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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 four in a series and is the sequel to Research.

 

Threads: Denouement

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

© 3/2002

 

Hutch studied the effect of his tie in the mirror. It was the third or fourth one he’d tried with this shirt and it looked as bad as all the others had. Impatiently, he yanked it off and threw it on the bed, turning to his closet to choose a different one – again.

 

“Ain’t you ready yet, Blintz?” Starsky’s voice asked dryly from the door, startling him. “We’re not going to a wedding, for cryin’ out loud.”

 

“I know,” Hutch said, yanking the last tie he owned off the rack and sliding it under his shirt collar. “But you know the courthouse will be crawling with reporters and I want to look professional.” He glanced into the mirror at Starsky, who for once was wearing dress pants, leather shoes, and a decent jacket – and a tie – instead of his usual courtroom attire of jeans and Adidas with a sports coat. “You dressed up.”

 

Starsky gave an embarrassed shrug. “Like you said,” he answered, wandering over to the bed and casting a critical eye over the untidy heap of ties there, “the place’ll be lousy with reporters. This is gonna be all over the papers, TV, even national TV, Dobey says.”

 

“National?” Hutch glared at the effect in the mirror and reached up to yank off this tie, too, but Starsky put a hand on his arm to stop him.

 

“It looks fine,” he said reassuringly, patting his arm. “Yeah, national. As in network. Somebody from ABC or maybe it was NBC – Cronkite’s office, anyway – called the public relations officer yesterday about covering the verdict.”

 

“That’s CBS, moron,” Hutch said as he finished tying his tie. Starsky was right, it looked fine. He smoothed his hair one last time with his open hand and turned away from the mirror. “I’m ready.”

 

“About time.” Starsky led the way down the stairs to the finally repaired Torino.

 

Hutch still shuddered inside every time he saw that car, but he tried to understand why it had been important to Starsky to get it fixed and now, to drive it. Especially today. So he tried to keep his face impassive as he waited for Starsky to unlock the doors and let him in.

 

Starsky glanced at him sidelong every few minutes as they drove downtown, but he didn’t say anything. At least, not until they’d parked and were headed up the courthouse steps, with members of the media shouting questions at them.

 

“Vultures,” Hutch muttered under his breath.

 

“You’ll get a statement afterward,” Starsky shouted back at the reporters. “Be patient.” Once they were safely inside, Starsky nudged Hutch gently. “I had to bring the Torino today,” he said quietly.

 

“I know,” Hutch said.

 

The courtroom was packed, but Dobey had saved them seats near the front and was keeping an eye out for them. No cameras were allowed in the courtroom itself, but there was a whole crowd of reporters clutching notebooks and craning their necks to get a good look at Starsky, who held his head high and kept his eyes straight ahead.

 

“Good boy,” Hutch whispered.

 

Starsky gave him a jaunty wink, but the expression in his eyes didn’t match the gesture. He sat down next to their captain, and Hutch sat on his other side. It was only a few moments before the judge came out and they had to stand again.

 

“Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?” the judge asked.

 

“We have, Your Honor.”

 

“What say you?”

 

The foreman, with a nervous glance at the crowd, the reporters, and the defendant – sitting stony-faced with his lawyers – cleared his throat. “In the matter of the State of California versus James Marshall Gunther, on all four counts of conspiracy to commit murder, we find the defendant ... guilty.”

 

There was muttering and reaction from the spectators and the judge banged his gavel.

 

Starsky’s hands were tightly clenched in his lap and Hutch bumped his partner’s leg gently with his own to make him relax. Gunther had already been found guilty of racketeering, interstate drug trafficking, and mob action in earlier trials. No matter what happened now, he was going away for a nice long trip.

 

The foreman glanced at Starsky. “On both counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, we find the defendant ... guilty.” 

 

A collective murmur started among the spectators, then subdued as the foreman paused before reading the final verdict.  “On the count of murder in the first degree against Anthony Caldwell Bates, we find the defendant... guilty.”

 

The gallery erupted in reaction and Starsky relaxed, giving Hutch a glance. There was no way, now, that James Marshall Gunther would ever see the light of day as a free man again.  For Bates’ murder, he would probably get the death penalty.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Foreman. The jury’s service is concluded, with the court’s thanks,” the judge said. He glanced down at the top of his desk and made a notation. “The sentencing hearing is set for March 1 at 9 a.m. Court is adjourned.”

 

Two guards were waiting to take Gunther back to the secure lockup where he’d spent the last several months, but as they each took him by an arm, he shot a look at Starsky that made Hutch’s blood run cold. Starsky didn’t see that look, thank God. He was listening to something Dobey was saying. Hutch fought the urge to tear Gunther’s head off right there in the courtroom and save the State of California the trouble of feeding and housing him for the rest of his miserable life.

 

“Hutch?” Starsky touched his arm. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Huh? Nothing,” Hutch said, forcing a smile. “You ready to face the horde?” He nodded in the direction of the eager reporters to distract his partner.

 

Starsky rolled his eyes. “No. But I got no choice.”

 

With Dobey on one side, Hutch on the other, and the prosecuting attorney leading the way, Starsky headed into the hallway.

 

“Detective Starsky! Detective Starsky!” Voices came at them from all directions and they were nearly blinded by the lights of the TV cameras trained on them. Starsky straightened his back and his jacket in one movement and took a deep breath.

 

“Gentlemen,” the prosecutor said, adding hastily, “and ladies. Detective Starsky and I will each make a prepared statement, then we will take a few questions. Only a few.”

 

The reporters quieted down, pads and pens, microphones and tape recorders at the ready.

 

“James Marshall Gunther has been found guilty on all counts,” the prosecutor said, “and sentencing is set for March 1. Based on California State sentencing guidelines, I think it’s safe to say Mr. Gunther will spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes. He may receive the death penalty for one of his crimes.  We are satisfied that justice has been served.”

 

He glanced at Starsky.

 

“Thanks to my partner, Kenneth Hutchinson,” Starsky said, startling Hutch, who hadn’t known what he was going to say today, “Gunther will be punished for his crimes, including his attempt on my own life. But no amount of prison time will pay for what this man has done. If Gunther could live long enough to spend hundreds of years in prison, it wouldn’t pay for what he’s done. He’s either directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of several people. He cheated honest, hardworking Americans out of their homes. He sold death in the form of drugs to kids on the streets. As a police officer, I am gratified that the system worked. I only wish the punishment could more nearly fit the crime.”

 

“Detective! Detective!” Reporters were jostling each other and waving their arms over their heads. The prosecuting attorney, as they had agreed, let Starsky choose the reporters whose questions he would answer. He studied their faces for a moment and pointed to one.

 

“Is it true that two of Gunther’s victims were your partner’s ex-wife and her sister?”

 

Only someone who knew Starsky as well as Hutch did would have seen the visible reaction to that question. To strangers, his face did not change. He simply nodded. “Yes, that is true.” He pointed to another one.

 

“Would you say you took this case personally, Detective?”

 

Starsky gazed at the reporter as if the man had lost his mind. “I nearly died, thanks to Gunther,” he said bluntly. “It don’t get much more personal than that.” He gave Hutch a sidelong look of disgust and pointed to another reporter.

 

“Will you stay on the force?”

 

He nodded, then realized he had to give a more quotable answer than that. “Yes. No doubt in my mind. In fact,” he paused and gave Hutch another sidelong look, “I go back on active duty as of Monday.”

 

Hutch was stunned, too stunned to keep it from showing. Starsky grinned at him.

 

“That’s enough questions,” Dobey hissed at the attorney.

 

“I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” the attorney said. “That’s all the time we have. We will have printed press releases for all of you within the hour.” He and Hutch started working through the crowd, making a path for Starsky and Dobey, who could pretty much make a path all by himself.

 

Once they were in the witness room, Starsky sank down on a chair, pale and as exhausted as if he’d just gotten over a long illness.

 

“You okay, buddy?” Hutch asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Yeah, sure,” Starsky said. “I’m glad it’s all over, but....”

 

“But what?” Dobey asked.

 

Starsky exchanged a glance with Hutch before he transferred his look to his captain. “I guess I won’t feel completely safe until Gunther is in San Quentin,” Starsky said.

 

“And what’s this crap about him going back on active duty Monday?” Hutch demanded. “He’s not ready for that!”

 

“Yes, I am,” Starsky said. “I’m sick of being a desk jockey and I’m sick of everyone treating me like a piece of spun glass. I’ve been cleared and I’m comin’ back and that’s the end of it.”

 

Hutch opened his mouth to continue protesting, but something in Starsky’s face made him close it again. He lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender and sank down on the edge of the conference table.

 

“Gunther will be kept under 24 hour guard,” the attorney told Starsky. “You’re safe from him, don’t worry.”

 

“I’ll feel better if I keep worryin’,” Starsky said.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Sir, we plan to appeal, no matter what the sentence is,” Thomas Potter said to Gunther when they met alone after the verdict, keeping his voice low. He knew they were under visual surveillance, though recording a client/attorney meeting wouldn’t be allowed.

 

“Don’t bother,” Gunther hissed back at him. “We can worry about that later. What I am concerned about right now, Mr. Potter, is destroying those two officers.”

 

Potter glanced at the two-way mirror on the wall. “Mr. Gunther –”

 

“I know they’re watching us,” Gunther said. “They can’t hear us. I know I’m going to get the gas chamber and there’s nothing more the legal system can do to me. But I will not rest, Mr. Potter, until I have exacted my vengeance on those two men, do you understand?”

 

Potter swallowed nervously and wet his lips. Inside or out, Gunther was still a powerful man, and he didn’t want to be one of the loose ends Gunther decided to snip off. After a moment of mental wrestling with himself, he finally nodded.

 

“Good. I don’t care what it costs or what it takes, this time, they must be eliminated, do we understand each other, Mr. Potter? Both of them. Eliminated.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dobey had given them the rest of the day off, so they went to Starsky’s apartment when they were done at the courthouse. Hutch was worried about how tired his partner looked, but Starsky insisted he was fine and he was driving. When he pulled the keys out of the ignition in his parking space, he leaned his head back on the headrest, closed his eyes, and let out a deep sigh.

 

“Starsk?” Hutch asked.

 

“I just want it to be over. I want him in prison. I want to stop feeling like he’s got a stranglehold on our lives.”

 

Hutch patted him on the arm and said, “We’ve won, buddy. The sentencing is the last step, but after that, he’s out of our lives forever. He’s probably going to get the death penalty.”

 

Starsky opened his eyes and asked, “You really think so?”

 

“Hey,” Hutch said softly, “don’t let him get to you.”

 

“Yeah,” Starsky replied. He opened his door and climbed out of the Torino. He loosened his tie as he walked up the steps in front of Hutch.  His shoulders were slumped with weariness. Hutch shook his head as he thought about how hard Starsky had worked to get this far and how much Gunther had almost cost him. He didn’t like that look Gunther had given his partner back in the courtroom. Hutch cast his eyes around the area as he followed Starsky. If his partner was really going back on the streets, Hutch was worried that Gunther would find a way to get to him. He knew how much the man hated loose ends.

 

“I want to know how those reporters knew about Vanessa and Cass,” Hutch said thoughtfully.

 

“Wouldn’t take a rocket scientist,” Starsky said. “Court records are public, y’know, and they mentioned the connection Vanessa had to the organization during the trial.”

 

“I know, but –”

 

Starsky decided it was time to get Hutch’s attention off Vanessa and her sleazy sister. He pulled at the knot on his tie. “Grab us both a beer while I change, huh, Blondie?”

 

“Sure,” Hutch replied as he went into the kitchen to get the beers.

 

When Starsky returned, he looked more like his old self. Although his clothes still hung a little too loosely, Hutch was pleased with how well he looked. Starsky had regained most of the weight he’d lost during his long convalescence, and the doctors had reassured Hutch that it was just a matter of time and continued physical therapy before his stamina and muscle strength were completely back to normal.

 

Starsky took a sip from his beer and said, “You don’t want me back on the streets, do you?”

 

Hutch sighed. This was going to be one of those long discussions. He needed to reassure Starsky, but he didn’t want to lie to him. “Of course I do, buddy. I just don’t want you to push yourself before you’re ready.”

 

“The doc cleared me. I’m really okay.” Starsky looked at Hutch with sincerity and hope in his eyes. Hutch knew Starsky only wanted him to believe he was ready. He needed that.

 

“I know he did. Do you remember everything he said? He told you to take it easy. No double shifts, no long stakeouts, plenty of rest, regular meals....”

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I heard all of that. Hutch, I tested with the precinct. My marksmanship is there, not as good as it was, but almost. I passed the physical, what more do you want?” His voice didn’t sound bitter or angry. He sounded disappointed... and worried that Hutch wasn’t ready to back him on his return to active duty.

 

Hutch hoped he could explain how he felt. “I’m behind you, Starsk. I swear I am. Just try to remember those instructions, huh? You know I’m gonna remember them, even if you don’t.”

 

Starsky smiled at him. “You wouldn’t....”

 

“I would. Believe it. I just don’t want to see you go too fast. Active duty is one thing. Pushing it is another. No pushing it.”

 

Smiling again, Starsky said, “Your idea of pushing it, or mine?”

 

“Definitely mine. No arguments.” Hutch put his lecture finger up in the air and wagged it at Starsky, but he smiled at him at the same time.

 

“Okay,” Starsky replied. Seeing Hutch’s satisfied nod, he quickly added, “For now.”

 

Before the other man had a chance to protest, the phone rang. “Ah!” Starsky warned as he moved toward the phone. Saved by the bell.

 

“Hello,” he answered cheerily.

 

“Dave? This is Matt Dixon.”

 

Starsky smiled and said, “Matt! How are you doing?”

 

Hutch looked up, interested in the conversation. Matt Dixon was a graduate student who had given them a key piece of evidence in the Gunter investigation. He had inadvertently stumbled onto something that would result in additional charges being made against the old man in a few other states. He and his wife were placed in protective custody, but now that Gunther was convicted, Dobey probably believed they were no longer in danger. Even if Matt were to have to testify in future trials, James Marshall Gunther could only face life imprisonment or the death penalty one time. Harming the Dixons no longer seemed probable.

 

“Great, man. Saw you guys on the news. He’s done, huh?”

 

“Yeah, his goose, as they say, is cooked,” Starsky replied.

 

Matt laughed at him. “Lame, Detective. Look, speaking of cooked... you and Ken have plans tonight?”

 

“We were just going to hang out, maybe run out to get something to eat. Nothing special, why?”

 

“Good, come over for dinner.”

 

Starsky hesitated. “Dinner at your place? I thought you and Debbie were under wraps.”

 

“We were, but they let us come home today when the verdict came in and we wanted to celebrate. Debbie’s making up a batch of her famous hot wings and I’m going to grill some steaks. Can you make it?”

 

Starsky shot a questioning look at his partner. Hutch gave him his answer with a glance and a smile.

 

“What time? We’ll bring some brews. What’s the address again?”

 

~*~*~*~

 

A black sedan with darkened windows was parked around the corner, but within sight of the Dixons’ apartment complex. Two men sat in the car, waiting and watching both the street and the couple’s corner unit. They lived in a small complex of ten individual, Mediterranean-style bungalow apartments facing a center courtyard. The complex was quaint – surrounded by palm trees, Bird of Paradise, and other well-kept plants. The units were elevated a little from the street, along a nicely cut, terraced lawn. Both the exterior of the buildings and the three-foot high cinder block retaining wall along the sidewalk level were covered with bright pink bougainvillea. A short set of steps led up to them.

 

Hutch pulled his car up to the curb and parked. He and Starsky got out of the latest in a long line of beat-up, nondescript Fords. They started to walk toward the apartment.

 

“Hey, Starsk, don’t overdo it on the hot wings, okay?”

 

“Yes, Mom,” Starsky quipped. Then he noticed Hutch wasn’t carrying the beer.

 

“You forgot the beer.”

 

Snapping his fingers, Hutch turned to retrieve them from the trunk. “Go ahead,” he said, “I’m right behind you.”

 

Despite the fact that they were off duty, and Starsky hadn’t officially returned to the streets yet, Hutch wanted Starsky out of the open as soon as possible. He reached into the trunk with a weary sigh, offering a silent prayer that he’d be able to protect his partner. He still believed he’d failed to do that with Gunther. I hope we can keep each other safe.

 

Starsky was walking up the steps as Hutch moved toward him on the sidewalk. Inexplicably, Hutch felt the tingling sense of danger and all of his protective instincts engaged. He quickly looked for signs of a sniper or some other trouble. The street looked quiet, but he still didn’t like it. He was glad he had his Magnum as he set the beer on the retaining wall and reached for his gun. Hutch was opening his mouth to call Starsky’s name when it happened.

 

The Dixons’ unit exploded and burst into flame. In what seemed like a split second, the roof blew off and pieces of it began raining down on the neatly manicured lawn. All of the windows blew out, glass flying in every direction. Flames leaped into the air, singeing the palm trees and wilting the other plants. The front door flew across the yard in pieces, accompanied by bits of stucco, wood, plaster, and the sharp-thorned bougainvillea.

 

The explosion forced Hutch to take cover, hovering as close to the retaining wall as he could and protecting his head with his arms. He never saw the dark sedan pull away from the curb around the corner. Within a few seconds, the ringing in his ears began to be replaced by the sound of screams and calls for someone to get help.

 

Hutch staggered to his feet and yelled, “Starsky!” Frantically searching where he’d last seen his partner, he couldn’t spot him in the early evening darkness – despite the light coming from the flames.

 

“Starsky!” he called again. He saw some of the Dixons’ neighbors evacuating the closest bungalow and the other neighbors were streaming out into the courtyard.

 

Some of them had turned on hoses and had fire extinguishers, trying to put out the flames that were eating up the side of the apartment closest to the blast. He barked orders to the closest person, grabbing him by the arm and spinning him around from his view of the quickly burning bungalow. “Call the fire department, the police, and an ambulance!” The man nodded and moved away from him, back into the apartment across from the conflagration. He could tell by the looks of things, no one would be going into that apartment to make a rescue, and no one who was inside it would be coming out alive.

 

Someone else must have called the fire department. Hutch could already hear the wailing of fire truck sirens, accompanied by their throaty horn blasts. The fire station was close. He remembered passing it on the way into the neighborhood.

 

He turned around and around, taking in the sight of burning debris everywhere. His car even had a large, smoldering piece of wood on its roof. No time to worry about that.

 

Passing through the rubble, Hutch finally spotted a blue sneaker sticking out from underneath a tangled mess of bougainvillea and half a door. Calling his partner’s name, he started pulling the debris off of Starsky, ignoring both the heat and the thorns from the plants.

 

Starsky was lying on his side, breathing heavily. He’d probably turned away from the blast instinctively and he had put his arm up over his face. His left arm had bits of thorns, glass, and wood clinging to the sleeve surrounded by small trickles of blood and his eyes were closed, but he was starting to moan and move. Hutch heard a fire truck come to a stop nearby. The activity around him seemed like background noise as he tried to assess Starsky’s condition.

 

“Hey, you okay? Talk to me,” he called softly, shaking Starsky’s shoulder as he gently turned him onto his back to lie in the grass. The blast had thrown him far enough away from the fire to prevent a need to move him immediately.

 

Starsky opened his eyes and blinked hard. Then, he sat up suddenly, nearly knocking over his partner. “Hutch! Are you okay?” His heart was racing.

 

“I just asked you that.”

 

Starsky noticed the flames and activity and he tried to get to his feet. “Matt!” he exclaimed as Hutch pulled him back down to sit.

 

“I’m sorry, buddy. There’s nothing we can do. Let the firemen get it.”

 

Both men watched in stunned silence as the firemen worked ineffectually to fight the blaze. They were able to save the apartment next door from being a complete loss and to put out the fires in the trees before they spread.

 

The paramedics tended both men’s cuts and abrasions, but neither of them required a visit to the hospital. Starsky swore he hadn’t lost consciousness; he’d just had the wind knocked out of him and was stunned for a minute or two. Hutch sat on the bumper of the paramedic unit as his hand was bandaged. He was watching his partner, who was sitting dejectedly in the open door of the back of a black-and-white, his head in his hands. The street was covered with emergency vehicles, and crawling with the media. The story was going to make the eleven o’clock news. Hutch looked around to be sure no cameras had caught them. He didn’t want Starsky subjected to that. He already knew his best friend was severely upset by what had just happened.

 

The arson team was just getting to work and the firemen had found two bodies inside the apartment. As they were bringing them out to put in the coroner’s wagon, Hutch’s paramedic indicated he was finished. He quickly stood and strode over to his partner, putting himself between Starsky and the sight of their friends being taken away in body bags.

 

When he finally got Starsky to look up at him, Hutch’s heart nearly broke with the pain he saw in his friend’s eyes. He wasn’t crying. Not yet, but his eyes were bright with anger, unshed tears, and sadness. He dropped his hands into his lap.

 

“Starsk, come on, buddy. We’re going home.”

 

Starsky had seen the arson unit arrive. He looked at Hutch to see if he had any answers. He didn’t, but Hutch knew what his partner was thinking without asking.

 

“This could just be some kind of horrible, freak accident, Starsky. A gas leak, set off when Matt lit the grill.”

 

“You believe that?” Starsky asked, the anger creeping into his voice.

 

Hutch sighed and shook his head. “No.”

 

Starsky closed his eyes and brought trembling hands back up to cover his face. “Oh, my God,” he said.

 

“Starsky....” Hutch was upset, too, but he could see that he needed to hold it together for both of them until he could get Starsky someplace quiet where he could rest and they could talk.

 

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” Starsky repeated.

 

“Let’s go home, Gordo. We’ll get some rest and maybe they’ll have some answers for us in the morning.” Starsky just shook his head “no” in response.

 

Hutch heard a car door shut and footsteps approaching. He looked away from his friend and saw their captain approaching. “Hutch, Starsky, are you two all right?” he asked.

 

“Yes, Cap,” Hutch said for Starsky’s benefit, but he shook his head and sent a clear message to Dobey that Starsky was anything but all right. Physically, his injuries were minor, but emotionally, Hutch was worried.

 

Starsky pulled his shaking hands away from his face again and his troubled eyes met Dobey’s concerned ones. “Cap,” he said in quiet anguish, “it’s my fault. They’re dead and it’s because of me.”

 

“Now, Starsky, that’s just stupid!” Dobey said gruffly. “You didn’t have anything to do with this!”

 

“No?” Starsky rose and glared at his captain, almost nose-to-nose with him. “What the hell do you call it then, Captain? Gunther wants me dead. He’s tried to kill me over and over again. He killed Allison’s dad and he killed Lionel and now he’s killed Matt and Debbie –”

 

“You don’t know that for sure, Starsk,” Hutch interjected, but Starsky made an impatient gesture and kept his eyes on Dobey.

 

“You think this wasn’t a direct warning to me? Maybe he even thought we’d be in there when it blew and he’d get us all at once!”

 

“Then, if it’s anybody fault, it’s mine!” Dobey said. “I’m the one who told the Dixons it would be safe to come home. I made the decision.”

 

“He’d have got ‘em anyway,” Starsky said, his anger dropping away to reveal the pain underneath. He stepped away from Dobey and turned to go back to the car, head down. Dobey took a step after him, but Hutch put a hand on his arm and shook his head. He would do it.

 

Dobey nodded and glanced toward Starsky. “He’s had to take too much lately,” he said quietly.

 

“Yeah,” Hutch said.

 

Starsky was already seated in the car, hands folded over the steering wheel and his forehead resting on them. When Hutch climbed in, Starsky started the car without a word and drove away. He did often drive Hutch’s car, but Hutch guessed that’s what he needed to do right then.

 

“Starsk,” Hutch began, but Starsky put a hand up and shook his head.

 

“Not now. Please.”

 

Hutch subsided, keeping a close eye on Starsky as they drove. But Starsky drove carefully, even conservatively, until he pulled up in front of Venice Place. They had driven over to Hutch’s place to pick up the beer for the dinner party and left the Torino there.  Hutch wasn’t ready for Starsky to go home.  “Come up,” Hutch said. It wasn’t a request.

 

Starsky shook his head. “No, I –”

 

“I said you’re coming up with me,” Hutch said firmly but kindly. “I’m your partner and what’s more, I’m your best friend. I’m not letting you out of my sight and that’s all there is to it. Please.”

 

Starsky glanced over at him and met his eyes. After a moment, he nodded. “Okay.”

 

Hutch got him a beer without waiting to ask if he wanted one. He sat down across from Starsky after he handed him the bottle, and waited. Starsky took a long, thoughtful sip, then turned the bottle in his hands, eyes on the amber liquid as if he would find the answers there. Finally, very softly, he said, “I can’t take much more, buddy.”

 

“I know,” Hutch said. “None of this is your fault, but you’re the one suffering for it. What do you want to do?”

 

Starsky sighed. “I don’t know.”

 

Hutch studied him for a few moments, while Starsky continued to stare down at his beer. “I have an idea,” he ventured at last.

 

“Yeah? What?” Starsky looked up.

 

“Let’s get out of here till after the sentencing,” Hutch said. “Go somewhere safe, where Gunther’ll never think to look for us, and wait till the son-of-a-bitch is safely put away.”

 

“Where can we go?” Starsky asked. “And besides, we oughta be here for the sentencing.”

 

“That’s not necessary. You were there during the trial, and the jury had to look at you, knowing what that slime did. It helped them vote guilty, partner. Now it’s up to the judge, and he’s not going to cut Gunther any slack.”

 

“But where?”

 

“Home,” Hutch said. “Duluth. My folks’ll put us up and we can relax for a change. You can play with my niece and nephew and I can go fishing. I think it would do us both good.”

 

Starsky nodded slowly. “Yeah. But what’ll Dobey say?”

 

“Let me handle Dobey.”

 

Dobey astonished them both by not only agreeing, but encouraging them to leave as soon as possible.

 

“I was thinking the same thing,” he said. “I want you two out of town and out of harm’s way. The D.A.’s already spoken to the judge, and Gunther’s calls and visits will be monitored in prison. Once he’s in San Quentin, he won’t be able to give any more orders without somebody knowing about it. And the second he does, he’s going to be charged with something else, the worst thing we can think of.”

 

Starsky’s eyes were wide with amazement, and Hutch was equally stunned.

 

“Sentencing’s in a few weeks,” Dobey went on, ignoring the looks on their faces. “Leave today. I’ve got the number and I’ll call when it’s safe for you to come back. Can you get a flight today?” He directed this to Hutch.

 

“Uh,” Hutch stammered.

 

“Let’s drive,” Starsky said. “Lotta pretty country between here and there. He won’t expect us to drive.”

 

“Not the Torino,” Dobey said. “Too distinctive.”

 

“We can take mine,” Hutch said. “Okay, partner?”

 

Starsky winced elaborately. “If I got no other choice.”

 

Hutch called his parents to warn them they were coming and his mother was delighted, he reported to Starsky after he hung up. “She said they’ve just redone the upstairs – again – and she can’t wait to have someone to show it off to,” Hutch said, shaking his head with a smile. “We’re having fried chicken for supper the day we get there. You know how much you love Mom’s fried chicken.”

 

The first day was uneventful until they stopped at a roadside diner outside Phoenix, Arizona. Starsky got out – it had been his turn to drive – and stretched with a grimace. “How you drive that piece of crap is beyond me,” he complained.

 

“It gets me there and gets me home,” Hutch said. “What more could you want from a car?”

 

“A little bit of style,” Starsky retorted. “This thing is Early Disaster Movie.”

 

“That’s a style,” Hutch insisted, laughing.

 

Starsky gave him a playful whack on the back as they went into the diner. They had sat down and were studying the menu – Hutch complaining about the “greasy spoon specials” – when three men came in. Two sat in the booth behind Hutch and the other sat behind Starsky.

 

The waitress came for their order.

 

“I’ll have a double bacon cheeseburger with onion rings and a chocolate malt,” Starsky told her.

 

Hutch raised his eyebrows. “Good God, partner.”

 

Starsky made a face at him.

 

“I’ll have a tuna melt,” Hutch said. “And cottage cheese. And coffee.”

 

She wrote it all down and went back to the kitchen.

 

“You wanna push on a little further or find a place to stay here tonight?” Starsky asked, leaning back against the wall and propping his legs up on the seat.

 

“Let’s stay here,” Hutch said, punctuating the comment with a yawn. “We can make up some time tomorrow if we get an early start.”

 

“Okay.”

 

The waitress returned with their drinks, putting the coffee in front of Starsky and the malt in front of Hutch. The men exchanged an amused glance as they traded.

 

When Hutch leaned forward to reach for the cup, the men behind him went into action. Both produced guns and one laid the barrel of his against Hutch’s temple. “Move,” the man said with a wide, false smile, “and both of ya die.”

 

Hutch’s eyes went wide with alarm, and widened even more when the man behind Starsky also produced a gun and poked Starsky in the back of the head with it. “Now, gentlemen,” he said, “we are going to get up and go outside. You are not going to make any noise or any trouble unless you want us to kill you right here.”  The look quickly exchanged between the two detectives wasn’t lost on the ringleader.  “And don’t even think about trying anything.  You may not care if you die here, but I’m sure you wouldn’t want us to blow away that pretty waitress and everyone else within earshot.”

 

The man who had the gun on Hutch reached inside Hutch’s jacket and took his gun, handing it to his companion. The one who had the gun on Starsky took his gun and stuck it into the waistband of his own pants. The diner was nearly empty and no one was paying any attention to them. Starsky looked at Hutch helplessly. Outnumbered and without their guns, there wasn’t going to be much they could do.

 

The men surrounded them and hustled them out of the diner into the parking lot. The sun was going down and it was almost dark outside, but not quite dark enough for the parking lot lights to have come on yet. The three men escorted them toward a panel truck parked on the far side of the lot.

 

 “Who are you and what do you want?” Hutch demanded hoarsely.

 

“Uh-uh, no questions,” said the one who had the gun on him.

 

“And if you don’t already know, you’re dumber than you look,” added the second man. Two of them pushed Starsky and Hutch into the back of the panel truck while the third climbed into the driver’s seat. He pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway, driving conservatively but not enough to draw attention.

 

But they hadn’t been driving long when red lights flashed into the back windows. The driver swore vehemently. “What do I do, Buck?” he called back.

 

“Stop, stupid,” Buck answered. “We can’t outrun the heat in this heap. Just try to keep him from looking in the back or we’re screwed.”

 

The driver signaled and pulled off the highway. In a moment, the state trooper shined his flashlight in on him. “I’ll need your license and registration, please, sir.”

 

“What’s the problem, Officer?” the driver asked, producing the paperwork and handing it through the window.

 

“We had a call from Kenny and Kim’s that three men took two other men out of there at gunpoint,” the trooper said, as they heard other prowl cars pull up alongside and other flashlight beams danced through the van. “You’re surrounded, Mr. Bradley. Don’t try anything.”

 

Another officer opened the back door of the van, and several officers were standing there with guns drawn. “Everybody out,” the nearest one said. “Drop the guns and keep your hands where we can see ‘em.”

 

The troopers lined all five men up alongside the van and started patting them down.

 

“Hutch and I are cops from Bay City,” Starsky said to the trooper patting him down. “My ID’s in my right hip pocket.”

 

The troopers stopped the pat down while the officer with Starsky pulled out the ID and peered at it in the light from his flashlight. “What’s the story, Sergeant?”

 

“It’s a long story,” Starsky said. “Bottom line is, my partner and I were abducted by these guys outta that diner. We think maybe they work for a guy who’s tried to kill me and is awaiting sentencing in Bay City right now.”

 

The trooper shined his light on Starsky’s face for a moment. Starsky met his eyes unblinkingly. The trooper whistled. “Okay, Sarge, which one’s Hutch?”

 

“I am,” Hutch answered. “My ID’s in my shirt pocket.”

 

The same trooper retrieved Hutch’s badge and glanced at it. “Okay, you guys step over there by the car while we deal with these turkeys. We’ll be right with you.”

 

Starsky and Hutch leaned against the nearest car and watched while the troopers patted down and disarmed all three men and cuffed them. A paddy wagon showed up to take them away and all the officers except two drove off. The last two, including the one who had examined their badges, came back to them.

 

“Long story, huh?” one of the said to Starsky. “Want to come down to the station and tell us? We need something to charge these guys with.”

 

“Sure,” Hutch answered for both of them. “But we need to retrieve our car later.”

 

“We’ll give you a ride back to Kenny and Kim’s,” the trooper said.

 

“What I want to know,” Starsky said as they climbed into the trooper’s car with him, “is how you guys found us.”

 

“Maddie,” he answered. “The waitress at Kenny and Kim’s who waited on you. She saw the guys pull guns on you and called us. Gave us a good description of their van and told us which way they headed. She didn’t let on she was watching them take you out for fear they’d hurt you.”

 

“I think we owe her a steak dinner, partner,” Hutch said to Starsky.

 

“At the very least,” Starsky replied.  He was feeling a little winded for some reason. Starsky took a deep breath as he turned to walk toward the nearest cruiser. That deep breath ended in a cough.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Once the three would-be assassins were locked up, Hutch called Captain Dobey to let him know what happened to them.

 

“I guess the cat’s outta the bag, Cap. Word sure traveled fast.”

 

“Hmph,” Dobey huffed into the phone. “Gunther has had some visitors. Mostly lawyers, but his son did get in this morning. I’ll have him put in isolation. I can’t keep his attorneys from seeing him, though.”

 

Hutch looked up and noticed Starsky getting a cup of water from the cooler in the corner. He was coughing again, with a hand absent-mindedly placed on his chest. Uh-oh.

 

Returning his attention to the captain, Hutch said, “I know. Go ahead, but it’s possible he gave the orders before the verdict. One of his attorneys may even be responsible.”

 

“True enough. I’ll do what I can. What are you going to do next?”

 

“Maybe we’d better not get too specific on the phone,” Hutch replied. He was still watching Starsky, who was plopping into a chair and leaning his head back on the wall. Starsky looked over at him, sensing that his partner was watching him. Knowing Hutch was worried about the coughing, Starsky smiled and rolled his eyes. He mouthed the words, “Stop it,” to Hutch.

 

“The phone’s all right, Hutch. The lines in the house and the office are being monitored twenty-four/seven. No bugs.”

 

Hutch frowned at Starsky and continued his conversation. “I think we should ditch my car. I’ll pick up a rental and I’ll let you know when we get to Albuquerque.”

 

“Wait,” Starsky interrupted.

 

Starsky had a better idea about their transportation. They would pick up an unmarked car from the local police department and drive that to Albuquerque. From there, they would switch cars again for another unmarked police vehicle. Dobey agreed to make some arrangements. He liked the idea of his men changing vehicles, but still having access to a police band radio. He wanted them to stay overnight in Phoenix, but Starsky and Hutch thought they needed to put some distance between them and any additional attacks as soon as possible.

 

After a visit to the diner to express their gratitude to the staff there, Hutch traded keys with the officer who brought them a late-model, gray sedan from the local police motor pool.

 

“This your undercover car?” the young uniformed officer asked Hutch. Starsky laughed.

 

Hutch glared at Starsky as he informed the younger man, who couldn’t have been older than twenty-three, that the non-descript car was the perfect cover. He looked at his battered Ford with a mixture of affection and remorse at leaving it in Phoenix. “Take good care of her for me, will you?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

The men transferred the bags and supplies from Hutch’s car. Starsky slammed the trunk closed and reached to pull the keys out of the lock. Hutch shook his head, deftly taking the keys from his partner. “Nope. You rest, I’ll drive.”

 

“Why?” Starsky asked, followed by a cough.

 

“You really want me to answer that?”

 

“I’m fine. Aren’t you tired?”

 

“I’m too wired, buddy. Let’s hit it.” Hutch walked around and got into the driver’s seat without further protest from Starsky. He did push Hutch’s hand away when he tried to determine if Starsky had a fever.

 

“You feel a little warm, Starsk.”

 

“I told you, I’m fine. ‘S just a cold,” Starsky assured him. “Just drive.”

 

Hutch made good time. Starsky slept, allowing Hutch the luxury of frequent, undetected checks on his condition. He didn’t want to overreact to what probably was just a cold. However, despite Starsky’s miraculous recovery, any sign of illness was cause for concern. One of his lungs was compromised by the shooting and his doctors had warned both men that he should be careful about catching colds for a long time to come. Hutch was worried about  being on the road in unfamiliar territory, far from medical professionals familiar with his partner’s circumstances. He hoped Starsky would improve with some sleep, and he had lots of time to think about things like the potential for snow and colder weather as they headed north. When Starsky shivered in his sleep, Hutch turned on the car’s heater and made a mental note to stop somewhere and buy them both warmer coats, in case the winter weather turned ugly.

 

Hutch drove straight through to Albuquerque. When he wasn’t checking Starsky, he was looking in his mirrors and scanning around them. He never detected any signs that they were being followed. Starsky napped the entire way, only waking up when Hutch turned off the car at the E-Z Rest Motel.

 

“Where are we?” Starsky asked, rubbing his eyes.

 

“Albuquerque. I’m gonna go get us a room so we can crash for a while.”

 

“I’ve been asleep for that long? Why didn’t you wake me up to take a turn driving?”

 

“I told you I was too wired to rest. You looked like you could use it. I’ll be right back.”

 

Hutch returned a few minutes later and pulled the car around the back of the hotel, out of view from the road. He followed Starsky’s weary progress up the stairs, hoping the additional rest would do him some good. They would sleep for several hours, and then call the District Attorney to set up their meeting and arrange to collect their next vehicle.

 

District Attorney Jason Lands was delighted to meet the two officers who were responsible for Gunther Industries’ collapse. A local mortgage loan officer was on Starsky and Hutch’s list of probably simultaneous victims from the day Starsky was shot. Rudy Parker worked for Capricorn Mortgage, one of the Gunther subsidiaries. Prior to hearing from the Bay City detectives, they had no leads and no motive for why the man would have been shot in the head while sitting in his own driveway.

 

“Around noon, his wife heard him pull into the carport, but he never came inside. She says she was distracted by the telephone, but realized when she hung up that ten minutes had elapsed since her husband’s car engine was shut off and he still hadn’t come into the house.”

 

Hutch filled in the next part. “Let me guess. She went out to check on him and found him dead. Didn’t hear a thing.”

 

“That’s right. The initial investigation didn’t turn anything. Then, you called in September. Our PD followed up on the leads you two gave us. At first, we didn’t know what to think about what you told us, but we had nothing else to go on.”

 

“What did you find out?” Starsky asked. He put a cough drop into his mouth. Hutch had insisted they stop at a local drug store to get some things to treat Starsky’s cold.

 

“A lot. First, we went back and re-interviewed the Parkers’ neighbors. One of them remembered seeing a dark van with California plates on it parked across from the house for a couple of hours that day. The neighbor ran out of the house when he heard Lavinia Parker screaming. The car was gone.”

 

“A panel van?” Hutch asked.

 

“Yeah, how’d you know?” Lands replied. “Dark brown and kind of beat up looking.”

 

Hutch answered, “Could be the one the guys who came after us last night were driving.” That was a stretch, since the other shooting had happened several months earlier, but Hutch thought it was possible that the perps had stolen the van months ago in California and kept it under wraps.

 

“Whoa. Well, we never found any trace of it here. Mrs. Parker provided us with some invaluable information when we pressed her. She said that Parker was being blackmailed by some hot shot in California. Seems Rudy, Jr. goes to college out in Bay City. Parker told his wife that some goons threatened that their only child would have an unfortunate accident if he didn’t ensure some loans were funded. Between her information and yours, we had a pretty solid trail back to your case against the judge. Now, tell me what you know about him, and the other players.”

 

Starsky and Hutch had no proof, but testimony from the trial, Matt’s research, and other evidence led them to believe that Rudy Parker was on a list of men fingered for death, presented to the late Mr. Bates by James Marshall Gunther a short time before Starsky was shot. This list of names may have included six men in different cities across the country... and two Bay City police detectives. Courtroom testimony revealed that Mr. Bates gave Gunther and his top officers a report on the status of their organization’s standing after Starsky and Hutch effectively shut down most of the west coast operation. That operation reached across the country. Mr. Bates' report revealed that Phoenix was one city where they were still active. So was Albuquerque.  Regardless, Rudy Parker was on Gunther’s hit list. He wanted to make an example of the man, to keep the doors to the city open to them, and to ensure that the rest of his minions were cooperative. The blackmailed man was an integral part of the destroyed parts of Gunther’s empire and that meant he was a loose end.

 

The two detectives carefully went over all they knew. They gave depositions and agreed to return to testify if it came to a trial. With Gunther likely to get the death penalty in California for the first-degree murder of his assistant, the other states might be in less of a hurry to incur the cost of trying him. The D.A. was willing to wait and see what happened with the sentencing before deciding on his final course of action.

 

Captain Dobey had made the arrangements for their next car exchange ahead of their arrival. The Albuquerque police department would hold onto the car from Arizona until Starsky and Hutch returned on their way back across the country.

 

As they headed for the highway that would take them into Texas, Starsky settled down behind the wheel. He argued that even though he was catching a cold, he might feel worse later. He would take the first shift driving and Hutch could take over in six or seven hours. They would be in Dallas by morning. Once again, they decided to keep moving over staying the night.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Thomas Potter squirmed visibly under Gunther’s icy glare. He’d had to report the capture of their operatives in Arizona. He couldn’t understand why the old man was so intent on killing the two cops. The concept of revenge, no matter how sweet, was foreign to him. When Gunther didn’t make any comment, Potter continued his recitation.

 

“We aren’t sure where they are going next. Our wire specialists have been unable to tap into their communications successfully.”

 

“Mr. Potter, I am not at all interested in your excuses, or in your methods. I told you what I wanted. They may have destroyed my organization, but I have enough money to buy them into hell many times over. I won’t miss the money where I’m going.”

 

Potter adjusted his tie and said, “Yes, sir. I’ve got my feelers out. They’ll turn up soon. When they do, I have other mechanics waiting to carry out your orders.”

 

“See that you do.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch was pulling into Dallas as Starsky was stirring restlessly in his sleep. He was uncomfortable and a fever had begun to creep up on him. Hutch made up his mind to find a doctor to take him to as soon as they’d rested and spoken with the Dallas D.A.

 

Giving in to his need to touch Starsky and see how feverish he was, Hutch reached a hand out and touched Starsky’s arm.

 

Starsky woke to that touch and sat up with a chest-rattling cough. “We there yet, Dad?” he asked, blinking hard.

 

“Yeah. You’ve been sounding pretty raspy, buddy.”

 

“I’m all right, Blondie.”

 

The two men argued about when, and if, Starsky was going to a doctor. In the end, Starsky won the argument, agreeing to see Hutch’s family physician in Duluth when they arrived in a couple of days if he wasn’t any better.

 

Sitting in a run-down coffee shop off of highway 35, Starsky choked down some more aspirin and cough medicine. The two men ignored the sideways glance the waitress gave them when they both sat in the same side of the booth. Starsky chose a booth in the back of the restaurant. They both sat with their backs to the wall and a full view of both the parking lot through the windows and the rest of the diner. They were waiting for the next attack, knowing Gunther wouldn’t give up so easily. Hutch had scoped out every exit in the place, both to watch for activity, and to retreat through if necessary.

 

“Duluth is still two more days, Starsk.... ” Hutch started after a particularly bad bout of Starsky’s coughing.

 

“No. We already discussed this. I know a cold when I see one. I’ll be fine ‘til then.”

 

The waitress interrupted Hutch’s next words. She set down their breakfasts and watched as the two men traded their plates. Hutch wanted oatmeal with his eggs, but they didn’t have any that morning, so the waitress brought him grits instead.

 

“What’s up with this?” Hutch asked.

 

“Grits,” she answered, setting down a side of butter next to the semi-liquid white hominy. “What? You never seen grits before, Blondie?”

 

Hutch glared at her. Forward waitresses were not his favorite type. “Yes, I’ve seen grits, but I ordered oatmeal,” he answered in a steady voice.

 

She poured both of them more coffee, sloshing a little onto Hutch’s hand and said, “Out of oatmeal. Give it a try, honey. I won’t charge you for ‘em if you don’t like ‘em.” She pulled a bottle of Tabasco out of her apron pocket and set it on the table in front of Starsky.

 

“How do you know I want this?” he asked her with a gleam in his eye. “Could be my buddy here wants it.”

 

That earned him a warm, friendly laugh from the bleached blonde who looked like she had an entire can of Aqua Net sprayed onto her over-teased hair. “Oh, baby, I figured you for the sizzle. ‘Sides, guys who order their butter on the side usually don’t want their sizzle on the top.” She swatted Starsky playfully on the arm and then turned away from them.

 

Starsky nearly choked to death laughing at the red that crept onto Hutch’s face all the way to his ears. They watched with amused admiration as the shapely woman walked toward the kitchen.

 

“That’s some swing in her backyard,” Starsky mumbled.

 

Their waitress was the most interesting and eventful part of their meal. No one suspicious cruised the lot. All of the other patrons seemed absorbed in their own activities. Though they couldn’t afford to let their guard down for even an instant, they were relieved.

 

The rest of their time in Dallas was equally uneventful. After another break for sleep and speaking with the District Attorney, they checked in with the captain.

 

“No, we’ve been on the lookout. Hutch thought he saw a suspicious car outside of Abilene, but it turned out to be nothing.”

 

“Don’t let your guard down,” the captain instructed unnecessarily.

 

“We’re not. No way he’s giving up, Cap. He wants me dead.”

 

Hutch blanched at that remark, however true he believed it to be.

 

“He wants you both, Starsky. He’s limited to just his attorneys for visitors, like I promised. Maybe it’ll be okay. When will you be in Duluth?”

 

“Day after tomorrow.”

 

“I’ll call and let Mr. Hutchinson know,” Dobey said.

 

“Better not, Cap. What if they’re bugging his phone?”

 

“Don’t worry, Starsky, I’ve got it covered.” Captain Dobey was a good friend. Starsky was glad to have the quick-thinking, thorough man on their side whenever they were in trouble.

 

At their captain’s suggestion, Hutch planted the idea that they were going to Detroit after Chicago. Since they were going to Hutch’s parents’ home, giving out information leading them in another direction seemed like a good idea. They traded cars again and headed north for Oklahoma, eager to make it to Chicago as quickly as possible. Neither of them knew that their good luck since Albuquerque had just changed. Gunther had a mole in the Dallas D.A.’s office.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Bill Trask called Gunther’s attorney to report what he knew. “Yes, I’m sure it was them, Mr. Potter. They’re going to Chicago next.”

 

“Where after that?”

 

“I think I heard the blond one say they were headed to Detroit from there.”

 

Potter took some notes in his small book. “Good. What are they driving?”

 

“Right now, they’re in a white 1975 LTD. They’re switching cars everywhere. They drove into town in one that’s from New Mexico.”

 

“Clever. No matter. I have someone in the Chicago office, too. Thank you, Trask. You’ll be sufficiently rewarded.” Thomas Potter hung up the phone, satisfied that he finally had some good news for James Gunther. He would need a little while to arrange for a new hit squad. He’d plan to have them follow the detectives out of the Chicago to a more remote area.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Chicago proved as unremarkable as Dallas had – interviews, a stop for some sleep, more diner food. The Chicago D.A. was less than optimistic about making charges stick to Gunther on their case. Bates was the only murder they’d been able to pin on Gunther in California. He was sure to put enough distance between himself and all of the other killings.

 

They left the city late. Hutch was starting to feel like a rat on a wheel and Starsky was looking sicker and sounding worse. Hutch was glad they were on their way to Duluth. For the first time in years, he was looking forward to seeing his parents. When Starsky was shot, Richard Hutchinson took it hard. So hard, he surprised his son. Everyone was so busy and frightened when it happened. Since Starsky was the one who was hit, no one thought to call Hutch’s parents. Captain Dobey had to return a frantic phone call from Mr. Hutchinson hours after the shooting. Hutch’s parents learned about it on the national news.

 

Richard had never approved of Hutch’s career choice. He wanted his son to be an attorney and was angry when Hutch decided to be a cop. Richard allowed his anger to cloud his judgment and interfere with his relationship with his son. When a teenager shot Hutch about six months before Gunther, Richard Hutchinson began to see the error in his ways. He was planning to visit Bay City for Memorial Day weekend;  a chance to mend some fences, but Starsky’s shooting interfered with those plans.

 

When Starsky was nearly killed, Richard and his wife rallied behind both men. They provided comfort and a steady presence that Hutch needed badly in the darkest time of his life. The Hutchinsons were amazed by Starsky’s courage and resilience, and by their son’s loyalty and devotion to his best friend. Finally, things were looking up for the Hutchinson men to repair their relationship.

 

Starsky was sleeping not long after they left Chicago. The weather was cold and snow was expected. Hutch wanted to make as much time on their drive to Duluth as he could before the snow started. Driving in the dark made it harder for him to spot the black Charger that started tailing them shortly after they left Chicago.

 

“I thought you said they were going to Detroit,” the Charger’s driver said to his companion.

 

“That’s what Potter said.”

 

“Maybe they changed their minds. Whatever, just keep back far enough that they won’t spot us until we are out far enough to take care of business.” This time, Potter was sure to order his hit squad to go in a car with enough muscle to run with if they needed it.

 

Hutch started to worry more when they had been in Wisconsin long enough to be in a remote area. He wasn’t positive, but he thought the car behind them had followed them from Illinois. Just as those thoughts started him thinking about a potential course of action, he saw the car behind them begin a rapid approach. He looked ahead for a place to spin around, but the road he was on was only one lane in each direction and there were deep ditches on either side. He floored it, but the car behind was coming too fast. Hutch tried to get into the center of the road since there were no cars coming from the other direction, but the Charger was quick. The sudden change of speed woke Starsky as Hutch was pushing him down toward the floorboard. Before he had a chance to react, he heard the sound of gunfire and glass breaking. His heart lurched at the horrible sense of déjà vu, but he didn’t have time to think much about it. The car swerved suddenly and he felt it leave the roadway. A few seconds later, the car slammed back down at an angle, rolled once, rolled again onto its side, and came to a shuddering stop.

 

Starsky was stunned for a few moments. He knew he needed to get himself free, but something heavy was pressed against him. As his head cleared a bit, he realized it was Hutch.

 

Shaking Hutch’s shoulder, Starsky called his name. He got no response. Frantically checking his partner, he found that he was breathing and he had a pulse. Starsky couldn’t see where it was coming from, but he felt warm, wetness seeping into his clothes. He knew all too well what it felt like to be shot, and he was sure he wasn’t hit, but Hutch must have been. He also knew that the shooters would most likely be coming along to make sure they were dead. Putting a hand up to his throbbing head, he felt a gash that was bleeding. Good, that will help. He pulled his gun and waited.

 

The two men in the Charger pulled to the side and walked back to inspect their handiwork. The driver wanted to move on, but the shooter was determined to make sure they’d succeeded in killing the two detectives.

 

They approached the car cautiously and saw no movement inside. Neither of them could see Starsky well enough to know they were being watched.

 

A glance through the starred windshield was almost good enough to assure them their quarry were dead. Neither man was moving and the there was enough blood to believe the wounds were fatal. Still, the shooter said they couldn’t be too careful. The view through the cracked glass wasn’t good enough.

 

When the shooter leaned into the driver’s window, he couldn’t quite reach Hutch. He ordered his companion to help him rock the car back down onto four wheels. Starsky continued to play dead, but he was relieved to feel Hutch’s weight slide off of him.

 

One of the men pulled open the door and reached for Hutch to drag him out of the car. As soon as he was close enough, Starsky raised his gun and fired, hitting the man squarely in the forehead. His companion wasn’t expecting that. Both men thought Starsky was dead. The man aimed at Starsky and fired, but his shot went wide. Before he could get off another, Starsky swung his gun toward him and fired again, spinning the man onto the ground a few feet from his partner – dead. A light dusting of snow was beginning to fall.

 

Starsky needed to be sure the other man was dead. He eased Hutch down onto the seat. Then, he found he had to slam his body against the passenger door several times to get it to pop open for him. He was stiff and hurting. The coughing was worse and he felt terrible, but he knew he had to keep moving.

 

His check of the two hit men confirmed that they were both dead. He dashed back to the car and found the radio was broken. Naturally. Then, the thought occurred to him that he had no way of knowing how the hit men found them. Someone in law enforcement might have fingered them. Hutch was hurt badly and Starsky was afraid to take him to a local hospital, if he even knew where to find one. He did his best to slow the bleeding. A bullet had grazed Hutch across the back of his head. If Starsky had been sitting up instead of lying down on the seat, the bullet would probably have gone past, hit him in the head, and killed him. Hutch had saved his life... again. A bullet had also entered Hutch’s chest and exited through his shoulder in the back. Starsky felt a lump on Hutch’s head that meant he’d probably hit it on something in the car while they rolled. Terrific. What a mess.

 

Starsky was amazed, but somehow grateful, that no other cars had happened along during this incident. He looked up the road and saw the Charger sitting there. Immediately, he knew what he needed to do.

 

He didn’t bother to look for car keys. The Charger was undoubtedly stolen. He noticed it had Michigan plates on it as he approached. The ignition was torn apart inside and he had to hot-wire it, just like the gunmen had. When he got it started, he backed it up as close to their car as he could. He was going to get Hutch into it and take off for Duluth. They had already discussed the route and he wasn’t thinking clearly. To his muddled, feverish, frightened mind, that seemed the best choice.

 

Starsky rushed back to the car and tried to rouse Hutch again. He was still not getting anywhere and it was starting to scare him. The bleeding had slowed, but not stopped. He grabbed the flashlight dropped on the ground by the hit men and checked Hutch’s eyes. At least his pupils were reacting to the light and they were the same size.

 

Realizing he had no choice, Starsky hauled the heavier man out of the car and picked him up in a fireman’s carry. His recently healed muscles groaned in protest and his lungs felt like they were about to spontaneously combust, but he made it.

 

When Starsky picked Hutch up, he felt more blood on his thigh. His initial inspection in the dark had missed another bullet wound. The bullet must have gone through the door and it was still lodged in Hutch’s leg. The gunman had done a lot of damage by firing as the Charger pulled past them.  He quickly wrapped a shirt from his duffle bag around the thigh as a makeshift bandage. Knowing he was about to take off in a stolen car, leaving a shot up police vehicle and two dead bodies in his wake, held no sway over Starsky’s rising panic. All he cared about was protecting Hutch, and that meant getting him to safety.  He was grateful for the powerful Charger engine as he peeled away from the wreck site.

 

He couldn’t afford to relax until there were many miles between them and the would-be assassins. He drove as fast as he dared in the snow without actually breaking the speed limit. All he needed right now was for a gung-ho county cop to pull them over and realize they were in a stolen car and that Hutch had been shot. The resulting explanations and difficulties would delay them for hours, and Starsky didn’t know whom he could trust anymore – that is, except for the man beside him.

 

He risked a glance at his partner. Hutch had not actually moved, but his eyes fluttered and he was mumbling something indistinguishable. Suddenly, Starsky had a terrifying thought. What if Hutch had a head injury from the crash, or damage to his spine? Starsky had made no effort to be careful with his neck when he pulled him from the wreckage and hauled him to the Charger.

 

Dear God, what if I made it worse?

 

Several miles had passed before Hutch roused. He groaned as he struggled into a more upright position and passed his hand over his eyes. “Starsk? What happened?” He looked around and frowned. “How’d we get in this car?”

 

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Starsky asked instead of answering.

 

Hutch frowned and rubbed his forehead. “I thought we were being tailed.”

 

“We were,” Starsky said. “They shot you and we rolled.”

 

Hutch stared at him. “This is their car?”

 

Starsky nodded and glanced toward him. “They’re both dead. How ya feel?”

 

“Shit,” Hutch said, resting his head against the window on his side.

 

Starsky didn’t know whether that was an answer to his question or a reaction to their situation, but Hutch seemed alert enough, so he let it go. “I saw a sign back there a ways that said we just passed a place called Wisconsin Dells,” he said. “Ring any bells for you?”

 

Hutch rubbed his forehead yet again, and that worried Starsky. Finally, Hutch said, “If we keep bearing north, we should be getting to New Lisbon before long. From there, we can get on the interstate. I think we’d be better off on it.”

 

“In a stolen car, buddy?” Starsky asked skeptically. “Don’t you think we’d better stick to back roads?”

 

Hutch sighed. “Shit. I forgot about the car. You’re right. But it’s going to take one hell of a lot longer doing it this way.” His hand went to his forehead again.

 

“How bad you hurtin’, partner?” Starsky demanded. “The truth.”

 

“Pretty bad,” Hutch admitted reluctantly. “You?”

 

“I’m fine,” Starsky said, but he ruined it with a spasm of coughing so violent it brought tears to his eyes and left him breathless.

 

“Let me drive,” Hutch said.

 

“You kiddin’? You ain’t in no shape –”

 

“Neither are you,” Hutch said.

 

In the distance, Starsky could see the lights of a town and it looked like it might be of a decent size, not much like the wide-open places in the road they’d passed in the last few hours. “Look, let’s find a motel and stop for the night, huh? We’ll regroup and come up with a plan.”

 

“That must be New Lisbon,” Hutch said, trying to focus his weary eyes. “Okay, let’s stop.”

 

New Lisbon was big enough to have several motels to choose from. Starsky pulled off at a motel and went in to arrange for the room. He didn’t think it was a good idea to let strangers see Hutch in his condition. Even so, the desk clerk looked at him oddly, and once he had gotten the room unlocked and helped Hutch to one of the beds, he glanced in the mirror over the dresser and understood why. He had an ugly, bruising gash on his forehead and a rapidly darkening black eye. The pallor of his face, thanks to his cold, made both look much worse than they really were.

 

“Ain’t we a pair?” he remarked to Hutch, turning to grin at him. But when he turned and got a good look at Hutch in the light, he was seriously alarmed. The spot of blood on Hutch’s thigh was fist-sized and the leg was swelling. Both of Hutch’s eyes were black, and his blond hair was matted with blood. He was holding one arm against his body and the dried bloodstain on his shirt where the bullet had gone through was far too large for comfort. “Holy shit, Hutch,” Starsky said, not realizing he’d said it aloud.

 

“I’ll be okay,” Hutch said unconvincingly, his voice now so weak and soft that Starsky could hardly understand him. “Just help me get these damn clothes off and into bed.”

 

“You’re not trying to tell me a good night’s sleep is all you need,” Starsky said flatly.

 

Hutch gave a faint grin, but his face was so pale and his eyes so hollow that it was a caricature of his usual expression. “No, I won’t try to tell you that, but it would certainly help. Got a better idea?”

 

Starsky shook his head. “No.”

 

He helped Hutch undress to his underwear and got him under the covers, then he went to the bathroom and got a washcloth and soaked it in warm water. He brought it back and very gently bathed Hutch’s wounds. The shoulder wound oozed a little more blood, but only a little. The head wound was more of an abrasion, though Starsky could see by Hutch’s eyes that it had given him one hell of a headache. It was the thigh that really worried Starsky. The leg was swollen and had turned several angry shades of purple and blue, and there was no exit wound.

 

“We’ll be in Duluth tomorrow,” Hutch said wearily when he saw what Starsky was looking at. “I can go to my old family doctor then.”

 

Starsky opened his mouth, but the look of suffering on Hutch’s face made him shut it again – and a sudden spasm of coughing that made his lungs actually hurt precluded any remark anyway.

 

“Starsky?”

 

Starsky shook his head and tried to calm his breathing. It took a few moments. “I’m all right,” he said at last. “Go to sleep, huh, buddy? I’m beat and you are, too.”

 

Hutch nodded, though his brow creased in a worried frown, and he finally drifted off. Starsky couldn’t sleep just yet. He was too wound up from the events of the last several days, and when he tried to lie down, the congestion in his chest made breathing difficult. He didn’t want to keep Hutch awake all night with his coughing, so he sneaked down the hall to the vending machines and got himself a Pepsi and a candy bar. He sat there and watched Hutch sleep, and grew steadily more and more concerned. Finally, he sat down on the other bed and lifted the receiver.

 

It took several rings, but finally a sleepy voice answered at the other end.

 

“Richard? It’s David.”

 

“What’s wrong?” Richard Hutchinson asked immediately, concern apparent in his voice.

 

“We ran into a couple of snags,” Starsky said, trying to keep his voice soft and calm at the same time. It wasn’t easy and he knew that if the lateness of the hour weren’t enough to scare Hutch’s dad, the worry in his own voice would do that job.

 

“What do you mean, David?” Richard demanded, now wide awake. “Don’t soften it, son. Give it to me straight.”

 

“There’s a worm in our apple someplace,” Starsky said. “A coupla guys caught up with us about a hundred miles south of here and ran us off the road and –”

 

“And what?”

 

“Hutch is hurt,” Starsky said. “I don’t dare take him to a hospital. I don’t know how those guys knew where to find us and I don’t know who to trust. I’m ... I’m scared.”

 

“How badly is he hurt? The truth, David.”

 

“He’s shot through the shoulder and in the thigh. The bullet’s still in his leg but the one in his shoulder went through. Banged up, nothing too serious.”

 

“Dear God,” Richard said, his voice shaking. “Where are you?”

 

Starsky hesitated, then decided there was no way Gunther’s goons could have known they’d choose this motel and be assigned to this room. But what if the Hutchinsons’ phone was bugged? Dobey said it wasn’t, but Starsky was still worried.

 

“David?”

 

“I’m afraid of a bug on your phone,” Starsky said at last.

 

“Your captain had the local police make sure it was clean,” Richard said. “Where ARE you?”

 

“In the Stay-a-While Motel in New Lisbon,” Starsky said. “Right off the highway as you come into town from the south. Room 114.”

 

“I’ll be there as quickly as possible, not more than a few hours,” Richard said. “I’ll take the company plane as soon as I can get a pilot. Sit tight, and don’t go out. Understand, David? Let me handle this.”

 

“Okay,” Starsky said, rubbing his eyes. He was beginning to have chills and his vision was getting blurry.

 

After he hung up, he called Dobey at home. It was about midnight in Bay City, but Dobey answered on the first ring.

 

“You musta been sitting on the phone,” Starsky said, striving for a light note.

 

“Cut the crap, Starsky,” Dobey growled. “Where the hell are you?”

 

Starsky told him, and explained what had happened and that he’d called Richard.

 

“Do as he says,” Dobey ordered as soon as he’d finished. “I’ll get in touch with the Wisconsin State Patrol and explain about the car you’re in. What’s the number there? I’ll call you back and tell you what to do after I’ve talked to them.”

 

Starsky’s mind was getting fuzzy and he didn’t answer.

 

“Starsky? Starsky!”

 

“Yeah, yeah, Cap, I’m here. Sorry. I’m not feelin’ too hot myself,” Starsky said, though hot was exactly what he was feeling. He’d have a spell of feeling too hot and then he’d have a chill violent enough to make him shake.

 

“Are you injured?”

 

“No, just a bug,” Starsky said. “I’m okay.”

 

“Stay by the phone,” Dobey said. “I’ll call back as soon as I can.”

 

Starsky lay down but he was so cold he had to get under the covers, fully clothed. His teeth were chattering and even when he rolled up in the blankets, he couldn’t get warm. He looked over longingly at Hutch. Any other time, he’d wake him up and Hutch would know what to do. Hutch always knew what to do. But the sight of Hutch’s bruised face and the lines of pain around his eyes and in his forehead wouldn’t let him. So he lay there, shivering and feeling steadily worse, until he finally drifted off.

 

Some time later, the phone rang. Starsky woke up with a start, heart pounding with fear, not recognizing where he was for a moment. Then the phone rang again and he snatched it off the cradle, afraid it would wake Hutch. He needn’t have worried; Hutch never even stirred.

 

It was Dobey. “I talked to a commander at the nearest state police district headquarters to you,” he said. “That’s in Tomah, about 20 miles northwest of you. His name’s Joe Ryan. He said to bring the stolen car there and report in to him and give him a statement before you leave the state. I told him about Hutch and he said they could wait for his statement, but they want yours tomorrow. Can you do that?”

 

“Yeah,” Starsky said, trying to force his mind to clear.

 

“Are you sure you’re all right, Starsky?”

 

“I’m fine,” he repeated patiently. “Really, Cap’n.”

 

“All right,” Dobey said, but he didn’t sound happy. “Call me when you’ve finished with Ryan tomorrow.”

 

“I will.”

 

Starsky spent a miserable, restless night, alternately freezing and smothering. It seemed like as soon as he started to get warm, he’d be too warm and have to kick off all the covers. As soon as he did THAT, he’d start having chills and have to bundle up all over again. Through it all, Hutch slept so soundly that if Starsky had not been so sick himself, he would have realized something was very wrong. As it was, he was only grateful that his continual tossing and turning didn’t disturb his partner.

 

Richard arrived just before ten the next morning, his thinning blond hair mussed, and looking as if he hadn’t slept all night. When he knocked on the door, Starsky scrambled to get his gun before he cautiously asked who was there.

 

When he opened the door, Richard took one look at him and said, “David, you look awful.” Then his eyes traveled past him to Hutch, still sleeping, and he paled. “Kenny? Dear God....” He hurried over to the bed and felt Hutch’s forehead and patted his cheeks. “Kenny? Ken, wake up, son, it’s Dad.” Hutch moaned and thrashed a little, but didn’t open his eyes. “How long has he been like this?” Richard demanded.

 

“He went to sleep about one in the morning,” Starsky said, trying to stand upright but swaying in spite of himself. “I didn’t wanna disturb him ‘cause I thought he needed the rest ....”

 

Richard didn’t reply; he hurried to the door and called to someone named “Andrew” to come and help him. Another man joined him in a few seconds, and between the two of them, they quickly dressed Hutch, got a blanket wrapped around him and carried him out to a waiting station wagon.

 

“Get your things together and hurry!” Richard ordered Starsky as they were readying Hutch.

 

“I have to report in to the state police and drop off that car,” Starsky said, waving vaguely in the direction of the Charger, parked outside their room. But he handed over Hutch’s clothes and bag to Richard after they’d loaded Hutch into the car, and Richard took them.

 

“Then follow us as soon as you can,” Richard said. “There’s a small private airport in Tomah, just up the highway from here. That’s where we left the plane. We’ll wait for you there.”

 

After Richard left, Starsky gathered his own bag and loaded it into the Charger. He was moving very slowly, feeling much worse than he had the day before, and only the memory of Hutch’s pale, still face and Richard’s fear for his son’s safety kept him moving at all. He finally managed to get the bill paid, get into the car, and start up the road to Tomah.

 

His vision was blurring, and no amount of rubbing his eyes helped. His head ached, too, and the chills were, if anything, worse. He tried turning on the heater in the car, but it didn’t help much. Without meaning to, he had sped up past the speed limit and was looming up behind a semi, less than a car length from plowing into the back of it, before he realized what was happening.

 

He gave the steering wheel a violent wrench and slammed on the brakes, losing control and veering off the highway toward a guardrail.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Richard took the wheel of the station wagon and drove like a man possessed, while Andrew stayed in the back with Hutch and kept him warm and covered. They arrived at the airfield just as Hutch was really waking up, but he was groggy and incoherent, scaring Richard even more than he was already. Between them, Andrew and Richard got Hutch into the plane and bedded down on a mattress loaded just for that purpose.

 

“We don’t dare wait very long, Dick,” Andrew said gently. “He needs to be in a hospital.”

 

“I can’t leave David,” Richard said, pacing back and forth in the narrow aisle. “He’s in no condition to drive all that way.”

 

“No, but we could leave him a message and you could send the plane back for him after we get Ken taken care of,” Andrew said. “He’d only have to wait a couple of hours.”

 

Richard stopped pacing and looked down at his son’s face for just a moment of indecision. “All right.”

 

Andrew took the note to the office and described Starsky to them so they could recognize him when he arrived, and hurried back to the plane. The pilot was already warming up the engine, getting ready to go.

 

“Andrew, I don’t feel right about this,” Richard said. “David isn’t well. I think we should wait a bit longer.”

 

Andrew didn’t have to argue the point. Hutch took care of that for him. He was barely conscious, but he grabbed for his father’s hand and called out for Starsky. Suddenly, his breathing became more ragged and he lost consciousness. Richard Hutchinson sat next to him and felt his thready pulse.

 

“Go,” he said as he looked up with anguished eyes. Andrew nodded and pulled the plane’s door closed. He went up to the cockpit to give the pilot his orders.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Wet. Gray. Cold. Starsky’s return to consciousness included all three, in addition to a more severe pain in his head than he had before whatever had just happened. He shook his head and realized in a panic that the Charger was nose down and rapidly sinking in near freezing water. The water was already up to the bottom of the steering wheel he had just found himself slumped against. He fought against the weight of water on the door, but was unable to open it. Starsky reached for his gun and used the butt of it to break the window, allowing him to escape.

 

The water was just above freezing and Starsky knew he had to get out quickly. He headed for the shore and reached it without too much difficulty. Climbing out onto the bank, his hands and feet were already numb. He stood and watched the car complete its fatal slide.

 

Starsky looked up and saw the torn guardrail the car had broken. The embankment was too steep here for him to climb back to the road. He gave a grim chuckle at the swan song the car must have done. “Upstream or downstream?” he asked the snowy sky. Deciding it made no difference, but that moving was going to be critical if he expected to survive, he began walking upstream.

 

As he walked, Starsky thought about what had happened. He couldn’t remember where the black Charger had come from and couldn’t understand why it was so cold in Southern California. Where was he exactly and where was Hutch?

 

Starsky wandered for over an hour. By the time he found a place that would allow him to climb up to the road, his fever had risen to an alarming level and he was so confused he really only knew he was cold and he needed to get to help. He told himself that at least if he were up on the road, someone might find him. He still had no idea how he’d gotten in this condition, but he knew something was terribly wrong. The painful cough was sapping his strength and his ability to think.

 

His hope that someone would come along and find him was beginning to dwindle. Although the snow wasn’t falling that fast, this road was remote and everyone with any sense was probably at home by a warm fireplace. With his vision starting to blur again, Starsky stumbled forward as best he could until a painful coughing spasm cost him his consciousness and left him lying on the side of the road.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When the plane touched down in Duluth, a private ambulance was waiting to take the small party to a nearby hospital. Richard made the arrangements before he left. He put a hand out and laid it on Andrew’s shoulder as the medical team transferred his son to a stretcher and began treatment.

 

“Go back for David.”

 

“I will. I’ll bring him to St. Margaret’s within a couple of hours. Don’t worry.”

 

The pilot quickly logged a new flight plan to Tomah. They had plenty of fuel to get back to the other airport. Andrew shut the door behind him as Richard got into the ambulance with Hutch.

 

The medics knew they weren’t supposed to ask too many questions. Their injured patient was to be delivered to St. Margaret’s under an assumed name. They did ask Mr. Hutchinson how their patient had been on the plane ride and were not pleased with the answer.

 

Richard was more frightened than he had ever been. He was terrified of losing his son and worried about Starsky. When they arrived at St. Margaret’s, he gave them as much information as he dared, checking his son in under the name John Price.

 

The doctor tried to rouse him, using the name “John.” Richard told him to call him Ken.

 

“Ken? I need you to wake up for me,” the doctor called. The medical team was buzzing around Hutch, cutting off his clothes and looking at his wounds. The doctor looked at Hutch’s head injuries with concern. The graze at the back of his head had stopped bleeding, but the lump looked bad. A nurse came and escorted Richard out to the waiting area. As soon as Hutch’s vitals were stable enough, he would be taken to surgery. The bullet lodged in his leg was already causing an infection, having been there for hours. Richard was left with nothing to do but wait, pray, and pace.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Are you sure you haven’t seen him?” Andrew anxiously asked the young woman at the airport.

 

“Yes, sir. No one has been here. Not even anyone who doesn’t match your description. This is a small airport. I would have seen him.”

 

The pilot was having the plane refueled while Andrew went in to get Starsky. They’d been gone for hours. Something must have happened. Andrew wasn’t sure what he should do next. He found a phone and got through to Richard at the hospital.

 

“How’s he doing?” he asked as soon as Richard was on the line.

 

“Not good. They’ve taken him to surgery. Is David all right?”

 

“That’s why I’m calling. He’s not here. He’s had enough time to get here.”

 

“Give me the number and I’ll call you back. I’m going to call their captain.”

 

He reached the captain in his office and could tell that Dobey was already agitated when he picked up the phone. “Captain Dobey, this is Richard Hutchinson.”

 

“Where are you?” Dobey growled into the phone. Then, he cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Hutchinson. I’m just worried. I haven’t heard anything for hours. What’s happening?”

 

“Nothing very good, I’m afraid. Ken was in such a bad way, we were forced to fly him out before David made it to the airport.”

 

“You what?” Dobey bellowed into the phone.

 

“I sent the plane back for him, but he never showed there. I feel terrible that we had to leave him, but the doctors tell me we may lose Ken. We had no choice.”

 

Dobey dropped his head in one hand and rubbed his hair as he thought about what to do next. “How did David look?” he asked quietly.

 

“Terrible. He had a black eye and a bruised cut on his head. He was sick, too, Captain. Anything could have happened to him. What if those men found him? He said he was going to turn the car over to the state police, in Tomah, I assume.”

 

“Hold on while I call and see if he’s still there.”

 

Captain Dobey hoped that Starsky made it to the state police. Maybe they had taken him somewhere for treatment. His phone call left him more worried. The state police had seen no sign of him or the stolen black Charger. The station commander told Dobey he would send troopers out searching for Starsky immediately. The captain was not pleased to hear it was snowing in the area. That would make it harder to find Starsky, but whatever had befallen his detective, he hoped that James Marshall Gunther had nothing to do with it. At least they had not responded to any calls on road accidents in the past few hours.

 

“Richard, they haven’t seen him either.”

 

“Captain Dobey, I don’t know what to do. How can I help him?” Richard asked, the worry in his voice palpable even over the phone.

 

“You’ve already done a lot. Just sit tight and keep me posted on Ken’s condition. I’ll let you know what I find out about Starsky.”

 

Richard called Andrew at the airport and told him there was nothing more they could do. He said Andrew should return to Duluth with the pilot, but the man refused. He decided he would send the plane on, but wait for news of Starsky’s whereabouts.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Thomas Potter waited nervously to hear from his hit squad. They didn’t report in, but Potter was unable to find out what had happened to them. The Wisconsin State Police had put a lid on the story, before the media got wind of the two men found shot to death next to a wrecked, unmarked Illinois police car. Potter’s men had vanished. So had the two detectives. He called Detroit and found out that the two men never showed up there.

 

With the sentencing coming up, he had fewer reasons to visit with his client. Since Mr. Gunther was being kept in isolation, he knew he was safe from an attack ordered by the vindictive old man. Perhaps that would buy him a day or two to find the missing cops.

 

A few carefully placed phone calls later, Thomas Potter had the Gunther organization in the Midwest buzzing with the search. Everyone feared the old man’s wrath and they all got to work immediately

 

In that moment, Thomas Potter made an important decision. If the two detectives weren’t found and eliminated by the day Gunther was sentenced, he would end his own life. He would be a dead man anyway, and he had no desire to wait until his turn came to be yet another tied up loose end.

 

~*~*~*~

Although it was only three in the afternoon, the snowy, gloom made the day seem like nighttime. Dale Perlman was slowly driving on a back road when he saw what looked like something lying on the shoulder. He pulled over to take a look and found it was a man, unconscious and shivering in iced-over clothing.

 

“Hey, mister?” he said as he tried to rouse the obviously sick and injured man.

 

Starsky moaned and opened his eyes a little. He wanted to talk, but all he could say was “Help.”

 

Dale picked Starsky up and put him in the front seat of his banged up old pickup. Before he shut the door, he searched Starsky’s pockets for identification. He didn’t find a wallet – that had fallen out of Starsky’s jacket pocket back in the water. He did find the Beretta, which he quickly pocketed for himself – deciding that the man he’d just rescued wouldn’t mind him taking a little reward. Dale could hock the gun for some quick cash. Dale Perlman had a gambling habit to support.

 

When he got the pickup started back on the road, he cranked up the heat in an effort to warm his frozen passenger. Dale knew the man needed a hospital. He didn’t want any trouble, but he couldn’t leave the man lying in the road. Since he was so close to the Minnesota border, he decided to take his passenger to the small hospital in Winona. That would ensure that no one would recognize Dale and would also get the stranger some help.

 

Winona’s hospital wasn’t the best facility, but it would have to do.  Dale pulled into their small emergency bay and went inside for help.

 

“Hey,” he said to the first nurse he spotted, “I’ve got a guy out in my car who’s ‘bout froze to death.”

 

The nurse and an orderly got a gurney and followed Dale outside. They hustled Starsky into the hospital, shooting questions at Dale on the way. “Who is he?” the nurse asked.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

 

“I’m telling you, I don’t know. I found him on the side of the road. Look, I’ll go move my truck and be right back. You can ask me all the questions you want, then.”

 

Dale ignored the nurse’s protests as he exited the Emergency Room. He climbed into the truck and took off for Wisconsin. He’d go back home and forget it ever happened. As soon as he could, he’d drive over to Madison to hock the gun.

 

The medical team got to work on Starsky. One of the nurses searched the clothes they’d cut off of him and found no identification. They couldn’t be concerned with that at the moment. They started immediate efforts to warm him.

 

One of the nurses tried to rouse him. “Sir? Sir, do you know where you are?”

 

Starsky woke up enough to look at her and moan.

 

“What? Sir, what’s your name?”

 

“C-Cold....” He was so tired. What did she ask me? My name? Even in his muddled state, he knew he shouldn’t give her his real name. His concentration was slipping, so he gave her the first undercover name he could think of, and said “Larry Scanlon.” Darkness quickly claimed him.

 

“Geez, this one’s a mess,” the doctor declared. “Where’s that guy who brought him in?”

 

One of the nurses went out to look for him, but she knew the mysterious man in the pickup truck would be gone.

 

“No luck, Doc,” she said as she returned. “He took off.”

 

“Great. Wonder how he got this way?” The doctor ordered some tests and X-rays. He didn’t need a long time to realize that Starsky was in worse shape than they had the ability to treat in the small, rural hospital. As soon as Starsky was stable, they’d transfer him by ambulance to a larger, state run hospital.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“I’m sorry, but your son isn’t doing well,” the doctor told Mr. Hutchinson. “We’ve removed the bullet and repaired both wounds. He has an infection that we’re treating aggressively. In addition to a variety of minor injuries and contusions, his head sustained a hard blow and he has a grazing wound from another bullet.” The doctor indicated where the bullet had narrowly missed penetrating Hutch’s skull.

 

“Will he be all right?”

 

The doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s too soon to say. He’s in a coma. The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours will be critical. Frankly, I’m not hopeful.”

 

“But, I don’t understand. I was told it wasn’t that serious.” Richard remembered the conversation he’d had with Starsky. Banged up, nothing too serious. That conversation varied markedly from what he saw when he arrived in that hotel room, and the doctor was confirming his worst fears.

 

“I don’t know about that, sir. Head injuries can be tricky. He’s definitely taken a turn for the worse here. I have to go back and check on him. He’s in recovery now, but I’ll send someone for you when we move him to the ICU.”

 

Richard thanked the doctor and watched as he walked away. Ordinarily, the hospital would have called the Duluth police when presented with a man suffering from gunshot wounds. That was one of the reasons Richard brought him to St. Margaret’s. His money, and a well-placed friend, guaranteed he could keep free of any law enforcement entanglements. He was sick with worry about Hutch and knew that he needed to call Captain Dobey again. That thought didn’t upset him nearly as much as the anticipation of the conversation he was going to have with his wife. He’d assured her when this nightmare began that he was going to take care of everything and their son would be all right. If Ken died, Helen Hutchinson might never forgive him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Captain Dobey was angry after he hung up the phone with Mr. Hutchinson.  His rage directed his next actions. He was seated at a table, waiting for the guards to bring in James Gunther. Arranging the meeting wasn’t easy. Gunther insisted that his lawyer be present, but Mr. Potter was inexplicably unavailable. Instead, he’d sent an associate, Terrence Webster.

 

“He doesn’t have to answer any of your questions, Captain Dobey,” the nervous young man stated unnecessarily.

 

“I just want to have a little conversation with him. All of this is off the record, as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Webster,” Captain Dobey replied with as much patience as he could. He felt a little sorry for the attorney. He was obviously afraid, probably of his client. You should be afraid.

 

The guards ushered in James Marshall Gunther. As usual, he had a look of superiority and supreme confidence on his face. He didn’t look defeated. Not at all like a man almost certain to receive a death sentence soon.

 

“Mr. Gunther,” Dobey said, “thank you for agreeing to this meeting.”

 

“Not at all, Captain,” Gunther replied, ice dripping from every word. “Since my visitors have been limited to my attorneys, I welcome the chance for someone else’s company.”

 

Dobey huffed at that. “I’m sure you know why that restriction was put in place.”

 

“Actually, I’m sure I don’t.” Gunther turned to his attorney next, “Where is Mr. Potter?”

 

Terrence pulled at the knot of his tie with a slight tremor in his hand. “I’m sorry, sir, he was unavoidably detained. He asked me to sit in for him.”

 

James Gunther was many things, but a fool was not among them. He knew that in all likelihood, Thomas Potter had failed in his mission again. The two detectives must still be alive. No matter. I’ll deal with that... and Mr. Potter soon enough. The potential purpose for Captain Dobey’s visit did have him curious. He disguised his curiosity well. Having an unbreakable poker face was one of his greatest assets. Perhaps the good captain will have some valuable information for me.

 

Captain Dobey took a deep breath and started speaking. “This meeting is off the record, Mr. Gunther. We are not being observed, this conversation is not being recorded in any way, and you have representation. I hope you will be straight with me.”

 

Gunther smiled, almost imperceptibly, but Dobey saw it. “I’m not sure how I can be of any assistance to the police, but please ask your questions.”

 

“My detectives, Starsky and Hutchinson, have run into some trouble. I suspect you are the cause.”

 

“I?” Gunther asked with as much incredulity as he could put into his voice.

 

“Let’s not play games. You and I both know that you want my men dead. Especially Detective Starsky. I believe it eats at you that he survived your attempt on his life.” Dobey paused to allow Gunther to respond, but that slight smile and silence were the only response he was getting. The message was clearly received.

 

“I have reason to believe you’ve sent a series of hit squads after my men.”

 

“Captain Dobey....” Webster started, but he stopped at a glare from Gunther.

 

Captain Dobey was struggling to maintain his composure. His rage at James Gunther showed in his eyes, even if he was too professional to let it out in words. That anger was not lost on Gunther.

 

“Has something unfortunate befallen them?” The self-satisfied look on the man’s face was almost enough to break through Dobey’s carefully checked anger.

 

The captain lowered his voice to a dangerous growl as he stared down the bitter old man sitting across from him. “I want you to listen to me very carefully, James Gunther. Detective Starsky is missing. When he was last seen, he was in a bad way and I have every reason to believe you are responsible for that. If he can’t be found, or he turns up dead somewhere, so help me... I’ll prove it was you if it’s the last thing I do.”

 

Terrence Webster sat up straighter in his chair and said, “Now, just wait a minute here, Captain. You can’t....”

 

“Save it, Webster. This is off the record. My word against yours and Mr. Gunther’s. I can’t use any of it and neither can you.” He turned back to Gunther. “Until you are sentenced, I can’t bar your attorneys from seeing you. God willing, you will soon find yourself sitting on death row. So help me, if anything else happens to Detective Starsky, I’m going to see to it that you serve the rest of your time before justice is carried out locked so far away from anyone and everyone, you might die from lack of contact before the gas gets you. Do you understand me?”

 

“Captain Dobey, I really must protest this....”

 

Another look from Gunther stopped Webster’s objection. “Mr. Webster, I think perhaps you’d better remain quiet and allow the captain and me to have this conversation. Your concern is admirable, but I really do not need your assistance. Do you understand me?”

 

“Yes, sir, Mr. Gunther,” Webster said, dropping his eyes and taking out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. He was whiter than the walls.

 

“I understand you perfectly, Captain. However, I did not have anything to do with your man’s disappearance.” That much was technically true. Neither Captain Dobey nor James Gunther knew where Starsky was or what had caused him to drop out of sight.

 

“I just wanted to make certain you know where we stand. Don’t make me have to carry through with my promise, Mr. Gunther. Prison can be a lonely place in solitary confinement.”

 

With that remark, Dobey stood to leave. He had his hand on the doorknob when Gunther said something behind him. His curiosity was too great not to ask.

 

“What about Detective Hutchinson? I hope nothing has happened to him,” Gunther remarked with false sincerity.

 

Dobey turned so he could see Gunther’s face when he delivered his final bit of information. “Detective Hutchinson is dead.” As he left the room, he knew the look of utter joy in James Gunther’s eyes would stay with him for the rest of his life.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky floated in and out of consciousness during the ride to Olmsted County Hospital near Rochester. He heard voices occasionally. Every now and then the paramedic would check his pulse or say something like, “How are you doing, sir?” When the paramedic spoke to him, Starsky tried to answer, but he couldn’t make any sound come out. His throat was so sore that swallowing was torture and he simply couldn’t get warm.

 

“He gonna make it there?” the driver asked at one point.

 

“Sure, he’ll make it,” the paramedic answered brightly, patting Starsky on the arm. “Won’t ya?”

 

He didn’t know where he was or where he was going. He didn’t remember much before climbing out of the car, down in the water. He didn’t know how he’d gotten into that car or into the water. The next thing he remembered after that was being loaded into this ambulance.

 

He didn’t know when he lost consciousness again, but the next thing he was aware of was being lifted into a bed and covered up. A couple of nurses fussed over the covers and an IV.

 

“W-where am I?” he asked, his throat less sore, but his voice so hoarse it sounded like a stranger’s.

 

“Rochester,” one of them answered, turning to him. “I’m glad you’re awake.” She smiled. “You had us worried.”

 

“Rochester?” Starsky searched his memory. There wasn’t a town called Rochester in California, not that he knew of, anyway.

 

“Rochester, Minnesota,” she said, her brow creasing. “Olmsted County Hospital. A man found you half frozen by the side of the road. You have pneumonia and several nasty bumps and bruises.”

 

Minnesota? How the hell did I get in Minnesota? His confusion must’ve shown on his face. The nurse came closer.

 

“Don’t worry about it right now,” she said soothingly. “You’re still groggy and we’ve given you something to help you sleep. Just rest. Time enough for questions later.”

 

But Hutch ... will worry ...

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Have you found something?” Richard Hutchinson had come out of his son’s room long enough to get another cup of coffee and he caught sight of Andrew coming down the hall.  When there was no sign of Starsky for long enough to give up hope, Andrew had returned to Duluth. 

 

“We’re not certain,” Andrew answered. “Wisconsin State Patrol told Captain Dobey that they’d found a car in the drink near Sparta. It had gone through the guard rail and into a small lake.”

 

Richard closed his eyes. “Oh, God. Did they find a....”

 

“No,” Andrew said quickly, anticipating the question. “No body. They haven’t been able to really investigate yet.  A single diver went down to check in the car, but they have to call in a cold-water dive team to be more thorough.  Looks like the driver’s side window had been broken out from the inside, so he must’ve gotten out of the car, but –”

 

“But what?”

 

“But they can’t find him,” Andrew said. “No sign of him anywhere. He had to be wet and on foot and nobody’s seen him. It’s been snowing heavily there so any footprints have been obliterated.” He paused and put a hand on Richard’s arm. “They’re going to drag the lake.”

 

Inside the hospital room, Hutch lay listening. He had awakened just moments before the quiet conversation between his father and Andrew, and though at first he didn’t grasp what they were talking about, some instinct kicked in when Andrew said “they” were going to drag the lake.

 

The conversation went on for a few more minutes, as Richard and Andrew planned to mount an all-out search of hospitals in the area for a man fitting Starsky’s description. Hutch’s mind was still fuzzy, his body too weak to call out to his father and ask for details, but inside he was screaming that somebody had to find Starsky, and that somebody ought to be him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky had slept soundly, thanks to the sedative, and awoke feeling much better. His throat was hardly sore at all and it no longer hurt to breathe. Well, not much, anyway. When the nurse brought his breakfast, he ate it all, in spite of the fact that the oatmeal was runny and the custard – or whatever it was – was tasteless. The orange juice, at least, was cold and fresh and helped the lingering soreness in his throat.

 

When the doctor came in to check on him, he seemed pleased. “You’re looking much better this morning, Mr. Scanlon,” he said. “Do you remember what happened?”

 

Starsky was puzzled for a moment by the “Mr. Scanlon” before he remembered he’d given them that name. No way Gunther or his goons would know that name, but Hutch would.  That’s why Starsky chose one of Hutch’s undercover names, instead of one of his own.  Hutch would know.

 

“No,” he answered.

 

The doctor nodded and made a notation on the chart. “You didn’t have any ID on you.”

 

“Must’ve fallen out of my pocket,” Starsky said, keeping his face as impassive as possible.

 

“Is there anyone we can call for you?”

 

“I’ll call,” Starsky said. “There’s nobody in this area.” But his mind was worrying frantically about where Hutch was and what had happened to him. Once the doctor was out of the room, he’d try calling Hutch’s folks. They could call Dobey for him and Dobey could get a search going.

 

“I’m afraid we can’t let you do that,” the doctor said apologetically.

 

Starsky stared at him. “And why not?”

 

As if on cue, a uniformed officer stepped into the room. He did not look friendly. “There’s a warrant out on you, Lambert,” he said. “We’ve been looking for you for a week.”

 

“Lambert?” Starsky struggled into a sitting position. “My name’s not Lambert.”

 

The officer gave a cold smile and a shrug. “Neither is ‘Scanlon,’ is it? You’ve probably got a dozen aliases.” He moved closer and now Starsky could read the patch on his sleeve that identified him as an Olmsted County deputy. Terrific. All he needed was a gung-ho small-town cop who thought he was making a big bust.

 

“What am I supposed to have done?” Starsky inquired coolly.

 

“Broke out of Meeker County jail,” the cop said. “Like you don’t know. What kind of scum rapes a schoolteacher, huh? They’re gonna have fun with you in the pen.”

 

“Look, fella,” Starsky said, trying to be reasonable, “you got the wrong guy.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what they all say.” The cop turned to the doctor. “So, can he be moved?”

 

The doctor gave Starsky another apologetic look. “Yes, but you have to remember to give him his medication three times a day.”

 

“We will,” the cop said. “We’ll take him to the infirmary and let him get all better.” He grinned. “Don’t want him dyin’ and missin’ his trial.”

 

This can’t be happening, Starsky thought wearily. “What makes you think I’m the guy you’re looking for?” he demanded.

 

“Mug shot,” the cop said. “You think we’re amateurs just ‘cause we ain’t big city cops? I got a mug shot of you posted down at headquarters. They told us you might be coming this way, headed back home to Milwaukee. Now, we’re gonna move your ass to the jail where we can keep a good close eye on you until the Meeker County cops can send somebody after you.”

 

“I get a phone call,” Starsky said. “I know my rights.”

 

“You already had your phone call when they arrested you in Meeker County,” the cop said.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Richard went back into Hutch’s room and was stunned to see those blue eyes focused on him with a very determined look in them. “Ken,” he said, trying to hide his surprise but not his pleasure. “You’re awake. Thank God. We were so worried –”

 

“Thanks, Dad, but what I’m worried about is Starsky. Where is he?” In spite of the thready weakness in his voice, Hutch’s tone warned that he would accept no kindly meant evasiveness.

 

Richard sighed. He knew his son. He sat down in the visitor’s chair so he’d be on eye level with him. “He’s missing.”

 

Hutch swore, a word he would normally not have used in front of his father.

 

Richard let it pass. “We’re doing everything we can,” he said. “Andrew’s on the phone with your captain right now, and I’ve got my secretary calling every hospital for miles around. In a couple of hours, the state police will be helping. Try not to worry.”

 

“Dad, you don’t understand,” Hutch said, having to close his eyes because keeping them open was so tiring. “Somebody’s trying to kill us, has been trying to kill us, followed us all the way here to try to kill us –”

 

“I do understand,” Richard interrupted. “I’ve talked to Captain Dobey. I know what’s going on. Why do you think we’re combing two states to find him?” He gentled his tone and even laid his hand over his son’s, something he hadn’t often done. “Kenny, we’re taking care of it. I know how important it is.”

 

Hutch opened his eyes again and met his father’s. And nodded.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Andrew and Richard stood on the shore of the small lake – normally not very deep, but there had been a lot of snow this winter, a lot of melting and freezing and melting again, and the lake was much higher than normal. The black Charger’s rear end barely stuck out of the water, the nose and most of the rest of the body under the surface.

 

A wrecker was working with a winch to get the car pulled free of the water while Search and Rescue was dragging the lake. Dobey had been on the boat with them, but it was so cold that they had to change shifts often, and he climbed up the incline to join Andrew and Richard, shivering violently in spite of his heavy coat.

 

“Nothing,” he said to Richard. “I hope to God we don’t find him here.”

 

“Amen,” Richard said fervently.

 

As the car came slowly out of the water, Richard could see enough of the driver’s window to confirm the report that it had been broken, and he prayed that meant David had gotten out and made it to shore somehow. But if so, where the hell was he?

 

Once the car was free, a couple of state police officers began searching it.  They found Starsky’s badge and wallet and rescued his bag.  Then one of the officers approached the three men, clutching something shiny in his fist.

 

“Any of you recognize this?” the diver asked, opening his hand and holding it out toward them.

 

A necklace lay there, a silver charm on a broken chain. The charm was shaped like Thor’s hammer.

 

Dobey drew a deep breath. “It’s Starsky’s.” He took it from the diver and examined it more closely. “Never really looked at it before,” he said to Richard. “I know Hutch gave it to him after he got out of the hospital, but I don’t know what it means.”

 

“I do,” Richard said. “Thor’s hammer is supposed to provide protection. Old Viking legend.”

 

“Doesn’t look like it worked,” Dobey said sourly.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch was slightly stronger and more alert, and had been waiting, terrified, ever since Richard and the others had left for the lake. It was late in the day before they returned, and his eyes went straight to the necklace Richard held in his hand. Something deep and painful crossed his face before he could control his expression.

 

Richard saw the look and gave it to him. “They found that in the car,” he said. “They did NOT find a body. He must’ve gotten out.”

 

“Then, where is he?” Hutch demanded. His eyes went to Dobey. “Anything?”

 

“We’ve already called all the hospitals anyplace close by in Wisconsin,” Dobey answered. “We’ve started on the ones across the border in Minnesota. We’ve also alerted law enforcement on both sides of the state line and sent photos and descriptions, in case he’s using a false name.”

 

“And he would,” Hutch said. “If he’s able,” he added, his voice dropping.

 

“He’s probably just lying low,” Richard began, but Hutch shook his head.

 

“He’d let me know he was safe somehow,” he said. “He’d know I’d worry about him. And there’s no reason for him to hide from us. He’s either trying to get back to us or he can’t.” He turned to Dobey and his captain could see the physical effort the next question cost him. “Have you checked morgues, too?”

 

“Yes,” Dobey said. “In every county from here to there and back again. No unidentified bodies matching his description.”

 

Hutch’s brows came down in a frown. “You’ve had time to check all those morgues and haven’t made it through all the hospitals yet? Sounds like you –”

 

Dobey nodded and looked embarrassed. “We checked those first.”

 

“That’s just terrific!” Hutch spat, glaring at him.

 

“It was a reasonable assumption,” Richard said. “Considering the condition he must’ve been in. No need to raise your voice, son. Now we know he’s not dead, at least.”

 

“Or the body hasn’t been found.”

 

“What do you think your partner would say if he heard you talking like that?” Richard demanded. “Giving up on him?”

 

Now, Hutch looked embarrassed. “Sorry, Dad. I’m just worried sick.”

 

“I know. And we’re doing everything humanly possible. Have faith, Ken.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky lay on his back in the narrow bunk, staring dispiritedly up at the gray concrete ceiling. The so-called “infirmary” in the county lock-up was just like all the other cells except a nurse showed up once a day to take his temperature and blood pressure and tell Deputy Dumbass to make sure to give him his medicine with each meal. The problem was, he wasn’t getting his medicine. The deputy had given him a single aspirin and that was it, so far.

 

The mattress was thin and stank, the blanket was shabby and he froze to death at night, when they turned the heat down to what felt like sub-arctic temperatures, and the food was lousy. He’d been here three days and still nobody from Meeker County had shown up. He hoped they were more intelligent than this turkey, who had proudly pointed to the mug shot he’d used to decide Starsky was the missing Gary Lambert. Lambert looked nothing like Starsky beyond the fact that both of them had dark curly hair. Lambert’s eyes were narrow, he had a scar on his chin, and the description attached to the photo clearly stated he had a devil’s head tattooed on his right shoulder. When Starsky had pointed that out to Deputy Dumbass, the man had snapped at him to shut up and given him a shove toward the “infirmary.”

 

Maybe the moron couldn’t read. No, you had to be able to read to be a deputy. Didn’t you? Starsky sighed and shifted his weight and wondered how long it was until lunchtime. Not that he expected palatable food. Breakfast had been one of those tiny cereal boxes meant for kids and a pint of milk. Supper last night had been a hunk of cold meat loaf, three green beans and a stale roll. If they’d just let him make a phone call, he’d risk Gunther’s goons finding him and call Hutch’s dad. But the deputy wouldn’t hear of it.

 

“If Meeker wants to let you make another call when they come for ya, they can,” he’d said. “I’m not going to. You had your call.”

 

“I’m telling you, I’m not Lambert!” Starsky had flared. “I don’t have a tattoo, I don’t have a scar, and if you’ll let me use the goddamned phone, I can prove I’m not Lambert!”

 

“Don’t you use that kinda language on me,” the deputy had snarled, pulling his nightstick from his belt and holding it up.

 

Starsky had shut up. So far, he’d only seen two other deputies, both of whom were young and obviously too afraid of Deputy Dumbass to even talk to Starsky, though Lord knew he’d tried. He’d begged them to listen to him, to look at the photo of Lambert and compare it to him, to call Richard Hutchinson for him.

 

“Morgan’s in charge,” one of them had said the first day. “He makes the decisions.”

 

When he’d asked to speak to the sheriff himself, Morgan had laughed shortly.

 

“Sheriff’s a busy man,” he’d said. “I’m not bothering him with the likes of you.”

 

The sheriff and this gorilla are both going to be damned sorry they didn’t listen to me, Starsky thought angrily, thumping the stinky pillow in a vain attempt to make it more comfortable. I’m gonna hang both their hides from Dick’s barn door. At least, he reasoned, he was safe from Gunther for the moment. He prayed Hutch’s father had gotten him to a safe location and that he was all right. Many of the days since he and Hutch were separated were a blur, but he finally remembered how bad his partner looked when Mr. Hutchinson and his friend carried him out of the motel. How the hell did I get from East Egypt, Wisconsin to Moose Antler, Minnesota, though? He lay awake and thought about it for hours, shivering in the cold and wondering how he was going to get out of this mess. He was still weak and troubled by a hacking cough that wasn’t improving. The cold, damp cell wasn’t helping.

 

The next morning, Deputy Morgan unlocked Starsky’s cell and stepped inside with Reuben Johnson, one of the younger deputies.

 

“Get up, Lambert. You’re being transferred this morning,” Morgan stated.

 

Starsky had just finished his latest breakfast of a tiny box of generic cereal and too warm skim milk. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand; napkins were another item not much in evidence at the Olmsted County jail. He glared at the hulking man and said, “You realize that while you’re dickin’ around with me here, the real Gary Lambert, a possible rapist, is roaming around free, don’t you?”

 

“Shut up, Lambert,” Morgan ordered. “I said, get up!”

 

Starsky moved a little too slowly for the man, who stepped closer and roughly hauled him to his feet. The sudden change in position left Starsky standing on wobbly legs. When the flashing pinpricks of light in his vision settled, Starsky said, “I want to see a lawyer.”

 

“Save it for Meeker,” came the harsh reply. “Now put your arms behind your back.”

 

Starsky did as he was told, wincing as the handcuffs were snapped on, tightly enough to impair the circulation in his hands.

 

“Deputy Morgan,” Johnson said quietly, “isn’t he gonna need a coat? It’s 19 degrees out there.” Johnson had observed Morgan’s harsh, unprofessional demeanor with this prisoner for days. He’d been afraid to say anything – Morgan was the kind of man it was best not to anger. But this prisoner was still not well and he couldn’t just stand by and say nothing while the older deputy took him out into a cold, Minnesota winter day without a coat. The fact that Morgan had already cuffed his prisoner made it look like he had no plan to take reasonable care of the man. Starsky had entered the jail in scrubs borrowed from the hospital, which had quickly been replaced by a thin orange jumpsuit that would offer no protection from the elements.

 

“What, are you his mother? It ain’t that cold in the squad. ‘Sides, it’s only 4 or 5 hours to Meeker.”

 

“I thought they were sending someone to get me,” Starsky said.

 

“They’re short handed so I volunteered to drive you up there.”

 

Lucky me.

 

Morgan turned to walk out, expecting Starsky to follow and Johnson to bring up the rear. Since he’d been so ill, Starsky hadn’t gotten any exercise and hadn’t been out of bed much. His legs were rubbery. He was busy thinking about the possibility he would be able to reason with the Meeker County Sheriff and he wasn’t paying enough attention to the ground. He tripped on the metal threshold of the door. Without his hands to stop his fall, Starsky crashed into Deputy Morgan’s back.

 

The deputy spun around and, before either Starsky or Reuben Johnson knew what was happening, the angry man had shoved Starsky the rest of the way to the ground and kicked him a couple of times. He was reaching for his nightstick when Johnson intervened, stepping between the raging Morgan and Starsky, lying helpless on the floor.

 

Outweighed by nearly one hundred pounds, Reuben was terrified as he put up his hands and yelled, “Stop it! What’s the matter with you, Morgan?”

 

Morgan paused with his hand on the nightstick, his eyes flashing and said, “Stay out of this, Johnson! You saw it, he came after me. He was resisting.”

 

Starsky moaned and let out a mirthless laugh at that. He was coughing again and his voice was strained when he said, “You’re gonna regret that.”

 

Morgan stepped around Johnson and kicked Starsky again. “Shut up, Lambert!”

 

“Morgan!” Johnson managed to get between the other two men again. “That’s enough. He wasn’t doing anything, he just tripped. I don’t know why you hate this guy so much, but let’s just get him out of here.” With that, he turned and helped Starsky to his feet. Morgan began to insist that Starsky be put in leg irons, but Johnson was feeling brave and he told him that wasn’t necessary. He got Starsky into the back of the squad car. Feeling the shivers already starting to run through the prisoner, he admonished Morgan to turn up the heat in the car.

 

“Why don’t you just mind your own business?” Morgan snarled. For reasons Starsky didn’t understand, the big man hated him. He was hurting and cold. Knowing he had four or five hours to be in the car with the man was motivation enough to keep his mouth shut, in the hope that he would survive long enough to get to Meeker County.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch’s doctor stepped outside of his room to speak with Mr. Hutchinson, who motioned Captain Dobey over from a nearby chair to join them. The doctor finished writing a few notes in the chart and turned his attention to the anxious father. “Doctors don’t mind being wrong when it’s in the patient’s favor. I had my doubts for a while, but he’s doing much better.”

 

“Thank God,” Richard said. “And thank you, Doctor.”

 

“You’re welcome, but your son is responsible, too. He’s strong and he seems to have some underlying motivation to get out of here as quickly as possible.”

 

“Doctor, I’m sure you’re aware of the special precautions we’ve been taking with his identity and location,” Richard said, in a quiet voice. The doctor nodded. The hospital was under constant surveillance, and Mr. Hutchinson had bodyguards posted in Hutch’s room and undercover as hospital workers, where they could keep an eye on the entrances, exits, and Hutch’s room.  Captain Dobey was impressed with Richard’s thorough and smooth handling of the situation.

 

Richard nodded toward Dobey and said, “The captain and I believe it is important to move him to a safer location as soon as possible. Can we move him safely?”

 

The doctor frowned. “I said he was doing better, but I’m not sure he’s ready to be taken out of here, yet. What type of facility did you have in mind?”

 

Dobey piped in and said, “Someplace the reason why we have to be so careful will never think to look.”

 

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. I’m afraid I never learned much about espionage. Are you certain this is necessary? Do you really think he’s in danger, even with all of the protection you’ve brought into the hospital?”

 

Richard looked toward Dobey for the answer to that question. “Yes, we do, Doctor. I want him in a more private place. It’s that important.”

 

The doctor looked serious, glancing through the chart and nodding as he read through Hutch’s progress notes. He took his glasses off, sliding them into his lab coat and said, “Very well. His temperature has been steadily dropping and his blood pressure is coming up. I want to give it a few more hours, but go ahead and make your plans. We can move him out of here in the morning.”

 

The three reached agreement on what would happen. The doctor didn’t like it that they were unwilling to tell him where they were going or who would be caring for his patient, but he accepted it. He had no choice.

 

“I’ll tell him,” Richard said to Dobey after the doctor left.

 

“You do that and I’ll go call and see if they’ve found anything new on Starsky.” Dobey followed him into Hutch’s room. He had been trying to make phone calls from inside Hutch’s room. Not only was the phone being monitored to prevent bugs and taps, but more importantly, making the calls in front of Hutch was reassuring him that they were doing everything they could, and that they were keeping nothing from him. That was going a long way toward helping him rest and remain quiet.

 

Hutch was still weak and staying awake was a challenge. He was asleep again when they re-entered the room. Dobey went to the phone across the room and started making his calls. The first search through hospitals where Starsky might have turned up was completely fruitless. Dobey had a notebook with the names of all the hospitals, the contacts at each, and the names of any patients checked into them since Starsky disappeared who had any resemblance to the missing officer. All of the John Does had been eliminated, so he started to scan the other names for the third time between calls.

 

Next to the name of a small hospital in Winona, Minnesota, his eyes were drawn to a name. He’d read it several times, thinking that it was familiar, but not knowing why. Larry Scanlon.

 

Richard sat down in the chair and took Hutch’s hand in his. He’d never been physically demonstrative with his children, but in the past few days, he’d learned a little of what he’d missed. He knew that his son was a toucher. He’d seen that in how he treated Starsky while he was healing and he’d seen how much it helped Starsky. Without his partner there to take care of him, Richard decided it was up to him to provide that comfort and Hutch responded to it... and to him.

 

“Son,” he said quietly as he reached with his other hand to touch Hutch’s hair, letting his fingertips gently brush the fading blackness around Hutch’s eyes, “can you wake up a little for me?”

 

Hutch squeezed his father’s hand and opened his eyes. “I’m awake,” he slurred. As his brain clicked into gear, he asked, “Starsky?”

 

“Nothing yet, I’m afraid.”

 

“Dad,” Hutch said wearily, “how soon can I get out of here? I need to look for him.”

 

“That’s what I want to talk to you about, Ken. You are getting out of here, but not to go on a search for your partner.”

 

“But, Dad....” The monitors attached to Hutch were showing his growing agitation.

 

“Shhhh. Calm down, son. If you don’t, they’ll sedate you. The doctor says you have to be kept quiet so you can heal.”

 

Hutch nodded and said, “Where am I going?”

 

“Do you remember Cardinal Narro?” Richard asked. Hutch nodded again. “He has arranged for you to stay with the brothers at the St. Francis Friary. You’ll be safe there. I’ve seen to it.” Richard Hutchinson and his family were Lutherans, but he grew up with Bill Narro. As a favor to his old friend, the man agreed to help shield Hutch.

 

“Dad, I can’t slink away and hide while Starsky is out there, God knows where.”

 

He heard Captain Dobey say “That’s it!” and he rose and walked toward the Hutchinson men. “I heard that, Hutchinson, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Your dad has arranged everything to keep you safe. You’re in no shape to even get out of bed. We had to convince your doctor to allow this.” Hutch opened his mouth to protest, but Dobey shut him down with a glare. “Hutch, let me spell this out for you. Our resources are stretched about as thin as they’ve ever been. I can’t mount an all out search for your partner across multiple states and be worried about you going off and getting yourself killed before we can get your partner out of whatever trouble he’s found. For once, you need to let us handle things and just do what you’re told.”

 

Hutch stared at him in shock. He didn’t know what to say, so he settled for, “All right, for now. But if he’s not found by the time I’m able to move on my own steam, I’m going after him.”

 

“Maybe that won’t be necessary. I think I might have something. A man matching Starsky’s description was seen in a small hospital in Winona, Minnesota the day he went missing. This patient was registered as ‘Larry Scanlon.’ Mean anything to you?”

 

Hutch smiled and heaved a sigh of relief. “Yeah, it does. That was my undercover name when we went after that scum Vic Humphries who had me pushed off into the canyon. Starsky must have been with it enough to know I’d recognize it.”

 

That was the first good news they’d had. Hutch closed his eyes wearily as he said, “Is he still there?”

 

“I don’t know. You just rest. I’m going to go make some phone calls and see what we can find.” He patted Hutch on the shoulder as he went back to the phone.

 

“How’s Mom doing with all this, Dad?” Hutch asked as he opened his eyes again. His blinks were getting longer as sleep crept up on him again.

 

“Funny you should ask, Ken. She’s been pretty angry that I wouldn’t let her come here. I was afraid to, for a number of reasons. Yesterday, we flew her up to Canada. Some of my people up there have doubled her back and she will be waiting for us at the Friary. We had to make sure she wasn’t followed.”

 

“Great. I want to see her.” Hutch yawned and closed his eyes again. “Promise me you’ll wake me up if you hear anything, okay?”

 

“Sleep, son. I promise. In the morning, we’re going to get out of here. Maybe we’ll know more about David by then.”

 

As Hutch drifted off to sleep, he stretched his thoughts and feelings out to his partner. Hoping he was well and trying to send him a message that it was going to be all right. They were going to come for him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Throughout the time driving to Meeker County, Starsky had nearly frozen. He thought grimly about how Deputy Dumbass had refused to turn the heater on in the squad car until the windows were so fogged over they could barely see to stay on the road. Some of the heat from the defroster made its way through the wire screen to the back seat, standing between Starsky and freezing to death. His wrists were chaffed raw by the tight handcuffs and, by the time they pulled up to the Meeker County Sheriff’s office, he couldn’t feel his hands anymore. Morgan left him in the back of the squad car while he went in to report that they were there.

 

Despite the shivering, Starsky was finding it difficult to stay awake. He didn’t hear the door open, but was jerked awake as he was dragged out of the car. His side and leg hurt where Morgan had kicked him, but he managed to stay on his feet. He was concentrating on getting into the building so he could put an end to this nightmare.

 

As soon as they entered the processing area, the sheriff came through the door at the other end of the room. “I wanted to personally welcome you back to our jail, Lambert,” he was saying as he walked toward them.

 

Starsky lifted his chin and looked at the man, who soon wore a shocked look. “Wait a minute, Morgan, this isn’t Gary Lambert.”

 

Morgan glared at the now smiling Starsky. “Are you sure?”

 

“I told you I’m not him,” Starsky said.

 

“Of course I’m sure, Morgan. I arrested Lambert myself. I’ve never seen this man. You’ll have to take him back.”

 

“No, please....” Starsky started to say, but Morgan stopped him by spinning him around and shoving him back out the door.

 

“I’ll be right back,” Morgan called over his shoulder.

 

“Please, you have to listen to me!” Starsky shouted, but Morgan had him out before anyone could listen. Starsky struggled to break free from the deputy’s hold, but he wasn’t strong enough. He shoved Starsky in the back of the squad car and slammed the door. Then, he returned to speak with the sheriff. He had to think of something fast. He smiled with the idea he had.

 

“What was that all about, Morgan? That man didn’t look well. Who is he?”

 

“He’s all right. Sorry for the mix up. We busted him on a B&E and attempted assault of a woman in Rochester. Too bad he’s not your guy. We’ll keep an eye out for him.” He shook hands with the sheriff and went back out to the car.

 

Ignoring Starsky’s protests, Morgan left town and headed off on a wooded road. He pulled off onto a small side lane that led to a deserted picnic grounds. When he stopped the car in such a remote place, Starsky was justifiably afraid the man was planning to kill him. He’d been caught in his huge mistake and had to do something with Starsky, other than return with him to the jail in his town. Morgan would have no way of explaining that. I’m sorry, Hutch. This guy’s gonna finish me and save Gunther the trouble he thought dejectedly as the car stopped and the deputy turned off the engine.

 

“What are we doin’ here?” Starsky asked.

 

“We seem to have us a problem, now don’t we. I can’t take you back, so I have to do something with you.”

 

Starsky tried to remain calm. “Look, we can still work this out....”

 

“Save it. I can’t just let you go, you know that.” He climbed out of the squad car. Starsky tensed, preparing to run when he was out of the car. If Morgan got a firm hold on him, he knew he was dead. He didn’t believe it would save him, but he had to try. Morgan never gave him the chance.

 

He pulled Starsky from the car and threw him to the ground. Once he had him off his feet, he proceeded to kick him and beat him repeatedly into unconsciousness, all the while swearing at him and telling him he’d better not tell anyone what happened. He told the barely conscious Starsky he wasn’t going to kill him this time, but if he ever told what had really happened, he’d find him and finish him. Starsky remembered thinking he’d never survive as he slipped into darkness.

 

Two hours later, Morgan pulled the squad car up to a state-run mental hospital. He went in to speak to the intake coordinator.

 

“I have a patient in the car, can someone please help me with him?” Morgan was the picture of concern and cooperation. This had to work. He thought Starsky was probably a drifter. No one had been looking for a missing person, so no one would miss the man he’d just beaten. Morgan was cocky enough to believe that if it came down to his word against that of a drifter, he would be all right.

 

A nurse and an orderly accompanied him out to the car. They loaded the unconscious, handcuffed man onto a gurney.

 

“Get those cuffs off of him,” the nurse ordered. “Does he need restraints?”

 

“Yes, the boy’s violent.”

 

“He’s also been beaten and he’s nearly frozen. What’s going on here?”

 

As they entered the hospital, Morgan told them the story of the man on the gurney. He said he was a mentally disturbed, shell-shocked Vietnam vet named Mike Ballard who had gone ballistic. Morgan said the patient had broken into a home and tried to rape a woman. Then he tried to kill himself and got into a brawl with the officers who had been called to the scene when neighbors heard the woman’s screams.

 

“He’s violent and dangerous,” he added.

 

The doctor who was now examining Starsky looked him over carefully. He saw the healing scars on his chest, underneath the cuts and bruises he’d sustained from his beating. The doctor knew they were not old scars and he raised an eyebrow. Something didn’t smell right. Listening to the patient’s chest, he heard the distinctive sound of pneumonia in both lungs.

 

“Was it necessary to beat him so badly?” he asked, giving the deputy an angry glare.

 

“Well, he attacked us. He’s a wild man, I tell ya. I’ve known him a long time. He’ll try to convince you of all kinds of things. Says his name is ‘Scanlon’ or something like that. He’ll tell ya all kinds of lies. Thinks everybody’s out to get him.” Morgan moved his left index finger in a circle around his ear as he added, “Completely wacko.”

 

The doctor stiffened and said, “This man may be the unfortunate victim of mental illness, but that does NOT give you the right to speak so derisively about him. You understand me?”

 

“Sure, sure, take it easy. Look, I want to get back before dark. Can you take it from here?”

 

“Yes. Stop by the intake desk and give the receptionist the information you have on him.” The doctor returned to looking after his patient and missed the self-satisfied look on Morgan’s face as he walked away. The nurse noticed the deputy’s scabbed knuckles as he passed. She gently picked up each of Starsky’s hands and looked at them. The doctor and she exchanged a glance as they both realized the man in their care hadn’t been in a fight. At least, not in one where he got in any punches. The color was slowly coming back into his icy, purple, but otherwise, unmarked hands. His wrists were a mess and the doctor was sure the handcuffs had done the damage.

 

As Starsky started to warm up, he began to climb toward consciousness. The doctor had already determined that he didn’t have a head injury and he was ready for any reaction. Barely conscious and unaware of his surroundings, Starsky thought he was still with Morgan and he started to thrash about, becoming combative.

 

“Calm down, Mr. Ballard,” Doctor Jefferson said, trying to sound calm, “you’re safe, now.” He administered a sedative. While Starsky’s movements slowed as he sank back into blackness, the doctor and nurse applied restraints to his arms.

 

“Suicide watch,” the doctor ordered. Then he continued to treat his new patient’s physical problems. As soon as he was out of danger and settled in a room, Dr. Jefferson would start looking into this patient’s circumstances. He had learned to trust his instincts and something was wrong with this scenario.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The sun had come out and the weather had warmed up just a little by the time Richard, Dobey, and Hutch arrived at the friary. They were expected, and were met at the door by a brother in brown robes and sandals. The cold didn’t seem to bother him, however, and he greeted them with a kind smile and helped bring Hutch in.

 

“I’m Brother James,” he said as he was showing them to the room where Hutch would stay. “We are so glad we could help.”

 

“I can’t thank you enough,” Richard said. “You do understand the need for absolute secrecy about Ken’s presence here, don’t you?”

 

James nodded. “We do, indeed. The cardinal himself visited yesterday and explained to us. I assure you, we receive almost no visitors and usually only Brother Michael goes out to buy supplies. Ken will be quite safe here.” He leaned over to tuck the blankets a bit more snugly around Hutch and smiled down at him. “And don’t worry about his condition. Brother David was in the medical profession before he came to us two years ago, and he is quite capable of looking after him.”

 

“Brother ‘David’?” Dobey grinned in spite of himself. “I feel better already.”

 

“Ken’s best friend is named David,” Richard explained when James looked puzzled.

 

James’ smile widened. “I’m sure you’ll like Brother David, too,” he said to Hutch. “He’s a fascinating man to talk to.”

 

Hutch had not spoken up to this point. The trip to the friary and the exertion of getting inside had left him breathless in spite of the number of people helping him. But now he looked up at his father. “Dad, you gotta find Starsky.”

 

“I know.” Richard patted his arm. “We had to get you settled and safe first. Now, Harold and I will go and get started on that and we’ll keep you informed every step of the way, all right?”

 

“Promise.”

 

“I promise.” Richard smiled and shook his head. To Dobey, he said, “I don’t remember him being this demanding as a child.”

 

“He didn’t know Starsky when he was a child,” Dobey said.

 

“Dad,” Hutch said.

 

“Okay, we’re going. We’ll be back later.” Richard turned to go, but hesitated and glanced at James.

 

“He’ll be fine,” James said reassuringly. “Would you like to meet Brother David before you go? Would it make you feel better?”

 

“Dad.”

 

“No, we’d better get moving,” Richard said. “My son insists.” He patted Hutch’s shoulder and touched his hair. “I’ll call the moment we have any news.”

 

“Thanks, Dad.”

 

Richard and Dobey left and James beamed down at Hutch. “Would you like something to eat, Ken? Brother Daniel makes a mean chicken gumbo.”

 

Hutch laughed in spite of himself at the image of a brown-robed friar making a “mean” anything. “That sounds good, thank you.”

 

“I’ll get you some.” James turned and called down the corridor and in a moment, another friar appeared. “This is Brother David,” he said to Hutch. “We’re under orders not to leave you alone, and it’s probably a good idea to let him have a look at you, anyway.”

 

David came in, sat down on the edge of the bed and began asking Hutch questions, keeping him busy until James returned with a steaming bowl of soup and a glass of cold milk. Between the two men – and James had been right, David was friendly, talkative, and fascinating – he was kept occupied until he’d eaten and started to get sleepy again.

 

“You rest,” David told him, taking the dishes and rising.

 

“Brother,” Hutch said, forcing his eyes to stay open another few minutes, “may I ask a favor?”

 

“Certainly, Ken.”

 

“Would you ... pray for my partner’s safety? He’s missing and ... I’m scared to death.”

 

David smiled. “Of course, we will.” He glanced at James, who folded his hands and bowed his head. David recited something lovely in Latin – at least, Hutch thought it was Latin – and raised his head after a few moments of silence following his prayer. “Sleep now, Ken,” David said. “Your friend’s safety is in the Lord’s hands.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dr. Jefferson had made sure his new patient was comfortable and warm in his room, with an orderly guarding him. He collected the scant information the deputy had left at the reception desk and took it to his office to begin a chart on “Mr. Ballard.” He couldn’t put his suspicions to rest. Something was wrong here, and he was going to find out what it was.

 

With nothing else to put there, he typed “Michael Ballard” under “patient’s name,” but he put quotation marks around it and a question mark after it. He filled in the vital statistics fairly easily. They had measured the man’s height and weight while treating him. He scribbled notes about the man’s injuries, including the scars he had noticed on his chest and back. But under “diagnosis,” he had to pause. He knew what the deputy had said, but he wanted to make his own examination of the man. That would have to wait until the next day. He’d given the patient enough sedative to keep him out for a long time.

 

Starsky woke up because the morning sun was in his eyes. He blinked rapidly, looking around the unfamiliar room. He didn’t even try to struggle against the restraints. He remembered those from Cabrillo State. And he still felt so lousy that he wouldn’t have been able to do much about them anyway. He could see the outline of a man’s head on the other side of the door. Guarding him, most likely. He had vague memories, like a half-forgotten dream, of a conversation between Deputy Dumbass and a doctor. The deputy had told the doctor he was crazy. So this must be a mental hospital.

 

Well, that’s just terrific, he thought wearily. First jail, now the fuckin’ loony bin. I gotta be having a nightmare. This kinda thing don’t happen in real life.

 

It was a good while before a nurse showed up with breakfast, but she smiled at him and said, “Good morning, Mr. Ballard. How are you today?”

 

Ballard? Where the hell did they get that?

 

“I’m fine – I guess – but my name’s not Ballard, it’s Scanlon. Larry Scanlon.”

 

“Of course,” she said, still smiling. “I’m afraid I have to feed you, sir, the doctor hasn’t given permission for us to remove the restraints.”

 

“Terrific,” he said with a sigh.

 

At least the food was plentiful and hot and he hadn’t eaten a decent meal for days. When he finished eating, the nurse took his blood pressure and made a notation on a chart, then produced some pills. Remembering he’d been sedated – he recognized the hangover-type feeling – he tried to refuse them.

 

“These are your antibiotics, Mr. Ball – I mean, Mr. Scanlon,” she said. “For your pneumonia. Not tranquilizers, I promise. Dr. Jefferson asked that you not be tranquilized this morning because he wants to examine you.”

 

Starsky searched her eyes and didn’t see any guile there, and finally accepted the pills.

 

“There, that’ll help you feel better,” she said, still cheery. “Doctor’ll be in shortly. Want the TV on?”

 

Starsky hadn’t noticed the TV, up high and enclosed in wire mesh with just the screen uncovered. “Sure, why not?” he said.

 

She used a button on the pad at the bedside to turn the television on and set it to a game show. Starsky smiled his thanks – at least it was better than one of those godawful soap operas – and she left the room. He got a good look at the goon in the corridor as she opened the door and he was big. Definitely put there to guard him, Starsky thought.

 

The game show had ended and a new one had begun before the doctor came in. He was carrying a notepad and a file folder. He came in, accompanied by a different nurse, and pulled up a chair. “I’m Dr. Jefferson,” he said. “How do you feel?”

 

“Scared, to be honest,” Starsky said, liking the man’s frank gaze and friendly manner.

 

“I would be, too,” Jefferson said. “How much do you remember about yesterday?”

 

Starsky searched his memory and wondered how much he ought to reveal. The doctor waited patiently while he sorted it out. Finally, Starsky decided things couldn’t be worse if he did tell the truth, so he told the doctor everything he could remember, including the beating he’d taken at Deputy Dumbass’ hands.

 

The doctor listened in silence, making a few notes, shaking his head and once frowning fiercely. When Starsky finished, Jefferson said, “I guessed some of that. I didn’t trust that man.” He opened the file folder and set the notepad on his other knee. “I need to ask you some questions, and some of them are going to sound very nosy, but in spite of my opinion of that deputy, the fact is that you were brought here by an officer of the law. The legal term is ‘involuntary commitment.’ There are certain steps we have to go through because of that.”

 

“I know,” Starsky said with a sigh. He almost added that he was a cop and had taken a loony or two to the cracker factory himself, but changed his mind in time.

 

“Your name?”

 

“Larry Scanlon.”

 

Jefferson noted that down, asked his age, place of birth, parents’ names – Starsky gave their real first names and didn’t offer a last name, hoping Jefferson would accept that, and he did. He asked for medical history and Starsky also answered those questions honestly, leaving out gunshot wounds but including the truth about when he got his tonsils out and how old he’d been when he had measles and chicken pox.

 

Then Jefferson started asking those “nosy” questions. Did he ever hear voices when no one was there? Did he ever have trouble discerning the difference between reality and imagination? Did he ever have blackouts and was he unable to account for long periods of time? Starsky fought the impulse to say his whole life had turned into a surreal nightmare and instead answered honestly.

 

The interview went on for almost an hour and finally the doctor laid his pen down. “Mr. Scanlon, normally I’d not share my diagnosis with a patient without talking to his family first. But I don’t think this is a normal situation.”

 

“Tell me about it,” Starsky muttered.

 

Jefferson smiled. “You, however, are normal and since this is a hospital for the mentally ill, you don’t really belong here.”

 

“So what are you going to do?”

 

“First, we’re going to remove these,” Jefferson said, indicating the restraints and casting a glance at the burly orderly, who went to work taking them off without a word. “Then,” Jefferson continued, “we’re going to try to get you well physically. How long have you been sick?”

 

Starsky had to think about that. The days in the Moose Antler jail had skewed his time sense. “About a week, I think,” he said at last.

 

Jefferson nodded. “I don’t think there’s been any damage done to your lungs, but I will have to insist you stay in bed except for using the toilet. You need lots of rest and sleep and good food to build your strength back up. We’ll continue with the antibiotics and monitor your lungs closely.” He paused. “I will understand if you don’t want to answer this question, but these scars on your chest and back –” He waited while Starsky felt his face involuntarily flush. “Was there any damage to your lungs when that happened?”

 

“A little,” Starsky admitted.

 

Jefferson reached for his stethoscope. “May I?”

 

Starsky sat up, with the orderly’s help, and Jefferson listened to his chest and back, ordering him to breathe deeply.

 

“You still have fluid in your lungs,” Jefferson said when he finished. “I don’t like the way it sounds at all. Can you tell me how you got those scars?”

 

Starsky shook his head. “Sorry. I would if I could, but ...” He looked into the doctor’s face and thought he could probably trust him. “I’ll tell you this much. I was attacked. And I’m still afraid for my safety.”

 

“Okay, I’ll accept that,” Jefferson said. He stood and motioned the orderly out. When the man was gone, he met Starsky’s eyes. “You’re safe here, Mr. Scanlon. Rest now.”

 

Jefferson went back to his office and re-read the notes he’d made and considered his next move. He knew bullet wound scars when he saw them. He’d done his residency in a Minneapolis public hospital emergency room where gunshot wounds were not an uncommon occurrence. Other than crime victims, usually, only two kinds of people had gunshot wounds. Criminals and cops. He wondered which one “Mr. Scanlon” was.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Richard hung up the phone with a sigh and rubbed his eyes and the back of his neck. Between them, he and Dobey must have called every hospital, clinic, and law enforcement agency in every county touching the ones Starsky might have been in. Nobody had seen him. The best they’d been able to find was the vague description from the Winona ER that a man who looked like Starsky had been treated there days earlier. Dobey had already issued a “missing officer” report thanks to the cooperation of the Minnesota and Wisconsin state police offices, and in a few hours, every law enforcement agency in both states would have the report, along with the most recent photo Dobey had been able to provide. The report said that Starsky was in ill health and would possibly be operating under a false name – and included the name “Larry Scanlon.”

 

Dobey was still on the phone to the sheriff’s office in Meeker County. “His name’s David Starsky,” he was saying. “Five-eleven, dark curly hair, blue eyes. Possibly using the name Larry Scanlon. No, he’s not a criminal!” Dobey rolled his eyes and rubbed his head with his free hand. “He’s a detective from Bay City. I told you, he’s in fear of his life from a criminal he and his partner testified against. The man’s already tried to kill them several times and –” Dobey stopped and raised his eyes to Richard. “What? When? Well, what county was he from?” Dobey scribbled something on the pad in front of him. “Morgan? Okay, thank you.” He hung up and swore vehemently. Richard waited. “Some clown brought a man fitting Starsky’s description into Meeker County a couple of days ago and presented him as a fugitive named Gary Lambert,” Dobey said. “He doesn’t even look like Lambert, the Meeker sheriff said, and when he told the deputy it wasn’t their man, the deputy left with him.”

 

“So call the deputy,” Richard said.

 

“I’m going to!” Dobey growled, punching the numbers in almost savagely. He waited, apparently had to speak to several other people first, and finally got Morgan on the phone, after threatening whoever answered with an investigation if they didn’t cooperate. “This is Captain Harold C. Dobey of the Bay City Police,” he said to Morgan. “I’m looking for a missing officer and I’ve been told you may know where he is.”

 

“Why do you think we know?” Morgan asked.

 

“Because the Meeker County sheriff said you brought in a man who looks just like him the other day!” Dobey barked, too upset to hold his emotions in check. “Dark curly hair. Blue eyes. Five-eleven, 170.”

 

Morgan thought fast, his heart beating so hard he could barely breathe. He’d just received the missing officer report a half hour earlier and he recognized the photo immediately. He was the one who first saw the report, and he quickly destroyed it.  Finding out the man he’d dumped at the state mental hospital was a cop was unsettling.  He hoped the man’s memory would be too sketchy to implicate him.   “Couldn’t have been your man,” he said as soon as he could trust his voice.

 

“How do you know? And where is he now?” Even someone who didn’t know Dobey would have recognized the barely-controlled fury in the voice.

 

“I don’t know,” Morgan said. “This man fit the description of a fugitive. I took him to Meeker County, and when they said he wasn’t the guy they were looking for, I let him go. Could be anywhere now.”

 

“How do you know he wasn’t Detective Starsky?”

 

“This guy was homeless and had been a long time,” Morgan said. “Probably a mental case. I’ve seen my share of ‘em. Mumbling, not making sense. Dirty and ragged. ‘Sides,” he added, in a burst of inspiration, “ his eyes were brown.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Dobey shook his head at Richard, who felt his shoulders slump in defeat. “Wasn’t him, I guess,” Dobey said, his voice mirroring the way Richard felt. “Thanks, anyway.”

 

“Sure, Captain.”

 

Dobey hung up. “The guy’s eyes were brown.”

 

“I thought Meeker County said they were blue.”

 

“He said he thought they were blue,” Dobey said. “He wasn’t sure. Only got a glimpse of the man.”

 

Richard rubbed his eyes again, one-handed, in a gesture so like Hutch’s that Dobey felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. “What now?” Richard asked.

 

“We keep trying,” Dobey said. “He’s out there somewhere, he’s sick and he’s scared. And I’m not going to give up.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

The trouble with putting out a missing officer report on Starsky was that someone other than the appropriate authorities might hear about it. That’s exactly what happened. Thomas Potter received a phone call from an operative in Wisconsin.

 

“Do you know where he is, yet?” he asked the man on the phone.

 

“No. Nobody seems to know. I’m on it, Mr. Potter.”

 

“Don’t do anything without reporting to me, first. We have to be sure, this time.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Potter hung up and glanced through the messages he’d been left that his client wanted to see him. The sentencing would take place in a few days and he had little choice. At least he had something to report. They had a lead on Starsky’s whereabouts. Potter’s associate told him that Hutchinson was dead, so at least he’d succeeded in eliminating one of them. He decided to go and see Gunther. No sense putting off the inevitable.

 

When they were alone, Gunther sat and glared at Potter for a few, uncomfortable moments. “Mr. Potter,” he said, “you’ve been avoiding me.”

 

“No, I haven’t, sir. I had to be in court. Mr. Webster told you that.”

 

“He told me you were ‘unavoidably detained.’ You know how much I despise dealing with underlings. See that it doesn’t happen again.”

 

“Yes, sir. I have good news.” Potter looked around the room again, ever concerned that they were being recorded. He lowered his voice and said, “We’ve already eliminated one of them, as you know. The other has been missing. I’ve just been informed that a missing officer report has been filed on him in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Our people are looking and we’re bound to find him soon. It’s only a matter of time, Mr. Gunther.”

 

Gunther nodded and gave him a thin, evil smirk. “Yes. He’s the one I am most concerned with. In just a few days, I’ll be heading for the state penitentiary. When I board the bus that will quite probably take me to death row, I want to know that THAT man has preceded me into hell.” He sat back in his chair and his eyes opened wider. “Mr. Potter, if you fail this time, I may be forced to issue a sentence of my own.”

 

Potter felt the sweat trickling down between his shoulder blades. He knew that was no idle threat. If Starsky didn’t die, he would. “I won’t fail, sir.”

 

The two men sat and talked about the case. James Gunther had specific things he wanted said at the sentencing. He had a statement to read and Potter was not in favor of that. The attorney tried unsuccessfully to convince the vindictive old man that showing some remorse could only help him.

 

Walking out of the interview room after Gunther was led away by his guards, Potter heard a voice behind him say, “So, what’s it like... being the devil’s advocate?”

 

Potter turned and said, “Everyone has a right to an attorney. Even the devil himself.”

 

The devil himself. How did I ever get into this mess? When Potter and his firm took on James Gunther, they had no idea what his business would entail. They were one of many firms under Gunther’s influence. A powerful man often had less than seemly entanglements, but James Gunther was the kingpin of entanglements. Over time, the firm had come to accept his ways, and eventually they were in so deep, they couldn’t extricate themselves. Potter walked wearily to his car. He was starting to feel sorry for Detective Starsky. Almost as sorry as he felt for himself.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch was sleeping after a long visit with his mother. Andrew was taking care of getting her safely back to Canada. As unhappy as she was to not stay, she couldn’t fight both her husband and her son. Hutch was glad to see her, but concerned about her being anywhere near him. He had begged her to go and stay with her sister in Toronto until things were safer, and Richard agreed. Hutch said it was bad enough that his father was in danger. He couldn’t bear it if anything happened to her. After she left, Brother David went in and examined Hutch, administered his medications and then took Richard to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

 

“Your son is a remarkable person, Richard,” he said.

 

Richard raised an eyebrow and said, “I think he is, but what makes you say that?”

 

“He told me he didn’t care what happened to him, he just wanted his family to be safe and his partner to be found. Is he always so determined?”

 

“You have no idea, Brother. Especially where David Starsky is concerned.”

 

Brother David’s face took on a serious look. He had spent some time talking with Hutch while he administered treatments and during the times when the captain and Mr. Hutchinson were away. He had lots of questions about his patient. “Naturally, you don’t have to answer my questions, but may I ask you a few things? I’d like to understand Ken better – and this situation.”

 

“Certainly. I’ll tell you anything I can.”

 

“David must be a good friend for Ken to be so worried about him when his own health is compromised. To tell you the truth, if we weren’t in such a remote location, I’d be concerned that Ken would try to go over the wall.”

 

Richard’s face paled a little. “Has he said something to you to lead you to believe he’d try it?”

 

Brother David chuckled. “No matter how determined he is, Ken isn’t strong enough to get farther than the door to his room at this point. He knows that, don’t worry.”

 

“Thank God for that. You understand him pretty well, Brother.”

 

“In some ways. He said something to me yesterday that made me curious. Of course, he’s frightened for his friend. He told me that he trusted you and Captain Dobey to find him and that it was incredibly difficult. When I asked him why, he said that trusting Captain Dobey was the easy part.”

 

“I see,” Richard said. He sighed and set his coffee cup down on the tabletop. “I had hoped that was improving.”

 

“Ken does trust you. What he was trying to tell me was that trusting you was new to him somehow. Not that he didn’t trust you. In fact, he seemed to find some peace in it. Do you mind if I ask why that is?”

 

“No, I don’t mind. I’m ashamed to admit that it’s my own fault. You see, when Ken graduated from college, he went away to law school in California. We had great hopes for his future. Then, he took a different path in his life. Called and announced that he was quitting law school. He said that he wanted to help people and that he felt drawn to becoming a police officer. I think he had attended a panel session where a homicide detective was one of the panelists, and he just knew that was what he was meant to do.” Richard stopped and drank some more coffee. He got up and paced over to the window, looking out at the statue of St. Francis of Assisi on a courtyard covered in snow.

 

Brother David patiently waited while Richard gathered his thoughts. In a few moments, he turned back toward him and continued. “You could say that I reacted badly. Ken has been a cop for many years and, in all this time, I’ve barely spoken to him. I was angry and convinced he had ruined his life. He was shot in the line of duty a little more than a year ago. That made me take notice. Then, when David was nearly killed, I realized what a fool I’d been. I promised myself I’d do whatever I could to make it up to him and I’ve really been trying. I want him to trust me and I’ll do anything I can to find David, and keep them both safe. No matter what that means.”

 

“I can see how much you love your son. He loves you, too, Richard. I hope it helps you to know how much your being here means to him.”

 

Brother David’s office was near the kitchen. Captain Dobey was in there making phone calls and the men in the kitchen heard his agitated voice. All thoughts of their conversation fled as they rushed to the office to see what was happening.

 

“I want you to get some troopers over there immediately. Call that doctor back and tell him to keep the patient in isolation. Tell him not to let anyone else near him alone until Captain Harold Dobey gets there.” Dobey took some more information down, then handed the paper he’d been writing on to Richard. The paper included the name of a hospital and the town where it was located.

 

After he hung up the phone, Dobey said, “A doctor at the state mental hospital reported a suspicious situation with a patient to the Minnesota state police. He says the patient has identified himself as ‘Larry Scanlon’.”

 

“Praise God,” Brother David said, crossing himself and offering a quick prayer that this part of the nightmare these men had been enduring was soon to be behind them.

 

“Brother David,” Richard said, “when Ken wakes up, please tell him we’ve gone to follow a lead on his partner. Don’t say too much. I don’t want him to get too excited until we know for certain.”

 

“Why don’t you stay here,” Dobey said. “I’ll go after him.”

 

“No, I’m going to see this through. Please, Harold. I promised.”

 

Captain Dobey agreed and the two men left on what they hoped would be a successful rescue mission.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dr. Jefferson walked into Starsky’s room with an X-ray and a serious expression on his face. Four state troopers had arrived and were guarding this patient. Although he had no idea what Mr. Scanlon had done, he knew it must be serious. Jefferson posted his own guard outside the room with instructions that no one was allowed in unless accompanied by him. The troopers agreed to that condition. The doctor decided not to tell his patient that someone was coming for him, but Starsky had already caught a glimpse of one of the state troopers through the small glass window in his room’s door.

 

“How are you feeling, Mr. Scanlon?” Jefferson said as the door closed behind him.

 

Starsky didn’t answer the question. “Why the new guard?” His recent experience with Deputy Morgan left him understandably suspicious of Minnesota law enforcement.

 

“Nothing to worry about, just a precaution.”

 

“Precaution against what?”

 

Jefferson sighed. “Please, Mr. Scanlon. I need to talk to you about this X-ray.”

 

Starsky was not about to let go that easily. He struggled to sit up to where he could see a little better through the window and started coughing. He waved off Jefferson’s attempts to get close to him with a stethoscope. When the coughing subsided, he said, “Look, I have reason to believe I’m in danger. I need to know what’s going on out there.”

 

“All right. Sit back and relax and I’ll tell you.” When Starsky complied, he continued, “Those men are supposed to make sure no one gets close to you. I called and reported your presence here to the state police. Not long after that, I was told that these troopers would be here to guard you and that someone was coming to get you.”

 

Starsky didn’t like the sound of that. “Who’s coming here?”

 

“I don’t see why that matters, Mr. Scanlon.”

 

“NAME!” Starsky shouted before coughing some more.

 

Both the hospital guard and one of the troopers peered in through the window when they heard the shout. Jefferson saw them and shook his head to indicate everything was all right.

“Calm down. The man’s name is Dobey.”

 

Starsky looked stunned for a few moments. Then, he collapsed back onto the pillows in a mixed fit of laughter and coughing. Dr. Jefferson took the laughter to be a good sign, but he raised the head of Starsky’s bed to help get him into a better position to ease the coughing. “I’ll take it that this is good news,” he said with a smile.

 

“Almost the best news,” Starsky said, wishing Hutch were the one coming for him. A sudden look of dismay crossed his features and he added, “If this ‘Dobey’ isn’t a large demanding black man with a booming voice, don’t let him near me.”

 

Jefferson nodded and said, “Can we talk about this X-ray, now?”

 

“Sure,” Starsky answered.

 

Jefferson held it up so Starsky could see it. “You may not be able to see this, but some of the small bones in your right hand are fractured. Your day nurse said you were having trouble using that hand.” Jefferson paused and put the X-ray down when Starsky picked his hand up to look at it. The hand was swollen and badly bruised. The staff had taken several X-rays the previous evening, but he was so exhausted after the chest X-rays, he was asleep by the time they gotten to his hand. He was amazed that he didn’t remember them doing it.

 

“Must’ve happened when Deputy Dumbass kicked me,” he said with a wry smile.

 

Jefferson laughed. “Deputy Dumbass, huh? Fortunately the bones are in place. We won’t have to rebreak it.” Starsky’s face lost a little color at the thought of that, but Jefferson smiled reassuringly at him. “Relax. I’ve asked Dr. Fischer to come in and put it in a cast. He’s waiting outside the room. I’ll stay in here with you and one of the state troopers insisted on coming in with us. I’m not supposed to let anyone in here, but I convinced them that you needed treatment.”

 

Jefferson put his head out into the hall and invited the other doctor to come in and get to work. The state trooper stood inside the door and observed. The friendly, efficient doctor was finished quickly. By the time he was done and Starsky had been given his latest round of medication, he was back in an exhausted sleep.

 

When Captain Dobey and Richard arrived, they were shown into Jefferson’s office where they waited while the doctor was paged.

 

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, gentlemen,” Jefferson said. He shook hands with them and said to the captain, “You must be Dobey. Mr. Scanlon described you to me. Said not to let you near him unless you were a large, demanding black man.”

 

Both Dobey and Richard chuckled at that. “That sounds like our man,” Dobey said. “Is he all right?”

 

“He will be. He has a bad case of pneumonia that has been resistant to treatment. Mr. Scanlon told me his lung sustained some damage in a previous incident. I suspect that’s giving him trouble recovering. He’s physically exhausted, under weight, and he took a serious beating just before he arrived here. Some of the bones in his right hand are fractured and he’s running an average temperature of 102.”

 

Dobey’s face showed an odd mix of concern over the doctor’s report and relief that it wasn’t worse. He produced a picture of Starsky and said, “Is this your patient?”

 

Jefferson looked and nodded. “Yes, that’s him. May I ask what he’s done?”

 

“Done?” Dobey asked

 

“Mr. Scanlon has some significant scarring from recent, serious gunshot wounds. Frankly, he looks like he’s been through hell. I figured he had to be a criminal, or maybe a cop, but he won’t tell me anything. He just says that he was attacked and that he is still in fear for his life.”

 

Richard sat in silence, barely hearing the conversation between the other two men. His relief that they had found Starsky alive was almost overwhelming. Dobey was explaining who Starsky was and thanking the doctor for his diligence. What brought Richard’s attention back into focus was when Dobey and Jefferson started talking about how Starsky arrived at the mental hospital.

 

“He was brought here unconscious and close to hypothermia. The man who brought him said he had raped a woman and attacked some deputies. He identified the man as Mike Ballard and said that the patient had attempted suicide and they’d had to subdue him. That was supposedly how he came to me covered with bruises and abrasions. The story just didn’t sound right to me. Something about the man who brought him was odd and his description didn’t seem to match the patient’s condition. The man said that Mr. Ballard was a mentally unstable Vietnam vet. When I examined the patient the next day, I knew at once that he was not mentally ill. He was completely lucid and rational, despite his caginess about his identity and physical condition. I’m sorry it took me so long to report it, but the man who brought him was a deputy and I had to assume that he was telling me the truth. This is a mental hospital. We prefer to err on the side of caution, as my grandmother would say.”

 

Richard perked up and asked, “A deputy brought him here?” beating Dobey to the question.

 

“Yes,” Jefferson replied. He picked up Starsky’s file from the top of his desk and said, “Deputy Wayne Morgan from Olmsted.”

 

Captain Dobey’s blood pressure shot up at that name. He started to mumble something Edith wouldn’t approve of under his breath. Then, he looked at the doctor and said, “Thank you, Dr. Jefferson. We’ll handle that later. Can we see him now?”

 

“Certainly.” The doctor showed the two men up to Starsky’s room. The state troopers made Captain Dobey show his identification before they allowed him to enter the room.

Richard couldn’t help but gasp when he saw Starsky. He was sleeping, and he didn’t look well. He was pale and had dark circles under his eyes. The black eye he had the last time Richard saw him was almost gone and the gash on his head was better. Starsky’s breathing sounded labored and Richard looked at the doctor with concern. Dobey’s eyes moved to the cast on Starsky’s arm and then back to the doctor.

 

“I want to get him out of here immediately. Is it safe for us to move him?” Dobey asked quietly.

 

“Yes, as long as you’re careful and you do it by ambulance.”

 

Richard said, “Don’t worry, Doctor. We’ll take good care of him.”

 

Dobey moved closer to the bed and gently touched Starsky’s feverish forehead. “Dave,” he said quietly.

 

Starsky opened his eyes and smiled. “Cap, thank God,” he said. “How’s Hutch?”

 

Richard laughed and stepped over to where Starsky could see him. “He’s safe, son. We’re going to take you out of here.”

 

Even half asleep, Starsky knew his question hadn’t been answered. “Glad he’s safe, but is he all right?”

 

Dobey said, “About the same as you. He’s getting better, don’t worry.”

 

Starsky accepted that and relaxed while Dobey and Mr. Hutchinson made the arrangements to get him out of the hospital. None of them knew it, but they were only a few hours ahead of trouble. As they were loading Starsky into an unmarked, private ambulance, Gunther’s operatives were entering Minnesota from Wisconsin. After hearing about the report from the mental hospital, Thomas Potter had given the orders on how to finish off Detective Starsky. By the time they arrived, Starsky was safe and too far away for them to follow.

 

“He’s gone,” the hit man reported to Potter.

 

“Gone?” Potter asked.

 

“Yep. A few hours ago. No one knows where they went and they must’ve taken him out in a private car. None of the ambulance services did it. We already checked. What should we do?”

 

Potter replied, “Go back to Wisconsin. If I need you, I’ll call.”

 

He hung up the phone and thought about his options. He was out of time and he knew it. Potter could avoid Gunther until they went back to court. That gave him just one full day to make any arrangements he needed to make. He picked up the phone again and called his travel agent.

 

“This is Thomas Potter,” he said to the agent. “I need to buy three one-way tickets to Zurich. Yes, one adult, Marta Potter, and two children, Jessica and Scott.”

 

Hutch was dozing when he heard a familiar voice in the hall outside his room. He came awake with a jerk and struggled to sit up. Brother James, sitting a few feet away reading  “Gone with the Wind,” raised his head and smiled.

 

In another moment, Richard appeared in the doorway, supporting Starsky, who had insisted on walking into the room under his own power, though unbeknownst to Hutch he had come all but the last few feet on a stretcher.

 

“Hiya, Blintz!” Starsky said cheerfully, grinning. “I hear you’ve been takin’ it easy here with the monks while I’ve been having adventures.”

 

“Friars, dummy, not monks,” Hutch said tartly, but his shining eyes and the relief plain on his face belied the tone.

 

“Whatever,” Starsky said, coming in and sitting down in another chair smoothly enough that it wasn’t obvious to Hutch, in his weak state, that he’d barely made it that far. “How ya feelin’, buddy?”

 

“Better,” Hutch said. “How do you feel?”

 

“Ah, hell, I’m fine, but you know those stupid doctors, always wantin’ a guy to rest and stay in bed.”

 

Hutch cocked his eyebrow at his father, who somehow communicated silently that yes, Starsky was faking being better than he really was. Hutch had suspected as much.

 

“I’ll call a couple of brothers and we’ll get a second bed moved into this room,” James said, rising.

 

“Thank you,” Richard said.

 

James smiled and patted his shoulder as he passed him on his way out of the room. It was only about fifteen minutes before three of the friars had another bed moved in, made up, and Starsky installed in it against his protests.

 

“I’m the boss here,” Brother David said sternly. “You will stay in that bed until I say you can get out of it. Understand?”

 

Starsky blinked at him and glanced at Hutch, who was grinning.

 

“Better do as he says, Starsk,” Hutch advised. “He’s mean.”

 

Starsky glanced back at Brother David. “Okay, okay, no need to get the comfy chair.”

 

Hutch burst out laughing, but the friars and Richard all looked puzzled. “Monty Python,” Hutch explained. When they still looked puzzled, he added, “A British comedy on TV. They did this skit about the Spanish Inquisition –” He gave up and shrugged. “Guess you’d have to see it.”

 

“I guess so,” Richard said, shaking his head. “But it’s good to hear you laugh, son.”

 

“It’s good to feel like laughing,” Hutch said.

 

Brother James took up his post again and picked up his book. The other friars returned to their own activities, and Richard excused himself to make some phone calls. Dobey had stopped off in Brother Michael’s office to make some calls of his own. Gunther’s sentencing was coming up, and he had to go back to Bay City. But he wasn’t leaving until he’d set wheels in motion to get Deputy Wayne Morgan his just deserts for what he’d done to Starsky.

 

“You up to telling me where you’ve been?” Hutch asked.

 

“You ain’t gonna believe it,” Starsky said. He also cocked his head slightly in Brother James’ direction.

 

Hutch glanced that way, then back at Starsky. You can trust him.

 

Starsky nodded, adjusted his pillows a bit more comfortably, and started telling Hutch everything that had happened to him since they’d last seen each other.

 

Hutch listened in silence as long as he could, but when Starsky got to the part about Deputy Dumbass and the beating he’d given him, Hutch lost it.

 

“That lousy, worthless, son of a bitch! When I get my hands on him –”

 

“Whoa,” Starsky said. “Easy, Blintz. He’s in a lot of trouble, and you ain’t gonna get in trouble going after him, got that? Let the law handle him.”

 

“But –”

 

The room wasn’t large and the beds were close to each other.  Starsky reached a hand out to Hutch.  When Hutch took his hand, Starsky looked at him with serious eyes.  He softly said, “But nothin’, Hutch. Let it go, huh?”

 

Hutch visibly took control of himself. It took several moments. Finally, he nodded. “Okay, okay. I don’t like it, but okay.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Potter waited nervously while the doctor examined the prescription bottle. “We were not told Mr. Gunther had this condition,” the doctor said suspiciously.

 

James Gunther had not been the typical inmate in local lockup.  He was held in custody without bail due to the D.A.’s insistence that he was a flight risk.  One of the concessions Potter had won for his client while in custody was that he was allowed to see his personal physician.  Now, Thomas Potter was hoping that his work accomplishing that concession would serve him well.

 

“I can provide you with medical records,” Potter said, opening his briefcase and pulling out a file. “Mr. Gunther has had this problem for several years, but his condition fluctuates. It’s all in the files.  His physician has been dispensing these as maintenance medication.  As it says on the bottle, he is to take one capsule each evening before bed.”  It had better be in the files, Potter thought.  He knew about the law but couldn’t understand the medical information in the file at all. He’d paid plenty to get a doctor to make up that file for him, and to pass it off as if it were part of Gunther’s medical record with the doctor who had treated him for years. The doctor Potter had bought off specialized in writing prescriptions – Valium was his favorite – for rock and movie stars who didn’t want to risk the questionable purity of street drugs.  For a hefty sum, the man had agreed to modify Gunther’s medical record and to write a prescription that would match the file.

 

The doctor paged through the file, taking his own sweet time, and finally nodded. “We’ll have to dispense the medication. We can’t let him have it in his cell.”  The doctor agreed to put the medication in with the other items going with Gunther to San Quentin.

 

“I understand,” Potter said. He felt sweat trickle down his back but pretended not to notice. He had told Gunther the pills were a derivative of the barbiturates he’d been in the habit of taking to help him sleep while he was on the outside. And most of them were. But scattered throughout the bottle, in capsules exactly like the real sleeping pills, were a few pills containing strong heart medication, meant to be given to a patient having a heart attack, to get his heart beating properly again. For a man with a healthy heart, like Gunther, and in the quantity contained in each dose, the capsules would bring on a heart attack, and with any luck, would kill him. If Potter’s luck held, the death would come after he’d had time to get away and would look like a natural death and no one would ever be able to point the finger at him.

 

Potter couldn’t afford for Gunther to find out he’d failed miserably in his mission. Not only were Starsky and Hutchinson both alive, they were holed up under 24 hour protection in a place where even Gunther’s best hit men couldn’t get to them. And if Gunther heard that, Potter was a dead man. The only answer was for Gunther to die before he could give the orders to kill Potter.

 

Marta and the kids were already on a plane to Zurich. As soon as he knew Gunther was dead, Potter would follow. He had been frightened and desperate enough to consider killing himself rather than let Gunther kill him, until he’d thought of the pills. Gunther had been insisting he bring him his pills and that’s when he’d thought of it. Once he’d found the right doctor, the rest was easy.

 

When he joined his family in Zurich, they would change their names and vanish where the person who would succeed Gunther – whoever that might be – would never find them.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“I’m leaving in the morning,” Dobey said, watching as both his “boys” polished off supper as if they hadn’t eaten for days. “Richard will keep an eye on you until Gunther is safely put away.”

 

“Where is he now?” Hutch asked.

 

“Still in county,” Dobey said. “It isn’t secure enough to suit any of us.”

 

“Amen,” Starsky mumbled through a mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy. “But is anyplace secure enough?”

 

“Quentin is,” Dobey said. “And he’ll probably be on Death Row. You two just relax and get well and don’t come back until I tell you, got it?”

 

“I’ll keep them in line, Harold,” Richard said, with a stern look for his son. “I still have my yardstick.”

 

Hutch chuckled. “Dad, you wore that threat out when I was nine.”

 

Starsky raised his eyebrows and looked from Hutch to Richard inquiringly.

 

Richard shook his head. “Nine? I thought it worked until you were eleven, at least.”

 

“Nope,” Hutch said, going back to his meal.

 

“I had a yardstick hanging next to the back door,” Richard explained to Starsky. “When Kenny and his sister were little, I used to threaten to spank them with it whenever they got out of line. I never actually did, because they straightened up when I threatened them. I don’t think I ever even took it off the hook.” He gave a mock sigh. “And here they saw through me all along.”

 

“That’s right,” Hutch said. “Still do.”

 

After Richard and Dobey left to go back to the Hutchinsons’ for the night, Starsky cocked an eyebrow at his partner. “Okay,” he said, “I got a question. Several.”

 

“About what?”

 

“You. Your dad. That crap about the yardstick. You always acted like your dad was some kinda monster, and here you and him are, laughing about the yardstick. What happened?”

 

Hutch sobered and lay back against his pillows. “I’m not sure, buddy. I just know that for years we could hardly even talk to each other without hurting each other or getting angry, or both. We didn’t know how, I guess. Now ...” He paused and shrugged. “I guess now, we’re trying. It’s like getting to know him all over again.” He smiled. “It’s pretty nice.”

 

Starsky smiled back. “Yeah. It is.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

As follow up to Dobey getting charges pressed against Deputy Wayne Morgan, Richard Hutchinson brought a stenographer to the friary to take Starsky’s sworn statement. Morgan had already been arrested and was being held in his own county jail, Richard told Starsky and Hutch with a great deal of satisfaction.

 

“Bet he’s having fun,” Starsky observed with a grin.

 

“I’ll bet he’s not,” Hutch muttered angrily. “And good enough for the bastard, too.”

 

“He’s been fired,” Richard said. “Usually in a case like this, they’d suspend him pending the outcome, but considering he did this to a fellow officer, and we have Dr. Jefferson’s statement and the sheriff from Meeker County to back up your complaint, David, he’s not going to get cut any slack.”

 

“What do you think will happen to him?”

 

“Prison,” Richard said without hesitation. “He’s not only guilty of dereliction of duty, but assault and battery of a peace officer, false imprisonment, even attempted murder, if we push it. He’ll probably plea bargain out of that one, but the others will add up to a nice long vacation in the clink.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

James Marshall Gunther was sentenced to death by the State of California but he didn’t live long enough to make any appeals. Two weeks after being moved to San Quentin, Gunther was dead. The official cause of death was a heart attack. He was found in his cell one morning, peacefully in his bed, apparently having died in his sleep overnight.

 

Potter booked a flight for himself to Zurich to leave the weekend after Gunther was sentenced but died in a car accident on the way to the airport. A curious investigating officer, puzzled as to why a man who tested negative for alcohol and drugs would lose control and plow head-on into a semi on a dry, clear highway, discovered the brake lines had been cut almost through, letting the fluid leak out slowly. When the semi had veered into the oncoming lane to pass another vehicle – the trucker had sworn he didn’t see Potter’s car until he was already too close to avoid him – Potter had apparently slammed on the brakes and tried to pull out of the way onto the shoulder, but his brakes had failed and he’d died at the scene of massive head injuries. The highway patrol couldn’t pin the vandalism on anyone.

 

A few days after the sentencing, Dobey had called Richard to tell him it was safe for Starsky and Hutch to leave the friary and move to the Hutchinsons’ home outside Duluth. The two detectives finished recuperating there, with Hutch’s mom hovering over them and Richard guarding them with the help of a couple of armed guards he had hired, just in case Gunther still had any plans. But once Gunther was dead, both Starsky and Hutch were ready to go back to Bay City.

 

“I’ve booked a flight to Phoenix for you so you can pick up your car,” Dobey told Hutch on the phone. “That is, if you’re up to driving back that far. We could send someone else to get it.”

 

“No, we’ll make it,” Hutch said. “We’re both feeling pretty good now after my mom’s been spoiling us for two weeks.” He smiled across the room at his mother, who smiled back and pantomimed a kiss in his direction.

 

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” Dobey said with a chuckle. “Oh, I’ve already arranged to have the cars you didn’t wreck returned to the other police departments.  See you in a couple of days, then.”

 

“Okay, Cap’n. Thanks.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

At the airport the day they left, Richard impulsively pulled his son to him for a long, affectionate hug. “It’s been nice having you close by,” Richard told him, still holding him by the arms. “Next time, maybe we can have a good visit without all this trouble and fright, huh?”

 

Hutch grinned. “I’d like that.”

 

“So would I,” Starsky said fervently.

 

“We’ll plan on coming out to California in a couple of months,” Richard said. “Your mother’s always telling me I work too hard. I’ll take a vacation and you boys can show us the town.”

 

“He does work too hard,” Helen said, giving her husband a gentle shove out of her way so she could hug her son, too. She gazed up into his face and then touched his cheek. “You are all right, aren’t you?”

 

“Yes, Mom, I’m fine. I promise.”

 

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “We’ll miss you. Call us when you get home, I don’t care what time it is.”

 

“I will,” Hutch said indulgently, giving Starsky a sidelong grin.

 

“And you,” Helen said to Starsky, pretending to be stern, “stay out of trouble!”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Starsky said obediently. “If I can, considering I got this boy of yours to watch out for.”

 

“I am not the one who wound up in a mental hospital,” Hutch said with great dignity.

 

“They said I was normal,” Starsky pointed out.

 

“Then he must not be a very good doctor,” Hutch said, deadpan.

 

The older Hutchinsons were laughing by now, and when the flight was called, the laughter eased the awkwardness of parting. They waved cheerfully as the two men walked away.

 

Once they were in flight and just as Starsky slid down in the seat to try to sleep – he hated flying and did his best to sleep through any flight he found himself on – Hutch said, “You feel safe yet?”

 

Starsky pried his eyes open and met Hutch’s eyes seriously. “Do you?”

 

Hutch sighed and laid his head back against the seat. “I want to,” he said. “There’s no reason not to. But after all this time, looking over our shoulders for that son-of-a-bitch or one of his merry men –”

 

“It ain’t easy,” Starsky finished. He straightened in his seat. “The man’s dead,” he said in a low voice. “He can’t touch us now. And we did enough damage to his organization that it’s gonna take a long time for somebody else to put it back together.”

 

“I know.”

 

“And whoever that is, we did him a favor. He can scoop up the money now and he won’t have to share it with the old man.”

 

“That’s true.” But Hutch still sounded worried.

 

“Hey,” Starsky said, nudging Hutch’s arm gently, “we can’t spend the rest of our lives like this. We gotta get back to normal.”

 

Hutch nodded. “You’re right. It’s just –” He rubbed his eyes. “Never mind. I’m being paranoid.”

 

“Yeah, you are,” Starsky agreed. “But being paranoid is what’s kept us both alive, buddy. Just don’t let it ruin your life, huh?”

 

Hutch smiled. “Not a chance, buddy.”

 

The End

 

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