Pretend to fly
© by Elsa
this story is nominated in the category Outstanding Second Story Language
this story is also nominated in the category Outstanding Hutch hurt/comfort story
“You’re crazy,” Starsky said, shaking his head in utter disbelief. “If God wanted men to fly, he’d given them wings and a landing strip in their backyards.”
Hutch smiled amusedly. “That’s why parachutes were invented. So we can pretend we can fly.”
“You don’t seriously plan on doing this, do you?” Starsky dismay grew by the minute, while Hutch calmly got his things together. He mumbled to himself, mentally going over his checklist. Keys, credit card, wallet, sneakers, sunglasses, camera…
“Yes I do. This is a once in a lifetime chance, Starsk, and I’m going to do it. In fact, I’m thrilled with the prospect.” On Hutch’s kind face a glow and a distant gaze appeared. “Just imagine, hovering high above the world, seeing it from a bird’s view… It must be fantastic.”
Starsky was less dreamy. “You’re out of your mind. Man! Hutch! Where do you get the courage from? I mean – when they open that hatch and you see the world so far away, how on earth can you possible TAKE that jump?”
Hutch laughed, amused by Starsky’s horror to the prospect of a sky dive. “I’ll just go for it. Why don’t you come along?”
“NO! Never! You need your head examined, buddy. Not me! Wild horses couldn’t drag me into that plane!” He took a step back, as if standing close to Hutch would somehow mean he’d have to make the jump himself. Hutch noticed his face and laughed out loud.
“I’m not asking you to jump, I’m asking you to come along. Take a few photos. See me take the jump.”
“You need a lift?”
“Now that you’ve come to mention it…”
Starsky sighed. “Alright, alright. I’ll come along. I’ll bring you. But don’t expect me to watch, okay?” He shuddered.
“You’re exaggerating.” Hutch laughed again. “I’m going to jump, I’m not going to die.”
“You better not, Hutch, or I swear I’ll kill you myself.”
The weather was bright and sunny, with white clouds passing along calmly. The green and yellow corn fields and the purple heather around the air strip contrasted beautifully with the blue sky. Small white air planes stood ready in line and caught the sunlight which made them sparkle.
Hutch came from the locker rooms, wearing bright yellow overalls, and a white helmet under his arm. He had a jumper’s gear on and a parachute package was stripped to his back. Around his neck hung a pair of blue goggles. Next to him walked his instructor, whom Starsky had already been introduced to. His name was Frank Rollins. He seemed to have stepped right out of a comic book, a caricature of a cowboy. The only thing that missed was a Stetson but Starsky suspected him to have one in his locker.
“I thought you were going to do a tandem jump,” Starsky said to Hutch, noticing the separate gear. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“He’s had enough practice last week,” Frank answered instead, “and he was one of the fastest students I’ve had so far, so Hutch can do a solo jump.” He sounded as if he was chewing a whole package of gum – his accent was awful but apart from that, he was a likeable guy. He saw a glimpse of Starsky’s uneasiness and grinned broadly. “Don’t you worry now, he’ll be fine – unless the missus folded the wrong laundry and ‘utch here’s got her panties in his back pack.”
“That is NOT funny,” Starsky growled, to which the other two roared with laughter. Hutch put his hand on Starsky’s shoulder.
“Stop worrying, will ya? I’m the one who should be nervous, not you.”
“I’ll be more at ease once your back again,” his friend said.
“Time to go, Hutch. You comin’?”
“Yep. See you in twenty minutes, Starsk. Check the sky for the Blond Blintz.”
Once the hatch was open and Hutch looked at the toy world beneath him, he knew it was going to be the experience of his life. He looked, according to his training, to Frank who awaited the green light from the pilot. Then Frank put up his thumb: time to go. Hutch didn’t hesitate, moved to the opening of the door, felt the wind pull at his clothes and pushed himself off, followed by his instructor.
He was flying. The sensation was one of the coolest, strangest and utmost breathtaking he had ever experienced. At first Hutch didn’t feel like he was falling 1000 feet per second, since the upward pressure was so huge that it was more like he was just floating in a cool jet stream of air. Frank came closer. Hutch put his thumb up – he was doing great. They interlocked hands and formed a duo in the air, while the wind blasted past their bodies.
Then Frank gave the signal – pull the chord. Hutch responded immediately, was yanked backwards and suddenly the wind and the howling were gone and he floated calmly, feeling ecstatic, through the air. Elegantly he manoeuvred the colourful, oblong parachute towards the landing spot, a large field that guided the sky divers down with big white letters: Here!
He landed safely on both feet and cheered, his heart nearly bursting from his chest. Starsky strutted over to him.
“And? How was it?”
“Great. Great. Great! You can’t believe it, Starsk. You have to do it yourself. It’s… great! Great. It’s just… great. Great!”
“You mind checking the needle? Either that or the record’s broken.” Starsky remarked dryly but clearly happy that Hutch was safe on the ground again. Frank, the instructor, landed as softly as Hutch and congratulated him.
“Beautiful jump, Hutch. You’re a natural.”
“Thanks. It was great. Just great.”
“You can get a drink inside,” Frank nodded to the hangar where a small canteen was. “Tell Mona it’s your first and say my name, it’s on the house.” He nodded to Starsky. “Your friend looks kinda pale – better get him somethin’ too.” He howled again, amused with his own joke, and started getting the parachutes in.
While Hutch enjoyed the adrenalin that still ran through his body, the two had a few drinks in the bar. The blond talked continuously, until Starsky held up his hands to shut him down. It made them both laugh – more often it was the other way around, Starsky rambling on and Hutch slowing him down. They paid the bill – which was considerable after the speed in which Hutch had been drinking – and walked over to the Torino, when they heard a voice.
“Hutch! ‘ey! Hutch! Wait up!”
“If that ain’t your friend the cowboy jumper,” Starsky smirked wryly. “You forgot something?”
Frank Rollins, in good shape, came jogging towards the two as they were about to get in.
“Hutch, glad I caught ya, man. The pilot’s goin’ up one more time. There’s room for one person – fancy another jump?”
Hutch didn’t need to think it over. A smile from ear to ear lit his face. “Starsk! You hear that?” He punched his friend amicably and nodded to Frank. “Sure. Count me in.”
They turned around and left Starsky at the car. The mike beeped, so Starsky put up his hand in a greeting and Hutch waved likewise. Starsky mouthed ‘have fun’ and Hutch softly called ‘see you later’.
Frank told Hutch a couple of friends had signed in for a jump, but one had to cancel the last minute. The plane was fuelled, and it would be a waste of good kerosene to have only one jumper take the plunge. So when Frank spotted Hutch still on the base, the blond man was the first he thought of.
A quick change and again Hutch found himself stepping into a plane. He met his co-jumper, a young man with red hair and a mass of freckles who went by the name of Patrick Guinney. Guinny ‘just call me Paddy’ was an experienced parachutist, he had done over a hundred jumps already. Paddy wasn’t nervous at all, being used to the rush in advance and probably not feeling any tension at all. Hutch was too excited himself to dwell on his fellow air diver. Frank was calm and relaxed and smoked a cigarette before the jump. His eyes went from Paddy to Hutch and then to window and the pilot.
“There’s a bit more wind now,” Frank said. “Bear that in mind when goin’ down, Hutch. Steer slightly extra to the left when you get the drop zone in sight. We’re going a bit higher this time. You’re all ready for it.” It wasn’t before long when he gave the first signal: gear in place. Hutch put the goggles on, gave a last yank on the buckles and had Frank check the rest. Paddy did the same. He grinned broadly. “First jump?”
“Second,” Hutch said proudly.
“Mighty fine day for a jump,” Paddy nodded. He eyes darted outside, he checked his helmet and was the first to stand up when Frank opened the hatch.
“Go, Paddy,” Frank signalled and it was at that moment Hutch saw one of his shoelaces undone.
“Paddy!” He shouted over the noise of the howling wind that was now streaming freely in the cabin of the small plane. “You’re shoe! It’s undone!”
But Paddy didn’t hear him. He pushed himself out and off he was, into the deep.
Frank, who hadn’t heard Hutch, shouted over the noise. “Go, Hutch. I’ll be right behind you.”
And Hutch jumped.
Paddy circled through the air - a sight for sore eyes. He made summersaults, forwards, backwards and spindled through the air as if he was untouched by the wind and the upward pressure. Hutch looked in awe at the young man, when Frank appeared, giving him the signal to pull the chord. What a pity. Hutch wished he had the same skills as Paddy, who could be free falling longer than he and still come down safely. But he pulled the chord.
A yank – and the speed was gone just as quickly as it had been swift.
Hutch looked down, saw Frank, saw Paddy below him and knew it’d be a matter of seconds before their chutes would open as well when suddenly – something came his way so fast he could only blink his eyes once.
The impact of the shoe against his face was so hard that it knocked Hutch unconscious. The shoe went straight through the soft fabric of the opened parachute, ripping a big tear in the colourful striped cloth.
Hutch, oblivious to the spinning world around him, didn’t notice. His parachute twisted wildly with the unresponsive weight of the unconscious man dangling below. The parachute was out of control and it zigzagged through the air, when finally it came down in a thick, impenetrable forest, six miles south of the air strip.
By the time Starsky could get off the phone – he’d been asked to call the station concerning a witness statement – his ear was warm and red from the receiver. Blast, he thought, now I missed Hutch’s jump. He’s parachuting down by now. He smiled inwardly. Saves me the stomach ache.
He went outside and looked up to the sky. There’s was Frank, descending rapidly. He recognised the clear blue overalls and the white-yellow parachute. A bit further another parachutist came down but he wasn’t wearing a helmet and had blazing red hair. He ran to where Frank was going to land. Automatically Starsky’s eyes went up to the sky. There was no one there.
Where’s Hutch? He done already? He looked around to see if Hutch stood somewhere along the strip, the drop zone or near the bar, but apart from some technicians there were no sky divers around. A slight sense of worry nestled itself inside of him. Where’s Hutch?
Frank landed, pulled the gear from his back without minding where the wind was taking it to and ran to the control tower. The red-haired man began to reign in his parachute, but looked to the sky as he did.
Christ no… Starsky caught his worried face and the hurry in Frank’s movements.
“Frank!” he called, “Frank! Over here! Where’s Hutch?”
Frank avoided his looks. “He went down,” he said curtly and pulled open the door to the tiny office that served as control tower. “Over to the woods. Get in.”
The world stood still for Starsky. He went down. Hutch went down. He went down. Like a broken record, it was the only thing Starsky could hear, feel, think of.
Inside, Frank ripped a microphone from a transmitter unit and quickly made contact with the nearest police station and hospital. Next to him the waitress from the bar listened with eyes like saucers. Starsky didn’t really register what he said. Quickly Frank made the necessary arrangements, while the dark haired man just stood to the side and tried to fight an upcoming panic. The station seemed to lose its horizon.
“Hey! Mister! Did you hear me? We’ve got to find your friend!” Frank shook his arm.
“Find my…” Starsky repeated mechanically.
“Let’s go. I’ve got my Jeep in the hanger.” Frank nearly dragged Starsky out.
“He went down…” the brunet swallowed. “What happened?”
“You didn’t listen - he went down in the woods. Paddy lost his shoe in the air – it went through Hutch’s parachute. I don’t know why he didn’t steer. I guess he was rudderless with the hole in fabric.”
It did open, Starsky understood. “The chute – it did open, didn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Frank said, chewing even harder. “He was floatin’ calmly, then wham! This thing comes shooting through the sky, I look up and your pal is in a spin and headin’ straight for the trees.”
“Was he… “
“What?” Frank, also very worried, snarled, having little consideration with Starsky’s fear.
Still alive? was what Starsky wanted to say, but instead he said “Was he at a safe altitude?”
Frank shrugged his shoulders once. “Dunno. He didn’t have much speed anymore, if that’s any consolation. Can’t tell. We’ve got to find him.” He looked up at the sky. “And preferably quickly, cos we’re gonna have a change of weather soon.”
Starsky followed his gaze to the blue sky and the larger white fluffy clouds. “Looks good to me.”
“Believe me – I can smell it. There’s rain comin’.”
Green, that was the first thing that came to mind when Hutch opened his eyes with difficulty and began to realise that he was awake. His head hurt. Like a ball had hit him – he remembered a similar event happening to him when he was nine and his eyebrow was hit by a baseball. It hurt a lot and made his eye swell up ugly but he sure was that week’s hero at school.
Not much heroism now, though. Man, his head throbbed, his nose and the area around his eyes in particular. Breathing through his nose was almost choking him. He licked his dry lips and his tongue found an iron-like taste. Blood. What the hell happened? It was then that he tried to move and pain, flashing, hot like a stab wound, shot through the upper half of his back.
“Aaaah…” he hissed and blinked to get the involuntary tears from his eyes. “Jeezzz…”
He awaited until the pain subsided somewhat and then, very slowly and very cautiously, began to take in his situation. He was surrounded by thick, green foliage and giant trees.
He was hanging, about 18 feet from the ground, in a pine tree. The straps of the sky diving gear burned in his groin but the wires of the parachute above him held him in place. As long as he hung very still, he could bite through the pain in his back. He could move his left arm, if he did it carefully, but he suspected his right collar bone to be broken and he could only let his right arm uselessly hang down from his side. His legs and feet tingled – of course. The tight gear hindered a free blood circulation. It would get worse and then eventually he wouldn’t feel it at all anymore. Until the moment came that he would be set free from his precarious situation.
He then noticed for the first time he still had his helmet on. It felt tight and he wished he could take it off. He could raise his left arm to his face and even touched the clasp under his chin, but he lacked strength to get it undone, let alone lift it. He realised vaguely that the helmet had probably saved his life. He didn’t know what happened, but it needn’t a whole lot of imagination to figure that his skull would have been split by whatever it was that hit him. His goggles were gone, most likely broken by the blow.
Thinking, keeping his head straight, trying to be immobile and just hanging there began to wear him out rapidly. He tried to keep his eyes open and keep his head up, but he lacked the strength and his head lolled sideways. It nearly made him pass out from the pain in his back. He knew he had to stay very still. Until help would come.
Help. Where was Starsky?
Starsky, where are you? Help me, buddy. Please. Help me.
Darkness took over.
Even though Frank seemed like the odd man out, with his pony tail and long walrus moustache, he was every bit as efficient as a flight controller. Starsky, pressing his lips tight, watched him tensely as he organised a search party from the hangar where he got gear and tools together. He was so scared he feared his heart would refuse. Hutch, hold on. Where are you, buddy? Hold on. Help’s on the way.
“There’s a first aid kit in that cupboard over there. Bottom shelf. Get it, will ya?”
He called the tower and Mona, the woman who’d been behind the counter of the bar, immediately responded.
“Mona, call Ernest in AC 70 Juliet Romeo. Tell him to head fifty degrees south by south-west, over the Marana area. Explain the situation. Do you copy?”
“Next, call Roger. Have Jimmy get the chopper out. Fuel her up and get Roger in the air. Do you copy?”
Starsky put the kit on the back seat. He also found a blanket, a torch that worked and a tool box. A saw hung from a hook on the wall. He put it all behind the seats, finding approval in Frank’s nod.
“Inform me when ambulance and police have arrived. I’m heading to the forest. Do you copy?”
“Copy that and roger.” A short silence followed. “Good luck, Frank.”
Frank smacked the mike back on the dash board holder. “Let’s go.”
Hutch swam to the surface. Thick, red clouds were encircling his vision. It took a while before he understood he was waking up and it was his fatigue that blurred his vision. Or was it blood that had dried and was now plastering his eyes half shut? He couldn’t tell.
Starsky… where are you? Help me.
He was feeling a lot worse than when he had woken up the first time. How long ago was that? It was light then, and it was light still as far as he could tell. His overall was wet. From what? Rain? Blood? Urine? He didn’t know.
Thirst nagged at him. He was really thirsty. His tongue was a dry patch, his lips were cracked. He heard rumbling. Or maybe it was drumming. The blond couldn’t tell.
Help me. Help.
After a while of painful breathing he understood that it was his own heart beat he heard. The drumming, the rumbling – it was his own blood that pulsated in his ears. The helmet made it even more persistent. The helmet…
Hutch brought his hand to his chin, once again fingering at the clasp and this time it opened as he pulled the spring. Exhaustedly, he dropped his arm, for a second forgetting he shouldn’t move unexpectedly. The punishment that followed made him shriek in pain. Bile rose. He threw up and lost consciousness in the process.
In the Jeep, the curly-haired man could only imagine the worst. The search party finding Hutch… dead. The search party finding parts of Hutch. The search party being unable to find Hutch.
Mona, back in the control, crackled over the mike and shook him from his morbid thoughts. “Frank, this is control. Come in.”
“Control, this is Frank.”
“Roger’s in the air. He thinks he might have seen the parachute. Do you copy?”
“Copy that. Give me the coordinates, Mona.”
Mona did and Frank yanked at the steering wheel. “Hold on, Starsky.” Frank hit the gas full throttle and raced off the road and onto a sandy path that led into the forest. The cowboy sky diver seemed to know the area here very well. He drove as fast as was humanly possible, not paying attention to bumps and holes that made driving difficult. The four by four Jeep took the obstacles without problems, although Starsky had the idea his kidneys were halfway down his throat by the time Frank slowed down.
“This is the place, should be here somewhere.”
“Hutch! Hutch!” Starsky called his friend as they drove very slowly and tried to find him. After every bump or curve Frank stopped, turned of the engine and the two called and listened. If Hutch called back or signalled them, they should pay attention to even the smallest of sounds.
And on they went, little bits at a time. Starsky – who else – spotted Hutch first.
High up in the trees, almost twenty feet above them, Starsky saw the remains of the colourful parachute and the silent, still man in yellow overalls hanging underneath.
“Hutch,” Starsky gasped, his heart skipping a beat. He was out of the Jeep before it stood still.
“Hutch! Hutch! Can you hear me?” he shouted up. Nothing moved. An ice cold hand squeezed his throat shut.
“He’s very still,” Frank stated and once again plucked the microphone from the dashboard. “Control, this is Frank. Come in.”
“This is control. Go ahead Frank.”
“We found him. He’s caught in the trees. We need an emergency rescue team to get him down. We need to mount a height of approximately twenty feet. I repeat, twenty feet. Call the county Fire Brigade and have them get a ladder truck or a tower wagon up here. Also call for Forest Service assistance. Mike Jenkins is an excellent climber. Get him over here. Do you copy?” He kept professional, despite his obvious mixed worry-relief feeling.
“Copy that. I’ll contact the ERT. Can you tell me anything on the condition of the parachutist?”
“Negative. He’s too far away to see. He’s not responding to his name. Do you copy?”
“Copy that. I’ll inform the ambulance.”
By now Starsky stood directly under Hutch and looked up at his friend. He was too high up to tell if he was alive or not. “Hutch,” the brunet whispered. “I’m coming to get you, pal. Don’t give up, you hear?”
He began by taking off his coat and wanted to start climbing the tree, but in two big steps Frank was with him and grabbed him by the arm.
“No! You’re riskin’ his life if you go up.”
“I need to get up there,” Starsky said with desperation in his voice. “You don’t understand. I MUST see how he is.”
“But not in that tree you don’t. You risk him fallin’ if you climb up. Who’s to tell that pine tree can hold two grown men? Your weight might make the difference between bendin’ or breakin’.” Frank’s urgent tone cleared Starsky’s irrational head-over-heels way of thinking.
“Yeah. Yes. You’re right. Sorry.” Nervously he kept looking up. Hutch… stay with me. I’m right here. We’re going to get you down. Hold on, buddy.
“If you want to climb up, then take that beech. It’s sturdier, the branches are thicker and you can get close enough to see how he’s doin’.” Frank was remarkably level headed. “Wait. Don’t go so unprepared.” He took a bundle of rope from the Jeep and gave Starsky a walkie-talkie. Starsky hung the bundle over his shoulder and clipped the walkie-talkie to his belt.
“Don’t take any chances,” Frank said sternly, “no use in gettin’ two men in hospital.”
The radio cracked to life. Mona asked for more details and a clear, visible signal that would guide the help troops in. In the distance sirens blared, announcing their speedy arrival. Starsky didn’t listen anymore. He stepped over to the beech which towered up the air, next to the pine Hutch was caught in.
You should see me now, Hutch, Starsky thought grimly. In the station, he was known for his fear of heights and it was a constant source of teasing for some of the fellow officers. But this time Starsky refused to let that take the better of him. Don’t look down, he urged himself, don’t look down and don’t think about what you’ve climbed so far. Focus on Hutch. Focus.
It was difficult. The tree was thick with branches, all of them slippery with moss growth. Starsky had to squeeze himself through narrow openings, around leg-thick branches and across heavily overgrown sticks. It was tricky. And maybe that was a good thing. It kept Starsky’s mind of his fear of heights – he needed all his attention on the task at hand.
After a long fifteen minutes and a lot of effort he reached the same height as Hutch. He stopped, clenched his legs around the biggest branch he could find and wrapped the rope around it. Then he tied the rope around his chest. It was scary to let go of the tree with both hands but with his back leant against the stem and his legs in a vice grip around another stick, he dared letting go long enough to secure himself.
Carefully, on his belly, he slid forwards and bent the branches and leaves aside. Now, finally he could see Hutch’s face. He was a yard and half away.
“Hutch…” Starsky whispered. He looked, shocked, at his friend. Hutch’s nose and eyes were swollen, a deep coloured swatch of red, purple and blue spreading out over most of his face. His nose had been bleeding. It had now stopped and dried, but left gruesome streaks over his lips and chin. He had thrown up. Hutch’s eyes were closed, but they were so swollen he might have them open after all. It was impossible to tell. His head hung slightly sideways.
“Hutch? It’s me, buddy. Wake up. I’m right here. Can you hear me?”
No answer. Starsky wanted to touch him, probe him, but he was just out of reach. He kept talking. But Hutch stayed quiet. Starsky blinked his eyes and then stared intently at his friends chest and part of his neck that was visible. Relief gushed over him when he noticed the chest going up and then and a soft pulsating under the blond’s skin.
“Starsky? Can you hear me?” That was Frank, coming in over the walkie-talkie. With sweaty hands Starsky reached for the device and pushed the button. Letting go of the relative safety of the branch he was on, caused his fear of height to kick back relentlessly.
“Yes. I hear you.”
“What’s his condition?”
“Alive, I can see him breathing, but he doesn’t look good,” Starsky replied. “How long before assistance arrives?”
“They must be helped to find this spot. I’m goin’ to leave you for a couple of minutes, to help them find the road.”
“Okay. Don’t leave us here.”
“Hang in there, alright? I’ll be as quick as possible. Frank out.”
Hang in there, Starsky thought sarcastically, what choice of words.
“Don’t you agree, Hutch? Poor choice of words, whaddayasay?”
But Hutch said nothing. He just hung there, being totally unresponsive. Starsky kept talking, trying to get him to listen, to open his eyes, to give him some sign that he was aware of his partner. And suddenly, without warning, a rush of despair made him snarl.
“Dammit Hutch - I didn’t climb all this way just to talk to someone who doesn’t listen! Why the hell did you go parachuting? Huh?! What if that chute of yours hadn’t opened up at all? We can’t fly, haven’t you heard me the first time? Look at yourself! You look like a bird with broken wings – and THEY can’t choose cos they come with wings and all! Answer me! Why don’t you answer me?!”
“You’re bloody right it hurts! You’re giving me a heart attack, you moron! You think I don’t feel…” Then it dawned on Starsky that Hutch had spoken, had actually answered him.
“Hutch? Hutch? Talk to me, buddy!”
“It hurts,” Hutch repeated weakly. He tried to lift his head.
“Don’t move. You’re in a tree. Me too.” Starsky said hastily. He had a scary flash of Hutch and him tumbling down. He grabbed the branches and sticks a tad more firmer, although that was practically impossible. His knuckles were colourless from squeezing.
“Help is on the way, so hold on.” Starsky’s voice softened. “Where does it hurt?”
“My back…” Hutch licked his dry lips.
His back… that was bad news.
“Collar bone… broken.”
Every word was preceded by a deep breath. It took Hutch a lot of effort to talk.
“Alright, noted. I’ll tell the paramedics. Easy, okay? How’s the head?”
“Awful… can you remove… my helmet?” Hutch spoke slowly, obviously searching for words. He sounded exhausted.
“No, I can’t reach you.”
“Can’t see you, Starsk,” the blond’s voice came softly, with a slight touch of panic.
“Your eyes are shut. From the looks of it, I’d say you’ve broken your nose.”
“Yeah. Last time I checked it wasn’t that big. Or I must have overlooked it all those years.”
Starsky wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard Hutch utter a little laugh. Then Hutch surprised him by asking, “… you scared?”
“Sorry? Scared? Who? Me?”
“… rattling on… ‘swhat you do when you’re scared…”
“I’m NOT rattling on!” Starsky shot indignantly. “I’m just…”
“… scared of heights…”
The dark haired man let out a sigh. “Alright, alright. I’m scared. Yeah. You know how high this is? And by the way, since we’re on the subject – have you heard anything I told you?”
“Yeah, you’re bloody right I was. Pretend to fly! Ha!”
Hutch was losing attention, Starsky could tell from the way a certain weight seemed to press on his shoulders.
“No, no, no. You’re not going to sleep on me now, buddy. I’m sitting here, in the highest tree I’ve ever climbed and I’m shitting myself. I need you to talk to me. Tell me I’m safe and all that crap.”
“You’re safe… and all that crap…”
“I’m not. If I move, I’ll splatter to bits on the ground.”
“… love the way … you describe the ending…”
“Yeah, laugh at it. Easy for you to say.” The second Starsky said that, he knew it sounded idiotic. But Hutch didn’t seem to mind.
“You’re doing fine… thanks…”
“Here comes the rescue party,” Starsky said, catching colours in the corner his eye. He turned his head to see and then a wave of nausea bubbled up as the depth seemed to jump him like a tiger jumps its prey. The trees and the leaves were pulling at him, daring him to let go of the branches and check out the ground. Quickly he squeezed his eyes shut. “Oooooh,” he moaned. “Brother…”
“Starsk? What’s wrong?” Hutch’s blind eyes searched for his friend. He could distinguish light and dark, and realised it was the swelling that made it hard for him to open his eyes.
“Hey!” a voice from the ground reached him.
“Starsk?” the blond tried again. He lifted his head a little and his breath got caught in his throat from the pain it caused. “… where are you?”
Starsky’s walkie-talkie began to make tinny sounds. “Starsky, this is Frank. Are you two alright up there?”
“Starsk… answer him…” Hutch gasped. “Get me down.”
“I can’t,” came the terrified, pinched voice of his friend.
“Yes you can… you must answer him.”
Again the voice shouted, “Hey! Starsky! What’s the status there?”
“Pick up, Starsk… please…”
He could sense Starsky’s fear. He even imagined his could hear him panting, overtaken by a frozen state of panic.
If he could have, Hutch would have pleaded, begged, shouted, snarled, grunted and grabbed the walkie-talkie himself in the end. But he lacked the strength. Instead he just whispered, exhaustedly, desperately, “Starsky…”
Where it came from, Hutch didn’t know, but that tiny word, spoken from a deep, black pool of desperation, got through to Starsky. He heard shifting, deep shuddering sighs and then, “Starsky here.”
“This is Frank. You two holdin’ out?”
“Don’t ask,” Starsky panted. Hutch didn’t miss the strain in his voice. “Get us out.”
Oh Starsky. You didn’t have to do this. I know you would have waited for me, cared for me and worried just as much if you stayed on the ground. Why’d you come up here, buddy? Just to tell me I can’t fly?
Hutch felt darkness closing in on him. He struggled to keep awake, but talking to Starsky called for his last reserves – it was like wading through molasses. Every move went slower and slower, until, finally he gave in to the beckoning, dark, velvet.
Finding Hutch was one thing, getting him down was a totally different story. With ladder wagons, cabling, tackles and men up in the trees, an entire team of trained rescuers helped to get the unfortunate Hutch down. One of the rescuers secured Hutch neck with a thick brace but everyone held their breaths as Hutch yelped a gut-wrenching cry in agony.
“For God’s sake, you’re killing him!” Starsky shouted but Frank hushed him through the walkie-talkie.
“Look – they know what they’re doin’. Let them do their job. It’s not like they’re pickin’ apples, remember? They’re as careful as they can.”
The dark-haired man mumbled an apology. “Sorry. I’m just nervous. There’s something wrong with his back. He said it hurt. And his collar bone.”
“It’ll be okay. Make sure you don’t fall yourself.”
Once Hutch was secured, the wires of the parachute were cut. That moment was a scary one – even though he was in a far more safe harness now than he had been, it seemed like cutting the wires was like chopping off the chord to life itself. But very calmly, without any unnecessary shaking, Hutch was reeled down.
From his position in the tree next to Hutch’s, Starsky had been following everything as if he were on the first row in a theatre and watched the play. The details were so clear to see, as everything happened only a few feet away from him, that Starsky knew there and then that he would never forget this: Hutch hanging helplessly amongst the trees, the colourful parachute in rags above him, his yellow suit, the spectrum of colours on Hutch’s face, the pine and beech trees, the smell of rain in the air, the orange overalls of the rescuers, the static and cracking of the radios and the walkie-talkies... He couldn’t take his eyes off of Hutch, who was either semi-unconscious or semi-responsive. Starsky could tell from his face that he understood what was going on, even if he didn’t quite grasp it all.
He saw him going down, professionally tended to by the people on the ground who were good at what they did. The paramedics swarmed around him like bees around a jar of honey.
Hutch, you’re gonna be alright, partner. It’s over.
“Starsky? Frank here. Come down, man. Your partner is safe.”
“I can’t,” Starsky squeaked, suddenly overtaken by his fear of heights now that Hutch was on the ground. He clung to the tree for dear life.
“Are you injured?”
“No. I just can’t.”
Frank didn’t push. Apparently he had quickly understood what was going on in the beech, high up. “I’ll send Mike Jenkins up to help you. Sit tight.”
Mike Jenkins, Forest officer, was up in no time. He looked at Starsky.
“Gone up in a rash?”
“Fear of heights?”
“Okay. I’ll get you down. Do as I tell you, and we’ll be on the ground before you know it.”
Calm and patiently he helped him down, looked at by the people on the ground. To Starsky they looked a zillion feet away, but Jenkins told him he was doing fine and he’d be on the ground in just a few more minutes. It wasn’t easy for Starsky to be steered down by someone he didn’t know, but bravely, he followed the leads the Forest officer gave him. He had to force himself to move his feet and his hands. Jenkins grabbed his ankles or his feet and placed them on branches that were sturdy enough to hold the descending men. That feeling was awful. Every time he felt those fingers around his ankles, Starsky knew he was going to drop dead.
But he didn’t.
“It’s over, man,” Jenkins said comfortingly, and patted him on the shoulder when Starsky stood firmly on the mossy soil. “You’re okay now?”
“I will be in a minute,” said Starsky shakily, “Thanks.”
With limbs that trembled from the exertion, Starsky stumbled over to Hutch. The blond was on a gurney, which the paramedics lifted into an awaiting ambulance. Hutch moaned and his good hand reached for his legs. The blood in his legs was beginning to circulate again and the stinging obviously hurt.
“Wait!” Starsky called, “wait! Hutch!”
He bent over the gurney. Hutch’s helmet was removed at last and of the moist, blond hair brought on a strange feeling of familiarity, that made Starsky sigh with relief. An IV with fluids and pain killers had already found its way to his veins.
“Hey buddy…” Starsky gently stroked the blond hair. Hutch looked awful. The swollen face, the nearly shut eyes, the dried blood and gore that was all over him… “You’re safe now. Off to the hospital, okay?”
“… took your time…”
“… the ride was great…”
“What? What ride?”
“… in the rescue harness…”
“For crying out loud, Hutch…”
"…pretend to fly…”
“That shoe hit you harder than I thought.”
“You should try it…”
“Not in a million years.”
The paramedic cut in. “We’ve got to go. He needs a hospital. You wanna come?”
It started raining.
The pain in Hutch’s back was caused by both shoulder blades being broken. Also his right collar bone was broken, but the damage to his face was more visible. He was nauseous and dizzy, concussed by the broken eye socket, and the crack in his nose. It was heavily bruised. Numerous contusions and cuts were all over his body. Fortunately surgery wasn’t necessary. A couple of days in the hospital for observation, and after that resting and enough time would mend the injuries.
Starsky had waited in the waiting room of the hospital, after having called Huggy Bear and Captain Dobey. Dobey was not amused. Apart from his obvious concern for the blond, he grunted moodily that he hated it when his men got hurt during their days off.
“Ah. So we’re only supposed to get injured while at work?” Starsky said sourly.
“You’re not supposed to get injured at all,” Dobey retaliated. “When Hutchinson is back I’ll give him a good telling on what he can and can’t do for leisure experiments.” A little softer he added, “It could have been an entirely different ending. Thank God for small miracles. I’ll drop in later today.”
“Poor choice of words, capt’n,” Starsky remarked slightly bitterly and hung up before the other could answer. He had expected Dobey to be concerned and worried, and the reprimand was the last he needed after the day he’d been through. Not to mention Hutch, who would feel useless in a few days, when he was getting fitter again and guilt about ducking duties and all that nonsense would creep in. Dobey’s reaction was not what he wanted to hear, and frankly, he disagreed completely. He understood Dobey not liking one of his best men being out of the circus for months, but on the other hand – the captain had little, if not nothing, to say about his private life as long as it didn’t involve criminal activities.
Deep inside he knew he was being unfair. Dobey’s snarl was born out of worry; he was the best superior any officer could wish for. But right now, it was not what he needed and he deliberately ignored that thought.
Tiredly he went to fetch another coffee and a donut. It was greasy and looked and tasted like shoe soles. He threw half of it away, drank the coffee without much interest and waited for the nurse to come and tell him he could go to see Hutch.
Which was about two hours later. Hutch, pale where he wasn’t black and blue, was lying in a bed, amidst at least ten pillows. Starsky remembered vividly how painful his shoulder blade had been when the bullet had gone through, a few years ago. It must be hard to have that on both shoulders, he thought. He couldn’t tell at first if Hutch was asleep or not, but one blue eye found his when he cautiously bent over him to look at his face.
“Hey to you too.”
“How do I look?”
“Like Mister Universe himself.”
“Honestly? Well, I hate to bust your bubble but there’s very little chance of you winning today. Or tomorrow.” Starsky perched on a side of the bed, next to Hutch’s legs under the covers. He put a hand on the shape of one leg. His tone of voice changed. More seriously he asked, “How d’you feel?”
“Not bad, considering.” Hutch’s answer was just a little too quick to be convincing.
Hutch’s voice was thin. “It hurts. Everything. My shoulder blades. My face. I can’t think. I can’t see straight. I’m concussed and it makes me nauseous when I move.”
Starsky suddenly chuckled at the revelation. “Well then, not bad, considering!”
“That’s what I said, didn’t I?”
“Yeah.” Starsky laughed softly, relieved to hear Hutch still being alert.
“What did Dobey say?”
“He’s going to call you everything under the sun when you’re well enough to listen but not well enough to walk away.” The dark-haired man shrugged. “He was pretty pissed off. Gave me a sermon about the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’ when being off work.”
“You did that to me in that tree.”
“Sure. If I could have, I would have smacked you against your ears. Lecturing me while I was hanging there.”
“Nag nag. It wasn’t exactly like I enjoyed myself up there, you know.”
Hutch tried to sigh but moved too unexpectedly and a grimace flashed over his face. It struck Starsky how ashen his skin was but that a slight red glow appeared on his cheek bone. His one blue eye began to get a somewhat cloudy shine. He was dead tired, Starsky could tell. And not only the blond. He himself was also at the end of his tether, now that the adrenalin had worn off and had swapped places with an undefined weariness.
“I’m going. You need to sleep. What ‘ve they given you? Sleeping pills?”
“Yes. And painkillers. And other stuff.” Hutch swallowed. “Nothing addictive.”
“Good. Listen Hutch, you were darn lucky, d’you realise that?”
“If you call THIS luck…”
Starsky raised his hand. “Yeah yeah. It’s just that things could have ended very differently.”
“Save me the sermon, will ya, Starsk? You going up that tree – THAT was dangerous.” His voice softened. Fondly he added, “And mighty impressive. Thanks buddy. I wouldn’t have gotten through if it wasn’t for you.”
“Sure you would have,” Starsky answered lightly and got off the bed. “It just wouldn’t have been this much fun.”
“Any time. But promise me one thing, Hutch.”
“Next time you want to go pretending to fly, allow me to talk you out of it.”
Starsky walked over to the door and looked back at the man in the bed. Hutch just smiled and waved with his left hand. Starsky waved back and left.
Time to go home and get some sleep himself.
Tomorrow he had to get back to work again. He’d have to tell the same story over and over again, until everyone knew everything. But he was sure of one thing. He would never, ever, go parachuting. Ever.
A smile spread over his tired, smudgy face. Hutch made it. Pretending to fly…
Elsa, June 2004