© by Elsa
The weather had been terrible for over a week now. Rain fell annoyingly constantly and on top of that an icy wind had grown stronger as the days continued. The temperature had dropped a little above freezing point and both David Starsky as well as Ken Hutchinson dreaded the moments they had to leave the warmth of the car.
An arrest of a pickpocket in the street had once again taken longer than anticipated. Starsky had chased the man in his car while Hutch had been following him on foot. After a wild ride and an equal struggle, the pickpocket could finally be apprehended. By then both detectives had been outside much too long to their liking. Immediately after their return in the Torino, the windows steamed over with the humidity that came from their wet clothes and hair. Especially Hutch had gotten very wet. His jacket was heavy with rain water.
Hutch shivered. From his hair rain dripped into his coat. He pulled his collar up higher and tighter.
“I hate this weather,” he grumbled.
“So do the villains,” Starsky replied cheerfully, not half as much affected by the bad weather as his partner. “It’s not very busy. People stay indoors.”
“Can’t blame them,” Hutch grunted moodily. Another shiver ran down his back. “Man! I’m cold! Turn the heating up, will ya?”
“Yeah, we better go for a ride, keep the engine running. Listen – one of my headlights is busted – why don’t we drive over to Merle and while he fixes it, have a cup of coffee?”
Hutch blew out two cheeks full of air and nodded.
Starsky chuckled. “You let the rain get to you, buddy. I’ll buy the coffee.”
“Hey, come on. You’re no fun to be with.”
“What d’ya want me to say then, ‘ey? That’s a fine idea, Ollie?”
“Well, that’s a good start.”
“That’s a fine idea, Ollie.”
“There’s my boy.”
But things went differently than either man could have anticipated.
Merle ‘the Earl’ came staggering outside, rain mixing with rivulets of blood coming from a wound on his forehead. Two thugs ran off, saw the red car, pivoted back and ran the other way, into an alley, too narrow to follow by car.
Starsky was out of the car before it had come to a full stop and ran over to Merle, while Hutch ran off, following the two thieves.
“They’ve stolen from the cash register!” Merle moaned. “Starsky – get them.”
“Were they armed?” Quickly Starsky’s eyes went over Merle’s injury. Although the garage owner and mechanic clearly had a sore head, he was still standing on both feet. “Merle?”
“Dunno… oowww… Young punks. My head… my head…”
“Come on, let’s get you inside. You need to sit down.”
He quickly manoeuvred Merle in, called an ambulance and then sped off after Hutch, who by now had taken the corner to the alley and had disappeared from sight.
Hutch saw the two reaching the dead end of the alley. A high wall brought an abrupt ending to their flight.
At least – that’s what Hutch thought. A muffled call, then the boy clad in a black jacket gave his pal a leg up. The other, wearing a red hat, set a foot on his partner’s hand, then his shoulder and jumped, grabbing the top edge of the wall.
Not visible from their point of view were the large pieces of glass that were cemented onto the top. Red Hat gave a shriek of pain as his hands grabbed full into the glass.
He tumbled down.
Over the sound of the ever falling rain Hutch could hear the dry snap of bones breaking, immediately followed by a gut-wrenching cry from Red Hat. To Hutch’s surprise Black Jacket didn’t hesitate for a second between taking off or tending to his friend – he chose the latter. He fell to his knees next to his pal, who was obviously in a lot of pain. Shrieks and tears mixed with fearful cries.
“Bay City PD. Keep your hands where I can see them,” Hutch called out, keeping his gun ready.
“I’m not armed! I’m not armed!” Black Jacket shouted back, upset and frightened and put his hands up. “Don’t shoot! I’m not armed!” His voice was that of a young person. “Help please.”
Through the rain the Officer made his way to the two. Black Jacket squatted down beside his friend and grabbed his hand with one, and stroked the other’s hair with the other. The red cap had fallen off and revealed short, dark blond hair. Hutch put his gun away – these two did no longer pose a threat.
Black Jacket was half in tears. “Freddy… Freddy, hold on.”
“My leg… hurts,” Freddy squeaked. Dark eyes rolled backwards in their sockets, then focussed with great difficulty. Hands were shaking as if Freddy was an alcoholic. “It hurts… my leg… my leg…”
It was then that Hutch noticed how young they were.
“Lie still. We’ll get an ambulance and get you to the hospital,” he said reassuringly. Black Jacket took his coat off and gently covered Freddy with it, again to Hutch’s surprise. Not particularly the kind of gesture you’d expect from thieves and robbers. Black Jacket was a skinny Afro-American boy, about fourteen years of age, with deep-set dark eyes and hardly anything else than skin and tendons.
“How much did you take?” Hutch asked, but not too harshly. “Empty your pockets.”
The boy complied instantly. But apart from a few dimes, there was no money, only a few candy bars, a dirty handkerchief and a blunt pocket knife.
“Where’s the loot? On your friend?”
Black Jacket shook his head. “That’s it – the candy. I’m s-s-sorry, Officer,” he stuttered with so much desperation that it hit a chord. “We didn’t mean for him to be hurt. I mean – we was h-h-hungry and there’s the c-c-candy just lying there for the take and then he starts screaming and grabs Freddy and they s-s-smack against the counter and next thing there’s b-b-blood on his head and… and… it was for Freddy, she gets all sick and dizzy and… she likes chocolate… ” He shivered in his thin shirt.
They nicked some candy bars, Hutch understood. Merle tried to stop them and hit his head. They didn’t attack him at all. From the looks of it, the boys were hungry. Probably hadn’t eaten a decent meal in days. Hutch took off his own coat and put it around the boy’s shoulders. Immediately the cold engulfed him.
“What’s your name?”
After a hesitance, the boy answered, “Rick. Rick Boss. That’s my sister Freddy.”
“Freddy – short for Frederica.”
“Fourteen too. We’re t-t-twins.”
As Rick was an afro-American and the girl on the ground was Caucasian, that seemed hardly believable. Hutch pulled up his eyebrows.
“We’re twins,” Rick repeated with the stubbornness that comes from true conviction only.
“Rick… Oawwwww…” The sob from the girl on the ground cut through their bones. Her eyes rolled backwards again and this time, she lost consciousness.
“Freddy… the ambulance is on the way. You hear it? Fred?” Rick held his sister’s hand closer and pushed it to his heart. “Freddy? Answer me, Freddy. Fred?”
Hutch’s heart warmed over at the sound of care and concern, not very much unlike the way he and his partner were about each other. Behind him indeed he heard ambulances howling. Footsteps came closer. A look over his shoulder told him that that was Starsky.
“What’s up here?”
“Young Freddy here’s broken her leg. Get the paramedics here, Starsk.”
Rick froze as a thought struck him. “We’ve got no insurance,” He said shaking his head and shivering again. Hutch shivered too. The rain had become even worse, slamming them as it was forced along by gales. Dressed only in a turtle neck sweater the tall Officer stood very exposed to the cold wind and the rain.
“Where’re your parents, Rick?”
“Dunno,” the boy answered, tenderly wiping away the rain from Freddy’s face and trying to shield her from the elements. “We haven’t got a pop and ma is…”
“Your mum is…?”
He shrugged, not taking his eyes of his sister. “Drunk. Stoned. Whatever.” A smudgy hand ran over his face.
“When was the last time you had a decent meal?” That came from Starsky who had found an umbrella and kept it over the girl’s head. A look on her pale, haggard face told an equal tale of malnourishment and domestic misery. His fingers looked for her pulse – it was much slower than he’d expected. She was slipping into shock.
Another shrug. “Two days ago? Dunno. That’s why… why we took that candy… and…” His dark eyes shot from Hutch to Starsky and back. “What’s gonna happen to us? To Freddy? We have no insurance. She can’t stay in hospital. If I have to go to jail, who will look after her?”
Starsky was as touched by these two young people as Hutch was. The blond answered first. “Don’t you worry about her, Rick. It’ll be alright. My name is Ken Hutchinson, he’s David Starsky. I’ll stay with your sister and Officer Starsky will take you to the station and take your statement. After that, we’ll get you something to eat. How’s that sound?”
Rick’s face changed from frightened to suspicious. “Why?”
Ambulance personnel came into the alley, quickly appraised themselves of the situation and carefully put Freddy on a gurney, closely observed by Rick who only let go of his sister’s hand after Starsky had promised him several times she would be alright. With tears in his eyes he saw them pushing the gurney into the ambulance and driving off. Freddy… his lips formed.
“Come on, Rick. Time to get something to eat. You’ll be of more use to your sister if you don’t faint yourself. Don’t worry about the hospital. We’ll see to it.”
“Why?” Rick repeated the question he’d forgotten for a few minutes as the paramedics had been working on his sister. ‘Why are you doing this?”
“Because we’re cops. Protect and serve, that’s what we learn,” Starsky replied with a gentle smile. Raindrops dripped from his curls onto his eyelashes. He bent a little towards Rick and whispered, “Can I let you in on a secret? D’you know what it actually stands for? Protect and serve dinner…”
When Hutch came home at last it was already far past midnight. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so cold and so wet. Starsky had taken Rick to a diner where he’d been given a good meal which the boy devoured as if it was the last thing on earth he would ever eat. After that, they drove to Memorial Hospital where Freddy was in surgery and Hutch was just finished changing the tyre of his LTD that had run flat just as he had driven up the parking lot of the hospital. As his coat was still on Rick’s shoulders, it was a struggle with the weather in the poor shelter of trees that made him turn terribly cold. An old sweater in the back of his car offered some warmth after the job was done but it wasn’t before long that the wetness began to soak that shirt as well.
Wet, dirty and chilled to the bone he had been waiting in the hospital waiting room that was draughty and chilly. A nurse threw him an irritated glance when she spotted the muddy puddle he left behind. On top of that the coffee was terrible and luke-warm. He was relieved to see Starsky appear with Rick.
Rick sat down on the chair, grateful for the meal he had been given and apparently feeling at ease with Starsky. He fell asleep shortly after arriving. With strict instructions to warn them when Freddy was back from the theatres and awake, they left Rick to wait for his sister in the company of Glenn Elkenbury, a black-and-white who had been called over.
After that the two Detectives paid a visit to the mother of the children. Another cold shower for Hutch, as she was stoned out of her mind. The place was a pigsty, dirty clothes, dried vomit, yellowed newspapers, cans and emptied bottles every where. In a corner of a room a huge cardboard box held two little mattresses, smudgy blankets and pillows - the beds of Freddy and Rick. A little rag doll and a worn out bunny, with faded facial expressions, served as cuddly toys.
Rick and Freddy were neglected completely – their mother hardly knew of their existence. The Officers told her what happened but Mrs Ross didn’t register at all what she being told. They left, frustrated, feeling deep compassion for the children they regarded as felons a few hours ago.
These kids were no thugs.
These kids were victims.
“We’ve got to get Child Welfare Council to work on this,” Starsky said as he quickly headed through the rain for his car, putting a hand Hutch’s elbow. He bit back a ‘are you alright?’ as it was clear that Hutch was not. Like no one else Starsky knew how much a drug addict affected Hutch, how much he had gone through and how lucky he’d been that he’d come through. Every time he met a junkie the blond was reminded of his ordeal again – and so was Starsky.
“Yeah. Those kids deserve a better place.”
“I’ll call Monica Maier tomorrow morning. She owes me a big favour,” Starsky said with a pensive look on his face and slid behind the wheel.
“What did Rick tell you?” Hutch asked, entered the car and turned the heating in the Torino up. It was as if he was never going to get warm again. Starsky put the windscreen wipers up a nudge. In the evening darkness and with the thick, depressing rain it was very hard to see properly.
“That they were hungry – he said something about Freddy being sick. I don’t think they hit Earl, he must have tripped when he tried to stop them from taking the candy.”
Hutch nodded. “Yep. That’s what I thought too.”
“Shall I drop you off at your place or you want me to drive you back to the hospital?” Starsky asked as he was about to reach the traffic lights. Hutch’s car was still in the parking lot there.
Hutch sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Home sounds great, but I better get my car – can’t be without it in this weather.”
“Hospital parking it is then.”
The rest of the ride passed in silence, one which was only every now and then briefly interrupted by a suppressed shiver coming from the tallest of the two. The rain, the night time darkness and the reflection of street and head lights kept Starsky’s attention on driving. He turned the heating down without further thinking.
He would have asked about his partner’s discomfort otherwise.
About noon the next day Hutch was on the phone with the hospital, while Starsky spoke to someone within the Child Welfare Council on another line. Earlier that morning, when Hutch had stepped out of bed, he had felt even more worn out than the previous day. He was slightly dizzy and despite his usual habits, he skipped breakfast. It didn’t come down well and made him nauseous. In the course of the morning he’d noticed his temperature rising. A few more hours, he thought, and then I’m going home. I’ll wait till after Starsk has spoken to the Council.
Almost simultaneously they put the receivers down.
“And?” Starsky turned to Hutch. “What’s the news on Freddy?”
“The doctor said it was a nasty fracture. He put in pins that have to be taken out in a couple of months but with proper treatment he thought she would be able to recover well. He said she was malnourished, she was far too light for her length and age. She’s on a make-me-fat-make-me-healthy-diet now. His words, not mine. And…”
“There was a reason for her feeling strange, as Rick said. She’s got diabetes. She’s a diabetic, but the doctor thought it had occurred only recently. Otherwise she would have been in a far worse state.”
Starsky whistled. “That’s gonna be a problem with her mum being what she is. No money to pay for the hospital bills.”
“Yeah. Those kids can’t stay at that home. You better get that contact of yours working,” Hutch nodded and suppressed a both a shiver as well as a yawn.
“Kids are tiring, I know,” Starsky chuckled. “We’ve got a meeting with Monica this afternoon. Rick’s been taken to a temporary shelter for the time being. I just spoke to Glenn, the cop who was with him last night.”
“Yep. Tired and hungry, but what can you expect.”
“Anything you want to do about the mother?”
Starsky’s forehead wrinkled slightly. “I don’t know what we can do, Hutch. We’re meddling with her children because she neglects them, but we can’t do anything about her own self destruction, unless she asks for it.” He pushed himself up, went outside and came back a minute later with a candy bar and two mugs of coffee. “The meeting with the Council is set at three this afternoon.”
Hutch ran a hand over his forehead that was now sweaty. He pushed the coffee mug aside. “I’m going home.”
“What?” Starsky’s eyebrows went upwards. “Did I miss something?”
“I think I’m running a fever. Must have gotten a cold yesterday.” Hutch shivered involuntary. “You think you can meet the Council without me?”
“Sure, buddy.” Worriedly, Starsky was next to Hutch in one step, put a hand on his back and felt the heat radiating from his friend’s body, through the fabric of the blond’s sweater. “You’re hot. Shall I drive you home?”
“No,” Hutch said and shook his head. “I’m not an invalid, even though you seize every opportunity to make me believe I am.”
“You do look pathetic when you’re ill,” Starsky joked but kept a close eye on his partner. Hutch looked pale and tired, with the strange glistening in his eyes that is so characteristic for people running a fever.
Hutch slipped into his coat, “Don’t worry, Starsk. Nothing a good sleep and a grog can’t fix.”
“Zip up.” Starsky nodded, mother-hen mode kicking in. “It’s cold outside.” Unasked he wrapped his warm, bright red, woollen scarf around Hutch’s neck. “I know you always wanted to have this. You have your ways to get what you want... but I’ll turn a blind eye this time.”
It was the ugliest thing Hutch had ever laid eyes on, but it was lovely warm.
“Thanks buddy,” he mumbled and left quickly, glad he would be in bed soon.
The telephone cruelly put an end to Hutch’s rest. Deeply asleep, it took a number of rings before his blurry mind registered it.
“Hmmm? Hutchinson,” he murmured and felt a tickling cough coming up. His throat was sore.
“Officer Hutchinson, this is Glenn Elkenbury.”
Glenn Elkenbury… Glenn Elkenbury…O right. The young cop. The one who kept an eye on … whatshisnameagain… Rick… Rick something... with the junkie mum…
“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. But it’s Rick. He’s completely freaked out and scared and doesn’t want to listen to anyone. Been asking for you. I couldn’t reach Officer Starsky, sir.” The young man on the other side of the line was clearly a bit uncomfortable.
“What’s wrong?” Hutch tiredly pushed himself up on one elbow.
“Young Rick went home to get some things – clothes and a toothbrush and such. I don’t know what happened but I found him in a alley, really terrified. He was beaten, sir. He won’t talk to anyone. I – I don’t know what to do, sir.”
Damn… where’s Starsky? Hutch’s brain felt like mush. He couldn’t really put one and one together.
“In some meeting,” the cop answered hesitantly.
Meeting… meeting… some meeting… Hutch struggled up and leant against the headboard. Sitting up made the woolly feeling in his head subside a little only to be taken over with humming in his ears and drumming under his skull. “Yeah. Council something. Where are you now?”
“Corner of Macadamia and Bernstein Avenue. I can’t get him to move.”
“Don’t lose him out of your sight. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Hutch hauled himself out of bed. Sometimes duty outweighed personal matters – even if it meant skipping sleep and ignoring fever. Rick needed help of someone he trusted, that much he understood from Glenn’s story. He knew his partner would have gone to see what was going on if he’d known, but Starsky was undoubtedly discussing heavily what should and could be done about Rick and Freddy. The Council were a bunch of hard to convince men and women, and only Starsky’s good relationship with one of the secretaries there had put him in the front row this time.
He got dressed, swallowed two aspirins to suppress the fever and get the upcoming headache away and stashed a package of throat pastilles in his pocket. He put on two warm sweatshirts and a water resistant jacket. Thus, prepared for the job as good as possible, Hutch left.
“Zebra Three, come in.” The mike crackled to life.
“This is Zebra Three.” With a touch of triumph in his voice Starsky responded to the call. He was utterly content with the outcome of the Council Meeting. The kids were put on an urgency list and would be welcomed by a foster family by the end of the week. Today or tomorrow, a certain Mrs Slaughter would pay Freddy a visit in the hospital. Luckily the Council was impressed by Starsky’s plea and dealt with it firmly. Thank God for connections, Starsky thought, and smiled at the thought of Monica, who had managed to squeeze Starsky into the busy schedule.
“Stand by. I’ll patch you through to Captain Dobey,” the voice said. A click and then Dobey was on the line.
“Better get your ass over here, Starsky. Rick Boss ran into a couple of drug dealers when he was at home collecting some things. They scared the living daylights out of him.”
“Is he alright?”
“The doctor was here. He’s okay. We had to get Hutch there to get him to move.”
“Hutch? But he’s sick.”
“He’s here, says he’s fine. We couldn’t get to you so Elkenbury called him.”
It was on the tip of Starsky’s tongue to yell at his captain. What was he thinking? That they were supermen, that they didn’t need time to get well if they were ill? But he realised that Elkenbury probably did the right thing and Hutch wouldn’t have complied if he hadn’t been able to. After all, he was a grown man and he could take care of himself.Most of the time…
Starsky reached the station very quickly and there he met with a pale looking Hutch and a battered Rick, who was leafing through mug shot books. There was a gauze on Rick’s cheekbone and one of his eyes was bloodied and swollen. Starsky threw a look of understanding at Hutch, who nodded quietly and shrugged as if to say he was here and it was alright. Listen to him, Starsk, his unspoken words said.
Rick had gone home, to get some of his personal belongings and a few things that were Freddy’s. His mother was gone – out to get a fix, to get drunk, whatever. The boy shrugged his shoulders with a distant gaze as he talked about her, numbed by years of systematic neglect and disillusions.
But then two men entered his mother’s house. They’d grabbed Rick, kicked and beaten him and shouted that he was an idiot to bring cops to their mother. A hot zone, one had hissed in his ear, this was a hot zone and cops were lethal for their business. His mother was a dealer as well as a user and Rick’s new contacts were in the way of their thriving business. Did he want his sister to live to see the day?
They had cut him to scare him and told him his sister would be the first to go if he was ever to be seen with the cops again. The cuts were very superficial, put there to give Rick a good scare, and they succeeded. He ran, he fled from the house and ended up shaking and bleeding in the alley where he was found by a uniformed policeman. The call went round, Elkenbury came to pick him up.
Glenn Elkenbury had seen the terror in the boy’s eyes and hadn’t hesitated in contacting the two Officers Rick had obviously confided in.
“Glenn called me. Rick’s going over mug shot books,” Hutch croaked. His voice sounded like sand paper on rocks. He nodded to Rick. “You did the right thing in telling us.”
“There are two uniformed cops keeping an eye on Freddy. Who’s doing a whole lot better with the insulin, by the way.” That was Dobey, who had instantly reacted by putting a guard in the hospital.
“This is the one,” Rick said, leafing back to a page that was tagged with a paper clip. “I’m trying to find the other.”
“Tony Masari. I know him.” Starsky nodded curtly. “Can I…?” He took the book from Rick and quickly flipped the pages, until he found what he was looking for. “Take a look here, Rick.”
“That’s the other one,” Rick said without hesitation and tapped on one of the photos.
“That’s what I thought. Jose Montage.”
Hutch nodded. “Yeah. Figured. Lovely couple.”
Starksy put a hand on Rick’s shoulder. “You’re very brave. It takes guts to come back here after what they did.”
“I must… I have to – for Freddy,” the boy answered with a flat voice. “You don’t understand… or maybe you do… Freddy…”
“We’re gonna book them, now – before they can do any more harm.” Starsky looked as if he was ready for a fight. “How are you doing, buddy? You look awful. Sound like it too.”
“Thanks. You have a way with words, Starsk,” Hutch rasped. “I’m okay. No more fever, just a little too little sleep.”
“A little too little sleep…” Starsky had to think that one over and chuckled. “You sure you wanna come?”
“Stop whining. What’s the address?”
The two dealers were arrested ninety minutes after Rick had positively identified them. They were hardened thugs but had no answer to the guns that Starsky and Hutch held at them as they busted in to their home. They surrendered without resistance and were led off by assisting black-and-whites.
Tiredly, coughing painfully, Hutch needed the support of the Torino to stand upright. Starsky was going over the last details with the acting sergeant and didn’t notice. In the back of that car Rick sat, waiting to be taken to the hospital to see his sister. He was given a ride with the uniformed police after the arrest and eagerly awaited seeing Freddy again.
Hutch slipped back into the car. The weather was still awful and the still and warmth of the car was a welcome change to the cold and the howling wind.
“Hey Hutch, you don’t sound well,” Rick said.
“I’m okay,” the blond nodded. Fever was popping up again and made him perspire and chills run down his spine. “Just a cold, that’s all.”
“Starsky promised me that things were going to change, that we’re going to a foster home, and that we needn’t worry about food or sleep or clothes again. We’re meeting someone in the hospital. And he said that Freddy’s diabetes is going to be taken care of properly. He got that Council to listen.”
“Starsky can be very convincing if he wants to,” Hutch smiled and tiredly closed his eyes. He rested his head against the window.
“Hey man, you sure you’re alright?”
Eyes still closed, Hutch answered, “I’m just dog-tired. It’s that damn cold. Do me a favour and don’t tell Starsky, okay?” He coughed raspy. “He has a tendency to think I can’t take care of myself.”
“You and Starsky are like Freddy and me.”
“So are you,” Rick murmured but too softly for Hutch to hear.
“All’s well that ends well,” Starsky said as he bounced through the corridors of the hospital. “Mrs Slaughter is a fantastic woman – the kids will love it there.” He put a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Time to go home, Hutch. You look like shit.”
Hutch mumbled a reply. He wasn’t feeling well and the hospital scent made him more queasy. He coughed. The visit took a lot more time then anticipated –as everything about this case seemed to take longer than anticipated- as the Council had very uncharacteristically been fast on appointing a foster family. Mrs Slaughter had immediately paid her ‘new’ children a visit. Her warmth was as inviting as her smile.
“You’ve got a nasty cough there, Hutchinson. You’re going home and sleep this one off,” Starsky said, imitating Dobey, but all he got was a glare from Hutch, whereas he would normally get a chuckle back.
“Excuse me for a second,” the blond muttered and went into the first men’s room he saw. The warmth in the hospital made his head spin and that added to the headache he already had developed made him pretty miserable.
He splattered water in his face, drank thirstily and took deep breaths to get himself together again. Just a few more minutes, just fifteen more minutes, then he would be home. Taking a deep breath he exited the men’s room again and walked with Starsky back to the Torino.
Hutch didn’t say a word as Starsky drove to Venice Place. The dark haired Officer threw a few sideway glances. As he had done all day - his friend was ill. Hutch had a cough like a barking dog and his face lacked all colour. If Hutch thought for one second that his partner didn’t notice his malaise, he was fooling himself. But Hutch kept quiet and Starsky, not wanting to impose on his friend, didn’t push.
“You need help?” he offered as he pulled over outside Hutch’s home.
“No. Stop fussing.” Hutch sighed and looked guilty. “Sorry, Starsk. I’m…” he waved with his hand feebly in the air.
“Sick. Get up and get to bed. I’ll tell Dobey you’ll be out the rest of the week. I’ll stop by tomorrow morning in case you need anything.”
“kay. Thanks. G’night.”
“You sure you don’t want me to come up?”
The dark haired man raised his hands in surrender. “Night, Hutch. Sleep well.”
Hutch got out of the car and took the stairs up. But what happened then, he didn’t know. The stairs began to shift, the lights whirled like a merry-go-round and his hand grasped into emptiness.
“Hey… Hutch… come on, pal. Snap out of it,” Starsky said softly. “Hutch?”
Slowly Hutch opened his eyes, which seemed glued to their eyelashes.
“Sta’ k…? Wha’…”
“There’s my boy.” Starsky was close to him, perched on the edge of his bed, and held out a cup to him. “Here. Drink some of this.”
The blond’s throat felt like it was being squeezed shut. Even drinking hurt, although the coolness of the water was refreshing. He found Starsky’s sparkling blue eyes and the friendly, lopsided grin.
“Think you can talk?”
Starsky smiled, amusedly but with a sense of compassion that Hutch saw, even in his own poor condition. “Wha’…?”
“You passed out, on the stairs – lucky for you I was right behind you because I didn’t buy that ‘I’m fine’ crap. I got you in, put you to bed and called a doctor. You’ve got tonsillitis and the flue.”
Hutch pushed himself up but Starsky put a hand on his chest.
“No buddy. Stay down. You’ve been asleep for two days. The doctor said you passed out from sheer exhaustion. You’re not leaving bed until you’re feeling better.” There was a twist of worry in those words. “Here’s antibiotics – it’s for your throat.” Starsky shopped with a bottle and used its cap to measure the exact amount. Hutch swallowed it without objecting, until he tasted it.
“Awful…” he cracked.
“Yeah. Smells like it too. You need anything?”
“No.” Whispering was possible but felt awkward. Then a thought bubbled up. “Kids?”
“They’re fine. Seems they get along well with Mrs Slaughter. In two weeks Freddy can leave the hospital – she’ll be using crutches for a long time but Mrs Slaughter will take good care of her. There’s a special fund within the Child Welfare Council that deals with the financial settlement.”
“Rick’s back to school. He hadn’t been there since after Christmas but he reported back yesterday.”
Another thought struck Hutch as he lied back in the pillows. Two days? He’d been under the weather for two days?
Starsky put some books on the bedside table. “Here’s some reading for you. Orders from Dobey are to let you sleep as much as possible but I know you. This’ll keep you in bed. For a while.”
“Two days?” Hutch whispered.
Starsky didn’t answer at once. Then, in a sudden half-accusingly tone, he said sharply, “Don’t you ever do that one me again, Hutch. Don’t play the tough cop. If you think for one minute I didn’t notice, you were wrong. I thought I’d let you go along with it – as long as you tell me you’re fine, you’re fine. Don’t tell me you’re fine and then pass out. Don’t lie to me.”
There was such a sense of sharpness and reproach in what he said, that for the first time Hutch realised just how worried Starsky must have been. And how foolish he himself had been for thinking he could hide it from his partner. Starsky sat still, studying the pattern on the blanket and obviously embarrassed. His cheeks had reddened.
“…’m sorry…” Hutch uttered and searched for his friend’s hand.
“I’m just concerned about your welfare, buddy. I’m not trying to smother you or anything.” Starsky patted his partner’s hand and stood up.
I know. And you know I know it too, Hutch’s eyes said. He looked away and smiled ruefully.
The moment of awkwardness over, Starsky turned around and asked, “Aren’t you curious about the twins? I mean, one Caucasian and one Afro-American?”
“They’re not twins,” Hutch whispered. “Rick thinks so…”
“That’s where you’re wrong. They are. The doctor in the hospital confirmed it. It’s a very rare condition but they are bi-ovular twins. Their mum is Caucasian, their dad must have been Afro-American. They might have been conceived by two different men.” He waited and let his words sink in. “She was a prostitute to pay for her needs as well. It’s a wonder she’s still alive.”
“Miracle… they’ve a special bond…”
“Yeah. Real twins.”
“… bit like us…”
“That’s what Rick said too. I’ve not often seen two people so relying on each other. They’re still young but they’re promising.” Hutch yawned tiredly, which made Starsky turn on his heels and head for the door. “You go to sleep now. I’ll keep an eye on things. If there’s anything, just holler.”
He left but stopped in the doorway. “No, wait. I’ll rephrase that. If there’s anything, knock on the headboard.” He laughed, a little smirk playing around the corner of his lips. “Wouldn’t want to stress that poor throat of yours too much, would we now?”
Starsky was just in time to duck for the slipper that came flying his way.
“Goodnight shweetheart,” he called in his best Bogey imitation and softly closed the door behind him.
Goodnight, my fraternal brother.