Return to Never Saying Sorry, CHAPTER SEVEN



Tuesday, February 28, 1978






Hutch flinched. He’d hoped to make it to his desk without attracting Dobey’s attention.




“My office, now!”


With a deep sense of foreboding, Hutch made his way into Dobey's office.


“Close the door!”


He’d barely complied, when Dobey launched into a tirade. “I just had a call from Internal Affairs, and they’re hopping mad. They’re saying you coerced Williamson into dropping the charges against Starsky.”


Hutch opened his mouth, but the memory of drawing his gun on Williamson cut off his denial.




Hutch swallowed. The chill in his captain’s voice told him that this wasn’t just another routine dressing down for ignoring protocol. “What does Williamson say?”


“He says it was a misunderstanding – a case of mistaken identity.” Dobey’s frown deepened. “But I think you already know that.”


Rubbing the back of his neck, Hutch looked down at the floor. He knew he ought to feel guilty about violating his code of ethics as an officer, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret what he’d done. The trouble was, he couldn’t think of a way of explaining it, either.


Dobey’s voice dropped to an uneasy rumble. “I know what Starsky means to you, but pressuring a witness to change his story . . .” Hutch heard the captain shift, his chair creaking. “Hutch, I trusted you to know where to draw the line. Otherwise, I’d never have assigned you his case.”


The accusation hurt, not because it wasn’t true, but because, in protecting his partner, he’d betrayed his captain’s trust and Dobey damn well knew it. Hutch straightened and confronted Dobey’s worried gaze. “I know exactly where that line is, Captain, and I hit it last night when I heard what Mrs. Starsky had to say.”


Puzzlement replaced some of the disappointment on Dobey’s face. “Mrs. Starsky?”


“Starsky’s mom flew in from New York last night. I took her to Williamson this morning at her request.” Hutch paused, and rubbed his jaw. “She did most of the talking.”


It occurred to Hutch that it was Mrs. Starsky who’d convinced Williamson to change his story. Not that it mattered, IA wouldn’t appreciate the distinction, and Hutch was more than willing to share culpability. What we did wasn’t legal, but it was right.




Hutch had lost the thread of the conversation. “And what?”


“What did she say to him?”


“Oh.” Hutch thought hard. He couldn’t tell Dobey the whole story—even if he wanted to, he didn’t have the right. “She informed Williamson that she would take the stand in Starsky’s defense. That there were . . . things that she would say that he wouldn’t want a jury to hear.”


Dobey slapped his hands down on the top of his desk, half-rising from his seat as he roared, “You stood there and allowed her to blackmail him!”


Hutch stepped forward, his fists clenched. “Captain, he had it coming! She didn’t say a single thing that wasn’t true, and you know what? I think it’s a crying shame that Williamson will never get more than what he got at Starsky’s hands!”


A heavy silence descended. Finally, Dobey released a sigh. “But if that’s true, then why aren’t we bringing Williamson up on charges?”


Hutch shook his head, sick at the thought that he’d revealed more than he’d intended. “Don’t. It’s ancient history.”


Hutchinson, it doesn’t matter how long ago it was, if Williamson was a dirty cop, it shouldn’t be swept under the rug.”


He thinks Williamson was corrupt! Struggling to keep the relief out of his voice, Hutch said, “Captain, you’ve got to trust me. Bringing this out into the open will do much more harm than good.”


“I don’t like being kept in the dark,” said Dobey. He fidgeted in his chair, his brows drawn together. He reached into a drawer, withdrew a jar of antacids, tipped a few into his hand, and tossed them into his mouth, crunching loudly to cover the growing silence.


Hutch was well versed in procedure, which demanded that Dobey put him on suspension and begin an investigation into the charges of coercion. Dobey had bent the rules for them in the past, but this was asking a lot. Hutch was gambling on friendship and trust, but he didn’t know if it would be enough.


He drew in a long breath. “What if I were to tell you that what happened . . . had nothing whatsoever to do with Williamson being a cop? Consider it -- a family thing.”


And that wasn’t a lie, because twenty years ago Esther and Mike had trusted Williamson and had accepted him into their family. Deep within, Hutch felt a wrenching jolt as if something had been torn from him. Another little piece of my idealism, perhaps.


Dobey looked doubtful. “A family thing,”  he repeated. “And Mrs. Starsky . . . ?”


Steadily, Hutch met his eyes, and pushed back. “Mrs. Starsky would like it kept that way.”


Dobey pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his forehead with it. “Family.” He spoke the word with low reverence. “Family,” he added, as if delivering a sermon, “is everything.”


Maybe that was what clinched it, because Dobey dropped his eyes to the stack of paperwork in front of him: arrest reports and requisitions, time sheets and sick forms. “Well, Hutchinson, I’ve got work to do and you’ve got work you haven’t been doing these past couple days, so get back on it. Your partner can have the rest of the day off, since his mother’s in town.”


He scowled at Hutch. “But don’t go thinking you’re off the hook. I want to see the both of you in here at 8:30 sharp tomorrow morning or there’ll be hell to pay.”


Hutch recognized the absolution buried within Dobey’s exasperated grumble. The depth of the relief he felt was staggering. “Yes, sir!”


Dobey huffed. “You two are going to be the death of me yet. Now get back to work, before I change my mind and have you both shot at dawn.”


Family was a wonderful thing, Hutch thought, as he fled Dobey’s office. Because sometimes they saw everything, and sometimes they saw just enough to see nothing at all.




11:32 p.m.


“You’re . . . celebrating.” Huggy repeated Hutch’s explanation, his tone eloquent in its disapproval.


Hutch pretended not to notice. “I am,” he confirmed. “Didn’t you hear? Williamson said it was all a terrible misunderstanding, and the D.A. is withdrawing the charges against Starsky. Tell me that’s not something worth celebrating.”


Hutch poured himself a second shot from the bottle of whiskey he’d browbeaten the barmaid into selling him. Huggy hadn’t been anywhere in sight at time, but he’d shown up soon enough afterward.


“Hutch, right now you got all the celebratory joy of a man attending his own wake – alone,” Huggy said with an air of infinite patience tried to its limit. “Far be it for me to try to tell you anything.”


Unsmiling, Hutch saluted him with the shot glass.


Huggy released a melodramatic sigh. “Do try not to give yourself alcohol poisoning. It ain’t good for the business when my customers kill themselves.” Shaking his head, Huggy walked away.


Hutch absently picked at the label of the amber bottle. Huggy obviously thought he’d started drinking long before he'd even gotten to the Pitts. Probably the barmaid had thought the same.


They were both wrong. Hutch had never felt more sober in his entire life.


His brother cops had been whispering about him at work. Some were sympathetic, but he’d heard others gloating. “Hutchinson, yeah, he always acts like he’s such a straight shooter. But he’s not above running out on an arrest warrant, or putting the screws on a witness to protect his partner, is he?” Then the overheard response that had bothered him even more. “Yeah, I’d always thought that’d be more Starsky’s style.”


Hutch snorted derisively, and took another swallow, feeling the whiskey burn its way down his throat. Those idiots didn’t know Starsky at all. Unfortunately, between Vanessa’s murder and Williamson's hospitalization, the last two weeks had left both of their reputations as clean cops in shreds.


At least they don’t suspect the truth behind the assault on that bastard.


All day, Hutch had tried not to think of how the other cops would have reacted to Mrs. Starsky’s revelation. His less-than-successful efforts had resurrected an old memory that he’d tried to banish back into the shadows of his mind. Downing another shot for courage, Hutch allowed the memory out and took a long look at the ugly little thing.


Eighth grade, health class. The boys went to one room and the girls to another to learn all of the facts of life every young person needed to know. Mostly the curriculum had consisted of lectures about "nice boys don’t" and "jerking off causes insanity," delivered by a stern man who looked like he’d never had sex. There’d been films too, including one on VD that caused half the class to swear off sex for the rest of their lives. A vow that lasted about thirty seconds after the bell had rung and they were once again mingling with the female half of the school population.


But the film that haunted him now was one about predatory strangers stalking boys.


Even though Hutch hadn’t thought about the film in years, he could still hear the narrator’s smooth, confident voice, describing “homosexuality” as a contagious disease, inciting men to seek out intimate relationships with young boys. The man in the story had gone to jail, while the boy had ended up released on probation with a juvenile record. The message had been clear; the man was sick, but the victim was culpable for allowing it to happen, for not being careful enough.


Hutch poured himself another shot. Even as a fifteen year old, he’d been pretty sure those films were all full of lies. Besides, every boy in his class knew that jerking off didn’t make you go insane, and nice boys certainly did if any girl would. So why bother to believe the rest of what they told you anyway?


But how must Starsky have felt, watching sick propaganda like that when he was just a kid in high school? Being told that he was responsible for his own molestation and rape?


More whiskey was downed, the shaking of his hand ignored. At least, in college it had seemed as if there wasn’t a single conventional belief left that couldn’t be challenged. Even though homosexuality had still been on the books as illegal and a mental illness, his peers and his psychology professor had agreed that consensual love between adults of either sex was an entirely different animal from predatory pedophilia.


But Starsky hadn’t gone to college; he’d been drafted instead. Despite what his partner claimed about spending his entire tour getting high on marijuana, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, the army wasn’t renowned for broadening a man’s horizons.


No wonder John Blaine’s death had hit Starsky so hard, Hutch reflected. The man he’d admired and tried to emulate - a genuinely good person – had been exposed as a closeted homosexual. Starsky must have had to re-evaluate his entire perception of Blaine, and Hutch couldn’t imagine how hard that must have been.


Hutch froze in the act of pouring another shot, suddenly aware that he was doing exactly the same thing to Starsky right now. He was reassessing him in the light of disturbing new information.


Might as well be honest about it.


Hutch had long suspected that Starsky had been sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Bay City because of troubles back home. Still, he’d assumed that they’d been the result of having lost his father at such a young age, and he’d envied the close relationship his partner maintained with his mother, despite their separation. Hutch would never have guessed that Starsky had been an abused child.


After they’d worked on Guy Mayer’s case, Hutch had borrowed some books on abused children from Sergeant Peterson. He’d hoped that this reading would enable him to spot any warning signs in future cases involving kids. The descriptions of the lifelong impact of the abuse on its victims had left him thoroughly depressed, fearing that little Guy might never be all right. Hutch’s grip on the shot glass tightened. Were there signs of long-term trauma he’d missed seeing in his own partner?


He frowned at the alcohol in his hand. Starsky had a temper that was the scourge of furniture everywhere, and a tendency to be cynical when it came to people’s characters. Still, considering their stressful profession, all of that was normal. Hutch shuddered as he recalled his own initial naiveté, worn down by exposure to the streets of Bay City.


The fact was, Hutch decided as he tossed back the whiskey, that despite his partner’s occasional bizarre get-rich-quick schemes, Starsky was by far the sanest person he knew.


As far as Hutch was concerned, his partner coped better with their job than he did most of the time. Even Starsky’s frustrating behavior since his assault on Williamson made perfect sense now that Hutch knew why his partner had been pushing him away so hard.


He thought over what he'd read about the troubles that abused kids had later in their personal lives, but Starsky had never displayed any difficulty interacting or forming relationships with people. He sure as hell never showed any problem with physical contact, unlike so many other sexual assault victims that they'd dealt with.


Hutch froze as that thought triggered a memory from the last book he’d read. The author had proposed that, unlike adult or teenaged victims, abused children’s personal boundaries were violated before these boundaries had fully formed.


Ironically, at the time, he’d reflected that Starsky would have hated the book because of its thick jargon, but Hutch now realized that the author had described one of his partner’s salient traits: Starsky lacked all sense of personal space. It was a peculiarity that Hutch found alternately endearing and infuriating. He’d learned early on that the frequent touches, whether a casual pat on a knee or squeeze of a shoulder, were just his partner’s way of communicating strength and support. It had taken a couple of years, but eventually Hutch had become comfortable enough to return the contact, and then to initiate it – communicating in a way alien to his upbringing, but definitely good for his soul.


Sometimes though, Starsky would get right into his face, knowing full well that it made him uncomfortable. He’d also witnessed his partner aggressively crowding perps until they cracked, without ever having to lay a finger on them. Starsky knew that his deliberate invasion of people’s space unsettled them in a way that never bothered him.


Hutch reached for the whiskey bottle again, surprised to find it closer to empty than he’d expected. He poured out the last of it into his glass, and had to admit that he’d found no answers at the bottom of the bottle. Two psychology courses and a handful of books on child abuse were hardly sufficient background to figure out which aspects of his partner’s personality were the results of the trauma he’d suffered as a kid, and which were just Starsky: exasperating, lovable, and unique.


He reached into his back pocket to see if he had enough cash to bribe the barmaid into giving him another bottle of whiskey, but pulled out Starsky’s watch instead. He laid it on the table, feeling guilty for not returning it last night. Yet it had felt important at the time to fix the damn thing first.


Gripping the watch firmly, Hutch tried to push the pin back into place. He grimaced as the edge of the metal bit into his thumb. Retrieving the cap of the whiskey bottle, he tried to use it instead. With only a quiet ping as a warning, the pin abruptly came loose and shot across the table, propelled by the spring inside.


Cursing, Hutch scanned the table surface for the tiny piece of metal. He pushed his empty glass aside and ran his hands over the checked tablecloth. He bent down to search the floor, but the pin was gone.


He rested his spinning head beside the watch, and berated himself for trying to fix it on his own. Something like that needed an expert to repair it properly, not a drunken—if well-meaning—friend.


Damn, I’m an absolute idiot sometimes.


He pocketed the remains of the watch and pushed himself to his feet. Blinking as he experienced another touch of vertigo, Hutch decided that he must be more tired than he’d thought. He fumbled in his pocket for a dime, as he headed toward the bank of pay phones near the door.


Hutch had an idea, but to make it happen he needed serious help. Starsky was going to really, really hate the plan, which meant that his partner must never, ever find out that Hutch was the one who had come up with it.


Leaning against the wall, Hutch dialed the phone number, and tried to reassure himself that despite the risk of getting his lights punched out, his scheme was in Starsky’s best interests.


After five rings, the line was picked up, and a sleepy voice warned, “This had better be life or death.”


“Captain? We need to talk.”