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PART FOUR

Bad Moon Rising
by
Dawnwind

Part Five

A pale blue-eyed man settled himself in the first class seat of the South Pacific cross-country Nightflyer, catching his reflection in the night darkened window. The new look still impressed him. A reddish dye, a tight perm, and contact lenses gave him such a different attitude that he felt confident buying any newspaper with his picture on it. No one had yet recognized him! They were all such fools, with Peter van Geller being the King of fools. The man had been totally blinded by his maniacal hatred for a particular group of people and look where it had gotten him? He'd be arrested in just a day or so.

The man who now called himself Mark Fermacher smiled. He knew for certain that van Geller wouldn't be able to stay away from the peace talks and that would be his undoing. He should have planned better, not let the prejudice get in the way of the total plan. Now, someone else had his money and power and he was left with nothing, just the way it was meant to be.

Mark Fermacher had always believed in setting his own course, not letting others influence his life. He'd gotten through college despite a stupid set of parents and less than stellar high school grades. He'd excelled at MIT. He'd excelled at making a bomb to set all the Jewish population of LA on its collective ear and now, he would excel at whatever else he put his mind to.

Giving a friendly smile to the sweet faced woman across the aisle, who nodded in return, Fermacher opened his paper to read the exploits of the FBI's number two wanted man--Albert Sherman-- somebody he didn't know anymore.

~~~

Finishing his morning prayers in his little office behind the main conference room, Micah Bachman felt satisfied. Here it was, the last day of the talks and there'd been no violence, no bombs, and no more threats. The talks had gone as well as he could have expected. Oh, sure, there'd been the usual tension and dissention brought on by spirited debates and opposing view points, but everyone here had worked together in the united spirit of a shared goal. Even those who'd argued the loudest agreed that progress had been made. Prejudice could be untaught. It was possible, and the people he'd shared these walls with the last few days were living proof of that.

He was planning to sit in on the lecture by Lutheran minister Robert Carson before his own seminar after the break. The other speakers had been wonderful, insightful and provocative--proving that his was not the only viewpoint. If some agreed wholeheartedly with him, others swayed towards the more conservative angle of Carson, or the middle of the road views of Monsignor Lopez-Gonzalez. It was important to show the skinheads, ex-white supremacists and others of their ilk that it was perfectly all right to have differences of opinion without breaking down into petty threats and anger.

To be truthful, Micah was also glad there had been others to share the workload. He thought maybe he'd take a few days off after all this--maybe go to Hawaii--someplace not associated with work and Miriam. He and the other clergy had split the weekend so each could take their own Sabbaths to practice their own faiths. Thus, he'd been able to take off on Saturday for worship and had done all the morning lectures on Sunday to let those of Christian persuasion go to their churches. But a few weeks of relaxation were in order after the months of stress.

"Micah." Moses Reinhart from the hall, juggling a load of paperwork in his arms. "You have the final tally on who's gonna be at the dinner tonight?"

"It's there somewhere." Micah waved a hand at the desk. "I talked to Dave Starsky this morning and he's getting out of the hospital and probably driving straight over. So, there's four in his party."

"Yah, we reserved a table just for them, right near the front," Moses agreed, setting down his own pile of papers and finding the one the rabbi had indicated. "You and all the rest of the clergy are on the dais, then Mama, and Senator McCallum."

Micah grinned impishly. "Tell me Mose, your mother and the senator...?"

Looking amazingly embarrassed for an adult, sexually experienced man, a blush rising up from his dark beard, Moses nodded. "They've been very discrete, what with everything that's happened with Miriam and all, but they've been seeing each other for a while."

"I think it's great," Micah said, a sharp ache cramping his heart for just a moment. If only he'd had more time with Miriam. Had she known about her mother's happiness?

"I'll have to say Mozel Tov tonight."

"And another one to you, Micah." Moses waved his arms to take in the world around them. "You've been brilliant. I wasn't sure this would all come off; I guess I just didn't have your faith."

"Some days I didn't know if I had any." The rabbi sighed. "But I had Miriam." He tapped his breastbone, then straightened his yarmulke and walked out to join the crowd gathering for Rev. Carson's talk.

"Rabbi."

"Rabbi Bachman!"

Immediately he was swarmed with admirers, all wanting a word with the great one, each intent on putting forth his or her own personal stamp on the proceedings and volunteering to help with any further projects. Suddenly, there were so many possibilities and not enough time and money to address them all.

Shaking hands and attempting to answer each question, Micah caught sight of a man on the edge of the group sipping coffee. He looked oddly familiar, but somehow off, and Micah groped his memory for the young man's name. It didn't come, and when he looked over again, the brunet with a reddish beard similar to the rabbi's own had disappeared. Laughing to himself for having an attack of paranoia, Micah focused his whole attention on a young blond woman who'd just admitted to some fairly vicious racial attacks in her high school days. This required more of him than some vaguely suspicious person in the group. Of course he'd looked familiar, he'd spent three and a half days with these people. They all looked familiar, even if he hadn't memorized three hundred different names. So why, even as he consoled the woman, did his mind keep going back to the thought that the man looked suspicious?

Van Geller laughed, ducking his head over his morning cup of coffee. It was the closest he'd ever gotten to the Jew. He had such a heady sense of omnipotence, like he was controlling the actions of every single person in the building. He was the ultimate puppeteer, holding the strings and choreographing the whole show.

Finding a seat as Reverend Carson claimed the stage, van Geller sneered at the prissy minister gesturing ineffectually to quiet the still chattering crowd. It wasn't until Bachman stood and shushed them that the audience settled, turning towards the front to watch Reverend Carson.

Pow.

Van Geller entertained himself by aiming a pretend pistol and picking off the Lutheran before aiming at his intended target, the Jew.

Pow.

Nobody in this room knew what he planned to do that evening and the knowledge of this gave him satisfaction for the entire lecture.

~~~

"Ready t'go?" Washington asked, watching as Starsky stuffed the last of his possessions into a duffel bag Meredith had provided.

"I was ready hours ago, but the idiot doctors wouldn't let me go!" Starsky groused. It was almost three in the afternoon, but his urologist hadn't signed the release papers until he'd given up what seemed a larger than necessary amount of fluids. Blood sample, urine... Finally, the gruff faced doctor had peered at him through Coke bottle-lensed glasses and pronounced him in fair condition, adding that he should go home and rest for at least a week. There were all sorts of complications from near renal failure; urinary tract infections, bladder infections, and even kidney stones. It had been way more information than Starsky cared to hear. "Is Meredith bringing the car around?"

"Should be out there now." Washington picked up the duffel, raising his eyebrows in a slightly threatening manner until Starsky sat in the wheelchair the nurse had wheeled in.

His departure from the hospital was a trifle less dramatic than his entrance, but Starsky didn't mind in the least. Brick pushed the wheelchair down the corridor, flanked by the two silent uniformed guards and out into the pickup area. Their late departure had discouraged the media, who'd been waiting since early that morning, so with a quick transfer from wheelchair to car, neither of the two lurking photographers got a picture.

"Well, you cleaned up nice." Meredith shifted around in the driver's seat to admire the dark gray suit and tie she'd bought for Starsky to go with the deep blue shirt.

"He looks like he's in Guys n' Dolls," Washington put in, sliding into the back after putting the bags in the trunk. Meredith let out the brake, driving slowly though the hospital parking lot to avoid the photographers still intent on getting their shots.

"I like that show," Starsky defended. "'Nothin' like a dame...'" he warbled.

"Ha, wrong musical," Washington corrected. "That's South Pacific. You want 'Luck be a Lady.'"

"I got that." Starsky reached for Meredith's hand, giving it a squeeze. He didn't feel one hundred percent yet, but he was ecstatic to be out of the hospital. "An' what are you, anyway, an expert on all art and theatre?"

"As a matter of fact, Ah am," Washington confirmed smugly. "An' don't you two start sparkin' up there while Joanie is drivin' or she'll put us into a ditch."

"Sparkin'?" Meredith echoed with a laugh in her voice. "Then, you can drive. I have to get gas anyway, Brick; we can switch then. Wouldn't want to put us in a ditch." She took advantage of a red light to plant a kiss on Starsky's cheek.

"You can be chauffeur," Starsky grinned, stroking Meredith's soft brown cheek. "And we'll make out in the back seat."

"I get all the fun," Washington groused good naturedly, happy to see the two of them back together and Starsky on the mend. Meredith bumped the car over the curb into a Shell station, getting out to start pumping the gas. He jumped out to assist her, teasing her for doing the "manly" job dressed in an elegant dress and high heels.

Starsky slumped in the back seat watching Washington and Meredith laugh together, wondering if he should get out and try to call Hutch on the pay phone before they got back on the highway for the hour's drive.

He'd warred with himself all morning about calling Hutch back. The one time he'd tried, he's gotten the message that the blond detective was out of the building for several hours. He hadn't left a message. The rest of the day had been filled with endless, annoying tests and a boring renal ultrasound that took forever. He still felt cold from lying on a bare gurney while the tech had moved a blunt ended scope smeared with icy goop across his belly creating weird black and white images on his monitor screen. The urologist and his assistant had hummed and ahun'd back and forth before pronouncing his kidneys on the mend despite the ache Starsky felt all along his back. Still, he regretted not getting in touch with his best friend.

Watching the freeway rush past as Washington put on the speed, Starsky yearned for his former life, even if it had only been a month ago since he'd lived it. It seemed like a million years ago since he'd been cruising around with Hutch in the Torino, rounding up snitches and rousting small time bookies. The bomb had done more than destroy the temple; it had destroyed his life. Nothing had been the same since.

"Your hands are like ice, Blue Eyes." Meredith wrapped both of hers around Starsky's, scooching closer on the bench seat to lay her head on his shoulder.

"Y'know, Little Davey, I bin talkin' to Captain Dobey, an' he says I kin partner with Hutch for the month 'er two 'til you're back on your feet."

"Don't get too comfortable, Darryl," Starsky said snidely, ruder than he'd intended to be. "I'm not dead yet."

"David!" Meredith raised her head to peer at his angry face. "What's gotten into you?"

"Didn' mean anything by it, Starsky," Washington consoled, surprised by the outburst. "I ain't steppin' into your shoes."

"They wouldn't fit anyhow," Starsky teased, surprised himself. "Sorry, man, I'm just not myself lately."

"S'okay. Ah'd just as well hang around with one of the two of you guys than be stuck out like a fifth wheel when the famous Starsky and Hutch get back together."

"Well, with my luck you can just be the regular replacement partner whenever one of us ends up in the hospital."

"I don't like the sound of that." Meredith laced her fingers through Starsky's.

"You ain't heard mah theory, Joanie." Washington grinned at them in the rear view mirror. "'Bout the bullet magnet there."

"He's blowin' smoke," Starsky protested, but was once again subjected to the entire roster of his gunshot wounds and an addendum on the rest of his police work acquired injuries. Luckily, it was a long car ride to the convention center.

~~~

Hutch surreptitiously checked his pocket watch, judging how much time he had left before it was time to leave for the peace talks final night dinner. He'd spent the day assisting the original bombing investigation team sift through the wealth unearthed at the Temecula house. There was now such an incredible surplus of evidence to sift through that there was more than enough for five detectives to do. Already prosecuting attorneys were drafting documents to bring the perpetrators to trial and several key members of the Brotherhood had been picked up and requisitioned. As Hutch had always surmised, most of the others knew little to nothing about the temple bombing. That had been van Geller's special project, his silver trophy.

There was still much to be done to make an unbeatable case against Peter van Geller, but Hutch took his leave, wanting to have time to talk to Starsky alone. He sincerely regretted the argument. Although to be truthful, he did think Starsky would benefit from some professional consoling, not just baring his soul to his best friend. That is, if Starsky would ever even open up at all. Recently, he could sense Starsky holding himself impossibly tightly, as if he'd fly into bits at the slightest provocation.

Oddly, he knew that getting back on the streets, reestablishing their partnership would loosen Starsky up. One late night on a boring stakeout might actually be therapeutic. But with his upcoming wrist surgery, late night stakeouts would not be happening for a while.

Driving home to dress for the dinner, Hutch rehearsed what he planned to say to his best friend, not to offend but to plant a more positive attitude about therapy in his brain.

~~~

The last discussion of the peace conference had ended early on Monday to allow all participants to prepare for the evenings' festivities and redecorate the meeting rooms into dining areas. White table clothes were placed over lowly rented tables, adorned with crystal vases of cut flowers and glittery sprinkles of silvery confetti. Alliance for peaceful co-existence Banners and photographs taken in the last few days of the peace talk members were erected on easels around the periphery of the room, giving it a much more intimate atmosphere.

Van Geller had begun his work even before the caterers and waiters finished theirs. He was proud of his own handiwork. That bastard Sherman had always made it seem as if explosives were so difficult and precise. The bomb had sat in the trunk of his car for days since he'd left Temecula. No premature detonation. It had taken no work at all to change a few wires and timing devices. Hadn't needed no explosives expert, Albert.

Now, just had to get through the interminable after dinner speeches and awards. It just wouldn't do to spring the surprise too soon. Timing was everything--Grandpa Helmut had always said that. Trust the old man to know exactly the right words to say at the right time. He had to select the exact time to give Bachman his special award before the rest of them got theirs.

Folding into the shadows of the hallway, blending into the scenery, van Geller watched at the crowds of diners started to arrive. The success of the talks had brought out some luminaries of the political world who now jostled for a position on the rabbi's coat tails, riding along as if they'd been with him the whole time. With a chuckle, he slid away to finalize his preparations.

Micah found himself constantly surrounded by men whose names he'd only read in the papers and indulged in a bit of star struck admiration himself, appealing to their inflated egos to get the political and financial support he needed to fulfill the second phase of his dream.

Glad for the extra inch that put him above the average person, Hutch searched the crowd of cocktail-in-hand partners, but didn't see the three faces he was looking for. He did recognize the rabbi, his brother in law, and Dave Murphy, all wedged in a corner with half a dozen reporters and what looked to be the lieutenant governor of California. Good. With high-ranking brass like that around, the security had to be extra tight tonight. Just because nothing had happened thus far did not assuage the gut feeling Hutch had that van Geller was going to pull out a doozy before the dessert.

"Champagne, sir?"

Hutch accepted a tulip glass of bubbly from a black jacketed waiter, sipping the wine. Mrs. Reinhart's influence was obvious, it wasn't five dollar a bottle plonk, but real Napa Valley vintage champagne. His estimation that he might actually enjoy himself a little raised a notch.

Easing himself out of the throng streaming towards the bar, Hutch checked out the security. There were armed, uniformed police at all doors and invited guests and peace talk participants were only being allowed in through one outside entrance so that all could be discretely searched for weapons. The only reason Hutch had been able to hang onto his pistol was his detective badge. He chatted briefly with the policewoman in charge of security, asking if she'd had the building searched for bombs. This was a known M.O. of van Geller's, after all. Not looking at all offended by the question, she told him they'd swept the building that afternoon, and since there'd been police presence at all entrances since then, she doubted there was need for concern.

Knowing there was always a margin of error, Hutch would have pressed the point, but he finally caught sight of his friends coming through the metal detector. Starsky had set it off, and the on-duty cop, a crew cut with a beer belly and a healthy dislike of long haired trouble makers, was getting ready to frisk him.

"Don't worry," Hutch held his detective's shield in front of the suspicious man's face. "They may look like wanted felons, but they're all on our side." He grinned at the uniform's astonishment when Meredith and Washington held out their detective badges as well. Starsky just managed to look both surly and triumphant, since he no longer possessed a badge. Just another thing he'd have to replace.

"Thanks, Hutch." Meredith tucked her gold shield back into the tiny, black beaded evening bag she carried. The security cop was still giving her surreptitious glances as though he'd never seen a detective wearing a black cocktail dress with jet beads scattered across the bodice before. She patted the new thick braids coiled around the top of her head like a sleeping snake with a smirk.

"You carryin' concealed, buddy?" Hutch asked Starsky, thinking his partner didn't look at all up for an evening of over cooked meat and speeches. He looked so tired he probably wouldn't have made it though a night of warmed milk and Lawrence Welk.

"Don't I always?" Starsky asked rhetorically.

"No shoulder holster."

"Ankle." Starsky pulled up his left pants leg just enough to reveal the edge of a leather holster. "My arm isn't back in the game yet."

"Joanie, want something to drink?" Washington knew when his two friends needed some space.

"Yeah, they've got great champagne, and some hors d'oevres over there."

Hutch directed across the room to an elegant table laden with bite sized delicacies. "And we've got a reserved table near the front."

"Starsky, you want something?" Meredith leaned in to her lover. Even the low level lighting, designed for a calming, enjoyable evening didn't disguise the fact that he already looked pale, exhausted, and in pain. "A Coke to wash down a painkiller?" she suggested as sweetly as possible.

"Sure." He smiled for her benefit, amazed at how much the car ride had worn him out, and he'd slept half the way. Unfortunately, a multi-car pile up about fifteen miles past Riverside had delayed them for nearly forty-five minutes and he'd missed his pill deadline by quite a while. "Hutch'n me'll go snag some seats at the table."

"Starsk, you don't have to be here." Hutch caught him by the left arm as an already tipsy ex-skinhead over balanced into Starsky's right side, then lumbered off unsteadily without even an apology. Hutch could feel the stiffness in his friend's whole body as Starsky tried to hide the wave of pain that shot through him from the drunk's impact against his mangled wrist.

"I already am; no point in leaving now." Starsky sat at their designated table, holding his bandaged arm against his body. He hated his weakened state, determined not to ruin the evening for the rest of them. "I told you I was coming."

"Listen, I was a jerk last night. I shouldn't have tried my psych 101 on you..."

"Hey, everybody's got their own opinions; just don't fight with me right now." Starsky was so utterly vulnerable, Hutch's words caught in his throat. Tilting his head up, Starsky smiled tiredly, total forgiveness in his indigo eyes. "And who knows, maybe you got a point. I'm just not ready yet, y'know?"

"You think I might actually be right?" Hutch held his gaze for a moment, reflecting the love back, then grinned. "That must be a first."

"Don't let it go to your head, it's big enough now." Starsky had fumbled a pill bottle out of his jacket pocket but couldn't open the childproof cap. "Here, put your brawn to some use." He held out the prescription bottle.

"Here's your Coke." Washington placed a wineglass full of cola in front of Starsky, keeping a glass of champagne for himself. Meredith seated herself at the table, with a tulip glass of her own and a small plate overflowing with finger foods.

"Does this make me the designated driver?" Starsky washed down two Vicodin with the soft drink.

"Only if you call me a cab," Hutch teased, toasting the other three with his glass. "I'm sure your doctor said no driving for a while."

"You're a cab," Starsky smart-assed. "My doctor said a whole lot of really unpleasant stuff before he'd let me leave, so the less I hear about him the better."

"What about th'case?" Washington brought up, filching two cheese puffs off Meredith's plate. She pushed it into the center of the table so everyone could share and Hutch immediately tried a wedge of toast with liver pate. He noticed Starsky didn't partake as the others were doing, but said nothing. Meredith was daintily munching on a slice of French bread spread with Brie. Unlike other cocktail parties arranged for the rabbi, this one was not completely kosher, but had a mixture of foods intended for all tastes.

"You mean, did van Geller turn up?" Hutch shook his head, chewing on his snack. "We've got enough evidence to put him inside for the rest of his natural life, but he's apparently not interested in cooperating."

"He's not finished yet," Starsky said softly, suddenly fearful. The last thing he wanted to think about were those days in the dumpster, but the memories always swamped him when he was least prepared for them. It was like he'd dropped back down in that cesspool and he could feel the superheated metal against his bare arms again, only he was in a pleasantly temperature controlled room and wearing a wool suit. To cover his ragged nerves he sipped the overly carbonated Coke and coughed when the bubbles slid up his nose.

"'S'a good thing you didn't have any champagne." Meredith laughed giving him a pat on the back, but her large dark eyes were scared despite her words. "Why don't you think he's done?"

"He won't stop until he gets what he wants. Or we get him," Starsky said obliquely.

From the front of the room, there was a tinkling of silverware against crystal, a perfect pristine tone rising above the ambient chatter in the dining room, hanging in the air until the voices had died away. The diners' focus turned to the main table set up off the floor by a small platform so that those who sat there could be seen. Micah Bachman's seat was in the middle, behind a low arrangement of roses and carnations, but the lieutenant governor sat to his left, with the other clergy involved in the peace talks ranged down the table. On the far end from Starsky and Hutch's table sat Mrs. Reinhart, her son and Senator McCallum. Dave Murphy, and his date, Nina, who was also an undercover cop, sat two away from Bachman in their capacity as bodyguards.

"I want to thank you all for coming." Micah stood, resplendent in a charcoal gray suit with a wine red tie, beaming at the audience. Just these words brought laughter and a smattering of applause from the appreciative crowd. Of course they had come. They were his converts. "These last few days have been such a revelation to me. The experiences I have had here--giving my opinions, listening to yours, arguing, reasoning and learning--will stay with me for a lifetime as I hope they will for each of you. This has been the first leg of a fantastic voyage that I urge you all to join with me. The family of my slain wife Miriam has donated a sum of money to fund a new permanent home for the Alliance for Peaceful Co-existence. We have purchased the land where the Temple Beth Sharon once stood and will be able to break ground as soon as the police are finished with their investigations. Once we start to build, the new center will be renamed the Miriam Reinhart Bachman Center for Peace."

This news brought another round of applause from those listening, Meredith pursed her lips, tears springing to her eyes at the thought of the other people who had been trapped in the bombed building and lost their own lives, as well as the ones who had escaped. Having been all the way across the country when the tragedy occurred, she had not had the full impact that the others had felt. It was doubly frightening to her now, with Starsky still bearing the scars of his far more recent brush with death. She glanced over at him, but he was speaking quietly with Washington and didn't notice her scrutiny.

"A small plaque will be placed just inside the front door to commemorate those who lost their lives in the bombing, and pictures too, if the families wish it." Bachman nodded to his brother-in-law who came around the table to pull back the cloth on an easel on the left side of the room. He revealed a photograph of Miriam blown up to poster size.

With a start, Hutch recognized the origin of the photo and glanced over at Starsky, who looked equally surprised. It was the Labor Day picture Starsky had taken of Miriam right before she'd stuffed hot dogs into her husband's mouth. The hot dogs had been cropped out, but the mischievous glee and pure joy of being shone in her face. It was a marvelous picture, not the usual somber portrait that graced most lobbies, but one which could only make the viewer smile back with happiness.

"She would have liked that." Meredith nodded, trying to blink away the tears, clasping Starsky's left hand. "It's like her, full of life."

"My brother-in-law, my wife's twin, Moses Reinhart, will be director of the center and I will continue in my capacity as teacher--for that is ultimately what a rabbi is--and conduct classes and seminars, such as this one, to educate. We must all regain the power to think for ourselves, and not let others cloud our judgment. We must be free to use our own minds and ears to listen to each other. To hear all sides of a problem before a solution can be found and then unite for a commonality of goals. To find a moral center that we all can agree on and uphold. As I have constantly repeated, communication is the key..."

"To universal understanding!" voices from the crowd joined, shouting the line with their mentor. The room erupted in applause, the representatives of the media surging forward to request more information from Bachman.

"This is the official statement," Moses announced formally, standing between the press and the main table. "It is all we will say to the press at this time. We request that the reporters leave now so that we may have our dinner together, privately." He gave a signal to the police to come over and escort the photographers and media hounds from the room. Most left quietly, but a few were still shouting back questions as waiters began to circulate through the room with plates of salad.

"It'll be half an hour before we get food back here," van Geller groused to his tablemates. Their location was so near the door he could feel the breeze blowing in every time one of the reporters was escorted out. Someone must have left the lobby doors open to have such a draft. Not very good security. He grinned excitedly to himself, hardly able to keep his glee under control. This was the night he became a superstar. Everyone would finally know who called the shots--and it wasn't some spindly, long-legged red haired Jew. Real Americans would look at him with pride, knowing what he had begun.

"Eric, there's still some cheese puffs left." Emily, of the short black curls and snappy black eyes, smiled coquettishly at her date. She still couldn't believe her luck. Eric Cartwright had to be one of the best looking men she'd gone out with in, well, forever. He even reminded her of someone, probably a movie actor--Redford maybe--but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. "Could you get me some?"

"Maybe later, Em," he answered gruffly, his eyes on Bachman starting to work the room, pausing at each table, delighting all with his patented charm.

"But..."

"I'll get some, Emily." Her older brother Dick rose in disgust, not having liked his sister's date from the first time he'd met him.

The rabbi's news of a permanent home for the Alliance created fodder for conversation around every table. Even those who had not previously exchanged words now chatted together, imagining the future possibilities of the new center.

"Rabbi, you certainly know how t'stir up the group." Washington clapped his former colleague on the back when Bachman approached their table.

"All things are possible now, Brick." Micah greeted his friends especially warmly. "I just want the world to know. Dave, I'm so thankful to see you here." He laid a hand on Starsky's shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze. "L'chayim, yasher koach. {To life, may you have strength.}"

"Micah, wild horses and Hutch..." Starsky made a face at his partner, "couldn't have kept me away."

"After the main course we're having a couple of speakers up to say a few words." Micah stepped back to let the waiters deliver plates of mixed greens and tomatoes, gesturing at the podium in the middle of the main table. "I want to introduce you. It'd be very inspirational."

"Aw, no," Starsky groaned. "No, Micah."

"C'mon, Starsk," Hutch teased. "You know how you love to perform."

"I look like hell," Starsky protested, wishing he didn't feel like hell as well.

"You look like a miracle," Meredith whispered.

"It's up to you." Micah stroked his beard. "I don't want to push. You've been pushed around enough lately." He helped himself to the last of the hors d'oevres sitting in the middle of the table. "Haven't had anything to eat yet. Dave, with all the talks finished, I'm ready to resume our Hebrew classes once again."

"Don't you think I'm a little past the age for a Bar Mitzvah?"

"Never."

"I can't wait to be first in line to give the Bar Mitzvah boy a kiss." Meredith nudged Starsky, giving a demonstration of her intentions.

"Doesn't that mean he's an adult then?" Hutch speared a lettuce leaf with his fork. "It'll never happen. He's the biggest kid around."

"He is well past thirteen," Micah laughed.

"Peter Pan he ain't." Washington dug into his own salad. "More like Huck Finn."

"Wouldn't mind a raft ride down the Missouri River," Starsky mused. Floating on water sounded really good right then. He was more tired than he wanted to let on, and the drugs had finally kicked in so he was just the slightest bit disconnected, sort of floating was a pretty good description for it.

"The Mississippi," Washington corrected.

"You sure?" Starsky challenged.

"I'll leave you to argue this one." Micah sketched a wave. "Got to go press the flesh with a few hundred friends."

"Now, I always had trouble spelling that." Meredith paused with a forkful of greens halfway to her mouth. "M-I-S...are there two S's?"

"Two sets of two S's and two P's," Hutch put in.

"M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I," Washington spelled. "That one's easy."

"You're worse than he is." Hutch pointed his fork at Starsky. "Always sprouting some trivia."

"It's important t'know how to spell," Washington defended himself, straightening his tie as if affronted, but there was a merry expression on his dark face.

"Okay, if you can spell, that would put you a notch up above Starsky," Hutch said. "He can't. How're you at writing up reports?"

"Ah excel."

"That's actually the truth," Meredith joined in. "At Sutter precinct, everyone knew that Darryl Washington got his arrest reports in on time, and correct the first time."

"I'm impressed." Hutch leaned back in his chair to peruse his newest partner. "I can't tell you how many times I have to remind Starsky to finish up his paperwork."

"Hey!" Starsky pulled himself back into the conversation, ignoring the salad he wasn't about to eat.

"Oh, he's got some good points... I just can't think of any..." Hutch continued the teasing, but let his eyes roam the room. He was relaxing with the good wine and company, but still felt uneasy. He had to remind himself he wasn't on duty, this was supposed to be a festive night to celebrate Bachman's success, but the couldn't rid himself of that nagging sense of doom.

"I can think of a lot of good points." Meredith ran the back of her hand down the sharp line of Starsky's jaw, soothing his emerging headache. "He's sweet, cuddly, and has great hair."

"Sounds like you're describing a dog!" Starsky retorted.

"That's about right," Hutch agreed. "I'd describe you like a dog, a puppy..."

Light dinner table conversation got them through the salad and a nice main course of brisket, potatoes and green beans. A selection of classical music filtered through the chatter, played by a small string trio. Starsky found himself spacing out for long minutes so that he'd come back to a comment he couldn't comprehend in the least and had to grope to understand what was being discussed. He picked at his meal; he was usually quite fond of brisket, and would have relished some on an onion roll with a lot of mustard--some other day, just not this one. All his dinner companions noticed Starsky's lack of appetite, but it was to be expected when he'd barely advanced to a regular diet before being discharged from the hospital, so none made any comment. Meredith planned to stay about an hour longer, then suggest they leave, giving Starsky no options in the matter.

As the waiters came by again with refills of wine and water, Hutch excused himself to use the restroom. He walked within two feet of a table by the exit, from which Peter van Geller had only just vacated minutes before. Emily Horn had just realized her date had deserted her and looked around in frustration. Where had Eric gone? She dejectedly finished her champagne in one gulp, her dreams of the perfect date going down with a crash. He'd left without a word before dessert, even.

Van Geller hadn't wandered the halls of the convention center for three days for nothing. He knew every unmarked door, every shortcut between halls and every way to slip by undetected by even the sharpest-eyed guard. His only worry was laughing too loudly and being heard before he'd delivered his surprise.

Micah stood at the podium, urging those who had prepared short statements to come forward, and that he had a few awards to present to some of the peace talks participants. Nicely calligraphied certificates were handed out to the other clergy, thanking them for their efforts on behalf of the Alliance.

"Ah'm goin' to th'bar for a beer--had enough of this wine," Washington whispered. "Joanie?"

"No, thanks." She shook her head distractedly, listening to one of the ex-skinheads thank Bachman for his total change of outlook.

Most of the speakers were wending their way up from their seats, creating a constant sea of movement between the waiters, those planning to speak, and a few restless onlookers like Washington who'd gotten up to stretch their legs. Meredith had about decided she'd really like to use the ladies' room one time before going home, but wasn't at all sanguine about leaving Starsky alone at the table. Her decision was made when Dave Murphy came over to say hi. The round table on the floor actually gave him a better vantage point to keep his eyes on Rabbi Bachman than the seat two down the main table where he'd been.

"How ya doin', Starsky?" Dave asked. "When'd you get out of the hospital?"

"Today."

"And you came here?" Dave Murphy cried in amazement. "When you coulda been home in your own bed? You just had to have some brisket?"

"Yah, I'm getting' kinda sleepy, too." Starsky shrugged. "Believe me, this food's a whole lot bettern' the hospi..." He trailed off, his eyes riveted to the podium. In all the confusion of people coming and going, a man had slipped quietly behind Micah Bachman and placed a gun to his head. "Dave, that's..."

"It's my turn to speak now; everybody just sit down quietly, nothing's gonna happen if you just be happy little Jew lovers and..."

"Van Geller." Murphy half stood, his hand going for his shoulder holster.

"Detective Murphy, you can just move your hand away from that gun nice and slow." Van Geller saw the movement, placing one hand on Bachman's shoulder to keep the gun nice and steady against his neck. Murphy did as he was told, stilling his hand.

"Now, you...pretty girl in the blue dress." Van Geller addressed a young woman at the adjoining table who, like nearly everyone else in the room seemed to have been shocked into a frozen state. "Get the detective's gun out of his holster and push it under this table." He nearly had to repeat himself a second time before the woman stood hesitantly, slipped her hand under Murphy's jacket and retrieved his service revolver. Bending down she tossed it up under the main table's cloth, then sat abruptly, as if drained by the exercise.

Micah could feel the cold steel against his carotid, his increased heart rate causing the gun barrel to bounce slightly with every beat of his pulse. How was he going to get out of this one? It had happened so suddenly, one moment he was thanking an ex-Klansman for his conversion, the next van Geller had a gun to his neck. He looked out onto the crowd. Every pair of eyes in the room was focused on him, or really on van Geller, and he began to fear that he wouldn't live to see the next few minutes pass.

"Mr. van Geller..." Micah began.

"You're not fit to say my name, Jew," van Geller hissed. "Shuddup." He pushed the gun up so hard against his prisoner's neck, Bachman could hardly breathe. "I'm in control now, and you Jew bastards aren't gonna tell anybody what to do anymore. This is the Apocalypse. Didja read my Manifesto, huh?"

From the back of the room, Meredith stopped just as she was about to step through the doors into the hall, van Geller's voice overly loud through the podium microphone. Oh god, how had he gotten up there? She automatically opened her purse, then remembered she hadn't carried a gun that evening. Where was Brick? Hutch? And most importantly, what was Starsky doing?

Hutch exited the bathroom to see half the lobby guards start pelting for the dining room doors, their guns drawn. Oh, shit. Something big had gone down while he was in the damn men's room!

"You people just don't get it that you can't associate with Jews--they're filth, isn't that right, Starsky?" he growled, his eyes blazing fire at the man he'd tried to kill, seeing no threat from the battered man. "Nothing but human trash."

Standing at the bar, Washington kept his back to the diners until he'd eased his .45 out of the shoulder holster, flicking off the safety. Clutching the gun, he slipped his hand into his jacket pocket, motioning the wide eyed bartender to silence. Now, if he could just get up to the front of the room without van Geller spotting him, but there was no movement in the room. He couldn't take a step without some sort of distraction.

"Things are gonna change from now on. It's a whole new world out there, but the end is so near for you. The final days are upon you." Van Geller spoke carefully into the mic. He didn't want anyone to miss the impact of his words. "The Jew, here, and I are gonna leave in just a minute, but the rest of you stay, finish dinner--there's a really good chocolate mousse coming. I already had some."

He laughed, a weird and ominous sound, turning his attention across the room to the guards hovering in the doorway. "Drop your guns, gentlemen, and come on in; have some chocolate mousse. I'll bet there's extra. Wouldn't want your last meal to be..."

The crack of gunfire only preceded the little red wound that blossomed in his forehead by a fraction of a second, but it was hard to say who looked more surprised, van Geller or David Starsky. The dark haired detective held his .38 in perfect position, as if posing for a shooting catalogue, right wrist supporting the left gun hand. He'd fired unconsciously, freeing his gun from the ankle holster and taking a firing stance so quickly he'd had little time to think. He now looked down at the gun, stunned by his own actions, lowering his arm until the gun hung loosely from lax fingers.

Micah jerked back as the bullet slammed into van Geller's brain, spraying blood across those sitting nearby, his suit splattered with scarlet matter. The next few moments were a blur of disjointed fragments out of time, people and voices overlapping each other like a badly edited Robert Altman film. The guards, diners, and clergy seemed at cross purposes, all running in different directions--most of the tide heading pell-mell for the exits while security tried to attain the stage to seal off the crime scene.

"Stop!" Micah Bachman spoke with authority into the microphone, although his insides were heaving. "Please, everyone, we must leave in an orderly fashion; take your time..." His voice, so trusted by most who had attended his lectures and seminars had the desired effect. The audience still streamed for the doors, but their panic eased...after all the danger was past now, wasn't it?

"Starsky?" Hutch wasn't even sure how he'd gotten back to the table so quickly, but he slowed his mad dash, hesitant to startle his friend. Meredith was seated by her lover's side, her hand out for the gun.

"He's dead, huh?" Starsky spoke with an eerie quality to his voice, placing the .38 on Meredith's palm. His demeanor was stripped of any recognizable emotion, raw and unguarded as a wounded child. "Cause it ain't over; he isn't done yet."

That's when Hutch knew without a doubt that there really was another bomb.

There were luckily no more casualties. Van Geller had obviously planned to talk a long time when he'd set the timer. He certainly had planned to give himself enough time to get away before the blast went off. The bomb squad found the device buried in the pot of a ficus tree stuck innocuously in a rarely used back office. There was enough plastique there to reduce the entire block to rubble, far more than enough to destroy the nearly four hundred people involved in the peace talks. Ten minutes still remained on the clock when the sergeant found it after a half hour's search. It was successfully dismantled, giving Hutch the first feeling of safety he'd had in weeks. The Brotherhood was truly gone. Now they just had to deal with the fallout, but it was anyone's guess how long that would take.

~~~

Pausing in the Mercy Hospital gift shop, Hutch browsed the newest display of Halloween paraphernalia. Grinning to himself, he selected several items and a handful of the tiny chocolate bars common to the season. Starsky always loved dressing up, usually as some sort of gruesome monster from the late night movies. Since he'd still be on medical leave for some time to come, it was a good bet that he'd want to at least give out candy dressed in something suitably scary.

The last week had been a hard one. Starsky ended up back in the hospital just over 24 hours after he'd left the first one with a urinary tract infection. What with his upcoming wrist surgery on top of the antibiotics, he just stayed put for seven days. Hutch and his detective colleagues had been inundated by reams of paperwork after the peace talks dinner with the newspapers, Internal Affairs, and financial backers of the Alliance all wondering how van Geller had gotten such free rein to run wild for days without anyone in authority noticing him. Washington and Hutch were both glad they had the alibi of being with a sick friend for much of that time, since the excrement had certainly hit the fan in a big way in the police department. Lax security and incompetence were some of the nicer terms being batted around.

Micah Bachman, with his usual forgiving attitude, wasn't even making comments to the press. He didn't want to dirty waters already muddied by anger and name calling, especially when he had nearly three hundred followers needing comfort and solace to get them through the days following the horror. He had visited Starsky every day in the hospital, bringing along beginning Hebrew texts and readings from the Torah to encourage his student's education. When not totally knocked out with drugs, Starsky had immersed himself in the literature with a sincerity that amazed all his friends. Nearly dying twice in such a short time could do that to a person.

Hutch still wasn't sure Starsky had recovered from the shooting. Outwardly, despite two days of fever from the UTI, rampant nausea from the antibiotics, and then having to recover from the effects of anesthesia and wrist surgery, he seemed quiet and calmer, far less intense than the first few days in the Riverside Hospital. Meredith's constant attentions might have had something to do with that, but she was gone now. Starsky had finally succeeded in convincingly her that he could in fact survive with her in Washington D.C. for a few more weeks. Finishing the training on drug enforcement could give her a salary increase, and very probably a leg up in the department. There was no way Starsky was willing to stand in the way of her advancement just because he was once again in the hospital. Hutch had driven Meredith to the airport himself, that very morning, but he was just the slightest bit concerned how her absence would affect his partner.

"Anybody home?" Hutch rapped on the door, seeing the hospital bed jacked up into a sitting position, linens scrunched up at the foot looking like a cyclone had hit them, a book entitled "Reading from Right to Left Made Easy," the Great Masters coloring book, a balled up Popsicle wrapper and several blue and green slips of paper that turned out to be Monopoly money, but no Starsky.

"I'm in here, just a minute!" came a voice from the tiny bathroom.

"Need any help?" Hutch inquired, setting down the bag from the gift shop on the bedside table. The room was a whirlwind of flower arrangements, get well cards, and the assorted junk that always seemed to accompany Starsky everywhere. He was generally a neat nick, but his fascination with minutiae meant he generally had half a dozen toys, gadgets, and oddities at all times.

"No thanks, even the nurses let me go by myself these days," Starsky retorted, swinging open the dividing door. He was finally having real success at going by himself, too. "You get Meredith off okay?"

"On the plane, buckled in with a magazine and a pillow." Hutch watched Starsky make his way carefully across the room, the oversized pressure dressing on his right wrist almost overbalancing him. "You okay with her leaving?" he asked, quickly clearing a space on the bed by sweeping all the junk off to the end with a flick of one arm.

"I'm the one who told her to go, remember?" Starsky sat on the edge of the bed to remove his slippers. "We do real good phone calls." The hot pink blush that uncharacteristically colored Starsky's cheeks gave Hutch more of an answer.

It wasn't until Starsky had situated himself back amongst the covers and Hutch had helped him fluff up a pillow for his back that he noticed a new dressing on his left wrist. Starsky always kept the tattoo covered, usually with a slightly ratty looking ace bandage since the wounds from the handcuffs no longer needed to be kept bandaged, but this was entirely different. A small patch of gauze was secured in place with two perfectly aligned pieces of tape. "You have something done?" he asked in a casual voice.

"Yah." Starsky took a steadying breath, the subject still very literally a sore one. "First of many laser treatments. And it wasn't anymore fun than having it put on."

"I'll bet." Hutch winced sympathetically. "Did you take a look at it before...?"

"No. I've seen it often enough, when I was a kid." Starsky flipped over his wrist so the bandage was upwards. "This is for my Aunt Chava, because she couldn't."

Knowing of whom he spoke, Hutch didn't pursue it further. If that was how Starsky was coping with the cruel assault on his heritage, by linking it back to his family, so be it. The generosity of spirit was so in keeping with Starsky's usual nature. "How're you doing otherwise?"

"I'm getting there." Starsky shrugged self consciously. " Since you an' Meredith were gone had to keep myself busy..." He indicated the mess of toys and books at the end of the bed. "But turns out I had a lot of visitors this morning."

"Well, that's good."

"Yah, it was like a regular parade. Huggy brought me donuts..."

"Gee, sounds like I'll have to give him a lecture on the proper diet for a patient."

"Yah, well, he's got some kind of beef goin' with you about some girl? What have I been missin' out on, huh?"

"Huggy didn't like my choice in dates."

"And I take it you're not talkin' about Angela."

Hutch shook his head. "Elsa."

"Have I met her..." Starsky trailed off as the name registered. "From the Brotherhood Elsa?" he squeaked involuntarily.

"She's trying to change; I'm trying to help her."

"Are you outta your mind?" Starsky's upper body surged forward so he was nearly nose to nose with Hutch sitting on the chair. "You're insane, you know that don't you? No wonder Huggy's snarling. You like her?"

"I wouldn't be dating her if I didn't like her." Hutch answered. He'd been wondering how to bring up the subject all week. His second date, the Friday before when Starsky was snowed under with post surgical drugs, had gone much better than the first. Alone, in an intimate setting they'd discovered they really enjoyed each other's company--there were just a lot of off-limit topics of conversation that could really foul up their relationship if they weren't careful. Elsa was making a concentrated effort to turn her mindset around, but it would take much work, and in the long run, Hutch wasn't sure they could weather the fireworks. But then again, two dates were far too soon to tell.

"So, you've dated her more than once?" Starsky asked in a neutral tone. He would have crossed his arms but neither could bear pressure against the wounds. He settled for easing back onto the bed, right arm resting on a pillow.

"Yah." Hutch searched his face for a reaction, but Starsky had retreated, pleating the sheets with two fingers of his left hand. "What do you think?"

"Why? I haven't even met her."

"Because I really want your honest opinion."

"Wait'll we double date--you, Elsa, me'n Meredith," Starsky replied after a minute. "Then, I'll give you the full critique." He grinned wolfishly, full of ginger.

"You can be very mean when you want to be, you know that?" Hutch rolled his eyes, even though it was exactly the same idea he'd been toying with. "I'd better prepare her. It's no wonder I let you be bad cop all the time."

"You let me?" Starsky retorted with a laugh. "Just remember to tell that t'Brick, cause he think's he's the bad cop. He an' Dobey happened to come by this morning at the same time." He pointed to a large arrangement of mums and autumnal colored leaves over by the window. "The Cap'n's always brings big bunches of flowers."

"That time I had the plague." Hutch nodded. "He musta brought a bouquet every time he stopped by. Felt like he was courting me."

"Better him than Elsa, maybe," Starsky snarked, then looked abashed. "Sorry, I didn't mean that. I should keep my big mouth shut until I meet her. Is she pretty?"

"Have you seen that model Susan Anton?"

"Tall, blond, legs go on for miles?"

"About the same."

"Mmm," Starsky's eyes widened. "Just be careful, huh? Cause she could really mess you up."

"Starsk, I'm not as na´ve as you think."

"No, you're just a wide eyed kid from Duluth and I'm a street punk from the wrong side." Starsky flexed the fingers of his right hand with a wince, the healing wound inside the bandage an odd combination of painful and itchy. "Nobody said we'd work out either."

"You did have a busy morning; three visitors and a romp with the plastic surgeon. Did you get any sleep?" Hutch tried changing the subject.

"That wasn't all." Starsky saw the white bag on the table. "Hey! What'd you bring me?" He snagged the bag, rummaging around inside to extract the contents. "Vampire teeth!" He inserted the plastic fangs into his mouth like any ten year old kid, then proceeded to unwrap one of the candy bars.

"Don't eat with your mouth full," Hutch deadpanned. "Who else came by?"

"Dr. Margolin." Starsky popped the teeth out to take a bite from the candy, toying with a tiny wind-up ghost. "We just talked awhile."

"And he is..."

"She's a...psychiatrist."

Good for you, Starsky. Hutch thought. "It go okay?" he said aloud, going for low key. Let Starsky control how much he wanted to reveal.

"She--uh--confers with your diagnosis, Dr. Hutchinson." Starsky wound up the ghost awkwardly, then set him to lurching across the table.

"You told her what I said?"

"Yep." He relaxed back against the pillow, watching the ghost until it tumbled off the narrow table, falling onto his sheet covered knee. He was more at ease than Hutch had seen him since before Temple Beth Sharon had been bombed. "It wasn't as easy as talking to you, but she took a couple more courses than you did so maybe she'll work out."

"I'm glad, Starsky."

"We talked about me shooting...him."

"You did, huh?" Hutch was impressed, Starsky hadn't spoken word one of that since the night it had happened.

"Y'know, it was like I wasn't even there--my hand just raised the gun and fired." Starsky held out his left hand, as if pointing the weapon, then opened his fingers to show there wasn't anything there. "I wasn't even angry any longer, not by then."

"You saved Micah's life, and probably everybody else in the building," Hutch said softly, placing his bigger hand over Starsky's, clasping it firmly.

Starsky gave him a lopsided David Starsky special. "Thanks."

"For what? I didn't do anything. You got to be the hero."

"Givin' a damn, I guess."

"No problem." Hutch held the connection, healing the wounds. They were getting back to their center, back where they could stand side-by-side, because they didn't work separately half as well as they did as a team.

"You keep remindin' Brick that the partnership is only temporary." Starsky gave Hutch's hand a squeeze before letting to go to unwrap a second candy bar. "And someday, Hutch, I promise, I'll tell you the whole thing, okay? Maybe on some stake out, after a couple o' burritos."

"I'm counting on it." Hutch snatched a candy bar of his own from the bag, content. All was right with the world for at least the rest of the afternoon.

FIN