Return to Never Saying Sorry, CHAPTER TWO

Sunday, February 26, 1978

11:15 a.m.


As Hutch made his way through the halls of the trauma ward, he hoped he was only imagining the reproachful expressions he saw on the nurses’ faces. He couldn’t remember if Carol was supposed to be working this morning, but he kept a vigilant eye out anyway, prepared to take an alternate route to avoid her. He strongly doubted that his temporary partner would provide backup in dealing with the justifiably outraged woman.


Turning the corner, his babysitter close on his heels, Hutch recognized the person coming out of a room halfway down the hall. He tensed. As his adversary spotted him and killed the distance between them, Hutch wondered if Simonetti would appreciate being categorized as the lesser of two evils.


“Detective Hutchinson and Detective . . . ?” Simonetti prompted, as he was joined by Dryden.


Hutch answered for the young man. “Detective Plunkett.”


The junior detective’s voice sounded strangely resigned as he said, “Please, just call me An--.”


“I do hope, Detective Hutchinson, that you’re not planning on pressuring Lieutenant Williamson into changing his story,” Simonetti said with casual malice.


“What story?” snapped Hutch. “Starsky’s a good cop--”


“He’s a loose cannon!” Simonetti’s eyes narrowed. “Now that I’ve seen and heard the evidence, I’m going to recommend to the DA that he be charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder. Your partner’s going to lose his badge, and if it’s a good day, he’ll lose his freedom for a very long time.”


Hutch’s fists tightened. Behind him, he heard a soft noise in warning.


“Now, now, remember what your captain said,” Simonetti chided with false sincerity. “We wouldn’t want you up on charges as well!”


Hutch forced himself to hold his position as the IA officers strolled past. Before turning down the next hall, Simonetti paused. Raising his voice, he added, "Hutchinson, you'll be happy to know that the nurse confirmed your alibi. Although, based on her statement, I wouldn't count on getting another date with her anytime soon.”


Dryden laughed, dryly.


Hutch repressed the urge to turn and answer. He waited until the sound of their footsteps had faded into the distance. Only then did he drop his head and rub the bridge of his nose. Between his disastrous date with Carol and the number of her colleagues that he’d harassed over the phone, he’d already figured out that he wouldn’t be dating any more nurses from Memorial Hospital in the near future.


Then again, remembering Nurse Diana Harmon, who’d tried to slice and dice him in his shower, maybe he should stick to stewardesses from now on anyway.


“Um, shouldn’t we--.”


“Let’s get this over with.” Hutch cut him off, and strode down the hall to Lieutenant Williamson’s room. He pushed the door open, and stopped dead in his tracks.


Despite everything he’d read in the arrest report and heard from the nurses, Hutch only now realized how much he’d been minimizing the seriousness of Starsky’s crime. He’d envisioned a punch thrown in anger, causing the old man to fall and hit his head. Remorseful, Starsky had then called for an ambulance. Guilt over injuring an old family friend had temporarily unhinged his partner, but soon Starsky would come to his senses and defend his actions. While this theory was admittedly more than a little bit shaky in parts, it had seemed like a workable hypothesis.


Hutch’s first sight of Lt. Gene Williamson, Retired, utterly disabused him of this fantasy.


First, regardless of his age and Starsky’s comments in the interrogation room, Williamson was not a "little old man." There was nothing frail about the large, heavyset man sitting up in the hospital bed. If anything, he resembled an aging star quarterback, recently gone to seed.


Second, Williamson looked like he’d been bounced off the hood of Starsky’s Torino and then backed over a few times for good measure. Both of his eyes were blackened, the surrounding flesh so swollen his eyes were reduced to mere slits. The bruising around his throat showed that he’d been pinned down with a strong right hand, while his face was pummeled from the left.


Shock twisting his gut into knots, Hutch nonetheless retained enough composure to assess professionally the splints on the fingers of Williamson’s right hand, and the dark purple bruises mottling his forearms. Defensive wounds, gained from trying to ward off a brutal, ruthless attacker.


But Starsky’s not like that!


Stepping down hard on his turbulent emotions, Hutch forced himself to address the man politely. “Lieutenant Williamson, I’m Detective Sergeant Ken Hutchinson.”


“You’re Davy’s partner, aren’t you? They told me you’d come by.” The man’s voice was painfully hoarse, but Hutch could sense a cool intelligence in the eyes that appraised him.


Davy? David and Davy, these names sounded like they belonged to someone other than his partner. Maybe they did belong to the cold stranger who had taken Starsky’s place. “Yes sir. Starsky’s my partner. I’m hoping you can answer some questions for me.”


“Fire away.” Williamson sounded resigned. As a cop himself, he would know how many times he’d be required to repeat his story, over and over again.


Hutch studied the bruised face, but there was too much damage to read the injured man’s expression. “Tell me what happened last night.” Tell me something I’ll believe.


Williamson nodded, the pain of the movement revealed in the care he took. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Davy. I promised his father that I’d look after him, but I couldn’t do much after his mother sent him out here. But I was always curious to see how he’d turned out. I’d saved up a small amount from my pension, and I thought I would surprise him. We could catch up on old times.” Williamson picked up a glass off of the table beside his bed and took a sip of water.


Tired of holding the door open behind Hutch, the junior detective squeezed past him into the room. Hutch stepped to the side, and tried to ignore the appalled look that crossed the young man’s face at his first unobstructed view of Williamson.


Williamson put down the glass, and continued, “I had no trouble finding his address through the Policeman’s Association. When I got to Davy’s apartment he wasn’t home, but his door was unlocked. I decided to settle in and wait for him.”


“He wasn’t expecting you.”


Williamson attempted a smile, but it was made gruesome by his injuries. “He didn’t mistake me for anyone else, if that’s what you’re thinking. He came inside and stopped as soon as he saw me. I stood up and said hi.” Williamson paused, and Hutch watched the man replay the memory in his head. “I teased him a little, in a friendly way. About leaving his door unlocked – it’s not the smartest thing to do if you’re an undercover cop.”


“What did Starsky say?”


“You see, son, that’s what was so odd. He didn’t say anything at all. Not then, and not when he knocked me down.”


It was too much. Hutch turned away and leaned a hand against the nearby wall. Almost to himself, he muttered, “It just doesn’t make any sense.” None of it did. Starsky’s behavior, the evidence of the attack in front of his eyes, nor Williamson’s story, for all that he’d told it in such a calm, reasonable voice.


Williamson rasped, “I’m also on Davy’s side, Detective Hutchinson.”


Hutch wasn’t buying this either. “You’re pressing charges, though.”


His temporary partner cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable, but Hutch ignored him—he didn’t care how cold he sounded. Starsky’s career was on the line here, even his freedom, and no matter how bad it looked, he must have had a good reason for what he’d done.


Even if what he’d done was turn this guy’s face into hamburger?


“Davy’s fallen off the edge. He needs help, son.” Williamson’s breath hitched as he tried to shift himself into a more comfortable position on the bed. “He’s not going to get it if we cover up for him. He needs to face the consequences of his actions.”


“Starsky was fine . . .” Still braced against the wall, Hutch thought back over the last few days. Had there been any signs of imminent breakdown, anything that he’d missed?


“He’s been through a lot, recently.” The concern in Williamson’s voice was evident, despite the damage his neck injury has caused to his vocal cords. “You both have. He brought Callendar in when you had the plague – I saw that on TV. John Blaine was murdered. He mentored Davy after he moved out here, didn’t he? Davy’s girl was killed. He was kidnapped by Simon Marcus’s cult. All that in the past year, and that’s just what makes the papers. I know how much of a cop’s life never reaches the public eye.”


“You . . .” Hutch stopped himself, but he was disturbed by how much Williamson knew about the events in Starsky’s life. As an old family friend, a continuing interest might be understandable, but Mrs. Starsky had been clear about how she'd distanced herself from him.


Too many things didn’t add up. Sure, all of those events had been covered in the news, but Starsky’s name had, for the most part, been kept out of print, as had his own. Regardless, the last thing Hutch wanted was to get dragged down memory lane with Williamson as he speculated on Starsky’s mental fitness.


His hand slipped into his pocket and he felt the smooth crystal face of Starsky’s watch. I know my partner.


It was time to regain control of this interview. Straightening, Hutch turned back to face Williamson. “That isn’t the whole story. What aren’t you telling me?”


Williamson hesitated. “I’ve told you everything.”


“No,” said Hutch, with sudden conviction. “No, you haven’t. And neither has Starsky. And one of you is going to tell me, if I have to--” Next to him, the young man, probably getting nervous, shuffled his feet, and Hutch took the hint.  He couldn't go threatening an injured former police officer in a hospital bed. Especially in front of the department babysitter.


He tried once more. “I’m not going to stop until one of you tells me the truth.”


“There’s nothing to tell,” said Williamson, but there was something other than honesty in his eyes this time.


Fear, perhaps. Hutch stared long and hard at the man his partner had assaulted. He moved a few steps forward and then leaned on the metal railings at the foot of the hospital bed. As his smile formed, Hutch knew he was drawing on Starsky’s bad cop persona, always more effective than his own. “Sure there is, but I understand. You want more privacy before you open up to me. Don’t worry. I can arrange that.”


As Williamson shrank back against his pillow, Hutch winked. “See ya, Williamson,” he added, as he left the room.


Behind him he could hear the other detective nervously trying to make the usual courtesies, acknowledging Williamson’s assistance, and so forth. Hutch picked up his pace; he’d already decided to ditch his shadow.


Williamson is safe from me for now, but Starsky, old pal, you’re fair game.




1:20 p.m.


Hutch found Campbell, the officer on duty, in the visitor’s area of the precinct holding cells.


“How’s Starsky doing?”


Campbell grimaced.  “You know what they say about doctors making the worst patients?”


Hutch nodded, unsurprised.


He waited in the empty room while Campbell went to get Starsky. Hutch knew this part of the building intimately. It was bright, well-lit, with large reinforced glass windows, and booths where counsel could talk semi-privately with their clients. The space was as conducive to conversation as the department had been able to make it, and a damn sight more comfortable than his partner deserved.


It’s a shame they don’t actually stock rubber hoses here.


Officer Campbell returned with an apologetic expression. “He doesn’t want to talk to you, Hutchinson.”


Hutch felt the pulse in his temple begin to throb.


Campbell stepped back. “Hey, you know, it’s no skin off of my nose if you wanna just go deal with him yourself. It’s been at least half an hour since there’s been any excitement down there.”


Hutch gave him a curt nod, and pushed open the heavy door that marked the boundary between the public visiting area and the precinct’s cells.


He couldn’t help but notice how hot and claustrophobic it was, especially in contrast to the bright, spacious room he’d just left. The windows were small and set high in the wall, covered with fine wire mesh and a film of brown grime. It was nothing he hadn’t seen a thousand times before, but now he wondered how the prisoners ever got any fresh air. The stench of sweat, vomit, and urine was overpowering. Many of the toilets had been blocked to overflowing, and that couldn’t be healthy.


He had a sudden urge to go and speak to someone about the conditions inside the cells, but he knew that he only cared because his partner was here. Hutch tried to tell himself that it was what Starsky deserved, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it.


I wonder what they gave him for breakfast?


Hutch found his partner in a cell near the end of the corridor. Starsky was draped over one of the benches in an extravagant sprawl, taking up four times as much room as necessary. The five other occupants of the cell were all crowded onto a small bench on the other side, as far away from Starsky as they could get.


Frowning at this bizarre scene, Hutch took a moment to size up his partner, who appeared to be stubbornly oblivious to his presence. Starsky looked far more rumpled than Hutch had expected, even for someone who had spent the night in a cell without a change of clothes. There was a scrape high on his left cheekbone, and the skin under his right eye was purple and swollen.


“You look terrible,” Hutch said. Any desire he’d had to beat the truth out of Starsky had completely vanished.


Starsky slowly moved his head and took in his partner. “You look worse.” His flat voice gave no indication as to whether this was an insult or a simple observation.


“So, ah -- I don’t know if they’ve told you, but --.”


“Save your breath,” Starsky interrupted him. “I’ve already heard the bad news.”


Hutch tried to reassure his partner. “They won’t be able to make attempted murder stick, and we should be able to get assault knocked down to a misdemeanor if you’d just tell us the extenuating circumstances . . .” His voice trailed off at the strange expression on Starsky’s face.


“Nah, I meant the bad news that Williamson woke up. Shit, all those years of being accused of police brutality and I can’t even beat an old man into a decent coma.”


Hutch glanced worriedly at the other occupants of the holding cell.


“Don’t sweat it. Simonetti visited a while ago and made sure he addressed me as Officer Starsky in front of these good citizens.”


“That son of a bitch!”


Starsky’s pose remained nonchalant. “It was kinda fun instillin’ a respect for the law in these guys after Simonetti slithered off. ‘Course every time they toss in someone new, I gotta reinforce it.” He shrugged. “Passes the time.”


Hutch noticed for the first time that Starsky wasn’t the only occupant in the cell who looked rough. If anything, most of them appeared worse off. One man sported a shiner, another a split lip, and the biggest inmate had one of each. Hutch wasn't reassured, though. Starsky was putting up a good front, but he still looked seriously worn down.


“I almost forgot,” Hutch said, reaching into his jacket’s right pocket. Being a cop had some benefits, like not getting frisked for contraband. He pulled out the pack of gum, so he could dig down further.


Starsky abruptly sat up. “Hey, wait a minute!”


“What?” Hutch jammed the gum back where he'd found it, and patted his rear pockets. Wallet, badge, broken watch . . .


“You’ve started smoking again!”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


“Yeah? Then what’s with the gum? I know you, Hutch. You don’t chew that stuff for fun.”


“You know what, Starsk? You’ve finally lost what’s left of your mind.” At last he found the candy bar he’d managed to coax out of the upstairs vending machine. It was only a little mangled. “Here.” He shoved it through the cell bars at his partner.


Surprised, Starsky stood up and took it from him, but he stared at Hutch like he was from outer space. “Aw, man, what is wrong with you?”


“What’s wrong with me?”


Starsky shook his head at him. “Do ya get off on being kicked around or somethin’?”


Hutch had a sudden vision of the night Vanessa had accused him of having a martyr complex. Screaming at him that he’d deliberately picked a job where he was constantly getting hurt and risking his life, then holding his sacrifices over her head whenever she complained.  He also recalled a late night drinking session shortly after the divorce, when Starsky had bluntly asked him why the hell he wanted Van back, when she’d made him so damned miserable.


Memories like that usually made Hutch angry, but in his current overtired and overstressed state, he suddenly saw the weird humor of it all. Maybe they were right. His lips curled upward. “Maybe.”


Starsky snorted. “Just my luck to be saddled with a mascotist.”


“Masochist,” Hutch corrected automatically.


“Masochist college boy.” Starsky turned the candy bar over in his hands. “Does it at least have a file inside?”


Hutch smiled some more, suddenly too tired to spar. “They were fresh out.”


The largest man on the opposite bench piped up hopefully, “Hey, if you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”


Starsky silenced him with a frigid glare, then slid the unopened candy bar into his back pocket. He looked back at Hutch with studied disinterest. “So where’s your new partner? What’s his name . . . ? Fuckett?”


“He’s not my partner!” For a brief moment, he thought he saw a flash of pain in Starsky’s eyes.  Hutch took a steadying breath, finding a certain perverse pleasure in the knowledge that, whatever Starsky thought he was accomplishing with this charade, at least he was hurting too. “They’ve scheduled your bail hearing for eight a.m. tomorrow. We’ll get you out, and you’ll be back on the job before you know it.”


“Since when are you the optimist in this partnership?” Starsky glanced away. Before Hutch could take advantage of this opening, he added sourly, “Even if Simonetti can’t make this one stick, Dobey won’t want me in his department anymore.”


Hutch rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure. If it was me, maybe. But you? Dobey lets you get away with m--.” Oops.


“Murder?” Starsky asked with an evil grin. “Tried that one. Didn’t pull it off.”


Hutch stepped forward, his hands gripping the bars. “I don’t buy it, you know.”


Starsky gave him an aggravatingly innocent look.  “I’m sellin’ somethin’?”


“The line of goods that you were trying to kill Williamson.”


“Gone psychic all of the sudden on me, Hutch? Gonna bend some spoons for your next act?”


“You didn’t use your gun. If you’d wanted him dead, you could have finished him off with a bullet.”


There was a long moment of silence. Starsky returned to the bench and flopped down on it. “Would’a been too messy.” Grimacing, he pulled the now thoroughly crushed candy bar out of his back pocket, and tossed it down beside him. “Brains are hell to get out of shag carpeting.”


“Funny.” Hutch didn't smile. “Instead you called the ambulance and saved Williamson’s life.”


“Don’t remind me.”


“You’re not a murderer, Starsky. There’s no way in hell you could have brought yourself to kill a helpless man --.”


Starsky shot to his feet, and slammed his hands against the bars. Hutch stepped back involuntarily. 


“Don’t you ever --,” Starsky shouted. He cut himself off and with visible effort pulled back from the cell door.  He sat down, glaring at the other occupants. They cowered back from him.


Down the corridor, Officer Campbell’s head appeared through the door. “Problem, Hutchinson?”


Hutch looked at Starsky, who was leaning back on the bench, his arms crossed, clearly intent on ignoring him. 


“Not anymore.” Hutch left the holding cell without another word.


Ignoring Campbell’s concerned look, Hutch headed back toward the squad room, because he just couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.


He nearly collided with Dobey, only stumbling out of the way at the last moment. Hutch managed to keep on his feet, and update his superior in a steady voice, but the captain was having none of it.


Hutchinson, you’re dead on your feet. Go home!”


Hutch waved him off. “Yeah, everyone’s trying to get rid of me these days – you, Simonetti, Starsky, the entire nursing staff at Memorial.” His lips tightened in annoyance at the hurt he heard in his own voice.


“Well, I’m succeeding! Get your butt home now, before I have them lock you up with your idiot partner!”


With no energy left to fight his captain, Hutch surrendered and headed for the parking lot.


To hell with all of them.