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

This is part one of two.

 

Gaslight

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

  

For the first time in three weeks, Starsky was convinced he was going to get some real sleep.  No phone calls to mar his rest.  They had begun on the anniversary of Terry’s shooting.  Not her death, which seemed odd to Starsky, but the day she was shot.  Strange phone calls that couldn’t be explained.  The simple solution would have been to leave the phone off the hook overnight a few times.  That would probably dissuade whoever was playing this particular sick joke, but Starsky couldn’t do that.  He was supposed to be accessible to the department around the clock.  Besides that, what if Hutch needed him?  No.  That wasn’t an option.

In the beginning of this nightmare, Starsky had only told Hutch he kept getting prank calls in the middle of the night.  He wasn’t in a hurry to explain the nature of those calls.  Knowing his partner, he’d drag him off to see a shrink.  No, Starsky thought the better part of valor in this situation was just to change his phone number.  He’d done it three times now, but each time, the calls had kept coming without a break. This time, when he changed the number, he’d given it only to the department, Hutch, and his mother. Tonight, a chilly February evening, he’d collapsed on the bed.  He was too tired to even take off his clothes or climb under the blankets.  Starsky had kicked off his shoes and fallen asleep immediately.

Starsky slept like a rock for two hours, but the phone jarred him awake at two a.m.

“‘Lo?” he muttered as a question.

The female voice that had been tormenting him almost nightly spoke quietly, sadly. “Dave, it’s me.  Why do you keep changing your number?  Don’t you love me anymore?”

As long as he lived, Starsky thought he could never forget Terry’s voice.  Now, he almost wished he could.  How had whoever this was gotten the new number? Again?

“Look, I don’t know who the hell you are, but this is a pretty sick joke....” his tirade began.

“How can you ask that?” the plaintive voice said, interrupting him.

“I don’t know how you got this number, but stop calling here!” he shouted at the phone, punctuating the thought by the angry slamming of the receiver onto the hook switch.

He sat up in bed, panting, fuming.   He had gotten little sleep in the past two weeks.  His heart was racing.

The phone rang again.  He almost didn’t answer it this time, but he couldn’t stop himself.

This time, the man’s voice.  “David?”

The voice sounded so much like his.  Distant memories started to flood his mind.  He was shaking and could say nothing - he just breathed rapidly and his eyes opened wide.  This isn’t happening!

David Starsky’s rational mind knew there was no chance the man on the end of the line was his father.  Just like it knew there was no chance the woman who called earlier was his dead fiancée.  However, exhaustion was making his head swim and his rational mind was losing to a sense of overwhelming dread.

“David. How can you talk to Terry like that?  Especially when it’s your fault she’s dead.”

Starsky hung up the phone.  He stood and paced around the room.  As soon as it started to ring again, he went out to the living room, his hands over his ears.  The phone never stopped.

Looking up, his eyes came to rest on his gun.  He quickly crossed the room and retrieved it - returning to the bedroom, taking off the safety, and pointing it at the ringing phone - but he didn’t pull the trigger.  In a blinding flash of pain and desperation, he turned the gun on himself. Uncontrollable shaking almost caused his finger to tighten on the trigger, but he stopped himself - lowering his hand, but not releasing the weapon.  A promise.  He made his best friend a promise years ago.  Can’t break my promise.  Hutch.  He needed Hutch.

Starsky sat on the bed and grabbed the ringing phone.  He picked up the receiver and he heard the man’s voice calling his name again, but from a distance.  Instead of listening, this time he hung up and picked the phone up again after only a second or two.  The dial tone was a relief.  He rested the receiver between his shoulder and his ear so he could dial his lifeline.  The Beretta was still in his left hand.

Ken Hutchinson hadn’t fallen asleep yet.  He was lying awake thinking of what he could do to help his best friend.  Hutch had become increasingly worried about Starsky over the past two weeks.  What had started with a series of prank phone calls in the middle of the night - phone calls his partner refused to elaborate on - had progressed to a full blown depression on his partner.  Starsky had stopped telling him about the calls, insisting that he was sleeping despite his obvious physical deterioration.  In the past two weeks, he had all but stopped eating.  Hutch knew his best friend thought he had him fooled, but Starsky hadn’t eaten what could be called a real meal in five or six days.   Any attempt to get information out of him had failed and Starsky refused to let him stay at his place, or to stay with Hutch.  He was at a loss, but determined he was going to get his partner taken off the duty roster the next day if things didn’t improve.  Hutch was worried about Starsky’s state of mind, and his safety on the streets.  Knowing his partner would die to protect him didn’t mean he wouldn’t make a stupid mistake with his own safety.

When Starsky suddenly announced he had changed his phone number again, Hutch was both relieved and suspicious.  Why would Starsky need to do that if the calls had stopped?  He only hoped the decision meant his best friend would finally get a good night’s sleep.  When Hutch’s phone rang at a little after two in the morning, he was glad he was still awake.

“Starsky?” he said, knowing it was almost certain to be his partner.

The tone of the voice on the other end of the line was thin, tight, and frightening.  “Hutch?”

“Starsk, what’s wrong?”  Hutch was already up and reaching for something to wear.

“I....” the catch in his friend’s voice put Hutch on alert.

“Talk to me, buddy.” This was serious, whatever it was.

“I’m sorry, Hutch.  I can’t...I know, I promised.  Uh....”

“Are you all right?” Hutch asked as he pulled his cords on and bent to retrieve his shoes.

“No. I’m scared, Hutch.  I’m afraid I...can’t keep my promise. Need you.”

Hutch’s heart pounded in his chest.  Promise?  “What promise, buddy?”

“Terry.  Aw, Hutch.  God, I...please just come.”

“I’m on my way.  Don’t do ANYTHING!  Do you hear me?”

The pause on the other end of the line made his palms sweat.  “Starsky, answer me.  I want you to promise you won’t do anything till I get there.”

“Okay, Hutch.  Hurry.” 

He hung up the phone, pulling a t-shirt on as he raced for the living room.  Hutch grabbed his weapon and a jacket on the way out the door; all but killing himself tripping on his own untied shoelaces as he pounded down the stairs of Venice Place.  He could only think of one promise that Starsky might be talking about and he prayed to God he was wrong.  After Terry died, his best friend had almost committed suicide in his grief and pain.  Hutch would never forget the night he’d left Starsky alone just long enough to pick up dinner.  When he returned, Starsky had left him a despondent note and disappeared, prompting a frantic search by Hutch and Huggy.  They’d found Starsky out cold next to Terry’s grave; lucky he’d been too sick and overcome with emotion to pull the trigger of the gun he still held in his hand.  Hutch made him promise never to think of doing such a thing again and Starsky had given his word.  If that was the promise, he had no time to lose.  Hutch threw the light up on top of the car and screamed down the road, siren howling. 

He cut the siren a block away from Starsky’s and he turned the light off, throwing it onto the front seat as he pulled to a stop.  Hutch took the stairs to Starsky’s place two at a time, putting his key in the lock with shaking hands.  When he flung open the door, Hutch immediately turned toward the bathroom, hearing the shower running.  The door wasn’t closed all the way.  Hutch poked his head in and saw Starsky’s gun lying on the bathmat. 

“Starsky?” he said tentatively.  Hutch was curious why there was no steam in the room with the shower blasting.  

“Yeah,” came a small sounding voice from inside the shower. 

When Hutch stepped all the way into the room, he had his answer about the steam.  Starsky was huddled in the corner of the shower, fully clothed and shivering in the cold-water spray.

Hutch swallowed hard as he scooped the Beretta up, put the safety back on, and tucked it into his jacket pocket.  He moved in, turning off the cold water.

Starsky looked up at him, blue eyes filled with pain and confusion.  “Sorry.” 

Hutch’s heart was breaking for his friend and he was scared about what could possibly have driven him to this level of despair. “Hey, babe, let me help you out of there.  What, are you trying to catch pneumonia?”  He put his hand out for Starsky and was concerned by the icy hand that was given to him in return. 

“Wait, take those wet clothes off, first.”  Hutch helped his friend peel off his soaked clothing and he handed him dry towels.  Starsky was still shivering, his lips a little blue over chattering teeth.

“They found me, Hutch.”

“Who did? What’s this all about?”  Hutch tried to help the nearly frozen fingers dry Starsky’s thick curls.  He didn’t want Starsky going to bed with wet hair in the condition he was in at the moment.

The phone started to ring, interrupting what Starsky was about to say.  Hutch moved toward it, but Starsky grabbed him by the wrist and said, “No, don’t!”

Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes.  “I’m going to get to the bottom of this, buddy.  It’s all right.”

After handing Starsky his robe from behind the door, he left him in the bathroom and grabbed the ringing phone in the bedroom.  Instead of saying hello, he just listened.  A familiar sounding man’s voice said, “David?”  If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn the man on the line was Starsky.

“Who the hell is this!?” Hutch demanded.  He got no answer, just a click from the other end as the party hung up the phone.  Disgusted, he hung up, too, and then took it off the hook.

Starsky was stumbling into the room, wrapped in the robe, still drying his hair with a towel.  He didn’t look any warmer and Hutch helped him get into bed, under the covers.  He grabbed an extra blanket from Starsky’s closet and covered him with it.  Then he announced he was going to make some tea and get a hot water bottle together to warm his partner.  Starsky nodded and closed his eyes as he settled under the blankets.

When Hutch returned, he had to awaken Starsky to drink the tea.  He almost didn’t, but he wanted some answers. He helped his friend sit up and put the tea into trembling hands.

“Starsky,” Hutch started as he tucked the hot water bottle under the blankets against Starsky’s abdomen, “I need you to tell me what happened.  What promise?”

Sipping the tea carefully, trying not to spill it, Starsky responded with another apology. “Sh-shouldn’t have called.  ‘S late.”

“Don’t worry about it, buddy, I’m glad you called.  Please, you’re scaring me here.  Talk to me.  Were you talking about the promise you made me... when Terry died?”

Starsky nodded.  “My fault.”

“Is that what these phone calls have been about, Starsk?  Terry?”

“Yeah, Terry, others.  My dad, Hutch.  He said it was my fault.”

Hutch could see Starsky wasn’t rational yet.  He needed some sleep.  Uninterrupted sleep.  “Buddy, you know Terry’s death wasn’t your fault and your dad has been dead more than twenty years.  He didn’t say any such thing.”

“He did, Hutch.  He called.” Starsky’s eyes were sliding closed again and Hutch hoped the brandy he’d spiked the tea with would help him sleep.  He confiscated the cup before Starsky dropped it from limp fingers, setting it down on the nightstand.  After easing his best friend down onto the bed, Hutch went out to the living room to make up the couch.  He was exhausted, too.  He crashed with both of their guns tucked under the couch cushions, making a lumpy sleeping surface even worse. 

Hutch was startled awake by the sound of Starsky’s alarm clock at six-thirty.  Cursing himself for forgetting to turn it off, he stumbled into Starsky’s room in time to see a hand come out from underneath the blankets and hit the snooze button. 

“Hey,” Hutch said quietly.  He was answered by a moan from the bed.

“You rest a little longer,” Hutch moved over and turned off the alarm clock so it wouldn’t waken Starsky again.  “I’m gonna take a shower and then I’ll make some breakfast.”

“Not hungry,” the sleepy voice replied from under the covers.

“You’re gonna eat it anyway, now go back to sleep.”  Unwilling to take any chances before he was certain Starsky was okay, Hutch took their guns with him into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. 

Both men kept extra clothing and toiletries at each other’s homes.  Too many nights sleeping off a late stakeout or helping each other through sickness or injuries taught them to do that.  Twenty minutes later, Hutch was showered, shaved, dressed, and in the kitchen making breakfast.  The smell of coffee had wafted into the bedroom and was coaxing his partner awake.  He looked up from cooking bacon to see a disheveled looking Starsky shuffling toward him.

“What are you doing up?  I would have brought it to you.”  Starsky still looked bad.  The few hours of sleep had helped, but could not have been enough after nearly two weeks without much real rest.

“Morning to you, too.  Gonna be late for work.”

“You’re not going to work today, Starsk.”

“Yes, I am.  I’m okay.”

Hutch flipped a piece of bacon over, jumping back a little when some grease spattered up and hit him on the hand.  He stuck the stinging hand under the cold tap and said, “No, you’re not.  I’m calling you in.”

Starsky sighed and moved over to get a look at the burned appendage. “Just a flesh wound,” he pronounced as he took over duties as cook.  “Hutch, I need to go to work.  If I don’t, I’ll just sit around here and freak myself out all day.  I promise you, I’m okay now.”

Hutch dried off his hand and looked at Starsky, deadly seriousness in his tone, “You promise, huh?  What about the promise you came close to breaking last night?”

Concentrating on moving the now cooked bacon onto waiting paper towels, Starsky sighed.  “I don’t know what came over me last night.  It’s just these phone calls and when it was my dad... I just, I’m sorry.  I swear I won’t do anything stupid, okay?”

“I’m not giving your gun back until you tell me what’s going on and you’d better be more convincing than that.”  Hutch busied himself with scrambling some eggs in a bowl.  He tossed in a little milk and continued to stir as he patiently awaited an answer.  “Get yourself some coffee, sit down over there and tell me what’s happening here.  You don’t get to call me in the middle of the night, scare the devil out of me, and then just say it’s all okay, Starsk.”

Knowing he had no choice, Starsky complied.  He got his coffee, grateful for the warmth that was seeping into his hand from the cup.  Then he settled at the kitchen table, watching his best friend make breakfast as he tried his best to explain.

“I don’t know where to start.”

“How ‘bout at the beginning.  That usually works pretty well.”  Hutch smiled at him, hoping to relieve a little of Starsky’s apprehension with his teasing. 

“Like I said before, the phone calls.  I thought when I changed my number they’d stop.  They didn’t.  Every time I changed it, the calls just kept coming. She called again last night, Hutch.”

“Who?”

“Terry.”

“Starsk....”

“I know it ain’t really Terry, just like I know it wasn’t my dad.  I just, well... for about two weeks now, I’ve been gettin’ these phone calls from, uh, people who are supposed to be dead.”

Hutch looked up from his frying pan and his mouth dropped open a little. “What did you say?”

“Your eggs are burning and you heard me right.  Dead people, Hutch.  I didn’t tell you before because I knew you’d think I was nuts.”  Starsky suddenly became engrossed in putting more sugar in his coffee.

The blond man stirred the eggs a little, tossing in some cheese and more pepper, then said with feigned lightness, “I’ve always know you were nuts, buddy.  Pray, continue.”  He scooped the eggs onto plates, added the bacon and carried their breakfasts over to the table.  “Sorry, no toast, you’re out of bread.”

“‘S all right.  I don’t know if I can eat this anyway.”

“Try.”

Starsky nodded as he picked up one piece of bacon.  “God, my mother would kill me if she knew I eat this stuff.”  Hutch chuckled at that.

“Come on, what about these calls, now.”  Hutch was ready for him to continue.

“The callers ask me why I caused them to die.  They accuse me of stuff.  They...” Starsky put his bacon down and pushed the plate back away, ignoring Hutch’s frown. “Even my dad, Hutch. He says it’s all my fault.”

“Who has been calling?” Although this story sounded incredible, Hutch didn’t doubt it.  He knew Starsky wouldn’t make up something like this.  He was too worried and Starsky wouldn’t do that to him.

“Lotta people really.  Mostly it’s been Terry and my dad. The reason I had the number changed was cause of the night you called, Hutch.”

“Me?”

“Yeah.  You said you were next and it was gonna be because of me.  I knew I couldn’t take it anymore and I pulled some strings yesterday to get the number changed right away.  Didn’t work, did it?”

Hutch stopped eating and looked at Starsky with nothing but compassion.  No wonder he was so freaked.  The poor man was being driven insane by some sicko, or by the sounds of it, multiple sickos.  “Starsk, you know I didn’t call you.”

“I know it in my head, Hutch.  You don’t know what it’s been like. I’m sorry, I shoulda told you, but I just couldn’t.  I thought it would stop.”

“Well, obviously some whacko or whackos are pullin’ something here.  They’re trying to get to you and I don’t like it.  Okay, we’ll go to work today and we’re gonna start looking for whoever the hell is doing this to you.”

Starsky nodded, his eyes speaking their thanks. Then he pushed up from the table and headed for the bathroom.

“You not gonna eat again?”

Starsky cringed, knowing he’d been made.  “I can’t, Hutch.  Not unless you want me to toss it all right away.  I’m just gonna grab a quick shower so we can get to work before Dobey starts screamin’ for us.”

“A HOT shower, Starsk.”

Starsky answered him with a dismissive wave as he went into the bathroom.  Hutch looked at his plate with dismay.  Starsky never touched the eggs and had only taken a couple of bites of bacon. This couldn’t continue, no matter what.  Starsky had a high metabolism and a few days not eating was sure to make him sick.  That coupled with a lack of sleep equaled one worried partner.  He sighed as he rose to clear away the dishes.  Somehow, he was going to figure out what was happening.

When Starsky emerged, ready for work, he looked better. He was pale and obviously not completely well, but Hutch was going to let him go to work anyway.  He needed to check this mess out and there was no way he was leaving Starsky alone.

Handing the Beretta over, Hutch said, “You’d better keep that promise.  I’m glad you called.”

Starsky smiled at him and answered, “Don’t worry so much.  I swear, it’s passed.  You’re right and with you helping me, we’re gonna figure out what this is.”

Hutch went out the door first and when Starsky caught up to him, he was sliding into the driver’s seat in the Torino. 

“What are you doing?”  Starsky asked incredulously as he opened the passenger door.

“I gave you your gun back, but I’m driving.  Get in and don’t argue.”

Starsky decided it was better not to argue when his friend was like this, so he silently got in and shut the door.  He was feeling pretty rough and was glad Hutch was driving.

“Thanks for not trying to get me to ride to work in the Squash when my head hurts.  Those squeaks.” Starsky shivered at the thought, getting a quiet laugh out of his partner. 

On the ride down to Metro, Hutch stole frequent looks over at Starsky.  He looked tired and ill.  He reached over to pat his arm and was concerned by how warm Starsky felt.   Great, now he’s getting sick to top off the rest of this mess.

“You feeling okay?”

“Just tired, Blintz.”

Hutch knew that wasn’t all, but he wasn’t about to push it.  He was too relieved to see Starsky in his right mind, convinced that the phone calls weren’t genuine.  Lack of sleep and two weeks of a living nightmare must have seemed overwhelming the previous night.  Hutch decided Starsky was coming home with him that night, or he’d stay over at Starsky’s.  He wasn’t letting his friend spend another night alone until this issue was resolved.

The morning dragged with both men working on paperwork at the same time they were starting to investigate the strange phone calls.  Hutch was especially concerned about the new number leaking out to whoever was doing this to his partner on the same day as it was activated.  He anxiously awaited Captain Dobey’s late morning arrival after a meeting in the commissioner’s office.

Starsky’s condition seemed to be worsening.  He was drinking lots of coffee, but Hutch was unable to convince him to eat even a candy bar from the vending machine.  The other detectives in the squad room that morning kept looking at Hutch with concern.  They could see that Starsky wasn’t all right.

When Dobey arrived, he passed through the squad room.  After getting a glimpse at Starsky, he motioned to Hutch to come into his office.  Hutch excused himself to go in and have a chat while Starsky finished up some phone calls on a case. 

Hutch went inside and closed the door.  “I need to talk to you, Cap’n.”

“Is it about your partner?  Starsky looks terrible, what’s going on?”

Hutch proceeded to explain everything he knew about the situation.  Dobey wasn’t pleased that Starsky had kept this a secret for two weeks, but he understood the reasoning.

“Obviously someone’s after him.  Any ideas?” Dobey asked.

“Not yet, we just started looking.”

While the two men were in Dobey’s office, Starsky wrapped up his phone call.  He hung up and stood to get a cup of coffee before going into Dobey’s office to join his partner.  He knew what they had to be discussing and he wanted in on that conversation. 

Jack Hill watched Starsky surreptitiously as he stood at the coffee pot, swaying on his feet.  Jack jerked his head at his partner and said, “He okay?”

Cavanaugh stole a quick look at Starsky and quietly said, “Doesn’t look okay to me.”

Before Starsky could go into the captain’s office, his extension started to ring.  Keeping the coffee cup in one hand, he punched the blinking line button and grabbed the phone with the other.  “Starsky.”

Jack was seated right next to Starsky when he answered the phone and he noticed when the dark-haired man started trembling. He couldn’t hear what was said on the phone, but whatever it was, Starsky looked worse than he had all morning.

“Dave?  It’s Gillian, Dave.”

“Wha....” Starsky started.

“Why do you want him to die?  You have to go first.  If you don’t, Ken’s going to die.”

Starsky dropped the coffee cup to the floor with a loud crash as it broke.  Jack had enough time to stand up, but he didn’t react fast enough to catch Starsky.  He watched, horrified, as Starsky’s eyes rolled up and he collapsed to the floor.

The voice on the line of the dangling receiver said, “Dave?  Dave?” and then the line went dead.

Inside Dobey’s office, the two men heard the crash, followed by a heavy thud.  Then they heard the sounds of chairs scooting out and Jack Hill’s voice yelling, “Hutch!”

Hutch yanked open the door and was greeted by the sight of Jack Hill bent over his unconscious partner.  He sank down on his knees and took Starsky by the hand, patting it and calling his name.

Dobey said, “What happened, Jack?”

“I don’t know.  He took a phone call, looked like he was gonna be sick, and down he went.”

The department physician was in that day and Dobey ordered one of the bystanders to run and get him.  They’d start with that and let the doctor decide if they needed an ambulance.

Starsky stirred a little and half opened his eyes, looking up at Hutch, but not really seeing him.  All he said was, “I have to die first.”  Then he passed out again and Hutch couldn’t revive him.  Starsky’s heart was racing and his pale, sweaty face felt hot.  All Hutch could do while he waited for the doctor was treat his partner for shock. 

The doctor arrived at a dead run, carrying his bag. He handed it to Hutch and knelt next to Starsky. Hutch and the other officers watched in utter silence as the doctor took Starsky’s pulse and looked into his eyes. Starsky was conscious by this time, enough to obey orders to raise his head and answer questions.

Finally, the doctor shook his head. “Exhaustion,” he said to Hutch. “What the hell’s he been doing to himself?”

“Not eating and not sleeping,” Hutch answered shortly.

“Well, he’s going to have to start,” the doctor said. “You hear me, Starsky?  You got two choices. You go home for a week and get plenty of sleep and put some weight back on, or you go into the hospital and we’ll do it for you.”

“No hospital,” Starsky mumbled.

The doctor looked at Hutch, then both of them looked at the captain.

“I’ll take him to my place,” Hutch said. “Huggy and I’ll take turns. That way I can keep working.”

Dobey nodded. “Take the rest of today to get things set up. But you get your can back in here tomorrow, Hutchinson.”

“Yeah.” Hutch and the doctor got Starsky to his feet, and Jack helped Hutch get him to the car.

“Want me to come with you?” Jack asked as they got Starsky settled.

“No, we’ll be okay. Thanks, Jack.”

Jack nodded, patted Starsky’s shoulder, and stood back to shut the car door.

“I’m putting a tracer on your phone,” Hutch said as he started the car. “We’re going to find out who’s doing this.”

“They never stay on long enough, partner,” Starsky said wearily, his face so pale it was almost translucent. “Tracer won’t help.”

“You gotta try to keep ‘em on, buddy,” Hutch said, turning the car into the traffic. When Starsky turned a stricken look toward him, he reached out one hand to pat his partner’s arm. “I know what I’m asking, and I’m sorry. But somehow we have to find out who’s doing this. To do that, we have to trace the calls.”

Starsky leaned his head against the seat and closed his eyes. “Don’t know if I can handle that, Hutch.”

“Yes, you can. You’re gonna have me in your hair every minute I’m not working. You’re gonna have Huggy while I’m at work. He can have Diane and Angie cover the day shift without him for a few days.” Hutch softened his voice. “You know we love you, buddy, and we’ll do anything for you.”

Starsky opened his eyes and looked over at Hutch. He reached out his left hand and touched Hutch’s hair briefly. “I know.” But when they pulled up in front of Venice Place, Starsky raised surprised eyebrows. “What are we doing here?”

“Closer to Huggy’s than your place,” Hutch said. “Also, closer to the precinct. I figure if they can find you at work to call you there, they can find you here. But here, you’ll have me and Huggy.”

“You and Huggy could come to my place. It ain’t that much further,” Starsky said, though he opened the car door to get out.

“I know,” Hutch said, getting out, too. “But your place is in a quiet, residential neighborhood. Mine’s on a busy street. It’s tougher to watch your place. Here, our brother cops can keep an eye on the place.”

Starsky nodded. “I gotcha.” He stopped at the outer door, looking up the stairs with the same expression he’d have used if it were a mountain.

Hutch, understanding, put an arm around him and helped him up the steps, slowly, finally depositing him on the couch upstairs. He then went straight to the kitchen and made a sandwich - salami and cheese, plenty of mustard, just the way Starsky liked it - and brought it back with a big glass of orange juice. Starsky made a face.

“Don’t argue with me,” Hutch said, though Starsky hadn’t said anything. “Eat it. Drink the orange juice. If you’re a good boy, I’ll get you some Dr. Pepper. But, right now, you need all the calories and vitamins you can hold.”

“Okay, Mom,” Starsky said, giving Hutch a wan grin and starting to work on the sandwich. Hutch stood over him until he was sure Starsky was really eating, and then he went to the kitchen again to look over his supplies. He was running low on Starsky Food and he knew good and well his partner wouldn’t eat healthy meals for very long without making a fuss. He’d be lucky to get him to eat anything, actually.

He was making a list when the phone rang. His heart gave a leap and he dropped the pen and paper and hurried back out to the living room. Starsky had gone pale again and was just staring at it. Hutch got to it first and lifted the receiver. “Hello?”

There was a long silence and Hutch was almost ready to give up when a soft, feminine voice said, “Ken?”

Hutch felt cold, then heat, wash over him. It was Terry’s voice. But it couldn’t be Terry’s voice ... “Yes, this is Ken Hutchinson.”

Another silence. “So formal,” she said, almost teasingly. “You know why I’m calling, don’t you? I want to talk to Dave.”

“What makes you think he’s here?”

Starsky was watching him, eyes dilated, breathing too quickly. Hutch met his eyes and tried not to let his own uneasiness show. He suspected it wasn’t working.

“I know he is,” and now she sounded sad and defeated. “He’s running from me. He promised he’d always love me.”

“Who is this?” Hutch demanded. But the line was dead. He replaced the receiver.

“Which one?” Starsky asked.

“Terry,” Hutch said reluctantly.

Starsky drew a deep, painful breath and closed his eyes.

“Starsk, it couldn’t really be Terry. You know that.”

Starsky nodded, but his expression didn’t change.

“Wait a minute!” Hutch said suddenly. Starsky’s eyes opened. “She called me ‘Ken.’”

“So?” Starsky asked.

“Terry called me ‘Hutch.’ She always called me Hutch, because you do. She never, ever called me Ken unless she was introducing me to someone.”

Starsky’s eyes cleared marginally. “You’re right.”

“Whoever this is doesn’t know everything, even if it seems as if they do,” Hutch said, furrowing his brows as he searched his memory for any idea for who it could be. “But that voice sure did sound like Terry’s.”

Starsky nodded, his eyes clouding again. “She sure does.”

“An impressionist,” Hutch said. “Or an actress.”

“What about the one who sounds like my dad?”

“Then there are two of them,” Hutch said. “Maybe they don’t even know why they’re doing it. A couple of out-of-work actors making a few phone calls to make a few extra bucks while they wait for their big break.”

“How did they find out how my dad and Terry sounded?” Starsky said. “I read somewhere that Rich Little studies the people he does impressions of for a long time to get them just right.”

Hutch shook his head, worried about the case and his partner, but encouraged that discussing the situation seemed to have improved Starsky’s color. He had police work to focus on now instead of just his fear and emotions. “Who knew them both?”

“I did,” Starsky said bleakly.

Hutch sat down next to him and put his hand on his arm. “Come on, Starsk. Focus. It’s a case, like any other case. Treat it like that. It’ll help.”

Starsky took a deep breath. After a moment, he wet his lips. “Okay.”

“Who else knew them both?” Hutch leaned closer. “Everybody who knew them both, no matter how unlikely.”

“Aunt Rose and Uncle Al,” Starsky said. “Ma and Nicky. Helen --”

“Helen who?” Hutch pounced.

“A neighbor back home. Helen and Ma have known each other since high school,” Starsky said. “Kind of an honorary aunt to Nick and me.”

Hutch frowned. Unlikely, but it wouldn’t hurt to check Helen out. “What’s her last name?”

“Aw, come on, Hutch. Helen’s family. She wouldn’t --”

“Maybe not. Probably not. But we have to check everybody out.”

Starsky sighed. “McDermott.”

Hutch nodded. “Okay. Anyone else?”

Starsky thought hard. Finally, he said, “No. Nobody else I can think of. That trip when I took Terry home was only a weekend. Didn’t have time to introduce her to very many people who remembered my dad.”

“Anybody here that knew your dad?”

Starsky shook his head. “Can’t think of anyone.”

“Okay. You keep thinking. I’ll get busy on that tracer and run a check on Helen McDermott.”  Hutch put a tracer on both his phone and Starsky’s, just in case.

Starsky had lost interest in his food.  The orange juice was gone, but only about half of the sandwich.  Hutch was worried.  He couldn’t force feed his partner, but he’d have to think of something to tempt him with that Starsky wouldn’t refuse. 

“Buddy, I know you don’t want to eat, but you have to.  You’re sick and exhausted and you’re going to land in the hospital if you don’t.”

“I’m sorry, Hutch.  I can’t.  Not now, okay?  Maybe if I sleep for a while.” 

Starsky’s eyes were bright with fever and he looked close to collapsing again.  Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s forehead; his experienced touch telling him the fever was getting worse.  He needed to ask Starsky about something, but he also did not want to push him too hard just yet.

“I’m going to get you some more juice and some aspirin first.”  Hutch let him rest on the couch while he got those things, then he told Starsky he’d better go lie down on the bed.   Once he had Starsky settled, he watched with concern as his partner took the juice and aspirins with badly shaking hands.  Sighing heavily, he said, “I need to ask you about something, Starsk.”

“What’s that?” Starsky replied as he handed back the half consumed glass of juice and settled down on the bed.

“Do you remember saying something to me... back in the squad room, when you were pretty out of it?” he asked as he sat down on the bed.

“Uh, uh.  Sorry.  What’d I say?”

“You, you said, ‘I have to die first’,” Hutch said nervously, unable to hide his dismay over what Starsky had said to him.

Starsky’s eyes opened wider and he started to breathe so fast Hutch was afraid he’d hyperventilate. 

“Hey, easy,” he soothed, “take it easy.  Was it something the caller said?  Who was it?”

“I can’t, Hutch,” Starsky answered, closing his eyes tightly while he tried to get his breathing under control. 

“You have to.  I can’t help you if you won’t let me, now who was it?”

Starsky looked at him with pain etched in his eyes, reaching an unsteady hand out to rest on Hutch’s arm.  “She said it was Gillian.”

Hutch didn’t say anything for a few moments.  “Did it sound like her?”

“Yeah... no... I don’t know, Hutch.  I don’t know.”

“Take it easy, we both know it wasn’t really her.”

“Yeah.  You okay?”

“Am I okay?  Starsk, you’re too much.  I’m not the one who can’t sleep and won’t eat.  Now, what else did she say?”

How was Starsky supposed to explain this?  “Um, it’s a little hard to remember.  I think she said you were gonna die if I didn’t die first.  Wanted to know why I want you to die.”

“Aw, geez, buddy.  I’m sorry.  Look, that’s bullshit and you know it.  Somebody’s tryin’ to get to you and I’m not gonna let them.  You rest.  I’m on it.”

The two men exchanged a look that conveyed the depth of their friendship, caring, and the trust they shared.  If Hutch was on it, Starsky knew he’d do everything he could to figure out what was happening.  Starsky didn’t have to tell him to be careful.  He just nodded and closed his eyes to try to get some sleep.

Hutch pulled Starsky’s shoes off and covered him with a light blanket.  He patted him on the shoulder and said, “No more talking about dying first, or dying at all.  You got that?”

“Mm, no dying.” Starsky was already falling asleep.

Hutch rubbed his face with his hand, trying to absorb everything that had happened that day.  Whoever was doing this to his partner was dangerous.  He was worried that they might not stop at Starsky’s mental and emotional health.  Whoever it was had already caused him to become ill.  Hutch had to find them - fast - fearing that Starsky wouldn’t really get better until the responsible party was caught.  Before he got to work on his phone calls, he stood and watched to be sure his partner was really asleep.

First, he called Edith Dobey and explained what had happened.  “I’m sorry, Edith.  I don’t mean to impose, but I really need your help. I hate to ask you....”

“Now, now, how can I help?” Edith’s voice was reassuring.

“Could you please go to the store for me?  I need food I can get him to eat.  You know how he is on a good day.  I’m afraid if he doesn’t start eating, he’s going to have to be hospitalized and he won’t take that well.”

“No, you’re right about that.  Do you have a list, or should I just shop for whatever Cal would most like to eat if I’d let him?” she said with a soft, motherly laugh that made Hutch smile a little.

“I have a list, but you use your best judgment.  I just can’t leave him alone like this.  He’s totally defenseless and whoever it is has already found him here.”

He finished explaining what Edith should get and hung up, grateful that he and Starsky had such good friends in their captain and his wife. Edith also agreed to stop by Starsky’s place and pick up some books for him.  Hutch told her where to find the spare key.  He wanted his partner to have something to do besides watching television.  Reading should help take his mind off of things when he wasn’t sleeping.  He started pacing around the room while he placed the calls to put tracers on both of their phones.  A glance out his front window revealed that Dobey had already sent a couple of uniforms over in a squad car to watch Venice Place.  The captain was efficient and he never messed around when it looked like his men were in danger.  Especially, these two men. Too much had happened to them for him to take anything for granted.  Finally, he called Huggy and let him in on the situation.  Their friend agreed to come over in the morning in time for Hutch to go to work.

~*~*~*~

The sound of the ringing phone interrupted Starsky’s sleep four more times before Edith arrived with the groceries.  The poor man wasn’t doing well.  Even though Hutch wasn’t letting him anywhere near the phone, he knew what was happening.  Each time it rang, he called out to Hutch to find out who was on the other end.  He finally staggered out into the living room just as Edith got there.  His pallor was frightening and Hutch’s concern was mounting.

Not liking what she saw at all, Edith steered the wobbly detective back toward the bed as Hutch carried the grocery bags into the kitchen.  After she spoke with him for a few minutes and got him settled again, she walked back to the kitchen to see Hutch.  She caught him deep in concentration with a mortar and pestle.

“What are you doing?” she said in a low voice as she walked back toward the phone and took it off the hook.

“We can’t leave it off the hook, Edith.  If they don’t call, I can’t trace it.”

“Just for a few minutes. Let him fall asleep, now, what are you doing?” she asked as she walked closer.  Hutch was grinding two tablets up into powder.  She picked up a medicine bottle on the counter.  Sleeping pills.  “Ken.... “

Hutch whispered, “I know it’s terrible, but I’m gonna slip him a Mickey.  Edith, if he doesn’t get some sleep, I’m afraid he could snap, or collapse again, or God forbid, m-maybe even die.”

“He’s going to be angry,” she noted.

“I know, but at this point, I’d be pretty excited if he had the energy to yell at me.”

The counter next to him held all the makings for a chocolate malt.  He was hoping to get some quick, heavy calories into Starsky and he hoped he couldn’t resist a malt.  The concoction would disguise the taste of his secret weapon.  Edith finished putting the normal ingredients into Hutch’s blender and started it.  She stopped it when he was finished pulverizing the pills.

Taking off the lid, she said, “You want to put it in?”

“No, I want to put it in the bottom so he’ll get as much as he can before he refuses to drink it.”

“I can’t believe I’m helping you do this, Ken. Harold is never going to believe either of us did it,” she said as she poured about two inches of the thick concoction into a large glass. 

Hutch added the powered drug, stirred it a little, and nodded for her to pour in the rest.  “Yeah, well, just blame me.  Cap’d probably believe anything from me.”

The blond rifled through his drawers looking for the box of straws he had left over from the last time he was sick.  Starsky had bought them.  He smiled at the thought as he found them and stuck one in the malt.  Starsky had even gotten the kind that bend.  “Thanks,” he whispered to Edith as he went back to see his friend.

Hutch sat on the bed with the drink and said, “Hey, buddy, I want you to sit up and try to drink this.” He shook Starsky’s shoulder gently.

“Don’t want anything, Hush.  Lemme sleep.” Starsky was so tired, his words were slurring.  Hutch guessed it wouldn’t take much of his creation to send his friend to the Land of Nod for hours.

“Sit up and drink it anyway.  It’s a chocolate malt, just like you like ‘em.”

Starsky cracked one eye open at that news.  Maybe he could stand that.  “Okay.  But jus’ ‘cause you made it.”  He sat up and took a sip, making a confused face.  “Tastes funny, Blondie. Too mush malt maybe?” Starsky’s blinks were long; he was fading fast.

“Yeah, sorry.  I’ll make it different next time.”  Hutch was grateful Starsky was looking at the malt, not at him, when his face turned bright red with guilt.

As he suspected, Starsky wasn’t able to drink all of it, but he did get almost half in before he gave up and handed it to Hutch.  “Thanks.” He fell back on the pillows and closed his eyes.

“Sleep this time, partner.  You need it.” Hutch took his guilty secret back to the kitchen and tossed the rest.  Edith was sitting at the table drinking some coffee.  By the time he sat down with her, his hands were shaking.

“God, Edith.  I can’t believe I just did that.” Hutch shook his head, frustrated.

“You did the right thing, Ken.  He’s on the edge.” 

They waited for a while; talking softly about what had happened and what their friend had been going through for the past two weeks.  Edith was stunned.  She and Hutch discussed how whoever it was got the information.   Talking it out with her gave him a few ideas.  After half an hour, Hutch excused himself to check on Starsky.  He found his friend deeply asleep.  His breathing seemed even and Hutch risked feeling his pulse to see if it had settled down again.  He was relieved to find it slowed to a reasonable level, and that his touch didn’t disturb the sleeper.  The aspirin seemed to have helped the fever.

Hutch returned to the kitchen, putting the phone back on the hook on the way back to the table.  “He’s out,” he said, to which Edith sighed in relief.

After making sure Hutch had eaten, too, Edith finally consented to go home and make dinner for her own family, but she left stern orders for Hutch to call if he or Starsky needed anything.

“Cal’s got his driver’s license now,” she said, still standing in the doorway. “I can send him on errands if necessary. He loves any excuse to go out in the car.”

Hutch grinned a little. “I remember that feeling.”

“So, don’t hesitate to ask, you hear me, Ken? No matter what it is. You two are far too independent and you won’t ask anybody to help you and I won’t stand for it this time, you got that?”

Hutch gave her a weak salute. “Yes, ma’am. Message noted, loud and clear.”

She relented and smiled, then kissed his cheek. “That’s better. I’ll check in tomorrow. You get some sleep, too.”

“Okay. ‘Night.” He closed the door after her, knowing the officers on watch in the street would see to it that she made it safely to her car, and went back to slump wearily on the couch. It was early, but he was exhausted, too. The strain of only a day of this had already depleted his reserves. No wonder Starsky was in such a state. Hutch lay his head back, intending only to close his eyes for a few moments, but soon he, too, was sound asleep.

~*~*~*~

When the ringing phone awakened him, Hutch realized he must have been sleeping a long time. It was completely dark outside. But in spite of his grogginess, he got to the phone before it could disturb his partner.

“H’lo?”

“Dave?”

Hutch swallowed. Gillian. It sounded just like her.

“Dave? Are you there?”

Hutch recovered with an effort and said “Yeah,” doing his best to mimic Starsky’s lingering east coast inflection. Would it work?

“Dave, you know how I loved Hutch,” she said, tears in her voice. “I don’t want him to die. But, if you don’t, he will. It’s that simple. Do you want that to happen?”

Hutch had to force the words out. It was crucial that he keep her on the line long enough to get a trace. “No. I don’t. He’s my best friend.”

“Then, why are you doing this?”

“What’m I doin’?” Hutch asked, still working hard to sound like Starsky. By now, anyone who really knew them would have realized she wasn’t speaking to Starsky. Hutch might be a hell of a good undercover cop, but he was no actor. Steve Hanson’s movie had proved that to everyone.

“You know what you’re doing,” she said. “You have to die, Dave. You have to die.” And she hung up.

Hutch swore under his breath and glanced at the clock. Just over a minute and a half. Not long enough to trace it.

“Hutch?”

Hutch hurried into the darkened bedroom. He couldn’t believe Starsky was awake after the dose he’d given him. “Yeah, buddy?” Hutch sat down on the edge of the bed and laid his hand against his partner’s forehead. It felt cool. The fever was gone. “What do you need?”

“Who was on the phone?” Starsky was groggy and his eyes would hardly stay open. Maybe if he could soothe him and keep him relaxed, Hutch thought, he’d go back to sleep.

“Wrong number,” Hutch said lightly. “They thought this was a pizza joint.”

Starsky grinned blearily. “What’d you tell ‘em?”

“I took their order,” Hutch said, forcing a grin. “They wanted a large pepperoni with black olives. Boy, are they gonna be mad when it doesn’t come.”

Starsky yawned. “That was mean,” he mumbled, but the right side of his mouth quirked as he said it. “Pizza sounds good, though.”

“You get another couple of hours of sleep and I’ll order us a pizza when you wake up, okay?” Hutch gave in to the impulse to stroke the tumbled curls that fell over Starsky’s forehead.

“K.”

He was asleep again. Hutch rose carefully, so as not to jar the bed, and tiptoed out. He glanced at the clock again. It was only a little after eight, and there were pizza parlors all over town that stayed open until midnight or later. If Starsky still hadn’t stirred by 11, he’d order a pizza anyway and warm it up for him when he did wake up.

Hutch went back to the phone and called Dobey at home.

“How’s he doing?” Dobey asked.

“He’s sleeping still and his fever’s broken.”

Dobey laughed and said, “Yeah, Edith told me about your new recipe for a malted. Good idea, but are you prepared for his reaction when he figures it out?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, Cap.  He needed the rest so badly and I....”

“Hutch, don’t feel guilty. You did the right thing. Was there something else?” Dobey knew Hutch didn’t call just to tell him Starsky was sleeping.

“Yeah.  I already had some calls for him here,” he answered.

“At your house?  I can see the station, but at your place?”

“I know.  Almost like whoever this is knew where he was.  They called three or four times this afternoon and hung up.  This time, I tried to sound like Starsky. I attempted to keep her on the phone, but she hung up too fast.”

“Who’d she say it was?”

“Same one who called him at the station before he collapsed.  She said she was Gillian.” Hutch let that sit in the silence between them for a few heartbeats, and then he added, “That’s the interesting thing, Cap.  I picked up the phone and she said ‘Dave?’  I pretended to be him, and I must say my Starsky impression is not as good as his Bogart.  She fell for it, though.  Kept talking to me like I was Starsky. No way she could really know him.”

Dobey asked, “What did she say?”

“I talked to him about what she said on the phone at the precinct.  She said pretty much the same thing to me - that she wanted to know why ‘Dave’ would want Hutch to die and she repeated that he had to die a couple of times before she hung up on me.  Said if he didn’t, I would be killed.”

“I don’t like the sound of that, Hutch.  Do you think they’re after you?”

“No, I don’t.  I think they’re trying to shove him over the edge - knowing just the right buttons to push.  Whoever is behind this knows about Starsky’s instinct to protect me.  They either want to drive him insane, or to suicide.  Maybe they don’t care which.” Hutch sounded as disgusted as he felt.  Over the years, a lot of bad things had happened to them both, especially Starsky.  Their enemies had tried to destroy them in a variety of creative ways, but this was about as low a thing as Hutch could imagine.  Even the poison Starsky had been injected with once seemed less cruel. 

Dobey thought about it for a moment and said, “Someone must hate him a lot.  Maybe you, too, Hutch.  They’d have to know what it would do to you.”

“I’m not worried about me, Cap.  I just want to find these bastards before they hurt him worse.  Let’s just say, I’m not amused.”

They discussed what should be done and agreed the squad car should stay.  Hutch wasn’t about to leave Starsky alone in the apartment, either.  Dobey agreed that if Huggy wasn’t available for some reason, Hutch would stay with Starsky until he was able to return to work.

“Why don’t we just get him out of town until we find them?” Dobey asked, knowing what the response was likely to be.

As expected, Hutch refused the suggestion.  “He’ll never go for it, Cap.  You know that.”

“Yeah, I hear you.  Get some rest, Hutch.  If I get in first, I’ll get Collins to start pulling your case folders.”

“Thanks, Cap.  Poor Charlie ought to just set up a special filing cabinet just for us.” Hutch laughed at the irony. “G’night, Cap.”

Hutch spent the next few hours making notes on what he knew about this situation and who might be responsible.  He couldn’t come up with a name, but he did have a list of suspect characteristics put together by the time the pizza arrived at around midnight.  He forgot that the uniforms watching his place would refuse to let the pizza delivery boy up the stairs.  The phone rang at midnight and Hutch jumped on it again.  He tried to sound like Starsky.  “Hello?”

The officer on the patch through line sounded confused.  “Uh, Sergeant Hutchinson?”

Hutch immediately changed gears, “Yeah?”

“This is Officer Donley.  I’ve got a kid down here trying to get up the stairs with a pizza.  Is it okay?”

Hutch crossed the room and looked down to the street through the front shutters.  Donley’s partner had the poor pizza delivery kid in the position on the squad car, the pizza box sitting on the hood.  He let the kid stand up as soon as he finished frisking him.

“Ah, geez, let the poor kid in, okay?  I’m sorry.  Shoulda told you.  You guys want some pizza?”

Donley said, “No thanks.  We already ate something and besides, if I get any more grease stains on my uniform my old lady’s gonna kill me.”

Hutch laughed and hung up, going to the door to get his pizza.  The delivery boy was red faced.  “Cops!  Can’t a guy even make a delivery?  You ordered it!”

“Sorry for the flak,” Hutch apologized.  He gave the flustered kid an extra large tip. “No hard feelings?” 

The young man looked away from Hutch’s steady gaze, shaking his head and stuffing the tip into his pocket.  “Nah.  Just hope my mom don’t find out.  She knows everything that goes on around here.  See ya.” He trotted down the stairs to go to his next stop.

He pushed the door closed and turned around, surprised to see Starsky leaning against the wall by the bathroom.

“Hey, you all right?” he asked as he advanced on his friend.

“I feel kind of weird. Woke up when I heard the phone and I came out to see what was going on.  I got kinda dizzy and....” Starsky stopped, staring in disbelief at Hutch’s clock. 

“What?” Hutch asked, following Starsky’s line of sight to the clock.  He gulped and said, “Let me put this down and I’ll give you a hand.”  He hurried from the room, dropping the pizza off on the kitchen table, trying to think of what he was going to say next.  He heard the bathroom door click shut from the other room.  Great.  He already knows.  Man, am I gonna catch it.

He got some plates and dished up the pizza while he waited.  When Starsky still wasn’t out of the bathroom, he got out a couple of root beers and opened them.  Giving Starsky a real beer on top of two sleeping pills wasn’t an option in his mind - even if those pills were consumed hours ago.

“Starsk?  You okay in there? Pizza’s getting cold.”

A few more minutes ticked by, the sound of Hutch’s clock sounding loud to his ears.  Then, he finally heard the bathroom door open and Starsky emerged.  The curls around his face were damp, making Hutch guess he’d splashed cold water in his face.

Starsky didn’t say anything to him as he made his slightly unsteady way over to the table to sit and eat.  He almost fell off the chair as he dropped heavily onto it.  He tucked his chin a little and Hutch could feel the storm rising in him.  Looking up through dark lashes, he asked, “Can I trust the food?”

Ouch!  Don’t pull any punches, buddy.  “Of course,” Hutch replied meekly.  “Starsk....”

One smoldering look from his partner silenced him.  Starsky was groggy, but he knew what Hutch had done and he was clearly furious.  “You slipped me a Mickey.”

Denying it was useless and Hutch wouldn’t lie anyway.  “Yeah, I did.  You okay?”

“Oh, now let’s just see if I am... I can hardly walk a straight line, my pupils are dilated, my eyelids feel like they weigh ten pounds apiece, and I have a hangover.  Hm.  That about sums up how I am.”

The heat of Starsky’s glare made Hutch blush.  He stammered and attempted an apology and finally said in a rush, “Dammit, buddy, I didn’t know what else to do.  You couldn’t sleep with the phone ringing constantly.  We have to leave it on the hook if we’re going to trace the calls.  What was I supposed to do?”

Starsky slammed his hand down on the table, causing the root beer bottle next to him to jump up a little.  “How could you do that to me?”

Hutch was done being conciliatory.  He stood up, shoving his chair back and starting to pace.  He was combing his fingers through his hair and breathing rapidly, doing his best to contain the angry stream of tension produced words welling up in his mind.  The ringing phone interrupted him.

When the phone rang, Starsky jumped and got a panicked look in his eyes.  Hutch took a breath and started for it, but Starsky shouted, “Let it ring, dammit!”

They stared at each other, saying nothing as it rang again and again, finally stopping. Hutch had run out of steam before he said a word.  He stood still for a minute, watching as Starsky put his head down on his arms on the table, and then he started toward him.  The phone rang again.

This time, Starsky jumped from his seat. In a few rapid, but slightly unsteady strides, he reached the phone and answered it, “Hello!”

“Davy?” This time, he heard the man’s voice.

Hutch looked on while Starsky started to tremble.  He wasn’t sure if it was from fear, stress, or anger, but he knew that it needed to go somewhere before his friend collapsed again. He walked toward his partner, wanting to listen in on the conversation.

“It’s your dad, Davy.  I’m waiting for you.  Don’t you see?  It’s time, David.  You know what you have to do.”

Anger, Hutch realized, definitely anger.  “Look, you sick bastard, there’s no way....”

The voice cut him off before he could finish, “He’s going to die, David.  You have to go first.  Do what you have to do.”

Starsky slammed the phone down on the hook switch.  He grabbed it up and made a move like he was going to yank it out of the wall and throw it across the room.  Hutch was too fast, though.  He stopped Starsky’s motion and then caught him as he started to crumple to the ground.  He laid Starsky on the couch and ran to the bathroom to get a damp washcloth.  The combination of exhaustion, the lingering effects of the sleeping pills, and a giant adrenaline rush worked against his friend.  He sat next to Starsky when he returned with the cloth.

“Starsk?” Hutch said gently while he wiped Starsky’s face with the cool cloth.  “Hey?”

Starsky moaned and turned toward the sound of Hutch’s voice, reaching a shaking hand up for him.  Hutch took his hand and said, “It’s okay.  I’m here.  Come on, now, open your eyes.”

Obeying Hutch, Starsky opened his eyes and looked up at his friend’s concerned face.  “Hutch, ‘m sorry, I....”

“God, Starsk, don’t.  I’m the one who’s sorry.  I don’t know how to stop whoever this is, but I’m going to figure it out, I swear.  Buddy, I’m sorry I tricked you this afternoon, but you’re not doing so hot.  Yeah, you’ve had some sleep now, but you still haven’t eaten hardly anything in more than two days.  Some juice, half of a sandwich, and half of a malt isn’t enough to help you get better.  You’ve gotta eat.  I am sorry I slipped you the Mickey, but I’m glad you got some rest.  If you keep going like this for another day, you’re gonna land in the hospital on IVs and forced rest.  I don’t want that, do you?” 

“No,” came the sullen, quiet reply.  Starsky knew his friend was right and that he’d only done what he did to take care of him.

“I want to take care of you here, where you’ll be more comfortable.  Trust me, huh?  You know I’d never do anything to hurt you, babe.”

Starsky sighed.  “Yeah, I know.  I’m sorry I got so ticked.  I just... don’t want to be like this.  I’m no use to anybody like this.  I just want to make them stop, before....” he trailed off and Hutch felt a little adrenaline rush of his own.

He grabbed Starsky by the shoulders. “Before what?” he demanded.

The soft answer to that question was the one Hutch feared.  “Before it comes true.”

“Starsky, look at me,” Hutch ordered. “Who’d they say they were this time?”

“My dad again.  He said you were gonna die, Hutch.  He said I knew what I had to do.”

Starsky’s sad eyes were pleading with his friend.  Make them stop, Hutch.  Please.

“We’re going to figure this out.  Don’t listen to anything they say and don’t answer that phone again.  I’ll handle it.  I’m going in there to get you some of that pizza and you’re gonna eat it.  Understood?”

Starsky nodded.  Hutch went to the kitchen to retrieve Starsky’s plate.  His mind was racing with thoughts of what should be done next.  Whatever it was, he knew it needed to be fast.  While he realized the phone trace was going to lead nowhere, he was afraid to just take the phone off the hook.  Whoever was doing this, Hutch was afraid they’d come after Starsky in person if they thought they were failing to get to him on the phone.  Hutch knew he stood a better chance of protecting his partner if he let them continue.

Starsky ate two slices of pizza and drank a whole bottle of root beer. Hutch wasn’t completely happy, but it was better than he’d been eating. His color had improved a little, too. “I’m sorry, Hutch,” Starsky said when he’d swallowed the last of the soft drink. “That’s all I can stand to eat.”

“That’s okay, buddy,” Hutch said. “It’s a start. You still tired or do you want to see what’s on the late, late show?”

Starsky gave a half-hearted grin. “I’m still kinda wiped.”

“Good. Go back to bed. I’ll do the dishes.”

“The what?” This time, Starsky snorted a chuckle. “Pizza off paper plates and non-returnable root beer bottles don’t make a big pile of dishes, partner.”

Hutch smiled and ruffled the dark curls. “That’s better. Made you laugh. Get your ass back in bed, Camille. Doctor Hutch has everything under control.”

Still shaking his head, Starsky obeyed, yawning as he went.

Hutch couldn’t sleep. He was too wound up. Before she left, Edith had brought in a stack of books from Starsky’s.  Hutch poked through them, rolling his eyes at some of the titles - one Hardy Boys book had a Dear Abby column from a couple of months previous as a bookmark, so he knew Starsky’d been reading it recently.  He finally found a John LeCarre’ novel and though he thought it was almost like a busman’s holiday to read something like that, he curled up on the couch with it and a cup of fresh coffee. Three or four chapters into it, the words were swimming in front of his eyes and his head drooped and he was asleep. So deeply asleep, in fact, that he didn’t hear the phone ring around 5 a.m.

Starsky did. He had been dreaming of Terry and was still half asleep as he picked up the extension next to the bed.

“Dave?”

“Mm?”

“Honey, it’s Terry. What’s wrong? You sound funny.”

“I was asleep,” he said, slurring the words.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “But you do know what you have to do, right?”

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

“I’m waiting for you,” she said, softly and sweetly. “I’ve been so lonely without you, and I can’t wait much longer. Please, Davy. Please come to me. I can’t come to you.”

“Okay, baby,” he said sleepily. “Where are you? I’ll be right there.”

“You have to die, Davy. To come to me, you have to die.” She hung up.

The last part finally woke him up. He lay there, half propped up on one elbow, still holding the phone, and cried.

The morning sun fell across the couch and woke Hutch with a start around 9 a.m. He glanced at the clock and swore under his breath. Dobey was going to have his hide for a lampshade. He was over an hour late. He scrambled off the couch and headed for the bathroom, shedding clothes as he went. He was going to have to take the world’s fastest shower.…

He froze partway there at the sight of Starsky lying asleep on his back, holding the telephone receiver in his hand. “Oh, God,” Hutch whispered. He knew in an instant what had happened. Starsky’d taken another one of those calls. Hutch approached softly and took the phone out of his partner’s hand and hung it up, stilling its beeping. Starsky must still be exhausted or that sound would have awakened him. The sight of dried tears on his partner’s face almost broke Hutch’s heart.

As soon as the phone was out of his hand, Starsky rolled over with a soft moan and curled up. Hutch shook his head and turned to go back to the bathroom, but a knock on the door made him veer that way instead. He peered through the peephole and saw Huggy standing there.

“Mornin’,” Huggy said. “He still sleepin’?”

“Yeah.” Hutch stepped back to let him in.

“Why ain’t you at work?”

“Overslept,” Hutch said. “Why weren’t you here an hour ago?” he added, more sharply than he’d intended to.

“Same reason,” Huggy said, flopping onto the couch. “I didn’t close until 2 this morning.”

“Sorry.” Hutch rubbed his gritty eyes. “I forgot about that. Damn.”

“Hey, it’s okay, bro,” Huggy said. “Go on. Get ready for work. I’ll take over.”

Hutch gave him a grateful smile and headed for the shower for the third time. This time, he made it, took a quick shower, threw on some clean clothes, and headed out the door. Huggy was watching some inane morning talk show and lifted a hand lazily as he left.

The entire drive to Metro was consumed by thoughts of Starsky and his situation.  Hutch was glad Starsky had been able to sleep some and he had successfully gotten his best friend to eat a little.  Starsky didn’t have any reserves to draw from now and that phone call couldn’t have helped him.  Hutch was walking into the building as the captain was walking out on his way to a court appearance.  Dobey stopped himself from yelling at Hutch as soon as he took a good look at him.

“Rough night with him?” he asked instead of yelling about why Hutch was late.

“More calls.  Cap, I don’t know what’s going on, but whoever it is knows where he is all the time.  I looked around to see if anyone could be watching us, but didn’t see anyone.  We weren’t tailed yesterday either, unless they were so good I didn’t see them.”

They were talking about Starsky’s safety.  Dobey considered it unlikely that Hutch would have missed a tail.  “Not likely.  You have any idea where to start looking?”

“None, but I’m going to think of something.”

Hutch went into the building and spent the next few hours in the records room, getting Charlie to help him look through cases where Starsky was the point person on an undercover, and cases where he worked without Hutch for any reason.  Starsky’s extended time away from work after he was shot in the police garage meant there were many more cases where Hutch worked without Starsky.  Looking through case folders was tiring, frustrating work.  Every time Hutch had to do it, he gained a little more respect for the people who had to deal with them every day.  He hated being stuck in the records room, and unable to call to check on things at home.  Hutch was afraid the phone ringing would, at the least, awaken Starsky, and at the worst, set him more on edge.

Back at Venice Place, Starsky woke up shortly after Hutch left for work.  He emerged from the bathroom to find Huggy waiting for him with a glass of juice.

“Hey, Hug, where’s Hutch?”

“He left for work about thirty minutes ago.  Take this and sit yourself down before you fall down, Starsk. Man, you look paler than our blond brother.”

Starsky took the juice and sat down on the couch.  Huggy asked him about the calls.  He knew what had been happening, but he told Starsky he wanted to hear about it, without his “Nordic filter.”  At least that had gotten him a small smile.

Huggy made Starsky several things to eat before he found one that was going inside more than it was being left on the plate.  He made a note to tell Hutch that a crispy quesadilla seemed to have magic properties.  Starsky was still exhausted, despite the sleep.  Huggy was already concerned about him, but his concern was about to be increased.

At eleven-thirty, just as the lunch crowd was trickling into Chez Helene’s restaurant, the owner, Marie, discovered that the icemaker had stopped working.  The machine’s water filter sometimes got clogged and it shut itself off automatically.  She’d noticed Huggy as he walked past her front windows when he arrived to take care of Starsky and now she wanted his help.  She and Huggy were friends and fellow restaurateurs so she knew she could count on him to rescue her.  After asking one of the waitresses to keep an eye on things, she dashed up the stairs to Hutch’s apartment and knocked. 

Starsky was still sitting up on the couch, but he let Huggy get the door.  He was just too tired to move.

“Hi, Huggy,” Marie said with a pleasant smile.

“Marie, mon petit,” Huggy said, kissing the back of her hand with a rakish smile.

“I have a big problem.  I’m short a couple of people as it is today and now the icemaker’s filter is clogged. Would you be a dear and help me out, mon cher?”

“Aw, now you know I can’t resist it when you speak French, but I’m ‘s’posed to be keepin’ an eye on our friend there,” he said as he looked back toward Starsky.

“Go on, Hug.  I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

“Huggy, will ya just go?”

“Stay put and rest.  I’ll be back in a shake. Take me to your failing machinery, mademoiselle.”  Huggy disappeared out the door, leaving Starsky alone with his thoughts.

Huggy hadn’t been gone for ten minutes when the phone rang, causing Starsky to jump almost off the couch.  He only vaguely remembered what it felt like for a phone ringer to be a normal sound, not an anxiety-producing one.  He stared at the phone like it was an alligator.  Afraid to answer it, afraid not to answer it.  His heart started to race and he was breathing rapidly.  Maybe it was Hutch, but Starsky thought Hutch probably would not call under the circumstances.  Just in case it was important, he leaned over and picked up the phone on the seventh ring.

“Hello?”

“Davy?” Terry again.

Starsky took a deep breath.  If nothing else, maybe he could keep her on the phone long enough for the trace.  “Hello, baby, it’s me.”

“Oh, Dave, I want to see you so bad.”

Sighing wearily, Starsky played along.  “I want to see you, too, sweetheart.”  Even though he knew this wasn’t his dead fiancée, the pain in his heart was real.  The tears that had started to well up in his eyes were real, too.  His heart was beating so hard, he was sure it was audible from across the room.

“Dave,” the voice continued sweetly, “you know what you have to do.”

“Yes, I know, you want me to come.”

“Come to me, Dave,” she said. “You know what will happen if you don’t.”

“Yes, Hutch will die.”

“He will, Dave. You’ll have to....”

Her hesitation didn’t match all of her other calls.  “What?  I’ll have to what?”

“Uh... you’ll have to kill yourself, Dave.”

Starsky was stunned by that remark.  He stood up and said, “Who the hell is this?”

“Uh, it’s Terry.”

Huggy was walking back up the stairs when he heard Starsky’s raised voice.  He hastened his climb and when he got near the top of the stairs he heard his friend shout, “Fine, sweetheart.  That what you want?  I’LL KILL MYSELF THEN!  IS THAT SUPPOSED TO KEEP HUTCH SAFE?”

The woman on the other end of the line said, “Dave... I’m sorry, this has gone too far.”

“You’d better believe it has!  Fine, ‘Terry.’  I’ll just KILL MYSELF!  That’s what you want!  Are you happy?”

Bursting into tears, the woman said, “Oh, my God.”  The line went dead again.

Huggy flung the door open in time to see Starsky slam the receiver down on the cradle, then throw the phone as far as its tethering cord would let it fly.  He was shocked by Starsky’s appearance - paler than before, sweating, and almost hyperventilating.  Starsky looked over at him just before he bolted for the bathroom.  Huggy was chilled to his core by what he’d just heard and seen - so chilled, that before he went to check on Starsky, he found his gun and hid it.

~*~*~*~

Hutch hung up the phone and went back to his files.  He had called the phone company for information on Starsky’s number change.  After speaking with three different levels of supervisors and managers, and the lady who had made the change, he was satisfied that it was unlikely the number had been released to anyone. 

Collins answered a call.  “Collins.  Yeah, he’s here,” he said as he put the caller on hold.  “Hutch, Huggy Bear is on line three.”

That was probably not a good thing.  Hutch picked up the extension. “Huggy, is he all right?”

The frantic voice on the other end of the line said, “No, he ain’t!  You need to get here.”

“What’s happening?”

“He took one of them calls.  He was hollerin’ about killin’ hisself and he’s been gettin’ sick for half an hour.”

Hutch could hear Starsky in the background and he thought he heard, “Huuuuutch!”

“I’m on my way,” Hutch said.  He left the files where they were and ran for his car.

~*~*~*~

Hutch practically flew up the stairs to his apartment.  He burst through the door and heard Huggy calling him from the bathroom.  He was distressed to find Starsky passed out on the bathroom floor. 

Huggy moved out of the way so Hutch could examine his friend.  Starsky’s rapid heartbeat and shallow panting terrified him.  “Did you call an ambulance?”

“No, I wanted to, but he wouldn’t let me.”

“Dammit, Huggy!  What the hell were you thinking?  How long has he been out like this?”

“Since right after I talked to you.”

“Call an ambulance.”

Huggy left to do that while Hutch tried to revive his partner.  When an ambulance was on its way, Huggy explained what had happened.  “I swear I was only gone fifteen minutes.  The call must’ve come while I was downstairs.”

“Did he say what they said to him?”

“No.  He just kept asking for you, puking, sayin’ how Terry wouldn’t want him to die, and puking some more.  I ain’t seen him so sick since he tried to drink a whole bottle of Jose Cuervo 1800 after he found out you were gonna make it back from the plague.”  Huggy regretted running off at the mouth that way immediately. He’d promised Starsky not to tell Hutch about that.  Hutch could see that in Huggy’s eyes and he made a mental note to knock Huggy and Starsky’s heads together about it when his partner was well.

The sight of Hutch tearing out of his car without even acknowledging them had sent the uniformed cops up the stairs to see what was wrong.  They stepped into the apartment and stopped, watching what was happening. 

Donley turned to his partner, “Call an ambulance,” he said.

Huggy shook his head and said, “No, I already did it.”

They all waited nervously for the next few minutes, a sigh of group relief escaping when they heard the wail of the approaching paramedic van.  Tom Jameson, one of the paramedics who responded, was on their spring baseball team.   Hutch asked him to do them a favor by taking Starsky to Receiving Hospital.

“Memorial’s a little closer, Hutch.”

“Not much and if he’s stable enough, I’m hoping maybe Dr. Franklin’s there.  He’s seen Starsky before.  Please?”

After rechecking Starsky’s vitals, Jameson agreed.  “His BP’s lower than I’d like, but it really is only an extra couple of minutes.  All right, Hutch.”

Huggy followed them out of the apartment, locking the front door behind him.  He stopped Hutch on the sidewalk.  “I’m sorry, Hutch. I knew you were on your way and....”

Hutch put a hand on Huggy’s shoulder and said, “I know, Hug.  You coming?”

“I’m right behind you.” 

Hutch smiled at him briefly and stepped toward the ambulance to climb in the back, but he heard Huggy say his name again and he turned back toward him.  Huggy whispered, “I, uh, put his gun in the ice box.  He was talkin’ about dyin’ and all, and... well, I was scared, Hutch.”

Donley was standing behind Huggy and he said, “Don’t worry, Huggy.  We’ll go get it back out of there.”

Hutch tossed him his keys, asking him to give them to Huggy when he was done and to let Dobey know what was happening.  Then he turned to Huggy.  “It’s gonna be all right, Huggy.  Just meet us there.”  Hutch patted him on the arm and got into the ambulance.  He watched the ambulance drive away, siren blaring.  Some of Chez Helene’s lunch patrons had gathered at the windows to watch the show and Marie was walking toward him.  She was fond of Hutch’s usually exuberant partner and she delighted in getting him to try her newest dishes.  The look she was wearing now was the concern of a friend. He decided he’d better explain that Starsky was sick before he left to meet his friends at the hospital.

The paramedic in the back asked Hutch if Starsky had a doctor as he was working on him during the ride.

“Yeah. Franklin.”

Jameson, driving, overheard and called back, “I already notified the hospital, Billy. He’s on duty and he’ll be waiting.”

Billy nodded and continued working on Starsky to stabilize him. “I think it’s mostly exhaustion and a lack of proper nutrition,” he said to Hutch. “I doubt if he’s in any real danger, but then, I’m no doctor.”

Hutch nodded tensely, still holding onto Starsky’s free hand. In a few moments, they were pulling up outside Receiving’s emergency room, and the paramedics quickly unloaded the stretcher and got Starsky inside. He still hadn’t regained consciousness, and that seriously frightened Hutch.

Franklin was, indeed, waiting, and he immediately took over from the paramedics, ordering a nurse to get an IV started with glucose while he examined Starsky. Hutch hovered in a corner, trying to stay out of the way, and though Franklin cast him a glance with raised eyebrows, he didn’t suggest he leave. Hutch was grateful for that.

He watched as Franklin listened to Starsky’s heart, peered into his eyes, took his pulse and temperature. Finally, he turned to Hutch. “What the hell has this boy been doing to himself?”

“It’s a long story,” Hutch said. “Not eating, not sleeping, and worrying. Somebody’s been messing with his mind by calling him on the phone and pretending to be people who are dead. People he knew and loved, like his fiancée and his father.”

Franklin drew a heavy sigh and shook his head. “Is he on any medications?”

“I gave him a Mickey to make him sleep last night,” Hutch admitted. “But other than that, no.”

“Well, he’s going to be all right,” Franklin said. “I don’t find any real damage that some rest and food won’t fix. But he’s lost too much weight and I don’t like his color. I’m going to have to admit him. We’ll do some tests, keep him a couple of days and force-feed him if necessary. What about this person ‘messing with his mind’? I trust you’re taking care of that angle?”

“Yeah,” Hutch said grimly. “I’m working on it. Haven’t figured it out yet.”

Franklin gave a thoughtful nod. “I see. You can come back and see him tomorrow. He won’t be conscious before then, because now I’m going to give him a ‘Mickey.’ He needs all the rest he can get. Since that shooting that almost killed him, his body doesn’t need this kind of punishment.”

Hutch winced at that. He always hated to be reminded of how close a call Gunther’s assassination attempt had been. “What time tomorrow?”

“Mid-morning. Now get out of here and let me do my job. You do yours.”

When Hutch emerged from the treatment room, he almost ran into Huggy, who was hanging around outside, his eyes wide with fear. “He’s okay,” Hutch said quickly, knowing how he always felt in the same position. “They’re keeping him for a couple of days to build up his strength.”

“Thank God,” Huggy said fervently, for once dispensing with fancy language and silly jokes. “He scared the hell out of me, Hutch.”

“Me, too,” Hutch agreed. “Come on, I need a ride back to my car. I’ve got work to do.”

“Can’t we see him?”

“Not until tomorrow. Dr. Franklin’s going to keep him knocked out until then so he can rest.”

Huggy dropped Hutch off and went back to The Pits. Hutch went back to the precinct, determined to figure out what the hell was going on.

He’d been going over files for a couple of hours when Babcock and Simmons came in, both looking grave and worried. “What’s wrong, fellas?” he asked.

“Murder,” Simmons said shortly.

Hutch was puzzled. This was the homicide division, after all. “Something special about this one?”

“No,” Simmons answered. “Just a young girl, strangled and left in the reservoir. You know what water does to a dead body.  She’s probably only been dead a few hours.”

“Yeah,” Hutch said. “It’s not pretty. But, still, that isn’t that unusual.”

“No ID,” Babcock put in. “The M.E. thinks she’s about 19 or 20, tops. It’s just --”

Hutch nodded. He understood; no cop ever got cynical or hardened enough to be unmoved by violent death, especially when the victim was young.

“Guess we better start going through missing persons files,” Babcock said to his partner.

Simmons nodded and picked up the phone.

Hutch went back to his own files. File after file, and none seemed a likely suspect. How many times had he and Starsky done this same task, looking for a clue to someone who wanted to harm them? Why the hell don’t the jails and prisons keep them inside so they can’t threaten the rest of the world outside? he asked himself.

Eventually, his aching shoulders and back insisted he stop for a while. He rubbed his eyes, realizing how long he’d been sitting there. Simmons and Babcock had long since left. In fact, looking toward the window, Hutch realized it was dark. No wonder his neck was stiff and the words were swimming before his eyes. He slapped the file shut and tossed it on top of the stack. This was getting him nothing but a headache.

He rubbed the back of his neck and yawned, reaching for his jacket. He’d go home to supper and bed now and try again when his mind was clearer. He had made it almost to the door of the squad room when the phone rang. He almost went out anyway and let it ring. He’d been off duty, officially anyway, for almost two hours. But, just in case ...

“Ninth Precinct, Homicide,” he said. “Sergeant Hutchinson.”

“Ken?”

His heart took a crazy leap but he forced it to calm down. “Hi, Rachel,” he forced himself to say casually. “How are you? Is something wrong?”

“I’m fine, honey, but I need to talk to Davy. I couldn’t get either of you at home and took a chance you’d still be at work.”

“He’s, uh, out of the room,” Hutch said, cursing the telltale stammer that always appeared when he was upset and hoping against hope she hadn’t noticed. “Can I have him call you?”

There was a brief silence, then Rachel said, “I don’t know if this is important or not, but my neighbor’s here and she told me something kind of disturbing. I thought I’d better tell Davy about it.”

“What is it?”

“She said a man came to see her a few weeks ago, a man who said he worked with you two. He told her Davy was getting a medal and the guys were throwing him a surprise party with a kind of ‘This is Your Life’ theme and he asked her a lot of questions about Davy.” She paused, while every cop instinct went ballistic in Hutch’s head.

When she didn’t go on, Hutch prompted her. “Yeah?”

“Well, I can’t imagine Davy getting an award like that and not telling me,” she said. “And it made me suspicious that maybe this man was fishing for information. I’m probably being silly --”

“No, you’re not,” Hutch said. “David’s not getting an award that I know of, either. What kind of information did she give this man? And why didn’t she say anything to you before?”

“She’s been in the hospital,” Rachel said. “Surgery, nothing serious, but she just forgot to mention it before now. She got home today and I had her over for supper and that’s when she told me. Is Davy okay?”

Starsky’s going to kill me, Hutch thought, but it occurred to him that Rachel might be in danger, too. They didn’t know who was behind this or how far they might go, and it could be just as well for her to be on her guard. In a few words, he explained what had been going on.

“My God,” she said when he finished, her voice shaking. “Poor Davy! Are you sure it’s not serious?”

“Dr. Franklin said he’d be fine,” Hutch reassured her. “He just needs rest and he’s getting that in the hospital. Can I talk to your neighbor? Maybe she could describe the man who came to see her.”

“Hang on.”

In a moment, Helen McDermott was on the phone. She was horribly upset that she might have given information to the man that helped him hurt Starsky, and it took Hutch several minutes to calm her down enough to actually answer questions. He could hear Rachel in the background doing the same thing. Finally, the woman, still sniffling and with a catch in her voice, was able to tell Hutch that she’d told the man how much Davy was like his father and had given him some details about how old he’d been when his father died and when he’d left for California.

It didn’t sound like anything serious, but it was enough for someone impersonating his father to be able to say the right things on the phone to upset Starsky. “What’d the man look like, Mrs. McDermott?”

“Not very tall - maybe three inches shorter than Davy,” she said. “He was around 40 or 45, kind of thick around the middle, and he had a receding hairline. I think his eyes were brown. So was his hair.”

Hutch sighed. That could describe half the men on any street in America. “He didn’t tell you his name, did he?”

“He said it was John Duncan,” she said after a moment’s thought.

Hutch closed his eyes and sank into a chair. John Duncan was - had been - a 30-year veteran of the department who’d died of a heart attack a few months earlier. It hadn’t been Duncan himself, but someone using his name. “Can you remember anything else about him?”

“I’m sorry, no.”

“Okay. Let me talk to Rachel again, please. Thank you, Mrs. McDermott.”

She sniffled and handed the phone back to Starsky’s mom. “Did that help at all, Ken?” she asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Hutch said. “Listen, Rachel, you and your friend be careful, okay? I don’t know who or what we’re dealing with and I don’t want to scare you, but I’d feel better if you were on your guard.”

“We will be,” she said. “But, you promise me you’ll be careful, too, will you?”

“I will.”

“And give my love to Davy,” she added. “Where is he? I want to call him.”

“Rachel, he’ll draw and quarter me if he finds out I told you about this. Besides, he’ll be home in a couple of days --”

“The room number, Ken.”

He sighed and gave it to her. “Wait until tomorrow to call. The doc’s keeping him sedated so he’ll sleep.”

He went home, showered and rooted around in the refrigerator for something to eat. He wasn’t at all hungry, but he forced down a couple of sandwiches and one of Starsky’s root beers. This case was making him almost as crazy as it had made Starsky. But he couldn’t afford to give in to it. He had to figure out who was doing this and stop him.

He concentrated on the description Helen McDermott had given him. Did they know anyone who fit that who might have a grudge against them, particularly against Starsky? He couldn’t think of anyone, and there hadn’t been anyone in the files who might fit that description who wasn’t already in jail. He’d checked. A couple of guys had fit - Willie Macklin, whom they’d busted for child molestation a couple of years ago. He was in prison. Donald Ketcham was another. He’d run a lucrative heroin business for a while, until a street dealer died of an overdose of bad stuff last summer. He was in prison, too. The other three or four who fit the general description were either in prison or dead.

He finally gave up and went to bed. Without Starsky to bounce ideas off of, this was an exercise in futility. He was getting nowhere by himself.

~*~*~*~

Take me to Part Two