First published "Dark Fantasies 4." This story is not part of tasha's AU universe, but is an independent story. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
An inky black vulture circled over and over above the dry wash that wound through the rugged terrain. A small twister of dust swirled across the bottom of the arroyo dissipating as it foundered on the hood of the once gleaming red car. Tumbleweeds were dislodged from the windshield as the dregs of the mini-twister stirred them from their precarious perch. The vulture swooped down and found nothing of interest to him, but his presence had attracted the attention of the thin, young girl walking slowly behind her herd of straggly sheep and goats.
Leaving the animals to scrounge a few mouthfuls of the dry grass, she trotted across the nearly barren landscape to see what had interested the bird on her family's meager pasture land. Stopping and putting her hand over her mouth, she was startled to see nearly buried in the sand and almost covered in tumbleweeds a bright red and white car. She slipped and slid down the wall of the small canyon and came closer to the silent unnatural edifice in the desert. The car wasn't wrecked or damaged that she could see as she walked around it. There were no tracks showing how it had gotten to where it was. There was a fine layer of dust all over it, showing that it had been there for some time. Perhaps long enough for the wind to have covered the tracks, but she thought not. Marks made on this desert land lasted for days, weeks, and sometimes months.
Cautiously moving closer, she gingerly brushed the dust from a window of the car. Cupping her hands to the glass, she looked inside. There were no inhabitants or much of anything else. She saw a discarded Pepsi can lying on the back seat and some other harder to identify papers on the front seat. She tried the door latch and found it locked, but she could see the keys still dangling from the ignition. It was a small mystery that she would report to her grandfather after she had watered the sheep and penned them for the night. She left the silent abandoned car and went back to her charges still contently munching the scanty foliage.
A white Ford Bronco emblazoned with the emblem of the Navajo Police slowly stopped in front of the hogan with its east-facing door covered by a tattered, hand-woven blanket. The residence was protected from the elements by a low bluff. Ben Yazzie waited patiently to be invited to the premises. Shortly a young girl with tangled black hair came running out to say that her grandfather was busy with the sheep out in the pasture.
It wasn't the grandfather that Ben had come to see; it was the young girl. The girl who had reported a car abandoned in a dry wash on her family's sheep range.
Ben studied the girl. She was about ten and almost painfully thin. She looked like a waif shown in the advertising for United Nations Save the Children. Immediately he was suspicious that she had the scourge of the reservation: tuberculosis. He wondered if she was getting proper treatment in this remote section of the reservation.
After greeting the child, he asked her about the car she had found in Crazy Woman Wash. The girl explained about her habit of taking the sheep to the spring that was farther up the gully each day the sheep were pastured in the area. She then told of finding the car nearly buried in the sand.
After thanking the child carefully and inquiring about the health of her family, Ben returned to his Bronco. Bitterly he thought of the girl and knew he would have to contact someone at the Tribal Council to make sure she got the white man's treatment for TB. Her grandfather and grandmother might not approve of his interference, but he felt he had to do it for Rose's sake.
Ben hadn't been raised on the reservation. Oh, he had been born here, but his family had moved where El Paso Gas Company had sent them. His mother had been determined that he wouldn't be stuck with the old ways; so consequently, he was ignorant of clans and much of his people's traditions. When his mother died, he had returned to find his heritage on the reservation. Therefore, he couldn't cite clan and lineage of people he met, and it was taking him years to relearn his own tongue. During his first years on the reservation, his fellow officers hadn't been very tolerant of his unfamiliarity with basic courtesies but he had learned quickly. However, in the case of medical care for a child, he was still an Anglo.
Once on the highway, he turned west and drove toward the best place to begin a cross country trek to Crazy Woman Wash. Like the child, he wondered how the car had gotten to such a remote spot and why it was there. Obviously someone didn't want it to be found very soon. But the girl said it couldn't have been there very long as she made the trip up the wash often to water the sheep. The girl mentioned that she rotated her sheep pastures regularly, and it hadn't been there during the previous use of that particular pasture. Ben remembered how proud she had been that she actually owned fifteen head of sheep. She was on her way to being a wealthy woman of the tribe, if she lived that long.
Turning his mind back to the problem of the abandoned automobile, Ben was reasonably sure it had to be an Anglo that left the car there, not knowing about the spring and the sheep pastured there. The Whitehorse family had used that water hole for many years and everyone on the Res knew it.
However, now the question was, where exactly were the occupants of the car? He would probably have to notify the FBI shortly, but right now he just wanted to establish that there had been some sort of foul play—not just some tourist that had wandered off the main road and was lost on the Reservation. Ben's instincts told him that something other than that had happened, but he wasn't sure what.
Ben turned off the highway and began to guide the four-wheel-drive truck through the brush and cactus of the desert. He traveled for about two miles before turning into Crazy Woman Wash. He followed the dried tracks of the previous rain; rain that had fallen nearly a month ago. There hadn't been any rain for weeks, so he was surprised when Rose had told him she couldn't find any trace of the car being driven into the wash. Wheeling the truck around a curve in the gully, he came upon the car exactly where the girl had told him it would be. He stopped the Bronco and looked at the area around the car. Yes, possibly it could have been driven down the gentle slope of the gully at this point, but there was no overt evidence of it. He reached for a cigarette in his shirt pocket and lit it with the truck's lighter. Smoking, he put his elbow out of the window of the cab and stared at the car as if hoping it would tell him something.
The car didn't tell him much as he looked out of the dusty windshield of the Bronco, but the surrounding landscape did. The child would need more lessons from her grandfather to know that the car had indeed been driven to this spot. Probably someone who had watched too many cowboy movies had tried to cover their tracks by dragging brush over the ground as they left. It wasn't obvious, but the grooves cut into the soil were noticeable. Then if one looked carefully, it could be seen that the branches of one of the sage bushes were unnaturally broken.
Also there was evidence that the sand around the car had been shoveled up there as though someone was trying to make it seem it had been there long enough for the wind to have drifted it, but the piles of sand were on the wrong side of the car from the prevailing winds. The tumbleweeds seemed to be artistically placed, not all looking to have been blown in. Yes, Ben said to himself, there was something wrong with the whole picture. The girl didn't have that wrong.
Crushing his cigarette in the ashtray, he stepped out of the Bronco and slowly walked toward the listing red car with a distinctive white stripe. Walking around the car, he immediately noticed that it had been recently waxed. The paint was, also, a fairly recent job. He rubbed a finger over the surface. Under the grit of the fresh coating of dust, the body had the feel of rich velvet. This kind of finish was only gotten by innumerable coats of lacquer with hand rubbing in-between. No, the owner hadn't deliberately abandoned the car here. He was the kind that thought more of his car than of his firstborn son, if he had one. And Ben was reasonably sure it was a man's car. His experience in the Anglo world told him that women usually didn't spend the money on a paint job for a car that had been spent on this one. And it wasn't a woman's car. It was showy power—the kind of power a young man would buy.
Pulling back on the Interstate, Ben Yazzie continued to tinker with the truck's two-way radio. The heavy thunder heads were causing a great deal of static. Back at Crazy Woman Wash, the threatening clouds and clatter of thunder had made him leave the car and start to back to headquarters. He would send Jim Benally out there later with his tow truck to bring the vehicle in.
After walking around the abandoned Ford and trying both doors, he had finally used his "slim jim" to fiddle the lock on the driver's door. It had been a futile exercise since there was no registration to be found inside the car. Then he began searching for the license plates. Both plates had been stripped from the car. He wandered up and down the wash for over an hour, searching for any evidence that the plates had been buried or thrown into the brush. He found nothing like that. Eventually, he had opened the hood of the Torino mainly out of curiosity. Inside, it was much as he had thought it would be; the motor compartment was sparkling clean only lately layered with dust which, along with the after-market candy-apple paint job, bespoke the owner's pride in the vehicle. The car had chrome valve covers and a huge gleaming chrome air cleaner. The V-8 motor took up all of the available space which made him think that possibly there had been an engine change. Having no registration or license plates, he went looking for the VIN number which he finally found on the door frame. Starting to leave, he noticed a small plate on the front fender just behind the wheel and in front of the door. It was a 429 logo from the factory. He smiled as he learned even more about the owner of the car. The car wasn't all show; now he knew it could go. Most Torinos came stock with a 309 or 351 cubic inch engine, but there were a few that came from factory with the massive 429 V-8, called a Police Interceptor. He was going to like the guy that owned this car. He just hoped he'd have the opportunity to meet him.
Once down the road a few more miles, he was able to get the dispatcher in Window Rock on the radio. He reported what he had found and told them to make the call to the FBI. He wanted to meet with the agent as soon as possible. This whole thing smelled worse and worse as time went on. He wanted that car gone over by the FBI crime lab. Possibly there were fingerprints, fiber evidence, or something else to help identify the occupants. The Navajo Police Department just didn't have the facilities or trained personnel for such procedures.
He hadn't been able to determine just how long the car had been there. It had been put there since the last rain, but it had been weeks since any rain in that area. It could have only been there a few days or a couple of weeks. It hadn't been there any longer than that, he thought, remembering the Whitehorse child and her sheep.
"Hey, Hutch, look at this."
Hutch turned to see his partner decked out in a serape and huge sombrero. He smiled as Starsky pirouetted before him for his approval. Hutch raised his hands and clapped while Starsky stamped his feet in a mock flamenco. He stumbled as his tennis shoes caught in the dangling ends of the woven garment. Staggering, he caught himself as Hutch burst into laughter.
"Do you think Huggy would like one of these?"
"Probably, considering his taste in clothes," Hutch answered as he turned back to the other items displayed on the back of the pick-up truck which had been parked at the side of the road.
Grimacing in the heat, Starsky took off the heavy woolen blanket and the over-sized hat. He replaced them on the table that was set up under a tarp strung between two stunted pinon pines. He watched the blond hair of his partner glisten as though still damp from his morning shower while the tall slender man fingered the sandcast belt buckle attached to a wide, carved-leather belt. Smiling to himself, Starsky knew that Hutch was interested in the fine workmanship of an unknown silversmith. Eventually shaking his head at the price tag, Hutch returned the belt to the small wizened man seated in the shade of his rusted truck.
"We'd better get back to Albuquerque and see if Captain Dobey has called," Hutch said, glancing at his wrist watch. "Tell you what, I'll buy you dinner at La Cocina in Old Town tonight." He started walking back to the Torino parked on the shoulder of the off ramp. They had been returning from Santa Fe when Starsky had spotted the Indian man and his truck parked at an interchange and wanted to see what he was offering for sale. They had ended up spending an hour or more in the man's company and looking over his wares.
"Deal," Starsky answered, not voicing his usual gripe that their vacation had been interrupted by business yet again. Giving the serape and sombrero one last glance, he strolled back to his shimmering red Ford. Stopping as he went around the nose of the car, he delicately brushed a small fleck of dirt from the hood. He smirked at his own reflection slightly distorted in the shiny paint.
Hutch waited somewhat impatiently while Starsky performed the ritual then unlocked the doors of the car. He opened the door on the passenger side and waited a few moments for the blistering hot air to disperse. The July day was nearly a hundred degrees and the humidity was nonexistent.
"Whew," Starsky muttered as he sat lightly as possible on the overheated front seat. Hutch did the same. "How long do you think it's going to take to get those extradition papers signed?"
"A few more days. Not any longer, I'd say," Hutch answered, quickly rolling down the car window.
"Do you suppose we might have time to go up to Taos?"
"We shopped the square three times when we were there a couple of days ago," Hutch answered. "There wasn't one shop that you missed or one cheap souvenir or fake piece of Indian Jewelry in the whole town you missed."
"But we never got to see Kit Carson's house," Starsky said.
"Well, it probably isn't open yet, anyhow." The small museum a few blocks off the main square in Taos had been closed for repairs, Hutch remembered. It had disappointed Starsky a great deal.
"We could call from the motel in Albuquerque and see if they are open tomorrow—if the extradition papers haven't been signed by the judge," Hutch conceded.
"Great," Starsky turned the key in the ignition and started the Torino. Deftly turning the machine around, he went through the underpass and up onto the concrete four lane highway that would have been torn up in California a long time ago. The tires of the Torino gave a shudder whenever they came to a break in the cement. The highway was rough and outmoded, but the traffic was fairly heavy. Interstate 25 ended in Albuquerque and picked up again on the other side of Santa Fe. Hutch understood that the city fathers of Santa Fe didn't want to miss any tourist dollars by having the interstate by-pass their city. Consequently, this aging highway was heavily trafficked between the two cities, and it went directly into the old section of Santa Fe.
Unnoticed by either cop, a battered orange van followed sedately behind the Torino. When Starsky skillfully maneuvered around a laboring cattle truck, the orange van paced the flashy Ford. It had more under the hood than appearances would have led anyone to believe.
Idly watching the landscape whiz by, Hutch sighed as he thought of their tour of the southwestern United States. They had traveled to Phoenix and then on to Tucson. Eventually from El Paso they had traveled up to Albuquerque via White Sands and Carlsbad. They had planned on going on to Colorado by way of the Four Corners when Captain Dobey had caught up with them. It seemed that Eric Slade had been taken into custody in Albuquerque, New Mexico in a stolen car. After further checking by the local police, it had been discovered that he was wanted in Los Angeles for a convenience store robbery and murder. It was a petty crime that had turned vicious when an off duty police officer walked into the store and subsequently had been killed.
Officer James Carter had just been promoted to the Homicide Division a few weeks previous to the robbery. He had been assigned to learn the system from Starsky and Hutch. They had also answered the call, "Officer Down," that ill-fated night. Starsky had held the young man while he died from his wounds before the ambulance could arrive. He had been conscious and had managed to identify his assailant as one Eric Slade. Slade had been a small time drug pusher who had been on the streets for a couple of years. He had never been known to carry any hardware, but Starsky had decided there was a first time for everything. Slade had then disappeared for months only to reappear in New Mexico.
Dobey had looked for and found them at the Winrock Hotel in Albuquerque. It was saving a hassle for the short-handed LAPD, and in this case neither really cared if they had to cut their long-awaited vacation a few days short. They were only going to miss Mesa Verde and the Four Corners monument anyway. Those were the last two stops on their trip before heading back home. Both of them might gripe, but it had been a leisurely trip. They were rested and ready to get back in harness if the truth be told. The loss of a few days would be worth it to be the ones to bring James' murderer back for trial. Of course, there was the occasional bitch for form's sake, but nothing serious from either man.
Passing the turn off to a pueblo advertising a dance that night, Starsky sighed. He would have loved to wander down the dirt road to the ill-kept pueblo that clung to life dependent on tourist dollars.
Scattered businesses heralded the upcoming city so Starsky slowed and began looking for the sign that designated Interstate 40. He exited the ramp and followed it around, missing the crowded downtown of the burgeoning city of Albuquerque. I-40 traced a vaguely eastern route, passing under various streets that had both Anglo-American names and Spanish names, illustrating the dual heritage of the rapidly expanding city. Eventually Starsky directed the Torino up the off-ramp at Louisiana and crossed over to the cluttered parking lot beside the Winrock Hotel and Winrock Shopping Center.
Entering the lobby of the hotel, Hutch stopped at the desk to see if there were any messages. Yes, there had been a call from the local police and from Captain Dobey He sighed again as he turned away from the desk. Catching Starsky's eye as the dark head lifted from the travel brochures scattered on an end table by a gold couch, he nodded an affirmative. Starsky followed his companion back up to their room. Once in the air-conditioned luxury of the room, Hutch switched on the lamps then sat on the bed while he dialed the familiar number the clerk had given him. First calling Dobey, he was put through to the Captain's desk immediately.
"Captain," he said over the miles to the snarled, "Dobey, here."
"Hutch," Dobey's deep voice carried away from the phone to Starsky sitting at the table next to a wide heavily draped window. "You can pick up your man at the Albuquerque Police Headquarters tomorrow afternoon. The extradition papers are on their way from Santa Fe as we speak. Good luck and don't lose this bastard."
"Never, Cap. Anything else?"
"No," the captain's voice paused then continued. "How long will it take you to get back here?"
"Couple of days, unless we drive straight through."
"Probably had better do that. This squirrel seems to work alone, but you never know."
"Right. Should be about eighteen hours from here."
"Anything you need, you buy. But you'd better save your receipts."
"Yes, Captain. We'll see you in a couple of days."
"Bye. And you be careful."
Putting the receiver back on the hook, Hutch turned to his companion. "You heard?"
"Yeah, and I'm not thrilled with driving straight through no matter what the Captain says."
"Well, that sounded like an order so we'd better get some rest."
"You promised dinner at La Cocina, ya know. Gotta eat somewhere anyhow."
"I know. What time is it anyway?"
"About five thirty...."
"A little early, but we might as well clean up and head out."
"Okay, I get the shower first."
"Okay, think I'll walk down to the lobby and get a paper or something to read."
"Right," Starsky answered as he headed for the bathroom, shedding his clothes as he went. There was a trail of abandoned material from the table by the window to the bathroom door. Hutch smiled affectionately as he gathered up the neglected clothing, folded it, and stowed it in the open suitcase on the luggage rack.
After tidying up after his careless partner, Hutch made a call to the local police station. The sergeant on the desk reaffirmed Dobey's information that the perp would be turned over to their custody at that station the next afternoon. Hutch hoped all the red tape was straight since he didn't relish sitting around a strange police station waiting for papers to be signed.
Looking at his watch again, he dismissed the idea of anything to read and walked silently on the thick pile of the carpet to the bathroom. Discarding his shoes, he pushed open the door and steam wafted out into the bedroom. Ignoring the vapor, he shrugged out of his shirt then his slacks. Finally he threw his socks and underwear in heap on the floor. Starsky was humming an off key version of a Beatles rock tune and didn't seem to notice the invasion of his privacy. Hutch eased forward and shifted the shower curtain. Stepping over the side of the tub, he embraced Starsky who wasn't startled but turned in his arms to give him a warm, wet hug. Then their mouths met in a brief fierce battle. Hutch acquiesced and let Starsky thrust his tongue in the taller man's mouth. Running his hands up and down the silky back, Hutch pushed his lower body forward until it made contact with Starsky's. Their hips met and began an age-old rhythm.
After basking in the gentle friction for long moments, he pulled away from the suction of Starsky's mouth then reached for the soap and proceeded to lather-up his body while the other watched fascinated. In the crowded motel shower, he banged his elbows, but the expression on Starsky's face was worth it when he soaped his genitals then provocatively stroked himself. Slowly and sensuously, he leaned into the spray to rinse the soap away. Starsky was already scuttling out of the shower and grabbing for towels, his cock bobbing up without any further stimulation. Stepping out on the bath mat, Hutch allowed himself to be swallowed in the huge, fluffy hotel towels.
Then Starsky shoved him out of the bathroom and over to the bed. Hutch dropped limply to the bed and fondled himself again. He pulled and rubbed his penis then lifted his legs slightly to rub the space between his balls and the entrance to his body. Then he pulled on his balls and moved back up to the weeping cock.
"Stop that!" Starsky hoarsely muttered as he turned away from the sight and went to the bags side-by-side on the luggage racks. He fumbled around in his shaving kit until he found the familiar blue and white tube. Hutch smiled at how charmingly enthusiastic his lover could be in these situations even after a couple of years. He watched the limp curls which dripped water down the beloved face. Starsky took a couple of swipes at the rivulets then with a small apologetic smile almost ran to the bathroom and to vigorously scrub at his hair with the discarded towel.
Returning from the bathroom, he was sporting an imposing hard-on which he took no pains to hide. Hutch grinned at the slim proud figure. He admired the tight ass which he had all the access to he ever needed. But tonight, he craved the domination of Starsky. He wanted to feel the power and masculinity in that compact body. Admiring the peacock-like strut, his smile widened as the other man approached the bed. Before Starsky could slide in beside him, he quit rubbing himself and leaned forward to kiss the hard manhood presented to him.
"Aaah, Hutch, don't do too much of that or it'll be all over too soon." Starsky took a moment to set the KY lotion on the bedside stand under the lamp which he switched off.
Removing his mouth from Starsky's member, he licked it quickly and said, "Never want to do that, Starsk." Hutch possessively pulled Starsky down to the bed and both fell back into the smooth bedding.
Stroking still damp strands with one hand, he took his other hand and pulled Starsky down on top of him. Then he ran both hands up and down the rib cage before finally exploring along the spine to the clinched nether cheeks.
In the meantime, Starsky had reached between them to do kneading of his own. He was giving his attention to the neat small nipples which he alternately rubbed then pinched. Hutch groaned when Starsky finally turned his concentration to something larger and lower. Starsky squeezed and pulled until Hutch began to squirm and buck under the pressure.
"Turn over, love," a hoarse whisper infiltrated Hutch's consciousness. Feeling somewhat bereft as the weight lifted from his torso, Hutch immediately complied and raised himself to his knees then buried his head in the bulky pillows. He felt Starsky give loving attention to his thighs then move higher.
Starsky was kneeling behind him and leaning forward to lick and nibble at strategic spots on his legs then his buttocks. Next a well lubricated finger finally pierced his body. He clenched his hands deeply into the blanket as another finger followed the first. He allowed his body to relax and accept the intrusion. He tensed slightly when a third finger entered the tight opening. Starsky had felt the muscle spasm and waited quietly until it ceased. Then he slid his free hand around under Hutch and found the penis that wasn't as hard as it had been. Using this hand, he massaged the organ back to its full stature.
Hutch found himself moving in rhythm with the stroking on his cock and the pumping of the hand in his ass. Noticing this, Starsky began to slowly remove his hand and reached for his own neglected cock which he had lubricated when he had his fingers. It felt somewhat dry so he reached for another large glob from the tube. He didn't want Hutch to feel anything but pleasure in this coupling.
After smoothing the gel onto himself, Starsky rested from the inadvertent stimulation and stroked Hutch's back. Then he carefully positioned himself, momentarily ignoring Hutch's rampant manhood. Bracing himself against the bed, he lingeringly entered the relaxed, open ass. It took long moments before he was completely against the thin buttocks. There was a quick flash of a pain-induced spasm then Hutch was entirely open to him and ready.
Starsky began plundering the willing body. He thrust in and out in nearly punishing blows, finally remembering to reach around the slender hips and grasp the overlooked, weeping penis of the man beneath him. Feeling himself slipping to the edge of oblivion, he stopped and panted for a few minutes as Hutch shuddered then quieted his own reactions. Wanting to prolong this experience, he removed his hand from Hutch's member and rested it soothingly on Hutch's back. Then he leaned forward and kissed the damp neck.
"Okay, babe," he whispered in Hutch's ear.
"Oh, yeah...oh yes! Finish it, I'm dying, man!"
"Your wish is my command," Starsky said as he began pumping into Hutch's body. His hand snaked around to squeeze and torment Hutch's cock. With completion in mind, it didn't take long for Hutch to contract in orgasm, followed rapidly by Starsky.
As his body relaxed from the exhilaration of the previous moments, Starsky slid down to sprawl limply on Hutch's back while Hutch slowly collapsed down onto the bed. Lethargically Starsky removed himself from Hutch's body and slid over to one side of the bed. Neither had the energy to move for a long time. Then Hutch rose and made his way into the bathroom where he ran the water long enough to warm it and dampened a washcloth which he brought back to the bed.
Gently he cleaned the other man's flaccid organ and tenderly dried it with a face towel. Then he absentmindedly scrubbed the emission from his hips and thighs while he admired the body spread before him. Starsky's eyes were closed, and he was softly snoring. Hutch returned to the bathroom and ran more water over the washcloth. Returning to the bed, he stood over it for a few minutes waiting for Starsky to stir. When he didn't, Hutch dropped the cold, wet cloth in a strategic spot. There was a mutter and mumble as Starsky jerked upright on the bed.
"Thought I was buying dinner tonight in Old Town," Hutch said angelically.
"That was pretty crude way of waking a guy up," Starsky whined with a twinkle in his eye. "And you are going to regret it tonight when I eat the place out of business and you get the bill."
Hutch smiled and walked back to the bathroom where he began gathering up his own underwear which he put in the dirty clothes bag before grabbing fresh out of his suitcase. Eventually Starsky got up from the bed and rummaged in his stuff to find soft, worn jeans and a garishly-printed cotton shirt.
Ignoring his partner, Hutch, took out his own blue slacks and a much quieter shirt. He made no comment about the costume his mate was putting on. He knew that Starsky was trying to get a reaction out of him. Slipping his own feet into loafers, he watched Starsky work the knots out his laces on the tennis shoes he always wore. Obviously he had heeled them off before going in for his shower and was paying for it now. Still not saying anything, Hutch went to the night stand and retrieved his watch, change, and billfold which he stored away in his pockets. As he started for the door, he was ambushed by his partner and grabbed into a large, gentle bearhug.
"Wonderful loving tonight, Blondie," was spoken with quiet sincerity in his ear.
Returning the embrace as enthusiastically, he answered, "Great for me, too. Now let's go eat. I have worked up quite an appetite."
"Me, too!" Starsky answered in a more normal tone of voice. Together they exited the hotel and made their way down the stairs and out into the now dusky twilight. They were no longer early for dinner. The heat from the New Mexico day was dissipating in ruddy twilight with a blazing crimson disk settling over the desert horizon.
The two men slept late the next morning then made a leisurely breakfast and checked out of the hotel at nearly noon. They had enjoyed their stay at the hotel attached to the large shopping mall. Diamond Jim's Restaurant and Bar had allowed them a place to unwind in quiet luxury the night before after the spicy Mexican food. The Gay Nineties decor had amused them both.
It was a quiet drive down Central that morning. Hutch sprawled loosely on the passenger side of the car, looking at the buildings that passed for skyscrapers in the desert. Nothing as impressive as the Sandia Peaks glowering down on the city. These rocky and nearly barren mountains towered over the city to the northeast. The growing city was starting to lap at their feet.
Starsky watched him covertly and gnawed on thoughts of what could be wrong with his partner. Had there been a problem last night? They'd been lovers too long for him to be exactly worried that he had been too rough or too gentle. But was Hutch tiring of the relationship? The thought suddenly really worried Starsky. He knew that occasionally his partner was a moody bastard, and this morning was one of them. He had had very little to say over brunch at the restaurant, and even less as they packed the car. He would have to have a long heart-to-heart with Hutch when they got back to Los Angeles.
Giving up on deciphering Hutch's mood, Starsky concentrated on the mission at hand. It would require that they alternate the driving and probably the most direct route would have to be down Interstate 40. There wasn't much in the way of civilization until Flagstaff, he thought.
All the red tape and paper work took nearly two hours so it was mid-afternoon when Starsky and Hutch finally left the police headquarters with their charge and began driving west out of the city. Slade had said nothing until they were leaving the city limits.
"You guys don't understand. I didn't kill that cop."
"Shut up," Hutch said in an uncharacteristically harsh voice. His mood hadn't been improved by the run-around in Albuquerque Police Headquarters.
"The man said to be quiet," Starsky said as he wheeled the Torino out and around an orange van that seemed to labor climbing out of the river valley.
Slade leaned back and got as comfortable in his leg irons and handcuffs as possible. Starsky glanced again at Hutch who was leaning his head against the window frame. The air-conditioning in the Torino was straining in the afternoon heat. It wasn't making much of dent in the atmosphere for the two passengers in the front seat facing the sun.
Grants and Gallop were finally behind them before the sun became bearable. And it was as if the last vestiges of civilization stopped when the sun began to dip low on the horizon.
"Man, I need to piss," were the first words that they had heard out of their prisoner the entire afternoon. "When are ya gonna make a pit stop?" Starsky glanced at the gas gauge and saw that it was down to a quarter of a tank.
"We'll stop at the next place we find," he said and shifted in his seat. He had to admit that he was damned tired of driving and damned tired of the silence. He began to roll his shoulders up and down then around on the plastic seats. The seats were sticking to his damp shirt and causing him to itch even with the air-conditioning going full blast.
Hutch watched him through slitted lids then finally spoke, "Why don't we stop and all take a break? I'll drive and you can get some rest."
Starsky nodded, glad that Hutch was coming out of his silent, bleak mood. He began looking for a likely spot to pull over. Likely spots were few and far between, he decided, when after two or three miles he came upon a lonely exit with a weathered sign that said a place called Chinle was miles away to the north. He signaled and pulled the car to the right and swept down the exit ramp. Pulling a few feet past the stop sign and up the barely improved dirt road, he stopped the Torino and turned the key. The silence of the car was deafening without the motor and the roar of the air conditioning fan. Starsky shifted and opened his door into the still stifling heat. Even though the sun was making its way down, the blazing orb reddened the western sky and the pavement gave off wave after wave of baking temperatures.
As he got out of the car, he said, "I'll see if I can find a bush for our friend here."
Hutch nodded and began doing some stretching exercises. Starsky turned to slide his seat forward and leaned in to help the prisoner out through the cramped space between the door jam and the forward leaning seat.
"Thanks, man. I'm about to burst."
"Okay, okay. Let's just get going."
"Yeah, man. Yeah, man, I understand," Slade said as Starsky checked his handcuffs.
Hutch walked around the car, "I'll take him and you can do a little stretching. Makes you feel a hundred percent better."
"Naw, I said I'd take him and I will."
"Okay, I'll walk up the road a bit and see what I can see then."
"Yeah, you do that."
Starsky started walking his prisoner toward the small gully that ran under the highway fifty yards or so back down the highway. He could see some lacy pinkish bushes that would serve for privacy. When they reached the wash, Starsky watched dispassionately as Slade opened his trousers and a long yellow stream ran quickly out of sight in the sand. Then Starsky took the opportunity to relieve himself, keeping a careful eye on his prisoner.
Slogging back up the incline, Starsky had to stop and occasionally help his prisoner who was off balance climbing with his hands cuffed together and the chains of his leg irons would often catch in the underbrush. Starsky was very careful to keep his gun out of reach of Slade. Finally the two of them topped the rise and began the much easier trek back to the car. Both doors of the Torino were still open; Starsky assumed that Hutch had left them open to keep it from becoming overheated inside. He glanced around. Hutch wasn't anywhere in sight. That made him distinctly uneasy. He started to reach for his gun when he saw Hutch being shoved out from under the bridge. There was an arm around his throat and a revolver to his head.
"Don't do that, Detective. However much I would enjoy shooting Blondie's brains out, I just came for Eric."
At that moment the pair came out of the lengthening shadows of the highway and Starsky saw his opponent. He looked back at Slade in wonder. It was his twin holding Hutch hostage yet it wasn't quite right.
"Yes, I came for my brother." The voice spoke again and Starsky knew—Slade had a twin sister. She was almost as tall as her brother with her hair cut the same way. She had the same lean, angular build with her head nearly even with Hutch's.
"Erica, it worked like a charm," Slade said as he sidled away from Starsky and toward the two still slowly moving farther out of the shade of the underpass.
"Get his handcuff keys and gun."
"Yeah, we'll need them," Slade said as he turned back to Starsky standing with his hands well away from his body. Slade slid his hands into the tight jeans and found the key, then ran his hands over Starsky's butt. Starsky flinched in spite of himself. "Cop's got a nice tight ass, Erica."
"Not now. We've got to cover our tracks."
Slade began unlocking his cuffs and leg irons. Then he rubbed his wrists as he stood up. Suddenly he looked taller and less gaunt.
"Let's go, pig," he said, grabbing Starsky's gun from the shoulder holster and shoving the detective to hurry his slow movement. Watching Hutch's sweating face, Starsky didn't struggle as his hands were yanked behind him; he felt a measure of fear as he heard the cuffs click around his wrists. Taking up his leg irons, Slade walked back toward his sister and Hutch.
"No need for those right now," she said as she backed away from Hutch and slammed him with the barrel of her revolver. Starsky yelped and started to rush to Hutch as his partner slumped to the gravel covered tarmac. She turned her gun on him and stepped forward.
"Stop right there, pig."
"You bitch," Starsky said as he stumbled to a stop studying his partner crumpled on the ground. Hutch's eyes fluttered then he rolled on his back and seemed to pass out completely. Slade walked over and casually kicked him in the side.
"Pretty boy doesn't seem so tough now. Can I keep him for a while? You know how I like blonds."
"Only if I get to keep curly here," Erica answered with a laugh. "Yeah, we'll have a bit of fun then get on to Denver." Starsky was a bit chilled by her maniacal laughter. Slade seemed fairly normal, but Erica looked anything but normal and sounded really weird.
"Get the van, Eric. It's down that road a little way." She gestured with her chin toward the dirt track disappearing into the desert.
Starsky watched as Slade trotted under the highway and disappeared. He edged closer to Hutch, trying to see if he was conscious and faking it. Erica watched him then went over and nudged Hutch with her booted foot. He moaned and rolled away. He wasn't completely unconscious, but neither was he in any fit state to help if Starsky could make a move on the woman. As if reading his mind, she turned her gun on him and backed a short distance toward the Torino.
"On your face, pig," she said, gesturing with the gun. As he hesitated she turned the revolver toward Hutch. "I could put a bullet in him now and save us a lot of trouble—or we could wait a while and see what happens." She looked back at Starsky who was still on his feet, "I said on your face, pig. I mean it. You have ten seconds or I start putting bullets in your pretty partner here."
In resignation Starsky dropped slowly to his knees and started to fall onto the pavement. He felt the gravel biting into his legs almost immediately then began to sink slowly toward the ground.
"That's far enough. I think I like you on your knees," Erica said, smiling as she sauntered forward. She ran her gun through his hair then down the line of his strong jaw. "Yes, I think you'd make somebody a lovely play toy. What do you think, pig?" Starsky didn't answer through his clenched jaw; probably Erica didn't expect an answer, either.
Pebbles were continuing to cut into his knees through the heavy denim, but Starsky didn't move or say anything, not wanting to give Erica the satisfaction of his discomfort. It wasn't long before the orange van came roaring through the underpass, barely skirting Hutch's still form. Starsky took a deep breath and started to shift then, but the gun barrel at the back of his neck short-circuited any movement.
Slade jumped out of the van and opened the rear doors. He then began dragging Hutch toward the cargo area. He was stronger than he looked as he lifted the limp form onto the floor of the van and slammed the doors closed.
"You follow in the van. Curly and I will go in that lovely Torino. We need to dump it as soon as possible. I think I found a spot not far from here." Prodding Starsky in the back of the neck, she said, "On your feet, pig. Walk quietly and carefully over to your car. Make any funny moves and I'll put you to sleep like your partner." Starsky stiffly and awkwardly struggled to his feet, off balance from having his hands cuffed behind him. He gingerly walked toward his car.
"Now, crawl in on the floor under the dash."
"I don't think I'll fit, ma'am," Starsky said with slight sarcasm, walking around to the passenger side. At the moment it was all the defense he had.
"You'd better fit or I'll shoot something vital off to make you fit," Erica said, pushing him to his knees beside the car. "Get in there."
Clumsily, he tried to lift his knees into the space under the dash. Erica reached down and grabbed him by the belt and lifted him up. It was a struggle, but he ended up with his legs under the dash and his head and shoulders on the front seat. Then she walked around the car to the driver's side and got in. His legs began immediately cramping, but he ignored it as he was completely entranced by Erica. Uneasily he watcher her remove her narrow leather belt and then lean toward him. He was completely unnerved when she looped it over his neck then tightened it firmly against his Adam's apple.
"Now, pig," she said as she slid under the steering wheel and grabbing the end of the belt. "One wrong move while I'm driving and you strangle." She yanked on the belt to make sure it was firmly seated. It was more than firmly seated; it was cutting into Starsky's supply of air. He gasped which drew a smile from her then she reached out and patted him on the head. "Yeah, we're going to get along fine. You'll make a lovely pet for a while, sweetie."
Holding lightly to the belt, she turned the key in the ignition and threw the car into gear. Spinning its tires on the gravel, the Torino lunged and stalled. Cursing, Erica restarted the motor a little more sedately. Once the Torino was moving, she made a U-turn out through the gravel shoulder and went back through the underpass, down a faint dirt road, steadily picking up speed. Starsky assumed that the van was behind them, but he was mainly concentrating on getting enough air into his lungs so he wouldn't pass out. Every time the car hit a patch of washboard the belt drew a little tighter. Occasionally Erica would look over at him and smile. Once she slowed and reached for the tight band around his throat to loosen it ever so slightly. For even that small respite, Starsky was grateful and slumped down on the seat, trying not to be any kind of menace to the woman driving his car.
Then the road became nonexistent and even rougher. Erica had her hands full keeping the Torino moving through the brush and shifting ground under the car. Eventually she had to drop the belt as the road turned into a rough, dirt track; Starsky was too cramped and short of breath to take any advantage of it. Finally the abused Torino ground to a halt, and Erica got out of the car. Starsky heard the van pulling up and coming to halt somewhere out of his sight.
Erica opened the door on his side and gestured for him to get out. She tugged on his leash. He struggled trying to cooperate, not wanting the belt pulled any tighter. She saw his futile efforts and tugged a bit more on the belt just for the fun of it. He was breathing harshly by the time Slade walked over.
"Help me get this pig out of the car," she said, yanking the belt once more for good measure. Slade grabbed Starsky and pulled him out by his upper arms then dropped him face down on the desert floor, his tingling feet and legs still in the car. Taking hold of Starsky's belt and shirt collar, Slade set him on his feet. Starsky swayed precariously then staggered to catch his balance on nearly numb feet. Slade deliberately tripped him, causing him to fall heavily to his face, nearly hitting a prickly pear. Rolling on his side, he spit bits of sand from his lips.
"Quit messing around. Get him in the van. Then help me with this damned car."
Slade again seized Starsky's belt and Erica's belt collar to pull him to his feet. Then with one hand on the leash and the other in the middle of Starsky's back he roughly guided the detective to the back doors of the van. Holding onto the make-shift leash, Slade opened the double doors. Hutch was bound with heavy ropes to the left side of the van. Unceremoniously Slade thrust Starsky in beside his still unconscious partner. Slade crouched down as he stepped into the van and made Starsky fast to one of the support struts on the side of the truck. Taking a bit of pity on the prisoner, Slade loosened the belt on Starsky's neck slightly. The interior of the van was darkening quickly as the sun set. Starsky tried to get somewhat closer to Hutch, but his hands were tightly fastened to the steel slats that supported the outer skin of the van. He could listen to the even and regular breathing of Hutch and that reassured him a little. He was concerned because the man had been out for such a long time. But perhaps it had only seemed a long time to him. He hoped that was the case.
He heard the Torino fire up and then the tires spin in the gravel. He grieved slightly for the mistreatment of his car, but his main concern was still Hutch. There was a loud engine whine and then a rush of tires through the sand. The sound became more distant then finally ceased. He assumed that they hadn't driven the Ford that far away, but only shut down the motor. He lay for what seemed like hours with his wrists getting steadily more paralyzed while the van became darker and darker as the sun finally disappeared from the sky.
Crunching of gravel under booted feet alerted him that his captors had returned. Then he heard the doors at the front of the van open. A dim interior light showed Slade sliding into the driver's seat with Erica getting in the passenger door. Holding the door open, she pulled her seat forward and came into the cargo area. She checked Starsky's bonds and nodded, then she slipped her belt off over his head and tossed it over the front seat. She prodded Hutch, only to receive a moan.
"I think he's hurt bad. Could you drop him off somewhere where he'll be found. I won't give you any trouble, please." Starsky hated pleading with the woman, but couldn't help himself where Hutch was concerned.
"He's okay. Only gave him a little tap on the head. He'll be fine. Eric wants his company and what Eric wants, Eric gets. Remember that, pig." She began backing out of the rear of the van and then stepped into the front seat.
"Let's get out of here," she said to Slade who started the motor and put the heavy truck transmission in gear with a slight grinding since he didn't bother to depress the clutch far enough.
"Careful with this thing. I paid a lot money to get it modified so it could keep up with that damned Torino."
"Okay, sis. I thought this thing was hotter than it should be."
The van lurched forward and began rolling over the uneven ground. Starsky found the motion excruciating as occasionally he inadvertently tugged on his now swollen wrists. However, it was unavoidable since he had absolutely nothing to get a purchase on. The floor of the van was slick, unforgiving metal. His jeans slid easily on the surface. He tried bracing his shoulders on the wall, but the spars that made up the unfinished wall only poked him unmercifully. He made the best of it, having no other choice until the van was on the relatively smooth highway a long time later. He had long since lost his sense of direction even if he could have seen outside and tried to get his bearings. He just knew that they were no longer roaming the desert but headed somewhere on a highway. Then he remembered something about these two going to Denver. So probably they were driving back toward Albuquerque.
Surprising himself, Starsky fell asleep during the drive. Occasional jostles woke him as Slade slowed, made turns, then finally stopped. The vehicle wasn't still long. Only long enough for the two to change drivers before resuming their trip with their unwilling passengers.
During one of the stops, Slade came back and freed Starsky from the side of the van, saying, "Since you stopped once to let me piss, I'm going to return the favor." And Starsky was grateful for the slight kindness. It was humiliating for Starsky to have Slade open his jeans, take him out, and point. Then Slade tucked him away with a light pat that was almost a promise which Starsky didn't want to speculate on. Another positive to the pit stop was that this time Slade spared himself crawling up inside the van and only fastened one of Starsky's ankles to the side of the van and didn't bother tying his hands to the support bar. It gave Starsky a little leeway to scoot nearer Hutch and more ways to brace himself against the swaying and jouncing of the truck.