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What If...?

Written by Valerie Wells

Story consultant and Chief Hand-Holder: Sue David

Hutch crawled on his belly through the long grass in the field behind the farmhouse, his heart thudding in his ears and his gun firmly in the grip of one sweaty hand. Strain his ears though he did, he couldn't hear anything from his partner. Somewhere out here their prey was hiding, but the grass was tall and there was a lot of junk old cars, a couple of mattresses, tires, rusted farm implements and he could be anywhere.

Very, very carefully, Hutch raised his head over the top of the grass to get his bearings. No sign of Starsky or of Jeff Maddox, who had kidnapped, raped and killed a 12-year-old girl and somehow managed to escape from the county jail and run. They'd tracked him here through eyewitness sightings, but lost him in this field and now, they had to keep him from getting away while they waited for backup from the sheriff's office.

In the distance, Hutch could hear the sirens from the deputies' cars as they sped toward the farm, but they were still too far away to be of any help. Risking another peek over the grass, Hutch thought he saw movement behind a wreck of an old tractor about a hundred yards away.

"Freeze! Police!" he yelled, rising and taking aim. He caught a glimpse of Maddox's fiery red hair as the man ran, and Hutch fired a warning shot before he followed. "Starsky! This way!" he shouted over his shoulder when he saw his partner's form to his left. Starsky ran, too and Starsky could run fast trying to cut the man off before he got too far.

But Maddox was a thin and wiry 20-year-old, compared to the detectives' 36 years, and he outpaced both of them, slowly but surely, headed for the highway and the woods beyond. Hutch's breath came in great gasps as he tried to keep up. Starsky tripped over some unseen junk in the deep grass and fell headlong, but was up and running again in a moment, limping a little, but otherwise unhurt as far as Hutch could tell.

Maddox made it to the road, and the first of the deputies' cars came over the hill just as he crossed the highway and disappeared into the trees. Without looking, Hutch dashed into the road, too, intent on catching Maddox before he got out of sight.

Hutch heard Starsky's terror-stricken, "HUUUUUUUUTCH!" just a moment before blinding pain, and then darkness.

"It's not good," the doctor said to a white-faced Starsky, taking off his cap and wiping his face wearily.

Starsky tried to speak, but his voice failed. Dobey took over, grim-faced, but calm. "How bad is it, doctor?"

"Internal injuries. He lost quite a bit of blood because of those. Broken ribs. Collapsed lung. Severe concussion. His left leg is broken in several places. His right shoulder is separated. He's unconscious."

"Oh, my God," Starsky said, stricken. "Is he...is he gonna make it?"

"Too soon to tell," the doctor said gently. "He's in ICU right now. We're doing everything we can."

Starsky stood at the doorway and looked into the room where his partner lay, hooked up to machines, his blond hair for once darker than his translucent skin. One eye was swollen shut and black. His arm was bound to his body. Various superficial scrapes and cuts on his face that had covered that face with blood at the scene now didn't look so bad, now that they were cleaned up. A tube ran down his throat, but the doctor had said that was only temporary, to help him breathe while his lung healed. He could breathe on his own after that; there had been no lasting damage there, at least.

But he was so still, so silent. Starsky put one hand against the door to brace himself and lay his head against his arm. He knew had already known how Hutch had felt outside that ICU after Gunther's assassination attempt. Hopeless. Helpless. Only this time there was no enemy to hunt down and bring to justice. It was an accident. The deputy who had been driving the car that struck Hutch had been hurrying to answer their call for back-up. Hutch had run out into the road after Maddox without looking, and the deputy had not been able to stop in time. That deputy was even now in the waiting room, ashen-faced, drinking black coffee and apologizing every time somebody would let him. Starsky had assured him no one blamed him, but the deputy, young and terrified, would not leave, not until he knew Hutch was going to make it. Starsky fervently wished he could go tell that wide-eyed young man that Hutch was okay, don't worry, go home now.

But he couldn't. Because Hutch wasn't okay. Starsky closed his eyes and tried to banish the image of that car striking Hutch, flinging him into the air, and the sickening thud as his partner fell onto the pavement and rolled, inert, into the dusty grass at the shoulder. At least Maddox had been recaptured. That would cheer Hutch up if he knew.

Taking a deep breath for courage, Starsky walked over to the bed, carefully stroked Hutch's hair back from his eyes, and said softly, "It's okay, buddy. I'm here. I ain't goin' anywhere. You're gonna make it."

"Don't lose hope, Sergeant," the duty nurse said quietly from the doorway. "He's strong and healthy. He's got a good chance."

Starsky didn't take his eyes away from Hutch, but he nodded. "Yeah. He's been through a lot. And he's always come out on the other side. I gotta believe he will again."

Hutch was lost in a dark corridor, with no idea how he'd got there. He felt for his gun; it wasn't there. "Starsky?" he called, his voice echoing off stone walls. But there was no answer. A couple of hundred yards away there was a dim glow, as if from a light. Cautiously, keeping his back to the wall, Hutch slithered down the corridor, all his senses alert. He remembered looking for Maddox in the field. After that, nothing.

He approached the end of the corridor, and the light grew brighter until it was almost blinding. He stopped just out of reach of the spill.

"Ken?"

He knew that voice, but he also knew he shouldn't be able to hear that voice now. He bit his lower lip and did not answer.

But a figure appeared in the light, nothing more than a silhouette because the light was behind the figure. It approached him, and he shrank back against the wall, afraid without knowing why.

"Ken, it's all right," the voice said gently. "Don't be afraid."

She came closer, and reached out a hand to touch his shoulder. He took a step back. "Gillian?"

The figure shook her head. "No. But her form is a familiar and loved one to you, and was chosen so as not to cause you alarm."

Hutch's eyes widened and he took another step back, feeling again for the reassuring weight of the gun that should have been there but wasn't.

"You don't have a gun," the figure said to him, still gently. "You don't need one."

"Where am I? Where's Starsky? What happened to Starsky?"

"Nothing," she said. "He's fine. I promise."

"Then where is he?" Hutch demanded.

"Ken, you must trust me. He can't come to you here. But he is unharmed. He's safe."

Hutch backed up another couple of steps, but found he could go no further. "I don't understand. What do you want from us?"

"I want nothing from you," she said. "You don't remember what happened?"

Hutch shook his head.

"You were injured," she said. "Even now, your body lies in a hospital. Your partner watches over you there. You are...near death."

Hutch shook his head again, this time to clear it. He dimly remembered hearing Starsky's warning shout, and terrible pain. But he was fine now. "Injured? Then why don't I feel anything? I'm fine. Look!"

She shook her head. "This is not the world you know, Ken. Your body is dying. Your spirit is here."

Hutch searched frantically for a way out, a way to get away from the figure that looked and sounded so much like Gillian. But he was trapped. He felt his heart thudding in his chest and his breath coming faster from the adrenaline. "If this is just my spirit," he said sarcastically, "why can I feel my heart? Or this wall? Or me!" He thumped his own chest for emphasis.

"I've come to escort you," she said. "To lead you across the divide. You once had faith. And somewhere deep inside, you have it still. Let go now. It's time to go home."

"No!" Hutch shrank away from the figure. He was dreaming. He had to be. Wake up! he commanded himself silently. Wake up right now!

"You're not dreaming," she said.

How had she known what he was thinking?

"You are not ready," she said.

"For what?"

"To die," she said. "You are not ready. You don't want to come."

"Hell, no, I don't want to die!" Hutch said.

She smiled. "Why? It's not frightening. Your grandfather waits to greet you. All you have to do is take my hand and follow me."

"What about Starsky?" Hutch said. "What'll happen to him?"

"He'll survive. He's strong. You made him that way, as he helped you."

"I'm not going," Hutch said.

"But why?"

"I'm not going," Hutch repeated stubbornly.

She cocked her head a little to one side. "You fear you have left things undone?" She studied him in silence for several moments. "You always wanted to make a difference," she said at last. "To help. To make it all better. And you have. I know at times you felt you were helpless, that all your efforts were useless. But your work has borne great fruit, Ken. Would you like to see what might have happened if you had not chosen police work as a career? Perhaps that will convince you that your work is done."

Hutch didn't answer. Couldn't.

"Shouldn't he be awake by now?" Starsky asked the doctor, forgetting the young, frightened deputy who still sat in the room.

The doctor looked grave. "Yes, he should. His condition hasn't improved at all. His vital signs are too low and his lung isn't reinflating like it should. If there's any family, Sergeant, perhaps it's time to notify them."

The color drained from Starsky's face and he swayed a little. "Are you sayin' he's gonna die?"

"I'm saying, if there's any family, they should be notified," the doctor said.

Suddenly, Hutch found himself standing in the precinct squad room. Starsky was bent over a file on the desk, in uniform. His curls were cut short and his sideburns were gone, but he looked the same age. Hutch started forward. "Starsky? Starsky, what are you doing in uniform?"

The Gillian-figure was at his side. "He can't see or hear you."

"What?" Hutch glared at her. "What do you mean?"

"This is what might have been, if you had not been David's partner," she said.

"I don't understand."

"You wondered if you had made any difference in your life. Here is one example. David Starsky is a patrolman. Not a sergeant. Not a detective. His insubordination and unorthodox behavior keep him in such constant trouble with his superiors that he's lucky he hasn't been fired already."

As Hutch watched, Dobey slammed out of his office and roared at Starsky, "What are you waiting for? You were due in court 15 minutes ago!"

Starsky looked up guiltily and stood up. "Sorry, Cap, I was just "

"I don't care what the hell you're doing. Get moving! Now!"

There was none of the gruff affection in the captain's voice that normally accompanied even his loudest bellowing. In fact, the look Dobey gave Starsky was just short of contemptuous. Starsky rose and left the room without a word or a backward glance, walking right past Hutch as if he weren't there.

Hutch blinked and found himself in a courtroom, watching a tall, blond man as he shuffled papers. He bent to confer with his client for a moment, a man Hutch recognized as Benny Washington, a jewelry fence who was one of Huggy's friends.

"The defense recalls State's witness Officer David Starsky," the blond man said, and Hutch's heart gave a leap. It was himself, in a three-piece suit, with a pencil-thin mustache and a cold, hard look in his eyes that made it difficult to recognize Ken Hutchinson in that face.

Starsky dove through the door just as the room was beginning to get restless, his cap off and his patrolman's tie askew. He tried to slow down and compose himself, but the judge glared at him and said, "I hope we didn't interrupt something more important, Officer."

"Sorry, your Honor," Starsky said sheepishly. He took the stand, took the oath and sat down.

"Officer Starsky, is it true that you found the deceased in his apartment?" Hutch's other self asked.

"Yes, sir," Starsky said.

"And in what condition did you find the deceased?"

Starsky wet his lips nervously. "He was in his bed, with a bullet wound to the temple."

"How did you know it was a bullet wound, Officer?"

Starsky stared at the attorney as if he'd never seen him before and Hutch found himself thinking it was possible he hadn't and answered, slowly, "I'm a cop. I know a bullet wound when I see one."

"I see. And is it true that you were acquainted with the deceased, Officer?"

"Yes," Starsky said, and now there was a note of pain in his voice. "I was."

"His name?"

"Huggy Bear," Starsky said.

Hutch gave a little gasp, but the attorney Hutchinson rolled his eyes and leaned over the witness stand. "His real name, if you please, Officer."

"I don't know his real name," Starsky said. "His last name's Brown, but 'Huggy' is all I knew."

"Let the record show," Hutchinson said, tapping a file in his hand, "that the deceased's legal name was Edward Brown Jr., known on the street as 'Huggy Bear.' Officer," he continued, turning back to Starsky, "is it true that you were aware of certain illegal activities conducted by Mr. Brown and yet you did not arrest him?"

"Objection, Your Honor!" The prosecutor rose. "This officer is not on trial here!"

"The officer," Hutchinson said to the judge, "is the key witness against my client and his credibility is material to the defense of my client. Mr. Washington," he indicated his client, "is accused of the very activities that Mr. Brown apparently conducted with impunity."

The judge considered and finally nodded. "Overruled. I'll allow it. Answer the question, Officer Starsky."

"I'll repeat the question," Hutchinson said. "Is it true that you were aware of Mr. Brown's activities, yet you did not arrest him?"

Starsky swallowed, dropped his eyes, and nodded.

"Answer aloud, please," the judge said shortly.

"Yes, that's true," Starsky said, "but "

"And is it true," Hutchinson interrupted, "that one of these illegal activities was running what the police term 'a fence' out of his bar?"

"Yes." Starsky kept his eyes down.

"Your Honor, I wish to enter into evidence these diamonds, found in Mr. Brown's bar, which were stolen from a jewelry shop in Officer Starsky's beat last month," Hutchinson said, producing a small plastic bag and laying it in front of the judge. "The robbery occurred during Officer Starsky's period of duty, and Officer Starsky answered the call, if I'm not mistaken?" He turned to Starsky with a sardonic lift of the eyebrows.

"Yes, sir," Starsky said, his voice barely audible.

"Did you have any knowledge of the robbery prior to its occurrence, Officer?"

"No, sir."

"Did you know Mr. Brown was in possession of the diamonds, Officer?"

"No, sir," Starsky looked up, a little spark reappearing in his eyes.

"Did you know that Mr. Brown had 'fenced' diamonds before, Officer?"

Starsky wet his lips again and very, very softly said, "Yes, sir."

"Why didn't you arrest him, Officer Starsky?"

The prosecutor rose again. "Objection!"

"Overruled," the judge said.

Starsky drew a breath, tried to speak, and had to try again. "Mr. Hutchinson, a cop on the street has to have some contacts, people he can trust to pass him information. Huggy Mr. Brown was my contact."

"So Mr. Brown was above the law?"

"No, sir," Starsky said.

"Then why didn't you arrest him, Officer?"

The prosecutor rose the third time. "Objection, Your Honor! Move to strike. The defense is badgering the witness and the question is irrelevant."

Hutch retorted, "Goes to character, Your Honor."

The judge overruled the objection and allowed the line of questioning to continue, while Hutch had no choice but to watch helplessly as his alter ego tore his best friend to shreds.

"Why didn't you arrest him, Officer?" Hutchinson repeated.

"Because he wouldn't have been any use to me in jail!" Starsky flared, losing his temper.

"I see. So if a criminal provides valuable information, it's worth your while to look the other way regarding his criminal activities. Perhaps he passed you more than information, Officer? Such as, a share of the take?"

"Objection!" The prosecutor rose again.

"Overruled," the judge said.

"That is not true," Starsky said coldly.

"What is your yearly salary, Officer Starsky?"

"Fifteen thousand," Starsky said.

"Objection, Your Honor! What possible relevance could that have?" the prosecutor demanded. He was agitated and desperate to get Starsky off the stand.

"Overruled," the judge said. "Sit down, Mr. Jacobs."

"Can you account for the fact that you have an almost-new car, sir?" Hutchinson inquired.

"I'm frugal," Starsky said, anger beginning to show on his face.

"Easy, Starsk," Hutch murmured, forgetting his partner couldn't hear him.

"Your bank account contains three thousand dollars," Hutchinson went on. "You live in an apartment with a rent of four hundred dollars a month. Three months ago, you made two deposits of five hundred dollars each within a week of each other. Where did that money come from, Officer?"

Jacobs had given up making objections. His star witness' integrity had been hopelessly compromised.

Starsky glared at Hutchinson and did not answer.

"Where did it come from, Officer?"

Starsky still did not answer.

"Officer, you have to answer the question," the judge said impatiently.

"I refuse to answer that question," Starsky said, spitting the words, "because it has no bearing on the case."

"Your Honor," Hutchinson said, returning to his table for another folder and opening it, "I have here a deposition from an eyewitness who testifies that she has seen money changing hands between Mr. Brown and Officer Starsky. The latest occurrence of this, she said, was three months ago, on Oct. 2, the same day police recovered the diamonds stolen from Kaye's Jewelers located in Officer Starsky's beat which were fenced by Mr. Brown to a man named Roland James, for which Mr. James paid Mr. Brown one thousand dollars. My witness will testify later in the trial."

Starsky's face drained of color, and Hutch said, "Oh, God, no, Starsk."

"I did not accept any money from Mr. Brown," Starsky said.

"Then where did the two deposits come from, Officer?"

Starsky's lips thinned into a tight line and he did not answer.

"Your Honor, I believe I have ample proof to accuse Officer Starsky of accepting graft," Hutchinson said. "And therefore his testimony as an officer of the law and the first on the scene of Mr. Brown's murder " He paused to refer to his notes. "And Mr. Brown was murdered," Hutchinson went on, "by a police service revolver." He tapped the file again. "Your own crime lab identified it, Officer. And the gun is the same one which was issued to you." He turned to the judge. "I submit, Your Honor, that this officer murdered Mr. Brown, and I request that a bench warrant be issued and that this man be arrested for that crime."

"Starsk...oh, Starsk," Hutch said, starting forward, but the Gillian-figure reached out a hand to stop him.

"I concur," the judge said. "So ordered. Bailiff, take the witness into custody." The bailiff went forward and took Starsky's arm to lead him out of the courtroom. Starsky did not resist, but the look he gave Hutchinson was one of barely-concealed fury.

"He didn't do it!" Hutch shouted after them. "He's not capable of murder! You're framing him! What's the matter with you?"

"Ken," the figure said gently, "your faith in your friend is justified. But David's quick temper and bad reputation as a loose cannon has not helped him win friends or commendations in the department. He has no partner and works alone. Therefore, no one can vouch for him. And no one cares to. He causes trouble and they'll be glad to be rid of him. Without you, your calming influence, your strength and your friendship, David Starsky is a man without an anchor."

"What's going to happen to him?" Hutch asked, a lump in his throat as he watched them cuff his partner and lead him away.

"He'll probably be convicted," she said. "The evidence is against him and no one is here to defend him."

Hutch's eyes went to his other self. "It's his fault," he said, hatred in his voice.

"He is you, Ken," she said. "He is what you would have been without Starsky to anchor you."

"Hutch, buddy," Starsky picked up the limp, cold hand and held it in both of his. "Buddy, you gotta come back. That stupid doctor's about to give up on you. He don't know you like I do. He don't know how tough you are. But I do. Come on, Hutch. Open those baby blues and tell me I'm a moron or somethin'. Please..." His voice broke and he couldn't go on.

There was no response from Hutch. Not even a twitch.

The offices of Hutchinson and Hudson, Attorneys at Law, were large, opulent and ugly, Hutch thought with a shudder, as he followed the Gillian-figure through the double oak doors. The outer office had a couple of "tasteful" prints on the wall no, Hutch corrected himself after a closer look, not prints. Originals. Ugly as hell, too. A couple of leather easy chairs sat on either side of a brass lamp on a table, with copies of Time and Newsweek lying there. The secretary's desk was also oak, and she was impeccably dressed in what Abby had once called "a power suit." The secretary was busily engaged in typing something as they entered, and when the phone rang, she snatched it up and stuck it between her shoulder and ear without missing a beat on the IBM Selectric.

"Hutchinson and Hudson...yes, sir, I'm typing it now...no, sir, almost finished. It'll be ready in time, sir. Yes, sir. Good-bye, sir."

The door swung open behind Hutch and his alter-ego breezed in and went past the secretary without a word or a look. He had a fierce light in his eyes and although the secretary glanced at him as he passed, she didn't offer a greeting, either.

Hutch followed him into an office that was even more opulent and ugly than the one outside. The big desk was designed to intimidate, Hutch could see that, and the visitor's chair was a good three inches lower than the attorney's. A fish tank in the corner contained a couple of angelfish while there was another painting on the wall. This one was quite a bit better than the ones in the waiting room, and as Hutch went closer to it, he recognized the signature.

"It's mine!" he hissed to the Gillian-figure.

"It's his," she corrected mildly. "Some things don't change."

"It's actually kind of good," Hutch said with unwilling admiration, stepping back for a better look. "Better than I can do."

"You've spread your talents in a wider field than he has," she returned. "He works, he goes home. He hates television "

"Me, too," Hutch said.

"So he reads, he works, he paints. That's the sum total of his life."

There was a photo on the desk of a little tow-headed boy missing one of his front teeth. Hutch bent to look closer.

"His son," she said.

"His son!" Hutch turned to look at her in amazement.

"The child's mother is Vanessa," she said. "They divorced five years ago. He hasn't seen the boy since he was 3. He's 8 now. Vanessa took him home to Minnesota and he," she indicated the man behind the desk, "is far too busy to go out there or to have the boy visit him here."

"Vanessa's not dead?"

She dropped her eyes. "Yes, she is. The boy lives with his grandparents her parents. He's a sad little child, too. Feels abandoned and unloved by the father he adores. The father who has no time for him. Who calls on his birthday and sends money, but can't actually be bothered to see him and spend time with him."

Hutch swallowed. That little boy sounded a lot like another little blond boy himself. "How can he just turn his back on his own son like that?"

"His heart is hardened by his life," she said. "He hasn't known love not unconditional love. No one has ever loved him for who he is. Only for what he could give."

"Starsky " Hutch began, but stopped.

"Yes. Starsky. The first person who looked at Kenneth Hutchinson and saw 'Hutch.' Who took the time to reach down for the heart buried under the layers of pain. Starsky never cared if Hutch had money or position or a good family. He only cared about Hutch."

"Do they even know each other?"

She shook her head. "No. Today is the first time they've been in the same room together. Kenneth Hutchinson finished college, went to law school and stayed married to Vanessa long enough to have a child. He never attended the police academy, though he did once consider it. But when he went to apply, he missed meeting David Starsky, and he did not apply after all."

Hutch remembered the day he'd gone to apply. There were a lot of men there, some women, too. He'd bumped into Starsky in the men's room and wouldn't have spoken, except that Starsky had spoken to him.

"Hey, I'm Dave Starsky," he'd said with that irresistible, ear to ear grin.

"Ken Hutchinson." Hutch had not been encouraging.

"Always wanted to be a cop," Starsky had confided, drying his hands. "My dad was a cop. Why're you here?"

"I have no idea," Hutch had said.

But Starsky, oblivious, had kept right on talking, had gotten into line with Hutch "Ken" in those days and before Hutch knew it, they were friends. Just like that. The first friend he'd had who had not once asked, "What does your father do for a living?"

Hutch watched from a corner of a dark street and couldn't believe his eyes. Sweet Alice, with a vacant look in her eyes and needle marks on her arms he could see from a distance, stumbled along the sidewalk. "Alice?" he called quietly. But she never raised her head.

"The one thing that kept Alice from being lost was you," the Gillian-figure remarked. "She loves you, you know."

"I know."

"For you, she stays away from drugs, chooses her customers carefully, and has saved her money toward making a better life for herself someday," she said. "She cherishes a secret dream that she can clean up her life and perhaps someday you'll look at her...differently."

Hutch closed his eyes.

"Do you recognize this house?" the Gillian-figure asked him.

"It belongs to Joe Haymes," Hutch said, looking up at it. The once-beautiful lawn was shaggy now; the house itself had an air of emptiness. "Is he gone? It looks so "

"Neglected?" she supplied. "No, he still lives here with his wife."

"And his daughter," Hutch added.

But she shook her head. "No. Joanna died when she was kidnapped by Earl and Moo-Moo. She was crushed to death in an old van, and the noise of the machines kept the scrap yard workers from hearing her cries."

Hutch stared at her. "No, she didn't. Starsky and I " He stopped.

"You forget that you are not a police officer, Ken. You weren't there to run the money through the kidnappers' gauntlet. David was there, but he was a lowly patrolman on the beat. Mr. Haymes carried the money, and when the kidnappers saw David and another policeman in uniform they were actually just patrolling as usual they shot at Mr. Haymes and escaped. Joanna is dead."

"Oh, my God," Hutch said, stricken, remembering that little girl's terrified face when he and Starsky found her in that rusty old van, and the way she had been too weak to even cry when he untied her and removed her gag. She had simply sagged against him in relief, trembling, while he'd held her close and soothed her. He'd had to carry her to Starsky's car. She couldn't walk. But how good it had felt to hand her over to her father, safe and sound.

Another dark street. Prostitutes leaning against buildings, smoking, idly talking, waiting for a car to pull up. One was vaguely familiar. Hutch drew closer and recognized the young girl with a sickening feeling in his gut.

"Molly? Honey, what are you doing here?" He reached out to touch her but she took no notice of him and he remembered she couldn't see or hear him.

Molly was wearing a skirt so short and tight that it was practically useless, a thin tank top with no bra underneath, and far too much makeup. Her eyes were hard and cold, and she lounged against the building with a worldly air that took Hutch's breath away.

"She's just a kid!" he said, his voice trembling.

"Yes, and there's a large market for such as she," the Gillian-figure said sadly. "She rarely waits long for a customer. She's been treated twice for gonorrhea and had an abortion."

"Molly? No!"

The figure nodded. "Yes. She ran away from her foster home, back to the street. It's the only home she knew and this is the only way she knows to live."

A car pulled up and a rough voice shouted to Molly, "Hey, kid, it's Frank."

Molly manufactured a smile and sauntered over to the car. "How ya doin', Frankie? Been a while."

"Aw, the wife's had the flu and I was stuck takin' care o' the kids," the voice said. "Climb in, sugar, I've missed ya."

Without a backward glance, Molly got into the car and it sped off into the night.

"But what about Kiko and Juanita?" Hutch demanded. "They took her in. She wouldn't have run from them."

"She never met Kiko because she never met you," the Gillian-figure said.

"What about you? I mean, Gillian? She died because of me. Surely, if I wasn't there, she wouldn't have had to die," Hutch pleaded, looking for some ray of hope in all this.

But the Gillian-figure shook her head. "No, she didn't die because of you, but she died nonetheless. You were her excuse for trying to leave Grossman, and she did love you, Ken. But she was ready to leave in any case, and any excuse would have done. She met the same end she met in your history. One day she told Grossman she was through, and she packed her bags. But he got to her before she left. The difference is, Grossman is still free. The crime was never connected to him."

"Why the hell not?" Hutch demanded. "Any two-bit street cop should've been able to figure it out."

"Perhaps," she said. "But none cared enough. A prostitute was found dead. One less prostitute to worry about."

"But " Hutch shook his head and swallowed the trembling lump in his throat at the thought of Gillian dying, alone and unloved, without even someone to avenge her death for her.

"Starsky." The young deputy gently shook Starsky's shoulder.

Starsky woke up with a start, on his feet before he even realized he'd dozed off on the sofa in the waiting room. "Is it Hutch?"

The deputy shook his head. "No. Telephone."

Starsky went to the phone.

"This is Helen Hutchinson," a voice said in his ear. "Are you Sergeant Starsky?"

"Yes."

"I had a message to call you," she said.

Starsky forced his anger down. He'd left that message hours ago and she was just now bothering to call him back? She showed no alarm at having reached a hospital, either. "Hutch Ken has been hurt. I'm his partner."

"Oh, yes, that's why your name was familiar," she said. "How badly is he hurt?"

"They think he might die," Starsky said bluntly due to some evil impulse he hadn't known was there. He wanted to get some kind of emotion out of this woman.

"Oh, dear," she said, the detached tone in her voice finally giving way to concern. "What on earth happened?"

"He was hit by a car while chasing a suspect," Starsky said.

"Oh, dear," she said and this time there was genuine emotion there, even trembling. "My God. Poor Kenny. Is he awake? Is he in pain?"

"He's unconscious," Starsky said, gentling his voice a bit. "The doctor...told me I should call his family."

"My God," she said again. "And he's out there so far away and all alone."

"He's not alone," Starsky said. "I'm here."

There was a moment's silence, and she said, "Can you stay with him? Will your captain let you?"

"My captain's here," Starsky said. "He loves Hutch, too."

Another silence, then she said, "Give me the address. I have to tell my husband and make arrangements to fly out there."

Starsky gave it to her and hung up after reassuring her again that he would stay with Hutch so he wouldn't be alone. He walked back to Hutch's room and stood by the bed, looking down at Hutch, and stroked his hair. "Your mom and dad are comin' out, buddy," he said, still stroking. "I called 'em, but only 'cause the doctor made me. I know you woulda told me not to, but they're real worried about you. I don't think you realize how much they care about you."

"What are we doing here again?" Hutch asked, recognizing the law office. He had no wish to spend any further time watching this stranger with his face. He shrank from the thought of what he might have become.

"It's important," the Gillian-figure said and when Hutch would have spoken again, she put a finger to her lips and inclined her head toward the man behind the desk, who suddenly decisively slapped the file and reached for the phone.

"Hutchinson," he barked to the person on the other end. "I want to spring that police officer." There was a pause, and the cold blue eyes narrowed. "Because he's more valuable to me on the street," he said with a short laugh. "Just like he said his friend Mr. Brown was. I want to offer him a deal. If he gives up a couple of his snitches, he goes free and the charges are dropped." Another pause. "I know what I'm doing!" he snapped. "You and I both know he didn't kill Brown. It's ludicrous. I only wanted to scare him into giving up his snitches. I have my reasons." Another pause. "Fine. I'll go myself...no, I want to go myself. Leave him to me."

Hutch watched unseen as Starsky sat disconsolately on a bunk in his cell. His face was scratched and one eye was puffy. His t-shirt was torn. He sat there with his head propped on his fists, eyes down.

"What happened?" Hutch asked, feeling anger boil up inside.

"Some of the other prisoners beat him up," the Gillian-figure said. "Taking out their anger at other cops on this one, even though he didn't harm them."

"So what the hell's the matter with the guards?" Hutch demanded. "Why didn't they do something?"

"To them, your friend is a cop gone bad. They felt he deserved it," she answered quietly.

"Aw, Starsk," Hutch said, wanting nothing more than to reach out to his partner. Starsky did not move.

"Starsky!" a voice called, coming down the passageway. "David Starsky!"

Now Starsky did raise his head. "In here," he said.

A guard appeared at the door. "You got a visitor," the guard said, unlocking the door.

Starsky frowned, puzzled, but followed the guard through the corridor to the visiting room. He froze in the doorway when he saw who the visitor was.

"Leave us, please," Hutchinson said to the guard. "I have authorization. You can call the D.A. if you need to check."

"Yes, sir," the guard said, backing away and closing the door. Starsky stood where he was, eyeing the blond attorney suspiciously.

"Sit down, Officer," Hutchinson said, trying to manufacture a friendly smile. "I have a proposal to make."

Starsky sat down, but he pulled his chair back a little from the table, keeping some distance between them. "What kind of proposal?"

Hutchinson leaned forward. "We drop the charges, you walk out of here with your badge intact, on one condition."

Starsky's eyes narrowed. "And what's the condition?"

"Give us Dennis Fenton."

Starsky's mouth dropped open. After a moment of stunned silence, he said, "What the hell are you talking about? I thought you were a defense attorney."

Hutchinson remained relaxed. "I have my reasons," he said easily. "Fenton is the link which can help us win a much larger case than the death of Mr. Brown or the disposal of a few stolen diamonds. But we don't have reasonable cause to haul him in. We know you do."

"What if I don't?" Starsky asked, a nasty glint in his eyes.

"What if you don't give him to us, or what if you don't have cause?" Hutchinson inquired.

"Either one," Starsky said.

"If you don't give him to us, you go on trial for Mr. Brown's murder," Hutchinson said pleasantly. "Your badge is forfeit and so is your freedom, because the gun that shot him was issued to you, Officer. I'm afraid a jury will find that rather difficult to explain. If you don't have cause to bring Mr. Fenton in, you must not be very good at your job, because I happen to have information good information that Mr. Fenton is quite well known as a heroin dealer on the streets of your beat." He leaned back and crossed his legs. "How did Mr. Brown come into possession of that gun, Officer?"

Starsky was silent for several moments. Finally, he shook his head as if in defeat. "Huggy was gettin' leaned on by some guys for protection money. They'd threatened him and he was scared. I know the guys he was talkin' about. They're bad news. I don't use my police-issue gun on duty, Mr. Hutchinson, because it tends to misfire when it gets hot. In a bad situation, I don't want no misfires. So I bought myself another gun, a 9mm, and I gave Huggy the revolver. Only till we could get somethin' on the guys who were hittin' on him and get them put away. Then he was gonna give it back. Huggy don't didn't like guns."

"Justifiably so, apparently," Hutchinson said, still pleasantly. "He was killed with one."

"Yeah," Starsky said, swallowing. "The gun I gave him. You think that don't tear my guts out? Naw. You don't give a damn about nothin' but winning."

"You know," Hutchinson said conversationally, "putting your service revolver into the hands of a known felon would not look good on your record, Officer."

"Yeah, I know," Starsky said with a shrug. "But you already got my back to the wall accusin' me of killin' one of my best friends. What the hell else've I got to lose?"

"So are you going to give us Fenton or not?" Hutchinson asked.

Starsky shook his head and drew a hand through his hair. "Damn," he said, as if to himself. "You know what'll happen if I give Denny up? Ain't another snitch on the street ever gonna trust me."

"That's not my problem, Officer," Hutchinson said. "My problem is getting Mr. Fenton into custody."

Starsky sighed deeply and ran his hand over his hair again. Finally, he said, "He sells out of a little diner on Sixth, about two blocks west of Huggy's place. He works there as a fry cook. He's a nickel-and-dimer, man, and the reason I never busted him is I was tryin' to get to the main guy, his supplier. But Denny don't know who the big guy is. He takes deliveries from another small timer like he is." He raised his eyes. "What do you want with him?"

Hutchinson raised a finger. "Ah-ah, Officer. That doesn't concern you. All that concerns you is, when can we be certain of catching Mr. Fenton with heroin in his possession?"

"Mornings, usually," Starsky said. "Before six. Sometimes his connection don't come through, but mostly he does. The diner opens at six."

Hutchinson opened his briefcase, produced a small notebook, and scribbled the information in it. He rose. "Thank you, Officer. As soon as they get the paperwork done downstairs, you'll be free to go. Charges dropped. We'll say it was all a big mistake and we'll apologize profusely in the newspapers, and you'll be back on the job in a couple of days."

"Thanks," Starsky said sarcastically.

"He'll be a walking target!" Hutch said frantically to the Gillian-figure. "Doesn't that that attorney care about that?"

She shook her head. "No. Your friend summed him up correctly. All he cares about is winning. Your friend means nothing to him, except what he can get out of him."

Starsky met Richard and Helen Hutchinson in the hospital lobby. He wanted to prepare them for their son's appearance before they walked in and saw how bad Hutch looked.

Mrs. Hutchinson had been crying.

"I'm Dave Starsky," he said to them, recognizing them from photos Hutch had in his apartment.

"How's Ken doing?" Hutch's father asked.

"The same," Starsky said. "He's unconscious and on a respirator because they're havin' trouble getting his lung to reinflate. He's kinda bruised up and he won't respond to you," he added to Hutch's mom, "but he's holdin' his own right now. Just remember that."

She bit her lip and nodded, and Starsky led the way upstairs to Hutch's ICU room. When they got there, Starsky entered first, reached out and touched Hutch's hand and said, "Hey, buddy, your folks are here. Don't s'pose you'd care to say hello?"

There was no response, of course, and Starsky wet his lips before turning to the Hutchinsons. "Talk to him like he can hear you," he said, a note of pleading in his voice. "I think he can, even if he can't respond. We gotta " he paused, "we gotta keep him connected."

After a moment's stunned silence, Mrs. Hutchinson moved forward, leaned over and kissed her son's forehead, and took his hand. Starsky retreated and left them alone.

Starsky was driving in his squad car when he heard the call.

"All units. Disturbance reported at Park Apartments. All units. Code 3."

Starsky hit the lights and siren and sped in that direction.

He was the first one there he'd only been a couple of blocks away but he was soon joined by a couple of other cars. He could hear the "disturbance" and it sounded like somebody was getting killed. Thumping and screaming coming from one of the dingy apartments in the complex, loud enough that a crowd had gathered in the courtyard. Starsky ran, followed by a couple of other officers, while the last two officers took care of trying to disperse the crowd.

"Police! Open up!" Starsky yelled. He waited a heartbeat, then stepped back and kicked the door in.

Janos Martini, well-known as a "filmmaker" of low-budget, high-kink porn, stopped in the act of slapping a woman with strawberry blonde hair. Starsky recognized her. Her street name was Sweet Alice, because in spite of her participation in the world's oldest profession, somehow her personality remained sweet. But she was also a hype and occasionally, when she was in desperate need of a fix, she "acted" in Martini's so-called movies.

Starsky drew his gun and aimed it at Martini. "Hands behind your head!" he ordered.

Martini stopped what he was doing and raised his hands, but he was far from an attitude of surrender. "She stole a hundred bucks from me, man!" he protested angrily. "Took it right outta my pocket!"

"So you're beating the stuffing out of her," Starsky said. "Makes perfect sense."

"Aw, man, she stole my money!"

"Alice, you okay?" Starsky asked. When Alice did not answer, Starsky motioned one of the other cops to check on her. But both the other officers just stood there, staring at him. "What's the matter with you?" Starsky demanded. "Make sure she's okay. And one of you, call an ambulance."

Still the officers stood there. Neither one answered or indicated they'd heard him.

Starsky had no choice but to check on Alice himself. He knew what was wrong. The other officers were punishing him. They thought he was dirty. He'd made a deal. Whether he was guilty of Huggy's death or of giving up an informant or both or neither didn't matter. He'd broken the code.

As Starsky knelt next to Alice, trying to keep Martini covered with his gun, he realized how badly she was hurt. "Call an ambulance," he said urgently. "She's dyin'!"

One of the other officers finally, reluctantly, went to the telephone, but Starsky feared it would be too late. Her breathing was shallow and her skin was going gray. A nasty gash on the back of her head was oozing blood onto the carpet.

"Janos, if you've killed her " Starsky began.

"I'm sure the judge'll take your word as gold," Martini said sarcastically.

The trouble was, Starsky was afraid he was right.

Hutch watched helplessly as Dobey berated Starsky for "a bad bust."

"She's dead," Dobey said, slapping the top of his desk for emphasis.

"Beaten to death by Janos Martini!" Starsky snapped. "We caught him in the act, Cap'n!"

"That's not what the other officers said," Dobey answered. "I've got their reports right here. They say he was trying to help her and you flipped out and accused him."

"That ain't the way it went down," Starsky insisted.

"There's two of them telling the same story and only you saying he was hitting her," Dobey bellowed. "And you expect me to take your word over theirs?"

"They're lyin'!"

"Or you are!"

"You know he's not lying!" Hutch exploded. "What the hell's the matter with you!"

"He doesn't know," the Gillian-figure said. "He doesn't know him as well as he did in your history, Ken. To Captain Dobey, David is a sloppy, disrespectful cop who makes mistakes and causes trouble. You are not there. With your influence, David Starsky developed that independence into a fine-tuned intuition for finding the truth. He had intuition and you had logic and the two of you became a team, a good team. You were the department's best. Alone, David is a good cop, but he's abrasive. He rubs people the wrong way. And they are not willing to trust him."

Hutch watched Starsky trudge from Dobey's office out to the squad room, and from there he went home. It was late and he didn't bother to take a shower or eat. He simply took off his clothes, brushed his teeth, and climbed into bed. Hutch's heart ached at the look on Starsky's face as he closed his eyes and rolled over onto his side. Even though he knew Starsky couldn't hear him, he walked over to the bed and whispered, "I believe in you, buddy."

He didn't know how long he stood there watching Starsky sleep. His friend's sleep was restless, with a lot of mumbling and tossing and turning. But then he heard a soft sound, a sound he knew. Someone was breaking in. A few moments later, Janos Martini entered the room, carrying a syringe and wearing a nylon stocking which distorted his features but not so much that Hutch didn't recognize him.

Martini stood over the bed, smirking down at the sleeping figure. "You're gonna pay, pig," he said, not bothering to keep his voice low.

"Starsk, wake up!" Hutch cried, but Starsky slept on and in a moment, Hutch knew why. "Didja like the toothpaste I gotcha?" Martini inquired, still in a conversational tone. "I put a little added attraction in it for ya. You ain't gonna fight me this time, Sergeant." Martini leaned over, pushed the covers out of the way, and stuck the needle in Starsky's arm.

Hutch suddenly realized what he was seeing. "Oh, my God," he said in a stricken whisper.

Starsky stirred when the needle went in, but he couldn't seem to control his body. He blinked blearily at Martini, who still stood over him.

"You got 24 hours, Starsky," Martini said. "That's it. Use 'em wisely, pig. This time tomorrow, you're gonna be dead." He pocketed the syringe and left the room.

Starsky struggled to sit up, but couldn't.

"Starsk," Hutch whispered. He couldn't make his voice any louder past the fear constricting his throat. "Come on, Starsk. Get to the phone, buddy. Call for help. Quick!"

"He has no one to call," the Gillian-figure said.

And with a sudden sinking sensation, Hutch knew she was right.

The sunlight slanted through the windows and Hutch realized it was late in the morning. The phone rang and rang, and finally Starsky managed to force his arm to obey him enough to answer it with a groggy, "Hello."

Even from a few feet away, Hutch recognized Dobey's voice bellowing, though he couldn't understand what the captain was saying. Starsky listened without expression, his eyes slightly out of focus, occasionally rubbing at his face absently. Finally, he said, "Cap'n, I don't know what happened, but something's wrong....No, not sick exactly, more like..." He listened again and his face fell. "Okay. Yes, sir." He hung up and managed to get himself to a sitting position, but it was clear that he was in bad shape. Somehow he got dressed, pausing often to steady himself and shake his head. He went into the bathroom and reached for the toothpaste, stared at it blearily for a moment, then put it back.

"Good boy," Hutch said. "Go to the hospital, Starsk. Hurry."

But Starsky made his way to his car and drove to the precinct. He listened without comment as Dobey bawled him out for "oversleeping," then got into his squad car and drove away.

As the day progressed, and Starsky had more episodes of dizziness, nausea and pain as he went through his duties, Hutch could do nothing but watch and beg him, unheard, to go to the hospital. Once, trying to chase a purse snatcher, Starsky clutched at his middle and went to his knees, pain evident on his face. Hutch ran to him, but he couldn't touch him, couldn't make himself heard. After a few moments, Starsky rose slowly to his feet, his pale face sweaty and gray, and returned to his squad car.

In the middle of the afternoon, Starsky heard a call to go to the scene of an armed robbery. He hit the siren and lights and sped in that direction, but a car ran a red light and Starsky's blurring vision kept him from seeing it in time. He slammed on the brakes, but the nose of the squad car connected with the rear quarter panel of the civilian car, and Starsky was thrown violently against the steering wheel. He shook his head and winced, wiped a little streak of blood off his face from a tiny cut on his forehead, and picked up his radio mike.

"This is Baker 12," he said. "I've been in an accident. Please have another car answer the two-eleven."

"Ten-four, Baker 12," the dispatcher said. "Do you need an ambulance or tow truck?"

"Yes, you do," Hutch said urgently, but Starsky rubbed at his eyes.

"No, Central," he said. "No injuries. Minor damage."

"Roger, Baker 12."

Starsky got out of the car and made his way to where the other driver, a middle-aged woman with two children in the back seat, waited, wide-eyed.

"Are you hurt, Officer?" she asked anxiously.

Starsky managed a smile. "No, ma'am. Is everyone okay?" He directed the question to the children.

The older one, a boy of about 10, said, "You're bleeding."

Starsky reached up and touched his forehead. "It's no big deal," he said reassuringly. "Just a scratch."

"But you're all pale and sweaty, too," the boy persisted.

Starsky gave a shrug and replaced his cap. "I'm okay, honest, I am," he said to the boy. "Ma'am," he added to the mother, "I'm afraid I need to make out a report."

"Of course," she said.

When Starsky finished with the report, he put it with the others in his car, waved at the woman and children as they drove away, and got back in his own car. He just sat there for a moment, absently rubbing his forehead and blinking slowly.

"He's got a headache now," Hutch said with certainty. "Starsky, buddy, what's the matter with you? Why won't you go to the damn hospital?"

The Gillian-figure gazed at him without commenting.

Somehow Starsky made it through his day, though he stopped often to buy Cokes. He drank them so thirstily that Hutch was alarmed, and his pallor and sweating visibly increased as the day wore on. By the time he logged out, parked his squad car, and stumbled to his own car, he was barely on his feet.

"Whatsa matter, Starsky?" another cop inquired without much interest as Starsky passed him in the parking garage. "You look like hell."

Starsky shrugged one shoulder and kept walking without answering. He climbed into the Torino and just sat there for several minutes as if he couldn't find the strength to turn the key.

"We gotta help him," Hutch pleaded with the Gillian-figure. "He's gonna die if he doesn't get some help!"

She watched Starsky with sympathy, but gently said, "There's nothing we can do. He doesn't know he's been poisoned. He doesn't really remember what happened in the night. And even if he did, he doesn't have the strength to look for his assailant now."

"He's in pain. He's dying!" Hutch said.

She did not answer.

Starsky finally started the car and drove home very slowly, aware that his reflexes and vision were both far below normal. When he reached his apartment, he again sat in the car for several minutes, as if gathering strength to climb the stairs. He finally did, but he had to stop halfway up, gasping for breath, with sweat pouring down his face.

"He must know something's wrong," Hutch said, following his partner up the stairs and into the apartment. "Why won't he go to the doctor?"

"Because there is no one to urge him to," she said. "In your history, he knew he was in trouble and he turned instinctively to the one person he knew he could trust completely. You. And you took over from there. You urged him on. You got the help and the antidote he needed. He leaned on you and drew strength from you throughout that day. When he was too weak to take another step, you carried him. When he was ready to give up, you wouldn't let him. Here, he is alone. He's used to depending on no one but himself."

Starsky made it as far as the couch and sank down on it. Slowly, laboriously, he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the first few buttons of his uniform shirt. The curls at his forehead and temples were soaked with sweat and he wearily pushed at his hair. The dark circles under his eyes stood out in the pallor of the rest of his face. He lay back against the cushions and closed his eyes, but a few moments later he sat up suddenly and bent over, clutching his stomach.

"Starsk!" Hutch knelt beside him, aching to touch him, to hold him, to take some of the pain into his own body and spare him, but he could do nothing.

Starsky retched a little and gasped, trembling, for several moments before he could sit back against the cushions. He yanked the tie completely off and tossed it toward the coffee table. Breathing hard, he lay back down and moaned a little, very softly. His eyes drifted shut.

"It won't be long now," the Gillian-figure said.

"What won't?" Hutch demanded.

"He's dying," she said. "You can see that."

"But " Hutch turned back to Starsky, a lump in his throat, "It was supposed to be 24 hours!"

She nodded. "Yes. But he has done nothing to slow the poison. You weren't nearby to bolster his spirits or make him eat or get him to someone like Cheryl who could ease his pain. His body can't fight this alone."

Hutch sank from his knees to a sitting position at Starsky's side and watched as, little by little, Starsky's breathing became more and more labored and harsh. Every few minutes, Starsky's face would contort with pain, and the soft moans became more heart-wrenching. Once, very softly, Starsky whispered, "Oh, God, it hurts."

By now, Hutch's eyes were filled with tears and he kept reaching out to touch Starsky, though he couldn't. "I'm here, buddy," he whispered brokenly. "I wish you could hear me. You're not alone, Starsk."

The Gillian-figure watched in silence as Starsky gasped for his last few breaths and was, at last, still. Hutch remained where he was for several minutes, his head bowed. Finally, she reached out and touched his shoulder.

"It's time to go."

Hutch rose and realized they were back in the tunnel, with the light at the end.

The Gillian-figure took his hand and turned toward that light, but Hutch pulled away. "No."

She looked at him, puzzled.

"I'm not going," he said. "Nothing I've seen has changed my mind about that. I'm not going."

"You've seen that you were important and that you made a difference," she said gently. "Your work is finished."

"No," Hutch said. "Send me back. Or whatever it is you do. I'm not going with you. I want to go back."

She paused and studied him for several moments. "Your body is greatly damaged."

"I don't care."

"It won't be easy. It will be quite painful."

"I said I don't care."

Starsky had fallen asleep next to Hutch's bed, his hand still holding Hutch's. Something, some instinct, alerted him and he raised his head and found a pair of very groggy blue eyes looking back at him. "Hutch?" Hutch couldn't speak for the tube in his throat, but he gave Starsky's hand a weak squeeze, and Starsky blinked back tears as he said, "Welcome back, buddy."

"Ready to go home, Blintz?" Starsky asked, breezing into the room.

"I've been ready for half an hour," Hutch said pointedly from his seat on his hospital bed. "Where have you been?"

"I took your mom and dad to the airport," Starsky said with a wounded air. "Couldn't let 'em take a cab, could I? After all they've been through?"

"Them?" Hutch demanded. "What about what I've been through, buddy? I damn near died."

Starsky sobered. "I know. That was close."

They looked at each other in silence for a moment, until Hutch broke the mood. "I couldn't go off and leave you on your own," he said with a grin, patting Starsky on the back. "Who'd keep you out of trouble if it weren't for me?"

"Keep me out of trouble?" Starsky inquired. "I think you got it backwards, Blondie. I'm the one who keeps you out of trouble."

"Let's compromise," Hutch suggested. "We keep each other out of trouble."

"I still think " Starsky began.

"Don't think," Hutch implored with dancing eyes. "That's one of the ways you get into trouble. Come on. Get me outta here."

"Okay, okay," Starsky ducked out of the room and came back with a wheelchair. "Hop in, partner. Let's go for a ride."

Hutch got in and as Starsky was wheeling him through the door he said, "Starsk?"

"Hmmm?"

"Thanks."

"For what?" Starsky paused and came around to look at him.

"For keeping me out of trouble." Hutch raised his eyes to his partner's.

Starsky grinned affectionately. "Sure, Blintz. Anytime."

END

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