This story is for entertainment only and its purpose is not to infringe on any rights to Starsky and Hutch (God knows, I wish I had the rights to them!) 

I hope I didn't offend anyone by the use of the word "hillbilly". That's strictly Starsky's word for it. I love country music, old or new. I have no rights to the song "Heartaches by the numbers," using it only for entertainment purposes in this story. I also have no rights to Starsky and Hutch and am not making any money with my stories about them. I just enjoy keeping them alive.

Comments on this story (good or bad) can be sent to Anne at

Anne S.

Hutch groaned as the knock on the door roused him from sleep. He looked over at his clock and saw that it was 2 o'clock in the morning. Only one person would be bothering him in the middle of the night. Still he retrieved the snubnose from his nightstand just in case.

He heard Starsky let himself in and then heard the footsteps. He relaxed, after all the years they'd been partners, he knew those footsteps well.

"Hutch, you awake?" Starsky called softly.

"Yeah, Turkey, like I always lay here playing with my gun at 2 in the morning. What's eatin' you that couldn't wait till later? It'd better be good."

"Oh, it is, Blondie. I just got engaged," Starsky said proudly.

Hutch sat bolt upright. He was awake now. "To Leah?" he asked.

"Well no, to Farrah Fawcett, if you must know. Of course, to Leah, she's the only one I've been seeing."

"But I had no idea it'd gone this far," Hutch said truthfully.

"Aren't you gonna offer me a drink, Hutch? It's not everyday your best friend and partner gets engaged, is it?"

"Sure, buddy, congratulations! You just caught me by surprise, that's all."

Hutch went over to the 'fridge, where he had some wine and poured them each a glass. He raised his glass and touched it to Starsky's. "To love" is all he said. "When's this wedding going to be?"

"I don't know, Leah's got a lot of plans to make, woman's stuff. Hey, can I bunk on your couch the rest of the night?. It's getting a little late, and I'm kinda..." Starsky stopped with a sheepish smile.

"Snockered, blotto, sloshed, inebriated, smashed and generally out of your mind?"

"What do you mean out of my mind?" Starsky asked

"I can't believe you asked Leah to marry you. Geez, I can't believe she said yes. Starsk, you haven't known her more than three months. Do you know enough about somebody to marry them after three months?"

"I want to get married, have kids, Hutch, before I'm dead, and the way things are going, it better be soon. Can we just not talk about this tonight? Your couch is spinning around," pleaded Starsky.

Hutch got him a pillow and blanket and settled him for the night. They were going to talk this one out tomorrow, but good!

His partner was snoring softly as soon as his head hit the pillow. Hutch wondered what good he was going to be in the morning with the size hangover he would have. He turned to go back to his room.

This is another fine mess he's gotten me into, Hutch thought. I was afraid something like this was going to happen. It was Leah; she was all wrong for his partner. She was a nice enough girl, pretty, long dark hair, and eyes so dark brown they almost looked black. She was just slightly shorter than Starsky and they did make a great-looking couple. His friend had met her at synagogue, one of the few times he'd gone and that made her special to him, too, Hutch supposed.

He had a real bad feeling about her, though. She acted a lot like Vanessa. She seemed to genuinely care about his buddy, but was jealous of his relationship with Hutch, made no pretense of respecting what he did for a living and she was spoiled, raised as the only child of well-to-do parents. Hutch cringed at what a woman like that could do to a vulnerable, gullible, trusting, kind-hearted Starsky. Hutch remembered well the devastation Vanessa had brought into his life and he was nowhere as child-like and trusting as his partner. He didn't get back to sleep that night.

The next morning he tried to reason with his friend, but he refused to listen to anything Hutch had to tell him. Sure, he and Vanessa had been in a rotten marriage, but Leah wasn't Vanessa.

"I know, Starsk, but you know she hates your job, how you gonna get around that? In a year, she'll have you working in her father's paper mill. C'mon, Starsk, she hates me just like Vanessa did you. That didn't feel too good, did it?"

"You're too laid-back, you let her get away with that crap, Hutch, you gotta lay down the law, you know?" Starsky explained.

Hutch smiled to himself. This chump really had no idea what marriage was like and he sure hoped he didn't find out, not with this woman, at least.

When they got to Metro, Dobey was in one of his "in my office now" moods. They filed in to find Simonetti and one of the other Internal Affairs headhunters sitting there. Simonetti wasn't one of their favorite people, especially Starsky's, because of some run-ins he'd had with him in the past. Encountering him first thing in the morning, especially a morning when the detective's head was pounding and about to burst like a balloon, didn't bode well for the day. He'd looked forward to a cup of coffee and as many aspirin as it took, before he had to face his job.

"Look, Hutch, it's our pal, Simonetti, and he has a new pet. Thought you couldn't leave your coffin when the sun's out. I guess nobody's safe anymore. Maybe I should go down and get some garlic."

"Starsky!" Dobey yelled. "Cool it!"

"Yes, Cap'n," Starsky said, chastened, but still looking daggers at this man who'd made his life miserable throughout his career.

"What is it, Cap'n?" Hutch asked.

"It's looking like we've got at least one dirty cop, Hutch. We got nothing on him except hearsay, so we're going to stage a fight between you two, and one of you is going to get a new partner."

Hutch and Starsky both got ready for the inevitable battle over who was going undercover, but Simonetti squelched that. "We're putting Starsky with him, so let's not have any argument over it."

"Why him?" Hutch asked.

"You have too much of the 'white knight'" image. We don't think he'll buy you turning dirty," Simonetti said smirking.

"And I fit the profile, bad cop, right, Simonetti?" Starsky lunged at the man, but Hutch held him back.

"You're a dirt bag, Starsky. I can picture you doing anything. Be sure you're going to be under very heavy surveillance and you're going to be wearing a wire so we can keep real good track of you." Simonetti's voice dripped with venom.

Starsky looked at the other guy with Simonetti and said snidely, "I wish you luck, man, you keep hanging around with this slime ball, you'll be crawling around on your belly like a reptile, too!"

"Starsky!" Dobey bellowed. "You can cool your heels in the hall while we work out the details here!"

Simonetti sneered at him on his way out and he started to open his mouth, but Hutch raised his index finger in a " chill-out" gesture.

"Where am I going to be in this set-up, Cap'n?" Hutch asked, deliberately ignoring Simonetti.

"Doing paperwork, Hutchinson, this is Internal Affairs business. We can't have you within thirty miles of that partner of yours or you'll screw everything up." Dobey explained patiently.

"He needs somebody out there watching his back, Cap'n." He pointed at Simonetti. "He'd probably love to see Starsky get hurt!" Hutch looked at Dobey and saw that he was worried, too.

"That's more than a probability, Hutchinson," Simonetti sneered. "I'd enjoy seeing Starsky get his."

That brought Hutch up out of his chair and he got a grip on Simonetti's shirtfront. "If something happens to my partner during this investigation, there won't be a place for you to hide from me, you know that, don't you?"

"Yeah, yeah, rave on, Hutchinson," Simonetti purred.

"How long do you think it'll take for this guy to trust Starsky, Cap'n?" Hutch asked. "It sounds like a long, drawn-out cover."

Simonetti snorted. "He'll see him for what he is pretty quick, Hutchinson, no worries."

Captain Dobey had had enough. "Simonetti" he yelled, "shut up or you can join Detective Starsky in the hall and you two can feel free to have it out!"

Everybody knew who would come out the winner in a fight between the two of them, including Simonetti, so he shut up.

"The reason I ask, Cap'n, is that he just got engaged, a long cover could create a problem right now," Hutch explained.

"I'm sure that will create a problem and I'm sorry, but it can't be helped, Hutch. You know how important this is. We've got to get this guy out of the department. He can do us a lot of damage."

It was agreed the guys would stage their big fight the next day, preferably something to do with departmental procedure. Simonetti said he would find a way to get the officer there to witness the altercation.

They left Dobey's office to find Starsky crouching by the door, looking for all the world like a little boy who'd been sent to the principal's office. Evidently Simonetti thought so too from the way he snickered as he proceeded down the hall.

Hutch stepped back into Dobey's office and shut the door. "Did you have to do that to him, Cap'n? You know how he feels about Simonetti and to humiliate him in front of the man like that."

"He needs to learn he can't just run off like that all the time, Hutch." Dobey said softly. "His temper's been out of control here lately and he needs to work on it. These outbursts of his are giving the department a black eye." Dobey softened his glare. "Aw, you know I care about him almost as much as you do, but he's got to get some self control. Tell him it's nothing personal, okay?"

"I doubt he'll see it that way, Cap'n," Hutch replied. "Hey, buddy, ready to go?" he asked Starsky, stepping out of Dobey's office.

"What was that all about," Starsky asked, pointing at the office door. "Does everybody have secrets around here now except me?"

"No man, just something I forgot to ask Dobey, that's all."

"Why don't I believe you? The way Dobey kicked me out of his office, I thought maybe I was on my way out with everyone. Did you work out all the particulars? I think it's kind of ridiculous not to have the key person in there." Starsky pouted.

"Well then, don't go poppin' off every two seconds and Dobey wouldn't get his blood pressure up! He said to tell you it was nothing personal," Hutch tried to explain.

"Coulda fooled me," his partner hissed. "I guess Simonetti just brings out the worst in me. Something about that guy just sticks in my craw! Did you find out what his partner's name is? I didn't happen to get introduced."

"Yeah, it's Dave, too, Dave Conway," Hutch informed him. "Hope we don't get the two of you mixed up." That earned him a dirty look from his partner. "At least he doesn't seem like your average IA goon, like maybe there's a brain in there somewhere."

"Don't count on it. If he has one, Simonetti will steal it, fence it and buy heroine with it to sell all the little kiddies at the elementary school."

Hutch chuckled. "Boy, I hope I never get that far over on your bad side." Jumping trains with lightning speed was a Starsky-like habit and Hutch sometimes had trouble keeping up.

"You have plans for tonight, partner?" Starsky asked as they were getting into the Torino. "Leah and I are going out for dinner, talk about some wedding plans she's made. Why don't you join us? You're the best man, you know?"

"I don't recall being asked, but I'm honored," Hutch responded. "But you'd better call off this date, 'cause we've got plans of our own to make and they'd better be good down to the last little detail."

Starsky looked like a deer caught in a car's headlights. "Geez', what am I going to do? Leah's going to kill me! What do I say to her? She's made reservations and everything. Her folks are going with us! Hutch, Ya gotta help me!"

Hutch, however, was too busy laughing to be of any help. Between gasps, he choked out, "That's it, buddy, now you're sounding just like a married man. I'll tell you what you have to do. Call her and tell her that you have to work late and the evening's off. Is that simple enough for you? Now is it your place or mine? I'll even order a pizza with all your favorite stuff on it, if you want." He was anxious to make up for the way Dobey had embarrassed his friend earlier.

"Okay, I guess it doesn't really matter. I dread calling Leah, though. You wouldn't want to...?" His partner was vehemently shaking his head. "She's going to be so ticked!" Starsky reflected.

Hutch couldn't resist reminding him what he'd said the day before. "What was that you said about laying down the law, pal? Finding that a little easier said than done, hmmmm?" His tone softened. "Hey, look, Starsk, Dobey's decided this big fight between us is going down tomorrow and it's going to take some planning." He bounded up the stairs to his apartment, calling back over his shoulder, "Let me know when you're done with the phone and I'll order that pizza. Oh, and tell her hi for me," he cackled wickedly.

Starsky climbed the stairs more slowly. He was beginning to see that his work just might be a strain on his marriage. He hoped he wouldn't have to make a choice between his career and his family. And where did Hutch fit into all this? He wasn't giving him up either.

Hutch went into the bathroom to give Starsky some privacy to talk to Leah, but couldn't help but hear some of what was being said.

She didn't show him any mercy and it sounded like he was going to have a lot of making up to do. Hutch thought again how much he wished his partner weren't involved in this relationship, but maybe time would take care of things. Starsky was going to be awfully involved in this new case for the long haul, maybe Leah would get sick of all this and give up. That would probably break his friend's heart, but do less damage in the long run.

"Okay, Blintz, what're we going to fight about and just how physical is it going to get? And who's coming out the winner?" Starsky asked, rubbing his hands together. He loved this kind of thing.

Hutch knew he was going to have to hold up his end of the deal because his friend wouldn't be pulling his punches. He'd want it to look real. He took a lot of pride in that.

Hutch coached, "You've got to give the impression you're disenchanted with your job, sick of hanging around the old White Knight here, thinking I'm better than you, which I do, by the way." Hutch grinned.

"In your dreams," Starsky fired back. "Just wait and see who comes out better in the fight. Hey, remember, we did this once before to catch that cop vigilante group. You don't suppose anyone's going to put two and two together, do you?"

"Dobey says he doesn't see a problem with that. This guy hasn't been around long and most of the others who were here have been promoted, transferred, killed or just left the force. That was a couple years ago, you know. We've been here a long time, man." Hutch hesitated. "I'm beginning to feel like an old man. Pretty soon I'll just be Uncle Hutch riding your kids around on my shoulders, if I ever get to see them, that is."

"What kind of stupid remark is that to make, turkey, of course, you're going to be over all the time. I'm not giving you up! I love you like a brother, no, more than a brother 'cause I got one of those and you stand head and shoulders over him," Starsky smiled, "figuratively and literally, I might add."

"Starsk" Hutch said gently. "You're also going to love your wife, your kids, the family dog, hopefully your job, if you still have it; you can only spread yourself so thin. Leah hates the relationship we have, just like Vanessa did. How easy do you think she's going to make it for you to find time to see me? She'll probably be thrilled to death to hear about our little breakup. It'll never be the same, and that's all right, that's as it should be."

Just then the pizza came and broke the tension of the moment. It was a good thing, because Starsky didn't know how to reassure his friend and Hutch didn't know what else to say to his partner to prepare him for reality.

After they ate, they brainstormed some more until they came up with what they thought was a workable plan. It was agreed that they should have a good night's sleep, so Starsky went on home. When he got home he found a message waiting from Leah, thanking him for ruining her evening.

Hutch dreaded the next morning, stayed up half the night thinking about how it was going to feel to hurt his best friend. Was it going to cause strained feelings afterward?

The next morning as they got into the Torino, Starsky caught him by the sleeve and grabbed his hand. "I love ya, and nothing either one of us can say or do will ever change that. Please don't take any of this personally. I won't be meaning anything I say and I'll try not to hit you where it'll do any real damage. This isn't going to be any fun for me!" Starsky looked deep into his friend's sky blue eyes.

"Me, either, Starsk, It's not going to be easy. You just take the lead and play the hot-headed, obnoxious, bad-guy you are, and we'll do fine."

"Well, thanks for the kind words and may I say, the sun don't shine out of your butt, either," Starsky snorted.

"Well, here we go, partner," Hutch sighed as they pulled into the parking garage.

There were several officers standing around, so they went right into their act, Starsky slamming the car door so hard that the whole vehicle rattled. Hutch saw just the slightest cringe pass over his face.

"OKAY, you just keep doing things YOUR way and I'll do them MINE. You're the White Knight, you go out and save the world if you want to, I'm just out to earn a paycheck at this point and wondering if this is the best way to do it. I'm not going to give up my lunch hour to follow some two-bit hustler around. I've had my fiancée killed, I've been shot a dozen times, injected with poison, gotten so depressed that I tried to kill myself and you STILL want me to go out there every day like some duck in a shooting gallery looking for a punk who probably hasn't committed any worse crimes than the police commissioner."

"Starsk, that's enough! Let's keep this to ourselves! Talk about it later over a beer?"

Hutch wasn't at all sure that Starsky was acting. He was kind of concerned where this turn of conversation was going. There'd been no talk of bringing the commissioner into this!

Starsky hit the wall with his fist. "Not with you, I'm sick of your self-righteous, sanctimonious, detective hot-shot attitude! Hutchinson, you don't have the brains in this outfit, you don't have the brawn, all you have are your stupid ideals, and that and a quarter will get you a loaf of bread! Life stinks, Golden-boy! And it's about time somebody showed you that."

With that said, Starsky let his partner have it right in the stomach. Hutch flew back instead of doubling over like Starsky thought he would and hit the wall with his head and slid down all the way. Starsky's heart sank down into his gut, but he couldn't break cover, so he just turned and stalked off, catching sight of Simonetti with the guy he figured was his next partner. He was almost to the door when something hit him in the back, knocking the wind out of him. He whirled around, glad for just an instant to see that Hutch was on his feet, then his partner hit him so hard in the nose that he thought it was going to come out the back of his head. The impact knocked him over the stair rail onto the cement floor, then Hutch was on top of him and they exchanged blows for what seemed like hours before the crowd of officers pulled them apart and got them both up to Dobey's office.

Dobey jumped up glaring at both of them. "What the heck's going on here?" he yelled. He saw they'd really done a job on each other. Hutch had a split lip and the beginnings of a black eye, while Starsky's nose was streaming blood and looked like it might be broken. He pushed them each down into a chair, sent the other officers to get some ice and gave Starsky a handkerchief to try to staunch the blood flow.

"Did you have to work each other over so thoroughly?" he asked.

"This jive turkey sucker-punched me before I was ready and slammed my head into a cement wall!" Hutch said shaking his finger in his friend's face.

"Any other chowder head's gonna double up when they get it in the stomach. How was I supposed to know you'd go flying twenty feet backwards instead? Or do I just have that powerful a punch?" Starsky started doing some whining of his own. "Do you see what he did to me, Cap'n? I think he broke my nose!"

"If there wasn't so much of it sticking out, it'd be a lot easier to miss," Hutch snarled.

"Well, the worst is over. Just keep up the animosity. I'll get the word out today that you've requested a new partner, Starsky," Dobey remarked.

"What do you mean keep up the animosity, Cap'n? I'm gonna beat crap out of him as soon as we get outta here. He didn't have to break my nose!" Starsky growled.

"And you won't be beating the crap out of anybody with two broken arms, now, will you?" Hutch put in.

Dobey suddenly realized what had happened here. Their natural competitiveness had been aroused and now they were genuinely furious with each other. Dobey could only hope they would be able to get their relationship back once this case was over. Until then, their anger could only serve to convince Starsky's new partner to trust him.

"Hutch, you're now on desk duty. I'm going to blame a large part of this on you, so we don't have to partner you with anyone else, at least right away," Dobey said firmly.

"Cap, I'd RATHER be partnered with someone else. I'm not partial to desk duty and having a real conversation with someone whose I.Q. is higher than a sweet potato would be refreshing," Hutch said morosely.

"Hutchinson, I'm going to need you to do the running and keep some very discreet contact with Starsky. I'm issuing you both a special-band police radio that nobody can pick up on, no other contact by phone or in person, okay?"

"NO problem!" Starsky said tersely.

"We'll start you with your new partner tomorrow, Starsky, so why don't you go home and do something romantic with your fiancée? There'll be precious little time after tomorrow. I want you to spend as much time with Allen Markham as you possibly can. Hutchinson, get the paperwork started! Now get out of my office! Starsky, you're getting blood all over my chair! Stop off at the hospital and get something done about that, will you?" Dobey had worked himself up to full bellow, so they scrambled to get out, almost knocking each other over in the process.

When they left the office, Hutch turned to say something to Starsky, but the other detective gave him a vicious shove that landed him on top of the squad room table. "Hope you don't get too excited over your new job, chump, you're liable to have a coronary or something."

Leah was happy to have him to herself for the rest of the day, although she complained about the time spent at the hospital, getting Starsky's nose checked. The fact that he and Hutch had seemed to have a falling out did, in fact, make her happy and she saw it as one less obstacle in the road to getting Starsky out of police work and into an executive position in her father's paper mill.

The next morning turned out to be a scorcher and Hutch was congratulating himself that, at least, he would be in an air-conditioned building instead of stuck in a car with his partner, especially after eating his daily quota of burritos.

When Starsky finally came face-to-face with this man he would be spending a lot of time with, he knew why the name had sounded a little familiar the night before. He'd been so intent on punishing Hutch for doing just what he was supposed to be doing that he'd forgotten this man's name. The last time he'd seen the face it belonged to, its owner was trying to beat the heck out of him, along with three other guys who were holding him against a wall.

When Hutch and Starsky had first gotten to the police academy, they were so different; they hated each other just on general principles. Hutch came from a well-to-do family and most of the other cadets thought he was just "playing cop" or trying to get a rise out of "mummy and daddy." Starsky, on the other hand was a street-wise punk with a smart mouth and a quick temper. Hutch wore designer clothes and ate health food and Starsky wore t-shirts and jeans with holes in the knees and only "junk food." Of course, they were thrown together as roommates with no hope of switching room assignments. Starsky fit in well and got by, but there was a group of cadets who hated Hutch and called him "Golden-boy." "Starsky stood up for him and defended him, ostracizing the others and eventually taking a vicious beating because of it. Hutch's friends felt the same way about Starsky, calling him "poor white trash." Once they got past all that, and realized they were the only friends each could trust, they'd been almost inseparable. Now he was being confronted with Allen Markham again! He'd been one of the members of the anti-Hutch group!

"Dave Starsky!" The man's voice grated on the detective's nerves. "This is really something! Never thought I'd see you again, let alone be your partner. Man, you're a legend in most of the other precincts. Hey, I'm sorry about that trouble back in the academy. We were practically still teenagers. I wish it hadn't happened, okay, but I've grown up a lot since then."

"Look, Markham, I'm willing to forget we had problems. You were a jerk and I hope you have grown up. I don't want a friend or anything, so no pressure. I just need somebody to watch my back and if you feel you can't do that, then I'll find another partner that can," Starsky growled.

"Sure, I'd like to work with you!"

"Let's go then, I'll tell you about the cases we're working on along the way." Starsky led the way out to the Torino.

"Hey, man, is this your car? I've seen it here a lot and wondered who it belonged to. It's beautiful, really!" Markham gushed on.

Starsky was a little bemused. A partner in love with his car was going to take a little getting used to. "So, Markham, what happened to your partner? I'm sure you know what happened to mine. It should be all over the precinct by now," Starsky said bitterly.

"Still the 'Golden-boy,' huh, or 'White Knight,' not that much difference between the two."

All the difference in the world, thought Starsky, but, of course, couldn't say it. What a great turn of events this was. All he had to cover him was a cop who was probably dirty who'd got his kicks in the past from beating Starsky up. He seemed to remember a little bit of anti-Semitism stemming from that whole encounter, too.

"Oh, to answer your question, my partner bought it a few weeks before I was transferred. He didn't step out of the way of a bullet in time," Markham added.

The cavalier attitude of this man toward his partner set Starsky's teeth on edge, but he kept his mouth shut, remembering that Hutch would be giving him the "chill-out" signal just about now.

The radio came on with it's usual greeting, "Zebra-three, Zebra-three, come in, Zebra-three."

Markham grabbed the mic and answered the call.

"Zebra-three, 211 in progress at the corner of 12th and Henderson, warehouse, 12th and Henderson."

Markham indicated they'd be there, and slapped the mars light on the top of the car.

When they arrived, there was already a squad car, its driver sprawled in the street. Starsky got to him and dragged him behind the car. He was shot in the leg, so the detective rigged up a crude tourniquet, asked the officer how many shooters and was told there were two. The patrolman's partner had gone around back without waiting for backup and he hadn't seen him since. Starsky had no idea where Markham had gone. This guy's going to be a challenge, to say the least, Starsky thought to himself.

Hutch was in the parking garage when the call came in. He was talking to some of the other officers about his present problems with his former partner, building on the cover a little. He had been very worried last night, had tried to tell Starsky about Markham, when he'd gotten blind-sided and landed in the middle of everybody's dinner. He hadn't gotten a radio issued yet, and had no way of knowing if Starsk remembered the man or not. Hutch sure did. Now he was out there with little or no help, and it was driving the blond detective crazy.

He picked out one of the officers who he knew was on lunch break, jumped in his car and took off. He knew it was the dumbest thing he'd ever done and his job was on the line, but he was scared! He parked a street over and a couple blocks up and hiked down to where all the action was. Hutch was beginning to feel a little foolish for being there, when he caught sight of Starsky climbing up the steep back stairs toward the back door.

Where the heck is Markham? Hutch worried.

Starsky got to the top and flattened himself against the doorframe, then swung around suddenly and fired a high round into the hallway inside, ducking back outside immediately. No return fire.

Hutch could see the one wounded officer by the car. That left Markham and the other partner in the building.

Starsky cautiously stuck his head in.

That takes guts, Hutch thought, NO sense, just guts! No gunfire. He disappeared into the building and a few minutes later a shot rang out. Hutch held his breath. He heard his friend yell out, "STOP, POLICE!!" Then three more shots. Eventually Starsky exited out the front door with two men in handcuffs and passed them off to the black-and-whites, who were just arriving. Then he went back in to find Markham and brought him out.

The other patrolman must have been dead, Hutch figured.

He got the heck out of there and took the car back before anyone caught him. He'd seen more than enough to be very worried about his partner. The only problem was that he couldn't go to Dobey with it without losing Starsky what little help he did have. Him! What was Markham doing in there if not protecting his partner? And where was all the surveillance and the wire his friend was supposed to be wearing?

When Starsky got home that night, he'd picked up his police radio and tried to get Hutch on it, but no answer. It was rare for him to pick up his guitar, but he grabbed it and started picking at it. Considering it was Starsky and that he had an aversion to what he called "hillbilly music," he was surprised at the song that came out of his mouth.

"Yes, I've got heartaches by the numbers,
"A love that I can't win,
"But the day that I stop countin'
"That's the day my world will end."

That's what got to him, some days, he thought he wanted to just "pack it in," stop counting like the song said. If it hadn't been for Hutch needing him, he knew there would have been a time in the last couple years when he would have been gone, released from all this misery. "Hillbilly" or not, he liked this song. It epitomized his life. He went on with the verse:

"Heartache # 1 was when you left me," Terry, his true love
"I never knew that I'd get hurt that way,"
"And heartache # 2 was when she came back again," Meredith, what happened there?
"She came back, but never meant to stay." Sharman, his teenage crush
"Heartache # 3 was when you called me," Rosie Malone, I still love you
"And said that you were coming back to stay," Sandy, who he'd driven away
"With hopeful heart I waited for your knock on the door," Cheryl, his nurse and main interest on the Manfried case
"I waited, but you must have lost your way." Leah? Probably

Other faces, some longed for, others a fleeting memory, still others feared, flowed through his mind. So many people had touched his life since he'd been a cop, changing and molding him into what he was today. He was definitely more cynical about life, but liked to think he'd retained some of the hopefulness he'd had. Plans to change the world and make it better had been ambitious and he'd had to settle for trying to help make his little corner of it as crime-free as possible.

As the notes died away, he wondered where that had come from, wished he could get together with Hutch, he really missed him, even though he knew Hutch was ticked off at him right now. That must have been one of the songs his partner used to play, he liked that music. Starsky had always been drawn to rock, but Hutch loved a variety of music, even opera, and Starsky couldn't see what anyone saw in that.

The detective wondered briefly what heartache he was up to, that music could get to you, make you feel real sorry for yourself. He had always thought he would get married someday, have some kids and live semi-happily ever after, but maybe that didn't work out for street punks from New York City. He had a shot with Leah, but somehow he had the feeling that was slipping away, too. It hadn't worked out for the golden-boy from Duluth, either, though, not that he had any satisfaction from that. He'd really love to see Hutch happy.

The doorbell rang, startling him. On the other side was a large pizza, held by a teenager.

Starsky glanced over and saw a Volkswagon with a pizza place sign on it. Nothing suspicious there. He knew he should show more caution, but his instinct told him it was just a pizza delivery and he didn't think he needed to pull out his gun and scare this kid to death. He was going to mention that he hadn't ordered it, but it smelled so good. He got out his wallet, but the kid told him it was paid for, including the tip. He took it in and closed the door.

He opened it and there was a small card that read:

"Sorry about your nose.
"Get on the air.

M & T, me and thee. Hutch had been so mad at him, but was willing to forgive him without even knowing if he would get an apology back or not. And he deserved one. Starsky had been by far the more aggressive and could have pulled his punches a little, even if he was expected to be the heavy in all this. He went to the radio, taking the pizza with him and grabbing some beer out of the 'fridge on his way.

"Hey, buddy, good pizza", he said into the mic.

Hutch snarled, "What's the matter with you? How'd you know that wasn't a bomb or that that guy wasn't going to blow you away?"

Starsky grinned, "'Cause my partner always told me I had great instincts," he answered, "when he wasn't busy naggin' me, that is."

"Oh, you know him so well already, huh?" Hutch said grudgingly.

"Uh oh, somebody jealous? I was talking about my old partner, as you well know." Starsky was enjoying this game. A lot!

"And what did you think you were doing waltzing in the back door of that building today just like you had any idea where that creep Markham was?" Hutch went on, "Sticking your fool head in there was bad enough, but you had to go for the whole package."

Starsky answered defensively, "I had to do something. I couldn't just stand there and wait for someone to come out, could I? It sure didn't look like Markham was going to take any chances, if he was even still alive, so I did!" Starsky thought a second. "Hey, wait up! What were you doing there? Dobey told you not to come within thirty miles of me. You just had to do your 'mother hen' thing again, didn't you?" Starsky smiled. He knew how much Hutch hated it when he accused him of that, but it was true.

"Were you wearing a wire?" Hutch asked.

"Nope," returned his friend.


"None that I could see," Starsky answered.

Hutch thought for a minute. "Something stinks pretty badly, pal."

"Well, it sure ain't the pizza. Thanks and I'm glad you can still call me pal after last night. I know I came on way too strong and that last parting shot was uncalled for. I was mad because I thought you broke my nose. I'm sorry, Hutch." Starsky really meant it.

"You know, I turned back to warn you about Markham. I didn't think the name registered with you." Hutch wasn't about to let him off the guilt trip that easy.

"It didn't and it sure was a shock to see his ugly face this morning!" Starsky shuddered.

"Starsk, what was he doing in that warehouse all that time while you were waiting for him to get into position?" Hutch asked.

"When I got in there, he was hiding behind some boxes. He came out when he saw I had my gun on them, but disappeared again. I got both of them outside and went back in after him. He was just looking around, maybe trying to see what he could boost. I wouldn't put it past the jerk. It's just a good thing they were inexperienced crooks and scared to death or none of us would have come out of that one." Starsky sighed. "He really makes me nervous. I hope I don't have to see much action with him, or you're still going to get those cowboy boots of mine, partner. Personally, I think Markham has some significant brain damage." Starsky thought of something he wanted to ask his partner. "When you were going through your 'hillbilly' phase, did you ever play 'Heartaches by the Numbers'?"

"That's country music, not 'hillbilly,' you moron, and I still like it. Yes, I used to play that for you a lot when you were recuperating from a hospital stay. It seemed to soothe you and mean a lot to you. I used to think it wasn't exactly the type of song to cheer a person up, but the Starskys are a stubborn lot and it was that song or nothing." Hutch smiled. His stubbornness had probably been all that kept his partner alive up till now, so he really couldn't complain. Once in awhile, though, he'd just like to shake some sense into him. "Please tell me you're not going country, buddy, that'd be just too much to get used to!" Hutch chuckled.

"Would you play it for me, Hutch? I just can't get it out of my head."

"Sure, I'll go get my guitar," Hutch said good-naturedly.

"Oh, by the way, my new partner just loves my car!" Starsky teased.

"What can I say, man, you just told me he has brain damage," Hutch said with a laugh.

After he got done talking to his partner, Starsky decided he'd better touch bases with Leah. She was not happy that he hadn't called her all day.

"I got tied up in a big robbery case, with lots of paperwork, and working with a new partner and all, it's a mess. I'm sorry, honey, I'm beat, I'll see you tomorrow, okay? I'll call you at lunch time." He added, " I love you."

He didn't hear any answering endearments, so he figured she was going to be mad for awhile. He was so tired, he stretched out on the couch and fell asleep with his clothes on...

And woke up with a chloroform-soaked rag plastered over his face. His last conscious thought was, Hutch, help me.

The phone ringing woke Hutch. He was on a more flexible schedule now, so he'd slept in a little longer than normal. As usual, when it was Dobey on the phone, he had to hold the receiver away from his ear to adjust his comfort level.

Dobey barked at him, "Is Starsky there?"

Hutch sat straight up in bed. "What'd you mean, Cap'n, is Starsky here? You said not to get anywhere near him. Is he missing? Did you try Leah's house?" He should have known something like this would happen without him to watch over Starsky. His partner had a unique talent for getting into trouble. Some of it had to do with his impulsiveness.

"She hasn't seen him since yesterday," Dobey bellowed. "Nobody's seen him since he went home last night. Did you talk to him on the radio?"

"Yes, and when we quit talking, he was almost asleep. My bet would be he fell asleep right there on the couch."

"Well, I'm here now and he's not on the couch or anywhere else in sight. There's no sign of a struggle and no forced entry. I don't know what's going on." Dobey sighed. "I'll see you in the morning. Maybe we'll find out that he discovered one of his harem waiting on his doorstep and they went back to her place."

"Let's hope so, but I know Starsk, and he would have called me on the radio. Something bad's happening, Cap'n," Hutch said, but the other man had already cut the connection.

In Starsky's mind something very bad was happening. He was struggling to get his eyes open and get some idea of where he was. He was tied, that much was certain. His arms and legs were bound securely to a chair. His head was fastened to some kind of headrest so he couldn't turn it. There was an excruciatingly bright light in his eyes. All he could see of the room were a table and a couple chairs right on the edge of his vision. Two men came into his line of vision and he wondered, What comes next?

"Sgt. Starsky, we've been waiting very patiently for you to join us. We need to talk." This man had a military demeanor, stood straight and talked with a clipped, precise speech. Starsky figured he was calling the shots. The other one was just muscle. A way for the "general" here to get his point across without getting his hands dirty.

Starsky growled defiantly, "I sure hope you can talk turkey, then, 'cause that's all I'm talkin, turkey!"

The "general" seemed to take exception to that. He spoke very softly, but with a dangerous edge to his voice. "I'm going to give you one warning, Sgt., and after this, there'll be no more mercy. I want you to remember what it was like in the Army. I want you to think of yourself as being in boot camp again. You've got a lot to learn and I'm going to be your teacher. It can be as pleasant as you want it to be, or it can be difficult. I want all the amenities; 'yes sir,' 'no sir,' and by the time we're done, I'll see that I get them. I know a lot about you and I don't expect an easy road, but it's going to get done. Do you understand?"

"I understand you're some kind of idiot if you think I'm going to show you any respect," Starsky started to say. "You're just a common criminal." That earned him a blow across the face. Tasting blood, he spat it back in the face of the "general," as he had already named him.

Suddenly he was hit with a searing, white hot light, producing pain he wouldn't afterward be able to describe. He didn't know if it was momentary or if it lasted hours. He just wanted it to stop! He passed out before it did!

Hutch felt like he was losing it! Here he was, in Dobey's office, being upbraided for wanting to search for his partner? "He's not your partner anymore, Hutch, and you can't come around my office asking questions. It's not me, I don't like this whole set-up, didn't from the start, but the 'powers that be' don't want to break Starsky's cover yet. They think this may be related to the case somehow," Dobey tried to explain patiently.

"Related to the case?" Hutch couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Is Markham still here?"

"Yes," Captain Dobey had to admit he was.

"Then what would Starsky's function be in this cover, if not to watch Markham? What if Simon's people have Starsky again, and we're just sitting here on our butts, not doing anything?"

"There's nothing we can do, Hutch, they won't let me issue an APB or any kind of search for him." Dobie was truly worried himself, but honestly uncertain how to proceed.

"You may not be able to do anything, but you can bet I'm doing something to the very end. If it had been up to you, Starsky would be dead now already, when he got poisoned by Vic Bellamy. You were ready to give up, but I didn't and I won't! I'm not leaving my best friend out there somewhere to go it alone!" Hutch threw his gun and badge on Dobey's desk. "If the department can't help me, I'll do what I can by myself!" He slipped out the door and shut it behind him.

Dobey stood there watching a small patch of sunlight shrinking on his desktop. "I'm sorry, boys," he sighed.

Starsky was thankful they were leaving him alone for awhile. He was beginning to feel very disoriented, though, and worry about what was going on clouded his mind. Hutch must be frantic, Leah scared to death. All he could do was to sit here staring at this cursed light. There had been several more incidents with the stun gun since he'd been there. Starsky figured this was the "honeymoon phase" of a long ordeal and that they'd be turning up the heat soon. He was already feeling dizzy from lack of sleep and, though, he got enough to eat to keep him alive, he knew it wasn't nearly enough to keep up his strength. The only time he left the chair was for regimented trips to the bathroom, then he was tied back in again. His back and butt were sore because he was tied so tightly, he couldn't relieve the pressure and that was very uncomfortable. They never made a mistake and left the straps loose. Whoever "they" were, "they" knew what "they" were doing. Starsky jumped a little as the door opened and the "general's" face swam into view.

"Sgt. Starsky! How are things going?"

"Better than they will be for you when they catch you!" Starsky spit out.

"Sgt., I have to tell you I respect your courage, and I believe you have to be the most stubborn bastard I've ever met! Maybe not the smartest, but you've got guts!"

"And that means a whole lot to me coming from a sleaze like you, man," Starsky said.

The goon with the "general" pulled his fist back, but the military man stopped him. "Don't worry, I don't think there'll be much more of this defiance. Today we start step two in our little project and you won't be protesting too much after the first couple times."

The "general's" hands came into view and Starsky could see that he was holding. a syringe. His mind went haywire. He remembered this. What had happened to his partner when he'd been drugged by a creep who wanted information from him and kept him high, then strung-out alternately until he got what he wanted. Not this for him! He started struggling. He'd been there all the way with Hutch and knew just what hell he'd been through to kick it. Hutch was strong. Starsky knew he wasn't. If they did this to him, it would never be over. He would crave it until the day he died. He was screaming inside, but he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing his fear. Then the needle slid into his arm, and all of a sudden, things felt a whole lot better, then his head fell back against the headrest and he was drifting away. It felt better every time they brought it. Somewhere inside he was aware that there was a stage three yet to come, but that part of him was hoping it would be a long time coming.

Hutch had run out of leads, Huggy was working hard sifting the filth on the streets, but they were both coming up short and Hutch was getting close to hitting bottom. Without Dobey's help, getting anything out of Metro was next to impossible. He still had a couple contacts. Minnie had found out that Markham's old partner had died under very suspicious circumstances, and another officer had gotten him the message that there was absolutely no official investigation or search for Starsky going on. It had been almost three weeks and everyone seemed to be convinced that Starsky was dead and there was nothing anybody could or would do about it. Even Huggy seemed to have given up.

Starsky had definitely given up. The "general" had started phase three. The heroin was alternately given and taken away. He was on a roller coaster to hell with no way of getting off. The "general" was getting his "yes sirs" and "no sirs," now and the detective had found himself begging more than once for the comfort he needed. There was also now a constant barrage of voices in his ear, he'd lost track of what they were saying, didn't know if it was the drugs or somebody whispering behind him. The white light still shone in his eyes, but it didn't bother him so much anymore. He floated in a river of semi-consciousness, sometimes going where it went, other times, fighting it as the effects of withdrawal on his system made him scream. Bits and pieces of a song came flowing along beside him at times and he tried to grab them and hold on to them like a lifeline. Something about heartaches, countings, numbers?

Another two weeks went by, Hutch grew despondent, stopped eating. Huggy tried to motivate him, but he just didn't want to live without his partner. Huggy wasn't in very good shape either. He was losing his two best friends at once.

As usual, it was the phone that jolted Hutch awake. He'd been having a pleasant dream where he and Starsky were at the beach, sitting and talking and drinking beer. "Yeah," he answered.

"Hutch," said Huggy's voice, "They found him, m'man, they found Starsky. He's alive and they got him at the hospital!"

Hutch got down there in record time. Dobey was there, waiting for word. Hutch was displeased to see that Allen Markham, as well as Simonetti and Conway were also there.

"Well, look, the gang's all here!" Markham said snidely. "How are things in the civilian world anyway, Golden-boy?"

Hutch waded in, fists flailing, but Simonetti knocked him back. He went and sat down on the other side of the room, ignoring Dobey, who he considered one of them now. Dobey looked as miserable as he felt, looked like he wanted to talk, but knew he would be rejected. Hutch saw Huggy come in and felt better to know that he had somebody in his corner now.

The two groups of men sat staring at each other until the doctor came out. They all crowded close enough to hear.

"Are you with Detective Starsky?" he asked.

Dobey answered in the affirmative. "How is he, Doctor?" he asked.

"He's in pretty good shape aside from some dehydration and lack of sleep. It looks like somebody's kept him tied up and satisfied themselves with inflicting a few cuts and bruises here and there and cigarette burns on his arms all the way from wrist to bicep. He's pretty disoriented, but otherwise, he's okay. You can see him now."

"Thank God!" sighed Hutch and clasped Huggy in an embrace that embarrassed the man.

The doctor told them he was calling for his partner, so Hutch headed for the room number they'd been given, noticing that Allen Markham was also headed that way.

"He's my partner, now, Hutchinson, or had you forgotten that?" he growled.

"I'm sure he's asking for me, but we'll have to see, now, won't we?" Hutch challenged.

They found room 238 and went in the door. The other four men had also followed them, but didn't want to confuse Starsky by trooping in all at once, so only Hutch and Markham went in.

For all the doctor had said, Hutch didn't think his friend looked that well to him. His eyes were sunken back in his head with big black circles under them. There was a drastic loss of weight and something in his friend's eyes that didn't look right to him.

Starsky saw Hutch first, but seemed to look right through him. Then his gaze switched to Allen and a smile lit up his face, "partner!" he said warmly.

Allen Markham went over to him and gave him the briefest of hugs. "How you doing, man? I didn't think I'd ever see you again! What happened to you?"

Huggy and Dobey were looking in the door and they couldn't believe what they were witnessing. Huggy's first thought was for Hutch. He seemed rooted to the spot, not appearing to understand, let alone react to what was going on. He stayed frozen in place until Huggy put his arm around him and led him away. Starsky never even noticed him leaving.

Huggy took Hutch to his apartment and persuaded him to lie down for awhile. The weeks of looking for Starsky had taken their toll and his friend was devastated by what had just happened. Hutch put his head down on the pillow and was out immediately. Huggy covered him up and started working on Hutch's apartment. His friend wasn't the greatest of housecleaners in the best of times. In the last few weeks, the apartment had built up an immense amount of clutter, mostly beer bottles and take-out food trash. Huggy began patiently to wade through the mess, thinking this would be the kind of thing Starsky would be doing if needed. He'd made things look much better by the time Hutch started to stir. The plants, he could do nothing about. He didn't know if any of them could be salvaged.

Hutch woke to the smell of fresh coffee. He felt better until he remembered the way Starsky had acted in the hospital. What a soap opera, he thought, that wasn't Starsky in that hospital bed. In these last few weeks, someone had done something to change who his friend was and he was going to find out what.

He went out into the living room and found it vastly different from the way it looked the last time he'd seen it. The rest of the house, too. Huggy! He was grateful that life had given him two good friends! But he was going to have to work hard at bringing the other one back and he needed to start now.

Starsky was released from the hospital and went home in the care of Allen Markham. Hutch fumed about that. The man was no friend of Hutch's partner and there was no reason he could see for him to be there. Yet Starsky seemed perfectly content to let things be as they were. Markham, on the other hand, seemed more like a keeper than a caregiver, and Hutch was finding it impossible to get even close enough to him to talk to his dark-haired counterpart. At least, the thing with Leah was over. Starsky had treated her just like Hutch, ignoring her, staring right through her. She hadn't liked that much.

The detective decided the only way to get to his partner was to temporarily incapacitate Markham. He just hoped he was the only one keeping a real close watch over his friend. He waited until the two of them got home from work, watched until Markham was in the living room by himself, quickly stepped in and hit him over the head, knocking him out. Hutch swiftly rolled him behind the couch, pulled his gun, although he'd never be able to use it, and was ready for Starsky when he came out of the bedroom. "Drop your gun," he demanded.

Starsky looked him over for a long time before he complied. "What's your beef, Hutchinson?" he growled "I thought we were each just to going to pretend that the other one was dead."

"You're not getting rid of me that easy, Starsk," he said softly. "Go into the bedroom," he commanded. Starsky obeyed. Hutch fished his partner's handcuffs out of his coat pocket. "Now turn around."

Starsky turned around, and attacked him. It took everything he had, but Starsky was still a little on the weak side, so Hutch finally got him over on his stomach and got the handcuffs on him. He grabbed him by the arm and yanked him up. He needed to get him out of here and fast. He made Starsky sit in a chair while he tied and gagged Markham, who was still out cold. Hopefully this would buy him time to get his friend somewhere safe. He hustled the unresisting man out the door and into the car, heading for a motel he'd rented earlier.

"You sleazy types always seem to have the classiest cars, don't you ?" said his friend sarcastically. Starsky, using his mouth as a lethal weapon again.

Maybe a good sign, thought Hutch. "Look, just shut up, would you? I'd hate to have to gag you," Hutch said unpleasantly. "Although, it might not be such a bad idea after all."

He was glad to see that Starsky seemed to have no fear of him. The only resistance he'd put up was in protecting his partner and Hutch would expect no less of him, no matter who his partner was.

He'd chosen an out of the way motel, had registered in a disguise, rented a car with a fake ID and driver's license, brought over toiletries and clothes , as well as food for the kitchenette. He smuggled his partner in, gagged and tied him, drove the rental car back and jogged back to the motel. He figured he had a day or two, at least, to try and work a miracle here, before the police, with all their resources, closed in on him. He knew if that happened, he would be doing time. He's already broken more laws than he could count and kidnapping a police officer definitely ranked at the top of the list.

He felt he couldn't trust Starsky loose. He knew only too well how capable he was of getting out of difficult situations. He left the handcuffs on and tied his friend to a chair, being careful of his arms which were bandaged from wrist to bicep. He then looped a rope around the bedrail so he couldn't move the chair. Then he decided it was about time to get some answers.

Starsky had been absolutely silent throughout the whole procedure. When Hutch was done, he asked, "Happy now?"

Hutch replied, "No, I'm a long ways from being happy, but I brought you here to find out what happened to my partner and just who the hell are you?"

Starsky refused to say anything for a long time. Then he asked defiantly, "And if I don't tell you?"

"If you don't tell me, we're both going to be in a lot of trouble, because whatever this is, it's big, and I don't think they'll be leaving either of us around when they're done with us." Hutch stopped to take a good look at his friend then and what he saw alarmed him. "Starsk, are you in pain? Do you need something to eat? What can I do for you?"

"My arms, my arms, spiders on my arms," Starsky mumbled, fidgeting in the chair.

"Are those ropes too tight? This better not be a trick to get me to loosen the ropes, Starsky, or so help me..." He started taking off one of the ropes, but his friend was getting more and more agitated. Hutch thought he should look at one of his arms, see if the cigarette burns were getting infected, so he started taking one of the dressings off, too.

He stopped, frozen in shock from what he found underneath. "N-O-O-O-O-O-O-O, not that, Starsk! What have they done to you?" There were heroin tracks all the way from his partner's forearm to his upper arm. Hutch ripped the other dressing off and found the same thing, He grabbed his partner and held him tight. "Aw, Starsk, it's going to be okay." He rocked him slightly, trying to comfort him a little, but he knew from personal experience that it wasn't okay, might never be okay again. Dear Lord, how was he going to do this by himself?

He didn't see anything to do but to get Huggy involved. He knew they probably had a close tail on him, so he called and told him to go to a restaurant they knew that had a private bathroom with a lock on the door and a phone inside.

"Wait for my call and watch for company. You probably got all kinds of escorts waiting for you," Hutch warned.

Huggy got to the restaurant, but couldn't shake the tail they had on him. He sat down and ordered, then went in and used the rest room.

Hutch called him and asked if he could get away clean and be gone for at least a few days. "It's dangerous, and it's risky and it's big! Hug, you and I get caught, we're cellmates for a long time, but it's Starsky's life. You tell me. I won't blame you if you say no."

"M'man, you make it sound so attractive, how could I say no? Might be nice to be one of the heroes for a change, if it turns out right." Huggy grinned.

"I'll tell you when you get here what's going on, but you just have to find some way to get away from all of them, Huggy. Don't trust anyone. I mean that!" Hutch thought of something else. "Bring lots of candy bars and coffee, Huggy, if you can." He gave him the address.

Huggy made another quick phone call to round up some friends, then went to his table and leisurely ate the food he'd ordered. Afterwards, he went back to his place. He grabbed some candy bars from the back room of the bar and got some coffee from the storeroom. It looked like they had someone watching the front and the back and probably had patrons in the bar, too. This was going to be the biggest challenge of his life, but he had no doubt he could do it. He cornered Sarah, one of his waitresses and asked for her help. She took him upstairs and got him some of her clothes and a wig and helped him look a little bit feminine. With Huggy, there was really not much hope of passing him off as a woman, but they did what they could. Huggy figured if there was enough going on, he could make it out unnoticed.

At a signal, he had men in the alley to take those two out, all hell breaking loose in the kitchen, to cause a diversion and bring the guys out front into the bar, and a couple friends inside to start a brawl with the other patrons. He found someone who resembled him and sent them out the front door as a decoy just before he slipped out the back way totally unnoticed. He couldn't take his car. It was as conspicuous than the Torino, so he hot-wired an old car and drove that, leaving it about five miles from where Starsky and Hutch were and walked the rest of the way.

Hutch was pacing when he got there. "Do you think you were followed?" he asked anxiously.

"Nope, I did everything I could. They can maybe fix me within five miles of here, but that's it." Huggy caught sight of Starsky and recognized the problem for what it was immediately. "Guess we got to roll our shirtsleeves up, huh, we got a lot of hard work ahead of us! What in heck were they doing to him, Hutch, I never saw so many tracks on one person before, unless they'd been shooting up for years. I don't know if we can do this on our own. It's risky to his health."

"We've got absolutely no choice, Huggy, none. We've got cops, doctors, who knows who mixed up in this, maybe even Cap'n Dobey. I don't know what to do." Hutch started to break down. "God knows, of all the things Starsky's been through I was so happy this hadn't happened to him. He's Superman in every other way, Huggy, but he's weak when it comes to self control. Look at the way he eats, his candy addiction, his need for a fast car, his temper, his impulsiveness. He's a man with excesses, Hug, and I don't know if he can fight them."

"He might surprise you, Hutch," Huggy whispered.

"There's another fear I have. I've never been able to say no to him. What am I going to do when he starts pleading with me, begging for it? I don't think I can say no. I swear, Huggy, I'll go out and get it for him if I have to, just to stop his pain. He's already had so much of it. What do I do?"

"It's called tough love, m'man, and you'll do just fine. You love him and that's all that's important. Let your instinct take it from there," Huggy answered him.

Starsky was trying to curl in on himself, to make his stomach disappear so it wouldn't hurt, withdrawal cramps coming in earnest now. He was shaking and his eyes were wide and pleading. "General, just a little bit, one little shot, please, it hurts so bad. I'll be quiet, you won't even have to use the stun gun. I'll just sleep for awhile. If you'd just turn off that bright light in my eyes, so I can sleep, please, general, it hurts bad, please!"

Hutch and Huggy were stricken. "This is more than we can handle, Hutch. Is there anyone you can trust the police wouldn't have to know about?"

"I wish we could have called Alex Chandler. I have a feeling we could have completely trusted him. Unfortunately, he's gone."

"Do you really think we can't trust Dobey, man? We've got to have more help with this."

"I don't know, Huggy, let's just try to get him through the night and see how he is in the morning." Hutch didn't want to give up.

"He'll be worse by morning, you know that. I know you went through hell when it happened to you, but there were things that your partner suffered on the other end and I hate to see you go through that, Hutch."

Starsky's pain and agitation were escalating by the moment.

"Let's get some coffee down him," Hutch suggested.

Starsky got a hand free and punched him in the face, so Hutch decided to put the handcuffs back on. All of a sudden, Starsky pulled back and kicked out at him. Hutch had seen that one coming and was able to dodge it.

"C'mon, babe, let us help you. I know it hurts. I realize this is no fun."

The coffee was ready. Hutch let it set for a little bit to cool. Remembering how Starsky had done it for him, he propped himself against the headboard of the bed and pulled his partner back against him. With the handcuffs on, Starsky couldn't push it away, but he shook his head and spit and did everything else he could to thwart their progress. Huggy kept the coffee coming and Hutch kept forcing it down him. Sometimes it stayed down and sometimes it didn't. Hutch cradled his partner in blankets when he had the shakes, and was his uncomplaining punching bag when he felt the need. They'd had to put anything breakable away and at times they had to gag their friend and put the cuffs back on just so he wouldn't alarm the neighbors and give them away.

One night, in an effort to soothe him, Hutch started singing to him. It seemed to help a lot and he sang all the songs he could think of. Then, as he was going to quit, he remembered Starsky's request from a few weeks ago. He started singing Heartaches by the Numbers and noticed that his friend got very still. There were no more of the mumbling, "Yes sirs" and "no sirs." He was really listening to the words, then all of a sudden he was singing with Hutch in kind of an off-kilter tone. Then Hutch stopped singing and Starsky went on by himself, singing it over and over and over. Hutch sat up all night and watched over his partner. The withdrawal pains were letting up a little and Starsky was able to get some rest. He wished he could have gone through this for him, he loved his partner that much. It had been far from easy, and it was far from over, but the worst was past. There was still the matter of what this was all about, though.

He must have dropped off, because he heard Starsky calling him.

He went into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. "How ya doing, buddy?" he asked. "Do you need anything?"

"I'm beginning to remember things," Starsky said quietly, like he was afraid of breaking a spell or something. "All the time I was there, I sang that song under my breath. It kept me focused even through the stun gun and all the heroin. Hutch, you've never wanted to go back to it, ever, have you? Were you ever tempted?"

"Yeah, I have been a couple times, pal, but you pulled me through. You didn't even know it, but I knew I never wanted to let you down or make you ashamed of me," Hutch answered.

"Hutch, I'm not like you, I'm not going to be able to do this. You know me, I can't resist, I can't control myself like you can. Dobey always said I needed to learn self control, remember? Dobey! Hutch, you gotta get Dobey over here! Right now!" Starsky was getting agitated again.

"We can't trust Dobey, Starsk, I think he might be right in the middle of this mess, as deep as any of the others are, only you can tell us, but I figure Simonetti, Conway and Markham are all in on this."

"Hutch, trust me, we can count on Dobey. You gotta get him over here and soon," Starsky pleaded.

Hutch called Dobey at home. The conversation was short and strained. He gave him the address and asked him to trust them until they could explain, then if he wanted to take them in, he could.

When he got there, Hutch was very cold toward him. The detective felt that, at the very least he could have handled things better and he wasn't going to forgive him easily. Dobey was also cautious, just waiting to hear what the story was.

"Cap'n", Hutch said, nodding, acknowledging his presence.

"I'm listening," Dobey said. "Where's Starsky?"

"Here I am, Cap," he said, coming out of the bedroom.

He looked horrible to Dobey, and he wondered again what was going on here. He'd been in hell the last few weeks, trying to obey orders, wondering who to trust. Now it looked like he might be faced with the truth whether he wanted to hear it or not.

"Starsky, you look terrible. I've seen heroin addicts in the street who looked better that you. Man, is that what this is all about, you're looking for another deal like I gave your partner? Fat chance, you're going to have to get this taken care of alone!" Dobie bellowed.

Hutch came off the couch, heading for the captain, intent on inflicting some serious damage, but Starsky yelled "Stop" as loud as he could and all action ceased.

"Hutch, he doesn't know the story, you don't even know yet. I don't have the strength to tell it twice, so can you all just listen to what I have to say while I can still say it?" Starsky finished, his knees buckling.

Hutch caught him in his arms and got him over to the couch, sat down, put a pillow in his lap and laid his partner's head back on it. Huggy came over with a cup of coffee and a candy bar and flipped Hutch a wet washcloth in passing. He started stroking Starsky's forehead with the rag.

"This whole thing is going to sound unbelievable to you, Cap, and I still don't know everything, but I think I remember enough so we can piece the rest together."

Starsky began to tell them what had happened in the last few weeks. "When they took me, I had no idea who they were. I think there were three of them and they used chloroform. When I woke up, I was tied to something like an electric chair, so they could strap my head and I couldn't move it. There was a bright light in my eyes at all times. The only other thing I could see in there was a table and a couple chairs. They used to sit there and smoke sometimes." He saw Dobey look with pity at his arms. "No, Cap, it wasn't cigarette burns," he said softly. "It was this." He turned his arms up and Dobey crouched down by the couch to study the stream of sores, the sheer number he'd never seen before.

Dobey wasn't a demonstrative man, but he laid his hand on the detective's head for a second before he sat back down. "But they were bandaged. The doctors said they were cigarette burns!"

Hutch spoke for the first time. "They were paid off, Cap'n. Whatever this is, it's big!"

"This is my story, you know, and I'd appreciate it if everybody'd shut up and let me get on with it 'cause I'm getting a headache," Starsky grumbled, sounding a little like his old self.

"What was the purpose, though, Starsky, what did they hope to accomplish by drugging you?" Dobey asked.

"After while, they started playing these stupid tapes. At first, I tried to listen, but with the drugs and the light and the visits from the 'general,' I lost focus at times."

"'General,' you called me that, Starsk, when you started to go into withdrawal. What was that all about?" Hutch questioned.

"He was the boss, very military, the goons he had there did everything he told them to do. They spent a lot of time drawing pictures on me with a stun gun before they started with the drugs, 'cause I wouldn't say 'yes sir' and 'no sir' to him. He told me he had respect for me 'cause I was the most stubborn bastard he'd ever met!"

"Sounds like a good judge of character," Hutch just had to say. He was rewarded with a cold stare.

Starsky went on. "Remind me, when I feel better, we can sit down and do some really deep analysis of YOUR psyche, but for now, just shut up! I think he was a mercenary, it didn't seem personal with him, he was just hired to do a job and he was very professional."

Dobey said, "Go on, Dave, we're listening."

"Okay, all the time they were playing those blasted tapes, I was hooked on a song I'd been singing a lot the night they grabbed me. I could hear the tapes and yet I could hear the song in my head, too, at the same time. They got all mixed up together and I guess that song kept me from being completely swept away. When they decided to send me back, though, I had no idea where I was going back to, they bandaged my arms and took me to the hospital. I was told Allen Markham was my partner, so I kinda attached myself to him and didn't worry about having to recognize anybody else," he finished lamely.

Huggy watched Hutch's face and saw the cringe that passed over briefly when he thought about the way Starsky had looked right through him in the hospital.

"After Hutch got me away from them, I felt really weird with him. I mean after being kidnapped, you'd think I'd be scared to death being grabbed again, but I wasn't. He was kind and even though he handcuffed me to just about everything in the house," He gave Hutch a reproachful look, "he didn't hurt me. When the cramps started coming, he and Huggy did everything they could to help. It was hell, Cap. I don't ever want to go through that again. I begged 'em, I cursed 'em, smashed stuff, hit 'em, and they were only trying to help me. Anyway, Hutch started singing to me to settle me down. He sang that song to me and it all started coming back. I remember most of what the tapes said and we need to put together a plan to prevent something real bad." Starsky began to get agitated again.

"Just tell us, son," Dobey said ."I believe you so far, just keep going."

"In two days, Cap'n, you're supposed to die and I'm the one who's going to kill you!" Starsky burst out.

Everybody sat in shocked silence after that announcement.

"But why," Dobey questioned. "Why do they want me dead?"

"Your job, Cap, they got things arranged to get someone, maybe even Simonetti himself, in there and they'll be corrupt right up to the top or close. Don't think Simonetti is as high as it goes. I can't tell you how many, but if we can get one of them, they'll fall like a house of cards!" Starsky was starting to shake again and looked like he was tiring fast.

Huggy shoved another candy bar in his hand and set another cup of coffee close by. Hutch tucked a blanket in around him. Dobey was struck again by the love of these two friends for the one who'd been victimized.

"How can we get them, though, Starsky? They don't have you, now, so we can't nail them." Dobey asked.

Hutch had a feeling he knew where this was leading and there was no way in hell.

"I'm going back in there, Hutch, I've got to!"

His partner stood up suddenly, dumping Starsky unceremoniously onto the floor. "No, NO way, I'm not going to let you! We're just going to lay low until this is all over."

"I been working out a plan with Huggy, Hutch. He's talked to Sweet Alice. She's gonna keep me at her place. The word is out that there's big money for finding me alive. She's going to turn me, tell them she's had me for a few days, trying to help me, but she's out of money, feeding her habit and mine, too. It's the only way, Hutch!"

"And what are you going to do when they start shooting you up again? How are you going to explain me kidnapping you away from them like that?" Hutch asked hostilely.

"Markham didn't see you. He doesn't really know who hit him on the head. I'll tell him I was strung-out and just decked him and took off. As far as the heroin, I'll get some from Sweet Alice and, hopefully, they'll let me handle my own addiction."

Hutch raised his eyebrows.

"Not the real thing, Blondie, give me a break".

"Starsk, you're either living in a dream world or you know exactly what you're walking back into, I don't know which, but I don't want to see you have to go through all this again. If I get a vote, it's no," Hutch said emphatically.

Dobey turned his head and snarled at Starsky, "You almost had me convinced this would work without putting you in danger. You lied, didn't you? Would you really go through all this again?"

Hutch saw the scared look on his partner's face, but Starsky said, "For a good friend, Cap, it's worth the chance and before you gang up on me, I want you to know you won't stop me, so don't even try!"

"Where and when is it supposed to go down?" Dobey asked.

"In your office, day after tomorrow, in the afternoon, make sure you have a bulletproof vest on, Cap'n."

"Starsk, even if it does happen like you say, how do we prove it was orchestrated by them? Why not just Starsky, strung-out on drugs, gone haywire?" Hutch questioned.

"That's the kicker, Hutch. Once Dobey's dead, you've gotta do something to get one of them to roll over on the rest." Starsky sat and thought for a minute. "Markham would logically be the weakest link, he was a coward even back in the academy. He's pretty heavily into drugs, Hutch, maybe he'll have something on him. If we can't make them come clean, I'm just dead meat," he said dejectedly.

Hutch grumbled, "I'm just not liking this set-up. There's way too many if's. How are we gonna keep you from getting shot, Gordo? There's gonna be straight cops out there trying to protect their Captain. You better be wearing a vest, too, you hear?"

"They're going to create a diversion, keep as many of the straight cops out of there as possible," Starsky answered.

"Can you get me back in, Cap, just to watch him?" Hutch pleaded. "That's the only way I'll let him go!"

"You'll LET ME GO?" Starsky roared. "Since when do you even get a vote. You're just a civilian."

"Not anymore, Starsky," Dobey responded. "I'll probably catch some flack for this and Hutch is going to be under suspicion, but he's back on the force." Turning to Hutch, he said, "I can't partner you with this maniac, but you stay as close as you can to him!"

"Like his second skin, Cap'n, I swear."

Starsky rolled his eyes. "He'll probably just get in my way, Cap," he grumbled.

Later, when Dobey and Huggy had left, Starsky got around to asking about Leah. Hutch told him as gently as he could that he'd blown off Leah just like he had everybody else and Starsky buried his face in a pillow and his shoulders started to shake. Hutch went over to the couch and tried to pull his partner into an embrace so he could comfort him, the big shock was to discover that Starsky didn't need comfort, he needed a straitjacket. He was laughing so hard, he was in danger of falling off the couch. "What the heck?" Hutch questioned.

"Well," Starsky gasped out between spasms of laughter, "that night I asked Leah to marry me, I was really, really drunk! Then I had no idea what to do about it, because everything started to snowball and I was caught up in this nightmare I couldn't wake up from. I was SO scared!" He stopped for a minute to wipe his eyes. "I thought I was a goner, Hutch! I'm not good husband material, man. I couldn't have stood it!!"

That started Hutch laughing, too, and soon they were rolling on the floor. Every time one of them started to sober up, the other made some comment about their husbandly capabilities and they went off again into a fit of giggles.

Finally, when things got serious again, Starsky brought up something which had been terrorizing his partner ever since he found out about the heroin. "Hutch," he whispered. "Do you know why I was chosen for this instead of you?"

"Probably because Simonetti hates you more than me?"

"They told me it's because I've got no self control. I was easy to get hooked and I'll never be able to get off the stuff, 'cause I'm too weak. I'm impulsive, moody, I take things way too hard. What I do is always excessive. Am I going to have to fight this now every day of my life?" Starsky put his head down on the table. "I don't know if I can do that."

"No, WE'LL fight it and whatever you need from self control to good looks, you can borrow from me." That got his friend to raise his head with just a ghost of a smile on his lips. "You're strong and I lean on you all the time. I'll take care of you, buddy, as long as you need me. I think we'll be needing each other for a long time to come, don't you, babe?"

"Hutch, what's going to happen to me in jail? They're going to see the tracks and my career is finished."

"We're going to keep you from going to jail, Starsk, you're going to go down with your captain. We've got to stock up on fake blood, we need a lot of it if this is going to be convincing. I'm going to be taking you down myself. One of my guns has blanks!"

"Hutch," Starsky said sleepily.

"Yeah," said an equally groggy Hutch.

"Make sure you got the right gun."

"Trust me, Starsk." They fell asleep on the couch, their heads on each others shoulders. That's where Huggy and Dobey found them the next morning.

A quick goodbye among friends and Huggy took Starsky over to Sweet Alice's. He'd forgotten to grab his vest, he thought at the last minute, but it was in the category of being too late.

"This isn't going to work! I hate this! I shouldn't have let him go! I really don't like this set-up," was the litany Hutch repeated all day. He couldn't keep his mind on anything, could only wonder what was happening with Starsky.

Sweet Alice got in touch with Simonetti and he sent Conway with Markham, not trusting the man on his own, to fetch Starsky. They grilled Alice, but she claimed to have been keeping the detective with her and supporting his heroin habit. When asked why, she turned in an Academy Award performance with her tribute to Hutch, "I'd do anything for that beautiful man and Starsky is dear to me as can be, too," in her southern accent. Her affection for both of them and her infatuation with Hutch was very true and everyone on the street could corroborate that. She got indignant about all the money she'd had to put out on heroin, though, and said she'd get it from Hutch if she had to, but Starsky didn't want him to know he was using. They were happy to pay her off to keep her mouth shut.

"Okay, Starsky, what's the deal?" Markham started in on him as soon as they got him back. "Did somebody nab you or are you the one that hit me?"

"I just wasn't likin' to be around you and I didn't trust you," Starsky snapped. "You were actin' kinda weird and I'm looking out for number 1 at this point!"

"Do it again and you won't have to worry about number 1 anymore!" the man said angrily. "We got things going down tomorrow and we don't want to be having to search for you whenever we need you. Do you understand?"

That seemed to be a rhetorical question, so Starsky answered it under his breath, "More than you know, slime ball!"

"I'm going to have some 'stuff' to calm me down. How about you joining me?"

"Nah, I just had some with Alice before you came and got me and I got my own supply now. I don't need no charity, man." He plopped down a baggie on the table nearby, then the detective held his breath.

"Whatever, hey, that broad's not bad for a whore. I can see why you went there."

Starsky gritted his teeth and kept his mouth shut. He really wished he could be around when this creep got his, but with his luck, he'd probably be dead or in jail. At the very best, he'd be in hiding.

He watched TV for awhile, uninterested in anything that was going on on the tube, then started acting like he was getting sleepy and went to bed.

Simonetti arrived about two hours after Starsky had taken off for bed. "What do you think, Markham? Do you think he's still under control?"

"He seems to be the same, sir, even has his own source of heroin now," Markham indicated Starsky's drug paraphernalia.

"You're letting him use his own stuff, you moron?" Simonetti's face grew livid. "Let's see what he's got here. He opened the small baggie and got some of the white powder on his finger. "Taste that, idiot. We've got work to do!"

Markham tried it and made a face. "What is it?"

"I have no idea, but it sure isn't heroin. We've got to get our friend in there under again and fast!"

Starsky woke staring into the barrel of Simonetti's gun.

"Well, detective, you've been playing games with us. Guess we're going to have to spend a long night together, huh? Markham!" The man came over and started rolling up Starsky's sleeve. The detective closed his eyes and tried to think about he and Hutch doing something together, like going to a football game or a stock car race, hey, even camping. A tear slid down his face just as the needle slid under his skin, and his last thought was, what a heavy price to pay.

It was late morning when Starsky woke up. They'd really dosed him during the night and he was doing his best to stay awake and focused. He knew when he came crashing down this time it would be a hard landing and he sure hoped he didn't have to do it without at least one of his friends holding him up, taking care of him.

Around noon, Markham said they should go, make an appearance at Metro and clear some paperwork up. Starsky's only wish was to be left alone, but he knew nothing was going to happen without him. Show-time was near. He wasn't feeling very well and he didn't know if it had anything to do with the drugs. Not the heroin, anyway. He couldn't think straight, he sometimes felt like he was back in that chair with the murmuring going on in his head. It grew stronger by the minute. Soon it was a buzzing like a bunch of hornets. He could do nothing but go along with Markham, unresisting, sometimes having to be led.

Hutch and Dobey had been closeted in Dobey's office, there wasn't much they could do until Starsky got there. They both had put on bullet-proof vests and felt they were ready as they could be.

About 12:30 Hutch went down and brought some food up from the cafeteria. He was the first to see Starsky and knew what they'd done to him. It took all the self control he had in him not to go over and beat Markham's head against the wall until he was good and dead. His partner looked like a zombie and Hutch was sure that heroin wasn't all they'd pumped into him. Someone was going to pay and pay big when this was all over and he hoped it wasn't only his partner!

Markham got the dark-haired detective settled down at his desk, put some paperwork in front of him, which Starsky made no attempt to touch.

When Hutch came into the squad room with the food, Markham registered surprise to see him there. "You got a job as a waitress here now, Golden-boy?" he asked.

Hutch snapped, "I've been reinstated, you jerk, so you and your hot shot partner there just better watch yourselves!"

He ducked into Dobey's office to leave the food and let him know that Starsky was there and they'd done a number on him, big-time. "Aw, no, Hutch, he did that for me, how am I supposed to ever make it up to him?"

"He wouldn't expect you to, Cap, he'd do it for anyone, that's just the way Starsky is. He thinks of himself last. We'll get him through this somehow, don't worry." Hutch let that roll off his tongue, but he was plenty worried. His partner didn't even look like he knew where he was.

He went back out to the squad room and made it look like he had papers of his own to contend with. Officers came and went, Hutch mentally assessing each one of them, wondering if they were straight, would they be able to take his partner down before he could stop them. He started chewing his fingernails, something he hadn't done since grade school.

Something was very wrong with Starsky. He was on heroin, that much was certain, but there was something else, maybe some effect of the brainwashing or another drug he'd been given. He looked like nothing more than a robot sitting there waiting for a command to be given or a button to be pushed. Hutch shuddered. He wanted nothing more than to go over and talk to him, hold him, brush the hair back that was hanging in his face, anything to try and bring him around, make him be Starsky again. Then he thought of something, another way to communicate, perhaps. He started singing softly under his breath. "Heartaches by the numbers, troubles by the score." Had he seen Starsky's head move toward his, just a little? "Everyday you love me less, each day I love you more." C'MON, STARSKY, SNAP OUT OF IT!

Markham growled, "Can the music, Golden-boy. There are some of us working here, you know?"

Hutch saw the beginnings of blue fire flash in his partner's eyes at the insult and put his index finger up , trying to reach Starsky, telling him now was not the time, not to lose it.

"Yes, I've got heartaches by the numbers," THAT'S IT, BABE, FIGHT IT, "a love that I can't win," EYE CONTACT, NOW! "but the day that I stop counting," I LOVE YA, MAN! "that's the day my world will end."

Hutch could feel Starsky in there with him now and it was the most bizarre sensation he'd ever felt. They'd always been close and sometimes could predict what the other was going to say, but he knew his partner was sitting there reading everything that came into his mind. He thought, I hope this is temporary, I sure wouldn't want to give Starsky this much information to use against me, and when he looked over at him, he had a little smirk on his face just like he knew. Maybe it was an offshoot of the brainwashing, but it was like having two people in one mind. Markham didn't seem to notice any changes in the detectives, he was too busy pretending to do his paperwork.

Around two o'clock. Starsky abruptly got up. He looked around a little like he'd misplaced something, then headed for Dobey's door. Hutch glanced around him, there were very few people in the squad room.

Markham took a quick look at Hutch, then got up and started after Starsky, who didn't knock, just pushed the door open. Once inside, without preliminaries, he drew the Beretta out of his shoulder holster and shot Dobey three times in the chest.

Hutch had moved to a position behind him and yelled, "STARSKY,STOP!" He was ready to fire on his partner, when he heard a deafening blast and saw him fall to the floor in front of him.

He looked back into Simonetti's eyes and knew he'd made a tragic mistake by waiting too long.

He made a point of quickly checking Captain Dobey's pulse first and, of course, found his beating strongly. He confirmed to the others waiting that he was indeed dead, though, and no one seemed to doubt him. When he got to Starsky, he just about lost his grip. He had no bullet-proof vest on and, although he had a pulse, it was weak and slow. He also confirmed that Starsky was dead. He glanced up and saw a look pass between Simonetti and Markham and wished he could kill them right there, but he had to stay cool if he was going to be able to save Starsky.

Captain Dobey already had a group of paramedics standing ready, who were going to verify both of them deceased and then the plan was to take them to a mortuary nearby, where they'd made arrangements for them to stay until things were resolved.

They were called and Hutch and Simonetti and Markham all held their ground until they came. Hutch was frantic, worrying that his friend would come to before the paramedics got there, but he lay there still as death. He felt better when they arrived and everyone was asked to leave the room. However, he couldn't show his concern for Starsky or even ask the paramedics if he was going to be all right, because they'd been instructed to answer to no one. Their job was to confirm the two police officers were dead and get them out of there.

Hutch knew he would be there for some time as he would be called on as a material witness and would have a lengthy statement to make, but his mind was screaming to know how Starsky was.

He was questioned first as they'd hoped and he said his piece about Starsky being convinced there were dirty cops in the department and maybe he'd had the idea Dobey was one of them. Disillusioned, he perhaps acted impulsively when he figured it out. Hutch brought Markham into it and how worried Starsky had seemed to be about his protection by this man. He spoke of the death of Markham's old partner and his suspicions that Markham had shot him when he discovered him stealing from the warehouses they were covering. Lastly, he told them he'd had a gun in Starsky's back and for some reason Simonetti had decided to shoot over his shoulder without a word of warning.

He'd done the best he could, let the chips fall where they may. His only hope, their only hope was that one of the men would be implicated somehow and end up bringing them all down. Otherwise Starsky would be dead. That brought the worry back. After all, he could already be dead.

Once he was questioned, he was allowed to leave. He wasted no time getting to the mortuary. "Where is he?" he yelled.

Captain Dobey came out and putting his arm around his distraught young detective, reminded him it was indeed a mortuary, and led him into a separate section of the building, set up as a living area.

"I had to contact Huggy, and he found me a doctor who owes him a favor, we're waiting to see what the verdict is. If it's too bad, he'll just have to go to the hospital, Hutch, and that'll be his career. But that's better than dying. I have a feeling I'll be losing you both, though, and I'm sorry. You're the best team I've ever worked with, even though you two have been a major pain in the butt at times. They got him back on drugs, after all the hell he went through, and I have a feeling he was pretty sure that was going to happen when he went back in there. I wish there was something I could do about it. I protected you, but I'm afraid this is going to come out," he said sadly.

Huggy came out moments later, with the doctor close behind.

"Okay, Doc, what's the story?" Hutch asked him before they even got to introductions.

"Well, it could have been worse. If you all do your job, I think we can keep him out of the hospital, but he's going to need a lot of care. The bullet went through his back and out the chest on his left, coming within inches of the heart. There was a clear exit wound, which means no surgery, that's good. It broke a couple of ribs, but no lung punctures. The thing you'll have to fight off is infection. That's easier to do in a sterile environment.

"It means checking and changing dressings often. You also need to watch carefully for internal bleeding. That's something I just can't evaluate here. His blood pressure has stayed stable, so I'm hoping that's not a problem, but it always can develop later. If he shows any signs of shock, or anything out of the ordinary, get him to the hospital, fast! He should make it. From that roadmap he's got on his chest, he's been through this before and more."

"Thanks, Doc," Hutch sighed in relief.

"One thing, I couldn't help but notice the heroin tracks. Huggy told me how he got them, but it's going to make his recovery very difficult. We're going to have to keep him on extremely heavy sedatives so his body can heal enough to tolerate withdrawal. I can't come back here, so one of you will have to inject him. I'll show you how and leave enough medication for a couple weeks. By then it should be safe."

"I'll take care of it," Hutch volunteered. He hoped he could do it, hurting his partner was not an easy thing, but if it was for his own good...

They thanked him again and he was gone, leaving them with a bewildering supply of antibiotics, dressings, sedatives, antibiotic ointment, and complete written instructions. Hutch had never felt so inadequate before.

He opened the door and popped his head into Starsky's room. He was still out, but Hutch knew he'd have a lot of questions when he woke up, so he pulled up a chair and sat down to wait. He leaned his head over onto the bed to rest his eyes and fell asleep.

He came out of it with Starsky rubbing his shoulder. He glanced up and saw the look of puzzlement in the dark blue eyes.

"Did you shoot me with the wrong gun, Hutch?" he asked in a hurt voice.

"No, buddy, I was about to shoot when Simonetti came along behind me and shot you in the back."

He could see the relief in his partner's eyes. He'd taken a bullet in the back and his first thought was making sure his friend was all right. Starsky knew that if Hutch had accidentally used the wrong gun, he would never be able to forgive himself for causing his partner needless pain.

"The thing I want to know, though, is where was your bullet-proof vest? I told you to get one on," Hutch started to raise his voice, bringing Huggy and Dobey in from the other room. "When you get better, we're going to talk long and hard about that one!" Hutch fumed.

"Shhh, you're beginning to sound like Dobey," Starsky chuckled, then realized he was in the room with them. "Sorry, Cap, are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Dave, thanks to you." After what this man had been through for him, it didn't seem right not to be on a first-name basis.

"Oh, look, now you've really managed to ingratiate yourself." Hutch grinned. "I suppose I'm just the 'ingrate.'"

"We can't all be heroes, can we, Blondie?" Starsky grinned back, happy the worst of this was over. Then a sobering thought occurred to him. "Am I going to have to go to the hospital, Hutch?"

"Not if you behave yourself and listen to what we tell you, of course, we all know you're the most stubborn bastard on the face of the earth, right? Huggy found you a doctor that didn't ask a lot of questions and we're hoping we can handle things here. That bullet missed your heart by only inches, though, so if something goes wrong, you're outta here and in the hospital."

"Okay, Starsky said sleepily, "Thanks a lot, Huggy!"

Hutch could see further discussion was pointless, Starsky was out, snoring lightly. He made sure he was covered warmly enough and they left the room.

When Hutch went in to work the next morning, he was aware of the electricity running through the place. He found some officers he could trust and they told him the whole story. Markham had "copped out" and Conway, Simonetti and three "higher-in-ranks" were all implicated together.

First chance he got, he called Dobey with the news. Dobey just said, "I think you better get back here right away, Hutch!" The last time he'd heard those words, things had been bad!

"I guess we've come full circle," he said to himself.

He got there to find an ambulance in the drive. Starsky had indeed gotten worse, Dobey thought maybe internal bleeding, and was going to have to be hospitalized.

"I'm sorry, Hutch, it was either that or watch him die." Dobey was really upset. "Now his career's over and knowing how he loves it, that'll kill him, if this doesn't."

"It's okay, Cap, things'll work out. Now go back to work and try not to scare any of those guys to death when you appear at Metro."

Hutch did some arm-twisting and convinced the paramedics to let him ride in with his partner. Waiting didn't come easy for him and waiting in hospitals had been happening too much lately, but luckily he didn't have to wonder long. He saw the doctor motioning him from the ER door. Dr. Taft had been through a couple of these "incidents" with them and knew something of their history together. Hutch shook hands warmly, and then wasted no time asking THE question.

"His injury in itself wasn't too bad, IF he'd been gotten to the hospital in a timely fashion, he would have been fine. The bullet did come close to the heart and went through, but it just nicked an artery, so there was a slow bleed going on, which progressively got worse.

We've got to get him right up to surgery and repair the damage. I don't think he would've had much time left. He's lost a lot of blood. There's also some infection present. We'll get him on antibiotics for that. I'll come find you afterward. We need to have a serious talk!"

Huggy came in a few minutes later and after Hutch had relayed all the pertinent information, they sat there companionably until Dobey came rushing through the doors.

"What's the matter, Cap'n? I never saw you move that fast before!" Hutch asked, concerned.

Dobey dropped into a chair and started mopping his face with a handkerchief. "Maybe we should find an empty room they can stash us in. The media is after me. I was advised to stay at home or the station, but I needed to be here. What's the word?"

Hutch told him and then went to see if they could find somewhere to stay out of sight for awhile. A room that had just been vacated was made available and the doctor discovered them there shortly afterward.

Hutch had waited long enough. "How's my partner, Dr. Taft?"

"We repaired the damage and I think with a lot of rest, he'll be fine. It was turning into a nasty bleed. If you hadn't gotten him here when you did, he would have bled to death in less than an hour. As it was, we had to give him several units of blood. Detective Hutchinson, could we have a private talk in my office? I've got a couple questions for you."

Hutch answered tiredly, "I'm sure you do, Doc, but there's nothing you can ask me that these two men can't be in on, so shoot..."

"Did you know Detective Starsky is a heroin addict?" the doctor began, but backed down when he saw the three angry faces.

"Would you watch that word addict, Doc," Hutch shot back. "We don't consider him an addict and neither should you. If you have a few minutes, I'll tell you the whole story."

The "story" was instrumental in changing Dr. Taft's opinion of the facts and when he was told Starsky would be off the force over the incident, he went livid with anger! "That's a fine way to treat a hero," he said, "saves his Captain's life at great risk to his own, takes out police corruption in high places, has to kick heroin; not once, but twice, and ends up out on his ear? I'm going to talk to some people about this!"

Hutch had to grin at the man, he was a short, seemingly mild-mannered individual, but he was so vehement about the injustice of it all. He decided he'd want this guy in his corner, if he ever needed help.

"What about the heroin," Dobey asked. "When can we do something about that?"

"Here in the hospital we can make it a lot easier, put him on some alternative drugs, get him off faster. I'll take personal care of his case, just so there'll be no misunderstandings and he can have plenty of privacy. Having one of you here most of the time will help, but he's strong, he'll be fine."

"Can we see him, Doc?" That question just always popped out. He always got the same answer, once he's out of recovery and settled in a room was standard in every hospital they'd been in and the list of hospitals was not inconsiderable. He just couldn't wait, needed to reassure himself that his partner was okay, needed to see his face, touch his hand.

"Detective Hutchinson, just for you, I'm going to make an exception. I can see you're dead on your feet and we'll have to admit you if we don't relieve some of your anxiety. I'll take you down to recovery for just a minute, so you can see that that friend of yours is okay. He probably won't know you're there, but at least you'll feel better. I've talked to some of the nurses and the two of you are legends in this hospital. Once I let you into his room, we won't be able to kick you out, so maybe if I just let you see him now, you can get a little rest first."

Hutch beamed at Dobey and Huggy. "Is that okay with you guys?"

Huggy answered for them, "Go on, m'man. You know we can wait."

The doctor guided him to a small room where he made Hutch put on a gown and mask, then one of the nurses let him in the door, making sure he knew to stay out of her way.

He slid in next to Starsky and gently picked up his hand. "You're going to be okay again, buddy. I don't know whether I believe in God like you do, pal, but there is something that holds us here together even when the odds are stacked against us. I guess we're just meant to go out together in a blaze of glory!"

"Butch and Sundance, Hutch," his friend said, the dark blue eyes opening for just a moment before drifting closed again.

"Yep, partner, Butch and Sundance!"

Hutch headed back to the room where Dobey and Huggy were waiting, feeling more hopeful than he had since this case began. He'd find a way to save Starsky's job, and if he couldn't, he'd quit. His friend had said whatever they did, they'd do it together and they would enjoy it just because they had each other.

He smiled when he got to the room. Huggy was sitting in a chair with one lanky leg over the arm, his head back, sound asleep. Captain Dobey had commandeered the recliner and was also sacked out. Hutch took the only remaining spot, the bed and when Dr. Taft came to tell them they could see their friend, he decided he'd let them all sleep a little longer.

They kept Starsky in the hospital a couple weeks. He worried about what would happen when he got out and his blond partner worried right along with him. On the day before he was scheduled to leave, he and Hutch were playing cards to make the time go by faster, when Dobey walked in, followed by an IA officer and another man they didn't know. Dobey introduced them both as being from Internal Affairs, the one being Simonetti's replacement. Hutch glanced at his friend and thought how pale he looked and how "not ready" he was to hear what they were going to tell him. Hutch had already made his decision to cast his lot with Starsky, no matter what the outcome.

The two seemed ill-at-ease and questioned Starsky at great length about the whole incident, even though he'd gone through it numerous times.

"Well, Detective Starsky, this is not necessarily our decision and it's unheard of, but this has been leaked to the press and the outcry has been tremendous! We can't afford to risk public opinion. You even have groups picketing in front of city hall. The Police Commissioner has made the decision to put you on three month's suspension with pay, then reinstate you, providing you go into therapy for the next year and have frequent checks to make sure the drugs haven't done you any permanent harm. You're to see Dr. Taft, he's the Police Commissioner's doctor. He seems to be the one who organized most of this publicity campaign."

They got up to leave, shook hand with Hutch and Captain Dobey, then going to Starsky, expressed their thanks for the job he'd done, especially in getting rid of Simonetti, adding that no one in Internal Affairs had liked him.

Dobey had to smile at the looks on the faces of his best detective team. They didn't seem to know how to react.

"Hey, you just got a reprieve! You, Starsky, are also up for a commendation for saving the life of your Captain, for which he thanks you again. Don't think you're going to get any special favors for it in the future, though. Everybody in the division already thinks I cater to you two way too much. I'll bring you something for supper, Dave, can't have you eating this hospital food on your last night." Dobey charged out of the room.

"Yeah, no special privileges, now, Dave," Hutch started to laugh. His partner chuckled and soon tears were running down their cheeks. They'd made it through another one and they were still together. It almost seemed like nothing would ever have the power to break them up, but they didn't want to take that for granted.

"One thing really gripes me, though, Starsk, and you're going to have to pay the consequences," Hutch said grimly.

"What's that, Blondie?"

"You're going to be one commendation ahead of me now, you jerk!"