'The Experiment' - By Stephanie White

The office was dark as the man in black approached the door. He looked around the corridor as he listened for a security guard making rounds. There was no one to observe him. He quickly picked the lock and entered the silent office.

As he made his way to the filing cabinets, he reflected that this was one of the easiest jobs he'd ever been given. There was no way he'd be caught because no one would know that he had even been there.

He opened the appropriate drawer and flipped through until he found the correct file. He pulled it out and replaced the contents with the documents he had been given. Then he put the file back in the drawer and put the original file contents into his jacket pocket. The man in black left the office the way he came, locking the door as he left.

When he got to the car, a window opened. He handed the contents of the file that he had taken to the man in the backseat. The man took the items and handed the man in black an envelope. The man peered briefly at the cash in the envelope, nodded his head at the man in the car and disappeared into the night.

The man in the car smiled. Phase one complete.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Hutch, you sure you don't want me to take you to the airport tomorrow? It ain't no trouble."

Detective Ken Hutchinson smiled into the phone. "Thanks, Starsk. But my flight leaves at six a.m. so I have to be at the airport at five. I'll grab a cab. You can pick me up when I come home."

"If you're sure..."

"Starsky, you have to be in court to testify at eight. You know you're barely coherent when you don't get enough sleep and this case is too important for you not to be at your best."

"Okay. You call me as soon as you get in."

"Yes, mother."

"Funny. Look, Hutch. You're going back for a funeral. I know you were kinda close to this aunt. I just worry about ya, that's all."

"I know you're worried, but I'll be fine. Aunt Anna and I were close when I was a kid, and we still wrote to each other. But I hadn't seen her in at least five years. I'll be okay. Don't worry, huh? I'll call you as soon as I get in, alright?"

"Yeah, okay Blintz. You have a safe trip. Extend my sympathies to your family. I'll see you when you get home."

"See you later."

Detective David Starsky put the phone down and stood there for a minute. He couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. He dismissed that thought.

//You only feel bad 'cause with Hutch gone for a week, you'll be stuck on desk duty. That's enough to give anyone a bad feeling.// He thought to himself.

Unfortunately, he should have paid attention to that feeling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hutch hung up the phone and smiled. Wasn't it just like his partner to be worried about him at a time like this? Of course, that's what friends are for, right? Starsky was the best friend he'd ever had and was ever likely to have. He knew he'd never be able to live without his partner and was fairly sure that Starsky would have a tough time without him. He shook himself out of this potentially depressing line of thought. Between the two of them, they'd always make sure that one was around for the other. That's what partners...okay, friends...okay, brothers...okay, soul mates were and would always be there for.

Hutch stood up and headed to his bedroom. His holster and gun were hanging on a post near the front door. All in all, not the best place for them at the time.

As he got to his bedroom, he remembered he hadn't packed his toothbrush yet, so he turned towards the bathroom. That's when they jumped him.

Three men came out of the shadows. Two of them grabbed Hutch by the arms and the third came around from the back with a handkerchief doused in chloroform. His struggles gradually weakened as the sickly sweet scent on the cloth did its work. When he was unconscious, the men quickly bound him and carried him out to a waiting car. As they left the apartment, one of the men grabbed the holster from its spot by the front door. They shoved the limp body into the trunk and as soon as they got into the car, it moved away from the curb and down the street.

One of the men in the car smiled. Phase two complete.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky turned his violet-blue eyes towards the clock. He had just gotten back to the office from the courthouse and realized that Hutch hadn't called yet. There were no messages waiting for him and no one in the office had talked to him. He ignored the niggling little voice in his head that told him something was horribly, horribly wrong.

//He's probably too caught up with his family to call me yet. He'll call in a little bit.// He tried to reassure himself. He wasn't doing too well. Hutch should have been on the ground over two hours ago.

Finally, the telephone rang. Starsky grabbed it, forgetting where he was for a minute. "It's 'bout time you called! Was your flight delayed or something?"

The voice on the other end of the phone chilled him to the bone. "Is this David Starsky? This is Ken Hutchinson, Sr.. I was wondering if you knew why my son hasn't arrived yet."

The phone dropped from Starsky's hand. He barely caught it before it hit the desk. He grappled with it for a minute before replacing it to his ear.

"Uh...his flight was supposed to have left at six this morning. He's not there?"

"No, he wasn't on the plane. Is there something wrong?"

"I hope not. He didn't call me to say he missed his plane. Did you try callin' over to his place?"

"I've been calling for the past two hours. There's been no answer."

Starsky realized that he should have paid more attention to those bad feelings he'd been having.

"I'll see if I can track him down, sir. He's probably stuck at the airport with no change for a payphone." Starsky's attempt to cheer up the senior Hutchinson fell flat.

"You know as well as I do that he's not stuck at the airport. I'm not stupid. Just find my son!"

"Yes sir." Starsky muttered into the phone, trying not to be too intimidated by the tone of the older man on the phone. "I'll call you as soon as I find anything. You call me if he shows up there, okay?"

"Fine. Let me know the second you find anything. I'll be waiting for your call. Good-bye."

Starsky held the phone to his ear long after the return of the dial tone. When the recording came on reminding him that if he'd like to make a call to please hang up and try again, he finally replaced the receiver. Then he turned and walked into Dobey's office.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The tall blond man ran for all he was worth. He didn't know who these people were, only that they were trying to kill him. He was having trouble running because when he came to, he found that his hands had been handcuffed behind his back. Without his hands free, he was having trouble keeping his balance as he ran through the wet grass in the park.

He heard his pursuers getting closer as he stumbled again. He managed to right himself when he heard the sound of a gun being fired. Something in the back of his brain told him it was a magnum. The pain was white hot as the bullet hit him square between his shoulder blades. He felt himself falling and then there was nothing.

The man with the gun came running up. First, he looked around for witnesses. There were none as it was still dark out. He then looked at the blond man lying at his feet. The ice-blue eyes were open and unseeing. Although it was unnecessary, the man reached down and felt for a pulse on the handcuffed body at his feet. There was none.

The man smiled. Phase three complete.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky drove the Torino as fast as humanly possible to Venice Place. He kept trying to tell himself that nothing was wrong. Maybe Hutch's cab ran out of gas on the highway or something harmless like that. Unfortunately, there was another voice in his head whispering that Hutch was in real trouble.

The car screeched to a stop next to Hutch's LTD and Starsky barely remembered to turn the engine off before he ran into his partner's apartment.

Starsky had his key out and ready when he got to the front door. It was already open.

Pulling his gun, Starsky cautiously entered the apartment. He looked around for a moment before he reached for a light switch. He blinked for a moment in the brightness and looked around. There was nothing out of the ordinary so far.

//Oh, wait...Hutch's gun is gone. If he's got his gun, he can't be in too much trouble, right?// The thought didn't comfort him as much as he was hoping for.

Starsky made his way through the apartment. When he got to the bedroom, he stopped cold. There, on the made, un-slept in bed, was Hutch's open suitcase. Now Starsky knew he couldn't ignore that feeling that something was wrong. Something was definitely very, very wrong.

Looking around some more, he noticed an open window. He knew that with the recent heavy rains, Hutch hadn't been keeping his windows open. Starsky picked up the phone and called for a crime lab.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The crime lab was very thorough. They didn't find anything unusual except for evidence of the window being jimmied. Unfortunately, they weren't quite thorough enough.

They didn't see the small listening devices planted around the apartment. They didn't find the miniature cameras stuck into the television and radio knobs. Overall, they were only looking for signs of struggle and strange fingerprints. They didn't find any of that, either.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two days later, there was still no sign of Hutch and Starsky was frantic. He had hit the streets and asked, bribed, interrogated, demanded and threatened anyone and everyone he could think of that might have a clue as to where Hutch could be.

Huggy Bear got in on the search and still, there was nothing to be found.

Then, Starsky got the phone call.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky was sitting in his apartment staring at nothing in particular. It had been another fruitless day and Dobey had forced him to go home.

"You're not doing yourself or Hutch any good by running yourself into the ground. Go home and get some rest. You can start fresh again in the morning."

Starsky had tried to argue, but was threatened with being handcuffed and driven home in a black and white. Reluctantly, he left and went home (only after noticing that Dobey had sent a car to follow him and make sure he went home and didn't try to hit the streets again.).

He had been home for just over an hour when the telephone rang. Starsky picked it up with a feeling of dread. Somehow, he knew this wasn't going to be good news.

"Dave? I think you should get down to the pier on Pacific Avenue." Dobey's voice was unusually subdued.

"Did you find something? Is it Hutch? Cap'n, what is it?"

"Just meet me down here, son. I'll explain when you get here."

The feeling of dread now permeated every fiber of his being. He knew that if it was good news, Dobey would have told him up front. With his heart being squeezed in a vise, he ran to the Torino and broke several land speed records to get to the pier.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky ran up to the pier and saw the coroner's team standing by a body covered in a yellow blanket. He stopped cold. He suddenly knew who was under the sheet and he couldn't bring himself to walk down there to find out for certain.

Dobey looked up and saw his detective standing on the sand where the beach met the sidewalk and the pier met the sand. His heart broke for the fear in dark-haired man's eyes. He wished he didn't have to tell him this one.

He made his way up to where the frightened detective was standing. He reached out and put a hand on Starsky's shoulder.

"They found him handcuffed to one of the piles near the water line. He's been through at least two high tides, so he's not really recognizable anymore. A skin diver found him a little over an hour ago."

Starsky straightened up. "It ain't Hutch, so why don't we just take care of this now and get back to looking for him."

"Dave," Dobey began, looking at the desperate young man in front of him. "He has Hutch's ID on him. He's wearing Hutch's holster. I think we can be pretty sure it's him."

"NO! IT'S NOT HIM! DON'T EVEN SAY THAT! HUTCH IS ALIVE! DO YOU HEAR ME? HE'S ALIVE!"

With that, Starsky strode over to the covered body and without hesitation, pulled back the blanket. The body was horrible after being in the salt water and air as long as it had been. The face was purple and bloated with numerous cuts and scrapes where the waves had pounded debris into it. All Starsky could tell was that this was a blond man about Hutch's size and build... wearing Hutch's favorite shirt...wearing Hutch's empty gun holster...wearing Hutch's...

The blanket dropped from nerveless fingers. Starsky backed away as though the body was a rattlesnake and if he turned his back it would strike. Dobey saw the desperate fear in the violet eyes.

"Dave, let me take you home. We're going to have his dentist send his records to the M.E. Don't worry, we're not going to jump to any conclusions."

Starsky looked at his Captain. The sympathy in the dark brown eyes was almost too much for him to bear. Yes, they were going to wait for the M.E.'s report, but they were already sure.

Dobey gave instructions for someone to bring his car to Starsky's apartment. He then led the shell-shocked Starsky back to the Torino and drove him home.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The man looked at the video monitor and adjusted the volume levels on the audio receivers. He saw Starsky wandering through his apartment with a large black man in tow.

"The M.E. is gonna prove it ain't Hutch. Don't you worry 'bout that." Starsky was saying.

"Dave, son, that's possible. But you're going to have to prepare yourself for the reality that it could very well be him."

"NO! That's not reality! That's Hell! Don't you understand? Without him, what have I got? I got Hell! He IS alive!" Starsky's knees buckled and he fell onto his sofa. "He's gotta be." He whispered.

The man at the monitors smiled. Phase four was set up. This was going to be good.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky spent a sleepless night wandering through his apartment. Finally, about four o'clock in the morning, he gave up and headed to where he knew he'd be more comfortable...Hutch's.

He opened the door and looked around. Very little had changed since the day he discovered his partner was missing. He looked around at all the dust from the fingerprint kits of the crime lab. He shook his head and went for a dust rag.

//Hutch'll have a conniption if he sees all this dust around here. He hates that fingerprint stuff. I hope they didn't get any on the plants. He never forgave them when they killed one of his ferns with it last time.// Starsky thought to himself as he began cleaning up the apartment.

An hour later, Starsky was on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor when he realized that he was obsessing. He forced himself to stand up and walk out to the bedroom. Hutch's bed was still made and had not been slept in. The suitcase that he was going to take to Minnesota was still packed and now sitting beside the bed.

Starsky sat down on the bed and then lay back on the pillows. He reached under the spread and pulled out a pillow. He hugged it to his face and inhaled the scent that was his partner. He curled himself around the pillow on the bed and tried not to think about the body on the beach. The body that was just the right size and shape; the body that was wearing Hutch's clothes; the body that they were sure was Hutch.

//It's not Hutch! I know it ain't! It can't be! It just can't! Can it?// Starsky's mind was racing. The more he tried to convince himself that it wasn't Hutch, the more the image of Hutch's favorite shirt on the body kept coming unbidden to his mind. He hugged the pillow a little tighter and cried himself to sleep.

The man watching the monitors smiled even wider. This was going to be very good.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dobey looked up from his reports to see Starsky standing in the doorway.

"What are you doing here? I thought I gave you the day off."

"I can't stay home, Cap'n. Not until I know that Hutch is still alive somewhere."

"The M.E. hasn't called yet." Dobey said gently. "Why don't you go back home and I'll call you as soon as I hear..."

"I can't go home. Don't you understand? At home, all I got to think about is Hutch and what I'm gonna do if he's dead. At least here, I don't have to think like that."

"Starsky..." Dobey began just as the phone rang.

Both men jumped at the sound and stared at the phone for a minute. Dobey lifted his brown eyes to meet the heart-breaking terror in the blue eyes of the man in front of him. Finally, he picked up the phone.

"Dobey." He said. He listened for a minute and his face fell. He looked at Starsky with such an expression of sorrow that Starsky didn't need to hear what his captain was going to say.

He hung up the phone in a daze. Then he looked up at the desperate detective in front of him. "Dave. I'm so sorry. The dental records matched. It is Hutch. He's gone."

At the words 'he's gone', Starsky's heart shattered. He shook his head violently. He backed away from his captain as though trying to escape the nightmare that was suddenly his life. He backed up until he hit the door. He spun around and reached blindly for the doorknob. It cleverly evaded his reach as the world went gray and Starsky fainted for the first time in his life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The world swam into focus again. David Michael Starsky opened his eyes to a world that he didn't want to exist.

He was lying on a cot in the infirmary with Captain Dobey standing over him with concern written on every feature of his face.

"Cap'n?" Starsky whispered. "It's not true, is it? Hutch ain't dead, right?"

Dobey's heart broke at the voice of the scared little boy laying on the cot...the scared little boy who was one of his best detectives less than a week ago...the scared little boy whose world had just ended.

"I'm afraid he is, son. There is no more doubt."

Starsky curled up on the cot, as though trying to squeeze the pain from his body. He could feel the tears start to flow and he cried. Dobey sat down on the cot next to the distraught man and put a comforting hand on his back. Starsky shrank from the touch. If it couldn't be Hutch to comfort him, he didn't want anyone.

After a few minutes, Starsky slowly stopped crying. He sat up and looked at his captain.

"Has anyone called his father yet?"

Dobey shook his head. "I've been worrying about you. I haven't had a chance yet."

"I'll do it."

"Dave, you don't have to..."

"Yes, I do. I promised his father I'd call as soon as I knew anything. I know something. I should call."

"If you're sure..."

"I'll call."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky put the phone down after his call to Minnesota and collected himself. It was all he could do not to break down on the phone. Then he called the airline to make arrangements for himself and the body of one Kenneth Hutchinson to fly to Minnesota for a funeral.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The telephone rang as Starsky was packing his bag for the trip to Minnesota.

"Hello?"

"Did you forget it's Friday? I'm waiting all day for you to call. What happened to you?"

"Mom? Oh, God, Ma!"

"David? What's wrong? Tell your Mama, what is it baby?"

"Mom! He's dead! Hutch is dead! What am I gonna do?" Starsky sobbed into the phone.

"Ken? Oh Baby! I'm so sorry! You want me to come out there? I can be there tonight if you need me to."

He took a deep breath and pulled himself together somewhat. "Thanks Mom, but I'm leaving for Minnesota in the morning for the funeral. I'll call you when I get home, okay?"

"Okay, I love you David. Let me know if there's anything I can do."

"I love you too. I'll call you later. Bye Mom."

"Bye."

Starsky hung up the phone and sat down on his bed. Then he curled up on the bed and cried until there were no more tears - for that day. There'd be plenty more tomorrow.

The man was watching all of this on his video monitor. Phase four was just about complete. This one was almost there. Phase five was going to be even more fun.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sitting in the quiet funeral home, Starsky stared at the casket in front of him. This was the time that should have been set for the viewing, but due to the condition of the body, that just wasn't an option.

The Hutchinsons had been kind enough to give Starsky some time alone to say good-bye to his best friend in the world. He stared at the coffin and performed the last service for the soul of his friend and brother that he could think of.

'Yis-ga-dal v'yis-ka-dash sh'may ra-bo,
B'ol-mo dee-v'ro hir u-say, v'yam-leeh mal-hu-say,
B'ha-yay-hon uv-yo-may-hon, uv-ha-yay d'hol bays yis-ro-ayl,
Ba-a-go-lo u-viz'man ko-reev, v'im-ru amen.

Y'hay sh'may ra-bo m'vo-rah, l'o-lam ul-ol-may ol-ma-yo.

Yis-bo-rah v'yish-ta-bah, v'yis-po-ar v'yis-ro-mam,
V'yis-na-say v'yis-ha-dar, v'yis-a-leh, v'yis-ha-lal sh'may d'kud- sho b'rih hu;

L'ay-lo (ul-ay-lo) min kol bir-ho-so v'shee-ro-so,
Tush-b'ho-so v'ne-heh-mo-so, da-a-mee-ron b'ol-mo v'im-ru amen.

Y'hay sh'lo-mo ra-bo min sh'ma-yo,
V'ha-yeem o-lay-nu v'al kol yis-ro-ayl v'im-ru amen

O-se shalom bim-ro-mov hu ya-a-se shalom
O-lay-nu v'al kol yis-ro-ayl v'im-ru amen.'

Exalted and honored be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He whose glory transcends, yea, is beyond all praises, hymns and blessings that man can render unto Him; and say ye, amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven and life for us and for all Israel; and say ye, amen.

May He who establishes peace in the heavens, grant peace unto us and unto all Israel; and say ye, amen.
- Mourner's Kaddish

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After the funeral, Starsky spent very little time with the Hutchinsons. He didn't feel particularly welcome as the family seemed to blame him for the fact that Hutch never left police work for some other, more lucrative profession. Therefore, they indirectly blamed him for Hutch's death. He decided to return to California before the trail for Hutch's killer got too cold.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The man sat up when he noticed movement from the camera in Starsky's apartment.

//Ah, he's back. Time to add the last factor to this little experiment.// He thought to himself as he stood up and headed to the cellar.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hutch awoke when he heard the door to the cellar open. He tried to move, but was quickly reminded that his hands were tied behind his back. He blinked in the sudden brightness as a light was switched on.

"Are you awake Detective Hutchinson?" The man's voice sneered. "It's time for you to understand why you are here."

"'Bout time." Hutch muttered.

"You are here to force your partner to commit suicide."

Hutch sat up at this. "What are you talking about? Why would Starsky commit suicide just because I've gone missing?"

"Because, my dear Hutchinson. You aren't just missing. You're dead. Your body was discovered tied to the piles on the Pacific Avenue pier."

"Obviously, it wasn't me. Even if the body wasn't recognizable, they'll have other ways to identify it."

"Well, fingerprints are out. They were pretty much wasted in the water." The man's tone was positively ingratiating.

"Have you forgotten dental records?" Hutch asked with a bit of his own self-satisfaction.

The man pulled a sheaf of papers and dental x-rays from behind his back. The ingratiating smile got even wider. "Oh, you mean these? I replaced your dental records with those of the dead man before this whole thing even started. I'm sorry to report to you, but Ken Hutchinson, you are dead."

The reality of the situation sank in. Hutch slumped back down in his chair. "Oh, Starsky." He whispered quietly.

"Would you care to watch your partner self-destruct? I'm finding this an incredible experiment in psychology, aren't you?" The man's smile widened. "I mean, to inspire suicidal tendencies in a basically happy person without even so much as subliminally mentioning the word suicide. It's an impressive thought, don't you think?"

"It's a sick thought! Who the hell do you think you are to play with someone's life like that?"

"Does the name James Gunther ring a bell? It just so happens that he's my uncle. I'm very fond of my uncle and I don't like the fact that you and your partner put him in prison. But unlike my uncle, I'm not going to try to murder two cops if I can get them to kill themselves."

At the mention of Gunther's name, Hutch felt a cold hand grip his heart. It seemed like only yesterday that they watched Starsky's would-be killer being sentenced to three consecutive life sentences that would leave him eligible for parole somewhere around the year 2031. It seemed like only yesterday that Starsky's heart stopped for a brief moment in time where Hutch's world came crashing down around him. It seemed like only yesterday that Starsky's bloody body was lying still as death in the police garage.

"You'll never get away with this. Starsky won't rest until he's found you."

"Won't he? I'd say his mind shut down somewhere between here and Minnesota. Either way, my people left no fingerprints, the gun that killed you was in fact yours and the rest of the people involved are being paid very handsomely to stay out of sight. You do know that a majority of all murders go unsolved. He was only good because he worked with you and you were only good because you worked with him. The other thing this experiment will prove is that one is no good without the other." The smile came out again. "I'll bring a monitor down for you to watch your partner's self-destruction. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I have been."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky was being carefully watched - not only by Gunther's nephew, but also by the people around him. Dobey was extremely worried for the sanity of his detective and Huggy had never seen anyone so single-minded.

"Man, Dobey. Starsky ain't never gonna be all right again. He ain't havin' no luck findin' Hutch's killer and it's killin' him."

Dobey nodded at the tall, gaunt man in his office. "I know you're right. Those two were two halves of a whole and without one half the other half can't function. I don't think he can go on much longer like this."

"I know if I didn't bring him food occasionally, he wouldn't be eating anything at all."

"Even what you do bring him, he barely picks at. There just aren't any clues out there! The men who took Hutch left no fingerprints and ballistics tests showed that it was Hutch's own gun that fired the fatal shot. Much as I hate to admit it, I don't think this one's going to be solved."

"If the victim was anyone but Hutch, the two of them would have had the killer arrested yesterday." Said Huggy.

"Because the victim is Hutch, Starsky isn't able to think clearly enough to know where else to look."

"Huggy!" Starsky yelled from the other room. Huggy looked at Dobey and then headed out to see what the grieving detective wanted.

"What can I do for you?"

"I want you to get out on the streets and find out if there's anyone who has a contract out on me and Hutch. Find anyone who might have even thought about being a part of this scheme. Do you hear me?"

"I'll do m'best. Can't guarantee nothin', though. I think whoever did this is a rich enough cat to cover his tracks. Otherwise, you'd be findin' bodies of accomplices all over this city."

"Find me someone, Huggy! Anyone that can help me! I don't care if it's someone who knows someone who knows someone who might have been involved. I'm graspin' at straws here. You gotta help me."

"Okay, m'man! Let me take you home for a bit of rest while I do some diggin'. You ain't getting nothin' done here. You rest and recharge that brain of yours and I'll call you when I get something. Okay?"

"No." Starsky said. "I can't go home. If you have to take me somewhere, take me to Venice Place. I can rest there."

Dobey and Huggy shared a worried glance. Then Huggy grabbed Starsky by the elbow and started leading him out of the office. "Okay, I'll take you over there. You just let ol' Huggy do what he's best at. You'll get some rest and get a fresh start tomorrow."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The monitor showed Venice Place. //Why would he have cameras in my place if I'm dead?// Hutch thought to himself. His question was answered a very few minutes later when Starsky walked into the apartment with Huggy close on his heels.

"Man, Starsky. Are you sure you want to be here? Hutch is gone. The sooner you get used to that idea, the sooner you can move on."

"Someone's gotta take care of his jungle." Starsky said as he gestured towards the greenhouse. "Besides, I feel better here. It's almost like he's still alive when I'm here."

Huggy looked worriedly at his friend. He knew Starsky was having trouble accepting the death of his friend. It was more than just grief. It was more than pain. It was like half of his soul had been ripped away. Huggy supposed that if his soul could be partially (albeit temporarily) repaired by staying at Hutch's apartment, then who was he to argue? Any way that Starsky could find the strength to continue was fine as far as Huggy was concerned. It's just that this way wasn't all that healthy.

"Oh Starsk." Hutch whispered as a tear slid down his cheek.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky was dreaming. Hutch was alive and they were playing Monopoly over a couple of beers and all was right with the world. He smiled in his sleep.

"Hey Hutch, get the phone, will ya?"

"I can't, Starsk. I'm dead. You have to get it."

"No you're not. You're right here."

"Sorry, Babe. You're asleep. This is a dream. Wake up and answer the phone."

"NO! You're alive! You have to be! I can't live without you!"

"Oh Starsky..." Hutch said as he faded from existence.

Starsky awoke with a start, tears streaming down his face. He realized the phone was still ringing. He took a deep breath and picked up the receiver.

"Yeah?"

"Starsky? It's Huggy. Don't say a word. Just listen. I got someone here who says he was paid to bug yours and Hutch's places. Get down here if you wanna talk to him."

Starsky hung up the phone and bolted for the Torino.

//I wonder what this could mean?// Thought Gunther to himself.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky arrived at The Pits in record time. When he arrived, Huggy looked up and pointed to a dark booth in the corner. There was a small, wiry man with glasses and a serious case of bed-head. He headed over to the booth and sat down across from the man.

"Huggy says you bugged my partner's and my apartments. Why?"

"Not just bugs, Mr. Starsky. Cameras too. He wanted to watch you self-destruct after your partner's death."

"That's sick! Who would be sick enough to want to see something like that?"

"Look, he'll kill me if he finds out I told you. If anyone asks, you didn't hear it from me."

"Don't worry, you'll be protected." Starsky said grimly. "What's his name?"

The little man looked around quickly. "His name's Edward Gunther."

Starsky's heart constricted at the name Gunther. "Er...any relation to..."

"James Gunther? Nephew I think he said. Look. The only reason I'm coming forward now is because I know that some of those bugs won't stay hidden for long. You obviously haven't tried to watch TV yet or you would've found one of the cameras. They'd be traced to me and I figure if I give you Gunther, the DA'd let me make a deal."

"Where can I find him?"

"I don't know. I swear I don't! We handled details over the phone or he came to me. I don't know where to find him."

"Okay, I'll find him. What's your name?"

"Marshall Harris."

"Okay, thank you Marshall Harris. Marshall Harris, you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in court..."

Harris sighed in defeat as he held out his hands for Starsky to cuff him. He reflected that at least he'd be in protective custody and safe from revenge.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky paced Dobey's office. Dobey looked at his detective and worried that the slim thread connecting him to reality was about to snap.

"Starsky. You have to calm down, son. We'll find him! We've got R & I looking for an address on him."

Starsky shook his head. "No, you don't understand. He's too smart for that! He'll be hidden away somewhere. We need to flush him out somehow."

"How do you propose to do that?"

"Let him think he's succeeded."

"What do you mean?" Dobey didn't like where this was heading.

"I'll kill myself for him."

"WHAT!!!! Have you gone crazy? Starsky, I know you miss Hutch, but..."

"No. I'm not really going to kill myself. I'm not going to give that slime ball the satisfaction. I'll just put on a show for the cameras. You know, small caliber pistol - loaded with blanks. You come by to check on me just as the fatal shot is fired. I can lay still long enough for the coroner's wagon to get me out of sight."

"What do you hope to accomplish with that little stunt?"

"If he thinks he succeeded, he might show himself. He'll figure no one will be investigating my death 'cause it's a suicide and we've been forced to close Hutch's case."

"Okay, that sounds like a good idea; it's the only one we've got at the moment. Only I'll load the gun and it will be the only one you will be allowed to carry for this little arrangement."

"Cap'n, I know you're worried about me, but I ain't gonna do anything stupid. At least not until after we get Gunther."

"That's what I'm afraid of," muttered Dobey.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starsky dragged himself into Hutch's apartment. Whatever spirit he had left seemed to be gone. He looked around the apartment until he found a framed photograph of himself and Hutch. He pulled it off the shelf and looked at it. The photo showed the two of them at a party. They had their arms around each other and they were grinning like idiots - two very happy people.

"Oh God, buddy! I can't do it! I can't live like this! You're gone and Dobey says we're not gonna find your killer. How can I live without you? My best friend! My brother! I can't..." his tears started to flow again.

Hutch was watching his partner's misery on the monitor. Even on the little black and white screen, his partner's pain was palpable. His heart twisted in response. Then he saw Starsky pull out his gun.

"Oh God, Starsk! Oh God, please don't! No! Please no!"

Starsky pulled the photograph to his chest and raised the gun to his head.

"NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! STARSKY NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The crack of the pistol was almost silent on the monitor, but to Hutch it was deafening.

Hutch twisted in his chair, desperately trying to free himself. Desperately trying to erase the sight of his partner killing himself from his mind's eye. Screaming in pain and frustration as he failed at both.

He was sobbing openly when the cellar door opened. "Boy, that was pretty. I liked that. Wasn't that a pretty sight - watching your beautiful partner blow his brains out?"

Hutch's struggles became frantic. "You BASTARD! You GODDAMNED BASTARD! So help me, I'll kill you!"

"I'd like to see you try from your current position, Detective." Gunther said snidely. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going out to celebrate."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

LAPD reported a car matching the description given by Marshall Harris at a restaurant in the city. Starsky drove Hutch's car (the Torino was too conspicuous) to the restaurant and watched. He was going to follow Gunther back to his hideout and get the whole gang...assuming there was a gang.

After about an hour, Gunther came out of the restaurant and got into his car. Starsky shuddered as he noticed that the young Gunther was the spitting image of his uncle (or at least his uncle about thirty years ago).

Starsky waited for the car to pull out before he pulled out behind it. He followed at a discreet distance until the car pulled up to a house in a quiet, wealthy suburb. The house was dark and quiet. Gunther seemed to live alone. He waited for the object of his surveillance to get out of the car and enter the house. Then he reached for the radio to call for backup. His hand stopped midway to the handset.

//No. Gunther is mine! He killed Hutch! He's mine!// Starsky thought angrily.

Starsky made his way up to the house, pulling his gun (now loaded with live bullets). He kicked down the door. He came up with his gun swinging. Gunther was standing in the middle of the room looking shocked.

"What's the matter, Gunther? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

"You're dead! I saw you shoot yourself!"

"Ah...the magic of television. That gun held blanks." He held his gun up to Gunther's head. "This one holds real ammo. You killed my partner. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't blow your brains out!"

"You're a cop! Cops don't kill in cold blood!"

"I'm a cop with nothin' to lose. Give me another."

"The basement! Look in the basement!"

"What's in the basement?" Starsky asked suspiciously.

"Just look! You'll see!"

Starsky looked at Gunther and then seemed to decide. He dragged Gunther around, handcuffed him to the bar in the closet and shut the door. Then, gun drawn, Starsky headed down the cellar stairs. What he saw made his heart stop.

There, apparently unconscious and tied to a chair was Hutch! A little thinner, a little dirtier, but it was Hutch! Starsky ran over to his partner. Kneeling down behind the chair, he untied Hutch's hands. Then he quickly moved around as Hutch limply fell forward. He held Hutch close to him as he felt the tears well up.

"Oh God, Hutch! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!" He was sobbing almost uncontrollably by this point.

Hutch stirred in his partner's arms, his own arms coming up to embrace Starsky. "Starsky?" he whispered weakly. "You're alive! Is it really you?"

"You gotta ask, Blintz? You're the one who's been dead for two weeks!"

"But I saw you kill yourself!"

"You saw me what?" Starsky pulled back and looked at his partner. Hutch gestured to somewhere behind Starsky and when he turned around, he saw the monitor showing Venice Place. He suddenly realized that Hutch had been forced to watch him die.

"Oh God, Babe! I had no idea he was making you watch me like that! I only knew he was watching. I'm so sorry!"

"You've got nothing to be sorry for! You're alive and that's all that matters." The tears were now flowing down Hutch's face.

"Amen to that!"

The two men held each other as though each would cease to exist if either one let go. Both of them were sobbing at the thought of what they almost lost. They held each other for a very long time - until Gunther started shouting from the closet upstairs. They looked at each other with a grin and headed upstairs to collect their prisoner.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Captain Harold Dobey was worried. After Starsky was let out of the coroner's wagon, he seemed to vanish. He leapt into Hutch's car and took off. When LAPD reported Gunther's car, there was no answer from Starsky. But Dobey knew the grieving detective heard the dispatch and was probably on his way to do something stupid.

There was a knock on the door and Huggy stepped into the office.

"I brought Starsky somethin' to eat, but he ain't here. You want anything?"

Dobey shook his head. "I just want to know where Starsky has got to."

Suddenly, Starsky poked his head into the office. "Someone mention my name?"

Dobey and Huggy looked at each other. Starsky seemed remarkably chipper, all things considered.

"Uh...yeah. Where the hell have you been Starsky?" Dobey tried to sound gruff to cover the concern he was feeling.

"I been arresting Gunther! God that was a great feeling! Now I know why Hutch enjoyed arresting his uncle so much. It's just fun to arrest people named Gunther!"

Huggy walked over to the curly-haired detective and placed one hand on his forehead. "You feelin' all right, Starsky? Gunther didn't knock you on the head or anything, did he?"

"Huggy, I never felt better!" Starsky said. Dobey noticed he seemed to mean it.

Huggy walked over to Dobey and whispered in his ear, "I heard extreme happiness in a depressed person usually means they've made up their minds to kill themselves."

Dobey nodded. He too had heard that theory. He started forward around his desk.

"Dave, son." He began. "Edith wanted me to invite you for dinner tonight. She thought it might cheer you up some."

"Thanks Cap'n. And thank your wife too, but Hutch 'n me are going out for dinner."

Now Dobey was really worried. "Dave, Hutch is dead. You know that."

"To paraphrase Mark Twain," came a very welcome voice from the door. "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Dobey's mouth dropped open. Huggy turned towards the door and his jaw joined Dobey's on the floor.

"How..." Dobey began, but couldn't seem to catch the rest of the question as it ran at top speed out of his head.

"Captain Dobey, it's a very long story," said Hutch with a grin. "If you guys want to join us for dinner, I'll explain. Otherwise, you have to wait until after we get back because I haven't had a decent meal in a couple of weeks and I'm hungry!"

Huggy seemed to pull himself together. "Let's all go back to the Pits! Dinner's on the house tonight. We're celebrating!"

"A free meal at Huggy's?" said Starsky incredulously. "Cap'n you better come get in on this. It don't happen too often."

Dobey hesitated. Hutch was alive. There were phone calls to be made, things to be taken care of. Then he thought better of it. Life's too short, after all.

He grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. "What are we waiting for? Let's go!"

The four men grinned at each other and headed out for one helluva celebration.

End.