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With Malice Aforethought

Chapter Text

Starsky was on his way home when he noticed the unusual cloud pattern in the sky.  Eager to add to his collection of photos, he hurriedly parked the Torino and ran toward the shoreline, camera in hand.  Pausing to gaze at the horizon, Starsky kept an eye on the changing clouds as he adjusted the camera's lens. It was still a few minutes before sunset - a little too early for the biggest color changes, but just enough time to establish a proper angle.  He was hoping the striations in the clouds would allow the light to penetrate in all the right places.  If the transformation progressed as anticipated, Starsky would be able to add another stunning sunset to his growing portfolio.    

Plunking himself down on the warm sand, Starsky readied his camera and prepared for a short wait.  Five or ten minutes at the most and he figured he'd be on his way.  He was planning to meet Hutch for dinner in about an hour, and for once, Starsky didn't want to be late.  Hutch had been grouchy enough all week as it was.  If he timed things correctly, Starsky figured he could snap a few photos and still have enough time to change clothes.  As the sunlight continued to fade, he pointed his camera at what remained of the glowing ball of fire in the hope of capturing a moment that Hutch would find inspirational.    

On a nearby bench sat an older man feeding chunks of bread to a few hungry seagulls.  With his face partially obscured by dark glasses, he was able to observe Starsky without drawing attention to himself.  If Starsky had not been so fixated on the sunset, he might have noticed the newcomer had arrived shortly after he started taking pictures.

The observer was clad in shabby, khaki-colored clothing which helped him to blend into the background.  Curious, the man sat semi-transfixed - watching as Starsky took photo after photo.  It surprised him to see an assumedly street-wise cop so interested in something as mundane as taking pictures. 

So the cop fancies himself some kind of photographer, the man thought.  That's interesting.

He filed the information away under things-to-know that might eventually be useful.  After all, this was still just a fact-finding mission.  The ultimate plan would be determined once he knew more about his subject.  Admittedly, there had been a few surprises - little things mostly that he had not considered previously.  The hobbies and interests of David Starsky were of little importance.  What mattered the most was a sense of justice that had been stolen from him years ago.   

As the sun sank below the horizon, Starsky glanced at his watch and leaped to his feet.  Stealing one last look at the orange and red clouds, he snapped two additional photos before jogging away toward the Torino. 

The man on the bench watched as Starsky ran by, avoiding eye contact, but watching him nonetheless as he hurried across the sand.  Clad in faded jeans and a thin cotton t-shirt, Starsky's athletic build was obvious to anyone who took the time to pay attention.  Of note, it wouldn't be easy to subdue him in a one-on-one physical confrontation.  Then again, every man had his weaknesses, and Starsky would, too.  The process of revealing his deepest vulnerabilities was only a matter of time.     

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

A few miles away Hutch was sitting at a traffic light waiting impatiently for the damned thing to turn green.  On a whim, he'd agreed to meet Starsky after work for a quick dinner and a few games of pool.  After a long week of arresting knit wits and painfully unskilled shoplifters, Hutch was looking forward to a simple evening out with friends.      

As the light turned from red to green, Hutch was preparing to accelerate when he was hit from behind, the impact throwing the LTD into the intersection and sending pieces of the rear bumper scattering across the pavement.

"Are you freakin' kidding me!"  Hutch exclaimed, grabbing the steering wheel and holding on as the car began to spin in a violent half-circle.  He tensed at the sound of squealing tires as a second vehicle slammed into the car directly behind him, the additional impact followed closely by breaking glass.  Straining to see over his shoulder, Hutch could tell that all of the vehicles involved in the pileup had come to a full stop.  Forcing his door open, Hutch extracted himself from behind the wheel and hurried to check on the other drivers.    

The man in the first vehicle was bleeding profusely from a cut just above his right eye.  Tugging open the door, Hutch leaned into the front seat for a better look at his injuries.   

"How badly are you hurt?" Hutch asked.        

"I'm not sure," the other man answered, looking dazed, but conscious.  "I'm - I'm sorry.  I don't know what happened," he stammered.

"Don't think about that right now," Hutch answered quickly.  "Listen, I'm a cop.  Just sit tight, and  I'll get us some help, ok?"

Sprinting to the next vehicle, Hutch found a middle-aged woman alone in her car looking frightened and on the verge of tears. 

"Are you hurt, ma'am?" Hutch asked, leaning in through what was left of the driver's side window.  The woman was conscious but grimaced as she reached for her left shoulder.  Hutch was afraid to touch her in lieu of hurting her more. 

"Hang on ma'am.  I'm getting you some help," he assured her instead.  "Don't try to move by yourself."

Racing back to the LTD, Hutch grabbed for the radio and called for emergency assistance.  By the time he was hanging up the microphone, the sound of approaching sirens was audible in the distance.  Grateful to know an ambulance was on its way, he checked on the first driver a second time before returning to the more seriously injured woman. 

Leaning back through the broken window, Hutch cautiously reached for her hand.  "Hang on, ma'am," he repeated softly.  "Help will be here soon."

Unfortunately, the carefree evening Hutch had been anticipating was off to a rough and shaky start.  

Chapter Text

Starsky glanced at his watch again and frowned.  It wasn't like Hutch to be this late.  He'd almost finished his first beer when Huggy popped his head around the corner and waved him over.

"It's for you," Huggy said, handing Starsky the receiver.  "Sounds like Dobey."

Starsky's stomach did a miniature flip as Huggy handed him the phone.  There were only a few reasons the boss would bother to hunt him down after hours.  Hutch was definitely one of them.   

"Starsky here," he began. 

"Starsky," Dobey answered, sounding anxious.  "I'm afraid I have some bad news.  Hutch has been in some sort of multi-car accident.  He called dispatch for help, and Minnie let me know - swears he's not hurt, but he's still on the scene.  I want you to get over there and check on him."

A burst of adrenaline shot through Starsky as he listened to Dobey.  Inwardly, he cursed at himself for not having looked for Hutch sooner - he should have known that something was wrong.  After jotting down directions to the accident site, Starsky hurriedly tossed the phone back to Huggy.     

"It's Hutch," Starsky confirmed, noting the look of concern in Huggy's eyes.  "He's been in some sort of accident.  I've gotta go."

"Let me know!" Huggy shouted as Starsky ran for the front door.  

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hutch was sitting on the tailgate of the ambulance, trying his best to be patient as the paramedic finished looking him over.  Once medical personnel arrived to take care of the injured drivers, Hutch settled down and allowed himself to be cared for.  

"Well, your pupils are lookin' ok," the paramedic concluded, lowering the mini light.  "I'm sure you'll be plenty stiff and sore tomorrow, but I think you got lucky this time.  I don't see anything to be concerned about."

"How is he?" Starsky demanded, materializing abruptly at Hutch's elbow.  "He's my partner."

Hutch and the medic both turned in surprise as neither had seen Starsky approach the ambulance.  Noting the obvious distress on Starsky's face, the medic accepted the newcomer's concern and continued his discussion. 

"I was just telling him he got lucky tonight.  He's a little banged up around the edges, but somehow escaped being seriously hurt.  Both of the other drivers needed transport to the hospital."

Starsky tensed up noticeably in response to the medic's last statement.

"And - it looks like he'll need a ride," he added.  "None of the involved vehicles are driveable."

Hutch's face fell dramatically at the realization that his car would need to be towed.  He'd been so wrapped up in working the accident scene that he hadn't properly assessed the damage to his own vehicle. 

"That's not a problem.  He's got a ride," Starsky answered, returning his attention to Hutch.  

Starsky studied the expression on Hutch's face, interpreting the emotions he saw there as each one played out individually.  Frustration, worry, and a hint of anger - all clearly readable to Starsky without Hutch uttering a word.   

"So if he's ok, can he go now?" Starsky asked.  

"Yep," the medic answered.  "Just as soon as he signs this form, he's a free man." 

Using the ink pen the medic offered, Hutch added his signature and handed back the form.  

"Alright, come on, Hutch," Starsky said, helping him to stand.  "The responding officers will write up the reports.  You don't have to do this one."

Wrapping his fingers around Hutch's upper arm, Starsky maintained a careful hold on his partner as they walked toward the Torino.  When Hutch caught his toe on the rough pavement and stumbled, Starsky caught him with a firm arm around his waist. 

After tucking Hutch into the passenger seat, Starsky climbed in behind the wheel and reached for the radio.  "I need to update Dobey," Starsky explained.  "Your job is to sit here carefully while I do."

Hutch nodded, sighed, and reclined against the car seat, wincing as he located another sore spot.  The paramedic was undoubtedly right.  By tomorrow he would be hurting all over. 

Starsky laid a calming hand on Hutch's leg as he called dispatch.  He understood why Hutch was upset not to mention just plain exhausted.  Losing the LTD was likely the final straw.  If the situation was reversed, Starsky would surely have punched a hole in something destructible by now. 

Starsky wound up talking to Dobey for several minutes, filling him in on the details of the accident as well as who the responding officers were.  The bulk of the remaining information would be available in the designated reports.  After a little more assurance that Hutch had been checked out properly at the scene, Dobey allowed Starsky to sign off.  

"Alright.  I'll see you both on Monday morning - unless something else happens before then," Dobey cautioned.  "And if it does, make sure you notify me."

"I got it, Cap'n," Starsky said.  "Right now I think Hutch needs a beer and something to eat.  Maybe tomorrow we can check on his car."

"Alright.  Just make sure he's ok through the weekend," Dobey added.  

"Affirmative, Sir.  We'll see you on Monday."

Starsky hung up the mic and started the ignition.  "Ok, Hutch.  Huggy was near prostrate with worry when I ran out of the bar on such short notice.  We're goin' there first so he can see that you're alive.  If you want to go home after that, I'll take you, but you might have to let me finish my beer first." 

All Hutch could do was nod as Starsky glanced in the rearview mirror before carefully merging with the traffic. 

From a vehicle parked three spaces behind them, the man from the bench watched, intrigued, as Starsky drove away. 

So the cop has a friend, the man noted.  Hum...  I didn't know cops had friends.

Chapter Text

An older man sat at his kitchen table rereading a four-month-old newspaper clipping, the primary focus of which was a Bay City detective by the name of David Starsky.  According to the article, Detective Starsky had been instrumental in saving several lives during a recent, late-night residential fire.  The mayor was so grateful for Starsky's heroism that he recognized his efforts with a citation of valor from the city. 

Starsky was more embarrassed than anything by the personal attention.  While it was true he had saved an entire family from certain death, Starsky knew his actions alone were not the only reason things turned out well that night.  Whether by pure luck or the hand of divine intervention, Starsky had simply been in the right place at the right time.  As far as Starsky was concerned, he had only been doing his job. 

Although Hutch had needled Starsky mercilessly about his time in the limelight, he was also extremely proud of him.  Hutch knew better than anyone how courageous his partner truly was.  If the mayor was inclined to recognize Starsky's heroism, that had been more than alright with Hutch.    

Feeling agitated, the man pulled off his glasses and tossed them aside.  Rubbing his forehead with both hands, he steeled himself against the cascade of emotions that was sure to follow.  It angered him profusely that David Starsky was not only alive and doing well, but reaping the kind of recognition that his only son, Joey, deserved instead.  

Joey and Starsky had been high school buddies - good friends right up through graduation day when the US Army drafted both of them into service.  They had even gone to boot camp at roughly the same time.  Once basic training was completed, they were each chosen for specialized instruction in marksmanship and deployed to Viet Nam.  The similarities ended when David came home eighteen months later and Joey did not.  Joey was killed in action two months before he was due to be discharged.     

"It isn't fair," the man shouted, slamming a fist into the tabletop.  "It just isn't fair!"

Jacob Hoffman was a man who had worked hard all of his life.  Starting out with nothing, he had built and operated a small, successful bakery until his retirement five years earlier.  Widowed only a few months later, Jacob had grown increasingly despondent after his wife's passing.  The day he saw Starsky's picture in the local newspaper had startled him into a new and unhealthy thought process - a substitute focus of sorts for the mountain of unresolved grief he had never been able to conquer.  

With no one around to notice his life was slowly spinning out of control, Jacob continued to obsess over the article that featured Starsky.  Knowing his son had also voiced a serious interest in police work, Jacob resented the opportunities that Starsky had lived to experience and Joey could not.  In the days that followed, his anger turned increasingly toward thoughts of revenge.  Life had dealt him a difficult double tragedy that motivated him to even the odds.  Pure chance made Starsky the target for all of Jacob's misplaced rage. 

"Alright then," Jacob concluded, mumbling to himself.  "I think it's time to rebalance the scales."

Jacob stood and walked into the kitchen where he grabbed the half-empty bottle of whiskey from the counter.  As he poured himself another drink he considered what he'd learned in the last forty-eight hours. 

Detective Starsky was commonly surrounded by a litany of coworkers and friends, yet he was occasionally out on his own.  Catching him at one of those moments would not be impossible, but it would have to be well-timed.  Jacob also knew that detectives routinely worked in pairs making it likely that Starsky did as well.  After digging into Starsky's personal life, Jacob had learned he was single and did not seem to have a current steady girlfriend.  Without an abundance of close, personal relationships to affect him, Starsky was certainly less vulnerable to any kind of emotional manipulation. 

Jacob's thoughts again wandered to the car wreck he had seen earlier that afternoon.  Because he had been trailing Starsky to and from the Pits, he had likewise followed him to the scene of Hutch's accident.  Jacob paused as he reflected on the blonde man he'd watched Starsky half-carry to his own car.  The expression on Jacob's face changed dramatically as he realized what he had unknowingly witnessed.         

Of course," Jacob thought, gripping the glass more tightly.  Yes, of course.

Jacob broke into a satisfied smile as the scattered pieces of information coalesced in his mind.  Suddenly, everything was falling into place. 

"That's who he is," Jacob murmured.  Without a doubt, the blonde in question had to be Starsky's partner.

Jacob grabbed the newspaper clipping, hurriedly rescanning the article in search of the other man's name.

"Ah yes, Kenneth Hutchinson." 

He had initially overlooked that piece of information.  Feeling satisfied, Jacob swirled the whiskey around in his glass as he considered a broad, new angle. 

"Alright, Sergeant Starsky.  Let's see if you care about that partner of yours any more than you did your fellow soldiers."  

 

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Ouch!" Hutch whined, attempting to pull away.  "That's cold!"

"It's an ice bag, Hutchinson!  It's supposed to be cold!" Starsky argued.  "Now sit still, would ya?"

Starsky persevered, rewrapping the compress in a soft towel before pressing it against Hutch's collar bone.  

It was hard to know exactly what Hutch had bumped into in the automotive pile-up a few hours earlier.  Maybe he'd hit the steering wheel without realizing it?  Whatever he'd connect with, the aftermath had left him extremely tender in the area beneath his right collar bone.  It had taken a couple of hours for the swelling to be noticeable.  Now that Starsky and Huggy were both aware of it, there was no constraining either one of them.  For the last forty-five minutes, Starsky had been applying ice bags to Hutch's collar bone as fast as Huggy could produce them.  

"Hutch, just lean back and let it work, ok?" Starsky instructed.  "Or would you feel better lying down?"

"No!" Hutch replied, a bit louder than he'd intended. 

A customer four tables away looked up long enough to cast a suspicious eye in their direction. 

"No," Hutch repeated more softly.  "I can't finish my beer very well if I'm horizontal, can I?"

Huggy studied his fair-skinned friend from a relative position of safety behind Starsky.  He figured if Hutch became totally fed up and took a swing at him, Starsky could at least intervene.  It had been such a relief to see Hutch walk into the bar that Huggy would have rolled out a red carpet if he had one.  In lieu of the missing carpet, he settled instead for fussing over Hutch in tandem with Starsky until Hutch was ready to deck both of them.  

"Alright, alright!" Hutch said, taking charge of the ice bag.  "Hug," Hutch began, struggling to think more clearly.  "I'm - I'm hungry.  Can I have..."

"Comin' right up," Huggy said, not waiting for Hutch to finish his sentence.  Turning on his heels, Huggy marched toward the kitchen like a man on a mission. 

Hutch watched him go with an expression somewhere between exasperation and astonishment. 

How does he even know what I want?" Hutch asked.     

"Oh, he just does," Starsky replied.  "A lot of things about you are easy to figure out, Hutch."

Starsky slid into the booth across from Hutch, allowing himself to unwind for the first time since he'd departed Huggy's the first time.  The paramedic had given him a sheet of printed instructions for things to look out for over the next few days.  Although he hadn't told Hutch yet, Starsky planned to be underfoot all weekend.   

Starsky sat quietly, waiting for the moment he knew was coming.  It didn't take long.  When Hutch next looked in his direction, Starsky winked before Hutch could look away. 

"Yep, I'm still here," Starsky said.    

Hutch managed a slight smile before glancing toward the kitchen, curious about what Huggy might be concocting behind those double doors. 

"Ah, don't worry, Blintz," Starsky added.  "Huggy knows what he's doing.  I predict whatever he's making, it'll be unique and exactly the way you like it."

Less than fifteen minutes later Huggy emerged from the kitchen carrying a full tray of food.  Arriving at their table, he set a plate in front of each man - a sizzling sirloin steak for Starsky and a fluffy cheese omelet paired with a side of grilled prawns for Hutch.  Both men looked at Huggy in wide-eyed amazement.  

"Wow!  You really outdid yourself, Huggy!  Thank you!" Hutch exclaimed.  

"An omelet with beer?" Starsky asked, glancing at Hutch's plate. 

"Hutch loves breakfast for dinner," Huggy answered, assuming that explained everything.

Hutch smirked at his partner from across the table.  Despite a sometimes brazen and hardened exterior, they both knew Huggie was a softie at heart.   

"Well, this is beyond anything I expected, Hug.  I'd have been happy with a cheeseburger," Starsky added.  

"I know that," Huggy said curtly.  "Let's just say I'm feelin' flush and thankful that your other half is still in one piece.  So enjoy it while you can, Curly.  I don't know how long it will last."

Chapter Text

"Come on, Hutch," Starsky said, encouraging the other man to stand up. "It's time to get you upstairs." 

Starsky tried to be gentle as he pulled Hutch out of the front seat, helping him to his feet before kicking the door shut behind them. 

"Just a little more and you can sleep as long as you want."

Once Hutch had gotten some food on his stomach, he relaxed enough to socialize and shoot a few games of pool.  In all of the merriment, one beer had turned into two, then three, and eventually six before Starsky cut him off.  He didn't want Hutch feeling worse than he already would by morning.     

"That's it," Starsky urged.  "Lean on me, buddy.  We're almost there."

"You're a good pal, Starsk," Hutch mumbled, his arm draped around Starsky's shoulders.   

"Yes, I am," Starsky agreed, half-walking, half-dragging Hutch toward the stairs.  

Hutch's speech had started to slur long before they left Huggy's.  Although Starsky was surprised a few beers had affected Hutch so dramatically, he'd chalked it up to simple exhaustion and a clear sign it was time to go home.  Whatever the origin of Hutch's sensitivity tonight, it was a moot point overall.  The man wouldn't be driving himself anywhere for several days. 

Starsky had also decided his place was a better destination for both of them that night.  Although Starsky was entirely serious about not leaving Hutch alone after the accident, his sleepy partner wouldn't know the difference until morning. 

Fumbling for his keys, Starsky managed to open the apartment door while holding onto Hutch with one arm.  Once inside, he steered them toward the bedroom and carefully lowered Hutch onto the mattress. 

Realizing he was at last horizontal, Hutch smiled, sighed, and stretched both arms high above his head.  

"Sweet dreams, Blintz.  I'll be right back."

Returning to the Torino, Starsky gathered his camera bag and a few other items before locking the car and returning to the apartment.  After shucking his own jacket and kicking off his shoes, he returned to the bedroom.  Hutch hadn't moved a muscle in the time Starsky was gone. 

Chuckling as he approached the bed, Starsky tugged off Hutch's shoes and socks before wrestling him to a sitting position. 

"Come on, buddy - give up the jacket," Starsky said, easing one arm at a time out of the soft, leather sleeves.  As he stood back and surveyed the remainder of Hutch's clothing, he decided Hutch would be better off without most of it. 

Vaguely sensing what was needed, Hutch tried to be helpful as Starsky peeled off his shirt and jeans.  Lifting the covers, he helped Hutch to navigate successfully between the sheets.  Once settled, Starsky drew the comforter over his shoulders, turned off the light, and quietly left the room.  As an afterthought, he also left the door slightly ajar.  

Starsky had learned years ago that a hide-a-bed was a good investment for his often hectic lifestyle.  After a host of impromptu evenings just like this one, it was a decision that had paid for itself many times over - not unlike the small, extra dresser he kept at the back of the closet for a few of Hutch's clothes.  It was just easier.

After hanging up their jackets and holsters, Starsky went hunting for the novel he had been reading the night before.  Spotting it in the kitchen near the coffee pot, he was reaching for the refrigerator handle when something caught his eye.  Laying next to the coffee pot was a small, brass button imprinted with distinctive military insignia - an exact replica of the buttons that adorned his old Army uniform.

Intrigued, Starsky picked up the button and rolled it around in his hand, puzzling over how it had gotten there.  Although he instantly recognized the insignia, he hadn't recently been looking at any of his military keepsakes.  All of his uniforms and other military-issued items were still in a trunk in storage.  He didn't go into that part of his life often, but Starsky always knew where those things were.          

Shrugging his shoulders, he dismissed any additional thoughts about the Army and simply set the button aside.  Grabbing a cold soda from the refrigerator, he yawned widely as he returned to the hide-a-bed.  Shucking his own clothes down to his shorts, he turned on the lamp and climbed into bed.  

"Oh, this ain't half bad at all," Starsky thought, settling into the pillows.  "And as long as I know where Hutch is, at least I can concentrate."

After reading for about thirty minutes, Starsky gave in to his own sense of drowsiness.  Marking the page, he yawned again, laid the book aside, and got up to use the bathroom.  On his way back to bed, he detoured to check on Hutch.    

Hutch had rolled over in his sleep, taking most of the covers with him.  Starsky lingered, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest until he was satisfied that Hutch was breathing normally.  Starsky quietly returned to bed, shut off the lamp, and curled up underneath the covers.  

From a vehicle parked a half-block away, Jacob watched as the faint light that had been visible in Starsky's window disappeared.  Despite a vague sense of disappointment, he started the car engine and drove away.  

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hutch opened his eyes to peer cautiously at his immediate surroundings.  Despite the near-total darkness, he felt surrounded by a certain sense of familiarity.  Searching for clues, he ran his fingertips lightly across the edge of the bedding.    

"Starsky's place," Hutch realized, relief washing over him. 

Hutch had crashed at Starsky's so often over the years that he knew the texture of the brocade comforter by touch alone.  Throwing one arm across his forehead, he slowly rolled over and struggled to remember what had gotten him there.  Snatches of the previous evening floated to the forefront of his mind one at a time - hanging out at Huggy's, a few games of pool, and a faint memory of Starsky pulling a beer out of his hand. 

"Nope, you're done," Starsky had said with finality. 

Hutch couldn't remember what happened after that.  Apparently, Starsky had loaded him into the Torino and taken him home. 

All at once, Hutch knew what had awakened him.  His bladder was about to burst. Tossing the covers aside, he started to sit up when he was stopped mid-way by a sharp pain snaking its way across his shoulders.  Startled, he gasped and fumbled for the bedside table for support, knocking over the lamp in the process.  Moments later, the bedroom door flew open as Starsky hurried into the room.
       
"Hutch, what are you doin'?" Starsky asked, squatting down in front of him.  

Hutch braced an arm on Starsky's shoulder as he waited for the pain to ease. 

"I wasn't expecting that," Hutch said, his voice shaky.  

"Expecting what? What happened?" Starsky asked.          

"Pain in my shoulders when I sat up - surprised me is all." 

Taking a deep breath, Hutch persevered.  "Starsk, I really need to pee.  Can you help me into the bathroom?"

"Of course," Starsky assured him.  "Come on.  Lean on me."

Once they'd hobbled across the room together, Starsky reached inside the bathroom door, switched on the light, and allowed Hutch to take it alone.  He stayed close by anyway - waiting just in case.  In case of what he wasn't exactly sure. 

"You're still ok?" Starsky called out, unable to entirely control his worry.       

"Yeah, I'm alright, Starsk," Hutch replied, moving to the sink. 

After washing his hands, Hutch switched off the light and stepped back into the bedroom.  "Thanks.  I think I was still half asleep.  My muscles just didn't know what to do there for a minute."

Relieved to see that Hutch was looking more functional, Starsky waited for a hint of what to do next.       

"I don't think I can go back to bed," Hutch said.  "I'm too awake now.  What time is it, anyway?" 

"Almost 5:30," Starsky replied.  "Almost"...     

Knowing how much Starsky loved to sleep in on the weekends, Hutch winced at the realization he wouldn't get to do that this morning - at least not without overcoming a major interruption.    

"If you got me out of bed at this hour on a Saturday, there should at least be breakfast involved," Starsky added.  

Hutch looked a little too guilty which caused Starsky to regret his words. 

"Ah, Hutch," Starsky said, quickly ushering him toward the kitchen.  "Come on.  Have a seat, I'll make us some coffee, and we can figure out where you're taking me for breakfast."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

A little more than ninety minutes later, Starsky and Hutch were having breakfast at an out-of-the-way establishment not far from where Starsky had lived as a teen.  The small cafe was located at the top of a hill and right on the seashore.  Once there, Hutch could understand what Starsky liked about the place.  It was small, family-owned, and everything they served was made in the restaurant's kitchen.  

"This place was called something different when I was a kid," Starsky said, allowing himself to reminisce.  "I can't quite remember what, but the name is new."

"Maybe someone here would remember the old name," Hutch offered, hearing the nostalgia in Starsky's voice.  "It might be worth asking."

"Yeah, maybe I'll ask.  More importantly, I was trying to think of a quiet place with good food and a nice view.  This spot instantly came to mind."

"Well, I'm glad it did, Starsk.  I like it a lot.  Thanks for bringing me here."

Starsky had kept a watchful eye on Hutch as he moved around the apartment as well as later when he negotiated the outside stairs.  He did seem to be moving much easier after a hot shower and a few cups of coffee.  Perhaps the worst of the stiffness had already passed.  For Hutch's sake, Starsky hoped that was so.

"Wanna check on your car after we leave here?" Starsky asked.  

"Yeah, I might as well.  I know the news probably won't be good, but I need to find out.  Postponing it a day or two won't change the outcome."

Starsky nodded.  In his heart, he'd known Hutch would insist on seeing his car sometime today.  Starsky had already phoned Mel while Hutch was in the shower.  As suspected, Mel was confident the insurance company would declare it a total loss. 

 

Earlier that morning...

"Well, that stinks," Starsky had said.  

"Oh, I agree," Mel replied.  "I think I can get him some money back on a few of the parts, but the rear end is too badly damaged to bother with repairs.  The axle and frame are both bent, too.  I'm sure the insurance company won't go for replacing it."

"Alright," Starsky said, sighing.  "I'll bring Hutch by sometime later this morning.  Will you be there?"

"Yep, I'll be around.  We'll give Hutch some space to look at his car so he can make arrangements for a proper Christian burial.  The sooner we do that, the sooner he can start looking for some new wheels."

"You're a peach, Mel.  See ya later."

 

After paying for breakfast, Starsky followed Hutch down to the beach where they walked about a quarter of a mile north.  The tide was still relatively high at that hour, catching their ankles and wetting the top of their shoes when they were too slow to get out of the way.  Having not been able to run that morning, Hutch settled for a short walk instead.  When his leg muscles began to tire despite the modest workout, he knew it was time to head back to the car. 

"Maybe I'll try running in the morning," Hutch announced suddenly.  "I wasn't feeling up to it earlier."

"What?  Absolutely not!" Starsky exclaimed.     

Hutch was surprised by the force in his partner's voice.  While he knew Starsky wasn't likely to favor the idea, he hadn't realized he'd be so adamantly opposed either.

"Oh?" Hutch bristled.  "And just who's going to stop me?" Hutch challenged.  

"I will, that's who," Starsky shot back.  "Hutch, you don't need to be out running while you're still healing up from the wreck.  Remember this morning?  No!"

Glancing at Starsky, Hutch could see that his partner considered the topic closed.  Hutch didn't feel like arguing, but he wasn't opposed to sneaking out if the opportunity presented itself.  Clearly, he would postpone that decision until later. 

"Starsky, I have stiff and sore muscles is all.  There's no reason I shouldn't go jogging if I feel like it."

Starsky didn't comment immediately although Hutch could see he was thinking furiously.  Maybe they would just have to call it a truce and drop the subject altogether.  

"No," Starsky repeated bluntly.  "I don't think it's a good idea yet.  Wait a couple of days instead and then see how you feel."

Hutch didn't push Starsky's temperament any harder as they climbed the hill toward the parking lot.  To be honest, he was a little out of breath by the time they got to the top.  Apparently, a simple walk after breakfast was all he could handle this morning.   

Starsky was reaching for the car door when he noticed a piece of red, white, and blue fabric fluttering in the breeze.  Peering closer, he realized a small American flag had been tied around the Torino's exterior handle.

For a split second, Starsky couldn't move.  "Hutch!" he called out instead.  "Come 'ere!"

Hutch moved from the passenger side to stand next to Starsky, following his line of vision.  

"Looks like a flag?" Hutch asked, looking intently at Starsky.  "What - what does it mean?"

Starsky reached out to finger the tattered ends of the brightly colored cloth.  Obviously, someone had quite intentionally attached this particular symbol to his car door.  

"I don't know what it means," Starsky admitted.    

Hesitating, Starsky struggled to sort through a wash of emotions.  Although he didn't yet understand, a sense of real danger was palpable behind an otherwise hidden intent.   

"Give me a minute," Starsky added, grabbing Hutch by the sleeve and pulling him a few steps backward.  "I just need to think about this for a minute."

Chapter Text

Jacob moved to the front porch in favor of the rocking chair he liked to keep there.  As his arthritis had grown increasingly worse over the last year, it had become more difficult to get comfortable on the overstuffed living room furniture.  It was also easier to smoke outside.  Jacob could enjoy his pipe in peace and consider some of the things he had learned over the last few days. 

A few short surveillance trips had demonstrated that it wouldn't be easy to catch Starsky alone.  It wasn't impossible, of course - but generally, there were just too many unpredictable factors that could interfere.  Starsky didn't lead the kind of life that sent him home to a wife and family every evening.  His daily routine was far less regimented. 

Despite a few surprises, Jacob did manage to learn something useful throughout his surveillance efforts.  Without a doubt, the most significant person in Starsky's life was his partner, Detective Hutchinson.  The path to Starsky's full attention was obviously through Hutchinson.  All Jacob had to do was determine how he wanted to utilize the information. 

At one time, Jacob had actually considered just gunning down Starsky himself.  After all, he'd been a decent shot at a certain point in his life.  While that would have indeed been a bold move, Jacob knew it was also unlikely he would get away with something so brazen.  That alone, however, was not what was stopping him.

As Jacob saw it, he didn't have a lot left to live for.  Facing the remainder of his life in prison couldn't be much worse than it already was. The stone walls of the penitentiary represented a prison of a different kind - yet the payoff wasn't quite right.  If he chose the easy route, Starsky would never know what happened, and that alone would negate any satisfaction Jacob might have reaped by cutting his life short.  He needed a far more emotionally productive angle, and from what he had witnessed recently, Hutchinson was certainly it.    

As he tamped the loose tobacco into the pipe bowl, Jacob considered the myriad of pros and cons of what he was planning to do.  While the risks were certainly enormous, he felt the compensation was justified.  In Jacob's mind, such a drastic plan was vindication against everyone who had turned their back on his son years earlier.  Jacob had convinced himself that Joey's death was entirely preventable if men like Starsky had done their jobs properly.  Jacob thought it was past time that David Starsky faced the music.   

Striking a match, Jacob lit the tobacco, puffing gently until the tiny, dry fibers ignited and began to burn in earnest.  He'd always found the aroma of fresh tobacco quite soothing.  It was one of the simple, comforting things he'd been able to preserve throughout a multitude of difficult life changes.

As he continued to smoke, thoughts of Detective Hutchinson returned to the forefront of his mind.  From where he was sitting, Starsky and Hutchinson were a well-paired duo - same age, the same level of devotion to their jobs, and apparently, a shared commitment to crime-fighting on the streets of Bay City.  That was all well and good for the sake of appearances, but the same level of devotion rarely transferred into personal spheres.  Even Jacob was surprised by the obvious relationship between Starsky and his partner.  While it was a little confusing to him personally, it was ultimately helpful in providing a palette of opportunities to choose from.

Jacob knew that Hutchinson had been mildly injured in the wreck on Friday evening.  Although he had learned of that incident only because he'd been tailing Starsky, the insight had ultimately proven beneficial.  Jacob already knew where Starsky lived.  What Friday's events had handed him was an introduction to the role Hutchinson played in Starsky's life.  Jacob didn't yet know Hutchinson's home address, but finding it would not be difficult.  Beyond that, if a man could have one accident, it seemed likely he could have another. 

Jacob chuckled at the variety of new possibilities that presented themselves in his mind.  This might actually be fun after all.    

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Hutch, what is this?" Starsky asked, pointing to the end table.

Hutch wandered around the corner to look at what Starsky was pointing at.  "It's called a prayer plant.  Kind of cool looking, isn't it?"

Starsky eyed the potted plant that was taking up most of the tabletop, its leaves a variety of deep, green-toned hues.  While Starsky could admit it was unusual-looking, he wasn't sure he would describe it as cool.  Leave it to Hutch to be awe-inspired by anything with large, green leaves.

"If you say so," Starsky added.

Following Hutch into the kitchen, Starsky unloaded two bags of groceries onto the table.  Since they had both been busy all week, not much had gotten done on the housekeeping end of their lives.  The wreck on Friday evening had rearranged what was left of their usual routine.  By Sunday morning, visiting the grocery store had become an absolute necessity.  

Hutch hoped to see the inside of his apartment at least once that weekend if only to water his plants and open the mail.  While he'd considered asking Starsky to leave him there on his own, Hutch knew he would not agree to that.  So why bring it up when he already knew the answer?   

Sometimes he's on a par with Vanessa, Hutch thought, grinning as if he'd told himself some sort of private joke, followed quickly by, No, Starsky cares if I make it home at night.  While Vanessa...

Hutch wasn't sure if he knew how to finish his last thought.  He did know that Starsky was the one person who would always know if he was missing or in trouble.  In actuality, it wasn't something he felt like complaining about.

Hutch watched as Starsky bustled around the kitchen, putting things away, and organizing what needed to go in the refrigerator.  Hutch hated to admit it, but just watching him was a little exhausting.  Maybe Starsky was right after all.  Maybe it was better if he didn't try to do a lot for a few more days.  In reality, Hutch felt more like taking a nap than reading the mail. 

Sensing Hutch's hesitation, Starsky watched him intently for a few moments where he stood with his arms folded and leaning against the counter.  While Hutch seemed fine while they were shopping, the whole experience appeared to have tired him noticeably.  

"Want a soda?" Starsky asked, pulling a cold bottle out of the six-pack.

When Hutch looked interested, Starsky held onto the bottle to remove the cap and nodded toward the couch.  

"Go sit down," Starsky added, his voice softening.  "I'll bring it to you with your mail.

Not interested in arguing, Hutch wandered into the living room, quickly settling into his favorite spot at the end of the couch.  Propping his feet on the coffee table, he waited as Starsky handed him the soda along with a small pile of mail. 

"Don't get too excited," Starsky cautioned.  "Most of it is probably junk anyway."

Hutch smiled at what was likely true, pausing to take an extra-long drink from the soda bottle before setting it on the floor.  Pulling his pocket knife from his jeans, he selected the first envelope and eyed the return address.  He had never heard of that particular business.    

The bulk of the mail involved more than one sales pitch that didn't interest Hutch, one utility bill, and an offer for a new credit card.  Overall, Starsky was right - there wasn't much to get excited about.  Selecting the last envelope, Hutch again glanced at the return address.  While someone had clearly written something in the corner, the handwriting was sloppy and difficult to read.  Hutch eventually gave up trying to decipher it. He also noticed there was no postage stamp in the corner.  Apparently, the letter had been hand-delivered to his mailbox.   

Running the blade under the edge of the seal, Hutch opened the envelope and removed the single page inside.  Unfolding it carefully, his eyes widened in sudden surprise before he flinched, dropping the paper in his lap.     

"What is it?" Starsky asked, leaping out of his chair. 

Starsky hurried to Hutch's side, retrieved the letter, and scanned the content.  Inexplicably, he was looking at a reprinted 8 x 10 image of the wrong end of an M16 - the type of rifle he had personally used daily in Viet Nam.  The message at the top of the page was clear despite the sloppy, oversized handwritten scrawl  - Bang!  You're dead, Hutchinson!  Bye-bye!

"What the hell?" Starsky mumbled, reading the message again.  

Starsky resisted the urge to crumple the paper in his hand and hurl it to the far corner of the room, no matter how good that might feel.  Professionalism wouldn't allow him to do that.  Starsky knew he was holding concrete evidence of a potentially serious threat against Hutch.  The vague sense of dread that had been building in his gut all weekend had, at last, blossomed into a full-sized reality.  Someone had threatened to hurt his partner or worse.  For a moment, Starsky felt sick.  

Starsky met Hutch's anxious gaze, each understanding they could not simply discount what had happened.  While Starsky could see the message was upsetting to Hutch, his own anger was especially palpable.

"Alright, who do we know who would do something like this?" Starsky asked.  "Any ideas, Hutch?"

Hutch was already shaking his head before Starsky had finished talking.  "I don't know, Starsk," he sighed, rubbing his forehead in frustration.  "I guess we have a file cabinet full of possibilities back in the squad room.  In reality, we both know it could be almost anyone."

Upsetting the clientele was a baked-in risk for any detective.  Regardless of the circumstances, Starsky knew their Captain would not simply overlook this kind of threat.  At a minimum, they had to report it.  

"I'll gather some groceries while you go pack a bag," Starsky ordered.  "I'm not leavin' you here alone with no wheels, and some nut case sending stuff like this through the mail.  You're stayin' with me 'til we can figure this out."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Monday morning dawned clear and bright despite the cloud cover that had threatened to turn the weather stormy all weekend.  Although the rest of the weekend had passed without additional untoward incidents, Starsky was anxious about what feared was an evolving pattern.  By the time he and Hutch were back at work, Starsky had formulated a loose theory.  

The association between the stray button, a tattered piece of the American flag, and the picture of the M-16 was obvious to Starsky.  Someone was pissed at the military - or at least that's the conclusion anyone could easily draw.  What bothered him the most was how the button had gotten inside his apartment, and what did Hutch have to do with it?  Hutch had never served in the Armed Forces.  Therein was the missing link.  

Dobey was quiet as he considered what Starsky had recounted for him about the pattern of mishaps between Friday and Monday.  Although no one could yet assume there was a direct connection to Hutch's accident, it was impossible to know for sure, and unwise to totally discount it.  Just in case, Dobey had ordered a profile on each of the people involved in Friday's accident.  So far, both individuals had clean and otherwise unimpressive records.  

Starsky had laid awake much of the night before tossing several possibilities around in his mind.  Dobey, too, looked concerned while Hutch appeared to be taking more of the situation in stride.  While Hutch understood why Starsky was so concerned, he didn't feel the same level of worry.  There were too many disjointed gaps.  

"I don't like it," Dobey concluded, thrusting both hands deep into his pockets.  "I have half a mind to put you both on leave until we know more, but I can't spare either of you on such a small amount of evidence."

About the last thing Starsky or Hutch wanted was to be put on administrative leave without a significant and justifiable cause.  Despite what they were discussing, Hutch's train of thought had drifted to what he saw as the more immediate problem of replacing his car.  That alone was ahead of the other issues for Hutch, and far more at the forefront of his mind.  

"Hutchinson?" Dobey repeated suddenly.  

Hutch's thoughts snapped back to Dobey's office as the Captain called his name a bit louder.

Oh damn, what did I miss now? Hutch wondered.

Instead of deflecting, Hutch decided to play things honestly. 

"I'm sorry, Captain.  I'm afraid I zoned out there for a minute.  What were you saying?"

Hutch turned earnest blue eyes toward his boss and waited for a scolding.  If he was going to be at work, he needed to think about his job and not his personal life. 

Instead of reprimanding Hutch, Dobey exchanged a look of concern with Starsky.  Clearly, Hutch was not as focused as he normally was.  While both men knew Hutch was still recovering from the accident, neither thought that alone entirely explained his current state of mind.  Both Starsky and Dobey were concerned that Friday's wreck had been harder on Hutch than he understood or was willing to admit.  

When Dobey's phone rang unexpectedly, it jolted all three of them out of their conversation.  After answering, Dobey's facial expression changed dramatically as he listened to the caller.   

"Alright!" Dobey answered.  "Yeah, I'm on my way!"

Dobey threw down the receiver and faced his detectives.  "We have an active shooter on the docks at Pier 16.  Three people have been shot so far.  We have to get down there!"

Chapter Text

Jacob had arrived at the docks well before dawn for a final inspection of the general area.  Although he had previously toyed with the idea of using some part of the pier for his plan, he had chosen the precise location only the night before. 

After witnessing Starsky leave Hutch's apartment with his partner in tow, Jacob had flown into a new level of personal rage.  Most likely, both of them had read the note he'd left in his mailbox and were taking the content seriously.  Starsky was stepping up with extra attention because he was worried about his partner.  Jacob did not appreciate Starsky's constant interference.    

So you don't mind watching a man's back while he's out on the city streets, but not in a jungle full of Viet Cong, Jacob thought. Alright, Detective Starsky!  Let's see what you're really made of.

Jacob had learned he could not separate Starsky from Hutch by simply waiting for him to lower his guard.  Hutchinson was also transportation dependent right now until he was able to replace his own car.  As there was no way of knowing when that might be, Jacob was both suddenly and decidedly out of patience. 

Concealing his rifle with some old fishing gear, Jacob walked with determination toward an abandoned warehouse.  Although the company Jacob remembered on the docks was now also out of business, he recalled the place for its spaciousness and variety of empty storage rooms.  It was a location he had frequented when his bakery was new.  If he could establish a good view from somewhere on the third floor, Jacob was sure he would have the advantage when the shooting actually started. 

A potentially serious snag in his plan was whether Starsky or Hutchinson would show up at all.  As the pier was less than a mile from the precinct, Jacob was counting on both of them being part of the armed response.  Whatever actually happened, Jacob decided he would adjust to the circumstances as they unfolded.  If the worst happened and Starsky didn't show up at all, Jacob was confident he'd be able to stay hidden until things calmed down.  If both Starsky and Hutch showed up together as he hoped, Jacob was likewise confident he could separate them with gunfire.  It was the kind of thing he had been good at during his own Army days in Korea. 

Laboring up the stairs to the third floor, Jacob sought out a dusty and deserted room he once used as a temporary office.  He remembered the small, lone window that faced the parking lot - a good place for an unobstructed view of anyone coming or going.

Jacob supposed he'd need to create quite a disturbance in order to get the police to rush down here.  That part would be easy.  He would choose his victims as they presented themselves.  Jacob wasn't planning to kill anyone outright, but there was no predicting where a ricocheted bullet might wind up.  Sometimes unplanned things happened despite one's best intentions.  As for Starsky, Jacob was still on the fence about what true revenge would ultimately look like.  All he knew for sure was that it would involve Detective Hutchinson.  

Shouldering his rifle, Jacob sighted in the scope and took aim at a variety of points around the still-dark parking lot.  

"Yes, this will be fairly easy," Jacob muttered out loud.  "Now all we need is the sunrise."

Sunrise was less than thirty minutes away allowing Jacob enough time to settle in.  When the first morning rays made their way across the skyline, Jacob was ready to initiate some changes. 

As this part of the pier was not heavily used anymore, it was several minutes before Jacob spotted anyone moving around.  The first person he saw was a young man, probably a teen judging by how skinny he looked despite being dressed in bulky clothing.  Unimpressed with him as a first victim, Jacob allowed the young man to pass out of sight unharmed.

It wasn't long before Jacob spotted another man leaving the building at the end of the dock.  Sizing him up quickly, Jacob guessed he was middle-aged, a little portly, and not likely to outrun a bit of gunfire.  Having chosen his first victim, Jacob aimed for the man's leg and fired.  Moments later, he heard the man scream in pain as he clutched at his leg, and fell to the ground.  

That's one," Jacob thought.  Get ready, Detective Starsky.  Game on.

The wounded man's cries drew the attention of another passerby, a man of about the same age.  Jacob waited until the newcomer was bending over the first victim before firing again.  The second bullet landed somewhere on the man's lower torso causing him to call out in pain and collapse.  Satisfied, Jacob lowered his rifle and watched from afar as both men managed to crawl around the corner together.  

That's two, Jacob thought.  Better step it up, Starsky.

Watching intently from his hidden room, Jacob knew he had started a commotion that was destined to build to a greater crescendo.  He was considering whether two initial victims would be enough when a third opportunity presented itself.  A lone security guard came running across the parking lot from another part of the pier.

Must have heard the gunfire - or the screaming, Jacob thought.  Big mistake.

Jacob calmly raised the rifle for the third time, aimed, and pulled the trigger.  Moments later, a third victim lay spread out on the asphalt in need of rescue. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

By the time Starsky and Hutch arrived at Pier 16, the parking lot was half-filled with black and white squad cars.  Noting the defensive stance of the officers ahead of them, Starsky slammed on the brakes fifty feet short of the asphalt lot.  Bailing out of the Torino, he ran for cover alongside the closest black and white with Hutch following closely behind him.   

"What have ya got?" Starsky asked, crouching down beside the officer.  It was then Starsky noticed the security guard lying flat on his back in the parking lot.    

"Don't exactly know yet, Sergeant," the cop answered.  "As best we can tell, some crazy is taking potshots from somewhere on the upper level.  We can't pinpoint the location yet."

"And the guy out there on the pavement?" Hutch asked.

"Can't get to him yet," he explained.  "Every time one of us tries, we're shot at.  Colson has already been hit.  Someone is just waiting for us to lose our cover and become the next target.  It's like a shooting gallery out there."

"Well, someone has to draw his fire so we can figure it out," Starsky said.  "We can't just leave that guy out there."

"Agreed, Sergeant," Jim said.  "Any ideas?"

Hutch was thinking furiously, eyeing the upper levels of the warehouse and eliminating one by one the most likely location a sniper would have his best shot.  In his estimation, the bullets were probably originating from one of two places. 

"He's gotta be in that lone window on the upper floor," Hutch said, looking at Starsky.  "If one of us can draw his attention, we'll know for sure soon enough."

The words were barely out of Hutch's mouth when someone tried exactly that.  A young, uniformed officer took off running, trying to draw the sniper's fire so his partner could isolate the shooter's position.  Hutch looked up in time to see the flash of a gun barrel a split second before the officer cried out and fell to his knees.  Only inches away from the door he had been striving for, the wounded man managed to hang on long enough to rip it open and escape inside.

"Stay put!" Dobey ordered from somewhere nearby.      

"Cover me," Hutch whispered, pretending he hadn't heard Dobey's order.    

"Hutch, no!" Starsky hissed. 

Ignoring Starsky, Hutch leaped to his feet and ran toward a warehouse door that was slightly ajar. Swearing bitterly under his breath, Starsky unleashed a barrage of gunfire that covered the entire upper level of the building, not stopping until Hutch disappeared safely inside.  A heartbeat later, Dobey was at Starsky's elbow and mad as a hornet. 

"What the hell does Hutchinson think he's doing? Dobey yelled.  

"How should I know?" Starsky shot back. 

"He's your partner, that's how!" Dobey retorted.  

"Captain!  You know I can't control him all of the time!  Besides, he told me to cover him and I did.  It wasn't the best time to ask a lot of questions!"

Starsky understood why Dobey was so angry.  There were wounded civilians at the heart of this situation, and two of Dobey's uniformed officers had already been shot as well.  Starsky knew the boss didn't want to put Hutch at risk until they could gain better control of the whole area.  

"Captain, I need to go after him!  He's in there alone and you know I can find him!  Send me in!"

Dobey stared at Starsky for several long moments.  The stand-off was broken only when Dobey nodded curtly and looked away.    

"Cover Starsky!" Dobey yelled, turning to face the other officers.  "On the count of three...  One!  Two!  Three!  Now!"

Starsky waited until the gunfire began in earnest before leaping to his feet and running after Hutch.  Reaching the warehouse, he dove through the same open doorway Hutch had used and rolled to his feet on the other side.  As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Starsky found the nearest wall and flattened himself against it.  Searching furiously for his partner, Starsky waited impatiently for his vision to improve.  So far, there was no sign of Hutch or anyone else.  

From his position at the peak of the warehouse, Jacob had watched as several black and white city squad cars responded to the scene.  Despite having a number of targets to choose from, he was interested in only two of them.  Jacob had been overjoyed when Starsky's Torino had appeared behind the initial responding squadron and laughed when the first set of officers attempted to draw him out.  In view of their efforts, he figured he could at least acknowledge them by complying.  Unfortunately, that way of thinking had already cost them at least two officers.  After that, it didn't look as though they were willing to take a chance until Hutchinson volunteered himself as the next target.      

Jacob's thoughts veered yet again to Starsky's partner - his most prized, intended target.  The man had made his job tremendously easier by unknowingly falling right into Jacob's plan. Only a few more steps and the stage would be set.  Exiting the room by a hidden doorway, Jacob followed an old staircase to the lower level.  Unknown to Hutch,  Jacob was ready and waiting for him when he entered the warehouse. 

Jacob waited until Hutch had advanced into the center of the room.  Following him step by step through the scope, Jacob selected a spot slightly above his right hip and fired.

That ought to slow him down, Jacob thought.

Although he'd only intended to graze him, the bullet passed through Hutch's flesh a little off the mark - higher and deeper than Jacob had intended.  The force of the hit spun Hutch in a half-circle before knocking him off his feet altogether, his cry of surprise smothered by the noise of the gunfire outside. 

While Hutch was disoriented, Jacob snuck up behind him and landed the butt of his rifle against the back of his head, knocking him unconscious.  Hutch was suddenly still, defenseless and bleeding at Jacob's feet.      

Moving quickly, Jacob grabbed Hutch by one arm and dragged him inside a nearby freight elevator. Hitting the button, he closed the doors and sent the elevator car to the basement.  When the doors next opened, he dragged Hutch to the center of the room, dropping him there in a bloody heap.  Staring momentarily at Hutch, he wondered if Hutch was at all conscious.  When Hutch didn't move or respond in any way, Jacob turned his back and exited by way of the same hidden staircase, certain that Starsky was not far behind his partner.      

Chapter Text

Starsky pressed himself against the wall and waited, alert for any sign of Hutch.  Although the urge to call out to him was strong, Starsky knew better than to do so.  He would have to rely on visual clues and raw intuition to tell him which way Hutch had gone. 

Once inside the large, mostly dirt-covered floor structure, Starsky came upon an area showing definite signs of a recent scuffle.  Moving closer, he was able to see the fresh bloodstains smeared obscenely across the floor.

Damn it! Starsky thought, immediately worried for his partner.

Following what looked like a dragline, Starsky could envision at least part of what happened.  Knowing there was no good reason for Hutch to shoot anyone and drag them away, Starsky's heart dropped into his stomach as he considered other possibilities.  

Hutch, I swear to God.  You'd better be ok when I find you.

After following the trail of blood to the elevator, Starsky hesitated.  While he didn't know who or what might be waiting for him one floor down, someone had obviously taken this path quite recently.  Leaning into the cage, Starsky hit the button, queuing the elevator to close its doors and travel back to the basement.  Stepping back, he watched from the outside as the empty elevator car lit up and took off. 

Any place with an elevator should also have a set of stairs, Starsky thought, his eyes searching both sides of the room.

Spotting what he suspected was a makeshift doorway, Starsky walked to that area and pushed on the wall causing the panel to easily swing open.  As he'd thought, hidden behind the wall was a staircase that led in two directions.  Peering into the dark, narrow passageway, Starsky steeled his nerves and stepped inside, his gut telling him that Hutch was somewhere nearby.  If that was the case, all Starsky had to do was sort through this crazy, nonsensical maze in order to find him.

Starsky could hear the grinding of the elevator gears as it rumbled to a stop.  By the time the doors opened, Starsky had reached the lowest step in the stairwell.  Leaning forward, he peered through a tiny slit in the woodwork paneling.  To his horror, he saw Hutch on the other side - sprawled out on the floor in the middle of the room, awake, and obviously injured. 

Starsky was about to run to him when a booming voice stopped him instead.  

"So - have you seen him yet, Sergeant Starsky?" inquired the voice.  "Or more importantly, do you have the guts to save him?"

The disembodied voice was transmitted through a loudspeaker somewhere overhead.  "Best not go near him if you don't want to be shot yourself," the voice warned.  "Until then, I have a few questions."

Hutch's eyes fluttered open at the sound of the stranger's voice.   

"Starsky?  Was he here somewhere?" Hutch wondered.  "Can he see me now?" 

From his hiding place just inside the stairwell, Starsky swallowed his frustration and focussed on Hutch.  Furious, Starsky worried about what the shooter might have already done to his partner.  

A sudden wave of pain caused Hutch to flinch as he struggled to find a more comfortable position.  While his instinct was to stand up and move away from danger, his body was not cooperating or following directions.  Pulling his hand away from the throbbing pain in his side, Hutch was surprised to see his fingers were coated in blood. 

What the hell? Hutch wondered, staring in confusion at his hand.

Hutch remembered entering the warehouse and moving toward the center of the room.  From there, he knew something had stopped him, but he could remember little to nothing about the events that followed.  Hutch didn't yet realize he'd actually been shot.

"Starsky?" Hutch called out suddenly, his eyes darting frantically around the room.  "Starsk, where - where are you?"

"I'm here!" Starsky called out, unable to stop himself.  "Hutch!  I'm here!"

Another shot rang out suddenly, grazing Hutch in the right ankle - punishing him for calling out for Starsky.  He cried out in pain and surprise, scrambling backward in a greater effort to escape the line of fire.   

"Stop it!" Starsky yelled.  "Whoever you are, stop shooting at him!" 

The sound of laughter filtered through the intercom and echoed around the room.   

"From where I'm sitting, I don't think you're in much of a position to stop me, soldier," the voice replied.  

Soldier? Starsky thought angrily.  Who the hell is this guy?

The sound of another bullet cut through the air striking terror in Starsky's gut.  His eyes riveted on Hutch, Starsky could see the last shot had landed close to him but was not a direct hit.  Mounting fear was evident in Hutch's eyes as he yet again tried to drag himself away from the barrage of bullets. 

"Think you can save him?" the voice bellowed, taunting him.  "Or perhaps you're more interested in saving yourself than your defenseless brothers in arms?"   

To Starsky's horror, yet another bullet cut through the air, eliciting a sharp cry of anguish from Hutch.  The last slug had hit him in the calf - a glancing shot only, but painful nonetheless.  

"You bastard!" Starsky screamed, exploding out of the stairwell and running to Hutch.  Starsky landed on his knees next to his partner, throwing himself between Hutch and the gunfire.       

"Don't you dare shoot him again!" Starsky screamed, turning to face off with the bullets.    "Have you got that, you coward?  If you wanna shoot someone, shoot me!  At least I'm armed!"

His back pressed against Hutch, Starsky's eyes were riveted on the overhead loft, searching for the source of the onslaught.  Directly behind him, he could feel Hutch thrashing around, half-gasping, half-sobbing in pain and desperation. 

"Come on!" Starsky shouted again, challenging their aggressor.  "If it's a war you want, you bastard, you've got one!"

Starsky heard another shot rebound from somewhere overhead.  It was too muted to have been in the same room, but too far away to tell for sure.  His heart pounding, Starsky stood his ground, anticipating the next bullet.  When nothing happened, it surprised as much as relieved him. 

Unsure what to think about the sudden, unexplained quiet, Starsky was helpless to do anything other than wait.  As the moment lengthened, Starsky's patience was ultimately exhausted.  Whatever amount of time he might have left, Starsky turned his back on the danger and toward Hutch instead.  Hutch was fighting to hang on to a shred of his composure.  Three successively inflicted bullet wounds had been almost too much to contend with.

"Hang on, buddy," Starsky whispered, grabbing Hutch's hand.  "I swear I'll get you out of this hell hole somehow."

Hutch was trembling hard, albeit from sheer adrenaline, or secondary to pain and fear, Starsky wasn't sure.  His partner had been unfairly ambushed - an easy, open target for someone with mental derangement.  Understandably, Hutch was fearful of another hit at any moment.  While Starsky wanted to reassure him that wouldn't happen, in reality, he couldn't guarantee a thing. 

What's he doing? Starsky wondered.  Just sitting up there and waiting to pick us off?.

As the uncomfortable silence lengthened, Starsky debated what it all truly meant.  Had the other men been able to isolate the shooter and cut him off?  Such a scenario was his best hope, although he couldn't yet see or hear anyone else.  

Hutch moaned softly as he shifted his position on the cold, hard floor.  Glancing down, Starsky worried he was losing too much blood.            

"Hutch," Starsky said softly.  "Listen to me, ok?  I need to fire a shot.  It might help the others find us, alright?"

Hutch nodded before drawing his knees toward his chest and slumping against his partner.  Starsky wrapped an arm around him protectively, pointed his Beretta toward the empty corner, and pulled the trigger.  The harsh noise caused Hutch to jump in spite of the pre-warning.      

"Hang on, hang on," Starsky soothed, listening for any overhead commotion.    

Straining his ears, Starsky thought he heard someone walking above them.  

"Once more, Hutch," Starsky whispered.  "Hang on to me," Starsky urged, firing another round. 

It was then the freight elevator sprang to life, pulling itself toward the upper level and returning a few moments later.  When the car arrived back on the bottom floor and the doors opened, three uniformed officers charged into the room. 

Their rifles poised and ready, two of the men moved immediately toward Starsky while a third used his mobile radio to call for medical assistance and Captain Dobey. 

"We found them," Starsky heard the officer say.  "Yep, take the elevator.  There's only one floor downstairs.  Yep, we're in the basement."

"And the shooter?" Starsky asked the officer who had knelt beside him. 

"We got him," the other man said, patting Starsky on the shoulder.  "Adams shot the guy's weapon right out of his hands.  He's already cuffed and on his way downtown." 

Starsky closed his eyes in a measure of heartfelt gratitude. 

"Hear that, Hutch?" Starsky said, hugging him gently.  "They got him, buddy.  Just hang on - you're safe now.  You're safe."

Starsky turned his attention to the officer.    "And an ambulance?" Starsky asked next.  

"Already here," said the man with the radio, turning sympathetic eyes toward Hutch.  "They were standing by.  We just gave them the ok to move in.  Another minute or so and they'll be down here."

Chapter Text

As Starsky pushed open the squad room door, the office erupted in applause and joyous laughter.  Hutch looked up to find at least twice the customary amount of people crowded into a shared work area, some of them standing shoulder to shoulder. 

"It's good to see back, Hutch!" a voice called out from the crowd. 

"Great work, Starsky!" another chimed in.  "Great work!"  

Amid whistles and continued applause, people crowded around Hutch for a chance to shake his hand, pat him on the shoulder, and offer their congratulations on his first day back at work in almost a week. 

After an initial visit to the emergency room, the wounds Hutch had suffered in the ambush were found to be relatively minor.  While collectively painful on top of the aches and pains of a fresh car wreck, none of his new injuries turned out to be serious.  What Hutch needed most of all was a short course of pain meds, a few days of rest, and a boatload of antibiotics to keep infection at bay.  Hutch had benefited from all of that while he recovered at Starsky's apartment.  While he might have successfully given almost anyone else the slip, that wouldn't have worked with Starsky.  

"Once you're through celebrating, and before you get too comfortable, I'd like to see both of you in my office," Dobey announced.  

Hutch nodded before succumbing to another round of handshaking.  Even Dobey could see it was going to take a while to interact with everyone who wanted to wish Hutch well.  Truthfully, it was something Dobey didn't care to interrupt. 

With a little help from Starsky, Hutch was eventually able to work his way toward Dobey's office.  Once inside, Starsky politely closed the door while Hutch dropped into the nearest chair.  

"Wow, looks like folks are happy to see you back," Starsky said. 

"Yes, I think they are," Dobey agreed, glancing toward the door.  "I can't blame them.  For a situation that went from bad to worse in record time, we're lucky we got you back in any condition, Hutchinson."

Starsky and Dobey turned simultaneous attention to Hutch who reacted by folding his hands in his lap and lowering his eyes.  To his added dismay, Hutch realized he was probably also blushing.  

"I hope I don't have to spell out why I can't tell you that I approve of what you did, Hutch," Dobey said.  The tone of his voice had turned decidedly serious. 

"No, sir," Hutch answered, swallowing hard.  "I understand entirely."

At a brief loss for words, Dobey began to pace back and forth, his eyebrows scrunched tightly together as he formulated what he wanted to say. 

Hutchinson was one of his best detectives - independent to the core in methods and action, a trait that easily set him apart from many of his peers.  In addition to causing Dobey a lot of heartburn, Hutch's personal code of determination was responsible for solving a lot of difficult crimes.  Dobey knew better than to try and ring that out of him, but he did want Hutch to learn how to constrain himself.  They were all grateful the shooter was more interested in torment than kill shots this time around.  Hutch might not be so lucky should similar circumstances arise again. 

"Some would say I should suspend you for what you did, Hutch.  You put yourself, your partner, and everyone involved in rescuing you in danger.  There's no way I can justify that to the higher-ups."

Hutch was quiet as he listened to Dobey, inwardly fearful of what might be coming next. 

"After a lot of thinking, I've decided I don't want to do anything formal about this incident," Dobey added.  "And from the reaction of the people you work with, I'm sure you can tell they're happy things worked out the way they did."

Dobey paused, waiting for Hutch's attention.  When Hutch looked up, Dobey took a calming breath and proceeded. 

"Hutchinson, I want your absolute word that you won't do that to me, never mind your partner,  ever again.  I think that much is fair."

Overwhelmed with guilt, Hutch looked intently at Starsky who was obviously deeply affected by what Dobey was saying.  Starsky had not been sure what their boss was planning when they entered his office.  Despite his own worry, Starsky had been living somewhere between the fear that Hutch was in deep, unavoidable trouble and totally agreeing with Dobey.  At a minimum, Starsky had no problem with Dobey's decision.  He, too, was thankful that Hutch and everyone involved was still alive, including Jacob Hoffman.  

"I do feel bad about Mr. Hoffman," Starsky admitted.  "In my wildest dreams, I wouldn't have thought of him as a suspect for this kind of thing."

Jacob Hoffman had been taken into custody and placed on a mental health hold soon after his arrest.  It hadn't taken the police long to realize the man badly needed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.  After an initial psychiatric visit, the doctor determined that Jacob was suffering from a deep and chronic depression overlayed with phases of acute delusions.  With proper treatment and a reasonable amount of time, the doctor was hopeful that Jacob could make a full recovery.  Once he was better, Starsky planned to visit him although he would wait until the doctor said visitation was appropriate.  

When the time was right, Starsky wanted to talk to Jacob about the loss of his son.  While Starsky had been devastated when Joey Hoffman was killed, he hadn't realized until now that he had never spoken to Jacob about that time in his life.  In retrospect, Starsky wished he had thought to do so right after he came home from Nam.  For a myriad of reasons, most of which he couldn't entirely explain, Starsky had never gotten around to visiting Mr. Hoffman.  Although nothing could bring Joey back, visiting with Jacob was an oversight he planned to rectify when the time was right.

"Well?" Dobey asked, his eyes pinning Hutch to his chair.  

"Y - yes," Hutch said hurriedly, glancing nervously between Dobey and Starsky.  "I know I took a chance, and I shouldn't have.  I'm sorry.  I really am."

Hutch looked thoroughly miserable as a result of his apology, and Starsky wasn't far behind him.  

"Some days it's hard to tell where one of them begins and the other ends," Dobey thought, shaking his head in amazement. 

"Alright," Dobey said.  "Apology accepted, Detective Hutchinson.  Enough of this kind of talk for now."

A sense of relief flooded Hutch's facial expression.  

"And now that we've gotten that out of the way, I hear there's a huge chocolate cake and a variety of things to drink in the cafeteria.  Come with me, Sergeant Hutchinson.  It's rude to keep people waiting."    

 

Finished - February 25, 2022