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Starsky, I got a ham operator on the phone. Sounds like a kid. He says he's been receiving radio signals from what he thinks is an injured officer. "Survival"Bobby stood on the curb as the bus roared away, pulling back into the crush of downtown traffic. He looked around, trying to get his bearings, control his anxiety, and not appear too stupid.
Try over there, he thought to himself finally. But do something. You look like an idiot, just standing here.
With a determined stride, he set off down the wide street, ignoring the late afternoon sun glaring off the hoods of endless cars in the smoggy, warm air. Turned out, he'd guessed right. There was the police station just ahead. He climbed the steps quickly, digging the business card out of his wallet. He still wasn't sure how to pronounce this name.
He came through the glass front doors and looked around him. Lost again, dummy.
"Can I help you?"
Thank God. "Yes, ma'am." He presented the small, white rectangle to the policewoman. She was young, blonde, and pretty. Bobby wasn't much into girls—or people in general, for that matter—but he recognized that much.
She was also reassuringly friendly. "You need to see Detective Starsky?"
Ski, Bobby thought, committing the pronunciation to memory. Not sky. "Yes, ma'am."
"Well, I'm not sure he's here." She walked across the huge lobby to a high desk set off to the side. Flipping through some pages on a clipboard, she nodded. "He's on duty today, but he might be out. But you could check?"
Bobby looked bewildered. "Check where?"
The policewoman smiled. "Third floor. The elevator's there," she pointed, "or you can take the stairs." A wide, well-worn staircase was the centerpiece of the foyer area. "Once you get to the third floor, make your first right and follow that hallway down until it curves to the right. That's just past the restrooms. Then follow that until you get to a glassed-in office. It's about the eighth office on your left. If you get to a carpeted area, you've gone too far. If you see a vending machine next to a set of old file cabinets, out in the hall, you missed your first turn. He's in Homicide, if you get turned around."
She was polite but dismissing him and Bobby stood there, dumbly, as she headed out the doors into the street he'd vacated mere moments earlier.
He didn't have a clue as where he was supposed to go, and the term "Homicide" had given him pause. It never occurred to him that the unusually intense, boyish police officer who had shown up at his house last month was in Homicide. He'd thought, maybe Missing Persons.
He must've known that police officer that was hurt, Bobby reasoned. That's why he came himself. That's why he was so worried.
He'd never had a chance to learn much about Detective Starsky. The man had interrogated him urgently with rapid-fire questions and abrupt gestures. He had a face that never broke a smile, eyes that were lined with fatigue, and a deep-seated, encompassing, controlled worry that he didn't bother to try to hide. Bobby hadn't known what to make of him. If it weren't for the siren song of a promise to tour the Communications Center, Bobby would have never slipped out of the house and sat through the endless stops on the bus.
He wasn't supposed to be here, anyway. He was grounded again, for cutting school to hang out at Radio Shack at the mall. Again. Marty had known he wasn't supposed to be there, but the store manager always tolerated him spending hours in the store. Unfortunately, his mom had found out that time, and he wasn't allowed to set foot out of the house now except for school and the occasional lawn-mowing job.
But his mom was out on a date tonight—with Larry—and one thing that Bobby had learned about his mother's dates with Larry was that she never got home before two a.m. He had hours yet and his mother would never be the wiser.
Bobby stared at the stairs. Maybe I oughta just go straight to the Communications Center myself, he thought.
He joined the argument easily as his very own Devil's Advocate.
And where is it, genius? You don't even know where this detective is, and you were handed directions for his office. How in the world are you going to find Communications?
Good point, Marsh, Bobby responded to himself.
Then let's try to find this guy.
Right. Like you remember the directions.
Third floor. She said the third floor.
That was a start. Bobby headed for the stairs.
One thing Bobby learned very quickly about the Parker Center was that all the hallways looked the same. And all the offices were glassed-in. And he never did find that carpeted area.
After about twenty minutes, he had taken to staring into each office he passed, looked for someone—anyone—with curly brown hair and jeans. At last he got lucky.
That's him! he thought. Right there.
A curly-headed brunet, wearing the requisite jeans and sporting a leather jacket over a light blue tee-shirt was sitting on, not at, a desk towards the back of the glassed-in office Bobby was spying into. He was laughing aloud, smiling and happy as he looked down at a tall, blond guy slouched in an adjacent chair. The smile threw Bobby for an instant, as Detective Starsky had not found much to smile about while at his house, but the boy was sure it was him.
Hesitantly, he pushed open the door. Remember, -ski, not -sky, he lectured himself.
Bobby was overwhelmed at the reception he got. There was almost no one else in the office—Bobby guessed that Saturdays evenings at 5:15 were not too busy for the Homicide people—and Starsky greeted him like a long-lost little brother.
"Bobby!" The man vaulted off the desk and was at Bobby's side in an instant. He wrapped an arm around Bobby's thin shoulders. "Mi amigo! How are you?"
Yes, this was a happy man, Bobby thought.
"Fine, sir, I'm fine." He was ridiculously nervous again. "Remember, you said—"
"Hutch!" The bundle of joy was turning towards the blond now. "This is—"
"Bobby." The other man was much quieter than Starsky and he didn't get out of his chair. He leaned forward though, a genuine, grateful smile on his face, and reached out to shake Bobby's hand.
Hastily, Bobby walked closer and shook the man's hand.
"Hi," he said, tentatively. "I'm Bobby Marsh. I—"
"You saved his life, that's what you did!" Starsky interrupted. "This is great!"
Hutch nodded, his eyes never leaving Bobby's. "Yes. Thanks so much. Thanks for everything."
A beat of silence as Bobby struggled for something intelligent to say.
"We'll never be able to thank you enough for what you did." Hutch's voice was still quiet, but Bobby sensed that his gratitude was equal to Starsky's. They were different in personality but united in purpose.
"You're number one in my book," Starsky vowed. "Maybe higher than number one."
Bobby pulled his hand back and stood for a moment, looking Hutch up and down. He saw a tall, blond man; hair blonder than Bobby could ever remember seeing on another man in his life. He had pale blue eyes, very light skin, and was slightly this side of too slender. He didn't look entirely healthy.
"You doin' OK?" Bobby asked. He'd never heard what had happened to the man, only that he was hurt and missing. But he'd sounded awful over the shortwave; like death was just around the corner.
Hutch's nod was instant. "Much better." He gestured downwards. "Just have to take it easy with the leg for a while. But I'm going to be good as new."
"Thanks to you!"
Bobby didn't underestimate what he'd done—he still couldn't believe his mother had told him to "let some police officer take care of their own"—but when it was all said and done, he'd merely passed along information. He hadn't done anything, really.
"Well, it was nothing."
"Nothing, my ass," Starsky blurted out instantly, a grimace crossing his face as Hutch glanced up at him.
"My foot, I mean," he amended quickly.
Bobby grinned a little. These guys were nice, a lot nicer than he remember Starsky being at his house.
"You remember," he prodded. "You said I could—"
"No problem!" Starsky interrupted. "I'd bring the Communications Center up here for ya, if I could, just so you wouldn't have to walk all the way down there."
Bobby laughed a little at that. "I can walk."
"So can I," Hutch contributed, working on pulling himself up out of his chair.
"No way." Starsky vetoed that idea instantly, and Bobby wondered at the dark-haired man's vehemence.
As he watched the blond painfully regain his feet, he figured it out.
"What was wrong with you?" Bobby asked, unthinkingly. He'd always wondered and the question had slipped out. Yet as he asked, he had second thoughts. Starsky's face darkened quite a bit as Hutch tried to stand.
Hutch was on his feet now and took a moment to gather himself. "Broken leg."
"With an ischemic contracture," Starsky added, gravely.
"What's that?" Bobby was curious even as Hutch was shaking his head.
"It's when blood can't flow to a part of the body like it should be able to . . . the car was acting like a tourniquet on my leg, compressing the femoral artery, but I didn't suffer from true ischemia," Hutch explained. "The doctors were checking for it, but I got lucky. Just a compound fracture of the femur, some torn ligaments. Messed up my knee some."
"Yeah, wow," Starsky echoed, bitterly, but Bobby could tell it wasn't directed at him. "That's why you're staying here."
Hutch looked rebellious but he'd already lost the battle, Bobby knew. He didn't know how he knew that, but he did.
Hutch dropped back into the chair and Bobby didn't miss the look of relief on his face once he was sitting again. "You're gonna bring him
Starsky nodded, his earlier, happier mood still absent. "Yeah. We'll be back in a few. Take it easy."
It was a common parting statement, but to Bobby's ears Starsky somehow made it sound original and important, weighting the words with feeling.
"Yes, sir." The blond's voice was laced with the faintest hint of sarcasm.
"That's right. Gotta respect your elders."
Starsky regained a hint of his good nature. He smiled down at Bobby, clapping him on the back. "Ready?"
Bobby had been ready for weeks. "Yeah!"
They passed back out the office swinging doors into the hall. Starsky didn't strike Bobby as an overly tall man but he could walk. Boy, could he walk. Bobby found himself taking little skipping steps simply to keep up with him, as he'd had to do with his dad when he'd been little.
They rushed down halls, navigated corners, and seemed to double back on themselves at times. Bobby was thoroughly lost. They went down three separate sets of stairs before, suddenly, they were there.
Starsky hung back at the door and Bobby slowly walked in, looking around him in awe.
"Man, look at this place," he breathed. He didn't look back but he sensed Starsky was right there with him.
"Pretty impressive, isn't it?"
Bobby nodded. "Man!"
Even lost in love for the radio room as he was, Bobby still berated himself.
Can't you say something other than 'man', ya twit?
"Let's corral someone to show you around," Starsky suggested, fitting action to words. He didn't seem taken aback by Bobby's sudden loss of coherent speech.
Starsky hauled someone out of a back room and after a hurried, hushed conversation, the man, tall and serious with a close cut haircut of reddish hair, was showing him the equipment.
Bobby was overwhelmed. He hadn't seen anything this sophisticated in the entire time he'd been into radio. He kept having to remind himself not to let his mouth gape open.
All too quickly the tour was over and the redheaded man who'd patiently, albeit briefly, explained the highlights of the system to him, was walking back to his office.
Bobby looked over at his companion. "Thanks, Detective Starsky," he said, meaning every word of it. "This is cool. Really cool."
Starsky was relaxed, lounging against a desk while he'd waited for his charge. "It's nothing, Bobby. Glad to do it. And call me Dave."
Starsky started walking out of the area. Reluctantly Bobby trailed after him, stealing glances over his shoulder as he left. He felt that some of the workers here hadn't been much older than him. Well, not too much older.
"Do you have to be a policeman to work here?" Bobby blurted out as they headed back down the basement hallway. Starsky wasn't walking quite as fast now. They started up the first flight of stairs.
"Yeah, pretty much." Starsky looked over at him. "You thinking of becoming a cop?"
No, Bobby wasn't. He felt his heart sink in disappointment. He'd never be able to make it through any kind of police academy. He was lousy at sports and was one of the last kids picked in gym for any kind of organized sport—and gym was the only time he participated in any sport, and then only when he was forced to. Only Lesley, the strange kid from England, and Donny, fat and dumb to boot, were picked after him. And if it were soccer they were playing, Lesley got picked before him.
"You sure? You have to?"
Starsky actually stopped at the top of the steps (they were back in the foyer to the building now, Bobby noted in surprise) to stare at him. "What's wrong with being a cop?"
Bobby shook his head immediately, his brown hair long and shaggy. "Nothing! I couldn't make it, that's all."
Starsky actually threw back his head and laughed at him. "Sure you could! Who says you couldn't? I say you can! And I'm a great judge 'a people. Just ask anyone!"
At that moment, a tall figure appeared from around the corner, near where the policewoman had indicated the elevator to Bobby earlier.
"What are we askin' everyone, Starsk?"
It was Hutch, moving slowly but moving. He came up to Starsky's side and Bobby watched Starsky reach for him. He barely heard the soft query.
Hutch nodded and Bobby then watched Starsky visibly relax.
"Bobby wants to work in Commo but he doesn't think he wants to be a cop."
Hutch looked down at him and Bobby sensed he was seriously considering the prospect. "It's a good life," he stated finally. "And I think you'd do fine in the academy."
A good life? Bobby was aghast. He looked at the blond standing there, not so subtly leaning partly on his stair railing and mostly on his partner. After what happened to you?
"It's a good life," Hutch repeated, as if he could sense what Bobby was thinking. He looked a bit stubborn. "A chance to make a difference."
Starsky was nodding enthusiastically, right next to him.
Bobby paused a moment. Maybe if I started working out . . .
"We're heading off duty," Starsky said, interrupting Bobby's reflections. "How about a lift?"
Bobby gratefully accepted. A ride home would be that would be that much less for bus fare and that much more for his signal booster fund. He was saving up—oh, so slowly—for a new part for his set-up.
Slowly they made their way out the front door.
"Stay here," Starsky ordered. "I'll go get the car."
Hutch didn't argue, gingerly lowering himself to sit on the stairs and waving off Starsky's offer of assistance.
Starsky hurried off, turning back at the last minute. "Hey, d'ya sign us out?"
Hutch nodded. He looked weary and his leg seemed to be bothering him.
With Starsky gone, a silence fell over Bobby and Hutch. Hutch seemed content to sit there quietly on the steps and wait for his partner.
"What happened?" Bobby worked up nerve and asked. He'd never wondered about it before, but now . . . now he wanted to know.
Hutch nodded. It was as if he'd been expecting the question. With few words, he explained what had led up to the accident.
"They left you there?" Bobby asked, completely horrified.
Bobby couldn't relate to Vic. He didn't care about stolen cars or the pipeline that ran from the U.S. to Mexico, then back up the California with repainted stolen cars bearing new VINS, bound for the East Coast.
But the two teenagers that had robbed Hutch and then left him there . . . .
Hutch smiled a little. "Yep."
"Maybe . . . maybe they thought, maybe that you were already dead?" It wasn't too hard to say that.
Hutch shook his head. "No, they knew I was still alive. They just didn't care." He fixed a gaze on Bobby. "That why we need people like you."
"As a cop?" Bobby seriously doubted that.
"As a human being. Caring about other people. Doing the right thing. There's damn little of that left in the world." Hastily Hutch amended himself. "Darn little."
The world 'damn' fit better, though, in Bobby's opinion. I could start running in the mornings,
too . . .
"Here we are!" Starsky was bounding back up the steps with keys in his hand. "Your chariot awaits, fellows!"
Bobby found himself following the two men eagerly. He didn't know what it was about them, but he really liked them. They bantered back and forth as they got into the car, with grins and glances back at Bobby that ensured he knew he was included.
The partners were extremely close, Bobby could tell. It made it pretty remarkable that they were choosing to include him in their friendship, even if only temporarily.
"How about a pizza, Bobby?" Starsky glanced over at him as he drove. Bobby was sandwiched between Starsky and Hutch, Hutch's arm casually over the back of the seat, resting his hand on Starsky's shoulder.
"I was thinking a salad," Hutch protested. Bobby could tell it was mostly show, though, by the huge smile on Hutch's face.
"You were thinkin' of one, yeah, but you aren't going to get one. I'll have the pizza place put veggies on the pizza."
"Six slivers of mushroom and a dried out slice of green pepper is not my idea of vegetables."
"Well, let's live dangerously. We'll double the mushrooms."
"What d'ya say, Bobby?"
Bobby sighed. "I can't. I'm grounded and I need to get home before Mom does."
"What did you do?"
They spoke over each other and Bobby looked up at both faces in turn. Very briefly he explained his transgression.
"Oh." Starsky looked relieved. "That's nothing."
"You can't make a habit out of that." Hutch was less forgiving. "You need your education if you're going to try to get into the Academy."
Starsky seemed to reconsider. "Yeah, that's right. They're talkin' about having to have an associate's degree now, to get in. The union's fighting 'em, but—"
"But the writing is on the wall. Gotta get the paper now, if you want to get in."
Bobby nodded, abashed. I'm gonna have to start paying more attention in school, too . . .
"No pizza then," and Bobby was amazed that Starsky seemed genuinely upset that Bobby couldn't join them.
"How about Huggy?"
"Hutch, if the kid can't come for pizza, I doubt his mom would like to see him at a bar."
"Not Huggy's. Huggy. Those tickets for next month."
A light seemed to dawn for Starsky. He braked suddenly at the light and turned towards Bobby. "That's right! You like baseball, right?"
Bobby started to shake his head but caught himself just in time. He didn't like baseball at all but he definitely wanted to spend more time with Hutch and Starsky. "It's OK. But I'm not very good at it."
"We're not gonna play it," Starsky explained with a smile. "Three weeks from next Saturday is the home opener of the Dodgers. We're gonna go, and you're going to come with us. These are good seats, too, not the nosebleed section."
"What's the matter, you don't like the Dodgers?" Starsky acted like that was an impossibility.
"Starsk," Hutch explained, patiently. "Bobby didn't grow up in Brooklyn. He didn't develop a love for that team while still in his mother's womb, like you did."
"Brooklyn?" Would you stop it already with the parrot routine, Marsh?
"Brooklyn! They moved out here in '58, the year after I did."
But Bobby was destined to be very disappointed, yet again. "I can't."
Bobby shook his head, willing his voice back under control. This topic came dangerously close to making him cry, sometimes. "We're moving."
The two men echoed each other.
There was a moment of silence and then everything Bobby had been feeling for the last few weeks rushed out, in a cataract of words and stuffed-down emotion, suddenly released.
"Mom's getting married. She's supposed to, anyway, and at the end of the month, when our lease is up, we're moving to Las Vegas. I don't want to move, but we are, we have to, there's nothing I can do. I want to stay here. But I can't."
Starsky was frowning but clearly trying to follow the story.
"Your mom's single?"
Bobby nodded rapidly. He wanted to explain everything to them. They were plainly interested. "Yeah, they're divorced. My dad lives in Portland." He paused. "I think it's Portland." He could never remember. Portland or Seattle. Didn't matter. He never heard from him, anyway.
"You don't see much of him." Hutch honed in on the substance of the comment.
Bobby shook his head. "Never."
"What's in Las Vegas?"
Bobby shrugged, pulling himself back under control. "Larry works there. Part of the year, anyway."
"Name's Larry? Well, what does Larry do?"
Bobby shrugged again. "He's a professional sportsman."
"He gambles. That's how he makes money. Gambling."
Both Starsky and Hutch were frowning by now. It merely matched what Bobby had being thinking for months. He couldn't stand Larry and didn't begin to understand what his mother saw in him.
"You the only kid your mom has?"
Bobby shook his head. "No, I have an older sister named Brenda. But she's not going. She's living with her boyfriend and isn't going to leave him. Mom said she has to come, she's only seventeen, but I don't think she's going to."
"But you are."
"Don't have any choice." He'd tried everything with his mom, from tears to threats to silence. She hadn't budged an inch. In fact, that's what he was supposed to be doing today. Packing.
Bobby glanced up then and saw the intersection of Alameda and Perkins. "You'd better let me out here," he said, reluctantly. "If Mrs. Raintree is looking out her window—"
Mrs. Raintree was always looking out her window.
"—she'll see me come home and tell my mom."
Starsky smoothly brought the car to a stop.
Bobby made to get out. He was completely depressed, his movements wooden and slow. Why is it, I gotta leave when I don't want to! Why!
Hutch painfully got out and let Bobby out the passenger side, waving Starsky's concern off. "Wait," he said.
"What?" Bobby endeavored to be polite, but it was an effort. He was so upset.
"You have Starsky's card still, right?"
Yeah, of course I do. So what?
Bobby looked down and saw Hutch's name and position neatly printed on the card. "Kenneth R. Hutchinson, Detective Second Class. Homicide, Los Angeles Police Department."
"Call us. Call us, collect, even from Las Vegas, if you ever need anything."
Hutch took the card back and wrote two series of numbers on the back of it. "That's my home number and his," he gestured at his partner. "Call us, anytime of the day or night, if you need to."
Bobby turned startled eyes on Hutch and then Starsky. "Anything," Starsky repeated. "Any time." It was obvious they were being utterly sincere.
"And if things with Larry fall through," Starsky added, leaning over further to talk to Bobby through the passenger window. "Call us and we'll get that pizza and see the game. OK?"
Bobby smiled a little, sadly. He pulled out his wallet, a birthday present from his uncle that he never used but had dug out of the dresser in honor of his trip downtown. Carefully he placed Hutch's card right next to Starsky's.
He forlornly watched the bright red car drive off. Just as it turned the corner, a long, leather clad arm reached out the right side window and waved. It was matched immediately by wave on the left side.
Bobby waved back, almost like a little kid. Overall, even as miserable as he was, he had to admit the day had been a success. He'd finally seen the Communications Center, yeah, but more importantly, he'd seen—and understood—the reason Detective Starsky had been so worried that day he'd interviewed him.
Bobby had met Hutch.