Return to Never Saying Sorry, CHAPTER THREE



Monday, February 27, 1978



8:12 a.m.


Starsky’s eyes marked him the moment he entered the courtroom, and Hutch cringed under the silent accusation. He was late.


He’d tried to go to sleep at a decent hour the night before, but his mind wouldn’t stop running in helpless circles, trying to untangle the Gordian knot that was Starsky.


Once again, Hutch had found himself at the counter of the all-night pharmacy in the early hours of the morning, staring at the cartons of cigarettes like an addict yearning for a fix.


The same woman had been behind the counter, this time bedecked in a neon green and yellow muumuu, the ever-present cigarette dusting everything within reach with ash. She’d given him an approximation of a motherly smile, and said, “Why don’t you tell me about the gal that broke your heart, hon?”


Blindsided by the question, Hutch had grumbled a hasty denial and bought three packs of gum, not noticing until he got home that they weren’t sugar free. Giving up on sleep, he’d parked himself on the couch with a paperback Starsky had left behind, only to wake twenty minutes before the hearing, his cheek resting in a puddle of cold drool.


It occurred to him that the cause of Starsky’s displeasure might not be his lateness, but the fact that he’d shown up at all.


But court was already in session and there was no opportunity to demand an explanation from Starsky or to issue an apology to him. Hutch pushed his way into the packed gallery. There was no available seating to speak of, but then a very large woman shuffled to the side enough to clear a few inches at the end of a bench three rows back. Hutch nodded politely at her as he sat down. She gave him a bright smile and whispered in a husky voice, “Who are you here for, darlin’?”


He glanced at her and then did a double-take, noting the Adam’s apple bobbing just above her lace collar. When he didn’t answer immediately, the drag queen folded her hands primly over her purse and said, “I’m here as surety for my husband.”


Hutch dismissed her, his attention already back on Starsky. He was seated at the left-hand table before the judge, next to a very young public defender. They appeared to be arguing fiercely, in low whispers, while the judge glowered at them, his fingers tapping the surface of his bench.


Hutch’s seatmate patted him on the thigh, startling him. “Are you here for the curly one, darlin’, or are you just appreciating the view?”


He gave her an irritated glance. “He’s . . .” Hutch stopped himself. Just because Simonetti had outed Starsky in the holding cell, there was no reason to announce publicly that a cop had been dragged in on an assault charge. “Yes, I’m here for him. But he’s definitely not my husband!”


She straightened, and tossed her head with an offended air. “Oh, well, if you want to be like that. No need to get all huffy, Sunshine.”


“Mr. MacDonald.” The judge’s voice overrode the noise of the gallery. “I’ll ask you one last time: Are you prepared to make your submission on the subject of bail, or would you prefer that we adjourn and reconvene at a more convenient time? Shall we say, next week?” He raised his bushy eyebrows in clear warning to the two of them not to test his patience further.


MacDonald stood, and scowled down at his client. Starsky crossed his arms and glared right back. Hutch generally held defense lawyers in little regard, unable to understand how a person could spend their lives protecting the guilty from the justice they deserved. Still, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lawyer who had ended up having to represent his obstinate partner.


“Your honor,” said MacDonald. “I’d like to request that Mr. Starsky be released on his own recognizance. He’s employed, has a residence in the city, and no criminal record at all. He called the ambulance himself, which pretty much negates the attempted murder charge. I don’t think he’s a flight risk.”


The judge propped his chin on his hand and regarded the young lawyer. “You don’t think so, hmm?”


MacDonald quailed under the judge’s gaze. “I don’t believe so, sir.”


Hutch winced. Man, this kid’s green.


“How about a surety? A character witness? Mr. MacDonald, am I going to have to walk you through another case?”


“No, no sir!” Starsky’s lawyer fumbled through his papers, and then glanced back at the gallery, his expression anxious.


Hutch rose to his feet. “Excuse me, your honor, I’m, uh . . . ” He paused, wondering how to explain himself without broadcasting his occupation to the entire courtroom.


Starsky tugged down on his lawyer’s sleeve and whispered something to him, jerking his thumb in Hutch’s direction. The lawyer gave Hutch a quick glance and then turned to the judge. “Your honor, may I approach the bench?”


The judge waved a careless hand at him. “Sure, why not? I just love conspiracies.” He leaned forward to listen to Starsky’s lawyer for a moment, before looking over at Hutch.


“Mr. Hutchinson, are you prepared to stand as surety for Mr. Starsky?”


Relieved that the judge was willing to keep his working relationship with Starsky under wraps, he answered, “Yes, sir.”


“You understand that this means you will be responsible for making sure he shows up for his court date, otherwise you will be liable for the full amount of his bail?”


“Yes, sir.”


“I object!” Starsky protested. His lawyer gave him an astonished look.


“Excuse me, Mr. Starsky?” said the judge, his brows drawing together ominously.


“I object, uh,” Starsky floundered momentarily, “on the grounds that Mr. Hutchinson prob’ly can’t meet any kind of bail. And I don’t want his money anyway.”


The ADA gave an amused sniff. “And here I was going to object on the basis of their relationship, and the likelihood that Mr. Hutchinson would do anything to protect his partner, up to and including helping him leave the state, if not the country.”


“Both of you up here, now!” snapped the judge, glaring at the ADA.


MacDonald protested, “He did that on purpose!”


Hutch’s neighbor poked him in the hip. “Not so far in the closet as you think, hey lover boy?” she muttered.


Oh, for God’s sake. Hutch flushed and gripped the back of the bench in front of him, trying to ignore her. He told himself that it was better if the people here believed that the two of them were lovers rather than police officers. He grimaced at the thought of what Starsky would have to say about that.


Finally, the judge dismissed the two lawyers, and they returned to their respective tables. McDonald appeared worried, while the ADA was looking more smug than abashed.


The judge dragged his hands down his cheeks before bringing them together in front of him. “Let’s see if we can make this simpler for all of us. Mr. Starsky, I strongly recommend that you accept Mr. Hutchinson’s offer. Either that, or I will order that you be placed into solitary confinement for your own protection.”


Starsky muttered something unintelligible at the scarred tabletop in front of him, looking like a recalcitrant seven year old who'd been dragged in front of the principal for fighting on the playground.


Hutch held his breath. Buddy, I think the judge is having a bad day. Let’s not piss him off, okay?


“Mr. Starsky, I am old,” said the judge, in a reasonable tone of voice that was somehow far more threatening than any of Dobey’s bellows. “My hearing isn’t as good as it once was. Have some pity on an old, half-deaf, and very impatient man. Stand up and speak clearly.”


The entire courtroom fell silent. Starsky shot to his feet, his hand folded behind his back, and wary respect in his bearing. “Yes, sir,” he said. “I’ll . . .” He stopped, his shoulders tensing. “ . . . accept the offer.”


“There now,” said the judge with intimidating congeniality. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”


Starsky opened his mouth, and then jumped, giving his attorney a startled glance. Hutch had to suppress the hysterical urge to laugh when he realized that MacDonald had just discreetly kicked Starsky in the ankle.


“You may sit down now, Mr. Starsky.” To the court reporter the judge said, “Mr. Starsky has graciously agreed to allow Mr. Hutchinson to act as surety. Make sure you get that down, dear.”


“Yes, sir,” said the woman at the stenograph machine, without looking up.


“Your honor!” protested the ADA. “Mr. Starsky poses a clear risk to the community. He admitted to assaulting an old man with intent to kill . . .”


“Does the victim reside with the accused?”


The ADA frowned, puzzled. “No sir, he’s at the hospital, where I must point out he’s being treated for serious injuries inflicted by this man--.”


“Yes, yes,” the judge cut him off with a wave of his hand. “In other words, it’s highly unlikely that Mr. Starsky will march into the hospital and assault him again, correct?”


“Ah, I suppose not . . . ”


“Well, that’s a relief.” His sarcasm was far from subtle.


Starsky looked as if he was about to interrupt the judge again, when he flinched instead, and gave his lawyer an aggrieved look. Hutch smirked. That ankle’s going to awfully sore by the end of this hearing. MacDonald’s showing some promise, after all.


The judge cleared his throat. “Bail is set for five hundred dollars. The date of our next delightful get-together to be determined later.” He slammed his gavel on the podium. “Mr. Hutchinson, I am releasing Mr. Starsky to you. You will ensure that he appears for his next hearing.


The ADA looked outraged, and pointed at Starsky. “Your honor, this man is a dangerous felon!”


MacDonald took vehement exception to this impugning of his client’s character. “Mr. Starsky has an impeccable record of service to this community, and is an upstanding citizen!”


“Do I have to remind the both of you whose courtroom this is?” thundered the judge. “The bail has been set! This is clearly a matter of simple assault. I strongly recommend that you two get your act together and work out a plea bargain, before wasting any more of my time!” Banging his gavel again, he shouted, “Next!”


The court bailiff called out, “Mr. Enriquez and counsel!”


As the man and his lawyer made their way through the crowd, Hutch’s flamboyant neighbor bounced to her feet and shouted, “I’m here for ya, honey!”


On the other side of the gallery, a short, fat man popped up. “What are you doing here? This mess is all your fault. My brother doesn’t need you here!”


“I’m his wife; of course I’m going to be here!”


“You’re not his wife; you’re just a fat, ugly man in a dress!”


A terrified Mr. Enriquez looked first at his brother and then at his lover, before bolting for the door, only to be stopped by a sternly frowning court officer. The judge reached into a drawer and withdrew a small bottle of pills. He shook several out into his hand and swallowed them dry.


Starsky walked through the gate favoring his left ankle. He stopped next to Hutch with a smirk on his face. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay for the floor show?”


Fuming, Hutch grabbed his partner by the arm. He dragged him out of the courtroom, down the hall, and then shoved Starsky through the swinging door of the men’s restroom. A man in a three piece suit was washing his hands in the sink.


“Out!” Hutch barked. The man fled without drying his hands.


Starsky reached over and turned off the tap. “Geez, Hutch, what you gonna do? Kiss me? I didn’t know you missed me so bad.”


Hutch slammed his hand against the frame of the door. “Christ, Starsky! The way you’ve been acting lately I’d rather slug you!”


Starsky glanced at himself in the mirror, and then turning toward Hutch with a challenging expression in his eyes. “You wanna hit me? Go ahead. I think I even saved a spot for you right here.” He tapped his left cheek.


“Don’t tempt me,” growled Hutch, his hands tightening into fists.


Starsky grinned at him infuriatingly.


Hutch hit the door frame again, instead. “What the hell were you trying to do in there? Get yourself thrown into prison?”


Starsky jammed his hands into his pockets, his face expressionless. “That was the idea.”


Hutch was suddenly aware that Starsky had acquired several new bruises overnight, and was nursing a fat lip. “Why?”


“I didn’t want you bailing me out, Hutch. I didn’t want . . . aw, hell.” Starsky’s mouth twisted and he buried his hands in his hair, his fingers tugging at the unruly curls. “You can’t afford five hundred any more than I can.”


Hutch pushed himself away from the wall, suddenly disinclined to look his partner in the eye.


Starsky regarded him with suspicion. “You are secretly rich!” he accused.


“No.” Hutch shook his head. “It’s just . . .” Embarrassed, he reached into his pocket and groped for a stick of gum. “Vanessa had a life insurance policy, and she never changed the beneficiary. It hasn’t been paid to me yet, but I can borrow against it.”


Starsky’s eyes widened. “You mean, you’re bailing me out with Vanessa’s life insurance?” He started to laugh. “I’d think you’d be able to hear her shriek all the way from the graveyard.”


Hutch gave him a half-hearted smile, and unwrapped his gum.


After a minute, Starsky sobered and perched on the edge on the sink. “There’s no getting rid of you, is there?”


“Nope.” Hutch looked at the sugary pink stick in his hand with revulsion and tossed it into the trash can.


“I was afraid of that,” Starsky muttered.




7:08 p.m.


Hutch had always believed that he carried the bulk of the workload in the partnership with Starsky, at least when it came to the paperwork. Between Starsky’s painfully slow hunt-and-peck manner of typing and his convoluted style of reporting, it wasn’t worth the time it took to turn in a report just so Dobey could have fits of apoplexy over it.


Over the last several years, they’d settled into a familiar routine. Hutch would grumpily bang away at the typewriter, while his partner, cheerfully unfazed, propped his feet up on the desk and lounged back in his chair as if enjoying a day off.


At times, he had resented how little of the work Starsky seemed to do, but if he was spoiled rotten, it was Hutch’s fault for letting him get away with it. So, rather than look for a solution to the problem, Hutch had carried on typing reports, while Starsky continued to fold paper airplanes in his quest for the perfect aerodynamic form.


It wasn’t until now, as he tried to do the work by himself, that Hutch began to appreciate just how much he’d come to rely upon Starsky’s constant presence. By the third time Hutch had glanced up with a question on his lips, only to find an empty space where his partner ought to have been, he’d figured out what Starsky’s job had been.


“Starsky, what was the color of that car, the second car in that smash-up, was it red or orange?”


“Neither, it was flamingo.”




“Yeah. My mother had a ’47 Studebaker, was the same color.”


Hutch wanted to kick himself for his blindness.


With Starsky around, Hutch rarely needed to check his notes. All the details of the cases they’d worked on, the make of every car, the timing of each incident, down to the minute – all resided somewhere in his partner’s mind. The filing system was a little on the eccentric side, but it had never let either of them down.


With a curse, Hutch yanked the half-completed report out of the typewriter and slapped it down on his desk. He began digging into the stack of manila folders piled high by his elbow, searching for the name of a particular witness. Hutch knew that the only place he was likely to find it, other than in Starsky’s brain, was on a tattered scrap of a cocktail napkin, buried in an unnamed file.


A hamburger on a paper plate dropped onto the desk in front of him. It was immediately followed by a small carton of chocolate milk and another plate stacked high with French fries.


Startled, Hutch looked up. His elbow inadvertently hit the plate and several fries slid off.


“Eat,” said Dobey, taking a generous bite of his own burger, by way of illustration.


Hutch picked the scattered fries off of his report and frowned at the grease spot forming in the center of the first page.


Dobey sat on the corner of the desk, and glanced at the paper. “Is that the report on the Mulroney holdup? That was due two weeks ago. I should make you rewrite it just on principle.” He pointed at the hamburger. “Eat. That’s an order.”


Looking around the quiet squad room, Hutch realized that it was later than he’d thought. His plan to keep busy had been more successful than he’d intended, and both lunch and dinner had passed by without his notice. Evidently, Dobey had marked his lapse, and taken matters into his own hands.


Hutch looked down at the wretched excuse for a hamburger in front of him, and then at the ruined report in his hand. Feeling a sudden rush of irritation, he waved the paper at Dobey. “Where the hell is Fuh--?” He stopped himself just in time.


Hutch couldn’t remember the junior detective’s real name, but he was damn sure it wasn’t the one Starsky had given the kid. “Where’s that babysitter you assigned to me? The least he could do is make himself useful.”


Dobey’s expression darkened and he tore another chunk off of his burger. After swallowing, he said, “Puckett was in my office first thing this morning with a transfer request. What the hell did you do to that boy?”


Hutch was baffled. “I didn’t do anything to him.”


“Don’t give me that!” snapped Dobey. “He described your partner as a menace to society, and he said you were psychotic. While I’m inclined to agree with him about Starsky; you only scare people when you want to, Hutchinson. So, what the hell were you playing at?”


There was nothing Hutch could say. He honestly didn’t know what the kid’s problem could have been. He’d hardly exchanged more than a handful of words with him.


After a few minutes, Dobey’s glare softened. Finishing the last bite of his burger, he said, “I heard you bailed Starsky out this morning. Is he talking to you yet?”


Hutch poked unenthusiastically at the fries. Dobey sounded so damn certain that Starsky would open up to him. How had he put it only two nights ago? "You’re the only one who can talk sense into that mule-headed partner of yours!"


“No,” Hutch admitted, unhappily. “He’s not talking.”


Dobey grunted, acknowledging his frustration. “If you need a day off, to stay with him . . . .”


Dobey's voice had sounded nonjudgmental, but Hutch felt the implied criticism anyway. He knew perfectly well that by remaining at the office he was avoiding having to face Starsky. Some friend you are.


Trying to convince himself as much as Dobey, he said, “Starsky’s okay. I dropped him off at his place. He said he wanted to grab a shower and then take a nap. I don’t think he had much of a chance to sleep when he was in . . . .” Hutch stopped, choking on the word "jail."


In the face of Dobey’s continuing silence, he added defensively, “I’m going to check in on him after I finish up here.”


“I’d say you’re already finished here. Except for that.” Dobey nodded at the cooling burger sitting untouched on Hutch’s desk.


With a sigh, Hutch picked up the hamburger, and took a bite.


By the time Hutch left the precinct, the burger was an indigestible lump in his stomach, along with the chocolate milk and half of the fries. Feeling queasy, he started his car and pulled out of the lot. He’d fully intended to drive to Starsky’s place, but at the last minute he took a left instead of a right turn at Fourth Avenue, and ended up in front of The Pits instead.


The bar was already crowded, despite the relatively early hour. Appreciating his relative anonymity, Hutch found himself a seat at the end of the bar, and let the buzz of voices flow over him. He couldn’t remember another time when he’d felt so desperately tired.


Hutch thought about trying to call Mrs. Starsky again, but couldn’t work up the requisite energy. He soothed his guilt by reminding himself that he had tried twice this afternoon to reach her, so he hadn’t entirely broken his promise to contact her once her son was released. Besides, now that Starsky was free he’d probably gotten in touch with his mother himself.


A familiar snap and the acrid scent of a lighter brought Hutch out of his reverie. He glanced to his side in time to see a short, balding man apply the small flame to the end of a cigarette. The familiar longing tugged at him, but Hutch knew perfectly well that it wasn’t smoking that he was really missing.


Thinking of Starsky reminded him of their last exchange. Driving back from the courthouse, there’d been an awkward silence between them. Pulling up outside of Starsky’s apartment, Hutch had reached out to touch his friend’s shoulder. “Do you want me to . . . ?”


“Damn it, Hutch!” Starsky had ducked the contact, and glared at him with sudden fury. “Do yourself a favor, okay? Quit tryin’ so hard.” He’d climbed out of the car and slammed the door before a shaken Hutch could respond.


The recollection brought with it a bone-deep weariness. It was getting harder to believe that there wasn’t something personal in how Starsky was pushing him away.  Hutch’s conviction that he himself had done nothing to cause the rift was beginning to waver.


It was too much. Turning to his neighbor, Hutch asked, “Can I bum a cigarette off of you?”


“Sure.” The man shook the package and held it out. Hutch reached across to help himself to a cigarette when a lean black hand snatched the smokes away from them both.


“Attention, please!” The crowd fell silent as Huggy brandished the cigarette package at Hutch. “This man does not smoke. Anyone I catch giving this man so much as a used butt out of his ashtray will be banned from The Pits for life.” Huggy handed the cigarettes back to their owner and gave him a look that reminded the man of pressing business elsewhere. The noisy hum of the bar resumed.


Embarrassed by the amused looks people were giving him, Hutch glared at Huggy. “Cutting addicts off from their suppliers, Hug? When did you become a cop?”


Huggy checked to make sure no one was within immediate earshot, before leaning forward on the bar. “There’s no need to get insultin’. I know that eventually m’man Starsky will get out of the joint and he’ll kick my beautiful behind if I let you start up smoking again.”


Belatedly, Hutch realized that he hadn’t been keeping Huggy up on the latest developments. “He’s already posted bail.”


“Ex-cel-ent.” Huggy enjoyed each syllable for all it was worth before dropping his voice. “You let me know if you need any help with that. I don’t got much, but . . . .” Huggy’s shrug was eloquent.


“Thanks, Hug, it’s taken care of.” Indeed, Hutch had spent a good portion of the day leaving messages with the bank and the executor of Van’s will. At least that had felt like useful activity. And I suppose if Starsky does go to jail, I’ll end up bringing him cookies, God help me.


Huggy’s eyebrows rose. “I wouldn’t even have to make the offer if you two took bribes like sensible people.”


Hutch felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “When have either of us ever been sensible?”


“Now, that’s the truth,” Huggy declared. A small knot of laughing girls made their way over to the bar, and he straightened up. “Well, what are you having?” he asked Hutch, all professionalism now.


Hutch hesitated. He was tempted to ask for a beer, but it occurred to him that he was going to need to be one hundred percent sober to deal with Starsky tonight.


“Just coffee, thanks.” Reluctantly, he added, “And I’ll have it to go.”