“Jones and Cunningham in position.”
“Hanson and Rack in position.”
“Starsky and Hutch in position.”
“Copy all teams. Remember - easy does it. No Dirty Harries here. On the count of three. One… Two… Three!”
As quiet as possible the three teams entered the sugar factory. Nathan Jones and Moira Cunningham were on the roof, Joe Hanson and James Rack were on the west covering the main entrance and David Starsky and Kenneth Hutchinson were at the rear of the building, forcing the fire escape back door.
The local team leader, a lieutenant by the name of Bart Rosen, coordinated a drug arrest operation, as ordered by Dobey. During daytime the sugar factory was a beehive of perfectly legal activities, with people and transport vehicles coming and going, but now the two shifts were over and the factory was quiet and nearly dark.
Nearly dark – but not entirely.
There was light burning in a distant room, just a faint glow that was visible in the east wall, which was normally an off-limits area. But Jones and Cunningham were able to spot it from their position and had confirmed the lights burning. Dobey’s informant had been very sure: there were drugs processed there. It was the supply source for over twenty dealers in the small Bay City district and Dobey wanted to catch the big fish in the act.
This was without a doubt one of the best concealed drug distribution places the police had ever dealt with. A sugar factory – a first, quick look would never betray that not all that was white there, was sugar.
A three days continuous stake-out had revealed that only the suspect by the name of Tra Kwan and his girlfriend Li Yong were inside in the evenings, plus one or two helpers. The operation was well planned: the teams would go in and surprise them with a swift, silent arrest. The element of surprise would be on their side and the suspects were not likely to put up a lot of resistance.
“Why does that always make my skin crawl?” Starsky said softly as Hutch unlocked the fire escape door with a specially made key. Some oil in the lock prevented squeaking.
“That ‘not putting up resistance’-crap. Somehow we always manage to get the worst cases when I hear that description.”
Hutch chuckled grimly. “This one’s not going anywhere. We’ve got it all covered.”
“If Dobey’s so sure of little resistance, then why’re the unis just around the corner on standby?”
“Stop whinging. Precaution, that’s all. Rosen didn’t even ask for backup, but Dobey insisted.”
“Terrific. That reassures me even more.”
All the time they’d been whispering, making sure they wouldn’t be spotted. They knew that the other teams would be doing the same. Their door was the hardest one to open, but they had the best place to start from.
“We’re in,” Starsky whispered in the walkie-talkie. He received two clicks instead of a spoken answer: radio silence from now on.
Inside the factory hung a stench that was so thick it penetrated everything. It was the smell that was caused by the process of vaporising water from the sugar beets. Outside it was already very present, but in here, within the walls of the factory, it was a hundred times stronger.
In silence they checked their surroundings: there was no one there. The place was clean and quiet, machines were shut off and a pile of sugar beets sat at the beginning of a conveyor belt. With their eyes, the detectives followed the path that the beets went through. A cleansing area, a cutting machine, a sorting area, centrifuge barrels, giant waste bins, large containers and more which was in the shadows and too far away to see properly.
Hutch wrinkled his nose in disgust. This smells awful! He said soundlessly to Starsky, who answered with a similarly disgusted face: Yeah. Lovely place to take your honey to. The blond grinned, understanding the non-spoken words and then pointed up. There, he mouthed. Starsky nodded.
The informant had given details on the floor plan of the factory as far as he could tell, although it was hard to see in advance how accurate his description was. But as it was dark in the factory, with only a few emergency exit lights burning, it wasn’t difficult to find the room where lights were on. Far away, at the front side of the sugar processing factory, they picked up the soft sound of a door being opened. Hanson and Rack slipped inside soundlessly. Just a short shadow from the moonlight betrayed them for a second.
They’re in, Starsky mouthed this time and Hutch nodded. He’d seen them too.
They went up the metal stairs quietly. Hanson and Rack made their way towards them and took position.
“On three,” Hutch said very softly and counted on his fingers as they stood outside the door. About thirty yards further Hanson stood ready, gun held high just in case. And a bit more to the right, on a lower level, Rack had taken position as well. Both men nodded. They also saw Hutch making the well-known gesture: three… two… one…GO!
Inside the well-lit room an Asian man sat behind a table and worked with beakers, flask, tubes and burners. He studied the results of his laboratory process under a microscope and was the only one who looked up as Hutch opened the door. There was no fear or surprise on his face, just a vague, absent-minded expression which revealed his concentration on his work.
More to his right, a similar chemical arrangement sat on a table, behind which an also Asian woman poured fluids from one flask onto the other.
In the back of the room, three women and one man – the suspects Tra Kwan and Li Yong, recognisable from the photos - were weighing and distributing white powder into transparent, plastic bags. They talked vividly and animatedly. Asian music twanged from a hi-fi set that sat in the corner of the room.
In another corner of the room a very old lady slept in a chair. Her hair was as white as the powder in the back of the room. She looked fragile as a china doll.
There were no signs of weapons.
All of that was noted and registered in the minds of the officers as they went in and overlooked the scenery.
Starsky got in, and quickly stepped over to the first man they’d seen. By now, he had his wits together, so scared and without any resistance, he put his hands up, but the officer yanked them down and cuffed him in one, smooth action. “Freeze. Bay City PD. You’re under arrest. Put your hands up in the air.” Hutch’s cold voice made everyone startle. None of the others had even noticed them coming in.
“What have we got here? We’ve hit jackpot, partner,” Starsky said triumphantly and, gun ready, he headed for the suspects in the back. “We expected low life scum dealers – and look what we’ve got? The Holy Grail. The laboratory and the technicians as well.”
What it was that triggered the women in the back to react, no one could tell. For some reason, the police had expected resistance from the men, not from the women. But the one most left – Li Yong - threw a big plastic bag which she’d been filling, at Starsky. Like snow it whirled down and in the second of surprise, the woman behind the other distilling apparatus, threw a big glass flask at Hutch.
And then the confusion was complete.
All but grandma in the chair and the cuffed technician, the drug workers busted through a side wall, which appeared to be made of thin plaster – a very well concealed escape route. The four women and Tri Kwan ran and spread instantly in different directions. Tri Kwan hit a button – crackling and noisily the machines in the factory came to life. Hutch ran to the opening and pulled Starsky with him, from the cloud of white dust he was standing in.
“Starsky? You alright?”
Starsky coughed to get the stuff from his mouth and nose and wiped his running eyes.
“Yeah!” he shouted over the noise of the machines that began to shake the sand and dirt of the beets. “Come on, after them!”
The escape route led to three staircases, two down and one up. Starsky motioned up and went after Li Yong who’d thrown the drugs at him; Hutch went down and followed Tri Kwan. Hanson and Rack were right behind him, following the noise, the running footsteps and their colleagues’ shouts.
Where it came from, Starsky didn’t know. Neither did he know why he lost his concentration and why the conveyor belt suddenly looked like a giant snake sliding through grass. The woman he’d been following was out of sight in a second and annoyingly enough Starsky couldn’t spot her again as she turned the corner behind a huge container. Cautiously he moved around the now quickly running belt that was filled with beets. The smell was awful. The centrifuge was at work and spread a filthy stench. It didn’t smell anything like sugar at all – and the idea of it had never been so unappealing.
Very abruptly the floor under Starsky’s feet sank away, he lost his balance and rolled down. The woman screeched madly as Starsky unstoppably slipped into a large silo. Crystallized, refined sugar glistened at the bottom. His fingers clawed for something to grab onto but the floor under his hands was smooth and without things to hold: Starsky fell on top of a three feet thick mattress of sugar.
The silo was being filled from the opposite side of the hatch, down which the officer had made his unfortunate fall. Sugar came cascading down through a large opening. It whirled all around Starsky and crawled into his hair, his nose, his eyes, his mouth. The hatch above him closed automatically, leaving him in the dark.
“Help! Hutch!” Starsky shouted and coughed. The sugar dust stung his eyes. “Huuutch!”
And then there was pain that made that made the world fade.
Dobey had been right. The suspects ran but there wasn’t much resistance apart from screaming, kicking and scratching – there were no guns in the factory, which might have made things a whole lot more complicated.
Hutch had gone after Tri Kwan, tackled him near a cutting machine and now pushed him down, throwing in his full weight. The Asian was too scared and too groggy from a short, intense fight to resist, but Hutch didn’t take any chances. Rack came in with one screaming, struggling woman who spat at him and tried to kick him. Rack was a man of little patience. After the next pointy shoe that hit his shin, he slapped her over her cheek and said threateningly, “Enough!”. It wasn’t clear if she understood English, but she certainly understood what he meant.
Hanson had a little more trouble. He came back empty handed and grunted, “I’d never say I would hit a lady but I had to knock this one down.” He held a hanky to his face, where blood trickled from a nasty gash near his ear. “She’s got long nails. I tied her to a machine. Can’t go anywhere.”
“We’ve got the laboratory under lock and barrel. The technician is meek as a lamb. And that old lady is still asleep – right through the rack and the noise.” Moira Cunningham came in.
“Where’s Starsky?” Rack asked, looking around. He moved a few switches and the factory bathed in white, chill tube light.
“Upstairs. He went after a girl.” Moira answered.
“Starsky’s always after girls,” Hanson retaliated calmly. He took the walkie-talkie from his pocket and reported to lieutenant Rosen.
Five minutes later Nathan came in. “I got the okay. Everything’s under control. Where’s Starsky?”
Alarm bells went off inside Hutch’s head. Where’s Starsky?
“I thought he was with you,” Moira answered surprised.
“Keep an eye on this rat,” Hutch grunted and ran off, the big Python firmly in his hand. “And somebody turn that bloody machine off!”
Lights went on. Starsky couldn’t tell what it was that had speared him to the wall. Because that’s what happened. An iron rod, like a javelin, had gone through his side, five inches above his right hip. It exited his body at the back and he couldn’t move. Like a pig on a roasting spit, Starsky realised through a haze of pain. Blood made the sugar around him turn pink and red. It ran down his side, wet his jeans, his socks and his shoes.
The world swam in and out of focus.
And it hurt.
It hurt so much. He couldn’t stand up from the pain, he was up to his knees in sugar, but he couldn’t move. He knees buckled, yet he couldn’t fall over. He was stuck. And he was sick. He inhaled sugar. Sugar dust which was so fine it crept every where. And he had inhaled the stuff the woman had thrown at him and it made him sick.
Where was Hutch?Hutch… Hutch… Help me…
“Hutch!” James Rack pop upped behind him and made him startle. “Rosen reported – said the outside team caught a woman trying to escape. Wearing a red shirt and beige trousers?”
“That’s her,” Hutch nodded. “Starsky?”
Rack shook his head. “Dunno.”
“Shit,” the blond grumbled. “Ask Rosen if he’s seen Starsky. Get the suspects outside and then get back here.” Rack nodded and did as asked, while Hutch began to search for his partner. Quickly he thought where Starsky had been. He went up, Hutch though and followed his friend’s footsteps. Up, up… the stairs… where to now?
The smell was stronger up here. Hutch swallowed in disgust. The sugar factory might have been an excellent place to hide a cocaine laboratory, but he couldn’t understand how people could work here day in day out. Sugar factory? A drugs processing unit, Hutch thought with bitterness, stubbornly trying to block out his own memories of addictiveness. The laboratory produced and processed cocaine, which was hidden in the bags of normal, refined sugar products. The smell of the sugar was so strong that it covered the cocaine, making it practically impossible for drug dogs to pick up the scent.
But where was Starsky?
“Hutch!” That was Moira Cunningham. “The suspects are all outside. I’m coming up to help you.” He heard her footsteps as she made her way to the stairs. Other feet shuffled around as well.
So I can call out for him, Hutch thought and was grateful for Moira’s words because he knew that’s why she warned him. He moved on. “Starsky! Starsk!”
Below him, he heard Rack and Hanson calling out as well. He looked everywhere. Behind canisters, machines, under the conveyor belt, behind the huge pile of beets, in the molasses basin that made him retch – but no Starsky.
The officer with the curly hair, the dark blue eyes and the happy smile was no where in the factory. It was as if he’d disappeared from the face of the earth.
White turned to red turned to pink turned to green… Cool turned to warm turned to chilly turned to wet turned to dry turned to cold turned to hot… Hutch turned to Dobey turned to Terry turned to Starsky turned to Rosie turned to Vanessa turned to Hutch…
Pain stayed.Hutch… help… Hutch…
“Where did he go? WHERE DID HE GO?” Lieutenant Rosen brought his face very close to the woman who had seen Starsky last. She looked at him with black eyes that radiated contempt and a gloat of triumph. Rosen had tried for fifteen minutes but he had no luck.
Hutch came outside. “Give me two minutes with her, lieutenant,” he said curtly. Rosen was about to say no, when he met the blond’s icy look. There was no ‘please’ in Hutch’s face, just sheer determination – a weapon more threatening than the prospect of jail.
“She’s all yours,” he said and stepped aside.
Menace was oozing from Hutch’s pores as he took a closer step to the woman. Compared to Li Yong, Hutch was huge. She flinched visibly as he brought his face an inch from hers. Their noses nearly touched. For a long, ten seconds, he cast his Alaska eyes on her and forced her to see he was dead serious. Slowly, with a voice that was low with anger, he said, “You heard the lieutenant. Where is he?”
Her wall visibly cracking, she shook her head and wanted to spit Hutch in the face, but he grabbed her cheeks and pushed her face sideways.
“Don’t push your luck, lady. I’m not a patient man when it comes to messing with my partner. You tell me where the officer is or you’re going to take a swim in the molasses.” He paused and added after five tensed seconds, “I swear I’ll dip you in so deep you wish you’d never seen the inside of this factory.”
What the lieutenant couldn’t accomplish in fifteen minutes, Hutch achieved in two. The fact that he was so determined to get the truth from her, was hanging around him like a halo – and it showed. Li Yong swallowed and then whispered about the hatch of the sugar silo next behind the blue containers near the cutting machine.
Before she was even completely finished, Hutch already spurted back inside.
“Oh no,” the tall officer uttered as he looked down into the lower level silo.
“God Almighty,” Joe Hanson whispered and crossed himself.
For a few frozen moments in time, the team stood and stared in awe at Starsky who was pinned down by an iron rod of approximately an inch in diameter. It was stuck between a fan and the inside wall of the silo and Starsky couldn’t move, like a butterfly that had been pinned to a polystyrene board to be examined by scientists.
“Call the paramedics. Get torch burners, an emergency rescue team. Get help! Go!”
Before anyone could stop him, Hutch jumped down and landed on the soft, sticky sugar. He sank up to his knees in the crystal white dust. Red and pink crusts were all around Starsky. Hutch could only just suppress a retch. The smell of the sugar, the picture of his colleague hanging helplessly in a gruesome manner and the blood that coloured the snowy white world, was so overwhelming that he gagged.
“Starsk…” He hardly dared to step closer, afraid the sugar under Starsky’s feet might shift and cause him to move. Ever so carefully he cupped his hands around his partner’s sticky face and lifted it up to him. “Starsky? Can you hear me? It’s me. Hutch.”
He hadn’t expected Starsky to be conscious, but his friend was. He was sweating, pale as chalk and whispered very slowly. “…thought you’d never find me…”
“I always do, haven’t you noticed? I’m stuck to you like glue.” Hutch let out a sigh of relief. He was so glad his friend answered that the first load fell of his shoulders, only to be replaced by more pressing thoughts. How are we going to get him out of this?
“… support me, Hutch… can’t stand up anymore…”
“Sure.” Cautiously Hutch took Starsky’s arms and put them over his shoulders. Then he moved so, that Starsky could lean on him. He felt and heard his partner shiver. “Sorry. Lean on me, buddy.”
Gratefully Starsky gave in to the support. His head rested on Hutch’s shoulder, the sticky curls like candy cane touching his face. “Thanks,” it sounded muffled from his shoulder.
“Shhh. Don’t talk.”
Starsky’s breath vibrated every time he breathed in. Hutch flinched at the sound of the hurt that turned every breath to a ragged sigh.
They stood there for a while, silently, Starsky’s arms hanging limply over Hutch’s shoulders, the blond supporting the brunet as good as possible. Around them the sugar seemed to move and rustle. Above them, people were running to and fro in order to find a way to get the unfortunate man out.
“I need to check on your injury.”
“I’ll have to let go of you for a few seconds.”
“… sure… didn’t want to marry you anyway…”
Hutch smiled. “That’s a relief. You’re really not my type.”
Ever so carefully he moved back a little, firmly holding Starsky up by his upper arms. Blood was still bubbling from the vicious wound and by the looks of the soaked jeans and the pink spotted sugar, the officer had already lost pretty much. Quickly Hutch took in the situation. The rod was about an inch in diameter and he suspected it to be made of steel. It reminded him of bars that can be found on fire escape doors. They would need a torch or laser burner to cut him loose. And then? Pull the rod back through the wound?
Involuntary, he shivered. The thought of that made a lump appear in his throat.
“… how can you get me out…?”
“I can’t. The rescue team must. I think we’ve got to use cutting torch and burn you out.”
“… I’m already burned out…” A joke, spoken with a soft, tired voice, but still – a joke.
“As long as you’re still talking, you’re alright,” Hutch said and got back in the position he had assumed earlier. Starsky’s weight in his arms seemed to have doubled.
“After this, tell me you’re done being a sweet tooth,” he chatted, trying to get Starsky’s mind from the misery.
“… in your dreams…”
“Starsk – this STINKS.”
“… I like sugar…”
“I know you like sugar, but this doesn’t even smell like sugar.”
“…sugar sugar… honey honey…”
Was he actually reciting lyrics from a song? Or making some kind of singing effort? Hutch lifted his friend’s head and looked into him the eyes. Bigger and more like filtered blue than normal, with in the centre the tiniest spots he had ever seen. Was that from the pain?
“… I’m thirsty …”
“Me too. Hang on.” He lowered Starsky’s head back onto his shoulder again and called up. “Jimmy! Moira? Could you get some water down?”
“… no water…”
“Doctor Pepper… Coke… Seven-up…. Anything as long as it’s…”
“Sweet… Gawd Starsk, you’re incurable!”
“… tell me you love me…” a giggle followed. It was strange and it was then that Hutch began to realise that Starsky had inhaled a lot of the white powder in the laboratory. The tiny pupils, the slurred talk, the giggling…
He was high.
The level of pain was bearable because of the drugs he’d inhaled, but another crushing thought put an icy hand around Hutch’s heart. What if it was too much? What if he was getting an overdose from this?
No, he said firmly to himself, an O.D. would have happened instantly, not fifteen minutes later. But still, it made him uneasy. Starsky had inhaled what was most likely pure cocaine.
“You feel any different?”
Now obvious amazement sounded through the answer. “… what?…”
“You feel any different?” Hutch repeated, “Like – like you’re on something?”
A hiccup, and then a kind of giggle. “… do I feel different, the man asks…”
“… Hutch? On what? …” It was obvious Starsky didn’t understand. His mind went down another street. He couldn’t concentrate very well. “… dizziz another fine mess you got me into…”
“What now? No Laurel & Hardy films, please. Answer me, buddy.”
“I’m dead serious… dizzies another fine mess…”
Hutch sighed, knowing he was right. Starsky was talking funny as a result of the combination of drugs and pain. “Yeah. You can say that again.” Softly he added, “What’s keeping them so long?”
“… plenty of resistance…”
“…never been so resisted in my career before,” Starsky said and started to laugh at his own joke but then he had to cough and his head snapped back and he shrieked out in pain as the movement made him sink an inch deeper into the sugar. “Huuuuutch…,” he cried exhaustedly, so excruciatingly softly that the hair in Hutch’s neck stood on end. The blond could feel his fingers clutching deeper into the flannel of his shirt. “Huuuuutch…”
“Shhhh, hold on to me,” he hurried to comfort him, while his own heart skipped a few beats. “Shhh… try to breathe calmly…”
A shuddering Starsky in his arms, tensed like a spring, wasn’t easy to keep up straight. The sugar moved like sand on the beach. “Hey! Moira! Jimmy, Joe! Hurry! He’s losing it.” Hutch began to notice the sugar getting into his own respiratory system as well. He tasted sugar in his mouth, he felt it crawling up his nose, into his air pipe, his lungs… and it was awful. It had a slow, choking effect. Again he shouted up, more pressing this time.
“Hurry up! Get us out of this hell hole!”
“We’re going to use a torch burner to cut through the steel, about five inches from your body,” the chief of the rescue squad explained to Starsky, who had his eyes half closed but was still listening. The chief caught Hutch’s worried look but continued as he nodded. “On both sides. Then we’re going to get you to hospital as quickly as possible and the rest of the rod will be removed surgically.” He rubbed his chin once. “We can’t pull it out here. Too much risk.”
Christ, Hutch thought.
“… okay,” Starsky said, “… you mind awfully if I don’t cheer?”
The chief’s eyebrows shot up for just a second, then he smiled. “You can applaud afterwards, how does that sound?”
“… fine. What’s your name?”
“B.J. Marsalis.” He nodded encouragingly. “We’ll give both of you an oxygen mask and goggles. We’ll put up a small screen to avoid sparks from getting on to you. We’ll be hanging in safety gear from the floor above, so that the sugar will not start shifting. How about that?”
“Okay,” Hutch nodded and put his arms a bit more firmly around Starsky’s chest. “You hear that, partner? You’ll be out of here before you know it.”
“Yeah yeah. Promises promises.”
“You want to put Starsky in some kind of gear as well?” Hutch suggested but Marsalis shook his head.
“No, too dangerous. He needs you to support him – a gear might pull him up or lower him too much.” He seemed to consider Hutch’s idea. “But I’ll put a gear on you, so you won’t lose your balance. Starsky here can’t go anywhere, but if the sugar under your feet begins to move a different way…”
“Point taken,” Hutch nodded. He gratefully accepted the water he was offered and suppressed an upcoming cough.
“Marsalis, Marsilla, sweet as vanilla,” Starsky suddenly mumbled. The chief looked up again and surprise was written all over his face. Hutch explained. “He’s inhaled cocaine when we busted the lab – I think he’s stoned.”
“Right,” Marsalis smirked, “this is a regular fun factory.”
From the hatch above, two men came down with burners, masks, goggles and screens. Marsalis’ brown eyes found Hutch after having cast a short glance on Starsky. “This is it, gentlemen. If there’s anything and you need us to stop, you signal immediately. Ready?”
“… a touch of sugar, please…” Starsky said, his drugged mind even further from what was happening. He grimaced. “… nooo, no sugar for Hutch… he doesn’t like it sweet…”
When the burners began to cut through the metal, cooled by water so it wouldn’t be conducted to Starsky, Hutch felt Starsky’s breath die in his throat, he trembled and convulsed. All in less than ten seconds. Starsky’s head fell forwards and in Hutch’s strong, still arms, his body went lax.
Marsalis saw that too and halted the workers. Hutch pulled aside his oxygen mask and tried to see Starsky’s face. His head hung sideways, his mouth was slightly open, a thin film of perspiration and sugar crystals were covering his face. Powdered sugar caked to his dark eyelashes.
“Starsk?” Hutch’s fingertips touched his friend’s face. It was cold. “Marsalis, check his pulse?”
The chief did as asked. For half a minute he stood quietly, eyes only on Starsky. “It’s weak and erratic, but it’s there. Go men, now that’s he’s passed out, we can work faster.”
Three minutes later the remains of the bar fell with a soft swoosh to the blanket of sugar. In Hutch’s arms, the body of the usually so energetic man, hung bleeding and helpless. Hutch let out the air he’d been holding. The iron rod still stuck out of Starsky’s waist and the wound around it looked gruesome but at least he was free.
~*~Three days later
“Hey Hutch. Come in.”
“How are you doing today?”
“Great. I’m off the IV food.” Lying on his side in the hospital bed, Starsky had regained a bit of his old liveliness and on his cheeks some colour was returning. On the bedside table stood a plastic tube that contained a metal object: the iron rod that had been removed surgically.
“You look a whole lot better than yesterday.”
“Correction: I look better-looking every day.”
Hutch rolled his eyes. “You ARE getting better. When you starting talking nonsense, you’re on the mend.”
“Doctor says I’ve got the constitution of a bear.”
“I don’t know about that constitution of yours, but you’ve sure got the thick skull and the appetite of a bear. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that.”
Starsky grinned. “I’d do a murder for burger.”
“No burgers yet, Gordo. Those intestines of you need time to heal.”
“Can’t you just spear me the sermon, sneak out, get me a burger and smuggle it back in?”
“Nope. You’d be throwing up all over the place.” To Hutch’s pleasure, two of the three IV’s had been taken away. The one left now pumped antibiotics into Starsky’s body. This was also the first day since the factory business that Starsky was alert and talked coherent and he looked like himself again. He’d been in surgery for hours and hours, until the surgeons emerged and reassured Hutch, Dobey and the others that the rod had been successfully removed and the damage had been repaired. All would heal well, given enough time and proper medication.
“Dobey told me about what happened. But he didn’t tell me how that rod got in my body.”
“That was unclear for along time. The woman we busted only just told us an hour ago - tough nut to crack. There was a ventilator on one side of that silo, which apparently filters the air so that the sugar dust can’t get through to the factory. She got hold of a rod that had broken off from a machine a while back and that was to be repaired. She threw it down, just before the hatch closed, hoping to hit you – and it got stuck between one wall and the ventilator.”
“And it went right through me.”
“Right through you, yeah.” Hutch said it softly, feeling uneasy at the vivid memory of his suffering friend in his arms.
“You know, I don’t really recall much. In fact, the whole day is a blur,” Starsky said, breaking through Hutch’s flashback.
“You sniffed, inhaled, tasted and swallowed enough cocaine to make you fly sky high,” Hutch said. He didn’t add that he had been worried sick about eventual after effects of the cocaine but the doctor had assured him he’d been given enough medication to avoid that. Most likely the cocaine had been the one thing that had made Starsky hold on long enough to see it to the rescue. Talk about the irony of the case.
“I know that – the doctor told me, but I mean – I REALLY don’t remember much. Just sugar. And pain. And you.”
“Surely you remember Marsalis, the chief from the rescue squad?”
Starsky shook his head. “Nope.”
“Moira being there? And Jimmy?”
“No.” Hutch saw cloudiness shimmer over his partner’s face. As much as Starsky tried to convince Hutch of the opposite, he was clearly not well at all. Even a short visit from his friend tired him quickly.
“Joe Hanson? Lieutenant Rosen?”
“The suspect you chased – an Asian woman? The lab?”
“Nope. Nope. Nope. Nada. Nothing.”
Hutch grinned helplessly. “They were all there. All helping out. And now you’re telling me you can’t remember. What a way to treat friends.”
Very softly, with eyes that were clouded with still present pain, Starsky said, “I remember you. You were there. You held me.”
“I did? Can’t remember.”
“I do.” Starsky flinched as he moved unexpectedly. Seeing that, Hutch’s stomach churned. It reminded him vengefully of the events in the factory and his partner’s pain. He swallowed to get the image away. “Hurting?”
“Yeah. Not much. A bit.” He yawned.
“No.” The answer came a bit too fast to be convincing. “Just bored out of my wits. Hospitals… yugh!”
“Already? You’ll be here for a few more days. ”
“Thanks for reminding me.” Carefully Starsky ran a hand through thick, curly –sugar free- hair. “So what happened to the drug dealers and the scientists?”
“All arrested and convicted. The sugar factory burnt down to the ground, by the way.”
“Yeah. When you were taken to the hospital. The place was set afire. It’s completely destroyed. The Fire brigade says an alarm gun set the place ablaze. There were unis at the factory but the fire spread so rapidly they couldn’t do anything to stop it. You’d be amazed how fast sugar burns!”
“Destroy the evidence?”
“Yeah. There’s was a whole lot of stuff there that could provide valuable information.”
“Who did it?”
Hutch shrugged. “You never guess… that old lady who sat asleep in the chair when we came in.”
Starsky didn’t remember her, Hutch could tell. He told him about her and ended with, “She managed to look old and fragile, convincing all of us to think of her as nice old lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But she had an alarm gun in her purse… And she wasn’t frisked… “
“And pffff… one shot and the place was burning…”
Both men stayed quiet and contemplated the case, each in their own way. Starsky sank a little deeper into the pillows. He sighed tiredly and blinked his eyes. “So far for ‘not much resistance’, captain Dobey.”
“Don’t blame the man, Starsk. He feels awful about what happened to you.”
“I know. I’m not blaming anyone. It’s just… typical, that’s all.”
“Takes more than a little resistance to bring you down.”
“Yeah. That’s why she stuck that iron rod in the fan and in my body.” Regret and a touch of bitterness seeped through.
Hutch brought his face a little closer to his friend’s and fondly squeezed his arm. I’m sorry, Starsk. I’m sorry that you have to go through this. Again. Starsky stared into a pit of dark memories. The kind face was etched with pain.
“Don’t look back. It’s over.”
“I tasted sugar for days,” Hutch said to change to subject. “I keep finding sugar in my apartment!”
“That might explain the crunching between my teeth I keep having.”
Hutch laughed softly. He felt reluctant to leave his friend – it was nice to be able to talk to him again. “The drugs are out of your system?”
“I guess so. Felt kinda woolly for a couple of days.”
“It’s a miracle you survived that amount of cocaine, did anyone tell you?”
“Yeah.” Not much banter anymore. Starsky could hardly keep his eyes open.
“I’ll better be off. You need to sleep. Next time I make Dobey bring the cavalry along, okay?”
“Nah. As long as you’re there, it’s alright by me.”
Hutch stood up and gave his friend a gentle squeeze. “Take it easy, okay?”
“Yeah. Thanks Hutch. For supporting me back there.”
“Any time.” Two pairs of blue eyes met and locked for an instant.
“Will you do me a favour, Hutch?”
“Bring me a candy bar next time you visit me?”
“A… candy bar?”
“I’d love some chocolate, Hutch.”
“I thought you’d be off the sweet stuff by now.”
“I hope not.”
“See you tomorrow, Starsk.”
Starsky was asleep even before Hutch closed the door behind him.
The sugar factory was destroyed completely, its remains black and scary. Hutch pulled over and looked for a while at the skeleton that was left. Images inevitably forced their way up. For a while he sat there, allow the thoughts to whirl freely and let his troubled mind come to rest. The sugar factory was gone, the evidence destroyed but the suspects were arrested and Starsky would be alright.
Not much resistance… Hutch grinned. He started the car. He was hungry, he’d missed his lunch. He was going to make the biggest lettuce-tomato-cucumber-radish salad ever and have a big bowl of yoghurt after that. Pure.
Sugar free. Absolutely no sugar.
Elsa, July 2004