This story was originally published in the zine 'The Pits Vol 1. Special thanks to Evelyn for transcribing it for the net. The author is not on the internet and doesn't have email. Comments on this story can be sent via snail mail to Flamingo, PO Box 823, Beltsville MD 20704-0823, and will be forwarded to the author.

Katherine Robertson

The funeral procession wound around the green hillside like ants converging on a picnic.

Watching from a stone outcropping that overlooked the cemetery, a man smiled grimly and focused his binoculars on the car behind the hearse. Since he had caused the funeral, his interest was possessive. He ignored the line of motorcycle police, the black hearse, and the solemn-faced plainclothesmen.

Only one man interested him. One blond man, who sat alone beside the driver in the car marked "Family". The man whose presence here was all the observer cared about.

Morgan Wade swore as the sun, momentarily striking a bright surface, reflected the blinding light into his binoculars. He jerked the glasses away, wiped his streaming eyes, and picked out his subject again. "Ain't it a grand day for a funeral?" he asked himself. "And ain't it grand to know you kept yer word to that cop Hutchinson? Oh, yer a man of yer word, Morgan Wade, that you are!" He rubbed his unshaven cheek with his hand, then gripped the binoculars tighter, trying to keep the car and its occupants in sight. They were nearly at the grave and he wanted to savor every moment of his triumph.

The curving road, brought the car carrying the detective into view, and the observer was able to bring the man's features into near-perfect focus. Dark glasses hid the eyes, but the face was drawn with grief. Wade snorted at the emotion. "I hope yer feelin' rotten, cop. 'Cause I did what no one else could do. I broke up the hot-shot Dynamic Duo. Hell, you guys ain't so tough!" Wade spit into the air, grinning as the saliva sizzled when it hit the rock.

To all intents and purposes, Hutch saw nothing, felt nothing, heard nothing. He was as close to being in limbo as he'd ever been. He closed his eyes, trying to shut out his thoughts as well. I almost envy you, Starsk. I hope someday you'll understand all of this. Forgive me for not being with you now. He opened his eyes, glad he was wearing sunglasses when the sun glittered brightly on something atop a stone outcropping. He automatically flicked on the 'transmit' switch under the dash. Slumping over, he cupped his hand around the mike.

"Something moving on that large rock, to the right. May be our man, Captain."

Dobey's voice grated over the radio. "Don't lift a finger, Hutchinson You're his next target, and I don't want to lose two men!"

Hutch put back the mike, gritting his teeth. If they didn't catch Wade in this trap he might try to kill Starsky again. He wondered how much longer he'd have to play out this scene. Morgan Wade, killer of at least seven people, certifiably insane. Hutch and he had crossed paths when Hutch had first joined the LAPD, Wade had been his first big arrest, before he and Starsky had become partners. Wade had sworn then to get revenge, threatening Hutch with death, and "worse".

"Worse" had become no empty boast. Wade's bullet had left Starsky critically wounded, possibly paralyzed. Dobey had decided on this elaborate scheme, and Hutch had agreed, feeling it was the only chance to move his partner to the safety of a private hospital, far out of Wade's reach. You might as well be on the moon, Starsky. But I can't take the chance of leading this nut to you.

The limousine came to a halt and Hutch opened the door and stepped out, careful not to glance around. He was planting cat-and-mouse with a moron. He shoved his fists deep into his pockets.

He watched as the hearse pulled up and the pall-bearers moved to the back end, waiting for the casket to be removed. His eyes swept over the open grave, a fresh wound in the bright green grass. A part of his mind wondered if he might have to repeat this scene, next time with a real body. They'll let me see you then, Starsk.

The pall-bearers shouldered the coffin, and as they moved toward the grave, Hutch gasped. The casket bore a blanket of red roses, and the sun's rays shining on the petals turned them the color of the Torino. Tears sprang to his eyes and he whirled around, fumbling for a handkerchief.

A firm hand closed over his arm and led him back to the gravesite. "I'm sorry, Hutch. It's a hell of a game." Dobey's voice shook.

"It had better be worth it, that's all." Hutch said. "If Wade escapes again I'm going to Starsky. No sonofabitch is going to run my life!" His eyes burned with the fear it might already be too late. What if Starsky had regained consciousness and asked for him? I guess you'd understand what we're doing better than I do...

The moment passed, and the roses were simply red once more. Hutch retreated into his shell, ignoring the phony trappings. He was waiting, suspended in time. Remembering...

* * *

"Get that phone, somebody!"

Hutch sighed, shook his fist at Dobey's door and picked up the receiver. He shot another fist at the grinning face of his partner.

Starsky immediately erected a complicated la horna and grinned even wider.

"Homicide, Hutchinson," he said into the phone.

"You or your partner'll be dead by suppertime, cop!" The line went dead.

Hutch frowned and glanced at the clock. Funny. Five forty-seven. At six he and Starsk were to meet Huggy for dinner. He thoughtfully replaced the receiver, staring at the phone. "Who was 'at?"

"Just someone who hates us boys-in-blue," Hutch replied.

"Yeah? Well you ain't wearing blue. I am. So you're safe." Starsky patted the right leg of his denims.

"Starsky, blue jeans don't count. Not that you shouldn't be shot for some of the gawdawful clothes you wear." Hutch kept staring at the silent phone. Just another crank call. We're always getting them.

His partner grinned. "Then how come all the ladies love me? They know my bod is gorgeous and don't care what I wear."

Hutch tossed a folder onto a pile of completed ones. "Come on, Lothario. Let's eat. I swear, between your clothes and your taste in food, I may look for a new partner. One who can't even pronounce the word burritos."

The two detectives trotted down the station steps, Starsky in the lead. He turned on the bottom step to wait for Hutch. "You're sure slowin' down. Too much night life?"

"My night life is like my elixir, stimulating and nourishing." Hutch grinned back, fears fading to the back of his mind. Just another crackpot. "Honestly, Starsky, if you'd spend some time at the gym it'd pay off. You're due for an early grave the way you carry on."

The wind was cold, and Hutch stopped to pull up his jacket collar. He reached for his keys but they slipped from his fingers. Bending to retrieve them, he heard a "pouf" as it passed his head. Heard another "pouf" that didn't pass him. His mind tried to identify the sound---SILENCER!

He turned to warn Starsky, calling to him as he moved. His partner was lying on the pavement, a few feet from the steps. Glancing up and down the street, Hutch could see nothing unusual. "Starsk? Hey, Starsk?" As he dropped to one knee he noticed a half-smile on Starsky's pale face, and fear made him tremble. Behind him he heard the sounds of heavy feet and muffled exclamations. He didn't look up.

"What the hell happened, Hutch?"

"Call an ambulance! Some bastard shot at us!" He ran trembling fingers over Starsky. No blood--it couldn't be too serious. "Whoever it was used a silencer. Will you get me some help?" He gripped his partner's shoulders and Starsky's head rolled back, frightening Hutch with its rag-doll quality. He pulled back Starsky's head, trying to check his breathing. His fingers grasped the mass of curls. And there it was: so small, so neat, as blue-edged as a hole made by a pencil, as emphatic as the period at the end of a sentence. Period. Ending. That's all!

A far-off siren sent its wail through the streets. Hutch gathered his partner's body close, trying to warm the already chilling flesh. A blanket was shoved at him and he wrapped it clumsily around Starsky, noting the colorless lips. "Where the hell is that ambulance?" he shouted, straining to see in the dimming light. Please, God, not this way...not so quick. We didn't even say good-bye...

Someone was beside him. Dark fingers pried his own away from Starsky's head. "Captain, there's a bullet in his brain." I'm going to lose him, just the way he lost Terry...

Dobey's voice finally penetrated the wall of Hutch's thoughts. "Hutch, here's the ambulance! Let them get Starsky to the hospital. And you tell me what happened."

There was this phone call a long, long time ago--and I ignored it! Hutch slowly relinquished his hold on his friend, but his eyes never left the form being bundled into the gleaming vehicle. More lights and sirens, Starsk . . . just the wrong kind, that's all.

The captain's voice was low, insistent. "I want to know what happened, Hutchinson. Now!"

With Starsky strapped in the unit, the two medics worked to connect the oxygen. One of them bumped the stretcher with his knee, and Hutch yelled, "Watch it!" That's usprime cut! He turned to face Dobey. "We were coming out of the station and some nut fired on us. That's what happened." He listened to the noise around him, trying to orient himself with reality. This had all the elements of a lousy dream, but he knew it wasn't.

Dobey persisted. "Did you see anyone? A car? Come on, dammit!"

Hutch's head snapped up, and angry words strained to be released. They all died in his throat as he met Dobey's sympathetic gaze. "Nothing. I heard the shots, but it was all over in a couple of seconds." He heard the ambulance doors close. "Captain, I've got to go with him."

Dobey nodded. "Yeah, when you know something, call me." He spun around as the sound of the returning policemen reached him. "Find anything?" he roared at them.

Hutch yanked open the ambulance doors and climbed in, ignoring the sharp glance given him by the older paramedic. As he reached to shut the doors he heard Dobey calling.

"Hutchinson, who uses a Belgian pistole?"

Hutch felt as though he had been splashed with ice water. He began to swear softly, then realized Dobey was waiting. "That's Morgan Wade's trademark, Captain. Better check on him." He saw the grim looks of the other men, and slammed the doors. As the ambulance pulled away, he got a final glimpse of the captain standing in the street, staring at a small object in his hand. He scrambled back to the seat opposite Starsky, trying to keep out of the medic's way. He listened to the siren as they sped through the evening traffic. Morgan Wade. If that was who had shot at them Starsky would have to have a guard. He reached over and touched his partner's forearm. Somewhere along the line the half-smile had been jostled off, his friend wore a quiet, rather sad expression. You have to make it, Starsk...just hang on.

Hutch bowed his head, waiting for the flood of words he always used when bargaining with the Almighty for his partner's life. God, if you let him live, I'll . . . What? What do you want from me this time, God?

* * *

"Sergeant Hutchinson, it's time to go. My men are still combing the area behind the cemetery. Wade won't get away."

Hutch stared at the deputy, then swung his glance to the huge stone outcropping and shook his head. "He's gone. Something scared him off." He next focused on the canvas-covered dirt mound, finally turning to watch the sun's last rays across the chaparral. In the distance, beyond the long, downward sweep of foothills, lay Malibu. He could see dark clouds gathering, sure to bring a storm before morning.

The deputy was defensive. "I'd nothing to do with choosing this damn place for a trap. Why the hell you didn't stage this in your own area, I'll never know." He fingered his gun holster. "Who the hell thought this up, anyway? We've called the helicopters out to search the hills, but it's getting dark. And, if you're right we won't find him tonight." Shaking his head he walked up to the black-and-white that was parked next to the hearse.

Hutch stood for a moment longer. The weight of his flak jacket was tiring and his shoulders sagged. He would have to wait a while longer before calling Viejo Clinic to check on Starsky. Satisfaction flooded him; at least they had lured Wade away from the hospital. It had been frightening to learn that the murderer had found out where Starsky was, had tried to storm the surgery, then escaped. Morgan Wade was as lethal as a cloud of poison gas, and as unpredictable.

Hutch glanced around. He could see Dobey surrounded by police: dark blue uniforms mingling with the Sheriffs' green, and the Highway patrol tan. You're too late, the rat's gone. A hundred men can't catch him when he's sharp. But you'll make a mistake, Wade, and I'll nail you to the wall! He strode over to the group, trying to get Dobey's attention. "Captain, I'd like to leave. I've a phone call to make."

Dobey and he exchanged looks and the captain's lids dropped for a second. "Not until you get home, Hutchinson."

Hutch nodded, already planning the quickest route through the home-bound traffic. "Thanks, I'll let you know how he is."

Exactly one hour later Hutch let himself into Starsky's apartment, returning the extra key to its hiding place. He stood just inside the door, listening. Funny how well he knew this place, his second home. He walked over and switched on the kitchen light, suddenly sure no one was there.

He went to the sink, looking at the dirty dishes stacked neatly: a toast crust, half-empty coffee cup, the remains of the last meal Starsky had eaten here. Quickly he filled the sink with hot water, squirting soap in as an afterthought. The simple food reminded him of what his friend was really like. Push aside that crazy exterior and there was a decent, loving, modest man. One you could trust with your life. Hutch sloshed the suds over the cup and saucer, wondering how the hell Starsky managed to stay so innocent. For all his street savvy, his partner still had an aura of naiveté about him, a wonderful innocence that couldn't be destroyed. And to think a bastard like Wade tried to kill a person like Starsk! Angrily he rinsed the china, setting the pieces in the dish drainer.

He decided he needed a drink, chose a bottle of brandy, and poured two full jiggers. The liquid slid smoothly down his throat, immediately warming him. The tension he'd felt for the last three days began to ease; all he had to do was check with the clinic to see how Starsky had made the transfer. He sat heavily on the couch, first pulling off his shoes, then unfastening his holster. Outside, the first faint stirrings of the wind that would bring rain could be heard. He felt a surge of pleasure as he pictured Wade, cold and drenched, hiding like an animal somewhere. "Bastard, I hope you freeze your balls off!"

Dobey had said, "Get some rest, there's nothing more you can do." and for what it was worth, he knew the captain was right. Starsky had survived the operation, the tiny bullet removed without difficulty. Hutch tried to recall the precise words the surgeon had used. "Time, and Mr. Starsky's own will to live these will be the deciding factors. Whether or not there will be any paralysis remains to be seen." The doctor had hesitated before leaving. "Sorry I can't guarantee there will be no complications."

Hutch swallowed the last of his drink. Complications. There were always complications. Their whole partnership had been one series of complications after another. Mostly caused by creeps, outsiders like Wade, who tried to dictate who should live and who should die. He and Starsk had become puppets waiting for some nut to pull their strings. He wondered sleepily if it was worth it. Maybe someday it wouldn't be.

He reached in his pocket for the clinic number; they had said to call after eight. Quickly he dialed, then waited for someone to pick up the receiver. A few cryptic sentences and he hung up. Starsky had made the transfer without a hitch, but there was no change. There were guards posted all over the grounds. His partner was safe for awhile. He closed his eyes, then opened them.

A gleam of gold caught his attention and he leaned forward to examine a picture sitting on the coffee table. It was new, and he picked it up, staring at the figures frozen on film. Two men, one wearing a gut-wrenching smile, the other, head thrown back, sporting a three-day growth of dark blond beard. Starsky...were we really ever that free? Can we ever take life that much for granted again? He gripped the frame and settled back on the couch, picture across his chest. Closing his eyes, he hoped that sleep would ease his fears.

The rain began to fall.

* * *

He was lying in a box, unable to move. The air was musty, like old newspapers, and he bounced around in the dark. The motion reminded him of the sea...rising and falling...maybe he was in a box on the sea. Much more of the rolling and he'd probably be sick, something Starsky would never let him live down.

He glanced around the bottom of the box, but Starsky wasn't there. He found some sticks and funny- spiderweb threads. He didn't like things he couldn't see...such as spiders. Be and Starsky were alike in that.

The rolling motion stopped and he slid along the bottom of the box. He heard someone laughing. But it wasn't Starsky. Starsky's laugh could warm his insides. This laugh was as deep as a booming surf.

The box opened and Hutch's arms and legs jerked violently. He was pulled out of the box in a jumbled web of spider-webs and sticks. His arms flailed like pipestems and his head rolled back like a spinning top. What kind of a game were they playing?

A giant, whom he knew was named Wade, laughed and made Hutch caper, legs dangling, over a small blue hole in the ground. "Dance!" he roared, and Hutch began to dance at the end of the strings.

He stared down. Since he'd started the stupid dance, the hole had enlarged. He had to be careful not to catch a foot in it. There was no music, yet he could hear someone chanting a song, one he'd heard before.

The hole grew larger still, and at the bottom he could see something gleaming-pale in the dim light.

Wade laughed again, and the earth trembled, changing the shape of the hole; longer and deeper, the light getting brighter now. Holy Christ! There was Starsky-- hiding in the bottom of the goddam hole!

"Starsky? Don't pretend you can't hear me, partner. Starsk! Open your eyes. I'm up here getting hassled by this big jerk, and you're down there taking a nap!"

Hutch hung over the hole, yelling at the man holding the strings. "Let me down!" Immediately he felt the threads tighten as his entire weight was suspended. He swung down into Starsky's dark hiding place. It was bitterly cold and smelled worse than the box. A funny feeling caught at his gut. Starsky would never choose a place like this! He felt his feet touch the bottom of the hole. No, they rested on Starsky's chest. "Get me off my partner, I might hurt him!"

In answer the giant yanked Hutch's strings, and he watched his feet first shuffle, then skip over his friend's jacket. Hutch waited for Starsky to move. God, his partner looked so tired. Sometimes Starsky would crash for twelve, fifteen hours after a long stake-out. Maybe that was what they'd been doing. Except Starsky didn't look like a man sleeping. He looked. . .DEAD? No! God, NO!

Hutch hung, suspended like the puppet he was, and mourned with a wooden face the remains of Starsky. I can't even cry, he thought, He knew now the hole was a grave...Starsky's grave, and it was still growing. Soon it would be large enough for two.

The light was brighter, and under the shadow of Starsky's hair Hutch saw a neat, blue hole. Ah, it's true. You did leave without saying good-bye. We had so much to do, Starsky...

He began to dance, a death waltz, performed for a mad audience. Starsky, ever out of reach: Hutch, ever straining toward him. Hutch felt the dampness filling the empty places in his mind. He knew that soon he would be insensible to the chill of Starsky's grave.

The delicate threads cut Hutch's wrists like fine wire, his blood flowed cold over his skin. If I can reach you, Starsk, I'll take you home with me...

The giant named Wade roared in anger, "You can't take him away! He's mine, and so are you! Mine--forever, him dead, you alive. Forever!" He yanked so hard on the strings that one set broke and Hutch's right hand fell loose, hanging at his side. Fighting the numbing cold, he reached up to untie the other knots, Wade jerked him so hard his ears rang...rang...RINGING!!

Hutch's eyes flew open and he scrambled to his feet, sending the photograph spinning to the floor. The back of his neck, sweat slicked, began to cool and he rubbed it with his left hand. He hesitated a second more before picking up the receiver, fighting off the horror of his nightmare. His mind raced as his fingers tightened around the phone. Maybe it was Dobey with information about Wade. Maybe it was the hospital. Please let it be good news. He picked up the phone. "Hutch," he said, rubbing his right wrist. Goddamn dream!

A booming laugh, similar to the one in his dream, made him flinch. "Thought they'd catch me, didn't you? Well, I just learned your partner ain't dead!" The voice dropped, became deadly, "And I know where he's at. You meet me there--or else!" The receiver slammed in Hutch's ear, and the line went dead.

Hutch glanced at the clock. Three-thirty. He'd been asleep for seven hours! He lifted the receiver to call Dobey, listened, then put it down. There was no dial tone.

He ran to the window, careful to keep out of sight. Wade was a crack shot with those tiny Belgian pistoles. No one had ever figured out his penchant for the beautiful little guns with their toy-sized bullets, but he had killed seven people, and two of the dead were cops.

He watched as the rain, coming down in sheets, slashed at the window. In the distance was the muted rumble of thunder. He'd have to use his or Starsky's car radio to warn Dobey.

He dressed rapidly, righting the picture and returning it to the coffee table. He slipped on his jacket and turned the collar up. As he went out the door he took the extra key, shoving it in his pocket. Hutch kept close to the apartment wall as he moved toward the steps. He drew his gun, but kept it inside his jacket, ready to squeeze the trigger. He descended the steps, momentarily distracted by the wind shredding the broad leaves of a banana palm. He saw a flash of yellow and ducked behind a hibiscus bush, scattering the flowers onto the sidewalk. The lights flashed again and Hutch relaxed. "A car speeding up the street, nothing more." He shoved the Magnum back in its holster and quickened his pace, avoiding the Torino for his own car. Wade might be keeping an eye on the red vehicle, and the LTD was up the street. He shivered as he waded through a huge puddle, the chilly water sloshing into his shoes. "Goddamn lake." he muttered. Unlocking the door, he slid onto the seat. He flipped on the radio-switch, picking a wet leaf off his shoe as he did. While he waited for Dobey to answer his call he thought how easy it would have be for Wade, a former telephone lineman, to know which line to cut. Dobey, voice thick with sleep, broke in and Hutch quickly explained about Wade's threatening phone call.

From his vantage point, Hutch could see Starsky's car. So far there had been no sign of the killer. "Captain, I've got to go out to Viejo Clinic! No telling what Wade'll do if I don't get there before he does. Notify them of his threat, but I'm the one he's after now...I have to go." He hesitated, then added, "Besides, Starsky might need me."

"Hutchinson, be careful. Wade's waited a long time to get you."

"Yeah, I'm not anxious to get burned, Captain." Hutch switched off the radio, started up his car, and pulled slowly away from the curb, watching for a tail. The rainsqualls plastered water on his windshield like wrinkled Saran, and the car swayed as strong gusts of wind buffeted it. He increased his speed, sending great sprays of water out on either side of the LTD, and threatening to soak his brakes. He slowed down, conscious of a building anxiety. Where was Wade now? Already at the clinic? His jaw set and he wondered if he should have taken the faster Torino. Sure, turkey, that's like driving a neon sign that says FOLLOW ME!

Shards of his nightmare began to return and he rolled down his window gulping in great breaths of the sweet, water-soaked air. Foot pressed on the accelerator, he sped through the storm, heading for the foothills.

From the freeway Hutch could see an occasional flash of lightning above the mountaintops. The rain continued its monotonous onslaught as he turned off on Camino Viejo. It was an old road, the macadam edges crumbling as the sandy soil washed away. Only three miles from his destination! In his rearview mirror the lights of at least four cars were visible. Hutch's eyes narrowed as he tried to identify the types of vehicles. Two of them were trucks, of that he was sure. The freeways were full of the huge diesels, even at this hour, but not many traveled the smaller roads. The other two vehicles were cars. He could see nothing approaching him so he jammed the gas pedal to the floor, leaving the four followers far behind.

He raced on, alone for another mile, then, in his rearview mirror one set of lights flashed. A car rapidly closed the distance between them. Another turn, and it pulled onto a muddy side road and disappeared. Hutch found he was trembling, and he rolled his window half-way up, suddenly cold.

Ahead he saw the taillights of two more cars. He wondered what their business was out here at four-thirty in the morning. Physician? A relative hurrying to the hospital to see a dying patient? Wade?

The Ford lurched as he hit a rock hidden in a huge puddle in the road. He swerved, this time straddling the white line. Viejo Road ran past great boulders here, shadowed places where a crazed killer could hide for days without being discovered. Still cold, he felt another kind of chill, and drawing out his Magnum, he placed it next to him on the seat. Again the irony of his nightmare returned. He was a puppet, forced to play out a madman's game.

Hutch heard the heavy grinding of shifting gears and turned his attention to his rearview mirror again. Behind him he saw the blurred headlights of a wide-bodied van or truck. It was nearly upon him when he heard the first "Bam!" of a bullet. Another shot, and this time his side mirror shattered into razor-sharp slivers, some of them flying through his half-open window. Hutch felt a jab of pain as a piece of glass worked its way into his collar. The pain was all he needed, an icy calm settled over him and he forced the LTD to its limits. He rounded a sharp curve, nearly doubling back on himself. He slammed on his brakes, steering the car onto the soft edge of the road. From here the van was only yards away, almost opposite him. Picking up his Magnum, he pumped four quick shots into the cab of the van. "Come on, you bastard! Let's see who's dancing now!"

The van swerved suddenly to the inner lane of the road, and the door on the driver's side sprang open as the vehicle crunched to a halt. As Hutch stared, the body of a huge man slid from under the steering wheel, arched itself into a "C", and pinwheeled onto the rocks below. The slippery surfaces made the body spin, until, momentum spent, it came to rest face down in the mud.

Hutch sat with his car door open, observing the unmoving figure. He fought to remember he was a cop, and that this was the worst part of his job. Sometimes the bad guys didn't give you any choice; Wade certainly hadn't. Slowly he got out of his car, walked over to the prone figure, and knelt down, prodding the body with his gun. There was a large hole in Wade's skull, and the raindrops hitting the wound, ran red to the ground below the corpse.

Getting up, Hutch strode over to the van, whose front end was buried in the embankment. Now it was clear, a yellow telephone truck, undoubtedly stolen. Wade had probably tapped in on the hospital lines after listening in on police headquarters, learning then of Starsky's transfer. He looked through the window of the van. Still on the seat was one of those tiny Belgian pistols. Hutch shook his head, wincing as the glass splinter pricked him. Why Wade used the obsolete weapon he couldn't imagine, still he was thankful, a gun of larger caliber would have killed Starsky instantly.

A crisp voice spoke behind him and he whirled, gun ready. Two deputies weapons leveled at him, stood watching his every move. "Lay that gun down, mister, and identify yourself."

The second deputy added, "And move very, very carefully, buddy."

Briefly Hutch explained, showing his identification. As he talked two more officers joined them, and all four went over to examine Wade's body and marvel at the tiny gun in the van.

"That's not what he used to shoot at you, Hutchinson," one of the men said. "Look at this." He held, out his hand and Hutch swallowed. A Colt .45, barrel full of mud, had been the killer's weapon this time.

"Guess I'm luckier than I thought," Hutch said quietly.

The rain was thinning to a light mist, and to the east the sky was a pale grey wash. The deputies waved Hutch on to the clinic, and as he drove the last hundred yards, he became acutely aware of the glass shard jabbing his neck. He pulled into the brightly-lit hospital parking area and an incredible fatigue slipped over him. He parked, took off his jacket, and searched his neck, feeling the sore spot carefully. He felt along the collar of his jacket and pulled out an inch-long sliver of glass. He tossed it on the top of the dash, then slipped back into his jacket. The leather was wet and he shivered, whether from the chill or a reaction to the events of a few minutes ago, he couldn't tell. He walked up the clinic steps two at a time.

The night nurse glanced at his badge, smiled, and went back to her charting. "Room 15," was all she said, not a word about Starsky's condition. Hutch found himself slowing down, reluctant to face his partner.

Hutch thanked the deputy on duty at Starsky's door, briefed him, and entered the room. It was dark, a sign Hutch hoped meant he was asleep. Standing by the doorway, he was struck by the total silence in the room. No respirators, no monitors, none of Starsky's "clicky-ticky" machines. He inhaled, then switched on the light above his friend's bed. Tilting the shade, Hutch stared down at Starsky.

Starsky's eyes met his. Hutch felt a sudden overwhelming rush of joy. "Starsk?" he murmured.

"Yeah..." Starsky whispered.

Hutch lightly touched the bandaged head. "Did they leave you enough noodles to work with?" Move, Starsky...please move...

"Who shot me?" Starsky asked, not smiling.

"Morgan Wade...he's dead," Hutch answered, hating the satisfaction he felt.

Starsky turned his head away, but not before Hutch saw the tears. He reached for Starsky's hand, squeezing the usually strong fingers. He waited, for some response. Nothing. Slowly, gently, he replaced the limp hand, on top of the sheet.

"Hutch! Try my other hand, please!" Starsky's tone was urgent, and Hutch moved to the other side of the bed, fighting to keep his expression calm. He repeated his action and folded Starsky's fingers around his own. How many times had he depended on that good left hand? Left! Starsky was left-handed. The patterns would be much stronger in his brain. Maybe, just maybe... He squeezed harder. "Want to arm wrestle? Five bucks I win."

"Go soak your head. Make it ten, Scrooge."

A faint pressure met Hutch's, no stronger than a baby's, but still a pressure. He watched as a grin crinkled his partner's cheeks. That stupid grin, spreading east to west, taking a sharp north on the right side. Grinning back, Hutch was suddenly aware of the antiseptic smells and made a face. "Better change your aftershave when you get out of here. It may turn on the nurses, but your other ladies..." He broke off his sentence, pointing at the bedside cabinet. "What's that?"

Starsky craned his neck "That's a table, dimwit, so what?"

Hutch shook his head. "Not the table, that doll." He reached out and picked up the object, turning it over and over. It was a hand puppet, dressed in bright pink, complete with jester's cap.

"Oh. That's Pinky." Starsky flushed, the first color Hutch had seen in the pale cheeks. "All the kids here get them; nurse thought I could use it...for therapy." He tried to wriggle the fingers of his left hand but failed.

The painted face of the puppet grinned up at Hutch and he clutched the bright material roughly. "Let me have it, Starsk. Sort of a souvenir." He saw the question in his partner's eyes, but didn't try to explain. "I'll be back later. I've a lot of paperwork to usual, you're gold-bricking." He looked down at his friend. "Get some rest." he said softly.

Starsky closed his eyes. "Yeah, you do pick the damndest times to visit. Hey, remember to bring your ten bucks. Raffle off your car." He opened his eyes, then winked. "Take me two minutes to pin you, partner." He stared at his hands for a minute, then shut his eyes again.

"Sure it will," Hutch assured him. "See you tonight." He turned off the light, smoothed the sheet gently, then walked out, still holding the doll. As he rounded the corner of the nurses' station he noticed a trash receptacle. He contemplated the leering face for a minute, then abruptly thrust it into the bin. Without a backward glance he strode out the door and into the morning air.

A coroner's wagon was making its slow way around the winding road as Hutch headed back to the station. He watched it for a few moments. Well, Wade, you've finally going to get a funeral. But not the one you wanted. Looking back over his shoulder he could see the pale apricot sky to the east. It promised to be a nice day after all.