It was two weeks before Christmas and Starsky and Hutch’s shift was going well. They only had an hour left and both were looking forward to a relaxing evening at Huggy’s.
“Zebra Three. Potential building collapse at 4211 Inland Avenue. Assist with traffic control.”
“Zebra Three. On it.”
Hutch put the MARS light on the roof and flipped the siren on while Starsky hit the brakes and threw the Torino into a 360 spin to head in the direction they had been coming from. Hutch grabbed the window to keep from being thrown around in the seat.
“Did we have an earthquake, Starsk?”
“Not that I’m aware of. But that area’s pretty old… maybe just deterioration?”
“Could be. There… where all those people are.” Hutch pointed as they approached the area.
“I see it.” He guided the car to the curb on the opposite side of the street. Both got out and walked toward an officer motioning for people to move away from the building they had come out of. They pulled their badges and showed them to him.
“I’m Detective Starsky and this is my partner, Detective Hutchinson. Where do you want us?”
“If you guys can go around the corner and make sure everyone moves to the other side of the street, and keep everyone away. That will help.”
Hutch looked up at the building and noticed the top two floors seemed to be out of alignment with the rest of the building. “Everyone out?”
“Far as we know. I’ve told everyone to make sure their family and neighbors are accounted for.”
Hutch nodded at the officer and motioned for Starsky to precede him around the corner of the building.
“My baby!! My baby!!” Both turned to see a young woman trying to run into the building. Starsky was closer and reached the woman to keep her out on the sidewalk. She struggled to get loose but couldn’t. “My baby is still in there. She’s not with the sitter. I just saw her, and she doesn’t have the baby. I have to get her out!”
“What floor do you live on? What apartment number?” Hutch got the woman’s attention while Starsky still held onto her. “Quick. We’ll go find her.”
“The third floor. Number 325. It’s on the right at the top of the stairs. Please? She’s only three!”
“What’s her name?” Hutch asked.
Starsky moved over to talk to the man who seemed to be the super of the building. “What happened? Can you tell me what and where the damage is? Can we get to apartment 325?”
“Not sure. Top two floors just fell. You’ll have to climb over and around some stuff, but I think you can get there.”
“Hutch? You ready?” Starsky looked at his partner, who nodded, and they headed into the building at a run. He pulled the radio off his belt and turned it on. They were able to go up the first flight of stairs fairly easily, with large areas free of debris. They moved the debris to the side as they went up.
The second set of steps slowed them down considerably. They climbed over what they couldn’t move. Both were sweating as they fought their way up to the third floor. The damage here was massive. The entire hall was full of debris.
They carefully worked to move the debris, stopping now and then to call out “Mandy.” They would pause to listen but never heard a call back. Both were breathing hard as they worked their way to the apartment. It took over twenty minutes for them to go about fifteen feet, but they were finally at the apartment door.
Starsky knocked on the door and yelled out, “Mandy? Mandy we’re police officers. Your mom sent us up to get you. Mandy, can you hear me?” When there was no answer, they put their shoulders against the door and slowly pushed it open enough for them to squeeze in. Starsky moved to the left and Hutch began to move toward the right, trying to clear a path to get to the bedroom he could see. They both checked out the rooms on their side of the apartment but didn’t find the little girl.
They met back near the front door when the building started to shudder and shake again. Hutch grabbed Starsky by his arm and pulled him under the door to the kitchen. He shoved his partner to the floor by the refrigerator and tossed himself on top of him. Dust and debris fell on and around them.
When it seemed to be over, Hutch rolled onto his back and looked around. Starsky was lying still where Hutch had pushed him. “Hey Starsk? You with me? You okay?” He noticed some blood near Starsky’s right temple. “Come on, buddy, talk to me.” He checked his pulse and breathing and was satisfied it was close to normal.
Looking around, he saw they were in a corner of the kitchen and the walls and refrigerator had provided them with a small area fairly free of debris. He lay back on his back and took some deep breaths. He stayed there for a few seconds then sat up again to check on Starsky. “Starsk? Wake up, buddy.” He again checked Starsky’s pulse and kept talking to him. Starsky moaned and opened his eyes.
“What happened?” He reached up to rub his right temple. Hutch grabbed his hand, which was covered with dust, and moved it back to his side.
“Building shifted again. Something hit that hard head of yours.” He chuckled and felt some relief when Starsky broke out in a small grin. “Anything else hurt, buddy?”
Starsky winced when he tried to move his right arm. Hutch noticed and gently took his arm in his hands to check it. “I think you might have sprained your wrist. Need to figure out something to splint it with.” There was ample debris to choose from, but most pieces were too small or had nails sticking out of them. Hutch finally saw a couple of magazines in the rubble and used them and strips of his shirt to fashion a splint on Starsky’s wrist. “That’s gonna have to do until we get out of here.”
The radio crackled to life. Hutch grabbed it and turned the volume up. “Captain Dobey here. Come in Starsky or Hutch.”
“Hutch here, Cap’n.”
“You guys okay? Where are you?”
“On the third floor, apartment 325. We were looking for a little girl when the building shifted again.”
“Amanda? Her mother found her.” The guys looked at each other and sighed together. “You two okay?”
“Starsky broke some debris with his head and I think he sprained a wrist, otherwise we’re in one piece.” He looked around at the debris between them and the door of the apartment. “Not sure we’ll be able to dig out of here on our own.”
“Rescue crews are here. They’ll be heading your way but it’s gonna take some time. That last shift buried the staircases in rubble again.”
“10-4 Cap. We’ll sit tight for now.”
Hutch put the radio beside him and checked Starsky again. He had his eyes closed. “Starsk? Wake up! You gotta stay awake. Look at me!”
Starsky managed to open his eyes a bit. “’m tired.”
“I know you are but you need to stay with me so I know your brain’s still with us.” Hutch looked at his eyes and was relieved to see the pupils looked the same size.
“Thirsty. Too much dust.”
Hutch carefully shifted Starsky a few inches away from the refrigerator door then moved himself so he could pull the door open. He sighed with relief when he saw a jar of orange juice and a gallon bottle of water. He grabbed the juice and closed the door. He put the juice on the floor and helped Starsky sit up a little bit. “Here. Take a couple sips of this. Careful. Small sips for now, okay?”
“Yeah. ‘Kay.” Starsky took a couple sips and let his body relax back against the debris pile. “Better. Thanks.”
“Anytime.” Hutch took a small drink and re-capped the juice, setting the bottle of the other side of him. “How’s the wrist?”
“What about your head?”
“Kinda numb, too.”
“That’s pretty normal for you, Starsk.” Both chuckled.
Starsky suddenly looked at Hutch. “You okay?” At Hutch’s nod he relaxed and closed his eyes again. “Guess we got ourselves into a mess, huh?”
“Yeah, guess so.”
“Hutch, do you ever regret… what we do?”
He thought about that for a while. “No, I guess not. She could have been trapped up here.”
Starsky nodded then groaned when that caused the pain in his head to flare.
“Here, take another drink of this juice. Need to keep you hydrated and the sugar will give you energy you’re gonna need when they dig us outta here.” He held the bottle for Starsky to drink out of.
Hutch leaned back against the refrigerator but kept a hand on Starsky’s arm. He closed his eyes and thought about Starsky’s question about regret. He did regret the times Starsky got hurt, feeling like he had somehow failed to keep his partner safe. It hurt when they worked so hard to bust a criminal and the court turned them loose because of a slick lawyer finding something small to get them off. But all in all he didn’t regret what he did.
He opened his eyes and looked up at the hole in the ceiling above them. There was some kind of coffee table teetering on the edge of the hole. It was wood and looked heavy. He held his breath as he saw it rocking back and forth. He followed the direction it would take if it fell and realized it would hit Starsky. “Hey, Starsk? I need you to move! Wake up for me. I need to move you. Come on, pal, I know it hurts but you need to move.”
He carefully lifted Starsky and started to move him away from where the table would fall. He thought he had him moved out of range when he heard a noise and looked up to see the table sliding toward them.
He tried to shove Starsky further out of the way but Starsky was unconscious and unable to help. The debris pile behind him shifted and made him fall toward Starsky. He ended up on his back, lying half across Starsky, when the table fell. The end of the table caught him across his abdomen then fell to the side. Hutch felt excruciating pain. Then… nothing.
“Hutch! Hey, Hutch! Are you okay? What happened? How come you’re on top of me?” Starsky pushed at Hutch’s shoulder again.
Hutch moaned when he shifted a bit. He opened his eyes and finally heard Starsky. He was lying on him. He managed to shift to the side and almost passed out again from the pain. “I… had to move… you. Table… fell… from upstairs.”
“Did it hit you?” Starsky tried to sit up but dizziness made him lay back down. “Hutch? You okay?”
“I’m okay. It just… glanced off me. Sorry I landed… on you.” Hutch tried to keep his voice even so he wouldn’t scare his partner. He carefully touched his stomach and flinched both with the movement of his arm and the touch. It hurt to breathe and he wondered if a rib or two might have been broken.
“Any more juice? ‘M thirsty,” Starsky said.
Hutch carefully glanced around and located the bottle, which hadn’t been broken. He turned painfully on his side and slowly helped Starsky get a drink. Starsky saw him flinch a couple of times and looked at Hutch’s face, which was drawn and pale. “You sure you’re okay, blondie?”
“I’m good. You?” Hutch tried to breathe normally. He had to reassure Starsky.
“Head still hurts. Things look a little blurry.” At Hutch’s concerned look he quickly said, “I know who I am and where I am. And I remember you.” He grinned at Hutch who grinned back, but it seemed strained, too.
The radio interrupted them “Hutch. Dobey here. They’ve made it to the second floor. Got a lot of stuff to move, but they’re on the way to you guys. Everything okay?”
Hutch located the radio, “Thanks Cap’n. Okay here.”
When he put the radio down, he saw Starsky was out again. He shook his shoulder. “Starsky! Wake up. Dobey said they’re on the second floor. They’ll be here soon. Wake up for me.” He watched Starsky open his eyes and shift his position.
They could hear the rescue crew below them. The sounds were getting closer.
When Starsky closed his eyes again, Hutch pulled up the hem of the shirt he was wearing. He almost gasped out loud at the dark purple bruising and swelling he saw across his abdomen. “Internal bleeding,” he whispered to himself. “Damn,” he said out loud.
“Wha’? What’s wrong?”
“Just hoping those guys don’t shift something that’s holding up this floor.” He patted Starsky’s shoulder. “We’ll be outta here soon, buddy. Hold on. You want some more juice? Or there’s water in there, too.”
“No. ‘M tired.”
“I know, but try to stay awake just a little longer.”
Starsky nodded but closed his eyes again.
Hutch gingerly shifted, stifling his moans of pain. The room spun around him. No. Gotta stay alert for Starsk. Gotta make sure he’s okay. He closed his eyes for a moment then opened them when he heard noises outside the apartment door.
“You guys okay in there?” A muffled voice said.
“My partner’s hurt,” Hutch called out period. “Head injury and his right wrist. Can you get a stretcher in here?”
“We’ll try to make room. Hold on.”
He could hear them radio down for a crew to work their way up with a stretcher. Thank God they would get Starsky out of here soon. He was getting harder and harder to wake up. Hutch didn’t think about his own pain.
Within fifteen minutes, two EMTs had made their way to the small space where they were trapped. One started checking Starsky vitals and the other moved toward Hutch. He waved him off, using all his strength to speak through the pain.
“I’m okay. Check my partner… get him outta here.”
The EMT turned and helped get Starsky on the stretcher and they carried him out through the clear space they had created. “We’ll get him on his way and be right back for you. You sure you’re okay? You look kinda pale.”
Hutch gave them a smile and wave that took the last of his strength. Starsky would be okay. That was all that mattered. He had been sitting up, but let his body slide to the floor. He could hear them making their way down the cleared staircase.
“Hutch? Hutch? Why didn’t you come down with Starsky? Hutch!” Captain Dobey’s voice rang out from the radio.
Hutch fumbled with the radio and was finally able to respond. “Couldn’t… wanted… him out…. Tell… Starsky… Christmas present… in closet… tell him… no regrets. I… have no… regrets.”
The radio went silent in his hand and Dobey wasn’t able to raise Hutch again. He yelled at the EMTs that Hutch was hurt bad enough to pass out. They had just loaded Starsky into one ambulance and quickly grabbed a stretcher from a second one and raced back into the building.
They found Hutch lying on his side, covered in sweat. As they moved him to the stretcher, his shirt rode up and both EMTs saw the vivid bruising and swelling. They strapped him onto the stretcher, leaving the strap that went across his abdomen as loose as they felt was safe, and moved as quickly as they could back down the cleared path.
Dobey was pacing by the ambulance when they brought Hutch out. He watched as they loaded him into the ambulance and saw one of the EMTs cutting Hutch’s shirt off. He almost got sick when he saw his abdomen. The EMTs started to pull the doors shut and Dobey moved to the side. He stood and watched the ambulance speeding off. He shook his head and hurried back to his car.
“No regrets.” Dobey remembered Hutch’s last words. “And about Starsky’s Christmas present. He must have believed he was dying,” he thought. He started praying as he drove toward the hospital, and didn’t stop even when he got there and walked into the building.
Starsky woke up in an ER room. One nurse was putting oxygen tubing in his nose. Another was drawing blood from his left arm. Yet another was removing the magazine-splint Hutch had put on his right wrist. A fourth was cleaning the wound on his right temple. He saw a doctor by one wall looking at X-rays. Yet another nurse was quickly placing leads on his chest to run an EKG.
But the one person he was looking for wasn’t there. Hutch. Maybe he was in another treatment room. “Hutch? My partner. Where is he?”
The doctor stepped over to him. “Your partner is indeed in another… area. As for you, you have a concussion and a very badly sprained wrist. Along with a few superficial cuts and a lot of bruises. You were very lucky, Detective Starsky.”
“My partner kept me from getting hurt worse, or killed. How is he? Is he all right?”
“I don’t know; I’ve been occupied with checking out your injuries. When I’m sure you’re stable, I’ll go check on your partner. Deal?”
Starsky wasn’t totally happy with that, but decided it was probably the best deal he was going to get. Maybe Dobey would get here soon and could tell him more.
Captain Dobey was in the ER talking with the doctor who had seen Hutchinson and sent him directly to the operating room. “His injuries are critical. Blunt force trauma to the abdomen. His vital organs all sustained severe trauma. There’s extensive bleeding. We’ll be transfusing him as quickly as we can while doing surgery to see what we can repair.”
“I’ll call down to the station and get blood donors here as soon as they can come,” Dobey said.
“Thank you. We’re going to need as much as we can get. He’s lost a significant amount of blood.”
“What are his chances Doctor?”
“I’m afraid they’re not very good, Captain. I need to go to the OR to assist. I’ll let you know as soon as I can.”
Captain Dobey shook his hand and watched him walk away. He took a deep breath and started walking slowly toward Starsky’s room. This wasn’t going to be pleasant or easy.
Starsky’s right wrist had been wrapped and he had a sling on his arm. He was sitting up on a gurney. He still had oxygen on, an IV running, and the staff was still shining flashlights in his eyes every so often. He smiled as he saw his captain walk in the room. NOW he would get some answers!
“Cap’n! I’m glad to see you. No one here knows anything about Hutch. How is he? WHERE is he? I thought he was gonna walk out of the building when they had the way clear, but I woke up alone here. Where is he?”
Dobey moved up beside Starsky and put his hand on his shoulder. “How are you?” He nodded at the sling and raised an eyebrow.
“Sprained… and a bump to the head. A couple days off and some rest and I’ll be fine. So where’s Hutch?”
“Hutch is in surgery, Dave.” Before he could go any further, Starsky interrupted him.
“Why? He was fine when they carted me out of there. What happened?”
“Some kind of wood table fell through a hole in the ceiling and landed on Hutch. He… all his organs were heavily impacted. He lost a lot of blood. They don’t know just how severe the damage is, but it doesn’t look good.” He gripped Starsky’s shoulder.
Starsky closed his eyes and tried to remember. “Hutch… moved me. He traded places with me. I remember feeling something heavy hitting me. When I opened my eyes… Hutch was lying across me. Oh God! He looked so pale! But he said he was okay, Cap’n!”
“I talked to him briefly on the radio, when they brought you out.” Dobey paused to steel himself for what he was about to say. He had a pretty good idea what Hutch had meant… now. “He asked me to tell you where your Christmas present is, and he told me to tell you…‘I have no regrets.’” He watched the impact those words had on Starsky. It was almost like he caved in on himself.
“He took my place, Cap. He took MY place so it would fall on him. Not me.” Starsky closed his eyes and tilted his head down. He bit his lower lip and tried to keep tears from falling. When he looked back up he took a deep breath and asked, “Is he gonna make it?”
“I don’t know, son. But I’ve been praying he does.”
Starsky refused to be put in a room. He took his IV pole and used it as a crutch to walk to the surgical waiting room with Captain Dobey. He promised to sit quietly and wait for news about his partner. Captain Dobey agreed to keep a close eye on him. Knowing he wouldn’t win this argument, the doctor agreed.
An hour passed and Starsky started to stand up only to be ordered to sit back down. “This is going to take some time. You might as well resign yourself to that fact son.”
Two hours passed and Starsky was drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. Dobey reached over and put his hand over Starsky’s. “Time, Dave, it’s still going to take time.”
“But Cap, it’s because of me he’s in there!”
“Starsky… Dave…remember what he told me to tell you. ‘I have no regrets’. And if your positions had been reversed, are you telling me you wouldn’t have done the same for him?”
“Of course I would have done the same!”
“Exactly. Now sit back and rest before the nurses over there who are watching you call your doctor and snitch on you.”
Starsky glanced at the nurses standing behind their desk and realized they WERE watching him. As he had no desire to be sent to a room, he sat back and tried to contain his worry and fear. He looked at the Christmas tree in the corner of the waiting room. It was covered with silver tinsel and sparkling lights. It reminded him of Hutch.
Hutch knew he always hunted for his present and would never have told Dobey to tell him where it was if he hadn’t thought he wouldn’t be here to give it to him. And telling him… telling him… ‘I have no regrets.’” Starsky closed his eyes and turned his head away from Dobey to keep him from seeing the tears in his eyes.
Three hours passed and Starsky was leaning against the corner of the couch he was sitting on… asleep. Dobey knew only sheer exhaustion could have caused him to fall asleep. He looked up as two nurses brought over a pillow and blanket and maneuvered Starsky into a horizontal position. Starsky roused enough to murmur but dropped right back to sleep. Dobey smiled and thanked them as he watched to be sure Starsky would stay asleep.
He moved back to his seat and sat down. About an hour later the surgeon came into the waiting room. Dobey stood and motioned him to step away from where Starsky still slept. If the news was bad, he wanted a bit of time before he had to tell Starsky.
“He made it through surgery. Barely. The impact broke four ribs, lacerated his spleen and severely bruised his liver and kidneys. We removed his spleen, which seems to have stopped the bleeding for now. We’re keeping a close watch on his right lung because one of the broken ribs almost punctured it.”
“What’s the prognosis?”
“Fifty-fifty chance. He underwent a pretty severe trauma. We’ll have to monitor him closely for infection and for signs that any of the damaged organs are trying to shut down. He’s young, strong, and in good health. That will all work in his favor. What he went through was like being hit by a car going 40 to 50 miles an hour. He’s very lucky to have made it this far. He’ll be In ICU for some time. We’ll keep you posted.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I know you did your best.”
The two shook hands and Dobey went to sit back down. He decided to let Starsky sleep for another hour, then wake him to tell him the news, and to make sure his concussion wasn’t causing problems.
As he sat there, he sent up prayers for both his favorite detectives and adopted sons. In his heart he knew if he lost one… he’d lose the other shortly after. He didn’t want to have to face that. As he looked at the Christmas tree to his right, he prayed for an early Christmas miracle for Hutch.
An hour later he woke Starsky up. One of the ICU nurses had come out to tell him he could go in to see Hutch for a few minutes if he wanted to. She had told him that Hutch wasn’t awake, but still remained stable. “Starsky. Wake up, son. We can go in to see Hutch for a few minutes.”
As soon as he heard “Hutch”, Starsky opened his eyes. He tried to sit up and had to put a hand out for Dobey to help him. He was very dizzy when he sat up and had to stay there for a few minutes to get his bearings. When he was able to open his eyes without the room spinning, he held onto his IV pole and stood up. “Is he awake?” At Dobey’s negative headshake he said, “Let’s go.”
He tried to brace himself for what he might see but knew it wouldn’t help. He felt guilt that it was his fault Hutch was hurt. He owed it to his partner to tell him how sorry he was and to be by his side, no matter what happened.
As they walked into Hutch’s room, Dobey put his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. They stood at the foot of his bed and stared. Hutch was pale and looked like he matched the sheets. His abdomen looked huge, but they both knew it was probably the dressings from his surgery. He had an IV line in his left arm and blood being transfused through his right. Starsky could see he had a catheter in and felt sorry for him. He knew how uncomfortable they could be. He walked up beside the bed, still holding onto his IV pole.
“Hutch? Can you hear me, buddy? I… uh, wanted to tell you, thank you, and I’m sorry you got hurt keeping me safe. You shouldn’t have done that.” He didn’t notice Captain Dobey backing out of the room to give him privacy. “Maybe I could’a dodged the table?” He put his head down and said, “No, I was outta it. Thank you, Hutch. But now you gotta wake up. You gotta fight. I need you. What would I do without you?” He reached up and rubbed his eyes with his fingers. “Please, Hutch, fight to wake up, okay? Fight for me.”
The nurse stepped in and told Starsky he would need to leave now. “The doctors said only a few minutes.”
“I gotta go, buddy, but I’ll be back. You just keep fighting.” He reached down and squeezed Hutch’s hand. Then he wearily walked out to the hall where Dobey was standing.
Dobey had a wheelchair with him and made Starsky sit in it. “I’m going to take you to your room. You need to rest. Doctor said only this one visit tonight. I’ll be back in the morning to get you.”
Starsky nodded and when he got to his room got into his bed without protest. He lay down and turned his back to the door. As Dobey left, Starsky let the tears he had been holding back run down his face. Dobey heard his quiet sobs as he closed the door and his heart broke.
Almost two weeks passed without Hutch regaining consciousness. Starsky had been released the day after the accident. He was on desk duty until his wrist healed and until something happened with Hutch. He had been to Hutch’s apartment to water his plants, pick up his mail, and sleep in Hutch’s bed, but he hadn’t opened any closets to look for his Christmas present. It wasn’t any fun to search if Hutch wasn’t there to nag him about it.
Hutch’s doctors kept telling him that each day Hutch was still alive was a good thing. His liver and kidney function tests showed healing and there was no further blood loss. They were cautiously optimistic. Dobey and Huggy came by to check on Hutch and support Starsky. They also brought him food and made him go home to rest at night.
He talked to Hutch the entire time he was allowed in his room. He told Hutch about his plants and how he was taking care of them. “I think they miss you, buddy. I know I do. You need to wake up. I know you can do it. You’ve done it so many times before. Don’t let me down this time. Please Hutch?”
He spent time reading Hutch the book he had found on Hutch’s nightstand with a bookmark in it. It was something dull and boring about space anomalies, but he read it to him because he had been reading it.
One day he brought in a space aliens comic book and read that to him. “See, Hutch, aliens are space anomalies!” He watched but the wide Hutchinson smile didn’t appear.
“Hutch. I know you’re in there. Doc said something about brain waves increasing. So stop making me nuts… okay, any more nuts than I already am… and wake up!”
“I… it’s almost Christmas. I haven’t looked for my present, babe. I’m sure it’s something like another tree, or another star named for me. But whatever it is, I’ll love it, just because you got it for me. But, Hutch, the only present I want is for you to wake up, ‘kay?”
Hutch made no move, but Starsky wasn’t going to give up. He kept up a running chattering. He knew Hutch might wake up just to tell him to shut up.
It was Christmas Eve.
Hutch remained in ICU.
Starsky had been there earlier and told Hutch he had some things to do and he would be back later. He didn’t really want to do what he had planned, but knew he had to. He left the hospital and drove by his place to pick up the first thing he needed. Then he drove to Hutch’s. He watered all the plants then made his way to the front closet.
He opened the door and looked on the floor. Not seeing what he was looking for, he shifted to look through the items on the top shelf. There! Behind some boxes was what he was seeking. He grabbed it and headed back to his car.
He took both items with him up to Hutch’s room.
“Hey, buddy! It’s umm… Christmas Eve! I… I brought you your present. I know you can’t open it right now, but I’ll do it for you. Okay?” He pulled the wrapping off and held it up in front of Hutch. “It’s… it’s a Buddy Holly album. Autographed. Just like the one I tossed in the oven that time. Took me almost a year to find it, but I wanted you to have it.” He looked down then back up at Hutch. “I’ll take it back to your apartment so it doesn’t get lost here. Your plants are doing good, but I think they like the way you talk to them better than the way I do.”
He set the album on the foot of Hutch’s bed and picked up the other present. He sat there looking at it for some time before he looked back at Hutch again. “I know that whatever this is… it will be the best present ever, because you got it for me.” He slid his thumb under the edge of the silver and blue paper and pulled the paper loose on the end. Then he pulled the box out, letting the paper drop to the floor. The entire time he had been un-wrapping the box he had been talking to Hutch. Non-stop chattering.
“Wow, it’s heavy! Did you wrap up a brick to fool me?” He broke the tape holding the box together and then put the box flat on his lap. He was reluctant to open it. Somehow he felt that when he opened it and saw Hutch’s gift that it would be an end. End to what he wasn’t sure, but he still sat staring at the box on his lap.
“Okay, I guess I need to open this, huh? I mean you saw what I got you. Only fair that I recap… recrip… recisi…”
“Re… ci… pro…cate?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Thanks, Hutch!”
Cool blue eyes watched Starsky as Hutch waited for the reaction to sink in.
“Hutch?” Dark blue eyes fastened on the cool blue ones watching him from half-open lids. “Oh God! Hutch!!” He tossed the box on the floor and stepped up to the head of the bed. He grabbed the nurse call light and pushed the button. His hands framed Hutch’s face. “Really? This is real?”
As he felt the slight nod of Hutch’s head between his hands, he started to laugh and cry at the same time. Nurses came running into the room. When they saw what was happening, one ran to page the doctor while the other two assessed him as well as they could while working around Starsky who would not move from his spot close to Hutch.
“God, babe. I missed you so much. I have so much to tell you. I am sorry, sorry you got hurt because of me. Thank you…” Hutch reached a weak and shaky hand up to stop the spill of words.
“I… know… but later? Kinda tired.”
“Don’t go back to sleep, Hutch!” Starsky almost panicked.
“Be back. Promise.” Hutch smiled at him and closed his eyes, breathing deeply.
At Starsky’s nervous look, both nurses smiled at him and told him all Hutch’s vitals looked better. The doctor stepped into the room and listened to the information the nurses gave him. He checked all the monitors, listened to Hutch’s heart and lungs, then turned to Starsky. “I think you just got a wonderful Christmas present! He’s weak and it’s going to take some time for him to recover from what he’s been through, but for now, I do believe he WILL recover.”
Starsky shook his hand with a huge smile on his face and kissed each nurse on the cheek. Then he remembered the present he had dropped and bent to pick it up from where it landed under the bed. He pulled his chair back to the head of Hutch’s bed and opened the box.
“Oh, Hutch!” He got more tears in his eyes as he saw the beautiful sweater Hutch had bought him. He remembered seeing it in a store window and commenting on how much he liked it. He also remembered how Hutch had noticed the price tag and scoffed, “At almost two hundred dollars, it had better be made of gold and silk.”
He held the sweater up and looked at it. It was so soft. It was a deep midnight blue with strands of red, light blue, teal, and cream in it. As he held it up, the light caught and glimmered off a slender thread of gold woven throughout it. He checked the tag inside the sweater. “100% silk”. He closed his eyes then opened them to smile at his partner.
“This is beautiful, partner. Thank you. I love it. But it’s the second best present you gave me. The first was you waking up.”
He slipped his jacket off and pulled the sweater on. He would wait for Hutch to wake up, then tell him that all over again. He could afford to wait… now.
When Hutch opened his eyes the next time, he saw Starsky slumped in the chair by his bed, sleeping. He noticed his partner had the sweater on that he had bought for him for Christmas. “Best money I ever spent,” he whispered to himself. Starsky had loved the sweater on sight. And he knew the sweater would bring out the deep blue of Starsky’s eyes.
He noticed Starsky looked a little pale and thin. He tried to remember what day it was and how long ago they had been trapped in that apartment building, but wasn’t able to make his mind do the math. He figured that Starsky hadn’t left his side very often. He knew he wouldn’t have left Starky’s.
A nurse came in the room and walked over to Hutch’s bed. “What day is it?” he whispered.
She whispered back, “Christmas Eve. Welcome back to the land of the living.” She gave him a sunny smile as she wrote down readings from the various machines keeping track of how he was doing.
“Everything okay?” Hutch asked.
“Everything looks really good.” She glanced at the man in the chair. “Poor guy has exhausted himself with worry over you. Must feel really good to have someone who loves you that much.”
“Believe me, it’s mutual.” Hutch aimed a fond smile at his partner. “He’s my best friend in the world. As well as my partner.”
Starsky snorted and woke up. “Wha’ partner? You okay?” He was instantly on his feet and standing by the head of Hutch’s bed. “You need something?”
“Stop fussing, Starsk. I hurt, but I’m okay. I was just telling the nurse that you were my partner.”
“Oh, well, yeah.” Starsky beamed his thousand kilowatt smile at the lovely nurse. “The better partner.”
The nurse laughed and left the room leaving the guys to stare at each other: one with his fears barely relieved and the other with huge gaps in his memory.
Over the next hour Starsky filled Hutch in on what had happened to him, including his surgery and coma. “I thought I was gonna lose you. I was so scared, babe.”
“I felt like I was floating in this black water. I would drift down this stream, then the next thing I know I was being towed back upstream.” Hutch stopped and looked at Starsky. “You, I assume?”
“Me, Dobey, Edith and Huggy. We were all here at one time or another.” Starsky shrugged.
“Yeah, but I’m betting you weren’t ever gone for long.” When Starsky just looked down, Hutch continued, “Thank you, buddy. Thanks for not letting me go. I love you.”
Both had tears in their eyes as the doctor walked into the room. “Everything all right?”
They assured him everything was okay.
“I’m going to have them move you to a regular room in the morning,” the doctor said. “You’re going to be pretty sore for another week or so, but I think you’re past needing to be in ICU. I’m ordering physical therapy to help you regain the strength you’ve lost lying here for so long. It’s going to hurt, but you need to do it.”
“I’ll be sure he does, Doc.” The doctor started to walk out of the room and Starsky told Hutch, “Hey, I’ll be right back. I got something I want to ask your doc.” He followed him out of the room.
“Did you have a question?” The doctor asked once they were in the hallway.
“Uh, yeah. Anyway… can I find out the room number Hutch is gonna be in?”
“Well, Doc, it’s like this…” After Starsky explained his reasons, the doctor called admitting and arranged for a private room and gave Starsky the room number, along with a promise Hutch wouldn’t be moved before 10 AM.
“Your partner’s a very lucky man, Detective Starsky.”
“No, Doc, I’m the lucky one.”
Starsky went back to sit with Hutch for about an hour. They talked about what had happened at the apartment building. Starsky admitted he would have done the same thing Hutch had done, if their positions had been reversed. When Hutch started to yawn, Starsky told him he needed to run by Metro and sign a report for Dobey. He told Hutch he would be there in the morning when he was moved out of ICU.
He left the hospital and went to his apartment. He made several phone calls and ran to the store to pick up some things for the next day. When he thought he had taken care of everything, he turned in for the night after saying prayers of gratitude that Hutch was alive and recovering.
Starsky was at the hospital at eight, even though Hutch wasn’t supposed to move until closer to ten. He stopped in Hutch’s new room just long enough to drop off some of the things he had purchased the night before. He looked around the room and smiled. Hutch would love this room!
He went to ICU. Hutch had just finished eating and was ready for some company to relieve his nerves about moving.
“Hutch, calm down. Doc wouldn’t cut you loose from here unless he thought you were ready.”
“I know, I’m just anxious to get in a regular room. And maybe a softer bed. This one is like a rock.”
“You mean like your head?”
“More like your head, gordo.”
They continued to banter back and forth until about ten when one of his nurses came in with a wheelchair. Starsky and the nurse helped Hutch into the chair. Hutch groaned at the pain moving caused his abdomen. “It’ll get easier, babe.” Starsky patted him on the shoulder and started pushing him out of ICU.
“Hey? How come you’re pushing me? I thought one of the nurses was supposed to do this?”
“Only the best for the best, buddy boy.”
He pushed the wheelchair to Hutch’s new room. The door was shut and Starsky turned Hutch facing away from it so he could open the door and back Hutch into the room. As soon as they were inside, Starsky turned him around while all of their friends clapped and shouted, “Merry Christmas, Hutch!”
He saw Hutch look around the room, at the Christmas tree festooned with lights, and with presents cluttered around its base. A garland hung on the walls and over the mirror by the sink, and a Menorah sat on the window sill. Starsky saw tears in Hutch’s eyes as Captain Dobey, Minnie, Huggy , Simmons, Babcock, and Starsky’s mother stood nearby. His mother had a huge smile on her face and happy tears in her eyes. There was a knock at the door and Hutch’s parents and sister walked into the room to join in the festivities.
Hutch looked up at Starsky. He gulped, wiped his eyes, and said, “Thank you. I don’t know how you did this, but thank you. Merry Christmas, babe. I love you.”
Starsky bent down and gently hugged him. ”You’re welcome. Merry Christmas to you, Hutch. I love you, too.”
And blessings abounded for all who were there.