Waking up was like being shot all over again, but Starsky opened his eyes anyways. It turned out to be a mistake and not his first. His ordinary day had somehow turned into night, but his vision wasn’t right, and gray cinder monstrosities leered in and out of focus. A streetlight winked on and off overhead, backwashing yellow light over the alley. And to top it off, he was bleeding somewhat abundantly from a hole in his leg.
The air was redolent of urine and orphaned trash. It was too much. Starsky found himself on his side, retching until he was finally empty inside. Spent, he lay back down, careful to roll away from it. God almighty, what did he get into this time? Asphalt was roughing up his cheek, but the pain was a small price for consciousness. With a start, he realized he was clawing at the pavement, leaving his fingernails shredded and bloody. He’d been clinging to the spinning world like it would get out from under him if he let go too soon.
Everything hurt. This wasn’t pain like the obedient kind that followed its due course. This was a wild ride, stealing his breath, like going ATV riding with Hutch out on the dunes near Baja last September. If he closed his eyes, he could still feel the wind on his face. Together, they’d saved for the trip all year… best vacation they’d ever had... no one got killed, for once. True, Hutch got buried up to his neck on the second-to-last-day, but Starsky found him just before it was too late and…
How had he forgotten that he wasn’t supposed to be alone? He couldn’t keep drifting away like that. Had to focus. Starsky didn’t really know where he was or how he’d gotten there, but he just knew that he didn’t get into this mess by himself.
Just saying the name out loud made Starsky feel better. It could be the only word he’d ever learned in his life, and it would be enough.
No answer, and where the hell was he, anyway? His partner was his constant, the air he breathed. The fact that Hutch wasn’t all over him was terrifying.
Starsky couldn’t remember how it had happened but he knew he’d been shot. It wasn’t something you ever forgot - the singular damage a well-aimed bullet could do. It hadn’t been all that long since he’d been lying bleeding on the floor of that Italian restaurant, enveloped by the heady scent of oregano and pain and above all else - Hutch hunkered over him. Hutch had done good. Typical hero stuff, like they always did, but going beyond saving the day. Saving everyone in the restaurant, saving him…
Stop! Quit it with the memories, Starsky. Nostalgia isn’t going to save the day. Time to think. What the hell happened to us?
He touched his leg, and his hand came away wet with blood. Even in the dark, he knew there was too much of it. Blood wasn’t something you ever got used to, even though it was part of the job. But as far as Starsky was concerned, blood had no business being anywhere outside his body, and it definitely had no business ruining his favorite pair of jeans. His stomach rolled again, and he had to breathe slow and easy to get himself together. God, his head hurt. Must have hit it going down. And why was he shivering, anyway? Wasn’t even a cold night... Shock. He was fighting off shock. That’s what Hutch would say. Hutch? Where the hell was he? Maybe he went for help and was already on his way back, dragging the whole precinct back with him.
Damn it, Hutch, where are you?
Starsky wanted more than anything to track down what happened, but his thoughts were fugitives, leading him into one dead end after another. Every imagining was bleaker than the one before it, so he reined them in. With the discipline of a seasoned cop, Starsky willed himself to sit up and take stock of his situation. He needed to find his partner and fast. Instinctively, he reached for his gun and swore under his breath when he felt the empty holster. Damn, damn, damn. A stolen gun meant hours of paperwork and hours of questioning. Starsky almost preferred a bullet in the leg to the legalistic zealots in charge of requisitions. He took a deep breath. Time to do something. Anything! Starsky dared his body to even think of giving out on him. It wasn’t that he was afraid of dying. But there was no way he planned on doing it alone.
Starsky started to crawl. Hutch had to be out there somewhere. As he dragged his poor excuse for a leg behind him, he considered reconsidering his views on amputation. This was a mess. He didn’t even want to think about how long he was going to be laid up this time. It was hazardous going. Moonlight glanced off the shattered remains of broken glass. Hutch would have fussed at him to watch where he was going, but Starsky didn’t have time to be careful. There was only one way out and he wasn’t taking it. Instead, he was heading deeper and darker into the shadows of the alley. Somehow, he just knew that Hutch was in there. He kept crawling, feeling shards of glass imbed in his palms and knees.
The faint voice sounded so far away, it could have come from the underworld. Yet, Starsky would have pursued that voice anywhere, whether to the underworld or simply to the dead end of the alley.
Almost casually, he called out, “That you, Hutch? Hold on a sec, I’m coming.”
With renewed strength, he kept crawling. But the further he crawled, the more miserable was the going. It had rained a couple days earlier. With its poor drainage, Bay City never did well with rain. Every time a decent storm came through, the streets flooded and freeways shut down, until the sun decided to give them a break and come out again. This alley was the type that would stay wet for days and days. There were too many places where the sun never shined. Starsky realized he was already soaked to the skin, crawling through the filth. It didn’t help in knowing that Hutch would just hate this. Starsky had been the kind of kid who stomped through every puddle - after all, it was just water. Hutch, on the other hand, was always miserable at being caught by the rain in the city. He was fussy that way. Hated the feeling of damp clothes and muddy hems.
In his eagerness to reach his partner, Starsky was getting ahead of himself, and his bad leg tripped the good one, and he fell flat on his face, scraping his chin raw. But he got himself up on his hands and knees, and continued on, dragging his worthless leg behind him. He was almost there. He could feel it. Could sense his partner’s presence, even if he couldn’t see him. Starsky shoved aside a dented garbage can that was in his way, and then, just like magic, Hutch was there, an arm’s distance away. There’d been so little keeping them apart… Starsky could have sobbed at the wasted time.
“Hutch. Damn it, Hutch.”
Hutch was lying in a pool of moonlight and blood. But he was awake and turned his head slightly.
Even though he was almost there, Starsky could feel his body betraying him as he crawled across the remaining couple feet. He was shaking like his bones had been taken apart and had been put back together all wrong. Hutch saw it and stretched out his hand.
“Hey, what’re you doing?” he asked, with a slur to his voice. “You’re… shot…saw you go down.”
“I’m a little shot,” Starsky confessed, and painfully, he pushed back into a sitting position against the cinderblock wall, cursing his blasted leg, which wouldn’t let him do anything easily. He leaned over his partner. With one hand, he ran his fingers through the wet hair, while he searched for damage with the other. Running his fingers underneath the wet flannel shirt, Starsky asked, “How bout you, buddy? How’re you doing?”
“A little more… shot. Think I’m bleeding. The blood’s kinda warm.”
Hutch started coughing, and then Starsky couldn’t be careful any more. He gathered his partner up, even though he still couldn’t tell where the blood was coming from. Hutch was so cold. Miserably, Starsky tried to remember how to keep him warm. The streetlight abruptly turned on again, filling the alley with flickering yellow light. Starsky looked down at Hutch, seeing him clearly. The blood was welling up from his gut. Just by holding him, Starsky was sodden with it. With wild irrationality, Starsky wished he could hold his own open wound up against his partner’s and share some of his blood with him. There was life and death, and then there was Hutch. Everything else was irrelevant.
“I’m here, Hutch, I’m right here, just hold on. Gonna put you down and go get some help.”
“No talkin’, buddy. I’m letting you down real easy.”
Starsky managed to shrug out of his own jacket and balled it up, pressing it hard against Hutch’s belly.
“Don’t… go,” Hutch pleaded, taking hold of Starsky’s sleeve. “Stay.”
“I’ll be right back,” Starsky tried to reason with his partner. “Nobody’ll find us – it’s too dark and we’re back too far from the street. I gotta get help for you, Hutch, and then I’ll be back. I promise. You know I keep my promises, dontcha?”
But Hutch wouldn’t let go. For a man with a questionable hold on consciousness, he had a surprisingly strong grip. Torn, Starsky took a better look around. Maybe there was some way out of this he’d missed. But the alley was a classic dead end. Where it butted into a building, someone had propped up an old couch. It spilled out its stuffing like it had been gutted. A dented hubcap was propped up against it, and somebody had tossed a sombrero on top of that. Starsky felt himself fading, even as he realized that it looked like one of the modern art exhibits that Hutch was always dragging him to downtown…
Hutch’s voice was also fading, even if his grip was holding firm. “You’re…you’re hurt, Starsk. Let someone else get help.”
“There’s no one else.” Starsky bit back a sob, feeling the truth of it. “Just you and me, same as always, buddy. We’re in this alone.”
Then, Hutch moaned and wrapped his arms around his belly. He tried to draw in his knees, but Starsky wouldn’t let him.
“Hey, hey, easy,” he soothed. “Gotta leave that alone. It’s alright, Hutch, alright.”