Sunday, September 5, 1976 – Pine Lake
Dawn painted its rosy palette over the lake as birdsong soared to greet the day. But not even this optimistic sunrise could rouse Hutch from the grief riveting him to the bed.
Fingers of light soon reached between the venetian blinds' slats and brightened by the minute. Tiny specks of dust flickered in a beckoning dance along the sun's slender rays.
"Rise and shine!" morning's conspirators all urged in vain.
At last Hutch did surrender, not to daybreak, but to a different call of nature that for now outweighed the ton of lead pressing down on his chest.
From the cabin's bathroom, he trudged back into the kitchen. As he poured last night's coffee dregs, a light breeze drifted through the open window and caressed his cheek. Peering out, he saw a silky cream feather lilting on the air in a captivating dance.
Hutch watched as he sat with his cracked cup and broken heart, and remembered.
Mid-August 1976 – three weeks before in a stationery store
"Oh, I-I'm s-sorry, here. Let, let me," Hutch stammered as he gathered up the reams of paper and pens that had fallen from her arms.
"That's OK!" she assured him.
"There, that's got it."
"Oh, thank you!"
They both stood up and Hutch handed her the packages. In the instant their eyes met, Hutch knew life would never be the same again. He struggled to recover his power of speech.
"I, I came here to buy a, a quill pen, for my grandfather," he managed at last, gesturing the box in his hand.
He was embarrassed by his words the minute they were out. Why would she care? But like a blushing schoolboy, he went on.
"It's, uh, it's his birthday. He lives in Duluth. He has an amazing library. He, he loves to write letters, we exchange letters a lot, and I, thought, you know, a quill pen, uh, I mean—"
"—would be a perfect gift for him," she finished for him.
"Exactly! Oh, allow me," he offered as he took some of the reams that were beginning to slip from her arms. "To the register? Or more browsing?"
"The register," she answered with a rueful smile.
They walked to the register together. As the store-keeper processed her purchase, Hutch showed her the quill pen. The feather's cream-colored lines were perfectly combed and tapered, and the writing tip was chiseled to fine precision.
"What a special gift!" she gasped. "You must love him very much."
"I do." Hutch smiled, recalling the man who had given him his childhood and made everything right and joyous in his young world. "And you...?" he asked as he looked inquiringly at her purchases.
"I'm a writer," she replied with a small, dismissive shrug as she finalized her shopping.
"Would you like the quill gift-wrapped, sir?" the assistant asked.
"Yes, please. And the ink, too."
Turning back to her, he asked, "What kind of things do you write?"
"Stories mainly. I've published some short stories in women's magazines," she explained. "Maybe you've seen one or two of them on your mother's coffee table," she added with a little mirth.
Hutch nervously smiled. "Uh, I don't get to read my mother's magazines much."
They both laughed.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Gillian. Gillian Ingram."
"Ah, Gillian," he whispered, feeling the sun all at once radiating the day despite the grey clouds outside.
"And you?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm Ken. Ken Hutchinson."
"It's very nice to meet you, Ken."
"Same here, uh, I mean, it's very nice to meet you, Gillian."
They laughed again.
Hutch helped Gillian to her car, where they exchanged phone numbers and arranged a dinner date. The glance between them as they said goodbye spoke of new love born in a stationery store, with its own story to write. With excitement igniting his every move, Hutch sprang back to his car.
Back at Pine Lake, Sunday, September 5, 1976
Bursting with grief, Hutch fled the cabin's kitchen and hastened down to the lake for whatever panacea the water might offer. It had been kind of his Captain to let him have the cabin for some time away. He had always enjoyed Pine Lake, but not even these idyllic surrounds could erase the horror of the past few days.
Gillian and he had been like nothing he had ever known. An hour with her was a lifetime in paradise. Yet sometimes Hutch would catch trouble lining her face. She would smile away his concern and fervently remind him that she loved him.
Once she told him that being with him made her feel so excited all the time that it was like she was in a room filled with red balloons. But then she would hear an explosion, and worry about the balloons breaking.
"Which one would be first?" she wondered.
Hutch reassured her that none of the balloons would break. None of them.
"That'd be so nice," she rejoined. "Impossible, but it'd be nice."
Hutch could not know then what she meant. But he saw it all too clearly now.
Three days before at Gillian's apartment – Thursday, September 2, 1976
It had all happened in the space of forty-eight hours. Starsky had discovered the truth that Gillian was a prostitute when, in the course of an unrelated inquiry, he chanced upon her with a prestigious client at Venus Massage. He visited her at her apartment the next day and offered her money to leave town. Hearing her promise that she would tell Hutch the truth, Starsky took his leave. He left the money with her, only later to find her slain body on her living room floor. She had been killed by her vengeful pimps – Grossman and his mother Olga – for trying to break free of their filthy racket.
Starsky had been alone at the murder scene when his shock at finding her body was punctured by Grossman's taunting phone call. Grossman had mistaken Starsky for Hutch and demanded a showdown at the Royal Theatre in twenty minutes. Starsky rapidly returned to business and frantically called for the coroner's wagon and a crime lab.
Then Hutch arrived, and he saw the balloons had broken.
"What's going on?" he asked in a daze as he went and knelt by Gillian's side.
"She's dead, Hutch," Starsky pronounced. "Grossman did it."
"Grossman? What are you talking about? Why would he want to kill her? What are you, crazy?"
Starsky braced himself. "Listen to me, buddy," he pressed as he tried to focus his partner.
But it was no good. Questions swirled in Hutch's head, but all he could do was sit by Gillian's body and stroke her.
"She was gonna tell you," Starsky tried again.
"Tell me what?" Hutch asked.
"She worked for Grossman," Starsky plainly stated, wishing the bad news could stop.
Hutch glared at Starsky. "What did you say? The only girls who work for Grossman are hookers! Are you trying to tell me that Gillian is a hooker? Is that what you're trying to tell me, buddy? Friend? That my girl is a hooker? A prostitute?!"
The clock was ticking fast to get to Grossman and there was no time for Starsky to sugar-coat the facts. So he pushed hard to drive the truth home.
"Look around you. What do you think bought this place?"
Starsky went flying across the floor, knocked down by Hutch's punch to his jaw. Hutch picked him up by the collar, his rage and shock wracking them both.
Starsky let himself go limp like a rag doll. "What are you gonna do?" he asked. "Do you wanna hit me again, huh? Is that what you want?"
Hutch relaxed his grip as his eyes were pulled back to Gillian's lifeless body.
Starsky continued. He – they – had to get through this. "She was a prostitute. And there's nothing you can do or say that's gonna change that fact. Or the fact she loved you, and she was about to give all this up just for you. That's probably why Grossman killed her."
Hutch strove to grasp Starsky's words, aching for them to be a lie.
"Hey," Starsky entreated. "How many years we known each other, huh? You're the best friend I got in the whole world. You think I like saying things like this to you?"
Overtaken by grief and remorse, Hutch released his grip on Starsky. He collapsed into his partner's arms where Starsky's love took hold with the grace of a dove.
"It's okay," Starsky whispered as he embraced his partner. "It's gonna be okay. Get it out, boy. Then we got some work to do."
Back at Pine Lake, Sunday, September 5, 1976
"What is this?"
Around and around the question went asHutch wiped his eyes where he sat lakeside, remembering what he longed to forget.
Starsky and he had done their work apprehending Grossman and his bruisers after a fierce shootout at the Royal Theatre. But not before Grossman had played his wretched porn film starring Gillian, to taunt Hutch down on the auditorium floor. More red balloons burst before Starsky took clear and decisive aim with his gun and blasted the projector to kingdom come.
A gunfight erupted between the balcony above and the auditorium below, and with every shot fired in the air, Hutch heard the last of the balloons breaking. One by one, the goons fell until Starsky and Hutch collared Grossman at last.
After it was all over, the partners had stood side by side at the foot of the stairs where Grossman lay unconscious. With wordless regard and the faintest of nods and a gesture that only they could understand, they reassured each other that they were okay.
And they were okay, together.
Until the next day.
Coroner's Lab, Friday, September 3, 1976
The day after Grossman's arrest, Starsky and Hutch went down to the coroner's lab. Cause of death was suffocation – Grossman had smothered Gillian with one of her sofa pillows.
Starsky and Hutch inspected Gillian's belongings. One suitcase contained a few items of clothing and some other personal items – all that she had brought with her to Bay City. Another case held a portable typewriter, along with her writing materials, published stories, and manuscript drafts.
In her handbag was a brown envelope that Starsky snapped up.
"What's that, Starsk?" Hutch inquired.
Hutch craned his neck to see the money still inside the envelope.
"Sixteen hundred dollars," Starsky asserted with grim trepidation.
"How do you know? You didn't count it. Let me see."
"It's my money, Hutch."
"I went to see her."
"What are you talking about?"
"Like I told you, I found out what she was doin' when I saw her at Venus Massage. It tore me up inside to think how that news was gonna hit you. I mean, I saw how you froze in the alley shootout the other day. You really lived for that lady, and you sure didn't want to die by some scum's bullet that'd have you leavin' her behind."
Starsky took a deep breath. "I offered her money."
Starsky's mouth ran dry. "To leave Bay City and open up her boutique shop in Cleveland."
A burning silence ignited the room.
"Hutch?" Starsky ventured, knowing he had lit a fuse that was liable to blast any time.
Hutch began pacing the floor. The fuse shortened with each step he took.
"Talk to me, Hutch."
Still Hutch said nothing as he quickened his tread.
"You gotta understand, Hutch, I did it because, I, I—"
"—Because why?!" Hutch exploded as he stopped dead in his tracks. "Because she was a hooker? You made that plain enough!"
"Aw c'mon! I was worried she was leading you on and it could cost you your badge."
"The badge! Is that what all this is about?"
"I was tryin' to protect you."
"From what? Gillian? She couldn't hurt a fly!"
"You know what I mean."
"No, I don't know what you mean! You didn't even talk about it with me! What the hell made you think money would even make a difference to her?! Oh but of course, she was a hooker, so you thought you had her pegged!"
"It wasn't like that, Hutch. I wanted to give her an out. Away from Grossman. She was going to tell you about it last night."
"Don't I get a say? Didn't it ever occur to you this is my life too?"
"It is your life! And I didn't want to see it goin' down the toilet!"
"You really have a way with words! That's how you saw her, huh?"
"I didn't mean it like it sounded."
Hutch shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair as he went back to traipsing the floor. "We could have worked it out, Gillian and I. If-if only I had known. I mean, she needed protection, not just money, if she was going to get out safely."
"I had no way of knowing the Grossmans would find out. Maybe she told them she was leavin'."
"You didn't think! Even if she hadn't gone to them, they would have sure as hell gone after her! You know their form!"
"I thought she'd talk to you before she did anything else. Least that's what I understood when I left her."
Starsky walked over to a window and stared at scraps of litter being hurled up and tossed about in the windy street below – remnants of untold lives laid to waste.
"Ya know, Hutch, I was tryin' to keep it together for you. And for me. You know, as your friend and as a cop."
What a fragile line it was sometimes between friend and cop. Starsky wondered if he was to bless or blame as he felt the enormity of all that had happened come crashing down on his shoulders.
Hutch had retreated into floor-staring silence on the other side of the room. Starsky glanced back across the void between them, and knew Hutch and he were broken.
Starsky reverted his gaze back to the window. "There's nothing I can say, is there?" he asked.
The hollow sound of Hutch's steps taking off out the door came back as the answer.
Starsky kept his eyes fixed on life's refuse scattering on the streets below, and felt his own heart break.
Back at Pine Lake – Sunday, September 5, 1976
Hutch pounded the lake's edge. The day's rosy sunrise had lied – clouds were gathering and the early morning breeze was churning into an icy wind that howled through the trees and chilled his body to the core.
Speculation and unanswered questions tortured his mind as he wrestled with himself.
"If only Gillian had the chance to tell me the truth! I would have understood! Wouldn't I? Help her get out. Figure out a plea bargain. Something! I loved her. I still love her. Don't I?
I'd have stood by her. Just like I stand by Starsky."
But then confusion clouded clarity as he remembered how he had hit Starsky when he told Hutch she was a prostitute. How did that square with the compassion he thought he had shown hookers on the street?
"What kind of person does that make me? What am I, a hypocrite with no compassion?!"
Or was he just someone who was confused and human after all?
Had his anger been the outrage of moral indignation? Or was it the anger of a duped lover, a betrayed friend? Fury had raced on the heels of shock at the murder scene, but was that any kind of excuse for hitting his best friend?
"Some best friend! He offered her money to go away! How could he do that and not tell me about it?"
But then even more troubling questions plagued him.
"How could Starsky have known about Gillian when I didn't? Was that his fault? How could I have not known?"
Hutch grappled with the fairness of making his partner take the rap for Gillian's deception and his own failure. The truth of Gillian's story was still unravelling in the aftermath of her murder. Yet this much he knew. Back in Cleveland, Gillian had fallen on destitute times for reasons still not clear. Desperate, she had resorted to the streets for a living, where the Grossmans had lifted her out of the gutter and brought her to Bay City to work for them as a high-class hooker. Little did she know that the move would catch her in a vortex far deadlier than anything she had known.
"Hell, the cards were stacked against her, and then they threw away the whole damned deck!" he cried out loud to no-one there.
He came to rest on a rock, tussling with what to do next.
"I'll go fishing. Never mind the weather. That's what I'll do. Catch some trout for dinner."
But he did not move.
He sat, not noticing the afternoon grow dark until the black clouds began to dump their burdensome load. As he hastened back towards the cabin, the wet ground gave way between his feet. He fell, hit his head on a rock, and lost consciousness. As the rain poured down, a feather came to rest beside him – the same feather he had seen through the kitchen window earlier that morning.
Through the thick of the rain, Starsky came scrambling to his partner's fallen side. "Hutch!"
He rapidly scanned for injury and felt for a pulse.
"Hutch! Hey Hutch, talk to me!" he called as he smacked Hutch's face.
Hutch slowly came to. Starsky helped him back to the cabin where he tended to his head wound. Not much of a word passed between them.
Sitting back on the couch after a warm shower, Hutch drank the hot chocolate Starsky had made for him. He regarded his worried partner sitting in an armchair across the room.
"What brought you here, Starsky?" he asked.
"I just wanted to see you. Know how you're doin'."
"In your words, 'T'rific'."
"Yeah, I can see that. Nice of Dobey, though, to give you his cabin for a few days. Do some fishin', go hikin'."
"Dobey doesn't want me on Gillian's case."
"Hey, speakin' of Dobey, he gave me Edith's stew to bring you. I put it in the kitchen."
Hutch gave a small nod.
"And Huggy gave me some grape to go with that fish he figured you'd be catchin'. Wine's on the house, would you believe, although maybe not right now."
But Hutch was already asleep. Starsky put a rug over him and settled back into an armchair. He was feeling heavy-eyed himself – it had been a strenuous time for them both.
The skies cleared and as the day's remains began to fade, Starsky awoke and saw Hutch had gone.
"Probably in the john," he thought.
Starsky headed down to the lake where he found Hutch. Bathed in the soft light of afternoon's imminent departure, he was stroking the lines of the same feather he had seen that morning, which had rested by his fallen side.
"Thought I might find you here," Starsky remarked. "Beautiful evening."
"Hutch, there's something I need to give you." Starsky took a small white envelope out of his pocket. "After you left the coroner's lab yesterday, I was finishin' up when I found this."
He handed Hutch the envelope. "It was in her purse."
Hutch grimaced. "Not another envelope."
"You need to read it. It's a letter from Gillian to you."
Bearing a faint trace of Gillian's perfume, the letter carried Hutch back to her. He breathed in and began to read.
To my dearest Ken,
I've tried calling you to say I'd see you at your place tonight, not here. But I couldn't reach you, and I'm frightened. I had a terrible showdown with Olga Grossman this afternoon when I told her I was leaving.
Starsky can explain. He risked so much for you. He gave me money to start my boutique shop, but he really wanted me to tell you the truth. He said if I didn't tell you, he would. I hope I can see you to explain it myself.
Never forget that I love you.
P.S. I told Starsky how nice it would be to be you, to have two people love you so much in one lifetime. But it's me who is lucky, to have been loved by you.
The grief and torment that had been surging inside Hutch broke its banks. As he fought to stem the torrent, the feather he was holding lifted itself from his grasp. Through tear-drenched eyes, he watched the feather dance across the lake and soar upwards to the sky where the clouds had cleared, until he could see it no more.
"Oh, Starsky—" Hutch tried to go on, but emotions stifled his words.
"Hey," Starsky soothed as he sat closer and put an arm around his friend.
"It, it's been so hard. You know?"
"I know, Hutch."
"She did love me, didn't she?"
"Whaddya sayin'? Of course she loved ya."
"Yeah," Hutch whispered.
"You know better than most, Hutch, that some people live their lives the best way they can, and others do it any way they can. Sometimes, 'best' and 'any' are the same thing. I figure that's how it was with Gillian."
"I, I'm sorry, Starsk."
"'s OK," Starsky replied, his gruff tone and meagre words belying the gladness his heart felt at hearing Hutch's words.
"Hitting you, taking it out on you, all that, I'm sorry. And I, I was angry about, about the money."
"You had a right to be angry."
"You were watching out for me."
"It's what we do. For each other."
"I figure she didn't confide in me because she didn't think she could. What does that say about me, huh?" Tears blurred his eyes. "I let her down."
"Hey! Don't do that to yourself," Starsky enjoined. "Ya can't go around in life blamin' yourself for other people's actions. You did what you could, and she did what she could. Besides, she was going to tell you. She just never got the chance."
Hutch steadied himself as he considered his friend sitting there by his side. In a few words, Starsky could put straight the unruly conflict waging in his partner's mind. "You know, Gillian got it right about my being loved by two special people."
"Aw Hutch, don't get all soapy on me, huh?"
"I mean it. You put everything on the line for me. Your job, your badge, your bank account. You risked it all. IA's going to have a field day."
"Forget it. Dobey's confident. Somethin' about it bein' a private business matter between Gillian and me to encourage a better life for her that was above board. Nothin' to do with transactin' with Grossman Enterprises."
"Besides, Dobey says the Department has bigger fish to fry as they go after the syndicate leanin' on Grossman to expand the empire in Bay City. We've been instrumental in getting them closer to their quarry, Dobey says, and that'll go well with IA."
The two men sat in a wordless drift of what-might-have-beens and where-to-nows as the sun bade its farewell. Stillness enveloped them both, like a peacemaker who had been biding the right moment to step into the fray.
Into this quiet, Starsky projected the question now uppermost in his mind. "The thing is, Hutch, are we OK?"
Hutch paused. "No," he replied as he faced Starsky. "But we will be."
Hutch put an exhausted but very welcomed arm around his friend. Starsky's face broke into a watery grin of relief.
"First," Hutch added, taking a deep breath to stem the flow of his emotions. "We have to try that stew you brought along. Hope you didn't make dinner plans?"
"Hey, I ain't goin' anywhere. Besides, Edith made enough to feed an army. No wonder Dobey's bustin' out of his three-piece suits!"
Starsky watched as the corners of Hutch's mouth began to bend into a tiny smile that reached from a heart yearning to mend.
Heavily, wearily, Hutch pulled himself to his feet. "C'mon then, partner. Did you bring your sleeping bag? It's going to be a long night."
A gossamer of air ruffled around them. Hutch instinctively touched his face where again he felt love's light caress, just like he had that morning in the kitchen.
Together, the two men started along their path of redemption back to the house. Hutch was right – it was going to be a long night, and a slow recovery ahead.
But at least they were home.
And somewhere out there, a silky cream feather, her story told, found her resting place.
I acknowledge the source material for this story, which is the Starsky & Hutch episode called "Gillian" (1976), written by Ben Masselink and Amanda J. Green. Starsky & Hutch (1975-1979) was created by William Blinn, produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, and starred David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, Bernie Hamilton and Antonio Fargas.
The dialogue at Gillian's murder scene, and the circumstances surrounding her death, are borrowed from this episode. The rest of the story is the author's own imagining of how Gillian and Hutch met; the personal aftermath of Gillian's death; and what happened between Starsky and Hutch in the coroner's lab and thereafter.
My deep thanks as always go to my partner-in-crime, John, for his constructive feedback on this story and for his wonderful support and encouragement of my writing.
And many thanks to Paula Hewitt, whose 'Broken' writing prompt was the nudge I needed to get back to this story that I wrote last year, and render it fit for publication.
I dedicate this story to my mother, with whom I first watched "Gillian" when it first aired on television many years ago. The memory of that first viewing is as vivid to me now as it was back then – as is the episode conversation we had the next morning over breakfast that had me running late for my bus! Here's to you, Mum.