Part Three

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



-Part Four-

        Captain Harold Dobey re-read the note that Starsky had handed him. There was no doubt by the way the man stood, tense and anxious, that the detective was taking this very seriously. He handed the note to a confused Sheriff McKracken. The Sheriff had accompanied him out to the cabin with at the detective's troubled call. Dobey had been glad to see that McKracken had taken both him and his detective's claims seriously, sending his men out even before they had see the evidence of an abduction.

        "I don't understand this," McKracken said with confusion. "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with this note. And there are no signs of forced entry here detective. What if he's just out...?"

        "Hutch ain't 'out'!" Starsky replied tightly, pausing to regain control. "At least not on his own. And we both know that these locks are just good enough to keep out the wildlife." Starsky crossed his arms and strode purposefully back and forth, as if he were taking the tension out of a tightly coiled spring. "One, Hutch is neat, he wouldn't leave a wet towel on his bed. Two, the bathroom door isn't hanging on the frame right and it was when I left. Three, Hutch wouldn't borrow my clothes unless he was desperate, and he wasn't. Four, Hutch isn't wearin' the only pair of shoes he has left and five," the detective took a deep breath, nodding to the note in McKracken's hand, "Hutch never calls me Davey."

        McKracken looked unconvinced. "I'd heard that was your name, detective."

        "Yeah," Starsky said with a quick shrug. "When I was a kid. Hutch never calls me that, like I never call him Kenny. We don't use our first names. We just don't. The only way Hutch would call me Davey would be in an emergency. It's our S.O.S. signal that something's wrong."

        "Starsky knows what he's talking about," Dobey told McKracken seriously. "Hutch is gone and with the truck being found..."

        "The truck was found?" Starsky interrupted, eyes suddenly sharp on Dobey. "Where?"

        "The truck was found about five miles up the mountain. Apparently it had transmission problems brought on by the loss of the camper and locked up. Whoever had it pushed it off into another ditch and covered it with brush. It would have been quite a walk in the dark, but they could have come across your cabin in the search for transportation." Dobey reported with a wary eye on his detective's reactions.

        "There's more, detective," McKracken added. "We've got a missing persons report on a Laura Tarran this morning. She and her father are here at the ESPRIT convention. And she's not the only one missing. Charles Lopez, her boyfriend, is missing too."

        "I met Charley last night," Starsky said in surprise. "This is what you wanted Hutch and I to come in for? What's the story?"

        "Charles Lopez is the son of Michael Juan Lopez, the owner of some of the biggest citrus and vegetable farms in California." Dobey saw Starsky make the instant connection to an organized kidnapping. "He's worth millions. His son, Charles, is one of the supporters of ESPRIT and his father contributes a lot of money to it."

        "So he and his girlfriend are both at the picnic, along with Richard Drey," Starsky resumed his pacing of the small room. "Richard turns up dead and Laura and Charley are missing. It's not hard to see a ransom demand must be on it's way."

        "We're waiting on that right now," McKracken responded. "Laura was here with her father Andrew Tarran. He's Michael Lopez's right hand man. She was staying with her father and Charley had his own camper. Mr. Tarran stormed Charley's camper early this morning, looking out for his daughter's virtue when she didn't return for the evening. By the time my men caught up with him to question him about the picnic and Richard Drey, the guy was just getting frightened at his daughters absence."

        "He's at the Sheriff's office now, calling in his boss," Dobey added. "We think that Charles, Richard and the girl were kidnapped on the way home from the picnic last night, stuffed in your camper and then moved out in it."

        "So, both kids are worth money," Starsky said thoughtfully. "That figures. But if you're still waiting for a ransom note, how do you know they just didn't elope or somethin'. What puts them in the camper with Richard?"

        "We've found Charley's car and camper keys in Richard's pocket," McKracken answered. "We're waiting on a ransom note and Tarran is calling in his boss. It looks like the kids were nabbed and Richard got in the middle of it in some way."

        "Cause of death?" Starsky asked.

        McKracken shrugged. "They're still working on the corpse. As far as we can tell it's still the same, a blow to the head. But what I'd like to know, detective Starsky, is why they picked your camper and how they knew you'd have an alibi for almost the entire evening?" McKracken's voice had sharpened on the last question, meeting with equally an equally sharp gaze from the Metro detective. "You and your Captain will have to pardon me if I wonder about that a bit."

        "Sheriff..." Dobey rumbled in annoyance.

        "Listen, Sheriff," Starsky began angrily, "If there's something you want to know, then ask it! We don't have the time to walk on egg shells here. My partner's missing and whoever the killers or kidnappers are, they probably have him. Hutch and I don't have anything to do with whatever the setup was and we don't know anything. We can't just sit here...!"

        "We have men watching for the station wagon, detective." McKracken interrupted sharply. "And unless you can point me in the right direction for a search, then we're better off waiting for a ransom demand or someone spotting them by chance then to just go off an a random direction. They could be anywhere by now."

        "He's right, Starsky," Dobey interrupted gruffly before the detective could respond. "We can start with the camper. What did Huggy tell you about the camper when you rented it?" He watched his detective, know that whatever patience the man had would rapidly wear thin without his partner around. Especially if it's Hutch he's looking for, Dobey thought with sympathy. Time isn't going to make him any better to work with.

        Starsky finally sat down on one of the bed's, hands braced on knees, deadly seriousness. "Hutch and I were arguing about where to go on vacation. We were at Huggy's and he said that he had a camper from a friend that he could rent out. Apparently the guy had planned this trip and couldn't make it, so it was free for the week. He didn't give any particulars." Starsky stopped suddenly, as if remembering something and Dobey felt himself the focus of dark blue eyes. "You said you'd already talked to him," he said, almost accusingly.

        The Captain nodded. "I just wanted to see if what he told you differed from what he's told me. His story was that the camper and truck rig belong to Smithtown James."

        "Smithtown?" Starsky replied in surprise. "No way would he have a camper. He's housebound, never goes outside. He's worse than Annie Oats."

        "That's what I thought," Dobey replied dryly. "So I had the registration of the truck checked and it and the camper were reported stolen in San Francisco two years ago. If Smithtown had it, then it was for a setup of some sort."

        "I appreciate the extra work, Captain Dobey," McKracken said with a touch of annoyance, "but you never did tell me who this Smithtown James is and why you believed the camper was a set up."

        "Smithtown James is a treasure hunter," Starsky said. "He has a photographic memory, everything he's ever heard or seen he remembers. Anybody wants or needs anything, they call him and for a price he can arrange to get it or make it happen. But only by phone. He's friends with Huggy, the guy who rented us the camper."

        "Smithtown never leaves his house," Dobey added. "He is a diagnosed agoraphobic and never comes into contact with anything he sets up. Until now."

        "Is he dead?" Starsky asked in surprise. "'Cause that's the only way he'd come out of that rat hole."

        "He's still at Memorial," the large man replied gruffly. "He was beaten about three weeks ago and was in ICU for a week with massive internal injuries. His current lady-friend said that the only thing the man was worried about was getting that camper up to this RV park. She didn't know why, but the guy seemed crazy about it so she gave Huggy permission to rent it out with the reservation."

        "A set up." Starsky sighed and rubbed at his head. "Smithtown's job was to get that camper up here at this time, in that spot. That way the kidnappers wouldn't be seen leaving too early and they could come back and keep up appearances at their own site."

        "So, they didn't realize that two cops had the camper?" McKracken ventured. "They probably just saw it in place and didn't realize it wasn't empty. The odds are that they're still here, with the ESPRIT convention, keeping us looking in the wrong directions."

        "It would be the best way to get close to Charley, Laura and Richard." Starsky stood abruptly, resuming his tense pacing of the cabin. "They were there with friends, someone who could lured them to the camper, then they were taken. Either something went wrong and they killed Richard or he was killed when the camper hit the ditch. If it had been planned, they wouldn't have left the body and the camper in plain sight. Then they made it okay for awhile, but the truck locks up. So then they have to find new wheels...."

        "And you two just happen to be in their path," McKracken finished seriously, watching the detective closely. "You know, it's funny how you two always seem to be in the middle of the action here, detective Starsky."

        Dobey felt his hackles rise at the implied accusation. Not my men, he thought protectively. Not these two.

        "Ain't it?" Starsky replied sarcastically. He walked up to McKracken, body tense with stress. "Well, Hutch and I have a habit of being where the action is. Dobey can tell you that. Do you think you can get past your doubts long enough to trust us?"

        "On Dobey's say so? Maybe." McKracken replied seriously. "I hope you don't mind if I keep my options open for awhile, Officer."

        "Well, I do say so," Dobey stated emphatically, his own nerves on the edge. McKracken wasn't helping anything with his innuendoes. "Sheriff, there is no way these two men are involved in any of this and you can trust both of them implicitly. Speculating on them as suspects is just going to waste all of our time."

        McKracken was silent for a moment, but Dobey could tell he wasn't ready to close off any avenue of investigation. "I think we'd be better off waiting at the office for word. This cabin is too remote and we can't do anything further here, gentleman."

        "Hutch might make it back here," Starsky said softy, obviously reluctant to leave the place where his partner disappeared. "There might be something I missed...."

        "I can leave a man here with a radio unit, detective." McKracken put his Sheriff's hat back on and strode toward the door. "Let's go."

        Dobey saw Starsky bristle at the abrupt order and placed a hand on the detective's shoulder. We'll find him, Dave, Dobey squeezed tense muscles. We will. We have to.


        Hutch didn't know how long he had been in the back of the station wagon when it finally stopped, but he was cramped and ached all over at the odd position he had been forced into. He had worked on the thick wire tying his wrists, but hadn't made any progress. He had even been unable to scrape the towel out of his mouth, so he tried to relax, saving up his strength for later, when an opening came.

        I've got to get more sleep next time I go on vacation, Hutch thought with a sigh. This quiet life is going to age me before my time.

        He knew they had been on rough gravel roads for about half an hour, hearing the ping of the gravel and feeling the pits and ruts through to his bones. The car had stopped about an hour ago for a short time, then had started up again. Hutch could hear little from his position, but had heard 'phone'.

        So, we're phoning for help, Hutch mused. Why do I have the feeling this isn't the kind of help I need right now?

        The car stopped suddenly and Hutch once again heard voices, but was unable to make anything out. The doors banged twice as the two captors left. Hutch tried once again to push the weight off of himself. He had almost managed to pull a knee up under him when a passenger door opened suddenly and Hutch found himself squinting in the evening light.

        "Time to move out, 'officer'." Laura was once again at the doorway with the gun. "Charley, you'd better pull him out of there."

        I feel like a pretzel, Hutch winced, as he was pulled out. He was feeling too bruised and stiff to make a move and wasn't given any time to recuperate before Laura waved the gun in his direction again.

        "Over there, Charley," She waved the gun toward the side of a small cabin. "We'll put him over in the woodbox."

        "You sure there's room?" the young man asked, uncertainly.

        "It's all we can do now," Laura answered sharply. "Come on, we've got to get him secure."

        Charley stopped for a moment, staring at the girl, a flicker of uncertainty flashing across the his face.

        Push it, Charley, push it! Hutch thought, willing the kid to take control of the situation. Everything's wrong, Charley, find out what it is! But Hutch felt his heart fall with the helpless nod the kid finally gave.

        "Let's go."

        Hutch's arm was grabbed and he was pulled sharply toward the back of the cabin. He kept quiet, not wanting to say anything to the young man while Laura was around with the gun. I've got to keep this nice and neat, he thought tiredly. Laura's the boss and it's obvious he won't go against her while she's around. He knew the kid was still afraid and unsure of himself. If I can just talk to him alone! He's got to have half a brain in there somewhere.


        Hutch stumbled, muscles and joints still stiff and foot throbbing with every step on the uneven, wild growth. He was quick to notice that Laura followed three step behind, not trusting her boyfriend with even this simple job.

        This cabin was about the same size as the rented one, but where theirs had been in the middle of civilization, this had the look and feel of the deep forest. Even now Hutch could feel the deepening twilight cover the area as if he were in another world. No close neighbors here, he thought morosely. But at least it's road accessible.

        They walked through low brush around to the back of the cabin and Hutch's heart sank when he saw the woodbox. It was a small lean-to like room up against the cabin wall, built with small logs and no bigger than a large dog house. There was a plywood cover and a latch with lock.

        Okay, one good kick could loosen that latch easily enough. Hutch tried not to look as if he noticed it. As long as I can get angled the right way....

        "All right, get him in there," Laura ordered sharply. "We've got to find some of my father's men. Then we'll be safe."


        Starsky carefully nursed his coffee, rolling the half-empty cup between his palms and watching the murky liquid as it sloshed back and forth. It had been hot an hour ago, but was now tepid and uninteresting, although an observer would have thought it held his complete attention.

        He was all ears now, in a room full of Sheriff's men and Federal Authorities. One person killed and three kidnapped tended to bring out law enforcement in force and the child of a millionaire demanded everyone's attention. One lone detective, out of his jurisdiction and unconnected with the area, was a liability in these parts. He was now little more than someone to placate and to set in a corner, out of their way.

        At least they'll talk to Dobey, Starsky mused tiredly. He had given up trying to accomplish anything, not sure of what he could do. Dobey was keeping his foot in the door, but only by professional courtesy.

        If I can just get something to go on. Anything. I'm gonna go nuts just sittin' here... Starsky felt like his skin was crawling, as if he had to move or go crazy. Hutch was out there and here he was, sitting in a corner of the Sheriff's office, listening in on sessions that he had no say in. It's my partner out there, my friend, and I have nothing to do with it, Starsky thought bitterly. I'm surprised they even told me about the damned ransom call.

        It had come in to the office's of Michael Lopez before he, Dobey and McKracken had arrived at the station. The kidnappers had called all the way in to Lopez's main office in San Francisco, demanding half a million dollars each for the return of Charles Lopez and his girlfriend Laura Tarran. Instructions for the delivery of the money would be called in tomorrow at noon.

        The officers in the room had been solemn in relating the news to Dobey and his man. No mention had been made of a third person, let alone a missing cop. They all knew what that in most circumstances that meant that there wasn't a living body left to make a demand for.

        The news had hit Starsky hard, and he had fought to remain stoic. He was a cop, he had seen it happen before and wasn't under any illusions that his partner was immortal. But something inside him felt like broadcasting the news that his partner was still alive, no matter what the rest of them thought. He knew it. But he was also aware that his guts could tell him anything they wanted, and they could still be dead wrong.

        The Sheriff's office had been a hotbed of activity since early that morning, and even more officials and agents had arrived since then. Andrew Tarran had been barricaded in one of the back offices, alternating between frantic calls to his boss and ranting about his daughter's safety. The Feds had arrived quickly and had taken over most of the station. Michael Lopez, exerting his influence from even this distance, was staying in San Francisco to collect the money and take the next ransom demand.

        I'm getting' out of here! Starsky stood carefully, feeling the tight coil of muscles held in check for too long. He had planted himself in a corner office and had kept to himself, ears open for anything that he could use to help find the two kids and his partner. There's gotta be something to go on, someone who knows this area and has an idea of where a good hideout would be. And whoever they are, they aren't in here.

        He tossed the half empty cup into the garbage and headed for the hallway, by-passing the huddled groups. He strode by Dobey, not sparing him a glance as he headed for the hallway. He was suddenly stopped by a strong, dark grip on his arm.

        "You going somewhere?" Dobey's sharp eyes scanned Starsky's face. The detective knew there was nothing he could hide from his captain. Not now.

        Starsky sighed, clenching his fists in an effort to keep from wrenching away from the man. Dobey didn't deserve a shove-off. "Wish I was, Cap'n," he replied sourly. "I'm not doing much good in here and they aren't goin' to let either of us in on this." Starsky gazed forcefully at the captain. "You know it and I know it. But I gotta go and do somethin'. It's Hutch..." Starsky almost choked on his frustration and anger, unable to finish the sentence.

        Starsky watched as Dobey' eyes soften in understanding. "You're still on vacation, Starsky. You don't have to answer to me. Here." Dobey dug into his shorts pocket and handed Starsky a set of keys. "Edith will need a ride back to the park and I'm sure she wouldn't miss the truck for awhile. I can hitch a ride home."

        Starsky stared in surprise at the truck keys as Dobey gave his arm another squeeze and let him go. Starsky could only nod and stride purposely through the door and out into the busy hallway.

        He spotted Edith in the bustling front lobby, seated on a reception couch and talking to Augustine Greenfeld. Both women were talking animatedly when Starsky came up to them.

        "Oh, Dave, there you are," Edith voiced with relief on seeing the detective. "I need to talk to you for a minute." She turned back to Augustine and said something too low for Starsky to hear, then left the couch, pulling Starsky with her into a corner.

        Deep black eyes looked with concern into Starsky's as warm, friendly hands took his in a reassuring grip. "How are you doing?" Edith asked quietly.

        Starsky shrugged slightly, not even attempting a smile. "I'm fine. You know me, Edith."

        "Any news on Hutch?" She asked, squeezing his hands once again.

        "Nah, not yet. But things could be worse." We could have found him like we found Richard, Starsky thought with a wince.

        Edith gazed at him for a moment, then nodded her head in agreement. "Dave, I've been talking to Augustine and she's been telling me about the ESPRIT group. I think the other officers may be missing something here."

        Starsky felt his eyebrows rise in surprise. "ESP is not the kinda thing the department usually pegs a lot of hope on. And with Hutch missing..." He trailed off, not wanting to voice his mistrust of the subject.

        "I wasn't talking about the group's beliefs, Dave," Edith chided lightly. "I was talking to Augustine and found out some things the other officer may not have told you. You know that Charley's father is a millionaire and Laura's father has worked for him for years. The families are very close and Charley and Laura have almost grown up together."

        "So they've been dating for awhile then." Starsky shrugged. "That's not surprising."

        "Ah, but according to Augustine, Charley's had a crush on Laura for years and apparently the girl would never have anything to do with him. Those who know Charley were stunned to see them together. Apparently none of his close friends ever thought that he had a chance with her." Edith shook her head, concern on her face. "She and her father apparently came to the convention only to be with Charley. They never showed any interest in any of the subjects and didn't associate with any of the others in the group. Augustine seems sure that the girl and her father were using Charley in some way."

        "It's not much to go on," Starsky muttered, more to himself than to Edith. "But I'll listen."

        Starsky gave Edith a reassuring smile and followed her back to the lobby's couch where Augustine watch them both. She was solemn looking now, nothing like the buoyant person of the other night. Starsky knew that with the bustle of the lobby they could talk with relative privacy, just one more conversation among the many.

        "Hey, Augustine, I'm Dave Starsky." He sat opposite the large lady, while Edith took a seat beside her. "We met the other night, I was Tina Calbert's date."

        "Yes, I remember," Augustine answered quietly, with a wan smile. "I'm sorry I didn't get a better chance to talk to you and your partner that night, it would have been fun." She sighed and shrugged tiredly. "There were a lot of things I wish I had paid better attention to that night. But I think everyone here is missing the details, detective. No one seems to want any help from a pack of crazies."

        Starsky saw sadness and frustration in the woman's eyes "Tell me what you know. What you saw the other night," Starsky prodded gently.

        "I know Charley, detective," Augustine began forcefully. "And he's a sweet boy, but not very mature. He's had people take care of him all of his life and he's never developed the stomach to fight for what he wants. He prefers to be told what to do and he usually does it with no question. His only desire seems to have been for Laura Tarran. You know her father works for his father?"

        Augustine waited for Starsky's nod before continuing. "Well, those of us in the group have heard about her for years. Charley was always taken with her, but the girl apparently couldn't stand the sight of him. I met her once, when visiting Charley and I can tell you, detective, she really couldn't stand him. I could see it." Augustine sighed and shrugged. "Their auras clashed. There was longing on his part, but they were never meant to be together. And it didn't take a psychic to see that he made the girl's skin crawl when he was around. She tolerated him, but despised him at the same time."

        "But everyone says they were a couple," Starsky said uncertainly. "The others all reported how close the two were. Apparently she was all over him the whole time they were at the convention."

        "Oh, it was real for him," Augustine said quickly, but solemnly. "A sweet but spineless boy in love and lust. A powerful and intoxicating combination. But Laura Tarran was acting, detective. And so was Richard."

        "Acting?" Starsky felt his brows knit in surprise. "What were they acting?"

        "Laura was acting like she was Charley's girl and Richard acted like he was his friend." Augustine sighed and shrugged. "How can I explain it? Laura, her father and Richard seemed to hang around more together than you would think they should for strangers. They meshed well, as if connected by a purpose. But when Charley was around they...." She waved her hand in frustration, "they closed up and put up a false front around him. He thought he was welcomed, but there was a blackness around the others...." she trailed off, rubbing at tired eyes. "I should have warned him, but I'm too tired to meddle in people's lives anymore."

        "So," Starsky began gently, "you don't think that Laura and Richard were really Charley's friends and somehow her father was in on it. Did you see where any of them were last night?"

        Augustine shrugged. "I saw Richard here and there all night. But he seemed to be following Charley and Laura around. About midnight I tried to find Richard to talk to him about one of the committee's he'd signed up for, but I couldn't find him. I saw Charley and Laura walk down the lake's edge about one a.m. as they were leaving."

        "Which way?" Starsky asked. "Did they go toward the east side of the lake, or the west?"

        "The west," Augustine replied tiredly. "And no one was with them, making them go that direction."

        "Really?" Starsky asked seriously. "Richard, Charley, Laura and her father had camp sites on the east side of Captor's Cove."

        "Something, Dave?" Edith asked quietly.

        Starsky could almost feel some pieces click into place. "There's the bulk of the trailer park to the west, not much else to see down there, as the main trail just goes back to the lots. Nothing much there for two love-birds except for the camper Hutch and I brought."

        "I don't understand, Dave," Edith said quietly, looking confused. "A young couple could drift off anywhere in a park as large as that."

        "But they didn't drift off just anywhere. Edith, what time did you and the Cap'n get back to your RV?" Starsky asked seriously.

        "Why, about midnight I believe."

        "And you didn't hear anything? Any commotion, or raised voices?"

        "Why, no. We didn't." Starsky saw the light shine in Edith's eyes as the situation dawned on her. "And we would have heard something if there had been any fight during the kidnapping. We're not that far from where you two were and Harold did tell the Sheriff that he heard a truck pull out about 1:30 a.m. or so. It could have been your camper."

        "And what better way to lure a guy to a dark and private spot than with a willing lady?" Starsky rubbed his at own eyes, wishing he had had more sleep to work with. "So, Laura practically grows up with the kid, but can't stand him. Then suddenly she's on his arm and leading him away, into the dark." He sighed, not liking the way the story was unfolding.

        He glanced at his watch and winced at the late hour. He'd missed dinner, but didn't feel hungry. He need to get Edith back and see what he could dig up before the sun finally set. "You two wait here, I need to talk to the Cap'n for a minute."

        At Edith's and Augustine's nod, Starsky made his way down the busy hall and found a surprised Dobey. Their conversation was short and sweet, with Starsky whispering to Dobey that maybe they had better keep an eye out for Andrew Tarran, who may not be as frantic for his daughters safety as he seemed.

        His captain's eyebrows had climbed at the suggestion, but he nodded his agreement with a 'I'd better have the whole story later' look before Starsky headed back for the ladies. Dobey's sharp, Starsky thought gratefully, feeling a bit of hope. If Andrew Tarran's over or under actin' the frightened parent part, he'll spot it. And once he gets his teeth into something he won't let go, no matter who the suspect is.

        Edith had been understanding and gracious about Starsky getting the use of the truck for the evening and Starsky dropped her off first. Augustine had needed a ride and Starsky had volunteered his services. He had wanted to talk to her again.

        The detective sighed and flexed the fingers of his left hand, sore from the unaccustomed driving. He eyed the rapidly falling twilight. Too soon. Hutch's been gone for hours now and I need the daylight. It's too soon.

        Augustine sat quietly in the corner of the truck, watching him. She had been strangely quiet on the way back, even with Edith trying to make polite conversation. Starsky knew that she must feel responsible, if her belief that she could have warned Charley was true. She seemed content to wait for him to speak.

        He started the truck and turned toward her campsite. "Augustine, do you think that Andrew Tarran could have planned to kidnap both Charley and his daughter? Would a man like that put his daughter through that kind of trauma?"

        "I don't know him, detective. But I've seen him and heard him talk." Augustine shifted her bulk slightly in the seat, to lean her head tiredly against the window frame. "He's a cold man, all browns, black and grays. So is his daughter. But would he put her in danger?" She shrugged slightly, seemingly having no answer. "But I don't think that girl is anyone's victim. She was using Charley, I could see it. Whatever was going on, she was a part of it."

        "There's another meeting tonight, do you want me to take you there?" Starsky asked.

        "Yes, thank you detective, right now I could use some friends around me." Augustine sounded tired and in the dim light Starsky could see she didn't look well. "But if you wouldn't mind driving around to the closest lot...."

        Starsky drove slowly along the unlit trail, watching as the various lights and campfires appeared as suddenly as fireflies. Here and there in the falling darkness campers were preparing for the night and loud and joyful calls could be heard in the busy park. Time for family and friends.

        Starsky's felt a sudden stab of loneliness and a threatening touch of panic, but he pushed it forcefully to the back of his thoughts. Back to business, David Michael, you're not the one in trouble and needing the Calvary, he chided himself. Shove it to the back and put it on hold, kid. Frettin' and worryin' will just slow you down. Think about the case. Do your job. Get him back. Then you won't have anything to fuss about. He didn't want to think that there might be no Hutch left to find, but the thought was always there.

        "Don't worry, you would know if he were gone."

        Starsky flinched at the seeming intrusion into his thoughts. He turned the truck onto the main road that let to the second campsite and glanced at his companion. The darkness had fallen quickly and there was very little light to see by. "What do you mean?" he tried to ask casually.

        Augustine chuckled deeply in the darkness. "Him. Who else would be on your mind right now?"

        "Two missing kids, wouldn't you think?" Starsky asked with a touch of embarrassment. "My partner's only part of the case." Yeah, say it like you mean it, Starsky, he thought sarcastically. You're Supercop, remember? Nerves of steel.

        "To others, maybe," Augustine replied, suddenly serious "But not to you. You're not kidding anyone, you know." Her voice was barely a whisper in the darkness. "He's alive and you know it."

        Starsky was silent for a few moments, reminding himself that it probably didn't take a mind reader to see how tense he was. "And how can you be so sure?" Starsky asked quietly, aware of the slight mocking tone. "You holdin' back on me Augustine?"

        She sighed and Starsky got the feeling she had shrugged as well. "You don't need me to tell you the link is still there. He's still alive and you're still connected. If he dies, you'd know."

        Starsky suddenly felt like squirming. This whole conversation was verging on areas he'd never been a very big believer in, no matter how much Hutch had tried to get him into the 'transcendental' stuff. If there were powers of the mind we could be using to help people, then Hutch 'n I would've found them by now, Starsky decided. All the lives we could have saved, with only a miracle or two on our side....

        "Here it is," Augustine said as Starsky drove up to large parking lot. It was only sparsely filled with cars. The kidnappings and death had probably subdued a lot of people's enthusiasm for the convention. "Are you coming, detective?"

        "Yes." Starsky shrugged into the sudden light of the truck cab as Augustine opened the door. "I'm going to find Gina and Tina and see what they can find out," he replied. "Someone must have known something, seen something that'll give me a break in this case."

        Augustine reached over and patted Starsky's shoulder before moving out of the truck. "Don't worry, you'll find him."

        Starsky sat in the dark for a moment and watched as Augustine started down the trail toward the water, heading for the beach area.

        Oh, I'll find him, Starsky thought solemnly, locking up the Dobey's truck and heading for the distant group. Even if it takes forever. It's the condition I find him in that worries me.


        Hutch lay panting, feeling twisted, bruised and full of splinters. He didn't know how long he had been pinned in the small woodbox, but felt as if he had been there forever.

        He had wanted to co-operate enough on being imprisoned in the box to make sure he was in a good position kick his way out. But that had been a lost cause when he had been unceremoniously shoved into the wood filled receptacle by Laura as soon as the panel had been opened. He had landed hard, unable to use his hands to stop yet another fall and the shift of wood and bark as his weight hit the unstable pile had caused everything to shift and move. The panel had slammed shut and Hutch had found himself pinned between the plywood lid and the unstable and unyielding pile of wood.

        With his feet free, but on his back and his hands pinched and mostly numb, Hutch had tried to twist himself into a better position. But every move shifted another log and threatened another painful drop from the top of the pile. Hutch hadn't even seen the one that had fallen to hit his face. The towel in his mouth had sapped all the moisture out of him, but he knew the taste of a split lip and loose teeth even so. He had just been lucky it hadn't hit him harder, or he would have been knocked out.

        Even if I do get out, I'm not going to get very far this way, He thought angrily. I'm going to beat myself to a pulp if I'm not careful. But I'm going to have to get this weight off of my hands.

        The burning, painful throbbing of lost circulation had been reduced to a chilling numbness in his fingers which worried the detective. With a careful shift of his feet, he braced them against an unseen wall and pushing slightly, twisted his torso to the side. He bit his gag hard as the shift sent two more logs rolling from the top of the pile and into his hip and ribs. Hutch held deathly still, panting through the pain, waiting to see if he'd pushed his luck too far had sent the rest of the logs to bury him.

        After a moment or two of stillness he allowed himself to relax and to inventory his situation. He was now lying on his side, pinned between the plywood lid and a shifted pile of cord wood. His weight was off of his still numb hands, but he still couldn't bring his knees far enough up to allow shove at the lid. Nor could he angle them under him, to press upward, even if he wasn't half buried by wood.

        Real cute, Hutchinson, he thought sarcastically. Sure, Starsky would've been in here thirty seconds and have managed to twist around and kick his way free. You just end up twisted into a knot. And if he finds me like this, I'm going to have to live through fireplace jokes for the next year.

        Hutch avoided wondering what his partner was up to at the moment. He knew with certainty how he would have felt if Starsky had disappeared and knew it wouldn't be any better on his partner's end. It would be worse.

        He hadn't even heard the footsteps before the scraping sound began. He tensed, realizing that someone was unlocking the woodbox. When the lid was suddenly thrown open and he was blinded by a strong flashlight in the face.

        "There he is, pull him out," a gruff voice demanded.

        Oh, great, Hutch thought, new players in the game. He felt himself grabbed and pulled roughly out of his prison. He held back a groan as each and every scrape and bruise throbbed in protest. He was jerked to his feet and shoved forward, eyes still unfocused from the assault of the flashlight. But two large men had a hold of his arm, keeping him on his feet as he stumbled.

        He realized there were three men, one on each side of him and one following behind. He was pulled around to the front of the cabin and had just enough time to focus in the bright moonlight, noticing the station wagon was there along with a four-wheel drive vehicle when he was shoved through the doorway.

        The first thing that assaulted him was the sensation of wood floors on his bare feet. He blinked frantically and was able to quickly make out the cabin in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. The whole building consisted of one fair sized room, an ancient and rusted bed frame, a smallish wooden table with lamp, a wood burning stove that was long past usefulness and several mismatched chairs, one of which held a bound and wide-eyed Charles Lopez. No electricity, no phone, and no radio spoke of the cabin's age and apparent abandonment. As far as he could tell, this wasn't even used as a hunting cabin anymore.

        "Well, welcome to the convention, detective," Laura Tarran said happily from a dark corner. "I bet you're glad to be out of there, aren't you?"

        Laura nodded toward one of the men holding Hutch firmly and he immediately began to untie the towel that gagged him. Hutch coughed as he gasped for air he hadn't known he was starved for.

        "Tie him next to Charley," Laura ordered the silent men.

        Shoved toward the other side of the room, Hutch almost fell into the wooden chair. Grabbed at the neck and head shoved between his knees, he was forced to bite his swollen lip as rough hands unwrapped the twisted wire from his wrist. He gasped as blood starved fingers twitched and burned at the renewed flow. He almost sighed with relief as he heard the snick of handcuffs he couldn't yet feel from behind him. Hutch knew that the likelihood of losing a hand from poor circulation was less likely now, although they would be harder to get out of.

        "So," Hutch rasped out as he was freed to sit upright. "What have I missed so far? I really hate to come in late on a good story."

        "Oh, it's just the usual kidnapping and murder story," Laura nodded at the three men in the room, smiling at Hutch with satisfaction. "These are my father's men detective, not a rescue party if you haven't figured that out by now. But then again, I don't think you're quite as slow as my boyfriend here." She gave a scathing glare at Charley. "He's a bit confused about the cast of characters in this show."

        Hutch only spared a glance at the dejected young man. Charley's head hung low and his eyes were glued to the floor, as if he had been dealt a blow he couldn't handle.

        Poor kid, Hutch thought. Wanted to be the White Knight for your lady, not the Court Jester. But he knew Charley's type well enough to know there wasn't much strength, if any, in the pampered young man that would help either one of them.

        He cleared his parched throat and drew his attention back to the girl. "Well," the detective began, "do you mind my asking for a program?" He gingerly started to flex and stretch burning fingers, hoping to work them into usefulness. He wanted to keep Laura talking, hoping she wouldn't notice his efforts.

        "Oh, Charley and I are the kidnap victims, detective," she answered with a laugh. "You see, Charley's father and my father have worked together for years, my father doing the drudge work, building up a remarkable financial empire." Laura waved the gun distastefully at the younger man. "And year after year, Michael Juan Lopez continued to get richer and richer, throwing a bone or two to his faithful assistant. Now that isn't fair, detective. My father did all the work, fought all the battles, so why shouldn't he be the one to enjoy the riches?"

        "So you and your father planned on evening the score a bit, is that it?" Hutch asked calmly. "You two set up this little ransom plot to get your rightful share?"

        "Smart guy," Laura nodded, settling herself on the edge of the small table. "Of course, Charley's father would pay the ransom for both of us. Double the money and my father and I would never be suspected. Especially after the first ransom is paid and a scared and sobbing Laura Terran is found at the first drop off point. She'll be alive and healthy, but unable to identify her attackers. But poor Charley will never make it to that point, his body being found sometime after the second ransom is paid."

        "And then your father would retire to another country with the ransom money, and his devoted daughter would follow him," Hutch continued, masking his disgust at the girl's evil glee at the 'death' of her 'boyfriend'. "You two must have gone to a lot of trouble to set this all up. Been planning it for a long time?" he asked conversationally.

        "Too damn long," Laura muttered with a grimace. "But we still had too many glitches. You and your partner for one. That camper wasn't supposed to be occupied." She shook her head in disgust. "Imagine my surprise when I tell my lover that I've borrowed a 'love nest' to get away from my father's hulking presence, only to find it obviously occupied by men." She suddenly laughed. "You and your partner must have the worst luck in the world, detective. I didn't even know who you were when we broke in to steal the station wagon, let alone that you and your partner were the ones actually using our escape camper."

        "Well, we've been known to get our nose in the middle of things before," Hutch replied calmly. "We seem to have a talent for that sort of thing."

        "It seems as if you won't have to worry about it much longer, detective," Laura said with a sneer. "You see, we didn't plan on dealing with you, we don't need you, so it won't be long before you and Charley both are out of the picture. Just another victim to the kidnapper's plot."

        "So, why did you take me with you and not kill me like you did Richard?" Hutch asked, watching Laura flinch, just ever so slightly at the name. "Or did you intend that death too?"

        "Richard was stupid," she replied scathingly. "Actually, that development was a surprise. You can thank Charley-boy for that one."

        Hutch glanced at the young man out of the corner of his eye, seeing the bound form grow even more desolate than before.

        "My lover wanted to act the hero," Laura continued with disgust. "We were, of course, surprised by Richard at the camper with a gun. Richard held the gun to my head, making sure my 'boyfriend' wouldn't make any false moves. We were bundled up and Richard hitched the camper up and pulled out. But the idiot didn't tie lover-boy here up tightly enough and he managed to work his way loose. Apparently Richard heard something and stopped the truck, opening the camper to see what was going on. Charley jumped him, knocking him out with a frying pan." She shrugged as if describing a minor annoyance, smiling evilly at Charley who refused to look her way. "My White Knight, huh, sweetheart?"

        "So you tied him up..." Hutch prodded, knowing that her willingness to talk was not a good sign, but unable to pass up the opportunity. "You left him. I guess you were lucky he died before he was found by the sheriff's department."

        "Oh, that was no problem," Laura replied smoothly, a satisfied gleam in her eyes. "After I had Charley convinced that the woods were swarming with kidnappers and that only I knew of a safe place to hide, it only took a second to finish Richard off." She snorted derisively. "Charley's always been an idiot, he was so upset he promptly ran us into the ditch and overturned the camper. Poor Charley thought we were leaving the man for the police to find. I had him convinced that we needed to hide out until his father's men could bring us home safely."

        "So you unhitched the camper and took off for here." Hutch nodded, indicating the small room. "You had everything set up for this."

        "Except for that damn truck, which died on us, and that hell-bent trek through the woods." Laura chuckled humorlessly. "All of which let me keep Charley in control and away from the Sheriff's men. And as luck would have it, the first cabin we come to with a vehicle happened to have a cop in residence. You and your partner really live dangerously, don't you, detective?"

        "It's a gift," Hutch replied with as charming a smile as he could with a split lip. "But why not just kill me there? Why drag me all the way out here?"

        "To buy us time, detective," Laura sighed, looking as thought she were tiring of the game of twenty questions. "We needed the time the mystery of your absence would produce and my dear Charley doesn't have the guts to kill. He would have freaked if you'd been shot and I needed him calm and in control until my men arrived to back me up. And it took them..." She shot the other three men a scathing look, "long enough to figure out that I'd come straight here when we didn't show up at the rendezvous point. As you can tell, sir, I'm the brains of this outfit."

        "So now it's ransom for three?" Hutch asked cautiously, holding out little hope for a positive answer.

        "No, it's still just two." She smiled sweetly at him. "I'm afraid the trade-in value of a cop is practically nil these days. But don't worry, sweetie. We'll keep you around awhile yet." Laura checked her watch in the dim light of the lamp. "Time for the tape recording, Charles-my-dear. We want to make sure that Daddy can hear your voice one last time."

        She signaled to one of the silent men in the background. He pulled a tape recorder out of a box and started to set it up on the table. "This way we'll have a Charles Lopez to talk to his father on the phone, right after my ransom is paid and I'm safely tucked away at home. Oh, you have a bit of time left, but when I'm on my way home after a successful ransom drop, the two of you will be disposed of, never to be found and this cabin empty of any trace of us."

        Hutch felt the chill as he realized her plan would work. A voice to ensure a father that his son was still alive, a standard demand in any ransom call. This call could be made at any time, from any location, without the need to drag the victim around or even keep him alive.

        Laura waved the men toward the silent Charles Lopez, who had finally turned to face his former love with hatred in his eyes. "Let's get this done Charley. But don't take this all so hard. You will, after all, be making a real place for yourself in the archives of ESP history, just as you've always wanted." She grinned the grin of a Cheshire cat, meeting his burning look with amusement. "You'll be the first person in history to make a honest-to-goodness call from beyond the grave, my dear. You should be proud."


        The first thing Starsky noticed on the trail to the bon-fire was how quiet this gathering was. The happy enthusiasm of the previous night was lacking here, leaving only a quiet grouping here or there. He had seen the list of tests and activities planned for tonight, but they had apparently been abandoned for small, close-knit clusters of friends.

        He was also keenly away of the sympathetic gazes from those who watched his progress. By now the news of the kidnappings and death had spread like wildfire, and Starsky was under no illusion that everyone here didn't know who he was and that his partner was missing. He nodded to those who signaled to him that they knew who he was and that he was welcomed here.

        He saw the group he was looking for on the far side of the gathering. Augustine had settled in a group with several people Starsky recognized, more than a few of whom he was glad to see. Jerome, Beth and the twins were there, all looking sad and solemn at his approach.

        Tina, left her seat on seeing him and threw herself into his arms. "Oh, Dave! I'm so sorry about what happened. Have you heard anything yet?" she asked hopefully.

        Starsky held her for a moment, grateful for the small comfort. "No, nothing yet," he answered, wanting to comfort, but unable to say anything falsely cheerful. "I need your help, Tina. And everyone else's here. Someone must know something that can help."

        "We've been working on it, Dave," Tina released him long enough to take his arm and lead him to a vacant chair. He only nodded at the others, and at Gina, who gave him a sickly smile, as if she was on the edge of tears. "Augustine told us you know about Charley and Laura, and I have to say I agree with her. Laura was a first degree snot one minute, then sweet as honey to us as soon as Charley was within earshot. That girl had no interest in this group, only in Charley."

        "She's a controller," Jerome chimed in. "She is as cold as ice inside, but she's sharp and organized. Whatever's happened here, it didn't go on without her planning and controlling a part of it."

        "So, you all think that the kidnapping was staged?" Starsky asked, unsurprised at the nod of heads around the group. "Did you tell the Sheriff's men all this?" Looks were exchanged between most in the group, and Starsky could tell they'd tried.

        "We've told them, but they didn't seem to be listening, detective," Augustine replied bitterly. "We're just a group of crazies, you know. And since all we had were the observation of a group of freaks, and not anything substantial, we didn't get a lot of attention."

        "They didn't seem to care about our suspicions," Gina spoke up quietly. "All they wanted to know was when and where we saw the couple together, who they talked to, when they came and went. They weren't really interested in 'gossip'."

        "And then there were the questions about you and Ken," Tina added, disgust in her voice. "You would have thought that you two were the main suspects."

        Starsky gave Tina a small smile. "I'm afraid that's standard procedure, Tina." The news didn't surprise him, but it didn't sit well either. "Hutch and I don't really have any standing here, it's out of our area. And we did bring in the camper which was used in the kidnapping."

        "And Hutch's disappearance?" Gina asked in surprise. "Don't tell me they think you've staged that!"

        "As far as they know, he could be in on the plot and took a powder, waiting for his share of the ransom." Starsky shook his head at Gina's disgusted gasp. He knew the way things worked, but felt her anger and disgust at the thought. "We can't take it personally, Gina. In a large operation like this, everyone not known to the investigating team will get a once over. Hutch and I have bounced the idea of a bad cops around more than once when the situation called for it. And unfortunately, we were right in some of those cases. This isn't any different." But it feels different, when you're on the other side of it, Starsky admitted silently. Because I know they're wasting time on checking out Hutch 'n I, and there's no telling how much time we have left.

        "Well, what can we do?" Jerome asked, watching Starsky closely. "I've told the Sheriff's people everything I know. But I'm open to any suggestions."

        "Well, then, how about playing Twenty Questions?" Starsky asked with a false smile. "First question. Who was Richard Drey, and was he a part of this group?"

        "Yes," Beth answered with a grimace. "He was a new member. I met him down at a southern California university when they were doing a lot of ESP testing down there. He seemed real quiet and closed up, but I just figured he was uncomfortable with the testing procedures. I told him about the group, and he seemed really interested. The first time I saw him again was the other night as we were all milling around. But I didn't talk to him, and he seemed to want to keep to himself."

        "You know anything else about him, Beth?" Starsky prodded gently.

        "No, I'm sorry. I only met him those few times." Beth shrugged apologetically. "I didn't read the tarot for him. He's a stranger to me."

        "Okay, question number two," Starsky said, looking at all the anxious faces around him, "Is there anything you've remembered about last night that you haven't reported yet?" He watched closely, but only saw negative answers in their expressions. "Well, what about Laura and Charley? I've heard that they arrived separately, Charley coming in his camper, while Laura arrived with her father."

        "Yeah," Tina chimed in. "I thought it was pretty strange that they were supposed to be here as a couple, but Laura was staying with her father in their monster RV. I mean, she's not a teenager anymore. I was surprised that she stood still for daddy coming along with them and playing the chaperone."

        Starsky gave them another moment, but even with all the concerned looks, no one volunteered anything else. "Question three, Did any of you know her very well?" Starsky asked.

        "Not her, but we knew Charley," Augustine answered. "That kid has been gushing on that girl ever since he was old enough to notice she was one. Through the years, we've all come to know Charley and his 'golden obsession'. I was hoping he'd outgrow her some day, but that kid is nothing if not loyal."

        "But you don't think she returned the favor," Starsky stated, feeling it obvious what everyone's opinions were.

        "Not if even half the stories Charley told us were true." Gina shrugged. "She used him as a pin cushion, and we were left with pulling them out of his soul. And no matter how many times we tried to get it through his head that she was the worse thing in the world for him, he'd defend her to the hilt."

        "An idiot in love," Tina added with a snort.

        "Being nasty is one thing, but thinking she had anything to do with the kidnapping is another," Starsky began uncertainly. "And if you hadn't met her before..."

        "She was even worse in person than I'd thought she'd be," Beth responded bitterly. "It was like she had some kind of radar, nasty and condescending when Charley wasn't around, then as innocent as an angel when he was. And there was no doubt that she was controlling him, and he was wallowing in being led."

        Starsky saw the nods of agreement from those around him. "Okay, so Laura was in on the kidnapping, assuming she had the help of her father. I can tell you that the camper that Hutch and I were using was rented, and it was a fluke that we had it at all. If this was planned, and Laura and her father planned it, then there would be someplace ready to take Charley. Do any of you know the area, and where they could have gone?"

        Starsky's heart fell as he saw the discouraged glances that passed from one to the other in the group.

        "I'm sorry, Dave," Gina spoke out softly after a moments silence. "Tina and I are familiar with the area, I don't think anyone else is from around here. And I'm sure you realize that we're on the edge of a national park. The accessible acreage alone..." she drifted off, not wanting to say what Starsky already knew.

        They could be anywhere, Starsky finished for himself. And I have nothing solid to go on. There's Laura and her father, but I don't have the time to dig through their past, even if the Feds would let me near him at this point. But I still have until noon tomorrow, if only I could find something. Anything...

        "There is something you have to go on, detective," Augustine interjected once again into his thoughts.

        Damn, I wish she would quite doing that, Starsky thought impatiently, with a touch of that lost feeling again. It felt normal and natural for him when Hutch did that, read his mind, but it grated on him when it came from someone else. Only Hutch had the right to do that. "Okay, I'm game for anything right now. What did you have in mind?" He sighed, wondering if he was opening something he'd wished he hadn't.

        "It's the link, isn't it Auggy?" Gina asked quickly, hope showing in her eyes. "You mentioned the twin link they had. It's like the one Tina and I have isn't it?"

        Augustine gazed seriously at Starsky. He could see in her eyes that she truly believed in whatever it was she saw. "Oh, it's there. I can still see it." She nodded at him. "And you know it's there, detective, even if you won't admit it to yourself. It's there as long as he's alive, and you know he is, even now. You couldn't help but know if he was gone, because if he was, you'd lose the link too."

        Starsky felt a chill run through him as he heard her words. It was as if he were hearing something he really shouldn't know, some private part of himself that was supposed to remain that way.

        But what else have I got? How much time do I have? Can I take a chance on missing out on a way to find Hutch because I don't have the certainty that he does? Starsky steadied himself and took a deep breath. "Okay, I feel like he's alive. But I don't know how. What good does that do me?"

        Augustine smiled a little at him. "I'm not the one who can tell you that, detective. But Jerome can."

        Starsky turned to watch the older man, remembering how much Hutch seemed taken with him. Hutch is a good judge of character, he thought fondly. Even if he does put a little too much faith in people's intrinsic goodness shining through. And it's not like I've got anything else. "So what can you help me with, Jerome? What is it you can do, exactly?"

        Jerome sighed and lit a cigarette. "I'm some sort of an empath," he answered simply. "They have all kinds of names for it, but I can never remember what 40 letter word they assign to it from one series of tests to another. I can tell a lot about a person, sometimes by touch, sometimes by just being near them for a period of time."

        "So, you should be able to tell me how I can use this link to my advantage." Starsky couldn't help but smile and shake his head disbelievingly. "What can you tell about me, then?"

        "I haven't been around you long enough yet, nor come in physical contact with you." Jerome's eyes were serious, but slightly amused as they studied Starsky's face. "I shook your partner's hand when I met him."

        Starsky knew a challenge when he heard one, and decided he could play along. "Then I assume you can tell me a little bit about him, right?" Try to convince me Jerome, he thought pleadingly. I'm not quite ready to delve into this, unless I can trust it in some way.

        Jerome seemed to hear the unspoken plea, taking a moment to think back on the encounter. He took several deep puffs on his cigarette then pitched it into the bon-fire. "Hutchinson is an healthy man, but there's something a little off about him, physically. Not that it's impeding him in any way, but he's suffered more than one major attack on his system, and came very close to dying not too long ago. He still suffers from backlashes at times, but he hides it well."

        Heroin and the plague, Starsky felt his eyes widen in shock. But backlashes? Could Hutch be having problems and not telling me? It didn't take long for him to answer his own question, he knew Hutch too well. Yes, he'd hide it from me if he thought I'd worry, and couldn't do anything to help him. The thought scared him, but rang true. Heroin could haunt a person for years, but Hutch never talked about it. Starsky gathered himself again, not wishing to give any more away than he had too. He knew better than to confirm Jerome's lucky guess'.

        "The man is well educated and was raised to be a formidable power in the business world, but he doesn't take it seriously. He's too 'people' oriented to let the expectations of others keep him from wallowing in the humanity around him. He does let the 'snob' in him loose once in awhile. In times of frustration or stress he takes it out on those he trusts the most. He regrets it later, but has never learned to apologize well or forgive himself, even when others do. He's never quite sure people actually like him for who he is, when he can't seem to. He discounts his accomplishments, but carries his failures with him like a two-ton backpack."

        How many other's have ever seen him that way? Starsky wondered. He knew Hutch was a closed book to most people. The man could seem cold and hard to strangers, made of ice and cold fury to criminals, and all kinds of a klutz when he really wanted to impress. Few of the people who thought him hard and cold had also seen him frozen with stage-fright and full of fear at being rejected. Some ice-man, Starsky thought fondly, with a heart so hard he feels like every lost soul on the street is his responsibility to protect and save. Mr. Guilt trip...

        "But what's his talent, Jerome?" Tina asked. "Auggy says they belonged with us, so he must have some gift."

        Starsky stayed silent, unwilling to say anything to sway Jerome one way or the other. But he was so close in describing the real Hutch. As close as anyone who's known him for years, Starsky mused. Like Beth came close to me in her readings. Too close for comfort.

        "He's a healer." Jerome shrugged as if the answer was obvious. "He has the touch and the compassion. It's in his hands and his heart. He would have been a great doctor, or therapist or councilor. He has the power to heal and mend those he touches, those he cares for."

        Starsky sighed, rubbing at his face as he felt the truth in the words. The mother-hen in Hutch was basic to who he was as a person. Starsky had seen Hutch reach out a thousand times to touch people, the cop in him making him pull back at the last moment. How many times have I let him fuss over me? I did feel better when he babied me when I had a cold or flu, or took care of me when I was hurt on the job. And it made him happy to be able to help. Even yesterday....

        Starsky's thoughts were drawn back to the massage Hutch had given him and how much better he had felt afterwards. Starsky had had massages in therapy for his shoulder wound. It had always hurt, and made him achy and sore. But never when Hutch did it. They had even laughed about how Starsky had needed a massage to recover from his massage therapy.

        "Doesn't sound like he's the sort of person who would become a cop." Tina shook her head, obviously not getting the picture. "If he's got the gift of healing, why not work at something else, close to what he's suited for?"

        "Well, he's got the gift, but it's not physically strong, and it takes a lot out of him," Jerome answered confidently, as if he had known Hutch for many years. "He also tends to get too personally involved with people on a one to one level, which leaves him wide open to attack. But the drive to heal and mend is strong." Jerome smiled, as if he understood the feeling. "So he tries to heal on a less personal level, where he can protect himself better. It's one thing to heal a disease when it's already spread, but it's quite another to try to cut out the diseased tissue before it can grow. He's gone after some of the biggest disease there is, crime against the average, everyday citizen. He's trying to dig it out at the core."

        Starsky found himself suddenly laughing in astonishment. He knew the others were watching him with puzzled faces, but Jerome only shook his head and smiled back.

        "All that from a single handshake?" Starsky asked with a chuckle, feeling as if this were all some wonderful joke. Either Jerome had gotten all this from Hutch, or had pulled it from Starsky's deep knowledge of the man. Whichever it was, it had been a wonderful demonstration. "Jerome, you ever think about becoming a cop? We could clean every street in the worst area of town with your help."

        "No, thank you," Jerome replied a bit solemnly, lighting another cigarette. "Each man has his limits, and this size of a group is mine. Why do you think I spend most of my life living in the wilderness? I'd be crazy by now if I didn't."

        "What do you need me to do Jerome?" Starsky asked cautiously. "What can I tap into to get my partner back?" He hadn't meant for it to sound as serious as it did, but the others looked at him with understanding.

        "There may not be any talent you can use, detective." Jerome answered seriously. "All I can tell you is what you have the power to do. I'm not promising it will be useful in any way whatsoever."

        Starsky nodded his understanding. "Well, it's better than staying at the Sheriff's office and waiting on word." Starsky stood and offered his hand to Jerome. "And it has been a pleasure to meet you, Sir."

        Jerome took Starsky's hand, and shook it firmly. Jerome looked him straight in the eye, and Starsky didn't flinch, but allowed the man to study him. It lasted only a minute, and Starsky returned to his seat. He felt a bit of disappointment that he hadn't felt anything happening on his end. Jerome was silent for a moment, blowing smoke and watching Starsky closely.

        "Well, was that enough for a verdict?" Starsky asked cautiously.

        The older man nodded his head in affirmation. "I'll save you the deep and detailed physiological profile, detective." Jerome smiled at him as if sharing a private joke. "But let me ask you a few questions first."

        Starsky nodded his agreement.

        "For as long as you've known Hutchinson, were you always close friends?"


        "Were you ever separated? Or have you always worked together?"

        Starsky thought for a moment, not quite sure what Jerome wanted to know. "We became friends at the police Academy. We'd trained together and always planned to work as a team. But we spent our rookie years with other partners. We were trained by other detectives. Separately."

        "When you were separated, working with different partners, did you always feel like you knew where he was? That if you called his house he'd be there? Or you wouldn't call, knowing he'd still be out on the street or at the station?"

        Starsky felt suddenly uncomfortable again, but he didn't know why. "Yeah, I guess I did. Hutch used to joke that I had people spying on him, or had an informer at his station house." Starsky smiled slightly at the memory. He usually had been able to peg Hutch with only a call or two, sometimes just missing him coming or going. He hadn't thought about Hutch's light hearted accusations for years now.

        "Has your partner ever been missing, and when found, you were actually only minutes away, close enough to almost have found him yourself?"

        "Yes." Starsky found himself gulping at the memory of the near misses his partner had suffered. Hutch being trapped in that car, and when Monk and his men had him. Starsky remembered the strong feelings of frustration and purpose that had almost lead him to Monk's doorstep in the one instance, and how he had known which clue was the important one when Hutch had been trapped in the other. I'd been so close then, only minutes away from him each time. If only I could get that close again, find him again...

        "That's what your talent is, detective. And I think that's what the link is for. Direction is the key. You 'know' where your partner is by the link, maybe not the specific location, but his general direction at any time. Somehow, for your own reasons you have 'tagged' him, it being important to you to know where he is and..." Jerome's voice softened, "and that he's alive."

        Starsky rose suddenly, compelled to move and vastly uncomfortable with the thought of a link between him and Hutch. He faced the roaring fire, turning his back on all the others. "But that doesn't make any sense, Jerome. If I had been able to find Hutch before, I would have gone straight to where he was. I wouldn't have needed to bust my ass to find the clues. And once, I wasn't even the one who found him."

        "But you were close by, right?"

        "Yes," Starsky admitted reluctantly.

        "Tell me detective, you must work fast and dangerous when you two are on the street. Have you ever almost shot your partner by accident? Run into him with a car? Mistaken his movements for the bad guys? Or had him disappear on you when he was with you one minute, and gone the next?"

        "No," Starsky answered honestly. He may have slightly raised his gun in Hutch's direction once or twice, but never came near actually pointing it at the blond, and nowhere near pulling the trigger. His mind knew it was Hutch before his reflexes caught up with him. "But it's not like Hutch is a small man, or is invisible. A cop must always know just exactly where his partner is during a bust. We're trained to do that, to watch each other's backs and keep track of each other."

        "And you happen to do that better than most. At least with Hutch as a partner." Jerome stated it as a fact. "I have the feeling that you've always 'tagged' the people you care for, detective. And you've suffered a breaking of that thread before. One happened fairly recently and the other is years past, when you were young."

        Starsky shivered in the heat of the bon-fire, glad that no one could see his face. Terry. She was in her neighborhood when she was shot. In an area that she knew well and felt safe in, Starsky replayed the memory to himself, the pang of guilt nothing new to him. I hadn't been worried about her at all. She was where she was supposed to be. He hadn't realized how guilty he had felt about that, as if he was supposed to have known the danger she was in. And in the hospital, at the end, he swore he had actually felt her leave. She was there one minute, then suddenly gone from the room and me at the exact same time. As if she had been cut away with a knife. And Poppa...

        Starsky sighed at the old memory. Somehow little Davey Starsky always knew when Pop was on his way home, or woke up in the wee hours of the morning as soon as his Pop had come in from a late night stake-out. He'd sneak down on those nights and sometimes his Pop would sit him at the table for a snack. His father had kidded him about being born with some sort or radar that they should bottle and sell. Their private joke. But the memory also carried the taste of death. I remember, like it is branded into me, Starsky mused. I remember setting the table for dinner, Ma wondering aloud if Pop was going to be late again, and me knowing he was on his way home. Ma scolding me for being so sure of things I couldn't possibly know. Then...

        Even now, Starsky couldn't quite remember the details, just the sudden pain of being torn inside, and knowing that Pop was gone. Pop would never be home, because he wasn't anywhere anymore. Davey had suddenly been sick in the bathroom, his mother worried that he'd been suddenly poisoned by something in the kitchen. He had been frozen in shock then, and unable to explain what was wrong. His mother was on the phone to his pediatrician when the officers came to the door and broke the news. But Davey already knew, and wasn't surprised.

        Starsky had never quite remembered that part before, but suddenly there it was and as real as if it were yesterday. Never again. I never wanted that to happen again. But Jerome's right, and I feel it. Whatever it really is, it's been this way with Hutch and I from the first. And it was there with Terry, growing stronger all the time. I knew Augustine was right about what she saw, but didn't want to hear it. If Hutch dies...

        Starsky felt sickened at the thought, Starsky turned toward the silent gathering and strode to tower over Jerome. "Tell me how to use it, then," he demanded roughly. "This has already taken too much time, and I don't have a clue here. If this is the only change I've got, then I'm gonna use it. Just tell me how!"

        Jerome shook his head sadly, seemingly at a loss. "Auggy?" He looked helplessly in Augustine's direction. "What can we do with this?"

        Augustine, looking older and more haggard as the evening progressed, sighed and rubbed her temples, elbows on the picnic table. She was quiet for a moment, then softly patted the table in front of her. "Sit here, David."

        Starsky sat as he was directed, watching Augustine and feeling the others in the group circle the table. Someone brought over a camping lantern and placed it to the side.

        "David, I see the link, and it's still strong. But let's see if we can boost it a little." Augustine leaned in close and took his hands in hers. "Relax, and close your eyes."

        Starsky closed his eyes, but still felt far from relaxed. "Now what?"

        She was silent for so long that Starsky almost opened his eyes to check on her. "David," she began in a whisper, "think about your partner, think about him sitting right there beside you. Pull him in until he's right next to you."

        It confused him at first, after all, how do you make someone there who isn't? But slowly he started to rebuild Hutch in his mind. He placed his friend next to him, knowing how the man's size and weight should feel beside him. And as he did so, Starsky could feel the tight knot in his stomach loosen a bit. He concentrated on placing his partner next to him, like he was in the Torino. Build, height, weight and presence seemed to form slowly, but it did finally come to feel as if Starsky could only open his eyes, and Hutch would be there, just sitting and watching him. He knew he must be gripping Augustine's hand hard, restraining the urge to reach out and touch his friend.

        "Good! Good!" Augustine sighed in relief. "You learn fast, detective. Or you've done this before. The link with your partner is very strong and active now."

        "Can you see...?" Starsky began, not sure of what he was asking, eyes still tightly shut.

        "No, I can't see the link past a few feet. Direction is your job, now isn't it?" came the amused reply.

        "Now what?" Starsky asked frantically.

        "Let your partner's presence leave. Let it drift away, but follow it as far as you can."

        Starsky was unsure how to 'let it go', so he tried to 'feel' that Hutch was getting up and leaving. It was harder than he imagined it would be, as if he were afraid of losing him again. But very slowly he could feel his partner slipping away, and he followed it as far as he could. Then suddenly it was gone.

        "There." Starsky suddenly let go of Augustine and stood up, looking across the dark and moonlit raggedness of the lake's surface, toward the west. "He's over there somewhere."

        "Close to the lake?" Gina asked excitedly. "Somewhere near the shore."

        "No," Starsky said, sounding as suddenly defeated as he felt. "He's just that way. Farther then the shore. I can't judge the distance, but it's farther away. Now what?" He knew he sounded angry, but was too tired to care. "What good does that do me?"

        "Then we get in a car and go that way until you say stop, then we do it again," Jerome answered authoritatively. "And we keep on doing it all night if we have to, until you can pin the man down."

        It wasn't much, but it was something. And whatever it was that Starsky could do, he felt he was on the right track, just as he had when he'd talked to that kid who had heard his partner on the radio. It had been a long shot, but it had felt right at the time. And so did this.


Part Five