Out of the Mists

 

Chapter Seven

 

Mickey splurged his last twenty bucks on a decent bottle of tequila, Rupert Jones’ drink of choice.  Jones, an “odd job man” who was fairly new on Vic Monte’s payroll, had boasted to Mickey that he was one of the men assigned to take out Hutch when his cover was blown. 

 

After the squirrelly little man known as The Archer came wheedling back into Monte’s good graces and revealed Hutch’s deception, Vic had ordered the hit, personally instructing Jones and another flunky to kill the detective.  He had also paired them up with two hit men imported from the new Singapore connection as a condition of forming the union with the foreign drug suppliers.  Monte had figured their partnership in taking out the cop would be a sign of good faith from the Chinese mobsters.  But before the orders could be carried out, Hutch went missing, and there was no word from the underground as to who, why, or how.  Rupert Jones was just glad he didn’t have to add another murder one charge to his growing list of unprosecuted crimes. 

 

Jones relayed all of this to Mickey about halfway through the bottle of tequila.  While the snitch wasn’t too bright, he was quick and picked up on Jones’ admission of another murder one charge.  Mickey poured Jones a shot and pretended to sip his own.  It was taking all the willpower he possessed not to down the drink he held, needing to stay semi-sober in order to collect enough information to get him off the hook with Starsky.

 

“So, Rup, who else have you iced, man?” Mickey asked as casually as he could, trying to get his hands to stop shaking.

 

“Whass’at?”  Jones unsteadily lit a cigarette, burning his finger in the process and swearing.

 

“You, uh...you said that you didn’t want to have another murder one hanging over your head.”

 

“Aw, they’d have to prove it was me, then they’d have to catch me!”  The larger man chortled, enjoying Mickey’s interest, which stoked his ego.

 

“Yeah?  So what’d ya do, huh?  Who’d you take out?”

 

“Some kid.  Name was, uh...DeFusto.  He was working his way up the ranks in one of the other families and stepped on Monte’s toes one too many times, ya know?  So Vic had me take him out.” 

 

“Tony DeFusto...yeah, yeah!  I heard about that one.  Boy, Rup, that was some job.  I heard you hit him from something like three-hundred feet.”

 

Jones waved his hand magnanimously at Mickey.  “Nah, it was less’n that.  But I’ll tell you what, I sure as hell got him good!”  

 

By the way Rupert was slurring his words, Mickey knew he was in the homestretch.  “DeFusto...wasn’t he the reason that the hit was put out on Vic Monte about a year ago?  Wasn’t that the one Hutchinson and Starsky interrupted?”

 

Jones scowled, his face becoming dark.  “Yeah, stupid son-of-a...that’s how Hutchinson pulled it off, getting under Monte like he did.  See, Monte even checked it all out when the cop said he was on the take and wanted to get in on some action.  Stupid, stupid...” Jones seemed to suddenly sober.  “Hey, you and Hutchinson’s partner—Starkley or Starskby or whatever—didn’t you used to feed him?”

 

Mickey paled, but kept his composure.  “Yeah, but that’s ancient history.  Sure, I used to give him a little information every now and then, nothin’ big.  I’m not that stupid!  Nope.  Just enough to keep them off my backs, ya know?  And that all ended with Forest—”

 

“Yeah, yeah!  I heard about that!”  Jones laughed, his drunken state increasing along with his volume.  He slapped the smaller man on the shoulder.  “You settin’ up Hutchinson with Forest?  Yeah, you screwed them over good, Mick, real good!”

 

Mickey smiled nervously, glad he was able to deflect suspicion.  He handed the other man the bottle and began backing away to the door.  “Hey, look, Rupert, I gotta go.”

 

Jones was well on his way to oblivion and didn’t really care.  “Where ya rushing off to?  We still got a few snorts left.”

 

“You finish it.  I gotta see a man about a horse.”

 

˜ 

 

The next morning, Rupert Jones thought he was having one very bad tequila-induced nightmare.  The pressure on his chest was uncomfortable to the point of pain, and he was feeling more and more like he might throw up. 

 

Jones cracked one eye open, but when he realized the black thing in his line of sight was the barrel of a pistol pointed at his forehead, both eyes flew open as he tried to sit up.  Unfortunately, the weight he’d felt on his chest earlier was attached to the gun in the form of one very angry-looking man.

 

“If you were trying to get some beauty rest, I’d suggest you sleep for another couple years, Jones.”  The violence in the man’s voice made Jones sober immediately.

 

“What do you want?” Jones wheezed, unable to draw a sufficient breath.

 

“A little information.”  The man shifted to make himself more comfortable, adding to Rupert’s discomfort.  “And my partner’s killer.”

 

“Your partner?”  Jones swallowed hard as the recognition struck him.  “Starskby.”

 

“Close enough.  Now that you’ve figured out who I am, you must know who I’m looking for.”

 

“I didn’t kill your partner!”

 

Even though the words cut through him—to hear someone else say it out loud—Starsky didn’t flinch.  “Don’t get excited, I’m not saying you did.  But I’ll bet you know who did.”

 

“I don’t, I swear!”

 

“Okay, let’s pretend for just a moment that I believe you.  Then let’s pretend that I’m not going to blow your head off, just because I’m mad enough to.” 

 

“Oh, come on!  You wouldn’t—”

 

Starsky moved like a panther, spilling off Jones to stand at his bedside, one fist buried in the man’s  t-shirt, drawing him out of the bed. 

 

“What makes you think I won’t, Jones?” Starsky hissed, the barrel of the gun buried in the flesh under the quaking man’s chin.  “Do you see this gun?  Huh?”  Starsky waited for Jones’ eyes to flicker down to the weapon.  “This is my partner’s gun.  It’s a Python, and it can blow a hole through a man the size of New Mexico.  Just imagine what it’ll do to your head.  Now, nobody knows I have Hutch’s gun.  They all think it disappeared when he got snatched.  So if I were to blow your greasy little head off right now, the cops would think that whoever killed Hutch used his gun on you, too.”

 

“Don’t...please, don’t...”

 

Something inside Starsky twisted at Jones’ begging, the disgust he felt toward himself rising like bile.  But rage won out.  “I want Vic Monte.”

 

“No!”  Jones’ eyes widened further, and he started to quake in earnest.  “I don’t have anything on Monte.”

 

“He ordered you to kill my partner!”

 

Jones sucked in a breath.  “How’d you know...?  Mickey!  That little son-of-a¾

 

“How I found out is the least of your worries.” 

 

“I didn’t kill Hutchinson.  I swear on my mother’s grave!”

 

“You didn’t have a mother.  They made you out of spare parts.”  Starsky flicked off the weapon’s safety.  “Okay, so you didn’t kill my partner.  I still want Monte.”

 

“I got nothing else, man.  Monte, he never leaves a trail.  He just does the bossing around, you know?  He tells his lieutenants, and they carry out his orders.  That’s how I got my jobs.  The only time I ever spoke to the guy was when he told me to take out Hutchinson.”

 

“What about payments?”

 

“No, never Monte.  He has an accountant.  He takes care of all that.”

 

Something in the back of Starsky’s mind danced around a memory.  Hutch had told him early on in the case that no one ever mentioned the name of the accountant.  Whoever that person was knew every detail of Vic Monte’s accounts and dealings, and would most likely be able to provide the police with a testimony strong enough to put the mobster away permanently.  The accountant would know, too, all the hit payoffs that had happened, including Hutch’s. 

 

Starsky pushed Jones back on to the bed.  “Rupert, this just may be your lucky day.”

 

˜ 

 

Starsky’s mind was running at a furious rate, desperately trying to piece together all the names, dates, places, and events he’d been given over the last day and a half, along with the evidence Hutch had collected.  The dispatcher’s voice broke through his thoughts, and he scowled.

 

“This is Ze—.  This is Starsky.”

 

Static greeted him, indicating that the operator had the microphone depressed, but was saying nothing for that instant.  Starsky, stand by for a patch from a Mr. Bear.”

 

“Roger.”  Starsky waited until he heard the familiar change in frequency, indicating a phone-line hookup.  “Whatcha got, Hug?”

 

“Actually, I’ve got one big Huggy Bear Super Special over here with your name on it.  I suggest you beat feet, before this burger lacks heat.”

 

Starsky almost smiled.  “Thanks, Hug, but I’m kinda busy right now.  Did you hear anything more back from our friends, Jones or Mickey?  Like where I can find Vic Monte’s accountant?”

 

“No, man.  Those two are layin’ lower than the belly of a pregnant snake.  I think they’re waitin’ to see how things turn out, and you can make good on your promise to relocate them, dig?”

 

“Got it, Hug.  Thanks.”

 

“Don’t thank me yet.  Wait ’til you get yourself over here and wrap yourself around this burger, then you can thank me.”

 

“Some other time, okay?  Thanks, Huggy.  Starsky out.”  He returned the microphone to its hook, the thought of eating turning his stomach.  As he turned toward the canal, the cottage came in sight.

 

˜ 

 

The silence that greeted him was unnervingly familiar.  Somehow, Starsky thought the small house should have felt devoid of life by now, bereft of the essence of his partner.  He shouldn’t have been surprised, he reasoned, since he never quite felt as though his partner was truly gone.  But he also knew that part of Hutch still lived, if only deep inside the quiet place of his heart.

 

Starsky had insisted, demanded actually, Hutch’s apartment be left as it had been found, arguing that it was still a crime scene, and until the investigation was closed, it would remain untouched.  Prowling the familiar rooms, however, awakened an ache deep inside. 

 

Questing hands caressed different items as he passed by—a statue, a plant, Hutch’s artwork.  Every item he touched seemed to have a special meaning to him.  The angel statuette, tipped over from its place on the coffee table, brought a lump to Starsky’s throat, and his Adam’s apple bobbed convulsively, trying to swallow back the flood that seemed to well up from the pit of his stomach. 

 

As he looked around the small house, he was struck by a forgotten memory.  Hutch had three places within his home where he would stash things.  Starsky crossed to the overturned bookcase and sorted through the still-damp books until he found the volume he was looking for.  He quickly thumbed through the pages of “All the President’s Men,” racking his brain to recall which page Hutch would have scribbled on or tucked a note into.  Using the book as a place to leave information had started as a joke between them, and they had yet to actually use it.  He hoped Hutch had remembered it as well.

 

Turning the paperback over, Starsky gave it a vicious shake and was rewarded by a scrap of newspaper falling out, darkened by the water that had saturated it days before.  He quickly grabbed up the newsprint and scanned it.  It was simply a corner piece out of the LA Times; the story on it was of no immediate importance.  But in the margin, two words were hastily written, though they made no sense.

 

“Jaw June?”  Starsky racked his brain, desperately trying to place the words in any kind of context, but came up empty.  He stuffed the paper into his pocket, planning to enlist Minnie’s help by running it through the Department’s records.

 

The other two likely hiding places for Hutch to stash clues—a loose ceiling tile and the saucer of a planter—provided nothing further.  He continued to prowl the cottage, fearing that he’d miss some small bit of helpful information. 

 

Moonlight gleamed off the golden face of Hutch’s guitar.  Starsky shook off the image of his partner playing—the sure, strong hands confidently bringing the instrument to life, Hutch’s clear tenor voice piercing him...

 

Starsky realized he had moved on into the bedroom without consciously making the decision to go there.  In his exhaustion, he’d had more and more episodes like this, where he wouldn’t remember how he’d gotten to a particular destination.  Crossing to the closet, he rifled through his partner’s wardrobe again, checking the pockets of clothing in the event that Hutch had left behind any information that could support the Monte case, or point him toward his killers. 

 

At the back of the closet, he felt the familiar wool of Hutch’s favorite casual coat—the black and white jacket Starsky had always thought looked like it was missing a Pittsburgh Steeler’s emblem.  A shiver ran through him, and he tried to convince himself that he was simply chilled.  Starsky slipped on the jacket and finished looking through the closet. 

 

After not finding any further information, he moved outside.  Hutch’s car had been towed back to the cottage from where it had been found abandoned in the inner city  and sat silently in the driveway.  Starsky gave a wave to the officers staked out in the house next door before climbing into the passenger seat.  The two officers had been moved into the nearby cottage, temporarily displacing the older couple that lived there, in order to watch Hutch’s place in the event the killers returned to the scene for whatever reason.  Starsky began feeling around under the front seat, but found only trash ranging from styrofoam coffee cups to a partially used can of shaving cream. 

 

Opening the glove compartment only revealed their logbook and trip sheets.  There were no new entries since a stakeout several months ago.  After throwing the books on the dashboard, he twisted and leaned back over the top of the seat to check the back.  It wasn’t long before he slid back down, disgusted by the assortment of debris littered there.  Starsky shook his head fondly, never having quite figured out this one facet of his partner.  His eyes fell upon the logbook and he drew it back into his lap, unraveling the memories of their last stakeout together.  The evening had been uneventful, and they whiled away the hours with idle chatter between snatches of sleep.  

 

Before he realized it, Starsky’s body relaxed in the familiar seat, and his natural defenses took over.  He slept, somehow comforted.

 

˜ 

 

Rachel Starsky made her cautious way off the airplane into the concourse.  Through the terminal’s windows, the setting California sun streaked her hair with red and gold and, despite the lateness of the day, warmed her face.  She was greeted by a throng of people anxiously awaiting their first glimpse of those they had come to meet.  She sighed wearily, knowing the one face her heart ached to see wouldn’t be there just yet.  

 

She looked around, hoping to see the one waiting for her.  Finally, she spotted him, standing at the edge of the crowd holding a large cardboard sign with the name “Mrs. Starsky” hand painted in bright purple letters across the face.  Smiling in spite of the circumstances, she made her way over to the large man who held the sign.

 

“Hello,” Rachel said, reaching out to shake hands with Captain Dobey.  “I’m Rachel, David’s mother.”  Her voice evidenced having lived in the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn all her life.  She looked with amusement at the sign the captain held, thinking she would have known him anyway by the way her son had described him over the years.

 

“Mrs. Starsky,” Dobey acknowledged, returning the handshake.  He followed the petite woman’s gaze to the sign he still held.  “My kids.  They were afraid we might miss each other.  It gave them something to do.  Ever since...it happened, they’ve wanted to do something to help out.  They’re very fond of your son...and Hutch.”

 

Rachel smiled back at the captain and followed him as he led the way to the baggage claim area.  She pointed out her suitcases and Dobey retrieved them.  “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Captain.  Please, call me Rachel.  And I think it’s very sweet that your children would do something like that.”

 

The captain had taken the liberty of parking his car in the airport’s loading area, an “Official Police Business” card hung from the rearview mirror, keeping the tow trucks at bay.  He placed her bag in the sedan’s trunk, and the two settled in the front seat for the ride to the station.  There was an uncomfortable silence that lasted several minutes until Rachel could stand it no longer.  “How is he?”

 

Captain Dobey glanced her way briefly, then turned his attention back to the road ahead.  “About like you’d expect, I guess.  Exhausted one minute, driven the next.”

 

“He never did call me, you know.  After I talked to you that night, I kept waiting for the phone to ring, but it never did.  Does he know I’m here?”

 

He shook his head.  “He knows I called to tell you about Hutch.  Said he tried to call a few times, but kept missing you or something would come up.  I was going to tell him you were coming this morning, but he was out the door before I could open my mouth.  He’s with the Hutchinsons right now, finalizing the plans for the...uh...services tomorrow.”

 

Rachel leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes, her heart breaking from the thought of her son’s grief.  She had been horrified when Dobey had called her with the news, and had immediately accepted his generous offer of plane fare when he suggested it.  She naturally responded that she would repay him, but the captain didn’t seem too concerned.  His entire focus was on her son and his well being, and for that, Rachel was grateful.

 

She opened her eyes once more and turned to look at the man seated beside her.  “Thank you, Captain...for taking care of him and me.  I’m glad he has someone like you to be there for him in times like this...”  Her voice trailed off as the tears she could no longer contain spilled down her cheeks.

 

Dobey somehow managed to wrestle a clean handkerchief from his coat pocket and offered it to her with a gentle smile.  “Here.  Take this.  We have about thirty minutes until we get to the station, so you go ahead and cry.  You need to be strong for Dave, but not for me.”

 

The rest of the ride into town was silent except for Rachel’s tears as she prepared herself to face her son.

 

˜ 

 

The radio in the Torino crackled to life, and Mildred’s voice came over the speaker.  “Zebra Th—.  Starsky.  Come in, Starsky.”

 

Starsky glared at the radio and sighed heavily.  He had just left the Hutchinsons, after choosing the casket and laying out the order of the service, and he was numb.  Hutch’s parents had been understandably upset about not being able to see their son’s body one last time, but after the autopsy, the coroner adamantly discouraged it.  The Hutchinsons reluctantly agreed to a closed casket, and Starsky found that handing over his partner’s favorite blue suit for burial had unnerved him in a way he’d never expected.

 

Now his goal was to put as much distance between himself and the polite, sterile sympathy that had surrounded him at the funeral home.  With that ordeal over, searching out and dissecting information gave Starsky a reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  The sound of Mildred’s voice a second time prompted Starsky to pick up the handset. 

 

“Yeah, this is Starsky.  Go ahead.”

 

“I have a patch-through for you from Captain Dobey.  Stand by...”

 

Starsky waited impatiently for his captain to come on the air.  “Starsky?”

 

“Go ahead, Cap’n.”

 

“I need you to stop by the station for a few minutes.  There’s someone here that needs to see you.”

 

“About Hutch’s case?”  The hope in Starsky’s voice stung the captain.

 

“No, but—”

 

“Aw, c’mon, Cap’n,” Starsky groused, cringing at the prospect of having to make nice with the Feds or worse, the IA boys.  “I’m in the middle of something here.  Can’t it wait?”

 

“Not this time, Starsky.  Now get yourself in here and that’s an order.  What’s your ETA?”

 

“I’ll be there in five, Cap’n.  Starsky out.”

 

Starsky gritted his teeth and ran a hand through his thick curls.  He was already on edge, his nerves strained to the breaking point.  Heaving a weary sigh, he violently jerked the steering wheel to the left and headed resolutely to the station. 

 

Within the promised five minutes, Starsky was parked in front of the station.  His knuckles were white with tension as he pried his fingers from the steering wheel and, taking a deep breath, climbed from his car.  Deciding to get the inevitable over with as soon as possible, he climbed the stairs to the squadroom with as much speed as his exhausted body could muster.

 

Without preamble, Starsky knocked on the door of Dobey’s office, and, hearing a muffled “come in” from somewhere inside, threw open the door and entered.  He was surprised to see that Captain Dobey wasn’t in his office, but instead, standing at the windows in a floral print dress and sweater was the woman he would have recognized no matter where he saw her.

 

“Ma?” he whispered in disbelief.

 

Rachel smiled, her eyes glistening at the sight of her son. 

 

Without another word, Starsky and his mother walked toward each other with outstretched arms and fell into a deep embrace.  Outside the office, Dobey smiled to himself as he gently closed the door.

 

˜ 

 

Starsky stood alone beside his small kitchen table, grateful that his mother had given in to his wishes to stay at a hotel rather than with him.  He knew she had only wanted to comfort him, but her kindness would be wasted.  Right now, there was nothing that could reach through his grief.

 

A match was struck and he held the tiny flame against the wick of the candle.  He didn’t care that he wasn’t following tradition, in that Kaddish was to be said the day after the death of a loved one, but he believed God wouldn’t mind so much.  Slowly, in broken Aramaic, Starsky prayed.

 

“Y’hay shlomo rabbo min sh’mayo¾May there be abundant peace from Heaven¾v’chayim alaynu v’al kol Yisroel¾and life upon us and upon all Israel¾v’imru Omein¾and say Amen¾Oseh sholom bimromov¾He who makes peace in his high holy places¾hu ya’aseh sholom olaynu¾may He bring peace upon us¾v’al kol yisroel¾and upon all Israel¾vimru Omein¾and say Amen.”

 

The prayer finished, Starsky sat down at his kitchen table.  The blank sheet of paper lay before him, and he stared at it, searching his mind as to how to begin the eulogy.  What could I possibly say?  How do I put down on a piece of paper an entire lifetime?

 

Memories came unbidden, glimpses of thoughts and feelings.  Moments of sheer joy and exhilaration flooded him, as did the moments of heartrending grief and loss.

 

Starsky didn’t realize how long he’d sat staring at the paper, but the shadows around him had grown long.  Exhausted, he pushed himself off the chair and tossed down the pen—the eulogy would have to wait.  Nothing was captured on the page except a few drying tears. 

 

˜ 

 

By 3:30, it was standing room only, even though the funeral home had allotted its largest chapel for the service.  Starsky sat rigid in his seat at the front of the room, eyes glued to the rich mahogany casket draped with an American flag.  Numbness detached him from the proceedings, as if he’d found himself in the middle of a nightmare with no way to wake up.  Although he knew it was morbid, Starsky tried to imagine what Hutch’s body looked like within its wooden confines.  It didn’t seem right that Hutch’s family and friends wouldn’t even get a final glimpse of the man they all knew and loved.  He, at least, had touched his partner one last time, even if the skin beneath his fingertips was already cold with death.

 

The service began promptly at 4:00 with the BCPD’s chaplain saying a short prayer and a few appropriate words.  Mr. Hutchinson then got up and spoke, but for all Starsky knew, he could have been giving a weather report.  He found it impossible to stay focused on anything that was being said, his attention completely absorbed by the coffin in front of him and the finality of the closed lid.

 

Captain Dobey also stood to speak, hesitant in his delivery, but proudly listing Hutch’s accommodations and citations throughout his tenure: their outstanding arrest record, Hutch being cited twice for bravery, his receiving the mayor’s award for outstanding service in the line of duty...  The captain’s words began to filter into Starsky’s beleaguered mind, his heart rekindling with pride what his partner had been able to accomplish in so short a lifetime.

 

Finally, it was Starsky’s turn to deliver the eulogy.  With his head bowed and taking careful, deliberate steps, he made his way to the front of the chapel.  He retrieved several sheets of paper from the inner pocket of his suit and smoothed them on top of the podium with shaking hands.  For the first time, he allowed himself to look around at the assembled crowd, and he felt the band around his chest lessen a bit.  It seemed that everyone he and Hutch had ever known was present—from the commissioner to several ladies of the evening, including a tearful Sweet Alice and a few homeless people who had been on the receiving end of Hutch’s generosity.  He thought, and not for the first time, only his partner could bring together such a diverse group of people.

 

Taking a deep breath, Starsky began to read his prepared speech.  “We have come here today to...to celebrate Hutch’s life...and...and to...”  Starsky’s voice trailed off, and he stared blankly at the pages in front of him.  After a moment, he folded the sheets in half and stuffed them into his pocket.

 

Starsky gripped the sides of the podium as he lifted his head again to meet the eyes looking back at him—some full of pity, others with compassion, and a few reflecting the anger he knew was evident in his own.  He cleared his throat and started over.  “I had a speech prepared.  I was up all night writing and rewriting it to try and say just the right thing.”  His voice tightened as his throat worked convulsively.  “But there is no ‘right thing’ to say.  I never...I...I never thought I would have to do this.  We always thought we’d go in the line of duty, we knew that could happen.  We accepted it.  But I never thought I’d be the one to...  I know we’ve come to celebrate Hutch’s life, and that’s good.  That’s...right.  Hutch deserves that.  But it isn’t right that we have to come here to say good-bye.”

 

Starsky’s eyes gleamed as he struggled to maintain his composure.  Unable to meet the pitying gazes before him, he looked at the top of the podium for a moment, blinking rapidly.  “Hutch was the best damn cop I know.  He was my partner; he was my best friend.  I...I don’t have to tell any of you what an incredible person he was.  That’s why you’re here.  Hutch would have given you the shirt off his back and the last buck in his wallet.  And sometimes he did.  He put everything he had, everything he was into the job.  He’d work himself to death for a case.  He—”  Starsky stopped, realizing the gravity of what he just said.

 

Mrs. Hutchinson and a few others were openly crying now, giving in to their grief.  Everyone looked expectantly at Starsky as he tried to continue.  “I...loved him like a brother.  But he was more than that.  He stood by me when nobody else would.  He was my friend when I didn’t deserve one.  He showed me what it meant to live your life for what you believe in, and then...and then he showed me how to die for it.  Hutch was...the best.  My life changed when I met him, and it’ll never be the same now that he’s gone.”  Starsky’s rage swelled again, and his eyes burned as his gaze raked the crowd.  And I swear by everything I have and everything I am that I will find whoever is responsible for taking him away from us.”

 

A heavy silence filled the room as Starsky stood lost in his own fury.  The stillness was broken by a sob from Hutch’s mother, her grief slicing through Starsky’s tumultuous thoughts.  He continued with a tenuous control on his emotions, his voice barely above a whisper.  “I’m sorry.  We wanted this to be a time to remember Hutch...to celebrate his life.  I...I don’t think I know how do that just yet.  Not yet.”

 

Starsky left the podium and returned to his seat, his breath coming in one shuddering draw.  He sat down heavily, and Huggy draped an arm across his shoulders. 

 

After an awkward moment of silence, two uniformed officers strode up the center aisle, turning in unison to face the mourners.  Starsky, Huggy, Dobey, Hutch’s brother-in-law, Ted, and two fellow detectives rose and made their way to the front of the room, lining either side of the casket.  Starsky felt his composure crumble and wanted nothing more than to run from the stifling room, but he knew he had to keep himself together a bit longer.  Grasping the brass handle, he would carry his partner one last time.

 

On signal, the six men lifted the casket onto their shoulders, Starsky standing in front at Hutch’s shoulder, just as he had throughout their partnership.  From the back of the chapel, sounded the mournful wail of bagpipes, heralding the strains of “Amazing Grace.”  Swallowing hard, Starsky steeled himself and began the trek down the chapel’s aisle to lay his partner’s body to rest.

 

Inevitably, the time came for the procession to the gravesite.  Starsky climbed into the limousine next to Hutch’s parents, grateful for the invitation to ride with them, yet consumed with guilt and grief.  The ride seemed interminable, and he heaved a sigh of relief when they finally arrived at the cemetery.

 

Once everyone was in place, Dobey stood to face the gathered assembly.  Clearing his throat and casting a glance at Starsky’s stricken face, he began to speak.  “I don’t know what else I can say about Hutch that hasn’t already been said.  He was a fine police officer, one of the best I’ve seen in all my years on the force.  But more than that, he was a friend.  Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson, I want you to know Ken was like a son to me.  He was part of my family and...we all miss him.”  His voice breaking, he swiped a hand across his eyes before continuing.  “And, to honor your son, his life, and his dedication to the force, we will bury him today with full honors.”

 

At a nod from Dobey, two officers in dress blues stood at rigid attention and approached the casket, as a lone bugler began the exquisite notes of “Taps.”  With respect and reverence, they removed the American flag draped over it and folded it with precision.  When they had finished, they turned in unison and crossed to the Hutchinsons, offering the folded banner to Hutch’s mother.  Mrs. Hutchinson shook her head decisively and whispered something to the officers, a fresh torrent of tears cascading down her face.  With a nod, the officers executed a perfect military turn and walked over to Starsky.  The stunned detective wordlessly accepted the flag.

 

He hadn’t thought it was possible to hurt more than he did, until he watched Hutch’s casket begin its slow descent into the earth.  His hollow gaze was finally torn away from the wounded ground as Edith led Cal and Rosie to a gentle slope just to the side of the burial pavilion.  No explanation was needed as Cal reached into the cage his sister carried and withdrew a single dove.  The mourners watched as it gracefully rose to the freedom of the sky.

 

One by one, family and friends walked past the freshly turned earth, each dropping a single red rose onto the top of the coffin in silent tribute.  Starsky hung back, waiting until everyone had filed past before he, too, approached the grave.  He allowed his rose to join the others, but instead of stepping aside, he reached into his pocket.  Those who were standing close by—Dobey, Huggy, the Hutchinsons, and a few others—could hear his strangled whisper.

 

“Hutch...these were not only what we did, but who we were.  I promise I’ll keep going and try to do you proud, but I can’t carry this one while I do it.  I’ll get another one, but this one belongs with yours.  This was...this was us...this was me and thee.”  Starsky gently released into the grave what he had clutched in his hand.  

 

Nestled among the flowers on top of the casket, intertwined by their clasps, were two shields—a silent testimony to the partnership, shining gently as if by a power of their own.  “I don’t know how to tell you good-bye, Hutch, so I guess I won’t.  I miss you, partner...I...”  Starsky stood at the edge of the grave, at a loss for what he could possibly say to express all that was within him.  Hastily wiping his eyes, he found cold comfort in the knowledge that Hutch would know, as he always did, even if he couldn’t find the words.  Starsky turned and walked away from the crowd, as the report of a twenty-one-gun salute reverberated through the air.

 

˜ 

 

Starsky yanked at the knot in his tie for a third time, knowing the choking pressure in his throat had little to do with the offending material.  He kept his sunglasses on in the hall where the reception was held, and, while they were distinctly out of place, those in attendance didn’t give it a second thought.  No one had to see Starsky’s eyes as evidence of his pain and rage; the tense muscles of his jaw were visible enough. 

 

He had become adept at skirting most people, and preferred to hover close to Edith Dobey’s side.  The woman seemed to have a knack for intercepting those offering their condolences to the one left behind.  Starsky’s mom stationed herself at the Hutchinsons’ side, gently stepping in when the grieving parents seemed to falter. 

 

Starsky followed Edith into the small kitchen just off the banquet room.  After retrieving a tray of sandwiches to replace the diminishing one, she paused and looked out the door at the crowd.  “David, have you seen Rosie?”

 

Starsky drew closer to her and scanned the room.  “No, not in the last couple of minutes.”

 

Edith moved toward the buffet tables.  “She’s probably outside, and it’s getting dark.  I’d better send Cal—”

 

“No!”  Starsky’s response was immediate.  “I’ll take a look around.”

 

Before Edith had a chance to refute the offer, Starsky made a beeline out one of the side doors and disappeared into the dimming light.

 

˜ 

 

It hadn’t taken long to find her.  The little girl had avoided the small rose garden lined with benches where the occasional couple wandered through, and had made her way to a gazebo nestled at the edge of the property.  The small structure was constructed more for its scenic value than function, so no path led to it, and anyone wanting to see it closer would have to walk across the facility’s lawn to get to it.  Even in the dimming light, Starsky could easily spot the white lace yoke of Rosie’s dress.

 

Hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks, Starsky slowly made his way to where Rosie sat on the plank floor, staring at her shoes.  Once he reached his destination, he lowered himself onto the single step and leaned heavily against the building, staring at the fading colors of sunset.  A few moments of silence lingered until Rosie finally spoke.

 

“Uncle Dave?”

 

Starsky swung his attention to the little girl, still staring at her shoes.

 

“Do you think he’s in Heaven?”

 

The opening of his arms was all the invitation Rosie needed to crawl onto Starsky’s lap, her face pressed against his chest.  Starsky hugged the little girl to him, her head tucked under his chin. 

 

Rosie’s parents found them there a half-hour later, drawing comfort from one another and discussing which star was now Hutch’s home.

 

˜ 

 


Chapter Eight