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"There - in the room at the end of the hall," Andrews said, pointing nervously toward the darkened doorway. 

Hutch let go of Brent's arm and started to run, leaving Rodriquez and the other officers to manage the prisoner.  As he raced toward the room that held his partner, Hutch prayed he wasn't already too late.  Pushing his way through the heavy, unlocked door, he paused, his eyes working furiously to adjust to the near-total darkness.  Fumbling for the flashlight on his belt, Hutch used it to throw a beam of much-needed light across the room.  The extra illumination landed on several stacks of old plywood and some sort of large, metal urns.  There were piles of old newspapers and magazines cluttering the area assumedly left behind by the people who once worked there. 

"Starsky!" Hutch yelled, turning slowly in a half-circle as he walked deeper into the room.  He was preparing to call for him again when he noticed someone lying on the floor a good twenty yards away.  "Starsky!" Hutch yelled, breaking into a run.  

As Hutch dropped to his knees beside his partner, his own heart threatened to break.  Running a tentative hand over Starsky's arm, he felt a certain amount of warmth and softness to his skin - enough to confirm that he was still alive.  "Oh, thank God," Hutch murmured, as he noticed the ropes that were wrapped around Starsky's wrists multiple times.  

"Rodriguez!"  Hutch shouted.  "Get in here!"

Rodriguez was already at Hutch's elbow, producing a good-sized pocket knife that he quickly handed to Hutch.  As soon as he'd given the first blade to Hutch, he retrieved a second one from his pocket.

"Has anyone called an ambulance?" Hutch asked, his voice quivering slightly.  

"On its way," Rodriguez answered.  "All you have to do is stay with him, Hutch.  They'll be here any minute."

As the other detectives used their flashlights to further illuminate the scene, Hutch cut through what was left of the ropes, releasing Starsky's arms and allowing him to relax.  Gently, he maneuvered and folded Starsky's arms across his abdomen before rubbing the muscles to improve circulation. Barely conscious, Starsky was able to open his eyes a slit and attempt to speak.  Badly cracked lips and a dry throat prevented him from saying anything understandable.  

"Shhhhh," Hutch soothed, gently pulling Starsky's head into his lap.  "Don't try to talk right now.  It can wait.  I've got you, Starsk.  It's over."

There was a loud commotion just beyond the doors of the room. 

"Is someone watching for the ambulance?" Hutch asked.

"Yes," Rodriguez answered, touching Hutch's shoulder to calm him.  "We've got it, Hutch.  You focus on Starsky."

As the paramedics entered the room, Hutch noticed they had brought a rolling gurney with them.  "Over here!" Rodriguez called, waving to them with a flashlight.  A lone medic was jogging ahead of the gurney in an effort to reach their patient sooner.

The medical team had also brought a lantern that flooded the immediate area with light.  As the first medic dropped next to Starsky, Hutch was alarmed to see how bad Starsky actually looked.  Although his eyes were open a little more, he was badly dehydrated, trembling, and acting disoriented. 

"We don't know everything that's happened to him," Hutch began.  The medic nodded as he helped Starsky roll onto his back while keeping his head in Hutch's lap. 

"How long has he been here?" the medic asked.  

"We're guessing about twenty-four hours although we aren't sure how long he's been tied up."

As paramedics were accustomed to tricky and unusual situations, the man attending to Starsky simply absorbed the information and moved along.  "You can stay where you are," he assured Hutch as he proceeded to start working on Starsky. 

In a few short minutes, the medical team had started a life-saving IV, attached electrodes to his chest, and transferred Starsky from the floor to the gurney.   As they were preparing to make their way to the ambulance, Rodriguez turned to face Hutch.  "Stay with him," Rodriguez said.  "The rest of us will handle Mr. Andrews.  When things are better, come and see us down at headquarters, ok?"

Hutch nodded gratefully, not wanting to leave Starsky's side.  As the gurney was loaded into the ambulance, the medics made room for Hutch.  As the big, double doors closed and latched behind them, the ambulance pulled away en route to the nearest emergency room.  

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

Two days later...

An insistent knock on the door brought Hutch scurrying out of the kitchen to answer it.  

"Hey, is anyone in there?" shouted a voice from beyond the door.  

The look in Hutch's eyes as he passed through the living room told Starsky to unequivocally stay put.  Starsky smiled in return, acknowledging the message and nodding, secure in the knowledge that whoever was there, his partner could certainly handle it.  God help them if anyone was knocking on the door without a damned good reason.  Starsky could almost feel sorry for them.

Hutch opened the apartment door to find Huggy half-buried under an assortment of shopping bags and grocery sacks.  "It's about time.  So give me a hand, would ya?"  

"Huggy!  What on earth is all of this stuff?"

"Just a few tokens of love and kindness from some of the good people in the world," Huggy answered.  "How should I know, Hutchinson?  I'm just the messenger."

"Starsky!  What's up?" Huggy asked, wandering into the living room.  "Captain Dobey asked me to bring this stuff to you.  I think he's planning to drop by later with more."

"More?" Starsky exclaimed as he looked at the variety of brightly wrapped presents Huggy had deposited on the coffee table.  "Yep, more," Huggy clarified.  "I'd say people want you to know how much they're thinking about you."

Huggy took a moment to appreciate how much healthier Starsky looked than he had just a couple of days earlier.  "No offense, but you look a damned sight better than the last time I saw you," Huggy added.  

"I should.  Since I left the hospital, Hutch has waited on me day and night.  I'm ok now.  I just got a little dehydrated is all."

"A little?" Hutch asked, joining them.  "The doctor said a few more hours in those temperatures without water and you probably wouldn't have made it.  It was over a hundred degrees in Bay City the afternoon before we found you.  That room was like an indoor oven."

Starsky's mood sobered markedly as he gazed at the pile of gifts that Huggy had delivered.  "I owe everything to Miranda," he said, looking directly at Hutch.  "Miranda and my partner, that is."

"I'd thank Miranda and Huggy for calling me," Hutch replied.  "Without either of them doing what they did, it would have taken me too long to find you."

"If I may ask, what happened to the guy who did this to you, Starsky?  Can the department make the charges stick?" Huggy asked.

"There won't be any problem with the charges," Hutch answered.  "He confessed to abducting Starsky along with a long string of other crimes from several states.  Once California is through with him, Arizona wants their turn.  Altogether, he's charged with eight counts of murder across several states.  Brent Andrews won't see the outside of a prison cell for the rest of his life."

Momentarily at a loss for words, Huggy picked up the nearest gift box and handed it to Starsky.  "Well, here then," he said.  "I know what's in this one 'cause it's from me." 

Starsky beamed as he was handed the modest-sized box wrapped a little unskillfully in bright blue paper.  A dark blue bow hung precariously on one side of the package.  Obviously, Huggy had wrapped it himself.

Making quick work of the sticky tape, Starsky tore off the paper and eagerly looked inside.  Starsky's eyes lit up as he pulled out a book and read the title out loud.  "The History of Billiards.  Thanks, Hug!  I love it!"

"There's no question you're good at bar room pool, Starsky.  I thought you might enjoy reading about the classier side of the sport for a change."

"Absolutely, I will.  Hutch won't let me do anything but follow the doctor's orders."

"So no bar hopping, tonight, huh?" Huggy asked. 

"Nope.  And I can't have any alcohol either.  Hutch says it's too dehydrating."

Huggy made an amused face as he listened to Starsky's list of complaints.  "Bummer.  Well, if you think you can take him..." Huggy suggested, waggling his eyebrows in Hutch's direction.  

"He can't, and neither can you, so don't even go there," Hutch warned.  "But if you'd like to stay for dinner, it's almost ready."

"He's right, ya know," Starsky said, watching Hutch hurry into the kitchen as the oven buzzer sounded.  "I can't take Hutch to the mat in a one-on-one on my best days.  The guy has too many muscles.  My suggestion would be that we stick with dinner.  My partner's a hell of a good cook when he wants to be." 

"Lead the way then, my friend," Huggy said, offering Starsky his arm.  There must be something in that kitchen a man can pour into a glass and toast to the fact that his partner is still alive.  And Starsky, you and I are gonna find it."      

The End

August 12, 2022