Comments about this story can be sent to: BUC252@aol.com
"How'd I ever let you talk me into this!" Ken Hutchinson, slouched in the front seat of the Torino, addressed his partner, who was half-concealed under the hood, leaning in over the right side of the car.
"C'mon, how was I supposed to know it would get so hot! The weatherman on TV said it wouldn't get more than 85 today. It was the perfect weekend for a drive to Mexico, and those two extra days we took off were just enough! It should've been a nice, comfortable ride home!"
"If you'd'a listened to the National Weather Service like I told you, you would've heard the right forecast. Then we wouldn't be in this mess!"
David Starsky extricated his upper body from the engine compartment of the overheating car, finally relieving his partner of the singularly uninteresting view of his backside. "I can't seem to get the engine cooled off enough to start," he muttered, approaching the passenger side of the car. He turned his frustrations back to the vehicle again. "Why couldn't you have quit closer to L.A.?! But nooo, you had to let us get all the way to Mexico and a few miles back before breaking down!"
"Starsky," Hutch spoke calmly, "you look ridiculous yelling at a car."
"Well, it's not my fault we're gonna have to walk. Blame it on the wheels!"
"Actually, we don't have to walk at all, not just yet. This is a state road -- a CHP patrol has gotta come by here sooner or later, and we'd be crazy to walk in this heat, anyway." Hutch reached over and pushed the driver's door open. "Get in and take a load off."
"We could wait forever for a patrol, Hutch."
"If nobody stops before sundown, we'll get out and walk when it's cooler. Who knows? The car might even start by then."
"I'm afraid that's a pipe dream, buddy. Looks like she's blown the engine."
"Well, whatever... It's not like we're gonna disappear off the face of the earth. Someone will come by eventually, either headed from or toward home. At this point, I don't think we can afford to be too particular, so long as they get us to a phone."
Starsky settled in the driver's seat, and Hutch pulled a deck of cards from his shirt pocket. For a time they busied themselves with a game of War, but after awhile they realized they just couldn't concentrate in the excessive heat. Both men were sweating profusely, with Hutchinson apparently suffering the worse for the heat. Small rivulets dripped down his sideburns and off his chin.
"I wasn't made for this kinda heat! It never got this hot in Minnesota!"
"It never gets hot period in Minnesota." Starsky noticed that his partner had tilted his blond head toward the window.
"Shhhh," Hutch said.
"What is it?"
"I think I hear someone coming!" When he heard the engine sound louder, Hutch pulled himself upright and pushed the door open, swinging his boot-clad feet onto the dry dirt of the shoulder of the road. "Maybe I can flag them down!"
He stood in the center of the road as the sedan approached. The man driving, whom Hutch judged to be in his late fifties, pulled the car to an inevitable stop near Hutch's kneecaps, but when the blond officer circled around the fender to the driver's door, the man suddenly gunned the engine and sped off in a flurry of dirt.
"You stupid jerk!" Hutch yelled after him.
"What'sa matter, partner? Couldn't charm him with your magnetic personality?"
"You think you can do better? You can try the next one!" Hutch returned to his seat in the Torino. "For what it's worth, I really hope you do better than I did. I don't know how much more of this heat I can take." He said it while fanning himself with a beach volleyball magazine he found stashed under the seat, but he said it with a smile, and Starsky knew he wasn't anywhere near his endurance level.
"It's been three hours, Starsk!" Hutch proclaimed, shaking his curly-haired partner from his sleep.
"So what! Lemme sleep," Starsky responded in a drowsy voice.
"I don't think anyone's comin'. Maybe we'd better start walking."
Starsky gave up on trying to get back to the wonderful dream he was having -- the luxurious redhead would have to wait until his next snooze. He pushed himself into an upright sitting position and rubbed the blur out of his eyes.
"You sure it's cooled off enough to walk?" Hutch only nodded his assent. "Look, why don't we give it one more hour, then we'll start walkin'."
"Okay, Starsk. You win this time. One more hour, but no more."
But it didn't take a full sixty minutes before the next car could be heard in the distance, coming up the road. It was coming from the direction of L.A., and Starsky jumped up to flag down the driver.
"Looks like he's coming from home! Think we can talk him into taking us back?"
"Maybe, but at least we should be able to get him to take us to the next pay phone in the direction he's going. That reminds me of something else -- why didn't you have the police garage put your radio back in before we left?"
"First of all, it wasn't done yet. Three bullets in a piece of electronic equipment like that can really mess it up. Besides, the signal wouldn't have reached home from here, anyway."
"Yeah, but it might've reached a shortwave near here. It's a very popular hobby, ya' know."
Starsky had no response for that, and went to stand in the middle of the road to flag down their fellow traveler. The royal blue Trans Am slowed when the driver saw Starsky, and pulled to a complete stop alongside the broken-down Torino. Starsky approached the driver's door, and this time the driver did not take off.
"What can I do for you?" The driver squinted into the bright late afternoon sun, trying to get a clear look at Starsky's face towering above him. He finally gave up and reached for the door handle. Starsky heard the click and backed away, giving the driver room to get out.
"Well, you see," Starsky began, turning his back on the driver and motioning to the red-striped car. At that moment, Hutch stepped out the passenger side and began to approach the talking men. "My car overheated, and we're stuck miles from civilization." As he finished the sentence, he turned back to the driver, who stood staring at the pair of officers with large, angry eyes. The man had blond, curly hair and stood at least three inches over Hutch's not-unassuming six-foot height.
"What'sa matter?" Starsky asked the man, who was very apparently upset. He held his arms ramrod stiff at his sides, and his hands were curled into fists the size of watermelons. He wore a T-shirt that was strained to its limits by the large chest and arm muscles. In a matter of microseconds, he raised one muscled fist and pushed it into Starsky's face, knocking him instantly to the ground, stunned. Hutch immediately rushed the man, who reached out a long arm and held him at bay by the front of the T-shirt.
"Why'd you hit him?! All he did was ask for help!"
"You don't remember me?! Of course not. I've changed a lot since then. Spent two years in the joint, paying my 'debt to society'. You two put me there! Spent most of it in the weight lifting room at the prison, just to keep from goin' crazy. I was lots skinnier before prison."
Starsky made an effort to rise, but his legs went out from under him, and Hutch and the traveler spun in circles before his eyes. Even so, he realized who the driver was before Hutch did. "Johnny Ryan! It's Johnny Ryan, Hutch."
Once Starsky said it, there was instant recognition in Hutch's eyes. "Let me go!" he yelled at Johnny, trying to pull out of the man's massive grip. "You'll only end up going back to jail if you hurt us." Hutch thought about his Magnum, hidden discretely under the front seat of the car. He acted quickly, bringing both hands up under the massive arm, dislodging its grip. Turning his back on the convict, Hutch raced for the Torino, pulling open the passenger door to reach for the gun. But even with the advantage, he couldn't move fast enough, and Ryan's hands once again locked on him, this time around his throat.
"Stop squirming, cop, or I'll choke every last breath out of you!" Hutch stopped struggling, keeping a hopeful eye over Ryan's shoulder. Maybe Starsk will wake up enough to hit him from the back! But hoping was useless, as Starsky was obviously down for the count.
"Let's just see what you were reachin' for, cop!" Ryan spat venomously. One massive hand, the one not holding Hutch by the neck, reached under the seat and pulled out the holster and the Magnum inside it. He single-handedly undid the safety snap and drew out the gun. "I'm not gonna kill you unless you make me. I'll just settle for a little 'retribution'."
Starsky chose that moment to regain some of his senses, and crawled to his knees, sneaking up behind the big man. Hutch actually thought for a second that he had a chance, too, when Ryan heard Starsky's knees shuffle and turned the gun on the dark-haired man. The convict's right finger tightened on the trigger while his left finger and thumb tightened around Hutch's throat.
"You stay put, too, Starsky! Otherwise you'll just live through the bullet wound long enough to see me strangle your partner." Starsky halted his approach, concern for Hutch's safety immediately on his face.
"Let 'im go, Ryan! C'mon, put him down!"
"I will, provided you cooperate. Now, I know you, Starsky, even if you didn't remember me. I know that somewhere in that red tomato of yours there's a pair of handcuffs. Get 'em! And don't try anything funny -- I still got your partner." Hutch's eyes had gone wide and his face had a distinct red hue from the choking. Starsky stood and walked to the now-open car door, flipping down the visor and letting a pair of cuffs drop to the floor. He picked them up and held them in his right hand.
"Okay, cop! Put one of the cuffs around your left wrist." Starsky purposefully began to affix it to his right wrist, hoping to keep his most agile limb free, but Ryan caught him right away. "I said left, smartass!" Starsky did as he was told and encircled his left wrist with one half of the cuffs. Ryan reached over with his right hand, still holding the gun in two fingers, and tightened the cuffs two more notches -- making it impossible for Starsky to slip them. "Now, tighten the other end around the bar for the headrest." Again Starsky did as he was told, biding his time until he could do something else. Don't for the life of me know what, though!
With Starsky securely fastened in this manner, Ryan felt comfortable turning his attention back to Hutch, who had just begun struggling once again against the strong grip. "You see," he began again, talking to Starsky but continuing to look at Hutch, "I don't care that much about you. It was really this one," he shook Hutch by the throat, "that put me away. He's the one who chased me down and cornered me in that alley. And for that, I'm gonna make it so he never forgets me again."
With that remark, Ryan drew back his elbow and landed a massive blow to Hutch's midsection, causing him to double over in pain. Hot fire spread through the blond officer's body, starting at the point of impact and seeping into every limb and crevice. He was on his knees now, not really sure how he got there. On the rim of his consciousness he could hear Starsky calling out to him, but the blackness was eating in on him, and the words grew fuzzy and quiet.
Starsky strained against the cuffs, trying his best to get to -- to help, Hutch. The metal cut into his wrist, raising red welts, but he couldn't get free. He was forced to watch while Johnny Ryan landed blow upon blow on his partner, now in the stomach, next in the face. Blood poured from Hutch's lips, and the convict at long last stopped the beating when the downed man finally ceased moving entirely.
Ryan stood up straight, carrying himself in a suddenly dignified manner. "I'm going to go, now. I won't have anyone say that I've killed you two. If you die now, it'll be your own doing!" He started back toward his car, then, as an afterthought, came back to the handcuffed man and the figure crumpled on the asphalt. He reached into each man's pockets until he retrieved two wallets with cash and credit cards, and their badges. He took the wallets with him and climbed back in his car to drive off in a flurry of dust. "Thanks for the contribution, guys!" he yelled back as he drove away.
Once the car was gone, Starsky acted. Leaning far into the car, he pulled down the other visor, causing a set of handcuff keys to fall onto the floor by the gas pedal. It took several minutes of stretching and improvising, but Starsky finally had the keys in his hand and unlocked the cuff. He ran to Hutch, who was still unconscious in the middle of the road, hunched over on his side as he'd tried to protect his stomach and sides.
"Hutch! Hutch, can ya' hear me?" Starsky gently rolled his partner over, ending up with Hutch's head resting in his lap. Look at his face! Starsky had stuffed a spare, clean rag into his pocket when trying to fix the car, and he pulled it out now to dab at the blood around Hutch's mouth and nose. He patted Hutch lightly with one finger on the only spot of his cheek that wasn't bruised. "Come on, partner. Come back!"
The head rocked from side to side and Hutch opened his eyes. "Hi, partner," he said drowsily. Once he was fully awake, he was quick to deny any real pain. "Help me up, will ya'?"
"No, wait. I wanna check you out first." Hutch didn't argue Starsky's request, and laid still as his friend pulled up the T-shirt and checked the stomach and rib cage. The ribs looked badly bruised, but there was no sign of internal bleeding. "Okay, now try to move your legs. Right one first." Starsky watched again as first the right leg, then the left, rose, bent at the hip, knee, and ankle, then returned to the ground. "How's that feel?"
"Sore, but okay. I'll be all right, really!"
Hutch reached for Starsky's shoulders, and the dark-haired man helped his friend to his feet. The blond still walked slightly bent over, but otherwise was looking considerably better. "When we get home, remind me to make an appointment for a checkup."
"Checkup?! I sure would think so!"
Hutch walked back to the Torino and sat once again in the passenger seat. "Damn! Now I've gotta report my gun stolen, too. I'm never gonna hear the end of it back at the squadroom!"
"That's what you get for bringing it along. I told you you shoulda left it home!"
"As someone once said, Starsk, 'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.'"
Starsky apparently didn't get the remark, and spent the next few silent moments with a puzzled look on his face. He then seemed to give up and the cheerful smile was back. "You feeling better?" he questioned, stooping to look up into his partner's bruised eyes.
"I should be askin' you, buddy. That jerk hit you pretty hard, too. How's your head?"
"A big lump and a small headache. It'll be fine in awhile -- I wasn't even completely out."
"Good. I'd hate to think we both felt as lousy as I do."
"You just told me you were okay!"
"Well, I mostly am. Look, we've got to get out of here and get a ride to the nearest town."
"You wanna walk? Are you sure you can make it?"
"I'll have to." At Starsky's concerned look, Hutch repeated, "I'll be all right. I'm sure not spending the night out here. In case you haven't noticed, we're nowhere near civilization. Could even be wild animals around here at night. Big ones."
"All right, I'm convinced," Starsky responded. "You ready to go?"
"Give me five minutes, then we'll go."
The pair had been walking nonstop along the road for almost two hours when Starsky noticed how heavily his partner was breathing. He stopped walking and stood on the side of the road.
"What're ya' stopping for?" Hutch asked between breaths.
"Can't I take a breather when I'm tired?" Starsky answered. He knew that Hutch would never allow himself to be coddled -- making it sound like he, himself, was the tired one avoided a sure argument. Starsky himself had to admit that he was getting tired and needed a breather anyway, but Hutch had buckets pouring down his face and his posture, already slumped when they began the walk, was even more bent. "Look, we're almost to the top of this hill. Maybe from the top we'll be able to see the countryside."
Hutch's color was starting to come back. "Okay, let's go. It's not far, anyway."
They began walking again, finding the going easier now that they had a more immediate goal in mind. When they reached the crest of the hill, they stopped again and stood at the edge of the embankment to look over the valley below. They could see that the road they were traveling began to twist and turn once over the hill. They followed the road's course with their eyes, hoping to see -- what? It merited them nothing. In his peripheral vision, Starsky saw Hutch's chin drop in disappointment, but he didn't take his eyes completely from the road and trees below.
"Hey, look!" Starsky interrupted suddenly. "I see a rooftop!"
"I think you're hallucinating, partner. I don't see a roof."
"Sure, don't you see it? Look, right between those two huge treetops, a little brown square?"
"I do see it!" Hutch exclaimed triumphantly. "Come on, let's go!" Both men were eager to resume the trek now that they had a destination in sight.
"Do you think we're close enough to the border that the people who live there speak Spanish? Or English? Or both?"
"Could be any of those. We'll just have to wait and see when we get there."
McBride and Stevens cruised along in the penal camp's sole patrol car. Neither man was a particular credit to his chosen profession of corrections officer. McBride, who was driving, was a heavyset, sloppy man who seemed to be always shoving some kind of junk food into his mouth. Stevens was thin, unshaven, and seemed to wear a constant sneer on his otherwise average features. Currently, however, the sneer shared the features with a mild look of concern.
"What are we gonna do if the state finds out we killed those two prisoners! We'll end up inmates ourselves -- and the other prisoners will do a real job on us!"
"Those two were just askin' for it! Look, I told ya' not to worry 'bout it -- that we'd take care of it, and we will. All we gotta do is keep driving 'round till we find a coupla drifters nobody will miss. Then we just make a little 'substitution'."
"But the other guards'll notice! What if one of 'em reports us!"
"None of the others are gonna say anythin'. They all know about the 'accident' -- and they know that they'll get into just as much trouble for lettin' it happen if the word gets out."
Stevens' fears seemed relieved for the moment, and he sat back in his seat and pulled a cigarette out of his pack. The tobacco would allay what few concerns he had which remained, but he still hoped they'd find some likely candidates soon.
The two men had walked barely another mile, but the strain was beginning to show on the weakened Hutchinson. Although he walked unsupported, his feet dragged along the ground and his step had slowed considerably. Starsky silently slowed his pace, keeping time with his friend.
"Not too much longer, buddy," he said encouragingly. Hutch did not speak, keeping his mind on what he was trying to do. Neither officer heard the quiet approach of the car behind them until it was right on their heels.
Starsky and Hutch raised their eyes as the car crept past them, then veered slightly left to block their path.
"Finally! Thank God!" Hutch exclaimed, recognizing the state correctional facility seal on the car door.
"Boy, are we glad to see you!" Starsky added, addressing the uniformed officers.
"We're glad to see you, too," McBride said snidely.
"Don't tell me we were missed already! We're only a few hours behind our schedule! Did Dobey send you to look for us?" Starsky asked.
"Look, pal, I don't know no 'Dobey', and you certainly weren't missed. C'mon, show me some ID."
"'Fraid we don't have any," Hutch admitted. "It was stolen a-ways back."
McBride turned to Starsky. "I suppose yours was taken, too?" At Starsky's nod, he turned to open the back door of the sedan. "Get in."
The pair jumped at the opportunity to ride instead of walk, and eagerly climbed into the back seat. McBride reclaimed his place behind the wheel, put the car in gear, and headed down the road in the same direction they'd been walking.
Starsky sat forward in the seat, addressing the officers. "If you can just take us to the nearest town, we'll call for help from there."
"I'm afraid not, boys. I've got something else in mind for you two."
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a look that spoke volumes. "Don't look now," Starsky said, "but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!" Hutch tried opening the door on his side, knowing that he would have no success but wanting to try anyway.
"Guess we'll just have to wait it out and make a break when we can," Hutch whispered at a level only Starsky could hear.
All four men were silent for the remainder of the ride, which terminated with the sedan pulling through a set of two huge gates. The sign above read, "San Diego County Prison Farm -- Site #25."
"At least we're still in California!" Starsky remarked out of the side of his mouth.
"Shut up!" Stevens snapped.
"I said, shut up!"
Starsky decided not to antagonize the men, closing his mouth without saying another word. Stevens got out of the car, circling around in front of it to join McBride as he exited the driver's door. Once they were standing side by side next to the rear door, McBride reached out one large arm to pull open the rear door.
"Get out!" he ordered. Hutch apparently did not move fast enough for McBride's liking, because half a second later he reached in and dragged the blond officer out by the front of his sweat-stained T-shirt. "You two're gonna be real sorry if ya' don't learn to do what you're told." Once completely out of the car, McBride pushed Hutch toward Stevens, who quickly cuffed his hands behind him. Meanwhile, McBride bent over to look inside the car, addressing Starsky. "Am I gonna have to drag you out too?"
"No, I'm comin'." Starsky climbed out of the car, one hand on the top of the door to support the cramped legs that had been too long in a sitting position. McBride grabbed the arm and twisted it behind Starsky, and he yelped in pain. The partners' eyes suddenly met, communicating without words that the time to act was now. Starsky struck out first, elbowing McBride in his abundant gut, then, once free, circling around to deliver two quick punches to his face. The man was like a bull, though, and failed to go down. Meanwhile, Hutch had stomped on the smaller correction officer's foot, then spun quickly and addressed his knee to the man's crotch. Stevens went down like a sack of wet sand, and Starsky and Hutch took the opportunity to make a run for it.
They made a beeline for the entrance -- luckily the gates were still open just a crack. "You think we can fit through there?" Starsky asked.
"We gotta try, buddy." Hutch was performing an amazing feat by keeping up with his partner, running with his hands still cuffed behind him. McBride had only gotten Starsky's cuffs half on, and the loose end dangled from his right wrist.
They were a mere twenty feet from the gate when more guards appeared out of nowhere, quickly overcoming and subduing the fleeing officers. Now solidly held on each arm by two guards, the pair was unceremoniously escorted to the cell area.
"Hey, what's this all about?" Starsky asked again.
"You'll find out soon enough, punk!"
"Now, that's not very nice," Hutch responded, using his most calm and condescending tone. "My partner asked you a valid question. I'd really like to hear the answer!"
"We don't answer questions from drifters!" The whole group stopped in front of a large metal door, and McBride stepped in front with a large key to unlock it and pull the massive structure open. He unlocked their handcuffs, then ordered, "Get in there!" The guards roughly threw both men into the cell, their bodies thudding painfully against the back wall.
"But we're not drifters!" Starsky shouted at the guards.
"Oh, yeah? Then how about you produce some ID?"
"It was stolen!" Hutch's turn to yell.
"Stolen. Sure, right. Do I look like I just fell off the turnip truck? You have no ID and no vehicle -- that makes you drifters in my book." He backed off a few steps, reaching his massive arms out of range of the duo's vision. "Put these on!" Two packs of prison clothes struck the men in the chests then rebounded to the floor. Starsky and Hutch hesitated, waiting for the door to shut, affording some small semblance of privacy, before their forced change of attire.
"What you are waiting for? Do it now, or we'll come in there and pull the clothes off you!"
Starsky was the first to move, starting with pulling his sweat-soaked T-shirt over his head, exposing a well-muscled, furry chest. Hutch followed his lead, only slower, his face reddening in embarrassment at the lack of privacy.
"They look in pretty good shape for drifters," one guard remarked, looking the pair over as they changed. Without their shirts, both men revealed rippled torsos and finely developed biceps. In reaction to the look, they quickly pulled on the button-down blue work shirts, noticing as they did, the "P" ironed on the back. Starsky's shirt reflected the number 387298 over the left breast pocket, and Hutch's had number 549776.
"Look, you guys are makin' a big mistake here. Not only haven't we done anything wrong -- which I tried to tell you before -- but we're not transients. We're cops!"
Suddenly, Starsky and Hutch were the only ones not bent over in hysterical laughter. Hutch leaned over to Starsky. "I don't think they believe us."
"No, I guess not."
When McBride finally regained control of himself, he addressed the pair again. "Now I've heard everything! Cops?! I'd have to be a total moron to buy that story! Now finish changing."
Changing into the heavy work jeans was even more embarrassing than the shirts, but it quickly became obvious that the guards planned on staying where they were until the transition was complete.
Once they were changed, McBride ordered, "Back up against the far wall." They did as they were told, noticing right away that three of the guards had pulled out their revolvers and were pointing them into the cell. Stevens entered the cell and confiscated all of the clothes the officers had removed, backing out of the cell in distrust.
"Everyone else's out on work detail right now. They'll be back soon, though. You can take the time to get used to your new home. You're gonna be here for a long, long time."
"I guarantee you," Hutch said in his harshest voice, "we'll get out of here! You will be very, very sorry you did this!" He started to rush the door, moving too fast for Starsky to stop him. But the guard was faster and simply slammed the door in his face, shutting both men in. They heard the massive bolt being thrown and knew that, for the time being at least, they were prisoners.
Starsky guessed that the sun had been down at least four hours -- guessed because the guards had also confiscated his brand new $200 watch -- when the remainder of the residents of Prison Farm #25 returned to their cells. He walked over and knelt down next to the bottom metal bunk, which was hard and cold and bolted securely to the concrete wall.
"Hutch!" he said, shaking his partner's shoulder. "Hutch, wake up!" Hutch finally stirred, opening his eyes to slits.
"What's up?" he asked groggily. He began to roll over, then changed his mind when a sharp jab of pain reminded him of his bruised ribs. He sat up slower and with much more care, moving his legs to hang off the edge of the bunk.
"Looks like the rest of the crew is back," Starsky said. Both officers rose and walked to the one tiny window in the iron door, taking in the sight of the returning farm hands. They were shocked by how the prisoners looked. The men were almost unrecognizable, coated in dirt and grime, with lighter streaks through it from their flowing perspiration. Even though they had obviously been in from the fields for awhile, every man still panted, trying to get enough air to relieve his exertion. The clothes they wore were exact duplicates of those in which Starsky and Hutch were now attired, with the single exception of the six-digit number embroidered over the left breast pocket. None of the men seemed to notice that the previously unoccupied cell had new residents.
"Hey!" Starsky called out. The two men who were closest to their window jumped in surprise. "Sorry about that," Starsky apologized. "Where the hell have you guys been?"
A gray-haired man of about 50 answered them. "On the work farm," he replied, his voice slurred with exhaustion. "You guys must be the replacements."
"You have any idea what time it is?" Hutch asked.
"Must be about eleven or so. We're never really sure in here."
Starsky's stomach chose that inopportune moment to growl loudly, proclaiming its emptiness. "Have they fed you guys yet?"
"We get ten minutes to clean up, for all the good it does, then we report to the mess hall." The man, whose number was 569248, had stopped to speak with them, so he was now out of formation and out of place. A guard finally took note of this and snuck up behind the man. A billy-club in the side, hard but not hard enough to cause permanent damage, reminded him that it was not time to talk, so 569248 left them and proceeded once more toward his cell.
"Do we get to eat, too?" Starsky asked the guard.
"Only if McBride says you do." And he walked away without another word.
Ten minutes later, right on schedule, the prisoners were herded out of their cells and through the large door at the end of the hallway. Their door, however, remained locked. "Looks like we wait till morning to eat," Hutch commented. "I'm really sorry, Starsk. You must be starvin' by now."
Silence descended on the cell block. Starsky went back to pacing the cell, too wired to sleep or even to sit down. Hutch lowered his sore frame onto the bunk again, preparing to spend the rest of the night asleep. Unexpectedly, they heard the bolt being thrown back from the door and looked up just in time to see the door being opened wide. Four guards stood in a semi-circle around the door, two with guns drawn and two with clubs.
"Dinner time, rookies! Now don't go givin' us a hard time, and we won't have to damage your pretty bodies."
Starsky and Hutch walked into the hallway, grateful at least to be out of the stinking, confining cell. "Where we goin'?" Starsky asked.
"Didn't you hear me say 'dinner'? I'd think you two'd be hungry by now. I should warn you, the dinner building is highly guarded. No one has ever gotten away."
The four guards herded the duo through the hallway. "Not to complicate things with a simple concept like legalities," Hutch began, "but we do have a right to know what we're being charged with. Then there's this little thing called a 'trial'. I'm sure you must have heard the word before."
A large guard was obviously neither intimidated nor amused. "Quiet, Blondie," he sneered, and reinforced his order with a hard jab to Hutch's already tender ribcage with his club. Hutch doubled over, his knees almost giving out, and Starsky reached out an arm to pull him back onto his feet to continue the walk down the hall. It didn't take long, though, for Hutch to recover his coordination, and he pulled away from the supportive arm to walk once again, silently this time, on his own.
The mess hall was huge, easily accommodating 150 workers. Even so, both officers were quick to notice the impossible number of guards posted around the room. They strolled between the tables like proctors at a final exam, 'disciplining' those who talked too loud or became too spirited. They were taking no chances in losing control of the situation.
The pair of officers were led to a buffet-like setup, where filthy men served disgusting-looking food with large spoons onto metal trays. When their trays were full, the guards finally left their sides, and they went in search of two seats together to eat their meals.
They finally found two, side by side, at a table near the far wall. As they sat down, Hutch recognized the other men at the table as some of the faces he had seen earlier in the hall outside their cell. Maybe this was where their cell block ate. Starsky dug energetically into the food, shoveling it into his mouth as fast as some of the other men at the table.
"How can you eat that, Starsk! It's horrible!"
"I'm starvin', partner. I'd eat just about anything right now." Looking around while he chewed, he noticed that the prisoners were allowed to talk among themselves just so long as they did it in whispers. Anything louder was sure to bring 'correction'. None of the other prisoners met his eyes as he looked around.
Hutch only drank the paste-like coffee, his head resting on his hand and his eyelids drooping. The thin man who sat across from Starsky had his head bent over his tray, but sneaked a look out the top of his eyes at the two newcomers. His eyes centered, finally, on the numbers emblazoned on their shirtfronts and he brought his eyes up to get a better look.
"Something I can do for you?" Starsky asked around a mouthful of some gray substance.
"Nothin', man. Nothing."
"Come on, ain't you ever seen a man eat before?"
"No, it's not that," The man whispered. The quiet conversation had gained the attention of Hutch and both men who sat on either side of the inmate talking with Starsky. "I was just noticing your number."
"My number?" Starsky asked, glancing down at the upside down characters on his chest. "What's so special about it?"
"Until two days ago it belonged it Jack West. And the number your buddy there is wearing was issued to Bob Gallagher."
"And they were friends of yours, huh? They got released and you're still here?"
"No, they got dead."
He said it calmly, but Hutch's head snapped back up as if struck a physical blow. This was immediately followed by the screaming of his tender muscles and ribs. "Dead? You mean there was an accident?"
"Accident, hell. It was murder. But no one will ever know."
"Sounds like you know something. I'd really appreciate it if you could tell us what's going on. I mean, one minute we're walkin' down the road, mindin' our own business, the next we're in here. And I've got a feeling there ain't gonna be any trial."
"You're right there. I think they stuck you two guys in here just so no one would notice that they were two men short. Then they'd have to explain it, and the state would find out what happened to Jack and Bob."
The expressions on Starsky and Hutchinson's faces became grim, almost depressing, at the possibility of long-term residence there. "Hutch," Starsky commented, looking at his partner's pale complexion, "I know you hate this stuff, but you'd better eat somethin' if we're gonna be here for awhile. Give you strength so you can heal and we can try to get the hell out of here." Starsky looked on as his partner put a forkful of the substance in his mouth, sharing Hutch's grimace of distaste.
Hutch swallowed, took a drink of his coffee, and pushed the tray away. "Maybe breakfast will be more edible."
It seemed their heads had barely hit the pillows before a loud banging brought them crudely awake. Starsky rubbed his eyes with the back of his fists, looking for all the world like the little boy many ladies accused him of being.
"If there's anythin' I hate more than an early morning, it's the sound of an obnoxious alarm clock. Guess we get treated to both!" He hung his head upside down over the edge of the bunk to get a look at his partner, and was mildly surprised to find Hutch still horizontal with his eyes closed.
"Hey, you okay?" There was a slight tone of alarm in his voice, but his concerned frown evaporated when Hutch opened one blue eye.
"I don't usually mind early mornings so much, but this is ridiculous! I sure could use another two or three hours sleep."
Just then the guard walked by their cell door again, banging on it with his baton. "Rise and shine, scum! Time to get to work!" Starsky jumped off the top bunk and watched as Hutch rose slowly from the bottom one. As the blond man got on his feet, though, he wavered for just a moment, and Starsky put out a steadying hand.
"I'm okay now," Hutch told him a moment later. Starsky pulled on the shirt he had taken off and laid aside, while Hutch slid into his work pants -- one leg carefully at a time while keeping a steadying hand on the bunk. Both men had opted for sleeping in their prison-issue underwear since there was obviously to be no nightclothes provided. They were just finishing dressing when the guard went by again; this time instead of yelling or pounding, he was systematically unlocking each door, swinging them wide to reveal the prisoners. Modesty was obviously not a priority to the guards, since they didn't even check to see if the residents of each room were dressed before opening the doors for all to see.
Light and dark figures exited their cell and fell in line with the other inmates, lining up for roll call and inspection. Just like when I was I the army, Starsky thought. He heard an odd scraping noise and couldn't quite place it, until he realized it was the tall blond in line in back of him, dragging his feet. In all the years we've known each other, Hutch always has energy to spare -- maybe a by-product of all the gunk he eats and drinks. Except when he's drunk, that is. And he's certainly not that now. Starsky noticed now with concern how every move the man made seemed slow and calculated to cause the least amount of pain.
The dragging footsteps, designed to lessen the aches in muscles and legs, were not to go unnoticed. Starsky passed the guard, standing by the side as the prisoners filed by, and at the last moment caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision of the guard taking one step toward his partner. A split second later, the guard reached out with his foot, tripping Hutch and sending him sprawling to the ground. Caught unaware, Hutch didn't quite get his arms and hands raised in time to catch himself, so he took most of the impact from the fall directly on his chest and stomach.
"Where the hell do you get off!?" Starsky shrieked at the guard, reaching to help the stunned Hutchinson to his feet. It never even occurred to him to fear the guard -- his concern was more immediately for his partner.
The guard lifted his club to hold it across his chest -- not raised but making his meaning as clear as glass. "What was that, 387298?" Starsky fell silent, unwilling to repeat the statement he'd made in reflex. "Next time one of you acts up, you'll find out exactly how much I can 'get off' on you." His tone and expression was menacing.
"Don't aggravate him, Starsk," Hutch whispered in his partner's ear as the curly-haired man finished pulling him to his feet. Starsky gave his partner a moment to regain his footing, then retracted the arm he had reached around the tall man's waist.
Once the inmates were all standing in formation, McBride appeared, pacing back and forth in front of the assembled men.
"Seems he's got an awful lot of authority around here," Starsky whispered to his partner. Hutch only nodded once, waiting silently to hear what McBride was preparing to say.
"Okay, scum. The secret word today is 'potatoes', ya' got that? And if my men see any of you slackin' off -- for any reason -- a 'correction' will be in order. After all, this is a 'correctional facility'." He said this last with a venomous grin and the coldest eyes Hutch had seen in a long time. "Now get in the truck!"
Starsky looked up and noticed a flatbed truck where he hadn't seen it before. The group of men approached it, and he saw that each side of the bed was lined with metal benches, riveted to the truck at the bottom. Starsky, being one of the first in line, jumped into the bed easily -- it was only three or four feet off the ground. He quickly turned and sat down, then realized that Hutch wasn't having as easy a time of it. "Lemme help ya'," he said, returning to the edge of the truck bed.
Hutch raised both hands and placed them flat on the bed, elbows facing up and out to try again. Starsky put both hands under Hutch's right arm and, adding his strength to his friend's, lifted Hutch into the truck.
The pair sat down, not noticing the look the two guards and McBride exchanged. A look that said, 'These two, as a pair, could be trouble.' McBride's mind flashed a thought, they get too much strength and support from each other. I might be able to use that.
The truck pulled with a jerk to a stop in front of what appeared to be an empty field of dirt. "I don't get it," Starsky said as he jumped from the back. "I thought he said we'd be picking potatoes. I don't see no potatoes."
Hutch was too intent on gently lowering himself to the ground to answer immediately, but once he was down he turned to the dark-haired man. "Starsk, potatoes grow underground. Ya' have to dig for 'em."
Their conversation was abruptly halted when a guard shoved a bushel-sized basket into the chest of each man. "Get to work!" They turned toward the field and then followed the other inmates, already bending over the soil digging with their bare hands.
"Don't we at least get some kinda tools?" Starsky asked.
"Whatsa matter, scum? Afraid you'll get calluses on those soft hands of yours?"
Hutch put a silencing hand on his partner's arm, implying to him that, in case he hadn't realized it, the question was rhetorical. Starsky shut the mouth he had opened to reply, muttering instead, "C'mon, partner. Let's go."
At noon, after hours of exhausting digging, the guards let the prisoners take a break. A large canister of water with a dipper in it was brought to the work site, and the prisoners took turns tasting the cool liquid. Then each inmate was given a sandwich and fifteen minutes to rest. Starsky plopped none-too-gracefully on the ground next to Hutch, who was lying prone and breathing deeply.
"Man, my back is killin' me!" Starsky exclaimed. "This isn't prison, it's slave labor!"
"Starsk," Hutch started, with a faraway sound in his voice, "I think I may be in a little trouble."
"Ya' call this a little?" No response. Starsky paid immediate attention. "What?"
"I have no idea how I'm gonna get back up. Lying down was a big mistake, my friend."
"C'mon, I'll help you up, then you can eat your sandwich." He pulled the blond by the arm into a sitting position, then pushed the sandwich Hutch was holding closer to his face. "Eat!" Hutch opened his eyes and began disinterestedly picking at the crust of the sandwich. He continued putting little bits into his mouth, swallowing without even chewing the minuscule pieces.
"Okay! Break time's over! Everyone back to work!" Starsky stood up, then looked down at the still-seated Hutchinson. He still held 3/4 of the sandwich in his hands.
"Why didn't you finish that! It's a lead-pipe cinch they're not gonna let you take it out with you. Come on, take a big bite now and throw out the rest." Oh man, when did I turn into my mother! 'Eat, eat, you'll starve!' I wish I had a buck for every time she said that! Hutch meekly took the bite Starsky had ordered and threw the rest of the sandwich into the field. Unseen before, vultures dove from the sky, picking at and fighting over the discarded bread and meat.
Hutch watched them with repulsion. "Next time I try to tell you how wonderful all of nature is, please don't remind me of those guys! They're like all those pimps that hang out at the bus station."
A guard approached them quietly from the back, his face a massive frown from the forehead to the chin. He swung his club moderately hard, bringing it down across the backs of both men's legs, right at the knee joint. Both men found themselves suddenly and painfully sitting on the ground, their knees having gone out from the blow. "When I tell you to get back to work, I mean it!" Hutch could see that Starsky wanted to go after the guard, wanted it with every fiber of his being.
"Don't, Starsk," he said quietly, and Starsky stopped in his tracks, his eyes going from the baton the man held to the pistol strapped at his hip. It wasn't the right time. Instead, Starsky turned, helped his partner back to his feet, and both officers headed back to the fields.
Hutch was no longer the only prisoner who dragged his feet. Every man on the work detail was exhausted -- worked to the point of incoherence. There was absolute silence on the ride back to their cells, more by the choice of the inmates than the guards this time. They were simply too tired to even talk. Starsky laid his arms in his lap, his hands feeling like lead weights far too heavy to lift.
"Ooomph!" issued from several lips as the truck hit a particularly large bump in the dirt road. The passengers' positions shifted slightly, and Hutch, whose head already hung wearily, noticed a purple streak on Starsky's blue work pants. He reached over and took Starsky's hand, rotating it half a turn in the process.
"Cut it...on a rock," Starsky answered.
Hutch pulled the tail of his shirt from his pants and tore off a strip from along the bottom hem.
"What are you doin'?" Just like Hutch to pay attention to my health instead of his own.
"Starsk, ya' hafta cover that or it's gonna get infected," Hutch said as he wrapped the piece of cloth around Starsky's hand. He tucked the end under in the back. "There. We'll just have to wash it off when we get back to our cell."
"Okay...hey, you're supposed to be the brains of this partnership. Come up with any idea how we're gonna get outta here?"
"Not yet. I've been too busy picking potatoes and fighting to stay awake to give it any thought." Starsky could see that his friend kept going from sheer tenacity -- his body drawing on the last of the reserves left over from before their arrest. How the hell's he gonna get through any more days like this?
"Maybe if we pretend to just go along with it, the guards'll get sloppy and then we can make our break," Starsky whispered, quiet enough so only Hutch heard.
Morning came just as early the next day as the first, and it was even harder this time for Hutch to get out of bed. He groaned as he tried to sit up, knowing if he didn't move it would warrant another correction from the guards.
"You ain't alone, partner," Starsky spoke up. Every muscle in his body ached from the simple jump from the top bunk -- screamed for rest, from the uncommon form of exercise they had been subjected to. He could only imagine what his partner's muscles felt like. The small sink in their cell provided lukewarm water, which Starsky splashed on his face.
Hutch joined him and did likewise, running his hand over the stubble on his face. "Wonder if we ever get to take a real shower."
"I imagine so, but who knows when. Maybe we get to shave at the same time." Inmates in this facility were not, apparently, issued razors.
"Maybe we don't get to shave at all. Maybe they think we'd be too dangerous with a razor."
"They must let them shave sometime," Starsky pointed out to his partner. "All of the inmates have some growth, but none of them have beards."
"Yeah, guess that makes sense." Hutch slowly pulled his work shirt on over the T-shirt and shorts he'd worn to bed, tucking in the ragged end of the shirt where he'd torn Starsky's makeshift bandage the night before. "Think they'll get us clean clothes eventually?"
"I'd think so."
The rest of the morning went just as the day before, and, they presumed, just the way the next several would. They were once again dispatched to the fields to pick potatoes, and Starsky had to again help Hutch onto the truck.
McBride, of course, never went out on work detail with the men. On the way out of the compound, Starsky noticed him sitting behind a small window, lazily looking out at the world.
A couple of hours later he was still at the same desk, this time playing solitaire with a worn deck of cards.
"B R R R I I I N N N G G G!" The phone on the desk startled him -- it hardly ever rang.
"What is it?" he said into the receiver.
"This is Johnson in the guard shack -- main gates. There's a CHP officer here -- wants to talk to the man in charge."
"Okay, I'll be right down. Tell him it'll be a coupla minutes, though."
There was silence while Johnson relayed the message. "He says he'll wait."
When McBride arrived at the main gates, Johnson opened them slightly, allowing the big man to slip through the narrow opening to speak with the officer on the outside. No sense risking him seeing anything he's not supposed to.
"Good morning, Officer." McBride put on his most congenial smile. "What can I do for you?"
"Good morning, I'm Officer Turner. Are you in charge here?"
"Well, the last warden quit -- I'm in charge until Sacramento sends a replacement. The name's McBride." He took two steps back from the towering officer, Turner's size and expression making him seem menacing.
"Then I guess I'll have to talk to you."
"Like I said, I'll do whatever I can. What's up, Officer?"
"Have you seen anybody come by here on foot in the last day or two?"
"Well, we do get hikers by here once in a while -- I'd have to check with my staff to see if they'd seen anyone."
"I'm not talking about hikers."
"Then what are you talking about?"
"Well, I found a car broken down several miles up the road. I'm not sure how long it's been there, but it had to be at least overnight because it was covered with dew. The registration checks back to a Detective Sergeant David Starsky from the L.A.P.D. Tried contacting his home and there's no answer. Checked with his superior at the department and he hadn't seen him. Said he was due back from vacation today, too. He's supposed to be about 5'10" tall with curly brown hair. You seen anybody like this?"
McBride did his best to not let his expression give him away. "No, no one like that's been by here. You'd'a thought he'd stop, too, being that this is the first place for miles. Maybe he went in the other direction."
"Yeah, maybe. Well, thanks for taking the time to see me. I'd better be going." Moments later, the patrol car pulled away silently.
"Damn! How was I supposed to know they weren't lying when they said they were cops!" McBride bounded back through the gates, muttering under his breath, and slammed the door to the warden's office, vibrating every window in the place. Scully, his second-in-command, came to immediate attention. "Scully, I need you to get word to all the guards. Be sure they keep an extra-close eye on those two new guys. It's life-and-death for us that they never leave here."
"You want we should kill 'em?" Scully deduced, astonished.
"No, not intentionally kill them. Just keep them here so they can't report us to the prison commission. And if they should happen to be damaged in the process, then so be it. Well, don't just stand there -- GET TO IT!"
"Yessir!" and the guard was instantly gone.
Starsky dug quickly, almost frantically, trying to make up the work his weakened partner was not accomplishing. He glanced periodically at Hutch, not certain how he was continuing to do any work at all. The blond had traded the squat position most of the men favored for simply sitting in the dirt, and the speed of his hands and arms had slowed distinctly over the past several hours. The guards didn't much care what position the workers were in, as long as they continued to slave over the soil.
Starsky stood erect, massaging the sore muscles in his lower back. "I don't think the good Lord created me for this kinda work."
"Um hmmm," Hutch agreed. "When we get back," he slurred, "after putting these dipshits away, we're gonna need another vacation."
"Yeah, just picture it... warm, peaceful beaches, waitresses bringing us all the food and drinks we want, and no potatoes. How about we go to Hawaii?"
"Sounds good." Hutch bent his head back to his task, noticing that the guard was strolling their way. Starsky, however, was not so easily intimidated.
"Get back to work, 387298."
"I'm just stretching, do you mind?" Starsky snapped back belligerently. I've had just about all I'm going to take from these jerks!
"Yeah, I mind a lot." The guard took a step toward Starsky, and Starsky in turn took a menacing step toward the guard.
"Leave him alone!" Hutch yelled as loud as he could.
"Don't take another step!" The guard responded, not listening to Hutch at all.
Hutch knew the look and posture of his partner. "Don't, buddy. Please don't." But Starsky took another step anyway.
"Get off my case -- I'm sick of being ordered around by someone I shouldn't even be here with!" Starsky growled at the guard.
The guard answered without a word, bringing his club up and into Starsky's side. It only slowed down the dark-haired officer for a moment, then he continued to bear down on the guard. The guard hit him twice more, but Starsky still didn't let it deter him. The young guard was starting to get a very fearful look in his eyes, not ever having met this kind of resistance before.
"STOP RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE!" The words halted Starsky in his tracks, bringing his head instantly to swing around to check on the source of the booming voice. The senior guard, considerably bigger in size and attitude to the one who hit Starsky, had silently approached from behind. He held his baton, not to deliver a blow to Starsky, but horizontally in front of Hutch's neck, immobilizing the blond. The wood pressed against his Adam's apple, cutting off his air and making Hutch even weaker than he already was. "If you want to keep your pal here alive, you better fall in line."
"Okay, okay, I'll go back to work. Just let him go." Starsky breathed a sigh of relief when the senior guard released Hutch. The dark-haired officer messaged the ribs where the guard had hit him, not missing the deep, agonizing gasps his partner made.
"Both of you, get back to work!"
The two guards stood side by side, watching the pair of officers go back to their digging. "McBride is gonna be real happy to hear what just happened."
"Why would he care about us roughin' up a couple of lazy cons?"
"Because we just found the secret to keeping them two in line. Both of them don't care when they're hurt themselves, but one sure as hell cares when we hurt the other."
"Yeah," the young guard smiled, almost leering. "Maybe we'll even get a bonus for this!"
McBride wasn't nearly as impressed as they had hoped. "I thought that all along," he responded to the news. "This just confirms it."
Not to be outdone, the senior guard continued. "I also have a feeling there's something wrong with the blond one. He just doesn't look right, and he works awfully slow."
"Ya' think he's sick, or just tired out?"
"Seems like more than tired, but not really sick. Maybe hurt -- I dunno."
"Keep a close eye on him. If he's hurt, we might be able to use it against his partner -- to keep him in line. We'll just have to wait for the right time."
The next morning, three armed guards came early to the officers' cell. The rest of the block hadn't been awakened yet, and both men were sound asleep when jarred to consciousness. The door opened and two of the three guards came in.
"Come on, boys. Up and at 'em."
Starsky opened his eyes and immediately realized that this visit was out-of-the-ordinary. "Wha's happenin'? Nobody else is up yet!"
"It's your turn," the guard simply said.
By now, Hutch was also awake. "Our turn for what?"
"Showers. We're here to take you to the shower room."
Starsky's face brightened at the prospect. He rubbed the whiskers on his face. "Are we gonna get to shave, too?"
"Yeah. Of course, you'll have to be supervised for that part."
"I wouldn't care if the whole Mormon tabernacle choir watched. This itches like crazy!"
Hutch pulled on his shirt and pants slightly slower than his dark-haired partner, but once they were both dressed they were quickly ushered out of the cell.
As they crossed the compound, Starsky saw that they were headed for a small shed at the end of the lot. "That's not the shower room, is it? I figured that was some kinda storage shed."
"No, that's it."
The tall, blond officer almost ran his head into the shelf just inside the door -- a shelf, upon closer inspection, which held two sets of clean work clothes and underwear, one set for each of the pair. "Guess we get clean clothes after all," Hutch muttered to no one in particular.
Starsky looked around, his lips curling in disgust at the filth of the room. Four dirty sinks lined the same wall that the door was in, with four spotted mirrors hanging above them. The floor was tiled, but very worn with lime stains between the small tiles. "It sure ain't Shangri-La," Starsky commented.
"Get undressed!" one of the guards ordered, shoving both men to the center of the tiled room.
"Better do it, partner," Starsky whispered to Hutch when he hesitated.
The first guard raised his club, which was more than enough incentive for the blond to join his partner in disrobing. Hutch first slowly unbuttoned the work shirt, being extra careful not to aggravate already sore arms and ribs. He'd pulled at the snap and started on the zipper of the work pants when a second guard, one he hadn't noticed before, stepped in front of the first to get a better view. How dangerous can two half-naked men be? Hutch wondered at his scrutiny. Only when he continued to stare did the handsome blond realize. Oh, God, he's not guarding us, he's watching us.
Both officers stood in the middle of the room, Starsky now only in shorts, and Hutch in the shorts and also the T-shirt he'd failed to shed. "The T-shirt, 549776. Take it off."
What's he doing? Starsky wondered. With a look of resignation, Hutch pulled the T-shirt over his head, giving Starsky his first clear look at his partner. He breathed in sharply at the sight. "Oh, man, Hutch. Why didn't you say something sooner?" Starsky stared, stunned, at his partner's chest and torso. It was a mass of scrapes and huge bruises, purple with yellow fading in at the edges. That's why he's been sleepin' in his T-shirt -- didn't want me to see how bad it was.
The guards didn't react -- didn't even seem to care -- like it was something commonplace there. The second guard continued to leer at the blond, his near-drooling state almost enough to make both officers sick. The first guard spoke up again. "Enough of this 'brotherly love' crap. Finish getting ready for your shower."
They both hesitated. When it was apparent they weren't planning on going any farther, the first guard took a single step toward them. The two officers were standing side by side, facing down the threat. The guard began pacing silent circles around them, and they shivered, not sure whether it was from horror, exhaustion, or cold.
"Finish undressing -- I've had about as much stalling as I'll put up with."
Starsky and Hutch exchanged supportive nods and silently complied with the guard's demands. The embarrassment that showed in their faces was also apparent in their nakedness, especially when the second guard leered even more. "Now," the first guard ordered, "get in those showers!"
Starsky noted the short hall, no more than four feet, which led to the large shower area. Apparently the facility was built for more than two people to be able to shower at a time. Must figure it'll be easier to control smaller groups, Starsky thought, reflecting on the fact that they were the only inmates there. Two of the twelve shower heads were already turned on, and hot water flowed down in hard streams, almost blasting the skin underneath clean. Hutch did his best to tone down the pressure by turning the head, and the streams decreased slightly in their intensity. They rinsed, soaped, lathered, and rinsed again, all still under the supervising eye of the guards. When they were done, the dark-haired officer saw that the showers were automatically turned off. Must be on a timer. That or the controls are outside.
Each man was given a towel, which he immediately wrapped around himself. With the spectacle over, the ogling guard turned and left. Seemingly from nowhere, the guard handed each man a razor and a can of shaving lotion. Starsky shaved quickly, then went to the shelf to retrieve and dress in the clean clothes left there. The guard for the most part left them alone, only stepping in long enough to make sure Starsky picked up the shirt with his number on it. Hutch's shave took longer, as he skirted around the bruises and cuts. When he finally finished, Starsky handed him his prison issue uniform. He dressed quickly, leaning on Starsky for balance when he needed it.
"What'sa matter, Blondie. Not feeling quite well?" the guard harassed. Not answering what Hutch had thought was a rhetorical question brought the guards club into his lower back, driving him to his knees. When the guard didn't back off, Starsky moved fast. In a moment the guard was lying on the tiled floor, with Starsky, listening to his partner's hollow gasps, standing over him. It wasn't to be quite so easy, though, for two guards suddenly came in and subdued the dark-haired man, bending and nearly breaking his arms behind his back.
"I've had enough of this!" the guard said as he pulled himself from the floor. He punched Starsky in the stomach once, hard. "Take 'em back to their cell." Starsky and Hutch were dragged back to their cell, hardly able to walk anyway, side by side as always.
Dobey paced in front of the hastily-assembled volunteers, recognizing many, but not all of the faces he saw there. Many were off-duty officers from precincts all over the city, donating their time to help locate the missing offices. Dobey had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach -- somehow he always knew when his men, especially these two, were in trouble.
"Okay, everybody, quiet down!" he shouted at the search party, and all the individual conversations which had been taking place were silenced. "Before we head out, I need to give you of a few instructions. First, and this applies in particular to those of you on the force: we are being allowed here through the courtesy of the San Diego county government, but we have no jurisdiction in this area. We're regular, everyday civilians here. Second, I expect everybody to work in pairs -- absolutely no splitting up. We don't know what's happened to Starsky and Hutch, but I don't want to lose anyone while looking for them.
"Last, I expect everybody to be back here at sundown. That's around 7:30 today, so don't be late. If we haven't found them by that time, we'll head into town and hit it again first thing in the morning. Some of the areas you go into will be wooded, so don't forget to take your flashlights. Okay, go to it!"
Huggy Bear left the assembled group to join the captain -- it was silently apparent that they were going to be partners on this mission. He thought momentarily how he didn't think he'd ever seen Dobey in jeans and sneakers, as he was attired now.
"Well, Cap, you and I probably know those boys the best. Which way d'ya think they woulda gone?"
"Hmmm... well, knowin' them, they probably went to the highest point around so they could oversee the entire area."
"Well, that would be that way," Huggy pointed. "Let's go."
The partners had about an hour of rest before they were ordered on work detail with the rest of the residents. An hour wasn't really sufficient to rest up from the mental and physical abuse they each had taken in the shower room, and so they both started out what would be a draining day already exhausted.
"We've gotta get outta here soon," Starsky said as he and another inmate helped Hutch into the truck. "I don't think I can take a replay of this morning's little 'display'."
"Starsk," Hutch muttered once they were both seated in the truck, "if you get the chance, you're gonna have to leave me behind and go get help."
Starsky's mouth hung open for a moment, and he found himself unable to react for the myriad of thoughts flashing through his mind. Finally, a comment made it to his lips. "No! No, Hutch. I can't -- I won't -- leave you at the mercy of these nutcases!"
"You may have to. If you make a run for it, I'll never be able to keep up."
"I'll carry you if I have to."
"No, it'll only slow you down. At least if you get out, we both have a chance. If we both go, we'll both get caught."
Starsky sighed, resigned, and placed a hand on his partner's shoulder. He noticed how Hutch winced in pain from the contact on sore muscles and bruises. "I don't like it, partner. But I'll go along with it for both of our sakes. I just hope they don't decide to take my escape out on you."
"They won't. I do have some strength left, ya' know. And I'll fight them all the way."
"Maybe once we're in the fields, it'll be easier to sneak away."
"I could create a distraction if you want."
"That's not a half-bad idea. Nothing earth-shattering, just something to draw the guards' attention."
"Okay, watch me for the right time. I'll be sure and make it good."
"Buddy," Starsky said, smiling for the first time in a long while, "I think we've finally got a plan!"
Dobey and Huggy walked through the woods which spread out from a quarter of a mile off the road. Although it was the midsummer, the area was sparse enough to see through the woods.
"So much for knowing them better than anyone else," Huggy said. "Looks like someone else beat us here." He motioned to the red and white figures moving ahead and to the right of them.
"Who is that?" Dobey squinted to make out the figures, trying at the same time to remember who in the group had been wearing red or white.
Apparently, the royal blue shirt Huggy wore was also highly visible, because the two searchers up ahead had no difficulty in locating the Captain and Huggy when they needed to sound an alarm.
"CAPTAIN! HERE, QUICK! WE'VE FOUND SOMETHING!!!"
Dobey didn't even think he was capable of moving at the speed with which he got to the men's sides, and his thin, black partner was with him all the way. "What'd you find?" he asked, panting. He wasn't sure if it was from the run or the from fear that was rising into his throat. He both wanted and didn't want to know what had turned up in the woods.
"Over here, in the brush." One of the searchers stepped toward a pile of what looked like various tree branches, leaves, and bushes. A discolored arm protruded from the pile, and it was cold as stone when Dobey touched it.
"Uncover him!" Dobey ordered, near-panic in his voice. Huggy and the two searchers pulled the brush aside, exposing the body, then a second next to it. Four loud gasps filled the woods as the searchers stared down at the bodies. They lay face down against the moist earth, their hair -- blond on one and dark on the other, was plastered down to their heads from several days of dirt and dew. The grotesque condition of the bodies gagged each witness, but the men took deep breaths and swallows to keep it in check. The team was speechless with shock, and it took several more minutes of staring before any of them noticed that the bodies were also completely naked. Huggy was still the first to regain his power of speech.
"Aw, guys," he said, addressing the motionless figures. "What'd ya' get into this time!" His voice cracked and Dobey thought he saw a single tear on the barkeep's cheek.
Dobey squatted next to the bodies, looking from one head to the other. Why do the good ones always seem to get it like this -- before their time. He fought the tears that threatened to overtake him as well, and mostly succeeded with the exception of one or two escapees.
"They deserved better than this, Captain," Huggy said, standing next to him. Dobey wordlessly nodded his agreement.
He suddenly felt tired, tired beyond his years. Why? Why?? Why?? He needed to get home, to be near his wife and family. To feel their warmth and their presence. To know that not everything wonderful was gone from his life. "Let's take 'em home," he said quietly, almost reverently. "You two," he motioned to the searchers who had discovered his men, "get back and call the coroner's wagon." Both men left sadly, and Dobey knew they'd be sure to let everyone else know that their search had ended.
Huggy and Dobey split up at this point, each one reaching to roll over a body. It seemed wrong for their friends to have to spend their wait for the wagon with their faces in the dirt.
It took only a moment for the men to suddenly realize how wrong they'd been. Huggy fell back, landing soundly on his backside, next to the body he'd turned over...a body that wasn't Starsky. Dobey had an equally shocked look on his face to discover a man who wasn't Hutch. The men exchanged looks over the bodies, and those looks spoke volumes. The main one shown was relief, followed by a certain amount of guilt at being overjoyed at someone's death, just so long as it wasn't their friends. "It's not them!" Dobey finally managed.
"Thank God!" They sat silently for a few minutes, and Huggy looked closely at Dobey, as the captain looked heavenward and mouthed a quiet prayer to the good Lord who had spared his friends.
After a few more minutes, Huggy, a city boy through and through, could stand the quiet of the woods no longer. "How long d'ya think it'll be b'fore the coroner gets here?"
"Maybe twenty more minutes or so. They said they'd have all the county resources at our disposal in case we found something, so they should be ready to roll as soon as they get the call." Dobey ran fingers through his closely-cropped dark hair. "As if we didn't have a big enough job ahead of us, solving the case of the missing 'dynamic duo', now we've got a second case -- the case of the unidentified bodies. I've got a feeling it's gonna be a long night!"
They'd been in the fields all day, and the sun was just starting to set along the horizon. "Hey," Hutch nudged his partner, "this is really a stroke of luck!"
"What're you talking about, Blondie? I certainly don't call this backbreaking work 'lucky'!"
"No, look! The sun's setting! I didn't notice it before, but the guards who oversee the work face west."
Starsky's mind was slightly numbed from the exhausting work. "So what?"
"Think, Starsk! In another few minutes when the sun is almost on the horizon, it'll be shining right in their eyes. That and a little diversion from me should be enough to let you sneak away! It's the chance we've been waitin' for."
"If I get out, are you sure you'll be all right till I get back?"
"I dunno, pal, so you'd better get back here with the local police fast. But it's the only way we'll get outta here at all. You'd better get ready. I'll work my way south, then go into my act. It should draw their attention. Good luck!"
Starsky started to raise his hand to his partner's shoulder, a parting gesture just in case, but caught himself at the last minute. Can't slip up and let 'em catch us. Damn! He looks terrible! Just keeps gettin' weaker and weaker instead of better. He knew they wouldn't be trying anything this foolhardy if they didn't both know that the blond was quickly approaching his tolerance level, getting to a point where he'd no longer be able to function. They exchanged a parting glance, and Hutch left his side, working backwards toward the south, still crawling in the soil. He worked in that area, away from his partner, for five or ten minutes before Starsky gave him a slight nod. Lights, camera, action, Hutchinson.
"OW!! OH, GOD! I'VE BEEN STUNG!! IT'S A SCORPION!! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!" Hutch's scream was horrified, drawing the attention of all the guards and most of the other prisoners. "I'LL DIE! HELP ME!" he continued to plead, holding his wrist where the supposed creature had stung him.
Starsky hesitated just long enough to see all heads and some bodies turn toward his partner, then took off at a quiet but dead run across the field, into the setting sun. Just gotta make it to the trees! They'll never be able to find me once I get some cover.
"HE'S GETTIN' AWAY!" a sudden voice yelled, drawing the guards' attention. An unseen prisoner, disinterested in Hutch's act, had turned back just in time to see Starsky's run. The prisoner pointed toward Starsky, who'd increased his speed even more, no longer concerned with the sound the pounding of his feet made.
"STOP OR WE'LL SHOOT!" one of the guards yelled while all simultaneously pulled out their pistols. Starsky never missed a step, and kept up his breakneck pace. Betcha those popguns wouldn't reach this far anyway. He heard one shot fired into the air, and was assured by the sound that he was almost definitely out of range. Only ten yards to the woods! Nine and a half! Nine!
"STOP OR WE'LL KILL YOUR PARTNER!"
Starsky skidded to a stop and looked back long enough to see several guns and billy-clubs held against Hutch. It had apparently not taken them long, once the alert was sounded, to deduce that the blond's act was a diversion but that he could still be useful to them. The silence was deafening, and Starsky would swear he could hear the safety being flicked off on the guard's guns. "Now, 387298," the guard said loud enough for Starsky to hear, "get back here!" His tone was menacing, and Starsky wondered what the guard was going to do to him once he got back. He walked back toward the other prisoners as slowly as he believed he could get away with.
Everyone, especially Starsky and Hutch, was astonished when the guards simply ordered, 'Get back to work!' and went back to their guard duties. Still expecting something to happen, Starsky did as he was told, not wanting to further aggravate the volatile guards.
"Go figure," he whispered to Hutch. "Thought for sure I was gonna get it for that!"
"Sorry I didn't do a better acting job, partner. And that they were able to use me to get you back, too."
"Wasn't your fault. We'll come up with a new plan tomorrow." Starsky's tone was intentionally cheering, noticing how guilty Hutch was feeling at having been the weak link in their particular chain.
The remainder of the day went pretty much as all the others, but neither officer could shake the feeling that they were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hutch's workload continued to diminish, but he pushed himself to keep up at least the illusion of productivity.
As they lay in their bunks that night, they knew they should be formulating a new plan, but neither was able to stay awake long enough to discuss one.
Dobey and Huggy paced in the squadroom of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, waiting for a report on the bodies. Neither was really happy to be there, waiting, but once it got dark out, there was no possibility of continuing the search for their friends so they'd given in to their curiosity and had gone to the Department. They were treated respectfully, as guest officers in the area, even though Dobey always made it clear to the Deputies that Huggy, while a friend, was not one of his officers.
Sheriff Cord walked into the room, a manila file folder in his hand. He was an imposing man, tall, muscular, and handsome by most female standards. He came directly to Dobey. "Why don't you come into my office. We'll go over the autopsy reports together."
Dobey and Huggy took the two chairs facing Cord's desk. Dobey was struck by how much the office reminded him of his own. The window, the filing cabinets, desk, everything was pretty much the same as his back in L.A. Only the small personal touches set it apart from his own. Cord took the chair behind the desk and laid the folder in front of him.
"Looks like they were able to ID them from fingerprints -- they've got some records. John, AKA Jack West, your Starsky-look-alike, was first busted as a sixteen-year-old. Petty theft. When he got out of the reform school, he got into drugs and was finally put away for good for armed robbery, aggravated assault, and manslaughter. Seems he robbed a convenience store, beat up one cashier and shot the other. The blond victim was Robert Gallagher." He switched to a new sheet of paper, reading carefully. "He was sent up six years ago for illegal import and sale of drugs."
"When were they released?"
Cord didn't seem to mind being questioned by a civilian, and gave the thin black man a quick answer.
"According to this, they weren't. They should still be in jail."
"Then what happened?" Dobey questioned.
"I don't have any idea. The files don't tell where they were assigned, and I won't be able to check it out until morning." The Sheriff rubbed his tired eyes, and Dobey noticed that, as he tired, a slight southern drawl entered his speech. "Man, I hate it when they can't even get me complete information."
"If it helps any, it's the same up north. Tell me something, don't you ever get tired of all of this? Seems like I've been feeling it more and more lately."
"I do get tired of it. Tired, frustrated, fed up -- all that."
"Then why don't you quit?"
"Can't. Y'see, it's in my blood. Ya' wouldn't think it to look at me now, but there's been a Cord in California law enforcement since before the turn of the century. Most of 'em have been sheriffs or deputies, but a few were CHP."
"Oh, I see," Huggy interjected. "You were born to it."
"Yeah, seems that way. Look, I know it's real late, but I'm gonna go home and see if I can catch a few hours of sleep before time to start again tomorrow. I'd recommend the two of you do the same. I imagine you'll probably want to start out early looking for those two friends of yours?"
"You bet!" Huggy answered.
"If you find out anything else, we'll be at the Eclipse Motel," Dobey added.
When the prisoners were called out for roll the next morning, Starsky couldn't explain why he felt such a strong shiver run up his spine. Tail bone, small of his back, center, between the shoulder blades, and finally into the neck, making the hairs there stand on end. You're reacting to nothing, man. This is exactly the same as it's been for the past week.
Once they were lined up, McBride once again paced in front of them, preparing to give instructions. Hutch noticed that two burly guards stood much closer to the man in charge than they had other days; he noted it and then filed it away as miscellaneous nonsense.
"As you all know," McBride began, speaking loudly to all the inmates, "Yesterday we had a little incident out in the fields with 387298. Now, those of you who have been here awhile know that I don't take that kinda shit from any of you scum. So, I'm gonna make sure that he doesn't try that again!" He suddenly motioned the two guards standing by with a short flick of his wrist. Apparently they had discussed before what was going to happen, because the gesture assuredly was not accurate enough to give them instructions.
Strong hands quickly seized Hutch, one on each side, dragging him out of formation. "What's going on?!" Starsky demanded.
"Well, since you don't seem to have a lot of concern for your own life, we're betting you'll have more concern over your buddy's. Ya' see, 387298, as long as we control 549776, we control you. And if you act up, we'll take it out on him. That is, if he has the strength to survive at all where he's going."
Starsky watched dumbfounded as the guards dragged Hutch to a large metal box in the center of the compound that sat in direct sunlight, in a place no shade would fall on it all day. Now that Starsky looked at it, he knew exactly what it was, but up to now he'd taken no real notice of it. A sweatbox! "He'll never survive that -- he's too weak!"
Starsky continued to plead for his partner even as the guards opened the door to the box and gruffly threw Hutch inside. Hutch felt a sharp pain in his already sore ribcage as he hit the side of the box.
"Behave yourself, 387298, and maybe I'll let him out of there by lunchtime. But if you act up again, he'll be in there forever."
Starsky wanted to lunge at the man, grab him by the throat and shake him until the key that secured the huge padlocks on the box popped out of his pudgy hand, but discretion kept him back. "I promise," he whispered, trying to get through to Hutch on a psychic level he wasn't even sure existed, "I'll get you outta there if it's the last thing I do!"
Dobey rubbed a bleary eye, wakened by the already scorching heat of the midsummer day. The sunlight had apparently been streaming into the room for several hours, but both men had been too tired for it to awaken them.
"Aw, shoot!" It was as close to a vulgarism as the Christian man allowed himself. "Huggy, wake up!"
"What time is it?" Huggy mumbled back, still not opening the eyes, which seemed to be glued shut.
Dobey picked up the clock from the table between the beds, holding it close to read the blurry numbers. "Says 10:00!"
"Damn!" Huggy had no such compunctions regarding his language. "And we wanted to get started at the crack of dawn!"
The two men hastily dressed, gulped down a pair of Pop Tarts, and headed out. Dobey pulled up short, standing in the doorway, when the phone rang. He grabbed it quickly, hoping against hope that the voice on the other end would belong to one of his missing officers.
"Captain Dobey? Sheriff Cord here. Finally got that information on those two murder victims. Seems they were both at Prison Farm #25, just a couple of miles west from where you found the bodies. Oh, and something else. It's also about three miles south along the road where your boys' car broke down.
"So what's the next step?"
"I'm going to pay a little visit to the Farm. Heading out right now."
"Would ya' mind taking along a coupla hitchhikers, Sheriff? Maybe someone there has seen Starsky and Hutch. We'd like to go along."
"I thought you might. I'll pick you up in front of the motel in ten minutes."
"Thanks a lot, Sheriff."
Hutch struggled to get his cramped arm up to his forehead, wiping away a fraction of the sweat that was free-flowing down his face and through his hair. Hope I pass out before it starts hurtin' much more.
He tried to focus his vision and attention on the inside of the box, hoping to find a catch or some possible way out. The meager light the holes in the box permitted to enter wasn't nearly enough to make a close examination, but it didn't matter because every time he tried to focus on something, his vision would swim before him, allowing no close scrutiny at all. He sat back as much as possible, just keeping his back from touching the burning-hot metal walls of what could become his tomb. "Hurts to breathe..." he managed aloud, knowing there was no one there to hear it. "Nose, mouth, throat, all on fire... lungs on fire, too... can't stop -- gotta keep breathing..." Between the intense heat and the pain in his ribs, each breath was torture, and although he wanted to take huge, gasping breaths, he settled for shallow ones.
Even though he could still hear his own inhaling and exhaling, his eyelids drooped. He knew he was losing consciousness, and vaguely wondered if he'd ever wake up again.
"Hutch!...HUTCH!" The blond man twitched, reacting to the incessant plea, calling his name, but he didn't know where the voice came from. He opened his eyes slowly, then squinted to focus on the apparition that only he could see. His confining prison had, while he slept, been seemingly enlarged, and fifteen feet in front of him a shapely figure beckoned. He noticed absently that, although the figure was standing, he was still unable to do so. She reached toward him, her arms outstretched.
"Hutch, come with me." Her voice was barely a whisper, but somewhere in his clouded mind, he knew it just the same.
"Gillian!" he whispered.
"Come with me, my love!" she went on. "I can take you away from the pain and the suffering." Her motions were melodramatic, emphasizing each word. He felt his heart wrench -- he hadn't allowed himself to think of her in so long, and he felt slightly guilty at that. But she didn't seem to hold it against him although she appeared to know what went through his mind. She responded to his thoughts just as strongly as to his spoken word, so he gave up straining his burning throat and concentrated on his thoughts.
How can you be here? I lost you -- held your body in my arms, felt the absence of life there.
"Isn't it enough that I'm here now? And we can be together if you come with me!"
You mean we can be together if I die, too?
But...but how can I leave Starsk? He needs me. We promised each other we'd get out of this together.
Suddenly, a second figure appeared beside Gillian, slightly shorter, and Hutch couldn't think, trying to look from one figure to the other. Both women were as beautiful as he remembered, and Terry's dark curls stirred slightly in the nonexistent breeze. A fleeting thought went through his mind that he wished he could feel the wind again -- he was so hot.
"Hutch," Terry said. "You've done everything I could've asked in taking care of Dave. But I can see you're tired. I can take over now. And he'll be with us soon."
But I don't think he wants to die! Doesn't what he wants, or what I want, mean anything?
"Of course it does. And you don't have to come if you're not ready." And before he could address her again, Terry's form faded away.
Gillian spoke up again. "I want to keep you from suffering, but the final decision isn't yours. You've got to let go and come now."
I'm not ready! The mental scream sent hot spikes through his brain, and for a minute he thought he'd lose the tenuous hold he had on consciousness. His brain was fried, confused, trying to sort out the differing answers he'd gotten from the two women.
She reached for him again, nearly catching his hand this time, but he pulled back from the wavering figure. I won't go!
At first the change was faint, so much so that he couldn't even tell exactly what was happening, except that it somehow didn't look entirely like Gillian anymore. What's happening? I won't let you take me! I need to fight -- to get out of this prison. To get Starsk out, too! The image continued to change, the hair darkening and becoming shorter, the rounded curves straightening out, the beautiful face metamorphosing into... Monk!
"Hutchinson. I thought for sure that little trick would work. But you can't beat me -- I'm sure you thought you did when you killed me, but I'm gonna get the last laugh." The voice was acid, taunting, and Hutch felt himself being pulled toward the evil man this time. "I'm going to pull you over to this side. You really are losing it if you think you can beat me!"
NO! Hutch gritted his teeth, pulling against a force that wasn't really there. I...won't... leave...Starsky! The pull was too strong, and Hutch felt the danger. He knew he was close to death, whether or not this was all an illusion. Can't...do...it...by...myself... Please, God, help me!
Hutch didn't really expect anything to appear -- never gave another thought to the prayer that had flown through his mind, but in that moment, another figure, bathed in a soft glow, appeared in his delusion. "If Starsky is to survive," Terry whispered, "Then you also must survive." She laid a gentle hand on his heart; Hutch felt no fear this time and didn't back away. He felt instantly strengthened by the touch, and as he began to feel some strength surge back into his battered form, the figure of Monk faded and finally died, screaming and snarling like a mad dog. Terry, as well, disappeared shortly, and the blond man found himself once again in the cramped oven that was his prison. He was still suffering from the heat, and his hair still hung in damp tendrils around his head.
He vaguely wondered if what he'd seen was real. He knew that he felt a little stronger, and hoped it would be enough to sustain him until help came or the guards felt some thread of conscience and let him out. "Help, Starsk," he whispered.
He used the last of his rapidly fading awareness to perform what he truly believed could be his last act. The floor of his prison was simple dirt, and with one weak finger he wrote what could be his final message in it. "STARSK, REMEMBER."
Starsky worked panickedly, digging potatoes at twice the speed he had shown prior to that moment. But it was a frantic act, a haven to keep from thinking about his partner. His sweltering, suffocating, tortured friend, fighting each moment for his life. The early morning sun that shown down on the field was still incredibly hot, and Starsky imagined the intense heat Hutch was subject to in that sweatbox. His hands worked independently of his mind which was going over and over the box which imprisoned the blond officer. Iron walls, only the tiniest pinholes for aeration, heavy, solid hinges and clasps, being held in place by huge padlocks. He'd seen these type of padlocks before -- they even occasionally tested them on the firing range: bullet-proof, saw-proof, torch-proof. Made to withstand anything.
No way I'm gonna get through those. The only chance we got is to get hold of the key.
He was so lost in thought, he almost missed the guards' attention straying from him and the area where he worked. Starsky moved subtly to the least-watched area. In short order, his basket was full, and he carried it to the dumping station. Here's my chance -- I've gotta take it! After dumping the potatoes in the larger bin, he abruptly dropped his basket and made a run for it. Who cared if they shot him in the back while he tried to escape? If he didn't do something, Hutch would be the one who ended up dead.
He could hear the commotion behind him when they discovered his retreating figure, but they couldn't spare more than one guard to pursue him. The following guard tried to fire as he ran, quickly discovering this to be a futile attempt. Starsky ran on, not looking back, his only thought that of his destination: the metal box back at the camp.
"Sheriff," Huggy questioned as the patrol car neared the Prison Farm, "If those guys were missin' from a State Correctional Facility, escaped or whatever, why didn't somebody hear about it?"
"That's exactly what I intend to find out," Cord answered, using his free hand to smooth the ends of his well-groomed mustache. "Something at least slightly wrong has got to be going on out at that farm."
"But why wouldn't the guards or the warden have reported a pair of missing convicts?" Dobey looked as if he already had an idea why they might not, and was not particularly enjoying the prospect.
"I don't know. But there's also a possibility that, somehow, the inmates have taken over the camp. Maybe those two wouldn't go along with them and they got wasted for it. There're a million possibilities, but speculating won't do us any good. Listen, when we get there, just let me do the talking. You'll know when to step in if I need you."
The car rolled to a stop in front of the huge iron gates, the young sheriff quickly jumping out of the driver's seat and approaching the guard shack. He flashed his badge, speaking fast -- hoping to keep the guard, or impostor guard, slightly off his mark. "Sheriff Cord," he introduced himself. "I've got a couple attorneys here who need to see their clients." He took a quick glance at the notepad he carried. "One John West, #387298, and one Robert Gallagher, #549776. Please let us in and bring these men to me in the warden's office."
The young guard stuttered, uncertain. "I...I...I'm sorry, Sheriff. I can't."
"What do you mean 'can't', kid? Are they on vacation or something?"
"Naw, sir." His eyes darted around, trying to find a way out of the fix. His face settled as he came to a decision, figuring a near-truth was easier to keep track of than an all-out lie. "All the inmates are out on work detail. They're not around and won't be back until late tonight."
Cord, his back to Dobey and Huggy, placed an unobtrusive hand behind his back, motioning unseen for the two men to join him. Dobey had been listening, and went right into his act. "Now listen, kid! You let me see my client, or I'll have you up before the state!"
"I'm sorry," the guard blushed, "they're simply not here. Why don't you come back tonight and you can talk to them and the man in charge."
"We'll just do that!" Dobey snapped back, and turned to stalk back to the squad car, Cord following close behind, walking much slower.
When all three stood next to the squad car, Dobey asked, "So what do you think?" the question directed at the sheriff.
"I'm not sure, but something sure is rotten in Denmark. I checked the prison records before I left this morning, and that young man is listed as one of the guards, so it's apparently not an inmate takeover. But he also didn't mention the missing men when asked point blank, and he's gotta know they're not there."
"So, what next?" Huggy asked, both black men allowing Cord, the resident officer, to take the lead.
"We'll just have to come back tonight to check it out. And if we meet any resistance, we'll force our way through every barracks and check every man."
"Check every man?" Dobey questioned. "But they're missing men. They have a shortage, not an overage."
Cord looked at Dobey grimly. "They do if they happen to have substituted two unidentified police officers for the prisoners they were short." It finally dawned on Dobey what Cord was getting at, and he didn't like the idea one bit.
"Starsky and Hutch aren't the kind of men to take something like that laying down. And if they were to try to escape..."
Just then, a lone figure sped toward the encampment, running so fast as to make him unrecognizable. Gunshots rang from behind him, grabbing Dobey, Cord, and Huggy's attention. Cord, followed closely by the other two men, pushed his way past the guard who stood in front of them just as McBride emerged through the gate to see what the commotion was about.
"Stop or I'll have to shoot!" McBride pulled his gun, only to have Cord knock it out of his hand before he could squeeze off a shot at the quickly approaching man.
Starsky had absolutely no intention of stopping, and was assured in this when he saw Dobey and Huggy outside the gates. Halfway there! Gotta keep going! There was a roar behind him, and the impact on his upper left leg sent him tumbling end over end. He rolled back up on his feet again, still mobile, but the limp he now had, slowed him down.
"Starsky!" Dobey looked to Cord, for once feeling helpless in the situation. Cord pulled his own gun and aimed at the guard preparing to fire again.
"You pull that trigger again," the sheriff yelled at the guard who was now approaching, "and your momma's gonna have a funeral to plan!" The gun lowered, and Starsky was finally able to approach Dobey unimpaired.
"They've got Hutch in that box!" He spat out the words, breathing heavily from the run and the pain in his leg. His right hand pointed while his left was pressed against the leg wound.
The sheriff, who now held McBride by the arm in a grip that was inescapable, led the guard into the compound to the side of the iron structure, noting the heavy gauge padlocks holding the door shut. Starsky only noticed the complete silence coming from inside. Panic rose in his chest, through his throat, choking him. Is he dead? Please don't let him be dead! Surely I'da felt it if he was gone!
"Open it!" Cord demanded.
"I'm afraid I couldn't, even if I wanted to, Sheriff -- ya' see, I don't have the key. Besides that, I don't want to."
What was happening to Hutch didn't seem to bother the man at all, and Starsky's words were delivered with a distinctly malevolent tone. "You're killing him!" It came out in a loud whisper, his rage barely contained at the quiet, methodical execution of his partner.
Dobey, silent until now, took a single step forward. Fire blazed in his normally gentle eyes as he wrapped one large hand around McBride's throat. "Open it now or I'll squeeze the life out of you!"
"STOP!" McBride choked out, while the two deputies tried to pull Dobey off the guard. The captain let go, and McBride looked to Cord, an incredulous look on his face. "You'd'a let him strangle me!"
"Naaah," Cord drawled. "Never woulda gotten that far."
McBride massaged the red marks left on his neck, then bent down to remove one worn cowboy boot. From a pocket hidden on the inside, he withdrew a single key, and Starsky bluntly grabbed it from his hand, rushing to the locks he hoped it would open.
'Click' -- one shackle snapped open, and Starsky savagely ripped the padlock from the box. 'Click' -- the second was away from the door and thrown in the dirt next to the first. The dark-haired officer sat next to the door instead of kneeling, in deference to the bullet still lodged in his thigh. It was an awkward position, and because of the angle, it took all the strength he had to pull open the heavy iron door. The metal burned his hands with its intense heat, but Starsky never hesitated.
There was no sound from the interior, so Huggy knelt beside Starsky and they both reached gentle hands into the darkened interior, carefully sliding out the unconscious form within. They laid Hutch flat in the dirt, and, in the camp's floodlights, they were finally able to see the man clearly. Starsky was sickened by what the "government employees" had done to his partner. He looked up to Dobey with pleading eyes.
"Please help him! Get someone to help Hutch!" His voice cracked on the name, fearing he might never speak it again except in memory. He took the blond's limp hand in his own, then suddenly let go, realizing that the skin was dry and cracking in his hand instead of being damp with sweat. When a person stopped perspiring, Starsky knew, he was in real trouble. Huggy saw the color drain from Starsky's face, then the curly head moved to hide itself behind the side of the box, out of view of the spectators. The sounds of Starsky's stomach emptying itself into the dirt silenced all other discussion, save for the single deputy who ran to radio for an ambulance.
Zebra Three's dark member wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and returned to his partner's side. He stared down at Hutch, almost not recognizing his partner. Hutch looked so still, so weak. He bent down over Hutch's face, being careful not to touch him, and placed an ear next to the nose and mouth. The breaths were hesitant, shallow, and extremely irregular.
Starsky kept his position there, faintly fearing that, if he stopped listening, the weak breaths might stop altogether. He didn't know how long he'd been frozen in this position before he felt the slight vibration as one of the deputies ran up.
"Dispatch says there'll be a helicopter here in five or ten minutes. They'll have paramedics on board."
Hope he can survive that long! "Please, God," Starsky prayed, "keep him alive!" He whispered the prayer, and Dobey tried to remember if he'd ever heard the normally sarcastic member of the team invoke the help of the supreme Being before.
The time dragged until the paramedics finally arrived and Starsky saw them running up. I didn't even hear the helicopter land! The two men and one woman in white approached rapidly, all six arms laden with supplies. Starsky, however, was hesitant to give up his position by his partner's side.
"Dave," Dobey started as he and Huggy each placed their hands on Starsky's shoulders, "You've gotta give 'em room to work."
"No, can't leave him!"
"Starsky!" Huggy's voice was directly in his ear, shattering the almost cataleptic stiffness in the officer's face and arms. "Do you want Hutch to die? If you don't get outta the way, these folks can't help him!"
Starsky allowed his two friends to lead him a few feet from where the medics moved in to care for the still-unconscious officer. One of the men pulled at the front of Hutch's shirt, popping each of the button's off, then drew out some scissors and cut the remainder of the man's clothes off. As he was slicing the work pants, the female member of the team examined his chest and abdomen.
"One badly broken rib," she reported, running one hand over Hutch's chest and flanks as she listened to his breathing. "Possibility of a collapsed lung. Doesn't appear to be any internal bleeding."
The third medic hesitated in applying the oxygen mask to the blond man, knowing that the pressure of it would irritate the dried skin and sensitive bruises on the patient's face. "No choice," he whispered to himself. He looked apologetically at the prone figure as he attached the mask over his nose and mouth with elastic bands. The injuries would pretty much have to wait for treatment, but they had to start on the heatstroke now. They worked smoothly as a team, wrapping large, sterile sheets, doused with cool water, around the blond's body. "Looks like he's in shock," the medic went on, applying a blood pressure cuff to the one arm they'd left outside the sheets. "BP's low, pulse is racing." He reinflated the cuff, using it to help start the IV they inserted into Hutch's arm.
Starsky stood meekly between strong arms, but the arms didn't restrain him when he knelt to examine the inside of Hutch's prison. It was then that Starsky found the message Hutch had left for him, miraculously not erased by their extrication of the blond. "I'll always remember, partner!" he whispered fervently. "I'll remember every second."
"Let's take 'im in!" the woman declared to her counterparts. A pair of deputies brought forward an ambulance gurney, and they gently lifted Hutch onto it and began moving toward the helicopter. When they headed away, Starsky rose to follow and almost collapsed in a heap as his wounded leg went out from under him.
"C'mon, buddy," Huggy said, and the gunshot victim realized Huggy was at his shoulder. "We'll help you to the chopper." With Dobey and Huggy on each side, Starsky's arms draped over their shoulders, it was easy for him to keep up with the medics. When the two black men helped Starsky into the chopper, the medics were surprised to see that he, too, was injured.
"Why didn't you tell us you were hurt!" one of them reprimanded. "Walking on that wound could really create problems." Starsky grinned sheepishly at the woman, and her look softened. "I guess we can't change that now. We'll just have to check it out on the way in."
By the time the helicopter landed at San Diego General, Starsky's thigh was tightly bandaged and he was short one pant leg. As they unloaded the gurney, Starsky noticed that his partner was beginning to faintly stir, rolling his head from side to side. The oxygen also seemed to be helping, and he no longer seemed to be in distress.
"That's a good sign," he was told as he stared at Hutch. "As long as he gets complete care from here on in, he'll probably be all right." Starsky limped alongside of the bed, but the medics, ever mindful of their duty, kept close eyes on him as well, just in case.
By the time the doctor was done treating Starsky's bullet wound, he was informed by Dobey that Hutch had been settled into a room, his condition reported as "serious."
"I need to see him," Starsky almost snapped, his words clipped. A stranger might have been hurt at his tone, but Dobey and Huggy both knew what Hutch meant to his partner.
"I told the doctor you'd say that. He said that if you wanted, you could visit him for a few minutes."
Starsky walked slowly to the hospital room, in deference to the ache beginning to grow in his leg. He looked down momentarily at the packet of pain pills he held in his hand. He grimaced as he shoved them in his back pocket, disregarding them for the moment.
As Starsky pushed open the door, he noticed right away that the light level was up, brightening the room. How do they expect Hutch to sleep with all this light!
He drew close to the bed, seeing that the blond's eyes were indeed closed, and he seemed to be breathing regularly. This last was assisted by the oxygen tube which ran under the officer's nose. Starsky breathed a sigh of relief at the much-improved appearance of his partner. Hutch's skin looked better and was clean, his hair the same, although it was not combed in his usual style. He looked much improved, the healing that had already begun, very apparent, and Starsky marveled momentarily at the human body's recuperative powers.
The evidence of his eyes comforted Starsky, and he began turn and go. He'd turned 180 degrees when a faint whisper at his back caused him to spin around. Blue eyes opened and met another pair of blue eyes. "Starsk," Hutch repeated.
"See, pal, I told you I'd get us out of there. Sorry it couldn't've been sooner."
"S'okay," Hutch said, swallowing. "At least we're out. Did we get those guards?"
"Yeah, sure did. Had a little help from the captain and Huggy."
Hutch looked puzzled, not understanding where the two men fit into the picture. Starsky could see how bright his eyes were, evidence of massive painkilling medication running into his system from the IV by the bedside.
"They came looking for us," Starsky went on. "Came in like gangbusters with half the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. 'Fraid the State Prison Commission is gonna have a lot of cleanup to do at the Farm."
Hutch started to drift off, letting the mist of sleep pull him down. "Starsk...check with the doctor. Ask him when they can transfer me home."
"I don't think you'll be released for awhile yet, buddy."
"No. Transfer me to a hospital in L.A. 'Ve had about as much of San Diego County as I can take."
"I'll ask him," Starsky said, then realized that the blond man had already drifted off.
Two days later, Starsky stuck his head through the slightly opened door. Hutch was awake, with the head of the bed raised slightly, watching something innocuous on television.
"Hey, partner! How're you feelin'?"
"Pretty good." Hutch noticed that Starsky still had not come into the room. "C'mon in, Starsk. I've been waitin' for you all day!"
"You feel up to having a few visitors? I've got some people who are just dyin' to see you."
"Sure, I guess."
"Okay, everyone. C'mon in." Starsky directed the comment into the hallway behind him, then swung the door wide.
Dobey and Huggy entered first, their smiles of greeting comforting and friendly. The four people who came in after that, Hutch did not recognize. They also smiled broadly at the recuperating officer. The first man was tall, broad, and handsome. Mustached with wavy medium-brown hair. The following three people all wore white, one woman and two men. Oh, no! Not more hospital personnel!
Hutch didn't realize how much his expression was giving him away until Starsky said, "I know you don't recognize everyone, but they wanted to see how you were. This is Sheriff Cord." He motioned to the first man. "He and his men helped Huggy and Dobey get us outta there." Cord stepped forward and said hello, stretching out his hand in a firm handshake. "And these," he motioned to the three in white, "Are the paramedics who brought you in. Probably saved your life."
"Thank you," Hutch said, his eyes shining. "All of you -- I'll never be able to repay..."
At that moment, his attention and everyone else's in the room was diverted by a commotion in the hallway. Two men walked down the hall, side by side. A blond, handsome man held his arm and its newly applied cast, the other man, older and thinner with a mustache, held his hand to the side of his head, the edges of a white bandaged peeking out between the fingers. The men were arguing loudly, but the tone was good-natured.
"Who're they?!" Starsky was shocked at the noise in a hospital.
"It's okay," the female paramedic remarked. "A local brother P.I. team. They fight like that all the time. Seems like they're always in here getting patched up."
"Sound familiar, Starsk?" Hutch broke in, recognizing some of their own tones in the brothers' fighting as the argument receded down the corridor.
"How'd you know them?" Starsky asked the woman. "Have you had to treat them, too?" She stammered and her face flushed, and, although she answered 'Yes', he got the impression there was more to it than that and decided not to intrude.
Cord spoke up again. "We all wanted to see you before they transfer you to L.A. tomorrow. Hope you're better real soon."
"Thanks for stopping by -- I'm glad to meet all of you." It was at this point that it sunk in that the sheriff had said. "Wait!" Hutch turned to Starsky. "You didn't tell me I was getting transferred tomorrow!"
"I wanted to keep it a surprise," Starsky said, his eyes going to the Sheriff. Cord grinned sheepishly at his slip.
"Well, thanks anyway."
The four new friends said their good-byes and left, leaving Huggy, Dobey, Starsky and Hutch alone together. "Well, Hutchinson, Huggy and I are gonna head back to L.A. We'll see you there tomorrow," Dobey said.
"I'm riding back in the ambulance with you," Starsky put in at Hutch's questioning look.
"That's great," Hutch slurred, exhaustion creeping up on him. "Think I'll get some sleep now..."
And he was instantly asleep. The three friends quietly snuck out of the room, and Starsky turned off the ceiling light on his way out.
"Why does it always have to be this way!" Starsky grumbled in frustration.
"Because this is the way the DMV works, Starsk. And there's nothing you can do about it, so you might as well just put up with it!"
Starsky looked at his newly-released partner. He looked much better than he had three weeks before, and the only sign of his injuries was the slightly darker-than-normal tone to his skin. "But why does it always have to take so long!"
"Look, Starsk. We don't have any choice. Ryan stole our driver's licenses, and that means we hafta get 'em replaced, no matter how many lines we have to stand in. If you don't like it, write to the governor."
"I might just do that!"
The line they were standing in inched forward, until the men were finally at the window where they had to pay the license fee. Both men impatiently shoved their paperwork at the woman behind the counter who took it, stamped, ripped, signed and returned it to them. She then took the checks in payment from the counter and placed them in her drawer.
"Okay, gentlemen," she said, snapping her bubblegum loudly, "Please step over to that line," she pointed, "and have your pictures taken. You should get your permanent licenses in the mail in about two weeks. These are your temporary licenses -- please keep them with you at all times." Her tone made it sound like she said the same line a thousand times a day.
Hutch was first in line, so when his turn came, he stood quietly on the mark. "Hey, if this comes out badly, can I have it done again?"
"No," the man behind the camera remarked gruffly. "Only one shot per customer."
Hutch stood still while the man snapped the picture, then stepped away to make room for Starsky. "I don't know why we have to do this, anyway. The picture never looks like me!" Starsky moaned. Then Hutch saw his partner's face brighten, a sure sign that there was something cooking in the curl-covered head of his. But Starsky took his place on the line, pulling down his short jacket and running his hands through his hair. Don't tell me he's actually gonna take this seriously!
"Okay," muttered the man behind the camera. "Ready? One... Two... Three." When the man said 'three', three things happened simultaneously. The shutter on the camera, naturally, clicked, but also, the blue eyes of the photographee crossed and Starsky's tongue stuck out of his mouth in final and irrevocable disrespect for the licensing system. Hutch stood, shocked at his partner's antics. The man taking the picture hadn't been looking, filling out paperwork while he snapped the shutter, once he'd made sure Starsky was in frame.
"That was very childish!" Hutch admonished him as they left the DMV.
"Yeah!" Starsky laughed. "But wait till Dobey gets a look at it!"
Hutch grinned back. "It's nice to know, partner, that you'll never change!"