The Last Streetlight

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

(Originally published in Half Me, Half You circa 1982)

Dave Starsky drove his date's MG back to his apartment, grousing to her about its size. "Ginny, for a midget, this car would be perfect. But you're almost as tall as I am, so how can you drive this toy and be comfortable? My head's banging on the roof, and my left leg is permanently cramped."

"Davy, I said I'd go to the banquet in your car…" the red-head started.

"Yeah, after a lotta sighing and mutters about your blasted conservative reputation at the firm!" Starsky took a breath to start again with his long list of complaints when he saw the reflection of red and blue flashing lights coming from the next block, near his apartment. Shifting gears, he floored the accelerator and screeched to a halt behind a battered LTD. "Wait here, Gin, I'll be back in a minute."

He took the stairs two at a time and, entering the front door, ran head-on into his partner. "Hutch, what's going on?"

"Starsk, it could be worse. You'll get used to it in time, believe me. In fact, you could say the change is a definite improvement." Hutchinson's tone was flip, but there was an undercurrent of fear and worry.

Starsky reached out and gripped his partner's shoulder, although he didn't know what was wrong. "What's an improvement?"

"It even matches your car." The voice was steadier now.

"What matches my car? HUTCH!" Starsky's voice cracked as it raised an octave above normal.

"This, Sergeant Starsky." Lieutenant Brownlee of the local precinct station pointed to the bedroom.

Starsky stared, his mouth hanging open. Red paint had been thrown on the walls, floor, and even in the closet. "Wha…? Who did this? Hutch?" He turned to his friend, a hurt expression on his face.

Suddenly serious, Hutch turned and rubbed his hand up and down Starsky's shoulder in sympathy. "My date was listening to the police band, and we heard the call. I came right over. Buddy, all kidding aside, I'm sorry." When I heard that call, Starsky, I was so afraid you were here. Thank you, God, for sending him with Ginny after all. When I saw the Torino still in the driveway…

Starsky shook his head and slumped into the large wicker "Sidney Greenstreet" chair behind him. "Starsky, don't sit…" Hutch cried, too late.

Seeing a patrolman turn to snicker, Hutch silently pointed to a small stain of red showing on the back of the chair. Standing, Starsky felt sticky wet paint on his rear and the back of his new olive corduroy jacket. There was red paint all over the chair.

"Why didn't you tell me about the paint before I sat in it?" Starsky's vibrant voice was quiet, low.

Hutch knew he was in trouble. "Starsk, I tried to, but you threw yourself down so fast there wasn't time. You don't think I did it on purpose? At a time like this?" Hutch tried to placate him.

"No, of course not, you were only…"

"David, are you okay? I got worried." Ginny surveyed the damage. "What the hell happened? A tornado?"

"Just somebody's idea of a prank, I think," Starsky replied, moving over to the woman. "Can you get home by yourself? I think I'll be tied up here for quite a while."

"Are you sure you don't want me to stay and help you clean this up?"

"No, honey, we won't even be able to touch it till the lab guys get through. You go on home. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?" Starsky leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"If you're sure, Dave. Hutch, is he right, is this just a prank?" Ginny asked.

Hutch nodded, trying to look as if he believed that. "Don't worry, Ginny, everything's fine. Messy, but fine."

"Well," she still wasn't sure, but if David wanted her to leave she would. "Call me tomorrow, first thing."

"You've got it. 'Night."

"You'll have some big explaining to do, Starsk." Hutch patted his partner on the arm, carefully avoiding wet spots.

"Thanks, pal."

The next day was overcast, fitting Starsky's mood perfectly. Sitting at their desk-table, Hutch piled through the backed-up incident reports in their baskets. Starsky's hand sneaked around the piggy bank to steal Hutch's fresh cup of coffee. Just as Starsky thought he had it, Hutch moved it out of reach.

"Aw, have a heart. It was a long night trying to put that mess in order. I didn't get any sleep!"

"Tell me about it. I was there too, remember?" Hutch leaned back and emptied the cup. "Will you need a place to sleep tonight? Not that I'm offering, mind you. Ann's flying in tonight and the place will be occupied. Just thought I'd ask."

"Nah, I've dragged the cot out, and I'll sleep next to the TV."

"Good, I'm sure you'll be very comfortable."

"Your heart's really bleeding for me, isn't it? No sympathy at all from my own partner." Starsky shook his head as Hutch started laughing.

The day wore on with routine dullness, the bane of young police officers wanting excitement, but normal to those officers like Starsky and Hutchinson with a few years under their belts. Finally, the long day came to an end.

Starsky looked at the rags and paint cans surrounding his bed. If I have to go to the john, I better turn on the light first. Grabbing a pillow and blanket, he made the cot as comfortable as possible and settled down for the night.

He and Hutch were at Huggy's watching Anita serve a tall blonde and a short grey-haired

man who was drinking boiler-makers. Suddenly teed off at something he said, the woman

picked up the pitcher of beer and dumped it on the man. Hutch started choking on his carrot

and raisin salad, so Starsky absent-mindedly slapped him on the back as he watched the

confrontation.

The ringing of the alarm jolted Starsky awake. The smell and the taste of the paint was strong, and the mouthwash in the bathroom didn't seem to help. On top of everything else, he had a slight headache that seemed destined for bigger and better things. Grabbing a cold root beer from the fridge, Starsky popped out to the car, sliding out quieter than usual from the driveway.

Driving to Parker Center, Starsky couldn't seem to shake the cobwebs from his brain, so he decided to let Hutch drive until lunchtime.

The day was another quiet one, particularly for one so close to the Christmas holidays. Now almost noon, the two decided to eat at the Pits and see if Huggy was ready to play Santa Claus at the Police Orphans Benefit. The usual Santa, Captain Dobey, was busy with the new budge negotiations and Huggy had 'volunteered'.

"Hey, Huggy, how's about a couple of beers and the usuals?" Starsky pointed to the end of the bar.

Huggy Bear complained, pulling two trays out of the icebox and slapping them into the microwave oven. "Couldn't you two do-gooders find a crime wave or something to keep you busy till after the party? I don't know how you suckered me into doing this?"

"'Cause we're your best customers," Starsky threw over his shoulder as he peered through the oven door.

"Starsk, you'll get radiation poisoning if you keep standing so close to that all the time." Hutch watched as his partner pressed his nose against the smoky glass. "Don't you still read the Nasty Enquirer?"

Anita nudged Hutch with her elbow and a more comfortable part of her body brushed against him as she slid by with a tray full of beer glasses and a pitcher. Turning to watch her, Starsky's eyes widened.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"'Member that crazy dream I told you about?"

"The one where Bo Derek and Suzanne Somers were trying to…"

"No, the other one," Starsky cut in.

"Uh, yes, I think so. Why?"

"That's them! The two in the dream." Starsky sat down next to Hutch at the bar and stared at the two people sitting in a booth near the pool table.

"Come on, Starsky, you don't really believe that stuff, do you?" Hutch drained his beer and signaled Huggy for another.

"Why not? That guy Collandra had ESP. And all those tests I've taken in the papers say that I have definite potential."

"For entry to the funny farm, maybe…" Hutch's voice trailed off as the sallow-looking man stuck his tongue out at the woman, and she picked the pitcher up with both hands, stared at it and then tipped it onto her companion's head. His womanish shrieks of anger were drowned out by the bar's patrons' laughter and Starsky's repeating of "See, just like in my dream."

For the next few months, Starsky continued to have dreams which came true. Sometimes they actually happened the next day or so, then as the months rolled on, it was longer and longer between the dreams and the actual event. By May, there was an average of three to four weeks between the dream and the happening. During this time, the same dream would be repeated over and over. The dreams were usually of the non-violent type, and were mostly concerned with robberies and side happenings. Hutch was slightly amused and very bewildered by what was going on, and teased Starsky unmercifully. He was curious enough, though, to read up on psychic powers.

"Starsky, what are you doing with all that figuring?" Hutch glanced at the lapful of papers and track sheets that his partner was studying.

"Huh?"

"You heard me, what is that junk?"

"Well, I thought that if I could control this forecasting and guide it, we could make a fortune at the track." Starsky waved his latest sheet full of figures with dollar signs plastered all over it.

"How are you going to control something you don't understand?"

"All those books you've been reading should say something!"

"Some say that you lose the power if you try to use it for personal gain. Others, and you should remember what Collandra said, have reported that it is impossible to control. Besides, I'm still not convinced you're psychic. And let me warn you, if this is a long-range joke, you are going to get it, buddy!"

It might have gone on forever, except for one thing, the dreams began to change.

Arriving home from a party that Ann and Ginny had thrown for the two of them, Starsky felt good. Those two girls are out of this world! He surveyed the bedroom and realized for the hundredth time that Huggy's friends had done a lousy job painting the room. Maybe he'd ask Hutch over some weekend, and they'd redo it themselves. A light shade of purple would look great; an old girlfriend used to have her bedroom done in that color. As he drifted off to sleep, it seemed that the ever-present smell got stronger. Mentall, he shrugged and rolled over.

"Darkness is bad enough without the cold pavement to sit on," Starsky bitched.

"Hang in there, it can only get worse," came Hutch's encouragement.

The alley was darker than the outside night. The stakeout couldn't go on much longer,

or at least Starsky hoped not. Both of them were getting bored after three nights of

nothing. The only movement was that of stray cats and rats scurrying through the garbage.

Sometimes the rats crawled over his foot, causing Starsky to shiver. God, he hated them.

And the cockroaches!

"Starsky?" A soft voice came over the radio. "I see DeVito. I think he's carrying the

goods."

"'Bout time."

Silence. Then Hutch whispered, "Careful, he's coming your way, fast."

"Spooked?"

"Looks like it. I'll come after him."

"'Kay." Come on, Carlo baby, now we've got you!

The alley deadended at Starsky's post with only a back door to an all-night strip joint

halfway between him and Hutch. Starsky heard footsteps coming toward him and got

ready, his weapon out. "Freeze, DeVito! Police!" He saw a man's dimly visible figure

stop and raise his hands. The man was armed and the gun was aimed right at him!

Without hesitation, Starsky fired twice, then twice more. When the echoes died down in

the alley, Starsky called out for Hutch.

A gasp came from ahead of him, from the suspect, and Starsky slowly walked over,

keeping his eyes open for his partner.

"Starsk," the victim sighed, his blond hair catching the glinting beams of the penlight in

Starsky's hand.

Starsky stared in disbelief. Hutch lay at his feet, blood covering his chest and stomach.

As the realization hit him, I shot Hutch! Starsky threw his gun against the boxes of garbage.

He knelt next to Hutch, gently pushing back the hair in his friend's face. Swallowing the

lump in his throat, he whispered, "Hang on, buddy. I'll get an ambulance."

"No," came the weak reply, "there's no time left…don't leave…leave me alone…please

please…"

Starsky lifted Hutch's limp body and hugged him, crying softly at first, then screaming as

the person he loved most in the world died.

Starsky woke bathed in sweat, a final primal scream dying on his lips. Rising, he discovered that he was shaking badly. It was just a dream, that's all. I'll call Hutch, just to let him know that he's driving, nothing else. A good long shower afterwards, and I'll forget the whole thing. But he realized it would take a long time to exorcise that particular nightmare.

When Hutch arrived, he knocked on the door, called out, then let himself in when he heard no answer. "Starsky, when are you going to clean this place up? It looks terrible!" A mumbled answer came from the bathroom. "Can't hear you."

A curly head stuck out from the door and grinned somewhat shakily. "I said, if you would like to change it, you're free to do so."

"Did you think of trying another painter?"

"Yeah, and they cost more than I can afford on my salary. Maybe you and I could do it."

"Yeah, sure. You mean, I'll do it and you'll supervise."

Hutch thumbed through the latest issue of Trains and You, a bimonthly bookzine, while waiting for his partner to finish dressing. "Where are we eating tonight?"

"Krazz's would be great."

"Food, Starsky, not disco. How about Provino's, you like Italian food."

"Aw, I'd rather go to Krazz's, or maybe Flynn's II over in Burbank."

"That's a disco, too. I want to eat, not dance."

The argument was heated all the way to the station.

"Come on, Starsky, we always go where you want to go. Just once, before I die, I'd like to pick the spot."

At Hutch's choice of words, a flashback of the nightmare came to Starsky.

"Starsk, is something wrong?" Hutch turned in concern as he saw his partner's face blanch.

"No, nothing. Provino's fine. We'll go to Provino's. Why not?"

"You're positive you're okay?"

"Sure, just a twinge from jogging. Maybe I'm overdoing it."

Jogging? He hasn't been jogging in weeks. Neither of us is home long enough to do more than catch a few hours of sleep and a bite to eat. More than likely, it's those women of his. Hutch chuckled at the thought. Always told him that junk food would do him in.

The next few days, Hutch noticed dark circles around Starsky's eyes, as if he hadn't been sleeping for weeks. When they stopped at Pancho's Taco Stand, the usually iron-stomached detective couldn't even finish one Super-Special. And when Hutch made cracks about the Torino when it stalled in traffic, Starsky's half-hearted retorts were forced and without the usual glint of mischief in his eyes.

Since they were due in court the next morning, Hutch invited his partner to spend the night in his apartment as it was closer to town. Starsky showed almost pathetic relief in his acceptance. Hutch started to comment, but decided to wait until they were alone, away from the other detectives in the office.

Later that night as he turned out the lights, Hutch broached the subject. "Starsk?"

There was no answer from the couch. "Starsky? What is it, what's wrong?"

Starsky was silent for so long, Hutch was beginning to wonder if his sometimes aggravating partner was simply ignoring him. Then he heard a sigh. "Buddy? Level with me."

"The dreams…they bother me."

"Well, I can't say that I blame you for that. But you haven't mentioned any lately. Have you been having any more?"

"No, of course not!" Starsky's denial was too quick and forceful for Hutch's peace of mind.

"Then don't worry. I'm sure they'll go away soon."

"Yeah, I hope so."

The two men lay in their respective beds and stared at the ceiling. Hutch listened to the heavy, unsteady breathing of a man who meant more to him than he would have thought possible. What is it that the ancient philosopher, Tao Ch'ien said? "Though I am different than you, we were born involved in one another." Yeah, that about says it all.

It was after 3 a.m. when Hutch felt someone in the room with him. He woke without a movement to betray himself and carefully peered beneath dark blond lashes. What he saw startled him, but moreover, scared him shitless. Starsky, his big, tough, hotshot of a partner, was standing in the alcove, CRYING! Hutch was paralyzed with fear. What? What am I going to do? He realized that it would be better if he didn't do anything, didn't let Starsky know that he had seen him and soon, Starsky returned to the couch. Hutch could relax his muscles, but not his racing mind.

The next day, Hutch took the only action he knew.

"Captain, I'm telling you, Starsky is hurting, and I don't know why!" Hutch paced Dobey's office. "I can't help him, I can't even talk to him about it. It's obvious that I'm not supposed to know anything."

"Hutchinson! Sit down and calm yourself. Now, slowly and from the beginning, tell me what's going on." Dobey saw the younger man visibly pull himself together.

Running his fingers through his baby-fine hair, Hutch tried to organize his thoughts. "I don't know what's wrong, exactly. I do know that it has something to do with those crazy dreams. At first, it was a joke. You know Starsky, he tried to find a way to make money from it. That didn't seem to work so he gave up the idea. Then a few days ago, he stopped mentioning them entirely. I figured they'd finally stopped…" Hutch's voice trailed off.

Dobey leaned back in his chair and waited for his up-tight sergeant to continue. He hadn't seen Hutchinson this angry and upset since his partner had been snatched by Marcos' people.

"Lately, he's been depressed…jumpy. Every time I turn around he's staring at me. I don't know, I just don't know what to do."

"Has he been to a doctor?"

"Starsky? Hell would freeze over first."

Dobey shook his head. "Then, Hutch, you'll just have to wait until he's ready to tell you."

Hutch smiled wryly and went to his desk in the squad room. He noticed Starsky had stepped out, but he wasn't worried that he had overheard anything. A file folder lay open on the desk, their latest assignment. Someone had spilled coffee on it. Hutch decided to read it and catch up on their typing while he waited for Starsky. Hmm, maybe this will get Starsky's mind off what's bothering him. We've got to catch some dealer with the goods. You'd think we work Narco instead of Homicide. Who is this flake anyway? Carlo DeVito.

The letter came before the day was over. Huggy Bear delivered it to a frantic Hutch who was about to put an APB out on Starsky.

"Hutch, Starsky gave me this a few hours ago. Said it was important and to give it to you at exactly 5 o'clock. It had better be real important, I ain't no Western Union!" Huggy fingered the gold-flecked vest that he wore over a puce pantsuit, handing the message to Hutch.

Hutch ripped the envelope open and started to scan the hastily scrawled paper. Half-way through, he sat down heavily. Dobey, passing by, stopped at the look on the man's face.

"Hutchinson, what's wrong?"

In answer, Hutch held out the letter to the captain. Dobey could see the naked bewilderment and pain in the pale blue eyes.

"Hutch, old buddy," Dobey read, "I'm really sorry to say goodbye like this. I know I haven't been leveling with you, but I needed time to think. Never could lie to you, you always knew. I have had another dream, the worst of the bunch. It says I'm gonna kill you, Hutch! I thought if I went away, I could make sure that it wouldn't happen. Don't bother looking for me, partner, I'll be far away by the time you get this. I'm sorry, sorry for everything. Take care of yourself."

Dobey didn't know what to say. He found it difficult to imagine Starsky ever voluntarily leaving Hutch. In fact, Dobey had worried more than once about what would happen if Starsky had to bury Hutchinson and continue on. In many ways, Starsky was more dependent on Hutch than vice-versa. Yet, now, he wondered if that was true.

Huggy cleared his throat, trying to find words to comfort Hutch. But words wouldn't work, and he knew it. Then he saw the set to Hutch's jaw and realized that this was not the time for sympathy. Hutch was prepared to find Starsky and discover what had caused all the trouble.

Hutch leaned over and pulled the phone to him, quickly touch-toned four digits, and spoke into the receiver. "Aurora, how soon can I have a lab team over at Starsky's apartment? No! Tonight, now, not first think in the morning. Look, Aurora…please." Hutch deep-breathed to keep his temper in line. "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. Thanks, I'll be there in 15 minutes to let them in."

"What are you up to?" Dobey was confused.

"Look, Cap, everything started busting loose after the attack on Starsky's apartment, right? I refuse to believe that he's psychic. There has to be an outside agency causing this. I plan to find it, convince him to come back, that it's safe. His partment could hold some clue as to who's behind this, and maybe I'll find a clue as to where he's gone. If I have to rip his place apart, I will!" Hutch grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to let some people into the apartment."

When Starsky read the report, his hand shook so badly that he scalded himself with coffee. My God, it's coming true! It can't…I can't! He knew that his partner was in a big conference with Dobey about something and would be a while. He decided to take off to Huggy's and give himself time to think, but by the time he arrived at the Pits, his mind was already made up. He would split, get transportation of some kind from Merle and leave town. And Hutch. Hutch, I'll miss you. Merle would keep secret the type of vehicle, just like when they'd played hide-n-seek. Another of my brilliant ideas. Starsky felt the ache in the pit of his stomach growning. If I am psychic, would leaving stop what's going to happen? Or could it come true anyway? "Damn, I'm gonna do my best to avoid it!" He slammed his fist down on the hot dashboard, causing the St. Christopher statue to fall. Hutch had given him that after the last car accident. Said I needed all the help I could get, even from an on-again, off-again Saint. A Catholic saint protecting a Jewish kid from New York. Nick sure got a kick out of it.

Merle sold him a motorcycle for a couple of hundred bucks and promised to take care of the Torino for him, in case Hutch should decide to adopt it. Starsky patted her on the hood. "Sure gonna miss you, old girl. There's a lot of good memories in you."

"Why don't you take it with you, man? If your no-class partner doesn't want this monstrosity, I'll be stuck with it. Ugly no-taste car!"

"She's a beauty! But she is, or was, one of a kind. You see a lot more than you used to. Hutch could still spot me in three seconds in this car. Nope, she'll have to stay with you."

After some grumbling and stalling, Merle finally agreed to find a good home for the Torino. "Think the thing was alive or some such nonsense."

With a last look and a wave, Starsky drove off towards the eastern mountains. He had no definite destination in mind; he was just traveling. Got to be sure to take back roads. If I know Hutch, he won't take this lightly. He'll be looking, and I can't let him find me.

"Anything?" Hutch was tired, and his voice showed it.

Aurora didn't answer as she shook a test tube with liquid in it. So far, nothing had looked promising, although everything would be sent to the lab for further study. "Hutch, you said the dreams right after this place was painted?"

"Yeah, five or six months ago. He keeps talking about us doing it over. The painters didn't do a very good job, but we argued so much over the color we hadn't gotten around to it yet. Why?"

"Have you noticed the smell?"

"Yeah, Starsky assumed that it was cheap paint. I guess we got used to it. The night air always made it stronger. As a matter of fact, even first thing in the morning, you can sometimes still smell it."

"A few years ago, before I came to work for the police, I worked for a Senate investigating committee. This smell is like one I remember from then. I hope I'm wrong."

"Why? What is it?" Hutch's full attention was on the woman glaring at the test tube.

"If this is what I think it is, you have a powerful enemy." Aurora set the tube down and took her glasses off to rub her bloodshot eyes. She had been up since five a.m. the previous morning running tests on a series of "John Does" that had arrived with no obvious cause of death.

"Aurora Feingold, will you explain what you're getting at?"

"The CIA, Hutch. The Senate was investigating the Army and the CIA for using experimental drugs on civilians and certain soldiers during the fifties and sixties. There was one drug used by the Army and later dropped due to its obnoxious smell. They turned it over to the CIA for possible refinement." Aurora paused, groping for a way to explain the situation in laymen's terms. "This drug was a semi-hallucinogenic that, when used with a recording or an actual person's voice, could make a subject think exactly what they wanted him to."

"Control and program a person against his will?"

"In essence, that's exactly what it supposed to do. It wasn't entirely successful, but it was still dangerous." She turned to face the picture of Starsky and Hutch sitting on the bookcase. The two men were making funny faces at a camera with Cinderella's castle behind them. "From how you've described Starsky's reactions and such, I would say that it is quite possible that someone doctored this room."

"A set up! Make Starsky think he would kill me to get him out in the open?"

"Or even just to separate the two of you, knowing the pain it would cause, could be the only purpose. Imagine how Starsky feels right now. Afraid he'll kill you if he stays, afraid he might not be able to avoid it even if he leaves. Unable to go home, because you'd follow him and try to talk sense to him. Until you can find out who's behind this sick charade, your partner will violently refuse to see you." Aurora pulled her sweater on and signaled the lab team to get ready to leave. As she set the rakish beret on her short dark hair, she reassured Hutch. "The best thing about this particular drug is that there are no after-effects. Now that Starsky is away from the source, the dreams will begin to fade and finally stop completely."

"So, it's up to me to find the creep behind this and somehow get the proof to Starsk." Hutch's mind started to go through his mental files on possible suspects. "If that's what it takes, then that's what I'll do."

Back at the department, the computer's humming finally stopped. "Dobey, these are all the cards that the computer can give us, with the information you and Hutchinson supplied." The police technician handed over four cards.

"Thanks, with any luck, the one we need will be here." Hutch led the way out of the console area.

"Of all the names listed here, the most obvious would be Alexander Drew, if he wasn't in the hospital. He has the connections, since he was an agent himself." Hutch tapped the card against the desk. On a hunch, he called the rest home for the criminally insane where Drew was staying.

"Damn! I was afraid of this the moment Aurora mentioned the CIA. Drew was released in October, treatment continuing on an outpatient status. The so-called experts decided that he was stable enough to move to a half-way house. Guess whose custody he's in? A former partner and still active agent by the name of Tusconi, an agent who ranted that he'd get een with Starsky and me someday for daring to go after one of their people."

"Alexander Drew? That could be tricky," Dobey ventured.

"Tricky? Hell, yes, it could be tricky. Let's give them a chance to rectify the situation. Call that CIA man who 'helped' the last time."

At the end of that long, frustrating phone call, the two L.A. cops finally got the local CIA man, Hansen, to help look for his former agent. Or, Hutch threatened, every television, radio and newspaper office in the country would hear how an ex-agent, put in a mental institution for trying to kill every policeman involved in his wife's death, still had access to supposedly destroyed drugs. It would make an extremely interesting tale.

While this was going on, Starsky was cruising through the arid sections of Southern California, blind to the stark beauty of the desert. He decided to stick to the southern sections of the country. Hutch would assume that he would go to a city where he would disappear in a crowd. Instead, he'd go to where Hutch would love to travel. Am I trying to stay close to him in spirit, if not in body, by going to the parts of the country he'd love?

The days rolled on, and Hutch was beginning to worry more and more about whether Aurora was right about the drug having no side effects. After all, the drug she had studied was from an earlier time, who knows what progress the CIA could have made by now. Huggy was hitting up everyone he knew for information as to Drew's whereabouts or Starsky's. So far, nothing. Oh, Starsky, where are you?

The phone rang at Hutch's apartment as he thumbed through an old photo album.

"Yeah, Hutchinson here. Sweet Alice? Long time no see. Where are you now? I heard that you left town."

"Handsome Hutch, I jus' got tired of waiting for you, so I went back home to Texas. Fact is, I'm surprised you're there. I could've sworn I saw your betta' half in town the other day…"

"You saw Starsky?" Hutch jumped up from the chair. "Where?"

"Why, down here in Comstock. That's just 'bout 30 miles from Del Rio near the Mexican border. My aunt and uncle were there buying cattle, and I tagged along."

Hutch choked back a laugh at Alice at a cattle auction. "And you saw Starsk there?"

"Well, I sure thought it was him, 'ceptin' it was real hard to tell. He's lost a powerful lot of weight, kinda gaunt lookin', and he had the beginnings of a beard and needed a haircut real bad. But, the eyes were Starsky and so was the voice." Alice paused, and Hutch could hear an unspoken comment.

"What else, Alice?"

"Nothin' much, just that he looked real surprised at seeing me…almost like he was scared. When I called his name, he looked at me and ran out of the barn real fast. Like I was a ghost or something. I asked around and found out he was working in the place for eating money and drinking money. Hutch, I never heard of Starsky drinking like those boys said he was. Funny thing, though, they said he never gets drunk. Just quieter than normal and a bit mean. The boys around the saloon figured that he was wanted by the law or maybe a wife, the way he avoids strangers in town. Hutch, honey, I think you better get out here real quick. The one fellow I talked to said that some people don't like him much. They call him a Hell's Angel type, 'cause he rides a bike all over."

"I'm on my way, but driving'll take too long. I need a quicker way. Could you arrange to have a car ready for me and I'll fly to…" Hutch scanned an airline map hidden under the telephone book. "If I fly to San Antonio, I'll be only about 150 miles away. Too far, but it'll have to do."

"Hutch, my brother owns a crop duster and a little passenger plane, and he could pick you up there and fly you straight to my uncle's farm. It'd save you a lot of time. You can borrow one of his cars, too."

"Great, thanks a lot, Alice. You can't begin to know how much I appreciate this."

"Jus' one little thing," Alice started stuttering. "I…I…my uncle doesn't know what I did…in L.A., neither does my brother. My aunt does, and I think she's understanding. I'd kinda like you not to mention who I was there."

"Consider it done. I'm just an old friend from Los Angeles, which is exactly what I am."

"Thanks, Hutch."

Hutch and Alice made the travel arrangements, and Hutch notified Dobey as to his plans. As he talked to Dobey, he was informed that Alexander Drew had been found in East Los Angeles at a flea-bit hotel. "Good, now I get proof that he arranged this thing."

Starsky was scared. He was sure that had been Alice and equally sure that she had seen him. "Of all the godforsaken places to come across someone we know…"

"What'd you say, Mike?" the blond man sitting next to him asked.

For the fifth time today, Starsky had to remind himself that this wasn't Hutch. The same blond hair, the same blue corn silk eyes, the same quiet mannerisms, even the same educated background. Yet, it was merely wishful thinking on his part, because the man didn't physically resemble Hutch in the slightest. He guessed that loneliness was the main reason they ate together. And self-protection for Carl, his companion. The locals had taken a dislike to the two of them: Carl, because he was so different and an outsider, and himself, because of how he looked and acted.

If Hutch could see me now, he'd never believe it. As usual, whenever he thought of Hutch, the emptiness grew larger inside. After a hard day of work, he and Carl bought a bottle each and drank till dawn. Or rather, Starsky admitted, he did the drinking, and Carl did the talking. This would have to stop, he knew, the drinking and staying in one place for so long. Especially since he had been spotted by Alice. The sooner he left, the better. Of course, Alice would have no reason to call Hutch.

"Drew, all I want from you is a signed statement that you drugged Starsky and caused him to have these nightmares. It won't be admissible in court, even if you come to trial. I just need it to convince Starsky to come back." Hutch offered a pen and paper to the silent man.

Drew turned a deaf ear to him. Tusconi sat on a kitchen chair, nursing a gunshot arm, acquired when trying to kill the uniformed officer who knocked on the door.

"For God's sake, my partner is hurting, and all you have to do is sign this. Your plan worked, you've hurt both of us. Now it's time to end it."

"It's not over." Drew stood up, watched by the other police officers in the kitchen. "Your partner didn't kill himself."

"What?" Hutch and Tusconi chorused.

"He was supposed to commit suicide. His profile said that he would die before hurting you. I remember that from when I ran reports on the two of you after you killed my wife. He didn't kill himself, so it isn't over."

Tusconi reached out and touched Drew's arm. "Alex, you didn't mention suicide. We were only going to drive them apart, hurt them emotionally, not physically."

"Why should they live, my wife didn't. I wanted one of them dead, and the other forced to live with that for the rest of his life. I wanted them to hurt like I have been hurting." Drew sat back down, rocking back and forth in his chair. "I wanted them to hurt like that."

Tusconi turned to Hutch who had his eyes closed as if to shut Drew, Tusconi, and the kitchen out. "Would a statement from me help?"

"Yes, yes, I'm sure it would." Hutch shoved the paper over to him. "Thank you."

"And I say, he's a menace!"

"For chrissake, Lou, you sound like a bad movie."

"I agree with Lou, he is dangerous. Hettie's niece let it slip that he's an old friend of hers from Los Angeles, a cop. Could be he's after our little operation here." The lean, black man pointed to another man in a business suit sitting in the back of the room. "Mr. Cabe thinks he could be very dangerous even if it is a coincidence, and we should 'persuade' him to leave."

"No killing, I want that understood from the beginning. You kill one cop and three hundred will appear from nowhere. We have convinced the local law that we'll talk to the 'dirty biker' and help him relocate to a friendlier climate. The sheriff mustn't find out this man is a police officer, or he might decide to discover certain things he once overlooked." Mr. Cabe, having said his pierce, turned and left the barn.

Unseen by the council of war, Carl was sleeping up on the hayloft, waiting for Mike to bring some whiskey. The heated argument woke him, and he heard the last of the conversation. Mike's a cop? Fancy that. Got to warn him before these goons find him. He slowly rolled towards the ladder and peered down it. If I don't act soon, Mike'll walk right into them. As if on cue, he heard the mournful voice of his companion singing about soup and cooking, and knew he'd have to make a move now. Hope you're not drunk, Michael, because I'm not cut out for this hero stuff. Carl jumped down on top of two men who were on their way up the ladder. "Mike! It's a trap!" Carl screamed at the top of his lungs.

Starsky, only hearing his name called, burst in and was grabbed by the waiting men. "What's going on? What do you…" he was cut off by a sharp karate chop to the throat and an ax handle broken over his head.

Hutch impatiently awaited Alice and her brother at the airport in San Antonio. Now that he had a definite location for his wandering partner, he was eager to get going. Starsky could take it into his head to run again, and it was a big country to look for a wanted man, especially when he's wanted by only one person in particular. Nick had alerted all his contacts to watch out for his brother if he came to New York, but Hutch hadn't much hope of that working. Starsk knows that's the first place I'd check.

"Hutch!" Alice waved, running beside a tall, red-headed man/boy who looked ageless.

"Alice, have you seen Starsky since we've talked?" Hutch shot questions at her rapid-fire. "Is he okay? Does he know I'm coming?"

"Whoa, sweet Hutch, in order of asking: no; yes, I think so; and no, he definitely does not."

"I'm sorry, Alice, but it's just…" Hutch's careful façade of control began to slip for the first time, and he heard in surprise the break in his voice.

"I know." Alice changed the subject to give Hutch time to recover. "This here good-lookin' man is my brother, Eric. Eric, this is Ken Hutchinson, a very old friend from California. He's here looking for that man I showed you in town."

"What's he done wrong?" Eric asked, not cottoning to the blond man his sister was so concerned about.

"Starsk? He hasn't done a thing. There was a…misunderstanding between us, and I've come to straighten it out." Hutch tried to hurry them along to the waiting bi-plane. Taking a closer look at the plane, Hutch wondered how the three of them were going to fit.

Alice, seeing his glance, clarified things. "I'm staying here and running relay between you and the Ranger's office here in town. Just in case you need help."

"You're afraid there's trouble in town?" Hutch felt his muscles tightening at the thought of Starsky alone in that.

"Yep, there'll be some kinda trouble. Winds have been blowing mighty strange around Comstock lately. The grapevine says your friend is either an agitator or a cop," Eric answered for his sister, watching Hutch's reaction.

"Cop? Why should they be afraid of a cop on vacation?"

"So he is a cop?"

"Of course, they are. I never tried to say they were anything else," Alice interjected. "But I don't understand. How did you find out?"

"More importantly, how did the townspeople find out, and why are they so afraid of one?" Hutch was glad that he had persuaded the airport security to allow him to bring his gun with him. While on the plane, it had been locked up in the cabin, but now it nudged reassuringly against his side.

"Some of the locals run 'shine, I know," Alice offered.

"That's the concern of the local police, not mine."

"Moonshine isn't all they're running. They also help bring the Mexicans over the border," Eric replied.

"Illegal aliens!" Hutch whistled silently. "No wonder they're so worried about a stranger in town."

The flight was a quiet affair; once Eric silently pointed to a large convoy of cars and trucks traveling on a dirt road. When Hutch yelled a question, the pilot merely shook his head and signaled to the ground. When they landed in a plowed up field, Eric explained. "Those trucks don't bode well for your friend. It's a meeting of the locals involved in this business."

Hutch heard an underplay of bitterness. Did Eric hold a grudge against these men for a personal reason, or did he just hate their way of making money? He decided to worry about that later. "Where's Starsky staying? Take me there."

Eric nodded, leading Hutch to the oversized barn.

The two men slipped into the darkened barn and started to the back when Hutch tripped over something. He leaned down and picked up a piece of broken wood. Something sticky was on it. Tar, or more likely cow shit. As he started to throw it away, Hutch heard a noise. By Eric's reaction, he heard it, too. They split up and, holding the stick like a club, Hutch moved closer to the area of the noise. He saw a hand feebly moving under a barrel and swallowed a sudden fear. Pushing the barrel over, he uncovered a semi-conscious man. The man's leg was bent in such an angle as to be obviously broken; there was some bleeding from a cut on his face, and bruises, but other than that, he seemed alive and in fairly good shape. Eric leaned next to him, looking up at Hutch. "This is that man your friend stayed with."

"Mike? Where's Mike?" Carl was aware enough to look around and see that these men weren't the ones who had attacked him.

"Mike who?" Eric felt Carl's side to see if there were any broken ribs.

"Mike Starsky, he was here. They grabbed him." Carl strained to see the face of the man leaning over him. "Who are you? I've seen you somewhere…" his voice faded as he searched his memory.

Hutch was paralyzed. Starsky was here? The stick had… He held the club to the light. The stick had blood on it and pieces of hair. Dark hair like Starsky's. I've been holding this and I didn't know. Starsky, please! You can't do this to me, just as I'm about to find you, you can't be gone. He couldn't even think to himself the word 'dead'. No! If he were…gone, there would be a body.

"I know who you are, your picture, I saw it in Mike's wallet a few weeks ago. One of the men looked like you and the other, the other vaguely resembled Mike. It was him, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, his name is David Starsky, David Michael Starsky," Hutch replied absently.

"Oh." Carl was silent for a moment. "Are you here to get him?"

"Yes, I'm here to talk to him, try to get him to come home. Where is he? Do you know?"

"Maybe I do," Eric interjected.

The trucks jolted Starsky awake, and for a moment, he wasn't sure where he was. "Hutch?" No, Hutch isn't here. There's never gonna be Hutch around for me, anymore.

"He's conscious, Lou."

"Told you I didn't hit him too hard, pigs have hard skulls." A laugh from the speaker caused someone to swear.

"Pigs! That's no way to talk about him. He's just doing a job. He chose the wrong place to do it, that's all."

"You're mad because I didn't ask him to pretty please forget what he's seen here," Lou answered, amazed by the childishness of his cohorts in slavery. Lou had no delusions, it was slavery, pure and simple. Most of the men and women who were brought over, worked for less than four dollars a day. Since many of them were supporting families back home in Mexico, they tried to exist on no more than half of that. He wondered if they really believed that a little roughing up would discourage a cop. Even Mr. Cabe was a fool, forbidding any killing. Well, Lou would countermand those orders.

"What do you want with me?" Starsky found it difficult to concentrate on placing words together into whole sentences. There wasn't any real pain yet, only a dull throbbing. He felt like he was hovering three feet off the ground.

"We jus' want you to leave town, forget you ever saw Comstock. We don't want to hurt you…"

"Unless we have to, cop!" Lou shot an angry stare at the original speaker. They could at least act like they'd kill him if he didn't' cooperate.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Starsky tried to focus on the man he sensed as the most danger to him.

"Don't bullshit us! We both know why you're here. And we plan to make sure you don't say a word to anyone."

Starsky was confused. They knew he was a cop and seemed to think he was investigating them. He believed that most of the men were bluster, but the one the others called Lou wasn't. Starsky could see in his eyes that he wouldn't be leaving the desert alive. He had to escape! It would be so easy if I could just concentrate. I don't even know if I can stand, mush less if I can run. When we were caught in the Mojave, Hutch was there. But this time, there's no Hutch to help. Just a very tired and dizzy Dave Starsky. Starsky found his mind wandering to Hutch, and the good times they had once. Can't! Not now! Later I can think of that. Right now, think of nothing but escape.

Lou was talking to the others as they crossed over a bridge spanning the Pecos River. Starsky knew that this was the only chance he would get. The way he was feeling, he could pass out and never wake up. Slowly, he drew his legs up and kicked out, hitting the door handle and throwing the door open. Using his hands, which were tied behind his back, he pushed himself out of the moving vehicle.

Lou made a frantic grab for Starsky and stomped on the brakes. "Get him, or we'll all land in jail for the next twenty years. Get him and KILL HIM!"

The others looked at each other and then at Lou. The men shook their heads. "No, Lou. If you want him dead, you'll have to do it. We can't kill a cop."

"If I kill him, you'll be just as guilty." Lou glared at the others in the car.

"Maybe we will be. But I, we can't do this."

"Go on, go back to town. I'll find the cop and kill him myself. I don't plan to spend the rest of my life in some stinking jail."

The others solemnly got out of the vehicle and, telling the others behind them what had happened, all of them left except two of Lou's men.

"Spread out, he can't go far. I hit him real hard back in the barn, and he didn't look too good when he was talking to us. When you find him, take no chances, kill him." With those orders, they took their rifles and started down the road, looking for Starsky.

From the moment he hit the ground, Starsky ran, his eyes constantly, fervently scanning the ground for cover of some kind. He felt like he was about to pass out and, if he did, Starsky knew that he wouldn't stand a chance. Under the bridge, he saw a large amount of tumbleweed grouped together. Pawing through, he saw a pipe leading under the sand.

This is the only chance I've got. It hasn't rained in a month, so it shouldn't be too deep.

He pulled the weeds back over the entrance behind him and started down the mouth of the pipe. It was big enough for him to stand straight up, as the pipe had to carry the melted snows from the nearby mountains and handle the overflow from Amistead Dam and the lake. In fact, the area had been so dry the airport a few miles away had been temporarily closed due to the runways cracking. Thanks to that dryness, Starsky had an escape route.

"Did you call Sweet Alice and tell her what's going down?" Hutch asked Eric over the sound of the truck's engine.

"Yeah, I called her. Why did you call her Sweet Alice?"

"It's, uh, a kind of nickname."

Eric felt he wasn't being told the truth, and once more he wondered what his sister's connection with these two cops was.

"Look, aren't those the trucks we saw from the air?" Hutch pointed to the distant cloud of dust.

Eric squinted at the cloud. "You have good eyesight for a man from the city."

"I grew up in the country. Guess you never lose it."

"Shall we stop them, Hutchinson?"

"Yes, but I'll get out and you can question them alone." Hutch pulled out his Magnum and saw Eric's eyes widen.

"You come prepared, don't you?"

"Considering what's happened, don't you think it was a good idea?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Okay, you can hide on the side of the road and hear everything being said." Stopping the car for a second, he pulled crossways across the road.

The trucks stopped, and one of the men got out. "Eric."

"Kit."

"I don't suppose this is an accidental meeting."

"Nope, I don't suppose it is."

"Hmmm. Well, what can we do for you?"

"Nothing much for me, but there's a gentleman with me who would like to ask you some questions. Come out, Hutchinson, these men will answer you."

Hutch's head poked up the side of the road. "Yeah, I have quite a few things to say, but first I want to know where Starsky is."

"I'm not sure, Mister. Believe me, he was all right when we left."

"You left him alone in the desert?"

"Not exactly. He…he escaped, and Lou went after him."

"And you good citizens just left," Hutch snapped.

"Now, hold on, mister…" Kit protested.

"No, Kit, he's right. You have to understand that we're afraid of Lou and his boys. He's had the run of this area for a long time, and it's hard to say no to him. Just ask Eric what happened to his wife and farm when he told Lou to go to hell."

Hutch turned to Eric. "What's he talking about?"

"Tayback wanted me to join him. I said no. His boys terrorized my wife to death and burned the whole ranch down."

"What happened to him?"

"Nothing. One of his boys confessed and was sent to jail for a couple of years. I was told to drop the matter. I didn't have any hard evidence, so I bided my time."

Hutch flashed back on the fact that Eric had known Starsky was a cop. "You set Starsky up to get your revenge, didn't you? You're the one who told everyone that he was a cop. If someone tried, or succeeded in killing him, you'd have a murder conviction Tayback couldn't get out of."

Eric didn't answer at first. His dark brown eyes took on a faraway look as he remembered a young innocent girl who had trusted him. "Yes, I'm sorry. I used your friend to get at them."

Hutch was speechless with rage. He took a deep breath and turned to Kit. "Where did you leave them?"

He received directions to the bridge, and the men gave him a rifle. They refused to help him, but did promise to tell the sheriff and the arriving Rangers where they were headed.

Starsky was finding it difficult to remember what had happened and why he was in the pipe. The pain in his head was like someone squeezing and pounding to get in. He slipped on a wet patch of concrete, falling and scraping his palms on the sides of the pipe. Hutch, please come get me, I'm scared! Hutch! Starsky tried to see behind him, but the light was dim and the images kept blurring and jumping around. He could hear footsteps behind him. Someone's after me. Who is it? Hutch? Starsky ran, half-stumbling, his heart pounding in fear.

"LOU! I think I found him."

"Where?" The man called, running down the side of the embankment.

"In here. In the drainage pipe."

"Good, okay. We've got him. Jim, circle around to the other entrance, make sure he doesn't get out. Frank, stay here and keep anyone from interfering. Some of our former associates might get courageous enough to try and help this fellow."

"Right, boss. What about you?"

"I don't think I need any help to kill this boy. He's already half dead. I'll just help him complete the journey." Lou pulled the brush away from the entrance. "Get the flashlight from the truck, Jim, before you set out."

Hutch floored the accelerator, mentally willing the truck to go faster. Eric sat silently next to him, for the first time realizing that he had sentenced this man's friend to an almost certain death. And Eric was certain about Hutch's reaction when that happened.

"I'm sorry about your friend, Hutch. He really wasn't a bad person, according to what Alice says…"

"Stop it! He's not dead, don't alk of him in the past tense. We'll get there in time." We have to, we have to! Hutch skidded to a stop as the bridge came in sight. "We'd better walk from here." He handed the rifle to Eric. "Can you use this?"

"Yes, I can."

"Good, let's go." Hang on, buddy, we're coming.

Starsky could hear someone coming, but couldn't move any farther. He was panting and could feel himself slipping into unconsciousness. He fell against the wall and slid down it. The last thought he could organize was that at least he wouldn't have to worry about Hutch anymore. Starsky's breathing was noisy and his face flushed. He was totally unaware of the man standing over him with a rifle pointed straight at his face.

Eric pointed to the man guarding the entrance of the drainage pipe. "We must have found your partner," he whispered.

"Can you get around without alerting him? I don't want a stray shot to warn anyone we're coming," Hutch answered, calmer now that they were so close.

Raising himself slightly, Eric nodded. "I can get him away from there, and you can slip into the pipe. He'll never know it. I'll take care of him, you get your partner."

Hutch nodded and pulled his body through the sand, feeling the grittiness dig into his face and pour into his loafers.

Frank, hearing sand fall off the bridge, looked at the collection of tumbleweeds and then walked over to the overpass, his rifle ready. Hutch waited until he was unable to see the man and then ran into the tunnel. He trotted down the pipe until he saw the light from a flashlight and heard the click of a rifle being cocked. Realizing there was no time for warning shots, Hutch carefully took aim and fired, the echo almost deafening him. At first, he was afraid that he had missed. Lou Tayback stood unmoving for a moment, then fell beside his target. Keeping his Magnum trained on the man, Hutch ran to Starsky who was thrashing around, whimpering.

"No, no, no!" Over and over, Starsky was murmuring as Hutch gently placed his hand on Starsky's sweating face.

"It's all over, buddy, you're okay."

"NO! I shot Hutch!" Starsky's eyes stared blankly at Hutch.

No, not the nightmare again. He can't take much more of this. Neither can I. "No, I'm here. STARSKY!" He shouted to get his partner's attention. "Do you hear me? I'm fine, you didn't shoot me."

Something, either Hutch's voice or the hand caressing his face and neck, got through to Starsky. "Hutch?" His voice was that of a man who was seeing someone he never thought to see again.

"Yeah, babe, it's me." Hutch swallowed the lump in his throat. The man he was holding was so thin, his bones were showing through the skin on his arm. The hair was a tangled mess. Ah, Starsk, all this because of me?

"You okay, Hutch?"

"Am I okay…" Hutch sniffled for a second. "What half-assed partner has put me through hell trying to find him. And you ask if I'm okay?"

"I'm not coming back with you," Starsky carefully pronounced, trying to penetrate Hutch's joy.

"We'll talk about that later, buddy. Right now, we have to get you to a hospital." Hutch heard Eric come up behind him and hastily wiped the unshed tears from his eyes. "Did you take care of the other man?"

"Yeah, but I thought you'd want him alive, so he's tied up in the truck. He won't get loose." Eric soundlessly pointed to Tayback's body.

"He was about to shoot Starsk. I got him first."

"Oh."

"Hutch?" Starsky gripped Hutch's arm. "I think I'm going to throw up."

Hutch quickly rolled him over so he wouldn't choke on his own vomit.

Eric smiled. "Well, at least you found who you were looking for. I think your friend is going to make it. Now that you're here."

"Damn right, or I'll take him, his motorcycle and that dumb car of his and pitch the lot of them over a cliff."

Starsky gave a weak chuckle.

"So, it's all over. I suppose you'll be heading back to L.A." Alice's beautiful blonde hair was tied up in a ponytail making her look sixteen years old.

"The doctor said Starsky is badly weakened from lack of food and the concussion will have to be watched." Hutch looked fondly at his partner eating Eric's barbeque chili. He looks so thin, but everything's all right. We're together, and I won't let anything else hurt him. "Starsk, take it easy, your stomach isn't ready for that acid."

"Eric says you'll be back for the trial, sometime next month."

"Yeah, Tayback's operation needs to be shut down, and our testimony isn't crucial, yet the D.A. thinks it will help complete the picture of just how ruthless they were."

"I'm gonna miss you two, Hutch honey. I didn't realize how much till I saw that pretty face over there." Alice pointed to the laughing Starsky helping Eric with the food. "Maybe, someday, you and Starsky will come back here for pleasure, 'stead of business."

Hutch nodded and put his arm around Alice as they walked back to the party. Yeah, someday when this place doesn't bring back memories of how close I came to losing Starsky forever, we'll be back.