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Starsky leaned forward, bracing his forehead with both his hands. He inhaled slowly, exhaled slowly. Swallowing, he felt the threat of excess moisture moving like a small wave up his esophagus. Clenching his jaw made it worse, so he relaxed. The tingling in his hands and the light-headedness did not help matters. The top of his head felt like someone hit him dead-center with a heavy object, and his eyes felt heavy and ached now and then.

Hutch had caught him the night before leaning forward, his hands on his knees, his head dipped, as he grimaced in pain. The pain that shot from his wrist to the tips of his fingers and thumb felt like someone had gripped him and clenched down on his wrists, cutting off the blood flow. Then, the pain would ease up, the tingling began. He must have
gasped or looked like he was in a lot of pain because Hutch had said sharply, “What’s wrong with you?”

“My hands,” was all he said. “My hands ache.”

There had been sudden jolts of sharp pain in his ankle, knee, hip. As if someone shoved a hot poker into the joints. He’d stumble sharply, gasping, but it would be over in minutes, leaving him with a sore spot, as if he had been bruised by the pain alone.

It got to the point that he didn’t say anything anymore. He still did his job, he still had Hutch’s back both on and off duty. He knew when to speak up and voice his concern where Hutch’s safety came into play.

It was the end of the say, and he stood slowly, completely spent of energy. His shoulders felt like someone slapped him across the back with a baseball bat, and he walked gingerly to the squad room door.

“Hey, you want go to Huggy’s for a beer?” Hutch asked, looking up to see his partner reach for the door.

“Naw,” Starsky sighed. “I just wanna go home and go to sleep. Still not feelin’ up to par.”

“You see the doctor yet?” Hutch walked towards him, grabbing his collegiate jacket off the rack.

“Will make one.” Starsky sighed, moving slowly through the door.

It seemed to take forever to reach the Torino, and when he saw it, he sighed. Leaning against the door, he exhaled tiredly.

“Hey,” Hutch said softly, leaning in so his forehead gently touched Starsky’s. “What’s goin’ on, huh?”

“I don’t know.” Starsky blinked. “I’m kinda scared…”

“Hey,” Hutch took his shoulder and squeezed gently. His eyes grew wide when Starsky gasped, jerking away.

“Hurts.” Starsky swallowed. “Feels like I’m gonna be sick.”

Hutch guided his partner to the police garage and sat him down in an old folding chair inside the door out of the late afternoon sun. “Be right back.” He said. “Don’t move, I’m going to get you some water.”

Starsky leaned back in the chair, feeling the space around him gently move to and fro. It wasn’t enough to make him nauseous, but enough to concern him.

“Hey, Starsky,” Lou Ramsey said, wiping his hands on an oily rag as he stepped out from under a black and white hood. “You okay?”

“I don’t know,” Starsky swallow. “Not feelin’ myself.”

He shivered, feeling a coldness creep over his body, whereas earlier he broke a good sweat.

“You don’t look so hot,” Lou nodded. “Want me to get you something?”

“Hutch went for some water.” He let his head fall forward and that was the last thing he remembered.

When he came to, Hutch was kneeling in front of him and shoving damp curls out of his eyes.

“Hey,” Hutch said, the concern evident on his face. “Welcome back. Gonna get you to a doctor…”

“Take me home,” Starsky grunted. “Please…take me home…I just need to sleep…”

“Starsk,” Hutch said softly.

“Hutch.” Starsky grew adamant and stiffened up. “Get me in the Torino and take me home. Please.”

Hutch got Starsky in the passenger side of the Torino and slid in behind the wheel. He plucked the keys from Starsky’s hand and revved the engine showing how angry he was.

“Easy,” Starsky whispered, his head lolling to one side. “Easy…easy on…my…car…”
And just like that, Starsky was snoring softly, his chin on his chest.

By the time they reached Starsky’s apartment, Hutch was in protective mode. Starsky was groggy waking him up, and he blinked as he didn’t know who Hutch was, and then stared at his apartment as if he’d never seen it before.

“C’mon,” Hutch grumbled. “Let’s get you upstairs and into bed.”

Conquering the stairs was a major task, and by the time they both got in the apartment, they were breathing hard and sweaty.

“Grab a shower and I’ll fix you some chicken noodle soup,” Hutch instructed. He shoved his friend gently, heading for the kitchen as he shed his jacket and holster.

The soup bubbled on the stove as he heard the water run in the shower, and then it shut off. Movement in the bathroom alerted him to Starsky finishing up, and then frowned when he didn’t appear. Turning the burner off, he headed down the short hallway and stopped when he got to Starsky’s bedroom door. There, curled up under the covers and blanket was his partner, sound asleep.

It was almost eight o’clock when Hutch checked on him and found Starsky on top of the sheets, clad only in bikini briefs, his body glistening with sweat and his curly hair plastered against his skull. His pajama bottoms were thrown at the foot of the bed, and he was breathing normally. Hutch reached down and felt Starsky’s forehead, it was damp but he had no fever.

“Hey,” Hutch whispered. “It is eight o’clock…let’s have that soup, huh?”

Starsky groaned and shivered, peeling one eye open and then rubbing his chest.

“Eight o’clock?” he sighed, blinking.

“How ya feelin’?” Hutch reached to grab his hand and slowly pull him into a sitting position.

“Just weird,” Starsky sighed. “I don’t like this feeling.”

“What are the symptoms?” Hutch asked, heading to the bathroom for some aspirin. He came back with two white pills and a paper cup of water.

“Usual that I tol’ ya before,” Starsky sounded so lifeless. “Just…like…” He stopped, a shiver going down his spine.

“Just like what?” Hutch asked firmly.

“When I was injected with that poison,” Starsky blinked. “I feel really shitty. No energy. Hurt all over. Exhausted, no matter how much sleep I get.”

“Ok,” Hutch stood up quickly, hands on his hips. “We’re going to the hospital right now…”

“I’m hungry,” Starsky looked up with his puppy-dog eyes. “Can I have some soup first?”

“What if they need to run some tests?” Hutch frowned.

“Then I’ll stay until the tests can be done,” Starsky blinked, pleading.

Hutch threw his hands up in the air and walked out of the room. He re-heated the soup and listened to his partner move around his bedroom, then shuffle out to the kitchen in his pajama bottoms, bath robe and house shoes. He slumped in the nearest chair and propped his chin in his hand.

“I think it is a lingering cold,” Starsky said, leaning back as Hutch placed a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup and a chunk of crusty French bread before his friend. “Or the flu that hasn’t made up its mind if it wants to kick my ass or just mess with me for a week or two.”

“Either way, we need to get you seen,” Hutch said, sitting down and wiping his hands on his napkin. “Dig in, partner. Compliments of Campbells Soup Company.”

By the time they finished their small meal, Starsky was looking much better: he was sitting up straighter, his eyes seemed clearer, and he was more alert and jovial. The aspirin seemed to have kicked in and taken away the aches.

“We can skip the hospital,” Starsky announced as he strode into the living room, grabbing the deck of cards on the way. “We’re gonna play some cards and watch some mind-rotting TV.”

“Well,” Hutch smirked, “you gotta have a mind first….”

Starsky chuckled and shuffled the cards. Three hours later and after raiding the chips, dip, and four lonely beers left in the fridge, Starsky yawned wide and stretched.

“Man,” he sighed, rubbing his chest. “I’m startin’ to feel like shit again.”

“I knew we should have gone to the hospital after dinner!” Hutch said angrily.

“C’mon, Hutch.” Starsky shoved the playing cards in their box and stood up. “Go grab a shower and c’mon to bed. Not up to doin’ anything, but we can hold each other, okay?”

“Better ‘n nothing.” Hutch hurried to the bathroom shedding his clothes as Starsky went around and locked the doors and windows, pulling the curtains together with a quick yank.

By the time Hutch finished his shower, brushed his teeth and climbed into gym shorts, Starsky was snuggled under a mountain of blankets, snoring softly. Shaking his head, he climbed into bed, noticed Starsky didn’t have a fever, and curled up against him, pulling him gently to his chest.

He didn’t know what woke him up, but when he opened his eyes, he saw Starsky slowly thrashing in his sleep. He moaned, his breath catching, and then he’d groan deep.

“Hey, Starsk.” Hutch leaned over, rubbing his friend’s chest. “What’s going on?”

“Ugh,” Starsky swallowed. “Don’t feel so hot, Hutch.”

“You don’t have a fever,” Hutch let his wrist drape over Starsky’s forehead and then lifted each eyelid and checked their pupils. “Pupils equal and responsive…”

“I hurt so bad,” Starsky closed his eyes tight. “Real bad. Like I just wanna lay here and cry.”

“Damn.” Hutch got out of bed and reached for his pants. “We’re going to the hospital. Right now.”

The ride to the hospital had Starsky leaned against the Torino door, snoring in deep sleep. His breath would hitch now and then, and he’d groan, but mostly sleep soundly. Hutch pulled up in the emergency room entrance and hurried to open Starsky’s door.

“C’mon,” Hutch said quietly. “We’re here. Let’s get you inside.”

Starsky mumbled, and then swung his feet out, resting as if that simple movement robbed him of all energy.

“You gonna be able to walk?” Hutch asked, gripping Starsky’s jacket front and pulling him up. Starsky started to sink to the pavement and Hutch grunted. “I’ll be right back…gonna get you a wheelchair.”

When Hutch came back with a wheelchair and a nurse, Starsky had slid down the side of the car, his head to one side, his breaths coming in pants.

“Starsky!” Hutch knelt in front of him, gently stroking the man’s cheek. “Hey, we’ve got you a chariot.”

“Lucky me.” Starsky breathed quietly.

Hutch got Starsky in the wheelchair and Starsky groaned, leaning forward grabbing both knees. “God a’mighty,” he groaned deep, rocking back and forth. Then he gasped, rearing back against the back support as a pain short through his lower back and hips. He broke a sweat, gasping. “I’m gonna be sick…” Hutch immediately grabbed his partner and tilted him forward as the meager dinner he had earlier splattered on the blacktop.

Five hours later, Starsky had been admitted and bloodwork, x-rays and other tests had been performed and he was resting comfortably in a darkened room. While Starsky slept, Hutch leaned against the windowsill, staring out into the clear, starry night. There was a noise at the door, and the doctor on call walked in.

Hutch’s heart fell to his feet when he saw it was the same doctor who had treated Starsky many years before when he had been poisoned.

“Detective Hutchinson,” even then the doctor smiled, he looked bored and angry.

“Yes, hi,” Hutch said, shaking the man’s limp hand. “What’s going on?”

“I have to say I am quite surprised and perplexed at our findings,” the doctor said, adjusting the glasses on his nose. “Remember five years ago your partner was injected with a poison?” Hutch’s heart felt like a vise grip had squeezed it tight.

“Yes?”

“I assumed after the case was closed, prior to…all things in Detective Starsky’s kitchen, refrigerator, bathroom medicine cabinet, freezer and cupboard had been thrown out.”

“It was,” Hutch nodded, glancing at his partner. “There was nothing left in the kitchen, cupboards, freezer, fridge, or bathroom…nothing! No toothpaste, no mouthwash, liquid or capsule medication…pill form…nothing! Everything was bagged and tagged and taken to the station for the team to go over.”

“Well, somehow something was overlooked,” the doctor sighed. “The compound in his system is the same one used to make him groggy, not able to fight back when the actual poison was injected. It is entering his system slowly…it’s not every day from the levels we see…but most recently…it’s been enough to cause Detective Starsky lethargy, body aches, joint aches, delirium, and vomiting. Headaches, listlessness….not being grounded…”

“I swear to God,” Hutch closed his eyes and clenched his fists. “I can’t think of a thing that he’d still have in his apartment from five years ago edible…injestible…” Hutch shook his head in disgust, “I can’t even begin to…”

“It doesn’t have to be ingested through the mouth,” the doctor said. “Soap, alcohol swabs in first aid, shaving cream, toothpaste, shampoo….”

“No.” Hutch sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose until he saw stars. “Everything…and I mean everything…was dumped.” Hutch peered at the doctor and grinned faintly. “And shampoo, toothpaste, soap, and deodorant and cologne doesn’t last five years.”

“We’ll talk later,” the doctor smiled weakly, turning away. “Get some rest. I’ll stop by before clocking out in the morning.”

 

Hutch was awakened by the clatter of a breakfast tray being dumped noisily on the over-the-bed table and the squeak-squeak of the candy striper’s white shoes exiting the door. He groaned, sat up and dry-washed his face. He glanced over at Starsky to find him staring at him.

“Hey,” he said quietly. “How long you been awake?”

Starsky simply stared at him, as if he didn’t hear or see his partner.

“We gotta talk,” Hutch said, standing up. He lifted the lid on the domed plate and smiled. “Rubber pancakes, slimy eggs, hocky puck toast and coffee so thick your spoon can stand up in it.”

“Ugh.” Starsky said softly.

“Hey,” Hutch sat down on the side of the bed and gently grabbed Starsky’s hand. Starsky groaned in pain, closing his eyes. “We gotta talk. The doc told me last night the compound that Bellamy slowly fed you prior to your injection…there is trace amounts in your system.”

Starsky whimpered, closing his eyes. “Hutch.”

“We threw everything out,” Hutch frowned. “I know we did! There was nothing in that apartment that was saved. Remember we had to go grocery shopping for everything all over again? Even frozen foods?”

“Yeah.” Starsky panted, his hands weak on his upper thighs. “God, I hurt. I hurt so bad.” Starsky’s head was cradled by the stiff hospital pillow, his face just as pale as the plastic cover. “That was five years ago, Hutch. You honestly don’t think I’d have something in my apartment from then…”

“I know you don’t,” Hutch shook his head. “I am positive. Have you been anywhere…seen anyone?”

Starsky closed his eyes and sighed. He seemed to have drifted off when he opened his eyes and a single tear dripped down the side of his face. “I hurt. I hurt so bad, Hutch.”

“God, Starsk.” Hutch gently gathered his friend up, holding him close. “Think, buddy…”

“Layla,” Starsky said sleepily, resting his head against Hutch’s chest. “Layla…”

“The girl I met a month ago?” Hutch asked.

“She…she…brings me…brownies…” Starsky swallowed, trying to keep his eyes open. “She…she…brought me peanut butter fudge two weeks ago…and…and…homemade peppermint bark.”

“Where is it now?” Hutch asked.

“Not much left,” Starsky whispered, his eyes rolling back in his head. “Gone…ate…some…”

Hutch gently lowered Starsky against the mattress, made sure the bed rails were up and locked, and hurried out of the room. He paused by the nurse’s station to let them know Starsky hadn’t eaten anything and the he would bring him some soup by when he came back. They were so busy they simply smiled and nodded.

Hutch skipped up the steps to Starsky’s apartment and unlocked the door, closing it behind him. He had grabbed some laytex gloves out of the back seat and was snapping them on as he kicked the door closed behind him.

He combed every inch of Starsky’s apartment for anything…and finally at the bottom of the trash can found the little colorful plastic plate with two good-sized chunks of peppermint bark caught up in the cellophane wrapper.

He placed it in an evidence baggie, rolling the bag into a cylinder and wrapping secure tape to hold it in place then scribbled his initials and the date and where it was found on the baggie.

There was a knock at the door, and he whirled around, peering out the tiny security window.

“Is David home?” a petite brunette asked with a smile when she saw Hutch’s upper face peer at her.

“Ugh…no…not at the moment,” Hutch said. “He is at work. I stopped by to get something for him. How can I help you?”

“I’ve just been Betty Homemaker lately,” the girl grinned happily. “Soothes my nerves when I bake and gift my creations. I know David loves chocolate so I made him some brownies. Not “those” kind…” she giggled, “cos I know he is a cop…”

Hutch blinked and opened the door, staring at her. “Well, that is mighty nice of you….”

“Layla,” she girl smiled, reaching out her hand to shake his. “Layla Broxton…five doors down.”

“I’m Detective Hutchinson,” Hutch said, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you. I didn’t know you’ve been spoiling my partner with treats. I’ve never seen any when I visit.”

“Oh, he is a naughty boy,” Layla laughed. “Doesn’t like to share, I see.”

“Well….Layla…” Hutch placed the plastic plate on the side table and leaned against the door. “I still have some things to do here before I head back to the precinct. Is there anything else?”

“No,” Layla turned and waved over her shoulder. “Just tell David I said hello please!”

Hutch waited until Layla hit the sidewalk and then he slammed the door, locked it, and rummaged in a cupboard for a larger brown bag to slide the plate of brownies inside. Again, he sealed it with tape, wrote his name and the date and peered out the tiny security window and watched as Layla vanished down the street.

Hutch immediately called Captain Dobey and went into great detail and Dobey said he’d have the crime lab waiting to receive the two bags. By the time Hutch got to the precinct, Dobey and the two technicians were standing outside in the hall, waiting. The two technicians took the bags with gloved hands and closed the door behind them.

“Well?” Dobey grunted.

“Starsky mentioned a Layla that baked for him,” Hutch said, running his hand through his hair. “And this chick shows up with brownies. She didn’t even flinch when she knew who I was. I don’t think she remembers meeting me a while back. She seemed a little mentally impaired. She didn’t try to yank the plate back or anything.”

“Well, good work,” Dobey said, turning to go down the hall to his office.

 

Hutch went to his desk and sat down. For the next three hours he pulled files, searched the data base and cross-checked what facts he had before him. Just as he was getting ready to scream, he leaned forward, his eyeballs popping open.

“Oh holy fuck.” He breathed, a chill shooting down his spine. “No…no…no…” he reached for the phone and dialed the nurse’s station on the floor Starsky was on. After quite a few rings, a breathless nurse answered.

“Fifth floor, Nurse Ella Jacoby.”

“Ella, listen to me. Listen carefully: I’m Detective Hutchinson…my partner is Detective David Starsky in Room 512…this is very important…no one is allowed in that room except registered nurses and the doctor…no candy stripers or dieticians…no one! It is a matter of life and death.”

“Oh, my,” Ella gasped. “Alright…a dietician is in there right now feeding Detective Starsky his lunch…he didn’t eat anything this morning or earlier…so he is having…”

“Stop her! Stop her immediately!” He slammed the phone down and grabbed his coat. Jerking the Torino away from the precinct, he grabbed the mic and dialed in for dispatch.
“Dispatch…Zebra3…call security at Mercy Hospital…5th floor…room 512….the person poisoning Starsky works there and is on duty right now…”

“Ten-four,” Dispatch said crisply. He listened as she relayed the information to any and all black and whites in the vicinity of the hospital and then dialed in to the hospital’s main call center. “Everything is in place, Hutch. Be careful.”

 

Hutch thanked his lucky stars that he caught a glimpse of the dietician that delivered the morning breakfast tray and the angry way she let the metal tray hit the table, not caring if she woke either man up.

By the time he got to the hospital, there were black and whites with their lights on and visitors were being ushered away and the hospital was on lock down. No one could enter or leave.

“Starsky is being taken down to the emergency room,” a street cop said hurriedly as Hutch approached. “He’s in a bad way.”

Hutch fanned out, watching as the other officers scattered to upper floor in quick fashion.
Prowling the floors with a team of armed policemen, Hutch searched methodically and quietly. What visitors had remained on lockdown, looked at him anxiously as he motioned for them to unlock the doors so he could search the patient’s rooms.

Finding nothing he grew frustrated and hurried down to the ER where his partner was being treated and guarded by three armed policemen.

Hurrying to his partner’s side, he leaned down and fought the panic when he saw how pale his partner was and how unfocused and glassy his eyes were.

“Starsky,” he said softly. “Can you hear me?”

“Hutch.” Starsky said so softly that if Hutch hadn’t seen his partner’s lips move, he would have not heard him.

“Listen to me,” Hutch said, gently stroking the thick curls. Starsky cried out, turning his head away.

“Hurts.” He whimpered.

“Sorry. Listen…Layla’s been brining you baked goods,” Hutch said quietly not to cause any discomfort. “Have you ever met her sister?”

“No.” Starsky stared at the wall, licking his lips. “No.”

“Listen to me,” Hutch said. “Layla has a sister named Maybelle. Maybelle works here at the hospital in dietary. She delivers and picks up hospital trays. She also feeds patients who can’t feed themselves.” He reached in his hip pocket and pulled out a black and white photo of Maybelle Broxton. “Has this lady been in your room today, Starsk?”

Starsky squinted at the photo and cried out. The pain in his joints was so severe it rendered him helpless and gasping for air. A nurse stepped forward, injected something into his IV line and applied an oxygen mask and tightened the elastic firmly.

“I’m sorry, Detective,” she said. “He’s done…”

Hutch looked down to see Starsky’s head slowly lob to one side, his breathing even out and his arms go limp.

Out in the hall, the hospital administrator stood talking with Captain Dobey and both men looked up when Hutch approached. Hutch gripped the photo, showing it to the administrator.

“Hutch, this is Mr. Douglas Farthing,” Captain Dobey said. “He has positively identified Maybelle Broxton as the dietician who has been bringing Starsky’s meals and feeding him at least twice.”

“She has to be in this hospital somewhere,” Hutch growled, looking up and down the hall. He shook his head, swearing as soon as this was over he was chucking it all in and moving to his property in Montana. No one was going to talk him out of it.

Captain Dobey’s walkie-talkie squalked to live and all three men froze, listening.

“Maybelle Broxton has been apprehended at Landsdale and Orchard. Repeat: suspect Maybelle Broxton has been apprehended.”

“Get down there, Hutch.” Captain Dobey said, slapping his arm. “I’ll hurry and see Starsky.”

 

Hutch leaned against the one-way mirror watching the woman being interrogated smoke her cigarette, looking completely bored with the whole situation. She denied knowing either detective and rolled her eyes when the interrogators got angrier.

“Y’all don’t have nothing on me,” Maybelle scoffed, stabbing her cigarette out in the ashtray and lighting up another one.

“I’m in,” Hutch said, yanking the door open and taking five steps to the room, shoving the door open. “Everyone out…except you, Maybelle.”

“Whatever,” Maybelle rolled her eyes, leaning forward to pick at her nails. “You think you have something to say that will make me admit to something I didn’t do?”

“No,” Hutch sat down carefully, both hands on the table. “But I’ve spoken to Layla. She is such a sweet girl. You know what you’ve done has sealed her future, don’t you? Remember you promised your parents you wouldn’t put her in a special home? Well, guess what? Because you are charged with attempted murder…”

“She didn’t do anything!” Maybelle shot up angrily, her handcuffed wrist chained to a bolt on the table making a clanging sound. “You leave Layla alone!”

“I’ve met Layla,” Hutch said. “Some sister you are, using a mentally handicapped person to do your dirty work. I was there when she delivered the last batch of goodies you made for my partner: brownies.” Hutch watched as Maybelle blinked, throwing her head back so her hair would fall away from her face. “I could tell she was not the one who baked the brownies. She didn’t have the mental capacity.” Hutch pulled a chair away from the table and sat down. “How old is Layla?”

Maybelle shot him a dirty look and took a deep drag on her cigarette.

“Social Services are with her now,” Hutch said. “She is such a sweet girl.”

“She didn’t do anything!” Maybelle panicked. “Okay…okay…it was me! We were cleaning out my uncle’s shitty apartment and found a ledger….how you and your partner ruined his life…he had everything written down…the formulas…everything…” Maybelle began to shake, her slim fingers making the cigarette dance up and down. “There was an address and phone number…I called the number for shits and giggles and someone actually picked up. He set up a meeting and offered me more money than I ever dreamed of if I finished my uncle’s job. We had a nice chat. I was there almost three hours. He explained everything to me, how you and your partner were hotshots and no one could touch you. How you killed his son, his innocent son who wasn’t armed in cold blood…and then hired his friend, whom you killed also. What are you gonna do, kill me too?”

Hutch sighed, leaning forward. “You don’t have to explain anything to me. I know when someone dangles money and an easier life in front of you how hard it is to walk away.”

“Don’t patronize me,” Maybelle grumbled.

“Honestly,” Hutch sighed. “And the promise of a good school for Layla…where she’d get the attention she needs and proper schooling…”

“She is twenty years old with the mind of a nine-year-old,” Maybelle said, lowering her eyes to hide her tears. “I didn’t make enough money to afford such schooling for her. Social Security only goes so far and it came to the point where my options were to simply hand her over to the state. I’ve heard stories how once you relinquish your parental rights…the state can and will do what they want when they want with their charges. I couldn’t do that to her. It was as if my uncle wanted me to find that ledger and contact….”

“It’s alright,” Hutch leaned forward. “Layla will be taken care of. You’re going away for quite a while, Maybelle. Attempted murder on a cop is serious business.”

“But I didn’t kill him!” Maybelle suddenly yelled. “I never put the full amount of poison in the mixture! I always cut it in half! I did the research…it would only make him really sick…not kill him!”

“But it builds up in the body over time,” Hutch sighed. “Maybelle, you’re under arrest.”

“Can I see Layla?” Maybelle suddenly realized her time was up, and her fierce, brave façade was crumbling. “Please? Can I see my baby sister?”

Hutch watched through the one-way mirror as Maybelle hugged and kissed her sister, brushing her hair out of her face and tucking it behind her ears. Layla laughed and talked, asking when she could deliver more goodies to “the nice, handsome policeman up the street.”

There was a knock on the door, and Hutch opened it to see a cop standing there, a slip of paper in his hand.

“Was asked to give this to you, Detective,” the man said, shoving the paper at Hutch.

“Thank you,” Hutch grabbed the paper, opening it. He read the writing and smiled. He grabbed his jacket and stepped into the hall. “You can take Maybelle down to booking now. Layla will be leaving with Family Services.”

“Yessir,” the cop said, turning to open the interrogation room door.

Hutch glanced at the paper and smiled. Starsky was back in his room, resting comfortably. The elevator seemed to go extremely slow, and by the time he reached the fifth floor, he was jittery. Walking quickly to Room 512, he paused to take a deep breath and then shoved the door open.

The room was dark, the only light drifted in from the bathroom behind a partially closed door. Starsky was semi-reclined in bed, his thick curls framing his pale face. Hurrying to the bedside, Hutch gently took the limp hand and held it.

“Maybelle has been arrested, partner,” Hutch said softly. “You can rest easy. And no more goodies from strangers.”

Starsky’s eyes opened slightly and he groaned. “You’re mean.”

“I don’t believe you,” Hutch grunted, shaking his head. “No more goodies from strangers! I don’t care how elaborate, delicious, or free they are!”

“I thought you loved me,” Starsky said weakly.

“I love you more than you know, buddy,” Hutch said softly. He leaned in, brushing his lips across Starsky’s damp forehead. “More than you know.”

“Hutch.” Starsky sighed, licking his dry lips. “I hurt so bad. I can’t stand it.”

“I know,” Hutch sympathized. “They’re working on getting you better. It’s going to take time. You’ve been slowly ingesting that junk for a long time now.” Hutch brushed his lips across Starsky’s knuckles, a sly smile spreading across his face.

“What?” Starsky sighed, knowing Hutch was going to tease him.

“This is the first time I am thankful you hogged the goodies and didn’t share,” Hutch even grimaced after he said it, then chuckled.

“Take me home,” Starsky sighed, starting to drift to sleep. “Take me home…we’ll get in bed….and you…hold…me….”

“We’ve got plenty of time for that,” Hutch promised. “Here…move over a bit and I’ll hold you now.”

When the nurse stopped by an hour later and saw two grown men in the hospital bed only meant for one adult, she shook her head and smiled. They both looked so peaceful and relaxed, and wasn’t that what her patient needed to heal?

FINI