AAAAA

Hutch would have wept if he'd had the strength. When the spasms had stopped and he was able to right himself, the sound had disappeared.

Gone! They're gone!

He was leaning sideways, his strength thin, like cold water had seeped in his veins. Then he heard it, the distant start of an engine.

Close! I have to...have to do something!

His foggy mind drew out one last idea before he fell forward, almost too tired to hope.

AAAAA

Starsky started the engine, using the high beams so he could see the rugged tracks he was following. He had just started back when he heard a strange sound.

What was that? A horn?

The sound had been thin and wavering, barely audible through the night air. He turned off the engine and leaned out the open window. The sound stopped, then started again and faded away.

A car horn? From behind me? Sounds like the battery's about to die.

Starsky pulled the car over to the side, in case someone was coming up behind him. Getting back out, he grabbed the flashlight and stood in the middle of the trail. He didn't hear the sound of a motor.

No motor, but a car horn? It didn't sound that far away, unless they're parked. Does someone need help?

Could it be...?

He switched on the light, starting to jog down the trail behind him, his heart racing.

The sound started again, then stopped suddenly, just like a car horn draining a battery dry. Starsky started running, the light from the flashlight bobbing back and forth with the movement.

It's close, can't be much farther.

He saw it then as the flashlight veered to his left. A flash of blue in the green foliage. It was a truck, mostly hidden from the road.

He threw all the light on it. Running to it, he noticed the door was ajar.

Please let it be him! Please!

Wrenching the door open, Starsky felt stunned, relief making his eyes moist and his heart jump.

"Hutch! Hutch! Are you okay?" He placed the flashlight on the dashboard and pulled himself into the cab of the truck. There was no denying it was Hutch. Starsky recognized his long, lean shape hunched over the steering wheel.

Hutch looked awful. His ripped clothing, once wet, looked like it was still vaguely damp. There was mud all over him, with bits of river debris in his hair. He looked unconscious, his head dropping over the top edge of the wheel.

"Hutch?" Carefully, Starsky touched the back of his partner's head with his left hand, feeling through the long, tangled, and dirty strands for a wound. With his right, he took Hutch's wrist and tried to find a pulse. He found both the wound and a pulse, after a quick flash of panic that he was too late.

His heart leapt as Hutch moaned and his arm twitched. But his eyes stayed closed. The skin beneath Starsky's fingers felt hot and clammy.

"Shit, that's a big lump, huh, buddy?" Starsky said gently, hoping he was getting through. "Let's see where else you're hurt, okay?

Cupping the back of Hutch's head, he reached between him and the steering wheel and placed his palm on the middle of Hutch's chest. Gently, he pushed, leaning Hutch against the back of the bench seat. Moving his hand to the side of Hutch's face, Starsky slowly reached for the flashlight. He moved it farther up the dashboard so he could see Hutch better.

Even taking into consideration the yellow tint of the light, Hutch looked sick. There was a large swelling near the back of his head, and Starsky knew the wound had opened and bled heavily, there were still trails of dried blood down the left side of his face that the river hadn't washed away.

With his hand still supporting Hutch's head, Starsky used his right hand to feel under and through Hutch's clothing to his rib cage, checking for anything that felt broken. His hand went up to Hutch's left shoulder and down the back of his arm. As he pulled the arm toward him, he saw the dark stains on the inside of his sleeve. He settled Hutch's arm across him and pulled the fabric back.

Oh, man, that's ugly, Starsky thought as he looked at the deep, dirty, and obviously infected wound. Wonder if he got that trying to escape from the car?

He felt the limb, glad to know the bones were intact.

He gently cupped Hutch's face in both hands. "Hutch? C'mon, buddy. Give me a sign you're still in there?"

Hutch moaned, and his eyelids flickered but didn't open.

"Okay, just rest, partner. I've got you." Starsky slowly lowered Hutch down onto the bench seat as best he could. "Just relax. Relax. I'm gonna call for some help."

A part of him didn't want to leave Hutch in the dark, but he knew he needed the light to get back to the jeep.

I'll make it quick! I promise!

He ran, doing his best not to trip and waste time picking himself up. When he reached the jeep, he jumped in and did a tight turn.

Careful! You can't get stuck now!

He pulled the jeep up to the truck, facing it so the lights shone inside the cab. As he put it in park he picked up the radio.

"Starsky to Dobey! Starsky to the sheriff's station! I need some help out here!"

There was a flash of static, then a reply. "Deputy Quincy here. You okay, Starsky?"

"I found him! He's alive and hurt."

Starsky could almost feel the surprise on the other side of the radio.

"Where are you?"

"On the north side of the river, about fifteen miles upstream."

More silence, which made Starsky twitch with impatience.

"How badly is he hurt?"

"Head wound. Arm wound, and I haven't seen him conscious yet. He's got a fever, but I didn't feel anything broken in his rib cage."

"Was he in or out of the river?"

"Out of it. He'd found shelter."

"We can't send an ambulance down that road, Starsky, but we can outfit one of the vehicles here with some equipment and a paramedic or two. Best not to move him, even if you don't think anything's broken. Just keep him warm and sit tight. We'll find you. Keep your radio on, and honk when you hear us approach."

"Will do." Starsky tossed the mic aside and jumped out to the jeep's cargo area. He was thrilled to see some supplies in the back.

Blankets! Skip the packaged food and the bottled water. Can't take a chance on internal injuries.

Grabbing a few blankets and the flashlight, Starsky rushed back to the truck. Hutch hadn't moved. He went around the car, fighting the brush that would completely cover the truck in a few months. He opened the driver's side door and lifted Hutch's feet to the seat. He noticed the shoeless foot and wondered if it, or his ankle, could be broken. It didn't look swollen, but he would keep an eye on it.

"You need to wake up," Starsky said loudly, trying to keep his voice gentle. He slid into the cab, next to Hutch's legs.

He folded Hutch's arms across his stomach, careful of the open wound. He then unfolded one of the blankets, draping it across Hutch's legs and feet then tucking it under. The second blanket's edge went just under Hutch's chin and overlapped the other down to his knees.

There was just enough room for him to sit near Hutch's waist. He was getting nervous with Hutch's lack of response.

Head injuries are bad, I need to get him conscious and keep him that way until help arrives. There's no telling what else is wrong with him!

Starsky shone the light in Hutch's face and gently lifted one eyelid, then the other. Hutch groaned and looked away, turning his head to escape the light.

His pupils look normal.

Hutch opened his eyes, blinking slowly. Starsky flashed the light across his face, noticing the second eye also reacted normally.

Starsky immediately relaxed a bit. He knew his knowledge of head injuries was very limited, but he did remember that normal pupils was a good sign, and Hutch looked like he was trying to come out of it. Hutch finally seemed to focus on him.

"Hey. There you are," Starsky said quietly, leaning close so Hutch could see his face. He smiled, feeling like he hadn't done so in days.

Hutch looked at him, furrowing his brow. "Stars..."

"You bet! Surprised to see me, are you?"

Hutch looked like he was trying to sort things out, and Starsky gave him a moment.

"You're in jail..." Hutch blinked again, as if he didn't trust his eyes.

"Apparently not," Starsky said with mild amusement. He put a hand on Hutch's blanket-covered chest as his partner started to move. "Don't move. Help is coming."

"Help." Hutch sighed the word, closing his eyes. "I was going for help."

"Well, you found it." Starsky kept his right hand on Hutch's middle and gently patted Hutch's face with the other. "Don't do that. You've got to stay awake. Try to stay here with me."

Hutch opened his eyes and turned his head until he was leaning into Starsky's palm. Starsky cupped his cheek, letting his thumb caress a dirty cheekbone. "Too tired to go anywhere."

"That's what you say, but the moment I turn my back, you'll be off to la-la land. Can't let you do that just yet."

Hutch swallowed thickly. "Where are we?"

"In a truck. I should've known the country boy in you was gonna come out someday. Next thing I know, you'll be taking this one home to keep. It looks like a wreck. The LTD is gonna love having a sibling."

Hutch tried to smile a little, and Starsky gave him the best return smile he could muster.

"How'd you get out?"

Starsky shrugged. "We had a little help. Pomell and his boys made a mistake after they kidnapped you."

"The papers!" Hutch gasped, then tried to sit up.

It was a mistake. He groaned loudly as Starsky pushed him back down.

"Where do you hurt?" Starsky was worried again. "Inside?"

"My head," Hutch whispered, closing his eyes. Starsky put his hand back on Hutch's face, prepared to wake him up if he started to slip off. "My arm. Bruises. My foot hurts, but not nearly as bad as my arm. But we've got to find the papers!"

Starsky started stroking Hutch's face with his thumb again. He still felt warm, but Starsky didn't think his fever was up to a dangerous level. Yet. In a moment, Hutch opened his eyes. Starsky could tell he was having trouble focusing.

"If you mean the ones hidden in the guitar case, we have 'em," Starsky continued. "Dobey finally got hold of the DA, and he and the IA guy went at it about 'jumping the gun.' I think that new IA chief is in a little bit of trouble, and Simonetti and Dryden aren't going to be in real great shape once this is over."

"How'd you find the papers?"

"Eddie found them. He let us know you were in trouble as well. What happened?"

Hutch sighed and shifted under the blanket. He brought his right hand out from under the blanket, and Starsky moved it back to his chest, outside the covering. He curled his fingers gently around Hutch's, glad when he felt the pressure returned.

"Found the papers in Cummings' guitar case," Hutch said slowly. "He left his guitar with the lady he was dating."

"Sounds like we had it figured. It had to be somewhere. Maybe this lady will be able to help us out some more. Do you remember how they got you?"

At Hutch's confused look, Starsky explained. "Pomell had two men, and we've got them on tape admitting to kidnapping you. Do you remember how they got you?"

Hutch winced, as if in embarrassment. "I was going to take the papers to Dobey. Got hit from behind. Just remember the trunk."

Starsky frowned. How long was he out? The longer he was out, the worse it could be.

"I was afraid..." Hutch's voice seemed to fade, then he coughed and tried again. "Afraid that I'd lost them. They had the tie between Vindell and Pomell."

"I glanced at them. Pomell is in custody, Hutch, and he won't get out again. Kincaid and Dayton will crack, and we'll tie both murders to him."

"Cummings? What did he do...to be killed?"

The look of longing and loss in Hutch's eyes was like a fist around Starsky's heart. "I don't know, Hutch. There's a bunch of people back at the station working on the details. Maybe by the time you're ready to come back to work they'll have the answer."

"And you're here." There was a catch in Hutch's voice, and Starsky noticed his eyes were growing wet around the lashes. "I thought...thought I'd failed you."

Starsky realized his own eyes were tearing up at the look of raw emotion on Hutch's face. He blinked and put a smile on his face. "'Course you didn't! You got out of that car alive, didn't you? Hell, Hutch, you did me proud!"

"I meant, about losing the papers."

"Hutch, I don't give a damn about the papers. If you'd lost them, you would've found some other way to get me out of there. I know you, partner, and as long as you never give up, like today, then how could you fail me? As long as you're around to light that candle in the window, things will be fine."

Hutch looked confused again, and Starsky grew even more concerned.

Where are those guys! What if he goes under and I can't get him out?

Hutch sighed and squeezed Starsky's fingers again. "I didn't mean that."

Now it was Starsky's turn to be confused. It must have shown on his face because Hutch swallowed again and cleared his throat. "About the candle thing. You...want a party...I'll throw you one. Won't even make you...chip in...your share."

Starsky felt a grin threaten to split his face, and he patted Hutch's gently. "You sweet talker. Always knew you had a thing for me. It's why I've stuck around so long; you can't stay mad."

Hutch's eyes turned serious. "Shouldn't've been mad."

"You had the right," Starsky said, sensing the guilt he'd felt that night resurface. "I shouldn't have gone there, Hutch. It was between you and Cummings. I should've stayed out of it."

Hutch studied his face for a moment. "You think he wouldn't have been killed...if you hadn't gone there?"

Starsky looked down, unable to meet Hutch's eyes. "I don't know. What if Pomell or his men saw me go in? If they saw a cop going in to meet with him..."

Hutch moved his hand, sliding his palm along Starsky's until their thumbs locked and their fingers curled around each other's hand. His eyes drifted closed. "If true...you couldn't have...known."

He could see Hutch was getting too tired to talk anymore. Just as he was about to drag out some old jokes, anything to keep Hutch awake, Starsky thought he heard the sound of a motor.

"Hold on, Hutch, help is almost here." He gently untangled himself and went back to the jeep. He could hear the car coming closer. Leaning in, he started laying on the horn. A horn beeped back at him.

"Get ready to roll!" Starsky yelled happily at Hutch. "Time to get you cleaned up and on your way home!"

AAAAA

Hutch sighed lazily, finally having gotten a couple of hours' sleep. The hospital bed was clean and soft, the IV was giving him what fluids and antibiotics he needed, and his head and arm didn't ache as much as they had before. Pretty soon it should be dinner time, and this time he didn't care what they brought him. He was going to do his damnedest to eat it all. His door had been left open, and Hutch smiled as Starsky peeked around the corner.

"You decent?"

"Don't have a respectable bone in my body."

"Then you're back to normal," Starsky said, looking around the room as he entered, carrying a jacket under his arm, and a small potted plant in his other hand. "Hey, I see someone else found out you're here. This one is from Minnie. You stay here much longer, and you'll be able to stock up the greenhouse."

Hutch groaned. "One more day is enough. They say I can go home tomorrow night if my fever goes away and I don't show any signs of trouble. I'll be on leave for a couple of weeks, though."

"I can handle that. How's the head?" Starsky set his jacket and the plant on the small table and came to the left-hand side of the bed. He looked at, but didn't touch, the bandage Hutch wore. "They said you were lucky you didn't end up with a concussion, or a fractured skull. That river water wasn't the best stuff to swallow, or inhale, so it's no wonder you got sick. Got enough stitches, though."

"Any stitches are too many," Hutch grumbled. He held up his left arm that was wrapped from wrist to elbow, which was why his IV was in his right arm. "They said I was lucky that it wasn't too deep. I'm going to have a hell of scar, though. And I feel like a mummy. How am I going to eat like this? I hate moving the IV arm."

"Don't worry," Starsky said brightly. "I'll help feed you."

"Which is what I was worrying about." Hutch finally realized Starsky was looking a little too happy for the occasion. "What's up?"

"Kincaid broke. Told us the whole story. When he started talking, Dayton got angry and gave us his side, and they've been talking ever since. Pomell may never say a word, but he's gonna have a hard time making bail. He's in for a fun trial."

"Yeah? What's the story?"

Starsky pulled a chair closer to the bed. "Pomell and Vindell started a company in San Francisco, so they could buy property in Bay City without their names showing up. That was the contract Cummings had."

"So, Vindell didn't want the others on the Zoning Commission to accuse him of conflict of interest, right? He's not supposed to help make decisions on zoning property he was intending to purchase. So, he used the assumed name and the secret bank account to move the money back and forth for the purchases."

"Right. Vindell was on the Zoning Commission, and his agreement with Pomell was to push for the recommendation to deny all further re-zoning of the city for adult entertainment. He..."

"Wait, wait," Hutch said, carefully pushing himself to a sitting position. "Why would they want to stop more adult business? Royal Court was full of those places already; wouldn't they want to branch out?"

"Not branch out, but stop all new competition and sell out. Now sit still and let me finish." Starsky settled back, getting comfortable. "Over the last few years, Pomell and Vindell, through this company, have been buying as many businesses as they could in areas where porn was allowed. Didn't matter what they were, restaurants, diners, pawnshops...whatever wasn't porn related. They had another guy running around, doing just that.

"So, when the city got fed up with all the porn shops going in, they'd stop allowing any new areas to develop, and the property inthe zoned areas would go way up in price."

"Ah," Hutch said, seeing the big picture. "All of a sudden, those old failing places they bought out would be worth a lot of money to the big guys. Bet they had some buyers lined up already."

Starsky nodded. "Some of those big bad, heavy rollers from Vegas are always looking to branch out. But everyone's been keeping an eye on them, blocking them from moving in. Pomell and Vindell planned on selling them the businesses, under various assumed names, so the Feds, and us, wouldn't realize that the mob actually owned whole blocks of town. Legally. Then, once they rip out the old stuff, they open new X-rated businesses in them, and before you know it, only one or two bosses would own all the adult stuff in town. Any new competition wouldn't have anyplace to go, because the city wouldn't open any more spots for them, and the old ones were taken."

Hutch sighed. "And Cummings?"

Starsky was quiet for a moment, then continued, his voice solemn. "They say he was a musician who drifted in, Hutch. He put out some feelers with Pomell, hinting he was looking for some retirement money. Pomell needed to buy the Tripoli from Mrs. Reighter, but didn't want to wait until the theater actually went bankrupt. So he hired Cummings to woo Mrs. Reighter, which is where the list of her likes and dislikes came from.

"He was supposed to get her to put the theater up for sale, so they could run off together. Somehow, they don't know how, he found the papers in Pomell's office...and..."

"Go on, Starsky. It's okay," Hutch prodded gently.

"He tried to blackmail Pomell. He wanted more than the couple of thousand they'd promised him once she signed the papers."

They shared a long silence.

"It wasn't anything you did." Hutch knew Starsky still felt guilty about that night. "They didn't kill him because they saw you go into his hotel room. They were already after him."

"They didn't know who I was," Starsky admitted. "Pomell knew us by sight, but Dayton and Kincaid weren't there that night. And they never even knew you talked to Cummings. And he damn sure didn't tell them about having a cop for a son."

"You were arrested because your timing stunk."

"Big time," Starsky admitted. "They saw me leave, then broke in on Cummings." Starsky paused, looking even more uncomfortable. "They were supposed to get the papers, but killed him after he'd handed over a key to a bus locker. He was probably trying to buy time by misdirecting them, but it backfired. They checked the bus station, then realized they didn't know where he'd stashed the papers, but he was dead."

Hutch tried to block the image of Cummings' killing out of his mind. "What about Vindell? Why'd they kill him?"

"He was getting cold feet and wanted Pomell to buy him out. He and Pomell had a huge argument about it. Since Pomell had most of his money tied up in escrow for various places they were buying under the company name, he had nothing to pay Vindell off with. He was afraid Vindell was going to blow the whole set-up. Pomell arranged to meet Vindell at that other bar. Dayton and Kincaid jumped him after the bar closed."

"Who actually killed him?"

Starsky shook his head. "Dayton and Kincaid are both blaming each other. I don't know if we'll ever know for sure. For either victim."

Hutch closed his eyes, filled with sadness at the loss of Cummings.

"I think he wanted to retire, Hutch," Starsky said softly. "Maybe he really did want to get to know you and settle in the area."

"Or take the blackmail money and run."

"He did send the letter. That wasn't part of the scam."

Hutch remembered that first night, when Cummings had seemed nervous about being seen with him. "Somehow, for some reason, he changed his mind about me. Maybe he realized what kind of trouble he was in and didn't want me to make it worse."

"Or he wanted to protect you."

Hutch turned to look at Starsky, frowning. "You don't have to try so hard, you know. Whatever his reasons were, I'm not going to feel any better about him."

Starsky looked embarrassed. He nodded. "Okay. You're right."

Hutch tried his best to give Starsky a smile. "But...thanks, anyway. I know you're trying to help. Just like your reasons for seeing Cummings that night. I know you meant well."

Starsky squirmed. "If you need to know..."

"No. Thanks." Hutch had already decided he didn't want to know what had been said between Starsky and Cummings. "If it'd been good news, you would've come over and told me. You only try to keep bad news from me, when you think you can get away with it. I can imagine it was just more of the same."

Starsky stood and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. "I found a picture with your name on it. If you want it back..."

Stunned, Hutch held out his hand and Starsky gave him the picture of Cummings and his mother. It had obviously gotten wet, and the paper was now very brittle, but Hutch could still see his parents as they were when they first met.

I guess I'll have to be happy with this. I've got my mom, my sister, my dad, and Starsky. A lot of people don't have it so good.

"I thought I'd lost it."

"I found it in the river. They tossed in your gun and probably your badge, except no one's found it yet. I knew that's where they must have..."

"You thought I was dead," Hutch said, realizing how hard that time must have been for Starsky.

"A part of me," Starsky admitted with a small smile. "But not the biggest part. You're like one of those Phoenix's in mythology. You're always managing to pull your ass out of the fire."

"I'm sorry about that."

"Wasn't your fault. You did your best."

Hutch grinned at him. "And you did yours. Guess if it works, we ought to stick to it."

"Especially when it causes Simonetti so much grief," Starsky said with more than a hint of smugness.

"He get his, did he?" Hutch asked. He couldn't help but hope he had.

"Both he and Dryden are on suspension until further notice, while the chief and the DA discuss possible "abuse of power" issues with the new head of IA. The new guy let Simonetti go ahead with the arrest, even before they talked to me or did any further investigating. He was anxious to make a quick name for himself. As for Simonetti and Dryden...well, I think they figured payback was looking pretty good for the black mark we gave them when you refused to play along and be guilty when Vanessa got killed."

"I'd be happier if they'd get the boot," Hutch said, remembering how quickly and easily they had judged him in the past, and how they had practically pounced on Starsky. "But at this rate, they'll be demoted before they ever get promoted. I'll bet their parents are proud," he said as sarcastically as he could.

"And speaking of parents..." Starsky leaned forward, elbows on his knees, his face growing serious. "Have you called yours yet?"

Hutch leaned back onto the bed, a wave of weariness sweeping over him at the reminder. "No, not yet. I will tonight, when I know Mom and Dad should both be home. This isn't the sort of news I want my mother to hear without Dad with her. I don't know how she's going to take it."

Starsky nodded. "Sounds like a good idea. I know it'll probably be a shock to her, after all these years, but it'll come as a bigger shock if you keep it from her and she finds out some other way."

Hutch closed his eyes, remembering what Cummings looked like. Can I ever separate him from what he did? Will I ever know who he really was? Do I want to? "Did you talk to Dobey?"

Starsky's voice was soft and sympathetic. "Yeah, and he says there shouldn't be any problem releasing the body to you, once you get well enough to make the burial plans and funeral arrangements. He says he'll vouch for your relationship, so you'll just have to sign a few papers. And...Hutch? Dobey gave me something else for you. It was Cummings', and Dobey thought you might like to have it."

Hutch opened his eyes in surprise. All he had left was that guitar case. Even his guitar is gone.

Starsky went to the small table, his back blocking Hutch's view. When he came to Hutch's bedside, he handed him a leather book.

"What's this?"

"I saw it in Cummings' room that night. It was taken in with the other items there. They hadn't even gotten around to looking at it when Dayton and Kincaid started talking. Dobey said, as the only known next of kin, you should have it."

Hutch opened the book, holding it awkwardly, feeling the leather was soft with age. Inside, through most of the book, was Cummings' handwriting. It took him a moment of flipping pages to realize what he was seeing.

"These are lyrics," Hutch said in astonishment. "He not only played, but he wrote songs, too? I wonder if he ever wrote down the notes, or even sang any of these."

"I glanced through it, and he's got notes written own all over it. Bits and pieces of things. Maybe...maybe it'll tell you more about him."

Hutch closed the book, a thumb rubbing the leather. He looked at Starsky, letting the warmth he felt at the gesture show on his face. "Thanks, Starsk. I don't think I'd trade my life for anything, but I wish things had ended differently for him and me."

"So do I."

The jingling sound of a meal cart echoed down the hall, making Hutch's stomach rumble. It was time to change the subject, anyway. "Uh, you know, Starsky, there is that cute little nurse who comes in once in a while. Maybe she could help me..."

"Uh, uh," Starsky said with a smile, as he started to adjust Hutch's bed so he could sit up and eat. "I'm helping. I haven't had dinner myself, so..."

"I knew it! You're after mine."

"I wanna know you're fed so I can have a leisurely dinner of my own in the cafeteria...with that cute little nurse. She's meeting me there in an hour."

Hutch sighed, but only for show. Inside he was feeling too good to care who Starsky ate dinner with.

Well, he's not as cute as that nurse, but I think I'll keep him around.

Who else is more family than we are?

Epilogue

The wind whipped through the cemetery, diluting the growing heat of the new summer's day. It pushed gently on the mourners who stood near the casket, whisking the words of the minister away into the bright blue sky.

Hutch realized he wasn't even listening, his mind on his mother, who stood next to him, her hand in his. His father, Donald Hutchinson, stood to her left, his arm around her waist. Her hand felt warm and comforting in his, and Hutch wondered how she was holding up.

He knew the news had come as a shock to his mother. She had been silent over the phone after he told her of Cummings' death. His father had stepped in, asking the questions his mother couldn't bring herself to ask. It had been awkward, and Hutch suspected it was his father's idea to fly out for the funeral. At first, he wasn't sure he was ready to face them, but as soon as they had gotten off the plane, he was in their arms.

The casket had been opened at the funeral, and Hutch had found himself standing with his mother, looking at Cummings and trying to see his own past in his face. After a moment, his mother had looked at Hutch, a dull pain in her eyes. She had whispered to him before she turned to sit beside her husband, echoing Hutch's feelings.

"I don't know him," she'd said.

Neither do I. Has anyone?

Across the casket from him now, Mrs. Reighter stood silently, only moving to dab at her eyes once in a while. Next to her stood Dobey, and beside him, Starsky.

Mrs. Reighter mourns him, but does she even wonder who he really was? She knows the truth, how can she not? All his life on the road, all the people he must have known, and yet who is here because they really knew and loved him?

The minister finished and came around to talk to the mourners. Hutch shook his hand and thanked him for the service on such short notice. Dobey gave Hutch his sympathies and walked Mrs. Reighter to her car. Starsky followed Hutch and his parents, as they slowly walked to their car.

"You said you needed to get back right away," Hutch said to his parents, wanting to break the awkward silence that had fallen between them.

"Actually, Ken," Donald said, putting his hand on Hutch's shoulder. Not as tall as Hutch and with dark hair, their builds weren't so dissimilar that they couldn't have been related. Donald's eyes searched Hutch's face. "I've managed to find someone to cover for me. I thought maybe your mother and I would stay and visit, since you've got the rest of the week off. If you'd like us to, that is."

Hutch looked up and saw his father's smile. He felt a sudden warmth spread through him and returned the smile. "Of course, I want you to!"

"Good. It'll give us a chance to catch up." Barbara stopped and smiled slightly at the three men with her. Petite, she could make Hutch feel like a naughty boy with a stern look from those deep blue eyes. She gave Hutch's wounded arm a pointed look. "It's been a while since I've had someone to mother, so I can get back into practice this week. But right now..." She gave her husband and Hutch a stern look. "I'd like Dave to walk me to the car, please. You two need to talk. Now."

Hutch traded surprised looks with Starsky, who shrugged slightly.

"Ma'am, I'd be happy to walk you to the car." Starsky offered his arm, and the two of them walked away.

Hutch turned to look at Donald, who looked a bit sheepish and embarrassed. "We had a talk on the plane, and it means a lot to your mother that I tell you certain things."

"I guess it does. She looked pretty determined," Hutch admitted with an uncertain laugh. He could tell Donald was feeling uncomfortable, and wondered what he was about to say. They hadn't been on the best terms through these last years, with Donald insisting Hutch quit his job, and Hutch just as insistent he wouldn't. Hutch hoped it wasn't going to once again be about his coming back to Duluth.

Donald turned away, and Hutch followed him a short distance until Donald stopped, turned, and took a deep breath before looking Hutch straight in the eye. "I guess this whole thing, Cummings coming back into the picture, has really come at us all out of the blue, and it shouldn't have."

Donald held up a hand when Hutch started to reply. "Please, let me get this out, Ken. I know I've always told you it didn't matter to me that you weren't my son, but I have to admit that in my weakness, I did let it matter."

Hutch drew in a breath, stunned at the frankness of the words. His stomach tightened at what he could only imagine he was going to hear.

"I love your sister, Ken. A man couldn't ask for a better daughter. I love her dearly, but..." Donald paused, and Hutch could see the look of embarrassment and sorrow on his face. Donald's voice grew thick, and his eyes soft. "Sometimes...I'm afraid I've loved you just a bit more. You've always scared me."

"Scared you?" Hutch was astonished. "I don't understand."

"I know, but we...I...think it's important for you to hear why." Donald took a deep breath. "I was jealous of your father, and I always have been. The thought that he could come in at any time and take your love away from me..."

"He couldn't do that!" Hutch protested, putting a hand on Donald's arm. He could see the anguish in the older man's eyes. "You're the only father I've ever had."

"It's never been about anything you've done, Ken. Cummings has always been a ghost in the background, because I've let him be one. I know your mother loves me, and her love for him had dulled then disappeared by the time you were born. When your mother returned to Duluth with you in tow, you were only about six weeks old. I'd always had a crush on her from a distance, and I knew as soon as I heard about you that it didn't matter that Barbara and Cummings had never been married. I wooed her and saw for myself that when we married she truly loved me." Donald shrugged and gave Hutch a sheepish smile. "But she wasn't the only one I fell in love with."

Donald placed his hand over Hutch's, giving it a squeeze. "I fell in love with a six-week-old baby boy who looked just like his mother. Once I held you, you had to be my son. It was my decision, not your mother's, that you weren't told about your real father. It was my pushing you as a teenager to go directions you didn't want to go, that was my way of trying to tie you into the family business. If Cummings ever came back for you, you'd be so much a part of me and my life that you couldn't leave." Donald, eyes bright with unshed tears, struggled to get the rest out through a tight throat. "And I'm sorry it's put this distance between us."

A wave of warmth washed through Hutch at Donald's words, making his own eyes damp. He pulled Donald into a bear hug, holding tight as his father returned the embrace.

"Don't be sorry," Hutch whispered. "I love you, Dad. But whatever disagreements we've had in the past weren't because I was waiting for Cummings to come back. It wouldn't have changed us. We've both just been too stubborn and pig-headed when it comes to getting our own way. I got that from you, you know."

They both chuckled at the comment, then pulled away slightly so Hutch could see the relief in Donald's eyes.

"I wish I could have had it out with him, though," Donald admitted with a sigh. He turned and started walking slowly to their cars. "He hurt your mother so much, which I've done my best to help heal. But I've always been afraid that I couldn't help you with your hurt. I've been jealous of him all these years because he produced you and I didn't."

"I would have liked to have met him at a better time," Hutch admitted as they walked side by side. "But he would never have replaced you. He lost that chance before I was even born. I think maybe he was starting to regret things in his life when he sent me that letter. He found he had a son to contact, but that's not the same as having a family. He'd lost out on being a lot of things, Dad, and I think he was starting to realize that. I want you to read this."

Hutch took the leather book out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Donald. "It was Cummings'. Found in his room. He wrote some notes, but mostly lyrics. I've marked the last entry he made."

Donald opened it uncertainly. Hutch watched as his face grew solemn. He had memorized the entry, despite himself.

The forks in the road,

Between having or lost,

Each one a decision,

That comes with a cost.

Loner or lover,

I want to choose love,

To find that one place,

To be a part of.

But when the wind calls and the day slips to grey,

I hear all the voices,

That call me away.

One more night on the road,

One more mile left behind.

Another who's touched me,

Forever denied.

The world, it grows colder,

The loner's alone,

With no one to cling to,

No way to go home.

"I think you're right. He did realize what he had lost. Maybe...maybe he would have even been good for you." Donald carefully handed the book to Hutch and turned to glance back at the burial site. "I'm sorry for you both, Ken. You both should have had a chance to discover who you were."

Hutch laid an arm around Donald's shoulders. "Like a friend of mine told me...knowing Cummings wouldn't have changed who I am. Or who I love."

Donald stopped and turned toward him, examining his face. "I know you're a cop, Ken, and I have to admit it scares me. You take your life in your hands every day, and I don't know a father who wouldn't be scared by that. But when...if...you decide the time has come for a quieter life, you know that family position in the company is waiting, right, son?"

Hutch smiled. "Yeah, I know. Maybe. Someday. You'll be the first to know."

"The first?" Donald smiled, then chuckled. "I have a feeling Dave would be the first to hear that kind of news. He's a good man, and I'm glad he's got your back. There's always an opening for him, too. When you're both ready, if you ever want it."

"I'll tell him," Hutch said, warmed by the fact that Donald knew him well enough to understand Starsky was family as well. "I'll tell him he's being adopted."

Donald laughed. "You do that. And, Ken?"

"Yes?"

"Let's get your sister on the phone tonight. I think your mother and I need the family together again, even if it's long distance."

"Sounds good, Dad. Let's go get something to eat, then you can follow me home."

"Good. Make it someplace colorful. I think we need something festive." At the road now, Donald turned toward his rented car. "Lead the way!"

Hutch saw the look of concern Starsky gave him as he slid into the Torino.

"Things okay?" Starsky asked.

"I'm with family." Hutch smiled. "Couldn't be better. Now, let's go to Huggy's place for lunch. I think it's time we introduced my dad to inner-city gaming. Between him betting on my having a handicap with this bandaged arm, and you playing innocent about playing left-handed pool, we just may be able to initiate my dad to the way my world works."

"Ahh..." Starsky smiled and turned on the engine. "An easy mark! Sounds like fun. And while he's trying to get his money back, your mom can tell me some more of those stories about you as a kid."

"What stories?" Hutch asked, a little concerned about what Starsky might have heard.

"Oh, don't worry." Starsky turned to give him a quick wink and a wicked grin. "She didn't tell me the one about you, the church nursery-school attendant whose back was turned, and the first two-year-old streaker ever seen toddling down the center isle during Easter service."

Hutch groaned, feeling the flush of embarrassment already. "Oh. Good. As long as she didn't tell you that one."

Starsky laughed throatily, and Hutch found himself smiling around his blush. It promised to be an interesting week.

The End