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Fire Dance

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

October 2002

 

Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it. 

 

WARNING: This story contains volatile hate speech as part of one scene. This is based on a real speech given by a real white supremacist and included for the sake of realism. While the authors hesitate to "thank" the originator of this speech, they do want to acknowledge his unwitting contribution and point out that the sentiments expressed by the character in question are his and not their own.

 

October 1981

 

David Starsky opened the front door to Hutch’s apartment and let Huggy Bear in, putting a finger to his lips with a silent “shush” and pointing back to where his partner lay sleeping.  Huggy crossed in front of him, and went straight to the kitchen with the bag of groceries he had in his hand. 

 

“How’s he doing?” he asked quietly. 

 

“Not so good, Hug.  Thanks for bringing me this stuff.  I don’t want to leave him, if I don’t have to.”

 

Huggy shook his head, looking first toward where his friend lay, then back at Starsky.  “He should be in the hospital.”

 

“No.  It’s the only thing he’s asked for.  He doesn’t want to be there.  Says if he goes in, he won’t come out again.  If it gets to be more than I can handle here, he’ll have to go, but we haven’t gotten there yet,” Starsky replied. Hutch was seriously ill.  He’d been getting steadily worse, and no one could say why.  This had been one of the longest months of Starsky’s life and it wasn’t getting any better. 

 

Huggy got a glass down and poured some of the ginger ale he’d just brought, handing it to Starsky with a new bottle of aspirin.  He hung back while Starsky took them to Hutch.

 

“Hey, buddy,” Starsky said, sitting next to Hutch and putting a hand gently on his forehead.  Every time he did that, he was stunned and dismayed by the heat there.  Hutch’s doctor said he could stay at home unless his fever crept over 105, and Starsky was watching it diligently. 

 

Hutch stirred and looked up at his best friend, glassy-eyed, but focused.  “Hey.”

 

Starsky helped him take the aspirin and managed to get some of the ginger ale inside him.  When Hutch waved at him to indicate he couldn’t drink more, Starsky reminded, “You have to, Blintz.  If you don’t keep drinking, you’ll need an IV.  Come on, now.”

 

After taking a couple more sips, he said, “Is my temperature down?  Feels like it might be.”

 

“Sorry, buddy.  Last time I checked, it was still almost 104.  Just relax and drink a little more.  Huggy’s here.  He brought you some soup. Think you could eat some?”

 

Hutch shook his head.  “Maybe later, ‘kay?  ‘M tired.”  His words were starting to slur, and Starsky knew he’d be asleep again in moments.  The glass of soda started to slip forward as Hutch’s grip went slack.  Starsky took it from him.

 

Huggy was getting ready to heat the soup up, when he saw Starsky walking back toward him, shaking his head. “Don’t bother. He’s out again.”

 

Starsky looked exhausted.  Dark circles under his eyes and the ever-present look of worry concerned Huggy.  “Come and sit down, then.  I’ll pour you some coffee. You look like you need to catch two days worth of Zs, but I know that ain’t gonna happen.”  Huggy pointed at a chair and Starsky obligingly sat in it.  He slouched in his seat, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

 

“I don’t know what to do, Hug,” he said as he dragged a hand across his face.  “He’s had dozens of tests and been in and back out of the hospital.  Nobody has any answers... and I’m scared.  I’m afraid I’m gonna lose him.”

 

He opened his eyes at the sound of the coffee cup being set in front of him.  Managing the tiniest smile of thanks, he took a sip and watched Huggy take a seat across from him. 

 

“I need to talk to you about that,” Huggy said.  “I know Blondie won’t go for any superstitious mumbo jumbo, but I have an idea.”

 

Starsky perked up a little at that remark.  They’d already tried a variety of treatments and medicines.  All the doctors would say is that Hutch had some kind of virus and they would have to continue to treat him symptomatically.  They wanted him to stay in the hospital, but Hutch finally balked at that, and secured a release to home care with Starsky and a visiting nurse.  Whatever it was didn’t seem to be contagious.  Starsky had been in constant contact with him since he became ill, without showing any sign of sickness.  The two detectives had a physician friend, Trevor Kelly, who was doing his best to care for Hutch at home, but he was running out of ideas and had started to pressure both men about a hospital stay.  His words haunted Starsky.  I don’t know what to tell you, Dave.  I’m afraid he’s running out of time.  Trevor and the other doctors involved in the situation came up with various diagnoses and treatment plans, but nothing seemed to be able to break the persistent fever and illness.

 

“If you have an idea, you’d better tell me.  At this point, I’m willing to consider extreme options.”

 

September 1981

 

“Dammit!” Hutch exclaimed.  He pulled his hand, and the ribbon, out of his typewriter, his fingers covered with black ink. “This thing would make a better boat anchor than a typewriter.”

 

Starsky peered across the desk at his irritable partner.  Hutch had been crabby since his birthday in late August.  At first, Starsky thought it was because he missed his twenty-year high school reunion due to their work schedule.  Then, he thought maybe Hutch was down because he was, as Huggy so eloquently put it, “sliding down the slope to forty.”  Starsky noticed that Hutch’s hand shook slightly as he held out the offending ribbon.  He frowned, silently glad it was Labor Day weekend, and they had the entire three days off from work.  Hutch looked a little pale and tired.  He got up and held the trash can out for Hutch to chuck in the ribbon.

 

“I’ll put in a new one,” he said helpfully.

 

“I can do it,” Hutch snapped. 

 

Starsky sighed.  “I know you can, but your hands are bigger than mine.  That’s why you always have so much trouble changing ‘em.  Go wash up and I’ll have it fixed by the time you get back.”

 

The irate man nodded and left the room. 

 

Jack Hill reached into the supply cabinet and tossed a new ribbon to Starsky.  “He okay?” he asked. 

 

“I’m not sure,” Starsky replied.  “He looks kind of like he’s coming down with something and he’s been in a bad mood for over a week.  Maybe the weekend off’ll help. Thanks for trading with us.”  Starsky had asked Jack and his partner, Sean Cavanaugh, to trade Labor Day weekend with them for Memorial Day weekend months earlier.  A friend of Starsky’s had a small beach house in San Diego.  He was planning a trip out of town for Labor Day weekend and had offered to let the two Bay City detectives use the cottage while he was gone.  Just four or five blocks from Pacific Beach, complete with nearby fishing, lots of restaurants, and plenty of women in every direction, that sounded like the perfect mini-vacation.   He hoped the time away would restore both Hutch’s good humor and his physical condition. 

 

True to his word, he had the ribbon installed by the time Hutch returned.  His partner looked a little sheepish when he sat down at the typewriter and loaded a new form.  “Thanks,” he said without looking over at Starsky. 

 

“You’re welcome.” Starsky quipped, “My mother always said I had delicate hands.” He waggled his eyebrows and wiggled his fingers in the air, eliciting a snicker from Hutch.

 

Captain Dobey opened his office door and leaned into the squad room.  “Can I see you boys for a minute?” he asked.

 

The partners went into the office, Starsky kicking the door shut behind them as he passed.  Dobey didn’t have the heart to complain about the oft-repeated action he’d been unsuccessful in curbing in the decade he’d worked with his star team.  He was about to be the bearer of bad news.

 

“Sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel your weekend off.”

 

Both men stared at their boss.  “Whatever it is, can’t it wait four more days?” Starsky asked.

 

“I’m afraid not.  I know you asked for the time months ago, but something big is going down and I have orders from the commissioner to call in all of the off duties for the weekend.  My hands are tied.”

 

Hutch snapped, “What the hell is it?”

 

“Can the attitude, Hutchinson.  I don’t like this any more than you do.  I especially don’t like this situation.”  Dobey stood up from his chair and paced over to the water cooler.  He was doing his best to control his feelings about this assignment, before he told his detectives what the parameters would be.  They tried to wait patiently.

 

“Either of you ever hear of Joey Vandelle?” Dobey asked.

 

Starsky huffed and said, “I have,” while Hutch answered, “Sounds familiar.”

 

“Don’t work too hard,” Starsky said. “He’s some kind of grand poobah in the Klan.”

 

Hutch snapped his fingers. “That’s it.  I remember reading about the rally he had last year.  He planning to make trouble this weekend?”

 

“His plans made it to the mayor’s radar, from him to the commissioner, and then to me.”

 

“From the mayor’s mouth to your ear,” Starsky said with a bitter tone to his voice.  He was all too familiar with Vandelle’s hateful rhetoric and reputation as a rabble-rouser.   His public antics at the rally Hutch mentioned were appalling.

 

Dobey continued, “You’re right about him being the head of the California Klan.  Up till a few months ago.  He had a split with them and founded his own group, White Aryan Soldiers in Power, or WASP.  Nice, huh?” He paused and drank some water. “He was planning a convention in Bakersfield this weekend, but --”

 

Hutch interrupted, “But the Bakersfield Town and Country burned down last week, and that’s where he was having his love fest.”  He remembered hearing that on the news. 

 

“Precisely.  Lucky for Bay City,” Dobey said, his voice oozing sarcasm, “the Bay City Town and Country moved the convention here.  Several important groups immediately called the mayor and asked to have them blocked.”

 

Starsky said, “And they have a right to peaceful assembly. God Bless America.”

 

Dobey nodded.  He went back to sit at his desk. “Since we can’t block them, we’re going to be all over them.  They’ll be here all weekend, and the conference starts tomorrow afternoon.  I want you two to team with Jack and Sean as watch commanders. You’ll need to keep an eye on all four corners of that lot, and with luck and prayer on our side, nothing will happen.  There will be picketers, the media, demonstrations both for and against Vandelle, you know the drill.”

 

Hutch said, “How many uniforms do we have to work with?”

 

Dobey handed him a file, answering, “Read up.  This isn’t going to be a cake walk.”

 

“No kidding,” Starsky said.  “So, didn’t the KKK have enough hate for this guy?  He felt the need to turn up the heat?”

 

“Just put it out of your mind, Starsky.  We have a job to do, and we’re going to do it.  This guy’s a piece of work.  You four on the front lines may have contact with him.  I’m counting on all of you to be professional and keep a lid on this. Can you handle it?”

 

Starsky nodded curtly, as he reached to take the file folder from Hutch.  His partner was looking worse.  His face was pale and slightly sweaty.  Starsky brushed Hutch’s hand with his fingers as they passed the file.  Fever.  He looked at him with concern, silently asking if he was all right.  Hutch nodded slightly and wiped a hand across his forehead.  Starsky understood the message.  I’m okay.  Not now.

 

“Get out of here and finish your tour.”  Dobey knew they had a few things to wrap up before they started on this new situation.

 

~*~*~*~

 

One of their last duties for this shift was going to be a pleasure.  Today was the day they would finally see “Dangerous” Dan Fuller sentenced for murder.  The man was a professional boxer, heavyweight, before he slid down the path of drug addiction.  To feed and supply his own habit, he had become a dealer first, and then he started his own stable of prostitutes. One night, while coming down, he’d gotten a little too rough with one of his girls.  Fuller shook the sixteen-year-old Indiana runaway, and when he let go, she lost her balance, falling back into a heavy glass coffee table.  She died nearly instantly from a massive head injury.  In an effort to hide the crime, he dumped the young girl off of a freeway overpass, but Starsky and Hutch had worked the case until they had him cornered.  In the end, Hutch managed to persuade another young woman to testify against him and he was going to prison.   He wouldn’t get the death penalty, but he was going away for a long time.

 

The ride down to the courthouse was a quiet one.  Starsky drove while Hutch leaned back and fell asleep.  Starsky was worried that his partner was falling asleep in the late afternoon on a ten-minute road trip.  The day was warm, yet Hutch was complaining that he was cold.  On a beautiful late summer afternoon, they would usually walk to the courthouse, but not this time.  Hutch came awake with a start when Starsky gently shook his shoulder.

 

“Sorry, guess I haven’t been eating my Wheaties,” Hutch said, trying to lighten the mood.

 

“I think we’d better go over and see Trevor when we’re done here,” Starsky replied, ignoring the weak attempt.

 

Hutch got out of the car shaking his head. “I’m fine.”

 

Sure you’re fine.  “Uh-huh.  We’ll talk about it after the sentencing.”

 

“We don’t have time.  We’re supposed to meet Jack and Sean at Huggy’s at around five to coordinate for tomorrow. Besides, I’m... just a little tired.  Stop worrying.”

 

They drifted into the building and found the right courtroom.  Since they were the arresting officers, Shelly Maren, the Assistant DA, was expecting them and she waved them over to sit behind her.  “Glad you boys made it.  This won’t take long.”  Based on the evidence, their testimony, and that of the witness, the jury had convicted Fuller in less than two hours.

 

“All rise.” The bailiff called the court to order.

 

After the sentence was read, and the prisoner was led away to start serving twenty years to life, the attorney for the state turned to thank them.  “Your persistence and hard work made this case, gentlemen.  Thank you.” She smiled at them both and extended a hand to each man.  When Hutch took her hand, she said, “You all right, Ken?  You don’t look so good and I think you have a fever.”

 

Starsky shot his partner a look.  See.

 

“Just my natural magnetism, Shelly,” Hutch replied with a smile.  While Starsky rolled his eyes and made quiet retching noises, Hutch smiled, and said, “Ignore my friend, here.  He has no manners.”

 

Shelly laughed.  “I wish I had time to continue this conversation, boys, but if I don’t hit the road in the next five minutes, my commute will be so bad, I might as well pay rent on the freeway.  Until next time.”  She picked up her briefcase and hurried from the courtroom, leaving the detectives staring after her. 

 

“Ted Maren is a lucky man,” Starsky noted. Shelly was married to one of their fellow Bay City cops.

 

They walked out of the courthouse at a somewhat leisurely pace.  This was their last stop before Huggy’s and Starsky didn’t want to push his partner.  Hutch’s long stride looked weary, just like the rest of him. 

 

Walking out onto the steps, they were just in time to see that a grungy looking man had pushed Shelly Maren to the sidewalk about fifty feet away from them.  He was struggling with her for her briefcase.  She wasn’t carrying a purse.  Both men shouted at him to stop.  Instead, he punched the lawyer in the face, grabbed the briefcase, and took off down the street. 

 

When they reached Shelly, Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s arm and quickly said, “Stay with her, I’ve got the him.”  Before Starsky could stop him, he darted off toward the alley the thief had just entered. 

 

Shelly had a bruise already forming on her left cheek and she was barely conscious.  Starsky yelled at a bystander to call an ambulance.

 

“Shelly,” Starsky said, patting her on the hand, “wake up, okay?”

 

He was concerned for her, but she looked to just be dazed.  He checked her head for a lump, but couldn’t find one, and he was reasonably sure she hadn’t hit her head hard on the concrete.  Her right wrist was swelling, undoubtedly from the struggle to keep hold of her briefcase. 

 

She opened her eyes more and blinked hard a couple of times.  “Dave?” she said softly, “what --”

 

“You were robbed.  I told someone to call an ambulance.” 

 

By this time, Starsky was seriously worried about Hutch.  He wasn’t feeling well to start with and probably had no business chasing a suspect in the heat.  When he spotted a black-and-white pulling up to the curb, he sighed gratefully.

 

Recognizing the uniforms, he said, “Guy grabbed her briefcase.  Take care of her, Hutch is after the suspect.”  He passed the baton and ran for the alley.

 

Hutch was running as fast as he could and only barely able to gain on the thief.   Twenty-five year-old Jason White’s need for a fix had spurred the attack.  He saw the expensive leather briefcase and knew the woman who owned it would have money in her wallet.  He didn’t realize that it was a graduation gift from her husband and she was a public servant on a modest income.  As he ran, he reached into the case and pulled out her wallet.  White dashed around a corner ahead of Hutch and dumped the briefcase.  He ran past some stacked crates and doubled back to hide behind them, back pressed up against the wall. The twenty-eight dollars and change he found in the wallet wouldn’t buy enough dope to feed his habit for long.

 

By the time Hutch rounded the corner into the next alley, he had his gun drawn.  He was feeling terrible -- dizzy and nauseated, his breathing raspy.  He didn’t see the spilled briefcase on the ground and he tripped over it, sending him sprawling.  Hutch saw something out of the corner of his eye as he watched the Magnum skitter down the alley and under a dumpster.  Jason White was on top of him before he could climb to his feet. 

 

Hutch was five inches taller and forty pounds heavier than White.  He should have been able to take him easily, but he wasn’t up to it.  Jason got in several hard punches to Hutch’s abdomen and arms.  The younger man’s fear of capture was fueled as much by not wanting to go to jail as it was by worrying that he wouldn’t score if he was arrested.

 

Managing to break free from the crazed man, Hutch dove for the dumpster, attempting to get to his weapon.  Jason countered, throwing Hutch off balance, and to the ground.  Starsky came sprinting around the corner just in time to see Jason White kick Hutch. 

 

Firing a warning shot in the air, Starsky yelled,  “Police!  Freeze, or I’ll fire!”

 

Jason froze in place and turned to face Starsky, hands in the air. "I give, I give!" he cried hysterically. "Don't shoot me!"

 

Starsky covered the last few yards in moments, yanking his cuffs free with one hand and keeping the gun trained on the kid with the other. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Hutch was conscious and not visibly injured.

 

Just as he started to put the gun away to allow him to cuff Jason, the younger man spun and ran, but Hutch had retrieved his own gun by then and fired into Jason's leg, knocking him to the ground with an unearthly howl of pain. Starsky caught up with him, roughly turned him over, and yanked his arms behind him so he could cuff him. Leaving him there, he ran back to Hutch and skidded to a half-kneeling position beside him.

 

"You okay?"

 

"Fine," Hutch said, though his pallor and his rapid breathing made him look anything but okay. Before either of them could say anything else, a second black-and-white pulled up. Two officers got out, took in the situation with a glance, and headed for Jason.

 

"Need an ambulance for him?" one asked, jerking his head in Hutch's direction.

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch uncertainly, and Hutch said, "No," in a tone that left no room for argument.

 

It was completely against Starsky's better judgment, but he gave in to that tone anyway. "You sure you ain't sick?" he said in a low voice.

 

"Nothing serious," Hutch answered. "Just a bug or something. Quit worrying."

 

Sure, and I'll quit breathing, too, Starsky thought, half-angry, but he let it pass.

 

October 1981

 

Huggy held Starsky's eyes for long moments without speaking. He didn't like what he saw there. Hopelessness. Try as he might, he couldn't remember ever seeing that there in regard to Hutch. Both of these men had bucked the odds on the other's behalf so many times over the years that Huggy had lost count, and no matter how grim the prospects looked, neither one had ever lost hope that determination would somehow solve the problem, find the missing, pull the sick or injured one from the jaws of death. When Gunther’s hit men shot Starsky, and everyone else thought he was dying, Hutch had never really given up. Even when he said, "Starsky's dying," no one thought he believed it.

 

But this time, Starsky was losing that faith.

 

Huggy leaned forward and lowered his voice even more. "My cousin, Darlene, works with a woman named Sulindi, who's from Zambia."

 

Starsky raise an eyebrow in a mute question.

 

"Africa," Huggy clarified. "Sulindi came to the U.S. to go to college and stayed. She's a healer."

 

"You mean she's a doctor?"

 

Huggy shook his head. "No, a healer. Tribal medicine."

 

"Oh, Huggy, for Pete’s sake --" Starsky began, but stopped when Huggy held up a hand, his eyes still fixed on Starsky's, dead serious.

 

"I know what you're thinkin' and I don't blame you. I never believed in that shit either, in spite of cousins who do voodoo and an African family tree. Let me finish."

 

Starsky nodded.

 

"Darlene was diagnosed with breast cancer about two years ago," Huggy said. "Advanced. They didn't find it until it was too late and the docs said there wasn't nothin' they could do for her but try to keep her as comfortable as possible. They gave her a couple of months at most." He paused for effect. "Darlene was dyin', man. Conventional medicine couldn't help her. She told Sulindi, and Sulindi took her out in the desert and performed her tribal healing ritual, and the next time Darlene went to the doctor, she was better. The cancer had stopped growin'. Sulindi did this ritual at the full moon for three months in a row, and at the end of it all," he paused again to be sure he had Starsky's complete attention, "she was cured."

 

Starsky was stunned. "What did the doctors say?"

 

Huggy shook his head. "What could they say? They couldn't explain it. They blew it off by sayin' their tests must've been screwed up or something, but, Starsk," he shook his head again, "I saw Darlene. She was dying. She'd lost weight, her eyes were sunk in, she couldn't go from the couch to the bathroom without stoppin' to rest. Last time I saw her, two years after she was supposed to be dead, mind you, she was paintin' her house. By herself. What I'm thinkin' is --" He glanced toward the alcove where Hutch was sleeping. "Sulindi only did this for Darlene 'cause they're friends and Darlene didn't have no other chance. Sulindi's kind of hesitant to do the ritual here, without her family and without the main medicine man from the tribe. I don't really understand it, but I guess it's kinda like Catholics having Mass without a priest around. It ain't gonna be easy to talk her into it."

 

September 1981

 

After the uniforms had left with Jason, and Starsky had checked to see how Shelly was -- a bump on the head, a couple of scrapes, nothing serious -- it was long past the time they'd set to meet with Sean and Jack. Starsky used a pay phone to call Huggy's and let the other two detectives know what had happened.

 

"Figures," Huggy said in answer to Starsky's information. "You two couldn't go to a kindergarten tea party without finding trouble."

 

"Just tell 'em, Hug, will ya?" Starsky said, exasperated. "We're on our way."

 

"Sure, okay, don't get all atwitter," Huggy said.

 

Hutch sank down low in the seat on the way to Huggy's and his pallor was even more pronounced. Starsky glanced at him from time to time, as traffic allowed, until Hutch snapped, "I'm fine, dammit. Will you quit looking at me like it's a visitation?"

 

Starsky raised a hand in a surrender-like gesture and tried to keep his eyes on the road. While waiting at a stoplight, he finally said, very gently, "Will you at least let Trevor look at you? Even if it's just the flu or something, this weekend's going to be tough and you need to be at a hundred percent."

 

"You worried I won't be able to watch your back?" Hutch still sounded angry.

 

"No, I'm worried that you won't be able to stand up!" Starsky flared, and was immediately sorry. "Hutch, I --"

 

"It's okay," Hutch said, his voice considerably more calm. "I'll see Trevor first thing when this is over, if I'm not feeling better, okay? But we don't have time to screw with it until after the weekend."

 

Starsky wanted to argue with him, but thought better of it. To get Hutch to agree to see Trevor at all was a giant step.

 

The planning session with Sean and Jack went well -- the other two had made good use of their time while waiting for Starsky and Hutch and had mapped out a workable strategy -- so it was only a matter of deciding who would take which position and how they'd keep in touch during the rally. Then the men parted ways to go home and get a good night's sleep in anticipation of a hard day to follow.

 

Vandelle's group assembled early the next morning, but the police force assembled earlier. Starsky was still bleary-eyed and sipping his third cup of bad coffee from a Thermos when the vans and trucks started pulling up to set up the P.A. system for the WASP rally. He rolled his eyes and said to Sean, who was nearest, "Got to be sure everybody catches every goddamn word of it, don't they?"

 

Sean, who was considerably wider awake, grinned. "Aw, come on, Starsk. You mean to tell me you ain't just dyin' to hear their speeches?"

 

The WASP members were still setting up when the protesters started showing up, carrying signs with such messages as "Death to Vandelle." To top it off, a contingent of Nation of Islam's more radical members also turned up, and their signs said things like "The Negro is the master race."

 

"Are there ANY sane people in Bay City?" Jack asked sourly, watching the different groups assemble. So far, there hadn't been any trouble other than dirty looks and the occasional shouted racial slur, but the atmosphere was thick with tension.

 

"If there is a master race," Hutch said, seated on the hood of a nearby cruiser, "I wish they'd show up, too, and tell us how to weed out the crazies."

 

"Like that, maybe," Starsky said, gesturing at a sign that said "Abort the Unworthy."

 

"Who the hell are THEY?" Jack asked, peering in that direction.

 

Starsky shook his head. "I lost my scorecard, pal."

 

All the officers at the scene were equipped with Kevlar vests and riot gear and in clearly marked uniforms, with "POLICE" on their backs in tall yellow letters. The four detectives, as the officers in charge, were wearing yellow tape on their helmets to identify them to the other officers in case a quick decision needed to be made. Some of the crowd jeered at the officers, too, and the words "pig" and "the heat" rang in their ears as they made their way through the crowd, making sure there weren't any scuffles.

 

Vandelle himself arrived only after everything was set up, surrounded by guards dressed like Secret Service men, complete with sunglasses and earphones. These men escorted him to the folding chairs on the hastily erected stage and stood behind him, feet planted, arms folded on their chests. The WASP members cheered him, shouting his name in a cadence that reminded Starsky of the tent revival meetings he and Hutch had been forced to attend when investigating a shyster evangelist named Haley a couple of years ago. He shook his head in disgust.

 

A couple of other speakers took the microphone before Vandelle, stirring up the crowd, shouting over the noise of the protesters, and when Vandelle himself rose and went to the mike, surrounded by his bodyguards, the shouting from WASP rose to a fever pitch.

 

"Van-delle! Van-delle! Van-delle!"

 

Starsky glanced around, spotting other officers, including Hutch on the far left of the crowd, and making sure they were evenly spaced and close enough to each other to provide backup if necessary. He fervently hoped it would not be necessary. He let his eyes linger on Hutch for a moment. His partner was as pale as ever, with fever-bright eyes, but he stood steadily in his place, and his face was set in a mask of cold, unemotional authority.

 

Good boy, Starsky thought, knowing how this situation galled Hutch's sense of dignity and fair play. He glanced past Hutch to the next officer in formation, Jeremiah Brady, a black officer in line to make sergeant and probably detective within the next year or so. Jerry, as everyone called him, had already been the target of countless verbal attacks in the couple of hours they'd been there so far. The WASP members had called him names, the Nation of Islam members had accused him of "selling out to the white master" and the "Abort the Unworthy" crowd -- Starsky still didn't know what that group called itself -- had loudly proclaimed him an example of the kind of people who should have been aborted.

 

At first, Dobey had tried to assign as few black officers as possible to this detail, knowing how difficult it would be for them, but Jerry had insisted on several of them being there. Starsky had heard him tell Dobey that having black officers present would make an important statement that the Bay City PD trusted and valued black officers, and that they were professionals and could handle whatever was said in the speeches. Dobey had finally agreed.

 

Jerry happened to glance Starsky's way and Starsky gave a curt nod, hoping Jerry would understand it as encouragement and pride in him. Just for a brief second, Jerry gave a grin, then his face smoothed back into the impassive expression all the officers had adopted for the duration.

 

The rule was, use nightsticks if necessary to subdue violent members of the gathering, but guns were only a last resort and only if someone's life was in immediate peril. The officers knew how thick the crowd would be, and using a gun would be too dangerous. Every cop also had Mace but that, too, would affect the innocent as well as the guilty and was to be a last resort.

 

Vandelle stood at the podium in silence while the crowd shouted and waved signs and stirred, and at last, little by little, the noise level sank. Then and only then, did he begin to speak.

 

"My Aryan brothers and sisters, we are in a fight for our very existence!" he shouted, his voice echoing off the nearby buildings. "Intermarriage and the loss of our white daughters to the wiles of the crafty black man has contaminated our progeny!"

 

The Nation of Islam representatives hissed and booed and shouted at that, and Vandelle folded his hands and waited until it died down before continuing.

 

"Statistics show that in a very few years, the blacks, the Jews, the Asians, and the other dark races will outnumber us!"

 

"You're fuckin' A we will!" shouted a voice from somewhere near Hutch, and Starsky glanced that way, but he couldn't tell who had said it. His eyes met Hutch's for a moment, and though he was too far away to be sure, he thought Hutch rolled his eyes.

 

"We, the white men and women, have historically given birth only to the children we can support!" Vandelle was shouting. "We do not depend on the government to feed our bastards! We do not procreate like rabbits!"

 

"Goddamn good thing, too!" yelled someone else.

 

Vandelle ignored the shouts. "But, brothers and sisters, we must not allow the inferior races to take over our country. This country was won, settled, and has prospered at the hands of the white race!"

 

"You forgot about the slaves, asshole!" a voice behind Starsky screamed. "Slaves did the work while the massa sat on his white ass!"

 

Starsky turned and saw a teenaged black boy behind him. The kid met his eyes with hatred in his own. "Easy, son," Starsky said quietly. "That's just the reaction he wants from you. Don't give him the satisfaction."

 

The kid stared at him belligerently for a moment, but must have seen something in Starsky's eyes that reassured him. Finally, he gave a shrug. "Pisses me off," he muttered.

 

"I know," Starsky said. He turned back to face the podium.

 

"We must remain pure!" Vandelle shouted. "We must protect our daughters and sons from contamination! We must not intermarry! We must not give birth to children whose blood is tainted by the dark races!"

 

The WASP members cheered each of Vandelle's proclamations while the other groups were trying to shout them down. Starsky kept his eyes moving, watching for trouble spots. Though the Nation of Islam members were the loudest, they also seemed the most calm. They were standing together, holding their signs, and showing no indication of violence. Yet. What worried him more was the unaffiliated protesters. Several faces were crimson with rage, and he could see people milling back and forth, muttering to each other, glaring toward the podium. He was afraid something would break out any minute.

 

"Our entertainment industry, our newspapers and magazines, our big business, is increasingly under the control of the Jew!" Vandelle shouted. "Our minds are at the mercy of those who crucified our Lord!"

 

"Oh, brother," Starsky muttered out loud, unable to help himself. A woman wearing a long, flowing dress and holding a sign quoting John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" glanced at him.

 

"Jewish?" she asked softly.

 

Starsky nodded without thinking and then scolded himself. Impassive. In control. No emotion. They'd all agreed beforehand. He resolved again not to let anything anyone said get to him.

 

"Thousands and thousands of white men died to protect this country from the invasion of the Japs," Vandelle was saying, pounding his fist on the podium with sweat visible on his forehead. "Yet we trade with that country! We buy their electronics! We drive their cars! Is this what those men died for?"

 

"No!" shouted some of the WASP members.

 

"Our factories shut down, our white brothers and sisters are put out of work, so that the Jap may prosper and become rich! Is that what those men died for?"

 

"No!"

 

"Does that dude like anybody?" the black kid behind Starsky said sardonically and Starsky turned back toward him with a slight grin.

 

"No!" he said, mimicking the WASP members, and the kid actually laughed, encouraging Starsky. Maybe if the protesters could see this for the farce it was, there wouldn't be any violence.

 

"We must fight! We must take up arms in the war to save our race!"

 

Uh-oh, Starsky thought. He glanced around, caught the eyes of the officers near him and gave them all silent warnings. This could be it.

 

"Will we stand by, powerless, as our country, our very existence is taken from us?"

 

"No!"

 

"What will we do?"

 

"Fight!"

 

"What will we do?"

 

"Fight!"

 

Now the crowd was getting restive, louder, as the WASP members chanted in response to Vandelle and as nerves were stretched taut. Starsky put his hand on his nightstick and could see other officers doing the same.

 

The WASP members were chanting louder and louder, raising their fists in the air. Slowly, little by little, they started shouting racial epithets one after another as if they were some kind of ritual chant. One after another, and Starsky listened in astonishment, and not a little fear, as the crowd surrounding him began to get angrier and louder in their reaction to the chant. Then the WASPs turned around to face the crowd, shouting the chant even louder and waving their fists in the air.

 

It all happened in a moment. The WASPs rushed the crowd of protesters at the same moment one of the people holding an "Abort the Unworthy" sign dropped it and pulled a gun. The man fired at Vandelle, who fell backwards into the arms of one of his bodyguards, and the riot was on. The cops waded into the melee with nightsticks out, trying to break the combatants apart and restore order. Starsky was shouting orders and commands left and right but the cops, in spite of their numbers, were overwhelmed by the sheer emotion and mass of the crowd. Starsky saw Jerry go down under an onslaught of humanity and started shoving his way toward him. Hutch was closer, and Starsky could see him swinging his nightstick, forcing people aside roughly to get to the fallen officer. Starsky leaped over a couple of people who were struggling with each other on the ground, intent on getting to Hutch and Jerry, hollering over his shoulder for Bradley, a stocky young officer nearby, to follow.

 

Hutch dropped his nightstick and simply started punching people to get them off Jerry, who was facedown and not moving. When Starsky got there, he yanked the Mace off his belt and sprayed it at everyone who wasn't wearing a uniform. Finally, the crowd moved back, all of them coughing and gagging, and he and Hutch were able to get Jerry to his feet. One of his eyes was swollen and his lip was bleeding, but he wasn't seriously hurt. He was, however, angry.

 

"Did you see that?" he spat. "Bunch of wild animals!"

 

"You sure you're okay?" Hutch asked him, looking him over anxiously.

 

"Fine," Jerry said. "Let's get back to work." He turned away, shouting in a deep voice that carried for people to calm down and disperse, and was actually making some headway. Starsky turned back to Hutch to say something and was alarmed at the blue tinge to Hutch's face.

 

"Hutch? Hutch!"

 

"Starsk, I -- " Hutch swayed and Starsky leaped forward to catch him, barely in time. Hutch sank into his arms, out cold.

 

“Shit! Medic!” Starsky called, lowering Hutch to the ground and doing his best to keep him safe from the scuffle as the other cops pushed the adversaries apart.  Hutch was feverish, sweaty, and his color was not improving.  The sun was blazing and Starsky put himself in a position to shade his still unconscious partner as best he could.  After anxiously searching through the crowd, he was grateful when he saw a uniform point their way and two medics jogging toward them. 

 

The medics took over, asking questions and calling Hutch, trying to revive him. One of them waved smelling salts beneath his nose and brought him around, much to Starsky’s relief.  At first, he seemed confused and tried to get up, but he immediately abandoned that idea. 

 

Lying down again, Hutch covered his eyes and said, “Stop the ride, I want to get off.”

 

“Just lie still,” Starsky said, hovering just behind Joe Paxton, one of the paramedics.  The medic was busily taking vital signs and relaying them to his partner to report to the base station at Memorial Hospital.

 

“Have you been drinking water?” Joe asked.

 

“No,” Hutch answered.  “Guess we’ve been too busy.”

 

“You seem dehydrated, but you haven’t been out here that long.  How long have you been sick?”  The medics had arrived at the same time as the police presence that morning.

 

Hutch didn’t want to answer that question in front of Starsky.  He’d been trying hard to keep just how bad he was feeling from his partner.  Nothing he could say was going to make this sound any better. He decided to generalize.  “A while.”  He opened his eyes again, glad to see the spinning had stopped. 

 

“He’s been feeling crappy for a couple of weeks,” Starsky offered. 

 

Between Hutch’s hesitant answers and Starsky’s attempts to fill in the blanks, the medics learned enough to convince both themselves and the base station that he needed to go to the emergency room. 

 

“Congratulations, Officer Hutchinson,” Joe said.  “You get an IV and a ride to Memorial.”

 

“Aw, come on, guys,” Hutch wheedled.  “We don’t have time for this.”

 

“You went down like a rock, buddy,” Starsky said.  “You’re going.”

 

The look on Starsky’s face silenced any further argument.  Hutch didn’t respond when the paramedics laughed at his aborted attempt to get out of the inevitable.  The fight was over and the other officers had things handled.  Sean saw the medics taking Hutch to the ambulance and he hustled over to Starsky.

 

“What happened?” he asked.

 

“Hutch passed out for a few minutes.  They’re taking him to Memorial to be looked at.”

 

The look on his face made it clear he wanted to go, but he didn’t want to leave the scene.  Especially not with the fight having just been brought under control.   As bad as it had appeared, Vandelle was unharmed.  The worst he got from the gunshot was an ugly bruise on his chest.

 

“Go,” Sean said, understanding the unspoken dilemma.  “Vandelle’s not hurt.  He was wearing a vest.  We’ll keep a lid on it while you’re with Hutch.”

 

“Thanks. I’ll get back as fast as I can. I’ll call Dobey.”  Starsky told Hutch and the paramedics that he’d follow in the Torino. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

One of the nurses walked Starsky back to see Hutch. He already looked better.  His color was back to normal and his eyes were completely focused.  The dark circles were still present under his eyes, but he was with it enough to already be insisting to the nurse taking his pulse that he was done with having an IV.  He was facing away from the door.  Starsky quietly walked up behind him and said, “Maybe you should let the doc make that call.”

 

Hutch turned toward his voice and said, “Hey.”

 

“Hey, yourself.  You all right, now?”

 

“Yeah.  Doc said after this IV, I could go.”

 

“Just a few more minutes,” the nurse offered.  “I’m going to go get his prescription and to tell the doctor he’s about finished.” 

 

As soon as she was gone, Starsky pulled up a chair.  “What did the doc say?”

 

“It’s just a bug.  You know I’m not feelin’ that great.  Doc said that’s why I got dehydrated.  He’s gonna give me something for the nausea.”

 

“You tellin’ me you haven’t been keeping down the little bit you’ve been eating this past week?”

 

Hutch looked sheepish and a slight flush came to his cheeks.  “I really haven’t been eating that much,” he said. “It’s not that big a deal.”  As soon as he said that, he knew it was the wrong thing to say.  Stupid.  For a few moments, Starsky said nothing, but the look on his face was starting to make Hutch squirm.

 

“You sure about that?” Starsky calmly asked.  “It’s not every day I get the chance to back you up by making sure you don’t crack open your stubborn skull because your lights have gone out.”

 

“Sorry, buddy.  That was stupid.  Honest, I didn’t think it was that bad.”

 

The doctor walked in at that moment, trailed by the nurse, and saved him from further discussion.  The nurse started to remove the IV while the doctor gave him some instructions.  “We already gave you something for the nausea and fever,” he said, and then he put a prescription in Hutch’s free hand.  “Start taking these tonight.  If it’s not any better tomorrow morning, take them every four to six hours as needed.”

 

Hutch nodded.  “We’re really needed on duty this weekend, Doc.  Can I go back to work today?” he asked, ignoring Starsky’s glare.

 

“If you feel up to it, yes.  Just get something to eat and stay out of the sun today.  You don’t need it.   Your fever is down, but don’t push it, you need to rest.  Take aspirin or Tylenol for that.  Follow up with your regular doctor if things aren’t improving in a couple of days.  This is a nasty little bug that’s going around.  If you don’t force the fluids and keep the nausea under control, you’re just going to be back here and the next time, I might have to keep you.”

 

Starsky chuckled at that.  “Those were the magic words, Doc.  Don’t worry, I’ll see to it that he behaves.”

 

As soon as he was in the Torino, Hutch grabbed the mike and called for a patch through to their captain.  “We’re on our way back to the hotel,” he said in response to Dobey’s inquiry as to his condition.

 

“You sure?” Dobey asked.

 

“Yeah, I’m okay.  Lassie here will make sure I don’t fall into the well again.”  Both Dobey and Starsky had to laugh at that.

 

“I appreciate you going back down there.  Vandelle has asked to see the officers in charge of security.  Hill and Cavanaugh want to have a confab about it first.”

 

“Roger, that,” Hutch said. After he shut off the mike, he asked, “What do you suppose he wants?”

 

“Whatever it is, it’ll have to wait a few more minutes.  I’m gonna swing by the pharmacy near your place to drop off that prescription.  You might need it tonight.”

 

Remembering how he felt almost seasick for half of the morning, Hutch said, “I hope I don’t before then. You think Huggy could bring them by if I do, or if we get stuck?”

 

Starsky glanced at him in amazement.  “You must really be feeling off.  Huggy?  You really think Huggy should get within a mile of that conference or the nutbag leading it?”

 

Realizing the ridiculousness of that idea, Hutch said, “Oh, geez.  No.”  They would not ask their friend to put himself into a situation where he might be a target.  Hutch couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of that before he spoke. Probably this ice pick driving into my brain directly between my eyes has something to do with it. Better not mention that, or he’ll take me home now.  Hutch was smart enough to know when he needed to take it easy, but Starsky would be on duty without him if he did.  Starsky on duty around Vandelle and his bunch without Hutch there to watch his back was out of the question. 

 

“You know why I asked to go back on duty, don’t you?” he asked.

 

“Because of your stoic Viking upbringing?”

 

“Not exclusively.  I don’t want you over at that hotel without me as your backup.  You’d go back down there and I wouldn’t get any rest anyway.”

 

No point arguing that one.  “All right,” Starsky said, “that’s fair enough.  I suppose I’d be doing the same thing, but listen to me.  Dobey had a command center set up inside the hotel in a conference room near the front desk.  He also had a tarp brought over and pitched in the parking lot.  YOU will be under that or in the conference room for the rest of today at least.  Get the walkie talkies out of the glove box and don’t argue with me, because that’s how it’s going to be.”

 

“You’re kidding.  Tell me you’re kidding.”

 

“I am not, Hutch.  And don’t let me catch you without some water or Gatorade in your hand.”  He pulled the car into a parking space outside the pharmacy and added, “Go on across the street and get us a couple of sandwiches.  The doc said you have to eat.  I’ll take the prescription in and pick up a bottle of aspirin.”

 

Hutch wanted to be angry, but how could he be?  Starsky was right.  As annoying as that was, he had to admit it.  “Barbeque or regular chips?” he asked.

 

Starsky smiled at him and patted him on the arm.  “If that’s the best comeback you’ve got, Blintz, the rest of the day is looking good.  Surprise me.”

 

When the young man behind the counter saw Starsky approaching with a prescription in his hand, he smiled and said, “Hi, Dave.  It’s been a long time.  That for you?”

 

During his convalescence after being shot in the police garage a couple of years ago, Hutch had brought many of Starsky’s prescriptions to this pharmacy.  Because Hutch’s apartment was much closer to the hospital and the rehab center than his own place, Starsky had spent a long time staying there while he was healing.  The friendly staff was familiar with both men.

 

“Hi, Bob,” he said as he handed him the paper.  “No, this is for Hutch.  We’re on duty over at the Town and Country, but I think we’ll make it back here before you close.”

 

He studied the paper and looked at him with understanding in his eyes.  “Uh-oh, looks like he’s got the ick that’s going around.  You boys working that WASP thing?  Saw it on the TV in the back during the noon news.”

 

“Yeah, lucky us.”

 

“Tell you what.  I live about four miles from there.  When I get off at four, I’ll run this by for him, okay?”

 

“You sure?  That’s a pretty wild bunch over there.”  At least he didn’t have to worry about the blue-eyed redhead being hassled by WASP.  Bob reassured him it was fine and not a bother.  “There’s a sort of a pavilion set up in the parking lot.  If you go straight over there, you should be able to leave it and get out of there without any trouble.  Oh, can you put a bottle of aspirin on the tab?  I’ll grab it on the way out.”

 

“Sure, Dave.  Tell him to look for the Compazine after four.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch managed to eat the half sandwich and fruit he bought for himself, hoping the medication would hold.  As soon as they got to the hotel, Starsky pointed him toward the drink coolers, then, they met up with Jack and Sean, under the tarp.  The parking lot was empty of all but cops, cars, and hotel personnel.

 

“Where’d they all go?” Hutch asked after assuring his friends he was all right. 

 

Sean quipped, “The WASPs are in their temporary hive and the rest were ordered to disperse.” 

 

“Good,” Starsky said. “What’s this about a meeting with Vandelle?”

 

Jack fielded that one.  “He’s furious about what happened this morning and even madder that they were made to take it inside.” 

 

They talked about what to do next for a few minutes when Jack spotted a man in a tan suit walking across the parking lot toward them.  He waved at him.  “Mr. Brenard is the hotel manager.  I called for him to come out when I saw you pulling into the lot.”

 

“Officers,” the man said.  “Thank you for meeting with me.  I’ve told Vandelle that there will be no more rallies in the lot.  He’s pretty angry about it.”

 

Starsky said, “Here’s how it’s going to be.  He stays in there and we’ll post officers around to keep out anyone who doesn’t belong.  We’ve all agreed that the rest of the conference will be limited to the rooms you have set aside for the WASPs.  Don’t let anyone near the conference area without identification and checking the name on the conference member list.  No one goes in there who doesn’t need to be in the hotel. That means anyone without conference paperwork has to be an employee, a cop, or a guest of the hotel. No media.”

 

Brenard shifted on his feet. “Agreed.  I want you officers to know that we don’t want that man in our hotel anymore than you do.  We had to allow it.  He filed a lawsuit against us because he says we allowed the NAACP to meet at our facility and that we have to allow WASP, too.  The corporate attorneys were afraid he’d win.  Remember that guy suing the medical school for refusing to admit him on reverse discrimination?”

 

They agreed that Hutch would stay outside with Jack to organize the perimeter.  Starsky and Sean would go inside to meet with Vandelle.  Hutch wasn’t happy to not be accompanying Starsky, but he was voted down by all three other men. 

 

After Starsky and Sean walked away with Brenard, Jack pointed at a chair and gave Hutch his best impression of a Starsky glare.  Hutch sat down and started going through the list of officers on the detail, so he and Jack could rearrange them as needed, based on the new plan.  He absent-mindedly took a few aspirin and washed them down with some water. 

Seeing him do that, Jack said, “Are you sure it’s really just a bug?”  He sat on the tabletop, looking down at Hutch.

 

Jack Hill was a trustworthy friend.  Hutch needed to tell someone how bad he was feeling and he didn’t want it to get back to Starsky.  “Promise you won’t say anything to Sean or to Starsky?” Jack’s raised eyebrow silently requested clarification.  “If Starsky knows, he’ll sideline me, and Sean would blab to him in a heartbeat.  You know it’s true.”

 

Smiling, Jack said, “Yeah, I know. Only thing bigger’n his mouth is his heart.  Okay, I’ll promise, but only if you agree to tell Starsky as soon as this mess is done.”

 

“If I’m worse by Monday night, I’ll tell him.  Fair?”

 

Jack found that acceptable, although he was sure Hutch could find a loophole in his promise.  If he thought it was necessary, Jack could find his own loophole.

 

“I don’t know what’s wrong.  The doc is sure it’s just a viral bug that’s going around, but I’ve been sick for a couple of weeks.  Sicker than Starsky knows.  Frankly, I’m getting a little nervous.”

 

“What do you mean ‘sicker’ than he knows?” Jack asked warily.

 

“High fever, chills, nausea… the whole box and dice.  I’ve been taking aspirin like I own stock just to keep him from worrying.  I kept thinking it would pass and we were gonna have this weekend to rest down in San Diego.  You know what happened to that.  I just decided I’d have to tough it out till we’re off on Tuesday.”

 

Jack had an uncomfortable thought about what Hutch might not be saying.  “I hate to ask this, but… was today the first time you’ve blacked out?”

 

Hutch paled slightly as he shook his head and said, “Don’t forget… you promised.  No.  Happened a couple of days ago.  I knocked a plant over in the greenhouse and I was sweeping up the broken pot.  After I tossed the pieces in the trashcan, I stood up and everything started spinning.  I passed out and woke up pretty fast, I think.  Squished a couple of innocent ferns on the way to the floor.”

 

“Damn, Hutch.  You’d better go get that checked out and you need to tell Starsky.  He’s gonna throttle you when he finds out that it happened already.”

 

“I know, but I swear I thought I just stood up too fast. That and my temperature was over 103.  I thought it was just the flu.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

"The security today was pathetic!" Vandelle ranted, striding back and forth over the carpet in his hotel room. "I expected you people to keep those -- those -- peasants under control! What the hell happened?"

 

Starsky opened his mouth but Sean put a hand on his arm with a warning shake of his head. He could see how close Starsky was to the edge and didn't want things to get any worse.

 

"We couldn't control every person in the crowd, sir," Sean said, his tone respectful while his expression was anything but respectful. "And I think you need to accept your own portion of responsibility for the volatility of the crowd's emotions, since you were the one who stirred them up. Sir."

 

Vandelle stared at him, his eyebrows drawn down into a furious scowl. "Those inferiors should never have been allowed to assemble in such numbers!"

 

In spite of Sean, Starsky spat, "Those 'inferiors,' as you call them, have the same right to assembly as your group does, mister, and it was members of your group who started the riot."

 

Vandelle glared at him, then his face took on a speculative expression. "And what is your background, Officer?"

 

"He's a detective sergeant," Sean said, "and that is immaterial to this discussion. Our point is, your group has a right to 'peaceful' assembly, but your rally was not peaceful. Therefore, as the officers in charge of this situation, we have decided that the rest of your conference must be held inside the hotel. Your permit for an outdoor rally is rescinded."

 

"You can't do that! Only the mayor can do that."

 

"The mayor has done that," Sean said, presenting Vandelle with the documents. "Any further outdoor events will make you and the members of your group subject to arrest. It's all there."

 

Vandelle started raving about his constitutional rights but Starsky stopped him. "It's our job to protect all the citizens of this town," Starsky said, his voice level and as cold as ice. "This is how we're going to do that. Nobody's stopping you from holding your meetings and saying anything you want to say. But we can tell you where you can do it, and it's inside or not at all. Understand?"

 

"You can't keep me from talking to the media," Vandelle spat.

 

"No, we can't, but if you talk to them, you have to call a press conference and you have to hold it in the hotel lobby," Starsky said. "And you have to notify us."

 

When Starsky and Sean came back outside, Hutch had finished briefing the rest of the team on this detail on the new rules. As Starsky approached, he happened to glance at Jack, who flushed and looked away. He would have asked him what was wrong, but Sean immediately pulled Jack aside to catch him up on what had happened with Vandelle, so Starsky said to Hutch, "What's wrong with Jack?"

 

Hutch shrugged. "I don't know. Why?"

 

"He wouldn't look at me."

 

"He's worried about Meg," Hutch said, a little too quickly. "You know she's due any day. He's just distracted."

 

Starsky wasn't buying that explanation for a minute, but he let it pass, figuring he didn't have time right now to pursue it.

 

The rest of that day was quiet. Some protesters continued to hang around in the hotel parking lot, but they were mostly just "carrying signs saying 'hooray for our side,'" as Sean phrased it, quoting Buffalo Springfield. The cops didn't bother them and they didn't bother the cops. Vandelle and his people stayed inside the hotel and even the media gave up eventually and left to file their stories.

 

By a couple of hours after dark, the cops were the only ones left.

 

Starsky had been worriedly watching Hutch for a long time, and although Hutch kept up a good front, anyone who knew him well would have been able to see how miserable and sick he was. Finally, Starsky pulled Jack to one side. "I'm takin' him home," he said softly. "He needs a good night's sleep, at least."

 

"At least," Jack agreed quietly. "We've got it covered. Our relief will be here soon, anyway."

 

Starsky patted Jack's shoulder and went over to where Hutch was leaning against a squad car, holding a Pepsi loosely in one hand. "We're going to get some shut-eye, Blintz," he said with false cheer. "Looks like the party's over for tonight."

 

"Okay," Hutch said, setting the can down on the squad's hood and turning toward the Torino without a word of argument. That scared Starsky, but he forced himself not to take Hutch's arm or otherwise show that he could see how bad his partner was hurting. Hutch wanted to play this as Stoic Viking, so Starsky would go along. For now.

 

Starsky got in and started the car, turned toward Venice and pretended not to see the weary way Hutch slid down in the seat. After a couple of blocks of silence, Starsky said, "Tough day today, huh?"

 

"You said it," Hutch said.

 

"Only a couple more to go and we'll be rid of the asshole," Starsky said. "He can go crawl back into his hole."

 

"Can't be soon enough for me," Hutch said, unconsciously sighing as he did so.

 

"You okay?" Starsky asked, pretending to be casual.

 

"Sure," Hutch lied, turning his head away to look out the window. "Just beat."

 

Starsky shut up the rest of the way to Venice and when he pulled up in front of Hutch's place, Hutch was half asleep. "Hey, we're home," Starsky said, giving him a gentle nudge.

 

"Yeah, right," Hutch said, blinking and giving a jaw-cracking yawn. "My turn to drive tomorrow?"

 

"Nah, I don't mind. We ain't going anywhere anyway. Just back to the dog and pony show."

 

Hutch grinned and gave a mock salute. "See you in the morning, then." He went in, moving slowly. Starsky watched with concern, but let him go. Now wasn't the time. Time enough to nag and drag him to Trevor by force, if necessary, when this crisis was past. He'd be okay until then. He had to be.

 

Hutch managed to make it up the stairs and into his apartment before he sagged to the floor, too weary to take another step. He had to sit there for several minutes before the spots quit dancing in front of his eyes and he could haul himself to his feet, using the edge of a chair to help himself up. He shrugged out of his jacket, letting it fall to the floor behind him, and kicked off his shoes. He glanced toward the kitchen, but he didn't have anything in there to eat that wouldn't involve more work than he was up to right then.

 

Tossing his holster and gun onto the couch, he started shedding clothes and moved toward the shower. He didn't want to take a shower, but it had been hot out there today and maybe it would revive him enough to allow him to make some eggs or something so he wouldn't have to go to bed on an empty stomach. He also left his clothes on the floor wherever they fell.

 

The water did feel good on his sticky skin, and he closed his eyes, letting the spray ease the headache that still pounded behind his forehead. But with his eyes closed and the sound of the pounding water in his ears, he began to feel a sense of vertigo, and before he could react, he had lost his balance and slipped.

 

He grabbed for the towel rack and missed, hitting the back of his head against the tile wall hard enough to make him see stars, and slid to a seated position in the tub. He sat there for a moment, feeling stupid and also a little frightened.

 

He'd had the flu many, many times in his life, and it had never hung on this long or debilitated him so much. Ever.

 

When Starsky arrived to pick up Hutch in the morning, he was alarmed at the dark circles under his eyes and the way he walked, as if his whole body hurt. "Hey, buddy, you need to stay home today?"

 

"No," Hutch said, too quickly. "I'm fine. Didn't sleep well is all."

 

Starsky didn't start the car. He turned in his seat and reached out to touch Hutch's face. It was too warm, and his eyes were almost glassy. "Babe," he began, but Hutch pulled his face away as if Starsky's touch hurt.

 

"I'm fine," he said, with pleading in his eyes. "Really."

 

Starsky was far from convinced, but he couldn't resist the plea. "Okay," he said at last, "but you're taking it easy today. Let the rest of us handle the rough stuff. Promise."

 

Hutch started to shake his head, but a look of pain crossed his face and finally he nodded. "Okay. I promise."

 

"Good." Starsky started the car and drove to the hotel.

 

There were more protesters today than there had been last night, but nothing like the mob of the morning before. The Nation of Islam was back, but considerably quieter, and there was no sign of the "abort the unworthy" crowd. One of the clerks at headquarters had done some digging and found out that they were a radical splinter group of white supremacists that were even more out there than the WASPs, so that Vandelle had driven them out of his organization.

 

"Holy shit," Starsky said when Jerry told him that. "Too crazy for Vandelle? That's pretty goddamned crazy."

 

Jerry grinned. "I agree. My point, however, Sergeant, is that they and the WASPs hate each other even more than they hate everyone else. Think we could just lock them in a room together and let them kill each other?"

 

"Jerry," Hutch said from his spot in the command tent a few feet away, "that was unworthy of an officer and a gentleman."

 

"My apologies," Jerry said, but with twinkling eyes.

 

Vandelle held a press conference at noon to rant about the "pathetic" police protection his group had received the day before and to announce another meeting for that evening. The media showed up and asked questions, but Starsky and Sean, who had drawn guard duty for the event, could see by their eyes that they were getting bored with the guy. When Chris Phelps walked past Starsky, she rolled her eyes.

 

"What an idiot," she said softly.

 

"Amen," Starsky agreed.

 

Vandelle held his meeting in one of the large conference areas of the hotel, but only his own people were allowed in. The protesters, about a hundred of them, had to stay outside on the parking lot, and though they chanted and sang and yelled a lot, there was no trouble.

 

By Monday night, it was all over. Starsky called Dobey on the radio as Vandelle and his group packed up and left. "We need a day or two off, Cap," he said after he'd given his oral report. "At least. He's sick, and he's even beginning to admit it now."

 

Dobey was silent for a moment. "Are you taking him to a doctor?"

 

"If I have to drag him."

 

Hutch agreed to see Trevor on Tuesday. After the usual weigh-in, heart, blood pressure, and so forth, Trevor sat down on a chair across from Hutch on the examining table and started asking him questions. How long had he been feeling unwell? How often did he get dizzy or lightheaded? How much had he been eating and how much coffee had he been drinking?

 

Hutch answered all the questions, not even trying to avoid them, in a low, quiet voice that lacked any spark whatsoever.

 

Trevor listened and watched a lot more than he listened. When he was finished, he sighed. "I know there's a virus going around, and I think maybe that's part of your problem, Hutch, but I don't think it ought to have hung on this long."

 

"I don't, either," said Starsky, who had flatly refused to be evicted from the examining room.

 

Trevor glanced at him, then back to Hutch. "I think you're run down, more susceptible to illness than you would be normally. It doesn't sound like you've been keeping up with your usual health-nut ways, friend."

 

Hutch gave a weak grin. "I haven't."

 

Trevor reached out and took hold of Hutch's hand and examined it as if he were reading his palm. When he released it, he said, "My best guess -- and until the tests come back, it's only a guess, mind you -- is that you have developed low blood sugar. Here's what I want you to do for the next few days. Don't go more than a couple of hours without eating something. Anything. A candy bar, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit. Keep something on your stomach all the time. Leave the coffee alone and drink milk or juice instead. Take your vitamins and get enough sleep. Next week, I want to see you again. If you don't feel any better or if you feel worse, I want to see you before that. Got that?"

 

Hutch nodded. "Okay, okay."

 

Trevor looked at Starsky. "Make him."

 

"I will," Starsky said grimly.

 

Trevor had taken blood for a variety of tests and told Starsky privately that one thing he was afraid of was diabetes. It would be several days before the results came back, and in the meantime, Starsky was to keep Hutch from exerting himself any more than absolutely necessary.

 

"Tie him down if you have to," Trevor said, "but I don't like the fact that his heart rate is up and his blood pressure is down and his respiration sucks."

 

Starsky drew a deep breath and swallowed. "You think it's ... could be ... life-threatening?"

 

Trevor shook his head helplessly. "I don't know what it is at this point, Starsk. Sorry. If he'd been feeling like this for a week, even ten days, I'd say it was just a flu bug. I don't think it is. But I just don't know."

 

Dobey had given them two days off and during those two days, Starsky stuck to Hutch like a burr. He watched the time and insisted his partner eat something every two hours and keep water or juice or some kind of drink near at hand all the time. He all but forced fluids and food into him, and the fact that Hutch allowed this, with only a few mild complaints, frightened Starsky. Normally, Hutch would have been cussing him out by now and demanding to be treated like an adult, but this weary acceptance was so uncharacteristic that all Starsky could think of was that Hutch was too sick to argue.

 

By the morning of the third day, Hutch's color was much better and his energy level had increased appreciably.

 

"I think maybe Trevor was right," Hutch said, watching with amusement as Starsky fixed his breakfast for him and set it in front of him.

 

"About what?" Starsky said, mixing up a glass of malted milk and putting that in front of Hutch, too.

 

"Maybe I just have low blood sugar," Hutch said. "You've been stuffing me like a Christmas turkey for two days and I really do feel pretty good now. What a relief."

 

Starsky poured a cup of coffee for himself and sat down across from him to study him. He had to admit Hutch looked better. A little of the sparkle had returned to his eyes, which were no longer glassy-looking, and his face had lost some of that drawn look of lost sleep and pain. He was too thin, but if he kept eating enough, he'd gain back the lost weight.

 

Finally, Hutch chuckled and said, "Do I pass inspection, Sarge?"

 

Starsky grinned, not even bothering to pretend he hadn't been examining him. "Yeah, I guess. But hear this, Blintz: you're gonna keep eatin' good and sleepin' enough and I'm gonna take care of the rough stuff until you look better than this. Got that, buddy?"

 

"Okay, okay," Hutch said, raising a hand in surrender. "I got it. With one exception."

 

"What's that?" Starsky narrowed his eyes.

 

"If you're in danger, I'm not gonna sit in the car knitting while some whippo wastes you." Hutch met his eyes with a steady look.

 

"All right," Starsky conceded reluctantly. "But don't go jumping the gun unless it's absolutely necessary."

 

"Agreed."

 

Dobey assigned them to follow up some leads and catch up on paperwork that first day, so there was no need for Hutch to worry about Starsky or breaking his agreement. He continued to feel much better and ate a hearty lunch, while Starsky looked on approvingly, and by evening was tired in a good way instead of the helpless exhaustion he'd been feeling for so long.

 

When Starsky pulled up outside Venice Place, Hutch gave him a bright grin. "See ya in the morning," he said, opening the door to get out. "My turn to drive. I'm tired of riding shotgun."

 

"Okay," Starsky said doubtfully. "If you're sure you'll be up to it."

 

"I'm sure."

 

He continued to feel better most of the evening, but after he ate some toast and cereal for his dinner, his stomach started to roil and he was queasy.

 

Maybe the milk was sour, he thought, going to the refrigerator to check. But the milk was fine. He gave a shrug and put it back. Maybe he'd done too much today, not eaten regularly enough.

 

No, Starsky had hovered over him all day, just like the previous two, and made him eat something every couple of hours.

 

Please, God, don't let it come back.

 

By the time he'd watched the late news, he could no longer ignore the nausea. He tried taking some of the medicine the emergency room doctor had given him and it no sooner hit bottom than it came right back up, along with the orange juice he'd drunk while watching the news. He hung onto the edges of the toilet seat, breathless, dizzy, and depressed. It had come back.

 

In the morning, he tried to eat some breakfast but couldn't even face a cup of coffee. Finally, he simply got in the car and drove to Starsky's, hoping against hope that he could hide his condition from his partner at least during their shift. Maybe it was just a relapse. Maybe he'd eaten something that didn't agree with his still-sensitive stomach...

 

Starsky did glance at him from time to time as they patrolled, but he didn't say anything about how Hutch looked. Most of their calls were routine -- a purse snatching, a burglary discovered by a store owner hours after it must have happened -- no danger. Every now and then, Starsky urged him to eat or drink something and Hutch did, though he very often had to pull over at a service station or fast-food place to rush in and watch whatever-it-was come right back up.

 

"You okay?" Starsky asked at last. "You sure are using the john a lot."

 

"It's all this," Hutch said, forcing a grin and holding up the soda pop can in one hand. "You drink this much liquid, you'll be pissing every hour on the hour, too. Come to think of it," he added with a wicked look, "you do piss that often."

 

"Very funny," Starsky grumbled, but good-naturedly, and let the subject drop.

 

About mid-afternoon, they got another call to answer, a disturbance in a government housing unit a few blocks away.

 

"Aw, hell," Starsky said. "Some druggie flippin' out?"

 

"Won't know till we get there, will we?" Hutch said, looking over his shoulder and pulling a U-turn to head that way.

 

But when they got there, the chaos they had expected was absent. Instead, a little boy of about eight was clinging to a woman that must have been his mother, sobbing his eyes out. So was she. Neighbors stood around, sober and teary-eyed, and a teenage girl ran out of the house to meet them.

 

"Where's the ambulance?" she demanded with a shaking voice. "We said we needed an ambulance!"

 

"Why?" Hutch asked, looking around but not seeing anyone injured.

 

"Manny! Manny's been shot!" she cried, her eyes overflowing. "He's inside. James shot him, but it was an accident. Please don't arrest him!"

 

At her words, the little boy burst into fresh sobbing and clung even more tightly to the woman.

 

"I'll call the ambulance," Starsky said. "I think I get the picture."

 

Hutch nodded and let the teenager lead him into the house. In a small bedroom near the back of the house, another boy, this one around twelve, lay on his back, eyes wide, with a bullet wound in his cheek. He was alive and conscious, but in a lot of pain and scared half to death.

 

"They were playing with that gun," the girl said, kneeling next to Manny and gently stroking his arm. She gestured at a small handgun lying on the floor. "It belongs to Mama's boyfriend and she didn't know it was here. He split when he found out what had happened. James didn't know it was a real gun, Officer! Please don't take him away."

 

Outside, Starsky had called for an ambulance and was trying to get the woman and the little boy to explain what had happened. Both were so upset that he could hardly get anything that made sense out of them. Finally, the woman managed to tell him the two boys had been playing in their room and she'd heard a gunshot. She and her boyfriend, who had been watching a ball game in the living room, had run back there and found Manny lying on the floor, shot, with James holding the gun and crying hysterically. The boyfriend, who had warrants out on him, had recognized the gun as his own and simply turned and run. Her daughter had called the police and offered to stay with Manny while the mother and James went outside to wait for the ambulance.

 

"Please, mister, don't let Manny die!" James wailed, tears rolling down his face. "I didn't shoot him on purpose, honest, I didn't!"

 

Starsky heard the siren coming and patted the kid's shoulder. "Here comes the ambulance," he said to him. "They'll do their best. Just calm down, huh?"

 

The ambulance pulled up and the girl ran out of the house again. "Hey! Hey, Officer!" she called to Starsky. "Come here! Something's wrong with your partner!"

 

Starsky pushed past the frightened teenager and in through the front door, calling Hutch’s name.  Hearing no answer was doing nothing for his sense of panic.  He heard the girl behind him shouting that they were in the back bedroom.  Starsky ran to the right room and paused briefly in the doorway.  In seconds, he saw both the wounded boy and his partner, who didn’t look in much better shape.  Hutch was seated on the floor, leaning back against the bed.  His pale face was sweaty, his eyes were half closed, and he was breathing in shallow pants. The ambulance crew was right behind Manny’s sister, Gloria, allowing Starsky to concentrate on his partner. 

 

“Hutch?” he asked gently, kneeling beside Hutch and reaching out to touch him.

 

After he looked at the young shooting victim, Hutch had gotten incredibly dizzy.  He was already feeling shaky when he bent down to pocket the handgun, and the smell of blood and dissipated gunpowder in the stuffy room overwhelmed him.  Gloria tried to ask him a few questions, but he couldn’t make out the words. When his knees buckled and he went down to the floor, she had helped him to lean against the bed before she ran for Starsky.

 

“Hutch!” Starsky repeated, this time with more force behind it. 

 

The buzzing in his ears was getting worse and a faint orange haze was encroaching on his vision.  Hutch picked his head up a little and looked at Starsky.  He blinked slowly, several times, wondering why Starsky seemed far away, like he was looking at him through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.  Hutch reached one shaking hand out for Starsky to help him and said, almost too quietly for him to hear, “Hot. Outside.” 

 

Understanding what he needed, Starsky got under Hutch’s arm and hoisted him to his feet.  As soon as he got his arm around him, Starsky knew Hutch’s fever had climbed. 

 

“Is he all right?” one of the paramedics asked, looking up from treating Manny.

 

“No, I’m gonna get him some air,” Starsky replied. “You’re burning up again, babe,” he said just loudly enough for Hutch to hear.  

 

Leaving the room, he heard the medic on his radio calling for another ambulance.  Starsky helped Hutch outside to the cooler air.  He was practically carrying him, with Hutch almost dead weight. 

 

Once they were outside, Starsky eased Hutch down to the grass, leaning him up against a tree.  He made quick work of unbuttoning the top of Hutch’s shirt, and removing his cotton jacket.  Feeling the weight in one of the pockets, he asked, “Is the gun the kids had in your pocket?”

 

“Yeah,” Hutch mumbled.  “Sorry, Starsk.  Just gimme a minute.”

 

Starsky ignored Hutch’s attempt to make it seem like he’d be all right in a few minutes.  He was worried when his partner didn’t resist his efforts to take his holster and gun from him.  “Hutch, just sit here,” he said. “I’m going to call for another unit to take over.  I’ll be right back.”

 

“Starsk,” Hutch said, opening his eyes wider and trying to get the energy to say more.

 

“Sh.  I’ll be back.  Don’t go anywhere, okay?  Just hang in there for me.”

 

Getting nothing but a nod, Starsky stood up and dashed for the car, grateful to hear the second ambulance growing closer.  He stuffed the things he’d taken from Hutch into the trunk, and then ran around to the front to grab the mike.

 

“Dispatch, Zebra Three.”

 

“Go ahead.”

 

“Send another unit to 1010 Camino Reyas.  Looks like an accidental shooting.  Tell Dobey something’s wrong with Hutch.  We’re going to the hospital.”

 

“10-4, Zebra Three,” the worried voice replied.  Starsky dropped the mike and turned back toward Hutch, just in time to see him clench his arms tightly across his abdomen. While Starsky watched, Hutch slumped slightly forward, and then fell to his side on the ground.  Passed out cold.  Again. 

 

“Dammit!”  Starsky rushed back to Hutch’s side.  He tried to get him into a better position.  The ambulance screamed to a stop and the paramedics started to walk toward them.  They were only ten feet away, when the unconscious man started to gag.

 

Both medics broke into a run, shouting at Starsky, “Get him on his side!”

 

Starsky knew what was happening and he was already doing that.  He turned Hutch, bracing him so he wouldn’t choke, one arm around his chest, the other holding his head slightly toward the ground. 

 

“Good job,” one of the medics said as he knelt beside them and opened his equipment box.  “We don’t want him to aspirate.”

 

“Please help him,” Starsky said plaintively.  As the gagging stopped, Hutch went completely limp again. “Hutch, please wake up, buddy.” He looked up at the paramedic and read his name badge. Gary.  The medic was listening to Hutch’s heart with his stethoscope.  When he saw that Gary was bringing out the blood pressure equipment, Starsky reached to unbutton and push up Hutch’s sleeve.

 

“Thanks,” Gary said.  “Tell me what you know.”

 

“I’m Detective Starsky, Metro.  He’s my partner, Ken Hutchinson.  Hutch.  He’s been sick.”

 

Gary shushed him for a second while he took a blood pressure reading.  Afterward, he nodded at Starsky and said, “You’re doing great.  Been here before?”

 

“Unfortunately.”

 

“Okay, how long has he been out?”

 

“Completely, just a few minutes.  We responded to a call.  He went inside and I guess he started getting sick.  He was kind of out of it, so I brought him out here to get some air.  He keeled over right about the time you were pulling up.”

 

Starsky was so focused on Hutch, and on the conversation he was having with Gary, he tuned out everything else around him.  He didn’t notice when the other paramedics brought the young shooting victim out and left in the ambulance.  When a black-and-white arrived on the scene, Starsky didn’t see or hear them.  Apart from the distressing vital signs the paramedics were relaying to their base, nothing registered in his mind, until he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a familiar voice calling his name.  He looked up to see Sean Cavanaugh towering over him.

 

“Starsk,” Sean repeated, “come on and let them put him in the ambulance.”

 

Gary’s partner had been trying to get Starsky to back off, without success.  Sean’s comment snapped him out of his tunnel vision.  He nodded at Sean and moved aside so that Gary and his partner could get Hutch onto the stretcher. 

 

Sean put out a hand and helped Starsky to his feet.  Jack Hill was talking to the two uniformed officers.  He walked toward Sean and Starsky, saying, “Long and Thomas need the gun. Victim’s sister says Hutch had it.”

 

“It’s in the trunk in Hutch’s jacket pocket.”  He handed Jack the keys, and then he jerked his chin toward Hutch and said, “How’d you know?”

 

Sean replied, “Heard your squawk on the radio.  We were pretty close, so we came over to see what was happening.  He pass out again?”

 

“Yeah.  I’ve gotta go with them.  Have Jack bring the LTD, ‘kay?”

 

“Sure.  Soon as we’re done here, we’ll be right behind you.”

 

Starsky ran to catch up to the paramedics.  Hutch was still unconscious when they loaded him into the back of the ambulance.  Gary waved Starsky aboard, and they took off, leaving the other officers to finish at the scene.  The officers called in for an APB on the boyfriend, then they escorted the shell-shocked family to the hospital to wait for word on Manny. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

When Jack and Sean arrived at the hospital, they found Starsky pacing in the ER waiting room.  Neither one of them could remember when they’d seen him looking this frantic.  Sean put a hand out and stopped Jack.  Leaning close, he said, “You have to tell him.  It could mean something.”

 

“I know, but he’ll kill me,” Jack lamented.  On the way into the building, Jack had pulled his partner aside and told him about the conversation he’d had with Hutch when they were working the WASP meeting.  Sean was stunned. When he asked Jack why he didn’t tell him before, Jack replied that he had two reasons.  Most importantly, because I promised him.  Beyond that, for the same reason he didn’t tell you in the first place.  Starsky would have known inside of fifteen minutes of your finding out about it and that’s exactly what Hutch didn’t want.  Sean couldn’t argue with him on that point.  He had to admit he would have squealed. 

 

Sean smiled at him.  “Don’t worry.  You’re about to become a father.  Starsky’ll wait to kill you till after the baby comes.  For Meg’s sake.”

 

“You’re a pillar of support, partner.”

 

“I’ve got your back.”  Sean followed his partner, feeling a little like they were walking into the breach.   “Hi, Starsk, any word?” he asked. 

 

“Nothing.”

 

Jack handed him his keys.  “I parked it in B lot.  You don’t have to worry about moving it there.”

 

“Thanks.”  Starsky pocketed the keys.  Noticing that Jack looked odd, he said, “What’s wrong with you?”

 

“Uh, nothing, Starsk.  I need to talk to you about something, though. Let’s go outside.”

 

Starsky just stared at him.  “I can’t leave right now, just tell me what it is.”

 

Jack looked to his partner for help.  Sean understood, but he was torn.  Should he stay inside and wait for word on Hutch so that Jack could have a more private chat with their friend, or make them both stay inside so he could prevent Starsky from losing it and going after Jack?  He guessed the odds were 50-50 that Starsky was going to go ballistic when he heard what his partner had to tell him.  Jack’s pleading eyes helped him to make the decision.  “Starsky, I’ll stay right here and wait for word.”

 

The unspoken tension in the air wasn’t lost on Starsky, even though he was immersed in his fear for Hutch.  Something was wrong.  “Okay, but we’ll be right outside.”

 

The two men walked outside together, while Sean did his best to position himself close to the doors, but within earshot of any medical personnel who might come looking for Starsky.

 

Jack wasn’t sure how to start.  He looked up at the sky briefly, hoping to see that loophole he needed to betray Hutch’s trust.  “Starsk, before I tell you this, Hutch made me promise.”

 

Not liking the sound of that one bit, Starsky asked, “Promise what?”

 

“Ah, geez.  I’m sorry, Starsk.  He told me something and he made me promise not to tell anybody.  But, I think you need to know.  I told Sean when we were on our way in from the parking lot and he thinks--”

 

Starsky was already getting angry.  “Jack!  Whatever it is, you’re freaked.  Just spit it out.  What did he tell you?”

 

“The last time he passed out... back at the WASP rally... um, that wasn’t the first time.”

 

“What did you say?” 

 

If the Earth could have opened up and swallowed him on the spot, Jack would have considered it a blessing.  He could see the anger already beginning to flash in his friend’s eyes.  “I would have told you before now.  I planned to, if he didn’t get better.  But he was getting better!”

 

Starsky lowered his head slightly, lifting his eyes to peek out from beneath his brows.  Jack had seen him with this set expression on his face when a street punk threatened to kill Hutch.  Somehow, he almost felt empathy for that weasel. 

 

Managing to speak despite his clenched jaw, Starsky growled, “Tell me exactly what he said.” 

 

Jack was more worried about Starsky’s clenched fists than his taut expression, but he held his ground.  Getting the words out as quickly as he could, Jack opened up the floodgates.   “Okay.  He said that he didn’t want you to know how sick he’d been feeling, because you’d bench him.  He knew you needed him that weekend and didn’t want you there without him.  Hutch was feeling pretty bad that week... taking lots of aspirin to fight a high fever.  He said he was sick to his stomach and dizzy sometimes.  A couple of days before the rally, he said he stood up too fast in his greenhouse and... and he passed out, just like he did that day.”

 

For long, uncomfortable moments, Starsky said nothing.  Just when Jack thought he would die from the tension, Starsky asked, “You knew he was this sick?”

 

Jack nodded.  “I’m so sorry --”

 

“You knew!” Starsky shouted, loud enough to cause Sean, who was looking out through the window beside the sliding doors, to stand up straighter, ready to run outside and break it up if anything happened. 

 

“I know, I should have told you, but--”

 

Starsky interrupted him again. “Anything else?”

 

“Just that he promised me he’d tell you himself if he wasn’t better by Monday.  I swear I was gonna tell you if he didn’t get better.  But, you guys had a couple of days off and then he seemed to be getting better, and... I just thought it was over.  I really am sorry.”

 

Sean watched nervously from inside the building.  He didn’t want to jump too fast, but he also didn’t want Starsky to pound his partner, and from where he stood, that looked like a possibility. 

 

Starsky struggled to control his feelings, knowing that Jack was a good friend and he’d only done what Hutch had asked him to do.  He felt concerned, angry, confused, and hurt all at once.  Why?  Why would he keep something like that from me... and tell Jack?  Starsky gave himself a mental kick in the backside.  He didn’t want me to worry.  Damn.

He was furious with Jack, even though he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. 

 

Jack’s back was to the building.  He didn’t see Sean at the window, wildly gesturing for Starsky to come back into the waiting room.  His heart sank when Starsky brushed past him, heading for the doors, without saying another word.

 

Dropping his head, Jack muttered, “Great. That went well.”  He couldn’t go in and face Starsky right then.  He decided he’d better take a walk around the building, to give both of them time to regain their equilibrium.  Maybe by the time he did that, he could go back inside and wait with Sean and Starsky. Shaking his head as he started on his walk, he muttered aloud again,  “Maybe Sean can talk him out of killing me while I’m gone.”

 

Starsky completely forgot about Jack when he rushed inside, seeing Sean standing with the doctor he’d seen going in to treat Hutch before he was pushed out to the waiting room. 

 

“How’s my partner?” he asked breathlessly as soon as he was close enough.

 

“He’s stable,” the doctor replied. Stable.  That was good.  Not as good as all right, but Starsky would take it.  “I’m Doctor Hendricks, and you must be Detective Starsky.”

 

Good.  The doc didn’t know my name before, so Hutch must be awake.   His relief showed on his face.  “He’s awake then?”

 

“He’s a little groggy.  Some of the medications we gave him made him sleepy, but he did regain consciousness.  His description was amazingly accurate.”  The doctor’s dry chuckle put Starsky at ease.  “He said I’d recognize you by looking for someone tall, dark, and worried.”

 

Starsky smiled, a little more tension draining from him.  “What’s happening to him?” he asked, hoping the answer would be something he wanted to hear.

 

The doctor led Starsky and Sean to some chairs around the corner.  Before they followed, Sean looked around for his partner.  He was momentarily curious, but he quickly realized that Jack must have assumed Starsky was so angry he wanted to just get away from him. He’d worry about fixing that later.  Now, he wanted to hear what the doctor had to say.

 

When they were seated, Hendricks continued.  “I wish I could just tell you I know exactly what’s wrong, but I don’t.  I’m sending him up to a room and we’re going to conduct a series of tests.”

 

“His regular doctor already ran a bunch of tests.  Maybe we should call him,” Starsky offered.

 

“I already did that.  Your partner gave me his name and number.  He said to tell you he’ll stop by as soon as he sees his last patient.”  Starsky nodded at him, glad that Trevor knew what was happening.  “I know Detective Hutchinson was seen here just last weekend.  I’ve looked at his chart, and I’m not happy with what I’m seeing.  Has he been this sick for a couple of weeks?”

 

“More like three,” Sean said, before he could stop himself.  He didn’t need to have the almost nonverbal communication skill that Hutch had with his partner to clearly read the, “yeah, and I’ll deal with you later,” in Starsky’s eyes.  Suddenly, his shoes were so interesting, he dropped his eyes to stare at them, determined to keep his mouth shut.

 

“Based on his chart, and my conversation with Doctor Kelly, I’d say he hasn’t improved.  He’s lost weight just since last week and he’s dehydrated again.”

 

“How could he have lost weight?  I’ve been making him eat every couple of hours.  I thought he was doing better till today.”

 

The doctor sighed.  “He hasn’t been keeping it down, though.  I guess that’s something he managed to keep from you.  Said he was feeling better until last night, but he’s been unable to keep anything in his stomach since then.”

 

So, that’s why he kept running to the john.  I should have known.  Idiot!  Starsky gave himself another good mental kick.  This situation was a little overwhelming.   Other times, when Hutch was hurt, he was able to get his mind around a concrete timeline for what to expect. 

 

“What’s next?” he asked, unsure of whether he really wanted the answer.

 

“We get his fever down to a reasonable level.  That’s a priority.  Right now, it’s just under 104?.  We’ll get some fluids in him and watch him for at least the next twenty-four hours while we run those tests I mentioned.  If we can get his nausea and fever under control, we’ll look at sending him home.  For now, pending the results of those tests, we’re putting him in a private room with restricted access.  Not exactly isolation, but one step away from that.”

 

Starsky paled.  Isolation.  Oh, my God. Maybe I heard wrong.  “Did you say isolation?”

 

The doctor nodded.  He furrowed his brow, wondering why Starsky seemed to react so strongly to that word.  “Yes.  Is there something I should know?”

 

Sean looked up from his shoes, concerned about why Starsky suddenly looked so horrified. He had transferred to Metro from another city, about six months before Starsky was shot in the police garage. He didn’t know what Starsky was about to tell the doctor. The two men never talked about it.

“How long have you lived in Bay City, Doc?” Starsky asked. 

 

Doctor Hendricks answered the question, despite his curiosity as to why that had anything to do with his patient. “About two years, why?”

 

“About four years ago, my partner nearly died from a plague that hit our city.  The Disease Control people kept a lid on it somehow, so it didn’t get that much press outside the city, but people died.  I nearly lost him.”  Starsky looked the doctor in the eye with incredible intensity.  “Please, God, tell me this isn’t some weird relapse.”

 

Sean’s already fair skin turned paper white when he realized what Starsky had said. That was disturbing information.  Hendricks had read about the plague in a medical journal, but he never would have made a connection to his patient. “Hm.  There are remitting/recurring viruses.  Hm.”  Starsky’s heart was racing.  Please, not that.  His distress mounted as the doctor started to mumble to himself.  “He must have been given serum, so he’s got antibodies.  Shouldn’t be active virus.  Still--”

 

“Doc, please!” Starsky pleaded, desperate to not be shut out of the man’s thought process.

 

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said with a blush, realizing he wasn’t helping.  “Do you remember the doctors’ names from DC?”  He knew there were two primary physicians from reading the paper, but he couldn’t remember their names.

 

“Judith Kaufman and a Doctor...” Starsky snapped his fingers in frustration. “Meredith.  I don’t remember his first name. Dammit!”

 

Hendricks said, “That’s good enough.  I’m going to have some more blood drawn and I’ll call them.  I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.  I’m just going to confirm that there is no active virus, but it doesn’t seem likely.  I’ve already rechecked his white blood cell count.  It’s up quite a lot from last week.  I suspect he has some kind of bacterial infection, but since we don’t know, we’ll check every lead.  Try not to worry.  I know that’s not easy, but we’re putting him on some strong antibiotics and we’ll just keep trying them until one does the trick.”

 

Sean looked up when he heard footsteps coming around the corner.  Jack and Captain Dobey glanced around and spotted them, joining the doctor and their colleagues.  Dobey had run into Jack as he neared the ER entrance after his calming-down lap around the building.  The three men rose to greet them.

 

“I really need to order that blood work.  I’ll send a nurse out to give you his room number in a little while.”

 

“Can I see him?” Starsky asked, his eyes filled with hope.  To lend weight to the suggestion, he added, “I’ve been with him nearly 24/7 for the past week. If he’s contagious, it’s a little late to worry about it now, ain’t it?”

 

The doctor gave him the nod.  “Limited access.  Just you, gloved and gowned, at least until we get the results of some of the tests.  Agreed?”

 

Starsky didn’t like the terms, but he was grateful Hutch wouldn’t have to be alone.  He needed to see him.  “Agreed.”

 

The doctor left them.  Before he caught Dobey and Jack up on what was happening, Starsky had something to say.  Jack beat him to it.

 

“I’m so sorry, Starsky,” he said.  “I shoulda never promised him.”

 

Starsky shook his head and put a hand on Jack’s arm.  “No, it’s okay.  I was outta line.  You just did what he asked you to do.  Hutch’s gonna be okay. He has to be.  I can’t beat the crap out of him for keeping this from me until he’s all better.”

 

Jack gave him a weak smile and a nod, communicating his relief.  He still felt guilty, but at least Starsky was speaking to him.  Over the next half hour, Starsky and Sean caught the other two men up on what they knew about Hutch’s condition.  The captain had been delayed first by a meeting with the commissioner, and then by a stop to check on the boy from the shooting incident.  The child had been taken to a nearby trauma center.  The detectives were all relieved to hear that although the gun’s owner was still at large, Manny was going to be all right.  The boy’s head was turned when the small caliber bullet entered his cheek, passing through to lodge itself in his sinus cavity, narrowly missing his eye.  He would need reconstructive surgery, but he would live and should fully recover.  Given the potential alternative outcome, Luck had smiled on the boy.  Starsky silently hoped she would smile on his partner, too.

 

It was a long, nerve-wracking wait for a nurse to come and tell Starsky what Hutch's room number was so he could see him, and then more time to get gloved and gowned. By the time Starsky actually entered the room, he was almost screaming with impatience.

 

Hutch was awake, but groggy, when Starsky came in, and his eyebrows rose when he saw what his partner was wearing. "Am I catching or something?"

 

Starsky shook his head. "The doc's afraid your resistance is shitty," he said, letting his eyes crinkle teasingly and glad that the rest of his face was covered lest it should give him away. "Didn't you notice all that blood they took out of ya for tests?"

 

"Yeah. Bring me some garlic next time to keep the vampires away," Hutch said, grinning a little blearily. "So what's the verdict?"

 

"Ain't got one yet," Starsky told him. "They're still workin' on it. But they said you could probably go home in a day or two if they can get your fever down." He was silent for a moment, taking in Hutch's glassy eyes and pale face.

 

"What's wrong?"

 

Starsky shrugged, trying for a casual note. He reached out and touched Hutch's hand, feeling the heat there before he even made contact. "Jack told me what you told him."

 

Hutch broke eye contact. "Sorry, buddy, I --"

 

"No, it's okay. Well, it's not okay, but I understand. But listen, I want to know next time, you got that? Ignoring this ain't gonna make it go away."

 

Hutch nodded and finally looked at him again. "Sorry. Guess I wasn't thinking clearly."

 

Starsky brushed back the fringe of golden hair on Hutch's forehead and gave a grin. "You never do, buddy."

 

Starsky was on his way home for the day when he heard a call that "mama's boyfriend" had been spotted a few blocks away at an auto-repair shop that served as a front for one of the street gangs. He sped in that direction.

 

He arrived seconds ahead of a couple of black-and-whites, but they were too late. Apparently Mama's Boyfriend -- Russell Alvarez, wanted for an armed robbery gone bad in which the convenience store clerk had been killed -- had figured out they were coming and had split. The only other person at the garage was a 12-year-old kid who swore he didn't know which way Alvarez had run.

 

"Maybe he went back home," suggested Powell, one of the uniforms.

 

"Nah," Starsky said, shaking his head. "He ain't too welcome there right now, since it was his gun that got that poor kid shot in the face. We just keep looking." He called in and reported what had happened, logging out at the same time.

 

He was just settling down to watch TV when Judith called.

 

"What's this I hear about Hutch being sick?" she demanded without even saying "hello."

 

Starsky sighed. "I don't know how long this has been going on," he said. "He's been hiding it from me. At least a couple of weeks, maybe longer."

 

"How can he hide anything from you?" she said. "You two are Siamese twins."

 

Starsky grinned a little. "I knew he'd had a flu bug," he said, "but I thought he was getting over it. Now -- " He paused.

 

"Tell me every symptom," Judith said. "How he looks, how he acts. Everything."

 

Starsky did, in as much detail as he could think of. He told her about Hutch passing out, throwing up, the high fever, the glassy eyes, and the lost weight.

 

She was silent for several moments. "The hospital there is sending us some samples of his blood," she said at last. "We're going to check them for the plague and related antibodies. But surely it's not a recurrence of that after all this time."

 

"What if it is?"

 

"He should be immune by now," she said. "He should be manufacturing his own antibodies from the serum we gave him."

 

"What if he's not?" Starsky said impatiently.

 

"I don't know," she said. "We can try giving him another dose of serum."

 

"Try? You mean it might not work?" Starsky was seriously frightened now.

 

"Take it easy," Judith said soothingly. "Don't freak out yet. We don't even know if it's related until we get the blood samples. My guess is it's not."

 

"Then what is it?"

 

"I don't know," she said with a sigh. "It doesn't sound like anything I've encountered before. We'll analyze the samples and let his doctor know what we come up with. I've got his name here somewhere .... "

 

"Trevor Kelly," Starsky supplied.

 

"Right," she said, sounding distracted. "Listen, tell Hutch we're working on this at this end, will you? I -- "

 

Starsky waited.

 

After a moment, Judith gave an embarrassed laugh. "Just tell him, huh? I'll call you back when I know something."

 

By the next morning, Hutch's fever was down and he'd managed to eat solid food for breakfast and keep it down. Trevor had examined him and consulted with the staff doctor by the time Starsky arrived.

 

"He's doing better," Trevor said, talking to Starsky in the waiting room. "I don't like this, though. He gets better, he gets worse, he gets better. This is the damnedest thing I ever saw."

 

"Is that a technical medical opinion?" Starsky asked. "What the hell IS this?"

 

Trevor shook his head. "I don't know. Dammit, I just don't know. We've eliminated the obvious stuff. It's not diabetes. It's not cancer. In a few days, we'll know if it's a recurrence of that damnable plague, but I don't think that's it, either."

 

"Why not?"

 

"The symptoms are different," Trevor said. "He's not coughing, there's no fluid in his lungs. I read the reports when he had the plague and this ain't it. Hell, Starsk, I even checked for fuckin' malaria because of the fever. It's not that, either."

 

"God damn it, you guys are supposed to be doctors!" Starsky flared, his voice rising. "Figure out what's wrong with him and FIX it!"

 

"We're trying, Starsk. He's my friend, too."

 

Starsky put a hand over his face and forced himself to calm. "I'm sorry. I know you are. Just hurry up, huh?"

 

He had to suit up in gown and gloves before he could go into Hutch's room, where Hutch was glumly watching a game show.

 

"I hear you're doing better, buddy," he said with as much cheer as he could muster. "They might even spring ya tomorrow."

 

"Terrific," Hutch said with a sigh. "Why not today? I hate hospitals."

 

"I know you do." Starsky sat down and took the remote control away from him and found a baseball game instead. "Trevor wants to be sure the fever stays down. And he's waiting to hear from Judith --" Shit. I didn't mean to tell him that.

 

Hutch stared at him for a moment. "Judith? Judith Kaufman?" He scooted up into a more upright position. "Why did Trevor call Judith?" He shook his head. "Never mind. I know why. They think the plague is behind this, don't they?"

 

"No, actually they don't," Starsky said. "Trevor just told me the symptoms are nothing like that. But he wanted to be sure."

 

"So they called Judith." Hutch's eyes narrowed and Starsky could see he was angry. "Do you think maybe Trevor could have mentioned this to me? Who the fuck's the patient here, anyway?"

 

"Easy, Hutch --"

 

"Don't tell me to take it easy!" Hutch glared at him. "Get Trevor's ass in here. Now."

 

Starsky obeyed, cursing himself for the slip of the tongue. Trevor had told him explicitly not to get Hutch excited or worried. His blood pressure was all over the map and he needed to stay calm and quiet.

 

Trevor preceded Starsky into the room and before Hutch could blow, he said, "Look here, Hutch, I'm the doctor. You're the patient. I made a judgment call because I didn't want you to worry and I told him not to tell you." He gave Starsky a look. "He said he wouldn't."

 

"He can't lie to me for long," Hutch said. "Tell me everything. Now."

 

Trevor glanced at Starsky, who shrugged and raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, fine," Trevor said. He sat next to the bed. "We've run every test on your blood I could think of. We've consulted a specialist in viral infections. I finally sent some samples to DC so they could look at them, because I never saw anything like this and I don't know what to do." He shook his head. "The only thing we could come up with is low blood sugar. And it's not even that low. Not dangerously. It sure wouldn't cause all of this. I'm just trying to help you get well, Hutch. That's my job."

 

"So what's next?"

 

"We're waiting for DC to get back to us. I sent the blood samples overnight and Dr. Kaufman said she'd give them priority. I hope to hear from her in the next day or so. If your fever stays down today and if you manage to eat and keep it down, we'll send you home tomorrow. But you'll have to lay off work the rest of the week. I want you to get your strength back before I clear you for duty."

 

Hutch nodded. "Okay. But I want to know everything from here on out. Everything. You got that?"

 

"Got it," Trevor said. "I'm sorry. I thought it was the best plan."

 

“Wait a minute,” Hutch said.  “If it could be the plague, how come they’ll let me go home?”

 

Trevor glanced over at Starsky and back at Hutch, measuring how to answer the question.  “After all this time, anything related to the plague wouldn’t be contagious.  We might be looking for changes in your blood, or something recurring that only affects the host.”

 

That wasn’t comforting.  Hutch smirked and said, “Damn.  Too bad my parents taught me how to be a good host, huh?”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch was released the next morning and given a whole fistful of instructions to follow when he got home. Trevor spent half an hour telling him what to eat and how much sleep to get and ordering Starsky to be sure he followed orders before he let him leave the hospital. Starsky had done some shopping the day before and stocked Hutch's refrigerator and cabinets with healthy, easy-to-fix food so he could manage on his own while Starsky was at work.

 

"Now, I expect you to eat," Starsky said sternly after he had settled him in. "Every couple of hours. Promise. Don't make me send Rosie Dobey over here to baby-sit you."

 

Hutch grinned. "Don't worry. I promise. Rosie's a slave driver. She wouldn't give me a moment's peace."

 

"That's right," Starsky said. "And she's already got her orders. She's even picked out a couple of books to read to you when she comes over. 'Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace' and 'Ramona the Pest.' I saw them."

 

"I hate Encyclopedia Brown," Hutch said with a pretend groan. "Busman's holiday."

 

"So you'd better be a good boy," Starsky told him. He patted him on the head. "I'll check in when I can."

 

"I'll be fine," Hutch said, a little impatiently. "Get out of here and go catch bad guys, will you, please?"  Although he was anxious for Starsky to leave so he could rest and stop feeling like his partner was staring at him waiting for the next problem, Hutch felt compelled to say one more thing.  As Starsky reached the door, he heard Hutch call his name and he turned back toward him.  “Be careful, huh?”

 

“I’m always careful.  Remember?  You’re cute and I’m careful.”  Starsky smiled as he heard Hutch’s soft laughter behind him and the closing door.

 

Starsky logged in on the way and had just entered his and Hutch's beat when he heard a call on the radio for a two-eleven at a liquor store a few blocks away. "Zebra Three responding," he snapped into the radio. "But I'm gonna need backup, Central, I'm alone today."

 

"Roger, Zebra Three. Backup en route."

 

He turned his siren off half a block from the liquor store so as to catch the perp in the act, and when he slithered up to the door so he could peer in, he recognized Alvarez. No backup had shown up yet, and the distant sirens he heard could be his backup or could be something else entirely. He was the only one there, and there was no choice.

 

"Police! Freeze, Alvarez!" he bellowed, rolling into the store at a crouch with gun drawn.

 

Alvarez fired a shot at him that went wild and spun on his heel, running through the back exit and down the alley. Starsky followed just in time to see Alvarez dive into the passenger side of a black convertible, which spun its tires and squealed away. Starsky ran back to the Torino. As he sped through the streets behind the convertible, he grabbed the radio mike.

 

"Zebra Three in pursuit of a 1960-something black Pontiac convertible, southbound on Alhambra, just crossed 18th!" he yelled into the mike. "Two suspects, Hispanic males, at least one armed."

 

"10-4, Zebra Three. All units, all units, officer needs assistance. 1960s model black Pontiac convertible, two Hispanic male suspects, considered armed and dangerous, southbound Alhambra, passing 18th."

 

As Starsky closed in on them, Alvarez fired another shot and missed again. "Crappy marksman," Starsky muttered to himself, then realized he hadn't identified Alvarez as one of the suspects. He picked up the mike again and relayed that to the dispatcher, who sent it out on the airwaves. The Pontiac skidded around a corner and started down a busy street, narrowly missing a couple of cars. Starsky weaved around them and then had to swerve into the oncoming traffic to miss a motorcycle. "Don't you hear the siren, you morons?" he yelled as he flew past.

 

The Pontiac blew through a red light and almost crashed when a semi turned in front of it, but at the last possible moment, the Pontiac went up on the curb and screeched past with inches to spare. Starsky had to slam on his brakes and skid to avoid getting hit himself, and that gave the Pontiac a block-long lead on him. Starsky let go a string of curses that would have gotten his mouth washed out with soap if his mother had heard him and pressed the accelerator again.

 

~*~*~*~

 

After Starsky left, Hutch took a shower and found some sweats and an old, faded t-shirt to put on and settled down on the couch with a book he'd been trying to read for two weeks. Someone had left a big Caesar salad in his refrigerator and he had plenty of orange juice and healthy snacks to keep him fed without his having to cook or even make a sandwich. But he was feeling pretty good and thought he might even feel up to working in the greenhouse this afternoon. He'd been neglecting it lately because he was always so tired and sick.

 

He'd read about a chapter and drunk his second glass of orange juice when he decided he was a little bit hungry. He laid the book on the couch beside him and stood up to go root around in the refrigerator. He'd gone about two steps when his vision simply blanked out and he went down hard on the floor, bumping his shoulder on the edge of the end table on the way.

 

He didn't know how much time passed before he came to, but when he did, he was so sick to his stomach and his head spun so much that he could hardly drag himself to the couch. He lay there, breathing hard and trying to talk his stomach contents into staying put, for about twenty minutes before his head cleared enough that he could sit partially upright.

 

I will NOT call Starsky. I'll just lie here for a while and I'll feel better. If I call him, he'll drag me back to that goddamned hospital and let the vampires at me again. I'll just stay here for a while.

 

~*~*~*~

 

A black-and-white had joined the chase, making it marginally safer for Starsky since traffic saw the marked car and some of them pulled out of the way. That was the trouble with driving an unmarked car, Starsky reflected, though Hutch always insisted people saw "the Tomato" coming a mile away. Other cars just didn't get out of the way.

 

But the black-and-white was behind Starsky and couldn't seem to catch up or pull ahead and the Pontiac's driver was driving like a maniac, blowing lights, careening around corners, but somehow managing not to crash into anyone or anything.

 

The radio beeped. "Zebra Three, patch through from Sergeant Hutchinson."

 

"Central, I'm chasing a suspect!" Starsky snapped, trying to squeeze through traffic driving with one hand.  Despite his nagging worry for Hutch, Starsky didn’t dare take his concentration off what he was doing.  He vividly recalled his training officer telling him not to risk thinking about the danger, or his family, or the fact that he could die, or anything else when in such situations.  Without his partner in the seat beside him, Starsky knew he was on his own and he needed every bit of his focus to make sure he apprehended this suspect and that he didn’t wrap the Torino around a telephone pole.  That wouldn’t do Hutch any good.  

 

"Understood, Zebra Three, but he says it's an emergency."

 

Shit. Something's wrong.

 

"Put him through," Starsky said, dropping the mike so he could hold the wheel with both hands.

 

"Starsk?" Hutch's voice was so weak it barely came through loud enough to hear over the siren and shrieking tires.

 

Starsky grabbed the mike again. "What's the matter, partner?"

 

For a moment, there was no answer, then Hutch's voice came back. "Starsky?"

 

"I'm here, Hutch!" Starsky didn't mean to sound like that, but the Pontiac went around another corner and clipped a parked car, moving it enough to put it partially in Starsky's path. He missed it, but it was close.

 

"Something's wrong .... " Hutch's voice faded out on the last word.

 

"Central!" Starsky barked into the mike. "This is Zebra Three! Send Captain Dobey over to Hutch's place, now!"

 

"Roger, Zebra Three," the dispatcher replied.

 

Starsky dropped the mike again, doing his best to concentrate on the chase.  The Pontiac swerved around a corner into a narrow side street with Starsky close on his wheels.  Just to his right, Starsky saw a moving truck lumbering toward the intersection.  He narrowly missed hitting it.  Sparing a quick glance in the rear view mirror, he saw its broad side across the street’s opening.  He didn’t realize that when the driver saw first the Pontiac, then the Torino rushing past him, he panicked and stalled the motor, effectively blocking Starsky’s backup.  Rocketing down the street, Starsky was on his own.

 

Alvarez looked back and saw that Starsky was gaining again.  The driver turned sharply into an alley he knew would lead them out to another street where they’d find an old freeway on-ramp.  What he didn’t know, was that Cal Trans had closed that on-ramp.  They spat out onto the street in question, only to find themselves hemmed in with nowhere to run. 

 

Lacking the time to completely stop, the Pontiac crashed into a backhoe.  The driver was unconscious and his passenger was somewhat stunned.  Running on pure fear and adrenaline, Alvarez leaped out of the car and hid behind some of the earth-moving equipment.

 

Starsky knew what Alvarez was thinking when he turned onto this street.  He also knew the on-ramp was blocked.  The crew wouldn’t be there, thankfully.  Work had been stopped for a week or two while the state legislature fought over the budget for several highway projects.  He pulled the Torino onto the street and squealed to a quick stop, dirt flying behind him. 

 

He pulled his Beretta and tucked into a crouch as he jumped from the car. By this time, he knew his backup was delayed by something; the sound of sirens was too distant and not moving closer.  Working without his partner was like having one hand tied behind him.

 

“Alvarez!” he called, peering around the back of a bulldozer. “You’ve got nowhere to go, put your hands up and come out where I can see you.”  Starsky looked around the area, but heard no reply and couldn’t see any sign of the suspect.  A glance at the Pontiac revealed the other suspect, slumped over the steering wheel.  Starsky thought it was a miracle they hadn’t both been tossed out of the convertible, and he looked around the ground to see if the missing passenger had been ejected.  He saw no sign of the man.  Starsky didn’t know Alvarez had climbed up on the equipment behind him, and was quietly making his way to a spot above where he was entrenched.

 

The siren sounds were starting to move toward them again.  Starsky was relieved that they’d be there shortly.  “Alvarez!  Give it up!”

 

With a chill, Starsky heard the sound of a gun hammer being cocked back and he dove under the bulldozer just in time to avoid the shot that pinged against its side, throwing dirt and metal flakes into his face. 

 

Alvarez took advantage of that moment to jump down from the backhoe and move toward the cop while he scrambled for cover.  Sirens were getting closer; he knew he didn’t have much time to take care of his adversary and escape.  He wasn’t prepared for the dirt the cop threw up into his face as he advanced on him. 

 

Starsky tucked his gun in the back of his waistband and launched himself out from underneath the bulldozer, tackling Alvarez as he went.  The suspect dropped his gun in the scuffle, but he rolled away from Starsky and came back swinging.  After exchanging some blows, Starsky had Alvarez on the ground and almost in position to subdue him.  Before Starsky was completely in control, Alvarez reached down into his boot and came back with a weapon.  Starsky heard the switchblade open as Alvarez started to flip him off his back and he did his best to block the coming attack with his body, not entirely with success.  The knife bit home in his thigh.  When he pulled away from Alvarez, the man maintained his hold on the knife. Knowing how much trouble he was in, Starsky wasted no time reaching back for his gun.  He rolled over onto his back and pointed the Beretta at Alvarez.

 

“Drop it, now!” he shouted, firing a shot barely off to the left of the suspect’s head.

 

Alvarez had the good sense to freeze, but he didn’t drop the blade.  A few heartbeats passed as he contemplated rushing the determined cop, but he decided he’d rather live.  He could see in Starsky’s eyes that his next move would determine if he lived or died. 

 

“All right, man,” Alvarez said as he dropped the knife and put up his hands.

 

“Kick it away from you and turn around,” Starsky ordered.  When that was done, he said, “Now get down on the ground with your hands behind your back.”

 

Alvarez slowly moved into position.  His nervousness made his hands twitch.

 

“Don’t fuck with me, pal,” Starsky growled at him.  “You make one wrong move and it’ll be your last.”  He didn’t dare take his eyes off of the man for long enough to check the damage to his leg, but he could feel the blood soaking his jeans and running down into his shoe.

 

Starsky had Alvarez cuffed and hauled to his feet before the first black-and-white pulled to a stop at the scene.  He steered the man toward the uniforms walking toward them.  “Take this slime down and book him, Hollis,” he said. 

 

“Uh, Sarge, you’re hurt,” one of the officers observed, pointing toward the blood trickling down Starsky’s face.  He didn’t notice the leg wound until his partner had Alvarez and the man was no longer blocking the damage from view.  “Damn!  Sit down somewhere. Barkley,” he said to his partner, “call for an ambulance.”

 

“No, I’ll take care of it,” Starsky stated. 

 

When the other cop started to argue, Starsky put a hand up to silence him, then pointed back toward the scene of the fight. 

 

“He took a shot at me.”  He handed the switchblade to Hollis and added, “Before he got me with this.  The gun’s on the ground over there. I’ll come to the station later. Second suspect is out cold in the Pontiac.”

 

Starsky started to limp toward the Torino, waving off any further comment.  He was in the car and peeling away from the scene before anyone could stop him. 

 

“Where’s Hutch?” Barkley asked as he shut the back door behind Alvarez.

 

His partner shook his head and answered, “I heard he was sick.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky asked for a patch through to Hutch’s place as soon as he was away from the noise of the scene, praying he’d answer, or that Dobey would already be there -- the action had robbed him of his sense of how much time had passed. He pointed the car toward Venice and looked down to examine the leg wound while he waited at a light.  “Shit,” he muttered.  He knew he’d have to take care of that right away, the bleeding wasn’t slowing down at all.  Giving brief thought to turning on the siren, he was feeling a little lightheaded and didn’t want to risk driving that fast.  He was pressing his handkerchief against the knife wound when Hutch answered.

 

“Starsk?” his voice still sounded reed thin, but at least he’d answered.

 

“Hutch!  Dobey should be there any minute,” he pushed harder on the already-soaked-through cloth and hissed slightly from the pain.

 

Even as bad as he was feeling, Hutch could hear that something wasn’t right.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

 

“Nothing.  Just dodging around something,” he lied, rolling his eyes at how stupid that sounded. “Don’t worry about me.  Are you all right?”

 

“I don’t know,” Hutch answered.  “Something’s wrong, but --” he paused and Starsky thought he heard what could be a knock on the door in the background and a muffled voice.  “Dobey’s here.”

 

“Good.  You do whatever he says, partner.”  Glancing down at the wound again, he knew he’d have to take a detour.  Now that Dobey was there, he felt more comfortable doing what he had to do.  “I just arrested Alvarez and I’ve gotta take care of something.  Have Dobey call me.”

 

“Okay,” Hutch said tiredly.  The knocking was sounding again, louder this time.  Starsky broke off contact and replaced the mike.  He changed direction and headed for Trevor’s office. 

 

Trevor Kelly was walking a patient up to the front desk when he heard the office door open, and glanced through the receptionist’s window to see the wounded detective.  His assistant was weighing another patient when he said, “Tina, go open Exam Three and put out a suture pack.”  Trevor quickly walked through the door to the waiting room and got an arm around Starsky before he sank to the floor.

 

“Not yet,” he said as he adjusted Starsky’s weight and started to take him through the door to the treatment area.  “You can lie down in the back.  What the hell happened?”

 

The two men walked past the wide-eyed staff and patients.  They rarely saw an emergency like this one.  When the exam room door closed behind them, the receptionist looked down and gasped at the bloody sneaker prints left in Starsky’s wake.  

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dobey had to help Hutch back to the couch after he answered the door.  The man was pale and sweating and looked like he was going to collapse any second. Before he started to question him, Dobey fetched a cool, damp cloth and laid it on Hutch’s forehead.

 

Hutch’s voice was weak and he didn’t open his eyes when he asked, “What’s wrong with Starsky?  He sounded strange.”

 

“I’m sure he’s fine.  Let’s talk about you.  What’s going on?”

 

Hutch swallowed and opened his eyes again.  “I had another disagreement with the floor,” he replied. 

 

“Are you hurt?” Dobey asked with concern.

 

Hutch shook his head.  “No.  Banged my shoulder pretty good on the table, but I’m okay.  I thought it was gonna pass.  Then everything got fuzzy again and I figured I’d better get Starsky.”  Hutch looked Dobey in the eyes and said, “Why was he after Alavarez?”

 

“I don’t know about that, but I think you’d better go back to the hospital.  Can you make it to my car, or do you need an ambulance?”

 

The phone started to ring before Hutch had the chance to get out his protest.  He nodded at Dobey to answer it.

 

“Hutchinson’s.  Captain Dobey, here,” he answered.

 

“Cap, this is Hollis.  Is Starsky there?”  He’d called for Captain Dobey and the dispatcher patched him through to Hutch’s place. 

 

“No, he’s not, why?”

 

“Well, he was hurt at the scene here and he split before we could stop him."

 

“What?” Dobey hollered before he could stop himself, immediately regretting it when he saw the look on Hutch’s face.  He tried to think of how much he could ask without alarming the man now staring at him intently.

 

“I tried to raise him in the car, but he doesn’t answer.  Dispatch put me through to you.”

 

“Well, what was it?” he asked vaguely, hoping his officer would understand.

 

“I think our suspect got him with a switchblade.  He was bleeding pretty bad, but he walked away.  We thought you should know.”

 

Again hoping the man would read between the lines, Dobey said, “Okay.  Let me know if you get any further information.”  He hung up the phone and turned back to Hutch.

 

“Cap, is Starsky all right?” Hutch asked pointedly. 

 

Dobey didn’t want him to worry, but he knew an outright lie wouldn’t work.  “Hutch, I want you to worry about you.  Officer Hollis was reporting that Starsky was injured at the scene, but he left on his own steam.  He’s probably on his way here.  Now, let’s get you to the hospital, okay?”

 

“No, I’m not going.  I’m feeling a little better and I’m not moving until we hear from Starsky.  If we don’t hear in a little while, you can call Trevor, okay?”  Hutch was pleading with his eyes.  He hated the hospital and would make almost any kind of deal not to go back there.  “Please, Cap.  I’m afraid one of these days I’m goin’ in, but I won’t be coming back out, understand?”

 

“Have you told Starsky that?” Dobey asked.

 

“‘Course not.  ‘S just a stupid fear.  Please... I’ve gotta know he’s okay.  He said he had something to do.  Let’s just wait a while.”

 

Dobey considered his request and nodded his agreement.  Hutch was awake and lucid, but his fever seemed to be returning, and he was as pale as a cotton ball.  Regardless, Dobey thought it would be all right as long as he kept the man quiet and still. 

 

“All right.  Just for a while.  You stay right there and I’ll go get you something to eat.  You eat it and keep it down and we’ll wait for him.  Deal?”

 

“Thanks, Cap.”

 

The captain brought Hutch some toast and Tylenol and they settled down to wait.  Although he managed to get it down, within half an hour, Dobey was concerned that the toast wasn’t going to stay there.  A decidedly green tinge replaced the cotton ball look and Hutch was obviously hanging on by a thread.

 

“Son,” Dobey said, “you’re not looking well.  Give me the doctor’s number.  I think we need to at least have him take a look at you.” 

 

Knowing he had nothing left to fight with, but glad that the captain wasn’t insisting on the hospital, Hutch gave him the number and closed his eyes while his boss made the call. 

 

The receptionist had strict instructions to interrupt the doctor if anyone called about either of his cop friends.  She called back to the exam room where he was just finishing stitching Starsky’s leg wound.  When he heard who it was, he asked her to put him on hold for a moment and left Starsky to rest while he took the call out of his earshot.

 

Picking up his private office phone, he said, “Captain Dobey, this is Doctor Kelly.  Is Ken all right?” As was his habit, he started to go through his stack of messages while he talked to the captain.

 

“He’s not looking good, no.  He doesn’t want to go to the hospital again, but he gave me your number.  Can I bring him to the office?”

 

“No, I’ll come there.  The office closes early today, anyway, and my partner can take the rest of my patients if I don’t make it back.  I’ll have Starsky with me.  He’s here.”

 

“Oh, thank God,” Dobey said, smiling a little at the green face watching him.  “How is he?”

 

“Tell Ken not to worry.  I’ve stitched him up and given him some antibiotics.  He’ll be sore for a while, but he’ll be fine.”

 

Dobey sighed his relief. “He’s okay,” he said to Hutch. “When will you be here?”

 

“Within half an hour.  I have a message here from Dr. Kaufman.  She’s coming out here tonight.  Wants someone to pick her up at the airport at eight.”

 

“Oh.  We’ll take care of that.  Please bring the flight information with you.  Has she found something?”

 

“I’m not sure.  She didn’t want him admitted, so maybe it’s good news.  I guess we’ll have to wait until tonight to know for certain.”

 

Trevor offered to drive Starsky’s car, giving him a chance to rest, especially in light of the painkiller he’d given him.  On the way out to the Torino, Starsky asked Trevor if he could bring out something to clean up the driver’s side.  “If you’re gonna sit there,” he said, “you might get a little... messy.”

 

Before he even got to the car, Trevor was concerned by the amount of blood on the ground leading away from it.  When he opened the Torino’s door, he stood there for a few seconds staring at the blood soaked into the driver’s side floorboard and smeared across the seat.  “I thought you said you didn’t lose that much blood,” he said to the man beside him. 

 

“How the hell was I supposed to know how much it was?  Let’s just get over to Hutch’s.”

 

“Get in the car,” Trevor ordered, “before I take you to the hospital for a refill.  I’ve got my eye on you.”

 

Try as he might to stay awake, Hutch drifted off before Trevor and Starsky arrived. Dobey was damned near beside himself with worry. He'd never seen Hutch even sit down calmly when Starsky was hurt before -- at least not until he'd seen his partner for himself and was satisfied Starsky wasn't dying. The relative insignificance of the injury this time was immaterial. Hutch going to sleep was simply unheard of.

 

When Starsky and Trevor arrived, Dobey met them at the door. With a very straight look at Starsky, he said, "He's asleep."

 

Starsky blanched and Trevor said, "Where? I brought my bag."

 

Dobey pointed toward the sleeping alcove and Trevor gently pushed Starsky aside and went in there. Starsky followed after a moment and stood silently by the room screen, watching.

 

At first, Trevor simply felt Hutch's forehead and hands and then drew his hand through Hutch's hair, rubbing a bit between his fingers.

 

"What are you doing?" Starsky whispered.

 

"Checking for dehydration," Trevor said, giving Starsky a reassuring grin over his shoulder. "He's fine on that score. This is a highly sophisticated test I've just done, and only the most gifted doctors know about it."

 

Starsky reluctantly grinned back, and Trevor turned back to Hutch, satisfied that he had calmed him down, at least a little.

 

"Ken? Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Come on, Ken." Trevor had to gently pat Hutch's cheeks before his eyes opened and he blinked blearily up at the doctor. "That's better," Trevor said with a smile. "What do you mean conking out on us like that? I'm wounded."

 

Hutch blinked once or twice more before the word "wounded" sank in and reminded him. "Starsky? Where's Starsky? Is he okay?"

 

"I'm right here and I'm fine, Blintz," Starsky said, coming close enough to sit on the edge of the bed and present himself for inspection.

 

"Your jeans are all bloody," Hutch said worriedly.

 

"Bled a lot but wasn't that big a deal," Starsky said. "Honest. Was it, Trev?"

 

In other circumstances, Trevor would have disagreed vehemently, but he was anxious to keep Hutch calm, so he nodded. "I took a couple of stitches just for safety's sake," he said to Hutch. "Like he said, it looks a lot worse than it is."

 

Hutch looked at Starsky again.

 

"Really," Starsky said.

 

Finally, Hutch nodded and his eyes began to droop again, but he fought it off. Trevor asked a lot of questions and listened to his heart and took a sample of blood in spite of Hutch calling him a "damned vampire." Finally, he sat back.

 

"I'd like to put you back in the hospital," he said, "because then I could keep a closer eye on you. But there's really nothing we can do for you until we figure out what's wrong. So I'll let you stay home on one condition."

 

"What's that?"

 

"You let Judith look at you when she gets here tonight -- "

 

"Judith's coming here?" Hutch glared at Starsky. "What did you tell her?"

 

"I didn't tell her nothin'!"

 

"I told her," Trevor said sternly. "She and I have consulted over the phone a couple of times and it was her idea to come, not mine. She hopes she'll be able to recognize the symptoms if she can see you in person. We can't treat it if we don't know what it is, and it's beyond me and all the colleagues I've consulted. So deal with it, Hutchinson."

 

Hutch subsided, but he still wasn't happy.

 

"As I was saying, you let Judith look at you and you abide by her decision. If she wants you in the hospital, you go and you don't argue about it."

 

"All right," Hutch said sullenly, but Starsky recognized the glint in his eyes. It was going to take Sherman's army to get him back in a hospital, no matter what he said to Trevor.

 

"Fine." Trevor pulled a prescription pad out of his bag and scribbled on the top sheet, tearing it off and handing it to Starsky. "That's a potent multi vitamin," he said to Starsky. "It's actually," he grinned, "a prenatal vitamin."

 

"Prenatal?" Hutch groaned and closed his eyes.

 

"It won't make you into a soprano," Trevor said. "It's just vitamins, I promise. But it's stronger than anything you can buy over the counter and I don't want you wasting away while we figure out why you can't keep your food down. If you suddenly start craving pickles and ice cream, I'll let you quit taking it, okay?"

 

Hutch groaned again. "Please."

 

"Buy some milk, too," Trevor told Starsky. "Make chocolate milkshakes for him. He needs the calcium and the milk will coat his stomach. Maybe that will help him keep some food down."

 

Starsky nodded.

 

"Okay, I gotta call a cab and get back to work," Trevor said.

 

"I'll drive you back to the office," Dobey offered.

 

"Thanks." Trevor packed up his bag and turned his back to Hutch, meeting Starsky's eyes squarely. He silently mouthed the words, "Keep a close eye on him," and Starsky nodded again.

 

Dobey asked Starsky, “Can you pick Judith up, or should I arrange for someone else?”

 

“I’ll do it, Cap.”

 

"Fine.  Give me the scrip," Dobey said, holding out his hand. "I'll pick it up and get some milk and ice cream, too, while I'm there. Do you think you'll need anything else?"

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch, who was almost asleep again. "Coffee," he said to Dobey. "For me, not him."

 

"Okay." Dobey glanced at Hutch, too, and made a sound deep in his throat as he turned away.

 

By the time Dobey returned with the supplies, Hutch was awake again. He kept looking at Starsky's bloody jeans leg, but Starsky refused to revisit the subject. He didn't want Hutch to get agitated.

 

When Dobey came back, Starsky gave Hutch some of the vitamins and made a milkshake for him, then he said to Dobey, "Can you stick around long enough for me to go home and change and pick up Judith?"

 

Dobey nodded. "I already called Edith and told her I'd be late tonight."

 

"I can call Huggy or Sean or --"

 

"Go get Judith," Dobey said gruffly. "I'll stay here. It's okay."

 

Starsky grinned. "Thanks. Owe ya one."

 

"Yeah, yeah. Get outta here."

 

The early-evening traffic slowed Starsky down so much, Judith's plane had landed and she'd already collected her luggage by the time he arrived.

 

"Sorry," he said, a little breathless from running. "Traffic."

 

"It's all right," she said, kissing his cheek. "How is he?"

 

Starsky shook his head and took her suitcase from her. "I don't know. I'm scared."

 

She walked in silence until they had left the terminal and were in the parking lot. Finally, she said, "I ran several tests on the samples Dr. Kelly sent me. But I want to do more tests. Tissue tests, maybe even bone marrow."

 

Starsky shuddered. "He ain't gonna like that. He'll have to be in a hospital, won't he?"

 

"Yes, but only for a couple of days," she said. "I'd like to do an EEG and an EKG as well."

 

"Which one is the one where they put electrodes on your head?" Starsky asked.

 

"EEG."

 

"Trevor already did that one."

 

"I know," she said, "and if you trust him, I do, too, but I'd like to watch the test being done. I might see something that I recognize that he wouldn't."

 

Starsky sighed. "Okay." He unlocked the trunk and put her bag in it. "Only one?" he said with a faint grin. "Never saw a woman who could travel with one bag."

 

She smiled back. "I can't stay long," she explained. "There's been an outbreak of cholera in Haiti and I have to go down there within the week. I wish I could stay longer, but I'll just have to work fast."

 

He held the door open for her, but before shutting it, he said, "And what if you can't figure it out before you have to leave?"

 

She dropped her eyes. "I'll try to come back after we take care of the situation in Haiti," she said quietly. "I don't know how long I'll be there, but I'll come back as soon as I can."

 

Dobey was still at Hutch's when they arrived. Hutch was even awake. And Sean had turned up after his shift, without Jack.  Sean was delighted to report that Meg’s baby was born that afternoon.  “They named her Jessica,” he said.  “She’s perfect.”  They were still talking about Jack and his new role as father when Judith and Starsky arrived.

 

Judith stopped in the entryway to the apartment and smiled at Hutch, who smiled back. The two of them just smiled at each other for several moments until Sean cleared his throat noisily and said, "Do you want us to leave so you can be alone?"

 

Hutch laughed, and Judith turned to inspect him. "Who might you be, laddie?"

 

"Sean Cavanaugh, ma'am," Sean said, touching an imaginary cap. "You must be the famous Dr. Judith Kaufman."

 

"I am," she replied, adding to Starsky, "You already have a big blond. What do you need with a big redhead?"

 

Sean snorted with laughter and Hutch said, "Hey, I resent that. There's more to me than hair, you know."

 

"Much more," Judith said with a saucy grin. She moved across the room to the couch and sat down next to Hutch, touching his forehead, his hair, peering into his eyes, and producing a stethoscope from her blazer pocket so she could listen to his heart and lungs.

 

"Do you carry that thing around with you everywhere you go?" Hutch inquired.

 

"Yes," she said shortly. "Shut up so I can hear."

 

Hutch shut up, and Judith listened. Finally, she sat back with a sigh.

 

"I've got a couple of ideas," she said to him, "but I'm going to have to do some tests."

 

Hutch groaned. "More tests?"

 

"Sorry," Judith said. She reached out and pressed her hands against the sides of Hutch's neck, then gently nudged his arms out of the way and felt his armpits. Hutch's fair skin flushed pink at that. "I am a doctor, you know," she said to him with a laugh.

 

"They're not," Hutch said, nodding in the direction of a smirking Starsky and Sean.

 

"So ignore them," she said, letting go and sitting back. "Your lymph nodes are swollen."

 

"Wow," Starsky said teasingly. "That's amazing."

 

"You shut up, too," she said amiably. "If I'm right," she added to Hutch, "we'll have you fixed up and as good as new inside of a week."

 

"Really?" Hutch struggled to sit more upright. "What is it?"

 

"I think it could be sarcoidosis," she said. "Nasty thing, but almost never fatal. Attacks the organs, causes fatigue, lurks around and won't go away until somebody gives you cortisone drugs. Some people never have any symptoms. Some have a lot of coughing and congestion, but you don't seem to have that."

 

Hutch shook his head. "I also had the flu, but it never seemed to go away."

 

"I believe you only think you had the flu," she said. "Sarcoidosis can look a lot like flu. At any rate, we're going to remove some nodes and test them, just to be sure, and then I'll start you on the medication."

 

"Why didn't Trevor think of this?" Dobey asked suspiciously.

 

"It's rare," Judith said. "And usually the main symptom is coughing and shortness of breath. Without that, he probably wouldn't have thought of it. The only reason I did is I've seen this before."

 

The next morning, under protest, Hutch checked into the hospital for what Judith promised would only be a one-day stay. A surgeon friend of Trevor's removed one of his lymph nodes for testing and that afternoon, Judith came into Hutch's room to announce that she was satisfied with her diagnosis of the previous evening.

 

"I've ordered you a prescription," she told Hutch. "It will take a few days to work, but you should be feeling better soon. In a couple weeks, you should be good as new."

 

Trevor, who had followed her in, shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ken. I don't know why this didn't occur to me. I could've saved you a lot of trouble."

 

"Well, whoever heard of sarc...sacro...whatever the hell it's called?" Starsky demanded.

 

"Sarcoidosis," Judith supplied. "It's not a very common ailment, Trevor. I'm sure Hutch doesn't blame you, do you, Hutch?" she added with a stern look.

 

Hutch shook his head. "Not in the least, Trev. Don't worry about it."

 

Judith smiled at Hutch and said, “This condition can take a long time to develop, so it sort of sneaks up on you.  So, what is it with you and unusual medical conditions?”

 

“Would you believe I like to maintain a reputation for mystery?” Hutch asked.

 

Starsky said, “I’d like to believe this is it for you, buddy.  Nothing more mysterious for you than a hangnail from now on.”

 

“Here, here,” Trevor agreed.

 

After they all sat and chatted for a few more minutes, Hutch asked to speak with Judith alone.  “Do you really think he’s going to be all right now?” Starsky asked Trevor as soon as the door was closed and they were alone in the hall.

 

“Yes.  Most patients with this condition have a complete recovery and it doesn’t return.  We’ll have to keep an eye on some things for a while, but I think it looks good.  I really am sorry I didn’t catch it.”  Trevor shifted his focus from Starsky’s eyes to some invisible point near the floor.  His comments switched from being conversational to sounding more like thinking aloud. “I did run an ACE test, which might have told us something, but it doesn’t always show anything in these cases.  I should have done a pulmonary function test, though -- ”

 

Starsky put a hand on Trevor’s shoulder, interrupting him and recapturing his focus.  “You’re babbling, Trev,” he said gently.  “Stop kicking yourself.  You worked with Judith to find the answer and everything’s okay now.”

 

“I’ll work on it. Thanks, Dave.”

 

While they waited outside Hutch’s room, the patient had a few things to ask Judith. The first question was nearly identical to Starsky’s.  “Do you really think I’ll be okay?”

 

“Yes.  We’ll need to watch your pulmonary function, but most patients have a complete recovery.”

 

“I really appreciate you coming all the way back out here for this.  He was getting pretty freaked.”  At that, Judith raised her eyebrows and gave him a sly look.  Hutch blushed and added, “Okay, okay, I was kind of worried, too.  Thanks.”

 

Hutch stayed one night in the hospital while the lung specialist Trevor recommended got him started on treatments and a medication regimen.  He was delighted when he was released the next morning, as promised, even though Judith wouldn’t allow him to get out of the car at the airport when she left.  Over the next couple of weeks, he improved steadily and returned to work.   Everything seemed to be fine. They had a good week with Hutch on light duty before they hit the streets.  After a week chained to a desk, they were both ready to get out of the station. 

 

They were just headed out of the squad room when Captain Dobey returned from a meeting.  “Feeling okay?” he asked, as the two men passed him.

 

“Terrific, Cap,” Hutch replied. 

 

“First day back out there.  Don’t push too hard, huh?”

 

“Not a chance.  My bodyguard won’t allow it,” Hutch quipped.

 

“Don’t mind him, Cap,” Starsky said. “His sense of humor is back to normal.”

 

Their first stop took them to Harry’s Guns and Ammo, to follow up on a lead.  “Hello, Harry,” Hutch said as they passed through the front door. 

 

“Well, if it isn’t my favorite detectives,” Harry said in a sarcastic tone.  “Hope you didn’t park that glow-in-the-dark car of yours right out front again, Starsky.  Tends to scare away the paying customers.”

 

Hutch snorted at the remark about his partner’s prized possession, and sobered quickly at the withering look Starsky gave him in return.  Things really are back to normal.

 

“Only the shady ones have anything to worry about.  Ain’t that right, Hutch?”

 

Harry put a hand up and said, “Look, guys, can you just get to the point?  I’m busy, here.”

 

Hutch looked around in the cases while Starsky proceeded. “Sure, Harry.”  He pulled out an evidence bag and held it out for Harry to inspect.  “You ever seen that piece?”

 

The bag contained a broken piece of scrimshaw, recovered at a crime scene.  The elaborate, probably custom-made piece was an intricate design of spider webs etched on bone.  Starsky explained that the lab team believed it was from a knife used in a murder on their beat.  Harry was one of a handful of scrimshaw experts in the city.  He had a private collection and knew the work of the more famous artisans on sight.  His demeanor immediately shifted from annoyance to interest.

 

“Murder, huh?  Why should I care?”

 

Starsky produced a picture of the young girl the knife had been used on, and it wasn’t pretty.  She was only nineteen, and they suspected a local drug dealer whose muscle got carried away with his work. 

 

Harry swallowed and adjusted his collar, most of the color fading from his features.  The gun dealer was a lot of things the detectives didn’t like, but he didn’t hold with the murder of a young girl.  “Yes, I’ve seen it.  Well, not this piece. I’ve seen one by the same artist.  He always puts spider webs somewhere in the piece.”

 

“Name?” Hutch asked.

 

Harry pulled out a business card from his file and read the number and name to Hutch.  “You’re possibly looking at a custom piece, there.  Jackie’ll know who bought it.” 

 

They were on their way to the artist’s studio when Starsky noticed his partner seemed a little tired.  “You look kinda tired, buddy.  Feeling okay?”

 

“I’m fine.  It’s just a little hot today.”  The look on his face clearly communicated his wish for Starsky to back down and let it be.  He didn’t like it, but Starsky complied.

 

Jackie Porter’s studio was in the arts district.  A small upstairs loft with good lighting. When Starsky told him what they wanted, he buzzed the door open to let them inside the aging building.  The hallways were dimly lit and a strange mixture of smells greeted the two detectives. 

 

Stopping on the third floor landing, Hutch sniffed the air and said, “Pottery clay, oil paint, and linseed oil.”

 

Starsky smiled. “Stained glass, too.”

 

Hutch laughed at him and put a hand on his shoulder as they walked toward 3G.  “You can’t smell glass, Gordo.”

 

“Nope.  Flux.  Let’s not even discuss the creative use of herbs running through the building.”

 

Hutch was about to knock when the door opened, revealing the artist.  Jackie Porter was only five feet tall; both detectives towered over him. Starsky thought the man was probably seventy going on one hundred.  His gray hair was pulled back in a ponytail and his green eyes flashed with life behind thick glasses complete with a permanently mounted loupe for close magnification.  He had on a long apron that was covered with black spots and the fingers on the hand he extended to both men were similarly stained. 

 

Jackie smiled up at them and said, “Come in, gentlemen.  You’ll have to excuse the mess.  I’m usually too busy to clean and I don’t get many visitors.”

 

The men looked around the studio, admiring Jackie’s work.  Harry was right.  Each exquisitely done piece had one or more spider webs. 

 

“Nice work,” Hutch said.

 

“Thank you.  What can I do for you, officers?”

 

Hutch produced the evidence bag and Jackie’s eyes lit up right away.  He paled a little and said, “This can’t be good.  What’s he done?”

 

Starsky answered, “Possibly murdered a young girl.”

 

“With one of MY pieces?  Oh, geez.”  Porter looked stunned and he sat down at his workbench and put his head in one hand, holding the bag out to Hutch as he did.

 

“I don’t see any knives here,” Starsky said. 

 

Jackie volunteered some information in a rush.  “I make the scrimshaw pieces to size and provide them to the companies that put them on the knives.  This piece was a custom job for a guy I’ve seen around the neighborhood.  He brought me the knife and told me what to carve.  Spider webs are his trademark.”

 

Hutch looked at him with compassion, the man was out of his element.  “You must’ve known he was bad news.  What can you tell us about him?”

 

Shaking his head, Jackie said, “I knew he was rough, but I don’t get into that.  I’m an artist, not a cop, or a therapist.  He said it was a hunting knife.  Guy’s name is El Negro.”

 

“El Negro?” Hutch asked as he wrote it in his notebook.  When Jackie nodded, he asked for a description and any other information Jackie could provide.

 

“He’s a big guy.” He chuckled at that.  “Guess they all look big to me, but he’s taller than either of you.  I think he’s from Panama, and he’s black.  That’s why they call him that, I guess.  Black hair, black eyes, and a mustache.  He has spider webs tattooed on his forearms.  He hangs out in the pool hall on the corner of 8th and Marshall.  That’s where I delivered the knife when it was finished.  That’s all I know.”

 

“Thanks, Mr. Porter,” Starsky said, “you’ve been a big help.  Can we count on you to testify?  You only have to say that you made the piece for him.”

 

Porter looked nervous, his eyes darting between both of their faces.  “I guess you wouldn’t let him get to me.”

 

Hutch tried to look reassuring.  “You only know you made the scrimshaw, nothing else.  We hope we’ll be sending him away on a heavy fall, but we’ll give you protection.”

 

Porter’s description confirmed their suspicion about the man they were seeking.  They had a warrant within a couple of hours.  In the late afternoon, they rolled to a stop near the pool hall, with a black-and-white along for backup.  They weren’t sure the man would be there, but they were prepared, in case he was.

 

“I’ll go in and ask for him.  You go around the back with the uniforms,” Starsky said.

 

“Why don’t I go in and ask, and you go around the back?” Hutch asked pointedly.

 

“Because I called it and because I said so,” Starsky answered.

 

“Oh, there’s some good logic for you,” Hutch growled as he climbed out of the Torino.  He didn’t want Starsky going in without him, but it made sense.  “Give us a few minutes to get into position.”

 

Starsky watched him signal the uniforms to join him and jog away.  He does look a little tired.   He immediately put that thought out of his mind.  The stress of the past several weeks had made him jumpy where Hutch’s health was concerned and he knew that.  Everything seemed fine, now.  Maybe Hutch was just tired in a normal way.  Trevor had seen him just two days ago and said he was fine.  Get a grip, Starsky.  Let it go.

 

After a few minutes, Starsky strolled into the “The Borderline” and let his eyes adjust to the smoky, darkened room.  As soon as he stepped through the curtain across the inner doorway, he could feel all eyes in the place turning toward him.  Starsky couldn’t see their suspect behind him, pool cue in hand, but his personal radar detected it swinging toward him and he was able to put a hand up to block it from nailing him in the back of the head.  The blow to his forearm didn’t feel good, but it was better than a crack on the skull.  Any doubt that at least someone knew who he was and wasn’t happy about it disappeared inside of twenty seconds.  Now, he was occupied with hand-to-hand fighting with a much bigger man.  His eyes adjusted and he recognized their suspect as he looked up to see the man trying to hit him with a glass beer pitcher. 

 

The sounds of a scuffle and glass breaking met Hutch’s ears at the back door to the bar.  He and the uniformed officers charged through the back in time to see a man running out through the curtain, and Starsky on the floor.  That much Hutch could make out even in the dark room.  Not liking the idea of leaving him, Hutch liked the idea of letting their suspect get away even less.  He and Officer Brand ran out after El Negro, leaving Officer Brand behind to look after Starsky.

 

Hutch was hot on the suspect’s heels down Marshall.  He and Hayes split up on a corner, Hayes heading for the alley, and Hutch behind El Negro.   They both knew they could cut him off if Hayes was fast enough.  He was young, tall, and had a long stride. 

 

Just as they’d hoped, Hayes came running around the next turn ten feet ahead of the fleeing suspect.  Hutch had dropped back some, but he reached the two men in a few seconds and helped Hayes cuff him and start to drag him back to the bar.  Hutch stopped halfway down the block, breathing heavily.

 

“You okay, Hutch?” Hayes asked.

 

Hutch nodded and waved a hand at him.  He was bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.  “Yeah.  Go ahead.  I’m right behind you.”

 

“Nothin’ doing,” Hayes answered.  “This scum can wait a minute.”

 

Hutch got his breathing back under control and stood up with a nod.  “Thanks.  Hey, just between you and me, huh?  My partner’s probably hurt, he doesn’t need to worry anymore about me.”

 

“Sure thing, Sarge,” Hayes promised.  “You sure you’re okay, though?”

 

“Fine.  I’m just out of shape.  Guess I’d better start jogging again.”

 

Everyone at the station knew Hutch had been sick.  Hayes kept a wary eye on him as they walked back to check on Starsky.  His breathing was much better by the time they reached the bar.  Starsky was sitting on the sidewalk outside with a handkerchief pressed against a small cut on his head.  Brand was standing next to him.

 

“You okay, Starsk?” Hutch asked, squatting beside him to get a good look.

 

“Yeah, sorry about that. He had the drop on me as soon as I walked in the place.”  Starsky pulled his hand away enough to allow Hutch a look at the cut. 

 

“What’re you doing out here?”

 

Brand offered that information.  “He jumped up to run after you, but he didn’t make it very far.  I told him he’d better just sit tight and wait for you guys to get back here.”

 

Hutch noticed that Starsky was holding the handkerchief with his right hand, even though the cut was on the left side of his head.  “What’s wrong with your arm?” he asked, pointing to the left one. 

 

“It’s all right,” Starsky replied.  He jerked his head toward the suspect, who was still swearing at them in Spanish. “He got me with a pool cue.”  Starsky extended his hand and said, “Help me up.”

 

The small wince he made when Hutch stood and pulled him up by the extended left arm didn’t go unnoticed.  With Starsky insisting that he was fine, the two sets of partners headed back to their cars with the suspect.  Booking Oscar Pretto, alias El Negro, would take them a few hours past the end of their shift.  By the time Starsky pulled the Torino up outside of Hutch’s apartment, they were both exhausted.   Their shift the next day didn’t start until three, so at least they’d be able to rest a little. 

 

“I’m beat,” Hutch said as he got out and shut the door.  He leaned back inside the open window and said, “Want to get some lunch before we go in, tomorrow?”

 

“Sure.  Sleep late.  I’ll see you around noon.”

 

He watched long enough to see Hutch close the door to the street and then pulled away from the curb.  The thought of soaking his aching arm and taking some more aspirin for the throbbing headache the bar fight left him with was cheering.  Seeing that Hutch had chased after and successfully apprehended their suspect had put his mind somewhat at ease and he intended to relax.

 

Hutch made himself a cup of tea and sank down in the chair in the greenhouse.  He was about as tired as he could remember feeling before he started getting sick.  His breathlessness after the chase had convinced him to start running again and he planned to get up early enough to do just that.

 

Around nine the next morning, Hutch headed out of the apartment for his run.  He hadn’t intended to sleep that late, but he guessed he must have needed it.  Starsky wasn’t due at his place before noon.  That should give him plenty of time to have a nice, long run. 

 

The autumn sun was up and the air had a slight chill to it.  By noon, the temperature was expected to be in the lower eighties, so he was glad to get out when he did.  Running along the streets near his apartment, he felt good -- at first.  Though it was his habit to run one mile in the morning when he worked the regular day shift, the later start time meant he could take it slow.  He decided to extend his run, even though he knew he was pushing it.  After the first mile, he began to think the longer run was not a good idea.  His plan was to run out two miles and back two.  Too far.  Should have started off with a mile or less.  Stupid!  By the time he turned around for home, he was breathless again and feeling overheated.  Stubbornly, he decided to push on and just get home. 

 

Knowing that people were starting to look at him, his distress clearly showing on his face, Hutch decided he’d better rest for a few minutes.  He stopped and ducked into the entryway of a small shop about a mile from Venice Place, out of sight from the street.  He leaned back against the wall just as his legs gave out and he slid to the ground.  Hutch couldn’t seem to catch his breath and he was beginning to see black and orange spots.  As the roaring in his ears increased, he slowly slid down to his side in a heap and lost his grip on consciousness.

 

Starsky was just finishing drying his hair when he thought he heard the phone ring.  He dove across the bed and grabbed the receiver.  “Starsky,” he said a little too loudly.

 

“Uh, Sergeant Starsky, this is Officer Miller.  I’m over at Bartles and Johnson Fine Antiques on Ocean.”  Starsky knew that was on Hutch’s running route.

 

“Something wrong?” he asked, afraid of the answer.

 

“Yeah.  The owner over here found your partner collapsed in his store front a few minutes ago.”

 

“What?  Did you call an ambulance?”

 

“I wanted to, but he insisted that I call you.”  At least that meant Hutch wasn’t unconscious.  Starsky could go there and assess things.

 

“Tell him I’ll be right there, but if you think he’s in real trouble, ignore him and call.”

 

“Okay, Sarge.”

 

He hung up and quickly finished dressing, grabbing his gun, holster, and jacket as he dashed for the door.  His sense of dread was returning with a vengeance and he was kicking himself all the way to the car for ignoring that nagging feeling he had yesterday that something wasn’t right.

 

Starsky ran into the antique store as fast as he could get there.  Miller was waiting up front and he pointed at the back of the store, directing Starsky to a small room behind the cash register.   When he reached him, Hutch was crashed on the couch in the back room.  Mr. Bartles was placing a damp cloth on Hutch’s forehead when Starsky entered the room.  The old man stepped back as Starsky approached.  Hutch was well known in his neighborhood, as was his partner.  The old man recognized Starsky and looked relieved that he was there.

 

Crossing the room in a few strides, Starsky knelt next to Hutch and put a hand out to feel his cheek.  The fire under his hand increased his fear. No.  I thought we’d gotten past this.  Trevor said it wouldn’t come back!

 

Hutch’s eyes opened at his touch, they were bright with fever.  His rapid breathing was doing nothing to easy Starsky’s mind.  “What are you doing out running?”

 

Although he tried to answer, Hutch just couldn’t get his labored breathing to subside enough to say much.  Instead he shrugged as he tried to sit up to help get more air.  Starsky put a hand behind him and turned to Bartles.

 

“Tell me what happened.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Detective Starsky.  I didn’t know your number.  I found him in the doorway to the shop.  He was so overheated; I guess he fainted there. I got him to come around a little, but he couldn’t give me your number.  I just called the police and asked them to call you.  He wouldn’t let me call an ambulance.”

 

Miller was in the doorway.  “I helped get him back here. He wouldn’t let me call one, either.”

 

Starsky asked for a pen and scribbled a name and number on it.  Handing it to the distressed shopkeeper, he said, “Would you please call Trevor Kelly at this number?   He’s Hutch’s doctor. Tell him we’re on our way to Memorial E.R.”

 

Hutch groaned but didn’t bother to argue with Starsky, grateful that it wasn’t going to be an ambulance ride.  Miller helped get Hutch out to the car.  Hutch leaned against the door, still struggling with his breathing and continuing to worry his partner.  By the time Starsky pulled up to the Emergency Room bay, a gurney was waiting for them.  Miller had called ahead to let them know Hutch was on his way.

 

When they opened the door, the orderly and Starsky had to catch Hutch to keep him from falling out of the car. He was pale and lightheaded from the wheezing. 

 

“Does he have asthma?” the nurse asked.

 

Starsky followed, answering her.  “No, but he’s been sick off and on for weeks. We thought it was all over.”

 

“Has he been seen here?” she asked as they wheeled Hutch into an examination room.

 

“Yes.  Doctor Hendricks.  Trevor Kelly’s his regular doc.”

 

The nurse said she’d page Hendricks, who wasn’t on duty that day.  Then she shoved Starsky out of the room under protest.  Reluctantly, he went out to the admitting desk with another nurse who promised to keep him updated.    Two hours of pacing and worrying later, Trevor came out through the swinging double doors and motioned Starsky to join him. 

 

“Is he okay?” Starsky asked him.

 

Trevor took Starsky by the arm and led him to a quiet corner of the waiting room.  “He will be.  This is kind of complicated, but I think we know what it is.  We still aren’t sure what caused all of this, but at least we have a direction.”

 

“It’s not what you thought before?”

 

Trevor shook his head.  “No.  We suspect he has a fungal infection in his left lung.  This isn’t a fun thing to have, either, but looks like we’ve caught it early.  If he hadn’t pushed himself to run, it could have quietly gotten much worse.  Because he had the plague, and possibly the sarcoidosis, he is susceptible to this type of thing.  It’s basically a fungus that has attacked some damaged lung tissue from the previous illness.  There’s really only about one in a million chance that someone will get it, but the drugs we gave him for the sarcoidosis may have suppressed his immune system enough to let it grow.”

 

“What next?  Can you fix it?”

 

“Yes, but it’s going to take some time.  Fortunately, the infected area isn’t bad enough to have caused him to cough up any blood.  We shouldn’t need to perform surgery, but he’s going to need to rest and take IV antibiotics.  Don’t let him take the pills we gave him before, they’ll interact with the new medication.  We’re giving him the first dose now, but he’s still balking about staying in the hospital.  I think we can let him go home if you’ll be there to take care of him.  I’ll come by twice a day and we can get a visiting nurse to check in on you.  What do you say?”

 

Starsky nodded.  “If you think it’s safe, but you’ll have to tell me what to watch for, just in case.”  He looked at the doctor intently, his eyes demanding an answer.  “Give it to me straight, Trevor. Is he going to be all right?”

 

Trevor met his gaze and answered as honestly as he could.  “I hope so. If we can keep it under control and get him past this, yes. You need to understand he could still get worse.  This kind of thing can become systemic.  If he’s going to stay at home, we’ll have to watch everything like a couple of hawks.  We could lose him.  Dr. Hendricks is set against it, but I understand how Hutch feels.  These infections sometimes happen as a result of a hospital stay, but don’t tell Hendricks I said so.”

 

“Okay.  I’ll do it. He’s gonna get better faster if he’s comfortable.  Huggy and the Dobeys will help.  Can he be left alone?”

 

“Sure, for short periods.  Not long, though.  His temperature could spike.  Right now, he’s at around 103.  We’ll let him go home in a few hours, as long as that drops.”

 

Starsky walked into the treatment room with Trevor behind him.  Doctor Hendricks nodded at him and said, “Detective Starsky, I don’t approve of him going home, but I suspect Doctor Kelly has already told you that.  I expect him back here pronto if things get any worse.  We’ll give you a long list of aftercare instructions.” 

 

Trevor realized that the two men needed a few minutes alone and he managed to get everyone to leave for a while. Starsky pulled up a chair and took Hutch’s warm hand in his.  “How you feeling?”  He was glad to see they’d gotten Hutch’s breathing to settle down again.

 

“Like I ran a marathon.  I’m sorry, Starsk--”

 

“Sh, don’t.  Trevor says it’s a lucky thing you went out on that run. You might have gotten worse.”

 

October 1981

 

A week later, things were looking worse, not better. "Do you know how to reach this Sulindi?" Starsky asked, a little hope rekindling in his eyes.

 

"I'll call Darlene tonight," Huggy said.

 

"Call her now," Starsky urged. "Use my phone. I don't care if it's long distance, this is Hutch's life we're talking about."

 

"It's not that," Huggy said. "I'm gonna have to negotiate with her. She's the one who told me Sulindi wouldn't have done the thing for her if she hadn't been dyin' --"

 

"Hug," Starsky said, leaning forward with suddenly moist eyes, "Hutch is dyin'."

 

Huggy nodded and rose. He dialed his cousin's number. It seemed to take several rings before she answered, and Starsky listened as Huggy explained the situation. He had to do some fast talking. "Darlene, listen," he said at last. "This guy I'm tellin' you about, he's my brother, girl! He's one of my two best friends in the world and he's laid his own ass on the line for me more times than I can count. And now he ain't got a chance in hell of bein' here much longer if we don't do somethin'." He was silent for several seconds and finally gave Starsky a weary thumbs up. "Thanks, honey. I owe ya." He hung up and turned to Starsky. "She's gonna talk to Sulindi."

 

After Huggy left, Starsky sat down wearily on the couch and lay his head back, closing his eyes. But as tired as he was, he couldn't sleep. He didn't dare. He knew if he let himself fall asleep, he'd practically go into a coma, he was so tired, and what if Hutch needed him and he didn't hear him call out? He sighed and rubbed his eyes. The visiting nurse would be here soon. When she arrived, he could sack out for a couple of hours. That would have to do.

 

He heard a sound from the stairs and glanced at the clock. The mail. He forced himself to his feet and stumbled toward the door, having to stop when he got there for a moment to catch his breath. The lack of sleep and food lately had conspired to make him as weak as a kitten. He shook his head and resolutely opened the door.

 

But one step down he got dizzy and lost his balance and fell, unable to catch himself, and landed with his head against the street door, knocked cold.

 

Marla Robbins checked her watch as she approached Venice Place. This was her last stop today. Mr. Hardy, an elderly man who usually took the greater part of her late afternoon and evening, was in the hospital again and she wouldn't have to go by his place today. She was just as glad. He was a sweet old man, but he was also messy and demanding and she was worn out by the time she left him. Ken was easier. His partner was always hovering and did most of the heavy work of taking care of him.

 

Marla had the key ready and unlocked the street door. And screamed at the sight of the man lying on the other side of the door.

 

But training took over and she knelt. "David? David? What happened?" She felt his pulse and it was steady, though a bit too fast. He had a nasty abrasion on his forehead but he moaned at her touch and opened his eyes.

 

"Don't try to get up," she cautioned. "What happened?"

 

In spite of her instructions, Starsky struggled to a sitting position, groaning and putting a hand to his forehead. "Shit."

 

Marla laughed in spite of herself. "You're cussing. You must be okay. Can you walk?"

 

"In a minute," he said, still holding his head. "Soon's the mariachi band in my head takes a break to piss."

 

She sat back on her heels and watched his face and was pleased to see that his color was good and the abrasion wasn't bleeding badly. He looked so tired, though.

 

It was only a few minutes until Starsky reached out to take hold of the stair railing to get to his feet and once he was upright, he swayed just a little before giving her a crooked grin. "I'm ready."

 

She rose, too, and stayed behind him as he climbed the stairs. He was fairly steady on his feet but he looked very glad to sit down when he reached the couch upstairs.

 

Marla peeked in at Hutch, who was sleeping soundly, before going to the kitchen for some paper towels and an ice bag. She brought those back and quickly cleaned and bandaged Starsky's forehead. "Getting clumsy in your old age?" she inquired as she finished.

 

"Nah," he said. "Lost my balance and took a header. Musta hit my hard head on the door or something when I landed at the bottom."

 

"Good thing you hit your head," Marla said, deadpan. "You might've hurt yourself otherwise."

 

He grinned. "You been talkin' to Hutch too much lately."

 

She smiled back and patted his hand. "There you go, cowboy. You're all fixed up. Now take these Tylenol and put that ice bag on your head and lie down. And tell me the president's name."

 

He shook his head, winced, and recited, "Reagan. My birthday's March 25 and my mother's maiden name was Epstein. I'm a detective sergeant in the Metro division of the Bay City Police Department and my partner's name is Ken Hutchinson, whose birthday is August 28 -- "

 

"Okay, okay, I'm convinced. You're as lucid as you ever are," she said, laughing. "Lie down and shut up for a while, will you? I have to go take care of my real patient now."

 

Starsky closed his eyes and was asleep in moments. Marla saw that on her way through the living room area to fix Hutch something to eat and consciously softened her tread so as not to wake him. When she returned to Hutch, she put a finger to her lips. "Your bright-eyed guardian angel is out cold," she told him softly. "He needs the sleep badly, so I'm going to stay in here with you and we're going to let him rest."

 

Hutch nodded. "I know," he said unhappily. "He won't even take a nap unless somebody else is here to baby-sit the invalid."

 

"You're not an invalid," she said. "You're just sick. But you don't want David to get sick, too, so you're going to be quiet and be a good boy and let him rest. I don't have to be anywhere else today so I'm going to stay here with you until he's had a nice long nap." She debated whether to tell him Starsky had had an accident and finally decided against it. It hadn't taken her long to figure out that neither of these guys would be able to relax if he thought the other one needed him, and she felt sure Ken would insist on getting out of bed to see that David was all right. And getting out of bed was not a good idea. So she held her peace.

 

She managed to get a whole bowl of soup into him before he, too, fell asleep, and she leaned back in her chair to wait.

 

Starsky stirred and woke long before Hutch did, at about seven o'clock. Marla heard him groan and hurried out to check on him.

 

"Feel better or worse?" she asked.

 

"I don't know," he said, yawning. "Can I have a third choice? How about 'crappy'?"

 

She chuckled and felt his forehead and looked into his eyes. They were clear. "You'll live, I think," she said. "I didn't tell Ken you'd fallen. I wanted him to sleep. You'll tell him, though, right?"

 

"I don't think I'll have to," Starsky said, indicating the bandage. "He'll figure it out on his own."

 

"Well, he is a detective," she admitted. "Are you up to taking over, or do you want me to stay a while longer?"

 

Starsky realized it was getting dark and looked at his watch. "Aw, hell, Marla. You were supposed to leave hours ago. You didn't have to stay this late."

 

"It's okay," she said. "I'd still be at Mr. Hardy's for another hour if I'd gone there." She gathered up her things and before she left, she reminded him there was still some soup on the stove. "You eat some," she ordered him, "or I'll have to get tough with you."

 

"No, I don't want you to do that," Starsky said. "I'll eat some. I promise."

 

He did, too, and felt better afterward. Hutch didn't awaken and Starsky was still so tired he fell asleep again and neither of them stirred until the phone woke Starsky around nine the next morning.

 

He scrambled for the phone to answer it before it woke Hutch.

 

"Darlene wants to talk to you," Huggy told him. "Can I bring her over when she takes her lunch break?"

 

"Yeah," Starsky answered. "What time'll that be?"

 

"Eleven-thirty," Huggy said. "How's my blond brother?"

 

"Sleeping."

 

"Good. I have a feeling we'd rather hammer out the details without his help," Huggy said.

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"You'll see," Huggy said. "See ya later."

 

Starsky had no choice but to wait. Hutch finally awoke for a while, ate a little breakfast, but not enough to satisfy his worried partner, and had dozed off into another fitful sleep by the time Huggy and his cousin arrived.

 

When Starsky opened the door to them, he was momentarily stunned into silence by Huggy's cousin. She was beautiful. Not pretty. Not nice-looking. Beautiful.

 

Huggy, in spite of the worry in his eyes, grinned. "Reel in your tongue, Starsk," he advised. "She's got a boyfriend. And he's big."

 

"Huh?" Starsky said blankly, then he realized he was staring and flushed. "Sorry. Come in." He stepped back. "You sure you two are related, Hug?" he asked. "The same genes produced this lovely creature and you, too?"

 

Darlene smiled. "Thanks, but Huggy's right. My boyfriend's a linebacker for the Rams."

 

"Shit," Starsky said, returning her smile. "I'll just admire from afar, in that case. You guys hungry? I've got some sandwiches and stuff in the kitchen."

 

The three of them sat down at the table and Darlene leaned a little forward to study Starsky's face. He felt uncomfortable, but didn't say anything until she had leaned back again. "You're certain there's nothing the doctors can do for your partner?" she asked quietly.

 

Starsky shrugged. "I don't know, honestly," he said. "They've tried everything. He's been poked and prodded and had enough blood drawn to make him anemic and still they don't have any idea what's causing this. He's gettin' weaker and he's losin' hope."

 

"He's right," Huggy agreed. "I know they've tested him for almost every disease you ever heard of and some you ain't. Even cancer."

 

Starsky blanched at that word, but Trevor had assured him Hutch did not have any cancer he'd ever seen.

 

"You must understand," Darlene said, addressing Starsky, "that the healing ritual Huggy told you about is very difficult for Sulindi to perform. By the time she was finished doing it for me the first time, she had lost 10 pounds, between the preparation time and the actual ritual. That was three days, David."

 

Starsky's mouth came open a little, and Darlene nodded.

 

"I know. It sounds insane. And I can't describe the ritual to you, exactly, because Sulindi asked me never to tell anyone exactly what it involves, and I think it’s a little different for each case. It did not hurt me," she added, when she saw Starsky's eyes move worriedly toward the sleeping alcove. "I didn't have to do anything. Sulindi did it all. But according to her religious beliefs, doing this ritual for someone outside her faith and without proper representatives from her tribe is wrong. She's one of my dearest friends and that's the only reason she did it for me in spite of that."

 

Starsky glanced at Huggy, who gave a slight eyebrows-up indication that he should do the talking. "I won't say I understand, because I don't know anything about your friend's religion," Starsky said to Darlene. "All I know is, Hutch may be dyin' -- in fact, I believe he is -- and the doctors haven't been able to do anything for him. This may be his only chance. It worked for you."

 

Darlene nodded, acknowledging that fact.

 

"I gotta try."

 

In the alcove, Hutch was dozing rather than really sleeping, but so weak that he couldn't really force himself to full consciousness. He could hear voices coming from the kitchen and recognized Starsky's, but missed most of what was said. All three were using hushed tones, partly to keep from disturbing Hutch and partly because of the subject they were discussing.

 

Darlene studied Starsky's face in silence again for a few seconds. "I have already asked her to consider this situation," she said at last. "She told me to ask you certain questions."

 

Starsky waited.

 

"The first is, how much do you love your friend?"

 

"I'd take a bullet for him without a second's hesitation," Starsky said promptly.

 

Darlene never took her eyes from Starsky's and went on as if he hadn't spoken. "The second is, can you control your own fear?"

 

Fear of what? Starsky wondered, but he nodded anyway. "Yes."

 

"The third is, are you willing to make a sacrifice?"

 

Hutch heard that last word without catching any of the rest, and struggled to stay wide enough awake to follow the conversation. Sacrifice? What did that mean?

 

"Yes," Starsky said, though secretly he was terrified of what Sulindi might ask him to do. Whatever it was, he would do it, however, if it meant saving Hutch.

 

"In Sulindi's village, the sacrifice would be a gift of a cow or pig, provided to the family of the medicine man," Darlene said. "Then, at the ceremony, you would participate in the ritual in the role of the next of kin. It's very exhausting and it can be dangerous. There are certain ... drugs involved. You are a policeman and these drugs are not legal. Will you be able to do that?"

 

"Starsk," Huggy interjected, "she ain't kiddin' about the danger. You could do some damage to yourself."

 

"I don't care," Starsky said. "If it'll help Hutch, I'll do anything."

 

Hutch heard enough to be frightened that Starsky would take too much of a risk on his behalf, without really understanding what they were talking about.

 

Darlene pursed her lips. "Since we are not in Sulindi's village, the gift can be cash rather than a cow or pig. She'll send it home to her family without explaining where it came from and that will satisfy her conscience somewhat."

 

"Just tell me how much," Starsky said.

 

"I'll tell Sulindi what you said," Darlene said, rising and gesturing to Huggy. "I'll give you her answer as soon as I know."

 

"Thanks," Starsky said. After they left, he went into the alcove to check on Hutch.

 

"What the hell was all that?" Hutch demanded, as sternly as he could in his weakened condition.

 

“Nothing you need to worry about, Blondie.”

 

Hutch sighed and closed his eyes.  “Don’t give me that.  What’s going on that I don’t know about?”

 

Starsky motioned for him to scoot over so he could sit on the edge of the bed.  He put a hand on Hutch’s forehead and then reached for the thermometer as he spoke.  “You feel a little bit warmer.  Time to take your temp, again, anyway,” he said.

 

Just noticing the bandage on Starsky’s forehead, Hutch stopped him from putting the thermometer in his mouth and said, “You didn’t answer me, yet, and what the hell happened to your head?”  He was so tired earlier, he hadn’t noticed.

 

“Be a good boy and let me take your temperature.  I’ll tell you everything.”

 

“Don’t leave out anything,” Hutch said.  He opened his mouth to accept the thermometer.

 

“First, don’t worry about my head.  You know it’s the hardest part of my anatomy.  When I went to get the mail yesterday, I decided to see if I could take the stairs in one big step.”

 

Hutch reached for the thermometer, wanting to respond, but Starsky pushed his hand back down and shook his head at him.  “You said you’d be good.  I think you can last another couple of minutes, just let me talk.”  He waited for his partner to nod his agreement.  “I’m fine.  Marla took care of it.  Now, as for the other, Huggy’s cousin Darlene has a friend who is going to try to help us.”

 

At that, Hutch rolled his eyes and furrowed his brow.  Huggy seemed to have every kind of cousin and every type of friend.  As resourceful as he was, Hutch wasn’t anxious to trust his health to just anyone.  He knew how sick he was, and he was scared.

 

“I know, buddy, but we need to try something.  The docs have been giving you different drugs, you’ve been poked, prodded, x-rayed, and had tests for everything they can think of except athlete’s foot.  I’m afraid you’re getting worse, not better.  I think it’s time we started looking at some less traditional methods.  Now, just sit tight for a minute.  I’m going to go get you something to drink and some Tylenol.  I think I missed your last dose because they were here.”

 

Starsky went out to get the things he said he was after, dreading the rest of the conversation.  He didn’t want Hutch to be upset, but he also didn’t want to just leave him in the dark.  He’d obviously overheard some things.

 

When he went back in and took the thermometer out of Hutch’s mouth, he was worried to see that his partner’s fever had climbed.  “Rats,” he said softly.

 

“What is it?” Hutch asked.

 

Starsky handed him the pills and the glass, saying “It’s 104.2.  Take those.  I’m sorry, I should’ve woken you up to take them before they got here.”

 

“I’m not sure I like this friend of Huggy’s cousin idea.”

 

“It’ll be okay, Hutch.  I know you don’t like it, but why not?  You like that alternative stuff, just look at it that way.”

 

“But, I thought I heard them say it could be dangerous for you and something about a sacrifice.  What are you planning?”

 

Starsky sighed and sat back down next to Hutch.  “I can’t really tell you that.  They didn’t go into detail, but it’s nothing to worry about.  I’ll be fine and the sacrifice is just about payment.  I have to give her some cash for her family back in Africa somewhere.  Zambia, I think.  Please, Hutch, don’t fight me on this.  I’m scared.”

 

Hutch nodded, but he had more to say on the subject. “I’m scared, too, Starsk, but you listen up and listen good.  You are not to put yourself in any kind of danger.  I won’t allow it.  You’re already so exhausted you fell down the stairs.  The only reason I’ll go along with this scheme is because I can’t believe I didn’t notice you’d hurt your head for almost a day.  Sometimes, I can barely keep my eyes open and I know all the medications are just keeping me in the same place at best.  I don’t suppose whatever this is can make it any worse, but I won’t participate if you’re gonna be hurt.  Don’t test me on that.  I won’t have it.”

 

Starsky lied.  He didn’t see where he had any choice.  “Okay.  I won’t be.  Everything is gonna be fine.”  Lying to Hutch was something he never wanted to do, but he would do anything he had to for Hutch’s sake.  The only comfort he took in the situation was knowing Hutch would do the same if their roles were reversed.

 

Hutch stared at him, trying to assure himself that Starsky was being honest with him.  He was tired, and his eyes burned.  Starsky looked sincere enough, so Hutch nodded and closed his eyes.  In moments, he was asleep. 

 

Sighing with relief, Starsky left him to his rest.  He spent the next hour cleaning and pacing.  As soon as Marla arrived, he brushed off her attempts to look at his injury, and left for the station.  When he got there, he had a message from Marla that Huggy had called him.  He returned the call immediately.

 

“You have an answer already?” Starsky asked Huggy, afraid to hope.

 

“She’ll do it.”

 

Starsky dropped his head, nearly weak with relief.  At this point, even the dubious and frightening nature of what they were planning, was giving him a ray of hope.  “Thank you, Huggy.  What do I have to do?”

 

“Darlene is going to stop back by here in a couple of hours with a map and instructions.  She said they want to do it out in the desert, under the stars.  Sulindi wants $100 in cash.  Small bills, like fives and tens.”

 

“You’re kidding,” Starsky said, unable to believe the woman would go through what must be a dangerous ordeal for such a small amount of money.

 

“Starsk, think.  That bread’s goin’ to her family.  That’s more than they make in an entire year.  She don’t need to be greedy.  American money will go even farther.”

 

“Yeah.  I’ll get it.  Did she say when?”

 

“We got lucky.  The full moon is tomorrow night.  That’s when we have to do it.”

 

“Thanks again, Hug.  I’ll be there in a while.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

“How’s Hutch?” Dobey asked as Starsky settled into a chair in his office.

 

“He’s bad, Cap.  Real bad.  I feel like he’s going down for the third time.”

 

Dobey thought about that for a minute and said, “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do?”

 

“Thanks, Cap, you’re already doin’ it.” 

 

Starsky had been pulling desk duty off and on when he could for the past week.  He took advantage of the time Marla was with his partner, and their other friends had pitched in to help care for Hutch. 

 

“Cap, I appreciate you being so flexible with my time,” Starsky started.  “I have a line on a treatment for him, out of town.  I have to take him tomorrow and I might be gone a few days.”

 

Dobey knew his detective.  Starsky was not telling him everything and he couldn’t hide it, no matter how good he was undercover. 

 

“Should I be worried?”

 

Keeping a completely straight face, and looking Dobey in the eyes, Starsky replied, “No, sir.  I have a good reason to believe this treatment will help.  I don’t know what else to do. Okay?”

 

Dobey contemplated a moment, not sure if he should intervene, but the look in Starsky’s eyes convinced him.  What he hadn’t said in words was written on the younger man’s face.  Please, Cap.  I have to, even if you won’t give me the time.  Dobey knew it, and he prayed it would be all right.

 

“Okay.  I’ll put you on leave for a few days.  Is that enough?”

 

“Probably. Why don’t I call you?”

 

“Fine.”  Starsky stood to leave, and Dobey asked, “Dave, what if this doesn’t work?  Your friend Trevor already told me we could lose him.” 

 

“It’s got to work. I’m not gonna give up on him.  He’d never give up on me.”

 

That was a fact.  Hutch had moved Heaven and Earth many times for his partner, just as Starsky had done for him.  “I’m not giving up, either.  But, be careful.”

 

“Thanks, Cap.  There’s some paperwork in our box.  I’ll finish that up, and then I have to go over to see Trevor.”  After Starsky left the office, Dobey said a silent prayer for both of his detectives.  Lord, whatever they have planned, please help them.

 

Even if he was planning to take Hutch out to some unknown spot for a strange healing ritual, Starsky wasn’t going to leave Trevor out of the loop.  He respected his friend too much to do that.  When he sat down in Trevor’s office, all he could see was the doctor’s care and concern.  He’d insisted on looking at Starsky’s head wound, pronouncing that Marla had done an excellent job.    

 

“That’s not why you’re here.  I don’t have to be a detective to see that.”

 

“No, it’s not.  I wanted you to know that I’m taking Hutch out of town for a few days.”  Starsky put a hand up to stay any comments until he was finished.  “I know it’s risky, Trev, but I have to.  I have a lead on a treatment.  Something unusual I just have to try.”

 

Trevor noted the pause and said, “Very dangerous.  He’s in no shape to be moved farther than to the hospital.  Has he agreed to this?  What kind of treatment?”

Starsky sighed wearily.  “I can’t tell you much.  I promise you it’s not dangerous for him, other than just taking him out like this. He wants to do it, but I wanted you to know.”

 

Seeing he wasn’t going to get anywhere in argument, Trevor nodded and said, “I appreciate that.  You know I’m coming, right?”

 

That hadn’t occurred to him.  Starsky never would have asked Trevor, and he was sure Sulindi would object, she hadn’t even met either Starsky or his critically ill partner, much less a stranger who practiced traditional medicine.

 

“I’m pretty sure--”

 

“Don’t even think about arguing.  I’m going and that’s final.  How were you going to take him?  In the Torino?”

 

Starsky stammered.  “Well, yeah, I guess, I was gonna try to make him comfortable in the back seat.”

 

Trevor chuckled at that.  “Oh, good plan.  Maybe you could hang his IV off the coat hook.” 

 

“Now, just a minute!” Starsky exclaimed.  “I’ll figure out something to keep him as safe as I can, you know that.  The people doing this treatment probably wouldn’t like it if a doc came along, anyway.”

 

“I’m sorry. That was out of line.  I know you will, and I really do understand about alternative treatments for people who seem to be at the end of their options.”  That comment brought a chill to the air, but they both knew it was true. The doctor knew because of his training, Starsky knew because he could feel Hutch slipping away from him.  Trevor looked down at his desk for a moment, then back up with a snap of his fingers.  “I’ve got it.  Just listen before you refuse.  My parents have a Winnebago.  We can borrow it and take him in that.  He can lie down in a bed, and I can bring equipment with me to take care of him.  No matter what you have planned, I think it’s a good way to handle the trip.”

 

Starsky’s mouth dropped open a little at the offer.  He and Hutch had always enjoyed the love and care of many friends, but the circle of their partnership was usually all they needed.  At times like this, when help was so necessary, they were reminded just how many friends were in their corner.

 

“Thanks,” Starsky said with a nod.  “I’ll have to make sure it’s all right.  I’ll call you in a couple of hours.  You know this might take up to three days.  Are you sure?”

 

“I’m sure.  I just need to make some phone calls.  Don’t worry about calling me later.  I’m going over to Hutch’s as soon as I close up shop.  I’ll meet you there.  Marla called a while ago to say his fever is still over 104.  She said she’d stay until I could get there.”

 

He walked Starsky to the door and put a hand up on his shoulder.  “Try to keep the faith.  Maybe whatever this is will help.  I know you’d never let anyone hurt him.”

 

“Not as long as I’m alive to protect him.”  He left the office, quietly closing the door behind him, leaving Trevor to ponder what he’d just said.   Without really knowing how, he feared what this plan would do to Starsky.  He knew Starsky would do anything to save Hutch, no matter the sacrifice.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Huggy hung up the phone and went back to the booth, where Starsky was looking through the contents of the envelope Darlene had left for them.  “Darlene says okay on one condition.  When we get there, the doc has to wait somewhere else.  You can stay.”

 

“Acceptable.  How will he know when we’re done?”

 

“Darlene’s driving Sulindi out to the spot tomorrow morning to get ready.  There’s a motor lodge just up the mountain from where we’re going.  We can leave Trevor there while we’re gone.  If anything happens, Darlene’ll go get him.”

 

“What’s with this?” Starsky held up a paper for Huggy to see.  Sulindi had provided a list of articles they were to bring.

 

“I don’t know.  Guess we just have to do whatever they say.”

 

“Yeah.  I’ll get this stuff.  I stopped at the bank on the way over here.”  He studied the map, estimating the time it would take to get to Sulindi.  “How ‘bout Trevor and I pick you up at two o’clock?”

 

Starsky had explained Trevor’s plan.  “In a Winnebago?  In this neighborhood?  That’ll draw more attention than my Aunt Millie’s hats in church.  I’ll come to Hutch’s at quarter ‘til. We can leave from there.”  Huggy had a good point.  Leaving from Venice Place would be a quieter exit than from down on their beat.  The last thing they needed was for someone curious to recognize and follow them, when the entire party would be vulnerable, with Starsky feeling responsible for everyone’s safety.

 

“I’d better get back.  Thanks for everything, Hug.”

 

Huggy watched him go with the same expression and feeling of concern all of his friends were experiencing.  God help him if Hutch dies... if Hutch dies.

 

Trevor stayed and worked on Hutch’s fever while Starsky rounded up the things on the list.  He didn’t understand it, but he also didn’t question the list anymore, nor did he question the instruction to bring nothing else.  One curious item was to be an article of clothing that Hutch loved, but hadn’t worn since before the illness.  Starsky had a box for the items, and for this one, he put in Hutch’s varsity jacket. 

 

The most important things were something that had once belonged to Hutch’s grandparents, a gift he’d been given by a loved one that was more important to him than any other he’d ever received, and something of Starsky’s.  Sulindi’s instructions said the item should be extremely personal; something that was as much a part of Starsky as his name, which he’d never give up without a fight.  He had to be willing to let whatever it was go, for the sake of his friend. 

 

The first item was easy; he put Hutch’s gold pocket watch in the box.  His grandmother had given it to his grandfather on their wedding day and his grandfather had left it to Hutch. 

 

As much as he hated to do it, Starsky had to wake Hutch for the answer to the next item.  Without hesitation, he asked to include two things.  One was the expensive guitar Starsky had given him when Hutch was recovering from the plague.  The other was the teddy bear Terry left him when she died. 

 

Starsky also didn’t hesitate on the item he was to provide.  He got a small box out of Hutch’s cupboard and opened it.  With a silent prayer that all of this wasn’t just smoke and mirrors, Starsky carefully slid off the two rings he wore on his pinky and put them in the box.  The rings had belonged to his dad.  Dying in his son’s arms, Mike Starsky had insisted he take the rings and wear them.  He’d told his terrified son never to take them off, and Starsky almost never had.  The only extended period he’d been without them was when he was in Vietnam.  Rachel Starsky had insisted on wearing them while he was gone.  She’d said she knew he’d come back for them, and she proudly slipped them back on his too-thin finger when he did come home, wounded, but alive.

 

Trevor finally left to get the RV and make some more arrangements.  His parents were fine with the plan.  They said it didn’t get enough use and they’d be glad he could take it out for a spin.  He didn’t tell them why he was going to the desert. 

 

Before he agreed to go to sleep for the night, Hutch insisted that Starsky promise, again, he wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks with his own health or safety.  “Something about this worries me, Starsk.  Promise.”

 

Starsky looked at him, his eyes solemn, and said, “I promise.  I won’t do anything that isn’t necessary to save your life.”

 

Hutch shook his head and said, “That doesn’t comfort me much.  I know you’d step in front of a bullet for me ... to save my life.”

 

Smiling at him, Starsky reached out and touched Hutch on the side of the face with the backs of his fingers, gently, so gently.  “Sleep.  Let me do all of the worrying.  If everything goes right, you’ll be feeling better in a couple of days.  Who do you trust time?”

 

“Me and Thee,” Hutch said sleepily, turning his head toward Starsky’s hand.  He closed his eyes and went to sleep.

 

~*~*~*~

 

At four in the afternoon the following day, the Winnebago pulled into a motel parking lot on the downhill side of the mountains on the way to the desert.  The Desert View Motor Lodge had a nice diner and clean cabins.  Trevor would stay there while the others went on to the meeting place.  Darlene stood up from the bench she was waiting on and waved at them as they pulled into the parking lot. 

 

Trevor had brought an ambulance stretcher with him and he helped Starsky and Huggy get Hutch onto it before he left the RV.  As agreed, he took out the IV he’d insisted on to help ward off dehydration.  Sulindi said he couldn’t have anything like that during the ceremony, that such a thing would mock the gods.  The three men secured the stretcher so it wouldn’t move during the rest of the journey.

 

“I don’t like this,” Trevor said to Starsky, accepting the other man’s tight-lipped nod as acceptance and acknowledgement of his opinion on the subject. 

 

Trevor said nothing more; he had already issued all the admonishments he could before they’d gotten this close.  Huggy drove, so Trevor could keep an eye on both of his friends.  Removing the IV had Trevor frightened.  Hutch was in and out of consciousness, his fever raged, and he didn’t seem to know where he was during his wakeful periods.

 

Still, he put a hand on Starsky’s arm and whispered, “I’ll be waiting here.  If you’re not back in a couple of days, I’ll come looking for you.  Send for me, if anything goes wrong.”

 

“I will.  Thanks, Trevor,” Starsky said.  The two men embraced and then Trevor watched as Starsky and Huggy left with an unconscious Hutch, and the personal items Sulindi had requested.  Darlene would lead the way in her small car.

 

It was a long drive anyway, and seemed longer due to Hutch's condition, which worsened as they drove. He even became delirious at one point, scaring Starsky and Huggy more than they wanted to let on even to each other.

 

By the time they arrived at the rendezvous point, it was dark. Hutch had been out cold for the last hour, but his breathing was regular and Starsky tried to control his fear, as Darlene had said he should do.

 

Sulindi was waiting for them, standing straight and still, wearing a long, brightly colored dress whose top barely covered her breasts, many necklaces of beads and bones, and a tall headdress that made her seem taller than she already was -- which was taller than Starsky. She, too, was beautiful, with skin so dark it was almost blue, and large, clear brown eyes that fastened upon Hutch as soon as Huggy and Starsky unloaded him from the Winnebago.

 

She glided forward, her movement almost like a dance, and knelt next to Hutch. She crooned to him in her native language, passing her hand back and forth over his forehead and hair. She had not acknowledged the presence of the others at all. Darlene, who seemed to know what to do, stepped away from the stretcher and held her hand out to Huggy. He took it, and she indicated with a nod of her head that he should take Starsky's hand, too. Then she closed her eyes and began to sway, and Starsky realized that Sulindi's crooning had become singing. He let himself be drawn into the movement that Huggy, too, had taken up, swaying in time with Sulindi's singing, but he kept his eyes open and watched what she did to his partner.

 

With a gentle touch, Sulindi stroked Hutch's face, down his arms, over his chest and stomach and legs, singing softly all the while. He stirred a little, and his eyes opened, but he didn't seem to know where he was or what was happening. Sulindi turned to face him, took his face between her hands, and sang to him, stroking his face lovingly. He blinked, and his eyes cleared marginally.

 

She stopped at last and rose to her feet. "We must first build a fire," she said in a musical accent. "You are David, yes?"

 

Starsky nodded.

 

"You must make the fire. But first, bring me the items I asked for."

 

Starsky gave her the box and the guitar. She set the box down next to Hutch and went through it, but he couldn't tell by her expression whether she approved of his choices. She lingered longest over the two rings and finally raised her eyes to him. "These are yours?"

 

He nodded again.

 

Finally, she smiled. "Good. I feel the history behind them. Gather the wood now, please."

 

There was a stack of firewood nearby. It took quite a while to gather enough, but finally Starsky had stacked up a pile large enough to suit Sulindi. She produced a bag from under her dress and opened it. "Give me your hand."

 

Starsky held out his hand and she tipped the bag and poured a brown powdered substance into his palm. She poured a similar amount into her own and licked it from her palm. Starsky raised his eyebrows and she nodded, so he did the same. Huggy watched with wide, frightened eyes and whispered to Darlene, "What is that?"

 

She shrugged. "I don't know. It won't hurt him. I took it when she did the ceremony for me."

 

Huggy didn't like any of this, but he could see by the set of Starsky's jaw that nothing would dissuade him at this point.

 

"Your friend," Sulindi said to Starsky, "he must partake of the drug, also."

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch doubtfully.

 

"For him, we will dissolve some in water," she said, looking toward Huggy who, much against his better judgment, handed Starsky the Thermos of water they had brought along for Hutch. Sulindi poured just a little of the powder into the cup, swirled it with her finger, and walked over to Hutch. Lifting him by the shoulders, she crooned to him again in her own language and held the cup to his lips. Hutch, still more unconscious than conscious, drank by reflex, and Sulindi gently lowered him. "Bring him to the fireside," she said to Starsky.

 

Starsky, with Huggy's help, moved the stretcher so it was next to the stack of wood. Then Sulindi told Huggy and Darlene they must wait a distance away; only Starsky, Hutch, and she could be near the fire. After they moved away, she knelt and lit the fire, which caught the dry wood quickly, and while she waited for it to burn brightly, she laid the objects Starsky had brought on Hutch's body, placing them carefully around him. The larger items she lay on the ground beside him, and over each, as she withdrew it from the box, she sang some words and moved her hand in a circle over them. Finally, she came to the rings. These she placed in Hutch's limp hand, closing his fingers over them gently, and singing, ending by kissing his fingers, then his forehead, and laying the hand down so it was over his heart.

 

She rose and swayed in place, eyes closed, arms reaching toward the sky, and continued to sing, softly at first, gradually louder. She began to dance then, moving around and around the fire, in widening circles, until she reached for Starsky's hand as she passed him and drew him into her dance.

 

Starsky was beginning to feel the way he did when he was just slightly drunk -- a bit dizzy, relaxed, almost giddy. His inhibitions vanished and he danced with Sulindi, somehow not needing to be told what to do, raising his own arms when she raised hers, singing along with her, though he had no idea what words he was saying, dipping and swaying and moving in a circle around the fire until he was dizzy and could not have told which direction was which.

 

Each time Sulindi passed Hutch, she touched him briefly, moving away almost as quickly. Starsky followed suit, letting his hand brush against Hutch's body as he passed him in the dance, growing ever wilder and freer as he followed Sulindi around and around and around the fire.

 

Slowly he began to realize that he and Sulindi were not alone in their dance. Others had joined them, people as dark and as beautiful as Sulindi, dipping and swaying and chanting and singing along with them, moving in circles around and around the fire, pausing to brush Hutch's body with a hand or their lips as they passed him. Two women were on their knees next to the stretcher, swaying from side to side, bending to kiss his forehead and lips and touch his hands. Hutch's eyes were open and he followed the movements of the two women and sweat gathered on his forehead and dripped into his hair -- and he was smiling. He was laughing. And then he was singing, too.

 

Starsky, encouraged by this, danced ever faster as Sulindi and the others did. He threw himself backward onto the sandy dirt and laughed and sang. One of the women sank beside him and kissed him and pulled him to his feet to rejoin the dance. Faster they danced, circling the fire, singing and joining hands and letting go and swaying and spinning and dipping and singing.

 

The women with Hutch held his hands and each other's and urged him to sway in time with the singing and the pounding feet. One of the women in the circle swirled among the men, stopping to kiss each in turn. When she reached Starsky, she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and he twirled with her, laughing without knowing why.

 

After a time, Starsky could not have told how long he had danced, and he no longer cared. He reached out to one of the women as she danced by and pulled her close, dipping her and smiling down into her shining brown eyes. She laughed, a musical sound, and threw her head back so the long braids of her hair swept the dust underneath her.

 

The singing grew more frantic as the dancing increased its pace. Sweat poured down Starsky's face, dampening his hair until it was as wet as if he had stood in the shower. But he wasn't hot or uncomfortable at all. He threw his arms into the air and sang a song he didn't know, words he didn't understand, and danced as he had never danced before, light and happy and carefree but remembering to touch his partner each time he passed him and delighted by the shining blue eyes that met his each time he did. Hutch's color was high, his laughter rang out clear and bright, and the women with him sang like angels as they touched and kissed and worshipped him.

 

Several times, as Huggy watched Starsky and Sulindi circle the fire, he moved as if to interfere. He didn't like the blank look on Starsky's face, the frantic way he spun around and around the campfire, and the odd movements he made as he danced.

 

"You mustn't," Darlene whispered to him when he took a step forward. "Stay back."

 

"But --"

 

"But nothing, Huggy. Stand still!"

 

So Huggy stood still and watched and worried.

 

As he danced, the euphoria Starsky had felt began to fade and be replaced by an uneasy feeling, a creepiness in his spine that he felt when danger was nearby. He reached, automatically, for the gun in its holster under his right arm and it wasn't there. He felt again, frantically, and felt something soft and squishy under his shirt. He brought his hand out and held it up to his face and recoiled in horror. He held a leech in his hand, a leech dripping with his own blood.

 

Tearing his shirt off, he was sickened to see his entire torso covered in leeches, attached everywhere, growing fat off his blood. He started jerking them off, two at a time, using both hands, screaming for help at the dancers who swayed past him, unheeding. He threw the leeches he pulled off into the fire, and though he yanked leech after leech off his body, they still covered him so closely he couldn't even see his own skin under them. "Huuuuuuuutch!" he screamed, helpless, horrified, nauseated, but Hutch was smiling and singing and kissing the two women and oblivious to his distress.

 

Huggy saw the horror and fear on Starsky's face but it came and went quickly, and Darlene wouldn't let him interfere. The ritual went on for two hours and finally, Starsky simply collapsed and lay still and this time Huggy got several steps toward his friend before Darlene caught him. "No!"

 

Huggy tried to pull away, but Sulindi cast a glance in their direction. Her eyes, too, were blank and foggy with the drug, but she was used to it and still knew where she was and what she was doing and her dark eyes held an unmistakable warning.

 

Sulindi continued to dance for several more minutes and finally she, too, collapsed, lying in the dirt next to the stretcher, her chest heaving for breath.

 

Huggy glanced at Darlene, who nodded, and he ran to Starsky's side. Starsky seemed to be out cold, breathing hard, sweating freely, but his heartbeat was strong. Darlene went to Hutch, who was awake, weak but coherent. His fever was gone and he was frantic when he realized Starsky was lying on the ground a few feet away and not moving.

 

"What's wrong with him?" Hutch struggled to sit up, but Darlene wouldn't let him, and in his weakened condition, she was easily able to keep him down.

 

"He'll be fine in a while," she said soothingly. "You mustn't get up. Huggy's with him. Lie still."

 

"What happened?"

 

"Sulindi's ceremony," Darlene said. "Your fever's gone. How do you feel?"

 

"Forget me! What's wrong with Starsky?" Hutch twisted his head, trying to see.

 

Huggy heard and came over. "He's okay, Hutch," he said. "He's unconscious, but he's okay. If you'd seen the way he was dancing and carryin' on, you'd understand. I think he's just asleep, believe it or not."

 

Hutch glared at him, clearly disbelieving. "We gotta get him to a doctor."

 

"I'll go get Trevor," Huggy said. "Darlene, can you stay with them?"

 

She nodded, saying, “Take my car, it’s faster than the motor home.  Keys are in it.”

 

Huggy ran.

 

Huggy would have been more comfortable just taking his friends with him, but he couldn’t let Hutch walk and he stood no chance of carrying Starsky as dead weight.  Better to leave Darlene to watch over everyone.  He raced up the road as fast as he could in the small car.  Unfortunately, he had to start the climb up from the desert floor and Darlene’s Datsun B210 wasn’t designed for rapid ascents.  By the time he pulled into the motel parking lot, much more time had passed than he would have liked and the little car’s engine was pinging from the effort. 

 

In the darkness, the glowing lights of the diner made it look like a television set.  Huggy could clearly see Trevor at the counter, reading a newspaper and drinking some coffee.  He ran into the restaurant, and Trevor looked up when the door chime sounded.  Huggy didn’t have to say a thing.  The doctor tossed some money on the counter, abandoned his newspaper, and dashed toward Huggy. 

 

“I’m in 15, let me grab my bag,” he said.  Although he left most of his supplies in the RV, he had kept the strongest drugs and special supplies in his bag.   Huggy trotted along behind him.  “Is he worse? What happened?”

 

“Hutch is better.  He’s awake and the fever broke.  But, Starsky,” Huggy stopped and shook his head.  Trevor wasted no time.  In a few minutes they were on the road.

 

“What happened?”

 

“It was unbelievable, man.  I’m not really sure what I saw and I can’t tell you anyway.”

 

“Was Starsky hurt?”

 

Huggy shrugged and nodded at the same time. “Yeah. No. I don’t know.  He was out cold when I left.  I think he just fell out from tiredness, but The Bear ain’t no doc. Hutch said get one.  When Curly’s hurt, Blondie knows.  I didn’t ask how high, you dig?”

 

Trevor was thrilled to hear that Hutch was with it enough to know what was happening around him.  When he left them, he was afraid he’d come back and find Hutch was gone. He said a silent prayer that the price to Starsky wouldn’t be too high.  Hutch couldn’t take that. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

As time passed, Hutch became increasingly agitated for Starsky.  His friend lay without so much as a twitch for nearly an hour.  He was inexplicably dismayed when he found Starsky’s rings in his hand, but he slipped them on his finger and kept quiet about it.  At Darlene’s insistence, he didn’t try to get up, but when he saw Starsky begin to shiver, despite his proximity to the fire, Hutch struggled to sit up again.  By this time Sulindi was somewhat recovered.  Darlene was helping her drink some water when she saw Hutch throwing off his blanket.

 

“Stop,” she ordered.

 

“No,” he said with as much sternness as he could manage as he tried to stand, but he immediately fell back onto the stretcher, breathing hard and having to put his head down to stop the spins. 

 

“The jacket,” Sulindi said softly to Darlene. 

 

Darlene understood.  She went to Hutch’s side and reached for his varsity jacket, intending to cover Starsky with it.  Hutch saw the movement and reached for her arm. 

 

“Why?” was all he had the energy to ask.

 

“I’ll explain it all. Please relax.  Rest.”  Darlene left his side to go to Starsky.  She covered him with the jacket and brushed her hand across his sweat-covered forehead, feeling the heat there.  She knew what was happening to him, but wasn’t sure she should tell his partner.  She made quiet shushing sounds and Starsky was still again.  Darlene walked to the RV and returned with some more water for Hutch and a small pillow to put under Starsky’s head, thinking if she could only make him more comfortable, Hutch might feel less afraid.

 

Before getting him to lie down again, Darlene figured out how to make the stretcher elevate at the head.  From that position, Hutch could watch Starsky closer and Sulindi gave her approval.

 

Darlene sat close to Hutch while Sulindi went and tended to his partner.  Hutch watched with fascination as she worked.  She made a few motions over Starsky, then she pushed the bracelets on her arm up higher and reached into the fire pit.  Withdrawing her undamaged hand, she used it to apply some ash to each of Starsky’s eyelids.  Then, she pulled back the jacket and made a circle over his heart.  When she was done, she moved toward Hutch and did the same. 

 

“Keep silent what you have seen and heard here,” she said in quiet, accented tones.  “Your friend has made the sacrifice and he was found worthy.”

 

“Sacrifice?” Hutch squeaked.  “What kind of sacrifice?”

 

“Have no fear.  The sacrifice of love.  He loved enough to take on your burden.  He will be fine within two days, by the time the moon begins her journey home.”

 

Hutch was already as pale a white man as Sulindi could recall seeing, but he paled more when he heard her words.  He trembled with his fear for Starsky, and his eyes were wide.  “Are you sure?”

 

“Yes.  You must believe.  He believed,” Sulindi said with an unblinking gaze that conveyed her sincerity.

 

“Can you help me go over to him?” he asked Sulindi.

 

“Stay still,” she replied.  “He is on a journey.  He knows you are here.”

 

She sat with Hutch and explained things to him, like why she had asked Starsky to bring the items he had brought to the ceremony, what part Starsky played, and how the circle would be completed.  She told him that his fever was broken and that they were to call on her at the full moon the next month if it returned, but that her ancestors had told her he was healed and as long as the circle was completed, he and Starsky would both be fine. 

 

“Believe,” she said.  “When he is done with his journey, you’ll know.”  Sulindi reached out and took his hand in hers.  “Give him these rings when the time comes.”

 

Hutch was relieved to hear the sound of Darlene’s car approaching.  Huggy stopped it in front of the motor home and Trevor jumped out with his bag in his hand.

 

“Stop,” Sulindi said.  She didn’t raise her voice, but she was direct. 

 

Trevor took in the scene quickly and didn’t like having to stop in his tracks like that, but he didn’t want to do anything to interfere with Sulindi’s instructions, either.  Hutch was sitting up a little and he was awake.  Trevor could see that from where he stood.

 

Darlene approached him and Huggy, explaining that Sulindi didn’t want him to bring modern medicine into the circle where the ceremony was conducted.  Once they left the site, Trevor could treat Starsky.  Sulindi said they would be back in his world, then, and the ancestors would not be angered. Trevor accepted that, set his bag down inside the Winnebago, and joined Huggy to move the two men into the big vehicle.  At Hutch’s insistence, they picked Starsky up and carried the limp man inside first.  When they returned for Hutch, he reached his hand up to Sulindi.  She bent down and kissed him on the cheek, then embraced him. 

“Be well.  You are loved and your friends need you,” she whispered in his ear. “Especially David.”

 

Hutch’s voice was choked as he thanked her.  She released him and watched the doctor and Darlene’s cousin take him out of her circle.  They returned for the remaining things they had brought with them and then left with their thanks.  When the RV pulled away from them, Darlene asked, “Will they be all right, Sulindi?”

 

The woman closed her eyes, swaying a little from her exhaustion, and tipping her head to one side as if she were listening to something.  A small smile crept onto her face and she opened dark eyes, shining with her feeling of accomplishment and joy.  “The journey is still underway for David, but the ancestors believe they will both be well.  His friend will need time to be strong, but he will recover.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Huggy headed for the motor lodge.  Trevor wanted to get his friends inside where the light was better and they weren’t in constant motion.  He quickly checked Hutch, excited to find that Huggy was right, Hutch’s skin was cool and his eyes were clear.

 

From where Trevor and Huggy had secured the stretcher, Hutch could reach out and touch Starsky, but Trevor needed to be between them, so Hutch was limited to more anxious watching.  “Is he okay?” he asked, afraid to hear the answer, but wanting to believe, as Sulindi had instructed.

 

“I don’t know yet.  Rest and let me do my job, huh?” he chided gently.

 

Trevor set Hutch’s jacket aside, and stripped Starsky out of his drenched jeans and socks, replacing them with some scrubs he’d packed just in case they were needed.  He covered the shivering man with blankets and finished his physical assessment.  Starsky’s pupils were satisfyingly reactive, but showed the obvious signs that he had been given a strong drug of some kind. 

 

“What did he take?” he asked Hutch.

 

“I don’t know,” Hutch answered, fear creeping into his voice.

 

Huggy was listening from the driver’s seat.  He told Trevor the name of the herbal preparation the two men had been given.  The name was foreign and meant nothing to any of them, but he told Trevor that Darlene said it was okay for him to reveal this one detail and that it had hallucinogenic effects on both participants, with an almost narcotic sleep following for the one who wasn’t sick.  Sulindi had explained that this was normal and he shouldn’t be concerned.

 

Trevor thought he knew what was happening.  Starsky had a fever and he looked like he’d been walking in the desert without water for a day.  The doctor worked on the fever and started an IV to combat the dehydration. 

 

Huggy was grateful for the darkness when they reached the motor lodge.  They were able to get both men inside the room without notice, especially with the RV to block them from sight of the other cabins.  Starsky was breathing easily and his pulse was still strong.  Although Trevor was worried, he told Hutch he believed Starsky was just suffering from exhaustion and the effects of whatever Sulindi had dosed him with for the ceremony. 

 

Anticipating that they might need to hole up for a day or two, Trevor had rented a cabin with two small bedrooms.   He and Huggy got their friends into the two beds in one of the rooms, and at Hutch’s insistence, pushed Starsky close enough for him to touch.  That earned them Hutch’s promise he’d stay in bed.

 

When Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s and felt the heat of his fever, he said, “He has a fever.  Why?”

 

Trevor shook his head and said, “It’s better than it was.  Try not to worry.  I’m watching him, but you need to sleep.  Don’t make what he and Sulindi did a waste.”

 

As soon as Trevor shut the door behind him, Hutch said, “Aw, Starsk.  You promised you wouldn’t be hurt.”  He wanted to stay awake and watch over Starsky, but he was so tired, sleep ambushed him.

 

Throughout the night, Trevor checked on his friends.  He marveled at Hutch, sleeping peacefully without a fever or strained breathing to mar his rest. Although they had found and treated multiple problems, nothing modern medicine could come up with had worked this well.  Even when Hutch had seemed to respond, he only rallied partially and temporarily.  Hutch had maintained a lingering, low-grade fever during those times and he never seemed to regain any lost ground.   Something told Trevor this was different, the nightmare was finally behind them. 

 

Starsky didn’t wake, but he was restless in his sleep. Within a few hours, he was dreaming and mumbling.  In his dream, he sat with Sulindi, while she explained what happened to him.  She assured him repeatedly that Hutch would be fine. 

 

“His illness is in you,” she explained.  “You are strong enough to fight it.  You will be well.”

 

As Starsky’s fever burned itself out, the leeches made an appearance in his dreams.  “No,” he mumbled weakly in his sleep as he brushed his hands on his chest.  Hutch woke up and watched him for a few minutes.  He was about to call for Trevor, afraid that Starsky would rip out his IV, when Starsky’s eyes flew open as he called, “Hutch!”  He sat up, and backed up against the wall behind him, looking around the room.

 

“Shh.  I’m right here, Starsk.”  Hutch reached for his friend, but Starsky was too far from him.   

 

“Hutch?”

 

“Right here, buddy. You all right?”

 

Starsky didn’t answer him.  The room looked funny, especially in the dim dawn light cast from the window behind Hutch.  He didn’t know where he was or what had happened. 

 

“Hutch?” he asked again.  Now, Hutch was scared.

 

“Starsk,” he said, “answer me. Are you all right?”

 

Finally, Starsky looked at him and nodded.  A strange, colorful shimmer hovered around Hutch’s face and hair.  Starsky asked, “You okay, now?”

 

“Fever’s gone.  I’m better.  Please lie down and rest.”

 

“You sure?” Starsky asked.

 

“I’m sure.  Please,” Hutch implored. 

 

“It worked,” Starsky said with a deep sigh.  He closed his eyes and tipped his head back for a moment.  “It’s in me,” he said. “It’s in me.  It worked.” 

 

“What’s in you? Starsk?”

 

When he opened his eyes again, Starsky could clearly see Sulindi standing with Hutch, smiling and nodding that everything was fine.  Finally, he could let go. Hutch was safe.  The stress of recent events poured off of him in waves. 

 

Hutch didn’t like the way Starsky was backed against the wall.  Slowly, he got to a seated position on his bed.  His partner’s eyes were closed again, and he didn’t see Hutch carefully move to sit next to him.  The move took more energy than Hutch could spare, but he had to touch Starsky, to know he was all right.  When he touched Starsky’s arm, he could feel him trembling with relief.  In response to his touch, Starsky opened his eyes and smiled.

 

“It worked.  You’ll be fine,” he said, his voice sounding beyond exhausted.  Nothing else mattered.  Starsky let Hutch help him to lie back down on the bed.  He patted Hutch on the hand and immediately fell asleep again.

 

Trevor appeared in the doorway.  “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” he asked. 

 

“He woke up,” Hutch said. 

 

Trevor stepped closer and checked Starsky’s vital signs, working without complaint around an unmoving Hutch.  “He’s fine, just sleeping.  The fever has broken, too.  He’s much cooler.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“You’re already out of bed, so do you feel like getting cleaned up?”

 

“If you’ll keep an eye on him, I’d love to have a shower.”

 

Trevor laughed, reaching toward him to grab his wrist.  His pulse was fast, attesting to his weakened state.  “You don’t really think I’m going to let you climb into the shower all by your lonesome, do you?”

 

“I--”

 

“No way.  Be a good boy and I’ll draw you a bath... warm, not too hot.  Then, I’ll help you in there and let you be if you promise to holler if you think you’re going under.  Superman, here, will probably sleep a few more hours, at least.”

 

Hutch chuckled. “Okay, okay.”

 

Even a just-warm bath felt heavenly to Hutch.  He had barely been out of bed for longer than he wanted to consider.  After the uneventful bath, he agreed to some food and Huggy was thrilled to see him eat the soup he brought back from the diner like he had an appetite.  The food stayed down and the fever stayed away.

 

When Starsky finally woke up, his fever was completely gone.  His body ached and his face showed the strain of the past weeks.  Hutch was upset that Starsky couldn’t keep food down at first, but Trevor said it was probably just a reaction to the concoction Starsky had taken. By the evening, his color was better and he was able to eat.  Trevor discontinued the IV.  He called Captain Dobey to let him know his detectives were healing and they would be home soon.

 

Hutch spent the day resting and watching over his partner, leaving his bed only to take assisted walks to the bathroom.  As the sun was setting, Trevor decided they were both all right to travel, and he knew they were all anxious to get home.  He checked out of the motel and marveled that both men were able to walk to the motor home, with Huggy supporting one and Trevor the other. 

 

“Want me to drive?” Trevor asked.

 

“No, you keep an eye on them.  I’ll drive,” Huggy replied. 

 

The four men rode up the mountain and down the other side to the valley that led to Bay City, hardly speaking a word during the long drive home.  They were all lost in thought, each one pondering what he’d seen, experienced, or done in the past few days.

 

When they arrived at Venice Place, Trevor fussed over both men long past the point where their patience ran out. Starsky finally pushed Trevor's hands away with an impatient, "I'm fine, Trev, for God's sake. Worry about Hutch. He's your patient, or have you forgotten?"

 

"You're both my patients," Trevor pointed out, annoyed. "And in case you hadn't noticed, you're not in the best of health yourself."

 

"Fellas, fellas," Huggy said, holding up his hands. "Please. Starsky's right, Trevor. Darlene and Sulindi both say the effects of the drug and the ceremony will wear off in a couple of days. He only needs to make sure he keeps enough liquids in him and eats as much as he can stand until he's back to normal. Well, normal for him," he added with an attempt at humor.

 

It didn't work. "So Sulindi's a doctor now?" Trevor snapped, more worried than angry, but a little angry, too.

 

"She's done this before," Huggy said. "She was training to be a medicine woman in her village before she came to this country. She's watched this ceremony all her life."

 

"Hey," Hutch put in. "We appreciate it, Trevor, we really do, but I think what we both need now is some sleep."

 

Trevor glanced from one to the other and finally the frown on his face subsided marginally. "Okay. I'll go. But I'm coming back tomorrow, and I'm giving you both," this was directed at Starsky, "a good going over. No arguments."

 

Starsky lifted a hand in surrender, and finally, both Trevor and Huggy left.

 

Hutch was gazing at Starsky with something akin to awe. "Wanna tell me about it now?" he asked after several moments.

 

Starsky shifted to get more comfortable in his chair and ran a hand wearily over his hair. "I don't know where to begin, pal."

 

"Why don't you try the beginning?"

 

Starsky gave a faint grin. "What's the last thing you remember?"

 

"Getting into the RV," Hutch said.

 

Starsky raised his eyebrows. He hadn't realized Hutch was that out of it that early into the excursion. But he suppressed that feeling, comforting himself with the healthier color of Hutch's complexion and his obvious improvement, before relating the events leading up to the ceremony itself.

 

"We were dancing around the fire," he said, frowning a little, "and I know it was just me and Sulindi to start off with, but then all these other people joined us and there were these two women --"

 

"Wait a minute," Hutch said. "There was nobody there but you and Sulindi."

 

"Sure there was," Starsky said. "There were two women working on you, I guess it was part of the ceremony, and about half a dozen or more men and women dancing with us --" He stopped when Hutch shook his head, a worried expression on his face.

 

"No, buddy. It was just you and Sulindi. I woke up about halfway through the ceremony, I'd guess it was, and there was nobody there but you two. Ask Huggy or Darlene."

 

"But ... " Starsky passed a hand over his face. "I remember them, Hutch!"

 

"I don't doubt that," Hutch said. "I could tell by the way you were acting that something was going on in your head we couldn't see. But there wasn't anybody else there, really."

 

"What was that shit Sulindi gave me?"

 

"A hallucinogenic would be my guess," Hutch said.

 

"Now, come on," Starsky said, getting a little upset. "I touched them! I danced with them! How about those two women working on you?"

 

"They weren't there, Starsk."

 

"Shit." Starsky shook his head. "That's scary."

 

"You're okay now." It was a question.

 

Starsky nodded. "Yeah. A little wrung out, to be honest, but basically okay. I think."

 

"Well, go on," Hutch prompted. "Tell me what happened to you."

 

Starsky took a deep breath. "Well, we were dancing and there were all these other people -- guess I imagined them --"

 

"If you did, Sulindi did, too," Hutch said. "It looked to me like she was dancing with other people besides you."

 

Starsky felt a little chill down his spine. "She kept talking about 'the ancestors.' You s'pose they were ghosts or somethin'?"

 

"There's no such thing...."

 

"Then how could we have been seein' the same thing?" Starsky demanded. "Was she?"

 

Hutch hesitated. He hated to admit it, even to Starsky, but Sulindi had seemed to be seeing the same things he did. "It kind of looked like it," he said at last. "You'd really need to ask her."

 

Starsky rubbed at his eyes again. "Okay, okay. Anyway, we were dancing around and the girls were working on you, and I could see you gettin' better, Hutch, it was visible. And so I thought I'd better go on dancing as long as I could, but even though I was drenched, I wasn't hot and I wasn't tired, and there wasn't any desire to quit. But then, at some point.... "

 

"What?" Hutch thought he knew what was coming. He remembered the horror on Starsky's face and he knew something awful had been happening to his partner then, even if only in his mind.

 

"I started to get scared, like when we're coming up on some whippos and somebody's behind me, you know that feelin'?"

 

Hutch nodded. He knew it well.

 

"So I reached for my gun --" Starsky paused and his face went a shade paler. "-- and I felt something squishy instead of it. And when I brought my hand out," he swallowed, "there was a leech in it. So I tore off my shirt and there were ... hundreds of them.... " He couldn't go on.

 

"Aw, Starsk," Hutch said sympathetically. He knew how Starsky hated leeches. They'd watched "African Queen" together one night, and though Starsky had seen it before -- he loved Bogey movies -- he covered his eyes at the leeches scene and Hutch had to tell him when it was over and he could look again. Even though he hadn't watched it, his skin was faintly tinged with green just from listening to it and remembering it. "It must have been an effect of the drug. It brought out your worst fear."

 

But Starsky shook his head. "That ain't my worst fear, buddy," he said. "Losing you is, especially if I can do something to stop it and don't do it. That's why I went through that ceremony. And I'd do it again if necessary."

 

Hutch felt his eyes sting and he tried to make light of that, but couldn't. "Hey, you can’t get rid of me so easily," he began, but his voice caught and ruined the effect. He blinked rapidly. "Thanks, Starsky."

 

Starsky gave a wan grin. "Anytime, buddy."

 

Hutch lowered his eyes and turned Starsky’s rings around a couple of times on his finger.  He took them off and held them out for Starsky to take.  “I believe these are yours,” he said.  Starsky took them without a word and slid them onto his finger.

 

Hutch improved every day, and in a week, had regained his strength, if not all of his lost weight. Huggy or Edith came by almost every day with something to tempt his appetite. Starsky brought him ice cream and burritos and pizza, but Hutch's stomach was still a little too tender for spicy foods. He did eat the ice cream. By the end of the second week, the department physician certified him fit for duty. Starsky had recovered from his temporary weakness days earlier and had already been certified. Trevor ran a few tests and couldn’t find anything to cause them to worry.  Hutch’s blood sugar was even normal again.

 

After work the first day Hutch was back on the roster, the two men met Darlene and Sulindi at Huggy's for dinner. Sulindi, away from her role as a medicine woman, was soft-spoken and almost painfully shy. Hutch tried to thank her and she all but cringed back in her seat.

 

"Please," she said, refusing to meet his eyes, "we mustn't talk about it. You're welcome. I'm glad you're better. But we mustn't talk about it."

 

"Sulindi," Starsky said, leaning forward. "Just one question. Please?"

 

She cringed a little more but finally met his eyes and nodded.

 

"Who were the people dancing with us?"

 

She was clearly surprised. After several moments, she said, very quietly, "You saw them, too?"

 

He nodded.

 

She sat up a little straighter. Obviously, this information made her less uneasy, at least with Starsky. "The ancestors," she said. "The medicine men and women who went before. You saw them?"

 

He nodded again.

 

"You should not have been able to see them," she said, wonder in her eyes and voice. "Only I should have. Only a blood relative. But if you did, too --" She looked at him very closely. "You have no African ancestry. You couldn't."

 

"Not that I know of," he said. "My family wasn't in this country during the time of slavery."

 

"You don't," she said, still gazing at him with a penetrating look that made him feel as if she could have recited his family tree. "Then there is only one explanation."

 

"What's that?"

 

"Your love for your friend," she said. "If you could see the ancestors who came to help me appeal to the gods for his life, then your love for him must be very profound." She shifted her glance to Hutch. "You are cherished by your friend. You must cherish him in return."

 

"I do," Hutch said, then flushed. He'd rarely said something like that aloud to anyone.

 

She nodded gravely. "Good. That is good."

 

The End

 

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