although the kiddies might be disturbed by some of the themes.
think they’re probably grateful they ain’t mine.
Beta:Huge thanks go to Salieri for her work on this one!
who never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered
God at all.
HUGGY CALLED them.Said he’d heard there was something they should see on the roof of the Elysium.Said it was real bad.
“Betcha it’s a body,”
said Starsky, as they pulled up in front of the crumbling brownstone building.
Bars had been welded into the
ground floor window frames and the cracked glass of one of the windows had been mended with duct tape.The name on the front of the building had lost half its letters, from Elysium to just ‘lys’.
Lies, thought Starsky.
He trailed behind as they made
their way into the building, his brow furrowing as he noted the tired slump of Hutch’s shoulders and the heaviness of
his tread.Even Hutch’s mustache seemed limper than usual.It had been a long week and a longer month.The sweltering
last days of August were dogging their heels, dragging them down, and making them snappish with each other.
Every morning Starsky woke and
promised himself he’d be more understanding, more tolerant, more easy going.And
every day without fail, he ended up fighting with Hutch.Usually before lunch.
He checked his watch.So far, today, he had managed to steer clear of all the usual land mines, but it was only ten after eleven
in the morning.Far too early to rule out an explosion.Or two.
A yellowed scrap of paper taped
to the front of the elevator announced that it was “under repair”.
Starsky groaned.Hutch simply turned and plodded toward the stairwell at the end of the hallway.
“We could call a uniform,”
suggested Starsky.“Let them hike up to the roof.We’ll wait down below. Maybe pick up some snacks, some girls, knock over a fire hydrant, have us
a little street party...”He was hoping Hutch would take up the thread,
run with it.
“We’re already here,”
said Hutch, unsmiling.“Might as well check it out.”
The air was heavy with odors
of urine and vomit.Rust colored stains had formed in the corners of the concrete
wallswhere the roof leaked sufficiently to allow water in.They
didn’t see anyone in the hallways, but they could hear the creak of feet moving behind closed doors, and once the muffled
wail of an infant.
There were windows on each landing
in the stairwell, but they were caked with years of yellow grime.Every time
they reached a new floor, Starsky looked outside, watching the city fade like one of the tattered photographs his Aunt Rose
had kept in the canvas album on the coffee table.
The entrance to the roof was
blocked by a heavy metal fire door, dented along the bottom where someone had repeatedly kicked it.As Starsky pushed it open, the heat and humidity outside hit him in the face with tangible weight and substance.He hesitated.
There was a stench in the air
that made his gut clench.Sickly sweet, and too familiar by far.I was joking, he thought.I didn’t really
mean there should be a body.
They found her behind a silver
vent.Starsky watched Hutch go down on one knee, automatically checking for a
pulse, though they both knew - beyond any doubt - that she was long dead.Her
stomach had bloated in the heat, her hands still clutching the gravel, the nails blackened and torn.There was a macramé beaded bracelet looped around one ankle, the bare sole of her footturned
to the sky, small enough to fit into the palm of Starsky’s hand.
Just a kid.Hardly more than a baby.Too young to be in school.Too young to die on a rooftop, no one looking for her, no one missing her.
Hutch’s hand swiped over
his mouth, once.
Huggy had been right.It was bad.
“Let’s get out of
here,” said Starsky.
Starsky was almost at the door
before he realized that Hutch wasn’t following him.He stopped and looked
back.Hutch was still standing by the body, but now he was shrugging out of his
over-shirt.As Starsky watched, Hutch laid the shirt over the tiny body.It covered her almost completely, except for her feet.
It was a violation of the rules.No messing with the crime scene.But
the shuttered expression on Hutch’s face, when he straightened, warned Starsky not to say anything.
The door opened suddenly, colliding
with the back of Starsky’s calf.He stumbled forward, swiveling on his
heel and reaching for his gun in a single movement.He had a brief glimpse of
small eyes deep set in a fat, red face, a startled expression, and then the door was swinging shut again.Starsky reached out, trying to grab the man.The edge of the heavy metal door caught his hand, crushing it against the frame.
The impact set off an explosion
of pain behind Starsky’s eyes, momentarily blinding him.He yanked his
hand back with a yelp.Before he could recover, the door had slammed shut and
he heard the snick of a deadbolt sliding into place.He braced his foot
against the frame and yanked on the door with his right hand, but it didn’t budge.
He kicked the door angrily.His toes protested the rough treatment and he hopped several steps back to Hutch,
shaking his left hand.
“Goddammit!Where’s the fire escape?I’m gonna tear that asshole
a whole new--.”
Instead of Hutch, a new voice
answered him.“There’s no fire escape.”
From the corner of his eye, Starsky
could see Hutch’s head coming around in time with his own, and he suspected their expressions likely matched as well.
Together they stared, surprised, at the man standing in the shadow beside the door.
He was as unassuming an individual
as they’d ever seen, a small grey man dressed in a rumpled suit with his sleeves rolled up and his jacket folded over
his arm.He looked at them apologetically.
“The fire escape was removed
six years ago, after residents complained about break-ins,” explained the man.
Hutch immediately had the fellow
up against the wall, patting him down.He was unarmed, and co-operative.But, of course, thought Starsky, you never could tell.Killers could act like nice guys, too.
“Did you kill the girl?”
“No, of course not!”
That’s what they all
say.Starsky tucked his hand under his armpit and yanked it out again immediately.“Ow, damn!”
Hutch shot him a quick glance,
then turned his attention back to the suspect.“What are you doing up here?”
“Looking for you,”
said the man, blandly.
Leaving Hutch to continue the
interrogation, Starsky spun off.He took a quick circuit of the roof, searching
for a way down.His left hand throbbed miserably.He tried flexing it once, but the sensation which resulted convinced him that was a bad idea.It was broken.He knew it was broken -- that
feeling was unmistakable -- and he growled under his breath as he stomped over the gravel.
It was a bad day, just as it
had already been a bad week, a bad month, a whole freaking bad year, and things were only getting worse.Hutch, I don’t wanna do this anymore.
Behind him, he could hear Hutch
identifying himself as a police officer.He should have done that first, of course,
but then neither of them were entirely on their game today.And in any case,
the man didn’t seem surprised.Starsky glanced over his shoulder in time
to see him peering politely at Hutch’s badge.
“Who are you?” asked
“I’m just me,”
answered the fellow.“But around here, most folks call me God.”He seemed faintly embarrassed by this statement.
The roof was on two levels, the
door from the stairwell opening onto the lower part. Starsky found a ladder beside the fire door, and scrambled up it one-handed.From the upper level he expected he’d be able to see the entire roof, confirming
for himself whether there were any other exits.
“God, what?” asked
Goddard, thought Starsky.Or maybe Godwin.
“Is God your first name
or your last name?”
“It’s what you people
It was hotter on top of the stairwell,
the black tar-paper reflecting the heat back at Starsky.His feet felt as if
they were burning, baking through the soles of his sneakers.He stepped quicker,
imagining his sneakers melting into the rooftop, and himself stuck there forever, like a particularly unfortunate TV aerial.
Sweat stung his eyes as he peered
over the edge.He tried to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach
as he took in the fact that they were a good twelve stories in the air, with no easy way down.The Elysium didn’t even have balconies, not that he would have relished the idea of trying to climb down the
front of the building, in any case.
Below him, he could see the top
of Hutch’s head, the hair summer-bleached, and thinning.“He’s
right, Hutch. There’s no fire escape.”
Hutch nodded, his attention still
on the witness.“What’s your legal name?Your given name?”
God looked chagrined.“It was Adam who was obsessed with giving everything a name, not me.‘How can I talk to people if I don’t know what to call them?’‘How do I know what things are if they don’t have a name?’On and on and on...He never let it rest.It seemed like a harmless enough pastime...”
It was at this moment that Starsky
realized God was insane.
Hutch threw his hands up helplessly.Starsky thought he was giving up, but evidently the cop in him was too strong.By the time Starsky had made his way down the ladder, Hutch was back at the interview,
his questions coming hard and fast.
“Did you kill that little
girl?” he asked again.
God’s answer was the same.“Of course not!”
“Do you know who killed
Starsky moved up behind Hutch,
his injured hand tucked close against his chest, inside his jacket.He was hot,
and thirsty, and just a little queasy.
“Who killed her?”
“I’m very sorry,
but I can’t answer that question.”God looked genuinely remorseful.“You’ll have to figure it out for yourselves.”
Hutch blew up.“This is crazy!”He turned and stomped away across
the gravel, waving his hands in frustration.“We’re stuck on a roof
in the middle of a heat-wave, with some joker who thinks he’s God, and--.”Hutch stopped abruptly, choking on his words as he halted beside the small body of the child.
As Starsky watched, Hutch crumbled
in on himself, his hands falling to his sides and his chin dropping to his chest.Starsky
moved up behind him, his hand coming to rest on Hutch’s hip.“Hey...”
Hutch’s voice was pitched
low, for Starsky’s ears only.“I don’t want to do this anymore.Let someone else find the dead babies.”
Starsky heard rage and grief
in Hutch’s words, but it was muted by a bone-deep weariness.We’re
burning out, he thought.There was something inevitable about this conclusion
to their career, in the hellish heat of the August sun.
Knowing perfectly well that it
was inadequate consolation, but still unable to stop trying, he said, “We called in our location before we got here.When we don’t check in, they’ll send a black and white along to look for
us.”Something nagged at the back of his mind.A dim recollection of a mug shot.Trying to retrieve the memory,
he forgot his injury and balled his hand into a fist.He felt broken glass grind
between the tendons in the back of his hand, and he sucked in a sharp breath, wincing.
Hutch turned.“Let me see your hand.”
Starsky held it out.He was impressed to see how much it had swollen in the last few minutes, the knuckles disappearing into
dimples.The purple line of impact was still indented across the back of his
“You really did a job on
that,” said Hutch.He tried to take Starsky’s hand, turning it over
to examine the damage.
Starsky yelped and snatched his
hand back.“Don’t touch it!Geez!”He tucked his hand inside his jacket.
“You’ll have to go
to the emergency room.”Hutch’s forehead wrinkled worriedly.
“I know!”His hand had started up with a steady throb and Starsky felt the roof tip unsteadily.He imagined falling off into space, impacting with the sidewalk below, leaving a Starsky-shaped hole in
the concrete.It took all of his self control to say, very carefully, “I’m
going to go sit down now.”
The roof seemed to have grown
in size the last time he looked and the distance back to the stairwell was longer than he’d remembered.Starsky stopped near the door and leaned against the concrete block wall, sliding down to land on his rear
end in the gravel.The narrow strip of shade was shrinking rapidly under the
sun.He hoped someone would show up rescue them before the entire roof turned
into an oven. Baked Starsky, he thought.Hutch a-la-King.
God was already there, a few
feet away, apparently having resigned himself to the wait.
Starsky closed his eyes.When he opened them again, he realized that Hutch was still over by the body.He was kneeling next to it, smoothing the wrinkles out of the shirt, almost as if
he was soothing a sleepy child.Starsky felt something twist painfully in his
chest, and his throat hurt when he called, “Hutch...”
Hutch’s head came up quickly,
his eyes a little too bright.
“C’mon, sit down,”
said Starsky.“You’ll get sunburned out there.”
A brief nod, and one more caress
of the small still head, and then Hutch was up on his feet, making his way back to sit beside Starsky.
Starsky shuffled over to give
him more room, placing himself between Hutch and God, so that all three of them were in the narrow patch of shade.He leaned his head back against the hot cement of the wall, and tried to remember that mug shot.The traffic below provided a constant background noise, and the sky was bleached of color, the heat smothering
the city in grey smog.
Hutch said, “I don’t
even believe in God.”
“You don’t have to,”
said God.He squinted, and scratched his temple, looking at Hutch sideways.“I believe in you.”
Starsky blinked, momentarily
distracted by the idea of what might happen if God didn’t believe in Hutch.Would
he cease to exist?That wasn’t an idea he wanted to contemplate at all,
and he tried instead to retrieve the memory of the mug shot.He found himself
thinking of the asshole who had slammed his hand in the door.There was something
familiar about that face...
“Even if God was real,
you’re not him,” said Hutch, stubbornly.“What would God be
doing in a place like this?”
“Can you think of anywhere
else I’m more needed?”
He’s got you there,
thought Starsky.It occurred to him that it had most likely been God who had
passed the tip onto Huggy about the body on the roof.
He thought, Huggy talks to
God, and smiled at the idea.Then he felt Hutch’s gaze on him, and
he looked up to see his partner staring at him with an expression of clear irritation.He could almost read Hutch’s thoughts.There’s a dead kid
over there, and you’re laughing?
Embarrassed, Starsky looked away
With nothing else to draw his
gaze, his eyes tracked unwillingly to that pathetically bare foot, just visible behind the vent.He told himself that it was the glare, the way the sun reflected off the silver metal in jagged spikes,
that made his eyes water like that.He rubbed his hand across his eyes, and felt
the sting of salt.
“Damn, it’s hot,”
Starsky said.He took a deep breath, trying to loosen the knot in his throat.I think I’m in hell.Does God
hang out in hell?
“If you were really God,”
snarled Hutch.“You could have saved that little girl.”He climbed restlessly to his feet, and Starsky looked up to see him beginning to pace, his hands jammed
deepin his pockets.
Hutch’s head jerked over
towards the body.“How can anyone look at her, and believe in God?What kind of all powerful, benevolent deity would sit by and let an innocent child
suffer and die like that?”
Starsky looked over atGod to see his reaction.The only expression on God’s face was
compassion, mixed with sorrow.
Hutch wasn’t done speaking.He turned on his heel, his forefinger jabbing towards God.“You know what really gets to me?It’s all those
testimonials you hear.”His voice rose, mocking.“God saved my baby from that flood.God saved me from
that fire.God made me rich.Join
the right religion, pray hard enough, and God will shower blessings down on you.What
about that little girl, huh?You want to tell me that in her three or four years
of life on this earth, she didn’t pray hard enough, wasn’t good enough, didn’t belong to the right religion?Is that why she didn’t deserve a miracle, too?”
“It’s all about free
will,” said God, sadly.“You people make your own choices.I don’t force you to wander off cliffs, or build your houses on flood plains, or play with matches
or murder each other.I just pick up the pieces when you’re done.”
Hutch deflated.He looked down at God, the crease between his eyes deepening.“So
what’s the point of praying?What’s the point of religion?What’s the point of anything?”
A spark of humor entered God’s
eyes.“It all depends on what you’re looking for.If you’re praying for a pony, I can tell you it isn’t going to work.Pray for strength or clarity of purpose or centeredness, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.”
Hutch glared at him.“That’s not prayer.”
God simply smiled benignly.
“If you were really God,”
said Hutch.“You could get us down from here, fix Starsky’s hand,
even resurrect that little girl.”
“I told you, it doesn’t
work like that,” said God, patiently.
Starsky leaned forward and tugged
on Hutch’s pant leg.“Will you sit down?You’re gonna give yourself heatstroke.”To God,
he said, “It works like that in the Bible.”
God sighed, and Starsky thought
he heard something like chagrin in his voice when he said, “Those stories have been nothing but trouble.Once you get a reputation, they never let it go...”
“So, you’re saying
that Bible stuff isn’t true?”
“All I’m saying is
that sometimes tales change in the retelling.”
Hutch dropped down onto the gravel,
folding his arms over his knees.“Starsky, stop encouraging him.”
Starsky leaned his shoulder into
Hutch’s.“You know what?I
think we’re a little like God here.”
Hutch closed his eyes, visibly
pained.“Please don’t tell me you’re getting a God-complex,
“No, I mean what he said
about just picking up the pieces after people have done whatever it is they’re going to do.Isn’t that our job?We catch the bad guys in the here-and-now.He does it in the ever-after.”Starsky
felt the smallest breath of excitement stir inside of him, like a breath of cool air against the smothering bleakness that
had been enveloping him for the last several weeks.
Hutch’s hand clenched into
a fist.“We’d have a much easier time catching the bad guy, if God
would just tell us his name!”His hand slammed into the ground, gravel
scattering.He glowered as he brushed the small rocks off the side of his palm.
“I think you already know,”
Starsky heard a sharp intake
of breath from his left and knew Hutch was on the verge of doing something he would probably regret. Something maybe like
tossing God right off the roof of the building.Starsky interrupted Hutch quickly.“Actually, I think God’s right.Hutch, do you remember about three years back, there was that guy was hanging out down at the Finchley playground?Arrested for loitering, but the mothers there said he was scaring them, stalking the
kids...?”He shook his head in frustration, unable to remember the name.
“Eddie... Granger?No, Gormley.Eddie Gormley,” said
Starsky thought back to the glimpse
he’d caught of the man, before he’d slammed the door shut.“He
was carrying a green garbage bag.Oh hell, Hutch...”
This whole crummy month had started
with the discovery of a little boy in the park, no more than three or four years old.His battered body had been stuffed into a green garbage bag and tossed into the bushes, like so much trash to be thrown
away.And then there was that business with the old lady’s terrier finding
the corpse first...
“Oh, hell,” said
Starsky again.There just didn’t seem to be anything else to say.
“I can’t do this
anymore,” said Hutch.“I quit.”
Starsky felt a surge of anger.Selfish bastard...“Don’t
Hutch’s mustache bristled
stubbornly, his lips tightening.“I’m serious.”
“This isn’t the time
or the place,” Starsky growled.Don’t push it, buddy.You’re going to be sorry.
“It’s the perfect
time, and place!” Hutch’s voice climbed until he was shouting.“I’m
sick of all the death!I’m sick of people crying because their son, or
their daughter, or their brother or sister or husband or wife died.I’m
sick of not being able to do one damn thing to help anyone!” His hand waved helplessly in the in the direction of the
body behind the vent.“What did we do for her, huh?Not one damn thing.”
“Shut up,” said Starsky.He was too angry to argue coherently, guilt and resentment roiling in his gut.He surreptitiously checked his watch and thought, Right on time.It’s , and we’re
“You could arrest the man
who killed her,” suggested God, mildly.
In the midst of his misery, Starsky
felt another small stirring of hope, akin to the excitement he’d felt earlier at finally having a name for the man who’d
killed the child.Of course.That
was the whole point, wasn’t it?
“Who the fuck asked you
anything?” snapped Hutch, wretchedly.
Starsky.“You can’t talk to God like that!”
Hutch’s fist slammed into
his knee.“Goddammit, he’s not God!”
“Jesus, I think you just
broke three commandments in one sentence,” said Starsky, in a tone he knew would deeply annoy Hutch.“Is that a personal record?”
“Keep pushing, and I’ll
break a few more,” Hutch threatened.“Besides, you just took God’s
name in vain, too.”
“No, I said ‘Jesus’.He may be your God, but he ain’t mine.”Starsky poked his thumb into his own chest.“Jewish, remember?”
Hutch leaned back against the
wall and rubbed his face with both hands, rumpling his mustache.Starsky watched
with fascination as the anger visibly seeped out of Hutch, and the exhausted droop of earlier in the day returned.
“I can’t keep this
up,” said Hutch.There was a plaintive note in his voice.“What about the next kid? And the one after that?The girls who get raped, and the old guys who get mugged, and...”
God said, “Trust me, looking
at the long view doesn’t help.”
Starsky examined his hand, gingerly
pressing a finger into the purple mass of flesh where his knuckles had once been.It
was like wiggling a tooth, or picking at a scab, something you couldn’t help messing with.Except more painful.“You know, we can’t do nothing
for her, but we can still catch the guy.”
“He’ll run to his
mother’s house,” said Hutch, dully.“That’s what he did
“IQ smaller than his shoe
size,” agreed Starsky.He poked at his hand some more, wincing.It was definitely broken.What a mess.
Hutch’s hand landed on
his, barely making contact.“Stop that,” he said.“You’ll just make it worse.
Starsky glanced over at God,
but he wasn’t looking at either of them.He was staring off over the city,
apparently paying no attention at all to their conversation.
Hutch released Starsky’s
hand and began pulling distractedly at his mustache, pinching his upper lip between his forefinger and thumb.The line between his eyes deepened, and Starsky imagined he could see the wheels in Hutch’s mind
Starsky said, “The reason
you want to quit is exactly the reason we got to keep going.”
One blue eye slid to the side
to glare at him.“You’ve been thinking about quitting, too.Don’t try to deny it.”
“Yeah, but I know I’m
not going to do it.”Starsky met that eye, unflinching, and waited until
Hutch turned his head and returned his stare directly.Then he said, “Eddie’s
going to kill again.We couldn’t save her,” he nodded at the
body, “but we can save the next kid, and the one after that.Who’ll
stop him, if we don’t?”
“We’re not the only
cops in Bay City.”
“Yeah, but we’re
the best,” said Starsky earnestly.
Hutch looked away.“Isn’t that a sad commentary...” he muttered.
Using his uninjured right hand,
Starsky punched him.In the thigh.Hard.And he used his knuckles.
Hutch yelped, and scooted away
from Starsky, into the sun.“What the hell was that for?”
Starsky decided that Hutch knew
perfectly well what it was for.Instead of explaining, he returned to the main
point of the argument.“You should listen to God,” said Starsky,
matching Hutch’s outraged scowl with one of his own.“You’re
gonna make yourself crazy always looking at the long view.If we can just get
Hutch interrupted him.“With things like this happening, what’s the point?”
the point!”Starsky would have tried to press his point, but at that moment
they heard the deadbolt thrown on the door to the roof.
Hutch jumped to his feet as the
door swung open.A puzzled-looking patrolman stood in the entrance.
“Detective Hutchinson?Detective Starsky?What are you guys
doing up here?”
At some point in the ensuing
confusion, they lost God.Starsky had been sure he was right where they’d
left him, but when he turned to the patrolman and asked him to keep an eye on God, the patrolman said, “Who?”
Hutch looked over from just inside
the stairwell, where he was speaking to the coroner.“What?”
“Have you got God over
“Well, where is he?”
“I thought you had him!”
“Shit!”Starsky spun on his heel.One quick circuit confirmed that
God was nowhere in sight.He kicked the surface of the roof in frustration, scattered
gravel.Stomping over to Hutch he said, “I can’t believe you lost
God.He was a witness!”
“Me?”Hutch’s mustache spiked in abrupt outrage.“I
didn’t lose him!”
“Well, he would’a
had to walk right by you to get off the roof!”
“You were the one who was
supposed to keep an eye on him!”
“Aw, hell!”Starsky pushed past Hutch, and began clattering down the stairs.“Let’s just go get Eddie!”
The stairwell was hotter than
he’d remembered, the atmosphere close and suffocating.Starsky’s
dizziness returned, and by the time he turned the third landing the entire building felt as if it was swaying from one side
to the other.
He paused, his right hand braced
against the wall, and waited for the static to clear from his vision.
Hutch’s hand landed on
his shoulder.“You have to get that hand looked at.We’re going to the hospital.Now.”
Starsky shook his head emphatically,
the nausea too intense to speak.It was just his hand that was broken, so why
did the rest of his body have to get in on the act?
Blame it on the heat.
said Hutch warningly.
Starsky took a deep breath and
pushed himself away from the wall.“No,” he said.“This is our bust.”He started down the stairs
again, saying, “We earned it.I’m not gonna to hand it over to some
He could feel Hutch watching
him all the way down the stairs, the weight of his disapproval almost tangible.
Outside, nothing had changed.The day was as hot and the sky as unrelentingly smoggy blue-gray as it had been when
they first entered the building.As it had been for the last two weeks.Starsky cut across a patch of brown grass and felt the dry, dead stalks crunching
under his sneakers.A newspaper box had been knocked over, onto the sidewalk.Behind the broken glass of the door, a headline screamed, “Record Breaking Heatwave
- No End in Sight.”
He automatically headed for the
driver’s side of the Torino, then stopped.With
a heavy sigh, he retraced his steps and walked over to the passenger door instead.Hutch
opened it, and met his scowl with one of his own.
Hutch said, “It’s
not like I planned this, just so I could drive your car.”
“Wouldn’t put it
past ya,” muttered Starsky, as he climbed in.Hutch ignored him.He closed the door for Starsky and crossed over to the driver’s side.
Starsky leaned back in his seat,
closing his eyes for a moment as Hutch started the car.He began to prop his
elbow on the edge of the window, then yanked it back with a curse as the heat of the metal burned his arm.Still, once they got moving the flow of air through the open window felt good.
At least, it did until Hutch
abruptly swung into a parking lot in front of a supermarket and left Starsky fuming in the car while he ran inside to get
a bag of ice for Starsky’s hand.
crissake, Eddie’s gonna get away, because of Hutch’s goddamn mother-henning…
Except that the ice did feel good, and despite his irritation with Hutch his mood began to lighten.Starsky reminded himself that Hutch was only trying to look out for him, like he always did.He shouldn’t be punished for caring.Guys like Eddie
were doing a good enough job of that already.
This is tolerable, Starsky
thought.Right here, right now, with the air moving over my face, going to
catch the bad guy before he can hurt anyone else….It would have been
better if he’d been driving, better if he didn’t have a broken hand, but it was still almost okay.It was a definite improvement over being trapped on the roof, anyway.
He thought about what God had
said, about the long view never helping.Maybe if Hutch could just learn to appreciate
where he was at the moment, he wouldn’t be so unhappy.
Of course, he had every right
to feel the way he did, after the last month.Oh hell, after the last four years.It seemed like every time they turned around some other rotten thing was happening,
ripping away whatever little bit of joy they’d found.If they weren’t
burying someone they loved, they were in hospital recovering from bullet wounds or broken limbs.
Starsky looked down at his hand,
his momentary contentment gone.He thought about Job, and wondered if God and
the Devil had a bet going on a couple of Bay City cops, as well.But no...God had said he wasn’t responsible for the
choices people make.
So maybe Hutch was right, and
they should just quit.Choose not to do this anymore.Starsky grimaced, feeling a sick lurch in the pit of his stomach at the idea.
“Is your hand hurting a
lot?” asked Hutch, looking over.
“Yeah,” said Starsky.
“Too bad there’s
no such thing as miracles,” said Hutch.“I could use one about now.A nice miraculous healing that would save me from having to spend the next two months
typing up all your reports.”
Starsky rolled his eyes, but
otherwise ignored the bait.No such thing as miracles?He considered God’s words about the things you could and couldn’t pray for, ponies versus strength
and clarity of purpose.He also remembered something his mother used to say about
nothing in life ever being free.“Hey, Hutch?”
“Have you been praying
for strength recently?”
Hutch gave him a sideways glance,
before refocusing on the road.“Around you?All the time.”He palmed the steering wheel, and the car obediently
turned the corner.
Starsky let the insult slide
by.“Don’t pray for strength.”
“I don’t pray.”
“Well,” said Starsky,
“Don’t meditate for it then.”
Now the look Hutch gave him was
tinged with curiosity.“Why not?”
“Geez, buddy!”Starsky straightened, turning to look directly at Hutch.“How do you think you get strong?Do you think God gives
you a pretty package, and inside it is Strength?No, he’s gonna give you
a whole lot of hard times, so you have to get strong just to survive.How do
they say it?Strength through adverbs...Averse...”
“Strength through adversity,”
“Starsky, you don’t
really believe that guy was God, do you?”
Starsky deliberately paused a
moment too long.“No.”
Hutch began to laugh.
Starsky put on a scowl, because
it was expected.But the smile he was hiding was betrayed by the tone of his
voice as he said, “Shut up.”He couldn’t help it, it was just
that good hearing Hutch laugh again.
Has it really been a month?
They didn’t wait for an
invitation.Just hollered, “Police, open up!”Then Hutch kicked the door in, and Starsky went in low.Eddie
had never carried a gun before, but you never knew when he might be desperate enough to start.
The only person in the room was
Mrs. Gormley, his mother.She remained where she was, slouched in the overstuffed
brocade chair on the other side of the room, her eyes fixed on the black and white TV flickering in the corner.Her bulk was such that she seemed almost a permanent fixture, her shapeless dress just another floral dust
“He ain’t here!”
she said, the cigarette in the corner of her mouth punctuating each word with a sharp jerk.She didn’t look away from the TV.
“Where is he?” demanded
Hutch, as Starsky quickly cased the room, heading immediately for the bedroom door.
“Don’t know, don’t
care!” said Mrs. Gormley, just as Starsky, hearing a noise from the bedroom, shouted, “In here!”
Starsky had drawn his gun before
they’d entered the building.He didn’t want to have to waste time
trying to fish it out from under his right arm with his right hand.Better just
to carry the weapon the entire time, however wrong it felt to be hauling it around with his off-hand.He covered Hutch now, as Hutch threw open the bedroom door.
For a moment, Starsky couldn’t
make sense of what he was seeing.Great blood-red splotches assaulted him; a
vision of a crime scene.Then it resolved into a giant peony-patterned floral
wallpaper, a red shag rug, a shabby box-spring, and a fat man squeezing rapidly out the window in the far wall.
“Halt, police!” shouted
Hutch as he bolted across the room.
Eddie didn’t listen, but
then again, neither of them really expected that he would.
Hutch went through the window
after him, Starsky close on his heels.Starsky did pause slightly, however, when
he got a good look at the rickety, rusting structure bolted to the side of the building.“A fire escape!How come THIS building has a fire escape?”
“It’s proof there
is no God,” was Hutch’s breathless reply.
Eddie stumbled at the bottom
of the first flight of stairs, still a good six stories above ground level.His
momentum slammed his ample stomach into the railing.Hutch careened down the
stairs hot on his heels.He grabbed Eddie’s collar, and the impact of his
hand on the back of Eddie’s neck was just enough to tip Eddie forward, over the railing.
Oh hell, thought Starsky,
as Eddie somersaulted over the railing, dragging Hutch with him.In a fraction
of a second Hutch, hanging onto Eddie’s shirt, was jack-knifed over the flaking iron bar.Eddie squealed in shock and terror.
Hutch’s feet came up off
the ground, kicking for purchase,as Eddie’s weight threatened to drag him right off the fire-escape.
Without thinking, Starsky dropped
his gun and grabbed the back of Hutch’s belt with both hands.White hot
agony shot up his left arm, and his vision blurred with sudden tears.Please
“Don’t let me fall!”
wailed Eddie, his hands scrabbling over his head, trying to grab Hutch’s arms.
“Just drop him!”
snarled Starsky, pain making his voice brittle.“He ain’t nothin’
but a baby-killer.”But he knew Hutch wouldn’t.Never would, never could.No more than he could have himself.But Eddie didn’t know that.
Hutch said, “Is he right?Should I just let you fall, let you smash on the concrete like the garbage you are?”
He couldn’t confess fast
enough.Names, places, details, even children they didn’t even know were
dead.Kids reported as runaways, missing children, the lost and forgotten ones.
Starsky closed his eyes and tightened
his grip on the back of Hutch’s pants, pulling for all he was worth.Eddie’s
hysterical voice faded into the background as Starsky’sconcentration narrowed to the fire in his hand,
and the need to keep hold of Hutch, no matter what.
Please God, if you’re
real, I could really use a miracle about now.
Starsky gave one more desperate
heave, throwing himself backwards, his heels jammed into the metal grate landing.Hutch
braced his foot against the railing and hauled Eddie high enough so that the man was able to grab the bar.From here Hutch was able to seize the seat of Eddie’s pants, dumping him over the railing, face first
onto the fire-escape.
Starsky fell back against the
steps, panting, sweat stinging his eyes.He discovered his gun wedged between
the railing and the landing, and he retrieved it, gingerly sliding it into his holster.It was an awkward task, one-handed, but he was simply relieved that it hadn’t ended up somewhere on the sidewalk
Eddie was still babbling as Hutch
handcuffed him to the railing.Hutch ignored him, staggering the two steps over
to Starsky.He stopped and bent over, his hands landing on his knees, still breathing
Starsky patted him on the shoulder,
exhaustion making him clumsy.
After a moment, Hutch looked
up, blinking the sweat out of his eyes.He glanced first up the stairs and then
down, his gaze finally stopping on Starsky.“Are you up to climbing down?”
Starsky looked down, taking in
the way the fire escape jack-knifed back and forth down the length of the building, ending some fifteen feet above the ground.He shook his head.
“Then it’s back up
the way we came,” said Hutch.He straightened, grabbing Starsky’s
arm and pulling him up with him.
Starsky did not look back at
Eddie, though he could hear him sobbing loudly on the landing below.He focused
instead on climbing the steps back to the open window of Mrs. Gormley’s apartment.
Mrs. Gormley was still slouched
in her chair, watching soaps.There was a black phone sitting on the table next
to her.Starsky picked up the receiver and tucked it between his cheek and his
shoulder, before dialing one-handed.His left hand was a steady beat of pain
in the background of his consciousness.
“This is Sergeant Starsky,
requesting back-up at 111 Cedarview Drive–.”
A slam from the bedroom, like
a door being thrown open and colliding with the wall, caused him to lift his head in alarm.The phone fell off his shoulder and hit the table, the cord tangling on his arm.He fumbled for it, shouting, “Hutch, what’s going on in there?”
“There’s a kid in
the closet!”And then, before Starsky could even ask, Hutch said, “Alive!”He sounded fiercely jubilant.
Starsky quickly said into the
phone, “Make that two units and someone from Family Services.I think we
may have found a kidnap victim.”Slamming the phone back down into the
cradle, he rounded on Mrs. Gormley.“What th’hell’s wrong
with you, lady?”
She never looked up from her
TV.“I don’t know nothing.”
Starsky firmly suppressed an
urge to put his foot through her television set and instead bolted for the bedroom.
Hutch was seated on the floor
in front of the closet with a small child in his arms, carefully trying to remove the duct tape wrapped around her thin wrists.He had no sooner removed the strip over her mouth than she pulled in a huge shuddering
breath and began to wail.The sound was high and breathy, pure panic.
“Shh, shhh baby, it’s
all right now, it’s all over...”Hutch began to rock, his arms tightening
around the girl, his hand enveloping the back of her dark tousled head.She clung
to him desperately, a small bundle of fear in a blue jean jumper and striped cotton tights.Starsky thought of another little girl, who wouldn’t know either comfort or terror anymore.Hutch’s eyes were too bright, when he looked up at Starsky and said, “Can you...?”
“Yeah, I’ll go canvass
the neighbors.See if anyone knows her.”His voice didn’t sound quite right in his ears, the emotion still too raw.But if Hutch noticed, he didn’t comment.
Starsky didn’t have to
go far.On the floor below, he found a teenage boy who asked him if he’dseen a little girl, about so high.Named
Emily. She’d run down the hall to visit another child, but had never arrived at her friend’s house.
Within minutes, Hutch was handing
Emily over to her sobbing mother, as black and whites converged below, sirens screaming.Hutch couldn’t stop grinning, though his eyes were still red.The
girl’s brother was fiercely angry, telling her that he was going to become a cop too someday, so he could catch creeps
like Eddie and get them off the street.
Starsky knew it was good for
Hutch to hear these things.It was something Starsky needed to hear, as well,
but he couldn’t quite connect with the joy.Not yet.
Instead, Starsky took the elevator
downstairs and sat on the sidewalk curb next to the Torino and waited for his heart to settle down to a more normal pace,
and for the black panic in his mind to fade to a more tolerable smoggy gray.
Again and again he saw Hutch
going over that railing, hitting the concrete six floors below.He swallowed
against a sudden surge of nausea, and tasted the bitterness of stomach acid.
“How’s your hand?”
Starsky pulled in a sharp breath,
taken by surprise.Lost in thought, he hadn’t noticed Hutch’s approach.He looked over as Hutch folded his long legs, dropping down to sit on the sidewalk
next to him.My hand?
Thoughtfully, Starsky looked
at his hand, resting in his lap.It still looked like hell, swollen and spectacularly
bruised, blossoming into a disturbing collection of colors ranging from blood red through deep indigo.He could feel the pulse of his heart in each fingertip, and it hurt miserably, but when he flexed it experimentally,
that sensation of broken glass was gone.
“I don’t think it’s
broken,” he said, slowly.I was so sure... But it was obvious he’d
been wrong, back on the roof.If his hand had been broken, there was no way he
would have been able to hang onto Hutch’s belt long enough to help pull him and Eddie back onto the fire escape.
Starsky blinked.The sun was glinting off of the sidewalk, the bits of mica and quartz embedded in
the concrete reflecting sharp spears of light.He wondered if maybe miracles
weren’t just an Old Testament thing, after all.
“You still have to go to
the Emergency room,” said Hutch, andStarsky knew he didn’t believe
Probably never would.
As Starsky climbed slowly to
his feet, Hutch’s hand on his elbow steadying him, he felt a breath of air on his cheek.Just the smallest breeze.He glanced up, and his eyes widened as he saw
the clouds beginning to condense on the horizon.
“Wait,” he said.
Hutch’s eyebrow climbed
“I gotta know, are we really
going to quit?”Because it would be we, Hutch had to know that.They’d been joined at the hip for so many years, Starsky couldn’t imagine
anymore what life would be like without Hutch in it.
Even if all they ever did anymore
Maybe Hutch felt the fresher
air moving in as well, because he tilted his head to the side, toward the burgeoning clouds, almost as if anticipating something.However, he didn’t answer immediately, and Starsky started to get worried.He reached across and tugged on the front of Hutch’s shirt.“If you wanna quit, it’s okay.We could be...I dunno, football players, or movie stars, or something.”
Hutch began to laugh.“Right, I’ll cut a few records and you can be my agent.”
“It could work,”
said Starsky, with all sincerity.“You’ve got a great voice.”
Hutch shook his head.“Not today.”
A heavy droplet of rain hit the
sidewalk, leaving a large dark spot.Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Hutch said, “I think I’m
done with looking at the long view.Like he said, it doesn’t help.”The smile he gave Starsky, as more raindrops followed the first, was straightforward
and uncomplicated, an echo of the one he’d had when Emily’s mother had thanked him for finding her daughter.“We’re good at what we do.Right
here, right now.And that’s all that matters.”
Starsky tilted his head back,
to feel the cool rain falling on his face.