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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. 

 

Dedication:  I wrote this story as a gift for my dear buddy, Keri.  She had a particular thing she wanted done to one of the boys and I obliged her <eg>.  Keri is much better to me than I can ever hope to repay, so a special story request seemed like the least I could do for her.  She wanted me to post it for others to read and I hope you’ll enjoy it.  Keri, thanks for being you and for the treasure of your friendship.

 

Rope Burns

By Sue David

 

Wednesday night.

 

Standing in a darkened hospital room, Dave Starsky looked out the window at the city lights.  He stretched out muscles sore from hours of sitting and sighed.  The sound of an ambulance siren coming closer caught his attention and he watched until it pulled into the parking lot and disappeared from sight under the ambulance bay overhang.  The siren whined down to silence.  A good sound.  A hated sound.  He and his partner had a love/hate relationship with that sound.

 

“Hey,” came a scratchy, pain-filled voice from the bed behind him, followed by coughing.

 

Starsky spun around and crossed the room to the patient’s side.  “Shhhhh, no talking,” he said. 

 

Hutch nodded, but he whispered, “How?”

 

“Shhhh.  What did I just hear myself say, buddy?  No talking.”  He smiled at his partner and sat in the chair beside the bed.  He reached over as Hutch opened his mouth again, placing his hand gently on Hutch’s shoulder and said, “Uh! Shhh.”

 

Hutch smiled and nodded again.  He looked longingly at the pitcher on the table next to his bed.  Starsky reached for a cup and scooped out some ice.  “Let’s start with ice, see how you do.”  After he gave some to Hutch, he reached over and pushed the call button.  “That’s it,” he said soothingly. “More?”  Hutch shook his head and reached up to point at his throat, making a face that clearly indicated it hurt.

 

“May I help you?” said a tinny voice from the speaker.

 

“My partner’s awake,” Starsky answered. 

 

“I’ll be right there.”

 

Hutch wasn’t hooked up to any monitors, so the nursing staff had asked Starsky to let them know if he woke up in return for ignoring his presence long past visiting hours.  Within a few minutes, a nurse entered the room.

 

She smiled at Hutch while she took his pulse and blood pressure.  “Good to see you awake, Detective,” she said.  “Doctor Schulman wants you not to talk for now.  He’ll look in on you in the morning.”  After taking his temperature, adjusting his IV, and checking the position of his casted arm, she admonished him to rest and told them both she’d be back later.  She turned back in the doorway and added, “Call me if you need something else for pain.  No need to be a hero.” 

 

Starsky chuckled at the irony in that statement.  Don’t be a hero.  That’s almost funny.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Two days earlier. . . .

 

“Something bothering you?” Starsky asked.

 

“No, I’m just hungry and I can’t eat this dreck,” Hutch replied testily.  He dumped his lunch into the trashcan next to the desk with a disgusted look on his face. 

 

Starsky laughed.  “Dreck?  As hard as they worked on that limp, slimy salad down in the cafeteria… how can you be so cruel?”

 

“What they think passes for a vegetable down there.”

 

“Really.  How close are you to being done on that report?”

 

“Nowhere near,” Hutch grumbled. 

 

The two men were both tired after working for thirteen hours. They probably had another two to go before they could finally log out, and bad cafeteria food was all they’d had time to eat for the entire shift.  As tired as they were, they were the arresting officers on a case that was going to court in the morning.  The DA had asked them to prepare some additional reports before they called it a day.  Starsky had an idea. 

 

“Why don’t you run down to that new place we saw yesterday?  Organic Cup.  It’s only three or four blocks.”

 

“Let’s just get through this report.”

 

“I’ll work on it while you’re gone.  These I’m working on don’t need to be done tonight.  Go ahead.”

 

“Thanks.  I’ll bring you something.  Your dinner wasn’t any better than mine.”

 

“Pass.  You can keep the organically grown bean sprout quiche.  I’ll just pop a few antacids and wait for Huggy’s when we’re finally through here.  Wait a minute, though.”  Starsky looked at his watch and then rustled in his jacket pocket and produced a couple of envelopes.  “Mind walking past the mailbox?  There’s still time to get the gas and phone bills in tonight’s mail.  You wouldn’t want me to be without gas, would ya?”

 

That got a laugh out of his partner.  “If you think I’m touching that with a ten foot pole, think again.”  He reached for the envelopes.

 

“Cute,” Starsky muttered.

 

Hutch waved at him as he walked out the door.  He would bring Starsky something anyway.  Maybe they’d have something tempting and he knew they wouldn’t be clocking out for hours.    The air was warm and the walk might shake loose some of the cobwebs he felt creeping into his brain. The case they were working on for the DA was a rough one.  A robbery ring where two of five suspects were brothers.  Starsky and Hutch arrested one of the brothers and two of the unrelated men, but two men were still at large.  Hutch had traded himself for a hostage and talked the men into giving themselves up, relieving a tense, possibly explosive situation while scaring his partner half to death.

 

Waiting for his food order to be filled, Hutch couldn’t help thinking the small, vegetarian food restaurant didn’t stand a chance.  Located only a few blocks from Metro headquarters, their menu seemed more suited to the beach neighborhoods, or close to a university. 

 

“Here you go,” the young man behind the counter said as he handed Hutch his order.  “One No-Bull Burger and two strawberry banana smoothies.  I hope your partner likes it.”

 

“Me, too.  He usually likes smoothies. Getting much business?”

 

The young man nodded.  “You’d be surprised.  My dad owned the Greek restaurant we replaced.  He left it to me, and I decided to try this.  My wife’s a vegetarian and a great cook.  If it doesn’t work out, we’ll switch back to Greek.”

 

“Good luck!” 

 

Hutch took a left instead of a right to head back to Metro.  He walked up to the mailbox and dropped in Starsky’s bills.  Shaking his head with amusement, he turned back toward the station, thinking about how hard they’d been working to get to the point where his ultra-organized partner was mailing his bills at the last possible minute.  His overworked mind was anywhere other than where he was when it happened.

 

As he walked past an alley, someone stepped out from the darkness, catching Hutch squarely in the chest with a board.  The impact knocked him back onto his seat on the sidewalk, making him drop the bags of food on the cement and taking the wind out of him. His left elbow hit the concrete hard and he heard it crack from the impact.

 

The man looked down at Hutch, pointing a gun at his head. “Stay right where you are or I’ll blow your brains out right here.  I swear if you make a move toward that cannon, I’ll end this.”   He did as he was told and the gunman reached into Hutch’s holster and took the Magnum from him.

 

Hutch fought to catch his breath and gasped out, “Take it easy, man.” He felt sick to his stomach and he was seeing stars.

 

With a sound of screeching tires, a car turned out of the alley and stopped in front of them. 

 

“Get in, Bobby!” a voice yelled from inside the car.

 

“You get up, you’re coming with us!” the gunman shouted at Hutch.  He was wearing a mask, as was the driver, so Hutch couldn’t identify him.  “Keep your hands up and in front of you.”  The man cocked the hammer back on his gun for emphasis.

 

“Take it easy, take it easy,” Hutch repeated.  His mind was racing as he stood up carefully and headed for the car.  That this could happen so close to the station was ironic, but the street was empty at the moment and they were gone before anyone saw a thing.

 

An hour later, Starsky put the finished report in an envelope and called the DA’s office.  So engrossed in the task, he’d lost track of the time.

 

“I’ve got it ready,” Starsky told DA Darcy Trask.

 

“Great.  Listen, Dave, I’ve got some news for you.  Danny Kyle won’t be at the trial tomorrow.  He hanged himself in his cell over at lockup this afternoon.”  Danny and Bob Kyle were the brothers in their case. 

 

“Damn.  How?”

 

“How do they ever?  Made a noose out of his bed sheets.  The story was out on the early news.  Watch your backs, huh?  Someone called a threat in that everyone who was ‘responsible’ was going to pay.”

 

Starsky looked over at Hutch’s empty chair and down at his watch.  Shit. Is that really the time?  “And I’m just NOW hearing about it?”

 

“I’m sorry, Dave, I was in court.  I just heard myself.”

 

Starsky didn’t bother to respond.  He hung up the phone and grabbed his jacket.  He jogged the hallway to the stairs and flung himself down them, muttering the entire way about losing track of time and Hutch being out in the open, unprotected.  He burst through the door on the ground floor and ran smack into Detective Tony Pendleton. 

 

“Hey, where’s the fire?” Tony asked, good-naturedly extending his hand to Starsky to help him up off of the floor. 

 

Starsky let him pull him to his feet.  “Sorry, it’s just….”  He paused for a moment.  Pendleton was a new detective.  He’d been transferred over from the 5th precinct and was waiting for a new partner assignment from Dobey.  Until then, he’d been filling in and riding with other teams to get used to their department.  He was assigned to ride with Starsky and Hutch toward the end of the week, but they didn’t really know him yet.

 

“You busy?”  Starsky asked him.

 

“Not at the moment.  Getting ready to clock out, actually. What’s up?”

 

Starsky started walking away from him.  “Good, come with me.  I might need backup.”

 

Tony trotted along behind him.  He knew about Starsky and his partner.  Every team he’d ridden with had given descriptions to him of every other detective team.  The stories about these particular partners were incredible.  He was a little in awe of them and had been looking forward to their time together.

 

“Where’s your partner?” he asked.

 

“That’s what I want to know,” Starsky answered.  “If everything’s okay, the place down the street takes longer than any health food restaurant in history to make a butterfly bones and alfalfa sprout sandwich.”

 

Pendleton laughed.  “Butterfly bones?”

 

Starsky ignored that and explained about his phone conversation with Trask while they hustled down the street to where Hutch should be.  Reaching the Organic Cup, only to find it closed, did little to help Starsky’s fears.  They’d been closed for half an hour. 

 

“Damn,” he said.  Then, he paced a tight circle a few times, snapping his fingers in an image eerily like his partner when he was troubled.  “The mailbox!” he said, heading off in that direction with Pendleton in tow.

 

“He wasn’t going anywhere else?” Pendleton asked.  “I mean, maybe he drove if he had something else to do.”

 

“No, he wouldn’t have done that.  I drove today and the Torino’s still in the lot.”

 

After the mailbox, they turned back toward the station.  In the next block, they came across some spilled bags of food on the sidewalk near an alley.  The bags contained one soggy sandwich and two partially spilled and melted smoothies along with a receipt that read, “Organic Cup.”

 

“Get back to the station,” Starsky told the younger detective.  “If Dobey’s left his office, get him on the phone and tell him someone’s grabbed Hutch.  I’ll need the crime lab, too.”

 

Pendleton didn’t waste time asking questions.  In a short time, he was back on the scene with the lab personnel and word that Dobey had already left for home but was on his way back to meet them.  The area was taped off as a crime scene and Starsky was helping to catalog what little evidence there was when his captain arrived.

 

“What have you got?” he asked Starsky after he stepped inside the police tape.

 

Starsky turned around the area, pointing at the pieces of evidence. “That’s got to be the food he picked up down the street.  We have a board with some fibers on it and a small amount of blood.  We also have a few small blood splotches on the ground here,” he pointed at the sidewalk, and extended his reach to where the last splotch had been marked, “to there.  I think someone probably shoved him into a car and took off with him.”

 

Dobey nodded.  “You’re sure?  This couldn’t just be anything else.”

 

Starsky gave him a knowing glance.  “It’s Hutch, Cap.  Of course I’m sure.  I’ve got Pendleton canvassing, but it’s pretty quiet on this street after most of the office workers go home.  Nothing so far.”

 

“How long?”

 

“Two, maybe two and a half hours.”  Starsky’s tone was angry and tense.  “He could be anywhere by now.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

As soon as Hutch and his assailant were in the car, he was knocked unconscious with the butt of his gun.  He woke up blindfolded and with a horrible headache. His arms were pulled behind him and bound, causing excruciating pain in the broken left arm. He could tell he’d been bound to a chair and his shoes were gone.  Even blindfolded, he could sense the room spinning like a carnival ride.  The first thing he did was throw up, leaning over as far as he could without tipping the chair.

 

“Oh, so you’re finally awake,” a voice said from several feet away.

 

As soon as he had things under control, Hutch asked, “Where the hell am I?”

 

“On death row,” came the answer.

 

Great.  “And who might you be?” Hutch asked, trying to mask any fear he felt with bravado.   He knew he was in trouble.

 

“Judge, jury, and executioner.”

 

“I don’t suppose you could be more specific.”

 

“Since I’m the last person you’ll ever talk to, why not.  Bob Kyle, dirt bag.  You arrested my brother.”

 

Even with a pounding head, Hutch realized the implications.  “Killing me won’t get him off, you know.”

 

Bob Kyle backhanded Hutch across the face, causing him to fall over, chair and all.  He heard and felt the man spit on him.  “No, but it will be justice.  Danny’s dead, asshole.  Killed himself.  I’m gonna enjoy watching you die.”

 

Hutch spat the blood that had welled up into his mouth onto the floor.  He felt like he was going to pass out again and he lay there trying to fight it, thinking it would be better to say nothing else at the moment.  He listened to the sounds his captor made walking across the floor and rustling around with something.  A door opened and someone else entered the room.

 

“Get him on his feet,” Kyle ordered.

 

Whatever they had in mind, Hutch knew it wasn’t good.  He wondered why they hadn’t just shot him and dumped him somewhere and he was about to get his answer. 

 

“I don’t know about this,” the other voice said.

 

“Shut up and do what you’re told,” Bob ordered. 

 

The other man got Hutch loose from the chair and stood him up on his feet, none too steadily.  His hands were still bound.  When he felt something lowered over his head, he started to panic and struggle, but he heard that ominous sound of a gun being cocked again and he was ordered to stop.  He knew it was a rope when it was cinched around his neck and he stood absolutely still.  The two men lifted him up a few feet and he felt his feet touch down on something solid.  The rope was pulled tighter.

 

Bob Kyle stood looking up at his victim.  “I wouldn’t struggle, you’ll just die faster.”

 

Hutch’s mouth was now dry and he had broken out in a cold sweat. “Don’t I at least get a cigarette?”  That was all he could think of to say.

 

Kyle laughed.  “Funny.  Oh, you don’t think I’m going to just push that stool out from under you, do you?”

 

“Bobby…” the other voice said.

 

“Shut UP!” 

 

“But he’s a cop, man.  Just knock him out and leave him lying here.”

 

“Danny was my brother!” Bob shouted.  “An eye for an eye.”

 

“How’d he die?” Hutch rasped.  The rope was tight, but not enough to completely cut off his air.

 

“How do you think, dumb shit?  He hung himself in his cell.  If you hadn’t interfered, we’d be in Mexico by now.  Shooting you would be too painless.”

 

“You’ll never get away with this.”

 

“Oh, but I will. You see, I’m just going to leave you here.  You’ll have a while to think about it before you’re too tired to stand there anymore. Danny killed himself, and so will you.  I’m not going to kill you. You’re going to kill yourself.”

 

“No one will believe that,” Hutch said.

 

“Who cares?  You’ll be just as dead.”

 

Hutch thought he might as well try to reason with Kyle, even though he knew it wouldn’t do any good.  The man had obviously slid over the edge.  “I’m sorry about your brother, Kyle.”

 

“You don’t give a shit!”

 

“Yes, I do.  No one wanted that to happen.  Cut me down from here and leave.  You can call my partner at Metro, Dave Starsky, and tell him where to find me.”

 

Kyle laughed at that.  “Sure, and he’ll just come after me.”

 

“No, he won’t.  You can be long gone by the time he gets here.”

 

“Nice try.  No, I’m going to leave you here.  I may check back from time-to-time, but it won’t be long, I’m sure.  That stool you’re standing on isn’t all that sturdy and you’re hurt.  You’ll be out of your misery in a few hours and Danny can rest in peace.”

 

He turned to the other man and said, “See, we didn’t kill him.  He’s going to do that himself. Can you handle it?”

 

Fred Walters nodded.  He wanted to get as far away from killing this cop as possible and he was afraid he’d already said too much.  “Yeah.”

 

“You don’t want to do this,” Hutch tried one last time.

 

“Yes, I do,” Kyle hissed. “Don’t bother trying to make any noise.  This is a condemned building and there’s nobody to hear you but the rats and the cockroaches.  If you get tired of the suspense, just kick that stool aside. Goodbye, Ken Hutchinson.”

 

“Wait,” Hutch said, trying to buy some more time.  “How’d you know I’d be out on that street?”

 

“I didn’t,” Kyle answered.  “We were planning to follow you home.  When I saw you come out and head down the street, well… that was a bonus.”

 

“Yeah,” Fred said, trying to sound like he was okay with the plan now.  “Saved us a lot of trouble.”  Kyle laughed at that.

 

Hutch heard the two men leave the room, slamming a door behind them.  He was hurt and already struggling to stay steady on his feet and conscious.  What a ridiculous way to die.  Starsky, I hope you’re looking for me.   The thought of his partner finding him dead, hanging from the end of a rope wasn’t pleasant.  What it would do to Starsky, and the terrible sense of loss and need for vengeance he would feel, gave Hutch some strength to stand.  Maybe he could survive this.  He decided he’d better try to get his uninjured arm free.  That effort might help him to stay awake and alive.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Walters and Kyle were seated at a rundown diner an hour later.  Kyle had called and left a message for Starsky, pleased with the level of cruelty he was enjoying from the process. 

 

“I only wish I could see his face when they tell him his partner is dead,” he said to Walters.  “That would be icing on the cake.”

 

Fred Walters wanted nothing more to do with him.  He felt sick and guilty.  He’d never done anything worse than a robbery without a weapon before hooking up with the Kyle brothers and he wished he’d never met any of them.  Cop or not, he didn’t want to be involved in killing anyone, but he was afraid and he didn’t know how to get out of it.

 

Walters grew up in Bay City.  He knew the area better than any of the other men in the gang and he was familiar with the beat covered by Hutchinson and his partner.  Sitting across from Kyle, trying to pretend he was fine with the plan, he was really thinking about how he could get away from him and get word to Starsky before it was too late.  Kyle was prattling on about how Danny couldn’t rest in peace until the blond cop was dead.  He was also planning to go after the court appointed attorney who had failed to get his brother bail and he wanted Fred’s help to kidnap him, too.  He thought it would be clever to hang the poor man right next to the dead cop. 

 

“They’ll make a nice pair,” he said with an evil snort.  Bob Kyle was highly intelligent.  He’d been the brains of the operation and now Fred Walters could see he was also completely insane.  He was oblivious to Fred’s expression or demeanor, lost in his plans for revenge.

 

“Pay the tab,” he ordered as he stood up from their booth.  “I gotta see a man about a horse.  I’ll be right out.” 

 

“Sure, Bob.  I’ll wait out front.”  As soon as Bob was out of sight, Fred threw a ten on the counter with the tab and ran out the front door.  Since he had the keys, he knew he’d have time to do something before Bob could stop him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

APBs were immediately issued on Hutch, Bob Kyle, and Fred Walters.  Every available officer was searching, and many of the off duties had heard about Hutch’s kidnapping through the grapevine and showed up to help.  Four hours after his disappearance, another anonymous call came in, this time to Metro.  The caller said Hutch was dead and not to bother looking for the body.  Starsky was frantic.  He was out prowling the streets in the Torino while Pendleton waited at the station, in case someone called.

 

“Zebra 3, come in, please,” the dispatcher’s voice called from the Torino’s radio.

 

“Zebra 3, go ahead.”

 

“Patch through from Detective Pendleton.”

 

“Put him through.”

 

“Starsky?”

 

“Yeah, you got something?”

 

“A guy just called the station.  Said to pick up what you’re missing at 810 Maple.  The old Hotel Palladium.  Room 522.  He said be careful and you don’t have much time.”

 

“Thanks, Tony, on my way,” Starsky said as he pulled the Torino in a U-turn to head in that direction. “Get me some backup.”  He flipped on the siren and slapped the red light on the roof.  He ignored the sudden radio chatter calling for all units to respond. 

 

When Bob Kyle realized that Walters might have betrayed him, not just disappeared, he made tracks back to the hotel where he’d left Hutch.  He hot wired a car and was back there in short order. Kyle was halfway up the last staircase when he heard the sound of Hutch’s stool falling.  He stopped and took a deep breath.  Just as he started up again -- he wanted to see Hutch swinging -- he heard the sounds of sirens.  Lots of them.  Deciding he’d better abandon ship, he turned and ran back down the stairs.

 

Hutch had managed to remain upright much longer than he thought he could.  He feared he had a concussion that threatened to claim his consciousness at every minute.  His left arm and hand were useless, but he had managed to wriggle his right hand loose.  He couldn’t free himself without being able to lift both arms. 

 

A quick check in his right pocket revealed his pocketknife was gone.  He was sure Kyle would have taken it, but he had to check.  The only thing he could think to do was to try and work on the noose, but his right arm was almost numb.  He couldn’t get it up over his head and behind him to do much good.  The best he could do was to slide his fingers and palm between the rope and his neck, trying to get some more air.  He could feel the darkness crowding in on him and he knew he couldn’t stay conscious much longer.  He hoped if he fell, his hand might prevent him from choking to death, if the fall didn’t snap his neck.  As he sank into blackness, he sent out a thought to his partner.  I’m sorry, Starsky.  He never heard the stool hit the floor.

 

Kyle broke a window in a fourth floor room and headed out onto the fire escape.  With no lights in the back alley, he hoped he could get away before the cops arrived.  He was wrong.  The first black-and-white screeched into the alleyway just as Kyle hit the pavement.  He was caught in the squad car’s headlights.  The fire escape ladder had already retreated to its previous position, so he ducked behind an abandoned truck and pulled his gun.

 

Starsky paid no attention to the sound of gunfire coming from the back of the hotel.  The other officers were surrounding the building and securing the area.  They must have found their man.  Two uniformed officers ran in behind him, continually admonishing him to be careful.  Mindful of his situation, Starsky did try to keep his eyes open, but his focus was on Room 522.  The only sounds he could hear in the hotel were the sounds of the policemen’s feet running up the stairs. 

 

When he reached the room he was seeking, Starsky positioned himself to the left of the door, his gun ready.

 

“This is the police!” he shouted.  He listened for a few heartbeats.  “Hutch?” he called.  No sound.  No answer.  A nod to one of the uniforms let him know Starsky wanted him to kick in the door.  He crouched and followed it rolling into the room and coming up with his gun panning the area. 

 

The first thing he saw in the uniformed officer’s flashlight beams was his partner, hanging from a beam in the ceiling. His back was to the door and his only movement was a gentle, slight sway back and forth above an overturned stool. 

 

“Oh, my God,” Starsky said as he rushed into the room. 

 

“Holy shit,” one of the officers behind him exclaimed.

 

Starsky grabbed Hutch by the legs and tried to support his weight.  “Hutch!” he shouted. Then, “Get over here and cut him down!”

 

The other officers were sure Hutch was dead, but they moved in as ordered.  One of them stood the stool up and climbed it.  He pulled out his pocketknife and made quick work of cutting through the rope.  His partner helped Starsky catch Hutch as soon as it snapped free.

 

“Paramedics!” Starsky ordered as he held Hutch while the other man untied the broken left arm and moved it so they could stretch Hutch out on the floor.  He loosened the noose as quickly as he could. The other uniform stood there, watching in disbelief, instead of going to call the ambulance.

 

“Sarge,” he said gently. 

 

“Move!” Starsky shouted.  The other man backed out of the room and headed down the stairs to do as he was told, sure it was too late.

 

“Hutch,” Starsky called as he gently pulled the rope over Hutch’s head, carefully lowering the purple, swollen hand.  He tried to find a pulse in Hutch’s neck, but couldn’t.   “No, no,” Starsky muttered.  The other officer helped him position Hutch better as Starsky leaned down and listened at Hutch’s chest.  The faint heartbeat and breath sounds he detected were the best things he’d ever heard.

 

He sat up and started to loosen Hutch’s shirt. “He’s alive,” he told the other man.  “Hutch, I’m here, buddy.”

 

With nothing else to do but make sure his partner kept breathing until the paramedics arrived, Starsky spent his time cataloging Hutch’s injuries.  At some point, he barely registered overhearing the officers who ran up to report their suspect was dead.  Captain Dobey arrived, puffing from the exertion of climbing up five flights of stairs, just ahead of the paramedics. 

 

Hutch didn’t move when the paramedics began to treat him; he showed no signs of regaining consciousness.  Starsky stepped back and squatted where he could watch the action.  While one medic called the base station, the other took vital signs and asked Starsky what he knew.  Between his answers, he prayed and listened to the frightening statistics being relayed and the answers coming through the radio.  The anxious detective panicked when the medics moved to put a neck collar on his partner.

 

“What’s that for?” he asked, moving closer.

 

“His neck may be broken,” the one fastening the collar replied.

 

“Oh, God,” Starsky said.  Dobey put a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up at him.  “We had to cut him down, Cap.  What if I hurt him?”

 

“Don’t,” Dobey said.  “You did what you had to do.”

 

Starsky wished Hutch would come around for the medics, but that wasn’t happening.  They moved quickly and had him on the way out the door within minutes.  Dobey put his hand out for Starsky’s car keys, knowing he would want to go in the ambulance if the medics allowed it.  He gratefully handed them over and got in with Hutch without seeking permission.  The grim looks on the paramedic’s faces scared him into thinking what he prayed would not happen.  We’re not going to make it this time.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Wednesday night.

 

Hutch raised his injured right hand slightly, wincing at the movement and looking first at the elastic bandage around it and then up at Starsky.  What’s wrong with me?

 

Starsky took Hutch’s right hand and carefully placed it back on the pillow it had rested on all the while his partner was unconscious.  The sight of Hutch’s purple fingers poking out from under the bandages, the two broken ones taped together in a splint, made him swallow the lump in his throat before he spoke. 

 

“Buddy, you were nabbed by Bob Kyle and probably Fred Walters on the way back from that vegetarian restaurant.”  Starsky stopped there when Hutch nodded that he remembered that.  “So, you knew that part, huh?”  Hutch nodded again. 

 

“Kyle’s brother killed himself by hanging.  We think Bob was trying to get revenge for that, but we can’t be sure.  Kyle’s dead and we can’t find Walters.”

 

Hutch closed his eyes, mulling over that information for a few moments.  Starsky thought he might be drifting off to sleep, but he opened his eyes again, clearly wanting answers to his unspoken question.  He asked it again.  What’s wrong with me?

 

Starsky smiled.  “I hear ya,” he said.  “You’re going to be fine.”  He picked up Hutch’s right hand gently and put his hand underneath it, wanting the closeness as he continued.  “You have some torn neck and shoulder muscles, a broken left elbow, two broken fingers on your right hand, and a bad sprain in that wrist. Oh, you also have a bruised larynx and windpipe.  That’s why the doc wants you quiet. 

 

“Best we can figure is Kyle set you up to hang, just like his brother.  We’re guessing he hit you on the head with your gun at some point.  Dobey said they recovered it from Kyle’s body and your blood type was found on the butt.  Somebody called the station, maybe Walters, and gave us a tip on where to find you.  Thank God you worked your right hand free and got it under the rope.  If you hadn’t, you’d be sitting behind the Pearly Gates, partner.”  Starsky paused again and looked away from Hutch’s eyes when he said, “Came pretty close to that as it is.”

 

Hutch was frustrated.  He wasn’t supposed to talk and both of his hands were incapacitated.  He couldn’t even squeeze Starsky’s hand in reassurance.  His head was pounding, his throat ached, and the muscles in his shoulders hurt so bad, he felt like he’d been stretched on a rack. Knowing he’d be admonished for speaking, he did it anyway. 

 

Barely audibly, he said, “We made it, partner.  Thanks.”

 

Starsky looked back at him and shook his head.  “Shhh.  Put a sock in it, will ya?  I know.  We’re both okay, but this was close, buddy.  Doc says you’re a lucky SOB.  When I got there with some uniforms, we found you swinging from the ceiling.  Scared the crap out of me, partner.  I thought... I thought you were a goner.”

 

Hutch shook his head gently, doing his best not to let his face register the pain it caused him. Don’t.  I didn’t die.  I’m right here.

 

“We cut you down and you were still breathing.  I know the uniforms thought you were dead.  When they strapped you into one of those collars and told me you maybe broke your neck, I was really scared.  You didn’t, thank God.”  Starsky stopped talking, drifting back to the unsure time between the ambulance and the all clear.

 

During the usual interminable wait for word on his partner’s condition, Starsky had prayed that Hutch’s neck wasn’t broken.  All of the ugly possibilities floated into and out of his brain as he paced the halls in front of his worried captain.  As he sat explaining events to Hutch, those thoughts raced back into his mind.  Death.  Permanent injury. Brain damage.  Paralysis.  Thankfully, none of those things came to pass.  Starsky remembered one exchange he had with Dobey that scared them both. 

 

“What if his neck really is broken, Cap?  If I saved him only to never walk again or to be brain damaged, I’ll never forgive myself.”

 

“Don’t jump to any conclusions, Dave,” Dobey had responded.  “Everything may work out just fine.”

 

“I’d know what I’d want if it were me -- a bullet between the eyes.

 

“Stop that.  What would Hutch say if he heard you talk like that?  Let’s just wait and see what the doctor says.” 

 

After that, Dobey hadn’t left Starsky alone for a moment.  He was probably more relieved than Starsky when the doctor said Hutch would be fine.  His injuries were dangerous, but they’d gotten to him in time and he would heal.  The captain said a prayer of thanks for the good news, and for not needing to try to pick up the pieces if Starsky came apart had the news been bad. 

 

Hutch was getting tired, but he could see that Starsky was lost in a bad memory.  He slightly jostled the hand under his and smiled when Starsky looked into his knowing eyes.

 

He mouthed the words, “You okay?”

 

Starsky chuckled, shaking off the shivers of his troubled memories.  “Yeah.  I’m terrific.”  Hutch closed his eyes again, thankful that Starsky seemed all right. 

 

“Sleep, Hutch.  I’ll be right here.  Your pretty nurse said I could stay all night if I want.”

 

Hutch nodded again and risked talking one more time. “Thanks.”  He was out again before Starsky could scold him.

 

The End

 

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