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

 

Please note:  This story contains religious themes.  Any offense to deities real or imagined, mortal or immortal, graven or ethereal, and their devotees, worshipers, or minions is absolutely unintentional. 

 

 

FAITH HEALER

Written By Sue David and Valerie Wells

© 8/2001

 

Chapter 1

 

Some glad mornin' when this life is o'er

I'll fly away

To a home on God's celestial shore

I'll fly away

I'll fly away, oh, glory

I'll fly away

When I die

Hallelujah by and by

I'll fly away

 

The air was hot and thick with sweat and singing in the small storefront church. A man played the guitar and a teen-age girl shook a tambourine as the congregation clapped and swayed and sang.

 

Just a few more weary days and then

I'll fly away

To a land where joys will never end

I'll fly away

 

Some of the women shook their long hair loose from the confining buns and braids they wore in the outside world and raised their hands in the air, eyes closed, whirling with the music, swaying, dancing in the ecstasy of worship. Tears flowed down many faces. A little boy, not much more than 8 or 10 years old, flung himself on the mourner's bench and sobbed out his sins to his God. Several of the men surrounded the boy, lifted him up, laid hands on him and prayed in tongues. The boy raised his hands in the air, lips quivering, and in moments he, too, was praying in tongues. Then his eyes rolled up and he fell backwards into the safety of the men's waiting arms. They lowered him gently to the ragged carpet and left him there. The boy lay as if in a trance, completely still, with eyes open and transfigured with the light of his newfound salvation.

 

A middle-aged man in a white dress shirt, tie half undone, a large white handkerchief in one hand and a well-worn Bible in the other, approached the wooden pulpit.

 

"And He said unto them, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature!'"

 

"Amen!"

 

"That's right!"

 

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned!"

 

"Yes, Lord!"

 

"And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils – "

 

A woman shrieked and fell in the aisle at those words, trembling and sobbing. Other women surrounded her. A man offered his suit jacket to lay across her hips so, that in case her dress crept up, nothing would show.

 

The preacher went on without a break, "They shall speak with new tongues! They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them! They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover!"

 

"Amen! Yes, Jesus!"

 

The woman in the aisle was still shrieking and sobbing, and the women surrounding her were crying and praying aloud, kneeling around her, raising their hands to heaven.

 

The preacher turned toward several large wooden boxes lined up against the wall behind the pulpit. As he did so, several women snatched at young children and carried or led them to the back of the room. The other adults continued to pray or sing or dance to the music that had never stopped.

 

The preacher reached into a box and withdrew a rattlesnake. He held it high over his head, and the snake shook its rattles, struggling to coil.

 

"They shall take up serpents!" the preacher cried over the noise.

 

"Yes, Lord! Amen!"

 

He held the snake almost lovingly, grasped it around the head and gazed into its eyes. The forked tongue of the snake slid out of its mouth, almost touching the man's lips. Sweat rolled down his temples, but he never noticed. Man and snake stared at each other as the music and the dancing and the singing and the praying went on around them.

 

Other men reached into boxes – a few women, too. Soon, there were half a dozen snakes in the arms of members of the congregation: water moccasins, rattlers, even a cobra, which opened its hood and posed, regally.

 

The teen-age girl's voice pierced the other noise, rising above it, sweetly:

 

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I'm found

Was blind, but now I see...."

 

A hush fell over the room at last. Only the crying of one of the babies in the back disturbed the peace as one after another, the congregation fell silent. Some knelt. Others raised their hands, tears falling, eyes closed. One by one, other voices joined the girl's.

 

"'Twas grace that brought me safe this far

And grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed."

 

The preacher, his shirt now soaked with sweat, his eyes glowing with faith and conviction, replaced the snake in the box and turned back to the pulpit and his Bible.

 

"Many are called," he said, "but few are chosen." Lifting the Bible, he pointed to it with his free hand, the one holding the handkerchief. He wiped his face. "Do you believe," he asked, leaning forward, "do you believe every word in this holy book is true?"

 

"Yes! Amen!"

 

"Do you trust in the Lord? Do you love Him with all your heart, all your strength, and all your mind?"

 

"Yes, Lord!"

 

"Amen!"

 

"Are there any here who have doubts? Is there even one lost soul in this sanctuary who does not know with absolute certainty that heaven will be your

home when you die? Even one!"

 

The boy who had lain on the floor all this time stirred, rose, rubbed at his eyes as if he didn't quite know where he was, and stared at the preacher with starry-eyed wonder. The preacher looked down on him, smiled, and pointed at him. "And a little child shall lead them!" he thundered. "If you do not believe with the faith of a child, you shall be damned in that final judgment! Could you look your Lord in the eye right now, tonight, if you should die, and give Him one good reason why He should allow you into heaven? Can any of us?"

 

The silence gave way to murmured prayers, people speaking in tongues, quiet sobbing, or outright crying as hands went up in supplication all over the room.

 

"Only one thing can save you!" the preacher cried. "The blood of the Lamb! Shed for you on the old rugged cross! By His stripes we are healed!"

 

Men lined up across the front of the room and the congregation started coming forward, just a few at first, then more and more until almost everyone was lined up for prayer. The men laid their hands on them, prayed for them. Several fell backwards into the waiting arms of others, who lowered them to the floor. Voices rose in prayer. The preacher prayed, also, holding the hands of those who came forward, or kneeling to lay hands on an arthritic leg, pulling a brother in the Lord close to hear his confession of impure thoughts or deeds, gently touching the faces and shoulders of troubled men, women, and children.

 

The service went on, deep into the night, prayer and song and sweat and hope

playing out in an old storefront bearing a hand-painted sign in the window:

 

"The Church of Signs and Wonders."

 

+++++++++++++++

 

First thing Monday morning was not the best time to have a meeting with Captain Dobey.  He was rarely in a decent mood.  Sundays off with the family seemed to make him more reluctant to dive into another week as Captain of Detectives rather than providing a needed recharge to his emotional batteries. Unfortunately, this Monday, Starsky and Hutch had been called into his office on their way into the precinct.  They knew it wouldn't be pretty.

 

When they cruised into the squad room, they saw that Dobey's office door was open and he immediately bellowed for them.  Hutch stopped his progress to the coffee maker with a sigh as he followed his partner into the lion's den.

 

"Morning, Cap'n," Starsky said cheerily.

 

Hutch knew better, he simply nodded his greeting.

 

"Ain't nothin' good about it, Starsky," Dobey grumbled.  "First thing Monday morning and we've already got a homicide."

 

Hutch said, "That's not all that unusual, Cap."

 

"Now that the pleasantries and statements of the obvious are out of the way, gentlemen, you think we could talk about the case?"  Dobey was in about as bad a mood as they had seen in a long while.

 

Starsky attempted to placate him, concerned by the extra level of anger at such an early hour.  "Hey, take it easy, Cap.  We're on your side, 'case you forgot."

 

Dobey opened his mouth to holler again, then thought better of it.  "Yeah, okay.  Point taken."

 

Hutch said, "Let's start over.  Something special about this homicide, Cap?"

 

"Yeah, more than one thing.  First, the death is supposed to look like an accident.  Snake bite.  Second, the victim was involved in that traveling side show of a faith healer's act down in the old sports arena parking lot."

 

Starsky smiled slyly. "Don't beat around the bush, Cap.  You mean you don't buy this whole miraculous healing thing?"

 

"I believe in miracles, Starsky.  I also believe there are charlatans out there and this bunch is just one step away from being a cult."

 

The word "cult" caused a cold shiver to run up Starsky's back and settle in his brain.  The team's last dealings with a cult had not been pleasant.  "You mean like Marcus?"

 

"No, not like that at all.  This isn't just some nut with a messianic complex like Marcus.  That's probably easier to deal with than this sort of thing.  They do have a charismatic leader.  The Right Reverend Benjamin Haley.  His sister, Esther Haley, is his cohort.  Sometimes she does the preaching, but we think he always does the healings.  Gentlemen, this case is going to be complicated and I want you two on it."

 

"You got it, Cap.  Where's the body?  We'll go have a look," Starsky said.

 

"No, I don't want you near it.  You two are going undercover.  I sent Hill and Cavanaugh down to look at the body.  They're supposed to report to you when they get back here."

 

The detectives looked at each other, holding one of their trademark silent discussions.

 

What the hell?

 

Don't know.  You okay with this?

 

Yeah, you?

 

Yeah.

 

Captain Dobey pulled them back out of their nonverbal communication by clearing his throat and tapping his pencil impatiently on his desktop.  "You two mind TALKING when you're talking to each other?"

 

Starsky looked a little sheepish. "Sorry, Cap.  Weren't we talking?"

 

"Would I have said that if you were!"  Dobey stated.

 

Hutch decided to press on in hopes of gaining a less hostile purchase on which they could sit.  "All right, Cap'n.  We're in.  What's our cover and what's the scheme?"

 

Dobey looked at the blond detective.  Hutchinson had a gift for deflection that Dobey had always admired.  He smiled slightly.  "You know, Hutchinson, I'm afraid I'm gonna lose you to the hostage negotiation team one of these days.  You're smooth."  Their laughter dissipated the last of the tension in the room as the captain explained the case to them.

 

The traveling religious group had settled semi-permanently in the Bay City area four months ago.  Rumors around town had it that the Haleys were called to save the people of Southern California.  Their group had originated in the mountains of Tennessee.  No one was certain of their exact religious origins, but it was believed that they were an offshoot of an extreme group of Christians who used deadly snakes in their worship services.  Though Haley had a formal education in theological studies, his practices had made him an adversary of most major religious groups. 

 

Haley and his sister claimed they were able to heal the afflicted.  Many people had come to the tent show services to hear the word of God and to be healed by his power.  Already, several people had died when they stopped taking their prescribed medical treatment in favor of the reverend's healing ministrations. 

 

Upset family members had come forward and the case was under scrutiny by the Metro team responsible for investigating potential bunko operations.  All of the deceased church members were wealthy and family members were saying Haley and his sister bilked them out of thousands of dollars in "donations" to the church.  Though they never accepted actual payment for their services, the proverbial hat was passed through the tent several times during every service and the preacher accepted special donations for private sessions.  The department did not know how much money had been collected to date, but the overflowing collection plates were silent witnesses to the potential amount.  The money was supposed to go toward building a permanent church building for the group.  They called themselves The Temple of Signs and Wonders. 

 

Today's homicide victim was a wealthy widow from Santa Monica.  She was found dead in the sports arena parking lot near the main tent.  The coroner at the scene said the cause of death was most likely from a poisonous snake.  Unable to say for certain until he could conduct a post mortem, he believed it was possibly a coral snake.  That's what led the department to suspect foul play.  Even in the city, a rattlesnake bite was a natural occurrence in Southern California and was therefore not outside the realm of believability.  A coral snakebite in Bay City was different.

 

Dobey wanted his detectives to go under and investigate the group.  They decided that Hutch would play a wealthy worshiper with a terminal illness.  He and Starsky could work out the details on that.  Starsky was to be a photographer/news writer for a local, free press type newspaper called The Pulse.  The paper had weekly editions featuring a central, lengthy article on a single subject.  They were known for their hard-hitting coverage of controversial subjects.  The Pulse's managing editor's brother had died after joining Haley's church and he was convinced the group was bad.  He was happy to help with the investigation.

 

"Why does Blondie always get to play the rich guy?"  Starsky teased.

 

Hutch responded, "You want to pretend to be a guy with some terminal illness who's seeking redemption from the Almighty?"

 

Starsky put one hand up to his forehead and slumped back in his chair dramatically.  "You know I played Camille in high school."

 

Dobey ordered, "Knock it off, you two.  This is a serious situation.  These people may be dangerous and I don't want you underestimating them.  Starsky, you keep an eye on your partner."

 

"Always do, Cap."

 

"All right then.  You two go on and make your plans while you wait for Hill and Cavanaugh.  I've already set up your cover with the newspaper, Starsky.  You're supposed to be on assignment with these people every day until further notice.  They want the publicity and they're looking forward to meeting with you tonight.  Hutch, you go to the revival tonight.  They start at seven."

 

Nodding their understanding, the detectives rose to leave the room.  Dobey added, "Hutch, let me know what your plan is for your illness.  The department doctor is going to arrange everything through one of the docs at Receiving so your cover will hold if they investigate.  I've already gotten the wheels in motion to establish your bank accounts and such."

 

"Right," Hutch said as they walked out to the squad room.

 

Chapter 2

 

The detectives headed down to the station cafeteria to finally get some coffee and discuss the assignment while they waited for Hill and Cavanaugh.  They decided that Hutch should pretend to have an inoperable brain tumor.  A friend of theirs in the department had died from a brain tumor and they knew what types of symptoms Hutch should display.  The biggest advantage would be he wouldn't have to a pretend too hard to be sick.  Their friend had appeared to be basically normal up until the final few weeks of his illness.  A trip upstairs to the department doctor would provide them with the extra information they needed, and appropriate medical records and cover for that part of their operation.

 

Starsky was excited about the prospect of going undercover as a photojournalist and news writer.  Captain Dobey had a tendency to try and squelch his creative side, demanding reports that were written in "plain English."  Even if no one ever got to read it, he would have fun writing it.  Hutch would read it.

 

Hill and Cavanaugh walked into the cafeteria and Hutch waved them over to their table.

 

"Sean, Jack, what did you get on the homicide?"  Hutch asked as they approached.

 

Cavanaugh offered as he sat down, "Man, that was spooky.  I thought they only kept that kind of snake in the zoo.  You ever see a coral snake outside the zoo?"

 

Hill shook his head at his chatterbox partner.  "Don't mind him.  He had a coupla jelly donuts this morning on the way to the scene and he's been wired for sound ever since."

 

"Thanks a lot, partner,” Cavanaugh retorted as he turned red and all four men laughed.

 

Hill continued for his now quiet partner.  "Coroner says she died around ten last night.  Based on the interviews we did, we think she was asked to give an extra large donation to the church.  She refused, saying the preacher hadn't healed her husband.  The man died just a few days ago.  One of the witnesses said she was threatening to expose the preacher.  Said a lot of people believed in him and she was gonna blow the lid off the operation.  Then she left."

 

Starsky whistled.  "Anybody see her after that?"

 

"Nope.  Found her dead in her car this morning.  Nobody saw a thing, naturally." 

 

"Not enough to go on for an arrest,” Hutch said.

 

"No.  We'll type up the report and get it to you by this afternoon,” Cavanaugh said. 

 

"Thanks,” Starsky said.  "We're on our way up to see the doc.  Hutch here is about to get an inoperable brain tumor." 

 

The other partners looked at each other.  "You mean like Watson?"  Cavanaugh asked.  The man who died was a fellow officer.  They all knew and liked him.  

 

Hutch looked down at his coffee cup and said, "Yeah.  We all saw what happened to Joe.  Thought it might help."

 

They were all sober for a minute – each man silently sending out a thought to their friend.  Joe Watson was only 38 when he died.  The four detectives had been through the academy with him.  Maybe this was a way they could honor his memory. 

 

"Right.  Uh, come on, Hutch.  We gotta go see the doc,” Starsky said, ready to break the somber mood.  He stood up and Hutch followed him upstairs to the doctor's office.

 

Dr. Malling greeted the two detectives,  "Captain Dobey explained your assignment to me."

 

"Yeah, you remember Joe Watson?  Starsky and I were thinking maybe his diagnosis would be a good one for my undercover.  What do you think?"

 

Malling nodded.  "That sounds good.  I'll get your 'medical records' together and send then over to Dr. Brock at Receiving.  He was Joe's doctor."

 

Starsky looked a little uncomfortable.  "Doc, we know what Joe went through.  What should Hutch – well, how should he act?  These people may be dangerous.  I'm going to be there with him, but I don't want him taking any chances."

 

"Don't worry, Sergeant.  We'll have him covered.  Detective Hutchinson, you can tell anyone who asks that you have an inoperable brain tumor.  Your symptoms might include severe headaches, vision changes, confusion, loss of memory, hand tremors, vomiting, seizures, and clumsiness."

 

Laughing softly, Starsky quipped, "Well, that last one won't be too much trouble."

 

Hutch swatted at him and missed.  "Okay, Doc.  You know we're going under in that tent show church.  One of the things these people seem good at is luring sick, wealthy people into believing they can be healed.  Some of them have stopped their treatments and died.  If this tumor is inoperable, what can I say I've stopped doing and what would the consequences be?"

 

The doctor explained that someone in this condition would possibly be on anticonvulsants.  That would be the easiest thing to give up and seizures would be the inevitable result.  He might also experience increased tremors and, if the case took a few weeks, he could fake the vision disturbances and fainting spells.  Dr. Malling would be available to help them round the clock.  He gave the detectives his pager number and told them to call anytime. 

 

Later in the afternoon, Starsky and Hutch took a break for an early dinner and to rest before they went to their first tent show revival.  They agreed Starsky would drive Hutch's car, since his looked too flashy for a newspaper reporter being paid on a shoestring.  The department had checked out a Mercedes convertible to Hutch as part of his cover.  Hutch's undercover name was to be Ken Halliday and Starsky was going to be David Frank.  Halliday was supposed to be a book publisher who had amassed a fortune on the stock market.  His diagnosis had been given three months ago and no treatment had worked to slow the progress of the tumor.  Tonight, Halliday would begin his journey to seek spiritual peace in his last days, and perhaps a miraculous healing. 

 

Starsky was deep in his closet gathering his camera equipment when Hutch stepped out of the bathroom and said, "Hey, how do I look?"  He had been in there working with a makeup kit for half an hour. 

 

Starsky poked his head up out of the closet and did a double take.  Hutch had used some hair pomade to slick his wispy hair down and dull its sheen a little.  He had applied an imperceptible layer of white makeup base so he looked pale.  His cheeks looked just a little hollow.  He had changed into a too-large beige shirt that made him look too thin and accentuated his pale face.

 

"Thanks for the warning, buddy.  You look awful."  Starsky didn't like it.  Hutch really did look sick. 

 

"Great."  Hutch looked pleased with himself as he walked into the living room and looked through the files on their targets again. 

 

"How you coming there?" he asked Starsky.

 

"Terrific.  I have everything I need.  Dobey got me a press pass and my identification is together.  How 'bout you?"

 

Hutch had everything he needed, included a large roll of twenties the department had provided for him to donate to the cause. "Everything's good." 

 

Starsky was unhappy with his partner.  While they came to the apartment to grab a quick bite, Hutch had decided against eating.  He said if he fasted for a couple of days he wouldn't have to put so much makeup on to look thin.  His face always showed it first when he lost weight. 

 

"Come on, you've gotta eat.  Your makeup job looks just fine."

 

"Relax.  Just consider it a little method acting."  Hutch smiled, trying to reassure his worrywart partner. 

 

Starsky went to the kitchen and returned with a large glass of ice water for Hutch.  "All right, but no more than your usual two day fast.  Here, drink this.  I'm at least gonna make sure you don't get dehydrated on me.  No sense making yourself sick over it."

 

Hutch nodded gratefully as he accepted the glass.  "Thanks.  Hey, don't worry, okay?"

 

"Sure."

 

Continuing to read the files, Hutch said, "You know, these people were under suspicion in Atlanta before they moved their church here.  Some of the local church elders practically rode them out of town on a rail.  I read an article about them in the Bay City Independent about a month ago.  Dobey's wrong about it being a cult.  Looks like most of the people who attend services are really seeking a spiritual home."

 

Somehow that didn't make Starsky feel any better.  He kept thinking of the way the woman who had died of the snakebite had looked in the morgue that afternoon.  Not being able to stick to Hutch continually had him worried. 

 

"Hutch, you ever been to one of these tent show things?"

 

Hutch nodded and returned the file folder he was reviewing to the table in front of him.  "Once, a long time ago.  We had this housekeeper for a while who was into that sort of thing.  One time when a group came through Duluth, she took Karen and me to a service.  Boy, was my dad hacked."  He laughed at the memory.  Richard Hutchinson had fired the poor woman on the spot.  He was mortified that the Hutchinson children had been seen at a tent show revival.  "Have you ever been to one, Starsk?"

 

"Nope.  So what's it like?  We went to a Lutheran church when we went to your nephew's christening.  Anything like a Lutheran church?"

 

Hutch laughed at that.  "Oh, no.  These tent show churches are Pentecostal.  You know, people speaking in tongues, lots of singing, very emotional.  Lutherans are pretty quiet."

 

"What's that supposed to mean – Pentecostal?"  Starsky asked apprehensively.

 

"Kind of hard to explain, Gordo.  Since we're going there tonight, I think you'd better just see for yourself."

 

Starsky looked unsure about the operation, but he was going along with it.  Hutch seemed to know what he was doing.  He'd been to a revival before so he had some idea about what to expect.  Starsky thought that cops and journalists had at least one common characteristic – that of being willing, as his Aunt Rosie would say, to rush in where angels fear to tread.  He chuckled to himself at the prospect.  That was an accurate depiction of David Starsky's personality so it shouldn't be too difficult to extend it to David Frank, News Writer.

 

They decided that Hutch would be the first one to show at the meeting tent.  He parked the Mercedes and walked through the tent entrance at around six-thirty.  Starsky planned to show up half an hour after show time at seven-thirty.  He was hoping the worship service would be cooking by the time he arrived.  They didn't want any connection made between them and Hutch should be deeply involved with the service by then.

 

By the time Starsky arrived, his wish had come true.  The worshipers were on their feet responding to the preacher.  After a hostess greeted him at the entrance, he was invited to wander freely around the tent taking pictures and notes during the worship service.  As he circled the tent, he looked for his partner – taking pictures of the participants to disguise his search.  He spotted Hutch near the front, participating fully. 

 

"We are bonded as brethren in the service of the Lord God Almighty!" Pastor Haley yelled.

 

"Amen, Brother Haley!"  the crowd responded en masse.

 

"We do not hark to extra-biblical rules, do we Brothers and Sisters?”

 

"No, Brother."

 

"Our way is GOD'S way!"

 

"Amen!"

 

Starsky walked down a side aisle, in awe of the spectacle before him.  The worshipers stood, their arms in the air swaying left to right in unison as Haley paraded before them on the raised stage.  He rattled off verses from the New Testament.  Included in his sermon were passages from the Bible, which he interpreted for the crowd so they could let go of their natural, thinking mind.  They should concentrate on their spiritual mind. 

 

The service went on in this manner for another thirty minutes.  Some people fell on the floor and spoke in tongues.  Many wept and loudly quoted from scripture, eyes closed, hands in the air.  Starsky had never seen anything like it.  He was both fascinated and a little frightened by it.  He had tuned out Haley, but his attention was drawn to the stage when Haley began to call for worshipers to come forward to feel the power of God.

 

"Our way is Christ's way!"

 

"Yes, Brother!!"

 

"We are soldiers.  Soldiers of Christ!"

 

The choir on one side of the church started to sing "Onward Christian Soldiers."  He had lost track of his partner.  Then, he saw a line of people responding to the preacher's call to those who wanted to be healed, and Hutch was moving toward that line.

 

What happened next was something that would be etched in Starsky's memory for all time.  He watched in continued fascination as the preacher held an almost hypnotic sway over the crowd.  Starsky had seen his share of hypnotists at magic shows and exhibitions.  This man was a master.  The hour of swaying and repetitive chorus singing, coupled with the time spent hands in the air, had a mesmerizing effect on people.  Starsky recognized several of the techniques of an expert hypnotist.

 

The people moved to the stage where they stood in a line.  One by one, the preacher approached them, asking if they wanted to be healed in the spirit.  When he touched them, they fell straight backward into the arms of someone who stood behind them as a catcher.  Every one of them did it. 

 

Starsky's fascination switched to nervousness and concern as the minister approached his partner.  Hutch looked deeply into his character and Starsky had no doubt of what would happen.  Haley stopped a few extra moments when he came to Hutch.  Maybe it was the draw of Hutch's electric blue eyes, or the extra-pale look he had generated out of a makeup kit.  For whatever reason, Haley paid him extra attention.  Starsky got into position and took picture after picture as it happened.  He could hear what was said through the speakers all over the tent.

 

Haley said, "Are you here to receive the Holy Spirit, Brother?"

 

Hutch replied, "Yes."

 

"Are you in NEED of the healing power of the Holy Spirit, my son?"

 

Hutch replied, "Yes.  I need to heal."

 

Starsky found himself unconsciously putting himself into a tense, hostile, protective stance.  He felt the power of threat coming from this man and it was all directed toward Hutch.  Starsky didn't like it one bit and when the man reached for Hutch, Starsky had to restrain himself from rushing through the crowd to pull him away from his partner.

 

Haley touched Hutch on the forehead and he instantly fell straight backward.  Starsky jumped and took a step in Hutch's direction, watching in horror as the catcher led his inert form down to the floor.  Hutch wasn't moving and Haley had already passed to the next person.  Starsky's heart was beating wildly as he took another step.  That's when he felt a touch at his elbow.  Spinning around, Starsky looked down into the face of Haley's sister, Esther.  She smiled at him and said, "You've never been to a worship service like this have you, Mr. Frank?"

 

Starsky looked back over his shoulder to where Hutch lay, still unmoving.  He swallowed his fear, telling himself Hutch was just playing along and he mustered the gumption to answer her, "No, ma'am."

 

"I'm Esther Haley.  We're so glad you could come and do your story on our ministry."

 

Starsky nodded, knowing he was sweating furiously and not hiding his distress well. "Yes, ma'am.  You can call me Dave.  You know, our readers will be interested in what's happening here."

 

When Starsky turned to look Hutch's way again, Esther grabbed his chin and pulled his head around to face her again. "Don't worry about them, Mr. Frank, uh, Dave.  They've been Slain in the Spirit."

 

The word "slain" did nothing for Starsky's nerves.  He grabbed her by the arms and said, "What did you say?" 

 

"Relax, Dave.  They'll be fine.  Please, walk with me and I'll explain."

 

Reluctantly, Starsky moved away with her as she requested.  He looked back toward his partner every chance he got while they talked.  He was not sure how long this was supposed to go on, but Hutch looked unconscious to him and Starsky wasn't sure how long he would be able to keep himself together before he went to him. 

 

She led him away to a quieter part of the tent, away from the singing and praying going on by the platform. She waved him to an empty chair and sat down. Starsky remembered to produce a notebook and pen to take notes for his "story."

 

Esther smiled at him. "There's nothing to be afraid of, honestly. May I ask what your religious background is?"

 

"I'm Jewish."

 

She nodded and her smile widened. "Then this is very different for you, isn't it?"

 

"Yeah."

 

She turned her head to look back toward the platform, and Starsky followed suit. He couldn't see Hutch for all the people between them, so he assumed he was still lying on the floor, like so many of the others.

 

"When someone is touched by the Lord," she said, still watching the front of the tent, "they often go into a kind of swoon, like those people did. It's a wonderful, peaceful experience, Dave, really it is. You are unaware of what's going on around you, because you are in direct contact – two-way contact – with the Lord God. When they come around, they will stand up and continue to worship, quite unharmed. I promise you."

 

"How long are they like that?" Starsky craned his neck, still trying to see Hutch and fighting his instinct to run to him.

 

She gave a shrug. "It depends on the person. Sometimes a few minutes, sometimes as long as half an hour." She patted his hand. "I know how strange it must look to you. After the service, perhaps you could interview some of the believers and let them describe it to you themselves. That might set your mind at ease."

 

"I'd like that," Starsky said. "May I ask how you got involved in the ministry?"

 

"My brother – he's the pastor – and I were raised in the faith," she said. "Our grandfather was an evangelist. He pastored a church in Tennessee before he set out on the road to take the Gospel straight to unbelievers in the South. When he died, my brother took over. By then, he'd attended seminary in Georgia and we started our work there."

 

"Why travel?" Starsky asked. "Why not just start a church and stay in one place?"

 

"This is what the Lord has called us to do," she said, adding what Starsky suspected was a quotation, "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to

be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers."

 

"How do you know what the Lord has called you to do?" Starsky asked, with a little bit of difficulty. In the Jewish tradition, the name of God was considered too sacred to be uttered lightly. He was uncomfortable with this whole conversation anyway, and the easy and too-familiar way these people spoke of God bothered him.

 

"You can tell," she said. "We prayed and waited until we were sure. The Lord has His ways of letting His wishes be known to His servants."

 

"But how?"

 

"It's a little hard to explain," she said. "The knowledge just grows in your heart and mind until the conviction is impossible to ignore."

 

Starsky glanced back toward the front and was relieved to see a tall blond head moving back to the rows of folding chairs. Their eyes met for just a moment; any longer, and it would have possibly given them away. Hutch sat down, smoothed his hair and crossed his legs.

 

Chapter 3

 

The service had come to a quiet point now, and Starsky turned his whole body to watch. He lifted the camera and took photos of some of the people who were getting up off the floor. None of them looked damaged, he had to admit. Some seemed a bit dazed; many had tears in their eyes. Ushers were beginning to pass the plastic buckets around in which the people were expected to drop their donations, while the band played and sang softly.

 

"Where does the money go?" Starsky asked without turning back to Esther.

 

"To support the ministry," she said.

 

"I know. I mean, what, exactly, do you spend it on?"

 

"Maintenance for the tent and the musical equipment, gas for the bus, food and clothing and lodging for the ministry team," she said. "We send a tithe to overseas missions – "

 

"A what?" Starsky did turn this time.

 

"A tithe. Ten percent. As the Lord commands, even in the Jewish tradition."

 

There was a slight reprimand in her voice, as if she expected him to know that. It did ring a bell, dimly, in the back of his mind. He nodded as if he understood more than he did. And he watched, dazed, as the people dropped more cash into the buckets than he had seen since a huge drug bust on the east side a year ago. He couldn't even guess the amount that was collected – thousands of dollars, probably.

 

After the collection, people started to drift away. Some stayed to visit with each other or the pastor and his helpers. Hutch stayed in his seat, watching and listening to the many conversations, but not joining them.

 

"Would you like to talk to some of the people?" Esther asked.

 

"Yeah, please."

 

She led him back to the front and tapped a long-haired young man on the shoulder. "Eugene, would you allow this man to interview you? He's writing a newspaper story about the ministry."

 

"Sure, Sister," Eugene said, giving a bright smile and a firm handshake to Starsky.

 

Starsky had never interviewed anyone who wasn't a suspect, a witness or a victim before. He hoped he could fake it. Which category should this slender

young man fall into?

 

"Uh, could you tell me what brought you to the service?"

 

Eugene sat down and patted the chair next to him and Starsky accepted.

 

While Starsky was engaged in interviewing "believers," Hutch had been sitting in his chair observing the people around him, more than a little disturbed by the experience he'd had. When Brother Haley had touched him, he'd actually felt something. He'd been standing there, watching as others fell back into the waiting arms of the catchers, fully prepared to fake a fall of his own at the proper time. He hadn't expected to actually fall.

 

But he had.

 

His knees had felt quivery, his stomach had churned, and the next thing he knew, he was on the floor, unable to move and not caring.

 

It was frightening.

 

He didn't know how long he'd lain there like that, but when he opened his eyes, he'd stood up with no trouble. He felt a little light-headed, as if he'd stood up too quickly, but that soon passed. Since then, he'd been sitting here in this chair, worrying about his own reaction. He was still worrying about it when Brother Haley sat down next to him.

 

"Evening, son," Haley said, putting a fatherly hand on his shoulder. "Your first time here?"

 

Hutch nodded.

 

"What brings you to us?"

 

"I'm dying," Hutch said, and the leftover reaction from the evening's experience helped him put the right note of bleak acceptance into his voice. "There's nothing the doctors can do now. I'm trying to make peace with God before I go."

 

"What's the problem?"

 

Hutch dropped his eyes and wet his lips. "Brain tumor. Inoperable. It's too deep. The operation itself would kill me. They say – " he paused and shook his head. "They say I'll be fairly normal until the last few weeks. I've got about six months, give or take, until then."

 

"Don't you believe in miracles, son?" Haley asked very gently.

 

Hutch shrugged. "I don't know what I believe."

 

"May I pray with you?" Hutch nodded, and Haley laid his hands on Hutch's hair and closed his eyes. "Almighty Lord, this young man needs Your healing touch in both body and soul. Reach out to him, Jesus, let him feel Your nearness, Your love, Your mercy, oh, God, our Father."

 

Starsky had finished with Eugene and had approached an older woman who was

drying her tears and talking animatedly with Esther. He glanced toward Hutch and was alarmed to see Haley with his hands on the blond hair. Hutch was staring fixedly at the man, unblinking, so still he might have been a statue.  But somehow his partner felt his eyes on him and shifted his gaze to meet Starsky's, just for a moment, telegraphing, "it's okay." Starsky gave an almost imperceptible nod and went to his next interview subject.

 

They had arranged to meet at Starsky's apartment afterward to exchange their

impressions. Starsky arrived first, as worn out as if he'd run a marathon. It was a good 45 minutes before Hutch showed up. He looked worse than Starsky felt, pale and haggard, and it wasn't just the makeup. He dropped onto the couch and threw his head back. Unasked, Starsky fetched him a beer and put it in his hand.

 

"Wanna talk about it yet?"

 

Hutch took a long swallow of the beer and rubbed at his face. "That was weird."

 

Something in his voice made Starsky sit down beside him and study him. "Of course, it was weird. We knew that going in."

 

Hutch shook his head. "I didn't expect – " he paused and met Starsky's eyes, then looked away. "Starsk, I wasn't faking."

 

Starsky was stunned into utter silence. He'd never considered that possibility. "What – what happened?" he asked after several moments.

 

"I was standing there," Hutch said, still not looking at him, "watching all those other people go over like dominoes, and wondering how long I should wait after Haley got to me before I went over." He took another swallow of beer, almost desperately. "Then when he got to me, he touched me and... I just fell, Starsky. I don't even remember going down. Next thing I knew, I was coming to, or coming out of it, I guess. I never lost consciousness. I could hear the music and the other people but I just didn't... care."

 

"What d'you mean, you didn't care?" Starsky was seriously alarmed now.

 

"I mean, I didn't want to move!" Hutch turned back to him and his eyes were wide. "I just laid there and I didn't want to move and I couldn't move and that was the way I wanted it!" His voice was trembling and his hands shook so that he almost dropped his beer. Starsky rescued it and set it on the table. Hutch let him, and visibly tried to get himself back under control.

 

"Some kind of hypnotism?" Starsky suggested.

 

Hutch shook his head. "No. I don't think so. Hell, I don't know. It just – it just – it didn't hurt. It didn't upset me. In fact, I felt peaceful and happy and – " His voice faded away and he reached for the beer again, tipping the can back and swallowing over and over until it was mostly gone.

 

"Maybe the guy's for real?"

 

Hutch shrugged. "Wish I hadn't given up smoking," he mumbled, almost too softly for Starsky to hear.

 

Hutch had quit smoking years before, when they were in the Academy. Even now, he occasionally smoked a cigar as part of an undercover character. But at

times of great stress, he still wanted a cigarette. That worried Starsky more than anything. He reached out to touch his partner, but Hutch flinched away.

 

"Talk to me," Starsky ordered, capturing Hutch's forearm even though the blond tried to keep him from doing it. "Tell me what's goin' on. Do we need to get out now? Before anything else weird happens?"

 

"No." Hutch finished his beer and set the empty can on the table. "No, buddy,

I'll be okay. I'm just a little – " He shrugged again. "It was heavy," he finished lamely. He took a deep breath. "What'd you find out?"

 

Starsky was reluctant to let Hutch off that easily. The dazed look in his partner's eyes and the way the normally articulate and self-possessed Hutch couldn't seem to find words to describe his experience terrified him. At the same time, he didn't want to push Hutch in this fragile state. So he related what he and Esther had talked about, and read him some highlights from his interviews with others. Most of them had come to the tent show expecting and desiring the very experience that had shaken Hutch. They spoke of "glory coming down" and "feeling a healing touch" and "talking with the Lord."

 

As Starsky talked, Hutch gradually relaxed and the frightened look in his eyes faded. When Starsky finished, Hutch was almost – not quite, but almost – back to normal.

 

"So the folks that come to these things really are true believers, as we suspected," Hutch said.

 

"Looks that way. Or they're damn good actors," Starsky said.

 

"We didn't see anything tonight that would give us any reason to think this guy's not on the up and up," Hutch said. "We have to go back."

 

Starsky nodded. "'Fraid so. Are you sure you can – "

 

"Yes," Hutch interrupted. "I have to. We have to."

 

"I guess so.  I'm keepin' my eye on you though, buddy.  If you need to get out, just give me a nod and I'll come for you.  I'll think of something."

 

"Thanks." 

 

They sat and made their plans for the next day.  Every night's service had some common elements.  On certain nights of the week though, the focus was on healing.  The next night was to be one of those services.  The healing sessions would give the detectives the chance to get close to some of the people with terminal illnesses.  Starsky wanted to interview some of them and, if possible, to speak with their family members.  They decided that was a way he could sidle up to Hutch without suspicion.  First, he would make contact with some of the others in search of a miracle and then he would single out Ken Halliday as someone to feature in his article.

 

In the morning, Starsky would speak with the managing editor of The Pulse at his office.  Captain Dobey had made an appointment for him to introduce himself and get a little more information on their publication. 

 

Hutch had let it slip during his conversation with Haley that he was wealthy and he guessed if all his money couldn't buy him a longer life, he'd better turn to God – if not for a miracle, for peace.  Shortly after that comment, Hutch had been invited to have an early lunch with Haley the next day.  That would be an end to his fast, which he was sure would make Starsky happy.  He would head down to the tent around eleven.   Starsky would show up around then also, to take pictures of the crew setting up for the evening's services.  Esther Haley had already given him permission to stop by anytime to get whatever pictures he wanted for the article.  That way, he could keep an eye on his partner. 

 

"I'm beat.  Better head home,” Hutch said as he stood from the couch an hour later.

 

"Why don't you just crash here tonight?  You look too tired to drive."  Starsky thought Hutch looked much better, but he wasn't quite ready to let him out of his sight yet.  Naturally, Hutch knew what he was doing.

 

"I promise, I'm just fine now.  Don't worry so much, huh?  This is probably going to be a long case and we're just getting into it." 

 

"Yeah, I know.  That's what's got me so worried.  You sure you don't want to pull out now?" 

 

"I'm sure.  If Dobey's right, these people are killers.  We need to stop them."  Hutch looked like he was leaving something unsaid and Starsky thought he knew what it was. 

 

"You thinking maybe he's wrong because of what happened to you tonight?" 

 

That was it.  "Yeah.  I just don't know.  How could that happen if the guy's not on the up-and-up?"

 

Starsky put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Hutch, just because you really fell, that doesn't mean he isn't bad.  I watched the guy closely.  I've seen a lot of hypnotists and this guy is good.  You were in a lot of company tonight."

 

"You're right.  I'm trying to keep my mind open about it.  I'm just having a hard time believing this guy could really be using God's name like that.  I know guys like Marcus and how they operate.  This guy's different though.  He's not pretending to be God, Jesus, or the Messiah. He's saying he talks to God and that he's trying to spread His word.  I... well... I guess I just have to wait and see."

 

"Hold onto that.  I have a feeling these people are a lot more dangerous than they look.  You be careful."  Starsky held his gaze for a moment.

 

Hutch nodded and said, "I've got you watching my back, so I'm okay."

 

They said goodnight and Hutch drove the Mercedes to Venice Place.   He lay awake in the dark for a long time thinking about the evening's events.  Tomorrow, he decided he'd better display some symptoms to add credence to his claim that he was ill.  Unable to sleep, at about three in the morning he went for a walk.  When he came home an hour later, he was tired enough to sleep, and also in possession of the first pack of cigarettes he had purchased in a decade. 

 

Starsky arrived at The Pulse the next morning at nine.  Gary Detchel was waiting in his office.  Detchel stood to greet the dark haired detective. 

 

"You must be Detective Starsky, otherwise known as David Frank, boy reporter.  Your captain said you'd be by this morning."  The man was about forty years old.  He had a firm handshake and a warm smile.  His dark brown eyes flashed with a humorous twinkle.  Detchel had been seated behind a large, two-sided desk covered with papers and photographs.  He was looking at a black and white picture through a dot glass when Starsky walked into the office. 

 

"That's me, boy wonder."  Starsky accepted a seat at the other side of the enormous desk.

 

"Great desk.  Why's it got two sides?"  He was curious about the piece of ornate furniture.  Something about it looked like it would be more at home in a fancy attorney's office than a liberal newspaper office.

 

"This is a partner's desk.  My brother Matt and I started this paper together when we were in college.  When we graduated, our dad gave us the desk.  It's an antique."

 

"I've never seen anything like it.  Beautiful."

 

"Yeah.  Matt liked it a lot."  Suddenly, the smile faded to a sad, reflective frown. Gary swallowed and added, "He died of leukemia last month."

 

"I'm sorry.  You okay?"

 

"Yeah, I'm all right.  I don't know how much your captain told you about me and my interest in this case."

 

"He didn't say much about you except that you were letting me run my cover out of here and that your brother had died while going to Haley's church."  Starsky was curious to hear this man had a personal interest in the case.

 

"Let me explain.  Matt was diagnosed a while ago.  He received chemotherapy and the disease went into remission.  Later, when it came back, the doctors told him he needed a bone marrow transplant.  I couldn't be his donor, you see Matt and I were both adopted and I wasn't a match."

 

"That musta been a bummer."

 

"Yeah, tell me about it.  We looked for a donor for a while, and then Matt ran into the Haleys.  He was down at the old sports arena doing a piece about abandoned buildings and what happens to them, when he saw Haley and his gang putting up stakes.  He went to a service and got hooked into the whole ministry."  Suddenly, Gary realized something and changed directions.  "I'm sorry, can I get you a cup of coffee?"

 

"That'd be great, thanks.  Double cream, three sugars.  My partner isn't here to yell at me, so I guess I'll just have it like I want."  They both laughed about that.

 

"Sounds like Matt.  He was sort of a health nut.  That's what blows me away.  Matt was always so careful about his health and his habits.  Me, I eat anything, smoke too much, you know. Then he's the one who up and dies.  Dammit.  You know, he wasn't just my brother.  He was my best friend.  You got a best friend?"

 

Starsky nodded.  "Yeah, my partner.  He's a health nut too."  Suddenly, the parallel was making Starsky uncomfortable.  He had to remind himself that Hutch wasn't really sick.  Just faking it for the case.  Hutch was fine.

 

Detchel nodded and continued, "Matt was a fighter.  He was prepared to do the transplant, until he hooked up with Haley.  Those people convinced him he had been healed.  They said the transplant would be an affront to God and that he would go to hell if he had it.  When we found a donor, Matt refused to do it.  He died in my arms, right in this office."

 

"I'm sorry.  I know how I'd feel."  Starsky imagined himself in Detchel's position, losing Hutch like that, and it gave him a chill.

 

"Thanks.  That's when I decided to call the police.  I know they didn't actually murder Matt, but it doesn't feel much different to me.  They got him to give them a lot of money and they convinced him they had cured his disease.  I just have my suspicions about these people.  I called and spoke with your captain a few weeks ago.  Then, when that lady died the other day, he called me and asked if I'd provide your cover."

 

Starsky was curious about the setup though. "Why would Haley agree to let me come there.  I'm assuming he knows Matt worked for The Pulse."

 

"He knows.  I appealed to his conceit.  Told him my brother was a true believer and I wanted to do a piece on his ministry so everyone could read about him.  He bought it.  They were only too happy to have you come.  They really don't know how I feel about the whole thing."

 

"Thanks.  Would you mind showing me around the place a little, for background?"

 

"Not at all.  I have just two things I want you to do for me in return for providing your cover."

 

"What?"  Starsky knew what one of them was, but couldn't imagine what the other could be.

 

"First, if these people are bad, I want you to nail them for me.  Second, I want you to really write me a series of articles on them.  Can you do that?"

 

Starsky was shocked by the request, but also excited by it.  "Yeah, I can do that.  What made you think I could?"

 

"Dunno.  Just a feeling.  Thanks."  They shook hands on it and then Detchel gave him a tour of the small operation.  They parted company with an "I'll be in touch," from Starsky just in time for him to go down to the ministry to look out for Hutch.

 

When Starsky arrived at the tent, he noticed Hutch down near the stage, sharing a picnic style lunch with Haley.  Starsky was greeted by one of the minister's assistants who gave him permission to wander about freely, taking pictures while the crew struck part of the stage and assembled a new set for the healing service.  Starsky positioned himself where he could surreptitiously capture Hutch in his telephoto lens while he spoke with Haley.  He was concerned when several times Hutch grabbed his head and winced in pain. He's just faking it, Starsky.  Calm down. After Hutch's revelation that he really wasn't faking it when he keeled over the night before, Starsky was having a hard time accepting that anything his partner did was part of his Ken Halliday character. 

 

Chapter 4

 

Hutch had no way of knowing that Haley had made special preparations for this "meal."  The man had slipped something into Hutch's food that would make him feel dizzy and thirsty.  Haley had studied plants and herbs in his hometown long before he hit the road with his ministry.  He was an expert at using them to achieve his desired result undetected.  Haley was hoping to get a chance to see Hutch's home, to ascertain if he had any real money to offer the ministry.

 

Starsky was up on the stage interviewing a man from the lighting crew when he saw Hutch turn pale and put a hand out to steady himself as he swayed a little in his seat and dropped his food.  Starsky steeled himself and stood his ground, trying his best not to let on he even knew what was happening.  Out of the corner of his eye he watched Haley give Hutch a glass of water, which he accepted and downed without taking a breath.  Haley had put the antidote in his own water before they started eating.  Then, he drank none of it so he'd have it ready to give to Hutch.

 

"I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me today," Hutch said as Haley helped him to lie down across several folding chairs.

 

"Maybe you'd better let me take you home, Ken."  Haley was proud of himself.  The trick had worked like a charm.

 

Even feeling a little woozy, Hutch knew he couldn't let the minister take him to Venice Place.  He scrambled to think of some other place they could go. 

 

"No, I'm feeling better now.  I have an appointment with Dr. Brock this afternoon.  He can check me out then."

 

Haley nodded. "Are you sure?  I can drive you over there."

 

"No, I'm all right.  Maybe I'd better go though.  I'll be back tonight for the healing service.  Help me up, please."  Hutch put a hand up and the minister helped him to sit, steadying him so he wouldn't faint.  He knew the antidote was fast acting, but he had no intention of letting his mark leave without a promise to allow him to visit  his home.

 

"Why don't you plan to take a cab over here tonight, Ken.  You may be feeling a little weak after the service.  I could drive you home afterward."

 

"I'll think about it.  Thanks for the lunch, and I'm sorry to be so much trouble."

 

Starsky watched as Hutch stood, shook the minister's hand and left.  He wanted to follow him immediately, but didn't dare.  Instead, he stayed another thirty minutes, interviewing crewmembers and taking more pictures.  When he thought it was safe, he left and drove straight to Venice Place.

 

Hutch was on the phone and smoking a cigarette when Starsky let himself in through the open front door. 

 

"Yeah, Cap.  Okay.  I'll ask him."  Hutch paused a moment.  "No, I'm fine.  Yeah."

 

Starsky snatched the pack of cigarettes off the table and shoved them into his jacket pocket. 

 

"Hey!"  Hutch said, "Give those back." 

 

"What the hell's going on, Hutch?  You haven't smoked in ten years."

 

"Yeah, I know.  This guy's just got me a little rattled, I guess.  Sorry."  He put the cigarette out and turned to face his partner.

 

"Hutch, are you all right?  Either your acting is improving or you were really sick back there.  I was pretty freaked."  He put a hand on Hutch's forehead to see if he had a fever.

 

"I'd love to accept credit for it.  The head pain was a fake out, but the dizziness, that was the real thing.  I think he slipped something into my food.  Guess I shoulda kept fasting."

 

"WHAT!"  Starsky yelled.  "You think that creep drugged you?"

 

"Calm down, Starsk.  He was angling to get me to let him drive me home.  Wants to do that tonight.  I think he's looking to see if I'm really as rich as I said I was."

 

"Dammit, Hutch. I don't like it.  I'm calling Dobey and we're pulling out now."

 

"No, you're not.  I've already talked to him.  He's got me set up at the safe house on the North Side.  That's a suitably ritzy area.  He's going to take care of all the paperwork."

 

Starsky started to protest again, but Hutch interrupted him,  "Look, I'm sure whatever he slipped me wasn't dangerous, Starsk.  I got over it right away."

 

Starsky was up and pacing around the room.  "That's not the point.  The man drugged you!"

 

"I know.  That just makes me more determined to get to the bottom of this scam.  Oh, Dobey said to ask you if the guy from The Pulse told you everything."

 

Starsky stopped pacing.  "Yeah, he did.  Seems his brother died of leukemia after glomming onto this Haley and his bunch.  He refused to have a bone marrow transplant because those guys convinced him he was healed."

 

Hutch shook his head. "Dobey's pretty angry about the whole thing.  Says he doesn't like it when these charlatans take people in like this."

 

"Well, I don't like it, either.  I told you to be careful.  Don't eat or drink anything else he gives you."

 

Hutch nodded. "I'll try.  Hey, don't worry.  He won't want to kill me 'til I put him in my will." 

 

His attempt at a joke left Starsky numb instead of amused.  "That's not funny at all, Blintz.  These people are dangerous.  I'm telling you, if he tries anything else, I'm pulling you out of there."

 

"Let's just see where it leads next, okay?"

 

>>>>>

 

Starsky arrived early for the healing service, camera and a couple of extra rolls of film at the ready. Since he was expected to actually produce a real article for this, he wanted to do a good job – and he might capture something on film that would help the case, too. He'd already developed the photos from the first service, and neither he nor Hutch had been able to see anything in those pictures to use against Brother Haley. Tonight, Starsky was going to stay near the front and not let himself get lured away from the real action.

 

"Mr. Frank," Brother Haley said from behind him as Starsky was scouting around for good photo angles.

 

Starsky manufactured a smile. "Evening, sir."

 

Haley was dressed simply, in khakis and a polo shirt. He didn't look like Starsky's idea of a minister, or a shyster, for that matter. He must have guessed what Starsky was thinking. "The healing services often go quite late," he said, indicating his clothing. "And they also get quite emotional at times. I've found that casual clothing is more efficient."

 

Starsky nodded, accepting the explanation. "I don't want to disrupt the service, but I do want to capture the spirit of it authentically," he said. "I'd like to stay up here tonight so I can get the best photos."

 

"Certainly," Brother Haley said. "I have no problem with that. Do you have a telephoto lens? I'd rather you didn't have to get too close when someone is in pain, whether that pain is spiritual or physical."

 

Starsky held it up. "Yes, I do. I won't have to get very close."

 

"Good, good. I must go pray now and prepare myself for the service. My sister will assist you if you need any help," he said.

 

Starsky sat down on the nearest folding chair and watched and took photos as people began to arrive. Many seemed healthy enough, but there were also quite a few on crutches, several in wheelchairs, and one, a young girl no more than 10 or 11, missing a leg. The child's eyes were bright with expectation as she chattered eagerly to her parents. The family sat down near Starsky and his camera instantly fascinated the child.

 

"Are you going to take our picture?" she asked him.

 

He grinned at her. "I might. Is that okay?"

 

"Sure!"

 

"I'm writing a story on the revival for The Pulse," Starsky added to the parents. The mother, as most of the women who attended these services, had long hair tamed into a chignon, and was wearing a simple dress and little, if any makeup. The father wore a short-sleeved shirt and a tie. "My name's David Frank."

 

"I'm Mike and this is Suzanne and," the man's voice softened a little as he indicated his daughter, "Stephanie."

 

"That's a beautiful name," Starsky said to the child. She rewarded him with another bright smile. "And what a pretty smile you have," he added. "Can I take your picture now?"

 

"Oh, yes. He can, can't he, Mama?"

 

"What's this story going to be like?" the woman asked.

 

"Well, you can see there's a lot of interest in Brother Haley," Starsky said, gesturing at the crowd that was rapidly filling up the tent. "Bay City isn't a very religious town, normally."

 

"Amen," Mike muttered, and Starsky grinned again.

 

"So for all these people to want to come to these services, Brother Haley must be doing something right," Starsky said, mentally crossing his fingers as he said it. "I wanted to let people know what's going on. It's going to be a series of articles, showing different aspects of the ministry. I expect to devote one article just to the healing service."

 

As soon as he'd said that, he wished he hadn't, because Stephanie's eyes lit up again and she said, "Brother Haley's gonna pray for me!"

 

"That's terrific, sweetheart," Starsky said, wondering what the child and her parents expected to happen. Did they think Haley's prayer was going to grow her leg back? "Hey, I didn't take your picture yet," he added, to distract her. "How about I do that now, before the service starts?"

 

Stephanie glanced at her mother, who nodded. So Starsky stepped back and got ready. Stephanie gave him another of her bright smiles and he snapped two or three photos in quick succession, to capture the shining eyes and happy face just right.

 

"I'll send them to you when I develop them tomorrow, okay?" he asked.

 

"Oh, yes, that'd be wonderful!"

 

He scribbled down the family's address in his notebook and excused himself as the service began.

 

The band played four or five songs first, to get the crowd warmed up, Starsky thought cynically, before Brother Haley came on. Hutch slipped in only moments before Brother Haley took the stage, and Starsky was appalled at his appearance. He seemed to have aged several years just since Starsky had seen him earlier, and his pallor was so pronounced that he was almost translucent.

 

It's makeup, Starsky told himself. You just saw him this afternoon... He's fine.

 

"Friends!" Brother Haley bellowed, stopping the band and raising his hands for silence. "Friends, we are here tonight to beg the Lord's mercy on our infirmities."

 

"Amen!"

 

"Do you believe that the Almighty Creator of the universe can heal you?"

 

"Yes!"

 

"We believe!"

 

"Do you believe that by His stripes you are healed?"

 

"Yes, Brother! Preach it!"

 

"Will you trust the Lord to touch you this night?"

 

"We will!"

 

Starsky shot a few pictures of the people in wheelchairs, lined up across the front of the congregation. He tried not to look at Hutch, who was shouting with the rest, raising his hands in the air, and swaying a little as he did so. He was so pale....

 

Brother Haley closed his eyes and prayed. On and on he prayed, until Starsky stopped listening to it. He asked for everything a person could think of to ask for: health, wealth, prosperity, blessings on the church and on the offering, open hearts and minds among the people, miracles galore. Starsky was disgusted, and he wasn't sure how much of his disgust came from what Haley was actually saying, and how much of it was from the things he suspected Haley of doing. He took a few photos of Haley in the throes of prayer, with the band behind him, all of them with eyes closed and hands raised in supplication. He took a few more of Stephanie and her family. Her father had lifted her into his arms and was holding her up so she could see over the crowd.

 

Haley finished his prayer at last. "Sister," he said to Esther, "assist me, please."

 

The two of them came down off the platform and stood together. Esther handed her brother a jar of olive oil, and he poured a little of it on his hands.

 

"Come forth, all who would be healed tonight!" he thundered, and the people started lining up. Starsky fixed the telephoto lens to his camera and stood back out of the way, shooting frame after frame of the people who came forward. A man on crutches, with a twisted leg in a brace, had to be assisted as he stepped toward Haley. The preacher drew a cross on the man's forehead in oil, laid his hands on his shoulders, and prayed for long minutes. Esther stood next to the man, one hand on his back, the other in the air. Starsky was watching through his camera lens, taking photos. Suddenly, the man let out an anguished wail, startling in the hushed atmosphere, and dropped like a rock. Instinct made Starsky put the camera down and take a step toward him, but almost as soon as he did, the man's eyes opened and the expression in them was otherworldly. Instead of moving toward him, Starsky yanked the camera back up and tried to capture that expression.

 

He was stunned into immobility when the man stood up, tossed the crutches aside, and struggled to get the brace off. The friend who had helped him come forward knelt and unbuckled some of the straps for him.

 

And the man started dancing.

 

Starsky's mouth fell open and he stared. It took him several minutes to recover enough to start taking pictures again, but when he did, he made sure to get some close-ups of the man's formerly crippled leg. He was astonished to see that it no longer looked crippled. This man who hadn't been able to take a few steps unassisted a few minutes ago was dancing!

 

Starsky shot a glance toward Hutch, but his partner wasn't looking at him. He had his eyes closed, his brow furrowed, and he looked as if he were in pain.

 

Acting. He's acting, Starsky reminded himself sternly. It's part of his cover. He's fine.

 

It was getting harder to believe that. Starsky turned back toward the man, dancing joyfully up and down the aisles, showing off his leg.

 

"I'm healed! I'm healed!" he shouted over and over again. "Praise God!"

 

Haley watched, smiling, for a moment, before turning to the next person. Esther picked up the discarded crutches and brace and stacked them at the foot of the platform.

 

As the service progressed, that stack grew higher and higher. And Starsky grew more and more disturbed. He had suspected the "healings" were plants in the audience, hired and coached by Haley and his sister, but he had seen that first man's twisted leg with his own eyes.

 

He went still when Stephanie and her parents approached Haley. He scooted around to get a good angle with the camera and tried to creep close enough to hear what was going on. That proved unnecessary.

 

Haley gestured at the band to stop playing again, and he held up his hands for the crowd's silence. Then he knelt in front of the little girl. "What's your name?"

 

"Stephanie," she said, turning shy and clinging to her father's hand.

 

"What do you want from the Lord tonight, Stephanie?"

 

She glanced up at her dad, then back at Haley. "My leg," she said, holding it out. It had been amputated just below the knee. "I can't run or play. It won't get better so they can put a pros – a pros – " She glanced back at her dad again.

 

"They can't fit her with a prosthetic leg until it heals," Mike said. "It's been months, and the poor kid.... " His voice failed.

 

Haley patted his arm. He turned to the child. "Do you trust the Lord, Stephanie?"

 

She nodded.

 

"Do you believe He knows what's best for you?"

 

She nodded again, and her lips trembled.

 

"Do you believe He loves you, even more than your dad and mom do?"

 

She glanced up at her parents a bit doubtfully, but finally nodded at that, too.

 

"Esther," Haley said to his sister, and she knelt beside him and poured a little more oil onto his hands. He laid his hands on Stephanie's leg and closed his eyes.

 

Starsky looked around the tent. All over the tent, others were closing their eyes, too, raising their hands or stretching them toward Stephanie, and the voices of many of them rose, some speaking in tongues, others in English, praying. Hutch finally looked his way, and in one of those silent exchanges, the two of them agreed that if this man ever had any real influence with the Almighty, now was the time it had better bear fruit. It was bad enough if he fooled adults who should know better, but to play fast and loose with a trusting little girl was just too much.

 

Finally, Haley let go of the child and sat back on his heels. "Stephanie, how do you feel?"

 

She frowned a little. "I don't know. Okay, I guess."

 

"How does your leg feel?"

 

She looked down at it. "It doesn't feel any different," she said, her voice trembling.

 

Haley looked up at her parents. "The Lord answers prayer in His own time and in His own way," he said. "Perhaps He is not yet ready to heal her. Perhaps He already has."

 

Stephanie was openly crying now, and her father scooped her up in his arms. Slowly, the family moved back to their seats. Starsky was livid, and trying not to show it. He hadn't really expected anything to happen, but to get the kid's hopes up like that was unforgivable in his book.

 

Hutch was next. Starsky forced his anger down to a manageable level and raised the camera again. But as Hutch took a step forward, he fell as if in a dead faint.

 

Starsky had to bite his lip so hard he drew blood in order to keep from rushing to his partner's side. Haley knelt next to Hutch.

 

"Brother? What's wrong? Brother?" Haley gently turned him over and felt his forehead. He glanced around. "Is there a doctor here?"

 

Why don't you just pray for him? Starsky thought bitterly, his heart pounding and the adrenaline pumping with nowhere to go.

 

Chapter 5

 

"I'm a nurse," said a plump older woman. She knelt next to Hutch, too, and felt his pulse and opened his eyes. He moaned a little and tried to push her hands away. "I think he just fainted," she said to Haley.

 

Hutch's eyelashes fluttered and he opened his eyes, looking up at the three faces surrounding him as if he didn't know where he was.

 

"What happened?" he asked.

 

"You fainted," the nurse said.

 

Hutch closed his eyes as if in pain. "The doctor said that might happen sometimes," he said softly. He struggled to a sitting position and held his head in his hands. "I'll be all right," he said to the woman.

 

It was just part of the act, Starsky thought, relieved. I hope.

 

"Let me pray for you, brother," Haley said, reaching for him. But Hutch shook his head and tried to stand. Haley helped him.

 

"Not tonight," Hutch said, still seeming groggy and disoriented. "I need to go home. Could somebody help me get home?"

 

Haley glanced at his sister. "Will you take over here? I'll drive him home."

 

She nodded, and Haley put an arm around Hutch. Slowly, they walked down the

aisle toward the exit, with Starsky seething with impatience and worry behind them. He tried to tell himself this was Hutch's way of showing Haley his "ritzy" place, but he wouldn't draw an easy breath until he knew for sure. And if Haley was taking him home, it might be hours before it was safe to call or show up to make sure.

 

>>>>>>>

 

Hutch allowed Haley to drive him home in the Mercedes.  The pastor said he could catch a cab later and that way Hutch would have his car if he needed it.  Sinking wearily into the passenger seat, Hutch turned his face away from the minister and leaned heavily against the glass.  He weakly gave directions to the safe house.

 

Once they arrived, Hutch got out of the car in the driveway and started up the back steps.  Halfway up, Hutch grabbed his head in pain and stumbled, letting a soft moan escape his lips.  Haley grabbed him around his waist from the back and helped him to his feet. 

 

"Thanks.  I don't know what's wrong with me tonight."  He shook his head in an effort to regain his equilibrium.  He reached over the doorjamb for the key, grateful to find that Dobey had thought of that.  Haley took it from him and let them in through the kitchen door.  The house was dark.  When Haley found the light switch, he turned it on and saw a large, richly appointed kitchen.  He noted with satisfaction that Halliday must be wealthy indeed to live in such a house. 

 

Fortunately, Hutch had been to the house on previous occasions.  Dobey told him he would arrange for everything.  He invited Brother Haley to make himself at home, but he never made it through the living room.  Turning back toward the minister with his hand up to his forehead, he said, "I still feel a little funny.  I think I'll just lie down on the couch for a little while."

 

He stumbled over to the sofa and sank down on it in a heap. 

 

"Where's the bathroom?"  Haley asked.

 

Hutch pointed weakly down the hall and said, "On the right."

 

Haley found the bathroom, went in and closed the door.  He really wasn't interested in using the facilities.  What he wanted to do was snoop.  Quietly opening the medicine cabinet door, he rifled through the contents.  Captain Dobey and the team from Metro were thorough.  A collection of prescription bottles, partially filled with different colored placebos and written to Ken Halliday, was in the cabinet.  Haley looked at them with satisfaction.  He grinned to himself, knowing he had found his next mark.  Turning to the linen cupboard, he pulled out a washcloth, dampened it with cold water and then he returned to the living room where he found Hutch stretched out on the sofa, eyes closed, breathing rapidly, as if he were in pain.

 

Kneeling next to Hutch, Haley put the cool washcloth on his forehead and said, "Maybe this will help. Do you need anything?"

 

Hutch opened his eyes slowly and focused on Haley's face.  "Thanks, but no.  I appreciate you driving me home.  You can use the phone in the kitchen to call a cab."  He reached in his pocket to get his wallet.

 

"No, Brother.  I can't take money from you."  He put his hand on Hutch's arm to stop him.  "Besides, I don't feel right leaving you like this.  I'll just stay a while until I'm sure you're all right."

 

Hutch couldn't help but think I'll bet you can't take money from me.  He did his best to resist smiling at that.

 

"No need.  I get like this sometimes.  Doc said it would come and go."  Hutch could see that Haley was determined to stay – to make Ken Halliday feel a need for him.  He was sure the man would insist and he was correct.

 

"I'll stay.  Just until I'm sure." 

 

Hutch nodded his agreement and closed his eyes again.  He knew Starsky would be worried and hoped he would keep away from the house long enough for him to get the pastor out of there.  Maybe if he made the man a little uncomfortable, he'd be more inclined to leave.

 

Several minutes after Haley had settled into a chair near the sofa, Hutch quietly asked him a question,  "What happened with that little girl?"  He was still seething with disgust over the child's obvious disappointment.

 

"What do you mean, Brother?"  Haley asked, his voice dripping of the purest naivetι. 

 

"All of those others seemed healed when you touched them.  Why not that child?"  He knew this was dangerous territory, but he also hoped it would provoke a useful response.

 

"How do we know she wasn't helped?  The Lord works in mysterious ways, Brother."

 

"But she said she didn't feel any different," he continued to press.

 

"She's just a child.  God, in His infinite wisdom, may have other plans for her.  Ours is not to question Him or His ways."  Although he really didn't expect a different response, Hutch was hoping not to be thrown a standard line of rhetoric by the man.  He wasn't sure why he thought it could be otherwise.  The man continued,  "Let me help you, Brother.  I'll pray with you."

 

Deciding to take a huge risk in the operation, Hutch replied, "No, sir.  Thank you for all of your kind attention, but I just can't.  Maybe it was a mistake my going to your church.  Seeing God fail that child, why should he help someone like me?  I won't trouble you anymore."  He was careful to accuse God of the failure, not the pastor.

 

Haley squirmed uncomfortably inside, but his exterior was a smooth and impenetrable mask.  "God never fails, my son. As Job said, 'With Him are wisdom and might; To Him belong counsel and understanding.'"

 

Hutch was ready for him.  He had quickly memorized some suitable Bible passages in preparation for this undercover assignment. The book of Job had been high on his list.  "Yes, Brother, but did he not also say that it was God who made his heart faint and that the Almighty dismayed him?  I will make my peace in my own way."

 

The minister was unsure where to take this next, but he was not willing to let such a big fish wriggle off his hook.  He gazed at the blond man before him, obviously suffering from pain and the weariness brought on by his disease.

 

"Don't lose heart and faith, Brother Ken.  Let us pray together now.  You saw how many others were helped.  Tomorrow, come back to the ministry and we will try to help you find your way." 

 

Hutch wavered a little and then agreed.  The pastor stayed and prayed with him for two hours.

 

Meanwhile, Starsky covered the rest of the healing service.   He was itching to call Hutch, but afraid to blow it.  Haley hadn't returned and after two hours, he was getting nervous.   When the service was over, he noticed that Esther had gone to speak with Stephanie and her parents.  The child was on her father's lap, her head turned into his chest.  She obviously was refusing to look at Esther.   He pretended to be writing in his notebook as he inched his way close enough to them to hear the conversation.

 

"Please don't be discouraged, friends.  The Lord works in His own way.  Sometimes Brother Haley does special healing meetings for individuals.  Would you like me to set that up for you?"  Esther spoke soothingly to the couple, who were nodding their agreement. 

 

"Stephanie has a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning.  We could come after that, is there time?"  Suzanne asked.  Esther excused herself long enough to retrieve her brother's calendar.

 

Starsky edged closer and said, "Hi, folks.  Things all right?"  He knew there would be a price for this special healing meeting Esther was offering and he wondered if this was a way of bilking the worried parents out of some money.

 

"Yes.  Brother Haley is going to meet with us one-on-one for Stephanie.  Isn't that wonderful?"  Suzanne answered.  Mike looked more skeptical, but he held his tongue.

 

"I hope it will help.  Can you tell me how it felt tonight?  I mean when you saw all of those other people helped, but Stephanie didn't seem to be affected?"

 

Esther Haley walked up behind him as he said that.  She stepped between him and the family, a displeased look on her face.  She quietly said to him, "Is this part of your article, Mr. Frank?  I would hate to think you are using their pain for your own ends."

 

Starsky was galled by that remark.  "Yes, I think it's fair if I examine all sides, don't you?"

 

"As long as you aren't interfering with the ministry or bothering our brothers and sisters."

 

Mike said, "He's not bothering us, Sister.  I think it's a fair question.  We're disappointed, naturally.  I'm not ready to give up hope yet, though.  Look at that other man.  The one who fainted after Brother laid hands on Stephanie.  He also wasn't helped.  Surely, Mr. Frank here isn't implying it was just Stephanie the Lord turned away from tonight."

 

That comment brought Hutch instantly back to the forefront of Starsky's mind.  He hoped he was all right.  In his head, he continued with the litany, Hutch is fine.  All part of his cover.  Hutch is fine.

 

Esther turned back toward the family.  "The Lord didn't turn away from your daughter.  Give it time.  If anyone can help, my brother can."  She shot a withering glare at Starsky.  "Brother Haley has time tomorrow at one.  Can you be here?"

 

"We'll be here." 

 

Starsky interjected,  "Tell me something, Sister Haley. Is there any charge for this special meeting with the good pastor?"

 

Esther was becoming more than annoyed with the nosey reporter.  "Not exactly.  Brother does ask for a donation to help defray the costs of the ministry."  Just as Starsky suspected. 

 

The mother piped up, "We'll pay it.  Anything to help Stephanie."  The couple stood and took their daughter out of the tent.  When they were out of earshot, Esther Haley turned her now undisguised anger on the reporter.

 

"Who do you think you are, Mr. Frank?  You promised not to interfere with us."  She was turning an interesting shade of red.

 

"I'm a reporter, ma'am.  I ask questions and sometimes they are painful ones.  What's the big deal?  You have something to hide here?"  He didn't expect to get anywhere, but he threw that question out nonetheless.

 

"Of course we don't." Her expression softened a notch and she added, "I'm sorry for displaying my temper in that way.  I just feel protective of our flock."

 

"I understand ma'am.  May I ask you a few more questions?"  Since Haley was not there yet, he guessed he would fill the time by investigating.

 

Esther sighed; drying her clammy palms on her skirt as she took the seat Starsky indicated.  He tried to maintain a demeanor of sincere inquiry, without appearing judgmental.  After what happened with Stephanie, that was difficult.

 

"I noticed after your brother left with that poor man who collapsed tonight, no other healings seemed to take place.  Is it that your brother has the special healing ability?"

 

Looking a bit dumbfounded, Esther opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it on reconsideration.  She folded her hands together on her lap and looked seriously into Starsky's inquisitive face.  "My brother has the gift of healing, yes. I have not been as blessed that way.  I wish you could have seen our father.  He truly had the gift.  Such wondrous ministry poured from his hands.  He was like God's instrument in a way I can only pray to someday be."

 

The look of sincerity on her face was unexpected.  Starsky felt a little of the fire in his heart dissipate under Esther's gaze.  Maybe she wasn't into the "enterprise" of the ministry.  His danger sense did not seem to extend as much to her and he knew he needed to be cautious.  He was playing a part; perhaps Esther was, too.

 

He considered where to go next with his questions, and took a chance on something at what appeared to be a vulnerable moment for her. "Sister Esther, my readers will be interested in what's done with all the money collected by the ministry.  Would it be possible for me to speak with some of the people keepin' your books?  I'm sure you have an accounting staff.   I think sometimes it puts people at ease to know how honestly a charity is handling its funding."  Starsky did his best to attach his most charming look to the question as he tipped his head a little to one side.  If nothing else, he was well schooled in the art of looking slightly vulnerable and his natural charisma had helped him carry it off many times.

 

The target of that boyish look mellowed.  She smiled slightly and said, "I don't see why not.  Come back tomorrow, say at 11:00.  That will give the girls time to finish with the payroll before your interview. "

 

"Terrific.  I'll be here."   He stood up and shook her hand warmly.  After gathering his camera equipment, he left the tent and walked as nonchalantly as he could toward the battered hulk of a vehicle.  The entire way to the car the little hairs on the back of his neck were standing up, alert to the feeling he was being watched.  Esther wasn't the only one who watched him leave.  Two men who could most accurately be described as bouncers were also watching from the shadows of the parking lot.  Huddled in the dark near the tent, they made note of the man and his vehicle.  Giving each other a knowing glance, they went back inside the tent to help shut down for the night.

 

Having gotten far enough away from the tent show to feel comfortable, Starsky grabbed the radio mike and asked dispatch to put him through to the unmarked car watching the safe house.  After ascertaining that the minister was still in the house, he instructed the other officer to call him on the radio as soon as he left.  Then he drove nearby and parked Hutch's car on a side street where Haley wouldn't see him and he waited. 

 

When the call finally came, Starsky waited a few more moments until he saw a cab pulling out of the neighborhood.  Then he walked to the house, fearful the minister could still return.  Hiding himself would at least be easier than hiding the car.

 

Starsky found the kitchen door open and he let himself into the house, calling out to Hutch.  "Hey!"  When he didn't receive an immediate answer, he became concerned and he started to search the house.  He found Hutch crashed on the couch, still looking too pale, with a washcloth covering his forehead.  When Starsky sat on the coffee table and touched Hutch on the arm, he nearly jumped off the couch he was so startled. 

 

"Huh?"  He looked around with momentary confusion.  Starsky was concerned that Hutch really had been asleep.

 

"You okay?"  He looked closely into Hutch's dilated eyes, hoping they looked that way because of the dim lighting.  The blond looked like he didn't feel well.

 

"Starsk, how'd you... where's Haley?"  Hutch put a hand up and took down the washcloth. 

 

"He split.  I've been waiting around the block for over an hour."  Starsky reached up to touch Hutch's clammy forehead.  "You sure you're really okay?"

 

"Lighten up, Starsk.  I'm fine."  Hutch stood up and walked toward the kitchen.  "Want a beer?  Bet they stocked up the fridge."  Starsky watched him go, wondering if he detected a little unsteadiness in his gait.  Stop it.  He's fine, idiot.

 

"Sure.  What happened?  What the hell was goin' on here and why were you all crashed out like that?"  Starsky was full of questions and he wasn't hiding the concern in his voice like he had hoped he could.

 

Hutch returned with the beers and said, "Will you relax?  Brother Bigshot wanted to pray over me or something.  We traded Scripture and I think I scared him into making a more serious try for my devotion, if you get my drift.  He wants me to come in tomorrow for a special healing meeting, just the two of us."

 

"Terrific.  That poor little girl and her parents are going to one of those meetings tomorrow, too.  You get anything else?"

 

Hutch took a long sip of his beer. He put his head back and tried to let the tension flow out of him as he answered.  "If nothing else, he's convinced I'm sick and he's convinced I'm rich.  I heard him going through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.  Guess Dobey and the setup team did a good job."

 

"He's convinced?"  Starsky decided he'd better level with Hutch.  "I'm convinced.  Are you sure you're okay, buddy?  I gotta tell you, I was scared shitless when you collapsed like that.  And how the hell did you get yourself lookin' so rough between when I saw you this afternoon and when you walked into that tent?"

 

"I scared you?  Sorry, buddy.  I'm fine.  Quit worrying, huh?  I'd like to thank the Academy...." Hutch smiled wryly, but the tired lines around his eyes and his general appearance still had Starsky worried.

 

"Ha, ha.  Look, you'd tell me if somethin' was really wrong, wouldn't you?"

 

Hutch wanted to laugh at him, but he decided he'd better not.  The look on his friend's face told him how concerned he was. "Course I would.  Look, I'll admit, I'm not feelin' too good.  I must be coming down with something.  Maybe that helped with the look, who knows?   Swear, I'm not hiding a terminal illness from you, partner."  He smiled again and reached out to pat Starsky on the arm. 

 

His superstitious partner didn't like Hutch even saying "terminal illness" associated with himself.  He smiled back and nodded that he understood.  The look that passed between them was clear though.  "I'm watching you," sent, "I know," received.

 

Starsky explained what he had learned at the tent.  Then they discussed the photos he had taken that night.  In the morning, he and Hutch would meet at a diner they liked that was nowhere near the ministry.   Starsky would bring the developed film with him.  They were hoping to discover something interesting in those shots.  Starsky also explained that his gut instincts were telling him Esther was a peripheral part of the scam.  While Brother Haley was purely creepy, and every cop instinct both of them had knew he was dangerous, they agreed Esther seemed to be relatively uninvolved in the dark side of the ministry.

 

Hutch said, "I was so angry when that poor little girl came up and nothing happened for her.  Guess it was unrealistic to expect this guy to really have the ability to heal.  You know what really pisses me off, Starsk?  Somehow I know there are real, dedicated people who have the ability to heal.  People who get that gift from a higher power.  This guy, he's just bad news."

 

Starsky nodded.  "Poor Stephanie.  Hey, next time you're gonna collapse, you think you could warn me somehow?  Wait, never mind.  I know the answer.  Look, I didn't like him bein' here alone with you like this tonight.  He already probably put something in your food once.   I want you to wear a wire."

 

"No way, Starsk.  This guy lays hands on people.   I stumbled on the back steps on the way into the house tonight and he picked me up.  If I'd been wearing a wire, he'd have known."

 

Starsky's eyes opened wide with concern.  "What'dya mean you stumbled? For real, or for Brother Bigshot's benefit?"

 

Hutch shook his head wearily and said, "Aw, come on, Starsk.  Drop it, will ya?  No wire."

 

Starsky put a hand on Hutch's arm again and looked him squarely in the eyes.  They looked clearer now, and he was glad to see that.  "Answer my question."

 

"I tripped on my big feet, if you must know."  Hutch blushed.

 

Starsky smiled at him and said, "Klutz."

 

Hutch smiled back.  "Dirtball."

 

Starsky stood up and said, "Well, I have photos to develop.  If you're okay here for the night, I'll see you at Casey's for breakfast at eight."

 

"I'm fine.  Get some sleep, too.  Tomorrow may be a long one."

 

As he walked out the kitchen door, Starsky called over his shoulder, "You're wearin' a wire starting tomorrow night."

 

Hutch called back, "No, I'm not."  He chuckled to himself when he heard the door click shut.  Sometimes having a best friend that worries all the time was a pain, but it still felt good to know his partner was watching out for him.  He started turning out the lights and headed to the back of the house to examine his sleeping arrangements.

 

Chapter 6

 

Starsky stopped down the street and spoke briefly with the cops in the unmarked car, on the pretense of bending down to tie his shoe, just in case someone was watching. 

 

"Call me at home if anyone comes over here before he leaves in the morning.  He should be leavin' around 7:30."

 

"Sure thing, Starsky.  We've got him covered."

 

As he walked back to Hutch's car, Starsky's mind was racing.  What would tomorrow bring?  What did Haley have planned for his partner?  The most important questions still centered on Hutch's health.  Why did he trip on the stairs?  Was he really feeling dizzy tonight?   He strengthened his resolve to keep a wary eye on the big blond.  Glad he had film to develop, Starsky knew he wouldn't be getting much sleep.  He also knew he had lost the argument about Hutch wearing a wire.  If he couldn't get his partner to wear one, he'd have Dobey bug the house.  Hutch would agree to that.

 

Starsky stayed up into the wee hours developing the rolls of film he'd taken at the service. The ones of Stephanie and her parents turned out very nice, not even spoiled by the slightly worried expressions on the faces of both her mother and father in spite of their smiles. Stephanie's bright eyes and eager smile made up for that easily.

 

Further into the developing, he came upon the photos of Stephanie with Brother Haley – or Brother Bigshot, as he and Hutch had been calling him. Starsky's eyes had mostly been on Stephanie, though he'd thought he was watching the evangelist, and now he saw that the man's eyes were not really closed in prayer, as he'd assumed. Haley had been looking past Stephanie and her parents, out into the congregation. That puzzled Starsky. What had he been looking at? Starsky closed his own eyes and tried to bring up a mental picture of that section of the congregation. No one stood out. Several people of different ages – mostly between 30 and 50 – had been right behind Stephanie, many of them praying aloud, stretching their hands toward the child. Hutch had been back there, too, and had played along. Or maybe not. Knowing the Blintz's soft heart, he might well have been praying, too. Had Haley been looking at Hutch?

 

Starsky shook his head. He couldn't be certain. He kept working, carefully examining each photo for clues. He found the one with the first man to be healed, the one whose twisted leg had been in a brace. He enlarged that one several times, zeroing in on the leg. It certainly looked twisted and withered. He enlarged several more photos he'd taken during that healing. There was the one where the man had fallen down. Starsky looked closely at his leg, still in the brace. But because of the man's position, he wasn't able to get a really good look at his leg.

 

In the final few photos, the man was standing up, taking off his brace, and showing off his "healed" leg. Starsky enlarged the last one, where the man was dancing. His leg certainly looked straight and normal in that one. He compared that photo to the first one. Some trick of the brace itself? He wondered. He put those photos aside to show Hutch and moved on.

 

Another of the healings involved someone who had been in a wheelchair. Easy enough to fake that, Starsky thought. Sit there and look helpless, and when the right moment came, jump up and announce you're healed. Same for the woman who had complained of back pain. Maybe she had a bad back, and maybe she didn't. No way to tell.

 

He returned to the man with the twisted leg and compared his bad leg to his good one. There was a definite difference, both in the way it was attached to his hip and in the way his pants hung on it. And later, when he'd been dancing, it had looked just like the other one.

 

"S'pose even Doug Henning can do real magic sometimes, too," Starsky muttered to himself disgustedly.

 

He continued to examine the photos until he found one he thought he could use. This, too, had been someone in a wheelchair, a man about his own age who had said he had been paralyzed for some years. Haley had knelt in front of him and removed the lap robe that had covered his legs. Starsky had been using the zoom lens and had gotten a very close shot of the man's legs. They weren't at all wasted and thin, as they should have been if the man hadn't been using them for years. And if they were paralyzed, he could hardly have been exercising them, could he?

 

Haley had run his hands over the man's legs from knee to ankle, praying all the while. The man had sat there, trembling and crying, and finally, Haley had stood up and held his hands out to the man, as you would to a child you were encouraging to walk on its own. The man had stood up shakily and reached for Haley, who had backed away, smiling and encouraging him. "Walk!" Haley had said. "Walk to me! In the name of the Lord!"

 

And the man had, to the cheers and "hallelujahs" of the crowd. Starsky stared at that photo for a long time. Something about this man in particular was making all his detective instincts rise up and howl. He quickly sorted through the photographs he'd taken the night before. And then he found it. A man who looked a lot like this one. Same height and build, but with different colored hair and a mustache. Otherwise, they could have been brothers. Or possibly even the same man....

 

Starsky laid the two photos together. The photo from the first night was slightly out of focus, because it had been taken during the thickest of the worship time, when members of the congregation were waving their arms in the air, singing, some of them even dancing in place.

 

It wasn't proof. But it was definitely worth looking into.

 

Hutch came over bright and early, too early for Starsky, who hadn't gone to bed until 3 or 4 in the morning. He let himself in when he got no answer from his knock, and found Starsky sacked out cold in bed, lying on top of the covers fully dressed. He grinned and shook his head and went toward the kitchen, intending to make coffee. But the table was covered with Starsky's photos, and he stopped to look them over.

 

He was struck with the quality of the photos. He'd known Starsky was a good photographer, good enough to be a professional, but these photos were striking. Starsky had managed to catch the spirit and the flavor of the revival in them, and the variety of shots was amazing. There were close-ups of faces transported in the ecstasy of worship, longer shots which showed the crowd singing, holding up their hands and praying, shots of healings, shots of Brother Haley preaching and of the band. Each and every one was full of life and action.

 

Two were laid aside, apart from the others. Hutch picked them up and studied them. Clearly, Starsky had been searching for something in particular.

 

One photo showed a small section of the congregation, six or eight people, slightly out of focus, hands in the air, eyes closed. The second showed Haley and one of the people who had come forward for healing. Haley's hands were on the man's head. Hutch studied this one closely and compared it to the other after a few minutes. He thought he knew what Starsky had been looking for.  One of the men in the group shot bore a striking resemblance to the man in the wheelchair in the second shot. But the group shot had been taken the first night; Hutch recognized one of the other people as someone he had spoken to that night. The man in question was standing up and had even been doing a sort of dance at one point. The healing was on the second night.

 

Starsky thought the healing was staged. Hutch knew it as clearly as if his partner was standing beside him and had said so aloud.

 

"You see it, too, don't you?" Starsky asked quietly from behind him.

 

Hutch turned, still holding the two photos. "I see a resemblance, yes. But it's not the same man."

 

Starsky stared at him. "Come on, Hutch. It's easy enough to change your appearance. He coulda dyed his hair or worn a wig. It's the same guy. We're looking for evidence Brother Bigshot's a faker, and there it is!"

 

"I'm not saying Haley isn't a faker," Hutch said. "I'm saying these two guys are not the same man."

 

"It's worth checking out, anyway," Starsky argued.

 

"And if we did, we'd blow our cover," Hutch said.

 

"We could get Jack and Sean to do it, or Simmons and Babcock." Starsky was seriously disturbed at Hutch's stubbornness on this point. "Besides," he went on, "I'm supposed to be doing a story on this whole thing. I could check it out to confirm the facts for the story."

 

"Then do," Hutch said. "I can't."

 

There was an odd note to Hutch's voice that worried Starsky. Usually they could discuss it when they disagreed on a point in a case, but there was a flat "this is not open for discussion" tone in Hutch's voice this time and Starsky knew pressing the point would only run him smack into that Viking wall of ice. And it hadn't escaped him that Hutch had called the evangelist "Haley" and not "Brother Bigshot."

 

"I thought we were meeting at Casey's for breakfast," Starsky said, mostly to change the subject. "What are you doing here?"

 

"It's 9," Hutch said with a grin. "We were supposed to meet at 8, remember? I waited almost an hour and then I realized you were probably still sleeping.  So I came over here."

 

"Sorry," Starsky said sheepishly. "I was up pretty late developing these."

 

Considering the number of photos, Hutch was surprised he'd gotten that much done and gotten any sleep at all. "These are good," he said, sifting through them again.

 

"Thanks." Starsky yawned and padded over to start coffee. "Still wanna go to Casey's? Or you wanna eat here?"

 

"Let's eat here," Hutch said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. "It's probably safer than being seen in public together, anyway."

 

"Okay." Starsky rooted through the fridge for some bacon and eggs and got the frying pan going. He glanced over at his partner and saw him studying the photo of Haley laying hands on Stephanie, but looking out into the congregation. "Whattya make of that?" Starsky asked, trying to sound casual.

 

"What? That he didn't heal Stephanie?" Hutch didn't look at him.

 

"That, too, but look at Haley's face. He's not prayin'. He's staring at somebody. Thought maybe it was you."

 

"No, it wasn't me," Hutch said. "And how do you know he isn't praying? Because his eyes are open?"

 

Starsky turned around and looked at Hutch to see if he was joking. Sometimes the Blintz's sense of humor expressed itself in strange ways, and maybe this was one of those times. But Hutch wasn't looking at him – still wasn't looking at him – and there was no trace of the quirky expression he would have if he was pulling Starsky's leg.

 

"Answer me something honestly," Starsky said, abandoning breakfast to sit down across from Hutch.

 

"What?"

 

"Are you falling for this guy's schtick?" When Hutch finally did look up, it was with an expression of guilt. That did nothing to calm Starsky's fears.

 

"What are you talking about?"

 

"You don't believe he can really heal, do you?"

 

Hutch shook his head. "No. At least, I don't think so."

 

"You don't think so?" Starsky's voice rose.

 

"Look, I'm trying to keep an open mind," Hutch said. "We can't bust a guy for holding a revival, for crying out loud. We have to have evidence. And if I'm going to be convincing undercover, I have to keep an open mind."

 

Starsky stared at him for several moments, until the hissing of bacon frying reminded him to get up and turn it over. He shook his head, poking at the food with a spatula. "Be careful, partner," he said over his shoulder. "Don't get sucked in."

 

"Don't worry."

 

Don't worry, he says.  Don't worry.  Right.  Starsky's days were now full of worry.  He worried that something was seriously wrong with Hutch.  He worried that Haley would hurt his partner somehow.  Now he was worried the man was getting through to his partner.  The night before, Hutch seemed to believe he was faking, too.  Now, Starsky wasn't certain.  Starsky knew in his heart that Haley was a fake, and he suspected him of being a swindler and a murderer.  Nice company for Hutch to be in when Starsky wasn't there to protect him.  Since Hutch had already refused to wear a wire, now was as good a time as any to tell him he wanted the house bugged.

 

"I was thinking about you wearing a wire."  He put a hand up to squelch the coming protest.  "Just listen. I get it that you won't.  Instead, I'm gonna ask Dobey to have the house and your car bugged.  That way, at least someone is listening when you're alone with Haley."

 

"All right." 

 

Starsky needed to probe that wall of ice a little before he could let the subject go.  "Uh, last night you said Haley was bad news.  You change your mind?"

 

Hutch looked thoughtful for a moment.  "No.  I'm just not sure about this healing thing.  Dammit, Starsk, I have to keep an open mind. I'm not that good an actor.  If I go in there thinking he's full of it, I'm afraid it'll show on my face.  Understand?"

 

"Yeah, I hear ya.  I just want to be sure the guy's not brainwashing you or something."

 

Hutch laughed at that.  "Repeat after me, Oh wa ta foo liam."

 

"Very funny, Blintz."

 

Starsky brought their food to the table.  He ate his with his usual gusto, but Hutch picked.  When they were done eating, he thought it would be a stretch to say his partner had eaten half of what he gave him.

 

"You still starving yourself for your craft?"  he asked as he cleared the plates from the table.

 

"Huh?  Oh, I'm just not hungry."

 

Starsky decided against making additional remarks about Hutch's health.  He had already pushed enough buttons in the short time they'd been together.

 

"When are you goin' over to see Haley?"

 

"This afternoon, at two."

 

"Good, that'll give you time to take the car down to the precinct to get it wired.  I'll call Dobey about the house."

 

"Okay.  What about you?"

 

"I'm gonna grab a quick shower.  Then I think I'll stop by The Pulse and let Detchel see these photos.  I have an appointment at Haley's to meet with the accounting staff at 11:00.  I'll make sure I'm still there at two if I have to ask them a million questions."

 

Hutch smiled at him.  "All right, partner.  Settle down though, huh?  You're running a little hot." 

 

Starsky gave him his best "Who, me?" look and Hutch nodded, satisfied his partner would be careful.  He left a few minutes later, promising he would look in on Dobey and ask about the bug for the house so Starsky didn't have to call. 

 

Brother Haley got up early that morning and called the ministry's physician, John Thompson, in to see him.  The man was a convert, zealous and loyal.  He had called on the doctor to help him in the work many times.  This time, he wanted something to help him win Hutch's trust and belief.

 

"Brother John, I need a favor."

 

"You have only to ask."  Thompson would do anything to help the pastor.

 

"One of our newest congregants has a terminal illness.  I need to help him feel better while I am waiting for the Lord to finish his healing work.  Brother Ken's energy level is failing and I'm afraid if he doesn't receive help from God soon, he'll give up hope.  Can you give me something to give him that will help him to not feel so tired?"

 

Thompson asked, "What's wrong with him?"

 

"He has an inoperable brain tumor."

 

"Isn't the healing helping at all?" 

 

"You know the Lord works in His own time.  I just want to help Brother Ken to get through the hard part while we wait.  I need something I can give him without his knowledge, understand?"  He tried to make his voice and eyes convey sincerity and concern for the blond man.

 

"All right.  I could give you some uppers, those will give him lots of energy.  Just be careful not to give him too much.  That could be dangerous."

 

Haley smiled.  Despite the sinister look his smile always seemed to carry, his converts could not see it.  They were blinded by the man's charisma and their thoughts that he had a healing gift.  Haley found that a little sad.  In the beginning, he thought he had that gift too, just like his father.  In time, he became jaded and angry with God.  How could God deny him?  When he left to form his traveling ministry, he discovered how easy it was to convince people who had no hope left that he was helping them.  Along the way, the money he could make from these lost souls seduced him.  Now, he was convinced he really was God's agent and that his actions were justified.   He had no compunction about giving speed to a dying man to get across his point.  God would forgive him if it meant more money to the ministry that would help him spread the word.

 

"That's fine.  You tell me how much," he said.  Thompson returned a few minutes later with a small box of capsules.  He instructed Haley to empty just one of them into a drink.  They should be undetectable. 

 

"Be sure not to overdo it.  You could kill him." 

 

"I'll be careful, Brother.  All for the cause, right?" 

 

Starsky arrived a few minutes before eleven.  He went straight into the tent to find Esther.  She was waiting for him near the front entrance.

 

"Good morning," she said.  "You're right on time."

 

"Well, I wouldn't get used to it, ma'am.  I'm not usually prompt."  He laughed at himself.

 

She returned his laughter. "Come with me.  I just checked and the girls are finished with their work.  I took the liberty of bringing in some sandwiches for lunch.  I hope you don't mind."

 

"Mind?  I'm almost always hungry.  Thanks."  Starsky offered his arm to Esther, who took it with an almost shy giggle.  He did not notice that he was being watched again by some of the crew members.  Even Esther didn't know that her brother had ordered the men to keep a wary eye on David Frank.  When Starsky was out of sight, they went to speak with the pastor and get some direction from him.

 

Starsky and Esther walked together out toward a small cluster of trailers.  The ministry's business activities were conducted there.  She showed Starsky into one of the trailers and introduced him to the three ladies who took care of all accounting matters.  They looked like most of the women who attended services – simply dressed, with upswept long hair and little makeup.  The oldest woman was in her early sixties and clearly in charge.  The other two women were in their fifties. 

 

Over the next three hours, Starsky discussed all aspects of the ministry's finances with the three women.  They were helpful, yet somewhat reserved.  He was amazed at how much money was being taken in each night during the services.  Starsky also noted the names of several large benefactors.  He wrote them down in his book, intent on finding out who they were.  One of them was the woman found dead in her car and another was Matt Detchel.

 

Meanwhile, Brother Haley had spoken with his henchmen.  David Frank was getting too nosey, and Haley didn't like his attentions toward Esther.  His two men were ordered to see that the pesky reporter met with an accident that afternoon in the tent.

 

"Make sure it kills him, but it has to look like an accident."

 

Chapter 7

 

Haley prepared himself to hold his special healing meetings, first with Stephanie and her parents, then with Ken Halliday.  Stephanie's family appeared not to have any money.  He would not pursue a further relationship with them.  Last night's trip to Halliday's home confirmed that he would be his next financial conquest.

 

The meeting with Stephanie and her parents went well.  They all prayed together and discussed the little girl's health.  She was an insulin dependent diabetic. The doctors believed that was why she was having trouble healing.  Haley collected a twenty-dollar "donation" from them and they were gone – with the promise to return that night – before Hutch arrived to keep his appointment.  He saw Starsky heading into the main tent as he was entering Haley's trailer.

 

Hutch greeted the minister and took a seat.

 

"I hope you'll share some lunch with me, Brother.  I've just finished another meeting and haven't had time to eat yet."

 

"No, thank you.  I'm not hungry," Hutch replied, intent on not eating anything the man had to offer.

 

"Well, then a drink perhaps."

 

"No, really."

 

"You still look a little pale, Brother.  Perhaps you are feeling unwell?  I have some cans of soda in my refrigerator.  I'll get you one."

 

Hutch agreed to that, thinking he probably couldn't have doctored a canned soda.  He watched carefully while the minister pulled two cups out of a cabinet, retrieved the sodas, opened them, and poured their contents into the cups – nothing suspicious looking.  He accepted the drink with his thanks, unsuspecting that the man had placed an amphetamine in one of the cups prior to his arrival.

 

Within half an hour, Hutch felt his heart beating too fast, and he was noticing an increased sensitivity to light and sounds.  He felt increasingly alert with an urge to get up and do something.  While trying to pay attention to the minister's prayers and efforts to heal him, he was going over a list of things he needed to do in the greenhouse in his head.  He found his mind wandering, thinking about Starsky and what might be going on with him.  For some reason, the thought that his drink had been altered never occurred to him.  Hutch was also feeling ultra-confident, that he was easily pulling off this undercover assignment.

 

Starsky was in the tent.  He had no intention of leaving until Hutch did, so he found ways to keep himself occupied while his partner was in Haley's office.  About half an hour after Hutch disappeared into the pastor's lair, one of the crewmembers asked Starsky if he could help set some things up on the stage.  He had no idea he had just been maneuvered into impending danger.

 

While Starsky was bolting several panels together, one of the big henchmen had climbed up to the lighting rig above him.  Pretending to be securing something, he was really removing the bolts on one side of a long light fixture.  He braced it up until Starsky was in position.  When his mark was in just the right spot, the goon let the light fixture slip.  At almost the last second, Starsky heard the creaking metal and felt the rush of something coming toward him.   He looked to his right and saw the light fixture just as it crashed into him.  One of the lights hit him in the head as the heavy, swinging bar picked him up and tossed him into the air.  He crashed into a row of folding seats, fifteen feet from the stage and fell to the ground unconscious.  Some of the crewmembers rushed to his side, finding him bleeding and battered.  His right arm was swelling and a purple knot was already forming on the right side of his forehead, close to his temple.  

 

Hutch had to admit to Haley that he felt better after their session.  He was feeling energetic, not tired like he had been.  The minister seemed pleased. While they were discussing the healing powers of God, they heard an approaching siren.  The howling noise sounded like it came into the ministry parking lot.  Brother Haley looked out the window and saw a paramedic unit.

 

"Wonder what's happened?"  he said innocently. 

 

The siren hadn't sounded like a black-and-white.  Hutch was sure it was an ambulance.  He mentally chastised himself for being paranoid, but his first thought was that something had happened to Starsky.

 

"Maybe we should go check,” he said to Haley.

 

Nodding in agreement, Haley opened the door for Hutch and they both stepped out of the trailer.  The ambulance was sitting outside of the tent.  By the time they made it inside, the paramedics were bending over someone in the midst of strewn folding chairs.  Haley stopped one of the workers.

 

"What's going on?"  he asked.

 

She pointed to the light bar, now dangling dangerously from the overhead framework of the stage.  "That light fixture fell and hit that reporter in the head."

 

Hutch's rapid heartbeat increased impossibly.  He already felt it hammering in his chest like a freight train.

 

Haley gasped.  "Is he all right?"

 

"I don't know.  He's not moving though." 

 

It was the most severe test of his undercover abilities Hutch had ever undergone. He had to control his face so it would show no more than a stranger's concern for a fellow creature, rather than rush to his partner's side. He put his hands in his pockets and clenched his fists in helpless frustration.

 

"How did this happen?" Haley was demanding of the nearest crewmember.

 

"We were adjusting the lights and moving some of the equipment around and Bob asked him to help," the boy, who appeared to be about 18, answered. "There weren't enough of us around today to wrestle all this stuff, and he was just

standing around like he was waiting for something – "

 

"Get to the point!" Haley barked.

 

The boy blanched a bit, but nodded. "Anyway, he was helping Bob over there,"

he waved his hand to one side of the stage, "and the lights just fell and knocked him sprawling."

 

Hutch's heartbeat, already abnormally fast, sped up another notch. He was feeling faint and sick, but he didn't dare show it.

 

"That was inexcusably careless!" Haley scolded. "This man is not trained for this kind of work! Where's Bob?"

 

"Helping them," the boy said, indicating the paramedics.

 

"Get him. And find out how that poor man is," Haley directed.

 

The paramedics had Starsky on the stretcher at last, and Hutch could see that one whole side of his face was bloody. One of the paramedics was holding a handful of gauze against the side of Starsky's head. His partner's eyes were closed and the pallor of his face was ghostly.

 

Hutch watched helplessly as Starsky was rushed out of the tent and to the waiting ambulance. Oh, God, buddy, please be all right.

 

Bob approached, a big, burly, muscle-bound goon. Hutch's instincts warned him not to trust him even before Bob opened his mouth. He was obviously trying to look abashed, but it wasn't working.

 

"Why did you ask that man to help you, Bob?" Haley demanded. "You are head of the crew and you should only use properly trained people to do this work!"

 

"Yes, sir, Brother," Bob said, trying even harder to look ashamed of himself.  "We were shorthanded today, and I know I shouldn't have asked him to help, but – "

 

"But nothing, Bob," Haley said. "I expect you and the rest of the crew to pray for that man's life."

 

"Yes, we already have been," Bob said.

 

"And I'm going to have to think of a suitable punishment for your transgression," Haley said.

 

"Yes, sir. I understand." Bob ducked his head.

 

"Finish your work," Haley said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Bob walked away. Haley turned to Hutch. "Will you be at the service tonight?" he asked with a friendly smile, as if a man hadn't been severely injured here only moments ago.

 

"I – I don't know," Hutch stammered, forcing his mind away from Starsky. "It

depends on how well I feel."

 

Haley clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll pray that you can be here, Ken," he said. "I know this was upsetting, but we're all going to pray for Mr. Frank, too."

 

Hutch nodded, and slipped away, free at last to follow his partner to the hospital.

 

He'd overheard one of the paramedics saying they were taking Starsky to Receiving, so he sped across town to the hospital.

 

As soon as the Mercedes left the gravel parking lot, Haley beckoned to Bob. "He left here in a great hurry, don't you think?" he asked.

 

Bob gazed after the car, gone now, but it had left a cloud of dust behind it. "Yeah, he sure did."

 

"And I noticed he was very pale and upset when he saw that Mr. Frank had been

injured," Haley went on.

 

Bob hadn't noticed that particularly, but Haley was a much better reader of faces than he was. Haley had to be. He shrugged. "If you say so."

 

"He was," Haley said. "I heard the ambulance attendants say they were taking Mr. Frank to Receiving Hospital. Do you know where that is?"

 

Bob nodded.

 

"Go over there and see if Mr. Halliday's car is in the lot. If it is, call me."

 

"Sure." Bob strolled out to his own car, a battered VW bug, and drove away. Haley sat down in one of the folding chairs to consider his next move. Most people wouldn't have noticed how upset Ken had been. He'd been trying very hard to hide it and doing a good job, too. But Haley had spent years learning to spot the subtle changes on people's faces, and he'd seen that Ken was terrified at the sight of Frank sprawled among the folding chairs, his face bloody.

 

The question was: Why? Why should Ken Halliday care that much about a

freelance photojournalist he supposedly had never met before the revival?

 

He thought back to when each of the men had appeared. The crowds changed

every night, it was true, though there was a core of regular attendees that came to almost every service. But he remembered that Frank and Halliday had both come for the first time on the same night. The Pulse had only approached him a day or two prior to that service about doing a story, and he'd agreed quite willingly, provided the stories were not the usual style of "it's religion so it can't be real" journalism. The Pulse's editor had assured him that the reporter they were sending was fair and open-minded and would report the story accurately, so Haley had agreed to give him full access.

 

If they knew each other before meeting here, Haley mused, then something was

most definitely up.

 

Bob sped through the streets and managed to arrive at the hospital not far behind Halliday. He found the Mercedes almost immediately; Halliday had left it at the emergency room door. Bob parked his own car in the lot and slipped inside.

 

He spotted the blond head in the waiting area for the emergency room and ducked behind a pay phone where he wouldn't be spotted. Luckily, the emergency room was crowded and he hadn't been noticed. Between the babies crying and the general confusion, he was still able to pick out Halliday's voice. It was practically a roar, hardly the voice of a weak, ailing man.

 

"Where's David Starsky?"

 

Bob didn't catch the nurse's reply.

 

Halliday's voice roared again, even louder now. "I'm his partner, dammit! I have power of attorney. How IS he?"

 

Again, the indistinct murmur of the nurse's voice. Bob risked poking his head around the pay phone long enough to be certain that it really was Halliday making all that fuss. It was.

 

The blond was pacing now, running his hand over his rumpled hair, his face pale and his movements agitated. He ducked around scampering children, stepped over the outstretched cast on a man's leg, but never slowed his restless pacing.

 

Bob watched for a moment. The man didn't look at all ill now. And he'd asked

for David Starsky, not David Frank. Brother Haley was going to be very interested in this information. He didn't wait for more. He slithered down the hallway, to the other end, where there was another bank of pay phones, out of sight of the frantic blond and the other people in the waiting area.

 

Haley replaced the phone with a thoughtful expression. He stood there for a few moments, thinking, and finally made his decision. He glanced at his watch. It would probably be at least a couple of hours before it would be safe to visit the hospital himself. Time enough to make his plans.

 

"Ben?" Esther came rushing into the trailer the two of them shared. "What happened? I heard that reporter almost got killed!"

 

Haley nodded soberly. "Carelessness on the part of the crew. They asked him to help them readjust the lighting and one of the fixtures fell on him. He's in the emergency room even as we speak."

 

Esther covered her mouth with both hands, her eyes wide. "Oh, Lord. Do you know how bad it is?"

 

"We can only pray," Haley said, shaking his head.

 

Esther closed her eyes and held out her hands. Haley joined hands with her and she began to pray, first in English, then in the "heavenly language," while Haley listened silently. His sister pleaded for David's life, while his own prayers were that the light rig had been the instrument of God, to remove what was surely an obstacle to the plans Haley had so carefully made with, he was certain, the approval of his God.

 

Hutch paced for what seemed like hours, his heart beating so fast it made him

light-headed. He felt shaky and sick and strange, but his fear for Starsky overrode anything else.

 

At last a doctor appeared and called his name. Hutch all but ran to his side. "How bad?"

 

"He took a nasty blow to the side of the head," the doctor said. "And then falling, on top of that. He's lucky, though. Concussion, severe bruising about the rib cage – but none of them broken. Dislocated his shoulder and wrenched his knee. He's going to have a limp for a while and he'd better not use that arm much for a couple of weeks. We had to take stitches in the side of his face," the doctor indicated a spot near his hairline. Then he smiled reassuringly and patted Hutch's arm. "Head wounds always bleed like the dickens," he said. "I know it's upsetting to see but, really, the gash in his forehead is the least of his worries."

 

"Thank God," Hutch breathed. "I thought sure he'd cracked his skull."

 

"No, no," the doctor said. "He'll be all right in a few days. We've got him on some pretty stout pain medication and we had to knock him out to fix the dislocation. He won't wake up for at least a couple of hours. But he's in no danger."

 

"Can I see him?"

 

"In a while. I'll have a nurse come and get you. He's out cold right now, still in the recovery room. Relax, okay? Get some coffee or – " The doctor peered at Hutch. "On second thought, skip the coffee. You're wound up tight as a fiddle string already. Get something to eat and some orange juice. Doctor's orders." He smiled to take the sting out of the words, patted Hutch's arm again, and left.

 

Hutch sank down in a chair, tired but still wound up tight, as the doctor had said. Food sounded good, now that he knew how Starsky was. He started to rise to find the cafeteria but was stunned into immobility by the sight of Haley coming into the waiting area.

 

"Ken? How is he?" Haley approached and sat down next to him, slipping an arm

around his back.

 

Hutch had to fight the instinct to cringe away from the man's touch. He decided he'd better play it cautious.  "They don't know yet," he said. "What are you doing here?"

 

"I could ask you the same question," Haley said with a smile. "I felt so badly about the poor man getting hurt I had to come and find out how he was."

 

"Me, too," Hutch said, striving for the right note of concern in his voice. "I thought maybe someone should be here."

 

"You're a good Christian," Haley said. "Loving others as yourself. But if you're tired – and you don't look at all well, if I may say so, Brother – you can run along now. I'll stay."

 

This was a pretty mess, Hutch thought. How could he keep this man away from

Starsky – who might give himself away, all doped up as he was – without bringing suspicion on himself? And the very last thing Hutch wanted to do right now was to leave his partner, anyway. He glanced past Haley to the clock on the wall. The revival was going to start in a couple of hours. Surely the man would have to leave to go conduct his service. Hutch would simply stay until then.

 

"I'm fine," he said. "I don't mind staying. I'd like to see if my doctor has a few minutes to speak to me, anyway. I have some questions for him."

 

"Then we'll both stay," Haley said cheerfully. "As the Bible says, 'wherever two or more are gathered in My name, there am I, with them.'"

 

Hutch suspected there was one fewer than "two" gathered in God's name at this

particular place and time, but he kept that thought to himself and settled in to wait it out.

 

Chapter 8

 

Uncomfortable thoughts about Haley crept into his mind.  What if Haley knew they were cops?  His instincts were telling him that at the least, Haley had decided to get rid of one nosey photojournalist.  He believed this had been no accident.  After a few minutes, he excused himself and went up to the emergency receptionist.  He read her nametag, Leanne.

 

Keeping his voice low he said, "Remember me, Leanne?  I'm Detective Hutchinson.  I made an ass out of myself a little while ago when they brought my partner, David Starsky, into the ER."  She nodded and smiled at him.  "Good.  Pretend I'm asking you for some information, but I want you to listen carefully.  My partner and I are on an undercover assignment and the man I'm sitting with is part of that investigation.  I can't show you my badge or he'll see so you're just going to have to trust me.  He doesn't know he may be an important witness and he doesn't know we're cops."  She started to look past Hutch toward Haley, but he stopped her instantly, knowing that would be her natural response. "Don't look at him.  Will you help me?"

 

"Yes," she quietly answered. 

 

"Good.  I need you to do several things for me.  First, get Starsky's chart and change his last name to Frank on it.  Make him a new wristband with the name 'David Frank.'  Get someone to cover your desk for a little while.  Not right away, wait a while and then make it look like a break.  Then I want you to go and find Starsky's doctor.  Tell him to come out here again in a while and ask for the people waiting for David Frank. Then have him tell us that he can't have any visitors.  I want him to say he's been sent to the ICU in critical condition and they're not sure he's going to make it.  He can say they're looking for his family.  You got all that?"

 

"I've got it.  Is your partner in danger?"  Her eyes looked at him with concern.

 

"I don't know, but I hope not.  I'm hoping what you are going to do will help keep him safe.  Tell the doc I really want him marked for no visitors except immediate family.  I mean nobody.  That guy over there is a minister and he might try to weasel his way in to see him.  That could be dangerous for my partner."  Hutch had moved to the side a little while speaking to her and she had a view of Haley, who was staring barely concealed daggers at Hutch's back.

 

Leanne nodded.  Keeping her face as disinterested as she could she said, "I can see him from here.  He's staring at you and he doesn't look nice."

 

"Thanks.  You should be a cop; you're a cool cookie.  Okay, one last thing.  Quietly as you can, call the Metro police station and ask for Detective Cavanaugh or Detective Hill.  When you get one of them on the phone, call me – my name's supposed to be Halliday.  You can tell me you have Dr. Brock on the phone for me.  Can you do that?"

 

"You bet.  I'll get started on the wristband and the chart first." 

 

"Great.  I'll get Cavanaugh or Hill to come down and watch over my partner."  He gave her his most charming smile and said, "Thanks, Leanne.  I owe you."

 

As he walked away, she blushed and muttered to herself, "Yeah, and I just might want you to pay me back somehow."

 

After Hutch sat back down with Haley, Leanne scooted her chair back to the sliding glass window in the wall and quietly asked for Starsky's chart.  She made a new label for it, and a new plastic addressograph card.  She used that to make him a wristband that read "Frank, David." 

 

Another patient walked up to the front desk and she had to help her.  When she was done, Leanne placed the call to Metro.  For that one, she put on her headset so she could speak quietly and she turned her head away from the waiting room chairs.

 

"This is Leanne Modinsky at Receiving Hospital.  I need to speak with Detective Cavanaugh or Detective Hill." 

 

A minute later, a man's voice said, "Hill."

 

"Detective, please listen to me.  I'm Leanne Modinsky.  I work in the Emergency Room at Receiving Hospital.  Detective Hutchinson asked me to call you."

 

"Hutch?  Is he okay?" Hill asked her.  Every eye in the squad room turned toward him.

 

"Yes, he's fine.  His partner's not though.  Hang on a minute. I'm going to get him to the phone." 

 

When he was put on hold, Hill said to his partner, "Get Dobey.  Starsky's hurt."

 

Cavanaugh stuck his head in Dobey's office and said, "Cap'n Dobey, you'd better get out here.  I think something happened to Starsky."

 

Meanwhile, Leanne had called him over saying, "Mr. Halliday?  I have Dr. Brock on the phone for you.  You can take it over there.”  She pointed to a phone in a secluded corner.   Smart girl.  I like her.

 

When he picked up the phone, he said, "Dr. Brock?"

 

"Hutch, this is Jack."

 

"Thanks for calling, Doc.  I have some questions."  He kept up the pretense as best he could, casually glancing over to see if Haley was listening.  He was.

 

"Is Starsky all right, Hutch?"

 

"No, I'm over here at Receiving. I came to see a patient here.  He's a reporter and he had a bad accident where I was this afternoon."

 

"Is he in any danger?"  By now Dobey was standing by and everyone in the squad room was paying anxious attention to the half of the odd conversation they could hear.

 

"No, I don't think so.  What a weird accident.  They haven't said how he is yet though."

 

"Can you tell me what happened?"

 

"No, I don't really know him.  I was just there and I thought, well you know how I am."

 

"You want me to come down there?"

 

"Yeah, do you have time this afternoon?"

 

"Sean and I are on it, Hutch.  Is that preacher there with you?"

 

"Yeah, it is.  Really been feeling kinda tired, you know and the pain's worse.  I was hoping maybe we could try some different pain medications."

 

"Did I read you right?  Is he gonna be okay?"

 

"Yes.  Thanks.  You will?  If you think it's safe to do that without seeing me, that'd be great.  I'll pick them up on my way home.  I appreciate this, Doc."

 

"Don't worry.  We won't let anyone near Starsky.  Watch your back, you're out there on your own."

 

"I know.  Thanks again."  He hung up his lifeline to safety.  At least the guys at Metro knew what was happening.  He hoped Jack got all of his cryptic messages.

 

Hill hung up the phone and looked at Dobey.  "I hope I read this right.  Hutch is at Receiving.  Starsky had some kind of freak 'accident' this afternoon.  I'll bet Hutch is afraid that guy's gonna blow his cover.  He wants us to go down and stand watch over Starsky, I mean David Frank."

 

"Is he all right though?"  Dobey asked, his voice tense with worry.

 

"I think so.  At least that's what I think Hutch was trying to say.  I'll call you.  Come on Sean, let's hit it."

 

As they scrambled for the door, Dobey called after them, "Keep it discreet, boys.  I don't want any screw ups while Starsky's defenseless down there."

 

"You got it, Cap'n."  Hill replied as the doors closed behind them.

 

An hour later, Dr. Bradley walked back out to the waiting area as if it he hadn't done that yet for this patient.  Hutch admired his ability to play along and he was determined to do something nice for both the doctor and Leanne to thank them for their part in keeping Starsky safe.  He stopped at the desk and looked like he was asking Leanne to point out who was waiting.  When she did, he strode over to Hutch and Haley. 

 

Both men stood and shook hands with the doctor who said, "Are you waiting here for Mr. Frank?"

 

"Yes," they said together.

 

"Either of you immediate family?" 

 

"No, we know him from my ministry," Brother Haley said.

 

"Do you know how to reach his family?"  Dr. Bradley asked.

 

"No," Hutch said, "I'm not sure he has any.  He told me he didn't have anyone.  Said his parents were gone and his brother died last year."

 

Haley turned and looked at him, a wary smile on his face, "Why, Brother Ken, I had no idea you and Mr. Frank had become so friendly."

 

Hutch knew Haley was too busy the previous night to know if he really had been interviewed prior to the service or not.  Hutch shrugged. "We really were just chatting right before the healing service.  He said he overheard me tell you I was dying the night before and that his brother had died of a brain tumor.  Said he wished he'd known about you then, Brother."  That remark turned Hutch's stomach.  His heart rate was finally starting to settle down as the amphetamine Haley had slipped him wore off – and he had not made the connection that he had been drugged. Haley looked at him, wondering if he should believe him or not.

 

Dr. Bradley stood in amazement at what a cool liar the blond cop was and how sinister the pastor's demeanor felt to him.  Hutch had just given him the perfect segue to be able to reveal Frank's medical condition to non-family members. 

 

"Well, since you two seem to be his friends, I'll tell you.  I'm sorry, but your friend is in critical condition.  He sustained a severe blow to the head.  His Glasgow Coma Scale number is too low.  If his condition worsens, we'll perform a craniotomy, but I'm fairly certain there isn't any hope.  I'm sending him up to the ICU now."  The doctor was delivering an Oscar-level performance.  Hutch was simultaneously chilled, impressed, and grateful this was just an act. 

 

However, in the next instant, his almost detached admiration became panic.  The doctor had arranged to have Starsky pushed to the outer elevators.  He was hooked up to monitors, oxygen, and an IV.  They had placed a portable defibrillator between his legs on the gurney as if it were ready in case he went into cardiac arrest.  The only thing that kept Hutch from rushing to his side or collapsing where he stood was that the orderly pushing Starsky past him was Jack Hill.  His hair was hidden under a surgical cap, and his head was down, concentrating on the unconscious patient.  He didn't dare make eye contact with Hutch, but he hoped the other man noticed it was him.  Otherwise, he was afraid Hutch would lose it and all of their efforts would be for nothing.  Jack knew how he would react if he saw Sean like that on a gurney.  Starsky was in bad shape, but he wasn't going to die.  He hoped Hutch would remember that.

 

Haley said, "Wait, can I lay hands on him, Doctor?"

 

Bradley saw the flash of hatred in Hutch's well-schooled eyes and he refused.

 

"I'm sorry, pastor, you'll have to pray from a distance.  This man needs to be in the ICU.  He's not to have any visitors."

 

Good answer, Doc.

 

"Please, just for a moment."  Haley looked so sincere.  The doctor nodded.

 

Haley reached for Starsky's hand.  He took it in his own hand, turning it unobtrusively to read the wristband.  That didn't escape Hutch's notice and he was grateful to see it had been changed to reflect his undercover persona.  His chart was also resting on the gurney, clearly marked "Frank, David."  After saying a short prayer of healing, Brother Haley released Starsky's hand and nodded at the doctor.  He was satisfied his attempt to kill the reporter was going to be successful in time.

 

Hutch watched as Starsky disappeared into the elevator with Jack.  He was relieved to see their friend was there and keeping an eye on things.  He knew Jack wouldn't let anyone near Starsky.   He excused himself again to go to the phone. 

 

"I'm just going to call The Pulse and let them know what has happened."  He stepped toward the phone in the corner again while Haley spoke with the doctor.

 

Hutch quickly made two calls.  The first was to The Pulse.  He told Detchel what had happened and asked him to cover for them if Haley called, no matter what he asked.  "You're a newspaper man," he told Detchel.  "Think fast on your feet."

 

Next, he called Dobey.  He told him the truth about Starsky's condition and asked him to call Dr. Brock's office and tell him to cover for him about the prescription.  Dobey said he'd have Brock call in something to the outpatient pharmacy there at Receiving immediately.  When he hung up, Hutch felt he had effectively repaired any damage that had been done.  He realized that what he just did would probably keep Starsky safe, but it also put him out of the action for the rest of this case – unless he had a miraculous healing.  That thought dripped of so much irony, Hutch almost laughed aloud.  He choked down that urge, knowing the strain he had been under that day might just cause him to be unable to stop laughing. 

 

Not liking it at all that he had to leave the hospital without seeing Starsky, he did what he had to do.  He prepared to leave, knowing that Haley had to get ready for that night's service soon and he would have to leave also.

 

When he approached the doctor and Haley, he overheard the preacher's "sincere" expression of faith that the Lord would heal the reporter.  Hutch shook Dr. Bradley's hand.  "Thanks, Doc.  I know Mr. Frank would appreciate everything you're doing for him.  Maybe what you can't do with medical science, we can do with healing prayer in services tonight."

 

Bradley looked at him and said, "You sure you're up to that?  How are you feeling?"

Hutch thought that was icing on the cake.

 

"I'm a little tired, Doc.  My doctor called a prescription in for me.  I'll take some and I'm sure I can make it to the services.  Thank you for your concern."

 

Dr. Bradley walked back through the Emergency Room doors, Hutch's gratitude and admiration in his wake.  Hutch said, "Brother, hadn't you better head back to prepare for services?"

 

Haley turned toward him.  "Yes, but I'll stay with you until you're ready to leave."

 

Hutch was starting to lose patience with this man.  Even with Jack there, he didn't want to leave the hospital until he was certain Haley would not trouble Starsky. At least he was reasonably sure the minister was unarmed. 

 

"I just have to pick up a prescription.  Then, I'm going home to rest for a bit.  I think I'll feel up to coming tonight."

 

"I'll walk with you to the pharmacy.  Here in the hospital?"  Haley was still suspicious.  Hutch stalled.

 

"Yes.  The chapel is on the way.  Won't you accompany me there to pray for David Frank before we part company?"  Hutch put on his sincerest face.

 

"Of course, Brother."  Haley couldn't resist, just like Hutch hoped.

 

After stalling in the chapel for half an hour, Hutch walked to the outpatient pharmacy, fervently hoping the bogus prescription would be ready.  Thankfully, Dobey and Dr. Brock had come through again.  He picked it up; satisfied by the relaxing effect it had on Haley to see it was really there.

 

As he got into the Mercedes, Hutch said a genuine prayer of thanks to God that things seemed to be all right.  Starsky would heal, and he was safe from Haley.  Hutch wasn't looking forward to working the rest of the case without his partner, but he was ready to do so if necessary.  Whatever it took to protect his best friend.  The only other important thing to him at this moment was to nail Haley.  Hutch was convinced now that Haley was involved with the dead woman's death.  He would love to add attempted murder of a police officer to his writ.

 

Haley didn't return to the ministry immediately.  First, he found a pay phone and called The Pulse.  He asked many questions about Mr. David Frank.  Detchel was cool under his interrogation.  When asked about it, Detchel told Haley that Frank's real last name was Starsky, but he had recently dropped it in favor of his pen name, just his first and middle names – David Frank.  Haley was starting to wonder if Bob was overreacting.   Frank must have mentioned it for some reason to Halliday.   Bob hadn't thought much about having heard the blond say that "Starsky" was his partner.  He hadn't passed that information along, being too focused on telling the preacher about the different name, and Halliday's suddenly vigorous demeanor. 

 

After his call to The Pulse, he called Dr. Brock's office and asked if he had a few minutes to see him.  The man's calendar was booked, but he did come to the phone.  He told the preacher that Ken Halliday was a patient of his.  He refused to reveal his diagnosis, but he did admit to the man who said he was Ken's pastor that his prognosis was poor. 

 

By the time Haley headed back to his domain, he was reasonably comfortable that the two men in question were who they said they were.  He was ready for any sign of deceit though.

 

After Jack steered Starsky into the ICU, a real orderly helped him transfer him into a bed.  Dr. Bradley was right behind them, having come up the back stairwell.  He immediately checked Starsky over and got rid of the unnecessary heart monitor.  He checked Starsky's vitals, including his pupil reactions and jotted the results into the chart.

 

Starsky's pallor and appearance concerned Jack.  "Doc, is he really all right?"

 

"Oh, yes, he'll be fine.  He does have a moderate concussion, but he'll make it."

 

"Is he gonna wake up soon?"

 

"Sometime in the next couple of hours.  When I heard what we needed to do down there, I gave him a little something to keep him out long enough to make it believable."

 

Jack interrupted him, "Wait a minute.  I thought you weren't supposed to give knock-out drops to a guy with a head injury."

 

Bradley smiled at him.  "Well, you're right about that.  We don't usually give sedatives to concussion patients, but he had to be put out already to treat his shoulder.  Don't worry.  I'm going to monitor him extra closely.  Is he really in danger on this case?"

 

"Could be.  Doc, you were terrific down there.  I'm glad I was there though.  When you started talking about how he wasn't gonna make it and that thing about a scale, was it something about Scotland?"

 

Bradley laughed.  "Not exactly, the Glasgow Coma Scale tells us how severely a person's brain may be injured.  The lower the number on a scale of 15, the worse the patient's chances."

 

"Well, whatever, Doc.  You sure were convincing.  Like I said, glad I was there because you were too good.  Hutch was real close to freaking out when you said that stuff.  He relaxed when he saw it was me as the orderly.  Remembered we were just sort of undercover."  Jack smiled and shook his head at the flash of fear that had passed momentarily into Hutch's eyes.  "I'll bet even Starsky's never been undercover while unconscious."

 

Bradley laughed at that, too.  "Those two close?"

 

"Best friends.  Staying away from here to protect their cover is going to drive Hutch crazy.   Those two are almost never apart when one of them is hurt." 

 

"You'll be staying here to keep an eye out for any trouble, won't you?  Mr. Frank here doesn't really need to be in the ICU, but I thought it would be more convincing and we have the space up here right now.  I want to be sure he's safe though."

 

"Either I'll be here or my partner will be all the time.  I dropped him off at his place on the way over here to get some stuff.  This may be a long wait."

 

The doctor told Jack to call him when the patient was awake or if he needed anything.  He also instructed the nurses that Mr. Frank was to have no visitors except for police officers Hill, Cavanaugh, Dobey, or Hutchinson unless given further instructions by one of those men.  If anyone called for Mr. Frank's condition, he was still critical.  If anyone called for a patient named "Starsky," they were to say there was no patient by that name.

 

Bob was adjusting the light rigging that had fallen on Starsky when Haley returned. This time, he was bolting it securely into place. When he saw Haley, he stopped what he was doing and climbed down to ask him what he'd found out.

 

"I think they're bona fide," Haley said. "But I'm not willing to take any chances. Apparently, that reporter's barely hanging on and probably won't make it, so we won't have to worry about him. Halliday says he just went down there because he felt sorry for the guy and thought somebody ought to be there for him."

 

"You believe him?"

 

Haley stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I don't know. It looks legit, but I just don't know. We're going to keep a close eye on that one, just in case.   I'll be too busy during services, so I'm counting on you."

 

"Sure thing, Brother. I'll watch him."

 

Chapter 9

 

Hutch went back to the safe house from the hospital and found Dobey there waiting for him. He dropped into a chair and threw his head back after the barest nod of greeting for his captain.

 

"Did we get it all covered?" Dobey asked anxiously.

 

Hutch nodded. "I think so. Man, that guy's creepy. Stuck to me like a damned cocklebur until I left the hospital. I only got a glimpse of Starsky as they took him upstairs."

 

"Jack called in a while before you got here," Dobey said. "Starsky's okay. They gave him a little extra knockout to keep him out until they could get rid of Haley."

 

"I'd feel better if I could see him myself." Hutch rolled his head to get the kinks out of his neck.

 

"This is one time you're gonna have to let somebody else stand guard over your partner," Dobey said sternly. "We can't risk blowing your cover. This Haley is a dangerous character. We knew that even before this attempt on Starsky."

 

"I know, dammit!" Hutch flared. "That doesn't make it any easier for me to leave Starsky's safety in someone else's hands!"

 

"Hill and Cavanaugh are taking turns," Dobey said. "One of them will always be in the room with him. He's in ICU, with orders that no one but the two of them or the two of us are allowed in. You trust them, don't you?"

 

Hutch nodded slowly. "Yeah. Not as much as I trust ME, but yeah."

 

"You'll only be risking his safety and yours, too, if you don't watch your step."

 

"I know, I know." Hutch got out of his chair and paced. "Haley expects me at the service tonight."

 

"Then go," Dobey said. "I'm sending a couple guys in undercover with you. Just as part of the congregation. To keep an eye on things."

 

"Haley's on the alert now," Hutch argued. "That won't be any safer than me going in to see Starsky."

 

"They don't have to barge in waving their badges," Dobey pointed out. "They'll just be two more seekers."

 

"Who are you sending?"

 

"Who do you want?"

 

Hutch thought about it. "Why not have Simmons bring a policewoman and they can pose as a couple? Less obvious than two men."

 

Dobey nodded. "Okay. I'll arrange it." He glanced at his watch. "I'd better get on it. And you'd better get ready to go to church."

 

"I'm not going to 'church,'" Hutch said bitterly. "I'm going to a sideshow."

 

Hutch was a little late getting to the service and as soon as he walked in, he recognized Simmons and Tracie Carter, a detective from Vice, sitting about halfway between the front and back. Neither one of them took any notice of him. The tent was crowded, as usual, and Hutch had to sit on the aisle near the back.

 

He also noticed Stephanie and her mom and dad in the crowd. Stephanie was more animated than usual, laughing and chattering, and her parents' faces were not as drawn with worry as they had been last time he saw them. He wondered what brought that on.

 

Instead of the service beginning with music, as usual, Haley came out first, looking very sober, and walked straight to the podium. "Brothers and sisters," he said quietly, "today the reporter who has been writing a series of articles about our ministry had a terrible accident right here in our sanctuary. Some of you have met him when he interviewed you or took photographs of you."

 

There was a low murmur of assent.

 

Haley shook his head. "One of our light racks fell on the poor man as he was trying to assist our crew this afternoon. He's not expected to live."

 

This time there was a sort of gasp that ran through the crowd, and Hutch could see Stephanie freeze and stare at the evangelist in horror.

 

"But the Lord can do wonders beyond our wildest imaginings, brothers and sisters," Haley went on. "I ask that you join me in prayer for his life and healing now." Haley bowed his head, and all over the tent, the congregation followed suit, including Hutch. "Heavenly Father," Haley began, "we come to you tonight in supplication for our brother, David, who lies injured in the hospital. We claim the promises in Your Holy Word that say where two or more are gathered in Your name, You are there. We pray for his healing, Lord God, we pray for his life. Spare him, Lord, if it is in Your holy will to do so, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."

 

"Amen," echoed the congregation.

 

Hutch forced his face to remain impassive, though inwardly he was raging.

Damned hypocrite. You arranged that accident and now you're pretending to be concerned for him! He sincerely hoped that even if the "pastor" was a charlatan, there were enough sincere believers present to make the prayer worthy. Hutch had never considered himself very religious, but both he and Starsky had skated near death enough times that he'd come to believe somebody was watching out for them.

 

Haley asked the band to play "O God Our Help in Ages Past" and the congregation sang in hushed, reverent tones.

 

Jack Hill was reading Sports Illustrated, sitting in a very uncomfortable plastic chair in Starsky's room, when the curly head stirred on the pillow. Jack put the magazine aside.

 

Starsky blinked blearily around the room, winced at the light, and finally noticed Jack sitting there. His eyes widened. "Jack?"

 

"Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty," Jack said. "I was getting bored."

 

Starsky sat up and winced again, holding his head in his good hand. "Damn, my

head hurts. What hit me?"

 

"Lay back down, big boy," Jack ordered. "Doc says you gotta rest. Apparently, you asked one too many nosy questions and somebody dropped a light rack on your head. It might've been an accident, but I doubt it."

 

"Where's Hutch?" Starsky looked around and his eyes got a little wild. "Is he okay? Is he hurt? Did that son of a –"

 

"Easy, Starsk," Jack said. "Hutch is fine." He looked down at his watch. "He's probably at the service now. Dobey won't let him come here, Haley almost made him earlier when they brought you in. So you're stuck with me and Sean playin' nursemaid while Hutch goes on with the assignment and tries to keep Haley from figuring all this out."

 

"Does Haley know who we are?" Starsky was even more alarmed.

 

Jack shook his head. "No. It was close, but between Hutch and Dobey and me and Sean and your doctor playin' along, we clamped the cover back down."

 

"Are you sure? What if he's plannin' something else? What if they do something to Hutch? We gotta – "

 

"Whoa!" Jack stopped him. "Look, Starsk, it's covered, okay? Simmons and Carter from Vice are there with him tonight undercover. Sean's gonna take over for you doing the reporter gig – "

 

"No way!" Starsky interrupted. "I'm going back. I ain't leavin' Hutch in there without me."

 

"Yes, you are," Jack said. "You're supposed to be dying. We want Haley to think he succeeded."

 

"Why?"

 

"So he won't try again," Dobey said, coming into the room. "Next time, he might succeed. Don't argue with me, Starsky," he added when Starsky opened his mouth. "You're more valuable here anyway. If he thinks he got away with killing you, he's likely to get a little cocky and he might make a mistake, then we could nail him."

 

"But Hutch – "

 

"No, Starsky," Dobey said. "Hutch won't have it, and neither will I."

 

"Don't worry," Jack added with a chuckle. "You'll still get to help write the articles and they definitely want your photos. Sean always cuts people's heads off when he takes pictures."

 

As the service went on, Hutch found it more difficult to play his part. Now that Haley had shown his hand a bit by attacking Starsky, Hutch could hardly look at the man without wanting to kill him. When the time came for prayer, he stayed in his seat, though it would have been more in keeping with his cover to join the line of seekers wanting personal prayer. He watched as Stephanie and her parents joined the line, and that was the impetus it took to move him. He had to hear what Haley said to them. He hurried forward so as to be right behind them.

 

There was such a crowd this evening that it was a long wait. Though Esther prayed with those who wanted only salvation, Haley handled all the healing requests himself.

 

At last, Stephanie was in front of him. He knelt to look into the child's eyes. "What would you ask of the Lord tonight, child?"

 

"I don't want to ask Him for something, I want to thank Him for something," Stephanie said eagerly.

 

Haley smiled gently and stroked her hair once. "And what's that, dear?"

 

"The doctor said I can have a pros – a pros – " Giggling, she gave up. "A leg! I'm finally getting a leg, Pastor! They measured me and everything today and the doctor said it'll be here in a few weeks."

 

Hutch was stunned. Not that he believed Haley'd had anything to do with it, not really, but it was going to be difficult to refute that now.

 

Haley smiled even more widely and raised his eyes to Mike and Suzanne. "I knew the Lord wouldn't fail this dear child," he said to them. "But He does things in His own time. Praise His name."

 

"We'd all but given up hope," Mike said, beaming.

 

"I'm gonna be able to walk again, and maybe even ride my bike, once I get used to it," Stephanie said, bouncing a bit in her wheelchair. "I can hardly wait!"

 

Hutch couldn't help smiling at the child's enthusiasm. She sensed him behind her and turned in her wheelchair, returning the smile, which made Haley look up at him, too. The two men exchanged a glance, Hutch trying to look merely interested in Stephanie, Haley's glance more calculating.

 

"Nice to see you, Brother Halliday," Haley said. "I was afraid you'd be too ill to attend."

 

"I couldn't stay away," Hutch said truthfully. "And I'm so blessed to be here at this moment, hearing how God has helped this little girl." It damn sure wasn't you, you bastard, he added silently.

 

Stephanie gave Hutch another beaming grin and turned back to Haley. "I would like to ask God for something, Pastor," she said shyly.

 

"What's that, dear?"

 

"That man you said got hurt today? He's a very nice man. I'd like to ask God to help him, too."

 

"Of course, dear. Shall we pray then? Brother," Haley added to Hutch, "will

you join our circle?"

 

Stephanie and her parents all joined hands, leaving Hutch no choice but to take Stephanie's free hand – and Haley's.

 

"Stephanie, would you like to say the prayer?" Haley asked.

 

Say yes, honey, please, Hutch pleaded silently. He'd feel a lot better about this if the child did the praying.

 

"Okay," she said, even more shyly. She closed her eyes and said, "Jesus, thank you that I'm getting a new leg and please, can I be able to ride my bike when I get used to it? I'd really like that. And please heal that nice Mr. Frank, too. Amen."

 

"Amen," Hutch echoed, thinking Out of the mouths of babes. Just before the family turned away, Hutch reached out and snagged Mike's sleeve. Lowering his voice, he asked, "How'd she lose her leg?"

 

"Car accident," Mike said, equally softly, as his wife and Stephanie, not realizing he had stayed behind, went back to their seats. "We're lucky she even survived. The car rolled and trapped her."

 

Hutch shuddered. He'd had a similar car wreck himself. "Poor kid."

 

"She's been very brave about it," Mike said. "We're just so thankful she's getting an artificial leg at last. It's tough on her, being stuck in that chair." He smiled, patted Hutch's arm, and rejoined his family.

 

Hutch was next now, and Haley asked, "Have you heard how poor David is?"

 

Hutch shook his head sorrowfully. "No better, I'm afraid. I called the hospital just before I left to come here. They said they don't really expect him to last the night."

 

Haley made a "tsking" sound in his throat. "Poor man. I do wish they'd let me see him. I could at least pray for him."

 

Over my dead body, Hutch thought.

 

He really did call the hospital when he got home about 10, and Starsky's doctor was still there and came to the phone.

 

"He's sleeping now," the doctor said, "but he was awake for several hours, and he asked for you. I believe Detective Hill explained the situation to him."

 

"Is he okay?" Hutch asked anxiously.

 

"Yes, he's fine. Or he will be."

 

"Will you tell him I called?" Hutch asked.

 

"Yes, I promise," Bradley said. "Don't worry. He's safe here."

 

Hutch wished he could believe that.

 

When Starsky awoke in the morning, it was Sean in the plastic chair instead of Jack. "Morning," Starsky said, wincing again at the light. His head felt like somebody had drilled a hole in it with a buzz saw.

 

"Hiya," Sean said cheerfully. "Man, you snore like a grizzly bear."

 

Starsky grinned in spite of himself. "Funny, none of my lady friends has ever complained. And how many sleeping grizzly bears have you met, anyway?"

 

Sean laughed. He had a lapful of notes – Starsky's interview notes, in fact – and had been reading them. "I guess I gotta go do the Brenda Starr routine over at the sideshow tonight," he said. "Wanna fill me in? I can hardly read your chicken scratchin' here."

 

"Do I have to lay here and get insulted?"

 

"Yup," Sean said. "You gonna fill me in or not?"

 

Starsky gave in, and spent the next hour telling Sean everything he could think of about the case and the services. Sean's eyes alternately widened in surprise and narrowed in suspicion as Starsky talked.

 

"Damn," he said when Starsky finished. "I hope I can pull this off. They sound weirder than weird, man. Don't see that kinda thing at Mass too often."

 

Starsky chuckled. "The next thing," he said, "is to get you disguised. You can't barge in there with your own face hanging out. Haley might recognize you from when you went to the first crime scene. Hutch is good at that. Go ask him to help you out."

 

"Okay," Sean said. "But I can't go anywhere till Jack gets here. Oh, and speaking of Hutch, he's been keeping the phone lines hot calling here asking about you. We can't let him come see you."

 

"I know," Starsky said, his voice showing his disappointment. "But I'm not sure it's any better for him to call. What if Haley has his phone bugged or something?"

 

Sean shook his head. "We checked that out already. Whatsa matter? You think you and Hutch're the only detectives around here?"

 

"Not the only ones," Starsky said, grinning. "Just the best ones."

 

Haley had turned up at the safe house unexpectedly around 11 a.m. and startled Hutch, who had to turn on his "sick" act without warning when he opened the door and found the evangelist standing there.

 

"You look better today," Haley greeted him.

 

Hutch groaned inwardly. Because he hadn't expected Haley, he hadn't put on any makeup to make himself look pale and wan. But he manufactured a smile. "I

think the services are doing me good," he said with a friendly gesture to Haley to come in. "And the doctor gave me some new medication that seems to help a lot."

 

"Good," Haley said. He took a seat on the sofa.

 

Hutch remained standing. "Would you like something to drink?"

 

"Have you any iced tea?"

 

"Sure," Hutch said. He went into the kitchen and returned with glasses for both of them. "It's already sweetened. Hope that's okay."

 

"That's wonderful," Haley said. He took a long drink and set the glass down and looked at Hutch expectantly.

 

Hutch sat down across from him. "What can I do for you, Pastor?"

 

"Every couple of weeks, my sister and I take a group on a retreat," Haley said. "Usually it's the people who have the most serious illnesses. A couple of days of intense prayer and study sometimes helps when the evening services do not. I wonder if you'd like to attend the next one."

 

Hutch thought fast. There was no way in hell he was going anywhere with Haley, but he had to have a good reason. "When is it?"

 

"Next weekend."

 

Hutch nodded thoughtfully. "Let me consult with my doctor," he said. "If he gives the okay, and if I feel up to it, I'll come. But I just never know how I'm going to feel."

 

"Of course," Haley said. He reached out for his tea glass, but his hand bumped it and knocked it over, spilling tea all over the coffee table and carpet. "Oh, dear!" he exclaimed, "I'm so sorry!"

 

"I'll get some paper towels," Hutch said, rising and glad to get out of the room for a moment. He was having a tough time even talking to the man who'd almost had Starsky killed.

 

As soon as Hutch's back was turned, Haley produced a small bottle of powder and emptied it into Hutch's glass. It was done so quickly that by the time Hutch came back into the room only moments later, the little bottle was safely back in Haley's pocket.

 

Chapter 10

 

Hutch handed Haley another glass of tea and then bent down to clean up the spill from the table and carpet.  When he stood back up, he paused unsteadily, dropped the wet paper towels from his hand and went down to the floor, landing on his backside. 

 

"Brother, Ken, what is it?" Haley asked.

 

Hutch pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head a little.  "I guess I just stood up too fast.  Damn.  This is the strangest illness.  I can't get used to how I feel.  From hour to hour it changes.  I'll feel great for a while, then I'm so weak, I can't even stand without feeling faint.  I'm sorry."

 

Haley thought that would explain why Halliday's condition seemed to change so frequently.  Perhaps brain tumors were somewhat unpredictable in their behavior.  He made a mental note to go to the medical library at the local university to do some research.

 

"Let me help you."  Haley extended a hand to the blond.  Hutch squelched his immediate revulsion and managed to paste a look of gratitude onto his face as he took the preacher's hand.

 

Haley helped Hutch to a chair, handed him his tea, and then took the wet mess of paper towels to the kitchen and threw them in the trash.  He returned to the living room to find that Hutch had downed the entire glass.  Good.

 

They sat together and chatted for some time.  Hutch was growing weary of Haley's company by the time the man announced it was time for him to return to the ministry.

 

"Will we see you tonight?" he asked.

 

"I'm not sure.  I have some things I need to do and I might not make it until tomorrow night.  Don't worry if you don't see me."  Hutch really wanted to sneak over to the hospital to see his partner.

 

"Is there any way I can help you?"  Haley asked with a solicitous smile.

 

This guy is too smooth.  Cold hearted bastard.  Hutch put on an equally insincere face.

"No, not at all.  I've just had a commitment for several weeks to help a friend with something.  If I finish early enough, I'll come."

 

"Excellent.  See you soon, Brother.  How are you feeling, by the way?  You look a little better than you did a while ago."  Haley was hoping his drug was taking effect.  That was the reason he had stayed so long.

 

"Now that you mention it, I feel, well, energetic.  Maybe it's all the caffeine in that tea."  Hutch chuckled.  He noticed a flash of nervousness that crossed Haley's face, but it was gone as quickly as it came.  Making a note in his mind to think about that later, he concentrated on shuttling the man out of the safe house.

 

While Haley was plaguing Hutch with his presence, things at the hospital were not going well.  Sean was sitting with Starsky chatting about the case and his assignment as a writer when Jack arrived to relieve him. 

 

"Hey, you back to hospital duty, Jack?"  Starsky asked with a grin that said, "sucker."

 

"Yeah, my turn.  He behavin', Sean?"  Jack asked his partner.

 

"He's been good.  Hasn't tried to give me the slip or anything."

 

"Aw, he just doesn't want to miss out on the nurses.  Hey, Starsk…" Jack stopped mid sentence when he saw that Starsky suddenly looked flush.  "Starsky, you okay?"

 

The dark haired detective didn't answer him.  His eyes had a far away look to them and the hand that wasn't bound in a sling was trembling.  Before Jack could ask him again, Starsky suddenly stiffened and started into a seizure.

 

"Shit!  Get somebody!" Jack shouted to Sean as he moved to the bed to prevent Starsky from hitting his head on the side rails.  He was scared and even though he was concentrating on Starsky, the back of his mind was already worried about what he was going to say to Hutch if something happened to his buddy while he and Sean were on watch.  He barely noticed when the nurses rushed into the room to take over and he heard the overhead page go out for Starsky's doctor.  One of the nurses pushed both of the other detectives out into the hallway with instructions to go sit in the waiting area. 

 

Jack and Sean were discussing whether they should try to call the safe house when Dr. Bradley approached them.

 

Jack stood up and asked anxiously, "Is he okay, Doc?"

 

The doctor shook his head and said, "I'm afraid he's taking a turn for the worse.  This happens sometimes with head injuries.  He's spiked a high fever and he's unconscious.  Try not to worry.  If we can get the fever back down, he should still be all right."

 

Sean swallowed and said, "Uh, he's not in any danger, is he?  If he is, we'd better call his partner and our captain."

 

Dr. Bradley tried to look reassuring, but he answered, "I wish I could just say he isn't, but I can't.  My sense is he's going to be fine, but maybe you'd better call them."

 

The partners exchanged a frightened look.  Sean spoke first, "Why don't you call the unmarked unit and ask if Haley is at the sideshow where he belongs?  I'll call Dobey."

 

Sean had just confirmed Haley was safely at the ministry when one of the nurses walked up to him and said, "Detective Hutchinson is on the phone, he wants to speak with you."

 

The walk to the phone at the ICU nurses' station felt to Sean like one of the longest he had ever taken.  He was hoping Captain Dobey would call Hutch, but he couldn't chicken out now.   Picking up the phone he said, "Hutch, it's Sean"

 

Hutch's voice sounded edgy, "How's he doing?" 

 

The pause made Hutch nervous.  Then, for the second time in his life, he heard the eight words that struck the most fear into his heart.  "You'd better get down here right away, Hutch."

 

This time, he didn't drop the phone, but asked another question.  "What's wrong?"

 

Sean didn't know how to explain it.  "He had a seizure and he's unconscious.  I already checked, Haley is at the tent.  He won't follow you."

 

Hutch hung up on him without another word.  Despite Sean's assurance, he looked around him several times before he peeled out of the driveway.  Then, he frequently looked behind him as he maneuvered the small car through traffic.  He drove as fast as he dared without a light or siren.  He parked the car a few streets away at a pay garage, hoping that if Haley did drive by or sent a lackey to do it, his car wouldn't be right next to the hospital.  Then, after a final check to see if he had been followed, Hutch ran for the hospital.  His heart was beating too fast.  He'd been unable to go for his regular runs during this assignment, but they hadn't been under long enough for him to get out of shape.  He guessed it was the scare Cavanaugh had put into him on the phone.

 

Hutch slipped into the hospital near the loading dock, then up to the ICU floor on the back stairs.  Despite his fear, he wasn't willing to run any risk of being observed.  When he spilled out into the hallway, Captain Dobey saw him and stopped him before he got halfway down the hall.

 

"Whoa, slow down, Hutch!"  he said. "The doctor's in there now."

 

"What the hell happened!"  Hutch said, his voice raised above the level appropriate for an ICU floor.  Captain Dobey winced and shushed him.  Hutch took a deep breath and quietly said, "Sorry.  Talk to me."

 

"We don't know a lot yet.  Hill and Cavanaugh were in with him when he had a seizure.  Up until then, he was recovering and resting quietly.  The doctor said..." At that moment, Dr. Bradley walked out of Starsky's room and approached them.

 

"Detective Hutchinson," the doctor started, then he shifted gears after taking a look at the tense blond, "Are you all right?"

 

"Doc!"  Hutch said, "Please, what's happening with my partner?"

 

"We hit a snag a little while ago,” the doctor said in typical physician understatement.  Hutch wondered why doctors always seemed to say "we" when they were talking about their patients.

 

"What does that mean?"  Hutch tried desperately, and unsuccessfully, to slow his breathing and calm his heart rate.  He knew something was wrong, but didn't have the time to focus on himself.

 

"Does your partner have a history of high fevers?"  Bradley asked.

 

"I don't know about it being a history, but yeah, when he's sick his temperature can get pretty high.  I always figured it was his high metabolism working against him,” Hutch replied.

 

"That's what happened here.  For reasons I can't be sure of, he spiked a high fever and had a seizure.  His temperature was 105.8.  We're working on getting it down, but he's still unconscious.  This is something we usually see in children, but not unheard of in an adult.  This type of thing can be tough to get under control after a head injury."

 

"Is he going to be all right?"  Hutch asked, needing the answer, but fearing it.

 

"I think so.  Just give us a little time.  I'm hoping we'll get his temperature under control soon.  We'll know more when he's awake."

 

Hutch ran a hand across his face before asking if he could go in and see his best friend.  The doctor agreed and stepped aside. 

 

Before he reached the door, Hutch took another deep breath.  He hadn't seen Starsky since Jack pushed him into the elevator and he hadn't gotten a good look at him then.  When he walked into the room, he was shocked.  Starsky's face was purple on one side.  That was the only color in it.  He was too still.  Hutch never got used to seeing his energetic partner in a state of unconsciousness.  His right arm was in a sling, close to his body on the right side.  Hutch sat in a chair facing the bed and took his partner's left hand in his.  He reached up and touched his face.  Too hot.

 

"Hey, buddy.  I'm here.  What's wrong with you, huh?   I can't let you out of my sight for a day without you getting into trouble."  Hutch stroked the back of Starsky's hand with his thumb.  Starsky's hands were strong, but smaller than Hutch's.  He still had the gold and silver rings on his pinky.  Hutch turned them in his fingers.  "Wake up and give me a hard time, will you?"

 

Dobey walked in and stood behind him.  "Hutch, I know you need to be here, but shouldn't you go to the service tonight?"

 

Hutch turned and shot an angry look at his superior officer.  His eyes bright and a little more wild than they should be.  The captain looked at him and said, "Are you okay?"

 

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?  I'm fine!" he hissed, not wanting to speak too loudly again.

 

Dobey put his hands out and said, "Okay, okay, calm down.  You know we'll keep watch here.  We need you in that tent if we're gonna nail this turkey.   I'm not going to order you, but you know what you need to do.  Sitting here isn't going to catch Haley and it isn't going to change what happens with your partner."

 

The blond detective could see the logic in Dobey's statements.  "I know.  Just give me a little while with him.  If his temp is down when they check next time, I'll go. The service isn't for a few hours and I already told Haley I might not go tonight."

 

Dobey nodded.  "Sean's going with you this time.  He and Starsky were talking about you helping to get Sean disguised.  He could be recognized."

 

"All right.  In a while, okay?"

 

"Yeah.  Look, try not to worry.  I promise we'll find a way to pull you out of there if anything happens to him."

 

Hutch sat and talked quietly to Starsky.  The next temperature check wasn't much better so he stayed.  The other officers hovered around out in the hall or wandered in and out of Starsky's room.  Hutch's anger toward Haley was increasing by the minute.  When the following temperature check revealed a drop to 103.6, Hutch began to breathe easier.  Not wanting to leave the hospital any earlier than necessary, he gave Jack a list of things to buy for Sean's disguise.  Sean went to The Pulse to pick up a camera and some identification papers for his cover. 

 

While they were gone, Starsky started to stir.  He opened his eyes, still feverish, and looked at Hutch's anxious face.  "Hutch?"  He looked disoriented and sounded confused.

 

"Hey.  Take it easy, Gordo.  I'm here."

 

Starsky blinked and looked at him again, trying to figure out what was wrong with his partner.  "What?  Hey, you're gonna blow your cover!"

 

Relieved that Starsky seemed all right and that he remembered they were on a case, Hutch laughed.  "I think you ought to worry about you right now, mush brain."

 

"Missed you," the sleepy detective muttered as he gave his partner's hand a weak squeeze. 

 

Hutch stood and put  the back of his hand on Starsky's forehead.  He felt cooler.  His hand was shaking and he was starting to feel a little sick. 

 

The patient's eyes opened again and focused on the blond man's face.  "You okay?  You look pretty uptight."

 

"Don't suppose it could be the scare you put into me, buddy?"

 

"Nope.  Sure it's not."  Starsky smiled.  "What happened?  I feel kinda strange."

 

"You spiked one of your famous fevers and had a seizure.  You've been out for a while.  Scared the devil out of me, thank you."

 

Laughing at that, Starsky said, "I thought that was Brother Bigshot's job."

 

Hutch remembered what happened with Stephanie and he'd wanted to tell Starsky.  "You know what?  Stephanie is better.  She's going to get her leg.  I know you don't put any stock in Haley's abilities, but it's sure weird that she's suddenly better."

 

"Hutch…."

 

"Don't worry about me, buddy.  I know the guy is bad.  Rotten to the core.  I'm so pissed at him over what happened to you, I can barely stand to be in the same room.  I'm just saying it's weird, that's all."

 

Starsky looked relieved.  "Okay, but watch yourself.  I don't like you out there without me. I wanted to be there, but Dobey said you wouldn't allow it.  That right, buddy?"

 

"That knock on your noggin must have jolted what little sense you have left loose.  You're not goin' anywhere and that's final.  Sean's going under with me.  Don't worry."

 

Dr. Bradley walked in behind them and said with a smile, "Anyone in here planning to let the DOCTOR know his patient is awake?"

 

Hutch turned red and said, "Sorry, Doc.  I guess I was too relieved to think about it."

 

"Get out of my way then and let me take a look."

Obliging the doctor, Hutch stepped out of the way and watched as Bradley examined his best friend.  When he finished, he smiled at both men.  "Looks good."

 

"Leave it to my partner to develop a complication that usually happens only to kids."

 

"Now, I didn't say that,” Bradley protested 

 

Starsky asked, "Crisis over, Doc?  You need to tell my partner he can go back to work."

 

"I think so.  You know how non-committal doctors like to be.  All right, Detective, I think I worked hard enough to reestablish your 'cover' as you say.  Now go on out and work on it."

 

Hutch blushed again.  "Okay, okay, but you find a way to contact me if anything else happens."

 

"It won't," Starsky said.

 

Cavanaugh and Hill had both returned from the assignments Hutch had given them.  He and Sean went out to the waiting room to work on his disguise.  Hutch was sweating and pale, he was suddenly tired and his hands were shaking worse than they were in Starsky's room.

 

"Man," Sean said.  He lowered his voice and said, "You on something?"

 

Hutch was instantly angered.  Even the suggestion he might be using drugs was offensive.  Seeing his anger, Sean added, "Look at yourself."  He held out the mirror for Hutch to look at his reflection.  His pupils were abnormally dilated and his heart was just starting to slow down to where he couldn't feel it beating in his chest.

 

"Sean, you know me better than that.  No, I'm not on something."

 

"Hold out your hands, Hutch."

 

The blond obeyed and was appalled at the trembling in his hands.  Adding all of the physical symptoms he'd been having up in his head, Hutch suddenly realized what was happening. "Dammit!"

 

"Hutch?"

 

"That son of a bitch Haley,” Hutch said looking at Sean with such intensity, the other man was surprised.  "I think he's been slipping me speed.  He must think it'll make me believe he's helping my illness."

 

"Damn, Hutch.  We need to tell Dobey."  Sean started to stand up, but Hutch grabbed his arm and pulled him back down onto his chair.

 

"No.  He might decide to pull out and I can't let that happen.  He's a killer and he tried to get my partner."

 

"I don't know…"

 

"Sean, imagine if it were Jack in there.  Please.  We're getting close.  I know it.  I knew he'd start making mistakes, and he did.  He tried to drug me.  Damn.  I can't believe I've been so worked up about Starsky and this whole case, I didn't guess."

 

Cavanaugh reluctantly agreed.  The two men got to work putting together an effective disguise for Sean.  By the time they were ready to go to the revival meeting, Starsky's fever was down to 100 and Hutch felt comfortable leaving.  He said goodbye to his partner, despite the fact that he was sleeping.  Jack took up his position guarding the dark-haired detective and he told both his own partner and Hutch to be careful.

 

First, Sean went to the tent and found Esther.  He introduced himself as Sean Carter and explained that he was there to finish David Frank's article.   Esther looked sad when she asked how Mr. Frank was doing.

 

"He's still alive, but he's had some complications.  The doctor told our boss he still doesn't expect David to make it.  Everybody down at the paper is so shocked.  What a freak accident."

 

"Yes, we feel terrible.  My brother led the congregation in prayer for your friend last night.  We hope the Lord will see fit to heal him."  She looked and sounded so sincere.  Starsky had debriefed him, explaining that he believed Esther to be innocent of anything other than being clueless about her brother's real activities.  He studied her face carefully, wondering how much she knew.

 

"David was pretty far along in his interviews and pictures.  I will be filling in the blanks he hadn't gotten to yet."

 

"That's fine.  You can go into the tent and find a good spot to sit.  The services will start in a short while."  She escorted him into the tent and then left him to his own devices.  Sean was determined to take good pictures, especially since he had been accused of taking bad ones.  He knew his would never meet the quality of Starsky's, so he decided to concentrate on the crew members and some of the congregants.  Tonight was another healing service.

 

Hutch showed up in the tent late.  The service was well underway and he was spared the need to come forward with the rest of the people seeking God's healing graces.  He hung back toward the rear of the tent and studied the faces.  Watching the people as they were healed, he was struck by the familiarity of one of them.  The man had a disguise on and it was a good one.  He appeared heavier, his hair had been cut close to his head and bleached, and the mustache was gone.  This time, he had a goatee.  He came forward to the minister using a walker, but Hutch realized with a sinking feeling that this was the same man Starsky had captured on film at the previous healing service.  This was the man his partner had tried to convince him was the same healthy man he had photographed on another night. 

 

Cavanaugh took his pictures of what he called in his head the "cast and crew."  Though he didn't have time to practice his religion as often as he liked, Sean considered himself to be a faithful Christian.  Haley's demeanor and what Sean saw as obvious chicanery offended him.

 

Chapter 11

 

Bob was watching Hutch.  When the preacher called for his "partner" in the ministry to join him on the stage, something clicked in his feeble-minded memory.  He had forgotten something Halliday had been screaming in the emergency room that day.  Halliday had told the receptionist that he was the injured man's "partner."

 

When the service was over and Haley was free again, Bob waved him over to a corner, just as he was headed to the back to visit with Mr. Halliday.

 

"I finally remembered something from the hospital the other day, Brother,” he spoke rapidly, nervous that he had made such a large omission in his details.

 

"What is it?"

 

"I'm sorry, Brother.  I think it's pretty important.  When Halliday was looking for information about Frank, he told the receptionist that he was his partner."

 

Haley scratched his chin and an angry set came into his eyes.  "Yes, that is a big omission.  His partner, hm?"

 

"Yes, Brother.  I'm really sorry."  Bob looked nervously at the ground.  Haley had been known to strike people in anger and he was cringing inside, hoping he wouldn't be hit.  The man was big, but he had a slow mind, and Haley could only blame himself for sending a near imbecile to do such important reconnaissance work.  

 

"Let's go to my office, Brother Bob.  I have an idea."  He ushered the big man out toward the trailer. 

 

Cavanaugh had already left the tent and Hutch was ready to go home.  Seeing the minister leaving, Hutch sought out Esther to say goodnight.  When he found her, he said, "Sister, I have to go home.  I'm tired tonight.  I arrived too late for the healing tonight but your brother invited me to a special healing retreat.  Please tell him I'm still considering whether I can go.  My doctor said it would depend on the results of some recent tests."

 

"I will. I hope you feel better.  Goodnight,” she answered as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. 

 

Haley picked up the phone and dialed the local police department.  One of the detectives from the day the dead woman was found had left a card for him in case he remembered anything important.  When the switchboard operator answered, he asked to speak with Officer Starsky. 

 

"I'm sorry, sir, Detective Starsky is not in at this time.  May I take a message, please?" 

 

"No, thanks.  I'll catch him later."  He hung up the phone softly.

 

Captain Dobey and Hutch had covered every angle in protecting Starsky at the hospital.  Somehow, neither one of them had thought to tell the switchboard staff at the precinct to deny any knowledge of Starsky. 

 

Esther was approaching the trailer to speak with her brother when she overheard his conversation with Bob through the open window. 

 

"That confirms it.  Well, Mr. Ken Halliday is going to be coming with us to our retreat. We'll take care of him at the cabin."

 

"What about Frank?  You want I should go up to the hospital and finish him off, Brother?"

 

"No, forget about him.  I want Halliday.  When we're done with him, we can take care of the other one.  He'd better already be at death's door."

 

Esther was shocked by what she heard.  She quickly headed back into the tent before either of the men in the trailer knew she had overheard them.  The hour was late, but tomorrow morning, she would go to the hospital and make a visit of her own.

 

She spent a restless, uneasy night. Over and over she asked herself how she could have missed the signs that now seemed obvious – her brother wasn't the man she'd thought he was. She spent much of the time alternately crying and praying. What would their father and grandfather say if they knew Ben had become a greedy, violent man? Especially after he had been taught all his life to serve the Lord? He'd hardly been more than a boy when he'd preached his first sermon and discovered that he could lay hands on the sick.

 

And he was her brother. They'd served the Lord side by side for years. How could she betray him? But then she remembered a Bible verse, one that she had read many times but never really understood until now.

 

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple."

 

She remembered the first time she'd read that verse. She was eight years old and appalled that Jesus would command anyone to hate his family. But Grandpa had explained to her that Jesus had meant that God must always come first, and if her family were ever to try to prevent her from serving the Lord or try to lead her away from the Lord, she must not let love for them stand between her and God.

 

"What if I asked you to leave the church?" Grandpa had asked gently. "I'm your grandfather and I love you, but what if I asked you to do something you know is against God's commandments?"

 

"I couldn't," she'd said.

 

"That's right. That's what he meant by carrying your cross. Sometimes it will be light and sometimes it will be heavy, but you must never put it down, child."

 

She felt comforted, remembering that conversation. Grandpa had been an upright man of God. She knew what he would counsel her to do.

 

Early in the morning, before anyone else was awake, Esther rose and left for the hospital. It was long before visiting hours, she knew, but if her suspicions were correct, there was no time to lose.

 

She asked a passing nurse how to find the ICU and then took the elevator to that floor. There was only one nurse at the desk. "I need to see Mr. Frank," she said to her. "David Frank."

 

"I'm sorry," the nurse said. "He's not allowed visitors."

 

"This is a matter of life and death," Esther said desperately. "I have to talk to him."

 

"He's in critical condition, ma'am," the nurse said. "He can't talk. He's not even conscious."

 

Dobey stepped off another elevator just in time to hear this exchange. He realized who Esther was from having looked at the photos Starsky had taken at the revival. But she didn't know who he was, and he was going to walk right past her and let the nurse handle it, until he heard what she said next.

 

"Please!" Esther was saying. "My brother – oh, I can't tell you! I have to tell him or Mr. Halliday. It's dreadfully important they know what's going on!"

 

Dobey gave the nurse a nod; she knew who he was. Then, he lightly touched Esther on the shoulder. "Miss? I'm a friend of Mr. Frank's. Can you tell me what's wrong?"

 

She turned and gave him a long, steady look. "Is Mr. Frank a policeman?"

 

Dobey was glad for his long years of undercover work. They kept him from betraying what that remark did to his heart rate. "Why on earth would you think Mr. Frank is a policeman?"

 

"Please don't be evasive with me," Esther pleaded. "My brother – " She had to pause because it was still so difficult to think of it. She wet her lips and continued, "My brother is going to do something to Mr. Halliday. I don't know what. But you mustn't let him go with Benjamin on that retreat. I think – I think he might plan to – to – kill him." Her eyes filled with tears. "And then they're going to come after Mr. Frank, if he's still alive. Oh, you must do something!"

 

"What makes you think that?" Dobey asked.

 

"I overheard him talking to one of his assistants," she said. "They don't know I heard them."

 

"Cavanaugh!" Dobey suddenly bellowed, making the nurse frown severely and make a "shushing" sound. In a moment, Cavanaugh appeared, eyes wide.

 

"What?"

 

Esther didn't recognize him, though she thought there was something familiar about him. Hutch's disguise for him had been thorough.

 

"Get hold of Hutch, now!" Dobey ordered. "I gotta talk to him."

 

"Okay," Cavanaugh said, sparing a sidelong glance for Esther as he hurried away. He returned a few moments later. "He doesn't answer, Cap."

 

"Then get over to the safe house!" Dobey bellowed, but at slightly fewer decibels. "Find him!"

 

"What about – ?" Cavanaugh gestured vaguely.

 

"I'm here! I'll stay with him."

 

"Yes, sir," Cavanaugh said. He hit the down button on the elevator and in a moment was gone.

 

Dobey led Esther to a small waiting area in the center of the ICU. From there he could see the elevators and the door to Starsky's room. He didn't want to show her Starsky just yet. "Tell me everything," he said in a quiet tone of command.

 

By the time she finished, the nurse was calling Dobey to the phone. He ordered her to stay put, and she did, but she could overhear his side of the conversation anyway.

 

"What do you mean, he's not there? Where the hell is he?" There was a pause.

"Get over to that tent and see if his car's still there! And put out an APB on him, now!"

 

When Dobey returned, he was visibly shaken. "When is this retreat?"

 

"This weekend," she said. "We rent a cabin up in the mountains and take people up there sometimes for prayer and healing. It's so peaceful...." Her eyes filled again.

 

Dobey seemed to come to a decision. "Come with me."

 

She followed him to one of the rooms and was stunned to see Starsky – Mr. Frank, as she knew him – lying in bed sleeping quite naturally, one arm bound in a sling, a nasty bruise on his temple, but otherwise looking much better than she had expected. He did not look as if he were dying.

 

She was certain of it a moment later, when Dobey strode right over to the bed and unceremoniously shook him. "Wake up, Starsky!"

 

Starsky mumbled and muttered for a moment, but Dobey poked him again and finally he opened his eyes, which widened when he saw Esther.

 

"We got trouble," Dobey said. "Miss Haley heard her brother planning to take Hutch up to some cabin in the mountains for a 'retreat'."

 

He didn't have to go any further. Starsky knew that if Hutch went anywhere with Haley, Haley did not plan for him to return.

 

"Shit," Starsky said, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

 

"Where the hell you think you're going?" Dobey demanded.

 

"If you think I'm stayin' here while Hutch is in trouble – "

 

"That's exactly where you're staying!" Dobey ordered angrily. "Get back in that bed! Now!"

 

They were still arguing when the nurse tapped at the door. "Captain," she said. "Sergeant Cavanaugh's on the phone again."

 

Dobey glared at Starsky one more time and left the room.

 

"So you are a policeman," Esther said to Starsky.

 

"Yeah," Starsky said, seeing that it was pointless to pretend otherwise. "We suspect your brother of a couple of murders and we were trying to get enough on him to arrest him. We call it going undercover."

 

She nodded. "I'm afraid you're right about him," she said. "What I heard him telling Bob – " She bit her lip. "I'm so sorry about all this. I had no idea – "

 

"I believe you," Starsky said. "You came here to warn me, and I owe ya one."

 

"Is 'Hutch' Mr. Halliday's real name?"

 

"It's short for Hutchinson," Starsky said. "What happens at these retreats, usually?"

 

"It depends," she said. "Sometimes it's just intense prayer and study. Sometimes Ben uses snakes – "

 

"SNAKES?" Starsky's mouth fell open and he reached out to grab her arm. "What do you mean, he uses snakes?"

 

Dobey came back in time to overhear that. He froze in the doorway.

 

"We come from a church that believes in the whole Bible," Esther said, not understanding Starsky's reaction. "It says 'In My name they will drive out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes with their hands' – "

 

"POISONOUS snakes?"

 

"Of course," she said. "Back home, it was usually rattlesnakes, but sometimes it was cottonmouth or coral snakes and my father even had a cobra for a while."

 

Starsky was so pale his lips had even gone white, and his eyes were wild. "What do they do with the snakes?"

 

"They handle them," she said. "Even if you're bitten, those with strong faith won't be harmed."

 

"What – what if – your faith isn't strong?" Starsky's voice was trembling and hoarse.

 

"People do sometimes die...." Her eyes went wide. "Oh, my Lord! That's what Ben plans to do – "

 

Starsky was out of bed this time before Dobey could utter a word. "Where the hell is that cabin?" He caught sight of Dobey. "What'd Cavanaugh say?"

 

"Hutch's car is still at the tent," Dobey said. "But otherwise the place is deserted."

 

Hutch had lingered after the service the night before to talk to Stephanie and her family. He knew Starsky would want to know how she was doing, and he was curious himself about her suddenly improved health. They were among the last to leave.

 

All three of them – Stephanie, her mother and father – insisted the private healing service with Brother Haley was the reason she had improved. Hutch did not doubt they believed it, but he didn't, not for a minute.

 

By the time the family said goodnight and got into their car to go, the parking lot was all but deserted. Hutch turned to go to his car. Now that he knew that Haley had been drugging him, he recognized the crash from the speed high he'd been on. He was so tired and listless he didn't even know if he'd be able to drive home. By the time he reached his car, he felt as if he'd walked miles, and he was distinctly unhappy to see Bob waiting for him.

 

"Brother Haley wants to see you," Bob said.

 

"I can't," Hutch said. "I'm beat. I'll call him tomorrow."

 

"He wants to see you tonight. To arrange for the retreat."

 

"I can't, I said!" Hutch snapped. "I'm going home."

 

If he hadn't been so tired, he'd have seen what was coming. Bob raised his joined fists and hit Hutch in the back of the head, knocking him down and stunning him. Before Hutch could react, Bob had clapped a towel over his mouth and nose and Hutch recognized the smell of chloroform. After that, he knew no more.

 

He woke up in a small, rustic bedroom to the sound of bird songs outside the open window. He looked in that direction and saw trees. When he tried to get up, he realized he was handcuffed to the bed. He struggled anyway, but it was no use.

 

About half an hour later, Haley came in. "So, you're awake," the evangelist said.

 

"Where am I?" Hutch asked angrily.

 

"In a cabin the ministry rents for retreats," Haley said, coming close enough to make sure the handcuffs were secure. "Up in the mountains. No one knows you're here." He took a couple of steps backward and regarded Hutch. "What's your real name?"

 

"Ken Halliday," Hutch answered.

 

"No, no, it's not," Haley said. "I know you're a cop. You might as well give up the pretense, Officer. It's not Halliday. What is it?"

 

Hutch refused to answer that. "Is this the way you treat all your congregation?"

 

"No," Haley said, pulling up a chair. "I treat my congregation quite well. It's nosy cops I treat badly. What is your name?"

 

"Why do you care?" Hutch finally demanded. "You intend to kill me, don't you?"

 

Haley smiled. "Yes. But I like to know who it is I'm killing."

 

"Hutchinson," Hutch said. "Detective Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson."

 

Haley nodded. "Good. We're making progress."

 

"I guess you haven't read the commandment about 'thou shalt not kill'," Hutch said sardonically.

 

This time, Haley actually chuckled. "Oh, yes, I have. But I am an instrument of God, Officer Hutchinson. Or shall I call you 'Ken'? There are many instances in the Good Book of the Lord commanding His people to smite His enemies. When the Children of Israel took the Promised Land, for instance. You are His enemy."

 

"I'm not His enemy," Hutch said. "I don't swindle people in His name and I don't kill people who get in my way and I don't twist the Bible to suit my own purposes!"

 

Haley gave a shrug. "Think anything you like," he said. "It won't matter soon. Bob, are we ready?" he called into another room.

 

"Yes, Brother." Bob appeared in the door. "Everything's all set."

 

"Good." Haley produced a key. "We're going to hold a healing service, Brother

Ken," he said to Hutch. "An old-fashioned service like my dear old Grandpa used to hold back home in Tennessee. We're going to drive the demons out of you for good."

 

Hutch tensed, ready to fight as soon as his hands were free, but Bob casually produced a gun and laid the barrel against his temple.

 

"One wrong move," Bob said, "and I'll send you straight to hell."

 

Hutch had no choice but to allow Haley to free him, drag him roughly to his feet, and into the other room. There were wooden boxes lined up across the front wall of the room and Hutch heard an ominous rattling sound coming from one of them. Haley pushed him into a straight chair and replaced the handcuffs, locking him to the chair. Bob stood by, still aiming the gun at Hutch.

 

Haley left Hutch in Bob's hands and walked toward the boxes. He closed his eyes, raised his hands, and began to sing. Hutch didn't recognize the tune, but the words were in that "heavenly language." Bob began to sway in time, but the gun never wavered from its position.

 

Haley sang for several minutes, growing steadily more sweaty and louder as he did, until he reached behind him, opened one of the boxes, and withdrew a copperhead. Hutch's heart began to beat faster.

 

Chapter 12

 

Haley lifted the snake over his head lovingly, caressing it, letting it wind itself around his arm. He swayed and chanted and sang, while Hutch's eyes never left the snake. Haley bent again, and reaching into another box, withdrew a rattlesnake, already annoyed enough to shake its rattles. This one, too, he lifted over his head, gazing into its eyes, twirling slowly and chanting. He repeated this process until he was holding half a dozen snakes, draped all over him.

 

The sight sickened and terrified Hutch. He was trembling so hard the chair shook under him. The copperhead fell off Haley's arm and slithered toward Hutch, who tried to scoot the chair backward but was stopped by Bob and the gun.

 

Haley knelt and raised his hands, with snakes still draped over his body, and prayed, "Oh, Lord, smite this Thine enemy who has dared to interfere with Thy holy works."

 

Hutch's mouth was dry and his heart was beating harder than it did even under the influence of the speed. Haley released the rest of the snakes, and they started slithering around the room, some toward Hutch, others aimlessly wandering. Haley rose to his feet. "Those with faith in the true God will not be harmed," Haley said to Hutch. "Now we will see who is His servant and who is not."

 

Haley beckoned to Bob, and they left the cabin. Hutch heard the door lock and a few moments later, he heard a motor start up and drive away. He was alone and helpless with six deadly poisonous snakes. And no one knew where he was.

 

Trying to sit as still as he could, Hutch knew he was in serious trouble.  All he could do was hope the snakes would slither away from him and leave him alone if he didn't move.  They did seem to be moving away from him, except for the beautiful red, yellow, and black one.  Hutch watched with lurid fascination as the usually shy coral snake headed straight for him.  The preacher and his goon had taken Hutch's shoes, socks, and pants.  Sitting in that chair in just a shirt and boxers, he had little protection from the venomous creatures. Wishing Haley had at least opened the curtains so he could better see what was probably going to kill him, he allowed himself a small chuckle as he said aloud, "Could be worse.  Coulda gone commando today."

 

"All right, Starsky, these are the rules, you can go with us, but you're not gonna go running around causing yourself to have a relapse.  You're not even supposed to be out of the hospital."  Captain Dobey was standing firm.  His hand on Starsky's shoulder and the serious look on his face conveyed his determination to make sure the dark-haired man didn't make himself worse by joining the cavalry party.  The only reason he had agreed to allow Starsky to come was to keep an eye on him.  He had no doubt Starsky would leave the hospital on his own one way or another as soon as Dobey and the other officers left him. 

 

"Whatever it takes, Cap, let's just get started."  Starsky had already dressed and negotiated his release with Dr. Bradley.  The doctor was not pleased, but he agreed as long as Dobey promised to return Starsky to the hospital if he showed any deterioration in his condition.  Bradley had planned to release him in another day anyway.

 

Esther gave the police directions to the cabin.  She even agreed to ride in a squad car, in case she needed to help negotiate Hutch's safe release from her brother. 

 

Captain Dobey had arranged for a snake handler to accompany the group of officers heading for the cabin.  The captain helped Starsky into the passenger seat of his car.  Starsky wanted to take the Torino, but Dobey refused.  They would ride along behind the black-and-whites, and a paramedic unit Dobey had requested as a precaution followed them.  The situation was not what Starsky wanted, but he had no choice.  He sat worried, sullen, and in pain – leaning heavily against the door.   The captain was right when he pointed out that Starsky was not in any shape to be up front with the officers who would most likely charge into the situation.  He was limping badly, his head pounded, and his right arm was still useless in its sling.

 

Jack and Sean were at the front of the small procession.  Esther rode in the back seat of their car.  When she wasn't giving directions, she was fervently praying in silence for Hutch's safety and her brother's salvation.

 

Captain Dobey had sent Simmons and Babcock over to stake out the revival tent.  About forty-five minutes into their journey up to the cabin, Dobey's radio crackled with a message from the two detectives. 

 

"We have Haley and the other man, Bob Reynolds.  They showed up here a few minutes ago and the uniforms are running them down to Metro now,” Babcock said.

 

"Are they talking?"  Dobey asked.

 

"No.  They claimed not to know anything about a missing officer or a Ken Halliday.  They demanded to see a lawyer."

 

"Terrific," Starsky muttered. 

 

"Thank God Esther knows where that cabin is," Dobey replied.

 

"Well, I just wish they'd go a little faster.  If Hutch gets bitten, who knows how much time he'll have before the venom gets him?  We don't even know for sure how long he's been up there."  Starsky was starting to feel panic.  Dobey picked up the radio mike and ordered the procession to pick up the pace a few notches.  At least they knew the cabin would most likely be deserted except for Hutch.   Esther told them that she thought Bob would have been the only other man with her brother. 

 

When they turned up the dirt road, the bumps and dips in the surface registered painfully on every one of Starsky's injuries.  He was nauseated and his head was spinning.  Though Dobey stole frequent looks his way to check on his status, Starsky did his best to hide his distress.  He wanted to be there when they found Hutch.

 

They pulled up outside the cabin and stopped, dust flying all around the rescue caravan. 

Dobey turned to his passenger and said, "You stay put.  You look worse than what the cat dragged in and I don't want you making yourself worse." 

 

Starsky started to protest, but Dobey said, "Don't argue with me, Dave.  Stay here.  I'll let you know as soon as we find him.  Don't make me cuff you to the steering wheel."

 

"Yeah, yeah,” Starsky said in obvious frustration.  His pale face convinced the captain he would stay in the car.

 

Dobey climbed out and headed for the front porch behind the uniforms.  A quick search of the perimeter revealed that no one was around and no sound came from inside the cabin.  Sean and his partner were on the front porch, both men standing beside the door with their backs against the cabin.

 

"Police!"  Sean shouted. "Open up!" 

 

Nothing.  Esther exited the lead car and stood beside it, calling softly up to Sean, "Be careful. Snakes."

 

Sean and Jack nodded.  Jack was on the side with the doorknob.  The door was locked.  Holstering his gun, Jack reached for his wallet and pulled out a credit card.  He carefully slid it between the door and the strike plate.  Sean smiled at him when he saw him turn the knob slowly and push the door open a cautious inch. 

 

"Good thing you're not one of the bad guys, Jack," he said with a smirk.

 

The partners were greeted with the sound of snakes rattling.  Jack pulled the door almost shut again and called for the snake handler.

 

This situation was tricky.  Ordinarily, Hill and Cavanaugh would not allow a civilian to enter an unsecured area, not even a paramedic, much less a snake expert.  In this case, they had to do it.

 

Chris Johnson had worked for the county for twenty years.  He specialized in snakes, especially pit vipers like rattlers.  He came up on the porch; uncomfortable in the flak jacket Dobey had insisted he wear.  He had a handling stick and several burlap sacks to put the reptiles in when he caught them.  Esther had told them there could be as many as six snakes of various types in the cabin. 

 

When Starsky saw Johnson head up to the porch, his breathing and heart rate climbed.  He was about to break his promise to Captain Dobey.  Rationalizing that he hadn't really promised, he had only agreed, helped.

 

Johnson nodded as Jack opened the door a crack again.  The snake handler waved his hand to indicate Jack should step back the few paces.  Then he slowly opened the door as the two cops pointed their guns at ground, ready for anything that slithered past the handler.  Sean looked up and saw the sweat beaded on his partner's upper lip.  He said, "I don't think I was this nervous the last time we busted into a holdup."

 

Jack silently agreed with him, never taking his eyes off the door or the figure of the snake handler as the dark front room swallowed him.  Listening intently, Sean heard the sound of rattling, and the sound of Chris snagging the reptiles fearlessly with his handling stick.

 

Sean said, "That guy sure has brass ones, huh?  I hate snakes."  He shivered.

 

"Me, too,” Jack answered.

 

After several agonizing minutes waiting, Dobey called up to them, "Well?  What's going on in there?"

 

Jack held up his hand, signaling Dobey to wait.  The captain was too busy to notice that Starsky had climbed out of the car.  The maneuver was painful and difficult for the man with his right arm in a sling.  Starsky tried to walk forward, but the uneven surface was working against him.  When the snake handler stepped out onto the porch and yelled that they'd better get a paramedic in there, Starsky tried to move too fast, without paying attention to the ground.  He stepped down with his heel in a small chuckhole, causing him to painfully wrench his injured knee.  Sharp pain and increased dizziness rushed through him, and he blacked out – collapsing just in front of Dobey's car.

 

The paramedics rushed up the porch steps and followed Hill and Cavanaugh inside.  Jack opened the curtains, flooding the front room with light.  No one noticed when Chris returned to the room and put the bags of snakes into the boxes underneath the windows.  Their attention was completely focused on the unconscious man cuffed to a wooden chair.  Sean quickly got out his handcuff keys while the paramedics started to look over their patient.

 

"Dammit!"  Sean exclaimed.  "These aren't police issue and my keys don't fit." 

 

One of the paramedics looked up at him with eyes that meant business.  "You've gotta get those off of him.  He may not have much time." 

 

Hutch's breathing was already compromised.  The paramedic called the snake handler over to look at the small bite wound he had found on Hutch's leg, just above his knee.   "Can you tell which one of those slimy critters did this?"

 

The wound looked more like a series of scratches than a snakebite.  The man nodded.  "Yeah.  See the semi-circular pattern?  That's from a coral snake."

 

"Thanks." 

 

Sean and Jack were carefully lowering Hutch and the chair to its side on the floor.  The paramedics were helping to ensure Hutch was all right.  Sean shielded Hutch as best he could while Jack kicked at the wooden chair where the cuffs were locked.  At least they could get Hutch free from the chair that way.

 

"Hurry up," one of the paramedics urged.  "We need to keep his heart above this bite."  His partner was carefully wrapping Hutch's thigh with an Ace bandage a few inches above the bite while the man urging Jack to hurry listened to Hutch's heart and breathing.  Hutch's shirt was covered with vomit, and he was sweating profusely.  His eyes were dilated, his pulse weak, and his blood pressure was dangerously low. 

 

When Jack succeeded in breaking the chair away from Hutch, the paramedic said, "Get out to our van.  We have a large pair of bolt cutters in the left rear compartment."  He pointed at the linkage between the cuffs.  "If these things aren't professional issue, maybe we can cut them apart."

 

Jack ran for the door as Dobey and Esther stood aside to let him pass.  He tore around the side of the ambulance and started rifling through the rear compartment.  He didn't find them, and decided maybe they were really in the other side.  When he ran around the back of the unit, he saw Starsky lying on the ground next to Dobey's car.  "Shit!"  he exclaimed.  He quickly located the bolt cutters in the other compartment and ran them back into the house. 

 

As he handed the tool to Sean, Jack stood up quickly and ran back out the door, calling over his shoulder, "Starsky's in trouble out here!"

 

Seeing that Hutch was in good hands, Dobey decided he'd better go with Jack.  His already chilled heart nearly stopped when he saw Starsky lying in the dirt.  "Damn!"  He went down the steps and hurried toward Jack and the unconscious detective. 

 

Kneeling to help Jack gently turn Starsky over, Dobey said, "I should have cuffed him to the steering wheel." 

 

Meanwhile, inside the cabin, Sean had successfully cut the handcuffs apart.  One of the paramedics went out to the ambulance with Sean to retrieve the stretcher.  They needed to get Hutch to the Emergency Room immediately.  The snake expert said Hutch's symptoms indicated he could have been bitten hours ago.  By the time the two men returned with the stretcher, the blond detective was intubated. His swelling throat had interfered with his breathing too much.  The men put Hutch on the stretcher and headed for the ambulance with him.

 

Jack ran up to them, pointing back at Dobey and said, "Sorry.  You've got another patient over there."   He helped load Hutch into the ambulance while one of the paramedics went to check on Starsky.  They wound up hurriedly putting Starsky in the ambulance with his partner.  Then they rushed both men to Receiving Hospital.

 

The caravan pulled solemnly away from the cabin.  Dobey was worried about both of his detectives and also a little angry with them for always staying right on the edge.  He knew that was what made them such good cops, but the consequences were sometimes dire.

 

The paramedics had radioed ahead so the team in the emergency room knew what they were getting.  When the partners were both installed in their treatment rooms, the emergency teams scrambled to treat them.  Hutch was in bad shape, his breathing rapidly deteriorating.  Starsky's situation was not life threatening so he was triaged behind his partner.  A nurse put some ice on his swollen knee and Dr. Bradley gave him some pain medication in his IV line that was sure to keep him out long enough for them to figure out what to do about his partner.

 

Captain Dobey sat waiting for news on his two men.  Since the case was over, he called Huggy to let him know what was happening.  "Snakes?"  Huggy had said in complete disbelief.  "I think I've heard it all now.  Be right there."

 

A few hours later, Dr. Bradley was explaining everything to the two black men. "Detective Hutchinson was fortunate.  Because that woman died from a coral snake bite a little while ago, we ordered some antivenin in case someone else turned up bitten.  We've administered it and will be watching him to make sure he doesn't have a bad reaction.  That's the good news on him."

 

Huggy said, "Well, that sounds like there's bad news, too."

 

"The bad news is that your snake expert was correct.  He was probably bitten hours ago.  Mr. Johnson says that the snake may have latched on and pumped more venom into him than we might expect from a different kind of snake.  He's on a respirator and will probably remain that way for a few days.  The neurotoxic effects of the venom have left him paralyzed."

 

"Paralyzed?"  Dobey asked in shock.

 

"Don't worry, the condition should be completely reversible.  We'll have to monitor him closely, but I anticipate a complete recovery over the next week.  He's still unconscious now.  When he wakes up, he is probably going to be frightened."

 

"What about Curly, Doc?"  Huggy asked.

 

"Detective Starsky?"  The doctor snickered at the nickname.

 

"Yeah, sorry."

 

"He'll be all right.  His little escapade today did set him back a bit.  Also, I'm afraid he may have torn the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in that knee."

 

"Is that serious?"  Dobey asked.

 

"If he has torn it, he might need surgery.  He'd be non-weight bearing on it for at least eight weeks, then rehab.  We'll do some tests to see how bad it is.  He must have twisted it when he collapsed out there."

 

Dobey sighed.  "Is he awake?"

 

"Nope.  He's out, too.  Quite a pair, those two.  I'm having him sent upstairs to a regular room.  Hutchinson is going to the ICU."

 

The Captain shook his head and said, "I know it's irregular, and we've already had him in the ICU when he didn't need to be there, but isn't there some way you could put him in with his partner?  I'm afraid you might need to sedate him or have to restrain him to keep him away from Hutch otherwise."

 

"I'll see what I can do," the doctor replied amiably. 

 

Starsky woke up in darkness, every muscle he had hurting, and an even greater

pain in his knee. His head hurt most of all. He groaned softly and ran his hand over his eyes. A soft whooshing sound made him look to his left and he froze when he saw Hutch in the other bed, attached to machines, pale and still in the little light that fell on his face from a light bar over his bed.

 

My God...the snakes! Starsky struggled up and into the chair between the beds, wincing but not really noticing the pain as he put his weight on the bad leg. "Hutch? Hutch, can you hear me?"

 

There was no response.

 

"H-Hutch?" Starsky's voice trembled. He'd never, never seen his partner so white and so still. Not even a twitch answered him. He reached out his shaking left hand to touch Hutch's hand, lying on the sheet. It was cold, and Hutch gave no sign that he could feel Starsky's touch or was aware of his presence. The respirator continued to whoosh in and out, the heart monitor beeped – too slowly for Starsky's taste, and he'd unfortunately seen enough of them for that to frighten him. The sheet covered Hutch up to his waist and he was wearing a hospital gown. He had to have been bitten, Starsky knew. He pulled the sheet away and saw a bandage low on one leg. Around the bandage, the leg was slightly swollen and a bruise peeked out from underneath it.  "Oh, God, buddy," Starsky whispered, forgetting his own aches and pains. "How bad is it?"

 

He sat there for what seemed like hours in the silence that was only broken by the sounds of the respirator and heart monitor. Finally, a nurse came in and gave a gasp, startled to see him in the chair.

 

"What are you doing out of bed?" she scolded softly. "You're not even supposed to be awake."

 

Starsky turned to look at her, the anguish in his eyes sharp even in the dim light. "How bad is he hurt?"

 

Her manner softened immediately. "He's going to be all right," she said. "It looks much worse than it is, really it does. Coral snake bites are very nasty, but we got the antivenin into him in time."

 

"What's this for?" Starsky asked in a low, shaking voice, indicating the respirator.

 

"Side effect of the venom," she said, coming closer and picking up Hutch's white, cold hand to check his pulse. She laid a hand against his forehead and cheek and glanced up at the monitor. "We don't want him to have to struggle to breathe. He needs his strength to heal."

 

"But he's so – " Starsky trailed off helplessly, his voice threatening to give out completely.

 

"I know it looks bad," she said. "Let me get the doctor. He can explain so much better than I can."

 

Starsky nodded and took Hutch's hand in his own again.

 

Chapter 13

 

Bradley came in a few minutes later and repeated the nurse's actions of checking Hutch's pulse and looking at the monitors. Then he turned to Starsky with a stern face but gentle eyes. "You two," he said, shaking his head, "have got to be the most challenging patients of my career."

 

Starsky didn't smile or relax. "The nurse said you'd explain."

 

"And I will," Bradley said. "But first, get your can back in the bed or I'll call for restraints." His twinkling eyes belied the words.

 

Starsky got back in bed, holding on to the chair to keep the weight off the bad knee. The doctor made a "tsking" sound as he examined that knee.

 

"You've got a nasty sprain here," he said to Starsky. "I thought earlier you'd torn a ligament, but I think all you really did was wrench it. Stay off of it, will you? We'll get you some crutches if you insist on getting out of bed, but I catch you putting any weight on it and I'll make good on that threat of restraints."

 

"I wanna hear about Hutch," Starsky said, refusing to be sidetracked.

 

"He's going to have to be on the respirator for a few days," Bradley said. "He's temporarily paralyzed – "

 

Starsky made a strangled sound.

 

"Temporarily," Bradley repeated with emphasis. "An effect of the venom.  Reversible, Sergeant, I promise. But you'll need to be alert and tell him that when he wakes up. Otherwise, he's going to be frightened and that'll raise his heart rate and we don't want that. Okay?"

 

Starsky nodded and tried to force his own heart rate to slow.

 

"In a week or so, he should be almost as good as new," Bradley said. "He had a close shave there, though. And you, Sergeant, are going to stay off the knee completely for at least two weeks. Got that? No weight on it AT ALL. After that, we'll see how you're doing."

 

"I can't use crutches with this," Starsky said, indicating his arm in the sling.

 

"That'll be better in a couple of days. You aren't going anywhere until then. If you do, I'll dislocate the other one."

 

Starsky gave a weak chuckle.

 

"There. That's better," Bradley said with a broad grin. "Now, I'd like to go home to bed. I've had a long day. Can I trust you to behave and to take care of this guy until tomorrow sometime?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Good. I'm going to tell the nurses to give you your head, within reason. You'd do what you wanted, anyway." Bradley gave a mock salute, patted Starsky on the shoulder and left the room.

 

There was no point in trying to sleep. Starsky was too afraid Hutch would wake up and find himself paralyzed and freak out. So he lay there, watching him, until it began to get light outside and Starsky began to think he couldn't keep his eyes open another minute.

 

Finally, Hutch's eyes fluttered a little and he gave a low moan.

 

Starsky was instantly wide-awake. He scrambled out of bed again, careful not to step on his bad leg. He got to the chair without incident and grabbed Hutch's hand again.  Then he moved his hand to touch his partner's face in case the paralysis also meant he wouldn't feel Starsky's pressure on his hand.

 

Hutch gave another moan and tossed his head feebly back and forth.

 

"Sshh, buddy. Easy. I'm right here," Starsky said gently.

 

Hutch made a face as if he were in pain and it was several more long, long seconds before he opened his eyes and tried to focus on Starsky. He couldn't speak, because of the respirator, but Starsky saw groggy recognition in his eyes.

 

"You're gonna be okay," Starsky said. "Do you understand? You're gonna be

fine."

 

Hutch moved his head once in the affirmative.

 

"You got bit by a coral snake," Starsky went on. "The respirator's to help you breathe so you won't have to work so hard. And you can't move because the

venom has – now listen, Hutch – TEMPORARILY paralyzed you. It's only temporary. Do you understand?"

 

Hutch's eyes widened with shock and fear and Starsky quickly made a

"shushing" sound.

 

"It's okay, buddy. It's only temporary. I talked to the doc earlier. He said you'd be good as new in a week. You just gotta lay here and let the pretty nurses take care of you till then." Starsky stroked the pale cheek. "You're really gonna be okay, babe. Honest. You know I can't lie to you."

 

Hutch's eyes fastened on Starsky and held his so long that if it had been anyone else, Starsky would have been uncomfortable. As it was, he held Hutch's gaze steadily until the blue eyes drooped in surrender.

 

Starsky let out his held breath. "Do you need anything? Should I get a nurse?"

 

Hutch made a sound in his throat that Starsky recognized as an attempt at "huh-uh."

 

"Wanna go back to sleep? Or should I sit here and talk to you?"

 

Hutch met his eyes again and this time, he was obviously evaluating him.  After a moment, Hutch gave Starsky a pointed look, moved his eyes to Starsky's bed and back to Starsky. There was no mistaking what he meant.

 

"I'm not tired, honest, I'm not," Starsky said.

 

Hutch repeated the action.

 

"But what about you?"

 

Hutch frowned as fiercely as he could, all things considered, and Starsky couldn't stop the grin.

 

"Okay, okay. I'll get some sleep. You sure you'll be okay?"

 

Hutch gave a single nod, and Starsky gave the golden hair one last stroke. Then he climbed back into bed and was out like a light almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. If he hadn't been, he'd have seen the loving look his partner gave him, a look he'd never see so obviously expressed in any other situation.

 

Within a few days, Hutch was weaned off the respirator.  The detectives were moved into a regular room and when Hutch's voice was back somewhat, he had lots of questions for his partner.  Still hoarse, he asked Starsky, "So, what the hell were you doing out there?"

 

Starsky shook his head and looked at the floor.  "I was coming to help rescue you. Snakes, Hutch.  Esther said there would be SNAKES!"

 

Hutch shook his head and weakly put a hand up toward Starsky.  "Can't let you out of my sight for a minute.  You could've made yourself a lot worse."

 

Taking his hand and squeezing it gently, Starsky said, "What about you?   I'm stuck in here a few days and you get yourself nabbed by snake loving nut cases.  You're the one who can't be trusted out of his partner's sight, buddy.  Who was supposed to be watching you anyway?"

 

"Sean.  Not his fault though.  We couldn't leave together.  I was supposed to take off right after he did.  Guess I screwed up that one."

 

They had to agree; they were about even in the "needing a good butt-kicking from my partner" department.  Both men laughed a little at how they had cheated death again.

 

Jack and Sean walked into their room and were pleased to see their friends were mending. 

 

Sean said, "Geez, Hutch, you sure gave us a scare.  How're you guys feeling?"

 

Starsky smirked at him. "Way to look out for my partner, Sean."

 

Blushing, Sean said, "Sorry about that, Starsk.  He was supposed to be right behind me.  Shoulda waited around the corner or something, I guess."  He hung his head a little, hoping Starsky was going to forgive him.

 

Hutch said, "Don't let him get to you, Sean.  You did fine.  I just stepped in it this time."

 

Jack said, "Want to know what's happening with the case, guys?"

 

"Sure," Starsky said.  He smiled at Sean, who started to relax as he pulled up a chair.

 

Sean started, "Big Bad Bob turned into a puddle when we threatened him with two counts of Attempted Murder of a Police Officer.  He's going to testify against Haley."

 

Jack added, "Haley has asked for a conference, but he won't do it until you are out of the hospital, Hutch.  His lawyer got the judge to agree.  He says he'll only give his statement to you."

 

Starsky immediately became protective. "Well, he can rot in hell then.  Hutch's not going anywhere for a while."

 

"Starsk...." Hutch started.

 

"Don't you start with me, Blondie.  I'm calling the shots on this case until you're completely, well... back on your feet."

 

Jack and Sean looked at each other and shrugged.  "Dobey said you'd be able to come down there in a few days."

 

"He did, did he?"  Starsky said.

 

Just then, Dobey walked in and heard the last comments.  "Yes, he did.  How are you feeling, boys?"

 

Starsky said, "Hutch isn't up to going down there with that preacher, Cap."

 

"Starsky, I'll be okay in a few days,” Hutch protested.

 

Dobey looked at both men and said, "I'm sure you and your partner want the pleasure of wrapping up that turkey so he can go away for a nice, long time in the state pen."

 

That point was difficult to argue.  Starsky looked at Hutch inquisitively, seeing how much he wanted it.  "Okay, Cap.  We'll be there."  Not that there was either an option or a question, but sometimes the captain knew he needed to let his men feel like they were the decision makers, even when they weren't.  Starsky and Hutch had been through a lot with this case and he thought this was one of those times.

 

"That's good.  I'll let the judge know.  What are you doing out of bed, Starsky?  I thought you were supposed to be resting that knee,” Dobey said, giving the dark-haired man a critical stare.

 

"I'm bein' good.  Not putting any weight on it, just like the doc said."

 

Hutch added, "Don't worry, Cap.  I'm watching him."

 

The men stayed and talked about the case and how things had gone for a long time, until a nurse came and shooed the other officers away so her patients could rest.  Starsky was released the next day and he split his time at the hospital and down at the precinct giving his statement on the case.  Dobey agreed to send someone to the hospital for Hutch's statement and the two detectives worked on their report together.  The captain wisely realized this was an excellent way to ensure that Starsky gave his knee time to heal.  He didn't want the man running around and making it worse.

 

Gary Detchel asked Starsky to work on the article, so he and Hutch did that while Hutch continued to improve.  The editor was impressed with Starsky's photos and the article was coming along nicely. 

 

Sean's photos were as bad as he thought they would be, but they did make great evidence for the fraud being perpetrated on the people of Bay City.  The man in some of Sean's photos did turn out to be the same one Starsky captured on two other evenings in various stages of disability and wellness.

 

After Hutch was released from the hospital, he and Starsky decided to stay at Venice Place while they finished recuperating.  They had to climb stairs at both places and Starsky wanted Hutch to be as comfortable as possible.

 

He had informed Hutch, "I figure you might get better faster if you have your jungle and your music around you." 

 

The day after Hutch was released, they went to the precinct to meet with Haley, Dobey, and Haley's attorney.  The detectives made quite a pair, showing up for the meeting with Starsky on crutches still and Hutch using a cane.  He still had numbness, tingling, and burning as alternating sensations in the leg that was bitten by the snake.  The partners were wearily looking at two weeks' desk duty while they completed their convalescence.  Dobey had mused that it was for the best, giving them the opportunity to finish reports, tie up loose ends, interview witnesses, and help prepare the evidence they would need to convict Haley.  While they were at it, they would attempt to find what they needed to pin a murder charge on the evangelist for the death of the woman at the beginning of the investigation. 

 

When they were all seated, Captain Dobey introduced the two detectives using their real names to Haley and Doug Emma, his attorney.  Though Haley hadn't asked for Starsky, he insisted on being there, unwilling to allow his partner to go into the meeting without him. 

 

Hutch started the conversation, "You wanted to make a statement, Haley, and you insisted that it be given to me.  Why?"

 

"You were the instrument of my destruction, Brother Ken.  I thought we should walk this last part of the journey together."  Haley's eyes flashed with menace.  Starsky felt uncomfortable, even though he knew the man was no longer a danger to his partner.

 

Haley continued, "How does it feel to have taken such a large part in the interruption of the Lord's service?"

 

Emma said, "Ben, we talked about your attitude toward the detective.  Don't say anything you'll regret."

 

"I regret nothing, Douglas."  Haley bore an icy gaze directly at the blond cop.  "I really wished to speak with the detective alone though.  I hear your partner refused to allow that, Brother.  Well, Mr. Emma here refused, too.  I understand my attorney's motivations, but does your partner control all of your actions?"

 

"What's that supposed to mean, Haley?"  Starsky was angry and not hiding it well. 

 

Dobey said, "Starsky...."

 

Haley turned toward Starsky and said, "Oh, I don't blame you.  You're one of the chosen people.  So Esther tells me.  A man as yet to see the light."

 

Hutch said, "What did you want to tell me, Haley?  You can leave my partner out of it."

 

"What I want is for Esther.  I've been told that Brother Bob is going to testify against me.  He will receive a reduced sentence for his betrayal.  Judas committed suicide.  That would be a pity."

 

Starsky said, "Whatever you want to say, spit it out, Preacher.  My partner still isn't well after your attempt to drive his 'demons' out.  That's right, he told me about that.  What do you want?"

 

"I will save everyone a lot of trouble and plead guilty, but I want something in return.  Esther is completely innocent.  She knew nothing of my actions and was unaware that Bob was working with me on my, shall we say, special projects."

 

Dobey looked at him and said, "We were preparing to press charges against her for accessory.  What's in it for us not to do that?"

 

"What's in it for you, Captain Dobey, is saving your department, these two gentlemen, and the citizens of Bay City a lot of expense and trouble.  Mr. Starsky here would not have to worry about me spending any more time with his partner."

 

Interrupting, Starsky said, "That's DETECTIVE Starsky, and I'm not worried about it.  You're done."

 

Dobey held up a hand toward the angry detective and said, "Go on."

 

Emma stepped in and said, "We want you to go to the District Attorney.  The pastor will plead guilty to fraud, and assault instead of standing trial for fraud, attempted murder of two police officers, and assault with a deadly weapon."

 

Hutch was unhappy with that proposal.  "You tried to have my partner killed, Haley.  No way."

 

Starsky nodded. "Not to mention the attempt on Hutch's life.  You almost succeeded with those snakes.  You're going down."

 

Haley sighed.  "I don't want to argue, gentlemen.  Even with Bob's testimony, some of those charges will be hard to prove."

 

"He's an eyewitness with complicity, Haley.  You're nailed,” Starsky said.

 

The minister looked at his attorney, who nodded at him.  "Very well.  If you promise not to press charges against Esther, I'll help you solve a certain unsolved murder that may or may not involve my ministry.   I'm sure you're familiar with the case, gentlemen.  Brother Bob won't be able to help you with that case, I assure you."

 

The cops looked at each other.  If Haley confessed to the first murder, they could wrap this case up and be done with it.  "Your sister had no involvement?"  Dobey asked.

 

"None.  She is an innocent, a messenger of God.   Esther wants to continue the ministry, the way she believes our father would have wanted.  She has some notion about saving the family name.  I want her to have that chance."

 

Dobey could tell his men were agreeable.  "All right.  We'll talk to the D.A."

 

Hutch asked, "Why, Haley?"

 

"Why what, Brother?  Why help my sister?  I love her.  She's my sister."

 

"Not that.  Why did you do it?  Why pervert the work of God?  Why use His name to further your own ends?"

 

Haley smiled in a self-satisfied way.  "I had it all, Brother.  If you and your partner here hadn't interfered, the ministry would have been rich beyond reason in another several months – all in the name of the Lord.  Don't get me wrong. I believe.  But the Lord cheated me.  He deprived me of His healing gift.  I believe He owes me a few personal successes, even financial ones, in return for my service spreading His word.” 

 

"Even at the cost of breaking the law, Haley?"  Starsky asked.

 

The minister replied, "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?  The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?  Romans 3:5."

 

Starsky hissed at him, "Somehow you make the words of the Bible twist to your own meaning.  That can't be right.  God doesn't 'owe' you anything.  How can you call yourself a man of God and of faith?"

 

"My works are proof of my faith," he replied coolly.  Turning back toward Hutch he asked, "How about you, Brother?  You nearly succumbed to that snakebite.  Where does the proof of YOUR faith lie?"

 

Starsky sat forward at the table, preparing to say something in Hutch's defense, when the blond put a hand on his arm, clearly communicating to him that he should be still.  "Sola Gratia – Lutherans believe in salvation through grace, Haley.  'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.'"

 

"Ephesians, 2:8-9.  Ah, yes, the Lutherans.  How very reform of you, Detective."

 

Hutch continued, "The way into heaven is free.  No man should charge for that which God gives us through His mercy. It's not supposed to be about money or power, but the love of God.  Guess you lost sight of that somewhere."

 

Dobey and Starsky stared at Hutch, impressed by his ability to handle the preacher and by his knowledge of the subject.

 

Haley and Hutch glared at each other, neither man willing to back down from his position.  Emma cleared his throat uncomfortably and said, "Well, Captain Dobey, if you'll let me know when we can meet with the D.A., I'd appreciate it.  I believe this meeting is over, gentlemen."

 

>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Huggy brought dinner to Hutch's house that night.  After the meal, the three men sat out in the greenhouse enjoying some conversation before Huggy had to get back to the bar.

 

Starsky said, "I was pretty worried about you for a while on this case, partner."

 

"Yeah, Curly here was afraid you'd gotten yourself sucked in by the dog and pony show," Huggy added.

 

"I know.  Sorry I made you worry.  Haley was good at his act.  I guess it's not that I believed him so much as it was that I didn't want to believe a man who called himself God's servant could be so perverted."

 

"How'd you memorize so much from the Bible so fast?"  Starsky asked.

 

"I didn't have to memorize too much.  My folks made us spend a lot of time at church when we were kids.  Youth group, Bible camp, the whole thing.  My mom's really into being a Lutheran."

 

Huggy stood, gathering their empty beer bottles and said, "Well, amigos, I have a store to mind.  Best get to it."

 

"Thanks for dinner, Hug.  Both of us being the walking wounded isn't too conducive to making meals,” Hutch said, limping along behind him into the kitchen while Starsky struggled up onto his crutches.

 

"You think you boys can stay out of trouble for a while?"  Huggy asked.

 

Starsky looked innocently at him.  "How much trouble can we get into ridin' a desk?" 

 

"Oh, please.  Trouble has a way of finding you, Starsky.  Just be sure a filing cabinet don't fall over on you or something, okay?  My hospital flower budget is blown for a while." 

 

The two cops heard their friend's unspoken concern for their safety and they both smiled at him.  Starsky settled onto Hutch's couch and said, "Who knows?  Maybe the next case will be something nice and sedate."

 

"That'll be the day,” Hutch replied. 

 

"At least, I hope it doesn't involve no more of Starsky's writing," Huggy said with a wicked grin, reaching under his jacket and producing a copy of The Pulse. Starsky pounced on it.

 

"Look, Hutch! Here's my story!" He paged through the paper excitedly, pointing out his photos to Hutch and reading snippets of his article. It only took a few moments for him to notice that someone had edited it. "Hey! I didn't say this! Or this! And where's my great description of Haley's preachin'?"

 

Hutch took the paper away from him and smiled at the headline: "Rogue evangelist in Bay City tent show." He skimmed the article. He recognized most of it as Starsky's inimitable style, but he could also see the places where the editor had toned it down. "Editing is what editors do, moron," Hutch said to his partner. "It's their job to – uh – rein in enthusiastic writers."

 

Starsky made a harrumphing sound and glared at Huggy, who wasn't bothering to hide his grin. "It ain't funny."

 

"Aw, come on, Starsk," Huggy said. "You got the article, they printed your terrific pictures – and they are terrific, m'man – and there's your byline." He pointed to the bold print: "Story and photographs by David M. Starsky for The Pulse."

 

"That's true," Starsky said, somewhat mollified.

 

"I bought ten copies," Huggy said. "They're at The Pits." He left them with a wave.

 

Both men relaxed and enjoyed the rest of their evening, knowing that their two weeks of desk duty might just be the calm before the next storm.  Whatever the storm, the two men would face it together.

 

The End

 

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