Striped Tomato (email@example.com)
Disclaimer: The following story was written for entertainment purposes only, to be shared with friends and other fans, with no profit made and no money changing hands. No infringement on the rights of anyone with ownership of the Strsky & Hutch characters or stories is intended.
"And now, I do believe
That even in the storm,
We'll find some light.
Knowing you're beside me,
I'm all right..."
-- "Through the Eyes of Love"
Hutch had not enjoyed overriding his partner's protests and taking him to the hospital. Starsky sat slumped in the passenger seat, dressed in the clean sweatsuit he had luckily still had in his gym bag in the car. The last thing Starsky had needed was to be poked, prodded and questioned by medical personnel, but in addition to playing it safe and making sure he didn't have any serious injuries, the department would want the medical report as part of their case against Marcos' people. The last thing Hutch wanted to do was stand in the way of nailing those bastards for everything they deserved.
Still, Starsky had given him the silent treatment all the way home from the emergency room visit. Maybe it wasn't conscious. He'd been angry--no, not exactly angry, but frantic--at being taken into the hospital and separated from Hutch. Eventually, Hutch had protested waiting in the hall and had shoved his way in to be with Starsky, who had taken a crushing possession of his hand and not let go until they were in the car. His emotional state had barely passed the doctor's inspection, but he had gotten a hold of himself sufficiently to insist on being released if he wasn't suffering anything life-threatening.
"Starsk?" Hutch reached over and patted his partner's shoulder. "You okay, buddy?"
"Uh-huh." Starsky didn't move his eyes from the passenger side window.
"We're almost home. Hungry at all?"
"Stomach still upset?"
"The doctor said the effects of the drug should wear off completely over the next few hours. Thank God they didn't give you anything stronger."
"It was strong enough."
"I know, buddy," Hutch responded quietly, pulling up in front of Starsky's place. "Home sweet home," he announced, hoping to rouse some significant response from Starsky. He had no luck. Hurrying around the front of the car, he opened the passenger door and coaxed the huddled figure to come out. The sun was shining, which to Hutch was a comfort that reinforced his elation at finding Starsky alive and relatively unharmed. The light seemed like an annoyance to his partner, who squinted against it like a mole yanked unexpectedly out of his lair. His steps were a little unsteady as he leaned against Hutch for support, but they finally made it inside, and Hutch deposited Starsky on the couch so he could turn back the bed and get the water started to fill the bath tub. When he returned to the living room, Starsky was curled up on his side on the couch, shivering.
"Whadd'ya say we get you into a nice hot tub, huh?" Hutch thought this would be a relaxing thought, but instead watched as Starsky's body seemed to stiffen out on the couch.
"No. Just let me be, okay?"
"But you'd feel better if you got cleaned up, buddy--"
"I've been purified," he mumbled. Hutch pulled the throw off the back of the couch and covered his partner, sitting on the edge of the couch next to him.
"What does that mean, Starsk?" he asked softly.
"Please, just...I don't want to..."
"It's okay. Shhh," Hutch spoke over Starsky's agitated and confused mumblings. "Nobody's going to make you do anything you don't want to."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to snap at ya," he mumbled.
"It's okay, pal. Feel like you could sleep?" Hutch stroked Starsky's hair lightly.
"Think so." He was quiet a few moments, and Hutch thought he had already lost consciousness behind the closed eyes until a very quiet question reached his ears. "Do you hafta go back t'work?" It was a little slurred by sleep, but held a tone of urgency nonetheless.
"I'll be right here, buddy. Just relax. It's all over. I'm right here." Hutch remembered sitting next to Starsky on another couch, not all that long ago when Starsky's arm wound around his knee. That shooting had left Starsky with some occasional pain in his shoulder and arm. Must feel great to be hung by your wrists for God knows how long, Hutch thought. He was trying to picture what his partner's arms and shoulders and back felt like, and finally pushed the thought aside. He was alive, and according to the doctor, bruised and exhausted, but all right.
Eventually, he disentangled himself from the arm that had gone limp across his knee, tucking it carefully under the throw. Starsky moaned a little in his sleep at the movement, but didn't wake.
Hutch made it to the bathroom to turn off the water just as it reached the top of the tub. He drained part of it out, and then decided to take advantage of it himself. If he hadn't been listening attentively for any peep out of Starsky, he could have easily leaned back in the warm water and slept soundly. As it was, he was relaxing more than he wanted to. After drying off, he dug through Starsky's closet until he found a pair of his own jeans and a blue plaid shirt Starsky had more or less "confiscated" from him a couple months earlier. For some reason, Starsky had gotten it into his head that he wanted that shirt, and he'd tried every trick in the book to borrow it, and finally succeeded.
He barely finished getting dressed before he heard the first sounds of distress from the living room.
Starsky was thrashing around on the couch, screaming in his sleep. Hutch tried to restrain the flailing arms and speak in soothing tones, but he couldn't make himself heard over Starsky's own voice. He couldn't control Starsky's movement anymore than he could talk to him. Finally, he tried climbing onto the couch on top of his partner to get some leverage, but the other man thrust upward violently, knocking him to the floor and upsetting the coffee table. Starsky slid off the couch himself, crawling across the floor with a speed and skill most people lose with adulthood.
"Starsky!" Hutch finally grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arms around Starsky's chest, managing to get a grip on both his hands and pulling them back toward him. Starsky writhed miserably under the restraint, but the longer he was held firmly against Hutch, some of the worst resistance seemed to be leaving him.
"It's dark," he moaned, his voice breaking. "Please, Daddy, let me out!"
"Starsk, come on, wake up, buddy. It's me. It's Hutch."
"You gotta believe me...Daddy, please, no more...it hurts," he sobbed, going almost completely limp, his head falling back against Hutch's shoulder. "I'm tellin' the truth."
"Starsk, come on, wake up, it's me." Hutch couldn't figure out what Starsky's father had to do with Marcos' goons, but something had triggered a tie-in in Starsky's mind. "Hey, come on, buddy." Hutch turned him gently so they were facing each other. Still supporting the limp body with one arm around his shoulders, Hutch carefully patted Starsky's face, avoiding a couple of bruises inflicted by the cult that seemed to become more colorful by the moment. "Starsky, open your eyes, it's okay."
"I saw it... It hurts...no, Daddy, please...I'm scared," he murmured through a whimper.
"It's all over, babe. No reason to be scared anymore. Come on, look at me. Look at me, Starsk." He took a firmer grip on the other's chin. "Starsky, it's me. It's Hutch. Open your eyes and look at me. It's daylight, the sun's shining and you're safe." He watched while the wet eyelids fluttered a little, then opened. "Starsky?" He watched his partner's glassy-eyed expression with deep concern. "Starsky, who am I?" He waited an intolerable period of seconds before he saw any sign of focusing.
"Hu--Hutch?" Starsky's voice was small and wavering, but at least he was becoming more coherent.
"That's me, partner. Come here." He pulled the body that felt like a wet noodle into a tight embrace. Despite his seemingly languid condition, Starsky returned the pressure fiercely, as if he were being dangled over a cliff with only Hutch between himself and a yawning abyss.
"I was...so...scared," he whispered brokenly into Hutch's ear.
"I know. You're safe now. I've got you. Nobody's gonna hurt you, you hear me?" The dark head nodded.
"He didn't believe me. He wouldn't stop..." Starsky's hands were flexing on his partner's back, clutching the fabric of the shirt until Hutch expected it to tear. Whatever he was reliving, the intensity of it was unnerving. And it seemed to have almost nothing to do with Marcos.
"Who do you mean, Starsk?" Hutch stroked Starsky's hair as he pressed his partner's head close against his shoulder.
"My dad," he groaned out the two words. "He said I was lyin' but I wasn't."
"About what, buddy?" Hutch had started a slight rocking motion, and Starsky seemed to be relaxing slightly, the flexing fingers settling and a little of the worst tension in his body easing.
"I know what I saw," Starsky asserted in a small voice.
"You want to tell me what it was? I promise I'll believe you." Hutch kept up a light patting on the other's back, relieved to feel the ragged breathing evening out a little.
"Can't...tell anybody," he replied, shaking his head slightly against Hutch's shoulder.
"You can tell me anything, remember?" Hutch asked softly.
"But I get punished for lying." The body tensed again, the fingers began their flexing until they latched onto the fabric in a death grip.
"You're telling the truth, Starsk. Nobody's going to punish you for that--or for anything as long as I'm around. Hear me?" Starsky nodded and relaxed a little. "Okay then. Do you want to tell me what's scaring you so much?"
"The basement...it's dark down there." It was barely a whisper.
"Wrights' basement down the street."
"Starsky, look at me," Hutch urged Starsky up from his slumped position against him. Holding his partner's face in both hands, he tried to be sure he was really coherent, because he seemed to be jumping time frames from the past to the present with considerable speed. "Down the street from where?"
"Starsk, do you know where you are now?"
"'Course I do--my apartment."
"Okay. Just wanted to be sure. Wrights' house was down the street from the house you grew up in?"
"Yeah," Starsky nodded slowly.
"Hey, you wanna move over to the couch?"
"Okay." Starsky stayed on the floor while his partner stood and started to pull him up by the arm. A loud yelp froze that movement in its tracks.
"Still pretty sore, I guess." He rolled onto his hands and knees and when he straightened, Hutch got an arm around his waist and gave him an upward pull.
"How long were you...tied up like that?" Hutch asked as Starsky settled on the couch, and he left him long enough to get a washcloth from the bathroom. He sat down and was surprised when Starsky slumped against him again, resting his head on Hutch's shoulder. Hutch jostled him only enough to get an arm around his shoulders.
"Long time, probably. I came to that way. I just know it hurt." He closed his eyes and relaxed against Hutch's shoulder, enjoying the sensation of the cool cloth cleaning off his face. "How'd I get on the floor over there?"
"You were having a bad dream and I guess you didn't want to wake up real badly. We wrestled a little," Hutch answered quietly, bringing the throw around Starsky's shoulders. "You want to tell me about the Wrights, Starsk? Who were they?"
"They lived in our neighborhood. Alvin Wright and my dad went to school together, were real good friends."
"From what you were saying to me, it sounds like you saw something in their basement." He felt a shiver pass through Starsky's body.
"I don't remember."
"You remembered something, buddy. And whatever it is, it's just a memory now--no reason you have to be afraid of it. And you're not facing it by yourself--I'm right here with you, buddy."
"I...I went over there...and...I saw something..."
"You told your dad and he didn't believe you?"
"You don't even have a flicker of what it was?"
"It scared me, but I don't remember what it was... I know I told him to go look in the basement, but he wouldn't believe me."
"Why don't you just tell me what you remember?"
"My dad was good friends with Al Wright, but his kid was a real jerk--the school bully. I think I learned how to fight just to get around that goon. I hated him, Hutch. He was sneaky, sadistic...he used to pick on everybody. I told my dad and he said I had to grow up and fight my own battles--that if Dennis Wright was pickin' on me it was probably because I hadn't given him reason not to."
"Isn't that logic a little warped?"
"There's street sense to it. If there's a bully, and you don't set him straight, let him know you can't get kicked around, he's gonna keep kickin' ya around. You're not gonna change the bully, Hutch. You're just gonna get him off your back. Just like with us when we establish a kind of image with people on our beat--it's not that they aren't still thugs or hoods or pushers--but how they interact with us has a lot to do with the image and the reputation we establish."
"Okay, so I see his point. How old were you?"
"Seems like stiff advice for a nine-year-old."
"Just as well. Little over a year later and he wasn't there to fight my battles anymore anyway, so I guess it's good I learned to do it myself early on."
"So you established some kind of reputation or image with Dennis?"
"Sure I did," Starsky responded sarcastically. "He was half again my size--I sucker-punched him once and he beat the hell out of me. After that, it was like open warfare--I hated him, he hated me and that made our fathers mad because they were friends. 'Course his father thought I was a wuss--a crybaby, and he talked my dad into thinking I was blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Worse than that, though, he told my dad I had sucker-punched Dennis and stolen his lunch money. Which I didn't--steal his lunch money, I mean. I did punch him. Good, too." Starsky was smiling a little.
"At least you got one good lick in."
"Yeah. Not that it was worth it," he responded, the smile disappearing. "When my dad got Al's version of the story, he bought it, and since stealing wasn't kosher with him...I had a lot of trouble finding something on me that didn't hurt after Dennis beat me up and my dad got through with me."
"I didn't think your father hit you." Hutch felt a shiver run up and down his spine. Dear God, was he an abused child and I never recognized it before?
"Not real often. Neither did my mother. But he had a few rules that you just didn't break--no stealing, no cheating, no lying and no mouthing off to Ma. As long as you avoided doin' any of that stuff, he was okay. If you did...he really let me have it."
"Because he thought you were stealing--"
"And lying to cover it up."
"How did all this tie in to what you saw in Wrights' basement?"
"Dennis kept this...vendetta going on--well, pretty much one-sided--between him and me. I was afraid of getting hauled down the basement by my dad again so I tried to stay away from Dennis as much as I could. He was always after me--he knew his Dad would back him up, so I really got to be his favorite target. Didn't seem like a day went by he didn't pull something--almost like he was daring me to try and tell on him."
"I can't believe your father would take his word over yours."
"It wasn't his word--it was Alvin's, his dad. He and my dad were kind of like you and me, only Alvin was a jerk that didn't deserve his trust. But the trust was there, and if Alvin said it, it had to be true. While he was...punishing me, he reminded me that he'd known Alvin longer than he'd known me, so I picked the wrong person to contradict. I think that hurt me more than the belt did."
"You were really trapped then, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Anyway, I remember this one day hearin' somethin' on the way home from getting groceries for Ma up at the corner. I was passing by the Wrights', and somethin' made me go in there. I don't remember what it was."
"Do you remember anything else--any little fragment?"
"Maybe I'm goin' nuts, Hutch. I remember these pieces...and the nightmare...I was with Marcos' people one minute and in that basement the next and my dad was there the next and he was flailin' away on me and then he locked me in the fruit cellar..." There was a flicker of recognition on Starsky's face. "That's why I was screaming...it was so dark in there, Hutch."
"Oh my God," Hutch couldn't help murmuring as he tightened the hold of the arm around Starsky's shoulders. "Why?"
"To make me tell the truth," he said quietly, burying his face against Hutch's shoulder. "I hated that room, Hutch," he whispered through returning tears. "It was so dark...and...and he...hurt me so much... He wouldn't stop h-hitting me because I...I wouldn't...ch-change m-my story... I thought I was gonna die in that room... I haven't been that scared until...well, 'til those nuts got a hold of me." Starsky finally gave up on words and just cried softly into Hutch's shoulder.
"Shhh. It's all over, partner. I've got you. You're safe, babe. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. Any of it." Hutch was quiet a moment, just patting Starsky's back gently and giving him time to calm down again. "Your father assumed you were lying again when you told him about whatever it was you saw at Wrights' house?" Hutch wanted so badly to say something else about the beating his partner had suffered all those years ago, but the fact-seeking question was the only thing that would move through his constricted throat. He hurt me so much... Starsky's words tortured his mind and his heart.
"Yeah. He went there, I think, and didn't see it...I don't know, Hutch, it's all running together."
"It's okay," he said soothingly, rubbing the shoulder where his hand rested. "You don't have to talk about it anymore if you don't want to." Hutch tried to collect his own thoughts. Maybe abuse is a subjective term. Starsky said himself his father didn't ordinarily hit him, and he did think his son was stealing and lying about it, no matter how wrong it was to have taken Al Wright's word over his own son's. Of course if I had a son, and Starsky told me he was lying, who would I believe? Hutch questioned himself. In all of it, the emotional blows seemed to land hardest on his partner, and somehow that bothered Hutch more than any of it. That...and the fruit cellar. What kind of man beats a nine-year-old with a belt and then locks him in a dark room in the basement? Through all this self-questioning and reflection, Hutch realized Starsky had dozed off on his shoulder.
So what did Marcos' people do to him that triggered all this? There were relatively few obvious physical injuries in comparison to the mangled bodies of the cult's other victims. They were big on terror, though, and maybe enough fear can break down even the best barriers your mind can build to protect you from the past. Children often repress traumatic memories, and then something triggers them again. Maybe that fear somehow ignited the old fear and pulled out the memories from the past. What had the bear been there for? Hutch pondered. If Starsky got one look at that, the poor guy probably almost had a heart attack.
For whatever he had been through, Starsky was sleeping peacefully now, and despite a stiffening shoulder and arm, Hutch had no intention of moving. If Starsky was curled up against him like that, he obviously needed the security to get any rest. Hutch wasn't opposed to a little shut-eye himself, so he put his feet up on the coffee table and rested his head on the back of the couch. After a little moan of protest, Starsky tightened the hold of a previously languid arm over Hutch's waist. "Relax, buddy," he whispered to his sleeping friend. "I won't leave you." In minutes, Hutch was as deeply asleep as his partner.
He stirred and came to, hearing the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. The lead weight known as Starsky had been lifted off what felt like a paralyzed arm, so he assumed his partner was in there splashing around. He yawned, stretched and made his way to the kitchen to fix some soup. He had to get some food down his partner's throat pretty soon, and he should be feeling better now that the drug would be wearing off somewhat. Damn those freaks. It isn't enough to play mind games with someone, torture them, terrorize them--you have to drug them with something to produce violent spasms of abdominal pain. Hutch hadn't caught the drug's long clinical name from the doctor, and he didn't want to have it ingrained on his mind. At least not tonight. Night. The sun had set while they slept, and a few of the last orange rays were struggling through periwinkle clouds, casting an odd glow over the apartment.
"You're up--did the shower wake you?" Starsky came out of the bathroom wearing his blue robe, toweling off his hair.
"I don't know. Whatever did, it's just as well. I must have zoned out for about four hours."
"Guess your arm feels as lousy as mine do now, huh?" Starsky said with a smile.
"I'll live. Feel like eating something?"
"Still a little queasy?"
"Nah. Just don't care much. Don't have an appetite. But I'm gettin' a little dizzy, so I probably oughtta eat."
"Park it at the table. I'll get you something."
"Okay." Starsky sat at the table and fidgeted with the damp towel he had been using on his hair. "I'm sorry," he mumbled.
"For what?" Hutch sounded surprised.
"Bein' such a crybaby and then falling asleep on you. Some tough cop, huh?" He snorted an unpleasant little laugh at himself.
"You don't have to keep up your guard with me. I'm not your father, Starsky." Hutch hadn't meant to say it.
"You're going to start acting like he was some ogre or something now because he punished me a couple times?"
"Would you do that to a child?" Hutch shot back angrily. The anger wasn't at Starsky, but since he was the only one there, he got it. "If the school bully beat up your kid, would you take the word of the bully's father and then take your turn at beating him too?"
"No." The response was barely audible. "Never. Because it...breaks something inside, and you can't ever go back in and fix it..." Starsky took a large, shaky breath and released it. He looked up at Hutch, who had frozen in silence at the kitchen sink, staring at him. "When he wouldn't believe me...about the lunch money...or...or whatever it was...that hurt me more than anything else he could have done to me. I loved him so much, and having his respect was everything to me, Hutch."
"Look, it's old news. I survived. We all do."
"What was the story with the fruit cellar, buddy? Why in the name of God would anyone do a thing like that? I'm sorry if you don't like me questioning it, but my God, I can't picture what that would do to a child's mind." Hutch took a seat at the table, watching Starsky with an expression that mixed concern, anger and a need to know the straight story.
"He said I could stay in there until I was ready to tell the truth, and since I already was, I was in there a long time...but he still thought I was lying about...monsters...monsters in the basement..." Starsky seemed to turn inward, leaning his forehead into his hands as he propped his elbows on the table. "God, something...monsters in the basement..."
"Starsky, what do you see?" Hutch asked, hoping something tangible would come from his partner instead of the babblings of a frightened nine-year-old.
"Damn it, it's right there! The smell of fresh baked bread, and the kitchen was stuffy...Indian Summer...it was a scream...a...little scream...a child...a monster in the basement...it was dark...sounded like...like...Oh, God, no!" He stood up suddenly, sending the chair tumbling backward. He backed away from Hutch and the table until he was pressed against the wall. "I saw him," he croaked out. "I saw...A-A-An-Anna...dear God, I saw it," he sobbed, sliding down the wall to the floor. Hutch was out of his chair in a moment and crouching at his partner's side.
"What did you see?" he asked carefully, not wanting to startle his partner out of the memory process.
"Sh--She...on the laundry table...blood...he was...God, a knife...he cut...he sees me...no, he sees me...Daddy! Help me! He sees me!"
"Starsky, come on, snap out of it, pal. You're safe, it's just a memory," Hutch reassured, sitting next to Starsky and sliding an arm around him, unable to be detached and clinical any longer. Whatever he was remembering was scaring the hell out of him all over again, and no piece of information he might have coaxed out of Starsky by questioning him in that state was worth making him suffer that way.
"I...ran...so fast...but she was dead...I saw him...the knife...he's coming with the knife." The words were choked out breathlessly.
"Shh. Nobody's coming, Starsk. It's just a memory. I'm right here, buddy."
"Anna...I...she was...my friend and I...didn't help...her..."
"What could you do?" he asked softly. "You were just a little boy." He pulled Starsky closer against him and tried to calm some of the horrible shaking that was rattling the other's body.
"I...saw him...kill...her...and then they killed the goat...cut its throat just like...and they had goblets with...blood...tried to make me...drink with them...poured it...on my mouth..." The words were choked out through the fear and horror of the overlapping memories.
"Oh, Starsk, I'm so sorry." Hutch's mind reeled at the hideousness of what Starsky had witnessed and the fragmented statements left him confused, but at least with a few theories. "It reminded you--"
"Don't make me...I can't..." Starsky tried to pull away but Hutch pulled him back and held on tightly.
"Not gonna make you do anything, partner. Try to relax. Try to take a deep breath. We won't talk about it anymore. Shhh."
"I'm tellin' the truth," he cried into Hutch's shoulder.
"I know that, Starsk. I know you are. I believe you. Always believe you...over anybody else. Shhh. It's okay, buddy. I'm right here. It's all over, babe."
"I just wanted him...to...believe me...just once...over...over them."
"Your dad loved you, Starsk. You know that." Hutch felt himself choking on the words. The bastard beat you with a belt and locked you in the basement and left you with repressed memories that are driving you insane, but he loved you. But it was probably what Starsky needed to hear, and it was probably true. From all the other memories and reminiscences his partner had of his father, it had to be true. But the trust of his friendship with Alvin Wright had overridden his trust of his son. That's not impossible, Hutch reasoned. What did I just tell Starsky? And I meant it with all my heart. If Starsky told me my son was lying, I'd believe it...because I've known and trusted Starsky for years, and he's never lied to me. Can I condemn Mike Starsky for being a lousy judge of character and a harsh disciplinarian? Can I hold him to my parents' beliefs about child-rearing? Maybe not. But I sure as hell can never look at someone as gentle and trusting as Starsky and understand how any parent could have dealt out punishment that severe to the scrawny little nine-year-old version of him.
"I know he did," Starsky finally answered, curtailing Hutch's internal dialogue. "But not as much as..." he looked up at Hutch for a moment and held his gaze, then nestled back into the security of the embrace. "Well, not enough to believe me anyway." He was still breathing a little shakily, but seemed to have calmed for the most part. "I remember, Hutch."
"Just relax, partner. There's no hurry. Just remember you're safe. None of it can touch you now, you hear me?" Hutch felt the nod under his chin. After a few quiet moments had passed, Hutch spoke up again. "I know you probably don't want anything, but I've got to start getting some food and fluids in you."
"Okay." Starsky had agreed but made no move to relinquish his grip on his partner. Hutch rubbed Starsky's back lightly and sat there in silence, letting him soak up whatever he needed from the closeness. "They killed a goat," he said, finally. "Cut its throat, caught the blood in some kind of...dish. They put it in goblets...and they were going to make me drink it...I refused."
"But they made you do it anyway?" Hutch asked gently.
"They yanked my head back, held me by the hair, tried to get me to open my mouth. They worked on getting me to do that for quite a while. When nothing worked, they held my nose together, and eventually I couldn't breathe, and I was holding my breath okay until one of 'em hit me in the stomach. My mouth opened...they poured...I tried to spit it out, but it was all over my mouth, my face..."
"I wish I could take this all away, buddy."
"You got half of it, remember?"
"What do you mean?" Hutch was getting tired and drained himself, and the symbolism escaped him.
"Remember you told me once that if you share a burden with a friend then it's only half as heavy as it was before? This was crushing me, Hutch. It was...the way they...killed the goat. It all started coming back in pieces...fragments of memories. I didn't even remember going into the Wrights' house, or my dad punishing me about it...or what I saw. None of it." Starsky fell silent for a while, and by the evenness of his breathing, Hutch figured he was almost due to doze off again. Besides being exhausted from the ordeal with Marcos' goons, he had been wading through some very trying emotional territory. He had a right to be drained.
"Come on, pal. I'm going to get a little food down you before you pass out on me." Hutch encouraged Starsky to relinquish his hold on him, which he finally did, and Hutch stood up and helped his partner up, depositing him at the kitchen table. "Think you could eat something?"
"I guess I'm kinda hungry after all." Starsky was starting to feel a sense of peace at having unburdened himself, and he was beginning to acknowledge the emptiness in his stomach, and the effects of the drug were all but gone. Food sounded good.
"Start on this, pal." Hutch set a tall glass of cold water in front of him.
"What're you fixin' over there?" Starsky took a few swallows of the water, but found himself becoming increasingly interested in what Hutch was putting on the stove. Some of the frantic terror that had accompanied the nightmare and the first waves of memories rushing back was receding, and even though there were fuzzy spots, he was beginning to view it from a more coherent, adult perspective. He watched Hutch emptying a can of soup into a pan and gathering various ingredients for sandwiches. When the hysterical little boy pounding on the door of the fruit cellar had finally been let out, you comforted him, protected him, calmed him so the memories could come back, Starsky thought as he watched his partner. Starsky tried to remember how or when he got out of the dank, dark, hideous little room of the Starsky basement. He could vaguely remember his mother opening the door, carrying him out...he didn't remember walking or talking or even reacting to her. Maybe by the time she got there, I wasn't responding to anything anymore...
"...turkey. That sound all right?" Hutch was completing a description of what was on the menu, but it had all escaped Starsky.
"I said I was fixing cream of potato soup, and making sandwiches from the leftover turkey," Hutch repeated, no trace of irritation in his voice. He knew Starsky hadn't been listening the first time, and the other man just chuckled a little, not bothering to ask Hutch how he knew. I suppose my dad loved me, but not as much as you do, Starsky thought, smiling.
They dined on the soup and sandwiches, and Starsky started replenishing his fluid supply with two glasses of water and a cup of cocoa. The latter accompanied him to a bed Hutch made up on the couch for him, where he settled down among the pillows and blankets, happy to relax and watch TV. Hutch wasn't pushing him for more details, and he felt too exhausted to push his memory any further. There were fragments floating around in there, but they'd make sense soon enough. All the other memories had started as little fragments...frightening little pieces of pain and fear and horror...the rest would come too.
"We've got 'The Three Stooges Go To Mars' or a British comedy called 'The Wrong Box' to choose from. I figured we could do without the creature feature on channel eight tonight," Hutch said, scanning the TV listings as he sat in the chair near the couch.
"I've seen the Stooges. Let's watch that other movie."
"Okay. 'The Wrong Box' it is." Hutch tuned in the right channel and returned to his chair. The movie turned out to be a good choice. A convoluted plot about the battle for a large sum of money to be left to the surviving member of a group of children, raging between two elderly brothers and a host of greedy relatives. Capped off with a horse-drawn hearse chase, it was a unique film if nothing else. Starsky had nodded off about halfway through it, but Hutch had been amused by it and remained conscious until the credits rolled. He left an all-night station on low in the background so as not to wake Starsky and exited to the bathroom to brush his teeth and find nightclothes. He finally returned to the living room with a blanket for himself and curled up in the chair to sleep near his partner in case he woke again with nightmares. Both slept peacefully through the night.
It was the smell that was stirring him first. Something that smelled very good, very close...breakfast...
Starsky opened his eyes and found himself face to face with a fat omelette on a plate Hutch was holding near his nose.
"Figured that'd wake you up, Rip Van Winkle."
"I could get used to this kind of service." He leaned forward while Hutch set the omlette plate aside and fluffed the pillows behind him. Settled back with the fat egg concoction and a fork, he actually smiled happily for the first time since he'd been home. "Thanks for breakfast. I didn't know you did omelettes."
"Neither did I, but I found the recipe out there, so I gave it a shot."
"This is great," Starsky mumbled through a mouthful. "You eat already?"
"About three hours ago."
"What time is it?"
"Eleven-thirty. I wouldn't have disturbed you now, but Dobey mentioned coming over to get your statement this afternoon, and I figured you'd want some time to get your head together. Think you're going to be up to that?" Hutch perched on the coffee table, retrieving his cup of coffee from the opposite end of it.
"Last night was really...awful," Starsky said, laying down his fork momentarily. "But I think today...I think I can handle it okay." He ate a few more bites, and then looked at his partner. "I don't want Dobey to know about...I can't get into talking about...what I saw, or thought I saw, when I was a kid."
"I wouldn't say anything about that, buddy. You know that."
"Yeah, but the reality here is that I probably witnessed something--I think I witnessed a murder in that basement, Hutch."
"And it's waited all these years. It can wait til you feel up to handling it and it's all clear in your mind. You've got enough to handle right now with this Marcos thing."
"I really thought I was a goner for a while there."
"I wish we could have figured it out faster. But that S.O.B., Marcos, just talks in riddles."
"I was joking, Hutch."
"About what?" Hutch handed him a glass of milk which he guzzled almost half of down to chase the first section of the omlette.
"That remark I made about 'what took ya so long'. I didn't really think you took any longer than you had to."
"If we'd been a few minutes later, I--" Hutch regretted saying it. The last thing Starsky needed was to be reminded that he had almost been murdered with an assortment of household cutlery.
"Let go of it, buddy. We made it." Starsky smiled a little evilly. "Besides, gives me a good excuse to get waited on."
"Don't get used to it, Gordo." Hutch reached over and ruffled his partner's hair to take any possible sting out of the words. Starsky just smiled into his omelette and continued eating. In spite of all the ugliness of the last 48 hours, he was relishing the sensation of being coddled and protected and pampered and fussed over...and it was fixing something inside that had been broken for many years.
After breakfast, Starsky rose from his nest on the couch to shave, comb his hair and get dressed. Dobey would arrive about one o'clock with a stenographer to take his statement. It was an unusual courtesy for Dobey to offer one of his men when he wasn't physically incapacitated, but he had realized how shaken Starsky was when he was rescued, and he had been nothing but understanding. By the time he arrived with the stenographer, Starsky was sitting on the couch, feet propped on the coffee table, reading the latest issue of Motor Trend, looking frighteningly like his old self.
Dobey let Starsky essentially weave his own tale of the experience, without shooting many questions at him. Neither Hutch nor Dobey had been exactly sure what had gone on during his captivity, and were relieved at the absence of some possible tortures and horrified by the description of others. Hutch had left the room during the bear story, hovering near the kitchen sink, still within earshot but unable to control his reaction sufficiently to stay in the room. His knuckles turned white as he leaned on the counter with clenched fists. Realizing this wasn't lending any support to his partner, he finally forced himself to calm down, and returned to his chair. Starsky paused immediately and asked Hutch if he was all right. That Starsky would be worried about him touched him, and he smiled warmly and nodded. The statement continued through to its completion, as Hutch held his breath through the goat's blood story. Starsky seemed to waver a time or two while telling it, but he didn't digress or divert into the other memories it had dredged up from the past.
Satisfied with the statement recorded to posterity, Dobey rose to leave. After the stenographer had made her way most of the way down the front steps, Hutch caught Dobey by the arm. He had a rare moment to speak without Starsky immediately present, as he was still seated in the living room.
"Captain, would it be possible for us to have some vacation time? Starsky put in a real rough night last night. I know he looks all right, but he has a lot to work through."
"How long are you talking about?"
"I don't know yet exactly. At least a week." He watched Dobey hesitate, then nod slowly.
"Okay. I'll take you two off the roster for a week. Beyond that I'll have to check the schedule. Unless of course Starsky's doctors feel--"
"I don't think it's anything the doctors are going to pick up on. Trust me, huh?"
"You've got a week for sure. I'll be in touch later and we'll figure something out if you need longer."
"Thanks, Captain. And thanks for coming over here to take the statement."
"All in a day's work," Dobey responded as he descended the steps and returned to his car where the stenographer waited. It was hardly "all in a day's work", as Dobey rarely made house calls to take statements.
Hutch closed the door behind him and watched his partner for a moment. Starsky was dozing, having resumed skimming the magazine he was reading before Dobey arrived. He seemed to sense Hutch's focus on him and jerked a little coming out of his snooze.
"Glad to see you're not too stressed out over there, pal," Hutch teased, sitting on the opposite corner of the couch.
"I want to go back to New York," Starsky stated firmly.
"What?" Hutch was momentarily horrified, thinking his partner meant permanently, but Starsky clarified his thoughts quickly.
"I've hit a wall, Hutch. I remember fragments, like a nightmare, but I don't remember details. I can't make it make sense. I don't remember Anna--who she was. I remember seeing a little girl, knowing her name was Anna, knowing she was murdered. My dad didn't believe me, and obviously no one else did either, because I don't remember anything about a murder investigation when I was a kid. Do you know I didn't even remember Dennis Wright and the whole playground thing before yesterday?"
"Maybe the rest'll come in time."
"I feel sure it'll come if I go face it." Starsky tossed the magazine aside. "I'm not a little kid anymore, Hutch. People can't just lock me in the basement because they don't like what I say. I know I witnessed something, and even if it is old news now, I'm gonna get to the bottom of it."
"You mean we're going to get to the bottom of it." Hutch smiled. "I got us a week off from Dobey, maybe more."
"How'd you manage that--you didn't--"
"I didn't say anything about what you remembered. But I said I thought you could use a break and a chance to rest up, and he okay'd it. He said he might be able to let us have longer."
"He must really think I don't have both oars in the water if he's offering us more than a week."
"If you're distracted, you're no good to anyone on the job--you and I both know that. Are you going to call your mother?"
"At first I wasn't going to," Starsky said, giving inordinate attention to a loose thread he found on his shirt. "But she'll know if I'm in the neighborhood, and I don't wanna hurt her feelings."
"But you don't want to see her?"
"I want to see her, but I don't want...If I had a choice, I wouldn't stay there right now."
"Why don't we tell her Dobey sent us there for some kind of seminar and we have to stay at the hotel? I don't think she'd check your story, would she?"
"Probably not." Starsky still hadn't looked up.
"Are you sure about going there right now?"
"I'm sure," he said, looking up finally, "if you can go too."
"Wouldn't be anywhere else, buddy."
Starsky was surprisingly undisturbed by any further nightmares until their departure for New York City two days later. Flight connections had been hard to make any sooner, so they settled for starting out on a Wednesday morning, arriving at their hotel by early evening.
Starsky put in the phone call to his mother after they'd had dinner, and visited with her a while. He wove a fairly convincing tale of the convention they were attending, and finally signed off with the usual endearments.
"She wants us to come visit tomorrow. I said okay."
"Okay. How do you want to play this?" Hutch asked.
"I want to see Wrights' house again, see if it sparks anything. And we can visit Ma...I'll go...down the basement." He shook his head. "Ya know, to the last day I lived in that house, I was afraid to go down the basement. I think I was the only teenager who was afraid of his own basement. God, I just thought I was a chicken."
"Should we ask your mother about any of this?"
"Maybe. I have to play it by ear, Hutch."
"We do that pretty well, too."
Rachel Starsky was busily pushing snow off her front porch when the rented sedan driven by her son and his partner pulled into the driveway. She set the shovel aside and hurried down the front steps to greet them. After hugs were exchanged in all directions, she ushered them in through the side door that led into the kitchen...and past the door that presumably led to the basement.
"I'm so glad to see both of you," she effervesced. "I hope you aren't going to get in trouble for missing your convention this morning. I still wish you could stay here with me."
"I think we can get away with playing hooky this morning," Hutch responded, smiling.
"What's this?" She grabbed Starsky's chin suddenly and got a good look at the raw-looking bruised area that had been grazed by the edge of the flaming spear.
"I had a little run in with a guy with a blowtorch. Nothin' serious, Ma."
"Nothing serious?!" she repeated, incredulous. "He gets his face half torn off and he says 'nothing serious, Ma'." She threw her hands up and let them slap on her sides. "Just like his father." She shook her head, smiling a little. "You two sit down. I have fresh honeycake and--"
"Ma? I gotta ask you somethin', and you're probably not gonna like it." Starsky sat at the table, and Hutch followed suit. Rachel moved to sit next to her son at the table, troubled by the tone of his voice. "Do you remember the Wrights?"
"Your father's friends, lived up the street...sure." She seemed immediately uncomfortable, averting Starsky's eyes.
"Ma, you remember I had some run-ins with Dennis."
"I remember." She kept her eyes focused on the blue and white checkered table cloth.
"Alvin Wright told Dad I stole Dennis's lunch money, remember?"
"Yes." She shifted a little in the chair and smoothed her graying dark hair back. The same stray curls her son tended to have seemed to creep onto her forehead when she least expected it. "David, why--"
"Dad beat me for lying--he believed them instead of me. You remember that?" There was no accusation in the statement, but it seemed like something he had to blurt out, needing to see her reaction.
"I remember. You know your father only had a few rules that you could break that would make him--"
"But I wasn't lying."
"David, is this leading somewhere? That was over twenty years ago."
"No, I guess it isn't really leading anywhere." He seemed to withdraw, almost visibly, inside himself.
"Did you agree with what your husband did?" Hutch asked.
"It was the way he was raised, and he warned the children not to lie."
"I didn't lie!" Starsky interjected angrily, pain evident in his voice all these years later. "Ma, I was tellin' the truth. Don't you know I'm not a thief?"
"David, for heaven's sake! What do you want me to do about it now? What brought this on?"
"I...I remembered it. I didn't remember it before...and there're some other things...I think I remembered about the Wrights...about going to their house...and Dad..." Starsky's voice broke and Hutch took a hold of his arm. Rachel rose from her chair, and with a hand over her mouth turned away from the table.
"Rachel, what do you know about this?" Hutch asked. "Don't you think after all these years he has a right to some answers?" He watched as she visibly braced herself, and once she began to speak, it was obvious she wasn't referring to what she had apparently considered an acceptable punishment for the run-in with Dennis Wright. She was shooting straight into the heart of the matter--to something far worse.
"All I know is that I asked David to go to the store for me that day. While he was gone, his father came home--he'd worked the night before, and then picked up some overtime that snowballed into most of the day. He came in around three. I went over to my sister's to see the new baby--she'd just come home from the hospital a few days before. I don't know what happened while I was gone, but I know what I found..." She sniffed back tears and took a deep breath. "I looked all over the house for David. Nicky was upstairs playing in his room, and Mary McNally from across the street was in the living room. Mike had called her to come and stay while he had to go out. She said she had only seen Nicky, and thought David was with me."
"I was...in the basement," Starsky added, getting his voice back.
"It was the last place I looked because...you were afraid to go down there alone. I began to think maybe you fell...I knew your father wouldn't leave until you had come home safely from the store, so it never occurred to me that you weren't in the house somewhere."
"Where in the basement was he?" Hutch asked, sounding very much like a cop. He had rested a hand on Starsky's shoulder now, and left it there.
"The fruit cellar." Her voice lowered to a near-whisper. "Dear God, I thought he was dead." She sank into her chair and wiped at her eyes. "When I opened the door--it was locked from the outside--I never thought I'd see him in there. He was curled up in a corner, and no matter what I said, he wouldn't move...he wouldn't answer me!" She began to cry, and Starsky reached across the table to take her hand.
"It's okay, Ma."
"No it isn't." She looked up at him. "I was afraid you had lost your mind in that room." She hesitated a moment, tried to get her composure, and then continued. "I carried him upstairs--those eyes, he was just staring straight ahead...He was kind of an armload for me, even though he was never a large child, but I managed to get him upstairs. His clothes were filthy from crawling around in that room, and his knuckles were bloody from...from beating on that door!" She brought her own fist down on the table to punctuate her point, another wave of tears stopping her story.
"Ma, please don't cry. You don't have to go on with this." Starsky squeezed her hand, and she placed her free hand over his.
"Yes, I do. Ken was right. You deserve to know, if, God help you, you're remembering all of it now." She took another deep breath and continued. "I figured I'd put him in the tub, get him into some clean clothes...I saw those awful welts...I never saw Mike do something like that to one of the children before. And he never did it again. I don't know now if that was because I told him that night that if he ever touched David or Nicky that way again I'd leave him and take the children--or if it was because of the fact that he was almost hysterical about something himself that night..."
"What about David? When did he come around?" Hutch asked.
"I gave him a bath, fixed up his hands, and put him into bed. He never spoke or moved on his own. I sat with him until he went to sleep. I was going to call the doctor, but I had to talk to Mike first."
"Why--I'm sorry. None of my business." Hutch stifled his question.
"What?" Starsky looked over at him.
"It seems like taking a traumatized child for some sort of professional attention would take precedence over waiting for the person who traumatized him to come back and explain himself. I'm sorry, that's just how I feel. I told you it was none of my business."
"It would have torn our family apart, something like that. What if they'd taken him away from us?" She took a deep breath. "It wasn't until he woke up screaming in the middle of the night that he said anything. He was withdrawn and moody for weeks. I couldn't get the poor little thing two feet away from me." She was silent a moment. "He could never tell me what happened, and when I asked him about being in the fruit cellar, he said he'd never been locked in there, that he was afraid to go down there alone. Dear God, his memory was gone completely of the entire incident. If he remembered how he had hurt his hands, or how he got the marks from that horrible belt, he never said."
"I don't remember not remembering. I didn't remember anything, Ma. Not until...well, I had a nightmare, and it all came back...or at least part of it did."
"We kept you home from school the rest of that week, and your grades went way down the rest of that marking period."
"What explanation did your husband offer for all this?" Hutch was taking deep breaths and going through a continuous silent litany in his mind, forcing himself to remain calm and non-judgmental, and not to verbally chastise Rachel. He wanted to grab the woman and shake her, demand to know why she had allowed such a travesty to occur in her home, and if it had, how she could have ever let it go unavenged. The well-modulated question was the best he could do for now.
"Mike came home around seven. He was late for dinner, though I hadn't fixed anything. I was so upset over what had happened that I couldn't think. When he came in, he seemed overwrought, distracted. The first thing he did was head for the basement door. I remember saying 'He's not down there anymore'--he hadn't noticed that I was in the kitchen. I had planned to stay later at my sister's, but for some reason, I just came home early. He was surprised to see me there." She stood up again and began pacing. "Mike looked stricken when he saw me. I've rarely seen all the color drain out of someone's face while I watched--but that's what happened. He came into the kitchen and he said, 'My God, Rachel, what have I done?' I told him he had done the most unthinkably horrible thing I had ever seen, and that if he ever touched the children in that manner again, I'd call his captain and report him, and then leave him."
"Did he ever say why he did it?" Hutch persisted. Starsky had rested his forehead on his hand and was staring at the tablecloth, his face obscured by the shadow of his hand.
"I demanded to know. He ignored that, and asked where David was. When I told him I had put him to bed, that he couldn't talk or even move on his own--that his eyes held such terror inside that I wanted to sob just looking at him--" As she paused to deal with a few escaping tears, Starsky made no move to rise. He seemed beyond being able to offer comfort to her, or to even participate in the conversation any longer. "He told me that David had come home, yelling and carrying on, telling perverted lies about the Wrights. He wouldn't tell me what they were--he said it was a bunch of sick, ridiculous nonsense, and that he had partially punished David for making up such a sick and horrible story--aside from the fact he was lying. He claimed David was angry about being punished for stealing Dennis's lunch money a couple weeks earlier, and that he was trying to get back at him by telling filthy stories about Alvin."
"And you believed that?" Hutch asked, incredulously. He tried to picture Starsky, at nine years old, crafting sick and perverted lies to exact revenge on his father's friends. It didn't wash.
"Mike believed it, or at least he did when he punish--"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, let's call it what it is!" Hutch erupted. "Punishing is taking away TV privileges or grounding or even a reasonable spanking--he beat that child and locked him in a dungeon! That's abuse, and I can't sit here anymore and listen to you slide over it with a euphemism!" Hutch stood up, sending his chair skidding backwards noisily. He started pacing, trying to work off some of the hostility that had been building. Rachel Starsky was crying, turned away from them toward the kitchen window. Starsky was deathly silent, only the slight trembling of his shoulders noticeable when Hutch watched him. It was that silent agony that softened Hutch's rage. With no concern for Rachel and her distress, he pulled his chair back next to Starsky's and put his arm around him. "I'm sorry, buddy. I didn't mean to lose it like that."
"It's okay." Starsky looked up from his hunched position at his partner. There were tears on his cheeks, but he smiled anyway as he squeezed the hand Hutch had rested on the table in front of him. "It's okay, partner." He looked up at his mother. "Ma, tell us the rest of it, okay?" he asked gently, brushing at his eyes.
"He said he had taken David to the basement and...and he used the word 'punish'," she clarified her semantics before continuing, "and he punished him. But he said that no matter how..." her voice broke, but she swallowed and continued, "how many times or how hard he...he...hit him, David wouldn't admit he was lying. Mike thought locking him in the fruit cellar would scare him into telling the truth, admitting he had been lying." She returned to her chair at the table. "He said that while David was calling to him to open the door, he still insisted he was telling the truth, so Mike told him he could stay in there until he'd had enough time to think about it and realize that he was breaking one of God's commandments by bearing false witness."
"I don't suppose at any time it occurred to your husband that David might have been telling the truth."
"He said that what David was saying was so absurd that it couldn't be true. That he had gone to the Wrights' house and talked to Alvin and checked it out, and it was an outright lie." Rachel paused a moment, as if searching for the right words. "I don't want you to think that he didn't regret what happened, sweetheart." She sat at the table again and found herself at a loss for how to touch her son. Hutch still had one very protective arm around him, and Starsky had not relinquished possession of his partner's hand. Hutch inspired the mental image of a pit bull guarding its territory. Rachel might not have delivered the blows, but she still was loyal to her husband over her son, and Mike Starsky had been loyal to Alvin Wright over his son. By God, someone in that house was going to be 100% unquestioningly loyal to Starsky in this situation, even if it was over 20 years too late. The fire in Hutch's eyes when he looked at her seemed to convey this point to Rachel.
"Dad never said anything," Starsky finally said quietly.
"I took him upstairs. David has always been a deep sleeper," she stated, though Hutch was well aware of that fact. When it was Starsky's turn to nap during a long stakeout, it usually took a brass band to wake him up again. "He was sleeping on his side, so I showed Mike the ugly red marks he had caused. David, that was the only time, in all the time I knew your father, I ever saw him cry. We went into our bedroom, because Mary was still downstairs and Nicky was still in his room, though I'm sure both of them knew something was going on. Your father begged me to forgive him, swore he'd never lay a hand on you or Nicky that way again...he said he had gotten carried away...there were a lot of things happening in his life right then, David." She watched Hutch stiffen, reading his unspoken opinion that Starsky's father taking his problems out on a helpless little child was more despicable than any of the rest of the situation. "You know your father was involved in some very dangerous and difficult cases. He died because of the kind of work he did. It was only a little more than a year before...before he was shot because of it. He was very irritable that last year, and under enormous pressure at the department...and from some of the...families. There were threats...his friends became very important to him."
"Ma, it isn't your fault. I'm glad you told me what happened. Now I have to figure the rest of it out myself. I know I saw something, and I know I wasn't lying to Dad. Don't you think I'd have confessed at some point if I had been?"
"I'm sure you weren't lying, dear." She hesitated. "What do you remember about the Wrights now?"
"I don't want to tell you fragments, Ma. When I know the whole story, I promise I'll tell you about it."
"You aren't here for any convention, are you?"
"No." Starsky finally moved away from his partner and stood up. "That was a lie. Ironic." He snorted an ugly little laugh. "All this time I've been tryin' to get somebody to believe I'm tellin' the truth...and now it's got me lyin'." His gaze fixed on the door to the basement. "I have to see it again." He made a beeline for the door, followed by his partner. Rachel stayed at the table. She had no interest in reliving that memory.
Starsky opened the white painted wood door and pulled the cord of the light bulb over the stairs.
"You okay, buddy?" Hutch asked from behind.
"Just stick with me, okay?"
"Like always, babe," Hutch responded softly.
The Starsky basement looked much the same as any other old basement. It was noticeably colder down there than in the cozy kitchen, which had smelled of Rachel's baking activities. There were a number of boxes stacked neatly along one of the white painted brick walls. A workbench still surrounded by a tidy assortment of jars containing various nails, screws, nuts, bolts and other odds and ends sat against the wall opposite the stairs, and over it was a pegboard where tools hung from hooks. There was a small stool in front of it. To the far left of the staircase was a battered-looking wood door.
Hutch remained silent, letting his partner wander...and remember. He went to the workbench first, ran his hand lightly along the edge of it, and looked down at the stool. Starsky said something, but Hutch didn't hear the muttered word. When asked to repeat it, Starsky had eye contact with him.
"Here. This is where he...right here." Starsky seemed to shiver, and Hutch wasn't sure if it was from the icy temperature in the basement or the memory. He wasn't volunteering to share the details that seemed to be running through his mind, and Hutch was selfishly relieved. He didn't know if he could have handled listening to a more explicit description of the beating which had left its little victim with numerous ugly red welts, by Rachel's own admission.
"Is that the--"
"Fruit cellar," Starsky replied, moving away from the workbench toward the wooden door. He rested his fingertips on the surface of the wood, and for a few moments, both were silent. "I was so afraid of this room--even before. See, there's no window in there, and no light. The only light you get is from the light out here--see that bulb there?" Starsky pointed to another bare bulb with a dangling cord mounted in the ceiling. Hutch reached up and turned it on, casting a sickly yellow glow in the shadowy area. "Ma used to do canning, and she'd send me down here to get jars once in awhile, and one time, the door shut by accident...it wasn't locked or anything, but I was six or seven, I think, and it scared the hell out of me." He looked back at the door, and with a sharp intake of breath, pushed it open into the dingy room beyond.
The light from outside the door was only marginally adequate to illuminate the shelves which held old jars, thick with dust and cobwebs. Apparently Rachel had lost her enthusiasm for canning. Hutch wondered if the two incidents were at all connected. If the door were to close, the room would be in total blackness. Hutch was noting the location of a few plump spiders in webs in the corners, and the thought crossed his mind that in total darkness, crawling on the floor, one couldn't be sure where the critters were...and he wondered if his partner's distinct dislike for spiders had been born here.
"Don't let that door close, okay?" Starsky asked suddenly, jarring Hutch out of his thoughts.
"I won't." Hutch remained stationed in the doorway, watching his partner roam in the limited area of the room.
"I couldn't see anything at all...it was like bein' blind, Hutch. At first, there was a little light comin' in under the door but then it went out...and I couldn't see anything. That's when I really started poundin' on the door." Starsky moved toward the back of the door, and Hutch closed it around slightly so he could examine it with his partner. All those years later, there were a few small, faded, brown marks on the aging grayish wood.
"Dear God," Hutch murmured, touching one of the little stains, as if he couldn't believe his eyes.
"I remember pounding, and pounding," Starsky crouched by the door and touched it lightly. "I couldn't..." his voice wavered, then broke. "I couldn't make anybody hear me." Hutch knelt next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.
"I hear you, babe." He was careful to keep one knee against the door to prevent it from closing, maintaining the murky light from the grimy bulb in he ceiling outside the room. Starsky slumped against him, winding his arms around Hutch's middle, crying softly into his shoulder.
"I'm tryin'...real hard...not...to...hate him. I...loved my...dad...but..." The words were coming out in strangled little gasps.
"Shhh. There's nothing wrong with being angry, buddy. You can still love somebody and be angry with them. You've got a right." Hutch became vaguely aware of another presence in the basement.
Rachel was a good distance away, near the stairs, but she could see her son slumped in his partner's arms, and there was that look again in Ken Hutchinson's eyes that, beneath his mask of courtesy and decorum around his best friend's mother, conveyed a rage so profound that it probably would have defied words. How do I make them see? Mike was never himself again after that incident...hadn't been himself before it happened. The relationship with Alvin Wright had been disintegrating to some extent, after Mike had believed him and come home and punished David for stealing lunch money. Mike hadn't liked himself too well for inflicting that whipping on his son, but it hadn't been extreme. She had never agreed with it, but it was just a spanking, she told herself. Same kind of punishment many children received. And if David had stolen the money, it was a tendency that had to be crushed in its infancy. There were too many bad influences in the neighborhood, and the schoolyard. Stealing might have only been the beginning. Deep in her heart, she had never believed David had stolen anything. He wasn't a sneaky or deceitful child by nature--stealing had never been his style. Something snapped in Mike Starsky that afternoon when he attacked his son so ruthlessly...it had been a battle of wills, she concluded. When Mike gave one of the boys a "talking to" for something they'd done, he wasn't satisfied until their wills were conquered to the point of admitting wrongdoing, genuinely, and apologizing. And David wouldn't admit to lying, no matter how terrible the punishment...Mike couldn't break his will...
Feeling pierced by Hutch's gaze, and guilty for intruding on what her son would probably consider a very private moment, she slipped quietly back up the stairs.
"I'm sorry...to...keep...doin' this," Starsky said finally, regaining a little of his composure.
"We knew this was going to be a hard road, Starsk. There's a lot of old pain to wade through. It's okay." He patted Starsky's back lightly.
"How could he...?"
"I don't know, buddy. I really don't know." He squeezed his armload a little tighter. "I wish...I wish I could go back in time somehow. Let that terrified little boy out of this God-forsaken room." Hutch's own voice broke, almost to his own surprise, and he buried his face for a moment in the dark hair under his chin.
"Hey, Hutch, come on, don't you start now," Starsky said gently, trying to lighten the mood a little. Then another thought popped into his mind as he soaked up the warmth and security he had needed so badly all those years ago. "Besides, you did let him out, Hutch...and you made it better." Starsky thought he heard something mumbled into his hair, but it was followed by a little whimper as Hutch tried to pull himself together.
"I'm sorry, pal." Hutch took a deep breath and smiled down at his partner. Both were wet-eyed and sniffling. Starsky returned it, though it was a sickly approximation of his usual grin.
"Blow your nose. You're starting to get gross." Hutch handed him his handkerchief, hoping to coax another slight smile out of him. Starsky took it and followed orders.
"You probably need one yourself, drippy--or is it all in my hair now?" Starsky quipped, encouraging his partner that he really was coming out of the worst of it.
"It's hell being the shorter one, isn't it?" Hutch still had an arm around Starsky, and his head was still a little lower than the blond's.
"Nobody ever told me the taller guys would blow their noses in my hair. I'm surprised Dennis didn't think'a that." Starsky brushed his hair with his hand in mock disgust.
"Maybe we ought to get going, huh? You ready?"
"Good idea. I wanna take a look around the neighborhood. It feels like the details are tryin' to come back...I remembered everything so clearly when I got down here today...maybe if I see the Wrights' place...worth a try."
"Let's hit the road then," Hutch responded, standing and holding out a hand to Starsky, who grasped it and rose easily with the pull.
"When we get upstairs, I need to talk to Ma for a couple minutes."
"I'll wait in the car."
"Thanks--not for waitin' in the car--but for...just thanks."
Hutch drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. A light snow was falling again. He turned on the windshield wipers and watched it toss the powder back and forth. He hadn't been all he'd hoped to be in this encounter. He'd blown up at Rachel and then wound up crying with his partner. Some pillar of strength. But it had been impossible not to say something to destroy the comfortable euphemism Rachel clung to called "punishment". Starsky had been subjected to the kind of torture one might use in a POW camp to make a prisoner talk--whip him mercilessly and if that doesn't break him, lock him in up in solitary for a while, deprived of all forms of light. He felt a wave of gratitude wash over him that Starsky hadn't been pulled out of that fruit cellar a babbling idiot. He had been traumatized by what he witnessed, then traumatized again by his father's reaction. It was a miracle that his mind processed all that and found a spot to hide it until Starsky was able to deal with it.
Soon, Starsky emerged from the house and hurried out to the car.
"I should have apologized to your mother," Hutch said as soon as his partner was back in the car.
"She understood. She did the best she could with a bad mess, Hutch." Starsky stared straight out the windshield. "I was coming home from the store. That would be the Sunshine Market. I think we should start there."
"Okay." Hutch started up the car and followed Starsky's directions to a dilapidated building that now housed a liquor store. Two unsavory-looking vagrants flanked the door. Though it wouldn't have been a problem to deal with these seedy characters if need be, rousting drunks outside their jurisdiction didn't appeal to Hutch at the moment. He wasn't sorry that Starsky was content to do his reminiscing from the outside of the building.
Once out of the car, Starsky stood on the sidewalk, taking in the scenery around the little store.
"I saw her right out here," Starsky pointed at where they stood. "Oh my God, Hutch, I forgot Anna. How could I...? Anna Feldman, she was in my class at school--long black hair, big brown eyes--all the guys had it bad for her, even though we were still a little young to have it bad for anybody. She was just so pretty, and so nice..."
"That was the Anna in your memory?"
"Yeah. She was my friend...how could I forget her like that?"
"Probably because it would have hurt too much to remember."
"I s'pose." He wandered down the sidewalk slowly, noting how slippery the ice and snow were under his feet. Far cry from LA in January, all this snow. Soon, he and Hutch both had their hands thrust in their respective jacket pockets to compensate for not remembering gloves. "I saw her through the window. She'd just bought something in the market, and she was carrying it in two bags--looked pretty heavy, too. I was going to finish up and catch up to her and carry the stuff the rest of the way. It was Indian Summer--real warm, and she was wearing this pretty yellow dress with big white polka dots. Anna always looked pretty, just like she was in a fancy store window. Her mother's folks had money, but they didn't approve of her marrying a Jewish carpenter, so she was cut out of the inheritance. But she had real nice taste and made Anna some pretty things."
"Funny that Christians would have something against a Jewish carpenter."
"Really," Starsky replied, chuckling a little at the irony. "So Anna always looked like a rich kid, even though they didn't have two dimes to rub together. Her mother did the same thing in the house, all frilly and fancy. God, Hutch, I didn't remember any of it--not Anna, not her folks--nothin'."
"So did you catch up to her?"
"Uh-uh. I came out with the stuff Ma sent me for, and I remember lookin' around for her, but she was gone. I thought maybe she just turned the corner up here," Starsky gestured toward an intersection of two quiet streets, leading in the direction they had just come. They were on Starsky's street again, though about two blocks away. "Anna lived about two more blocks past me, so I figured when I turned the corner, I shoulda seen her. But there was nobody in sight. It was kinda funny that it was so quiet, bein' Indian Summer, but right then, it was."
"Where's Wrights' house?"
"Next block up here." Starsky turned up his jacket collar and shivered a little. Hutch was almost frozen through himself from the biting wind and snow that was dampening their faces and hair. He eventually stopped dead in his tracks in front of a gray two-storey house with white shutters. It was an innocent-looking structure, but Starsky seemed mesmerized by it.
"This is it. I heard her scream. Right here," he said, stepping forward a little off the sidewalk into the deeper snow of the yard. As fate would have it, there was a "for sale" sign in front of the house, and it appeared vacant. This being the case, Hutch didn't interfere with his partner's sprint across the corner of the yard to the driveway and around to the back door of the house. "I heard it again when I got here...that basement window was open--I don't think he knew it was open..."
"I gotta get in there. Think it's empty?" Starsky squinted in the windows.
"Yes, but--" Hutch watched as Starsky pulled a credit card out of his wallet and went to work on the locked back door. It popped open easily. He was about to question Starsky where he learned that technique, when he thought better of it and didn't disturb his partner's rush of memory.
The inside of the house was stale and cold, like all vacant houses in winter. It was a tacky place inside, desperately needing paint, reflooring and other clean-up work. They were in the kitchen, which to Starsky had become clean and filled with the scent of baked bread, stuffy with the heat of Indian Summer. He wasn't speaking at all, much like he hadn't at the beginning of his walk through the basement of his own childhood home. Hutch figured this meant he was too busy remembering to give a blow-by-blow description of things. He simply followed Starsky in silence as he descended the basement steps, flipping on the light at the top of the stairs.
Starsky came to an abrupt halt at the bottom step. His body seemed to stiffen out as he stood there, staring into the musty, shadowy space in front of him.
"I heard her scream just when I was outside. I came in here and...they were over there," he said, pointing at a space straight ahead, but a considerable distance away. "There was a laundry table there, you know, for folding stuff? She was on that table, and he was hunched over her...I've got such a sick feeling about what he did to her, but I can't be sure about that part of it."
"What who did?" Hutch figured it was Alvin Wright, but he gently prodded his partner to confirm it.
"Alvin Wright. He was leaning over her, and she was all...messy, I guess. I opened my mouth to tell him to leave her alone, and just like that, he...the knife...God it was huge-looking," Starsky gasped, his respiration speeding up considerably. He gripped the railing a moment and sat down hard on the bottom step, as if his legs wouldn't support him anymore. Hutch didn't disturb him. He sat on a step a little higher up and watched his partner. "It was...so fast. It happened so fast, I didn't understand what happened until I...until I saw the--the blood." He was silent a moment, seemingly lost in the memory. "It spurted...I had never seen that...he cut her throat..."
"You saw him cut her throat?" Hutch never ceased to be amazed at the horror of the whole situation. Any one part of it would have been sufficient to drive some children insane.
"I didn't exactly know that's what he did at first--it was like I had to watch for a minute to realize that the knife had--he did it so fast."
"When did he see you?" Hutch asked.
"Soon. I think I said something, or made a noise--maybe a gasp or somethin', I don't remember. He looked up at me, and there was blood on his shirt...he had a tan shirt on, and there was this big streak of blood on it." Starsky was silent for a few moments. "He looked up at me, and he looked like a monster."
"What do you mean, Starsk?"
"His eyes were all...wild, I guess. He looked--he looked insane, Hutch. I took one look at those eyes, and I ran as fast as I could. I might've stumbled on the stairs--I think I did, but he wasn't very quick. Al had a bad leg, and he didn't run too great."
"How far did he chase you?"
"I dunno. I ran as fast as I could until I got home. I ran in the back door, screaming for Ma, locking it behind me--I was lookin' outside to see if he chased me. But I didn't see him. My dad was there instead, and he grabbed me by the shoulders, tried to quiet me down and get an answer out of me. I remember telling him that Mr. Wright had done something horrible to Anna in the basement, and that he was really a monster. I think I babbled something about blood, but I can't remember that."
"What did he say?"
"He slapped my face--real hard." Starsky seemed to remember this detail for the first time. "He told me I better stop telling tales or I was gonna get it good. I told him it was the truth, that he should go see for himself."
"He told me to wait right there, and he left. I waited, and after about fifteen minutes, he came back in, and he looked...furious. I never saw him look that mad, Hutch. He said that he'd gone down there, seen Alvin, nothing was out of place in the basement and that he was going to give me one more chance to admit I was making up a story because I was mad about getting punished for stealing Dennis's lunch money. I was crying by then, I know. I don't think it even occurred to me to play along...I don't know what I was thinking--just that I was telling the truth, and I had to make somebody believe me--for Anna's sake, if nothing else. I don't remember it all real clearly, just that I was crying and babbling and wouldn't say I was lying."
"So he dragged you down the basement and let you have it?"
"More or less. He just kept hitting me...over and over and over and over until I don't even know if I was really feeling anything specific anymore. It was just so much pain and he was screaming at me every time he brought that belt down to admit I was lying, to tell the truth, that I was sinning against God, that liars went to hell...I don't even remember when the hitting stopped," Starsky concluded, his voice wavering. "I don't remember what he said. I know it was something about giving me time to think. All I know is I was so desperate to make somebody listen," the tears that were falling were reflected in his voice, "and I was crying for Ma, for somebody to help me because it was like he had gone crazy too, like Mr. Wright, and we were in the basement--my mind was just goin' all over the place..."
"Take it easy, buddy." Hutch slid down next to his partner on the bottom step and put his arm around him.
"Right over there..." Starsky said shakily, looking toward the spot where Anna Feldman had been killed all those years ago. Starsky took a couple of ragged breaths, trying to pull himself together. "He had to carry me, I guess. I don't think I walked to the fruit cellar. I kinda remember being under his arm, thinking he was gonna toss me in there, which he kinda did, because I landed hard...or my legs were all rubbery and I fell...I don't know. All I know is I screamed until my throat was too sore to talk anymore trying to get somebody to hear me...beyond that, I don't remember anything clearly until...I don't know how long after that. A long time...like days, I guess. I remember goin' to school, other stuff happening. I don't remember what happened with the rest of that situation. There's this fuzzy picture I have of Ma coming in to get me, but that's all." Starsky straightened from his slouched position and stood. "Well, Dad, I'm not nine years old anymore, and I know what the hell I saw...and wherever you are, you're not gonna shut me up again!" He hit the cement wall with his fist, thankfully only in frustration. Hutch exhaled a little when his partner didn't draw back a broken hand.
"Let's get out of this place before somebody calls a cop, huh?" Hutch watched Starsky process that idea, and then snort a little laugh.
"Call a cop, eh? I tried doin' that when I was nine an' it sure as hell backfired on me." Starsky raced up the steps, two at a time, and Hutch had to snap into action to keep up with him.
Starsky was in a full-speed run by the time he exited the back of the house, and Hutch chased him, hoping the slipping and sliding of their feet on the icy ground wouldn't fell them both before they reached the car. Starsky seemed headed that way, so Hutch followed, relieved that they were at least not going to relive it all again back at the Starsky house.
"Starsk! Hey, come on, buddy, slow it down!" Hutch called after him, but Starsky didn't slow down until he practically collapsed against the side of the car, breathing heavily. Hutch skidded and slid to a stop next to him, grabbing the back fender of the car to steady himself.
"Sorry." Starsky was panting, holding onto his forehead with his left hand.
"It's okay. Headache?" Hutch asked.
"I don't feel too great, Hutch. I think I'd like to just go back to the hotel and rest a while if that's okay. I mean, I was gonna go straight to the police station if I remembered anything, but I can't handle that right now."
"I think we could both use a rest. Let's head back there, relax a while, and we'll see how you feel about it later--or even tomorrow." Starsky looked skeptical at Hutch's suggestion of putting it off a day. "Starsky, it's been over twenty years. Another day isn't going to matter to the investigation of Anna's death."
"I guess you're right."
Hutch drove back to the hotel in silence. Starsky seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, understandably, as he stared out the window at the passing scenery. He was pale, and occasionally massaged his temples, squinting under what seemed to be a significant headache. It hadn't been all that long since the whole Marcos incident, even though that had been quickly eclipsed by this situation.
Once back at the hotel, Starsky disappeared into the bathroom while Hutch settled into one of the two overstuffed chairs to watch TV. The unmistakable sounds of retching unnerved him, but he thought better of disturbing his partner. Starsky seemed to need a little time to cope with his reactions to the whole thing his own way, and given the stress he'd been under, it wasn't too shocking he was sick to his stomach. Still, the moment the pale figure emerged from the bathroom, Hutch turned off the TV and inquired how he was feeling.
"Lousy. I think I'm gonna lie down a while if you don't mind." He quickly discarded everything but his underwear and crawled under the covers of his bed.
"Is there anything I can do, buddy?" Hutch finally asked, for once at a loss for how to ease his partner's suffering.
"You're here." Starsky turned over to face the spot where Hutch was seated. "That's everything." He forced a weak grin, and closed his eyes.
"If you feel like talking, I'm listening."
"I know. If you want the TV, it's okay. I'm just resting."
"I brought a book anyway. I'll read awhile."
Silence prevailed for almost fifteen minutes, and Hutch thought Starsky had dozed off, though none of the little telltale changes in his breathing or the onset of light snoring would have indicated that he had. His voice startled Hutch out of a paragraph he had read at least four times, none of which had he retained.
"Ya know what bothers me most?"
"What, buddy?" Hutch laid the book aside and moved to sit on the edge of his own bed, closer to his partner.
"It's probably really stupid and childish."
"When's that ever stopped you before, Gordo?" Hutch teased. He was relieved to see a little chortle out of Starsky. It was short-lived.
"After Nicky was born, I always felt kinda like he was Ma's favorite, ya know? I don't just mean because I felt replaced or somethin', because I didn't. My folks were real good that way, making sure we both got the same attention, but besides just him bein' younger, it was like they just sort of...I don't know...clicked, I guess. Nicky was always real close to her, and she seemed to like him the best."
"I don't think she liked him any better, Starsk. He was younger--"
"I know that. I don't mean I thought that because she had to do more for him. It was just something about the way they always communicated--ya know, kind of like we do--without havin' to say anything? I knew she loved me and everything, but they were just closer. It never bothered me too much, because I always thought...I always thought I was my dad's favorite. He didn't play favorites, either, but it always seemed like we were closer, and like he thought I was kinda...I don't know, special to him or something. It's just hard bein' nobody's favorite, Hutch. Bein' the kid that nobody liked best. All that's a lie now. Thinkin' I was his favorite...if he loved me that much, he couldn't've done that to me."
"Maybe it was just that he was confused--didn't know exactly how to deal with the whole Alvin situation. Maybe he just snapped. Don't you really believe he loved you?" Hutch had problems with that concept himself, but he hated to see the desolation in his partner that losing what he'd treasured--a place of special favor with his almost-sainted memory of his dead father--so he tried to stick up for a man he'd have liked the chance to kill again.
"He might've, but not as much as y--...I just wish he'd trusted me. I can forgive him for hitting me, or even locking me up in that damn fruit cellar--everybody makes mistakes. It was a bad one, but we do rotten things to our families sometimes. It's just that it hurts...so much...to know he could want to see me hurt like that, that he could hate me that much, even for a little while...that I wasn't his favorite after all." Starsky looked horribly miserable, but he seemed to be out of tears. He was either too tired or too drained to cry, but the pain in his eyes was just as obvious. Oh, God, Starsk, you want me to make this better for you, don't you? I wish I could, buddy. I wish I had some answers that would take the pain away...
"I think there's got to be more to this than meets the eye, Starsk. Your father wouldn't just switch from a loving father to a child abuser overnight for no good reason. Maybe we can get to the bottom of it before we're done here." Hutch watched Starsky's unfocused gaze as it rested on some obscure point across the room. He moved to sit on the edge of his partner's bed and smoothed the dark hair back from his forehead. "I know I can't speak for your father, and it doesn't make that pain any better, but just for the record, buddy, you're my favorite. Always have been, always will be. Don't you ever question that, you hear me?" Hutch was stunned by the broad grin that spread across his partner's features, and the moist eyes that seemed to come back to life again. It was as if the words had somehow pulled the old Starsky's spirit out of the pit of all the pain in which it seemed to be drowning. "Now that," Hutch said, taking a hold of the chin of his partner's still-smiling face, "is what I wanted to see. Not one of those gas pain grins--but a real Starsky special." Starsky laughed a little at that comment, and the smile lingered as he spoke. He reached for Hutch's hand and squeezed it. "Why don't you take a nap, buddy? You'll probably feel better later, and we can go see a movie or something--you get to pick. I bet your stomach might be better by then too. We can get some dinner."
"Okay," Starsky said through a yawn. "I'm really wiped out."
Starsky did catch a long nap that afternoon, after which they settled on a new action thriller showing at a nearby theater, and then stopped for dinner in the hotel dining room. Starsky's spirits seemed better, though he was still quieter than his usual boisterous self.
The next morning, they set out on their journey to the precinct where Starsky's father had worked. He wasn't sure who or what he expected would still be there, but Starsky felt he might get a better response if he showed up in person. He had sworn Hutch to silence on the beating incident. These were his father's colleagues, and the last thing he wanted to do was show up like one of those pathetic people he saw on talk shows, bashing their parents for their child-rearing errors. Mike Starsky had a fine reputation in that precinct, and that wouldn't--couldn't--be allowed to change.
It didn't take long for the first reunion--and it was the one Starsky had hoped for most. At the front counter was an aged-looking plainclothes detective, arguing with the desk sergeant over information missing out of a file folder. Older, more tired, and infinitely bored with the paperwork details he was obviously cleaning up, Mike Starsky's old partner seemed to snap to attention at the approach of the younger Starsky. The resemblance made introductions rarely necessary when Starsky met his father's friends or coworkers, and that hadn't changed.
"My God--Davey Starsky?" the man exclaimed, tossing the folder aside. Ed Jezowski stuck out a thick hand to greet Starsky and then pulled him into a quick, gruff hug. "God, kid, you look just like your old man," he said, stepping back, still chortling.
"Ed Jezowski, this is my partner, Ken Hutchinson."
"Hutch," Ed shook hands with him, and smiled. "Well, Davey here talks about you to Rachel all the time, and we get the second-hand version from her.
"So you were Mike Starsky's partner, huh? Maybe you can give me some pointers for straightening this one out." He poked Starsky, who took the teasing in his stride.
"I gave up tryin'. A Starsky's a Starsky. Nothin' changes that. Can't fix their eating habits, either."
"I guess we've found one more thing that's hereditary," Hutch said, rolling his eyes.
"So what brings you here? Social visit I hope?"
"Is there somewhere we could talk?" Starsky asked, his expression and tone serious.
"Sure, sure. Follow me." Ed led the way down the hall toward an interrogation room. He had always been a stocky, compact man, but now he looked chunky and worn out...and there was something about being around guys who had lost their partners that gave Starsky the creeps. He couldn't picture himself going on and doing what he did everyday without Hutch. Seeing that it does happen, and the survivors are still on the force, made it too real somehow. "Have a seat, boys." He closed the door behind them, and the three of them sat around a barren table in an equally barren room. "Not too classy, but it's the only privacy we can get right now. Something wrong?"
"Uncle Ed, I...I don't know how to lead into this...I...remember...something..."
"About Anna Feldman?" Ed asked. Starsky's slightly bowed head shot up straight, and he exchanged a shocked look with Hutch. "What else do you remember?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"Davey, I know what happened...your dad told me the whole story. Probably the way you two talk to each other--no censoring--just the straight shit. I know he came down on you like a ton of bricks, and you blanked out the memory."
"I can't believe he told anybody..."
"We'd been partners over ten years, Davey. There weren't a lot of secrets." Ed got up and began pacing. "And the Feldman case was ours, ironically, though it obviously wasn't a case at all when you first saw what you saw." He took a deep breath and watched Starsky's puzzled expression. "Ya see, we got this case, two missing kids, both little girls about Anna's age. Only neither of them had been in your neighborhood up til then. So we worked this case, not havin' any luck at all, no leads. Looking at pictures of sliced up little girls and tryin' to figure out who in hell would do something that damned sick. This was on top of what we were workin' on with the families, but that's another story I ain't tellin' you. That investigation--all our spare time for about five years--died with your dad, and it's gonna stay buried."
"I don't care about any of that right now--I need to know about Anna's case."
"Well, the two kids that were missing, and then turned up dead, were abducted in the suburbs. Folks around here weren't too worried, but the Commissioner felt they ought to have experienced homicide detectives on it. That's where we came in. Like you and Hutch here, your dad and I were the city boys who were used to fishing bodies out of all sorts of weird places and making cases out of it. The suburban crew were turning green at the murder site." He paced back and forth, fidgeting with something in the breast pocket of his sportcoat. "Doctor told me to quit smokin'. Probably get shot by some punk anyway, and have spent all this time bein' frustrated for nothin'." He shook his head. "At any rate, we got put on the child murder case, gettin' nowhere. Then I got a lead that didn't make your dad happy at all. An old Chevy had been seen in the vicinity where the girls disappeared right before both incidents. Once, we found out it had been spotted near where one of the bodies had been dumped."
"Dear God...Alvin Wright drove an old blue Chevy--all beat up."
"Bingo. 'Course, we didn't have a license number on it, so it wasn't conclusive that it was his car. But there were a couple of rust patterns that had been ID'd and that matched. Wright didn't have an alibi worth shit either." Ed scratched his balding head. "He and your dad went way back. He was ready to rip my head off if I so much as hinted that we ought to investigate the guy, consider him a suspect. And on top of all that, he was getting threats from one of the Mafia boys--threats against Rachel and you kids, against me, against himself...I saw your dad go through some real tough times back then, and he was under the gun."
"Did you ever get anything else on Wright besides the car?" Hutch asked.
"Not until God handed us an eyewitness...that Mike destroyed. It wasn't until about two months before he was killed that he told me what happened. See, the case is still unsolved. We didn't have the break we needed, and even with investigating Wright--which I did on my own--we didn't have a fuckin' thing to take to the DA that would hold water."
"So he told you everything?" Starsky asked.
"He had a few beers too many one night, sitting around on my screened porch, and he got real worked up. He said he couldn't live with it anymore, he had to tell someone--it took me about an hour to get the straight story. He said you'd come in screaming your head off and telling what he called 'a ridiculous, disgusting story' about Al, and he said he hit you for lying, but you said it was true. He claims he went to Al's and searched the basement, with Al's permission but also the statement that their friendship was over if Mike wouldn't take his word for it that there was nothing down there. Mike didn't take his word, and he searched. He found nothing, so when he was done, Al lit into him about betraying a lifetime friendship, thinking they were brothers to each other and a whole litany of bullshit that made your dad feel guilty for even questioning him." Ed sat back at the table. "So Mike went home, you were still carrying on about Al being some kind of monster with funny eyes and cutting up a little girl in the basement and doing 'bad things' to her--which I don't think you clarified. He said he figured you were making up the story, so he was going to teach you a lesson about lying, since it had cost him his best friend. The long and short of it is, he got carried away." Ed took a deep breath and looked intently into Starsky's eyes. "Your father cried when he told me what he'd done to you. I never saw Mike get that torn up about anything. He said he didn't even realize what he'd done or how bad it was until Rachel showed him the marks and threatened to leave him if he did it again."
"Where'd he go when he left the house?" Hutch asked. "I mean, if you're going to lock your kid in the basement, it's taking a chance to invite a babysitter in while you go out for something unless it's urgent."
"He went back to the precinct, looked through the files, compared the car ID's, and went back to Al Wright's to look at the rust patterns on the side of his car. When he cooled off, it sunk in what was happening, that somehow Al'd managed to clean up his mess sufficiently between when you saw what you saw and Mike showed up to search. He said he raced home, was going to pull you out of that room, apologize like crazy for not believing you and then hear you out. Only when he got home, Rachel was there, almost hysterical about how she'd found you, and you weren't talking. He tried to talk to you for two or three days afterwards, but you'd get agitated and start crying and say you couldn't remember anything, and Rachel would intervene...and he had no witness. He said you were afraid of him from that point on. You didn't seem to be angry or resentful or remember the beating, but you'd literally hide behind your mother's skirts when he was around."
"Where's Al Wright now?" Hutch asked, while Starsky seemed to be attempting to process everything they had been told.
"Dead." Ed said the word with an air of resignation and defeat. All these years later, they had their eyewitness back, and now his partner and the criminal were both dead.
"How?" Starsky's head snapped up from its slightly hung position.
"About six months after the incident between Al and Mike, the Wrights moved to Vermont. The wife--oh, what's her name--Connie, had family there. Your dad even called the PD out there in the town they moved to...can't think of the name--small town someplace. Anyhow, nobody every got anything else on Alvin so it all just dropped, and we had to leave Anna's case unsolved, because from the start, we knew damned well who did it and when--and where."
"What was Dad's reaction? When you guys got Anna's case?"
"I didn't know why he was so out of it. The guy ran away from the spot where we found the body and puked his guts out. That wasn't Mike. You could show him a corpse in any state of mutilation or decomposition, he'd check it out, take a few notes and go back to the precinct and raid the candy machine. He didn't get nauseous. I didn't know at that point why he was so upset. He just said it was a kid you went to school with, and it made him nervous that the guy was striking so close to home. See, all this stuff about Al, he carried around with him until a year later, right before he died. We suspected Al, but Mike knew he was guilty as hell. And Anna's body, looking back, was just a confirmation, and probably a bigger realization of just how horrible the whole thing had been for you--this was a kid you knew and liked, not just anybody."
"What happened to Al?" Starsky tried to move the conversation back to Hutch's question.
"Well, he kept his nose clean--or at least was a hell of a lot more clever--when he got to Vermont. Only problem was, when Dennis got married and had kids, the old man lapsed into his old tricks again."
"Meaning what?" Hutch asked.
"Meaning that Dennis caught the old bastard in the act with his five-year-old granddaughter. Dennis damn near killed him right there, or so I'm told. I guess there were some other relatives in the house that broke up the fight. Al was arrested and Dennis and his wife pressed charges. We got an inquiry from the PD on him, and sent them all our circumstantial stuff on the child murders."
"So was he convicted?" Starsky asked.
"Never went to trial. Blew his head off in the garage one afternoon, about a week before it was supposed to start."
"How long ago was that?" Starsky seemed disappointed, understandably, that there was no way to make any use of all the miserable memories that had resurfaced.
"About two years now."
"Was the little girl okay?" Hutch asked. "I mean, as 'okay' as you could ever be after..."
"She was hospitalized for a little while, mainly for psychological reasons. I guess she's still in some kind of therapy. I really haven't heard any more about it since Al did us all a favor."
"I just wish there was some way..."
"To dig him up and make him pay for what he did? Been down that road in my mind a million times, Davey. Leads to nowhere every time."
"This all seems so...useless all of a sudden. I mean, I thought remembering was gonna matter, change things somehow."
"It could change one thing. We could close Anna Feldman's case. You're an eyewitness, Davey. With your statement, we could officially close this, and maybe give the Feldman's a few years of their lives with a little peace, knowing the answers."
"It's kind of fuzzy, Uncle Ed. Some of the details...what he was actually doing to her before he...killed her...I know I saw more than just the end--more than him...cutting her throat. But I don't see it clearly in my mind, and to be honest with you, I hope I never do." Starsky paused. "Where were Dennis and Mrs. Wright? I mean, Anna screamed in that basement, and I suppose he maybe didn't know the basement window was open, so he didn't know she could be heard outside, but his family--"
"Vermont. Like I said, they had family there, and Dennis was with his mother for a few days while she visited her folks. While the cat's away..."
"If I could just remember everything, for the case--"
"A witness to the murder is enough to close the case, kid. No need to wallow in twenty-year- old gory details."
"In the M.E.'s report--she was..."
"Do you want me to tell you the details, Davey?" Ed asked, with a warning tone in his voice.
"I suppose I really don't," he responded, as if realizing that this foggy part of his memory was best left that way.
A stenographer was summoned, and Starsky made his statement, complete with all the details he could remember. He claimed that by the time he reached home, he was confused, but by the time his father returned from investigating his story, he had no recollection of it, and that his memory on what happened next was also dim. The Starsky family dirty laundry would not be aired by him, not on public record with his father's colleagues. It had no real bearing on the facts of the case, though the violence of the punishment and confinement in the fruit cellar had dealt his mind the final blows that had shut down his memory for over twenty years. The Feldmans and the district attorney didn't need to know that, and Mike Starsky was left with the sterling reputation that, in his son's opinion, he had earned as a cop.
"I hope you won't mind if we contact you with any questions about the case later on," Ed said as Starsky signed the typed statement some time later.
"Not at all. You know where to find me."
"Davey, if you could spare a minute, I would like to talk to you."
"I'll wait outside," Hutch spoke up, but Starsky gave him a shake of his head.
"No need. Hutch and I don't have any secrets, Uncle Ed. You can say anything in front of him."
"I don't like to think that you're coming away from all this feeling that your father somehow didn't care about you, or thinking less of him than you did before you got your memory back. It's--"
"Look, I loved my dad and I still do. He made a mistake, he was overwrought--"
"It was more than that, Davey. Your dad had been under the gun with the syndicate activities we'd been investigating for a long time. He always pushed it a little farther, got a little bolder, than was safe to do. He didn't back down, and the result was that he spent most of his time getting threats from the boys in the mob. When your dad died, we all grieved but none of us were even a little surprised. One thing you should know is that no matter what else was comin' down on him, he was always braggin' about you. From the first day you were born to the last day of his life. He was nuts about both his kids, and he'd tell a funny story about something Nicky did, but when he talked about you, it was like he was talkin' about the crown prince. One of the guys had a catch phrase after a while when you were a toddler--we'd heard repeatedly what an amazing kid you were, how fast you learned everything--typical proud father stuff...anyhow, finally Flattery would just say 'has he walked on water yet?'--But he'd say it real serious, like he was expecting to hear that you had any day."
"That's nice to hear--"
"Don't dismiss it, Davey. He was proud of you, thought the sun rose and set in you. But things changed. Mike changed a lot during the last couple of years of his life. There was pressure, from the administration because he was rousting people and harassing so-called 'respected' citizens as part of his investigations of the crime families in the area. I call them 'his' investigations because at a point, I even backed off. We didn't have proof where we needed it--we had about six of those big three-ring notebooks full of names and allegations and fragments--but we were always missing the needed witness or the key piece of evidence to really bring one of these big bosses down. I don't suppose that kind of frustration is news to you two."
"Not really," Hutch responded, smiling.
"Mike didn't wear well under prolonged stress. I loved him more than I do my own brother, but I swear to God, he had one of the nastiest tempers I've ever seen when he was under pressure. If he was relaxed, you could spill a full cup of coffee all over a ten page report he'd just typed, and he'd smile at your panic and say 'accidents happen, pal' and clean it up. I know because I did that to him once. When he was under the gun, you could bump into him accidentally in the hall and he was ready to rip your head off." Ed was quiet a moment. His audience was watching him in silence also. Starsky's expression was serious, pensive. He wanted desperately to understand, and hopefully what Ed was saying would help.
"So when the investigation pointed toward Alvin..." Starsky seemed to be thinking out loud.
"It was the last in a long line of disasters. He'd determined that since I was 'deserting' him in investigating the syndicate bosses--I didn't want to be hauled into the chief's office more than once to get my hands slapped, and the guy in the chief's job at the time had fired detectives for less questionable activities that your dad and I had tried to get a break in even one of those cases...he started flying solo--doing a lot of harassing all by himself. I told him he was going to get his goddamn head blown off!" Ed brought his fist down on the table, and Starsky jumped visibly in his seat. The combination of the words, which all too accurately summarized how his father had met his end, coupled with the crashing sound on the table startled him. Ed seemed to regret the choice of words, but he continued. "Well, his friendship with me deteriorated, and I think Alvin became all that much more important to him."
"Hence his reaction when confronted with an eyewitness," Hutch added.
"Mike was losing some control, Davey. I don't know a nice way to put it, but his temper was getting him in trouble all over the department. He got in a couple fights--your mother probably doesn't even know about that because he managed to keep it between the lines enough that he wasn't fired or suspended, but he came damn close a few times. There's no good way to say this, but I believe that if your father had lived, he'd have had some kind of breakdown soon. I'm in no way sayin' he was crazy, but he was burnin' out, and his fuse was so short it wasn't really there at all. Everything was setting him off. It doesn't surprise me that once he started swingin' that belt that he didn't know when to stop--or that he lost some control and didn't stop. Through no fault of your own, you'd made him face in one afternoon what I'd been tryin' to make him face up to for weeks--that Alvin Wright was guilty as hell, and all we had to do was find that one little piece of evidence to hang his ass for killing those little girls." Ed rubbed his forehead and ran his hand back through his thinning hair. "Look, all I want you to know is that Mike had some problems, some problems I don't even think your mother knew about, and the man who beat you in that basement wasn't the same man who bragged about you non-stop and thought you were God's gift to the human race. He was a man on the edge, Davey."
"Thanks, Uncle Ed. For explaining everything." Starsky stood up.
"Don't hate him, kid. Because whatever he did, he was crazy about you."
"Yeah. Thanks." Starsky shook hands with the older man and turned to leave the room. Hutch felt a bit awkward. It sounded odd after the heavy and difficult time they'd spent together to say "nice meeting you". But for a lack of anything else to say...
"I'm glad to have met you. I've heard a lot about Starsky's Uncle Ed," Hutch said as they shook hands.
"Keep an eye on him, huh?" Ed said good-naturedly. "Don't be such a stranger, kiddo!" he yelled at Starsky, who seemed happy to be widening the distance between himself and the interrogation room.
It was late afternoon by the time Starsky and Hutch were back in their rental car and heading toward the hotel. Hutch drove, and his passenger sat silently staring out the window at the passing buildings. He pulled a few monosyllabic grunts from Starsky which amounted to an agreement to stop at the restaurant across the street from the hotel for dinner.
"Ed seemed like a good guy," Hutch finally said as their dinners were served.
"He is. He was a good partner to my dad." Starsky moved the spaghetti around on his plate. The two large meatballs on top of it didn't even elicit the normal enthusiasm. Hutch continued eating for a few minutes.
"Food's pretty good, buddy. You ought to try at least a few bites."
"I don't want anything." He pushed the plate forward and took a drink of his water.
"Starsk, I don't know what else to do." Hutch laid his fork aside and wiped his mouth with the napkin.
"Just relax and eat your dinner. There's nothin' else anybody can do. I guess that's what's the worst part of all this. When I thought we could get Al Wright--see him arrested, tried and convicted--I figured that even all these horrible memories were worth it. But what the hell good is any of this?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Feldman have some answers now. That's worth something."
"I suppose. They now know a man who lived right in our neighborhood, was friends with my father the cop, who is now dead and can't possibly be made to pay for what he did, is the killer. So what? What the hell's that worth, huh? It's worth shit." He shook his head. "Now they know that someone has known the answers for over twenty years--two people actually. Me, only I couldn't remember it--and Ed, only from him it would have been hearsay so it wouldn't hold up in court, and he wouldn't've broken my dad's confidence anyway..."
"Starsk, this couldn't have a happy ending. We knew that from the start, buddy. It wasn't going to be pleasant no matter how it turned out." Hutch took a drink of his beer and leaned back in the padded booth. "You're never going to get a complete explanation of why your father did what he did. What you got from Ed was as close as it gets. I think you can take some consolation from the fact that he wasn't himself the last couple years."
"I kinda knew that." Starsky fiddled with a bread stick for a moment and then laid it aside as well. "Everything Uncle Ed was saying was probably true. I know my dad's temper got a lot worse at home, it seems, in the last couple years. He'd slap me real hard across my face when he got mad, which wasn't like him, and he spanked Nicky a couple times, though that didn't amount to more than a smack or two. It's like he just started losing his patience with everything. He used to be real even-tempered, nothin' bothered him--but I know he changed at a point. Look at some of the guys we've known who've had domestic disputes--wound up punching their wives or beating their kids. People you'd least expect, the job gets to them, and they take it out on the family."
"I was thinking the whole hitting thing was an isolated occurrence." Hutch had pushed his own meal aside. The conversation wasn't improving his appetite.
"It wasn't real common. Just once in awhile. None of it was anything like...well, what happened after Anna." Starsky took another drink of water. "Now I managed to ruin your dinner. I'm sorry, Hutch. I don't mean to be such a pain in the ass about this. I guess I need to grow up and get over it."
"Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. I think you've done great."
"You do? I feel like an idiot. I mean, how many kids get whacked by their parents? Why should I feel like this is such a big deal?"
"You've never made a big deal out of the other times your father hit you. And I have a lot of respect for the way you handled the situation with your statement. You could have trashed your dad's whole reputation right there."
"Who would that help? It'd hurt Ma, and he deserved the reputation he built on the force. I just wonder when I'm going to grow up and get over this. I should be able to put it in perspective and move on."
"This was a whole different ball game, buddy." Hutch's voice softened, and lowered. "You went through a very traumatic experience. Any part of it would have been...very difficult for a child. How many little kids witness a gruesome murder, race home looking for help but instead get slapped and scolded and then left alone--and then take a beating that would make most adults change their stories, and then for the cherry on top of the sundae, get locked in a basement room they've always been afraid of? Damn it, Starsky, I've tried to be calm about this, but every time I think about it, I want to put my fist through the nearest wall." Hutch inclined his body toward the table and in a low voice through almost clenched teeth, continued, "I swear to God, if your father were alive today, it would be all I could do not to beat the living shit out of him. I'm sorry, that's how I feel, and it's been eating me up inside since the first memories you had of this whole fucking mess. I don't care if he was stressed out, I don't care if he had a bad temper, and I don't care what a goddamned wonderful guy he was. I don't care about any of that--what I do care about is what he did to you. All I know is that he messed with something that's precious to me and I don't take that very kindly," Hutch had spat out the words angrily before he realized exactly what he'd said, or why Starsky, in response to such an angry oration, was smiling faintly and looking immeasurably content. "I'm sorry I went off like that," Hutch said, clearing his throat and gulping a little beer. He imagined he had blushed all the way into his hairline, and he essentially had.
"I'm not," Starsky said honestly, with a faint smile still on his face. "Just shows that...ya know...how much you, um...care." He was fidgeting with the discarded bread stick again. After an uneasy silence that prevailed only a few seconds, Starsky smiled--a real "Starsky special", as Hutch had affectionately named it. "You suppose they've got good desserts here?"