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The minute he saw them together Starsky knew this was the real thing. He recognised the genuine feeling between his partner and the girl. Starsky couldn't blame Hutch. The girl was blonde and pretty. Her name was Amelia but Hutch called her Millie. She had only recently moved in next door to Hutch's apartment and, it seemed to Starsky, almost every time he visited Hutch, Millie put in an appearance at some stage. She lived with her parents and fortunately, they seemed quite happy with the idea of their daughter spending time next door. Starsky liked Millie. She had spunk and she made him laugh. Hutch loved her as much as she loved him. Starsky knew it for sure the day he pulled up in front of his partner's place one day and saw the two of them laughing together on Hutch's front porch.
"Hey guys, whatcha doin' ?" he asked as he approached them.
"Playing Ken and Barbie," Millie said, holding up her doll.
Hutch grimaced at Starsky.
"Hey, at least you've got the right name for it," Starsky teased, pointing at the doll Hutch held in his own hand.
"Uncle Dave, it's my birthday on Saturday. Will you come to my party? Mommy said I could ask you," Millie said, smiling brightly up at him.
"Of course I will, sweetheart. Hey, how old are you gonna be?"
"Five years old!" Millie responded proudly, holding up five plump fingers for him to see. "Oh, I have to go home now. Uncle Hutch, can you look after Barbie and Ken for me?"
"Sure, Millie," Hutch smiled gently at his small neighbour. "See ya soon, okay?"
"Yep, catch ya on the flip flop," Millie giggled, as she ran home.
"Ken and Barbie?" Starsky queried, cocking an eyebrow as they went inside. "That little girl's got you wrapped around her little finger, hasn't she?"
"Sure has, Starsk. Hey, you want some dinner? I cooked pot roast," Hutch answered.
"Yeah, sounds good, partner. You wanna put your dollies away first?" Starsky teased.
"You'll keep, Starsk! You'll keep!" Hutch warned in a mock threatening tone as he put the dolls down on the couch.
They were only half way through dinner when they heard the knock at the door. Hutch got up and opened it to Millie's mom.
"Hi Hutch. I'm so sorry. I told Millie she had to come home at 4 o'clock. I suppose the little minx told you she was allowed to stay for dinner!" Diane said.
Hutch glanced at his watch. It was after 5 pm now and Millie had left right on 4.
"Diane, Millie's not here. She left over an hour ago. "
"What? An hour? She hasn't come home. I thought she'd be here with you. Oh God, Hutch, where could she be?" Diane's face paled. Hutch grasped her elbow and drew her into the dining room, pushing her gently down onto a chair.
"Are you sure she didn't go to another friend's house?" Hutch asked quickly. "Have you called any of them?"
"Not yet. I assumed she was here. I saw Dave's car pull up and I figured she'd hung around to talk to him and you'd bring her over later. God, Hutch, I need to use your phone. I have to call Sam and the other neighbours. Find out if anyone's seen her!"
Starsky jumped up from his chair. "I'll drive around the area and see if I can spot her," he volunteered. He saw the stricken look on his partner's face and knew Hutch was already blaming himself for not walking the child home. But it was only a few feet or so between their front doors and she'd be been running back and forth since they'd moved here. "Hutch, call it in. Get some squads out here and call Millie's dad for Diane. Don't worry, Diane. We'll find her. She's probably just at one of her friend's houses and forgotten the time. It'll be okay," he said reassuringly touching her shoulder as he headed out the door.
Hutch picked up the phone and dialed dispatch, reporting a missing child . He hung up and turned to Millie's mother. "Do you want to call Sam or shall I? I don't know his work number."
Diane grabbed the phone from his outstretched hand. "I'll call him. I think you've done enough. Dear God, would it have been too much trouble for you to have brought her home. She's only four years old! I trusted you to look after her."
"I'm sorry. I should have brought her myself. But she's always gone home on her own. I didn't think... I am so sorry, Diane. But we will get her back." Hutch dropped into the chair behind him. He wanted to get out right now and bring Millie home but he knew he needed to wait for the squads to arrive so he could help coordinate the search. He was the last person Millie had been with. He racked his brain trying to remember if he'd even watched her leave, if he'd seen anything that he might not have thought significant at the time. But he couldn't think straight. All he could see was Millie holding her dolls up to him and saying, "You're Ken, so I get to be Barbie." He could hear Diane talking on the phone, repeating to every person who answered, "Are you sure you haven't seen her?" Then, crying on the phone with Sam, Millie's father. By then Hutch could hear approaching sirens and he knew the search teams were on the way.
Diane sank down to her knees in front of him, taking one of his hands. "We will get her back, Hutch, won't we? I'm sorry I blamed you. It's as much my fault as anyone's. I should have come and got her. I should have come over as soon as I realised she wasn't home. But I kept thinking I'll just do one more chore and then I'll go get her. I'm sorry! Just promise me you'll find her for me, please?" She bent her head to Hutch's knee and sobbed. He stroked her head and muttered assurances, all the while castigating himself inwardly for his stupidity.
The next few hours were a blur for Hutch. Starsky came back and reported he had seen no sign of the child. He'd doorknocked the block and only found three other households that even knew Millie by sight, they'd been there such a short time. The little boy who lived three houses down knew her from playschool. His name was Jack and he earnestly assured Hutch that he hadn't seen Millie since the day before.
Sam Davis, Millie's father arrived an hour or so after his wife had reached him at work. He stormed through the door, shoving past the police on the porch, rushing to embrace his wife, all the while firing questions impatiently. Diane was almost incoherent with worry by this time so he turned on Hutch, stepping up to within an inch of the detective's face. "What the hell sort of cop do you call yourself? This is a 4 year old kid and you let her just vanish? We thought we could trust you. You're a cop, for crying out loud! If I find that you've had anything to do with my baby going missing I swear to God, I'll kill you!" He punctuated his words with a finger shoved into Hutch's chest.
"Hey, hey, wait a minute!" Starsky pushed his way between the two men. "Sam, I know you're upset but do you really think Hutch had anything to do with this? You've seen him with Millie. Why would you and Diane have let her keep coming over here if you even suspected something was wrong? Has Millie shown any signs of anything like that? Come on, Sam. This is not helping Millie. We have to work together on this. Settle down and think, man. Do you really believe what you just said?"
Sam took a deep breath and shook his head slowly, "No... no, I don't. I'm sorry, Hutch. I'm just going nuts here. I just want to find her." His voice broke on a sob and he turned to hold his wife in his arms, patting her back and whispering brokenly, "It'll be okay, Diane. She'll be home soon, honey."
Starsky turned to his partner. Hutch's face was ashen. "Hey, babe, you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Hutch whispered. "Look, lets get downtown. See if we can come up with anything on the computers down there. You know?"
Starsky knew what his partner was hinting at but didn't want to say out loud. They needed to check if there had been any other child disappearances recently, any reports of molestations or child murders in a near radius. Starsky didn't even want to think about the last one, but he knew that he had to. There was always the possibility that Millie's disappearance tied into another crime somehow. The search teams were still combing the streets. Starsky hoped against hope that the child had just wandered off but it was a forlorn wish. She'd been missing for almost 4 hours now and there had been no sightings of her at all. He knew the next 20 hours were crucial.
They made sure that Sam and Diane had friends with them, as well as leaving 2 officers to handle the phone and help with anything else they might need, then they headed for the station.
Hutch slammed his hand down on the desk. "Dammit, nothing! How could she just vanish into thin air, Starsk? Somebody had to have seen something!"
They'd spent the past hour or so painstakingly combing through reports and files looking for anything that pointed to the presence of someone who preyed on children in their midst. They'd drawn a blank so far and Hutch had become more frustrated with every minute that went by with no news.
"It's okay, partner," Starsky said gently, massaging his friend's tense shoulder. "We'll find something. A kid just doesn't disappear, right? We just have to keep looking." He handed Hutch the coffee he'd brought him and speared him with a look as Hutch shook his head. "Drink it, Hutch. You wanna stay on top of this you need to keep your strength up."
"Thanks, Mom," Hutch said with a faint grin. He tipped his cup to Starsky's. "Here's to finding Millie."
"You got it, babe," Starsky replied.
One of the uniforms called Hutch over to the door. "Sergeant Hutchinson, we've got a mother and a little boy downstairs. I think you'd better come speak to them. The kid says he saw Amelia Davis get picked up by someone today."
Hutch took off down the stairs, Starsky at his heels. Reaching the lobby they glanced around. Starsky spotted the boy, Jack and his mother seated in the waiting area.
"Hey Jack," he said softly, crouching next to the child. "How you doin' partner? Did you remember something you wanted to tell us about Millie?"
Jack nodded solemnly, his eyes huge in his pale face.
"I'm sorry, Detective. Jack saw Millie today on her way home. But he was too scared to tell you earlier," his mother interrupted.
"That's okay, Jack," Starsky said reassuringly, his hand on the little boy's knee. "Why don't you just tell us now?" Starsky glanced up at Hutch. His partner was just about jumping out of his skin, wanting to know what Jack had to tell them, but Starsky knew he had to keep it low key. For whatever reason, the kid hadn't told him this when he'd spoken to him earlier, and right now young Jack looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Starsky shook his head slightly at Hutch, silently asking for his patience, relieved as he saw Hutch's answering nod.
"Millie went with a lady in a big red car," Jack said quietly, "I told her not to go but the lady said she had to. She said Millie's mommy was sick and she'd take Millie to her. I told her you shouldn't go with strangers, even if your mom's sick."
"That's right, Jack, that right," Starsky said gently. "You did exactly what you should. Do you remember what this car looked like?" He knew there was little chance of getting a plate or even an accurate description from the boy. He was just too young. He looked up in amazement as the boy said, "I don't know what sort of car it was but I know the numbers on it."
"You do?" Hutch bent down to join his partner at the child's side. "What were they, Jack? It's real important."
"There was a 1 and a 1 and another 1 and C- A- T spells cat," Jack said proudly.
"Thanks, Jack. You did real good, buddy," Starsky said, ruffling the boy's hair. "Why didn't you tell me this before when I talked to you at home? Did the lady say she she'd hurt you?"
"No, she just pulled Millie into the car. But Mommy says when I'm naughty, if I don't stop she'll get the police to take me away to the naughty boy home," Jack said, head bent.
Jack's mother blushed. "I'm sorry, Detective. It's just that he can be such a handful sometimes."
"Well, he's done a real good job, today. You hear that, Jack. You're a brave boy. Thank you," Starsky said to the boy.
"Okay," Jack replied, "Can you go get Millie back now? I think her mommy really misses her."
"You bet, pal." Starsky looked around for Hutch, but his partner was already gone, back up the stairs to punch the information into the computers. He made sure that Jack and his mother had a ride home then headed back up to the office himself. He found Hutch pacing back and forwards impatiently, waiting for a match to come back on the licence tag he'd punched in to the DMV database.
Starsky patted his back. "Take it easy, Hutch. You're gonna wear a hole in the floor."
Hutch grinned back in a pale imitation of a smile, then jumped as the information began coming through. He reached the computer in two steps and ripped the print out away. "Louise Downs," he said triumphantly. "Let's roll, Starsk!"
They turned into the street indicated on the computer print out. It was a shabby area, most of the homes had the run down look of people who had lived there too long on too little money and lost interest in keeping their houses up long ago.
They pulled up two doors down from the address they were looking for. They had back up a block away. If Millie was in the house they'd targeted they didn't want to spook the kidnapper by turning up with sirens screaming,
Starsky went to speak to the occupant of the house where they'd parked. After a couple of minutes he came back and slid behind the wheel of the Torino.
"The lady there says that Louise Downs lives alone. But around 5pm she saw her take a little blonde girl from her car and lead her into the house. Apparently, Louise lost a 3 year old girl about a year ago and the neighbour says her behaviour's been a bit erratic ever since. I'll take the front door, keep her distracted, and you go round the back and see if you can spot Millie. If she's there, Blintz, she'll come to you."
"Sounds like a plan, partner. Let's do it."
Starsky radioed the back up teams to advise them they were going in but warning them to hang back until they were needed. He waited until he saw Hutch circle round the back of the house before going up to knock loudly on the front door.
When the door opened , Starsky saw a tall, thin blonde woman. "Louise Downs?" he asked.
"Yes, what do you want?"
Before Starsky could respond he saw his partner quietly enter the house through the back door. Hutch entered a room just to the right of the hallway. The woman saw Starsky looking past her and spun on her heel. She shoved the door closed and locked it then took off at a run towards the back of the house, grabbing a carving knife from the bench in the kitchen as she passed.
Starsky cursed then headed for the back of the house himself. By the time he reached the back door he could hear the woman screaming and the sound of Hutch's voice, speaking calmly and authoritatively.
"Put the knife down, Mrs. Downs. Nobody wants to hurt you. "
"You're not taking my baby. Give her back. Get out of my house. You're not taking her!" the woman screamed again and again.
"Mrs. Downs, this is not your baby. This is Millie Davis. She needs to go home now. Put the knife down."
Hutch looked down at Millie and whispered, "Millie, run over to Uncle Starsk. He's going to take you out to the car so we can get you home."
Millie sobbed, shaking her head, gripping Hutch's hand tighter.
"Millie, go now!" Hutch shouted, moving closer to the door placing himself between the child and the hysterical woman, who continued to shriek at him. When he was sure that Millie was behind him he shoved her towards the door where Starsky gathered her up. "Get her out of here, Starsk!"
"Hutch..." Starsky saw the knife in the woman's hand waver back and forth between him and Hutch and saw his partner reach to pull his gun from its holster.
"Go, get her out of here!"
Starsky took off at a run, the child in his arms wailing in fear. He wanted to call the back up team in as quickly as possible, hand Millie over and get back to his partner.
Seeing the detective take off with the girl, the woman lunged at Hutch. He stepped back, raising his weapon, but not in time to prevent the knife sinking into his chest. He snagged her wrist, twisting it, and holding his gun leveled at her head, he pushed her to her knees. He could feel the blood streaming down his shirt and the room beginning to waver around him. "Stay down!" he growled as she made an attempt to rise.
"Bring her back! Bring her back! You can't take her. She's mine!'
Hutch stepped back, so he was supported by the wall. He placed a hand around the handle of the knife, trying to stem the bleeding. As the woman continued to keen he held both hands on the gun, trying to keep himself from passing out. She was bent over now, rocking back and forth, her screams muted and becoming heartbroken sobs.
"Come on, Starsk," he urged mentally. The woman no longer seemed to be a threat but Hutch couldn't risk her getting away. She obviously needed help. He wondered vaguely why nobody had seen her pain earlier and tried to get counselling for her. He could see shadows at the edge of his vision and the gun in his hand began to droop.
"I'll take that, Hutch." A hand closed over his and he saw Starsky next to him. Two uniformed cops were pulling the woman to her feet and handcuffing her. She turned a sorrowful look on the detectives as she was led from the house, still sobbing and muttering brokenly.
Hutch let himself slide down the wall. He closed his eyes as Starsky clutched his good arm.
"Millie's on her way home, Blintz. You just hang tough there, okay? The medics'll be here any minute. "
Hutch nodded, too busy trying to stop the encroaching darkness to reply. But then he could no longer keep it at bay, and he slumped forward into Starsky's arms.
Starsky eased back in his chair. He was glad Millie's parents had asked them to come celebrate Millie's safe return to her family. He hoped the joy of the day would block out some of the terrible memories of the past few days... especially for Hutch. He still saw the dread on his partner's face when they first realized the child was missing, the guilt he'd felt for not taking her home himself, and especially the stricken look on his partner's face as his blood slicked fingers tensed around the trigger of the gun he held aimed at the woman's head. He knew Millie had her own bad memories and nightmares to overcome. Starsky knew her family would help get her through them. He hoped he could do the same for Hutch. He looked at the two fair heads snuggled together, Hutch murmuring something, Millie giggling, and he realized it would be all right. Hutch and Millie were healing each other.