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Hutch always hated it when the phone rang in the middle of the night. Only bad news was delivered at 3:30 in the morning. But this time he felt it would be even worse news, and the feeling was more than justified when he heard Dobey's sleep-roughened voice on the other end of the line.
"Yeah, Captain. It's me."
"It's Diana Harmon. She's escaped from the hospital."
"Oh," Hutch said drowsily, the reality not quite sinking in.
"Hutchinson, did you hear me? Diana's out of the hospital! And if she follows the same program as she did in the past, she'll be coming after you!"
This brought the blond officer fully awake, as realization set in. "She's out? SHE'S OUT???!!! How the hell did she get away?!"
"I don't know - I haven't gotten all the details yet. Look, I'm sending over a couple of officers. They'll stay outside your door until we recapture her."
"But, Captain, how am I s'posed to do my job if I've got a couple of rookies following me around?"
"I know, I know. They won't be following you. They'll just guard your door so you can sleep, and be sure she somehow doesn't get in to lay in wait for you. That is how she got to you the last time, remember."
"Oh, yeah. I remember, all right." He remembered only too well. He rubbed momentarily at the scar which still was etched down his bare left arm; somehow it still hurt when he thought about it.
"You gonna call Starsky?" Dobey asked, a hopeful tone in his voice.
"Think I'll let him sleep. I'll tell him first thing in the morning. Besides, that's all the shorter he'll be worryin' about me."
"Are you sure? If you call him now, he could be to your place before the officers I'm dispatching."
"Captain, I don't need a baby-sitter. And the other reason she got me the first time was because she took me by surprise. This time, I'll be ready for her."
"Well, okay. If you insist, I'll let you play it your way. One stipulation, though. When you call Starsky in the morning, you have him pick you up, not the other way around. I don't want you without either the guards or your partner for more than a minute at a time."
"Okay, Captain. It was Starsky's turn to drive anyway. I'll see you in the morning."
"Goodnight, Hutch. And be careful!" Dobey held the line for a moment, wanting to say more but not sure what. Finally, Hutch heard the click and the line went dead.
Hutch lay staring at the ceiling for two long hours before sleep finally settled in again, only to be awakened shortly after by the bright sunlight shining in his window.
Starsky rubbed sleep-bleary eyes, trying to work out the sand that had accumulated behind his lids. He was not, by tradition or nature, an early riser, but he had made a bet with his blond partner that he could be on time every day this week, and he wasn't about to let Hutch get the better of him. The apartment always seemed so still at this hour of the morning - eerily so - but the dark-haired officer dismissed it and pushed the thought to the back of his mind.
The shower helped some, but he still regretted staying up for that late show last night. The water was cool, washing down over his body and causing slight goosebumps to raise on his flesh. The water-logged curls dripped down over his forehead, and Starsky wished he could turn the water over to hot. That'd put me back to sleep for sure! He climbed from the shower and toweled the curls until they sprang back in the style everybody he knew had become accustomed to.
It only took a few moments for him to choose his wardrobe for the day: jeans, light blue T-shirt. He pulled the clothes on over his still-damp skin, the tight jeans sliding with ease over his already cloth-covered backside. Socks and sneakers completed his attire, except for the worn button-down shirt he'd thrown carelessly across the bed - that couldn't go on until after the holster and gun.
His stomach growled loudly, and Starsky glanced at the clock. Plenty of time to grab a good breakfast and still get to Hutch's on time. "Although I hardly think he'd say this was a good breakfast," Starsky muttered as he withdrew a large slice of cold pizza from a box in the refrigerator. He wandered into the living room, carrying the slice and chewing happily. Maybe there is something positive to this early-morning business! He stared out the window at the new day, and thought how the peacefulness would change all too soon. There were always wippos waiting to be nailed and wise guys just looking to get their due. They just weren't usually up this early, either.
Starsky swallowed the last bite of dough as he walked toward coat rack, grabbing the holster that hung there. But it wasn't as heavy as it should have been, and Starsky was immediately wary. As carefree as he usually was, he was always very responsible when it came to his weapon, and it wasn't in his nature to just leave it lying around. No, he was sure it had been in the holster when he hung it there last night. He spun on his heels to take in the entire apartment, scanning every inch for the missing piece of hardware.
What he didn't expect - what he wasn't prepared for - was the movement of the closet door. It opened slowly, the hinges creaking like a haunted house's. But as shocked as he was at the door's movement, he was even more aghast at the small figure that emerged from it. Her carefully pulled-up dark hair was a stark contrast to the raving insanity in her eyes. But his gaze into the brown craziness was torn away by a more frightening sight: his Beretta in her quivering hands, pointed directly at his heart.
"Diana!" Starsky said quietly, his blue eyes round. He waited a beat, speechless. "W-what are you doing here?"
"I'm surprised you'd ask that first, Starsky!" The venom in her voice was clear, frightening to him even though she was the smaller of the pair. "Don't you want to know how I got out?" Her tone was evil, and it occurred to the officer that this was worse than almost any bad-guy he'd had to face in the past. She looked so innocent until you looked into her eyes.
"Does it matter? You're out, that's obvious." Starsky looked her up and down, taking in her full form, and she noticed his eyes on her. The telephone began to ring.
"Let it ring!" she said menacingly, keeping Starsky at bay with the Beretta. After fifteen rings, it finally stopped. Starsky stared at the silent phone, his gaze finally brought back to Diana by her voice. "You like my dress?" Even after all this time, it was an exact replica of the one she'd worn that night. Black, ruffles, he remembered them from when he'd burst into the Ocean address and pulled her off his injured, bleeding partner. Her tone in the question had suddenly shifted, suddenly all coy and precocious. Starsky was becoming wary of her mood shifts, knew he'd have to keep on his toes to keep up with them.
"Ahhhh...it's very nice." He figured he'd better mollify her for the time being. Although she held the gun carefully, and he could see the safety was off, he was secure in the thought that he'd be able to get the upper hand if he just gave himself the time. "Are you going to kill me?"
"I really should, you know." Her tone was becoming more hostile. "You know, I was in that hellhole six months before I finally realized that it wasn't that cop Linda who was taking Hutch from me." She sneered, showing all her straight, white teeth. "It was you! You pulled me away from him, kept us apart! And you also brought that bimbo stewardess, interrupting our dinner, distracting Hutch from me! It's all your fault that we're not together now!!"
Starsky thought for sure that she was about to pull the trigger, sending bullets piercing into his body. She advanced toward him, threatening, and he took one step backward for each of her steps forward. He didn't reckon with the black shoes he'd left on the floor, and as he backed up, his left foot came down on the large heel. His arms pinwheeled, trying to reclaim his balance, and even as he was going down he could hear Diana's bitter laugh. His back hit the floor at the same moment as his head impacted with the heavy clay pot. The pot shattered, allowing dirt and a small rubber tree plant to spill out onto the floor. His last thought before he lost consciousness was of that. Hutch gave me that for my birthday - said even I couldn't kill it. Hope he's not too mad.
Hutch hung up the telephone before the sixteenth ring could sound. Guess I'll tell him when he gets here. He opened the door to his apartment, wondering if his partner might just be on his way up the stairs, but the only people he saw were the two uniformed police officers stationed there.
"Mornin'," he nodded to them, and they nodded silently back. Their youthful faces looked vaguely familiar, but he didn't know them by name. Were Starsk and I ever that young? he puzzled as he shut the door again.
He occupied the next hour with watering the abundant plant life that shared his apartment, carefully picking off the dead leaves and fertilizing those that needed it. When the hour was up and Starsky still hadn't arrived, he figured he'd have to take it on himself. "I shoulda known you couldn't manage to get here on time all week," he muttered to his absent partner. He tried the phone again, but it still went unanswered. "If he stayed up for one of those late movies he loves so much, even the phone might not wake him up. Well, I guess it'll have to be his turn to drive tomorrow." He pulled his jacket on over his holster and opened the door to leave.
"Excuse me, sir," one young officer addressed him, making him feel even older than his years, "but if you're going out without Sergeant Starsky, I think one of us should go with you."
Hutch was annoyed at the insinuation: Does he think I'm incapable of taking care of myself? "I'm only going to pick up my partner. That certainly doesn't require any more security than I've got on me." He patted his jacket over where his gun hung.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't agree with that."
"Look. I'm already late. I don't have time for this!" But the officer's stance and face didn't waver - it was apparent he wouldn't give up so easily. "Tell me," Hutch asked, playing his trump card, "what exactly was your assignment?"
"To guard your apartment and make sure nobody got into it to injure you."
"Well, okay. Then your assignment is to stand guard here. You'd be breaking regulations if you came with me. Do you make it a habit to disobey your superior's orders?" At the slightly guilty look on the officer's face, Hutch knew he'd won.
"No, sir. I really don't, sir."
"Good. I'm glad to hear it. Now I'll see you guys later."
"I don't know, Alex," one said to the other as they watched Hutch's retreating figure, "I have a feeling that was a mistake, even if it wasn't in our orders to go with him."
After knocking on Starsky's door for the third time, and calling out for his partner for good measure, Hutch knew for sure that something was very wrong. His hand trembled slightly as he laid it on the door knob. It spun freely - apparently the door had been left unlocked.
The room he walked into was dark, and Hutch realized that the shades must have been drawn to block out the sunlight. He reached for the switch on the wall, knowing from experience where to find it in the dark. As the room was flooded with light, his breath caught in his throat, not wanting to believe was he was seeing.
"Diana!" His voice trembled as he took in the scene before him. Diana, wearing a trench coat and her hair in the same style as she always had, sat on the floor next to Starsky, his Beretta clutched in her hands. The barrel pressed against his temple, and the blond man was concerned that his partner didn't stir. "Diana, what did you do to him?"
"Hutch, my love, I didn't do anything to him. At least not yet." Her smile held a wickedness that belied the innocent features. "It seems your partner has a little fall, hit his head." She motioned with an arm at the dirt and pottery that was strewn across the floor.
"How long has he been out?" Diana refused to answer this one, so Hutch decided to try again. "We have to get him to a hospital. He could have a concussion, maybe even a skull fracture!"
"No, I don't think so, Hutch." It amazed him how calm she sounded; perfectly rational in an insane sort of way. "I still need him for my plan. Come closer, darling."
Hutch hesitated, but then he could see Diana's finger tightening on the trigger. "I said, come over here! Do it, or I'll have to shoot him." The child-like voice could hardly be saying these words, coming from that face. Hutch came to within six feet of where the woman sat, but her finger on the trigger did not let up. "Okay, now give me your gun."
"Diana, I can't...."
"You can if you don't want to see your friend's brains on the wall. Now give it."
"No, please. Do whatever you want to me," he half thought that it was his responsibility anyway. He'd been the one who'd taken her to bed when they'd only just met. Some judgment you've got, Hutchinson! "Starsky's completely innocent in this. You don't want to hurt someone who's innocent, do you?" Hutch wasn't sure at first what set her off, but suddenly her tone changed, lowered to a menacing growl. Her eyes blazed and her mouth snarled at him.
"Innocent? Innocent?! He was the one who kept us apart!! He pulled me away from you, when I was trying to arrange for us to be together forever! If he hadn't interfered, we would have had eternity to love each other! Instead he gave me six months in hell, when we should have been in heaven, together!"
"I'm sorry, Diana. I'm sorry you misunderstood. But it wasn't Starsky's fault. If you're going to kill someone, please make it me."
"Your gun, Hutch?"
The blond officer pulled the hardware slowly from the holster, not wanting to give the insane woman a reason to fire the gun she held.
"Lay it on the floor and slide it over here, please." Her tone was back to being reasonable. He pushed the Magnum with his toe, and it came to a stop against her thigh. She picked up the heavy pistol and laid it out of his reach, where Starsky would also not be able to reach it, should he regain consciousness.
"You know, those six months were good for something. I finally was able to figure it out. It wasn't me and it wasn't you that was the problem in our relationship. It was all the people and things around you. You just need to be reminded of how good we were together." Hutch watched with wide eyes as Diana switched the gun to her left hand, still holding the muzzle against the curly-haired officer's head. With her now-free right hand, she pulled a small, plastic object from her coat pocket. She showed the item to Hutch; it was a hypodermic needle, filled with some sort of yellowish liquid.
"You see this, Hutch?" Hutch took in a sharp breath, and Diana reacted to it. "Oh, don't worry. I'm a nurse - I know how to use these things. The liquid in this needle is diluted rattlesnake venom. You'd be surprised at how easy it was to get." Before Hutch could say anything to stop her, she shoved the hypo into Starsky's bare arm, emptying the contents into him. Hutch started to rush her, but the gun was pointed at his chest again. "Because it was diluted, it'll act on him very slowly," she went on, "it will be some time before it kills him. But it will eventually kill him. Unless he gets some anti-venom, that is."
"Why are you doing this?" Hutch was almost pleading, but he excused himself with the thought that he'd do whatever was necessary to save his partner.
"It's very simple." She stood up, loosely holding the gun, and motioned around the wood-trimmed room. "Somewhere in this apartment, I've hidden the anti-venom. If you do exactly as I tell you, then I'll tell you where it is. If not, Starsky dies. You get the idea, lover?"
"Okay...okay...what is it you want?" No harm in indulging her until I can get the upper hand.
Hutch wasn't prepared for what came next, though. She stood straight up and came right up next to him. When their bodies were less than a foot apart, she turned her face up to him. "Make love to me!"
"You...you gotta be totally outta your mind, lady!" he said, backing away to a discreet distance. He surprised the woman by suddenly rushing into action, leaving her standing on the spot, and tearing the apartment apart searching for the hidden cure. After several minutes of turning the apartment into a shambles, he stood in front of her again, panting at the exertion.
"Don't forget, Starsky's dying. Your partner needs you, Hutch. Make love to me, and I'll save his life!" Hutch shook his head, trying to deny the two horrible choices he'd been given. Once again, she closed the distance between them. He couldn't stand to look into the unsettled eyes, so he shifted his gaze over her shoulder, to look at the wall, the pictures, the furniture, anything but try to stare down that insanity. The rustle of cloth instantly brought his gaze back to her.
His eyes came to her just in time to see the tan raincoat she wore fall from her shoulders to the floor. She took another step closer to him, every inch of her bare skin glistening. "I had picked out the most beautiful dress, but then I thought you'd like this better."
His rational mind argued with his hormone-enraged body against what it wanted to do when a desirable woman - any woman - brought herself this close. He shifted his eyes again, this time to look at the space beyond the bare shoulder.
It took everything in his power to keep his face and voice from expressing what he was seeing: Starsky was moving slightly, silently, and the vibrant blue eyes were consciously looking directly into his. They spoke to him, fully aware of what was, and had been, happening over the last few minutes. Then Starsky broke contact to look meaningfully at the telephone that laid on a table, a mere six inches from his left hand. Hutch's mind scrambled for some way to distract the woman.
"Diana," he spoke hesitantly, gently, "you have to understand. Starsky is my best friend. The best friend I have in this whole world. I could never love someone who would intentionally hurt him. But if you were to save his life..." He let the sentence hang, allowing her to draw her own conclusions as to what he was offering her.
"Please," he started again when she hesitated, "save my friend's life."
"Do you promise? I know what a promise means to you, Hutch. Your word of honor, your badge of courage. Do you?"
"Yes," Hutch said, and stepped forward to reinforce it, pulling her body into his arms and kissing her passionately. He felt her respond, but pushed her away before it could go any further. Her eyes looked at him, almost confused. "My partner first," he said, allowing no time for discussion.
She sighed heavily, like a put-upon child indulging unreasonable parents. "Oh, okay. If that's what it takes for you to go away with me." She started to walk around the apartment, completely oblivious to her still-unclothed state. Suddenly, from nowhere, she laughed loudly, seemingly for no reason at all. "You really are so silly, Hutch!! And you know so little about medicine."
Hutch only looked at her confusedly, while keeping his peripheral vision on his partner, who moved his arm toward the telephone.
"Anybody knows that snake anti-venom needs to be refrigerated!!" She walked directly to the refrigerator and extracted a filled hypodermic needle from the crisper drawer.
Once in her hands, she turned toward Starsky, and he dropped back into a pretend-unconscious state. He closed his eyes, but felt it as the needle went into the muscle of his arm, infusing his body with the anti-venom it needed to survive. Once it was done, she went to Hutch once again.
"He'll be fine before he even starts to feel the effects of the poison. But don't think that this means I trust you completely." She came to him again, insinuating herself close. "Now it's time to keep up your end. And this is going to be sure you do." She raised one hand from behind her back, and Hutch saw that she'd retrieved Starsky's Beretta. Her other hand reached to unbutton his jeans, and Hutch was frantic for not knowing what his next step should be.
"Uhhhhh...," he stalled for time to think, but couldn't ignore her hand now on the zipper. "What if Starsky wakes up? Why don't we go into the bedroom." He hazarded a glance in that direction, and she smiled her approval.
"I really like how cooperative you're being. Why don't we?" She pushed the muzzle of the gun in his stomach, right above the button she'd just undone. "After you, my love." Hutch walked toward the bedroom slowly, like a man facing the gallows, hoping that Starsky would be able to do something once he was free to move about. She followed him all the way, changing the gun to press into his back.
As soon as the pair was out of sight, Starsky jumped up, grabbing for the phone. He punched the number into the phone frantically, if silently, and whispered into the receiver. "This is Detective Starsky, I'm at my apartment. Officers in distress. Send backup immediately! Also send an ambulance equipped for a psychiatric patient." The efficient staff rapidly dispatched the backup units, and alerted Dobey to the situation for good measure.
"Damn! That's Diana Harmon, and she's at Starsky's place. Radio the guards at Hutchinson's home and find out if he's still there. Something tells me that she's got both of them in her clutches." He grabbed his jacket and raced out of his office right after saying, "I'll be in my car - radio me with whatever you find out!"
Diana stood chest to chest with Hutch, the gun still stuck in his ribcage. He shivered when he felt her hand reach inside his jeans, her fingers searching, touching where she had no place being. They were strikingly cold, but his flesh burned where she made contact, like dry ice on human skin. He was acutely aware of the gun, and wondered briefly if it would be better to take her on and risk getting shot than suffer this humiliation. But if she killed him, she'd be free to do whatever she wished to his partner in the other room. And that was enough to let her continue.
She extracted her hand and worked with some difficulty, attempting to push his jeans down over his hips one handed, giving her better access. Hutch watched her eyes closely, waiting for anything to distract her for even a moment, during which he could get the gun from her. On the other side of the wall, Starsky picked up a large plant from a tabletop. This had been a Christmas present from his blond partner. He's really not gonna forgive me for this one! The dark-haired man hefted the pot, plant, dirt, and all, over his head, bring it down crashing to the floor.
The crash and Diana's immediate turn in that direction was all the distraction that Hutch needed. He grabbed at her hand, tearing the gun from her clasp. The resistance to her wishes suddenly changed her attitude, turning her into a wildcat. She screeched loudly in his ear and brought up a knee, sending him cringing onto the bed. She jumped on top of him, beating at him with the strength of a madman. Between the pain and her extraordinary strength, he couldn't seem to get her off of him, but her weight was lifted off him abruptly as Starsky came in, surprising the woman by lifting her from behind off the struggling blond.
Hutch jumped off the bed, tearing a blanket from it and wrapping it around the thrashing woman. As she fought them, Starsky could hear the sirens approaching up the street. The blanket actually served a dual purpose, giving them something to help restrain her grasping, scratching hands and arms and covering her nude form. If the backup came in and she was still unclothed, both men knew they'd never hear the end of it. But this was anything but funny. It took every ounce of strength the two men had to keep her from fighting her way loose. She still screamed, swearing and cursing both men, promising to exact her revenge on the blond and his partner. She spat the words at them, using language that even the lowest criminals would consider trash.
Starsky heard the backups running up the steps as they finally got her wrapped tight enough in the blanket to keep her from moving. He had his arms wrapped around her, and Hutch asked him, "You think you can hold her for a second?"
"Yeah, why?" Instead of answering, Hutch tentatively let go of the woman, quickly situating and fastening his jeans. The footsteps on the stairs stopped, and Diana began to fight and thrash again.
"COME IN! FAST!" Starsky yelled, and soon there were four uniformed officers storming into the room. "Thank God you're here," he said. "I don't know if we coulda held her much longer." Starsky was still weak from his head injury, although he knew from experience that it wasn't even bad enough to warrant a night's observation in the local hospital.
Hutch was also weak, but more from the stress of the situation than from any physical injury he'd sustained. After the four officers had taken Diana down to the ambulance, he turned to his partner. "How am I ever going to explain this!" He prayed that Starsky wouldn't feel the need to make a joke, even though he knew that to a third party it might be funny. Starsky sensed it in him, though, and was understanding.
"Dobey will understand, and nobody else needs to know that part of it. You just tell 'em that she tried to get to you through me. That's all they need to know." Hutch dropped down tiredly on the edge of the bed, and a tremble started to run through his body. He could still feel her hands on him, his clothes, his body, and the feeling sent another shudder up his spine.
"Is this how a woman feels when there's an attempted date-rape?"
"I imagine so, partner." He rubbed Hutch's back, trying to calm him, and he did settle down eventually. By the time Dobey arrived a few minutes later, the shudders had been contained to a slight shaking in his hands and a shadowed look in his eyes. "C'mon, Hutch. Let's go down to the station. We still have to fill out a report."
The phone on Starsky's desk buzzed. "This is Dobey," he heard when he picked up the receiver. "Could I see you and Hutchinson in my officer right away?" Hutch looked up as he put the phone back in the cradle.
"He wants to see us."
"I've been afraid of this. Well, might as well get it over with."
Both got up together and entered the Captain's office, taking their usual places in the chairs opposite the desk. "What can we do for you, Cap?" Starsky's tone was, as usual, flippant.
"It's this report on the Harmon case."
"Something wrong with it, sir?" Hutch spoke with uncharacteristic respect, praying that the large man behind the desk would leave it alone.
"No, it's fine. Meets all the requirements, filled out unbelievably neat for you two, and will be filed just as it is." He hesitated before he went on, but he hadn't missed the look that Hutch had had in his blue eyes the last few days. "I know I've never said this before - I never needed to - but I think of you two as more than just officers under my command. I worry about you like you were kin. So now I want to ask you, off the record and for my ears only, what is it that's not in the report."
The look in the Captain's eyes was unusually warm, so the pair hesitantly began to tell him about exactly what Diana Harmon had wanted from the blond detective. Hutch stutteringly inserted a word or phrase here and there, but most of the story was relayed to him by Starsky. When they'd finally finished, Dobey truly understood what was haunting the detective.
"Okay," his voice was calm, and almost had a calming affect on his men. "I know how hard that was for you Hutch, and it won't leave this room. But I'd like to make a recommendation, if I could." Hutch didn't respond, so Dobey went on. "Go see the department psychologist. He might be able to help you with some of the stress, and don't deny that you're feeling something because I can see it in your eyes. Anything you discuss with him is purely confidential, so this won't get out."
Previously, visiting the department shrink was something they'd only had to do under orders. The idea of going to see him voluntarily was a new concept for them. Starsky was really surprised, though, when his partner spoke up. "Thanks a lot, Captain. For everything. I think I will." Both Dobey and Starsky could see how difficult the admission was for the blond, and didn't see a need to comment further. This was certainly nothing to joke about.
"Okay, then you're both free to go. But if you need anything, just call me. Even if I'm at home, I'm available to you both." Dobey gave them both a small smile as they rose to leave.
Suddenly, the squad room was stifling, and Starsky and Hutch felt the need to get out into the open. Soon they were situated in the front seat of the Torino, both the windows wide open. Starsky knew his friend well enough to know that everything would be all right. Once Hutch had been able to talk it out and gotten over what had happened, he'd be back to normal. Maybe it'd be best to start right now.
"Yeah?" Hutch looked out the window.
"Ummmm.... You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but...if I hadn't woken up...if I hadn't been able to create that diversion...would you have...?"
"I really don't know, buddy. I really don't know." He looked directly at Starsky this time, the light in his eyes returning somewhat. "C'mon, Starsk. Let's get going."
"Where are we going? We're off duty, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. We gotta go to the nursery and get you a new rubber tree plant and a new fern. You'll suffocate in that place if you don't have some kind of plants in it."
Starsky smiled at his partner's lift in spirits. "Sure, partner. The nursery it is. But you still gotta promise to help me feed and water 'em. Otherwise I'll kill 'em in just a few days."
"Don't worry, partner. I'll help. We're always there to help each other!" The blond returned his partner's smile as the brunette shoved the car into gear and squealed the tires out of the police parking garage.