Out of the Mists
After clearing the landing, McMillian slowly pushed the apartment door open, the light from the hallway casting into the dim room. When he tried the light switch, nothing happened, so he left the door open as the two entered. In the darkness, they could make out a still form lying huddled under the covers of the bed that dominated the room. The agents stepped forward, reaching to draw their guns.
The sound of another gun’s safety snicking off made them pause, and a deadly voice froze them in their tracks. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The men slowly lifted their hands away from their sides. McMillian peered into the darkness, his eyes adjusting enough to make out a seated figure across the room. “We’re not looking for any trouble.”
“That’s too bad.” Starsky switched on a tableside lamp with his free hand. The light revealed his Beretta aimed straight at McMillian’s chest. “Because you just found it.”
Endicott’s eyes darted between Starsky and the door. “We weren’t tracking you down, Starsky. We were looking for—”
“My dead partner?”
McMillian’s face grew hard. “Who told you Hutchinson was alive?”
The overhead light flicked on from the switch across the room, revealing Hutch coming from the darkened bathroom, his Python trained on Endicott. The blond quickly crossed the room and shut the door, then relieved the two agents of their weapons. Starsky stood and picked up a nearby Louisville Slugger. Two quick raps against the radiator brought Huggy up, and Hutch loaded him down with the agents’ guns as well as his own and Starsky’s.
As Huggy left the room, he tipped his head to the two agents. “I hope you have as nice a funeral as Hutch had.”
Hutch threw the deadbolt, then slid the chain in place. When Endicott moved toward him, he was stopped by the business end of Starsky’s bat, poking him in the chest. Stepping away from the menace, Endicott bumped into McMillian. “Now, wait a minute. You can’t seriously be thinking that you’re going to—”
“Oh, but we are.” Hutch turned toward them.
“And we will,” Starsky finished.
McMillian squared his shoulders, but inwardly cringed at the fire in the eyes that bore into him. “I know the last month was no picnic, but you have to understand that we were only doing our jobs. As a matter of fact…” The agent drew his handcuffs out of his back pocket. “We’re here to take you back into protective custody, Hutchinson.”
“You’re what?” Starsky barked.
Hutch simply crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Over my dead body. No, wait!” He snapped his fingers. “That’s already been done.”
Endicott and McMillian simultaneously moved toward Hutch, but Starsky was faster. Fueled by the rage that had sustained him for weeks on end, his attack was swift and furious. A tap from the end of the baseball bat caught Endicott in the solar plexus, doubling him over. Starsky used one hand against the agent’s forehead to thrust him backward onto the mattress, where he landed with such force that he bounced into the space between the bed and the wall.
Starsky didn’t waste any time observing the agent’s topple. Hutch, on the other hand, hadn’t moved from his casual position leaning against the wall, watching the whirlwind that was his partner.
Just as McMillian was within inches of Hutch, Starsky grasped the agent by the arm and spun him. McMillian swung wildly and Starsky ducked and stepped away, ending up behind him. The Louisville Slugger was woven between McMillian’s arms and the back of his neck, where he was then guided by the bat to end up facing Hutch.
Hutch casually reached out and patted the agent on the cheek. “Now, what was that about taking me into custody?”
“I was only doing the work of the federal government, Hutchinson. You’ve got no recourse but to—”
“Recourse?” Hutch hissed. “Let me tell you about recourse.”
A right cross threw McMillian’s head against the bat holding him captive in Starsky’s grip. “That is for making my partner, my family, and my friends think I was dead!”
A left hook snapped the agent’s head in the other direction. “That is for pumping me full of garbage!”
Another punch drew blood from McMillian’s nose. “That is for trying to burn down my house!”
The next blow drove McMillian’s head back to the left. When his partner didn’t speak, Starsky chimed in. “What was that one for?”
“Just because I felt like it.”
A noise from behind alerted Starsky. Slipping the bat out from under McMillian’s arms, Starsky tucked the wood in between the agent’s legs and moved sideways, tripping McMillian and sending him face down in front of Hutch. Starsky turned just in time to see Endicott stepping up onto the bed to launch himself in their direction. Starsky grasped the bat from both ends and held it before him, knowing Endicott would instinctively latch onto it. When he did, Starsky rolled backwards with Endicott falling after him. Bringing his feet up before the agent landed on him, Starsky made contact with his midriff, then thrust his feet as hard as he could, sending the larger man flying over his head and crashing into the chair and end table.
Starsky popped up and stationed himself next to his partner. Tapping both feet in turn, he assumed a batter’s stance and swung, eyeing an imaginary opponent and waiting for the next pitch. “Number three, Dave Starsky, steps up to the plate at the top of the eighth. The home team’s having a great game, with two batted in during the seventh inning alone.”
“And they said we’d never make it to the playoffs.” Hutch grinned, admiring his partner’s handiwork.
“If we keep this up, maybe they’ll give us our own trading cards.”
McMillian staggered to his feet, and when there was no immediate threat from the detectives, he pulled his partner up from the floor as well. “Very amusing. I don’t think you two jokers realize what kind of trouble you’re in.”
“Really?” Hutch resumed his post, leaning against the wall. “And just what kind of trouble is that?”
Starsky looked at him quizzically. “You mean there’s more than one kind?”
“Well, sure, Starsk. You see, there’s big trouble, and then there’s little trouble.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well, big trouble’s the kind you get when you give Captain Dobey a toilet for Christmas. Little trouble is when—”
“You two won’t be laughing quite so hard when we bring you up on charges for impeding a federal investigation.” Endicott straightened his suit coat and attempted to smooth back his hair. “And assaulting federal agents.”
Starsky’s and Hutch’s eyes blazed as they focused on the two agents. Hutch’s jaw clenched. “When you what?”
“Look, you got your licks in.” McMillian pointed his finger in Hutch’s face. “We did what we did to protect you, Hutchinson. You should be grateful.”
“And if anybody got their nose out of joint over our actions, well, that’s unfortunate, but it kept you alive.” McMillian mistook the deadly calm of the room for acquiescence. “All right. Now that you two have gotten that out of your system—”
Huggy had been staring at the ceiling the last few seconds, wondering what had happened to cause the end of the clash above him. Just as he was about to go upstairs to check, a series of loud impacts and shattering glass greeted him. With a smile, he went back to busing the booths.
After a few minutes and substantially more noise, the upper room grew quiet again, and Starsky and Hutch came triumphantly down the stairs. The only evidence of the confrontation was their mussed up hair, disheveled clothes, and Starsky’s fat lip.
Huggy scooped up his tray and returned to his spot behind the bar. “I take it the good guys won?”
Starsky smiled around his bruised mouth and gave Huggy the bat, accepting his gun back. “I had two home runs in the seventh, and Hutch here had a grand slam in the eighth.”
Huggy examined the bat. “Really? But there ain’t no blood on Louise here.”
Starsky’s lip curled. “I didn’t want to taint her with the likes of them.”
“Thanks, Hug.” Hutch holstered his own gun them removed the ammo clips from the agents’ weapons.
Starsky handed Huggy a handcuff key. “Give us an hour, then turn ’em loose.”
Huggy nodded, pleased with the turn of events, and clapped Hutch on the arm. “Good to see you back in action, Lazarus.”
“Him?” Starsky croaked indignantly. “I’m the one who did all the damage up there!”
“Fine, then I know who to send the bill to.”
Before Starsky could retort, Hutch had him by the collar and was steering him out of the restaurant.
Huggy allowed the hour to slip by and went upstairs. Throughout the lunch rush, the shouts and pounding from the upper room were barely discernable from the chatter of patrons and blaring jukebox. But now that the restaurant was emptying, the occasional muffled curse or thumping from above was more obvious.
After crossing the room in the dark, Huggy flipped the switch to reveal the two agents sitting on the floor, both hands cuffed to each other around the base of the radiator. Huggy wasn’t the least disturbed by their curses or threats as he casually strolled over and released them. Pulling a bar towel out of his back pocket, Huggy wiped both sets of cuffs, then the key, effectively removing his fingerprints, and offered them back to the agents who snatched them out of the towel. Likewise, Huggy pulled the agents’ guns out from under his apron with his towel.
“Where’d they go?” McMillian growled, stuffing the pistol back into the holster attached to his belt.
“And who might that be?” Huggy asked, sounding surprised.
“Don’t mess with us.” Endicott glowered. “Hutchinson and Starsky.”
Huggy looked stricken. “Hutch? What are you talking about? Hutch is dead!”
Endicott’s arm lashed out and caught a fistful of Huggy’s shirt, jerking him closer. “We don’t have time for games! Where’d they go?”
“Hoo!” Huggy waved his hand in front of his nose. “You dudes musta really tied one on up here, you smell like the bottom of a barrel of Jim Beam!”
Endicott paused, realizing the whiskey that had soaked into his sleeve when they had first arrived at the bar was still pungent.
“Come to think of it,” Huggy continued, “I seem to recall that you both tipped back a couple of doubles before you started brawling up here.”
“You know damn well Starsky and Hutchinson were up here, waiting for us. You set us up!”
“Moi?” Huggy gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders and plastered on his most innocent smile. “I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Come on.” McMillian tore his partner’s grip away from the restaurateur, and the two stormed out of the room.
Huggy stood smiling in their wake. “And the home team takes the pennant.”
Starsky turned off the ignition, but remained motionless.
Hutch paused with his hand on the door handle. “What’s wrong?”
Starsky looked toward the seat next to him, no longer empty, and grinned. “Nothing. Not a damn thing.”
Hutch returned the smile, instantly understanding, and clapped his partner on the arm. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
“Wait a minute. Stay put.” Starsky hopped out of the sedan and trotted to the house next to Hutch’s cottage, vaulting up the steps to pound on the door. Within seconds, the surveillance agent found himself staring into the barrel of Starsky’s gun pressed tightly against the glass of the storm door.
“Hiya, Andy.” Starsky’s voice was amiable as he jerked open the door and entered the house steps behind the retreating agent. “I just wanted to let you know we—my partner and I—are going in next door for a few minutes, and if I see so much as your nose come out of this house, I’m going to blow it off, okay?” Never taking his eyes or his gun off Agent Miller, Starsky ripped the phone off the wall.
At the agent’s startled nod, Starsky smiled and crossed to him. Miller’s walkie-talkie was pulled off his belt clip, thrown to the floor, and ground under Starsky’s heel. The agent was also relieved of his weapon, which Starsky tucked in his waistband. Starsky smiled again and patted the bewildered Miller on the cheek. “Terrific. Nice talkin’ to ya.”
Starsky sheathed his gun and trotted back down the porch to the waiting Torino.
Hutch stood dumbfounded in the ruins of his kitchen. “Look at this mess!”
“What?” Starsky hollered back from the bedroom where he was hastily stuffing some of his partner’s clothes in a gym bag.
“My kitchen! They destroyed my kitchen!”
Starsky came striding back into the living room. “I didn’t notice. It looks pretty much like it always did.”
“Cute.” Hutch wandered back into the living room, taking in the overturned furniture and what was left of his destroyed possessions. A few things were grossly out of place in the midst of the destruction. Hutch surveyed his plants, healthy and thriving despite the chaos. “You took care of them.”
Starsky shrugged his shoulders and glanced away from his partner’s grateful eyes. “I couldn’t let them die, you know. Come on, we’d better get going. There’s no telling what the Bobbsey Twins will try next.”
“Just a second.” Hutch kicked around a few of the damaged books, looking for a particular title.
“What are you looking for?”
“I took notes of some names I heard that last day before I did the Rip Van Winkle routine.”
“You mean this?”
When Hutch looked toward his partner, Starsky waved a crumbled note. Hutch took it from him and unfolded it. “You remembered.”
“I know where all your hiding places are.”
“If you stashed any information, it was going to be either in that book, under that big, hairy plant you’re always talking to—”
“Sheila. She’s an asparagus fern.”
“Whatever. Or above the third ceiling tile from the left in the kitchen.”
Hutch looked at him incredulously. “And yet you still can’t figure out where I hide your birthday presents.”
“I’m working on it. Anyway, I found that not too long after you disappeared, but it didn’t mean a whole heck of a lot to me. You want to fill me in?”
Hutch nodded. “Yeah, but we’d better get moving.”
The two left the cottage and got into the Torino. “So, where are you hiding me?”
Starsky smiled as he threw the car in gear. “Right under their noses.”
Edith stood waiting at the window, the lace curtain drawn back so her view wasn’t obscured. Her husband had told her the night before the incredible news that Hutch was alive, and had given a brief recitation of the past month’s events. That morning she told the children, though didn’t go into great detail, other than to say it had all been a horrible mistake, and that some criminals had made it seem like they had lost their friend. Later, she had given Cal more information, since she knew the teenager had not accepted the explanation at face value, but had wisely held off his questions until he could speak with his mother alone. Rosie, on the other hand, became quiet, trying to process the change as best she could.
“Harold! Cal, Rosie—they’re here!” Edith’s call was met with the sound of rushing feet. The family crowded out the front door to watch as an unmarked sedan pulled into the driveway and its occupants climbed out.
While the captain stood by watching, Edith and Cal rushed to Hutch and embraced him. Rosie hung back, taking it all in with wide eyes. After releasing the two, Hutch focused on the little girl and recognized her apprehension. He dropped to one knee and smiled gently. “Hi, Rosie. I sure missed you.”
Rosie stared at Hutch, cocking her head a bit to one side. “Are you an angel?”
Hutch chuckled gently and shook his head. “No, sweetheart. It’s just me.”
Rosie nodded, her expression turning a bit angry. “Are you going away again?”
Starsky moved up behind him and laid a hand on his partner's shoulder. “Not if I can help it.”
Rosie looked at Starsky accusingly. “You said he was in Heaven.”
Hutch glanced up at Starsky. He couldn’t imagine what that discussion must have cost his partner. There was a catch in his voice when he answered. “I was just visiting.”
Hutch’s gentle smile finally broke through Rosie’s apprehension, and she threw herself into his waiting arms. Hutch stood, Rosie cradled in his arm. Although Rosie whispered in Hutch’s ear, it was still loud enough for Starsky to catch. “Next time you go to visit, leave us a note, okay?”
A battle of wills ensued over dinner. The initial arrangement was for Starsky and Hutch to stay in Cal’s room, which hosted a set of bunk beds, but Rosie was insistent that her Uncle Hutch sleep in her room that night, and that she would sleep with her parents. The adults finally conceded, with Starsky volunteering to take the couch and not keep Cal up with his snoring.
The plan had been for the detectives to hash out and combine what information they had with Dobey, but after the large meal, neither could resist the pull of the quiet healing offered by simply absorbing the family’s normalcy. Starsky had suggested they wait to talk at least until after the kids went to bed, but by 8:00, Hutch was paling and having a hard time staying awake. Starsky insisted his partner get some sleep, and they would regroup in the morning.
Rosie took charge of getting Hutch settled in, taking him by the hand and leading him upstairs. When Rosie hadn’t return fifteen minutes later, the remaining adults also went up to rescue Hutch from Rosie’s mothering, letting him finally get some rest, and getting the little girl ready for bed as well.
Edith quietly opened the door, then beckoned her husband and Starsky inside. Nestled atop the comforter sound asleep were Hutch and Rosie, the little girl curled up against his chest. Edith gently moved Hutch’s arm from across her daughter’s shoulder, then scooped up Rosie and handed her to her father. Dobey carried her out of the room, her tiny head cradled against his shoulder.
Edith followed, but paused to whisper to Starsky. “I’ll make the couch up for you.”
Starsky smiled his gratitude, then kissed Edith on the cheek. She quietly left the room, shutting the door behind her.
Starsky eased himself down onto the beanbag chair sitting under the room’s sole window. He wasn’t prepared when the chair’s stuffing shifted under his weight, unbalancing him into the nightstand.
Even though the sudden movement barely rattled the lamp, Hutch’s eyes cracked opened. “About time.”
Starsky smiled at his partner’s sleepy complaint. “G’night, Blintz.”
“You going anywhere?”
“Nope. Go back to sleep.”