Heat waves danced off the road in the late afternoon light. Halfway down the block, a girl walked into the wall of a building, then pushed herself off from it, staggering further down the walk. Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other, and then Hutch jogged down the sidewalk and caught her arm just as she collided with a wire trashcan welded to a pole. The can reverberated tinnily. Hutch caught her arm, turning her around to face him. One look at the wide, dark pupils told him everything he needed.
She made a clumsy and somehow pathetic attempt at pulling away from him, but he kept his grip easily. “What are you on?” he asked.
She looked up at him like a dumb animal, hazel irises a thin band around the huge pupils. She was a teen with brown hair rimmed gold by the lowering sun. Her cheeks were chubby. Baby fat.
Hutch stared down at her, his stomach sinking. Sweat trickled down his chest in the heat. “What the hell are you doing out on the streets like this?” He knew the futility of the question before he finished speaking. He leaned his head against the hot steel pole and sighed. “How old are you?” Still nothing.
Starsky caught up to them and Hutch tipped his head at the girl. “Kid doesn’t want to talk to me.”
Starsky looked at her and ran a hand through his sweaty hair. He shook his head, staring at the girl. “Where is this shit coming from? All of a sudden we got dope overflowing the streets.”
“Yeah. Right now let’s get this kid out of here. Call Juvie.”
“Then we go talk to Huggy.”
Hutch nodded glumly, led the girl to the car and tried not to look too much at the drugged bewilderment on her face.
The bar was cool and dark, a quiet hubbub rising from early diners and early drinkers. Starsky took a gulp from his mug, cold beer slipping down his throat. Next to him, Hutch downed the rest of his drink and slouched against the back of the booth. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, seeing the girl’s scared expression in his mind.
“Hey,” Starsky said, and nudged his partner’s knee with his foot. Hutch didn’t look up. “You okay?”
“It’s just . . . hell, Starsky. You know what it is. These kids get hooked and it all goes downhill.” He sighed. “Same old song, right.”
“You’re allowed to care. The day you stop is the day you forget how to be a good cop.”
“There’s caring, and then there’s futility, you know? But the kids get to me. Did you see her, Starsk?” Hutch said, finally meeting his partner’s gaze. Starsky nodded. “No, I mean, did you really look at her? She’s just, she’s a child, and she looked right at me but she didn’t see me. They don’t see anything when they get that far gone except for the smack and the people who can give it to them. Just a kid.”
“Some of them make it. Mickey made it. The kids are the ones that do have a chance, if you get to them in time.”
“You believe that?”
“Of course I do. Don’t you?”
Hutch stared off in space, considering.
“Well, if it ain’t my favorite dynamic duo,” Huggy said, sliding into the booth beside Starsky. “What’s shakin’?”
“You tell us,” Starsky said, chin cupped in hand.
“Let’s see. The toilet’s acting up and one of the bartenders is taking more than his allotted share of the money he’s expected to steal.”
“Huggy.” Hutch’s eyes were level on the Bear’s. He waited.
Huggy shrugged. “There’s a wild card shaking up the street, the way I hear it. Ain’t nobody going to talk to you about it, either, except for one crazy barkeep with a lack of preservation instinct. It’s gone too bad too fast.”
“You know anything about him?”
“You want to know more from me, we’ll meet up later. Right now I got the feeling Big Brother is watching,” Huggy said, sliding back out of the booth. “I got nothing to say to you guys,” he added loudly.
“What the hell’s up with you, Huggy,” Starsky called out for show. He tipped the last of the beer to the back of his throat and slammed the mug onto the table.
The sun had set but the heat still beat against Hutch’s apartment from the streets and sidewalk. Inside, however, the air was cooler. Hutch’s little window unit was cranked to the max.
“Losing your touch, I said.”
“Starsky, just because I don’t have a date doesn’t mean I’m losing my touch. You, on the other hand—you’ve lost it. If you ever had it.” Hutch smirked.
Starsky gave him the full blue-eyed in-your-face intensity treatment. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s and who are you sitting with? Last time I checked I’m not a lady. Which means you’re dateless.”
“Better check again. I’ve heard some things about you.”
“I’ve heard some things about us,” Hutch said.
Starsky waggled his brows at him. “They’re just jealous. Can’t help it we’re the best company we know. Though if the truth be told, I got enough rep for the both of us. A good thing,” Starsky added.
Hutch stood and wacked him on back of the head.
“Hey, there’s no need to resort to violence,” Starsky protested.
“Violence is always something to resort to when I’m with you.”
“Where you going?”
“I got something to check on,” Hutch’s voice floated back.
Starsky laughed in his root beer and got up to change the channel on the TV. He jumped when a knock came on the door, then detoured and answered it, letting Huggy into the room. “’Bout time, Hug. I been here so long Hutch has actually deluded himself into thinking I like spending all my time with him.”
“You ain’t foolin’ nobody. I said it before, I say it again: you’re the pea, he’s the pod—the pollen to his bee, the clownfish to his anemone.”
“He’s the who to my what?” Hutch asked, reappearing in the room.
“Something about bees, peas and fish. Never mind,” said Starsky, and sat back down. Huggy sat next to him. “So, tell us what’s going on.”
“What’s going on is that the drug dealers out of the Jaguares gang have teamed up with a dude named Angelo Alejandros. The trade in the neighborhood is organizing and seriously on the climb. As you’ve seen.”
“So who’s backing Alejandros?” asked Hutch.
“Don’t know. Nobody knows or they’re not talking. They’re scared. You know the bar and grill down the street from me? Pardo owns it. I heard he got taken right out of his fine establishment in the middle of the day. Got a hurtin’ for certain, bad enough to stay out of work a couple of days. Alejandros busted his chops for telling the Jaguares to discuss deals out on the street and not in his joint. These days the Jaguares do whatever they want at Pardo’s—he doesn’t lift a finger against them. And as a matter of fact, if Alejandros finds out I talked to you, this fine mind of mine is going the scrambled eggs route, time he’s finished with me.”
“Think anybody’d know the difference?” Starsky asked, patting him on the back. Huggy frowned.
“Pay no attention to this clown,” Hutch said, patting Huggy’s other shoulder. Huggy’s frown settled deeper.
“Fish,” said Starsky. “I’m the clownfish, you’re the anemone.”
“Whatever,” Hutch groused.
“Look, Starsky, this has been planned for six months. Your mother would never forgive you. And you know you wanna go. How else are you gonna find out if Uncle Gilbert’s still drinking like a fish? And what about Cousin Ethel—did she finally push the grocer boyfriend into a trip down the isle?”
Starsky was wide-eyed. “How did you know all that?”
“You told me. The Starsky Family Tales, as rambled on by, oh excuse me, narrated by Dave Starsky. See, I do listen. When there’s nothing better to do and nowhere for me to hide.” Hutch grinned a little, patting his own stomach in a self-satisfied way.
“Well look who ate all his Wheaties this morning. This ain’t no jokin’ matter, Hutch, so pipe down, wouldya? ’Sides, we both know how helpless you are without me.”
“I’ll manage. You keep going all protective on me like this and I’ll think you’ve got the hots for me.”
“I keep tellin’ you to keep your fantasies to yourself.”
“This dependency you have on me is bad for you. You’ve got to force yourself to let go before it’s too late, pal. Before you know it, you’ll be refusing to ever leave town without me. Never see your mother again.”
“Why did that sound like a threat?”
“Go forth, mingle with many Starskys,” Hutch said, waving his arms around. “Have fun. I’ll miss you unbelievably, but I will survive. You have my word on it.”
Starsky looked irritated, and beneath that, still uncertain. “You’re just a laugh a minute this morning. Try not to leave the imprints of your boot heels on my ass when I head out the door.”
Hutch grinned and then sobered, looking into his partner’s eyes. “If I really need you, you’re just a phone call away. Right?”
Starsky stared at him a long moment. “Right,” he finally mumbled. Hutch smiled at him again.
The man was small and dark, and he fidgeted in the bright whiteness of the interrogation room. Hutch sat down, considered grabbing the guy’s hands and placing them flat on the table. His head pounded and the fidgeting grated on his nerves. He just wanted the hell out of there. Wanted to go home, out of the heat and get some sleep, maybe. It’d been a long day.
The man’s name was Miguel Rodriguez, and Hutch had brought him in earlier that day. It had all started with a call to the police about a fight, the caller having stated that a man and woman were “about to kill each other” in the apartment next door. Hutch was a couple of minutes away from the address, so he’d responded. It turned out that the woman was flying high out of her mind on coke, screaming in Spanish and waving a gun.
And then the boyfriend, Miguel here, not too bright, had shouted back at the woman and in general escalated the fight. Hutch and a blue uniform who’d also responded to the call crashed through the door. Hutch talked the woman down and then they’d called an ambulance for her. She was completely unmanageable. He practically had to sit on her until the ambulance got there.
The reason this moron sat in the interrogation room now had nothing to do with the fight between him and his hopped up girlfriend. It was because of the collection of pharmaceuticals in the apartment. As a matter of fact, a line of coke had been laid out on the coffee table all nice and neat when Hutch and the uniform had crashed through the door. And now Miguel and his highflying companion were in serious trouble.
“So, Miguel, you were busted once before for possession. Now with the amount of stuff you had in the apartment, we know you’re on the selling end. Trying out for the big leagues, huh? All that dope lying around, and Maria, busy sampling the merchandise. Not too smart.”
“What do you want from me?” Miguel yelled. His hands shook.
The heat and the headache, the irritation all came together in a rush and Hutch grabbed the guy’s shirt, yanking him up close.
“I want to know where you got the stuff and I want to know now, or you’re going down for some serious time.”
Miguel squirmed and sweated. Finally he said, “And what do I get if I talk?”
Hutch shook him, knowing he’d better get a grip on his temper but losing the battle. At that particular moment, he didn’t give a rat’s ass, not with his head pounding viciously and his stomach queasy from the heat. “You’ll get better than you deserve if you’ve got anything to deal with that I’m interested in. It’s your last chance, scum. Talk.”
Miguel’s shoulder’s slumped. “I’m not going down for serious time. I can’t go back to lock-up again.” He rubbed a shaking hand over his face. “I must be crazy. With any luck, you’ll be the one that gets dead for it, though,” he said, and turned to face Hutch with a hateful smile.
Hutch pulled to the curb, switched off the engine and got out of the car. A tall man with dark hair and eyes walked out of the door to The Pits, holding the door politely as Hutch walked inside. Hutch nodded and made his way to the bar. He turned, scanning the room and its patrons as he waited.
“What can I get you?” asked the bartender, and Hutch turned to face him.
“Huggy, if he’s around.” The man nodded and turned away, and Hutch waited some more. A moment later Huggy came out of the back, craning his neck as he peered around the bar. Hutch took in Huggy’s appearance, eyes widening as he drew closer. The Bear’s left eye was a nasty shade of purple, swollen shut.
“Nice. What happened, one of your girlfriends beat you up again?” he asked.
Huggy made a face at him, then grimaced in pain at the movement. “Where’s your other and may I add much better half?”
Hutch slid into a booth and gestured Huggy into the opposite seat. “Big family
reunion going on this week. The Starskys are
striking fear in the hearts of
“Bad news is what did this,” muttered Huggy, stalling. He shook his head and looked down at the table before him. “Some days I know I definitely got the short end of the stick with you guys. This is one of them.”
“Who did this, Hug? Why?” Hutch’s lips thinned.
Huggy sighed. “Angel and some of his goons. He jumped me out back in the alley.”
Hutch raised a brow at the use of the nickname, but didn’t comment. “Okay. Now why? I wanna know everything you know about this guy.”
“Who’s the cop here anyway? ’Scuse me, I didn’t have my note pad out when he was hammerin’ on my face. The man likes to put the hurtin’ on.”
“Who’s he fronting?”
Huggy sighed. “The rumor on the street is that a dude named Castillo’s pumping up the drug trade. Trying to impress his mob pals. That’s all I know—that and that the neighborhood is sinkin’ fast. And I’m going down ahead of it if you keep coming at me with more questions.”
“This Alejandros put the fear of God in you, huh?” Hutch said, not really a question.
“Yeah, well, normally, I’d deny it with righteous indignation. But . . . you didn’t see him in action. I just . . . ” Huggy shook his head. “He comes across real pleasant as he’s bustin’ on you. He’s a psycho, Hutch, all right? He had a message, and I’m his messenger boy, sent out to deliver a warning to the neighborhood in general and the cops—that’d be you, specifically—that the kid gloves are off. Look, I’ll do anything I can for you and Starsky, you know that, but do me a favor—you believe the warning, or at least believe me. He’s a bad dude. Be careful. Be all kinds of careful.”
“Yeah. Yeah, will do.” Hutch stared off into space, thinking.
“So when’s your partner due back?”
No answer. Huggy snapped his fingers in the detective’s face. “Yo. Blondie.”
“Oh . . . uh, he’ll be back Monday. Flying back in over the weekend.” Hutch gestured at the swollen eye. “Take care of that, Hug.”
“You just take care of yourself.”
It was dim in the old warehouse, the only light coming through a few windows high up, close to the ceiling. It smelled bad. A dank, moldering smell. Hutch wrinkled his nose and tried not to sneeze. He waited, as did all the rest of the cops sprinkled around the place.
Miguel had spilled his guts and given up a couple of names higher up on the drug supply chain. Hutch had scored gold with Jose Alvarez, who’d told him the time and place of Alejandros’ next scheduled meet with his supplier.
Hutch checked his watch. The exchange should be going down any time now. He peered carefully around the dusty wooden crates he hid behind and saw nothing, but he heard something. Footsteps. Coming closer. He heard someone murmur. Then more footsteps, approaching from the opposite direction. Hutch withdrew behind the crates, then peered between them to the men gathering in front of him. On the left, two men, dark, Hispanic, flanked by two others. The tall one looked familiar.
Three men approached opposite, wearing suits and ties. “Doing some good business,” said the bald one. “You got my brother’s attention. So try not to fuck it up.” One of his companions laughed.
The tall Hispanic smiled agreeably while the shorter man spoke. “Tell your brother this is just the beginning.” He handed over a pouch, and the bald man pulled out the corner of a very large wad of cash.
He nodded. “Nice.” He gestured to one of his men. “”Give him what he’s here for.”
The guy at The Pits. Held the door open. Why the hell didn’t Huggy tell me? Hutch thought, looking at the tall man. Alejandros. He put his Walkie-Talkie to his lips and spoke quietly. “Get ready to move.”
Alejandros moved forward, taking the box that was passed to him. He began to open it.
“Police! Freeze!” Hutch yelled, stepping out from behind his cover. All around him, men separated from the shadows and rushed to the center of the room.
The bald man’s hand moved, and Hutch fired in the air. “I said freeze!” Hutch commanded. As the weapon cleared his jacket, Hutch fired again, and the man’s body flew back into a stack of old boxes. Gunfire blazed through the warehouse. One of the cops took a hit in the leg, but after that the two remaining men in suits were taken down. The two flank men were also apprehended, but Alejandros and the other had disappeared into the shadows, abandoning the drugs. Hutch went after them, but they were just gone.
Hutch headed out of the back door of The Pits to his car. Huggy and he had had a talk. At first Hug denied knowing Alejandros was at the door as Hutch left the day before, but finally admitted the truth. Alejandro had told Huggy he’d be waiting outside, watching Hutch, to insure that the message was received. If Hutch came out looking for him, he’d shoot him down in the street.
It was hard to get angry at the Bear, who even after he’d gotten busted up tried to keep his friend’s ass out of a sling. Huggy had shrugged, saying, “Starsky would have killed me if I let you get shot.”
Hutch opened the car door and sank down in the seat, thinking. Nobody wanted to talk today. Hell, not on any day, not since Alejandros and the shadowy figure holding the puppet strings behind him flooded the street with their drugs and their presence. It was frustrating, but his usual sources had evaporated like a creek in drought. They were governed by fear. The success of such a total lock-down on the streets was impressive in a very bad way.
Alejandros’ boss retained control for now, but without the new supplies he’d attempted to buy last night, he’d dry up and blow away—if his mob pals didn’t get him first for blowing the deal. Somehow Hutch had to keep him from getting more drugs. Maybe it was time to lean on Alvarez again. He was a regular font of information. He was also under protection, so Hutch knew how to get to him.
The radio came to life. “Zebra 3, come in.”
Hutch sighed and leaned across the seat. He unhooked the mike, spoke into it. “Zebra 3.”
Hutch picked up his feet, fast, about to swing them into the floorboard. He caught movement from the corner of his eye. The parking lot had been empty when he’d exited The Pits.
His hand was on his gun, pulling it from his holster, but it was too late. Something hit him hard on the side of his head. His ears rang. A dark curtain fell over his eyes. His grip on the gun relaxed and fell away.
He sat bound to a chair. His eyes opened on blackness. A hood covered his head. Someone touched his wrist, fingers gliding around the back to the knob of bone there. He tried to jerk his arm away but it couldn’t go anywhere. The touch slid up his forearm, ruffling the fine blond hairs. It felt like a caress. His skin crawled.
Something, no, someone yanked his head back, and then there was an arm, the crook of it beneath his chin. One strong twist to the left and his neck would snap like a pretzel. He understood that, and therefore that they anticipated an extreme reaction from him momentarily. His stomach knotted in sick anticipation.
Another pair of hands pulled his left arm out straight, then fumbled with the cuff of his shirt and rolled it up. Folded up tight in a corner of his brain, an unwanted memory began to unfurl, and he struggled to control the fear that grew as well.
Think. How many men were in the room? How many did it take to hold one cop against his will?
It was a natural if futile response to try and turn his head to see what they were doing to him, but the arm beneath his chin was unyielding. There was a charge in the air, a thing he felt with some unknown sense, prickling the hairs at the back of his neck. Like sharks cruising in a circle, murderous and mindless. Panic climbed the back of his throat.
Something sharp pressed, then punctured the vein at the tender inside of his elbow. His whole body jerked in protest. His mind screamed, a siren of panic
—a goddamned needle Godno—
and a hand tangled in his sweaty hair, yanking his head backwards, so far back that he could barely swallow. His body strained against the hands holding him back and his limbs shook with tension, but they held him still enough that the needle stayed buried in his flesh. He went wild, imagining the crawling death in his veins. And beneath the aversion, like a snake awakening, stretching to awareness, were the hated physical memories of languor and a numbing peace.
He went boneless, sagging forward against the rope that bound him. The fear faded to a hollow echo, dried up and floated away. A man’s voice came to him, low, pleasing. Reasonable. It asked him a question. Then another.
Dirt and sweat and he stank and his veins and his body his head all cried out for just one more pop, just one more chance to feel it all bleed away to nothing no one matters. He crawled and he begged and lashed out like a sullen child. Would have given them anything.
He’d have taken them to Jeanie’s doorstep and unlocked the door.
The past came forward to mix with the present. He
Before it was over, he’d wish it was the truth.
“Jeanie,” Hutch mumbled, crouched in his corner. His head fell forward on his arms, though he wasn’t high anymore. He felt the sick drawing in his veins and the sick want in his head. The aches and pains were back in full force, sinking deep into his bones. He ignored them. He was busy trying figure out if he was truly back in time or trying to buy time. He’d forgotten which.
The interrogator laughed, the sound glaringly out of place in this dark room of cinderblock, old, stained with things that Hutch instinctively knew not to think about. Could not afford to. “When’s the last time you felt so smooth, so right? Did you miss it? Do you want more?”
Hutch swallowed and kept his mouth shut. Starsky’s face floated into his mind’s eye, watching him, shaking his head.
“You like it just as much this time around, don’t you?”
“I like it more,” Hutch said, knowing that that would make the Starsky in his head leave. And it did. Starsky turned his back and was gone. Hutch felt himself disappearing, too.
“Gimme more.” More and more and more. Enough to drown out the taunting voice, the same voice that came to him when he was depressed and hopeless, convinced that the streets and the job would suck him dry and toss him aside and that none of it was worth a shit. That same voice assured him that all the minutes and days and years he put between himself and his heroin addiction were never enough.
The voice had turned out to be right.
He wanted to kill it.
Alejandros laughed, surprised. “You think you can get high enough to hide from me? There’s nowhere you can go that I won’t follow. I’ll pull you back to awareness of what’s happening anytime I want. Whether you live to remember it is another thing.” He crouched down beside Hutch, his slim body coiling down into itself, and thrust his fingers into Hutch’s hair. He yanked it back until their eyes were level. He smiled and it warmed the dark eyes, crinkling the skin at the corners. “Before this is over I’ll know things about you that your mother wouldn’t dream of. How much pain you can take before your sanity leaves you. What part of you I can hurt the most, and still keep you conscious.”
Alejandros made a vee with two fingers and jabbed at Hutch’s eyes. Hutch jerked back, squeezing his eyes shut. Bright flashes of red exploded in his vision as the fingertips pushed into the thin skin of his eyelids. Hutch strained away, head craning back over the edge of the chair. A quick, short punch slammed into his exposed neck and he made a gagging, helpless noise in his throat. He tried to raise his head again.
Alejandros touched his fingers to the red mark on his neck, as if soothing it.
“How do you know—” Hutch said, his voice strained and deep. It hurt to speak.
Hutch found his strength and wrenched away from Alejandros’ touch. “What do you think you can get from me?”
“Call me Angel.”
“I don’t know why I’m here!”
“Of course you do. Miguel was a nobody. He didn’t have the information you had about the meet. He connected you to someone higher up. Cariddi’s brother died by your gun. All because some sloppy fucker blew the meet to save his own ass from a cop. Understand you’ve killed a mob boss’s brother, Kenny. There’s no going back from that.”
“He was an idiot to show his face.” Hutch’s voice was ragged.
Alejandros surprised him by nodding. “I agree. How’s this—suppose you tell me who gave you the info and I’ll let you die without too much pain. Quite a sacrifice on my part.”
Alejandros smiled. It was a friendly smile, a good smile, white, a deep groove down the curve of his cheek showing. It made him pretty. “Because what I really want is to make you hurt.”
Hutch looked into the brown eyes, trying to see the connection between that smile and the words.
Alejandros drew closer. He exhaled, a small puff of air breezing over Hutch's face. Hutch jerked away. "I want to watch your reaction, breathe it in. See your eyes go wide, whites showing all around the blue, seeing nothing but your own pain. Your agony will slide over my skin like the finest lover . . . sink inside. It's incomparable, Ken."
Hutch’s head buzzed white noise in a confused mix of anger and fear. I gave them Jeanie. Before. It won’t happen again, can’t let it.
Alejandros saw it in his eyes. “I didn’t think you’d talk. Not yet. We’re going to spend a lot of time together—until your strength gives out, anyway. I'm going to be more important to you than anyone else ever has. The one person who can save you . . . or make you wish for death.”
“You’ve got a high opinion of yourself.” Hutch spoke through the dry cotton that was his mouth.
Alejandros smiled and said, “We’ll see.”
“Who told you about the transfer?”
Hutch stared up at Alejandros from his corner. He was very tall from where Hutch squatted, and his hair swept away from his forehead, ends down to his shoulders. The eyes were still unreadable, so foreign in thought and motive that Hutch could find nothing to use against him, though he tried very hard.
He kept staring anyway. It was like staring at a two-headed snake.
Every move the man made to hurt him came with no warning. He’d been kicked in the knee (agony), punched in the chest (breathless, stunned, but no major after-effects), and then groped—quick and shocking, the pain so enormous that he’d screamed. He’d sunk into the corner, hands tied behind his back, nauseated and coldly furious.
There should be some indicators as to what the guy was going to do next: muscle tension, or anger, anticipation, or the pleasure that he took from pain. Something in his face, or at least a shift of the eyes before he moved to strike. But the man held himself eerily still. There was very little lead into when he decided to move, or “make a point” as the bastard called it.
“Who told you about the drug deal, amigo?”
The voice was low and impersonal, yet there was warmth to it. If someone on the street spoke to you in this tone, you’d think he was pleased to meet you.
Hutch had nothing, could find no clue that might help him find a way to deal with Alejandros. He gave up and stared at the floor.
“You don’t want to go through this. There’s no way out. You’re not a cop here in this room, or even a human. I control everything you do. You can’t eat, you can’t move, you can’t take a shit unless I allow it.”
“This is shit. You know who he is, you’ve already killed him.” Hutch had to clear his throat to make the words come out. Almost before he finished, his head crashed back into the wall. He righted it and nearly smacked his forehead into the side of Alejandros’ face, come close enough that Hutch could count the individual hairs of his eyelashes and brows.
Alejandros smiled. “I killed the first link in your chain. Now I want the man who fingered the meet, Mr. Hutchinson.”
“There’s no chain, Alejandros—” and the man squatted. Hutch scrabbled deeper into his corner. His nuts were again squeezed brutally. Hutch held back the scream but not the low, keening sound. He couldn’t seem to stop that.
“I can make them burst like over-ripe fruit, did you know that?”
Hutch’s body pushed, wedged, strained back into its corner, but it didn’t matter. He couldn’t escape.
That evening, Alejandros came with another round of fine smack and jammed it into his veins. It felt like it rushed straight to his heart, the way it slowed and smoothed him down. He dreamed dreams of swirls and color and the face of someone he used to love but could no longer remember.
He lay on the floor, arms flung wide, staring up to where the ceiling should be. There was no bed, no mattress. Only a metal pan. Alejandros had decided to let him take a crap without having to ask. Today.
A hood covered his head, a prison of blackness that touched his face intimately. He couldn’t get away from it. He breathed through it, breathed in the stale smell of his own sweat and blood. His scent. The hood was becoming a part of him. It didn’t bother him at all at the moment.
He stared blindly upwards, more images floating up from his memories and swarming the darkness.
You hurt Abby.
He flung Tommy against the wall, then again, down onto the mattress of the narrow bed. Tommy called out to him. Called him Artie, as if he couldn’t see the face in front of him. He remembered gripping the hair at the top of Tommy’s head, pulling back to hit him.
Tugging. Something trying to disturb his fall down a dark tunnel. Pulling at his arm.
The mask was ripped off.
His face was dead white, eyes rolled up into his head.
Alejandros slapped Hutch’s face. “Answer me, amigo.”
The man, no, the boy, cringed, begged him not to be mad. The voice was lost in the dark.
The anger that had filled him moments ago and found a savage satisfaction in smashing the boy into the wall was gone, so suddenly it left him disoriented. He struggled to come down off the anger, intense as any drug. Sitting down, he stared into the darkness and crashed to a low of sadness and regret for this boy murderer. And for Abby, who was hurt because of the boy and because of him.
Someone grabbed his arm and pressed in at the wrist, counting. Dragged an eyelid up to peer into the blank pupil. “You gave him—he’s had too much.”
“What?” Alejandros sounded stunned.
“He’s OD’d. Should I try to save him?”
“You let him die and you’ll answer to Castillo. But first to me.”
They picked his body off the floor and carried him off to another room where the doctor had watched other men and women ride the edge. The doctor put more needles in his arm. He didn’t feel it.
Alejandros spoke into his ear. “Amigo?”
The boy called out to him. “Don’t go away. Artie?”
And he’d answered, had been Artie for him. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” He brought his head to rest against the wall in the darkness.
And then Starsky came and turned on the light.
But here the light had died, and there was no Starsky to flip a switch and flood the room with brightness like he always did when Hutch needed it. There was only darkness, forever darkness. Maybe it was too late. Maybe he was past needing the light.
Murmuring in his ear. A hand stroked his cheek. “You will live.”
He was allowed to eat untied and without the hood, though there was never any set time for meals. It could be half a day apart, a day, two . . . time wasn’t something he knew about with any certainty. There were no windows and no clocks. Just gray, scarred cinderblock, and a concrete floor with a drain in the middle.
No more drugs. Alejandros was scared shitless by what almost happened. It made Hutch smile.
And all it took was his own near-death. That and the fact that he had yet to give up the name that Alejandros sought.
Alejandros sat across the room in a metal fold-out chair, watching him. Hutch ate his sandwich and drank his water, ignoring Alejandros’ gaze.
Hutch lay in a different room for two days after the OD, though he hadn’t been conscious for most of it. When he did wake, one of the first things he noticed was that he was on an actual by-God mattress atop a small metal bed frame. It felt like heaven after sleeping on cold concrete.
The second thing he noticed was that there was another bed across from his, but empty. And there were shelves for bandages, bottles, a few medical supplies on one cinderblock wall. A man whose voice he remembered from down in the tunnel came to check on him fairly frequently. His name was Dr. Montoya. He didn’t know if the man was an actual M.D.
On the second day, Hutch was sent back to his room. Alejandros hadn’t touched him since.
He was glad, yet he knew that this was only a holding pattern, and at times, lying in this bare room with the hood resting against his overheated skin and his wrists pulled together behind his back, he wished for something to happen. The waiting screwed with his mind. And he still dreamed of the heroin, of getting high. Old habits die hard. The want wasn’t physical, though. They hadn’t hooked him.
His arms were always weak from being held back behind him for so long, and even the dim light thrown by the lone overhead bulb hurt his eyes when the mask was first taken off. Though he didn’t care, shit. At least he could see.
“Do you play poker?” asked Alejandros.
Hutch concentrated on the flavor of the sandwich in his mouth, on the cool water washing down his throat. He took his time, chewing up the last bite. When he was done, he looked at Alejandros. “What the fuck is this place? Where is it?”
“You want to play?”
“How many people are here?”
“We’re talking poker, Ken.”
Hutch laughed, but there was no humor in it. “What do I have that you can’t already take?”
“That’s not the point. I think you’ll be an intelligent opponent.”
“And if you win?” What do you really want? Hutch studied Alejandros.
The brown eyes were mild, expectant. “As you said. There’s nothing of yours I need, except the one thing you haven’t given me. But you will, and it won’t be because of a poker game.”
Hutch knew he shouldn’t agree to anything the man proposed, but he was tired of darkness, tired of thinking of the stains on the cinderblock. He was tired of wondering when Starsky was coming for him, afraid of the hope the thought gave him. Afraid that Starsky would never find him.
“Have you decided?”
Hutch tipped his head back and drank down the last of the water. He regarded Alejandros, then sighed, a small exhalation. “Sure.”
Alejandros smiled and pulled a deck of cards from the back pocket of his black jeans. He walked across the room, folded down to sit across from Hutch, and began shuffling with a careless ease. Hutch watched the long fingers, and then brought his eyes up to Alejandros’ face. Alejandros smiled.
“Seven card stud?”
Hutch shrugged and watched the cards.
The hood came off and his hands were freed. Alejandros smoothed Hutch’s hair, standing in blonde tufts all over his head.
“Hungry, I’m hungry.” Hutch blinked hard, looking up at him, trying to force his blurry eyes to adjust. It had been twenty-four hours since he’d eaten.
“I know. But first I have something for you. A roommate.”
Hutch blinked more and looked down, rubbing his wrists. “What?”
“A roommate, I said. Tell him your name, muchacha,” and Alejandros stepped aside. A woman with dirty blonde hair was pushed forward by a guard. She was a large woman in her forties wearing a dust-streaked black skirt and a light sleeveless shirt. Her arms were bruised and the skin sagged, almost baggy, as if she’d recently lost weight in a hurry.
Hutch was sure she had, if she’d been here for any length of time.
She stumbled into the space Angel had vacated. “Robin,” she said. It seemed as if she couldn’t get her breath.
“She’s sick,” Hutch said accusingly, and touched her arm. “I’m Ken Hutchinson. Tell me what’s wrong?”
“Asthma,” she said, and gave an odd stretch of the lips meant to be a smile. It highlighted rather than covered her fear. She coughed and it sounded deep as a gong.
“What’s my name, Kenny?” Alejandros interrupted. His face stilled and quieted, an absolute, fanatical depth of focus transforming his face. It meant violence. It fell over the man like a blanket.
“She needs medicine.” Hutch said it anyway.
Alejandros wrapped an arm around the woman from the back. His hand crossed over her chest, resting near her heart. He pressed her back into his body, and Robin’s cough ripped from her lungs. Every breath was a labored wheeze.
“Ken?” Alejandros said. His voice had gone low, calm.
“Angel. Look, Angel, she needs medicine.”
“I have it. But I won’t give it to her. None of them gets medicine unless I allow it.” Alejandros pressed harder, and the woman’s chest rose and fell heavily, struggling.
Hutch opened his mouth to say something, anything to distract Alejandros from hurting her again. “Who—who are you talking about? Who is ‘them’?”
“Did you think you were the only one held here?”
Hutch took two long steps across the room and slammed a fist into Alejandros’ face. It felt damned fine. His other fist was already arcing upwards for a follow-up as Alejandros rocked back, holding Robin to him. Her eyes were closed and her skin was the color of a dirty sheet.
Hutch’s fist trembled over Alejandros’ face. “Where is it?”
“I have it. You get it from me before I’m ready and I’ll kill her.”
“Give it to her!” Hutch shouted.
Blood flowed from Alejandros’ nose, down into the vee of his lip and over. He licked it. “She’ll pay for every blow you land.”
“Why is she here?” he demanded.
“Robin knows her purpose. Ask her if you like.” Alejandros let the woman go. His left hand snaked around Hutch’s wrist, still raised and trembling. Robin leaned against the wall, concentrating only on breathing.
“Ken. You are only what I want you to be, as is she. You are less than nothing. I am your god, and I control your lives and deaths. Today I might allow you to save her. Do you want to save her? She doesn’t have long.”
Hutch’s pale marble gaze locked on Alejandros, his hatred like a solid wall he tried to push into the man with his eyes and with force of will.
“Your choice, Ken.”
Not Ken. I’m Hutch.
Hutch lowered his gaze and moved away, his step forced and brittle, as if bones snapped with every step. Alejandros pulled the medicine from a back pocket. Robin frantically grasped his hand holding the inhaler. He uncapped it and sprayed, administering it as gently as any parent would to their child. Robin sucked it in as deeply as she was able.
Hutch sat in the corner, watching the two of them.
The next day someone came for him. He didn’t know whom—they dragged him from the room with the hood still on and his hands still bound. The voice was unfamiliar. Robin’s voice called after him as he left, but there was nothing he could say to reassure her.
He was told to walk, and nudged on the shoulder when he was supposed to change direction. Once he stumbled and instead of the blow he expected, his shirt was grabbed in between the shoulder blades and pulled tightly, steadying him.
It felt like a long walk. He began to hear sounds drawing closer. Someone was gagging. Then they threw up, and a terrible stench filled his nose, making him flinch. He heard a curse, the sound of a blow, and then sobbing. Something in Hutch’s chest did a slow flip-flop.
He wanted to help and he couldn’t. He struggled to control his anger and his grief, knowing it was a hindrance in this place. He tried not to be afraid, instead concentrating on gathering his strength and centering himself.
He was shoved to his right, and he stumbled along trying to keep his balance. He heard a door close behind him. Then fingers were on the buttons of his shirt, unbuttoning them deliberately, unhurried. He tried to pull away, but the fingers were insistent. The shirt fell open and cool air flowed over his chest.
“Angel,” he said. The man smelled faintly of musk and spice. Hutch knew his scent like the back of his hand. Knew the sound of his footsteps and even his stillness.
“What are you up to?” Exit holding pattern. His gut was tight. It was going to be bad. Alejandros had held back for too long.
Cold fingertips against his belly. A finger stroked his skin, and he jerked back. Alejandros laughed a little. The top button of Hutch’s jeans came undone, then the faint brrr of his zipper. The air moved, and he knew Alejandros knelt before him. His instincts were to pull away, shrink down into himself and protect his nakedness, and he tried, but hands swarmed over him, yanking at his pants and underwear. Hutch kicked out. Somebody hit him, and he went down on one knee. Then they had him down on the floor and quickly finished stripping him.
The hood came off last, but as usual everything was blurred. He blinked furiously. He saw three figures before him and as his vision cleared, one of them left—the guard who’d brought him here. Dr. Montoya was here, and Alejandros.
Hutch looked up and around. Row upon row of egg cartons were attached as lining on the walls—a crude form of soundproofing, Hutch guessed. Two narrow steel bed frames lay against the wall at an angle. And Dr. Montoya held something—
Hutch looked away. His knees were weak. He swallowed hard, clenching his teeth, and tried to hold on.
Wherever he was at and regardless of the original
intent for which this place was built, it was now a place of torture. It was
hard to wrap his mind around the fact that there could be such a place. Not
here, not in
Or maybe it wasn’t so hard to believe, not really. Crazy people did crazy things, and he’d seen a lot of it in his years as a cop—men who believed that aliens tried to get to them through radio waves, and fanatics who believed in one man enough to commit any crime, no matter how heinous. Alejandros wasn’t insane in the same sense as they, but he was worse. He was evil. And he liked it. Working for Castillo allowed him to indulge his sadism.
All of which meant nothing good for Hutch.
He gasped, the air leaving his lungs in a rush. He was soaked. Alejandros had thrown a bucket of cold water over him.
“Ken. The picana waits.” The voice was low, calm.
Picana? Hutch forced his eyes up to watch Alejandros, who took the long wooden pole from Dr. Montoya. Two wires came out of drilled holes at the end of it. The wires flailed and parted as if alive.
Dr. Montoya pulled one of the bed frames down from where it was propped against the wall. The steel made a shrieking sound as the legs scraped over the floor, and Hutch closed his eyes. The doctor’s hand grasped his upper arm, and Hutch reacted, throwing his weight into him and slamming him into the wall. Alejandros’ voice rose in a command, and the guard who’d exited the room earlier reappeared, barreling into Hutch, punching him in the gut. Hutch doubled over and the guard cracked him over the head. He nearly passed out. The doctor and the guard dragged his body over to the bed frame and lifted him onto it, lashing his wrists and ankles to the bed.
Hutch couldn’t make his body cooperate. Couldn’t move to stop them. The steel made cold stripes against his back and ass and legs.
So cold. Water dripped onto the floor.
“Who told you of the meet?” Alejandros asked, his voice a low, vibrating timbre. Hutch wondered what his voice sounded like when he sang. He shivered and looked up into Angel’s still face and deep eyes, towering over him. The pole lowered, and the wires danced. Hutch’s eyes fixated on them, pale and blank as a cold winter sky.
Alejandros touched the live wires to the bed frame.
Hutch’s world went up in a noiseless flare. The steel rattled in time with his straining body. Angel broke the contact, and Hutch slumped on the frame, but only for a moment. The pole hovered over Hutch’s chest, then dipped. Alejandros touched a nipple, and Hutch catapulted into white agony, mind and body taken over by it. His muscles jittered and squirmed. His heels drummed against the bed frame.
“Who?” Alejandros’ lips barely moved. His eyes were deep, dreaming wells, his face as quiet and perfect as a statue.
Hutch’s mouth parted. He pulled in deep, gasping breaths. He didn’t speak.
Alejandros touched the wires to his penis, and Hutch’s mind exploded like a pack of cards flung up into the air, then fluttered to the ground. The parts of him lay there, scattered, some twisted, or blank, or with pieces missing. There was enough of him that remembered who he was, and what, and tried to piece it all together again.
Each time for a long time, Alejandros answered with the picana.
Hutch writhed on the bed frame, his muscles thrashing and humming against his will. Sometimes he heard screaming, but he couldn’t spare any thoughts as to who did it or why. He pieced himself together again over and over, as he was allowed, though it grew harder each time. When the yelling wouldn’t stop and his throat bled from it, he realized who it was, but by then it didn’t matter. He had no control over any of it.
He no longer remembered the name that Alejandros asked him for, over and over. Time lost all meaning before he retreated down the tunnel again, away from the light.
Sometimes he stood in the corner and leaned his head against the wall. That way the hood hung out and away from his face. More fresh air crept up through the bottom and it was easier to breathe.
The hood was filthy and it itched. One day he’d scratched the hood and his face against the wall until it bled. He wouldn’t have cared if it helped, but it only made it worse in the days that followed as the dried blood flaked off.
He wondered how long he’d been here. He’d been beaten, he’d been shocked, he’d been starved. Once Alejandros had tied him and left him hanging for God knows how long. Felt like his arms would come right out of their sockets.
A week? Two weeks? More? He didn’t know—only that it felt like he’d never not been here. He and the black hood, becoming part of him, as were the alarming gaps in his memory. Robin and Alejandros, playing cards. Angel’s warm brown gaze, asking his questions, growing so still and focused whenever the monster emerged. Robin’s cough in the darkness, and breaths that wheezed and fought through passages like narrow straws.
When she cried, he pressed his body next to hers, lending his warmth and his support. He murmured nonsense things intended to soothe. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes it didn’t.
The day they brought him back from the picana and the torture room, she told him a little of her husband, James. How he’d worked for Vincent Castillo. But she still didn’t know why she was here. She guessed it had something to do with the fact that there had been more money of late. Lots. Maybe Jim had gotten greedy. He’d bought a new car, was looking into buying a new house. Then one day he hadn’t come home. Shortly after that she was taken. They’d asked her questions about the money. They’d asked for names and locations of people she knew nothing about.
Hutch shifted, moving his head so that the mask fell further away from his face. He remembered being thrown back inside the room that day. He was so thirsty. Robin kneeled beside him as he lay sprawled out over the floor. But she called him Ken, and Ken wasn’t his name anymore. Alejandros had destroyed it.
“Hutch,” he said to her. His eyes never left hers until she nodded, repeating it.
They’d thrown his clothes back on him, and his skin hurt wherever the cloth touched. His penis and his chest burned. It was excruciating.
She’d touched him, trying to soothe, and he’d groaned and pushed her away. He was horribly thirsty. He’d struggled to sit up, looking for the water container that was sometimes left in the room.
“No,” she’d said. “The water does something to you. People have died afterwards, drinking too much.” Her voice trembled, but there was strength below the surface.
He’d tried to go after the water anyway, and almost hit her when she refused him. It made him sick, that he’d almost done that. In the end he’d done as she asked of him. She’d allowed him only sips of water at a time.
Later she’d told Hutch about the people he’d heard on his way to the torture room. There were currently three others held prisoner in cubicles at the opposite end of the building. The room he was in was always reserved for someone special. Hutch was special.
Hutch grimaced. Special, right. He scratched his face against the wall, but carefully. He didn’t want to bleed again, didn’t want the hood sticking.
The first few days he’d had been here, he thought of Starsky often. It gave him hope. He knew Starsky would never give up, and he refused to think he could fail. Starsky was the lifeline back to normalcy, to friendship and job. Starsky was his lifeline, period. But it grew painful as the days passed and the doubt grew larger, thinking of things he might never have again.
Like the sunlight shining rich green on the plants at home, or the feel of guitar strings thrumming beneath his fingers. Or Starsky’s easy, deep laugh. Even Starsky’s ridiculous car—all things very far away and growing more dream-like all the time.
Hutch was weaker, both mentally and physically. He ate whatever they gave him, but it wasn’t enough. His memory was shot, and his thoughts wandered. The blackness beneath the hood was nearly alive, an opponent that picked at his sanity monotonously, as did old blood that had sunk into cinderblock and lived there still. Each time Alejandros freed him from the hood, sooner or later his eyes strayed to the stains. He was obsessed. All the lives before him that ended in the same way. Did anyone ever get out of here? Of course not.
Robin grew grayer, and her skin hung still looser. The bruises never went away, though Angel hadn’t struck her since she came to stay with Hutch.
He turned and leaned his back against the wall, surrendering to the inevitability of the hood’s touch against his skin.
He heard the door open and shut, and then Angel was there. He pulled the hood off. Hutch waited for his eyes to begin to work again. He looked at Robin, really looked at her after she came into focus, and he saw clearly that she was dying. Her eyes were already dead. It was only a matter of time. He felt guilty for even thinking it and wanted to say something to her to make it better somehow, but he had nothing of use to offer her. Only empty promises he himself could no longer bear to believe.
The three of them played cards again. Hutch had started with a few coins from Alejandros and it had grown into a small pile. It amused Alejandros to hand out the change when it was time to play. Hutch could see the faint warmth of it in his eyes.
Robin coughed and coughed today. Her breath wheezed, an inversion of the gentle whish of the oxygen mask Hutch had worn over his face when he’d had Callendar’s big bad plague—a strangled, sucking sound, lungs emptying rather than filling as they should. She couldn’t keep enough oxygen in there.
When they were done playing, Robin couldn’t get up. She leaned over on rigid arms planted to either side on the floor, torso straight, not curled, in order to give her lungs the most room to expand, but she didn’t have the strength. Alejandros stood beside her and stretched out a long-fingered hand, and with his help she was able to get up. Then he held out a hood.
Robin’s eyes flew to Hutch.
“Take it,” said Angel.
“Not mine,” she said, and Angel held her face in his hand.
“It is now.”
“She can’t goddammed breathe!” Hutch yelled. The cinderblocks absorbed the sound.
Alejandros said nothing, but extended the hood so that the material touched Robin’s hand. Her fingers trembled as they closed over it.
“Angel. Please,” Hutch breathed. The word hitched crazily in his chest. “Please. Don’t.”
Robin began to weep. Hutch’s eyes burned.
“What? Is there something you want to tell me, Ken? Something that might save her from this?”
Robin spoke in tiny sips of breath. “You can’t save me. He just wants to break you. I’m here to break you. My purpose.”
He couldn’t speak in the face of such utter, unreasonable courage.
Never never never give anyone up again. The words wound through his mind over and over, an eel traversing the same track it had been on since he’d been in this place. But wasn’t he giving up Robin by holding out? Shouldn’t he, if he had to make a choice, give up someone who played on the same field with the likes of Angel, who broke the law and took the risks?
She saw it in the frantic way his pale eyes roved over her face.
“No.” She gave a single, exhausted denial of what Angel asked of him, riding on a soft exhalation of precious breath.
No. She said no. But the man whose name he refused to give Angel wasn’t worth this, though that had never been the point.
Hutch watched Robin. Her fear was gone, the dead eyes were back. The necessary mechanics of fighting for the next breath and the next and the next took her over.
Angel never hurts her. He never helps her. He only watches me watch her die.
Until now. Until the hood.
The words ripped from Hutch’s mouth, like a knife ending the life of the man whose name he spoke.
He cradled Robin’s body next to his, cursing Angel monotonously long after he’d left the room.
She was soft, moon-pale skin. Legs a mile long, willowy and slim, like a colt. He buried his nose in the hair at her neck. She smelled clean, like soap wafting on a warm breeze. He glided into her deliberately slow, taking forever to sink all the way into the smooth silk inside. Her breathing was ragged. She wiggled her ass, shifting against the mattress and hooking her thighs tightly against him, trying to make him move faster. “No,” he breathed down at her, and she made a soft, frustrated noise deep in her throat. He closed his eyes, liking the sound of it.
He loved her so much.
Some sound Robin made woke him. The hood had been left off since Hutch spilled the beans, and so the first thing he saw was her face when he opened his eyes. The heat and desire left him, replaced by a quick, cold fear that left him faintly nauseous. She was so damned sick.
He’d propped himself beside her, leaning on the wall. She couldn’t breathe, lying down. It crushed her chest. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep. He rubbed her arm and sang an old lullaby, one he used to sing to his nephew. He’d been humming it one day, trying to keep the darkness of the hood from smothering him. She heard and liked it, remembered it from somewhere out of her own past.
The door opened and light sliced over the room. A black silhouette walked over, and a hand was extended.
“I need to stay with her. She’s very sick,” Hutch said.
Angel didn’t answer. Hutch had known he wouldn’t.
“I said she needs me.”
The hand never wavered.
“Goddammit,” said Hutch, and heaved himself up. He bent down again. “I’ll be okay, Robin. You hear me, I’ll be okay.” His fingers rubbed her shoulder.
She looked at him and her eyes weren’t dead, they were big and round and scared. Not for herself. He kissed her cheek, then stood to face the devil. Angel moved his left arm fast enough to be a blur and something black flashed from behind his back. A strip of thin leather. He slashed it around and Hutch flinched back, but too late—a thin red weal appeared almost immediately on his pale cheek. Hutch stepped forward and feinted with his left, trying to get to Alejandros, but he was slow, only a shadow of who he used to be. Angel grabbed his arm easily in one hand and flicked the strap, which wound around the extended arm. He pulled the strap sharply out and to his left and Hutch was turned around with his back to Angel. Angel hiked the strap high in the air above Hutch's shoulder blades. Hutch grunted when something in his shoulder gave, but that was the only sound he made. Robin began to crawl toward him.
Angel cupped his hand around the back of Hutch's skull and beat his head into the wall, once, again, then stepped back.
"I told you, I told you the name!" Hutch gasped, blinking, trying to claw into the wall for support.
"Yeah, I know what you told me," Angel answered. "Maybe I'll kill you in front of her, what do you think?"
“Why?” Hutch asked, though there was no sense in asking. It was just a useless protest.
Angel beat him and chased him down and down, into the darkness of the tunnel again.
Sometimes lately Hutch wondered why he bothered to come back out.
Starsky hit him and hit him again and Hutch just let him, soaking up the pain in Starsky’s eyes and claiming it for his own. Who the hell couldn’t see that bitch was using him, would screw anything she pleased, anytime, no matter if Starsky had lost his mind temporarily and claimed he was in love? She’d used him, used them both. Hutch showed him. He’d fucked Kira because he hurt, plain and simple. He’d been hurting for a while now. He wanted to make Starsky hurt with him. Ugly but true.
Fucking Kira had made him smaller, and Starsky’s face reflected that. Hutch already knew it and accepted it, but he hadn’t counted on the fact that Starsky’s pain still had the ability to put a knife in his own chest as well.
Then somewhere along the path between Gunther and Starsky’s long, tenacious fight back to health came a second chance to be the friends they used to be. Hutch went for it. After all, he’d beaten Gunther, hadn’t he? And he had Starsky back against all the odds.
So he cleaned up his act—his bitterness, his defeat, even his looks. He got healthy again. He’d never forget how Starsky was there with him and for him, every step of the way. Same as it was always meant to be.
Hutch swam in the twilight between the past and present. He tried to remember their victories together, earned in blood and in willpower and in tears. There was nothing else to hold onto.
He crawled down by Robin’s side and wrapped himself around her, pulling her to him with his good arm. He realized he knew nothing about her, really. He knew her name and her husband’s name, but nothing about her politics, her favorite book or movie or even if she had children. He thought maybe he was afraid to ask that last one, afraid of the answer.
“In her house, soft and blue, though she must stay . . . ” he sang her lullaby, though his voice broke now and then. His ribs hurt with each breath.
She’d died while he lay there on the floor, unconscious. Her face was frozen gray, unforgiving. He kept singing.
After a long while he turned from her body and curled up on the floor.
Angel threw down his hand: two pairs, kings and nines. Hutch smiled, though it was nearer a snarl than anything else, and threw down his own hand. “Ace high straight,” he said. He stared at Angel and started to laugh. Angel’s face shuttered and closed down. Hutch ignored it and kept laughing, though it got away from him—went deeper and hoarser. His arm hurt badly, and his ribs ached. He ignored that, too. He kept laughing, watching Angel’s face go quiet.
He thought maybe Angel would kill him this time. He kept it up anyway until he was red-faced and gasping and the pain grew like an incoming tide.
Angel reached across to him and grasped his wrist and stroked it slowly. Hutch didn’t bother to pull back. The dark marble of Angel’s face shattered and then smoothed as a smile lit his face, giving it life. He shoved a pile of change over the floor.
“Looks like you won, Ken.”
Hutch stopped laughing and looked at him, wide-eyed and in silence. “Yeah.” He laughed again and made a choking sound in the middle of it all. Angel watched him a moment and then walked out of the room.
Hutch held his stomach with his good arm, and the tears rolled down his face.
Starsky called to him from up above in the light. Hutch was down in the tunnel. He couldn’t figure a way out. Somebody was there with him, but she was . . . she was . . . he stroked her arm and pressed his face to her chest and sobbed. She couldn’t be dead. There were no marks on her body, though if the truth were told he tried very hard not to look at her throat.
Yesterday he was here with her, only yesterday, and she was breathing. They ate dinner together and talked and made love afterwards. She’d eaten and smiled and talked and made love, hadn’t she, just yesterday, so she couldn’t be dead.
Hutch moaned in his sleep, hiding his face in the crook of his good arm. Angel crouched beside him and touched his cheek gently, waking him. Hutch rubbed his eyes with the one hand but didn’t sit up. His arm was in an almost comfortable position and he didn’t want to make the pain worsen.
“Stars—” he started. Began again. “Who died?”
Angel looked down into the clear eyes. “Robin died.”
“I know, I know. I mean, who else?” He sat up, wincing at the pain that radiated down his arm and the callousness of what he’d just said.
“I don’t know. They all die.” Angel leaned over and patted the small of his back, comforting.
It felt good. Hutch sighed, trying to relax. He couldn’t, though. He couldn’t remember her name. How could he forget the name of someone he’d loved and let die?
“You gave me a name,” said Angel, very quiet. “Jose Alvarez. But he’s gone. You’ve got him somewhere, don’t you?”
Hutch pulled back, and his head cleared. He gave Angel a slow smile, remembering most if not everything he thought he’d forgotten.
“I’ll find him, Ken. And as soon as I know you have nothing more to offer me, you’ll die.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Hutch said in a monotone. “You’re finding it awfully hard to let go, aren’t you?”
The sun hit him square in the face, driving like spikes into his forehead. He shivered and pulled the covers up higher around his neck, but the light was merciless. Groaning, he passed a hand over his brow and let his head drop back to the pillow. Something caught his eye.
His vision was blurred from sleep, but he looked toward the long observation window of his hospital room and saw . . . red? He squinted, trying to focus. S T A R S K, in big capital letters. Written in lipstick.
“Starsk,” he muttered.
A hand touched his cheek. “Hutch. Oh my God.” The voice was low and rasping and endearingly familiar.
“I’m gonna get better. You’ll see,” said Hutch.
“I know you will,” the voice said. It sounded near tears.
“You get that fucker Callendar. I intend to live forever, just like in Azerbajahn. You know?” he asked, still sleepy, and the fingers touching his face stilled.
“I’m here, Hutch. Now. You understand? Open your eyes.”
“Didn’t think you’d ever get here.” But Hutch’s eyes stayed closed.
“Buddy. Hey, buddy, I’m . . . ” and the voice trailed off helplessly.
I’m the clownfish, you’re the anemone. Hutch frowned. Something was off. He still felt cold concrete beneath him. If Starsky had rescued him he wouldn’t be on the ground, would he?
He opened his eyes. He was in the same damn motherfucking room. Starsky’s eyes stared down into his, Starsky’s beautiful, wonderful eyes that he’d never thought to see again. Starsky’s brows were knotted, like they got when he was upset.
But if Starsky was here, lying on the floor with him . . . goddamn it all to hell.
He whispered it. “Goddamn it all to hell.”
“If you won’t break, Ken, maybe your partner will,” said Angel from behind him, and Hutch sat up.
“Hutch? What’s wrong with your . . . how long has your arm been like this, huh? Looks like your shoulder’s dislocated.” Hutch got to his feet, and Starsky followed, putting a hand out, reaching for him. It hit on his hurt shoulder. Hutch moaned and the hand fell as if burned. Then it came back and hooked him around the top of the other arm.
“It’s been dislocated since the evening before yesterday,” Angel said.
Starsky eyed Angel as if he were a roach on a rug, then looked back at Hutch. “You gotta let me check it out. Maybe I can fix it.”
Hutch pushed the hand away from around him. He turned and walked toward Angel. “You get this, Angel. You’re going to die for bringing him here.”
“Hutch. Hutch!” Starsky tried to get in front of him but Hutch wouldn’t stop, so Starsky moved alongside him, talking rapidly. “Listen to me, will you listen? You know Alejandros went underground here after Cariddi’s brother took the dive. Castillo lost some mojo, some connections. Got people pissed off. I busted his operation wide open, and his boys tried to keep me from takin’ him in. He’s dead. Couldn’t find Alejandros and when I did, he got to me first.” Starsky turned to Angel. “You lost it, Alejandros, hiding out here.”
Angel stared at Starsky.
“Yeah, go ahead and look,” said Starsky. “This nut is one coconut shy of a tree, Hutch. Dobey’ll find us. He knows all of it.”
Angel spoke to Hutch. “You clued me in when you called me by your partner’s name yesterday, you know. All that time and you never gave me anything until now. You’re close, closer than brothers. You expected him to be there when you were hurt. He’s very important to you. “ He turned to Starsky. “And he’s important to you, isn’t that right?”
Starsky rushed at Angel and threw him into the wall, driving a fist into his mid-section. Angel yelled and the door flew open. A guard ran in, then another. Hutch hit the first guard, who turned and pushed him. There was contempt and maybe a little pity on his face.
The ground swung up to meet Hutch, and he landed on the bad arm. The agony was immediate and overwhelming. Starsky’s voice followed but couldn’t stop him from going down the tunnel.
He’d been in and out of consciousness. He remembered knowing that Starsky was there. He remembered yelling. Something hurt— Starsky did something that hurt him. But then it had been hurting for days.
When he came to and moved his arm, he realized the joint had been popped back in place, and that Starsky had been the one that did it. He didn’t know why Angel let Starsky fix it, of course, but he suspected it had something to do with watching him inflict more pain on Hutch, even if it was for his own good. Angel would have enjoyed the show. The bastard.
Starsky lay next to him, and his hands were tied behind his back. Starsky hadn’t known if he was alive or dead since his disappearance, and now his body touched Hutch’s all along the length of him as if to reaffirm his partner was still alive. It felt good. Warm. Comforting.
The door opened, and the two guards stepped inside. Starsky’s eyes opened, and he sat up. The guard who’d pushed Hutch earlier gestured at him. The pity was back in his eyes, and it made Hutch’s blood run cold.
“Where are you taking him?” Starsky demanded, standing, trying to push his body in between Hutch and the guards. They had to beat him back. He wouldn’t stop fighting.
“Hutch! Hutch!” He kept screaming it over and over. Hutch heard it over the hammering of his heart for a long time down the hallway. He held the sound of it to him for as long as he could, used it as a shield against what was coming.
The other prisoners were gone from the tiny cubicles outside of the torture room. Hutch hoped they were still alive, but he was glad they were gone. Whatever this insanity had been, it was nearly over. He wondered if Angel could feel it drawing to a close.
He stepped inside the room. The egg cartons lined the walls, and the steel beds were propped against them. There was no doctor anymore. Just him, the guards, and Angel.
And the picana, of course.
He closed his eyes when the guards took his clothes off, and kept them closed when they tied him to the bed frame. Even when the cold water came and wetted him down, he gasped, but did not open his eyes. He only opened them when Angel commanded him to do it and looked up into his dreaming darkness.
“Is he here to watch me die?” Hutch asked. Angel watched him a minute, then nodded slowly.
“Why, Angel?” Like a child, begging.
“Because you never broke. Because you nearly died and escaped me. Maybe because I never got to Alvarez. Take your pick,” Angel said, and shrugged. “We’ve danced this dance for too long, Ken. It’s got to end. I can’t allow you to live. It would mean you’ve won.”
“It’s a house of cards, all coming down. I’ve already won,” Hutch answered, just before the wires touched him.
Tattered shreds of memories exploded from out of
the pain, movies of who he had been playing inside his head. Of him, his
parents, his past loves. And Starsky.
Always Starsky. Starsky at
Always holding him.
The movies had moments of blankness, where the strip broke and the screen went white. Once it went blank and came back to Starsky’s face, bending over him. Starsky touched the quivering wires to his flesh. Hutch cried out at the betrayal, over and over, until it was only another mindless scream.
When the last whiteout came, he welcomed it with open arms.
Starsky said his name over and over. “Answer me. Please, answer me. Hutch! Hutch.” He heard quick, panicky breathing.
Starsky was here? No. Angel would kill him after Hutch died.
Or would he? Hadn’t Starsky used the picana on him in the torture room?
No, Starsky couldn’t be here.
He closed himself off from the voice.
Oh God it hurt. It all hurt.
He wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore. But he was tired of the light. So tired. He floated off—
down past the dying light, into the tunnel darkness. He tried moving further in, but something held him back. It made him furious. He was done, all done. He pulled away, kept going.
“Hutch, goddammit, you open your eyes. Don’t you fucking think you can leave me.”
His ears roared and the white light ripped through the tunnel, ripped through the movie. When it settled the darkness was gone, and it was quiet. He saw himself. Someone held him while he puked and shivered his way out of a heroin high.
He stopped and watched. Listened to the voice, talking to him.
“Don’t, Hutch. Please don’t.”
He took a step away. Another. Didn’t want to hear. Couldn’t bear it.
A flash of blue-white light drove away the darkness, and the movie started again. He was on the phone. Starsky was dying. The ball bounced, and Hutch’s heart beat faster and faster until he thought it would burst. He crashed through the swinging hospital doors, and Starsky knew he was there.
Because Hutch had asked it of him.
“I love you. Please don’t go.” Starsky’s arms were around him. His shoulders shook.
Hutch took in a wavering breath. Starsky looked up into his eyes, disbelieving.
“How’s Cousin Ethel?” Hutch whispered, and Starsky buried his face in the crook of his partner's neck. His chest shuddered against Hutch's.
Outside, sirens sounded all around the building.