Father and Son – too good to be true.
By Elsa ©
A 9-part story
1 – a soothing letter on a hot day
When Detective Kenneth Hutchinson came home after a long, hot day on the streets, he was warm, filthy and tired. And glad to be home. His greenhouse was warm and stuffy so he opened a window there to let some fresh air in. He took a shower, fetched himself a cold beer and sat down on the balcony, comfortably in the cool shade of his apartment.
What a day it had been. Hot as hell, early in the morning already, things had taken a swift turn towards more heated situations. A robbery, men on the run, Hutch and partner in pursuit because they were after one of the perps, and an ending in the middle of an abandoned quarry outside town. Lots of sand and dust there, that stung their eyes and turned their throats dry. It took the backup team a long time to get there, and all the time the sun was shining blazingly on the quarry. The temperature down there rose frighteningly quickly and by the time the backup team had finally arrived, everyone had a sunburn, a headache and a dry mouth from the burning heat and the ruthless sun.
Barely back at the precinct, the two were called away almost instantly to assist in the arrest of another man high on their list of ‘most-wanted’. That too, did not go calmly. After a wild, terrifying chase, the getaway car crashed into a gas truck, which exploded with a huge blast. Starsky was in full range of a spray of glass when the side window of his Torino broke from the explosion. One of the pieces drove itself into his eyebrow, leaving him with a bloodied face that looked scary enough to make people gasp in awe at the sight of it. But Starsky had shaken his head and told Hutch he was alright.
Which was true. It only took Hutch a long time in the waiting room of a very stuffed and crowded hospital to wait while all the splinters of glass were removed from his partner’s face. When the two finally left the hospital, they discovered that Hutch’s car was enclosed by other cars and one big truck that didn’t move an inch – due to a flat tire.
Hutch, weary with waiting, and Starsky, irritated by the endlessness of his treatment, had both cursed under their breaths. It was crowded at the hospital parking place because visiting hours had just started, and Hutch didn’t want to wait until the rightful owners of all the vehicles here had returned. They were dropped off at the station by a helpful uniformed cop.
Starsky didn’t have any rest until he had spoken to Merle about the damage to his car. Hutch knew what he was like – the Tomato was his baby. While Starsky was off to speak with the garage owner, Hutch had an unexpected visit from a witness to a bank robbery. She was clearly pleased with the excitement in her life and a non-stop speaker, as Hutch soon found out. While she skimmed through the faces books, she talked and talked and talked, not stopping for one minute. Hutch couldn’t risk leaving her, since the station was nearly abandoned. When he finally managed to get her out, Starsky rang to say he called it a day since his head was a bit sore from his involuntary glass bath. He needed a shower and a shampoo, because glass was still flying around every time he moved his head. In his thick curls there must still be a load of it. A quick look on the clock showed their shift would be over in less than half an hour. Though he couldn’t blame Starsky for not returning, it didn’t add to improve his mood.
Hutch took a cab to the hospital to find his car was finally accessible and, tired and cranky, he went home. His car was steaming hot and by the time he had finally reached Venice Place, his mood had definitely dropped below zero.
While the effect of the shower, good after sun cream and a cold beer began to do miracles to his tensed body, he went through his mail. He found an envelope with a neatly written address on it. Curiously, he opened it and read it.
are you? It’s been years since we last spoke. Far too long ago! You must be
surprised to receive a letter from me.
I’m glad I finally got hold of your address. It was hard to come by, over in Europe.
I had a great time. It was good to be away for a while from all the painful memories. The company I work for, has recently asked me to go back to the States and start a division there. I have every opportunity to set up my business as I want it to. I’m living in Bay City now, I’ve arrived here about two months ago. After all this time, I’m glad I’m back.
Hutch, I have no idea how you’ve been doing all this time. Are you married? Kids? Or still hooked to the job as much as you used to be and no time for love? I’ve always considered you to be a great help, especially after Jennie’s death and I don’t think I’ve ever expressed it properly. Too tied up in my own grief, I think. Nevertheless I would very much like to see you again. Maybe meet your partner, if you have one and you’ll allow me.
I’ll enclose my phone number. If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, give me a call.
Hutch’s hand that held the letter, dropped slowly to his lap. Long before he had been assigned to the Bay City Metropolitan Division, he had worked with her for a short time. They’d been in the Academy together the first year but she chose a different routine than he did. She continued in Development of Traffic & Transport Management, and –what Hutch remembered- she was really good at it. They ran into each other a couple of years later, under very sad circumstances. Her five-year old girl Jennie had been hit by a drunk driver, in broad daylight, outside Jennie’s school. The child had died instantly. It had almost happened in front of Beth’s eyes.Hutch was one of the cops who arrested the driver – a man who was so drunk he couldn’t remember his own name anymore. He was put in jail and hung himself from the ceiling the next day when he was sober and he heard he’d killed a kid.
Beth and Paul, her husband, were devastated by the death. Paul couldn’t cope with it. He left – Hutch remembered it very well - and Beth lived alone in a house that was drenched with memories of far better times. Hutch, very aware of her loss, tried to be there as often as he could. There was a definite attraction between the two. For a while they were lovers, then Beth left one morning when he away for a course for work. She left him a sweet letter in which she stated she needed to be on her own for a while and she asked to respect her wishes and not come looking for her. Although it was difficult, Hutch did as she asked. He knew she’d taken a flight to Frankfurt, but that was as far as his knowledge got him.
He pictured her. Tall, brunette with long curly hair, nearly as tight as Starky’s curls. Slender long legs, warm smile, green eyes, tiny freckles that appeared in the summer time. He remembered how much she liked tuna fish pizzas and artichokes. She had a thing with butterflies, which made Hutch sometimes call her Brimmy, after the Brimstone butterfly. She hated high heels and tight skirts and loved Beethoven.
He smiled, not aware of doing it. Beth Bettany…
He DID want to see her again.
2 – reliving old memories
Hutch immediately recognized Beth as she entered the small, Italian restaurant where they had agreed to meet. She hadn’t changed much. She wore her hair in a thick ponytail, the curls still jumping uncontrollably around her face. She’d aged, but not in an unpleasant way. She had wrinkles of grief from days in her past, yet they seemed to have softened and they made her face look interesting rather than old. Her figure was still good, slim and well taken care of.
He stood up and walked towards her.
He took her hands, they looked at each other in a shared moment of speechlessness and then embraced each other warmly. He grinned.
“You know that you’re one of the few women who calls me Hutch?” He took a step back and made her spread her arms. “Let me look at you. You haven’t changed a bit. You look good, Brimmy.”
A soft smile spread out over her face. “I knew you’d remember. Don’t be so diplomatic – of course I have changed. I’m older, as are you. But whereas men get more interesting with the years, women get less attractive.” She laughed. “You yourself are the living example of that.”
Hutch laughed too. “It’s you saying that, no me. God, it’s great to see you.” He showed her to their table, ordered them something to drink and she opened immediately.
“A table for two. No partner, I see? No wedding band…?”
“Still as direct as you used to be,” Hutch laughed, amused. “Closest to a ‘partner’ is my partner at work. I suppose you were right in your letter. I’m still hooked on the job, busier than ever. I work with a good colleague, great guy. You’d like him. His name is Dave Starsky. I see more of him than a regular cop sees his wife.” He chuckled. “But no, not seeing anyone at the moment. You? How about men in your life?”
She smiled, took a sip from her wine and answered, “After Paul, I haven’t looked for a steady affair. You were definitely there at the right time and I’m still grateful for all you’ve done for me, but no – no one after that. The occasional fling, sure enough.” She got a somewhat secretive smile over her face. “There’s one man though…”
Hutch couldn’t help but feeling a pang of regret. Of course, she was entitled to her happiness and after all she’d been through, she certainly deserved a good husband or boyfriend. She caught his glance and laughed softly. She opened her purse and took a photo from it that she handed him.
“That’s my son. His name is Sean. He’s nine years old.”
“Your son!” Hutch was surprised. From the photo a boy, spitting image of his mother laughed at him. His hair was lighter than hers, and his eyes were blue, but other than that, he looked a lot like her.
“He’s got his father’s eyes,” Hutch said, remembering Paul’s lively blue eyes.
“Yup. And his hair color. But my curls,” she nodded. “He was born in Amsterdam. He’s a wonderful boy. Definitely the best thing that could happen to me after Jennie’s death.”
As always, she called the things by their name. Many people had tried to be cautious, and not used the words ‘death’ and ‘Jennie’ in the same conversation, but Beth had an almost blunt way of talking about it. Hutch found it almost disturbing at first, but the more he got to know about Beth, the more he realized that that was just the way she was. She dealt with it in her own way.
“What ever happened to Paul?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a deep frown on her face. “I really have no idea. I wrote him a couple of times, and never got an answer back. I contacted my in-laws, but they refused to come to the phone or answer my letters. After three years I gave up. I arranged for an annulment of my marriage, which wasn’t too hard to get since my husband did not keep his end of the marital promises. I got my official divorce consent and I was no longer married. So I’m a single parent and I like it that way.”
“Paul never could cope with Jennie’s death. Maybe facing you was too hard for him,” Hutch thought out loud. He had liked Paul a lot, and on some level he had understood the way Paul had closed up to everyone.
Beth’s face got a hard look. “I don’t give a shit anymore, Hutch. If you only knew how much time and effort I’ve spent in trying to get to him… I was hurt too! Paul locked himself up in his own world and allowed no one in. I tried to continue with my life, tried to make something of what was left. People saw the grief in Paul so clearly that they forgot to see my pain.”
“You two were very different. But that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Or worse,” Hutch smoothed over their differences in mourning.
“I know. It’s just a bit tough to always hear that Paul was the one who was having such a difficult time which made it sound like I didn’t feel anything at all.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” Hutch put his fingers on hers. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to upset you. I’ve seen how you’ve been, how you struggled to make something out of your life. Your way with the children at Jennie’s school was… amazing, to say the least.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snarl.” Beth looked a bit like a little school girl, caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Hutch laughed at her expression.
“So tell me about your son. Where is he now?”
“At home. I found an apartment in Little Italy. Perfect for the two us, and there’s an office available there as well. There’s another single mom living next door and she has a girl Sean’s age. He could stay there while I was away.”
“Little Italy? That’s not far from Venice Place.”
“I know. When I found your address it coincided with my search for a place in this neighborhood. I called a real estate broker and it was a done deal. There’re quite a few families there, so it’s nice for Sean as well.”
“He’s born in Amsterdam? Speaks Dutch?”
“Fluently. He’s completely bi-lingual.”
“How does he feel coming here?”
“Excited. He’s made friends already. He’s a nice boy. And I’m not saying that just because I’m his mother and I’m biased. He IS a nice boy. Very considerate, very independent and mature for his age. You can tell he’s used to managing with just his mom.”
“What school does he go to?”
“St. Alban’s. They’ve welcomed him in a very nice way and they’re thrilled to have someone over from Europe. He seems to be coping well. But… this round about me and my son is over. I’ll tell you more about Sean later. Camera switch to Mr Hutchinson. I want to hear about you. What have you been doing the past decade?”
Hutch smiled. She had a way of skipping from one subject onto the other.
“Beth,” he grinned, “you haven’t changed a bit.”
3 – Starsky stunned
“What’s she like?” Starsky asked curiously while eating a bag of M&M’s.
“Don’t try to fool me, Blondie. I can tell from your face – you’ve got a woman on your mind.”
Hutch sighed. It was too good to be true to keep anything hidden from his pal. It was always the same – both ways. As soon as there was something on either mind, the other got wind of it instantly.
“I got a letter from an old friend of mine. We met yesterday evening.”
“Anyone I know?” Starsky sounded casually, but he had a devious little glimmer in his eyes. He could be very nosey, especially when it concerned the other sex and when he wanted to know more than Hutch would reveal.
“No. She’s from before your time. Let me picture her for you. Brunette, curls not unlike yours only much longer, deep green eyes that you drown in, full inviting lips, endless legs, a body that makes you go uhhh…”
“Okay okay!” Starsky sighed exasperatedly. “I get the message. For your eyes only, right pal?”
“No, not at all,” Hutch replied but he had to bite his lip not to laugh. “She was hot at the time and still got what it takes.”
“And when do I get to meet his looker?”
“Ah… wouldn’t you just like to know…”
Hutch grinned and said nothing more. Starsky made a face and downed the remains of the bag of sweets in one gulp.
“Stop stuffing yourself,” Hutch said almost automatically. “You’ll choke yourself on chocolate one day.”
“Not a bad way to go,” the dark-haired man mumbled with his mouth full.
“D’you always have to have the final word?”
Starsky needn’t wait long to meet Hutch’s mystery girl. A few days later, when they drove back to the precinct after having spent almost an entire day at the courthouse, Hutch asked him if he’d like to join him and Beth for a picnic in Milrose Park. He and Hutch had often had picnics with friends there. Plenty of room and very nice. The prospect of the cool shadows in the park appealed a lot to him. Starsky happily agreed.
“There are a few things I need to tell you about Beth,” Hutch said as Starsky calmly steered towards the station. He brought his friend up to speed about Beth’s history. Starsky’s face went through the entire range from curiosity to disbelief and compassion by what Hutch told him.
“Must be awful to lose your child,” he mused softly. “Although I don’t think you can imagine what it really feels like until you’ve experienced it yourself.” He glanced sideways to Hutch who wiped his forehead with his arm. It was hot, even with the windows turned down and the wind playing around their heads. The blond cop nodded.
“Probably you losing Terry is as close as the feeling gets to her loss,” he said slowly.
“Hey,” said Starsky and touched Hutch’s arm briefly, “we both had our share, right?”
“Sure, but you’re right. Losing a child must be…” he looked for the right word but couldn’t come up with it.
“like the world collapses,” Starsky added after a while. He pushed upcoming thoughts of Terry away. After all this time it still hit him hard if he wasn’t prepared.
“Does her husband know she lives here?”
“Ex-husband,” corrected Hutch. “No. At least, I don’t think so. She had her marriage annulled, remember? Paul’s definitely out of the picture and she’s got someone to look after, right? She’s crazy about Sean. I’m sure that that kid pulled her through. Must have been hard without a husband but she’s done a great job on him.”
“Have you met him?”
“Oh yeah!” Hutch said enthusiastically. “Sean is funny, bright and very grown-up. I promised I’d learn him football. He told me that soccer is the number one sport in Holland, but football is practically unknown.”
“What?” Starsky laughed. “The boy doesn’t know what he’s been missing.”
“Yup, time for some upbringing,” Hutch agreed.
It was still warm outside after another glowing hot day, but the atmosphere in the park was ideal. Lots of shade, lots of places to sit down and relax. The two men were to meet Beth and Sean in the park.
They were playing a game of badminton on the lawn. Both were sporty, agile players, very quick. They laughed and teased and called each other names as they played. Hutch smiled broadly when he saw them.
“That’s them,” he said. Starsky whistled between his teeth.
“She IS a looker, Hutch,” he said admiringly.
Sean saw them approaching, said something to his mother and came running up to them.
“Hutch!” he said a little out of breath, “you’re just in time to see me beat Beth.”
“No,” said Beth sternly, “you’re just in time to cheer me on so I can beat this little brat.”
“Time out, time out,” Hutch laughed. “You get to kill each other off in a few seconds. I’d like you to meet Dave Starsky. Starsk, meet Beth and Sean Bettany.”
Beth wiped her sweaty hand on her shorts and extended it. “Nice to meet you, Dave.”
“Hutch has a great taste in women,” Starsky said dashingly.
Sean copied his mother’s action and extended his hand too. “Hello, partner of Hutch.” Starsky blinked his eyes, shook his hand and said, “Hi there Sean. Nice to meet you.” Hutch didn’t notice the twist in Starsky’s voice.
Then Sean shook his mother’s arm and said something to her in Dutch. Although they couldn’t understand the words, they certainly understood him as he urged her to finish the game. That was a universal language. She laughed apologetically and followed him as he ran back to where they’d been playing their game, away from the trees so the badminton shuttle wouldn’t get caught in the branches.
Starsky’ felt his hands get sweaty. He realized his color must have drained from his face.
O Hutch, he thought and watched his partner’s cheerful way as he walked over to the players and started cheering at them. Then the blond man noticed Starsky staying behind.
“Starsk! Come on over here! There’s two people who need an audience!”
Starsky shook his head to chase the cobwebs away. He reluctantly walked towards Hutch and the Bettanys. In his mind, words from Hutch bubbled up, unstoppably like a bursting geyser. The boy looks exactly like his mother… exactly like his mother… his father’s blue eyes… exactly like his mother…
O Hutch, Starsky thought, closing his eyes for a moment as it hit him, it’s staring you in the face and you don’t see it. Yes, the boy’s got his father’s eyes… your eyes.
Starsky was stunned. And he was certain about it. Not one moment he doubted his own judgment. Hutch might think that kid was the spitting image of his mother, but Starsky saw it without a shred of a doubt – Sean Bettany was Hutch’s son.
To Starsky, that picnic was not a walk in the park. He found it hard to look at Sean and Hutch, desperately tried to be spirited and funny, but the harder he tried, the more forcefully it sounded. Long before he normally would have left, he excused himself.
“I’m off, people,” he said and got to his feet. “Hutch, I’ll see you tomorrow. Beth, Sean – it was great meeting you.”
“Are you leaving already? You don’t need to go,” Beth said. She seemed surprised about his desire to leave.
“But I do. I’ll leave you to the Blond Blintz here. You two and Sean have a nice evening, okay?”
Before anyone could protest, Starsky put up a hand to wave them goodbye and quickly made his way for the car park, where the Torino – window fixed – stood.
“Starsky? Starsky, wait up!” The voice of Hutch reached him. Starsky put the key in the lock and unlocked the car, fought with the thought of getting in and driving off but he checked himself. He took a deep breath before he turned to his partner, who came jogging after him. Hutch stopped a little in front of him.
“What’s wrong, buddy? Are you okay?”
“Sure,” said Starsky. “It’s just the heat. That’s all.”
Hutch’s blue eyes glided over his face. He picked up the lie as if it was a tangible item. “Don’t give me that crap. Something’s been eating you ever since we got here. What is it?”
But Starsky shook his head. How was he supposed to tell his best friend what he’d come to know today? He hated lying to Hutch but he didn’t know any other way to deal with this right now.
“Look, it’s something personal, okay? It’s keep me occupied, gives me a headache.” Well, that wasn’t a lie.
Hutch was all worries immediately. “Headache? You never have headaches. Is there anything I can do?”
Starsky got in his car. He couldn’t keep looking at Hutch without feeling terrible, so he slipped behind the wheel. Hutch pushed the door shut.
“You take it easy, alright? If there’s anything, just holler,” the blond man said.
“Sure. See you tomorrow, Hutch,” Starsky answered and drove off, leaving a puzzled and slightly worried Hutch behind.
4 – A listening ear
Starsky didn’t know what to do. Normally if he was in doubt about something, he talked about it with Hutch or Huggy. But the first one was a no-go and for some reason he wasn’t sure he wanted to lay this information on Huggy’s doorstep either.
In an impulse he decided to call someone he would never bother about anything bugging his life - his mother.
“Rachel Starsky,” her voice tickled his ear.
“Hi mum. It’s me.”
“Davy! Hello!” Immediately her surprise was followed by a more careful, “Something wrong? Are you alright? Is Ken alright?”
Starsky laughed quietly. He knew his mother, who cared for her extra son as much as if he was her own. She knew that if he called her, there was usually something going on with either him or Hutch.
“We’re both fine. Hutch is fine. I’m fine. We’re all just great.”
She sounded reassured but he could nearly hear her curiosity through the phone. “Any particular reason why you’re calling, David?”
Uh-oh. Whenever she called him David, there was a reason to be extra careful. Apparently she had already deducted that much in him. Mothers, he thought with a wry smile, they have a sixth sense about their kids.
“Mum, I’ve got a bit of situation,” he said slowly. Probably his mother was now fearing that he’d knocked up a girl or something although she wisely kept her mouth shut.
Starsky told her everything. It was a bit difficult at first, but once he started talking, he nearly fell over his own words to convey in her. He needed to get it of his chest. When he was finished, a silence hung between them, that was emphasized by the soft humming of the telephone line.
“Well,” Rachel said slowly with a long stretched vowel, “what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” Starsky said with a deep sigh. “It’s not my place to tell him, is it?”
“And you’re certain of it? That Ken must be the boy’s father?”
“One hundred percent. If you could see him, you’d agree. It’s a small Hutch, only with curls.”
“And you think he’s got no idea?”
“Nope. He’s convinced her ex-husband is his father. It doesn’t even occur to him.” He let out a deep breath of air. “I feel uncomfortable about it, mum. I want to tell him it’s his boy, but I know I can’t.”
“Has it occurred to you she might have come back to tell him?”
“Yes, but…” Starsky doubted that, although he couldn’t tell why. His mother continued.
“Don’t tell Ken, at least not now. Maybe, when he vents that kind of ideas, you could carefully steer him in the right direction.”
“It’s hard to pretend I don’t know,” he said.
“I understand. But they’re adults, David, and you should give them time to sort it out themselves. Give them some credit – they’re old and wise enough to do that.”
“Mm.” Starsky didn’t say anything. Rachel took his silence for disagreement.
“Here’s the part where you tell me you want to talk to Beth about it,” she guessed.
“I thought of that,” he admitted, “but wouldn’t that be weird? I mean, how would you react if someone came up to you and asked if I was not my father’s son, but somebody else’s?”
Rachel laughed softly. “You and your dad looked some much alike that no one would even consider it any other way. But, if it was me and I was a single mother… I suppose I wouldn’t be angry or upset about it. Maybe Beth is even a bit pleased that you’ve seen it and that you care enough for Ken to talk to her about it.”
“You think so?”
“Well, that’s just my guess.”
“You’re right, I’ll wait. I’m sorry to have bothered with such a thing.” Suddenly he felt stupid.
“Not at all, sweetheart, not at all. That’s what mothers are for.”
“Yeah, to make me feel like I’m ten all over again. How do you that, mom? Is there a secret book about how to manipulate your kid that only parents get to read?” He sighed so deeply that both of them laughed simultaneously.
“Look, Dave. It’s perfectly understandable that you wanted to talk about this. Since your life buoy was the subject in question… I am second best thing, aren’t I?”
“Mom, you’re the greatest,” Starsky said from the bottom of his heart. He gave her a mental hug and they hung up. He went to bed a little less uncomfortable but he was wake for a long time, the face of Sean and Hutch swapping places for his mind’s eye.
5 – A clash between friends
“You’ve got plans tonight, Starsk?”
“No. A calm evening on the couch with a cold beer. I won’t mind an early night.” Starsky yawned from deep within. That certainly was not a lie. He was tired. Busy days, complex cases, a lot of pressure from all sides and the never ending summer heat had worn him down. He wiggled his stuff upper body. “My shoulder could use some rest.”
Hutch quickly glanced at his friend, obviously checking out if his friend was in pain, but one warning look of Starsky made him swallow his words. The gunshot wound had long healed but every now and then he was bothered by a vague discomfort. He didn’t like to be reminded of it, so Hutch kept quiet.
“Why don’t you come over to my place? I’m making us dinner tonight.”
“What are you making? Some super vegetable pizza and a Hutch-Healthy-on-the-Rocks?”
“I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Even Beth likes it and…” he checked, then continued, “Sean’s having a slumber party at a friend’s house. So it’s just adults talking.”
The word slumber party brought a faint smile to Starsky’s face. “No, thanks. I appreciate the invitation, Hutch, but I don’t want to be in the way of you two lovebirds.” It sounded forcedly cheerful, and Starsky knew it.
“Starsk, I’d really appreciate it if you would come,” Hutch tried again.
“No. I’m washing my hair tonight,” the curly haired man said and chuckled, pleased with his own pun.
And then something happened that didn’t often occur. Hutch got angry. His index-finger came up and pointed angrily at his colleague.
“Dammit Starsky! Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind? You obviously don’t like Beth. This is not like you, Starsky. Why? What’s wrong with her?”
“Don’t give me that finger. I DO like her,” the other said a bit stiffly.
“Yeah, and pigs fly. I’ve never seen you as stubborn and uptight as when she’s around.”
“Hutch, you’re seeing things the wrong way. It’s not that.”
“No? Then tell me - what is it?”
Hutch ran a hand through blond hair. A wrinkle turned his face dark. His voice was strained when he asked, “This is not a case like Gillian’s, is it?”
Starsky shook his head. “No.”
“I mean, if you want to protect me because you discovered something, then don’t. As much as I hated you when you told me about Gillian, I’m still grateful you did.”
“It’s not that.”
“No? Then what is it?”
Starsky stubbornly refused to answer. Fact was that he didn’t know what to say. Hutch took his silence the wrong way and looked even more heated.
“Beth is wonderful. And she’s got a great kid. If you have a problem with that, then spit it out or act normal because you’re attitude gives me a rash.”
“Fine.” Starsky felt anger rapidly boiling.
“Are you jealous? Jealous of me spending time with her?”
“Oh, grow up! I’m not asking you--”
“Then stop behaving like you are!”
The rest of the day the two men were painfully polite. Hutch was so angry that he tried to avoid Starsky as much as possible and Starsky did no effort to patch things up again.
Hutch got more and more involved with Beth. He was aware of a the reserve that Starsky held up, thin as gauze but apparent as a curtain. The day after their clash, Starsky had looked a little sheepishly and had apologized. But too often, he kept turning down offers of dinners or double dates. First it worried Hutch, then it bothered him, then it irritated him but Starsky never gave an inch. It was obvious something was still eating him, but the curly cop could be stubborn as a mule. Hutch stopped pushing and spent his time and energy on his new girl and her son.
He was crazy about Sean and it struck him how much they had in common. Sean liked fishing, like Hutch did. He loved swimming, tennis, basketball and baseball. The last he stubbornly kept calling ‘honkball’, which was apparently the Dutch word for it. There was also another side to Sean. He could read like there was no tomorrow. He read books in Dutch, books that Hutch didn’t understand, but he also read English books. He buried himself on the couch with a book and forgot everything. He looked with eyes the size of saucers at Hutch’s book collection, and was enthusiastic about Hutch’s greenhouse. But what really made the boy shine, was Hutch’s guitar. He taught him some basic chords and whenever he could, Sean asked him if he could try some more.
One evening, when Hutch, Beth and Sean had visited an art gallery and had dinner after that, they walked home through the warm night air, with Sean running ahead of them. It was crowded in the streets. There was an summer festival going on for a couple of days, and bands played on the streets and terraces, there was a fair in the center of town and there were all kinds of activities to take part in or simply enjoy watching.
“Sean!” Beth called after him. “Stay in sight, will ya?”
She looked at Hutch, hooked her hand in the crook of his arm and said apologetically, “Sorry. Habit. I’m trying not to, but it’s difficult.”
“Don’t be. Any parent here wants to keep an eye on their child in this crowd.” He saw Sean’s blond curls dance up and down as he tried to see something in between the many people he stood behind.
“He’s a great kid. You’ve done a wonderful job with him,” Hutch said with an admiring nod.
“Thanks.” She smiled with pleasure. “Not all my doing. He’s an easy going boy. Not difficult to handle.”
“He’s very bright,” Hutch remarked. “Once he’s completely used to English, he’ll get high marks in school.”
“That’s not my first concern,” Beth replied. “As long as he’s happy in school and in daily life, I’m happy.” She tilted her head a little when she looked Hutch in the eyes. “He’s very fond of you. He thinks the world of you, you know.”
Hutch felt a glee of pride. “As you said… he’s an easy going kid. And he’s got a great mother.” He stopped, cupped his hands around her warm, rosy cheeks and kissed her tenderly. She returned the kiss with the same sweet glow that Hutch felt himself. For a few minutes, they were completely lost in each other. The fair around them, the people, the noise and the smells vaporized into nothingness.
“Come on, Brimmy. Let’s go and see what kind of dog Sean’s trying to get his hands on,” Hutch said when they finally let go of each other, nodding at the booth where Sean stood.
Where Sean stood…
Where he had been standing.
6 – Sean is gone
The booth was abandoned when Hutch and Beth arrived.
“Where’s the owner?” Hutch asked people around urgently, but they just shook their heads and looked annoyed at the man who was bothering them.
“Sean? Sean! Sean!”
They looked for Sean, but he was nowhere around. No blond curls, no enthusiastic smile. Hutch and Beth searched everywhere. In every attraction, in every booth, tent, cabin and toilet in the fair ground. They asked people on terraces and in bars and cafes if they’d seen the blond curly boy. But no one had noticed one boy amidst hundreds of others. Besides, there were many kids allowed to wander the fair ground on their own. One boy didn’t stand out.
“He’s younger than he looks,” Beth said with frightened voice to people she asked for help. “He looks twelve, he’s only nine. He’s tall. Blond, curls, blue eyes, delicate features. Have you seen my son?”
“Call home,” Hutch urged her. “Find a pay phone, call home and call your neighbor. He might have run into her or her daughter. He might have lost the way and decided to go home and wait for you there.” He pushed her towards a phone booth. With trembling fingers she dialed, shook her head when there was no answer and re-dialed. She spoke briefly on the phone with her neighbor and returned with the same look of fear in her eyes.
Hutch snatched the hook from its cradle and dialed Starsky’s number. No answer. Then he dialed the precinct, gave a quick but detailed report on what happened and set the search engines of the Bay City Police in progress. Then he called the switch board and asked to be put through to Starsky’s Torino. Hopefully his friend was there.
“This is Zebra Three,” he heard the metallic sound of his partner’s voice.
“Starsky, it’s me. I’m at the fair. Sean is missing. I need your help, buddy.”
No distance, no curtains. Just a curt, “I’m on my way.”
Sean could not be found. It only took a little while before lots of people were looking for him, but the boy was definitely not around anymore. Starsky arrived and level-headed, he took control of the situation. Hutch was relieved he arrived and quickly brought him up to speed.
“Where and when did you see him last?”
“At the booth with the pets. It sold dogs and cats,” Hutch pointed. Beth, ghastly pale standing next to him, said nothing. She only looked at Starsky with big, bewildered eyes. He took her hands and squeezed them one.
“Try to keep calm, Beth,” he said. “It’s difficult, but you’re worth most to us and him if you keep a clear head.” He gave her a soft, encouraging smile. “Don’t despair, okay? Your fried is the best cop in Bay City, and if there’s anyone who can find him, it’s him.”
Beth gave a brave smile. “His partner’s not that bad either.”
Hutch’s eyes said Thanks, buddy.
“Let’s go to that booth.”
An older man was clearing up the remains of the pets booth. In his van, in little cages, dogs and cats were waiting to be taken to the store again. He put the cages carefully next to each other, when Starsky and Hutch came up to him. Hutch and Beth had been to the booth earlier, but then it was abandoned, with a sign on one of the cages saying the owner was out for fifteen minutes. They hadn’t been back in the mean time.
“Aye, you’re looking for that little boy, aren’t ya?” He asked with a clear, Irish accent. He squinted his eyes a bit and said to Hutch, “Your son?”
Hutch didn’t answer that question. “Have you seen him?”
“No,” the man replied, “but I only arrived a little while ago to pick up the animals again. Maybe you should talk to Sadie. She’s been here the whole time. She might have seen something?”
“Where can we find this Sadie?”
The old man looked around, his eyes slowly sliding from one shop to the other, until he pointed to a small cafeteria across the street.
“She might be there. Sadie’s not got the best legs in the world and she really needs to sit down after a day like this.”
“What does she look like?”
“You can’t miss her,” the old man said. “Weighs nearly two hundred pounds and wears a blue tent with white flowers.”
He was right. Sadie sat in the corner of the cafeteria, enjoying a huge mug of coffee and a plate of French fries. She was indeed big.
“Excuse me, Miss Sadie?” Starsky opened.
“That’s me,” she nodded with an unexpectedly friendly and pleasant voice. “Who wants to know?”
“My name is Detective Starsky, this is Detective Hutchinson of the Metropolitan Division. We are looking for a lost boy.”
Beth couldn’t hold herself any longer and described him with trembling voice. She ended with, “Have you seen him? Have you?”
Sadie gestured for Beth to sit down, but she only shook her hands.
“There was a boy matching your description at my booth,” she said while nodding. “A woman had just bought a Golden Retriever pup, and he was wild about it. The woman was very friendly to him and let him play with it. She bought a leash as well and I think she said he could hold the leash if he wanted to. They walked away. I had another customer waiting for me, so I didn’t keep looking.”
“A woman. Could you describe her for us?”
Sadie had a great eye for details. “About thirty, a bit shorter than you” –she nodded to Beth- “and shoulder long, fair, straight hair. She wore spectacles with blue-tinted glasses. A mould on her chin. Green skirt, lighter green blouse, brown purse.” She pushed her big body down to reach under her chair for her purse. “The dog is a pedigree, so he was more expensive than she thought and that’s why she paid for the pup with a cheque. I must have it here, if that’s of any interest to you?”
The three could hardly believe their ears. Could this be true?
She leafed through her things and triumphantly held up the white and green slip. “Here it is.” She handed it to Starsky, but Hutch snatched it away before he could accept it.
“Can we take this, Miss Sadie? You’ll get it back as soon as possible.”
“Sure. I don’t like women who lure away little boys,” she said without hesitation. Then she looked at Hutch a little more closely. “Your son?”
Hutch answered, with a nod to Beth, “Hers.”
7 – The basement
“M.C. Chapman, 45 Bernstein Square, Bay City,” Hutch read out loud, while Starsky drove in search for the address. “Does the name ring any bells, Beth?”
Beth slowly shook her head. “No. I haven’t heard it before.”
“Beth, I want you to stay in the car,” Hutch said. “If it gets dangerous, you shouldn’t be around.”
“If you think I’m going to stay here, you’re outta your mind, copper. I’m going with you. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away, you hear?!” Her voice was shrill.
“No way am I ever going to stand on the sideline! Ever!” She shrieked. Hutch looked sideways to Starsky for help, but his partner shook his head, invisible to Beth in the back. You can’t stop her buddy. Take her with us before she does something stupid on her own.
Hutch sighed. Reluctantly he said, “Alright. But do exactly as we tell you, okay? No funny business, no unexpected moves. It’s for your own good and Sean’s. If you do as we say, you can come along.”
“Right.” She looked a little drained, as if all her energy had been used and she had none left. She leaned back and bit her nails while her eyes trailed off to the twilight world outside.
It didn’t take them long to find the given address. Starsky parked the Torino out of sight and together with Beth the two detectives headed for the apartment. It was once nice and classy, but now ugly and gradually devoured by the tooth of time. Many of the apartments were empty. Windows in unused apartments were already shattered by bored little vandals. There was some light shining from a few scattered windows, but mostly it was dark.
The front door led to a central hallway. Two staircases broke the hallway into two. One led up, the other down to a basement. The way up was filthy, old newspapers, rotting food remains, cans and bottles everywhere.
“Just as cozy as your place,” Hutch mumbled to Starsky.
They found the place and knocked on the door. “Police, open up,” Hutch called. When the door remained closed, they bashed it down together and flew through the crashing door.
Quickly the two cops checked the place. Beth stood in the hallway, pressed against the wall, waiting impatiently.
“Come in, all’s clear,” Hutch called her. “Come and take a look.”
He flipped the light switch on. The place was nicely taken care of, despite the shambles of the whole building. “Recognize anything?” Hutch asked. Beth looked slowly around. It looked like a normal place. Living room with couch, TV-set, cupboards, paintings, bedroom, kitchen – the lot.
“Mary,” Beth whispered when she faced a framed photo on the wall. The detectives stepped over to her.
“Who’s Mary? Who are they?” Starsky asked. On the left, a blond man, vaguely bearing resemblance to Hutch himself. In the middle, a woman with fair hair and glasses. On the right, a man with dark, sleek hair and a big smile.
Hutch answered. “That’s Paul, that man on the left.”
Beth found her voice back again. “The woman in the middle is his sister Mary. I don’t know the man on her right.”
“Chapman, undoubtedly. The name on the cheque. Bettany is your maiden name?”
“Yes. Paul’s last name is Prewitt.”
Hutch pointed to another framed photograph. “The guy is her partner.”
“Mary Prewitt is married to this guy Chapman,” Starsky summarized, “which explains the name on the cheque.”
“I haven’t seen him before. They must have met after I left the States,” Beth said.
“He looks a bit like you, Hutch.” Starsky said thoughtfully. Hutch and Beth slowly walked through the room, looking for clues. Starsky looked closely at the photos, hoping they might betray something. Then his sensitive ears picked up a sound. He stood still, frozen in his movement, and he closed his eyes, trying to pinpoint the location of the sound.
Beth asked him something. Starsky was with her in a flash and quickly covered her mouth with his hand. Hutch immediately understood and stood still, but Beth’s eyes grew big with fear. Starsky brought his lips to her ears and whispered, “Listen. There’s a sound coming from the air vent.”
Very tiny, thin and almost too distant to recognize came the sound of crying. Mamaaaaa…. It was followed by rapid, snarled words.
Starsky felt Beth freeze under his touch. If he hadn’t been holding her, she might have shouted out.
“If we can hear them, they might hear us too,” he whispered again. Beth nodded. She understood the necessity of silence. “Don’t make a sound,” Starsky added and let her go when she blinked her eyes in understanding.
Quietly they left the apartment and took the stairs down.
“It’s coming from the basement,” Hutch said softly. He grabbed his gun a little more firmly and the three of them went down, through the entrance hall, down the staircase that led to the basement. The doors to the various basement cells had once carried the numbers of the apartment they belonged to, but they faded and were almost invisible. It was quiet in the basement, while they tiptoed from one cell to the other.
Here it is, said Hutch’s eyes and Starsky nodded, gun ready.
“Mama! Mamaaa!” they heard. Beth’s voice halted in her throat.
Without another thought, the two agents busted in. Hutch lunged over to the right, Starsky sank to a knee and poised his gun at the woman standing at the far end of the basement cell. Her fingers were entangled in Sean’s hair, a gun put to his temple. Sean’s hand were tied behind his back.
She was the woman Sadie described. Fair hair, glasses, green clothing. Sean panted in fear.
“Sean!” Beth could hardly catch her breath. “Mary! What are you doing?”
“Let the boy go,” said Hutch. He held his gun pointed at Mary and began to approach her.
“Back off!” she screamed and tightened her grip on Sean. The boy cried out in fear and pain.
“Don’t hurt him!” Beth cried out. “What do you want?”
“Retaliation, my dear. It’s payback time.”
“Time to get even. Paul killed himself.”
“Paul killed himse—?” Beth’s voice thinned towards the end. “Is Paul ... dead?”
“Oh yes. He couldn’t live with his daughter’s death because you had no eye for his pain.”
“His pain?” Beth almost spat the words out in disbelief. “HIS pain? And how about my pain?”
Mary’s face was full of disgust. “Paul took his own life four years after Jennie’s death. I saw you, a couple of weeks back. A nice blond boy with you. I knew it when I saw him: that must be Paul’s son. If you had told him you were pregnant, he would have had someone to live for again. But you never told him.”
She took the gun from Sean’s head and directed it at Hutch.
“You like him, don’t you?” Her finger tensed. In the light of the bulb from the ceiling, her eyes were black as coal.
“No!” Beth screamed, terrified.
Starsky fired exactly at the same time as Mary did. She cried, fell backwards and hit the wall. She sank to the floor and her body turned limp. Starsky had hit her in her shoulder. The knock against the wall had put her unconscious.
Hutch hissed when he felt the bullet graze the flesh of his upper arm, but it was a flesh wound and it wasn’t bad.
“Hutch?!” Starsky kept his weapon pointed at Mary, but his eyes were on his partner.
“It’s not much. Superficial. It grazed me,” he said quickly to reassure his colleague. Beth ran towards Sean and freed him of the bandana that was tied around his wrists. They held each other like only mother and child can, oblivious to the world around them. Mary was on the floor out cold. Starsky checked Hutch’s injury and agreed that it only needed a Band Aid or two.
“Take Sean and Beth outside,” he said. “I’ll wrap it up here. Call the station for an arrest team.” The blond nodded.
“Beth, Sean, come on. Time to leave this place.” Shakily mother and son followed Hutch, who guided them out. Hutch pulled the boy close in a hug and said something to him that Starsky couldn’t hear. Then they left the basement cell.
Starsky turned to Mary to put the cuffs on. He would tie her to the piping of the heating. He turned her over to get her wrist, when he suddenly looked into the barrel of a gun. Behind it, in a straight line, he caught grey eyes below dark eyebrows.
O no. O no. Bad news.
Starsky recognized the man from the framed photograph in the apartment. Chapman, Mary’s partner.
Mary moaned and blinked her eyes. She came to. He dove sideways in a desperate attempt to save himself from being killed, pulling Mary along as he did. She screamed at the pain this caused and then Chapman pulled the trigger. The blast that followed threw Starsky backwards. In his abdomen, something exploded.
O no. O no. Classical beginner’s mistake… forgot to secure the surroundings… Another bang. Screaming. His name, shouted out by Hutch. Then the lights went out.
8 – Confessions in the ambulance
“Hutch?” Starsky’s voice was faint and dripping with pain. He blinked while he tried to focus as the ambulance raced with screaming sirens through the night traffic.
“I’m right here,” said Hutch and gripped his friend’s hand. “Stay still.”
“Dead. I heard the shot, was back on one and killed him on two.” Hutch could still feel the gut-wrenching fear when he’d heard firing. He was back so quickly that he could stop Chapman before Starsky would have been blown to Kingdom Come.
“Where’d he… come from?”
“An adjoining cell.”
“I didn’t… check…”
“Don’t try to talk. The bullet is in your abdomen.”
“It hurts.” The normally dark blue eyes had a greyish glance to them which looked like a film that covered their brightness.
“I bet it does.” Hutch swallowed. It was so hard, so damn hard to see his friend in pain that he noticed he held his breath every time Starsky let out a quivering sigh.
“Hutch, I’m sorry.”
“No… listen… ask Beth… about Sean.”
The paramedic, working on Starsky as they were talking, sensed the load of the words and sat down, only keeping his eyes on the injury. He was professional enough to shut out what was being said which was not meant for his ears.
Hutch moved closer to his pal. “What do you mean, ask Beth about Sean?”
“About… about his father…”
Finally, after all this time, the pieces came together. It was as if Hutch saw it now, in big neon lights. Oh Starsky. Oh buddy…
“The father…” the dark man mumbled. He tried to keep his eyes on Hutch but it was obvious he could hardly keep focused. Hutch tightened his grip on his friend’s hand.
“I’m his father. I KNOW it’s my son, Starsky. You thought I didn’t know?”
Even in the pain-induced haze in Starsky’s eyes, Hutch could see the surprise. Hutch understood that was exactly the problem that had been the reason of Starsky’s strange and almost irrational behavior. The poor man had seen the father-son bond and hadn’t known that he knew. Starsky had very much tried not to interfere, waiting for Beth to tell Hutch the truth, he understood now. All this time, he thought that Hutch didn’t know. Poor Starsky. Poor friend. So hard trying not to say the wrong thing, not to betray anything…
“I’ve known all along, Starsk. She told me the first evening we met when she’d returned here. I knew she was pregnant when she left for Europe but I didn’t know it was mine.” His voice softened. He gently stroke the tight curls of his friend’s hair. “I’m not blind, buddy. He’s a small version of me, in more than one way.”
“Like father… like son…” a faint smile, very briefly, made Starsky’s lips twitch.
Starsky couldn’t keep his eyes open any more, but Hutch could tell he was still listening. The lines in his face seemed to soften a little as the blond man spoke, explaining everything, taking away his worry and doubts.
“We agreed to look how things were going before we’d rush into anything,” Hutch continued.
“Does… he… know?” The words came out so slow that Hutch realized that Starsky would pass out any moment now.
“No,” he said honestly. “Not yet.”
“Tell her… I’m sorry… my behavior…”
Starsky’s hand, in his hand, limped. “Starsky? Starsk!”
“He’s out of it,” the paramedic said. “And here’s the hospital now.”
9 – Too good to be true
A beautiful dawn was coloring the sky pink, turquoise and orange. It was a forebode of the warmth of yet another hot day.
It was early in the morning and Beth sat on the stairs outside her apartment, enjoying the light and the pastel colors of those early hours. Sean was in bed, sound asleep after the doctor had been and made sure he was alright. Hutch arrived and came up, walking slowly, weary after the long, tensed hours in the hospital. He slumped almost onto the stairs, next to Beth and kissed her.
“How is he?” She asked it hesitantly, afraid to hear something she didn’t want to hear.
“He was lucky. The bullet didn’t hit any vital parts. He lost a lot of blood, but the internal damage wasn’t as bad as I feared. He was in surgery for hours, though. It’ll make him weak as a baby for a while. When it was over, I could see him, but he was incommunicado. Still flying Anesthesia Airways.”
Beth smiled and decided that Starsky would be okay, otherwise Hutch wouldn’t be making jokes. He kissed her again.
“You know what? He thought I didn’t know Sean was my son. And he wanted me to apologize to you about his behavior.”
“He said that?”
“Yep.” Hutch nodded. “He really thought I didn’t know. But he’s too good a friend to interfere. I guess he was worried you wouldn’t tell me. And he didn’t want to do it because that’s not his place to do. At least, as far as I know Starsky, I bet that’s what he thought.”
“Poor guy,” Beth said slowly taking in what Hutch told her. “You never told him?”
“No. That was the deal, right? I assumed he knew. I thought he was jealous of you and Sean and me. Being a little family, and all that.” Hutch bit his lip. “I’m an idiot.”
Beth let out a soft laugh. “Yeah. But a nice idiot.”
“And how are you doing?” he asked, now that he had cleared his mind. “And Sean? How’s he?”
“Fine. We’re both alright. Shaken, but not stirred.” She too, could quip now that it was over. Hutch put his hand in her curls and leant back.
“What a night,” he said with a deep, tired sigh. “I need to get some sleep. I’m knackered.” He closed his eyes and let the pastel colored light caress his face.
Beth took a few deep breaths before she spoke. “When you come back, I won’t be here anymore.”
Hutch sat up straight instantly. “What?”
She saw his bloodshot eyes and the weariness. “We’re leaving.”
“You’re leaving? When? Why? Where to?”
“We’re leaving. Today. I’ve already packed. I don’t know yet where to. I just don’t want to stay here. This time it was Mary trying to get even with me for some weird personal reason that I can’t even begin to understand. But next time, it’s a criminal who holds a grudge against you and then Sean will not be so easily found. It won’t be long before the word spreads that you have a son. And in your line of duty, that’s a burden.”
“You and Sean are NOT a burden!” Hutch protested, although very deep inside he knew she hit the nail on its head.
“If no one knows who we are or where we are, you don’t ever need to worry about us. I promise I will write, tell you how he’s doing.”
“Where are you going to go?”
She shrug her shoulders. “Don’t know yet. Canada maybe. Far away. Where Sean can safely grow up as himself, not in an endangered position as Hutch’s son.” She folded her hands. “I’m sorry, Hutch. I know he means a lot to you. You mean a lot to him too. And to me. But I made up my mind.”
“Please, don’t go,” Hutch pleaded but knew it was in vain.
She kissed him. “Go home, get some sleep and look after your partner.”
“Goodbye Hutch.” Her eyes were moist, she looked at him with obvious affection but backed away when he tried to kiss her again. He knew this was the real thing.
Slowly he rose, swaying a little as fatigue hit him. He took the steps down, washed out. When he was standing on the pavement, he turned round and looked up to her. There was one thing he needed to ask before he would leave everything behind.
“Beth, does he know?”
A smile curled around her eyes. She swallowed, overcome by emotion. “Yes. He thinks you’re the world.”
Hutch nodded, a lump in his throat, unable to speak, sad and very empty. He got into his car, drove home and dropped to the bed without a shower first. This afternoon, he would sit at Starsky’s bed and wait for him to come round. But now, he had to sleep. Sleep and try to forget that somewhere a boy thought the world of him.
There was some comfort in that. Not much, but there was.
Father and Son. Hutch knew it, as he had known the second Beth told him. Not in this life. It was just not possible. Father and Son - too good to be true.
Elsa, March 2004