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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.

 

Derailed

Written by Sue David

© 03/2001

 

Detective Dave Starsky was waiting in the car while his partner ran inside the small Mexican restaurant to pick up their lunches.  Finally they had found a place they could both eat and be content.  This restaurant had both the traditional, greasy, jalapeño-laden goodies Starsky loved and a heart-healthy menu that suited Hutch perfectly.  Heaven!

If they only had a drive-thru window, this would be the perfect restaurant.

 

Hutch climbed into the passenger side of the Torino juggling their food, the drinks, and attempting to close his door.  Starsky took a soda from his friend.

 

"You remember to ask for extra salsa?"

 

"Yep, extra hot this time.  They said it's new.  They make it themselves and they call it

Fuego."

 

"Doesn't that mean fire?"

 

"Yep."

 

Starsky smiled.  "What'd you get this time?"

 

"Chicken Asada Rice bowl and whole wheat tortillas."

 

"That just doesn't sound like as much fun to eat as a Carne Asada Burrito with onions and extra jalapeños."

 

Hutch frowned at his partner. "You know, Starsk, one of these days you’re gonna give yourself an ulcer eating that stuff."

 

This was an old discussion.  They had it almost every time they ate Mexican food.  Starsky chuckled.  This conversation was as much a part of a Mexican meal for the two men as tortillas and salsa.

 

Starsky changed the subject.  "So, how was your date with what's-her-name last night?"

 

"I wondered when you were gonna get around to asking that.  Nothing to write home about."

 

"Sorry to hear that.  Not gonna go out with her again?

 

"Nope.  We just didn't hit it off I guess.  She's nice enough, but she really didn't want to

date someone who works the crazy hours we do.  Whatever."

 

Starsky sighed.  Women often had a hard time with their erratic schedule.  This wasn't the first time that had happened to Hutch.   He had met this latest woman in an amateur club where he did a few numbers on his guitar.  She thought he was a musician.

 

"She didn't have a problem dating a guy she thought was a starving musician, but a cop with scheduling problems?  No way, huh?"

 

"No big deal, Starsk We had a good time and nobody's feelings got hurt.  Good thing to find out right away, I guess."

 

Starsky was starting on his rolled tacos with guacamole when Hutch said, "Damn, Starsk, I will never figure out why you don't weigh 300 pounds eating like you do.  Guacamole is really fattening."

 

"Hey, I thought you said it was a 'good fat' smart guy?"

 

"Well, yeah, in moderation, but you have a giant glob of it spread on top of fried rolled tacos!  You should...."

 

The remainder of Hutch's lecture was cut off by the police radio, "All units, reports of women screaming at 220 West Henderson.  Possible 211 in progress."

 

That address was a few blocks away and on their beat.

 

"This is Zebra 3, we are responding."

 

Starsky tossed his remaining food into the trashcan next to the Torino and pulled out onto the street.  Hutch slapped the mars light on the roof and turned on the siren. 


"What's at 220, Hutch?"

 

"I'm not sure, but I think it might be a beauty salon.  Either that, a grocery store, or it’s a trophy shop."

 

Last year, the department had expanded their beat a little to include some more inner city neighborhoods.  In addition to their existing group of porno shops, massage parlors, peep shows, and bars, now they had to look after beauty salons, liquor stores, delis, dry cleaners, print shops, and other small businesses.  That part of their beat was a little less run down than the other side, but still in a depressed part of town. 

 

The Torino screamed around a corner to the 200 block of West Henderson.  The detectives saw two men in ski masks and army fatigues bolt out of the door of a small beauty salon as they came around the corner. Beauty salon, Hutch was right.  Starsky screeched to a stop and they both jumped out of the car.  A quick glance between them and they each knew what the other was going to do next.  Starsky would run into the beauty salon and make sure everyone was okay.  Hutch would follow the two men into the alley.  They both could hear sirens in the distance so they knew backup was on the way.

 

Starsky held out his badge and identified himself to the frightened women in the beauty salon.  One woman was on the floor and another was sitting next to her, patting her hand and speaking to her softly. They were next to the cash register, which was open and empty.

 

"Ma'am, is she okay?"

 

The lady trying to revive the woman on the floor looked up at him with tears streaming down her face.  "They hit her.  We told them they could have the money, but they hit her anyway." 

 

The woman on the floor was breathing and Starsky was worried about his partner out back in the alley by himself.  "What's your name?"

 

"Becky."

 

"Becky, call an ambulance.  I'm going out to see if my partner caught the guys who robbed you.  Is there a back door?"

 

Becky pointed at the back and nodded that there was.

 

Then Starsky's heart skipped a beat as he heard the squealing of tires followed by the unmistakable roar of Hutch's gun.  The sound came from the alley behind the salon.  He ran toward the back door, his gun drawn. 

 

While Starsky was in the beauty salon, Hutch was following their hooded suspects.  They had torn around the corner of the building into the alley behind the row of shops and they had a healthy head start. 

 

As Hutch rounded the corner, he saw a black van with dark windows just as it peeled out toward him making a run for the street.  He pulled his gun and shouted, "Police, stop or I'll fire!"  He saw a hand come out of the passenger window, holding a gun that was pointed at him.  He squeezed off a shot as he dove to the ground and rolled behind a dumpster.  The suspect returned his fire.

 

Starsky flung open the back door of the beauty salon, crouching low and sweeping his eyes across the alley searching for his partner.  He saw a black van just as it plowed into a dumpster, driving the boxy container back against the wall. 

 

"Hutch!" he shouted.

 

The van recovered its original path and sped out of the alley with Starsky shooting at it as it fled. 

 

"Hutch! Where are you?"

 

He had a sinking feeling that Hutch was behind the dumpster.  Why else would the van purposely hit it?  He ran toward the dumpster and found Hutch lying on the ground.

 

"Hutch, hey, you okay?"  He knelt next to his partner.  Hutch's eyes were open and he was trying to sit up.  Starsky was relieved to see it looked like Hutch just had the wind knocked out of him.

 

"You okay?"  He asked again as he helped Hutch sit up and brushed the dirt out of his hair.

 

Hutch wheezed a little, "Yeah, yeah, I'm okay.  Help me up." 

 

Starsky was relieved.  He stood and offered his hand to his partner.  The back-up officers were just now entering the alley.  Everything had happened too fast for anyone to chase the van.  The two detectives went back into the beauty salon to interview the witnesses. 

 

The women in the salon described a strange scenario.  The suspects had come in with guns demanding the money in the register.  The witnesses said they took jewelry from the Vietnamese women, but nothing from anyone else.  Then, they singled out Mai, the lady who was injured. They herded the other women away from her, and then they hit her several times.  She wasn't resisting them and kept telling them to take the money.  Then one of the gunmen walked past her, opened the cash register and emptied it. The other one hit Mai with his fist, knocking her down to the floor.  When then they heard the Torino's siren they ran out the front door. 

 

The detectives would have to wait to interview Mai.  She was still unconscious when they loaded her into the ambulance.  They went back to the Torino and headed for the precinct to file their report.

 

~*~*~*~

 

While Hutch was typing the report, Starsky was posing questions.  "Why hit a beauty salon?  How much money could they have had in the till?"

 

"Yeah, I think it's strange too."

 

"Why only take jewelry from the Vietnamese women?  Some of the other women were wearing expensive looking jewelry."

 

Hutch agreed, the whole scene seemed odd.  A middle-of-the-day robbery of a small business located next door to a small grocery store. That would have been a much more lucrative hit than a beauty salon.

 

"Starsk, what's different about the grocery store next door?"

 

"Uh, other than that they sell food and don't do shampoo sets?"

 

His phone ringing cut off Hutch's next question. 

 

"Hutchinson."

 

Starsky got up to get them new coffee while his partner was on the phone.  The one side of the conversation he could hear had his attention.

 

"Where?  Any info on the owners?  Oh.  Get a lab team to go over it.  Yeah, thanks."

 

Starsky handed him his coffee.

 

"They found the van abandoned down by the municipal airport.  Some uniforms spotted it and matched it to a stolen vehicle report."

 

"They sure it was the same van?"

 

"Yeah, unless it’s another oxidized black van with a busted out right headlamp, a .357 slug in it, and a dented right fender complete with blue dumpster paint."

 

"Oh."  Hutch was grumpy.  Was that a stupid question?

 

Hutch absent-mindedly rubbed his left upper arm where a nasty bruise was forming from it being hit by the dumpster. 

 

"You want me to finish typing that?"

 

"Yeah."

 

Hutch got up and let Starsky take over typing the report.  While he wrapped it up, Hutch went to the file cabinets to look up some recent cases.  He was struck by the increase in robberies in their district over the past few weeks.  Something about these robberies was bothering him, but he could not quite put his finger on it.

 

He was looking through some of the files when Starsky asked him what he was doing.  "Starsk, have you noticed how many more robberies there have been on our beat in the past few weeks?"

 

"Now that you mention it, I guess there have been more than the usual.  Why?  You got something?"

 

"Mmm.  Not sure yet.  I'm workin' on it."

 

Starsky knew that was a sign to be quiet and let his partner think out what was on his mind.  He finished the report, signed it and walked it over to Dobey's office.  The captain was out for the afternoon, so he left the report and returned to the squad room.  Hutch was just finishing a phone call. 

 

"Hey, Blondie, time to go.  You hungry?"

 

"Hungry again, Starsk?  I'm not yet, but I might be in a while.  Let's go back to my place and I'll scramble up some eggs."

 

Starsky started to argue, but the memory of another end-of-shift meal plan suddenly crowded back into his mind.  He stopped short of suggesting they go anywhere else, replaying a conversation from years ago in his head, Hey, next time you want scrambled eggs, don't let me talk you out of it, huh?

 

"Uh, yeah.  That sounds great."

 

Hutch looked at his partner and raised one eyebrow.  Geez, Hutchinson.  Bet that comment brought him a pleasant memory!

 

"Sorry, Starsk.  I just thought...." He had a chill himself remembering that night when he had almost lost his partner.

 

"Hey, no sweat."  Starsky shook off the chill he was feeling, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door, his sheepish partner right behind him.  Hutch promised himself he’d get in a better mood. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

That night they were sitting in Hutch's apartment enjoying breakfast, not dinner, when their conversation turned toward the robbery that afternoon.  Starsky started looking around on the table for something.  Hutch reached behind him to the countertop and picked up the saltshaker, handing it to his friend. 

 

How does he always know?

 

"Starsk, don't use so much salt, would ya'?"  Hutch gave him the shaker, but couldn’t resist issuing a health warning with it.

 

"The case, worry about the case."

 

"Yeah, well, what about your blood pressure?"

 

Hutch could be such a nag.  He knew his partner was right, he really should take it easy on the saltshaker, but he couldn't stand bland eggs.  He had given up trying to get his partner to stock Tobasco in the house."

 

"Look it, if I can't have Tobasco, you gotta at least let me use salt!"

 

Starsky wanted to change the subject from his dietary habits.  "So, Blondie, you work out that connection yet?"

 

"Maybe.  Tomorrow, let's go around and talk to some of the other business owners."

 

"What do you think you've got?"

 

"I just think it's weird that so many robberies on our beat in the past few weeks have been at a Vietnamese-owned businesses."

 

"Have they?" 

 

"Yeah.  I never really thought about it until today when those women said the robbers singled out the Vietnamese ladies."

 

Starsky reached over and stole a piece of bacon off Hutch's plate.

 

"Hey, eat your own food.  What kind of Jew are you anyway?  I thought your people weren't supposed to eat bacon."

 

"We ain't supposed to celebrate Christmas either, Blintz."

 

Starsky had a point there.

 

"You looked at the files this afternoon, how many robberies have there been?  I've lost track."

 

"Six Vietnamese businesses in three weeks counting today.  That's out of eleven total robberies, around half at Vietnamese-owned businesses.  Until the beauty salon, no one had gotten hurt yet, but most of the businesses had some damage done to them.   Windows broken, inventory vandalized."

 

Starsky chewed and thought about that for a minute. "We need to stop by the hospital to see that lady tomorrow and take her statement."

 

"Right."

 

“Hutch, what if it’s just that there are so many Vietnamese-owned businesses in the district they are hitting them by chance?”

 

“Good thinking, but there aren’t that many.  I looked into that this afternoon.  Only about 15% of the small businesses in the area are owned by Vietnamese.” 

 

Starsky thought about it for a minute.  Hutch was right, this was more than a coincidence.

 

"Hey you got any OJ?"

 

The man is a bottomless pit, Hutch thought.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The next morning Hutch stopped in the hospital lobby to call Dobey.  They had just finished interviewing the injured woman from the beauty salon. "Cap, we are starting to get deep into something that might be pretty big."

 

Their captain sounded interested, "Yeah, what do you got?"

 

"We're not sure yet, Cap, but it looks like someone might be targeting Vietnamese businesses.  The lady from the beauty salon and her family told us the Vietnamese community is afraid of these robbery suspects.  Everyone has been too afraid to say anything to the cops."

 

"Any leads?"

 

"Not yet, Cap.  We'll keep in touch."

 

Back in the Torino, Hutch asked his partner, “Pretty bold, don’t you think?  Even if they are targeting the Vietnamese, you’d think they would move on instead of risking getting caught by hitting the same area again and again.”

 

“Yeah,” Starsky started, but before he had a chance to comment, the radio signaled “Come in Zebra 3.”

 

“This is Zebra 3, go ahead,” Hutch said into the radio mike.

 

“See the man named Huggy,” came the response. 

“We’re on it, Zebra 3 out,” he answered.

 

Starsky whipped the Torino in a U-turn and headed for The Pits.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“What it is?”  Huggy said. 

 

Starsky asked Huggy what he had for them.

 

“Dig, a dude was in here last night talkin’ up how he and his partners had made some scores lately in the district.  Jewelry stores, a dry cleaners, markets, even a beauty salon.  Said they were gonna hit every Vietnamese business in the area.” 

 

“You get names?”

 

“Yeah, dude's name is Tony Henley.  He was gettin’ pretty hammered, otherwise I’m sure he wouldn’t have been blowin’ so loud about his adventures.”

 

Hutch turned to Starsky and said, “Tony Henley.  Isn’t he that small time stick-up man from Orange?  Used to hang out with Frank Razzo until he went in the joint a couple of years ago.”

 

Starsky nodded and said, "Yeah but he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who would be a part of something organized, does he?” 

 

Hutch turned to Huggy.  “Hug, what about his partners.  Any ideas?”

 

“I was hoping you’d ask.  From what Henley was saying, the ringleader might be a guy they call Ice.  A real bad dude.  Specializes in rough stuff along with robberies.”

 

“Uh-oh, Starsk.  That guy’s suspected of half a dozen murders.  He usually goes for bigger bait than what we have around here, though.   Why d'ya suppose a guy like that would be after small Vietnamese businesses?”

 

“Any idea where we could find Tony Henley, Hug?”

 

“Try down by the rail yard.  Said he hadn’t been sleeping much because the trains by his hotel were keeping him awake.”

 

“Thanks, Hug.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

As Starsky pulled the Torino away from Huggy’s, Hutch picked up the radio and called in, “Zebra 3 to Control.  I need R & I to pull the file on a Tony or Anthony Henley.  Recently released from prison.  I also want whatever you've got on a guy going by the name 'Ice.'  We’ll come in for it.”

 

“Roger, Zebra 3.”

 

"Ice, huh?  Sounds like something out of a B movie.  Hutch, you know that guy earned that name for his reputation for icing his victims.  He doesn't usually leave any witnesses.  No one even knows what he looks like."

 

Starsky's words cast a chill on his partner.  If Ice was involved, this case was going to be tough.

 

Hutch hopped out of the Torino and ran into the station to pick up the file from R & I.

After he returned with the file, Starsky took off for the area near the rail yards.  They drove up and down the streets and cruised the run down hotels.  Starsky was just going to randomly pick one of the seedy hotels for a start to the search when Hutch said, "Starsk...." and he pointed out one of the hotels on the street backing up to the rail yard.  Starsky looked at him, his eyes saying "Why that one?" Hutch returned the look with a silent "Just a feeling, I guess."

 

Starksy walked up to the desk clerk and showed him his badge.  "I'm Detective Starsky, and this is Detective Hutchinson.  We're looking for a guy named Tony Henley.  You seen him?"

"What's it to ya?" the scruffy looking clerk snarled. 

 

Hutch noticed that a man matching Henley's basic description had just turned onto the hallway facing the desk.  He stopped short when he saw the detectives and turned back on his heels in the other direction.  "Hey!"  Hutch said as he took off down the hall after the man.   

 

Starsky ran out the front door and around the front of the building into the alley just in time to see Henley duck through a hole in the fence to the rail yard, Hutch right behind him.

 

Starsky knew they were too far ahead for him to catch them on foot.  He jumped into the Torino, squealing away from the curb before he had the door closed.  He roared down the alley and around to a place he knew he could get the Torino into the rail yard. His face was full of determination as he focused on catching up to his partner and the fleeing suspect.  He pulled the Torino to a stopped behind a storage building.  Just as he stepped out of the car he heard gunfire.  Guess we got the right guy!

 

Henley had ducked behind the last car of a freight rain and was using it as cover while he fired on Hutch.  Starsky crept around the storage building and saw his partner behind a caboose sitting on a side rail.  Starsky quietly worked his way up to where Hutch was crouched.  When Hutch saw his partner, they made eye contact.  Hutch pointed toward the train car Henley was using for cover.   Starsky shook his head no.  Then he pointed at himself and made a hand gesture to let Hutch in on his plan.  Hutch nodded his silent agreement, message received.  Got you covered, partner!  You be careful!

 

Starsky took off as Hutch whipped around the caboose and started laying down cover fire for his partner.  He was hoping Henley didn't notice Starsky running along in a crouch next to his shelter.  Henley did not see the dark-haired detective.  He was too busy returning Hutch's fire.

 

Starsky got up under the train Henley was behind and crept along the track in a crouch.  He could tell the suspect did not know he was there.  Suddenly, he heard the sound trains make as they are pulling forward and he jumped.  He knew that could happen but he really didn't want to be underneath a moving train.  The sudden movement and lurching train car startled the suspect, as well as Starsky's partner.

 

He heard Hutch shout "Starsky!"  He didn't take the time to answer.  Henley staggered back away from his hiding place.  Starsky rolled out from underneath the slow-moving train and yelled, "Police!  Freeze or I'll fire!"  The suspect turned on Starsky and took aim, but he was now in Hutch's line of fire.  Hutch dropped him with a shot to the chest before he had the chance to pull the trigger on Starsky.

 

Both detectives walked over to the suspect.  Hutch felt for a pulse and said, "You okay, Starsk?" 

 

"Yeah, but I think I might need to change my shorts!"

 

Hutch smiled at his partner and shook his head to let him know Henley was dead. "Guess we won't be getting any information out of him."  He turned his full attention to Starsky.

"You more powerful than a locomotive, Gordo?  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?"

 

Starsky laughed and said, "Yeah, that's me, Super Cop!"

 

Hutch put his hand on Starsky's arm.  He could feel his partner trembling.  "You mind staying away from moving trains for me, partner?"  Starsky held his hand out for Hutch to show him he was shaking. "No problem, Blondie.  I guess I didn't think it would start moving.  Don't know why I thought that, bein' in a train yard and all."  He rolled his eyes at his own foolishness.  "What were the odds?"  Hutch patted him on the forearm and nodded.  The train really had been moving slowly, but it was still exhilarating. 

 

Starsky and Hutch spent the next two or three hours wrapping up Henley's shooting.  Ignoring Dobey's instructions to come in and file the necessary paperwork, they headed for the new part of their beat. They were planning to interview witnesses at all of the businesses that had been hit.  When they pulled onto West Henderson, they noticed a news crew in front of the beauty salon from yesterday's action.  Starsky pulled over to the curb a couple of blocks away from the salon.  Hutch got out and carefully maneuvered himself within earshot of the interview in progress.

 

Hutch saw a minister standing in front of the beauty salon.  Dick Baldrich, a local news reporter, was interviewing him. 

 

Baldrich was looking at the camera and delivering an introductory monologue.  "Pastor Frank Hansen from the Grace Mission is here today to comfort area business owners caught in a firestorm of robberies over the past few weeks."  He turned toward the minister and said,  "Pastor Hansen, why are you here today?"

 

"I am here to provide support to area business owners.  Many businesses have been robbed recently and yesterday a woman was injured in the robbery of the beauty salon behind us."

 

"Pastor Hansen, how do you plan to help the business owners?"

 

"Grace Mission is offering shelter and aid to any area business that needs it.  The owner of this beauty salon will not be able to work for a several weeks.  We are going to help her meet her bills and keep her family together while she recuperates."

 

The interviewer continued, "Pastor, what do you think about the sudden rash of robberies in this part of town?"

 

The minister answered, "I think there is someone out there who doesn't like Vietnamese people.  This beauty salon was the sixth or seventh Vietnamese business to be hit in the area.  The robbers seem to be picking on our immigrant community."

 

Hutch hung back in silence thinking how ridiculous it was that a minister and a local television reporter had put together what he and Starsky had just discovered about the nature of the recent robberies.   He was kicking himself for failing to recognize the link before so many businesses had fallen victim. Starsky and he had been working overtime six days a week for a few months.  They were both tired.  That must be why they missed the connection.  Hutch promised himself that as soon as this case was resolved, he was going to insist on a vacation for both of them.  This time, he was going to see to it that his partner got that beachside vacation he always seemed to crave.  No camping this time, Starsk.  Just sand, surf, sun, and you relaxing with one of those frozen drinks with a little umbrella in it!

 

Snapping out of his reverie, Hutch listened to the rest of the interview with fading interest.  Nice of the Grace Mission to be here to help the people in the neighborhood.   The interview was wrapping up, so Hutch turned and walked back to the car.

 

Hutch was not the only one who had seen that interview.  Across the street from the beauty salon, a solitary figure in faded army issue fatigues stood leaning against a building and smoking a cigarette.  The man, Bill Monroe, was practically a street person.  He had been in Vietnam, but was discharged when his mind snapped.  Now he lived in a back room of his brother-in-law's towing business on Laurel Street.  Bill spent his days wandering the neighborhood looking for spies and communist conspirators.  Wherever there was any kind of trouble or a crime scene, Bill seemed to find it.  He gathered information and reported it to his imaginary commanders.  Bill's sister and brother-in-law tried to get him to attend therapy sessions at the Veteran's Administration.  They also tried to ensure that he took the psychotropic drugs he was supposed to take.  Sometimes they were successful, but more often than not they failed.  The mental health system in California had deteriorated so much they were forced to do their best with the resources available.  As long as Bill stayed out of trouble and didn't hurt anyone, they were satisfied.   Today would mark the end of Bill's non-violent period.   

 

Bill Monroe had been watching Starsky and Hutch as they worked in the neighborhood ever since it became part of their beat.  Lately, whenever he observed the action at one of the robberies, Starsky and Hutch were not far away.  That red car was easy to hear and to spot anywhere it went in the district.  He was particularly interested in Starsky. Monroe remembered him from his days in Vietnam and he didn't trust him.  Starsky had been involved in some covert actions in country.  Monroe was convinced he was secretly a communist sympathizer. 

 

The interview with Pastor Hansen held Bill's interest.  He made a decision standing there across the street.  If the Pastor was helping these Vietnamese, he must be a commie.  Bill would take care of him first.  He shuffled off into the alley across the street to make his plans.  Starsky could wait for now.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The three-man robbery gang was sitting in the back of a burned out storefront waiting for Ice.  So far, he had provided them with the names and locations of all the businesses to hit.  They hadn't recovered much money in any of the robberies.  The gang didn't care, they were being paid to do the work.  Ice had hired each of the three men specifically because they had served in Vietnam and they did not have any love for the Vietnamese.

 

Ice arrived by the back entrance.  The darkness of the room disguised his face, but he also wore dark glasses to hide his eyes.   He limped into the room and pulled up a chair in a shadow by the wall.

 

"Where's Henley?" he asked.

 

One of the men answered, "Cops got him."

 

"Arrested?" Ice was instantly furious.

 

"Dead.  He didn't have time to talk."

 

Ice smiled.  Good.  That'll save me the trouble.  "So far you men have done well," he said. 

 

"But Ice, we hardly get any money out of these jobs.  Not even from that chintzy Jewelry Store."

 

"I told you already, this is not about money.  This is about justice.  Retribution.  Why should these people be allowed to come over to our country and start taking over whole neighborhoods?  They should go back where they belong."

 

Ice had served in Vietnam.  He lost a leg there and would walk with a cane on an artificial one for the rest of his life.  The Vietnamese were responsible for stealing his youth and his agility.  He hated them.  The past few years had been difficult for him.  When he moved back to California after his discharge, things had gone well for a while.  Then, the war had ended and he was distressed to see the number of refugees from Vietnam that had settled in the United States.  Bay City was a particular magnet in his opinion.  He did not care as much until the immigrants started to build new lives and become successful. Ice decided they did not deserve any success or happiness.  They had to pay for what had happened to him and countless other young men who tried to defend them. He was intent on destroying their businesses and driving them out of the neighborhood.

 

After his tour in the Army, Ice had adopted a life of crime.  The only thing he was really good at was killing.  He had offered his services out as a hit man many times.  He also specialized in robberies and he did not like witnesses.  He was unhappy with the gang he had hired because they had not eliminated the witnesses.  Despite his instructions, the gang had not killed any Vietnamese yet.  He wanted their destruction to be more complete.

 

"Since you still haven't learned how to deal with witnesses, I am going to show you how it is done tonight.  We are going to hit the dry cleaners at 5412 Laurel Street again.  When you have collected the cash, I am going to show you how to take care of witnesses."  No one would expect them to hit the same business twice in one month.

His gang nodded their agreement.  The other men didn't like the idea of hurting people, even Vietnamese people, but they were in it too deep to back out now.  They would have all run as fast as they could if they had known that Ice planned to kill them when he was finished with this current reign of terror against Bay City's Vietnamese immigrants.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Back at the precinct, Hutch had finished his report on the shooting and had gone up to Internal Affairs.  Starsky was in Dobey's office catching him up on the interviews they had conducted that day.

 

"Cap, we interviewed witnesses at every one of those Vietnamese businesses.   We also went back to talk to the victims in the other robberies.  The perps in all the Vietnamese robberies had the same M.O.  Ski masks, two to four men, small time hits.  No one hurt until yesterday.   Different suspects conducted the other robberies and some of them have been caught.  None of the Vietnamese businesses had security cameras either.  We checked that."

 

"Looks like your partner was right.  This could be something more than meets the eye."

 

Starsky nodded and continued, "Cap, Huggy thinks a dangerous dude known as Ice might be involved in this somehow.  That was what we were gonna try to get out of Henley.  This Ice has a mean rep and no law enforcement agency has any idea what he looks like.  He tends to not leave anyone alive who could I.D. him."

 

"Convenient."

 

Dobey and Starsky sat talking about the case for a while waiting for Hutch to return from Internal Affairs.  Hutch returned around 6:00 p.m.  When he arrived, he perched on the arm of Starsky's chair while they all discussed a game plan.

 

"Cap," Hutch said, "we really don't have a lot to go on here."

 

Starsky continued, "Some of the robberies took place in the daytime and some at night."

 

Hutch picked up, "We were thinking we should try cruising the district every day until we catch up to them.  We'll start around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon and run through the early morning hours when the bars close at 2:00."

 

Dobey nodded. "Start tonight.  I want to nail these guys before someone else gets hurt."

 

Starsky and Hutch nodded and stood to walk out of Dobey's office.  As Starsky was headed out the door behind his partner, Captain Dobey said, "Starsky!"

 

As the dark-haired man looked back at him, Dobey said, "You two be careful."

 

“Always, Cap.”

 

Starsky followed Hutch out of the squad room on the way to the parking garage.  As they passed the dispatch desk, one of the officers on duty waved them over to talk to him.  “Did you guys see that preacher on TV today?  The one talking about your beauty salon holdup?”

 

“Yeah, we were there.”  Starsky answered.  “How come?”

 

“Well one of the black-and-white’s just followed up on a distress call from the Grace Mission.  They found that preacher dead.” 

 

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other each thinking the same thing. Any relation to this case?  Bet ya. “Thanks.  Call them and tell them not to move anything ‘til we get there.”  Starsky said as they turned and hurried out of the building.

 

When they arrived at Grace Mission, Starsky was frustrated to see there were already news crews hovering across the street.  The uniforms had cordoned off the area with police tape and they were able to park in the back and get into the mission without any contact with the cameras. 

 

The mission’s back door had been jimmied.  The detectives looked at it briefly, then walked in and found the activity centered on a storage room.  The room was being used as a pantry.  The Coroner’s team was already there but they had not yet moved the body.  Hutch looked around the room and saw two women standing in a corner crying.  He walked over to interview them while Starsky checked the victim.  Pulling back the yellow plastic tarp covering the body, Starsky saw that the man had been strangled with a heavy gauge wire.  He also noted the man had the words “Die Commie” sprayed on his black clothing in red paint.  The wall behind the victim also had red spray paint writing on it reading “Commie scum.”  A quick inspection of the man’s body revealed a button attached to a small scrap of green cloth clutched in his hand.  Army issue button and Army issue green fabric.  He moved out of the way and let the crime lab team continue their work dusting for prints.

 

Starsky shook his head and walked over to his partner, but held back a few paces to give him time to wrap up his interview.  The two women were tearfully explaining how they had found Pastor Hansen around 6:00 p.m.  They did not see anyone or hear anything.  No, they did not know why anyone would hurt the minister. No he did not have any known enemies. Naturally.  Hutch thanked the ladies and told them he might need to question them again later.

 

Hutch joined his partner.  “They went looking for him when he disappeared for more than two hours.  Pastor Hansen was supposed to be going to the bank.  His car was parked around back.  He should have been there and back in about 30 minutes.”

 

The lab team had discovered what looked like black shoe polish marks in the doorway to the small storeroom.  Judging from the scrapes on the minister’s shoes, the man had been dragged into the storeroom on his way to the back door.  Starsky told Hutch about the button and cloth scrap he found in Hansen’s hand.  “Hutch, our robbery suspects were wearing army fatigues yesterday.  Looks to me like we have a connection to this murder.”
Hutch nodded his agreement.  “A loose one, but it does look that way.  This thing is escalating.  We’d better go let Dobey in on it.”

 

Hutch sat in the front of the Torino, patched thru to Dobey.  He explained what was happening and confirmed they would still be cruising the neighborhood that evening.  Right now, they were going to interview people in the businesses surrounding the mission.

 

They really had not expected their conversations with people in the businesses around the mission to turn anything useful.  On this block within hearing and visual distance of Grace Mission, the only businesses were an adult bookstore, an X-rated theater, and two liquor stores.   One of the liquor stores was closed today because the owner was sick and he didn’t have anyone to work for him.  The other liquor store's worker had seen nothing.  The only person who could have seen something at the theater was the ticket seller and she had been reading during her shift when there were no patrons.  The bookstore had blackened out windows and the street could not be seen from inside.  The workers had not heard anything.  The detectives drew the big blank they expected to draw.

 

By the time they had completed their preliminary investigation of the minister's murder, darkness had fallen over Bay City.  Both detectives were tired and hungry.  They had been at it since the morning.  Hutch had a suggestion.  "Hey, Starsk, why don't we go over and try out that new Russian Deli over on Laurel?"

 

"Russian?  What do they have that you want to eat, Blintz?"

 

"I'm really thinking about the coffee.  You ever have coffee made by a Russian, Starsk?"

 

Starsky laughed.  "You're kidding, right?  Hutch, you know my grandmother was Russian!  Of course.  Strong stuff.  Might be just the thing we need to stay awake tonight."  Starsky started the engine and they headed for Laurel Street.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Phan's Dry Cleaners was a small, family-owned shop on Laurel Street.  They were getting ready to close.  The family had been nervous since the robbery a few weeks ago. Mr. and Mrs. Phan were counting the money in the cash register while their seven-year-old daughter, Cam, slept in a small room in the back of the shop.  Mr. Phan did not like to stay open much after dark anymore.  He had just pulled the shades down in the front window when the ski-masked robbers who had been there the last time burst through the door with their guns pointed at his wife.  This time, the last of the four men limped in through the door with a cane.  The man with the cane was Ice.

 

Ice shouted, "Okay, Gook.  Put all the money in this bag," as he thrust a canvas bag into the frightened man's hands.  Mr. Phan ran to the register and instructed his wife to put the money in the bag.  He spoke softly to her in Vietnamese, reminding her they did not hurt them the last time.  She should just do as they instructed and the men would leave.

 

Hearing Vietnamese enraged Ice.  "Hey, you!  None of that Gook talk. I wanna know what you're saying."

 

Mrs. Phan jumped at the sound of his shouting.  Her hands shook as she packed the money into the bag.  Mr. Phan explained, "My wife does not speak English."

 

Ice responded by striking Mr. Phan across the face with the back of his fist.  Mrs. Phan screamed and threw the bag of money at Ice.  She ran to kneel beside her fallen husband.  Mr. Phan was sitting up when the robbers backed out of the store.  The couple went around behind the counter to find the phone and call the police. 

 

When he got outside with his gang, Ice reached into the pocket of his oversized coat and pulled out a glass bottle full of gasoline with a rag shoved into the top.  The men looked at him with wide eyes.  "What's the matter, boys, never seen a Malatov Cocktail?  Better get in the car."  His evil laughter chilled the gang.  They all jumped into their getaway car as Ice lit the rag and threw it into the dry cleaners.  He was in the car and speeding down Laurel Street before the explosion rocked the building.

 

Janek Goletz was working in his deli across the street from Phan's Dry Cleaners.  When he heard the sound of a woman screaming, he rushed to look out the front window.  He reached the window just in time to see a masked figure light a Malatov Cocktail and toss it into the shop across from him.  He was terrified at the thought of what would happen if the resulting fire reached the dry cleaning chemicals.  Janek ran to the phone and called for the fire department.  He thanked God his limited English included the words for Emergency and Fire.

 

Gary's Towing Service was on the corner of Laurel Street a few doors down from Janek's Deli.  When he heard the explosion, Bill Monroe ran outside to watch the excitement.  He stood in amazement as he saw the bright red Torino pull onto the scene.

 

Starsky and Hutch were still a few blocks away when the explosion and fire broke out at Phan's shop.  By the time they reached the scene, flames were roiling out the front door and the windows were filled with black smoke.  The smell of gasoline was strong.  The partners shot each other a quick, "Geez I hope no one was in there" look, then they heard the sound of a woman screaming in terror from inside the shop.  Hutch called dispatch for fire department support as Starsky jumped out of the Torino. 

 

Starsky ran into the shop, crouched as low as he could and still maintain any speed.  He called out to the woman, "Ma'am where are you?  Police, I'm here to help you!" 

 

He heard a woman's voice from across the room.  The black smoke was stinging his eyes, but he saw the counter.  Running around behind it, he saw a man lying unconscious on the floor and a frantic woman kneeling next to him.  Starsky heard Hutch's voice from the front door. "Starsky! Where are you?"

 

"Hutch, here!" he shouted back at his partner.  Hutch followed his voice.  Starsky guided the frightened woman into Hutch's hands as he bent down and picked up the man.  He followed Hutch back out the door and onto the street.  He carried the man across the street to lay him on the sidewalk in front of Janek's Deli.  Hutch brought the woman over to them.  She was pointing frantically and yelling at Hutch in Vietnamese.  Hutch did not understand her and he gestured to Starsky to see if his partner understood enough Vietnamese to know what was wrong.  Starsky did not understand her either.  Hutch began CPR on the man. 

 

Inside the deli, Janek had watched the two men pull the Phans out of their shop.  The little girl was missing!  He knew she was in there tonight because he had brought them all some dinner earlier in the evening.  He liked the child, she was sweet and didn't mind his broken English. 

 

Starsky was still trying to make out what the woman wanted when Janek barreled out of the deli, yelling at him in Russian.  He grabbed Starsky and said in a mix of Russian and English "Help!  Malenkaya devoshka, ana tam vnutri!  Pomogitye!"  He was desperately trying to tell Starsky that the little girl was still in the burning building.

 

Starsky was surprised to hear Russian.  He knew that "Pomogitye" was the word for "Help" but he was not sure he heard the rest correctly.  He reached back into his memory and found enough Russian to ask Janek to repeat himself.  "Shto?  Povtoritye yesho raz!"

 

Janek answered in Russian again, "Rebyonok.  Ana vnutri!"

 

Starsky quickly repeated what Janek said once or twice, struggling to translate.  When he realized the words probably meant there was a child still in the dry cleaners, he bolted back across the street.  Hutch yelled at him to stop, "Starsky!  What are you doing?  Starsky!"  Starsky rushed back through the door of the shop without giving it a second thought.   He didn't have time to answer his partner.  As he ran in through the door, Starsky heard the sirens coming closer. 

 

A small crowd was beginning to gather.  Most of the witnesses were other Vietnamese people who had come out of the surrounding businesses or down to the street from their upper floor apartments.  They were there to watch the fire and to watch the two cops in their rescue attempts.   No one tried to help.

 

The man Hutch was resuscitating sputtered, coughed and started to breath on his own.  Thank God!  He pulled Janek over and told him to stay with the man and then he ran after Starsky.

 

The fire was much worse in the shop this time.  Starsky covered his mouth and nose with his T-shirt in an effort to fight the smoke.  He called out to the child, "Little girl, where are you?  Sweetheart?"  He coughed against the smoke as he moved into the back of the shop through the door behind the counter.  Suddenly, he heard a small voice calling, "Help, help!" accompanied by a weak pounding on a door.  The door was to Starsky's left.  He reached for the doorknob with his right hand and was rewarded by burning his palm on the hot metal.  Swearing, he covered the knob with the bottom of his jacket, turned it and flung the door open to reveal a small child.  He picked her up and headed back outside. 

 

Hutch was coming in through the front door yelling, "Starsky!"  Hearing his partner, Starsky called out to him, "Hutch, help me!"  The smoke was getting to him and he stumbled into the front of the shop, dropping the child into Hutch's arms.  Luckily, a firefighter in a respirator mask was right behind Hutch.  He pushed Hutch toward the door and grabbed Starsky before he collapsed in a coughing fit onto the floor of the shop.

 

A few minutes later, the Phan family was being loaded into ambulances for their trip to the hospital.  Hutch was not happy with Starsky's refusal to be seen in the Emergency Room.  He sat on the sidewalk breathing the oxygen the paramedics had given him.  He insisted he was fine. Starsky had successfully hidden his burned right hand from his partner so far and he really hadn't been in the fire long enough to warrant a visit to that most hated of establishments, the hospital.

 

Hutch mentally scolded himself for being such a nag.  Starsky really didn't seem to be in any danger.  Instead of ragging on him some more, Hutch decided get some answers.

 

"Starsk, I didn't know you understood Russian."

 

The cover of the oxygen mask muffled Starsky's words. "Well, I really don't.  I remember a little though.  My grandmother spoke Russian to me when I was a boy.  I used to be pretty good at it." 

 

Hutch never stopped learning new things about his impetuous partner.  He smiled and rested his hand on Starsky's shoulder.  "What did he say to you, buddy?"

 

"He either was tellin' me there was a little girl still inside or that my sister had gone to the store."  Starsky laughed, which brought on more coughing accompanied by Hutch's furrowed-brow look. "I'm all right, Blondie.  Relax!"

 

Hutch was curious about something.  “Why didn’t you speak any Russian to Anna Akhanatovah?”

 

Starsky smiled at him and shrugged his shoulders.  “Well, at first, I didn’t like her.  Then, you did, and I just... well, I guess I just didn’t.  Besides, she spoke Ukranian.”

 

Hutch started to say something about that, but changed his mind.  Starsky was a riddle sometimes.  At the moment, he was just glad his friend was relatively unscathed.  The fire was under control, the victims were off to the hospital, and Hutch wanted to talk to Janek.  The large Russian man came out of his shop with a cup of hot, strong coffee for each of the detectives.  He smiled at them and said, "Thank you."  Then he looked at Hutch and said, "You and your friend.  Brave."

 

"You speak English?"

 

"Da.  I am Janek Goletz.  I am sorry I speak Russian to your friend.  When I am...."

Janek stalled, searching for the right word in English and said, "Rasstroini"

Hutch guessed at the meaning and interjected, "Upset?"

 

"Da. Upset.  My English, not good!"

 

Hutch smiled at him and told him not to worry about it.  "Can you answer a few questions?"  Janek nodded.  "Good.  Let me know if you don't understand me.  Maybe he can help us!" he said with a smile as he pointed to his partner.

 

Between Janek's broken English, and Starsky's shaky Russian, Hutch was able to piece together a picture of what had gone down there.  Apparently, the same thieves who hit the Phans’ shop three weeks ago had come back for another robbery and to finish off the witnesses this time.  Hutch was surprised to hear Janek describe how the fire had been started with a Malatov Cocktail.  Janek described four men, all in army fatigues with dark ski masks on their faces.  When Janek saw them run from the building, he noticed they were carrying guns.  The robbery had probably only taken a few minutes.  The four men had escaped in a dark blue sedan with a dark vinyl top.  Janek only got the first three numbers on the plate, 498.

 

When the paramedic decided Starsky was breathing okay, he took away the oxygen bottle.  Janek invited Starsky and Hutch into his deli for something to eat on the house.  They gratefully accepted.  As they walked into the deli, Hutch asked Janek if he had a first aid kit handy.

 

"Da. Why?"

 

"I need it to fix up that burned hand my partner thinks he's hiding from me." 

 

Starsky winced. Busted!  Damn. Blondie doesn't miss much!

 

After the two cops disappeared into the deli, Bill Monroe retreated in the shadows to the towing shop.  He knew that Starsky couldn't be trusted.  First he ran into a burning building to rescue the enemy.  Then he held a conversation with a man in Russian.  He WAS a commie spy!  Monroe resolved to kill him. 

 

Walking into the front office, Monroe searched for and found his brother-in-law’s loaded gun.  Gary was away on a fishing trip.  The gun would not be missed for a couple of days.  Monroe went back to where the trucks were housed and climbed into one.  He would wait until Starsky and Hutch came out of the deli, then he would follow them.  He needed to know where Starsky lived to carry out his death sentence. Monroe also realized he would have to get to his prey when his blond cohort was not around to help him.  He would follow Starsky home and gun him down like the communist dog he was.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Their suspects were no doubt in hiding again.  Hutch had called in the information on the robbery and the fire to the precinct.  He gave a description of the suspects and their getaway vehicle to the dispatcher.   Nothing more could be done that night so the detectives logged themselves out and planned to go in early the next morning to file reports on the night’s activities. Starsky turned the Torino toward Hutch’s place. 

 

“I’m beat. How you doin’, Starsk?”

 

“Same.  I just want a shower and bed.”  Both men smelled like they had put out an oil fire.  Starsky’s bandaged hand was throbbing and his bloodshot eyes stung.  “You’d think that coffee would keep me awake but there’s not a chance of that. “

 

Hutch laughed.  “High octane stuff!  I liked Janek.  You?”

 

“Yeah, nice guy.”

 

Starsky pulled up in front of Venice Place at 9:45 p.m.  “You coming in, Gordo?”

 

“Nah.  I’m too tired.  I’ll be over at 8:00, ‘kay?”

 

“You’re sure you’re okay, buddy?”  Hutch wanted Starsky to come up so he could keep an eye on him a little longer but he realized he was being a mother hen.

 

“I’m fine.  Get some sleep.  I promise to go straight home and get into bed as soon as I shower off the soot.”

 

Hutch smiled at his partner and said,  “Okay.  ‘Night, Starsk.”

 

Starsky watched his friend walk up to the door to his place.  He was moving pretty stiffly.  Too bad they had to go in early to file reports.  They would definitely need a break in the day sometime if they were going to cruise the streets looking for their suspects again all evening. Starsky wearily pulled away from the curb and headed for home.

 

The phone was ringing when Hutch opened the door.  He trotted over to it, "Hello?"

"Hutch, Huggy."

 

"Hey, Hug.  What's up?"  Hutch shrugged off his jacket and took his gun holster off while he talked to his friend.

 

"You and Curly okay?  I heard about the fire."

 

Hutch laughed, not surprised that Huggy already knew about it.  "Yeah, we're fine.  You know Starsk, though.  He managed to swallow a lot of smoke and he burned his palm pretty good.  Nothin' serious."

 

"Good.  Hey, I think I've got something for you on your robbery suspects."

 

"Spill it."

 

"Dig, folks are gettin' pretty scared down there with the fire and all.  The death of that preacher ain't helpin' any either.  Prob'ly what shook my source loose tonight. I got a call from a guy down near the dry cleaners.  Dude says it’s a group of stressed out Vietnam vets who want to make the Vietnamese suffer.  They are working for Ice. Word is he don't even want the money.  Just trying to scare the people into movin' away.  Tonight was just the beginning.  Ice plans on hurting the victims."

 

"You have any idea where we might look for these guys?"

 

"No, sorry.  I do have something though.  Ice walks with a cane.  He has an artificial leg.  Sorry it's not much of a tip."

 

"No, that's great, Hug.  If the guy has an artificial leg, he may have medical records somewhere.  That gives us a start, which is more than we had before now.  Thanks, Huggy."

 

"No sweat, Blondie.  I'll let you know if I hear anything else.  'Night."

 

"Goodnight, Hug."

 

Hutch hung up the phone.  Even though it was a small lead, he was excited.  He looked at his watch.  Starsky would be home in a few minutes.  He couldn't wait to tell him.  He decided to take a quick shower while he gave his friend enough time to get home.

 

Starsky pulled up in front of his apartment around 10:00 p.m.  As he walked away from the car he could see someone was sitting on the stairs in front of him.  He approached the figure cautiously.

 

"'Scuse me, I gotta go up the stairs, " he said to the man.  The man didn't move.  Instead, he took a drag on his cigarette, the end glowing brightly.  Starsky noticed the man was probably Vietnamese.  Could this be a coincidence?

 

The man spoke.  "You are Detective Starsky?"   

 

Nope.  Not a coincidence.  "Yeah, can I help you?"

 

"No, Detective, but I can help you."  He held his hand out to Starsky as he stood.

 

Shaking the man's hand, Starsky replied, "I usually can use all the help I can get, man.  Who are you?"

 

"I am Phan Nguyen.  The case you and your partner are working on right now, I know some things."

 

"How did you find me?"

 

"A friend told me where to find you.   Don't worry, I promise you will want to hear what I have to say."

 

Starsky was willing to let it drop for now, but he was definitely going to find out how this man knew where he lived at some point.  He said his name was Phan.  Starsky wondered if he was connected to the dry cleaners shop.  He thought about inviting the man in, but he decided it would be smarter to take him to Hutch's.  "Why don't we go over to my partner's place and we can all talk about it?"  Nguyen nodded his agreement.

 

"Yes, fine."

 

Neither man noticed the dark blue tow truck waiting across the street.  The sole occupant of the truck was watching them intently.   Monroe had planned to go to Starsky’s apartment and shoot him there.  When he saw the Vietnamese man waiting for him, he decided he would wait to see what happened next.   Maybe he could get them both.

 

Starsky unlocked the passenger door of the Torino, then walked around and climbed back behind the wheel with a sigh.  So much for hot showers and unwinding.   He pulled away from the apartment building and headed back toward Venice Place.

 

"Detective Starsky, you and your partner are missing something important.  This case is bigger than you think."  Apparently, Nguyen was not willing to wait until they got to Hutch's.  He seemed determined to get the information out immediately.

 

"What do you mean?"

"You are looking for someone who is robbing the businesses and also killed that minister helping some of the victims, yes?"

 

"That's right.  Somethin' wrong with that?"

 

"Everything.  They are not the same.  The people robbing stores and the one who killed the minister are different.  A single man did that.  I work at the mission.  I saw this man in the alley behind the mission today.  Later I saw him running away through the back door.  I did not know he had killed the minister until I saw the news tonight.  Then I saw him again on the street watching the fire."

 

"Why are you doing this?"

 

"My brother owns that dry cleaner's shop.  He almost lost his family.  I had to find you.  I had to tell you."

 

"Do you know anything about the guys doing the robberies?"

 

"Yes.  They are a group of American men who were soldiers in Vietnam.  I have known about them for a while, but I was afraid to come to the police.  I do not trust police, or soldiers."

 

"Looks like you're trusting me, though?"

 

"I saw you save my niece.  You can't be bad and go into a burning building to save a child."

 

Starsky smiled.  He had to admire Nguyen's logic.  They were so deeply in conversation at this point, he still did not notice the dark tow truck following them.

 

Nguyen continued, "The man who killed the minister lives on Laurel Street.  His name is Bill Monroe.  He served in Vietnam."  The name meant something to Starsky.  "I think there was a Bill Monroe in my outfit.  Got shipped back on a Section 8, uh, mental discharge.  Why would he be killing people?"

 

Nguyen sighed, "I do not know.  He is crazy.  Monroe wanders the streets every day talking to himself.  Everyone in the neighborhood knows him.  We all know that he hates Vietnamese and would want to hurt anyone who helped us.  I think you or your partner may be next.  You saved that little girl.  He watched you rescue her.  I saw him.  I can't let it happen again."

 

Just as Starsky was going to ask him to explain that last remark, they came up to the railroad road crossing between his place and Hutch's.  A typical Saturday night, traffic was heavy.  This was a poorly designed crossing.  The tracks cut across the one-way street just about half a block from a busy intersection.  The light was red at the intersection and cars where backed up with one sitting halfway on the tracks.   Starsky stopped on his side of the tracks to wait for the light to change.  Only a few trains came through this way every day.  That probably made the locals a little too complacent about the tracks.  This was an unguarded intersection with only a flashing red light and signal bell to warn of approaching trains.  He shook his head in disbelief.

 

"Do you believe that?  Why do people stop on train tracks?  Stupid.  If a train came, that guy would have nowhere to go."   As he finished that observation, he saw the red light begin to flash and he heard the clanging of the signal bell along with a train whistle in the distance, coming closer. "Terrific."

 

The tow truck was sitting behind the Torino now.  Monroe's plan had been to wait until they got through this intersection and then force the red car off the road down a little farther where there was less traffic.  He would get out of the truck and shoot that Commie dog and his Vietnamese accomplice. Then, he heard the train whistle.  Suddenly, he had a better idea. 

 

Monroe looked in the rear view mirror, no cars behind him.  He backed the powerful truck up a car length and revved the engine.  Meanwhile, Starsky was watching the white sedan on the railroad tracks.  The car backed up a little, then nosed over to the left shoulder, pulling itself completely off the tracks and out of the way of the approaching train.  Starsky sighed in relief, glad the driver had heard the signal and the train whistle.  He did not have much time to be relieved.  The train was only a few yards away when he felt the jolt as Monroe plowed into the back of the Torino, pushing the car onto the tracks.  With the light still red at the intersection, and cars blocking his path, Starsky had nowhere to go.  The train was almost on top of them as Starsky swore, jerked the wheel to the right, and punched it.  He hoped he could make it into the clear before the train reached them.  He didn't.

 

The engineer saw the red car with a white stripe as it was pushed onto the tracks.  He yanked on the brake, the screeching sound of metal filling his ears as the freight train attempted to stop.  This area had several crossings unguarded by signal gates so he was only going about thirty miles per hour.  Even at that speed, the long train could take half a mile or more to stop.  He exercised his only option – he prayed.  Monroe backed the tow truck up and took off in the opposite direction when he saw the results of his actions.  He was certain his targets were dead.

 

The train slammed into the Torino's right rear quarter panel.  The impact tore the wheel out of Starsky's hands and threw him against the driver's door.  He struck his head against the window and saw stars.  The driver's side seat back snapped and Starsky struggled to keep from falling into the back seat of the car.  His passenger was thrown against him, then Nguyen fell forward onto the dashboard.

 

The impact had swung the front of the nose-heavy car toward the train's engine.  The twisting metal was tangled with the train and the Torino was being dragged beside it backward down the tracks.  Sparks were flying all around the car and pieces of it were breaking apart.  The drive shaft snapped and the broken metal started to push its way up through the floorboard into the interior.  The hood buckled, glass flew everywhere.  Starsky tried to shield his face and realized immediately that his left arm was broken.  He reached for the keys and turned off the engine, hoping to stop the flow of gasoline to anything that might catch on fire.  Nguyen was not moving.   Starsky looked to his right and saw the opposite door crushing into his passenger.

 

The engineer looked out his side window and down to the quickly disintegrating red car attached to his engine. He was still pulling furiously on the brake and the train was beginning to slow.

 

The car was dragged two hundred feet down the tracks when it came to a heavy signal post.  The force of the impact against the rear of the Torino ripped it free of the train. The police radio broke off its dash mount, flew up and hit Starsky in the head.  As blood began to pour from the new wound, pain overtook him and Starsky slid into blackness.  He fell back toward the back seat and then slid forward under the steering wheel.  By now, they were over a concrete embankment leading to a drainage ditch below.  The car was off balance and it flipped over onto its roof, crushing it down as it slid to a stop at the bottom of the embankment.  All that was left was a mangled heap of smoking wreckage.  Motor oil, transmission fluid, gasoline, and blood began to spill out onto the concrete.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch tried calling Starsky again.  He had been trying to reach him for half an hour.  His partner should have been home by now since he said he was headed straight there.  Huggy had called him right after Starsky dropped him off with a lead on the men they were investigating.  He didn't want to wait until morning to share it with Starsky. 

 

As much as Hutch tried not to overreact and worry about his partner constantly, he couldn't help it.  After all, keeping Starsky safe was a big part of his life's mission.  When he wasn't able to reach his friend where he should be, he immediately began to worry. He pulled on clean clothes in case he needed to go out again.  Then he waited another ten minutes and tried Starsky's place one more time.  Still no answer.  He called the station dispatcher and asked to be patched through to Zebra 3.  The dispatcher came back on the line and said, "I'm sorry, he doesn't answer."  Hutch thanked her and hung up the phone.  He put his gun back on, grabbed a jacket and headed for the door.  His danger sense was in full alert.  If he couldn't reach Starsky, he'd better go look for him.

 

Hutch turned the police radio on in his car so he could hear any traffic that was going on while he drove to Starsky's place.  He tried to reach his partner on the radio a couple of times.  Then he heard a set of calls that chilled him.

 

"Baker 9 to Control, come in please."

 

"This is Control, Baker 9, go ahead."

 

"We are on the scene of an auto versus train at the culvert near Ocean Blvd and Delaney.  I think we're gonna need a Coroner's wagon out here."  Hutch thought the officer sounded shaken. 

 

"Roger, Baker 9."

 

"Uh, Mildred.  You’d better call Dobey, and can you try to reach Sergeant Hutchinson?"

 

Oh, God!  Why do they want me?

 

"Why?"

 

"The car... it's Starsky's car, Mildred and we don’t know if Hutch was with him."

 

Hutch's heart nearly stopped.  Starsky's car, Dobey, and a Coroner's wagon!   He was already shaking, pushing his car to go faster.

 

"Roger that, Baker 9."  Mildred sounded upset now.

 

Hutch suddenly found himself stuck in a traffic jam.  He hauled the car up on onto the sidewalk and managed to get himself onto Delaney.  When he couldn't go any farther, he jumped out and ran toward where he saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.  He could hear the sounds of more sirens racing to the scene. 

 

As he ran between the vehicles stopped by the traffic jam, he saw the overturned car resting at an angle at the bottom of the embankment. As mangled as it was, Hutch recognized the car, Starsky's. Blood flowed out from underneath the car, running down the concrete mixed with the Torino's vital fluids. His mind couldn't process all he was seeing.  Oh, God, no!  No! He can't be dead!

 

One of the uniformed cops saw him running toward the car.  His partner was carrying one of those yellow tarps they used to cover bodies.  The cop intercepted Hutch and grabbed him by the shoulders, stopping his progress toward the wreck.  "No, Hutch.  You don't want to go over there."

 

"Let me go!  I have to be with him!" 

 

"No, Hutch.  I'm sorry, but he's gone."

 

"No!"

 

Hutch's eyes were wild, wide with terror.  How could Starsky be dead?  What happened?  He looked toward his best friend's crumpled car.  The roof was crushed down to the bottom of the windows.  The right side of the car was crushed and twisted.  How could they even see inside?

 

"Are you s-sure?" he asked breathlessly. 

 

"Hutch, look at the blood.  He's gone.  We were able to reach inside.  I felt for a pulse, but didn't find one.  We can't even get him out of there.  The fire department is going to have to cut it open. I'm sorry."

 

Hutch's knees buckled and the officer helped him to the ground.  The blond detective just kept shaking his head, his face buried in his hands as he muttered over and over, "No, no."  Hutch didn't notice when the two uniformed officers pulled him to his feet and half carried him over to the paramedic unit.  They couldn't help his partner, but maybe they could help Hutch.  The paramedics put a blanket around Hutch's shoulders and watched him carefully for signs of shock.  They stood by, waiting for the fire unit to finish its work. 

 

The firefighters were still trying to cut the Torino open when Captain Dobey arrived and went to Hutch.  He knelt down in front of the shaken detective, placing a hand on his shoulder.  "Hutch?"  No response.  His eyes were open but he was not seeing anything other than the wrecked car.  "Hutch, talk to me.  Look at me."  Hutch blinked heavily, trying to focus on his captain's dark, worried eyes.

 

"Oh, God, Cap."  Hutch looked at Dobey, tears running down his face, "He can't be dead.  Tell me he isn't dead! I don’t believe it.  I, I won't believe it."  Hutch was shaking uncontrollably, waiting to see his partner extricated from the wreckage of his beloved car. He refused to believe his friend was dead until he saw for himself.

 

Captain Dobey looked toward the officer from Baker 9.  He grimly shook his head from side-to-side.  "I'm sorry, Hutch."  Dobey said.  They looked up as one of the firefighters called out, "We've got it!"  The paramedics moved into action, Hutch stumbled up, breaking free of the hold his captain had on him.  He staggered toward the wreckage.   The paramedics reached into the door the firefighters had pried open and gently pulled the victim's left arm out to check for a pulse.  Hutch reached their side as one of the paramedics looked up, shaking his head no.  The man in the car was dead. 

 

Hutch knelt down mumbling miserably, "No, Starsk.  Not now.  No. Please!"  He reached for the hand the paramedic had just released.  Something wasn't right.  He touched the hand and realized what he was seeing.  He spun around to the paramedic next to him and said, "That's not him.  That's not my partner!"

 

Dobey walked up behind him and said, "Hutch, come on now, let them get Starsky out of there."  He assumed Hutch was just having a meltdown.

 

"No, Cap, look.  That is not Starsky.  No rings, and the hand is much too small."

 

Dobey looked and immediately realized Hutch was right. He yelled for the fire crew,  "Get those firefighters back over here.  My man is still trapped in this car!"

 

Working together, the firefighters, paramedics, and Hutch got the body of an unknown man out of the car.  They saw a large laceration on the man's leg that probably had caused him to bleed to death from the major leg artery. Dobey held Hutch back so one of the paramedics could crawl into the car after his partner.  Hutch was barely maintaining control, his heart racing, as a few tense seconds seemed like an eternity.  Please, God.  Let him be all right.  His heart leaped when he heard the man call out, "I've got a pulse, bring me a collar and the back board!"

 

Once the paramedics had a collar on Starsky they tried to pull him out of the car, but he was stuck.  Even though the car was upside down, the collapsed steering column still had Starsky pinned by the abdomen against the upside down floor of the car.  His ankle was jammed between the drive shaft and the gearshift box.  The firefighters would have to cut and pry the twisted metal away from him.  Starsky was bleeding heavily from a deep wound on his right wrist where the twisted metal had cut into him.  The paramedics worked frantically to keep Starsky from bleeding out in the car before the firefighters could free him.  They were worried that any internal bleeding might be made worse by releasing the pressure from the steering column, but there was no other choice.  Unfortunately, the other man had bled out all over the inside of the car as well as out onto the concrete.  The paramedics could not tell what blood was his and what was Starsky's. 

 

After the metal was cut away, the paramedics carefully maneuvered Starsky out of the car and onto a backboard.  Hutch was relieved to see his partner was breathing, but he was a mess.  Covered with blood and unconscious, Starsky's face was swollen, bruised, and cut on both sides.  In addition to the wound to his wrist, he had countless glass cuts, and an obviously broken arm.  Hutch watched as they checked his partner's vital signs.  His blood pressure was low and his pulse thready.  Hutch attempted to climb into the ambulance with his partner, but one of the firefighters stopped him.  "Sorry, they need room to work.  He's in bad shape and if anything happens on the way to the Memorial you don't want to be in the way."  Hutch stood back just as he heard the other paramedic shout, "He's not breathing, I'm gonna bag him!"  The firefighter pushed Hutch out of the way and climbed in to assist.  "Drive, drive, we need to get there NOW!" he shouted as he slammed the door.  Hutch was frantic, but Dobey held him back out of the way.  The paramedic unit screamed away from the scene. 

 

Dobey shook Hutch gently and said, "Hutch, come on now.  We'll follow in my car."

The blond man reluctantly agreed, allowing himself to be led away by his captain. 

 

Before he got into the car, Dobey barked a few orders at the uniformed officers.  "You men get up there and interview the train engineer.  Then get the Torino towed to the precinct so the lab boys can have a crack at it.  Oh and get me the identity of the man who was in the car with Detective Starsky."   Captain Dobey was having a difficult time believing that Starsky wound up in front of that train because of his own carelessness.  Starsky was a sharp cop and an excellent driver. 

 

Dobey slapped the Mars light on the roof of his car and peeled off in the wake of the paramedic unit, siren blaring.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Captain Dobey pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance to let Hutch out and then he went to park the car.  Starsky had been taken into a trauma room and the staff would not let Hutch go back there to him.  When Dobey reached him, he was sitting in a sullen heap on the floor against the wall opposite the trauma area.  He sat staring at the trauma room doors, listening to the frantic attempts to save his partner's life.  As Dobey walked up to Hutch, a nurse walked out of the trauma room, giving the two men a brief glance of the activity inside.  Starsky's clothes had been cut off and they lay on the floor in a bloody heap.  The nurse spoke to Dobey, "Are you here with Mr. Starsky?"

 

Hutch jumped up and cut his captain off saying, "I'm his partner.  We're here for him."

 

She held out Starsky's gun and badge for Hutch to take.  "You'll want to take custody of these."  Hutch took them and put his hand out to stop her when she turned back toward the trauma room.  "Is he breathing?"

 

She patted his hand gently and nodded the affirmative.  "Someone will come out and let you know what's happening in a little while."  Hutch let her go and she went back to the busy trauma room.  He got a brief glimpse of hospital personnel trying to clean his partner up so they could see what was bleeding and how much.  Hutch stood where the nurse had left him.  He was staring at Starsky's badge, the leather case soaked with blood. 

Please let some of that blood be from the other guy.

 

Dobey took Hutch by the elbow, led him to the waiting area, and pushed him down into a chair.  "Hutch, you stay put. I have to call Edith and Huggy.  After I do that, I'm going to get you some strong coffee."  Hutch nodded at him. 

 

Captain Dobey hated placing this type of phone call.  He was surprised that Huggy hadn’t already heard about the accident.  He said he would be at the hospital within the hour.  Edith was waiting by the phone when he called.  "I don't know anything yet, Edith," Dobey said into the phone.  "No, he didn't look too good, but at least he is alive.  That’s more than we thought when I left the house.  My God, he was hit by a train!"  Dobey took a breath and lowered his voice. "I'm sorry, baby.  I'll call when we know something."  Before he went after the coffee he looked back down the hall at his other detective.  Still sitting where he was told.  Good, Hutch.  Let them help your partner and stay out of the way.

 

Hutch was grateful that he couldn't hear everything that was going on in that room anymore.  He watched as units of blood were brought to the trauma room and hospital staff rushed in and out in the bustle of activity to get his partner stabilized.  He sat wondering how this could have happened.  Who was that man who had died in the Torino?  Oh, God, the Torino!  Even if Starsky survived, the car was dead.  Totaled.  Starsky would be so angry.  Thinking that way was giving him hope that Starsky would be around to be upset about the loss of his car.

 

When the doctor came out to talk to them an hour later, Hutch was not sure what to make of his expression.  Like a criminal trying to guess whether a jury was going to rule him guilty or innocent, Hutch studied his face as he walked down the hall toward them.  Was Starsky alive or dead?  "For David Starsky?" he asked.

 

"Yes.  I'm Ken Hutchinson, his partner.  This is Captain Dobey and Huggy Bear. How is he, Doc?" 

 

"Extremely lucky, so far," came the unexpected reply. "I don't want you to get your hopes up prematurely, Mr. Hutchinson, but we've had some breaks already." 

 

The doctor sat down and motioned for the three men to do the same. "The best news is that he has had no spinal cord injury.  We were told there was another man in the car who bled out at the scene.  Although your partner also lost a lot of blood, we believe most of what we saw on initial examination came from the other man."

 

Hutch sighed some relief and relaxed just a little.  The doctor continued, "Mr. Starsky was covered in some kind of soot and his lungs show evidence of smoke inhalation.  Was there a fire at the scene?" 

 

This was news to Captain Dobey.  Hutch's face flushed as he answered, "Uh, uh, no, Doc. We pulled some people out of a fire earlier this evening.  He got the brunt of the smoke and heat."  He shot his best, "I was going to tell you about this," look at Dobey then continued, "He also burned his hand in the fire.  Nothing too serious, though.  I wanted him to come in for a check, but he refused.  The paramedics administered oxygen at the scene."

 

The doctor nodded.  This wasn't Mr. Starsky's night.

 

The news was not all good.  The doctor continued and told the two men that Starsky did have head injuries.  His right eye orbit was fractured where something heavy had struck him in the face. They were concerned he might lose vision in the eye or lose the eye completely.  He also had a hairline skull fracture on the left side of his head.  His left forearm was snapped at the wrist and his right ankle was fractured.  The doctor believed his tendons and ligaments were also torn in the ankle.  That was not the worst of the news, though. 

 

"Your friend is bleeding internally.  He is on his way up to surgery now.  We suspect he has a lacerated liver.  The paramedics tell us he was pinned by the steering wheel of the car.  If we are correct, this is a serious injury.  We just won't know anything until he comes out of surgery."

 

Hutch was pale and starting to tremble when he asked,  "Doc, what are his chances?"

 

"I know you don't want to hear this, but we really can't say at this time.  He does have a minor skull fracture that we will have to watch closely for signs of brain involvement.  The pupil in his left eye is still reacting to light.  The right eye has deteriorated since he was brought in and we can't know for certain yet if it is the head injury or the trauma to the eye area that is causing that.  I wish I could give you more hope, but right now we just have to wait and see."  The doctor promised to keep them informed of Starsky's progress and he stood to leave. 

 

Hutch called after the doctor, "Doc.  Please don't let him die."

 

~*~*~*~

 

The surgery revealed exactly what the trauma surgeons feared.  Starsky had a lacerated liver and there were tears in surrounding blood vessels.  They were able to repair the damage.  When they explained the surgery to Hutch, Dobey, and Huggy they cautioned that liver injuries could be tricky.  They would have to watch him closely for signs that hemorrhaging had resumed.  Starsky would be transferred to the ICU soon and his condition was listed as critical.  He was in a coma and they would continue to monitor him for signs of increased intracranial pressure from his head trauma.  An ophthalmologist was being brought up to evaluate Starsky’s eye injury and an orthopedist would be looking at making repairs to his fractured ankle.  The wrist break only needed to be set and casted.

 

The trauma surgeon could see from the distraught look on Hutch’s face that the litany of injuries and treatment plans was getting to him.  He looked overwhelmed.   The doctor had dealt with enough families to know that the men who were there for David Starsky wanted to know what kind of odds he had for survival.  Estimating those odds for families was a necessary part of his job that he really did not enjoy.  “I know this is a lot to take in all at once.  We are doing everything we can to help him.  I realize this sounds bad and it is serious.  Hold onto this though.  When the paramedics brought him in, I wouldn’t have given him much of a chance.  We have things under control, though, and I think we stand about a 60% chance of pulling him through this.  I’m sorry it is still a wait-and-see game, but we’ll know more over the next 24 – 48 hours.”

 

“When can I see him, Doc?”

 

The doctor looked closely at the blond man before answering.  His instincts were telling him to allow this man more latitude than he ordinarily would.  “Can you stay out of the way?”  Hutch nodded.  “All right, as soon as he is out of Recovery and in the ICU I’ll send someone to get you.  Be prepared, though, he is likely to remain unconscious for an extended period.  I don’t want you to expect too much.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

After the doctor left, Hutch put his head down in his hands and said, “We’ve been this way too many times.”

 

Now that they had some news about Starsky, Captain Dobey was determined to get to the bottom of the chain of events that had led them there.  Hutch explained how the evening had gone.  He filled Dobey and Huggy in on everything that had happened to them from when they investigated the murder at the mission to when Starsky dropped him off at his place a little before ten p.m.  He had no idea who the man in the car was.  The three men speculated about how the accident could have happened but they did not come up with any answers. 

 

“Cap, I want to talk to anyone who might have been a witness to the accident.  Can you call in and find out what the train engineer had to say?  Huggy, can you get the word out that I want anyone who knows anything to come forward with it?”

 

The other two men recognized the shift in Hutch from worried friend to relentless investigator.  They knew how he could be in these situations and they were relieved that Hutch would have something to think about other than the grim situation his best friend was in at the moment.  Investigating the accident might take some of the edge off Hutch’s feelings of helplessness.  Both men nodded their agreement. 

 

They would not be able to see Starsky for hours.  Hutch agreed to go home for some sleep, then into the precinct to find out what the lab team had turned up on the Torino.  Dobey would stay at the hospital until he returned and he promised to call if anything happened.  Torn between staying and leaving for a while, Hutch decided he wanted to be awake and functional when the time came that he could be with Starsky.  He also needed to get a handle on what had happened in the accident.  Finding out who the dead man was would be a top priority.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Hutch walked through the precinct parking garage the next morning, he saw the mangled Torino in a repair bay.  The lab team was still poring over it.  He walked over to talk to the crew working on it.  They had not come up with any cause of the accident yet, but they did have some interesting information. 

 

Mike Stemmons, the crew chief, said, “All of the prints we found belonged either to you, Starsky, or the dead passenger.  We haven’t found any evidence of tampering with the engine or the brake lines.”  He gave Hutch a small box containing all the personal items from inside the car.  “One odd thing we found, at some point the ignition had been turned off and the keys were found in the back seat.  The only prints on the keys belonged to Starsky.”

 

That was odd.  Hutch would have to think about that.  He thanked them and told them to let him know if they turned up anything useful.  Before he left the bay, he made a closer inspection of the car. What a mess. The train had chewed up the entire right side.  The initial impact looked to have been on the right rear of the car just behind the passenger door.  He carefully crawled in through the door the firefighters had pried open and noted the drive shaft’s presence inside the car, the compacted steering column with its broken steering wheel, and the police radio sitting in the front seat.  One corner of it was caked in dried blood and it had some dark, curly hair stuck to its side. All of the windows were broken and glass was scattered throughout the passenger compartment.  The roof was compacted down almost level with bottoms of the windows.  The driver’s seat back was broken, but the passenger seat was still intact.  The car smelled of drying blood, motor oil, and gasoline.  He shook his head in amazement that anyone who had been in that car when the train hit it had survived the initial impact.

 

Hutch stopped in the squad room and called the hospital to speak with Captain Dobey.  “Any change, Cap?”

 

“The orthopedic doc looked at his ankle and she tells me they are going to have to do another surgery to repair the damage to the ligaments.  They don’t want to risk that right now so they'll immobilize it and leave it alone until he is more stable.”

 

“What about his eye?”

 

“The ophthalmologist will be over to see him when they move him out of Recovery.”

 

“Why the hell is he still in Recovery?”  The other detectives in the squad room looked up at Hutch. 

 

Captain Dobey hesitated, but told Hutch that they had a few tense moments where Starsky’s blood pressure took a nosedive.  He was going to call for Hutch to come back to the hospital, but they got it back under control quickly.  That delayed Starsky’s move to the ICU.  Hutch was angry, “You should have called me!” he yelled at the phone.

 

“Calm down!” he yelled back, drawing angry stares from the nurses nearby.  “I didn’t have a chance before they took care of it.  Hutch, everything happened too fast.  Nothing you could do about it even if you were here.  If nothing else happens they’re going to move him to the ICU in a couple of hours.  You’ve got to trust me to watch over him, you can’t be everywhere at once!”

 

Hutch took a deep breath.  “Sorry, Cap.”

 

“Go ahead and do what you need to and get back over here.”  Captain Dobey sounded tired and Hutch realized he had probably not slept.

 

Hutch hung up the phone.  The squad room was unusually quiet and everyone was afraid to ask Hutch how his partner was.  He could see it on their faces so he decided to volunteer, “He’s still in Recovery.  They’re sending him to the ICU in a couple of hours.”

 

The other police officers nodded and looked grateful for the information.  Detective Simmons asked Hutch, “Is there anything we can do for you, Hutch?”

 

Hutch’s initial reaction was to say there wasn’t.  Then Captain Dobey’s words came back to haunt him and he had to admit that he was right.  The robbery case was getting more complicated and Starsky’s accident was certain to be related.  He needed help and he was alone without his partner.  “Yeah, thanks.  Can you go over to the hospital and interview the Phans?  They're the people from the fire last night.  I want to know what they saw. “

 

Simmons nodded.  “What happened to Starsky out there?”

 

“I don’t know, but it has to be related to this case somehow.”  Before Hutch could continue, his phone started to ring.  He picked it up immediately, fearing it was someone from the hospital.  “Hutchinson, talk to me.”

 

The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Detective Hutchinson, this is Tod Armor from the Bay City Times.  I was hoping you could answer a few questions for me about Detective Starsky’s accident last night and I understand you are his partner.”

 

“Look, I really don’t have time for this right now.”

 

“I promise it will only take a minute.  I’m working on a story about the accident for the afternoon edition.”

 

Hutch took a deep breath and said, “I have no comment.”  He started to hang up when Tod Armor said, “Wait, I was just wondering if you have any feeling about whether your partner might have been trying to commit suicide?”

 

Simmons watched as Hutch’s face quickly turned several colors and his eyes flashed with a blind fury he had seen in Hutch before when his partner was in danger. “Wh-WHAT?”

He shouted.  “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!”

 

Armor continued, “Can you confirm some information from a source who states that the car was turned off when the train struck it?”

 

Hutch shouted back “You can go straight to hell, Armor!” and he slammed down the phone so hard it cracked the plastic.  Simmons could see Hutch was near to having a massive explosion.  “Hutch, calm down, man.  What is it?  What did he say?”  The furious detective was up and pacing around the room.  “Son of a bitch!” was his only reply as he used his hands to swipe everything off his desk onto the squad room floor. “Son of a bitch!” he repeated.  Everyone was looking at him, afraid to move. 

 

Simmons put his hands up in a “calm down” motion as he said, “Hutch, take a breath.  Tell me what that was about.”

 

Hutch was shaking with anger, but he tried to calm down and answer Simmons.  He righted the chair he had knocked over, sat down, and put his head in his hands.  “Dammit, Simmons, why do reporters have to be such jerks?”  One of the other detectives brought Hutch a cup of water and they patiently waited for him to continue.  “Somehow the press found out Starsky turned the car off at some point.  Now they wanna know if he was trying to off himself.”

 

Everyone in the squad room was stunned.  Hutch was right, that was ridiculous.  Now they were all angry.  Hutch continued, “That Tod Armor better hope he doesn’t print that crap or he will have me to deal with.”  Hutch bent down to pick up the things he had scattered to the floor. 

 

“Simmons, the Phans are at Memorial.  Please get any information you can on the perps.  We need to beef up patrols in the neighborhood, too.  Starsky and I were going to cruise there in the afternoons and evenings hoping to catch them.  Oh yeah, and there's a Russian guy who owns a restaurant across the street from the dry cleaners, Janek Goletz.  I radioed in the type, color, and partial plate of the car he saw the perps use last night.  Can you please check if that has turned any possibles?”

 

Hutch explained the facts of the case including Pastor Hansen’s murder and Starsky’s accident.  That just could not be a coincidence, but he needed proof.  He asked Simmons to tell Dobey he’d be back at the hospital to relieve him in an hour or two.  Now he wanted to talk to the uniforms on the scene the night before to find out what the witnesses had told them.  After that he would go to the morgue to check out the dead man.

 

Although he hadn't noticed, the men in the squad room had all gathered around to listen to Hutch's instructions to Simmons.  They were all worried about Starsky and they wanted to help.  The men had been discussing that when Hutch showed up at the station.  They also knew Hutch.  He needed to be with his partner, but he also needed to find out who hurt Starsky.   Simmons explained this to him.  "Hutch, we all want to help you with this case.  We all want to help nail whoever did this to Starsky.  I hope you'll let us.  We'll work it in, anything you want us to take on, just name it."

 

Hutch was touched.  He and Starsky usually worked alone, but this was more than a Me and Thee time.  This time it needed to be.  Hutch nodded his thanks. "I'll be in touch."   

 

~*~*~*~

 

The previous night at the accident scene was a grisly blur to Hutch.  He could not remember the names or faces of any of the uniforms he saw there.  After finding out who had been on the scene, Hutch started making his calls from one of the interrogation rooms.  He was frustrated to find out that all of the witnesses had been in front of the accident.  None were behind the Torino at the crossing.  The witnesses all confirmed there was a red light at the intersection and the cars were backed up all the way to the tracks.  Even the man from the white sedan hadn't seen Starsky's car until he noticed the Torino's headlights barreling toward him.  He saw the headlights and thought the Torino would slam into him.  Then, the car turned toward the right as if Starsky was trying to get up onto the shoulder.  That was when the train hit.

 

The one witness Hutch most wanted to hear from had not been interviewed.  The officer who attempted to interview the train's engineer told Hutch the man was too upset to talk about the accident at the scene.  He was so shaken he couldn't speak.  The rail company had to send another engineer out to move the train to the next station.  The engineer had been taken to another hospital and released to his home under sedation.  Hutch got his name and address before he moved on to the morgue.

 

A preliminary autopsy on the dead man from Starsky’s car revealed he had died from exsanguination.  His femoral artery was severed by something during the crash.  Even if he hadn’t bled to death, the man had sustained a broken neck and he probably would have died within a short time.  Hutch was glad the accident had happened when Starsky was on the way to Venice Place, instead of on the way back to his own apartment.  Otherwise, he would have been the one on the side the train struck.

 

The man was identified as Phan Nguyen.  Phan?  Hutch wondered if he could be related to the family they had rescued the previous night.  His personal effects did not reveal any reason why he might have been in the Torino with Starsky on the way back toward Hutch’s place.

 

Back in his car, Hutch finally had time to go through the things the lab team had given to him from inside the Torino.  He didn't expect to find anything enlightening in there, but they were Starsky's things, so he sat in the car and looked through the small box anyway.  The shoebox-sized collection contained Starsky's keys and the contents of his glove box -- registration, title, insurance information, a tire pressure gage, flashlight, owner's manual, service records book, a Pez dispenser, a couple of pictures of Hutch, one of the two of them together, and a single cassette tape.  The tape had "Hutch" written on the front of it in Starsky's handwriting next to the date from the last amateur night he had played.  The night he met what's-her-name as Starsky so eloquently called her.  He smiled at that.  Aw, buddy, you recorded me?  Crying softly, Hutch sat with his head on his hands leaning against the steering wheel, trying to regain his composure.  When he thought he had it back together he started the car and headed for Memorial.

 

When Captain Dobey took a break to go get a candy bar and a newspaper, he had an unpleasant surprise.  As he exited the elevator into the hospital lobby a reporter approached him.  The reporter addressed him, "Captain Dobey, can I have a word with you about the accident?"  Dobey didn't have the chance to yell at the man because hospital security descended on him immediately.  They ushered him out the front door where Dobey could see a large gathering of reporters and camera crews. The surprised captain went into the gift shop and picked up his copy of the local paper.  The front page of the Bay City Times had a picture of the wrecked Torino on it.  The caption read "Police officer's car destroyed in mysterious fatality tangle with train."  Oh, Geez.  The article was much worse.  The headline read "One Dead in Crash with Cop."  The byline belonged to Tod Armor.  He continued to read,

 

Last night, a car driven by local Bay City police officer Detective Sergeant David  Starsky was struck by a train at an unguarded crossing.  The car was dragged down the tracks and it landed on its roof at the Delaney Street culvert near Ocean Blvd.  Detective Starsky's unidentified passenger was dead at the scene.  A source inside Metro headquarters refused to comment on whether or not the accident was a suicide attempt.  The police officer is listed in critical condition at Memorial Hospital. 

 

Dobey was stunned.  What a crock!  What idiot gave them that idea?  His thoughts immediately went to what it would do to Hutch when he saw that article.  Dobey knew he had to get to Hutch before that happened.  He found a phone and called to be patched through to the detective.

 

Pulling into the parking lot, Hutch noticed there were reporters hanging around the front entrance to the hospital.  Somehow, he knew they had something to do with Starsky.  He drove around the back of the hospital to park his car, grateful that it was a nondescript vehicle and the reporters had not seen him.  As he was getting out of the car his radio signaled a call.  "Zebra 3, this is Control, please respond."  Hutch answered the call, "This is Zebra 3, go ahead."  The dispatcher replied, "Patch through from Captain Dobey."  Hutch held his breath hoping it wasn't bad news about Starsky. 

 

"Hutch, this is Dobey."

 

"What happened? Is he okay?"

 

"Yes, nothing has changed.  Hutch, the front of the hospital is crawling with reporters.  They're probably waiting for you."

 

"I'm in the parking lot, Cap.  Just got here and I saw them. What do they want?"

 

"Let's talk about that up here.  You come on in through the back doors by the loading dock.  We're up in the ICU now."

 

"Got it, be right there.  Out." Hutch replaced the mike and headed into the hospital through the back door.

 

Captain Dobey had already secured a patient consultation room to sit Hutch down and tell him about the article.  He knew Hutch would be angry and he wanted him away from prying eyes when it happened.  He intercepted his officer as he got off the elevator.  "Hutch, come in here with me for a minute, we need to talk."

 

"I want to see Starsk."

 

"I know, but you need to come with me first."

 

Hutch swallowed hard as he reluctantly followed his superior into the private room.  When Dobey closed the door behind him Hutch said, "Cap, you're scarin' me, tell me what's wrong."  Captain Dobey pulled a chair out and sat in it directly in front of the door making himself the proverbial immovable object. "I'm sorry to worry you, but this isn't about your partner's condition. This is about those reporters." 

 

When Hutch read the article, Dobey was afraid he was going to burst a blood vessel right in front of him.  He was glad he'd had the foresight to block the door.  With his captain refusing to let the angry blond leave the room, he had no choice but to expend his energy by ranting and pacing around in tight circles.  "Dammit, Cap, hasn't he been through enough?"  Captain Dobey let him vent until he started to wind down, throwing himself into the corner in a dejected heap.  "Cap, I'm the inside source!  That jerk Armor called me at the station.  I told him I had no comment.  I told him to go to hell!  Dammit!  I'm gonna make sure he gets my opinion now!" 

 

"No, you're not.  You stay away from him and you stay away from all those reporters.  This is mine.  I get to give them MY opinion."

 

Hutch was surprised by the captain's tone.  "But, Cap, he's my partner!  I can't let them get away with...."

 

"This isn't open for discussion.  You calm down now.  You can't go into Starsky's room like this.  He's going to need your strength and you can't go wasting it on a piece of crap like Armor.  I'll take care of it."

 

Hutch agreed and worked hard to calm down like the captain ordered.  When Dobey was sure the storm had passed and Hutch was ready to go to his partner, he stepped away from the door to let him go.  Before he walked out, Hutch told him about the conversation he had at the precinct with the other detectives.  He told him he hoped that it was okay, but that he had given the other men his go-ahead to help with the investigation.  Dobey had no problem with that.  "You just go in and be with your partner.  I'll take it from here."

 

Captain Dobey walked out of the hospital to grant the reporters a press conference.  The lights and cameras all turned on and pointed at the large black man.  "Captain Dobey, Captain Dobey," they all clamored at once.  The question and answer session started immediately.

 

"Do you know who the man was in the car with your officer?" 

 

"Yes, but we are withholding that information pending notification of his family."

 

"Captain Dobey, what is Detective Starsky's condition?"

 

"Detective Starsky is in critical condition."

 

"Captain Dobey, word is that Detective Starsky was trying to commit suicide by pulling in front of that train. Do you have any idea why he would want to kill himself?"

 

"I have no idea what would give you reporters the mistaken idea that my detective was trying to hurt himself."

 

"Captain, a source who was at the scene revealed that the car's engine was turned off and the keys removed.  Why else would he do that?"

 

The captain took a deep breath and said, "I don't know the answer to that yet, but the Metro Police Department is investigating this incident and we will get to the bottom of it.  We hope Detective Starsky will be able to tell us himself soon.  For now, I'm going to make a general statement about what we know regarding this incident."  The reporters were all quiet, waiting to hear what the Captain of Detectives had to say.

 

"Last night, Detective Sergeant David Starsky was involved in a tragic incident between his car and a train.  Based on his location and the direction he was traveling at the time, we believe he was on his way to his partner's home to discuss details of their current case.  Possibly, the dead man was a witness or informant.  We may not know that for certain until we can ask Detective Starsky." 

 

Captain Dobey paused for a moment to give the crowd of reporters his most authoritative, "this is how it is" look.  Then he continued, "Yesterday was a typically busy day for my detective and his partner.  The two men worked over thirteen hours.  They started early, around 8:00 a.m. and worked on their case until approximately 9:30 p.m.  The detectives have been investigating a crime spree in their district for the past few weeks.  During the course of the day they interviewed crime victims and witnesses, conducted research on their case, were shot at trying to apprehend a suspect, and they rescued a family from a burning building at great risk to their personal safety.  Detective Starsky and his partner are dedicated police officers of the highest integrity.  The rumor that Detective Starsky may have tried to kill himself last night is not only unfounded it is purely speculative and completely ridiculous.  When I have any additional information to give you, I will let you know."  With that, Captain Dobey turned and walked back into the hospital, leaving the stunned reporters in his wake.  

 

~*~*~*~

 

Bill Monroe was sleeping in the back of the tow shop when his brother-in-law returned early from his fishing trip.  Gary Fowler wanted to check on the shop before he headed home.  He noticed something wrong with one of his three trucks.  The truck was not parked exactly where he had left it two days ago.  Walking around the truck to take a good look at it, Gary noticed the push-bar on the front of the truck was damaged and red paint was scraped on it.  He walked into the shop to see if Bill knew anything about it.

 

Shaking the sleeping man, Gary said, "Wake up, Bill."  When his brother-in-law opened his eyes he said, "Hey, Gare. What are you doing home so soon?"

 

"Nothin' was biting so I just came on home.  What's up with the blue truck?  Looks like it was in an accident."

 

"Dunno, Gare.  As far as I know, nothing has been happening out there.  I haven't been here all the time, though."

 

Gary looked into Bill's dark eyes.  Bill was off balance and it was hard to read him at times.  "You been taking you pills, Bill?"

 

"Yeah."  He lied.

 

"What about Goletz.  You been staying away from him like you promised?"

 

"Yeah, I ain't bothered him.  Le'me go back to sleep. I'm tired."

 

"All right, Bill.  We can talk tomorrow.  I'm going home now."

 

Gary stopped and looked at his truck again.  He knew something had happened and that Bill was probably responsible.  He needed to speak with his wife before he took any action, though.  Gary thought he probably should call the police, but what would he say?

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Hutch walked into Starsky's ICU cubicle he was shocked by what he saw.  His friend was still unconscious, and attached to the usual plethora of machines.  His left arm was in a cast and the right wrist was wrapped in a thick bandage covering the laceration.  His burned hand was also bandaged.  The worst part was his swollen face.  His left eye was black and his right was patched with gauze.  The area around the patch was black all the way up Starsky's forehead and down to his jaw.  Apart from the bruising, his face was pale.  In addition to the IV solution, a unit of blood was being transfused into his partner.  So many hours after surgery, Hutch was worried. 

 

He pulled up a chair next to Starsky's bed and reached out to touch him.  Where could he touch that wasn't hurt?  Hutch tenderly took Starsky's injured right hand in his.  "Hey, buddy.  I'm here.  Sorry I haven't been here today, but they said I couldn’t see you for a while."

 

Hutch looked up at the machines monitoring his partner's condition.  His heartbeat and respiration were still rapid.  Starsky looked like he was barely hanging on and Hutch was scared.  "Buddy, you gotta listen to me.  You just rest there and heal.  I need you here with me.  Don't go away, okay?  I thought you promised me you would stay away from moving trains.  What happened, huh?  I need you to focus on getting better so you can wake up and tell me what happened."  He gently rubbed Starsky's arm while he talked to him.

 

Hutch hadn't noticed the nurse who entered Starsky's cubicle about twenty minutes after he arrived.  She checked Starsky's condition and made some notes on his chart.  "You must be Detective Hutchinson."

 

"Ken, or Hutch is fine."

 

"Well, Ken or Hutch, whatever you're doing, keep doing it.  His heart rate and breathing have slowed down since the last time I checked.  You must be doing something right." She smiled at him.  "Can I get you anything?"

 

"No, thanks." 

 

"I'll be right back," she said.  When she returned she had an extra pillow and blanket for Hutch.  "I'm afraid that chair won't be a very comfortable place to sleep, but at least you can be warm."

 

Hutch thanked her.  "His skin feels pretty cold.  Do you think he's warm enough?"

 

The nurse went out and came back with a warming blanket to put on the comatose man.  "That should help," she said.  "Try to relax, you're in for a long haul."

 

Captain Dobey came back up for a little while and told Hutch about the press conference.  He repeated his admonishments to Hutch to avoid reporters and stay with his partner.  Then he went home to get some much-needed sleep.  Hutch made himself as comfortable as he could and fell asleep with his head on Starsky's bed, holding onto his hand.

 

While Hutch slept, the nurses came in and out making frequent checks of Starsky's vital signs and blood work.  Around 2:00 in the morning, they became concerned because his blood test values where deteriorating, his blood pressure was dropping, and he was developing a fever.  Starsky's doctor woke Hutch up and told him they needed to take his partner back to the OR.  Too many units of blood had gone in and his test values told the doctor he was still bleeding internally. Hutch sat back helplessly and watched as they wheeled his partner away from him.

 

When they brought Starsky back to the ICU, Hutch thought he looked even paler.  The doctor was encouraging though.  The bleeding was under control again and they had put Starsky on a different antibiotic to control a potential infection.  This was not unusual in a case like Starsky's.  They were less worried now about the head injury.  Back to wait-and-see.

 

Hutch resumed his post.  "Hey, Starsk.  You gotta stop scarin' me like this.  I'm getting too old.  Bad for my ticker."  He took Starsky's hand in his again and settled back down with a sigh.  Please get better.  I need you.  "I'm right here, buddy."

 

Huggy came up to check on Starsky in the morning.  He had some new information on the case, too.  Hutch left Starsky to go out in the hall and talk to Huggy.

 

"How's he doin'?"

 

"He scared me last night.  They had to take him back to surgery.  They say he's improving this morning, though. " 

 

"Don't worry, Blondie.  He's too stubborn to give up on you.  He'll be okay."

 

Huggy handed Hutch a bag with some food.  "I figured you hadn't eaten anything in who knows when.  Thought you could use this."

 

"Thanks, Hug."

 

Huggy Bear knew how it was with his friends when one of them was hurt.  The other one concentrated so much on his friend, he didn't sleep enough or eat much.  He always considered it his job to keep an eye on both of them until whoever was hurt recovered. 

 

Captain Dobey stepped off the elevator and walked over to Hutch and Huggy.  They discussed Starsky's condition and Dobey said he'd stay with Starsky for a while so Hutch could eat and talk to Huggy.  "Come on, Hutch.  Let's go outside so you can eat and get a little air."

 

When they were settled on a bench outside the hospital, Huggy brought up the case.  "You follow up on the tip about Ice?"

 

Hutch turned a little pale. "Damn.  I forgot to tell Simmons about that.  No, Huggy, I can't believe I let that slip my mind."

 

"Relax, you've had a curly-haired distraction to worry about and besides, I've got somethin' better for you."

 

Huggy explained that late last night a man had come into the Pits asking to talk to Hutch.  He had information on the thieves.  In fact, he was one of them.  The man who only identified himself as Chet wanted Huggy to get a message to Hutch.  The other gang members wanted out, but they were all afraid of Ice.  The fire at the dry cleaners was more damage than any of them wanted to do.  They hadn't signed on to hurt people.  In fact, they didn't know what they were getting into when they became involved with Ice.  Chet had seen Captain Dobey's press conference on the news.  He did not know about what happened to Starsky and he thought it was possible Ice had something to do with it.  Hurting the Phans was bad enough, but burning a cop was not in his plan. Hutch promised Huggy he would get the DA to consider reduced charges for the other suspects if Chet's information led to Ice's arrest.  Hutch's word was good enough for Huggy.

 

The next hit was planned for that night.  They would rob the Vietnamese grocery store on Vine near Ocean Blvd.  This time Ice planned to gun down the shop owners.  No more fires for him.  Starsky and Hutch had proven that to be an unreliable method of witness elimination.  Chet said they were supposed to be there at seven o’clock.  All he and the other men wanted was to be safe from Ice. 

 

Hutch thanked Huggy and they headed back into the hospital.  He needed to make some phone calls to set up the bust.  He was walking with a little spring in his step in anticipation of nailing the bastard who had hurt so many people, killed a minister, and nearly killed his partner.

 

Starsky continued to make progress throughout the day.  His blood pressure was improving and the fever was down to only 99.6.  The nurses continued to notice how the man's pulse and respiration improved whenever Hutch was with him.  When the blond man was out of the room, Starsky's pulse and breathing rate climbed.  When he returned, they improved.  Whatever magic the tall detective had, they were glad for it and they hoped it would bring Starsky around in the next day or two.

 

Hutch talked to Starsky all day about the plans for the bust. Huggy's informant seemed reliable enough.  He promised him he would be careful and that Dobey was going to stay with him while it went down so he wouldn't have to be alone.  The plan was for Hutch and Simmons to already be in the liquor store when Ice and the gang arrived.  They would be undercover as a soda company deliveryman and a customer.  Babcock, Simmons partner, would be hiding behind the counter.   Although the department did not have any Vietnamese officers, the bust team had gotten lucky and found a young uniformed officer who was a Korean-American to go undercover as the cashier. The gang would not know he wasn't one of the owners.  As long as they could keep other customers out, the bust would not endanger any citizens, including the shop owners.

 

When the time came for Hutch to go and get ready for the bust, he told Starsky he'd be back soon.   "Hey, buddy.  Time for me to go bust the bad guys.  I'll be back as soon as I can.  You just keep resting and getting stronger.  Doc says he thinks things are looking much better."  Hutch reached over and gently tousled Starsky's dark curls.  As soon as Hutch said he was leaving for the bust, Starsky's pulse began to climb a little.  Hutch didn't notice, though, he was too excited about his plans.  "I'll be back in a few hours, buddy."

 

Dobey knew how Starsky and Hutch worked together.  As Hutch walked out, Dobey said, "Hey."  When Hutch turned to face him he said, "See ya.  That was for your partner."  Hutch smiled and left to meet the other officers.

 

As Hutch and the other officers prepared for their bust, the lab team had uncovered something disturbing on the Torino. They called the hospital and reported it to Dobey.  The evidence had escaped their notice on first inspection due to the damage to the back of the car caused by the signal post.  The Torino had been hit from behind.   A hard hit from a large vehicle painted dark blue.  Mike Stemmons told the captain that he believed Starsky's car had been pushed in front of that train.  Stemmons also thought he had a plausible answer about why the ignition was shut off at the scene.  He suspected Starsky did it on purpose to cut the flow of gasoline and help prevent the car from exploding. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Bill Monroe was listening to the radio in his room when he heard the news that Detective Starsky's condition was still serious but improving.    That was unacceptable.  Monroe had failed in his mission and Starsky was still alive.  Not only that, he was getting better.  He decided he had better go over to the hospital and take care of it.  He had never failed a mission and he wasn't about to start with this one.  He had a long knife hidden under his bed.  That would be best.  A quiet death for the commie.  Monroe could slip in and out before anyone knew he had been there. 

 

He put on his coat and headed for the back door but he stopped short of going through it.  Gary was in the back with a uniformed police officer going over the tow truck Bill had used on Starsky's car.  He heard Gary talking, "Officer, my brother-in-law had access to these vehicles while I was gone.  I'm afraid he is not mentally stable.  I thought maybe I should report this damage in case he has done something to get himself into trouble."

 

The officer asked, "Is he here now?  I'd like to talk to him."

 

With that, Bill quickly turned the other way and slipped out the front door.  Before he walked out, he took Gary's gun.  Just in case.  He got away before Gary knew he was gone.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The undercover team was in place at the grocery store.  Hutch was in the back with a view of the front counter.  He was pretending to stock soda on the shelves.  Simmons was "shopping" around the cold cases.  He stayed out of sight of the windows.  Simmons was keeping a close eye on Hutch since Starsky couldn't be there with them.

 

This was Lee Kim's first undercover assignment.  He wanted to do a good job in the hope he could get a transfer out of uniform if he could pass the detective's exam.   He took his place as cashier, with Babcock hiding under the counter below him.  The gang of thieves obligingly appeared almost exactly at seven.  Hutch hoped Chet was right about the other three men.  If he wasn't this could get ugly fast. 

 

Ice pointed his gun at Kim as he demanded all the money in the register.  He ordered one of the men to guard the door while the other two men rounded up anyone else who was in the store

 

The other two men went into the back and quietly handed their guns over to Simmons.  Thank God, Chet was right.  Hutch crept around the stacks of soda cans and leveled his Magnum at Ice.

 

"Drop it.  Police." 

 

Ice turned his gun toward Hutch as Babcock jumped up from under the counter and trained his pistol on Ice's head saying  "I wouldn't."  The man at the door said, "Give it up, Ice.  They've got us.  It's over."  Hutch thought that must be Chet.

 

Chet carefully lowered his gun to the floor as Kim came around the counter to cuff him.  Babcock, Ice, and Hutch maintained their tense standoff for long seconds when Hutch said, "You can't get out of this.  Just drop it." 

 

Ice decided to take their advice.  He released the handle of the pistol, allowing it to swing down on his finger as he held it out to Hutch to take.  Hutch handed the gun over to Babcock and holstered his Magnum so he could cuff Ice.  Just as Hutch got close enough to Ice to turn him around and cuff him, a woman walked into the store from the street and started to scream.  The momentary distraction provided Ice with an opportunity to get the drop on Hutch.  He stepped back on his good leg and brought his cane up to catch Hutch under the chin, knocking him backward.  Simmons and Kim tackled him and wrestled him to the ground.  They didn't want to risk gunfire with an innocent citizen right in front of them.  They had him pinned to the ground by the time Hutch recovered himself enough to come over and angrily slap the cuffs on him.

 

"So, scum, you like to play with fire, huh?  Like to play with trains, too?"  Hutch snapped at him.

 

"Trains, what are you talking about, cop?"

 

Hutch told him he was under arrest for multiple counts of armed robbery, arson, attempted murder, and the murder of Pastor Frank Hansen.  He also told him he was being investigated for the murder of Phan Nguyen, and the attempted murder of a police officer.

 

"I know it was you who tried to kill my partner and I'm gonna prove it!"

 

"I ain't tried to burn any cop!" the man protested. 

 

"Save it!"  Hutch snapped back.

 

"I mean it, man!  I didn’t kill any preacher and I sure as hell would remember trying to ice a cop."

 

For reasons he did not quite understand, Hutch believed him.  He looked up at Simmons, who was not able to read his unspoken message like Starsky would have.  He said to Simmons, "If this guy didn't try to kill Starsk, who did?"

 

~*~*~*~

 

Jim Moore was finally waking up from his sedated state.  He had been at home sleeping since his release from the hospital after the crash.  This was the second time in his railroad career that he had hit someone whose car was on the tracks.  The first time it was a carload full of teenagers who tried to outrun the train to the crossing.  The train arrived first and the five teens died.  When he saw the Torino running out onto the tracks it took him back to that awful day. 

 

When he read the newspaper article about the accident he was angry.  They had it all wrong.  He saw the dark truck hit the red car just before it careened in front of him.  He knew he had to do something to correct this.  As if it wasn't bad enough that a man had died, the other man was being accused of causing the accident purposefully.

 

Moore called Memorial Hospital and asked to be connected with someone who could talk to him about Detective Starsky.  When they connected him with Captain Dobey, Moore explained what he had seen that night.  He wanted the Captain to know that someone had purposely tried to kill the men in the red car.  Captain Dobey asked Moore where he could be reached, thanked him and assured him they would investigate his report immediately.  Someone from Metro would be in touch.

 

After the detectives at the grocery store bust turned the suspects over to the black-and-whites, Hutch got back into his car to return to the hospital.  His mind was racing thinking about what Ice had said.  Maybe they were wrong and these cases were not related?  Maybe they were but they were being carried out by separate parties.  He decided to stop by Janek's restaurant before going back to Memorial.  Maybe he had heard something in the neighborhood. 

 

As Hutch stopped at Janek's, he noticed two black-and-whites parked in front of Gary's Towing Service.  Wonder what that's all about?  Janek was standing in front of the towing shop speaking with one of the officers.  Hutch walked over to them.

 

Janek smiled at the blond and said, "Privyet, my friend!"

 

Hutch shook Janek's hand and answered his questions about how Starsky was doing.  Then he asked, "What's going on here?"

 

Officer Gates answered, "Gary Fowler, the guy who owns the towing service, called in a report that someone had damaged one of his tow trucks while he was off fishing.  He has a shell-shocked brother-in-law, Bill Monroe, who lives here at the shop.  When we went to question him, he had slipped out the front.  Gary is worried he may have taken the truck and hurt someone."  Gates waved his partner over with Gary so Hutch could talk to them.  As they walked toward them, Janek leaned toward Hutch and said, "Monroe, he is crazy.  He spies all day.  Always watching.  People here are scared of him."

 

Hutch's questioning revealed that Gary's brother-in-law was a disturbed man.  He had never hurt anyone before, but Gary had discovered he hadn't taken any of his medication for weeks.  The drugs were supposed to help keep him calm and as grounded in reality as he ever got.  Without them, Gary was afraid he would be dangerous. 

 

They walked around the back to look at the tow truck.  The dark-blue vehicle had obviously been in some kind of an accident.  The front grill and push bumper were dented and scratched.  They were also liberally covered with red paint – candy apple red paint.  Hutch was getting a sinking feeling about it when Officer Gates pulled him aside to tell him something.  "I heard at the precinct that the lab team found dark blue paint marks on the back of the Torino.  They are saying it was hit from behind by a large vehicle, like a truck."  Hutch stared at Gates for a few seconds.  Who the hell is this guy, Monroe, and why would he want to hurt my partner?

 

Hutch asked to see Bill's room.  Gary agreed and walked them inside.  The only remarkable thing they found was a spool of heavy gauge wire and a can of red spray paint under Bill's bed.   The pieces were beginning to click together in Hutch's mind.  The minister, the red painted words, "Die Commie."  He asked, "Gary, how long has Monroe been gone?"

 

"I don't know for sure.  I saw him about an hour ago, though."

 

"Does he have any weapons?"

 

"I hope not.  I have a gun up front." 

 

The men ran to the front of the shop.  Gary's gun was missing.

 

Hutch picked up the phone on the front desk and frantically dialed Memorial.  Oh my God, Starsky!  He turned to Gates and said, "You get some black-and-whites over to Memorial.  Send a couple of uniforms up to the ICU and meet Captain Dobey there.  I'm gonna let him know you're on the way."  Gates snapped into action, running out the front door to get his partner and head for the hospital.

 

Instead of hearing his Captain's voice on the other end of the phone, the hospital had put him through to a security guard.  The man said, "Hospital Security, who is this?"  Hutch already didn't like it.  "This is Detective Hutchinson, I need to speak with Captain Dobey immediately."  The security guard's answer sent fear into Hutch's heart, "I'm sorry Detective, he can't come to the phone right now.  Seems we have a situation here." 

 

"Tell Dobey some uniforms are coming up there and I'm on my way."  Hutch hung up and ran for his car.

 

Captain Dobey had stepped out of Starsky's room to take Jim Moore's phone call.  While he was on the phone a medical crisis had happened with one of the other ICU patients drawing the staff's attention. No one noticed the crazed looking man in army fatigues as he stepped out of the stairwell and walked into Starsky's room.  Monroe used his knife to cut through the oxygen line.  Since no one was around, he was planning to enjoy torturing the prisoner a little before he killed him.  Then he heard footsteps coming toward him, so he pulled his gun and placed its muzzle against Starsky's head.  A large black man walked into the room and stopped in his tracks.  Monroe looked at him and calmly said, "This man is my prisoner.  Stop where you are."

 

By the time Hutch reached the ICU, the hospital unit was swarming with uniforms and hospital security.  He could see Dobey standing in the doorway leading to where Starsky was.  He was talking to someone.  Dobey had both hands up about chest high, palms out and he was speaking in soothing tones.  "No one wants to hurt you.  Just put down the gun and we can all talk about this."  Hutch wondered why no one had his gun drawn.

 

Gates was there and he pulled Hutch aside to talk to him.  "Monroe cut through Starsky's oxygen line.  If anyone fires his weapon, the spark could cause an explosion."  Hutch's heart sank.  "I've gotta try to talk to him."

 

"No, they've called for Monroe's sister to come up here.  Dobey wants to let her try to reason with him."

 

Starsky's level of consciousness had been improving throughout the early evening.  He could feel the painful pressure of the gun muzzle against his head and he moved his hand to try and push it away.  That just made Monroe push harder.  Dobey called from the door, "Dave, be still.  Don't move.  I'm right here and you're gonna be fine, but don't move."  Starsky must have heard him, because he settled back down and stopped trying to fight Monroe.  After hearing that, Hutch was even more frantic. 

 

"Oh, God, he's waking up!"  He tried to push past Gates, but he and his partner stood firm.  "Don't.  Let Dobey handle it."  Hutch was angry and his eyes flashed at Gates like a blue flame.  Anger notwithstanding, Hutch knew Gates was right.  He settled down and stood listening to the conversation between his captain and the crazed man.

 

"Why do you want to hurt this man?"  Dobey asked.

 

"He's a traitor, a communist sympathizer.  He deserves to die."

 

"Monroe, that man is no communist.  He's a police officer.  Do you know where you are?"

 

"Shut up!  You're trying to confuse me.  This is 'Nam and he is my prisoner."

 

Dobey's voice remained calm, "Son, this isn't 'Nam.  You're home.  This is Bay City Memorial Hospital and that man is not a communist.  He hasn't done anything wrong.  You're just a little confused right now."

 

"Back off and let me think, man!"  Monroe shook his head and tried to concentrate.  Something wasn't right but he was too deluded to work out what it was.  He looked at Starsky lying there, helpless.  He didn't look dangerous now.  He didn't look like a commie.  Starsky looked like someone had beaten him with a baseball bat.  His face was swollen and black from deep bruises.  Why did he think this man was a communist?

 

The elevator doors opened revealing a uniformed officer accompanied by Gary and his wife.  Hutch went to them and said, "Are you Monroe's sister?"

 

"Yes, I'm Angela Fowler."

 

"Angela, your brother may have killed a minister the other day.  He also probably tried to kill my partner, Detective Starsky, by pushing his car in front of a train.  Now, he has Starsky in that ICU room with a gun to his head.  Can you help us?"

 

Angela was sobbing, "I'm so sorry.  He's never hurt anyone.  Let me try to talk to him."

 

Hutch nodded, put his arm around the frightened woman's shoulders and walked her toward Captain Dobey.  The captain saw them coming and said to the crazed suspect, "Someone is here to see you."  Angela stepped up next to Captain Dobey, standing there with a tall blond man Monroe recognized.  Where had he seen the man?  He could not remember.  His sister spoke to him calmly.

 

"Billy, what's going on here?"

 

"Anj, what are you doing here?"  Monroe was confused.  What was his sister doing in Vietnam? 

 

"Billy, you're confused.  We need you to put the gun away and let us help you."

 

"No, you're trying to trick me.  I know what my mission is.  I have to kill this commie!"

He was becoming more agitated.  Hutch looked from Monroe to Starsky.  His partner seemed okay for now.  Hutch could see the monitors from where he was standing.  Starsky's heart rate was elevated, but otherwise he looked unharmed.

 

"No, Billy.  Nobody wants to hurt you.  Please.  You're home, don't you remember?"

 

Monroe looked at her, his eyes glassy.  Why was he here?  He couldn't shake the fog from his mind.  He pulled back just a little, the gun muzzle slipping a few inches away from Starsky.  Hutch's heart was pounding.  Atta girl, Angela.  Keep talking.  He gave the woman's shoulders an encouraging squeeze.

 

"Come on Billy, let me come and get you.  I won't let them hurt you, okay?"

 

"You won't let them hurt me?"

 

Captain Dobey answered, "We want to help you.  Let your sister come to you."

 

Angela took a tentative step toward her brother.  He tensed a little, but didn't make any threatening movements.  "I'm coming in, Billy."

 

He let her move closer and closer.  Hutch stood ready to rush the man if necessary.  He didn't dare fire his weapon.  When she was close enough to touch him she said, "Give me the gun, Billy.  Please.  Everything is okay."

 

Monroe looked at his sister.  He couldn't hurt her, he loved her.  She wouldn't lie to him.  He slowly pulled the gun away and handed it to her. She threw it to the floor and gathered him in her arms as Dobey and Hutch rushed into the room. 

 

Starsky's room was a blur of activity.  Dobey and a uniformed officer had taken custody of Monroe.  The hospital had brought up a gurney for them to cuff him to so they could take him to the psychiatric unit.   Hutch rushed in and shut off the oxygen while yelling for someone to get a doctor to come and check out his partner.  After Monroe was taken out, some of the nurses came in and disconnected the cut oxygen line, preparing a new one for their patient.  Hutch did his best to stay out of the way when all he really wanted to do was stand in front of Starsky and protect him from everything that had happened. 

 

Starsky was checked and he had not been injured by the incident.  Within an hour the only people left at Starsky's bedside were Captain Dobey and Hutch.  Knowing how long his man had been running on caffeine and adrenaline, Captain Dobey pushed Hutch down into the chair.  They talked quietly, filling each other in on the events leading up to their confrontation with Bill Monroe.  Then Captain Dobey went down to the cafeteria to get Hutch something to eat before he went home.  He knew there was little chance Hutch would leave his partner alone again.  He and Huggy would just have to be sure he ate and slept as much as he could.

 

After the Captain left, Hutch sat next to Starsky and watched him for a long time.  He thought about the past week, how many times he had almost lost his friend.  They led dangerous lives and he rarely gave himself permission to reflect too heavily on just how much danger they seemed to be in every day.  He hoped their constant peril wouldn't drive their guardian angel away in despair.  So far, that angel was doing a great job.

 

Hutch pulled his chair as close to Starsky's bed as he could get it then laid his head on the bed next to his friend's hand.  He fell asleep that way, holding onto Starsky's hand like a lifeline. Around dawn, Hutch felt movement next to him.  He awoke to find Starsky's fingers moving, trying to squeeze his hand.

 

Hutch looked up at Starsky's face, "Starsk?  You waking up, buddy?"  Starsky opened his unbandaged eye and looked at Hutch.  He managed a small smile and squeezed Hutch's hand again. 

 

"Huush?"  His first tentative word sounded like a whisper.

 

"Sh.  Don't talk now, Gordo.  You're okay.  Just rest, I'm right here."

 

"Hurts, Huush."

 

"I know, sh.  I'll get the nurse to bring you something."

 

Hutch stood to go get the nurse, but Starsky grabbed for his hand weakly and said, "No, stay."  Hutch knew the nurses would notice the heart rate changes on Starsky's monitor and come in to check on him soon anyway.  He smiled at his best friend and said, "All right, I'm not going anywhere."  He settled back down and waited with his friend.  Starsky was already falling asleep by the time the nurse arrived.

 

Starsky's condition improved steadily.  As the next few days passed, Hutch was starting to feel a little more secure about things.  Then it was time for them to take his partner back to surgery to repair his ankle.  Hutch didn't really understand why that put him in such a panic, but it did.  Huggy came to the hospital to keep him company while Starsky was in surgery.  Hutch's pacing and anxiety level had Huggy worried.   Huggy supposed that he couldn't really blame Hutch for being so uptight.  Everything bad that had happened to Starsky throughout this ordeal had happened when Hutch and he were separated.  He chuckled to himself at the thought.  That was a mistake.

 

"And just what is so funny?" asked the irate blond.

 

"Oh nothin', Blondie."  Huggy replied, hoping it would work.

 

"Uh-uh, you tell me what was so funny."  Hutch was convinced Huggy was laughing at him and he wanted to know why.  He didn't think the situation was humorous.

 

"Hutch, don't get all worked up.  I was just thinkin' I figured out what has got you so jumpy."

 

"Oh, yeah, well maybe you could let me in on it.  I don't even understand it."

 

"It's like this, everything bad that has happened to Starsk over the past week has happened when you weren't with him.  You're afraid somethin’ will happen if you let him out of your sight."

 

Hutch thought about that.  Huggy was probably right.  Instead of getting angry, which was what Huggy was afraid would happen, Hutch looked relieved.  "Thanks, Huggy.  I think you hit it that time.  You're right."  Hutch sat down next to Huggy.  "Huggy, I just don't know what I would do if anything else happens to him now.  He is just starting to get better.  I had just stopped being afraid he might die if I went out of the room for five minutes.  Now they've taken him away from me.  From where I can see him and protect him.  I know in my head that he is in good hands and they had to do it, but I can't help feeling like something bad will happen if I'm not there."

 

Huggy was surprised Hutch had said so much.  He usually didn't reveal that much of what was in his heart to anyone but Starsky.  Huggy patted him on the back and said, "It's okay to love him that much, but you can't be with him all the time.  You can't stop life from happenin’.  He's gonna be fine.  You, too."

 

Huggy was right.  The surgery went well and Starsky was moved to a regular room.  Things were looking much better for him.  The ophthalmologist checked him again and was sure his eye would heal.  He wouldn't lose it and his vision should return to normal in time.  Hutch took Huggy's words to heart and tried his best not to worry so much.  He thought Starsky just needed time to heal now and their lives could get back to normal.   That was what he thought until Starsky finally asked the big question Hutch was fearing. 

 

"Hutch, how's my car?"

 

Hutch's stomach flipped.  He had been worried about this question for days, but Starsky hadn't asked it.  No one had the heart to tell him his precious car was dead.  Starsky couldn't remember anything about that night after they left Janek's.  He remembered the fire and dinner with the big Russian, but he couldn't even remember dropping Hutch off at home, much less the accident. 

 

Hutch stalled, "W-Well, uh, it's down at the garage at headquarters.  The lab team has it."

 

"The lab team?"

 

"Yeah, it's part of a criminal investigation, Starsk.  Bill Monroe tried to kill you and they'll use the Torino as evidence."

 

Although he seemed suspicious, Starsky accepted that and didn't ask any more questions.    Hutch was relieved his friend was too tired to push the issue, but he knew he'd have to figure something out before Starsky found out on his own.  Starsky had just been given his pain medication and Hutch knew he'd be asleep in a few minutes.  As soon as his partner was out, he slipped out of the room and headed for the precinct.  He figured he had about three hours before Starsky would wake up and miss him.

 

When he got there, he was delighted to find Simmons and Babcock in the squad room.  He asked them to go to one of the small conference rooms with him.  When they were all seated with some coffee he presented his idea.

 

"Starsky has started asking about his car.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that car is never going back on the streets.    What do you say we form a Tomato Team?  I want you guys to help me find another Torino for him.  If we can find one, we can buy it and get it ready for him when he's okayed to drive again.  What do you think?"

 

The other partners looked at each other and smiled.  Everyone saw the Torino as the third partner in the Starsky and Hutch team.  "We're in, Hutch," Babcock said. 

 

"Great, thanks.  I'll get with Starsky's insurance company and see if I can get a check cut to me for the car so he won't know about it.  We're gonna need the cash to buy the replacement.  I already asked Merle the Earl to come down here and look at it just to make sure it couldn't be saved."

 

"What did he say?"

 

"Called me a jive turkey chump for wasting his time coming down here.  I took that to mean it was a total loss."

 

They all laughed and Simmons said, "We'll go down and talk to him.  Maybe he knows someone who can help us find another Torino.  I'm pretty sure they didn't make too many just like Starsky's.  Might not be so easy."

 

"Doesn't have to be the same color or the same interior.  We can get Merle to customize it.  I'm going to go call the insurance company and head back to the hospital.  You guys let me know what you find out from Merle."

 

Hutch stopped by his desk to check for messages and saw he had one from Janek.  He decided to just swing by and see him before he went back to Memorial.  He called to let him know he was on the way.  When he arrived, Janek already had his lunch waiting for him.  Hutch smiled.  A lot of nice people looked out for him when Starsky couldn't.  

 

Janek told Hutch that the people in the neighborhood were planning to form an association.  They wanted Janek to talk to Hutch about having him and his partner come to their first official meeting.  The group would include business owners and residents and the idea was to help each other by keeping an eye out for crime and suspicious activity in the area.  Hutch thought it was a great idea and he agreed to come to the meeting.  A pleased Janek told him they were planning to launch their association with a block party that weekend.  They were going to have food and booths with games like you would see at a fair.  They wanted to get everyone in the neighborhood out to meet each other and sign up for the association.   They also wanted to find some way to thank the two detectives for their hard work stopping the crime spree.  Starsky and Hutch had not only apprehended the criminals, they had saved the Phan family from the fire in their store.  Janek had heard that Starsky's car was destroyed and he wanted to know if he and the association could pitch in to help Hutch get another one for his partner.  He thought that maybe they could raise some money at the street fair.

 

Hutch was shocked.  "That's really nice, Janek, but we can't accept it.  First, we were just doing our jobs.  Second, we're police officers and we're not allowed to...." Hutch stopped mid-sentence and Janek looked at him, waiting for him to continue.  Maybe there was a way around the rules. 

 

"Janek, I can't know anything about this but I have an idea.  He wrote down a phone number and a name.  I want you to call this man, Merle.  Tell him you want to pay for part of a customer's bill and you need to remain anonymous. "  Hutch couldn't believe he was doing this.  If Internal Affairs ever found out, he could lose his badge.  He sat there for a minute thinking about his partner while Janek tried to digest what he had told him.    How many times had Starsky done something outside the rules to help him or someone else?  Just off the top of his head he thought of a few, Forest, Vanessa, Sharman Crane.  Screw the rules.

 

"What does it mean anonymous?"  Janek asked.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The Tomato Team got lucky.  They found a Torino in Santa Barbara and the owner was willing to sell it.  He had bought the car when he graduated from college and he loved it.  Unfortunately, his fiancée did not love it.  In fact, she called it a gas-sucking pig.  She didn't like anything about the car and she wanted it out of their lives before her future husband got any more tickets in it.  Getting rid of it and buying a nice economical car would be better for the environment and their insurance bills.

 

The team had Huggy negotiate a deal with the man and had the car taken to Merle for modifications.  Hutch was sure the reason they got such a sweet deal had nothing to do with a certain speeding ticket that disappeared from the Santa Barbara police department's records.  He knew he could thank Simmons or Babcock for that.  The boys in blue knew how to help one of their own.

 

By the time Starsky was discharged from the hospital, the formerly blue car had been painted candy-apple red with a white stripe.  Merle complained bitterly about it.  He wanted to throw in some metal flake or at least put some flames on the front of the car.  Only Hutch's threat of severe personal harm convinced him to just make the car look like Starsky's.  The two men had a few tense moments over a furry dashboard and hydraulic lift kit.  Hutch was finally satisfied when Merle restored the dashboard, removed the hydraulics, and recovered the seats in soft black leather. Hutch had Merle put in an extra-powerful engine.  They lowered the nose, put on new mags, and a new set of high-performance tires.  Hutch drove the car over to headquarters to have a new police radio installed. 

 

A lot of people had worked on the project.  Even Captain Dobey had contributed to a collection taken up at the precinct.  Between the collection, the money from the insurance company, and a sizable sum paid to Merle by an "anonymous benefactor" the car was an improvement over the original.  Hutch was excited when he drove the new Tomato to the hospital to pick up his partner.

 

When Hutch got to his room, Starsky had just received his release papers and he was mad.  The nurse walking away from her confrontation with the sullen detective stopped Hutch in the hall and wished him luck with his partner.  She walked back to the nurses' station shaking her head, glad she wouldn't be the one to deal with him for the next few weeks.

 

Hutch walked in and saw the combination angry and dejected look on Starsky's face.   "Anything new I should be worried about, buddy?"

 

"Nah, I'm just pissed right now.  I really didn’t think about how I was gonna get around when I left here.  Doc says I can't put any weight on my ankle for another six  - eight  weeks at least.  My wrist is still gonna be in this cast for another four.  That means I gotta be in a wheelchair for at least four weeks."  Starsky sounded as mad as he looked.

 

"Sorry, Starsk, I hadn't thought of that either.  Ah, you'll get through it.  I'm just glad that's the worst thing you're facing.  I almost lost you.  A wheelchair for four weeks doesn't sound so bad to me compared to that."

 

Starsky felt guilty about his little tirade with the nurse and his complaining to Hutch.  He looked at his best friend standing there just grateful he was alive.  "I'm sorry Hutch, I didn't think.  What a chump."

 

Hutch smiled and said, "Damn straight, turkey.  You'd better be done for a while, too.  I'm definitely getting too old for this much excitement.  Let's see if we can't keep you out of trouble from now on, huh?"

 

Not willing to let that remark slide, Starsky quipped back, "Same goes for you, Blondie.  You've done your share of time on this side of the hospital bed, too."

 

"Okay, before we get into a discussion about who wins in the 'hurt' department, I'm gonna see about getting you some transportation out of here."  With that, Hutch went off to find a nurse and a wheelchair so he could take his partner home.

 

When Hutch pulled the Torino into the pickup area in front of the hospital, Starsky was shocked.  His car was shiny and perfectly fine.  No dents, no dings.  What gives?  Hutch had told him the lab team had his car and it wouldn't be given back to him for a while.

 

Hutch settled him into the passenger side and climbed in behind the wheel.  Their next stop was a medical supply store to rent a wheelchair for the next few weeks.  Starsky was glancing around the inside of the Torino with a confused look on his face as they drove down the street.  Hutch was nervous and trying unsuccessfully to hide it.  This wasn't his car and he wanted some answers from his partner.

 

"Uh, Hutch, this isn't my car."

 

"Yes, it is."

 

"No, it's not.  What's going on here?"

 

Hutch pulled over and parked.  "Starsk, I'm really sorry but the Torino didn't survive the train crash."

 

Starsky just stared at him.  "What?"

 

"Squashed Tomato, Starsk.  I know you don't remember the accident, but the car just couldn't be saved."

 

Starsky took that news in and said, "Then, how...."

 

Hutch put his hand on Starsky's shoulder and gave it a little squeeze, "Buddy, you have a lot of friends, do you know that?  A lot of effort and energy went into getting this car ready for you.  Guys at the station, Huggy, Dobey, Merle, even Janek and the Phan family were involved.  We all wanted you to have your car back and everyone did what they could to make that happen.  I hope we did the right thing because if you hate it, I'm gonna have to buy this eyesore off you so you can get somethin' else." 

 

Starsky didn't know what to say.  His eyes were bright with tears and he was too choked up to say anything.  The past weeks had been full of pain and worry.   His partner had been there every step of the way for him just like always and he didn't know how to thank him.  He didn't have to, though; Hutch could tell what he was thinking.

 

"It's okay, Starsk.  It's all over now.  In a few weeks, you'll be back to normal and we can start cruising the streets again.  You're gonna have to put this car through the paces."

 

Starsky smiled at his best friend and brushed a tear off his cheek.  "Thanks, Hutch."

 

Hutch started the car again and said, "Gotcha a bigger engine this time."  He punctuated that comment by revving the powerful motor before he pulled away from the curb.  Starsky just sat there and grinned at him. 

 

The End

 

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