THE TICKING OF TIME

Part one

By: Karen B

Summary: Shootout snippet

Hutch's thoughts while he waits at the table for Starsky to make his pitcher -- pitch.

Thank you to Laura for her spirit and friendship. She is always so thoughtful and willing to share herself with others!

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

"What should I do?" The lady said, her angry words as fiery as her hair. "Call a cop?"

Sparing the glitzy well-built lady a glance, I sucked in a breath as she walked away. Guess she had all cops pegged as weak and mousy. I felt a chill surround me. Sure, I was scared, but not for myself.

The tension in my back strained my muscles, and I shifted only my eyes to monitor the room.

Waiting.

Watching.

Waiting.

I had to know where everyone was positioned when this went down. I had to be fast and strong, especially when I came up against the Wild Man. I would have to be an immovable force, like the wind. The pressure was bad. I was all that was standing between my partner, the civilians, and a bloodbath.

Five minutes to get into position.

I didn't want to leave Starsky, but I had done everything I could for him and I had other people to consider. I rolled my neck to loosen the crick, and deliberately took a glance at the Wild Man who'd put a bullet in my partner. He lounged in his chair like he had all the time in the world. I swore to God, just looking at the asshole made me wish I had my .357 so he could know how it feels to have a hole blown in your back.

Sitting across from Joey was the intelligence of the operation. I bet he was a good tipper, but mostly I bet he was as cool as an alpine breeze. Briefly, I wondered how such a brainless unprofessional like Joey ended up with such a by-the-book killer? My guess was the big man with the brains - and my gun - didn't have the guts to take on someone as powerful as Vic Monty by himself. I shivered, feeling this guy's coldness down to my bones. After he took care of Monty, Boss Man wouldn't hesitate to take care of the rest of us loose ends.

I readjusted my position. Feet flat on the floor, back ramrod straight against my chair, as I glanced again at the clock. Time was running out. When time runs, where does it run to? Time is a strange creature. It flies when you're having fun and it runs slow when a piece of deadly metal is embedded in your partner's back.

Every school kid learns how to tell time, but as an adult you start to think of its paradox. Could time go on forever? Right now it felt that way. Was there an end to time? Could someone break time? Turn the hands back? Back to when we first walked through those lousy doors of this Italian restaurant? Was the clock I glared at now running slow or fast? Between unfocused eyes and shaking, bloodstained fingers, I had pulled at the chain of my pocket watch and synchronized it with that very clock on the wall. Starsky had my watch now, and we both knew timing was everything.

Would Vic and his boys show up early or late for their linguine? How could I get time to stop? Get my partner's bleeding to stop? Get him help now, before time ran out?

I never was a clock-watcher, until tonight.

Fourteen to twelve wasn't coming soon enough!

My fingertips just barely touched the checkered tablecloth, and I noted the coloring of Starsky's blood on them looked like the color of wine. I felt a cool drop of sweat fall from my brow and splash onto my hand, washing away a small streak of that stain. In the corner of my mind I heard the ticking of the clock and studied its numbers, even as they screamed in my ear. The ticking -- it was counting down the minutes. The hands -- they were ticking away the seconds, ticking away our odds, ticking away my partner's life. Each passing moment stroked my fear.

"Do it. And make a lot of racket," I had told my seriously wounded partner.

What kind of scheme was that?

Each tick of the clock was telling me I was a suicidal nut job.

Did I really think I could trip the bad guy? Have his gun slip from his hand, and heroically save the day just like in the movies? I was so sorry I didn't notice these guys when I first came into the joint. What kind of detective was I?

Oh, man, get it together, Hutchinson, you're the only one who is going to get us out of here.

The clock ticked on…

Four minutes to go.

I glanced over to the next table at the Vegas-bound comic. I had overheard parts of his conversation with the red head, and it really made me feel sorry for the guy.He looked scared, but mostly he looked sad. I had to say he was holding it together rather well. I'm sure it wasn't everyday he was a hostage in a bistro. Even I get a little shaky in the aftermath of a shootout, especially the ones where my partner gets hit. Sammy caught my eye and I held his gaze for a moment before looking back at the clock.

The waiting was getting worse and worse, time was running, and I was worried. My gaze flicked away from the clock and fell to the bloodstains on the carpet. I followed the trail of drops where my partner had bled across the floor as I carried him to the office.

I anxiously watched the open doorway. Starsky was back there all by himself with blood leaving his body. When I left him, his eyes were dark with pain, and his face was pale. What if he had passed out? How could I take these guys on my own? No! Can't think like that. Starsky is fierce in his duty, and in his protection of me. He is everything a partner and friend should be. He'll do this. He'll come through. He'd risk everything, even his life to back me up. But what was I asking of him?

Heaving a sigh, I shuddered. Fact was, Starsky was weak, and even though that pitcher was small he was going to have a hell of a time throwing the first pitch, as he put it.

I thought about his cold hand when my fingers brushed across his when I gave him my watch. I wasn't sure if Starsky was in shock, but I could sense the pain he was desperately trying to hold back. All I really knew was that he was bleeding badly, even after I'd plugged the hole in his back. He was trying to be tough, trying to back me up, but he was too weak to put up much of a fight should these guys get past me.

I started thinking about the consequences of my actions. Of what I was about to do. Pictures of crime scenes, gory in detail, vividly filled my head. If I didn't come through, there wouldn't be a piece of furniture or a spot on the wall that wouldn't have blood spray on it. When this shootout was finally over wine bottles would be broken, bullets would gouge holes in walls, chairs would be overturned, and all our bodies would be hung limply over them.

And then there was Starsky. I envisioned my best buddy lying on that ratty couch, with a neat little hole between his wide-open unseeing eyes; a third and final bullet coming from the black-steel gun of the boss man. I took in my own breath, and the odor of garlic made me feel nauseated. Squeezing my hands into fists, I tried forcing the feeling and the sickening images of a dead partner aside.

I'm a cop, but I'm also human. The romantic notion the good guys always win doesn't always hold.

I was dealing with a whole set of emotions. Fear. Worry. Panic. But namely, it was the anger that was welling up inside me that was getting higher, making my heart race, making my breathing rapid as I fed more oxygen to the inferno inside. I glanced impatiently around. It really was a quaint little restaurant, with its friendly staff, red checked tablecloths, and plastic vineyard. Even the clock had seemed to roll out the welcome mat when we first arrived. Now, the damn thing only mocked me and my effort to save all our lives. It was as if I had wronged the timepiece in some way. Possibly, I had given it a speeding ticket punishing time for cruising along too fast down the interstate of life.

"Hey, Hutch," Starsky's voice rang in my ears. "Next time you want scrambled eggs -- don't let me talk you out of it, huh?"

His voice had been faint, and scratchy, full of pain. I played the scene in that office out in my head. Starsky's weak hand, fumbling, finally finding and gripping my knee. Me, huddled over him, clutching fistfuls of cloth, trying to hold back the blood. His body tensing beneath my every touch. My palm on his shoulder, unable to take away what I was guessing to me a sweeping pain. The touch of a moist cloth against parched lips giving him what little comfort I could offer. His unhealthy skin color, and those knowing blue eyes, seeing the glint of fear in my own.

'Next time.' Those two choice words were meant to soothe and comfort. He had that much faith in me.

I glanced down at my bloodstained fingers twitching on the checkered tablecloth, and felt that twitch move into my belly. I had sugarcoated the truth. Told him it'd only been a shoulder wound. In reality, Starsky was vulnerable, still bleeding under those towels, the sharp ache in his back trying to drown him in darkness. In my mind I could still see those eyes of his full of fatigue, full of pain.

Shit. What was I thinking?

I braced a hand to the chairs armrest, and started to push upward to move into action. I had to get to my partner and take back the pitcher, take back the moronic plan.

"Blow it out your ear, Hutchinson!" I heard my partner's powerful voice in my head.

Starsky and I have a unique relationship. Even when we're not together we know what the other is thinking. Sometimes, even what the other is doing, and right now those same fatigue filled eyes from only a moment ago were now full of passion and intense focus. The imagery rushed courage through my head, my veins, my groin. I had the balls to do this!

I glanced at the clock. Trust your partner. Be patient, Hutchinson. I eased back down.

The clock seemed to mock me. Telling me I would pay dearly for trying to control the hands of time. I forced myself to stay strong, and get my head back in the game.

The clock ticked on….

In three minutes all hell's fire would erupt like a volcano shooting flames high into the air and I'd be in the middle of it all. The clock on the wall continued to ridicule me. Time was a charade, its hands stretching outward, moving slowly. I could hear it. Not the usual tick-tock sound, but like a voice, in my head. Telling me how stupid I was. Questioning my judgment. Asking me with utter conviction, "Aren't you going to do something? You're a cop aren't you? What were you thinking? Asking a man with a bullet in his back to help? You're going to get yourself, your partner, and all these innocent folks in here killed." The voice in my head continued to tick, and I wondered if it was right, if I was guilty as charged.

The clock on the wall was telling me I shouldn't be here. I felt like I was trapped inside a glass cage. One false move and it would all come crashing down. I would need split second timing to pull this off. I would have to respond to my partner's diversion. I followed the hands of the clock as they moved again. Eggs. We should have been home eating eggs. I cursed stubborn partners everywhere. You're in this mess because he wanted dinner. Not breakfast.

I watched the clock; it was still too early. Hold on, partner, it's only a few more minutes until I can get these out-of-state killers under wraps.

I sighed deeply. I had a job to do and I intended on doing it, but I could feel the panic rising up inside of me.

Problem was, these guys weren't going to roll over with their hands in the air when Starsky made his first pitch. A smoke blossom of gunfire would fill the air. How was one off-duty, unarmed cop going to protect all these people and one wounded partner?

My mind was racing, jumping from here to there. When I get thrown face down into the dirt, I get up without dusting myself off, put a boot into the stirrup and spur that horse. I don't give up even when I am afraid.

Somehow, I cast aside the last of my fear. Leaving no more room for doubt, I steeled my mind and body for what was about to go down. I was angrier than I'd ever been in my life. So angry it almost frightened me, but I knew anger was not a bad thing. Anger is an extremely powerful emotion, and properly directed -- it was what was going to get us all out of this mess.

I could feel a ball of hissing black snakes suddenly start to squirm restlessly in my gut where only a moment ago there was a twitch.

I was committed and whatever happened, I was going to make sure I got my partner out in one piece.

The clock ticked on...

Three minute warning bells went off in my head.

Out of my peripheral vision I watched Joey dumbly try to put the moves on the lady. Boss Man was completely unfazed by their flirtatious display. He was staring right at me with a face of stone, like a Doberman who had the drop on the scrawny neighborhood cat. Guy was a real professional, and he knew the cardinal rule: never take your eye off the cop.

He would kill us all, quickly and effciently and --

"We could throw the cop out of the office," Joey said, slamming a hammer down on my thoughts and squashing them.

Time tested me -- I guaranteed if Wild Man made one move toward that office to lay one stinking finger on Starsky he'd find himself lying face-down in a puddle of his own blood!

I waited for Joey to make his move. Time slowed further as I listened to the storm rage outside. I could hear the rain banging a beat on the roof. But there was another storm, a hidden fury building inside of me. The violent pressure had been growing since this whole thing began and now was stronger than anything Mother Nature could conjure up.

A cool rush of air pushed and pulled inside of me, rain fell in sheets, wind slashed against glass windowpanes threatening to crash in, and lightning flashed bright in my heart.

Low whispers came from our waitress and the athletic guy at the bar. Theresa had a candy-colored world painted in her head, thinking this would all go away once Monty was dead. But the big rock she was talking to -- I could feel his infectious energy, and see it in the resolve of his squared shoulders -- he wasn't a man accustomed to being out of control. Just looking at him made the already frantic beats of my heart skip. He was no marshmallow, but brute strength wasn't going to win this battle. If he was dumb enough to put his toe in the water he wouldn't stop there, he'd jump right in. The mindless blow-up-and-bolt underdog move would only waste time. It would be my plan'ts downfall, as the big rock would only end up with a bullet burrowing into his skull, slathering his face in ketchup-red.

Time was a fragile thing. It's a cliché', but it marched on. Moment after moment, second after second, fusing to my bones. Time channeled its incessant tick-tock into my soul. Taunting me, giving me one damn fine excuse after another why this plan of mine wouldn't work.

I wanted to punch the fucking clock!

Knock

Knock

I flinched out of my reverie, taking my eyes off Father Time.

The lady was back. She had reached deep into Joey's heart, trying to hustle her way out of this, but came away with nothing, as he had dropped her faster than a used condom. I felt my jaw tighten. TheWild Man was smarter than I thought.

"Do you mind?" she asked, in a small voice that let me know she had lost some of her glitz and fire.

I waved a hand, offering her the empty chair next to me, praying my fire wouldn't burn out as fast as hers had.

End of part 1 of 4...TBC...