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Swamp - Part One




   Hutch was just happy that Starsky wasn't there to tell him "I told you so". He hadn't listened when his partner tried to convince him not to drive straight through the night. He was sure he could handle it, He was well rested and besides... he wasn't interested in the scenic drive. He just wanted to get where he was going, then he would start his vacationing.

   It was an odd feeling setting out on a trip alone, For years now vacation had been something the two had done together. But this year when vacation time had rolled around, Starsky had become to involved with the new love in his life and didn't wanna make any out of town trips. So when Hutch had gotten the call that his Aunt in Florida was gravely ill, he had decided that this would be his vacation.

   At first the thought of going alone wasn't something he was really looking forward to, but the more he thought about it, the more he decided this could very well be an interesting self discovery trip. He even began to look forward to listening to his own music, eating where he wanted to eat... and above all not having to humor Starsky with his ridiculous card tricks at all hours of the day and night.

   So finally time had come. He packed up, told Starsky adios, and took off down the highway. He had done fine all the way through Texas. He listened to the car stereo, sang songs of his own... and just all around enjoyed himself. It wasn't until he reached Louisiana that the trouble began. He had stopped for a bite to eat, which, he decided, is where he made the wrong turn. At first when nothing looked familiar, he just chalked it up to not having been down this way in so long. But there was little doubt now. The highway was down to a little 2-lane gravel road, barely visible in the dark.

   Of all the places to get lost, he thought, why did it have to be in the back roads of Louisiana? The state itself he had no problem with. But it's the backwoods, the swamps, and the like that made him nervous. He never did like it, and now, here he was at 1:00 in the morning, right smack dab in the middle of it! And if that wasn't bad enough. Thunderstorms had been falling for several hours now. The roads had become very hazardous to drive. Why didn't I stop at that last motor inn he thought to himself

   Just as he rounded the corner, his thoughts were interrupted by something that had ran on to, then stopped in the middle of, the road. He couldn't be sure what the animal was. Everything happened to quickly. He was trained to know that it's better to just hit whatever it was than to risk swerving into a tree... but reaction took over as he pulled to the left.

   Hutch tried to bring the car under control, but it was too late, the car had already begun it's slide down the muddy embankment. It began sliding at such an angle, that it finally turned on its side and began the long roll down towards the bottom.

   When the car was nearing the bottom, it screeched to a halt as it was broadsided by an unrelenting pine. The powerful impact brought the car to a stop in mid roll. It came to rest on its side, passenger side up.

   A stunned and injured Hutch could feel the rush of water coming in through the windows. He tried to move, but the pain wouldn't allow it. He was stuck inside a mangled wreck with water quickly filling it. Hutch blacked out.


   Nick was sure he had heard something. He had long sense been used to the noises that living in the backwoods brought, but this was not one of them. This was different. It had been raining, and the last thing he wanted to do at this time of night, was to go outside to check out where the noise had come from. Not to mention the trouble he'd get into if he were caught out at this time, he'd get a beating for sure.

   But at last, curiosity got the best of him. He pulled up his overalls, grabbed his cap and flashlight, and headed outside. The evening could get scary for some folks, but not to Nick. After living there his entire life of 18 years, not much was left out there that could scare him. No, the only thing around here that could put a fright into him, were his "folks".

    Even from his front yard, Nick could see tire marks on the road, they were fresh. He was sure they hadn't been there when he was out doing chores earlier that evening. Not to mention, this wasn't exactly a high traffic area.

    He could see that the tracks went off the road. It was a mess what with all the rain and mud, but he could see something... A car, it was resting on it's side, and Nick could see the floodwaters rushing through it.

    Hutch came to with water rushing in around him, He tried to move, he couldn't, he was pinned in. But it didn't matter that he was stuck. If the door were wide open, the pain would prevent him from moving.

    He could see that the water was coming in faster. He wouldn't be able to hold his head out of the water much longer, he was fighting not to pass out. He knew that to pass out now, would mean certain death.

    Nick slid down the embankment as quickly as he could. If someone was still in the car, he was sure that if they weren't already dead from the wreck, they soon would be from the water. He was unable to see through the windows, he climbed up the car and looked down from the passenger side door. He could just make out a figure, he aimed the flashlight down and saw a man. He couldn't make out if he were alive or not, but he would have to act now, the water had begun covering the mans face.

    Nick lowered himself down into the car and made his way to the man just as water crept over his face. He grabbed him by is arms and pulled, but the man wasn't budging. He held his breath and stuck his head under the water. He saw that the man was pinned between the seat and dash. Nick quickly jumped in the backseat and began pulling on the seat till finally It gave way enough the he could pull the man free.

    Nick grabbed the man, and pulled him out of the water. But there was no lifting him over head to get out the passenger side window. No, he'd have to figure something else out and quick. He had let the man go long enough for him to kick out the back window. Finally, with the added weight of the rain, it came crashing in.

    The floor waters engulfed the car in seconds. Nick "swam" over to the man and pulled him with him as he made his way out the window. Once outside the car, Nick got a better grasp of the man and pulled him free of the wreckage just as the flood waters began to take the car down the newly formed river.

    Nick could see the man wasn't breathing. He quickly got him into a position that he could try CPR. CPR the only thing he had been taught and that was only because Big Ben had a fear of water. And living in the swamps, that was a bad combination.

    He leaned the man's head back, cleared his mouth. Then began breathing is life into the still man. He pushed on the man's chest, trying to get the lungs to do their job. Then again breathed in to the man.

    When he had all but given up, the man started coughing. Nick rolled him over allowing the water to run out of his lungs. Then started up the embankment with the dead weight of the unconscious man in tow. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Nick had the man on the top of the embankment, out of the threat of the rising waters. Only after making sure he was still breathing, Nick had to lay down beside him and catch his breath. He could hardly believe what had just happened. He turned and looked down as the car was carried out of sight.

    Now what? The man was injured. Nick could see that just by looking at him. His arm was broken, that one was easy to see. Maybe even both of them. His head was nearly split open. Blood was everywhere. Nick wasn't sure what to do next, but there was little choice. He would have to take him back to the shack. But he had to wonder... if it wouldn't have been better for this man, if he'd just let him die in peace. Maybe so, but he couldn't just leave the man out here like this. He had to try to help..

    Nick was thankful that the man was out cold for the long trek back. He took him to the cellar, there he wouldn't' be found. At least not right away.

   He dragged the man down through the cellar doors. It was no place to keep a human being. He knew all to well from all the times he was banished here for punishment...but it beat staying out in the rain, and going in the house was out of the question. Nick cleaned the man up best he could. And tended to his injuries. He made a splint and wrapped his arm tight. He bandaged his head, and cleaned up all the cuts he could see. His chest was already turning purple from the bruising. He was in obvious need of real medical care, but there would be none of that.

   After doing all he knew to do for the man, Nick went back inside to his bedroom. This man would either be dead or alive in the morning. But his conscious was clear either way.



   He'd heard it many times before, there was no pleasing these people. He'd spent 13 years trying to do just that.

   His thought immediately went to the stranger in the cellar. He'd have to check on him just as soon as he could do so without notice.

   "YOU UP YET?"

   "I'm up already!"

   "WELL YOU GOT WORK TO DO!" Ben yelled.

   What else is new, he said under his breath. He pulled himself out of bed. And dragged himself into the kitchen.

   "So, you ready to get to work?" asked his "mom".

   "Ready as I ever am." he said.

   "HEY!" his "father" raised his hand to him..."don't' backtalk Boy!"

   Nick turned and left the shack. He preferred chores to being in the shack with his "parents" and he used the term loosely. His real parents had died when he was 5, and as backwards as this society was, he was simply handed over to the highest bidder. Which wasn't high, but high enough to buy a slave boy. And that's all he had been all these years.

   He had no schooling. State laws didn't matter in the swamplands... He had never stepped inside a real school, never learned to read or write. But he had come to the conclusion long ago that those were not requirements to live here.

   After working outside long enough not draw attention to himself, Nick stopped and filled a bucket up with water, then made his way down to the cellar. It was a hot sticky day. He could see that the man hadn't moved since being brought in. He re-bandage some of the wounds that had bleed through. After rechecking all the injuries, Nick wet a rag and tried cooling the man off. He could hear goings on outside, he decided he better get outside and look busy.

   "Blast you boy" Big Ben said as he met Nick coming around the corner of the shack. "What's a man gotta do to get a honest day work out of you?"

   "What would you know about honest?" Nick couldn't believe the words he had been thinking actually crossed his lips.

   Big Ben backhanded Nick to the ground.

   "I don't know what's got into you boy, but I ain't' putting up with any smart mouth kid being disrespectful. Now you get up and you get to work."

   There were no words to describe his hatred for this man. Since being brought here, that's all he was to these people, a workhorse. If he didn't do what they called "his fair share", at best he didn't eat that day, at worst he went without eating, but not without a beating. Why did he stay, why did he put up with this. He knew why. He had nothing. He knew no one. He had no money, no education, and no escape.

   He picked himself up and started on the long chores for the day. While working he often escaped through his daydreams. He could remember a time. A time when he felt loved, and wanted. He had just a vague memory of faces, his real mom and dad. It brought him comfort to know that he had been loved once. The problem wasn't with him, but with the monsters he now lived with.


   Hutch came to and tried to move, he let out a cry as the pain engulfed his entire body. Confusion set in. Where was he? He looked around, He couldn't make anything out. It was dark, and hot, so hot. Pain was everywhere. His head felt like it was trying to explode. It hurt to breathe. It would be quicker to say where it didn't hurt... nowhere.

   Finally the day was drawing to a close. Nick longed for the shorter days of winter. He put away his tools for the day. Then quickly headed to the cellar to check on his guest. This time as he entered he could see the man stirring.

   Nick walked over and dampened the rag once again and held the wet rag to the mans forehead. His eye's opened.

   "Wh...where am I?" The man eeked out, as he winced in pain.

   "You had a pretty bad accident" Nick explained.

   "Accident?" Hutch searched his mind. It hurt to bad to think."

   "I know you're in pain and I'm sorry, I'm doing everything I can for you. You couldn't have picked a worse place to wreck your car mister. What's your name?"

   "Ken Hutchinson" he replied weakly. "You can call me Hutch, thanks for helping...."

   The man closed his eyes and again fell back into unconsciousness, which Nick thought for certain was a blessing.

   He again tried making Hutch as comfortable as possible, then headed back inside before he would be missed.

   "It's been dark for 15 minutes already, just where have you been?" sniped Judy

   "Just trying to cool down. It was a hot day today, coming into a hot shack doesn't help"

   "So our shack isn't good enough for ya, is that it?"

   "What's the fuss about?" Big Ben mumbled as he entered the kitchen.

   "Well it seems our home isn't good enough for the boy here. It's to hot for his liking"

   "No problem, our shack isn't good enough for you..."

   He grabbed Nick by the scruff of his shirt and threw him outside.

   "Now, maybe after sleeping outside for a night, you'll learn to be grateful for what you have." Big Ben said as he slammed the door shut.

   "Not likely" Nick said out loud. He knew what this meant. He wouldn't be eating today. It didn't much matter. No more than they fed him, he wouldn't be missing out on much.

   Although he grew up here and was used to most everything that crawled, walked or flew around. He still wasn't looking forward to being at the mercy of any and all of them. On all the other occasions that this had happened... he had found shelter in the cellar. But he didn't dare go there now. If they came looking for him for any reason, they'd find Hutch.

   Nick had no doubt Hutch would be found eventually. There was no way around that. He thought it best for him if it were later than sooner. He climbed into the bed of broken down truck, at least the crawlers won't get to him, he thought. He laid down, and thanks to the hard work and the hot sun that had drained him all day. Sleep came quickly.


   Hutch woke to the noise of life in the swamps. The only thing he could identify were the crickets and the frogs. He didn't want to know what else was out there. Ironic, he thought, The one thing he dreaded about the trip was having to drive through the swamps, but, now here he was lying in the middle of it.

   He still hurt every where. As he took inventory of the pain, the accident came back to him. What was that that had run in front of him? He was sure he'd ever know. He remembered the car sliding off the road and then rolling. The water. He couldn't move and the water was rushing in around him. He knew then that he was going to drowned that night. The pain... he flinched at the thought of it... he couldn't move as the water came rushing in until finally it was over his head.

   Hutch realized that it was this kid that had been there that night. That had pulled him from his would be watery grave. And although he'd be forever grateful, He had an uneasy feeling that he was taken from the pan and placed into the fire.

   And he wasn't exaggerating when using the term fire. He knew he wasn't conscious much, but when he was, it was the most humid, hot day he could ever remember. How was he gonna get home? He knew Starsky would be looking for him sooner or later, but he had been lost, how would he... again before he could think how worse things could get, he was out.


   It was still dark when Nick woke up, but he could tell morning was just around the corner. He was surprised he slept so soundly considering the mugginess, it was like sleeping in water. He stretched and worked out all the kinks then jumped down. It would be a safe time to check on Hutch. First, he'd have to stop by the shack and pick up something to eat.

   He carefully snuck into the shack. He had gotten good at that from all the times he wasn't fed. He grabbed a few pieces of fruit and crackers then quietly went back out and climbed into the cellar.

   Hutch looked to be sleeping, but Nick decided he needed to wake him, no telling when he'd find the chance to come back in.

   "Hutch? Can you hear me?"

    At first there was no response. "Hutch? Got a little something to eat. You hungry?"

   Hutch's eyes slowly opened.

   "Hey there, how are you feeling?"

   "Man, I don't think there's one spot on me that doesn't hurt." Hutch said as he tried to wake himself up... "Oh, and I remember everything. I thought I was a dead man. Drowned for sure. Thank you for being there, for helping..."

   "I was glad to do it Hutch, but before it's all said and done, you might wish I would have let nature takes it's course. This is a bad place."

   "Well, just the same, no matter what happens, Thanks"

   "Your welcome, now are you hungry?"

   "I'm starved, but I think everything hurts to bad to eat."

   "Well just the same, you're going on the third day, you need you to eat something if you're ever going to get any stronger. Here, it's just a banana. You can eat that can't you?" Nick broke a piece off and gave it to Hutch. He had been able to eat the whole thing.

   "I'm sure you need more, but that's a start. Here, take a drink"

   Hutch tried to sit up, but winced at the pain and promptly laid back down.

   "Easy, here let me help" He raised his head enough to be able to drink, then laid him back down.

   "You'll be getting stronger in no time. I was really worried you weren't gonna make it. But I think you're going to be just fine... gonna hurt like hell for awhile, but i think you'll be ok"

   "Thanks to you. Why do you keep sneaking in here like this?"

   "Well it's like I kinda been telling ya. I live here with my "step parents". My real mom and dad died when I was real young, and these people took me. Actually, truth be told, they bought me. They needed help around the place, they got one look at me and decided I'd make a nice little slave boy. And they're not exactly nice people. I'm not sure what they'd do if they found you here."

   'Doesn't sound like fun. Why do you stay? Why do you put up with it?"

   "What am I going to do? You don't think I've dreamed about leaving? Only everyday! But that ain't happenin'. We got no car, no phones. I have no family. If this man went crazy right now and came out here and shot me dead, no one would ever know or care. No, I learned along time ago, that this is my life, and I get through it best I can"

   "We'll get out of here, just wait and see Nick." Hutch said while trying to fight to stay awake.

   "Hutch, go to sleep, you'll need your strength for later, believe me, you will"


   Nick went back out and began his morning chores. He rather just get started doing the inevitable, then to go inside and hear more yelling.. Besides, he could get all the really hard stuff over with before the heat of the day set in.

   We'll get outta here... Nick thought about what Hutch had said. He wanted to believe it. He knew however that he had only said those words because he hadn't sampled swampland reality yet.   


   Starsky was at home enjoying the peace and quiet of the day. He was watching a movie he didn't even particularly like, but it didn't matter. The fact that he wasn't going anywhere, or doing anything made for a wonderfully relaxing day. Then of course the phone rang. Man!, he thought... shoulda unplugged that thing. He reached over and answered.


   "David Starsky?"


   "Hi, this is Matt, I'm a cousin of Ken's"

   "Oh yeah! Hello there Matt, what can I do for you? Is Hutch wanting you to call to check up on me? You tell him I CAN get along just fine without him!"

   There was silence

   "So he has left?"

   "What do you mean? He's not there?" Starsky sat up, as if it would help him hear better...

   "No, we've been looking for him to show up. We thought perhaps he got tied up with business"

   Starsky tried to sound calm. "Well, you know Hutch, he's probably just trying to take in every thing there is to see between here and there, but I'll tell you what. Let me see if I can't track him down and I'll get back to you"

   "Thanks Dave, We hated to bother you... We'll appreciate you letting us know"

   "Don't worry about it, when I know something, you'll know something! Bye"

   Starsky didn't hesitate. He immediately began dialing the phone.


   "Cap, it's Starsky"

   "Starsky? I didn't think I'd be hearing from you anytime soon"

   "You and me both, Cap. Listen, it's about hutch. His cousin from Florida called, He hasn't shown up yet"

   "You think that's something to worry about? How long has he been gone?"

   "He's been gone nearly a week Cap. He should have been there by now. And yes, I think it's something to worry about"

   "I'll put a call into the Hwy Patrol, see if they've come across any accidents, do you the route he took?"

   "He said he was going to ride out 10 all the way into Florida"

   "Ok, let me get on it, sit tight, I'll let you know what I find"

   "Come on Cap, you don't really expect me to just sit here"

   "That's exactly what I expect, Starsky, That's a lot of ground to cover. We need to start narrowing down the search before you go half cocked to who knows where. At least wait long enough to see what the Highway patrol find. You get out there and we lose you too... lets just see what they come up with."

   "No promises Cap. I'll try to wait, but no promises"

   "That'll have to be good enough Starsky. I know you're worried, we all are. But we don't want to make more of it than it is just yet... I'll be in touch"

   Starsky hung up the phone in disbelief. There must be some mistake. Hutch missing, Unaccounted for several days now? The agonizing worry would begin.   


   It was another sweltering day. Nick worked until he thought he'd drop then decided to take his chanced inside for a rest and something to eat. He walked in, passing a drunk Ben asleep on the couch and Judy was watch her soaps, bad reception and all. He didn't say a word. Just walked into the kitchen and quickly threw together a few sandwiches and grabbed a bag of chips. He took the water pitcher outta the fridge, put them all in a bag, and went out the back way.

   He walked into the cellar to find Hutch trying to sit up.

   "Whoa, what are you doing? Do you think you're up to that?"

   "Well I can't lie around forever, I've gotta try to get my strength back. Although I have to admit, it hurts like hell"

   "Well maybe we'll try that in a minute, how bout something to eat?" offered Nick

   "Thanks, I am getting pretty hungry. That's a good thing I guess"

   "Well it's no feast, but it'll help fill you up and give you a little energy"

   He handed Hutch a sandwich and pulled out the water. Then sat back and enjoyed his lunch as well.

   "Is it always this hot?" Hutch asked in between bites.

   "Fraid so, and it gets worse before it gets better, I can tell you that much for sure"

   "How do you do it all day...nothing but work out there?"

   "It gets tough, but it's all I know"

   "What's keeping you from just walking away?"

   "We're 15 miles from the closest people. I'm sure you noticed when you were driving around, there's not much around here. And most of that 15 miles is swamp."

   "You mean to tell me that in all the time you've lived here, you've never left this shack?"

   "Nope, I have a few memories of being with my real parents. Not many, but I treasure the one's that I do have. They're very important to me. Important for me to know that I'm not like these people! I can even remember going to the show with my folks, can't even remember what we saw, but I had the best time of my life, I know that much!"

   "Don't worry. We'll get outta here, and it'll be my pleasure to take you to a show".

   "That's a nice dream. But that's all it is and if you tell yourself any different, it'll just make you go mad. The best thing to do is just accept your fate. See, didn't I tell you that you might have been better off NOT making it out of that car? Although, I've enjoyed your company. It does my heart good to know there are good people left in the world."

   "Well don't you forget that Nick. There are plenty and I'll introduce you to a few of them when we get out of here"

   Nick decided to leave it at that. If it's what this man needed, to believe he'd be leaving here, then who was he to take that away from him. He on the other hand knew that the quicker he comes to terms with his new life, the better.

    "Well let me get on back to work before I'm missed"

   "You know I feel guilty laying here while you're out there working so hard."

   "This is my life, not yours, and don't worry... if and when you are found out, you'll be out there right along side of me"

   Nick shut the door behind him and started back to work. He hated that this happened to Hutch, but he was happy to have a little company... a friendly voice for a change.

   Hutch was finding it hard to sleep, but it was too hot to do much of anything else. He looked forward to the nights. Of course heat wasn't keeping him down. He was still in too much pain to do much of anything. His ribs were feeling a little better. And the pounding in his head was down to a mild roar. His arm and leg hurt to move. He was grateful for the splint, but hoped it would be enough to allow it to set right. What future would he have in his line of work with out use of a good set of arms and legs.

   His thoughts were interrupted by the opening of the cellar door. He was surprised that Nick had come back so soon.

   "Well well, what do we have here" Big Ben said as he walked over to the stranger.

   Hutch cried out in pain as he spun around. He tried to sit up. He felt vulnerable laying down, especially at seeing the man's size.

   "So this is where the food has been disappearing to, is it?"

   Hutch said nothing. With what Nick told him about this man, combined with his appearance. Hutch was apprehensive.

   "Cat got your tongue, where'd you come from?"

   "I was in an accident, wrecked my car"

   "Did you now, and what were ya doing round here any ways... you come spying on us?"

   "Spying?" Hutch nearly laughed at the thought of it. "No, I just got lost and ended up here"

   "is that so, sonny boy... well... who's gonna pay for the food you ate?"

   "I can pay you for it"

   "Can you now, we'll let's just see"

   He walked over to the man and pulled him to his side then yanked out his wallet. Paying no attention to the obvious pain the man was in.

   "Hey, I can give you the money, but it's my wallet"

   Ben couldn't believe the nerve. Although lately the brat was acting the same way. He'd have to nip this in the bud. He backhanded the man back down.

   Hutch could feel blood at the corner of his mouth, his head was pounding again.

   "Rule number one, NO talking back. Got that?"

   Hutch was more furious than scared now.

   "I'm not a kid..."

   Big Ben grabbed the man up by the scruff of his shirt, picked him up and threw him hard against the wall. Hutch tried catching the breath that was knocked out of him, he slid down the wall, barely hearing the rest of what the man had said b4 losing consciousness.

   "Bet you don't talk back again" the man said as he took the wallet and left. He'd settle up with the brat later. Right now, he had to count his earnings"   


   Nick couldn't last another minute and decided it was time to quit for the day. It had been a good day. Any day that he didn't come in contact with his "folks" was a good day. He went in and jumped in the shower then headed into the kitchen for something to eat.

   He passed Big Ben intently looking over something as he sat on the couch. He could barely make it out, but it looked like he was going through a wallet. It hit him immediately. Without hesitation, which would have saved him a lot of grief. He bolted over to where the man was sitting.

   "You have no right, that isn't yours!!!"

   "Listen to you raising your voice again, just like the man you had hidden away tried to do. I'll have teach you too I guess"

   The meaning of his words rang through... what had he done to Hutch? He ran out of the shack and down into the cellar. Hutch was still lying where Big Ben had left him.

   "Hutch? Hutch, are you ok?" he asked as he ran over to him.

    Hutch began to come around.

   "Yeah" he said has he grimaced in pain.

   "You don't look alright. Come on, let's get you back over and can you move?"

   "Yeah, I think so" Hutch replied "Nick! Behind you!"

   The warning came too late. Ben grabbed Nick, spun him around and socked him in the stomach. Nick was doubled over as Big Ben added a right cross.

   "Ok, one more time. NO talking back. Now, since you like it down here so much this is your new home. You'll be locked in for the evenings. Only to be let out during the day to work. I hope you two are happy together" he said as he slammed the door shut.

   "Nick? Can you hear me?" Hutch asked. He could see where he had fallen and he wasn't moving. But Hutch could do little to help, as he was in no shape to move either. Both Hutch and Nick spend the next several hours just as they had fallen.

   Big Ben was still rather pleased with himself as he drank himself silly again while looking through the wallet.

   "Look here! We got ourselves a cop. They sure don't make cops like the used to, this one here is a wimp. But he did have some money on him, closes to $2000 bucks. All this money and new slave labor too. This is our lucky day! Now go on and get outta here woman, I need space to think"

   "Ya need a brain first" Judy said as she got up went back to the bed room. She got away with a little more then the kid, but she had to watch herself as well.


   Nick came to to blackness. He let his eyes adjust a few seconds then could make out his surroundings. He made his way to the door, but just as the old man said, it was locked. He then walked over to Hutch and poured a little of the water from the bucket on him. Undoubtedly Ben didn't realize that was here, he would have taken it as well.

   "Hutch?" He could hear Hutch coming to. First from movement then from moans. "Hey Hutch, let me help you back over to the bed, see if we can't make you a little more comfortable.

   "Nick, you know what?"


   "You weren't exaggerating about that guy, what a nightmare. I've never seen anyone so big in my whole life. Are you ok?"

   "Yeah, he's a piece of work, that's dear ol'dad. I'm fine, that gut shot left me a little sore, and I think my jaw needs realigning. Other than that, I'm fine. Sorry about this"

   "Don't be" Hutch offered as he let Nick help him back to the bed. "Can't blame yourself for a monster like that"

   "Nah, I blame myself for bringing you back here. I knew you'd be found out sooner or later"

   "What was the alternative? Leave me out there? I'd be dead right now. Given the choice, I'd like it right where I am, thank you very much... at least this way I still have a fighting chance."

   "Well there have been plenty of times that I wished I were dead..."

   "Don't's always darkest be the dawn"

   "Are you always this optimistic?"

   "Doesn't cost anything. And besides, I have friends, they'll be looking for me. It won't be long, I'm sure"

   "For your sake, I hope you're right. But for now I suggest we get some rest. Tomorrow won't be any fun for either one of us." warned Nick.

   "Good idea, we'll trade off on the bed until we split this joint"


   Starsky picked up the phone before it had a chance to finish the first ring. It's how he answered every call since Hutch came up missing.



   "What did you find Cap, where is he?"

   "They don't know Starsky, But their keeping an eye out along the entire stretch of I10."

   "Ok, well that does it Cap, I'm not waiting for someone else to look for him. He's a total stranger to them. This is my job."

   "Starsky, where are you going to look? That's several hundred miles and several states. You're just gonna get lost yourself then what? Try to just wait it out a few more hours at least. You know Hutch, he probably stopped at every historical landmark along the way."

   "Cap, I'll give it a few more hours, then I'm outta here, one way or the other, I'm gotta find him"


    "RISE AND SHINE" Big Ben hollered as he swung open the cellar door. "Time for you working stiffs to earn your keep."

   Hutch and Nick both woke to the man's bellows. Ben walked over and kicked at Nick. "Come on lazy. Time to start the day. But look at the bright side. Today you'll have help out there. Right boy?" he said looking at Hutch

   "He's in no shape to work Ben. I'll go"

   "I know you will sonny boy, and so will he.. Come on you wuss cop, do I need to come over there and pick you up and carry you out?"

   "No, I think a bath is what you need" Hutch said under his breath.

    Ben walked over and gave Hutch a shove. "NO BACK TALK, Now get up"

   Nick hurried over to help take the focus off Hutch..

    "Please Ben, he hasn't been up since his accident" he said while trying to help Hutch to his feet.

   "He's got a broken arm and his leg ain't much better. That's just half his problems, what good is he going to be for you out there. I'll work hard enough for the both of us, until he's able to work."

   "You best be doing that anyway boy. Now I don't wanna hear anymore about it, if he can eat the food, he can work it off. Here" he said as he reached in the corner of the cellar. "Learned to save everything, never know when you might need something." He handed Hutch a crutch.

   The two men slowly made their way out of the cellar. It was the first time Hutch had seen day light in several days. And the first time he got a good look at his temporary home. He'd never seen anything so run down in his entire life. The shack was just barely that. It was obvious it hadn't been painted, ever. The "backyard" consisted of nothing but dirt, or mud, depending on how close you were to the swamps. He couldn't believe people live that this. There were animals running around freely. Chickens, goats, pigs..

   "Now let's see, what is something you can do in your delicate condition. Ah, got just the thing, go take a seat over there on that stump."

   Both men started walking with Ben.

   "Not you boy, You're healthy, you tend to your regular chores"

   "Good luck" Nick whispered to Hutch as he walked away.

   Hutch hobbled over to the stump as instructed and waited.

   "Ok, see all that corn and grain? It's your job to strip and wash it good. You can handle that, can't ya sonny?"

   "Yeah, I can handle it"

   "Watch that tone boy! Now, get to work. There ain't gonna be no eating till I think you've done enough work to pay for it"

   Hutch watched as the huge hillbilly picked up a jug and walked back in the shack. It didn't take long to put two and two together. He was making moonshine. That apparently must be the way they make a living here. He thought people like this only existed in bad movies. His body ached but at least he was given something he could do sitting down. He wanted to tell the man where to go, but he was 3 times his size, and he decided he was in enough pain. Best just to go along with things for now.

   It wouldn't be for long, He was sure that Starsky was out looking for him by now. It was his faith in his partner that gave him hope that he would get through this. He couldn't imagine what life was like for Nick. Living like this with no hope of anyone ever coming for him. He made a mental note to let Starsky know just how much he was needed and appreciated... he'd tell him as soon as he shows up.


   After several hours, Hutch's work was down to doing basically nothing, His one arm was virtually useless and the other had grown to tired to continue. He tried to look busy but it was becoming more difficult. The heat was sucking every bit of strength he had in him, and he was aching from head to toe. He was tempted to hit on one of the jugs himself.

   Finally Nick came over and sat down next time him. "Hey, you can relax, the old man is passed out drunk on the couch. Use to just be that way at night, but these days, he's been staying drunk most of the time, which isn't good. He's a mean drunk. Come on over here in the shade, and lie down, I'll grab us something to eat and drink."

   "Don't get yourself in trouble, Nick. That is one scary man"

   "You're telling me? As long as he's passed out, we're ok. I'll be right back."


   Several minutes later, Nick sat the food down and helped Hutch sit up and lean against the tree.

   "You hungry?"

   "Oh yeah"

   "Well let's eat, He's passed out and she's still watching her soaps, so I think we have time to relax a bit. So, you looked to be in deep thought... what were you thinking about?"

   "Home. I was just wondering about my family and friends. I'm sure they're very worried, I wish I had some way of contacting them"

   "Sorry Hutch, nothing like that for miles around here"

   "I don't get it Nick, how can you live like this? This is no life"

   "This is all I know. I've never been away from here. Not since these people bought and paid for me. And there is no way out. Even if I was to try to get away, these backwoods people stick together. No, I've learned to accept it. It's not so bad, I figure they gotta die sometime soon. Anyway, enough about me tell about your life. What's your life like outside these swamps... I saw a guitar floating out of your car. Are you a singer?"

    "You didn't happened to grab that, did you?" Hutch asked with a smile.

   "No" nick answered laughing. "I figured you could always get another guitar, but the guitar couldn't get another you."

   "Well, since you put it that way... good choice. And to answer your question, I do love to sing, but it doesn't pay the bills. I sing when I can and work when I should. I'm a detective with the Los Angeles Police dept. Been doing that quite a while now. I'm not married, except to my job. And, some say to my partner."

   "Your partner is your girlfriend? "

   "No" Hutch said with a laugh. My partner's name is David Starsky." Hutch could see 'the look' come over the young mans face.

   "No, it's not what you're thinking. It's just that we're best of friends. We spend a lot of time together and well, it's just a office joke that we might as well be married. He's the one I'm counting on finding us. I know Starsky, he won't stop looking until he finds me."

   "Well you're new here so I don't blame you for having hope. I've given up on that along time ago, it just makes living here even harder."

   "So you've never been out of Louisiana?"

   "Nope, never been anywhere put here, and I'm sure I'll die here as well"

   "I'll tell you what, when we get outta here, we'll take you with us, would you like to see California?"

   Hutch could see Nick's look of excitement quickly turn to disappointment. He knew what he was thinking.

   "Come on Nick, we'll get out of here. As soon as I'm well enough, we'll come up with something, you'll see"

   Nick said nothing and the two finished eating and went back to work. Ben never made an appearance the rest of the day. When darkness fell, Nick helped Hutch pack into the cellar. They were both ready for sleep. It felt good to rest.


   "Ok, whadaya got cap?"

   "Highway patrol called. It seems they have found Hutch's' car. It had been washed up after being carried quite a while down a swollen river."



   "No sign of him Starsky"

   "The car was empty. They said that the car had apparently been in a wreck. There was quite a bit of damage to it."

   "Where is it? Where did they find the car?"

   "They found it in Louisiana. They've had heavy widespread flooding over there, the car could have traveled from anywhere."

   "That settles it cap, I'm off to Louisiana..."

   "Starsky, he would have called"

   "Cap, I don't know why we're having this conversation. If you wanna give up on Hutch that's your business. But I know that he's out there someplace. You know I'm not going to just sit back and see what turns up"

   "So you're just going to drive all over the state looking for him?"

   "The way I see it cap, before, there was an 8 state possibility and now it's been narrowed down to one. That's a good head start in my book."

   "Ok Starsky. I want you checking in, we don't need both of y'all out there lost. I'll do what I can from here. Do you want me to assign you someone to help out?" Dobey knew these two well enough not to use the word partner.

   "You mean a partner Cap? No thanks, I don't need a new one, Just wanna find mine. I'll keep in touch"   


   The next three days went by without incident. Big Ben was still on his drinking binge, caring little about anything else.. Nick and Hutch did things around the shack. They tried to at least give the appearance that they'd been working.

   Hutch was healing up nicely. Course his broken arm excluded.. But all in all he felt he was getting strong enough. He would try something soon, he had to.


   Starsky was becoming discouraged. He had driving every inch of the hwy and stopped at every place there was to stop within 5 miles of the highway. No sign. No one had seen anyone resembling Hutch or his car. It didn't make any sense.. Someone had to have seen him... he couldn't have made the trip without stopping somewhere!

   He pulled into a diner.. He walked up to the counter and gave his order to the girl eagerly waiting at the register.

   "I was also wondering..." Starsky continued after giving his order. "Have you seen this guy?"

   "Ah, a cop? Thought so! I'm pretty good at that kinda stuff and I had you pegged for a cop"

   "Well you're right" Starsky humored her.

   "Wow, what did the guy do?"

   "No, he didn't do anything... He's a cop too... he's my partner and he's missing. Have you seen him around here?"

   "Yeah the girl said, he was here... at least it was a guy that looked like that picture"

   "Can you tell me where he went when he left here?"

   "Sorry, all I know is he said we on his way to visit relatives, He was very nice, not to mention, easy on the eyes! I watched him until he drove out of site. Course, I did think it was strange that he went in the opposite direction from where he said he was headed."

   "What do you mean, which way did he go, it's very important I know which direction he was headed in. He's been missing for awhile now, and I'm trying to track him down"

    "Gosh, I hope he's ok... Well look, see that road there? To get to the Highway, you have to turn left and double back, it can be a bit confusing to folks. Well I guess he was confused to, cuz instead of the left... he went right. I even got in trouble for taking too long on my break, cuz I waited outside to watch for him when he doubled back, like everyone does that makes that mistake. But he never came back. At least not while I was watching."

   "Thanks... Janie" he said as he looked at her name tag "you've been a huge help, I can't thank you enough..."

   "Good luck on your search."

   "Thanks again, oh and by the way, what IS down that way anyway?"

   "Not much of nothing, mostly swamp land, and lots of hillbilly type, you wanna be careful on those little roads at night.

   "K, thanks for the warning, I can't thank you enough for your help."

   "Good luck"

   Starsky left with more hope than he'd had in days. A fresh trial, someone that actually saw Hutch, talked to Hutch. It was getting late though, he knew his search wouldn't get a good start until the morning. He'd do what he could tonight, but if it's as barren as she said, he needed to find a place to sleep for the night. The car served the purpose the night before, but with this new lead, he wanted to be good and rested.


   Both men were sleeping soundly has the door to the cellar was thrown open. Big Ben came stumbling in, throwing around anything within reach..


   Nick had never seen Big Ben this wired. He looked like a raging bull.

   He walked over and picked a groggy Nick up with his huge hand wrapped around his throat.


   "What are you talking about Ben?" Nick asked

   Ben's grip tightened. Nick could feel the life being choked out of him.


   Hutch got to his feet as quickly as he could. He wasn't sure what he could he do with a man three times his size that was obviously out of his head, but there was no time to come up with a plan.

   He grabbed an empty jar that was left lying around, "waiting for when it could be used again". He swung as hard as he could knocking the jar against the back of Big Ben's head.

   Ben's grip loosened, and Nick fell to the ground.

   The hit probably would have killed a normal man, but Ben stood there looking dazed for a few seconds, then turned to Hutch, with fire in his eyes.

   Big Ben lifted his tree limb size arm and backhanded Hutch as hard has could, knocking Hutch against the wall. Then it was his turn. Ben walked over and picked Hutch up by the throat and smiled as he watched the color drain from the man's face.

   Nick was getting his senses back and saw what was happening. He called out. "BEN!!"

   He got no response.


   As if slapped in the face, Ben's head turned and his grip slightly loosened. "What are you talking about?!"

   "Its true Ben, I just found out and was going to tell you. He's a famous singer, he's worth lots of money Ben, more money than you'll ever see in your lifetime. But its no good if he's dead Ben... BEN, let go!"

   "What are you trying to pull kid, I know this guy is a cop... there's no money in that" he said as his grip remained firm.

   "He didn't get his money from being a cop... he sings Ben... He told me all about it. Turn loose NOW or your throwing away a gold mine."

   "You best not being lying to be boy, I'll feed ya BOTH to the gators"

   "No lie Ben. He had $2000 on him, didn't he. Why else would anyone carry that kind of cash on them?"

   Finally, just as Nick was beginning to think that Hutch was a dead man, Ben released his grip and Hutch fell to the ground.

   "You best check on him" Ben demanded

   Nick hurried over to Hutch, Since he had watched as hutch turned purple long ago, he wasn't expecting to find him alive.

   "Hutch? Can you hear me?"

   Nick could already see the bruises on his neck.

   "I don't know how or why, but he's still breathing" Nick reported back to Ben.

   Ben bent over and picked up Hutch and carried him out of the cellar.

   "Where are you going with him Ben, what are you going to do"

   Ben turned and shoved Nick to the ground. "YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE" Then locked the door behind him.

   Nick couldn't imagine what Ben's next move would be. He liked the idea of money, he didn't think Ben would be able to pass that up. Maybe he was taking him inside, to protect his interests. At least it brought him peace of mind to believe that.

   If Ben had been thinking clearly, that's exactly what he would have done. But he wasn't. His mind couldn't focus, he was drunk and hung over at the same time. One thing he knew... this man could make him rich... he had to make sure he was secured. Make sure he didn't get away.

   He dragged the blonde cop next to the shed... he thought of the best way to make sure he stayed put... "The Stretcher" it was what he used for his alligator skins. He tied each arm up to the corners and did the same with the legs. After making sure it was secure, he went in to sleep it off. He knew he needed to think clearly if he was going to act on the new information given to him.


   By the time Hutch had begun to come to, the morning sun was making its appearance. The only thing Hutch knew as he woke was the excruciating pain that enveloped his entire body.



   ..."HELP ME"

    He tried everything he could to free his good arm, but he was tied tight. He was out of his head with pain.

   "STARSKY!!!!!"  he screamed before he finally passed out.

   Nick heard Hutch's screams. It sent a shiver down his spine. Help him? From what? What had Ben done that was causing him so much pain. He took the crutch and began knocking the roof of the cellar/the floor of the shack, and yelling.

   "BEN? BEN GET OUT HERE.....BEN!!!!"

   After an hour or so the cellar door opened. A more controlled Ben stood in the doorway.

   "What's gotten into you boy. Is it lesson time?"

   "Hutch... I heard him screaming. What have you done with him?"

   "You forget yourself boy... I don't answer to you. Now I think it's time you get started on your chores?"

   Yes, he thought, at least he'd get out to see what was going on.

   "Ok, I'm ready"

   "Good boy, let's get on with it then. You know" he continued as he followed Nick out, "if what you say is true about this cop havin' money... I'll have no need for you anymore will I? You best watch yourself now"

   They walked to the side of the shack. Nick could see Hutch from there.

   "Ben you can't leave him like that. You know his arm is broken, and his leg isn't much better... look how tight you have that pulled"

   "I thought you were going to watch yourself?"

   "Come on Ben, don't you have a heart at all? You can't leave him like that. What if he ups and dies on you Ben?"

   "No one's ever died from a broken arm boy, now get on with your business"

   "Not from the broken arm Ben. I seen it on TV. It's called shock, he goes into shock and it shuts down his heart" he had no idea what he was talking about, but as long as Ben didn't know that, he was one step ahead.

   "Like I said" Ben replied, less sure of himself, "you worry about yourself. Now get to work"

   Ben very casually made his way over to the stretched out man. He grabbed him by his blonde hair and pulled his head back. He looked at the man's face. What did someone look like when they were in shock. Did that stupid kid have any idea what he was talking about? It wasn't that he cared how much pain this cop was in. it was the money he was worried about.


   Starsky was up and out at the crack of dawn. He jumped in his car and started in the direction Hutch was last seen. He reached down to feel the reassuring coldness of the pistol under his seat. He didn't like the sound of the word "swampland". Hutch had joked about that being the worse part about the trip. He hated to think that he was out here somewhere. But it was better than the alternative.

   As he drove he thought of the last time he saw Hutch. His partner was so excited about his little trip alone. Just him, the road and the car stereo. He hadn't had that kind of privacy in so long. None of them had. And this was his chance to get away. It was all still to hard to believe. Starsky turned his thoughts off and the radio on.


   "Hey you" Ben said trying to wake Hutch up. He slapped his face, then grabbed the bucket of water and threw it on him. It seemed to be working, he could see the man starting to move.

   "Hey you!" he said again, louder this time.

   Hutch's eyes opened then immediately closed tight from the pain. He didn't want to give this man the satisfaction of yelling out.

   "Hurts, don't it... I'll make ya a deal kid... I'm gonna cut ya down... hell, I might even let you go. But I want the money"

   Hutch didn't know what money he was talking about.

   "You already got my money" Hutch said, gritting his teeth.

   "No no, think big man.. I know you're worth some money and all you have to do is tell me how to get in touch with your folks. We'll make a swap. How does that sound."

   It took a few seconds for what this man was saying to sink in. He was being held for ransom now?

   "Come on kid, what do you say? I bet I sure would feel good to get cut down"

   "I don't know what you're talking about, I don't have money. You got my wallet, you saw I'm a cop. Cops don't have money"

   Hutch, being half out of his mind from pain, was none the less able to see the rage building in the man's face.

   "We'll just see about that now won't we, lets see if that's the same thing you say after you've been stretched out here a few days without nothin' to eat or drink!. You know what I used this contraption for?"

   He pointed to the back wall.

   "That's right, I use it to stretch gator skins after I've skinned it. So what do you think you'll look like in a few days?"

   "I can't give you something I don't have."

   "Then die you will" Ben said. He walked off, but only after getting the satisfaction of a few punches to the stomach before he walked off. He'll break, he thought to himself, it may take a day or two, but he had nothing but time.

   Nick was going crazy not being able to help Hutch. He was locked in during the evening, and watched in the day. If he could just get Ben on a drinking binge again. But that wasn't likely, Ben had a new focus about him. He wondered if it had been a mistake to make up the story about the money. But he knew... He knew if he hadn't come up with that, they would have both been dead.


   Starsky tried not to get discouraged at another day passing. There was a lot of backwoods to cover, he was sure Hutch had to be back here somewhere. He had to be. But for now, he'd have to turn back. It was late and too dark to make anything else out. He hated to go back, but it wouldn't do Hutch any good to get lost himself. He would get a fresh start bright and early in the morning again..


   Hutch drifted in and out of consciousness through out the night. He was weak from hunger and thirst, not to mention the pain. But he was grateful for the coolness of the evening. He didn't want to think of another hot day that would come tomorrow. He was losing hope. He had to finally admit to himself that he might never get out of here alive.

   "Where are you Starsky?" Hutch asked out loud, then blacked out.

   Morning came a little too early for Ben. He had downed a few too many the night before. It was the kid. He was driving him to drink. As if he needed a reason. It was going on nearly 2 days since he hung the cop out to dry, he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer.

   Ben didn't normally enjoy the mornings. But he was looking forward to seeing how much more he could torment the cop. He wouldn't even bother with breakfast. He pulled his overalls on and walked outside. Another scorcher, that could only work to his benefit. He walked over to the stretched out man and grabbed his hair and pulled his head back.

    "Morning Hutchinson"

   There was no response. He picked up the bucket of water and threw it on the man... no response. No wait... he could see some slight movement... yes, the man was coming around.

   Hutch opened his eyes to the brief spell of consciousness... Hot, so hot. He needed a drink. He was so dry.

   "Water.... Please"

   "What's that? You need a drink? Well I have lots of ice cold water... but you know what to do to get it..."

   "Go to h..." he passed out again.


   With a smile on his face, Ben proceeded to unlock the cellar door. Someone was going to have to work around there!

   Nick was willing and ready. He had been up for hours. He knew that Hutch couldn't last much longer, he'd have to think of something..

   "Ok" said Ben, "get on with the chores... I'm going in to rest for awhile."

   Much to his delight, Nick could see that he was in a drunken stupor, and was going in to sleep it off. It was his chance to check on his friend.


   Starsky was ready for another day of searching. He wouldn't let himself be negative. There were two ways of thinking... Hutch was out here someplace... or Hutch was dead. He wouldn't even let himself even THINK the second, which meant... Hutch was out here somewhere. He filled his tank up and headed back to where the search ended the day b4.

   "Hold on Hutch" he said out loud "I'm coming for you, just hang on"


   Nick could tell by looking at Hutch that he was near death. He knew that cutting him down would most likely be handing himself a death sentence. But he'd have to take that chance. He couldn't leave him up this way. He looked around and found a buck knife Ben had stashed away.. He cut Hutch down and laid him on the ground. He poured a bucket of water on him to try and cool him off.


   There was no response. They had to get out of here. They were both dead men if they didn't get out of here. But how? If he knew that, he would have been gone years ago.

   "Hutch? Can you hear me?"

   He could try to leave on foot, but that was laughable. He would have to carry Hutch, and how far would they get before they were found out? It didn't matter there was no other choice. He would have to hope that Ben was out for another long one.

   Nick pulled down a plank that Ben used to lay over the swamp as a bridge for when he checked his traps. He strapped Hutch onto it, and tied rope from both ends. He grabbed some of the fruit he had in the cellar along with a canteen of water. He picked up the ropes and put them over his shoulders and began walking, pulling the plank behind him. It would be slow going, but it was going. Maybe they'd get lucky and run into someone on the road. Course, it's likely if they did, whoever t was would drive him right back to the shack. He couldn't think about that now, he had to stay focused on Hutch. He wasn't sure how he had stayed alive this long. He couldn't fight for much longer. Not like that. He walked on.