The entire course of events had been so unexpected, and everything had happened so fast, that for a moment Hutch found himself thinking that it was impossible. That all that had unfolded before his eyes in such a very short span of time just couldn't be true.
Hutch and Griffith had been on duty that Saturday morning. At first, the day had been uneventful, but then the detectives heard a domestic disturbance report come in over the radio. Neighbors had reported hearing shouts and loud music, thumps and the cries of a child. They were the unit closest to the apartment block so, after asking dispatch for an ambulance and a black and white, they responded to the call.
The ones making such an uproar were a young man and a young woman who in recent years had been arrested several times for minor crimes. At the time of Hutch and Griffith's arrival, the couple, apparently high on some drug, most likely LSD or PCP, were involved in a violent fight in the half darkness of their untidy and filth living room. Janice Joplin played loudly in the background, muffling the hysterical weeping of the couple's daughter, a little girl, not older than three or four years old. Horrified, she clutched her tattered teddy bear like a lifeline as she watched the nightmarish scene from the threshold of her bedroom.
"Freeze! Police!" Hutch shouted, as he and Griffith approached the battling couple. They had their guns aimed at the man because he appeared to have the upper hand. He was astride his partner, brutally grabbing her hair with both hands and repeatedly pounding her head against the floor, while she, apparently unaware of the pain, defended herself with amazing-drug induced stamina.
The detectives struggled briefly with the maddened man to pull him off of the woman, cuffing him to a radiator in the wall. Then Hutch crouched down to check on her for a moment before heading to the bathroom to get a washcloth to clean her bloodstained face. Griffith, seeing the situation under control, began looking for the kid he had heard earlier.
A moment later, the dark-haired detective spotted her, still paralyzed by fear in doorway where she had witnessed the fight between her parents. Griffith was approaching the little girl when her mother, still on the floor, gathered enough strength to scramble on all fours to pick up a gun. At some point during the fight it had slid under the nearby couch.
"NOOO! GET AWAY FROM MY KID!" She screamed. She shot twice at Griffith before Hutch had time to gun her down, instantly killing the woman.
"Griffith!" Hutch shouted, hurrying to his fallen partner. The impact of the bullets had caused Griffith to collide with the nearest wall, sliding to the floor. Meanwhile, the cuffed husband stared in silent shock at the scene and the little girl ran to the dead body of her mother. But all of this was happening outside of the black hole of panic that already was engulfing Hutch.
"Griffith… Dan… Hold... hold on, please! Help is on the way," Hutch said, wishing the ambulance and reinforcements they had requested were already there.
"Hu-hurts… it hurts, Hutchinson," Griffith mumbled, wincing in pain.
"I know, kid. I know… Don't talk, okay? Save your strength," Hutch said, pretending calm. He quickly took his jacket off and tried to stop the bleeding from Griffith's stomach with it. He held the bloodstained hand that reached blindly out for comfort, much as Starsky had done years ago in an Italian restaurant.
"Everything is going to be okay, Griffith… The doctors are going to patch you up and you'll be as good as new in no time," he encouraged the fatally injured man.
"Y-you are a…a lousy liar, Hutchinson… Did… did you know that?" Griffith joked feebly, despite the pain he was in. "But you're a g-good partner any-anyway… And a good g-guy… too… I –I wish we'd have more time t-to..."
"No!" Hutch cut him off. "You have to hold on, Griffith, do you hear me? You just have to hold on a little longer. The ambulance is almost here." Hutch could hear the wail of sirens in the distance.
"He-help Ka-Karen… and m-my kid… p-please, Hutch…" Griffith pleaded grasping a handful of Hutch's frontshirt "Help t-them… This… this isn't g… going to be e-easy for them…"
These were the young man's last words before his body tensed suddenly. A moment later, a deep breath escaped his mouth and he went limp. His brown eyes opened wide to stare vacantly, until Hutch closed them.
The paramedics and uniformed officers rushed into the apartment to find the corpse of one police officer being held and gently rocked by another whose mind had already fled away, very far away from that moment and place.
"Come in on." Starsky said on hearing somebody knocking at his door. He replaced the phone receiver back in its cradle. Over the few last hours he had been futilely trying to reach Hutch, both at his apartment and at the precinct. Though there were plenty of reasonable explanations for the blond one's absence, a uneasy feeling was starting to settle in the pit of his stomach. Starsky made up his mind. If on the next attempt he couldn't reach his friend, then, in the morning, he'd call Dobey.
"Hi, kid. Wanna share dinner with a couple of old guys?" Morris asked, already busy placing a few Styrofoam containers of Chinese food and a six-pack on the coffee table.
Hercule Poirot, shamelessly climbed onto Starsky's couch making himself comfortable and looking at both humans through hazel eyes.
"Sure, pal. Make yourself at home, like Hercule here is doing." Starsky gave Morris a friendly smile, pointing at the dog.
"Didn't you get through to your friend yet?" the old detective asked.
"Nope. It looks like Hutch isn't at home, and he's not at the precinct either," Starsky answered. He picked up one of the beers, opening the lid before taking a gulp.
"Take it easy, son. Maybe he went out with a chick or something."
"Yeah… you're right, I guess," Starsky conceded, though he wasn't too sure about it.
"Are you worried?" Morris asked straightforwardly. He sat down beside his dog on the couch and scratched one of its large ears.
"Yep. A little," Starsky admitted. Sitting onto the coffee table, he distractedly peered at the contents of the takeout cartons. He didn't feel at all hungry.
"Listen, Dave… I know it's none of my business, but tell me something, son." Morris took another one of the beer cans, opening it. "Do you still think that leaving Bay City was the right thing to do? I mean, your friend doesn't answer your phone calls for a few hours and you're already climbing the walls… Do you think that, with you worrying as much as you do about him, that living across the country is a good idea?"
"I didn't have any other choice, Morris." Starsky shrugged.
"Oh, come on, Dave! Cut the crap! There's always another choice, other than running away!" Morris retorted, taking a swallow of his beer.
"Look Morris, I already told you what…"
"Yeah, yeah, I know the story." The older man accompanied his words with a dismissive wave of his hand. "That Hutch guy wasn't going to move on with his career in the force so long as you were there and blah, blah, blah … I know all of it, but I still think that you screwed up when you left."
"No, kid. You listen to what this old man has got to tell you." The former detective propped his feet on the coffee table, crossing them at the ankle. He made himself comfortable on Starsky's couch, as if getting ready to tell a long story.
"A lifetime ago, when I was much younger than you are now and I lived not here, but in Jersey, I had a best friend too. Rob was his name. We used to hang around and see each other every single day of the year… We were very close. Closer than brother if you ask me."
"Where did you both meet?" Starsky asked.
"In school. When we were seven," Morris explained. "We grew up together, had fun together and went through a lot of stuff together… Until Belinda came into our lives."
"Belinda?" Starsky said, already guessing what was Morris going to say, and feeling an unsettling déjà vu.
"Belinda was the girl we both thought we had fallen in love with… Boy, was she something! Beautiful, sexy and hot, sweet… And a damned bitch, if you ask me. She played with our feelings. She claimed to love us, she used us as if we were her toys, and finally, when we found out about her game, she left us. Months later, she married another guy… May God help him," the old man said, smiling sadly.
"But what… what happened with Rob... and you? I mean, with your friendship?" Starsky wanted to know.
"Oh, our friendship… well, at first we were too angry to talk to each other. It was as simple as that. We stopped seeing each other and a few months later I got a new job here, in New York. Before leaving, though, I did call Rob. I asked him to meet me, if only once more, so we could say goodbye, like the good friends we'd been in the past and somehow still were…"
"Did he agree to see you?"
"Oh, sure, my pal Rob was a real good guy. Stubborn as a mule and too proud to make the first move, I guess, but a great guy after all…. But, see. We never got to meet that last time." Morris seemed to be lost in the sad memories. "The night before we were supposed to get together, Rob got killed by some fucking lowlife… shot for just a couple lousy bucks. That's all the money he had in his wallet when he was murdered."
"God, Morris… I'm very sorry," Starsky said, sorrowfully.
"It's okay, kid. That's all past and I came to terms with what happened a long time ago… But listen to what I'm trying to tell you here. Whatever it was that made you leave your best friend behind - and I just know that there's more than the line you've been feeding me - it isn't past. It's still in the present and it can still be fixed. Take some advice from this old fox and go back to Hutch, Dave. Go and try to sort things out with him before it's too late… Just do it."
The hours following Griffith's death passed in a blur for Hutch. The paramedics, on seeing the state of emotional shock the detective was in, decided to take him to the hospital. Hutch, unable to talk or think clearly, let them lead him to the ambulance, though it was impossible to make the distraught man lie down on the stretcher.
In the ER, the doctor in charge, having made sure that Hutch was physically unharmed, made him take a shower to wash off Griffith's blood. A nurse found a set of clean scrubs for him to wear. As well, the physician gave Hutch a Valium pill. Too shell-shocked to refuse, the blond one swallowed it down with some water.
Finally, after keeping the blond detective for a few hours under observation in one of the ER cubicles, the doctor concluded that his patient would feel more comfortable at home, so long as someone could look after him, so he filled a prescription for more Valium for Hutch and let Dobey take him to his place.
The Captain made a brief stop at a nearby pharmacy to get the pills for Hutch, and then he drove to his house. For a while, both men were silent. Then, finally, Hutch spoke.
"It's my fault… Entirely mine," he said, looking absentmindedly at the road ahead him.
"Griffith is dead, Captain, and I'm as guilty as if I pulled the trigger of that gun myself."
"Stop that, Hutchinson! Griffith was killed in the line of duty! It isn't your fault!" Dobey said, firmly.
"'You're wrong, Captain, very wrong. He was killed 'cause I, the man who unluckily for that poor boy happened to be his partner, LEFT HIM ALONE WITH THAT WOMAN TO GET A FUCKING WASHCLOTH! THAT'S WHY!" Hutch bellowed as Dobey pulled to a halt in a red light.
"No, Cap." Hutch cut him off. "Listen, sir, can you take me home? I mean, to my place?"
"Oh, no, Hutchinson, no way. The doc who checked you out in the ER said…"
"To the hell with what that goddamned doc said, Captain! I wanna be alone!" Hutch accompanied his words with a slap on the dashboard, but Dobey continued to look at him, unruffled.
"Come on, Hutch! I can't leave you alone. What you need right now is…."
"Which I need right now is just to be left alone, with no one fussing over me!" Hutch again interrupted his superior officer, this time getting out of the car.
"Hutch! Wait!" Dobey quickly climbed out on his side of the car. "Wait, son…come home with me, please. You can eat something if you want, and then go to bed," the older man coaxed, trotting after Hutch.
He received no answer.
"STOP, HUTCHINSON! THAT'S AN ORDER!" He barked finally, reaching Hutch's side and grabbing his arm.
"I'm sorry, Cap," Hutch said, jerking his arm away from Dobey's grasp while raising his other hand to stop a cab. "I'm afraid this time I'm going to have to disobey you."
"Oh, it's okay, Hutch, it's okay! I don't agree with this, but I know you have to do it your own way, dammit!" Dobey gave up reluctantly. "Go home and drown in self-pity if that's what you want to do! You're old enough to know what's best for you, I suppose… I just hope you won't regret your stubbornness later."
"I'll be okay, cap. Don't worry."
The older man shook his head. He looked down briefly before raising his eyes to look back at Hutch. "I'll call you later, Hutch" Having said that, the Captain watched his distraught detective climbing into the cab. It pulled away from the curb, quickly disappearing from view, leaving a very worried Dobey behind.
Once at home, the first thing Hutch did was take off the surgical scrubs that a nurse in the hospital had given him. He undressed, tossing the green articles of clothing in a heap on the floor. Wearing just his boxers, and not caring in the least about getting more clothes on, he went straight to his kitchen. There, Hutch fumbled in the cupboards until he found the unopened bottle of bourbon he was looking for. Then he fetched a glass and made his way into the living room. Without bothering to turn on the lights, the blond one took the phone off the hook and sat down in the couch, pouring himself a large shot of the amber brew.
"For the meanest, more worthless and despicable partner any cop can have." Hutch toasted himself with disdain before gulping down the liquid. He immediately refilled the glass.
"And this one's for the coldest and nastiest sonofabitch a poor newbie detective could ever have the bad luck to be partnered with!" Hutch exclaimed, in the loneliness of his living room. He briefly raised his glass upward before proceeding to drink its contents in a single gulp. A short while later came a third drink and a toast equally filled with self-loathing.
Several times during these miserable hours of solitude, Hutch almost picked up the phone to call Starsky, but ultimately he just couldn't do it. Besides not wanting to worry his friend, Hutch was also simply unable to tell Starsky that another cop - his new partner - had been shot. His partner had been fatally injured and, if only in Hutch's tortured mind, it was once again his fault.
By this time, the sedative combined with the increasing amount of alcohol flooding his system was making Hutch's head float in a haze of confusion. In one moment, he burst into an hysterical fit of loud laughter then, in the next moment, the guffaws turned to heart wrenching sobs that wracked his entire body until eventually, a dreamless and heavy sleep conquered him.
That evening, Starsky tried once more, unsuccessfully, to get in touch with Hutch. Feeling a disquieting foreboding, Starsky had just climbed into bed when the phone on his nightstand began to ring.
Peering at the clock, he saw that it was near midnight.
"H'llo?" The brunet answered, as he switched on the nightstand lamp.
"Dave, son, it's Harold."
Dave…son. Starsky knew without a shadow of a doubt that those two words coming from Dobey's mouth in the same sentence could have only one meaning…
Big trouble. TBC