free web hosting | free hosting | Business Hosting Services | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

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

 

Thanks to Julie, the artist for this piece, who graciously agreed to allow us to publish her beautiful drawings along with this story. 

 

Thanks to our publishers, Keri and Paula, who printed this story in their Zine, Venice Place Times I, in October 2001.    We also thank our editor, Donna Engle, who helps us look as good as we possibly can.

 

Feelings Apart

By Valerie Wells

 

"Are you sure you won't go with me?" Hutch asked, trying his best to mimic the big-eyed Starsky Beg that always worked for his partner.

 

But Starsky wasn't buying it. He shook his head. "Nope. Told ya. Gotta work on my car."

 

"Can't Merle fix it for you?"

 

Starsky shook his head again. "Merle can do the big stuff, the repairs, the paint, stuff like that. But I gotta do the fine-tuning, Hutch. I understand her better than Merle does."

 

Hutch rolled his eyes, making Starsky grin.

 

"Come on, buddy. You don't want me along anyway. I hate fishing and you know it. You'll have more fun without me there bitching all afternoon."

 

"Okay, okay," Hutch gave in, but not too gracefully. Even if Starsky did bitch all afternoon, at least he'd be somebody to talk to. Hutch enjoyed arguing with Starsky more than getting along with anyone else, but clearly he'd made his mind up. He lifted one hand in a wave and started to get back in his car, but Starsky poked his head out from under the Torino's hood and hollered something he didn't catch. "What?" he called back.

 

"Where're you goin'?"

 

"Why? I thought you didn't want to come."

 

Starsky had the grace to look slightly embarrassed, but he said, "Just keepin' tabs on you."

 

Hutch grinned. "Lake Sherwood."

 

Starsky made a face. "Yuck. Be a million people there on a day like this."

 

"Not where I'm going," Hutch told him. "I know a little nook where the fish are plentiful and so is the shade. Not big enough for boats and too hard to get to for the swimmers."

 

"Okay." Starsky waved him on and Hutch left.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It was a beautiful day, and Mulholland was choked with people heading for mountains, beach and park to enjoy it. After weeks of almost constant rain, the sunshine and warmth were almost a shock; and wonder of wonders, this day had fallen on Starsky and Hutch's weekend off. Hutch would not waste it watching Starsky tinker with his beloved car, even if that was Starsky's idea of a good time. He'd loaded up his fishing gear and done his best to convince his city-boy partner to join him for some fresh air and fun, but Starsky apparently preferred the smog and heat.

 

Hutch rolled the window down and let the warm breeze blow through his hair. If he'd known it was going to be this nice this weekend, he might've been tempted to load up his camping gear, too, and make a real getaway out of the excursion, but the weather had surprised even the meteorologists, who'd predicted more rain today, tomorrow and Monday. No sign of let-up before Tuesday at the earliest, they'd said.

 

Well, it wasn't the first time they'd been wrong. Hutch flipped on the radio and sang along, ignoring the occasional odd look from people in the other cars he passed. In less time than he'd expected, considering the traffic, he pulled up at his destination. He had to walk quite a long way to get to his "nook," but that was okay with him. It would be good exercise, and the difficulty of getting to the spot is what made it quiet and private.

 

He hooked his lunch knapsack over one shoulder and his fishing equipment over the other and headed into the trees. He whistled softly to himself while he set everything up that he would need and settled in for a good day's fishing.

 

Only the fish weren't biting. Two hours passed without so much as a nibble on his line, and he had the very latest lure on that hook. The little cove was quiet and shady, the water was deep, and this early in the season, the fish ought to be starving and more than willing to be caught.

 

"Fish never bite when a storm's coming," his grandfather had told him when he was six and just learning to love the outdoors. "Even if it's sunny, Kenny, you mark my words. Fish know a storm's coming, and they hide out."

 

Hutch peered up at the sky through the fluttering leaves over his head. Still blue and clear. Well, he didn't mind that much if the fish bit or not. It was still a lovely day, and the quiet chirping of the birds lulled him into a half-doze. He ate his lunch and stretched out to relax.

 

But a cloud came over the sun and the sudden coolness of the breeze that blew through his hair jerked him awake with a start. He glanced at his watch. Three-thirty. Much later than he'd thought. He looked up at the sky again and was startled to see how threatening it looked.

 

It was a long walk back to his car, and he didn't want to be under these trees if it began to lightning and thunder, so he rolled up his gear and started back. He had just finished re-packing the trunk when the storm hit with fury. Hutch made a dive for his car door and got inside before he got very wet.

 

The rain poured down in sheets so thick that he could barely see through the windshield. He tried the wipers, but they couldn't keep up. Sighing, Hutch settled back to wait for it to let up a little before he tried negotiating the winding highway home through the hills. He turned on the radio, hoping for a weather report.

 

"Looks like the rain's back," the deejay said cheerfully after three or four songs had played and Hutch was beginning to think he would never hear any weather reports. "Radar shows a big storm system right over southern California and, folks, it's not going anywhere for a while. So stow the barbecue and go out for dinner tonight. Tell 'em Rock-n-Roll Roger sent ya."

 

Hutch rolled his eyes.

 

"There's also the threat of mudslides in the Santa Monica hills due to the heavy rains of the last couple of weeks," Roger went on, still as cheerfully as if he were reporting winning sports scores. "You folks who live up there, keep an eye on them thar hills, okay? Wouldn't want nothin' happening to you!"

 

"Oh, for crying out loud," Hutch said aloud, snapping the radio off and deciding he was tired of waiting for the rain to let up. He'd just take it slow and easy.

 

He maneuvered the car around a couple of boat trailers and spent a few moments worrying about the poor fools who had been caught out in this on the lake, finally shrugging and figuring the lake patrol would take care of them. It took longer than he had expected to get out to Mulholland because he was having so much trouble seeing through the heavy rain, but he finally made it to the highway and started south.

 

No fish for dinner tonight, he thought with an inward grin. Granddad had been right, as he always seemed to be right. The fish had known it was going to storm and had taken cover. He still missed his grandfather. The old man had lived to a ripe old age and had always had a special relationship with his only grandson, but he had died when Hutch was 20, not long before he'd married Vanessa. One of the last things he'd told Hutch was, "Marriage is a big step, Ken. I know you love her. But you haven't known her long enough to be sure you want to spend 50 years growing old together. I'm not saying don't marry her, son. I'm saying think about it first."

 

"Right again, Granddad," Hutch said, again aloud. "I should've listened to you."

 

The winding road took all of his attention then, and he had to work hard to see the lane through the rain. At least there wasn't much traffic. Likely everyone else had either left earlier than he had, or was smart enough to wait out the rain before trying to get home. Hutch reflected ruefully that he should have found a place to wait it out, too. This was nuts, and he was getting a headache.

 

He was about halfway home when he heard it. It sounded something like the avalanche he'd seen as a college student on a ski trip in Aspen. But this was no avalanche. Heart thudding painfully in his chest, Hutch peered through the rain toward the hills. Vaguely, he thought he saw trees breaking off and a big wall of....

 

Mud.

 

"Oh, shit," Hutch breathed, reflexively hitting the gas and willing his old car to fly and get the hell out of the way. But he wasn't fast enough, and the mud came inexorably on, bringing a high-priced home with it, crashing toward Hutch and his car waiting helplessly for the impact. Hutch had a moment of sick terror as he watched the house disintegrate amid the mud before it all slammed into his car...then he knew nothing but darkness.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky was comfortably propped on his couch, a beer in one hand, a sandwich in the other, half-watching the baseball game on TV, when the announcer broke in to report a mudslide on Mulholland Drive.

 

"Several homes have been destroyed and authorities fear there have been some fatalities," the Channel 4 anchor said, reading from a paper in his hand. "Emergency disaster services have been dispatched to the site to attempt rescue of the victims who are trapped. Early reports indicate cars traveling along Mulholland have been buried in mud for at least a mile."

 

Starsky had stopped chewing and was staring at the news footage of the mess. And it was a mess. The slide itself hadn't been as bad as originally feared, but the chain reaction of the mud pushing houses over, tearing up trees and downing power lines had created havoc. At least the damage seemed to be restricted to Mulholland Drive. No other areas had reported slides.

 

He reached for the phone. He knew Hutch was a good enough outdoorsman to have noticed the change in the weather. He'd probably been home for hours. But Starsky would feel better if he checked.

 

Except Hutch wasn't at home. His phone rang and rang with no answer.

 

Now Starsky was frightened. He knew the San Diego Freeway to Mulholland was the route Hutch would have taken to get to the lake and back. He grabbed for the phone book and found the number for Disaster Services.

 

"This is Detective David Starsky, Metro division," he said rapidly to the young woman who answered the phone. "Do you have a list of the injured or any idea who's trapped on Mulholland?"

 

"No, sir," she said, and she sounded weary, even though the whole thing had only happened a couple of hours before. "We're still assessing the situation."

 

"My partner was on that route today," Starsky said.

"We're advising friends and family to go to the Red Cross in Sherman Oaks," she answered. "We have a center set up there to dispatch information on injuries and survivors."

 

"Okay, thanks." Starsky hung up and grabbed his jacket and, on second thought, his holster and badge, too. He'd be damned if he'd hang out at the Red Cross in Sherman Oaks. He was going in. And no one was going to stop him.

 

He did stop at the Red Cross, but no one could tell him anything more than he'd heard on the news. The place was a madhouse; it seemed as if half the population of southern California was there and the half dozen or so Red Cross volunteers dispensing coffee, doughnuts and comfort were overwhelmed. He shook his head when one of them tried to hand him a Styrofoam cup of coffee. His stomach was already in knots from fear, and caffeine would only make it worse. The sense of urgency he'd had when driving here had only grown stronger, and when he couldn't find any disaster officials to ask for information, he went back out into the rain and headed into the hills.

 

He hadn't gotten far when a deputy stopped him. "I'm sorry, sir, you can't go any further," the deputy said, leaning into the driver's side window. "Dangerous mudslide ahead."

 

"I know," Starsky said, impatience in his voice, though he tried not to let it show. He showed the man his badge, already in his hand. "My partner's missing. I think he's in there."

 

"I'm sorry, sir," the deputy repeated. "It's too dangerous. Rescue workers are doing their best to get everyone out. I suggest you go to the Red Cross --"

 

"I've been to the Red Cross," Starsky said evenly. "No one's there but people passing out doughnuts, Deputy. I'm going to look for my partner. If you don't let me through, I'll find some other way."

 

"Sergeant, I can't," the deputy said, and though his eyes were sympathetic, his voice was firm. "It's too dangerous."

 

Without another word, Starsky spun the Torino and drove away. But when he was out of sight, he pulled off the road and got out, and began making his way back, taking a sloppy route through the mud and trees away from the road. It was hard going. Gradually, the rain let up, then stopped, and an hour later Starsky began to hear the voices and commotion of the rescue operation. He plowed onward toward the noise. His shoes and jeans were splattered with mud, but he kept going. He was certain Hutch was up there ahead of him somewhere, and he wasn't giving up until he found him.

 

When he broke through the trees, the scene along Mulholland made his heart sink with dread. Cars buried in mud as high as the windows. Trees bent under the weight of tons of mud. Weary, filthy rescue workers shoveling through the mud, trying to get to buried cars to rescue passengers. Several body bags awaiting pickup by the helicopters he'd been hearing flying back and forth.

 

No one noticed him as he stood there at the edge of the road -- or rather, where the road had been -- wet, muddy and frozen with dismay. He shook it off and made a quick visual survey of the trapped cars. None were Hutch's, he was sure, though some of them were hard to identify under the mud. But something -- something -- would tell him if Hutch were near.

 

Some of the wall of mud had slipped down the hillside where Starsky still stood, though most of it had stopped before it reached the far side of the road. Trudging along, Starsky examined every rescue worker, every person, looking for a flash of blond hair. It was already dark, and some of the workers had set up battery-powered lights. Starsky had left his flashlight in the car in his hurry.

 

"Shit," he said aloud. In a very short time, he wouldn't be able to see his hand before him. There were very few streetlights along here anyway, and what few there were had been disabled by the mud and the downed power lines. But Starsky went on, peering through the gloom and trying to find Hutch's car. Every so often, he called, "Huuuutch!" at the top of his lungs, but there was no answering shout. The rescue operation hadn't reached very far yet. About a quarter mile down from where he'd come back out to the road, he was alone again, and it was getting so dark he could only make out shapes and shadows.

 

He had no choice but to slog through the mud on the road itself. He'd never be able to recognize Hutch's car in the darkness from the ditch. But once he was on the road, he realized there were no cars. At this point, there was only mud and brush that had been dragged off the hillside by the mud. And with mud up to his knees and higher in some places, he could barely move forward.

 

After hours of struggle, he simply stopped where he was standing, exhausted. What if Hutch had been back there, where the rescue was going on? What if he'd missed seeing the car because of the mud? What if it was so completely buried in mud that he'd walked right past it and never noticed it? What if...what if Hutch had been in one of those body bags back there?

 

Finally realizing that weariness was affecting his concentration, Starsky staggered back to the edge of the road, found a relatively clear spot, and sat down with his back against a tree.

 

He let his eyes drift shut, and slept fitfully for about an hour, but between the suddenly-cold temperature, the wet ground and a nightmare in which he unzipped a body bag and saw Hutch's pale face inside, he didn't really rest. Around dawn, he finally gave up and got to his feet slowly. All sounds of the rescue operation had faded, though when he peered through the gloom he could still see faint lights glowing down the road.

 

Starsky yawned and tried to stretch the kinks out of his back, then with a deep sigh, he started looking again. He hadn't gone far when he heard a whimpering sound that made his blood run cold.

 

"Hutch? Hutch, is that you?" he called, diving into the knee-deep mud again and looking desperately for the tan Ford.

 

But the answer that came back was just another whimper, almost a whine.

 

Starsky looked all around, but couldn't spot anything alive in the sea of mud. "Who's there?"

 

Another whimper, a little stronger this time. Finally, Starsky saw movement on the far side of the road, near a tree that had broken off and fallen. He forced his way through the mud and when he got there, found a dog, chained to what was left of the tree and buried almost up to its neck in the mud. The animal's eyes turned up to his beseechingly and it gave another weak whimper.

 

"Poor fella, poor old pooch," Starsky murmured soothingly, stricken. He tried stroking the dog's head and his heart gave a painful lurch when the dog licked his hand.

 

 Starsky used his hands to dig mud away from the dog until he got low enough to unhook the chain attached to its collar, and by then the dog was able to help. Between the two of them, it took only about half an hour to get the dog free. It struggled away from the mud and managed to clamber free.

 

By now the sun was all the way up and the sticky heat was already drying the surface of the mud. The dog, if not Starsky, could walk across the top of it.

 

In spite of his worry, the sight of the uninjured dog cheered Starsky considerably. If the dog could survive, maybe Hutch could, too.

 

"Whattya say, Lazarus? Wanna help me look for Hutch?" Starsky asked the dog, who leaned against him lovingly and wagged his tail. He rubbed the dog's head. Looked like he'd just acquired himself a traveling companion. And come to think of it, the dog might actually help. If nothing else, Lazarus gave him somebody to talk to while he looked. Maybe that would keep him alert. "We're looking for a beat-up squash of a car, boy," Starsky said, starting off and reaching for his sunglasses. If it got much hotter, he'd need to take his jacket off. He could already feel beads of sweat gathering on his forehead. "My partner's here somewhere, and I'm gonna find him."

 

Lazarus wagged his tail again agreeably and stuck close to Starsky's side. The two of them continued down the road, seeing nothing more for a seemingly endless span of time. Starsky was about ready to turn back -- Hutch had to be among the trapped victims at the rescue site -- when Lazarus suddenly started barking and loped forward toward a pile of lumber a couple of hundred yards away. As Starsky followed, he realized it was the shattered remains of a house that must've stood on the hillside.

 

Lazarus beat him to the house and sniffed around the edges. When Starsky got there, the dog was frantically trying to dig through the rubble to something underneath. Starsky helped, tossing broken boards aside haphazardly...and uncovered the hood of Hutch's car. It was all but buried under rubble and mud.

 

"My God," he whispered, terrified. "Hutch! Huuuuuutch! Can you hear me?"

 

There was no answer. But Starsky was driven now and he dug like a man possessed until he had part of the hood uncovered. He couldn't see into the car for the mud. The roof was caved in, the hood was bent out of shape, and the windshield was smashed.

 

"Hutch! Huuuuuuuuutch!"

 

The dog barked and ran back and forth, finally climbing onto the rubble and making so much noise that Starsky almost missed the low moan that came from under the crushed metal.

 

"Hutch? Buddy, can you hear me? Are you hurt? Answer me, Hutch!" To the dog he said, "Hush!" and the dog miraculously obeyed.

 

"S...Starsk...?"

 

Starsky breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah, buddy. Are you hurt?"

 

"I...don't...know."

 

"Can you breathe all right? Are you in any pain?"

 

"Just...thirsty."

 

"We'll fix that, Hutch. First we gotta get you out. Can you see me?"

 

"No."

 

"Okay, buddy, hang on." Starsky dug some more, throwing boards aside, which made the dog start barking again.

 

"I hear...I hear a dog," Hutch's voice said plaintively.

 

"That's just Lazarus," Starsky said with forced cheer.

 

"Lazarus?"

 

"I dug him out of the mud back there and he adopted me," Starsky said, breathing hard from the labor, but keeping his voice light. He was rewarded by a very faint chuckle from the darkness inside the car, and that cheered him up for real. If Hutch was able to laugh, even a little, he'd be all right. He had to be.

 

"And you...you named him...Lazarus?"

 

"First thing popped into my head," Starsky said.

 

"Figures," Hutch said, and his voice was just a little stronger.

 

Starsky couldn't move much of the rubble -- there was just too much of it -- but he did manage to get a little of the driver's side window uncovered, enough to make sure Hutch had enough air. He couldn't see in; the roof was smashed almost level with the body. He reached out a hand -- and Hutch's hand grasped his. Starsky let out a shuddering sigh of relief and lay his head down on his arm, fighting back tears.

 

 

                       

 

When he could trust his voice again, he said, "The rescue team's way back up the road, buddy. I gotta go get 'em. Bet your radio isn't working, huh?"

 

"No," Hutch said after a long moment. "I can't...I can't see it, but...I'm pretty sure it's crushed."

 

Something in Hutch's voice when he said that made Starsky's heart clutch inside of him.

 

"Tell me the truth, buddy," Starsky said, his voice shaking. "Are you okay? Does anything hurt?"

 

"I don't know, Starsk," Hutch said slowly. "I can't...I can't move."

 

Starsky bit his lower lip and forced his voice to remain calm. "That's 'cause you're stuck, Hutch. You oughta see this car. Lucky you didn't get smashed, too."

"Yeah," Hutch answered, unconvincingly. His hand tightened spasmodically on Starsky's for a moment.

 

Starsky wished heartily that he could see his partner's face. Hutch couldn't lie about whether he was in pain if Starsky could see him; he'd know by the expression in his eyes, if nothing else. "Buddy," he said softly, "I gotta go for help, okay? I don't want to leave you here, but I can't get you out by myself."

 

"No, Starsk, not yet, please...." Hutch's voice faded out, but came back in a moment, weakly. "Don't let go, buddy."

 

Aw, Hutch. Starsky swallowed again, but his voice wasn't going to be steady now no matter what he did. And the tears came to his eyes in spite of his best effort. "Okay, Hutch. Okay, buddy. I won't. Not yet." He brought his right hand up to join his left and gently gripped Hutch's hand a little harder.

 

After a long silence, Hutch said, "It's so dark...what time is it?"

 

Starsky drew a deep breath and blinked hard so he could see his watch. "It's almost nine in the morning."

 

"Morning? I've been here...all night?"

 

"Yeah."

 

Another silence, then, "How'd you know where to look?"

 

Starsky gave a grim smile in spite of himself. "I always find you, don't I? Just like you always find me."

 

"I guess...."

 

Hutch's voice had grown noticeably weaker in the last few minutes. Starsky began to get alarmed. He had to go get help.

 

"Hutch? Can ya still hear me?"

 

"Uh huh."

 

"I have to go get help, Hutch. We can't wait for them to work their way back this far."

 

"Send Laz..a...rus."

 

Starsky glanced at the dog lying in the mud at his feet, panting. "He ain't exactly Lassie, pal."

 

Another chuckle, barely discernible this time. And sounding a hell of a lot more like a sob than a laugh. "Starsk, I'm scared."

 

"I know, buddy." Starsky squeezed Hutch's hand. "Me, too. Tell ya what. I'll go for help and leave Lazarus here with you. How's that?"

 

"How long will you be gone?"

 

Remembering how long it had taken him to get here -- even once the sun was up -- made Starsky pause before answering. He didn't want to lie, but he didn't want Hutch knowing he'd have to sit here alone and trapped for maybe two or three hours. "Well," he hedged, "the going's kind of rough, Hutch. Might be a while."

 

"Okay." But the voice wavered, whether with fear, fatigue or pain, Starsky couldn't tell. He squeezed Hutch's hand one more time, and let go. As he turned away, the dog got up to follow him.

 

"No, boy. Stay here. Stay with Hutch."

 

The dog paused, looking from the car to Starsky uncertainly.

 

"Good boy. Good pooch. You stay with Hutch, okay? Huh, boy? Stay here. Be right back. Promise."

 

The dog wagged his tail and lay back down. Starsky fervently hoped he understood. With several backward glances, he began the long trek back to the rescue site. It had to be at least a mile, and in this mud, it would feel more like five or ten miles.

 

He'd been walking -- or rather, plowing -- for about half an hour when Lazarus caught up with him. The dog ran around in front of him and began barking.

 

Starsky halted and looked back over his shoulder. At this distance, Hutch's car was completely obscured by the remnants of the house and the mud that covered it and the road. "Hush, boy," he soothed the dog. "Go back to Hutch. I won't be long. Go back to Hutch."

 

The dog planted his feet and barked all the more furiously.

 

"He ain't exactly Lassie, pal," he'd told Hutch, but the dog sure was acting like Lassie when she wanted someone to follow her. It was enough to frighten Starsky into turning around and heading back for Hutch, and at a much quicker pace than he'd thought he could go.

 

"Hutch!" he started yelling as soon as he thought he was close enough to be heard. "Hutch, you okay?"

 

There was no answer from inside the crushed car, and when he reached inside, Starsky couldn't feel his partner. All his hand touched was emptiness.

 

"Hutch!" he called, panicked. "Dammit, answer me!"

 

Still nothing. Starsky frantically yanked at more boards, badly cutting his hand on a nail but never noticing as he threw rubble away from the car, hoping to be able to see inside. He did manage to uncover what was left of the windshield, and when he shoved some of the mud away, he could see a vague outline lying on the front seat. Hutch's torso was twisted at an uncomfortable angle, and Starsky couldn't see his legs at all.

 

"Huuuuutch!"

 

The form stirred. "St..arsk...?"

 

Starsky reached back in through the tiny gap in the driver's side. "Take my hand, Hutch. Give me your hand!"

 

Hutch reached out automatically with his right hand, but gave such a painful groan as he did so that Starsky felt a cold bolt of fear shoot through him. After a moment, Hutch reached up with his left instead, the hand he'd given Starsky earlier. This time, there was no groan. Their hands joined, and Starsky let out his held breath.

 

"Get help, buddy?"

 

"No. Lazarus came after me before I got very far," Starsky said, reaching down with his free hand to stroke the dog's head. "He musta known something was wrong."

 

"I guess I passed out," Hutch said slowly.

 

How in the hell could he get help for Hutch, now that he was afraid to leave him? Starsky racked his brain. No radio. Even if he could reach the one in Hutch's car, the engine compartment was so badly damaged he doubted the connections had survived. The CBs in the glove box? Same problem...he couldn't get to them.

 

"Hutch? Can you see your glove box, buddy?"

 

Hutch was silent for a long moment and Starsky heard rather than saw him shifting to look. "Just...just barely."

 

"Can you reach it? Can you get to the radios in there?"

 

A grunt. "No."

 

Starsky leaned wearily against the car. The heat and thirst were beginning to get to him, too. And he felt the weight of his gun against his ribs.

 

"Hutch, I gotta let go, just for a second, okay? I'm gonna try shooting a couple rounds into the air. Maybe somebody'll hear."

 

"Okay."

 

Starsky let go of Hutch's hand and reached for his gun. He pointed straight at the sky and fired three times rapidly. He waited a beat, then fired three more times, a little more slowly. And fired three more rapid shots. SOS. He hoped somebody heard and understood.

 

He reloaded and put the gun away. If nobody came, he'd try again in a while. He took Hutch's hand again, and Hutch grabbed on almost desperately.

 

"Couldn't have done that with your six-shot dinosaur," Starsky said in what he intended to be a teasing tone, but it didn't quite come off. "And you're always giving me shit for carryin' an automatic."

 

"I never will again," Hutch said weakly. "Not if it works, anyway."

 

They waited in silence for a time, but Starsky could hear no sound of help on its way. The road curved not far from them, and he couldn't see around the corner. In daylight, the glow from the lights at the rescue site was gone. He couldn't gauge the distance. But surely, nine gunshots would get someone's attention...

 

The sun rose higher in the sky and Starsky began to get uncomfortably warm. Hutch had been silent so long that Starsky would have thought he'd gone to sleep if not for the almost-painful grip his partner had on his hand.

 

"Hutch? I'm gonna take off my jacket, okay? Let go for a second."

 

"...K..."

 

Starsky didn't like the sound of that. Hutch's voice was so thready and soft, he almost hadn't heard him at all. But he did let go, and Starsky shrugged out of the leather jacket, draped it over a pile of rubble, and rolled up his shirtsleeves.

 

"Stars...k..."

 

"Yeah, babe. I'm right here."

 

"I'm thirsty."

 

"Me, too. But I don't know what to do about it, buddy." Starsky looked all around again desperately, and finally it occurred to him that where there was a house, there was a refrigerator. If he could dig through the rubble far enough, that refrigerator might have survived, intact enough to yield something -- anything -- to drink. "Hutch? I ain't goin' far, buddy, but I think I know where to get us something to drink. Will ya be okay for a few minutes?"

 

"Yeah...sure."

 

Starsky made his way around the rubble, kicking bits aside, looking for where the kitchen might have been. He found a sink on the far side away from Hutch's car. Because of the direction the house had slid, the worst of the weight was on the other side. Here, the rubble wasn't so deep, nor so heavy. He began to dig, only then noticing the cut on his hand. It was caked with mud, and he spared a moment to worry about infection, but at that moment, he thought he saw a flash of white. He kept digging.

 

And there was the refrigerator, badly damaged and dented, but not destroyed. It was lying on its side, thank God, instead of door-side-down. If it had been, he'd have never been able to get it open.

 

The contents were horribly crushed and broken. Starsky wrinkled his nose at the smell of rotting eggs, putrefying in the hot sunshine. But among the broken eggs, the spilled milk and the various other barely-identifiable remains, he found four cans of Coke. Warm, to be sure, and they'd probably explode with fizz when he opened them, but it was liquid. It would do. And wonder of wonders, before he started back around the house, he saw a mixing bowl upside down under a board. He grabbed that, too.

 

He went back to Hutch.

 

"I found some Coke, buddy," he said cheerfully. "It's warm, though."

 

"'S okay," Hutch said, his voice so tired it made Starsky wince. "I'd drink anything at this point."

 

Starsky carefully worked the can through the broken spot and felt Hutch take it.

 

Lazarus hadn't followed him this time. The dog was so hot he was frothing a little at the mouth, and Starsky set the bowl upright beside him, held a Coke can away from his face, and popped the tab. It fizzed, but not too badly, and he poured the contents into the bowl.

 

“There ya go, boy," he said to the dog. "It ain't water, but it'll help."

 

The dog lapped at the Coke greedily. It was probably very, very bad to give a dog Coca-Cola under normal circumstances, Starsky reflected, but it was better than letting him die of thirst. He opened a third can for himself, stashing the last one under the edge of Hutch's car. They might need it later.

 

Starsky finished his can of Coke, found himself looking for a trash receptacle, and finally just threw it on the ground. This road was such a mess now, one more can wasn't going to make much difference. Hutch hadn't spoken since he gave him his Coke, and Starsky tried peering through the tiny gap of windshield again. But the sun had moved behind a cloud and he couldn't see.

 

"Hutch? You okay?"

 

"Yeah," came the answer, in a considerably stronger voice. "Thanks, Starsk. I needed that."

 

"Me, too, buddy." Starsky felt revived enough to try digging through the rubble again in another attempt to free his partner. He pulled more boards and bricks loose. There had been no sign yet that anyone had heard his SOS. He made a little progress, finally clearing a spot around the driver's door. The door was so mangled he was afraid he'd never get it open. But at least now he could see in.

 

Hutch's blond hair was damp with sweat. He was too pale and he breathed too shallowly. But Starsky couldn't see any injuries except a couple of bruises on his face. Hutch watched him without speaking as he took visual inventory of the situation.                                   

 

The dashboard had caved inward, barely stopping before crushing the steering wheel against Hutch. The roof was bent almost to the top of the seat, but it had missed his head. His legs were wedged under the dash, and Starsky could see no way to get them out without some kind of tools. He finally met Hutch's eyes. "Not much I can do for ya, buddy. Not alone. Want me to try signaling again?"

 

"Maybe you'd better," Hutch said, very quietly.

 

Starsky felt fear again at his tone. "Whatsa matter, Hutch? Tell me."

 

Hutch looked away and said, "I, uh, I can't feel my legs, Starsk."

 

A cold hand closed over Starsky's heart. "Not at all?"

 

Hutch shook his head.

 

"Okay, buddy, stay calm," Starsky said, as much to himself as to Hutch. "We're gonna get ya outta here, okay? I'll think of somethin'...." He climbed through the rubble, making his way to the back of the car. The back hadn't been damaged as badly as the front, and

 

Starsky pulled and kicked at the mess until he could see the trunk lid. He dug his own set of keys out of his pocket and unlocked it. He couldn't open it very far, but it was far enough that he could reach in and feel around until he found the tire iron.

 

It wasn't much. But now he had something to do.

 

He came back and started working at the driver's side door, trying to pry it open. It was hard, hot work, and he couldn't see that he was making any progress. The door was bent almost in half and with the added barrier of the crushed roof, Starsky was afraid he wasn't going to be able to get it open even a crack. When the sweat ran down and stung his eyes, he paused long enough to wipe it away and went back to work.

 

When his arms began to tremble from exertion and he could no longer wield the tire iron, he stopped and pulled his gun again. Pointing it to the sky, he fired the SOS signal one more time.

 

"Starsky, please rest for a while," Hutch said, straining to sit up enough to see him. "You're going to get heat stroke or something."

 

"I gotta get ya out, Hutch."

 

"Please, buddy. Sit down for a few minutes."

 

Starsky sat down, his back against the stubborn door, and rubbed Lazarus' head. The dog, no longer frothing at the mouth, put his head on Starsky's leg and patted his tail against the ground. "Good boy," Starsky said, caressing the dog's ears. "He's a good boy, ain't ya, fella?"

 

"If you're talking to me," Hutch said, with a glimmer of humor returning, "of course I'm good. Always have been."

 

Starsky laughed out loud, the first time he'd felt like laughing in what seemed like months. "I'm talkin' to the dog, Blondie."

 

"What are you going to do with him?"

 

"Take him home, of course," Starsky said. "I can't leave him here."

 

"Your landlady's gonna love you."

 

"She already does," Starsky said. "It'll be okay. I'll sweet-talk her into lettin' me keep him."

 

When he'd got his wind back and cooled off, Starsky went to work on the door again. And finally, just when he was ready to give up, he heard a creaking sound, and it sprang open. It hung crazily from one hinge, and the opening was hardly big enough to squeeze through, but it was open.

 

"Thank God," Starsky said fervently, tossing the tire iron to one side. He worked his way into the car and examined Hutch, feeling his forehead, taking his pulse, and looking over the dash to figure out how to get his partner's legs free.

 

When Starsky turned his head to look at the dash, he felt Hutch's arm go around his shoulders and squeeze. He looked back at him.

 

"Thanks, buddy. For coming after me," Hutch said.

 

Starsky touched Hutch's cheek gently. "Sure, Hutch. Anytime."

 

Working very, very carefully, so as not to injure Hutch further, Starsky used his pocketknife to dismantle the dash. He hadn't gotten very far when Hutch gave a sudden gasp of pain.

 

"What? What'd I do?" Starsky asked, panicked.

 

"Nothing. It's okay. I just have the God-awfullest cramp in my foot I've ever had," Hutch said, gritting his teeth.

 

"Then you got feelin' in your legs again!" Starsky said triumphantly. "Bet they just went to sleep or somethin'. You're gonna be okay, buddy, I promise."

 

"I don't feel okay," Hutch complained, but his eyes gave the lie to his tone. Starsky could see he was more relieved than he wanted to admit.

 

Starsky worked some more and finally freed one leg. Hutch carefully moved it up to lay it on the seat. Before he freed the other leg, Hutch suddenly grabbed a handful of his shirt.

 

"Do you hear that?"

 

"What?"

 

"Sounds like a helicopter," Hutch said hesitantly.

 

Starsky listened. And he did hear a chopper. He patted Hutch's leg. "Be right back." He scrambled out of the car and looked up and saw it. He snatched his jacket off the pile of rubble he'd laid it on and waved it wildly over his head.

 

"We see you," someone said through a bullhorn. "Are you injured?"

 

"My buddy is. He's trapped in his car!" Starsky yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth. Realizing they probably couldn't hear him, he gestured to the car, now uncovered enough to recognize from the air.

 

"Sit tight. We'll send help!" the person with the bullhorn called back.

 

Starsky waved to show he'd heard and went back to Hutch. "It's gonna be okay now, Hutch," he said. "They're sending help."

 

But Hutch was shivering violently, even though the day had turned so warm that even with his sleeves rolled up, Starsky was sweating. Recognizing the symptoms of shock, Starsky went back for his jacket and tucked it around his partner's shoulders. He took Hutch's left hand -- afraid to reach for the right one -- and rubbed it briskly.

 

"Easy, boy, easy," he said. "They're comin', okay? Only be a few minutes now. Take it easy, buddy. Hang on."

 

Hutch nodded and tried to force his teeth to stop chattering.

 

And help did arrive at last. Rescue workers gently pushed Starsky aside and went to work freeing Hutch from the car. Starsky retreated, followed by Lazarus, and watched. It took some doing. Starsky had thought he almost had Hutch free, but the experts were much more careful and thorough than Starsky had been in his panic. Watching, Starsky thought with a sinking heart that if he had been left to his own devices, he might have done some lasting damage to his partner through his ignorance. He prayed he hadn't already.

 

Finally, the EMTs eased Hutch onto a stretcher, secured his head and neck, and carried him to the waiting helicopter. Starsky scrambled to his feet and sloshed over to the 'copter just before they loaded Hutch into it.

 

"I'm gonna be right there, buddy, okay? I gotta let them take care of ya, but I'll be right there, okay?"

 

Hutch smiled and reached out his hand. Starsky took it and gave it a careful squeeze, looked long and hard into Hutch's eyes, and let go. He watched the chopper go with a lump in his throat and turned to start the long trip back to the Torino. Lazarus plodded along beside him, tongue hanging out, bumping against him and giving a wag of his tail every so often to remind Starsky he was there.

 

Starsky was so exhausted by the time he reached the car that he'd had moments of wondering if he was even going to be able to walk that far. He sank into the seat, Lazarus beside him, and lay his head back for a few moments to catch his breath. It felt good to sit down. But he didn't rest long before starting the car and putting the air conditioner on high.

 

When he got home, he rummaged through the refrigerator for something for Lazarus to eat and poured a bowl of water for the dog. Then he took a shower, changed his clothes, and headed to the hospital to see Hutch.

 

"Be good, boy, okay?" he said to the dog just before he left. "Try not to tear everything up while I'm gone."

 

From his comfortable nest on the couch, Lazarus opened one eye, thumped his tail, and promptly went back to sleep.

 

And I thought I was afraid of dogs, Starsky thought with a grin as he left.

 

Hutch was still in the treatment room when he got to the hospital, and that made him afraid all over again. He'd thought Hutch wasn't badly hurt. He had to wait almost an hour longer before a nurse came to tell him Hutch had been moved to a room.

 

Hutch's eyes were closed when Starsky came in, and he stepped lightly, not wanting to wake him. But as soon as he sat in the chair next to the bed, Hutch opened his eyes.

 

"Starsk," he said, his voice hoarse and weak. "Where's Lazarus?"

 

"Hey, buddy," Starsky said, trying to smile. "He's at my place. He's okay. What'd they say about you?"

 

"Dehydration, shock, cuts and bruises and a dislocated shoulder," Hutch answered, indicating his right arm, bound to his body. "Other than that, I've never been better." He grinned.

 

"I sure am glad to hear that, buddy," Starsky said, reaching over to take Hutch's other hand in both of his own. "God, I'm glad to hear that."

 

"Hey, Starsk," Hutch said softly, and squeezed his hand, "I owe you one."

 

"Nah," Starsky said, shaking his head. "Partners never 'owe' each other, Hutch. You'd'a done the same for me. You have done the same for me. We're always even, partner. Okay?"

 

"Okay."

 

Feedback?  gordoblintz79@wmconnect.com