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Part Four, Chapter Six

They were a few feet from the Torino, when Starsky abruptly stopped in his tracks and stared at his car’s ruined left headlight. A look of keen dismay crossed his face.

“Starsky…” Hutch tugged on his arm.

His partner made a small sad noise and gestured shakily at the Torino. “Look…”

“So? Merle will have the tomato fixed up in no time.”

“Yeah, but…” A light breeze blew past triggering a violent bout of shivering and stealing his words away. Hutch grabbed his arm and steered him towards the passenger side.  He seated Starsky firmly, wrapping the blankets tightly around him. Behind him he could hear the last ambulance pulling out, and the salvage crew beginning work on retrieving the car.

Starsky turned in his seat and watched as his partner collected the duffel bag with the dry tracksuit from the trunk. He knew Hutch thought he was being stupid about the car, but it wasn’t just the fact that Reg had dented it that was upsetting him. Getting it fixed would require some bodywork, and that cost money - money which he’d been trying to put aside to buy Becky some sort of engagement ring, along with a nice wedding band. His insurance had been pretty much maxed out in the aftermath of the shooting, and his savings had vanished.

Boy, Becky’s getting a real prize here, he thought, morosely. Some provider. He couldn’t seem to stop shaking, and it was starting to hurt miserably. All of his muscles felt as if they were at war with each other, and his jaw ached with the tension of trying to hold it all together.

Hutch appeared back at his side, kneeling on the ground beside the car and snagging one of Starsky’s sneakers. He tugged it off. Starsky tried to help, but his fingers were numb and clumsy.

“Just let me do it,” said Hutch, pulling off the second sneaker. His socks followed quickly, and then he was reaching for Starsky’s belt.

He batted Hutch’s hand away. “Nuh-uh!”

Hutch was in full mother-hen mode, hyper-efficient, trying to taking care of everything himself. “Starsk, we need to get you out of those wet clothes,” he said impatiently.

Starsky snorted. Hutch had even started to say ‘we’, when he really meant that Starsky ought to just let him do it. He deliberately shut his partner out, and concentrated intently on undoing his own belt. He eventually succeeded in sliding the leather strap free of the buckle, and then turned his attention to the button of his jeans.

“Look, let me do it,” said Hutch, using his reasonable voice. It was the one that always inspired in Starsky a desire to be thoroughly unreasonable.

“You jus’ keep yer han’s off m’zipper,” said Starsky through clenched teeth. Sheesh, there were some things he ought to be allowed to do for himself!

Hutch sat back on his heels, blowing out an abrupt huff of breath. He watched for a few minutes as his partner struggled with his jeans, and then asked, “Why do you wear them so tight, anyway? Are you trying to protect your virtue from the screaming hordes of female fans? Or is it advertising?”

His only response was a quick disgusted glance up from under dark eyebrows. At that moment Starsky didn’t have the concentration to spare in coming up with a proper answer. Not that Hutch’s rhetorical questions really needed to be dignified with any kind of response.

Eventually, the jeans were shed without Hutch’s help, and Starsky’s dignity was preserved as much as possible under the circumstances. This wasn’t much considering that his underwear had to go as well, being just as soaked as the rest of him.

Hutch tried not to laugh at the sour expression on Starsky’s face, holding out the sweatpants so that his friend could pull them on quickly, the blankets shielding him from a public indecency charge. However, his amusement vanished as he helped Starsky struggle out of his undershirt.

Hutch swore. Starsky’s legs had been scraped, much as he knew his own were, from the force of the river and from scrambling over the rocks. However, the ugly purple contusion on his left side was something entirely different and unexpected. “How the hell did this happen?” He pressed a firm hand to Starsky’s side, feeling the ribs, checking for any lumps that might indicate a fracture. As he leaned forward, he discovered more bruising across his friend’s back and shoulders.

Starsky hissed in pain, and wrapped his arms across his chest, protecting his ribs with his elbow. “Ain’t broken. Yet!” he said, with a pointed glare at Hutch who was persisting in trying to investigate the extent of the damage.

Another fierce bout of shivering hit and Hutch abandoned his inspection. He quickly pulled Starsky’s sweatshirt over his head, switching blankets so that the driest one was on the inside. He was trying to remember when Starsky would have injured himself. Perhaps when he slid down the river? Or did he fall down the stairs at the college? The soft tissue damage isn’t going to be good for him. He reached across and popped the glove compartment, searching for his friend’s meds. He asked Starsky again how it had happened, but his partner acted as if he hadn’t heard the question.

Starsky sighed shakily, pulling the blankets closer. It did feel good to be in dry clothes, but Hutch was worrying too much. He seemed to think he was responsible for the whole world. Dropping his chin and pulling into himself, Starsky recalled Hutch’s brief hysteria in the river. He had only cried for a moment before the Viking had re-emerged and started shouting orders to the people on the bank. Taking charge. Trying to make everything right. One of these days he was going to try so hard, he’d implode.

Starsky smiled briefly at the mental image that thought inspired, and then his mouth tightened as he recalled his encounter with Reg on the stairs.

Are you scared yet?

He lifted his head and watched as Hutch collected the sodden clothes and disappeared around the back of the car. It would be better to let him think that the bruises had come from bouncing off the river rocks. He didn’t need to know the things Reg had said, and in any case, there was no way Starsky could even begin to describe what he had seen in the other man’s eyes.

It was personal. Reg wanted to hurt him, and to do that he’d go after Hutch, Becky… anyone Starsky cared about.

Yeah, I’m scared now.


Hutch crossed the parking lot and slid in on the driver’s side, holding a paper tray containing two tall Styrofoam cups. To Starsky’s inquiring gaze, he said, “I’ve tracked the ladies down. They were at Becky’s cottage, spending some quality time with her cats. They’re heading over to your place now to wait for us. I’ve also talked to Dobey. He’ll have a unit meet them there.” It was no use dwelling on the possibility of Reg making it back to Bay City before them. He’d done all he could in alerting the local cops and the state troopers. Hopefully the white van would be spotted and Reg taken into custody long before he got anywhere near the city.

Starsky was the immediate problem before him. Even in dry sweats and wrapped in two thermal blankets, he still shivered. More than that, the lines around his eyes had deepened and his jaw was clenched in a way that told Hutch more clearly than words just how much pain he was in. With a stab of dismay he remembered that Starsky had been in some physical discomfort even that morning, before all of this.

And then there was the issue of the bruising on his ribs and back. Hutch had more than enough experience with injury to know that the damage could not be from bouncing down the riverbed. The bruises were too colorful. They had to have occurred earlier in the day, most likely when Starsky had encountered Reg at the college. But if that was the case, why wasn’t he willing to talk about it? If he had simply slipped on the stairs, wouldn’t he have said something? What did Reg do to him?

Hutch tried to cover his concern by continuing to talk cheerfully as he settled himself in the driver’s seat. “Becky said to tell you that her new wedding dress is both spectacular and cheaper than the one her mother picked, but of course you won’t get to see it until the big day. She also updated me on each of the cats…” He handed Starsky the cup containing the hot cider. It immediately sloshed as his friend tried to grasp it in shaking hands. Hutch winced, and folded his hands around Starsky’s, steadying them. “Damn, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

“S’okay.” Starsky frowned at his uncooperative limbs. Couldn’t he even stop shivering long enough to drink? He felt Hutch’s arm slide across his chest, pulling him backward to lean against him. He stiffened.

“Let me help,” said Hutch. “It’s not as if you’ve never done this for me, right?”

Starsky hesitated and then relaxed, remembering another time when Hutch, caught in the throes of withdrawal, had been shaking too hard to hold onto his coffee cup. “I p-promise not to t’throw it at you.”

He was disappointed when Hutch failed to laugh.

“I appreciate that,” said Hutch quietly. There was another layer of meaning in his voice, a silent reassurance. I’m only trying to give back as much as you’ve given me.

“Mm,” said Starsky, acknowledging both his partner’s spoken and unspoken communication. The interior of the car filled with comfortable silence for the next several minutes as he focused on drinking the hot liquid. The cup scorched the palms of his hands and the cider felt as if it was burning a path down the inside of his throat, but he could feel the tension in his body easing with each mouthful. Gradually the full body shakes became little more than a mild crawling sensation in his skin.

His mood improved substantially as the chills eased off. They’d catch Reg before long and life would settle back down into the regular routine. Everything would work out all right. It always did. He had Hutch at his back… literally, at the moment. It was kind of nice, feeling his partner’s warmth through the blankets. They’d saved the mother and child, and Dobey had a unit guarding Becky and Dawn. So what if he was a little sore? Or even a lot sore? Life was good.

Then he noticed that Hutch had produced a handful of his pills from somewhere. “Aw…” The whine was automatic, more habit than genuine protest.

“Buddy, you’re a mess. These will help.”

There was that reasonable voice again. Still, it was hard to muster a decent objection in his current state of mind. He was feeling too mellow.

“Yeah, I get it,” Starsky said, as he swallowed the last of the pills with the remainder of the cooling drink. He grinned. “You like me better unconscious.”

He tilted his head back on Hutch’s chest in time to catch his partner giving him a baffled look.

“P’robly th’only way you can get a date. Slip ‘em pills in their cider.” Starsky snickered.

“You’re weird,” said Hutch, his forehead wrinkling in a puzzled manner.

“You keep complimentin’ me like that, you’ll turn my head,” was Starsky’s carefully enunciated response. He pursed his lips and blew a kiss in Hutch’s general direction.

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Hutch abruptly straightened and pushed his giggling partner over to the far side of the car. As he started the engine, he smiled despite himself.

Starsky caught the amused expression on his friend’s face and settled back into his blankets with a sense of contented satisfaction. So it wasn’t a proper laugh, but at least he’d managed to make the man unwind a little. Things are going to work out just fine. Hutch just needs to stop taking everything so seriously.


Hutch glanced over at his sleeping partner, and then reached across and turned the radio up. There was little danger of disturbing him. Starsky was curled up in his blankets, leaning against the door, apparently oblivious to the world. He had finally stopped shivering, much to Hutch’s relief, though he still felt somewhat cold to the touch.

As he drove, he listened to the chatter between the local sheriff’s department and the state troopers. A flicker of hope kindled by the description of a white panel van was quickly squashed when it became clear that the vehicle had been abandoned by the side of the road. There was no sign of the suspect.

Hutch sighed quietly to himself, abandoning a brief notion of heading to the scene. Reg had escaped once more. It was frustrating. The man always seemed to be one step ahead of them.

The only bright side to all of this was that he probably wouldn’t make it to Bay City first. It was still too much to hope that he’d simply give up and leave the country. Based on his previous actions, he’d most likely find some place to hole up and plan. Why can’t we ever get a break?

The road emerged from the hills above the coast as Hutch approached the Bay City limits. The dark trees slipped by on the right-hand side of the empty road with hypnotic regularity, the beam of the Torino’s single working headlight making everything ahead seem colorlessly two-dimensional.

The sun was setting over the bay, spreading across the horizon like molten fire, dripping down over the edge of the earth with unnerving speed. The sunsets here were unlike anything Hutch had ever seen growing up in Minnesota, and he never really got used to it. The other stuff all seemed ordinary after a while, the strange plants, the different climate… Hutch palmed the steering wheel, swerving smoothly around a dead antelope on the shoulder …and the sometimes bizarre road kill. But never the sunsets. They always seemed unreal to him.

Beside him, Starsky shifted and muttered something indecipherable. Hutch glanced over to see his partner’s mouth tighten, distress carving deep lines into his face. With dismay, he realized that his friend had slid into a nightmare. Reaching across, he rubbed Starsky’s shoulder. “C’mon, buddy, wake up.”

He saw her walking away from him, and he could not follow. “Terry!”

She turned and gave him a sad smile. She was holding something in her hands. He looked down at himself and saw the hole in his chest. The bloodied knife was still in his fist, and he knew that he’d carved that piece out himself and placed it in her hands. The wound did not hurt.

When he looked up again, she was gone and he was left alone and incomplete.

Hutch felt Starsky move restlessly under his hand, but when he looked over, his friend was still asleep. The drugs in his system were likely making it harder for him to free himself from the dreams. Hutch considered pulling over, but there was no real shoulder here, and little visibility as the road switchbacked down the side of the mountain. “Starsky, wake up!” said Hutch, louder.

Family comes first,” said Rosey Malone. She kissed him kindly, and added, “They simply want to save her from Terry’s fate; same as my father saved me. It’s not safe to love you, Dave Starsky.”

With seamless transition, he found himself back in the bank, and Becky was caught in the grip of a giant. But when he stepped forward, he realized that the man who held her was Reg. He smiled at Starsky and then drew the blade deliberately across Becky’s throat, spilling bright red blood down the front of her shirt.

It’s okay,” Becky told Starsky, her lips moving soundlessly. “I don’t scar.”

He tried to fire at Reg, but the gun was in his damaged left hand and he couldn’t feel the trigger. Horrified, he turned, searching for Hutch. He discovered his partner standing behind him, smiling, with his arm hooked around Kira’s waist. Before Starsky could speak, Hutch turned and exchanged a long and passionate kiss with the woman.

What about Dawn?” asked Starsky, feeling the betrayal again, though this time it was not on his own behalf.

What about Dawn?” repeated Hutch, his eyes on Kira. “You never liked her anyway.”

It was too late. Becky was dead. He knelt beside her, afraid to touch her, afraid to feel the chill on her skin. She was perfectly still, her hair black and her skin white, as colorless as an old photo.

Congratulations,” said Reg. “You’ve killed another lover.” He handed the knife to Starsky. “Have you decided which piece of you belongs to her?”

Starsky stared at the blade, feeling the cold weight of the knife in the palm of his hand. He was still aware of the gaping wound in his chest – the piece Terry had taken when she died. He also realized in that moment that he carried numerous smaller wounds, too. Rosey had a piece of him. Even Kira and Hutch had claimed their share. “I don’t know if I have anything more to give,” he said, despairing.

Too bad she didn’t know that before she decided to love you,” said Reg, smirking.

Starsky…?” asked Hutch.

I can’t!” cried Starsky, his hand clenched tight around the hilt of the knife.

Hey, buddy. Wake up.”


Hutch looked over just in time to see Starsky’s eyes fly open. He appeared confused for a moment, bringing his left hand up as if he expected to find himself holding something. Then he dropped his head back with a groan.

“Bad dream?” asked Hutch, sympathetically.

“You have no idea,” said Starsky. Before Hutch could open his mouth to ask, he looked over and said, “And no, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“It’s supposed to help, you know.”

“Not this time, it won’t.” What did Hutch expect him to say? I’m scared to death I’m going to get Becky killed. Oh and by the way, I’m apparently not as over the whole Kira thing as I thought I was? Starsky sighed and leaned forward to roll the car window down. Physically, he was feeling pretty good. Except, that is, for the adrenaline that was causing his heart to jackhammer against the wall of his chest.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” asked Hutch. “You might get a chill…”

“Hutch, we’re practically in the valley and it’s seventy-something degrees out there. I’m fine. I just want a little air.” Starsky propped his elbow on the door and cupped his chin in his palm. He regarded Hutch pensively.

What was it Dawn had said in the car, that morning that he’d had to take her to the hospital? That Hutch had only married her because of the baby? He’d meant to bring it up at some point, but with everything else that had happened he’d never found the time to get around to it. And then he’d more or less forgotten about the incident entirely.

Until just now, with that dream of Hutch back in Kira’s arms.

Hutch was his best friend. He trusted the man with his life. But he could be an idiot where women were concerned.

“Hey, Hutch?”

His friend looked over at him. “Yes?”

“How come Dawn didn’t have any family at your wedding?”

“I don’t know,” said Hutch.

That wasn’t the answer Starsky was looking for. He wondered what else Hutch didn’t know. Certainly he’d know her birthday. He always knew stuff like astrological signs, and birthstones, and useless junk like that. “Where did she grow up?”

Bay City, I guess. Or somewhere nearby, anyway.” Hutch gave Starsky a puzzled glance. “What are you getting at?”

“How come you don’t know that stuff?”

Hutch wasn’t prepared to deal with any of this. “Geez! I guess it never came up.”

“Well, don’t you ever talk to her?” persisted Starsky.

“I talk to her!”

“Yeah, I’ve heard you guys talk.” Starsky rolled his eyes sarcastically.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hutch asked. He didn’t know why Starsky was suddenly giving him the third degree, but he didn’t like it. He didn’t like being put on the defensive, and he was starting to get angry.

“It’s all smoochy-yuck from your end, and sarcastic from hers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you guys talk about anything real, unless it’s what’s for dinner tonight. An’ I do think you ought to know where your wife grew up, and what kind of family she has, and all that sort of stuff ‘cause, well… she’s your wife.” Starsky paused. “Anyway, isn’t that kind of what got you in trouble when you dated Jeanie? You never really tried to find out anything about her. Or Gillian, for that matter.” That last reference was a mistake and he knew it. He wished he hadn’t said it, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“I think it’s important to respect other people’s privacy,” said Hutch tightly, biting off each syllable.

Wait for it, thought Starsky. He eyed Hutch apprehensively, knowing his partner well enough to know that he wouldn’t leave it with that one statement. Starsky had crossed the line, and Hutch was not going to leave him standing over there alone. He could practically count down to the inevitable explosion. Three, two, one…

Hutch slammed his hand against the steering wheel, and despite himself, Starsky jumped. “You know what, buddy? If you hadn’t been so nosy, if you hadn’t gone poking into Gillian’s business… if you hadn’t gone to see her… she might still be alive!”

Hutch saw the color drain from Starsky’s face, as suddenly as if he’d been punched in the gut. It was a stronger reaction than he’d expected, but he felt only grim satisfaction as he turned his attention back to the road. The city lights spread out below, a glittering lie hiding the ugliness beneath. It served him right for bringing up Gillian in the first place. You shouldn’t play with fire if you can’t stand to get burnt.

He expected Starsky to deny the accusation, to yell, to fight back. The silence that followed instead was initially a relief.  Then it began to weigh heavily. Hutch felt his anger turn first to resentment and then to regret as Starsky stared blankly out the window, saying nothing. Okay, maybe that was a low blow, but what right does Starsky have to start in on me like that? So what if I’ve never asked Dawn about her family? If she wanted me to know, surely she’d have told me...

Except that it had never occurred to him to ask. He hadn’t been respecting her privacy. He’d simply never thought about it.

Word for word, blow for blow, no one can hurt you worse than your best friend.

They were into the suburbs now, less than half an hour from their destination. Hutch abruptly pulled the Torino over and stopped the car. He turned in his seat to face Starsky directly.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why?” asked Starsky harshly, without shifting his gaze from the window. “’Cause it’s the truth?”

“It’s not. I was talking crap. Al Grossman was the one responsible for her death. Not you. You were…” trying to look out for me. He paused, suddenly stuck by an odd sense of déjà vu. How many times had he heard Starsky say these same words, trying to convince him of this very same thing? Trying to make him understand that he couldn’t take responsibility for every miserable, unfair twist of fate, and that he had to keep on loving and keep on trying, and just trust that some day it would work out.

With an unexpected flash of insight, Hutch realized that at the root of everything was the simple fact that Starsky was worried about Becky. He was afraid she was going to die, like Terry had died, and then when Hutch had accused him of causing Gillian’s death… Nice going, Hutchinson. Just give that knife a few more twists, why don’t you?

Apologizing again wasn’t going to do it. Starsky hated what he termed ‘soapy scenes’. Deep discussions of the psyche weren’t his partner’s style, either. Hutch tried a different tack instead. “I thought irrational guilt trips were my department, not yours.” He gave Starsky a hopeful half-smile. C’mon buddy, you’re my best friend. Do we have to fight?

Starsky heard the sincere apology in his partner’s voice. He turned away from the window and looked at him suspiciously. “You gonna talk to Dawn?”

Embarrassed, Hutch ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess so.” You were right, and I was wrong.

“Great!” Starsky sat up and grinned, astonishing Hutch once again with his ability to rebound emotionally. “Then why are we sitting here? We got stuff to do, remember? Crazed serial killer on the loose, the girls all alone, bad guys to catch, heads to bust... let’s get out of here!” The involuntary shiver and yawn that followed this statement only slightly undermined the persuasiveness of his words.

Hutch returned the smile with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. They really hadn’t resolved anything. Starsky was still scared, both for Becky and of Reg, but he would deal with it in his own fashion. “You’re really pushy, you know that?” He pulled away from the curb.

“Yeah, and you’re a hard-headed, stubborn, son of a…”

“Hey, my mother’s a sweet lady!”

“…bastard,” finished Starsky, with a smug grin.

“Oh well, that’s a fair enough description. Dad would probably consider it a compliment.” Hutch briefly considered his formidable father, and then found himself wondering about Dawn’s father. What had he been like? Had she even known him? And what about her mother? Starsky is right. It’s high time I got to know my wife.

In between catching a killer and looking out for my partner, of course.


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