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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.   

Take me to Part One 

 

Gaslight

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

 

 

Early in the morning, he was back at the hospital to see Starsky. Huggy met him there, yawning and clutching a Styrofoam cup of very strong, black coffee.

“If I didn’t love that man like a relative, ain’t no way I’d’a got me out of my nice warm bed at this ungodly hour,” Huggy greeted him.

Hutch grinned. “Aw, come on, Huggy. He’d do it for you.”

Huggy sank into a chair, gave another jaw-cracking yawn, and applied himself to his coffee. Hutch paced. The nurse had told them they couldn’t see Starsky until Franklin approved it, and he hadn’t appeared yet. Hutch was almost ready to barge into Starsky’s room anyway when the doctor finally came. He looked grave, and Hutch’s heart took another flying leap into his throat.

“Now, don’t panic,” Franklin said, while Huggy abandoned his coffee and came to stand next to Hutch. “Remember I said we were going to run some tests?”

Hutch nodded, unable to speak, his eyes fastened on the doctor’s face.

“When we ran the EKG - just as a precaution, considering his history - there was a slight irregularity in his heartbeat.”

Hutch’s face went white, and Huggy slipped an arm around him to steady him. “Easy, brother,” he murmured.

“It’s probably not serious,” Franklin said gently. “These things are often brought on by stress, and as I said, with his history, I’m not surprised. That’s why I ordered the EKG. I’m sure that with rest and good nutrition, he’ll be fine in a few days. But we may have to keep him a little longer than I thought. I don’t want him to leave until I see a normal EKG. I’ll need your help to convince him of that.”

“We’ll take care of it, Doc,” Huggy said. Hutch still seemed incapable of speech, and Huggy tightened his arm around his waist a little.

“Did you - did you tell h-him?” Hutch finally asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Franklin nodded. “I saw him just before I came down here. He’s not happy,” he added with a wry grin. “Called me a ‘quack.’ So you’ve got to convince him you can handle this case on your own or he’ll be checking himself out, and Ken,” he paused and touched Hutch’s arm, “we can’t risk that.”

Hutch nodded, his own heart thudding painfully in his chest.

“Go on and see him now,” Franklin said. “Room 220.”

“Dr. Franklin, is this related to....”

“The shooting?  I know his heart stopped, Ken.  I already talked to his doctor over at Memorial.  Look, he has changes on his EKG and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t concerned that it could be some kind of residual damage.  I’m consulting with a cardiologist.  He’s going to be here in half an hour and he’ll do a thorough exam on Detective Starsky.  I promise we’ll tell you as soon as we know for sure what’s going on, okay?”

Hutch nodded gratefully and Dr. Franklin patted him on the arm and walked away.  For a few moments, Hutch stood perfectly still, unsure what to do next.  Finally, Huggy said, “Hutch?”

“Yeah.  Guess we’d better go in there, huh?”

Huggy looked his friend in the eyes and said, “You’d better wipe that freaked out face off before you go in, Hutch.  If Starsky gets a look at your mug like that, he’s gonna think they’re not telling him everything, you dig?”

Hutch smiled at him.  Huggy was a good friend.  “You’re right.  You go on in there and tell him I’ll be right behind you, huh?  Tell him I forgot to call Dobey and I stopped at a pay phone.  Won’t be a lie, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.” 

Huggy agreed and walked away to face Starsky with a cheerful demeanor.

Captain Dobey didn’t like what Dr. Franklin had to say any more than Hutch did.  “Did he think this could have anything to do with when his heart stopped?”

“I asked that, Cap.  Doc says he’s hoping it’s not some kind of after effect.  He’s called in a cardiologist.  I, uh....”

“Hutch, don’t go in there to see him with your wigged-out-partner face on, you hear?”

Hutch smiled.  “Yeah, Huggy warned me.  I was wearing it a little while ago.  That’s why I thought I’d call you first.  Give me a minute to get it under control.”

“Huggy was right.  Now go on in there and see him.  Then, I want you to get your can down here to the station.  You’re not gonna be able to keep it up all day while you wait for a consult and a diagnosis.”

“Thanks, Cap.  I’ll see you in an hour.”

By the time he reached Starsky’s room, Hutch’s face was appropriately relaxed.  He was sure he’d fool his partner.

“Hey, buddy.  Dobey says ‘hi’ and to rest.” Hutch smiled, but he couldn’t help but let his eyes drift over to the heart monitor.  Even resting, Starsky’s heart rate was higher than it should be.

Starsky looked up at his friend.  He was laughing at a crude comment Huggy had made about the oatmeal he had been served for breakfast.  Hutch thought he was fooling him, but Starsky saw through it immediately.

“What?” he asked.

“What, what?” Hutch answered, attempting to look casual.

“You have that look on your face.”

“What look?”

“Come on, Hutch.  You know what I’m talkin’ about.  That ‘I’m not worried about a thing’ look.”

Huggy couldn’t help but laugh as he pulled up a chair and sat in it.  Hutch turned and gave him an icy glare.

“Laugh it up, Huggy,” he said before he tried to answer Starsky’s question.  “Nothin’ you don’t already know, partner.  Dr. Franklin told me he talked to you about the EKG.”

Starsky sighed and shifted his gaze up to the ceiling.  “Yeah, I told him he was a quack. There’s nothin’ wrong with me solving this case won’t help.  I shouldn’t even be here, dammit.  You said we were gonna try and handle it ourselves, Hutch.”

Huggy said, “Starsk, that was before you collapsed again.  I shoulda called an ambulance before Hutch did.  There wasn’t any choice.”

Starsky knew he was right, but that didn’t help his frustration any.  Hutch was watching the heart monitor again.  The little green blip tracking his partner’s heartbeat wasn’t doing anything to make him feel better.  Starsky’s agitation was making his pulse climb.  Hutch couldn’t help but think about the time his partner had flat lined after the shooting.

Starsky called his name. “Hutch?”  When he received no response, he said it again. “Hutch?”

“Huh? Oh, sorry.  What did you ask me?”

“Never mind, Blintz.  Why don’t you go find Dr. Quack and see how quick you can get me sprung.”

Hutch shook his head.  He walked closer to the bed and pulled the other chair up to sit next to Starsky.  He reached out a hand and put it on Starsky’s arm.  “I know you think this is nothing - and it probably is - but I’m not willing to take that chance.”

“Hutch....”

“Starsky, just listen.  The doc isn’t sure if it’s related to when... when your... when your heart stopped after you were shot, but he wants to be sure everything’s okay.  He says they’re gonna do some more tests and you need to stay here, resting, eating, and not getting upset by anything for a few days.”

An angry flash in Starsky’s eyes made Huggy cringe, but it didn’t phase Hutch.  “When did it stop being my decision where I do my resting and eating?” he said, his anger evident in his tone.

Hutch maintained his composure, and his eye contact with Starsky.  “When did you stop trusting me with your life, partner?”

That disarmed Starsky’s anger.  A look of resignation passed across his face. “What about the case?  I don’t want you out there running down leads without me for backup.  What about that, huh?”

Hutch looked at him with every ounce of sincerity he could muster.  “If it were me, would you let me walk out of here, not knowing if everything was okay?” Hutch asked.

“I don’t suppose I would.  Okay, I’ll stay and let them run their useless tests.  That make you happy?”

“Happy, Gordo?  No. This whole situation stinks.  Nothing’s gonna make me happy until I know you’re okay and the whackos who got you in this situation are in custody.  But if you stay here and be a good boy, at least I can get out there and get these guys so you can come home and finish recuperating in peace.  Don’t worry.  I’ll get Jack or Sean to go with me.  I’ll be okay, you just concentrate on getting better.”

Huggy nodded his agreement with Hutch.  “I’ll even go and get you some real food, so you can work on earning that ‘Gordo’ nickname Blondie pinned on ya.”

Starsky smiled.  “I’m really not hungry, Huggy.”

Huggy and Hutch said at the same time, “You have to EAT!”

“All right, you two, all right.  Huggy, you bring me a carne asada burrito with extra jalapenos, and I’ll eat.”

They argued for a few minutes about the merits of what Starsky thought would be fine to eat versus what Hutch thought would be good and came to a semi-strained agreement.  Huggy would return to the hospital with a salad, a steak, and vegetables Hutch insisted Starsky eat.  Vegetables with a lot of iron in them.  Hutch instructed Huggy to ask Dr. Franklin if their plan was all right.  The extra caution was making Starsky feel like an invalid - doing nothing for his humor - but Hutch didn’t let that change his mind.  When the nurses came to get him for his consult with the cardiologist, Hutch and Huggy both told him they’d be back later.  Hutch also took advantage of the fact that he was leaving to tell Starsky that his mother would be calling.

“You called my mother?” Starsky said, his voice rising.

“No, she called me.  She was looking for you, buddy, and I tried, but... I couldn’t lie to her.  She insisted, so I told her to call you today.”

“I’m gonna get you for that, Blintz.  Hey, can’t you stay while I have my tests?” Starsky wasn’t afraid of the tests. Dr. Franklin had already assured him none of the tests would be more invasive than a blood draw.  Starsky was still worried about his partner being on the streets alone.

“I’ll be back, partner.  Dobey was screaming for me to come down there.  He said you didn’t need me to stay here while they run tests and I have a lot of files to look through if I’m gonna catch these creeps.  I’ll get back later this afternoon.  Okay?”

“Okay.  Be careful.  I don’t like it.”

“I’m always careful.”  Hutch and Huggy walked with Starsky and the nurse until they got on the elevator.  When the door closed behind them, Hutch turned to Huggy and released a sigh. 

“I thought I was doing pretty good hiding my feelings from him.  I guess not.”

“You should know by now that neither one of you can hide a thing from the other. You did fine.  You got him to stay.”

“Yeah.”

Huggy headed off to find Dr. Franklin while Hutch left for the precinct.  He wanted to follow up on the information he’d gotten from Helen McDermott.  Maybe there was someone in the files he hadn’t finished reviewing who met the description.

After a brief conference with Dobey to get his agreement to let Hutch leave after lunch to go back to the hospital, he returned to the records room to continue his research.  He’d been at it for a couple of hours when a thought occurred to him.  Why hadn’t his phone rung last night?  If the perpetrators knew Starsky was staying with him, why hadn’t they tried to call him again?  Hutch left the files behind and went to Captain Dobey’s office.

He knocked on the door and opened it when the captain bellowed, “Come in.”

“Cap, I just realized something.  I found out about this whole mess right after Starsky changed his number the last time - the same night.  I followed up with the phone company, but they didn’t give his number to anyone.  Then, when I took Starsky to my place after he collapsed here, the mystery callers phoned him at my place the same night.  Last night, Cap, Starsky wasn’t at my place anymore.  He was at the hospital.”

Dobey thought he knew where Hutch was going with this.  When Hutch paused for a moment to think, Dobey said, “Go on.”

“Why didn’t they call him at my place?”

“Good question.”

They thought about the implications of that, and then Hutch said, “You don’t suppose it could be somebody here at Metro?”

If it were someone at their precinct, that person would have access to Starsky’s home number - and his whereabouts.  Dobey said, “I did tell the other detectives that Starsky was in the hospital.  You know how fast things get around this building.  Could be anybody.”

“I’m going down to personnel records and get a list of everybody who was on duty when Starsky first collapsed and yesterday.”

As Hutch got up to carry out that task, Dobey said, “Uh, Hutch... what if whoever this is knows his room number?  That’s not exactly privileged information.  What if they try to call him there?”

Hutch’s face took on an anxious expression.  “He doesn’t need that, Cap.”

Dobey was already picking up the phone to call the hospital.

~*~*~*~

After Starsky had returned to his room from his tests, he rested for a while.  The staff brought him another tray filled with items that barely deserved to be called food.  His appetite was nonexistent and he was holding out hope that Hutch or Huggy would be bringing him something better to eat soon.  He drifted in and out of sleep, but was awakened by the ringing phone.  Thinking it was probably his mother, he answered it.

“Hello?”

“Davy?”

Starsky held his breath for a few seconds.  When he didn’t answer, the caller repeated himself.

“Davy, are you there?  It’s Dad.”

His heart rate was climbing and his breath was starting to come in shallow pants.  “How did you find out I was here?”

“David?  What kind of question is that, I’m your father.”

“No, you’re not.” Starsky’s voice was like ice. “For one thing, I called my father ‘Pop,’ not ‘Dad.’”

There was a slight pause, but only a slight one. “Now, David.  You haven’t done what you’ve been told.  You need to come to me.  Didn’t Terry tell you how important it is?”

The heart monitor was registering the physical effect this phone call was having on Starsky.  One of the nurses walked over to the corresponding monitor at her station and watched it for a short time.

“This is some sick joke you’re pulling, man!  You’re NOT my dad.  My dad would never want me dead.”

The nurse could hear the muffled sound of Starsky’s rising voice all the way at her station.  She turned to one of the other nurses and said, “Page Dr. Franklin.  I’m going in there.”

“David, listen carefully.  You’re running out of time.  You have to die.  You’ve been warned.  If you don’t, your partner is a dead man.”

“Damn you!” Starsky shouted.  “That’s not true!”

“It is true.  I’m not going to be able to warn you again.  Do it.”

Starsky slammed the receiver down and then tossed the phone, just like he’d done at Hutch’s.  He shoved the tray of food away from him, pulling out his IV and dislodging the heart leads at the same time.  His nurse heard the monitor alarm going off just as she reached his room.  When she opened the door, she was greeted by the sight of her patient, out of bed, with blood dripping down his arm from where he’d pulled out the IV.  He was in the process of dismantling his hospital room in a fit of rage that had to be doing nothing for his condition.  She tried to calm him down, but she wasn’t getting anywhere.  He was gasping for breath and he put one hand up to his chest.  Starsky’s racing heart felt like it was firing extra beats and the sensation was unsettling, but not painful.  He leaned up against the wall and sank to the floor just as Dr. Franklin entered the room. 

~*~*~*~

Hutch stood anxiously at the corner of Dobey’s desk while he spoke with the charge nurse on Starsky’s floor.  “I see.  Is he in any danger?  Oh, yes, we’ll be down there shortly.”  He hung up the phone and faced the panicked blond.

“There’s been a problem.  Starsky had some kind of attack after he got one of those phone calls.”

Dobey never had a chance to explain what he’d been told.  Hutch was out of his office and on his way to his car like he had been fired out of a cannon.  He drove over to Receiving with lights and siren on, frantic that the doctor had been mistaken.  Something was seriously wrong with his partner’s heart.

Before leaving for the hospital, Dobey stopped by records and asked for the information Hutch wanted to be put on his desk within the hour. 

 

Hutch bounded through the stairwell door onto Starsky’s floor and ran straight to room 220.  When he pushed open the door, he was frantic to see hospital maintenance putting the trashed room back together, but no Starsky in sight.  Dr. Franklin had seen him run past and he quickly followed him.

“Ken,” he called as he approached. 

Hutch turned on his heel and went to the doctor.  “What happened?  Is he all right? Where the hell is he?”

The doctor nodded and put a reassuring hand on Hutch’s shoulder.  “Ken, he’s okay. Calm down and I’ll explain.”

“Calm down?  You said it was gonna be all right, what happened?”

“We had a little problem a while ago.”

“I need to see him.” 

“Not yet.  He’s out anyway.  I had to sedate him.”  Franklin steered Hutch to a waiting area and made him sit.  Then he continued,  “We don’t know for certain, but the nurses think he got one of those phone calls.  I have someone downstairs checking with the switchboard.”

Hutch took a few calming breaths.  “Dammit! Uh, I’m sorry, Doc.  Please tell me he’s gonna be okay.”

“He’ll be all right, Ken.  But, I think it’s important that we shield him from whoever is doing this.  He can’t get more of these calls.  When I reached his room, he had pulled off all of his leads and pulled out his IV.  He had trashed the room and I found him sitting on the floor, completely out of breath.”

Hutch said, “Oh, God.  All right, Doc.  I want the phone taken out of his room.  I don’t care who wants to talk to him, nobody gets him on the phone.  I’m going to think of something to catch these people, but I need you to help me protect him by making sure the staff doesn’t let anyone talk to him unless I say it’s okay. In fact, nobody sees him but me, Dobey, and Huggy.”

“Fine, Ken.  Now, he was really worked up and I had to put him out for a while.  Dr. Conrad, the cardiologist, has been in to see him.  We both agree he’s stable for now and we should know the results of his tests by tomorrow.  Come with me and I’ll show you to his new room.  I’ve put him in an isolation room.  No telephones and no unauthorized visitors.”

Franklin led him to the isolation area and opened the door of Starsky’s room, standing back to let Hutch go first. But Hutch was frozen in place at the sight of his partner. Starsky’s face was paler than he’d ever seen it, even during those terrible days following Gunther, and there was a bruise on one cheek and a cut on his forehead. The harsh lighting made his dark eyebrows stand out in stark contrast to his pallor, and the gauntness of his face from the lost weight stood out even more clearly.

“Ken?” Franklin touched his shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Hutch didn’t realize he’d swayed and clutched at the doorframe for support. “My God, he looks awful,” he whispered.

“I know,” Franklin said. “But he overexerted himself, and he was already weak. Get in there and quit looking like that. He’ll be all right. We’re doing everything we can.”

He gave Hutch a little push, and somehow Hutch forced his feet to carry him to the chair already waiting next to the bed. Franklin followed him and checked Starsky over, finally turning away.

“He ought to wake up in an hour or so,” he said to Hutch. “You sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” Hutch said absently, his gaze transfixed on his partner.

Franklin gave a shrug and left the room.

It was uncannily silent in the room. Because it was an isolation ward, the walls were soundproof and Hutch couldn’t even hear traffic or movement in the hallways. It seemed as though Starsky would never wake up, but finally, his eyes and nose twitched a few times and he blinked blearily up at Hutch.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Hutch said with a smile. “I was getting kind of bored waiting for you to rejoin us.”

Starsky moved his eyes around with a puzzled expression. He was still pretty fuzzy. “Where’m I?”

“Receiving Hospital.”

“But - this ain’t my room,” Starsky said.

“They moved you to a different room,” Hutch said. “You, uh, well --”

“Trashed the last one,” Starsky finished, remembering. “Aw, hell. Dr. Quack’s really gonna be pissed at me now.”

Hutch gave a wry grin. “He is. I smoothed him over, though. How ya feel?”

“Awful,” Starsky admitted. “Like I ran the Boston Marathon and lost. Badly.”

“You can’t get agitated like that, buddy. You know what Franklin said about - about --”

“My heart,” Starsky said. “You can’t even say it, can ya, Blintz? Honest, though, he’s overreactin’. I promise. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

“Promise me,” Hutch said, unreasonably. “Promise you won’t.... “

“Aw, Blintz,” Starsky smiled and patted his hand. “Find out anything yet?”

Hutch got hold of himself and shook his head. “No. Not yet. I know about the phone call. Who was it this time?”

“What phone call?”

“Don’t pull that,” Hutch said sharply. “You can’t lie to me, you know that. The call that set you off. Who was it?”

“I didn’t --”

“Bullshit, David Michael Starsky. Who was it?”

Starsky blinked. He didn’t think he could remember a single time before that Hutch had used his full name like that. Sometimes he teased him and called him “Davy” like Ma did, but -

“Pop,” he answered. “He said he was Pop.”

“What else did he say?”

“That I hadn’t done what he told me to. That I had to die, or you would.”

Hutch swore so vehemently under his breath that it surprised even Starsky.

“Hey, easy, buddy,” Starsky said. “Come on, it ain’t that bad.... “

“The hell it ain’t!” Hutch shot out of his chair and paced. “When I get my hands on the worthless son of a bitch that’s doing this, I’m gonna rip his goddamn lungs out!”

“Hutch,” Starsky said, quietly, not shouting.

Hutch got himself back under control visibly and sat down in the chair, but his eyes were dilated and he was breathing too hard.

“Freakin’ out ain’t gonna catch him,” Starsky said, still quietly. “Keepin’ calm and thinkin’ clearly is.”

“I know,” Hutch said, rubbing his face and eyes with one hand and drawing a long, deep breath in an effort to slow his thudding heart. “But look what it’s done to you --”

“I shouldn’t have let it,” Starsky said. “I knew all along it wasn’t really Terry or Pop or Gillian. I knew, but I let it get to me, and that’s what they want, babe. They wanted me to freak out and I did. But you can’t, Hutch. You’re all that’s keepin’ me sane.”

Hutch nodded and slowly his heartbeat returned to normal. “I’m sorry, buddy.”

“Nah. Fuggedaboudit.” Starsky grinned. “Just find the slimeball, huh?” He looked around the room. “I feel like I’m in prison,” he complained, partially joking and partially not. “I never talked to Ma, either. Where’s the phone? I’ll give her a call.” Hutch didn’t answer, but a dull red began to creep up from his collar. Starsky frowned at him suspiciously.

“What is it now?”

“Uh, about the phone, Starsk --”

“What about the phone?”

“There, uh, there isn’t one.”

“And why NOT?”

Hutch wet his lips. “I told them to take it out.”

Starsky rolled his eyes. “Look here, Blintz --”

“No, you look here,” Hutch said. “You need to rest and get better. This son of a bitch knows our every move. He knew you were here. He knew which room you were in. He’s not going to leave you in peace even here. So, no phone. No visitors except me and Huggy and the captain. And no arguments.”

Starsky stared at him as if trying to decide what to say to this diatribe, and finally decided against saying anything. He shrugged. “Okay. You’re probably right. What about Ma?”

“I’ll call her and explain.”

Hutch left when Huggy showed up with “real food” for Starsky so he could get back to the case. Something was nagging at him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. It wasn’t until he was back at his desk in the precinct when it hit him. It was what he’d said to Starsky at the hospital: “This son of a bitch knows our every move.”

He shot out of his chair and barged into Dobey’s office without knocking.

“Hutchinson!” Dobey was on the phone and glared at him.

Hutch put his hands up in an “I surrender” gesture but he didn’t leave.

Dobey sighed and said into the phone, “I have to call you back. I have a wild-eyed Viking in my office. Okay. Love you. Bye.” He hung up. “What’s so important I have to cut off my conversation with my little girl when she’s telling me about her latest ballet lesson?”

“I think I know how to catch the bastard that’s harassing my partner.”

~*~*~*~

Starsky was trying to watch a game show on TV when Hutch arrived, accompanied by a young rookie officer they both knew slightly. Starsky’s eyebrows rose when he saw Jeff Carter behind Hutch. Carter nodded at Starsky but didn’t speak, and Starsky turned a quizzical look on his partner.

“I have a plan,” Hutch said. “You remember Jeff, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Look at him. Take your hat off, Jeff.”

Carter obediently removed his uniform cap and tucked it under his arm.

“Who’s he remind you of, Starsk?”

Starsky examined Carter. “Me, a little,” he said at last. “I think I know what you’ve got up your sleeve, Blintz, and I don’t think I like it.”

“We’ll have backup,” Hutch said. “Dobey’s working on it right now. Sean and Jack’ll be in the street and we’re getting the place wired for sound.”

“He know what he’s gettin’ into?” Starsky nodded toward Jeff.

“Yeah. Don’t you, Jeff?” Hutch patted the young man on the back. “We’ve briefed him. Now we gotta get him dressed and we’ll put this plan into action.” He had a paper bag under his arm and he handed it to the young officer. “Bathroom’s over there.”

Carter took the bag and left the room. He still hadn’t spoken.

“You sure he can handle this, Hutch?” Starsky was frowning and obviously unhappy. “He’s just a kid.”

“He’s 26,” Hutch said, “and Dobey says he’s bound to make detective in the next couple of years. He’s good, buddy. Don’t worry.”

“He sure don’t talk much,” Starsky whispered, mindful that Carter was only behind the door.

“That’s a problem,” Hutch admitted with a snicker. “Nobody’ll believe he’s you if he keeps playing the strong, silent type.”

“Very funny.” Starsky rolled his eyes.

Carter emerged a few minutes later, wearing a pair of Starsky’s jeans, one of Starsky’s blue denim work shirts, and Starsky’s blue windbreaker. He had a ball cap pulled down over his dark curly hair and a pair of Starsky’s sunglasses in his hand. “Well, Sergeant?” he said to Hutch. “Do I pass?”

“Hutch, not ‘Sergeant,’” Hutch corrected him. “Turn around.”

Carter turned in a circle. He was the same height as Starsky, but not quite as muscular, so the jeans weren’t as tight as Starsky wore them. However, considering the weight Starsky had lost, Hutch thought, that shouldn’t be an issue.

“Let’s see you walk,” Hutch commanded him.

Carter was definitely missing the Starsky Strut.

“That’s not it,” Hutch said. “Can’t you swagger a little more?”

“Hutch!” Starsky complained.

“You do swagger, buddy,” Hutch said, grinning to soften the remark. “You know you do.”

Carter turned around and walked back toward Hutch and this time it was almost eerie.

“You’re going to make a terrific undercover cop,” Hutch said approvingly. “That was perfect.”

Carter suddenly grinned. “Thanks, Ser- I mean, Hutch.”

“Can you sound like him?” Hutch asked. “Just a touch of Brooklyn.”

Starsky rolled his eyes and made a “harrumph” sound in his throat, but Carter nodded. “Yeah,” he answered, and the right inflection was there. “Grew up in Queens, myself.”

“No, you didn’t,” Starsky said. “Did you?”

Carter laughed and shook his head. “Albuquerque, actually. But I watched a lot of TV. And I was in all the school plays. I played ‘Tony’ in ‘West Side Story.’”

“Your job,” Hutch said to Starsky, “is to stay here and stay out of sight. I’ll be in touch, but the whole plan’ll be shot to hell if anybody guesses you’re here. Dobey’s noising it around the station that you’re getting out today and I’ve come here to pick you up.”

Starsky didn’t speak aloud, but his eyes flickered just momentarily to Carter and back to Hutch.  He knows.

Yeah, but he won’t be out of my sight or hearing.

“I’ll be good,” Starsky said. “But you be careful.”

“I will.” Hutch gestured to Carter. “Get that cap and those shades on, Jeff. Showtime.”

Hutch had borrowed a wheelchair with Franklin’s knowledge and permission. Carter sat down in it, and on the way down in the elevator, Hutch told Carter he wanted him to lean on him and act sick as they left the hospital and until they were out of sight in Venice Place. Carter nodded.

As the door opened, Carter kept his head down. At the outer door, Hutch stopped the chair and leaned down to help him up. Carter put an arm around Hutch’s shoulder and Hutch put his around Carter’s waist.

“Easy, Starsk,” Hutch said. “Don’t try to do too much.”

Carter leaned against him and they made their way slowly and carefully out to the Squash, Hutch treating Carter just the same as he would if he were really Starsky. He loaded him into the passenger side, where Carter slumped into the seat and leaned his head against the glass.

They continued the act until they were safely inside Venice Place. Hutch had the shutters closed just in case anyone could spy on them, and Carter took off the cap and glasses once Hutch indicated it was safe.

“How’d I do?”

“You did fine,” Hutch said. “Want a beer?”

Carter shook his head. “No, thanks, but I’d take a glass of water or juice if you have it.”

“Orange or grape?”

“Orange.”

Hutch went to the kitchen and returned with a beer for himself and a glass of orange juice for Carter. “I hope you won’t take this wrong,” he said, “but I can’t trust anybody. So I can’t let you out of my sight. My partner’s life depends on it.”

“I understand,” Carter said. “I don’t expect you to trust me all at once, Hutch.”

The phone rang. Hutch jumped as if he’d been shot, and had to force himself to relax. He looked at Carter. “I’ll get it. But if it’s for Starsk, I’m handing it off to you.

Can you handle it?”

Carter nodded. “Yeah.”

Hutch picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“David?”

“Just a minute.” Hutch held out the phone and the look in his eyes would have sobered even a less intelligent man than Officer Jeffrey Carter.

“Yeah?” Carter’s inflection was all but flawless. Hutch felt an unwilling admiration for him. His own first undercover assignment had scared him silly, but Carter was as cool as a cucumber. Hutch moved to the other side of the room where the recording equipment was set up. He slipped the headphones on.

“Davy? How ya feelin’?”

“Better,” Carter said. “Still kinda washed out, though.”

“You haven’t done what I told you, David.”

“Not yet,” Carter said. “It’s - it ain’t easy, Pop.  Y’know? I mean, think how it’d affect Hutch.”

Hutch stared at the young officer. He’d briefed him - he’d spent a couple of hours coaching him, in fact - but he was still stunned at Carter’s grasp of the situation.

“Think about the alternative, Davy. If you don’t die, he has to. Would you rather he died than you?”

Carter injected a slight tremor into his voice. “No, Pop. No! I can’t let that happen!”

“Then you know what you gotta do, son.” The caller hung up.

Carter replaced the receiver and turned toward Hutch, who was staring at him with wonder.

“Did I mess up?”

“Hell, no,” Hutch said, astonished. “That was terrific, kid. How on earth...?”

Carter gave a wicked grin worthy of Starsky himself. “You two are living legends, don’t you know that? It’s no secret how tight you are. Toss in four years of high school drama club and there you are.”

Hutch chuckled. “Remind me to request you next time we have an undercover job.”

“I will.” Carter reached for his orange juice.

~*~*~*~

Larry Newirth paced around his apartment waiting to place a phone call.  He had been to the prison to visit Luke Huntley.  Newirth told Huntley about Starsky landing in the hospital, which he’d heard through the thriving Metro grapevine before he left work the previous evening.  He’d also told the convict about killing Deanna.  Luke wasn’t pleased about that, but it couldn’t be helped. They’d have no more phone calls from “Terry” to torture Starsky with now that she was gone.  He told Newirth to turn up the heat on their plot.  Huntley was a cop long enough to know that there was a chance someone might connect the dead young woman to what was happening to Starsky. 

Newirth remembered what Huntley had said with a chill.  “Hutchinson is probably tearing up the precinct and their beat to figure out what’s happening to his precious partner.  You might not have much time before one of them starts to get wise.  They’re both damn good at what they do.  Call your actor and get him to put the pressure on Starsky.  Tell him his ‘Pop’ will come over to help him reach the other side.  If his mind is as messed up as what it sounds like, as soon as he’s back from the hospital... finish him.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Help him out.”  Luke Huntley wore an expression that Newirth would describe as evil delight at the thought of David Starsky’s death.  He was finally going to get his revenge. They both were.  Newirth had agreed to the idea, but it was he who would ensure that the detective crossed over to be with his dead loved ones.  He’d wait until Starsky was back at his home or Hutch’s.  Then, when Hutch was not around, he’d get Starsky to let him in and he’d kill him.  Making it look like a suicide didn’t seem like a big challenge, given the other man’s current condition.  He had accepted that he might need to be the triggerman. 

He picked up the phone and dialed the pay phone again.  Jocko Malloy, his actor, was supposed to be waiting for his call to report his progress and wait for instructions.  Newirth had called down to the precinct when he returned from the prison and he’d been told that Detective Starsky was being released from the hospital.  He’d offered Jocko another hundred dollars to watch the hospital and follow them when Hutchinson came to pick up his partner.

The actor answered.  “Yeah.”

“Jocko, did you see them?”

“Yeah.  I watched just like you told me to.  The blond guy picked him up and they drove to a place in Venice on Ocean.”

“How’d the patient look?”

“Pretty wiped.  He was leaning on the blond pretty heavy and his clothes were even kinda hanging on him.  Couldn’t even walk up the stairs by himself.”

“Excellent.  Did you make the calls?”

“Yeah, I called him in the hospital.  Really juiced him up, too.” Jocko laughed unsympathetically.  The man disliked cops and the idea of hurting one appealed to him.

“Called him at the number from before and got him.  The other guy just gave him the phone, stupid jerk.”

Newirth smiled at how well this was going.  “How’d he take it?”

“I think he’s giving in.  He said he couldn’t let his partner die, that he knew what he had to do, but it was hard.  Idiot’s actually worried about what it’ll do to his partner if he offs himself.”

 He should be worried. I’m hoping it’ll kill Hutchinson, even if Luke just wants to get Starsky.  

“I want you to keep it up during the night.  Call him two or three times.  Tell him you’ll come and help him after his partner is gone. That way it’ll be easier for ‘Davy’ and his partner.”

“Okay, but listen, man... I ain’t hurting him.  Scaring him and driving him nuts are not the same thing as popping him.”

“You let me worry about the final details.  Just watch the place and make your calls.  Tomorrow morning, let me know when Blondie leaves.”

“You’re the boss.  Hey.  Tell me something.”

“What?”

“What makes you hate these guys so much?”

Newirth became angry at that remark.  He hoped he wasn’t going to have to dispose of Jocko before he was ready.  That was his plan.  As soon as Starsky was dead, he’d get the young actor to meet him at the reservoir and he’d finish him off just like he’d done Deanna.

“None of your damn business, Jocko.  Just do your job.  This is the last night, as long as Hutchinson leaves Starsky alone tomorrow.”

Newirth got some sick pleasure at the thought of Starsky using Hutch’s Magnum to do the job.  He knew that would never happen - Hutchinson would have his weapon on him.  No, Starsky’s Beretta would have to do.  In case Starsky’s gun wasn’t at Hutch’s place, the bitter man had other plans.  He was going to have to chloroform Starsky anyway.  He’d finish him off in some other way if the gun wasn’t there.

~*~*~*~

Throughout the long night, Hutch’s phone rang a few times.  Each time the voice was the man claiming to be Mike Starsky.  The conversations were similar to the other ones, but Jeff pretended to become increasingly despondent, and increasingly willing to end his life.  He seemed to be playing into Jocko’s hands. 

Both Jeff and Hutch were tired from the night of interrupted sleep, but they managed to be alert whenever the phone rang. The call that came at six in the morning was the worst.  Jeff and Hutch had already agreed on what Jeff should say.

Jeff picked up the phone and said, “Hello?”

“Davy?  Are you ready, son?”

“I’m ready, Pop.  Can you help me?”

“Help you, son?  I’m here on the other side, waiting.  Just come to me.  Do it.”

“No, I can’t.  Not by myself and I can’t let Hutch see this.  I wanna do it, Pop, but you’ve gotta help me.”

Jocko paused briefly, pretending to consider the request.

“I can’t help physically, son, but I’ll be there.  When your partner leaves, just think of me and I’ll come.  I’ll help you through it.  I’m so happy, Davy.  I need you.”

“I’m tired, Pop.  I just want this to be over.  I’ll call your name, okay?”

“Yes, Davy.  I’ll be waiting.”  Jocko hung up the phone and laughed.   What a jackass.  He deserves to die.  Glad I don’t have to see to it, but he deserves to die.   The only thing he had to do now was watch for Hutch to leave and call Newirth.  His job was done and he’d wait to hear from Newirth about getting paid.

Hutch felt a chill listening to this young man who sounded so much like his partner as he acted suicidal.  Even though he wasn’t Starsky and the whole thing was an act, Jeff was a little too good at it.

“You missed your calling, man.  Should’ve been an actor,” Hutch said with a nervous smile.

“Nah, mostly that pays worse than bein’ a cop.  Hardly anybody makes it.  If I make detective someday, maybe I’ll get to do a lot of undercover and exercise my creative side.”

“Oh, you’ll make it.  No doubt.”

Hutch went into the kitchen to get them both some breakfast as they continued to discuss what they thought would happen next.  Having someone to bounce his ideas off of usually helped Hutch.  Jeff Carter was no substitute for his partner, but the younger man was intelligent and quick thinking.  The long night’s activities had helped him to trust Jeff.  He was comfortable leaving for the next phase of the plan.   As they talked about the case, their brainstorming led Hutch to an intriguing thought.

“Isn’t it sort of odd that suddenly all of the calls are coming from the man?” Hutch mused.  “What happened to the girl who said she was Terry and Gillian?”

“That is peculiar.  You know, if you haven’t missed any of the calls, every one since Starsky went to the hospital has been the man.”

Hutch handed Jeff a plate of scrambled eggs and toast and then went to the phone.  He looked a number up in his book and called Babcock. He knew the man would be up getting ready for work by then.

“Hello?” Babcock answered.

“Hi, it’s Hutch.”

“Good morning.  Everything okay?”

“Yeah.  I know this is a long shot, but Jeff Carter and I have figured out something about this case.  I know you and Simmons were working on a Jane Doe homicide the other day.  You ever ID her?”

“Yeah, we did yesterday afternoon.  Poor kid.  Why?”  Hutch could hear the sounds of Babcock munching on something while they talked.

“Well, this is probably nothing, but the girl that called Starsky before, when he collapsed at the station, she’s stopped calling.  She was pretty persistent for the first couple of weeks and then suddenly, no more calls from her.  Who was your homicide?”

“Name was Deanna Mobley.  Young girl, just 20.”

“Any idea what she did for a living?  I mean, was she a working girl or anything like that?”

“Nothing like that.  She was an out of work actress.  You really think this could be related?”

“I don’t know, but my gut instinct is saying yes.  Thanks, I’ll let you know.”

After he hung up the phone, Hutch went into the kitchen to retrieve his breakfast.  Jeff asked, “You think it could be related somehow?”

“No reason to think it really, but yeah, I do.”

Hutch was a good detective.  His gut instincts were usually sound from what Jeff had heard.  If Hutch thought it was related, he was probably right. “What does it mean?”

“I think it means whoever wants to hurt my partner is almost done playing this game.  I also think it means you’d better be careful.  You’re gonna be in earshot of me and the rest of the cavalry all the time, but something can happen fast.  I’m gonna take a quick shower, call to check on my partner, and then I’ll call Dobey and we’ll decide how to play this.  Don’t forget to turn on the recorder if he calls again, but I don’t see him doing that.  I think he’s ready to make a move.”

Hutch got ready to look like he was leaving for a day at work.  A quick call to Receiving revealed that his partner had slept peacefully through the night - when he wasn’t being awakened for vital signs checks.  He had asked his nurse to give Hutch a message.

Starsky’s nurse said, “I hope this make sense to you.  He said to tell you ‘See ya.’”

Hutch laughed out loud, causing Jeff to turn and look at him with a quizzical look.  He couldn’t imagine what the hospital could have told Hutch that was so funny. 

“Thanks, yeah.  Unfortunately, that makes perfect sense to me,” Hutch replied.  “Would you mind giving him a response for me?  I hate to ask you to be our messenger.”

“I don’t mind.  Especially if it makes him laugh like his message made you.  He could use a little laughter.”

“Thanks.  Please just tell him ‘I’m always careful.’  Got it?”

“Yep.  I’ll give it to him after I wake him up for breakfast.  By the way, Detective Starsky still isn’t eating very well.  Says he’s worried about you being on the street without him.  Anything you can do to encourage him?”

“No. My partner is about as stubborn as they come, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Oh, I noticed.” Her gentle laugh warmed Hutch’s heart.  Starsky was in good hands there.

Hutch thanked her, hung up and called Dobey. 

“Cap, I’ve been looking at these duty rosters you sent over.  I think there are about 15 names of personnel who might have quick access to Starsky’s records that are common on both days.  Most of them I’d eliminate without question, but I don’t know four of them well enough to pass them off like that.”

“Give me the names,” Dobey replied.

“Larry Newirth, Kurt Schmidt, Lisa Hamilton, and Jerry Washington.”

“I’ll get on this and let you know.  What’s the plan as of this point?”

Hutch told Dobey about the calls throughout the night and his theory that the perpetrator or perpetrators would be looking to come to the apartment to “help” Starsky fulfill his destiny.  He would leave for work and drive a few blocks away.  After parking his car near the unmarked cars Dobey had already sent for the morning’s activities, he’d double back on foot and sneak in through the back stairs.  Jeff was wearing a wire and the apartment was bugged.  The captain had even had a surveillance camera set up that Hutch would turn on when he left.  The camera was hidden in one of Hutch’s plants and it covered the living room.  Dobey would head out to Venice as soon as he had gotten the information on the four people Hutch had named.  That should help them know who they might be looking for that morning.

A few last minute instructions to Jeff and Hutch was ready to go.  “Jeff, I want you to be extra careful.  These people are out to kill Starsky and I don’t want you to be a sacrificial lamb.”

“Don’t worry so much.  I’m a big boy and I know all about you two.  You’ve pissed off more people than a dozen IRS Tax Auditors.”

“That’s a fact.  All right, I’m going.  Hang tight.  I’m only going to be gone for about 15 minutes or so.  I’ll be able to hear you.”  He walked over and turned on the camera. 

Hutch went down the stairs to the street.  The windows were still covered and the light in the apartment was dim.  Jeff decided to crash on the couch with a book he’d snagged from Hutch’s bookshelf.  He had no idea how long the wait would be and he decided he might as well get comfortable. 

Meanwhile, Hutch was having a problem.  When he turned off of Ocean, he got caught in a giant traffic jam within the next two blocks.  He was totally pinned and would have no choice but to wait it out, unless he wanted to just abandon his car where it was.  A serious injury accident had blocked his forward progress and a large group of cars were behind him on the one-way street.  Until Life Flight came and collected the injured, he’d be sitting.  Hutch turned up the gain on his receiver and notified the other officers that he was going to be delayed.  Hoping everything would be all right, he sat and fumed, drummed his fingers on the dash, paced in his head, and generally worried for the next twenty minutes.  Finally, he was able to move and he raced to where he could park the car. 

Back in the apartment, Jeff had fallen asleep soon after he sat down with his book.  The low light and his nearly sleepless night conspired against him.  Larry Newirth had been watching the apartment.  He waited twenty minutes to be sure Hutch was not going to return, and then he made his move.

Newirth crossed the street and walked up to the door at Venice Place.  A quick look in either direction revealed that there was no one around to see him enter.  He was unaware that he was being observed from an unmarked van.  Captain Dobey had arrived by another route in the past five minutes.  He was watching the closed circuit camera they had trained on the entrance to Hutch’s stairwell on the monitors inside the van.  He recognized Newirth and notified the other officers to stand by. 

At the top of the stairs, Newirth easily opened Hutch’s door by sliding a credit card between the striker plate and the locking mechanism.  He quietly opened the door and peeked inside the living room.  Jeff was lying on the couch with his back to the door.  The man found it all too easy to quietly pad over to the couch and use the chloroform he had with him on “Starsky.”

Hutch ran full speed back to Venice Place, ducking past pedestrians and narrowly missing a few of them. He slowed to a jog a block away in order to catch his breath. He ducked into the alley next to the Chinese restaurant and approached his building from the back. Jack Hill and Sean Cavanaugh were back there, screened from view by a delivery truck parked behind Chez Helene’s - deliberately parked there, thanks to Marie, the owner, and a favor the bread company driver owed her.

“Seen anything?” Hutch asked softly.

Hill shook his head. “No, but Dobey says he saw Newirth go in a minute ago.”

Hutch swore under his breath. “Newirth? From records?”

Hill nodded. “Yeah. Sucks, don’t it? Can’t even trust your own.”

Hutch wiped sweat from his forehead. “I’m going in. Give me two minutes before you follow.”

“Two?” Cavanaugh cocked his head. “One.”

“One and a half.”

“Deal. Be careful.”

Hutch lifted a hand in acknowledgement, drew his gun, and sneaked up the stairs. He’d left the greenhouse door unlocked and moved some of the larger plants around to screen his approach from anyone who might be inside. He’d forgotten about the squeaky stair near the top, however. He stepped on it and his heart almost stopped beating when it made its usual loud groan. He froze and waited, listening. But there was no sound or movement from inside. Maybe Newirth hadn’t heard it. Hutch was much more careful where he stepped as he slithered to the door, knelt, and eased the screen open. He crawled through on hands and knees and slid behind another plant he’d placed just inside the door. He listened again and heard someone going through the closet in the sleeping alcove. Newirth?

 

Hutch crawled over to the room divider and peered around it. It was Newirth, his back to Hutch as he abandoned the closet and started searching the bedside table. What the hell was he looking for? Behind him, Hutch could hear Hill and Cavanaugh climbing the outside stairs. If he could hear it, Newirth could.

~*~*~*~

After Newirth was sure the man on the sofa was going to stay unconscious, he reached over and turned on the lamp. He needed Starsky’s gun and he wasn’t going to be able to find it in the dark room. The instant the light fell on the couch, he realized that this man wasn’t Starsky.

He froze for a moment, staring. He’d seen this young man around the station, but he couldn’t remember his name. He did bear a passing resemblance to Starsky, but he most emphatically was NOT Starsky. Which meant this was a setup. The whole place was probably surrounded by cops. He gently opened the officer’s shirt and found the wire. He’d been trained in surveillance many years ago, before he got transferred to Records, and he knew how to disable the wire without making any noise. No sense in giving them any more of an edge than they already had.

Now he needed Starsky’s gun more than ever. He wasn’t going down without a fight - and if necessary, he was taking the kid on the couch with him. He hurriedly searched the coat rack but there was no holster there. He ran to the closet and began searching there.

~*~*~*~

Cavanaugh entered first and slid over to Hutch. Neither of them dared speak aloud, but Hutch gestured toward the sleeping alcove. Cavanaugh lay flat on the floor and poked his head over Hutch’s knee to peek in that direction. He withdrew his head and slid behind Hutch, gesturing that he would approach from one side and Hutch could approach from the other. They didn’t know if the man was armed, and they weren’t taking any chances. Hutch nodded and got his feet under him.

He raised his free hand and held up one finger, then two, then three and dived toward Newirth. Cavanaugh did the same from the other side and when Hutch reached the man, he grabbed him and threw him facedown on the bed before Newirth even realized he was had, laying his gun barrel against Newirth’s temple and growling, “Where’s Jeff?”

Cavanaugh produced a pair of handcuffs and secured the prisoner, elaborately dusting his hands off afterward.

“He’s in here,” Hill called from the living room. “Out cold. Chloroform. The rag’s still layin’ beside him. But he’s okay.”

“Open the windows,” Cavanaugh called back. “Try to revive him.”

“Gotcha,” Hill answered.

Hutch was still holding his gun barrel to Newirth’s temple, his hand shaking from rage and his eyes flashing dangerously. “What the hell,” he snarled, “were you trying to do to my partner? And WHY?”

Newirth didn’t answer.

Hutch shoved the gun against his temple hard enough to move his head sideways a couple of inches. “I asked you a question, you worthless son of a bitch!”

“Hutch,” Cavanaugh said nervously.

Hutch ignored him, and still keeping the gun leveled at Newirth, grabbed the man’s arm and violently turned him over. This time he pointed the gun between his eyes. “What the hell were you doing?” he demanded again.

“Uh, Hutch,” Cavanaugh said, afraid to do something and afraid not to. “Take it easy, man. Hutch?”

Newirth was trembling and his eyes were closed, but he still didn’t answer. Hutch grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head off the bed so he could glare directly into his face. Newirth’s eyes were open now and dilated with terror. “I asked you a question!”

“Hutch,” Cavanaugh tried again, reaching over and putting his hand over Hutch’s. “Let him go.” When he got no response, he said, more forcefully, “Hutch. Let him go.”

Hill appeared in the opening between the living room and sleeping areas, took one look at the situation and was at Hutch’s side in two long strides. “Hutch, listen. Jeff’s okay, he’s coming around. Starsky’ll kill me and Sean both if we let you get into any shit. So let go. Now.”

Hutch let go, backed away, and let his gun hand fall to his side. “Get this scum out of my house,” he said, his voice low and deadly. “Before I do something we’ll all regret.”

Hill used his radio to call in the other cops. Dobey arrived so quickly that he had to have been waiting outside on the stairs.

“Get Hutch,” Hill said shortly. He and Cavanaugh would take care of getting Newirth down to the station and booking him. “What’d you hear in here?”

“Not a thing,” Dobey said, meeting his eyes squarely. “What did you see?”

“I was in the living room trying to revive Carter. Didn’t see a thing.” Hill gestured to his partner, and the two of them left with Newirth. Hutch was still standing next to the bed, his gun still dangling from his hand, while other cops swept through the apartment looking for evidence. One called an ambulance for Jeff, though the young officer was awake now and sitting up, pale and a bit green around the gills, but otherwise unharmed.

“Hutch?” Dobey approached cautiously and put a hand on Hutch’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Hutch shook his head as if to clear it and slowly put his gun away. “Yeah.” He suddenly seemed to remember Jeff and dodged around his captain to hurry to the other officer’s side. “Hey, you all right?”

Jeff nodded and winced. “Yeah. That was really, really stupid.”

“What was?” Hutch automatically peered into Jeff’s eyes and felt his pulse and checked his color.

“Going to sleep like I did. If I’d been awake, I might’ve been able to help you guys. Could’ve stopped him from chloroforming me, anyhow.”

Hutch grinned. “You did great. We had it covered.”

“But I was supposed to help you catch him,” Jeff said, visibly upset. “I promised Starsky --” He snapped his mouth shut.

“What was that?” Hutch sat back on his heels on the floor.

“Nothing.”

“Like hell. Did that curly-haired southpaw call you?” Hutch wasn’t smiling, but Dobey saw the twinkle in his eyes, even if Jeff didn’t.

Jeff ducked his head. “Well...yeah. He did. While you were in the shower this morning. He said --” He stopped again and looked up at Dobey as if for assistance.

“He said what?” Hutch was inexorable.

Jeff sighed. “He said - and I quote - ‘You watch Hutch’s back for me and if anything happens to him I’m gonna kick your ass.’”

Dobey chuckled and Hutch actually burst out laughing. But he stopped abruptly. “They took the phone out of his room.”

“Guess he used somebody else’s.” Jeff rubbed his eyes; he still looked too wan and peaked, and they could all hear the ambulance’s approach.

“I guess he did. I’ll deal with him about that later. And I won’t tell him anything, I promise.” Hutch patted Jeff’s shoulder and one of the other officers let the ambulance attendants in. While they checked Jeff out, Dobey pulled Hutch to one side.

“We still have a problem.”

“The guy who made the calls,” Hutch said. “Already thought of that. I’ll get it out of Newirth or --”

“No, you won’t. Hill and Cavanaugh are going to question Newirth.”

“So am I,” Hutch said, low and menacing.

“Hutchinson, I won’t have you roughing him up!” Dobey’s voice was rising. He’d be bellowing soon.

“Who said anything about roughing him up?”

“If Cavanaugh and Hill hadn’t been here a few minutes ago, what would you have done to him?” Dobey demanded. “I know how you feel about Starsky and anybody who harms him. Newirth’s a cop. He knows the rules. You break those rules, and his lawyer’ll eat you alive. And then, good-bye, case. You want that to happen? You’re not questioning him.”

“I ain’t sittin’ on my hands, either!”

“You can observe. From the other side of the glass. That’s as far as I’ll go.”

Hutch opened his mouth to argue, but although he and Starsky often pushed their captain to the point of insubordination, they both knew when to stop. Dobey wasn’t going to budge on this one. Hutch gave in. “Okay. Dammit, okay! But I’m staying on this case until we get every last person involved in it.”

Dobey nodded.

Hutch called the hospital before he headed to the station. Franklin told him Starsky was doing well and chafing at his confinement. “Tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Hutch said.

“I will.”

By the time Hutch arrived at the precinct, Hill and Cavanaugh already had Newirth in an interrogation room. But he was clammed up and wouldn’t tell them anything. Hutch couldn’t stay in his chair on the other side of the glass. He paced, he fumed, he swore under his breath and out loud both, and finally got on the phone. “Ask him if he knows Deanna Mobley - the girl who was killed at the reservoir a couple of days ago.”

Hill’s face showed his puzzlement, but he shrugged. “Okay.” He turned back to Newirth and bent over him. “Who’s Deanna Mobley?”

Newirth’s eyes widened, just for a moment, and he looked scared to death, but the next moment he had his face back under control. “Dunno,” he said.

Hill’s eyes flickered up to the two-way mirror. “I see. Name means nothing to you?”

Newirth shook his head.

Cavanaugh had caught the look toward the mirror and though he didn’t know exactly what Hutch had said to Hill on the phone, the fact that his partner had asked a seemingly irrelevant question told him enough. “That’s funny,” he remarked, scooting himself up to sit on the table so he could loom over Newirth. “We’ve got a witness who saw you with her down at the reservoir.”

Newirth’s face drained of all color and he sputtered, “That’s impossible! No one else was there -” he stopped, realizing what he’d said.

Hutch pumped a fist into the air, even though Hill and Cavanaugh couldn’t see him.

Cavanaugh bent a little closer. “Did you pay her to call Starsky?”

“I don’t know her,” Newirth said desperately.

“Did you pay her to call Starsky?”

Newirth looked from Hill to Cavanaugh and back again. Even Hutch could see the sweat trickle down his face. “What are you talking about?”

“Look, Larry,” Cavanaugh said. “We know. We know about the calls. We know you killed Deanna. All we don’t know is why. Maybe you ought to tell us that part.”

He was bluffing. They didn’t have any proof for anything other than Newirth’s breaking into Hutch’s place and chloroforming Carter - though that was enough to charge him and hold him - but Newirth didn’t know that. He looked wildly back and forth at the two detectives again, then a crafty look came into his eyes. “I might, if I thought I could make a deal.”

“You know we can’t promise that,” Hill said.

“You can make a deal for me,” Newirth said. “I’m not some street punk, Jack. I know the DA’ll listen to you two if you make an effort. You want the guy’s name or not?”

Hill and Cavanaugh looked at each other. “What guy?” Hill asked.

“The guy who thought the scam up,” Newirth said. “And it wasn’t me.”

“If you’re yankin’ our chain, Newirth -” Cavanaugh said.

Newirth shook his head. “I’m not. I can prove it.”

“Okay, then, who was it?”

“Not without a deal.”

Cavanaugh suddenly grabbed a handful of the front of Newirth’s shirt. “We ain’t even gonna discuss a deal or whether we’re willing to make any effort for a scumbag turncoat cop until you give us some information! You got that?”

In spite of his anger at Newirth, Hutch couldn’t keep from grinning at Newirth’s reaction to Cavanaugh’s sudden transformation from “just folks” to snarling bulldog. Newirth’s eyes were as big as saucers and Hutch strongly suspected he was going to require a change of underwear. Dobey came through the door just in time to see that part.

“I talked to Starsky,” he said. “He’s threatening to come down here.”

“I hope you ordered him not to.”

“I did, but you know how well that works.”

Newirth was still staring, bug-eyed, at Cavanaugh. Finally, his eyes dropped. “Luke Huntley.”

Luke?” Hutch gasped.

Cavanaugh stared at Newirth almost blankly for a moment.  He looked up at Hill whose mouth had dropped open as soon as Newirth said the former cop’s name. 

Recovering his senses, Hill said, “You really expect us to believe that?”

“I don’t give a damn what you believe, it’s the truth.  Now do I get a deal or don’t I?”

Dobey picked up the phone and when Cavanaugh answered it, the captain said, “I’ll call the D.A.”

Cavanaugh hung up and said, “All right.  We’re getting the D.A.”

Newirth said, “Good. I want an attorney now.”

While they took a break from the interrogation to wait for the attorneys and a stenographer, Hutch called the hospital and asked to speak with Starsky.  The nurse said, “Okay, but Dr. Franklin wants to talk to you first.  He tried to call, but he was told you couldn’t be interrupted.”

Hutch didn’t like the sound of that.  “Is Starsky all right?”

“Yes, he’s fine.  Hold the line and I’ll get the doctor for you.”

While he waited, Hutch looked through the two-way mirror at the man in the interrogation room.  He didn’t know Newirth well.  He remembered hearing from some of the guys that Starsky had gotten into it with Newirth once while Hutch was in the hospital, but he was having a hard time imagining why that would make the man hate his partner enough to do this to him.  He also wanted to know what Newirth’s connection to Luke Huntley was.

Dr. Franklin’s voice broke into his thoughts.  “Ken?”

“Yeah, Doc.  What’s going on?” Hutch asked.

“Your captain called a little while ago and asked to speak with Starsky.  Afterward, David told me in no uncertain terms that he’s going to check out of here AMA if I don’t move him back to a regular room and give him a phone.  How are things on your end?”

Hutch sighed his relief.  If Starsky was up to bitching and moaning, he must be feeling better.  “We have one of them in custody, but I’m not taking any chances.  We still don’t have the guy who was making the calls.  How’s he doing?”

“Better, but I want him to stay till Dr. Conrad clears him.  Do you think you might be able to talk some sense into him?”

“I haven’t been able to for years, Doc, but if you put him on the phone, I’ll try.”

Dr. Franklin put Hutch on hold while one of the nurses went to get Starsky.

“Hey,” Starsky said a few minutes later.

“Hey yourself. Listen to me....”

“Oh, no, you don’t.  Dobey told me you caught the guy.  I’m feeling better and I’m coming down there.  I want to see this dirtball.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.  I just need some clothes and the nurses seem to be conveniently unable to find mine.”

“Starsky....”

“Hutch....”

“Shut up, will ya!”  Hutch paused to make sure Starsky was going to listen.  “Dr. Franklin says you need to stay and I trust him.”

“But, Hutch, I don’t want you to have to face that guy alone with the way you’re feelin’ about this whole thing.”

Hutch smiled.  “Oh, I see.  Go back to your room and relax, buddy.  I’m okay.  Sean and Jack are interrogating him.  Dobey won’t let me closer than the other side of the two-way glass.”

“Did you do something?” Starsky was worried, because he knew how he would be reacting. 

“No, well, look... don’t worry about anything.  I’m okay.  We’ve got it under control.  We think the guy who made the phone calls is still out there, but the perp’s gonna give us a name.”

“What about the girl?” Starsky knew there had to be at least two callers. Even Rich Little wasn’t that good an impressionist.

Hutch paused, unsure as to how much to tell his ailing partner.  “She’s dead, Starsk. That’s enough for now.  You sound tired.  I’ll call or come down there in a few hours.  By then, I think it’ll be okay for you to go back to a regular room.  Not till we catch this other guy, okay?”

Starsky didn’t like it, but he understood it.  He would have made the same decision if Hutch were the one in his position.  “Okay, Blondie.  You be careful and make sure either Sean or Jack goes with you.  Everywhere - I mean it.”

“I will, now get back to bed.  I’ll see you in a few.”

Hutch hung up and sat rubbing the bridge of his nose.  A dull headache was forming between his eyes.  The struggle to resist the need to beat the crap out of Newirth was not doing anything for his stomach either.

Over the next two hours, Newirth was taken to a private interview room to consult with his court appointed attorney.  After that, he, the attorney, the D.A., Sean, and Jack went to the interrogation room to firm up the specifics of what Newirth and his lawyer hoped would be a good deal. Hutch sat in the observation room with Dobey.  He alternated between pacing and sitting as Newirth laid out the details of what he had done.  The detectives already knew Newirth learned from Helen McDermott how much Starsky sounded like his father.  All he had to do was hide a small tape recorder in his pocket, stop Starsky in the hallway at work and shoot the breeze with him long enough to get a good sample of his speaking voice on tape.

Terry Roberts’ voice had been trickier, but not unachievable.  When George Prudholm was tried for her murder, the papers had mentioned home movies taken at Terry’s school and the effect watching them at the trial had had on her fiancé, David Starsky.  He bribed one of the school’s custodians to get him those films so that his actress could learn to mimic Terry’s voice.  Gillian’s voice had been even easier.  She’d made a few porn flicks -- not many, but easy enough to find if you knew where to look.  The impression only had to be good enough to fool a half-asleep, thoroughly freaked-out Starsky.  Finding a couple of out-of-work actors in Southern California to help him with the plan hadn’t been any kind of challenge.  Hutch couldn’t help wondering if the actors missed the clause in their contracts that said Newirth would kill them when he was finished with their services.  Poor Deanna obviously had no idea what could happen, even when things started to go bad.

Newirth had resented both Starsky and Hutch since they passed the exam to become detectives and were promoted past him.  He’d already taken the test numerous times, but his score was always lower than those of other, younger officers.  Several run-ins with the darker half of the dynamic duo had crystallized his ill will toward both men. 

Once, Newirth was assigned to guard Hutch in the hospital when he was injured.  He had failed so miserably, the detective was nearly killed in a hospital room and Starsky went ballistic on him in the aftermath.  He knew that one incident was enough to keep him in uniform forever and he was lucky to have escaped firing.  Even with all of that, Newirth’s resentment of both detectives was nothing compared to Luke Huntley’s hatred for them.  

 Hearing about Huntley’s involvement made Hutch feel sicker.  He had looked up to the older cop and he’d felt sorry for Luke when his world fell apart over his wife’s gambling habit.  Now, all he could feel was a smoldering anger that tempted him to drive straight to the prison to see his former friend.  Dobey knew what Hutch must be thinking, and he put a reassuring hand on the other man’s shoulder when Hutch sat down and put his head between his hands.

A warrant was drawn up for Jocko Malloy’s arrest for being an accomplice in the attempted murder of a police officer.  That was how the court was going to see it.  In return for a guilty plea and for giving up Luke, Newirth would not face first-degree murder for Deanna Mobley’s death.  He would be charged with murder in the second degree, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder of a police officer.  These charges would save him from the gas chamber and he might see parole in his golden years. 

Hutch didn’t like it that the man would ever get out of prison, or that he would escape the gas chamber for his obviously premeditated murder of a young woman.  As angry as he was about the entire incident, Hutch knew the girl was probably killed for objecting to what was happening. 

When it was over, Dobey turned to Hutch and said, “I’m going to go up there and see Huntley.  You go on back to the hospital.”

Hutch shook his head.  “How could he do this, Cap?  I just don’t understand it.”

“You heard Newirth, Hutch.  Luke was his mentor and they both blame Starsky for his being in prison.”

“I want to go with you, Cap.  I need to see him.”

Dobey sighed and shook his head.  “Not this time, Hutch.  Sean and Jack are going to go round up Jocko.  You go be with Starsky.  This one is mine.”

The fire in Dobey’s eyes convinced Hutch to agree.  He wasn’t sure he could restrain himself if he had to face Luke right then.  Nodding at his captain, he said, “Yeah, all right.  Thanks, Cap.  I guess I’m just glad it’s all over.  Now, if I can just keep Starsky on ice long enough for his health to improve, everything can get back to normal.”

~*~*~*~

When Hutch reached the hospital, he found Jeff Carter waiting to see Starsky.  He was patiently leafing through a magazine in the waiting room near the isolation area. 

“Jeff, you okay?”  Hutch said as he walked up to the younger man and extended his hand.

Jeff shook his hand and said, “I have a headache, but I’ll live.  I want to see your partner, but they said I couldn’t go in without your permission.” He chuckled at that. “You have him locked down so tight, you’d think he had the plague.”

Hutch blanched at that, but Jeff had no way of knowing about Hutch’s illness several years in the past.  All he said in response was, “I don’t take chances with his life.”

They stopped at the nurses’ station so Hutch could ask them to transfer Starsky back to a regular room.  Sean and Jack would soon have Jocko in custody and Hutch felt secure that the man wouldn’t try anything.  Newirth had been the one who was supposed to physically hurt his partner.  After speaking with the charge nurse, Hutch led the way into the isolation room to fill in his worried partner on the details of the case. 

Starsky was up pacing around the room, pushing an IV pole when they entered.  He had given the staff so much trouble with his cardiac monitor leads, they had put him on a twenty-four hour Holter Monitor.  This portable monitor meant he could pace, within reason, and they could still keep track of his heart rhythm by reviewing the readings.

“Hey, I thought I told you to go to bed.  Up pacing isn’t in bed,” Hutch said.

“Hello to you, too,” Starsky replied.  “Dr. Conrad put me on this stupid portable thing.  They want to watch my heart rate for a whole day to make sure I ain’t gonna drop dead or something.”  The look on Hutch’s face caused him to immediately regret his sarcasm.

“Sorry, buddy.  I already told you they’re just overreacting.  I’m not going anywhere.”

Hutch gave him a lame smile that didn’t hide his worry.  Starsky shook Jeff’s hand and said, “How’d he do, substitute partner?”

Jeff answered, “He did fine.  See, you don’t need to kick my ass.”

Hutch was shooing his partner back to bed when he said, “Yeah, what were you doing out of bed making phone calls from God knows where early this morning?”

Starsky let his partner cover him with the blanket as he adjusted the bulky, annoying monitor and answered, “You said I couldn’t GET any phone calls, Hutch, not that I couldn’t MAKE any phone calls.”

Jeff laughed at the older man’s reasoning.  Exposure to the partners was giving him a real life lesson in why they were a legendary team.  He thought about how well they worked each other.  Hutch glared at both men.

“Fine, you just laugh it up, Jeff.  And you,” he said as he turned back toward his errant partner, “you are in trouble.”

Starsky’s eyes had a mischievous gleam in them that Hutch hadn’t seen for a few weeks.  He was relieved to see it.

“What?” Starsky innocently asked.

“Your nurses told me you still haven’t been eating.  I’ve come to tell you about the case, but you only get to hear it if you’ll eat.”

“What about a regular room?”

“I already told them to get one ready.  Now, you gonna eat?”

Starsky agreed to eat and Hutch told him about the case.  He was shocked when he heard about Luke Huntley’s involvement.  Hutch’s former friend was guilty of a plot to kill Starsky.  The fact that it had nearly worked, and that Newirth was there in Hutch’s apartment to insure that Starsky died - seemingly of suicide - made him feel sick, too.

Hutch and Jeff were just finishing when a nurse arrived with a wheelchair to return Starsky to a regular hospital room. 

“Your chariot, Detective,” she said. 

“I can walk.”

“Nope, you ride.  Climb aboard and don’t argue with me.”  Hutch was amused that, as usual, the hospital staff had quickly figured out how to handle his stubborn partner.

As they wheeled through the halls, the nurse said, “As soon as you’re settled, Dr. Conrad and Dr. Franklin are going to come and see you.” 

Jeff took that as his cue to leave.  When they had Starsky in his new bed, he wished him well and made his exit.  Starsky promised him a nice meal when he got out of the hospital.  He knew Hutch would agree that was the least they could do for him to thank him for his willingness to be bait for a killer and to help Hutch with the case while Starsky was unable to do so. 

The two men waited for the doctors, unable to hide their anxiety from each other.  Starsky knew things were going to be all right, but there was a chance they wouldn’t be.  They’d performed some more tests that day and he was telling Hutch about that when the doctors arrived.  Starsky introduced Hutch to Dr. Conrad.

“Well, gentlemen, good news,” Dr. Conrad said. “The irregularities in your heartbeat seem to be transient and I feel safe in saying they are not related to your previous injuries and the resulting compromise to your heart.”

“Thank God,” Hutch said and Starsky smiled.

Dr. Conrad put a hand up to forestall their relief.  “Just a minute, now.  I’m leaving you on the Holter until tomorrow.  If things continue to look good, and Dr. Franklin agrees, I think you can go home then.  The fact remains that your system was severely compromised when you were shot.  Your heart stopped and you had to be defibrillated.  I’m sure Dr. Franklin has already told you that your body doesn’t need to be put under any unnecessary strain.  I know what happened to you here was a bit... unusual to say the least.  However, you need to eat regularly and get enough rest.  As a police officer, your job is stressful and dangerous enough, without putting yourself in jeopardy by your own hand, no matter how upset you are.  Am I making myself clear?”

Starsky started to protest, “Yeah, but, Doc....”

Hutch interrupted him by saying, “He understands, Doc.  I do too and I’ll see to it that he takes care of himself.”

Dr. Franklin nodded at him, sure that Hutch would do everything he could to protect his best friend.  “See that you do, Ken.  We can’t promise the outcome will always be good.”

Starsky looked a little sheepish at that, but he nodded.  Inside his head, he was wondering how he was going to make sure he got enough to eat on their schedule on the best of days.  He also knew how he shut down when he was under significant stress. 

Dr. Conrad finished, “So, if things look good in the morning, you can go home.  I want you to rest for a week, and then report to my office for another stress test and blood draw.  I want to see your weight up, too - by at least five pounds.  If everything looks okay, I’ll sign your release for active duty.”

“Yeah, okay, Doc.” Starsky knew when he was defeated.  He didn’t have to like it, but he recognized it.

After the doctors left, a strained silence reigned for several minutes.  Finally, Starsky coughed and said, “So, good news, huh?”

Hutch paced around the room without answering him for a few minutes while Starsky patiently awaited his reply.  Twice, he turned on Starsky with his warning finger in the air, but he changed his mind and shut his mouth again, resuming the pacing.  Starsky knew the best thing at the moment would be to let Hutch run out to the end of his line, then try to reel him in again.

Seemingly paced out, Hutch pulled up a chair next to Starsky’s bed.  He rested his hand on Starsky’s hand and looked him in the eyes.  Whatever he had to say, Starsky knew he’d never be able to fight it when Hutch looked at him with such a mixture of pain and relief, worry and gratitude.

“Starsk, I’m more relieved than I can say.  As far as you thinking anyone was overreacting here, they weren’t.  This whole thing had me scared to death.  You’ve gotta promise me you’re never gonna keep something like this from me again.”

“I won’t, Hutch.”

“And promise me you’re gonna take better care of yourself?”

Starsky smiled at him.  Whatever he had done to deserve it, Hutch was the best friend anyone could ever want.  He would do anything to make him feel more secure.

“Are you kidding?” he asked, his tone teasing. “You’re gonna be all over me like a duck on a June bug.  No way I’m gonna be able to miss a midnight snack anymore, much less a whole meal.”

“Ha, ha.  This is serious.  Promise me.”

“Uncle. I promise.  You know how I get when things are buggin’ me, though, Blintz.  If you make me eat, the results could wind up on your shoes.  You prepared for that?”

“I’ll take my chances and keep a trash can handy at all times.  Gonna buy you one for the Tomato.” Hutch smiled back at him, telling Starsky the tension was lifting. 

Then, Hutch started a new topic - Starsky could see him shift gears.  “Hey, speaking of needing a trash can, I hear you were pretty sick that night after they told you I was going to survive the plague.”  Hutch hadn’t forgotten to get to the bottom of that revelation.

Starsky looked shocked.  “What?” he asked.

“Come on, Starsk, come clean.  A little bird told me you drank a whole bottle of Cuervo that night.  That true?” 

“A little bird, huh?  More like a scrawny barkeep.  Huggy swore he wouldn’t tell you that.”

Hutch patted Starsky’s hand and said, “Huggy didn’t mean to tell.  He was comparing how sick you were the other day to that night.  What were you thinking?”

“Come on, Hutch.  That was years ago.  You’ll notice I don’t drink tequila anymore.”

“Cured you, huh?”

“Damn straight.  I’d never been so sick in my whole life and it was self-inflicted misery.  Huggy was partly to blame.  He kept pouring me shots.  Then he took me to his place to sleep it off so I wouldn’t drive.  Said later he was sorry I was so sick, but I needed it.”

Hutch laughed at the combination of self-disgust and embarrassment Starsky’s face wore at having to talk about that dark night.  Everything had worked out well and Huggy took care of things. Hutch said, “Okay, okay, no need to get embarrassed.  I just wanted you to know I knew.”

“Don’t give Huggy a hard time.  He handled it.”

“You got it.  Just don’t do it again.  That much tequila is dangerous.”

“Don’t worry, buddy.  Me and Señor Cuervo have a mutual understanding.  I stay away from him and he doesn’t cause me to bow at the porcelain throne.”

~*~*~*~

Dobey drummed his fingers on the countertop in the prison visiting area. It was taking a long time for Luke to be brought out and Dobey was not a patient man on his best day. He pulled the sworn statement out of his pocket and looked at it again. No, Luke Huntley would not be seeing the light of day for some time to come. He’d made a stop by the warden’s office before coming to the visiting area, and he had the last link in the chain now. Huntley was most definitely guilty.

Finally, Luke was led in by a guard and seated across from Dobey. “What brings you here, Captain?” he asked in a friendly tone, but his eyes were wide with panic and Dobey knew the man realized what had happened.

Dobey laid the sworn statement on the surface in front of him. He wished he could slap it into Huntley’s hand. “Newirth rolled over on you, Luke. It’s over.”

“Newirth? Who’s that?”

“Don’t jive me, Huntley!” Dobey hissed at him. “We know everything.  Your stoolie sang like a canary. Now I want to know what the hell you thought you were doing!”

Huntley leaned back in a gesture of carelessness. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Huntley,” Dobey leaned forward and glared at his former colleague, “the guards have several visitors’ logs showing that Larry Newirth came here to visit you over the last few months. Look up there,” he pointed at the security cameras mounted near the ceiling. “We have the tapes showing the two of you together, here.”

Huntley shrugged. “Doesn’t prove a thing, Captain. I was his training officer. We’ve remained friendly. He just came to check on me now and again.”

“Hutchinson and Starsky put you in here,” Dobey said, struggling not to lose his temper. “You think any judge is going to believe you had nothing to do with this?”

“It doesn’t matter what the judge believes,” Huntley said. “It matters what the jury believes and what you can prove. And you can’t prove it.”

Dobey was trembling with rage by this time.  “What about the letters?” Dobey said now, raising one eyebrow.

“What letters?” Huntley said coolly, but something had sparked in his eyes and Dobey pressed his momentary advantage.

“The letters you wrote to Newirth when you came up with this, demanding that he come and see you.”

Huntley shrugged again. “Nothing wrong with writing to a friend and asking him to visit you in the joint.”

“No,” Dobey said, “but there is something very wrong with making a collect call to that friend to ask him ‘Is Starsky dead yet?’”

That shot hit its target. Huntley went visibly pale. “What phone call?” he asked, his voice not quite steady.

“You think your phone calls are private, Luke?” Dobey gave a nasty laugh. “Not in prison, my friend. They’re recorded. Every last one of them. And you were pretty careful, I’ll admit. But that last call you made hung you. Newirth told us all about it, and I saw the warden before coming here. The tape is in my pocket right now.”

That wasn’t true, strictly speaking. The warden had the tape, and couldn’t turn it over without a court order. But that would be a simple matter to arrange, and Dobey was the one, now, who leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and gave Huntley plenty of time to think it over.

Huntley stared at him for several moments, his eyes wide. Finally, he shook his head. “Don’t suppose it matters now,” he said at last. “What’s a few more years when your life is over, anyway?”

“Why?  Just to get back at them for putting you in here?”  Dobey asked the question without displaying the venom he felt.  He wanted to know.

Huntley resolutely shut his mouth.  He knew he was made and that he should not say anything else before he spoke with his attorney. The convict still couldn’t resist the urge to find out how close he’d gotten to killing Starsky.  “Well, whoever did whatever it is you’re talking about... how’d they do?”

Dobey’s dark eyes flashed his anger at the callous question.  As a courtesy, the warden had permitted the interview to take place in a locked and guarded room usually devoted to attorney/client meetings.  Nothing separated them except the counter.  The captain could have easily reached across that barrier and throttled the self-satisfied prisoner.  He resisted that urge.  Harold Dobey was the consummate professional, despite his fury at this man who’d tried to kill Starsky.  If Luke had succeeded, Hutch would have been devastated.  Dobey knew he was reading that in the other man’s eyes.  “Huntley, you tried to kill one of my men.  If you think I’m going to give you the satisfaction of knowing if you came close or not, think again.  Starsky is going to be fine, no thanks to you.  You’re never getting out of here.  You know that.  Just tell me why.”

Luke Huntley shook his head.  He called to the guard that he wanted to be returned to his cell.  Dobey watched as he walked away with his escort.  He hadn’t really expected a response.  Before he left the room, Luke turned halfway toward Dobey and said, “Did you know my wife committed suicide?  About six months ago, back east.  She did it because I’m in here.  Tell Hutchinson thanks for me, huh?”  That said, he walked out of the room.

~*~*~*~

Starsky was released the next day.  His tests looked good and he was sent home on strict orders to rest, eat, and regain his strength.  Sean and Jack had arrested Jocko.  When the newspaper had broken the story that a Bay City police officer had been arrested on suspicion of trying to kill another cop, he had rushed home to pack.  The partners busted him trying to run down the fire escape, caught in the crosshairs between Sean running up the fire escape, and Jack climbing down toward him.  He went along quietly.

When Hutch returned to Starsky’s place after watching Jocko’s interrogation through the two-way mirror, he looked so wired and wrung out Starsky was worried about him.  Hutch hadn’t said much.  After minimal conversation, Hutch went out to the kitchen to warm up the dinner that Edith Dobey had left for them.  She was on a mission to fatten up Starsky and that, at least, brought a small smile to Hutch’s face.

“What did she bring, Hutch?”  Starsky asked as he walked into the kitchen. 

Hutch looked up from turning on the oven.  Starsky was still too thin and a little pale, but he was looking much better.  A few more days of uninterrupted sleep and maybe the dark circles would fade from under his eyes.  Hutch noticed he was still wearing the hospital identification band on his left wrist, so he opened a drawer to look for Starsky’s scissors.

“Meatloaf, a baked potato dish with lots of cheese on it, salad, and a chocolate meringue pie,” Hutch answered.  He retrieved the scissors and motioned for Starsky to give him his wrist. 

When Hutch cut off the plastic bracelet, Starsky said, “Thanks.  I didn’t want to try cutting it off using my right hand.  I might miss.”  He laughed softly, giving Hutch his warmest “lighten up, everything is okay now” look.

The unspoken message got through to Hutch.  He smiled back and then pointed at a chair, unmistakably ordering his partner to sit.  Starsky parodied a salute and obliged him.

“You planning to hover for the next week?” Starsky asked congenially.

“Hover?  I don’t hover,” Hutch protested mildly as he went back to his heating dinner chores.

“Only like a Huey,” Starsky said.

Hutch looked back and said, “Okay, maybe I do a little.  The answer is yes.  I plan to hover.  In fact, your couch and I are going to renew our relationship.”

“You don’t have to stay, Blintz.  I’ll be all right.  They got the guy, right?”   Thanks, Blondie.  You gave me the perfect segue.

Hutch joined Starsky at the table, handing him a glass of juice.  Starsky accepted the glass and asked, “Did you pick up any root beer or Dr. Pepper?”

“No.  Drink juice.”

“Root beer has lots of calories in it.”

“So does juice and you might accidentally get a nutrient in you if you drink it instead of brown, fizzy, sugar water, remember?”   Didn’t we just have this discussion?

That round went to Hutch, which made Starsky smile again.  He licked the tip of his finger and made a hash mark in the air to signal Hutch’s win, causing the other man to laugh for the first time in a while. 

“So, how’d the interrogation go?”  Starsky was determined to hear about it, even if Hutch didn’t want to discuss it. 

“You know, I just don’t get it.  A lot of people have been mad enough at us to try to kill one or both of us, but Luke got himself into trouble.  We didn’t do it.”

“He blames us, Hutch.”

“But HE let that witness be assassinated.  Then HE tried to get the money back from those guys after Doris lost it all gambling.  We didn’t do anything but save his sorry ass from being killed.  They would have burned him, you know that.”  Hutch was in the kitchen pacing now.  Starsky started to say something, but decided to wait and let Hutch get out the rest of his rant. 

“That son of a bitch!” he shouted angrily.  The normally collected man wanted desperately to throw something, but he wasn’t in his own home.  He didn’t want to break anything of Starsky’s.  His rational side knew it wouldn’t help anyway.  Instead, he slapped his palm down on the counter, causing Starsky to jump just a little.

“Sorry, buddy.”

“It’s okay, Hutch. I understand.  I know how I’d feel if this had happened to you.  Everything’s okay, now.”

Hutch turned to him and said, “This was like a bad dream, Starsk.  I mean, how could he hate you so much?  The captain went to see him.  Said Doris committed suicide and that was probably what set him off like this.  Poor woman.  She deserved better than she got.”

“I know.  He told me about it when he called a while ago.”

“He called?”

“Yeah, he wanted to warn me that you were on your way and a little tightly strung.  He’s glad it’s over, too.”  Besides being a top-notch cop, Captain Dobey was a good friend and a caring boss.  They both knew they were lucky to have him.

Starsky continued, “I guess Luke thought since I came with you when he met those goons to get his money back, I pressured you into arresting him instead of letting him go.  My fault he didn’t escape with the money to Mexico or something.”

Hutch nodded.  Starsky could see that Hutch was feeling guilty about involving Starsky with Luke in the first place.  That wouldn’t do.

“You know he was trying to get to you, too, don’t you?” he asked pointedly.

“How do you figure?”

“By killing me.  Come on, Detective.  You’re too wrapped up with guilt over the whole thing and concern for me.  Do some detecting.  He had to have known what it would do to you if I committed suicide, or even just turned up dead.”

That was a chilling thought.  Hutch remembered the night that seemed long ago now when Starsky had called him over, scaring him to death with his tone and his insistence that he needed him if he was going to keep his promise.  The memory of finding him huddled in a cold shower, trying to chase away the crushing pain in his heart made Hutch shiver. 

“You’re right,” he said.  “Dammit!  I wish people wouldn’t try to use us to hurt each other like that.”

Starsky walked up to stand next to Hutch, placing a hand on his shoulder and looking at him with a wise expression.  “Hutch, everybody knows how important we are to each other.  Bad guys included.  We are each other’s strongest asset, and each other’s weakest link.  Does that make sense?”

Hutch smiled at him.  “Thought I was supposed to be the brains of this outfit, dirtball.”

“You keep thinking those happy thoughts,” Starsky shot back as he patted his best friend on the head.  He reached around Hutch and snagged a dinner roll that the other man had forgotten to mention on the menu from Edith. 

Over the next week, Hutch made sure that Starsky rested and got regular, nutritious meals.  He’d cooked for Starsky more times in their friendship than either of them could count and over the years he’d become an expert at how far he could push nutritious food and still expect his buddy to eat it.  When Starsky had his final tests done, he’d gained seven pounds back - enough to please the doctor and gain him his release to return to active duty.   They’d taken Jeff out to the nice dinner they’d promised as a combination thank you and celebration meal.  Starsky chose Giovanni’s, the restaurant he’d been shot in many years in the past.  Hutch didn’t like it when he did that, but he often used it as his “I win” restaurant.  Once, he’d explained to Hutch that it was like getting back up on a horse.  “Every time we go there, I get a little charge to my batteries, Hutch.   We won.  You won.  I know you have bad memories of that place, but you can see how proud of you I am when we eat there, can’t you?”  Hutch had conceded that.  Starsky knew it was good for him, too.  For his part, Starsky agreed to sit in a booth against the wall, not at a table, and to allow Hutch to have full view of the front door.

Jeff Carter was a promising young officer.  The two older men were determined to help him climb up the ranks and they’d already started snooping around the other up-and-comers for a good partner to recommend for Jeff when he made detective.

Captain Dobey lectured Starsky long and hard about his health and resting.  The paternal discussion made Starsky uncomfortable, but he was glad Dobey was in his corner.  The captain had already promised Hutch he was going to avoid assigning them to double shifts as much as possible, and no more than once a week when they were in a bind.  The younger detectives could take those extra shifts just as easily as his best team, and he reasoned to himself that the dynamic duo’s long hours on the streets had made them the best.  Time to allow some of the younger men to shoulder more of the burden and gain the experience.

Jocko Malloy was sent back to prison for parole violations and was awaiting trial.  He chose not to plead guilty to a lesser charge.  Since Newirth had already rolled over on Huntley, any deal Malloy could make was unlikely to be a good one.  He was hoping to get off on the premise that he was an actor and Newirth had told him this was just an elaborate prank on an old army buddy.  Originally, Newirth had told him that, but Malloy knew it was a lie.  Both Starsky and Hutch were looking forward to testifying at his trial. 

Luke Huntley pled guilty to the charges against him.  He was probably looking at spending the rest of his life in prison.  At Dobey’s request, he was transferred to another facility, close to the Oregon border.  He wanted the man farther away from easy access to anyone else who might be willing to help him with any additional schemes he might concoct.  He was also forbidden to have unsupervised visits with anyone, even his elderly mother.

Starsky managed to convince Hutch after only one day that it was all right if he answered his own phone.  The other man had consistently grabbed it every time it rang on Starsky’s desk.  Things were settling back into their regular rhythm. 

Two weeks after he returned to work, Starsky was lying awake at midnight.  He was worried about a case they were working and he couldn’t seem to fall asleep.  They had one of those double shifts ahead the next day and he needed to rest.  Doctor Franklin had given him some sleeping pills for nights like these, but he refused to take them. 

When his phone rang so late, Hutch was instantly worried.  He hadn’t been able to fall asleep either.  A string of prostitute murders on porno row was also keeping his mind overactive.  “Hello?”

“Hey.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah.  Can’t sleep.  You?”

“Nope.  Why don’t you take one of those pills?  You didn’t sleep well last night, either.”  Hutch didn’t want to see one sleepless night turn into too many in a row for his partner.

“Nah, I don’t like the way they make me feel.  I was hoping you could tell me what you put in that milkshake that day you wanted me to fall asleep.”  Starsky hadn’t ever asked him, but he thought maybe it was a double shot of liqueur and he’d just been too wiped to notice.

Hutch snickered.  “Sorry, buddy. I’m afraid I put in a couple of Dalmane.  You might as well take your sleeping pills.”

“You didn’t!  Two of ‘em?”

“Yep.  Sorry, pal.”

Starsky was quiet for enough time to worry Hutch into thinking he was angry.  Then, he heard light chuckling coming from the other end of the line.  “You’re really devious, Blintz.  You remember that if I ever have to return the favor.”

“I will.  Why don’t you go make one of those hot chocolates I make when you’re sick and can’t sleep?  Just make a regular cup of hot chocolate and throw in a shot of Kahlua.  I put it in that cabinet with your popcorn maker.”

“Thanks, that’ll do it.  Why don’t you do the same thing and get some sleep? We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Yeah.  I know you hate split shifts, but I told Dobey we needed a four-hour break between them tomorrow.  He said okay.  That way we can grab some dinner and rest a little before we go on the stakeout.”  They were planning to run down leads all day and then stake out the porno district during the night when the murders were taking place.

“You’re a worrywart, you know that, Blondie?”

“And your point would be....” Hutch’s voice trailed off, his tone sarcastic.

“Goodnight, Hutch.”

“ ‘Night, Starsk.”

The End

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