Friendly criticism welcomed at Dawnrca@earthlink.net

PART THREE

Bad Moon Rising
by
Dawnwind

Part Four

It was so quiet Sherman could hear the birds in the oak trees ringing van Geller's property chirping in the late afternoon air. A wind had come up, not dissipating the heat any at all, making it somehow hotter, unsettling and stifling. He stared up into the blue sky where there were grayish dark clouds piling on the horizon. A hawk banked lazily in the thermal upstreams, soaring aloft like a kite let loose from its string.

If he hadn't known better, Sherman would have imagined himself alone, far from any other humanity. Camden and Jake had departed the night before and then, both van Geller and Adams had left some hours ago, trolling, as van Geller called it, for women. So, there was no one else in the house; but Albert Sherman wasn't alone and the knowledge unnerved him. David Starsky was imprisoned not fifty feet from where he stood just outside the sliding glass door to the house.

This was more than he'd bargained for. He was no longer willing to condone torture and rape. Oh, yes, capturing the cop had been his idea, but as Peter had done with all Sherman's ideas, he'd somehow twisted and perverted it into another thing all together. Sherman had wanted to use the Jew cop as a bargaining chip--although why it had ever mattered to him now seemed unclear. He'd never really cared what Micah Bachman did. Jews had their own agenda, as did blacks and other ethnic inferiors. They were really no concern of his. Helmut van Geller had left his grandson a huge, almost obscene amount of money, and now most of it was Albert Sherman's. Peter was going to hang himself with his increasingly insane schemes, that much was obvious, and Sherman wasn't about to stick around one more night. He was rich now, and this was one idea he wasn't about to have subverted from under him. He had a degree from MIT, for god's sake. There were places to go, things he could do.

The path ahead was clear. He had to disappear and become someone else before van Geller's whole operation exploded in his face. Already, loyal members of the Brotherhood were calling them to report the wholesale round up of dozens of van Geller's followers and the midnight raids on most of their properties. He could no longer go back to his home near Waverly. Thank God they'd had the sense to keep this one a secret. It was their gold mine in more ways than one. All the most important plans had been hatched in the little gray house on the golden hillside. All the most incriminating papers were stored here. Helmut had been so proud to have his grandson follow in his bigoted steps he'd never asked what exactly they were doing with his money. Sherman wondered if the news of the bombing was what had killed the old man. The fact that his grandson was now a murderer. On the other hand, Helmut himself had buried a few bodies in his time, too.

There was one last thing to do before he departed. The cop. He would surely die in that dumpster without food or water. An explosives expert Sherman was proud to be. He was no torturer. He took a resolute step into the yard, past the little shed Adams had spent the afternoon finishing. At least one place was livable and Starsky could stay there until he was released.

Just as Sherman put his hand on the hot metal of the dumpster, van Geller's sleek black Mercedes pulled into the drive. Jerking his fingers away before they burned, Sherman thought that he hadn't heard a sound from the man inside the metal prison in many hours.

Adams bounded from the car, grinning maliciously as van Geller pulled the dark haired beauty from the back. Van Geller always went for dark, ethnic-looking girls. The ones with swarthy skin and mysterious eyes that flashed when they were scared. He said they were the only kind he was attracted to. Unsuitable girls, those too low for marriage or bearing proper blond haired children. Only good enough for rough, nasty sex.

"Hey, Al!" John greeted his friend. "Took us a little longer 'cause there's a fire about ten miles away. We had to take the frontage road part of the way."

"Is it coming this way?" Sherman asked with concern, looking the pretty girl over indifferently. He never understood van Geller's lust for such gypsy girls. He had to get away before the fire prevented him from leaving the area. Or worse, brought firefighters and police nosing around.

"Nah. The wind'll blow it away from here." Peter held onto the girl with a proprietary grip, drawing her away from the car.

"Where is here?" the girl asked curiously, still not quite sure whether she should be scared or not. He'd said he'd give her a place for the night, food, and money. But this was a long way from LA, even if the man was as blond as a God and hung like nobody she'd ever seen. He'd been aggressive in the car, demanding a blowjob, but it was no more so than others she'd met, and she didn't have any place else to go that night.

"Bring her in the house, Peter." Adams laughed. "I'm ready for a party."

"Sandrine is such a pretty name." Peter hung his heavy arm around her neck, preventing her from walking unassisted. "I really want to get better acquainted."

"Listen, you said there was someplace I could crash?" She pulled as far away from his arm as possible, but he still forced her into the house.

"In due time," van Geller murmured, closing the door.

In due time, Sherman thought, it was past time. He abandoned his original plan to free the cop. He couldn't do it now, with the others back home. If either of them had an inkling of his treachery, they'd kill him. It was high time he was away. Before they discovered the huge withdrawals he'd made. Before they discovered that the payments for this monstrosity of a prison camp would in all probability bounce. Way past time he was gone. With only a backward glance at the house to make sure he had no witnesses, Albert Sherman slid into his car and drove away.

~~~

Starsky stirred inside his stifling metal prison, hearing voices and car sounds. Someone was there! He raised his head, but it was so heavy and the pain resounded through his brain whenever he moved.

"Hey!" he called, his voice too weak to be heard. No one would come anyway. It had been hours since the last time he'd heard the sound of people, but they never came over to open the lid on his prison. He'd tried, earlier in the day, to push against the metal roof with his head, but it was tightly secured and only succeeded in causing more pain to his already battered skull.

He settled forward again, head resting on his bent knees, bound hands limp behind him. If he didn't move, no part of his bare-skinned arms touched the heated metal of the dumpster. If he didn't move, just let his mind drift, he didn't feel the jarring pain in his cramped muscles and mangled wrists. The numbness was better.

Back when he'd tried fighting Camden off in the garage, before they'd...he'd wrenched his right, handcuffed wrist hard enough to break the skin. Ever since, the steel cuffs had bit further into his tendons and ligaments, blood leaking down onto his hand. Now, when he tried to turn his palm to relieve the pressure on his wrist, it felt like the metal scraped against bone. Clenching his jaw with the pain, he closed his eyes.

Drift away. Don't think about what was happening. Escape into empty numbness.

Hutch, I'm sorry things turned out this way.

Meredith...what could he say to her? I love you.

He thought he heard sounds of crying, of a girl screaming, then abruptly, there were no more sounds. Starsky's heart pounded. Someone was there, but they were no better off than he. Was it Meredith? Where was she?

Where was he?

~~~

Parking his car at the curb outside of the baggage claim area, Hutch scanned the crowds of weary looking airplane travelers, looking for Joan Meredith. The D.C. officer who'd helped her get to Dulles had phoned with her arrival time, and Hutch felt it was his duty to meet her. The flight had to have been devastating enough, knowing she was flying home to learn of her lover's kidnapping. There was no reason she had to take a cab home from the airport, too. She needed to be among friends, and to be truthful, Hutch did too.

He finally spotted her coming down the terminal escalator, her pretty face tight and pinched. At some point in the weeks since he'd seen her last she'd lost the tiny bead tipped braids and now had her curly black hair pulled into a tight chignon at the top of her head. It gave her a much less playful appearance, suitable for someone in her rank and the current circumstances.

"Meredith!" he hailed her.

"Hutch, has there been any word? Anything at all?" she demanded immediately, her voice full of unnamed fears.

"No." He hated to have to admit it. Starsky had been missing for more than 24 hours and they were no closer to finding him than they had been yesterday evening. "I'll drive you home."

"No, I want to go to headquarters." Meredith headed towards the exit doors. "I want to be in on the investigation."

Since she'd left so abruptly, she hadn't packed her suitcases and had no reason to wait for any baggage. Against his better judgment, Hutch agreed to drive her back to the police department. He was glad to be back in his familiar beat up Ford, with all its memories of cruising the streets with Starsky. It might not be any fancier than the Pinto, but it had one redeeming quality. A police band radio.

Checking in with dispatch, he was surprised to hear Washington had been trying to get a hold of him.

"Hutchinson," he identified himself. "Go ahead, Brick."

"Hutch, we got something." Washington shook the paper he was holding for emphasis. "The plant business--Naturally Select--'planted' the bomb at the convention center. Tobe Daniels and Edward Fredricks are listed as employees."

"Any direct link to van Geller?" Hutch pressed, frustrated that he was still twenty minutes from headquarters. Luckily, traffic on the freeway was moving relatively quickly now that it was past rush hour. "Who is listed as owner?"

"Another corporation. Helmut Peter, Inc."

"Oh, shit." Hutch had to stomp hard on the brakes to avoid slamming into the car in front of him and got a terrified squeak from Meredith in the passenger seat. The puzzle piece had just dropped into place. It was taking too much concentration to drive and listen at the same time. He pulled over into the emergency lane, ignoring the annoyed horn honking from other drivers.

"Hutch?" Washington asked, his voice anxious.

"I had to pull over," Hutch explained. "Did you say Helmut Peter, Inc?"

"Yah, does that have signif'cance?"

"Helmut van Geller was Peter van Geller's grandfather."

"Damn."

"Hutch, let me drive," Meredith said urgently. "We'll get there faster."

"Washington! Check out that building company that bought the plastique--find out the owners, subsidiaries, whatever...we'll be there soon."

By the time they swung through the doors of the squadroom, Washington had a grim, satisfied expression on his dark, fierce face. "Joanie," he greeted Meredith. He was the only one outside her family who ever used her first name, and even Starsky wouldn't have dared to call her by a diminutive.

Washington and Meredith worked out of the same precinct since she'd transferred across town to work in a special drug undercover unit. It had also helped her relationship with David Starsky that they weren't working colleagues. Their growing attraction had started when Hutch had been shot in the arm by an underage black burglar and Meredith had infiltrated the gang, but they'd both been careful to avoid having much notice paid to their blossoming friendship until they'd returned to their usual assignments. Only Hutch and Dobey had known how close the two had grown in such a short time. Then, there had been a period of time where the relationship had become strained and they'd parted. Meredith knew a lot of the problems had been her family's uneasiness with the "color thing" as Starsky had termed it. She'd transferred to the Sutter precinct, where Washington worked out of, and lost touch with David Starsky for a time. But her heart wouldn't let her forget him, and then she'd heard he'd been shot and was lying comatose in the hospital, not expected to make it. She'd been afraid to go see him. What if her presence made him worse? Their argument had been so hurtful--both lashing out at each other, targeting the most vulnerable places. She didn't want to be seen on the street with a white man, he was afraid of commitments... In the end she had gone to his bedside. Hutch had been there, and his eyes told her how disappointed he was with her. She'd cried. Starsky had been napping, and her tears had woken him up. He'd been in the hospital for three weeks by then, and was beginning to heal. He'd sat up, reaching for her hand. She'd rested her weight gingerly on the bed, afraid of hurting him, but he'd pulled her closer, both of them crying by then. Neither of them had noticed when Hutch left them alone. But now Starsky was missing and she was really alone.

"Brick." She bit down on her lip, not willing to let the men see her cry.

He pulled her into a bear hug, enveloping her grief with his broad chest and strong arms. "Everybody'll get through this," he whispered to the top of her head.

"Meredith, you need to go home," Hutch said gently. "It'll be hours..."

"No." She disengaged from the big man's hug, absently patting his hand like a puppy. "You both look even more exhausted than I do... I need to stay, help find him." She searched Hutch's face for understanding, speaking to his soul. "I need to."

"Well." Washington took a deep breath. "Reich Construction..."

"Reich?!" Meredith repeated with a gasp.

"We knew Reich Construction bought the plastique," he continued. "Nobody ever thought much 'bout the name--there are people with that last name, Ah guess."

"So who owns Reich? Helmut Peter, Inc?" Hutch resisted the urge to insist that Brick speed up. His slow Southern accent was as grating as fingers on a chalkboard.

"No, there's two or three subsidiaries and off-shoot corporations between Reich, Helmut Peter, and Naturally Select, but yah...even'tually they're all the same shit."

"Okay." Hutch tried to concentrate past the roaring in his ears. How could he have missed this link? Why hadn't he paid more attention to what the office workers were saying about Helmut van Geller? Why hadn't he ever thought to pass along something as simple as Helmut's name? Because the man was dead? His influence was reaching far beyond the grave. "We...we need addresses for every business associated with them--search every place."

"No addresses; well, not many." Washington consulted the papers he held. "Ah think a lot o' 'em are just dummy corporations--and some share the same address. Naturally Select is Fredrick's house address."

"What about this Helmut?" Meredith interrupted, feeling very much at a loss. Starsky had told her about much of the investigation, but she didn't recognize the name.

"Dammit," Hutch swore. "He died the first day I was at the Brotherhood. I never thought that he could be...involved. He guided every damn thing van Geller had ever done; I was blind not to think he still was very much in the picture." He paced restlessly, feeling the hours that had gone by since Starsky had disappeared. If he felt rotten, what did Starsky feel? Was he even still alive? Where could they be holding him?

Sifting through the preliminary reports of the searches done thus far, Meredith struggled to bring herself up to speed on the investigation. "What about Helmut's home?" she asked. "I don't find it here."

"His lawyer," Hutch breathed, reaching for the telephone.

"What? Hutch, it's nearly nine PM. Who're you callin'?" Washington asked.

"When Helmut died, I overhead that van Geller was inheriting his house. His lawyer would have the address."

"That Klineschmit? He was here earlier when we were questioning everybody. Tough bastard. He won't tell you diddly without a warrant."

"Then get one," Meredith said even before Hutch could say a word.

Eventually, enough arms were twisted, phone calls made, and threatening words exchanged that information on van Geller's estate was pried from Hugh Klineschmit and an address procured. Hutch's hand shook as he copied the Temecula location down. This had to be it. Nearly thirty hours had passed since Starsky had been taken. Every hour increased his fear, until he was weighted so heavily he wasn't sure he could put one foot in front of the other. Adrenaline kept him moving forward, but icicles stabbed his guts, making breathing a chore.

Dobey had located a small portable television from the snack lounge and mounted it on a filing cabinet for the late working detectives. The eleven o'clock news carried two lead stories. The first showed footage filmed earlier in the evening when Micah Bachman had given a short media statement from his now familiar podium at the Alliance Victorian. The filmed segment didn't last long, but Hutch, Washington, and Meredith watched with interest.

"It was revealed to me today that the identities of the people responsible for the bombing of Temple Beth Sharon have been uncovered. I am not at liberty to reveal them at this time due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation, but want to assure the public that my interests are certainly that justice be served and these people be judged for what they have done. I am not part of the legal system. My focus now must be on the upcoming peace talks and I am determined, despite death threats and rumors of protests that have been intercepted by my offices, to remain true to this important conference.

"Detectives Starsky and Washington, who were working with me, have had to change their focus to aid their fellow officers in other aspects of the investigation. I wish them success and will miss their steady presence. I hope to have everyone join us on Friday morning for the commencement of the peace talks. Communication is the key to understanding. Thank you." His yarmulke-topped red head bowed, not responding to any of the questions thrown at him. His image faded, going back to the Channel 7 newsroom.

"We have live feed to show you now." The earnest dark haired newscaster faced the camera with a serious expression on his face. "The fires are still burning in the San Vicente area above San Diego and firefighters say they believe that they may be getting the upper hand on this blaze. However..." The picture changed to show the flickering orange flames of a different fire consuming grassland and trees, a row of endangered houses on a ridge just about the fire line. Shadowy figures dressed in heavy firefighter gear including full-face masks hacked back the brush with axes and hoes. "A fast moving fire has swept up from the west, threatening homes in Murrieta. Authorities are waiting to give an evacuation order to homeowners in the Temecula area, but the winds have been blowing the flames in the opposite direction..."

"That's where Helmut's house is?" Meredith whispered softly, pushing her fingers against her mouth to stop the trembling.

~~~

Scratching his naked chest, Peter van Geller smiled smugly at the frightened girl sobbing in the corner of the bed. It was so easy. Every girl always opened her thighs for him eventually. Some bitches took more persuasion than others did, and Sandrine had played hard to get. He liked that, in a perverse way. It made the conquest all the sweeter.

He was on top of the world, with all his goals lined up so perfectly. When he was a child, Grandpa Helmut had told him to visualize what he wanted, then go out and get it. He had done just that, and was now reaping his rewards. Everything was coming together now like the fates had smiled their benediction upon him and he was receiving a grace from God. Those dark years when everything had seemed confused and alien were gone.

His blond hair shone in the over head lights like a halo of gold. Crowned by his Aryan ancestors to lead the chosen ones into a world of tall, blond pure bloodlines. No foreigners. No Jews. No imperfections... no mental illnesses. Nobody could label him any longer. He'd show those doctors with their bug-eyed stares and scribbly little notes labeling him as paranoid, delusional... Everyone knew that true Aryans didn't have any of those imperfections. They'd been bred out. He was a van Geller--Hitler himself had acknowledged their Aryan line for generations back through the centuries.

Sandrine pulled futilely on her torn blouse, sneaking peaks at the golden monster through her ragged black hair. He still looked so gorgeous, even with long scratches down his chest from her fingernails. His voice had caressed her name, all the while he was hurting her. How could that face, that beauty, be covering such as vile soul?

"Peter!" Adams called from the living room.

"Stay where you are, little raven." Peter took a last look at her before locking the bedroom door. He'd had special locks put on all the doors and windows the first day the carpenters had started their labors. Important to be safe in dangerous times like these.

He arrived in the blue carpeted room in time to hear Bachman explain his detective friends' absences.

"Damn fucking kike asshole," Van Geller exploded, sending a lamp crashing to the ground with a swipe of his hand. "He didn't even blink an eye when he lied! Jews have no loyalty."

"They're not gonna stop the talks just cause you took the cop." Adams tried unsuccessfully to keep the sneer out of his voice. Van Geller had been putting on airs all afternoon, a self proclaimed commandant of a camp with only two prisoners.

"You think you have a brain in that thick head?" Peter growled, his handsome face a mask of fury. "Who asked you to express an opinion, huh? Couldn't even have made it through high school if I didn't do your homework for you, huh, John? You'd better watch your step, I know what you want, and it's never going to happen."

Stung, Adams saw any chance of a tangle with the luscious Sandrine going down in flames. "What're you gonna do?" he asked with the right amount of submission.

"Got to think. Make some food--there's bacon in the kitchen."

John scuttled out to the stove without a word, knowing van Geller had no compunctions about hurting anyone he perceived being in his way. Once Peter had taken the corkscrew on John's own Swiss army knife and driven the point into Adams' forearm without a change of expression on his tanned, strong jawed face. And to this day John wasn't at all sure why, except maybe--probably--to test his loyalty as a friend. Adams obviously had passed the test; he'd been van Geller's right hand man since sophomore year of high school. The little wound on his left forearm had left a jagged scar, similar to the stylized S on the collar of Hitler's SS guards. It had always been John Adams' badge of honor.

Bacon was already sizzling in the pan on the counter top stove when the phone rang. As it was close to midnight, Adams paused before picking up the handset. Who would be calling here? Must be Sherman. The weasel had snuck off in the dark while they were dealing with Sandrine's first little escape attempt. Had to be Sherman. Who else knew the number?

"Answer the goddamned phone!" Peter shouted, pulling on a gray t-shirt bearing Hitler's image in black and white.

"Yeah?" Adams said into the receiver.

"It's Margaret Larsen," a quivery voice said. She'd obviously been crying. "Is Peter there?"

"Oh, Margaret." John was vastly relieved; there was no threat from her. He summoned the boss and went back to preparing the midnight snack of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.

"Why'd you call here? How'd you know where I was?" van Geller demanded.

"I've been calling everywhere, Peter. I...the police were questioning everyone all afternoon."

"We've been told," he replied curtly. " What d'you know that I don't?"

His tone was so accusatory the older woman faltered for a moment. "I didn't say anything to betray you, but...Ken Chambers...he's with the police. His name is Hutchinson."

"Chambers is a cop?" van Geller roared.

"He questioned me," she added timidly. "But I didn't tell him anything. I just wanted to tell you, but no one knew where you were. I called everywhere. I thought you were going to sell this house...to make a camp?"

"Stop yammering, Margaret; you've told me what you wanted. Get off the phone, I've got important things to do." He flung the phone at the wall-mounted cradle, nearly missing the receiver hook, but at the last possible second the handset settled into its proper place.

"Chambers was a cop?" John repeated dumbly.

"Hutchinson is a spy," van Geller corrected. "And in times of war, y'know what we do to spies?"

"Execution," Adams supplied, proud to know he would get that answer correct.

"Very good, Johnny-boy." Van Geller awarded him with his most charming smile, taking a large bite from the finished sandwich. "Eat up, it'll be a long night. I'm leaving you in charge of the camp."

"Where are you going?"

"To find a traitor, and start a war. You are on the precipice of a new era, my friend. It's time we took control--time to come out of the shadows and proclaim our dominance. This is a nation of good, white Americans. Everybody else better leave, or we'll squash them where they live."

"Hallelujah." John saluted him with a beer, filled with an awe he couldn't even describe.

"By the way." Van Geller finally noticed the absence of his other lieutenant. "Where's Al?"

"Dunno." Adams shrugged his bulky shoulders. "Been gone a long time. Y'know he doesn't like it when you're with a girl."

"Always did think he was strange--he'd better get back soon. Tell him make sure everything is finished on that big bomb. Those peace talks are going to blow everyone away."

~~~

"What do you mean we can't go there?" Hutch roared, talking loudly to hear himself above the thunderous pounding in his head.

"Fire authorities aren't allowing any traffic in or out of that area until the fire is under control," Dobey growled, just as angry. He'd just been on the phone with the Fire Marshall for Riverside County. Temecula had never been evacuated but emergency crews were encouraging homeowners to find safer locations. No one could predict the path of a fire and it had already burned thousands of acres. Fire fighters from all over the state had been brought in to battle the two southern California blazes and were finally getting the upper hand, but it was a dark, windy night. Any extraneous traffic was being expressly forbidden. Since they couldn't absolutely prove that David Starsky was being held on Cutting Avenue they weren't going to be allowed through.

"What about the people who live beyond the fire line?" Meredith whispered, her body so cold she was shivering and it wasn't from faltering air conditioner.

"They aren't evacuating the area where van Geller's house is, but only limited access is being allowed."

"Captain!" Hutch protested. "This is a life or death situation!"

"At first light they'll let us take a helicopter past their barriers, for emergency purposes," the captain explained more gently, as frightened as the rest of them were for Starsky's safety. "It's past two in the morning, only four hours until it's light."

"Four hours is too long for Starsky." Washington swallowed tightly. "How d'we even know..."

"Don't say it, Brick," Hutch warned.

"All of you go home, change clothes, get food and rest and be at the heliport at six."

"I can't sleep," Meredith said.

"He's right." Washington rubbed her slender shoulders gently. "Need to be strong when we find Little Davey."

"Does he really let you call him that?" she smiled sadly, tears in her eyes.

"No, that's just why Ah do," he admitted.

Since Meredith still had no transportation, Hutch walked with her back to his car. By unspoken agreement, he drove them both back to Starsky's little white house. The interior of the house was stuffy, the hot air stale, and Meredith opened a window in the bedroom to let the night cooled wind air out the room.

"There's a harvest moon." She pointed at the orange globe riding in the eastern sky, looking like an enormous pumpkin.

"It's a bad moon." Hutch dismissed it. "Eerie color, it's not normal."

"It's looking down on us and on Starsky." She reached up her fingers as if she could touch the distant hunk of celestial rock. "I hope he can see it, too."

Hutch gave Meredith first chance at the hot water, wandering around his friend's kitchen, restless and exhausted at the same time. He didn't want to eat, could no longer think coherent thoughts and craved sleep like a drug. Even if he did succumb to slumber, he'd only get two hours before he had to be up again. It hardly seemed worth it.

Meredith found her favorite t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, "I got leid in Hawaii," and a pair of jeans she'd left after the Labor Day picnic. Starsky had laundered them and left everything folded neatly in the drawer he'd designated hers. The t-shirt boasted the truth. She and Starsky had taken their only real vacation together on Maui, and been roundly teased when they'd returned without deep tans. They'd spent an inordinate amount of the time in the hotel room, dressed in little more than flower necklaces.

Hutch had obviously discovered some of his own clothes from Starsky's stores, since there was a red plaid shirt and clean khakis draped over a chair next to the bathroom. She could hear the shower starting up again and walked into the living room, feeling both comforted and fearful to be in her lover's home without him. Hutch had put out a plate of apple slices and cookies on the coffee table. It wasn't until she'd reached down to take an Oreo that she noticed the photos still scattered across the table's surface.

Her hand moving without actual thought, Meredith selected the uppermost picture, breaking into sobs at the sight of Miriam's beautiful face. It wasn't as if she'd known Miriam Bachman that well, but the two couples had gotten together a handful of times for dinner or fun conversation. Naturally, the two women had befriended each other, and discovered a common interest in teaching children. Miriam actually had a teaching credential, which she'd planned to use once Bachman got around to establishing a Hebrew school at their synagogue. Meredith wanted to start a drug prevention program that would be used across the state and even the country. Both women had even indulged in some fantasy family planning, going so far as to teasingly choose names for each other's children.

If Miriam's picture had been hard to see, David's was worse. She could barely make out the images on the little square of photo paper, because of the tears streaming down her face. Hugging a photo of Starsky leaping over the sand for the volleyball to her chest, she gave into grief, sobbing into the back of the sofa. When Hutch emerged, freshly dressed and wet headed, from the bedroom, he sank down beside her, pulling the terrified woman into a comforting hug.

Sleep overcame them both and they slumbered, each huddled on a separate end of the couch. Meredith had the lion's share, her long legs taking up half the cushions, so that Hutch was sprawled awkwardly half on the floor, with one foot propped up on the coffee table.

In his dreams he again desperately searched, only this time he knew who he was looking for. Starsky. But he was still no nearer to finding his best friend, and he prowled endless corridors, plunging down dark, fetid smelling tunnels with a thudding heartbeat that drummed steadily in his ears, echoing the sound of his foot falls. There were glimpses of fire and overwhelming heat burning the soles of his feet when he finally saw a small crumpled body up ahead. The hands were tied behind the back, and he could see his own hands reach down to touch the man. The pounding heartbeat he'd been hearing had stopped, leaving a dread, unnatural silence. His fingers touched the body, whose face he still hadn't seen. With a terrible jolt, Hutch realized the body was cold. He was dead. Noooo...!!!!

Jerking upright, Hutch slid off the couch, his breath coming in shuddering sobs. It was just a dream. There was no proof that Starsky was dead.

"Hutch?" Meredith's still sleepy voice had a terrified edge. "What happened?"

"A dream." He tried to rid himself of the dreadful images. They weren't true. Couldn't be.

"Starsky in danger?" She carefully straightened the crumpled corners of the photograph she still clutched. "I've had it, too."

~~~

Y'hay shlomo rabbo min sh'mayo. {May there be abundant peace from Heaven.}

The Hebrew words tumbled around Starsky's fevered brain, but he couldn't remember the rest of the prayer. All the lessons Micah had tried to cram into his head, and he couldn't remember the Kaddish. One of the most important prayers.

Oh, God, Jehovah, Lord.... Whatever you are called, help me now and in the hour of my death.

There was no doubt he was going to die. He had been locked in this prison for too long. The unceasing heat had leeched every drop of fluid from his body, and he could feel the urge to rest overwhelming him. Just give up. Just let go. Except it wasn't his nature. It was so hard to quit.

In the first hours he'd been embarrassed when he'd had to give into nature's needs and wet himself, unable to even to move a few feet away to relieve himself in a corner of the dumpster. But now he would have welcomed the feel of warm liquid down his leg.

There was nothing left. He couldn't remember the last time he'd even felt the need. Dry. Evaporated. Gone to dust. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

Even though I walk through the shadow of death,

I fear no evil, for thou art with me.

But there was so much evil here. Peter van Geller came from hell.

Was it still the Day of Atonement? Oh, God, I'm sorry for what I've done....

Starsky struggled to even swallow, his body on fire. It was so hard to think. He was paying for his sins, now wasn't he? The mixture of Christian and Jewish doctrine confused him. How did he start? Surely St. Peter didn't greet the Jewish seeking heaven?

What was it Catholics said? Bless me Father, for I have sinned...?

Well, that certainly wasn't correct. Concentrate. Get it right in the end.

He'd shot and killed people in the course of his job. He'd lied, broken the law to help others, sworn, lusted, and stolen...never to harm others, never to cruelly cause pain or suffering. Did that count for anything? He didn't have time to reconcile with the persons he'd wronged, but the faces of his friends and family swam before him. He'd never see any of them again. Mom, Nicky...Hutch, more like a brother to him than Nick had ever been. Brick, Micah, and even Huggy and Dobey. Were they safe? And Meredith, please God, keep Meredith safe and far away from this hell.

Kapparah. Atonement... Please God, don't judge me harshly, I tried to be a good cop. I tried to help. In the end, it was all I could do. He could almost see God's hand writing his name in the big book, on the death column.

Was it still Yom Kippur? He'd fasted long enough, hadn't he? Because he was really hungry right now. So very hungry. And thirsty. Had he mentioned that, God?

Starsky accepted his fate, accepted what God had for him. If it was death, he was ready, in this stinking, metal garbage bin. Van Geller had thrown him away like so much refuse. He would go peacefully into death, but did he have to forgive that bastard van Geller, too? That was almost too much to ask.

Ha ya'aseh sholam alaymu. {May he bring peace upon us.}

Vimru Omein {And say amen.}

The last words of the prayer came to him in the dark.

~~~

The rosy first rays of the rising sun gilded the small golden helicopter squatting on the helipad like a giant prehistoric bug poised for flight. There was a heavy mugginess in the already hot air, unnatural for such an early hour. The humidity promised rain for later in the afternoon or evening. That would come as a welcome relief, but for now there was an oppressive quality as if even nature felt the coming of evil.

Dobey stopped the department issue Ford in the parking lot, pointing out the waiting chopper to his detectives. He hated flying, and this particular helicopter didn't look big enough to carry two people, much less four. Getting out of the car, he wiped his glistening brown face with a big handkerchief. It was like stepping out into a blast furnace--no, make that a Swedish sauna. It was hot, damp, and miserable.

"Now, this is down home weather." Washington laughed, his teeth white in his dark face, but even he was sweating heavily.

Just walking across the tarmac raised beads of sweat under Meredith's bra straps, and she shifted her shoulders to relieve the irritation. Hutch's fair skinned face was already red with heat and glistening with perspiration. It struck him as ironic that he was going after a white supremacist with a team of black cops. That should raise the short hairs on the back of van Geller's neck.

"You Hutchinson?" The pilot stuck out a hand, shaking Hutch's with a firm grasp. "Fergus McShane." His face bespoke of a wild mixture of ethnically diverse ancestors. Intelligent almond shaped eyes looked out from a face the color of warm honey tea above a wide nose and thick lips. His nappy golden brown hair was corn rowed close to the scalp and gathered in the back into a thick braid the size of a small child's arm. This was a tall, handsome light haired man that would never fit into Peter van Geller's narrow definition of good white, Aryan Americans.

For the millionth time that month, Hutch thought how fundamentally wrong van Geller's ideas were. America's future wasn't in the segregation of separate ethnic types, but in the melting pot mixture. There shouldn't be a culture clash, but a culture embracing. There was strength in the mix, beauty in the diversity that made up true real Americans. Besides himself, Ken Hutchinson knew of virtually no one he was truly friends with who was a blond, blue eyed Aryan Christian--for that matter, he really didn't care what their racial heritage was. It was the soul and heart of a person that mattered most, and most Americans were good, trustworthy people. Peter van Geller was a tumor that needed to be surgically removed from the population. Then, his influence could be systematically cleansed from the LA area in hopes that the more positive ideas coming from Rabbi Bachman's talks could heal the sickened citizens.

Introducing Washington, Meredith, and Dobey, Hutch inquired how soon they could be up in the air. Every moment left Starsky in greater danger.

"There's still a lot of smoke in the air, and the high winds are going to make keeping my princess steady a chore," McShane answered, patting the swelling golden sides of his chopper. "Zebra, the co-pilot and me've been flying since 'Nam; we can get you there safe. He's inside checking this tricky weather."

"She's your princess?" Washington asked, amused despite their dangerous mission.

"Princess Cloud Dancer." Fergus pushed on mirrored sunglasses. "She can only take two passengers up. An' if we find your friend and the ground vehicles still can't get through, we may have to leave somebody behind to get him out of there first..."

"I thought that might be the case," Dobey agreed, not wanting to go up in the little helicopter in the least. "Hutchinson and Washington will go. I'll take Meredith back to headquarters."

"Don't I have a say in this?" the woman demanded. "I've been up many times."

"Mer, it's dangerous." Hutch took her hands, giving them a squeeze. "Starsk'd kill me if you fell out." He tried for teasing, but it fell flat.

"It's dangerous for me but not for you?" she countered, tight lipped, determined not to cry again this morning. All she wanted to do was cry, and it certainly wasn't helping matters in the slightest.

"No one said that."

"Joanie, go up the main road, wait for th' all clear from the fire Marshall and ride in with the 'mergency crews," Washington suggested. "We really need the back up."

Searching the Brick's face for some sort of ulterior motive, Meredith finally conceded. This argument was just wasting precious moments. She nodded her head, stepping back from the helicopter's rotor blades. McShane had already started the little craft's motor and the red blades began a lazy rotation, stirring up a breeze in the damp air.

"Ever'body in." A long, lean man with wind chiseled leathery tanned skin loped out of the air hanger's offices, jamming a black baseball cap on his gray hair. "I'm Zebra. Put on those ear phones or you'll be deaf as a post before we get there," he directed Hutch and Washington as they settled into the back seats and donned the indicated headgear.

As he buckled his seat belt, Hutch watched the pilots flipping the various switches that prepared the Princess for her dance in the clouds. With almost no warning, the chopper rose straight up into the air, dipping to the right as it swung in a tight circle around the landing pad. Hutch clutched a bar to his right, watching Meredith and Dobey shrink to miniature until Meredith's waving hand was a dim smudge on the landscape. His stomach lurched as the chopper sped up, zipping though the air like the bug it resembled.

A nudge from Washington returned his attention to the land in front of them. Dark gray billows of smoke still floated above a now barren land. Miles of acreage around Murrieta Hot Springs, extending towards Temecula, lay blackened and burned. Skeletal trees reached up into the ashy sky, denuded of foliage. An entire street of houses was now just a row of hollow burned out shells, the red brick fireplaces the only thing standing on each lot. Flying further, they saw pockets of brilliant orange flames battled by tiny figures in fire gear. Then, finally, the land turned normal once more, golden brown grasses waving in the strong southern winds. The air was dark with smoke though, making visibility tenuous at times. The swift maneuverability of the agile craft made the ride like a roller coaster at the county fair. Up above the clouds, then swooping down to check landmarks, then rocketing up once more to avoid aerials and power lines.

Finally Zebra pointed downwards, consulting a flight map. He made a circling motion to the passengers in the back, indicating their plan to reconnoiter the area before landing.

As the helicopter flew a wide circle around the property below, Hutch leaned out as far as he dared to inspect the tiny buildings. A large piece of land with a main house and much smaller dwellings behind it all enclosed by a sturdy looking fence. So this was Helmut van Geller's place. Was Starsky really down there? And if so, where?

~~~

John Adams was getting nervous. Van Geller had never come back, never called, and reports on the radio kept putting the fire nearer and nearer to the camp. What would he do if emergency crews came busting in? How to explain a beat up woman and the cop? Adams hadn't checked on him in a long time, but he assumed Starsky was dead. There'd been no sound, no movement from the dumpster since the day before.

A helicopter whirred through the morning sky above the house, the loud thockity-thocks of the rotor blades drowning out the voice of the DJ on the rock and roll station he was currently listening to. The morning play list had included every song using the word heat or fire known to musicdom. Martha and the Vandellas belted out "Like a heatwave..." as the chopper's drone died away and then returned much more quickly than Adams had been expecting.

There had been constant airplane and helicopter noise all night due to the nearby fires. Every news station on the West coast had some chopper or fixed wing craft up in the southern skies to cover the blaze. This was the first time one had continued to circle this particular area, prompting John to walk out the front door and peer anxiously up at the noisy gold bug.

A tornado swirled up dirt, leaves, and small twigs, blinding Adams as the helicopter descended straight down from the heavens like an avenging angel. Landing on the flat land just past where his lone car was still parked, the chopper's runners had barely settled before Hutchinson and Washington erupted from the cabin, their guns drawn.

Knowing nothing was going to go well from this point on, John Adams nevertheless bolted, running through the house to the sheds beyond. He zigzagged through the unfinished building, searching for a place to hide.

"That's Adams," Hutch identified the fleeing figure, giving chase. He could hear a radio blaring from somewhere inside the house, instructing local inhabitants that the fires were under control but there was still a distinct danger and not to go outside unnecessarily. "Where'd he go?" Hutch panted, when Washington had pulled up behind him.

The yard was eerily quiet, now that the helicopter noise had died down, leaving the overly loud radio the most prominent sound. Mick Jagger slurred the words to Jumping Jack Flash, shouting, "He was born in a crossfire hurricane..."

"What is this place?" Washington asked in wonder. "It looks like a...."

"Concentration camp," Hutch surmised taking in the barbed wire and unfinished guard tower on the northern corner. The acid churning in his stomach was like molten lava burning holes in his gut. "Spread out, check every building, Adams can't have gone far, that fence is too high to climb."

McShane and Zebra Conway joined them, poking into the empty dwellings on the edges of the yard.

"Hutch!" Washington called urgently, discovering the locked door on the only shed with a real roof and windows. Using one size thirteen shoe like a battering ram, he slammed his foot through the cheaply made door, splintering the wood. A bruised and battered woman was huddled on the floor, her hands bound behind her. "Police, Ma'am, we're here to help you." Darryl Washington lowered his gun at the sight of her.

"Thank God!" Sandrine gasped when Hutch had carefully helped her to her feet, attempting to untie the knots binding her hands. "They're animals, they...he..."

"Have you seen any more prisoners?" Hutch asked, hating to use that word to describe Starsky. He finally freed her hands and gently massaged her lacerated wrists. "A man with curly dark hair?"

"N-no," Sandrine stammered, shaking her head, her knees trembling. "Just P-Peter, and the other guy...I forget his name. Look what he did." She held out her left arm. Just above the wrist joint was tattooed a crooked line of numbers. Sandrine had been roughed over by men in her unfortunate life, brutalized and raped, but none had ever forcibly tattooed her.

"Damn," Zebra spat, pale. This was nothing like he'd been expecting.

"Take her into the house, McShane," Hutch ordered. "Call backup, police, paramedics, the goddamned Sheriff, whoever can get up here the fastest." The pilot complied, leading Sandrine towards the relatively cooler living room. On the radio, Barry McGuire musically warned that we were on the "Eve of Destruction."

Thinking the girl's rescuers were preoccupied with her, Adams took a chance and dashed from his hiding place in the furthest shed, running for his car. Where the hell was van Geller, anyway?

Out of the corner of his eye, Washington caught sight of the attempted escape and went long, covering the length of the yard faster than he'd done in the game winning touchdown where he'd earned MVP. He tackled Adams in a tangle of arms and legs, grabbing for the racist's wrists to try and snap the handcuffs around them. By the time Hutch bounded up, Darryl had jerked Adams to his feet as roughly as possible, shouting his Miranda rights like a drill Sergeant. "D'you un'nerstand, asshole?" he growled. "You're under arrest for the rest of your sorry life."

Hutch cocked his Magnum pistol, resting the cold steel on the tender skin just above Adams' tiny ear. "Where's Starsky? What did you do to him, you piece of shit?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Adams blustered, unnerved by the changed behavior from the man he'd known as Chambers.

"My partner, David Starsky." Hutch enunciated each word carefully, wanting to pull the trigger and watch the bullet rip through Adam's pea brain. "Where is he? And if you say you don't know, I'll put one between your legs." He lowered the gun's long barrel 'til it was inches away from the other man's groin. "So, talk now. You've got about five seconds."

"It wasn't my idea... Peter planned it all. Wasn't my idea..."

"We don't much care." Washington's already deep voice had dropped an octave, sounding like a rumble from the bowels of the earth. "Where's Starsky?"

The dumpster," Adams managed, knowing if Hutchinson didn't kill him, van Geller surely would. He was doomed one way or the other, and van Geller always remembered his betrayers.

"Which one?" Hutch spun, running to inspect the trash receptacles . But even as he said it, he knew which one. Two of the blue bins were open, their lids hanging down the back, ready to be filled. Only one was closed, the heavy lid chained securely. It was already full. Oh, God, no...please don't let this be true.

He jerked on the chain, but a steel lock was intertwined in the links, preventing an easy opening. "Bolt cutters," he ordered, his mind reeling. He forced the bile rising in his throat to behave. He couldn't afford to vomit now. Had to think clearly.

"There's a pair in the Princess's tool box." Zebra ran to retrieve them. He was only gone a few moments but it was like an eternity to the two detectives waiting in the barren yard. Above them, in the rapidly clouding sky, heat lightening flashed a jagged tear in the atmosphere, heralding the approaching thunderstorms.

The wickedly sharp blades made short work of the steel chain, and Hutch pulled the links away with trembling hands. He felt sick, too afraid to even open the dumpster's lid. Washington pushed back the heavy metal, letting it slam against the side with a deafening clang.

Looking in, Hutch was instantly light-headed, his guts rising without warning so that he had to turn away to avoid being sick over the body of his best friend. It was just like his dream. The ground hot even through the soles of his shoes. The vile, fetid smell. Starsky was turned away from him, legs curled under his body, hands bound behind his back, unmoving. Oh, God, he was dead.

With a curse he sprang at Adams, his hands going for the frightened man's throat. "What did you do to him, you piece of shit?"

"It wasn't my fault! I didn't do..." Adams insisted wildly.

"Hutchinson!" McShane ran out of the house to interrupt the fight. "Not here! The Sheriff's coming, the roads are open!" He grabbed at the crazed detective, yanking on his arms to disengage him from the prisoner. Hutch howled, his mind short-circuited by anger and pain, trying to go after Adams again.

Piling some of the discarded pieces of wood laying around into a crude step stool, Washington clamored over the side of the dumpster and dropped down onto the grimy floor, careful to avoid stepping on his friend. The metal was blisteringly hot under his palms, but he hardly felt it. Kneeling gingerly, he laid a gentle hand on Starsky's overheated skin, stunned to feel the weak pulse still throbbing in his carotid. "Hutch!" Darryl shouted. "Hutch! He's still alive!"

No other words would have penetrated Hutch's grief stricken brain. "What?" he whispered, the world turning too fast for him to completely comprehend the Brick's meaning.

"Starsky's alive," Washington repeated, picking up the unmoving man. He straightened, standing in the dumpster with Starsky in his arms, the body as limp as a corpse.

Clenching his jaw so tightly his teeth ground together in an attempt not to be sick again, Hutch wiped his eyes at the sight. Oh, shit, what was supposed to happen next? He literally couldn't think of a sensible course of action.

Willing hands were reaching up to relieve Washington of his burden so he could climb out. McShane and Zebra lowered Starsky to the ground, using the bolt cutters to clip the handcuffs in two. Hutch snapped out of his paralysis, his eyes riveted on the battered body of his partner. He could see the tattoo on Starsky's left arm, that vile rape of his individuality.

"In the house." He managed a coherent thought. "It's too hot out here."

Washington climbed out of the metal prison and scooped up Starsky's limp form as effortlessly as if he were carrying a little child. He recalled their playful joking on the fateful day he'd earned his detective's shield when he'd bantered that he could easily lift the smaller man. Here was the proof.

Carrying Starsky into the living room, he lay him on the carpet under the watchful eyes of the others. Sandrine sat unmoving on the couch, an afghan clutched around her, despite the heat. The radio still blasted rock and roll so loudly it was painful to the ears. Hutch hauled Adams into the room, using a second pair of cuffs to secure him to the staircase banister.

"I didn't have anything to do with it; it wasn't my fault." Adams still babbled until Zebra threatened to slug him into silence.

"Don't go out tonight, it's bound to take your life, there's a bad moon rising..." roared the lead singer of CCR from the radio's speakers. Hutch flinched, the song an assault.

"Turn that damn thing off!" he ordered, kneeling beside the prostrate body.

McShane complied, stopping the song in mid-word, It wasn't until then that Hutch allowed himself to touch Starsky's feverish face, checking the pulse to reassure himself.

"Get some cool ,wet cloths, maybe ice inna bag," Washington directed to the co-pilot. "Anythang you can find in the kitchen. We need to get him cooled off as quickly as possible." He snagged two pillows from off the couch, raising Starsky's feet higher that his head. Starsky was a mess, his face and arms covered with bruises and painful looking reddened patches--first and second degree burns from contact with the hot metal of the dumpster. His lips were dry and cracked, dotted with dried blood, and his swollen tongue protruded from his mouth. He looked brittle, his skin as dry as parchment paper. "Wet his skin, put bags of ice under his arms and in his groin t'cool down the body. But nothing to drink."

Thankful to be doing something helpful, Hutch tentatively stroked Starsky's face with a cold, wet rag, as McShane and Zebra followed Washington's directions. "You know a lot about this," Hutch said gratefully, thinking he sounded stupid, but so immensely relieved to have found Starsky still among the living he didn't care.

"We can't give him anything to drink?" Zebra reiterated, holding up a glass of water.

"Ah can't remember why," Washington said desperately, looking momentarily stricken, having been the voice of authority up until then. "Ah was a camp counselor in Georgia...it's hot there in the summer, kids get dehydrated and sun stroke. But Ah can't remember why you can't have a drink..."

"Brick," Hutch assured. "You knew more than any of us did. It's okay." He laid his palm against Starsky's forehead, feeling the incredible heat coming off his skin. Starsky radiated heat like a portable space heater, his internal thermostat damaged by the dehydration. His own body could no long naturally decrease his temperature without that essential fluid--plain water. Hutch continued washing his friend's body with a cool wet rag, lingering on the left arm, sickened by the numbers inscribed on Starsky's forearm. Closing his hand around Starsky's, he silently vowed to hunt Peter van Geller down like the rabid dog that he was. Suddenly, the hand under his stiffened, the arm contracting spasmodically. Starsky's body jerked, his legs tightening and kicking out rhythmically, dislodging the pillow under his feet.

"What's happening?" Sandrine's voice rose up fearfully.

"He's seizing." Washington pushed the coffee table further away so Starsky's flailing limbs wouldn't hit a solid object. "Don't let him bite his tongue, turn him on his side. Get a rag between his teeth."

Inserting a terry cloth towel between Starsky's chattering teeth, Hutch cradled his partner's head, holding on until the body stopped moving, leaving a stunned silence in the room.

"Will he be all right?" McShane asked.

"The paramedics'll know what to do," Washington answered hopefully. "Fluids, he needs lots o'fluids. Jest keep cooling him down."

It was nearly half an hour before the reassuring sound of sirens sounded from far down the access road. Another cascade of heat lightening flashed across the sky, brightening the darkening morning. It was hot enough to fry eggs on the concrete, but the crowding black cumulous over the house were pregnant with rain.

"They won't be able to get in through the gate," Adams spoke up smugly. Van Geller had built that fence like a fortress.

Zebra simply rifled the handcuffed man's pockets for his keys, tearing Adams' car down the gravel road at Indy 500 speeds to open the gate from the inside. The emergency personnel immediately took over the property, cordoning off the crime scene and bringing necessary equipment for the mortally sick man. Meredith and Dobey arrived with the Sheriff, the last car that managed to park in the now jam packed front yard.

Meredith approached the house on rubbery legs, unwilling to get her hopes up too high. She'd gotten the message that David was alive, but for how long? How badly was he hurt? Pausing on the threshold of the small two story gray house, she let the uniformed men and women swarm around her. Except for the plethora of police and sheriff vehicles parked haphazardly in front, the house looked like such an innocent little place. There was no lurking theatrical menace like the Bates homestead in Psycho. Then why did she have such a hard time walking through the door?

"Joanie?" Washington held out a hand, his large body blocking her view of the interior of the house. "Y'okay?"

"Yes," she lied. "How is he?"

"They're working on him," he replied, not sure what to say. "Havin' a hard time findin' a place t'start an IV."

"He always was such an idiot." Meredith crossed her arms tightly over her chest, fingers digging into her biceps, the pain keeping the tears at bay. She was determined to be strong. After all, she was a Detective Sergeant First Grade in the Police Department. People should see her in control, an authority figure. She'd visited hundreds of crime scenes in her career, why was this any different? Because it was Starsky. "Won't even give up a little blood? I'll have to talk to him."

The paramedics were still hunched over Starsky's unmoving form performing their medical tasks. Dobey was watching, his usually gruff face gone, leaving a naked hopelessness. Hutch caught her eye as she moved closer to the little knot of people on the carpet and pulled her into a tight squeeze.

"He's alive."

"Yes," she agreed, knowing she was supposed to. "Too stubborn to die."

"I'll believe that."

"Riverside General has a helipad." The dark haired paramedic with a look of an American Indian spoke up, his face frustrated. He directed his comments to Fergus McShane. "Can you take him up in that whirlybird?"

"Sure. Done it in 'Nam." The pilot agreed with a nod, his heavy braid bouncing on his shoulder.

"He's got shit for veins right now, too dehydrated. I'd rather get him to the hospital and have the doctors work on him there than waste time here."

"Mike," the blond haired female medic called. "I got a butterfly in his hand, but it won't last long." She indicated a tiny needle with little green winglike pieces sticking precariously out of Starsky's battered left hand, allowing precious fluids to flow into his body. "Running Lactated Ringers wide open'll blow that sucker fast."

"Then we'd better leave quick," McShane decided. "It's gonna rain any minute anyway."

It struck Meredith absurdly that Starsky was a southpaw and wouldn't be at all pleased to have a needle in his gun hand. She finally reached out to tangle her fingers in his dirty dark curls as he was loaded onto a portable gurney, feeling the frightening heat coming off his skin. "He'll be all right?"

"We're doing everything we can, ma'am," Mike answered, holding the IV bag aloft so that Zebra and his blond partner could push the gurney outside.

Then they were gone. She clasped her right hand in the left one, preserving the heat from the brief contact with her lover. The others in the room finally came into focus as she heard the helicopter's blades whirr prior to take off. Police were everywhere, tearing apart the desks, opening drawers and cupboards, searching for any and all evidence to link van Geller to the bombing. They had already come up aces. There were diagrams to bombs, detailed descriptions of the Brotherhood's crimes, and plans for more. Shouts from the back yard heralded the discovery of a cache of plastique, exactly what they were looking for.

Hutch walked across the floor to check on Sandrine. The ragged dark haired girl was giving her statement to the lead investigator, clutching the brightly colored afghan tightly to her shoulders. He hadn't really registered her appearance previously, but now he was astounded how closely she resembled Starsky. Same unruly dark curls, which on the girl cascaded half way down her back, and the same astonishingly dark blue eyes. They could have been siblings. How remarkably twisted that van Geller had sex with the same kind he professed to despise. Sandrine held out her mutilated left arm, tears running down her face as she described the tattoo.

Still surveying the innocuous looking room, Meredith focused on the hulking figure still handcuffed to the stair railing. She dissected the man's face from his military style buzz cut to the broad shoulders, muscle just beginning to give way to an older man's fat. With a speed no one in her periphery expected, she launched herself at Adams, slugging him in the jaw.

"So you're the high and mighty Brotherhood? Huh? You think you have such power over me? Over people who aren't like you?!" Meredith raged, her brown hand leaving a red print on his fair skin. "You think this makes you a righteous Christian? You and your kind are vipers, sucking the life from good people." Other hands pulled her away from her prey, dark brown arms and pink ones enveloping her in a bear hug.

~~~

A snake in the grass.

That's what he had to be for now. Hidden and quiet, regrouping and replanning.

He'd found a lair. There were still loyal members willing to protect their leader from his enemies until the right time. Now was the time to lay low.

Spies in his midst. Who could truly be trusted? By now, the police would have found his camp, his prisoners. How could he correct the situation? No one could know his mind. Secrets must be kept, guarded against the spies.

They'd have liberated the prisoners by now. The media would print all the lies fit to print and he'd learn where the spies were staying. That was the time to strike, not now. For now he kept his head down, fangs tucked into his gums, like a harmless little snake in the grass.

~~~

"Dehydration is a tricky thing," the Riverside Emergency Room doctor continued, "The body requires rehydration, but we can't just flood his body with water. His electrolytes are completely out of whack--sodium level in his body is way too high, and if we reverse that too quickly it can lead to an osmotic imbalance." He paused to take a breath, letting Hutch get a word in edgewise.

"Osmotic imbalance?" he repeated, the information meaningless to his sleep deprived brain. Nothing the doctor said was registering.

"If we go too quickly, the water enters his brain cells and could lead to cerebral edema--brain swelling. He's already seized twice, which is a result of the dehydration, so we have to proceed extremely cautiously."

"T-thank you, Doctor Pham." Meredith just wanted to rush into the ER and find Starsky now. She hadn't seen him except for that brief touch back at van Geller's house and her body yearned to renew the contact. What was taking so long? "Is there anything else we should worry about?"

"Unfortunately, yes." The Asian man pursed his lips. "Renal failure is a distinct possibility. Blood tests called B-U-N and creatinine were drawn and the levels were dangerously high, showing his kidneys are not working properly. His blood has toxic amounts of what we usually pee off--and if his kidneys don't start to work within--say 24 to 30 hours, they may not work at all."

Hutch felt like he'd been kicked in the gut. How much more could there be? How much more could Starsky's body take? He glanced over at Washington, who looked just as shell shocked as the rest of them.

"Has his temp'ture gone down any?" Washington latched onto the one thing he understood.

"You did good work in the field," Pham admitted. "Anything to cool him off was beneficial. He's still quite febrile, and despite the convulsions, his EEG was normal."

"That's positive news, isn't it?" Meredith asked cautiously. "When can we see him?"

"He's unconscious, and I've called the plastic surgeons to come look at his arm, but maybe in an hour or so?" The man consulted the chart in his hand. "Sorry, but I've got to get back to work. We can page you if you want to wait in the cafeteria?" He phrased it like a question, but the tacit implication was that there was no use waiting around in hopes he'd call them any sooner.

"Ah could use somethin' t'eat." Washington said. In his family, tragedy always brought food in its wake. Someone sick? A casserole. A death? A whole ham. His stomach told him dehydration rescues demanded pie and ice cream, and a lot of it. And about a gallon of water. The insane heat had parched them all, even though the rain had started with torrential suddenness about half an hour after the helicopter had borne Starsky away. He, Hutch, and Meredith had already been on the road, driven through the sheeting water by a grim faced patrol car officer who had been assigned to chauffeur them to the hospital. "Hutch? Joanie, you comin'?"

"Yes, Brick," Meredith agreed absently, pushing her fingers under her tight chignon to relieve the pressure on her head. "I don't know if I can eat, but I need caffeine."

"Now, that ain't at all healthy," Washington cajoled. "You need a nice bowl of soup and some pie--too bad my Granny Mae-Belle ain't here. She'd whip up some ham hocks in pot likker faster'n you can whistle Dixie."

"Your Granny Mae-Belle is the most amazing woman." Meredith latched onto the silly subject, something unthreatening to think about. She'd heard about the great woman many times before, and Mae-Belle always had the answer to everything. "I'd love to meet her."

"Tell you what." Washington grinned conspiratorially, glad himself for some levity. "You get that Little Davey t'marry you and Mae-Belle will be here to bless the weddin' in a heartbeat."

"It's a deal."

Walking was beginning to take more concentration than Hutch could muster. His heart was thudding against his ribs, and his chest too tight to breathe. For half a second he wondered if he could be having a heart attack. Bracing one arm against the closest wall, he tried getting his breathing under control as blackness started narrowing his vision. With great difficulty he could hear Washington's concerned voice calling his name. Then, almost as quickly as the frightening symptoms had started, they receded, leaving him weak-kneed and shaky.

"Y'look even more pale than usual, Blondie," Washington said affectionately, using Starsky's favorite nickname for Hutch. "You need t'eat, get some rest."

"Good idea," Hutch agreed weakly, too miserable to object. The subject of food held little appeal for him, though.

Washington, taking over the role of caretaker, got both his friends to eat some lunch, and all discovered that the lowly Riverside General Hospital cafeteria served surprisingly excellent desserts, brought in from a local bakery. Brick had two pieces of the berry pie, smothered in vanilla ice cream. Meredith opted for the Chocolate Decadence five-layer cake that would have never appeared on her diet under normal circumstances and Hutch managed most of a bowl of ice cream covered in fudge sauce. The cold made his sinuses ache, but it felt good to indulge in such excess.

"He'll be all right, won't he?" Meredith licked the last of the chocolate from her fork. "I mean, we got him in time. He's alive, and his kidneys'll start working..."

"I hope so," Hutch agreed. Washington was right, food had helped. He was no longer woozy and the whole day was feeling much more hopeful. They had found him, after all.

As if on cue, an overhead page recalled them to the emergency room where they learned that Starsky was being installed in the Intensive Care Unit and after that they could visit, two people at a time.

Washington waited outside the ICU, letting Hutch and Meredith have time with Starsky first. There was so much to contend with, so much to take in. So he was alive, but could he live a normal life? None of the doctors were making predictions just yet.

Captain Dobey had arrived in time to see the patient transferred to his new accommodations and was relieved to see that Starsky did look marginally improved with several liters of IV fluids now in his body. He hadn't awakened thus far, and there would be a lot of waiting before he did.

Confiscating a phone from the nurse's station, the detective captain made several calls to his subordinates for the latest information. The news didn't cheer him up much, but he thanked the unit nurses for the use of the telephone before walking down the hall to the waiting area to join Washington.

"Talked to Lt. Parker at the house. They're finding enough shit to put the Brotherhood behind bars for the rest of their natural lives, but no sign of van Geller or Sherman, and that Adams is a big dumb ass."

"Ah got that impression, too." Washington shoved his big hands into his back pockets.

"I'm having Adams driven back to headquarters--want another crack at questioning him?"

Even though he knew he was second choice--Hutch would have been the one to lead an interrogation under normal circumstances--Washington still felt a stab of pride. He wasn't just the junior detective, he had something to contribute, and Dobey was giving him the chance. "Yes, sir," he replied, a nasty smile on his dark face.

"I suppose Hutchinson and Meredith'll want to stay here." Dobey's voice trailed off uncertainly. He kept remembering the horrible days after Starsky was shot by James Gunther's goons. Hours of waiting, fearing the worst. Then he'd pulled through, recovered, come back to work only to have this happen not even a year and a half later. It stunk.

"Ah should talk to the rabbi personal. Tell him what's going on," Washington said, seeing Hutch and Meredith emerge from the ICU. "How's he doin'?" He directed the question to them.

Shrugging, Meredith hugged herself. "They have to regulate his salt and potassium really carefully or it...uh...can cause damage by going down too fast. So, it'll take a long time. And they want him to pee, but nothing so far."

"We'll take turns staying with him until he wakes up," Hutch added tiredly. He couldn't remember when he'd slept. What was the date? Wednesday? No, today was October 8th, Thursday. He'd been up late with Starsky on Saturday, slept reasonably well Sunday night, and then it had been all downhill since then. Monday night's sleep had been fraught with nightmares and he hadn't laid down for more than two or three hours since then. Not that Washington or Meredith could possibly have gotten much more rest than he had. But Meredith still looked gorgeous, even with dark circles under her luminous brown eyes. Washington looked like a big bear late for his annual hibernation, big shoulders hunched, eyes droopy but dangerous under the half-mast lids.

Walking tentatively into the hushed, but bustling ICU, Washington was pointed in the right direction to his partner's bedside. Nearby, several doctors hovered over another unfortunate man who had twice as many tubes coming from his body as Starsky did. Perversely, that made Washington feel vaguely cheered.

He looked down at his friend's quiet, unmoving form. Starsky looked as different from his infectiously boisterous awake self as a tiger was from a sleeping house cat.

"Little Davey, man, you can't do this," he stated firmly. "Ever'body wants you t'come back. This ain't natural. Van Geller hasn't beat you, you still have work to do. Y'know the rabbi expects you t'be there for the talks--can't disappoint him."

Even thought the ICU had no external windows, Washington could hear the drone of the rain on the building. Inside the hospital they were insulated, safe in a warm protected cocoon. Here Starsky would be well cared for and Dobey had already assigned round the clock guards for the door. No one knew what van Geller would do next.

With a sigh, the Brick left his partner to the care of the nurses, joining the other detectives in the hall in time to hear the captain explaining that they'd be driving back to LA together. Dobey gave Meredith a comforting pat on the shoulder before leaving with Washington.

Taking first watch at her lover's bedside, Meredith urged Hutch to take a nap in the waiting area. There were large overstuffed chairs that opened up to beds, and it took Hutch no time at all to nod off. He had no more searching dreams; the object of his quest had been found.

~~~

Voices talked over him as if he weren't there, discussing him, dissecting him. Sodium levels. High uric acid levels. Renal failure. Infection in the wrist, could be osteomyelitis, need more blood work. Minor lac on the left side, looks like a knife wound--wonder how that happened? Bruising to the neck, ribs, arms, just about everywhere. The burns on his arms should heal well. And the marks on his left wrist...

Starsky closed his ears to the voices, letting himself drift along in a calm, empty river. He didn't want to hear what they had to say anyway. It hurt to hear what had been done to him in the name of Aryan Brotherhood. His body didn't hurt. He'd stopped feeling long ago, stopped being associated with that battered shell and moved on to this place. No hurt, no shame, no fear, no abuse.

A sharp sensation invaded the radial artery on his left wrist, another needle drawing blood. Under normal circumstances it should have hurt like hell, but Starsky's body didn't react, keeping the pain away from the soul hiding deep inside. There had been enough pain, he didn't need more.

The river's water lapped against his skin, cooling the fever, supporting his tired body, the waves carrying him along without any demands or expectations. Wasn't there some river in India that could heal, renew? A tiny portion of his brain pondered the trivia question, but it wasn't enough to awaken his spirit just yet. He needed to rest.

More voices, more blood tests, never leaving him alone.

The voices cajoled him, urging him to open his eyes, move a finger.

Not yet. Not yet. He wanted to float in the refreshing water, let it cover his head until only his nose was showing.

Then there was a voice he wanted to respond to, a face he wanted to see more than the rest of them. If only they'd stop poking him for just a few minutes, he could float to the surface, and climb out onto the beach.

~~~

Late at night, the ICU quieted, but the needs of the critically ill patients never let up. There was always lights on and constant motion, the nurses tirelessly performing their chores to the incessant noise of beeping monitor alarms. It was amazing that any of the sick people could sleep, Meredith thought wryly. She felt leaden with fatigue but couldn't relax in here.

"David, I'm going to go out to take a nap, but Hutch'll be here in just a minute," she whispered, giving his left hand a quick squeeze.

"No."

It was barely a sound, mostly a puff of air, but the word startled her. "Starsk?" she gasped in surprise.

His blue eyes opened slowly, blinking in the overhead lights. "Why're...? Yer s'posed t'be in Wash'ton," he managed with a raw, dry throat. She quickly supplied him with ice chips to suck on, since he wasn't allowed to take oral fluids yet.

"I had a great need to see you," Meredith said, blinking her own eyes to resist the tears that threatened to spill.

Hutch had reached the bed in time to see his best friend's eyes open, and grinned foolishly. "Where have you been? We were all sorta worried about you."

"Both worry too much," Starsky replied, his mouth still powder dry despite the melting ice. His body ached with a frightening intensity, but he tried to ignore it.

"I dunno, you give us plenty of practice," Hutch scolded.

Meredith slipped another spoonful of ice between Starsky's lips, caressing his cheek with her free hand. It was so right to touch him once more, and his temperature had decreased enough to where it didn't scare her to feel the heat. He leaned into her palm, his eyes closing again, but when Hutch grasped Starsky's hand, he responded with brief pressure before falling back to sleep.

Assured that Starsky was on the road to recovery, Hutch and Meredith were persuaded by the night nurses to go to a local motel to get actual sleep in actual beds. Although his protection mode was still working overtime, Hutch was relieved to know there were armed police guards outside the ICU and relented. The Motel Six was a bare five minutes away from the hospital and his body was about to shut down and force him to sleep on his feet.

Renting rooms side by side, the two detectives spent no time in sundry pastimes such as checking out the closet space or turning on the TV, both were asleep less than ten minutes after they'd unlocked their doors.

Awakening at nine-thirty in the morning, Meredith was momentarily confused. Where was she? The memories took her by surprise, slamming back into her conscious mind with a physical force. Starsky was in the hospital. Quickly phoning the ICU, she not only discovered that the doctors were now guardedly optimistic, but that Hutch had already been in that morning. Starsky was sleeping at the moment, but there were plans to let him take clear liquids at lunch, if all went well. That is, if he voided.

Letting herself relax under the hotel shower, Meredith pondered how ridiculous the nurse's statement might sound to someone outside the medical profession. They wouldn't let Starsky eat until he voided--that is, in other words, peed, and he probably didn't need to go all that much since he wasn't allowed to eat and had a tube stuck up his penis. Apparently, that's why he was on so much IV fluids, and the tube was to measure the result, but she knew she'd feel a lot more comfortable, not to mention Starsky's comfort, when they removed all those various catheters and let him eat and "void" naturally.

The idea of putting on the sweaty clothes she'd donned in the wee hours Thursday morning had little appeal, so in a fit of female pampering, Meredith decided to go to the mall. She'd left D.C. without so much as a toothbrush, and until she returned to her little Torrance apartment, she had only the Hawaiian t-shirt and jeans. Thank God she'd managed to hang onto her credit card with everything that was going on!

A rental car and a map to the nearest shopping mecca directed her to a megalith of stores. First stop, an early lunch at the sandwich nook, with the LA times spread out in front of her. Washington had been good to his word and given reporter Andrew Cleary an exclusive--with caveats. The was a vivid description of the rescue of Detective Sergeant Starsky and Sandrine bar Din, but no mention the conditions they'd been found in or what had been done to them. Adams had obviously talked. He revealed much unknown information about the bombing and other plots van Geller had in mind, but as usual, the police had kept certain crucial facts to themselves. These were important to secure airtight convictions of those arrested. Peter van Geller's handsome face loomed large on the front of the paper, accompanied by a slightly smaller photo of Albert Sherman. Wanted felons. The FBI was already in the process of adding their stats to their list of the most wanted in America. Other news of the day reported that Rabbi Micah Bachman's peace talks were scheduled to begin without delay, now that Detective Starsky had been found. Heavy security was expected to help ensure that nothing ruined the day for those attending the conference.

Shaking off the tendrils of fear the article had given her, Meredith let herself go wild in the mall. After obtaining the essentials a woman couldn't live without, especially when staying in a motel, she browsed through the racks of currently fashionably attire. Pushing aside the sensible skirts and blouses she usually wore as a police detective, she selected a bright red and gold silk blouse, a tight black mini and black heels. A few more pedantic purchases of casual t-shirts and slacks and she headed for the men's department. She practically maxed out her credit limit in one morning, but the results went a long way to healing the hole in her soul. Starsky would be all right, she had new clothes, and the peace talks were now, no doubt, in full swing. Sometimes, after a rain, there was a silver cloud in the sky. Metaphorically speaking, anyway, since the sky over southern California was sullen and gray, the temperature a good twenty-five degrees cooler than the previous day.

~~~

Practicing a few yoga breaths in his car while Dave Murphy maneuvered through traffic, Micah Bachman couldn't keep the goofy grin off his face. This was it, and despite the terrible events of the last month, the talks were going to come off and be productive. "Thank you, Miriam," he whispered to himself, the memory of his wife still a sharp ache under his breastbone, but he was becoming used to the idea of her death.

Micah had been awakened by the shrill ring of the phone, and when he'd picked up the handset, the voice of the caller had brought with it the goofy smile.

"Hey, Micah," Starsky rasped, his swollen tongue and ravaged throat making speech difficult. "What'er you still doin' in bed on the most important day of your life?"

"Dave!" the rabbi crowed. The Brick had, of course, told him of Starsky's rescue, but actually hearing him speak made the miracle all the more real. "How are you doing? You still in bed, too?"

"I'm okay." Starsky dismissed his medical ailments, waggling his eyebrows at Hutch sitting in the bedside chair. "Nobody'll let me get up, so I'm gonna miss the first day of the conference, but I guarantee, I'll make it there in a day or two."

"I'm counting on it, if you're feeling up to it," Micah agreed. "Brick told me..."

"Just a minute, Micah, Hutch is buggin me..." Starsky held the receiver as far away from his partner as he could, but the taller man's reach was longer and he didn't have bruised ribs to contend with.

"Give me the phone." Hutch plucked it from Starsky's fingers. "Micah," he addressed the man on the other end of the line, "tell Starsky that he'll miss the conference, to stay in bed and let himself heal, 'cause otherwise I'm just going to have to knock him out with the butt of my gun. Oh, and good luck with the talks today."

"I have my orders," Bachman laughed. "Thanks, Hutch."

"Say good-bye." Hutch handed the phone back to his glowering friend.

"When do I take orders straight from you?" Starsky said to Hutch, then listened to the rabbi on the other end of the line for a few minutes, nodding, saying, "See you in a few days, Micah."

"Take care of yourself, Dave." Bachman had hung up the phone with contentment. "You're in my prayers," he added, padding into the bathroom for a shower, knowing Starsky would have underplayed any need to be prayed for.

Now he was jolted back to the present as the car bumped into the convention hall parking lot, the property jammed with a wide assortment of people. Television cameras swiveled to catch the car's arrival, half a dozen reporters poised with microphones to get the slightest comment from the rabbi.

"Look at this mob!" Dave Murphy gave a short whistle. "But doesn't look hostile."

There was a sea of blue uniforms circling the building, checking the purses and bags of the people entering, but very little hint of the riot or violence that had been rumored at. And the length of the line snaking into the doorway astounded Micah.

"That has to be far more people than were signed up originally," he observed in reverence. "There are a few protesters over there, though."

"Enough cops here to deal with half a dozen Klansmen," Dave said dryly. "Knock 'em dead today, Rabbi."

"I'll knock 'em on their kiesters, anyway." Bachman felt to make sure his yarmulke was seated properly on his red, wiry hair and climbed out of the car, letting a blue uniformed officer escort him into the back entrance, all the while waving the reporters away with a friendly hand. "I'll give a statement afterwards, guys!"

Watching from a quiet bench on the edge of the park-like grounds, Peter van Geller let the crowds swarm around him, pretending to read a newspaper while breakfasting on a Danish. It had been difficult to find a paper without his face staring out from the front page, so he'd had to finally settle on the sports page with its asinine ramblings on the World Series.

In deference to his newfound and unwanted fame, van Geller hadn't shaved since he'd fled the Temecula compound and used a brown dye to disguise his blond hair. Luckily, he was one of those very Aryan sorts whose beards grew more reddish than blond. With mirrored sunglasses, a recently purchased baseball cap honoring the World Series, and a blue windbreaker to complete the picture, he was certain none of the dumb flat foots standing around the convention hall would recognize him, even if they tripped over him.

Over the edge of the paper he watched the paltry group of protesters with a sour face. None of his followers had shown up. He had been planning to stage a demonstration so frightening that the rabbi would have fled the building rather than to continue his ludicrous talk of peace between races. It was maddening to think of the missed opportunities, the pamphlets and newsletters stolen by the police on the raid on the Waverly office, and the damage he could have inflicted. Now, his empire was in ruins, he had only a handful of people willing to heed his message. The others, even the ones not grilled by the police, had been frightened away, and only a few would even answer his phone calls. He was just lucky there were a few faithful members who wouldn't turn him in!

Then there was that thieving bottom crawler Sherman. He'd disappeared without a trace and with every cent from the corporate accounts, too. He could hardly fathom the breadth of Sherman's treachery. The sheer audacity of the deceit was so wide in scope it would have impressed him had he not been so galled by the act. It was fortunate that Helmut van Geller had taught him well. Never trust even those closest to you, because like Brutus, they are the ones in position to shove a knife in your back. The money from the Waverly bank was gone, as well as three other accounts buried under levels of subterfuge to throw off investigators. Luckily, money stashed in the house and at a quiet little bank in Temecula would keep Peter's head above water and aid in the cause.

With another shake of his head at the lame attempts by the ragtag band of Klan members and skinheads to protest the talks with their crudely worded banners and placards, Peter van Geller got up and joined the line to enter the building.

A small reception desk was set up in the lobby, volunteers checking off the names of those enrolled and handing out nametags and synopses of the proceedings. Rabbi Bachman's earlier hope that the conference could be one where visitors could freely come and go had been nixed as too high a security risk.

"Name?" A pretty girl with a cap of blue black hair cut short enough to be a boy's asked pleasantly.

"Eric Cartwright," van Geller supplied with a smug smile. When he'd called a few days before to register, he'd been informed that he was one of the last allowed to enroll, due to seating capacity. Wouldn't Bachman and his associates be surprised when they found out who they let in the building?

The main meeting room was already crowded with people finding seats, settling their belongings, and eyeing those sitting near by. There was certain to be a wariness in the group, since many of these people had lived with the tenet "Hate first, don't ask questions later," but nothing unpleasant had happened so far. In fact, just the opposite; most people were going out of their way to be accommodating to their neighbors. Van Geller found a seat in the last row, mentally checking out the nearest exits and recalling Fredricks' description of the building from when he'd planted the bomb.

Bachman attained the stage to a roar of applause, joining a group of other clergy from every sort of religion, A modest looking man introduced himself as Monsignor Jesus Lopez-Gonzalez, presenting the usual greetings, an explanation of the talk's goals and which speakers would go when. There were plans to have the audience break into smaller groups to address personal ideologies and forums for discussion of the progress they were making.

Standing up, Micah felt such a wave of optimism viewing the sea of faces in front of him that he had to grip the sides of the podium for support. "In my press conferences to promote these talks, I have repeated the slogan, "Communication is the key to universal understanding." Now, I'm not saying you have to agree to have communication. Agreeing to disagree is equally worthwhile--diversity is the bedrock of our country--it defines our way of life, Who hasn't enjoyed a bagel with a schmear for breakfast, a pepperoni pizza for lunch and take-out wontons and egg rolls for dinner? There are places in this world where that wouldn't be possible. Jewish, Italian, and Chinese cuisine all in one day. All mixed up in your stomach. I'm not talking about conforming to certain styles or cultures or uniformity of ideas. That would be bland. I'm talking about the melting pot, as it has been called..."

Unable to stomach much more of the thought of all that unpalatable food mixing around inside him, van Geller slipped out, asking directions to the men's room from one of the security personnel. He walked confidently down the hall in the pointed direction, but then slipped quietly into the first empty room when out of the guard's sight. The rest of the morning was spent scoping out the layout of the building. He had Fredrick's scribbled diagram, of course, but it would be less than professional of him to rely on another's work. Who was it who said, "If you want if done right, you've got to do it yourself?"

Joining the group once again just as the lunch break was announced, van Geller felt a stirring of confidence returning. He might not have the backings of his followers any longer, but the job wouldn't be as hard as he thought. He nodded pleasantly at the dark haired girl who'd checked him in at registration, and chose a seat near her in the communal cafeteria.

After mingling with his fellow attendees and making interested murmurs at their irritating chatter regarding discussions that had occurred, van Geller stayed just long enough at the afternoon session to let himself be seen. Slipping out a side door while one of the traitorous ex-skinheads was explaining his epiphany, Peter knew what he had to do. With that in mind, he drove a good distance away to a small gun shop he'd selected from the yellow pages.

It took almost no time to select a gun. To match his Bonanza alias name, he chose a long barreled revolver with fancy scrollwork on the butt. Hefting the pistol in his hand, he nodded thanks at the dumbass shop proprietor. Poor shit didn't even know he'd just sold a gun to the FBI's number one wanted man. He felt like a renegade--an outlaw, with just the right weapon for the job. He paid cash, throwing a box of bullets on the counter and loading them into the gun's chamber before he departed.

~~~

"Isn't there anything to do around here?" Starsky grouched, feeling rotten, no longer satisfied to lie in bed. His skin was super sensitive, with an irritating deep itch that left him so restless he couldn't relax, but was still too tired to move around much.

"Starsk, it's the ICU; most people are sick here." Hutch crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair, a half smile on his lips. Starsky might be in a foul mood, but Hutch was willing to forgive just about anything this morning. "Watch TV."

"I already did." Starsky didn't want to admit the flickering screen hurt his eyes and made his already aching head ring. He glanced around the room, taking in the busy nurses and doctors. The other patients in the unit were in fact all either unconscious or asleep. "Isn't there a newspaper or somethin'?"

"Aw, Starsk...you don't want to read it."

"You always say that," Starsky insisted. "Stop protecting me, Hutch. I need to read it."

Reluctantly, Hutch stood just as the doctor came over to fill Starsky in on his condition. Realizing it was a good time to take his leave, Hutch went out to the gift shop to purchase the day's paper and a selection of current magazines. He thought about getting Starsky a couple of candy bars but changed his mind, figuring chocolate would probably not be the first food the doctors allowed him.

He judged the time perfectly; the doctor had gone on to counsel another family by the time he returned and he placed the newspaper on Starsky's blanket-covered knees without comment. Van Geller's handsome, supercilious face stared out from below the headline.

"Friday." Starsky read the date on the top corner with a flat tone. "I can't even remember two days."

"You scared me, Starsk." Hutch left the magazines on the bedside table, watching his friend closely.

"I scared myself." Starsky put his hand flat over the blond man's picture. Closing his fist, he crumpled the front page into a ball. "I could feel myself dying, Hutch. Everything was slipping away. I couldn't stop it and I didn't even care anymore."

"Starsky, you lived through it and I'm not even sure how."

"I don't know what to think or how to feel about it all." Starsky looked down at his bandaged wrists. He didn't even want to know what was under the dressings. "Should I be grateful to be alive? Angry at him? Disappointed with God because he didn't let me die? How am I supposed to feel, Hutch?"

His heart twisting painfully in his chest, Hutch slid down until he was perched on the side of the bed, uncertain of how to ease his friend's anguish. "There is no guide, Starsky. I don't think anybody knows, and if I gave you some easy platitude, it would just ring false. What's the emotion that you feel strongest, right now?"

"Peace," Starsky said simply. Releasing his hold on the newspaper, he turned his ink stained hand over, palm up, accepting Hutch's clasp. "I used to feel so angry, lotsa rage inside me. I wanted to go after that worthless specimen of humanity." His voice trembled just once, but he continued more firmly. "Then he threw me away like I was trash and...it just wasn't worth it anymore. I just wanted to be back with you an' Meredith an' everybody. Does that make any sense?"

"I think so." Hutch smiled. "What did your doctor say?"

"Uh..." Starsky tried remember the man's exact words, but his brain was muddled and he was already weary from just talking. It was even hard to read the newsprint after he'd flattened out the front page. "The salt an' potassium are gettin' closer to normal, there's a..." He laughed shortly with a bitter sound. "Trend in the right direction on the kidney function studies, whatever the hell that means. And then the really fantastic news of the day is the tendons in my wrist are all ripped t'hell and need surgery. I shoulda known I couldn't get out of my own handcuffs..." This time a sob escaped, his voice wavering as if he were physically waging a battle against the urge to cry. "I couldn't get away, Hutch...and they..."

"I know." Hutch pulled him into a hug, letting Starsky hide the tears against his shoulder.

"You asked me what I was feelin' the strongest, but the anger's number two and it's fightin' back..." Starsky hiccupped, wiping his eyes with the back of his bandaged left wrist. "It's pushing at me, but it's so hard to carry. I got tired. But how do I just let go of it, Hutch?" He sounded pleading, unable even to decipher his own confusing emotions. "They h-hurt me in ways I didn't think were possible."

"Deep down," Hutch agreed. "And all these feelings aren't going away over night, Starsk. You have to let yourself heal, like the rest of your body. Probably talking to Micah would be a good thing."

"I told you I was going to the talks." A glimpse of the old patented David Starsky impish grin reasserted itself on his battered face.

"No, you're not," Hutch said firmly, but knew he was probably not going to win that argument.

"Another visitor to see you, Sergeant Starsky." A sweet faced nurse placed a cup of juice on the bedside table, next to the magazines. "And if you drink this down, Dr. Talbot will think about pulling your Foley catheter."

"Does that mean I can just think about drinkin' it?" Starsky retorted, not at all ready to put anything into his stomach. He had a low level but persistent nausea that chased away any desire for food or drink. The smell of the apple juice made him swallow against the sudden bitter pressure at the back of his throat.

"Wow," Hutch said, directing Starsky's attention away from the nauseating liquid.

"You like?" Meredith dropped several large shopping bags on the ICU floor.

"Oh, yeah," Starsky grinned, drinking in Meredith's stunning appearance. She pirouetted coquettishly in her newly purchased finery, smoothing an imaginary wrinkle on the tight curved flank of her black leather mini skirt. The brilliant red and gold of the blouse accented her creamy brown complexion, giving her a glow even the flat white hospital lights couldn't diminish.

Hutch put a hand over his partner's eyes, freely admiring his best friend's girl. "I dunno, Starsk, I don't think your doctor would allow this kind of thing--could be bad for your recovery, maybe your heart."

"Oh, but other parts of my body are workin' fine." Starsky batted away the hand, reaching out for Meredith's. "Where you been?"

"Shopping." She grinned back at him, overwhelmingly happy to see the improvement in his condition.

"That could be dangerous, too," Hutch interjected.

"Well, if you don't want your present..." she teased, pulling the bags over to the bed.

"I always want presents," Starsky said eagerly.

"I knew that." Meredith gave him a quick kiss on the mouth, lingering against his skin, her hand tangling in his dark curls as he pressed against her lips for a second go round.

"Slow down, you two," Hutch laughed. "He needs his rest."

"Speak for yourself, Blondie," Starsky groused, but watched with interest as Meredith rooted around in her shopping bags for shirt boxes. She handed each man one, then changed her mind and switched them.

"Open them," she prompted, sitting in the bedside chair, and crossing her incredibly long legs.

Starsky's was a deep blue shirt, the exact color of his eyes. He nodded his thanks, suddenly conscious that the last blue shirt he'd been wearing had probably been cut from his body by the paramedics trying to save his life. Tears filmed his eyes and he ducked his head to hide them.

Hutch saw Starsky's struggle and quickly opened his own box, admiring the pale blue, almost gray shirt nestled inside. It would suit his fair skin and lighter blue eyes perfectly. "Thank you, Meredith, it's beautiful."

"I like to shop when I'm stressed." She dismissed his thanks, but looked pleased none-the-less.

"Well, I guess I'll leave the two of you alone for a while." Hutch tucked the shirt box under his arm, shaking a finger at them. Starsky had gained control on his fragile emotions once more, capturing Meredith's hand in his. "Don't get yourself thrown out of the ICU."

"Like that would be a bad thing," Starsky retorted to his retreating figure.

~~~

Dobey had arranged to have Hutch's Ford driven up for his use and he found it in the hospital parking lot just where the cop who'd delivered it had said it would be. Driving down the freeway without any real plan, he still recognized where he was intent on going. Temecula. Not that there was anything left to find there. Police and crime lab crews had swarmed over the property in the last 24 hours. He still had the overwhelming need to visit the site once more. What was it the department psychologist was always going on about? Closure.

Even driving down the freeway, the wreckage from the fires could be seen. Whole fields gone, just the remain of barns, charred fence posts and a hulking shell of a burned out tractor remaining. The air was full of ash, black flakes stirred up by the cars speeding past. Such devastation. Hutch could feel the sting of unshed tears in his sinuses and sniffed to keep them at bay. He didn't even know why he wanted to cry. For the loss of the landscape, or Starsky's near loss? Maybe it was for his own near loss.

When he'd first met Starsky, the man's in your face aggression, cocky attitude, and New York-ese had irritated Hutch's much more restrained and cultured personality. But Starsky was like a puppy. He butted against you until you had to pet him. Then pay attention to him. Underneath the cleverly cultivated fašade of the goofy kid was a quick mind that could solve a case just by noticing the little pieces that didn't fit together. His tendency to flaunt authority had gotten him into trouble plenty of times with Internal Affairs, but it had also brought in perps when conventional methods had failed. More importantly, Hutch had discovered a true friend who saw beyond his own fašade to the inner man. Starsky pushed him to loosen up, let out his silly side, and voice his hidden soul. Starsky never minded when Hutch lashed out at him, often brushing it off with a snide comment about temper. In retrospect, Hutch realized he often was not as much of a friend to Starsky as the other was to him. Whenever a case got really stressful, whenever too many cups of coffee and too little sleep frayed his nerves he took it out on the closest person, his best friend Starsky. But Starsky rarely reciprocated, usually just returning the jibes with a smile Hutch found particularly aggravating. And one he treasured more than diamonds.

Keep on irritating me, Starsky, cause it keeps me on my toes.

Staring at the barbed wire topped fence surrounding the van Geller property, Hutch found himself wishing the fire had raged across the land and consumed this cesspool, too. After they collected all the evidence to convict the rat bastard, of course.

The ground in front of the little house was churned and muddy from a day of rain and countless police and emergency personnel tramping in and out. Tire tracks were rutted deeply into the mire where trucks had backed up to the garage to haul away critical evidence. The interior of the house was no longer the tidy haven for Hitler's followers it had been. Fingerprinting dust covered every surface, drawers had been flung open and the contents carted away, leaving just extraneous bits of paper to occupy once bulging files. Muddy footprints marked the carpet so Hutch could no longer pinpoint the exact place he'd sat cradling Starsky's seizing body. There was the detritus of every police search: scummy half drunk cups of coffee, crusts of sandwiches and donuts littering the tables. It was no longer a home. No sense of the van Gellers remained. The house and its contents had been discarded, left to fate until such time that it was no longer needed for a trial. Who would live here after what had been done in the name of white supremacy?

Wandering into the back yard, Hutch lingered in front of Sandrine's prison before walking with dread the few hundred feet to Starsky's. It was just a dumpster, his inner voice insisted, but the minute he reached his hand out to touch the blue metal box, his resolve crumbled. Sinking into the damp ground, he let out the tears than had lurked all afternoon, a howl of pain escaping. Covering his eyes, he cried for them all, victims of a man who had worshipped a monster.

~~~

Finding himself well accepted by his fellow peace talk attendees by the second day, van Geller discovered it was easy to slip in and out of the seminars at will. There seemed a constant stream of people taking trips to the bathroom or to grab a cup of coffee. In between scheduled sessions, informal groups spontaneously gathered to discuss the latest points made, and often spread themselves out into empty office rooms. Thus, the guards took no notice of van Geller's travels around the convention center. He stayed just long enough in a few lectures to catch what was being discussed, having a printed syllabus helped this charade immensely, then he made his way into the bowels of the building. He learned its secrets, explored the building's skeleton--planning his campaign to bring down Bachman, and his subsequent escape, with infinite care.

~~~

The sun finally made a reappearance on Saturday, but it was a weak version of its former self. Clouds still obscured most of the sky, and the sun's warmth only managed to take the sudden autumnal chill out of the air. The world seemed a different place than only a few days before, and in truth, Hutch knew it was. He felt himself straddling two worlds--one half at Starsky's side in the hospital, the other yearning to join the on-going investigation. Van Geller had still not been located, ditto Albert Sherman. How had they escaped the net the police had flung over southern California? It was infuriating, and frightening. If they could slip away so silently, how could Starsky be kept safe? He didn't want to leave and yet knew he needed to.

"You're lookin' more alive, Little Davey," Darryl Washington said heartily, nodding briefly at Hutch sitting in the window seat reading a newspaper.

"So they tell me." Starsky gave a half smile with a shrug. He'd earned a room on the regular medical floor, no longer considered critical enough for ICU. There had been some worry amongst his doctors that his kidney functions weren't improving as quickly as they'd hoped, but talk of possible dialysis to remove the toxic levels in his blood had died a hopefully natural death. In fact, in the last hour his nurse had expressed annoyingly perky encouragement because of the several inches of dark amber urine in the bag hanging ceremoniously over the side of the bed. The catheter was still stuck up his pecker, which was not only uncomfortable but awkward, since he couldn't get up and walk or even sit without help, because of the danger of the tube slipping out. He still felt like crap, achy and nauseated and his skin itched deep inside from the uric acid build up in his blood. But if the doctors thought he was less critical, more power to them. The single room was far less noisy and bright than the ICU. It also had a bedside telephone just for him and a TV he didn't have to share.

"Brought you a present." Washington dug into the bag he carried, extracting a glossy book with a reprint of Mona Lisa on the cover and some watercolor felt pens.

"Everybody's bringing me stuff," Starsky crowed.

"Color the great masters?" Hutch read the title with a laugh. "For Starsky?"

"It's a lot a'fun," Washington defended. "Ah do it all the time."

"Got nothing better to do." Starsky took the book, flipping through the black lined copies of great masterpieces. "Any of those naked girls from Pompeii?"

"Sure." Washington grinned, opening to a page with a vertical rows of ancient maidens cavorting in tiny bikinis.

"They're not naked."

"It's G rated." Washington shrugged.

"What do you know about Pompeian art?" Hutch asked with amusement, still content to be talking to Starsky at all, even about obscure mosaics.

"The colors are amazing after all these centuries," Starsky answered, straight faced. "Gimme those pens, Brick. I haven't colored in years."

"Here's one of The Concubine by Manet," Washington pointed out. "She's nude."

Hutch felt almost like an interloper, watching the two of them explore the book. They obviously shared some in-joke that he knew nothing about and he experienced a brief stab of jealousy that Washington knew something about Starsky that he didn't. It was irrational and stupid to be jealous of their time together, but after almost losing Starsky, he was.

"Hutch, can you get us somethin' to drink?" Starsky asked, sweetly.

"You actually going to drink it if I do?" Hutch countered, knowing it was mainly a ploy to get him out of the room.

"Hey!" Starsky gaped at him comically. "I had that juice at noon. And Jello," he added for Washington's benefit.

"Two spoonfuls," Hutch corrected. "What do you want?" He knew there was something going on between the two of them. Starsky might keep up the charade for a while but he usually couldn't lie to Hutch long. And then there was Washington, whom Hutch felt he could break down easily. He just had to bide his time, giving Starsky a false sense that he'd gotten away with whatever it was.

"Seven-up," Starsky ordered, not really caring.

"Coke?" Washington put in.

"Be right back," Hutch agreed, leaving.

"Did you bring it, Brick?" Starsky perused his selection of watercolor pens, deliberating over the correct blue to color in a rendition of the famous Japanese Ocean wave woodcutting.

"Ah'm not sure it's such a good idea, Little Davey," Washington protested.

"You're reconsidering after you already brought it?" Starsky held out his left hand with a scowl. "Give it here."

"What'd you need it for in th'hospital?" Washington dug into his carryall again, producing a steel blue .38.

"Protection." Starsky hefted the gun in his hand, mentally acknowledging the different size and weight from his usual weapon.

"There're guards on the door, Starsky." Darryl observed his friend unhappily. Starsky had every reason in the world to be paranoid, even downright terrified of a sneak attack, but he looked weirdly calm and detached.

"Need to be prepared." He leaned over, tucking the gun under a pile of magazines in the bedside drawer.

"You think van Geller'll come here?"

"Why? What have you heard? Hutch won't tell me nothing and I'm stuck in bed until they pull this damn tube out of my dick."

"Ah don' know where he is, if that's what you mean. Nobody's seen him." Washington shoved his hands into the pockets of his Burberry knock off. "Adams says Sherman musta run--with the money from every one of the Brotherhood's bank accounts, from what we can d'duce."

"He tried...for just a minute to stop them." Starsky swallowed tightly, his throat still bruised from Camden's grip. Washington waited, certain there was more he meant to say, but Starsky just selected a pen and uncapped it.

"When's your doctor gonna spring you loose? Rabbi wants you t'come for the final dinner on Monday night."

"Tell him I'm comin'." Starsky ducked his head, inking in a long swell of ocean wave with Caribbean blue and indigo.

"I'm back!" Hutch announced heartily, in case they were still discussing something they didn't want him to hear, but neither looked particularly guilty. "And look who I found." He indicated his head at Meredith, who had been taking a walk on the grounds while the weather permitted.

"Hi, Joanie." Washington leaned down to give her a peck on the cheek. "You look nice."

"Well, thank you, kind sir." She patted his cheek, glancing to see if Starsky noticed. "You see what a nice southern boy can do?"

"I think you look good, too," Starsky said, knowing he was supposed to.

"You look good, too?" she echoed. "I get a whole new wardrobe and that's all I get?"

"Yah, Starsk." Hutch placed the forgotten soft drinks on the table, giving his attention to Meredith's clothes. Today she had on a tight, lavender t-shirt, which featured a low cut neckline to emphasize her cleavage, and purple slacks. "You're supposed to complement a woman. Very nice color on you, Meredith."

"I'm from New Yawk, we don't tawk lihk that." Starsky exaggerated his childhood accent, glad the teasing was keeping his attention off the increasing aches all over his body. It must be getting close to time for another round of medication; there was an annoying pressure in his head he wanted to ignore. Grabbing her hand, he growled, "C'mere, woman."

"Well, I think you need some lessons," Meredith answered archly, but let herself be pulled onto the bed.

"Ah think ah read this script." Washington laughed, scooping up his coke. "It's where the two good guys exit."

"You got the part," Starsky muttered, leaning his forehead against Meredith's. This was where he was meant to be.

"What'd you bring him?" Hutch asked, just managing to keep the accusation out of his voice.

"Th'book."

"And...?"

"He wanted a gun."

"Damn, Brick!"

"Well, d'ya blame him?"

"No." Hutch took a breath to steady himself. "He's scared, but...it's not the safest place to be keeping a gun."

Busying himself with popping the top on the soda can, Washington shrugged. "How's he doin'? They gonna let him out?"

"In a couple days, I guess," Hutch agreed. "But he'll need to go back in next week or so, at the hospital closer to his house, to have surgery on his wrist."

"The right one," Washington clarified, taking a drink of Coke. "What about th'other one?"

"He won't even mention that one... It's like it comes up, but he can't talk about it." Hutch gritted his teeth against the burning pain in his chest that appeared every time he even thought about the tattoo. "I talked to the plastic surgeon myself. There're new laser procedures that can...erase the ink right off the skin. It takes more than one treatment, but I think that's what he should get--just need him to admit it's there in the first place."

"Jist wait it out, Hutch."

"Man, I don't think I should leave." He shook his head to clear all the disturbing images that kept crowding his brain. "Maybe..."

"You need t'be part of the investigation. Ah'm here now. Joanie's here. You can go and be back tomorrow, if y'want to."

"Yah, I know." Hutch shook the big man's hand. His own hand was long and slender, good sized but the big brown paw that returned his grip easily surrounded it. "Keep him safe."

"Ah didn't do such a good job b'fore, but Ah'll give it mah best."

"Brick, it was never your fault." Hutch slugged him gently on the bicep. "He's a handful."

~~~

Hutch slept in his own Venice apartment for the first time in weeks, watered his plants, strummed aimlessly on his guitar and got back to the business of being back in Ken Hutchinson's world and not that of Ken Chambers. Truth be told, he hardly even wanted to go back to that miserable little studio on Mayflower street and retrieve the few things he'd brought over there. He wanted this to be completely and finally over. That just wasn't going to happen soon enough, though. There were too many loose ends--especially the whereabouts of van Geller and Sherman.

The newspapers speculated endlessly over where the two had escaped to--other countries, by plane or even cruise liner, since at least one of them was carrying a sizable fortune. Hutch had other thoughts. He knew Peter van Geller wouldn't just let his whole plan die such an ignominious death. He was still in the Los Angeles area, planning and waiting for the right moment to strike. And Hutch wanted to be ready for him.

Returning to Metro headquarters after three days away brought back a wash of leftover emotions from Starsky's disappearance. He tried tidying up the desk to rid himself of the misplaced anxiety, focusing on each piece of paper, deciding whether it needed to be tossed or filed. The scribbled phone list that Starsky had doodled a naked woman's form on was tucked carefully back into his desk drawer.

After a sufficient time, Hutch was mentally prepared for his next job. He would interrogate John Adams himself. The only one of the unholy three to have been captured, Adams had been questioned countless times, but never by someone who had actually worked so closely with him. Maybe he could get the bastard to spill the beans. All ready the anger in his belly simmered, and he didn't mind fanning the flames, remembering Adams' whiny attempts to distance himself from the crime when Starsky had been found so near death.

~~~

Adams' eyes shifted warily between Hutch and the interrogation room door. Uncomfortable under the cop's impenetrable blue gaze, he shifted nervously in his seat, tapping his fingers in a staccato rhythm on the tabletop scarred with years of cigarette burns. He feared Chambers--no make that Hutchinson--more than all the other cops who'd questioned him combined. He'd been friendly with the man, shared a beer. Chambers had seemed like one of their sort--salt of the earth, loving his fellow white man. He had deceived John Adams. It rankled in his soul that he had shared confidences with the traitorous cop--told him secrets when he should have kept silent.

Blowing out noisily thought his mouth, he kept sneaking glances at the blond cop who hadn't moved since he'd entered the room. Adams licked his lips, jiggling his knee, then resuming the ratatat on the table, the links on his handcuffs jingling.

Unnerved by Hutchinson's unnatural silence, he spoke. "Uh-so-uh...that Jew cop's okay, huh? He didn't die." He tittered, an obscene sound in so large a man, a phony smile plastered on his face.

"No thanks to you," Hutch answered impassively. "What do you think would have happened if he had?"

"Hey, I been cooperating--I talked to that nig...black cop. I'm getting immunity."

"For some of the crimes, not all of them." Hutch finally pulled out a straight-backed chair and sat.

"Yah, I guess."

"But luckily Starsky didn't die, so you didn't get saddled with Murder One." Hutch wanted to reach across the table and slam Adams against the wall until he bashed his brains in, but he didn't let any of his latent anger show in his face. "There's still that pesky torture charge."

"Ain't no torture charge," Adams scoffed. He'd talked to his attorney, he knew what he'd been charged with.

"Aw, did I say torture? Sorry, I meant false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault with intent... What'd you do it for, shithead?"

"Don't know what you're talking about."

"I know you put those filthy numbers on his arm...into his skin," Hutch said softly, the danger radiating off him in waves. "I watched you inking those swastikas on Metzger and the others. So proud of your accomplishments. So why'd you do it to my partner?"

"Hey, Peter tol' me to. Wasn't my idea."

"It's never your fault, is it? Guess you never think for yourself," Hutch snarled. "Where the hell is van Geller?"

"I told that nigger--uh, Washington, I don't know." He deliberately pronounced the word "don't."

"You don't seem to know much." Hutch shook his head. "Sure, you gave us some tantalizing clues to the bombing, but it doesn't do a bit of good if we don't get van Geller. So, again, where is he?"

"Man, he bailed on me!" Adams blurted out. "He left after he heard you were a cop."

"Who told him?"

"Margaret."

"So, despite all our efforts, he's still got a core of followers," Hutch mused, disappointed but not surprised at the woman's duplicity. "Where do you think he's hiding?"

"I don't know." Adams punched each word with a rap of his fist on the table. "I told you."

"Daniels, Metzger, Fredricks, Camden, and Jake--all in jail. More'n a dozen others whom we can prove were involved in illegal activities. Who's hiding him, Adams?"

"He doesn't tell me stuff," Adams whined. "You worked with him. He thinks everybody's out to get him. Always accusing everybody..."

"He told you more than he ever told me," Hutch continued with quiet force. "You were his second Lieutenant. In charge of recruitment, the secret membership meetings, procuring the women. You knew everybody in the Brotherhood. So where is he?"

"I've been in here." Adams held out his cuffed hands. "Chained up like some dog. How would I know?"

"Just like you chained up my partner and left him in a dumpster to die? You don't know anything, do you? You're just as dumb as an ox, huh?" Maybe it was transferred anger from Starsky, maybe it was just the asshole Adams sitting in front of him denying everything like a Mafioso on the witness stand, but Hutch's rage burned white hot in defense of his best friend. And unlike Starsky, his anger had no distressed sadness mixed in. He was just royally pissed off.

"Hey!" Adams started to rise in anger, them remembered where he was and that he didn't know the answer to the questions Hutch was asking.

"What do you know, anyway?"

"Nothin' that you want to know." The shackled man shrugged elaborately, still afraid Hutch might pull out that mammoth pistol and do what he'd threatened in Temecula. "Except that Peter's gonna kill that red haired Jew-boy an' you'll never see him coming."

"Shut the hell up!" Hutch smacked the wall with the flat of his hand, the sound making Adams jump. "No matter how much immunity you get for the petty ass stuff, fella, you'll still be in prison for a long, long time. And y'know I've heard there's a lot of your kind in Folsom--white supremacy's big inside, huh? You could be real popular."

"I know some guys..."Adams trailed off, not sure what he was getting at.

"Yah, but y'know, child molesters, now that's a whole different ball of wax."

"I didn't do that shit, man."

"Since Sandrine bar Din pressed charges, we've talked to five other unsolved rape cases. Very pretty girls...a couple very young. One of 'em fourteen."

"Peter never does any minors."

"But he did. And you did." Hutch reached over and pushed back Adams' sleeve to reveal the lightening bolt S scar below the Nazi insignia tattoo. "All the girls remember the handsome blond guy named Peter and his hulking friend with the tattoo." He patted the other man's arm before Adams pulled his cuffed hands back. " Maybe I should get your machine out of the evidence room. It's only one floor down. Or just use a dirty needle and India ink, huh? Like they do in prison? And ink something wicked across your forehead, huh? Child molester? Tortures little girls? Huh?" He advanced around the table, poking his finger in Adams' chest. "How popular would you be in prison after that, you think?"

"You can't do that against my will! I got rights." Adams tried to back up, away from the menace in Hutchinson's eyes.

"I can't? Like you couldn't do it to my partner? To Starsky? What kind of rights did you give him?"

"That's not fair--I was under orders."

"I forgot, you don't think for yourself, just some kind of Nazi puppet. Well, Adams, who ever told you life was fair? I'm talking to the lawyers about revoking any immunity you may have been granted, cause I want you in prison for a good..." he poked his finger at Adams' breastbone one last time, "long time."

"I want my lawyer," Adams squeaked.

"Sure, we're done. You don't know anything." Hutch shut his eyes to rid himself of the view of Adams' thick necked, fleshy face, crew cut and tiny ears. Turning, he stalked out of the interrogation room, calling for the uniformed officer standing guard outside the door.

Sitting in the squadroom, in the chair on the side of the communal desk that Hutch thought of as Starsky's was Elsa Hottstedder. Her silvery blond hair was elaborately French braided down her back, emphasizing the elegant line of her jaw and high cheekbones. She gave a tentative smile when he walked up, standing to meet him.

"Detective Hutchinson?" she asked, her voice a mixture of uncertainty and determination.

"Ken." He shook her hand warmly, very aware of his body's keen awareness of her presence. Waving her back to her seat, he dropped down into the other chair, crossing his legs over the sudden warmth in his groin. "I'm glad to see you, Elsa, but a little surprised. I wasn't sure if you wanted to remain in contact." He chose his words carefully, not wanting to start in a direction she wasn't prepared for.

"I...I've done a lot of thinking the last few days." She was wearing a russet skirt and a braided belt with long tassels that she twisted absently around her forefinger. "About my life. Things I've done. Things you said... So on Friday I went back to Millbrae and Sons and applied for the job."

"The place where you couldn't talk to the receptionist?"

She nodded, the blond braid swinging. "I'd never spoken willingly...um...intentionally to a colored before, except y'know to a store clerk. And I usually try to avoid them, too."

"How was it?" Hutch asked gently.

"Scary, but I did it. And I got the job." She gave him a dazzling smile. "I start Monday, secretary to Mr. Millbrae Jr."

"Congratulations."

"The one thing I'm worried about is having to talk to Marvella. I'm afraid I'll say something...she takes the wrong way, and get fired."

"Then you need to practice. Think of safe topics. Don't start out big, after all, you just met. Hello, nice weather works really well."

"Yes." Elsa twisted the tassel around two fingers and then let it unwind in a curly spiral. "I'm really going to try to change. I think I am prejudiced, only I never thought much about it. Everybody I know is the same way."

"You know me."

"Well." She laughed self-consciously. "I even tried to get into those peace talks, but you couldn't go for just one day and they were all filled up."

"I'm proud that you gave it a try." Hutch nodded. "You should celebrate. Are you doing anything tonight?"

"Are you asking me out?" Elsa countered, a little gleam in her summer sky blue eyes.

"You're in such an adventuresome period of your life, maybe you'd like to meet a few of my friends." Hutch admired her fine boned face, warming to the idea of taking her out on a real date. He'd spoken almost without thinking, but realized he really wanted to go out with her. As long as she could rid herself of the ugly bigotry, that is. Thoughts of Angela flitted though his mind, but he was far more attracted to Elsa, if she could change. Angela had always been an enjoyable pastime, not a long-term romance. Elsa fascinated him, and not just because she was strikingly beautiful. How much had her prejudices affected her life? And could she learn to be comfortable in an integrated world?

Hutch remembered his father teaching him how to swim by tossing the four year old child into the pool and waiting for him to come sputtering to the surface, splashing his arms wildly. The old man had never once lifted a hand to help his son back out of the water. He'd learned to swim, but it had taken awhile. Total immersion--that's what he planned for Elsa, but with a kinder hand. If she was scared they'd leave, but a big step towards her independence might be just a little drink and maybe a meal at Huggy Bear's.

"If you feel uncomfortable, we can go." Hutch cupped his hand around her elbow, rubbing his fingers on the soft skin of her inner arm. "But at least one drink, okay?"

"Not so hard." Elsa smiled uncertainly, with a tiny shrug. "This place is owned by one of your friends?"

"Yep, and I haven't seen him in a while. Huggy can be a little overwhelming for anyone, so just remain cool and you'll have him eating out of your hand."

~~~

Hutch led the way into the semi-dark bar, glad it appeared to be a relatively quiet night. Sunday at 5:30 was hardly party hour.

"Have a seat, I'll go get us drinks." Hutch held out a chair for Elsa, letting the tip of her braid dance along his arm as she sat. It sent shivers over his skin, feeding the heat in his groin. "Beer? Domestic? German?"

Elsa laughed, her teeth perfectly white in the gloom. "Actually, Mexican if he has it."

"I'll go out to the corner liquor store and get some if he doesn't." Hutch shared the laughter. "Cuervo with lime."

"Perfect," she said, but her eyes were on the man behind the bar. Tall, thin as a whippet and a chocolate brown, he was wearing a rainbow hued shirt and bright blue jacket. She looked away, embarrassed, unsure of what her reactions should be.

"That's Huggy Bear," Hutch confirmed. "Honest, Elsa, he won't bite. All you have to do is say hello."

"This is very hard. It's like I'm looking at everything from a different direction."

"Sounds about right," Hutch agreed. He caught Huggy's eye, crossing to the bar.

"Return of the prodigal son!" Huggy proclaimed, leaning over the counter to give him a clap on the back. "How's it shakin', man?"

"Better than a few days ago." Hutch put in his order.

"I read about Starsky. That man's a psycho." Huggy shook his head, flipping the caps of two Cuervo Golds.

"And the paper didn't report it all," Hutch said soberly. "He's still in pretty rough shape. I'll tell you about it another time." He pointed out Elsa, who gave a nervous wave. "That's Elsa."

"Very pretty." Huggy raised his eyebrows approvingly.

"She's...uh...not used to people like you." Hutch wasn't sure how to put it into words.

"Gregarious, macho bar owners?"

"How bout bar owners of a darker hue?"

"Oh." Huggy frowned, his face hard. "She one of them folk you were hangin' with? Not good company, Hutch."

"I think she has a real interest in change."

"The she oughta be talkin' to Rabbi Micah, not coolin' her heels in a black man's establishment."

"Huggy," Hutch chastised carefully. "Give her a chance."

"You gonna be seein' more of her?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"A lot of things. Huggy, just be cordial."

"I ain't no sweet drink, but I know how to make nice with the customers." Huggy plopped the beer bottles onto a tray with a little more force than necessary, adding a bowl of lime quarters and a salt shaker.

Hutch made the introductions, getting a soft hello from Elsa and a strained, formal greeting out of Huggy, not at all his usual effusive manner when encountering a new pretty face at the bar. Huggy left abruptly when hailed by another customer.

Clinking bottles with Elsa, Hutch took a long swallow, then bit into the juicy green fruit, savoring the sour/sweet taste.

Elsa drank also, sucking on the lime wedge, her pink tongue licking the last of the juice from her bottom lip. "Ken, do you remember--I think it was one of the first days you were at the...Brotherhood...we watched Bachman give a speech on the TV."

"Yes."

"I never..." She paused, then began again. "He quoted Love Thy Neighbor. I didn't know that Jews had the Ten Commandments."

Hutch was floored for a moment, astonished by her appalling lack of knowledge. "But, Elsa, y'know Moses was Jewish. He led the children of Israel out of Egypt and somewhere in that forty years got the commandments."

"I just never made the connection," she said, her voice dropping into a whisper so that the blare from the jukebox nearly drowned her out. "But the Jews killed Jesus, didn't they?"

"I think the Romans did that." Hutch watched her, taking occasional drinks from his beer. Elsa had ducked her head as if suddenly very interested in the gold label on her bottle.

"I keep thinking of things." She poked her finger into the lime, letting the juice soak into her napkin. "Stuff my dad said, boyfriends...and I'm not sure what's real and what's not. It's like I'm standing on ice and there's a giant crack between my feet. The ice is breaking apart and I can't even keep my footing anymore." Her blue eyes were wet with tears. "I'm afraid to talk to everyone now. It used to be so simple--I knew who was good and who was bad. Black and white."

"Jews and Christians," Hutch finished for her. "And then there's all those Hindus, Muslims, and Catholics."

"Oh, god," she wailed. "I can't do this. I feel like I'm going to suffocate in here."

"Okay." Hutch threw some cash on the table, guiding her out without a second word. As they were leaving he caught Huggy watching them with a neutral expression.

"I'm sorry, Ken. I like you, I really do. But it's too much." Elsa hugged her arms over her chest, pulling the jacket that matched her russet skirt tighter.

"I know. And you've actually taken a big leap, Elsa," Hutch consoled, rubbing her back. "Acknowledging that you have difficulty with this."

She took panicky, choppy breaths, trying to calm herself down. "Difficulty doesn't even begin to come close to it. Listen, I have to get up early to start my new job in the morning. I...I'd like to try this again, sometime?"

"Sounds good to me." Hutch smiled at her. "Since you left your car at headquarters, I guess we'll have to spend a while longer together."

"Oh, yeah." She laughed self-consciously. "What's good drive home conversation? The world series?"

"You know baseball?" Hutch asked incredulously.

"Do I know baseball!" she snorted, with a flip of her long braid.

Elsa did know her way around the great American pastime, and was able to control the conversation all the way back to the parking lot. This only heightened Hutch's interest in her. Despite the dismal failure of his total immersion experiment, he knew he would see her again. Maybe subject her to an evening with Starsky and Meredith--that could be the proof of the pudding.

Back home in his own apartment, Hutch found himself with time on his hands and very little to occupy himself. It was early on a Sunday evening. He should call Angela, if just to give her the it's-over speech, but he didn't feel like it. He could go back to Huggy's and sooth the waters, but hell, Huggy was the one who'd acted like a jerk. He had to have had other customers he didn't approve of in that pit of a bar over the years. Dinner was probably a good idea, but there was very little food in the cupboards. He was just on the way out again to hit the neighborhood grocery when the phone rang.

"Hey," he answered by way of greeting.

"Hey, I used to know a guy named Hutchinson who lived here, but I think he changed his name to Chambers..."

"The old Hutch is back." Hutch grinned. Starsky sounded like his old self.

"Glad to know." Starsky tucked his feet under him, sitting Indian style in the hospital bed. "What's going on?"

"Why, you bored? Nothing at all, where's Brick and Meredith?" Hutch had a sudden attack of nerves. What was Starsky doing by himself? "Are you alone? Are you...?"

"Don't get all bent out of shape--there's still a coupla uniforms on the door--which by the way, I think is really overkill... Brick has some 'brotha' in Riverside, and his wife does braids, so Meredith went with him to have dinner there and get her hair done." Starsky paused to take a drink from the 7-up on the bedside table. Now that he could keep fluids down, he couldn't seem to satiate his thirst.

"Poor Starsk, left behind."

"Yah, well, not exactly up to dinner party standards yet." Starsky shrugged.

"When were you ever?" Hutch quipped, that last statement too invitingly open for ridicule. Starsky must not be feeling very well yet, he'd usually shoot back with a stinging retort, but he let this one slide by. "You getting out tomorrow?"

"Yep. Got that garden hose pulled out, and it hurt like a son of a bitch. Now I have to prove I can go by myself by noon Monday. I said I've been doing it since I was two, I didn' figure it would be so hard..." He squirmed, remembering the first painful attempts to urinate without the catheter in, but his body needed to reestablish the normal internal functions and all were not quite in perfect working order yet. "Next time, if I'm unconscious, don't let some doctor shove one of those things up me again, hear?"

"There'll be a next time?" Hutch said, half teasing, "I don't like the sound of that."

"No--you know what I mean." Starsky rubbed his aching temple. "So, what's going on with van Geller?"

"No one can find him," Hutch answered. "I interrogated Adams, but he claimed not to know, and to a certain extent, I believed him. I think van Geller likes to control everything. He's buried himself in the dirt somewhere, until just the right time."

"That's where he belongs." Starsky shivered, hating the way his body reacted involuntarily. Van Geller may be a monster, but he was just another monster in a long line Starsky had encountered in his police career. What made him any different? Starsky didn't want visceral feelings to affect how he acted as an officer of the law, but he knew that they did. He was scared of Peter van Geller, and was comforted by the sight of butt of the .38 under the pile of magazines beside him.

"Starsk?" Hutch broke into the silence zinging along the phone line. "You okay?"

"Yah. Sure, terrific. Why shouldn't I be?"

"I can be there in under two hours if you want some company."

"Nah, Meredith'll be back soon, with new hair. It'd get too crowded," Starsky assured heartily, his heart rate accelerating as memories flooded his soul, drowning his spirit. Oh, god, please not now. Try not to think about it.

"Starsky, say something!" Hutch was getting frightened now, Starsky's breathing sounded ragged, and he hadn't responded to his name being called twice.

"What?"

"You didn't hear me."

"Must be a bad connection. I gotta get some sleep. S-she'll want to be up late talkin' an' stuff. Y'know, I'm tryin' to convince her to go back to Washington to finish the seminar, cause the instructor already told her that it'd be okay, and uh--then she'd be able to teach this stuff herself and tour the country teaching it to other cops..."

"Stop," Hutch ordered. Starsky hadn't taken a breath since he'd started the run on sentence. "Talk to me." He listened to the intake of air that proved Starsky had inhaled. "And not about Meredith. You need to get rid of all that shit or it'll eat you alive."

"So everybody keeps tellin' me." Starsky recalled the conversation about forgiveness he'd had with Washington on the first day of their partnership. He wasn't ready yet to think about all of what had happened to him. Just go slow, take tiny little bites out of it, no need to ingest it whole. "Adams... Did he say why? He finished...what he started, didn't he?"

Anyone else might not even understand what Starsky was eluding to, but Hutch wasn't just anyone. He spoke Starsky-ese. He also knew at that moment that Starsky would probably never open up to some hospital appointed psychiatrist, so it looked like he was drafted into the job. "On your arm?" he asked carefully, wanting Starsky to say it out loud.

"Yesss."

Well, he hadn't said the words but he'd acknowledged its presence. That was a start. "I asked him. He said van Geller ordered him to do the tattoo."

"Did you see it?" Starsky had closed his eyes, unable to even look at the bandage wound around the arm he was using to hold the phone to his ear.

"Yeah, I did," Hutch agreed. "Did you look at it?"

"No. I don't want to."

"I talked to the plastic surgeon." Hutch described the conversation he'd had with the doctor. "He can get rid of it," he concluded.

"That's good. Soon. Then, maybe I could get a naked woman instead, huh? Or a heart with 'Mom' under it?" Starsky's voice shook, but his attempt at levity showed he was more in control.

"Or a big red Torino," Hutch added, smiling fondly. He paused, knowing what he was going to say next would be met with stubbornness. "Starsk, have you heard of Post Traumatic Stress?"

"S'what Viet Nam vets get."

"Or anyone who's had really bad shit happen to them," Hutch reasoned.

"Well, Dr. Hutchinson, when did you get your degree while I wasn't lookin'?" Starsky asked sarcastically. "You think I'm messed up?"

"Listen, I just think that maybe..."

"I need to see a shrink?" Starsky sneered. "Thanks a lot, buddy. I appreciate your back-up, pal. I gotta go, bye." With that less than satisfactory last word, Starsky slammed down the phone, angry that his hands shook as he did so. Everyone kept harping on him to talk about it, get it off his chest, let out the demons. He wasn't ready, and he certainly wasn't going to make nice chat with some sixty dollar an hour interrogator with a parchment degree on the wall. They could all go to hell; he'd already been there, thank you very much and didn't relish reliving it. So why did Hutch's words ring so true?

"Well, Hutchinson, that went really well," Hutch chastised himself, staring at the handset now blaring the dial tone, hoping that Starsky would reconsider and call back. It didn't happen and he reluctantly hung up. He was certainly batting a thousand tonight. He'd managed to scare off Elsa and piss off Huggy and Starsky in mere hours. He and Starsky had never had a fight that lasted more than 24 hours; both would be talking by tomorrow, even if neither ever apologized or referred to the actual argument again. And despite his objections, he knew exactly where Starsky would be on Monday evening after he left the hospital, so if nothing else changed between then and now, he'd see him in person at the peace talks dinner.

PART FIVE