He considered for a moment. "Hutch and Tuck, maybe?
Sounds like a real comedy act."
Hutch refused to be sidetracked any longer. "Starsky, just tell me what's going on."
Turning his head from evaluating the new kid, Starsky returned his attention to Hutch. "This is an interrogation room.
It's a place where police officers, such as you and Tucky here, conduct interrogations."
"Cute, Starsk, real cute." Hutch paused to rein in his aggravation. "This is serious, IA's already involved and they're
talking about bringing you up on charges."
"Yeah, I'll bet Simonetti's gonna be giggling into his cornflakes this morning."
Hutch's grip on his temper slipped. "Enough with the attitude, Starsky! They told me you beat this guy unconscious,
and if he doesn't come out of the coma--."
Starsky interrupted him. "You mean, the best case scenario." The corner
of his mouth curled up into something that was definitely not a smile.
Hutch braced his palms onto the table and met his partner's stony stare. Just a few hours ago, he'd been his usual
relaxed and happy self, cracking jokes and offering sly innuendo regarding Hutch's upcoming date. Something had happened to
him between then and now, setting this man against the world. It hurt like hell that Starsky was numbering him among the enemy.
With a Herculean effort, Hutch lowered his voice and tried to pull the man back into their partnership. "I don't get
it, Starsky. This isn't like you." Not with me.
Starsky just watched him, silent and absolutely still.It was a state
so alien to his normally hyperactive partner that Hutch felt the hairs on his arms stand on end. What the hell happened to you?
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"Nope." Starsky appeared to relish that single syllable.
Hutch straightened up and retreated from the table, his hands on his hips.
"Damn it, Starsky, talk to me!"
Starsky regarded him for a long moment before turning his attention back to their babysitter, who was standing as far
away from them as possible. "Now this is the part where you go and get yourself a cup of coffee, but not from the machine
down the hall. You gotta go all the way down to the cafeteria in the basement. That way you're gone a good five, six minutes
which will give Hutch here enough time to bring out the rubber hose."
Hutch spared a glance behind him. The kid looked appalled. Turning back to Starsky, Hutch snapped, "Knock it off!"
Starsky took a deep breath, and a brief emotion crossed his face, but it was locked away too quickly to decipher. He
unfolded his legs and leaned forward, his arms remaining tightly folded across his chest. "Listen to me, Hutch." His voice
started off subdued, almost normal sounding. "There’s nothin' to tell. I done the deed, and I've already confessed.
I've made my choice, and it's got nothin' to do with you. So just get the hell away from me!"
This flare of genuine anger was a relief to Hutch; it was the first sign that his partner had grown tired of playing
games. "Starsky, let me help you."
But Starsky leaned back in his chair, and wouldn't meet his gaze, his wall back in place. "Go home, Hutch."
Hutch began to pace, his agitation mounting again. "What about your career? What about --?" He swallowed down hard.
What about us? He tried again, "The man I know, the cop I know, doesn't go beating people up without a damn good reason. And he sure as hell doesn't give up without
Starsky's expression darkened. "You don't know a goddamn thing."
"Then tell me!" Hutch had come to the end of his rope and was reduced to pleading with his partner. "Explain to me
what's going on."
"Beating up little old men is a crime, Hutch, not much to explain." His partner had disappeared again behind the cold
Hutch slammed his hands down on the table with enough force that his palms stung. "Are you on drugs?" He demanded.
Starsky leaned forward again until they were eye to eye, and spoke so quietly that Hutch knew the words were meant
for him alone.
"No, Hutch. That's your deal."
The calculated cruelty of Starsky’s reply stunned Hutch. For a moment he couldn’t breathe; then intense
fury swept over him. He knew if he didn’t leave immediately, he’d punch his best friend in his big mouth.
Slamming the door, Hutch came to a halt just outside the interrogation room, and leaned against the wall, shaking.
Through the closed door he could hear Starsky hollering.
"Hey, you can't leave this poor kid to interrogate me on his own! He ain't gonna know one end of the rubber hose from
another. What kinda partner are you?"