The car pulled to a stop in front of Venice Place. The blond man remained seated silently in the passenger seat, unable to face his dark and lonely rooms this night. He cast a sideways glance at his partner who was patiently waiting for him to get out of the car. O'Donnell looked tired and much older than his 47 years. Hutch suspected that he wasn't in better shape himself; it had been that kind of a day.
He knew it would surprise O'Donnell, who wasn't used to any kind of invitation into one minute of his taciturn partner's day apart from what duty dictated, to be asked, but at the moment Hutch couldn't help the hesitant words. "Would you come up for a while?" He clamped down on the `please' that almost left his mouth. "Have a drink?"
It didn't startle O'Donnell as much as Hutch had thought. The older man just looked sad. "Uh, thanks. But not tonight. We have to be at the Courthouse early."
Hutch blushed, already regretting the impulsive invitation. "0h, that's right. Sorry, I...I forgot," he stammered, immediately starting to get out of the car.
"Hutchinson," O'Donnell called out. Reluctantly, Hutch leaned back into the car. "I'm sorry. It's just that right now I have to go home. See my kids. I've got to...."
He didn't finish, but Hutch understood, grateful that his partner had taken the trouble of trying to explain. "I know. It's all right. I'll see you tomorrow."
The one thing he had to be thankful for this day was that he didn't have any children himself. A father would naturally need to rush home. O'Donnell was a better partner than he had any right to ask for, a patient and considerate man, but he had his own needs and concerns. It was unreasonable to expect him to pamper a generally sullen associate who happened to be desperate for some company for a change. Hutch couldn't blame him, especially when he'd made a shambles of the kind of partnership that included all such comforts in the past.
There wasn't much of anything to do except take a shower and go to bed. Hutch left the shower when the prolonged scrubbing turned his skin an angry shade. There wasn't enough water to wash the day away. He threw himself on the bed, the endless reels still whirling behind his eyelids.
A week's worth of exhaustive investigation had led them to a makeshift porno studio, but something had gone wrong. There had been a leak either at the department or the DA's office; the only thing yielded at the raid had been miles and miles of celluloid, countless little rectangles frozen in time, depicting how too-young bodies could be used and abused. The detectives had sat through them to see if any of the participants could be identified. All they had managed to do was to isolate some facial shots and descriptions of children to be passed onto Juvie and Vice. The grownups involved had been too smart to commit their faces to film, even if the camera had been interested.
Children. Who should've been safely home, where a bed was a place to sleep, drugs were for upset tummies and colds, where meals were something a mother gave you, not what you paid for with your body.
Guess how your son spent his day, Mother, Hutch thought, remembering the woman who had been an angelic vision to his young eyes, before he had grown up to see how shallow her breathtaking beauty was, and how false all those lovely bedtime stories had been. God was good, God was fair, God loved all children and kept them safe as Kenneth Richard Hutchinson was safe in his pretty world of tales and toys, hopes and expectations of his family. A perfect golden boy in his perfect world.
Mother, look at the crown prince you've proudly presented to Father. Do you even know that the world he now lives in exists? Look at what I've seen, Mother. What stories do you have to tell now? I'm sorry for disappointing you, but are you at least a tiny bit sorry for lying to me?
Exhaustion took over. Slipping under, Hutch hoped that the next day would be a better one. He would have sold his soul for one solitary good day.
The next day was worse; so bad that he could only think of it as if it were written on a surveillance blotter, penned by impersonal hands.
9:00 AM, court appearance for Sgts. Hutchinson and O'Donnell; arraignment of Tyson, Charles K.: extortion, loan sharking, racketeering.
9:09 AM, charges dismissed on a technicality by Judge Katherine Connelly. "Floating" the defendant's arrest sheet, deliberately delaying Tyson's interview with his lawyer, and gathering evidence by "Spit it out or else," were found to be poor police practice.
9:20 AM, Sgt. O'Donnell left the Courthouse.
9:26 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson called to Judge Connelly's chamber for a reprimand on his outburst in the courtroom. He was given a lecture on correct arrest, booking, and charging procedures.
10:10 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson was called to the phone to receive another lecture from his superior officer, Captain Dobey, who had just found out the results of the Tyson case.
10:30 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson summoned to stand ready to give testimony in the manslaughter case: People vs Hauptmann. Original murder charge reduced to manslaughter under plea-bargaining.
1l:35 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson called to the stand. Parts of his testimony which established a previous rape charge filed by the victim against the defendant were thrown out on the grounds that a previously dismissed case had no bearing on the present one. He was threatened by contempt when he insisted that the rape charge had been dismissed because the victim had been intimidated into withdrawing her testimony, and now that she was dead at the hands of the defendant, the manslaughter charge was a joke.
11:50 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson was dismissed and noon recess was called.
2:20 PM, in the Courthouse hall, Assistant DA Mallory told Sgt. Hutchinson that if the DA's office was going to file on the gangland slaying case on circumstantial evidence, that evidence had to be a lot more substantial. Sgt. Hutchinson promised a follow-up.
3:47 PM, verdict brought in on the People vs Hauptmann case: three years, with parole eligibility in one.
4:20 PM, Sgt. Hutchinson reported to Metro, and found out that Sgt. O'Donnell had taken leave as a prelude to submitting his resignation. He also found out that the suspect he intended to interrogate about the gangland slaying had been released on bail and couldn't be located. He was summoned to Capt. Dobey's office to be assigned a new partner, Det. 3rd Grade Terence A. Washington. However, Det. Washington voiced reservations about the assignment, and Sgt. Hutchinson had to wait until an agreement was reached.
4:52 PM, Sgt. Hutchinson officially introduced to his new partner. He then logged out at 5:15 PM and went to see his former partner at the hospital where 0'Donnell was visiting his wife. O'Donnell stated his reason for resigning as simply that he'd been fed up; the dismissed case had been the last straw.
6:25 PM, Sgt. Hutchinson left the hospital to go home.
7:32 PM, he had a visitor.
She was wearing a white dress that spoke of modesty in its cut, but accentuated every curve in clinging folds. "Kira."
"May I come in?"
Almost without volition, he stepped back, and she brushed past him, trailing in wisps of a scent which stirred in him memories of dark pleasures. Leisurely, she wandered around, engraving her presence on his territory. She commented on his plants and other things. None of it made an impression, except her seduction-wrapped-in-innocence femininity. The dress had a sheen which traveled intimately along her hips and limbs, like the caressing of invisible hands.
My God, Hutch realized, I want her again. Still.
He knew it was wrong. She had already been given a final answer. He had no right, now, to single-handedly make a mockery of that mutual stand. But that time seemed so far away, only an echo of something long lost, and she was here, close, available, desirable. He remembered, startling himself, that he hadn't had a bed partner since the last morning with Kira. It hadn't been for lack of desire, but any time he had thought of it, he had decided that he simply didn't have the energy to play the games which led to the bed. And hookers had never been his style.
Kira was waiting for an answer. The way the light frolicked on her honey-colored curls as she tossed her head had captured his eye; he hadn't caught her words. "Excuse me. What?"
"I said, aren't you going to offer me a drink?" Was that an all-knowing smile on her face?
"Uh, sure. What would you like?"
"Anything," she answered, her smile widening.
Hutch went to the kitchen and reached up to open the cupboard for a glass. He didn't notice she was right on his heels until she insinuated herself between the cabinet and him, her body molding easily against his as if it existed in some warm, semi-fluid state. He looked down at her; she leaned back against the countertop to be able to look up at him. The movement pushed her lower body into his and he suddenly found it hard to breathe.
"Kira, what do you want?" All I have to do is take a step back, he assured himself, still rooted to the spot.
"Nothing you don't also want," she said with a small motion of her hips, "obviously."
He hated his mindless, indiscreet male body. "That's all? Is this all you want, Kira?" He pushed himself against her, unsubtly, hoping to make her pull away; he seemed incapable of doing it himself. It didn't work. Her eyes half closed, face melting into an expression he'd seen before, an expression he had been glad, then, he could create.
"Why not?" she breathed, a harsh note in her whisper, contrasting with the soft sensuality of her features. "Against your principles to be wanted for your body? You should've thought of that when you two were snarling over me as if I were a pound of meat, when you and your partner so generously offered to make it no more than a lousy three-way."
He attempted to pull away, but her hands gripped his hips as she rotated her own, and the impulse was stilled. His hands also went to her hips.
"Two can play at that game, is that it? I warn you, Kira, you bring it down to this level and you'll find out that men have very few scruples."
"No kidding?" It was a haughty challenge, body and voice taunting.
He had known there would be no room for gentleness, but she had also seemed hell-bent to give form to a destructive anger, so he hadn't cared. While it was happening, there was a savage exhilaration to unleashing selfish impulses without a thought, and she was more than capable of matching him. It blazed, totally out of control, burned itself out too quickly, and Hutch realized he had been unprepared for the sense of absolute emptiness that he should have known would follow.
He rolled off of her, feeling drained and just wanting to forget the whole thing. He heard her get up, move around, and go to the bathroom. He couldn't bother to open his eyes. Noting by touch that his shirt wasn't even unbuttoned, he tugged it down, and zipped up his jeans, doing his best to avoid touching the sticky wetness. His only thoughts were that he had never done something like this, not even in the eager, fumbling days of adolescence, and that they had both carefully shunned kissing each other. A little nauseous, he straightened up enough to lean against the kitchen cabinet.
He heard Kira come out of the bathroom, hoping she'd quietly leave. But she came close and stayed there. He felt her eyes on him. A hand touched his shoulder, then moved to his temple to brush back his hair. The touch was unexpectedly gentle. He opened his eyes, and, with surprise, saw that her face matched her hands. Desperately needing a bit of tenderness, his every instinct wanted to respond, at least to pretend that there had been some semblance of feeling behind it all, other than a need to inflict punishment.
A memory intruded: sprawled on the dance floor, while the world was still tilted at a crazy angle, the echoes of the explosion dying around his ears, panting with the exertion of subduing the murderer and there was Kira, touching the man gently, almost caressing him, soothing him in a soft, caring voice.
The compassion a victor could afford to spare for a defeated foe?
Suddenly, her touch made him shiver. "You like wasting your sympathies, don't you? Makes you feel superior?"
Her face hardened instantly and the hand fell away. Maybe she had been sincere; he didn't know. It didn't matter. He seemed destined to butcher every kindness offered to him. This was such a small transgression compared to other sins he had committed in that area.
"What now, Kira? Did you try your brand of revenge on Starsky already, or is he next on the agenda? Or were we supposed to invite him in on this bit of fun and games?"
Her eyes, now chips of ice, bore into him. Mockingly, she said, "Starsky? What's a Starsky?"
"Damn, you're cold!" He turned his face away. "He loved you, for God's sake."
She jumped to her feet, her fury a palpable thing. "Well, congratulations, you goddamned hypocrite, `cause you've coined the phrase! He loved you, too. Far more than he ever thought of loving me. And if you knew he loved me, what were you doing in my bed? How come you wanted to know how I felt about him? Wasn't the fact he loved enough for you? You're a joke, you know that? `I don't make love to a woman unless I like her,'" she mimicked him, and motioned at the floor where they had coupled like two mindless beasts in heat. "Any other noble-sounding lies, you bastard? Who the hell are you to judge me? If you think I somehow wronged Starsky, consider this: I probably did him the favor of his life by showing him what a fraud you are!"
Only seconds later, the door slammed after her. The echoes remained.
It had been one of those countless witticisms, heedlessly tossed out and promptly forgotten. The last thing he wanted to do was to remember it. But she had brought it back. With clarity, he remembered her dark house where he had no business being, wanting what he had no right to want, Kira reminding him of things he didn't wish to be reminded of at that moment.
"Starsky said you were supposed to be guarding Susan tonight."
"Who's Susan? What's a Starsky?"
Now that the thoughtless remark was resurrected, parodied on Kira's bitter tongue, his mind wouldn't spare him the answers.
Just a man, another cop, a partner, an accidental adoption at first on whose part, he still didn't know. Then so close a bonding that for eight years others had seen one being which cast two shadows, so confused by the fact that it had two names that they could never keep straight which identity belonged to whom.
Someone to work and play with, share with, laugh and cry with, talk and listen to, stand up for, depend on, hold on to, trust and never doubt.
The one who stayed when others left. The one who put the pieces back together again.
The man who couldn't understand that hanging the most virtuous titles on people didn't necessarily make them saints like brother...partner...best friend....
Click to see larger image
This was more like it. In this bar nobody would refuse to serve him drinks like the bartenders in two previous bars. Here, as long as he had the money to pay, nobody would give a damn.
Hutch looked around, unable to decide what portion of the obstructing haze was smoke, and what portion was the alcoholic fog inside his brain. It dawned on him that he was in the kind of place where one could get lost forever and never be heard from again. He chuckled. He had a free day coming to him, and if he never returned, it was nobody's business.
Another thought surfaced like a sluggish swimmer through molasses: Kira. Sitting in front of officials. We understand you're the last person to see Detective Hutchinson before he disappeared. Tell us the circumstances of your meeting.
Let her try and put that `meeting' into proper words.
He laughed out loud. It didn't rate even a blink from anyone. Nice place, he decided.
Maybe not. Who the hell was that young man watching him intently from the other side of the bar? Hutch squinted through the haze and the man turned away. Something about him bothered the detective. With the condition of his brain, it took a while to work through it. Fresh-scrubbed look, suit; short, tidy hair: out of place in this dive. Hutch decided that if the man had any sense, he'd stop ogling strangers and worry about getting his own ass out of there.
He also looked familiar. A lot like a Fed. Where did I see him, the detective wondered, then dismissed the thought. He didn't care. The drink in front of him deserved more attention.
A while later, he realized that the stool next to him was occupied when something was whispered close to his ear. He spared the woman a brief glance, and motioned at the bartender to give her a drink. He thought it best to warn her in advance. "Don't expect anything else."
She wasn't inclined to listen. In a few minutes, unsubtle fingers were crawling up his thigh. He pulled his leg away. "You're wasting your time, honey. Won't work right now if my life depended on it."
Her hand returned, more insistent this time, as she assured him of her abilities. He slapped it away. "Forget it. I'm not drunk enough for that." He turned to look at her closely. "Don't think I'll ever be, either."
"Hey, blondie." His stool was roughly turned around. "That ain't no way to talk to a lady."
Hutch found himself looking up at a man as wide as he was tall, and the detective suspected that if he stood up he wouldn't be the taller of the two. Instead of being intimidated, he found himself actually enjoying the turn of events. "Sure ain't. But where's the lady?"
"Watch it, big-mouth. All my girls are ladies."
Feeling totally reckless, Hutch stood up and goaded him some more. "Oh, I see. What's the matter? Can't find what keeps your girls happy through that tub-o-lard so you have to let the johns take care of `em?"
The invited blow came. Although Hutch had been fully expecting it, he didn't make a single move to defend himself, didn't even try to avoid it. As the counter took his weight, breaking his fall, he noticed the nosy man at the end of the bar getting up, as if to interfere.
What's your problem, boy? This is no place for good Samaritans. Keep out of it.
He was turned around. He tried to grin defiantly at the large man holding him against the bar, winced at the pain the movement caused, and dabbed at his lip. His fingers came away bloody. The sight cheered him unaccountably. On one level, it hurt like hell; on another, it felt so damn good good enough to want more. But the colossus wasn't obliging; he was waiting for Hutch's reaction. Just his luck to run into a relatively mild-mannered pimp. Some more prodding was in order.
The blond almost swung, but a glimmer of sanity penetrated and he stopped himself. He knew he was in no shape to walk away from a fight, and he was wearing his gun. He couldn't let a lethal weapon be taken from him and added to the arsenal of the streets. Instead, he raised his hands, palms open.
"All right, all right. You made your point. I'm sorry." He pulled out his wallet and got some money. "Here, will this make up for it?" His shirt was released and the money disappeared out of his hands. For good measure, he handed some bills to the woman and decided to get out of there while he still could.
By the time he was outside, the alcohol in his system had brewed to full potency. Suddenly, the street tilted and the buildings whirled around. He sank on one of the steps in front of the bar. Somehow it wasn't solid. It seemed to buck under him. He closed his eyes against the crazy, spinning shapes of the world, waiting for the dizziness to pass. A dog barked, somewhere a baby cried, somewhere else people were arguing, music blared from inside the bar, traffic noises off in the distance: a cacophony of sounds. Going in and out of the bar, people stepped around him, finding nothing worthy of attention in the huddled man.
He tried to think. Knowing he wouldn't be in condition to drive, he had opted for taxis. Now he was blocks away from the main drag, wherever that was. He wondered what he was doing there. A cop shouldn't be sitting in a street he wasn't even sure how to get out of, shouldn't have provoked a two-bit pimp in a sleazy bar.
What did I want? A fight?
Yes, Father, it is for my good. I know. Am I good now?
Please, I want to be good.
A bout of nausea put a stop to thoughts. When it passed, all he wanted to do was to go home.
He staggered to his feet and chose a direction at random. Soon, an unbroken darkness registered. He looked around. A junkyard was on one side, dark factories on another, judging by the shadows jutting up against the slightly lighter darkness of the sky. The streetlights had been used for target practice. He thought he should go back, but it was too much bother to make his feet change direction.
All roads lead to...wherever.
He passed an alley. Vaguely, he sensed bodies populating its recesses, and a warning went off in his brain. Backed down from a fight. Wrong place. Bound to attract the hyenas.
Before he could heed the warning, hands were all over him, dragging him into the alley. Street-trained hands, street-ruthless. He tried to fend them off, found them too numerous. Pain punctuated parts of his body, something felt white-hot in his brain, then the abrasiveness of the ground was under his cheek, harsh hands roaming through his clothes.
There was a roar of motor, and an unexpected light pierced the darkness, making him squeeze his eyes shut in defense. He sensed the thickening of the crowd around him, heard noises over the pounding already inside his skull. Somehow, he seemed to be at the eye of the storm, left alone while something raged around him.
Then hands were on his body again, solicitous this time. He was pulled up, thought he was going to pass out, fought it. He was supported, moved, and deposited on a surface much preferable to the ground. Car seat, he realized.
"Kenny," he heard. "Kenny, are you all right?"
"We should take him to the hospital," someone said.
That penetrated. A fine showing for a cop. "No," he said, rallying. "No hospitals.... Just "
"Let's leave him alone for a minute," someone decided. "I think it looks worse than it is."
Conversation went on around him. "What do you want done with them?"
"Oh, just leave them. Someone will sweep up."
"This must be his wallet. Here's the driver's license. Hutchinson, right?"
"There's the badge. I suppose the gun belongs to him, too."
"Let me see. Yes, he's wearing a holster."
"Kenny, I'm taking you to a hospital. Something could be broken," a voice said decisively as the Magnum comfortingly slipped into its place and things were deposited into his pockets.
He groped for the arm and whoever it belonged to. "No. I'm okay. No."
"Tell you what. Let's find a place to clean you up a bit, then we'll see."
His legs were pushed into the car. The door closed and the vehicle moved. The motion was torture. He kept his eyes tightly closed, his head resting on the back of the seat. Shortly, they came to a stop and the door was opened again.
"Let's not move him," the driver said to someone. "Go get some wet towels or something. Oh, see if you can find black coffee."
Hutch cracked open his eyes. Curiosity was getting the best of him. They were on a well-lit street, in front of a bus terminal. He was in a sporty car, a sleek European number. Exactly what, he couldn't decide at the moment. Expensive, though. He glanced at the man next to him. Who?
There were five or six other casually dressed men crowding around the car, looking ready to be helpful. Surely not all of them had fit into the vehicle. He looked back and saw a van parked there.
Some cavalry. But who? Why? How? He recognized one of the men outside: the interested stranger at the bar. What the...? Someone started wiping his face with wet paper towels while someone else dusted off his clothes, straightening them. He put up with it, trying not to flinch away. A hot cup of coffee was offered. He took a sip, choked at the heat and bitterness, then forced himself to buckle down and drink it, finally managing to hold it for himself.
Feeling somewhat better, he looked questioningly at the man in the driver's seat; he seemed to be in charge.
"You don't remember me, do you?" A friendly smile accompanied the question.
"I'm sorry...I'm not " He looked closer. A man around his own age, solidly-built, in a sports suit, looking classy, with thinning brown hair and a goatee. "I feel I...should, but..." Very pale eyes, so washed out that they could be any color and nobody would know the difference. "Wait a J...John No, Jonathan." He rifled through the disarray in his brain. Duluth. High school. His circle of the more privileged kids. "Jonathan M...Miller, right? Miller."
The smile widened. "That's right. Good to see you again. Been a long time."
"What're you ?" He felt too dizzy to keep his head up any longer. He leaned back again. Someone removed the Styrofoam cup from his hand. "How did...?"
Miller understood. "Coincidence. A while ago, there was a TV coverage of, uh, I think it was a reinstatement ceremony. I pointed you out to some friends. One of them recognized you tonight and called me when he thought you could be in trouble. I brought a few people with me and " Hutch pressed his palms against his throbbing head. "Anyway, never mind all that now. We should get you checked out."
"No," Hutch objected again. "I'm okay. Could you...just take me home?"
"If you're sure."
"I am. Believe me. I've been hurt...enough times...to know."
"Okay." Miller thanked the group of men outside, then started the car. "Just stay there and relax. We'll catch up on old times later."
They drove to Venice Place in silence. Hutch managed to make it up the steps on his own, needing a hand but loathe to admit it. He wondered how he was going to locate the keyhole, but he ended up knocking the key to the floor when he groped for it over the door, and Miller picked it up to unlock the apartment.
"Will you be all right?"
"Sure. I just need...to sleep it off...that's all." Nothing wrong with my ability to lie through my teeth, he decided.
"I'll come by tomorrow. I mean, later today. Is that all right?"
"Fine." He wished Miller would go away before he fell flat on his face.
"Maybe we'll go out to lunch."
Hutch nodded, although the words had instantly made him doubt he'd ever eat again. He made an effort to spare a bit of the breath he was using to hold his stomach down. "Thanks.... For everything."
"Any time. See you later."
Miller was gone by the time it dawned on Hutch's hazy brain to wonder how the man had known his address; he couldn't remember giving it to him, and his driver's license still carried the address of the cottage on the beach. He was in no shape to hold onto a thought, though. He considered himself lucky for finding the couch before he passed out.
It was almost dawn when his stomach finally decided to carry on with the rebellion, and woke him up. Stumbling to the bathroom, he tried to lean over the commode, but a sharp, stabbing pain flared in his side. His shoulder injury had started hurting again as well. Unable to lean, he dropped to his knees, finding them also bruised. Then the separate aches and pains convulsed into one bundle of misery.
Getting the poisons out of his system left him very weak. He sat back and reached into the tub to turn the water on. He washed his face, gingerly, and rinsed out his mouth. He drank some water out of his palm, knowing he shouldn't, but feeling so parched. As soon as it hit his stomach, the liquid made him even more lightheaded. He wondered how he was going to get up. Getting drunk alone was a miserable experience. Being alone with the consequences of getting drunk was even worse. He hadn't done either by himself for so long that he had forgotten how it could feel. There was supposed to be an arm available, usually as unsteady as his own, but there.
You take the prize, Hutchinson. You discard something as if it were yesterday's newspaper, and the first time you regret it is when it's not fun to heave up your guts alone. How generous of you.
He remembered that not so long ago he had thought that this isolation he had wished on himself had conferred some sort of freedom. Before attempting the feat of getting up, he rested his forehead against the cool tiles, while in one corner of his mind a line from an old song taunted him:
"Freedom's just another word for nothing-left-to-lose."