Chapter 1: The Disappearance
"Hutch wouldn't do that!" Starsky insisted, whirling to face Dobey.
Starsky squared off with his Captain, a hand planted firmly on each hip as the older man peered at him through tired and sympathetic eyes. Though Dobey was likewise wracked with worry, he knew without question that Starsky felt worse. Despite hours of effort, the entire Bay City Police Department had been unable to uncover a single concrete lead in the case of Hutch's mysterious mid-day disappearance. It was now a few minutes before midnight and not a trace of Detective Hutchinson had been found since he parted company with Starsky earlier in the day.
"Hutch was gonna meet me back here by 3:00," Starsky repeated. "And from there - depending on what he learned at the pawnshop - we were going to pay Rollo's bookie a visit. Cap'n, Hutch knew we were due in court at 4:00. We talked about it. I know he was planning to be there."
Dobey listened patiently to Starsky's recounting of his last interaction with his partner. No one had considered this phase of the investigation to be especially dangerous. As a result, Dobey was shouldering a certain amount of guilt - kicking himself for having missed something. Apparently, they all had as Starsky was right. Hutch would not disappear from a case in the middle of a workday unless something had gone terribly wrong.
"I believe you, son," Dobey answered, his voice gentling. "As I said, we'll keep looking for Hutch for as long as it takes."
Out of answers, Starsky stared at the floor in frustration.
"Tell you what," Dobey suggested. "Why don't you stop by Hutch's apartment again just in case he turns up there. Let me know if you find anything new. We'll go from there."
"Ok," Starsky relented, his shoulders sagging.
"And Starsky, none of us have given up on Hutch," Dobey added sharply. "I have every available officer tearing this town apart block by block looking for him. You must know that."
Starsky nodded glumly.
"It's just that I don't know where else to look," Starsky added, his uncertainty resurfacing as he forced himself to meet Dobey's eyes. "What in the hell could have happened to Hutch in the middle of this city in broad daylight? Hutch isn't exactly a pushover, ya know? No one could have taken him that easily unless - unless he was hurt or incapacitated in some way," Starksy finished. "Otherwise, none of it makes any damn sense!"
"No, it doesn't," Dobey agreed. "But there is an explanation - somewhere."
Starsky had turned to leave when he paused with an afterthought.
"Expect to hear from me one way or the other in about forty-five minutes," Starsky said, growing more subdued. "And Cap'n," Starsky added. "Promise me that if I don't come back tonight, or any other night for that matter, you'll forget about me and keep looking for Hutch. This world can't afford to lose the likes of Hutch."
Without a backward glance, Starsky threw open the door and stormed out.
Dobey wanted to smile at the absurdity of his detective's request, but the older man found it impossible to do so. Dobey knew that Starsky meant every word of it.
"This ol' world can't afford to lose either one of you, Detective Starsky," Dobey muttered. "I'm afraid I can't agree to that. So no deal."
Dobey frowned as he shoved both hands deep in his pockets. Releasing a heavy sigh, he stared at the empty space Starsky had occupied moments earlier and worried about his missing detective.
"Lord have mercy on all of us if we can't find Hutchinson soon," he added.
Starsky took the steps three at a time on his way back to the garage. Once inside the Torino, he relaxed enough to notice his head was pounding. Starsky fished around in his pocket for a couple of aspirin and downed them with the help of a tepid cup of coffee. He made a sour face as the pills partially dissolved on his tongue although he managed to swallow the messy granules without losing the contents of his stomach altogether.
"Oh God," Starsky sputtered. "That was terrible."
Starsky followed the aspirin with what was left of the coffee before tossing the empty cup on the seat beside him. He winced as the discarded piece of plastic bounced and tumbled away, landing somewhere out of sight on the floor.
Hutch should be sitting there anyway, Starsky thought.
The realization brought the weight of Hutch's absence rushing back in a wave of tangled emotions. Just thinking about a few of the possible scenarios that could have befallen his partner caused Starsky's stomach to knot and his hands to tighten on the steering wheel. Shaking off the fear, Starsky started the engine and pulled out of the garage.
It wasn't like Starsky to lose control of his emotional reserves too easily. It also wasn't every day that he had to worry about his partner to this degree. Hutch was normally either sitting right beside him while they worked, or ensconced in the relative safety of his own apartment. The more typical possibilities had been turned entirely upside down the moment Hutch failed to return to the squad room by 3:00 that afternoon.
In a half-hearted attempt to soothe his own battered soul, Starsky reminded himself that Hutch knew how to survive a host of difficult situations. The man was a survivor - he knew how to take care of himself.
Determined as ever, Starsky pushed his way through a yellow light on his way to Hutch's address. As he rounded the last corner, he was at first surprised, then excited to see a dim, but discernible glow emanating from one of the apartment windows. Starsky's heart surged with hope at the possibility that Hutch might somehow be home after all. Whatever the explanation, Starsky hurriedly parked the car and raced up the steps to his partner's apartment.
Trying the door first, Starsky was not surprised to find it locked. Unwilling to wait, he hurriedly retrieved his own key, threw open the door, and pushed his way inside.
"Hutch!" Starsky shouted, slamming the door behind him. "Hutch! Are you here?"
Starsky stopped abruptly, his eyes landing on a lamp in the middle of the kitchen table. A small yellow envelope lay visible in the circle of illumination - as if left there for the individual most likely to find it.
Starsky walked to the table and reached for the envelope, opening it carefully to find a familiar gold chain entangled with a note inside. It was the half-moon and star necklace that Hutch was so fond of wearing - the same golden chain he'd been wearing the last time Starsky had seen him.
Whoever left the note had made their point. They had Hutch. The accompanying message was likewise succinct. In a large, hand-printed scrawl, it read... WANT HIM BACK? PAY ATTENTION. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.
Chapter 2: Concessions
Hutch realizes he's in trouble.
"What in the...?" Hutch muttered, reaching for his head with a shaky hand.
Unable to complete his thought, Hutch struggled instead to open his eyes. As his vision improved, he found his surroundings oddly familiar. Glancing from one side of the room to the other, Hutch realized he was surrounded by sturdy log-cabin-style logs - much like the Lincoln Logs he remembered playing with as a child. The golden wood caught and reflected the sunlight from a nearby window making the interior walls appear hand-polished to a state of high gloss.
Pulling his attention away from the room, Hutch furrowed his eyebrows together in an attempt to remember what had happened. Testing the limits of his freedom, he moved each arm and leg carefully before realizing he was not tied down. While the information was helpful in easing some of his fear, it did nothing to explain his circumstances. Struggling to sit up, Hutch was halted in mid-attempt by the intrusion of an unexpected voice from the far side of the room.
"Welcome back, Detective Hutchinson," said a deep, male voice. "We've been expecting you to wake up soon."
Surprised, Hutch tracked the voice with his eyes to an overstuffed chair in the corner. Too weak to sit up properly, Hutch settled for rolling over instead.
"Who - who are you?" Hutch demanded, his own voice sounding weaker than he'd hoped.
"In due time, Detective - all in due time. For now, I suggest that you rest when you can."
Hutch was trying to formulate a sensible response when a door opened suddenly to admit a large, burly man accompanied by a petite, attractive female. Hutch stared at the pair as they entered, unable to recognize either of them. An uncomfortable silence followed as Hutch waited for his captors' next move. Eventually, the woman stepped forward, seemingly intent on a closer, more personal interaction with Hutch. As she approached the bed, Hutch had the awkward feeling that she was extremely pleased about something.
Digging his heels into the mattress, Hutch scooted himself to the far side of the bed as the woman approached, anticipating some type of confrontation. He did not have long to wait.
"Hutch," she began calmly. "I'm hurt that you don't seem to recognize me."
Only then did a few of the pieces begin to drop into place for Hutch. The woman's voice was strangely familiar. Thinking furiously, Hutch's heart began to race as he realized the woman standing in front of him sounded exactly like Diana Harmon.
"Diana?" Hutch sputtered, his eyes round with surprise.
The woman leered at him from her position of dominance above the mattress.
"You're supposed to be in confinement in the state hospital! How - when did you get out?"
The woman paused as if carefully considering her response. "Oh, let's just say it's not been long."
The adrenaline surging through Hutch's veins helped extinguish whatever substance had been clouding his brain. Fully awake now, he kept himself just out of reach, ever wary of the woman's true intentions.
"Oh, don't behave like that, Hutch," Diana said, her voice oddly calm. "It's useless to be afraid of me now."
Hutch was less than assured by her words.
"Is that right?" he asked, playing along. Hutch knew the back and forth banter was purely superficial, yet he needed to stay engaged.
"No," she replied. "Not anymore. I'm much more interested in your partner."
Hutch's eyes widened at her simple statement. The obvious distress that registered on Hutch's emotions caused Diana to chuckle openly.
"My partner?" Hutch repeated, pulling himself to a sitting position. "What do you want with Starsky?" Hutch demanded.
Now that she was closer, Hutch was better able to study the woman standing over him. Assessing the area around her eyes, he noticed a faint resemblance to the Diana he had known a couple of years previously. If the image in his mind could somehow be compared side by side with the woman in the room, the two might appear to be related. Otherwise, her facial characteristics had been dramatically altered, assumedly by the skills of a cosmetic surgeon. Minus the voice, there was little to suggest the woman standing in front of him was the Diana he had known.
"Oh yes. I have a lot of unfinished business with both of you," Diana said.
Hutch clenched his jaw and waited, expecting a more detailed explanation to follow. When nothing was forthcoming, he persisted.
"You have no business with Detective Starsky," Hutch said, his own anger surfacing in his voice.
Hutch could tell his response had landed some type of blow to Diana's fragile ego. Whatever the reality of her immediate circumstances, the woman had never learned how to function within the constraints of truth vs fiction. If the truth did not fit her preferences, she simply rearranged the details in her own mind to make it so. While Hutch would grudgingly admit he had once been attracted to Diana, he had also quickly recognized how psychologically unhealthy she was. Whatever he ultimately came to feel for the woman might best be described as compassion, but Hutch had never loved her. It was one of those sticking points of reality that Diana had not been able to accept.
"Oh, you're wrong about that, Hutch," Diana replied, bristling at Hutch's resistance. "I have a great deal of unfinished business with Detective Starsky. I've waited a long time for justice."
Hutch narrowed his eyes as he studied the woman responsible for his captivity. Whatever mental health treatment she had received at the state hospital had obviously been ineffective. Diana was just as dangerous now as she had ever been - perhaps even more so. An alarming amount of her focus on revenge had obviously been turned on Starsky. The insight was unsettling. He did not have to wonder if Diana would act on her feelings of retaliation - she had already instigated some type of plan by catching him completely off guard. That information alone was difficult and embarrassing for Hutch to accept. Nonetheless, it was apparent that was exactly what had happened.
Thinking back, Hutch remembered visiting the men's room at the pawnshop when something had gone awry. Struggling to recall what, he scowled as fragments of memory floated back to him from somewhere below full consciousness. Hutch recalled another man entering the latrine and stepping up to the urinal - something he thought nothing of at the time. He also remembered someone else entering the bathroom and a scuffle ensued. Hutch lost his grip on the memories after that. The next thing he knew he woke up in the log-cabin-style room with a lot of missing information. Hutch suspected the men currently accompanying Diana might also have been in the men's room.
"What do you want, Diana?" Hutch asked bluntly. "Money? You must realize that you can't keep me here, wherever this is. And there's nothing you can do to Starsky."
Diana looked at first surprised then mildly insulted by Hutch's question.
"Oh, but you're wrong about that," she shot back defensively. "You're so wrong, Hutch," she repeated. "I've already started on Starsky, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."
Hutch looked at first perplexed, then worried.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I'm sending you back to him in pieces," Diana announced proudly. "Just a few intimate tokens every few hours so he'll have plenty of time to think about what he did to me the night he rescued you."
Appalled by the idea, Hutch sagged against the headboard.
"Pieces?" Hutch asked, taking a quick mental inventory of his body.
Flexing his fingers and toes, Hutch glanced nervously at the rest of his torso - a crack in his composure that he instantly regretted. Diana noticed his insecurity.
"Oh, don't worry, Hutch," Diana laughed. "Nothing important is missing yet - just a bit of old jewelry is all."
Surprised, Hutch reached for his neckline, his fingertips searching for the gold chain he'd been wearing when he left his apartment that morning. Realizing it was gone, he swore under his breath and refocussed his attention on Diana.
"You sent my necklace to Starsky?" Hutch asked.
"In a manner of speaking," Diana said. "I left it where he'd find it."
"How can you be sure?" Hutch asked, hoping to insert a level of uncertainty into her plan.
Diana merely laughed at the suggestion.
"Oh Hutch," she exclaimed, giggling out loud. "That won't work on me. You know as well as I do that Starsky finding nothing but your necklace will hurt him, and that was hours ago. I'm waiting a little longer before I give him something else to think about. In the interim, you might as well get comfortable."
Hutch was quiet as he contemplated Diana's explanation. Like it or not, the woman was correct about one thing. Starsky would have been on a tirade of epic proportions from the moment Hutch failed to return to the squad room. Solidifying Hutch's unexplained absence with a hint of something malevolent befalling him would have been a blow to Starsky's composure.
In a cruel, backward sort of way, Diana knew exactly what she was doing. She had long ago identified Starsky as her biggest rival for Hutch's attention. In many ways, she was entirely correct. Starsky's loyalty to his partner was absolute. Feeling rejected, it had angered Diana that Hutch reciprocated an equal amount of loyalty to Starsky. That much had been obvious to Diana early on in her relationship with Hutch. Diana had expected his interest in his partner to wane once she had properly entered the picture. When Hutch pulled away from her instead, Diana was inconsolable. Assaulting him in the shower had been her way of taking Hutch away from Starsky. She wanted Starsky to suffer an equal and permanent sort of loss. Having failed that night as well, Diana had thought about little else during her time in the state psychiatric hospital.
The untimely death of her primary physician, a history of poorly maintained paperwork, and an overworked inpatient staff all helped Diana to negotiate an early release from the facility. Once free of the hospital environment, she focussed on changing her address and altering her appearance. An unexpected windfall inheritance just after her release enabled Diana to disappear into society, hire a team of private security, and concentrate on the next phase of retaliation against Starsky and Hutch.
"It's time to select the next token for your partner," Diana announced casually. "Any thoughts on what it should be, Hutch? A lock of hair perhaps? Or shall we consider something more attached?"
Hutch was unsure how to interpret the question. Stung by the realization that Diana had been released back into society, his thoughts turned again to his partner. Undoubtedly, Starsky would be running on little more than full-blown anger and grief by now.
"How long have I been here?" Hutch asked.
"About eighteen hours," Diana replied. "I was beginning to think we might have to give you a little something to wake you up."
Hutch considered the eighteen-hour time span, quickly calculating what had most likely been done from the law enforcement end about his disappearance. Captain Dobey would be desperately worried and all business-like in his approach to the situation. Keeping Starsky in line would have morphed into a full-time job.
"Well?" Diana asked. "You've no suggestions for me, Hutch?"
Jolted, Hutch remembered what Diana had been asking moments earlier. Newly alarmed, he struggled to provide a reasonable response.
"How about a lock of hair?" Hutch offered, unable to think of anything else. "Or is that enough?"
Hutch immediately regretted embellishing his own question, but the damage was already done. He watched Diana's face as she arrived at a decision.
"Yes, I think some of your hair will do," Diana agreed.
Hutch swallowed nervously as he waited for Diana's twisted mind to reveal her next move. Uncomfortable under her scrutiny, Hutch found himself squirming inwardly as her eyes traveled from his face, down his chest, and beyond.
"Let's include a bit of your shirt also," Diana announced. "Yes, a lock of that beautiful hair tied up with a strip of your shirt will do nicely."
Diana ended the discussion by abruptly stepping away from the bed. As she turned to go, she added. "My best advice is don't fight them, Hutch," indicating the men in the background. "It will only be worse for you if you do."
Chapter 3: A Hint of Hope
Starsky and Captain Dobey get a much-needed break in Hutch's disappearance.
Starsky entered Dobey's office to find him engaged in conversation with two other Bay City detectives.
"Let me see it, Cap'n," Starsky said, covering the distance to Dobey's desk in a few quick strides.
Starsky stared at the small box wrapped in butcher paper on Dobey's desk. A preliminary inspection by the bomb squad had determined both the container and its contents free of explosives at which time the parcel had been turned over to the detectives for further forensic inspection. Inside they found a bundle of light blonde hair loosely secured with a strip of blue cotton fabric. Starsky noted that one end of the cloth was heavily splattered in bloodstains. Folded neatly underneath the hair sample was a second note which read... PIECE BY PIECE, STARSKY. YOU WON'T FIND HIM THIS TIME BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.
Captain Dobey watched Starsky intently as he examined the box and its contents. Locking both elbows, Starsky leaned against the desk before ducking his head in resignation.
"Looks like it could be Hutch's," Starsky said, meeting Dobey's gaze. "He was wearing a blue shirt when he disappeared. When did this arrive?"
"It was found in the mailroom just before noon," Dobey answered. "Interestingly, the package hadn't been through the general postal system. It looks like someone not only managed to smuggle it directly into our building but into our mailroom as well. That last piece of information does not make me particularly happy."
"I won't find him this time," Starsky repeated out loud. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"We were hoping you could help us with that," a new voice said.
Starsky pivoted to the man who had spoken.
"Bennett," the man said. "Phillip Bennett," he added, extending his hand to Starsky. "And this is my partner, Jack Anderson."
"Bennett - I'm sorry," Starsky began, grateful for the other man's graciousness.
Starsky noted that Bennett had a firm handshake and kind eyes - a lot like Hutch.
"It's ok, Detective Starsky," Bennett answered. "I understand. I know this is a difficult time for you as well as Captain Dobey."
Starsky nodded, shaking hands with Anderson before turning to face Dobey.
"I'm going to assume the hair sample belongs to Hutch with or without root analysis," Dobey said. "The lab will be able to tell us if the blood type is a match for Hutch. If it is, I'm worried Starsky. Whoever has Hutchinson is in the business of dragging this out and we don't even know what they want yet. We need a motive before we can get anywhere. Is there anyone you can think of who might have a king-size grudge against Hutch? I know that sounds ludicrous, but your current case is cold - there's just nothing there to suggest that Hutch's disappearance could be associated with that situation. Nothing of this degree anyway."
"Captain Dobey, if I may?" Bennett asked.
Dobey nodded as Bennett cleared his throat and approached Starsky.
"Detective Starsky, we all make our share of enemies in our line of work," Bennett began. Officer Hutchinson would be no exception to that rule. It's my opinion that his disappearance has a distinctly personal component attached to it - meaning I suspect it has more to do with his personal life than his professional. As you know Hutchinson best, can you identify any personal enemies he may have created? A long-lost lover or a jilted girlfriend perhaps - someone who could be considered a jealous rival?"
Starsky frowned, thinking hard as he considered Bennett's interrogation.
"Does he have any sexual interest in men?" Bennett asked calmly. "The question will come up as it's doubtful a woman could overpower Hutchinson physically. I apologize for asking such direct and personal questions, but IA will ask if we don't do it first."
Starsky knew Bennett was right about IA. As he listened, Starsky found himself approaching Hutch's disappearance from a slightly different perspective. His mind whirling, Starsky sifted through a few of Hutch's personal relationships that had not ended well. Most women were crazy about Hutch, yet a few of his past girlfriends had been problematic at best. Vanessa came to mind - obviously not a suspect as the woman was deceased. And then there was poor Gillian - also dead, but Hutch had adored her. And then there was...
Starsky inhaled sharply as a long-buried image of Diana Harmon surfaced in his mind.
Noticing Starsky's discomfort, Bennett asked, "Have you thought of someone?"
"It can't be," Starsky whispered.
Alarmed, Starsky faced Bennett in an attempt to explain his reaction.
"Diana Harmon - a woman Hutch dated briefly a few years ago."
"Yes?" Bennett asked.
"Well - Hutch figured out she was crazy and broke it off, but she didn't exactly take kindly to the breakup. She tried to kill Hutch by knifing him in the shower. But - she's been incarcerated in the state hospital since her arrest and conviction."
Starsky whirled to lock eyes with Dobey.
"Captain - could it be Diana? Is she still in psychiatric confinement in Sacramento?"
"I don't know," Dobey admitted, reaching for the telephone. "But I'm certainly going to find out."
Starsky exchanged a look of hope with Bennett, the possibility of a breakthrough lingering in the air between them.
"Diana," Starsky repeated out loud. "If Hutch made any enemies in the last few years, Diana would qualify for the top of the list. But it can't be her, can it?"
"We'll know for sure soon enough," Bennett said. "While the Captain verifies that information, how about you and I take a look at her file?" Bennett suggested. "It sounds like we at least have a starting point."
Chapter 4: Decision Time
Hutch makes a crucial decision.
Hutch wandered to the window and looked out, the view unchanged since his last visit only moments earlier. Initially, Hutch thought he was in a room somewhere on the second story. Looking again, he realized it was more likely the third. The drop to the ground was unbroken and sheer - nothing to assist with descent or interrupt his fall should that happen. Escape through the bedroom window was unlikely although he had not entirely ruled it out.
Hutch tried to imagine what Starsky was doing now. Undoubtedly, his partner would be tearing the town apart in an effort to find him. The entire Bay City Police Department knew Detective Hutchinson well - his professional data was on file and readily available to anyone with proper authorization. In theory, those involved in searching for him would have a good start in organizing a full dragnet. Knowing Captain Dobey, the man had already bent or broken a number of rules by initiating a search for his missing detective.
And yet, here he was - exactly where Hutch could not say. The landscape outside told him he was no longer in city limits. The house was close to a row of foothills covered by evergreens and thick brush. The altitude was much higher than Bay City. Try as he might, he couldn't see any type of landmark from his limited view through the window.
Glancing at the bed, Hutch thought he might be able to tie the sheets together and lower himself far enough to chance a drop to the ground. It was an option he filed at the back of his mind knowing he would need to consider others as well. The room did have a small, attached bathroom. Though windowless, Hutch was grateful the bathroom was available. Entering the tiny room, Hutch caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror above the sink. Pausing, he was surprised and disappointed by the changes in his own appearance.
If I didn't know you, it would be obvious that you're worried about something, Hutch thought, scolding himself. Pull yourself together, Hutchinson.
Hutch noted the missing shirt collar, ripped away by one of Diana's goons. The same man had also removed a chunk of Hutch's hair from just behind his right ear. At least the idiot had used scissors.
Gonna need a haircut, too, Hutch thought, scowling at the damage to his hairline.
Lastly, Hutch examined the end of a sore finger, sliced open with a sharp knife to collect a sample of his blood. Unable to fight off four men simultaneously, Hutch had submitted to the minor injury in the hope the damage would be less. One quick, efficient slice and everyone seemed satisfied. It hurt, but the intent behind the maneuver was what angered Hutch the most. He knew the lab would type the blood and it would match his profile. That information would upset Starsky, and Diana would have the satisfaction of knowing so.
With his fingertip still oozing, Hutch swore under his breath and finished up in the bathroom. He would not let Diana continue to get away with this sort of manipulative game. He had to do something soon - he just didn't know what yet. Gathering his resolve, Hutch was leaving the latrine when the door to his room opened revealing Diana and two of her ever-present bodyguards. He tried to get a better look at the area beyond the door before it closed, but he didn't have a chance to see much. A carpeted hallway and a banister matching the log-style construction of the rest of the house suggested a staircase was nearby. Hutch was determined to see more.
"Hello, Hutch," Diana said, watching him as Hutch returned to the bed. "I trust you've been comfortable here?"
Hutch scoffed at the ridiculous statement.
"Hell no, I haven't been comfortable here," he snapped. "Something about holding me hostage and stealing my blood makes me grouchy."
His temper flaring, Hutch waited, wondering why Diana had returned to pester him at all. It hadn't been that long since they had taken the last set of samples. Surely they weren't back for more already. Knowing the need to collect something from him was likely to escalate, Hutch shuddered inwardly at the prospect. For the first time in forever, he found himself thinking he might prefer to face down a syringe full of heroin instead.
Whatever Diana might have thought of his outburst, she appeared outwardly undaunted. And in an odd way, that, too, made sense. Nothing truly inappropriate ever seemed to bother Diana Harmon. It was the appropriate side of life the woman had trouble with. Yet again, Hutch kicked himself for getting involved with the likes of Diana in the first place. It had been one of the biggest missteps of his life - far worse than his relationship with Vanessa.
"Calm down," Diana said bluntly. "You still have a long way to go, Hutch."
Hutch raised an eyebrow as he considered Diana's comment. Remaining quiet instead of arguing deprived her of any immediate feedback. Now that he better understood her motives, Hutch knew this situation was as much about Starsky as it was about him. The insight allowed him to think more objectively. Hutch could not be separated from his devotion to his partner no matter what Diana decided to do. Nor was he going to allow anyone to keep using Starsky in this way. Though his choices were curbed, Hutch vowed he would stop Diana somehow.
Diana continued to study Hutch thoughtfully, her eyes raking across his chest and down his lower torso. Hutch glared back, his arms folded in front of him, unwavering in his own defense. Though he wanted to know what she meant by a long way to go, he was not willing to ask.
"It's too bad things turned out the way they did between us, Hutch," Diana mused, approaching slowly.
Hutch noticed that Diana had changed clothing since their first encounter. Initially, she had worn jeans with a modest blouse tucked in at the waist. Now she was dressed in a flowery summer dress with an attractive low-cut bodice. The change allowed anyone looking at her a generous view of her cleavage.
That isn't going to work, Hutch thought. You're far too unattractive on the inside, Diana.
"No, it isn't," Hutch said instead, answering too readily for Diana's liking. "In view of all that happened, I think it's fair to say we learned we had nothing in common. There was no reason to see each other again."
Angered by Hutch's flippancy, Diana decided to hit back.
"Your partner is working alone nowadays," she began. "It makes him more vulnerable - more prone to making a mistake."
Diana paused to gauge the effect of her words on her captive. Hutch narrowed his eyes before responding.
"What are you trying to say?" Hutch asked.
"Oh, I thought you might appreciate an update on the search efforts of Bay City's finest," Diana said. "You really should be flattered, Hutch. They're working hard to find you. Particularly Starsky - my informant says the man hasn't so much as gone home since the moment you disappeared."
Hutch was quiet as he reflected on the nature of Diana's intentions. It wasn't difficult for him to imagine what Starsky was doing. But an informant?
"You have someone tailing Starsky?" Hutch asked.
Privately, Hutch wondered if he should wish them luck.
"Yes, here and there," Diana admitted. "But Starsky's wearing out, and it's entirely your fault, Hutch."
Hutch listened, wondering what was motivating Diana to have this conversation. If she thought she could worry him by suggesting that Starsky was overworked, she had badly underestimated him. If she was using him to inflict any sort of life-altering revenge on Starsky - well, to borrow her own words, they still had a long way to go. Hutch concluded the woman must think she had significantly more influence on either of them than she did.
"What are you going to do when they find me?" Hutch asked, trying for a diversion. "As you said - they are working hard. Eventually, Starsky will find me."
Hutch half expected Diana to laugh, but she didn't. She looked at him fervently instead as though she had considered the same question. Hutch suppressed the urge to shudder. It was downright creepy how he recognized her voice and not her face.
"He might," Diana admitted, looking newly annoyed. "But I've already warned him it will be too late this time. Everyone has their limits, Hutch. And you only have so much blood."
With that, Diana spun on her heels and headed for the door followed closely by her bodyguards.
Alone again, Hutch stared at the closed door in Diana's absence. Although it was incomplete, Hutch knew the woman had just declared a thinly veiled threat of further harm. Things would escalate soon confirming for Hutch that he had to get away somehow. None of it was going to be pretty.
Chapter 5: The Disclosure
Starsky has a deep, gut-wrenching feeling about his partner's disappearance.
Starsky entered The Pits with Bennett in tow, a busy lunchtime crowd filling the pub with a noisy yet pleasant atmosphere. Starsky caught Huggy's attention as he passed the bar on his way to a booth in the back. Huggy nodded at Starsky and turned to the waitress responsible for that section.
"I'll get this one, Patti," Huggy said. "Keep the glasses full here at the bar. I shouldn't be gone too long."
Starsky settled into his favorite booth feeling both thankful and a little depressed that it was available. The location was a favorite after-work hideout for him and Hutch. They often came here together to shake off the workday or revive themselves at the end of a long case. The food was good, and the atmosphere felt like home if Huggy was around.
If only Hutch was here now, Starsky thought, instantly saddened.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," Huggy said, approaching the men in the booth.
"Hug," Starsky replied, indicating his companion. "I'd like you to meet Phillip Bennett. He's working with me on Hutch's case."
Huggy nodded as he passed out menus.
"I assumed as much," Huggy replied. "And thank you," he said to Bennett.
Huggy became serious as he looked at Starsky.
"Any luck yet?" he asked more softly.
"Some - or at least we're hoping so," Starsky clarified.
Huggy looked at Starsky expectantly, equally anxious for any news of a breakthrough in Hutch's disappearance. Huggy had his own street-wise force out looking for information around the clock. Thus far, the word on the street had turned up nothing, but something would surface soon. Huggy was sure of it.
"We may have a little bit of news, Hug," Starsky began, but we don't have all of the pieces yet. "I thought we'd stop by here and get a bite to eat while we try to sort some stuff out."
"Happy to have you any time, fellas," Huggy said.
Huggy took advantage of the moment to steal a proper look at his friend knowing Starsky had slept little and eaten only occasionally over the last several hours. Outwardly, Starsky looked like he always did to everyone else. Only Huggy, and of course, Hutch, would have noticed the cracks at the edge of the facade.
"I know you won't drink while you're working, Starsk, so let me know what you want and it's yours. That goes for you, too, Officer Bennett. Lunch is on me today."
"That's very generous of you," Bennett said. "Thank you."
"Yeah, thanks, Hug," Starsky added, his smile reaching his eyes. "I'd like my usual cheeseburger and fries minus the beer," Starsky said. "Just bring me a root beer instead."
"That'll work for me, too," Bennett said, smiling pleasantly.
"Coming right up," Huggy said.
Bennett retrieved the briefcase he brought with him, placing it on top of the table. Flipping open the latches, he retrieved the top file for further examination.
"I don't entirely know why," Starsky began. "I just can't explain it, but I have a strong feeling Hutch's situation might be connected to Diana in some way. Or someone she knows maybe? Someone she... I dunno," Starsky finished, exasperated as he rubbed his forehead. "It just feels like there might be somethin' there."
"So do I," Bennett admitted. "And I don't know either of them - not really," he clarified. "I know who Detective Hutchinson is. I know his reputation around the department for strength and fairness with everyone, but I know little else about him. Even so, I'm worried about this Harmon woman from what you've told me. There's a lot to take in here," Bennett added, opening Diana's file.
"She's one of the most dangerous people I've ever run into," Starsky admitted. "Hutch figured that out long before I did."
Huggy returned carrying a tray loaded with fresh cheeseburgers, fries, and root beer for Bennett and Starsky. As the plate settled in front of him, Starsky realized how hungry he really was.
"Eat, my man," Huggy said. "It'll help."
Huggy resisted the urge to add 'Hutch needs you' because Starsky already knew that. Giving Starsky's shoulder a firm squeeze, Huggy left the two detectives alone to discuss business.
Starsky and Bennett reviewed Diana's file together in between bites of cheeseburger. The more Bennett read, the more intrigued he became.
"Starsky, she was ordered to inpatient treatment a little under two years ago," Bennett said. "Her case should have been up for review before now."
Starsky stared at the date of sentencing and realized that Bennett was correct. Feeling guilty, Starsky was at a loss to explain why neither he nor Hutch had brought up Diana's case as the anniversary date for her sentencing approached. It wasn't their direct responsibility to keep track of such specifics - follow-up for inpatient care and progress belonged strictly to the hospital. Still - Starsky realized it was likely that Hutch had given the situation a lot of thought and not said a word to him. The realization was painful.
Starsky and Bennett were almost through eating when Starsky caught sight of Anderson cutting through the crowd.
"Hello, fellas," Anderson said, slipping into the booth next to Bennett. "I have some information that will interest both of you."
Starsky and Bennett waited as the other man hesitated. Taking a deep breath, he gathered his resolve and began.
"Captain Dobey has confirmed with authorities that Diana Harmon was released from inpatient care almost fifteen weeks ago."
As Starsky's eyes widened in dismay, Anderson paused in an effort to allow the other man a chance to absorb the bad news.
"Yeah, it stinks," Anderson added, shaking his head. "Needless to say, Dobey hit the roof. They probably heard the explosion all the way to Sacramento. I don't know exactly what the boss is putting together, but he wants all of us back in his office immediately. From where I was standing a short while ago, I can tell you that almighty hell is about to break loose somewhere."
Starsky locked eyes with Bennett, shock turning to anger as he processed the knowledge that Diana Harmon was not behind bars.
"She couldn't possibly have orchestrated a kidnapping by herself," Starsky said bluntly.
"No, not with a seasoned detective like Hutchinson anyway," Bennett agreed. "And remember, we still don't have any actual evidence - circumstantial or otherwise - that she's involved."
"She's involved," Starsky said flatly. "I can feel it in my gut."
Despite Huggy's offer, Starsky pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet as he stood and tossed it on the table.
"Come on! We've got work to do."
Chapter 6: Desperation
Hutch goes for broke.
Hutch was unsure what time it was. He did not have a watch and there were no visible clocks in his room. Looking outside, he estimated it was somewhere between late afternoon and early evening. Having worked out a rudimentary escape plan in his head, Hutch thought he had a few hours of daylight to play with. If he was going to attempt to get away, it had to be soon. If he waited too long, he might not be able to leave at all - not with Diana and her team returning every few hours for another slice of his body.
Positioned behind the door, Hutch listened for the sound of approaching footsteps. When a key turned in the exterior lock, he poised himself until the door was halfway open before slamming it backward from the inside. The impact struck the bodyguard directly in the forehead, sending him reeling into Diana and toppling them both to the floor. Leaping over the two of them, Hutch ran to the end of the hall and raced down the stairs in search of the quickest way out. Surprised to find the staircase ended in the front foyer, Hutch grabbed for the deadbolt, unlocked it, and quickly escaped through the main entrance. Running across the front porch, he leaped over a flower bed and ran for the edge of the woods.
A lot of shouting and general chaos erupted behind him as Hutch ran. A dog he had not seen or heard previously began barking in earnest. As he passed through the outer edge of the treeline, Hutch felt an instant sense of relief. The heavy branches swallowed him as he ran, shielding and protecting him from whoever might try to follow.
A single gunshot resonated somewhere behind him. Veering to his right, Hutch tapped his ability as a long-distance runner and found a steady pace despite the rocky terrain. He ran until his legs felt rubbery and weak, the trees so dense in most places that he couldn't see more than a few yards ahead. Not wanting to risk a fall or an injury in the middle of nowhere, he pulled himself to a stop and leaned heavily against the trunk of a large tree. Still - Hutch had no idea where he was. His chest heaving, he estimated he had covered between four and five miles before breaking his stride - theoretically far enough to give him a good advantage assuming that no one had been able to follow.
As he struggled to pull air through his lungs, a sudden pain emerged from somewhere deep in his right side. Pressing a hand against the discomfort, Hutch grimaced and tried to keep moving - walking until it eased and he was able to run again. Not knowing if anyone was behind him, he preferred to keep moving. Hutch figured that men built like Diana's goons were generally too muscle-bound to do much running. As long as he'd gotten a headstart, Hutch didn't think they stood a chance of overtaking him.
Working hard to catch his breath, Hutch straightened to his full height and struggled to think more clearly. Peering through the trees, he knew he should look for shelter. If he didn't find something recognizable soon - a road or perhaps a river - he wouldn't be able to make much progress before nightfall. Wandering around in the dark without protection in an area like this was closely akin to suicide. Clad only in jeans and a thin cotton shirt, Hutch knew he was likely facing a long, cold night in the woods.
It still beats hanging out with Diana, Hutch thought, shuddering openly. Oh, man. I'll bet she's pissed by now.
Hutch chuckled, amused by a certain absurdity of the entire situation.
Ah, Starsk, where are you, huh? he thought, rolling his shoulders as he gazed toward the sky. I'm in trouble here, buddy. I need you.
Hutch would have given a lot to see his partner walking toward him through the trees at that moment. Feeling foolish, he then hesitated, scrutinizing the area around him. Wishful thinking nearly blossomed into a full-blown hallucination as he gazed into the distance causing Hutch to wonder if he was becoming delusional. As the trees on the horizon began to sway, he realized that he could not remember the last time he'd had anything to eat or drink. No wonder a hard run through the woods had taken so much out of him. Hair sticking to his wet forehead, Hutch pushed the sweat out of his eyes with a shirtsleeve and tried not to think about his thirst.
It was then he noticed a clearing in the distance. If he could make it to that point, he might have better luck finding a landmark. If nothing helpful materialized, it was time to find shelter for the night. The sun was already low in the sky telling him it would be dark soon enough. Although Hutch didn't know exactly where he was, it was clear he was in a mountainous area. One moment the sun was visible, and the next it could drop completely out of sight.
Reaching the edge of the meadow, Hutch paused for his first one hundred and eighty-degree view of his surroundings. The grasses covering the meadow were tall and lush in every direction - still green despite the heat of late summer. Brushing the landscape with his eyes, he noticed what looked like a small building on the opposite side of the clearing. Half-fearful it was an illusion, Hutch blinked several times and looked again. No, it looked real. Something was definitely there.
A house? Hutch wondered.
The idea of crossing the wide-open meadow left him feeling exposed and vulnerable. Hutch estimated the structure was roughly three hundred yards away - a long way to go without the benefit of any cover. Glancing behind him, he was close to chancing the run when something on the ground caught his attention instead. Looking down caused his heart rate to quicken and his breath to catch in his throat.
The largest bear paw print Hutch had ever seen was etched in the mud next to his own foot. One more step and he'd have been standing right on top of it.
Bears? Where the hell am I?
Glancing in all directions, Hutch saw no other sign of a bear. What he could see of the tracks disappeared quickly in the meadowgrass leaving him unsure which direction the bruin had traveled. Despite his experience as an outdoorsman, Hutch was in no shape to track much less encounter a bear in the wild. Climbing a tree was not a good idea as bears could climb, too. His best hope for immediate shelter was the building in the distance.
The ground beneath his feet had turned noticeably wet and muddy telling Hutch that he had reached the edge of some sort of wetland. As he studied the change in the terrain, Hutch noticed an inch or so of muddy water had accumulated over his shoes in the short amount of time he had been standing there. He would have to go north or south to find the drier, more passable ground.
Gazing south, he noticed the greenery of the field grasses intensified sharply in that direction. The trees were also thicker, hinting at a better water supply. Still struggling to regain control of his breathing, he fumbled for the favorite gold chain he so often wore beneath his clothing. Remembering it was gone sent a new wave of frustration rocketing through his self-control. Exasperated, Hutch fought back the tears that threatened his last shred of composure.
Backtracking away from the wet ground, Hutch opted to go north. Finding his running legs, he traveled parallel to the marsh and was rewarded in a few hundred yards - roughly a quarter of a mile from where he had sighted the original bear track. Peering into the distance, he could see the lone building through a scattering of evergreen trees. Taking a final look around, Hutch set his sights on the structure in the distance and broke into a run. Nearing exhaustion and dehydration, adrenaline was a powerful and necessary advocate. Hutch was a strong runner - his ability for endurance carried him across the final stretches of open land. As he advanced on the wooden structure, Hutch prayed he had not misjudged the distance.
Reaching the shack, he bounded across the porch and grabbed for the doorknob. To his complete amazement, the handle turned and opened easily. Gasping in relief, Hutch tumbled inside and slammed the door closed behind him. Feeling for a lock, he located an old-fashioned bolt mechanism and hefted it into place. Utterly spent, Hutch collapsed against the inside of the door as the sound of an agitated animal erupted from somewhere in the grasslands outside.
"Oh shit," Hutch muttered, resting his forehead against the door.
His leg muscles quivering, Hutch tried to hold still as he listened to the disruption outside. Obviously, his near encounter with a potentially vicious predator had been much closer than he had thought. Once inside the safety of the four-walled structure, the fear Hutch carried with him as he ran bubbled to the surface of his emotions. Without his gun for security, Hutch was far more vulnerable in every way - a feeling he likewise detested. He also didn't have Starsky, a loss he felt most of all.
Gathering what was left of his composure, Hutch pushed himself away from the door for a better look at his whereabouts. From what he could see, it appeared he had stumbled across some sort of hunting cabin. The walls were decorated with a few trophy bucks - a large fireplace covered most of one wall. Looking to his right, he noticed the outline of a modest kitchenette complete with a sink and a mini-refrigerator. Bolting for the sink, Hutch tried the pump handle and was delighted to see water pour from the faucet. Cupping his hands, he drank several gulps of cold water to quench his thirst. Fumbling through a nearby cupboard, he located a metal cup and was able to drink his fill.
Tossing the cup into the sink, Hutch wiped his mouth and leaned against the counter for support. As the water partially revived him, Hutch listened for more commotion outside. Hearing nothing, he hoped the bear had grown disinterested and wandered away. That was possible, although Hutch knew the lack of noise was hardly a guarantee the bear had left. There were plenty of reasons a large predator would be angered by his presence. For the first time, Hutch wondered if he had inadvertently strayed too close to a fresh kill. Bears were profoundly territorial when it came to their food sources. If that was the case, leaving the cabin was destined to be as dangerous as getting there had been in the first place. The bear would hover nearby, protecting the kill until it was gone.
Pushing away from the counter, Hutch gathered his senses and proceeded to look around. The sun was close to setting. Circumstances being what they were, it seemed likely he'd be here overnight. Since the door was unlocked when he arrived, Hutch worried that he had inadvertently locked someone else out. After a better look around the single-room cabin, Hutch decided that no one had been here in a long, long time.
But why wasn't the door locked? Hutch wondered, puzzled.
Having no good answer, he accepted the fact at face value and moved on.
A small two-person table was positioned under the window near the kitchen. Frowning, Hutch leaned across it to examine the glass finding it to be double-paned and extra heavy duty.
Well, someone knows what it's like to live in bear country, Hutch thought.
Hutch scanned the room for any sign of light switches before spotting one on the far side of the room. Knowing he was off the grid, Hutch concluded there must be a generator around somewhere. If so, he hoped it was inside the cabin as looking for it elsewhere was not a good option right now. Either way, he didn't want to switch on a light. Illuminating the cabin in the middle of he-didn't-know-where was not the best idea at the moment.
Figure it out, Hutchinson, he chastised himself. It'll be completely dark soon.
Deciding he would start in the kitchenette, Hutch began searching through the cupboards, hoping to find a flashlight or a battery-powered lantern. He soon located a large, sturdy-handled flashlight, followed by two smaller versions. All three worked when he tried them. Pleased, Hutch noted an unopened package of batteries in one corner of the drawer. Whoever owned the cabin was in the habit of being prepared.
The rest of the room was sparsely furnished with a ladder in one corner that extended to an upper loft. Walking to the bottom of the make-shift staircase, Hutch gazed at what he could see of the area overhead. Scaling the rungs of the ladder, he emerged in the loft to find a modest-sized bed in one corner complete with bedding and pillows.
Things just keep getting better."
A small dresser was positioned against one wall - a wooden, high-backed chair sat available nearby. The loft had a small window on one side framed by a set of simple, homemade curtains. All in all, Hutch found himself comforted by the interior of the cabin. It was a far better option than a long night in the woods with an angry bear stalking around - all fine as long as Diana and her security team didn't show up. Hutch did not think that was likely, but he couldn't rule it out. In the interim, he might have to decide if he could attempt to leave the cabin before dawn.
One disaster at a time, Hutch cautioned himself.
With his stomach starting to churn, Hutch descended the ladder with the intent of finding something to eat. His earlier foray in the kitchen had turned up nothing, but he had not been looking for food when he found the flashlights. A quick check of the mini-refrigerator revealed it was turned off and empty - something he found oddly comforting. It helped convince him that no one had planned to return to the cabin any time soon.
On a high shelf, Hutch found two cans of unopened soup - not especially palatable without heating it up, but it was something he could eat if necessary. He knew Starsky might kill him before Diana had a chance if his partner found him with another can of room-temperature soup in his hands.
Just another version of the same game, huh Starsky? Hutch thought.
The smile the memory should have generated was a little hard to find. Knowing he was no longer in Bay City also complicated everything. Starsky was the best cop he'd ever known. If his partner couldn't find him, no one else could either.
Opening the last cupboard, Hutch noticed a box of saltines at the back of the shelf. Grabbing for them, he ripped into the first sleeve of crackers. They were stale but good enough for Hutch at the moment. Despite his hunger, he could not bring himself to face the cans of soup. If he grew more desperate, at least he knew they were there.
Noticing it was nearly sunset, Hutch held the box of crackers in one hand as he foraged for something else edible. Persistence paid off when he discovered an abandoned candy bar in the back of the last drawer. Gathering his snacks, Hutch took a final look around before ascending the ladder. He felt safer in the loft. Whoever might be hunting him would not have the element of surprise as long as he remained upstairs.
Chapter 7: Convergence
The circle tightens around Hutch's abductors.
Starsky burst through the squad room door followed closely by Bennett and Anderson. Knocking only once, Starsky opened Dobey's door to find the man was still on the phone. Waving them in, Dobey continued to jot down notes on a yellow legal pad.
"And when was this?" Dobey asked.
The frown on the Captain's face seemed to deepen as he wrote.
"I see," Dobey commented, glancing at Starsky. "Yes, send me a copy of that right away. We have enough for a warrant without it, but we'll need it eventually. Thank you."
Dobey hung up the phone and gathered his composure.
"Sit down, gentlemen," Dobey said. "We have a lot of ground to cover and a short time to do it."
As the other men settled into chairs in front of his desk, Dobey pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the perspiration on his face. Looking up, he addressed Starsky directly.
"I suppose you've heard," Dobey said, holding Starsky's gaze.
"Yeah, Captain," Starsky answered. "Anderson told us. Captain, how could this..."
"I have as many questions as you do, Starsky. But without wasting more time, I say let's get started on what we do know."
Dobey held up a paper on which he had scribbled down an address.
"I had Minnie run a scan on property records associated with the name Diana Harmon just in case something turned up. Lo and behold - the property at this address was recently recorded under a trust vs the name of an individual. When a property is placed in a trust, the primary owner's name is not readily available to the general public. However, law enforcement is able to see that information.
Starsky took the paper from Dobey and studied the address.
"This place is in the next county," Starsky commented. "Not all that far, but it's a couple of hour's drive or so."
"That's right," Dobey commented. "Judge Bishop has agreed to issue a warrant allowing us to search the property and the surrounding area. His office will notify me when it's ready which should be any minute. In the interim, I've notified Sheriff Jacobs in San Bernadino County of the situation. The sheriff will meet us there with backup that will include a canine unit. If Hutch is out there, Starsky, the dogs will find him."
Starsky pounded the chair with his fist and leaped to his feet.
"Yes! I knew Harmon was at the bottom of this somehow!"
"I think so, too," Dobey admitted. "If it turns out we're both wrong - well, we're just wrong. We'll know for sure before too long."
The smile Starsky gave his Captain conveyed everything for which he had no words.
"Thanks, Cap," Starsky said. Privately, he prayed they were not too late already.
"And one other thing, Starsky," Dobey said. "We need something that belonged to Hutch - an article of clothing perhaps - something the canine officers can use to put the dogs on Hutch's scent. Is there anything here in the office or perhaps in the Torino that belonged to him?"
"His jacket is still hanging on his chair," Starsky said. "It's leather - should hold a scent really well."
"Perfect," Dobey said. "Make sure you take it with you. Throw in anything else you can think of that might help - something off his desk maybe? Bennett, you ride with Starsky," Dobey ordered. "Anderson, you're coming with me."
"With you, Captain?" Starsky asked. "Hell yes!" Dobey answered. "You don't think I'm gonna sit around here if there's a chance we can find my detective, do you?"
A warrant arrived in Dobey's office ten minutes later granting the San Bernadino County Sheriff, in conjunction with the BCPD, permission to conduct a general search of Diana Harmon's property. Warrant in hand, Starsky and Bennett hit the highway with Dobey and Anderson following closely behind.
Running with full lights and sirens, the Bay City squad moved together as a skilled unit. Cutting a path through the heavy traffic, they arrived at a pre-arranged destination in San Bernadino county in a little under an hour. Several county cars were already assembled and waiting for them when Starsky climbed out of the Torino. Impressed, he watched as Sheriff Jacobs greeted Captain Dobey.
"Harold," the sheriff said, smiling as he extended his hand.
"Hello, Don," Dobey replied. "I'm always pleased to see you, but I do wish it was under different circumstances."
"I understand," Jacobs said, returning to the business at hand.
The sheriff surveyed the men in uniform lined up behind him. Starsky noticed the face of a German Shepherd was visible through the back window of two different squad cars.
"As you can see, we're ready," Jacobs said. "I'd prefer to get within a quarter-mile or so of the house before we vacate the cars. We'll jump out with the dogs at that point and go the rest of the way on foot."
"Sounds good," Dobey agreed. "My men and I will follow you in."
On a whim, Dobey asked the sheriff if he was familiar with the layout of the property.
"As a matter of fact, I am," Jacobs said. "Nothing good ever seems to go down out here. It's not just me either. Most of my men are familiar with this particular address."
Dobey's eyebrows lifted in unison at Jacobs' admission causing the older man to glance at Starsky. On a hunch, Dobey had prepared a rough map of the house and the surrounding area from county records before leaving the squad room. Knowing the sheriff and his officers had a working knowledge of the property would be extremely useful.
"That good, huh?" Dobey asked, returning his attention to Jacobs.
"Yep, that good," Jacobs echoed. "Just follow me up the road a bit. You'll see where I plan to pull over."
Retreating to their cars, Dobey turned to Starsky and directed him to take the lead during the final stretch of the drive.
"Whatever happens, Starsky, I want you and Bennett on the front line when Jacobs serves the warrant. Don't worry - the rest of us will be right behind you."
Starsky nodded as he climbed in, positioning the Torino behind the sheriff's car, more than eager to get the operation moving. While Starsky was acquainted with Sheriff Jacobs, he didn't know the man personally. Thus far he was impressed by the sheriff's no-nonsense attitude. If Hutch's fate was resting in their hands, he was grateful that Sheriff Jacobs was in charge.
The squad cars fell into a single file as they pulled out, Sheriff Jacobs leading with Starsky and Bennett close on their tail. A short drive later, the sheriff pulled over and cut the engine. Joining Starsky and Bennett outside of their vehicles, Jacobs felt for the weapon on his hip and readied himself for the sometimes dangerous process of serving a warrant.
"This is as far as we go with the cars," Jacobs said. "Don't worry, the dogs are well-trained. They won't give us away before we're ready."
Starsky had wondered how the dogs would be handled. One of the deputies had Hutch's jacket draped across his shoulder, explaining earlier why he would not introduce the garment to the dogs until after the warrant had been served.
Jacobs glanced at his deputies - ten men and two canines in all excluding himself - plus the men in plainclothes from Bay City. He thought they were a rather impressive-looking group overall.
"Ready?" Jacobs asked, locking eyes with Dobey.
"I'm beyond ready, Sir," Starsky answered instead.
Jacobs acknowledged the dark-haired detective with a nod and a faint smile.
"Well, let's go then," Jacobs said.
Starsky and Jacobs took the lead with the remainder of the group falling in line behind them. The dogs were full of energy and eager to work, pulling at their leashes and searching the ground for a host of new odors. Anxiety and adrenaline were building in Starsky, his own psyche preparing him for the possibility they might find Hutch injured or worse. Should it turn out to be the latter, Starsky was not sure he could control himself.
Leaving the public road, they arrived at a long and winding driveway. A large log home became visible at the end of the pavement approximately a hundred yards in the distance. Starsky was surprised by the sheer opulence of the place. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to build a beautiful log home this far from the city.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Jacobs commented.
"It sure is," Starsky answered, his eyes sweeping the windows for any sign of movement.
If Hutch was in there, it could take a while to find him. The sheer size of the place meant there were too many nooks and crannies to cover quickly. Yet again, Starsky was thankful to have the use of the canine unit.
"I'll ring the doorbell and we'll start this party out nice and friendly," Jacobs explained as they walked. "If someone answers the door and lets us in - wonderful. If not, we'll let ourselves in. No way of knowing how it will go until it happens. I'm sure you know that, Detective Starsky."
"I do," Starsky replied. "I'd like to think whoever answers the door is feeling friendly today. If not, I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to find Hutch."
It was easy to read the determination on Starsky's face.
"You're sure this Harmon woman knows something about your partner's disappearance, aren't you?" Jacobs asked.
"I am," Starsky answered, his jaw set firmly.
"Alright," Jacobs answered. "Let's go find out."
Arriving at the front door, Jacobs reached for the doorbell and stepped back. After waiting a few moments, he was about to ring again when the door cracked open to reveal a large man in a dark blue jogging suit staring back at him from the other side.
"Sheriff's office," Jacobs said, flashing his badge. "Is this the Diana Harmon residence?"
The man behind the door seemed dumbfounded by the presence of so many law enforcement personnel.
"It might be," the man said timidly.
"Is she home?" Jacobs persisted.
"No!" the man answered, slamming the door shut.
Lifting one eyebrow, Jacobs turned to Starsky and sighed.
"Allow me," Starsky said, unholstering the Beretta.
"Police!" Starsky announced, pounding his fist on the door.
When no one returned to open the door, the sheriff and his entourage watched as Starsky fired two slugs into the fancy brass doorknob. As the hardware splintered into fragments and dropped to the ground, Starsky raised one leg and kicked in the front door.
All hell erupted inside the house as the front door flew open. Two individuals were seen fleeing toward the back of the house spurring four of Jacob's deputies to turn and run for the exterior rear entrance. The canine officers held back as the remainder of the officers poured into the house. It was never a good idea to release the dogs in the middle of too much action as they were not here to chase down or apprehend a suspect. They were here to find a missing person.
Turning to the dogs, the deputy knelt and offered them Hutch's jacket. Absorbing the man's personal scent, the animals worked furiously, eager to learn and memorize their target. Commanding their attention, the officer gave the signal to track and released the dogs into the house. Noses to the ground, they were quick to locate Hutch's trail just inside the front door before pursuing his scent up the staircase and down the hallway.
Starsky focussed on the canine unit as they entered the house. If the dogs were able to scent a trail, it confirmed that Hutch had been here. Assuming Jacobs and his men would handle whatever they encountered from the occupants of the house, Starsky left them to their own devices and stuck with the canine unit.
His heart pounding, Starsky watched as the dogs followed Hutch's scent about halfway down the hall before turning into one of the bedrooms. Undeterred, they followed the trail in multiple circles around the room before leaping on the bed. Looking pleased, both dogs planted their haunches on the bed and awaited their reward.
"Well, Hutch was definitely here," the deputy concluded, looking at Starsky.
Bennett entered the room with Dobey and Anderson, Bennett moving into the bathroom to search behind the shower curtain. Starsky stared at the rumpled bedspread where someone had obviously been sitting at one time. Looking closer, he noticed several drops of dried blood dotting the surface of the coverlet.
"Ok," Starsky said out loud, thinking hard. "If Hutch was here, there has to be another trail somewhere."
The deputy agreed.
"Yes, essentially. If he's not in this room, we need to go back to the area where the dogs first picked up his scent and start over."
"The bottom of the stairs?" Starsky asked.
"Yes," the deputy said. "And Starsky - as much of a trail as there seems to be here, I think your partner is on his feet."
Not understanding, Starsky stared at the deputy for clarification.
"I think he's able to walk around," the deputy clarified. "People who have to be carried out of a room don't leave this much evidence behind."
Comprehending at last what the deputy was saying, Starsky was thankful for the insight but compelled to turn away as his eyes grew misty.
"Let's get back down there then," Starsky said. "We have to find him."
After tossing a treat to the dogs, the deputies presented them with Hutch's jacket and gave the command to track. Thrumming with excitement, the dogs raced out of the room, down the hall, and back to the foot of the stairs. Not stopping at the damaged door, they ran through the threshold and across the front porch following Hutch's scent away from the house to the edge of the woods. It was there the deputies pulled the dogs to a stop.
"Looks like he went into the woods," the deputy said, turning to the men from Bay City. "He may not have gone far, or he might have traveled for miles. No way to know until we track him."
The sound of gunfire caused Starsky to tighten his hold on his weapon. When Sheriff Jacobs walked calmly around the corner accompanied by Dobey, only then did Starsky allow himself to relax.
"Any luck?" Jacobs asked as he approached.
"Hutchinson was here," the deputy said. "But he isn't now," he added, nodding toward the woods.
The officer turned to address Starsky.
"Once we enter the woods, it's a completely different situation. We have no way of knowing how far we need to go or how long it will take. We all have to be prepared for that."
"Hutch went in there, didn't he?" Starsky asked.
"It looks that way," the deputy conceded.
"Well, I'm going after him," Starsky announced. "It doesn't matter how long it takes."
"And so are we," Jacobs added. "Go ahead," the sheriff ordered, addressing his deputies directly. "Stay with it until you find him. We'll handle things here."
Dobey turned to face Starsky.
"Jacobs can arrange for an air search depending on what you find first," Dobey explained. "You stick with the canine unit - we'll follow you at some point. Now get going!"
Chapter 8: The Pursuit
Starsky and the search team follow Hutch into the woods.
Starsky watched as Deputy Ames worked the dogs back and forth through an area densely covered in pine needles, retracing their steps in a methodical fashion as they searched for a singular, elusive scent. Hutch's trail had been consistent until they reached a large, marshy area where the dogs lost the scent in the wet and murky terrain.
"Hey," Starsky called out.
The deputy glanced at Starsky.
"What's your name anyway?" Starsky asked. "I can't read your ID from here."
The other man smiled as he continued to work.
"Ames," he called out. "Dustin Ames. My partner over there is Greg Simpson."
"Pleased to meet ya both," Starsky said. "I'm sorry I forgot to look or ask before now."
The search party had been following Hutch for a little more than two hours when they encountered what turned out to be a good-sized marsh. Not knowing how far the wetland extended in each direction made finding the perimeter a more daunting task. Despite a general familiarity with the area, Ames had never seen the bog this extensive due in part to a lot of recent and heavy rainfall.
"Don't worry. We'll figure out where Hutchinson took a detour," Ames said, glancing at Starsky. "He didn't stay here, and he didn't go back," the man added. "That means he went around it somewhere - most likely wherever it looked easiest."
Starsky nodded as he struggled to keep a lid on his frustration. He knew the other men were doing all they could.
"Hey Ames," Starsky said. "I don't know what kind of shape Hutch is in now, but he's a smart guy - conditioned, very fit, an experienced outdoorsman from northern Minnesota. What I'm saying is he has survival skills. When the two of us go camping, the man takes care of me in the woods."
Ames nodded and listened.
"When Hutch encountered this area, it probably didn't take him long to figure out how to get around it. I'm just sayin' think of him differently than your average citizen who's lost in the woods. Does that help at all?"
"It just might," Ames said. "The other issue is we don't have a lot of time before we lose the daylight."
"I'm not turning back," Starsky warned.
"And neither are we," Ames countered. "However, I'm worried this isn't the only wetland we might run into. If they have the scent, the dogs can track after dark as well as before. Should we lose the trail near a marsh, it can take much longer to find it."
"Hutch wouldn't have tried to walk through this stuff, would he?" Starsky asked, gazing across the marsh.
Ames shook his head.
"No - not if he's the woodsman you say he is. Anyone who tried to cut through here would have to turn around soon enough."
Ames began to move in a northerly direction with the dog as he inspected the edge of the wetland. Simpson followed with his own dog, Hutch's jacket still draped over one shoulder. Starsky was about to say something else when Ames' dog began running in small circles, nose to the ground and whining. Ames ran behind his canine partner, immediately rewarding him for his good work.
"You got it, buddy?" Ames shouted. "You got it? Good boy!"
Ames turned and yelled at Starsky.
"He's got it!"
Starsky's heart leaped with gratitude as the dogs pulled ahead, yanking hard on their leashes in their search for Hutch. Starsky rushed to catch up with Ames.
"I wanna fire a few more rounds in the air as we go," Starsky warned. "Can you pause every hundred yards or so and I'll try again?"
"Yep, that works," Ames agreed. "I have some emergency flares we can use also. It's best to save those until after dark."
Starsky trotted alongside Ames as the dogs led them away from the marsh and deeper into the woods. Although Starsky was elated to know they had relocated Hutch's trail, it worried him they had already traveled so far.
Where are you goin', Hutch, huh? Starsky wondered. And why are you runnin' so hard?
The temperature inside the cabin had dropped noticeably after dark. Hutch's sweat-soaked clothing stuck to his skin in large patches and dried causing him to shiver as the air around him began to cool. Reaching for one of the extra blankets, Hutch wrapped it around his shoulders and tried to stay warm. The additional layer helped, but it did not stop his shivering entirely.
Without the benefit of a watch or a clock, Hutch still had to guess at the time. He estimated the sun had been down for approximately two hours. If he was right, it would also be up again in another five to six. It wasn't a terribly long time to fight for survival - not in Hutch's opinion anyway. Having rescued himself from a potentially lethal bear encounter, his biggest worry was how to avoid Diana's security team.
Maybe the bear can run interference for me, Hutch thought, smirking at the conjectured image in his head. Yeah," he thought. I'd actually enjoy seeing that.
Tightening the blanket around him, Hutch leaned against the wall and thought about his partner. He knew Starsky was looking for him - but how could he know where to start? Hutch licked his dry lips and tried to envision what he would be doing if the situation was reversed. The reality was he didn't know. There was too much to dissect that Hutch knew nothing about. One moment he'd been using the urinal and minding his own business - the next he woke up in a room he didn't recognize. He wasn't sure how Diana had managed to leave the psychiatric hospital, let alone orchestrate a kidnapping. Once he got out of this, Hutch figured he had a lot to catch up on.
That's IF you get out of this, Hutchinson, his sub-conscience reminded him.
Sleepy and nearing exhaustion, Hutch allowed his eyes to close as he lowered himself onto the mattress - resigned to waiting out the night before he could do much else. Though his body screamed for relief, his mind refused to be quiet. He laid there instead, partially awake, with a passel of ideas churning through his mind. Eventually, he succumbed to the fatigue, falling asleep almost against his will. Hutch awoke a short time later, uncertain what had awakened him. Momentarily confused, he stared at the darkness and tried to remember where he was. It was the distinct sound of wood splintering into pieces that brought him fully awake and back to a sitting position.
Listening carefully, Hutch determined the noise was coming from somewhere outside the cabin. Relieved, he listened as the sound continued intermittently. Reaching for the flashlight he had stashed within reach, Hutch scooted off the bed and crept to the edge of the loft. Flashlight in hand, he listened intently.
When the noise resumed, Hutch thought it was coming from somewhere near the front door. Not wanting to use the light just yet, he reached for the ladder and carefully descended to the main floor. Approaching the door, Hutch was reassured to see it was still securely locked. After pressing an ear to the interior side, Hutch thought he understood what was making the noise.
Creeping to the window above the table, Hutch peeked through the glass and confirmed his suspicion. In the middle of the front porch stood an enormous brown bear intent on ripping apart the wooden planks for whatever was hiding underneath.
Jesus, Hutch thought, startled by the image on the other side of the wall. It must have tracked me to the cabin.
Using the flashlight would draw attention to himself. Thinking furiously, Hutch moved away from the window and glanced around the kitchenette for something to bang together. Selecting two metal pans from a shelf, Hutch tiptoed back to the door and prepared to make a lot of noise. Gathering his nerve, he let loose on the inside of the door with the cookware while yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Get outta here, bear!" Hutch yelled, banging the metal pans together.
Trotting back to the window, Hutch peered outside to see the bear had left the porch but was standing on his hind legs facing the cabin only a few yards away. Returning to the door, Hutch produced another round of obnoxious racket. When he checked again, the bear was gone.
Damned thing might be gone for now, but he'll probably be back, Hutch thought grimly.
Feeling suddenly weary, Hutch saw no reason to remain on the main floor. Leaving the pans on the table, he scaled the ladder and returned to his corner of the loft. Pausing at the upper window, Hutch studied what he could see of the meadow at night time. The moon was high in the sky and mostly full making it easier to see. Current circumstances aside, Hutch was always in awe of a full summer moon. If things were different, he would much rather be camping than stuck inside an otherwise decent cabin with seemingly half the known world intent on hunting him down. Sleeping under the stars and eating fresh trout for breakfast was one of Hutch's favorite vacation options.
Vacation, Hutch thought idly. What an odd concept if you really can't go anywhere.
Without his music, guitar, or his plants - never mind his partner - Hutch realized he was having a hard time enjoying much of anything. Maybe it was the hunger, or maybe he was worse off than he thought.
So is this where things end after all? Hutch wondered. I can hold out for a while, but there isn't much to eat here.
Hutch rested his forehead against the glass and allowed himself to remember a few long-ago dreams.
To protect and serve,"Hutch thought, his throat tightening at the memories. It was all I ever wanted to do.
Hutch laid the flashlight on the floor and retreated to the corner of the bed. As hard as it was to sleep, it was almost impossible to do anything else until daylight. Retrieving another blanket, Hutch thought about how much he longed to talk to Starsky. Whether bouncing ideas off the other man's intellect or drawing strength from his confidence, Starsky could always make things better.
Hutch tried to hang on to a shred of positivity before the urge to sleep became overwhelming.
Chapter 9: A Shot in the Dark
Starsky pushes onward to save his partner.
Starsky paused to fire two more rounds high in the air. The search party waited in unison, listening and hoping for a response. There was nothing.
"Damn it, Hutch, where are you?" Starsky muttered.
Nodding at Ames, the other man acknowledged Starsky by allowing the dogs to continue the search. Although Ames had assured him they would continue to track Hutch into the night, they had almost run out of daylight. Starsky had hoped to find Hutch well before now. As the hours of searching turned into more hours, Starsky was growing more worried.
Starsky's thoughts drifted to the last time he had seen his partner nearly three days ago. When they met for lunch on the day he disappeared, Hutch had been in a particularly good mood. After several weeks of hard work, they were close to wrapping up a gambling ring that was heavily involved in animal cruelty. Dogfighting was a particularly nasty business in Hutch's opinion - cruel to those involved as well as the animals. He and Starsky had spent weeks infiltrating the inner circle of the operation. The final piece of justice had been the court date that Hutch had not shown up for. Although his partner's absence could be viewed as suspicious by outsiders, Starsky had never believed the two situations were directly related.
Additionally, Starsky had never been involved in trailing anyone as far as they had already tracked Hutch. Outdoor search and rescue was something he had done, but not to this extent. By the time BCPD was called in for assistance, the location of someone who needed assistance was likely already known. What Starsky was doing now was closer to trekking through the jungles of Viet Nam minus the jungle than routine police work. There was no Viet Cong here - just a harsh, sometimes unfriendly environment of a different kind that could swallow a man whole if the circumstances were right. Starsky knew that Hutch could handle himself in the woods. What he didn't understand was what on earth was driving the man so far into the backcountry. If Hutch was hurt, why couldn't they find him by now? It was almost as if he was hiding from the search party as much as the house full of hoodlums they had arrested back at Diana's property.
Noticing that Ames had paused, Starsky took the hint and fired again at the sky. When no response was forthcoming, the search team moved on. Twenty minutes later the sun was partially obscured behind the nearest peak causing Ames to halt for a discussion.
"Ok, we have to stay close together in the dark. The flashlights we're carrying are powerful, but it isn't the same as traveling in daylight."
Starsky nodded, still lost in his personal thoughts of his partner.
"This is a good spot to rest for a few minutes while we water the dogs. Take advantage of it, Starsky, if you can."
Starsky was sure that Ames and Simpson could sense his mounting frustration. He was also sure they both understood. Until they found Hutch, there was little the other men could offer that could assuage Starsky's growing concern.
"I don't understand how Hutch is still on his feet," Starsky said, looking at Ames.
"I don't either," Ames admitted. "The distance he's covered between here and the Harmon house tells me he's made of uncommon stuff."
Starsky smiled at Ames' apt description of his best friend.
"Now you understand who we're looking for, Ames," Starsky said, reflecting the deputy's words. "He certainly is."
Hutch was startled awake, unsure what had aroused him from an otherwise light sleep. Shivering against the cold, he was reaching for the blanket when he heard a new sound - something starkly out of place in the middle of the woods. Sitting up, he listened and waited to hear it again.
Boom! There it was again!
Hutch leaped out of bed and ran to the window, quickly throwing open the pane and leaning partway out. Hutch knew what he had heard. The distant sound of gunfire was still resonating through the trees. Hutch was on the verge of calling out when he caught himself midway instead. Reacting too soon could be dangerous as he had no way of knowing who was doing the shooting. It was possible that Diana and her entourage could have run afoul of law enforcement, or perhaps the whole lot of them had turned on each other in a final fit of disintegration. Hutch thought either scenario was possible.
Grabbing the flashlight, he ran to the ladder and quickly descended to the main floor. Running for the front door, Hutch listened but heard nothing more. Moving to the window, he scanned the front porch for any sign of the five hundred pound bruin that had been tearing the boardwalk apart hours earlier. Thankfully, there was no sign of the bear.
Hutch returned to the front door and struggled to make a sensible decision. Now that he knew someone else was out there, the only question was who were they? If he left the relative safety of the cabin, Hutch was vulnerable to the bear as well as whoever was packing the weapons. If they were friendly, in all likelihood he could consider himself rescued. If they were not, the situation could easily turn fatal. Hutch worried that Diana might try to lure him away from the cabin by dangling the hope of rescue in front of him. The woman was nothing if not ruthless. Of that much, Hutch was certain.
He wandered back to the window to gaze through the glass. The shots were too far away to be certain where they'd come from. Hutch knew there was no sense in going anywhere if he didn't hear any more gunshots.
Waiting in the stillness, Hutch's thoughts returned to his partner. Was it possible that Starsky had managed to trail him after all? Hutch cautioned himself against too much enthusiasm for something too wild to be plausible. Still - Hutch knew his partner well. If Starsky had a shred of evidence to work with, the man would be merciless until all possibilities were exhausted.
Hutch was gazing at the floor when the gunfire erupted again. This time, it was also much closer. Instantly alert, Hutch turned to the door, withdrew the lock, and cracked the door to hear better. He didn't have long to wait. The distinctive echo of his partner's Beretta soon reverberated overhead through the trees.
"Starsk," Hutch whispered, relief washing over him.
Peering intently across the darkened meadow, Hutch narrowed his eyes as he searched for any kind of movement. Estimating the shot was about a half-mile away, Hutch made a sudden and steadfast decision. Feeling invigorated, he took a last look around and bolted from the cabin, quickly breaking into a full-blown run.
"Starsky!" Hutch yelled, racing for the opposite side of the meadow. "Starsky!"
Tired and sore, Hutch's muscles were resistant to the prospect of another hard run, but his mind had other ideas. Ignoring the stiffness, he pushed through the discomfort and found a workable stride.
The moonlight allowed him to see well past the treeline. Remembering the location where he'd first entered the meadow, Hutch targeted the same area in an effort to retrace his earlier path as much as possible. As he neared the edge of the grasslands, a brilliant white light rocketed skyward, illuminating the sky as well as the ground beneath it. Hutch slowed to a stop to follow the arc of the flare with his eyes.
"Starsky!" Hutch yelled.
Another shot from the Beretta followed the flare.
He's closer now, Hutch thought, his hope soaring.
Suddenly aware that he'd been standing in one place too long, Hutch threw a nervous glance over his shoulder and re-entered the woods.
Starsky was preparing to fire another round when something in the distance caught his attention. Barely audible, he wasn't sure it was real. Pausing to listen again, Starsky wondered if the sound could have been a voice.
"Did you hear that?" Starsky asked, turning to the deputies.
"Yeah, I thought I heard something," Ames admitted.
Waiting and listening, Starsky pointed the Beretta toward the sky and fired again. He was thinking about lighting another flare when Starsky heard what he had been waiting for all night. Someone in the distance was calling to him - shouting his name, and this time he did hear it. At that moment, Starsky knew they had found Hutch.
"Hutch!" Starsky shouted back.
Whirling to face Ames, Starsky exclaimed, "My God, that's him! It's Hutch!"
Both dogs were suddenly quite agitated, whining and pulling at their leashes. Pointing the flashlight out in front of them, Ames turned to Starsky and nodded.
"I'm about to give them more running room," Ames warned. "It might be hard to keep up as they get more excited."
"Don't worry about me!" Starsky shot back. "Just find Hutch!"
Loosening the harnesses, Ames quickly spotlighted the dogs as Simpson fell in line behind him. Starsky followed, his heart thumping wildly at the prospect of finding his partner.
The ground was covered in a thick layer of pine needles making any type of foot traffic treacherous. While both deputies were clad in heavy, outdoor-like boots, Starsky was still in his Adidas. Slipping and falling once already, Starsky swore under his breath, brushed off the sting, and kept going. It was going to take a lot more than pine needles to keep him away from Hutch.
Plunging ahead in the darkness, it was difficult to keep up with the dogs on the rocky, uphill terrain. His own leg muscles burning from the strain, Starsky was thankful when Ames brought the dogs to a sudden halt. They had reached the pinnacle of a tall hill which allowed for a less obstructed view in all directions. Without a trace of cloud cover to interfere, the moonlight covered the treetops in a soft, pale light that extended into the surrounding grasslands. While working to catch his breath, Starsky was struck by the pure, raw beauty of the entire area.
The dogs were noticeably captivated by an area near the base of a large conifer. Whining and pawing at the dirt around the tree, Ames went to inspect what they had found.
"He was likely right here at some point alright," Ames said, glancing at Starsky. "Probably stopped to rest against this tree for a while."
Starsky moved to stand next to Ames, his eyes combing the ground for any additional clue.
"The dogs are excited because the scent is so heavy in this spot. Could be sweat - could be blood, too, although I don't see any evidence of that."
Starsky took a deep breath and walked to the edge of the treeline, his eyes canvassing the area for any trace of his partner. Moving mostly on instinct, he turned the Beretta skyward and fired another round.
"Hutch!" Starsky yelled.
As his eyes turned north, Starsky caught sight of movement in the shadows too far away to see clearly. The effort straining his vision, he fired yet again and waited.
"Hutch!" Starsky called out.
It was then he heard it - a weak, yet clear response.
"Starsky!" echoed the voice.
Starsky watched, enthralled as the outline of a familiar form emerged in the distance - hesitant, stumbling, and erratic. Grappling for support from the nearest tree, Hutch faltered and dropped to his knees instead.
Chapter 10: The Rescue
Starsky finds Hutch.
Hutch sank to the ground, his leg muscles no longer able to support him. The skin of one palm tore open as he fell - sliced through by the thick, rough bark of a sugar pine tree. Struggling to pull air through his lungs, Hutch folded his arms across his abdomen and gently toppled forward. His body was coated in sweat causing his thin, cotton shirt to cling to his back and armpits. Fearful of losing track of Starsky's voice, Hutch struggled through a wave of nausea and forced himself to open his eyes. He was trying to refocus his vision when a set of strong, familiar arms wrapped around his shoulders instead.
"Hutch," Starsky whispered, dropping to the ground next to him. "Oh my God, buddy. What's happened to you?"
Starsky's voice trailed away suddenly - shocked into silence when he saw the extent of his partner's condition. Hutch was not only pale but wet with sweat and trembling hard. Starsky could not tell if he was shaking out of fear or simply from the cold. Concluding it was probably a combination of both, Starsky pulled him close as he waited for Ames and Simpson.
"How is he?" Ames asked, dropping beside Starsky.
"I'm not sure yet," Starsky admitted.
"Let's see if he can drink," Ames said, reaching for a canteen.
With Hutch half-reclined in his arms, Starsky supported his back while Ames held the canteen to his lips. Ames jerked the water away when Hutch began to cough. Stubbornly, Hutch resisted and grabbed for the canteen again.
"Nope, gotta wait a moment," Ames instructed, gently holding Hutch away. "You can't go quite so fast."
Although Hutch was severely weakened, Starsky could see that he was still full of fight, defiance, and ready to argue.
"Hutch, do what the man says," Starsky urged. "You gotta slow down a minute."
Hearing his partner's voice, Hutch looked for Starsky, his presence instantly calming. As if suddenly remembering that Starsky was there, Hutch reached for the other man instead.
"That's right, buddy," Starsky said soothingly. "I know you're tough as nails. You made it."
Offering him the canteen for a second time, Ames allowed Hutch to drink his fill.
"Starsk," Hutch began, releasing the canteen as he found his voice. "I was afraid I might never see you again."
"No way, buddy," Starsky replied. "No way in hell would I ever let that happen."
Ames pulled a protein bar out of his pack and offered it to Hutch. Hutch accepted it gratefully, tearing the wrapper open and beginning to eat.
"I want you to tell me all about it," Starsky began, watching Hutch intently. "But first, I want to tell you something."
Starsky waited, allowing Hutch a few moments to absorb a little more nutrition. When the other man next looked up, Starsky saw his opportunity.
"We know Diana Harmon is involved in your abduction," Starsky said.
Hutch's eyes widened as he listened while continuing to devour the protein bar. Finishing it quickly, Ames handed him a second one as Simpson passed Hutch's brown leather jacket to Starsky.
"Thank you!" Starsky exclaimed, quickly settling the jacket around his partner's shoulders.
Hutch closed his eyes in appreciation of the extra layer of warmth. Finding his partner again, Hutch continued with his questions.
"How?" Hutch asked between bites. "How - how do you know about Diana?"
Starsky prepared himself to explain in part what Bay City PD and the San Bernadino County sheriff had learned about Diana Harmon in the last several hours.
"I don't know how she did it yet," Starsky said calmly. "But I will - later. My first priority was finding you."
"Starsky," Hutch began, looking worried. "You need to know a couple of things. Diana looks a lot different now."
Hutch suspected the look that Starsky gave him suggested his partner was intensely worried about his mental state.
"No, Starsk - listen to me!" Hutch insisted, clinging to the front of Starsky's jacket. "Diana looks entirely different than she did the last time either one of us saw her - like plastic surgery different. It's important for you to know that."
"Ok - so she looks different," Starsky said, trying to calm Hutch. "We'll still find her! Rest assured she won't get away with this as long as I'm livin' and breathin'. Right now I want to get you to a doctor."
"Starsk! We can't let her get away!" Hutch shouted.
"Hutch, listen to me," Starsky said, his own voice growing steely. "The county sheriff raided Diana's property with a warrant just before we began searching for you. That's how we knew you had escaped. I don't know what happened back at the house, and right now I don't care. We'll deal with Diana once you're safely out of here."
"But Starsk!" Hutch began.
"Don't you dare try to talk me out of anything!" Starsky snapped. "Ames is arranging for a chopper and you're getting on it if I have to carry you to the gurney and strap you down myself! You got that?"
Knowing when he was defeated, Hutch lowered his eyes and thought furiously. He knew his partner would do it. Ever mindful of Hutch's current condition, Starsky softened and reached for Hutch instead. "Listen to me," Starsky said. "I believe you. That's really weird and interesting, Hutch. We'll pass the information on to Jacobs and Dobey, but you're the most important part of this whole damn mess as far as I'm concerned. I'm gonna see you to that chopper, and I'll ride with you if there's room. Your only job is to stay alive and get back to one hundred percent so we can put that woman's ass somewhere she'll never get out. Deal?"
Hutch nodded wordlessly.
Ames was testing the signal on his hand-held radio as he prepared to notify Sheriff Jacobs that Detective Hutchinson had been located. Although it was hours until dawn, Ames wanted to request a medevac helicopter for Hutch's transport. The logistics of when and where were yet to be determined. As Ames fiddled with the radio, the dogs worked their way toward Hutch, their tails wagging furiously.
Hutch stared at the dogs with open curiosity.
"They found you for us, Hutch," Starsky explained, squeezing Hutch's shoulder.
Ames' dog had crawled forward close enough to lick the top of Hutch's hand. Hutch smiled and reached out to the dog to scratch the top of his head.
"Yeah, that's Hutch," Starsky said, also reaching for the dog. "You found him, didn't ya, fella?"
Hutch remained quiet as he rested in Starsky's lap. Feeling relieved and thankful, it was easy to lose himself in the comfort of being surrounded by people he could trust. It was only then Hutch remembered what else he wanted to say.
"Hey Starsk," Hutch said, wiggling around to see the other man's face better. "I forgot to tell you something."
Starsky was busy watching Ames. He wasn't sure yet, but he thought Ames might be having trouble with the radio.
"Starsky," Hutch tried again.
"Yeah," Starsky answered, his attention returning to Hutch. "What is it? Are you ok?"
"I forgot to tell you something," Hutch repeated, ignoring the other questions. "There's a bear in this vicinity - a big one. It chased me into a small cabin I stumbled across."
Starsky studied his friend's face as the other man talked. Hutch was definitely sincere - that much was easy to read.
"A bear?" Starsky asked, his eyebrows lifting in unison.
"That's right," Hutch replied. It's probably been kept at bay by all of the gunfire, but I doubt it's gone entirely. We need to be on the lookout is all."
There were a lot of things Hutch could have told him that would have bothered Starsky less than anything related to a wild bear.
"Damn it, Hutch! You know how much I hate bears!"
The expression in Hutch's eyes was acutely apologetic.
"Yeah, I know," Hutch answered. "But we're armed - and that's a big difference, Starsk. When I was out here on my own without anything for protection..." Hutch's voice trailed away as he remembered his own desperate run across the meadow. "Well - it was different is all."
Starsky took a deep breath as he adjusted to the new information.
"I'm glad you told me," Starsky admitted, his eyes seeking the perimeter of the darkness.
"And we have the dogs," Hutch added. "They'll know long before we do if there's a bear around."
Starsky was quiet as he analyzed the entirety of their situation. He wasn't crazy about the idea of squaring off with a bear, particularly with Hutch in a depleted condition. The first order of business was to get Hutch to a hospital where he could be properly evaluated. After that came the matter of sorting out what had gone wrong with Diana's sentencing. Beyond that, well - Starsky hadn't really cared before now. Regardless, if Hutch said they might be sharing territory with a potentially dangerous animal, that was a different worry.
"The truth, Hutch - you know I'm a city boy. How much should we worry about this bear?" Starsky asked.
Hutch considered how to best answer the question.
"Some," Hutch admitted, meeting Starsky's gaze. "As I said, we're armed, and shooting off the flares would keep most predators at a distance. Why?"
"I'm not sure how long it'll be before we can get a chopper into this area. A good pilot can land almost anywhere - even in the dark," Starsky mused. "But they can't if they don't know where we are."
Hutch was shifting to rearrange the jacket around his shoulders when a muscle spasm tore through his lower back.
"Oh damn!" Hutch cried out, stiffening suddenly.
His eyes squeezed tightly together, Hutch waited for the knotted muscle to unwind.
"What? What happened?" Starsky demanded, panicked that something much more serious had happened.
"Just a muscle spasm," Hutch managed to say through gritted teeth.
Hutch forced himself to relax as the badly irritated muscle slowly unclenched. Swallowing hard, he took a deep breath and glanced at his partner. Starsky looked worried, but Hutch was uncertain about what. He didn't have to wait long.
"Tell me the truth about somethin', Hutch," Starsky said, gently rubbing his partner's arm. "How far away is this cabin you mentioned? Should we be finding it for safety's sake?"
Hutch was trying to move slowly, adjusting his position more carefully to avoid upsetting any more muscles. Starsky watched with concern and patience until Hutch seemed ready to answer him.
"We're definitely better off in the cabin than out here. I didn't stay there because I was afraid you wouldn't find me. I didn't know anything about the dogs."
"How far away would you say it is?" Starsky asked.
"Oh, about a half - maybe three-quarters of a mile."
"Think you can make it that far with help?" Starsky asked bluntly.
Hutch took longer to answer than Starsky would have preferred.
"Yeah, with help."
Starsky nodded again before returning a smile to his partner.
"Alright then," Starsky said, patting Hutch on the shoulder. "Sit here while I talk to Ames and Simpson. I think it's time for Plan B."
Chapter 11: The Encounter
Getting Hutch to safety turns out to be more complicated than Starsky had anticipated.
Hutch leaned heavily on Starsky as they walked, his right side aching as they moved in tandem through the woods. The sun had set hours ago making the way forward possible with the use of flashlights and help from the dogs. Although Hutch had already been 'found', the dogs were able to isolate and follow the path he had taken from the meadow back into the woods. It was a little like following a trail of bread crumbs - a trail only the dogs could see.
Those animals are a Godsend, Hutch thought, watching them work.
Hutch was taking another step when he gasped and stumbled unexpectedly. The arm that encircled his waist tightened instantly preventing another nasty fall.
"Hey, hold up!" Starsky yelled at Ames and Simpson.
Hutch halted in his tracks, bent forward from the waist and clutching his right side.
"Hutch, what is it?" Starsky asked anxiously.
Hutch was quiet as he grappled with the pain. As the discomfort slowly faded, he was able to straighten to his full height.
"I dunno exactly," Hutch admitted. "Something started hurting when I was running. It's a little better, but it's never completely gone away."
Starsky frowned at Hutch's explanation, accepting it mostly because he didn't have a choice. Starsky didn't suspect his partner was trying to hide anything. Hutch was more likely plain worn out and ailing from a number of things he'd been subjected to at the hands of the hoodlums who had mistreated him. Truth be told, it was dangerous for Starsky to think too much about what had happened to Hutch before he managed to escape. Should Starsky ever find himself alone in an interrogation room with any one of them, he might have to plead temporary insanity just to explain the consequences.
"Shouldn't we be close to the meadow by now?" Hutch asked.
"We are," Starsky said, worried about his partner's stamina. "Once we get to the cabin you can rest all you need to."
Ames and Simpson had paused at the edge of the grasslands to allow Starsky and Hutch to catch up.
"I'll try the radio again once we're out of the trees," Ames said. "I think there's just too much interference in the timber."
Turning to Hutch, Ames said, "I think I see the cabin - just a little northeast on the far side of the meadow."
Hutch peered in the direction Ames was pointing. Although the moonlight had waned since he first left the cabin, there was still enough light for Hutch to see the outline of the building in the distance.
"Yeah, that's it," Hutch said, looking thoughtful as he gazed toward the cabin. "I have a suggestion," he added, turning to Ames.
"What's that?" Ames asked.
"I think we should make a lot of noise on our way across the meadow," Hutch said. "Fire a few shots - light some more flares if we have them."
"You're worried about the bear?" Ames asked.
"It's a brown bear - the biggest one I've seen in a while," Hutch admitted. "I suspect we're trespassing as far as the bear is concerned, and it's early mating season."
Ames knew Hutch was making sense in regard to the bear. Starsky paled noticeably at Hutch's description of the large bruin.
"You saw it?" Ames asked.
"Yeah, it tracked me to the cabin - hung around for a while acting aggressively."
Ames was thoughtful as he glanced again at the cabin in the distance.
"I think Hutch is right. We need to get to the cabin before I try the radio again," Ames said, looking at Starsky.
Starsky turned his attention to the meadow in front of them - a span of only about three hundred yards from one side to the other. Under normal circumstances, it wasn't that far. In their current situation, it was a long way for Hutch to cover quickly.
"Ok, I'll lead," Ames said. "Starsky, stay behind me with Hutch. Simpson will follow. How's your ammo?" Ames asked, looking at Starsky.
"Good and plenty," Starsky answered. "I reloaded before we started hiking. I have more if I need it."
Looking directly at Hutch, Ames asked, "Ready?"
Hutch nodded weakly.
"We'll travel as fast as you're able," Starsky said. "You set the pace, Hutch - and don't be afraid to tell me if you're hurtin', ok?"
"Got it," Hutch said.
Hutch cast another gaze across the expanse of open grassland in front of them. Taking a final deep breath, he braced himself mentally for whatever might be waiting for them.
"I'll send up a flare first - maybe that will cut us a path," Ames said. "We'll take a minute to let that settle before we each fire off a couple of shots. After that, it's go time."
"Let's take off walking first," Starsky suggested. "A fast walk is roughly equivalent to a jog - no sense in using too much energy right away unless it's necessary."
"Alright," Ames said. "Get ready."
Lighting one of the flares, Ames sent it flying high in the air in the general direction of the cabin. The glow was visible for several seconds before it landed out of sight in the tall grass. Pulling his handgun next, Ames followed the flare with two rounds of ammunition in the general direction of the cabin. With no idea what might be out there, the likelihood of a bullet landing near the bear was low. Still - it was worth the risk in everyone's mind if it landed anywhere close to danger.
Starsky and Simpson each fired their weapons skyward from their separate positions. One arm around Hutch, Starsky nudged him with a hip and they took off. Walking briskly, they entered the meadow step by step, each glancing around nervously as they moved forward.
"Keep your wits about you," Ames cautioned.
Starsky paced himself with Hutch as they walked toward the cabin. With the right side of his body pressed firmly against his partner, Starsky would know if Hutch was struggling. The Beretta clutched tightly in his left hand, Starsky kept his eyes focussed around them for any sign of the bear.
Hutch kept his eyes on the ground as they walked as if concentrating on every step would be the most helpful. Starsky noticed when Hutch's breathing moved from a regular cadence into a more labored effort. Glancing in the direction of the cabin, Starsky estimated they had traveled about a third of the way across the meadow.
"Hang on, Hutch," Starsky muttered. "You're doin' fine."
Hutch did not answer verbally but looked toward the cabin instead. Starsky could tell by the tension in his partner's body that the exercise was taxing for him. Ames was preparing to fire another round when movement slightly east of them caught his attention. Focussing there, Ames froze when he realized what he had seen.
"Shit!" Ames exclaimed. "It's the bear!"
The other men halted, turning in unison to look.
Starsky's arm automatically tightened around Hutch.
"Use the guns!" Starsky yelled. "Now!"
Ames, Starsky, and Simpson, each fired several rounds directly at the bear. They watched with relief as the bruin hesitated then bolted away into the treeline.
"Get Hutch to the cabin!" Ames yelled. "Simpson and I will deal with the bear!"
The dogs were barking frantically, their innate sense of danger heightened by the presence of a natural enemy. Starsky started for the cabin, dragging Hutch with him.
"Come on!" Starsky ordered.
Hutch started to run which prompted Starsky to let go of him. Reloading the Beretta as he began to run also, Starsky kept one eye on Hutch as they raced toward the cabin. Hutch was steady on his feet for the earliest part of the sprint. As the cabin materialized in the distance, Starsky noticed Hutch's pace had slowed dramatically. Glancing ahead, Starsky estimated the cabin was no more than fifty yards away. Chancing a quick look behind them, he saw that Ames and Simpson were also running in earnest behind them. Returning his attention to Hutch, Starsky slid under his partner's left shoulder, encircling his waist with his free arm.
"Come on, Hutch," Starsky ordered. "Lean on me. I won't let you not make it."
Hutch did what he was told to stay on his feet. The familiar pain in his side had returned with a vengeance making it difficult for him to talk - something Starsky also understood at a glance.
As the safety of the cabin grew closer, Starsky readied himself to either drag or carry Hutch through the door. It wound up being a little of both. As they reached the porch, Hutch weakened the last few steps - his knees buckling altogether just as Starsky reached for the door. As Hutch collapsed, Starsky wrapped both arms around him, pulling him inside, and leaving the door ajar for Ames and Simpson.
Dragging Hutch to a small sofa near the fireplace, Starsky eased him down on the cushions as gently as possible.
"There," Starsky soothed. "We made it. Try and relax for me, ok?"
The sound of gunfire caused Starsky to leave Hutch and bolt toward the door. What he saw when he got there was chilling - the bear had returned to pursue Ames and Simpson. Stunned, Starsky watched as Ames whirled in place and fired several rounds at the predator. The gunfire caused the bear to halt its charge, stand on its hind legs, and study them from the advantage of distance.
Ames, Simpson, and both dogs quickly rushed into the cabin, slamming the door hard behind them.
Chapter 12: Reconnecting
Starsky takes care of Hutch while Ames re-establishes their connection to the outside world.
Starsky lit a match and fed it to the kindling, watching as the dry, shredded wood ignited into flames. After feeding the blaze a few of the smaller logs, the hearth came alive with an intimate warmth. Satisfied with the fire, Starsky turned his attention to his partner. As the room grew steadily warmer, he urged Hutch out of his jacket knowing the firelight would allow him a better look at his partner. Hutch closed his eyes and relaxed into the sofa cushions, cooperating with the gentle manipulation.
"You didn't want a fire before?" Starsky asked, easing the jacket off Hutch's shoulders.
"I was afraid it might attract the wrong kind of attention," Hutch said.
Starsky knew that was sensible, yet he hated to think of Hutch battling through a cold night with little for extra warmth.
"There were a couple of blankets upstairs," Hutch added as if reading Starsky's thoughts. "That's where I was when I heard you shooting."
Mildly surprised, Starsky's eyes traveled to the ladder that led to the loft.
"Once we sort through a few things, that might be the best place for you again," Starsky said.
Hutch did not have the stamina to protest. Swallowing hard, he shifted against the sofa as he carefully folded his arms across his abdomen.
"You're still hurting, aren't you?" Starsky asked, concern evident in his eyes.
"Yeah," Hutch answered softly.
Hutch knew that to suggest anything different was futile. Starsky simply knew him too well.
"Where does it hurt exactly?" Starsky asked, pushing further.
Kneeling in front of Hutch, Starsky lifted the other man's hands away from his belly and began to unbutton his shirt.
"Did Diana's men do something to you here?"
Hutch shook his head as Starsky pulled his shirt aside.
"No, I don't think so," Hutch answered, allowing the inspection. "As I said - it began after I started running."
Seeing nothing of obvious concern, Starsky carefully buttoned Hutch's shirt back together.
"What do you mean you don't think so?"
Hutch sighed, struggling to pull his thought pattern into something more satisfactory for Starsky. Meeting the other man's eyes, Hutch tried for a better explanation.
"I was out of it for a long time, Starsk - several hours apparently. I don't have any idea what happened to me before I woke up in that damn house. It worries me a lot to think about it."
Starsky was quiet as he considered how the events of the last couple of days might have been from Hutch's perspective.
"Damn, Hutch. I'm sorry. I hadn't really thought about how sordid all of this could have gotten for you."
Hutch paused as he wrestled with how best to condense a lot of information into a few short sentences.
"She's out for blood this time around," Hutch said, opting for candor. "This is as much about you as it is about me, Starsk."
When Starsky looked bewildered, Hutch tried again.
"She blames you for things not working out between her and me. That's her rationalization anyway."
"She blames me for her decision to knife you to death in the shower? That's rich."
"No, not exactly. She blames you for taking up too much of my time and attention," Hutch clarified. "And vice versa for that matter. She figured her loss deserved to be yours as well just to make things even."
Hutch watched as a new level of understanding materialized on Starsky's face.
"So she thought she'd send you back to me one piece at a time just to get even?" Starsky asked, looking aghast.
"Yeah," Hutch answered softly. "That's what she implied anyway."
The anger in Starsky's eyes was explosive as he leaped to his feet and began pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. His fists clenched tightly together, Starsky gritted his teeth as he imagined the ultimate horror of Diana's intentions. Suddenly worried about Hutch, Starsky returned to hover over him.
"There were bloodstains with one of her messages," Starsky said. "Where did the blood come from?" Starsky demanded.
Mildly embarrassed, Hutch raised his injured finger for Starsky's inspection. "It's just a small cut," Hutch said, looking away. "It hurt like hell when they did it, but it's nothing really."
"Is that all?" Starsky demanded.
Annoyed, it was Hutch's turn to raise an eyebrow in mock astonishment.
"Whadaya mean, is that all? You wanted more? Are you trying to say you don't like my new haircut?"
Starsky realized he was channeling his anger toward Hutch instead of the blockheads who had abducted and tormented him. Overwhelmed with remorse, Starsky settled next to Hutch on the sofa, his forehead in his hands.
"God, I'm sorry. I'm not mad at you, Hutch. I swear I'm not."
"I know that," Hutch whispered. "Don't be ridiculous."
Too exhausted to do much else, Hutch rested his sore hand on Starsky's shoulder and waited as his partner wrangled with his composure.
While Starsky attended to Hutch, Ames was busy on the other side of the room adjusting the radio. Perseverance paid off when he landed on what sounded like an open frequency.
"Hey!" Ames exclaimed, glancing at Simpson. "Looks like this thing's gonna work after all!"
Cranking up the volume, Ames cleared his throat, balanced the microphone in one hand, and tried again.
"K91 to Station 6, come in."
Ames waited expectantly, hoping for the connection they so desperately needed.
"K91, this is Station 6," a pleasant female voice responded. "Go ahead please."
Relief washed over Deputy Ames as he prepared to update the county authorities on their status.
"Station 6 - be advised that Detective Hutchinson has been found. Repeat - Hutchinson has been found."
"Roger, K91. That's excellent news. Is he in need of medical assistance?"
"Affirmative," Ames replied. "Requesting medevac helicopter transport ASAP. Coordinates to follow."
"Understood, K91. One moment, please."
Ames waited patiently knowing the dispatcher was busy alerting the transport team. When she returned to the microphone, she brought additional information.
"Station 6 to K91. Do you copy?"
"Still here, Station 6."
"We're gathering positional coordinates from your frequency. Is there an area for the helicopter to land in the immediate vicinity?"
"We're sitting in about the only area a chopper can land," Ames answered. "It's a large, open meadow that'll be visible from the air once you're overhead."
"Acknowledged," the dispatcher replied.
"And Station 6," Ames added. "Be advised that we may need Fish & Game up here also. There's a large brown bear in the area acting aggressively. We've been able to take shelter in a small cabin although we may not be able to safely transfer Detective Hutchinson without some extra help."
"K91, would you repeat that please? You said there's a brown bear in the area?"
"That's affirmative - it chased us into the cabin."
The radio went quiet for several moments, assumedly while the dispatcher talked to other officers. Ames waited patiently for her return.
"Station 6 to K91," repeated the dispatcher.
"Hang on for Sheriff Jacobs, please."
Glancing at Starsky, Ames confirmed with a nod that the county authorities were at least loosely aware of their location.
"Holdin' on," Starsky replied, peering again at Hutch. "No worse I don't think, but we need to get him out of here ASAP."
"Station 6 to K91 - this is Sheriff Jacobs."
"Good evening, Sheriff," Ames replied. "I gotta tell ya it's good to hear your voice, Sir."
"That goes both ways, Ames," Jacobs said. Now, what's the situation there? You said there's a bear in the area giving you trouble?"
"That's correct, Sheriff. Detective Hutchinson avoided the same bear by sheltering in a cabin he stumbled across - which is where we all are now."
"Hold on," Jacobs said.
Another brief pause and Sheriff Jacobs returned to the radio.
"Ames - Lieutenant Garcia thinks he knows exactly where you are. Apparently, he likes to hunt in that area."
Ames knew Deputy Garcia well. The man did love his hunting trips.
"Sheriff," Ames continued. "Hutchinson can't travel well. If it weren't for the bear and Hutchinson's condition, we'd wait for daylight and hike out."
"Understood, Ames. Listen - I'm sending Garcia with the helicopter. He'll be properly armed with the bear in mind. The pilot is also familiar with that area - thinks he can land in the dark. You copy?"
"Yes, I copy."
"Ok," the sheriff replied. "Listen for the chopper. Send up a flare when you hear it. The pilot thinks we can be there in less than an hour."
"That's great news," Ames answered. "It'll be close to dawn in an hour or so anyway. That should help."
"Ok, stay close to the microphone. Captain Dobey would like a word with Sergeant Starsky before we sign off," Jacobs said.
Deputy Ames handed the microphone to Starsky.
"This is Starsky, Captain."
The deep voice of Captain Dobey soon resonated from the other side of the microphone.
"Starsky, how's Hutchinson?" Dobey demanded.
"Worn out and a little wounded, Captain."
"Wounded? He's able to talk?" Dobey asked.
"Yes, he can talk and sit up. He just can't move too fast."
"Alright," Dobey said, accepting Starsky's short analysis. "Thank God you found him. Also, we made a lot of arrests at the Harmon property, but Diana wasn't one of them. She wasn't there."
Starsky glanced at Hutch, curious if he had overheard Dobey's comment. Hutch's eyes were closed, his head lolled to one side against the sofa - his breathing had softened to something more resembling sleep. Starsky did not think he had heard their conversation.
"Captain," Starsky added quickly. "Hutch says Diana looks entirely different than she used to - like she's had plastic surgery or something. I haven't seen her. Hutch swears it's true."
The radio was quiet as Dobey absorbed that last piece of information.
"Alright," Dobey said finally. "Useful to know. Right now, my orders are for you to take care of Hutchinson. I'll see you both at the hospital, Starsky."
"Understood, Captain," Starsky replied.
Chapter 13: Taking Care of Business
Starsky and the search team activate a rescue plan.
Hutch had fallen asleep on the sofa once Starsky talked him into laying down. Retrieving the blankets from the loft, Starsky covered him with the lightest one in lieu of the heat from the fire. He figured there was no point in moving Hutch to the loft if the helicopter was expected in under an hour. As long as Hutch was warm and comfortable enough to sleep, Starsky preferred to leave him where he was.
Ames had agreed to radio the county dispatcher every fifteen minutes for an updated status report. It was now nearly forty minutes since their initial contact. According to dispatch, the helicopter had left on schedule.
Starsky was sitting on the floor, his back to the hearth, waiting for the chopper. With little else to do until the medical crew arrived, Starsky used the time to worry about his partner. He knew what dehydration, lack of food, and loss of sleep could do to an otherwise healthy man. Additionally, Hutch had been subdued with drugs - abducted and forced to suffer through who-knew-what before he woke up in the next county.
What did she do to him? Starsky wondered, his temper flaring. What in the hell did that crazy woman do to him?
Starsky glanced at Hutch as the other man slept. Hutch's eyes were closed, his body relaxed - his breathing once again gentle and unlabored. Starsky was thankful Hutch was able to rest, at least until the moment they would have to move him. He thought the paramedics could bring a gurney right into the cabin if necessary. If Hutch resisted, Starsky would have to overrule him.
It was then Starsky noticed the repetitive, whirling sound of a helicopter motor in the distance.
"I hear them," Starsky exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "Get a flare ready."
Ames turned to the radio.
"K91 to Station 6," Ames said. "Come in?"
"Go ahead, K91."
"We hear the chopper," Ames replied. "Sending up a flare."
Deputy Simpson loaded the flare gun and moved to the door. Cracking the door ajar, Simpson glanced left, then right for any sign of the bear. Seeing nothing, he ran outside and away from the front porch. Stepping into the deep grass, Simpson pointed the flare skyward and fired.
Starsky kneeled next to the sofa as he patted Hutch on the shoulder.
"Hey, Hutch," Starsky said. "Can you wake up for me? The helicopter is here."
Hutch opened his eyes slowly - more slowly than Starsky would have preferred. Hutch frowned as he tried to focus on Starsky and the room around them.
"Hutch," Starsky persisted. "Come on now. Open those baby blues for me."
"Yeah," Hutch said, rubbing both hands across his face. "I hear you, Starsk."
"The helicopter is close, Hutch. It's going to land in the meadow any minute. Don't you move until I come back and get you, understand?"
Hutch nodded weakly. Patting his shoulder one more time, Starsky hurried away and out the door.
"Anything?" Starsky asked, running to stand next to Simpson.
"Yep! Look right there!" Simpson replied.
Simpson pointed to the flashing red light gliding its way toward them through the sky.
"That's a chopper alright. Nothing else has that kind of light configuration."
Simpson loaded a second flare and sent it flying into the air.
As Simpson and Starsky watched, a floodlight emerged from the helicopter, illuminating the landscape around them. As the helicopter made its way to the ground, the light was bright enough that Starsky could see the faces of the people inside the cockpit. As the chopper descended further and landed, the pilot cut the engine and waved to the men on the ground.
Ducking low to avoid the rotating blades, two men leaped out of the cockpit and raced toward them. A dark-haired man carrying a rifle quickly followed, moving directly toward Simpson instead. Simpson extended his hand as the officer approached.
"Garcia," Simpson said, greeting the other man warmly. "I'm mighty glad to see you. This is Detective Starsky. His partner, Detective Hutchinson, is inside."
"Hello," Garcia said, extending a hand to Starsky.
As Simpson spoke to Garcia about the situation with the bear, Starsky introduced himself to the medics as he led them to Hutch.
"Collins," the first medic said before gesturing toward his partner. "This is Benson."
Upon entering the cabin, Starsky was surprised to find Hutch exactly where he'd left him. As Collins knelt next to Hutch, he began to question Starsky about his patient.
"We were told this man was abducted and later found in the woods?" Collins asked, keeping his eyes on Hutch.
"Yes, almost four days ago. We don't know what happened to him for a large chunk of that time," Starsky explained. "He was drugged when he was taken - we don't know with what. We also don't know how long he was unconscious or exactly what happened to him before he escaped."
Collins nodded as he continued to assess Hutch.
So he's a detective? I assume he's in fairly good health otherwise?"
"Yes, he's healthy - works out all the time," Starsky replied. "We know he ran several miles after escaping without enough food or water. Since we found him, he's been weak, and a little confused at times. He's also been complaining about some type of abdominal pain. The pain seems to bother him the most."
Starsky noticed Benson was busy wrapping a blood pressure cuff around Hutch's left arm. As the cuff tightened and squeezed, Hutch rallied as a result of the extra attention.
Collins was engaging Hutch - checking his pupils and assessing his mental status. Although Hutch seemed aware of the other man's presence, Starsky thought he was also slow to react.
"90/50," Benson said, removing the stethoscope from his ears. "He's definitely hypotensive."
"Alright. Let's get an IV going and prepare him for transport. Do you know where the pain is that he's complaining about?" Collins asked, turning to Starsky.
"On the lower right side somewhere," Starsky answered. "He doesn't seem to know what it's from."
"Would you mind helping me with something?" Benson asked. "He's not completely alert. I'd much rather have someone hold his arm down while I stick him than have him pull away too soon."
Starsky nodded and moved behind the sofa, reaching over the back to secure Hutch's arm.
"This won't be anything too uncomfortable for him," Benson said, trying to assure both of them. "It might startle him is all."
Starsky appreciated Benson's attempt to help him relax. In reality, as long as they were taking care of Hutch, Starsky wanted to be involved.
Collins opened Hutch's shirt, quickly palpating across Hutch's belly with his free hand. When he moved to the lower right quadrant, Hutch cried out suddenly, jumping as Collins located the most painful area.
"I'm sorry, Hutch. But right there, huh?"
Hutch began to squirm as he tried to push Collins' hands away.
"What?" Starsky asked, alarmed.
"Well, I can't tell for sure," Collins answered, patting Hutch's arm. "He may have a hernia. "We'll know once we get him to the ER."
Outside in the meadow, Simpson and Garcia had walked about thirty yards away from the chopper while the deputy pointed out the area where they had last sighted the bear.
"We were crossing from the south side over there," Simpson said, pointing to the woods behind them. "Hutchinson had warned us the bear was out here," Simpson added.
Simpson paused, remembering the harrowing experience.
"I swear, Garcia - damned thing just came out of nowhere and charged us. The same bear chased Hutchinson into the cabin a few hours earlier."
Garcia followed Simpson's line of sight, analyzing the area as best he could before full daylight, and wondering about the persistence of the bear.
"Maybe it has a fresh kill somewhere close?" Garcia speculated.
"Yeah, maybe. If so, we haven't run across it."
"Ok," Garcia said, taking another quick survey of the landscape. "Let's get Detective Hutchinson on that helicopter so we can all get out of here."
Back in the cabin, Starsky was holding the IV bottle as the medic finished securing the site.
"It's important," Benson said, glancing at Starsky. "I'm usin' a lot of tape 'cause I don't want to lose it."
Collins was busy talking to Hutch, preparing his patient to sit up.
"We don't want the gurney?" Starsky asked.
"I think he's ok to stand and walk a short distance with our help. It will actually be easier on him if he can walk to the helicopter."
"I'm going to help you, Hutch," Collins said. "But I want you to go slow. On the count of three, I'll help you sit up."
"Alright, Hutch? Here we go... One, two, three."
Starsky watched as Collins and Benson carefully maneuvered Hutch to an upright sitting position.
"How're you feeling?" Collins asked, watching Hutch closely.
"A little light-headed," Hutch admitted.
"Alright. Your blood pressure is low, but we're fixing that. In a minute we'll help you stand up and walk outside. If you think you'll feel better lying down, we can arrange that. Otherwise, you might be more comfortable sitting up for the helicopter ride."
Noticing that Starsky looked distressed, Collins offered a suggestion.
"Would you like to help him to the helicopter?"
Nodding readily, Starsky rushed to trade places with Collins.
Chapter 14: The Confrontation
An unexpected second crisis threatens Hutch's rescue.
Benson and Starsky emerged from the cabin, Hutch walking carefully between them as Collins sprinted ahead to the helicopter. The standard procedure was to assess and prepare a patient for medical transport as quickly as possible. If the situation also involved access to a more remote area, the pilot typically stayed with the helicopter, prepared to evacuate the crew at a moment's notice.
The first rays of sunlight were visible beyond the treeline turning the meadow into a swirl of black and grey haze. A heavy mist hovered near the ground making the clouds appear as though they had settled against the earth overnight. Collins knew he could appreciate the setting more if Hutchinson was not his first priority. A true caregiver as well as an avid fisherman at heart, Collins made a note to himself to investigate a nearby stream before his next vacation date.
Simpson and Garcia had positioned themselves about fifty yards away from the helicopter, weapons in hand and ready. Simpson had also brought the dogs outside while the medics worked on Hutch. Having Garcia's help with the unusual situation provided a tremendous boost to Simpson's self-confidence.
Hutch leaned on both men as he walked between them. The light-headedness he'd noticed earlier had improved yet he felt oddly detached from reality.
"Did you give me anything through the IV?" Hutch asked Benson.
Benson looked surprised, glancing at Hutch's face before answering.
"You mean something other than saline, glucose, and electrolytes?"
Hutch managed a slight smile at the medic's response.
"Yeah, I guess that didn't make a lot of sense, did it?" Hutch replied. "Never mind. I'm not sure what I was asking."
"Sometimes you just plain think too much, Blondie," Starsky scolded, joining the conversation. "Let the nice men take care of you and we'll talk about what they did later, ok?"
Unable to think of a proper reply, Hutch was quiet as he moved toward the helicopter, leaning hard on Starsky as he walked.
From their position across the meadow, Garcia and Simpson watched as Hutch was led to the helicopter. Noting the transfer would soon be successful, Garcia turned his attention back to the grassland around them. Only then did he notice a trail of movement he had not seen moments earlier. Something was gliding toward them through the tall grass about twenty yards in the distance. Garcia blinked, narrowed his eyes for a second look, and realized they were already in trouble.
"Simpson!" Garcia hissed, releasing the safety on his rifle. "Turn around!"
Startled, Simpson whirled in place, searching for whatever Garcia had seen. Unhesitant, Garcia raised his rifle and locked on the furry brown head barely visible above the grass. The sound of gunfire exploded seconds later causing the bear to turn and run in the opposite direction. Garcia followed the bear's trail through the rifle scope, firing multiple rounds at its rump as it ran.
Hutch froze at the sound of gunfire. Peering anxiously at Starsky, they both knew what it meant. Benson tightened his own grip on Hutch as he also looked toward Garcia and Simpson.
"Get him on the chopper!" Benson yelled, pushing Hutch toward the cockpit.
Hutch used his last ounce of strength to propel himself toward the chopper. He was reaching for the cockpit door when movement on the other side of the plexiglass drew his attention instead. Frightened, Hutch hesitated as he stared at what he thought was an apparition - a clear reproduction of Diana Harmon staring back at him from only a few yards away.
Diana's eyes appeared wild and evil, her hair hanging loose as it swirled around her shoulders. Her previously neat clothing was dirty, torn, and bloody in several places. Most remarkable of all, she was clutching a gun in her right hand - a gun pointed directly at Hutch.
Hutch's normally sharp mind faltered as he scrambled to react, his weakened body more sluggish to respond than normal. As Hutch pushed away from the chopper, Starsky read the sudden fear on his face as well as the tension in his body. Following Hutch's line of vision, Starsky knew instantly what he had seen.
Pulling his weapon, Starsky dropped to his belly and took aim, firing underneath the chopper as the pilot dove for cover inside the cockpit. Starsky's bullet struck the woman at center mass - the middle of her chest, killing her instantly. The impact of the bullet threw Diana backward several feet into the grass. She lay there dead, staring at the early morning sky as a large circle of blood grew in circumference around her body. Diana did not need the paramedics' help. It was obvious she was dead.
Starsky had reacted to a deadly threat out of instinct and training. He didn't know who he had shot - he didn't have time to analyze her identity before he took action. Starsky saw a woman pointing a gun at his partner and made a split-second decision to protect Hutch. As a result, the perpetrator was immediately eliminated.
"Holy shit!" Benson yelled, pushing Hutch toward the helicopter.
As they reached the cockpit, Benson threw open the door and began to help Hutch crawl inside. Collins appeared suddenly from the opposite side of the interior of the helicopter, extending both hands and helping to pull Hutch inside. Benson lifted Hutch the last few inches, landing him inside the chassis with Collins' help. As Hutch settled against the leather bucket seat, Collins wrapped the safety belt across Hutch's lap, buckling him in. Finished with the task of securing his patient, Benson raced around the helicopter and jumped in.
"Get in!" Benson yelled at Starsky. "There's room!"
Starsky leaped to his feet and scrambled over Hutch, landing in the seat directly behind him.
"Get us out of here!" Collins yelled at the pilot.
Needing no further encouragement, the pilot grabbed for the keys and started the engine. The enormous blades began to turn and circulate, gaining speed as the helicopter prepared for take-off.
Starsky peered through the glass at Garcia and Simpson, the two men barely visible near the last sighting of the bear. He wanted to go and help them, but Starsky knew he belonged on the helicopter instead. Ames had charged out of the cabin, rifle in hand, the moment the shooting had started. Starsky knew the county deputies were well-prepared and capable men. They could handle the current situation without the help of his Beretta. Having shot and killed a surprise assailant as they were leaving, Starsky knew there would be a lengthy question and answer session in his future.
It was only then Starsky realized what might have taken place.
"Hutch," Starsky asked, leaning forward over Hutch's shoulder. "Who was that? Was that Diana?"
"Yes," Hutch managed to answer. "Starsk - what the hell? How did she get out here?"
"I've no idea," Starsky answered, squeezing Hutch's shoulder as he sat down. "I don't know, buddy," he repeated. "But don't think about her anymore, ok? She can't hurt you now."
As the helicopter lifted off the ground, Starsky waved at Ames, the other man barely visible through the growing daylight. Ames waved back, giving Starsky a 'thumbs up' as the helicopter pulled away from the ground. Starsky buckled his own seatbelt as the chopper became airborne, leaning forward with his head in his hands as he worked through the emotions of taking another person's life.
It had to be done, Starsky thought, consoling himself. There was no other way.
The argument with himself reminded Starsky again of his partner, causing him to sit up and see what Collins and Benson were doing. The blood pressure cuff was wrapped around Hutch's arm - the IV fluid bottle had been secured on a hook above the seat. Collins was fussing over Hutch's chest with a stethoscope while Benson was busy with the radio.
"I'm getting ready to call the ER," Benson offered, sensing Starsky's curiosity. "Hutch is stable. He needs some medical attention, but that'll happen soon. You hang on for me, too, ok?"
Benson turned to the radio and began playing with the knobs. A short time later Starsky listened as Benson discussed his patient with the hospital.
"Memorial, this is Medevac One," Benson said. "Can you hear me?"
"We hear you," a male voice responded promptly.
"Memorial, we are en route with a male patient, mid-thirties, currently vital signs are stable - bringing him in with exposure and possible traumatic inguinal herniation. Do you copy?"
"Copy," the radio voice responded. "What's your ETA?"
Benson glanced at the pilot who shouted, "about twenty-five minutes!"
"Expect us in approximately twenty-five minutes, " Benson answered.
"Copy that," the dispatcher responded. "We'll see you when you land."
The information was comforting for Starsky. Reaching forward, he rubbed Hutch's shoulders from behind, wanting his partner to know he was still there.
"Hear that, Hutch? Just a few more minutes," Starsky said, raising his voice against the roar of the engine. "I told you I'd get you out of there, buddy."
Chapter 15: Of Loyalty and Devotion
Hutch is safe. Starsky, Dobey, and Huggy are consoled and thankful.
Starsky and Dobey were seated side by side in the hospital waiting room - Dobey's hands clasped loosely in his lap, Starsky making an intermittent fist depending on the topic of conversation. Huggy was busy on the opposite side of the room selecting a candy bar from the vending machine. Since Starsky had returned with Hutch, he had barely taken the time to drink coffee much less eat. Huggy was hoping Starsky would show an interest in his favorite candy bar if it was offered.
"San Bernadino County recovered the body a short time ago," Dobey said, looking at Starsky.
Starsky was quiet as he recalled the fatal shooting only hours earlier. The queasiness in his stomach flared at the memory, followed quickly by his concern for Hutch. A nurse had assured them the doctor would be out to speak to them just as soon as he was free.
"I still can't believe it, Cap'n," Starsky said. "Of all people - Diana Harmon?"
Dobey was shaking his head before Starsky had stopped talking.
"I feel the same way, Starsky," Dobey replied. "I have a meeting scheduled next week with the hospital administrator where Harmon was incarcerated. It's certainly going to be a different conversation than the one I'd envisioned earlier."
Captain Dobey thought the look on Starsky's face was closer to despair than anything else. Despite his disgust and understandable anger with Diana Harmon, Dobey knew only a lethal situation would have driven Starsky to shoot her. As that had occurred, Dobey knew without asking that Starsky'd had no other choice.
"There are several witnesses to the shooting," Dobey reminded Starsky. "Hutch saw it all - so did both paramedics, the pilot, and Deputy Ames, not to mention you. We know from the combined testimonies of everyone what happened."
Huggy approached Starsky with the candy bar, tossing it into his lap.
"Eat that, please," Huggy said, his dark eyes pleading with his friend.
Starsky smiled as he picked up the candy.
"Thanks, Hug," Starsky said. "I guess I am hungry after all."
Huggy broke into a smile as Starsky ate hoping the snack would do the other man some good. He was thinking of buying a second one when the doctor walked through the door.
"My apologies for making you wait, gentlemen," the doctor said, offering his hand. "I understand you're here for Detective Hutchinson?"
"Yes," Dobey answered first, standing up. "I'm Hutchinson's Captain, and this is his partner, Detective Starsky. Starsky is the one who actually found him."
"I see," the doctor said, his eyebrows lifting as he spoke. "Well, this has all been an interesting situation to hear about, not to mention it's all over the mid-day news," the doctor said. "Let's sit down and we'll go over a few things."
Starsky waved at Huggy to join them. The doctor did not object as they gathered at a small table in the corner of the lounge.
"Is he going to be alright?" Starsky asked as they sat down.
"I think he'll do just fine," the doctor replied patiently. "He's been through a lot, but he's young and seems tough overall. That will have a lot to do with how quickly he gets well."
"Was he injured by his abductors?" Dobey asked bluntly.
The physician took a deep breath before answering.
"Well, they certainly didn't do him any favors," the doctor said. "Outside of being underfed and forced into a desperate situation to get away from them, he seems to have weathered it all fairly well."
"Did they cause the hernia - or is that what he has?" Dobey asked.
"He does have an inguinal herniation on the right side," the doctor explained. "To be frank, I don't know what caused it. It's possible he may have endured something we will never know about that triggered its development. It's also possible the hernia could have happened regardless of his kidnapping. Mr. Hutchinson tells me he's a runner. Weirdly enough, in people who are physically active, those types of things are not uncommon, especially in men. It's likely the hernia happened while he was running - possibly a bit of bad luck on top of everything else he was experiencing."
"Will he need to be in the hospital long?"
"Probably two or three days," the doctor speculated. "The surgeon wants him fed and rehydrated before she repairs the hernia. It doesn't endanger Mr. Hutchinson to wait a little bit for that to be done. He will tolerate the surgery much better if we give his body a chance to catch up before subjecting him to the operating room. He can probably go home within twenty-four hours of the surgery, depending on how he does afterward."
The doctor paused and smiled slightly.
"Quite frankly, I don't think a surgery will be any harder on him than the past few days have been."
A sense of relief washed over Starsky as he processed the doctor's expectation. Only then did he allow himself the luxury of really letting go - letting go of the worry that he was almost too late to save Hutch.
"Can we see him?" Starsky asked.
"Sure. We're waiting for a room to become available upstairs. Apparently, our accommodations are in high demand today. Just as soon as something on the surgical floor opens up, we'll transfer him upstairs. Until then, you can visit him in the ER. Things are fairly quiet for us at the moment."
"Thank you," the other men said in unison.
"That's ok," the doctor replied. "Unless you have more questions, I'll take you to him."
As the pain medication took effect, Hutch was dozing off and on - drifting in and out of full consciousness as he traded the discomfort for a sense of blessed relief. His blood had been drawn in the proper fashion. All of the necessary scans and images had been completed in a timely manner. The surgeon had dropped by to introduce herself and explain the cause of the painful sensation in his abdomen. Although Hutch was disappointed to learn he needed surgery, he could accept it as a necessary step toward getting well.
Hutch was reviewing what the surgeon had said - wondering if he would really need six weeks off work to recover. Maybe he could talk someone into letting him return to a light-duty status before then. Maybe two weeks would be enough time.
Hutch was repeating the same discussion in his head when a warm, firm hand slid gently into his. Surprised, he opened his eyes to find Starsky standing two feet away with Dobey and Huggy lined up closely behind him.
His eyes shining with love and happiness, Hutch smiled candidly at the sight of all three men.
"Hey, pal," Starsky said, smiling back. "Looks like the drugs are working, huh?"
Starsky caught himself before adding a comment about breaking too many hearts with the same handsome smile. The last time that happened, Hutch wound up on the wrong side of a twisted woman like Diana Harmon. Although Starsky couldn't imagine the same bolt of lightning striking twice, he thought it was best not to mention it at all.
"Yeah, the drugs are really good actually," Hutch admitted, giggling slightly. "I just wish I didn't need them."
Amused, Huggy wandered to the opposite side of the bed for a closer look at Hutch.
"Um, um, um," Huggy tsked, leaning closer to Hutch's face. "I think you're more pale than usual, Hutchinson."
Hutch rolled his eyes dramatically before answering.
"I'm Norwegian, Hug," Hutch responded as if his skin tone was something he needed to explain. "I can work on my tan after surgery."
Starsky laughed softly at the earnestness in Hutch's voice. Although Hutch was understandably shy about taking drugs unnecessarily, combining his partner's personality with the influence of occasional narcotic use was eternally entertaining for Starsky.
Captain Dobey took a moment to formulate what he wanted to say. There would be plenty of time after Hutch recovered to hash out what happened to him during his abduction. Until then, Dobey was thankful to have his officer back in relatively good shape. Despite a myriad of disturbing details involving Diana Harmon, the dilemma surrounding her apprehension and future sentencing had been settled in a remote meadow in San Bernadino County. Whatever the extent of her psychological discontent, her suffering had ended there. It would be up to Starsky and a few close friends to take care of Hutch in the aftermath.
"I'm grateful you're ok, son," Dobey said. "A little damaged around the edges maybe, but the doctors can fix that."
Dobey sobered as he thought about what to say next. He settled for the simple truth.
"We owe a lot to Starsky, Hutch. He wouldn't give up - not that we would have either."
Hutch's eyes moved to Starsky, still clutching the other man's hand.
"Well, that's why he's my partner, Captain. You know that."
Starsky was downright bashful when it came to the receiving end of any sort of gratuitous attention. It wasn't his style. Although Starsky had not tried to pull away, Hutch would not have allowed it.
Dobey locked eyes with Huggy across the hospital bed.
"I'm sure this man owes me a cup of coffee. We'll be going now, but I'll see you again after your surgery, Hutch". "Edith and the kids send their love."
Hutch nodded as Huggy and Dobey made their way toward the door.
"Thanks, Captain," Hutch replied. "Make sure you give them my love, too. Bye, Hug."
Dobey paused at the door with an afterthought.
"I'm giving you some time to reconnect with your partner," Dobey added, looking directly at Starsky. "Take a few minutes and do that - then get your ass out of here and let the man rest, ok?"
"Understood, Sir," Starsky answered.
Without further advice, Huggy and Dobey left the room.
"Well, I guess you have your orders," Hutch said, looking at Starsky and grinning. "What did you do to the poor man the last few days?"
"Oh, nothin' new. Besides - you know that Dobey's all bark, at least when it comes to his detectives."
"Yeah, I know that, but he is right about one thing. Someone needs to take care of you. I guess Dobey's decided to do that."
"Oh, I got what I needed, Hutch. I was terrified for a while I might never see you again."
Hutch grew quiet as he thought about the events of the last several days.
"Hutch," Starsky asked, his voice growing softer. "How in the hell? Diana Harmon? How did any of this happen?"
The look on Hutch's face told Starsky that his partner was as confounded now as he'd ever been about his interactions with Diana.
"I don't know," Hutch replied, shrugging his shoulders. "I just don't know"...
Hutch looked momentarily helpless, his voice trailing away as he struggled to find the right words - his mind sidetracked by some recent, unpleasant memory.
"I got lucky, Starsk, I guess - that and I have the best partner a man could ask for."
Starsky did not disagree too strongly. He just thought the reverse observation was more accurate. Hutch was the best partner a man could hope for. While there was so much more he wanted to know, Starsky knew how to wait for the proper moment. There would be plenty of time to hear about Hutch's experience once he was well enough to talk about it.
"So - how long before the boss comes back and hauls you out by your hair?" Hutch asked, giggling as he clung to Starsky's hand.
Starsky did not look particularly threatened. Smiling, he leaned forward instead, gathering Hutch in his arms for a proper hug before he whispered good night and left the room.
Finished - August 11, 2021