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

 

This story is a sequel to the episode Bloodbath and is the second of a two part series.  Take me to Part I:  Prelude to a Dream

 

Epilogue to a Nightmare

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

May 2003

 

“So how long is it supposed to take?” Hutch asked, the exasperation still evident in his tone of voice.

 

“Couple of days, tops,” Starsky replied.

 

“Two days!” Hutch exploded.  “What the hell kind of tune-up is it?”

 

“The best.  Will you calm down?” Starsky was sick of listening to his partner’s complaints.  Hutch’s car was, by Starsky’s assessment, “on its last rims.”  He had been pushing Hutch hard to take it to Merle for two weeks, since the last time it died in traffic.  So far, Hutch had managed to put off the inevitable, since getting around hadn’t been an issue.  He was with Starsky almost constantly since Simon Marcus was convicted. The cult leader’s overt death threat against Starsky had Hutch spooked.  On the way to the sentencing, Hutch stared sullenly out the passenger window while he watched the side mirror for cars following them. “It’s already done.  Even the White Knight can’t save him.”

 

“Earth to Hutch,” Starsky said after he realized Hutch wasn’t listening to him.

 

“Huh?” Hutch asked, turning away from the window.

 

“I said, aren’t you glad this is almost over?”

 

“You have no idea.”

 

Hutch was wrong.  Starsky knew.  He realized how tense his partner had been.  “Yeah, I do,” he said.  “He’s just a punk ass con man, Hutch.  Nothing more, and he’s about to go down for the count.  That’s all she wrote.”

 

“I hope you’re right, buddy.”

 

They pulled up outside the courthouse, not surprised to see the gathering of cult members and the media outside the building. They set a brisk pace up the stairs, shooting “no comment” at the inquisitive reporters as they went.  Starsky mumbled some other things under his breath as he passed them.  He found Hutch’s discomfort with the reporters amusing and teased him about how tough it was to be a celebrity.

 

Starsky had a superstition about going to the bathroom before a sentencing.  Despite Dobey’s chiding them for their tardiness, he decided to dash for it, ignoring Hutch’s amused smile when he announced that he’d be right back and darted for the door.

 

Well-planned and perfectly orchestrated.  That’s the only way to describe what happened next.  As Starsky trotted down the hallway to the men’s room, the crowd outside grew restless.  So restless, all of the uniformed police officers on duty for the occasion were called out front to manage the situation.  Even the cops guarding the courtroom were moving outside before the men’s room door closed behind Starsky. 

 

Starsky rushed, knowing he had limited time before the judge entered to pass sentence.  He barely registered the janitor cleaning in the corner of the washroom.  A moment’s lapse in concentration meant he didn’t see the blows before they came.  Starsky was caught in a squeeze play as two men stepped out from inside toilet stalls and moved against him.  The fight lasted only a few seconds.  When the first strike brought him to his knees, but didn’t completely take him down, the “janitor” moved toward Starsky and struck him in the face with the end of his mop.  He and one of the other assailants quickly picked up the unconscious detective, stuffed him into the empty trashcan, and took his gun.  The other man used a jar of blood as ink to paint a chilling message onto the mirror while his cohorts covered Starsky with towels and paper to hide his presence.  By the time the bailiff handed the planned note to Judge Yager, two of the men were wheeling the trashcan out the back of the building and down the loading ramp to a waiting black van while the third quietly exited through a side door.  The attack and kidnapping were over inside of two minutes.  The van was well away by the time Hutch raised the alarm.

 

The men in the van laughed at their prisoner’s moaning after they hung up on Hutch.  The sound of Hutch’s voice through the speaker had somehow reached the dazed man and he was unsuccessfully struggling toward consciousness. 

 

“If he wakes up before we get there, hit him again,” the passenger said to the man guarding Starsky. 

 

“What did Simone dream for him?”

 

“He dies tomorrow at sunrise.  First, he must be purified.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

By the time the van pulled to a stop, Starsky had been blindfolded and roughly slapped awake.  When they dumped him in the dirt and started chanting, he was angry.  He shouted at them, demanding they let him see them.  They’d only blindfolded him so they could get him inside without his knowing where he was, but they left him that way.  Starsky’s show of bravado to the cult members circling him accomplished little, other than a beating.  A beating until he was out cold again.  When he was still, they dragged him from the room.

 

Luke, Peter, and two other cult members stayed behind to discuss Simon’s dream for their “guest.”

 

“I said to tell Gail to go in and wait with him.  She must be the one to give him the bath.”

 

“Why?” Caleb asked.

 

Luke turned a withering gaze on the man.  “Because that’s what was in the dream.  Tomorrow, she will be the one to make the first cut. Simone dreamed that.  So she must be the one to purify him.”

 

“But, Luke--”

 

“The blood will make her strong.  She will prove she is one of us.  That cop laid his hands on our sisters.  Simone says he will pay with his life at the hands of one of them.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch’s heart was revving faster than the Torino’s engine as he sped toward the old civic zoo.  He remembered Marcus’ victims with frightening clarity and his stomach lurched at the thought that a similar fate may well have already befallen his partner.  Tuning out the radio chatter as Dobey called for the cavalry to meet them there, Hutch kept a running mantra in his head.  Not too late.  Please, God, not too late.  Not like this.  Though the lab team had verified the blood on the bathroom mirror was not Starsky’s, they found his blood on a mop and in a trashcan discovered on the courthouse loading dock.

 

When Starsky came out of the drug-induced haze he’d been in, he found himself hanging by the wrists, his feet barely touching the ground.  He looked around at the black-robed figures quietly chanting Simon’s name. 

 

When Gail rose to meet his eyes, he knew.  Oh, God.  She’s going to kill me.

 

“You’re gonna kill me.”  Gail blinked tears back, her eyes trying to deny his words.  “Yes, you are, you’re gonna kill me and your friends are gonna watch.”

 

She shook her head, crying.  “No, I’m not going to kill you.  Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not, shalt not....”

 

Gail was out of it.  Frightened, her nerves and fragile psyche stretched to their limits.  Starsky could see that and he hoped he could talk her out of it.  The sight of the weapons the other cult members held told him it wouldn’t do much good.  If the girl failed, the others would take care of him without her.  Buy time.  Got to buy time. Hurry, Hutch.  Oh, God, you’re not going to make it.

 

“Only make... the first cut. The first of hundreds, thousands, millions....” Her weakening voice broke in a sob.

 

Keep her talking.  Look at me, Gail.  See ME.  You can’t do this.  Your brother said you were a good kid.  Look at me!  He thought about trying to kick her away from him, but he had no leverage.  He was in a worse position than the first time she’d approached him with a knife.  You’d better be good with that, honey. I ain’t gonna go easy.  He tried to talk her out of it, but he was afraid it was over ... he was a dead man.

 

The Torino was still bouncing from the rough stop when Hutch leaped out and started up the hill, leaving Dobey to direct the other officers.  As he ran, Hutch looked around in desperation, listening carefully and using his connection with his partner to guide him.  Please be alive.  Could I still feel him if he’s dead?  Hutch’s mind raced as he ran up the hill, crouching in an effort to hide his presence and give him some advantage.  The eerie sound of Simon’s name being chanted sent a shiver down his spine and he picked up the pace.  Hutch came into view of a horrifying tableau.  He was just in time to see Gail moving toward Starsky with a knife, ready to strike.  Running even faster, he took aim at her with his Magnum, but realized as his finger began to tighten around the trigger that she was cutting the ropes, not his partner.  He released the trigger and holstered his gun, afraid he’d hit Starsky if he fired into the now moving group. 

 

The fight was short and brutal.  Starsky was down and Hutch had his hands full fighting off the weapon-laden cultists, while still protecting his vulnerable partner.  When it was all over, Starsky clung to him.

 

“What took you so long?” he asked, the attempt at humor not hiding his fear.

 

Hutch countered by telling him he had on a nice looking nightgown. We made it.  Thank, God, we made it.

 

Starsky’s shoulders began to shake as he started to cry.  Hutch had rarely seen him cry and he was afraid of what he would find out had been done to Starsky in the past twenty-four hours.  What did they do to you?  He wanted to get a good look at Starsky’s face, but his partner kept looking at the ground, refusing to allow that.  Hutch concentrated on calming him down, virtually ignoring the young woman who had cut him free.  When a uniformed officer took her away from her position attached to Starsky’s leg, the injured man whispered to him, “That’s Gail, Hutch. She saved me.  Take care of her.”

 

The poor girl was mumbling “I’m not one of them.  I’m weak.  Simone dreamed it,” as the officer led her toward a squad car.

 

“You’d better get her checked,” Hutch called after them.

 

“Sure thing, Sarge,” came the reply.

 

When a paramedic walked up behind them and touched Starsky on the shoulder, he jumped, his eyes wide with fright and his swollen hands trying to form fists.  He realized it wasn’t one of Marcus’ men, but he still growled out the order, “Don’t touch me.”

 

The man took a step back and put his hands out, saying, “You’re Detective Starsky, right?  I’m supposed to check you out for transport.”

 

“Easy, buddy,” Hutch said.  He was concerned about the cuts and bruises he could now see on Starsky’s face, but the angry burn around his eye was even more distressing.

 

“Take me home, Hutch,” Starsky said, his pain-filled eyes pleading.

 

“Starsk, you need a doctor.”  Hutch could tell Starsky was in pain and his eyes were showing clear signs that he’d been drugged.

 

“Home, please.  I just want to go home.”  Starsky sounded like a scared teenager.

 

By this time, Captain Dobey was walking up behind them. He’d heard some of the exchange. “No way, Starsky.  You’re getting checked out at the hospital.  That’s an order.”

 

Thinking that would be enough, the paramedic approached again. 

 

“Back off!”

 

“Starsky!” Dobey shouted.

 

“I gotta at least check your vitals,” the hapless paramedic argued. 

 

Starsky scrambled to his feet and tried to walk away, immediately stumbling into Hutch and grabbing onto his jacket again.  He scrubbed his hands down his face in an attempt to wipe away the tears and said, “Cap, I’ll go, but he ain’t touchin’ me.”  The tone was definite.  He looked at Hutch.  Only you.  Don’t let anyone touch me.

 

Seeing that his partner was breathing all right and, despite his lack of ability to focus his vision, he didn’t seem to be in danger from a head injury, Hutch decided he’d handle things his way.  “I’ll take him, Cap.”

 

The captain looked into Hutch’s determined eyes for a few moments and nodded.  Hutch put an arm around Starsky’s waist and started to walk him toward the car. 

 

“Let me know if you need to rest,” Hutch said, concerned by Starsky’s silence.  He could feel the tremors moving through his best friend’s frame.

 

“No, just get me the hell out of here.”  Starsky was determined not to stop, and he never looked back at the scene as they were leaving.  He kept his head down, refusing to even meet Hutch’s eyes.  He made no comment about Hutch having the Torino, but placidly allowed himself to be installed on the passenger side.  By the time Hutch slid under the steering wheel, Starsky had pulled his feet up onto the seat, making himself into as tight a ball as he could manage and still remain upright.  At that, he was leaning heavily on the door, looking out the window.   Hutch kept an eye on him, occasionally reaching over to touch him on the arm and tell him things were going to be all right, but he didn’t try to get Starsky to talk.

 

The emergency room doctor was not pleased Starsky was so insistent on leaving.  They had no idea what kind of drugs he’d been given, but they knew they’d made him ill.  Starsky was not interested in their desired observation period.   After he’d sworn at the nurses trying to tend to his myriad cuts in at least three languages and threatened to pull his IV out and walk, Hutch saw the doctor motioning him out to the hallway.

 

“I’ll be right back, Starsk,” he said with a reassuring pat on the arm. 

 

“Where are you going?”  The slight panic in Starsky’s voice was unexpected. He tried to sit up, as a prelude to following Hutch.

 

“Please, Detective,” one of the nurses begged, “let me finish.”

 

Hutch smiled at him. “Be a good boy and let these nice ladies do their jobs. I’m just going out to get your instructions from the doc.”  Starsky didn’t like it, but he settled back and allowed it, his eyes never leaving Hutch as he stepped out past the curtain and through the door.

 

Doctor Emory was a young attending physician.  He hadn’t dealt with many police officers before, and he was surprised at Starsky’s reaction to his touch and his suggestions.  “Detective Hutchinson, your partner’s reactions are ... distressing.  He’s been through a major emotional trauma, not to mention his physical condition.  We need to admit him, but we can’t force it.  Can you reason with him?”

 

“What are we looking at? Physically.”

 

“From the limited information I was able to get from him, I’d say he’s been unconscious two or three times from blows to the head or from drugs given to him in the water.  I’m sure he has a mild concussion, at least.  His blood pressure and blood sugar are too low, and he’s mildly hypothermic.  His ribs, back, and kidneys are bruised.  Although his wrists are lacerated, the swelling in his hands seems better since you brought him in.  None of the cuts require stitches, but that second-degree burn around his eye is worrisome.  We’ll have to watch that closely.”

 

Hutch sighed, squelching the anger he felt toward Marcus and his "family" for what they’d done to Starsky. “We’ve dealt with concussions, Doc.  I can handle that part, if you just tell me what else to look for.”

 

“You’ve taken care of him when he’s been injured in the past?”

 

Hutch knew the entire post-emergency room drill much better than he would have liked.  “Always.  He’s my partner.  I know you want to keep him here, Doc, but my instincts are good where he’s concerned.  I promise I’ll bring him back right away if anything happens.  Okay?”

 

Hutch had no intention of forcing Starsky to stay if he wasn’t in any immediate danger.   The only thing that was going to make Starsky feel safe was being with Hutch.  He was afraid; anyone could see that.  Even the doctor realized that was probably what Starsky needed, more than anything else.

 

“All right.  I’ll give you a list.  I’m also going to prescribe a mild sedative, in addition to the antibiotics and pain medication he’ll be getting.   He’s alert enough -- hyper alert if you ask me -- so I’m sure the danger from the head injury is minimal, but I don’t want you to give him the sedative, or anything for pain other than Tylenol until tomorrow morning, just as a precaution.”  The doctor continued with a daunting list of things to watch.  “Loss of consciousness, incoherence, blood in the urine, vomiting, double vision, or poor vision from his injured eye.” Hutch listened carefully, and took Starsky’s prescriptions.   

 

“Encourage him to talk to your department psychologist, Detective.  If not, then someone on the outside.  He’s going to need it.”

 

“Thanks, Doc.  I’ll try.”  Fat chance of that happening.  How am I going to get him to do that short of an order from Dobey?

 

Hutch returned to find that the nurse had removed the now-finished IV and Starsky had changed from his hospital gown into some sweats Dobey had brought to the hospital.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Just get me out of here.  I want a shower.”

 

“Okay. We need to stop and fill these prescriptions, then we’ll go to your place.”

 

Starsky nodded.  He looked up at Hutch and said, “I can smell them.  I need to wash it off.”  He shivered, trying in vain to zip up his sweatshirt jacket.  His fingers were too swollen and his hands were shaking too badly. 

 

“Let me,” Hutch said, moving in to help.  When he was done, he eased Starsky into a wheelchair and walked beside him as they exited the treatment area. 

 

“You all right, Starsky?” Dobey asked as they approached him in the waiting room.

 

“I’m fine.”  He looked anything but.

 

Hutch handed the bag with Starsky’s black robe in it to Dobey to take down to the station as evidence.  Promising to call him later, Hutch accompanied Starsky out into the cool-but-sunny January day. 

 

As they pulled away from the hospital parking lot, Starsky said the only thing he was going to say on the trip to the pharmacy.  “Thanks, Hutch.  I thought I was dead.”

 

Hutch glanced at him with concern, but Starsky had returned his gaze to the street and wouldn't meet his eyes. "Any time, buddy. You know that."

 

Starsky nodded to show he'd heard and didn't say anything else until they'd reached his apartment. "Gonna take a shower," he mumbled as he turned toward his bedroom.

 

"You gotta take some of this first," Hutch said to his retreating back, but Starsky put up a hand in a "later" gesture and shut the door. Having a door there was absurd, Hutch thought again, as he had many times, since the bookshelf that separated the bedroom from the living area was hardly a wall, but he shrugged and turned away to study the pill bottles and figure out which ones to give Starsky when.

 

Starsky leaned his back against the door for a moment and willed himself to stop shaking. It took several moments. And even when his body stopped, his knees continued to feel like jelly. In the other room, he could hear Hutch humming some popular tune to himself as he bustled around, probably getting a meal together or straightening up.

 

Starsky forced himself to stand upright and gather clean clothes. He went into the bathroom and turned the shower on hot, as hot as he could stand it. He hadn't been able to get warm since the cold bath Gail had given him but it hadn't bothered him until the morning "ritual." Staring down the hungry throats of a whole herd of sharp implements had sapped whatever reserves he had left.

 

God, he'd been glad to see Hutch.

 

No, "glad" didn't begin to express how he'd felt when that blond cyclone had burst into the circle and started swinging. Starsky hadn't been able to help with the fight much -- his hands were too numb and his legs wouldn't support him -- but Hutch hadn't really needed his help. He'd never seen anyone as focused or as angry as Hutch had been that morning. Ever.

 

"Thankful" was more what he'd felt when he saw Hutch. For just a moment, he hadn't recognized his own partner. He'd been so scared, unable to see anything but the knives, and the cleaver, and the chain ...

 

Stop it. It's over. You're safe. Hutch is safe. It's OVER.

 

He glanced into the mirror, already beginning to steam up, and was startled at the pallor of his own face, the ugly burn over his eye. He'd known the torch had burned him, but he hadn't realized how bad it looked until now. No wonder Hutch, Dobey, and everyone else had been so worried. He looked like warmed-over shit.

 

The scratches and cuts from the beating didn't look too terrific, either, but the burn was worst of all. He touched it gingerly and winced. Nothing he could do about it right now.

 

He climbed into the shower and the hot water felt so good against his aching muscles that he simply closed his eyes and leaned against the tile wall, letting the water loosen him up and wash away the smell of the freak show. But when he closed his eyes, he saw again the flashing blades in the early morning sunshine, and heard that horrible, terrifying "Simone...Simone...Simone...."

 

His shoulders began to shake and he started crying and he couldn't stop.

 

Don't let Hutch hear. Please, don't let Hutch hear!

 

Hutch was so worried about him already. He didn't need to see Starsky falling apart at the seams like this.

 

Starsky grabbed at a washcloth and covered his mouth with it to muffle the sounds. He tried and tried to stop ...

 

You're safe. It's over. You're safe.

 

... but he simply couldn't. He sank into a ball on the tub floor, with the water thundering down around him, and trembled and sobbed until his remaining strength was depleted. The water began to cool and somehow he managed to struggle to his feet and turn it off. Still trembling, partly from the cold now, he got out of the shower and wrapped his robe around his body and sat down on the closed toilet and buried his head in his arms. The tears finally stopped, but he couldn't stop the shaking.

 

"Starsk?" Hutch called from outside the room. "You want scrambled eggs or fried?"

 

Answer him. He'll come in if you don't. You want him to see you like this?

 

With an enormous effort, Starsky called back one word, "Fried."

 

"Gotcha." Hutch's footsteps went away.

 

For several more minutes, Starsky huddled into himself on the toilet lid, until his heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace and his trembling was under control. Carefully, he stood and reached for towels, the toothbrush, the razor.

 

Doing normal things when you don't feel normal helps you feel normal again, he told himself sternly. Ma used to say that. When he was upset about something that had gone wrong at school, or Pop came home after a hard day, she always said that. And she'd been right. Taking out the garbage, playing hoops with Nicky, doing something mundane and everyday, had always calmed him when he was frightened or angry. Maybe it was because you didn't have to think when you did those things. They were automatic.

 

And it worked again. Little by little, as he did those mundane things, he began to feel more like himself. By the time he was dry and dressed, he was under control enough to let Hutch see him. He knew Hutch would know something was wrong, all the same, but he could face him now.

 

He opened the bathroom door.

 

Hutch was relieved to see him come out at last. "Thought maybe you'd drowned in there, buddy," Hutch said cheerfully, though he could see the red-rimmed eyes and the slight hitch in Starsky's walk.

 

Starsky gave him a look that said "Please don't say anything" as clearly as if he'd spoken aloud, and Hutch obeyed that look, turning back to the stove where he was frying bacon.

 

"Food'll be ready in a few," he said instead, "and don't tell me you're not hungry. I don't care. You have to have food in your stomach before you can take the most important pill in the stack over there, and I'll bet the freaks didn't feed you."

 

"They didn't," Starsky said, reaching around Hutch to get a cup and pour himself some coffee. "Smells good, actually."

 

"Go sit down," Hutch said. "I'll bring you a plate when it's ready."

 

"I'm not helpless," Starsky began, but stopped. "Thanks, buddy."

 

Hutch gave his shoulder a quick pat and went on cooking.

 

Starsky wandered back in the direction of the couch and sat down, reaching for the newspaper that Hutch had brought in but hadn't opened yet. He took off the rubber band, idly thinking he'd see how the Lakers had done. He unrolled the paper and saw the headline.

 

Detective abducted by cult

 

Below the headline was a photo of him and Hutch walking up the courthouse steps and the caption, "Detectives David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson arrive for the sentencing of Simon Marcus a few minutes before Starsky's abduction Tuesday."

 

Eyes wide and heart thudding, Starsky read the first few paragraphs of the story. It said that the Bay City Police Department had refused comment, but that bystanders reported seeing a black van drive away shortly after the alarm had been raised about Starsky's disappearance and that Marcus' cult was suspected to be behind it. The police had sealed off the courthouse and set up a cordon and a massive manhunt to find "the missing detective."

 

Hutch saw what he was reading as he carried Starsky's plate to the couch and cursed himself. He reached out and took the paper out of Starsky's trembling hands. "Here. Eat. It's over. No point in rehashing it now."

 

"Hutch, I -- " Starsky's voice broke and he couldn't stop the shaking. Again.

 

Hutch put the plate down and sat beside him, putting an arm around him and holding him tight. "You're safe. You're safe." He repeated the words over and over.

 

There were no tears this time, but Starsky trembled violently for several minutes, making a low moaning sound that tore at Hutch's heart and frightened him. This wasn't like Starsky. He'd been in some very tight spots and had never just collapsed like this.

 

"Talk to me," Hutch said softly.

 

Starsky shook his head. "I don't ... I can't ... I'm sorry."

 

"Ssh, it's okay," Hutch said. "This is me, remember?"

 

"They just didn't even seem to think of me as human!" Starsky burst out and then the tears did come, not as violently as before, but a few drops streaked down his cheeks.

 

"They're the ones who aren't human, buddy," Hutch said. "Their minds are soup, Starsk. They don't even know who they are anymore." He drew back just a little and tipped Starsky's chin up. "Eat. You'll feel better."

 

Starsky grinned faintly. "You sound like my mom."

 

"She's a wise woman. Eat."

 

Starsky nodded, drew a trembling breath, and reached for the plate. Doing normal things when you don't feel normal helps you feel normal again.

 

Once again, it helped. He hadn't realized how hungry he really was.

 

"More?" Hutch asked when he finished.

 

"Is there more? Did you eat?"

 

Hutch indicated his own empty plate. "Yes, I did," he said with a grin. "But I made a mess of this stuff and I'm full. If you want more, I'll get it for you."

 

"Well ... "

 

Hutch's grin widened and he stood up and took Starsky's plate. "Be right back. Read the comics, buddy," he added when Starsky reached for the newspaper again. "Not the news."

 

Starsky nodded and resolutely ignored the news section, turning first to sports -- the Lakers had won -- and then to the comics. He was smiling over "Peanuts" by the time Hutch came back with a filled plate and plopped it onto the coffee table.

 

"That's better," Hutch said approvingly. "You're smiling."

 

Starsky put the paper down again and picked up the plate. He cleaned that one, too, and when Hutch raised an inquiring eyebrow, shook his head. "Nope. Couldn't eat another bite."

 

"Good. Now, take these," Hutch said, handing him the little handful of pills and a glass of water. "If you're a good boy, maybe you'll get a lollipop."

 

Starsky snickered and obediently took the pills.

 

Hutch watched until the last one disappeared and Starsky had leaned back, coffee cup in hand. "You want to talk about it?" he asked quietly.

 

Starsky sighed and leaned his head back, eyes closed. "Don't know if I can, Hutch."

 

"Might help."

 

"Might bring it all back, too."

 

"I don't think it ever left," Hutch said pointedly.

 

Starsky sighed again, deeper this time and nodded. "Yeah. You got that right." He was silent for a few moments, drinking his coffee, before he said, "I don't know where to start."

 

"How about that burn?"

 

"A torch," Starsky said. "I got away and got lost in the labyrinth of that zoo -- I think they were holding me in the part where they used to keep the lions or tigers ... "

 

"And bears, oh, my," Hutch interjected, smiling, but the smile vanished abruptly when the words made Starsky give a long, horrified shudder. Hutch moved to his side again. "What? What'd I say?"

 

"The bear," Starsky said softly. "They had a bear, Hutch. They chased me into this kind of cave and there was a bear. I thought ... I thought they were gonna let him kill me, like, like that kid."

 

"Shit," Hutch whispered. "A real bear?"

 

Starsky nodded. "Oh, yeah. He was real. And he looked ten feet tall and mean."

 

"What happened?"

 

"I picked up a rock," Starsky said, unconsciously miming the action as he did so, "like that was gonna be an effective weapon against a fuckin' bear." Starsky drew his hand back as if he were holding the rock in position to fight. "Then I heard this bell ring and the bear just dropped down to all fours and left through another door." Starsky dropped his hand. "I guess they just wanted to scare the shit outta me."

 

Hutch shivered. "I guess it worked."

 

"Sure did."

 

"What about the burn?"

 

"I was running and trying to find a way out and, as I came around a corner, one of the freaks stuck a torch in my face," Starsky said. "I jerked back but not before it burned me." He cocked his head to one side. "How'd you find me?"

 

"Marcus," Hutch said. "He kept giving me these damned cryptic clues and Dobey and Huggy and I spent a whole night listening to the tapes and we finally figured it out. Huggy did, really."

 

"I owe him," Starsky said. "I owe all three of ya. Wonder why Marcus helped?"

 

"He didn't," Hutch said bitterly. "He was trying misdirection. Wanted us to spend all our time trying to figure out his goddamned riddles instead of looking for you. It almost worked, too."

 

"Well, he's fucked now," Starsky said. "He's going away and he won't ever get out."

 

"Not in this lifetime," Hutch agreed. He paused for a few moments, then continued.  “What about drugs?  Do you know what they gave you?”  He’d already been assured Starsky wasn’t injected with anything.  Although that was a relief, he was still concerned about any lingering effects.

 

Starsky shook his head.  “Something in the water.  Made me sick.  Then, everything looked kind of fuzzy around the edges and big in the middle.  You know, like I was watching everything in one of those store security mirrors.”

 

“Did you pass out?”

 

“Not till after they told me I was going to die in the morning.  Then, I woke up hanging by my wrists, surrounded by those freaks.”  The shaking was returning and Starsky pulled his feet up onto the couch and tried to make himself warmer.  He closed his eyes and put his head down on his knees. Quietly, he added, “They were gonna chop me up into--”

 

“Don’t,” Hutch said.  “I know what they were planning.”

 

Starsky nodded and looked up at Hutch with haunted eyes.  “I think I need to sleep.  Maybe I’ll warm up if I do.”

 

Aw, Starsk, you’re not cold, you’re terrified.  “Good idea.  Don’t forget I’m gonna have to wake you up now and then, just to make sure your head’s still screwed on tight.”

 

“Was it ever?”

 

Hutch stepped toward Starsky, holding a hand out to help him off the couch.  “Come on, dirt ball.” 

 

He pulled Starsky up and watched him shuffle off to bed, half relieved Starsky was going to rest, half concerned with his current condition.  Even if he felt better the next day, his partner was going to need some down time after this ordeal.  No matter how long they sentence you, Marcus, you can never pay enough for all the lives you’ve damaged or destroyed.  Hutch suddenly remembered that Marcus would have been sentenced by now.  Dobey should know.   He waited a while to be sure Starsky was asleep before calling the precinct.

 

“It’s Hutch.”

 

“How’s he doing?” Dobey asked.

 

“‘Bout like you’d expect.  Did Yager sentence Marcus?”

 

“Yes.  Nine consecutive life sentences.  He’s going to be held in solitary for a long time, until all of his followers have been tried at least.”

 

Hutch sighed as he reached up and rubbed his forehead.  “What about Starsky?”

 

“Marcus has been charged with everything we could think of from kidnapping to aggravated assault to attempted murder of a police officer on that.  I want you to bring him down here to give his statement as soon as you can.  It’s going to take days to sort out which of the cult members to charge with what.  I told the DA he’d have to wait, at least until tomorrow.”

 

“I’ll talk to him about that.  What happened to Gail?”

 

“County Mental Health for now.  They say she’s all but catatonic.  She just keeps muttering ‘Thou shalt not kill’ over and over.”

 

“She saved his life, Cap.  Gave us time to get there. The DA knows, right?”

 

“Yes.  He’s already talking to the brother about a deal.  Immunity for her testimony against the others.  If she ever snaps out of it.”

 

“Starsky will be glad to hear they’re taking that into account.”

 

“I’m sending Carlisle and Biggs over with Starsky’s weapon. They recovered it at the old zoo.  Hutch, the crime team also recovered his clothes.  Looks like they were cut off of him with a knife.  They’ll be put into evidence.”

 

Hutch closed his eyes and dropped his head back, not knowing what to think about that.  “He’s going to be fine. Still, the doc said to let him rest a couple of days at least and I think he needs them.  I want to stay with him.”

 

“You’d just be on desk duty anyway.  Take two or three days.  If he’s still not ready, let me know, but I want you back at work in three days, understood?”

 

“Agreed.  Thanks, Cap.”

 

Hutch hung up and started his vigil over his partner.  The man was so exhausted, the officers knocking on the door to return his Beretta didn’t wake him.  Despite that, Hutch needn’t have worried about waking Starsky to check on his head injury.  Every time he drifted into the dreaming stage of sleep, he woke up drenched in a cold sweat from nightmares.  This went on for hours. 

 

Around four in the afternoon, Starsky gave up, changed into something he could wear out, and came out to the living room. 

 

“What are you doing up?” Hutch asked, looking up from the book he was reading.

 

“Can’t sleep anyway.  Every time I drift off, I keep seeing that damned bear.” He shuddered again at the memory.  “I need to go thank Huggy.  Let’s go down to the bar for dinner, huh?”

 

At least he’s hungry.  That’s a good sign.  “Sure, buddy.” 

 

Seeing that Starsky meant now, Hutch put on his shoes.  “You’re still looking pretty rough.  I’ll drive, okay?”  Starsky nodded and walked out the door, leaving Hutch to lock up behind him. 

 

On the way to Huggy’s, Hutch filled his partner in on the sentencing and what was happening with Gail.  Starsky was glad the DA was being cooperative, but he felt bad about her being in such a disturbed state.  Marcus’ “dream” had included Gail striking the first of countless blows intended to kill Starsky.  Her induction in blood was to be her proof that she was loyal to the megalomaniac, even if he was in jail for the rest of his days.

 

“I want to go see her.”

 

Hutch shook his head. “I don’t know, Starsk.  Do you think that’s a good idea?”  He was worried about the memories such a visit might bring to the surface.

 

“Does it matter?  She’s the reason you still have a partner.  I have to go.”

 

What a sobering thought.  Without the help of a pale, underweight, vulnerable young woman with a fragile psyche, Starsky would now be lying in the morgue in pieces.  “Dobey wants you to stop by the DA’s office to give your statement tomorrow.  What do you say we do that, then go down to see Gail?”

 

“Aw, shit, I hadn’t thought about that.  Okay.  I think I’ll be up for that tomorrow.”

 

Huggy was glad to see him.  After settling in a booth with his friends, he said, “Glad to see you up and around, amigo.”  He jerked his chin toward Starsky’s face and said, “Nice eye.  What happened there?”

 

“Torch,” Starsky replied.  He squirmed in his seat, needing to say thank you to Huggy.    “Hug, I know what you did to help. I don’t know how to thank you.”

 

Huggy smiled at him.  “That was a team effort, m’man.  Your fellow centurion, here, and the captain of the guard worked hard.”

 

“Yeah, but Hutch told me you figured it out, Huggy,” Starsky said.  “You’re the one who guessed the temple of the first kingdom had to be the old zoo.”

 

“The Bear is there when you need him, mon frère,” Huggy replied, using his typical turn of a phrase to lighten the atmosphere.  Starsky’s eyes spoke his gratitude and Hutch wasn’t the only one who could read what was in them.  Huggy was more than just a savvy street presence.  He was smart, quick thinking, and a good friend.  Starsky had always respected him, but this incident reinforced that respect.

 

“What do you suppose he hoped to accomplish?” Starsky asked.  “Snatching me like that.  I told them it wouldn’t get ‘em a fixed parking ticket.”

 

“I think I know the answer to that,” Hutch answered.  “You were the senior officer when the girls were arrested up at the ranch.  You touched them, and the children.  He wanted you to pay for that.  I’ve been giving that a lot of thought and I think that’s it.”

 

“He had to have known I’d be going to the can.  How?”

 

Hutch looked pensive.  “The DA is working on that.  We may never know, but we’re looking for someone inside the courthouse who may have a reason to know about your … habit.  Maybe someone who’s a follower or just sympathetic to that psycho for some reason.”

 

Starsky paled.  That had to be it. He’d never do that again.  Before his kidnapping, he never would have thought the courthouse bathroom could be a dangerous place.  Suddenly, his stomach was doing flips and he felt hot. 

 

“Starsky?” Hutch was concerned by the emotions flashing across his partner’s face.

 

Huggy was sitting next to Starsky, who was feeling decidedly claustrophobic.  When a waitress dropped a slippery beer mug, the sound of glass shattering made Starsky jump. 

 

“Starsky,” Hutch repeated.

 

“Let me out, Huggy,” Starsky said, his voice low and edgy.

 

“‘S all right, just a glass--” Huggy tried to reassure him.

 

Starsky didn’t ask again.  Before either Hutch or Huggy had time to react, Starsky scrambled up the seat, across the tabletop, and down to the floor beside the booth, high tailing it for the back door.

 

After a few seconds of stunned silence, Hutch stood to follow him as he said, “Shit!”  

 

By the time he got outside, he found Starsky hunched over with his back to the wall.  One hand was pressing against protesting ribs and the other was braced against his knee.  Hutch approached him quietly, noting that he was nearly hyperventilating. 

 

“You all right?” he asked tentatively.

 

“Just…” Starsky panted out, “gimme … a minute.”

 

He tried to quiet his breathing, with little success.  Finally, the pain in his side and the harsh breathing made him so dizzy, he needed to sit.  Hutch reached for him and helped him to the ground, guiding his head between his knees.

 

“Easy, buddy, easy.  Settle it down,” Hutch soothed.

 

Starsky felt embarrassed and foolish.  Why do I feel like this?  He breathed slowly and managed to get it under control.  When he looked up after several minutes, he was relieved to see that Huggy hadn’t followed Hutch out to the alley.  They were alone.  The depth of concern in Hutch’s eyes was almost painful to see.  He didn’t want to have put it there.  He wanted to feel normal and he felt anything but.

 

“I need to go home, Hutch,” he said quietly.

 

“Sure, buddy.  You think you can stand now?”

 

Starsky nodded and accepted a hand up from Hutch.  In the time they’d been outside, Huggy had put together a bag with some food for them to take with them.  He handed the bag to Hutch as they passed. Starsky nodded a thank you, but said nothing.  On the way back to the apartment, Hutch decided his partner was going to take that sedative. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Over the next two days, Starsky rested and began to heal.  Despite his desire to visit Gail in the hospital, he hadn’t felt up to it.  Dobey brought a stenographer to the apartment to take his statement so he wouldn’t have to come in to Metro.  That night, he told Hutch he wanted to go back to work.  No, he needed to go back to work.  Hutch agreed, cautiously.

 

The LTD was ready at Merle’s, so they decided to go there first.  They’d pick up the car and then drop it off at Hutch’s place before heading to the hospital to see Gail.  Her brother had contacted Captain Dobey to ask if Starsky was up to visiting her.  The psychiatrist said she needed to see that Starsky was alive as part of her therapy.  When she finally stopped muttering “Thou shalt not kill,” she had switched to a depressed insistence that she’d failed. Gail was convinced the detective was dead.  She couldn’t be persuaded to offer any testimony to help herself because she felt responsible for his “death.”

 

Starsky’s spirits seemed good that day.  He was cheerful about picking up the car and didn’t seem worried about his impending visit to see Gail or his return to work.  When Hutch saw his worst fears realized -- the LTD looked like “a parade float from Mars” -- he was furious that he’d have to leave the car another day or two to have what Merle promised would be a complete “furectomy.”

 

On the way to the hospital, Hutch sat fuming in the passenger seat.  He’d called both Starsky and Merle morons.  He was almost lost in his own petulance when he saw a man snatch a lady’s purse and take off down the street.

 

“Hey!” he said, pointing.

 

“I saw him,” Starsky assured.  He pulled to the curb so Hutch could jump out and begin a pursuit.  A quick glance back told Starsky the victim wasn’t hurt, just infuriated.   He turned back into traffic, stepping on the gas to fishtail around the corner to join the chase.  He spotted Hutch dashing into an alley and yanked the wheel hard to park.

 

Hutch ran into that alley, not realizing his suspect had stepped into a doorway, flattening himself up against the wall.  As Hutch’s long stride took him around the corner, the purse thief nailed him with a piece of plywood, knocking him to the ground in a daze.

 

By that time, Starsky was in the line of sight.  He called for the man to stop to no avail.  Knowing he had nowhere to go at the end of the alley, Starsky darted past Hutch.  He picked up speed, climbing up the back of a parked car to give himself some advantage.  He ran up to the roof and leaped off the vehicle, taking down the purse thief in a flying tackle.  They rolled on the ground for a few seconds until Starsky got his hands on the man.  He yanked him to his feet.

 

“You wanna resist, asshole?” he shouted at the hapless man.  When the suspect shook out of his grip, Starsky reached for him again, this time taking a well aimed swing at him that cracked him in the jaw, knocking him to the ground again.  He hauled him back to his feet, spun him around and slammed him, face first, into the tall, wooden fence that blocked the alley.

 

“Okay, man, I’m cooperating!” the man shouted.

 

Starsky pressed his entire weight against the man’s back, crushing him against the fence. “Yeah?” he hissed in the man’s ear, “you should’ve thought about that before you hit my partner!”

 

With one hand gripping the man’s collar and the other twisting his arm painfully, Starsky was in too much of a rage to cuff him.  He shook him hard, pulling him back and then slamming him into the fence again. 

 

“Starsky.” 

 

Hutch’s voice behind him was soft and calming.  Starsky stood still, ignoring his prisoner’s protests.  A red haze pushed into his vision and he shook with anger. 

 

“Starsk,” Hutch tried again.  This time, he placed a hand on Starsky’s shoulder, shocked and concerned when the already tense man stiffened at his touch.  Ignoring that for the moment and leaving his hand in contact, he continued, “Let me take him.  I’m all right.”

 

Starsky didn’t seem to hear him, and that scared Hutch even more.

 

“Get him off me!” the purse snatcher cried. “He’s gonna break my arm!”

 

“Shut up,” Hutch ordered.  “I said I’ve got it.  I’m not hurt.”

 

Finally, Starsky looked at him.  He released the man a little, allowing Hutch to step close and cuff him.  Starsky stood back a few paces, noticing the small trickle of blood running down the side of Hutch’s face.  At the moment, he felt nothing but rage.  Not concern, not fear for Hutch’s safety, just simple, white hot rage.  Oh, God.  He’s hurt and I cared more about beating that scum to a pulp than I did about my partner.  What’s WRONG WITH ME?

 

Hutch guessed that something was very, very wrong, but he let it go for the moment, more concerned with getting rid of the perp before Starsky snapped again. His own heart was beating hard and fast and his hands shook a bit as he put the cuffs on the man. "You have the right to remain silent," he recited automatically. "You have the right to an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning .... "

 

They got back to the car without further incident, and Hutch called for a black-and-white to come pick up their purse-snatcher. Starsky raised an eyebrow -- normally they'd take him in themselves -- but said nothing. He'd been silent since Hutch had taken over with the perp.

 

After the uniforms took the man away and Hutch had sent a message with them that he'd be in later to write up the report, he turned to Starsky. "Talk to me. Now."

 

Starsky lifted his shoulders in a silent answer, but Hutch grabbed his arm roughly.

 

"I said talk to me!"

 

"I don't know what you want me to say!" Starsky snapped.

 

"What the fuck happened back there?" Hutch demanded fiercely. "That was way out of line and you didn't even seem to hear me."

 

"I don't know what the fuck happened!" Starsky shook off Hutch's hand and slumped against the side of the car. He raised stricken, fear-filled eyes to his partner's. "I don't know." His voice broke on the last word, and Hutch's anger evaporated, though his fear remained.

 

He came closer and stroked Starsky's hair once, very gently. "Okay, okay. What do you think happened, then? I never saw you do that before."

 

Starsky ran a hand over his eyes. "I just lost it," he said quietly. "All I could feel was rage, Hutch. I couldn't think straight, I couldn't stop myself, I ... " He shook his head. "I lost it."

 

"I noticed," Hutch said. "That was scary, buddy."

 

Starsky nodded.

 

"Come on," Hutch said. "Get in the car. We're done for the day."

 

"No, we gotta go see Gail," Starsky protested.

 

"You gotta be kidding," Hutch said blankly. "We're going the fuck home, right now, and you're going to take a couple more days off."

 

"No," Starsky said. "I'm going to see Gail, goddammit, please." His voice shook a little again. "I have to, Hutch. Please."

 

Hutch sighed. "Okay, okay. But I'm driving."

 

Starsky raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Sure."

 

At the county mental facility, Hutch identified them for the nurse at the desk and she pulled Gail's chart. "You're on the list," she said after a moment, peering at Starsky's pale face and dark-circled eyes. "Are you all right, sir?"

 

He nodded. "Fine. I'm fine."

 

She looked at him for a moment uncertainly, and finally put the chart back. "Down the hall, turn left at the elevators. It's room 115."

 

Starsky walked away purposefully and Hutch was hard pressed to keep up. In a few moments, they were outside Gail's door, which was guarded by a uniformed officer from another division. Starsky already had his badge in his hand. "Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson," he said.

 

The young officer's eyes widened. "You're the one they kidnapped."

 

"That's right," Starsky said sharply. "We need to see Miss McBride. Step aside."

 

The officer moved away and they went past him into the room.

 

Gail was seated in a chair by the window, staring blankly out, and didn't turn when they came in. She was wearing a long-sleeved, ruffled nightdress and a robe in a pale shade of pink that set off her fair skin.

 

"Gail?" Starsky said softly. "Gail, it's Dave Starsky."

 

There was no reaction at all. She was so still, only the slight rise and fall of her chest showed she was alive.

 

Starsky, with Hutch behind him, moved closer and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Gail? Look at me, honey."

 

"Try getting in front of her so she has to see you," Hutch suggested.

 

Starsky moved around between Gail and the window and finally her eyes focused on him. She stared blankly at him for several seconds before reaching out a hand and touching his arm. There was a slight change in her expression, almost too subtle to see.

 

"Gail, it's Dave Starsky," he repeated. "Remember me?"

 

She nodded, just once, but didn't speak.

 

"I'm okay, see? You saved my life, Gail. I came to say thank you."

 

"Simone ... " she whispered. "Simone ... dreamed your death."

 

"But this time his dream was false," Hutch said quietly, and Gail raised her eyes to look at him. "Because he's evil, Gail. He's in prison. He can't hurt anyone now."

 

Her eyes moved back to Starsky. "You're not ... dead."

 

"No," Starsky said. "Thanks to you."

 

"They didn't kill you?"

 

"No."

 

"They tried," she said. Her hand was still on his arm, and she clutched it momentarily. "Simone dreamed it."

 

"But he was wrong," Starsky said. "You're safe. I'm safe. It's over."

 

She stroked his arm, her hand shaking. "You're safe."

 

Starsky stayed where he was and gradually her eyes took on a more normal expression. She pulled her hand back and placed it in her lap.

 

"It's okay now," Starsky said. "Everything's going to be okay."

 

She nodded. "Everything's going to be okay now," she said.

 

Starsky glanced up at Hutch, who tried to convey, "Let's go" without saying it aloud. Starsky rose and touched Gail's hair. "We'll come back another day, Gail," he said. "Get well soon."

 

She actually smiled. "Thank you," she said. "For coming to see me."

 

They were silent on the way out to the car and once they were on the street and rolling, Starsky said, "She's not going to get well."

 

Hutch shook his head and glanced over at Starsky. "Maybe not."

 

Starsky turned his head away to gaze out the window -- something Hutch had noticed he did more often now than he ever used to -- and fell silent.

 

She saved my life. She risked her own doing it, really. Those freaks didn't care who they killed, they didn't even think a person's life was worth anything. They could easily have killed her and then me, too.

 

So why don't I care about her more? I'm sorry she's in that shape. But I just don't care that much.

 

Starsky refused to log out for the day and refused to take any more time off, no matter how hard Hutch worked to convince him. Hutch finally had to give in. Nobody could be more stubborn than David Starsky when he set his mind to it.

 

Things were quiet for a couple of days. Starsky wasn't sleeping and he wasn't eating much, except when Hutch was nearby to make him eat, and he made up his mind not to lose it like he had with the purse-snatcher ever again.

 

They'd been cruising their district for a couple of hours after lunch when a call came to go to the site of a domestic disturbance on the edge of their beat.

 

"Jeez, I hate these," Hutch said with a sigh, turning the car around and hitting the siren. Starsky answered the dispatcher that they were on their way and set the light on top of the car.

 

As they turned down the street, they saw an ambulance and two black-and-whites had already arrived.

 

"Do you feel superfluous?" Hutch asked dryly. "All over but the shouting, it looks like."

 

Starsky didn't reply. When the car stopped, he got out and preceded Hutch up the walk to the front door. Three of the four uniformed officers were just standing on the porch, while the fourth was bent over a lawn chair, talking to a woman who was weeping heartbrokenly into a handkerchief. "What's up?" Starsky asked the nearest uniform.

 

"It ain't pretty, Starsk," the cop answered him. He jerked his head in the woman's direction. "Her old man killed their kid."

 

"Jesus," Hutch said softly. "Why?"

 

The cop shrugged. "They were fighting. Kid got in the way." His short answers didn't hide the trembling of his voice.

 

"C'mon," Starsky said, after giving the officer a long look. He went into the house, with Hutch following. The living room was right inside the door, and the couch was splattered with blood. A small body was lying on the floor, covered by a sheet, and an ambulance attendant spoke into the telephone. Starsky knelt and pulled a corner of the sheet back.

 

The child couldn't have been more than three or four, but if it hadn't been for the little pink dress she was wearing, they wouldn't have been able to tell she was a girl. Her head and upper body had been blown to bits by a shotgun.

 

"Jesus," Hutch said again, thickly, swallowing hard afterward and blinking back the mist that formed in his eyes. "Poor little thing."

 

"What the fuck happened here?" Starsky asked of the EMT who wasn't on the phone.

 

"The husband and wife were fighting," she said, taking the corner of the sheet out of his hand and placing it back over the child's body. "He was knocking the woman around, bouncing her off the walls, I guess, and the little girl was crying and trying to get between them and begging the sonofabitch to leave Mommy alone, and he just went into the bedroom, got the shotgun, and killed her with it. Just like that. He's not even upset. The officers outside have him cuffed and in one of their cars."

 

"I hope he resisted arrest," Hutch said through clenched teeth.

 

"Easy, Hutch," Starsky said automatically, but something in his tone made Hutch look at him closely. "I'll go question him. You talk to the mom." He left the room, leaving Hutch standing there stunned.

 

Starsky walked back out the front door and looked toward the marked cars. The one in the driveway was where the man was, sitting in the back seat looking toward the house disinterestedly. He went over to the car and opened the back door.

 

"What's your name?"

 

"Scott."

 

"Scott what, asshole? Don't make me drag it out of ya."

 

"Scott Handley," the man spit at him. "I ain't answering no questions. I want my lawyer. I know my rights."

 

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Okay. Fine. Don't answer no questions. Name, rank, and serial number only, huh? You don't want to tell me why you blew off your kid's head?"

 

"Never wanted kids anyway," Handley muttered. "Snot-nosed brat, always underfoot. I'm glad she's dead."

 

Starsky rolled his eyes again and shut the door. "He's a piece o' work, that one," he said to the uniforms as he walked past them and went back in the house. "Asshole says he's glad she's dead," he told Hutch. "Wouldn't say he was exactly broken up about the whole thing."

 

Neither are you, Hutch thought, more than a little disturbed at Starsky's lack of reaction. He was as calm as if they found murdered children every day.  He stared at his partner, unable to hide the confusion and concern in his eyes.

 

“Something wrong with you?” Starsky asked.

 

“Me?” Hutch answered.

 

“Yeah, you look like, I don’t know. You’re just sort of staring. You all right?”

 

Hutch took Starsky by the elbow and walked him out of earshot of the other officers. “No, I’m not all right. Did you get a good look at that child?”

 

“I did. Lousy break.”

 

Hutch couldn’t believe his ears. Under ordinary circumstances, Starsky would be angry. Appropriately angry and upset by the murder. Neither of them took it well when the victim was a child. They maintained their professionalism, but they still had feelings. They were human. He was about to say so when they were interrupted.

 

“Sergeant Starsky?” one of the uniformed officers called. “Okay to run him in, now?”

 

Starsky patted Hutch on the arm and turned away from him. He walked toward the officer to give him instructions, leaving Hutch staring after him, open mouthed. This is definitely not good. Shit. Deciding he’d better do something other than just standing there, Hutch walked toward the ambulance to see if he could speak with the child’s mother.

 

“Sorry, Detective,” the paramedic said, “she’s out like a light. Base doc said we could sedate her. She was so hysterical, we couldn’t treat and she was bleeding really bad.”

 

Hutch looked in on the unconscious woman, bloody and bruised. “She going to be okay?”

 

“Tough to say. She might have some internal damage. He kicked the shit out of her, but no apparent head injury. Check back with the hospital in a few hours.”

 

Hutch allowed him to shut the door and watched as the ambulance sped away from the scene. Looking around, he could see Starsky was giving more instructions to the crime lab team and the coroner. As they carried the small body out to the coroner’s wagon, Starsky looked on with a completely emotionless expression. For the first time in many years, Hutch couldn’t tell what was going on behind Starsky’s shuttered eyes. The man hadn’t been such a mystery to him since shortly after they met. Starsky wasn’t being stoic, he simply didn’t seem to feel anything about the situation. Lousy break, huh? What is going on in your head, buddy, and how can I help?

 

Hutch’s mind wandered back to a conversation they had after Starsky was involved in a nasty domestic call about six months after they graduated. They were in uniform and partnered with training officers. Starsky had shown up at Hutch’s house with a six pack one night after duty. They sat on Hutch’s porch, drinking the beers and talking, while Vanessa pouted inside because she had planned to spend a quiet evening alone with her husband.

 

“You ready to talk about it?” Hutch asked after they’d each started on their second beer.

 

Starsky swallowed hard and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the house. “It was horrible, Hutch. Much worse than they ever said it would be.”

 

“Talk to me.”

 

“Guy got fired at work, came home, started fighting with his wife, and lost it. He took out a gun and blasted her and their kid to death. She was pregnant, too. We tried to talk him down, but he blew his head off before we could.”

 

Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. Domestics are the worst.”

 

Starsky lifted his head and looked at Hutch intensely. “That’s not the worst part. Yeah, that was awful. Thought I’d lose my lunch, but that ain’t what’s bothering me.”

 

“What, then?”

 

“It’s Delano.” That was Starsky’s current training officer. He was a veteran with nearly thirty years on the force. Taking the rookie as his trainee was one of the last things he would be asked to do before retirement. Starsky didn’t appreciate his cynicism or his callous behavior. Though he could understand why the man didn’t want to take risks at his age, he resented the way Delano held back in situations that required action. The two men had gotten into several heated arguments over it. “He just didn’t care. Looked right at that dead family with no reaction. How can he be like that? I don’t care how long he’s been a cop, you can’t just look at a murdered kid and mother and say ‘tough break’ about it. Shit! They were innocent human beings.”

 

Hutch sighed. “I know, but I guess some guys get that way after that many years.”

 

Starsky shook his head, forcefully saying, “No. Not me. No way. I’m never gonna get so burned out I don’t give a shit about people having their lives snuffed out like that. He looked at them like it was just normal, Hutch. Every day you see dead kids like that, all in a day’s work. Nothing to get worked up about. Dammit! Not me.”

 

Hutch didn’t doubt his words. Starsky was tough and street smart, but he was a compassionate person. He cared about the public he was sworn to serve. Hutch knew he’d never lose that. “I know, buddy. You’re not like that.”

 

“Hutch? You in there?” Starsky’s voice snapped Hutch back to the present.

 

“Let’s go do the paperwork.” Hutch turned away from him and headed for the car. He had no idea what to say and he was scared.

 

Hours later, when Starsky dropped him off at his place, Hutch leaned back into the car and said, “You sure you don’t want to come in for some dinner? I’ve got stuff to make chili. You like that.” He was really hoping for an opportunity to draw his partner into a conversation about what was happening with him.

 

Starsky knew what Hutch was doing and he wasn’t ready to talk. He didn’t know what to say. He could see how worried his best friend was and he found, surprisingly, he didn’t care. I can’t explain what I don’t understand, Hutch.

 

“Nah, I’m tired. I’m going to turn in early. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“Eat something, will ya? Even if you’re tired.” Starsky smiled at him, but made no promises. Hutch watched him drive away, equally at a loss as to what to think. He shuddered at the thought that he hoped Starsky would be safe. Why he thought that, he didn’t know, but he had a sense of foreboding that he rarely got unless something was wrong with his partner. He scolded himself for overreacting all the way up his stairs.

 

Starsky meant to go home, but he didn’t right away. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I feel anything? Hutch is right, I know what he’s thinking. That kid should’ve bothered me. Didn’t. Why the hell not? Without making a conscious decision to go there, he found himself parking his car down the street from the old civic zoo. He took out his flashlight and started looking for a way in that wouldn’t draw any attention from passing black-and-whites. Maybe, going back there would jolt his feelings back into place.

 

The crime lab had gone over the scene and the remnants were visible under the beam of his flashlight. Crime scene tape fluttered around the structure where he’d come so close to dying. He stood and stared at it, completely unafraid. This should scare me, shouldn’t it? He moved into the center and looked around, still feeling nothing.

 

The old zoo was quiet. The distant sound of cars on the road was the only thing he could hear, other than the occasional hoot of an owl. Being there, without Hutch or anyone else knowing about it was foolish and he knew it. He was taking a terrible chance. Although the zoo was being watched for any signs of Marcus’ people, someone could be lurking about and it would be dangerous for Starsky to be caught there alone. He didn’t care.

 

“Why me?” he asked the wind.

 

Starsky wandered the grounds, eventually finding his way to the pit and series of caves where he was held. He walked calmly around the rim, looking down on the spot where he’d once looked up at his tormentor. Afraid of heights, he found himself curiously unaffected.

 

He stepped closer to the edge and leaned over the pit. A second later he heard a faint cracking noise, followed by the sound of dirt sliding away from him. Then, the long-neglected, unstable ledge beneath him gave way, dropping him with it in a spray of dirt and rocks.

 

Starsky dropped the flashlight as he reached for a handhold. Despite successfully finding something to grab, gravity pulled his body down and his momentum slammed him hard into the cave wall. For a few seconds, he saw sparks. He held on with one hand, desperately trying to avoid being dumped to the floor below him. Remembering that it wasn’t that far a drop from when he was in the bottom of the cave as a prisoner looking up, he decided he’d better swing out and drop the rest of the way. The flashlight was out and the darkness prevented him from seeing all but shapes below him, so he used one foot to push away before he let go, hoping to avoid any of the rocks.

 

The soft sand broke his fall, but he landed hard, the breath whooshing from his lungs. After a few moments' recovery, he felt around for the flashlight, but couldn’t find it.

 

Although he had a momentary adrenaline rush, he realized within minutes that he still wasn’t scared. He wasn’t really hurt, but he should have been at least a little afraid. “I can’t feel anything, you bastard!” he said to the silent walls. Then, he got up and dusted  off his clothes. With no light, he started to move through the cave to where he remembered he could climb up to the top and escape.

 

His groping trip through the labyrinth didn’t worry him. Even the bear’s lingering scent didn’t cause so much as a flutter of concern. Finding his way up, out, and back to the car in the dark left him scratched and bruised, but otherwise unharmed. Dammit, Marcus, what’s it gonna take to make me feel again?

 

Calling himself every kind of fool, Starsky revved his engine and left rubber on the road as he started for home, stopping for some beer on the way. His phone was ringing when he reached his apartment.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Where were you?” Hutch’s voice sounded worried.

 

“I had to go to the store, Mom,” Starsky replied with sarcasm, leaving off where he’d gone before that.

 

“I’ve been calling for forty-five minutes. Where’d you do your shopping, Van Nuys?”

 

Starsky wasn’t going to play. He wasn’t about to admit where he’d gone. “Did you need something?”

 

Feeling the wall go up on the other end of the phone, Hutch tried again. “Yeah, Dobey called. Cavanaugh and Hill were in an accident tonight. They’ll be off at least a few days and Dobey wants us to switch shifts and come in early tomorrow to cover for them.”

 

“Oh, okay. Pick you up at six?” Starsky asked.

 

Pick me up at six? What the hell? “You not interested in how Sean and Jack are?”

 

Starsky realized he should have asked. “Yeah, they gonna be okay?”

 

“Yes. They’re keeping Sean overnight for observation, but Jack’s going home. They got T-boned, closer to the back, thank God.”

 

“Good. Six, then?”

 

Hutch was silent for a moment. “Yeah, six.”

 

“See you then,” Starsky said. He hung up before Hutch could ask him anything else.

 

Hutch’s immediate impulse was to call back or go over to see Starsky, but he decided not to do that. Instead, he picked up the phone and dialed a friend’s number. Loren Hunt was a psychologist who’d spent the first ten years of his career with the Bay City Police Department, before going off to open his own practice. When he saw the news about Starsky, he’d called Hutch to ask how his partner was doing. The three men became friends after Hutch’s encounter with Forest’s thugs. Starsky had asked him to talk to Hutch unofficially and he had agreed as a favor, on the provision that he would report Hutch if he thought he was a danger to himself or unable to do his job for any reason. The man’s confident, caring manner put Hutch at ease and helped him through a dark time, filled with guilt and self doubt. He cared about both of his friends.

 

“Loren? It’s Hutch. Got a minute? On the QT.” Hutch was relieved he’d found Loren at home.

 

“Sure thing. He’s not doing so well, huh?”

 

“No. When you asked me how he was doing back when this started, I had no idea where he was going. Hell, I still don’t, but I’m scared.”

 

“Ken, if you’re scared, are you sure we don’t need to do something official?” Loren asked, knowing Hutch would understand all the implications.

 

“No, nothing like that. I don’t know what to say, really. He’s just not himself.”

 

Loren walked across his kitchen, dragging the long phone cord behind him. He poured himself a cup of industrial strength coffee while he questioned his friend. “Tell me about it.”

 

“At first, he seemed scared shitless. He couldn’t sleep, jumped at the slightest noise, and couldn’t go anywhere without being really nervous.”

 

“Completely understandable, given what I know about the situation.” He took a sip of the coffee, making a face at its strong taste. He dumped several sugar cubes into the cup and stirred.

 

“That passed pretty quickly, within days. Next thing I knew, he snapped and nearly beat up a suspect who’d beaned me with a chunk of plywood. After that, he just sort of seemed to turn off, if that makes sense.”

 

Loren nodded, as if Hutch could see him. “You mean he seems a little too much the other way now?”

 

“Loren, we looked at the body of a child tonight who’d been blown apart by her own father. He never blinked. Not just that, he didn’t seem to even feel it.”

 

“Is that all that unusual? You two see homicides often enough, maybe he’s just trying to detach a bit.”

 

“Not from me. Never from me. He may show his ultra-professional detached demeanor to someone else, but he’ll tell me what he’s really thinking. He really didn’t feel it. That’s why I’m scared for him. What the hell is happening to him? I want to help him, but I don’t know what to do.”

 

Dr. Hunt had seldom seen two people more in tune with each other than Starsky and Hutch. If his friend was this worried, he probably had every reason to be.

 

“Any chance you can get him over to see me? Unofficially, of course.”

 

“Doubt it. I’m sorry to bother you at home, I guess I just needed to hear that someone besides me thinks it’s weird. Just now, I called to tell him that two officers we’re really good friends with were in an accident tonight and I had to prompt him to ask how they were. Am I overreacting?”

 

That didn’t sound at all like David Starsky. “You know him better than anyone. Trust your instincts. If I’m not here or at the office, my service will be able to reach me. Any time. Meanwhile, try to get him to talk to you, okay? But don’t be too aggressive. Push too hard and he’ll shut you out.”

 

“Thanks, I’ll try.”

 

Before he hung up, Loren added, “Ken, don’t let this go on for too long. I don’t have to point out the obvious to you that David carries a loaded gun and has exposure to high risk, public situations every day. If you think he’s in danger, or is a danger, call. I know his privacy is important and you’ve already risked seriously pissing him off by calling me, but his safety is more important than his ego or his feelings. You know I’ll do everything I can to keep it between us, but I’d have to call Dobey if my judgment said he should be pulled off the streets for a while.”

 

Hutch didn’t like the sound of that, but he had no choice but to agree. “I understand. I’ll be in touch.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky didn’t eat much dinner. He drank a couple of beers and had a piece of toast. He decided he’d better shower off the grime from his impromptu adventure before he went to bed. What greeted him in the bathroom mirror wasn’t pretty. His hands were covered with small scrapes and scratches, several of his nails were broken off where he’d scrabbled for the ledge, and he had a bruise forming on his cheek right under the healing burn mark. He realized he must have smacked it against the wall when he first slipped.

 

“Oh, terrific.”

 

Tiredly, he climbed into the shower, deciding he’d figure out how to hide or explain the bruise in the morning.

 

He found Hutch waiting for him on the curb a few minutes before six. He was grateful for the early morning darkness, buying him a little more time before he had to explain himself. Starsky stayed ahead of Hutch as they went into the precinct and up to their floor. He seemed oddly subdued, and Hutch was starting to wonder why he wouldn’t look at him. After Starsky poured them both some coffee and turned back from the coffeepot, he had his answer.

 

“What the hell happened to you?” Hutch asked, grateful they were the only ones in the squad room. The bruise on Starsky’s cheek looked painful.

 

Starsky handed him his coffee and shrugged. “I slipped.” He didn’t want to lie, but he wasn’t going to volunteer anything, either.

 

“You slipped?” Hutch asked as he grabbed Starsky’s wrist and looked at his abused hand. “Into what, Bougainvillea?”

 

“I just slipped, okay? I’m all right, so stuff the interrogation, huh?” He realized Hutch was hurt by that remark, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t in the mood to go into anything. “Besides, I taught you every trick you know.”

 

Hutch knew the comment wasn’t an attempt to lighten the situation. Message sent and clearly read. Back off, I don’t want to explain.

 

"Okay, okay," Hutch said, letting go and holding up his hands. "Sorry I asked." He sat down at the desk and looked through the files Dobey had left for them. "The guy from yesterday's getting arraigned this morning. Dobey wants us to be there since you talked to him."

 

"Fine."

 

Hutch quirked an eyebrow at his partner and was ignored. "It's at ten," he said.

 

"Fine. Anything big going down today?" Starsky stirred sugar into his coffee and sat down across from Hutch.

 

"No, that's about it. String of robberies on the south end of our district, mostly liquor stores. Note says Sean and Jack suspected a couple of hypes they've busted before, but they don't really have any evidence."

 

"Can't get a conviction without evidence," Starsky said flatly.

 

"I know that," Hutch snapped.

 

Dobey, on his way to the candy machine, caught the last part and stopped, turning to look at them. He opened his mouth, but Hutch gave him a look he recognized for "not now, I'll explain later" and instead, he went on, but he cast a couple of glances at his detectives on the way.

 

Starsky hadn't noticed the exchange, busy as he was reading files and pretending he didn't know Hutch was examining him.

 

He didn't want to endure one of Hutch's interrogations, not because he didn't know what to tell him, but because he didn't want his partner to know what was going on. Not this time. And Hutch would figure it out if Starsky gave him a chance. He knew Starsky inside and out and he'd know, somehow.

 

Starsky didn't want him to know. What little emotion he had left recoiled from the thought.

 

The arraignment went without incident. The man -- Karl Greenlee -- was brought in, cuffed and shackled, and stood in front of Judge Henry Crain. Greenlee stood with his head high and no sign of remorse.

 

"You have been charged with murder in the first degree, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and child endangerment. These crimes carry a potential penalty of life imprisonment. How do you plead?"

 

"Leonard Grace for the defendant, Your Honor," said the day's designated public defender, stepping up beside Greenlee, but keeping a distance between them. He was clearly not happy about this assignment. "We plead not guilty."

 

"So noted. Bail is set at $500,000," Crain said.

 

Grace opened his mouth for the expected protest at the high bail, then thought better of it and shut his mouth again.

 

Hutch gave a grim smile at that. He leaned over and whispered to Starsky, "Good man. If ever I saw a flight risk, that guy's it."

 

Starsky made a sound of assent in his throat, but otherwise didn't reply.

 

"Return the defendant to custody," Crain said, and the deputy hustled Greenlee away.

 

Outside the courtroom, Grace approached Starsky and Hutch. "I'll need a copy of the report," he said. "Off the record, fellas, this one makes me sick to my stomach."

 

"Us, too," Hutch said, realizing as he said it that he didn't know if it made Starsky sick and suspecting, with a sinking heart, that it didn't. "Do you know how Mrs. Greenlee's doing?"

 

Grace shook his head sadly. "Not good, Hutch. The bastard beat her up pretty badly, but that's the least of her troubles. She's devastated about the little girl."

 

"Think she'll testify?" Hutch asked.

 

Grace shrugged. "You never know with these domestics. She's likely to testify for -- " he grimaced, " -- our side. But I never said that," he added hastily. "Off the record."

 

"It's okay, Len," Hutch said, patting his shoulder. "Not your fault you got stuck with this one."

 

On the way back to the station -- they'd walked, since it was a nice day -- Hutch said, "I wouldn't be a public defender no matter how much they paid me, and they don't pay them much. Imagine having to work for that slime."

 

"Somebody's got to," Starsky said. "He's got a right to an attorney."

 

"I know, but -- " Hutch stopped. Any other time, Starsky would be grumbling and fuming about scum like that guy even getting a trial, just to let off steam, but when Hutch looked at him, he saw no outrage or disgust. Just cool, emotionless disinterest. When did you start channeling Mr. Spock, buddy? "Want to get some lunch? It's early, but I need a break."

 

"You go ahead," Starsky said. "I got a couple of phone calls to make. I'll just get something from the cafeteria."

 

Hutch started to protest, but Starsky had turned into the station entrance and trotted up the front steps, leaving Hutch on the sidewalk feeling confused, conflicted and very, very afraid.

 

"I don't know what to do, Hug," Hutch said a little while later, sitting at The Pits pushing a chef's salad he wasn't eating around on a plate. "I've never seen him like this." He looked up at the barkeep. "You've known him longer than I have. What do you think is going on?"

 

"I mighta known him longer, Hutch, but I don't live in his coat pocket like you do," Huggy said. "If anybody's knows how Starsk's mind works, it's you. So if you're outta notions, what chance do the rest of us have?"

 

Hutch dropped his fork, giving up on lunch. "Well, I'm out of 'notions,' as you put it. I don't have any idea. It's like he's shut down. He just doesn't give a fuck. About anything."

 

"Not even you?" Huggy's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline.

 

Hutch shook his head. "I don't think so, no."

 

"Wow." Huggy sat down on a stool behind the bar and stared at Hutch. "Man, that ain't good. That ain't a bit good."

 

"No shit."

 

"It's gotta be the Marcus thing," Huggy said thoughtfully. "But why shut down over it? It'd be more like him to stomp around cussing the guy and questioning his parentage."

 

Hutch gave a very faint grin at that, but it vanished almost as soon as it appeared. "He was badly shaken at first and now ... nothing." Hutch told Huggy about the child the day before and ended with, "He didn't even act like it was a big deal, Huggy. The poor little kid might've been a hype in an alley for all the emotion he displayed."

 

"Has he done anything else weird?"

 

Hutch started to shake his head, then remembered the bruise. "He showed up this morning all scratched up and with a big bruise on his face and told me he 'fell.' And he wouldn't say anything else about it."

 

"Got any ideas where it came from? Maybe he got in a fight."

 

Hutch frowned thoughtfully. "It didn't look like a fight bruise. I think he did fall, but where?"

 

It bothered him all day, wondering about that bruise and finally, after Starsky dropped him off, he thought he had an idea. Where would Starsky go if he wanted to confront the one thing that was driving him to behave this way?

 

Hutch drove out to the old zoo just as it was getting dusky, and walked around the concrete platform where Starsky was found. He shuddered a little, just being there, but somehow he knew this wasn't where Starsky had "fallen." There really wasn't any place here to fall and come home with scratches and bruises like Starsky had.

 

So where else?

 

Then he remembered.

 

"The bear," Starsky had said the morning Hutch had found him. "They had a bear, Hutch. They chased me into this kind of cave and there was a bear. I thought ... I thought they were gonna let him kill me, like, like that kid."

 

Starsky had described the place where he got lost running away from the freaks. Hutch thought he knew where that was, and he started in that direction at a fast trot. In a few minutes, he'd found it. It had once been where they kept the Sun Bears, friendly creatures with yellowish bellies, who soon learned to sit up and wave their paws at visitors in return for food. Not frightening "ten-foot-tall and mean" bears like the one Starsky had confronted in this place. Though, Hutch reflected, that bear had obviously been well-trained or it wouldn't have backed off at the sound of a bell and Starsky would now be ....

 

No. He wouldn't think about that.

 

He climbed over the dilapidated fence and turned on his flashlight. It wasn't quite dark, but the shadows cast by the rocks and tunnels in the Sun Bear enclosure made it hard to see and he didn't want to lose his footing and "fall," too.

 

It was a labyrinth, as Starsky had said. Nooks and crannies enough to satisfy any bear who wanted a place to hide from the endless parade of gawking humans. He passed one such nook and saw a smoked, burned place on the wall. This must be where the freak had thrust the torch at Starsky. Hutch was marginally relieved to see the size of the burn on the rock. That meant the freak hadn't really intended to do serious injury to Starsky, though the injury he had done was bad enough. He had kept the torch moving toward the rock rather than directly into Starsky's face.

 

He squatted and slid down a slight incline, landing in soft sand at the bottom. He turned his flashlight in a circle to examine the place. Most of the signs of the freaks' residence here were gone, though he saw a tin cup next to a bucket, lying overturned in one corner.

 

This was where Starsky had come, Hutch knew. Starsky was afraid of most animals, though he didn't like admitting that. He didn't mind kittens or small dogs and he wouldn't  harm an animal for anything, but he was a city boy through and through, and something like a bear would have stirred up utter terror.

 

Starsky must have come here to confront the lingering effects of his captivity with the freaks -- and instead of conquering it, it had conquered him. He had shut down, to avoid feeling the helplessness and fear.

 

Psych 101?

 

The words were in Hutch's mind, but spoken in Starsky's voice. Hutch knew how Starsky would scoff at the idea, but it made sense. Nothing else did.

 

Hutch took a few more steps, and his foot kicked something hard. He pointed his flashlight down and saw an oblong object half-buried in the sand next to his foot. Kneeling, he brushed the sand away and saw that it was a flashlight.

 

Starsky's flashlight.

 

It was an old-fashioned, green Boy Scout flashlight with a belt clip. Instead of the light coming directly out the end, it bent like a periscope and shone forward. Starsky kept it and used it, in spite of its age, because it had belonged to his dad. Hutch knew Starsky had had that flashlight with him only a couple of days before; he'd seen him use it.

 

So Starsky had been here. And he'd dropped his father's flashlight -- and left it behind.

 

Now Hutch was really worried.

 

~*~*~*~

 

They'd been chasing an armed robbery suspect for ten minutes, careening in and out of traffic, snapping terse directions and comments at each other and into the radio. The robber was a dangerous man who had escaped from prison a few months previously after being sentenced for a murder committed during the commission of another armed robbery. Three other units were also in pursuit, in constant radio contact with each other, and closing in on the man.

 

"Suspect northbound on Alameda," Baker Six called. "Just crossed Sixteenth."

 

"Zebra Three southbound on Alameda," Hutch answered. "Let's squeeze him in."

 

"Ten-four, Zebra Three. Baker Ten eastbound, Sixteenth."

 

"Ten-twenty-six," called Zebra Nine. Collision. "Suspect and a semi, Twenty-First and Alameda. Central, request ambulance and fire emergency vehicles. Injuries almost certain."

 

"Ten-four, Zebra Nine," Central replied. All other units had maintained radio silence to allow the four pursuing vehicles free access to the air.

 

Starsky and Hutch were on the scene in a few moments. The semi had T-boned the suspect's car, almost crushing it flat. The semi was a gasoline tanker and the impact, or the driver's slamming on the brakes, had caused the truck to jackknife in the intersection. A traffic light standard was bent double over the truck and had badly dented the tank, and gas was trickling out onto the street.

 

"Holy fuck," Starsky said, rolling his eyes. "This is a mess."

 

"Evacuate the area!" Hutch called to the uniforms on the other side of the tanker. "Hurry up!"

 

The officers nodded and started herding spectators back, while the cops from Zebra Nine directed traffic. Hutch called Central back to request more help with traffic control and report the gasoline leak, and when he turned back, he was stunned and terrified to see Starsky strolling nonchalantly in the direction of the wreck.

 

"Starsk! What the hell are you doing -- "

 

Starsky walked right up to the suspect's car and peered in. Even from this distance, Hutch could see the blood on the inside of the windshield, but he could also see that the suspect was alive, and yelling something at Starsky. The sirens from the approaching fire trucks drowned it out. Hutch moved closer, keeping a wary eye on the spreading gasoline, and was horrified to see the suspect holding up a hand grenade.

 

"I'm not going back to prison!" the man shouted at Starsky. "If I gotta take this whole fucking neighborhood with me, I'm not going back!"

 

"Gimme that," Starsky said, reaching out for it, but the man jerked his arm out of the way.

 

In answer, the man pulled the pin and threw the grenade out the window -- right into the puddle of gasoline.

 

"Starsky!" Hutch screamed, but Starsky darted toward the rolling grenade, slid as if he were sliding into home base, and grabbed it, holding down the trigger as he came up to his feet.

 

"Call the bomb squad," he called to Hutch. "I can't hold this thing forever."

 

Hutch stood there, his heart pounding crazily, his temples throbbing from adrenaline, for several moments before he could make his feet move. He stumbled back to the car, picked up the radio mike, and asked for the bomb squad to come, all before his senses really took in what he'd just seen.

 

When he turned back around, Starsky was standing there, a few feet away, his jeans soaked in gasoline and the grenade still in his hand. "Don't worry," he said with a grin. "It won't blow, long as I hold onto it."

 

But Hutch blew. "What the fuck were you thinking?" he demanded, his voice shaking.

 

"I was thinking if the damn thing blew up in that gas, next to that tanker, we'd all be shakin' hands with Abraham, Martin, and John by now," Starsky replied. "I ain't ready to die. Are you?"

 

"What if it had gone off with you in that gasoline, right next to the goddamned thing?" Hutch shouted. His knees were weak with a combination of rage and relief, and he had to put a hand on the car hood to steady himself. Starsky seemed not to notice.

 

"We'd have all been dead, anyway," Starsky answered. "Wouldn't have mattered if I was next to the grenade or over there by Dipshit," he gestured at their suspect, trapped in his car but still shouting incoherently. "I'd be just as dead. And so would you. What's the big deal? Everything's okay."

 

"You're holding a live fucking grenade!"

 

"But I'm holding the thingamajig down," Starsky said, quite calmly. "Take it easy, will ya?"

 

The firefighters had begun their work by this time. Some were getting the suspect out of his car while others were working on cleaning up the gasoline. The ambulance arrived with the bomb squad close behind. A tech wearing protective clothing came up to Starsky, took in the situation, and led him, very carefully, to the truck where the bin was. Starsky dropped the grenade into the bin, the tech shut the lid on it, and both of them hastily backed away as the tech shut the truck doors. A muffled BOOM sounded a few seconds later.

 

Hutch shuddered, but Starsky only grinned. "That was kind of close."

 

Hutch stared at him. Starsky was as undisturbed as if he came within a hairsbreadth of death every day. "Kind of close?" Hutch said, his heart still pounding. "Kind of close?"

 

Starsky shrugged. He turned to watch the firefighters using the jaws of life on the suspect's car. "That guy's in a whole heap o' trouble," he observed, with that grin still on his face. "I can think of about twenty charges we could make stick, and I ain't even tryin' too hard."

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch waved half-heartedly when Starsky let him off in front of his apartment a while later. Considering their close call, Dobey had let them leave early after the mess was cleaned up and the reports were written on the chase and capture of the fugitive. But when Hutch had handed in the report, Dobey had stopped him from leaving for a moment.

 

"I know something's going on," Dobey had said. "I hope you plan to fill me in. Soon."

 

"I do," Hutch had answered. "Just give me a little more time, please."

 

Dobey had nodded, and Hutch had returned to the squad room, where Starsky was waiting to drive him home.

 

Now Hutch let himself into his apartment and shut the door, leaning his back against it and feeling his knees go weak again at the memory of seeing Starsky dive after that live grenade. On the way home, Starsky had told him, with that same strange grin, that it was no different than going after a grounder in a sandlot game back home.

 

"Grounders don't send you to kingdom come," Hutch had said.

 

"Neither do grenades, if you hold the trigger down," Starsky had said.

 

Starsky had complained, very mildly, that he'd skinned his knee when he slid across the street after the grenade. He called it a "war wound." The very words made Hutch's blood run cold. Of course, Starsky often joked about things in a show of bravado, but Hutch had always seen his real feelings in his eyes. This time, there had been nothing.

 

Not once, when it was happening, or in the hours since, had Hutch seen fear in Starsky's eyes. Nothing but that odd sort of grin, the same kind of grin Starsky got when he'd beat Hutch at a game or put one over on Dobey. Certainly not the expression you would expect when a man had skirted that close to death and come out whole.

 

Hutch moved toward the bathroom. He usually took a shower when he got home from work. It was his way of unwinding. He got his clothes off, got the water running and stepped in, but when the water hit him, he remembered listening, on the other side of the door, as Starsky had sobbed out his fear on the morning Hutch had rescued him from the freaks. It had taken every bit of willpower Hutch possessed to stay on the other side of that door. He knew, somehow, that Starsky would not have wanted him there at that moment.

 

Now Hutch leaned his head against his arm on the wall and let his own helplessness overwhelm him.

 

That evening, Hutch did everything he could to quell the rising apprehension he felt about Starsky. He talked to himself, paced, and by turns yelled at and apologized to his greenhouse plants. After his phone call around eleven o’clock to check on Starsky met with a cool reception, he fumed and worried and finally went to bed. After lying awake for over an hour, Hutch fell asleep, but he wasn’t destined to get any rest.

 

Hutch stood at the top of the Sun Bear pit. When he looked down, he saw Starsky, dressed as he had been for court the morning he was snatched out from under Hutch’s nose. His partner stood in the middle of a group of hooded, black-robed figures, circling him and chanting, “Simone, Simone, Simone.” Two of them were pouring gasoline on Starsky’s clothes and on the ground beneath him. He wasn’t restrained, and he stood calmly, with his hands at his sides.

 

One of them spoke to Starsky. “You must be one with us.”

 

“No!” Hutch reached for his gun, but it wasn’t there.

 

Starsky looked up at him, meeting his eyes with a terrifying resignation on his face. “I’m not afraid,” he said.

 

“NO! Starsky!” Hutch couldn’t move his feet. He was frozen in place, watching what was about to happen.

 

“Simone dreamed my death, Hutch. I’m not afraid of anything anymore.”

 

Simon Marcus’ chillingly evil voice was suddenly beside Hutch. He turned his head to look at the man who said, “My dreams always come true. Always true.” He pointed at the pit and said, “Behold, my prophecy. Heavenly Polaris will be one with my family.” As if compelled, Hutch turned back to see one of the robed figures handing Starsky a hand grenade, after pulling the pin.

 

“You can’t stop what’s happening to me,” Starsky told him.

 

“Get rid of it!” Horrified, Hutch watched as Starsky pulled the grenade in close to his body and closed his eyes.

 

“Noooooooooooo!”

 

Hutch woke himself with his shouting just as the grenade exploded and his partner disappeared in a ball of flame. He sat up in bed with a racing heart and a sick feeling in his stomach. Shivering from the memory of the dream, he fell back on his pillows and covered his face with his trembling hands. As soon as he was recovered enough to think, he reached for the phone and dialed Starsky’s number.

 

~*~*~*~

 

At two in the morning, Starsky had only been asleep for a few minutes. Instead of going home after he dropped off Hutch, he had driven to a local bookstore and picked up a copy of a new self-help volume on facing fears. After drinking multiple cups of coffee and reading awhile, he drove out to a lookout point and walked onto the bluff. He had thought about calling Hutch, but changed his mind. Whatever was wrong, he wasn’t able to talk about it. That troubled him. He stood on the edge, on the other side of the signs that read “Unstable Cliffs, Keep Back,” and stared out over the dark Pacific, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets. The sound of his police radio squawking calls came to him faintly on the cool evening breeze. Am I afraid? How can I be afraid when I can’t feel anything? How can I face what I can’t feel?

 

A voice called to him and he turned to face it. A black-and-white had pulled over on the road. One of the officers in the squad car had recognized the Torino and spotted Starsky out on the cliff. “Everything all right, Sarge?”

 

“Just fine, thanks.”

 

“Kind of close to the edge, aren’t you?”

 

Starsky smiled reassuringly and waved at them. “Really, I’m fine. Thanks for stopping.”

 

As they pulled away, the driver said to his partner, “What do you suppose he’s out here for?”

 

“Who knows? Maybe he’s just thinking.” They took off down the road in the opposite direction.

 

Starsky didn’t know how long he’d stood there when he heard another voice.

 

“Mister, you’d better get back from there.”

 

“I’m not afraid,” he answered without moving.

 

“You’re not gonna jump or something are ya?”

 

Starsky turned to see a young man on the other side of the guardrail, standing astride the bicycle he had stopped to make sure the man on the ledge wasn’t thinking about taking a plunge. His bicycle light cast an eerie beam in the not-quite fog. Out this late on a bike, must be a student.

 

Starsky chuckled. “Nah, just thinking. View’s better out here.”

 

“View? In the dark? With fog rolling in?”

 

Nodding at the young man, Starsky said, “Sometimes you can do your best thinking in the dark.” He paused. “Sometimes all you can see is the dark.”

 

Passing headlights revealed the frown on the younger man’s face. “You sure you’re not gonna jump? ‘Cause if you were gonna do that, I’d have to try to stop you, and I’m kind of afraid of heights.”

 

That brought a laugh out of Starsky. He moved a little, and heard the sound of dirt and rocks rolling away from him as he walked toward the cyclist. “Funny thing, I’m afraid of heights, too. Guess maybe I used to be.” He climbed over the guardrail and said, “Happy?”

 

The other man smiled. “Yeah, much better. If I take off, you gonna stay on this side?”

 

“I’m headed home. Don’t worry.” He walked away, back to the Torino. When he opened the door, he turned to see that the cyclist was in position to take off, but he hadn’t left. He waved at him as he started the car. He looked in his rearview mirror at the stop sign and saw the man moving along his way.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“This better be good,” he grumbled at the phone.

 

“It’s me,” Hutch said.

 

Although Starsky had been known to call Hutch in the wee hours of the morning for any number of reasons, Hutch rarely called him after midnight. If he did, something was wrong. Starsky was surprised to find himself irritated and curious, but unconcerned.

 

“Your nightlight burned out?” he asked with some sarcasm.

 

Hutch wasn’t sure how to respond. “Uh, I--”

 

“Let me guess. Bad dream.” More sarcasm. Not teasing, more like caustic.

 

Annoyed at the response he was getting, or rather was not getting, Hutch said, “As a matter of fact, yes, and you were the star.”

 

Starsky knew he was worrying Hutch and he just couldn’t seem to stop it. Normally, he’d ask about the dream, but he was still having his own nightmares about his kidnapping and the things he couldn’t remember with his waking mind. All he said was, “Oh?”

 

Hutch took a deep breath for patience. He decided to try the direct approach. “Talk to me.”

 

“I talk to you every day.”

 

“No, I mean, tell me what’s wrong.”

 

“I’m fine.” That’s a lie, but what can I tell him? “Hutch, it’s late, I’m tired, and we gotta get up early tomorrow.”

 

“Dammit, Starsky! You’re about as far from fine as I’ve ever seen you! That stunt you pulled today just proved it to me, now what the hell’s happening to you?”

 

“What do you want from me?” Starsky shouted. “What, are you some kind of fuckin’ shrink? Okay, I’m NOT fine. What I am is tired and pissed.”

 

Now, Hutch was angry. “This isn’t going away by itself. Talk to me!”

 

“Talk to yourself. I’m not coming by in the morning. I’ll meet you at the station.”

 

Hutch sat, stunned and furious as he listened to the post-being-hung-up-on buzz of his phone. “He hung up on me,” he muttered. “Dammit.” He put the receiver back as he wondered what to do next.

 

The following morning, Hutch decided to try a new tack. He stopped by Starsky’s favorite bagel shop, despite the fact that it was three miles out of the way, and picked up a peace offering. He’d let Dobey know they needed to talk and, as soon as Starsky arrived, he would get him to a quiet space to try to connect with him. If they didn’t connect today, he’d have to think about letting Dobey in on what was happening, or at least send up a flare to Loren.

 

Hutch arrived at Metro first. That wasn’t a surprise. As the morning wore on with no Starsky, he became increasingly concerned. Dobey was called to a meeting in the mayor’s office and wouldn’t be in until after lunch. At nine, Hutch went down to Dispatch. He didn’t recognize the woman at the desk. She was on a call and he had to wait a few minutes to get her attention.

 

“Has Detective Starsky called?” he asked the dispatcher.

 

She didn’t answer, but started leafing through a stack of messages. The poor woman looked frazzled. Her hair was falling out of what had probably been a neatly brushed style when she arrived for the start of her shift, and she had a pencil tucked behind each of her ears. She shook her head.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m new. No message from a Detective Starsky. Can I tell him who was asking if he does call?”

 

Sherry, the shift supervisor got up from her desk and walked toward them. “Hi, Hutch,” she said cheerily, “something wrong?”

 

“I hope not. I’m just looking for my partner and I was hoping he’d left a message.”

 

“He’s kind of a big thing to misplace, isn’t he?” Sherry’s eyes twinkled as she teased him.

 

Hutch smiled. “Yeah, I’m sure it’s nothing, but he’s not in yet, and I haven’t heard from him.”

 

“I’ll try to raise him on the radio,” she said. When that produced nothing, she walked back and said, “I’m sorry, we had a little excitement this morning. That’s why Debbie is temping here. Mildred was on duty earlier, but she passed out and we had to call the paramedics. Possibly she spoke with him, but she didn’t write it down.”

 

“Is she all right?”

 

“Oh, yes. She just let her sugar get out of whack.”

 

When she said that, Hutch remembered that Mildred was a diabetic. “Good. I’m glad she’s okay.” As he was saying that, two uniformed officers walked up to him. He recognized them both, but could only remember the older man’s name.

 

“Hi, John,” he said as the man was obviously looking to speak with him.

 

“Hutch. I overheard you were looking for your partner. You talked to him since late last night?”

 

“How late?” Hutch didn’t like how this conversation was starting.

 

“About eleven, I think.”

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

John Anderson looked at his partner, who nodded slightly. “We’re working kind of a weird shift,” he said. “On last night, off at two, and back on this morning to cover for some other officers. We saw Starsky out on the ocean road about eleven last night.”

 

Hutch muttered more to himself than to the others, “What was he doing out there?”

 

Anderson shifted from one foot to the next, glancing at Sherry and Debbie. He motioned with his head for Hutch to step away from their hearing, over next to the opposite wall. He lowered his voice. “I don’t know. We pulled up because we recognized his car and saw him standing out on the cliff. I mean RIGHT out on the cliff. Asked him if he was okay and he insisted everything was fine. We were on patrol and that’s the edge of our territory, so we needed to get going and he waved us off. You really don’t know where he is?”

 

The floor beneath Hutch almost felt like it was sinking and he paled slightly. Logically, he knew he’d spoken with Starsky in the middle of the night, so he must have made it home safely. What the hell were you doing? You don’t do heights!

 

“Maybe I’d better go check his place. I don’t like this.” Hutch turned to leave, not noticing at first that Anderson and his partner were following. “I’ve got it,” he said to them as soon as he realized.

 

“I think we should go. What if something happened? You might need backup.” Anderson was well aware that his two colleagues had many enemies. Hutch nodded.

 

When they reached Starsky’s apartment, the Torino was gone. Hutch let himself in and the other officers trailed him. While he checked the bedroom, the others checked the kitchen. Starsky hadn’t made his bed that morning and he almost always did unless he was late or rushed. Where would you have been going to in such a hurry?

 

“Sarge,” Anderson called from the kitchen, “I think you’d better look at this.”

 

Hutch found Anderson looking at a 9mm bullet box on the counter and pointing to a few loose bullets lying on the floor. The box was empty. He swallowed hard before he asked, “He wasn’t depressed or anything, was he?”

 

“What? For God’s sake, John, he carries a weapon every day. What’s so unusual about an empty bullet box?” Even as he said it, a nagging fear was settling over Hutch. His usually neat partner wouldn’t ordinarily leave the house with an unmade bed, let alone leave bullets scattered about the floor and an empty box on the counter. Why would he need an entire box of bullets with him?

 

Hutch looked at Anderson and said, “I’ll take it from here, guys. Thanks.”

 

Anderson knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere trying to argue. He and his partner said their goodbyes and left.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Half an hour later, Starsky stepped off of the firing range and was greeted by one of the desk sergeants. “Uh, Detective Starsky,” he said tentatively, “you might want to check in with your partner.”

 

“Something wrong?” Starsky asked, loading a new clip into his Beretta.

 

“He doesn’t know where you are. I just cancelled an APB on you.”

 

“What? Why the hell would there be an APB out on me? I called and left him a message this morning.” Starsky quickly gathered his things.

 

“I don’t know about that, but I heard the squawk on the radio and cancelled it. Maybe he didn’t get the message.”

 

He was too angry to talk to his partner over the open radio. “Call over there and tell him I’m on my way, will ya?” Starsky stalked out of the building.

 

The entire morning had been a fiasco. Starsky got little sleep after he yelled at Hutch and hung up on him. He overslept and was almost out the door when the phone rang. The officer in charge of scheduling qualifying time on the firing range had made a mistake. Starsky thought he was supposed to go the following week, but this morning, the sergeant told him he was required that day. He had been too busy to get there for his regular practice sessions and to qualify before this. In his haste, he’d spilled his box of bullets and had to shove them into his pockets while he called and left a message with Mildred to tell Hutch he’d be very late. He would have to do several things down at the range and knew he wouldn’t make it to the station before nine. The schedule was so messed up, he had to wait a long time and didn’t finish until after that.

 

When he turned the Torino into the parking garage, Starsky saw that Hutch was waiting for him and he didn’t look happy. Livid might cover it. Great. Just what I need.

 

Rather than get out, he pulled up next to Hutch and said, “Get in.”

 

Hutch complied. Both men sat and steamed for several minutes as Starsky drove until he found a parking lot to pull into where they could discuss things. After a long silence, Hutch turned and looked at Starsky, who spoke first.

 

“What the hell are you thinking putting an APB out on me?” he asked coldly.

 

“What the hell am I thinking? Where were you and why didn’t you let me know where you’d be?” Hutch shouted.

 

“I did!” Starsky raised his voice to the same level. Lowering it a few decibels, he added, “I told Mildred they fucked up my qualifying time at the range. I had to go this morning. Didn’t she give you the message?”

 

“She’s sick. No.” Hutch was shaking he was so mad. He fought to get his temper under control and said, “I was scared shitless. I went to your apartment looking for you and found the bullets all over. Anderson and his partner went with me. They thought... Did you see them out on the coast road last night?”

 

“What? Can’t I do ANYTHING without you knowing about it? Dammit, Hutch--”

 

His tirade was interrupted by the radio. A suspect they’d been searching for had just been spotted and was making a run for it on a nearby street. He was wanted for questioning on a murder they were working. His name was Richard Rockland, but everyone called him The Rocket. He was an amateur stock car racer and had a reputation for being the one to call if you needed a good wheel man. Starsky grabbed the mike and informed Dispatch they were joining the pursuit.

 

“Let someone else get him,” Hutch growled when Starsky yanked the Torino out onto the street.

 

“He’s ours,” Starsky replied, hitting the switch for the siren.

 

Hutch put the light on the roof and then needed both hands to hold on in fear of his life. Starsky wasn’t just one of the best marksmen in the department, he was also one of the best drivers. His skill behind the wheel was as much responsible for the fact that he usually drove, as was his faster, more reliable car. Hutch wasn’t often frightened by his driving, but today was an exception.

 

“Slow down!” he yelled. His face was pale and the car’s forward momentum pasted him to the passenger seat.

 

“No way, we’re gonna nail this guy. He can tell us who the trigger man was on Travis,” he said as if Hutch didn’t know that.

 

“I know, but do we need to DIE catching him? He probably was just the wheel man!”

 

Starsky ignored him, weaving in and out of traffic and darting around vehicles that were stopped in his way. At one point, he bounced into an alley and then onto a, thankfully, empty sidewalk. He was two blocks from the suspect’s last broadcast location.

 

“Starsky, slow down,” Hutch pleaded.

 

The Torino narrowly avoided a collision with a city bus and spun around in a circle in an intersection while traffic squealed to a stop around them. Starsky recovered, took off again, and only slowed down a little when the radio announced the suspect was in custody. He braked hard to a stop beside two squad cars, seeing The Rocket spread eagle on the hood of one as the uniformed officer read him his rights.

 

Starsky moved to get out of the car, but Hutch pinned him to his seat with a glance. “Stay here,” he commanded. Then he exited the car to speak with the other officer.

 

While he was gone, Starsky sat and stared at the ground, letting the adrenaline wash over him and breathing hard. This is ridiculous. It’s not Hutch’s fault. I would have been just as frantic. What’s wrong with me? He’s my best friend, so why am I acting like such a shit? Gotta get out of here and get my head on straight. How the hell can I face him like this?

 

Hutch walked up next to Starsky several minutes later and Starsky looked up at him and shook his head. “Log me out,” he said in as flat a tone as Hutch had ever heard.

 

“What?” Hutch asked, not sure he’d heard what he’d heard.

 

“I’ve gotta go,” Starsky said. “Need to think. Please, Hutch. Just log me out.”

 

Before Hutch could react, Starsky revved the engine, put the car in gear, and was laying down rubber as he sped from the scene.

 

Hutch stared after the retreating vehicle, feeling his jaw actually drop at the sight of Starsky driving away from him.

 

"Sarge?" Randy Brett, one of the uniformed officers, was at his elbow. "Everything all right?"

 

"No," Hutch said, keeping his anger and dismay in check with an effort. "It's not. My partner just drove off and left me stranded here."

 

"Huh?" Brett looked after the Torino, though it was long out of sight by now. "What'd he do that for?"

 

"I don't know," Hutch said evenly, "but I'm gonna kill him when I catch up."

 

Brett grinned. "No shit. That sucks. Can we give you a lift back to the station?"

 

"What about -- " Hutch gestured toward the prisoner.

 

"Aw, the other guys can handle him," Brett said. "C'mon. Or do you need a ride home?"

 

"No, my car's at the station," Hutch said. "I appreciate this."

 

"Hey, anything for a brother officer," Brett said, still grinning. "You and Starsky have a spat or something? Or do you want me to shut up?"

 

That made Hutch smile in spite of his distress. "Something like that. I'll handle it."

 

"Sure." Brett opened the back door of the squad so Hutch could get in and then got in on the passenger side. "We're giving the sarge here a ride back to the station," he said to his partner. "Starsky had something to take care of."

 

Winslow, Brett's partner, raised one eyebrow, but didn't comment other than to say, "Okay."

 

Hutch settled back into the seat and stared out the window, trying to decide what he should do now.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky drove blindly until he was on the outskirts of town, his temples pounding and his mouth dry. What had made him do that? What was going to pull him out of this?

 

He spotted a little roadside bar and grill and impulsively pulled over. What he needed right now was a beer. Several beers. In fact, he just might get shit-faced drunk.

 

As he walked in, the dimness blinded him for a few minutes, but when he could see again, he realized the place was all but deserted. A couple of die-hard drunks were holding up the bar, a young couple -- too young to drink, if he was any judge -- were in a corner booth having a low-voiced argument, and a handful of bikers were playing pool. Starsky took a stool at the far end of the bar, and when the bartender ambled over to ask what he wanted, said, "Bud."

 

He opened the bottle the bartender set in front of him and dug the money out of his pocket. He glanced down at the bills in his hand. Should be enough to do the trick.

 

He sipped the beer and watched while the early afternoon news played on the TV over the bar. The sound was on low, and most of the stories just bored him, until he saw footage of a man on a stretcher being carried through some underbrush. "Hey, turn that up, will ya?" he said to the bartender.

 

"...Price suffered a broken leg and is battling pneumonia from his night in the woods," the reporter was saying. "Doctors say he can expect a full recovery, but if he hadn't been found when he was, the ending might not have been a happy one. Rock climbing experts at the University of California warn other climbers that you should always make sure someone knows where you are, and it's far safer to go climbing in pairs than it is to go alone. Back to you, Chris."

 

"Dumb fuck," Starsky said to no one in particular. "Go out and get himself in a mess like that."

 

"Them rock climbers is independent types," one of the bikers said with a grin as he came up to the bar for a fresh beer. "Rugged individualists. Ever been rock climbing?"

 

Starsky shook his head and finished his beer, signaling the bartender for another one. "Nope. Not an outdoorsy type."

 

"I have." The biker popped the top off his bottle and lit a cigarette. "Kind of fun, actually. You against the mountain. Good way to clear your head."

 

"Thought that's what you rode bikes for."

 

The guy shrugged. "Sure. But riding, you always gotta keep an eye on the fuckin' cars, man. Can't relax. Some asshole always pullin' out in front of ya or tryin' to take your lane." He gave a mock salute with his bottle and headed back to the pool table.

 

Starsky drank his second beer as the news gave way to a game show. One of the drunks stumbled out the door, weaving, and Starsky wondered, very briefly, if he ought to make like a police officer and try to stop the guy from driving in that condition. But he just didn't care enough. To hell with him. Let him wrap his car around a telephone pole.

 

He ordered a third beer. By now he ought to be feeling something, getting a little buzz. He hadn't eaten all day. But he wasn't. Not even a little bit. He tipped the bottle back and guzzled about half of it all at once.

 

"Hey, nobody told me there was a beer-drinking contest tonight," the same biker said, coming back for another beer.

 

"There ain't," Starsky said shortly, trying to convey that he didn't want to be friendly.

 

"You never can get drunk when you really want to," the biker said. "Never fails. But I wish you luck anyway." He went away again.

 

Starsky stared down the neck of his bottle glumly. The biker was right. He wasn't going to get drunk. But he wasn't going to go home, either. Hutch would be looking for him and he was going to be pissed and worried and wanting to grill Starsky to find out what was wrong and Starsky just wasn't in the mood for that.

 

He finished his beer and rose to go.

 

"Have a good one, man," the biker called after him, but Starsky ignored him. He drove away, looking for a liquor store, and finally found one a few miles up the road. He bought a six-pack and got back in the car. He had no clear destination in mind, but beer would be a welcome companion, wherever he was going.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch waved at Brett and Winslow as they drove away to finish their tour and walked into the station. As he waited for the elevator, he debated how much to tell Dobey. It was no longer a question of whether to talk to their captain. He had to talk to him. But he didn't know how much detail was necessary.

 

He had to wait a few minutes because Dobey was on the phone, roaring at someone. When he finally hung up, Hutch poked his head just inside the door and said, "Captain? I need a few minutes."

 

"I was wondering if you were ever going to say that," Dobey said gruffly, motioning to the chair in front of his desk.

 

Hutch came in and shut the door and sat down, but kept his eyes on the carpet, trying to decide how to begin.

 

"I know Starsky's acting weird," Dobey said, still gruffly. "So you can skip that part."

 

Hutch shook his head. "I don't know if you do, really," he said, looking up and meeting Dobey's eyes. "He just now drove off and left me in the street. I had to catch a ride with Brett and Winslow. Last night he hung up on me. He keeps doing stupid, dangerous shit. I'm scared, Cap. Seriously scared."

 

"You think I need to pull his badge and gun?"

 

Hutch sighed and threw his head back. "I don't know. I don't think he needs to be on the street. But suspending him -- " He lifted his head again. "You'd have to call it a psych suspension, wouldn't you?"

 

"Should I?" Dobey asked very low.

 

"I don't know," Hutch repeated. "I hope not. God, I hope not."

 

Dobey considered in silence, rubbing his head absently and staring into space. "We could try calling it a medical leave. Say he's not healed up yet from the kidnapping injuries. See how that goes and if we have to .... " He stopped.

 

Hutch nodded. "I appreciate this, Cap."

 

Dobey made a vague gesture. "Starsky's a good cop. He's just having a -- a problem right now."

 

"Let me tell him," Hutch said. "He's liable to blow if you do."

 

"Sure, sure. You tell him. I'll be home all evening, though, if you need .... " Dobey stopped again.

 

Hutch nodded. He knew what Dobey meant. "Thanks." He left the room.

 

But he couldn't find Starsky. He either wasn't answering his phone and the radio in the car, or he was out of range. And Hutch didn't like thinking about what that might mean.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky drove further out of town, drinking a beer on the way. He knew that was illegal and that if a conscientious deputy happened to see him, his badge wouldn't save him, but he just didn't give a shit. He drove for about an hour before he saw a sign pointing to Spitler State Park.

 

That was where the rock climber had been, the one he'd seen on the news.

 

"What the fuck," Starsky said and turned in. He drove around in the park until he saw a place to leave the car and pulled up. Picking up the four beers left in his paper bag and getting his flashlight out of the glove compartment, he started up the nearest hiking trail. He'd only taken a few steps when the banging of his gun against his ribs annoyed him. Not due to the weight, but what it stood for. He didn't stop to think about it. He just turned around and unlocked his trunk, tossing the gun in on top of the jumper cables. He wouldn't need it. As he was putting it in the trunk, a thought struck him. He'd dropped his flashlight at the old zoo. How had it gotten back into his glove box? He frowned. There was only one way. Hutch had been out to the old zoo, too, and had found and returned it without saying anything. He'd have to talk to him about that.

 

The trail was wide and well-marked and Starsky had no trouble, except it was a beautiful day and there were a lot of other people who'd had the same idea. He didn't want to be around people. He saw another, smaller trail to his left and veered off that way and in about half an hour he found himself face to face with a rock formation that was at least three or four stories high. There were small indentations here and there along its face and he guessed this must be one of the sites where people went rock climbing.

 

It wasn't that steep, and the indentations were close together. Starsky stood and looked at it for a long time, considering. It didn't look that hard. He leaned down and put the beer and the flashlight on the ground so his hands would be free and started working his way up the rock.

 

It was easy. He was surprised at how easy it was. He climbed for several minutes before he stopped for a break and cast a glance down.

 

Shit. I'm pretty far up.

 

He felt just a little flutter of fear at the height, but it passed almost immediately. He turned around and kept going. He was doing fine until he was within sight of the top and suddenly the hand and foot holds were too far apart to reach. His arms trembled with fatigue, and his bad ankle had been screaming agony at him for quite a while.

 

Okay. I tried it. Now I'm going back down.

 

Except going back down wasn't as easy as going up. He couldn't see the indentations from this angle, and had to feel with feet and hands to find them. His arms and shoulders were aching by now, and holding on in between movements down was becoming almost impossible.

 

Finally, he reached for a foot hold and lost his grip. He tumbled and slid down the incline, scratching and scraping all his exposed skin, until he hit an outcropping and flew off, landing hard on the rocky ground a moment later. Everything went dark.

 

~*~*~*~

 

By eleven o'clock that night, Hutch was frantic. He'd checked every bar they ever went to, called everyone he could think of, and still he couldn't find Starsky. He'd been to Starsky's apartment and there was no sign he'd been back there that day.

 

He hated to do it, but he called Dobey. "I can't find him."

 

"Missing officer?" Dobey asked, his voice groggy with sleep.

 

"Not yet. He'd kill me. Can we just quietly noise it around the patrol cars to keep an eye out for him?"

 

Dobey considered that. "All right. I'll call the night watch commander. But if you haven't located him by tomorrow ... "

 

"I understand," Hutch said. He hung up and went back out to his car. He wasn't ready to give up yet.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Starsky came to, it was dark and it was cold. He shivered, and reached up to touch the sore spot on the back of his head. He couldn't see in the dark, but by the feel, there was no blood, just a bump. He started to roll over and stand and an agonizing pain shot through his left leg.

 

He froze, then gently reached down and felt it. When he got to his knee, he found the kneecap had slipped off and was sickeningly off center. He sank back with a moan.

 

Shit. This is a cluster fuck if I ever saw one.

 

He was far off the path and hadn't heard any voices while he'd been climbing. No one knew where he was. How the hell was he going to get out of this one? As if his knee wasn’t bad enough, he knew he probably had a concussion. He’d lost consciousness for an unknown time, he was dizzy, and the universe was spinning just a little. To complete the picture, if the smell surrounding him and the horrible taste in his mouth were any indication, he’d thrown up while he was out cold. His throat burned and he wanted water worse than any time he could remember. Of course, he didn’t have any.

 

“Terrific.”

 

Starsky sat pondering what to do while he waited to gather enough courage for an attempt at popping his dislocated kneecap back into place. He knew it might be a bad idea to mess with it, but even in Southern California, the January night temperatures were low. Freezing or falling into a coma from a concussion were unpleasant alternatives. At least the pain should keep me awake.

 

As a teenager, Starsky knew a kid who had a genetic defect that sometimes caused his knee to dislocate. He had helped his friend on several occasions and felt confident he knew what to do. Basically.

 

Starsky successfully realigned his kneecap and spent a few minutes lying on the ground, trying to recover from the pain and hold onto what little remained in his stomach. He knew he couldn’t stay there long with the cold dirt sapping more of his body heat. His only choice was to try to hike back out to the car. I hope it’s closer than I think it is. The flashlight would be a big help and he desperately needed something to drink. He knew about where the beers and flashlight had to be, so he rolled over on his better side and started to drag himself in that direction. Within a few minutes, he found them. The night was cold enough that the beer was chilled. He sat drinking part of one slowly, knowing it was a terrible idea to drink alcohol in his state, but also desperate for something to take away the horrible taste in his mouth.

 

“Nothing to do but try it,” he said, putting down the can and preparing to stand.

 

Using a boulder for leverage, he braced himself and struggled to his feet. He leaned back on the rock, panting from the pain and exertion and waited for the spots to clear from his fuzzy vision. Hope I don’t wind up face down on the ground.

 

The half hour long hike he took to get to his climbing spot took considerably longer on the return trip. His leg wasn’t too interested in bearing his weight, but he forced it. He was shivering almost uncontrollably, and he couldn’t understand why the exertion seemed to make him feel colder. He stopped to rest several times, using his sleeve to dry the perspiration from his face. His clothes were damp and he was completely miserable. What a dumb shit. Hutch is going to kill me if I don’t die out here first. Damn. The pain was so horrendous, he stopped to crawl around and find something he could use as a cane to help take some of the pressure off the injured leg.

 

When he finally reached the trailhead, he felt relieved. The Torino couldn’t be far. He stopped for one last rest, nervously listening to the sound of coyotes in the not-nearly-distant-enough distance. He was grateful that he had his flashlight, although the batteries were dying in it. A rustling in the brush to his right had him instantly aiming the weak light beam in that direction. His heart started to race as he imagined what it could be. Bears. Shit, don’t we have bears out here? Please, not that. He jumped in fear when his flashlight glinted off a pair of beady, red eyes, low to the ground.

 

“FUCK!” he shouted as he scooted back against a rock, trying to take some cover. The critter wasn’t doing much better. Starsky realized it was a large raccoon as soon as it turned tail and darted away from him. He sat with his breath coming in shallow pants. When he’d recovered a bit, he started laughing at the ridiculousness of his situation. Painful coughing soon followed the laughter. Shit, I’m in trouble. Gotta get to the car. I can sure feel now. Scared shitless and stupid.

 

When he reached the Torino, Starsky realized he wasn’t going to be able to drive. He was seeing two of everything and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to bend his leg enough to sit in the driver’s seat even if he could see straight. He was also aware that his thinking was becoming increasingly slow and muddled.

 

The radio confirmed his suspicion that he was too far out of range to call in on that. This is a state park. Maybe they have a ranger station somewhere. Starsky got into the trunk and retrieved his gun and a blanket. After firing some signal shots, he put on his holster, stuffed the gun into it, and got into the car with the blanket to wait. Fortunately, he was correct. The park did have a ranger station.

 

Only one ranger was on duty at a time during the winter months. Darren Matheson drove down the road to investigate the shots he’d heard and found the red car parked near the hiking trails. He quickly discovered Starsky lying across the front seat.

 

“Hey,” he said as he tried to gently wake Starsky. He had fallen asleep soon after he got into the car. “Wake up, mister, do you need help?” Matheson spotted the police band radio and realized this was probably an undercover police car.

 

Starsky was shivering worse than ever and his skin felt cold to the touch. He opened his eyes and looked at what appeared to be identical twin strangers staring down at him. He woke up in worse shape and he couldn’t think straight. Everything he said sounded slurred and he seemed disoriented.

 

“Help?” he repeated, obviously confused. Then, his face showed some recognition and he said, “Need help.”

 

“Can you stand? We need to get you out of the cold.”

 

“Yeah, cold.”

 

“Are you hurt?”

 

“Hurt. Gotta call Hutch.”

 

“Sure, pal, we’ll call someone. Let’s get you into my truck where it’s already warm.”

 

“Call Hutch. I wanna go home,” Starsky pleaded in a slowly paced, low tone of voice.

 

The ranger ignored that, gently helping his rescue victim into the warm truck cab. He was careful not to jar him too much, but when Starsky immediately lapsed into unconsciousness again, he decided he’d better take him straight to the nearest emergency room, only thirty minutes from the park. Before rescue services could scramble either an ambulance or a helicopter, he could have Starsky in a treatment room. He quickly searched Starsky’s pockets and retrieved his wallet and badge. He would call the BCPD from the hospital. Matheson was unable to rouse Starsky on the trip to the hospital. The best he could do was to make sure the injured man was still breathing and keep the truck warm.

 

Matheson parked in the ambulance bay and rushed inside to get help. As a nurse walked toward him, he pointed back over his shoulder with his thumb and said, “I’ve got an injured cop in my truck. He’s out cold and possibly hypothermic.” The next few minutes of frantic activity resulted in Starsky being whisked into a treatment room, leaving Darren Matheson standing alone in the waiting room. He had already given the staff Starsky’s name and demographic information. At this hour, the hospital had no one to spare to make phone calls in the midst of emergency treatment. He told them he would call some of the contacts in Starsky’s wallet, starting with the Bay City PD.

 

~*~*~*~

 

At five in the morning, Hutch was in the old civic zoo, walking away from the Sun Bear enclosure where he’d found Starsky’s flashlight. He’d looked all over the area, but seen no sign that his partner had been there again. He wondered if Starsky had found the flashlight, which he had quietly returned to the Torino’s glove box. Aw, where are you?

 

Hutch hastened his steps when he heard the radio in the LTD. A call he couldn’t quite make out, a pause, and a repeat. The dispatchers knew Hutch was looking for his partner. Dobey told them, in addition to the watch commanders.

 

“Zebra Three, come in, please.”

 

Grabbing the mike, Hutch said, “Zebra Three, go ahead.”

 

“Your missing item has been found.” The dispatcher didn’t want to say too much on the open air. The relieved tone in her voice put Hutch somewhat at ease.

 

“Where?”

 

“County Hospital on the old state highway. Near Spitler Park. See State Park Ranger Darren Matheson. He’s waiting for you in the ER.”

 

Hutch knew where that was. “Any word on his condition?”

 

“Sorry.”

 

He’d have to accept that. “Call Captain Dobey and tell him where I’m going.”

 

“Roger. Good luck, Hutch.”

 

“Thanks. Zebra Three out.”

 

Before the radio call, Hutch was running on fumes. Previously as tired as he had been the morning after Starsky was kidnapped from the courthouse, adrenaline now gave him the energy burst he needed. On the way to the rural hospital, he swore he was going to throttle Starsky as soon as he was sure he was going to be all right. His worry, fear, and anger all battled for time in his thoughts. He was determined to help, and had no intention of allowing Starsky to continue to shut him out of what was happening to him.

 

Hutch ran into the emergency room just as dawn was breaking. Matheson was waiting for him.

 

“Darren Matheson,” he said, extending his hand. “You must be Hutch.”

 

Hutch shook his hand. “Detective Ken Hutchinson. Starsky is my partner. Did you find him?”

 

“Yes. I found him collapsed in the front of his car.”

 

“Collapsed? Do you know what happened to him?” Hutch asked worriedly.

 

“Based on his condition and where I found him, I’d say he fell while rock climbing and managed to get back to his car. He fired his gun to signal for help and I found him.”

 

Hutch was stunned. “Rock climbing? You’ve got to be kidding me. Rock climbing?”

 

Matheson nodded. “I’d say. He was pretty banged up and cold. I got him to come around, but he was out again by the time I got him into my truck for the ride here.”

 

“No ambulance?”

 

“I didn’t want to take the time. He seemed in pretty bad shape and I knew I could get him here before anyone could get to us.”

 

A nurse stepped out into the waiting room. “Are you here for Mr. Starsky?”

 

“Yes, he’s my partner. We’re Bay City police detectives.”

 

“Yes, sir. Please come with me.”

 

Hutch thanked Matheson and followed the nurse into the treatment area. He could hear Starsky moaning, “No, leave me alone,” and quietly calling, “Hutch. Get Hutch.” One look at his bruised, restless friend dissipated Hutch’s anger. He was immediately upset to see they had his partner in restraints.

 

“What’s going on here?” he asked as a doctor looked up from listening to Starsky’s chest with his stethoscope.

 

“I’m Dr. Randolph,” he said.

 

Hutch pushed past a nurse and reached out to touch Starsky on the shoulder. “Hey, I’m here, buddy. Take it easy.”

 

Starsky looked up at him and blinked. He was having trouble focusing. “Hutch?” He opened and closed his hand a few times and Hutch grasped it, then used his other hand to touch Starsky’s hair.

 

“Yeah, it’s me. Shhhh. Just relax.”

 

He turned to the doctor and demanded, “Release his hands or I will.”

 

Dr. Randolph shook his head, but didn’t rise to the bait. “I’m sorry we had to restrain him, but he was quite combative just before you arrived. He has a head injury and I can’t sedate him just yet. We were hoping if you could be found, maybe you could calm him down. He needs to be quiet.”

 

Hutch nodded, trying to let go of his anger. He redirected his attention to the patient, speaking to him soothingly while the doctor and nurses performed the necessary tasks to get him stabilized and on his way to a room.

 

“You need to calm down, buddy. Try to relax.”

 

“Hutch? What happened?”

 

“Sh. Just relax. You’re in the hospital and you’re going to be just fine.” He looked up at the doctor when he said that, hoping for a confirmation and not getting one.

 

“How?”

 

“They say you fell. Dispatch called me, now I want you to be quiet. The sooner you settle down, the sooner they’ll take off these wrist restraints. Do you understand me, buddy?”

 

Starsky nodded. He stopped moving, but he squeezed Hutch’s hand hard.

 

“Try to sleep. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Over the next few minutes, Starsky’s eyes dropped shut and his grip slowly went slack. He knew he could relax. Hutch would take care of things. He was safe.

 

When they were all sure Starsky was asleep, Dr. Randolph pulled Hutch aside to explain Starsky’s condition. “First, I think he’s going to be all right, but I’m listing his condition as guarded. We think he took a bad tumble up in the foothills. He presented with a slight concussion and, fortunately, a minor case of hypothermia. We’ve been working on warming him up and that’s when he started to resist us.”

 

Hutch interrupted. “What are his injuries?”

 

“Other than the concussion and hypothermia, he has a dislocated knee. He must have popped it back in himself. Doing that had to have been unbelievably painful. He’s lucky he didn’t just pass out and die from exposure.

 

“When we started to treat the knee injury, he really fought us. That’s why we had to use the wrist restraints. Kept muttering something about freaks and a bear. That is when he wasn’t calling for you. He was trying to pull his IV and he took a swing at me.” Randolph chuckled at that. “In his current condition, I’m afraid he wasn’t very effective. He’ll be here for a few days. In addition to the variety of bumps, scrapes, and contusions, he has pneumonia forming in his lungs.”

 

“Pneumonia? He was fine yesterday.”

 

“He was probably knocked out by the fall. I think he vomited and aspirated some of it into his lungs while he was unconscious. The knee isn’t too bad. We’ll treat that and, with luck, he won’t need any surgical repairs.”

 

Sighing with a combination of relief and concern, Hutch asked, “What about the head injury? Is that going to be all right?”

 

The doctor nodded. “We’ll monitor that closely, but there was no fracture. He has a nasty bump on his head, but his pupils are equal and reactive and he scored all right on the coma scale. He’s disoriented right now, but that’s not uncommon for hypothermic patients. He probably exacerbated that by exerting himself trying to hike out to his car. The exercise forced cold blood from his extremities into his body core.

 

“The pneumonia is chemical, not bacterial, but I’m going to put him on a prophylactic dose of antibiotics just to be cautious. As soon as his head injury is cleared, I’ll sedate him. It’s extremely important that he remain calm to avoid any cardiac complications from the hypothermia. Can you help keep him that way until we can put him out?”

 

“I’ll see to it. Do you really think he’ll be okay?”

 

“If all goes well, he should be able to go home in a few days. I understand you’re police officers. No active duty for him for a couple of weeks post-discharge. Sit with him for a while, okay? I’m going to finish up and have him taken to a room.”

 

“Thanks, Doc.” Hutch sat down on a stool next to the treatment bed and gazed down at Starsky's sleeping face. Now you need me. Now you're acting normal. Does this mean whatever's been wrong is behind us?

 

Hutch hated to think it took a crisis like this to pull Starsky out of it, but maybe that was the only thing that would have.

 

"What the hell made you go rock climbing?" Hutch asked softly, expecting no response and getting none. "You hate stuff like that."

 

But when he really thought about it, everything Starsky had been doing the last few days was out of character. Risking his life. Pulling stupid stunts. Not caring about that poor dead little girl. Maybe the rock climbing had been another way to risk his fool neck.

 

Aw, hell.

 

Hutch realized how much Starsky had risked his safety lately. As if he ... wanted to die. Or at least, as if he didn't care whether he died.

 

Buddy, are you trying to kill yourself? Why?

 

Starsky mumbled something in his sleep and finally opened his eyes, groggy. "Hush," he slurred.

 

"Hi," Hutch said, striving for a smile and a normal tone. "How do you feel?"

 

"Hmm?" Starsky tried to focus his eyes but clearly failed. He finally closed them again. "Wha' hap'n'd?"

 

"You fell off a rock formation, I think," Hutch said, patiently repeating what he'd already told him. He was obviously out of it. "Knocked your fool head and threw your knee out, too. Remember?"

 

"Oh, yeah," Starsky started to nod, but the movement hurt and he winced. "Shit, my head hurts."

 

"I'll bet." The orderlies came in with a gurney and Hutch stood to get out of the way. "They're taking you to a room, Starsk. Will you behave? I gotta call in."

 

"Yeah," Starsky said. "Sorry."

 

Hutch watched as they put him on the gurney and took him away. Then he went to find a phone. But he didn't call Dobey. He called Loren Hunt.

 

An hour later, after making sure Starsky was settled and out for the night, Hutch met Loren at an all-night coffee shop. In a low voice, he told him what had happened. Everything that had happened.

 

Loren didn't speak until he had finished. "I see," he said quietly, stirring his coffee and frowning thoughtfully.

 

Hutch waited, and when Loren didn't say any more, he got impatient. "Well?" he demanded. "What should I do? Tell our captain? He'd yank his badge and gun and Starsky'd never forgive me."

 

"I have an idea," Loren said. "I don't know if it'll work, though."

 

"What?" Hutch felt a flicker of hope.

 

"Think he'd let me hypnotize him?"

 

Hutch stared at him blankly. "What? Why?"

 

"Sometimes when we've been through very upsetting situations, we suppress the fear and the emotion and sometimes even the memory of the situation," Loren said. "It happens in child abuse cases particularly often. The child can't handle the reality that Mommy or Daddy or Uncle Bob could hurt him and he simply refuses to deal with it."

 

"Starsky's not a child," Hutch said, annoyed.

 

"No, of course not. But it's a similar situation. He was helpless, and if there's one thing David Starsky hates, it's being helpless," Loren said.

 

Hutch had to admit the truth of that.

 

"It's possible that his brain simply overloaded and shut down, like a hot engine," Loren said. "His emotions were in turmoil and he couldn't control them and they just ... stopped."

 

"That sounds like it," Hutch said.

 

"If we hypnotize him, lead him through the experience, give him back the control he lost, maybe he can handle it, and he'll be okay," Loren said. "If not -- " He paused and shook his head. "Taking his badge and gun would be a kindness."

 

"He won't see it that way."

 

"Hutch," Loren leaned forward, "if this doesn't work, losing his badge and gun is the least of his worries. He might require ... residential treatment."

 

"You mean a funny farm," Hutch said angrily. "He'll never go for that."

 

"He might not have a choice," Loren said gently. "Involuntary commitment."

 

"I won't allow that," Hutch snapped.

 

"Take it easy. It's a remote possibility. Let's try this, and if it works, we don't have to worry about the next step. Okay?"

 

A few days later, when Starsky was almost well enough to leave the hospital, Hutch broached the idea.

 

Starsky bit his lower lip and looked away for several moments. Hutch let him think undisturbed, and finally he turned back toward him. "I'll do it," he said, but something in his tone tore at Hutch's heart. It was the same kind of tone he'd used when he'd told Hutch how sorry he was he’d had to kill a young robbery suspect, even though the boy was drawing down on him.

 

Hutch wanted to touch his leg or his arm, but he held back. Starsky had a sort of fragile air about him and Hutch was afraid to push too much too soon. "I'll tell Loren," he said, as gently as he dared.

 

Loren wanted to get the session scheduled as quickly as possible, so when Hutch called him with the news that Starsky was willing to go through with it, he suggested an evening a couple of days later. "We don't want to give him time to change his mind," he said.

 

"I don't think he will," Hutch replied, but he agreed that the sooner they got this over with, the better.

 

Starsky was visibly nervous as they pulled up to Loren's office after hours. The curls on his forehead were damp with perspiration and he couldn't sit still.

 

"It won't hurt, Starsk," Hutch reassured him.

 

"I don't like the idea of somebody messin' with my mind," Starsky said.

 

"He won't mess with it," Hutch said. "He's just going to help you deal with the experience."

 

"I've seen hypnotism in the movies," Starsky said darkly. "He's gonna make me relive the whole fuckin' thing."

 

Hutch didn't know what to say to that, because he knew Starsky was probably right.

 

Loren welcomed them warmly and gave each of them a cup of good coffee -- gourmet, if Hutch was any judge -- and then just seemed to want to talk for a while. He asked Starsky all about his misadventure in the state park, about the dead child and the grenade-throwing perp, and what he thought about each incident. Then he pulled out the zinger.

 

"When did you quit feeling, Dave?"

 

Starsky almost dropped his coffee cup and his face got very pale.

 

"Tell him, Starsk," Hutch said quietly.

 

"I don't know," Starsky said after a long silence. "At some point, I just did."

 

Loren nodded. "Okay. Good enough. Why don't you come over here and lie down on the couch and we'll get started?"

 

Starsky cast a look at Hutch, but he got up and obeyed. He lay down and folded his hands over his stomach, his eyes fixed on Loren nervously.

 

"It won't hurt, Dave," Loren said with a smile. "Now, I want you to try to relax. Just think about something pleasant." He pulled a pendulum on a chain out of his pocket. Starsky's gaze switched to it with a slight frown. "It's merely a tool," Loren said. "Watch the pendulum." He began to swing it gently back and forth. "You're feeling very relaxed now, comfortable and warm and a little sleepy. Give in to it. Your eyelids are getting heavy. If you want to close them, it's okay."

 

Starsky fought against it a little, but his eyes began to go hazy.

 

"Your body is feeling heavy and tired," Loren went on conversationally. "Your eyes are even heavier. You want to sleep."

 

Starsky's eyes drifted shut. Loren continued to speak in his soothing voice.  Within a few minutes, Starsky’s body looked completely relaxed, almost like he was sleeping.  He was ready.

 

"I'm going to count backward from five," Loren said. "When I reach one, you will be completely, soundly asleep, but you will be able to hear and respond when I speak to you. But only when I speak to you. Five. Four. Three. Two ... one." To Hutch, he said, "Say something to him."

 

"Starsk? Can you hear me?"

 

Starsky never moved even an eyelash.

 

"Okay, he's out," Loren said. "David, I want you to tell me about falling and hurting your knee the other day. What happened?"

 

"I was just out driving around," Starsky responded in a normal, though slightly dreamy, voice. "I was trying to figure out what's wrong with me. I got some beers in a small town and I was driving along drinking them .... "

 

Hutch opened his mouth, but a look from Loren made him think better of it.

 

"... and I passed a sign for a state park," Starsky went on without a break, "so I went in. And I was walking along a path, but there were too many other people, so I took off down this little trail and I saw this big rock thing and it had depressions in it, so I started to climb it."

 

Loren glanced at Hutch. "Why?"

 

"Because I saw a story on the news about a guy doing it and I figured what the hell," Starsky said.

 

"Okay, then what?"

 

"I got up close to the top without any hassle, but then I couldn't reach the rest of the depressions, so I started back down, and I lost my grip and fell," Starsky said. "Musta knocked myself out, 'cause next thing I knew I was wakin' up and it was dark and my knee -- "

 

"What about your knee?" Loren prompted him.

 

"Well, my kneecap was all off center," Starsky said with a grimace. "Hurt like a motherfucker. I wasn't getting home like that, and nobody was close enough to hear me yell, so I put it back."

 

Hutch shuddered.

 

"Bet that hurt even worse," Loren said.

 

"Did."

 

"All right, David, let's go back a bit further now, to the dead child. Remember that? Let's walk through that, and I want you to actually go there in your mind. I want you to be there and live it again. Begin with arriving at the house."

 

Something subtly changed on Starsky's face; it got a little harder, a little more angry. "There's already four cops here, I don't know what the fuck we need to be here for. I can see it's bad from the way the woman's cryin' on the porch and the looks on the other cops' faces. Then I ask 'em the deal and they tell me the asshole killed his own kid. So we go in and there's this little lump on the floor under a sheet, so I go peek under it and the kid's whole head's gone. Hutch is freaked, I mean, really freaked, but I just can't do nothin' about that. Can't even say it's a shame, but it is. It's a cryin' shame that poor kid got stuck with an asshole for a father. He ain't no dad, I can tell ya that. Dads tuck you in and teach you to ride a bike. But for some reason, I can't say that. I'm just not there."

 

"How do you think your attitude affected Hutch?"

 

"Aw, it fucked with him. He was freaked and I was an ice cube. But I couldn't help it."

 

"All right, David, now I want to go back to the zoo when the cult had you. Tell me what is happening at the zoo."

 

Again, Starsky's face changed, and now he was terrified but resolute. "Gail ... she seems like a nice girl, but the freaks have her under control. She gives me a drink, but it's poisoned and makes my gut feel like it's on fire, like the worst case of diarrhea I ever had."

 

"Then what?"

 

"They're gonna kill me. They got me strung up like a sacrifice and they're gonna kill me. They all got knives and cleavers and chains and they're chanting 'Simone, Simone' and they're gonna kill me. No, Gail. No, Gail! You don't have to do this! Gail, help me!"

 

Hutch half rose from his seat, and Loren waved him back, shaking his head.

 

"David, look. Gail is listening to you. Gail is going to stop them from killing you. She's cutting the rope. She's letting you go. And now Hutch is there, and he rescues you."

 

"Yeah," Starsky's voice quieted. "Hutch! You came! I knew you'd come! Oh, God ... " His voice shook and even through his closed eyes, tears fell, but he was laughing, too. "You came, Hutch. You found me."

 

"David, I want you to tell me how you feel."

 

"Relieved. Happy. It's okay now. Hutch is here."

 

"Are you afraid?"

 

"No, not now. I was, though. I thought I was gonna die and Hutch'd never know where to look for the body."

 

"Before that. In the cave. When you were running from the cult members. How do you feel?"

 

"Angry," Starsky said. "Angry and helpless. Nowhere to go. And there's a bear -- " His voice trailed off and his face grew pale. "Where the hell did they get a BEAR? Oh, shit, man, there's a fuckin' BEAR here! Holy shit! I need a weapon .... "

 

"No," Loren said firmly. "You don't need a weapon. He's a tame bear. He won't hurt you. Listen to me, David. He's a tame bear. He's a good bear. He won't hurt you."

 

"He won't hurt me .... "

 

"He's a tame bear."

 

"He's a tame bear." Starsky's voice relaxed. His face smoothed. "He's a good bear. He won't hurt me."

 

"He's walking away from you now."

 

"He's walking away."

 

"He won't hurt you."

 

"He won't hurt me."

 

Loren looked at Hutch. "I think it's time to bring him out of it." He leaned forward. "All right, David, I'm going to count to five slowly. As I count, you'll become more aware. When I reach five, you'll be wide awake and feeling refreshed. One. Two. Three. Four. Five."

 

Starsky opened his eyes and glanced from one to the other. "Well? Are we gonna do this or not?"

 

Both the other men laughed, and Loren leaned closer so he could pat Starsky's arm. "It's all over, Dave. You did fine. How do you feel?"

 

Starsky stretched a little and grinned. "Pretty good, really."

 

"Good. Now, I have an idea. Will you hear me out?"

 

Starsky sat up and nodded. "Sure."

 

"My guess is, the bear was the last straw, not the knives and not Gail," Loren said. "What happened to that bear, anyway?"

 

Hutch shook his head. "I don't know, actually. Some of the freaks got off, so maybe they're taking care of it."

 

"Him," Starsky corrected without thinking.

 

"Him," Hutch repeated obediently, but with a puzzled frown.

 

"Find out," Loren said. "I know of a wildlife rescue organization called Black Beauty Ranch. They take ex-circus animals and such and give them a home where they can live out their lives without fear of abuse or mistreatment. It's run by a group called the Fund for Animals. I think," he turned toward Starsky, "that if you arrange for this group to take that bear and give him a home, you'll take back that control you lost when you thought he was going to kill you. Willing to give it a try?"

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch and there was a little fear in his eyes. Hutch gave an encouraging nod, and finally Starsky said, "Okay."

 

“I need to ask you something important, David.  Do you want Hutch to stay for the rest of our session?”  Starsky had asked Hutch to stay for the hypnosis, but Loren needed to be sure he wanted Hutch there for the rest.

 

“Yes.  He needs to hear.”

 

“You’ve engaged in some reckless behavior since this happened, haven’t you?”

 

Starsky blushed.  “I guess so, but it’s not like I really thought about it.”

 

“No?”

 

“No, I didn’t.”

 

“Why do you suppose you did that?”

 

“I don’t really know.  I just wanted to be able to feel again.  Anything.  I felt so ... turned off.  It was creepy not to be able to care about anything.”

 

“How do you feel now?”

 

“Better.  I guess….” Starsky trailed off as realization dawned and he looked more closely at his inquisitor.  Then, he turned back toward Hutch and saw the pain and concern in his eyes.  “Oh, God, you two think I was trying to kill myself.”

 

“Weren’t you?” Loren asked calmly.

 

Starsky looked shocked.  “No!”  When Loren didn’t change the intensity of his gaze or say anything else, Starsky turned and looked at Hutch. 

 

“You did kind of seem to have a death wish, buddy,” Hutch said.

 

After opening his mouth to protest, Starsky changed his mind and thought about it carefully.  What he said next was important.  “No, Hutch, I swear I didn’t think about it.  I just didn’t care anymore.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”  He looked ashamed as he dropped his eyes to the floor and said, “I’m sorry.  I swear, I didn’t mean it that way.  I didn’t.  I didn’t.”

 

“Do you feel any urge to harm yourself, David?” Loren asked.

 

His head snapped up again as Starsky said, “No.  I swear, I don’t.  I just want things to get back to normal.”

 

Loren pressed him.  “What are you feeling?”

 

He thought about it a moment or two before answering.  “Everything.  Relieved, scared, mad.” He paused and looked up at Hutch.  “Stupid.  I feel pretty stupid.”

 

“I’m the one who should feel stupid, Starsk,” Hutch said reaching out to put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder.  “I should have seen it.  I should have known.”

 

“I didn’t even know, Hutch.  I promise.  I didn’t.”

 

“I believe you,” Hutch replied. Still, he looked troubled about something.  “Starsk,” he started hesitantly, “would you mind if I have a word with Loren alone?”  He understood the frown on Starsky’s face.  “I’ll tell you what we say if you want to know. Please?” 

 

Unable to argue with the sincerity in Hutch’s eyes, Starsky nodded and said, “I’ll go out to the waiting room.”

 

“Before you go, I want you to make me a promise for your safety and our peace of mind.  If you feel like you are in danger of harming yourself, you’ll call your partner or me immediately.”  He pointed at Hutch and added, “If he thinks you’ve done something to put yourself in unnecessary or out-of-kilter danger, you’ll take yourself off the streets at once and call me.  Will you do that?”

 

“I promise.”

 

Hutch sighed with relief.  When the door closed behind his partner, Hutch turned to Loren and said, “That bear was probably the one that killed that kid during the original investigation, Loren.  If they did find him, they probably destroyed him.  Is it okay for him to think that bear wasn’t dangerous?”  He shuddered at the memory.

 

“Even though it wasn’t a tame bear, I thought it would be best to implant that suggestion.  Since the animal is no longer a threat to him, that’s probably best.”

 

“I agree,” Hutch said, “but, what can we give him to help him deal with things as an alternative?  I’m going to help him find out, but doesn’t he need something to help him put things to rest?”

 

Loren nodded.  “What about Gail?  You told me visiting her troubled him the last time.  Is she any better?”

 

“I’ve been so worried about him, I haven’t checked, why?”

 

“Maybe they can help each other.”

 

Hutch agreed that was a good idea and thanked Loren for his help.  “What do we do now?” he asked, almost afraid of the potential answer.  He was still worried about a hospital stay.  “Do you think he’ll be okay?”

 

“I think he’s on the road back from the brink.  He needs your strength.  Encourage him to lean on you.  He’s going to need to see someone.  If he doesn’t want to come here, I’ll make some recommendations.  You know he’ll need to be cleared by the department, too.”

 

“I know.  Do you think this death wish thing is over?  Do I have to worry about him trying to kill himself?”  That frightening prospect had haunted Hutch for long enough.

 

“I think the danger has passed.  He promised and I believe him.  He needs some more time off and some talking therapy.  Do you need me to call your captain?”

 

“No, I’ll do it.”  Hutch stood and shook Loren’s hand.  “Thanks for everything.  I’ll take good care of him.”

 

“I have no doubt.”

 

Starsky said nothing until they were halfway back to his apartment.  “So, did he convince you I’m not going to do anything stupid?”

 

Hutch answered, “You did that, but he did reassure me.  You promised me, and I know you’ll keep your word.”

 

What can I say to reassure him?  What if he doesn’t want to be partners anymore?  “I will.  I’m sorry, Hutch.  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to put you through this.  I’ll be more careful.  I’d understand if you didn’t want--”

 

“Don’t even say it,” Hutch interrupted.  “Of course, I want to be your partner, but I want you to be safe.  We’re going to go see Dobey and get you some more time off to get over this.  I don’t want you on the streets until we’re sure you’re okay and Loren says we really need to have you cleared by the department.”  Seeing the dismayed look on Starsky’s face, he reassured, “I told you I’d let you know what we said.  He says you need to see someone and he’s right.  You probably won’t need all that long, but I’m not taking any chances with your safety, understand?”

 

“I guess so.”

 

They rode on in silence for a few more minutes.  “Is it really going to be all right, now, Hutch?”

 

“We’ll make it all right.  Me and Thee, buddy.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch paced out his nervousness in the hallway outside the department psychologist’s office.  After some rest and talking therapy with Loren, the partners decided it was time for Starsky to go back on the streets.  Today was the day they would find out if the doctor agreed with them. 

 

In addition to his therapy, Starsky went to see Gail several times.  She was improving slowly.  He and Hutch helped her brother make the arrangements for her to be transferred to a long-term facility where they had consultants who specialized in mind control and cult behavior; gentle therapy to heal the mind and spirit.  Her brother was hopeful for her future.  Possibly without justification, the two detectives realized with deep sadness.  

 

Although there was a search, no trace of the bear was ever found.  The likelihood that he could have escaped without either being detected, or getting into mischief was remote.  The experts they consulted told them they believed he’d been released in the mountains, or possibly destroyed by the remaining cult members.

 

The door opened and Starsky stepped through it, with a look on his face that revealed nothing.  He closed it behind him and walked over to look out the window.  Aw, shit, they didn’t clear him.  Hutch was convinced it must be bad news.

 

“Well, Hutch,” he began with a sigh, “seems I’m only as crazy as I usually am.  I’m cleared for duty.” 

 

Starsky turned to face Hutch with a grin and was rewarded by a slug on the arm.  “You scared me to death, dirt ball!”

 

“Ow, hey!”  Starsky rubbed the spot on his arm, but kept grinning like he’d just won a giant jackpot in Las Vegas. 

 

Hutch smiled at him.  “Congratulations, partner.  Let’s go tell Dobey.”

 

The partners bounded into Dobey’s office with only a cursory knock on the outer door.  Seeing their grins he knew everything was all right.  They had discussed trying to be serious when they went in, but neither of them could wipe the smile off of his face long enough to pull off a prank like that. 

 

“Welcome back,” Dobey said.

 

“Thanks, Cap,” Starsky says.  “Feels great.”

 

Dobey reached for a file folder and held it out for either of them to take.  Hutch grabbed it and started to read.

 

“That’s your next assignment.  A ring of car thieves operating out of the valley.  They specialize in Mercedes… and in killing anybody who tries to make a buy.”

 

Starsky whistled as he took the file and looked at the picture in the front.  “Seems like a bad way to get repeat business.” 

 

“Exactly.  I want one of you under as a buyer from New York.”

 

“I’ll do it,” Hutch offered. 

 

“Why you?  I’m from there and your New York accent wouldn’t fool Dorothy’s Auntie Em, much less a pro.”

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, partner, but I called it.  You’ll just have to help me.”

 

“Now, wait a minute--”

 

“He called it, Starsky.  I suggest you two get off your cans and get started.  The number’s in the file.”

 

The two men walked out to the squad room, still bickering about the roles.  Hutch won, after reassuring Starsky it had nothing to do with his recent problems.  He picked up the phone to try and arrange a meeting with the local point man.  Starsky tossed him a piece of gum to add to the effect.

 

Chewing loudly into the receiver and putting on his best effort to sound like he was from the Big Apple, Hutch said to the man who answered, “I’m lookin’ for Vic Humphries.”

 

The End

 

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