going through hell, keep going.
FIRST TIME Starsky woke up, he was too looped on painkillers and sedatives to notice much of anything. His mouth felt like sandpaper, and someone was running a dentist’s drill beside his hospital
bed. Or perhaps it was a jackhammer. He
blinked and tried to clear the gumminess out of his eyes, searching the crowd around his bed until he found the one face he
was looking for.
This is his fault, Starsky thought, but the reason for this evaded him and he slipped back into the unsteady darkness.
The second time he awoke, he
noticed the dark circles under Hutch’s eyes and the lines of strain in his face.
Hutch grinned at him, brought
him a cup of ice chips, rearranged his bedclothes unnecessarily, and then attempted to undo the mess he’d just created. Starsky squinted past the glare of the lights and realized that Hutch was talking
Completely inaudible under the
deafening mechanical hum and whine.
The world wobbled in a queasy
way, and Starsky closed his eyes, suddenly feeling as if he might slip right off the planet and into space. He clutched the sides of the bed, holding on. Hutch abandoned
the sheets and stroked his left arm, soothingly.
“Go home,” Starsky
said. He thought he said it. He
could feel the vibration of the words in his throat.
Hutch’s hand stilled. Starsky pried his eyes open one more time. Hutch
looked awful. The smile was gone and his face was colorless and drawn.
“Go home,” said Starsky
The third time he woke up, a
nurse was fussing with his feet and it was dark outside his window.
he asked, only belatedly remembering that he’d sent him home.
She smiled and said something,
patting him reassuringly.
“Too much noise.” But even as he said it, he realized that there was no drill, no jackhammer, no construction
equipment anywhere. He rolled his head to the side and felt a surge of nausea,
as the bed lurched sickeningly beneath him.
The nurse patted him again, but
her figure moving across his line of vision fractured the fragile control he had on his equilibrium. With a groan, he folded in half and began vomiting onto the bed.
People rushed into the room,
nurses and doctors, but the only person Starsky wanted was Hutch. Mortification
was swiftly replaced with a surge of anger at his partner’s continued absence.
Then a familiar hand grabbed
his, and the world steadied.
Starsky scowled. “Where were you?”
He couldn’t hear Hutch’s
response, but he suspected he saw amusement in the man’s face. Starsky’s
last thought, just before the sedation kicked in, was: He better not be laughing at
By morning, Starsky was feeling
better. Whatever they had given him for the nausea had finally taken effect. Though the world still felt unstable, he was reasonably sure that it and he would
not be parting company any time soon. The noise in his head continued unabated,
but a nurse had written him a reassuring note explaining that it was a side effect of his concussion, and that his hearing
would return soon.
And Hutch was still there, in
the chair by his bed. Still looking like hell.
“I told you to go home,”
said Starsky. He wondered what his voice sounded like. It was strange, knowing that other people could hear him when he couldn’t hear himself. He smoothed the surface of his bed, feeling the cool crisp linens under his fingertips. His eyes were drawn to the neat white bandages around each wrist, and he chewed thoughtfully on the inside
of his lip. His mouth tasted sour, like the morning after an all-night bender. He could smell antiseptic, and sickness, and something else that he could only classify
as a scent unique to hospitals.
A sense of being utterly alone
seized him, and he quickly raised his eyes, searching for and finding Hutch again. “Did
you get any sleep last night,” asked Starsky.
Hutch nodded, but Starsky saw
his hands tighten on his knees and his gaze slide to one side.
“There’s no point
lying to me when I can’t hear you,” said Starsky.
Hutch reddened. Starsky felt a nasty sense of satisfaction at Hutch’s obvious discomfort. His fault.
It occurred to him that if he
was going to be angry at Hutch, he should know why. Tentatively, he tried to
think back, but the doctor came into the room with a nurse right behind him, and Starsky’s train of thought was derailed.
The doctor spoke briefly to the
nurse. Starsky attempted to lip-read without success.
“Hey,” he said. They ignored him.
For all the personal attention
Starsky was getting, he might have been a slab of beef. His fist clenched, but
before he could hit the mattress, a hand caught his. He looked up to find Hutch
regarding him with empathy.
As the nurse flipped back the
covers at the bottom of the bed and began to efficiently assess the condition of his feet, the doctor picked up his chart
and browsed through it.
“Hey,” said Starsky,
again. There was no visible response and Starsky wondered if the doctor could
even hear him speak. If a man couldn’t hear himself, how could he know
with certainty that he was making any sound at all?
Starsky was about to try cursing,
to see if that got any sort of reaction, when the doctor’s head suddenly snapped up and angled towards Hutch. Following the doctor’s gaze, Starsky discovered that Hutch had risen to his feet. He looked angry.
Yeah, you tell him, thought Starsky.
The doctor appeared annoyed,
but he still took the notepad that Hutch thrust at him. He wrote something quickly
and then tore off the sheet, handing it to Starsky.
am Dr. Simonson, your physician.
“Pleased t’ meetcha,
Doc,” said Starsky, politely.
The doctor nodded at him, and
then wrote something else on the pad. Starsky took it, and read the scrawled
do you remember?
It was as if he’d just
opened an overstuffed locker. One that required only the slightest touch to fly
open, spilling its contents onto the person unlucky enough to need something within.
Starsky felt a crushing weight settle on his chest. He gasped for
air as the room slipped out of focus. The pad slid out of his hand. He was vaguely aware of the nurse putting a blood pressure cuff on his arm.
Distantly, through the hum in his head, he thought he could even hear Hutch shouting at the doctor.
But these things were peripheral
to the memories caving in on him now, threatening to bury him alive.
Starsky could hear
the tape recorder humming somewhere in the background. He knew they were recording
him. He had heard the distinctive squeal of the tape being rewound, and then
a sound which he assumed was the record button being pressed. Every noise seemed
amplified, hollow, the blindfold forcing him to put more emphasis on that sense than normal.
But he’d been
silent too long. He felt the – mouth-breathing,
in-bred, half-wit – asshole move nearer, and he braced himself for another round.
Starsky was prepared for a blow to the head, or a punch to the gut. He
was not prepared for the molten agony that suddenly erupted in his left foot as the goon slammed his boot down on the toes
of his sneaker.
and then cursed. The recorder continued to turn, and he felt a knot in his gut
form at the thought of Hutch having to listen to this. Sorry, man. I’m no Hollywood hero … and this
snapped Starsky, defiantly.
This time the blow
impacted with his ear, almost knocking him over, chair and all. Hands caught
him roughly from behind, and he was slammed back down into his seat. He tasted
fresh blood, and knew he’d bitten his lip again. His shoulder loudly protested
the harsh treatment, and his wrists twisted in the cuffs. But another part of
his brain was busy cataloging evidence. There were three people in the room,
one directing, one pounding, and one acting as spotter.
It was amazing what
could be picked up and pieced together, even without eyes to see. “Who”
– he didn’t know who the goons were, but he knew who she was. Not
that she was trying to hide her identity. “What” – well, that
was pretty clear. The “what” was pain. “When” was now. And even “why” required
little speculation, though he wished they could have found some other way of tormenting Hutch.
Preferably something that didn’t involve broken toes. Especially his own.
The only part of
the equation he didn’t have was “where”. But from the echo
of their footsteps, and their utter unconcern with keeping him quiet, he would guess they were somewhere in the warehouse
district. Before his nose had started to bleed, he’d thought he smelt salt
in the air. And before his ears had begun to ring he was sure he’d heard
seagulls. So, down by the docks. Somewhere.
He was so rattled
that it took a moment for the question to register. They didn’t give him
time to think of a response.
his shoes.” Her voice was cool, collected.
breath caught in his throat and he yanked on the cords binding his ankles to the chair legs.
“What-- what are you doing?”
answer. His shoes and socks were yanked off and he heard them tossed to the side. The ground was hard and cold against his bare soles and his left foot throbbed.
A snap followed
by the acrid smell of lighter fuel increased his terror exponentially. He heard
her move closer, tracking the rustle of her polyester pant suit and the click of her heels on concrete. A small spot of heat seared his cheek, and he yanked his head to the side, pulling against the ropes. He breathed in the caustic smell of singed hair mingled with the scent of her perfume.
A gentle hand touched
the back of his neck, and her breath was painfully warm against his stinging cheek.
“Detective Starsky,” she whispered. “Please remember
that this is not personal. My argument is with your partner, not you.” Raising her voice, she said, “Untie his right foot.”
Starsky panicked. “No, no don’t…” Hutch, I told you there was something not right about her. Why don’t you ever listen? You keep playing the White
Knight, and look where it’s got me.
He told her what
she wanted to hear. “It’s Hutch’s fault!” But he couldn’t stop there. His words tumbled over each
other, as he tried frantically to yank his foot out of the grip his unseen tormenter had on his ankle. “Hutch is responsible for the famine in Africa too, ‘cause he stole
all their violets for his greenhouse. He started the Spanish Inquisition, and
the Hot Pants craze, and I have a strong suspicion he’s also the Boston Strangler.”
as the bottom of his foot was seared. His head hit the back of the wooden chair
and his seat tipped once more. He heard the man behind him curse.
protested Starsky, hoarsely. “He could be the Boston Strangler. I don’t know where he was all those nights. He’s
a bad man! He’s always stealing change out of my piggy bank, and he throws
his used coffee cups in the back seat of my car. Sometimes they aren’t
They burned him
again. He choked on his words, and was left shaking, bile in his throat.
a real bastard,” whispered Starsky. He could feel the blindfold turning
clammy against his skin, and knew he was crying.
Because the truth
of the matter was, it really was Hutch’s fault.
Starsky pulled in
a long, shuddering breath and looked up at Hutch. “Buddy, you got crummy
taste in women. If my feet didn’t hurt so damn bad, I’d kick your
He saw relief and
guilt chase each other across Hutch’s face. Starsky assumed that the tortured expression Hutch finally ended up with
was supposed to be something politely sympathetic.
The doctor finished
his examination quickly and then left, glaring at Hutch, whose look in return was cold enough to freeze a good chunk of Hell.
Starsky held onto
Hutch’s hand while the nurse changed the bandages on his feet. It hurt. He caught Hutch wincing once, and tried to ease his grip, but Hutch’s hand tightened
on his, wordlessly reassuring him that it was all right.
not all right. I don’t like being this angry -- not at Hutch. I don’t want to feel like this.
When the nurse finally left the room, Starsky lifted his head off his pillow and began
the long process of pulling himself up in order to inspect the damage. He felt
a hand on his shoulder, and Hutch’s worried face moved into his line of vision.
“I want to see,” said Starsky.
Hutch refused to release
him, and Starsky glared. They didn’t need words for this particular argument. Finally, Hutch capitulated with a toss of his hands and a shrug that said as clear
as if he’d spoken, Fine. You want
to cause yourself more pain? You go right ahead.
said Starsky. He reached for his left foot.
It was less heavily bandaged than the other. They had obviously topped
up his pain meds at some point, because everything in the room had taken on a languid golden haze. He glanced to the side one more time. Definitely a glow-y
Hutch. But not a happy Hutch.
“So, did you
shoot her?” asked Starsky.
Hutch shook his head. His eyes told Starsky other things as well, clearly speaking his regret and pain.
chair or Cabrillo State, d’ya figure?”
Starsky looked away as he spoke, uninterested in the answer.
He investigated his
big left toe. The nail was mottled red, purple and black. “Wow. Look at that.” He poked at it with his index finger. “Hey! My toenail wiggled.” He touched the nail again, and
was rendered speechless when it flaked off completely, like an old scab.
Something bumped against
the side of his bed, jostling him, and he looked up just in time to see Hutch, his hand over his mouth, making a break for
Shit, thought Starsky. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have
gone after Hutch.
His feet lost their
fascination and, discontented, he settled back in bed.
inspired him to begin experimenting with closing his eyes. He noted how the ringing
in his ears got louder each time, and how he could vary pitch and volume by clenching his jaw.
But he didn’t leave his eyes shut for long.
It was one thing to
be blind and to have to rely on your hearing. It was another matter entirely
to be cut off from both sight and sound. Touch and smell alone weren’t
enough. He could lose himself if he wasn’t careful.
Starsky wondered how
long he could go without sleeping. Just the thought made him feel desperately
hear Hutch loitering just outside the door. But he could see the way the nurses
paused on their way past, talking to someone unseen. And he could see the shadow
that crossed the doorway.
he said, and Hutch was there, just like that. Constant, steady, dependable Hutch,
whose only crime was that he gave his heart away too readily and loved too easily. That
much empathy could kill a man, if he didn’t have back-up.
wanna kick your butt,” said Starsky. “I was wrong.”
Hutch gave him a questioning
look. Starsky reached up and snagged him by the sleeve, and tugged. When Hutch didn’t move immediately, he tugged again. “C’mon.”
With a wry smile,
Hutch disentangled himself and lowered the bedrail. Then he sat down - too carefully,
too hesitantly - on the edge of the bed.
at all what Starsky had in mind. Ignoring the protests from his bruised body,
he launched himself at Hutch and grabbed on. The earth tilted at an alarming
angle, but he hung on fiercely, knowing that he was anchored. Finally.
Starsky could have
stayed where he was indefinitely, but after a few minutes Hutch gently disentangled himself.
Starsky allowed Hutch to ease him over until he was stretched out on the hospital bed, but all the while a small part
of him was panicking. What if Hutch was planning on leaving? Hadn’t he told him to go home? I’m not mad anymore, honest.
But then the edge
of the mattress dipped again, and Hutch slowly lowered himself down onto the bed next to Starsky. As soon as Hutch lay back against the headboard, Starsky flung his arm across the man’s stomach. He pressed his cheek to Hutch’s chest.
Starsky could smell
Hutch’s aftershave, masking the harsher chemical scents of the hospital. He
could feel the warmth of Hutch’s body, and the steady beat of his heart. When
Hutch spoke, he felt the deep rumbling vibration move through himself as well. He
examined Hutch’s hand, resting on his own. He memorized the pattern of
fine blond hairs, glinting in the light from the window, and noted the new scabs on Hutch’s knuckles. The hands of a fighter. Fighting for him.
I was wrong, he thought, it’s not his fault.
It occurred to Starsky
that some things are easier to say when you can’t hear yourself say them. “I
love you,” said Starsky. “I’ll never stop. Not if you date a thousand psychotic women. Not even if you
are the Boston Strangler.”
Hutch begin to shake
in his arms, and Starsky felt a brief stab of alarm. He pushed himself up, only
to see Hutch laughing. His head was thrown back, and there were tears in his
Smiling, Starsky settled
back down against Hutch’s chest. Here, in Hutch’s embrace, he could
close his eyes and not lose himself. And he knew that as long as he held on,
Hutch would never move. Which meant that sooner or later, Hutch would get the
sleep he so desperately needed. I should
have done this in the first place.
said Starsky again, as he drifted off to sleep.