MINNESOTA GHOST

By: Karen B

Summary: Episode related: The Fix. Hutch is no super hero he is only human. Two

weeks after his ordeal he still is feeling the effects of the needle.

Thank you Hutchlover for looking this over! I really appreciate your time and effort.

Dedicated to my dear friend, Pooh: Aka. Higgy. For never letting me give up!

Author's note: It has taken me a long -- long time to finally finish and pull this story out from beneath the rock I have been hiding it under. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. You can always find Sunshine...even in rain. Take good care, Karen.

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There were reports coming in from all over the city about a crazed blond man stumbling drunk up and down the streets, like a lost dog begging people for food. He'd even gone as far as to steal a waitress's tips off the tables of a local diner.

Starsky and I had finally caught up to him at a Union 76 gas station on First Street. We'd found him in the john, slumped between two urinals. He smelled like he hadn't had a bath in days, his hair was greasy and unkept, and his clothes sopping wet with sweat.

"Oh, man," I breathed. He could have been my twin. Tall, thin, and blond, only his hair was much longer hanging down past his shoulders.

"Help me," he begged. "I need more. Need a hit."

It didn't take a genie to look into his black pin-sized eyes and know without a doubt -- he was stoned.

"We'll get you some help, buddy. Just stay calm and come with us," Starsky said, gently pulling the man to his feet.

"I need a fix," the guy sobbed weakly.

I could see how easy it was to be reduced to a burbling beggar with little ability to function in society. The words 'I need a fix,' quickly triggered the cravings; which had bolted right up inside me like a dead guy in a coffin -- coming back to life. Shuddering hard, I swore I felt the warmth of the drug surging through my veins once more.

I glanced over the strung out man's shoulder and made eye contact with Starsky. I could tell by the funny look in Starsky's eyes he was preparing to handcuff himself to me or chain me to a wall.

My partner nodded slowly. "Stay with me," he whispered under his breath, sharing in my nightmare.

"I'm not going down," I muttered.

My sense of duty still intact, I turned my attention to the job at hand.

"Look, what's your name?" I spoke softly to the hurting man.

"Patrick Goodwin," he choked back his tears. "My wife -- don't tell my wife."

"Just hold still a minute, Pat," I told the guy, taking no joy in what I was about to do -- arrest him.

Bernie could have so easily done the same to me, back in that alley where he first found me. The press would have had a field day. Parading around the strung out cop, snapping pictures, flashcubes going off like firecrackers. The newspapers would drag the 'Hutchinson' name through the sludge, writing story after story about a burnt-out hero, wearing a tarnished badge, and engaging in sloppy police work -- never once believing in the truth.

"Please, please." Pat tried to pull his arm away, bringing me out of my thoughts.

"Just take it easy," I said. Patrick was too weak to fight me, as I held him in place. "You are under arrest for being under the influence and disturbing the peace. You have the right to remain silent." I started to pull his hands behind his back, when I noticed a needle still stuck in his right forearm.

"Oh, shit."

I felt the twinge of temptation, the drug still breathing life through me, still trying to take me to a dark place. Yet, without a moments hesitation I pulled the needle from his arm and carefully handed it over to Starsky.

"Let's get him to a hospital." I watched as Starsky bagged the needle for evidence.

I was silent for a moment, unable to take my gaze off the drug. A rippling chill went up my spine, reconnecting me to the bond I had with the sting of such a needle. Had it only been two weeks since I was in the same needy position -- or was it a lifetime ago?

"Hutch." I glanced up, deep blue eyes meeting mine. "You okay?" Starsky angled his head, and looked pointedly at the bag in his hand.

I assessed what Starsky was thinking. He was worried I might fall off the wagon. Worried I wouldn't do my job -- couldn't do my job. I should be feeling a sense of trust from my best friend, but all I was feeling inside of me was the impulse to run. To get away from his scrutinizing eyes.

"I told you, I'm not going down,"" I huffed, as I took Pat by the arm, walking him to the car, and trying to ignore the fact I needed a fix.

That was two days ago, and I'd been struggling with the 'f' word ever since.

Starsky barely left me alone, having eloquently talked me into anything he could think so he could babysit me. Bowling, shooting darts, eating pizza, catching fish, and ten rounds of miniature golf. He even came over late last night, lugging with him his model ship. Said he needed a third hand -- then he conveniently passed out on my couch. Tonight we'd been hanging out at Huggy's for the past five hours.

When Starsky and I first walked into the bar and grill, we'd noticed a cardboard sign taped to the entrance door. The handwriting on the sign done in black magic marker announced:

TONIGHT! CLOSING AT 11:45 P.M.

WILL RE-OPEN AT 10:00 A.M.

Huggy was in an obvious hurry. I figured he must have some hot date as he rushed to finish mopping the floor, ammonia filling the air and covering the smell of cigarettes and cigars. The chairs where up, and Huggy was counting his cash out loud; -- a not so subtle hint that he wanted us to leave, but Starsky and I weren't budging. Huggy stared at us over the counter for a long time before he finally took off his apron and rounded the bar.

"Still not leaving?" he mumbled as he walked past us pushing a garbage can on wheels.

The plastic liner inside the can was full of all kinds of rubbish, including a wide-eyed fish head that peeked out from behind a rotting head of lettuce, its cold, glassy eyes glaring angrily at me. Hell, even the garbage knew I was garbage.

Without slowing, Huggy turned and looked back at us. Taking one hand off the trash can, he dug into his pant's pocket and pulled out two metal rings...a key on each one. Jangling them to make sure he had our full attention, he slipped one of the rings onto a long, boney finger, and tossed a key onto our table.

"When you two turkeys leave you better re-secure my grand establishment or else!" he barked, then disappeared with the trash can through the kitchen. A moment later, I heard him wrestle the garbage can out the back, the door slamming shut after him, and the click of the lock.

My partner, and I just kept sipping on our beer. It should have been relaxing and comforting. I should have felt at ease, but instead, I felt like a baby bird that had fallen out of his nest. A weakling. I looked across the room at the bar mirror, not seeing my reflection. Instead, I saw an image of myself slumped between two urinals with a needle sticking out of my arm. The picture in my head made me shudder.

"Hutch, you think I'm right or what?" Starsky nudged my hand with his glass.

He'd been talking away and I hadn't even heard a word he'd said.

"Of course you're right," I said, taking a sip of beer -- hopefully betraying nothing.

I gave Starsky a long glance over my beer mug. He was checking me out. 'Damn it!' He knows I'm in a real bad place right now. He always could see through me like I was a transparent ghost. He gave me the 'it's okay look'. But it wasn't okay. Why does he do that to me? I am only human. I can't fight this like he thinks I can. I feel like I have to be everything to everybody.

Don't let 'em down. Stand tall. Never give up. Don't stop. Keep plugging along. Round and round I go. I'm exhausted from trying to live up to everyone's expectations of me. Hutch will deliver. Hutch is the hero of the day. The white knight. Hutch won't disappoint anyone. He's responsible. He's dependable. He has all the answers.

I don't have all the answers, and I'm sick of trying. What's the point? I can't compete with this drug. It beats me down with a stick. A very big stick. It hurts, and I just want the pain to stop. Even if it's only for one night. These cravings, this need, it spreads all over me, and I can't dig it out from underneath my nails. The cravings are there day and night. My world has changed from beautiful color to plain, dull, black and white. Feels like I am standing on the double yellow line and a fleet of eighteen-wheelers is heading my way. I know I need to move or be flattened, splattered in all directions -- but I can't budge.

Starsky keeps trying to monitor me. Glancing my way and I can see he is thinking the same -- I'm a wash up.

"Hey, Hutch." His voice comes across with concern. "You okay, partner?

I frowned, trying to act like I don't know what the hell he is talking about. "Fine," I simplified. "You?"

He just keeps looking at me, that look of his that in the past wouldn't let me submerse myself deep into the drug addiction. But I feel myself giving in to the pressure. I can't take it anymore. Feels like a thick chain wrapped around my chest and it won't release me. I had to get out. Break free. I needed something before I drown under water. My legs trembled. So did my hands, like a newborn too young to even know my own name. I need to get away from Starsky. Lay my hands on some junk. Just a smidge -- don't care anymore if it is right or wrong. I just need a fix -- wanted what I wanted. I could hear the wild sound of heroin addicted wolves in my ears, howling at midnight, and haunting my very blood.

Now I know what it is like to wear the other guy's shoe. How easy it is to find yourself lying amongst wet cardboard. With nothing in your stomach, not a dime in your pocket, or a roof over your head, and with no respect for yourself or life in general. Now I know, these cravings are not going anywhere soon. The vividness of that reality sticks in my brain like spots on a leopard.

"Want to lock up and get out of here?" Starsky's voice shakes a few spots loose. "Got the key right here." He jangled the ring.

"How about a game of pool first?" I ask, watching him look me up and down.

Starsky nods his head, gets up, moves toward the pool table, and starts to rack the balls. "You coming?" He glares at me.

Sitting my beer down, I said, "I need to use the john."

Using the john should be nice and simple right? Wrong. While Starsky was busy practicing one of his crazy trick shots I snuck into the kitchen and out the back door.

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I felt the wind sweep over my face, dragging with it small particles of sand that stuck to my eyelashes. I opened my eyes, fully conscious of where I was. I lay spread- eagle in the sand, staring upward. I could feel ribbons of seaweed wrap around my ankles, and gritty sand between the toes of my bare feet. The sky was blue and a few white spots were flying circles -- combat formation above me. I turned my head to the side and watched the waves crash against the beach. Sand was embedded under my fingernails and also stuck to my scalp. In my right hand I held a bottle of whiskey, in my left -- more sand, and an empty syringe.

Man, it should have been a beautiful way to start the day, waking up to the sound of gulls screeching and waves crashing. But I felt miserable, licking more sand off my lips with my grit-coated tongue. What had I been thinking?

"Uhhhhhhh, my head, "I moaned, and closed my eyes.

It was broad daylight, but I found myself driving at night without my headlights on. I needed the stuff. Needed a fix. And I needed it yesterday. Me, Ken Hutchinson. Good guy. Good cop. A kid raised on his grandfathers farm in Minnesota -- hooked on heroin. I was hypnotized by the junk. It was like watching a scary movie between open fingers. I didn't want to look. Didn't want to need the drug, but I couldn't help myself. Those no good creeps hooked me on it good. Even two weeks after, I still couldn't shake the feeling.

You are what you eat. My arm was force-fed the junk and now that is what I was. A junkie cop. I now walked an unmarked path. Never knowing when a craving would hit me. Never knowing when it would be lights out time.

The pain starts off slow and small. Like a papercut, then grows to a gash that feels acres wide. I haven't used any of the drug by my own accord, but after the incident at the Union gas station, I could feel the craving full throttle. Man, I could almost taste it. Thanks to Forest and his buffoons, I'd be skirmishing with this for a long time to come.

I tried to tap into my reserve bank account and fight this thing, but I felt like I was strapped to the underbelly of the Torino and we were plowing through a mud pit. I was being dragged down. Pitched sideways, all out of stamina. My reserves on the fritz.

"Oh, man., Hutchinson." I rubbed the grit out of the corners of my eyes.

I started to sit up, when I felt a strong breeze and suddenly a heavy weight sat on top of me pinning my shoulders to the ground.

"Why'd you run off like that?"

"Starsky?" My eyes flew open. "Starsk." I had to blink a couple times to be sure it was him.

"Do you know how worried I was? Do you know...I've been looking for your ass all night?"

"Me and my ass are right here." I smiled sheepishly.

Starsky looked down at me sharply. "Why'd you run off like that?" he asked again, forcing more of his weight further on me.

"Because," I deadpanned.

"Because? Because, Hutch!" Starsky leaned forward, the tip of his nose touching mine, and for a moment he reminded me of my big brown shaggy dog, Moose -- who used to lick me to death.

"Because." I confirmed and turned my head toward the rolling waves.

Starsky let loose his hold, stood, and circled me, much like those white dots in the sky flying combat formation; his anger obvious. "Because!" He screamed even louder as if I'd put a dent in his car. "So, there you have it, folks!" He waved a hand at a flock of nesting seagulls, scaring them into flight.

Even with my best friend spiraling around me, I felt adrift and empty as the bottle of whiskey that lay by my side in the sand. I struggled to sit up, a dune of sand dropping off me and icy needle pricks coursing up my spine.

"Awww," I gasped, when a sharp ache in my back nearly cracked me in half.

I watched Starsky's eyes soften as he reached a hand down. "Come on, dummy!" He crouched down and helped peel me from the sand, into a sitting position.

If my addiction was an outer wound you could visually see -- I would look like Frankenstein. Stapled together like a zipper gone mad. I am an infection that needs to be weeded out of the police force. I pleaded guilty and hoped that something or someone would put me out of my misery.

"You look miserable." Starsky scanned my face and plopped down to sit next to me.

"I'm fine," I spat, burying my left hand into the sand, hiding the empty needle I still held.

"Hutch, come on, talk to me. What are you thinking?" Starsky begged.

"I can't."

"Talk to me, buddy, please." Starsky reached out to me, but I shoved him away.

"Jeanie." I swiped sand off my lower lip, trying to still my trembling hand.

"What about Jeanie, pal?"

"Uh--huh," I groaned, and looked to the cold-clumpy sand. "Get away, Starsk. Just get away from me!"

I couldn't take what I did to Jeanie; I had to send her away for good. Starsky would do well to get away from me as well.

"Go!" I growled. "Jeanie couldn't trust me and --"

"Hutch, that wasn't your fault and you know it!"

"Starsky, when push came to shove, I told them where to find her. Oh man, I t-told -- told them." My voice cracked.

"Is that what's eating you, Hutch ?"

I shrugged.

"We've been through this," Starsky said firmly. "With Jeanie, you were strung out. You didn't know what you were saying. You've kicked it and that won't happen again."

I hung my head unable to look Starsky in the eye, nervously fiddling with the needle I still held too tightly under the sand. It really wasn't about Jeanie anymore.

"Mmmmmm." I shivered, my clothes damp from the night sea mist not having had a chance to dry out in the morning sun.

"Hey, partner." Starsky put an arm around my shoulder and pulled me closer. In a matter of seconds, I could feel his warmth; his compassion bleeding into me, giving me the strength I didn't have.

"Starsk… I…. it's not….I just…you know I wouldn't--" I struggled for the words.

"What is it, babe?"

"Starsk." I decided to at least look my partner in the eye when I told him the unfavorable truth. "I st-still--" I lifted my head slowly in shame and looked into those deep blue honorable eyes that trusted me so much. "I-still-crave-the-shit," I said in a rush.

"It'll pass, Hutch," Starsky calmly said.

"No!" I was angry with myself. "You don't understand! I--I..." I shook my head not knowing how to tell him.

"What is it, partner?"

Oh, man, he is going to be hot. Disappointed.

"I bought some!" Shouting out my secret, figuring it was like ripping a Band-Aid off. The quicker I said it, the better.

"I know," Starsky whispered softly.

"What?" A sudden gust of wind whistled across the sand, and I felt like I'd been carried away. I was stunned, did anything I do affect him? I wanted Starsky to scream, to yell, to punch me out. "Did you hear me, damn it! I scored a fix, Starsky!" I said it louder, angry at myself.

"Hutch." Starsky reached over me and pulled my hand out of the sand to reveal the empty syringe. "Try to relax."

"I -- I-- Damn it, Starsky!" I clinched the needle tightly in my fist. "I need it. I'm lost without it! I'm a junkie! Now and forever, a junkie!" I shouted, and watched the softness in Starsky's eyes drain away. "You can't trust me anymore!" I brutally pushed my buddy to the edge.

"Bullshit!" Starsky spit, nabbing both my arms and shoving me back to the beach.

"No, bullshit about it." I glared up at him. "Your partner, your best friend is -- is a junkie." My eyes pinned him as I spoke. "I'm a junkie! I'm a junkie!" Pulling away, I stood, fisting the empty needle, and waving it wildly in the air. "I'm a lousy junkie!" Hearing the words out loud over and over was more than either of us could handle.

"Shut up!" Starsky was on his feet in front of me. "That's not true, and you know it!"

Our tempers flared, emotions taking over, and running on high.

"It's true alright. Where do you think I went after I left you all alone at Huggy's? I went to buy the stuff." I answered my own question.

"I told you that I know, Hutch," Starsky said. "Your syringe is emtpy, and you're not stoned. I know you didn't shoot up, and I swear to you if you call yourself a junkie one more time, partner --" Starsky barely could swallow, it was like my words had shoved a dagger into the hollow spot of his neck. "I'm going to deck you." Starsky placed his bet, his entire body tight with tension.

"I... am... a... junkie." I called him on his bet.

I watched in near slow motion as Starsky grabbed my shirt, curled his hand into a tight tense ball, narrowed his eyes, and slammed his fist into my chin. My head snapped sideways and we both landed flat to our backs in the sand.

In a wink Starsky was on top of me again. "Don't talk that way!" he yelled, as I weakly struggled beneath him. Normally, my partner and I are equally matched in strength, but today Starsky held all the power. "You beat it! The cravings will pass. You're still the same cop you always were. The same dependable partner you always have been."

"Face it, Starsky." I stopped my struggle, lying limply in the sand, but making sure to hold tight to the empty needle. "You know it's true. And --" My pulse was racing, and my stomach roiled. Starsky's weight on my chest made black clouds swirl in my head. Drawing in a deep breath, and using the last of my strength to arch my back, I managed to shove him off of me, and retreat. I leaned up on one elbow and spit blood from my mouth. "A--and I'll sell you out t --t -- to get what I need." There, I said it, and my body shook violently from my need and realization. I could feel my eyes turn glassy as I peered at my friend.

It was killing him. I may as well have put a bullet in his heart. I could see it in his eyes, but right now I didn't care. Starsky needed to know I was not the trustworthy partner I once was. I was scared. I couldn't take the chance of one day him being undercover and a less then scrupulous offer comes up. What if I blew his cover just to get a quick fix? That thought scared me to death. More so than the image of my grimy self stumbling around the streets trying to score a hit.

"Hutch." Starsky's eyes glistened." You're like a brother to me. I won't let it happen! I'm not losing you to that garbage."

"It's not that easy, Starsky. It's not like skipping lunch." I had to tell him the truth. It wasn't the first time I bought the junk since Forest. "I've done it before."

"Done what before?"

I turned away from his beseeching gaze, pressing my cheek into the sand, staring blankly out to sea.

"Hutch!" Starsky's voice was raw as his hands roughly gripped my forearm. "What the hell have you done before?"

"I can't," I mumbled, my shame booming through my heart.

He was no dummy, my partner. He would figure it out. "You bought junk before this? Hutch!" Starsky's breath hit my cheek, hot as a dragon's flame. "When? How? When?"

I could feel his grip tighten. He had far surpassed disappointment. I winced. I could feel his trust flushing down the toilet bowl just like my life. I couldn't stand the thought of Starsky having to pull me up out of the ghetto. Couldn't bear to think of him calling upon snitches, putting my name out on the streets. Hunting me down like a rabid, mangy mutt.

"I didn't shoot up. I haven't," I explained, near windless, like I was an asthmatic. "I wanted to, but I didn't." As if that mattered. "Starsky, I can't do my job. I'm a risk to innocent people. A risk to you. What if next time -- what if I can't hold off and I take the hit, push the needle home --" I took in a deep breath. "What if I'm whacked out? What if I shoot the wrong guy because I'm stoned out of my mind?" I panted harder. "What if I come close to killing you?"

This wasn't just about my addiction anymore. It was about matters of the heart. He was my best friend. My partner. And I was an empty shell of a man, a ghost from Minnesota. Starsky and I had to be able to trust each other, back each other up. How could he ever trust me again?

"Starsky, right now I want the needle so badly. Sometimes when I'm in the squad room just typing up a report I can feel the need. It's so strong, I would take anything I could get my hands on. Hell, I even thought about taking a pencil and jamming it into a vein, but that wouldn't give me -- give me --"

"Only give you lead poisoning," Starsky said evenly.

"Starsky, I don't belong on the force anymore."

I was trying to be honest with him. This news seemed to undo my partner and he loosened his grip. I was terrified. I felt like I was rotting from the inside out.

"You idiot!" he settled next to me and wiped away a stream of blood that I felt drip out of the corner of my split lip. "Hutch, you're the best friend I ever had. You're my partner. You're a good cop." He reached out with both hands, gripped the sides of my head, and pulled to press my forehead to his. "If you don't belong on the force, I don't know who does." He eased away and held out his hand. "Give it to me. Let me see it." His fingers curled in request.

I didn't hesitate. I dug into my jacket pocket, pulled out a plastic bag, and held it up in my open palm. Starsky didn't take the unused syringe or the junk like I figured he would. Instead, he raised his eyes to me maintaining a calm look.

"You're my partner. I know you better than you know yourself. Hutch. If the world were falling down around my ears, it's you I would want standing next to me. How could I ever not trust you with my life. When there is trouble you keep a strong hold of me. I trust you to keep us both out of the shadows of death, partner."

"But--"

"No buts about it, Hutch. This city needs you. I need you. You won't let either of us down."

"How can you be so sure?" I asked in confusion.

Only a few days ago, when I saw the needle stuck in Patrick Goodwin's right forearm Starsky was concerend. I could tell then what he thought. He thought I might fall off the wagon, that I couldn't do my job. He hadn't trusted me then, how could I be sure all of my partner's talk about trusting me now wasn't a bunch of lies to make me feel better?

"Just am is all." Starsky's voice was taxed with the truth he felt so deeply.

I looked to the smack, then to him, then the smack. The need was a free flying thing that wanted me to nosedive into the dirt. I fought it hard.

"Flush it?" I asked my partner not looking at him.

"That's your call, Hutch. Not mine."

I closed my eyes as cold sweat trickled down my back. All my good dreams were verging into nightmares, as I fought to hold onto my reality.

Starsky gripped my arm, gently urging me on. "Hey, it's okay."

My mouth was dry like someone was force-feeding me a handful of dirt.

"Flush it." I puffed out a breath, as I made my decision.

"That a boy! That's my partner!" Starsky exclaimed with pride.

"Want to go home?" I felt bone-tired.

"Whenever you're ready, Blondie. I have nowhere else to be."

"I'm ready." I shivered.

"Can you walk?" Starsky asked.

"We crawl before we can walk, Starsk." I gave a brief nod, and raised my hand. "Just help me up."

Starsky eased me upright. The action tilted the beach to the left. I stumbled one step forward and two steps backward, feeling the whisky sloshing behind my eyes. Starsky charged forward, clamping a hand down on my shoulder -- and the world suddenly stood still.

"Hey, easy. You need some help with that, buddy?"

"Dunno." I coughed and cleared my throat. "Off the record?"

"Off the record." Starsky pinned me with a look of concern.

I closed my eyes, only briefly analyzing the question.

"Feel dizzy," I admitted.

"Too much fresh air," Starsky concluded, as he glanced downward taking the empty whisky bottle into consideration. "Or too much sunshine." I watched the worry in his eyes evaporate.

"Maybe a little of both," I muttered, not about to argue.

"It will be all right, buddy." Starsky patted my shoulder gently.

"I believe you," I said in a shaky voice.

Starsky trained his eyes on the junk I still held in my hand. "In time, Hutch. In time."

"Yeah," I breathed, as I put the needle and bag back into my jacket pocket. "I-I'll feel better when this stuff is swirling through our city's sewer system where it belongs."

Starsky draped an arm across my shoulders and pulled me to his side, as we started to walk up the beach. "No more disappearing acts. Okay, Houdini?" He grinned.

"No more sucker punches. Okay, Muhammad?" I grinned back.

"I got great timing." Starsky adjusted my body closer as we slowly walked.

"Yeah, you do, buddy," I said. Thank you."

Starsky knew the meaning behind the words, and nodded. "Anytime, partner."

Starsky makes my crooked world straight. With little words he somehow brings me to the borders of my own understanding. I can do this. I will do this. I won't let him down again. More importantly -- I won't let myself down. I am no ghost.

The end