Return to Never Saying Sorry, CHAPTER FIVE



Monday, February 27, 1978


9:42 p.m.


Hutch turned off the water and stepped carefully onto the bathroom floor, still damp from its recent mopping.  He dried himself and then reached for the jeans hanging over the towel rack. They were his own jeans, though they weren’t the same ones he’d been wearing earlier.  He’d found them at the bottom of Starsky’s dresser before taking his shower.


Mrs. Starsky had come in while he’d been rummaging through Starsky’s closet with the jeans over his shoulder, and he had felt a brief moment of panic at what she’d think.  He’d tried to stammer out an explanation, but she had simply patted him on the arm and told him to take one of her son’s shirts as well.


Having now finished dressing, Hutch retrieved his keys, badge, and wallet from beside the sink. He hesitated a moment over the watch. Starsky would probably want it back, but the strap was still broken. Hutch slipped the watch into his pocket, next to his keys.


He pushed his damp hair back and went to join Mrs. Starsky in the kitchen. She took the kettle off the stove and poured boiling water into two mugs. Hutch wondered how old the tea bags were.  When she opened the fridge and looked inside, he roused himself and got the sugar out of the cupboard.


“Do you have a place to stay, Mrs. Starsky?” Hutch asked, breaking the awkward silence.


“It’s Esther, remember?” She responded, checking the expiration date on the milk. “I have a hotel room. I didn’t think this would be a good time to stay with family.”


The look of wry humor on her face almost made Hutch smile. He’d long since given up on getting her to call him Hutch or at least Ken, but she had not yet abandoned the effort to teach him to call her Esther, apparently oblivious to the double standard.


They took their cups from the kitchen to Starsky’s small dining table. Hutch automatically pulled out the folding chair closest to the kitchen for her, and then tried to settle into the other one, without folding himself in half. Starsky had probably bought the stupid things because they looked like director’s chairs, he mused, trying not to tip it over as he reached for his mug. 


“I’m going to need your help to see him privately.” Mrs. Starsky said quietly.


It took a moment for Hutch to realize that she was talking about Williamson, not her son. “I can probably get you in to see him, Mrs. -- I mean, Esther.” He frowned. “But Williamson is pressing charges against your son. The ADA’s probably already advised him not to meet privately with anyone related to the case.” Not that Hutch was going to allow that restriction to stop him the first chance he got.


“What if you were there with me, in your capacity as an officer of the court?”


Hutch considered her question. As Starsky’s partner, it was a stretch for him to act as an observer for Williamson’s protection. But, not even the judge wanted to see this go to trial, and it wasn’t as if Hutch gave a damn about observing the proprieties. Plus there was the added bonus that it would make Simonetti’s blood boil when he found out. “I think we could get away with that.”


She released a breath. “As long as it’s just you, Kenneth.”


Hutch was surprised by how much this soft remark moved him. “I promise. I can meet you at your hotel at nine tomorrow morning and drive you over to Memorial.”


She pulled the tea bags out of the mugs, adding sugar and milk to hers. Hutch took his black. As he sipped his tea, Hutch struggled to find a way to raise any one of the million questions he wanted to ask without making it sound like he was a cop pressuring a snitch to give up a bad guy. He was beginning to think that Dobey should have assigned someone else, after all. Not only had he failed to get a single useful thing out of Starsky, he couldn’t even bring himself to question the man’s mother.


Disheartened, Hutch fished Starsky’s watch out of his pocket and laid it on the counter. If he could somehow straighten the pin, he might be able to reattach the band.


Esther took a breath, as if about to speak.


Hutch looked up. “I was going to give it back . . .” But Esther’s focus was inward, and she seemed to be struggling with herself.


“Before we see . . . him tomorrow,” she hesitated, but then with an expression of resolve, set down her mug. “I had better tell you the whole story before we go in there.”


Hutch recognized the surge of adrenaline he felt; it was the one he always experienced when a difficult investigation was about to break wide open. He remembered his avowal to Dobey that Starsky wasn’t a case. You’re not here sitting with his mother because you’re a cop, you’re here because he’s your best friend.


Reluctantly, Hutch said, “Maybe, you shouldn’t tell me, if Star — if David doesn’t want me to know.” He pushed his repair project aside, his attention on Mrs. Starsky.


“David loves you like a brother, more than his brother.” Mrs. Starsky shook her head. “If he was capable of telling anyone, he’d tell you.”


She took a deep breath. “When you called and asked me about Gene Williamson, it was like returning to a nightmare.”


“I didn’t mean to handle it so badly.” 


Mrs. Starsky patted his hands, and said, “Don’t be ridiculous, you couldn’t have known.” She looked down at the table for a moment, and then began to speak in an emotionless voice. “Mike knew Gene longer than he knew me; they were friends even before they were partners. He was best man at our wedding.  Both of our boys called him uncle. After Mike died, I honestly don’t know how I would have got through the first couple of weeks without him.”


Hutch kept his own counsel, understanding that Esther had to work her way into what happened, and that questions would only slow the process down.


“For the first time in my life I was on my own, and even with my widow’s pension, it was so hard. I needed to hold down a job, while trying to raise my two boys. Nicholas, he just became more withdrawn, he’d always held things inside, but David . . .” She shook her head. “He’d always been difficult to manage, but with Mike gone, he was out of control. He was only eleven, but it was like he turned into a hoodlum overnight. He was always getting into fights, running around with God knows what gangs after school, when he bothered to go at all.”


“When Gene,” she took a steadying breath, “when he offered to spend more time with him I was so . . . grateful.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “And it seemed to help, David settled down, he stayed at home more, didn’t mouth off. And I--,” she met Hutch’s eyes, “He was so quiet. So changed. I should have known something was wrong. But instead I was grateful.”


A sick feeling was growing in the pit of Hutch’s stomach, and he had to bite his lip to remain silent.


“Then one afternoon, David’s school called me at work. I was used to the phone calls by then, even though I hadn’t had one in a while. It was a Monday, I remember, and he’d been at Gene’s all weekend. I hadn’t even seen him that morning. But all can think is that it’s another suspension, and how am I going to pick him up in the middle of the afternoon without losing my job? I don’t even realize right away that it’s the school nurse who’s calling me, and not the principal’s secretary.”


Hutch had a sudden memory of how squirrelly Starsky had been around Guy Mayer.  How at first he’d kept trying to convince Hutch to stay clear of the case. How he’d left the school room the moment he’d seen the marks on the kid’s back. Now it made sense. Shit, Starsk, why the hell didn’t you tell me? I’d have beaten the ever lovin’ crap out of the guy myself.


Esther pulled him back into her narrative. “David had been hurt, they said. Badly. He’d gotten into a fight with another boy during a basketball game. By the time the coach got to him, the other boys were laughing and pointing and saying, ‘Looks like Davy Starsky got the shit beat out of him this time.’ And David . . . my David ran.”


Locked in place in Starsky’s god-awful chair, Hutch sensed the denouement rushing toward him like impending doom. Starsky never ran away from anything his whole life.


“So what could I do?” Esther continued. “My boy was in trouble. Again. Only this time he had gone too far, they said. And I suppose they were right, in their minds, because he had locked himself in a bathroom stall and they couldn’t make him come out. I get there while they’re trying to take the door off the stall, and I can hear my boy screaming and cussing and crying. All I did was say his name . . . and he collapsed. We all heard him hit the floor, and he didn’t say another word after that.”


Hutch’s hand tightened on the watch, the broken piece digging into his palm. He had no memory of having picked it up.


Esther said, “It was easy then. The janitor grabbed his feet under the door and pulled him out on his belly. And we saw it. What the boys had thought was sh—What the boys had seen . . . there on the back of David’s white shorts . . . it was blood.”


Hutch stopped breathing. He swallowed hard, unable to free the words that clogged in his throat.


Esther Starsky had never sounded so fragile. “My boy had been raped.”


I’ll kill him.


“Please sit down, Kenneth.”


“That bastard --.”


“I said, sit down.” Her voice sharper this time. Hutch realized that he was standing, his hands curled into fists, still clutching the watch in his right. With an effort, he picked up the chair he had knocked over and forced himself to settle back into it. Carefully, he placed the watch back down on the table, afraid that if he kept it in his hand, he might damage it further.


Esther’s eyes returned to her hands, clasped on her lap. “The nurse, she made me wait outside the infirmary while she . . . she cleaned him up. The principal came down to speak to me. He said that a boy like David, because of what had happened-- that David wasn’t a normal kid. He said he didn’t know what to do about ‘a boy like him,’ and that it would be in everyone’s best interests if I just took him home. Like David had some terrible contagious disease and needed to be kept away from regular folk.”


Hutch pinched the bridge of his nose. It was too late for tears.


Esther flashed a concerned look in his direction and he felt a single bead of sweat break free, running down along the line of his temple.


“The nurse brought David out then but he wouldn’t say what had happened, I asked him, the nurse asked him, even the principal, but he wouldn’t tell us a thing. The nurse took me to one side and . . . the nurse was the worst. She said . . . How did she put it – she was concerned about the nature of his injury. Especially as there wasn’t -- that other than a couple of bruises from the fight--.” Esther drew a shaky breath. “She was concerned because she thought he hadn’t been forced. That he had simply done what he was told to do. And the way she looked at me, I know she thought that I--.” 


Hutch’s fist connected with his leg, but he remained seated.


Esther gave Hutch a shaky smile, devoid of humor. “And this is the point in my story where I am supposed to say that I slapped the nurse, and spat in the principal’s eye and that we walked out of there with our heads held high, me and my son. I wish I could tell you that . . .” She took a deep breath. “ . . . But that’s not how it was. We left like thieves, making sure no one saw us. Because I was ashamed, not of David, not of what had been done to him, but because I never knew.”


“I tried in the car to make him talk to me . . . but he wouldn’t say anything, not a word. He disappeared into his room; he wouldn’t even let Nicholas in when he got home. He refused to come down for dinner. He snuck out in the middle of the night to steal food from the refrigerator.”


Trust Starsky never to miss a meal, not even in the middle of a crisis. Hutch swallowed the lump in his throat.


“I left him alone. Gave him some time. Gave myself some time . . . The next night I sent Nicholas over to my sister Deborah’s, and I forced myself into David’s room.” She met Hutch’s eyes briefly, her expression wry. “I don’t think there was a single thing left unbroken in that room by the time we were through, and I’m not sure which of us smashed the most.” The faint smile disappeared. “I’ve never hated myself as much I did for the things I threatened my son with that night. Sometimes, I wish . . .” She shook her head, and whispered, “I’d said nothing.”


She stood up, and now it was Hutch's turn to try to get her to sit back down, but she pulled away from his hand. Turning her back to him, she surveyed the wreckage of the living room. “I wish I’d never found out that it had been going on for years.” 


Hutch kept telling himself to get up, to do something, but he felt helpless, paralyzed.


“Mike trusted him, I trusted him, he was a cop, my husband’s best friend and all that time, he’d . . . And my son is telling me that it wasn’t so bad, that --.”


Her voice fractured, and finally Hutch’s body obeyed him. He went to her side, gently guided her back to the chair, and clasped her shaking hands in his. 


“That he just used to touch him a lot, that it had been okay until . . .” She looked up, meeting Hutch’s eyes. “Can you imagine listening to your own son defending someone like that? Saying that if he hadn’t been such a rotten kid to me lately that his uncle Gene wouldn’t have made it hurt so bad. As if he deserved such a thing.”


The fury in her voice matched the rage building in Hutch. He kept all of his focus on her, not allowing himself to think about anything, anyone else.


“The next day I went to see my cousin Leonard, he’s a lawyer, and I told him everything.” She took a deep breath. “And he told me that it would be the word of a juvenile delinquent against a cop’s.” Another breath. “I slapped him so hard, he almost hit the floor. And then I cried for hours, curled up on his office floor. I cried until I didn’t have a single tear left in me.” Her hands now gripped Hutch’s so hard that it hurt, but he didn’t pull back. “Because, I knew that Leonard was right.”


A cold horror trickled down Hutch’s spine as he remembered Lieutenant Billings praising Williamson's record, and not just as a cop. How the man had spent years volunteering with troubled kids, counseling them. A wolf in the fold.


“And even if we did manage to prove it, Leonard told me that in the eyes of the law. . .” she shook her head. “He told me that David would end up with a juvenile record; that he might even be taken away from me, sent to juvenile hall or . . .” She looked up at Hutch, pleading. “You have to understand Kenneth, I couldn’t do that to my son. I couldn’t let them punish him.” 


Hutch pulled her into a hug, lifting to her feet when the chairs began to tip over. He tried to swallow down his rage, so he could focus on comforting her, but his mind kept suggesting bloody scenarios. It scared him how badly he wanted to kill Williamson. How much he wanted to kill every judge who had ever sent a raped kid – a victim, not a criminal, goddammit - to juvenile hall.


He held her until he felt some of the tension ease.  When he released her, she asked in a shaky voice, “Is there anything stronger than tea to drink here?”


He motioned at the bottle of schnapps.  “I think all Star -- all he left us was this.”


She shook her head, and sighed. “Rose always did have the worst taste in alcohol.” Still, she went into the kitchen and retrieved two glasses. Hutch filled both of them halfway, and for several minutes, they sat in silence, grimacing as they drank.


Finally, she put down her glass. “So that’s why I sent David to live here with my sister and brother-in-law. It was the only thing I could think of to do. Even if I could have convinced the principal, David wouldn’t have gone back to that school, not after what the other kids had seen, what they’d said . . .  Even though I told him they probably didn’t understand.” She shook her head again. “Sending him as far away as possible seemed the right thing to do. I moved to a different apartment, and I made sure that Gene came no where near Nicholas.”


“But I’ve always wished I could have done something.” She picked up her glass, but only stared at it. “Leonard and I, we both regularly made anonymous phone calls to the charities Gene volunteered for, but they didn’t always listen. Why would they?” She took a sip, and frowned. “I still have nightmares about other mother’s children that he must have . . . but I had to protect my boy.”


“It’s not your fault.” He clutched his already empty glass, and resisted the temptation to pour himself more.


She straightened, and there was firm resolve in her voice. “This time I’m going to do what’s right.”


Hutch inhaled sharply. “No, you can’t. Starsky -- he’ll never let you.” Hutch now fully comprehended why his partner was willing to lose his career and go to jail rather than divulge the motivation behind the attack.


He turned his head away, hating himself for this urge to cover it up. But he knew what would happen if this came out into the open; it would destroy his partner, as a detective and as a man. Starsky’s reputation with other cops, with every hard case on the street would be destroyed. Men weren’t raped, not as children, not as adults. Which is how predators like Williamson keep getting away with it. 


Hutch began to understand how torn Mrs. Starsky must have been; knowing that protecting her son would mean protecting his abuser as well. And it was worse now, he thought helplessly. Either Starsky went free as a social leper, or he would be jailed as a cop who’d gone over the edge. Where he’ll be locked up with men who would love to ream a cop a new one. Hutch closed his eyes, unable to cope.


But a warm hand touched his cheek, gently turning his head forward. “Please, Kenneth, don’t worry. Please trust me.”


Hutch opened his eyes and met hers. In them he saw resolve, and an echo of his partner’s spirit. “Who do you trust?” Hutch found himself nodding against his will.


He watched in silence as she retrieved her coat and purse, then wrote down the address of her hotel for him. As she disappeared into the bedroom, Hutch retrieved Starsky’s watch and slipped it back into his pocket. He returned the milk to the fridge, and then waited for her by the door. When she came into the hall, he opened it for her, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Esther -- are you sure?”


Again the warm hand soothed him. “Just take care of David, Kenneth, and I’ll take care of the monster who did this to him.”