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Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it.  No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.

 

This story is part one in a series.

 

Threads:  Bad Penny

Written by Sue David and Valerie Wells

© 12-2001

 

"I'll just be a few minutes," Hutch said, gathering up his savings account passbook and various papers scattered around the front seat of the Torino.

 

"Take your time," Starsky said, deadpan. "I'll wait for you here, Mr. Hutchinson."

 

"Aw, stuff it," Hutch said with a grin, getting out and heading for the bank's front door. Starsky slid down in the seat and closed his eyes.

 

It was busy inside the bank, with several people in each line. Hutch sighed, looked at his watch and eyed the lines, trying to choose the one that seemed to be moving the fastest. None of them were, if the truth was told, so he simply joined the closest one. Starsky had tried to talk him out of what he was there to do – withdraw a substantial amount from his savings in order to upgrade his greenhouse – but Hutch was determined. His greenhouse was part of what kept him sane in this crazy job, and he'd never been one to worry much about stockpiling money. The greenhouse was more important to him than having lots of money in the bank.

 

Sooner than he'd have thought possible, it was his turn. He pushed his passbook and a withdrawal slip, along with his driver's license, across the counter to the teller. After a wooden smile and a stiff "How are you today, sir?" she didn't speak again, simply completed the transaction and pushed everything back across to Hutch. "Thank you, Mr. Hutchinson," she said, not even managing a smile this time. He smiled at her, however, realizing she was having a long, hard day, and turned to go, only to be confronted with a familiar face.

 

"Ken?"

 

Hutch froze mid-step. He hadn't seen Cassandra Davenport since before his divorce from Vanessa. Hadn't wanted to, either. They'd never gotten along, and her husband – Hutch didn't even remember his name now – had been even more of a snob than she was.

 

Cassandra smiled. "Don't tell me you don't remember me, brother-in-law. Ex brother-in-law, perhaps I should say."

 

"I remember you," he managed to say, stepping out of the line he was in to allow the next person access to the bored teller. He moved over to stand next to Cassandra in her line. "What are you doing here?"

 

"I moved out to Bay City a few months ago," she said, lifting one hand to smooth back the side of her perfectly coiffed auburn hair. That was new – it used to be brunette, like Vanessa's. Her eyes were the same startling aqua shade as her sister's, and it disturbed Hutch a little to realize how much the sisters looked alike – had looked alike. "After I divorced Allen, I put out some feelers and got a marvelous job offer from a firm here. So I took it."

 

"What do you do?" Hutch asked.

 

She gave a tinkling laugh. "You don't remember, do you? Well, I don't blame you. It was never as important as Allen's work, was it? I'm a fashion buyer for Bainbridge’s."

 

He remembered now. She'd studied fashion design in college, and at the time, he assumed it was just an excuse to be at college to snag a rich husband. That's why Vanessa went to college, a nasty voice whispered inside his head. Well, Vanessa had failed, hadn't she? She'd hitched her horse to the wrong wagon, assuming Ken Hutchinson would follow his father into law. He had, but not in the way she'd envisioned.

 

"That's terrific," he said. "So you're divorced now? I'm sorry to hear that."

 

"Don't be," she said with a laugh. "It was doomed from the start, I think. Allen was just so – well, he couldn't play with his own toys, let's put it like that."

 

Hutch felt his face grow hot.

 

"I'm sorry, I've embarrassed you," she said, reaching out a cool hand to place it on his. "Listen, are you busy tonight? I'd love to have dinner with you and catch up."

 

"Well, I, uh -" God, he hated it when he stammered. "That is, my partner and I were going to -"

 

"Your partner?" Her lovely brow creased, then cleared. "Oh, yes, David, isn't it? You're still a cop, then?"

 

He nodded.

 

"I'd love to have him, too," she said, then laughed. "I mean, he's welcome, too. Do you know Chez Helene's?"

 

This time, Hutch laughed. "I live in the apartment above it."

 

Something passed over her face and was gone too quickly for him to identify it. "That's lovely," she said. "I'll meet you both there at seven, shall I? Marie is a friend of mine and will save us a table, I'm sure. Do say yes. I hate to eat alone, and I'll have to tonight if you don't accept."

 

"I'm sure that's a rare occurrence," Hutch said, summoning up the gallant good manners his mother had tried so hard to teach him.

 

"Silly," she said, giggling. "So, seven?"

 

"Sure," he said, hoping Starsky wouldn't kill him. His partner's opinion of Vanessa had been lower than low and he wouldn't be likely to feel much friendlier toward her sister, especially since they'd planned to have a steak at Huggy's and take it easy tonight.

 

"That's wonderful." Cassandra was next to be waited on, so she patted his hand again in farewell. "I'll look forward to it."

 

Starsky was half asleep when Hutch got back in the car, but he pried one blue eye open and slid upright to start the car. A glance at Hutch's face halted him. "What happened?"

 

"What are you talking about?" Hutch attempted an innocent expression.

 

Starsky wasn't buying it. "I know that look, buddy. What happened in there? You look like you saw a ghost."

 

That bad? Hutch gave a rueful grin. "Ran into an old ... friend. Cass. Van's sister."

 

Starsky stared. "What the hell is she doing here?"

 

"Moved here. Got a job here. Got divorced and started over, I guess." He gave a shrug. "Wants to take us to dinner."

 

"Us? Both of us?"

 

Hutch nodded. "Tonight. Chez Helene's. I said we'd go."

 

The blank astonishment on Starsky's face would have been funny if Hutch hadn't felt so strange about the whole encounter.

 

"I hope that's okay," Hutch added. "I know we had plans, but -"

 

"That's okay," Starsky said, seeing more in Hutch's face than Hutch wanted him to. "You sure I won't be a third wheel?"

 

"Fifth wheel," Hutch corrected automatically. "She told me to bring you, too."

 

Starsky studied him for another moment or two. "Hey, I like the food there," he said with forced casualness. "Guess we better get to work then, so we'll be on time, right?"

 

"Right."

 

Starsky even consented to put on a tie and sport coat for Chez Helene's. Hutch, on the other hand, felt a contrary compulsion to wear jeans and a t-shirt, but he also put on a tie. The restaurant wasn't all that elite, but it wasn't Huggy's, either.

 

"Honestly, Ken, what's come over you?" Vanessa stood in the doorway between bathroom and bedroom, her makeup half done, her hair still in rollers. "You're not wearing THAT, are you?"

 

"What's wrong with this?" he asked, turning away from the mirror where he'd been tying his tie. He was wearing tan brushed-denim pants, a light cotton shirt in a tan plaid and a plain tan tie. The shirt had been a gift from Vanessa and he'd thought it would please her for him to wear it. Not much pleased her these days, however.

 

"You can't go to the country club in that," she said.

 

"I'm wearing a tie," he said, pointing to it.

 

"Ken," she said, her voice rising a little in that impatient tone she used when she thought he was being deliberately dense, "this is the country club. A suit would be appropriate. That looks like something you'd wear to the policemen's summer barbecue."

 

That was a dig – the latest in a long line of digs – at his job. He felt his adrenalin start to pump, but forced it down. Tonight was important to her. He didn't want to ruin it with another argument. "Okay, honey," he said, trying to keep his tone level. "Which one do you think I should wear?"

 

"You're a big boy. Pick out your own clothes." She turned and went back into the bathroom and he had to clench his fists so hard it hurt to keep from shouting an angry retort back at her. He started to undress so he could change and had made it down to his briefs when he heard her being ill in the bathroom. He ran across the room to the door and saw her on her knees.

 

"Van? What's wrong?" He knew better than to approach her. There was nothing Vanessa hated more than for someone – even her husband – to see her looking less than her best.

 

She couldn't speak, but she waved her hand in a "go away" gesture and he retreated obediently. He finished dressing, and sooner than he'd thought possible, Van appeared, looking as beautiful and perfect as always.

 

"Feeling better?" It was all he dared say in reference to her being sick.

 

She nodded. "Fine. Must've been something I ate at lunch. Let's go."

 

Cassandra and Allen were waiting for them. It was rare that Vanessa's family – any of them – bothered to come to Bay City for a visit. In fact, they disapproved of his and Vanessa's move out there and constantly worked on Vanessa to come home. But when they did come, they always took them out to dinner somewhere expensive and posh, places where he and Vanessa couldn't afford to eat even on their combined salaries. And Vanessa's family knew it. If they'd done it out of kindness or affection, it would have been different. But Hutch knew they did it to show him how inadequate he was as a provider for their precious Vanessa. They always asked when he was going to "get tired of being a cop" and finish law school. They liked to tell Vanessa about all her school friends back home and how well they were doing financially. And for weeks after one of these visits, Vanessa was twice as hard to live with.

 

He heard the sound of the Torino pulling up in the street and a few moments later the sound of Starsky's sneakered feet pounding up the stairs. The door opened and Starsky called, "You decent, Blintz?"

 

"More or less," Hutch called back, finishing with his tie and stepping back to check the effect. He supposed he would do. Starsky appeared behind him. Bless him, he was wearing jeans with his tie and sport coat, and the inevitable Adidas.

 

"Don't you look purty," Starsky said with a grin, turning Hutch around and straightening his tie for him.

 

"Thanks, darling," Hutch returned good-naturedly. "Want a beer before we go?"

 

"Nah. I'll have one with dinner. I'm starvin', too."

 

Cassandra was waiting in the foyer and Hutch heard Starsky draw a sharp breath behind him.

 

"She's a knockout," he hissed into Hutch's ear.

 

"I know," Hutch said softly, raising his voice to greet Cassandra and introduce her to Starsky.

 

"I remember hearing about you when Vanessa and Ken were married," Cassandra said, taking Starsky's hand as if to shake it, but simply holding it instead. "I'm so glad you came, too."

 

"I'm sorry about Vanessa's death," Starsky said.

 

Cassandra nodded. "Thanks, David. It was pretty hard on all of us," she paused and glanced up at Hutch, "but let's not let it ruin our evening together. I hope you're both hungry. I have an expense account, and I love to abuse it." She laughed.

 

They were seated almost immediately and all three ordered drinks. Starsky and Hutch both had beer; Cassandra ordered white wine.

 

She took a delicate sip from her glass before leaning across the table to smile winningly at Hutch. "I know we weren't the best of friends when you and Van were together," she said. "Let's put it behind us and start fresh, okay, Ken?"

 

"Sure, Cassie," he said. "No hard feelings."

 

She giggled. "Nobody ever called me ‘Cassie' except Ken," she told Starsky. "Not even my parents. I've missed that, and you," she added to Hutch. "Tell me all about what you do. You're a detective now, aren't you?"

 

Hutch couldn't help feeling suspicious – she was being far too friendly compared to the way she'd always treated him – but lately Starsky had been telling him he was getting bitter and cynical and he was determined to prove him wrong. He told her about some of their cases, leaving out the worst details. She talked about her job. Starsky was unnaturally silent, answering when spoken to but otherwise just listening to them.

 

When their food came, conversation died for a while as they ate, but Cassandra started it up again by asking him to tell her about Vanessa's death.

 

"Oh, Cassie, you don't want to hear -"

 

"But I do," she said soberly. "I hadn't seen Van for three or four months before she died. She was always traveling and hadn't been home for a visit. We kind of grew apart, Ken. And that bothers me. You were here. I need to know. Please?"

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky.  How much should I tell her?

 

No more than you have to. No sense upsetting her.

 

"That's amazing," Cassandra said, her eyes twinkling.

 

"What is?" Hutch asked.

 

"That silent conversation you two just had. I don't know what you said, but it was plain you were making a joint decision and you never opened your mouths."

 

Hutch reddened. "Well, partners, you know. We spend a lot of time together -" he trailed off uncertainly.

 

"I'm not offended," she said. "I think it's nice. Now, about Vanessa?"

 

So Hutch told her about it, leaving out the worst details again, and also leaving out how he and Starsky had bent the rules when Dryden and Starsky had come to arrest him. Starsky contributed more to this conversation, even making Cassandra laugh with the story of Huggy hiding in the casket at the funeral home to tape Wheeler's confession. When they finished, she shook her head and finished her wine before speaking.

 

"Van always was a little wild," she said. "No offense, Ken, but I think that's part of why she married you. She wanted to do something our parents wouldn't necessarily approve of."

 

"She wound up regretting that," Hutch said, not even realizing he sounded bitter until Starsky gave him a little nudge.

 

"It could have worked, though," Cassandra said. "If she'd only given it a chance. If she'd accepted you for who you are. But she was Daddy's girl, deep down, even though she fought it all her life."

 

"I guess," Hutch said. Vanessa had been a lot like her father.

 

"I wish she'd have had the baby," Cassandra said. "It might have saved the marriage."

 

Hutch felt as though he'd just climbed off a carnival ride. He was dizzy and lightheaded and his stomach was queasy. "What did you say?"

 

"The baby," Cassandra said. "If she'd had the baby, maybe you and she would have stayed together. A baby might have drawn you together. Instead, you -"

 

"What baby?"

 

Both of them were more than a little drunk. It was their anniversary and they'd celebrated with dinner and champagne. A lot of champagne. Now, lying in bed, Hutch turned on his side and propped his head on his hand to gaze at his beautiful wife. She giggled and reached up to stroke his hair.

 

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.

 

"Because you are the loveliest thing on the planet," he answered, leaning over to kiss her.

 

"That's sweet."

 

He kissed her again, more urgently, and let his hand drift down to caress her bare skin. "You know what I think?"

 

"What?"

 

"I think it's time we thought about starting a family."

 

She pulled away and sat up, clutching the sheet to her protectively. "A family? Now?"

 

He was puzzled. "Well, not tonight," he said with a grin. "Kids might interrupt our celebration. But -"

 

"You think it'd be nice for me to be barefoot and pregnant?"

 

"You don't have to go barefoot," he said, the wine making him a little slow on the uptake and his need for her crowding most other thoughts from his mind, anyway.

 

"That isn't funny."

 

"I wasn't trying to be funny, babe," he said, reaching for her again. "We can talk about it later. I just thought maybe we could start thinking about it. I don't want to rush you. We've got plenty of time -"

 

"Your life wouldn't change a bit," she said angrily. "You wouldn't have to get fat or go through labor or change diapers or -"

 

"Whoa, honey," he said, sitting up, too. "Later, okay? We'll talk about it later. I'm sorry I said anything."

 

But there had been no placating her and they hadn't talked about it later. They hadn't talked about it at all.

 

 

Starsky put a hand on his arm and gave it a little squeeze. He was alarmed by the way the color had drained from Hutch's face.

 

Cassandra covered her mouth with her hand. "You mean you didn't know about the baby?"

 

"What baby?" Hutch repeated, and Starsky could feel the tension in the muscles of Hutch's arm.

 

"Oh, God. Oh, Ken, I'm sorry. I thought you knew. Van was pregnant -" She stopped and her eyes grew moist. "You really didn't know?"

 

"When was she pregnant? And what happened to the baby?" Hutch's voice shook, try as he might to steady it.

 

Cassandra reached for her wine glass, but it was empty. She signaled the waiter, who brought another one, and she didn't speak until it arrived. Hutch waited, but his face was still too pale, and it was taking every ounce of self-control he had not to shake her and force her to give him the information. Finally, she took a big gulp of her wine and reached across the table to take his hand. "She had just found out a few weeks before she left you," she said gently. "She – she had an abortion."

 

"When did she have this abortion?" Hutch felt his eyes beginning to burn and he had to work hard not to let Cassandra see it. Starsky unobtrusively slid his arm around the back of Hutch's chair. He was close enough that Hutch could smell his aftershave, and though he didn't say a word, he didn't have to. Just having him there helped.

 

"In July of ‘73," Cassandra said. "She was about three months along, maybe a little less. I can't believe she didn't tell you -"

 

"I can," Hutch said bitterly, and didn't care if he sounded bitter. "She knew I'd try to talk her out of it. She also knew it would affect the divorce. All she wanted was to be rid of me and anything to do with me, including my child!"

 

"Hutch," Starsky said quietly, and that one word brought Hutch's emotions back under control.

 

He glanced at Starsky.  Thanks. I'm okay now.

 

No, you're not, but I ain't goin' anywhere.

 

There were tears in Cassandra's eyes and one slid down her cheek. "Oh, Ken, I am so sorry. I thought you knew. I thought it was a mutual decision -"

 

"I would never have agreed to that," he said shortly.

 

"She didn't even tell me until it was all over and she'd moved back to Duluth," Cassandra said. "She never told our parents at all. They'd have been horrified, not just about the abortion, but that she got it at one of those -" She stopped. "It wasn't a regular clinic," she finished lamely.

 

"A back-alley butcher, in other words?"

 

She nodded. "I think so. She didn't really go into details. And I'm not sure, but I think something went wrong and she probably wouldn't have been able to have children afterwards. I remember when she told me about it she said, ‘I'll never have to go through that again.'"

 

“Wasn’t that the same year it was legalized?” Starsky asked.

 

Hutch answered, still sounding bitter, “I’m not sure, but what difference does it make?  She wouldn’t have wanted there to a record anywhere.”

 

How could Vanessa have done that and he'd never known? Hutch searched his memory, but knowing how Vanessa could manage to present a perfect appearance to the world even when she was deathly ill, he wasn't really surprised. And right after she'd left him, there had been weeks they hadn't seen each other. They'd communicated only through their lawyers...

 

"Cassandra," Starsky said, "no offense, but I think we oughta call it a night. Hutch has had a bad shock and -"

 

"Of course." She signaled the waiter again and asked for the check, removing a Diner's Club card from her wallet. While they waited for the waiter to come back, she slid a business card out of a gold case and wrote on the back of it. She held it out to Hutch. "Call me at home or at work if you need me," she said. "Anytime at all. I can't tell you how sorry I am -"

 

Hutch made no move to take the card, so Starsky did and slid it into his shirt pocket. The waiter came back and handed the slip and the card to Cassandra. She signed it quickly, returned the card to her wallet, and stood.

 

"I am sorry," she said again, looking down at Hutch. He didn't raise his eyes.

 

"Thanks for dinner, Cassandra," Starsky said for both of them. He stood, too, and prodded his partner to his feet. "We'll see ya later, huh? Come on, partner."

 

They climbed the stairs to Hutch's apartment in silence, with Starsky keeping in physical contact with Hutch all the way. He was the one who opened the door and prodded Hutch through it, steered him to the couch and sat him down. He went to the refrigerator and brought back a beer. Hutch took it without a word and drained half of it in one swallow. Starsky sat down next to him and put his arm around his back, rubbing in soft, soothing circles as he felt the tension. Hutch's muscles were stiff and his face was white, with dark circles forming under his eyes. Long minutes passed before Hutch, staring down at his beer bottle, said in a soft, hoarse whisper, "She killed my baby, Starsk. Vanessa killed my baby."

 

Starsky's throat closed at the raw pain in those quiet words, and he pulled Hutch a little closer. He didn't know what to say.  He couldn’t help thinking terrible thoughts about Vanessa.  Thoughts he was trying to keep from showing on his face.  Of all the ways that woman could have chosen to hurt his partner, this one had to be one of the worst.  This was worse than cheating on him, but Starsky thought Vanessa was above that.  When she bored of her time with Hutch, she simply dumped him.

 

Sitting next to his partner, his arm around his shoulders in supportive silence, Starsky let his mind wander to Hutch and Vanessa’s breakup.  The two men had known each other a long time when it happened, and they had been plainclothes partners for a year. 

 

Starsky would never forget how upset Hutch was that night.  Van had decided if he wasn’t going back to law school, she was finished with him.  She needed to set her gold digging sights on someone who hadn’t pissed off his wealthy parents with his career choice. The phone call he’d made to tell Starsky she was gone was burned into Starsky’s memory.

 

“St-Starsk?”  Hutch’s voice sounded weak and as if he were in pain.

 

“Hutch?  What’s wrong, buddy?”

 

“I... Oh, God,” Hutch replied without answering.

 

“Are you hurt? What’s going on?”

 

“I’m... she’s... aw, shit.”

 

“Where are you?” Starsky had begun to feel panicked.  He wasn’t sure what was happening, but whatever it was, couldn’t be good.

 

“Wh...Why?”

 

“Why, what, Hutch?  Tell me what happened, dammit!”

 

The long pause on the other end of the line caused Starsky’s heart to feel tight in his chest.  He called Hutch’s name a few times and didn’t get an answer. He was already putting on his shoes to rush to wherever Hutch was, but he hadn’t gotten any answers from his obviously despondent partner. His mind was racing with the possibilities.  Had Hutch hurt Vanessa?  Had she hurt him?  Somehow, he knew it had to be about Vanessa.  She had been on a roll hurting his partner lately.

 

“HUTCH!  Listen to me!  Are you at home?”

 

He heard a muffled sniffling sound and a quiet reply.  “Yeah.”

 

“I’m on my way.”

 

Starsky had raced to Hutch’s apartment, unsure of what he might find.  What he found nearly broke his heart.  Hutch was sitting in the middle of his bare living room. The only things the Wicked Witch of Duluth had left him were his guitar, his clothing, his plants, a lava lamp, and the telephone.  He found out later, she’d even taken the coffee pot.  Not to mention having cleared out his bank accounts.  The ones she could get to, anyway.  Hutch had a sizeable trust fund that she was legally barred from touching.  Mr. Hutchinson had seen to that.  Even Starsky hadn’t known about it for years. 

 

The only other thing Vanessa left in her vapor trail was a cruel note that drove Hutch to thoughts of suicide.  Starsky worried about him constantly for a couple of months, rarely leaving him alone.  Taking the Magnum away from him wasn’t an option as long as Hutch was on active duty, but his having it scared Starsky to death.  Hutch was so depressed; Starsky thought he was taking chances on the street.  Not with Starsky’s life, never that.  He was always there to back up his partner, but Hutch was taking chances with his own life.   One night, they’d been separated and Hutch had gotten himself cornered in an alley.  He’d been severely beaten before Starsky came along to rescue him. 

 

Picking up the pieces of his friend’s broken heart had been a difficult task.  Starsky never wanted to see Hutch in such pain again.  He thought that Vanessa’s death had at least assured that she could never hurt Hutch again.  Now, Starsky got a chill from the realization that the woman had reached out from beyond the grave and grabbed his partner with her icy hand – wrapped around Hutch’s heart.

 

Hutch felt Starsky shiver and said, “What?”

 

“Sorry, Blintz. I was just thinking.”

 

“About Van?”

 

“What else?  Aw, Hutch, I don’t know what to say.  I know this hurts you.  I can feel how much it hurts you.”

 

Hutch was crying now.  Silent tears that made Starsky’s heart ache for him. “How could she, Starsk?”  He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and dropped his face into his hands. 

 

Starsky rubbed Hutch’s back and said, “I don’t know, buddy.  It’s a terrible thing to do.  To not even ask you....” He stopped speaking because Hutch was shaking his head.

 

“No, no, you don’t understand.  I want to know how she could hate me so much.”

 

That simple statement marked the end of Starsky’s composure.  The tears he’d been trying to hold back so he could be strong for Hutch started to slide down his face.  Hutch was starting to lean toward him and he slowly collapsed into Starsky’s lap. 

 

“I would have kept the baby, Starsky.  She had to know I’d want it.”

 

Starsky didn’t have it in him to speak platitudes about Vanessa’s possible motivation.  He didn’t believe that she had anything other than selfishness in mind when she had the abortion.  No doubt she hated Hutch then, but the fact that she kept it a secret was telling.  Short of killing Hutch or, worse yet, killing Starsky, Vanessa couldn’t have done anything more hurtful to his friend, but she’d have had to tell him about it for it to be effective.

 

Starsky was angry.  Angrier than he’d been in a long time.  “It wasn’t that she hated you, Hutch.  That’s not it at all.  What good did it do if she never told you?  She didn’t want any ‘complications’ in her life, buddy.  Her motivation was simple.  She was a spoiled, selfish bitch who wanted her own life, without hindrances.  A baby would have tied her to you in some way forever and she couldn’t have that.”

 

Hutch wrapped an arm around Starsky’s leg and held on tightly while he cried.  Starsky knew this was going to be a long haul.  They had to work in the morning and he was worried that Hutch wasn’t going to be in any shape.

 

“Buddy, I’m gonna call Dobey in the morning and tell him we’re not comin’ in.”

 

“No.  We’re going in.”

 

“Hutch....”

 

“I can’t just lay around here all day tomorrow and wallow in the pain.  I can’t.  Work’s what I need.”

 

“Buddy, you need to give yourself some space to grieve.  This is a big deal.”

 

“I mean it, Starsk. I need to work.”

 

Starsky considered it.  Maybe he could arrange for them to work in the precinct for their whole shift the next day.  The mounds of paperwork they always seemed to be behind on could probably be counted on to see to that.

 

“All right,” he said while gently patting Hutch on the back.  “We’ll play this your way.  If you can’t handle it, though, you tell me.”

 

Hutch nodded on Starsky’s lap. 

 

“Promise me.”

 

“I promise.”

 

They sat that way for a long while.  Both of them cried and Hutch poured his heart out to Starsky about all of the feelings he was being flooded with since Cassandra had dropped the bomb on him.

 

“What if she’d kept the baby, Starsky?  He’d be about five and a half now.”

 

“Hutch, don’t do this, buddy.”

 

“He’d be in kindergarten.  Old enough for T-ball.”

 

“Stop it, now.  The only thing this is going to do for you is make you more upset.”

 

“I know.  I just can’t help wondering.  I might never have a child.  What would it have been like?  Would he have looked like me, or would she?  Would I be a good dad?”

 

“You’d have been the best dad ever, Hutch.  Don’t think like that.  You might still get that chance, buddy.  You’re still young.  Besides, I thought the ‘What If’ game was my department.  You tryin’ to horn in on my act?”

 

At least that got an abbreviated laugh out of the troubled man.  Starsky spent the best part of the next two hours getting his partner calmed down enough to go to sleep.  He wished that Hutch would get angry, vent, throw things.  That would be better than the state he was in at the moment.  When Hutch crumbled this way, quietly sobbing his pain out, Starsky knew how deeply hurt he was.  This was not Hutch’s, “I’m angry but I’ll let off some steam and feel better” pain. This was deep, in his soul, shattered heart pain. Starsky knew he’d have to work hard to help his best friend find his equilibrium again.

 

When Hutch was cried out, and his breathing was becoming slower and more even, Starsky knew he needed to get him to go to sleep.  Hutch was as limp as a noodle, but somehow Starsky managed to get him on his feet and help him to bed.  He pulled off Hutch’s shoes.  He’d already divested him of his jacket and tie hours ago. He sat on the side of Hutch’s bed and rubbed his back, soothing him to sleep. 

 

Starsky stood to go out and crash on the couch when he heard Hutch quietly ask, “You’re not leaving, are you?”

 

“Of course not, pal.  I’m gonna stay here tonight.”

 

“Thanks, Starsk.”

 

“Good night, Hutch.”

 

“‘Night, Starsk.”

 

Starsky made a bed on the couch and proceeded to actively not sleep for hours.  He was so angry HE wanted to throw things.  How dare Vanessa do such a thing?  He mentally smacked himself when he had the thought that it was a good thing she was already dead.  He had definite homicidal thoughts toward her on this night.   One thing was bothering him and he was going to check on it the next morning.  Whatever his thoughts, he knew he’d better get them all out of his system so he could be there for Hutch. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

The next day, Hutch wasn’t up at the annoying hour he usually arose.  Starsky woke up early for a change and realized his partner hadn’t budged all night.  He was glad in a way – that probably meant Hutch’s dreams were not too distressing.  He often had nightmares, but not last night.  He must have been too wrung out to have nightmares.

 

In the year since Vanessa’s murder, Hutch had become more cynical.  He’d given up a lot of his healthy habits, he’d let his hair get a lot longer, grown a moustache, and lost his every morning jogging habit.  Lately, he’d only gone a few times a week.  Starsky went to the kitchen to make them something for breakfast, a little sad that he didn’t need to worry about how to make the blender produce one of Hutch’s morning shakes.  He’d given them up, also. 

 

After breakfast, showers, and getting dressed for work, they went out of the apartment to the Torino.  Hutch had barely touched his food and he looked rough around the edges.

 

“You sure you’re up to this?”

 

“I’m sure.  Let’s just go.”

 

As they pulled away from the curb, Hutch stared at Chez Helene’s like it was new to him.  He would always remember that it was where he’d heard about what Vanessa did.

 

The morning was going better than Starsky had hoped.  Focusing on their paperwork monster was giving Hutch something to do that was keeping his mind off of things.  Starsky had found the time to slip in to see Dobey and explain things, and then he went out and told Hutch he had to run down to records for something. 

 

Starsky was on a mission.  He wanted to see Vanessa’s autopsy record.  He’d read enough autopsy reports to know that the ME often mentioned whether a woman had ever given birth.  Maybe they could tell if she’d ever been pregnant and had recorded it.

 

He took the file into a small conference room and reviewed it – paging past the reports, the records of Hutch being accused of her murder, the pictures of the crime scene, and the notes naming the real killer.  Hutch had been exonerated.  He finally came to the autopsy report and he read it with an odd sense of detached fascination.  Hutch had never read the report.  He couldn’t.  A lot of people saw Hutch as cool and collected to the point of being icy.  His Nordic stoicism was well known.  Starsky, and Hutch’s other friends, knew the truth.  Hutch was like an onion – a man of many layers.  That calm demeanor was his exterior facade.  Starsky sometimes wondered if the deadly accurate, dangerous man he partnered with on the street was a mask for the musical, sensitive, gentle soul that was his best friend.  His recent bout of cynicism had Starsky worried, but he couldn’t think about that now.  He needed to focus on the autopsy transcript.

 

The victim, Vanessa Davenport Hutchinson, was a Caucasian female, age 34.  Victim was 67 inches tall, weight 120 pounds. Blood type A+. Cause of death was from a single, large caliber gunshot to the chest.  The murder weapon was a Colt .357 Magnum.  The bullet....

 

Starsky skipped through the more graphic parts of the autopsy.  He didn’t care how much Vanessa’s liver weighed, or really need to read about the skin and blood found under her fingernails.  Skin she’d scraped off of Hutch’s hand after he blocked her from slapping his face at The Pits.  He finally came to the part he wanted to read.

 

Extensive uterine scarring indicates that the victim had an abortion, probably done in a non-sterile environment.  The condition of the uterus is such that the victim was rendered incapable of carrying a child to term.  This abortion was possibly mid term, and probably done four or five years ago, based on the appearance of the scars and the level of healing.

 

The victim’s general health....

 

That was what Starsky wanted to know – if it was true that Vanessa had ever had an abortion.  He was feeling a bit guilty about his attraction to Cassandra.  She was a beautiful woman, but she was Hutch’s ex-sister-in-law.  He almost felt disloyal.  That’s why he had decided to try and check out her story.  He didn’t want to take it on face value because she was a beautiful, sophisticated woman to whom he was tremendously attracted.  This was Hutch’s heart she was playing with and Starsky wanted to be certain.  His secondary reason was a natural caution brought on by the fact that Cassandra was Vanessa’s sister.  She looked a lot like her sister.  Maybe she WAS like her in more ways than one.  Starsky knew he’d better tread lightly.

 

He returned the file to the records room and went back upstairs.  Hutch was just finishing up another report when he walked into the squad room.  Starsky was getting pretty hungry and he was hoping he could coax Hutch into eating.

 

“What’d’ya say we knock off for a while and grab some lunch?” he asked as he pulled out his chair and sat on the back of it, resting his feet on the seat.

 

Hutch looked up from signing the report and said, “You go ahead.  I’m not hungry.”

 

Starsky leaned closer to him and said, “Come on, go with me.  Maybe you’ll find out you are hungry.  Besides, the fresh air will do you good.  Come on, we’ll grab some sandwiches and run down to the park to eat ‘em.  Okay?”

 

Hutch could rarely resist Starsky when he was like this – concerned only for Hutch.  He decided to give in with little argument.  Maybe his partner was right.

 

Just as they were exiting the squad room, Simmons and Babcock were walking toward them.  They were laughing about something.  Starsky stopped them to say a quick hello and Simmons explained.  “Man, they’ve got about eight brand new bikes downstairs for that new group of motorcycle jockeys.”

 

Starsky’s eyes lit up at the news. “They’re here?”

 

“Yeah,” Babcock said.  “They let us take one around the block.  You should go down there and ask ‘em.”

 

“Come on, Hutch, let’s go,” Starsky said, grabbing his partner’s arm excitedly.

 

“Starsk, I don’t -”

 

“Sure you do. It’ll be fun. Come on, please?”

 

Hutch shook his head, resigned, and followed Starsky down to the garage, where a row of shiny new Harley-Davidson Super Glides was the center of an admiring throng of officers. Benny Barton, the officer in charge of the motor pool, was beaming as proudly as if he’d just given birth to the bikes.

 

“Starsky! Hutch! I wondered how long it’d take you two to show,” Benny said with a big grin. “Whattya think of ‘em? Ready to turn in the Tomato for a real set of wheels, Starsk?”

 

Starsky laughed. “Naw, Benny, not permanently. Too hard to make out on a bike, y’know? But I’d sure love to take one of these babies for a spin. Can I, huh? Can I, please?” He folded his hands and pretended to plead.

 

Benny’s grin got even wider and he tossed a set of keys toward Starsky. “Be my guest, Sarge. Don’t wreck it.”

 

Starsky caught the keys and strode toward the bike Benny indicated. “She’s a beauty,” he said, walking around it and gently stroking the shiny fender. “Who’s gonna ride ‘em?”

 

“The traffic guys,” Benny said. “Department thought it’d be easier for ‘em to hide and spring speed traps with bikes than it is in squads.”

 

Starsky mounted the bike and experimentally stood it up off the kickstand to get the feel of it. Benny held out a helmet, which Starsky accepted and put on before he started the bike. “Hey, Hutch, come on. I’ll give ya a ride.”

 

“No,” Hutch said, making no move to climb on. “You go ahead.”

 

“Aw, come on, buddy,” Starsky begged. “I won’t do nothin’ crazy.”

 

“You can ride one yourself if you want,” Benny offered.

 

Hutch shook his head. “No, my concentration’s kind of off today. I wouldn’t feel safe.”

 

“Then get on with me,” Starsky said. “Just around the block, then we’ll go get some lunch.”

 

Hutch rolled his eyes, but gave in and climbed on behind Starsky, pulling his sunglasses out of his pocket and putting them on. “Once around the block,” he said. “And only once.”

 

“I promise,” Starsky said, revving the motor and giving a mock salute to Benny. “Be right back.” Traffic was light this time of day, for a change, and Starsky, waiting for a break so he could pull out of the lot into the street, grinned over his shoulder at Hutch. “Almost makes a man want to go back to uniform, don’t it?”

 

“Nope,” Hutch said. “Traffic duty sucks almost as much as writing reports.”

 

Starsky chuckled, found his break, and pulled out into the street. The big bike responded almost like a living thing and even Hutch had to admit it was fun. Starsky stopped at the light and, just for fun, hit the siren.

 

“Cut that out,” Hutch said, laughing in spite of himself. He was holding onto the chrome luggage rack behind the seat, and he let go with one hand to poke his partner in the ribs. “Juvenile delinquent.”

 

Starsky snickered and turned right. What happened next happened so fast that neither of them could ever get the story the same. An alley cut the next street in half, a street lined with small businesses – a pawnshop, a couple of clothing stores and a mom-and-pop grocery. Starsky was going about thirty miles an hour when a car careened out of that alley and broadsided the motorcycle. Hutch saw it coming out of the corner of his eye and only had time to shout his partner’s name in warning before the impact, which threw him through the air to land with a sickening thud in the street about 10 feet away. Starsky desperately hung onto the bike as it skidded sideways and fell over, sliding into the curb and pinning his right knee to the sidewalk. The car kept going, and Starsky just caught a glimpse of white as it sped away. His ears were ringing and his knee was on fire, but he disentangled himself from the motorcycle and his helmet with the help of a pedestrian who had run over to help, and staggered over to Hutch. Another motorist had stopped her car just in time to keep from running over Hutch, and she was already out of her car and kneeling next to him.

 

“H-Hutch?” Starsky’s heart was in his throat and he threw himself down next to the woman. She had produced a scarf from her jacket pocket and was using it to wipe blood from Hutch’s face. So much blood...it soaked into his hair and ran over his forehead and dripped onto the ground. “Oh, my God, Hutch!”

 

Hutch’s face was white and he was out cold, but he was breathing. Starsky was afraid to move him or touch him.

 

The man who had helped Starsky get off the bike said, “I sent my son to call an ambulance. Is he hurt bad?”

 

Starsky couldn’t speak. He shook his head helplessly and gently touched Hutch’s cheek.

 

“Looks like he took a nasty knock to the head,” the woman said. “It probably looks worse than it is. Head wounds always bleed a lot.”

 

Starsky was shaking like a leaf, with tears standing in his eyes.

 

The woman laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s going to be all right,” she said, very gently. “Are you hurt?”

 

“I-I don’t know. I don’t think so,” he said blankly, his whole attention focused on his partner, who still had not stirred.

 

A squad car roared up and a traffic cop Starsky didn’t know got out. Simmons and Babcock were right behind him in their car. They had gone back downstairs to wait and see what their friends thought of the new bike, and they heard the dispatch to roll to a motorcycle accident right around the corner.  Without a word, they’d run for their car to make sure it wasn’t Starsky and Hutch.  Simmons got to Starsky first and knelt, putting his arm around him. “You okay, Starsk?”

 

Babcock very carefully parted Hutch’s hair to see if he could tell how badly he was hurt.

 

“Be careful!” Starsky barked at him. “Don’t move him!”

 

“Easy, pal,” Simmons said soothingly. “He’s not going to make it worse.”

 

The traffic cop was taking statements from the witnesses first and had just got to Starsky when the ambulance arrived. “All right, sir, I need you to tell me what happened.”

 

“Go to hell!” Starsky said, rising long enough to get out of the way for the paramedics, but not so far out of the way that he couldn’t watch what was happening.

 

The traffic cop frowned fiercely. “Look here, sir, you can’t talk to an officer of the law that way, even if you are upset -”

 

“You look,” Simmons said angrily. “This is Detective Sergeant David Starsky and he outranks you! That’s his partner on the ground bleeding. Back the fuck off!”

 

The cop obeyed, but he wasn’t happy.

 

The paramedics fitted a cervical collar onto Hutch and one of them brought a backboard. They carefully turned him onto his back and put him on the board and it wasn’t until then that he finally opened his eyes.

 

“Hutch? Hutch, are you all right?” Starsky broke away from Simmons and knelt at Hutch’s side.

 

“Starsk?” Hutch blinked blearily and reached up a hand to touch his head. “God, my head hurts. What happened?”

 

“We wrecked, buddy, but you’re gonna be okay. Just let these folks do their job, all right? Can ya do that for me?”

 

Hutch couldn’t turn his head because of the collar, and the paramedics were busy strapping him onto the board. “Hey, wait a minute,” he said.

 

“Hutch, please,” Starsky pleaded. “Let ‘em take care of ya. I’ll be right behind ya, I swear. Please, Hutch, you’re gonna be fine. I promise.”

 

“Can you tell me your name?” one paramedic asked conversationally as he finished strapping Hutch down.

 

“Ken Hutchinson,” Hutch answered automatically.

 

“And what day is it, Ken?”

 

“Uh...Thursday. I think.”

 

“What’s the president’s name?”

 

Hutch blinked for a moment. “Um...”

 

The paramedic waited a beat or two, then said cheerfully, “Never mind. I don’t even like the guy, myself. What’d you have for lunch, Ken?”

 

The other paramedic had returned with the stretcher by now and the two of them, with Babcock’s help, lifted Hutch onto it and secured him to it.

 

“Um...I don’t think I had any lunch,” Hutch said, slowly and with a puzzled expression on his face.

 

“And when’s your birthday, Ken?”

 

“My birthday?”

 

“Why’s he askin’ him all those questions?” Starsky hissed at Simmons.

 

“To see if he’s alert,” Simmons whispered back. “Hush.”

 

The two paramedics rolled the stretcher toward the ambulance. “That’s what I said,” the first one said to Hutch, still cheerfully. “When’s your birthday?”

 

“Ummm...” Hutch blinked a few more times, beginning to look upset. “Starsk?”

 

“I want to know if you know, not if he does,” the paramedic said, adding to Starsky and Simmons, “We’re going to Memorial.”

 

Simmons nodded, holding onto Starsky to help him stand, because he was pretty shaky and his knee was refusing to bear any weight.

 

The paramedics finished loading Hutch into the back of the ambulance, and the one who’d been asking all the questions clambered in with him. The other hurried around to the driver’s door. In another moment, they were gone.

 

“Sir, I’m afraid I have to insist you answer my questions,” the traffic cop said doggedly.

 

“What questions?” Starsky turned to him, frowning.

 

“What happened?”

 

“Some scum pulled out of the alley and tagged us!” Starsky said angrily. “And then the son of a bitch kept going! That’s what happened.”

 

“Did you get a look at the car, sir?”

 

“I did,” the woman said. “It was a -”

 

“I asked him,” the cop said sternly.

 

“No,” Starsky answered. “Just that it was white. I can’t even tell ya if it was a two door or a four door.”

 

The cop wrote that down and then looked at Starsky again. “Have you been drinking, sir? You seem to be having a little trouble keeping your balance.”

 

“Oh, for chrissake,” Simmons said. “Who’s your commanding officer? Do you treat all accident victims like this? He’s hurt, you moron, that’s why he can’t stand up.”

 

“My commanding officer is Lieutenant Danson and yes, sir, I do have to ask accident victims the prescribed questions.”

 

“Holy shit, he’s a robot,” Babcock remarked. “Can I prick you and see if you bleed, youngster?”

 

“That was uncalled for, sir.”

 

“I gotta get to the hospital!” Starsky interrupted. “Hurry up, will ya, so I can go?”

 

“I’m afraid I can’t let you go,” the officer said. “You have to take a BAC test and I have to get a tow truck, and -” he broke off as he approached the motorcycle. “Sir, this is a police vehicle.”

 

“And he’s a police officer!” Simmons shouted, losing all patience.

 

“Would you guys please take me to the hospital!” Starsky snapped. To the traffic cop, he said, “Get your damned tow truck and write me all the tickets you want for us getting hit by a damned car. But I am leaving now and I’m going to my partner and you ain’t gonna stop me. You got a problem, you tell it to my captain. Dobey. Harold Dobey. Homicide.” He turned toward the car, and Simmons, with an ugly look at the traffic cop, helped him get there and got him into the passenger seat.

 

“I’ll take care of things here,” Babcock called to his partner. “You stick with him.”

 

Simmons nodded and raised a hand in acknowledgement.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch had been hurt many times in many different ways but he couldn’t remember ever having a headache like this one. It felt as if his head would simply explode any minute or as though someone had driven a spike through his head from front to back.

 

The paramedic had given up on when Hutch’s birthday was – good thing, too, Hutch thought, because he couldn’t remember no matter how hard he tried and trying made his head hurt more – and had switched to “What do you do for a living, Ken?”

 

“I’m a cop.”

 

“Which precinct?”

 

Which precinct? Hutch had to think about that and was starting to get upset again when he finally remembered. “Ninth.”

 

All the time he was asking questions, the paramedic was making notations, taking Hutch’s blood pressure, sopping blood off his face and calling information to the driver. And his cheery demeanor never flagged once.

 

“What’s your buddy’s name? The curly-haired guy with the limp?”

 

“Limp? Was he limping?” Now Hutch really was upset.

 

“I’m sure he’s fine,” the paramedic said. “Hey, I’m Jim. What’s your friend’s name?”

 

“Starsky,” Hutch answered. “David Starsky. How bad was he limping?”

 

“Just a little,” Jim said. “Probably bumped his knee or twisted his ankle in the wreck. He was okay, honest, wasn’t he, Carl?” he called to the driver.

 

“Oh, yeah, he was okay,” Carl called back. “Don’t worry.”

 

“See there? So when is your birthday, Ken?”

 

“I don’t know,” Hutch said impatiently. “I mean, I know, but I just can’t -” He stopped.

 

“Okay, okay. No problem. It’ll come to you.” Jim peered at his face. “Head hurt much?”

 

“Yes,” Hutch said.

 

They pulled up at the emergency room door and the two paramedics hustled him out of the ambulance and into a treatment room. Hutch wished they hadn’t moved quite so quickly, because watching the ceiling flash by and turn as they pushed the stretcher was making him very sick at his stomach. Closing his eyes made it worse, because then he could feel the room spinning even if he couldn’t see it.

 

A doctor was waiting and started examining him and asking all the same questions Jim had asked him. A nurse and Jim worked on getting enough blood mopped up so the doctor could see the actual wound.

 

“It’s not very deep,” the doctor said, probing it and making Hutch cringe away from his touch. “Sorry. But it’s going to need stitches. Mop him up and we’ll shave a spot -”

 

“You’re going to shave my head?”

 

“Just a little spot about that big,” the doctor said, holding up his fingers about two inches apart. “Can’t be helped. It’s gotta be stitched. It’ll grow back.”

 

Hutch shut his eyes.

 

“Are you sick at your stomach?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Does your head hurt?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“How bad? On a scale from one to ten, where ten is you want to die.” The doctor smiled down at him.

 

“Eight and three quarters,” Hutch said with a grimace.

 

“Ouch. I wish we could give you something for that, but with a head injury, we don’t dare. Not until we’re sure it’s not serious. Can you move your legs?”

 

“Yeah.” Hutch demonstrated.

 

“Your arms?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Anything hurt besides your head?”

 

“I don’t think I’d notice if it did,” Hutch said. “Head hurts pretty bad.”

 

The doctor told the paramedics to get him out of the collar and backboard, then told Hutch to try turning his head. He watched closely as Hutch obeyed.

 

"I think you're okay," he said, bending over and peering at his face again. "We'll get you stitched up and send you home, but somebody has to stay with you and wake you up every couple of hours in case you have a concussion. I don't think you do, but we're not taking any chances. I'm sending you upstairs for a CT scan just to be safe."

 

Hutch would have nodded, but it hurt too much. The next 15 minutes were very, very unpleasant. The doctor said he didn’t dare give him an anesthetic, so he had to stitch him up without it and Hutch, seasoned police officer or not, had tears in his eyes before it was all over. His knuckles were white as he clutched the edges of the treatment bed and tried not to cry out. But it was finally over.

 

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said, and he did sound genuinely sorry. “Don’t take anything today, but you can have some Tylenol tomorrow if the headache is still bothering you. Stay at home and rest for a couple of days. Don’t move around any more than you have to tomorrow. The day after, if you feel up to it, you can be a little more active. But don’t go back to work until Monday, okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky, in spite of his aching knee and limp, beat Simmons into the emergency room entrance and went straight to the information desk to ask about Hutch.

 

The nurse sorted through her files. "I don't find him, sir, but if he arrived by ambulance, they might not have the paperwork up here yet. Have a seat and I'll see what I can find out."

 

Starsky opened his mouth to protest, but Simmons had caught up and grabbed his arm. "You two are worse than a couple of old women," he said, but kindly. "Come on, pal, let's sit down and let the lady do her job, okay?"

 

He didn't like it, but he let Simmons lead him to the waiting area a few feet away and perched on the edge of an uncomfortable orange vinyl couch, keeping his eyes trained on the desk. The nurse he'd spoken to hadn't reappeared. Another nurse was manning the desk, busily writing something on a chart. Long minutes passed and still the nurse hadn't come back.

 

"Something's wrong," Starsky said, starting to rise.

 

But Simmons reached up and snagged his arm and hauled him back down. "Starsky, for Pete’s sake. Sit down, wouldja?"

 

Starsky sat back down, but he fidgeted and never looked away from the desk. After awhile, he couldn't take it any more and shot out of his seat, dodging Simmons' grab and making it to the desk.

 

The second nurse looked up at his approach.

 

"I don't mean to be a pest," Starsky said, ignoring the snort from Simmons, behind him. "But I asked the other lady about my partner and she said she'd go check but she never came back."

 

"Your partner?"

 

"Hutchinson. Ken Hutchinson. He came in an ambulance a little while ago. Motorcycle wreck."

 

She looked through the charts and shook her head. "Not here. Hang on. Maybe Mattie couldn't find him, though we're not very busy this afternoon. I'll be right back. I promise," she added with a smile and a pat on his hand. She disappeared through the double doors and Starsky kept fidgeting.

 

"Either one of you guys ever been in the hospital when the other one didn't drive the staff bats?" Simmons inquired, leaning against the desk.

 

"When I was born," Starsky retorted, "and when Hutch had his tonsils out in 1955."

 

"You know when he had his tonsils out? Or did you just make that up?"

 

Starsky opened his mouth to reply, but the nurse came back through the doors at that moment and her face was so grave that Starsky's heart almost stopped. Simmons, too, went still at his side.

 

"Sir, did your partner have blond hair?" she asked, trying to keep her voice level.

 

Did? "Yeah," Starsky said. "Hutchinson. His police ID's in his left hip pocket."

 

She wet her lips and came around the desk to take his hands in hers. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't know anything about a police ID, but the ambulance that arrived a few minutes ago -" she paused and squeezed his hands gently. "The victim of the motorcycle accident passed away en route to the hospital."

 

Starsky's face drained of color and he swayed. Simmons leaped forward and caught him before he fell; steering him back to the couch and helping him sit down. The nurse followed. "I'm so sorry...."

 

The first nurse came back and saw them sitting there, took one look at Starsky's face and gently pushed the other nurse aside. "Put your head between your knees," she ordered, and he did, acting without thinking. His head slowly began to clear.

 

"I found your friend," she said, her hand on the back of his head to keep it down. "He's being treated and Dr. Luka said he thought he'd be able to go home with you. It'll be about an hour, though. Do you need a doctor?"

 

In spite of her restraining hand, Starsky raised his head. "He's not dead?" His voice shook so badly he didn't even recognize it.

 

"No," she said. "Where on Earth..." She stopped and looked up at the other nurse. "Oh. The DOA. No, no, that's not your friend. That was a teen-ager. Awfully sad, but not your friend." She glared at the other nurse and jerked her head toward the desk, her meaning crystal clear. The other nurse crept away. "Your friend, in fact, is arguing with the doctor. He's fine. Really. Now, do you want some juice or something?"

 

"No," Starsky said, managing a weak smile. "Thanks. We'll just wait here. You'll tell me when I can go see him?"

 

"Yes. I promise. You'd better sit quiet now, though, until your color comes back." She patted his hand and went back to her station.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“How much longer before you’re gonna let me back there?” Starsky’s voice came from somewhere outside the room. “Dammit, he’s my best friend and this is all my fault! Don’t you understand? I gotta see him!”

 

“Can he come in now?” Hutch asked the doctor.

 

“Oh, is he with you?” The doctor grinned. “He’s been giving them hell outside for twenty minutes or better. They finally told him he could come back here but they wouldn’t let him come in here until I was done sewing you back together. I’ll go tell him he can come in and wait with you while they get your paperwork together.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Starsky ducked under the curtain separating Hutch from the next treatment room and stood there, pale and haggard, with the evidence of recent tears still on his cheeks, for several seconds before hurrying across the floor to Hutch and very tenderly touching his cheek. “You okay, buddy? How bad does it hurt? What’d they do to ya?”

 

“I’m okay, Starsk.” Hutch sat up and forced himself to act normal, though the room spun and his head hurt and his stomach threatened to erupt. “Really, it’s not that bad. Bump on the head, a few stitches. I’ll survive.”

 

“Stitches?” Starsky walked around behind him and looked at the back of his head. “Oh, babe,” he said, low and trembling. “That musta hurt.”

 

“Still does,” Hutch said, forcing a laugh.

 

Starsky came back around in front of him and Hutch noticed the telltale pinching around his eyes that meant he was in pain.

 

“How are you hurt, Starsk? They told me you hurt your knee.”

 

Starsky shrugged. “Nothin’. Bike fell on it. It’ll be okay. It’s you I’m worried about. You left a puddle of blood on the street back there, and I thought you were dead when you went flyin’ through the air and landed in the street and didn’t move.”

 

“Really? I flew through the air?” Hutch didn’t remember that.

 

Starsky hitched himself up onto the table with his partner and put his arm around him. “Yeah. You don’t remember? You couldn’t have been knocked out then. Not till you hit the street.”

 

“I don’t remember that. Last thing I remember is yelling at you when I saw the car coming.”

 

Starsky, though it hadn’t seemed possible, went a shade paler. “Damn, buddy, that’s scary. Did you tell the doc that?”

 

“No,” Hutch said. “Look, Starsk, it’s not unusual to lose a couple of minutes when you take a knock on the head. It’s not a big deal, okay? I’m fine. Did you let somebody look at that knee?”

 

Starsky shook his head. “Nah, I don’t need a sawbones. God, Hutch -” He gently pushed the blood-stiffened hair away from Hutch’s face. “You oughta see yourself.”

 

“I don’t want to have nightmares,” Hutch said with a grin. “I’m sure it ain’t pretty.”

 

“I’m so sorry,” Starsky said, his voice shaking. “It’s all my fault, I never dreamed something like this would happen and -”

 

“Stop that right now,” Hutch commanded. “It was an accident. You couldn’t have prevented it.”

 

“You weren’t wearin’ a helmet,” Starsky said. “Why didn’t we wait for Benny to get you one? Why’d I have to insist you climb on that goddamn bike with me? Why -”

 

“I said, stop,” Hutch said, putting his hand over Starsky’s mouth. “Nobody forced me to go. And it wasn’t your fault I wasn’t wearing a helmet. We were only going around the block. How could we know this would happen? Don’t do this to yourself, buddy, I won’t allow it.”

 

The nurse appeared then with a clipboard and some papers for Hutch to sign, and a handful of directions for him to take home. “You can go,” she said to him. “Need a wheelchair?”

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky. “No. I can make it.” He slid off the table and the room immediately started spinning. For a moment, he was afraid he would fall flat on his face if he took a single step. But Starsky wrapped his arm around him and got a good firm grip.

 

“I got ya, Blintz. Let’s go. Simmons’ll give us a ride to your place and then take me back to the station to get the car.”

 

“You can’t help, you’ll hurt your knee even more.”

 

“My knee’s fine, buddy,” Starsky said, lying through his teeth and determined to hide how much his knee actually hurt. “Come on, let’s go.”

 

Starsky managed to walk without limping long enough to get Hutch to Simmons, who smoothly took over on Hutch’s other side and actually took most of the weight in order to spare Starsky. At Venice Place, the narrow stairs gave Simmons an excellent excuse for insisting that he, and not Starsky, help Hutch while Starsky hung back and followed them up the stairs. Simmons was the one who got Hutch safely settled in bed and provided with a glass of orange juice and an ice bag for his aching head, then he and Starsky headed back to the station for the Torino and to report in to Dobey.

 

“You aren’t going to be able to hide that bum knee forever, Starsky,” Simmons said when they were on their way.

 

“I can sure as hell try,” Starsky said. “Hutch’s the one who’s important. I ain’t gonna have him worrying about me. He needs to concentrate on HIM.”

 

Simmons parked the car at the precinct, got out, and started toward the side entrance.  By the time he got ten feet from the car, he realized he was alone.  Turning back to look, he saw that Starsky was sitting in the passenger seat, with his legs out of the car and his head down between his knees.  Simmons rushed back to the car and knelt on the ground in front of his friend.

 

“You all right, Starsky?” he asked, trying to get a good look at the other man’s face.

 

Starsky had a white-knuckle grip on the doorframe and he was breathing hard.  Simmons could see that his knee was swollen and he was clearly not feeling well. 

 

“Oh, I feel sick,” he answered.

 

“Just breathe easy.  I’m going in and see if the doc is in today.”  Simmons stood to go, but Starsky released his death grip on the doorframe and grabbed his friend by the wrist.

 

“No.  ‘M okay.  Just gimme a minute.  Must be the adrenaline.” 

 

“That knee needs looking after, Starsk.”

 

“I don’t have time.  Gotta get back to Hutch.”

 

Simmons couldn’t help thinking that Starsky must be one of the most stubborn men he’d ever met.  Even more stubborn than his own partner, and that was really saying something. 

 

Starsky got his breathing back under control and his color was better.  He put a hand up for Simmons to help him and he allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.  Taking one tentative step, he knew he’d never make it inside without help, so he agreed to lean on his friend as they slowly made their way to the building.  They were stopped by Benny, who’d seen them walking across the lot.

 

“Starsky!  You okay?” he asked as he jogged toward them.

 

“I’m fine, Benny.”

 

“What about Hutch?  They said he got a knock on the head.”

 

“He did, but he’s okay.  Sorry about your new toy.”

 

Benny shook his head.  “That wasn’t your fault, Starsk.  All the witnesses said it was a hit and run.  Said the guy was weaving as he pulled away, too.  Probably drunk – and it was barely noon.  Lucky thing he just clipped the back of the bike.”  He looked at Starsky’s obvious distress and asked, “Did you get looked at, too?”

 

“NO!” Starsky shouted, tired of being reminded of what he didn’t need to be told.   He was hurt.  He was also feeling terrible about what happened, guilty as sin, and scared for his partner.  The surprised look on Benny’s face caused Starsky to explain. “Sorry, Benny. I just want to get in there, see Dobey, and get back to Hutch.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, Starsky.  Hope Hutch feels better.”  Benny smiled and patted Starsky on the shoulder, and then he turned and left the two men to their task of getting into the building, which looked about ten miles away to Starsky at that moment.

 

Simmons got the ailing detective back up to the squad room.  He knocked on Dobey’s door and took Starsky inside, settling him into one of the chairs.

 

“How’s Hutch?” he asked right away.

 

“Hurt, but home.  I need to get back there.”

 

Dobey ran a critical eye over Starsky and said, “You don’t look too good yourself. Did the....”

 

“I’m fine, Cap. I just wanted to check in and let you know I’ll be staying with Hutch for a few days until he’s better.”

 

While he was saying he was just fine, Simmons was behind him shaking his head in disagreement.  Dobey spotted the gesture and kept a disciplined face.  “All right, but I want you to go see the doc on the way out of here.”

 

“Why does everyone keep insisting that I see a doctor?  Look, I’m sore and I want to go back to make sure my partner wakes up and doesn’t have a concussion.  If the knee doesn’t get better after I’ve rested it, you know Hutch’ll make me go to the doc.  I just want to concentrate on him, okay?  Is that too much to ask?”  His frustration was mounting.  Starsky didn’t want any attention.

 

Dobey sighed and said, “Go ahead.  Call me later and let me know how you’re both doing. Oh, and, Starsky, this was NOT your fault.  Did you hear me?”

 

Starsky glared at him, but he said, “Yeah, Cap.  I heard.  Can I go?”

 

“Get outta here.”

 

Simmons helped him back up and out the door.  Starsky did his best to flex out his knee while they went back down to the garage.  He’d have to be able to bend it enough to drive.  By the time they got there, he was loose enough to make it. 

 

“Sure you’re okay by yourself?”

 

“Yeah.  Thanks for everything.  Thank Babcock for me, will ya?”

 

“I will.  Finding out where he got to is next on my list.  Call if you need any help, okay?”

 

Starsky smiled at him and nodded.  His knee was so stiff he could barely clear the brake pedal, but he was able to do it.  As he drove away, he wished he had time to go get a change of clothes at his house, but two things stopped him.  He didn’t want to leave his partner alone that long and he couldn’t face the thought of going up and down his stairs, then up the ones at Venice Place.  He’d borrow something from Hutch instead.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Cassandra had just left a meeting with an important designer.  Having secured a commitment for a large number of high-priced handbags for the store, she felt satisfied by the win.  Her boss had been trying to get that designer for several years without success.  Cassandra knew she’d just earned some points.

 

The business of her legitimate job being resolved for the day, Cassandra turned her attention to her more lucrative side business – the one that couldn’t be considered legitimate by anyone’s standards. 

 

Getting a job on the west coast had become an imperative when her sister died.  Vanessa came through Bay City on her way to her death and she’d spent time with her ex-husband.  In Cassandra’s mind, that couldn’t have been good.

 

Vanessa was trying to double cross a stolen diamond merchant named Wheeler when his men killed her.  Unfortunately, Vanessa also had certain important information in her head.  Information she may have wanted to give to Hutch to warn him away from the ultimate crime boss, the man over the men over Wheeler.  He was involved in everything from drug trafficking to the rackets to stolen gems – all successfully hidden beneath a veil of legitimate businesses.  Vanessa had gotten wind that a lowly runner was thinking of turning snitch and she’d told Cassandra she planned to warn off her ex.  Cassandra was angry, but Vanessa had put her in her place.  Cassandra remembered the phone conversation they’d had the afternoon Vanessa boarded a plane for Bay City.

 

“No, I don’t still love Ken, but I do have feelings for the man.  My God, Cass, I was married to him.  Just because I don’t love him anymore, that doesn’t mean I want him to get caught in this nightmare when it all comes down.  You bet I’m going to warn him.  Let some other cop get killed chasing the old man.  It’s the least I can do for him.  I’m going to look him up when I get there and tell him.  One last thing to do before I head out of the country for good.”

 

Cassandra knew her sister had gotten in over her head, and that knowledge was proven when she turned up dead by Hutch’s gun.  That Van was dead because of the big blond man was indisputable in her eyes. She blamed Hutch as much as if he’d pulled the trigger.  If Van hadn’t been intent on warning him, she would have flown straight on to Europe and she might still be alive.  Cassandra would hate Ken Hutchinson for the rest of her life.

 

Telling Hutch about the abortion had been a pure pleasure.  Her promise to never tell ended with Van’s death as far as she was concerned.  The pathetic, painful look on Hutch’s face had made enduring his presence – and the company of his bouncy partner – bearable.  No matter how handsome he was, she thought Starsky was completely unsophisticated.  He’d even had the nerve to flirt with her, as if a streetwise cop had a chance in hell of ever getting a date with Cassandra Davenport.

 

Making her ex brother-in-law vulnerable to her was an important part of the plan.  She was determined to find out what Van had told him.  Most importantly, even Cassandra didn’t know the identity of the person who was threatening to turn snitch.  Vanessa never told her.  Cassandra’s boss was hoping maybe she had told her ex-husband.  Whoever it was still hadn’t surfaced in the year since Vanessa’s death.  She pulled out her address book and dialed the number for Hutch’s precinct.  Running into him at the bank had been an unbelievably fortuitous coincidence.  She’d have to be more overt this time.  Finding out what Vanessa told him that last night was her number one mission.

 

The phone call revealed that Detective Hutchinson was not in and that had her curious.  He and Starsky had said they had the day shift that day.  Although the woman she spoke with didn’t give her any details, Cassandra thought she detected an odd note in her tone. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky had returned to Venice Place to find his partner sleeping.  As much as he hated to wake him, he had to do it.  Getting from the kitchen to Hutch’s bed carrying a glass of water and pain relievers in one hand while using the other to lean on every horizontal surface along the way was a challenge.  Somehow, he managed to do it with a minimum of spillage.  He sat down on Hutch’s bed and gently shook his shoulder.

 

“Hey. Wake up, buddy,” he said. 

 

At first, Hutch didn’t even flutter an eyelash, so Starsky tried again.  Still nothing. 

 

“Come on, Hutch,” he said a bit more forcefully.  “Wake up for me.”

 

Hutch stirred a little that time, and after a few tense moments for Starsky, he cracked open one eye.

 

Starsky released a pent up breath in a long sigh.  “Hey.  You okay?  I was getting a little scared there.”

 

“Huh?” Hutch muttered.

 

Still unable to completely release his worry, Starsky said, “Come on, Hutch, all the way awake.  I need to check you to make sure you’re not addled.”

 

Hutch opened his eyes more and blinked hard a few times.  Looking up at his partner’s worried face, Hutch was coherent enough now to realize he needed to break the tension.

 

“You a good judge of that, mushbrain?” he asked.  Starsky’s smile told him it was a good call.  “Hey.”

 

Starsky helped him to sit up so he could give him his water and offer the pills he was sure Hutch needed by then.  As soon as he was sitting up, the color drained out of Hutch’s face and he shut his eyes with a groan. “Ohhhhh, spinning.”

 

He took a few deeper breaths and reached out a hand to grab onto Starsky’s arm for support.  He hung on as Starsky put a hand against Hutch’s shoulder to steady him. 

 

“Take it easy.  It’s okay.  I’m sure it’ll pass in a minute.”

 

Hutch didn’t say anything else for a little bit, but he finally risked opening his eyes again, one at a time.  He relaxed the iron grip he had on Starsky’s arm and said, “Thanks. Better.”

 

When Hutch let go, Starsky offered him the pain pills.  

 

“Can’t, Starsk. Doc said I can’t take anything till tomorrow.”

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“Wish I was.  I’ll take ‘em in the morning.”

 

“Hurt bad?” Starsky asked, distressed that Hutch couldn’t take anything to help.

 

“Remember that show you used to like about the spooky family?”

 

“The Munsters?”

 

“No, the other one.”

 

“The Addams Family?”

 

“That’s it.  I think if I put my head in a wine press and squeezed like that bald guy used to do on the show, it’d be an improvement.”

 

Starsky laughed.  “Uncle Fester. Didn’t know you watched it, Blondie.”

 

“Sometimes.” Hutch tucked his chin and blushed a little.  He was embarrassed to admit he watched the show he’d teased Starsky about so much.

 

“Looks like you’re coherent.”  Starsky patted Hutch on the hand.

 

“How’s the knee, Starsk?”  Hutch was with it enough to know he hadn’t seen his friend walk into the room and he was curious.

 

“It’ll do.  Don’t worry about that.  You just worry about getting better and let me take care of you for once.”  Starsky knew how much Hutch hated to be fussed over or to be the center of attention.  He was not about to tell Hutch his knee was now both burning and throbbing.  He had been careful to sit on the side of the bed with his right knee farthest from his best friend.  Starsky didn’t hold much hope that it would fool Hutch for long, but he thought it was worth a try.

 

“Let me see?”

 

“NO! Relax.  I’m fine.  Why don’t you go back to sleep?”

 

Hutch was about to protest when the phone rang.  Saved by the bell. Starsky took advantage of the reprieve and answered it. “Hello?”

 

A female voice said, “Ken?”

 

“No, he’s not available.  This is Starsky.  Can I help you?”  Hutch was giving him a “who is it” look. 

 

“This is Cassandra, Dave.  I tried to call him at work, but they said he was off.  I know you two were working today.  Is everything all right?”

 

“Oh, hi, Cassandra.”  Starsky looked at Hutch and both of their eyebrows went up, curious as to the purpose of her call.  “Actually, we had a little accident today and Hutch is kind of laid up.”

 

“Is he all right?” she asked with just the right note of concern.  Starsky thought she sounded sincere, yet the hair on the back of his neck was standing up and he wasn’t sure why.

 

“He will be.”

 

Cassandra thought fast.  She had to get back together with Hutch, as many times as it took to get the answers she needed.  “I’d like to see him.”

 

Starsky said, “No, he’s not really up to visitors.  I’m sure you understand.”  Hutch was shaking his head and wincing at the movement.  He didn’t want to see her.

 

“Nonsense.  I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”  She hung up without allowing Starsky to finish his protest.

 

“Sorry, Hutch.  I couldn’t stop her.  How you feeling?  Want something to eat?”

 

Hutch made a face and said, “Only if you WANT me to puke on you.”

 

That got a small laugh out of Starsky.  His face sobered immediately as his thoughts went back to the something about Cassandra that was still bothering him.  He silently chastised himself for thinking with his hormones the previous evening.  She was definitely a blip on his hazard radar after that phone call.  Thinking about it was starting to make him angry.  Cassandra had done enough emotional damage the previous evening.  He’d have to warn her when she arrived not to do or say anything to upset his partner.

 

“I can’t put my finger on it, but something about Cassandra is bugging me,” Starsky said.

 

“I know what you mean.  What do you suppose she wants?”

 

“I don’t know, but it might not be good.  Not that she’s given me any reason to think this way.  Just a hunch.”

 

Hutch winced again as he tried to adjust his position.  Starsky responded subconsciously with a guilty look on his face that did not escape his partner.  Hutch frowned at him and said, “What are you thinking?”

 

“Huh? Oh, nothin’.  Just wondering about Cassandra.”

 

“Liar.  You’re feeling guilty still.”

 

“No, I just....” Starsky stopped in the middle of trying to gloss over his feelings.  “Okay, maybe I am.  I just can’t stand seeing you hurt, ‘specially when it’s my fault.”

 

“Starsk, I’m going to keep telling you as many times as it takes.  This was not your fault. I told you to stop it at the hospital and I meant it.”

 

Starsky smiled at him.  “Okay.  I’ll try harder.”  The one good thing that had come out of this accident was that it seemed to have taken Hutch’s mind off of the bomb Cassandra had dropped on him at Chez Helene’s.  Starsky was sure that wouldn’t last longer than it took for Hutch’s head to stop hurting, but it was something.

 

Hutch still wondered how bad Starsky’s knee was.  He drained the glass of water Starsky had given him, handed it back and said, “Could you get me a glass of juice, please?”

 

“Sure thing,” Starsky said without a second thought as he stood up and stiffly started to move out to the kitchen.  He knew he’d been had before he got a few steps away.  The knee hurt too much to completely hide it. 

 

“You’re limping,” Hutch said, a slight teasing tone in his voice.

 

“No, I’m not.  Must be the head injury,” Starsky replied without stopping.  Then, he added, “That was a dirty trick.”

 

“Thank you,” came the self-satisfied reply. “Get some frozen peas out of the freezer, some aspirin for you, and elevate that.”

 

“Peas?  You hungry for peas?”

 

“Not for me to eat, dummy, for your knee.  I’ve got the ice bag on my head.  ‘S melted, too.  Mind refilling it?”

 

“I don’t suppose you could have told me that before I walked the mile and a half to the kitchen,” Starsky said.

 

“Sorry, buddy.”

 

Starsky refilled the ice bag for Hutch and got the peas for himself, then settled down on the bed to rest his knee. No point in pretending he wasn't injured now, though he was still determined to hide from Hutch how badly it hurt. As if he could.

 

"Why wouldn't you let somebody look at that?" Hutch asked when Starsky unconsciously let out a sigh of relief as he got his leg propped up.

 

"I didn't have time to waste lettin' a sawbones do a lot of unnecessary clucking while you were laying around bleeding."

 

"You'd have probably been done by the time I was," Hutch pointed out.

 

"Maybe. And maybe not. Damn doctors always want to admit you and keep you prisoner. Nope. I'll be okay. How's your head?"

 

"Don't change the subject."

 

"Who's changing the subject?" Starsky gave Hutch his best innocent look.

 

"You are. Are you punishing yourself by refusing to have that seen to?"

 

"Oh, for chrissake, Hutch." Starsky rolled his eyes and adjusted the peas, which were trying to slide off. "Wouldja quit analyzing everything in sight? I swear, you missed your callin'. You shoulda become a shrink."

 

It was over. Vanessa had packed up and moved out, temporarily living with a work friend while she made arrangements to go home to Duluth. Hutch wanted to be left alone in the apartment they had shared.  He wanted to be alone so that he could think. Starsky kept him from thinking. Starsky wanted to go bowling or play miniature golf or board games or watch monster movies or hang out at Huggy's and play pool. Hutch knew why. Starsky wanted to keep him busy until enough time had passed to dim the pain. But Hutch wanted to feel the pain. He wanted to understand what had happened.  He also knew Starsky was worried about him eating his gun – a concern not totally without justification.  Especially those first two weeks.  Starsky was so worried, he’d spent every night with Hutch since Van left.  Only after two months had passed was Hutch able to get his concerned friend to go home and let him have his solitude.

 

One of those nights, his phone had rung. He almost didn't answer, assuming it was Starsky checking up on him. Starsky had already called once, though, so it wasn't likely to be him again, but it might.

 

And it might be Vanessa. He hadn't spoken to her in two weeks. When he called, she was always "out." Finally, she'd sent him a message through her lawyer: "Stop calling me. It's over and nothing's going to change that. Let it go." And her lawyer had added a message of his own. “Keep calling her, try to contact her again, and we'll take out a restraining order. She doesn't want to talk to you.”

 

He answered the phone. And it was his father.

 

"Ken? Are you all right?"

 

"Sure, Dad, fine."

 

"I ran into Tom Davenport today."

 

Vanessa's father. Oh, shit. Hutch didn't know what to say.

 

"I know, son. I know Vanessa left you. Why didn't you call us?"

 

"I didn't want to bother you," Hutch said, too dispirited for anything but the truth.

 

There was a silence that went on so long Hutch wondered if his father had hung up. Finally, a soft, pain-filled sigh. "Ken, you're my son. I want to know how you are, I want to help you if I can. It's no bother."

 

Hutch didn't know what to say to that. He'd never felt comfortable opening up to his dad. His mom was easier, but even she seemed to recoil a little from conversations that were too personal, too emotional. Gradually, over the years, Hutch had learned to keep it light. Discuss how the Vikings were doing or his dad's golf game. Let his mom talk about her volunteer work and nod in the appropriate places. But don't tell them how scared he was during his first shootout or how much he worried about the deterioration of his marriage. Everything's fine. And if it's not, pretend it is.

 

"Ken?"

 

"I'm here, Dad."

 

"How are you? Really?" It was his dad's no-nonsense tone. The one he used when a teen-age Ken Hutchinson was cut from the football team but kept staying after school for practice because he didn't want to admit his failure. The one he used when he was going to have the truth from his son or know the reason why.

 

Hutch wet his lips. He was a grown man. It was ridiculous to let himself be intimidated by his father. "I'm okay."

 

"Ken..." The tone softened. "I'm your dad."

 

"It hurts, okay? It hurts like hell!" Hutch burst out. "I've been sitting here alone at night wondering to myself what I did that was so goddamned wrong!" He heard himself and abruptly stopped. Grown man or not, he could imagine what his father would say next. Beginning with a lecture for his use of profanity.

 

"Oh, Kenny," and his father's voice was gentle and sad. "I'm so sorry." Another brief silence. "What can I do for you, son? Do you want us to come out? Or would you rather come here?"

 

"No, I can't get the time off work to come home," Hutch said. "And you don't need to-”

 

"If you need us, we're only half a day from being there," Richard Hutchinson said. "I don't want you to be alone -"

 

Suddenly, Hutch realized what he was hearing. His father's voice held the same note Starsky's had that morning, when he'd tried, again, to get Hutch to let him come over or to go out for supper or do anything except sit home by himself. His dad had even used the same words: "I don't want you to be alone."

 

It was a few moments before Hutch dared speak. His eyes overflowed and for the first time in days, he let himself break down. Richard waited patiently, and finally, Hutch said, "Thanks, Dad. That means a lot to me. But I'll be okay. Really, I will."

 

"If you need us, or if you just want to talk, call. I mean it. Kenny," his father paused, for several seconds, and Hutch wiped his eyes on his shirtsleeve. "We love you."

 

Hutch smiled through fresh tears. "I love you, too. Tell Mom, huh?"

 

"I will. ‘Night, son."

 

"Good night, Dad."

 

~*~*~*~

 

Cassandra knocked on the door right on cue, just two hours after her phone call. Starsky heaved a huge sigh. "Wanna pretend we're not here?"

 

Hutch grinned. "Yeah. But we'd better not. I'd like to know what's going on, wouldn't you?"

 

"I suppose," Starsky said, rolling his eyes and struggling to his feet. The frozen peas had helped, but now his knee was stiff from his sitting so long. It took several steps to loosen it up enough so he could put any weight on it without extreme pain.

 

"Starsky -"

 

"Don't start, Blintz," Starsky said over his shoulder, continuing toward the door.

 

This time, Hutch rolled his eyes.  Then he shut up. He could hear Starsky open the door and greet Cassandra with a singular lack of enthusiasm. Then she appeared in the opening between living room and sleeping alcove. "Ken? What happened?"

 

"We were test driving a new police motorcycle and some bozo pulled out of an alley and pasted us," Starsky said behind her.

 

She gasped and covered her mouth with one hand, hurrying over to the bed to touch Hutch as if to assure herself he was really there. "My God, Kenny! Are you okay? How badly are you hurt?"

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who was rolling his eyes again. Gonna give yourself a headache, Gordo, if you keep doing that, he thought with an inward grin, but to Cassandra, he said, "Bumped head. A few stitches. That's it. I'm really okay. It's Starsk I'm worried about. He wrenched his knee and won't let anybody look at it."

 

She turned to look at Starsky. "Dave, you really ought to -"

 

Starsky turned away and limped to the kitchen.

 

Cassandra sat down on the bed. "Sensitive topic?"

 

"Yeah. I'll look after him. I'm pretty good at first aid."

 

"I remember," she said with a smile. "Are you sure you're okay? Shouldn't you be in the hospital?"

 

"No, I'm fine, really. I appreciate your concern." That remark almost gagged him, but he wanted to keep on her good side long enough to find out what she was really up to.

 

She patted his hand.

 

"Hey, Blintz!" Starsky's voice called from the kitchen. "Want something to drink in there?"

 

"Orange juice," Hutch called back. "Cassie?"

 

"Juice is fine," she said.

 

"Make it two!"

 

"Gotcha," Starsky answered. He returned in a few moments with a glass of juice in each hand and a bottle of Dr. Pepper, unopened, under his arm. He settled down next to Hutch, making it plain he wasn't going anywhere.

 

Cassandra glanced at him with a slightly annoyed look in her eyes, but turned back to Hutch. "Are you up to a few questions, Ken?"

 

"About what?"

 

"Vanessa."

 

Hutch opened his mouth, but Cassandra forestalled him.

 

"Please, Ken. I know you didn't tell me everything the other night, and I have to know. I know you're trying to spare me, but -" she paused and her eyes misted over, " – it would help me more to know than to keep wondering."

 

In the span of the next few moments, both men wondered what she could want to know that would ease her mind.  Vanessa was murdered.  Shot point blank in the chest by Hutch’s Magnum.  That was the painful fact.  Cassandra, and the rest of Vanessa’s family, knew that.  Starsky seethed a little at the memory of how Simonetti from Internal Affairs had called Vanessa’s parents to tell them that the department was getting ready to arrest its prime suspect in the crime – their former son-in-law, Ken Hutchinson.  Simonetti had taken obvious pleasure at having done so.  Later, when Hutch was exonerated, Captain Dobey had demanded that Simonetti call and recant his version of events. 

 

Hutch knew Tom and Leah Davenport still blamed him and he couldn’t help wondering why Cassandra didn’t seem to feel the same way.  When Cassandra asked him if he was “up to answering a few questions”, the query had an eerie similarity to the things he said to traumatized witnesses.  That was it, she was planning to interrogate him.

 

Starsky said something first.  “Cassandra, Hutch is really not feeling too good.  He’s putting on his best stoic Nordic face for your sake, but he needs to rest.  I think he had enough talk about Vanessa last night.”  Back off lady, you’re pushing it.

 

Cassandra bristled at that remark.  David Starsky was going to be a problem in getting the information she wanted.  Hutch sat, silently allowing his partner to take control of the situation.  She could see the pain in his eyes, and the long blinks told her how tired he was.  Obviously, when he was hurt, Starsky was the gatekeeper.  Perhaps she’d better play him a bit to get what she wanted.

 

“Dave, I don’t want to upset anyone.  I just believe I have a right to know exactly what happened to my sister.”  She turned on her best, “I’m not up to anything” charm, and smiled at the gatekeeper.  “Please, I won’t tax him.”

 

Hutch looked over at him with a silent, “Just let her ask or she’ll never drop it.  A slight nod from Starsky signaled his willingness to allow the interview to continue. 

 

The look on Starsky’s face would convey to any but the most dimwitted observer that he was not going to let her go too far.  Even without the benefit of Hutch’s ability to read Starsky’s mind, Cassandra knew exactly what the ground rules were.

 

“All right,” Starsky said, “but let’s keep it short.  I’m supposed to wake him up every couple of hours to check him.  That implies he should be sleeping.” All Starsky wanted was for her to go away.  Even though it was only seven o’clock in the evening, he thought Hutch should be out for the night.

 

Cassandra tried lamely to joke with Hutch.  “Is he always such a Rottweiler?”  She knew immediately that remark was a mistake.  Neither man was laughing. 

 

Hutch replied, “No, but he is when I’m hurt.  More like a Doberman.”

 

Starsky added, “That’s right.  I’m too sleek to be a Rottweiler.”

 

“Sleek, huh?” Hutch asked.  “You’re looking mighty sleek with your knee twice its normal size and wearing a bag of frozen vegetables.”

 

“Boys,” Cassandra butted in – wondering if she’d ever have control of the conversation.  “The sooner you let me get my questions out, the sooner Ken gets that nap.”

 

“Starsky’s right, Cassie, but you go ahead.  I can stay awake a little longer.” Hutch didn’t have to try to look pathetic, he already did.

 

“It’s kind of dark in here.  Do you mind if I turn on some lights?”

 

“Yes, actually,” Starsky replied.  “When you’ve got the French Foreign Legion on maneuvers inside your head, the last thing you need is a bunch of lights on.”

 

That wouldn’t do at all.  Cassandra needed to watch Hutch’s face as if it were a lie detector.  That face was somewhat concealed in the dimness of the room, lit only from the lamp Starsky had turned on in the living room and the filtered light from the kitchen.

 

“Oh, right,” she said meekly.  She’d just have to watch closely.  She decided to proceed.  “Well, Ken, Mom and Dad said you weren’t here when it happened.”

 

Hutch found her sudden shift jarring.  He wondered where this would lead.  “That’s right.”

 

“Where were you?”

 

“Jogging.” 

 

Starsky was already proud of him.  If she wanted to know something, she was going to have to pick it out of him. 

 

“Were you gone a long time?”

 

“Not really.  I think about ten minutes.”

 

Starsky butted in, “Sometimes a few minutes is all it takes, Cassandra.”

 

The woman nodded, staring at Hutch.  He tried to shift position a little and winced.  Not only did his head hurt, he knew his body wasn’t going to feel good in the morning.  Hutch closed his eyes for a second and tried to chase the ache away.  Then, he silently handed the ice bag to Starsky as he opened his eyes and begged with them for the only thing he could do to ease his pain.

 

Starsky nodded and said, “I’ll be right back, buddy.”

 

Cassandra took advantage of Starsky’s absence.  As soon as the limping man was out of earshot, she lowered her voice and said, “Did Van tell you anything before she died?”

 

“Tell me anything?  We spent the evening together.  Yeah, I guess, we did talk.  Why?”

 

From the kitchen, he could hear the sound of the ice cubes being popped out of their tray.  He was already wishing Starsky were back in the room with him, as a sudden, inexplicable uneasiness crept around him.

 

“I was just wondering, how much she told you about what she... how she... where.... ” she answered, not faking the nervousness she felt at trying to figure out the best way to get the information she wanted.

 

Hutch said, “If you’re asking if I know how she was earning a living – where she was going and what she planned to do there, yes, I know.  Did you know?”  Now the sound of water running drifted in from the kitchen as Starsky refilled the ice cube tray.

 

“She told you about it?”  Now she was getting somewhere.  If only Starsky would stay away for just a few minutes.  She quickly downed the rest of her juice and called out, “Dave?  Could you please be a dear and make me some tea?” 

 

“Sure,” came the reply.  Cassandra smiled a tiny smile, masked by the dim lighting.  That should keep him out of her hair a little longer. Hutch knew she was stalling.

 

“He really shouldn’t be up on that knee,” Hutch said.

 

“Oh, it’ll only take him a few minutes.  I didn’t know what she was doing, Ken.  I found out later.  Did she tell you before she... was murdered?”

 

Murdered.  What an ugly way to say it.  Why not say she died?  “No.  We found out later.”

 

“Oh.”  This was disappointing.  Hutch was too skilled at undercover for her to tell if he was being truthful. 

 

They sat and discussed the events of that morning while Starsky made the tea.  Getting back to Hutch with the ice and carrying a cup of hot tea in his other hand was a challenge for a man who only had one functional knee.

 

Cassandra shifted gears again.  She began to tear up and added a little quiver to her voice.  She stopped asking about Vanessa’s conversation with Hutch and switched to making Starsky show her where the body was found.  She drank her tea and asked questions about the gunshot. She wanted to know why no one heard it and Starsky had to explain that the killers had used a pillow as a makeshift silencer.  When she asked Hutch how he could bear to live in the place where her sister was killed, he shut his eyes tight.  Starsky decided the interview was at an end.

 

“I think that’s enough for now, Cassandra. Hutch is hurting.”

 

Knowing that was the best she could do that night, Cassandra nodded her agreement.  She finished the tea and handed the empty cup to Starsky.

 

“Thanks, Ken.  I’m sure there are a few other things I would like to ask, but I’ll get back to you on that.”

 

Starsky thought she sounded like she was trying to broker a deal.  Maybe Hutch should write her a memo.  In triplicate.

 

“Feel better, Ken.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 

“Thanks, Cassie,”  Hutch replied wearily.  Great.

 

Starsky followed her back toward the front door.  She paused when she passed Hutch’s gun, hanging in its holster on the edge of a folding screen in his sleeping alcove.  She reached a tentative hand up toward the Python and said as she brushed the holster with her fingertips, “Is this the gun that killed my sister?”

 

“Yes,” came the quiet reply from the bed behind her. 

 

Cassandra didn’t turn around, but she said, “It’s big.”

 

Starsky moved her along, not wanting the woman to dwell on such a morbid thing, especially in front of the gun’s owner.  He escorted her out and shut the door quietly behind her.  When he returned to his partner, he caught him staring at his hands.  Hutch’s hands were large and powerful, with the long, graceful fingers of an accomplished musician.  Starsky knew what his friend was thinking. 

 

“Don’t, buddy.  ‘S not your fault.”

 

Hutch didn’t lift his gaze from his hands, fingers flexing as Starsky watched.  “I’ve killed people with these hands, Starsk.  She thinks I killed Van.  My God, Starsk.  She still believes I killed her sister.  I could never.... ”

 

Starsky sat facing Hutch, taking both of the other man’s hands in his own.  He gave the hands a gentle squeeze, breaking Hutch’s concentration.  Even in the semi-darkness, when Hutch lifted his eyes to meet Starsky’s, the hurt in them was plain.

 

“I know you didn’t.  We know who killed her.”

 

“But I never hurt Van. I, I ... How could she think that?”

 

“Hutch, you have to let this go.  Lie down and go to sleep for a while.”

 

All he got in answer was a nod.  Starsky helped him lie down again and sat with him for a while.  His injuries and the extended time he’d been awake quickly overcame him.  When Hutch was asleep, Starsky moved out to the living room and turned on the television with the volume barely audible.  He found something acceptable to watch and then set the alarm clock he’d brought from Hutch’s bedroom.  Although Hutch seemed fine, Starsky wasn’t comfortable letting him sleep through the night without waking him to make sure he was still okay.   He settled down with his knee elevated and fell asleep within thirty minutes.

 

The first time Starsky woke Hutch, he still seemed fine.  Hutch reassured him he didn’t need to worry, but when Starsky helped him up to go to the bathroom, Hutch was still complaining that the room was spinning.  Starsky set the alarm again when he returned to the living room.

 

This waking/checking/sleeping cycle happened twice more before Hutch decided that Mr. Worrywart was not looking good himself.  He watched Starsky limp back into the living room and stayed awake until he heard the sound of light snoring coming from the couch.  Then, Hutch crept into the living room and confiscated the alarm clock.  That should ensure his partner would get some much-needed sleep. 

 

When sunrise began to lighten the apartment, Hutch awoke.  He checked on Starsky, finding him still sleeping.  That gave him a chance to peek at his friend’s injured knee without being detected.  Starsky had kicked off his blanket and his knee was in plain view.

 

Hutch had been correct in his off handed assessment the previous evening.  Starsky’s knee was swollen to twice its normal size.  The color was somewhere between plum and grape in places.  Not a good sign.  He sighed, knowing what a fight he was going to have on his hands when he brought up the idea of getting it examined.  He’d just have to be persuasive.   Hutch thought it was doubtful Starsky would be able to bear weight on it at all.  He picked the blanket up off the floor, instantly regretting bending his head down that far.  After standing still with his eyes closed for a few moments, Hutch got his nausea under control.  He covered Starsky and moved out to the greenhouse.  That’s where Starsky found him when he woke up an hour later.

 

“Hey, you swiped the alarm clock.”

 

Hutch looked up as his partner opened the squeaky screen door to the greenhouse. He said, “You needed the sleep and your knee did, too.”

 

“You okay?” Starsky asked, ignoring the remark.

 

Hutch shrugged.  He watched Starsky move carefully toward him, unsuccessfully trying to make it look like everything was normal.  “We’re taking you to the doctor today, Gordo.”

 

Starsky started to protest, but he closed his mouth without uttering a sound.  Somehow, each of them knew when the other was resolute – when arguing or pleading would change nothing.  Starsky accepted his fate, but made himself a promise that he would not let Hutch slide into a mode where he was taking care of Starsky.  Not this time. 

 

“I’ll make you some coffee if you’ll tell me what you’re thinking about that has you looking like someone walked on my grave.”  Starsky smiled, but could see that Hutch wasn’t appreciating the humor in that remark. “Sorry, buddy.  I’ll just slink out of here and make your coffee.” Starsky limped to the kitchen, feeling terrible that his attempt at lightening the mood had failed so miserably.

 

When he returned with the coffee, he was startled to find that Hutch had taken the cushions off of the chairs and was lying on the floor. 

 

Unable to disguise his alarm, Starsky said, “Hey!  What’re you doing down there, buddy?”

 

“Felt kinda woozy.  I don’t want to go back to bed.  I want to be out here with the plants.”

 

Starsky set down the coffee cups and joined Hutch on the floor.  Hutch handed him one of the cushions and they both lay there, staring out through the skylights at the blue sky of what was sure to be a beautiful day.

 

Although he knew Hutch had things on his mind, Starsky waited for him to start talking.  Sometimes, silence was the best tool to get Hutch to let him in on what was going on inside his head.  Starsky smiled to himself, knowing he’d learned that trick from his best friend through years of interviewing witnesses and suspects together.

 

“Do you ever think about what your life would be like if you’d done something differently?”

 

Oh, boy.  This is bad.  Starsky was worried about his friend.  The melancholy tone of voice told him that Hutch had slid into a dark place in his heart.  That wouldn’t help his natural tendency toward brooding and introspection.

 

Starsky reached out and touched his best friend’s hand. “You know I do.  What’s going on, Blintz?”

 

“I was just thinking. What if I hadn’t gone running that morning?  You think they would have killed me, too?  Maybe... but maybe I could have saved her.”

 

“Vanessa was on that road, Hutch.  You didn’t put her there.”

 

“I know.  But, what if I hadn’t gone?  What if I’d walked in on them?”

 

“What if you’d never met Vanessa?”  Starsky was trying to change the subject away from the guilt minefield of how Hutch’s ex-wife had died.

 

Hutch sighed.  Starsky looked over at him and notice a tear that was just staring to slide down Hutch’s temple and his heart ached for his friend.   Hutch quietly said, “A man should be able to protect his wife, Starsky.  I was never any good for Vanessa.”

 

Starsky hated it when Hutch kicked himself like this.  What he said came out a bit forcefully, but he wasn’t sorry he’d said it.  “A wife shouldn’t abort a child without talking to her husband about it.  Without even TELLING him about it.”

 

“I’m sorry, Starsk.  I just can’t seem to get it out of my head.  It just hurts so much.”

 

“I know.  Come on, Blondie.  This is enough soul-searching for one morning.  You go take a shower and I’ll make you some breakfast.”  Starsky stood, painfully.  He helped Hutch to his feet and then turned toward the kitchen.  The next step he took on his right foot landed him on his rear.

 

“Starsk!”

 

Starsky was breathing hard and sweat had beaded up on his upper lip.  His sudden silence and white face told Hutch all he needed to know about the amount of pain that knee was causing.  So much pain it had buckled right out from under him.

 

When Starsky had the pain under control again, Hutch took his turn at helping Starsky to his feet.  He led him into the living room and planted him on the couch.  After bringing him some ice, his address book, and the phone, he said, “Call the doc, and make an appointment.  We’re going in as soon as they can see you.  I’m going to grab a quick shower.  Stay put!”

 

Hutch disappeared into the bathroom.  Starsky did as he was told, looking up their doctor’s number in Hutch’s book.  By the time Hutch was showered and dressed, Starsky had secured an appointment.  He’d clean up and they’d have to go.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The doctor looked at Starsky’s knee films again.  The procedure had been unpleasant, but since the doctor drained some of the fluid off of Starsky’s knee, the pressure was reduced and he was feeling less pain.  The doctor shook his head and turned back toward the detective.

 

“Looks like you’re getting a cane to take with you today, David.  I’m hoping you haven’t completely torn your Anterior Cruciate Ligament, but you may have.  We’ll have to keep an eye on it and if it doesn’t improve, you get to have a nice surgery.”

 

“WHAT?  Surgery?”

 

“I said, IF.  I’m writing you a prescription for a painkiller and something to help reduce that swelling.  NO extra exertion and use the cane everywhere you go.  If it gets worse, you’ll have to switch to crutches.  If you’re a good boy, this might heal and you won’t need the surgery.  If the ligament is completely torn, though, you’ll have no choice.”

 

His instructions included lots of rest, elevation, and alternating ice and heat applications.  Hutch walked into the exam room just as they were finishing, with Starsky’s cane in his hand and a sheepish look on his face.  He knew how much Starsky would hate this.

 

“I sent Ken downstairs to the sick room supply store to get you that cane.  I’m not kidding, don’t overdo it.”

 

“He won’t, Doc,” Hutch said.  He’d already had his lecture from the doctor about riding a motorcycle without a helmet.  That two inch bald spot on his head with the bandage on top of it was a little hard to hide. 

 

“Both of you go home and rest.  Dave, I want to see you in a week.  If it isn’t any better by then, I’ll give you the name of a good orthopedic surgeon. Ken, come back in eight or nine days so I can take out those stitches.  Oh, and, see if you can’t keep each other out of trouble for a while.”

 

Both men laughed and thanked the doctor as he breezed out of the room.

 

“Give me those prescriptions, buddy.  We’ll go downstairs and get them filled before we go to your house.”

 

“Nuh-uh, Blondie.  We’re going back to your place.  You need rest and you’ll get that better in your own place.”

 

“What about you?”

 

“Hutch, I told you, I can handle it.  For once, just let me take care of you!  The only reason I’m here is because my knee got, well, stuck.”

 

Starsky didn’t like the look of disappointment on Hutch’s face when he said, “Okay, Starsk. You can handle it,” as he handed back the prescription blanks.

 

Suddenly, Starsky realized that maybe he was going about this all wrong.  Hutch had seemed a little perkier when he thought Starsky needed his help.  Maybe he should relent and allow a little care-taking from his partner.  He thought he could do that, as long as something was clear.

 

“I’m sorry, Hutch.  You’re right.  You take the prescriptions and get them filled.  I appreciate it and I’m willing to let you take care of things a little.  I mean a little, though, buddy.  I already told you, I’m taking care of you this time.  Is that understood?”

 

Hutch smiled as he took back the prescriptions.  “Yeah, I get it.  You’re in charge.  Just make sure you use that cane while you’re in charge.  Okay?”

 

“That’s a deal.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Cassandra paced through her well-appointed apartment without seeing any of the expensive decorator's touches her side business helped her pay for. She was too angry to take any pleasure in the things she usually loved to gloat over. Somehow, she had to find a way to be alone with Ken without Starsky being around. As long as Starsky was anywhere nearby, he was going to thwart her ability to find out if Vanessa had had time to give Ken her message.

 

But getting rid of Starsky seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. He stuck to Ken like a burr and hovered to the point it disgusted Cassandra. Did he think Ken was a helpless baby who needed an adult around? Van had always said they were unnaturally close and Cassandra had thought her sister was just jealous. But now she knew Van had been right. There was something there that shut others out.

 

Her telephone rang. Impatiently, she snatched it up. "Hello."

 

"Cassandra," said an oily voice she knew too well.

 

"Anthony," she said, her heart speeding up. "How – how are you?"

 

"I called to ask you that question," he said. "What have you found out?"

 

"Not much," she said reluctantly. "I need a little more time. He doesn't quite trust me."

 

"Now, that's too bad," Anthony said. "We don't have much more time. Which means you don't have much more time. I expect a better report next time I call." He hung up without giving her a chance to answer.

 

She set the receiver down, trembling. It was now or never.

 

Cassandra had a few street connections of her own, thanks to her side business and the people she dealt with in it. She located one of them, a high-priced call girl, and told her what she needed.

 

"Won't be easy," Jolie said thoughtfully. "Everybody on the streets knows those two."

 

"It's imperative," Cassandra said sharply. "I don't care what it costs or how ugly it is, as long as it doesn't come back to haunt me. I have to talk to Ken alone."

 

Jolie shook her head. "Okay, okay. Give me a couple of hours to set it up, all right? I'll call you. Give me a number."

 

Cassandra scribbled her number on a scrap of paper and went home to wait.

 

Starsky had just triumphantly checkmated his partner when Hutch's phone rang. Nearer to it than Hutch, Starsky answered.

 

"Starsky? It's Mickey."

 

"Haven't heard from you in awhile," Starsky said, mouthing the snitch's name to Hutch. "What's up?"

 

"I can't tell you on the phone," Mickey said, his voice shaking. "You gotta come see me."

 

"Mickey, I -"

 

"Starsky, it's important. I wouldn't call you if it wasn't important. But don't bring Hutch."

 

"Why not?" Starsky demanded, immediately suspicious.

 

"For his own safety," Mickey said in a desperate whisper. "I can't say anymore."

 

Starsky frowned, and finally said, "Okay, Mickey. Where?"

 

"The usual place. And hurry." He hung up.

 

Starsky replaced the receiver, still frowning. He repeated to Hutch what Mickey had said, adding, "I don't think I like this."

 

"I don't, either. Don't go."

 

Starsky shook his head. "I'm not worried about me. I'm worried about you." He lifted the phone again and called the precinct to request a car to come and keep an eye on Hutch's place for a while. Hutch, as soon as he realized what Starsky was doing, protested and tried to stop him, but it didn't do any good. When Starsky finished the call, he said, "Look, Blintz. You ain't really in a condition to defend yourself and I'm not leaving you here alone while I go see what Mickey wants. His information's usually reliable. Okay?"

 

Hutch gave a long, theatrical sigh. "Okay."

 

Ten minutes later, a prowl car pulled up in the street below, and Starsky picked up his jacket. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he said.

 

He stopped to talk to the officers in the car, giving them a quick explanation of what was going on, then got into the Torino and headed for Mickey's favorite bar a few blocks from Huggy's. It was difficult to find a place to park but he finally left the Torino on the street a block away and started walking toward the bar. He had almost reached it when he sensed danger behind him. Before he could turn, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head and everything went black.

 

When Starsky came to, it was almost dark. For a few moments, he didn't remember what had happened. He heard crickets, which confused him, and when he sat up, he realized he was outside the city somewhere, lying in a damp, grassy ditch.

 

He looked around. Nothing looked familiar. The road beside the ditch was paved, but barely. He could see no houses or lights nearby. He struggled to his feet – difficult enough normally, but with his injured knee, almost impossible – and looked around. The best he could guess, he was up in the hills somewhere. Far away, he could see the lights of the city, so he knew which direction to go. But he still didn't know how he'd gotten here.

 

His head hurt. He automatically reached back to touch the aching spot and discovered a large lump, sticky with dried blood. He also realized he was a little sick at his stomach and woozy. Drugged? A knock on the head wasn't enough to keep him out this long... the last thing he remembered was going to meet Mickey -

 

"Hutch!" he whispered, suddenly terrified. Mickey had lured him away from Hutch. But Hutch was being guarded by two other cops. Or was he?

 

Starsky scrambled up to the road, cursing under his breath at the pain in his knee that slowed him down, and started limping back to the city. His cane was gone. It was going to be a long journey.

 

Starsky had only been gone about half an hour when there was a knock on Hutch's door. He went to it and called, "Who is it?"

 

"Thompson," said the voice on the other side. One of the two officers parked in the street to "watch" him. "There's a lady here to see you, Sarge. Says her name's Cassandra?"

 

Hutch sighed. He did not want to see Cassandra. But he couldn't think of a good reason to refuse, so he said, "Let her come up, Thompson. It's okay."

 

Cassandra appeared a few moments later, looking troubled. "What's with the cops downstairs, Ken?" she asked. "What's going on?"

 

"Starsk's overprotective instincts," Hutch answered, trying to play it light. "He had to leave for a while and he doesn't think I should be left alone yet."

 

She smiled. "How are you doing? You look better."

 

"I'll be fine in a day or two," he said. "Want something to drink?"

 

She shook her head. "No, thanks. I just want to talk."

 

Hutch sat down at one end of the couch and she sat down on the other, turning and tucking one leg up underneath her.  She smiled sweetly at him.  Cassandra had decided that the first thing she needed to do was to establish her surprise at not finding Hutch’s bodyguard in the apartment.  Looking like she was expecting that just wouldn’t do.

 

“So, where is your partner?  I expected he’d be here,” she said with as much sincerity as she could put into her voice.

 

“He had an errand.  I’m sure he’ll be back soon,” Hutch replied, wary of why she asked that almost immediately after she arrived, and after he’d just told her Starsky had to leave for a while.  Why should she care where he is?

 

Cassandra knew there was no way Starsky would be back anytime soon. Jolie had called to let her know Starsky was out cold and even when he came to it would take him hours to get back to town.  Safe in that knowledge, she continued, “Oh, too bad.  How are you feeling?”

 

Something in Hutch’s gut was telling him not to trust his former sister-in-law, but he didn’t know what.  “Cass, you didn’t come all the way over here to ask me how I’m feeling.  What’s going on?” he asked.  Her sudden reappearance in his life and her solicitous attitude about his welfare seemed neither coincidental, nor innocent.  He was sure she had an ulterior motive.

 

“Always the detective,” Cassandra said.  She laughed softly and tilted her head to one side.  That gesture usually warmed the hearts of men and disarmed any uneasiness they had.  She could see from the look on Hutch’s face that it wasn’t working on him.

 

“All right, Ken.  I was just wondering some things about your last conversation with Vanessa....”

 

“This isn’t the first time you’ve brought up that night,” Hutch interrupted, “why are you so curious about it?”

 

“Ken, I told you I had some other questions for you the last time we spoke.  Vanessa was my sister, I have a right to know what her last night was like, don’t I?”

 

Hutch didn’t understand it, but he also couldn’t deny her logic.  “I suppose.  All right, what do you want to know?”

 

“Vanessa was involved in the precious gem trade, you know that,” she started.

 

“Yes, what about it?”

 

Cassandra had thought about what type of lie to tell to get Hutch to reveal what he knew.  She hoped it would work.  “Well, she had some things of mine with her when she left for here.  She was going to take them with her and sell them in Europe.  I was wondering if anything was found.”

 

Hutch frowned at her, unsure she was telling the truth.  “You mean gems?  No, we only found the big diamond that was part of a previous case.  Were you involved in all of this, somehow?  I thought you hadn’t seen her for a few months.”

 

“I hadn’t really, but we had started talking on the phone again.  I sent her the pieces in New York.  I wasn’t involved, but I have to admit I knew who she was working for then.  These pieces of mine... she was going to use them to get me an in with some important people.  In fact, she told me she was hoping to convince you to join her as her partner.”  Cassandra made that up, and she didn’t know how lucky she had gotten until she saw the color drain from Hutch’s face.

 

“Ken, are you okay?”

 

Hutch sat breathing heavily, stunned that Vanessa had planned that.  He thought it was a spontaneous reaction to spending time with him.  “Yeah, fine.  It’s just, well... she did make me an offer to join her.  I thought that was sort of spontaneous, guess not.”

 

Cassandra was elated.  She decided to press her good fortune.  “Did she mention those contacts?  She said she knew about something big that was going down and that she might talk to you about it.  Van even mentioned a local source and I was just wondering....”

 

“Cass!  Do I have to remind you that I’m a cop?”  Hutch’s momentary shock was soon replaced with anger.  As if it weren’t bad enough that Vanessa had dangled her illegal activity in front of him, she had told Cassandra she was going to do it.

 

The woman blushed and glanced down at the floor.  “I’m sorry, Ken.  I didn’t mean to compromise your integrity or anything, but I was hoping to get my gems back and maybe to know if she told you anything useful.”

 

Hutch stood up and paced away from the couch.  The room spun a little and he wound up stopping in the middle with his eyes closed and his jaw clenched.  Hearing Cassandra rise from the couch, he put up a hand in her direction to stop her from coming closer.  The last thing he wanted was support from this woman who seemed intent on turning his life upside down again over events he had hoped were buried with his ex-wife.

 

“Cass.  I can assure you she didn’t tell me a thing that would be of any use to you.  Wheeler’s people turned my place inside out and if there was anything here, they’d have found it.  As for any important information, I reminded her I was a cop, too.  Whatever she had locked in her head, she sure as hell didn’t tell me about it.”

 

Cassandra was relieved.  The one thing she knew she could count on Hutch for was honesty.  He was too much of a choirboy to lie to her.

 

“Okay, Ken.  Thanks for telling me.  I know this has been hard for you.”

 

Hutch wheeled on her with fire in his eyes.  “You don’t give a damn about this being hard on me.  I don’t know what you want for sure, lady, but just go and don’t come over here again.”

 

“Ken....”

 

“I said go,” Hutch said with his best icy glare. 

 

Cassandra swallowed hard and retrieved her purse from his coffee table.  “I’m sorry you feel that way, Ken.  I never would have tried to involve you in anything.  I just... well, I’m sorry you feel that way.  I’ll see you around, Ken,” she said as she left the apartment, shutting the door quietly behind her.  As soon as she was on the other side, she broke out into a huge grin, satisfied that she had gotten what she wanted.  Cassandra carefully schooled her features before she went down the stairs and walked past the uniformed officers guarding Hutch.

 

Inside the apartment, Hutch was fuming.  He couldn’t believe the nerve that woman had, not only dredging up some of his most painful memories, but inserting new pain with her reminiscences.  Hutch decided to rest his throbbing head and he went back to bed to sleep while he waited for Starsky to return from his meeting with Mickey.

 

While Hutch slept, Starsky limped painfully along, first, that barely paved county road, and then, a better-paved road leading down from the hills.  His efforts to hitchhike proved fruitless.  He couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to pick up a roughed up looking stranger on a road at night.  Resting frequently, he knew it would take him many hours to get to where someone could help him get home.  Starsky thought about what had happened, unsure as to what Mickey had to do with his situation, if anything.  He was worried about Hutch and wishing he could at least come upon a gas station or a diner where he could place a phone call. 

 

When Hutch woke up from his restless nap, more than three hours had passed.  He was surprised Starsky hadn’t come in to talk to him about Mickey.  “Starsk?” he called. 

 

The apartment was dark and quiet. Hutch sat up slowly, gratified that the room wasn’t spinning.  “Starsky, where are you?”  A quick check of the apartment revealed that Starsky was not there.  He hadn’t left a note, and Hutch was sure he’d have done that if he came in and left again.  Remembering the time he’d been lured away from home by a snitch only to be run off the road into a canyon, Hutch’s chest tightened with worry.  A quick patch through to the black-and-white in the street below revealed that Starsky hadn’t returned to the apartment and left again.  He decided he’d better call Captain Dobey at home.

 

“Cap? It’s Hutch,” he said, the tension obvious in his voice.

 

“Is something wrong?” Dobey asked, knowing the answer would be affirmative.

 

“I hope not, but I’m afraid so.  Starsky left here hours ago to meet with that snitch, Mickey.  He hasn’t come back and he hasn’t called.”

 

“What do you suppose happened?” 

 

“I don’t know, but I’m too dizzy to drive right now, or I’d get out there and start looking myself.   Would you send some uniforms around to that skeezy bar Mickey hangs out at?  Starsky usually looks him up at The Mouse Trap.  That’s over on....”

 

“I know where it is, Hutch.  I’ll send a car and call you back.”  Dobey hung up the phone and Hutch resumed his pacing. 

 

Within a few minutes, a black-and-white had cruised over to the area near The Pits and spotted the Torino.  No Starsky anywhere in sight.  The uniforms checked inside The Mouse Trap and also went over to talk to Huggy.  No one had seen Starsky.

 

“I’m putting a missing officer out on him, Hutch.  I’ll call you if I hear anything.”

 

“Yeah, okay, Cap.”

 

Nothing remained for Hutch to do but wait and worry.  Meanwhile, Starsky had made it onto a more populated county road.  His knee was so swollen again he was beginning to worry his jeans were going to split.  His head was pounding and he still felt sick to his stomach.  Over the long hike, he figured out he’d been chloroformed, in addition to being hit on the head.  Whoever got to him had wanted him out of the picture, but not dead.  Starsky was thirsty and in pain, so he sat down on a guardrail for a few minutes.  He was sitting there with his head resting on his hand, doing his best to control the pain and nausea, when he heard the distinctive whoop of a cruiser’s siren.  Starsky lifted his head, shielding his eyes from the bright headlights and squinting to try and make out the officer who was now walking toward him.

 

“Evening, sir.  Are you all right?” a steady voice called to him.  He could see in the officer’s silhouette that he had one hand resting on his service revolver. 

 

“Oh, God, am I glad to see you,” he answered.  “I’m a cop, and I’m armed.  I’m just gonna reach for my badge.”

 

The officer stopped fifteen feet from Starsky, shining a flashlight in his face. “Slowly.  What’s your name?”

 

First, Starsky opened his lightweight jacket a little so the officer could see his weapon, then he slowly reached into his back pocket for his identification.  He was grateful whoever had dumped him out in the boondocks had left those items in his possession.

 

“Detective Sergeant David Starsky, Metro Division, Bay City Police,” he said as he held out his ID.  The officer walked toward him and cautiously reached for it.

 

“What are you doing way out here and on foot?” he asked as he verified the identity and dropped his flashlight beam out of Starsky’s eyes.

 

“I’d like to know that myself.  Where the hell is way out here?”

 

He and the officer talked for a few minutes while Starsky described his predicament and the deputy helped him to the cruiser.  Starsky refused a visit to the local emergency room, but he did ask for a ride back to town.  The deputy got on the radio.

 

“This is Deputy Bennett, Dispatch, I’ve got a little situation out here.”

 

“Go ahead, Joe,” the friendly sounding dispatch operator replied.

 

“I’ve got a Bay City cop with me who got rolled and dumped out here in our turf.  Please call the Metro Division and ask them to have one of their units meet me at the county line.  I’m going to give him a ride in that far.”

 

“10-4, Joe.”

 

“Sorry I can’t take you all the way home.  We’re already down one man tonight, and it’s just me prowling around out here.”

 

“No sweat, I’m just glad you came along.  I was starting to worry I’d have to sleep out here!”

 

The deputy pulled over at a gas station so Starsky could call his partner, but the phone was not working.  A few tense minutes later, they were back on the road.  The dispatcher’s voice broke their silence.

 

“Joe, I’ve arranged for a pickup at County Road 10 and Highway 101.  Your passenger has a missing officer out on him from Metro.  They were glad to hear he was all right.”

 

Starsky was immediately relieved.  If there was a missing officer out on him, Hutch probably had missed him when he didn’t come back from meeting Mickey.  If Hutch had put the gears in motion for an APB, he was all right.  He was so relieved he laughed about it.

 

“Something funny, Detective?”

 

“Yeah, my partner.  I’ve been worried that someone lured me out to get to him.  He’s probably the one who sent up the flares on me, so he’s probably okay.”

 

“Lured you away, huh?” Bennett said with a chuckle.  “Sounds like one of those potboiler detective novel plots.”

 

“You just have no idea, man.  Sometimes, I think me and my partner live in a potboiler detective novel.”

 

At Starsky’s request, Bennett had his dispatcher call Metro back to ask them to let Hutch know he was okay.  Within an hour, Benett had passed off his weary, swollen, and somewhat dizzy charge to a couple of uniformed officers from his own precinct.  They drove him the rest of the way to Hutch’s place.  As they pulled up to the curb, Starsky saw Hutch looking out the window.  He did his best not to look too bad as he climbed out of the prowler and started to limp toward the building, but he wasn’t fooling his partner.

 

Hutch was standing in the open doorway, watching Starsky as he made his miserable way up from the street.  Starsky paused to rest and looked up with a sigh.  “Why’ve you gotta have so many steps, Blintz?” he asked.

 

“The better to torture you with,” came the sarcastic reply. 

 

Hutch disappeared from the doorway and by the time Starsky reached the landing, he was back with an ice pack and a strong arm to help Starsky the rest of the way inside.  He eased Starsky down onto the couch, put the ice bag on his knee and sat on the coffee table facing him.

 

“You want to tell me what happened?” he asked as he looked his best friend over for visible signs of injury.

 

“I have no idea, buddy.   I went to meet Mickey, and the next thing I knew I woke up way out in East Egypt, lying in a ditch.”

 

Hutch immediately searched Starsky’s head for injury and found a goose egg underneath the matted curls he’d missed on his initial inspection.  “Damn, Starsk.  Guess I should have started with your cranium.  You need to have this looked at.”

 

“No.  I’m fine.  I’ve been awake and moving for hours.  I haven’t thrown up, though it was tempting, and I’m about as coherent as I ever get.  Let it lie.”

 

Hutch got up and went to the bathroom for a damp cloth and some supplies to clean up Starsky’s injury.  He’d reserve judgment on the hospital until he had a better look at the laceration attached to that goose egg.  “How far did you walk?” he asked.

 

“Damned if I know.  Miles.  I really sort of limped more than I walked, so who knows?  You okay?  I was scared they’d ditched me to get to you.”

 

“Don’t fight me, I’m gonna clean that up some,” Hutch said as he came up behind Starsky and started to tend to the head wound.

 

“Yeah, yeah, just don’t be getting any big ideas.  I just want to crash and burn.  No hospital.”

 

Hutch decided the cut wasn’t too bad and Starsky did seem to be all right.  They called and spoke with Dobey, assuring him that things turned out okay.  The knee wasn’t doing well, but Hutch hoped some ice, followed by a nice long soak, would help that. 

 

“Nothing happened here?” Starsky asked as Hutch retreated to the bathtub to draw a hot bath for his aching friend.

 

“Nope.  Oh, guess who showed up again.”

 

“Cassandra?” Starsky asked.  While Hutch was occupied, he removed the ice pack from his knee and felt the swelling underneath.  “Terrific,” he muttered softly.

 

“What did you say?”

 

“Nothing.  What did she want?”  Starsky stood and slowly started toward the bathtub.  At the speed he was making, he guessed he might just get there by the time the tub was full. 

 

“You won’t believe it,” Hutch replied.  Then, he noticed Starsky limping toward him and said, “Hey, take it easy!  Let me help you.”  Hutch went out and helped Starsky the rest of the way into the bathroom.  He and Starsky had some giggles as soon as it became obvious that Starsky’s jeans were stretched so tightly over the swollen knee, they might have to resort to scissors to extricate him from them.

 

“No way, buddy.  These are practically new.  I’ll get ‘em off, even if I have to wear ‘em into the bathtub to loosen them up some.” 

 

A bit of patient maneuvering eventually resulted in success.  Hutch left Starsky to his bath and went to find him some sweats to put on when he was finished.  He knew they were going to have to return to the doctor to have the knee drained again, but he kept that to himself for a while.

 

Well?" Starsky persisted, when Hutch returned with the sweats.

 

"Well, what?"

 

"What did Cassandra want?"

 

Hutch sat down on the closed toilet, absently rolling and unrolling the sweatpants. "She asked some more questions about Van's last night," he said, tension evident in his crinkled forehead and the restless movements of his hands. He looked over at his partner. "She said she knew Van was going to ask me to be part of her ... business."

 

Starsky was silent for a moment. He knew how much it had offended and upset Hutch that Van had even dared ask him to be part of something illegal. It had shown him how little regard she had for his honor, and honor was important to Hutch. Finally, Starsky said, "So, what'd you tell her?"

 

Hutch shrugged one shoulder. "The truth. That I'd turned Van down and that I didn't know anything about her ‘business.' That I didn't want to know."

 

Starsky nodded thoughtfully.

 

"Turns out Cass is involved in it, too, somehow."

 

That made Starsky come to attention. "How?"

 

"I don't know how!" Hutch snapped, then looked ashamed of himself. "I'm sorry, buddy. This has just dredged up a lot of memories I'd rather forget, y'know?"

 

"I know," Starsky said. "It sounds like she's pumping you for information. Ya think maybe her boss sent her?"

 

"Wheeler's in prison."

 

"Maybe her boss ain't Wheeler," Starsky said. "There was somebody higher than him. Had to be."

 

It was Hutch's turn to look thoughtful. "Yeah, that's right. Somebody paid for that fancy lawyer. Wheeler sure couldn't, not after the state seized his assets."

 

"So maybe that's the guy who sent Cass, if somebody did," Starsky said.

 

"Wonder if we ought to worry about that?"

 

Starsky considered. "Maybe we ought to. But if you didn't know anything, and you convinced her you didn't, maybe there ain't nothin' to worry about."

 

"I'll feel better if I worry anyway," Hutch said.

 

Starsky grinned. "Yeah, guess I would, too. We'll do some diggin' tomorrow, see if any bones turn up."

 

After Cassandra left Hutch's, she went straight home to her apartment with a much lighter heart and called Anthony. "He doesn't know a thing," she told him. "He was too damned straight and narrow to take the bait, from my sister or from me. He just doesn't want to know, because if he knew, he'd have to do something about it."

 

"Are you certain she didn't have time to warn him?"

 

"Yes," Cassandra said. "He was so offended that I even asked that he got angry and spluttered. When my brother-in-law splutters, he says things he doesn't mean to say. If he knew anything, he'd have said so."

 

Anthony chuckled. "Good. The boss will be glad to hear that."   Though it was a relief that the cop was in the dark, Anthony also thought it was unfortunate they wouldn’t get any hints as to which of their runners was planning to turn snitch. In the year since Vanessa had died, no one had turned yet and they did want to know whom it would be.  The rumor that someone was getting antsy was still flying through their west coast operation.

 

"And he'll know who obtained the information, right?"

 

"Yes," Anthony said. "Don't worry. I'll tell him it came from you. There might be a nice bonus in it for you."

 

"And perhaps a promotion?"

 

"Maybe," Anthony said. "I'm not sure you really want that promotion, Cassandra."

 

"How do you know what I want?" Cassandra demanded.

 

"Think it through," he said. "With more responsibility comes more risk."

 

"I'm aware of that."

 

"It's your ass," Anthony said. "I'll be in touch." He hung up, and Cassandra sat back on her couch, well satisfied with her day.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The next morning, Starsky's knee was so swollen and painful that he could hardly bear to put any weight on it.

 

"We're going back to the doctor," Hutch said in that tone that meant he would brook no argument.

 

Starsky was in so much discomfort that he didn't even want to argue. He merely nodded.

 

The doctor was clearly unhappy with the condition of the knee. "We'll drain it again," he said, making Starsky give a wince of anticipated pain. He smiled and patted Starsky's shoulder. "I know it's unpleasant while it's going on, but it will make it feel better. How the hell did it get in this condition? It looks like you took a long hike."

 

"I did," Starsky said, "but not of my own choice."

 

The doctor raised an eyebrow.

 

"It's a long story," Starsky said. "I got snatched and dumped out in the middle of poondunk Egypt and had to walk a long ways before somebody picked me up."

 

"I see," the doctor said, still puzzled. He drained the knee, gave Starsky strict orders to stay off it for at least the rest of the day and the next, too, if he could, and replaced the lost cane with crutches. "If you must get up and move around," he said sternly, "use the crutches. Put no weight on that leg under any circumstances for at least three days. Now go home, prop up your leg, and behave yourself."

 

"He will," Hutch promised for him, getting a long-suffering look from Starsky in return.

 

As they were leaving the doctor's office, Starsky said, "We were gonna do some digging today. I can't do that piled up on your couch. Or mine."

 

"No, but I can," Hutch said. "I'm not made of glass, no matter what you think, and my head's a lot better today. I'm going to take you home and then I'm going in to do the digging. And I'll call Huggy to babysit you and keep your ass on that couch."

 

"You're not supposed to -" Starsky began, but Hutch shook his finger at him and he pretended to recoil. "Don't point that thing at me, it might be loaded," he said, grinning.

 

"Asshole," Hutch said, laughing. "Let's get you home. Your place or mine?"

 

"Sounds like a proposition," Starsky kidded.

 

"It's not," Hutch said, holding the car door open for him. "I like blondes. Now sit down and shut up."

 

Hutch took Starsky to his own apartment and fussed over him until he had him settled with the TV on and a full root beer to keep him occupied until Huggy could get there. Then he called Huggy to ask him to come take care of Starsky for a couple of hours.

 

"Hutch, I was just gonna call you," Huggy said when Hutch had him on the phone.

 

"Yeah? What's up?" Hutch sat next to Starsky and tilted the receiver so they could both listen.

 

"I got a friend," Huggy said cautiously. "He's in a jam and he wants to talk to you two. I said you could be trusted. But he's in some deep weeds, my friend. It's going to be mighty tricky."

 

"How deep and how tricky?" Hutch asked.

 

"Don't know as I oughta say over the phone," Huggy said.

 

"C'mon, Hug, it's us," Hutch objected. "You told him we could be trusted."

 

"So can he," Huggy said. "But it ain't you I'm worried about, y'dig? It's the cats he's tangled up with. This is big, Hutch."

 

Hutch looked at Starsky. "You trying to say he's got dirt on somebody important?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Okay, Hug. You set up a meet. But make it a couple of days, huh? Starsky's not supposed to be walking on that knee."

 

"Will do. And I'll be over in about half an hour, soon's Diane gets here to cover."

 

“Great.  Hey, if I drop his keys off, will you drive the Torino over to Starsky’s when you come?  I’ll give you a ride back later.”

 

“You got it, bro’. In a few,” Huggy said as he hung up the receiver.

 

After Hutch hung up, he said to Starsky, "Huggy said he’d bring the car when he comes.  I’m going to drop off the keys and then go ahead and get Collins started pulling some files. Can I trust you to be good until Huggy gets here?"

 

"Yeah," Starsky said with a grin. "And when he gets here, I'll try to pry something out of him about his ‘friend.'" 

 

Hutch nodded and stood to leave, but he turned back to his partner when Starsky said, “Hutch, I was thinking... you know how irritated Cassandra always seems every time she comes to talk to you and I’m here?”

 

“Yeah, like whatever she has to say is too important to be said around you.”

 

“Exactly.  You don’t suppose....” Starsky trailed off and Hutch finished his thought.

 

“That she somehow has some connection to Mickey?”

 

“Yep.  Maybe they had me taken on a long ride so she could get over here and talk to you alone.  Makes sense in a whacko chick kind of way,” Starsky said.  “Nobody even tried anything with you and they could just as easily have killed me and dumped me in the desert.”

 

That thought didn’t make Hutch feel any better.  His blood was already boiling about the idea that Mickey had set up his partner. Hutch had always suspected Mickey had tried to set them up for a hit during his nightmare with Monk and Ben Forest.  He said, “Somehow I think this whole thing is a bigger mess than we know.  You just relax, I’m going to go have a little chat with your snitch.”

 

Knowing Hutch was angry and that he never liked Mickey, Starsky was worried.  “We don’t know that’s what happened, don’t forget.  Just talk to him, okay?”

 

Hutch smiled as he walked to the front door where he stopped with his hand on the doorknob.  He looked back over his shoulder and said with a Minnesota-edged southern drawl, “Why whatever do you mean, Detective Starsky?  I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout roustin’ no snitches.”

 

Starsky laughed.  Then he cautioned, “You just see to it stays that way. Promise me you’ll just talk.”  He didn’t like the idea of Hutch out there without backup and neither of them knowing exactly what had happened when Starsky was grabbed on the way to see Mickey the last time.

 

“I promise.  I might scare him a little, but I won’t do anything... Starsky-like,” he said as he closed the door just in time to avoid being hit by the couch pillow Starsky threw at him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch parked his car near the Torino.  He dropped the keys off with Huggy and then walked down the street to The Mouse Trap.  Stepping inside the bar from the bright sunlight, he waited a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dark interior.  He heard a few people talking when he opened the door, then silence.  As his eyes adjusted, and the conversation in the bar resumed, Hutch looked around the room for the weasely snitch.  Mickey was nowhere in sight, so the detective proceeded to the bar. 

 

“You seen Mickey?” he asked.

 

“Not since yesterday,” the barkeep replied, never stopping his activity of filling small bowls with stale peanuts.

 

Hutch felt eyes on him and turned to his right, seeing a lady of the evening he’d never seen on their beat checking him over from head to toe.  He blushed a little, but smiled at her.  “How ‘bout you, miss?  You know Mickey?”

 

The woman in question extended her hand to Hutch and said, “Serendipity.”

 

“Excuse me?” Hutch asked.

 

“My name.  It’s Serendipity.”  She was an attractive young woman with blonde hair and green eyes.  She didn’t look like a typical hooker and she reminded Hutch a little of Sweet Alice, without the accent. 

 

Oh, boy.  Educated hookers.  “All right, miss... Serendipity, do you know Mickey?”

 

“I do,” she said as she traced a finger up Hutch’s arm. 

 

Hutch put his hand on hers and moved them both to the bar.  Patting her on the hand, he asked, “Do you know where I can find him?”

 

Seeing her best efforts were not going to be successful with the handsome blond, she replied, “He’s gone.  Said he had to find a new town to drink in, or something like that.”

 

“Thanks,” Hutch said with a smile.  He froze as he turned to walk away from her and she pinched him on the rear.  “That’s accosting a police officer, Serendipity,” he said as he turned back toward her.

 

“That was just a preview, Blondie.  Come back later and I’ll see if I can make it good enough to get arrested.”

 

Hutch laughed and made a hasty retreat.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Hutch arrived at the precinct, he stopped in to see Collins before he went to the squad room.  As he was walking in, the captain was just leaving his office. “Hutchinson, what are you doing here?”

 

“Don’t worry, I’m fine, Cap.  Starsky and I have some connections we need to check on and I don’t want it to wait any longer.”

 

“You stop in at R&I?” Dobey asked

 

“Yeah, Charlie’s thrilled, as always.  Says he’s going to have a special section set aside just for us so he doesn’t have to spend so much time chasing our files every time someone comes after one of us.”

 

“Might not be a bad idea.  Come on in, I need to talk to you,” Dobey said as he turned and walked into his office.

 

Hutch followed, stopping briefly to snag a cup of coffee.

 

“What’s up, Cap?” he said as he sat in one of the leather chairs in front of Dobey’s desk.

 

“I’ve got a stakeout assignment for you.  How long before Starsky’s knee is okay for him to be back on duty?”

 

“A few days.  As long as he rests it, the doc thought it would be okay. What do you have for us?” 

 

Dobey picked up a file folder and handed it across the desk to Hutch.  “Looks like there’s a big, new west coast drug running operation.  Take a look at that file for a description.  The runners aren’t on a definite schedule, so I want you two out on the old county road on a stakeout.  Looks like approximately a week between each run.  Set something up for a week from today with Narco.”

 

“You got it, Cap.”

The two men sat and discussed what had happened with Starsky.  Hutch explained about his former sister-in-law and how he was beginning to wonder if there might be some connection between Wheeler, Cassandra, Mickey, and a bigger fish somewhere.  They agreed that Hutch would work up his leads and angles on that theory while he and Narco got ready for their joint project the following week.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Huggy popped into the apartment, Starsky was glad to see him.  He gratefully accepted both his car keys and the carne asada burrito his friend brought with him. Starsky caught Huggy up on what had happened with him while he ate and the two men had a couple of beers.

 

Huggy went to the kitchen to change the ice pack. Starsky wiped the last of the hot sauce off of his chin and asked, “So what’s up with this informant, Hug?”

 

“He’s a friend, man.  I don’t want to say too much,” Huggy replied.  He handed the fresh ice pack to Starsky and took a seat in the chair. 

 

“He in trouble?”

 

“Yeah.  I told your better half, he’s messed up with some heavy hitters,” Huggy replied with a serious face.

 

“Big?” Starsky’s curiosity already had him interested.

 

Huggy took another swig of his beer.  “Yeah, maybe the biggest, you dig?  I’d better let him explain it. He’s willing to talk, but he needs your help.”

 

Starsky could tell that this friend was important to Huggy.  “This is a good friend, right?”

 

“As close as you and Blondie.  He’s a right on dude.  Got a nice wife and a cute kid.  I want to help him.”

 

Before Starsky could ask his next question, the phone rang.  Huggy grabbed the receiver and handed it to Starsky.  Hutch was calling from the station.  “Hey, it’s me.”

 

“What’s up?”

 

“Huggy there yet?”

 

“Sittin’ right here.”

 

“Good.  Tell him to put off that meet for a while.  Dobey just assigned us to a Narco stakeout on the old county road a week from today.  You’re gonna need to rest that knee and we’ve got a lot of prep work to do with Narco to get ready.”

 

Starsky looked up at Huggy and said, “Can your friend wait at least a week? We’ve got a case and we won’t be able to get to him till then.”

 

“Yeah, he’ll be cool.”

 

“Huggy says it’s cool.”

 

“Tell him we’ll call him when we get back.”

 

After they hung up, Starsky turned back to Huggy.  “Hutch says we’ll call you about your friend when we get back from the case. 

 

“Right on,” Huggy replied with a nod.  His friend needed help and Huggy knew he would be willing to wait to get it.  If the information went anywhere, this was going to be a big case – one of the biggest tips Huggy had ever passed to his friends.  The informant’s life would be in danger and Huggy trusted Starsky and Hutch to take the right precautions.  He wasn’t interested in rushing in and putting his friend in more jeopardy.

 

Starsky could tell that Huggy had something on his mind.  “Look, we’ll do whatever we can.  Give us a call if anything comes up before next week.”

 

“Thanks, man.”

 

“You gonna give me this mystery friend’s name?”

 

“Sure.  His name’s Rigger.  Lionel Rigger.”

 

To be continued....

 

Take me to part two – Loose Ends

 

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