Part Two

The Devil's Day Off
(A story following the episode "Partner")



-Part Three-

        Hutch helped to gather the plastic plates and utensils and they all made one more pass for beer. Someone sure has collected a lot of money for goodies, he thought. I wonder just what all these people do for a living? Hutch shook himself at the surprisingly suspicious thought. Time to turn the cop mode off, Ken. We're on vacation, remember?

        "There's Jerome," Tina announced, pointed across the crowded sands toward a far corner. "Let's go visit."

        The foursome made their apologetic way through the buzzing crowd, Hutch catching a bit here and there from conversations that made him want to stop and join in. He couldn't believe that his partner still had any doubts about the vast potential of the human mind.

        I didn't know Starsky still had doubts about Collandra, he mused, even after all the things the man had been absolutely right about. He's a pretty good judge of character. I wonder what keeps throwing him off about all this ESP stuff. How can you not be fascinated by it?

        Hutch followed Tina, Gina and Starsky over to the opposite corner of the convention, coming upon a table holding several laughing people.

        "Hey, guys," Tina said cheerfully, announcing their arrival. "How're the vibes tonight?"

        "Couldn't be better," a young Latino man replied, grinning at their approach. "You two must've worked some heavy magic to make everything go this well. I'm surprised that Tina the Tornado could get away with convention plans as smooth as this." The young man watched her with amusement.

        "Well, I can't help it," Tina explained smugly, presenting a snobbish expression. "When you're perfect, planning these things are a snap."

        "Yeah, especially when you have your sister do most of the work," Gina interrupted incredulously. "Don't believe her, Charley, she's BS'ing again."

        All three at the table broke into laughter at Tina's rolling of the eyes.

        "Well, we might have some new recruits here, so don't scare them away," Gina continued. "Everyone, we'd like you to meet our dates, Ken Hutchinson and Dave Starsky. Ken, Dave this is Charles Lopez," Gina gestured toward the younger, Latino man, "Beth Devoe." A middle aged woman with thick glasses nodded her head. "And Jerome Clancy," Gina finished, nodding toward an older man.

        Hutch took turns shaking hand with Charley, nodding a greeting toward Beth. But it was Jerome who immediately drew Hutch's attention. And older man, he was tall, thin and wiry, with a full head of close cropped white curls and a closely trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. His face was sun-bronzed and deeply etched with lines that spoke of a man who smiled honestly and often.

        The original cowboy, Hutch thought, fascinated with the man. A man who's close to nature, I can just feel it. He shook Jerome's hand and found a strong and warm grip.

        "Pleased to meet you, boys," Jerome responded sincerely. He scooted over and waved them to a seat. "So, what kind of victims have these two brought for the rest of us to corrupt?"

        Hutch chuckled, noticing that Starsky was relaxed and smiling warmly and the girls seemed totally at home.

        "You tell us," Gina replied, looking a bit serious. "Augustine says they are one of us and they're...." She broke off, smiling at the dramatic silence, "....extra-crispy."

        The three convention goers at the table groaned in unison, bringing chuckles to the twins.

        "That woman." Beth shook her head in amusement, readjusting her glasses. "She is forever creating new vocabulary for what she sees. I can never keep up with what she's saying anymore. I guess I'm just getting lazy. But if Augustine says they belong, the least we can do is follow this up." Beth looked over both men closely. "That is, if you two don't mind playing along?"

        Hutch threw Starsky a glance and was rewarded with an unconcerned shrug of his friend's shoulders. "Sure, why not?" Hutch replied. "Sounds like fun."

        "Well, if you guys don't mind, there's a certain young lady I want to trouble with my presence." Charley Lopez nodded toward them all as he relinquished is chair. "Not that it wouldn't be interesting, but afraid I wouldn't be much help here." The young man smiled cheerfully and took his leave.

        Hutch barely caught site of Charley's name tag as he passed by. "Water Witch?" Hutch asked in amazement after the man had left earshot. "Hey, my great uncle could do that."

        "What?" Starsky asked, obviously confused. "Someone in your family was a witch?"

        "A water witch," Hutch replied with growing excitement. "My great uncle Simon on my mother's side. Grandfather used to tell me how he could get a forked branch off of a tree, trim it and cut it to a 'Y' shape and use it to find water. He used to be famous. Great Uncle Simon used to travel all over Minnesota and find water for people."

        "Oh?" Starsky look unconvinced of the importance of this. "What did he do, point out the rivers or somethin'?"

        "Oh, if it was only that easy," Jerome chuckled. "But it's actually a lot harder to find water if your farm doesn't just up and come with it's own river, Dave. And Ken is right, he would have been a valuable tool for his community. In the old days, those guys would have been worth their weight in gold. Well digging was hard and serious work, even killing the odd digger or two. And if you couldn't find the water, you couldn't have much of a farm or a household."

        "So, what'd they do?" Starsky asked, looking interested.

        "My Grandfather told me," Hutch chimed in, "that Simon would take the 'Y' of a branch and hold an end in each hand. Then he'd block out the outside and clear his mind and just walk. He seemed drawn to large bodies of underground water and when he came upon an area where the rock and soil were thin, then the third part of the branch would suddenly be pulled down to the ground. Grandfather said that Simon always said it was as if the branch was hungry for water."

        "So, how did he do?" Beth asked with interest

        Hutch felt himself smile with satisfaction. "Grandfather said Simon never pointed out a dry well. Like I said, he was famous in the area." Hutch glanced out of the corner of his eye to see Starsky's reaction. He still didn't look convinced.

        "Well, looks like you have some history of 'powers' in your family," Gina said happily, reaching out to take Hutch's arm. "Maybe you've inherited something along your mother's line, then." She looked toward Beth and Jerome. "Do you two mind looking to see what you can find? Are you willing Ken?"

        How could I say 'no' now, he thought with amusement. Although I don't think they'll find anything. Augustine is going to be disappointed. "Sure," he responded. "If they don't mind."

        Jerome gave a lone laugh. "Well, this is the wrong place to be and the wrong time to be here if we did mind. But I think Beth and I can give it a shot."

        "What are your specialties?" Hutch asked a bit timidly, wondering just what the correct phrasing was.

        "I read the Tarot," Beth answered with a smile. She removed a velvet wrapped package from her purse. "Whether it is my talents or the cards I don't know, but I seem to have some ability with them."

        "And I really don't know what the hell I do," Jerome replied with a chuckle. "But whatever it is that Augustine 'sees' in her auras, I guess I 'feel' emanating from people. I guess that's why I spend so much time by my lonesome. I get tired of feelin' like I'm bein' smothered in a crowd."

        "Not much of a city person, Jerome?" Hutch asked in sympathy.

        "No, can't say that I am," he replied with a shrug. "It's too draining on whatever it is I am, so I stick to the great outdoors as much as I can." He gave Hutch a profound look, making Hutch slightly uncomfortable at it's depth. "You know the need to get away, the sickness that can't be healed," Jerome continued seriously, holding Hutch with his eyes. "Escaping into nature can help relieve the pressure. A much needed purging of the poisons," Jerome added thoughtfully to Hutch. "A man must understand the cure to his own ills, don't you think?"

        Hutch felt a sudden chill, as if the man was seeing a part of him he hadn't known was showing. How can he know....?

        "So," Beth asked suddenly, breaking into the awkwardly growing silence, "would you two like a reading?"

        Hutch forced himself to face Beth, feeling as if he was dragging himself out of something deep, something he had not been expecting. "How about doing mine, Beth? I'd like to see how this works." He saw Jerome smile slightly at his quick offer.

        He was waved to a seat opposite Beth at the picnic table. She shuffled the large cards and smiled at him sweetly. She reached out and laid a hand upon his arm and closed her eyes for a moment, as if thinking deeply.

        "There are many different ways to spread the cards for a reading and there are many different ways to read them, depending on what deck you are using," Beth intoned, as if reciting a well known song. "I'm just looking for a general reading on who you are as a person. Please cut the deck into three and then put them together in any order you prefer."

        After Hutch complied, Beth preceded to lay out ten cards in a predetermined pattern. She was quiet for several moments, studying the cards. Hutch studied the large cards from his vantage point, impressed with the artistic qualities of the designs. Each one is like a separate work of art, he thought with interest.

        Beth sat for a moment, studying the layout before she spoke. "The general atmosphere of your life is centered on a fortress mentality, protecting your space and living by your inner convictions."

        Us against them....

        "The obstacles you face are deceptions, subversions and secret schemes.

        No surprise there....

        "Your inner goal is to be strong enough to face your situations and see them through to the end." Beth tapped another card, nodding her head at what she saw. "The cornerstone of who you are, deep down, is based on the creative and nurturing parts of yourself. There is a strong need for you to express this and it is a well of strength for you to draw upon."

        "The perfect mother-hen," Starsky interrupted with a stage whisper and a snicker. He was quickly shushed by Tina's elbow and Hutch's annoyed glance.

        Beth smiled at Starsky, but once again caught Hutch's eye before continuing the reading. "You have just come past some embarrassment or shame in your life and in your near future I see frustration. You will feel ganged up on, or blocked from your goals."

        Well, she's got my recent past right, Hutch thought in chagrin. He could feel his face flush at the memory. I'm never going to live the amnesia thing down. And frustration is just what I need for my future.

        "Your living environment is shown as a continual balance between opposites. Emotional interchanges and compromises are constant companions to you." Beth's fingers had traced their route through the card pattern and came upon the last two. "Your hopes or fears show deep concern or anxiety of any sudden, disastrous change to your life and your ways. This could be a total change in lifestyle and environment or a dramatic and extreme personal loss."

        Hutch felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise and his heart jump. Too close now. Too close...

        Beth smiled soothingly at Hutch, as if reading his rush of inner panic. She placed one hand on his arm, squeezing reassuringly, tapping the last card with the other. "The outcome card is The Chariot." She turned it so Hutch could see it better. It's bright and flowing design showed a stylized soldier driving a chariot pulled by two strong and massive horses. "This card represents a victorious force. The chariot driver represents your future success and control of the situations you will face. Victory is eventually assured. But the way will not be easy and will take much discipline."

        "The White Knight," Starsky whispered suddenly in Hutch's ear, startling him with that label. It had too many memories for him to be comfortable with it.

        Hutch flashed an uneasy smile at Beth and found himself vacating his seat too quickly. Something was still in a panic inside him and he was afraid to look at it too closely. "Thanks Beth, but I'm not sure I can attest to all that, although some of it rings a bell." More than some of it, he thought, suddenly embarrassed at his reaction, but darned if I know why.


        It just doesn't ring a bell, Starsky thought a little uneasily, it plays the whole damn tune! He had seen Hutch react and could almost feel his partner's consternation at the reading. Something hit too close to home for him. Starsky shrugged off the feeling of uneasiness, unwilling to damper his festive mood

        "How about you, Mr. Starsky?" Beth asked sweetly, shuffling the large cards deftly. "Maybe I can do better with you."

        "Sure," Starsky agreed amicably, settling into the seat Hutch had vacated. "Give it your best shot."

        Beth placed the mixed deck in front of him and he followed Hutch's example, but determinedly placed the cards together in a different order than Hutch had chosen. Beth gave him a sly smile, as if she had caught the deliberateness of that act. He watched as Beth laid the first ten cards out in the pre-determined pattern.

        She sat for a moment, studying the layout before she spoke. "The general atmosphere of your life is centered on your choices in applying the energy of your existence. You can exert a tremendous amount of focus on the task at hand, giving it your total concentration. Yet you are constantly balancing the directions this energy takes, always being pulled in different directions."

        Hutch and the job....

        "The obstacles you try to overcome are shown as the distance and aloofness you find around you. You constantly battle criticism and struggle to articulate what you have no words for."

        That's Hutch 'n me, Starsky thought in surprise. We never have quite fit in with anyone else at the force....

        Beth looked up at Starsky in slight surprise. "You and your friend seem to have the same goal in life. You both have the Strength card in the same position in the layout."

        "Well, that's no surprise." Hutch chuckled behind Starsky and the smaller man smiled at the feeling of a hand gripping his shoulder.

        "Your goal is to be strong enough to handle the situations you face." Beth tapped another card. "You see yourself as down to earth and sensual. You tend to be secure in yourself and your surroundings and do admit to being stubborn on occasion."

        "Admits when?" Hutch asked with amusement, giving his partner's shoulder a shake.

        "Just my policy," Starsky replied with a wicked grin. "I admit to things all the time, just never to you."

        "In your recent past I see a hurt and bruised ego," Beth continued. She was quiet for a moment, frowning at the cards before her. "In your future I see competition and a challenge to an established order. But you will tend to be the catalyst in this, the focus of the events and not an active participant."

        Starsky suddenly shivered, as if something cold had touched the base of his spine. Not an active participant... He suddenly felt very uncomfortable with that idea and was suddenly glad for the warm hand on his shoulder.

        "Your environment is practical, earthy and comforting to you." Beth smiled at what she saw next. "Your hopes or fears show you are looking for a period of optimism and well being. You are cultivating high hopes for the future."

        False hope? Starsky mused. Wishful thinking?

        "Would you like to see the outcome card?" Beth turned the last card so that Starsky could see it better in the evening lights. "It's called Temperance."

        Starsky saw a picture of a stylized angel. The beautiful figure was holding two cups, pouring liquid from one cup to the other. One of the Angel's feet was on dry land, the other in a lake.

        "This card represents a blending or melding together of diverse elements or ideas. You will be adaptable, confident and flexible. This can also be a card of healing, or working toward a wholeness. A very nice card to have in this position."

        Starsky stared at the card for a moment, feeling as if there was something important he should remember. He forced his eyes away to nod appreciatively toward Beth. "Thanks," he said simply. "That was ...."

        "Attention everyone!"

        All parties at the table looked toward the elderly man addressing the group. "We are getting some panels set up for the full moon in a couple of days. You all might want to come by the sign up table and see some of the proposed groups. We'll need to know what all you people are interested in doing and how big the groups are going to be. Some of them will require more privacy than this area allows, so we'll need to plan ahead." And with this he walked back to a side table, inviting the crowd to follow him.

        "Oh, excuse me," Beth announced apologetically toward the group. "I really need to...."

        "Thanks for the readings, Beth," Gina chimed in quickly. "We really appreciate the effort."

        "Ditto, Beth," Tina added.

        Starsky and Hutch both added their thanks.

        Jerome sighed. "Yeah, sorry you guys, but I gotta get in on this too, as I'm heading up one of the panels. I'll catch up with you guys later.

        "See you, Jerome," Tina replied with a wave. She sat down next to Starsky and leaned in so that the only gentlemanly thing he could do was to put his arm around her. "Well, I'm not actively participating this year, so we don't have to leave our comfortable seats," she told him with a smile.

        "What say we snag the choice places near the bon-fire?" Gina asked Hutch with a grin and a tug on his arm.

        "Hey!" Hutch exclaimed. "How did you know I saw burning marshmallows in my future? You must be...."

        "Psychic!" Three voices groaned in chorus.


        Tired but immensely happy, Hutch limped down the dirt path, enjoying the morning and the gloriously fresh air. The early sun promised a warm and bright day and the bird song fitting wonderfully into his mood.

        Well worth the wait, Hutch thought with contentment. While the vacation had had a bit of a rocky start, the evening had more than made up for it. He and Gina had gotten along well. Very, very smart lady, he thought with affection. I wonder if we'll be able to see each other after this vacation was over. He knew that the odds were of continuing the relationship long distance was small, but he was determined not to let that affect his time with her now.

        They had had a wonderful evening. After the tarot readings, he and Gina sat and talked by the bon-fire, meeting people who drifted by now and again. They had drifted off before the dawn to hike carefully to a rocky outcrop to count the stars and watch the sun rise. Luckily Gina had the next day off and could spare the time. And after a glorious sunrise he had escorted his lady home to her cabin and had been given an affectionate kiss for his trouble.

        Now for some shut-eye and some late-afternoon fishing, Hutch thought optimistically. Gina had agreed to meet with him for a camp-cooked fish dinner. He was hoping he could talk Starsky into renting a boat and going out with him for the company. Although there's no telling where he is by now, he mused. I might be lucky to see him at all for the rest of the week.

        Stumbling a bit on a still sore foot, Hutch took his time coming upon his area of the park. Some early morning risers were up and around, readying themselves for a day of wilderness recreation while other camps were dark and still. Hutch drank in the sent of bacon and eggs from some early camp fire and picked up his pace, suddenly hungry.

        He came upon the graveled roadway and followed if for awhile, drifting with memories of the last evening as he looked up and spotted his camp site. He froze in shock.

        It looked pretty much as it had the last time he had seen it, but this wooded and shady area sported only one wearing-looking partner and one picnic table. Missing from the scene was the camper and truck.

        Feeling stunned, Hutch shook his head, hoping he wasn't seeing what he actually wasn't seeing. He lurched the remaining distance down to the camp site, knowing his partner was watching him every step of the way.

        "Where...?" Hutch asked, waving one had to the obviously empty space in helplessness.

        "Actually," Starsky began quietly, head resting on a hand in a tired slump, "I was hoping they were with you."

        "No..." Hutch replied quietly, unbelievably. "Don't tell me..."

        "We've been robbed." Starsky sighed and turned back to rest both elbows on the red table. He rubbed at his face tiredly.

        Hutch felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. He hobbled over to the other side of the picnic table and sat down with a grunt.

        Starsky sighed and stretched tiredly. "Think it's too early to see if Cap'n Dobey's up? Looks like we're going to need a ride into town to report a theft."

        "Not only that, buddy," Hutch added with a grimace. "We'd better hope he's in a good mood, or we're gonna have to hitch a ride home, too."


        Harold Dobey surveyed the empty campsite in amazement. Why am I not surprised? He felt sorry for the two bedraggled vacationers. It looks like they are going to have that kind of week. I guess it's better they're here than on the job, if their luck is going to run like this.

        "Well, let's get you two up to the office and get a report filed." Dobey turned and headed back to his unit. "I can't imagine that anyone would drag that thing very far. It shouldn't be worth much on today's market."

        Edith had busied herself making breakfast for the two tired men. They ate quickly, thanking Edith profusely, before Dobey ran the two men up to the park office.

        Sid Calbert had been shocked and apologetic, seemingly taking the theft as a personal affront. After a few phone calls in private, he had graciously offered the two the only available cabin he had left for the remainder of their stay and the tired men took him up on the offer. He seemed very relieved that the three officers didn't blame him or his RV park for the theft.

        With the promise of a visit by the Sheriff's Department as soon as possible, the two theft victims left with the keys to a furnished cabin, a set of sheets and towels, emergency toiletry packs and gift certificates to several stores in Peakness.

        Dobey drove the silent two up to the sheltered cabin and saw them safely tucked away before turning his truck back toward his own campsite.

        Well, either I'm going to get a few extra day's off to baby-sit those two, or they're going to have to come home with us if their truck isn't found, Dobey thought morosely. Something continued to bother him about that truck and camper. Maybe I'd better make a long-distance phone call, it just may save us some time in the long run.


        Dave Starsky opened bleary eyes to brightness and the sound of soft snoring from the other bed. Turning over slowly he surveyed the room, recognizing the deluxe cabin that Park Management had gifted them as a consolation prize for being homeless.

        Too early, too early... Starsky rubbed at his eyes and reached over to snag his watch off the nightstand. It was 11 am. He had only been asleep for a few hours. There's not much point in getting up now, anyway, he thought, willing himself to drift back into a doze. It's not like we've got anywhere to go or anything to wear for that matter. Looks like we've got another trip to Peakness for clothing. I think Hutch is going to crack if he has to hit that laudrymat one more time. He caught a snicker before it escaped. Geeze, back to sleep Starsky, you're getting weird.

        He had just buried his head under the covers and tucked his arm into a more comfortable position when he heard a loud thump at the door, startling him. Throwing a annoyed glance at his still snoring partner, the detective wrapped himself up in the blanket and opened the door a crack.

        "Pardon me sir, are you David Starsky or Kenneth Hutchinson?"

        Starsky found himself squinting into the mid-day sunlight at two Sheriff's Deputies in uniform and sunglasses.

        "Yeah, I'm Starsky," he replied nodding his head. Good, maybe we can get the paperwork over early.

        The older man nodded toward his partner. "We're Martin and Davenport, Sheriff's Department. May we come in for a moment?"

        "Just give me a minute to get my partner up," Starsky replied with a yawn.

        Closing the door on their nods, the detective shuffled over to an oblivious Hutch. After a bit of shaking he was finally able to roust his partner enough to get dressed.

        Opening the door, Starsky sat with Hutch on the edge of his bed and waved the Sheriff's Deputies to the small table nearby. "Come on in guys, let's get this done quickly." Starsky yawned. The older man walked slowly around the room, checking it out.

        "Oh, are you two in some kind of a hurry?" The taller, younger Deputy asked snidely, standing beside the door in a military stance. "Planning on leaving anytime soon?"

        "Yeah," Hutch replied, obviously half asleep and in a bad mood. "I've got to go and buy some more clothes so they can be stolen again. It's my goal in life to clothe the world's naked and I'm now working on housing the homeless," he finished sarcastically.

        Starsky elbowed his partner, satisfied with the grunt that Hutch got the message. "Okay, what's going on?" Starsky asked the two uniformed men, noting the serious stance they had taken. "You aren't acting like you're here to take a report on a theft."

        "You had a theft?" the older man asked, finishing his visual sweep of the room. "When was this?"

        "Yes, a theft," Hutch replied impatiently. "First my clothes were stolen, then our picnic table was stolen, then we come back from an evening out and our camper and truck are missing. I would think we could find a theft in there somewhere."

         "Will you cool it?" Starsky whispered to his partner. "I just want to get this over with." He turned to the two Sheriff's Deputies. "We turned in a report with the management this morning about our missing camper and truck. Isn't that what you're here for, to fill out the report?"

        Starsky watched as the Deputies gave each other a long look. He could feel Hutch tense beside him as he too caught the signs of trouble.

        "I'll go check," Deputy Davenport said, leaving his post at the door to go to their squad car.

        The three men were silent while the younger man was gone. Starsky knew from the signs that something big was going on and they would get little information until the Deputies had had their say. A couple of minutes later Davenport returned, shaking his head.

        "It's checked out, Gus," Davenport said to his partner. "A report from Park Management came in early this morning reporting a trailer theft and asking for a report to be made." He shrugged. "It was still on the list to be done."

        "What's going on? I can tell you're not here for the camper theft, so why the visit?" Starsky watched both men closely.

        "I think we'll start from scratch here," Martin said. "Could I see some ID please?"

        Both Starsky and Hutch pulled out wallets and badge cases, seeing the surprised look as both Deputies studied their department ID.

        "Here on a case, gentlemen?" Davenport asked casually, with a slight sneer to his voice. "You know you have no jurisdiction here."

        "No," Hutch answered, rubbing tiredly at his face. "My partner and I are here on vacation. We're off duty and injured. We're supposed to be recuperating and we've had one hassle after another ever since we got that stupid camper."

        "So, one or both of you owns this camper?" Martin asked, all business.

        So, no answers until we get this done. Starsk knew the routine. He and Hutch being cops apparently didn't guarantee them any privileges. "A friend of ours rented it to us. A friend of his owns it, but was in some kinda accident and couldn't use it. He gave our friend permission to rent it out, along with the reservation to this place."

        "You know this for a fact, or just going on his say so?" Davenport queried.

        "We trust him," Starsky answered patiently. "He knows we're cops. He's not stupid enough to knowingly slip us hot merchandise." Well, not on purpose anyway, Starsky amended silently.

        "What are your injuries?" Davenport continued the questioning, visually checking them both over. "You both look pretty healthy to me."

        "His arm," Hutch replied pointing to the obvious bruises on Starsky's wrist and arm, "and my foot. Need to see that too?" He rolled his eyes at both Deputies' nods and pulled off the covering sock. "There, happy now?"

        "When was the last time you saw the camper in question?" Martin asked.

        Starsky looked at Hutch and shrugged. "About 10 p.m. or so last night. We had dates that picked us up around that time. We locked up the camper and walked to a beach convention."

        "When did you notice it was missing?" Davenport questioned.

        "I noticed about six am.," Starsky replied. "I walked my date home and then came up on an empty lot." He nodded toward Hutch. "Hutch showed up soon after that."

        "So you both have alibis for the entire night?" Martin asked, watching them both closely.

        Starsky felt a sudden chill, as if he knew what was coming. Something nasty, he knew. "I do," Starsky said quietly, wishing now that he and Tina hadn't lost site of the others. "We stayed with the convention until it closed down around four am. Then we walked back with another group and got into a conversation with some pre-dawn fishermen. I walked my date back to her cabin and left her about 5:30 am."

        "My date and I drifted off about 2 am or so," Hutch added quietly, suddenly serious. "There's a rock outcropping a few minutes hike away from the convention that faces away from the lake and the bonfire. We wanted to see the stars. We were alone until sometime near 5:30 after watching the sun rise."

        "You went hiking, on that foot?" Davenport asked, unconvinced. "And you just counted stars and watched the sun come up? Doesn't sound like much of a date to me."

        Davenports snide remark set Starsky's teeth on edge and even Martin sent him a warning glance.

        "Some company is worth the extra effort," Hutch responded coolly, danger in his voice. "And my date went just fine, thank you."

        "We'll need the names of your dates and the name and location of the man who rented you the camper and truck," Martin requested.

        The men supplied the names and locations the two Deputies requested.

        "Now that you know who we are and that we have alibis, can you tell us what all this is about?" Starsky asked impatiently. "It's obvious that we don't know what's going on here, other than it has something to do with our rented truck and camper."

        "If you two need to make some arrangements to stay for awhile, you'd better make them now. We will want you to stay in the area until further notice." Martin handed them back their wallets and badge cases. "You might want to call your Captain to let him know what's going on here."

        "Our Captain is here," Hutch answered with barely withheld frustration, "and we can't tell him what we don't know. What's going on and what does it have to do with us?"

        Both Deputies exchanged glances and Martin shrugged.

        "A logging crew found the camper abandoned early this morning out on a temporary road," Martin answered reluctantly. "Inside the camper was the reservation and signup forms with your names and lot number." He nodded at Hutch, watching both their reactions. "We contacted the RV park's manager and he directed us to this cabin. He didn't say anything about why you'd suddenly changed camp sites. Apparently he assumed we were here for the original theft complaint."

        "Then what did bring you here?" Starsky prodded, tired of playing twenty questions. "I get the feeling you're not here for some illegal trailer dumping."

        "For the dead body found bound and gagged inside," Davenport growled.


        Clothes shopping forgotten, the two detectives were given a ride down to the Dobey trailer, but the Dobey's were nowhere to be found. Leaving a message tucked into the door to contact the Sheriff's office in Peakness, the two Metro detectives were given clearance to be brought to the location of the camper and body.

        By his newfound silence, Hutch gathered that Deputy Davenport was not pleased with their inclusion in this case.

        It's not like we asked for any of this, Hutch thought grumpily. He felt tired and mean, sitting in back of the Sheriff's car with Starsky. He sat quietly and watched the passing scenery as his partner and Deputy Martin carried on polite conversation. He was glad that one of them was up to making nice and he was more than happy to let Starsky be the good guy today. There wasn't much to talk about except for the case and the two Deputies were clearly not the first on the scene.

        The Sheriff's vehicle took them about 10 miles further up the mountain and down various side roads, taking them further and further up into the wilderness. Then, at one junction they came upon a graveled road blocked off by another Sheriff's vehicle. After a quick conversation, the vehicle that carried the two detectives was allowed to pass. A few minutes drive up the logging road Hutch caught site of the battered silver camper, lying on it's side in a log and branch strewn ditch on one side of the road.

        It was surrounded by police tape, including part of the roadway. There were five or six Sheriff's vehicles guarding the area and all the busy activity of any homicide lab and Forensic team.

        It wasn't until now that Hutch really felt that there had been a murder and this wasn't just another hurdle to an unplanned vacation. Better cut the self pity, Hutchinson, he thought a little shamefully. Someone just died here. Pay attention and have some respect. He got out of the Sheriff's vehicle in a much more serious mood than he had started out in.

        Deputy Denton, walked with them over to what was obviously the command center of the investigation and he introduced the two detectives to his superior officer, Sheriff McKracken.

        "Gentlemen," Sheriff McKracken began, "wish we could have met under better circumstances. But first things first. Can you visually identify your missing trailer?"

        "Yes," Starsky replied with a sigh, walking closer to the roped off area. "Even from here. We both got a real close look at the scratches on it. It's our camper."

        "What about the body?" Hutch asked, feeling a prickle among his spine. Can you tell us anything about it?" Why do I feel like I really don't want to know?

        Sheriff McKracken was silent for a moment, studying the two detectives, obviously weighing his options. He gave them a shrug. "It's an adult male, probably in his late thirties. The truck driver that spotted the camper says that the door was unlatched when he went to check it out. The man was found dead inside, ankles and wrists tied with nylon cord and his mouth taped with duct tape. Forensics says the only visible injury at first examination was a severe blow to the back of his head. We don't know yet if he sustained the injury when the camper overturned or from some other source."

        Hutch looked toward Starsky, curious to see if the description meant anything to him. His friend just looked back with the same question.

        "Could we get a look at the body?" Starsky asked the Deputies politely.

        Martin and Davenport waited until McKracken nodded his consent. Even now a Forensic team was hauling a body bag up and out of the open door of the tilted camper. It was obviously going to be a tight fit for the Forensic team, with the smallness of the camper and the mess of overturned items. Hutch didn't envy them the job.

        Well, I guess I can give up on any hope of using that new fishing equipment, Hutch thought with a sigh. It wasn't as fancy or expensive as the equipment that Starsky had let the fish have awhile ago, but he had been looking forward to trying it out. Our stuff might as well be gone for good. Even if they get everything figured out tomorrow, we'd still wouldn't get our stuff back from Evidence for months.

        With the help of several volunteers, the body bag was angled out and laid heavily upon the coroner's stretcher. Both detectives were escorted closer and a Forensic team member zipped open the head of the bag and stepped back to let them look.

        Aww, man, Hutch sighed heavily. "It's a guy from the convention last night."

        "Who?" McKenzie questioned sharply. "Do you know his name?"

        "Richard," Starsky answered solemnly. "I was introduced to him last night at the ESPRIT convention. But I don't think I heard his last name."

        McKenzie nodded to the technician who re-zipped the body bag and moved the stretcher away.

        "I think it would help us all if you could tell us about this convention you two attended last night." Davenport said kindly.

        Hutch knew Starsky's morose expression must be mirrored on his own face. We just can't seem to get away from it, the death and destruction, Hutch thought with a nod toward his partner, who shrugged soberly and started back to McKenzie's vehicle. We always end up dragging everyone into it with us.


        They were driven down to the Sheriff's building and taken to different rooms to have their statements recorded. The report had come down quickly that the corpse in the camper was one Richard Drey from San Franciso. Reports were being made to the authorities there and any information they had would come in it's own good time.

        Starsky dictated his evening slowly, sipping his coffee and waiting for the young man to catch up. He winced as his stomach rumbled. They should have let me just type it out, he thought sourly, taking another sip to placate his empty stomach. Too bad they don't get busy enough up here to need stenographers. I bet I could write faster than this guy in kindergarten.

        The younger man was obviously a rookie, gaining valuable experience in taking statements under the tutelage of a bored looking partner. Starsky hadn't actually been here very long, but the wheels in this judicial area moved slowly and Starsky wanted his lunch. Besides, there wasn't much he could tell either one of the men.

        He and Tina had talked to a lot of people, but mostly they had just camped out along the bonfire. They had taken a leasurily strole along the lake shoreline to join a group here and there talking or singing. He and Tina had never been out of view except for about a half hour on their way up to Tina's cabin. Then he'd been alone on the trail back to his and his partner's lot.

        His first meeting with Richard had been the only time he'd been close enough to talk with the man. Starsky hadn't notice anything unusual about him at the time. He had been quiet during the discussion and hadn't seemed very interested. Starsky hadn't noticed him at all the rest of the evening.

        "Would you like to add anything to your statement, Sir?" the rookie asked after laboriously copying down Starsky's last sentence.

        "No, I think that'll do it," the detective replied, stomach once again protesting.

        "Well, then let me get this typed up and ready for your signature." The rookie was out the door like a shot, leaving Starsky with the bored partner.

        "Hey, Osborn, do you think you guys could trust me enough to get some lunch and come back?" Starsky asked, wondering if Hutch would be ready. His watch said it was just after 2 p.m..

        Osborn stretched and shrugged. "Give the kid about fifteen minutes, then you can leave for the afternoon. He may be slow with a pen, but he's a whiz with a typewriter."

        "Lucky kid. Anywhere I can pick up a car for awhile?" Starsky wasn't holding out any hope for getting the truck back. Even if they did, it would probably be kept for evidence until the owner could come up and collect it himself.

        Osborn looked thoughtful for a moment. "Davidson's Garage usually has some loaners. He'll give you a fair deal and tow it away himself if you get stuck anywhere. And Angel's Diner may be small, but it's the best around." Osborn smiled. "That is, unless you like the fast food or the commercial stops we've got on the main strip. But they'll cost you an arm and a leg."

        "As long as it won't kill me, Angel's will be fine," Starsky replied with a friendly smile. "And I kinda like the homey places. What's their specialty?"

        "Well, ask the waitress what Angel's specialty of the day is, then don't order it." Osborn chuckled. "Angel runs the place and she only cooks one course a day. It's her husband George who's the real cook. Anything he cooks is great. But Angel's goal is to be a great chef and you never know what she's going to put in her dishes."

        "Thanks for the tip."

        "Here you go!" the rookie burst into the room with the finished form. Waving it as if a flag at the finish line. "See, Osborn? A two page, full statement with double carbon copies..." the rookie checked his watch, " 10 minutes flat."

        Starsky smiled with amusement at the young man's enthusiasm until he got a look at the statement. It was perfect. Starsky nodded toward Osborn's inquiring glance. "It looks fine to me," he answered.

        "You know, Gary," Osborn drawled, pulling a ten out of his wallet, "all you're going to impress McKracken with is how good a secretary you'll make after he busts you for making your first mistake. You'd better watch it if you want to serve out your career in a car and not behind a desk."

        "Well, we'll see when the time comes.," the young deputy replied with a smug smile. "A least I type can type better with my toes than you can with two fingers."

        Starsky smiled to himself at the exchange and signed the statement. Finally! Time to get some food!

        Hutch wasn't done with his statement yet, so Starsky left him a note, said his good-bye's and headed down the street to Angel's Diner. He was hoping that once he got some food into himself he would think up a solution to this case and get back to having some time off.

        The diner felt like a bit of home to Starsky as soon as he walked in. The building looked to have been built for anything but serving food, with odd lines and angles. There were no booths or counters, only a scant dozen miss-matched tables and an old cash register on a chipped glass showcase by the door. A large and over-used blackboard hung crookedly on the back wall, proclaiming the standard fare for the week. But even after 2 p.m. The tables were half full, which was a good sign in Starsky's book.

        The teenage waitress stirred from her obviously bored perch at a front window to recommend the beef stew. With some prodding she finally admitted that it was Angel's special for the day and there was still plenty of it left. Starsky, knowing a good tip when he heard one steered clear of the stew and ordered the fried chicken after being assured that it was up and ready.

        True to her word, the chicken appeared and Starsky was soon appeasing his gnawing hunger. He had just gotten his first wind when he saw his tall, blond partner make his uncertain way into the dinner. The man plopped himself tiredly into the opposite seat.

        "Can you believe all this, Starsk?" Hutch asked with exasperation as he eyed the menu. Starsky knew it wasn't the food Hutch was referring to. "I think we should have stayed home and caught up on that soap opera you were getting fond of."

        "Nah. Angie and Ted were gonna break up and I didn't want to stick around to see that." Starsky smiled around a piece of chicken. "So, did they let slip any theories on this case?"

        "Nope. It's too early for them to have anything yet, but I'm sure it's not for trying." Hutch waved toward the waitress, gaining her reluctant attention. "They don't get too many murders around here, so they're pulling in all their spare men."

        The waitress stopped by the table, obviously wishing she were someplace else. "Watcha' want? We've got lots of beef stew."

        "I'll have the stew," Hutch said to the teenager, barely looking at the girl. "But I don't expect too much," he told Starsky with a shrug.

        "No, he won't. He wants the chicken," Starsky interjected as an aside to the waitress, following Hutch's thought. "It's just too big. They may have more people to throw in..."

        "The stew," Hutch said to the confused girl, barely sparing her a second glance. "But the transients in the area won't sit still long enough to give them the time of day, let alone what the Sheriff's department really needs, which is..."

        "The chicken," Starsky interjected quickly to the scribbling waitress. He vaguely registered her glare as he turned back to Hutch. "A thorough grilling. That makes a long list considering all the attendee's to last night's convention, not to mention anyone just hanging around."

        "The stew," Hutch vaguely told the glaring waitress. "And add to that one beer-leaking mystery camper and they've got too much on their plate to deal with. I think it's time we got Huggy here." Hutch suddenly seemed to realize that the waitress was still there, glaring at them both. "What?" he asked her with exasperation.

        "Chicken," Starsky told the girl firmly, but with his most charming smile. "And he wants the baked potato, not the fries and green beans."

        "With milk," Hutch added distractedly, eyes focused on a distant wall. "Huggy must know something about that tin can that can help. At least it's the only lead I can think of that we'd have a stab at. You can bet McKracken won't let us dig into this any deeper than he has too."

        Starsky hid a smile as the waitress all but stomped away, muttering under her breath about how weirdos were always bad tippers. "Well, I've got a line on a place we might be able to rent a car. And if you don't mind, I'd like to use those gift certificates we got from the RV office. I don't know about you, but I'd like a change of clothes for this afternoon. I'm hoping that Tina will still talk to me after the Sheriff's department gets through taking her statement." He turned back to his meal, determined to get full while he had a chance.

        Hutch sighed and snagged one of Starsky's fries. "I don't think either of the girls is going to hold this against us, Starsk." Hutch chewed thoughtfully. "And if they do blame us for some strange reason, there's nothing we can do about it anyway."

        Both men were startled as a full plate was suddenly plopped down in front of Hutch. The teenager was more careful with Hutch's milk, but made a quick get-away.

        "What's her problem?" Hutch asked with disgust, eyeing his plate of fried chicken. "I didn't order this. Did I?"

        "Yes, you did," Starsky replied firmly. "Will you eat already? We've got shopping to do.


        The two finished with their late lunch, leaving a minimal tip for the moody waitress. They walked down to the garage and while Starsky haggled with the garage owner Hutch took advantage of a payphone and a pocketful of change to try to contact Huggy

        Much to Starsky's chagrin, the only thing Davidson's Garage had left was an early model station wagon. But this time he insisted on driving and Hutch didn't argue too much, just reported that Huggy was out, and he'd left the RV park's office number for a call-back. Their next stop was the department store for new clothing and the rest of the afternoon was spent in a laudrymat and grocery store in Peakness.

        Starsky felt relieved to be behind the wheel and it didn't seem as if his arm and hand would be too stressed as long as he favored it while driving.

        Now if the weather just holds out, he thought hopefully, we can enjoy the rest of this week. This murder really doesn't have anything to do with us, so maybe we ought to just hang around and let the Sheriff's Department worry about it.

        They came up to the area for the RV park and pulled by the main office, noticing the full row of campers leaving and arriving. Just beyond the office and management buildings was a road marked 'private'. While not graveled like the common area, it was a well-maintained dirt road, shaded from the main campground by a forest denser than it was in the lower areas.

        It seemed like a whole different world up here. The roadway was a large loop, with one-room cabins nestled off to the side at discreet distances. Each cabin was a basic affair, reminiscent of Dobey's building at Pine Lake, but with only one open room with a small sink, refrigerator and double beds. While there were no phones or fireplaces, there was a nice picnic area to the side of each cabin, with a brick bar-b-que grill and picnic table. There were quiet and well-worn trails that led down to the more common and lake areas.

        While it the area was a lot more private than their former lot and the room larger and with more conveniences than the elderly camper, Starsky did have to admit that it felt more like an Overnight Inn than really being in the woods.

        It's just too bad we didn't get a room on the other end of the loop, Starsky thought. Tina and Gina had separate cabins, on the other end of the road from theirs. Their uncle always saved them the same two cabins for the summer season, whether the girls were able to plan on the trip or not. We were lucky that Sid Calbert had this cabin free. Otherwise we'd have had to find a motel in Peakness and hang around there. Which is strange for this time of year, Starsky mused. I wonder if the girls had anything to do with us getting this place?

        They had passed three cabins before Starsky pulled in front of theirs.

        "Looks like we're pretty popular," Hutch commented as Starsky turned off the motor. "We've had some company."

        Starsky glanced at the door as he got out. There were two notes folded and stuffed into the doorjamb. "Who're they from?" he asked, unlocking the back of the station wagon to unpack as Hutch retrieved the notes.

        "One is from Gina. She said the ESPRIT meeting is still on and we can meet them there for dinner. It's a pot-luck tonight and will be at 6 p.m." Hutch shrugged. "I guess we're still on their good sides." He was silent for a moment, reading the second message. "Dobey was here. Apparently he's beaten us to the punch and called Huggy. He wants us to stay put until he can catch up."

        "As long as he gives me time for a shower and some clean clothes, I'll be glad to wait for him."

        "Hey, I get first dibs. You went first last night," Hutch protested.

        "Sorry, no prisoners," Starsky replied firmly.

        Starsky brought in a load of groceries and Hutch helped him with that and the laundry. But it soon preceded in to a race and Hutch found himself the last one dashing for the shower and missing it by the slam of a door, the click of a lock and an evil chuckle from the other side.

        Resigned to his fate Hutch unpacked the groceries and put his new, clean laundry carefully away in the dresser provided. He pondered what they should bring to the pot-luck and wondered if they could pick up some interesting gossip while they were there.

        Starsky finally emerged from a cloud of steam, humming some commercial under his breath. Hutch noticed that his partner's bruises were looking better and even after driving all the way back his arm and shoulder still moved freely, although he still favored his left hand and wrist.

        "So, any hot water left?" Hutch asked his soggy friend.

        "Nope, none what-so-ever," Starsky replied happily, carefully scrubbing himself dry with his right hand. "But you could always give it a try for yourself and find out."

        "No, thank you," Hutch replied with an exaggerated sigh, "I'll give it a few extra minutes, if you don't mind. I think you've got the walls raining in there." He threw himself down on his newly made bed, stretching out until his joints popped. "What do we want to bring to the pot-luck tonight?"

        Starsky picked through his new clothing and studied each carefully. "No idea. But I think one of us ought to run down to the Dobeys' and see if we can catch up with him. Edith might be there and she'll know where he is."

        "Why not just wait here?" Hutch asked lazily, wishing he'd had more shut-eye and that his foot would quit aching.

        "'Cause there's no telling when Dobey'll come by to check the cabin and I'd like to get to that pot-luck tonight, with some date other than you if at all possible," Starsky said with a mock grimace, making sure to aim it Hutch's way

        "With that kind of attitude, young man, you'll be lucky to find yourself with any date at all," Hutch replied casually. "Don't burn your bridges behind you, kid, or you'll have to go stag."

        "Promises, promises," Starsky muttered. He finally quit picking through the mass of clothing on his rumpled bed, settling on a jeans outfit. "I don't know how long the girls'll wait on us. I'm gonna make a trip on down to Dobey's RV, see if Edith or his truck is there. Then I'll run on by the office and see if Diane has called about Huggy."

        "So why don't you take the car? Getting down there and back is going to take you at an hour at the least. Dobey'll have your hide if we have to sit and wait on you here."

        "Nah. Dobey'll see the car and know that someone's here." Starsky finished dressing and tossed Hutch the car keys which he stuffed in his pocket. "You keep that foot up for awhile. You'll probably need it later. And see if you can come up with something for dinner," Starsky said with a smile. "Nothing fancy, just enough to impress." And with that he was out the door.

        "Lazy ass," Hutch muttered as Starsky shut the door. He was tempted to just lay there and doze for a few minutes. The warm bit of afternoon light that fell across him felt good. But the shower and clean clothes called to him invitingly, so he gave in with little regret. The tall blond found himself in luck, as Starsky left just enough hot water for a tepid shower, which was all the blond really wanted anyway.

        It never fails, Hutch reflected with a sigh, feeling the cooling water pool and lap around his bruised foot. As long as I'm moving and active, it just aches a little. But let me put it up, or take a break and it hurts worse than walking on it. He gingerly stretched toes, arched sore muscles and stretched tendons, very glad that nothing had been broken.

        Feeling invigorated, he broke out into a few verses of 'Black Bean Soup' at full voice, enjoying the chance to cut loose in private. He stayed in longer than he usually did, enjoying the privacy of the shower over the public ones more than he realized. I guess we came out ahead by having the camper stolen. But I would have been happier with a tent in the middle of nowhere.

        Finally, with all warmth gone from the spray, Hutch stepped gingerly out of the shower to avoid slipping and grabbed the nearest towel.

        Suddenly, with an crack of thunder and explosion of wood Hutch was slammed by the bursting door, sending the stunned detective tumbling back into a corner of the bathroom. As if in slow motion, he felt himself falling to the floor and made a wild grab at the towel rack, missing it by inches. With towel and balance lost he landed with a bone-jarring thud.

        The first thing he noticed when time reverted to normal was the barrel end of a shaky .48 pointed at his head. He held himself still, forced his eyes past the barrel to the nervous gunman.

        Charley Lopez! Hutch thought in surprise. What the hell...? "Hey, Charley, what gives?" Hutch asked quietly, keeping his voice lower and calmer than he actually felt. He was too far away to make a grab for the gun and any move might scare the shaking man into pulling the trigger.

        "I n-n-need the car k-k-keys," Charley stammer, looking wild-eyed and confused, gun wavering in his grasp. The man looked trail-worn and dirty, pale with panic and trembling.

        Hutch took quick inventory of his own condition. Naked, sore foot, sprained wrist, bruised elbows and no gun or phone in the cabin, but one partner on the way home.... "Okay," Hutch replied amicably. "They're in my pants pockets." No use playing the hero here... But he shifted slightly, freezing at Charley's reaction.

        "Don't move!" Charley shouted, almost hysterically, gun steadying to line up on Hutch's middle. "Laura! Th-the pants pocket!"

        Hutch listened carefully, hearing a lighter tread of footsteps moving around behind the gunman. One female, Hutch cataloged quickly, wishing he hadn't been so loud in the shower. One female and one kid on the edge. The detective hadn't been able to move much and Hutch didn't want to know the odds of the kid twitching the trigger by accident.

        "It's, okay, kid," Hutch answered soothingly. "You can take whatever you want. I'll just sit here and wait."

        "I can't find them, Charley!" a feminine voice tinged with anger and frustration yelled to the young man,. "They're not here!"

        Charley looked confused for a moment, then refocused on Hutch. "You find them for us. Then we can get out of here." He took a step back into the room, giving Hutch room to pick himself up off the floor.

        Making a slight gesture toward the towel, he waited until Charley realized what he was asking and nodded. Hutch wrapped the towel around himself slowly, more to give himself time to think than for any modest concern. He could see that although the bathroom door hadn't been locked, the hinges were damaged when it had been kicked open.

        Can't depend on barricading myself in here, even if the walls weren't too thin to stop bullets. Hutch knew that there was no hiding in here. Better just play along and see what I can learn.

        Modestly covered, he waited as Charley backed farther into the cabin, catching a glimpse of the frantic girl behind him who was digging through all the new clothing on Starsky's bed, trying to find the pocket with the car keys. She barely spared him a glance, but Hutch recognized her.

        She was at the convention the other night, Hutch thought without much surprise. She was with Charley.

        The girl was as young as Charley and her hazel eyes, brown hair and tilted nose would have reminded Hutch of a younger Vanessa, if she hadn't been just as dirty and trial torn as Charley was. They've been roughing it for awhile. Hutch notice the scratches on the girl's arms as she frantically swept through the clothes pile. And they're both scared as hell....

        "Get th-the keys!" Charley yelled at him, waving him over to the bed with the barrel of the .48.

        "Okay, Charley, okay." Hutch waved an arm toward his bed, seeing his worn jeans in a lump on the floor. She must have knocked them off by accident. "I threw them on my friend's bed. They must have fallen off." He nodded toward his bed and waited until given the nod to continue. Switching his bed with Starsky's might give him a chance to leave some clues if things went wrong. His partner would spot them.

        Hutch had only taken a step when the girl rushed in front of him and grabbed the jeans off the floor, pulling out his keys, along with his wallet and badge case. Hutch continued his forward movement, slowly sitting on the edge of his bed. "What's the problem Charley?" Hutch asked calmly. "Is this about the camper?"

        Charley took a big, gasping breath, as if he were ready to collapse. "Y-yeah, they found him? I wanted to call but..."

        "Let's go, Charley," the girl interrupted sharply. "I've got the key's, we've gotta get out of here before they find us."

        Suddenly Hutch got the feeling that Charley was on the edge here, not really wanting to do what he was doing. "Listen, Charley, whatever happened I can help you. You don't need to run...."

        "Charley!" the girl was visibly mad now, walking up to Charley and placing a hand on his arm. "Don't listen to him, he's just another one of those men I told you about. Don't let them get me, Charley, you know what they'll do to me..." Suddenly she broke into tears, gasping as the young man put a sudden arm around her and pulled her close.

        "It's okay, Laura," He murmured soothingly, obviously gathering strength from being her protector. But he was also able to keep the wavering gun on Hutch, eyes never leaving the detective. "Listen, umm... What's your name?"

        "Ken. Ken Hutchinson. I met you last night, remember? At the bonfire?" Hutch replied easily, watching as the girl recovered enough in her boyfriend's arms to glare at the detective. "Remember, Gina and Tina introduced me." Hutch waited a moment to make sure that Charley was at least thinking clear enough to remember. "I'm a cop. I can help you with whatever your problem is. If you just let me..."

        "No," Laura interrupted quickly. "I told you they had the whole Sheriff's department in on this. He's probably in their pay too. We can't trust anyone. I told you about that place we can hide out for a few days and I can call my father's people." Laura lowered her voice, rubbing Charley's back in a calming gesture. "They've got food here, Charley, we can take it and the car and hold up like I told you. But if we wait too long they'll find us." She sobbed again, folding herself into her boyfriend's embrace.

        "Okay, baby." The young man calmed visibly, looking more determined. "Let's do it."

        Laura was off like a shot, grabbing the empty boxes that the two detectives had just unpacked and started loading them with whatever groceries she could grab.

        The frightened kid never took his eyes off of Hutch, but waved his gun toward the pile of clothes. "Quiet!" he ordered as Hutch opened his mouth to speak.

        Laura stopped packing, giving her companion a menacing look he didn't see, but one that made Hutch's skin crawl. "We've gotta get rid of him," she said dangerously. "We need a head start. If we leave him here he'll tell everyone what car we've got. They'll find us that way."

        "What do we do?" Charley asked her in confusion. "We can't kill him or anything."

        Laura trotted over to the pile of clothing on the double bed and grabbed a pair of Starsky's new summer shorts and a new undershirt still in it's package. "These yours?" She held them up in front of Hutch.

        "Yeah," Hutch lied easily. "Mind if I have some underwear too?"

        Laura shrugged and opened up a new package, tossing the pair to Hutch along with the undershirt and shorts. "Watch him close, Charley. I'll get the food."

        The younger man backed up a respectable distance, letting Hutch get dressed without a change to jump him.

        The new undershirt and underwear fit well enough, although they weren't exactly Hutch's size. But the shorts were almost, but not quite, too loose. Well, that's one good reason for Starsk to wear them skin tight, at least I can wear them in a pinch. But how to warn him before he walks in on us? Hutch wished he still had his watch on, as he had no real idea how long his partner had been gone.

        As soon as Hutch was dressed Charley waved him back to sitting on the bed. The blond purposefully left his wet towel on it. Laura had filled one box and dashed over to the small hotel-like desk, throwing open the drawers. "We've got to get out of here, but we've got to buy some time. He's got to leave a note so his friend won't know he's missing. The guy'll think he took the car and no one will be looking for it." She grabbed some stationary and a pencil, tossing it in the detective's direction. "Write."

        Hutch picked the writing supplies up from the bed. Charley will shoot me out of fear, or she'll shoot me out of necessity, he thought quickly. Better not take too long with this. Hutch wrote quickly, folding the paper and addressing it to his partner.

        Laura all but snatched it out of his hands and unfolded it, read out loud. "Davey, I've got to pick up some things for tonight and I'll pick up Tina on the way back. Don't wait up. Kenny." Laura gave it a second search, then folded it back. "It sounds okay. Put it where he'll find it." She tossed it back on the bed and waited as Hutch placed it on his own pillow.

        Her next trip was to the closet and she handed Charley an old wire hanger. "We've got to get out of here, now. Give me the gun and use this to tie his hands behind his back."

        Charley docily handed over the gun and worked the twisted top of the hanger loose. Working carefully behind the detective, Charley wound the old wire firmly around Hutch's crossed wrists, twisting the ends back together. He had done a good job and Hutch could feel that there was no play at all in the almost too-tight wire.

        "Shoes?" Hutch asked hopefully, watching Laura and the gun carefully. He had watched her while the young man tied his wrists and Hutch was under no illusion that the smaller body didn't hold the bigger brains and stronger will of his two captors.

        She's running this thing, whatever it is. She won't hesitate to pull that trigger on me and even her boyfriend if she thinks it's necessary. Hutch had seen cold blooded killers before and Laura looked back at him with their eyes. So what is she doing with him and what does this have to do with Richard Drey's death?

        "No," she replied quickly to Hutch. "Charley, take a tea towel and gag him." Her companion complied quickly, pulling the towel roughly to tie it behind Hutch's head.

        "Now check to make sure the trail is clear and open the station wagon doors."

        "It's clear," Charley yelled from the porch.

        "You," She waved Hutch toward the door, "will get in the back seat, on the floor as soon as it's open. Make one sound and I'll kill you."

        Hutch walked slowly toward the open door of the car, careful of his bare feet and reluctantly sat in the rear passenger seat. By the waving of the gun, he was ordered onto his stomach in the floorboard of the station wagon, falling on his face helplessly as he assumed the awkward position. He winced at the carpet burn on his nose and felt a blanket thrown over him, hiding him from view.

        The door was slammed shut and Hutch felt a moment of panic as he was suddenly crushed from above. Damn! They're folding the seat down! Hutch realized, squirming painfully in his now confined space. If he had had any hopes of springing to his freedom, they were gone now. He was barely able to breath and his body ached with the weight of the seat on top of him. He could hear the car start up and feel the vibrations of the engine through the car flooring.

        Why do I have a feeling they're going to take the scenic route? Hutch thought in resignation. He wondered how long it would take Starsky to discover he was missing. Call out the bloodhounds, buddy, I think I'm going to get lost in these woods.


        Dave Starsky made good time down to the lower part of the RV park, barely sparing a look at their empty space as he walked to the Dobey's lot.

        I can't believe we've been here less than two days and we're already in the middle of a mess. He sighed and shook his head as he speeded up his pace. A guy could think he was cursed or somethin'. He smiled at a suddenly twisted thought. Not that we haven't been cursed soundly in our time, by a certain Captain. Maybe we can blame it on him.

        But the Dobey truck was gone and a quick rap at the RV door showed it was as empty as it looked.

        Well, now to the main office to see if we have any mail. And if I'm lucky, maybe I can pass a minute with a beautiful lady.

        His trek up to the main office was uneventful and he found no messages waiting for either of them. Sid Calbert was busy and a young man Starsky recognized as Gina and Tina's brother, Robert, was there helping him at the counter. Starsky begged a phone from him and was shown down the corridor into Sid's office.

        After a call to Information for the Sheriff's office in Peakness, Starsky was connected to the receptionist. "This is Detective Sergeant David Starsky. Could you please put me in touch with Deputies Davenport, Osborn, Martin or Sheriff McKracken?"

        "Yes, sir, just one moment."

        The 'one' moment turned into five, then ten as Starsky drummed his fingers impatiently. One more minute...

        "Starsky!" A bellow boomed in his ear, making the detective jump. "Is that you?"

        "Yeah, Cap'n. Guess you've heard the good news about our camper. I've got a call in to Huggy and..."

        "I've talked to him already," Dobey interrupted gruffly. "Starsky this is getting to be a complicated situation and I want you and Hutch to come down to the Sheriff's Department. You two need to be brought up to speed on this. You have a car?"

        "Sure," Starsky asked, wondering what was going down. He could hear the strain in Dobey's voice. "We'll be there as soon as I get Hutch."

        "Make it quick," Dobey answered shortly and hung up.

        The detective glanced at his watch and sighed. Well, looks like we're going to miss the pot-luck tonight, unless we get a miracle in the next hour or so. And I don't think I'm going to hold my breath for any right now.

        Starsky stopped to thank Sid for the use of the phone and left him a message to pass on to Gina and Tina. Sid assured him that the girls would understand and as far as he knew they would be at the meeting until it closed.

        The detective walked briskly on the way back, not looking forward to telling his partner that their dinner dates were a sure miss. It took Starsky longer to walk back up the less used trail than it had for him to lope down it.

        I gotta get more exercise, Starsky thought in chagrin as he found himself puffing away near the top of the trail. Hutch'll never let me hear the end of it if he thinks I'm getting out of shape.

        It wasn't until he rounded a corner and spotted the cabin that he noticed the station wagon was gone.

        Damn, Hutch! Starsky thought in frustration. Now Dobey's gonna have both our ass' in a sling. He quickly checked his watch. It's only been an hour and a half. What gives? The cabin door was locked as expected, but as soon as Starsky swung the door open he froze.

        It's wrong. The detective could feel the hairs on the nape of his neck rise as he surveyed the small cabin. His eyes swept the room, searching for something he felt would be obvious as soon as he saw it.

        There were some groceries on the table. Hutch fixing something for the pot-luck...

        His own bed was more of a mess than when he'd left it. Some of the store packages he hadn't opened yet were empty. He opened the drawers in his own dresser, not finding the missing items. Hutch wouldn't borrow my stuff when he's got his own. The tense feeling he had had on opening the door deepened.

        Hutch's bed was made, with a wet towel left on the foot of it. Starsky walked over to touch it, finding it still damp. Hutch wouldn't leave a wet towel on his bed. It was then that he saw the folded note on his partner's pillow. He froze as he saw the name it was addressed with, a feeling of deep dread running through him.

        "Davey," Starsky breathed not realizing he had said the word aloud. His name, but in a way he had never wanted to see it, written in Hutch's own handwriting. Their S.O.S. signal.

Part Four