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THOU SHALT NOT COVET
Jacob Addams chewed on an English muffin as he gazed out his apartment window at Venice Place. It was a routine he had followed daily since moving into his new apartment six weeks before.
He unconsciously leaned closer to the glass pane when the blond figure emerged from his building. The man was everything Jacob wanted to be and wasn't, had everything he wanted to have but didn't. He saw the wind stir the fine blond tendrils, in contrast to his own wiry black hair which the wind couldn't budge. Addams' neighbor had chosen his clothes well, the dress slacks were finely pressed with a sharp crease down the front and the coordinating off-the-rack button-down shirt fit better than any tailor could ever hope to make it. Based on the car the man drove, it was unlikely he could afford a tailor anyway. But the form-fitting outfit accentuated the well-built form and complimented the handsome, boyish face.
"Pretty boy!" Addams growled as he watched Ken Hutchinson approach the LTD. It just wasn't fair that this man should be blessed with such perfection, while he felt compelled to hide himself in the shadows. There was no vanity in the watcher; he knew exactly who and what he was. He thought about the image he was forced to contemplate in the mirror every morning: eyes that were not quite even and drooped at the corners, crooked nose (broken too many times as a result of fist fights - which were always the other man's fault), and oversized lips which parted to reveal crooked teeth. The T-shirt stretched over an ample girth which settled particularly around his waistline.
A motion at the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he shifted his focus to the pair of model-like forms jogging down the sidewalk. They smiled and waved at the blond, who stood unlocking his car door. Like someone would want to steal that piece of junk! Hutch waved back with his trademark smile. Must be a couple of his conquests, Jacob thought. All the single women in the neighborhood either had dated, were dating, or wanted to date the blond. They wouldn't even give a nobody like Jacob the time of day. Why should he get all the attention?
"Lousy Pretty Boy!" Addams reiterated, pounding his fist on the bookcase next to the window. A picture frame on it toppled over and he picked it up hesitantly. Monica smiled back at him from the photo. Why hadn't he noticed sooner the vindictiveness and cruelty in that smile? She'd left him two months ago that day, giving him some stupid excuse about his mental state being unstable. Ha! What did she know. Probably just wanted to be free to go after someone like that Hutchinson guy.
Suddenly, Addams slammed the picture against the bookcase, shattering the glass and bending the frame. "I'll get even with you, Hutchinson. You're gonna find out how tough it is to go through life without having that pretty face and body to help you get what you want!" He spat maliciously and went to grab a notebook. Now that he had a goal, he needed a plan for accomplishing it.
The blond and brunet figures weren't aware they were being watched as they descended the precinct steps. Addams sat in his tiny, gray 1970 Volkswagen bug, eyeing the two detectives' cars, parked side by side in the lot. He prided himself on his car fitting somewhere between the two in class and style - not as classy as the Torino nor as junky as the decrepit LTD.
Jacob held his breath as he watched Starsky and Hutchinson put their heads together, sharing a look of intensity. He knew what they were discussing, having watched them do it before.
"I'll drive!" the brunet declared.
"No, I'll drive!" the blond insisted.
"It's my turn! Besides, have you had your car checked out since the radio problem you had the last time you drove? Remember how it acted up?" Starsky looked proud of having come up with a valid excuse to take the Torino today.
"Okay, okay!" Hutch conceded. "We'll take yours. I'll call the police garage and ask them to take care of it while we're on duty. And tomorrow, I drive!"
The duo climbed into the red car only after the blond had made sure his own car was locked; it was something he did habitually. Starsky smiled each time he performed the act, thinking that there wasn't even anything worth stealing there. They pulled away unspectacularly, which meant they were just going on patrol. Addams waited until they were out of sight, checked the parking lot for spectators, then carried a large tool box over to the grayish-white Ford. It only took a few seconds to jimmy the door, and Jacob was soon ensconced in the front seat, his head partially concealed under the dashboard and his feet hanging out the door.
He didn't notice the approach of blue uniforms near his legs.
"Hey, what are you doing there?!" they demanded an answer, as Jacob pulled his head out from under the dash. "That's Sergeant Hutchinson's car - what are you doing in it?"
"Oh," Addams replied, putting on an artificial southern accent, "The Sarge said he was havin' engine problems. He called the garage and said it was actin' up on him, so I jus' decided to come on down here and take care of it for `im while he's out on p'trol."
"Yeah, but the engine's under the hood, buddy." the officer replied, his tone doubtful. "Why don't I recognize you?"
"I jus' wanted some music to work by. Thought I'd turn on the radio."
His partner pulled the first officer back, giving the mechanic room. "Jim, you know that people come and go like clockwork over at the garage. Besides, I heard Starsky complain about Hutch's car only yesterday when we were going off duty."
"But, Pete, you know all the problems those two have. And looking at that car, anyone could guess that it's got mechanical problems. Don't you think we should at least check him out?"
"And you think someone's going to try to sabotage his car right her in the police department parking lot?" Pete's frustration with his younger partner was starting to show.
Jacob interrupted, "You go on and call the garage if y'all want. But I does have other stuff to get to, y'know."
"That won't be necessary," the blond, Pete, conceded. "My partner's just a little over-eager. Just go on with your work." Addams watched as the two walked away, in the direction of a black-and-white.
I'll have to remember those two. If they ever put together the pieces, they could nail me. But I don't think they've got the brains for it. He made a mental note of the men's faces anyway. Jacob wasn't one to let things happen by chance.
"This has been one pathetic excuse for a day," Starsky complained as they returned to the station that night. "I mean, first the garage tells you there's no way they're gonna get to your car until tomorrow, then the streets are totally dead! I mean, it hasn't been this quiet since Easter Sunday. And even then we had that kid who kept calling to say he'd seen the Easter Bunny!"
"Consider yourself lucky, partner," Hutch responded, grateful for the peaceful day. "Don't you like a little peace every once in a while?"
"No!" Starsky responded abruptly, "First of all, it means that the crooks are gettin' smart and finding a way to hide what they're doin'! How can we catch `em if we can't find `em!"
"It won't last, Starsk. Think about it. What's the longest stretch we've had of consecutive days like today? Huh?"
"Okay, okay. So we've never had more than two in a row. There's a first time for everything, y'know." Starsky decided to give up and change the subject. "So, you wanna get dinner tonight?"
"How about if we just go back to my place instead. I've got a huge salad in the refrigerator, and the woman next door brought me some of her home-made beef vegetable soup. It'll be a regular feast, what d'ya say?"
"Soup and salad? Well, it sounds suspiciously healthy to me, but what the hell. I'll try anything once. How about if I pick up something for dessert and meet you there?"
"Well, don't do it on my account, but if you want something sweet and gloppy for after dinner, then that's your only option." Hutch paused as the Torino pulled up behind the LTD and the blond climbed out.
"I'll see ya later!" Starsky called out the window as the blond climbed in behind the wheel.
The door was still open and the blond leaned out to yell a response as he turned the ignition key. His answer was lost, however, in the shower of metal and glass that erupted from the dashboard and radio, the latter of which spewed out an eight-track tape of John Denver songs, thrusting it into the back seat.
Starsky's view of Hutch was blocked by the smoke which enveloped the blond like fog. "HUTCH!!" the brunet screamed as he jumped from his own car. He waved the smoke away from the driver's door and was surprised to find his partner fallen to the pavement next to the vehicle, dirty but safe.
Smoke-filled blue eyes looked up at Starsky, and Hutch reached up a hand to his partner. "What are you doing down there?" the brunet questioned as he hauled the blond to his feet.
"I was thrown there, Starsk!" The curly-haired officer kept a steadying hand on Hutch's arm until he was sure he would remain standing. "What the hell happened?"
Both men turned as one to the interior of the car, taking in the now-visible driver's compartment. The large black hole in the dash where Hutch's car radio had been was enough of a clue. "Looks like your radio finally went, buddy. You're lucky, too. It almost took you with it!"
"Are you sure that's all it is?" Hutch questioned doubtfully.
"Hutch, I think you're getting paranoid - this job must be gettin' to you. If somebody wanted to blow you up, don't you think they would've rigged the engine or the gas tank? Certainly not the radio! It was just an accident; or to be more accurate, it was faulty equipment."
"Yeah, I guess so," Hutch muttered as he brushed the worst of the debris from the seat and climbed back in the vehicle. "Now I've really gotta have the mechanics take a look at her tomorrow. Guess I'm stuck riding in the striped tomato for another day."
"Oh, c'mon!" Starsky laughed as he returned to his own car, "you know you love it!"
"Damn!" Jacob cursed in frustration. He'd gone to the window when he heard the sound of a motor outside, and was most unhappy when the handsome blond stepped from the car unscathed. "How could that not have worked!" he yelled at the empty room. "It was foolproof!" He knew the car had gone untouched until just an hour ago, when he ended his surveillance of the Ford and drove his own car home.
He looked closer and saw the blond did have some dirt and soot on his light clothes and skin, but there were no other marks on the man. Where were the cuts? The scars? The blemishes that could never be removed?
Jacob stalked away from the window in frustration as he heard footsteps on the stairs. They passed his door softly and soon disappeared behind a slamming door.
"Who is this neighbor of yours, Hutch? She makes damn good stew!" Starsky rubbed his full stomach as he popped the last cherry tomato from his salad bowl into his mouth. "Salad wasn't bad, either. For a salad, that is."
"It wasn't stew, Starsky. It was soup. Beef-vegetable soup."
"It tasted like stew," the brunet argued.
"Well, it wasn't stew," responded the blond, his frustration showing.
"Okay, soup then. You don't have to get so upset over it!" Hutch's short temper was spreading to his partner, and Starsky wasn't reacting particularly well to the feeling.
They were silent for a moment, each man guarded, until Hutch's guest heard a heavy sigh from the opposite side of the table. "I'm sorry, Starsk. I guess I'm just still a little rattled from that near miss earlier this evening. I just keep thinking, if I hadn't leaned out the door . . . ."
"Yeah, I know," Starsky said, his voice gentle. "Like we don't have enough problems with the people that are out to get us, now we have to deal with accidental disasters too!"
"I should've listened when you told me the other day that the tape deck sounded funny. I just thought you were giving me a hard time about my car again. I never thought there was really something wrong!"
"Take it easy, partner. It was just one of those things. Tomorrow while we're on patrol, the garage will work on it and by the next day, it'll be good as new. Speaking of which, I presume you'd like me to meet you here in the morning?"
"Yeah, partner. You can follow me to the garage, then we'll go from there. Hey! Why don't you come early and we'll go for a run! Bring your clothes and you can borrow my shower before we take off for work."
"Okay, partner. I guess so. Although runnin' isn't really my idea of the best way to start a day."
"Because, it reminds you of Rosie, huh?" Hutch responded gently. When the curly head nodded, the blond forged on. "I know I hardly need to tell you this, partner, but you can't go on avoiding anything that's connected to an unpleasant incident. If I did that, I wouldn't be living in this apartment or driving that car or going anywhere I ever went with Jeannie or Diana or Gillian. After a while, it really limits the possibilities."
"Agreed, buddy. But I've always felt I should. You never mention the fact that we haven't been back to the school since Terri died. And it's been ages since I've been back home. New York just brings back all those memories of my father."
"You've got to get through them, Starsk. Keep trying to go around them and they'll get you every time." The blond had come around to his partner's side of the table, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"Okay, okay. Running it is. I'll be here about six." He laid his own hand atop his partner's, "and thanks again."
"Alright, alright. Enough of this mush - we're starting to sound like a couple of old men." Hutch backed up to allow his partner to stand.
"I'd better get going anyway. I'm going to need all the sleep I can get if I'm gonna keep up with you in the morning." They walked together to the door, and Hutch patted the dark-haired man on the back as he went out it.
"Don't forget to eat your Wheaties in the morning, partner! You're gonna need `em!" the blond called after the disappearing figure as it went down the stairs.
"Just so long as you don't expect me to drink that glop you mix in your blender every morning!" the form yelled back. How was Starsky to know that there were listening ears taking in the entire exchange?
"C'mon! You gonna spend all morning in the john?" Hutch jogged in place outside his bathroom door, waiting for his partner to emerge from its depths.
"I'll be out in a minute! Ya don't want me to get out in the middle of the park and havta go, do ya?"
"Heaven forbid!" the blond agreed, stopping his pace and leaning against the back of the sofa. "You realize, partner, that if you don't hurry it up, we won't have time to do a full five miles!"
"Gee, now why would I want that!" the voice came again. "I think you've figured me out, partner." The door swung open and Starsky led the way to the door, "C'mon! Might as well get it over with!"
Hutch fell in step behind him, locking the door as he went out and stashing the key above the door frame. "Y'know, Hutch," Starsky proposed as his partner replaced the key, "that isn't exactly the safest place in the world to stash your key!"
"Starsk," Hutch answered, motioning to the tight running shorts and T-shirt he wore, "where exactly would you recommend I keep it?"
Starsky studied the blond as he preceded him down the stairs, looking him up and down. "Yeah, I guess that could present a problem!"
When the voices disappeared into the street, Jacob Addams came out of his room and headed toward Hutch's door. He clutched the pack of tools he carried under his left arm as he retrieved Hutch's key with his right and admitted himself to the apartment.
Sweat poured off both men as they climbed the stairs back to Hutch's apartment. "You fully realize," Starsky panted, "that that race was totally unfair."
"Oh, really?" Hutch questioned innocently. "How so?"
"Well, you didn't have to get up until just before I came over. I've been up a lot longer `cause of the drive. Less sleep means less energy, ya know?"
"C'mon, Starsk," the blond smiled good naturedly, "I know you could've won if you were really trying. You just didn't want to put forth the effort."
"Well, I know something I'm gonna put forth an effort on, and that's eating the breakfast I brought over!" Starsky rubbed his palms together hungrily as he contemplated the eggs and danish awaiting him in Hutch's refrigerator, while the blond unlocked the apartment door.
"Whatever you want, dirtbag, but I get the shower first!" Then, to emphasize the fact, he playfully pushed the brunet aside and made a bee-line for the bathroom door, slamming it behind him. "Use whatever you want from the kitchen," he yelled from within, "except the blender. I'll need that for my health drink."
"Don't worry, buddy. Not much chance of my wanting anything to do with that concoction!"
As the water flowed over him, cooling the hot skin and relaxing the muscles, Hutch had to admit that the aroma coming from his kitchen was delicious. Wonder if sometimes I take this health kick too far. Maybe eggs for breakfast once in a while wouldn't be so bad. A moment later, though, he shook the thought from his head and concentrated anew on scrubbing his shoulder.
Starsky was just finishing the last of his fried eggs when Hutch emerged from the bathroom. Surprisingly, the brunet had washed the pan and utensils he'd used to prepare his breakfast. Starsky never seemed to run out of ways to surprise his partner.
"Bathroom's all yours," Hutch announced as he tightened the cinch on his orange robe and crossed the room to the kitchen counter. The baby-fine hair dripped periodically onto the matching orange towel which was draped around his neck.
"Just make sure your hands are dry before you go messing with any of those electrical appliances," Starsky called over his shoulder as he passed his partner, slapping him on the rear as he went by, "I think we've used up our quota of ambulance trips for this year."
"For this decade, I think," the blond responded, racing to grab a pillow off the sofa, which soon impacted with the back of the man headed for the bathroom.
With fun and games temporarily suspended, Hutch put his mind to preparing his own breakfast. The goat's milk was on the top shelf, right where he always kept it, and the remainder of the ingredients were on the counter near the blender which sat near the edge from constant use. Each item was added to the blender in succession, he no longer needing to measure each.
Hutch glanced up at the clock. "Starsk, we'd better get a move on!" He really needn't have shouted, as he could already hear the water shutting off in the shower. The blond used his left hand to cap the blender while his right pulled up the towel from around his neck to dry his hair, which blocked his view of the appliance when the cloth fell in front of his face. Blindly, his left fingers found the "blend" button and depressed it while the right continued to rub his hair dry.
Starsky rushed from the bathroom, a towel tied around his waist, when he heard the shattering noises coming from the kitchen and Hutch's shriek a millisecond later. What he saw took him completely off guard, but he scanned the scene quickly. The blender was still on the counter, but it was smoking and sputtering. Liquid spilled from it over the counter and floor, no longer contained by the glass blending pitcher, which had shattered into a million pieces that had been projected all over the kitchen. Hutch stood back in shock, the towel completely obscuring his face, the only part of him visible being his upraised arms, which were spattered with tiny nicks and cuts. Starsky was instantly beside his partner, having covered the distance in a burst of speed that would have made his old track coach proud.
"Hutch! What happened?" Starsky questioned as he removed the towel from his partner's head and used it to wipe the trickles of blood from his arms.
"I don't know, Starsk," the blond muttered, still slightly stunned. "I turned it on and the damn thing just blew!"
"Actually, buddy, you're very lucky. If that robe hadn't been so thick and if you hadn't been drying your hair, you'd have cuts on lots more places than your arms." Hutch's lack of response told Starsky that the blond wasn't entirely with him. The curly-haired man dragged the victim into the bathroom and sat him ungracefully on the toilet lid. The medicine cabinet held antiseptic and Band-Aids, and Starsky quickly cleaned and bandaged the small cuts. By the time he'd finished, Hutch was back to his old self.
"I tell you, Starsky, that blender's not that old. Certainly not old enough for it to explode like that! When we get off work, I'm going to call that company and let them know what a piece of junk they sold me!" Hutch quickly chose a light blue T-shirt from his closet and dressed while the brunet dressed in the bathroom and did his best to tame the wild curls. The blond's shirt was light, and the holster went on easily enough, but when he pulled on his jacket, he winced as the brown leather rubbed against the bandages. "Starsky, are you sure you got all the glass out?"
"I'm sure, blondie," Starsky answered as he came up, fully dressed, behind his partner. "Boy! You sure are having rotten luck this week. Do me a favor and don't stand too close; I wouldn't want it to rub off on me!" When Hutch didn't follow right away, Starsky pulled up short as he was leaving the apartment, C'mon! I was only kiddin'!" he added as he pulled on Hutch's shoulder, "let's go to work."
They laughed and joked as they left the apartment but didn't notice the single eye peering out of the cracked neighboring apartment's door. The eye became angry as the duo slammed the front door to the apartment building. "Damn! How could that have missed! Not even a scratch on him!" Jacob Addams' tone was seething. "I guess I'm going to have to give up this idea of making it look like an accident," he said to himself. "They'll never suspect me anyway. He's a cop! He's probably got more enemies than either of us can count!"
It had been an active morning, most of it spent following up the Anderson murder with family and friends, questioning them at length. They'd gotten a lot of information, confirming what they'd already suspected; it seemed to be a clear-cut case of self defense on the part of the wife. Apparently, Chris Anderson had been beating up his wife for years, but this time he'd made the mistake of going after her while she was chopping vegetables for his dinner. Starsky and Hutch compared notes while they cruised the area where the killing had taken place.
"Zebra 3, this is Control," the police radio suddenly came to life. Hutch grabbed for the microphone quickly, hoping for what, he wasn't sure.
"Control, this is Zebra 3. What's up, Mildred?"
"Nothing much, Sweetie. The guys at the garage have finished your car and want to know if you're gonna pick it up or if they should deliver it to your apartment." She paused a moment, her impatience at playing messenger showing. "So? What d'ya want them to do?"
"Uhhh . . ." Hutch pondered for a moment, "tell them to deliver it to my place. Be sure they lock it up before they leave. There were two cars stolen in my neighborhood last month."
"10-4, Zebra 3."
"Boy, that took a lot less time than I thought," the blond said, turning to his partner behind the wheel.
"That's `cause you told them they only needed to work on the radio. If they'd put in enough time to make that junker passable, it would have taken at least a week!" Starsky smiled his typical lopsided grin when the blond couldn't come up with a quick response.
The mechanic was careful to lock up the sergeant's car before joining his coworker in the waiting sedan. Jacob didn't show his face until the car had pulled from the curb and turned the corner. Jimmying the door of the LTD was the easy part. Good thing I got a lotta mechanical know-how of my own. This is gonna be something my daddy would've been proud of! Have to finish it quick, though. Almost quitting time for the dynamic duo. He kept an ear out, making sure the detectives weren't returning before he was finished or that there were any witnesses to his tampering. It wouldn't do to have someone fink on him after all his hard work.
He giggled maniacally to himself, picturing in his mind how it would happen. "This is gonna be great!" he laughed. "And come tomorrow morning, ain't nobody gonna admire ol' pretty boy ever again!" He extracted a glass bottle and a bag-and-tube contraption from the brown paper bag he held, placing it carefully.
"Well, after this, the secret'll be out - they're not going to think this one is an accident. But by then it'll be done, and I'll have what I want most!" He laughed again, an evil sound full of hatred and insanity.
"Thanks for stopping at the market, Starsk," Hutch told his partner as the Torino pulled up behind the already-delivered LTD. The blond sat in the front seat with a large bag sandwiched between himself and the driver. "I don't think I could face the morning without my breakfast drink."
"I don't know how you can survive on nothin' but a glassful of mush to start the mornin'. An active guy like you should need a feast!"
"If I ate like you do, I'd feel loggy all day! I don't know how you do it. But now that I've got my new blender, things'll go on like normal," Hutch commented.
He pushed the door open and stood, reaching back into the passenger compartment for his groceries. He lugged the extra-heavy bag as Starsky called after him, "sure you wouldn't like a hand with that? It looks awful heavy!" knowing full well that his partner would never allow him to assist.
"Yeah," Hutch agreed, shutting the car door and leaning back in through the open window. "Hey, you wanna come up for a while? I could make some stir-fry and I'll bet you a day's pay I can beat you at Monopoly."
"Okay, partner," Starsky enthused as he opened his own door and shut off the engine. "But I don't wanna bet. You're gettin' too good at this game. Must be your inbred fiscal streak." He paused for a moment, "Hey! Before we go in, why don't we check out your new radio?"
"Why, Starsk?" the blond questioned. "It's just a radio."
"Yeah, but you never know what new technology they're gonna come up with next."
"Okay, okay," Hutch finally agreed, heading back toward his own car. The taller man crossed to the street side of the car and put the key in the lock, noticing that the mechanic had remembered to lock up the vehicle before he'd left. "At least they managed to do that," he commented sarcastically. "After all, this isn't the best neighborhood, and with how often my apartment has been broken into . . ."
"Hey, the hood is still warm," Starsky noticed, leaning a hand on the front of the car. "They must not have left it here all that long ago."
"Why is it they always leave fixin' my car for last! I swear, they fix every car in that place before they even `find time' for mine."
"Maybe they just don't want to waste their time on a car whose days are numbered," Starsky smiled wickedly.
"Are you kidding?!" Hutchinson exclaimed as he pulled the door open. "Now that the radio's fixed, this car is only slightly less than perfect!"
"It's the `slightly' part that worries me . . ." Starsky began as his blond partner set the heavy grocery bag down on the driver's seat. Suddenly, Hutch jumped back, knocking his head on the edge of the car roof, as liquid squirted from the steering wheel. For a split second, the thought occurred to him that his partner had convinced the boys in the PD garage to boobytrap the car; Starsky would love nothing more than to see his partner drenched in his own vehicle. The thought, though, fled as fast as it came when both officers looked to the car seat back where the `water' had landed.
The upholstery on the back of the seat, just above where the blond's neck would have been if he'd been sitting, smoked and sizzled, finally melting away entirely to reveal the padding underneath.
"What the hell? . . ." Starsky started, still staring at the mess in Hutch's front seat. He saw his stunned partner out of the corner of his eye, rubbing the back of his head where a tender egg was rising. Starsky turned the blond to face him and looked into the glazed eyes. "Hutch?" he tried. "Hutch! You okay?"
It took a moment, but his partner finally came aware. "D'ya think you need to go to the hospital, buddy?"
"Oh . . . No, it's okay, just a lump . . . Starsk," he began to question, turning concerned eyes to the brunet, "why would someone do that?"
"I don't know," Starsky responded, rubbing up and down Hutch's arms in comfort. "If this was a joke, someone's really got a sick sense of humor! Look, let's go inside and call the lab team. Maybe they can lift some prints or something."
The brunet led the still-partially stunned officer to his own apartment, unlocking the door and pushing him down on the couch, then calling the precinct. Once that was taken care of, Starsky decided he needed to care for his partner. The kitchen freezer rewarded him with a full ice tray, and Starsky filled a washcloth with the frozen cubes.
Hutch winced as Starsky placed the cold pack against the lump on his head. "Here, this'll make it feel better. Take down the swellin', too."
"Starsky?" Hutch asked. It was the first time he'd spoken since coming into the apartment.
"What would've happened if I had sat down in the seat instead of putting the bag there?" The tone was childlike, asking Starsky to confirm what he actually already knew to be true.
"Let's not talk about that right now, okay? The team should be here any minute, and then we'll know more." Starsky looked concerned, belying the casual tone of his words.
"It looked like acid, Starsky . . ." Hutch began, and once he started talking, he couldn't seem to stop. "The way it burned the seat . . . that could've been me . . . wouldn't have killed me . . . just made me wish it had . . . burned my face . . . who would do this . . .?"
"Don't worry, buddy. We'll figure it out. Just be patient and it'll be okay." Starsky was rattled at seeing the blond in this frazzled state. There had been attempts on both their lives before, but he'd never seen Hutch quite so shaken. "You're okay - remember that!"
Hutchinson jumped up when he heard a car pull up in front of Venice Place. He looked out the window and saw the lab van parked behind the Torino. Suddenly, everything was functioning again. "It's the crime lab team," he informed Starsky, as though he hadn't already figured it out. "We'd better go down and meet them."
Starsky followed the blond out as he flew down the stairs. Patrick Esteban met them halfway up the sidewalk. "How'd I get so lucky that they'd send you?" Hutch asked the dark, handsome man as they shook hands.
"No luck to it this time, man," the specialist responded, "we always look out after our own!" The denial of luck said a lot about the man, who always maintained that, since he'd been born of Mexican and Irish parentage, both luck and the Man above were vital parts of his continued survival. "Now what happened?"
Starsky led the way to the LTD, explaining exactly what had happened, with Hutch interjecting a comment or two along the way. "Man, what a mess!" Esteban exclaimed as he examined the driver's seat. Both officers were surprised to see that the cloth and the stuffing of the seat had deteriorated even more since they'd gone upstairs. "Looks like some caustic substance, maybe a type of acid." He looked up into Hutch's concerned eyes. "Don't worry," he reassured, patting the blond on the arm, "we'll get the samples to the lab and have an answer for you in just a couple hours."
His words were kind, but they caused the tall officer to finally erupt. "Don't worry? DON'T WORRY? How can you possibly expect me not to worry when someone we can't identify tries to subtly burn my face off!"
"C'mon, Hutch," Starsky tried to calm him, "we just got to figure out why someone would want to do something like this." The brunet knew that taking the business-like approach would help distract his partner from the personal part. If that was possible, that is. "Well, look at it this way, Hutch. I'm finally gonna get my way; you're going to have to get this hunk of junk reupholstered."
Esteban stood up from examining the seat. "I think you'd be better off planning on replacing the entire seat. The damage is going to be real tough to cover up since the padding started melting. Probably easier to get a whole new front seat. That is, provided that you don't decide to trash this junker, or it quits all on its own."
Silence descended on the team as Starsky and Hutch watched them evaluate samples, take pictures, and go over the scene with a fine-tooth comb. When they began lifting fingerprints, Hutch questioned them, "Do you really think that whoever did this would leave prints behind?"
"Can't take any chances," Patrick said, "you know that, Hutch. It'll be worth it, even if all the prints turn out to be yours and Starsky's."
"I'm afraid it's not going to be that easy, Patrick," Starsky responded. "Hutch's car was in the police garage most of today. Any or all of the mechanics' prints could be in there, too."
"They worked on the interior of the car?" Esteban questioned.
"Yeah, on the radio system," Hutch answered. "Their hands could've been all over that front seat area."
"We'll just have to get comparative print samples from them too. Then see if there are any we can't identify. It'll take awhile, but it's the only option."
Hutch finally worked up enough courage to ask the question he'd been contemplating. "Pat, from what you can see, was the person who set this up trying to kill me?"
The scientist thought silently for a moment before answering the blond's question. "Offhand, I'd say no. The perpetrator would have to be extremely incompetent not to know that this wouldn't kill you. If he knew what he was doing - and it sure looks like he did - I'd say he wanted to burn you, not kill you."
Expressive blue eyes turned to his partner. "Who in this world would want to hurt me like that but not kill me?"
"I have no idea, partner." Starsky shook his head to reinforce his words, feeling helpless to comfort his partner and angry at whoever it was who was pulling this. "The lab team'll be workin' on it, and we'll check our files. We'll get `im before he tries again." Hutch smiled slightly, causing Starsky to smile back. "I wouldn't be much of a partner if I let every Tom, Dick, or Looney go after ya!"
Hutch chuckled and nodded, finding his fear allayed slightly, as he let himself be led to the Torino.
Harold Dobey's eyes followed Hutch as he paced in front of the captain's desk. "Look, Hutchinson, why don't you sit down. Working yourself into a state isn't gonna get the lab results here any faster."
Hutch continued his walking, and the black man behind the desk turned beseeching eyes toward Starsky. The blond's partner finally stood and went to his friend. He didn't need to say anything; a gentle hand on each shoulder guided the still-stunned man to the chair next to the one Starsky had occupied. Dobey and Starsky both breathed a sigh of relief at Hutch's finally calming down, until the pent up energy manifested itself in Hutch's starting to drum his fingers.
"Hutch," Starsky finally spoke, quietly and with a slight smile, "if you don't stop that, I'm gonna lose it and have to kill you."
"Stop what?" Could the blond really have no idea what he'd been doing? It was possible.
"Drumming your fingers. Cut it out or I'll cuff you." Hutch laced his fingers together and lay both hands in his lap, shifting his eyes like he wasn't sure where to look.
When the phone rang, both partners practically jumped out of their skin. Dobey grabbed the phone, and after a few "uh huh"s and "yeah"s, he thanked the caller and hung up. "No unidentified prints. Lab says it was run-of-the-mill acid and scientific equipment. He could've gotten it anywhere. And it definitely would not have killed you."
"Maybe it was just a mistake," Starsky volunteered, trying to raise the palpable low spirits of his partner. "Whoever it was might've gotten the wrong car. I mean, this was the only attempt. I don't think there'll be another one." He looked up hopefully, wondering if either of the other two men would be able to believe a statement he didn't even believe himself.
"That's an awful big pill to swallow, Dave," Dobey finally said. "I mean, how many times is Hutch's car parked in front of his place without his being at home? Whoever the perpetrator is, he had to know exactly what Hutch was doing and when. No, I've got a feeling Hutch was just who he intended to hurt, and the man operates like a pro."
"You know, it's crazy," Hutch finally spoke. "I can think of a whole city's worth of people who wouldn't mind killing me, but not a single person who might want to do something like this."
"Maybe whoever it is just thinks that dyin' is too easy," the brunet volunteered. "Maybe he figures you'd be hurt a lot more if you have to live . . . . uhhhh . . . maimed."
"That means," the Captain ordered, "that the next step is R & I. Get going, you two. I want this nut nabbed before he gets a chance to try again."
He noticed as they filed from the room, that Hutch's face was grim, but Starsky's offset it by being both determined and encouraging. Dobey thought for what seemed like the millionth time since he'd met these two how glad he was that they were partners. Hutch needed someone like Starsky, especially at times like this. What made the relationship perfect, was the reverse proved true as well. Perfect partnerships were rare and very valuable.
Starsky pulled the last folder off the desk as Hutch closed the one he held and added it to the large pile at the end of the table. So far, their search had turned up absolutely nothing. Nobody they'd put away had recently escaped or been released, all known family members, friends, and accomplices were accounted for, even as far back as Hutch's uniform days. The blond stood and looked at the final file over his partner's shoulder. He hadn't gotten past the first paragraph when Starsky slammed the folder shut.
"Damn!" the brunet's frustration finally broke loose. "There's absolutely nothin' here!" He looked around and up at his partner, two pairs of blue eyes meeting. It had been a long time since Starsky had seen fear in those vibrant blue depths, but this time he did, along with a little embarrassment at Hutch's being so transparent to anybody, even his best friend. It mellowed Starsky's anger, turning his tone gentle. "Hey, you hungry?"
Hutch shrugged noncommittally, so Starsky went on. "How about we go get a pizza, then we'll head back to your place. And in case you haven't guessed already, I've got dibs on your couch tonight."
"For once, you'll get no argument from me. D'ya think you could take these back to R & I while I make a phone call? Then we can go have dinner."
"Phone call?" Starsky questioned.
"Yeah, I've got a date I'd better break - Cheryl, tomorrow for dinner. I'd hate to have some innocent woman hurt because someone wants revenge on me." Hutch didn't looked pleased at having a freeze put on his social life, but he knew he had to do what was best for the lady involved.
They chose Mama Novelli's restaurant because they knew it would be well lit and probably busy. Nobody would be stupid enough to come after the blond in the midst of a crowd of diners.
The waitress was quick to bring them the beers they ordered, along with neatly-printed menus. "What d'you want on your pizza?" Starsky asked.
"How about something new. Hey, one of the girls at the station was raving about a `Hawaiian Pizza' she tried. Sounded really good!"
"What, if I may ask, is on a `Hawaiian Pizza'?" Starsky looked skeptical.
"Well, just like most pizza, tomato sauce, cheese, and then just to add flavor, ham and pineapple!" Hutch smiled and his dark-haired partner cringed.
"Ham and pineapple? You've got to be kiddin' me!"
"Hey, ham is a whole lot better for you than pepperoni, and the pineapple will probably be the only thing from the `fruit & vegetable' food group that you eat this week besides French Fries! I know you won't go for something really healthy, but this is the next best thing! Let's just try it," Hutch urged. "If we don't like it, we can order another with the regular stuff."
After they'd placed their order, Starsky looked at the blond again. "You fully realize that if Ma saw me eating this monstrosity you wanted, she'd have a fit."
"Oh, Starsk! I know Jewish people don't eat ham or pork, but you're not exactly `practicing', and it sure didn't stop you from making a pig, forgive the pun, of yourself on that ham-and-cheese-on-rye the other day!"
"Okay, okay. Bring on the Hawaiian Pizza," Starsky said, resigning himself to his partner's wishes. While they waited, the brunet studied his fidgety friend, watching as Hutch's eyes kept an alert look over the restaurant, his body remaining tense, poised to move.
"Hutch . . ." There was no response from the blond. "Hutch!"
"What!?" He sounded aggitated, ready for a fight.
"Hey," Starsky softly muttered, laying a calming hand on Hutch's forearm as it rested on the table, "partner, it's gonna be okay. We're in a restaurant full of people - who'd dare touch you here?"
"The same person who'd dare try to get me right in my own car, right in front of my own apartment."
"Well, I'll take care of ya, blondie," Starsky smiled.
"About that . . . I've been thinking, Starsky. I don't think you should plan on staying at my place tonight." Hutch didn't look happy at the prospect, and Starsky knew he didn't like it.
Hutch moved his arms and folded the hands in his lap, staring at them. "It'd just be better, that's all."
Starsky continued to stare at the blond for a few more moments, then voiced what Hutch didn't want to.
"You mean, because if I'm not there, I can't accidently get caught in one of this nutbar's traps? Because he knows where you live and could come at you any time? For the same reason you broke that date? C'mon, Hutch, we've faced dangers together before. Why is this time so different?"
"But you could get what's meant for me!" Hutch shouted plaintively, and the other diners turned towards the pair. Hutch lowered his voice. "It's like being back in that burning barn, knowing you might die because I crossed the wrong person. I can't let you get hurt because you're with me. I'd never be able to forgive myself if I was fine and you were hurt because you were tryin' to protect me." Beseeching eyes turned to his partner's deep blue ones, pleading for understanding.
"Hutch, you're the most important person in my life, closer than my own brother," Starsky admitted, laying a hand on his friends forearm, but turning his eyes downward at the admission, as if he was trying to shelter his emotions from the surrounding crowd. "And if you think I could survive knowing I'd let you get hurt, then you don't know me as well as we both think."
The blond winced at his partner's forceful tone, brooking no arguments on the matter.
The waitress' arrival with their pizza halted the conversation, and Hutch's spirits seemed to lift at the aroma. "Mmmmmm! Starsky, you're gonna love this, I promise."
"I'd better!" Starsky commented, sniffing.
"C'mon, I've seen you eat, and love, by the way, a lot stranger things than this. Just try it!"
The brunet took a tiny bite from the tip of a slice, including a smidgeon of ham and pineapple. Expressionless, he chewed, swallowed, then came back for another, larger mouthful. "Hey, partner!" he exclaimed around a mouthful, "I think you're onto something here!" As he dipped back into the pan for a second slice, the blue eyes sparkled as his partner looked at him. "Well, I just want to make sure that it's safe for you to eat!" The blond swallowed his own bite, patted his mouth with a napkin, and smiled for the first time since their meeting in Dobey's office. Starsky was relieved enough to be able to enjoy the rest of his meal, finishing several slices of the unusual delicacy to which he'd just been introduced.
Truth be told, Ken Hutchinson was very surprised when he woke up the next morning still intact and in good health. Somehow, during the night, he'd gotten the distinct feeling that all had not gone right the night before, although it had. But the face in the bathroom mirror and the body in the shower were the same as they'd been yesterday, last week, last month. He left the bathroom with a towel wrapped around him, stopping on the way to the dresser to wake his still-slumbering partner.
"Starsk, you'd better get up or we'll be late for work," he told him.
"As someone I know once said, what if we were? Would the world come to an end? Would the entire city go to pot? Would every criminal in jail get loose and every criminal on the street go on a spree?" Starsky rubbed the sleep from his eyes anyway and rose off the couch. Hutch had turned in before Starsky settled down for the night, and the blond saw now that his clothes were draped over the living room chair, except for the brunet's shorts which he'd slept in. Hutch picked up a spare robe from his dresser drawer and threw it at his partner, who was stretching and scratching, but making no headway toward the bathroom. Not for the first time, Hutch was glad that nobody on the greenhouse side of the apartment was able to see in, since it allowed him, and in this case Starsky, freedom inside the one-room apartment.
"Shower's free!" Hutch yelled from behind the room divider as he pulled on his slacks. It didn't take long before Starsky was finished with his shower and dressed in the clothes he kept stored at that apartment. The brunet rolled the rest of the previous day's dirty clothes inside the jeans, and they were thrown into the Torino's back seat when they left for work a few minutes later.
The first stop of the day was Huggy's apartment, but the thin black man was not thrilled at being awakened before nine o'clock in the morning.
"Hey, man!" he reprimanded the pair when they rapped on his door, "don't you know that we barkeeps are up late most nights? Hell, I haven't been asleep for more than four hours!!" He grumbled more under his breath that the pair was unable to make out.
"It couldn't wait, Hug," Starsky said without preamble. "Have you heard about anything going down against Hutch?"
"Oh, no!" Huggy cringed, looking at the silent blond. "Don't tell me you've got twenty-four hours to live now!" They would have thought he was joking if his expression hadn't been so serious.
"Not this time," the blond spoke quietly. "But somebody is definitely out to get me."
"Well, we can thank heaven for that! How many attempts have there been?"
"One, so far . . ." Starsky began.
"Two. At least," Hutch interrupted. The brunet turned puzzled eyes at the interruption.
"What d'you mean two? You been holding out on me, partner?"
"I got to thinking last night. Hell, what else did I have to do - I sure wasn't gonna get any sleep! Well, it's too late to check into it now, but that radio blowing the other day might not have been the accident it seemed." He looked grim at the lost opportunity.
"Why is it too late to check on it?"
"I called the police garage before you got up this morning. My old radio is long gone, out with the garbage. But the car was in the police parking lot all day. Anyone could have tampered with it."
Huggy interrupted the two way conversation. It only seemed right, since they were standing in the middle of his living room. "Well, my law enforcing friends, I haven't heard anything, but you can be sure that Huggy Bear will keep his ear to the ground and let you know if I do."
"Thanks a lot, Hug," Starsky patted him on the arm. "We'll be in touch." He led the way out of the apartment, feeling the static in the air which surrounded his partner. Hutch was on edge, and, if Starsky wasn't careful, he'd regret saying anything to him. The blond preferred silence when he was uptight, as opposed to Starsky, who tended to resort to excessive chatter when tense.
They spent the rest of the day cruising their territory, eyes alert for any sign that somebody might be paying extra-special attention to the man in the passenger seat of the Torino. Frustratingly enough, everybody seemed to be on their particularly best behavior and even the pickpockets were keeping their hands where they belonged.
By lunchtime, the lack of results had driven Hutch into a withdrawn state which really concerned his dark-haired partner. "So," he asked, breaking the silence that hung over their heads like a blanket, "where would you like to go for lunch?"
"Any place is fine," Hutch answered disinterestedly. "Whereever." Starsky did his best to try to hide the smile when he thought of where they'd have lunch. This is sure to cheer the blintz up!
Two miles and three turns later, Starsky pulled the red car in front of a rustic-looking building, clean and neat, but not overly classy-looking. When he jumped from the car and Hutch didn't follow, he leaned back in the window. "You comin'? Or am I gonna have to eat this stuff alone?"
The direct question brought the blond out of his reverie, and he looked for the first time at the restaurant. "Adam's Garden of Eden," he read aloud. "What is this place, Starsk?"
The brunet couldn't contain the smile any longer. "Only the newest, most innovative buffet in town. And it's full of all that macrobiotic junk that you love so much. C'mon, partner. It's `all you can eat', and I'm treating!"
Hutch's face brightened, and his partner sighed with relief as he watched the man devour a plateful of some unknown substance, then go back for seconds. At least he won't starve, Starsky observed, appreciating the two women who approached the blond right in front of the eggplant casserole. They spoke for a few moments, then parted ways, Hutch returning to his table.
"Hey, those were some foxes, partner. Why didn't you ask `em to join us?"
"I don't want them, or anybody else, to get involved in all of this. You're bad enough." Starsky's face fell, not believing Hutch would let a chance like this get by. "Don't worry, partner," Hutch said, picking up on his thoughts. "They're going to leave us their numbers, and I promised we'd call when we've `freed ourselves of our current workload'."
"Hey, that's great!" Starsky agreed, going back to happily chewing on a whole-wheat dinner role.
The duty shift ended with the pair still having no luck in locating whoever was apparently trying to injure Hutch. Both men held their breaths as the blond turned the key in the lock, then hesitantly pushed the door open. But there was no more threat there, it seemed, than they had encountered all day.
"Hey, partner," Starsky offered, "maybe whoever it was just gave up. Or maybe it really was a mistake and they were after someone else!"
"That's supposed to make me feel better?" the blond questioned. "Well, I don't know who's responsible, but I just can't believe it was a mistake, and you don't either!"
He went immediately to the telephone and dialed a long number. "Who're you calling, buddy?" Starsky wondered. "We've already checked with every source we know."
"Well, we've checked into everybody we know now, and came up with nothing. So I figure it's time I check up on everybody I used to know." His attention suddenly went to the receiver in his hand. "Hi, Mom. How are you?" He listened for a bit, then spoke up again. "Mom, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I've got something important I need to ask you about. Did you . . . uhhh, have you, uhhh, heard anything lately about somebody who might be looking for me? Maybe someone from back home? . . . No, huh? Well, what about folks from home who've come West. D'you know of anybody other than me who moved out here? Nobody? . . . Oh, too bad . . . no, Mom, I'm not feeling homesick . . . it's just . . . no, Mom, it's nothing you need to worry about. I'm just fine, I was just checking up . . . I gotta go, so I'll call you later . . . I promise, Mom. I'll call tomorrow. Definitely no later than the next day. Bye, Mom. And don't worry!" His last wish wasn't quite out of his mouth before the phone was in the cradle. "If she can worry over nothing, can you imagine what she'd do if she knew that someone was going after me? Better to keep her in the dark, at least for now."
"I dunno, Hutch," Starsky said conversationally after having listened to the entire exchange, "sounded like you were purposefully deceiving your mother to me!"
"Oh, shut up!" Hutch laughed as he threw a pillow in Starsky's direction. At least now that he was home, he felt secure. With the new lock he'd recently installed, it was sure the culprit couldn't come after him in his own apartment. "I'll throw together something for dinner - why don't you get out the blanket and pillow you've been using from the closet. I presume you're staying the night again?"
"Until we catch this nut, yes," Starsky said, straining to reach the top shelf and at the same time watching his partner getting ready to stuff something in the oven. "Why the hell do you have to put everything just out of my reach? You knew I'd be the one pulling it down tonight!"
"Well, I'm sorry, Starsk. Next time, I'll get my hammer and saw and lower the shelf, just for . . ." Starsky's gaze was yanked back to the kitchen again, as the blond's words were cut off by a massive bang as he opened the oven door.
Everything seemed to run in slow motion from that very second as Starsky looked on helplessly. First there was the flash, then the door to the oven flew off, propelled into Hutch, throwing him head over heels over the kitchen table and chairs. His body twisted horribly in the air and came down with a crunch between the same table and the end table a few feet away. The flames continued to leap from the oven, and Starsky was finally able to move, quickly locating the fire extinguisher and putting out the fire. The smoke filled the room in seconds, but there wasn't anywhere for it to go. Holding his hand over his mouth as he coughed and choked, the brunet made his way to the telephone.
He dialed, peering through eyes which teared and streamed from the smoke. "This is Sergeant Starsky," he told the operator without preamble. "I'm at 1027-1/2 Ocean, Hutchinson's apartment. We've got an emergency here. Send the fire department, the bomb squad, and an ambulance. My partner's hurt." He slammed the phone back down and went to check on his friend.
Hutch had landed flat on his back, and Starsky gently ran a hand along each limb, looking for definite signs of a break, but he found none. Next he checked the yellow-haired skull. Surely there would have to be an injury here. After all, Hutch was still unconscious and . . .
Starsky carefully checked his partner's pupils, finding that they responded as they should when he shone a light directly in them. He couldn't think of much else to do except pray. The explosion played itself back in his mind a hundred times, it seemed, as he sat beside his silent partner, waiting for the ambulance. The one hundred and first time was interrupted, however, by a groan from alongside him. "Hutch?" He laid a hand on the blond's cheek. "Hutch, c'mon. Wake up, buddy. You've really got me scared here, partner." When Hutch didn't react, his partner started to get desperate. "C'mon, Hutch! You can't let the bastard win! I promised we'd get `im, but that meant with your help! C'mon, Hutch!"
Slowly, the groan was repeated, and finally the blue eyes were opening. "That's it, partner. That's it!" When he saw the eyes focused on him, Starsky shifted his position so he was above the patient, looking directly into his face. "How're ya doing?"
"Uhhhnnnn," Hutch managed, his thoughts still scrambled. "Uh, Starsk?"
"I hurt all over. I don't think I can get up. What happened?"
"Looks like your stove exploded. But don't worry, an ambulance is on it's way, and they'll have you to the hospital pronto. Just stay with me, buddy." As he was becoming more aware, Hutch noticed how concerned Starsky looked.
"Not goin' anywhere, partner. I know I can't get up, but I don't think I'm dyin' or anything." He groaned again. "I think I pulled every muscle in my body, though." He paused just for a moment. "Was it him, Starsk?"
"I don't know. Could just be that antiquated stove you've got. Patrick Esteban should be here soon and he'll be able to tell us." I hope.
Starsky raised his eyes toward the door. "Speak of the devil!" he exclaimed, as Esteban led the fire company's detachment into the apartment.
Seeing that the fire was under control, he turned to release the firefighters crowding into the apartment. "It's okay, guys. Looks like they got it put out - you're released." The apartment emptied quickly, which was a good thing, because no sooner did the fire department leave than the ambulance arrived. Two attendants rolled a gurney toward the downed figure.
The senior member of the crew turned to the junior. "Better go down to the ambulance and bring in a back board. If he hasn't got a back injury, it'll be a miracle." Hutch overheard the comment, and it shot through him like wild fire. Back injury. BACK INJURY! People become paralyzed from back injuries. He turned beseeching eyes to the dark-haired man by his side. I don't want to be paralyzed, Starsk!
Starsky didn't speak, but his look settled the blond and got him thinking. Wait. If I was paralyzed, the muscles in my legs wouldn't hurt so bad. Must mean it'll be okay. The blond groaned again as three pairs of hands, the paramedics' and Starsky's, rolled him gently onto the back board.
"Starsk," Hutch called as they were rolling him out the door, "stay here with Esteban and find out what happened. Please."
"Are you sure, partner?" Starsky inquired, wanting to go with him.
"Yeah, really. They won't let you in the ER with me anyway, and I need you here. Come to the hospital when you're done - they'll probably be done with me by then."
"Okay, partner. If it's what you really want, I'll go along with it." He squeezed the blond's hand one last time before they rolled him out the door.
Jacob had listened intently from the time he had heard the pair come into the building, waiting for the evidence that his trap had been sprung. When it finally came, the explosion wasn't particularly loud, but he heard it nonetheless.
Addams' smile was broad, and he practically bounced around the room at the thought of what Hutchinson must look like now. He had a fleeting concern that his neighbor's partner could have been the one to set off the explosion, and it bothered him slightly. Starsky didn't have the pretty-boy looks of his partner, and he had no compulsions to include the dark-haired man in his quest. It would be unfortunate if he'd been hurt.
When Jacob heard the ambulance crew coming out of the apartment, he walked softly to the door and opened it a crack. The person on the stretcher they wheeled out was wrapped and secured snugly, and Jacob couldn't see the man's face, but the blond hair that stuck out at the top told him he'd succeeded. He smiled silently, venomously, and shut the door again, a feeling of well-earned pride welling inside him.
Starsky watched nervously as Patrick Esteban seemed to take forever in examining the stove. The man commented little, only grunting here and there when he found something of particular interest. When he finally finished with the oven itself, he duplicated the same procedure with the door, which now lay halfway between Hutch's kitchen and living room. The fire investigator collected a small evidence bag full of pieces he'd removed from the cooking equipment.
"What's that?" Starsky finally asked, motioning to the clear plastic bag.
"That, my dear Starsky," Patrick replied, "are the pieces left over from a bomb. An incendiary bomb, to be precise."
"So this wasn't just a result of an old stove, huh?" Starsky looked grim, his expression matching Esteban's own.
"No, I'm afraid not."
Starsky cringed as he looked at the oven door on the floor. "Must've been a hell of a lot of explosive to blow the door off. We're lucky Hutch's still in one piece."
"Actually," Patrick explained, "there wasn't really a lot of explosive at all. The door flying off was just a matter of it being old - the hinges were badly worn."
"It could've killed Hutch when it hit him . . ."
"You're not gonna believe this, Starsky, but that door, hitting him the way it did, quite probably saved him a whole lot of pain." Patrick turned to the curly-headed detective. "It might've even saved his life."
"I don't get it," Starsky looked back, confused. "What d'ya mean?"
"Starsky, that bomb was incendiary. If the door hadn't flown off because of the weak hinges - throwing Hutch out of the way - the bomb and the flames it spewed would've set fire to your partner." At the brunet's shocked look, he added another piece of bad news: "And I think that was exactly what the bomber had in mind. It's just too easy to build a simple exploding bomb for someone to go to the trouble of building an incendiary version unless he really wanted one."
"Thanks a lot," Starsky said, sounding extremely nervous. "Are you just about done here?"
"Yeah," Esteban agreed, putting away the evidence.
"Well, I'd better get to the hospital. We still don't know who's doing this, and I'm not too crazy about his being left alone there."
"Surely he's safe in a hospital," Patrick offered, worrying about Starsky as well as his partner.
"Patrick, so far this freak has tried to hit Hutch in his own car, in the police parking lot, and in his own apartment! I don't believe for a second that someone who could do that wouldn't be able to get into a simple hospital. Visitors and staff are coming and going all the time."
"Yeah, I guess so," the specialist agreed, walking with Starsky down the stairs after the brunet had locked up the apartment.
When Starsky arrived at the hospital and pushed his way into the emergency room, the doctor was just finishing up with his partner, who was sitting on the small bed with the front half raised to support his head and back. The doctor was showing Hutch a piece of medical equipment, and Starsky played particular attention to what was being said, the blond still unaware of his presence.
"Now, Officer Hutchinson, this is a standard, run-of-the-mill back brace. I'm going to have to insist that you wear one constantly for the next couple of weeks, then as needed after that. There are signs that this is not the first time you've wrenched your back, and badly. I'm not sure if it can take it happening again. I'm going to put this one on you now, and let you go home. That is, if you have someone who can take you and make sure you get settled."
Starsky interrupted at this point, surprising Hutch when he saw the brunet. "That's my department, doctor."
"And who are you, if I may ask?" the doctor questioned politely.
"I'm Detective Hutchinson's partner. I'll take him home and put him to bed, I promise."
"Very well. I'll give you his prescription, and you'll have to stop and have it filled. But let me make this very clear," he said, turning back to the blond. "Once you are home, you are to be completely and totally off your feet for the rest of today. Absolutely no standing or walking. Tomorrow, you can try getting up and walking a little, but no more than ten minutes at a time, and no bending or lifting. The next day you can increase to twenty minutes, and so on and so on. I want you back here for a checkup in four days - no more. Less if you have any problems."
"That's fine, doctor," Hutch agreed, but Starsky saw the worry in his eyes. "But there's something I need to know. You said that after two weeks, I'd have to wear the brace `as needed'. How long will it be before I never need it."
"Well, the truth is, Ken, that you may always need it when it's damp or the weather changes. On the other hand, you may be able to ditch it entirely within, oh, two or three months. It's just too early to tell right now." Hutch's breaths began to come faster, his eyes round as he turned to look at Starsky, and the brunet knew what had his partner so upset.
"Doc," David Starsky started, hesitantly, "on the days when he has to wear the brace . . . I mean, after the two weeks are over . . . will Hutch be able to operate like normal?"
"You mean, will he be able to keep his badge?" The doctor smiled. "Well, being as fit as you are, aside from your back, I'd say yes. You'll be a little stiffer than you'd normally be, but no less functional than a lot of older cops I've seen still working the street. In case you didn't know it, I serve as backup physician for the police department, too, when Dr. Peterson is out, so I know what's required. As long as you can pass the agility requirements, you'll stay on the force."
Hutch heaved a heavy sigh, looking from his partner to his doctor with shining eyes. Starsky remembered hearing the paramedics talk about starting an IV with MS to kill the pain his partner had been in. It was obvious the drug was still working, even though the IV was removed, but he didn't know how long it would last.
David Starsky talked in hushed tones with the doctor as he watched him write out a prescription. The two nurses were carefully, gently removing Hutch's shirt and applying the brace, showing him exactly how it should go on in order to be most effective. I've gotta get him home before the painkiller wears off.
By the time the Emergency Room doctor had finished giving Starsky instructions, the nurses were helping Hutch from the bed into a wheelchair. He didn't look too unsteady, Starsky thought, watching carefully. The real test would be getting him up the stairs of Venice Place. But he knew Hutch, and he knew that the blond wouldn't let him take him anywhere else but home.
"Okay, buddy!" Starsky proclaimed, falling in step beside the chair as the nurse pushed it toward the door. "Let's get outta here and get you home."
Starsky wasn't sure whether it was the painkiller or the fear that was making his partner quieter than usual. Whichever it was, the ride home was filled with a pretty-much one-sided conversation, Starsky talking and Hutch agreeing or nodding where it was warranted. Starsky waved to the patrolman stationed out front of Venice place, silently thanking Dobey for thinking of it. Getting Hutch up the stairs was a lot easier than the brunet even hoped, the blond walking under his own power with only a slightly steadying hand needed on his arm to guide him.
Hutch drew the line when his partner started to help him take off his clothes in preparation for being put to bed. "Starsk!" he muttered, pulling weakly at the shirt that Starsky was trying to pull off. "I can do it myself!"
"My, aren't we feeling cocky all of a sudden! Okay, hotshot, you do it. D'you want anything to eat? I can't cook anything in the oven, but I could make something cold."
"No, thanks, buddy," Hutch answered, and Starsky noticed the difficulty he was having in removing his jeans.
"Hutch, at least for tonight, would you please let me help you? I have no doubt that by tomorrow morning you'll be itchin' to get up already, but for now, you need me."
"Okay, okay. You win. But just for the record, partner, I hate this!" Once Starsky had him stripped down to his underwear, he gently lowered him down onto the bed, stacking two pillows under the blond's head so he could see, but keeping his back flat on the firm mattress.
"Be right back," Starsky muttered, patting the closest arm. When he reappeared around the partition, he was holding the Magnum.
"What are you gonna do with that?" Hutch asked.
"I've gotta go to the drug store for your prescription, and if you think I'm leaving you defenseless, you're crazier than I've always thought."
"I'm afraid you're the crazy one here, buddy. Do you really think, given my, uhhh, situation, that I could lift, aim, and fire that thing? I mean, normally it's a piece of cake, but it does weigh a ton."
Until that moment, it hadn't occurred to Starsky, but it was easily rectified. Pulling his own automatic, he laid it on the bed next to Hutch's right hand and slid the Magnum, as best he could, into his own empty holster. "There. That should be a little more manageable, just in case. Between that and the guard out front, you should be okay while I'm gone."
"There is something else you can do for me before you go."
"What's that, buddy?"
"I could really use something to drink after all. You think you could get me a glass of something?"
"Sure, partner." Starsky poked his head in the refrigerator and was instantly reminded of the bag of groceries that the lab guys had taken as evidence what seemed like a million years ago. "Sorry, partner, but it looks like all you've got left is goats' milk and pop. You want a Pepsi or a glass of milk?"
"The cola is fine, this time," Hutch yelled back, and Starsky popped open the can and poured some of the contents into an amber-colored glass that had been sitting on the counter. "I'll just set it here so you can reach it," the brunet said as he gently lowered the glass and the can onto the bedside table. He'd only filled it a fraction of the way, which allowed Hutch to drink in his reclining position. "You gonna be okay `til I get back?"
"I'll be fine, Starsk. Get going." The blond smiled up at him and his partner playfully ruffled his hair before leaving the apartment.
Hutch took a few sips of the soda, then replaced it on the table, closing his eyes for a nap. With the sunlight streaming in through the greenhouse windows, he knew it wasn't likely that he would be able to actually sleep, but he could at least rest his eyes. He mentally went over a new tune he'd been constructing, imagining the notes, the chords, and the progressions. Wish I'd had Starsky get my sheet music before he left, he thought, wishing he could write down at least the melody before he forgot it.
He'd been resting for about thirty minutes when he realized he was thirsty again. The glass was still within reach, but as he tried, he found he was unable to pick it up. The fact of the matter was, he was entirely unable to move his arms, and that scared him. After trying first the right, then the left, he went through the entire routine, experimenting with each joint of each leg and then his head. I can't move!! I can't move at all!
The clock on the wall told him that Starsky should be back in the next thirty minutes, but the fear kept crawling into his throat, and he knew he needed help. "Help!" he screamed, hoping that a neighbor would hear. "HELP!!!!!"
He heard the front door click and thought that it must be Starsky, since anyone else would have either knocked or had to break the door down. "Starsk, is that you? Get in here quick, buddy. Something is really wrong."
But the face that appeared around the end of the room divider wasn't Starsky. As a matter of fact, it was a face he didn't recognize at all. "Who are you?" he asked, feeling the fear stronger now but not sure why. The man was silent, and Hutch asked again. "Who are you? Would you please help me?! I need a doctor."
"Naaah, you don't need that, Hutchinson. What'sa matter? Don't you recognize me? I've only been your neighbor for over six weeks now!"
"I'm sorry, I don't know you."
"Well, I know you. And I'm betting you that Monica does too, pretty boy." He walked closer to the bed, finally kneeling on the edge beside the motionless blond. "And I'm gonna be sure that you don't use those movie-star looks of yours to steal somebody else's girlfriend too."
"I don't know anyone named Monica," Hutch managed through trembling lips. "Are you responsible for what's been happening to me? For what's happening to me now?"
"You mean, because you suddenly can't move? Yeah, I guess you could say I'm responsible for that, pretty boy." Addams lifted the glass from the bedside table and studied it intently. "Just a light coating of a very rare drug, and I've got you at my mercy." The tone was menacing as Jacob drew his arm from behind his back, revealing a small, finely sharpened knife in his palm.
"But I've never done anything to you!" The blond said with fear in his voice.
"Sure you have. You and all those other pretty boys out there just like you. You make life impossible for normal guys like me. But I'm going to take care of that."
"By letting you see what it's like to go through life with a face and body that's less than perfect." He pressed the knife lightly to Hutch's chest, making a very shallow cut about two inches long. It wasn't much worse than a bad papercut, but the blond cringed and gasped, more from anticipation than the actual pain.
"No!!! You can't do this to me!" He began to talk quickly, hoping to distract the maniac in front of him. "Listen, you don't really want to hurt me, do you? I mean, okay, so I may have been blessed with good looks, but you're the one with the brains. Look where you are, and look where I am. Anyone will tell you that in the end it's better to be smart than good looking." He stopped, looking into the dark eyes, trying to figure out if he was making any headway. And for just a moment, he thought he had gotten somewhere. Then the face turned dark again.
"Nice try, Hutchinson, but I'm not that gullible. And now, if you'll permit me, I've got to get to work before the paralyzer wears off." He raised the slightly stained knife again, this time aiming for the blond's left cheek.
"NOOOOOOO!!" Hutch cried out, and before the blade could connect with flesh, a blue and brown streak of lightning bolted through the door and into the room.
"Freeze!!" Starsky yelled at the man, but the mysterious neighbor just changed his grip on the knife, holding it now more for stabbing than for cutting.
"You won't get me before I take him out, Starsky!" He raised the knife high, ready to thrust it into the helpless victim, when the brunet warned him one more time.
"Drop it, or I'll shoot!" Starsky saw the arm begin it's downward arc, and pulled the trigger slowly and carefully. But an eternal moment later, Hutch was safe and the perpetrator was laying across him, bleeding from a shoulder wound.
"Thought I got ya with the blender . . ." Addams muttered just before he passed out.
After Starsky called for an ambulance and zone car, he laid the stalker flat and slapped a clean washcloth over the bullet hole. "He's crazy, Starsky!" Hutch said, still out of breath from the shock. "I don't even know him!"
"What was that he said about the blender? Must've seemed important for it to be his last words before passing out."
"I think he was saying he was responsible for the blender blowing apart the other day. Chalk one more up to the manic stalker." They were silent for a moment, when Starsky heard his partner take a sharp breath.
"What is it, buddy? Are you hurting? Is it your back?"
"No, it's my arms. The drug he slipped me must be wearing off - my arms are all tingly. Like they're waking up." Starsky used the hand not occupied on the knife-wielder to massage the blond's arms, first one, then the other. "Ahhhh," Hutch moaned, "that feels great!"
"How about the legs - anything there yet?"
"It's just starting now. At least it is coming back. Not that I was worried or anything, you understand."
"Naaah," Starsky responded, "Mr. Macho himself? Worried? Of course, not." They looked at each other, both knowing how much bull was in the statements.
"I just don't understand, Starsk. I've never done anything to that guy; I've never even met him!" A shadow fell across the pale face. "He only wanted to hurt me because of the way I look! He wanted to make me ugly. Disfigured. He kept calling me `pretty boy'." The blue eyes pleaded to Starsky for him to make some sense of this. "Starsky, that's insane!"
"I know, partner. I know."
Starsky stood outside his blond partner's open bathroom door, watching him comb his hair. It looked like he had missed his last three barber appointments, the fine hair hanging considerably longer than Hutch usually let it get. It had been three months since they'd sentenced Jacob Addams to ten years in a state hospital, based mostly on the testimony of the curly-haired detective and the deposition of his partner, who had still been in bed healing when the hearing took place.
Starsky watched Hutch, so far dressed only up to the waist, strap himself into the back brace. It was a lighter version of the one the doctor had originally given him - providing support instead of restricting his movements - which the blond wore mostly when it rained, like it was today. Despite all Hutch's objections, the brunet could see the change in his friend. Only a small part of it was out of necessity. A loosely fitting T-shirt and a gaudy bowling shirt covered the medical hardware, and Hutch went to the mirror again as he tucked in the T-shirt.
"Hey, Starsk!" he called into the living room, "whaddaya think? Think I'd look good in a mustache?" He held a finger over his upper lip, simulating his new proposed appearance.
"I think that it's up to you, but I also think the ladies would like you a lot better without one." This gave the blond cause to think for a few moments while he was strapping on his holster.
Finally, he commented, "lots of guys have mustaches, and the ladies love them!"
"Well, like I said - it's up to you." Starsky didn't let Hutch see him cringe at the picture he'd painted in his mind of his clean-cut partner in a bushy mustache. I wonder if he really even knows what he's doing, Starsky wondered. It was almost like he was unconsciously sabotaging his looks. A mustache would be another nail in the coffin of the boyish good looks that had so short a time ago almost been taken from him irrevocably. Maybe he'll realize it before too long. Until then, just because it's different doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. I'm just not used to it yet.
Starsky had little doubt that somewhere inside the fearless police detective there was a terrified little boy, doing his best to, in the future, keep his older self from the kind of danger he'd just experienced. Perhaps the psychological healing would accompany the total physical healing. The doctor was still optimistic that one day the blond wouldn't need the brace even on rainy days. For now, at least he'd been certified fit for duty and they were back on the streets.
"Hey, Starsk?" the blond questioned, breaking the brunet's concentration.
"I asked you what was on your mind. Looked like something pretty heavy for a few minutes there!"
"Actually, I was just wondering where you ever got such an ugly shirt."
"Actually, I got it at a church rummage sale down the street. Well, since the doc still says I won't need this thing forever, there's no point in spending a lot of money on brand new shirts that are two sizes too big. So I picked up a bunch there that'll do on the days I need `em. Besides," the detective smiled devilishly, "I happen to like this shirt. And I've seen you wear a lot worse, buddy."
As Hutch led the way out of the apartment, Starsky commented at the man's back, "Yeah, but those colors!! I've never worn anything that a person needed sunglasses to look at."
"You just wait," the blond called over his shoulder, "this is one of the duller ones!" Hutch's laughter was jovial enough to wake the neighbors, and Starsky could hardly help but join in on the fun. Hell, it didn't matter what his partner wore or how he cut his hair or even if he had a hairy caterpillar on his lip. He was still the best damn partner a guy from New York could ever hope for. And Starsky thanked his lucky stars, God, and the world at large that he still had him. Little did he know that, at the same moment, Hutch was thanking the same parties for a certain curly-haired partner who, he knew, would stick by him through anything.