Out of the Mists

 

Chapter Nine

 

Starsky had rolled off the bed and landed in a sprawl, the sheet entangling his legs.  He had reached the cottage around 7:00, and had fallen asleep within minutes of stretching out on Hutch’s bed.  He had slept soundly for three hours, until the ringing of the telephone sent him scrambling.  It had taken him a moment to recognize where he was and get his bearings before he could find the receiver.  “What?”

 

“Starsky?”

 

Starsky quickly focused, the tone of his friend’s voice piercing his mind’s fuzziness.  “Yeah, Hug?”

 

“Listen, man, something weird just went down.  Eddie just came in here¾

 

“Eddie?  Eddie Doyle?”

 

“Yeah, he just came trippin’ in here, gives me this note.  Says...says it’s for Hutch, man.”

 

“What?”  A chill ran down Starsky’s spine. 

 

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  But I figured he meant the note was for you, seeing as how he was always getting your names versavica.  Anyways, I read the note, and whoever wrote it said they’ve got some information on your partner’s murder and to meet them at two a.m. at some place called The Cove.  I ain’t never heard of no place named that.  You know where they’re talkin’ about?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I do.  Who’d Eddie say gave him the note?”

 

“He wouldn’t say.  Said it was a secret but it was important.”

 

“Terrific.”  Starsky’s mind raced.  “Huggy, has anybody handled the note besides you and Eddie?”

 

“I don’t think so.” 

 

“Look, do me a favor.  Stick it in an envelope and I’ll swing by and pick it up.  There might be prints, or¾

 

“Starsky, it looks like Eddie wrote it, not whoever gave it to him, so I don’t know if¾

 

Starsky cursed.  “Yeah.  Yeah, okay.  It’s worth a shot.  Did it say anything else?”

 

“Yeah.  It also said to come alone—no other cops.”

 

Starsky snorted and pulled himself back onto the bed. 

 

Huggy fidgeted with the phone cord.  “You don’t need The Bear to tell you that it sounds like a trap, right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“’Cause you been stirrin’ up an awful lot of hornets’ nests.  Could be almost anybody.”

 

“Yeah, but if somebody knows what happened to Hutch, I’m not going to chance¾

 

“Are you nuts?  Tell me you’re takin’ the cavalry with ya.”

 

“Look, Hug¾

 

“At least let me ride shotgun.”

 

“No, listen.  I’ll show up there early and check it out.  If you don’t hear back from me by three, then call Dobey at home and tell him everything, and to send a unit to the north end of Ventura Beach State Park, got it?  Thanks, Hug.”  Starsky finished the instructions in a rush, not allowing his friend any time to try and stop him.

 

˜ 

 

Starsky walked along the beach, just out of the waves’ pull.  An hour before the appointed time, he was cruising the north end of town, desperately trying to find Eddie Doyle in all his usual haunts, including the missions and Salvation Army, but with no success. 

 

The temperature dipped significantly as the clouds danced in front of the moon, hiding its brilliant reflection.  He huddled within his jacket, seeking whatever warmth it could offer against the night’s chill.  Occasionally, he stopped and turned toward the water, watching the brief stretches of moonlight try to burn through the fog and dance across the waves.  As he continued down the beach, the mist caused by the falling temperatures thickened to the point that it grew harder to see the ground in front of him.  Starsky rolled his head back, trying to release some of the tension in his neck and shoulders.  Looking at his watch for what felt like the hundredth time, he decided he’d waited long enough for the requested contact.  It was nearing 3:00 a.m., and he knew Huggy would be phoning the captain as soon as the minute hand struck twelve.  With a sigh, he turned and wearily began his trek back to the parking lot and home. 

 

Starsky had only taken a few steps when a voice behind him breathed his name, stopping him cold.  He knew he was beyond exhaustion and that the mind could do incredible things under enormous stress and grief, but he was unprepared when the voice spoke again, closer and clearer.

 

Starsky’s rage returned, his anger directed both inwardly and toward anyone who would dare play him this way.  With his heart racing, he drew his Beretta and spun, crouching, the weapon thrust forward.  Before him was only the mist and the silence broken by the lapping waves.  Starsky’s eyes darted into the thickening fog, his anger turning to nausea with the realization that he truly was losing his grip on reality.  He shook his head, desperate to dispel his confusion. 

 

And disappointment. 

 

The second he began to relax his guard, the mist thickened further, obscuring the beach.  Starsky’s eyes grew wide as a shadowed figure began to form out of the mist, hesitantly making its way toward him.  The form stumbled, as if uncertain of the terrain.  Starsky shook his head, his pistol again thrust before him in a one-armed draw as he backed away from the apparition.

 

The silhouette took on a more defined form as it approached him, a wavering arm outstretched in supplication.  The nightmare advanced, a disembodied voice speaking his name out of the mist.

 

Starsky continued to back away until he stumbled against a piece of driftwood, toppling him to one knee, the Beretta still thrust before him.  He watched in disbelief as the figure continued its hesitant advance.  With only yards between Starsky and the shadow, the moonlight broke free of the clouds, burning through its hazy shroud.  Starsky felt the world tip as the figure took shape, the moon finally revealing a shadowed face.

 

Starsky’s hoarse whisper was half denial, half prayer.  “Hutch?”

 

Both of his partner’s hands were held before him in response to Starsky’s trembling gun hand.  “Easy, Starsk, easy.  I know this is a shock, but it’s okay.  I’m okay.”  Hutch’s voice was raspy; his face was gaunt with pain and fatigue.

 

Starsky’s own face paled further, and he shook his head vehemently.  No, no!  You’re¾

 

“Starsky, please.  I know how this must seem, but it’s going to be okay.”

 

“NO!”  Starsky surged to his feet; his extended gun now steady, fueled by his rage.  “I buried you!”

 

The Hutch figure staggered.  “Starsk, listen to me!  The night we faked my arrest we went into the hall.  No one could hear our conversation, right?  We argued.”

 

Something in Starsky’s demeanor changed, hope warring with disbelief.  Hutch pushed on.  “Do you remember what you asked me?  Do you?”  He waited for Starsky’s hesitant nod.  “You asked me who I could trust, and I answered¾

 

“Me and Thee,” Starsky finished, his throat working convulsively against the flood that swept over him.  The Beretta dropped from numb fingers.  “Hutch?”

 

“Starsk...”  Hutch reached out for his partner just as unconsciousness claimed him, his eyes rolling back as his legs collapsed.  Starsky caught the limp body and eased it to the sand where he knelt, cradling his partner’s warm, living body against his chest, and wept. 

 

˜ 

 

Starsky had wavered between deadly cohesiveness and exhausted ramblings since Hutch’s funeral.  Huggy wasn’t surprised in the least to get the call from his friend only seconds before the 3:00 deadline, requesting to be met at the back door of his restaurant in half an hour.  Starsky was cryptic and offered no further explanation.  Yawning, Huggy unlocked the door to the alley and peered outside, the sight of the Torino instantly greeting him.  Starsky was early and leaning over the folded down driver’s seat into the back of the car, struggling to pull something out.  Huggy’s jaw dropped when Starsky straightened and turned with his burden to face him.

 

“That’s not¾?”  Huggy couldn’t finish the sentence, staring in disbelief at what appeared to be Hutch’s limp corpse.  “Have you lost your mind?” 

 

Starsky pushed past him.  “I’ll explain later.”

 

Shocked, but not without his wits, Huggy peered in each direction of the alley for any uninvited guests, then secured the door behind him before racing up the steps in Starsky’s wake.

 

˜ 

 

The small room was silent except for the ticking of the wall clock and the occasional moan from the figure on the bed.  Starsky sat on the bedside, staring at his partner as he slept fitfully.  He and Huggy had relieved Hutch of his damp clothes and dressed him in a pair of pajama bottoms.  When Starsky took the opportunity to check his partner for injuries, an injection port imbedded behind Hutch’s knee was discovered.  The second-degree burns on Hutch’s face were all but healed, looking more like faded sunburns.  The bruises and scrapes Starsky had observed on his body at the morgue were now a faint gray-yellow-green. 

 

Starsky wearily looked over to Huggy.  The sense of déjà vu was not lost on either of them.  Unshed tears burned in Starsky’s eyes.  “He’s alive, Hug.”

 

Huggy nodded grimly, his joy tainted by the hell they had all been through, and a thousand unanswered questions. 

 

Starsky’s gaze returned to his partner’s sleeping form, and he rested his hand on the blond’s wrist, relishing the warm pulse that danced beneath his fingertips.  “I don’t understand any of this.  I don’t know where he’s been or what he’s been through.  But he found his way back, somehow.”

 

Starsky’s face turned hard with a new thought, and Huggy pitied whoever would be on the receiving end of the detective’s fury.  “I don’t know who did this to us, or how they pulled this off, but I’ll find them.  And I swear, Hug—they’re gonna regret that they ever took us on.”

 

˜ 

 

Huggy had finally convinced Starsky to lie down for a few hours while Hutch slept.  Initially, the two had been torn whether or not to rush Hutch to a hospital, or at the very least, call in a friend of Huggy’s¾a retired physician, who volunteered his time at one of the city’s local clinics.  Knowing Hutch had been coherent earlier and moving of his own volition, however unsteadily, Starsky decided to wait it out for a few more hours.  Whoever had snatched Hutch had gone to an enormous amount of effort to fake his death, and Starsky didn’t want to give them the opportunity to make that illusion a reality.

 

At first, Starsky refused to relinquish the task of protecting the sleeping blond, until Huggy went to a small closet and drew out a baseball bat and a twelve-gauge shotgun, then positioned his chair to face the doorway.  No one attempting to enter the room would pass without his permission. 

 

Starsky climbed onto the bed bedside his prone partner and lay facing Hutch.  As much as he wanted to keep his gun in hand, he knew better and, after engaging the safety, tucked it back in his waistband.  Starsky’s hand reached out almost reverently and he gently rested it on Hutch’s shoulder, causing a genuine smile to break across his face.  The breath Starsky felt he had been holding for an eternity was finally exhaled as he closed his eyes, and within seconds, he was asleep.

 

˜ 

 

When Hutch woke, he had an unnerving moment of disorientation, until he remembered the nightmare he’d been living, or rather, almost living.  The blond groaned with the memory, which sent the sleeping figure next to him rolling off the mattress and into the small space between the bed and the wall.  Huggy leapt up from his sentry position near the door, accidentally sending a round from his shotgun into the ceiling.  Starsky’s disheveled head popped out from behind the bed, along with his drawn weapon, eyes wildly searching for the threat. 

 

“It’s nice to know some things never change.”  Hutch’s grin took the sting out of his sarcastic words.  Nothing could take away the joy of finally being home and safe.  After Starsky shook the cobwebs from his head, he crawled out from his cramped spot.  Hutch swung his legs over the side of the bed, while Huggy’s attention was divided between his friends and the damage to his ceiling. 

 

Hutch pushed himself up to stand, but misjudged his weakened state and began to topple.  Starsky was beside him in an instant, his hands latching on to Hutch’s forearms to steady him.  As Hutch gave him a grateful smile, the partners’ eyes locked for a moment before the steadying grip gave way to a bone-crushing embrace. 

 

When Starsky finally pulled away, he held Hutch at arm’s length to study him critically, not liking at all his partner’s condition. 

 

Huggy finally broke in.  “I don’t know which one of you looks worse.” 

 

Hutch nodded his agreement.  “You don’t look so great, pal.”

 

“Me?  You look like¾  Starsky shook his head, gratefulness tinged with an anger he didn’t know what to do with.  “I don’t suppose you want to tell us what the hell’s been going on?”

 

Hutch nodded, but looked away to meet Huggy’s probing stare.  “Hey, Hug.”

 

“I don’t mind tellin’ ya, your disappearing act seemed like the real deal.”  Huggy’s face tightened, guiltily wondering if Hutch had purposefully executed the charade. 

 

Hutch chuckled without humor.  “Yeah, well, they sure knew what they were doing.” 

 

“Yeah?  So, who’s they?” Starsky growled.

 

Hutch’s eyes flickered back to Huggy.  “I’ll tell you everything, but, Huggy—I’m sorry.  I think the less you know, the safer you’ll be.”

 

“What?  You think I’d¾?”

 

No, no.  It’s just that we’ve never been up against something this big before.”

 

Starsky broke in.  “He deserves to know who.”

 

Hutch nodded, staring at the floor as the waves of memory washed over him again, sending a chill down his spine.  When he looked up again, his eyes were hard.  “The FBI.  They did this.”

 

Starsky’s and Huggy’s reactions were swift and violent.  Starsky tightened the grip on his partner’s arms.  “You’re telling me that the Feds faked your death?  Why?”

 

Hutch reached up to rest a hand on his partner’s shoulder.  “Apparently, they made the decision for me that I should go into protective custody.”

 

Starsky’s hands dropped away.  As he stared at the floor for a moment, the other two men could feel the rage within him rise up like a living thing.  Finally, Starsky exploded, spinning away from Hutch and snatching up the chair Huggy had occupied moments before.  It was smashed violently against the floor, splinters scattering across the carpet.  The backboard that Starsky salvaged was then thrown across the room, shattering the mirror into dozens of shards.  Hutch sagged back down onto the bed, too weary to stop his partner’s tirade, or join in. 

 

A muffled call from the first floor of the restaurant stopped Starsky cold.  Huggy raised a hand to reassure the others.  “That’s the cook wonderin’ what kind of woman I got up here.  I’m gonna go down and feed him some story, then get the kitchen prepped for the lunch crowd like I always do.  Soon as I can, I’ll flash up here with some coffee and something to eat.”

 

“Good, I’m starving.”  When Starsky’s demeanor changed at the mention of food Huggy grinned, knowing that, with the return of his friend’s appetite, everything would somehow be all right—at least, once the partners exacted their revenge.  Huggy extended a hand toward Hutch, and the blond clasped the other’s wrist.  “I’m glad you didn’t...I’m glad you’re back, man.”

 

Hutch squeezed the thin wrist and nodded his appreciation.  His voice was low, his words meant only for Huggy.  “Thanks for watching out for him.”

 

Huggy nodded once and left the room, leaving the shotgun beside the door. 

 

Hutch pulled himself up farther on the bed, resting his back against the wall.  Starsky finally sat, facing his partner. 

 

Hutch sighed.  “Where do I start?” 

 

˜ 


Chapter Ten