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THE LAST LETTER

 

 

 

 

"Don’t stop! Forward!" Roughly Starsky was pushed by the guard. He stumbled and went
down on his already bleeding knees. Hiding a moan he tried to stand up again. ?>

 

"Get up! You think I'm an idiot?" The guard snarled and hit Starsky with his stick.

 

Gritting his teeth Starsky made it to his cell at the end of the dark narrow corridor. With
a kick he was sent into the bleak, smelly room and slumped onto his pallet breathing heavily. He heard the guard's whistling
grow softer as he moved away from Starsky's cell.

 

Starsky’s vision blurred. He wiped over his face and caught some tears, effect of the
pain he had to endure during the last days – or was it already weeks that he had been separated from Hutch after their
undercover assignment in the old jail had backfired?

 

Having been recognized by one of the prisoners, the main guard took care of the detectives
by locking them in a cell in an abandoned part of the jail far from any humane contact.

 

Starsky remembered only too well the first interrogation when they were asked to reveal the
purpose of their assignment. Starsky and Hutch hadn't given anything away, mostly because of the strength their presence afforded
each other. Starsky still felt Hutch’s soothing hand on his back when Hunter, the guard with the most say, decided to
take Hutch out of the room.

 

Since that time Starsky had not seen his partner. Always hoping that the police department
would look after them, Starsky felt confident in a timely rescue and showed his tough poise.

 

They started torturing him when he didn't give the right answers.

 

Starsky looked at his bruised body, visible through the torn gray garment he wore. His wrists
were badly burned from cigarette stubs as the guards gloated over him writhing in pain, but the worst was the pretended executions.
Awful memories of ‘

Nam
flowed through his mind and his only pleasant thoughts were of Hutch in those moments.

 

Feeling that his strength was weakening Starsky decided to write a letter to Hutch, not knowing
if his friend was still alive. He asked the man who brought his meals if he had heard about Hutch and the old daffy guy 
mumbled, "Hutch? Yes, Hutch is there."

 

One night Starsky heard screams and he hid his face under the filthy pillow, fearing
it was Hutch suffering from their treatment, so when Starsky heard the shuffling footsteps of the guy with the food he got
up from the bed, groaning under his hurting body.

 

"Hey friend," Starsky whispered.

 

Bleary eyes were looking at him while shoving a plate with an indefinable soup through the
bars.

 

"I need a pen and some paper; I saw you making notes. Can you lend it to me for a short time?
You can have my soup if you want."

 

The guy was ogling the plate and its contents in Starsky’s trembling hands. Then an
insecure little smile crept over his face and he fumbled for something in his pants pockets.

 

Hesitantly he held out a pen with a greasy folded paper.

 

"Thanks. Here you are." Starsky handed him the plate with the soup calling after him,"See
ya tonight."

 

With some effort Starsky managed to push his bed nearer to the door getting a little light
from the corridor. Half lying on the cot trying to forget the pain, he started his letter to Hutch.

 

 

'Hutch, where are you, old pal? Haven’t heard from
you since they decided to split us up. How ya feeling? I’m a little worried about you. Always wanting to help people.
You know, this isn't the right place to play the White Knight. But don’t let them get you down. I know you can get really
nasty when it comes to Me’n Thee. Try not to make them angrier than they are already.

 

How’re they treating you? I'm thinking of your back,
pal. Lying on these hard cots is gonna give you lots of trouble after we get home. You were always complaining about my lousy
couch, but admit it, it's a thousand times better than this bed arrangement. I'm sorry about my past ramblings concerning
your snoring whenever you crashed at my place. To tell the truth, it never really bothered me. In fact, it somehow felt good
when you were with me.

 

Hutch, forget what I said about your meal choices, too. I
would love to share a health shake with you right now. It’s hard for me being here alone, not knowing if you’re
okay or hurting.

Please take care of yourself and know I’m thinking
of you.

Always Me’n Thee.

 

Starsky (l….. y..)'

 

 

Frowning Starsky looked at the scribbled last words in blanks. He didn't want a guard to read
the "love you." Hutch would understand their meaning.

 

Exhausted, Starsky lay back on the cot. In the evening the guy with the food would take the
letter to Hutch. Everything was going to be all right.

 

With a little smile Starsky fell asleep.

 

 


*****

 

 

Motionless, Hutch lay in the ward of the prison turned to the cold wall he was using to shut
out the world. For days he had refused to eat and drink, and as a result he felt himself drifting away from the hunger and
thirst. He didn’t really care about the horrible state of health at this moment, either, and had finally stopped feeling
the burning pain of over used muscles and joints from the long hours and hard work in the rock quarry. All his physical pain
had ended.  He knew the exact day and time, too. 
Maybe not the time according to a watch or calendar, but the time his heart felt his world coming to an end; it was
the moment his guard said the words that still rung in his ears:

 

“Stop asking for your buddy, it’s getting on my nerves. He’s dead anyway,
pal, last night. Sorry ‘bout that,” the guard shrugged, “but that’s life. He shoulda told us what
we wanted to know. Maybe he’d still be alive, right? But he had to act all tough, like he was invincible or something.
Dumb ass.”

 

The guard turned to leave when Hutch lunged at him hissing: “You’re fucking lying!
Tell me it’s not true, Starsky isn’t dead!”

 

 Another guard approached at that moment sensing
trouble. He rapped Hutch with his nightstick causing the blond to yelp in pain. He was roughly held against the wall still
fighting the news he had heard about Starsky.

 

Suddenly they let loose their grip on him and left his cell. One of the men mumbled: “Must
be hard for him, they seemed to be friends. Now he’s the only one who can tell us what we need to know…”
and they disappeared.

 

Then, in the silence of the cell, harsh realization hit Hutch; they were telling the truth.

 

“Nooo!” his scream resounded through the corridors, a wail that contained all
the pain he felt having lost half of his soul.

 

From that moment on he began to weaken from day to day until, at last, he was admitted to
the ward.  Of course, not until all efforts to garner some information from him
had failed. He abhorred his life now and saw no reason to fight, but dammed if he’d give them what they wanted.  He was just waiting for his life to end.

 

Something tugged at Hutch’s sleeve bringing him out of his dark thoughts. He opened
his eyes to see that dusk had set in. “Not hungry,” he croaked closing his sunken eyes again. The tugging continued,
not letting Hutch doze off into the nothingness he craved.

 

“Can I have your food?” a raspy voice whispered. Hutch forced himself to nod lightly.
He only wished to be left alone, but the voice continued: “Thank you. I’ve got something for you, too.”
The rustling of paper could be heard and the corner of something grazed Hutch’s cheek.

“Leave me ‘lone,” Hutch said, again turning his head away from the contact.

 

“I’ve got a message from Starsky,” the voice insisted. He relaxed, thinking
he was dreaming again, and kept his eyes closed. Starsk, I’ll be with you soon.
I can hear you already, partner, you’re here now and everything’s going to be all right…


 


“You’re Hutch, aren’t you?” continued the voice unfazed, barring him
from his precious dream. Groaning, Hutch turned his numb body to see an old man grinning moronically and holding a paper in
his hand.

 

“‘jus told you, leave me alone and
no, I’m not hungry.”

 

“I’ve got a letter for you – from Starsky.” Hutch suddenly recognized
the man. He was a former prisoner but had refused to be released because jail had become his home, so he was allowed to go
where he wanted as long as he continued to do his job which consisted of bringing food to the prisoners in the infirmary.

 

Having been constantly being made of fun of because, face it, he wasn’t the brightest
penny in the drawer, Hutch felt pity for the simple grinning man, and had befriended him. 
Well, as much as any prisoner kept almost constantly in his cell could befriend someone.

 

“It’s okay, old timer, really. Starsky was my friend, you know, and I can’t
tell you how much I...” Hutch felt his throat tighten and couldn’t continue speaking.

 

A dirty piece of paper was held in front of his nose and the man whispered: “Have to
be back in the kitchen. Read!”

 

Hutch couldn’t help but glance at the crumpled note. He had to focus his eyes till he
saw the scribbled word on the sheet.

 

“Oh my God, Starsk…” A sob broke free and Hutch clutched the paper with
trembling hands. “I wish I could have helped you, buddy… but-”

 

“Starsky’s here. Yes, Starsky’s here,” the old man said and the expression
on his face changed into determination. “Starsky’s here, he told me to give you this letter… tonight, yeah,
tonight.  He gave me his soup and he’s lying on his cot. Yes, Starsky’s
here.”

 

“What’re you telling me?” Hutch got agitated and tried to sit up. All went
blurry around him and he lay back. After a few moments he said softly: “They told me he’s dead.”

 

Then he locked glances with the old man.

 

For the first time he saw the man with different eyes; there was compassion and an encouraging
glance that caused Hutch’s heart to beat faster. 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   

 

“They call me Dusty,” the old man said, “and yes, Starsky’s here.
He gave me his soup.”

 

“Starsky’s alive? Are you sure?” Hutch tried sitting up but instead swayed
dangerously. There was no way he was going to be able to stand right now.

 

“Dusty, you gotta help me to see my partner. Can you show me where Starsky’s cell
is?”

 

Dusty gave a knowing nod, then grabbed the plate with Hutch’s cold dinner from the nightstand
and held it out to his new friend.

 

“Your dinner. Eat!” Dusty nodded again and Hutch looked at the meal for the first
time in days.

 

 Hutch wasn’t hungry at all and felt his
nausea coming back with a vengeance, but he needed all his strength if he was going to drag himself to his feet. Slowly he
dipped the plastic fork into the food, taking a nibble.  When the pasty texture
of the Potato Spuds  reached his mouth, though, he greedily accepted the cup of
water Dusty handed him and took a deep swallow.

 

 

“Haveta go now,” Dusty whispered, “but I’ll be back tonight. I know
the guard’s shift and breaks. See ya.” He shuffled to the door greeting the arriving nurse with a silly grin.

 

“Hey Dusty, take care of yourself,” She smiled after him.

 

 

~~~~

 

The big clock on the wall was hard to see in the dark but the last time it chimed, Hutch counted
eleven. He cursed himself for not being able to stand on his feet without the help of the bed rails.

 

After the nurse left he had tried to get up but his legs wouldn’t hold his weight. Sweating
profusely he leaned back against the headrest shaking his head; he wasn’t in any condition to stand.  How was he going to walk? He took deep breaths trying to clear his cloudy mind.

 

 If
Starsky was alive …no…Because Starsky was alive Hutch had to get to
him, to show him that he was still there, still functioning.  In this moment he
couldn’t understand why he had given up hope when they told him his best friend was dead. He should have demanded proof,
damn it.   Instead he gave up.

 

 

Hutch bent his knees to activate the blood circulation. Then he sipped again from the cup
of water.  Even if he had to crawl, he was going to see his partner. He almost
smiled imagining the scene.

 

There was a sudden bump at the door that brought his attention back to the infirmary. Were
they coming to retrieve him so they could try beating the needed information out of him again? They should know by now that
he would never break.

 

Hutch straightened to await the guards, but instead a cart loaded with bed sheets was pushed
into the room.

 

“Hey, come over, I’ll take you to your friend.” Dusty’s voice sounded
excited and Hutch let go of the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Suddenly he understood the meaning of
the cart.

 

 

“You want me to climb under the sheets?” Hutch asked sceptically.  “Don’t you think that’s a little cliché? Where are the guards, Dusty? What are they going
to say when they see you mucking around at

midnight
pushing the laundry around?”

 

 

“No fear,” Dusty said rolling the cart next to the bed. With an encouraging smile
he reached his bony arms out to support Hutch climbing over into the cart. “You know they all think I’m stupid
anyway.  They let me alone whatever I want do,” he giggled quietly.

 

 

Being careful to cover the 6ft tall man, Dusty piled sheets on top of Hutch.  Hutch, for his part, tried to keep his long frame from sticking out by bending himself sideways, painfully.

 

 

“Wait.” Dusty said and went to the bed. He formed the cover and the pillow as
if someone was lying there. “Now we can go.” he pushed the cart through the door with a little extra effort.

 

“Hey Dusty, what’re you up to?” the nurse called after him having just woken
up from a nap in the adjoining room.

 

“Doing the laundry.”

 

 

Dusty mumbled to himself when he heard the nurse’s pitiful remark, “Poor Dusty,
you’re nuts, but what would we do without you…” then she closed her eyes again.

 

~~~~

 

Hutch was carted through long corridors, his heart skipping a beat only once.

 

“Hey you, stop! Where you going?”

 

 It's a guard; Hutch supposed and held his breath.

 

“I’m taking the linen to the laundry. Can you help me to carry it there? This
cart is a headache to push,” Dusty replied and Hutch feared the worst. After all, Dusty was nuts. The guard was going
to discover him in a matter of seconds.

 

“Forget it, Dusty. Do your crap alone and get out of the way,” laughed the guard
striding off.

 

Softly whistling, Dusty pushed the cart till they reached the abandoned section where Starsky’s
cell was located near the end of the corridor.

 

“We’re here. You can see your friend now.” Dusty helped Hutch out of the
layers of sheets.

 

 At first Hutch couldn’t see anything because
of the darkness in the cell in front of him. He braced his arms on the railings of the cart and leaned forward. Dusty pushed
the cart a little further till it touched the bars of the cell.

 

A lone figure was lying on the cot, clothes torn, but Hutch recognized the dark curls that
hung to the collar of the torn jacket immediately.

 

“Starsk,” Hutch whispered, overwhelmed at the sight of his friend.

 

***

 

Starsky had fallen asleep shortly after he had given the old man the letter. He couldn’t
explain it but he felt light hearted and kind of happy. What else could he do but tell Hutch that he cared for him. If he
was going to die Hutch would get his last letter, and maybe it would give him a little comfort.

 

 Starsky had fought hard to stay alive through
the guards' abuse and violent attempts to find the informants identification.

 

 

He was at the end of his strength, he couldn't fight anymore, and he was pretty sure the guards
knew it, too. His body hurt so badly that he actually found himself wishing for nothing but peace and quiet; even if that
meant death.

 

Just now he was having a dream reliving the times when Hutch had been with him, before now,
before this hell.

 

It went without question, whenever he felt like shit Hutch had been there to calm him down
and give him the feeling that everything was going to be all right. He could hear Hutch's voice in his dream, soft and smooth
as it always was when he was worried about his best friend.  Starsk, my God, you’re still with me, I can’t believe it. Buddy, wake up, I’m here. It’s Hutch.’


 


Starsky moaned in his dream, the memories of his partner so vivid that he could hardly bare
the fact that he was lying here alone…waiting for death.

 

“C’mon, open your eyes. I got your letter, Starsk. 
I need you, partner”

 

Starsky stirred. They had never written letters to each other. Why was he dreaming about a
letter now?

 

He slowly pulled his eyes open remembering that he had given a letter to the old guy who was
bringing the meals. Starsky turned over sensing that he wasn’t alone. And then he heard that voice again calling his
name and he froze.

 

The dimmed light of the corridor fell onto something blond. Starsky blinked. “Hutch…”

 

“I’m right here.” Hutch said. It was hard for him to hide his emotion when
he saw Starsky getting moving so slowly.

 

“You - you’re alive.” Hutch whispered in welcome disbelief. Then he saw
the frightening state Starsky was in; dark shadows circled the man's eyes and the swelling on his bruised and bloody face
hid most of the familiar features. The torn shirt revealed a chest so bruised it almost glowed with shades of purple and red.  But worst of all were his fingers. Most of the digits on his left hand were closed
in a fist as plump as a sausage, leaving the index finger to stand grotesquely at attention, sickeningly pointing out from
the hand at an awkward angle.  “What have they d - done to you?” He
gasped.

 

As if Starsky was realizing for the first time who was speaking to him a smile cracked at
the corners of his raw lips.

 

 “Hutch?” He reached out his good
hand and Hutch caught it midway holding on tightly through the bars.

 

“They told me you were dead.” Hutch had to say it.

 

Starsky shook his head, looking sick at what he heard, dark curls falling over his forehead.  Without thinking, Hutch released Starsky’s hand to brush the curls back.  He continued to hold the warm head and feel the soft hair against his raw skin.  He never thought he would see this shaggy head again and wasn't sure if he could ever
let go.

 

“I believed them and almost gave up. Then I got your letter tonight, Starsk.  You saved my life. Without your letter I would have…” Hutch couldn’t go on. Gentle fingers
stroke his cheek and he leaned into the comforting touch.

 

A little cough was heard behind him and Dusty whispered: “Guys, I think it’s time
to take Hutch back to the ward.”

 

Begrudgingly the two friends let loose, locking glances instead as they communicated in their
unique silent way. ‘We have to get out here. Now. Maybe Dusty knows a way to
help us. You’re not alone…’


 


"Let’s wait some more days." Dusty whispered as if he knew what was in Starsky and Hutch’s
mind. "There’s a big anniversary party in the works.” 

 

A plan began to be formulated.

 

 

***

 

 

Two days later Starsk was again interrogated.  This
time, though, they told him there was no need to hold back information because Hutch had died the night before. Sobbing and
crying, Starsky faked his horror. They took him back to his cell where he quickly became composed and waited impatiently for
Dusty.

 

“They're going to kill us, Dusty.  We need
you to find us a way out.  Can you do that for us? How’s Hutch?”

 

Dusty smiled reassuringly. “Well, Hutch is getting better with each day, ya know. I
pretend to eat his meals in front of the nurse. But his appetite is back and I think his strength is growing, too.”

 

Starsky sighed with relief.  “You said something
about a party when… ”

 

“It’s next Friday." Dusty excitedly interrupted. "The guards will be busy with
the buffet and drinks by the time the caterers are ready to leave. Maybe there’s a chance I can hide you two between
the empty boxes of the van.

 

“Dusty, what would we do without you?” Starsky said honestly, feeling for the
first time a solid hope for escape.

 

“There’s one thing I’m concerned about though,” Dusty said. “I
need to get the keys for the cell doors and I’m not sure the guards will be drunk enough by that time for me to steal
them. Normally the caterer brings the food and leaves before dark. Just…just let me think it over.” Starsky looked
at the old man in astonishment. Where was the guy with the silly grin whom no one took seriously?

 

Dusty smiled at Starsky affectionately and shuffled away whistling an unknown tune.

 

***

 

Friday came and Hutch was looking forward to speaking with Dusty about the upcoming party
and their chance to flee. However, when an unknown guard entered the ward carrying breakfast, Hutch almost rubbed his eyes
in disbelief.

 

“What about Dusty?” Hutch tried to ask casually. The man shrugged his shoulders.

 

“Dunno.”

 

Worried now that the plan had fallen through, Hutch forced himself to eat and drink; he had
to be strong for all that might lie ahead of them. Hiding the empty plate under his bed, Hutch lay motionless as the nurse
came in for her hourly check. He feigned unconsciousness as she took his vitals until eventually she gave up trying to get
a response.  Sighing she turned away, probably thinking her patient was beyond
recovery.  At least Hutch hoped that's what she thought.

 

By this time, Starsky was getting more and more nervous. He hadn’t seen Dusty and wasn’t
able to contact Hutch. What if something had happened to their new found friend?

They desperately depended on his knowledge and cooperation for their escape to succeed.

 

When he was led to the showers he requested clean clothes. The guard agreed, wrinkling his
nose at the torn and ragged garment. Starsky was glad that he could shower in the old bathroom without any disturbances. It
seemed as if all the guards were occupied with the preparations for the party and didn’t care about the prisoners were
doing at this moment.

 

When he heard approaching steps he assumed it was the guard with the clothes, and didn’t
stop lathering his body.  Carefully he soaped around the bruises and abrasions
taking care not to damage his healing skin any more than it already was.

 

He heard a suppressed yelp behind him and quickly turned his head, chocking on hot water that
sprayed directly into his mouth from the shower head.  He was relieved by what
he saw, however.

 

A young guard shoved Hutch into the shower next to him. “The water's out in the infirmary
so you gotta shower here.   The nurse thinks it might help perk you up.  Personally, I think it's a waste of my time. But I ain't the boss.  Okay, take your shower.  You have 3 minutes.”

 

It was one of the hardest tasks Starsky had ever managed, pretending that he didn’t
know Hutch and didn’t care.

 

The young guard quickly became distracted by the obscene messages in the adjoining locker
room and moved away from the prisoners to read. Without looking at each other, they used a series of whispers and movements
to communicate.

 

They were both worried about Dusty’s strange absence and agreed that fleeing alone was
not an option; they didn’t know the surroundings well enough. However, Hutch had worked in the quarry and suggested
they hide between the rocks.  How to get there, though, was still a problem.  Hutch frowned in frustration.

 

 With a quick glance at his partner, Starsky saw
that Hutch’s lean figure had become even thinner. “Got a little carried away with the health food?” Starsky whispered.

 

Hutch mouthed back: “Look who's talking.”

 

Starsky gave a little smile that he hoped would assure Hutch.

 

Towelling himself dry, Starsky brushed past Hutch cherishing the all too brief physical contact.

 

 “See ya,” he heard and with a little
nod he left the shower room to get dressed. Fortunately his guard hadn’t arrived with the new clothes and didn't see
him and Hutch together.

 

Dusk set in and Dusty hadn’t shown up. The last two meals of the day had been brought
by another guard and Starsky couldn’t hide his nervousness any longer. He was pacing his little cell while his thoughts
whirled around. If Hutch were here it would be so much easier. He had a way of seeing the bright side of life when all Starsky
could see was darkness. But it worked the other way round, too. How often had Starsky succeeded in cheering Hutch up? It only
showed how they depended on each other.

 

Starsky sighed, fighting the impulse to overpower the guard, grab the keys to his cell, rush
down the corridor to Hutch and get them both to safety…

 

“Hey, listen…”

 

“Dusty!"Starsky almost jumped with joy. "Where the hell've you been?” Starsky
pushed against the bars looking into Dusty’s tired eyes. “Is everything okay?”

 

“Had to work in the kitchen all day. But I’ve already prepared the van for you.
The driver was supposed to leave late this afternoon, but I convinced him to join the party. He's not  leaving till tomorrow morning now.”

 

“Wonderful. When are you going to let me out?” Starsky asked impatiently.

 

“Have to wait a while before I can distract the guard and get the key, if I’m
lucky,” Dusty said hesitantly. Starsky nodded. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to get the key.

 

“Dusty? Do you want to come with us? You deserve to be free, man,” Starsky said,
looking hopefully at the old man who had done so much for them.

 

Dusty shook his head. “Ya know I’m used to living here. They let me do what I
want and I have the freedom to go where I want."  Starsky tried to read Dusty's
face, but he couldn't tell if it was sadness, fear or resignation he was seeing.  "Be
back later.”

 

Starsky was alone again. 

 

***

 

 

Hutch straightened breathing heavily. He had just finished his twentieth knee bend and was
feeling his strength coming back. Meeting Starsky in the showers had really lightened his spirits.

 

 

Now, looking back, it was hard to believe that he'd been ready to give up his life.  To give up his life without even having proof that Starsky was dead. Damn. What if Starsky hadn’t
written that letter? What if they hadn't befriended Dusty?  What if…

 

 

Hutch needed to rest, but all the 'what if's' swirled in his head. He sat on his bed and leaned
his head against the wall.  A short time passed when Dusty showed up to tell him
that the plan was a "go" and they would pick him up later – if all went well.

 

The nurse had vanished to attend the party when an idea hit Hutch. He walked into the nurse’s
room and headed for the desk. There he found what he was looking for and removed it making sure he didn't leave anything out
of place.  Sitting down he started to write:

 

Buddy,

How can I tell you what I’m feeling right now? Using
the nurse’s room may be a bit risky but we’ve faced worse situations, haven’t we? I owe it to you that I’m
able to sit here expressing my thanks to you. I know you hate soapy scenes but it must be said: Without your letter I wouldn’t
have survived. When they told me that you were dead I didn’t believe it at first but one of the guards sounded so convincing
that I thought it was the horrible truth. I have to apologize that I so easily believed their lie and gave up. I don’t
apologize though that you mean so much to me that I can’t imagine a life without you, pal.

 

I saw your bruises when we were in the shower today –
you can’t fool me, pal. They must have given you the hard treatment – and I wasn’t there to protect you.
I’m so sorry. When we’re at home I promise to take care of you.

 

Thanks to your letter; my life is worth living again.

Looking forward to the times when we are together again I’m
always yours,

H.

 

 

Hutch put the letter in his pocket and went back to his room. A short time later he dozed
off but woke quickly when his shoulders were squeezed by a light touch.

 

“Hey Buddy, we’re here, c’mon, let’s hurry…” Starsky’s
quiet but urgent voice made Hutch sit upright.

 

“Starsk, finally!” Hutch struggled to get off the bed with a grunt of pain. Starsky
helped him to his feet as they followed Dusty along the dark corridors. Hutch was breathing heavily and the walls were beginning
to spin when he felt Starsky slow down and wrap his arm around Hutch’s waist as support.

 

“What time is it?” Hutch hissed.

 

“Enough time to get into the van. Seems Dusty did a good job getting it ready for us.”

 

In the distance they could hear loud voices and ear-splitting laughter causing Hutch to hesitate-until
Dusty smiled: “It’ll take a while till they come to senses again."

 

 Finally they arrived at the kitchen, dark and
abandoned at this time of the night. Rushing through the large room they rapidly reached the back entrance.  Hutch still leaned heavily against Starsky, small grunts of pain escaping his throat.

 

“Shhh, hang on.  We’re almost there,”
Starsky whispered forgetting his own aching body.

 

Dusty hurried over to the van and was opening the double door without making any noise. He
motioned Starsky and Hutch to crawl into the van. The space they had to lie in was very limited, hidden under boxes Dusty
had pilled up. It was almost like a tunnel, covered with wooden slats.

 

“I’ve saved a sandwich for each of you and a thermos of water. Good luck.”
With that Dusty closed the door before the detectives could say their thanks.

 

Getting comfortable was almost impossible in the small space. “Shit!” Starsky
cursed quietly when he hit the “roof” of their hiding place.

 

“Quite hard, the floor. At least Dusty left some blankets for us,” Hutch whispered
and handed one to Starsky next to him. Finally both men got their breath lying shoulder to shoulder looking upward in the
darkness.

 

“Did I tell you about my claustrophobia?” Starsky asked, but Hutch wasn’t
sure if Starsky wanted to lighten the mood or if he meant it seriously.

 

“Might be helpful if you forget it for a while,” Hutch said slowly turning his
head to look at Starsky.

 

“You’re right, Blondie,” Starsky almost chuckled. “Hey, I could use
a nap; how 'bout you?” He got a wide yawn in answer.

 

“G’night, partner,” Starsky said turning to his left side. Hutch turned
to the right getting his knee stuck.   Trying to find a comfortable for his
extra long legs, his butt bumped against Starsky’s.

 

“No way,” both mumbled. Shifting around, they got comfortable at last, Starsky
lying behind Hutch. “Wish we were outside already,” Hutch sighed. Drifting off, he felt Starsky’s hand on
his shoulder. Everything was going to be all right.

 

They woke to loud voices that carried over the van's motor. “Don’t let the cops
stop you – think of last night,” someone said and got a loud laughter from the driver. “See ya next Friday.
I have to hurry now.”

 

“George, let him through!” the first man shouted and the van went on without stopping.

 

The sound of heavy gates closing was heard and the men hidden in the back each gave a relieved
sigh.  Starsky wiped the cold sweat from his forehead that developed when the
van fist started.  It was still dark but through the small windows a ray of sunlight
shone in. They were enclosed by many empty wooden boxes where food had been transported earlier. The boxes were rattling in
rhythm to the bumpy road during the trip and both men, lulled by the beat, were following their own thoughts.

 

“Now we only have to get out of this car,” Hutch muttered after a while trying
to sit up.

 

“Nothing easier than that,” Starsky said wiping his eyes.

 

Suddenly sirens were heard fading after some moments. “Hey, a little police control
wouldn’t be so bad right now,” Starsky mused. Then he crawled across Hutch’s legs to get a peek out of the
steaming up windows.

 

“Looks like we’re in a small town. At the next stop we’ll do it,”
Starsky decided. He went down to sit cross-legged in front of Hutch.

 

“D’you remember the trip when we were after that Chinese gang and were penned
up in that laundry van? That trip ended in the junkyard…”

 

“Don’t remind me. It was another close call,” Hutch shuddered thinking of
the scrap baling press that had almost killed them.

 

“I think he’s slowing down. C’mon, that’s our chance,” Starsky
felt the excitement and hoisted Hutch up. They kept hidden behind some boxes in case the driver was opening the back doors,
but nothing of the sort happened. The driver left the car to disappear somewhere. Starsky’s view was obscured through
the little window.

 

“Ready?” he asked. Hutch tensed. Slowly Starsky opened one of the back doors.
Nobody was in the street and both men stepped out of the van, walking away as casually as they could manage without looking
criminal.

 

When they were round the next corner they were aglow with happiness.

 

“We’re free!” Starsky said jubilantly. He put his arms around Hutch and
squeezed hard.

“I can’t believe it!”

 

Hutch was about to return the embrace when another voice said: “I can’t believe
it either. Stop moving and hands up!”

 

It wasn’t difficult to recognize the sheriff of the village who held them at bay. After
the initial shock, both detectives breathed again.

 

Relieved Starsky began to smile. “Are we glad to see you, Sheriff.  My partner, here,  and I have been held against our will at-”

 

 Hearty laughter interrupted Starsky’s explanation.

 

“That’s what they all say,” responded the Sheriff, pushing the two men in
the direction of his office that happened to be directly in front of them. Starsky glanced at Hutch, then down at himself
and suddenly realised why the Sheriff didn't believe them; with their gray prison clothes the sheriff had to assume they were
escapees. Well, they were, Starsky thought with amusement.

 

“Sir, I would like to point out that we are police detectives and…” Hutch
butted in.

 

“Stop the crap." Apparently the Sheriff wasn't as jolly as he first appeared.

 

 

Two minutes later both detectives found themselves back in a cell despite all of their complaints.

 

“Call Captain Dobey of the Bay City PD to prove who we are if you won't take our word.”
Hutch tried once more in frustration.

 

“You’re so right, ‘I’ll make a call. Excuse me a moment.” The
sheriff walked into his office and dialled a number. What they heard made them freeze.

 

“I have two runaways from your constitution…Yes; I’m Sheriff Norton in

Maryville
. Yeah, they'll be here till you come. See you later.”

 

“This can't be happening." Starsky hit his fist against the wall painfully. “Tell
me we haven’t gone through all this crap only to end up back in that shit hole!”

 

Hutch was at a loss for words; sure they looked
like prisoners, but this gung-ho sheriff hadn’t even attempted to check their claims. Thinking of the prison again made
Hutch sick in the stomach. He felt weak and wobbly.

 

Starsky stopped rambling at once when he saw Hutch slump down on a wooden bench.

“Hutch?”  Without a thought, Starsky
grabbed onto the cell bars and began yelling, “Sheriff! We need a glass of water – now!”

 

In no hurry the sheriff brought the requested water. Unsteadily he watched the interaction
between the two men wondering why the dark haired man supported the other by holding the glass and pressing it to his lips.
Maybe they were brothers… On the other hand they didn’t resemble each other at all. Sheriff Norton shook his head
and left the room, awaiting the guards from the prison. Every now and then he had trouble with escapees. He was proud to be
the protector of his little town. But never the less, something wasn't kosher here and he suppressed an uneasy feeling as
he stepped back into the front office.

 

 

Starsky had his arm slung tightly around Hutch’s shoulders. Leaning into each other
they felt nothing but hopelessness.

 

“Hey, wait a minute. When you're arrested you have the right to make a telephone call,
right?" Starsky asked lamely and Hutch’s tired eyes looked at him.

 

“Sure, buddy, give it a try.”

 

“Well, I suppose we have nothing to lose.” Determinedly Starsky approached the
bars and called the sheriff again. Nothing happened.

 

“Shit!” Starsky’s anger was back. “Is he deaf or what?” he shouted
pacing the cell; God, how he hated these rooms. His furious wondering was only stopped by Hutch’s outstretched arm drawing
him back onto the bench.

 

“It’s no use, Starsk. Keep quiet. Let’s talk to the men from the prison
office when they arrive. If we’re lucky maybe they'll listen.”

 

“I doubt it.” Starsky mumbled.

 

 

At this moment they heard the sirens. The motor of a car was shut off and voices sounded.
Starsky and Hutch took deep breaths awaiting the unavoidable.

 

“Here you are! My God, didn’t I tell you: No private parties?”

 

 

“Captain!” both said in unison and rushed to the cell door.

 

“Unlock the door!” Captain Dobey hollered and Sheriff Norton hurried to follow
the order.

 

“Captain, how did you -?” Starsky strode toward their superior reaching out to
shake hands with him.

 

“Well, that’s a long story, Detective, but first let’s get you out of here.  Now, Sheriff.” Dobey’s angry red face turned to Hutch and softened.  With a supporting hand on the blond's back he led the exhausted detectives out of
the building. “Over there,” he pointed to a black and white.

 

On their ride back to Bay City Dobey informed them about what had gone wrong with their assignment.

 

“We got typed reports with your names and you said that everything was okay.
Hutchinson
, you wrote you were following some leads, so we were confident that you weren’t in any danger.”

 

“And you believed they let me use the office?” Hutch was stunned.

 

 Dobey nodded with embarrassment. “I though
you had somehow made a contact in the office. With what I know now, I could kick myself for believing the charade.”

 

 

There all fell into a deep thoughtful silence before Starsky asked: “Cap, how'd you
know where to find us today.  In fact, how'd you know we were in trouble?

 

“Well,” a little smile tugged at the corner of Dobey’s lips, “since
yesterday we couldn’t get any contact with the office. Seemed they were too busy preparing to have a big party last
night. So when we couldn’t get into contact with the prison I decided to check the situation myself. My men are still
there investigating.” Dobey sighed and rubbed his hands nervously.

 

“We heard sirens when we were on the run in a white van. I was joking that a police
escort wouldn’t be bad…” Starsky said softly squeezing Hutch’s arm.

 

“We had the sirens on,” Dobey said a little puzzled.

 

 “Captain, thank you for finding us. There
were times …" he stopped and looked out of the window.

 

“We should tell the cap about Dusty,” Starsky tried to distract Hutch. It worked
and they told the story of the friend they had found and who refused to leave the prison.

 

“Why not invite him to dinner one day – he begged for my soup once. It seems he
isn’t used to good food,” Starsky suggested and Hutch chuckled.

“Then let me choose the restaurant, pal. Your taste in food is sometimes very strange.”

 

“Strange? I’ll tell you what's strange. Certain people I know, whom will remain
nameless, like kelp and ragweed shakes for breakfast."

 

“Speaking of food,” Dobey interrupted their banter, “I could use a little
snack, but I think first, you two might prefer to get changed. How about I drop you at one of your places and we meet in…
let’s say… one hour at the precinct. Food's on me.”

 

“Thanks, Cap,” Starsky said appreciatively. He nudged Hutch: “My place first?
Need to see my car, ya know, it's been lonely.”

 

***

 

                                                              

 

“Thank you for taking care of my plants and mail, Mrs Hill,” Starsky pecked his
elderly neighbour on the cheek and got his key back. The older lady looked chagrined at their dirty grey costumes not quite
knowing what to make of the prison uniforms.

 

 

“Don’t worry, Mrs Hill, we had a special job to do. No big deal,” Starsky
added to allay her doubts.

 

When they entered the familiar surrounding of Starsky’s apartment, Hutch took a deep
breath. "It’s good to be home,” he said wholeheartedly, not even realizing that he was at Starsky’s place.

 

Softly smiling, Starsky noticed the remark.

 

 

“You wanna take a shower and get rid of those clothes?" Starsky asked unbuttoning his
grey prison shirt.

 

“Yeah, good idea. I think I have some jeans here and the blue shirt I've been missing
since you borrowed it…” Hutch went into the bedroom as Starsky looked for coffee in the kitchen.

 

While Hutch was in the shower Starsky sipped on the hot brew and sauntered into the bedroom
where Hutch had spread the prison clothes all over the bed. Shaking his head about Hutch’s untidiness, Starsky grabbed
the shirt and pants to trash them. A piece of paper fluttered onto the floor. Starsky put the coffee aside to pick the paper
up.

Slowly he sat down on the bed and started reading.

 

“You mind if I use your shaving kit?” Hutch peeked through the door dripping wet
from the shower. He saw Starsky sitting on the bed his head bent.

 

“Starsk, you okay?” Hutch took some steps before he realized that he was still
naked from the shower.

 

“Wait,” he said softly and returned with a towel around his waist.

 

Starsky looked up at him his eyes unusually bright with unshed tears.

 

“You wrote a letter to me,” he said.

 

“Yeah, killing time,” Hutch blushed with embarrassment.

 

“Your letter…” both started at the same time, then smiled under tears, knowing
that no further words were necessary to express what their letters had meant to each other.

 

Starsky got up to have his shower, Hutch followed to get shaved – time to look on the
bright side of things again.

 

 

 

The end

 

 

 


 

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