Return to Never Saying Sorry, CHAPTER ONE



Sunday, February 26, 1978



2:54 a.m.


“Yes, it’s me again. Yes, I know I’ve been calling a lot, but . . . I realize you’re busy . . . No, I do appreciate that nursing is a demanding profession, but could you at least tell me...? No change in his condition? Okay.” 


Hutch dropped the phone back into its cradle, realizing to late that he’d forgotten to thank the nurse at the desk of the trauma unit for her grudging assistance. He leaned back in his chair, trying to stretch some of the kinks out of his back, and surveyed the empty squad room. His shadow, what’s-his-face, had long since gone home and the night shift was out on the streets.


Hutch rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, stifling a yawn. He nearly jumped out of his skin as Dobey's voice filled the room. 


Hutchinson! What the hell are you still doing here?”


“What the h . . . ? I mean, I was... going through the arrest report.” He resisted the temptation to throw the same question back at his glowering superior. Hutch grabbed for a half-buried form in the scattered pile of papers, and accidentally spilled most of them off his desk. He dove after the fluttering sheets, and smacked his head on the leg of the desk


“Shit!” Hutch fell back into his chair, clutching his forehead.


Dobey wearily settled his bulk onto the corner of Hutch’s desk. The man’s unusual silence caused Hutch to stop checking for blood, and squint up at him. Dobey scratched his cheek, his broad fingers digging into the rough stubble. “Did he, um . . . Did Starsky seem, ah, in any way . . . ?”


“He’s not crazy, if that’s what you mean.” Over the past few hours Hutch’s anger had faded sufficiently for him to begin logically analyzing Starsky’s behavior in the interrogation room. “I don’t know what’s gotten into that pinhead of his, but he’s acting this way deliberately. He was trying to get rid of me.”


Hutch paused thoughtfully. “Whatever he’s got himself into, he doesn’t want me involved. It was almost like . . .” He stopped. “It was like he’s in deep cover.” Hutch narrowed his eyes at Dobey. “But you’d know about it if he was. Even if nobody could tell me, you’d know, right?” 


Dobey’s answer crushed even that faint hope. “I’d know, and he isn’t.”


“I didn’t think so.” Hutch reached for a pencil, rotating it between his fingers. He felt the old craving reassert itself, and imagined he held a cigarette. Starsky would be livid if he started smoking again.


Assuming he still gives a damn what I do.


“Why don’t you tell me what you’ve got so far,” Dobey suggested.


Hutch’s training kicked in, allowing him to present the case in an impersonal manner. “The victim’s driver’s license identified him as Gene Williamson, age 61, currently residing in Brooklyn. A return airline ticket was found in his jacket, indicating that he flew into Bay City this afternoon . . . I mean, yesterday afternoon now. The return flight to New York is in a week.”


He took a deep breath before reporting the most troubling detail. “Williamson also had a Policemen’s Association card in his wallet. I called the main information desk of the NYPD, but the girl answering the phone wasn’t able to tell me anything. She gave me the extension of a Lieutenant Billings, and told me to call him in the morning.” Hutch had already calculated that with the three-hour time difference between Bay City and New York, if he called after five thirty a.m. he should catch the lieutenant at his desk.


Brooklyn,” Dobey repeated. “Do you think there’s an established relationship between Starsky and this Williamson?”


“Maybe,” Hutch conceded, “but Starsky moved here when he was eleven. He plays up that accent, and talks about New York like it’s his home town, but he’s spent most of his life right here in Bay City.”


“Some connection with his family then,” Dobey said, his eyes tracking the revolving pencil between Hutch’s fingers. “Starsky’s father was NYPD . . .  Maybe he knew this Williamson.”


“Hopefully I’ll find out when I call later this morning. But it still wouldn’t explain how Starsky’s behaving.” Hutch shook his head. “He told the officers on scene that he’d tried to kill Williamson, but according to the arrest report, Starsky was the one who called for the ambulance. Now why would he do that if he wanted the guy dead?”


Dobey grunted, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Hutch. “This is going nowhere,” he said. “Go home and get some sleep.”


“But Sir, I can . . .” Hutch’s protest died of its own accord. He knew perfectly well that all he was doing right now was spinning his wheels. Over the last hour, he’d been reduced to reading the same words again and again as if he could tease meaning out of the blank spaces between the lines. More than once he’d been sorely tempted to dig up a rubber hose and question his partner again. With a sigh, Hutch pushed his chair back and rose to his feet.


Dobey stood and clasped his shoulder. “Wait a minute, son.” The captain had to rummage through his pockets for a minute before he found what he was looking for. Somewhat embarrassed, he handed it to Hutch.


Hutch stared at the object in his hand. “Starsky’s watch,” he said, puzzled. Turning it over, he noted that the hinged metal strap had snapped off on one side.


“Found it. Figured you could hang onto it for him,” Dobey explained.


Hutch examined the watch and noticed that the pin keeping the strap in place was bent. “I think I can fix this,” he said, trying not to think about how the watch had been damaged, probably ripped from Starsky’s wrist in the struggle with Williamson. It occurred to Hutch that the watch should have been entered as evidence. He gave Dobey a curious glance.


His captain’s expression was unreadable. “Get out of here. I’ll see you in the morning.”


Hutch nodded, but as he left the squad room, watch in hand, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was abandoning Starsky. The man had made it more than clear that he didn’t want help, and his behavior had been enough to test the bond of any friendship. Still, guilt dogged Hutch all the way to the parking lot.


Hutch climbed into his LTD, and rested his arms for a moment against the steering wheel. He still found it difficult to believe that his partner didn’t trust him with whatever he was carrying. When their positions had been reversed, when Hutch had been facing charges for the murder of his ex-wife, Starsky had stood by him with unwavering loyalty.


His biggest regret from that time, Hutch mused as he started the car, was that for a few minutes he’d actually believed that Starsky was prepared to arrest him. It had only been a moment of doubt, and he’d kicked himself afterwards, because it hadn’t been based on anything rational. Starsky would have turned the city upside down to keep his partner from going to prison. Yet, for some reason, he wasn’t willing to allow Hutch to do the same for him.


If you think I’m going to give up on “me and thee” that easily, partner, you’re an even bigger dummy than I thought you were.




3:41 a.m.


A white slip of paper was waiting for him when he got home, folded into the doorjamb just above the lock. He pulled it out and discovered that it was half of an envelope. A message had been emphatically scratched onto the back with a fading ball point pen, tearing through the paper.



Don't ever call me again.



Shoulders slumped, he opened the door to his apartment, where the cold remains of his evening awaited him.


Shit, did I really kick her out of my apartment, in the middle of sex, and then shove a ten at her? Smooth, Hutchinson. He thought he’d really been falling for her too, for she’d not only been beautiful, but smart and funny too.


A small cynical voice in the back of his mind suggested that he’d only been looking for consolation in the aftermath of Vanessa’s death. But even if that were true, he argued, it didn’t mean that the relationship couldn’t have become something special, given half a chance.


With a heavy sigh, he sat down on the couch. Knowing he shouldn’t, but unable to stop himself, he retrieved the phone from the coffee table. Balancing it on his knee, Hutch dialed, and prepared himself for the explosion.


"Hi, I'm looking for information on a Gene Williamson. He was brought in--." He winced as a strident voice cut him off. "Right. No change." This time he didn't feel quite so guilty for forgetting the social niceties when he hung up, cutting off the tirade at the other end.


He fished Starsky’s watch out of his pocket. It was new; the last one had been destroyed during a fire fight on a farm last month. Afterward, when Starsky was recovering from the bullet wound in his calf, Hutch had teased him for acting as if the watch had nobly sacrificed itself in the line of duty.


Nonetheless, Starsky had bounced back from his loss with good humor, throwing himself into the search for a replacement with characteristic enthusiasm. Staring at the watch in his hand, Hutch could once again hear his partner bragging about his new purchase. “This, my friend, is not just your average, ordinary watch. This is a racing chronometer. It’s got separate dials for minutes, and seconds, an auxiliary thirty minute dial at the top and tachymeter markings around the face  . . .”


When Hutch had irritably accused him of memorizing the owner’s manual, Starsky had just smiled at him, neither confirming nor denying the charge.


Hutch now squinted at where the band had come loose from the watch. He tried to unbend the pin, but the spring holding it in place had jammed somehow. He knew he should be able to fix it, but he was too tired to try.


Hutch got up and turned on the TV instead. He found himself part way through an old movie; something to do with a platoon of soldiers pinned down in a desert bunker during World War II. Incapable of sleep, and unable to think of anything better to do, he settled back down on the couch to watch.


An hour had passed before he realized that the movie had ended and he’d been staring at a test pattern for an unknown length of time.  The only thing he'd absorbed from watching the film was that Starsky probably would have liked it. He also discovered that he’d chewed the knuckle of his right thumb until it was raw.


Too hell with what Starsky wants.


He got up and pulled on his jacket, pausing to call the hospital one more time before he left.


The streets were nearly empty—it was long past the hour when the bars closed and still too early for the garbage trucks and city workers to appear. He parked his car in front of the twenty-four hour pharmacy, and ignored the halfhearted offer from the bored streetwalker outside as he pushed the door open.


The woman behind the counter was old enough to be his mother, but there the resemblance ended. The flower pattern on her shapeless, polyester dress was painfully bright under the fluorescent lights, and her lipstick was fire engine red, staining the lit cigarette dangling from her mouth. He hated that he could hear his mother’s voice in his head, condemning her as common.


The scent of burning tobacco had Hutch teetering on the edge of craving and nausea. He hesitated, eyeing the rows of cartons behind the counter, his hands jammed into his jacket’s pockets.


“Well, hon, whaddya want?”


He blinked at her. Winstons had been his preference, up to two packs a day at his worst. “Um . . .”


A memory ambushed him, of waiting just last week for Vanessa to meet him in The Pits . He’d been torn between hoping she would show up, and praying that she wouldn't. Huggy had walked by with a pack of smokes sticking out of his shirt pocket, and he’d tried to snag one. Hutch could still hear Huggy’s voice rebuking him as he slapped his hand away: “You don’t smoke.” 


Only because Starsky had insisted that he quit once they’d started undercover work together. He wasn’t going to put up with his beloved car smelling like a tar pit, and he certainly had no intention of driving around in Hutch’s heap all the time. During the worst of the cravings, Starsky had shown amazing tolerance of his meanness, and had fed him coffee until Hutch was nearly jumping out of his skin. Throughout it all, his partner had kept smiling, getting him off of tobacco with the same gentle persistence he’d show years later when he’d got Hutch off of heroin.


“Are you on drugs?”


“No, Hutch. That’s your deal.”


He wanted to kick something, but instead grabbed a pack of gum at random from the nearby rack, and dropped it on the counter.


“Tryin’ to quit, hon?” The woman asked, sympathy in her gravely voice.


Hutch rubbed his mouth, disgusted with himself. “Trying to start.”




10:07 a.m.


Hutch had only one phone call left to make, and had run out legitimate excuses for putting it off. Still, he got up first, stretched, checked the time on Starsky’s watch, and refreshed his coffee. He noticed that everyone in the crowded squad room was going out of their way to avoid him. Everyone, that was, but his temporary partner, who’d obviously been given orders to stick close. Hutch got him out from under foot by dumping a huge stack of files on him.




The other officers were amused at the sight of the kid scrambling to collect them all, but Dobey’s expression was thunderous.


“I’ll deal with you when I get back,” he growled as he left the squad room.


Unable to procrastinate any longer, Hutch returned to his desk, looked up the number, and dialed. He held onto the handset tightly, ashamed of his hope that no one would be home.




Hutch instantly recognized her voice. “Mrs. Starsky, it’s Ken Hutchinson, Stars -- I mean, David’s partner.” Hearing her sharp intake of breath, he hastily reassured her. “He’s fine. Don’t worry, I’m just calling to --,” but she cut him off.


“If David’s fine, then why isn’t he calling me?” Her anxious question reminded Hutch of his own suspicions when Dobey had tried the same line on him last night.


“He’s taking care of some other business, Mrs. Starsky, so I thought I’d make the call for him.” Hutch forged ahead before she could interrupt him again. “I’m just looking for some information on a retired Police Lieutenant by the name of Gene Williamson, and one of his friends recommended I talk to you.” He cringed inwardly at the enormity of the lie he was telling. It was one thing to mislead a perp, but doing it to Starsky’s mother felt criminal.


With some guilt, he recalled how much he always enjoyed watching Starsky trying to get a word in edgewise during his weekly phone calls with his mother. He thought of the first time he’d spoken to her himself, in the hospital that very first time Starsky had got himself shot in the line of duty, when his partner had shoved the phone at him. “Tell her I’m fine, will ya! She won’t believe me.” And he thought of the small, kind lady who’d welcomed him like a member of her family during his visit to New York with Starsky just this past Christmas.


Hutch suddenly noticed that throughout his extended self-flagellation, the line had been silent. Worried that they’d been cut off, an all too common occurrence with long distance connections using the police switchboard, he asked, “Mrs. Starsky?”


“Put David on the line.”


Hutch was taken aback by this soft demand, but quickly recovered. “Ah, he’s not here right now.”


“You mean he doesn’t know you’re calling me.”


Shit. Hutch slid further down into his chair as he admitted, “No, he doesn’t.”


“What’s happened, Kenneth?”


He winced at the name; it always made him feel eight years old. “Starsky got into... a disagreement with Williamson, and I’m just trying to get all of the facts straight. Now, Lieutenant George Billings told me --.”


“Has David been arrested? Is that why he can’t talk to me?”


Shit, shit, shit!


“Kenneth, I know my boy, he’s always preferred using his fists over words. Just tell me.”


And I always thought Starsk inherited his talent at interrogations from his father. “No charges have been laid as of yet, ma’am, but he’s being held in custody as a material witness,” he hesitated, and then conceded, “ . . . to the assault on Mr. Williamson.” There, Hutch thought, just a small omission, barely a lie. After all, he soothed his conscience, if Williamson lived, then he would have just worried her for nothing.


Dobey returned to the squad room, glowering at Hutch as he crossed to his office. He was followed by Detective Turner, one of the men who’d been assigned extra shifts to cover for Starsky. Hutch leapt on this convenient excuse to end the conversation before it got any worse. “I’ve got to go, Mrs. Starsky, but I promise I will call you as soon as he’s released.”


Remembering why he’d called, he made one last attempt. “You wouldn’t happen to know why Gene Williamson came to Bay City?”


There was another long pause before she answered; her voice cold. “I can’t help you, Kenneth. Neither of my sons nor I have had any contact with him in at least twenty years.”


The line went dead, and startled, he realized that she’d hung up on him. As Hutch replaced the receiver and made his way to Dobey’s office, he reproached himself for handling the call so badly. If you were capable of snowing a single member of the Starsky clan, she wouldn’t be so shaken up.


He opened Dobey’s door and stuck his head inside the office. “Hey, Turner, give me a minute with the captain.”


At Dobey’s nod, Turner rose from the chair and shot Hutch a dirty look on his way out of the office.


Dobey scowled at Hutch. “I thought I told you to go home and get some rest.”


“I went home.”


“And according to the desk sergeant you were back here three hours later.” Dobey watched Hutch as he rapidly paced the length of his office. “Sit down!” he barked. “You’ll give me whiplash.”


Too wired to comply with the order, Hutch headed for the water cooler in the corner instead. “I’ve made the phone calls to New York,” he said, helping himself to a Dixie cup from the dispenser.


“What did you find out?”


“Get this,” Hutch gestured with the cup, sloshing cold water over his hand. “Williamson not only worked with Starsky’s dad, he was his partner when he got shot! What if he had something to do with Starsky’s dad dying, or maybe he’s hiding what went down . . .”


“Slow down, Hutchinson. What did the NYPD tell you about Williamson?”


“That he’s a saint,” Hutch admitted reluctantly, wiping his wet hand against his jeans.


He finished his water, and reviewed what he’d learned. “Williamson was on the force for thirty years, and retired with an exemplary service record. He’s been volunteering in the community for decades, mostly working with troubled kids. Lieutenant Billings claimed that Williamson was not just Mike Starsky’s partner but his best friend, and that after the shooting, he took the family under his wing.” Hutch grimaced, crushing the paper cup in his fist, as he recalled Billings’ words about Starsky.


“Davy Starsky? Yeah, I remember that kid, a real troublemaker. He was always getting into fights and kicked out of school. Gene tried to be a father to him, after Mike died. Guess what they say is true—no good deed goes unpunished.”


“The Brooklyn PD isn’t real happy with Starsky at the moment,” Hutch told Dobey.


He tossed the balled up paper cup into the wastebasket. “But I was just on the phone with Mrs. Starsky and she told me that they haven’t had any contact with Williamson in over twenty years. She sounded like she wanted it kept that way. If Williamson was such a great partner and friend of the family, why aren’t they speaking anymore?”


Starsky and his mother were two of the warmest human beings Hutch knew, and yet they’d both transformed into frigid strangers because of this guy.


Hutch began pacing again, trying to work it out. “Maybe Starsky’s dad was involved in something dicey and Williamson has been blackmailing them.” He knew he was clutching at straws, but felt helpless to stop himself. “Or maybe they blamed Williamson for Mike Starsky’s death, maybe he set his partner up.”


“We better hope that’s not the case,” Dobey said.


Hutch met his captain’s worried eyes, and nodded. Revenge would be a motive that Simonetti would love to expose. Ever since speaking with Billings at NYPD, Hutch had begun to fear that if he ever found out what was really going on, he might end up making things worse for his partner.


No, this is Starsky, not some street thug, no matter how well he plays the role undercover.


Dobey sighed heavily, and looked Hutch over. Self-conscious, the detective ducked his head and checked his clothes, giving his chin a quick rub. After his abortive attempt to buy cigarettes, Hutch had returned home briefly for a shower and shave. He knew he looked presentable, but would his captain be fooled by this surface appearance?


“Are you sure you can handle this case? I can assign someone else --.”


Hutch’s head snapped up, and his body tensed. “Starsky’s not a case! I can --,” but the phone on the captain’s desk cut him off.


Dobey answered the call. “Yes, patch them through.” He listened, periodically grunting in acknowledgement. “I’ll send my man over.” He hung up and met Hutch’s eyes. “That was the hospital. Williamson regained consciousness several hours ago, and the doctor has cleared him to talk to us.”


Hutch was halfway out the door, when Dobey’s shout pulled him up short. “Don’t forget your partner!”


Hutch turned back, confused. How could he possibly forget Starsky?


Dobey scowled. “Your temporary partner,” he clarified, “Puckett.”


Oh. Hutch looked around and spotted the man still struggling with the old filing cabinet. “Alright, Pluckett, come along.” He motioned to the kid, who, despite a bizarrely pained expression on his face, abandoned his task with enthusiasm.


Hutch felt a surge of energy as well. Now he might finally get some answers.