Out of the Mists
Hutch would never forget the look on Starsky’s face when he finished relaying the events as best he could remember them.
“I’m sorry, Hutch,” Starsky whispered. “I am so sorry.”
“For what, buddy?” Hutch shook his head. “Don’t tell me... Starsk, you can’t possibly blame yourself.”
“I should’ve been there for you. I should’ve¾”
Hutch stopped his partner’s self-incrimination by calmly placing his hand on Starsky’s arm. “Starsk, stop it. There’s no way you could have prevented this, okay? And there’s no way you could have known I wasn’t dead. They knew what they were doing.”
“They could have killed you.”
“Yeah, well...” Hutch chuckled without humor “That was a risk they were willing to take.”
“Damn them!” Starsky uncoiled from the spot where he had sat, motionless, during Hutch’s explanation, and began pacing the room. “Who do they think they are, Hutch? Huh? What right do they have to mess with our lives...to...to shoot you up¾?”
Starsky stopped suddenly and brought his hands up to cover his eyes, as if to block his sight from some horrific memory. “I hoped you’d never have to face that kind of hell again.”
Hutch swallowed hard, realizing this past week would haunt him for some time to come. “I know. Everything I went through with Forest came right back to me.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
Hutch nodded, though Starsky knew he was never convinced of the fact, thinking that somehow he could have fought off the addiction.
“Hutch...” Starsky sighed and rubbed his eyes, then looked at his partner sitting quietly on the bed. There remained a frailness and vulnerability from the ordeal. He had lost a considerable amount of weight and looked drawn and haggard, but Starsky’s heart kindled with pride. “You kicked it, Hutch. Again. And all on your own.”
Hutch’s voice was quiet. “Not alone, Starsk.” The blond met his partner’s eyes with a smile, and Starsky understood what didn’t have to be said.
Starsky returned to the bed, sitting on the edge and facing Hutch. “So how’d you get away?”
“Just as I slipped out of the room, I realized a problem with my plan.”
“Cameras. There’d been a camera on my room the entire time. As soon as I bonked Emery on the head, the big guns were on their way.”
“So how the heck did you get out of there?”
Hutch’s grin held some malice. “As soon as I made it out into the hall and saw attendants coming for me, I pulled the fire alarm and all hell broke loose. No one else noticed me during the commotion, and I made it down to the loading dock. I lucked out—there was a laundry truck just pulling in, and I flashed Emery’s badge and commandeered it. A guard and some agents were hot on my tail, but I plowed through the gates and made it out to I-5.”
“You outran them in a laundry truck?”
“Not quite. There was an accident on the freeway, and traffic was jammed up. The agents were only about ten cars behind me. They got out and were running my way. I don’t mind telling you, the crap was scared out of me at that point. But there was a kid on a motorcycle not too far ahead. I flashed Emery’s badge again and persuaded him to give me a lift. He drove on the shoulder and got us out of there. That’s how I lost the guard and the other agents. I had the kid drop me off on the north side of town¾”
“Where you found Eddie.”
Hutch gave his partner a gentle smile. “I actually called you, but then I realized it’d either freak you out, or you wouldn’t believe it was me. I also figured they might tap your phone or tail you. Eddie was the only way I could think of connecting without giving myself away.”
“I thought you were a ghost. I thought Dobey was right and that I’d really flipped out, after all.” Starsky almost grinned at Hutch’s inquiring look. “They sent me to the Department shrink, Hutch. They thought I was losing it.”
“You always said you thought I was a little nuts. Apparently, so did the governor when I crashed a state dinner and threatened to stuff salad up McMillian’s nose.”
“You did what?”
Starsky’s smile was genuine. “At least, I didn’t use the wrong fork for a change. Forgot to wear a black tie, though.”
Starsky stood at the window, silently staring at the streets below. Traffic came and went as people hurried about their business, but he saw none of it. He was still lost in his own thoughts, seething with rage over what the FBI had done to Hutch, supposedly in the name of justice. He ran a hand through his curls, his mind a maelstrom of plans and possibilities as he tried to figure out what to do next.
Dobey was first on the list. There was no doubt he had to be notified as soon as possible that Hutch was alive. Then, there were Hutch’s parents to consider. They, too, needed to know as soon as possible that their only son hadn’t died, but the question was how would he tell them? Could he risk making it public knowledge that Hutch wasn’t dead, after all? By now, he was fairly certain that the Feds had discovered Hutch was missing and would no doubt be looking for him. Vic Monte was another factor. Once he found out Hutch was still around, the price on his head would be reinstated, and every lowlife on Monte’s payroll would be out for glory. One thing was certain, Hutch wasn’t safe where he was. Anyone who knew the two detectives would look for them at Huggy’s place, and Starsky’s car parked in the alley was like a beacon leading the way.
Still unsure of what course to take, Starsky turned to ask Hutch his take on the situation, grateful to have his friend’s input after so many countless days without him. “So, partner,” he began, relishing the sound of that word coming from his lips. “Where do we go from here?”
“We do what we set out to do,” Hutch replied. “We’ve got Monte, now we go for the Singapore connection.”
“What about the Feds?” Starsky’s lingering anger was evidenced by the tremor in his voice.
“What about them? They’ll still be around, and after this whole Monte thing is over for good, we’ll have more time to decide exactly what we’re going to do to them.”
“Okay. Singapore it is. So, how do we let Dobey know? I’m not real crazy about putting you on the streets right now. You’ll be a target for sure. Not to mention the fact that you look like somethin’ the cat wouldn’t drag in. Maybe there’s a safe house we can go to for a while, just until you’re feeling better and we can get some kind of game plan going.”
“No safe house,” Hutch said emphatically. “Look, I know you’re worried, so am I, but the last safe house I was in nearly killed me. Besides, I’m safer on the streets with you than I’ll ever be in some prison of the Feds.”
Starsky nearly smiled in spite of himself, knowing what Hutch had said was true. “Okay. We’ll do it your way.” Picking his jacket off the back of the chair, Starsky patted his pockets, trying to determine where he’d left his car keys. “You ready to go?”
“Sure thing.” Hutch swung his legs over the side of the bed, preparing to stand up. “Just let me brush my teeth and change into the clothes Huggy brought, and we’ll get started. But maybe we should at least call Dobey first. If I just walk into the squadroom, we may give him a heart attack.”
Starsky chuckled at the mental image of Dobey clutching his chest, his mouth working convulsively while no words came out. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’d hate to be the cause of the captain’s untimely death. Besides, it’d be a real shame to deprive him of the stroke he’s gonna have when he sees what we do to the Feds.”
Starsky circled to the other side of the bed and picked up the telephone. Just as he was about to dial, Hutch stood up precariously and made his way to the small bathroom, steadying himself on the scattered furniture as he went. Starsky watched him, a small frown drawing his eyebrows together, and wondered if perhaps he should have taken Huggy up on his offer of calling his cousin to give Hutch a thorough check-up before they left. He stopped in mid-dial as he thought, his frown becoming more and more prominent.
He was just about to hang up and find Huggy when the decision was made for him. With only two steps separating him and the bathroom doorway, Hutch’s legs gave out and he fell to the floor, his head striking the doorframe as he went down. With a strangled cry of “Hutch!” Starsky bounded across the top of the bed and dropped to his knees beside his partner.
“Hutch?” Starsky patted Hutch’s face gently, but there was no response from the other. Panic rising in his chest, Starsky crossed hurriedly back to the phone and called for an ambulance.
He then returned to his partner and sat cross-legged on the floor. Very carefully, he pulled Hutch into his arms as gently as he could, grateful for the reassuring rise and fall of his partner’s chest and the steady beat of the pulse in his throat. His arms locked tightly around his partner, Starsky settled in to wait for the paramedics.
Captain Dobey stormed down the hallway, muttering to himself. He’d been in the middle of another aggravating conference call with the commissioner when Starsky had called him and insisted he come to the hospital. To make matters worse, Starsky had refused to give him any more information over the phone, just telling him it was life or death, and he would understand when he got there.
He finally located Huggy in a small waiting room, shaking a vending machine as he tried vainly to coax a stuck candy bar from inside it. “Captain Dobey,” Huggy said, stopping only long enough to greet the obviously unhappy man. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“Cut the crap,” Dobey growled, giving the offending knob on the machine a single, vicious tug. An avalanche of candy bars came pouring from the bottom slot, and the captain grabbed up one, unwrapping it with a flourish to take a large bite. “Where’s Starsky? And what’s with all this nonsense about my making sure I wasn’t followed?” he asked around a mouthful of candy.
“Um, he’s in Room 311,” Huggy replied, staring in amazement at the pile of candy around his feet. “But I wouldn’t go in there right now if I was you. There’s something you need to know first... Cap’n?” He’d been so fascinated by the ease with which Dobey had acquired the candy that he didn’t even notice that the captain was no longer beside him. Dobey was already out the door and halfway down the hall.
Dobey burst through the closed door of Room 311 and stopped dead in his tracks at the foot of the hospital bed, as a Beretta was drawn and leveled at his chest. Starsky had literally thrown his upper body across the person lying in the bed, effectively protecting and shielding the identity of the patient from the captain. An empty chair stood to the left of the bed and, judging from the cushion that rested half off of the seat, it was the same chair Starsky had occupied only seconds earlier.
Dobey’s patience was at its limit and his eyebrows shot to his forehead. “What in blazes is going on here, Starsky? And stop waving that pistol in my face before I take it away from you!” Dobey took another bite of his candy bar and glared at his detective.
“Sorry, Cap’n.” Starsky grinned apologetically, lowering his gun and clicking the safety back into place. “I didn’t know it was you.”
“So, tell me what this is all about. Or are you going to lie on top of that poor patient forever? You have some serious explaining to do...”
His voice trailed off as, without preamble, Starsky raised up off the bed, allowing Dobey to have full view of his partner lying battered and bruised, but very much alive in the bed.
Dobey stood in shocked disbelief and stared at the man before him, as the rest of his candy bar dropped from his suddenly nerveless fingers to the floor. For several seconds no one moved, until very cautiously, Dobey crossed to the bed and laid a hesitant hand on Hutch’s chest as if to reassure himself of the steady heartbeat beneath. Hutch covered the rough, callused hand with one of his own and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Unable to stand any longer on his suddenly weakened legs, Dobey collapsed onto the end of the bed and dropped his head into his massive hands as tears slid silently down his cheeks.
Dr. Heflin was more than a little reluctant to release Hutch the next morning. Hutch had slept through the long night, knowing he was finally safe now that Starsky was within arm’s reach and two police officers were stationed outside his door. Dobey had called the patrolmen in personally, without telling them who it was that they were guarding inside the room. What they were told was that in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or bomb threat, the only way they were to let the occupant out of the room was if Sergeant Starsky were upright and conscious, and personally escorting the patient.
Hutch had been admitted under a false name and examined by Heflin, the ER physician on duty. Starsky refused to give the doctor any information regarding what had happened over the last several weeks, and fed him the story that Hutch was a suspect in an upcoming trial, and his prisoner. When blood tests showed traces of the morphine derivative in Hutch’s bloodstream, Starsky refused to let the doctor prescribe anything for it, insisting he be treated for any other problems but that. The doctor told Starsky in no uncertain terms what he thought of that decision, but couldn’t get the detective to back down. Starsky was actually pleased at the prognosis, and Hutch was treated for dehydration and low hemoglobin, then left to sleep as a remedy for exhaustion, the cause of his fainting earlier in the day.
The partners left the hospital by 10:00 a.m., and Hutch insisted they return to the cottage so he could review the damage and get a few changes of clothes. Starsky knew their appearance would tip off agents staking out the cottage, but with the decision to confront McMillian and Endicott made, he almost welcomed the opportunity.
There would be hell to pay when the time finally came.
Dobey was surprised when his secretary buzzed him on the intercom, telling him that Agents McMillian and Endicott were there to see him. Rubbing the grit out of his eyes, Dobey fairly growled in anticipation of nailing the two agents to the wall any way he could. He knew there would be a battle before him when they made charges against the two agents, and possibly the entire local FBI agency, in the days ahead, but neither Dobey, nor Starsky and Hutch, were going to let the matter of the “protective custody” drop.
Dobey stabbed the intercom button and barked for the two agents to be admitted. He slowly stood, shaking off the effects of a tense and sleepless night.
McMillian and Endicott entered and shook Dobey’s hand, and he gestured for them to sit. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, Captain,” McMillian began, uneasily shifting in his seat. “This entire operation of taking down Vic Monte has always been considered classified by the Bureau, and basically, we’ve kept you involved and informed on a need-to-know basis. Well, there’s been an unexpected turn of events, and¾”
“And there’s something I need to know.”
Endicott cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. As I’m sure you can appreciate, there were events that caused the agency to engage in a covert operation in order to secure for the prosecution¾”
Dobey had already had enough and cut off the agent with a vicious swipe of his hand. “You can take your textbook explanation and stuff it, Endicott! Covert operation, my...” The captain reined in his anger, knowing there was a need for caution, though his rage boiled just below the surface. “You’re here because you lost something.”
McMillian pushed himself to his feet. “What do you know, Captain?”
“Everything. And if you think for one second I’m going to tell you where¾”
“Captain, let me remind you who you’re dealing with!” Endicott stood to join his partner.
“Let me tell you who you’re dealing with. You’ve got me to answer to, and if that’s not enough to make you shake in your overpriced shoes, just wait until my boys get hold of you. That’s right—my boys. As in plural.” Dobey actually smiled, though it was far from pleasant. “Besides I don’t know how many laws you two have broken, you ripped apart the cardinal rule, and there’s no way you’re going to get away with that.”
McMillian drew himself up, refusing to show the trickle of concern that ran to his gut. “And what might that be?”
Dobey’s grin became feral. “You messed with a man’s partner.”
Starsky and Hutch were only a few blocks away from the cottage when the radio crackled to life, waking Hutch from his doze in the back seat of the Torino.
“Control to Starsky; come in, Starsky.”
Hutch slid up farther in the seat, but not high enough that he’d be visible to any passers-by. “What happened to Zebra Three?”
Starsky didn’t answer, but met his partner’s eyes in the rearview mirror. The realization came quickly to Hutch, and he reached up to grip the other’s shoulder. Starsky’s hand briefly squeezed Hutch’s before reaching for the microphone.
“This is Starsky, Mildred. Whatcha got?”
“Switch to Tach Two for Captain Dobey.”
“Ten-four.” Starsky flipped the lever and glanced again in the rearview mirror.
“Aw, he misses me already,” Hutch quipped.
The radio crackled again. “Starsky? This is Dobey.”
“Go ahead, Cap’n.”
“I just had a visit from our favorite Feds. Turns out they lost something and they know we found...it.”
“It?” Hutch grunted indignantly.
“Shut up.” Starsky depressed the microphone with a grin and watched Hutch in the mirror. “I suppose they want it back?”
“Exactly. They think you might know where it is.”
Hutch leaned forward. “Well, it would like about five minutes alone with those SOBs.”
Starsky smiled broadly, agreeing with his partner. “Capital idea, Ollie.” Again he depressed the mic. “Cap’n, why don’t you give me an hour, then call our dedicated federal servants. Tell them to head over to Huggy’s, and that for a quick twenty, Huggy’d sell out his own mother.”
“Starsky, do you know what you’re doing here? This isn’t a game.”
“No, Cap’n, it sure as hell isn’t.”
Starsky tossed aside the microphone and spun the Torino, sending it back into the heart of the city.
Dobey hung up his phone, a satisfied smile gracing his features. He put his arms behind his head and leaned back in his chair, delighting in the thought of what the two were going to do when they got their moment alone with the agents.
McMillian and Endicott squinted, trying to adjust their eyes to the sudden plunge into darkness as they entered the crowded restaurant. The lunch crowd was in full swing, and the two agents had to maneuver through patrons and waitresses. When they finally made it to the bar, Huggy immediately set glasses down in front of them and liberally poured two fingers of whiskey in each.
“Hey, we didn’t order these.” Endicott moved his hand away from the bar, but not quickly enough to keep the liquor from sloshing onto his coat sleeve.
“Gentlemen, Huggy has a discerning eye, and I could tell from the minute you entered my fine establishment that you were men of distinct pleasures.”
McMillian’s expression changed from annoyance to interest. “You’re Huggy Bear?”
A flash of distaste ran across Huggy’s features, but it was gone before the two picked up on it. “You ought to be a detective.”
Endicott palmed his badge, showing his ID to Huggy. “Actually, we’re FBI.”
“Really?” Huggy’s facetiousness was lost on them. “And here I thought you was Jehovah Witnesses.”
McMillian cleared his throat. “We understand you might be able to tell us something we need to know.”
Huggy nodded sagely. “Possibly possible. I have been known to hear things of interest a time or two. It...uh...helps pay the mortgage when my other business endeavor is less than, shall we say, profitable.”
Huggy stared purposefully at the two whiskey glasses before the agents. Both smiled knowingly and downed the shots.
McMillian laid a ten-dollar bill on the counter. “That should cover it. So, maybe you can tell us where we can find a certain detective we hear you’re friends with.”
“Hmm...” Huggy poured two more doubles, shaking his head sadly. “Now, who might that be? I’ve got a lot of fuzzy friends.” He pushed the ten back toward McMillian. “When the price is right.”
The agents took the hint and downed the glasses a second time. Endicott wheezed a bit as he laid a second ten on top of the first. “I think you know who we’re talking about.”
Huggy pushed the two tens back at the agents and crossed his arms in front of him. “I’m talkin’ about my friend Franklin.”
“Who? Don’t jerk us around. You know exactly who we mean.”
“And I mean Franklin. As in Ben.”
“What?” Endicott gasped. “You want a hundred¾?”
“Here.” McMillian jerked out his wallet and pulled out a handful of bills. “Will five Jacksons do?”
Huggy smiled sweetly and reached to scoop up the money. “Indubitably.”
Endicott’s hand lashed out before Huggy was able to collect. His grip numbed the smaller man’s hand. “Where is he?”
“Easy, man, easy. He’s upstairs, sleeping it off. No need to bruise The Bear!”
Endicott released his grip and followed McMillian up the stairs. Huggy smiled as he pocketed the money and placed the two glasses in the tub under the bar. Forking over a hundred dollars was the least of their worries. They’d be paying a lot more in a matter of minutes.