This story has been swirling around in my mind for a little while and wouldn't leave me alone until I had written it. It's my first ever story so please be gentle with me! Thank you to my facebook friends for their encouragement and support...you know who you are.
The sun peeped over the hills like an actor checking out the audience from behind the curtain. The increasing light woke the man gradually from his sleep, so he was almost fully awake when the alarm sounded. Sheriff Kevin Hudson stretched and swung his long legs out from under the covers to sit on the edge of his bed. He dry-wiped his face and combed his sensitive fingers through his short, blond hair. He stood up and padded to the bathroom, returning a short time later with a towel wrapped round his narrow waist. He dressed quickly in his uniform then tossed the towel towards the laundry hamper on his way to the door.
He went to the kitchen, opening the back door to allow entry to a large black and white cat who strolled in and wove sinuously around Kev's legs, nearly tripping him up. He bent down to rub the cat's head.
"Morning, Huggy. Wish you wouldn't do that!"
Moving to a cupboard he got out a tin of cat food and tipped some of the contents into a dish which he placed on the floor. Huggy purred as he tucked into his meal. Kev turned to the sink, filling a kettle with enough water for a cup of coffee.
Standing at the back door he sipped at his hot drink as he surveyed his back yard which had a small, grassed area bordered by flowering plants. A red bike was propped against the wall. Kev finished his drink and turned back inside, pouring the dregs down the sink and rinsing out the cup.
With a quick glance at the clock, he strode back upstairs to the other bedroom. He gently shook the small lump under the covers with one hand as he tripped the alarm clock with the other.
"Come on, David. Time to get up."
A tousled, blond head appeared and two eyes blinked open, as blue as Kev's own. A smile lit up the boy's face as he focused on his father.
He jumped out of bed and trotted to the bathroom. Kev made sure the boy's clothes were ready for him then went back down to the kitchen to start breakfast. He was grateful that by and large his son was a well-adjusted and well-behaved young man who could be relied upon to get ready for school with minimal supervision.
A sad smile stole across Kev's face like a cloud shadow passing over the land. David had had to grow up so quickly these past few months and sometimes Kev had to remind himself that his son was only nine years old.
By the time David arrived in the kitchen breakfast was ready. A music station played quietly on the radio while they ate but Kev missed the chatter that used to fill their early mornings before the death of his wife.
"How about I pick you up after school and we'll go and see mommy?" he asked. David readily agreed.
Not long after father and son were on their way leaving the cat watching the antics of the birds through the kitchen window.
The lean, black man drove carefully along the unfamiliar road. He and his wife were nearing the end of their vacation, spending the last few days driving their rental car back to the airport. They were enjoying the scenery of a part of the country they had never visited before. As they approached the small town in the valley, they decided to make a fuel stop and maybe have a coffee and Danish.
However as they were going through an intersection, a white pick-up truck hurtled through against a red light and slammed into the driver's side of the car.
"Huggy!" the woman screamed as the car was shunted sideways for several yards. Almost immediately people ran to give aid (or to stare) and calls for assistance were made.
In no time several emergency vehicles were on site. The driver of the pick-up was pronounced dead at the scene but the car driver and his wife were still alive, although he was trapped in his car unconscious. A deputy sat in the back of an ambulance with the woman, offering as much comfort as he could without giving her any false hope. He had seen too many accidents to give the man much chance of survival, although he was no expert and was open to being surprised.
The paramedics worked together trying to keep the man stable while the fire-fighters assessed the situation working out the best and quickest way to free him. After several minutes where nothing seemed to be happening, there was a sudden flurry of controlled, coordinated activity and the man was released from his car and wheeled to the waiting ambulance.
At the hospital the couple were separated for their respective treatments. The woman was not badly hurt and while she waited for news of her husband, she made a phone call.
"Bay City Police Department. How may I help you?" asked the operator.
"Captain David Starsky please. My name is Marcie Brown."
She waited for the call to be connected tapping her long, red nails on the wall beside the phone. But as soon as she heard the familiar voice her composure deserted her.
"Hi, Marcie. You two having a good time?"
"Oh, David. We've been in a crash and..." she broke down, unable to continue.
Fifteen hundred miles away, David Starsky's eyes closed momentarily as if in pain then flew open again.
"Marcie, calm down sweetheart. Tell me exactly where you are and I'll get there as soon as I can."
After several minutes during which Starsky felt increasingly helpless, Marcie eventually regained her composure and was able to tell him their location. She told him she was just bruised and shocked but had no news of Huggy's condition.
As he replaced the receiver, Starsky dropped his head into his hands.
"Please, God. Not Hug" he muttered under his breath. "I can't lose Hug as well."
He gave himself a mental shake and raked shaking fingers through the dark curls that were beginning to show signs of grey. He sat himself up straighter in his seat and began to make arrangements to go to Huggy and his wife.
Kev dropped his son off near school from where he walked with a friend and continued on his way to work. He had lived in Petersville for nearly ten years and had quickly established himself in the small community. He had taken a job as deputy and soon had a reputation for being firm but fair. Although no soft touch, he always had time for those most in need and many had found themselves the recipient of a small amount of money to tide them over or even a bed for the night. When the sheriff announced his retirement, he encouraged Kev to apply for the post and was delighted when his appointment was confirmed. Kev led a small team of deputies who kept Petersville and the surrounding area relatively crime free...none of the 'excitement' he had had in his previous life!
Just after dinner a knock at the door heralded the arrival of Deputy Sam Connor. He was a stocky figure with short, brown hair and clear grey eyes. He had been a deputy for three years and relished working under Kev's command.
"Kev, Jim Scott finally totalled that pick-up of his. About two hours ago."
Kev winced. Scott had a problem with alcohol and had been warned several times, eventually resulting in a driving ban. However after a few drinks he conveniently forgot about his ban and crawled behind the wheel again.
"Right, Sam. I'll go and have another word with him. There's no way he'll escape prison this time."
Kev's voice tailed off as he saw the expression on his deputy's face.
"It's too late for that, Kev. Pronounced dead at the scene. Took another car out too. Couple on vacation from California, a Mr and Mrs Brown. The lady's OK but her husband's in a bad way in the hospital."
"Thanks, Sam. I'll read the statements when I get back, so just leave them on my desk. I'd like to check the scene myself without being influenced by what people saw or thought they saw. Coming?"
Sam was delighted at the opportunity to work with his superior. He felt that Kev would have made a marvellous teacher. The man had a wealth of experience that he was willing to share with any of his deputies who had the good sense to listen and learn. Sam was determined to tap into this knowledge to make himself a better deputy and ultimately, he hoped, be a good sheriff himself. The two men checked their weapons, got their hats and headed out to Sam's car.
They drove the short distance to the scene of the accident and got out. Both vehicles were fifty yards from the intersection, the nose of the pick-up embedded in the driver's door of the Chevrolet. The Chevy's roof lay discarded nearby. A rescue truck was waiting to begin clearing away the wrecks.
The two lawmen surveyed the scene for a few minutes. Kev signalled Sam to give his observations. He liked to encourage independent thinking in all his deputies because as he said, "I won't always be there to hold your hand."
"Looks fairly obvious, knowing Scott's history" said Sam. "There are no skid marks so Scott never made any attempt to brake."
"Well done. But to be on the safe side, make sure you get blood samples from the other driver."
Sam flushed at the praise. It meant a lot to him to impress the sheriff.
"Look," Kev continued, "I promised David I'd pick him up from school and take him to Mel's grave. Will you go to the hospital and get a statement from Mrs Brown if the doctors allow?"
"Sure, Kev. How's the little guy doing?"
"Pretty well considering. Must be the resilience of youth." Kev huffed a small laugh.
"Are you OK?" Sam pressed on.
Kev gave that sad smile again. "Getting there, Sam. Getting there."
Sam dropped Kev back at the office before heading to the hospital to interview Mrs Brown. Kev poured himself a cup of coffee then sat at his desk to read the statements taken at the scene of the accident. It seemed clear cut that the blame lay at Jim Scott's door. Kev sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose with his finger and thumb and screwing his eyes tightly shut.
He had spoken to Scott countless times and felt guilt at his inability to keep the man out of his vehicle and off the highway. It was bad enough that Scott had lost his life needlessly but his actions had had a serious impact on an innocent couple, Mr and Mrs Brown of Bay City, California. Kev caught his breath and gazed with sightless eyes out of the window for several seconds before shaking his head and turning back to his desk. He shuffled the papers into a tidy pile, pushed his chair back and prepared to leave for the day.
Kev drove home and went upstairs to change into soft blue jeans and a sky-blue tee. He went into the yard and selected some of the most colourful flowers, cutting them carefully and wrapping the stems in newspaper before putting on his favourite leather jacket and setting off for his son.
David was sitting on a wall when Kev pulled up. He smiled and jumped down when he saw his father's car.
"Careful. Don't sit on mom's flowers" Kev cautioned as David made to leap into the passenger seat. He put his bag on the floor and picked up the flowers, holding them carefully during the short journey. As they drove, David told his dad about his day.
Kev pulled up just beyond the wrought iron gates and he and David walked slowly along the path between the well-tended graves. They approached one and Kev sank to his knees.
"Hello, beautiful" he said softly.
He ran his fingers tenderly over the name engraved in the stone, the same way he had caressed her cheek as she took her last breaths. After a few minutes he picked up the vase of dying flowers saying, "I'll go and get some fresh water while you talk to mommy, OK?"
Kev took his time discarding the spent flowers in the bin provided and getting clean water, knowing his son needed this private time to commune with his mom. It was only three months since his wife had died of cancer yet David was coping remarkably well.
"Better than I am," Kev thought to himself with a wry smile.
Later that evening, with David settled in bed, Kev sat quietly in an armchair nursing a beer. The cat sauntered in, leapt onto his lap and curled up purring. Kev stroked him gently. "Hiya, Hug."
Kev's thoughts strayed once again to his wife, Mel, as he had come to call her. When they had first met, her name was Kate. It had been a whirlwind romance and Kate had soon fallen pregnant. They began to make plans to marry but then everything had been thrown into turmoil when Kate witnessed a mob-style execution at the restaurant where she worked. The police had taken her into protective custody after an attempt was made on her life to prevent her testifying and she was offered a place on the witness protection programme. Kev had only a moment's hesitation before joining her and they had both been given new identities and relocated to another part of the country. His biggest regret was that he had been unable to contact his friends and tell them what was happening.
He thought back to his previous life as a police officer in Bay City. He and his partner had been one of the most successful teams of detectives in the department's history. That had all come to a premature end with an attempt on their lives ten years ago which had resulted in his partner nearly losing his life. He had tried so hard to look after him when he was finally released from hospital but tempers had become frayed and eventually he had walked out after one argument too many. Kev heaved a sigh, staring at nothing, his hand moving from the cat's head to absent-mindedly rub his chest with his fingertips.
It had never been his intention to stay away for more than a few days but caught up in the excitement of a new relationship, days had quickly become weeks. He still felt guilty that he had selfishly abandoned his partner, but at the time, he had justified it to himself as his reward for putting his life on hold for his partner. He had kept an eye on him from afar, secure in the knowledge that his captain and his family, and their best friend Huggy Bear (after whom his cat was named) had taken over his care. But then circumstances had conspired to prevent him getting in touch, much as he ached to. And now he was estranged from the best friend he would ever have. He had kept watch on his friend's career which was high profile following the assassination attempt, but it caused him pain that he could not celebrate his promotions with him or share his own successes. They should have celebrated his marriage and David's birth together. The thought that crawled around in his head and caused him the most hurt was that the last words exchanged with his friend had been spoken in anger. He could not go back now that he was in witness protection. Or had that changed with Kate/Mel's death?
The following morning Kev read through the statement Sam had obtained from Mrs Brown. His heart skipped a beat then began to race as he read that a family friend, Captain David Starsky of Bay City Police Department was on his way to Petersville.
Kev's past and present lives were hurtling towards each other on a collision course.
Starsky had never been a good passenger, especially on a plane, so he was glad to finally land and pick up his rental car to complete his journey. He phoned the hospital from the airport to be told that Huggy was holding his own. Under normal circumstances, he would have enjoyed the journey to Petersville but he was so intent on getting to the hospital to see his friend and support his wife that he barely noticed the breath-taking scenery around him. Coming to the crest of a hill, he finally saw Petersville laid out before him in the valley below and twenty minutes later he rolled into town. Spotting a gas station he pulled in for a comfort break and to ask directions to the hospital.
The hospital was across town so it was another half hour before Starsky reached journey's end, thankful that his long, stressful trip was finally over. He eased out of the car, stretching cramped muscles which seemed to have seized up again in the drive from the gas station. He headed for the entrance struck by a feeling of deja-vu. How many times had he been a patient or visitor in hospitals just like this over the years?
He was directed to ICU where he found Marcie sitting beside Huggy's bed, clutching his right hand. Starsky looked through the observation window, initially appalled at the sight of his friend hooked up to machines and monitors and swathed in bandages.
"Oh my God! Hug!" he whispered.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he tapped lightly on the window and wiggled his fingers at Marcie when she looked up. He plastered a smile on his face thinking Marcie looked nearly as bad as Huggy. Her face was drawn and haggard, her eyes red-rimmed, her smile wan as she recognised Starsky waiting outside.
Marcie stood up and spoke briefly to Huggy before exiting the room. She threw herself into Starsky's waiting arms and sobbed into his chest. Starsky made meaningless, soothing noises as he stroked her hair and rubbed circles on her back. Looking around, he saw a small waiting room and drew her in there. He settled her into one of the chairs, pleased to note that they looked more comfortable than the ones he was used to. He fished in the pocket of his jeans for some coins for the vending machine hoping that the coffee would taste better than it normally did. Marcie accepted the cup he handed her, taking a tentative sip of the scalding liquid before putting the cup on the small table.
"I'm sorry, David" she hiccoughed. "It's such a relief to see a familiar face."
"How is he?" Starsky asked gruffly then cleared his throat as emotion threatened to overwhelm him.
Marcie clasped his right hand in both of hers. "He's much better than he looks" she said. "They're hoping to move him in a few days. I'm sorry to drag you all this way and then...well...you know..."She shrugged her embarrassment at her loss of control.
"Don't you dare apologise. You and Hug are my family and I will always drop everything to be there for either of you if you need me" he said fiercely, kissing the top of her head. "Is it OK if I go sit with him a little?"
Marcie hugged him. "Of course, David. I'll go and freshen up a bit."
"Thank you," he whispered, giving her a quick squeeze in return. "Take your time."
Starsky slipped into the room and sank onto the chair next to Huggy's bed as though his legs could no longer bear his weight. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed convulsively, holding his emotions in check. He reached out to take Huggy's hand feeling a bit weird as he did so. The only other man's hand he had ever held had been his former partner's and it felt strange to be holding on to Huggy's hand like this.
"Hutch. What happened to you...to us?" he whispered.
He allowed himself to think of the best friend he ever had. Ten years ago Starsky had nearly been killed in an attack in the garage at police headquarters. His recovery had been long, painful and frustrating, but Hutch had been with him every step of the way. However Starsky had become increasingly irked by his slow progress and began to take it out on his partner. Little chips here, little chips there, wearing away at Hutch's patience until eventually he snapped and walked out. Starsky welcomed the chance to wallow in his anger, bad-mouthing Hutch to anyone who would listen even though he knew he was being unfair. In a perverse way, it made him feel a little better.
He acknowledged that most of the blame lay with him but could not believe that Hutch had not made contact if only to tell him he never wanted to see him again. He knew that he had spoken to Captain Dobey and Huggy over the course of the first few weeks but had suddenly severed all ties without any warning.
It was the not knowing that really hurt. Hutch was not petty by nature and they had a relationship that would not normally allow a quarrel to come between them. They had even had a couple of physical fights but come out the other side with their bond renewed and strengthened.
Starsky could only conclude that something had happened to him but no amount of official digging on his or Captain Dobey's parts or unofficial on Huggy's had turned up anything. It was like Hutch had been spirited away by aliens.
Starsky closed his eyes. "Where are you Hutch? What are you doing? Are you OK?" And that was the most important thought of all, that Hutch be all right.
Starsky opened his eyes to see Marcie standing next to a young man in sheriff's uniform. He gave a little start as he realised he'd been holding Huggy's hand but thinking of Hutch. He gave Huggy's hand a squeeze and stood up. Leaning over he said, "Sorry, Hug. I've been a bad visitor. I'll do better next time."
He left the room giving Marcie another quick hug as he passed her, glad to see that she looked better than she had on his arrival. He looked curiously at the young man who was almost standing at attention.
"Deputy Sam Connor, sir. Sheriff Hudson asked me to bring you into town so he can go through the statements with you."
Starsky was surprised yet pleased at the courtesy being extended to him.
"Thank you, Deputy. Please call me Dave, I'm not on duty." He smiled at the young deputy trying to put him at his ease. He began to follow him out.
"Either I or Sheriff Hudson will bring you back for your car, sir. In fact the sheriff asked me to tell you he would like for you to stay with him while you are here."
Starsky looked startled at the unexpected offer.
"That's very kind of him but not necessary" he said.
Sam smiled. "He said you would say that but he insists." At Starsky's puzzled look he added "He says he knew you in Bay City and would be honoured if you would be his guest."
Starsky scanned his memory but was unable to recall anyone of his acquaintance named Hudson. He assumed it was someone who had read reports of his shooting and subsequent recovery. He gave in gracefully, thinking he would speak to the sheriff himself about his sleeping arrangements.
Sam continued "The sheriff's a great guy. He'd give you the clothes off his back or the last dollar in his pocket if it would help you. I know he regularly gives money to the homeless down at the mission and has set up a drug rehabilitation programme. He donated some of his own and Mel's and David's clothes to a family whose house had burned down. I've learned such a lot from him. He's got a heart of gold, yet he's tough with it."
Sam suddenly stopped speaking and his cheeks reddened as he realised how much he was revealing about his admiration for his superior officer. And to a complete stranger too. Starsky recognised his embarrassment and clapped him on the shoulder, chuckling gently.
"He certainly does sound like a great guy. Continue to learn from him and maybe one day you'll be a fine sheriff too."
Sam's cheeks glowed even more. "Thank you, sir" Starsky raised an eyebrow "...er, Dave."
Starsky laughed. "That's better."
They climbed into Sam's car and began to head to the sheriff's office. Starsky looked around with interest as they drove.
"Your sheriff sounds a lot like my ex-partner. He would do anything for anybody in need. Especially the hookers and drug addicts."
"Is he a captain too?" asked Sam.
A shadow of sadness passed over Starsky's face. How odd to be talking about Hutch so soon after thinking about him at the hospital. He wished he could be here to help him look after Huggy and Marcie.
"I don't know. I got shot up pretty badly some years back. Hutch nursed me back to health but I pushed him away and kept pushing till he left." Starsky took a shaky breath. "But I never dreamed that he would never come back."
The rest of the journey was completed in silence.
Starsky followed the deputy inside and took a seat while Sam knocked on the door to Kev's office and went inside. After a moment Sam came out and motioned to Starsky to enter.
"Sir. This is Captain Starsky."
Starsky looked at the tall, blond man rising from his seat and coming round the desk with a tentative smile on his face. He felt his heart lurch in his chest as he whispered unbelievingly...