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Part One

Side Effects
Mary Kleinsmith

Part Two

Dobey hadn't been able to tell Starsky any more than he already knew, but he could see being locked up was showing greatly on the Captain. Starsky had seen the man upset or angry many times before, but this was the first time he could remember seeing Dobey truly depressed. Dobey's lawyer had gotten the prosecution's list of witnesses. Among them were several officers from their own precinct who were being subpoenaed to testify that they'd overheard a rather hostile argument between Hutch and the captain. Never mind that it was only one of many he'd had with Starsky, Hutch, or both over the years.

After leaving the holding center, Starsky decided to go to the squad room to take a look at the officers' records. But he'd lost some of the confidence that he'd had earlier, a certainty that he'd be able to solve this case and clear Dobey. Maybe it was his captain's depression that was infecting Starsky, or perhaps it was being without his partner. Whatever it was, it had him thoroughly discouraged, and he decided to stop off at Huggy's for lunch before making his way to headquarters.

The smile Huggy wore for his patrons fooled them all, but not Starsky. He'd known him too well and for too long. "Hi, Starsk," Huggy said, letting the smile slide from his face. With this man, he did not have to keep up pretenses, and he knew it.

"Hi, Hug. I'd love a beer, but I guess I'll settle for the regular."

Huggy nodded, leaving only long enough to give the order to the cook, then returning. "How's Hutchie doing?" he asked, looking scared.

"He seems to be stronger. If he keeps going the way he's going, I think he'll be okay." Starsky paused a moment, then added, "Knock on wood." Not that he believed in such things; it was just an expression.

Huggy smiled slightly, genuinely. "What about Dobey?"

"Not good. All this is really startin' to get to him; I don't think he believes he's gonna get out anymore."

"I had a feeling. I fixed some of his favorite foods and took it down to the jail, but the guards wouldn't let me give it to him. They said that the `prisoner' would have to eat what all the other prisoners did. No special treatment. How d'you like that? The man spends almost thirty years bein' an honest cop, and he's not entitled to any `special treatment'. It stinks if ya ask me."

Diane set Starsky's plate in front of him and left just as quickly, having no desire to interfere in the conversation. "Yeah, it stinks all right," Starsky said. "Everything about this case stinks, and I guess I'm the only one who cares if an innocent man is being brought to trial. I'm sorry that the judge set the bail so high, but I guess, in a way, it's for the best."

"Are you crazy? How can $750,000 be for the best?"

"Because right now, I think that $750,000 is the only thing keeping Hutch safe."

"You wanna run that by me again, amigo? That sounds like you think if he got out, Dobey would...."

"That's not what I meant and you know it. But whoever really did this to Hutch would be nuts to go after him while the cops' prime suspect is in jail. That in itself would clear Dobey and get the police working on other angles. This way, they lay low while the captain goes to jail and Hutch, if they're lucky, dies a slow and painful death."

"Damn! You're right. So what are you going to do, Starsk?"

"I'm going to keep looking. It's all I can do for now." He took a large gulp of his Pepsi, emptying the glass, and left, leaving half of the super-Huggy burger still on his plate.


"Greg, we've got to do something about Starsky. I don't like him nosing around so much. He's gonna figure it out." Drew Sullivan almost whispered with his breathy sounding voice.

"He's miles away from figuring out the truth, Drew. And by the time he does, Hutchinson will be dead and we'll be out of the state."

"We can't leave until we're sure he's dead. You agreed, remember? You promised."

"I know, and we won't leave until we see his obituary in the paper. I tried calling the hospital, but they won't tell anybody what his condition is unless it's in person and you're authorized by Starsky. Hutchinson sure is a stubborn cuss to hang on this long. Sometimes I wish we could just help him a little."

"You don't dare," Drew said, taking his brother's hand. "Then they'd figure out that Dobey wasn't the one who tried to ice him. But that won't stop you from making Starsky have an `accident'."

"What kind of accident do you have in mind, little brother?" Greg's eyes were squinted, looking down at Drew. Despite the need of the wheelchair, Drew's mind was as sharp as ever, perfectly able to come up with the plan. He spent a few minutes listening to his brother's plan, and had to agree that it was a good one. And the best thing about it was that there was no way anybody would be able to prove it was anything more than just bad luck on Starsky's part. Drew had already been in touch with an acquaintance who happened to have a 3/4-ton pickup truck for work on his construction sites, and it only took a promise of a few thousand dollars to convince him to drive the truck when they told him and where. Of course, before he agreed, they'd had to guarantee that the cops would be sure to take it as an accident with no possible responsibility being placed on him, which they were able to do convincingly.

Drew sat in total silence as his brother made the call. "Hello, could you connect me with Sergeant Starsky please?" Greg smiled wickedly at Drew as he waited to be connected. From the sound of it when it finally came through, the voice sounded filtered; it must have been a patch into the detective's radio.

"Yeah, what can I do for you?" Starsky asked impatiently.

"Sergeant Starsky, this is Greg Sullivan from the nursery. I just thought of something else about the man who bought the plant that poisoned your partner. Can you come over right away?"

Maybe he's realized his mistake, Starsky thought, already pressing harder on the gas pedal. "Okay, where?"

"My house, about ten miles out of town. I'm afraid I can't come and see you because I'm sort of babysitting." Okay, so Drew wasn't a child, but it was a good excuse anyway. He went on, giving Starsky precise directions, and finally ended the conversation after Starsky said he'd be there in about fifteen minutes.

"Fifteen minutes," Greg repeated, turning to Drew as the younger man picked up the phone. Their driver was ready, and said it would be no problem to be where Drew wanted him at least five minutes before Starsky would arrive.

"Okay, Greg," Drew said after he hung up the phone. "The only thing left to do is up to you. Think you can do it by yourself?"

"Of course I can," Greg answered, slightly perturbed. "What do you think I am? The teenagers in the area do it for kicks all the time. The cops won't even be surprised!" He grabbed his jacket and winked at his brother before leaving.


The red-and-white Torino was a mess. That was the first thing the LA County Sheriff noticed as he arrived at the scene of the accident. He hoped whoever was inside was in better shape than the driver's side damage indicated. The pickup looked less damaged, thankfully. Dammit! Sheriff Higgins thought. I knew those kids' stunts would end up gettin' somebody hurt some day!

He pulled the patrol car to a stop and climbed out near the car after first verifying that an ambulance and tow trucks were in route. A pair of deputies were already on the scene. "What's going on, Benton?" the sheriff asked, approaching the young man.

"Looks like vandals pulled up the stop signs again. The red car was headed south; should've had the stop sign, but, of course.... Then the truck came over the hill, went through the intersection, and bam!" He punched a fist into a hand to make his point.

"How are the victims?" Higgins asked, stretching to get a look over the deputy's shoulder.

"The driver of the truck seems fine. A little shaken up, but no injuries. The car's driver is unconscious, but he seems in pretty good shape. It's a good thing that Ford made those cars with a lot of steel; if it'd been one of those new fiberglass jobs, he'd never've had a chance."

Higgins circled around the deputy to open the passenger side of the Torino and sit on the seat next to the unconscious victim. "Have you been able to get an ID on him?"

"Yeah, I ran the plates; we couldn't get at his wallet without moving him. Believe it or not, he's LAPD Detective Sergeant David Michael Starsky."

"Okay, we'll have the hospital call his next of kin when we get there. Where the hell is that ambulance when we need it?!" he said, exasperated. As if in answer, the faint wailing of a siren could be heard, and soon the rescue squad and ambulance were practically screeching to a stop beside the sheriff's car.

Getting the driver's door open was hopeless, so the paramedics went in through the passenger side after shooing away Higgins. Trying to be helpful, he went to talk with the truck's driver, who was already giving his statement to Benton's partner. Surprisingly enough, they found that the truck was still drivable, and after taking down all the pertinent information and his statement of what had happened, they were able to release him to go on his way. Higgins returned as they were removing Starsky from the car, wearing a cervical collar and lying on a back board.

"What's his condition?" he asked the paramedics.

"He was very lucky from what we can tell. No signs of broken bones or internal injuries. He took a pretty nasty crack to the head, resulting in that laceration on his forehead and another on his left temple. Could be a concussion, but not necessarily. All his vitals are normal."

"Good. Sounds like he'll be okay pretty quickly. I guess, once you get him to the hospital and we get his car towed in, this one's closed." He turned to Benton with instructions to wait for the tow truck and see to the clean up work, then left the scene in the same direction the ambulance had gone.


Huggy Bear walked through the reception area of the hospital, going straight to the desk to get Hutch's room number. He was a little embarrassed that he hadn't been here to visit his friend sooner, but sometimes things just got too busy.... No, that wasn't the truth. The truth was that he didn't like to see Starsky or Hutch hurting. But his sense of duty had finally overridden that.

His voice rose slightly in volume to overcome the chattering of the staff members who walked by. Apparently, it was time for a shift change, and women in white were leaving the building in small groups. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said in his most polite voice. "Could you give me the room number of Sergeant Ken Hutchinson?"

He almost didn't catch the room number when a pretty red-haired woman pulled up short as she walked by. "Did you say Ken Hutchinson?"

"Yeah, I did. Why?" Huggy was confused.

"Because I just came from working in the ER. They brought in an unconscious accident victim who's ID showed the next of kin as a `Ken Hutchinson'. We tried to call the number, but there was no answer."

"Oh, my Lord!" Huggy exclaimed in a near whisper. There was only one person who would have Hutch listed as next of kin. "You didn't get an answer because Ken Hutchinson is right here in your hospital. This patient--was his name David Starsky?"

"Yes. Is he a friend of yours, too?"

"They both are! Where is Starsky? How is he?"

"Now don't worry," she said, laying a gentle hand on Huggy's thin arm. "He's in the emergency room, but everything looks good. As long as he wakes up soon, he probably won't even be admitted."

"Good...good.... Listen, if you ladies will excuse me, I'm going to go check on Starsky, then I've gotta see Hutch. I don't know what he's gonna think about this!" He followed the signs to the emergency room, not quite convinced that the brunet was going to be okay until he saw it for himself.


"C'min," Hutch said sleepily in response to the knock. He was still so tired...

"Hey, Hutchie!" Huggy said, forcing jocularity. "How's it goin'?"

"What's wrong, Hug?" he asked immediately, not missing the strain in the tall man's face.

"I just came to visit a sick friend! What makes you think that somethin's wrong?"

"C'mon, Hug," Hutch said, sinking back onto the pillows. "I'm too tired to play this game. What's going on?" Huggy hesitated again and let something more slip into his expression. "Oh, my God. Is Starsky okay? Or is it Dobey?" When Huggy didn't answer, he entreated, pushing himself up again, "Huggy, please! Tell me what's wrong!"

Huggy didn't miss the agitation in the patient or the paleness that came over his face as he became more and more upset. "Take it easy, bro. Everything is gonna be okay. Relax and I'll tell you about it." When he saw that Hutch had done his best to calm himself, he sat down. "I just came from downstairs...the ER.... He's okay and he'll be up in a few minutes, but Starsky had a little car accident."

"A car accident?!"

Huggy peripherally noticed that the heart rate and blood pressure monitors' beeps were becoming louder and more frequent. "Starsky's too good a driver unless he was chasing someone!" exclaimed Hutch. "Who was he after?"

"I don't know, buddy," Huggy said, just as Lynn came into the room to check on the patient. One look at the monitors told her all she needed to know.

"Ken, you're going to have to calm down or you could still have a relapse. I don't want to make your friend leave, but I will if it means your health. He can't be agitated," she added, turning to Huggy accusingly.

"I'm sorry," Hutch said, doing his best to at least sound calm. "Lynn, this is my friend Huggy. Huggy, my nurse Lynn." He turned back to the blond woman. "Huggy just told me that Starsky's had a car accident. He's in the ER downstairs."

"Oh, I'm sorry! Would you like me to check on his condition for you?" Her expression changed to one of intense sympathy, her heart going out to her patient.

"I don't think that'll be necessary," Huggy said, smiling. "The doctor said he's awake and is going to be released momentarily. I promised to stick with him to be sure he's okay, but the doctor said he was lucky and didn't even get a concussion."

"Good," Lynn responded, nodding. "I'm glad." She turned to Hutch with a determined look in her eyes. "And when he gets here, and you've seen that he's okay, I expect you to get some sleep!"

"But I'm feeling better all the time," Hutch responded, trying his best to look healthy.

"Oh, really?" she answered with a wicked grin. "Then perhaps you'd like to demonstrate by walking down to the lab for a GI series?" She knew he really didn't need the very uncomfortable test, but he didn't know it.

"A GI series? Umm.... Welll, I guess I am a little tired. Can't we do it later? Like maybe tomorrow?" He slumped down, pulling the covers up around his throat as Huggy smiled and exchanged a wink with Lynn before she departed.

"The next time I see you, Mr. Hutchinson," she said as she opened the door, "you'd better be asleep." He nodded at her back, not totally certain she was kidding about the Gastro-Intestinal series.

"So where is that partner of mine?" Hutch asked Huggy after she'd left. His eyelids felt so heavy, but he had to stay awake until he saw with his own eyes that his best friend was safe.

"I don't know, Blondie. Why don't you just close your eyes and rest until he gets here. I promise we'll wake ya up the second he comes through that door."

It didn't take much convincing; this was more activity than Hutch had seen in days, and it had exhausted him more than he was willing to admit. "Well, maybe just for a minute..." he slurred, drifting off, but the worry crease in his forehead told Huggy that he was still, even in his sleep, thinking about his partner.

Watching Hutch sleep was not the most exciting of pastimes, and Huggy was almost slipping off himself when he heard the click of the door's opening. It was the only alert he'd gotten, since the hinges and door closer were well lubricated to not disturb the patients.

"Brother, you're a mess!" Huggy stage-whispered, taking in the bandages on Starsky's head. "What's the final verdict?"

"Two sets of stitches, bruised ribs, and lots of other various bruises. Nothin' big. How's he doin'?" Starsky nodded at the sleeping blond, forgetting until it hit him what a throb it would create in his head. "Damn, I shouldn'ta done that," he muttered, putting a hand atop his head. "Huggy, I think you'd better check and see if my head's still on."

"It's still there, Starsk, and if you know what's good for ya, you'll get over there and show your partner that it's still there. He's been worried sick since I told him."

"He sure don't look worried to me," Starsky laughed, approaching the bed.

"That's only because he just couldn't make it any longer. The nurse threatened him with a GI series if he didn't get some rest." Huggy smiled and Starsky returned it.

"Lynn did that?" Starsky chuckled again before stiffly lowering himself to a sitting position on the bed facing Hutch. "Hey, partner. The least ya can do when I come to visit ya is stay awake `til I get here."

He was rewarded with a pair of flickering blond lashes that parted to reveal vague but still vibrantly sky-blue eyes. It took a few moments for Hutch to take in his friend. "Starsk?"

"Yeah, it's me. C'mon, buddy. Wake up and tell me how ya feel." Despite the obvious improvement, Starsky just couldn't believe that Hutch was on his way to recovery. There had been too many close calls where he'd learned not to presume anything.

Starsky knew Hutch was awake when, instead of telling him how he felt, the blond raised a slow and weakened arm to touch the white at Starsky's temple. "Starsk," he said, swallowing, then licking his lips. "How's the head? Are you okay?"

"Everything's fine," he answered, taking Hutch's hand from his brow and lowering the clasped hands to the bed. "Just a couple of cuts and bruises. Doc says I'm fine. I just wish the Torino was doin' as well." Starsky adopted a pout that reminded Hutch how childlike his partner could be at times.

"What happened?" Everything was still a little foggy, but he pushed himself up slightly as he came more awake.

"Kids trying to be funny. They pulled out a couple stop signs at a four-way intersection. I'm sure you can guess the rest."

"Yeah, I can. Where'd it happen?"

"Out on old County Route 36. About eight miles out of the city."

"Starsk, what the hell were you doing out there?" Huggy interjected, knowing it was only a matter of moments before Hutch did the same.

"I got a call from the guy at the nursery. Said he remembered something I should know about the man who bought that plant. I thought it might be something to help clear the captain." He looked down for a second, thinking. "Guess I'll have to get his number from the file and check in with him in the morning." Starsky's voice had grown quieter, and Huggy was quick to notice that he was the only person in the room who was totally awake.

"Hey, guys," he said, trying not to sound like he was coddling them--which he was. "You both look wiped. How's about I take Curly here home for a good night's snooze, and come back to check on Blondie in the morning." He purposefully looked at the other man as he talked about his partner, knowing that neither would admit the exhaustion in himself.

"Sounds like a good idea," Starsky agreed, a little too quickly. "I'll see ya tomorrow, buddy." He squeezed the still-too-thin hand one more time before letting Huggy lead him out the door and to his own white Caddy.


Two mornings later, after spending the entire previous day in bed, Starsky stood in front of the mirror in irritation, trying to arrange the tangled curls so that the bandages didn't show. Finally, he admitted it was no use and pulled off the white tape. To hell with the doctors--he couldn't go out in public like that!

He winced as the last piece yanked out a couple hairs. "Ouch! Who cares...probably goin' gray anyway, thanks to that partner of mine. How can one guy get into so much trouble?" He didn't care that he was talking to himself; it was the best audience possible when Hutch wasn't around. He checked the clock over his shoulder and realized he'd better hurry. It was almost 10:00 and he was still undressed, unshowered, and didn't even have his beloved watch on.

"Huggy, get up and make some coffee," he called to the comatose figure on the couch. "I'll be out as soon as I get my shower."

Huggy was quick to rise, noting that Starsky had slept late, was well rested and seemed much better. He himself, however, was still tired. It came from lying awake nights worrying and spending days watching over two white boys who didn't seem to be capable of taking care of themselves. He'd even left the bar in the waitresses' hands the previous day while he stayed here to be sure Starsky was okay, only leaving long enough while Starsky slept to visit Hutch briefly, assuring him that his partner was okay.

By the time Huggy made it to the coffeemaker and had a pot brewing, Starsky was emerging from the bathroom, his hair-covered chest glistening wet and dripping here and there on his jeans, in contrast to his dry head.

"Where are your bandages?" Huggy asked accusingly, but Starsky didn't hesitate in answering.

"They were too noticeable," he said simply, shrugging the quickly drying shoulders.

"So you just pulled `em off?" Huggy huffed like a parent scolding a child.

"Hey, give me a little credit. At least I remembered what the doctor said about not getting the stitches wet. What more d'ya want from me! I can't go out on the streets looking like I'm one of the walking wounded."

"Even if you are?" Huggy said, ribbing Starsky.

"I am not one of the walking wounded!" Starsky said, sounding more like a petulant little boy than ever, and Huggy fought the desire to respond with an "Are too!" Instead, he set a steaming cup on the kitchen table.

"Here's your brew. Sit down and drink up." Once Starsky had settled in, he thought to ask, "You want a ride to the station after this? I'd think the motor pool will have a car you can use until yours is fixed."

"Nah, but you can drive me to Hutch's. I figure, one hunk of junk is just as bad as another, and I'm used to the squash." He vaguely remembered Huggy telling him the day before that he'd had it driven from the Pits to Venice place after Hutch had taken ill. "It's not like Hutch's gonna need it any time soon, and he gave me a spare key awhile back, so I'm all set. Except for cleaning out the back seat and some gas, maybe." He smiled fondly remembering how much he enjoyed giving his partner a hard time about his beloved wreck.

Huggy studied the brunet as he sipped the hot coffee. And you certainly wouldn't mind being surrounded by something of the blond's, right? Just to make ya feel like he's with you? Starsk, you're as transparent as glass. You may not be able to admit that you miss him, but, as far as your friends are concerned, you don't have to.


Hutch climbed into the cab and gave the lady driver directions to Starsky's apartment. He rested his head on the back on the seat, wondering briefly if he'd been missed back at the hospital yet. It hadn't been easy to sneak out without running into any of the Gestapo-like staff, and he was glad that he hadn't run into Lynn either. He liked her a lot, and knew it would upset her if he left before she felt he was ready.

He fought to keep from falling asleep on the lulling cab ride through the city. He was exhausted, having spent a sleepless night thinking about Starsky's accident. Accident. He wasn't willing to accept that as a given just yet. It was just too convenient, too timely, and too suspicious. Whoever had been out to get Hutch would more than likely want Starsky too, and that drive in the country was the perfect setup. Well, not quite perfect, Hutch smiled slightly. Starsky was still alive.

"Here we are, Sugar," the driver said, waking him from his near-sleep. He quickly shuffled through his wallet until he found the right number of bills, then passed them to her through the plastic shield separating the back seat from the front. Reaching for the door handle, it took all his willpower to stop his arm from trembling.

He didn't see the black-and-white figures that were emerging from the building only a few feet away. It was a sunny day, so Starsky couldn't see into the cab, but something about it drew his attention. He was standing beside the door when Hutch opened it, confirming what his gut had already told him.

"Hutch! What the hell are you doing here?" He nearly shouted as he took in the blond sitting on the edge of the seat.

"Helping you solve a case," Hutch replied simply, abruptly getting to his feet.

He wasn't ready for the sudden action to his weakened system, but Starsky was there to catch him when his legs gave out. "Hutch!" he said again, over the lump in his throat. "That does it! I don't know what you think you're doin', but I'm takin' you back to the hospital."

"No, you're not!" Hutch replied rebelliously, gaining his footing and pushing Starsky away. Truthfully, Starsky was relieved to see him--more than he would admit. He'd be grateful to have Hutch at his side to solve this case, provided, of course, that he could keep Hutch at his side.

Huggy shook his head, chuckling as he watched his two friends argue. "Well, are we going or not?" he finally asked.

"Where are we going?" Hutch asked, following behind as Starsky strode toward the white car.

"Your place. To get your car," he said shortly. "But I'm drivin'!"

Hutch may have been rebellious but he wasn't stupid. He knew he wasn't in any shape to drive, especially should they get involved in anything requiring high speeds and coordination. But he also didn't want Starsky to know that. "Okay, but only because your car's in the shop. So help me God, though, if you put a scratch on it..."

"How would you know?" Starsky answered sarcastically.

"Ha, ha. Very funny," Hutch responded, climbing into the back seat and doing his best to ignore the hand Starsky had put under his elbow. He didn't go through all the effort of sneaking out of the hospital to have his partner concentrate all his attention on him instead of the case. He was here to help, and he swore he was going to be more of one than a hindrance.

Making a concerted effort to look healthy as Starsky studied him, he smiled at the back of the driver's head. "Home, James," he chuckled lightly, growing to full laugh when Huggy responded with a smiling, "yes, massah!"


Once at Venice Place, Huggy didn't wait around before heading back to the Pits, knowing he needed to clean up what hadn't been able the day before. Starsky looked over the situation as they stood on the sidewalk next to the LTD.

"Look, why don't you wait here--take a seat on the hood--and I'll go up and get your keys." From Hutch's appearance, Starsky wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to make the climb, plus, there was something he wanted to handle without the blond looking over his shoulder.

If Hutch remembered that Starsky had his own car key, he didn't mention it. "Okay," he agreed, a little too willingly, as he leaned back against a fender. Their eyes met for just a moment before Starsky turned and disappeared through the door.

It seemed unnatural somehow, to be going into this apartment without Hutch being with him or in it already. He was careful to replace the key above the lintel as he'd found it, and was glad when he came into the apartment that Hutch's car keys were in plain sight on a table top. The sun was shining into the otherwise dreary apartment, the warmth usually imparted by its occupant missing. Starsky looked toward the light for a moment and realized that his best friend's beloved plants hadn't been watered since he'd been hospitalized--several days now.

"Damn!" Starsky cursed at himself for not thinking of it and took the time out to water them quickly, not paying much attention to how much he gave them, just so long as they each got some. These plants mean so much to him, he thought as he completed the task. Somehow, seeing that they were cared for felt important to the brunet, somehow affirming life for their owner. He smiled, looking over the greenery, before making his next stop the phone.

He dialed the number quickly, knowing it by heart after all this time. "Hi. Could I have the nurses' station on the fifth floor please?" A pause, then, "Thank you." He waited, his eyes scanning the apartment. Hutch would kill him if he knew he was doing this!

A feminine voice broke into his thoughts. "Nurses' station, may I help you?"

"Is Lynn working today?" he asked in his most polite voice.

"Sure, she's just finishing up with a patient. Hold on a second." There was a pause, then background voices; he was surprised that she hadn't put him on hold. His smile returned as he heard the voice that had answered the phone speaking softly. "Lynn, I think it's another one of your boyfriends!"

"Shhhhhh!" Lynn's familiar voice hissed before she finally came on the line. "Lynn speaking."

"Hi, Lynn. This is David. David Starsky, remember?"

"David!" she exclaimed delightedly, sounding relieved at the same time. "I've been trying to get in touch with you, but your number is unlisted. Then when I finally got it from records, there was no answer!" She took a breath, trying to slow down her words. "Ken's gone! He disappeared from his room an hour or so ago; I've been all over the hospital and he's nowhere to be found. The really strange thing is that nobody saw him go." She was clearly agitated and worried, a feeling Starsky could relate to when it came to his partner.

"It's okay, Lynn. He's with me."

Suddenly, the worried tone turned to anger. "You mean you helped him leave in his condition? Are you out of your mind, David Starsky? He's still very sick!"

"Believe me, I know. But as long as he's able to move, he's not about to go back to the hospital. I've tried, but he won't budge. Hutch can be real stubborn when a friend's life is at stake, and right now, all he can think about is our captain--our friend--spending the rest of his life in jail if we can't clear him of these charges."

"Sounds like you don't think he'll come back no matter what," Lynn said. "There's nothing I can do about that, but you've got to promise me something, David. Promise me that, if he should pass out or become disoriented, that you'll bring him back. In that case, he'll be unable to object anyway, so it's not like you'd have to fight him."

"Until he wakes up, you mean," Starsky mumbled softly. "Okay, I promise. Now I'd better get going. Hutch is waiting for me downstairs and he'll suspect I did something like this if I'm gone too long. I'm just supposed to be getting his car keys."

"Thanks, David. Stop by O'Reilly's Drug Store on Tenth in the next couple of hours. I'll get the doctor to call in a prescription to substitute for what he would have been given here. Just show your or his ID and the pharmacist will give it to you without a problem. Bye, David."

"Bye, Lynn. Thanks a lot."

"And take care of that partner of yours," she said just before she hung up. "He's a pretty special guy." He wasn't sure if he heard her whisper, "You are, too," just before the line went dead.


How the hell am I gonna get Hutch to pick up and take these pills without letting on that I talked to the hospital? Of course, he hadn't really talked to the hospital, just to Lynn. It was a fine line, but one he decided he was willing to walk in order to keep his partner calm and fairly cooperative. He grabbed the car keys from the table and locked the apartment before making his way down the stairs and out to where Hutch and the LTD awaited.

He wasn't surprised to find the barely recovered man lying back on the hood, practically asleep. If he hadn't been so pale, Starsky could've fooled himself into believing Hutch was just enjoying the beautiful sunny day. But he was pale, and Starsky was worried. He carefully schooled himself not to show it, though.

"Hey, if you wanna sunbathe, maybe we should go to the beach instead of the station," he laughed, slapping Hutch on the leg. One eye opened to squint at him in the mid-day sun.

"I think we'd better make it the station if we want to get whoever did this." He pushed himself to his elbows, then onto his feet to climb into the passenger side of the car. From this unusual seat, he shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Starsky's previous complaints of a spring sticking up weren't exaggerated. He thought for a moment about admitting it to his partner, but instead watched Starsky get in and start the car in silence.

As they made their way to the station, a thought occurred to Starsky that hadn't before, and he spoke his mind, waking Hutch from another near-slumber. "Y'know, partner. If you were gonna leave the hospital, you should've called so I could come and get you. There is still somebody out there that tried to kill you."

"With all the people coming and going in the hospital, isn't it strange that they didn't try again there?" Hutch mused out loud, ignoring Starsky's comment.

"Maybe they didn't know that you were getting better. Maybe they just figured you'd die eventually."

"Gee...thanks for the cheery thoughts, buddy," Hutch joked, cracking a weary smile.


Drew Sullivan waited impatiently on the phone, listening to it ring almost a dozen times before somebody finally answered it. He hated that! Hospitals could be so inconsiderate.

"Central Memorial, how may I help you?" the bored voice said.

"Hi, this is David Starsky," Drew managed, trying his best to imitate Starsky's slight New York accent.

"Hello, Mr. Starsky. What can I do for you?"

"I want to check on the condition of my partner. Ken Hutchinson. How's he doing?"

"I'll have to transfer you to admissions, sir," she said in clipped tones. He waited while the phone rang again, finally being picked up by another woman.

"Admissions, may I help you?"

"This is Sergeant David Starsky of the police department. I want to check on the condition of my partner, Ken Hutchinson." He waited while she looked up the information.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Starsky," she came back finally. "Mr. Hutchinson is no longer showing as a patient here. The file says he checked himself out against the doctor's recommendation. He didn't even sign the release, and we can't bill him until he does." Her tone told him what she thought of that.

Greg Sullivan immediately noticed the change in his brother's expression as he hung up the phone. "What's wrong?"

"He must've gotten better," he said, sounding stunned, not needing to explain who "he" was. "That son-of-a-bitch actually left the hospital!"

"Damn!" Greg cussed, flopping himself down on the couch. He didn't say any more, and a silence descended on the room while each was lost in thought. It was an eerie five minutes before Greg's lips curved upward into an evil smile. "This could actually work out better than we'd hoped!"

"Greg, are you out of your mind? Didn't you hear what I said? Hutchinson is better! He's not gonna die!"

"Not right now, maybe. And there are still a lot of people who wouldn't convict Dobey of trying to kill him. But what do you think would happen if, say, Dobey was unexpectedly bailed out of jail. And then, oh, say a few hours later, Hutchinson was found murdered. No jury could help but convict him then."

"That's fantastic! Dobey will be dead in the water, and Hutchinson will just be dead! But do we have the money to pull it off?"

"Oh, yeah. I've got a lot saved, and you only need ten percent for a good bail bondsman. I know just the one we can really trust to keep his mouth shut."


Walking into the precinct held a stranger feeling for Hutch than any time in the past. He knew most of the faces, and a few even smiled slightly at him, but no one spoke or even approached the tall blond. A good deal of them stared, sending a chill up his back. "What the hell is going on here, Starsk?" he asked the steady, supporting figure beside him. "You could cut the tension in here with a knife! And why isn't anybody talking?"

"It's been like this ever since Dobey was arrested. Whether they believe he did it or not, everybody's been walkin' on eggshells around the station. Some of the guys have been takin' up a collection to try'n raise the Captain's bail, but it just a box with a name on it, `cause ya don't know who to ask and who's gonna get mad."

"Oh, for Pete's sake!" Hutch exclaimed as they passed the swinging doors into the squadroom. "If I don't think he did it, and I'm the victim here, what makes them so high and mighty that they can judge!"

"Buddy, you should know that it doesn't take any power at all to appoint yourself another person's judge. It's happened to us enough times." Just then, the phone on Hutch's desk rang. Starsky made a grab for it, more out of habit developed over the past several days, but Hutch got it first.


Starsky watched as even Hutch's pale face became a little rosier. "Oh, hi! It's been so long; thanks for calling.... Yeah, I'm much, they haven't raised the bail yet.... Not only do I not think he did it, I know he didn't!" Hutch tried to ignore the frantic waving of his partner's hands, trying to get his attention. Starsky's curiosity factor was always high--he'd try just about anything once--but he was especially interested in who his partner was talking to. Hutch waved him away before saying, "Hey, thanks a lot! And don't worry. You'll get it back. I promise." He hung up the phone.

When Hutch didn't speak right away, Starsky decided to ask. "Sounded like somebody with a lot of bucks. They going to put up the bail?" He knew from what he'd heard that the caller was, but figured this indirect way of asking would get him the caller's name even more easily from his evasive friend.

"Yeah, somebody is. She's wiring it in now; Dobey should be out by suppertime."

"She?" Why was Hutch being so tight-lipped? Trying to drive him crazy, no doubt.

"Yeah. Sue Ann! She called from Nashville. She'd heard the story and wanted to help, but she didn't want to post bail until she talked to me."

"Hey, that's great! Just what we needed! Why don't I call and let `em know to get the papers ready."

"Sounds good," Hutch said, stretching tiredly as Starsky dialed the phone. "Y'know, partner, whatever they were giving me in that hospital really made me tired. I wonder how long it'll be before it wears off."

Starsky had a feeling that it was already worn off, but didn't voice it immediately. He listened to the woman tell him she was putting him on hold, then covered the receiver. "Speaking of that, we've gotta stop by the drug store when we leave here."

"The drug store? Starsk, I just escaped from all that. Why in the world would you want to go there?"

"Because that's where Lynn said your doctor was sending your prescriptions." He cringed, waiting for the thunder.

"When did you talk to her?" Hutch asked suspiciously.

"I called her from your place," Starsky said simply, trying to minimize it. "I knew she'd be worried, which she was, and that you wouldn't want her to be. She said you need this medicine, and I agreed to be sure you got it, even if I have to force feed it to you myself. It was the only way," he added.

"Starsky, what medicine I take is nobody's business but my own!" Hutch exclaimed, his voice still weak.

"Wrong, partner. It became my business when we paired up, and will continue to be my business until we're retired. Maybe not even then.... What the hell is taking them so long!" He glared at the phone, realizing how long he'd been waiting.

As if on cue, a voice came back on the line. "I'm sorry, Detective. There was some confusion here because the prisoner has already been bailed out. You may as well tell your friend not to bother sending the money."

"He's out?" Starsky said, shocked and surprised.

"What's going on?" Hutch asked, hearing only Starsky's side of the conversation.

Starsky covered the receiver again. "They say Dobey's already been bailed out." He uncovered the receiver, asking, "How long ago?"

"Within the last fifteen minutes. The paperwork hadn't even come down yet, which is why it took me so long to track it down."

"Okay, thanks for the information," Starsky said, turning to his partner as he hung up the phone. "He's been out for fifteen minutes."

"That's long enough to have gotten here if he had any intention of coming here. Where else would he go?" Hutch wondered aloud.

Both sets of blue eyes met as they said at the same time, "Home!" Starsky jumped up and was in the hallway before he realized he realized Hutch wasn't with him, and waited while the still-unwell man caught up.


Harold Dobey didn't think he'd ever seen anything as beautiful as his home. That is, until he saw his family. He didn't even mind that Rosie and Cal's bikes were in the driveway again. It somehow seemed right, giving him a feeling of hope, to come home and see Edith first, running toward him from the kitchen. She could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the cab door open and her husband emerge.

"Where are the kids?" he asked once he'd soundly hugged and kissed her.

"Upstairs, working on their homework," she said, trying to keep her face from bursting from the huge smile. "Did they drop the charges?" She was so excited at the prospect, he hated to burst her bubble.

"No," he answered somewhat glumly. "But at least someone thought enough of me to post bail. I just don't know anybody who could come up with that kind of money."

"Well," she said, smiling again, "I, for one, am not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. So you go upstairs and say hello to your children while I finish dinner." She gave him a peck on the nose, then a playful swat on the behind as he walked away.

He stood in the doorway, watching Rosie practicing her writing at the small desk in her room. Dear God, he prayed, she's so beautiful! Thank you! And smart too--at the top of her class. He stood straighter, proudly, before entering the room. Her back was to him, and he stepped softly so as not to alert her.

"Young lady, how many times have I told you not to leave your bicycle in the driveway!" He stormed, his smile softening the artificial anger in his words.

"Daddy!" Rosie shrieked, jumping from her chair into his arms. She may have been almost eight years old, but she wasn't too big for him to pick up, and he did so with great pleasure. She hugged him tightly for a moment, kissing him before chattering, "I'm so happy you're home! Will you play with me? You shoulda seen what happened at school today..." She continued rapidly, not letting him get a word in, and he reveled in every syllable.

"Wait, wait, wait," he finally slowed her down. "I'll spend a lot of time with you, but first I'd better go say hello to your brother, okay?"

"I guess, if you have to," she said with a pouty face. "But afterwards...?"

"Your mother said that dinner would be ready soon. We'll have to see." He lowered her to the floor and watched as she retook her seat at the desk before leaving the room.

As usual, Cal's door was closed. He knew it was improper, but Dobey listened with his ear to the door before knocking, wondering what the young man was up to. He smiled with pride as he listened to his son, apparently on the telephone, telling a girl named Debbie how pretty she was. Maybe smooth-talk ran in the genes; he sure could remember using some similar comments on Edith what seemed like a million years ago.

Finally, he knocked. "Just a minute," Cal yelled. A moment later, he was at the door, and a moment after that, he stood dumbfounded, looking into his father's eyes. The fact that Calvin was almost his own height struck Dobey as never before.

"Hi, son," he said, waiting for Cal to react. Calvin still didn't speak, but quickly enfolded his father's form in an embrace of which Dobey didn't think him capable.

"Welcome home, Dad," he finally whispered. Pulling himself away, Cal proceeded to ask his father how he got out, what it was like, and a myriad of other questions. Dobey patiently answered them all, one at a time, until Edith called them to dinner.

Saying grace was extra-special at the dinner table that night, the family enjoying the simple feeling of being together. It was something they'd taken for granted, Edith realized, and she swore to herself never to do it again. Her head still told her that her husband could be taken away again, back to jail, but in her heart, he was free.


By the time they got to the parked car, Starsky knew he was in trouble where his partner was concerned. Hutch looked weak, gray in color, and each step seemed like it might be the last he was able to manage.

"You gonna make it?" Starsky asked quietly, not sure if he'd get an explosion, an honest answer, or no answer at all.

"I'm okay," Hutch answered, lowering himself carefully into the passenger seat of the car.

"No, you're not. You're exhausted. Please, Hutch. Let me take you home. I can go see the Dobeys by myself, then come by and update you."

"I want to go. You can take me home afterwards, okay?"

"It's not okay, but I guess it's the best I'm gonna do with you." He climbed behind the steering wheel, taking a glance at his friend. "Why is it that you can't let yourself be sick unless you're in the hospital? Those health foods and vitamins of yours can't protect you from everything!"

He waited for a retort, and when he didn't get it, slowed the car to give him the chance to really study his partner. "Like a baby...." Starsky whispered as he realized that Hutch had fallen asleep. He might as well sleep while he can. I'll wake him when we get to Dobey's. Maybe.... "Or maybe not," he whispered, switching all his attention to the road.


The sudden absence of the LTD's lulling vibration woke Hutch before Starsky had to decide if he should or not.

"Wha's hap'nin'?" Hutch asked hazily.

"Nothing, sleepy. We're here." Starsky motioned out Hutch's window to the white house nestled peacefully in the suburbs.

"Oh..." Hutch rubbed his eyes, trying his best to at least look healthy. The truth was that he was feeling downright lousy, but he had no intention of admitting it to anyone. They'd just want him to go back to the hospital, an act which he had no intention of doing. "Any sign of the Captain?" he asked, starting to reach for the door. It surprised him how hard it was to pull the lever and open the door. He'd have to get the dumb thing looked at, he guessed, because there had to be something wrong with it to be that stiff.

By the time he got to his feet, Starsky was at his side, silent, yet slightly accusing. "What're you lookin' at?" the blond snapped.

"I haven't decided yet," Starsky muttered with a grin, just loud enough for his partner to hear. He knew Hutch couldn't respond to that, so they headed toward the house together. He purposefully stuck close, though, just in case.

Starsky had to intercepted Rosie when she made a flying leap for the blond's arms in her excitement to see him again. She giggled, as he held her, noting the relief in the other faces at Hutch's being so much improved.

The Dobeys were just finishing dinner, and Starsky smiled like one of the children when Edith offered him a slice of the chocolate cake she'd served to Cal and Rosie. He dug in with their same energy when she set it in front of him.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like something?" she asked Hutch, who seemed to deflate into the chair until he almost disappeared.

"Maybe a glass of water?" Edith granted his request, Starsky noticing how dry and cracked his lips were as he took a sip--as if he'd been breathing through his mouth a lot.

Like a person does when they're in pain, Starsky thought as he chewed his forkful of cake. But as bad as Hutch looked, Dobey looked equally good at being home and among his family. To look at them, you'd think that they didn't have a care in the world, when in reality, the piano crate was still suspended over the Captain's head, waiting to drop.

"So what are your plans after dinner, Cap?" Starsky asked around a mouthful. Hutch frowned at his lack of manners, but knew saying anything would be fruitless.

"As much as I'd just like to stay here," Dobey said after wiping his own mouth, "I think I'm going to go into the station and see what's going on there. I know I'm still on suspension, and I don't have any right to be there, but...."

"If twenty-six years on the force doesn't give you the right, then nothing does," Hutch proclaimed, trying to put as much strength into the words as he felt it warranted.

"Point taken," Dobey agreed. Lowering his eyes, he finally broke down and said what he'd wanted to say to the blond ever since the pair had walked through the door. "Look, Hutchinson...I know this doesn't change anything, what with your situation and all...but I just want you to matter what's gone down in the past...I would never...."

"Captain," Hutch said, putting special emphasis on the title. "I know this wasn't anything you did. So if you're thinking about telling me that you didn't do it, don't waste your breath. I don't care of the entire judicial system of the state of California says you did it. I know otherwise. Now why don't we just concentrate on getting the one who did. And that starts at the station."

Starsky wiped the traces of chocolate frosting from his mouth. "Don't worry, Cap'n. I know exactly how we'll do it. You ride with me and Hutch to his place, I drop him off there, and then we go into the station. I dare anybody to give you a hard time with me around!"

"Hey! What's this about you leavin' me at my apartment?"

"Hutch, you're exhausted. You need to rest, and you know it. What the Captain and I will be doing is nothing--research and paperwork. We can do it without you, and we'll definitely be more relaxed and thinkin' better if we're not both worryin' about you."

"I second that, Hutchinson," said Dobey. "He's right, and you're being a fool if you can't see it. So I won't have any more arguments."

In their hearts, Dobey, even off duty, was still their boss. "Yessir," Hutch agreed after a moment's hesitation. What the heck; Dobey'd earned the right to have his way, just this once.


Greg Sullivan watched from a parked car, hidden in a dark area of the street, as Starsky parked the LTD in front of Venice Place and walked with his partner up to Hutch's apartment. Starsky was acting as if he didn't think Hutch could make it on his own. He's right, Greg thought. The blond man looked like death warmed over; it wouldn't even be hard to do it with him in this shape. He was so busy studying Hutch, he didn't notice the figure slumped in the back seat of the decrepit Ford.

After about five minutes, Starsky came back out and pulled away again. Greg developed a satisfied smile. All he had to do now was make a little phone call, then return here. After all, it wouldn't do for Dobey to have an alibi when Hutch was killed.

He wasted the first dime he put into the pay phone with a call to the Dobey residence. After identifying himself as a clerk of the Captain's lawyer, Edith informed him that he'd gone into the station for awhile. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to shake the woman quite so easy, and she kept him on the line for several minutes with questions he couldn't possibly answer about her husband's defense. He drummed his fingers as he checked his watch every few seconds.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Dobey, but I'm just a clerk, I can't really tell you anything about what my boss has planned. If you'll forgive me, I've got to run." He clicked down the receiver before she could speak again.

He cringed when he realized that he was way behind schedule, trying the station's number almost 15 minutes after making the first call. But this time, the call netted him some positive results. He leered as he completed the call, reaching his car with a thrill of anticipation flowing through his veins.


Hutch would never have admitted to Starsky just how tired he was, nor would he have admitted to the ache in his middle or the tremor in his hands. His head told him he should be hungry, but he felt no desire for food whatsoever. It was all he could do to get his jacket and magnum hung in the closet before collapsing onto the bed.

He stared up at the ceiling for another few minutes, imagining he was building the strength to get up and take off his clothes. Raising his hips off the bed, he unsnapped his corduroys and slid them down, kicking off his shoes at the same time as he pushed the pants off of him. Since it was a warm night, he decided climbing under the blankets wasn't worth the effort, and instead rolled over to go to sleep. The pressure on his stomach aggravated the ache there, though, and he opted for the uncustomary position of lying on his back.

Wonder what time Starsky'll be here in the morning, he thought briefly, considering setting his alarm clock, but dozing off before he actually completed the act.


After trading the Dobey's Ford for the LTD at the Captain's house, Dobey and Starsky went careening out of town. Neither of them had thought to talk about where they were headed. Starsky chased his superior office as he fled the building and slid into the passenger side, wondering what had been in the phone call Dobey had received.

"Where are we goin', Captain?" he asked.

"Got a call from an informant who says he's got proof of my innocence. Offered to meet me and give me the evidence."

"That sounds almost too good to be true, Cap," Starsky volunteered, still wary. "I mean, I want it to be true as much as you do, but to just run off while we're in the middle of checking out all those files..."

"Starsky, you're starting to sound too much like your partner! I can't believe I lived to see the day you'd rather be reviewing files than out on the streets tracking down real clues."

" But, Captain..."

"No buts about it, Starsky. I'm not about to let this chance go by. What's the most harm it can do? Make us waste a half hour or so? It's worth it if it pans out. This I my life we're talkin' about, not just some run-of-the-mill case."

"I know that, Captain. Where are we going, anyway?"

"A little restaurant out on County Route 36. About eight miles out of the city."

"Stop!" Starsky shouted suddenly, causing Dobey to instantly slam on the brakes.

As the car stopped rocking, Dobey turned to yell at the detective. "Starsky, what the hell did you do that for! You nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"Captain, something's very wrong here. Did Edith tell you about my accident?"

"Sure. But you're okay, right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. But it happened on County Route 36, eight miles out of the city. It's just too much of a coincidence, Captain. I think it's a trap. And maybe my accident wasn't an accident after all."

"Are you serious, Starsky? Why would somebody want to lure me all the way out there?"

"Not just you, but me, too." Dobey could see the wheels turning behind Starsky's eyes, their blueness becoming more vibrant as he took it one step farther. "And leaving Hutch back in Venice unprotected!"

"Dear Lord! Do you really think so?"

"Why else would someone want you and me out of the city?"

Dobey now saw the frantic concern in those eyes, and gunned the engine as he spun the wheel, heading back to the city as quickly as the Ford would take them, the siren blaring and light flashing all the way.


Hutch was so dead to the world that he didn't hear Greg enter his apartment, neither did he stir when the assassin passed through his living quarters and slipped behind the divider which concealed the sleeping man. There were three or four pillows on the bed, but only one was supporting the blond head.

Greg stood for several minutes, watching Hutch sleep and making sure he wouldn't wake. He knew his small, lean frame was no match for a trained police officer, even if that officer was newly released from the hospital and weak. It really was a shame that Hutchinson had to die for the cause; he really did look quite innocent lying there.

Shaking off the unwanted thought, he watched Hutch's chest rise and fall a few times more before stealthily approaching the large brass bed. The sleeping man didn't even struggle as Greg laid the pillow over his face, lightly at first, then pressing down harder and harder. He attempted to hum "Whistle While You Work" while he waited, although even that came out off-key.

At the end of the second chorus, he lifted the pillow, leaning an ear close to Hutch's mouth. No, no breathing. But that wasn't sufficient. He checked the pulse at the carotid artery under the ear and smiled at its absence. His smile widened, savoring his success until he heard the faint sound of a siren. It made him jittery, and those jitters grew as the sound of the siren did, coming closer and closer.

In a panic, he took the path out through the greenhouse door to the rarely-used back stairs. His feet connected with the sidewalk just as Captain Dobey's car screeched to a halt in front of the building. Starsky was out of the passenger door practically before the car even stopped, pounding up the stairs, leaving Dobey behind.

Starsky noticed for a moment that the door was unlocked but didn't hesitate in bursting into the room. Taking in the apartment, all of his senses told him that nobody was there--or at least, nobody was there any more. Jamming the gun he'd drawn back into its holster, he raced to the bed, shoving the pillow off of Hutch's face, seeing the pale form lying motionless there.

"Hutch!" he cried, not finding a pulse or a heartbeat. "Hutch, don't do this t'me!" He lifted the blond in both arms, like a child, and lowered him quickly to the hard, even floor. He could feel the warmth still in the skin and knew his friend hadn't been in this state very long. He couldn't even bear to think the word "dead."

One hand lifted under Hutch's neck as the other pushed down on his forehead, causing the jaw to jut up into the air. Dobey arrived in the apartment, puffing heavily, as Starsky finished positioning his partner.

"Help me," Starsky pleaded, not taking the time to look up. "He's not breathing and there's no pulse. Gotta start CPR."

"Call an ambulance!" Dobey shouted to Hutch's neighbor, who'd emerged from her apartment, as he sprang into action. He knelt down beside the blond and on the opposite side as Starsky. "You do the breaths, I'll give the chest compressions." He saw Starsky nod once, stiffly, before lowering his head and interlocking his lips with the pale, faintly blue ones of his partner.

One breath, five compressions, one breath, five compressions. The pair went through the cycle five times before pausing to check the pulse and respiration again. No response. They began again, ignorant of the dripping sweat and tears coming from both men. Starsky's mind kept telling him to concentrate on the breaths and nothing else, but another part, the part ruled by his heart, was screaming. Hutch couldn't die!

After five more cycles, Dobey panted, "let's check him." Starsky, however, continued to give Hutch mouth-to-mouth despite the Captain's attempts to check for breath sounds and a carotid pulse. He tried to lean forward over the blond between Starsky's inhalations, only to be pushed away when the brunet lowered his head again over his best friend's.

"Starsky, I can't check him like this!" Dobey shouted, but with no affect. "Starsky, stop!" But Starsky continued, oblivious of what was going on around him. "Starsky!" Grabbing the brunet by both shoulders, Dobey shook him, resisting his efforts to give Hutch another breath.

"Let me...," Starsky pleaded, fighting Dobey.

"Starsky!" Dobey yelled into the younger man's face, shocking him into stillness. He took advantage of that moment to move his hands to the face and neck of the man lying between them.

"Hutch..." Starsky mumbled, looking lost. He was hollow and hurting, the waves of grief a palpable thing flowing through the air.

"Starsky..." Dobey said, smiling. "Starsky, there's a pulse. And he's breathing again."


"Did you hear me, Starsky? Go check on the ambulance." Starsky didn't respond at first. Not until Dobey added an earth-shattering, "DO IT NOW!" loud enough to rattle the walls.

Regaining his sense, Starsky jumped up and raced for the door, praying for the welcome sound of the ambulance siren.


I've been spending way too much time at hospitals lately, Starsky thought to himself as he waited for word on Hutch. If their roles had been reversed, he knew that his partner would be pacing the waiting room like a caged tiger. But Starsky waited very differently, standing in a single spot, letting his eyes bore into the door through which they'd taken Hutch. He wondered what was taking Dobey so long to follow the ambulance he'd ridden in with his best friend. Watching him die, a voice in Starsky's mind said, but he pushed it savagely aside. Hutch wasn't dead yet, and he damn well wasn't going to let him go without a fight.

His question about Dobey was answered before anybody came from the treatment room as the Captain came rushing in with a taller, leaner black figure at his side. Starsky was relieved to have both men there and thankful that Dobey had thought to pick up Huggy on the way.

"Hey, man," Huggy said, seeming like he wanted to put a comforting arm around his friend but not knowing if it'd be welcome. Shows of comfort like that usually came from the blond; would Starsky even accept it from anybody else? "Any word yet?"

"Not a peep," Starsky muttered, his eyes not leaving the door.

"C'mon, Starsky. Let's go sit down." Dobey pulled on the sleeve of Starsky's well-worn leather jacket, and Starsky let himself be led away. But his head was turned and his eyes remained glued to the door. Huggy and Dobey exchanged glances as they pushed the brunet into a chair, the look saying they were lucky to have gotten this much cooperation out of the distraught officer.

Silence fell over the three men, each one lost in his own thoughts about the man being treated. They might have found it interesting to know that each one had taken a different tact with his musings if they hadn't been so frantic over their friend. Dobey prayed, just as hard or harder than he did each time one or both of this pair was in trouble. He smiled mentally, realizing just how much praying over these two he did.

Huggy sat, remembering. He tried to call up every second of his life since he'd known Hutch, even back to before the time when the blond had introduced him to his friend and future partner, David Starsky. The three of them, when together, created an odd combination of just about every class, lifestyle, and likes and dislikes. He never really understood what kept the pair together or how they managed to be so close, but they always were. Perhaps it was because both men never seemed to tire of learning, and through each other, they could learn about things that had never before touched their lives.

Starsky's thoughts were on just the opposite: the future. A future as he'd always imagined, he and Hutch together, being there for each other, each being the other's best man at his wedding, godfather and uncle to his children, friend to his wife. Their partnership on the job flourishing and their personal life enriched by the addition of loved ones to their inner circle. Or a future he didn't even want to consider, alone. Trying to continue with his police work on his own; trying to rebuild a personal life without his best friend. Yes, he might be able to go on with the department, might be able to be comforted by other friends, eventually settling down and raising a family. But no matter what he did, there'd always be a huge, aching hole left where a 6'1" blond man had once been and wasn't any longer.

He was on the verge of losing his tightly-reined control when a man in surgical greens finally came out of the treatment room. This one he didn't recognize, but as long as he was taking good care of Hutch, Starsky didn't care. "How is he?" Starsky jumped out of his chair before Huggy and Dobey even saw the man.

"He seems to be having no serious aftereffects of the suffocation, thankfully. He's still weak from overexerting himself after leaving the hospital prematurely, but his breathing and heart rate are fine. It's a good thing you guys found him when you did, or he wouldn't have been so lucky. He couldn't have been without oxygen for more than a minute."

"Are you sure that isn't long enough for there to be some damage?" Huggy asked, trying not to notice how Starsky cringed. The concept of brain damage wasn't foreign to the detective, and he'd hoped to never hear it discussed in conjunction with Hutch.

"We're sure. Since you were able to pump his heart and breath for him until his body restarted on its own within a very short time, it'll be all right.

"It was a close one, no doubt about that," Dobey said, acknowledging what Starsky already knew. Neither man had ever been so scared as when they'd bent over the lifeless body of David Starsky's best friend.

The doctor's mouth opened to speak but Starsky interrupted before he'd begun. "When c'n I see him?"

"Look, Sergeant, he really shouldn't...."

"Doctor," Dobey interrupted, drawing the physician aside, away from the brunet. "Unless you want Starsky camped out in here indefinitely, I'd recommend you let him see Hutchinson for a minute or two. Just long enough for him to see he's okay."

"But the patient needs rest," insisted the doctor.

"It'll help keep Hutchinson calm once he wakes up. He'll be feeling bereft if one of his friends isn't there. This friend in particular." Dobey's eyes strayed to where Huggy was talking to Starsky, keeping him from hearing their conversation.

"They sound very close," the doctor said, a note of envy in his voice.

"They are. They've been partners for years, and more like brothers for quite awhile now. For the welfare of your patient and his partner, please let Starsky see Hutch."

Dobey's words had the desired affect, as the doctor thought for a moment, then acquiesced. Circling around the large black man, the doctor approached Starsky.

"Sergeant Starsky, your Captain has convinced me that it would be in the patient's best interest for me to let him see you. I'll go and check, and as soon as he's awake, I'll call you." Then you can get out of my ER, he thought, eager to have him no longer hanging around, getting in the way and disrupting the staff.

"Thank you," Dobey whispered to the doctor as he walked by on his way back to the treatment room. "Starsky never would've believed Hutch was okay unless he saw it for himself. This way, maybe they both can rest."

They waited another five or ten minutes before a nurse came and escorted Starsky into a tiny cubical in a corner of the ER. On the way there, she told him they would be moving Hutch back to his old room after his visit and that Hutch had just woken up. "I hope that you'll give us all a little breathing room after this," she said, causing the handsome brunet to smile brilliantly at her.

"Well, I might give the doctors and Hutch some, but I think, for you, shweetheart, a little heavy breathing may be in order." She laughed at his brashness, half-hoping that he wasn't kidding for the sake of the Bogie impersonation.

She was forgotten, though, the moment they passed the screen and he saw Hutch lying on the table. His eyes were closed and he was covered by a sheet from the mid-chest down, his arms remaining on top of the covering. Starsky slowly approached the bed, covering Hutch's left hand with his own.

Both men were silent as Starsky watched the blond lashes flutter; finally, he could see the sea-blue eyes looking back at him.

"What happened?" Hutch asked weakly.

"Looks like somebody tried to suffocate you with a pillow while you were sleeping. How they got into your place, we're not sure."

"My chest hurts. They're gonna make me stay, aren't they?"

"I'm afraid so, partner. It probably hurts because you had a 350-pound police captain doin' CPR on you."

"Really?" Hutch asked, not expecting an answer. "That means you did the breathing?" He waited again, drawing in a ragged breath. "Next time," he swallowed, "you do the chest compressions." He smiled as Starsky chuckled at his joke.

Starsky knew that if Hutch was cracking jokes already, he'd probably be all right. "Well, I'm gonna get out of these people's hair and get down to the station. I've still gotta figure out who's tryin' to ice you and why."

"Yeah, please do that. I'm tired of ambulances, partner."

"No more than I am, Blondie," Starsky responded, ruffling Hutch's hair before he turned for the exit. "I'll see ya later; you be careful."

"You too," Hutch said, seeming to deflate again into sleep.


It wasn't long before the pair was headed back to the precinct after leaving Huggy to return to the Pits; although concerned, Dobey hadn't felt it necessary to see Hutch for himself once he saw the greatly-relieved face of Dave Starsky. All the same, Starsky didn't really start talking more than a word at a time until they were in the Captain's Ford.

"Honest to God, Captain! I can't think of anybody we haven't checked out that would have a reason to want to kill Hutch. We've been over those records a thousands times!"

"Who has?" Dobey asked. "R & I?"

"I wouldn't leave it to them! They're too busy to do a good job of it." He calmed his voice and went on. "Minnie and I did it ourselves. It took forever, but we checked everybody."

"So you didn't just limit it to recent releases, huh?"

"No way, Cap. A first year rookie wouldn't make that mistake."

"But still, they are the most likely." Starsky shrugged his shoulders as Dobey picked up his radio mike. "This is Captain Dobey to dispatch."

"Dispatch here, Captain."

"Patch me through to Minnie, please." He waited a few moments at a stop light while the transfer went through.

"What can I do for you, Captain, honey?" Trust Minnie to not only still address him by rank, despite his suspension, but to do it with her typical playful disrespect.

"Pull all the recent releases from prison and have them in my office when we get there in ten minutes. Starsky and I should be there about then."

"Do you want me to limit it to cases Starsky and Hutch were involved in?"

"No. There're too many possible tie-ins. Just bring them all; we'll sort through them."

"Okay, Captain. You tell that handsome David to keep his chin up."

"Ten-four," Dobey said, smiling as he put the mike away.

"It's always good t'know that Minnie's backing us up," Starsky grinned.

"Yeah, especially when--officially, anyway--I'm not even allowed to be there, let alone help you."

"Well, officially or otherwise, I can use all the help I can get."

Both Starsky and Dobey were aware of the eyes that followed them through the station corridors; their steps grew faster to avoid those eyes to no avail. Before they knew it, they were almost running toward the captain's office.

Starsky, in the lead by a few feet, didn't hear Minnie coming around the corner, her arms full of files, until he ran right into her. He made a quick grab, keeping her from falling, but he couldn't keep the files from flying all over the hallway. The sheets from each file were separated from their folders, mixed in with others. "Damn!" Minnie exclaimed as Starsky at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

"Sorry, Minnie," he mumbled, kneeling to help her pick up everything. Dobey joined the two of them on their knees, collecting sheets and manila folders into as neat a pile as possible.

"Well, how about that," Dobey muttered, studying a particular sheet.

"What is it?" Starsky asked.

"Drew Sullivan just got released." Starsky didn't seem to recognize the name. "Drew was a two-bit hood that I sent up on a murder charge about ten years ago; they couldn't give him any more than that because it was second degree. Then he lost any chance he had at early release by constantly getting in trouble while he was imprisoned. He finally went too far with a very dangerous inmate one day and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I had a report on the incident about four years ago."

At some point in the Captain's recap, Starsky began only half listening to what was being said, the other half of his mind considering. "Captain, wasn't the DA's chief witness at the greenhouse named Sullivan?"

"Yeah, Greg Sullivan. But it's a common last name." Dobey continued picking up the files while Starsky went through it all in his mind, letting each piece fall into place.

"How could I have been so stupid?!" he suddenly exclaimed, slapping himself on the forehead. He frantically searched through the strewn papers until he found more pages on Drew Sullivan. "Here it is. Next of kin: Gregory Vincent Sullivan, brother. Do you know what this means, Captain?!"

"You mean that you think...."

"I don't think, I know. Greg and Drew Sullivan decided they wanted to get revenge on you for sending Drew to jail and ultimately getting him paralyzed, so they planted those poisoned aspirins in your office. Now I don't know whether they planned on you taking them and dying, but if someone else had taken them, what happened is probably exactly what they expected. You get accused of murder, and get sent to jail yourself."

"A fate almost as bad as death...worse for some," Dobey said, seeing where Starsky was going with his line of thought.

"Hutch takes the pills, almost dies, and the charge is attempted murder instead. And they've got me running around like an idiot looking for somebody who wanted to kill Hutch!" Starsky's deep blue eyes were round in shock, mentally berating himself for taking so long to see the truth.

"So, if you're right," Dobey contributed, "Hutch's involvement in this was purely by accident. He just happened to be the unlucky person who swallowed those aspirin first!" He turned to Minnie, piling the files and their contents into her arms. "But it'll never hold up unless we can figure out how the aspirin they tainted got into my desk in the first place."

"Your best bet is the maintenance staff, I'd think," Starsky suggested. "Minnie, would you check it out with personnel? Make sure they check all the records: janitors, window washers, garbage collectors, the works. Anybody who could have been in that room when the Captain wasn't around."

"Starsky, honey, I just had another thought. I'll check all those things too, but what about the painters?"

"The painters?" Starsky and Dobey repeated in unison.

"Sure. They're not employees, so their records wouldn't be here, and since it's a contract job outside of the city's payroll, they wouldn't have to pass any of our typical background checks."

Dobey looked into Starsky's blue eyes in stunned amazement. "Minnie, you're a genius!" Starsky suddenly shrieked, lifting her and the files into the air and swinging her around. "Check on that painter first; I want to know who it was and what address they used on their employment form with the contractor. Oh, and how long he's worked there, too."

"Will do, babycakes," she smiled at Starsky. She loved it when Starsky was on a roll, and he sure was now.

"We'll be in the Captain's office. If we're right about what happened, there are a few pieces of the puzzle we have to fit together yet before the DA will give us a warrant for the Sullivan brothers and a reinstatement for Dobey." He clucked her under the chin, sending her on her way before he realized that the captain had already disappeared around the corner toward his office. He followed quickly behind him, finding him already inside and behind his desk. He'd opened a notebook to a blank page and had it sitting in front of him.

"Okay, let's take it from the top, Starsky." He didn't bother scribbling a heading on the paper.

"Good. This is the way I figure it: Greg Sullivan, to avenge his brother or at his brother's instigation, gains access to your office and replaces your regular bottle of aspirin with the poisoned bottle. The question is, did they put it there with the intention of you being the victim, or was what happened exactly what they wanted to happen?"

"Y'know, I've been thinking about that. I don't widely publicize the fact that I have an ulcer, but if this person somehow knew that, heard it through the grapevine or whatever...."

"Then he might also know that you wouldn't be takin' any of those aspirin yourself."

"So it works exactly the way they want, and Hutch is the unwilling victim," Dobey said. "Then Greg goes to IA with his story, helped along by the job he got or has had at the nursery.

"Exactly. IA and the DA's office suspect you right away, eventually deciding that nobody else could possibly have done it except you, as wrong as that decision was. You get arrested, and everything hangs in the balance on whether Hutch lives or dies. Somehow, thank God, he survives, making the charge attempted murder. But they're still content because you'll still go up for attempted murder, especially when they find out that you've been heard hollering at Hutch."

"Sounds logical so far," Dobey agreed, continuing a new paragraph.

"But what they anticipate is that I didn't believe you'd done it, and went to work on the case. So when they decided I was getting to be a problem, Greg calls me for a meet with a phony story about new evidence..."

"At which point, he arranges for you to have an `accident'."

"And when that doesn't work, they figure they've gotta put a nail in your coffin--so to speak--so they get you released on bail, then make an attempt on Hutch, knowing that there's no way you can't be convicted if he dies right after you're released."

"And they call me out to the middle of nowhere so I won't have an alibi," Dobey continued. "What they didn't bank on is you being with me. And recognizing the route the caller asked me to take. We get back in time to rescue Hutch, and by luck and a mere happenstance, we put the pieces together."

"I don't know, Captain," Starsky said, turning the pad around to look over Dobey's notes. "Think they'll go for it?"

"I hope so. Before the Sullivan brothers decide to either pull up stakes and get out or make another run at Hutch."

Just then, Minnie burst into the room, waving a folder at them. "I've got it, boys. The painter assigned to do your office was Greg Sullivan. And if I remember correctly, I mentioned your ulcer and not taking aspirin while he was in the room." When both men stared at her, she shrugged her narrow shoulders. "I'm certain he was there, which means he knew that you'd never take that aspirin yourself. It doesn't take a genius to figure that you must keep them for somebody else if you never use `em yourself."

"Give me that," Dobey said, taking the folder from her. "With this, your testimony, Starsky, and Drew Sullivan's file, I don't know how they'll be able to deny you the warrant."

"You mean, deny us a warrant!" Starsky shouted, jumping up and following the large black man out of the room.


Starsky didn't think he could have put a single word to what he was feeling as he left the district attorney's office with two arrest warrants and a search warrant in one hand and Drew Sullivan's address--graciously provided by his probation office--in the other. And for once, Dobey had no trouble at all keeping up with the much younger man. The newly restored badge and ID felt warm in his breast pocket where he'd tucked them for safe keeping after they were returned to him.

"It sure is a good thing this' been kept quiet," Starsky admitted. "We should be able to sneak up on them before they have any idea what's comin' down."

"Starsky, the Commissioner and the DA have let us take the lead on this one, but don't forget that there will be four squad cars just a few minutes behind us, just in case. After all this, I'm not letting them get away now, even if it means that you or I don't get the personal satisfaction of slapping on the cuffs."

"I think the only one we have to worry about is Greg, actually," Starsky responded, sliding into the passenger seat of Dobey's car. "Drew certainly isn't going anywhere in a big hurry. Did R & I come up with anything on the brother?"

"Yeah, he had a list of petty crimes as long as your arm. Never anything major, and all the interviews done with him as related to those cases seem to indicate an unsurpassed dedication to his younger brother. Their parents died when they were very young, forcing Greg to take on the role of parent. I'd forgotten all about him, actually, but now I remember the way he looked at me in that courtroom on the day his brother was convicted. Honest to God, Starsky, I've never seen such blatant hatred in a person's eyes in my life." Dobey seemed to almost shiver, remembering the look that had blasted into him from across the courtroom.

"Well, now we're gonna be putting them both away. Maybe the judge'll go easy on `em and put them together. On the other hand, with what they did, they deserve to be separated forever. The way Hutch and I were almost..." Starsky silenced himself, realizing that he'd said more than he wanted to. But Dobey knew, and squeezed the younger man's shoulder gently.

"Yes. No two brothers could be closer than you two. Maybe an eye for an eye isn't always a bad idea; just keep your cool and let the judge decide, okay? Our job is only to arrest them. From there, the system will take care of them."

"Yessir," Starsky said, no longer seeming quite so upset. "Just so long as I get to be there when we take `em into custody."

"You will be, Starsky. I promise you that."

They continued to ride in silence toward the small house in the outreaches of Los Angeles that had the same address as was shown on the parole form. The parole officer had given them exact directions, since he'd been there once before for a spot check on the ex-con.

When the house was in sight, Dobey slowed the car. "Call the uniforms. Let them know we're comin' up on it."

Starsky did it smoothly, just as he would have if Hutch had been driving the car. Working like this, Dobey really wasn't bad at all, Starsky thought. He must've been a hell of a field officer in his day.

There didn't appear to be anybody in the run-down house, but a car was parked in the driveway, leaving the question open as to whether anybody was there. Pulling the car behind a clump of trees just out of view of the dirty windows, Starsky and Dobey emerged with their weapons drawn to stalk the building and its occupants. They were plastered against the side of it without hearing or seeing a sign that they'd been spotted.

Stealing a quick glance in a side window, Starsky caught sight of a man who could only have been Greg Sullivan, carefully lifting his wet and freshly bathed brother from his wheelchair to the bed where a pair of pajamas were laid out. If it hadn't been for what they'd done, he'd think the gesture was one of a true humanitarian. But Starsky knew otherwise.

He ducked under the window to whisper in the captain's ear. "They're both inside, and it's the perfect time to move. Looks like little brother's just finishing up his bath and is gettin' tucked in. Maybe he'll read him a bedtime story and they'll be really distracted."

"Not likely, I'm afraid," Dobey whispered back. "Let's try the back door. Maybe we can sneak in on them. I don't think that search warrant is going to hold much weight with these two." They stealthily moved from their vantage point to the back door, considering themselves lucky when they found it unlocked and the antiquated hinges didn't screech in protest of their admittance. Approaching where they knew the bedroom door would be, each man took a position on either side of it.

Starsky held up a hand, silently counting off fingers one at a time. One...two...three! When he had three fingers in the air, he jumped forward with Dobey right behind him. "Freeze!"

Drew, partially sitting in bed and quite helpless, raised his arms immediately in surrender. Greg, however, wasn't quite ready to admit defeat yet, and just as his brother said, "I give up," he jumped forward and dove out the side window that Starsky had been spying through just a few minutes before.

Not about to let this one get away, Starsky dove out after him, landing in a roll and coming up running after the fleeing felon. He knew there were officers around the bend and that there was no way Greg was going to get away, but all the same, he needed to get this particular perp himself.

With long strides that were trained to keep up with his taller partner, Starsky overtook the man quickly, getting some small satisfaction when he landed on him in a flying leap. Not to be outdone, Sullivan fought back savagely, all the while hollering curses about Starsky and Dobey, and how happy he was that a worthless pawn like Hutchinson was dead anyway.

"What the hell did you say?!" Starsky screamed at the man he finally had pinned beneath him. "I'll have you know, you piece of slimy filth, that Hutch is no pawn, and he's worth, a hundred...scumbags like you!"

"He ain't, or wasn't, worth the paper his death certificate is printed on," Greg grinned evilly. "He was just a means to an end. And now he's food for the worms." Starsky, gritted his teeth, let out a wolf-like growl and lunged at the pinned man again, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him until the now-watching uniforms thought his neck would snap. A couple tried pulling the brunet off the struggling suspect, but he shook them off and continued to throttle Greg. Finally, a voice got through to the enraged Starsky.

"Starsky, stop." It was Captain Dobey's level, controlled tones. "Hutch wouldn't want you to do this." That was all it took. That simple reminder of his partner--his very much alive partner--calmed him down immediately, water on a flame.

He didn't trust himself to speak right away, but as the uniformed officers were taking Sullivan toward one of the patrol cars, Starsky finally managed. "You failed, Sullivan. Hutch isn't dead. And you're going to prison."

Dobey slid an arm proudly around the younger man's shoulders and walked him back to the car. They waited just long enough to see Drew being taken from the house and deposited in another black and white, then Dobey drove the car back toward the inner city and home.


"Do you hear all that racket?" Ann, the duty nurse asked, perturbed.

"Oh, it's not so bad," Lynn smiled non-confrontationally.

"Yes, it is so bad. And I intend to put a stop to it." She began to march off toward the room at the end of the hall when Lynn stopped her with the slightest brush on her arm.

"It's almost the end of your shift. Why don't you take it easy and I'll take care of it. I know how hard it's been, this being your first week on this floor and all." She smiled kindly and the tired woman almost grinned back.

"Well, it would be nice to rest a little. If you're sure it wouldn't be too much of a hassle...?"

"Not at all. You go on. Besides, I've dealt with this patient before." Feeling certain that the noise would be stopped soon, Ann turned her back on the blond woman and headed for the nurses' locker room.

Lynn had no intention of putting an end to any frivolity in that room, the victory having been sorely won and well deserved on the part of everybody involved. Ken Hutchinson had actually managed to beat the odds, but she had little doubt it was because of one David Michael Starsky that he'd had the strength to pull through.

As she neared the room, the laughter and voices grew louder, and when she peaked around the corner of the cracked-open door, she was thrilled to see her patient sitting up talking and looking healthier than she'd ever seen him.

"Hey, if you guys don't keep it down a little, I'm gonna get demoted to scrubbing floors!" she joked, walking the rest of the way in. She was greeted by the large group of people who surrounded Hutch's bed--far more than was allowed by hospital regulations, but she decided, if she were caught, she'd just say she'd been there trying to shoo them out.

"I'm sorry," Hutch said, still looking slightly tired but otherwise fine. "Lynn, I want you to meet some friends of mine. This is my Captain, Harold Dobey." Dobey stuck out his hand and her small one all but disappeared in hid as they shook hands.

"Oh! So this is the Captain," said Lynn. "The one I've heard so much about? Well, it's nice to finally meet you."

If Hutch didn't know better--which he didn't--he'd swear Dobey was blushing.

"And this," the blond interrupted," is his wife Edith, and their kids, Cal and Rosie. Guys, this is my nurse, Lynn."

Edith greeted her politely and Cal shook her hand like the man he would soon be, but Rosie, in her youthful vigor, had nothing but questions for the woman in white.

"Why was Uncle Ken so sick? When can he go home? Will he still be able to play with me? Have you been taking good care of him? He says he hates hospitals--does that mean he hates you too?" Everybody was amazed that she'd said it all without taking a single breath.

Lynn walked over to Rosie, addressing her as more of an adult than a child. "Well, Rosie, I guess my answers to your questions would have to be: it doesn't matter because he's going to be fine; in two or three days; yes, he will; yes, I have; and I surely hope not!" Rosie laughed aloud at the woman, taking her hand and deciding that she liked her. Content to stand by her side, Lynn took in the rest of the occupants as Hutch introduced Minnie, Simmons and Babcock, Donald Simmons--who had actually come to visit despite his involvement in accusing Dobey--and reintroduced her to Huggy.

"Hey, where's Dave?" she asked suddenly, searching the faces for the one she most assuredly expected to see here.

"I'm not sure," Hutch answered. "He said he had to go take care of some things, then he left."

"That doesn't sound like the man I've known all these weeks. Where could he have gone?" Just as she inquired, the door burst in, admitting a denim-clad pair of legs topped off by a large bundle of parcels. Upon closer inspection, Hutch realized that it was his partner, and the bundle really only consisted of one very large box and two smaller ones.

"Starsky, what are you doin'?" Hutch asked, feigning exasperation but loving seeing the new energy in his partner. He'd watched Starsky while he was sick and knew it was almost as hard on his friend as it was on himself. Dobey had told him in private about the near-disaster at the arrest scene and how Greg Sullivan had narrowly escaped being taken apart piece by piece by an angry, vengeful cop who'd nearly lost his partner.

"I brought ya some presents, dummy," Starsky smiled, setting the boxes down on the bed on top of Hutch's legs.

Rosie jumped up and down and clapped her hands. "I love presents! Open `em, Uncle Ken!"

"Who am I to disobey such a nice young lady." Hutch turned to the boxes. "But which one first?"

"The big one!" Starsky said excitedly, his eyes sparkling. The gift was roughly rectangular in shape, taller than it was wide, and as he went to unwrap it, Hutch noticed there were holes in the top.

He carefully peeled back the paper, then opened the box to reveal a full grown plant of a variety Hutch had never seen before. "Oh, Starsk, thanks. It certainly is...mmmmmm...different. I'll find the perfect spot in my greenhouse for it just as soon as they let me go home."

"Hutch, you don't know what that is, do you?" Starsky clasped his hands behind his back, rocking from his toes to his heels and back again, grinning with a self-satisfied smile.

"No, does it matter?"

"Sure it does! That just happens to be an Amanita phalloides."

"A what?" Hutch asked, unknowingly mimicking his partners words of just a couple weeks ago.

"Also known as the Destroying Angel, partner."

"As in, the plant that almost killed me? You sure have a weird idea of what a gift should be, partner."

"Well, next time, you'll know what it is! Consider it a trophy, like a mounted fish or somethin'. You beat it; it didn't beat you."

"Thanks, buddy," Hutch said, quiet now, and Starsky knew he wasn't only grateful for the plant.

"Open the next one!" Rosie encouraged, handing Hutch the first of the smaller packages. It was a book on botany, with a colorful, tasseled bookmark placed between the pages describing the care of a Destroying Angel plant, including what could and could not be safely done with its parts.

"Uhhh...thanks, Starsk. It'll be a good addition to my bookcase."

Starsky handed over the last package with a gleam in his eye which spoke volumes of trouble, making Hutch wonder what he was up to. "Are you sure I can't talk you into opening this one?" the blond asked. "I'm awfully bushed," he continued, pretending to sound much weaker than he was.

"Oh, no, partner. The least you can do is open all my presents in front of all these people before they have to go home." He shoved it at Hutch again, and the blond took it as if he were afraid it was going to explode. It was relatively flat--no more than an inch high--but long and narrow, about four inches across and a foot long. Hutch wondered for a moment if it was a tie, but that would have been out of character for his partner.

Hutch carefully unwrapped the box, freeing it of the tape and ribbon before opening to look a something he couldn't identify. "What is it?" he asked. "A lone ranger's mask or something?" The object nestled in among the tissue paper was reminiscent of that kind of head gear, but it was malleable plastic with a bright blue liquid flowing through it.

"This, my dear partner," Starsky said, lifting the item from its box, "just so happens to be the latest in homeopathic medicine." Hutch's eyebrows went up at Starsky's use of such a word.

"Yes, homeopathic. And don't look at me like that. The instructions are all inside. You just heat it up in a pan of water, then put it on, and it guarantees you it'll take away a headache just as well as takin' aspirin will. And after this case, Hutch, I don't wanna see you near an aspirin for a long time!" He smiled widely and dodged Hutch's grab to slide the thing over the blond's head and in place over his eyes. Once bedecked, nobody in the room could keep from laughing at the sight the blond represented, sitting in a hospital bed in his pajamas wearing what looked like a prop reject from a porno studio.

Before he knew it, there was a brief, bright flash which Hutch realized a moment later had come from his partner's camera. That meant that, by the time he got back to work, there'd be pictures of him in the psychedelic mask all over the station, spread around with the help of Minnie, Dobey, and his own personal imp, David Starsky. Still, he'd have to make the effort.

"Starsky, give me that film!" he ordered, trying for his most stern voice.

"I'm afraid I can't, partner. You see, it doesn't belong to me. And since I'm not tellin' you who it belongs to, you'll just have to get used to the idea. Hey, maybe you'll even learn to like the way it looks on ya! Then you'll be wearing it all over the station!"

"Hardly likely," Hutch grumbled, pulling it off, before giving in and joining the rest of the room in laughing at himself.

The End