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Starsky lowered himself alongside the dilapidated building, determined to get a better look at a partially collapsed set of bleechers.  Although the forensics crew had scoured the same area hours earlier, he'd backtracked in the hope of finding something they'd overlooked.  After searching for several minutes, Starsky sighed, shook the loose dirt from his hands,  and reluctantly stood up.  There was nothing new to see here.    

The latest crime scene had grown to include an old school building with an attached gymnasium, a portion of which had mysteriously burned down during the night.  Once the blaze was under control, a team from Metro spent hours reconstructing what happened before the fire was reported.  Once a body was discovered in a locked utility room, Captain Dobey sent Starsky and Hutch to manage the homicide portion of the investigation.

"Anything?" Hutch asked, rounding the corner of the building.        

"No, nothin'," Starsky answered, wrinkling his nose in disgust.  The late morning sun had caused rivulets of sweat to saturate the underarms of his last clean shirt.  Despite his disapproval of his own damp clothing, a quick glance at Hutch prompted Starsky to ask questions. 

"Detective Hutchinson, is that supposed to be some sort of catchy new fashion trend?"   

Hutch shot his partner a look of mild annoyance.  "It is when it's this hot outside.  Seriously, Starsk.  I thought I was gonna pass out in that back room."  Since Starsky had last seen his partner, Hutch had stripped off his shirt and was wearing it draped over one shoulder.  "I had to," Hutch added.  "I don't know how the firemen do it."

Starsky had to agree.  How the firemen could do their jobs in such high temperatures was nothing short of admirable.  "Alright, are we done here?" Starsky asked, wiping his forehead with the tail of his shirt. 

"Yeah, I say we're done.  I told them to go ahead and move the body to the morgue.  The preliminary autopsy report won't be available for another twenty-four hours or so."

"Alright, let's wrap it up then.  I have a couple of ideas, but I told Dobey we'd be back before noon.  I can explain what I'm thinkin' while we drive.  And Hutch," Starsky added, smirking at his partner.  "While folks out here might appreciate your fine physique, I can guarantee you our boss won't see it that way.  I highly suggest you get dressed before we walk back into Metro." 

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

The squad room was nearly empty when Starsky and Hutch returned from the murder scene.  That alone wasn't terribly surprising as getting out of the building during the height of the summer heat was always preferable to working in a hot, stuffy building.  Several electric fans were strategically positioned around the room in a vain attempt to keep the indoor air constantly circulating. 

As they entered, Hutch noticed the door to Dobey's office was standing ajar.  While that wasn't entirely unusual either, it did suggest that he might be waiting for someone. 

"In here you two!" Dobey shouted. 

"How does he know it's us?" Starsky whispered.  "He can't see around the corner."  Starsky was often amazed by Captain Dobey's acute sense of perception, so much so that he often found it downright creepy.        

"Oh, nothing but pure intellect I guess," Hutch whispered back.  "And maybe that third eye in the back of his head."

Starsky was struggling to suppress a giggling fit as he dutifully followed Hutch into Dobey's office.  As a general rule, it was a poor idea to walk into the big man's office chuckling about anything - a concept that was no help to Starsky at this point.  Hutch had done a fine job of setting him up for this one. 

"What's so funny?" Dobey growled, glaring at Starsky suspiciously.  

"Oh, nothing but my partner," Starsky replied, opting for at least partial honesty.  "I'm sorry, Cap'n.  It was something Hutch said just before we walked in."

Glancing at Hutch, Dobey could see that whatever was making Starsky so giddy was unimportant to his partner.  "Have a seat," Dobey said, pointing to the chairs positioned in front of his desk.

Relieved to avoid further interrogation, Starsky hurried toward the nearest chair while Hutch busied himself occupying the other one.  To his credit, Hutch always knew when to push on his partner and when to retreat.  Hovering too close to Starsky might destroy what was left of the other man's composure.

"You wanted to see us?" Hutch asked.

"Yes, I wanna know what you learned about this morning's victim.  After that, we can determine if there are any similarities between this case and some others I've recently learned about."

Hutch pulled a small writing tablet out of his pocket and began reading the notes he'd logged less than an hour earlier.  "The victim is a caucasian male with blonde hair and blue eyes - estimated age, late thirties.  The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest, pending the autopsy report, of course.  No identification, drug paraphernalia, or weapons were found on the body."

Hutch looked expectantly at Dobey.  The frown his boss had worn since he and Starsky entered the room had deepened visibly after listening to Hutch's report. 

"There have been two similar homicides in neighboring counties since the first of the year," Dobey announced.  "By similar, I mean by way of the physical description of the bodies, not to mention they both died rather dramatically," he clarified.  "From what you've just told me, the other victims bore a striking resemblance to the body that was discovered this morning."

Starsky straightened noticeably in his chair.  "Are you worried we might have a serial killer on the loose?"

"It's crossed my mind," Dobey admitted, looking directly at Starsky.  "Or at a minimum, a perpetrator who's on a killing spree of some sort.  Both of the other victims worked in different occupations.  It will be interesting to see what we learn about any parallels between this morning's victim and the previous cases."

"Were either of the others cops?" Starsky asked.  

"No," Dobey answered, his tone suggesting he might have anticipated the question.  "No, we would have heard about both of those situations a lot sooner if that was the case.  Interestingly, I've learned that one of them had recently applied to the Academy.  Acceptance had not been determined at the time of his death."

Hutch appeared to have taken a sudden interest in the flooring pattern.   

"I want you to have a look at these files," Dobey continued, handing the brown manilla folders to Starsky.  "I'm confident you'll make the same observations I have, but I want you to read them and get back to me.  I have a meeting with the mayor in about an hour.  I'll be available in my office sometime later this afternoon."

Starsky nodded as he accepted the files from Dobey.  Until Hutch had read the description of the latest victim out loud, he hadn't realized how closely the personal details resembled his own partner.  Yet again, Starsky reminded himself there were no known connections between Hutch and any of the victims - at least nothing they understood as of yet. 

"I'll be interested in talking to you later today," Dobey said, closing a drawer as he prepared to leave.  "I have an uneasy feeling about all three of these cases which is why I want the two of you to have a look at them."

"Understood, Captain," Starsky said.  

As Dobey left the office, Starsky returned his attention to Hutch.  When Hutch showed no sign of moving, Starsky took the initiative.  "Come on, partner.  Let's go find a corner of the cafeteria with functional air conditioning and have a look at these files."  When Hutch still didn't react outwardly, Starsky tried again.  "Hutch!  Did you hear me?"

Insistence was finally enough to penetrate the other man's concentration.  "Yeah, Starsk.  Sorry, I heard you."

When Hutch didn't stand up quickly enough, Starsky grabbed him by the arm and hauled him to his feet.  "You first," he added, pushing Hutch toward the door.  "And don't you dare go all blonde and intellectual on me between here and the basement.  The boss says we have work to do."

Chapter Text

At a corner table in the cafeteria, Starsky and Hutch sat with the contents of the files fanned out in front of them.  It had not taken long to read through both cases.  The previous homicides had occurred two months apart - one in February and the other in April of the current year.  If the third victim was representative of any sort of pattern, a June date would fit with what had already unfolded. 

"It isn't much to go on," Hutch commented, glancing at Starsky.      

"No, it isn't," Starsky agreed, pushing away from the table and rubbing his eyes before voicing what they both already knew.  "Let's just go ahead and say it, Hutch.  Both of these guys, along with this morning's victim, looked a hell of a lot like you - a LOT like you," he emphasized.  "We were taught in the Academy that if a killer has a certain 'type' - when the victims start to resemble each other to a noticeable degree - the perpetrator might be working out some sort of grudge and/or fantasy with each crime.  I can understand why learning about these cases bothered Dobey."

While Hutch knew that Starsky had drawn a reasonable conclusion, he resisted any display of unnecessary alarm.  "You could say a lot of homicide victims resemble me, Starsk.  An adult male with blonde hair and blue eyes in my age group is not an unusual description for a good portion of the population."

"Of course it isn't," Starsky shot back.  "But this situation might extend beyond simple resemblances.  It's also notable that all three victims died by a variety of violent means.  As you said, it's not much to go on, but I don't like it any more than Dobey does.  At a minimum, it would be smart for you to be extra vigilant until we're sure there's no connection between any of them."

Hutch avoided Starsky's advice by lowering his eyes and drifting toward a different line of thought.  

"Oh, no you don't!" Starsky implored, interrupting Hutch's obvious change in focus.  "Look at me!"

Hutch did as his partner demanded.  "Your job is to sit right here, listen, and think about what I said.  That's what Dobey expects from you, and so do I."

"Ok, ok!  What exactly is it you expect me to do, Starsky?  Room with you until we know for sure?  Buddy check with you hourly?"  Hutch knew he sounded ridiculously defensive.  

"Those are two good options! I'll let you know after we talk to Dobey again," Starsky countered.  "In the interim, I need something to eat.  So let's get these files back upstairs and grab some lunch while we still can.  It's way too hot to count on anything staying quiet much longer.

As it turned out, Starsky's prediction was spot on.  After being called to an armed robbery near the docks and missing lunch, it was almost 3:00 o'clock before the involved parties were in custody and on their way to processing. 

"What a couple of turkeys!" Starsky exclaimed, watching the squad car as it drove away.  "Armed robbery in broad daylight in front of a store full of customers?"

"Maybe they wanted to get caught," Hutch suggested.  

Puzzled, Starsky turned to stare at Hutch, wondering if he had heard the man correctly.  "Yeah," Hutch added, reading his partner's confusion.  "Well, it got them off the streets, didn't it?  Like I said earlier, it's too damn hot for anything today, and that includes armed robbery."

Newly concerned about his partner, Starsky turned his attention to a corner business he'd noticed shortly after they arrived.  "See that little place over there?" he asked, pointing behind them.  "It says they sell tacos.  That's where we're goin' next, buddy."

Hutch nodded and followed Starsky toward the corner market, his stomach every bit as empty as Starsky's.  After buying eight tacos to split between them, they added two large glasses of water and headed for the shade of a nearby tree that was close enough to the waterfront to catch the sea breezes. 

"Oh my God," Hutch said, sighing as he lowered his tired body to the ground.  "If anything else happens before we finish lunch, I say we shoot 'em first and worry about the clean-up later."

Starsky was chuckling as he attacked the first taco.  While they both knew Hutch would never do such a thing, the comment alone said a lot about his current state of frustration.  "As soon as we finish eating, we need to get back to the office.  Dobey will be chompin' at the bit to talk to us."

Hutch nodded as he dug into his own freshly made taco.  The sprig of cilantro that garnished each bite went a long way toward pleasing his senses and replenishing his energy.  Starsky's instincts had been right about this particular taco spot.  Undoubtedly, they would be back.  Until then, Hutch was content to enjoy a short respite amid a city turned upside down in a social pressure cooker.   

"Wow, that was good," Starsky said, flopping on his back in the cool grass.  "I think I can make it now."

Hutch acknowledged the same feeling by lifting an eyebrow in agreement.  "Yeah, I feel less inclined to murder someone, too.  Nevertheless, we need to get back to Metro before Dobey comes looking for us."

As they climbed to their feet and headed for the Torino, Hutch tossed the trash in the nearest canister unaware that anyone was watching him.  "Do you want any more water?" he called over one shoulder.  When Starsky shook his head, Hutch hurried toward the fountain near the front of the market.   

From a nearby window, a stranger watched, captivated, as Hutch opened the water faucet and refilled his cup.  He had noticed the tall, blonde man when he first entered the taco shack.  After staring at him from behind dark sunglasses, the watcher had an unexpected epiphany. 

No!  It can't be! 

As Hutch turned and jogged toward the Torino, the stranger followed him with his eyes, squinting against the sun as he memorized the Torino's plate numbers.  Once Hutch was settled safely in the passenger seat, only then did the stranger stop pretending to work, remove his sunglasses, and stare at the rear end of the Torino until the vehicle disappeared around a corner.

Well, well, well...  If it isn't Ken Hutchinson.

A profoundly unexpected opportunity had just presented itself on a silver platter - something so unanticipated that it overshadowed everything else.  Only minutes ago, the stranger behind the counter had no idea where to look for Ken Hutchinson.  And now, for the first time in years, he did.

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

Dobey was waiting in his office when Starsky and Hutch returned from the armed robbery call.  Despite the stifling heat, he closed the door behind them, adjusted the oscillating fan near his desk, and waited for both men to get comfortable.  After meeting with the mayor, Dobey had removed his necktie and loosened the top two buttons of his dress shirt.  There was little room for unnecessary formalities in this kind of heat.

"Well," Dobey said, settling behind his desk.  "What did you two come up with?"

"I agree the cases look suspicious," Starsky volunteered first.  "Hutch is more reluctant to link them together, but I think there's enough to warrant him being careful."

Dobey lifted an eyebrow before turning his attention to Hutch.  Hutch looked up to find Dobey and Starsky both gazing at him expectantly. 

"I'll admit the potential for a pattern is there," Hutch relented.  "I just don't think we have enough evidence to suspect a direct connection between all three cases."

"We don't - yet," Dobey agreed.  "But it's equally unwise to dismiss the possibility outright."

"I'm not dismissing anything where Hutch is concerned," Starsky interjected sternly.  "We've had similar things happen once or twice to other officers.  Those situations didn't involve murder, but revenge can be a powerful motivator."

"It certainly can," Dobey agreed.  "Which leads me to mention that while I don't see a clear need to enforce any additional precautions right now - not without more evidence than we have so far.  However," Dobey added, pausing to make his point - "I won't hesitate to put full-time security around you, Hutchinson, if I decide it's necessary."

Hutch nodded knowing that was exactly what his partner would do if Dobey didn't.  While he hoped there would be no need for extra security, Hutch liked to think he could handle himself in most situations.  Maybe his confidence was rooted in knowing Starsky always had his back, or perhaps he was just becoming more complacent over the years.  Either way, he wouldn't disrespect his Captain or his partner if either of them thought he needed extra protection. 

"Alright," Dobey sighed, willing to let everyone leave early in lieu of the heat.  "If you'd like to stay here and work on your reports, that's fine.  If you'd rather do that in the morning and finish your day on patrol, that's fine, too.  And while it's only a suggestion, the squad room is a lot cooler around 7:00 AM.  If you're both here, I'll probably see you then."

"I vote for patrol, but I'll do whatever Hutch prefers.  I think we have a few things to discuss."

Dobey nodded.  "Whatever you decide, take care of yourselves while you're at it.  I'll see you both tomorrow."

As Dobey left the office, Starsky turned to his partner to assess his newest mood.  Although he was acting more cooperative overall, Starsky could tell that Hutch was troubled.  Experience had long ago taught Starsky that if he pushed too aggressively, Hutch would simply toughen his resistance.  If he wanted to figure out what was bothering his partner, he would have to tread more lightly.

"So patrol it is, then?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah," Hutch said before sighing softly.  "How about we  make sure they're finished down at the fire scene and we'll take it from there?"

"Works for me," Starsky answered, relieved to know that Hutch was at least open to the idea of getting away from Metro.  A different environment might allow him to coax a little more information out of his moody partner.

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

After cruising past the scene of the fire, it was obvious the last of the cleanup crew was preparing to leave.  A lone fire truck remained parked across the street as an added layer of protection against any hotspots that might threaten to erupt during the night.  Despite the chaos that engulfed the area a few hours earlier, things were finally settling down.

Starsky slowed the Torino to a crawl as they passed what remained of the burned-out shell of a building.  Yet again, he wondered what the body in the deserted utility room had to do with the rest of the destruction.  Despite their collective frustration, the official cause of the blaze would ultimately be determined by the fire officer.  Until then, they had to wait for the final report like everyone else.

"So what do you think happened?" Starsky asked, glancing at Hutch.

"I'm leaning toward a drug deal gone wrong," Hutch answered.  The undertone in his voice suggested he still had plenty of room for skepticism.

"A fire that large over one lousy drug deal?"

"I know it doesn't necessarily add up, Starsk, but a gunshot wound to the chest from near point-blank range suggests a more hardened type of motivation than your average street junkie who's pissed off about something.  Maybe there was more on the table than a few drugs."

Starsky nodded as he considered Hutch's theory.  "Ok, so what's your second guess?"

"Prostitution?  Huggy once told me the old gym was home base for a fairly large-scale operation."

"You're kidding," Starsky replied.  "The school gym?"

"That's what he said.  Not during the day while the kids were there, just the building itself late at night.  They were using the school grounds as a cover for a few of their operations.  Apparently, someone thought law enforcement wouldn't look for that kind of thing anywhere near a schoolyard.  I'm not sure why."

"Yeah, 'cause murder is so much more civilized," Starsky quipped.  "So do you suppose Huggy has heard about this morning's situation yet?"

"I'll wager a beer that he has.  What I'd really like to know is what else he may have heard."

"Hutch, I'm feelin' a powerful thirst comin' on."  Hutch smiled at Starsky's thinly veiled attempt to steer them toward Huggy's establishment.

"Alright, Starsk.  Once we're off the clock, we'll head to Huggy's place.  Do you think you can survive another hour or so?"

"As long as a cold beer is waiting for me on the other end, I'll manage."

Chapter Text

"Don't make me do something drastic, Hutch," Starsky warned, throwing his best version of an angry glare at his partner.  "You know I will if I have to."

Hutch resisted the urge to smile around the last bite of his chicken sandwich.  Starsky's latest attempt to threaten him into talking was downright cute - or it would be if the topic had not been so serious.  True intentions aside, it was obvious that Starsky was growing more desperate.  In his heart, Hutch knew he would have to tell him something soon least the man worry himself into a total funk.  

Or maybe I should just let him sweat, Hutch mused.  No, that would be truly unkind.

"What's your personal definition of drastic?" Hutch asked instead.  "Nonconsensual torture is against the law, you know."

Starsky glared at Hutch in earnest and leaned harder into the cool, vinyl booth.  Obviously, Hutch was pushing his tolerance buttons quite intentionally.  Despite the extra insight, Starsky was teetering on the edge of losing his patience.  Hutch was definitely hiding something from him; he could sense it.  If the man didn't let him know what it was soon, he couldn't guarantee things wouldn't get physical.  While Starsky wouldn't dream of hurting his partner, he'd throw him against a wall in a heartbeat if he thought such a move was warranted.  The extra effort would be worth the trauma as long as he was prepared to deal with the fallout.  

"Ok, wise guy.  This ain't fair," Starsky said.  "I need to know what's upsetting you in order to help.  You know what I'm sayin' is the truth, Hutch."

Starsky could read the quiet dissolution of defense in Hutch's eyes - silent proof that he'd scored a direct hit with his argument.  The bedrock of a partnership such as theirs was the trust they held in each other.  While Hutch was confident that no one outside of Starsky and Dobey had noticed a change in his mood, he was simply no good at keeping secrets from Starsky.  His partner had not only noticed, but he was correct in his conclusions.  Hutch did have something else on his mind. 

"Come on, Hutch," Starsky urged.  "We've worked on plenty of difficult cases together.  What's so bad about this one that you can't tell me about it, huh?  What's got you so off balance, huh?"

Hutch drained the last of his beer and considered how to formulate what he wanted to say.  In the end, it probably didn't matter.  Starsky could easily decipher whatever he was trying to say without the benefit of a perfect frame.  The time for postponement had passed.  Hutch cleared his throat as he fumbled for just the right words. 

"Years ago I got caught up in a relationship that turned unexpectedly dangerous," Hutch began.  "I was young - only a sophomore in college at the time.  And at least partly for that reason, I don't think I handled myself as well as I should have."

Starsky was hanging on Hutch's every word, willing him to keep going.  "Like Diana Harmon type dangerous?" he asked carefully.    

"No, not exactly like Diana, but the circumstances have always bothered me just the same.  I'd managed to forget about most of it until we were reviewing cases in Dobey's office this morning.  It was then I found myself remembering a few things that were uncomfortably familiar."

"Not exactly isn't reassuring to hear," Starsky said, treading cautiously.  "We were discussing homicide cases earlier today.  What does murder have to do with anything from your personal past?"

"Directly?  Nothing," Hutch admitted.  "What I've never been able to forget is the feeling of revenge that went hand in hand with my situation.  It was frightening once I realized how much another person might actually want me dead.  I wasn't a cop at the time, but I've always thought I must have missed a lot of clues that I shouldn't have."

Starsky was clinging to Hutch's explanation, not daring to miss any part of something so obviously difficult for Hutch. 

"The revenge aspect, huh?" Starsky asked carefully.  "That's what I think of when I remember the fallout with Diana, Hutch."

Hutch nodded, grimacing at yet another difficult memory.  "Yeah, no love lost there either, was there?"  Hutch paused, struggling to somehow reassure his partner that the two situations were substantially different.  "Don't worry.  I see the parallels with Diana, Starsk, but what happened to me with her was definitely in a league of its own."

A sudden shadow appeared over their table as Huggy brought each of them a new beer.  "Here," the tall, slender black man said, depositing two glasses of his best draft on the table.  "I don't know what y'all are discussin', but I can see it's intense and you're in desperate need of a refill.  Get my attention if you need another.  I'll be around."

Without waiting for a response, Huggy turned on his heels and walked away.  

"Speaking of third eyes," Starsky said, watching Huggy go.  "That man just seems to know everything."

"Close, but not quite everything," Hutch corrected him.  "While he did know about the body from this morning, he didn't know anything more yet.  By this time tomorrow, I'm willing to bet he has some information for us."

"I'll have to pass on that bet.  Huggy always comes through.  Until then, I'd rather talk about you."

"About me"... Hutch repeated, his demeanor shifting noticeably.  "What else do you wanna know, Starsk?"

"I want to know what's really bothering you!  So you had a love affair years ago that ended badly?  So what?  That's not exactly a bombshell of a story in anyone's life, Hutch. What is it that's got you so bugged about it now?"

"It wasn't a love affair," Hutch said, correcting him gently.  "You misunderstood what I meant."

Hutch sighed before covering his face with both hands as he leaned on his elbows.  After an uncomfortably long pause, Starsky was about to pull his hands away when Hutch did so for him.  "It isn't easy to explain," Hutch offered weakly.   

"Try me, Hutch." 

Knowing Starsky would not give up, Hutch would have to find a way to explain himself.  Regardless of the inevitable, accepting it didn't make things any easier.  

"I once had a friendship with someone who unbeknownst to me wanted a different kind of relationship," Hutch said, trying again.  "By the time I realized how serious the situation was, there were so many misunderstandings between us that everything ended very badly.  I've always felt guilty about what happened.  I should have figured things out sooner and taken steps to avoid all of it."

"And the revenge component?" Starsky asked, pushing harder.  "What did she do that upset you so much?"

"He..." Hutch corrected him quietly.  "A man I thought of as a friend.  We had a couple of classes together in those days - we even double-dated with our girlfriends at the time.  I had no idea there was any more to his interest in me beyond that."

Hutch paused as some other long-buried memory became suddenly troublesome.  It was obvious that Hutch was grappling with his emotions. 

"Things blew up big time one day and he became very upset - violent, in fact, when I didn't respond to him in the way he'd anticipated.  He tried to force me into a physical relationship, but I was able to fight him off.  For now, let's just say I defended my honor.  He left my dorm room mad as hell and I never saw him again."

While Starsky wasn't profoundly surprised by Hutch's story, it didn't explain to Starsky's satisfaction why he was so preoccupied with an incident from years ago.

"Ok, so he came on to you, you didn't accept his advances, and he left angry.  That's it?"

"No, that's not all of it."  Hutch sighed, rubbing his eyes in frustration as he struggled to continue.  "The whole, ugly situation happened around Christmas break of my sophomore year.  By the end of the following spring, several men around campus had been brutally assaulted - two were seriously injured, enough so that they needed to be hospitalized.  I don't know if sexual assault was involved in any of those situations.  The police wouldn't release those details, at least not to me.  And all of them, Starsk - each and every one of them - bore an uncanny physical resemblance to me."

Starsky listened intently, thoroughly absorbed by what Hutch had now confessed.  Everything was at last making sense as the pieces began to fall into place.   

"Were any of them killed?" Starsky asked calmly. 

"No, just assaulted."  Hutch smiled weakly at the obvious insensitivity of what he'd said.  "Once the semester ended and the student body dispersed for the summer, the whole situation just seemed to fade away.  There were no other cases of assault on campus, at least none that I heard about anyway."

"Did the police catch whoever was responsible?" Starsky persisted.  

"Not to my knowledge."

"Did you talk to the law about what happened to you?"

"I did, and I shared my suspicions.  There wasn't anything they could do short of catching the guy in the act, and whoever he was, he was long gone.  My own incident came down to a misunderstanding and a big scuffle.  I wasn't injured, so that was the end of my involvement."

Starsky waited to see if Hutch wanted to add anything more.  When nothing additional was forthcoming, he pushed at Hutch's conscience by asking one more question.  

"Do you think your 'friend' was responsible for what happened to the other men?" 

Hutch winced at his partner's directness.  "I was always afraid that he was," Hutch admitted, swallowing hard.  "Despite my personal suspicions, I couldn't prove a thing."

Starsky had learned what he wanted to know.  And now that he had, his mind was awhirl with an assortment of new possibilities and concerns.

"So in short, a guy you thought was a friend was what exactly?  Jealous of you?  Attracted to you physically?  Both?"

"Your guess is as good as mine.  I thought about it a lot back then and never solved a thing to my own satisfaction.  If the guy was throwing me clues, I managed to miss them all.  What bothered me the most was his total self-assuredness.  Why was he so surprised when I rejected him?  It's the reason I've always felt at least partially responsible for everything else that happened."

The look in Hutch's eyes had clearly shifted from frustration to sadness.     

"Alright," Starsky concluded.  "That's enough for now.  You're coming to my place tonight or I'll stay at yours, take your pick.  The boss is already worried about you and frankly, so am I.  I won't share any of this with him without your permission, but I think it might be helpful if Dobey knows, Hutch."

For a moment, Starsky thought he saw a new level of resistance in Hutch's eyes, and the time for physicality had arrived.  If so, the moment was fleeting and it passed quickly.  What was obvious to Starsky instead was just how fatigued Hutch was.  The extra beer in combination with the extreme heat had extracted a lot out of him.  Add that to everything else Hutch had shared, top it with their current case list, and you had a recipe for full-blown exhaustion.  Hutch was eternally strong and dedicated in his work ethic - downright tireless, in fact, if he thought he had the truth by the tail.  However, when something caught him off guard in the manner his personal memories apparently had, he needed Starsky to lean on.

"Come on, I'm takin' you to my place tonight," Starsky decided for both of them.  

Hutch looked as if he might protest but apparently changed his mind.  Emotionally frazzled, there wasn't an ounce of resistance left in his demeanor.

"I also think we should take Dobey's suggestion and be in the office around 7:00," Starsky added. "As for tonight, the only thing I want you to worry about is getting a decent night's sleep.  I need you to be your usual, clear-headed self by morning."

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

A few miles across town a young man tossed his keys on the counter and strolled to the refrigerator.  He had worked overtime yet again, something he did entirely too often of late.  While the extra money was helpful, his current job kept a roof over his head and not much more.  Just as soon as he could find something better, he was planning to move on.

Or should I? he wondered, remembering the afternoon's biggest surprise.

Prior to today, Brent Andrews had no idea Ken Hutchinson even lived in southern California, much less in Bay City.  The two of them crossing paths in the middle of a busy work day had been as jangling as it was unexpected.  It had been over fifteen years since he'd last seen the tall, handsome man from northern Minnesota.  Although he thought of Hutchinson often over the years, he'd never expected to see him again.

Same good looks, same smile, he thought, as the memories crowded his mind.

Truth be told, it might have been Hutchinson's smile that had gotten to him the most all those years ago.

"So now what?" he asked himself out loud.  "Now that you know where he is, what are you gonna do about it, huh?"

Brent Andrews dropped out of college in the middle of his sophomore year.  Decidedly disinterested in further academics, he left the midwest in search of what he considered a better life.  A series of temporary jobs had taken him to various destinations throughout Texas and Arizona.  He'd even come close to settling down once but developed cold feet at the last minute.  Southern California had seemed like the perfect place to disappear while he avoided any unwanted obligations. 

What no one else suspected was the trail of bodies he'd also left behind - one-night stands and assorted other relationships that fulfilled his need for violence.  When the urge to hit back at society overtook him, he selected his next victim on the basis of memories he had never been able to reconcile.  Not even Brent had an entirely predictable pattern for choosing the men he murdered - nothing beyond a blonde-haired, blue-eyed memory of the 'one' who had gotten away.

Brent flopped on the couch with a beer in hand, downing half of the bottle in a few quick swallows.  The top-floor apartment had no air conditioning making it impossibly uncomfortable the majority of the time.  As a result, he didn't like to hang around when he wasn't working.  The apartment was a place to store clothes and stash a few groceries - somewhere to shower and sleep in relative safety.  Brent chuckled openly at the concept of safety, an assumption he recognized was purely relative. 

Yeah, safe from someone like me. 

Brent considered his options as he nursed his beer.  It would be smart to lay low for a while as yesterday's fire had caused quite a commotion.  Although he'd watched the firemen battle the blaze from over a block away, such a fire in combination with a brazen, cold-blooded murder was almost too much to appreciate at one time.  It was daybreak before the flames were beaten into submission and the body was discovered.  After watching the fire for hours, he'd grown tired and left before the latest victim was found.

"Ken Hutchinson," Brent murmured appreciatively.  "I see the years have definitely been good to you."

Brent decided he would ask an acquaintance to run the plate numbers on that Torino.  As Hutchinson hadn't been driving, he assumed the car probably belonged to his companion.  Brent was actually quite envious of anyone who owned such a fine, flashy car.  It was the kind of vehicle that emanated confidence along with a bold sense of masculinity.

And then it hit him.  Both Hutchinson and his companion had been wearing shoulder harnesses.  That alone suggested a more limited number of possibilities. 

Could they possibly be cops?

The chance meeting had come and gone so quickly that it was hard to absorb the entire experience all at once.  Now that he'd had a few hours to digest his surprise and remember other details, the brief encounter had left him even more aghast.  But a damned cop?

Brent leaped off the couch and beelined toward the refrigerator.  If that was the case, things had not only gotten more complicated, he was going to need a lot more beer.  For the first time in years, Brent experienced a true sense of nervousness.  Messing with a cop invited a different level of risk into any situation.  The stakes were automatically higher which made everything he attempted more dangerous

Hutchinson was one of the smartest men he'd ever known.  Combining that level of intellect with the authority of law enforcement was more than enough to make Brent uncomfortable.  It was the kind of complication he wasn't accustomed to worrying about.

Twisting the cap off another bottle, Brent decided he wouldn't wait until morning to investigate the plate numbers.  He would look up his contact tonight in the hope of a speedier response.  Identifying the owner of the flashy Torino was of sudden importance not to mention the only known link to his long-lost friend.

"Here's to the memories, Ken," Brent chuckled, toasting the air with a bottle.  "A few of them may not be worth preserving, but others just need to be finished."

Chapter Text

"Rise and shine!" Starsky announced, throwing open the blinds with a flourish and flooding the room with sunlight.  As the onslaught hit Hutch directly in the face, he scrunched his eyelids together and rolled away from the window. 

"Starsky, did you have to do that?" Hutch moaned.  "It can't possibly be time to get up yet."

"Oh, but it is, Sleeping Beauty, 'cause we're goin' in early this morning, remember?"

The next thing Hutch noticed was the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting its way toward his nostrils.  "I'm going to leave this right here," Starsky said, setting a steaming mug on the bedside table.  "Roll over, inhale, and you're halfway there.  Hurry, 'cause I'm makin' eggs."

Five minutes later Hutch shuffled his way into the kitchen wearing borrowed pajamas and clutching a half-empty mug.  "Mornin'," he mumbled as he searched for the coffee pot that had gotten lost among too many other countertop appliances.   

"Good morning, yourself.  I knew you could do it."

Starsky watched out of the corner of one eye, amused, as Hutch shuffled back and forth in front of the counter.  Assumedly, he was looking for the coffee pot.  " You're getting warmer, "Starsky hinted.  "Oh, there ya go!  Good job!  Have a seat as soon as you get your refill 'cause breakfast is almost ready."

Hutch muttered something mostly undecipherable while Starsky finished cooking the eggs.  As he slid the over-easy version onto a plate, Starsky could see that his partner was doing his best to wake up.  Any other morning Hutch would have been out running at least an hour ago, further evidence that the man had been exhausted the night before.

Emotional baggage can do that to a man, Starsky thought sadly.

As Hutch settled into a chair,  Starsky set a plate of eggs and freshly buttered toast in front of him.  "A little food will fix you right up. As soon as you eat, you'll have just enough time for a shower."

Less than an hour later the two of them were back in the Torino and on their way to Metro.  If their luck held, they could finalize yesterday's reports before the preliminary details of the latest victim's autopsy report were available.    

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

Starsky was whistling softly as he pushed open the squad room door.  To his surprise, several people were not only already in the office but working at their desks.  It looked like Dobey was right about the popularity of the office at 7:00 AM.  

"Well, look what we have here - good morning, crew," Starsky said.  "My, but don't we all look busy this morning?" 

Hutch entered behind Starsky, his eyes traveling over the smattering of people who were already seated. A detective named Rodriguez tipped a cup of coffee in their direction while a majority of the others simply grunted and kept working. 

"The air conditioning broke down at my house last night," Simmons offered first.  "If I can't get it fixed soon, I may have to live here."

"Yikes, that's a tough break in this kind of heat," Hutch commented.  "I'll bet anyone who repairs AC is working twenty-four-seven right now."

"Just about.  One company predicted they could get to us by the weekend if we're lucky.  Somethin' about hospitals and grocery stores having precedence."

"Any break in your case from yesterday?" Rodriguez asked.  Hutch shook his head as he pulled out a chair.  "No, but I'm hoping that changes soon... Maybe as soon as today."

"I overheard Dobey discussing a few things with the fire chief," Rodriguez continued.  "They're not sure the two situations are related - the fire and the murder, I mean."  

"That's what Hutch thinks," Starsky added, jumping into the conversation.  "And you know how Hutch is about these things, Rodriguez.  The man always keeps an open mind."

"Indeed he does," Rodriguez agreed.  "But I guess it wouldn't be the first time someone tried to cover up one crime with another.  

"No, it wouldn't be," Hutch agreed.  "Nevertheless, Starsky and I are gonna work on it just as soon as we finish a little paperwork."

"Dobey knew what he was doing when he handed the case to you guys.  I'll be interested to hear what you learn."

"Thanks, Rodriguez," Hutch replied.  While he knew a number of things about all three cases that the other detective did not, there was enough truth in his statement for Hutch to accept the compliment at face value.  Rodriguez had never been shy about displaying his admiration for Starsky and Hutch's ability to work as a team. 

"There's a fair chance the whole department will have an opportunity to contribute to this one," Hutch added.  "I dunno, just a feeling I have..."  Rodriguez smiled at the mere possibility, ever ready to work with the most experienced people on the force.

"Here ya go," Starsky said, setting yet another cup of strong, black coffee in front of Hutch.  "One more of these and you can finally grow some hair on your chest.  You'll be ready for anything after that.  And speaking of anything, is Dobey here?"

Rodriguez scowled as he took another sip of his own coffee.  "Yeah, he's here.  He went downstairs to grab some breakfast."

"Breakfast?  I'm surprised Edith let him out of the house without breakfast," Hutch commented.  

"I was, too, but according to Dobey, he insisted.  He doesn't want her messing around with a hot stove when he can buy meals here at the station.  At least for now, it sounds like he won the argument."

"You're a good man, Captain," Hutch murmured softly, smiling as he began shuffling through a stack of papers.  "Like it or not, you're a good man."

As if on cue, Dobey pushed through the squad room door carrying a tray loaded with a variety of breakfast items.  He paused as he passed Starsky and Hutch, privately pleased to see both of them had made it to work a full hour early.  "When you're finished with your reports, come and see me," he said before continuing into his office and closing the door.  

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

Brent stared at the small piece of paper in his hand - a short, concise note from the contact he'd asked to run the plate numbers.   

The license plates are registered to David Starsky - Detective, Bay City PD.

The local snitch Brent had paid for the information seemed far more amused by the inquiry than the information itself. 

"Bro', you really are new here, aren't you?  If you don't know who owns that Torino, it's past time you did.  Starsky and his partner, Hutchinson, are two of the best cops on the beat.  Be fair with them and they'll be fair with you.  But double cross either one and...  Well, I wouldn't advise that if you don't want to deal with some serious repercussions."

Brent folded the paper and tucked it into his wallet.  Although he'd suspected that Hutchinson and his companion might both be cops, it was jarring to have the information so resoundingly confirmed.  Apparently, he had a lot to catch up on in regards to his old friend.    

Hutchinson had been one of the good guys in their school days - fun-loving, easy-going, and a pleasure to spend time with.  Brent remembered he had also talked semi-seriously about attending law school, a career path he'd always assumed Hutchinson had pursued.  When or why he might have changed his mind was a mystery to Brent.

As he tossed around a few ideas in his head, a loose plan began to take shape.  If Hutchinson was a cop, then catching his attention would be relatively easy.  Crime and punishment were the bedrock of his daily routine.  Getting him alone or in a controlled environment would be the real challenge, but nothing so different from a number of things he'd previously done to others.  Hutchinson would also recognize him which would force a few adjustments in his approach.  Despite the obstacles, Brent found himself grinning at the possibilities.  This might be the challenge of a lifetime - the ultimate fusion between determination and adaptability.  

Let the games begin, Mr. Hutchinson.  It's time we finish things once and for all.

Brent shoved the wallet into a hip pocket before turning toward the hot grill.  An early lunch crowd had already gathered in the front lobby which meant the entire place would soon be bustling with customers. 

The Taco Shack was a relatively new business that opened its doors just after the first of the year.  The food had been an immediate hit with the locals earning the owners an instant reputation for a decent meal at a fair price.  Brent had been hired in the spring shortly after moving to Bay City from Ventura County. 

Brent had also discovered that he was comfortable working as a line cook.  The job wasn't too strenuous and it filled his immediate need for income.  Eventually, he planned to try his hand at something else, but for now, the position was a good fit.  An additional benefit was the hours he worked at The Taco Shack left him free in the evenings to pursue other interests.

The cooks had received the first set of tickets which generated a flurry of activity in the kitchen.  One by one, the orders were accumulated, prepared, and delivered to people who were either waiting at indoor tables or taking their meals to go.  Today's set of customers was a particularly eclectic group ranging from businessmen dressed in sharp, well-tailored suits to casually dressed families with young children.  Despite the mishmash of customers, Brent was startled by the appearance of a uniformed police officer in the middle of the lobby.  While the man was no one Brent recognized, the sudden appearance of the distinct, dark blue uniform was nonetheless unsettling.  

Take it easy, Andrews.  If you're gonna do this right, you need to settle down.

His own advice turned out to be timely as moments later, Starsky and Hutch walked through the front door of The Taco Shack.  

"Murphy!" Hutch called out from the doorway.  "What brings you over this way?  Your regular beat is at least ten miles east of here."

On the kitchen side of the half-wall, Brent froze - stopping dead still to listen.

Hutchinson?  It was a voice he had never forgotten.

The uniformed officer turned at the sound of his name.  "Well, if it isn't the great detective team of  Starsky and Hutchinson in the flesh!  No worries, mates!  I won't be gettin' in your way and complicating your life.  I'll be headin' back to my side of town just as soon as I grab some lunch."

Intrigued by what he'd overheard, Brent tip-toed to the edge of the kitchen and peeked around the corner.  To his utter amazement, Ken Hutchinson was not only standing in the center of the lobby but was thoroughly engaged in conversation with the uniformed cop. 

The opportunity to observe his nemesis from a safe and discreet distance was not only surreal but a little overwhelming - a second chance meeting in as many days that left him feeling untethered by too many deeply personal memories.  Brent watched in fascination, his eyes riveted on Hutch, as the handsome, charismatic man talked to the people around him.  In a moment of insight, Brent realized the dark-haired man at Hutchinson's elbow was the same person he'd seen driving away in the Torino.

So that's David Starsky.

An intense wave of jealousy reared its ugly head, overwhelming Andrews as he observed Starsky and Hutch from his position behind the partial wall.  Despite knowing there was no justification for such deeply personal feelings, he was powerless in the grip of his own emotions. 

A new level of anger erupted and began to grow as Brent pivoted his focus from Hutch to Starsky.  When Hutch casually draped an arm around Starsky's shoulders and poked him in the ribs, Brent had seen all he could tolerate.

"Hey, Tony!  What the hell's wrong with you?  Are you alright?"

"Huh?" Brent asked, whirling in place.  Brent had been using an alias since he was hired at the restaurant.  Lost in thought, he'd momentarily forgotten his current first name. 

"I said, are you alright?" one of the other cooks repeated.  "It's getting busy back here! We need you, man!"

Ok, ok!  Hang on, I'm comin'!"  Brent paused for another long, last look at Hutchinson before pulling himself together and turning away.  His pulse racing, Brent began to fantasize about a few of the things he would like to do to Starsky. 

In a moment of total innocence and with no understanding of what had happened, Hutch had unknowingly issued a challenge to a man whose life had long ago been consumed by the need for revenge. 

Chapter Text

"Number five in the corner pocket," Starsky said, indicating the bright orange ball.  Adjusting his position, Starsky lined up the shot before sending the cue ball flying, sinking it exactly as predicted.   

"Nice," Huggy responded, obviously impressed.  "You're running the table like a pro tonight."

"Nah," Starsky insisted.  "It's nothin' more than my usual game.  Just a little bit of stress relief on a Friday night is all."

"A little, huh?  Hit those balls any harder and they'll disintegrate into dust.  It's possible you don't appreciate your own strength, Starsky."

"Or his stubbornness," Hutch added, watching the exchange from the bar.  "You oughtta try living with him, Hug."

"Oh, but I have," Huggy replied, shaking his head at the memories.  "Been there, done that, although the experience was years ago.  As you can see, I'm still standin'.  You, too, shall survive, Hutchinson."

"That's the idea," Starsky added smugly.  "You're both lucky to have me watching your backs."

Hutch threw a pained expression in Huggy's direction before calmly rolling his eyes.  

"Be careful my cocky but well-meaning friend," Huggy warned.  "Seems to me your sorry backside has needed watchin' more than once, ya dig?  It's still your shot."

Huggy wandered to a barstool and plopped down next to Hutch.  It was incredibly quiet for a Friday night, most likely a casualty of the temperatures outside.  Gazing around the room, he estimated the club was only about half full.  People didn't have the energy to congregate in a crowded bar, never mind dance when it was still over 90 degrees after 9:00 o'clock at night.  A cold drink and a few games of billiards made for a much more enjoyable evening.  

Huggy paused again, his eyes sweeping the bar one last time.  There was no one here he didn't recognize - just a few regulars having drinks at the end of a work week.  No one familiar with The Pits would think anything was odd about Starsky and Hutch's presence.   

"Word on the street is there's a lot of new activity in town," Huggy said, keeping his voice casual. 

"Oh?  How's that?" Hutch asked, resisting the urge to look directly at Huggy.  

"The body that was found at the gym?"

Hutch nodded. 

"He was apparently part of a well-established stable.  That's why no one is interested in talkin' about it yet."

Hutch took another sip of his beer as he considered the information.  "A stable, huh?"

Huggy nodded back.  

"And no one is willing to say more?" Hutch asked.  

"Not yet.  But that won't last.  What happened shook people up, Hutch.  They're scared right now is all, but someone will talk eventually.  I'll let you know."

Hutch deposited the empty glass on the bar.  "You're a pal, Hug.  You always know where to find us."

Starsky was aware that an important conversation was in progress behind him.  Out of respect, he waited until Huggy and Hutch were done talking before formally lining up the next shot.    

"Eight ball in the same pocket," Starsky predicted.  "How much are you willing to bet, Hug?"

"Absolutely nothing.  I know you're gonna make it."

Hutch snickered as he watched his partner do exactly that.  With a casual amount of effort, Starsky lined up his stick and delivered the shot by dropping the eight ball into the designated pocket.  

"Well, that's game," Hutch announced.  "Sorry about that, Hug."

Huggy shrugged his broad shoulders to illustrate his disinterest.  "Any time Starsky steps up to the pool table, there's a good chance I'm gonna lose."

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

Approximately one block south of the front door, Brent Andrews had an unobstructed view of The Pits.  If he hadn't been half-searching for the Torino already, he might not have noticed it among the other brightly colored sports cars that seemed to permeate this part of town.  As luck would have it, he spotted the red and white vehicle parked on a side street not far from his own apartment.  Brent wasn't sure what the odds of that were, but he didn't feel like arguing tonight.

From the safety of his own car, he waited patiently for Starsky to return to the Torino.  Although he didn't expect the man to be alone, the odds were high that Hutchinson would be with him.  Brent wasn't sure how he felt about that since Starsky had become his more immediate focus.  At least for a short while, he wanted to learn more about Hutchinson's partner - to garner a few pieces of useful information about the man's habits and his daily routine.  Brent typically stalked a victim by identifying a chink in a victim's personal armor, then magnifying or exploiting the weakness.  Once he understood more precisely what that was in Starsky's life, it would be easier to use it against him. 

Brent looked up as the door to The Pits flew open and Starsky stepped outside.  For a brief moment, he thought Starsky might actually be alone until Hutchinson materialized behind him.  The two men were busy talking and laughing as they began making their way toward the Torino. 

Despite his concentration on Starsky, Brent had devoted a lot of time to envisioning his eventual plans for Hutchinson.  A single moment of rejection all those years ago had been pivotal in Brent's life - a devastating experience that had influenced and overshadowed his ability to make proper decisions from that day forward.  In his own mind, he had not only suffered enough but had done so unnecessarily.  It was time for others to endure the suffering instead.      

As the Torino pulled into traffic, Brent followed from a reasonable distance, comfortable that he wouldn't be noticed.  Starsky wouldn't recognize him anyway.  It was Hutchinson he would have to be cautious with.    

As they traveled through the darkened cityscape, Brent became more curious about where they were going.  When the buildings began to change into structures that looked more residential, he found himself appreciating the view.  A hundred yards ahead, the Torino slowed before pulling into a wide and spacious driveway.  Brent also pulled over, cut his lights, and waited to see which apartment the two men entered.  Despite the dark, the corner street light made it easy to follow them as they left the car and climbed the stairs of a two-story apartment building.  

Brent waited impatiently outside, wondering when or if the men would be leaving again.  Once it became obvious they weren't going anywhere any time soon, he was more annoyed than surprised.  If Starsky and Hutchinson were together most of the time, it would be difficult to catch either of them by surprise.  It wasn't altogether impossible, but it certainly upped the ante.  This whole process was a lot like flirting with a worthy opponent.

Alright, let's see what you're really made of, Hutchinson.  There's more than one way we can do this.

From the safety of his vehicle, Brent studied the entrance to the apartment.  Surprising anyone on their own turf was always more challenging.  Getting the drop on someone like Starsky might prove to be a monumental task.  Not easily discouraged, Brent considered an array of possibilities until he landed on an idea that finally made him smile. 

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

The following morning...

"Where's your partner?" Simmons asked, passing Hutch's desk.  "Just warnin' ya, the boss already looks pissed about something."

"He had an appointment," Hutch answered, grinning as he sat down.  "He dropped me off and went to take care of that.  He'll be back before too long."

"An appointment?" the other man echoed.  "Is he sick?"

"No, but the Torino might be.  The motor started sounding a little weird."

Simmons looked properly concerned.  He knew the potential for disaster if anything went wrong with Starsky's Torino.  Everyone in the office could appreciate how much Starsky loved his car. 

"Did it overheat?" Simmons asked.  "That's easy to do these days."

"No, not this time.  He's careful about keeping enough water in it when it's as hot as it is outside.  It sounded like it could be a bearing to me.  Whatever it is, Merle can figure it out."

Simmons nodded.  Hutch was certainly right about Merle.  At least half the department had taken their vehicles to Starsky's favorite mechanic at one time or another.  "Well, Starsky'd better make it quick," Simmons warned.  "As I said, the boss is already steamed about something, and it's still early."

Hutch accepted Simmons' prediction as likely true.  Hopefully, nothing too serious was wrong with the Torino.  They both had a lot on their calendar today.    

"I'd rather Starsky was here instead of down at Merle's, too," Hutch explained to Simmons.  "We've lined up some interviews I'm anxious to get done, but he needs to take care of his car first."

As the morning wore on, Hutch lost himself in reviewing the cases Dobey had assigned to them the day before.  Neither of the murders from the adjoining counties had yet been solved.  No suspects were in custody - no one had qualified as a person of interest.  There were no solid leads - just a whole lot of unanswered questions and grieving families left in the wake.  Hutch frowned as he skimmed through the conclusions the other detectives had documented.       

Line by line, Hutch compared the autopsy reports of the victims to each other.  The first man had died from a single, deadly knife wound to the chest, the second from severe blunt force trauma to the abdomen.  Both situations caused immediate internal bleeding which led to their deaths in a matter of minutes.  If either man had been transported to the hospital immediately, their survival was still unlikely.  The injuries were simply too catastrophic. 

Hutch glanced at the clock, surprised to see it was almost 9:30.  He thought Starsky would be back by now.  When the clock rolled around to 9:45, Hutch picked up the phone and dialed the repair shop.  

"Merle's Auto Repair," announced the voice on the other end of the line. 

"Merle.  What did you do with Starsky?  Is he still there?"

"Starsky hasn't been here today, Hutch.  I expected him around 7:30, but he never showed up."

Puzzled, Hutch found himself asking the same question another way.  "He didn't bring the Torino to you this morning?"

"No, we talked about it, but as I said, he never showed.  He ain't with you?"

As Hutch forced himself to hear what Merle was saying, a sudden chill worked its way up his spine.  It had been over two hours since he had last seen Starsky, plenty of time for almost anything to have happened.  Hutch's breath threatened to catch in his throat, yet he willed himself to stay calm.  "No, he isn't with me.  I thought he had taken the Torino to your shop this morning.  So you haven't seen him at all today?"

"Nope," Merle answered, followed by a long pause.  "I'm sorry, Hutch. When Starsky didn't show up, I just assumed it was due to police business.  That's happened before.  Is anything wrong?"

"I don't know yet," Hutch admitted.  The grip he had on the receiver was causing Hutch's fingers to ache.  "Merle, promise me you'll let me know if you see him, right?"

"You got it. I hope everything's ok, Hutch."

"So do I, Merle, but I need to go.  I'll talk to you later."

Hutch slammed down the receiver, pushed back his chair, and barged into Dobey's office unannounced.     

"Captain! Starsky's missing!"  

Chapter Text

It was hard to catch his breath, yet Starsky kept trying.  Eventually, he was able to breathe well enough to ease some of the air hunger in his chest.  His mouth was incredibly dry like something forgotten and left out in the sun.  Despite his desperation for a drink, he couldn't think of how to go about getting one.  Just as soon as he figured out where he was, Starsky would find himself a cold glass of water.

Confused and disoriented, Starsky opened his eyes to an aching sensation in both of his shoulders.  When he tried to shift his position, he learned he couldn't move much at all.  The painful, stinging sensation that encircled each wrist helped to awaken him.  Like striking a match, anger erupted and flared beneath the surface of his consciousness.  If this was someone's idea of a joke, there would be hell to pay once he found whoever was responsible.     

"Let go of me!" Starsky shouted, attempting to kick with his feet until he realized both ankles were also restrained.  "Damn it!  Untie me!" 

A resounding silence was all that followed Starsky's outburst.  He'd awakened to find himself inexplicably tied down in some sort of large, cavernous room.  The air smelled heavily of stale cigarettes and beer.  Despite the daylight, it seemed unnaturally dark - like someone had lowered the window shades with the intent of blocking out the sun.  Obviously, he'd been brought here against his will.  Exactly how that happened remained a mystery to Starsky.  Frantically, he struggled to quell his anger and think rationally.  At this point, it didn't matter where he was or how he'd gotten into the situation, he would just have to get himself out of it. 

Bits and pieces were beginning to break loose in Starsky's memory.  He'd been on his way to Meryl's when he was rear-ended just short of an intersection.  Swearing under his breath, Starsky had pulled over and exited the Torino to confront the other driver.  Oddly enough, the other man was already out of the car and waiting for him - something he thought was unusual at the time.  With his own emotions running high, Starsky yelled at the other driver first.  "What's wrong with you?  You couldn't see a red and white car that was sitting right in front of you?"

The other man stood his ground, watching closely and saying nothing as Starsky approached.  When Starsky took a moment to glance at the damage to the Torino's fender, the other man launched himself - landing on Starsky's right side and piercing his thigh with a sharp, hypodermic needle.  Starsky hissed at the sudden burning sensation in his leg and stumbled, fumbling for a grip on something solid.  Immediately, he felt dizzy and clumsy - the asphalt loomed dangerously close to his face.  A faint roaring sound grew more audible as Starsky succumbed to the effects of a chemical cocktail and crumpled to the ground.  The last thing he remembered before everything went black was the satisfied sneer on the face of the stranger hovering over him.

Brent Andrews was highly practiced at surprising his victims, and more than capable of transferring Starsky to the back seat of the Torino.   There had been no screaming, no brawling, no wildly thrown punches to draw anyone's attention - just another routine fender bender in the middle of what looked like any other morning commute.  Abandoning his own vehicle on the side of the road, Brent slipped behind the wheel and successfully drove away with Starsky laid out cold in the back seat.  

Twenty minutes later, Brent moved Starsky from the car to a new and hidden location.  Intimately familiar with a host of abandoned buildings on the dockside of Bay City, Brent had chosen to take Starsky to a deserted brewery.  Although he'd used the old gymnasium for a number of his previous contacts with prostitutes, male and female, and a few of the dealers, that location was obviously out of commission for the immediate future.  It was not only necessary but safer to choose another area.  

After dragging Starsky inside and securing him to an old mattress on the floor, Brent knew the next order of business would be to ditch the Torino as soon as possible.  People would be looking for Detective Starsky shortly, and one of them would be his partner.  Not even Brent would be able to successfully hide a vehicle that looked like the Gran Torino.

Moving quickly, he left Starsky in one of the larger rooms, hopped back behind the wheel, and drove like a bat out of hell ten miles in the opposite direction.  Pulling over at the nearest public beach, he picked a secluded parking space on the far side of the lot, turned off the engine, and left with the keys.  From there, he blended into the melee of morning joggers that commonly littered the beach at that time of the day.  A mile or so down the shoreline, he left the sand and calmly re-entered the downtown area on foot.  

While considering his next step, Brent decided he'd leave Starsky exactly where he was, at least for the next day or two.  At a minimum, he was curious as to how long the man could last without water as well as morbidly curious about how aggressively the department would mobilize its force around a single missing officer.  While he thought he knew what Hutchinson would want to do, he wasn't sure he had the skills to save his partner's life.  In most ways, Brent hoped not.  Hutchinson deserved to lose someone he valued.  Although he supposed the relationship with Starsky was platonic, the bond they shared was not only obvious but enviable, and the closest thing to a satisfactory level of revenge that Brent would ever find.    

Brent wasn't sure if he wanted Starsky to die.  If he didn't, it would be necessary to remain vigilant as death would come sooner than later in a summer such as this one.  If he really wanted Starsky to suffer, he would have to intervene just to keep him alive.  Doing so would extend the timeline of anxiety for Hutchinson as well, a situation Brent viewed as more properly balanced.   

It would take a couple of hours to hike back to his apartment, but at least it was still early.  Perhaps he wouldn't rush and would enjoy a little window shopping along the way.  There was a book store he liked to frequent that was famous for serving a bottomless cup of coffee.  If he bought a newspaper and settled in to read, he could easily hang out there for half the day.  

The car Brent had used to stage this morning's accident was stolen.  Although it had probably been reported as such by now, Brent was confident the police couldn't trace the vehicle to him.  As today was his regular day off at The Taco Shack, no one would be expecting him on the job.  All in all, it was a good day for grand theft auto, not to mention kidnapping a cop.  The next order of business would be to hunt down Hutchinson and monitor his behavior.  Now that Starsky was no longer at the helm, Hutch's whereabouts might be easier to keep track of.   

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

Hutch closed his eyes against the bright, overhead lights and pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to calm his raging headache.  It was nearly 1:00 in the afternoon and there hadn't been a word from Starsky.  Obviously, something had gone terribly wrong for his partner. 

The phone on Dobey's desk jangled unexpectedly causing the older man to grab it on the second ring.  The expression on Dobey's face changed dramatically as he listened to the caller.  "Where?" Dobey demanded, grabbing a notepad and jotting down some information.  "Yes, I know the location!  Absolutely no one touches that car until my team gets there!  Is that understood?  We're on our way!"

Dropping the receiver, Dobey turned to Hutch.  "They found the Torino!  Let's go!"  Hutch leaped off the corner of the desk and hurried after Dobey.    

"Rodriguez!" Dobey yelled as he and Hutch passed through the squad room.  "You and Phillips need to follow us!  That's an order!"

Rodriguez jumped out of his chair and scrambled to comply as Detective Phillips did the same. 

"Time to roll," Hutch explained, noting the wide-eyed uncertainty on Rodriguez's face.  "A black and white unit just located the Torino."

Hutch rode with Captain Dobey under full lights and sirens to West Point Beach with Rodriguez and Phillips close behind them.  As Dobey's dark blue Dodge careened into the parking lot, Hutch caught a glimpse of the Torino's roof on the far side of the lot.  His heart leaped at the sight of his partner's car before deflating just as quickly.  There was no sign of Starsky.  Fearing the worst, Hutch steeled himself for the possibility of more bad news. 

As it turned out, Hutch knew both of the officers who had located Starsky's car.  One of them was Billy Murphy, the same officer he and Starsky had run into the day before at The Taco Shack.  Murphy greeted Hutch with a concerned smile as he exited the Buick and ran toward the Torino. 

There was noticeable damage to the Torino's rear bumper that Hutch knew had not been there only a few hours earlier.  The jockey box was left open, its contents scattered across the front seat as if someone had been searching for something.  Beyond a few small, unimportant items, nothing personal had been left behind.

Captain Dobey peered into the front seat, careful not to touch anything before the car could be checked for prints and other evidence.  While there was no sign of bloodstain on the upholstery, its absence was no guarantee that Starsky had not been injured.

"What the hell?" Hutch asked, looking at Dobey.  "Starsky wouldn't just hand over his car to someone else?"

"Of course not," Dobey replied, his jaw muscles clenching noticeably.  Stepping away from the Torino, Dobey waved at the other detectives.  "Rodriguez!  Get over here and start dusting down this car!"

Hutch nervously ran his hands through his hair, watching as Rodriguez donned a thin pair of gloves and proceeded to check the driver's door handle for prints.  Was it really only a few hours ago that Starsky had dropped him off at Metro?  It was a fairly short drive between the squad room and Meryl's garage.  How had everything gone so wrong in such a short period of time? 

Hutch wandered to the passenger side of the car for a better look at the backseat.  As usual, it was empty.  Hutch knew Starsky kept a stash of basic supplies in the trunk just in case they were faced with an extra shift or an unexpected stakeout.  Only then did it hit him that they hadn't yet checked the trunk.  

"Captain!" Hutch shouted, grabbing at his pocket for his keys.  Hutch had learned years ago that it was a good idea to carry a spare set of keys to Starsky's Torino with his own.  "We need to open the trunk!"

Hutch tried to keep his hand from shaking as he inserted the key into the lock, hesitating as Dobey hurried to stand beside him.  With his heart pounding in his chest, Hutch forced himself to turn the key and open the lid.  Blessedly, there was nothing inside but the usual assortment of spare blankets, a jug of water, and a bag full of Starsky's favorite snack foods.   

Hutch released the breath he'd been holding as Dobey patted him gently on the back.  "We'll find him, Hutch," Dobey reiterated softly.  "Calm down.  I promise you, we'll find him."

Chapter Text

It was getting dark in earnest now.  The smattering of light that was visible around the window shades had faded to a faint, rosy glow. Starsky supposed it was close to sunset although he'd lost track of time hours ago.

Starsky grimaced as he tried to swallow, his mouth so dry that it hurt to even try.  The muscles in all four of his extremities were screaming for relief.  Desperate to ease a multitude of aches and pains all over his body, Starsky wiggled as much as he could into a slightly different position.  Shifting his weight from one hip to the other, he found a little relief from the pressure against his skin.  No matter which way he moved it was impossible to get comfortable on the lumpy, dirty mattress.    

Starsky had given up shouting after becoming too dehydrated to form words.  Discouraged and growing more frightened, he'd lapsed into an uneasy sleep filled with vivid and unusual dreams.  He was vaguely aware of a need to pee only once, yet the urge seemed to have passed for now.  Starsky wasn't sure if that meant he had urinated in his jeans, or if he was no longer able to make urine.  Equally weird was that he no longer cared.  There were too many places that hurt all over his body, among them a dull aching sensation that had developed in his gut.  

"Hutch," Starsky whispered, straining weakly against the ropes.  "Hutch, I'm in trouble here, buddy."

As if in response to his plea, a bucket of icy, cold water hit Starsky directly in the face.  Gasping and coughing, he tried in vain to recoil, but the restraints held him firmly in place.  Inadvertently, he'd swallowed a large mouthful of water which caused him to cough and gag.  The remainder had plastered his hair to his head and saturated his clothing along with a good portion of the mattress.  Fighting mad after the surprise ambush, Starsky yanked at his restraints in a futile effort to break free.  

"Damn it!  Who the hell are you?" Starsky demanded.  

When Starsky again opened his eyes, he saw a man he didn't recognize standing only a few feet away.  The stranger was holding an empty bucket in one hand and grinning as he watched Starsky struggle.  "Hutch isn't here," the man said calmly.  "But I am," he added, looking pleased with his own information.  "I guess you're just gonna have to get used to me."

Starsky narrowed his eyes and studied the individual who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere.  He was a tall, thirty-something man with wavy, light brown hair wearing jeans and a dirty, white t-shirt.  There was a tone in his voice that implied an uncomfortable level of familiarity.  Starsky was thrown a little more off balance by the aura that surrounded his aggressor.    

"Who are you?" Starsky asked again.   

"Think of me as Hutch's replacement - for now anyway," the man added, smiling at his own joke.  "Rest assured, we'll get to know each other much better very soon."

A shiver passed through Starsky's body that he hoped the other man hadn't noticed.  Semi-stunned by what his captor had verbalized, Starsky realized there was a clue to his madness hidden somewhere beneath his words.

This is about Hutch.  Whoever this guy is, this has something to do with Hutch.

Starsky attempted to calm himself - to properly digest what he had learned so he could put the information to good use.  He hadn't realized he'd been calling for Hutch out loud.  Now that he did, he would have to be more guarded.   

"I need some water," Starsky tried to say next.  As the words rolled off his tongue, he realized how ridiculous that sounded. 

"Yeah, I thought you might," the stranger said, grinning. "That's why I gave you some."

Starsky attempted to further analyze his captor.  With no way of knowing how much time he would have to do so, he tried to make quick work of the character analysis of a complete stranger.  What he had gleaned so far was not encouraging.  And then Starsky connected the first set of dots.  The guy with the empty bucket was the same guy who had rear-ended the Torino. 

My God.  This was all a complete setup.

Starsky refocussed his energy on his tormentor.  For reasons he didn't yet understand, it made him intensely uncomfortable to hear the man say anything about Hutch.     

"What makes you think you can get away with something like this?" Starsky asked.

Andrews appeared legitimately surprised by the question as if it hadn't occurred to him that anyone would ask.  Without realizing it until now, he'd overlooked the most obvious of complications with his own plan.  Amazingly, and despite the seriousness of his own situation, Starsky's first priority was his partner.

"I have an old score to settle with Hutchinson," Brent offered, eyeing Starsky with a new level of suspicion.  "What you bring to the situation is a lot of leverage, Detective Starsky - an insurance policy of sorts that I'll be able to keep Hutch's attention."

Starsky wasn't sure what he expected to hear, but that wasn't it.  If anyone was gunning for his partner, whether knowingly or otherwise, they had openly gone to war with him also.        

"Leave Hutch out of this!" Starsky hissed, locking eyes with his captor. 

The other man almost smiled as he selected his next words.  "I'm afraid it's way too late to leave Hutch out of any of this, Starsky."

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

"You need to at least try to get some rest, Hutch," Dobey said, looking at his detective with concern. "I know it's tough, but we both know you're going to need it."

Hutch heard what Dobey had said yet he found it difficult to respond.  He wasn't angry with his Captain.  It was simply hard to know exactly what to say.  Despite his current level of frustration, he tried.  "How can I possibly rest when Starsky is missing, huh?"

"Damned if I know," Dobey answered honestly.  "But we both know you're going to need it."

"Duly noted," Hutch replied.  "Now tell me about the call from Ventura."

A single fingerprint had been successfully isolated from the Torino - a print that did not belong to either Starsky or Hutch.  Once the evidence had been lifted and examined, Dobey contacted Ventura County in the hope of a positive crossmatch.  Minutes earlier, Dobey had taken a call from one of the detectives assigned to the murder cases in the neighboring county.    

"Ventura is looking through its files," Dobey answered.  "If they find anything, they'll be in touch."

Hutch folded his arms across his chest and allowed himself to sink deeper into his chair.  Flexing his fists to cope with the tension, he struggled to think reasonably.  "I hate this," Hutch admitted, looking directly at Dobey.  "I absolutely hate this." 

"We all do," Dobey answered sympathetically.   "But none of us are giving up, Hutch."

"Starsky's been so worried about me that he forgot to watch out for himself.  I should have been there," Hutch added, feeling worse than he had all day.  "If we hadn't split up, this never would have happened."

Hutch forced himself out of his chair to start pacing back and forth in front of Dobey's desk.  Thus far, they hadn't uncovered a single witness to Starsky's disappearance.  Despite not knowing what had happened to his partner, Hutch couldn't accept that no one had seen anything in regard to his disappearance.  

Huggy was busy working on every potential lead he could think of.  Like Hutch, he found it impossible to believe that no one knew anything of relevance.  After a series of dead-end inquiries and too many frustrating contacts, he finally hit pay dirt.  When a frightened witness at long last agreed to talk to Hutch, he hurriedly dialed Metro before she could change her mind.  

Dobey grabbed the phone before it could ring more than twice. 

"Captain," Huggy began, explaining quickly. "I need to talk to Hutch.  I've found someone who knows what happened to Starsky.  In fact, she saw the whole thing."

"Hang on, Hug," Dobey answered, looking behind him.  "Hutch is right here."

Wide-eyed with hope, Hutch took the phone from Dobey.  "This is Hutchinson.  Whatcha got?"

"Hutch, I have a witness who says she saw what happened to Starsky.  She's too afraid to come down to Metro, but she's agreed to talk to you at my place if you can make it quick, ya dig?"

"Huggy, I'm beggin' you, hang on to her! I'll be there in a few minutes, ok?"

"Right on," Huggy answered.  "Look for us in the usual location."

Hutch tossed the receiver back in its cradle before running toward the door.  "This one's mine," Hutch explained.  "I'll be in touch just as soon as I can!"

Chapter Text

Hutch ran from his car to the front door of The Pits, forcing himself to slow down before he entered the bar.  Huggy had said the witness was already nervous.  The last thing Hutch needed was to make things worse by storming the bar too aggressively.

Pulling himself together, Hutch pulled open the door and headed toward the usual area.  Anytime Huggy made arrangements for Starsky or Hutch to meet with an informant on his own territory, he liked to use the same booth.  According to Huggy, it was secluded enough to be more private than the upstairs apartment.  Huggy would arrange for a snitch to enter through the back door while Starsky or Hutch used the front.  It was Huggy's opinion that taking any conversation upstairs was riskier as it left everyone exposed on the open staircase.  

Hutch slid into the booth directly across from Huggy who was already seated next to a petite, blonde woman.  It took a moment, but Hutch eventually remembered her.  He and Starsky had issued the woman a warning instead of arresting her for prostitution about a year ago.   

"Hutch, this is Miranda," Huggy began quietly.

"Miranda," Hutch repeated, nodding politely.  "Huggy says you have some information for me?"

The woman chewed on her bottom lip before responding.  More than a little nervous himself, Hutch held his own breath as he waited, fearful the woman might have already changed her mind. 

"Yeah, I saw what happened to your partner," Miranda began softly, locking eyes with Hutch.  "And I know who the guy is.  He's been a regular visitor the last few weeks or so."

"I need to know what you saw,"  Hutch said.  "Please.  It's important." 

Miranda paused briefly as if considering exactly what to say.  Arriving at some sort of decision, she continued.  "I was walkin' home from work early this morning when I noticed the Torino parked on the side of the road.  Starsky was standing in the middle of the road arguing with someone.  A minute later, the guy he was yelling at shoved him into the backseat and they drove away.  I'm not sure what happened, but I noticed that Starsky didn't look right." 

"What do you mean he didn't look right?"

"Something just seemed off with him.  By that time, he wasn't standing up very well on his own for one thing.  And he didn't fight back - like he couldn't or somethin'.  The other guy was able to manhandle him into the car fairly easily and they took off."

"Where were you exactly when you saw this?"

"At the corner of Hilton and 5th."  Hutch could easily visualize that intersection.  It was an area he and Starsky drove through routinely whenever they were headed to or from Meryl's.

"And you said that you recognized this guy?  Do you know his name?"

"He calls himself Tony when he visits me," Miranda answered frankly.  "But I doubt that's his real name."

Hutch doubted as much, too.  Hopefully, Miranda would know a little more about her customer - something to make him more findable in a city full of prospects. 

"I know what his day job is," Miranda volunteered.  "He works at that new taco restaurant down by the docks."

Hutch knew the spot she was referring to.  "The Taco Shack?" he asked hopefully.  

"Yeah, I think that's it," Miranda said.  "He smells like salsa any time he comes around."

Huggy was watching Hutch closely as Miranda spoke.  Although he couldn't force the woman to share what she might know, he hoped she knew enough to lead them to Starsky.  Whatever the catalyst was behind Starsky's abduction, they were praying he hadn't been injured, or worst yet, already killed. 

"Miranda, can you describe this Tony fellow to me?  I need some way of recognizing him."  Hutch pulled out his writing tablet and waited.  Although he couldn't imagine forgetting anything Miranda might tell him, he still had to do this right.  It was important to take proper notes and document any information she might offer.  Thus far, she was their only potential lead to Starsky. 

Miranda took a sip of her drink before beginning.  "Light brown hair, green eyes, about six feet tall, average build," she said softly.  "And he has a couple of weird tattoos on his knuckles - a small heart and something that looks like the letter H.  I've never seen anything quite like it before."

Hutch documented the description carefully.  "Anything else?" Hutch asked.  "Anything at all," he added.

Miranda shrugged her shoulders.  "He's into kinky stuff if that matters.  Dark, strange, and downright weird sex...  It's the main reason I don't want to see him anymore.  To be fair, it's part of the reason I'm talking to you.  I have a feeling he might get insistent if I tell him not to come around anymore.  

Hutch closed his tablet and looked directly at Miranda.  "Ok, I can't thank you enough for what you've told me.  You've been a great deal of help."

Miranda presented a meek smile from the other side of the table.  "You and Starsky were always fair to me, Hutch.  I just hope it's enough."

"I hope so, too.  Could you pick this Tony character out of a lineup if I asked you to?"

Miranda nodded. 

"Thank you," Hutch added gratefully.  "One more thing - can I reach you through Huggy?" 

Miranda nodded again.  

"Alright.  Let me know if you think of anything else, ok?"

Hutch locked eyes with Huggy as he stood and prepared to leave.  "Thanks, Hug.  I'll be in touch."

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

Starsky thought he heard someone moaning until he realized the racket was coming from him.  Startled into wakefulness, Starsky opened his eyes to a completely dark room. 

Damn!  I'm still here, Starsky thought, his spirit sagging.

Starsky's fingertips were tingling from a lack of proper blood flow.  The muscles in both arms were aching badly from the strain of being suspended over his head for too long.  It had been hours since his last drink of water.  And to make everything worse, the discomfort in his gut was growing noticeably worse.  

"Good evening, Mr. Starsky.  I was wondering when you might wake up."

Starsky jumped at the sound of his tormentor's voice.  Not knowing what to expect, he half-braced himself for the next round of an ice water bath.  When that didn't happen, he decided to get more interactive.  "I was hoping you'd be gone when I woke up," Starsky said flatly.  "Whoever you are, you host a terrible party."  

"Ah, I do apologize, but a few other priorities have interfered with my time.  Besides, I wanted to check on your partner." 

Starsky stared at Brent, a new level of anger clearly written across his face.  "Keep your filthy hands off my partner."  

One concept was now obvious to Brent Andrews.  After hours in nearly the same position, in tandem with a critical lack of water, Starsky's priority was still his partner.  He'd expected to see a significant change in Starksy's loyalty by now - a reversal brought about by extremely harsh circumstances.  When that didn't occur, it was enough to make him reconsider his tactics. 

Interesting.  This might be a little more difficult than I'd thought.

"I must say, I'm disappointed, Mr. Starsky," Brent chose to say instead.  "Hutch, as you like to call him, isn't doing so well.  I thought you'd be more concerned."

Starsky narrowed his eyes at Andrews.  "Nice try, but you don't know a damned thing about me and Hutch."

The insult landed hard because it was true.  Andrews knew very little about Starsky and Hutch's relationship.  What he'd gleaned from a couple of accidental encounters couldn't come close to revealing the whole story.  Admittedly, he'd made a lot of assumptions in a short period of time.  Only now did he take the time to seriously consider that some of them might not be accurate.

Sensing a fragment of victory, Starsky pushed a little harder.  "Hutch will figure things out, ya know.  He'll find me, 'cause that's the kind of man he is."

"Don't count on it," Brent retorted.  "Because that's the kind of man that I am."

Starsky waited, half-curious, half-dreading whatever might be next.  Although he'd tried, Starsky wasn't able to place his abductor.  Assumedly, he was a disgruntled offender of some sort - someone he and Hutch had busted for something somewhere in time.  Starsky had also concluded he wasn't associated with any of their biggest cases.  If that was so, Starsky would have recognized him.  That left an arrest that Hutch might have handled on his own, or maybe it was so long ago they were both uniformed officers at the time.  Yet again, it may have been something that took place while Starsky was either out of town or bogged down in court.  Overall, it was puzzling as there just weren't that many cases that both of them weren't at least partially familiar with.  

"You're pissed because you can't figure out who I am, huh?" Brent asked. 

Starsky kept quiet. 

"Never mind.  Let it simmer for now," Brent suggested.  "You'll understand why things are the way they are eventually."

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

Hutch took the stairs from the parking garage two at a time as he raced back to Dobey's office.  Although he knew it was probably an alias, at least he had a name and a starting point.  

All eyes were on Hutch when he hurried through the squad room and into Dobey's office.  Dobey was just hanging up the phone as Hutch arrived.  "I've got a witness and a name!" Hutch blurted out.  "Captain, we need a warrant right away!"

"Yes, we do.  I've just gotten off the phone with a detective in Ventura County."

"And?" Hutch asked.  

"They matched the print we lifted from Starsky's car with a cold case out of Arizona.  It belongs to an offender named Brent Andrews.  Does that name mean anything to you?"

For an instant, Hutch thought he couldn't possibly have heard Dobey correctly.  Brent Andrews was someone who belonged to an entirely different place and time.  As the information began to sink in and his knees threatened to buckle, Dobey grabbed him by the arm and helped him to the nearest chair. 

"Hutch, sit down here," Dobey ordered gently, kneeling beside the chair.  "Take a minute and just breathe."  His eyes round with disbelief, Hutch stared at Dobey from a newly seated position.  "Brent Andrews?" he repeated softly, his eyebrows furrowed tightly together.   

Dobey nodded.  "I take it you know him?"

Hutch shook his head as if that alone would somehow clear his mind.  "Brent Andrews," he repeated.  "I just can't believe it, but yeah - I know who he is."

Dobey motioned at Rodriguez to pour a glass of water from the pitcher that was sitting on his desk.  

"Here, drink this," Dobey said, pressing the glass into Hutch's hand.  "And as soon as you've done that, I want you to tell me everything you know about an offender named Brent Andrews."

Chapter Text

Captain Dobey had gotten a judge out of bed to sign a warrant that half of the department was on standby to execute.  After discreetly interrogating the owner of The Taco Shack shortly before midnight, Hutch was given the addresses of two different employees using the name of Tony - Tony Garcia and Tony Rossi.  As their birthdates would indicate that Tony Garcia was in his late fifties, Hutch concentrated on the other man first.  Assuming his information was accurate, the man in question was thirty-six years old.

Hutch and a team of four other detectives stormed Tony Rossi's address a little before 2:00 AM.  Unfortunately, they found the place was empty.  While sweeping the apartment for clues, Hutch spotted Starsky's car keys hanging on a hook near the kitchen counter.  After collecting the keys as evidence, they conducted a broader, more thorough search of the rest of the apartment.  

"A lot of girlie magazines, some pot, and a few things I don't even recognize," Rodriguez commented.  "My guess is this guy likes to throw a wild party."

"And no sign of Starsky other than his car keys," Hutch added, sounding discouraged.   

"Which probably means he never brought Starsky here, Hutch," Rodriguez countered.  "For one thing, not a lot of men could carry another full-grown man up three flights of stairs, not to mention the walls here are really thin.  This type of pervert doesn't want to draw the wrong kind of attention to himself.  I think we're lucky we found the keys.  It'll be enough to tie him to Starsky."

"And a good lawyer will try to get him off," Hutch commented, looking newly exasperated.  

"Yeah," Rodriguez agreed.  "We both know they'll try.  But we aren't about to let that happen, are we?"

"No," Hutch agreed.  "No, we're not."  Hutch paused as he took a deep breath in an effort to regather his strength.  "So let's get out of here and make sure the stakeouts are all set." 

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

Brent frowned as he glared at his latest victim on the other side of the room.  After tightening all four ropes that constricted Starsky's arms and legs, he'd spent a couple of hours just monitoring the results.  Admittedly, Brent was a little disappointed.  Starsky had taken the additional abuse and simply absorbed it.   

Although Brent was reticent to admit it, Starsky's composure made him nervous.  The rock-solid confidence the man had in his partner was impossible to ignore.  That alone had forced Brent to consider the litany of victims who'd had no one else they could count on.  Like it or not, Brent had to admit that Starsky's situation was quite different.  The man had a tremendous edge in an otherwise deadly game of cat and mouse. 

If I eliminate Starsky, could Hutchinson find me?  He might, Brent admitted, if only to himself..  

Brent knew it mattered little that no one before now had been successful in tracking him down.  What the rest of the world was lacking in confidence, intelligence, and raw courage, Hutchinson possessed in spades.  Couple that with his devotion to Starsky and the stage was set for an assured collision.  For the first time in many years, Brent wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do. 

He tried to remain calm and analyze his options realistically.  He could leave Starsky tied up and simply skip town - someone would find him eventually although he might not be alive when they did.  The car Brent was using would get him out of the immediate area in a couple of hours.  Beyond that, it was a matter of choosing which way to go next.  Maybe he'd try Oregon for a while.  Or maybe he'd go a bit farther.  He'd always been curious about Idaho.  

In conclusion, Brent decided it didn't really matter where he decided to go.  Despite his initial plans for a final showdown with Hutchinson, the reality was that he didn't have the courage to face him.  As a result, it had become entirely too risky to hang around Bay City.  As long as Hutchinson was a working detective in the area, they were destined to cross paths eventually.

Having arrived at a decision that he could accept, Brent stood and hurried for the door, anxious to get his plan on the road.  He'd grab a few things from the apartment and leave town before the morning traffic could clog up the highways.  By the time the sun was high in the sky, he'd be well on his way to a new identity.  It had always worked before. 

The distance between the docks and his apartment could be driven in a few minutes at this time of the night.  After parking his beaten-up Chevy in the nearest available space, he was feeling even better about his plan.  The city streets were quiet as he exited the car - the full moon fully visible overhead in a cloudless summer sky.  It was always easier to travel at night this time of year, not to mention it was less wear and tear on the car engine.

Brent entered the apartment and hurried toward the closet where he kept the only bag he could really describe as a suitcase.  Tossing it on the bed, he turned to grab a few pieces of clothing from the dresser when he noticed something looked out of place.  While he was careful about keeping his stash of marijuana out of sight, he knew he hadn't been looking at any of his magazines recently.  Although they were all sitting approximately where he'd left them, it was obvious they'd been recently handled.  

Whirling in place, Brent quickly scanned the remainder of the studio apartment for something else that might look wrong.  While he didn't notice anything that looked suspicious, pure instinct told him that someone else had been there.  Alarmed now, he grabbed a few more articles of clothing and haphazardly threw them in the suitcase.  Slamming the lid shut, he hurried toward the kitchenette with the intent of taking the last two beers with him.  Securing the beer, he turned to grab Starsky's car keys.  It was only as he was reaching for them that he realized they were gone.  

Andrews was momentarily stunned.  No one would have known who those keys belonged to - no one outside of Starsky himself and maybe his partner.

The front door of the apartment exploded inward - shattered into large, flying pieces of broken wood and fragmented hinges.  "Freeze!" Hutch shouted, leveling his handgun directly at Andrews.  

Andrews dropped the suitcase and immediately threw both hands in the air.  Hutch cleared the distance between them in a few quick steps followed closely by Rodriquez and two other officers.  

Hutch grabbed Andrews with both hands, pulling his arms behind his back before securing a set of handcuffs from his belt.  Holding him in place with one hand, Hutch slid the hard, cold metal around each wrist and locked them in place.  Turning Andrews around, Hutch threw him against the wall none too gently.  For the first time in more than fifteen years, Hutch was looking directly into the eyes of Brent Andrews - except this time, things were different.  Instead of a head full of lust and unbridled confidence, he saw nothing but fear instead.

"Where is he?" Hutch demanded, tightening his grip on the front of Andrews' shirt.  "Where's my partner?"

For a fleeting moment, Andrews was unable to find his voice.  Despite all of the careful planning, Detective Hutchinson had managed to find him.  

"I said where is he?" Hutch shouted again.  The anger in Hutch's voice was palpable with an edge that cut like a knife.  Brent knew he was completely out of options.  

"In the old brewery," Andrews whispered weakly.  "The one down by the docks."  

"Remember, Andrews, whatever happens to you from this point on, intentional or accidental, depends entirely on what's happened to Starsky.  You'd better hope he's alive when I find him.  Is that understood?"  Andrews shook his head vigorously. 

"So until then, you have the right to remain silent," Hutch advised, yanking Andrews away from the wall and shoving him toward the demolished front door.  "You can hear the rest of it on the way to the car."  

Chapter Text

"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