MISSING

 

This story was written purely for entertainment and is not for profit, and is not meant to trespass in any way on the holders of the rights to Starsky and Hutch.

Heartfelt thanks to Ana Mabelyn for helping me in my search for the right villain and also to Starsky´s strut and Tricia for their great help to correct and to make better this story.

 

Chapter 1

“I’ll check out the first floor, Shelly. Why don’t you go to take a look at the basement and see what needs to be done down there” The woman told her sixteen years old daughter as she unlocked the front door to the house.

“Okay mom.”

Once inside the hall, Mrs. Rockford and Shelly parted ways. They had a lot of work to do to check out and clean their rental property, which was located on the outskirts of Bay City, before looking for a new tenant for the house, after the last one had died in a tragic car accident about a week earlier.

“Oh! Shelly, honey, mind going back to the car and bringing in the cardboard boxes? We forgot them.”

“Sure mom, be right back,” The young girl answered as she headed back outside.

As Shelly went to their car to pick the boxes, her mother began rummaging through cupboards and drawers, looking for the stuff of the house’s former occupant to send it back to her relatives. A moment later the girl was back there, and while her mother kept checking on the living room, she headed to the basement.

Mrs. Rockford was humming absentmindedly while doing her work, when her daughter screamed. The sound came from downstairs and it made her heart to miss a beat.

“Shelly?” She asked while hurrying to the basement. “Shelly, are you okay? Answer me, dear!” The lady hollered as she ran down the stairs so fast that she almost stumbled in her haste.

When she reached the bottom, Mrs. Rockford stopped in her tracks at the sight of her daughter, kneeling next to a man who was dressed in ragged and bloodstained clothes.

He was curled up in a heap in the floor. His hair and beard were dirty and matted and his left leg had a frightening looking open fracture. But the most shocking sight of all was the thick metal chain that, firmly fixed to the wall encircled the ankle of his injured leg. The links bit into the swollen flesh.

“He’s very sick, mom! This man is burning up with fever! Bring me a blanket or something!” Shelly urged her mother after having touched briefly the man’s forehead. Mrs. Rockford frantically scouted the dimly lit area for something to cover him with.

“Help…n-need help.” He moaned in a barely audible voice, reaching out a shaking hand, blindly seeking aid and comfort.

“Take it easy sir. We’ll get help for you.” Shelly soothed the unknown man, taking his hand in hers.

“Cover him with this, Shelly. I’ll try to untie him.” Mrs. Rockford said as she held out a crummy patchwork quilt out to her daughter.

Shelly covered the man with the old bedspread while Mrs. Rockford, kneeling down, tried carefully to get his ankle free from the chain’s grip.

“What’s your name, sir? Can you say us your name?” The girl asked him.

“H-Hu… g-get Hutch…” He mumbled when, in feeling the touch of the older woman’s hands on his aching ankle, an agonic scream escaped from his throat.

“Sorry!…I’m very sorry sir…I didn’t want to hurt you.” Mrs. Rockford apologized nervously, flinching back “I was just trying to untie your leg…Sorry.”

“It’s useless, mom. You’re not going to get that chain off.” Shelly stated. “His leg’s too swollen.”

“Okay; I’m going to call the police. They’ll help him.” Mrs. Rockford said getting to her feet. “Come with me, Shelly.”

The man tightened his grip on Shelly’s hand; she could tell he was afraid she would leave him alone. “No mom. I’ll stay with him” The compassionate girl was unwilling to leave the abused man alone, he had been through enough already.

“Shelly, please! He could-”

“I’m staying, mom.” She cut off stubbornly. “Don't worry, he’s too weak to hurt me, even if he wanted to. Hurry up! Go to call the police! And don’t forget to ask them for an ambulance too!”

~o0o~

Hutch unlocked the front door of his house, the place he shared with Megan, his wife as of a few short months ago. He stepped tiredly inside and headed to the bedroom to find her there. She was looking at her reflection in the wardrobe mirror, checking that her make-up was perfect. Hutch kissed briefly her lips and then he noticed her attire.

“Are you going somewhere?”

Her blond hair was neatly gathered in a bun and she wore an elegant black cocktail dress along with pearl necklace and earrings. “Me? Oh, I can't believe it!” Megan snapped as she stared into her husband’s eyes “You forgot it, right? You forgot my parents wedding anniversary. Didn't you?”

“Meg, honey! I’m so sorry!” Hutch apologized plopping onto the bed,

“Don't Honey me, Ken!” The woman cut off. “The fact is that you keep forgetting everything that is important to me! And you do it over and over! Tell me something… What kind of husband are you, huh? Is this the way things are going to always be in our marriage?”

“Listen Megan, right now I don't want to start an argument. I have had an awful day and I’ve got a monster headache now, maybe we could call…”

“NO!” The angry woman shouted out “I´m not calling my parents to excuse your rudeness once more. With or without you, I’m going to their anniversary dinner. I made myself clear?”

“Meg, look...” Hutch tried again, feeling the throbbing ache in his head increase with the volume of her voice.

“See you later Kenneth. Don't wait awake for me!” With her blue eyes shinning with anger, Megan picked up her velvet purse, storming out of the bedroom.

Hutch got to his feet when he heard the front door’s slam. He sank back on the bed and ran his hand through his hair. “Damn...Okay honey, okay! Have a nice dinner!” He said sarcastically to himself as he stood up again and headed into the living room. Once there, he fetched a big glass and a bottle of bourbon from the cocktail cabinet and poured himself a nice, large drink.

Hutch sat down in his leather wing chair and sipped the bourbon slowly. He let his mind drift back to happier times. The times he shared with his partner and best friend, Dave Starsky. That was until the day that Starsky went missing.

That day had happened two years ago. After months of searching and coming up empty, the police didn’t have any choice but to give up. Given all the evidence and though his body never was found, David Michael Starsky was presumed dead.

Hutch went through months of denial, but finally he had to face the grim truth. Starsky was gone. As simple as that.

Since that sad day and though his heart was broken, Hutch did his best to move on with his life for the sake of Starsky’s memory. He had thought about leaving Bay City but he just didn’t have the heart to do so. There were so many memories of his best friend linked to every corner of the city and the blond one found himself unable to leave them all behind. He just hoped that, given enough time, the pain would fade to a bearable level.

Hutch had stayed on the force as well; as if in a strange way he wanted to punish himself for what he felt was his fault. He could not leave the places and things that he had shared with his partner. However, from the day that Starsky had gone missing, Hutch had begun to do only desk work. He was totally against working with another partner. So Dobey had not any other choice but to put him on permanent desk duty.

It was about a year after Starsky’s disappearance and totally by chance that he had met Megan. She was a beautiful, well-off, intelligent doctor, the chief of the Emergency Services Department in the BC General Medical Center. She immediately liked the blond, handsome police officer. The first time they had met, she had not hesitated in coaxing him out to dinner.

Desperate to ease his grief and loneliness, Hutch finally had accepted. They had dated that first evening. The dates had continued and despite of himself, he had really spent some good times with the woman. Megan was very intelligent and attractive and after several dates, Hutch found that, for a few brief hours, he could forget his sorrow.

That was until bad luck struck him again and Megan had found out she was pregnant. Being the decent man he was and not wanting the child to grow up without a father; Hutch asked Megan to marry him. He did not love her; the proposal was to save her reputation. And on those grounds she’d accepted. Shortly after that, they were married in a simple ceremony.

From then on, grief and loneliness were Hutch’s constant companions. Day in and day out, his life stretched out before him, a long and lonely road. Also Megan turned out to be a cold-hearted woman, whose main concerns were her career and her social status. She was a lot like Vanessa. Megan’s mind was too practical to realize the depth of Hutch’s sorrow. Since the beginning of their marriage and after seeing a few pictures of Starsky that Hutch had shown her, the woman had made it perfectly clear her point of view of how useless and harmful it could be to live tied to past and its memories. Since the day she had shown her lack of understanding, the blond detective kept the treasured memories and pictures of his friend just to himself. The subject of his years with Starsky and their time together was never brought up between Megan and him.

The plain fact was that Hutch was painfully unhappy. His relationship with Megan had quickly turned into a train wreck. His sole joy was looking forward to the day when he could hold his baby in his arms. That child would be the only happiness in his now bleak life.

History repeating itself, that’s what it was; Hutch couldn’t stop wondering how he had been so stupid as to fall twice into the same trap, marrying the same kind of beautiful, elegant but ultimately worthless woman. In his darkest moments and despite the baby’s near due date, he even had thought about asking Megan for a divorce.

 ~o0o~

“So, according to what you’ve told us previously, you found that man in the basement of your mother’s property and he was tied to the wall by a chain secured to his ankle, is that right?” Sergeant Detective Melvin Harris from BCPD fifth precinct asked the shocked Shelly. He said this in front of his much younger partner, Detective Marcia Merrick. Shelly just nodded shyly and looked at the floor.

“Mind telling us the whole story again, Miss Rockford?” Harris asked as he sat on the corner of his desk.

“Already she has told it-” Mrs. Rockford started to say, but she was cut off by the detective.

“It doesn’t matter, Ma’am. We’d like to hear it once more.”

“Calm down Mrs. Rockford.” Detective Merrick added in gentler tone. “I don't know if you realize it, but what we have here is a very serious case.”

And it really was. After her first year as detective and despite a few serious crimes she and her partner had already worked on, young Detective Merrick had never expected to work on such a horrendous case as the one that they were currently dealing with.

“It's okay Detectives, no problem. I’ll tell you again everything that I saw.” Shelly said after nervously sipping her cup of water.

“Okay, Miss Rockford. We’re listening.” Harris stared into Shelly’s eyes with an inscrutable expression in his face.

“Given that our tenant passed away some days ago, my mother and I went to the house to check it and to collect the stuff of that poor woman to send it to her family, besides to do some cleaning. You know, that kind of stuff. Well; as mother worked in the first floor, I went down to the basement… and as soon as I got there, I heard his moans. At first, I thought that it could be an injured pet, or something, so I looked for it, and well, you know the rest. The sound was that poor man. There he was, curled up in the floor, tied by that thick chain around his ankle. He was so sick, weak and with his leg so badly injured… he was just staring at me with such terrified eyes…” Shelly trailed off as she remembered the scene.

“Did you see anything unusual? I don't know, maybe when you went into the house, or later, when you went back to the car to pick the cardboard boxes? Was anyone watching you? Or was there anything that you thought could be suspicious somehow?” Detective Harris asked in his usual emotionless tone of voice.

“For God sake Detective!” Mrs. Rockford snapped as she surrounded her daughter’s shoulders with a protective arm. “Would you mind stopping this once and for all? This might be a difficult concept for you to understand, but Shelly is just a kid. A very upset kid who only wants to go back home”

“Sorry Mrs. Rockford, but I’m just doing my job” Harris said coldly before turning to look back at Shelly.

“It’s okay mom” Shelly assured to her mother. Then she turned towards Harris to keep answering his questions “My mother is right Detective. After seeing that man, I got too scared how to notice or remember anything else” She shivered at the memory “Actually, I think I’ll be never able to forget his terrified eyes for the rest of my life… Sweet Jesus! I can't stop wondering how in earth someone could have done something so atrocious to another human being!”

“I’m afraid that it looks like the house’s former occupant was the guilty party. As long as the victim is unable to answer all the questions that we need the answers to, we’ll be unable to find it out, Shelly.” Detective Merrick said getting to her feet. “Okay, I think that we are done here. We’ll call you if we need to ask you any further questions.” She added as she led both women to the office’s door.

Chapter 2

That evening, the ER personnel in BC General Medical Center were still very busy. In fact it had been a particularly hectic day. It had started that morning, when a new patient had been rushed in. The man was apparently in his fifties. He was brought into the ER half-unconscious, besides very thin, anemic and dehydrated as well as filthy.

The man had suffered an open fracture of his left leg, which had become gangrenous and that was giving him an extremely high fever. In addition, his back and left side were covered in large, dark bruises. The pattern of those bruises along with two cracked ribs were the specific clues that made the medical staff think that the most likely cause was that the man had fallen down some stairs recently. On top of all of that, the unlucky patient didn’t have any ID, so until the police found out what his real name was, for the doctors and nurses he would be referred as John Doe.

The medical staff began by stabilizing his vitals and treating his fever and wounds. They gave him antibiotics and started an IV to replenish fluids and nutrients into his system. These were just the first steps in the treatment of dealing with the serious injuries he suffered.

Once he was sedated, the patient was carefully sponged down and shaved to help lower the risk of further infections from the filth he had been covered with. This was done before taking him to surgery where the surgeons’ team would try to fix the fracture and remove the death tissues in his leg, along with attempting to improve the blood supply in the damaged area.

When his beard was shaved and his hair washed and cut, the ER nurses realized that John Doe had to be much younger than he’d looked before, in his filthy state. There was no way he could be around fifty years old. In fact, despite his worn out physical condition, the man seemed to be only in his late thirties, maybe early forties. But until he’d be able to tell them his name, or the results of the police identification could be done, that was the only thing that the hospital personnel could figure out about him.

~o0o~

After his third shot of bourbon Hutch was starting to feel a little dizzy, besides unhappy and alone, as usual. He headed for his bedroom. He felt like he could keep drinking himself into oblivion, but things were going bad enough with Megan that he didn’t need to be drunk upon her return.

Taking off his clothes and letting them fall haphazardly onto the floor, Hutch got into bed and tried to fall asleep. He wanted to flee from his hopeless reality for a few hours and though he tried to overlook the fact, he really didn’t want to talk his wife again until the next day.

Unfortunately, Hutch was still awake when Megan came back home. He heard the woman unlocking the front door and her steps getting closer through the corridor.

“Oh, shit!...Please Kenneth, could you quit acting like a slob?” She said in way of greeting while looking at Hutch’s clothes spreaded on the floor, not caring if he was asleep or awake.

“Know something? Maybe you don't have noticed it yet, but clothes have better places to be than left all over the floor.” She chided grumpily.

“Sorry Meg, I’m too tired how to care about where I’d left them, I guess.” Hutch apologized as he got out of bed and picked his t-shirt and jeans up. He was feeling too drained to start a new argument with his wife.

“Had you a good time in your parents´?” The blond one asked, more out of routine than any care at all about the answer. Soon though, he realized that it had been a wrong question.

“Are you trying to make me believe that you care about anything related with my family Ken? ´Cause if that’s the matter let me say you that my father was pretty disgruntled with the fact that you left your seven-months pregnant wife to drive to the party on her own.” She pouted, wanting to make him feel guilty.

“Come on, Meg, stop that. You could have called for a cab, couldn’t you? Besides, you drive to the hospital every day.” Hutch pointed out patiently. “Listen dear, I´m very sorry, I told you that already. I forgot about that dinner. I really had a rough day at work and…”

“Don't tell me about hard days at work!” The angry woman cut off, going back into her best belligerent mode “Do you know by chance what a dreadful day I had today at the hospital? No, of course you don't know! So I’ll tell you! It was pretty early in the morning when a new patient was rushed in the ER. The poor devil was dirty and thin as a stray dog. He was covered in bruises and he suffered a dreadful injury to his leg. It has become gangrenous, and I don't think we’ll be able to save it, actually. Besides that he’s anaemic and dehydrated. Aside from all his physical problems, the fact is that most likely he must be totally out of his mind. We had a lot of work to do just trying to stabilize him enough to take him into surgery. I think it’s possible that he won’t make it through the night and I really don’t have any idea on what happened to him to end how he did. But, know something? I don't actually care. I don’t think that it’s any of my business.”

Yeah, honey, I already know you pretty well. Hutch thought bitterly. You do your impeccable work; get your paycheck and to the hell with whatever ordeal that poor guy went through before turning into a human waste

“My job is to try to save his life and that’s just what I did.” Megan continued “But I’m not willing to take my work’s worries home with me. And you should do the same, Ken. For our marriage’s sake.”

Those words and Megan’s fuming look were a pretty clear warning. Their relationship was going downhill fast. But Hutch didn’t care. Maybe he never did. The only thing Hutch was able to think on, was how badly he missed Starsky. He missed his friend’s playfulness, his kindness and his innate joy. And especially, Hutch felt guilty thinking that he had, somehow let Starsky down by getting on with his own life…

~o0o~

The night in the ICU wasn’t much calmer than the day had been in the ER for most of the nurses and doctors that had their hands full working on John Doe.

Hours after going through surgery, the man’s condition wasn’t getting any better. Instead, he seemed to grow sicker as the night went by. The antibiotic therapy wasn´t working as well as his doctors had expected and his fever climbed up to its current peak of 105. In those long hours, the man threw up a couple of times the nonexistent contents of his stomach. Now the dry heaves painfully racked his whole body. He also had once went into seizures and in the little periods in which he drifted off into drug-induced sleep, he kept mumbling unintelligible words as he tossed and turned in his bed. This kept up until dawn, when finally his exhausted body gave up and he fell in an unsettled stupor while his fever lowered just a little.

Early in the morning, Doctor Megan Hutchinson started her shift by going to the ICU area to fill the chief doctor on some details regarding the medical report of the unknown new patient. Odd as it seemed to the woman, upon seeing him shaved and with his hair cut and clean for first time, she felt the odd sensation that she had seen him somewhere before. His pale, thin face, now strained by lines of pain and suffering, looked vaguely familiar to her. But, as hard as she tried, Megan was unable to catch the elusive memory…

~o0o~

That morning, Detective Marcia Merrick stormed in the ninth precinct squadroom as if all the demons in hell were chasing her. She bumped into Minnie in her hurry, which made the woman lose her grip on the pile of folders she was carrying; Merrick just mumbled an apology without looking back.

“Whoa! Watch your step Merrick! Where’s the fire?” the female officer asked as she, with Hutch’s help, bent to pick up the manila folders that were scattered all around the floor. But the only answer she got was the young woman darting into Dobey’s office and she did so without knocking on the door.

“Oh man” Minnie said rolling her eyes “Now I’m sure, that girl has gone nuts… Dobey is going to bite her head off for going into his office like that.” She mocked.

“DETECTIVE MERRICK! WHAT THE HELL MEANS ALL THIS FUSS?” Came Dobey’s barking voice from inside his office. This made all the officers in the squad room snap their heads up before Dobey’s door slammed shut again and no more could be heard.

“I’m very sorry Captain Dobey.” She said flustering in front of the imposing presence of the huge man. “But what I have to tell you is really important, sir.”

“Damn! Merrick, is it so important that you have to storm into my office like a hit squad?” Dobey chided, half-annoyed and half-amused by the sudden interruption into his office by the young female detective.

“Yeah Captain, it sure is.”

“Okay, spill it. I don’t have all day. And this had better be good.”

~o0o~

At that same moment, at the hospital, Megan was in her office, checking on some patient’s reports as she drank a cup of coffee, when all of sudden, a memory played in her head and the face of John Doe slid to a definite place into her mind. She knew who he was.

The woman remembered the pictures that her husband had shown her a few months ago, right after their wedding. That image of him and his dark-haired partner standing on the roof of that red car, arms over each other’s shoulders. Or that another picture, the one of Ken picking playfully his friend up in his arms, both of them smiling cheerily at the camera…

“Oh my… John Doe is Ken’s partner!” Megan muttered, setting her coffee mug on the desk, already reaching for the phone….

~o0o~

In Dobey’s office, as she talked to the captain, detective Merrick was trying to get a hold of her emotions. Dobey was giving her his full attention, though actually doubting that whatever she had to said would be worth the big deal that she was making of it.

“It’s that John Doe that was taken to BC General Medical Center yesterday, sir.” She explained hastily “It’s him, Captain Dobey. I mean, the missing cop, Sir…Captain, he’s…HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN!”

“WHAT?” Dobey barked getting to his feet

“Yeah sir, he’s your missing detective…”

As Merrick quickly filled Dobey on who the man was, the captain’s eyes grew wide open in surprise and his forehead began to shine under a layer of perspiration.

~o0o~

Meanwhile, out in the squad room, Hutch went back to his reports while thinking fondly on how much he and most of his fellow officers liked young Detective Merrick. He couldn’t help but wish that the valiant girl could get a partner of her choice as soon as possible. Just then, and if she got as lucky as he had been with Starsky, she’d be able to enjoy the blessing that working beside the right person was.

Moreover, she’d be able to finally leave Harris behind. The old detective was an embittered man, too insensitive and tough after years of seeing the ugliest face of the world. He was too bitter now to actually tell the difference between the ways he’d deal with street punks and with innocent witnesses or crime victims. No doubt, the rough detective couldn’t be a good partner for the type of kind police officer that the girl was.

Then the phone rang, startling Hutch.

“Hutchinson” He answered absentmindedly.

“Ken, it’s Meg” Hutch’s wife said calmly. “Listen, can you come to the hospital? Right now? It’s very important.”

“Are you okay, Meg? It’s the baby?”

“Oh, no. It’s not the baby. I’m fine, but I need you to come over here, okay? It’s really important, Ken. Hurry”

“Okay Meg, give me fifteen minutes.” Hutch hung the phone, already getting to his feet but unable to figure out why his wife wanted him to go to the hospital in such a hurry.

He was on his way out of the squad room when Dobey’s loud voice made him stop.

“HUTCH!” The captain hollered, popping his head out his office door.

“Yeah cap?”

“Hutch, son, in my office, please.” Dobey added in much gentler tone.

´Geez! First Merrick rushing into Dobey’s office like a herd of buffalos, then Megan playing mysterious and now the cap yelling at me…what the heck is going on with everybody today? Hutch thought, shaking his head while striding back towards his captain’s office.

“Cap’n?…Hi Merrick,” he greeted the woman. “Excuse me sir, mind getting straight to what the matter is? I’m in a hurry. I just got a phone call from Megan. She needs me to go to the hospital right now, said that it’s something very important.”

Then Hutch noticed that the pair of faces were staring at him with such an odd expression on them that he couldn’t make out the meaning of it. Marcia Merrick was smiling tearfully and Dobey eyes were also suspiciously shinny as the man mopped his forehead with his handkerchief with one hand and loosened his tie with his other hand.

He jumped to a conclusion “Uh-uh. No Cap’n. No way, I’m not going to partner up with Merrick or anyone else for that matter. It’s out of the question.” Hutch stated, failing to guess the real cause of Dobey’s call. “No offense, Merrick, I’m very sorry that you have to stick with that jerk of Harris but-”

“SHUT UP HUTCHINSON!” Dobey commanded; then lowering his voice, almost quivering he said. “It’s Starsky, son…Starsky is alive. He’s at BC General Medical Center. In the intensive care unit”

Hutch didn’t wait to hear more, he was already up and running. He couldn’t stay there and wait to hear any more. Not at that moment. Starsky was alive. He finally knew where his friend was and any other questions could wait.

He heard Dobey’s voice calling out for him, but he ran out of the squadroom, hurrying down the stairs, two at time, until reaching the parking lot and rushing to his car. He drove with lights and siren, at mad speed towards the hospital. All the while his heart seemed about to jump out of his chest.

Chapter 3

Once at the hospital, he didn’t wait for the elevator, Hutch ran the stairs to the eighth floor where the intensive care unit was. He did it in record time. Gasping for air, the detective trotted along the corridor, almost running into a nurse.

“Starsky? David Starsky…What room?” Hutch asked in demanding tone, leaving any trace of politeness far behind.

“Excuse me, sir. That’s the ICU area. Only the patient’s closest relatives are allowed in there,” The nurse informed him with cold professionalism. “Are you-“

“I’m his partner!” Hutch snapped showing his badge to the nurse and giving her such a look that made it clear enough that he wasn’t in the mood to let anybody to mess around with him at that moment.

“Okay…room 125. At the end of this corridor…however, this is highly irregular-” The nurse kept saying to nobody. Hutch was already running through the corridor to room 125.

When he finally got to Starsky’s room, what he saw there threatened to crumble his sanity. His once healthy-looking friend was now a ghostly and pale form lying in a hospital bed. Hutch noticed, under the dim light of the headboard lamp that Starsky looked more like a corpse than a living man.

The only things that showed that he was alive were the electrodes sticking to his chest, the IV entering the crook of his arm and the oxygen mask placed over his mouth and nose. Running his eyes along his friend’s whole form, Hutch saw a bandage wrapped around Starsky’s abdomen and another one, a much thicker one around his left leg. It was also in traction. What frightened Hutch the most though, was how bruised and swollen Starsky’s toes looked.

“Starsk…Can you hear me buddy? Hutch asked softly, reaching out a hand to cradle the cheek of his friend. He feared that a touch any rougher than that could hurt Starsky.

“Can you open your eyes for me, Starsky? Please, partner? I missed you so badly,” Hutch begged as unwanted tears tarnished his sight. Then, Starsky’s lids fluttered open, if only a sliver and he took off the oxygen mask from his face

“Hu-Hutch?…”Starsky whispered, dragging weakly his hand over the covers, looking for Hutch’s hand

“Yeah buddy. Right here.” The blond one softly wrapped Starsky’s hand in his, as he tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat.

“I thought…thought that I’d never see ya again.” Starsky managed to say as one tear escaped from the corner of his eye, sliding down his face

“I’m sorry, Starsky. I’m so sorry… I tried; only God knows how hard I tried to find you. I kept looking for you for months, until there wasn’t any clue, any suspect left.” Hutch said, his words sounding just like a very poor apology to his own ears.

“T-tired…I’m s-so tired...” Starsky mumbled in slurred voice.

“I know, partner. Don’t speak. Just sleep. I’ll stay here, with you.” The blond detective was still shocked by how sick and fragile Starsky looked.

Whoever did this must be out there somewhere... And I’m going to find him… then whoever that scum is, he will pay for it. I swear he will Hutch thought darkly as a wave of revenge wishes washed over him and he had to fight that overwhelming feeling back.

He was a police officer, not an avenger, the blond one reminded himself. Besides, there in front of him was the most important person in his life. The one he thought he had lost forever, only to find that despite all the evidences against it, Starsky was alive. So from then on, Hutch determined that he had to save all his strength, all his time and patience to reach one only goal, to help his best friend to get his life and health back.

“D-Diana?...Where’s Diana?” Starsky asked in a hoarse whisper.

“Huh?” Hutch asked, unable for a moment, to catch what Starsky was saying.

“Diana Ha-Harmon… she had me...”

“What?...What are you saying Starsk?” Hutch cut off shocked. “Are you telling me that Diana Harmon had kept you prisoner all this time?” He asked at a complete loss. “But how, Starsky? How she could get you?”

A weak smile curled up a corner of Starsky’s lips for a moment, before fading again.

“She didn’t grab me…no, she didn’t…a couple of guys did it. Then they took me to her place...” The weakened man said before his eyes closed again.

Hutch’s heart sank as the meaning of Starsky’s words dawned on him. Feeling his temples pounding, the blond detective had to look for a seat, not being too confident in his legs strength to keep him upright.

Diana Harmon? Was that miserable nutcase the responsible for so much pain and horror? She was the person responsible for whatever agony Starsky had to go through? Hutch wondered stunned. But…How? How could it be possible? Shit! She fooled me! She fooled everyone...

And that was the plain truth. In the first days after Starsky had gone missing, once the department had checked fruitlessly through dozens of suspects and already running out of clues to keep up the search for his friend, the blond detective would go to talk to Diana. She had been discharged out of the mental hospital just a couple of months earlier and Hutch had to admit that she seemed to be wholly back in her right mind. In fact she seemed very sorry for what she had done to him. She had also seemed sorry about Starsky’s disappearance as well. However, just to be sure, Hutch had talked to her psychiatrist, boss and fellow co-workers at the company where she had gotten an employ after she was discharged from the mental hospital. He had talked to her landlady, Mrs. Rockford too. According the opinions of all of them, Diana was nothing less than a nice woman who was doing her best to recover. She seemed to be a totally harmless person, along with being polite and intelligent…

"I d-don’t wanna die a-alone Hutch…I don’t wanna…” Starsky’s words took Hutch abruptly out of his thoughts, sending shrives up his spine. Starsky, as brave as he was, had been always scared of dying alone. Hutch had known this since the earliest days of their partnership.

“You aren’t going to die partner, everything’s going to be okay now. You’ll get better in no time, besides, you won’t be alone any more. Now I’m with you and nothing will make me to leave you again, Starsky.” Hutch said as he carefully replaced the oxygen mask on his friend’s face. Starsky began to doze off again.

Inhaling a deep breath, the blond one stared for a moment at his sleeping friend. Feeling he was being watched, he raised his eyes and saw Captain Dobey on the other side of the large glass window. He stood there, staring thoughtfully at his two best detectives, together again, despite all the odds against it.

“Our old grumpy cap is here to see you Starsk. Excuse me a sec, will ya? Be right back” Hutch said to an unaware Starsky before exiting the ICU room. He slowly stepped out the room. His steps were tired; his shoulders slumped, like if all the horrors of the last months rested on them.

“He looks so sick Cap… so badly sick.” Hutch said to Dobey in a defeated tone of voice.

“Hutch, son, take a seat.” The older man approached his detective leading him to sit down in a near plastic chair. The blond man didn’t said anything; he just docilely let his captain lead him to a chair.

“Diana, Cap…Diana Harmon did this to Starsky. With the help of a couple of guys. He told me so.” Hutch said in hoarse voice, fighting back his wish of tearing the waiting room apart. “I’m gonna kill them Cap’n. I’ll kill Diana and whoever helped her to get Starsky!...To the hell with my badge! To the hell with anything that-”

“No need for that, Hutch… Diana’s already dead.” Dobey cut in with a soothing voice as he sat in the chair next to Hutch’s.

“What?”

“She died in a car wreck about a week ago, son. No one but God can judge her soul now.”

“DAMN HER FUCKING SOUL!...” Hutch yelled, rising from his chair and fiercely smashing his fist against the wall, as an old couple of visitors turned their heads to look at him.

“Ken! What are you doing?” asked Megan, who at that moment had exited the elevator and hurried towards him.

“Meg… Starsky’s alive,” Hutch said in faltering voice, unaware of the pain in his hand.

“I know, Ken. I already know who the patient is.” She said in her usual unruffled tone. “That’s why I asked you to come here. I thought that you should know. Now, come with me, okay? Right now you are feeling a little upset and that’s a pretty normal reaction given the circumstances. But you must get your head together, Ken. Besides, maybe you have broken your hand. You have to get it checked.” Megan talked to her husband in the same patronizing tone in what she would talk to a scared kid, or even worse, to an insane patient. She grabbed him by his elbow as she guided him to a near by examination room.

“To the hell with my hand!” Hutch snapped under his breath, pulling sharply away from her hand.

“Ken! What?” She asked in puzzlement.

“You thought I should know it?” Hutch asked back, looking at Megan as if he was seeing her for the first time. “A pretty normal reaction for you would be to feel just a little upset? FUCK MEG! YOU DON’T GET ANYTHING OF THIS! YOU NEVER DID!” The blond detective shouted out, startling both his wife and Dobey, who discreetly headed to the coffee machine, giving the couple some privacy to sort things out on their own.

“That patient, as you so professionally call him, has a name!” Hutch hissed to his wife, in low, cold tone. “His name’s Starsky. David Starsky. And I’d want you never to forget it, ´cause David Starsky is my best friend. And let’s not forget the fact that he has been my partner for a whole lot of years! And let me tell you; he is the most caring, kind and warm-hearted man that anybody could possibly find in this whole rotten world! I have been in mourning for him for the last two years. Then it turns out that he’s alive and that he has been through, who knows what kind of hell, while I and the whole police department, ALL OF US GAVE UP ON HIM!” Hutch hollered, not caring in the least about the looks that people on the ICU floor were giving him.

“How do you think I can feel right now, uh? I’ll tell you. I don't feel ‘a little upset’ as you so mildly put it…I FEEL LIKE SHIT, MEGAN, AND AT THIS MOMENT, THE LEAST I COULD HOPE FOR, IS A LITTLE WIFELY SENSITIVITY AND UNDERSTANDING!”

“Ken, please. Would please put a stop to your shouting? This is a hospital,” She scolded, but she did so without losing her composure. “If you don't want to get your hand treated, that’s okay, do it your way. You’re a grown man, I guess. But I’m not about to let anybody to make any fuss in here, much less shout at me like a madman. Got it?” Her beautiful eyes shone with a mixture of anger and severity.

“Meg…Megan, sorry…” Hutch said, already regretting his outburst. “I didn’t want to yell at you, but…”

“No Ken. You’ve already made your point clear. I don't understand what you’re feeling and you’d prefer to be married to a woman who would be able to do so, right? Well, maybe I’m not that kind of woman.” A few uncomfortable seconds of silence hung between them until Megan spoke again. “Okay Ken. Now, if you don't mind, I must get back to my work. I have responsibilities in this hospital, just in case you have forgotten that. You just remember; Mr. Starsky is a patient in the ICU area and there are pretty strict rules regarding visiting hours here. Don’t try to break them, okay? The rules are for the patients’ sake, not for the visitors.”

Megan spun on her heels as Hutch stood there, looking dejectedly at her as she left. He was feeling too emotionally drained to make any attempt to mend something that sadly, seemed to be beyond mending. Probably it had been that way since the very first day in which their marriage had begun.

~o0o~

Hutch was still there, staring off into space when Dobey returned. The captain held out a Styrofoam cup of coffee for him, which Hutch accepted with a nod of thanks.

For several seconds both men just sipped their coffees in silence until Dobey asked with paternal concern.

“Wanna talk about, Hutchinson?”

“Huh?” Hutch asked, coming back to the here and now.

“Megan and you. Are you two having troubles, son?”

“Well… Let me put it this way… I should care about our marriage, I guess. But I don't care, cap. As sad as it may sound, I don't care at all.” The blond got to his feet and tossed the empty Styrofoam cup in the near wastebasket. It was time to change the subject; his marital woes were not public discussion.

“Now, I’m going back to sit with Starsk, Captain. By the way, did you talk to any doctors while I was with him?” Hutch asked before heading back to his friend’s room.

“Yes Hutch, I’ve talked to your wife. She told me that the doctor in charge of Starsky is Doctor Morrison. He will come over here in a while to fill us on his condition”

“Okay. I’ll be with Starsk.”

“Hutch, son.” Dobey said uneasily “The visiting hours…”

“Oh yeah, the visiting hours…know something, cap?” Hutch asked softly, all his sorrow and pent-up anger forming a tight knot in his heart. “To the hell with that crap. From now on and until Starsky improves enough to go back home, I’m not planning on leaving him, and that’s all about it. So everybody here can just get used to it”

~o0o~

About five minutes after Hutch went in to sit with Starsky Doctor Morrison entered the room and asked Hutch to go with him to his office, so he could fill him in on the patient’s condition.

The doctor turned out to be a warm and sensitive man his late forties. He willingly answered all of Hutch’s questions and addressed his doubts. He made it clear that that Starsky’s physical condition; his extreme weakness and overall poor condition were of primary concern for the medical staff. Starsky’s mental state was still unknown, but it was a major concern as well

Doctor Morrison led Hutch to his office “Listen detective Hutchinson,” He said once Hutch had sat down in a padded leather chair “What we got here is a patient who’s suffering a mild stage of gangrene infection, due to the untended compound fracture in his leg. We are doing as much as possible to treat it and we’re giving him massive doses of antibiotics. However, if that doesn’t work, we won’t have any choice but to amputate his leg at just above the knee in order to prevent the gangrene from spreading any further in his system. That could be fatal. His leg is, no doubt, our main concern, but Detective Starsky also suffers from considerable dehydration and anemia, those does nothing but depress his immune system. Because of all of those complications, his body doesn’t have the strength to properly fight off the infection.”

The doctor continued, “Of course we are already taking care of those problems, but at this point, our prognosis is guarded and we aren’t too optimistic about the outcome. Tomorrow, we’ll repeat the surgical operation that we did yesterday to remove more dead tissue from his leg. This procedure is what you may know as surgical debridement. Depending on the result of this second operation, we’ll be able to decide what to do next” The doctor paused a few seconds, waiting for any question that Hutch might possibly want to ask.

“Is he in pain doctor?” The blond one asked fearfully.

“Well, perhaps just a little, but since usually gangrenous injuries are extremely painful, he’s being treated with fairly high doses of analgesics to ease that pain as much as possible.”

“Yeah… I understand” Hutch sighed tiredly.

“There’s another issue that we’ll have to deal with” Morrison continued, “I’m talking about the patient’s emotional condition. That matter is less urgent right now, but is no less serious. We can’t estimate yet how much damage the kidnapping and forced imprisonment has done to his mind. Being held against oneself volition is always a traumatic experience, but in this case it is particularly so, given that we are talking about a very long period of captivity here. According to the condition that Detective Starsky was in when he was brought to this hospital; both the physical and psychological abuse that was done to him are clear enough. When the time is right and as soon as he is able to cooperate with us, we’ll run some tests on him. Then our psychiatric team will find out the extent of his trauma and they’ll start the proper therapy for him. But, as I told you, at present we are just focused on treating the gangrene and saving his leg, if possible.”

All the information that Doctor Morrison had just provided Hutch with sank slowly into the detective’s mind and overwhelmed him, Starsky condition was critical. He could lose his leg, or worse, he could die. Hutch already guessed that the doctors were certain that Starsky’s mind didn’t have much of a chance of being undamaged after two years of captivity.

After having heard the doctor words and despite his joy of having Starsky back, the blond detective couldn’t help himself, he was terrified. There was still so much that could go wrong in the upcoming days, that it scared the hell out of him.

What helped Hutch the most, in the middle of all his concerns, was the sympathy that Doctor Morrison showed towards Starsky’s feelings and needs. Somehow, the doctor clearly understood how helpful it would be for his patient’s recovery to have his best friend close to him. It was a blessing for both of them to have Hutch near as much as he wanted, after what he might have suffered through at the hands of his mentally unbalanced kidnapper. So that the visiting hours wouldn’t be a problem for Hutch, Doctor Morrison signed down a special authorization that allowed him to stay with Starsky as much as he wanted, regardless of what the standard ICU rules said.

Pleased with that and knowing that the only thing he could do for Starsky at that point was to be with him, Hutch went back into his partner’s room. He was adamant about not leaving him. He would stay there as long as Starsky would be in the hospital.

Chapter 4

For the next few hours Hutch sat silently and nearly motionless by Starsky’s bedside. He was content in just watching his friend sleep while he let his thoughts race in turmoil. There were a few things that needed to be take care of, but at that moment, he didn’t feel strong enough to do any of them.

The only thing he had agreed to was to go to the ER and have his hand checked out. Dobey had made him promise. Luckily, after a visit to radiology, doctors saw that it wasn’t broken, just badly bruised, so with it carefully bandaged and a bottle of pain pills in his pocket, Hutch returned to Starsky’s side. It would be the place where he’d stay most of his time in the weeks to come.

The next thought that popped into his mind was that somebody should call Nick, the only one of Starsky’s closest relatives alive since his mother had passed away just six months after the disappearance of her eldest son. She had died of a heart attack after having fallen into a deep depression that was brought on by the kidnapping of her son. Hutch knew that sooner or later he should tell Starsky about it. But, as he reminded to himself, that wasn’t the right moment for it, but just to call Nick.

Thankfully Dobey knew that Hutch wanted nothing else but to be with his friend and partner in those early days of Starsky’s sudden return. He, being also aware of Hutch’s dislike of the younger Starsky, had assured to his detective that he’d make that call as well as another to Huggy Bear, who no doubt had the right to know the good news as well.

With those things handled, the only issue left for Hutch was to have a talk with his wife. He had to let her know that she should not expect him to come home much in the next days. So, reluctantly he went to look for Megan, finding her in her office.

~o0o~

Hutch, wanting to avoid a verbal battle with the woman, got directly to the point, as soon as he entered her office.

“Alright, let me see if I got this straight.” The woman began, once he had finished speaking “So, dear husband, what you are telling me is that you are staying here at the hospital and you are going to leave me, your seven-months pregnant wife, alone until further notice. You are going to do that so that you can stay here, at the hospital with your friend. Is that which you’re saying to me, Ken?” Megan’s voice was cold and low. She spoke once more in that distinctive tone of hers that always preceded the beginning of one new argument.

“Oh, come on! You know damn well what I mean.” Hutch exclaimed while trying hard to keep his temper in check “Right now Starsky needs me, as much as I need to be with him, for God sake Meg! Is it so hard to understand?”

“Okay, okay, Kenneth, I got it, dear, I really did. The fact is that despite having everything he needs here and despite the fact that he is asleep most of time; this is not even considering that maybe his mind is too messed up to even notice if you are with him or not, you think that Mr. Starsky needs you full time and for some strange reason, you think that I should understand and accept that. Moreover, you seem to think that I, your seven-month’s pregnant wife don’t need you. Guess what? I really think that the whole thing is pretty absurd, especially given that, if my memory serves, he has a brother. Why can’t he take care of Mr. Starsky? And how about his other relatives, huh? Don’t you think that they should be the ones in charge to take care of him, not you?” The woman said in that sarcastic tone that always got on Hutch’s nerves.

“Fuck, Megan! Cut me some slack, will ya?” He raised his voice, slamming his palm angrily on her desk, hard enough to make her to flinch. “Your pregnancy’s going fine as far as I know. Besides you are WORKING in a hospital! You spend most of your time in this damn hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses!”

Hutch paused, carefully trying to pick the right words before speaking again “Listen Megan and try to understand me, if only for once. Starsky is my best friend, closer to me than a brother and he has been missing for two years. I have been living with the false idea that he was dead and I wouldn’t see him again. Now, thank God he’s been found, and I just need to be with him, to spend as much time as possible with him, especially given his current circumstances. Please Meg… please, give me just a little of understanding of my needs. That’s all I ask.”

“You’re asking me for understanding of your needs, Kenneth? I can’t believe it! Really I can’t!” Megan snapped back “What about my needs, huh? You are my husband, what do you know about my needs?” She snapped angrily as her eyes began to fill with tears.

“Megan…” Hutch was desperate to get through with the pointless argument as soon as possible.

“Alright Ken, it looks like our understanding of the meaning of the word ‘marriage’ are entirely different…I can see that nothing I can say is going to change your mind on this subject and I’m not in the mood to keep talking about this actually, so, I suggest you to go back with your friend and leave me alone, so at least one of us will be able to do something useful today.”

There was nothing left to say, so Hutch, after casting a withering look at the woman turned on his heels and headed for the office door.

“By the way, Kenneth.” Megan said as he opened the door “Since you’re going to stay here around the clock for a while, I’m going to spend the next few nights at my parent’s house. I’ll feel better being close to people who really cares about me. After all, one never knows what can happen during a pregnancy… better safe than sorry, don’t you think so?”

“Okay Megan; that’s good idea. Go to your parents…See you later” Hutch closed the door carefully before heading back to the ICU area, his heart drowning in a mixture of anger and regret.

If his wife’s purpose was to make him feel guilty, then, she had hit her mark, as she did most of times. Megan was his wife, she was expecting his baby and at that moment, Hutch did feel that he was the lousiest husband in the world. But the worst part was that not only was he a poor husband, he felt he was an even worse friend...

He had one life. Sure, his marriage wasn’t working and it had been just a sorry mistake, but at least he had gotten the chance to make mistakes. His wife was about to have a child and he had still a career in the force, a place to live and a healthy body. In the past two years, his life had gone on, unhappily and in the wrong way, but even so, it had gone on after all …

But what did Starsky have? A recent past made up of a nightmarish torture, both physical and mental. A present tarnished by fear, pain and sickness and a future clouded by the possibility of having to live with a serious physical disability that would mean, among other things, the end of his career in the force; thus ending his partnership with Hutch. In short, the closure for all those things that always had meant so much to Starsky. All of that because of in the right moment Hutch, the man Starsky had trusted with his own life since the very first day they met, had failed to see the guilt and the madness in Diana Harmon’s eyes.

There was no way Hutch could forgive himself for that.

~o0o~

For better or for worse though, many things happened during the next few days, so Hutch didn’t have much of a chance to wallow in guilt or self-pity.

That same day, an unusually quiet Huggy came to the hospital.

“Hutch, bro...” The lanky man said softly, while approaching Hutch.

“We got Starsky back, Hug…Starsk is alive!” The blond detective exclaimed, the shock of the brunet’s sudden return still coloring his voice.

“Oh man! When Dobey called me, I couldn’t believe it! That’s so great!”

“But he… Starsky could still lose his leg Huggy, his doc told me so.”

Hutch sounded so worn out and defeated that Huggy was unable to absorb what he was trying to say. “His leg? What’s wrong with Curly’s leg, Hutch? ” The bartender asked scratching his head.

“Starsky broke his leg while being still held by that nutcase. He’s got a pretty bad open fracture and the wound has become gangrenous… doctors are trying to save it but they… they don’t know yet if…” Hutch trailed off.

“It’s okay, Blondie. It’s okay.” Huggy said in reassuring tone “Our Curly’s a really strong guy, you know that. He’ll pull trough all this crap, you’ll see.”

“I’d like to believe it Hug. Sure I’d like to”

“Then just believe it, Hutch. Stick with that thought with all your might and give Starsky’s strength of will some credit here.”

“Okay Huggy. You’re right. I’ll try.” The blond detective agreed, though still unconvinced.

“That’s better. And now tell me, bro. What’s this about the nutcase you mentioned earlier? Does that mean that you know who did it? Did Starsky say something about him?”

“Diana Harmon… She did it.” Hutch answered curtly.

“You… you mean that chick? The nurse from hell?” Huggy asked in utter disbelief. “But how? I mean, how could she…?”

“Yeah, how could a little bundle of scum like her grab a strong man like Starsky, all by herself? That’s the same question I asked him, Hug. The answer is that she most likely hired a couple of goons to do the dirty work. But, near as I can tell from what Starsky told me, it looks like she was the brains of the team…”

Hutch filled Huggy on the few details he knew from what Starsky had told him. He made the black man promise to hand over any information on the identity of Diana’s accomplices if possible.

Huggy did as well his best to encourage Hutch, even though he didn’t feel too confident in a happy ending for Starsky’s ordeal. A short while after that, with the promise that he would return with food and a change of clothing for Hutch, he left the hospital.

The next person to arrive for a visit was Edith Dobey. Neither she nor Huggy were allowed to go into Starsky’s room yet. But they knew that they were more needed by Hutch, to give him their support. Just to let him to know that he and Starsky weren’t alone in their ordeal.

Hutch’s heart was warmed by the outpouring of affection and genuine support. Still, he was far too worried by his partner’s condition to feel much of anything beyond distress and fear.

One who had not yet shown up was Nick. In the brief phone conversation that Dobey had had with him, he excused himself, saying that he didn’t think that his visit to his brother would be of any use to Starsky. Nick claimed that so many overwhelming emotions in such a little time might actually set him back in his healing. Nick added that as soon as Starsky was stronger, he’d travel to Bay City in a heartbeat.

Yeah, sure, you’ll come here in a heartbeat…my ass…Hutch thought ironically… Don’t worry little bastard, I guess that after all, your brother has gotten pretty used to get along without you.

~o0o~

Next morning, as doctors had scheduled, Starsky was again taken to surgery. Hutch and Dobey began their wait. Waiting was especially difficult for the blond one. It seemed endless, as endless as his pacing along the waiting room, while in the wall the clock kept it’s quiet tick-tock…

“Here Hutch, drink this” Dobey said after his second trip to the hot drinks machine, holding a steaming cup out for Hutch.

“No thanks cap.” Hutch answered after taking a look at the contents of the cup “You know; I’m not too fond of chocolate. I rather could use some coffee.”

“Oh, come on, Hutch! More coffee is the last thing that you need right know. Besides son, when was the last time you’d eat something?”

Hutch just shrugged his shoulders. He hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning, neither had he any dinner last nigh. The last food he had eaten had been half of a sandwich more than twelve hours earlier, but even so, he wasn’t hungry at all.

“Okay, so at least now you’re going to drink that chocolate, Hutch.” Dobey said “It’ll make you feel better and it’ll don’t help to make a hole in your empty stomach as coffee would do.”

Not caring at the least on the matter, Hutch drank the warm, sweet liquid as he and Dobey kept waiting, most of time in silence, while around them, the hospital routine kept going on at its usual pace.

Finally, a couple of hours later, a content-looking surgeon who would introduce himself as Doctor Douglas, exited the surgery area, heading towards Hutch and Dobey while, in seeing him, they got quickly to their feet

“Okay, gentlemen. I don’t want to give you false hopes, we must be cautious for a while, but the fact is that the injury in Detective Starsky’s leg is healing better than we were expecting.” Douglas said as Hutch and Dobey released sighs of relief.

“The strong antibiotic therapy that we have been giving him, plus the first operation we did to improve the blood supply to the damaged area has been a quite successful treatment. The result is that the amount of dead muscle tissue in his leg hasn’t increased. Of course, we will have to keep a close eye on the evolution of the injury. There are still things that can go wrong, but if his recovery keeps going on without setbacks, I really think that the surgical amputation don’t will be needed. Besides, we think that, with the proper physical therapy Mr. Starsky’s leg should get back its strength and full range of movements in matter of a few months.” The surgeon offered a few more explanations to both men and then he went back to his work.

Chapter 5

A while later, once Starsky was wheeled back into his room, Hutch returned to his friend’s side to keep his vigil on him while Dobey left to go to the precinct.

During that time, Hutch’s mind revisited the memories surrounding and leading up to the events that had ended with Starsky in the ICU room and facing the aftermath of two years of nightmarish captivity. It had begun one Sunday morning, when Hutch couldn’t guess yet the massive changes that were about to occur for Starsky and himself.

That morning, Hutch was at his apartment, waiting for Starsky. The brunet had to pick him and they were going to spend the day fishing. But Hutch ended up waiting much longer than he had expected. At first he wasn’t worried, just a little annoyed. Punctuality never had been one of the main qualities of Starsky. However, as more minutes went by, annoyance was replaced by true and demanding worry. Eventually, when one hour had passed and Starsky hadn’t showed up, or had answered Hutch’s phone calls, the blond one knew that something was wrong…Very wrong.

Not willing to wait and needing to know what was happening, Hutch drove to Starsky’s apartment, just hoping, fervently wishing to find him there, still asleep. Or perhaps dealing with a hangover or even sick; somehow though, he knew that it wasn’t going to happen that way. He needed just a glance at the front door of Starsky’s apartment that had been left carelessly ajar, to know that his worse fears had become true. His partner was missing. Aside from a knocked over coffee table and the pieces of a shattered lamp littering the floor, there weren’t any other clues as to what had happened.

The crime laboratory team soon confirmed that the only fingerprints found in the apartment belonged to Starsky and Hutch. Over the next few days there weren’t any phone calls asking for a ransom, or giving any reason for the kidnapping to the police. Nor was there a note left. There were no clues, no suspects or leads to follow anywhere. From that day, there would be nothing for Hutch, but worry, fear and anguish for weeks to come. Later, the chances of finding Starsky alive dwindled until finally vanishing; leaving nothing for the one left behind, but grief and despair.

… But all that misery of yours didn’t keep you from dating a beautiful, classy lady or from taking her to your bed, while Starsky was kidnapped, suffering who knows what kind of mistreatments and tortures in the hands of that nutcase. A nagging inner voice reminded Hutch. And despite all your so-called sadness, you got married and now you’re expecting your first kid. Odd way to feel unhappy, Hutchinson, truly odd! Hutch kept pitilessly reproaching himself. What his inner voice didn’t bother to point out; because maybe it was a too disturbing thought to allow it to reach his conscious mind was that, aside from her physical beauty, he never liked Megan. That as a matter of fact, he disliked her since the very first day they had met each other, because he had seen clearly in her cold as ice blue eyes, what a selfish and heartless woman she was. He only wanted; rather needed her in his life as his well-deserved punishment for what he thought was his fault, and that was the kidnapping, and as everybody had thought until the day before, the murder of David Michael Starsky.

At that moment, Starsky wasn’t kidnapped any longer and most miraculously, he was alive. But the sense of guilty wasn’t leaving Hutch and the fact that Diana Harmon had been the guilty party was simply the last straw for him.

~o0o~

The soft groan from Starsky as he began to wake up from the anesthesia pulled, Hutch away from his gloomy thoughts.

“Hey buddy. How’re ya feeling?” He asked leaning in closer to Starsky.

“Hu-Hurts… My leg hurts.” Starsky said wincing.

“I’ll call for a nurse partner. She’ll give you something for the pain.” Hutch said already reaching to press the buzzer and asking for a painkiller when the nurse answered his call.

“D-Diana…?” Starsky asked with slurred voice, in hearing the soft female voice sounding through the intercom. “Is she… Diana...? Did she come back?”

“Take it easy Starsk, she’s just a nurse. Diana’s not going to come back. She’s dead.” Hutch reassured Starsky.

“Dead...? Is D-Diana dead?” Starsky asked it in such a way that Hutch acknowledged the plain terror showing in his friend’s eyes.

“Yeah partner. She died in a car crash. You’re safe now.” The next words of Starsky though, froze the blood in Hutch’s veins.

“N-No I’m not s-safe… She… she has to come back... She has to take care of m-me… She’s a nurse and I’m h-hurt… I n-need her!” Starsky said while struggling weakly to sit up in bed.

“Starsk...partner, calm down.” Hutch said as he gently pulled Starsky to lie back in the bed, while a cold fear gripped his heart.

God, Starsky…What did that nutcase do to your mind? Hutch thought, biting his lower lip. That damn woman had kidnapped you, for Christ sake! She wasn´t taking care of you, but torturing you...!

The blond one was really shocked, while concepts like the so-called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ empty until then of real meaning for him and the memory of other victims, of other kidnappings reached his mind; victims who had become too dependant and emotionally involved with their captors, some to such a degree as to fall in love with them. It was clear that things were totally mixed up in Starsky’s mind, but this wasn’t the right moment to set them straight. He needed to help his friend calm down.

“Thirsty… I’m thirsty.” Starsky mumbled licking his parched lips and looking at the pitcher of water resting on the nightstand.

Hutch reached out for it, pouring some of the liquid in a plastic cup, he then slid an arm behind Starsky’s shoulders to lift him a little, bringing the cup to his lips.

“Easy, Starsk, easy…just a few sips…too much water after the anesthesia can make you sick to your stomach”

Once Starsky had drunk some and after weakly clearing his throat, he spoke again. “I’d m-made Diana mad at me… I don’t remember how, but I’d made her very angry at me… then she left… and she didn’t c-come back…”

Momentarily out of words, Hutch just stared into Starsky’s fear-filled eyes, while listening in utter dismay to what he was saying.

“I don’t know w-what I did, Hutch… I d-didn’t want to upset her, ´cause, m-more than once she t-told me that if I gave her too m-much trouble, she’d leave me there… to die a-alone…”

“Starsky… now listen to me, and trust me, okay?” Hutch said as he sat carefully on the edge of Starsky’s bed “I’m your best friend, Starsk. You mean a lot me, you can be sure of that…And I’m here with you. I’m not going anywhere… I’ll take good care of you, as long as it’ll be needed. And you’ll be just fine, Starsky.”

“But… she…” Starsky tried to remonstrate.

“No Starsky. Just trust me” Hutch cut him off gently. “You don’t need her to be okay. Now you feel pretty confused, but trust me. You’ll be okay.” While talking, Hutch kept softly fingering Starsky’s short curls. Soon, under the soothing touch, the brunet’s frown smoothed out and his eyes began to slide closed.

“And now, how about getting some more sleep, huh?” Hutch asked while getting to his feet as he set about wrapping Starsky with the covers. Meanwhile a young nurse was already stepping silently into the room to inject a new dose of painkiller in his IV.

With the effort that talking had cost him aided by the strong pain medication now running quickly through his system, exhaustion demanded its toll and Starsky began to fall asleep again.

Starsky had been talking about a small part of his ordeal, but for Hutch it was enough to send shivers up his spine. From what he had heard, he guessed that shut up and defenseless in that basement, Starsky had been living for months under the constant threat of being left there to die alone. No doubt, Diana had done a great work in controlling his body and mind; turning a proud and brave man into a terrified and vulnerable child.

With the answers on how she did what she had done to him still locked away in Starsky’s mind, Hutch just grew more desperate to learn what they were as soon as possible, positive that it was the only way that he could help Starsky to heal.

Once he was sure that his partner was soundly sleeping, Hutch slid silently out of the room. He needed to have a talk with Doctor Morrison, so without a second thought he went to look for him

 ~o0o~

“Doctor Morrison? Can we talk? It’s very important.” Hutch asked the doctor, having found him in the corridor as the doctor was stepping out of a patient’s room.

“Detective Hutchinson? Is there something’s wrong with David?” The doctor could clearly read the distress in Hutch’s eyes.

“Could Starsky be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, Doctor?” Hutch asked.

“Stockholm Syndrome?” Morris was surprised by the unexpected question.

“You know what that is, don’t you?” Hutch inquired.

“Of course I know what that is, detective. It describes the behavior of kidnap victims who over time have become sympathetic to their captors. However, I´m not psychiatrist, hence, I’m not the right person to answer that question. If you want, I’ll introduce you to Doctor Preston, the hospital psychiatrist. But do you mind telling me why are you asking about such a thing, detective? Did David say something that-”

“He asked for Diana…” Hutch cut him off “The woman who had him held captive all this time.”

“He just asked for her?” Morris’s expression was thoughtful.

“He also got real upset when I told him that she was dead. He said that he needed her…And he seemed to be truly anxious about it.” Hutch explained wondering if he had done the right thing by telling Starsky about Diana’s death already.

“I see.” Morris said “Okay Detective Hutchinson. Come with me, I’ll introduce you Doctor Preston.”

Morris headed to the elevator with Hutch in tow and they went up to the tenth floor were the psychiatry department was located.

Hutch took one look at Doctor Preston and he needed just an instant to dislike him. The doctor seemed to be too young, too inexperienced, as well as too cold and he had a ´By the book´ attitude, which annoyed Hutch as well.

However, since Preston was the only one available at the moment, Hutch asked his questions and expressed his doubts to the psychiatrist. Preston only gave him a few vague answers that did nothing to ease his worry.

“It's too earlier to start running tests on Mr. Starsky, detective.” Preston assured Hutch matter of factly. “Certainly, as you say, he could be suffering from Stockholm syndrome; also, most likely he is in an acute state of posttraumatic shock. But until the tests can be done, we can’t make a diagnosis. Still, here is something that I’m able to assure you about the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. It’s often overused, mostly because of the mass Medias’ impact on people, when they hear about the few real cases of this syndrome.”

“You mean that-”Hutch started to ask before Preston cut him off.

“What I mean is that it is too early to come to any conclusions, detective. No more and no less” Preston spoke coldly. “According my notes, Mr. Starsky has gone through a true ordeal. But the fact is; we don't know the details of what actually happened to him during it. Nor do we know how he managed to cope with his captivity and as such, we cannot say with any certainty anything about his mental state. Moreover, we do know that no one can go through kidnapping and captivity without being touched by the ordeal on a psychological level. Such an experience as the one he has lived through has to leave, more or less, some serious after-effects in his psyche. Again, we must wait for the right moment before making an accurate diagnosis of all of them. Besides, we must be very careful with that diagnosis. Meanwhile, you must stay calm, detective. Don’t start guessing what sort of problems Mr. Starsky has, could have, or does not have. Stay calm for both of your sakes.” The doctor leaned back in his chair and looked at the blond detective in a dismissive fashion.

“What you’re saying to me is that I should stop worrying about the odds of Starsky having lost his mind after being held captive by a mad woman for two years? Is that what you are trying to tell me, right?” Fear and exhaustion colored Hutch’s voice and it did nothing to take the sting out of his words.

“Well…Let’s say that I wouldn’t describe the situation in such a crude way” Preston was visibly annoyed.

“Maybe ´cause it wasn’t your best friend who had to live though that situation, I guess” Hutch snapped back defiantly. “Okay, doc; since it looks like it’s too early to come to any conclusions and you seem to be very busy, I’ll just go back to my friend. Thanks for your information”

Hutch left Doctor Preston’s office with mixed feelings of frustration and relief. Maybe Preston was right after all, and he was worrying too much. But perhaps Preston and the other doctors couldn’t see what was so obvious to Hutch. Perhaps only Hutch, looking at his friend with love and concern, could notice the startling and disturbing change in Starsky’s eyes.

That Starsky’s feelings, thoughts and probably his memories about his kidnapping were distorted and messed up, is what frightened Hutch the most. Nonetheless, he needed desperately to believe that things could work out in the end so he would do as much as he could possibly do to follow Doctor Preston’s advice about not worrying so much. At that moment he focused all his attention on just being there for Starsky and he would continue to be there for him as much, and for as long as his partner needed him to be. And he would enjoy every minute of the gift that it was to have Starsky back in his life.

The fact was that the blond detective did feel thrilled that he had been graced with this little miracle. More than once he found himself staring at the form of his sleeping friend, absorbing in the calming image with all his being, all the while fearing that it could be just an illusion. A trick of his mind that could, at any moment, fade away before his very eyes. By all accounts, Starsky should be dead. But instead, there he was, alive and hopefully, on the road to recovery and for that sole fact, Hutch had more than he could have ever asked for.

~o0o~

Next morning, Dobey, who was being a priceless support for the worried detective, dropped by the hospital to check on Starsky and to give Hutch the leave of absence documents he had to sign. The understanding man knew for sure that there was no way Hutch was going to work while Starsky was in the hospital in critical condition. Besides, he didn’t want his two best detectives and dear friends, to be apart from each other, not even for a single day. After the trauma of being ripped apart after the kidnapping of Starsky, now they could be together again and he just wanted that for them.

“Hi Hutch, how’s Dave doing?” Dobey asked upon seeing Hutch, who had just left Starsky’s room.

“He’s holding on, Cap. At least things aren’t getting worse” Hutch answered as he stretched his back, painfully stiffed after his night of sleep in an uncomfortable plastic chair.

“Good, listen Hutch, mind if we go into that examination room?” Dobey asked somberly, pointing with his head to a near door “The chief nurse told me that we can use it for a few minutes.”

“Sure Cap. What’s the matter?” Hutch asked already following Dobey into the small room.

“The lab guys found this in Mrs. Rockford property.” Dobey exhaled a long breath “I’m sorry Hutch, but…well; you have the right to read it, I guess.” He handed Hutch a plastic evidence bag that contained a piece of paper that appeared to be a letter.

The blond detective took the item from Dobey’s hand and began reading it. A moment later, his face had paled visibly and he had to sink into the nearest chair.

It was a letter. A long letter from Diana Harmon to him, handwritten in an almost illegible calligraphy and plenty of the sickening ravings of an ill mind…

My Dear Ken:

If you’re reading this letter, that means just one thing. That it’s over. Everything is over.

Right now you’re reading the words that I wrote a few weeks ago in a letter to you. And that means I’m already dead. Well, correction, I must say WE are dead, me and your best friend, David Starsky. So my mission here, on this world, is done. Since I can't have your love, then I’ll at least have your eternal hatred. And that’s much better for me than having only your scorn and indifference.

Yes Ken. I did it. I kidnapped David. I hired two guys to grab him at his apartment. They took him here, to me, to live with me. And let me say this, it wasn’t easy… at first, but eventually, I managed to have him where I wanted him, at my mercy. Days of hunger and isolation - wisely mixed with other days of proper care and good food- plus fairly large doses of tranquilizers can do anything, even to the strongest mind, and yes, though being as worthless and despicable as you are, David had a really strong mind. But I did it. I managed to tame it. With a great deal of effort and plenty of time, I got to it and broke it. And I really feel quite proud of myself for it.

However, it really doesn’t matter any more, because now is time to put an end to the game. I’m tired of it and your life must already be screwed up enough, I truly hope it is. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m sure that any possibility of any remaining bits of happiness that you could still be having, will fade away to nothing as you read this letter… I guess that being the responsible of two deaths can be a too heavy guilt to bear, even for a guy as heartless as you. I can only hope that this is true. I pray that this will eat at you for the rest of your life.

Now, let me make things clear. I loved you, sure I did. I loved you so deeply that I hurt. And what I’d earn as an exchange for my pure, wholehearted love? Nothing! No…worse than nothing. I’ve earned your disdain, your disrespect and long months of confinement in a mental hospital. Can you picture how that is? No! I’m sure you can't. A hellhole like that, isn’t meant for sane people like you, just for nutcases like me, right...?

Just let me say that, in that place, that hellhole you threw me in, I got something good out of it. There, I was able to, finally, see things clearly. There, I managed to understand you once and for all. And I understood to that I wasn´t your fiancée, as I liked to believe. For you, I was only good enough as a one-night-stand, for a night of sex. But I was not worthy of your love. Now I see it. For you, I was just a hooker…a worthless hooker that you took to your bed… for free. But you are paying the price now, aren’t you?

Let me say something else to you. That night… I didn’t just give you my body, but my heart, my soul, my whole being! And what did you do with those priceless gifts...? You didn’t even notice them! You tried just to get rid of me, to be free… free to keep on the look out for the next stupid girl to charm into your bed. But see? Some women aren’t like that…never in my life I had feel so used and so dirty… as when you rejected me. You had hurt me more that I had thought could ever be possible. Then came the day, the day that finally I knew it; knew that you had to pay for what you had done to me. And not with your life as I’d try to make you pay once, but in one much harder way. But how...? Then it came to me. It was so easy. By taking away from you and destroying the only thing, the only PERSON, which, for whatever reason, and it is beyond me, the one person that seems to mean so much to you. That dumb, stubborn, rude man… that God only knows why, you call your best friend –Starsky-.

Okay, now, given that you aren’t as smart as people likes to think you are. Actually - You showed me your stupidity clearly on the day you came to ask me if I knew anything about David’s whereabouts- I’ll tell you what’s going to happen since the moment in which I’m writing this letter and the moment in which you’ll read it. This way you’ll be able to tie up the loose ends of this case without much effort, since we already know that you’re not bright enough to do it by yourself…

In a little while, I’ll drive to the liquor store to get a bottle of tequila… (Did I ever tell you how much I like tequila?...No. I guess that we hadn’t much time for small talk) Then I’ll come back home, and I’ll have my last drinks… shots, to your health, of course. It's just that instead of lemon and salt to take along the tequila, I’ll take some Valium pills with it. Hope you don't mind the little transgression on the usual way to drink tequila… Then, I’ll fall asleep and I’ll never wake up again. Believe me, I know how many pills I must take to accomplish it…I used to be a nurse, remember?

Then, someday, someone will find David and I, in my house. It has to happen sooner of later, I guess. But it’ll be too late… Far too late for me, but especially, far too late for your friend. I’m positive about this because I have just started my month of vacation and I told everybody, even to my parents, that I’m going to spend the whole month out of the city. I told everyone that I was going to Florida. Besides, I’ve already paid my rent for this month, so nobody is going to look for me for at least four or five weeks. Time enough for your dear friend David to die slowly, agonizingly slowly from starvation, dehydration, or infection while he’s locked in the basement… I think it will be dehydration… only the coroner will know for sure… that simple thought makes me smile.

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you something else that maybe you’d like to know. Some days ago, he tried to follow me upstairs, but alas,  poor David fell down. He has broken his leg and the truth is that the fracture looks pretty painful…however by the time that you read this letter, it won’t matter any more, so try not to worry about that.

Okay Ken, now it’s time for me to say good-bye. I´m not scared any more, I´m just tired and looking forward to going to Hell, if, as you must be thinking, that’s what’s waiting for me. But considering what you put me through, Hell will be Heaven to me.

Once I loved you with all my soul, but now I’ll leave this world hating you with the same intensity that I once loved you with, and still I wonder if any of my feelings means anything for you.

Always yours

Diana.

Hutch finished reading and raised his eyes, staring in defeat into Dobey’s eyes. Silent tears cascaded freely down his cheeks and he didn’t try to stop them.

“I’m sorry Hutch…I’m very sorry.” Dobey said squeezing Hutch’s shoulder, going fully into father mode.

“How…?” Hutch cleared his throat “How could she hate me so much, Cap? So much that she even felt the need to hurt Starsky the way she did? Even to let him to die?... I don’t get it.” Hutch’s voice was just a hoarse whisper; he was clearly near his breaking point.

“Don’t look for a rational explanation where no one can be found, Hutch.” Dobey said. “That woman was totally out of her mind.”

“But…What if…if she hadn’t had that car accident?…she was probably driving to the liquor store…then...” Hutch stuttered, frightened by the scenario playing in his mind.

“Forget all those ‘what ifs’, son, they aren’t going to do you or Starsky any good.” Dobey was trying hard to fight back his own emotions “Your partner’s alive, you’re with him, and he’s going to be okay. Nothing else matters right now. Do you hear me, Hutch? Nothing else matters, just Starsky and his recovery.”

“Yeah, cap…you’re right, I guess.” Hutch agreed meekly.

“Alright Hutchinson” Dobey said trying to pull himself together. “Now I must get back to the precinct, but before I go, I need you to sign your leave of absence. Six weeks for starters. Then we’ll see how things are going, okay?”

“Okay Cap.” Hutch said digging in his jacket pocket for a pen as Dobey held the documents out for him to sign.

“By the way, Hutch” Dobey became quite uneasily once Hutch had handed him back the signed documents “We’ll need…Well, you know, an official statement from Starsky. He’s a kidnapping victim and we need…” Dobey couldn’t continue.

“Oh, yeah sure, I know the drill Cap” Hutch answered, feeling pretty uncomfortable with the idea of his partner being the victim of a crime “That can wait for a few days, I guess?”

“Sure Hutch, no problem. However, once Starsky is feeling a little stronger, you must tell him that somebody from the department is going to come here to ask him some questions and-”

“No Cap.” Hutch cut off. "Nobody from the department, just me. I’ll be the one in charge of that. I’ll ask all the questions to Starsk. And I’ll fill out that statement.”

“You sure you wanna do it, Hutch?” Dobey asked with a frown.

“Sure Cap. I’ll do it, just give me a few days.”

“Okay son. I’ll let this issue in you hands. Later I’ll come around here again. You go back with Dave.” The large man was already heading out of the office, walking away with his long, firm strides.

Chapter 6

Once Dobey had left, the first thing Hutch did was to go in search for Doctor Morrison. At that moment Hutch needed to get few answers from him, without delay. Hutch found the doctor in his office. The blond one then knocked at the half-opened door.

“I’m sorry for interrupting you, Doctor Morrison.” Hutch apologized for the intrusion.

“No problem Detective, it’s okay. Come in on. May I do something for you?” Morrison asked gently. If he was bothered by Hutch’s disrupting him at his work, he didn't show it.

“I think so. I really need to ask you a very important question, it really can’t wait.” Hutch explained while stepping closer to Morrison desk.

“Okay, sit down, please. What do you need to know?” The doctor asked as he got to his feet and stepped towards his coffeemaker, where he poured two cups and held one out for Hutch, who accepted it with a nod of thanks.

“Have you found traces of tranquilizers or any other kind of drugs in Starsky bloodstream doctor?” Hutch was direct.

“No, as a matter of fact, we didn’t.” Morrison answered with conviction. “If we had, we would’ve told you. Don't you think so?”

“Oh...Yeah, sure... Sure, Doctor. You got a point there.” Hutch agreed shyly, feeling like a fool.

“What’s the matter detective?” Morrison asked with sincere interest. “There’s something about Mr. Starsky’s condition that I should know?”

“Well…the fact is that the woman who had kidnapped my partner…well, she left…she left sort of a posthumous letter for me.” Hutch explained embarrassedly “The forensic team found it in her place. And in that letter, she said that she had been giving Starsky tranquilizers. Fairly large doses of them, to be precise.”

“I see. Look detective.” The doctor said while stirring his coffee with a small spoon. “There are a few assurances that I can make to you. In the results of the blood tests that we ran on Mr. Starsky when he was initially brought to the Emergency Room, we didn’t find any trace of any chemical substances. However, you might have guessed that if he spent a few days without being drugged and due to the fact that not all the substances are eliminated by the human body at same rate, perhaps his body had time enough to metabolize the drugs out of his system.”

“Besides” the doctor continued, “we don't know what kind of tranquilizers she had given him, nor do we know the dosage, or the last time she gave him any. Moreover, we don't know even if that’s true; I mean, was she really giving him those tranquilizers? On the other hand, given that Mr. Starsky is at present under painkillers and low doses of tranquilizers treatment, there’s no point in talking about withdrawal right now.”

“Withdrawal?” Hutch asked astonished. The idea of Starsky going through such awful experience such as the one he had suffered a few years earlier, terrified him. “Do you mean that the sudden suppression of tranquilizers can cause the symptoms of withdrawal, doctor?”

“Of course detective, and much more severe than most of people think; especially the so-called tranquilizers of the major group. They are neuroleptics, and most commonly prescribed as anti-psychotics. The fact is they can be quite addictive as well as dangerous. But even the tranquilizers of the minor group can cause addiction, even at prescribed dosages if the medication is administered for long periods of time. Those types of drugs can cause pretty serious health problems, both for taking them without medical control or from withdrawal, if somebody suddenly stops taking them.”

“What…What sort of problems?” Hutch asked feared of the answer.

“Well, physical withdrawal symptoms can include general pain, stomach cramps, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, and heart palpitations. There is also the possibility of seizures. In the worse cases, the withdrawal can also produce psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and depression. In fact, at times the withdrawal of tranquilizers can be pretty muck like the withdrawal of any hard drugs, such as cocaine or heroin.

“But…that…” Hutch just stuttered, while holding the cup with both hands to prevent them from shaking.

“Look detective. As I told you earlier, we didn’t find any traces of drugs in Mr. Starsky’s blood. That can mean just two things: that he wasn’t drugged or that if he was, it couldn’t have happened in the days prior to his rescue, it had to be much earlier.” Morrison assured confidently. “However, we’ll make sure we decrease the doses of the medication we are giving him as slowly as possible and we’ll see how his body reacts.”

“You mean that you can help him ease any possible symptoms of withdrawal, don’t you?” Hutch asked anxiously.”

“That’s right, detective, if not totally, then at least as much as possible. We’re talking about possible drugs detoxification treatment here and that kind of processes must be managed very carefully.”

“Yeah…I understand…Okay Doctor; thanks. Thank you very much for answering my questions. And sorry for bothering you” Hutch said getting to his feet, placing the cup of coffee onto the desk.”

“Don’t mention it detective.” With a friendly smile, Preston went back to his reports as Hutch went off the office.

A moment later, he was heading back to Starsky’s room, as an increasing headache began to throb in his temples.

There were too many things to worry about and at such moments, the blond one wasn’t sure about which of them scared him the most; Starsky’s injured leg, his mental condition, or the possibility of his partner being caught up in a drug addiction. All of that seemed just part of an endless, frightening, unreal nightmare.

This was the high price he now had to pay, as Diana wrote in her letter, the terrible price for a single night of sex.

~o0o~

In those days, Hutch kept helping Starsky as much and as often as he needed it; just watching his friend sleep or talking to him when the brunet felt like talking. In reality, Starsky wasn’t talking yet about what had happened to him while he was in Diana’s clutches. Most of the time, he just was silent, edgy and withdrawn.

The fact was, that apart from when he was recovering from the anesthesia, Starsky did not ask for Diana, as he had a few days earlier. He didn’t mention her, nor did he ask for her and he did not express any feeling towards her death. He showed nothing, not sadness nor happiness or relief; nothing. And Hutch knew perfectly well that this wasn’t a good sign.

~o0o~

On the other hand, Starsky’s nights were especially rough. His sleep was restless and more than once Hutch had to wake him up from his frequent, frightening nightmares

That night, as Hutch already had feared, past midnight, when the deepest silence reigned in the hospital, Starsky’s anguished yelling woke him from his light sleep with a start.

“No… No Mickey…! Noooo!”

With his heart pounding violently and already fully awake, the blond one leaped off the bed that with Doctor Morrison’s help, he had managed to have brought in to Starsky’s room and rushed to his partner’s side.

"Starsky…I'm here, partner. I'm right here, wake up, Starsk!” Hutch called while gently shaking Starsky, who kept tossing and turning in the bed, still caught in his nightmare.

“Wake up Starsky...! STARSKY!” Hutch shouted out as he shook Starsky’s shoulders a little harder. Finally, Starsky opened his eyes, looking terrified at Hutch.

“She killed him, Hutch!” the curly haired man said fretfully.

“What? What are you talking about, Starsky?” Hutch asked sitting down in Starsky’s bed.

“Diana killed Mickey! She did it one night, while I was asleep!” Starsky repeated increasingly upset.

“It’s okay Starsky, calm down” Hutch said gently, trying to soothe Starsky, though feeling pretty scared himself…Was Starsky talking about a murder? Had Diana killed somebody?

“Who was he Starsk...? Who was Mickey?” Hutch asked cupping Starsky’s chin with his hand, trying hard to make his confused friend to look at him but Starsky, unaware of Hutch’s questions stared into space with panic-filled eyes. He didn’t seem to notice Hutch’s efforts to wake him.

“She killed Mickey! And I couldn’t do anything to prevent it!” Starsky said in high-pitched voice. “I tried to warn him…I tried to keep him away from the trap…but one night, once I’d fell asleep he…he went there…and…”

“Who was Mickey, Starsk? Please, buddy, talk to me. This is very important.” Hutch urged Starsky “Was Mickey shut up with you in that basement?”

“N-no” Starsky shook slightly his head “No… He wasn’t shut…He lived here…and she killed him… he was my friend! The only friend I had in there!”

“It’s okay Starsky. Take it easy, partner” Hutch kept up with his attempts to calm Starsky down, pulling the brunet softly into his arms “Try to calm down a little, and tell me more about Mickey. Was him one of Diana’s accomplices?” The blond detective was quite sure that whoever that Mickey was, he had to be an accomplice of Diana. Most likely, one of the men who’d grab Starsky. However, the vigorous shake of Starsky’s head that was resting against Hutch’s chest, made him doubt his own hypothesis.

“She-she hated Mickey…Diana always had wanted to kill him since the first day she saw him. She was scared of him, said he was disgusting…But he wasn’t! Mickey was my friend!”

“You say he was your friend, Starsk…But tell me, how did you meet him?” Hutch inquired while running soothing circles with his hand over Starsky’s back.

“He already lived there… in the place where Diana took me… At first he was scared of me… But with time and a little of patience… I earned his trust.” Starsky leaned a bit more into Hutch’s chest.

At that point Hutch was completely lost. To be true, he was totally unable to figure out who that guy could be: Another prisoner of Diana’s? An accomplice...? Or even worse, was this Mickey somebody imaginary, a figment of Starsky’s mind?

“One day, she brought that thing to kill him…She knew that he was my friend! But she didn’t care about…She just put it on the floor, out of my reach, then she put a piece of cheese above and…”

Then, realization hit Hutch. “Wait…wait a moment Starsk” he asked, flabbergasted “Was Mickey a mouse? Are you talking about a mouse?”

“Y-yeah…but he was cute…and nice…he was my friend. Mickey learned that I didn’t wanted to hurt him…and when we were alone, he...he did come near me…he even would take food from my hand…”

“God Starsk! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Hutch tried to swallow the lump formed in his throat, while wrapping his arms tighter around Starsky.

Oh my...! He’s raving like a madman! No, God! No, please… Don't let Starsky lose his mind! He’s sorry for a mouse’s death! For a lousy mouse killed in a mousetrap!

Hutch, shocked beyond words, stayed there, holding Starsky in his arms and soothing him until his distressed friend fell asleep again. Then he lay Starsky down in bed, draping the sleeping form with the covers.

Hutch had the pressing need to give vent to his own sorrows and fears, so he left the room and headed to the hospital gardens, which at that late hour, were lonely and quiet.

He sat down on a wooden bench and with only a few ancient Oaks bore witnesses to his agony he burst into an uncontrollable weeping.

~o0o~

Days went by and Starsky’s body seemed to be healing nicely enough. A week after his arrival at the hospital, doctors had already moved him out of the ICU and into a regular room. They had also taken him off the IV, and on the other hand, and, for Hutch’s relief, despite the decreasing doses of painkillers and tranquilizers that doctors were administering to Starsky, he wasn’t showing symptoms of withdrawal. He had also put on a little weight and the medical team was pretty optimistic about the improvement of his injured leg.

What was going on into his mind though, was a very different matter...

The next morning after the night that he had talked to Hutch about the mouse, Starsky had returned to his usual demeanor. It was as if the events of the last night had never happened. Despite all of Hutch’s attempts to get him to talk about it over the next few days, Starsky was obstinate and silent about everything regarding his kidnapping and Diana.

His moods along those days swung from a silent, heart-wrenching melancholy to the fiercest bad temper outbursts, snapping and yelling at nurses and doctors without the least consideration, even reaching the point of throwing them off the room more than once.

In the roughest days, the only one who stood by his side was Hutch, who, feeling worried for his friend as never before, couldn’t help but to wonder, in spite of all his attempts of being optimistic, if the damage done by Diana to Starsky’s mind and soul could possibly be beyond mend.

One of the “victims” of Starsky’s bad temper on those days was the psychiatrist of the hospital. The brunet made no bones about the fact that he didn’t like the young doctor; then again, he wasn’t in the mood to like anybody.

That morning after breakfast; one meal that Starsky would often leave nearly untouched on its tray, Doctor Preston walked into Starsky’s room after knocking softly at the half-opened door.

“Good morning Mr. Starsky I’m doctor Preston. How we are feeling this morning?” Preston asked cheerfully with a feigned smile plastered in his face, while approaching Starsky’s bed.

“I don’t have the slightest idea about how you feel, but I feel like crap, Doc, thanks for asking anyway.” Starsky snapped.

Despite all the worry he was going through, Hutch couldn’t help himself and he had to hold back a chuckle in hearing his friend’s wisecracking.

“Mr. Hutchinson” Preston then greeted Hutch, pretending that he had missed Starsky’s retort.

“Good morning doctor” Hutch greeted back.

“I came here to meet Mr. Starsky and to have a little talk with him as a previous steep to start the right therapy.”

“Well, then, I guess you’ll want to be alone with him for a while.” Hutch said already getting to his feet

“That would be nice, thanks.” Preston said politely.

“Yeah, sure, nice. A nice and sorry waste of time, for the both of us, if you ask me.” Starsky said grumpily under his breath.

“Okay Starsk, I’m going to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast.” Hutch said passing over the grouchy comment of his friend “I’ll be back in a little while” The blond one fondly squeezed Starsky’s shoulder before heading to the corridor, while thinking that Preston had picked a pretty bad time to make his first appearance. That morning Starsky was tired after a restless night and besides, his leg was hurting; hence, he was especially bad tempered, so any possible progress in this first appointment was bound to highly unlikely.

After Hutch left, Preston, doing his best to look friendly, sat on the vacated bedside chair, cleared his throat, and produced a notepad and golden pen from his white coat pocket, before speaking again.

“First of all, allow me introduce myself properly, Mr. Starsky. I’m the psychiatrist for this hospital; Ralph Preston” Preston said reaching out a hand to shake Starsky’s, but the curly haired man just lay there on the bed, with his hands interlaced behind his head and staring sullenly at the ceiling.

“Hmm…a shrink. I knew that something was missing here,” Starsky said, his voice pouring sarcasm.

“Listen, Mr. Starsky.” Preston said, unwilling to give up, “I know that you’re still going through a lot, but I’ve thought that maybe it would be helpful for you if we both would be able to find a way to work together.”

“Work together you say? Sure, why not? That’s a great idea, Doc. A hell of a great idea” Starsky snapped, turning his head to look intently at the young doctor.

Preston ran a nervous hand through his reddish hair. He guessed that somehow, he had used the wrong words and that this smart patient was about to take advantage of it.

“Tell me, doc, just how do you plan to do this? Huh?” Starsky asked with pretended interest while his incensed eyes drilled the psychiatrist. “I mean, what do you have in mind? How we can work together? I would work with you as a shrink or maybe you would work with me as a cop? Though let me warn you that it is most unlikely that I will be able to work as a cop any more. After all, there’s not much of a chance that I can remain a cop; they don’t hire cripples in the force. Plus I’m nuts, lucky me, I’ve got two strikes against me.”

“Mr. Starsky, please…try to cooperate with me. I’m just doing my best to help you.” Preston said lamely, losing the little self-assurance he could have hold in going into the room.

“And what if I don't want that damn help of yours, huh?” Starsky asked. “What if I don’t wanna to be asked and be pushed night and day by you, Morrison and even Hutch? WHAT IF THE ONLY HELP I NEED FROM ALL OF YOU IS A LITTLE ROOM TO BREATHE AND ESPECIALLY A LITTLE UNDERSTANDING FROM YOU ALL! At that point Starsky was already sitting upright in his bed, holding his aching ribcage as he shouted at Preston.

“Well, Mr. Starsky, you know…” Preston replied as his composure began to crumble. “The fact is that I don't think that you’ll be able to sort out things on your own without professional help and I...”

“And let me guess…”Starsky cut off as his irritation increased “You’re such a damn good shrink that you’re the only one able to help me.”

“Well I just…”

“And how in hell are you planning to help me, if I can ask?” Starsky inquired again without giving Preston a chance to answer. “Oh, yeah, I think I can answer that question for you pretty accurately. You’re thinking in helping me by digging into all my thoughts, memories, nightmares and feelings and stuffing me with drugs and maybe a few nice electroshock sessions along and equally nice stay in a loony bin, in one cozy and comfortable padded room, while I wear a stylish straightjacket…right?”

“You aren’t making anything easier for me; I just want to study your case Mr. Starsky… Listen, I…” If there was something particularly wrong to say to Starsky, that was it. Preston had just hit the mark and Starsky, already at the end of his rope, was about to make things very clear to the young doctor.

“NO! YOU LISTEN! I´M NOT A FUCKING GUINEA PIG! AND NOBODY’S GOING TO STUDY ME AS IF I WAS ONE! HAVE I MADE MYSELF CLEAR?” the curly-haired man screamed slamming his palm against the bed table, making Preston to wince.

“Mr. Starsky, please; be reasonable.” The psychiatrist almost begged, getting to his feet.

“Okay, doc. I’ll be reasonable.” Starsky exhaled a long breath before talking again “No offence, but I think I got enough of that ´Let me help you´ crap for now. Now, mind leaving me alone, please? I’m pretty tired and I’d like to catch some sleep now.” Starsky pointed with his head to the door, as Preston stood still and rather frightened in his spot.

“I’ve asked you to get outta here, doc, or maybe you wanna me to throw you out!” Starsky repeated, much louder this time. “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE AND GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE! GET OUT! NOW!”

It was then that Doctor Preston had realized without a doubt that his patient was too upset to listen to anything at that moment. This first meeting with Mr. Starsky had been a mistake from the very first moment he had entered the room, so the session ended much earlier than he had expected. The doctor gathered his stuff together quickly and scurried out of the room without ever having gotten a single useful word from Starsky. Still he did learn something today, his patient had a hell of a temper.

In his rush to leave the room, the young psychiatrist almost run into Hutch, who upon hearing Starsky’s shouts, darted towards his friend’s room.

“What was all that shouting about, doc? What happened to Starsky? ” Hutch asked to one annoyed-looking Preston.

“Mr. Starsky wasn’t much cooperative with me, Mr. Hutchinson, that’s what happened to him! In fact his behavior towards me was aggressive and intimidating. He even menaced me with throwing me off the room. And, according my notes, he’s not being any nicer to nurses and doctors either.”

“Well, Doctor. You must excuse him, you know, he went through a very stressful situation… He may even have been drugged” Hutch said in an attempt to apologize for Starsky’s bad mood, but it looked like Preston was deaf to Hutch’s explanations.

“Do you think I don't know that, detective?” Preston asked. “However, in my point of view, the patient’s behavior is far too hostile even in such circumstances. And I need to tell you that if things don’t change, just an outpatient treatment made up of psychotherapy and pharmacological therapy isn’t going to be enough help for him. So I’ll have to consider other options of treatment.” The doctor said, “Maybe we all were underestimating the extent of the damage done to Mr. Starsky’s mind. Perhaps we should start thinking seriously that he has a mental disorder much more severe than the post traumatic shock, actually.”

“Oh, come on doctor!” Hutch exclaimed, feeling his panic rising up “Are you trying to say me that Starsky’s crazy? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Listen, Mr. Hutchinson, ‘crazy’ is a pretty pejorative term; moreover, it is an inexact one. I rather prefer to use another words.” Preston explained impatiently while striding towards the elevator, with an anxious Hutch walking by his side. The young doctor had begun to feel the pressing need to get as far as possible from that exasperating pair of cops, if only for a little while.

“Those are big words, but what they all come down to is that they still mean crazy, right?” Hutch pushed further.

“That’s enough Detective!” The psychiatrist halted brusquely his walking and faced Hutch. “I’m not willing to discuss the diagnosis, prognosis or treatment of any of my patients in the middle of a corridor. And I dearly beg you not to ask me any more questions until I’m able to study Mr. Starsky’s case further; this includes any possible treatments. Now, if you don’t mind, I got a lot of work to do. As soon as Mr. Starsky is ready to cooperate with me, if that ever happens, of course, then please, make sure that Doctor Morrison lets me know it. Okay? Good morning”

Preston made his way towards the elevators, entering into one of them and disappearing behind the metallic doors, as Hutch stood there stunned in the middle of the corridor.

Starsky had not talked to Preston. Okay, that’s something that Hutch figured would happen. That Starsky had lost his temper with that stupid doctor, that was fine and it wasn’t Hutch’s main concern either.

If Starsky was being true to himself, a few shouts from him when he felt on edge didn’t make him a dangerous nutcase. It just had always been his natural way to vent his anger or frustration when he was tired, scared and hurting; such as he constantly was these days.

No, what worried Hutch the most wasn’t any of those things. What bothered him most was what Starsky hadn’t said. Hutch had yet to hear anything about Starsky’s kidnapping. It was as if whatever that had happened in those two years of captivity were just too awful to put it into words.

Chapter 7

Bracing himself to endure the remains of the outburst that the psychiatrist’s visit apparently caused to Starsky, Hutch stepped into his room in time to see the emotional storm still boiling inside his friend’s eyes.

“Hey partner” Hutch asked tentatively “Wanna talk?”

“Let me guess.” Starsky’s voice dripped so much scorn that Hutch almost didn’t recognize his friend in it. “That asshole of psychiatrist told you how nasty I was with him, and now it’s time to get my well deserved lecture, right?”

“Well…” Hutch thought carefully his next words “You got a point there Starsky. That guy is an asshole, actually.”

“Huh?” Starsky couldn't help himself but to ask. Hutch’s answer had caught him off guard.

“Yeah. I don’t know about you, but the fact is that I can’t stand him.” Relieved, Hutch could see Starsky’s angry look softening just a bit; somehow understanding that Hutch was on his side.

“But even though he’s being a jerk, he’s right in something, Starsk. You should talk, partner, to him, to me or to anybody else. It doesn’t matter who you do it with, but you should talk or this is going to destroy you...and me.”

“Talk? I should talk, you say?” A new wave of that rage Starsky seemed unable to get rid of colored his voice. “And what do you wanna talk about, huh?”

“You know it, Starsky, please! Don’t play dumb with me!” Hutch almost begged.

“Yep…you’re right. I know it, DAMN! OF COURSE I KNOW IT!” Starsky yelled out growing upset again. “What I don’t know is why in hell nobody’s able to let me alone! To give me a break and to stop pushing me for a while! Everybody wants to hear what happened to me the last two fucking years of my life, and I don’t wanna talk about, Hutch! Is that so hard to understand? I DON¨T WANNA TALK ABOUT IT!”

“It’s okay Starsky; you don’t need to be mad at me. I get it.” Hutch hurried to say, holding back for the moment his urge to push his partner into talking. “You aren’t ready to talk yet. No problem. I can wait as long as it takes. And when you’re ready to talk I’ll be right here.”

“T’rrific” Starsky answered moodily.

“In fact, I know how you feel ´cause I feel the same way, Starsk.” The blond one added almost in a whisper. “I’m not ready to talk either, I guess”

“Whatsa matter with you?” Starsky snapped bitterly “I don’t tell you my little secrets so you don’t tell me yours? Come on Hutch! I thought that we were already past playing that kind of games!”

“Starsky…Look Starsk.” Thought Starsky hadn’t asked him one single question on how he had spent those two years yet, Hutch was unable to keep hiding his marriage with Megan and the baby to come from Starsky any longer.

“Listen Starsky. There’s…there’s something that I need to tell you. It’s just that...Well, I don’t know how to start.” The blond detective said bashfully, while his hands nervously mangled a magazine.

Which in another time could have been a concerned ´It’s okay, Blondie; talk to me. Somethin’ wrong? ´ coming from Starsky, now it was just harsh…

“I see. And judging by how you’re strangling that poor magazine, it’s looking like whatever it is, it’s making you feel ashamed like hell, right? What’s the matter Hutch? You gave up on your weird eating habits once and for all? Or you got too many traffic fines lately? ” Again there was that frightening rage coloring Starsky’s words.

Hutch’s heart sank in hearing the sarcasm in his friend’s question; He felt guilty and ashamed…And Starsky, of course, had noticed it.

“Starsk, please, this important.” The blond one pleaded.

“Okay Hutch. Spill the beans. Maybe you don’t remember how I used to be, but patience isn’t one of my main qualities.” Starsky retorted.

Hutch had to make an effort to take that new verbal blow stoically. He couldn't bring himself to be angry at Starsky, no matter how meanly his partner talked to him. Hutch just didn’t feel he had that right. Besides, somehow the blond one could see that, despite the thick layer of anger covering Starsky’s words, he wasn’t mad at him, but rather confused and infuriated at the whole world.

Feeling the sense of guilt nagging his insides, Hutch kept talking, trying his best to withstand Starsky’s piercing look.

“I…well, a few months ago…A few months ago I got married and I…I mean, us; we are expecting a baby, Starsk. A baby girl…and well, the fact is that this baby was the reason for our marriage, actually. You know, Megan got unexpectedly pregnant while we were dating and…”

“And? What’s the problem, Hutch?” Starsky cut off Hutch’s explanation. “As far as I know you were divorced, besides Van is dead. So if your lucky lady isn’t bigamous, underage or a perp, I really don’t see why you’re making such a big deal out of the matter.”

“Starsky, for God sake!” the blond detective yelled out unable to bear any more of that biting cynicism, but unable as well to stand Starsky’s affliction, poorly hidden under his sarcasm.

“You were missing, being tortured; suffering only God knows what kind of mistreatments in the hands of Diana Harmon and meanwhile I was dating a woman and I got married! What does that turns me into?”

“Let me guess…Into a married man maybe?” Starsky said imperturbably, tilting his head.

“Alright, Starsky, alright. I give up. An argument is the last thing we both need right now.” The blond detective slammed his thighs with both palms, getting tiredly to his feet. “I’m sorry, partner. It looks like I’ve picked a lousy moment to tell you about Megan and the baby. I’m very sorry…Though I’m not sure what moment could have been the right one for that, actually.” That last statement was said rather for himself than for Starsky. “Now if you don’t mind, I think I need a little of fresh air, buddy. I’ll be back in a little while.”

At first Starsky didn’t answer, but when Hutch was already heading to the door, his friend’s words did make him to stop halfway and turn back. Starsky was lying on his side with his back to the door and his voice sounded soft and regretful. The sting of his words were gone and the voice at that moment sounded to Hutch’s ears like the true Starsky. The one he knew and loved.

“I'm sorry Hutch.” Starsky apologized. “Forgive me for being such a bastard…I’m happy for you. Honest, I am. To be married and expecting a kid must be great….Don’t feel bad, Hutch. You didn’t do anything wrong. You were alive. And living people has the right to live their lives in the way they wanna, to look for happiness and to make choices. That’s of course, unless somebody else gets the power and decides that you don’t have those rights any longer. That you aren’t alive any longer.

The blond one approached to Starsky's bed, but the brunet kept motionless, yet with his back facing Hutch, non-verbally telling him that he had had enough of that talk. However, Hutch tried. He had to.

“Starsk…”

“No Hutch…now not, ‘kay? I’m pretty tired and I’d like get some sleep.” Starsky’s request was more a plea, so Hutch, didn’t push him any further.

“Okay partner. Now just rest…I’ll be back in no time.”

Hutch left the room shocked and walked outside almost like a robot, unable to think, to make any assumption past today. Were he and Starsky ever going to be able to get past the hell their lives had become?

~o0o~

Outside the hospital, Hutch met Megan. During those days in which he kept by Starsky’s side, the blond detective saw his wife pretty often , both there or at home, and to Hutch’s relief, their problems seemed to have come to a temporary halt.

Oddly, the woman didn’t whine for more attention from him, maybe understanding that to get that was far beyond her control at that moment. The few times that they’d see each other, she was just polite, though cold and distant, never asking for anything related to Starsky’s condition. It seemed that for her, the best friend of her husband was still missing, non-existent. Taking into account her former behavior, Hutch wasn’t sure how he should take that change. At times he even thought that finally she was coming to terms with the new situation; however at that moment, that wasn’t his main concern. Hutch just hoped that once things would settle down a little, he would find the right moment to have an overdue talk with Megan, to try to sort things out. Nevertheless, that would have to wait. Right now, Starsky required all his attention.

Maybe if Hutch had known that what she was feeling was much more than a simple pinch of normal jealousy or maybe frustration in seeing that her relationship with her husband was about to change irremissibly with the sudden return of his best friend, he would have been more careful. But of course, there was no way Hutch could know all those things, nobody had said otherwise to him. He didn’t know some facts about Megan that could have help him to understand how she really felt, and especially; how she was.

Hutch, for example, didn’t know that when Megan was just seventeen, in a fit of jealousy and sheltered by the darkness of the night, she cut the brakes of the car of her best friend Cynthia. She did it cautiously, meticulously, using gloves to make sure that no single fingerprint could be found later by the police. And only because the boy Megan liked had asked Cynthia for a date.

The predictable accident that Cynthia suffered next morning would cost the unfortunate girl a concussion, an arm, a leg and three broken ribs plus bruises and gashes all along her body and a fairly long stay in the hospital, not mention to the worst fright she had had in her short life and the premature end of her just-started relationship with Mike, who by the time she was discharged from the hospital was dating Megan for a couple of weeks.

Of course, the police never happened to find out who could have damaged the car on purpose of one sweet, kind seventeen year old girl with no known enemies as Cynthia was…

No; Hutch had no way to know that despite having an over average intelligence, and regardless of being a cultured and refined woman, something in Megan’s mind wasn’t right. Her family guessed it, since the day in what her school director advised them as tactfully as possible to take Megan to a pediatric psychologist, when, at ten years old, she had cut off the long and beautiful blond braid of a classmate, just because the kid had gotten the Cinderella role in the end of course school’s performance. Megan’s parents had preferred to ignore the wise advice. The only thing they did, besides not paying the due attention to that first signs of something that maybe with the time pass could become much serious trouble, was to change their daughter’s school.

The plain truth was that Hutch’s wife was nothing but the powerless victim of a frail psyche since her childhood. She wasn’t insane, in the widest meaning of the term, but she had always been unable to cope with the idea of sharing all those things, people and affections that, for whatever reason she thought belonged only to her. And at that moment the idea of sharing her husband’s love with Starsky was for her painful beyond thought; simply unbearable. Hutch hadn’t the smallest idea on how much insecure, threatened and scared Megan felt by Starsky’s presence. He ignored as well how much the woman chastised herself for her failure in anticipating how her life was crumbling under her feet. When Starsky had been identified, and given that he had relatives, especially a brother in New York, she had thought that his stay in Bay City would be just matter of a few days. Instead, he stayed in the city and because of him now, she was losing her husband…

~o0o~

Hutch had enough with a short walk through one park near to the hospital where relatives and friends of the patients used to go often, just to have a break from the oppressive and aseptic hospital environment.

The bird’s chirps, the fresh air, the kids playing and running around and the smell of flowers and grass did well to Hutch’s state of mind. However, he was unable to stay away from his partner for too long, so ten minutes later he was back in Starsky’s room.

In seeing his friend’s form lying still in bed, Hutch thought that Starsky was asleep, but he wasn’t. The distressed man was awake, with his eyes closed and feeling his heart being ripped apart under the weight of such anger and sorrow that he saw his own feelings like a caged beast eager to get free and destroy any sanity he could still have.

Not expecting to talk with his partner for the moment, Hutch took a book he had bought that morning in the hospital gift’s shop, settling himself in the chair beside Starsky’s bed, ready to start reading it, when the wavering voice of Starsky make Hutch to raise his head stunned, as the book slid from his hands falling to the floor.

“She used to do the same thing too…She sat by my side to read her damn novels not paying any attention to me; not talking to me…like you’re doing now.”

“Starsk…No…I didn’t mean…God! I didn't mean to ignore you, babe!” Hutch apologized earnestly, bending towards Starsky and placing a hand onto his back. “I just thought that you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you, partner; I’m…I’m so sorry, Starsky!” Hutch kept apologizing.

“Hutch…No…I am the sorry one…Damn! I don't know why I said that! Forgive me Hutch, I wasn't making any comparison...I was just…” Starsky trailed off. “I was just remembering, I guess.”

“I...it’s okay Starsky, It’s okay. I know it” Hutch reassured Starsky.

“Near the end, she wouldn’t talk to me.” Starsky said, still facing the window, not turning to look at Hutch. “Once she told me that she was tired of me, and she didn't want to talk to me any more. And from then on, that was just what she did. Didn't talk to me…She didn't care if I was scared or in pain…if I was still alive. At the end she didn't care that I was a human being. In fact, I wonder if she cared about that at all.”

“Diana didn’t care, Starsk, but I do. You know how much I care about you. And I need to hear all that happened to you. As much as you need to talk about. Come on, Starsk. Talk to me.” Hutch coaxed in soothing voice, his hand never leaving Starsky’s back.

“I…don’t know if I’ll be able to tell you all…All that happened, Hutch.” Starsky said in a thread of voice. “It still scares me, I guess.”

“Try it Starsk, please. You should at least give it a try. You need talk. And you don't have to be scared. I’m here, with you. Talk to me, buddy, I’m listening.” Hutch hold his breath, knowing that just one wrong word could make Starsky to shut again into himself, but and to his relief, Starsky began to talk...

“There were plenty of moments; whole months of those two years that I have forgotten; but I remember perfectly how everything began. And I don’t think I’ll be able to forget it…Never.” Starsky said not turning to look at his partner.

“That evening I’d just come home after dropping you at your place.” He kept talking, the memories of his recent past unfolding in his mind.

“I had hung my gun and holster in the living room’s rack…I was unarmed when they came from somewhere behind me. I didn’t see them until they were already over me…There were two... Two guys huge and strong like grizzly bears. I tried to fight, to reach my gun, but that was a lost battle from the beginning. After a brief fight, they knocked me to the floor.” Starsky took in a deep breath as if to calm himself before speaking again.

“After a punch to my nose I was bleeding, half dazed and trying to get to my feet, when those gorillas leaned over me and one of them pressed a hanky against my mouth and nose, while the other one pinned me against the floor. For a few seconds I struggled while trying not to breathe, but I couldn’t hold my breath for too long. My lungs were about to explode and finally I took in a deep breath. Whatever it had in that hanky, it smelled funny; I guess it had to be chloroform. It was the last thing I remembered before passing out.”

Hutch, overwhelmed by what he was hearing, kept silent, letting Starsky go on with his dreadful memories while his hand rubbed soothing circles in his partner’s back. He didn’t wanted to talk, afraid if he did so, or even if he went over the other side of the bed to face Starsky, he would stop talking.

“The next thing I remember was that I woke up lying in the floor of an unknown, dark place. I was tied by my wrists, with my arms at my back and a thick chain was tightly surrounding my ankle. It was attached somewhere in the wall behind me and it was fastened by a padlock…”

Starsky swallowed dryly. Obviously, those memories weren’t easy to recall, and while he was talking; as all that happened in those two years played again vividly in his mind, more and more gates opened, allowing all the ghosts that he wanted to keep shut, to crawl back into his soul.

~o0o~

TWO YEARS EARLIER…

Starsky’s head and ribcage ached. He was cold, thirsty, and light-headed, and that strange taste of whatever drug was in the handkerchief mixed with the taste of his own blood was still lingering in his mouth making him sick to his stomach. Somehow, and not without effort, he managed to get himself up, to a sitting position Then, one sudden wave of nausea shook his insides, and he threw up.

Once Starsky was done and before he had time to decide whether he should call out for somebody or stay quiet and wait, one door opened and somebody turned on the dim light of a bulb hanging from the ceiling.

It was then, when Starsky would see for first time the place where he had been taken. It was a large, untidy and poorly furnished basement

It was then too when he saw his captor; when he saw Diana Harmon…

The woman looked at him, then, wrinkling her small nose she looked briefly at the waste in the floor before looking back at Starsky.

Then, all of sudden, she slapped the defenseless man’s face viciously. Starsky, taken aback and still shaky from the drug in his system fell over his side, his head banging against the floor hard.

“PIG! Look what you did!” She snapped.

“Di-Diana…” Starsky said struggling to sit upright, task that being as he was, woozy and unable to use his hands, took him again a new big deal of effort

“I didn’t wanted to start our time together in such a hard way, David.” She said as an evil smile curled her lips. “But what you did in there was plainly revolting, besides rude.”

“Diana…What? What do you wanna from me?” Starsky asked while looking intently into her brown eyes.

“Well. Let’s say that I want to make your friend Ken to pay one old debt. And you will be very useful for my purpose”

“Listen Diana…What are you doing is a mistake.” Starsky tried. He knew that his words were going to be useless, but he had to try something, anything to get himself out of the mess he was in, anyway.

“Oh, yeah, sure. A mistake” She said waving nonchalantly her hand. “Know something David? I was sure you’d start your sorry pleas just in the way you’re doing it. Now it comes that crap about that kidnapping a cop is a serious crime and that I need help, although I still have a chance if I let you free, right? And, let me guess. You’ll tell me also that all the police in this city, besides of course that bastard you call friend must be already looking for you and that you know they’ll find you in time.” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Wanna a tip, smart boy? Forget all of that. Save it. I know perfectly what I am doing…And I know too what I’m going to do from now on. I hadn’t been surer about anything else in all my life.”

“What-?” Starsky tried to ask but Diana cut him off.

“No David. No more explanations by now. You’ll know all of it in its due time. Now, if you don’t mind, I can’t waste all the day here chatting with you.”

Without a further word, she turned on her heels, heading upstairs. Starsky called out for her, trying to follow her before stumbling with the chain encircling his ankle and falling face down to the floor while the woman, deaf to his calls disappeared from his view.

A short while later Diana went back carrying a bucket filled with soapy water, a scourer and a few rags. She placed those items in the floor, near to Starsky, and after drawing a gun and a large knife from her pocket, she began to cut the ropes in his wrists, all the time silent and pressing the gun’s barrel against Starsky’s back.

“What are you waiting for?” She asked while Starsky, already untied was rubbing his sore wrists. “Clean all this mess! Or maybe are you expecting me to do it? COME ON! CLEAN IT!”

By then Starsky was truly scared. The curly haired man could see the madness in Diana’s eyes and he knew that she was willing to pull the trigger if he did the wrong move, same as she had been willing to kill Hutch in his apartment so long ago, so he did what she asked for and began cleaning up the floor. If he had any chance to escape, he couldn’t make mistakes.

But he just wouldn’t find that chance. Neither then, nor in the next days, weeks or months.

~o0o~

The first day, Diana placed a thin mattress and an old, ragged blanket in the floor, next to the spot where Starsky was tied. She then opened a nearby door. Behind it had a little bathroom containing a toilet and a sink. There was only a rough bar of detergent soap, a toothbrush inside a plastic cup and a towel as ragged and old as the blanket resting over the mattress.

“Of course, there’s not shaving stuff for you. Neither razor blade nor shaver or scissors.” Diana said matter of factly. “We don’t want any accident, don’t you think so David? And we both know how dangerous that kind of stuff can be. Not just the razor blade or the scissors. An electric device that falls into water while it’s plugged in, can be even much more dangerous if you have your hands into the water, so what better way to prevent any danger than avoiding it? If you want a shaving or a haircut, I’ll do it for you, though of course, it will have to wait until the right moment for me. I’m not your maid. Don’t forget that.”

The meaning in Diana’s words was clear for Starsky. She had kidnapped him just to get her revenge on Hutch and she had planed to keep him alive, shut up in that basement for an undefined amount of time. Starsky hadn’t idea what was going to happen to him, but one thing was sure. She didn’t wanted him dead accidentally or on purpose. At least not for the moment.

Having said that, Diana climbed again the stairs to the house’s first floor, locking the basement’s door.

Still dumfounded, Starsky kept silent for a while, busying himself in assessing his situation. He tried, to no avail to get his ankle free from the thick chain grasping it, but the padlock made it impossible. He also saw that the chain ended in a ring firmly fixed to the wall and thought it was just a small advantage, at least the chain was long enough how to allow him to walk some steeps through the large basement. He could reach without problems the small bathroom and he could also climb up to halfway the wooden stair. Apart from that, he couldn’t do much more.

Too stubborn to give up easily, Starsky headed back to the metallic ring that secured the chain to the wall, tugging the chain with both hands and all his strength repeatedly, until falling backwards, swearing under his breath in seeing that the ring hadn’t loosened an inch.

He thought that there was nothing he could do, apart from shouting and pounding the walls with the hope that his shouts would attract the attention of somebody else apart from Diana.

But…What if the only one that hears me is she? Or if somebody else hears me but she shoots me before someone is able to come here to help me? Starsky thought No...Forget it. That idea of shouting isn’t a good one.

Out of ideas, and feeling thirsty, Starsky went to the bathroom to get himself a cup of water from the tap. The liquid was tepid and it had also a disgusting taste of chlorine. However and since he hadn’t much chances of getting a cold beer or a soda in the near future, he drank it while thinking worriedly in how scared soon Hutch would feel seeing that he was missing.

Aw Hutch, partner! Looks like I got myself in a good mess! But you’ll find me, right?...You’re a hell of a good cop and you’ll know how to find me. Starsky thought, hanging to that hope with all his being.

Once he had drunk the water, Starsky stepped back to the mattress and looked at his wristwatch. It was near midnight, and he hadn’t eaten anything since more than seven hours earlier, when he had gotten a candy bar in the precinct candy machine, but even so, he wasn’t hungry at all.

However, it would be nice to know that the plan of that nuts doesn’t include letting me starve to death. Starsky thought while lying down in the uncomfortable mattress,

It was then that the seriousness of his situation hit him completely. He was being held in an unknown place; most likely Diana’s house. His kidnapper was a woman totally out of her mind who once had tried to kill his partner. Starsky didn’t know how long Diana had planned to have him kidnapped or what she wanted to do with him, actually. And of course, he didn’t have an idea on how he could escape either.

Overwhelmed by too many questions without answers, and despite being exhausted, Starsky spent most of the night awake, until finally, near dawn he fell asleep.

He thought that he had been asleep just for a little while, when the upstairs door opened and Diana, carrying a tray with food downstairs woke him.

Already fully awake in seeing the woman, Starsky scrambled to his feet and peeked at his wristwatch. It was almost noon. Much later than he had thought. At that moment Hutch had to be already sick with worry.

“Good afternoon David.” Diana said with a politeness totally out of place, given the circumstances “Here’s your lunch. And I dearly advice you to eat it, ´cause it’ll be the only food you’ll have until tomorrow I’m not going to let you starve, at least not by now, but I’m not going to spend all day cooking for you and serving your meals either. You’ll have to get along with one only meal per day” While saying so, she placed the tray onto a chair close to the mattress, before stepping back out of Starsky’s reach.

“Listen Diana.” Starsky said not paying any attention to her comment about the food. “You should let me go free or you’ll get yourself in a lot of trouble. You know it. You’re smart enough to know it. Neither Hutch nor me...we aren’t worth it, Diana. Think about. What you’re doing is nothing but nonsense, true craziness.”

Then, seeing the insane glare in Diana’s eyes, Starsky knew that he had chosen his words wrongly, very wrongly…

“I am not doing any craziness, David. And that’s because I’m not crazy. Have. I. Made. Myself. Clear?” She asked calmly, slowly; biting each word while her right hand, buried until then in her sweater pocket, went into view, holding her small gun and aiming it to Starsky’s chest as he went back a few steps, trying to get a hold in his climbing fear.

“Okay, Diana, okay. I’m sorry.” Starsky said in soothing voice, rising his hands, palms up in a gesture of surrender. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Let’s talk Diana, okay?”

Then, instead of answering, she just pulled the trigger, and the sound of a shot echoed through the large basement …

Chapter 8.

His good reflexes along with years of training in the streets allowed Starsky to foresee Diana’s action in time to stoop, covering his head with his arms. However he hadn’t time to see that the woman had aimed the gun to the ceiling.

When Starsky looked at her, once he noticed that he hadn’t been shot, he saw Diana guffawing madly.

“Yeah smart guy.” She said pointing at the ceiling where Starsky saw the small bullet hole “This time I only wanted to scare you. But remember this, David. Don’t you EVER call me crazy. Do you hear me? Never!…or the next bullet will find its way into that curly head of yours.”

With that, the woman left the basement as Starsky stood, staring dumfounded at her, shocked and growing more scared by the moment. Things were quickly sliding from bad to worse. She was dangerous. Maybe more so than she was when she had fallen in love with Hutch. And she wasn’t joking; about that Starsky hadn’t any doubt left.

Feeling angry and powerless, Starsky approached the chair where Diana had set his lunch, fiercely kicking it and knocking it over as the tray with food flew, crashing against the wall. That action was the trigger of a fiery outburst of rage, and for the next few minutes, Starsky vented his anger, trashing drawers and pieces of furniture, kicking and throwing them and their contents against the walls, not caring about all the noise he was making. The basement looked like a rubbish dump in matter of minutes. As useless as he knew it was, at that moment he wanted nothing more than to tear that whole place apart.

When his anger had cooled down a little, he panted for air and plopped onto the mattress that had been forcefully kicked into a curled heap in one corner of the room. Apparently, he then realized, Diana wasn’t at home, or she would most likely have come down there to make him to stop the chaos he had created.

As he caught his breath and his fury faded; a much more disturbing feeling of hopelessness replaced Starsky’s anger. He could shout, kick and punch against the pieces of furniture or the walls as much as he wanted, but a thick chain fastening his ankle was an accurate reminder that one crazy, armed and dangerous woman living upstairs was, until somebody could find him, his only, grim reality.

~o0o~

A few hours went by, and nothing happened. By then Starsky’s stomach was roaring and he regretted his earlier outburst. After near twenty-four hours without eating, he was starving and the ham-cheese sandwich and the apple that Diana had brought him for lunch laid on the dust-covered floor, not looking at all appealing.

Well…I guess at least I can pick up the apple, clean it and eat it’ Starsky thought while approaching the fruit and realizing that it, as well as the mangled sandwich were beyond his reach. Lying on his stomach on the dusty floor, he stretched his arm out as much as possible. With the help of an old newspaper, and a few lame attempts, he finally retrieved the apple, feeling for a moment as if he had accomplished his biggest feat.

“Damn! Some perps are easier to catch than this fucking apple!” Starsky said to himself, tightly clutching the fruit in his hand while getting to his feet. Then, looking at the apple, a fit of laughter bubbled up from the pit of his stomach and he began to guffaw hysterically. The whole situation was bizarre besides pathetic. There he was, tied by his ankle like a trained circus bear and struggling to reach a lousy apple that, on top of everything else, by the look of its withered peel had to be at least a couple of weeks old.

Starsky wasn’t aware of when his laughing had turned into wracking sobs. Neither did he realize that for a moment, looking at what once had been an enticing, lush fruit and now was just a matted item in his hand he saw his own spirit in that apple, plenty of strength until now, and from that day forward on its way to be subdued by terror.

~o0o~

True to her words, Diana didn’t bring him any other meals until next day. At noon she unlocked the basement door and went downstairs, Starsky warily eyed the woman holding the tray the same way as she did the day before, one handed while the other one was hidden in her pocket. This time though, he knew why.

“So this is what you did while I wasn’t at home?” She asked grimly, viewing the mess Starsky had done the day before in the basement. “And on top of it all, you wasted your meal?” The woman added, noticing the stale sandwich in one corner of the room. “It’s okay David. If you want to spend the rest of your life living in such a pigsty, it’s none of my business…however let me say that I haven’t fixed your lunch to see it thrown away. And let me warn you too that I am the one in charge here, and I am not about to allow this childlike behavior in my house.” In saying so without leaving the food near Starsky, as he had hoped she would do, Diana headed back to the stairs carrying the tray with her.

“What the hell are you doing with that food?...” Starsky asked. “Diana! Come back here!” he demanded as firmly as he could, reluctant to let her know how helpless he was really feeling.

“Listen to me David,” She turned halfway to stare into Starsky’s eyes “And listen to me attentively, because I’m not joking. Yesterday I brought you lunch, to find out you’ve thrown it on the floor instead of eating it. From my point of view, this means just one thing. That you don’t want to eat, so I´ll take this food away. If you change your mind and find you really ARE hungry, you still got that sandwich. And you should think seriously about eating it, actually. Because you won’t get any other food until you eat it. It’s up to you, David.”

Deaf to Starsky’s protests and empty threats, Diana left the basement smiling, not returning until the next day.

In those long, lonely hours, he had plenty of time to think, and to be wholly aware that not behaving himself like Diana wanted him to do could most likely mean one thing. That he’d end up eventually with a bullet hole in his head…

No. Starsky couldn’t take any chances acting rashly. He had to be careful, think and act wisely, because, as Diana had said clearly, she was the one in charge there.

He just had to behave himself according Diana’s wishes while waiting for Hutch to find him, because he knew that eventually, his partner would come…

~o0o~

“But you didn’t find me.” Starsky said while rolling in bed, to face Hutch for first time since he had begun talking. His voice bore no reproach nor anger. He was just stating the plain facts, pouring his until then locked fears and memories out for Hutch to hear.

“So from then on, I had to be smart and careful. If I wanted to keep alive, I had to swallow my pride, forget my stubbornness and learn how to play under Diana’s rules; you know how those things work. As long as I was doing what she wanted, everything was fine…What I never did though was to eat that damn sandwich, oh, no, I didn’t do it…as far as I was concerned, she could stuff it…” A sparkle of pride shone in Starsky’s eyes in saying so. “What I did instead was to pick it from the floor and throw it into the toilet, flushing it later. And at least that time I managed to cheat her. Next day, Diana, thinking that I ate it, brought me a complete lunch, and, guess what? A while later she even brought me a few clean clothes…”

By then, after listening to Starsky’s ordeal for quite a while, Hutch was simply speechless. He knew that what his friend had been through had to be an atrocious experience, but even so, the fact of listening to it all made it much more real and unbearable.

“See; the main problem was that she was a nutcase, but a very smart one.” Starsky kept explaining. “One day, stupid me, I tried to fool her. I wanted her to get near me without aiming her fucking gun at me for a change, this way I would be able to subdue her and to grab the gun. The fact is that I didn’t have a better idea than to pretend to be choking on my lunch. It was a big mistake, if you wanna know it.” Starsky closed his eyes and stopped talking.

“What happened, Starsk? What happened then?” Hutch dared to ask.

“You don’t know?” Starsky asked opening his eyes and staring at Hutch. “Well, so I’ll tell you. I began doing my bright performance sure that Diana was buying it. I was looking at her with my eyes wide open, reaching one hand towards her, while with the other I held my throat, as if struggling to breathe. Then, when she rushed towards me, for a moment I thought that I had her, that in a second Diana would be in my hands and I’d be able to force her to untie me. Or at least that I would get the gun and I’d be able to shoot at the chain and break it, or…well, dunno; whatever. And the fact is that for a little while everything worked as I had planned. She pulled me from the chair I was sitting on and to my feet, and turned me with my back towards her chest while I keep playing my performance of trying to breathe. Then…Ops! Surprise, surprise!” Starsky said sarcastically. “Instead of doing that thing; the Heinrich, or Heimlich Maneuver or whatever its damn name is, to give me a simple moment to get a good hold on her and to get the gun from her pocket, guess what?...That clever bitch pointed the gun against the back of my neck, while asking me if still I couldn't breathe. She added that she had a quick, safe way to put me out of my misery…Well; as you can guess, with that, my little show came to a sudden end…”

Too upset to say anything, Hutch just shut his eyes breathing deeply; however, Starsky seemed to be too wrapped up in the pain of his memories how to notice Hutch’s distress and even least to wait for any answer. Once he had started talking, it seemed like nothing could make him to stop.

“At that moment, she didn’t do anything else.” Starsky kept saying. “She wouldn’t hurt me as I was expecting, nor would she shout at me; she didn’t do anything like that…Nothing at all. She just left. However, my little trick had to be rewarded. Somehow, I knew that sooner or later I was going to get my well deserved punishment…And let me say; I wasn’t wrong.”

Hutch’s heart was oozing pain for his friend. He didn’t know how many more of those horrifying memories he could take, though he knew that he had to stay there; he had to help Starsky’s mind heal, and he knew as well that the first step in healing was to be there, listening all those painful memories his partner was finally willing to share with him.

“Next day, Diana brought me my lunch, as usual.” Starsky said. “She wouldn’t talk to me. She just settled the tray on the chair and left. It looked like what I had done the day before had never happened…I should have known better, though…” He trailed off as if momentarily overwhelmed by his memories.

“Come on, buddy…You’re doing fine. Don’t stop now. Talk to me. What happened then?” Hutch urged him in a soft voice, gently rubbing Starsky’s forearm, trying to give him as much reassurance and comfort as possible.

“I ate my lunch and soon after that I began to feel dozy, so I laid down on the mattress to take a nap…The next thing I remember was that I awoke there on the mattress, but unable to move. I was tied and gagged. She…she kept me that way for two days.”

“My God…” Hutch whispered, feeling as if all of sudden there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room for him to breathe.

“Two long, endless days in which I couldn't do anything but to wait and hope that at some point she would feel some mercy for me. During that time, she’d spent most of it sitting near me and watching me while reading her book. She wouldn’t say too much to me actually. She’d just say to me that what she had done to me was my reward for the nasty trick I had played with her. She told me too that earlier she had mixed some sleeping pills with my food, ´cause that was the only way she would to be able to tie me, but that she wanted me awake, to think about what I had done and to regret it; well, she got her goal, Sure she did. Two days tied down in a mattress, without food or water and too uncomfortable and scared to sleep beyond a few restless naps is no picnic. ‘Specially when your bladder starts to make itself noticeable…”

“Starsky…I…I’m so sorry” And I am the biggest asshole in the whole world too Hutch thought bitterly. Look at what he’s telling me, and I’m only able to say that I am sorry…

“I needed to pee. And soon I was needing it badly…First I tried to hold it back as much as I could, I didn’t want to, well… to make a mess onto my pants and the mattress but…two days are a too long time…then, when eventually I’d feel the wetness, it was so…so embarrassing.” Starsky swallowed dryly as Hutch regretted once more Diana’s death. In that moment and with every fibre of his being he wanted nothing more than to have the chance to kill her with his own bare hands, to make her feel fear and make her suffer, as she had done to Starsky.

“Well; after those two days, she untied me.” Starsky said as his voice wavered “She said she was sure I had learned the lesson…and she was right I guess, ´cause from that day, I wasn’t sure what happened to me, but the fact was that I had lost the needed strength to shout, to fight, and especially to think in any possible way to get out of there. She had won. From that point, once she was sure that I was totally under her control, she began to talk to me, and I mean really talk to me. Diana said to me that nobody was going to shut her again into any mental hospital, cause she had planned point by point all that was going to happen until the end to her…and to me. She also explained carefully to me why she was doing what she was doing...and, the oddest thing of all was that somehow, to some extent I got to understand her. Back in those days I found myself able to understand her pain and hatred towards you for the way you played with her feelings.”

“Starsky…for God sake! You…you can’t think that seriously.” Hutch stuttered in utter dismay. “That woman and I…We…we were two adults, damnit! Our night of sex was consensual! No bonds, no commitments, just a little of fun, I thought she had understood it...I was sure that she wanted the same thing I wanted!”

“Well…so looks like you were wrong.” Starsky stated dryly.

“And you, Starsk…What do you think? Do you really think that I was mean or unfair to her? That I only used her as if she was a hooker?” The blond detective asked intently.

“Well…it looks like most of us guys; we can be pretty thoughtless regarding women’s feelings…” Starsky answered “And at times, if one is so unfortunate as to pick the wrong chick, things can get pretty out of hand...”

“Starsky…buddy…I don’t know what to say. I would do something; anything to amend things, to turn back the clock...to switch places with you if I could. Shit!” Hutch exclaimed getting to his feet, and starting to pace the room, unable to sit down any longer.

In that moment, a nurse stepped into Starsky ´s room to bring him his pain pill with a glass of orange juice. Even knowing that his partner needed to have his medication regularly, Hutch swore mentally, fearing that that interruption would make Starsky to stop talking. However, once the nurse was gone, he began with his narration again.

“Guess what?” Starsky asked “One day, weeks after what she would call my needed punishment, Diana began to look at me, I don’t know how to put it…in a different way.”

“What you mean with a different way?” Hutch asked candidly, not guessing the meaning of what Starsky was saying yet.

“Well, you know…I could tell she was turned on.” In hearing that, Hutch stopped brusquely his pace, while his heart missed a beat.

“I remember that that particular night she did something that she had never done before…Since I was there.” Obviously, Starsky was having a hard time explaining whatever had happened that night. For Hutch, who kept motionless and silent in his spot in the middle of the room, it wasn’t easy to hear either.

“She brought me supper…A good, fancy one. Prawn cocktail, oysters, lobster; even champagne and strawberries with whipped cream as dessert…She put out a table with an embroidered tablecloth, wine glasses, and candles. And she said me that she would stay to have supper with me, that she had realized how much of a nice man I was, and she wanted a chance to get to know me better…By then I was truly scared. I was positively sure that she was going to kill me that very night, and that charade she was putting up with was something like the last supper of the condemned…I was wrong, thought. Very wrong. I came to realize it as soon as she came downstairs wearing a black evening dress and surrounded by the smell of some suffocating perfume, pretty much like the ones the old, cheap hookers liked to use…supposedly, she thought she looked sexy and desirable in that dress and with that perfume, but truthfully, looking at her I only felt nausea…”

“But she...she…She wanted?...With you?” Hutch asked, feeling scandalized beyond thought.

“Yep, she wanted. And yep, with me. That night she tried to get what she was looking for, in pretty clear terms, by the way. She kept on with her pathetic approach all along the dinner. Meanwhile, I was unable to eat a single bite. You know, to have that woman sitting across from me in the other side of the table, trying to seduce me with her pathetic hints, purrs, giggles and endless prattle was like being close to a cobra staring at me, ready to rush forward and bite me at any moment.”

“But…I don’t get it Starsky. I don’t get anything of this …How in hell she could think of having sex with you?…I mean, was she thinking of going to bed with you, aiming her gun at you the whole time? Didn’t she think that you could try something? ” Hutch asked genuinely amazed.

“That’s funny…I asked her something similar, but it looks like she had all the answers, even for that question…She said that she wanted to have sex with me, and that of course she wasn’t going to carry her gun with her, so supposedly I would have a good chance to hurt her if I wanted, but given that she had the key to the padlock that fastened the chain around my ankle stored somewhere upstairs, that wouldn’t help me to get free, but instead it would make things much worse for me. She added that she knew that I could kill her too, but it would mean one thing…that I’d die there, alone and in the same room where her body would rot, cause nobody would be able to hear my screams from outside the house, and nobody was going to miss her and hence go there to look for her either.”

“But…that…that was nonsense Starsky.” Hutch uttered, regretting his words as soon as they went past his lips

“No Hutch… It wasn’t nonsense…Think about. I could beat the hell out of her and that wouldn’t make her set me free, cause to get the key, she had to go upstairs. I could kill her as well, and then, most likely, the next one to die would be me…I had no a single chance, and she knew it. As I’ve told you earlier, she was a very smart nutcase, and in her game, I had a real lousy hand. Me, the smart cop, the hotshot was nothing but a powerless toy in the hands of that…that monster.” Starsky said staring at the cover of his bed, suddenly too embarrassed to look at Hutch.

“Well, as you can guess, that night she didn’t get what she wanted…I simply…well, just I couldn't. And she wouldn’t kill me for that, that’s clear enough” He joked sadly “But ya wanna know something?...The truth was that during the next few days, more than once I found myself wishing that she had done it, that she would kill me…I was so tired, so scared…four days without food and without knowing if she had planned to finally leave me there to die alone was a pretty nasty punishment for my rejection, if you wanna know it…”

Starsky kept recalling more and more of his horrendous memories while Hutch, sitting again in the bedside chair did his best to keep listening, all the while wishing that his partner’s words weren’t the memories of his ordeal but just part of a macabre horror tale.

“After that, eventually, things came back to more or less normal, and I stayed in there without any chance to escape. She didn’t get visitors at home, and even if she had, it looked like the basement where I was shut in was too far from the front door or maybe the walls were soundproof, I don’t know. The fact is that I never succeeded in hearing anybody upstairs. On the other hand, Diana would take care of my most basic needs. She gave me food, she even brought me a few more clothes and some books to read, and at times when my beard or hair grew too long, she would cut it off. In a pretty odd way, things seemed to be under control. I guess it was ´cause by then I had given up with any idea of escaping and instead I had limited myself to face every day as it came and to humor her. Then, guess what? One simple and silly thing made my predictable little world to turn upside down again.” In hearing that, Hutch hold his breath, sure that he wouldn’t like at all what Starsky was about to tell.

“By then, my wristwatch stopped working…the battery power was used up, I guess. And from that moment I really lost track of the time. Back in those days, everything in my mind was mixed up and I’d spent most of the days and nights sleeping, feeling to tired to do anything else…especially too tired to think. Soon, every day was melting into the next one and the only way I was aware of the time passing was to see Diana coming downstairs to bring me my meals. But she didn’t come at the same hour every day…Well, in fact she didn’t come every day…But I couldn't allow myself to be angry with her, ´cause I needed her. She was the only way I had to keep alive…”

“And she did all in her power to make sure that you don’t forget it.” Hutch snapped. “SHIT! I’d give anything to be able to kill her right now! Right here if I could!”

“But thanks God you can’t Hutch… Nobody can. Somebody else much wiser and more powerful than us has taken care of that.” Starsky said with a serenity that made Hutch shudder.

Then, and as the sedative effect of the painkiller began to take hold on his mind, and his eyelids began to grow heavier, Starsky began telling Hutch what happened along the last days of his kidnapping.

“…I don’t know why Hutch. I don’t know why she got so angry with me…Maybe it was my insistence in asking her for a clock, a calendar, something to help me know what day, week or month it was, though I rather think that what made her mad was the matter of the food, actually…”

“What…what happened with the food, Starsk?” Hutch asked softly.

“Well, those days I wasn’t feeling well. I had caught a bad cold or maybe it was the flu, I’m not sure. I only knew that despite the few aspirins that Diana gave me I’d feel lousy, sicker at every passing moment. I had a fever, I was sweating yet cold and shaking all the time, my head and my throat and all the bones in my body were hurting, and of course I had lost my appetite…well; so it looked like she wouldn’t take it too well when I didn’t eat the meals she fixed for me, as she said, with all her affection.” In hearing that, Hutch, already at the end of his endurance wasn’t sure if he wanted to throw up, laugh or burst into tears.

“Then she said to me that besides being rude I was ungrateful and that she was tired of me…from that day she stopped talking to me and somehow I got the feeling that everything was about to end.” For an instant Starsky stopped talking and stared dreamily in the space.

“She said to me too that she had enough of the game. That by then she was sure that you were already feeling as miserable as you could feel and that it was time to make you know what had really happened to me, to put an end to our suffering and to throw you once and for all into your personal hell…The last time she talked to me, she told me that she was about to kill herself. That soon she would be dead in her bed because of an overdose of Valium and that I’d dead alone in the basement, from starvation, dehydration or any other causes...causes that were none of her business, she added.”

Starsky was describing the most dreadful part of his ordeal with such calmness that for Hutch it sounded unnatural, as if his friend was talking, not about his own kidnapping but about an unknown victim’s case.

“Then was when I broke my leg.” Starsky explained. “That day, when Diana was leaving, once she had told me about the plans she had in mind for us, I followed her upstairs to try and make her to change her mind, to…to at least convince her…to shoot at me, to give me her gun to do it myself or to give me enough Valium pills to…well, you know…to end it faster.”

“Starsk…”Hutch whispered as unstoppable tears cascaded silently down his cheeks.

“Yes Hutch, I know…But, you know; I…I just had no other way out.” Starsky said apologetically. He was aware that he was saying to Hutch how he had finally touched bottom. How despite his natural zest for life he had reached the point of asking for his own death. And Hutch knew that he was right. At that moment he had no other choice.

“Then, she pushed me back, I’d lost my balance and I fell downstairs.” Starsky said. He explained to Hutch how he had fallen down, breaking his leg in his fall and how from then on, alone and defenseless in that basement he spent days waiting for his own death between excruciating pain and fever, until the day that Mrs. Rockford and her daughter had found him.

At the end of this explanation in which, for the blond detective seemed the longest of all his life, he felt exhausted and drained of any strength. Everything that he had listened from Starsky’s lips seemed too ghastly to be true, yet it was.

And what infuriated him above all, was the way Diana had played mind games with Starsky during those two hellish years, randomly mixing days of physical and psychological tortures with other days in which she seemed to want nothing but to earn his trust and affection even.

“Guess what?” Starsky whispered, already too dozy how to be aware of the importance of what he was about to say. “One day near the end, and since she was sure that I wasn’t going to get out of there alive, she even told me about the guys who grabbed me at my place.”

“What?” Hutch hollered, startling Starsky. “What do you say?...Starsk, partner…this is important, very important. It can be the only lead we have to track down those bastards! Who were they Starsky? Did Diana tell you their names? Do you remember it?” The blond detective hated to push his exhausted friend that way, but there, right in his hands he had one possible chance to get a hold on Diana’s accomplices, and he couldn’t pass over it.

“She…she said me that she had meet them in the loony bin…they worked there. It’s the only thing she told me, I think.”

“They worked there?...Doing what? Were they orderlies? Cooks?...try to remember it Starsky, please, try it!”

“I…don’t know, Hutch, she…” Starsky said as his frown deepened “She just told me that they…they were two brothers, yes; two brothers…And that they were pretty short of money. Because of that she didn’t have too much trouble hiring them to…to do the work.”

“Two brothers?” Hutch asked keenly “Are you sure of that, Starsk?”

“Yep…It’s the only thing I can remember, so far.”

“It’s okay, partner, it’s okay. You did fine. Now I think that you should catch some sleep until lunchtime. You look drained.” Hutch said getting to his feet and wrapping Starsky fondly with the covers.

“Are you going to catch them Hutch?” Starsky asked feebly, sounding like a little kid.

“Yes Starsky. I’m going to catch them. And if I can do something about, you can be sure that those pigs aren’t going to see the sunlight for a long, long while.” Hutch said decidedly. “Sleep well, partner. Meanwhile, I’ll take care of things.”

“Hutch?” Starsky said in a sleepy voice, his eyes already closed.

“Yeah?”

“Be careful, okay?…You don’t have back up to cover your back.”

“Sure Starsk…I’ll be careful.” Hutch answered smiling softly.

Still shocked by all that he had just heard, and feeling a knot in his stomach, he left the room. Now he knew where he could look for Diana’s accomplices, it was time to start his search…

Chapter 9

Right after leaving the hospital building, Hutch headed to the parking lot. He climbed into his car and grabbed the radio mike while starting the engine.

“Zebra Three to dispatch”

“Go ahead Zebra Three” One female voice answered.

“Sally, please, patch me through to Captain Dobey. It’s very urgent.” Hutch asked.

“Something’s wrong with Starsky, Hutch?” Sally asked with a clear note of concern in her voice.

“No Sally, Starsky’s okay, thanks.” Hutch answered curtly, musing the inaccuracy of his answer. The dispatcher woman didn’t ask any further questions, and a few seconds later Hutch was talking with his superior officer.

“Everything okay, Hutch?” The huge man asked.

“Starsky told me about his kidnapping, Cap.” Hutch answered, his eyes staring at the road ahead him.

How much did he say, Hutch?” Dobey asked tactfully.

“A whole lot, Cap.” much more than I’d wish to be true, actually. Hutch thought somberly. “With all of what he’s told me, we’ll have enough to fill the official report, I guess. He even told me about the guys hired by that woman to get him. They were two brothers, employees in the General Mental Health Hospital, the place where she was locked up in.”

“Where are you, Hutch?” Dobey asked, already guessing the answer.

“On my way towards that hospital, where else did you think I’d be going?” Hutch answered firmly.

“Okay Hutchinson” Dobey agreed. “I’m not going to ask you to not go there; I know it would be a waste of time. However, I’m sending Newman to back you up; his partner is still on sick leave so he’s available right now and...”

“Oh, come on Cap!” Hutch cut in. “There’s no need…”

“SHUT UP HUTCHINSON!” Dobey barked through the radio “I’m sending Newman over there no matter what you say, and you’ll wait for him before doing anything, that’s an order! Besides, you‘re on leave of absence, remember? If there’s any chance to catch that scum, we must do it by the book, or maybe you want them getting off the hook because of a slip in SOP?”

“It’s okay, Cap. It’s okay, you got a point there.” Hutch conceded though reluctantly.

“Okay, son.” Dobey softened his tone. “I’m going to send Newman. He’ll be at the hospital in about ten minutes.”

“Okay Cap. I’ll wait for him. By the way. Ask Newman to bring a picture of Starsky with him. I guess it can be useful in any moment.” Hutch asked. “He can pick it out from Starsky’s missing persons file, or anywhere else.”

“A picture of Starsky? okay Hutch. Good idea.” Dobey agreed before hanging up.

~o0o~

Greg Newman, the man Dobey sent to join Hutch in the mental hospital was a veteran detective in his mid forties. He, along with his partner, Bill Jennings, who was currently on sick leave due to a car crash he had suffered some days ago on his way back home, formed one of the most effective teams in the ninth precinct. Well, it was after he and Starsky were partners, Hutch thought with a pinch of jealousy nagging his insides. Since Starsky was kidnapped and he had left the streets, Jennings and Newman were now the more effective and the best team. However, despite his mixed feelings towards both men, Hutch had to admit that he liked them. Newman and his partner were very experienced cops besides being good companions, and they feel nothing but outrage for what had happened to one of their own. The truth was that when Hutch met Newman in the mental hospital, the black man was almost as eager as Hutch to find the material perpetrators of Starsky’s kidnapping, and for the blond detective, the fact that Dobey had picked Newman and not anybody else to be his back-up clearly showed that the captain didn’t want mistakes.

Moments after meeting each other at the hospital entrance, and once Newman gave Hutch the picture of Starsky he had asked Dobey for; both men were lead by a secretary to the office of Doctor Walston, the hospital chief. He was an older, slim and tall man with controlled manners and an irritatingly slow way of talking that didn’t take long before it grated on the detectives´ nerves.

“My dear gentlemen.” Walston said in his slow tone of voice once Hutch and Newman had told him the reason of their visit. “That is a very serious accusation. You’re telling me that, according to somebody, two of my employees are accomplices to kidnapping and you expect me to collaborate with you to stain the good name of this respectable hospital, without having any solid proof beyond one man’s statement.”

“I beg your pardon, Doctor Walston.” Hutch said leaning forward over Walston’s desk, “But there’s something we’d like to make clear. First. The witness who gave us that information isn’t a simple somebody, as you put it. He's a fine, very qualified police officer, besides being the victim of that kidnapping. And if somebody’s going to stain the goddamned name of this place, they are the men who grabbed him, not us or you, unless you, for any reason yet unknown by us are covering them.”

“What? Your insinuation here is deeply offensive besides defamatory, Detective Hutchinson.” Walston said, defensively getting to his feet. “For your information, this hospital has nothing to hide and I, as well as the rest of the staff, want nothing but to cooperate with the police in whatever…”

“Okay, okay, Doctor; we got it.” Newman cut off impatiently. “So if that is true, then, you mind ending this talk and getting down business. We’re positively sure that two of your current or formers employees are directly related with the kidnapping of a police officer that happened two years ago. They were two brothers; so being the chief of this hospital, the task of finding out the names of all the brothers working here two years ago shouldn’t be too difficult for you.”

“Alright, gentleman.” Walston said. “I’ll search in our employees’ records, and in a few days I’ll call you and let you know what I’ve found.”

“No. No way.” Hutch said determinedly.

“Excuse me?” Doctor Walston asked in puzzlement “I don’t think I…”

“Not in a few days, but now.” Hutch demanded. “We aren’t leaving until we get the names of all the brothers that were working in this hospital two years ago. I don’t think that they are going to be many, actually, so I’m sure that you’ll be able to get this information for us quickly.”

“Look detective, when you both came, I was leaving for lunch.” The doctor tried to argue.

“With all the due respect, Doctor.” Hutch said softly. “This matter is more important than your lunch. So I’m very sorry, but we must insist. We aren’t leaving without the names of those brothers.”

“What are you asking me to do means an awful lot of work and time, Detective Hutchinson. In the last two years, we have had many employees working in this hospital. Some of then are still here, another ones not, and as far as I can remember right now we haven’t any brothers among our personnel, so more likely, they’d have to be former workers.”

“Fine, that’s a start. Now just find them…Please.” Hutch said slowly, raising his brows and aiming his forefinger at Walston.

“Okay, detectives, okay.” Doctor Walston gave up. “Sit down, please. I’m going to ask Laura, my secretary for our personnel’s records. If you want, she can get you something to drink while I check out those files.”

“No thanks, Doctor” Newman refused while he and Hutch sat again down in their chairs. “We only want those names.”

“Alright…Those names…yes. Two brothers.” The doctor mumbled while punching his intercom to ask his secretary for the records.

During the next half an hour, Walston kept himself busy checking carefully through the large pile of files, until finding what he was looking for.

“Here; we got it, gentlemen. As I’ve found here, we have had only two pairs of brothers working in this hospital since it opened, though one of those couples can’t be the men you’re looking for.” While talking, Walston handed two files out for Hutch and another two out for Newman.

“Psychiatrist Doctor Samuel Kaminski, dead in 1977 at the age of 60.” Hutch read aloud. “Internist Doctor Albert Kaminski; retired two years later, in March of 1979, at the age of 65.”

“If my memory serves me well.” Walston said, “After his retirement, Doctor Kaminski moved to San Francisco with his wife. Their daughter, son-in-law and grandkids lived there.”

“Roberto Arenas and Julio Arenas.” Newman read. “Two years ago, when Starsky was kidnapped they were working here as gardeners…And back then they were 37 and 40 years old.”

“These two have to be our men!” Hutch said getting sharply to his feet and getting the files from Newman’s hands. “And in their records it says that they left their employ here just five weeks after Starsky’s disappearance.” He read.

“Is that their current address? Are both they still living together in the same place?” Newman asked to the chief doctor as Hutch was scribbling down the Arenas´ brothers address in his notepad.

“To be honest with you, I haven't the foggiest idea detective. You know, once any of our workers leave, we have no reason to keep in touch with him.”

“Why did they leave?” Hutch inquired.

“I’m not sure, the only thing I know is that the oldest one, Julio had some serious problems. Back then, his younger kid was very sick; leukemia, I think, and he couldn't afford the treatment for him. That family was Puerto Rican, and not too well-off as you can guess.”

“Okay Doctor, thanks. You have been very helpful.” Newman said shaking briefly Walston’s hand before hurrying out of the office behind Hutch who was already racing down the corridor.

~o0o~

Hutch and Newman drove towards the place where, with a bit of luck, the Arenas’ brothers could still possibly be living in. A while later, both detectives were already there, climbing the steps of the dark and ramshackled landing that lead towards the Arenas´ apartment. It was a small one, placed in a block in the middle of a very poor, degraded neighbourhood in the city. A neighbourhood filled mostly with poor inhabitants, cheap hookers and small time drug dealers.

Hutch rang the doorbell, not hearing the bell sound; he then knocked on the door. A petite, Hispanic woman in her forties, thin and all dressed in black opened the door. She was carrying a baby in her arms and behind her, a little girl and two boys; all of them in their under ten were playing in the floor.

“Good afternoon. Mrs. Arenas?” Hutch asked tentatively, hoping she would speak English, as he and Newman showed their badges to the woman.

“¿Policías? ¿Are you both policías?” The woman asked fearfully in a mix between English and Spanish.

“Yeah señora. We are policias.” Hutch answered struggling to remember the Spanish he had learned years ago. “We are looking for Roberto and Julio Arenas. Are they here?...Roberto y Julio…¿Estan ellos aquí?”

“Julio es mi marido…My husband.” The woman asked looking increasingly scared “¿Por qué…? ¿Why are you buscando a Julio y Roberto?”

“We are looking for him and Roberto, because we need to ask them a few questions… Do you understand me, Mrs. Arenas?” Hutch asked. “Questions…Preguntas, para Julio and Roberto.”

“They don’t do anything wrong, sir; they are good men. Mi Julio es un hombre bueno…Julio is a Good man.” The woman tried to explain.

“Yeah, Mrs. Arenas. I hope so. However, can we have a talk with him, please? It’s very important. Is he at home? Can we come in, please?”

Without a further word, the woman stepped aside allowing Hutch and Newman to go into the small hall of the apartment.

“¡JULIO¡ Dos policías quieren hablar contigo! (Two policemen want to have a talk with you!) ¡Julio!...¡Julio!” She called aloud for her husband turning her back to Hutch and Newman.

A moment later, a door opened and a strong, tall man, with his black hair uncombed and dressing in a wine-stained t-shirt without sleeves and worn out jeans approached both detectives.

“¿Qué pasa aquí?” ("What’s going on here?”) He asked moodily, scratching his head “¡Joder ¿Es que un hombre no puede ni siquiera dormir la siesta en su propia casa?” ("Fuck! Can’t a man even take a nap in his own house?”)

“Mr. Arenas, we are Detectives Newman and Hutchinson, from the Bay City Police Department.” Hutch introduced himself as he and Newman flashed their badges again.

“Do you speak English, I guess. We’d like to ask you a few questions.” The blond one added.

“Questions? What questions.” Arenas grumped as he watched his wife hold her baby out to her daughter, asking the kids to go to play to the living room before approaching her husband.

“Is your brother Roberto at home?” Newman asked to Arenas.

“No, he’s at work, what do you wan’ from us?”

“Have you seen this man at any time? Do you know him?” Hutch asked, producing Starsky’s picture from his wallet, showing it to Arenas.

“No. Should I?” The man said after glancing briefly at Starsky’s picture. He tried to look calm, though both detectives could see, if just for the smallest instant, a sparkle of recognition mixed with fear shining in his eyes.

“Listen Mr. Arenas. This man is a police officer. Sergeant Detective David Starsky. Two years ago, he was kidnapped in his apartment, and we know for sure that the men who grabbed him were two brothers that worked in the General Mental Health Hospital. We were wondering if you and your brother could possibly tell us something about.” Hutch explained as Newman kept his arms folded over his chest and his hand placed onto his gun holstered under his jacket, ready to drag it out if needed.

“Kidnapped?” The woman cut off nervously. “¿Eso significa secuestro, Julio? ¿Secuestro de un policía?  ¿Que habéis hecho, Julio? ¡Por el amor de Dios! ¿Que habéis hecho?” She shouted increasingly upset.

("That means kidnapping, Julio? Kidnapping of a police officer? What have you both done, Julio? For God sake! What have you done?" )

“¡CALLATE MUJER!” ("Shut up, woman!") Julio screamed at his wife raising a menacing hand to her while Hutch and Newman got between him and the woman to prevent him from hurting her.

“Okay, Mr. Arenas. Now you’re coming to the precinct with us.” Newman stated while cuffing Arenas´ hands at his back. “We want to ask you a few questions. The first one is for starters, where we can find Roberto, your brother?”

Then, in front of both detectives amazement, Julio Arenas broke down.

“Roberto didn’t want to do it! I had to convince him!” Arenas screamed. “You don’t understand! We needed money to save the life of our kid, Juanito! He was very sick, and that woman told us that she didn’t wanted to hurt that guy! Besides, she offered us a lot of bucks just for getting him and taking him to her house! We had no other choice! We couldn’t refuse that money!”

At that moment, all three men turned startled to look at Arenas´ wife. She had uttered a blood-curling yell, falling to her knees and holding her head with both hands.

“¡NOOOOO!...¡El dinero para el tratamiento de mi Juanito! ¡Mi bebé! ¡Nooooo! ¡Mi bebe murió por tu culpa! ¡El Señor se lo llevó de nuestro lado por que ese dinero estaba manchado de sangre! ¡Manchado por el sufrimiento de un hombre! ¡Era dinero del Diablo! ¡Dinero del Diablo!...”

("Noooo! The money for the medical treatment for my Juanito! My baby! Nooo! My baby died because of your fault! The Lord took him away from us because that money was stained with blood! Stained with one man’s suffering! It was money from the Devil! Money from the Devil!")

The next few minutes at Julio Arenas’ place were plainly dreadful. His wife, victim of a nervous breakdown and surrounded by her terrified older kids did nothing but scream and cry, while insulting her husband with a string of angry Spanish words, unintelligible for Hutch and Newman, while they had to restrain Julio to prevent him to get closer to his family. Both detectives had seen more than once people that, in feeling trapped would take any member of their own families as hostage to get a way out, and they weren’t willing to take that risk. Meanwhile, one of the kids had gone to call for neighbours to help his mother. It was only after the arrival of the two women who rushed into the small apartment, hurrying to the crummy couch were Mrs. Arenas laid crying hysterically when the detectives left to take Julio Arenas to the precinct.

The fact was that once arrested, he didn’t try anything, and he obediently told Hutch and Newman the address of the garage where his brother Roberto was at that moment, working as a car repairman.

A few hours later, after Hutch had left the hospital to look for the men who had helped Diana Harmon to destroy Starsky’s life as well as his own, they were arrested. He had gotten them, and as odd as it sounded, he didn’t feel even a little satisfied, much less retaliated. Hutch rather felt empty, upset and miserable, and he knew for sure that Starsky would feel the same way if he knew why those men had done what they had done, because even being an unforgivable fault besides a major crime, it was nothing but a desperate attempt to save the life of their little kid. That fact, turned the whole situation into something especially sordid and sad, and Hutch, for his own amazement found himself unable to hate those men as much as he was supposed to. At that moment he only feel the pushing need to start over, going back to Starsky’s side to face the future with him and to do all in his power to mend their lives as much as possible.

Plunged into those thoughts, Hutch stepped into Starsky’s room, to see in bewilderment that his friend wasn’t there. The bedcovers of his bed were gone and the nightstand was empty of all his stuff.

“Starsky?” He asked, yet not expecting an answer “But ….What happened here?” Hutch asked for himself, turning on his heels and striding to the nurses station to ask, a little more roughly than he intended about Starsky’s whereabouts.

“Oh…well...the fact is that I wasn’t here when they took him away.” A young nurse explained shyly, bracing herself for the outburst to come.

“They took him away? Where? And who in hell are them?” Hutch demanded drilling the young nurse with his cold look.

“Mr. Starsky has been transferred to the General Mental Health Hospital, Detective.” The chief of nurses, getting into the conversation explained almost embarrassedly. “An ambulance took him there about an hour ago…I’m very sorry detective, but the order came directly from Doctor Preston. I couldn't do anything about it.”

Chapter 10

Hutch stood in front of the chief nurse, trying to put all his questions into coherent words.

“To the General Mental Health Hospital? But…You must be wrong! It’s impossible! I was just in there a while ago!” Hutch said, as if that had to mean something to the nurse. “Why, nurse?” He demanded fretfully. “Damnit! WHY HE HAS BEEN TAKEN THERE? And why in hell didn’t Preston tell me earlier about what he had in mind” he muttered, more to himself than to the chief nurse.

“Listen detective…Mr. Starsky has hurt a candy striper. It’s the only thing I know; I’m very sorry.” The woman apologized.

“He has…WHAT?...Oh. No, no. You’re wrong nurse, that’s n...not possible. Starsky never would do that.” Hutch nervously ran both hands through his hair.

“Detective, I’m truly sorry but …” She tried to repeat her apologies.

“It’s okay nurse; it’s not your fault; now just tell me. Is Doctor Preston at his office? Hutch asked curtly.

“Oh, yes, he is, however I don’t think he’s going to be able to talk to you right now. He’s having a meting with…” The nurse trailed of at the sight of the blond detective striding resolutely towards Preston’s office and opening the door without even a knock.

“WOULD YOU MIND TELLING ME WHY IN THE HELL WOULD YOU DARE SEND STARSKY TO THE LOONY BIN, PRESTON?” Hutch barked while entering the office, too angry even to notice that Preston wasn’t alone. Standing across from his desk stood a petite young girl, almost a kid, not older than sixteen, wearing a red and white striped uniform. The teenager’s right cheekbone showed an angry bluish bruise.

“Detective Hutchinson, precisely I was...” Preston began to said, getting to his feet, while doing his best to draw one of his professional smiles on his thin, almost transparent lips.

“OH, COME ON! CUT THAT CRAP, PRESTON!” Hutch almost hollered, blind with fury. “I’ve asked you a question!”

“Calm down Ken, and listen to me. Your ex-partner has attacked a kid; a candy striper.” A familiar voice said at his back while entering in the psychiatrist office.

“Megan?” Hutch asked puzzled “What the hell do you have to do with this?”

“Nothing, Ken; it’s just that I saw you storming towards here and I had to find out the cause. I only came to keep you away from further troubles, dear. It’s obvious that as far as that patient is concerned, you aren’t able to think too clearly.” She said with a noticeable note of disdain in her words.

“Let me tell you something, Megan; this...” Hutch stopped for a moment as if choosing the right word. “This guy has shut Starsky in the General Mental Health Hospital as if he was a dangerous nutcase! And I don’t buy that bullshit about him hurting that girl!”

“Your wife told you the truth, Detective.” Preston said softly. “Mr. Starsky did hurt one of our volunteer aides when she went into his room to serve him his lunch. That fact, plus the clear hostility he has shown towards the hospital personnel during his stay here, is under my viewpoint an accurate indicative of a pretty serious mental disorder that we can’t deal with in here. That is the reason why he has forced me to take the decision of transferring him to the General Mental Health Hospital.”

“Please Doctor Preston…Please; you must hear me.” The young girl who until then had been silent asked tearfully. “That patient didn’t attack me!”

“Are you the one Starsky did hurt, according these doctors?” Hutch asked surprised, turning to look intently at the candy striper.

“Yes, sir…But what I’ve been trying to tell Doctor Preston is that Mr. Starsky didn’t do it on purpose.” The teenager explained, relieved that finally somebody was willing to listen to which she had to say.

“Care telling me what exactly happened, Miss…?” Hutch asked.

Preston interrupted him. “Listen detective, I don’t think that what this kid has to tell…”

“SHUT UP DAMN IT! I WANNA KNOW WHAT SHE HAS TO TELL US AND I’M GONNA HEAR IT WORD FOR WORD! AND LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING! I DON’T GIVE A FUCKING RAT ASS ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK!... IF I HAVE TO MAKE YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH, I’LL DRAG YOU TO THE BATHROOM AND I’LL CUFF YOU TO THE TOILET! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?” Hutch bellowed slamming hard the desk with his palm. Both the candy striper and Preston flinched, too scared to argue with the infuriated detective. The only one who dared to talk to him was Megan.

“Oh, come on Ken! Stop acting like a ridiculous goon!” She scolded stepping closer to her husband.

“Listen Megan. This ridiculous goon has his own ways of dealing with problems like the one I got on my hands right now.” Hutch snapped out. “So, if you don’t want to witness my way of sorting things out, then leave and go back to your work, whatever it is.”

“Alright, Ken. It’s your choice. Do it your way and screw up things as much as you want, as you always do, but don’t ask me for my support later, okay? There’s no way I’m going to help you to amend whatever the consequences of your thoughtless actions can be!” Saying so, Megan headed towards the door, leaving the psychiatrist office. The blond detective, not giving a second thought to his wife, looked again at the young girl that stood still in her spot in front of Preston’s desk, looking fearfully at all that was happening in front of her.

“What’s your name, Miss?” Hutch asked to the candy striper in his gentler tone.

“Diana, Diana Cameron, sir.” The kid answered not noticing the color draining from the face of the blond man in front of her.

“What did you say earlier, Diana?” Hutch asked, though already guessing what had happened “Do you think Starsky attacked you on purpose?”

“Oh no! As a matter of fact, no. I rather think that somehow, I’ve scared him…But I didn’t mean it, sir, you must believe me! I’m very sorry for what happened…”She apologized squeezing nervously her hands.”

“It’s okay Diana. It’s okay. I know that you didn’t want to scare Starsky.” Hutch soothed her “Just tell me, please. Did you tell him your name?”

“My name? Oh, yes, I did it…Why? Did I do something wrong, sir?” She answered confused.

“What happened then, Diana? Can you please tell me all that happened?” Hutch kept inquiring.

“Well, when I went into Mr. Starsky’s room carrying his lunch, he was asleep. Then I set the tray of food on the bed table and I tried to wake him up, because his meal was going to get cold if he didn‘t eat it soon. I touched his shoulder softly, calling out for him until he woke up and then I said to him ´Mr. Starsky, My name’s Diana. I brought you your lunch´ or, well; I don’t remember the exact words I said to him, but I said something like that. In that moment, he opened his eyes widely, though I don’t think he was really seeing me. The only thing I know is that in a matter of seconds he became very agitated, as if he was terrified of something.”

“And that was when he punched you in the face.” Preston stated earning an icy look coming from Hutch and an annoyed one from the young Diana.

“Please Dr Preston, that wasn’t what happened!” She complained vehemently. “He didn’t punch me! I told you that earlier, but it looks like you just don’t want to listen to me!” The girl’s voice was quivering; however, she was adamant about telling the truth on what had really happened.

“Listen Diana” Preston retorted. “No offence, but you’re too young and inexperienced to recognize a mentally unbalanced patient in…” Hutch raised his palm this time and glared silently at the psychiatrist, his icy stare showing he was the one in charge and he was going to allow the kid to keep talking.

“Maybe you’re right and I don’t know anything about mentally unbalanced patients, Dr Preston.” The young aide managed to say firmly, despite her nervousness. “But there’s something that I do know. That man hasn’t punched me. He was just upset, Doctor; he seemed scared and he began calling out for somebody named Hutch or something like that. Then I leaned towards him to try to calm him down and reach out for the buzzer on the headboard, and my closeness scared him further, I guess. That was when he shoved me forcefully away. Because of the push, I lost my balance, falling backwards knocking over the bed table with the tray of food and hitting my face against the wall. It looks like the noise woke Mr. Starsky fully, because by then he was trying to apologize, even to get out of bed to help me, despite his plastered leg; all the time telling me that he didn‘t mean to hurt me. In that moment though, in hearing the fuss, a few nurses rushed into the room and helped me to my feet, taking me out of there, and later was when I knew he had been transferred to the mental hospital...Please Doctor Preston. You must believe me!” The young Diana begged. “Nobody was in there to see it, but what I am telling you is what really happened…and I can’t bear the idea of that patient being moved to a place as horrible as a mental hospital for something that was just an accident! Especially after…after all that according what I’ve heard the poor man has been through!” Unable to control herself any longer, the kid burst into heartbreaking sobs, covering her face with both hands and scurrying out of Preston’s office.

“Okay, Preston.” Hutch said, focusing his full attention back to the psychiatrist. “You’ve heard the true version of the facts as well as I did. Starsky hasn’t attacked that poor kid, so I think that you should explain me how come that you were so obstinate about not listening to her, and why were you in such a hurry to transfer my partner to the mental hospital. Maybe are you hiding something that the hospital management should be aware of, Preston?”

“Listen Detective” One visibly pale Doctor Preston tried to argue. “I‘m very sorry, I can imagine how distressing this situation is for you, but even so, I must insist. It doesn’t matter what an oversensitive kid thinks about it; the General Mental Health Hospital isn’t any kind of sinister asylum for crazy people. Actually it’s a very good hospital, and in there, Mr. Starsky would get all the necessary care and psychiatric treatment that, giving his current condition he …”

“THAT’S ENOUGH PRESTON!” Hutch raised again his voice. “Ya know something? I wish you were able to feel a small amount of the sympathy that that oversensitive kid, as you called her seems to feel for the patients!” Hutch inhaled a deep breath while trying to restrain himself from punching the moronic face standing before him.

“And now, Doc, no more chat.” He said. “I don’t have the slightest interest in listening to any more of your lame explanations about this sorry issue. Of course, in the right time, I’ll make sure the hospital management knows about what looks like a quite irregular procedure. Right now the only thing I want is a discharge order to get Starsky out of the General Mental Health Hospital and back to his room in here to continue his recovery properly, and I dearly advise you to write it right now, because this situation is making me very, and I mean, very angry.” The doctor looked at Hutch, wondering when the blond man looked more scary; when he shouted or when he kept his voice low, soft and velvety and his blue eyes stared through him, as they did at that moment.

Knowing perfectly that no matter what he wanted, he had no choice but to do what the infuriated man in front of him was asking for, Preston wrote and signed Starsky’s discharge order, holding the document out to Hutch.

“Okay detective. Here it’s is. The discharge order for Mr. Starsky. I just hope you won’t regret your decision sooner than you thought.” The silent form of Hutch glaring impatiently at him was the cue for Preston to let his lecture aside.

“I’ll call the mental hospital and I ask them to have an ambulance ready to bring Mr. Starsky back here.” The psychiatrist announced moodily.

“Fine. And ask them to wait for me before doing anything, will you?” Hutch asked snatching the sheet of paper from Preston hand “I’ll be there in ten minutes, and just I hope Starsky will be okay, Preston…For all our sakes.”

~o0o~

Hutch drove towards the General Mental Health Hospital as fast as he could, arriving there ten minutes later and rushing upstairs with his heart racing in his chest. Starsky had to be scared. The blond one was sure that what had happened in the last few hours had to be too much for the already frail emotional state of his best friend. He just hoped that it wasn’t going to be the cause of a setback in his recovery.

For second time that day, Hutch was escorted again by the receptionist towards the office of the hospital chief, Doctor Walston, who greeted the detective with a look of bewilderment in his face. After exchanging a few explanations with the doctor and upon showing him the discharge petition signed by Preston, finally, the nurse lead Hutch towards Starsky’s room, while outside, an ambulance was getting ready to take the patient back to the hospital he had come from earlier.

That place did feel a bit frightening, or at least it was how Hutch felt it while walking towards his partner’s room. Sure, it was just a hospital; it looked and even smelled like any ordinary hospital, and there weren’t patients wandering through the corridors while staring in space with empty looks, neither strange sounds or shouts coming from the rooms. That place don’t looked at all like one of those frightening mental hospitals that horror movies usually described; in the corridors of the General Mental Health Hospital everything was calmness and silence. In fact, as Hutch remembered, the place was much calmer than Cabrillo had been. Maybe was precisely that calmness which made that place to seem specially distressing.

“This is Mr. Starsky’s room, Detective. Two orderlies will come in a few minutes to take him to the ambulance.” The nurse’s words took Hutch out of his reveries. When he came back to the here and now, the woman was already heading back towards the nurses station and Hutch found himself standing in front of the light grey door with the number 231 printed in a metallic tag at the top of it.

Hutch opened carefully the door, stepping inside to see Starsky lying in the only bed in the room. The curly haired man seemed to be asleep, and for some reason, the still form in the bed seemed for Hutch’s eyes even more thin and fragile than he had looked just a couple of hours earlier. What made Hutch’s heart sink though were the leather straps restraining Starsky’s wrists as well as his uninjured ankle.

“Starsk…oh, God, buddy…” The blond detective stopped in his tracks for a moment before approaching near the bed to start untying the restrains.

“Don’t worry Starsky, everything’s okay. I’m here, and right now you and me are going to leave this place.” Hutch soothed to an unaware Starsky while unbuckling the leather straps that pinned him to the bed.

“N-no…I…I didn’t want to hurt her…no…I didn’t…” Starsky began to mumble in feeling Hutch’s touch in his wrists.

“Shhhhhh…It’s okay, Starsk, take it easy, you didn’t hurt the kid.” Hutch soothed his half-asleep partner.

“Di-Diana, Hutch…She came…she came back to…to get me. I saw her, Hutch…But a moment later she…she just was gone…” Starsky looked at Hutch through half-opened, glassy eyes. For the blond one it was clear that his partner had been sedated.

“Listen Starsk.” Hutch said softly once Starsky’s limbs were free from the restraints. “She wasn’t Diana Harmon. That woman is dead, and she’s not going to come back to hurt you any more.”

“But she…she told me…She said her name…”Starsky trailed off, apparently too dazed to get a complete sentence past his lips.

“The whole thing was a mistake Starsky. Can you understand what I’m telling you, buddy?” Hutch asked.

“M-mistake?” Starsky asked blinking repeatedly, in an attempt to focus his gaze on Hutch.

“Yes Starsky. It was just a simple confusion. The girl that scared you is named Diana too, but she’s not that bitch, Diana Harmon. This Diana is just an inoffensive kid; a candy striper that was in charge of bringing you your lunch today.”

“W-what?...Oh, God! I…I’ve hurt her Hutch?...I’ve hurt a k-kid?” Starsky asked in dismay, as his hand grabbed a fistful of Hutch’s shirt

“No Starsk, you haven't hurt her, you only scared the poor kid a little, then she fell backwards, bruising her face, but she’s fine, partner, trust me.” Hutch reassured Starsky, patting his hand.

“But they…they said that I’ve hurt her…That I p-punched that girl.”

“Believe me, Starsk. You haven't attacked her. No matter what nurses or that bastard of a doctor named Preston can say. The kid explained me what happened, and she has assured me that none of it was your fault.”

“You’re sure of that, Hutch? I...I didn’t hurt her?” Starsky insisted.

“Honest Starsky. I’m totally sure.” At that moment, two orderlies walked into the room, interrupting their conversation. Both men wheeled a stretcher, to carry Starsky to the ambulance that would take him back to the BC General Medical Center.

Given that the last remains of the sedative were still lingering in his bloodstream, Starsky fell asleep during the ride in the ambulance, waking up already settled in his former room with Hutch by his side. The blond one hoped that the events of that afternoon wouldn’t have been too traumatic for his partner, though, knowing Starsky as well as he did, Hutch guessed that the idea of that he had hurt the young girl was going to give him a hard time. However he didn’t know how right he was until next day when the young Diana went into the room carrying the tray with Starsky’s breakfast.

“Good morning Mr. Starsky. Here’s your breakfast.” The kid said settling carefully the tray onto the bed table. Starsky needed just a look at the girl’s right cheekbone to become pale as a ghost.

“Oh my…You...You’re Diana, right?” He asked in thready voice, distressed both for what he had done and by the sound of that scaring name passing his lips.

“Yes sir.” She answered shyly.

“I…did that to you?” Starsky asked while pointing at the kid’s cheekbone with a shaking forefinger as Hutch kept silent a few steps away.

“It was nothing, Mr. Starsky, just a little accident...And I am very sorry that Doctor Preston took you to the mental hospital, my fault.” She apologized in such a childlike way that it managed to bring a soft smile to Hutch’s lips.

“Your fault?” Starsky asked amazed “Come on, kid, I was the one who’d hurt you!”

“No sir. You didn’t.” She insisted. “And I don’t want you to feel bad because of something that was just an accident. Yesterday when I brought you your lunch, you were asleep; I tried to wake you up, and it looks like I startled you, then you pushed me away and I fell, hitting my face against the wall. That’s all that happened.”

“But… if you got hurt is just because I shoved you against that wall” Starsky stated contritely. Diana stared at Starsky for a moment, biting her lower lip, doubting if what she wanted to say was right or not. Finally, she spoke again.

“Excuse me sir, I don’t want seem rude, but can I ask you something?” She asked seriously.

“Sure Diana, what’s that?”

“Dou you think you’re the kind of man able to hurt a fifteen year old girl on purpose?” The question took Starsky and Hutch aback.

“Oh, no! No, of course, not!” Starsky answered intensely.

“So that’s my whole point sir. I don’t think it either. It was just an accident. And accidents happen, right?”

“Oh, well...” Starsky trailed off not to sure about what to say.

“Listen Mr. Starsky.” Diana said. “Now I must go. I’ve got work to do, but I’ll come later to bring you your lunch. And I don’t like to see you brooding, feeling guilty for something that wasn’t your fault, or I’ll feel guilty too…And doesn’t it sound pretty silly? You feeling guilty for me; I feeling guilty for you…Geez! The whole thing sounds like the plot of any of those soap operas my grandma likes so much.” She joked making both detectives smile widely.

“Okay Diana.” Starsky agreed after a few seconds of silence. “You got it. I won’t blame myself any more, on one very important condition.”

“Condition?” The girl raised one eyebrow. “And what’s that condition?”

“No more Mr. Starsky, okay? It makes me feel awfully old; like some kind of grandfather, and I’m still a pretty young guy to feel this way, I guess. From now on, you’ll call me just Dave. Deal?”

“Deal Mr.…sorry; I mean, just Dave.” The kid joked cheerfully stretching one hand out to shake Starsky’s hand. “And now I must go or I’m going to get myself into trouble with the chief of nurses. See you later!”

Diana trotted outside the room while Hutch stepped closer to the bed table to be near to Starsky when both men saw the young candy striper hurrying back into the room.

“We were talking for so long, most likely your cereal must be cold. I’ve thought that maybe you’d prefer to eat something more tasty instead.” The girl explained while producing a couple of candy bars from her pocket “I got this from the candy machine to have a morning snack with my friend Sue, but it doesn’t matter. I can get more...Can you eat sweet stuff, I guess?” She inquired gravely before handing the candy bars to Starsky.

“Sure, honey. And I love it.” Starsky said as his smile went wider.

“Fine.” She said giving the goodies to Starsky “But don’t tell any nurse about, okay?”

“Don’t worry Diana. Your secret is safe with us.” Starsky assured, looking at Hutch, then back at Diana.

“Oh my God!” She looked at her wristwatch. “I think I’m in a hurry now…bye!”

Both men looked at the girl leaving with a smile of amusement dancing on their lips. As Hutch thought, that kid with her childlike naivety had helped Starsky to get rid of a heavy burden, besides to light a little his spirits, and he was very thankful for that. However, he knew perfectly that the way back to normal was going to be long…very long and hard.

Chapter 11

The days kept melting, one into the next one. By then, Hutch had begun working again, not in a regular schedule but rather taking care of some paperwork from time to time. He also had come back to spend the nights at his home, and so had Megan, given that her parents had left the city to spend a couple of weeks on a cruise through the Mediterranean Sea.

That day, the blond one had to go to the precinct for a while to work on some overdue reports, so once making sure that Starsky would be okay while he was gone, Hutch headed to the hospital exit.

Once in the precinct, he went to his desk and worked silently for a couple of hours, until he felt the pressing need to go back to the hospital. To be in the precinct without Starsky wasn’t agreeable at all, it was just boring duty. He was looking forward to the day when his partner will be able to come back, if not to the streets, at least to do desk duty. If Starsky could be back by his side, the idea of spending the whole day at the squad room wouldn’t seem so tedious as it had seemed in the past. Actually, Hutch was sure about one thing. He’d rather prefer to be stuck with the paperwork until his retirement day with Starsky at the near by desk than go back to the streets with any other partner.

Hutch drove back to the hospital, arriving there a short while later. When he entered Starsky’s room, the brunet was asleep, and as it was becoming more frequent to see, especially in the last few days, he seemed to be resting peacefully, free of nightmares.

As Hutch had been hoping, finally Starsky’s health and former physical strength seemed to be returning, albeit slowly. Within the last few days, the brunet was getting out of bed and walking a few steps from time to time with the help of crutches, and the day in which he would be able to leave the hospital was drawing closer, though doctors hadn’t fixed a definite date yet.

He had also put on some more weight and his malnutrition state, as well as his anemia were healing as doctors had expected. Besides, according the X-rays the fracture in his leg was too on its way to mending, and the last remains of infection were gone days ago, so, as far as his physical condition was concerned, the medical staff were totally confident in a complete recovery.

What wasn’t returning was his old joy and Starsky’s natural buoyancy, and that fact didn‘t surprise Hutch at all. Actually, the blond detective was quite sure that the brightest, the happiest side of his best friend, the one part of Starsky that Hutch was missing terribly had died during the two years he suffered in that basement.

Another subject that was worrying Hutch especially was the fact that soon he would have to tell Starsky about his mother’s death, about the loss of his apartment and about the fact that since everybody had given him up for dead, he had lost his job on the force. Those were subjects that the blond one had managed to avoid until then, but he knew that very soon, he would have to talk to Starsky about it all. Hutch knew too that the later he did it, the worse the emotional impact could be for his friend, but he simply couldn't find the courage to do it...Not yet, especially since that moment where Starsky’s mood seemed to have improved a little after the day he told Hutch about the details of his ordeal in Diana’s hands. It wasn’t that the brunet looked happier, nor that he was more talkative either, but, he wasn’t snapping or yelling at nurses and doctors for the smallest reason any longer. Maybe it was just a little improvement in his emotional state, but Hutch was content with that.

On the other hand, Starsky had begun to have appointments with a new psychiatrist; Dr Moira Callahan, an imposing yet gentle and understanding woman in her late fifties, who somehow, despite the ups and downs of the first sessions was managing to get along with Starsky much better that Preston did.

As for the younger psychiatrist, he had been out of sight since the day that Hutch made sure that his order of transferring Starsky to the mental hospital didn’t go unnoticed by the board of hospital management. He didn’t know what consequences it had brought to Preston, given that nobody in the hospital was saying a single word about it, but truth be told, the blond one didn’t care about it or him. His first priority was Starsky’s recovery, and with that, Hutch had his hands full.

Nonetheless, he wasn’t going to be overly concerned about knowing what happened to the psychiatrist. Hutch found out about the matter, totally by chance while picking his lunch in the self-service line of the hospital cafeteria, overhearing the chat between two indiscreet nurses.

~o0o~

“Wait, wait a moment, Sarah. Are you telling me that that shrink has been caught red handed doing dirty businesses and that he has been fired?” One of the hospital nurses asked in amazement to another one while they were picking out their lunches in the self-service bar a few steps away from Hutch.

“Yeah, it looks like for some time now he has been getting pretty wealthy commissions for each patient he was sending to the loony bin, until somebody gave the game away. Let me tell you this though, unfortunately Preston hasn’t been exactly fired, at least not yet. The management board of the hospital has opened an investigation and he has been suspended without pay until the matter clears up. Anyway, I bet the guy’s professional profile isn’t going to come out too well after this.” The nurse called Sarah explained. By then, having heard Preston’s name, and despite himself, Hutch had begun to pay closer attention to the conversation between both women.

“So tell me; who was the one who found out what was going on?”

“Oh, come on, Joan! Really, you haven't heard anything about this?...so let me tell you something. You must be the only one! This situation is a true scoop in the whole hospital.” Sarah answered, clearly enjoying the gossiping. “Looks like that greedy moron picked the wrong patient, you know, that cop that was shut up for a few years in that derelict warehouse or basement or, well, I don’t know for sure where he was.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about that…poor guy.” Joan commented sympathetically

“So it seems that after some sort of involuntary incident the patient had with a candy striper, Preston tried to pass him off as insane, and he ordered his transfer to the General Mental Health Hospital during a moment in which his friend; another cop that spends most of time with him wasn’t in here. Then, when the friend came back and found out what Preston had done, he didn’t wait too long before telling the whole thing to the chief manager… and that was after scaring the hell out of Preston by the way! Nancy, the chief of nurses on that floor told me that the cop’s shouts in the doc’s office could be heard all across the floor!”

“What a shame! On the pediatric floor we never get so much fun!” The nurse called Joan complained jokingly.

By then, Hutch had heard all that he wanted. Preston was in serious trouble. Good, the blond one thought, smiling inwardly, serves him right! He felt good for that.

Carrying his lunch tray he headed to a sunny corner of the dining room, settling himself at a small table as a soft smile of contentment curled his lips.

See Preston? Hutch thought. It isn’t a good idea to pick on a man’s partner!

~o0o~

After eating his lunch, Hutch came back to Starsky’s room. As soon as he stepped in, though, he knew that something was wrong, very wrong with his partner. It was all written in the darkened eyes of Starsky; in his gloomy, silent expression.

“Hey partner, something’s wrong?” Hutch asked tentatively, approaching Starsky’s bed and squeezing gently his shoulder.

“Apart from having lost my mother, my job and even my apartment you mean?…Well, that plus your respect, of course” Starsky snapped.

“Oh, God Starsk…listen, I…” Hutch muttered as he felt his cheeks flushing.

“No Hutch…Don’t try to make me buy some more of your bullshit, okay? I had enough of that.” A shot in his heart would have been less painful to Hutch than those words.

“How?...How did you find out?” Was the only thing that he, still frozen in his spot, was able to ask Starsky.

“Nicky. He called a while ago to tell me that Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie wanna come here and see me. Looks like they aren’t happy enough with their phone calls, they’d like to see with their own eyes the shipwreck I’ve turned into.” The curly haired man said sarcastically.

Damn you, Nicholas Marvin Starsky! You had a great time throwing on your brother the bad news through the fucking phone! Hutch thought while trying to find the right words to say to Starsky.

“Starsky...I…I can explain…” He trailed off, almost flinching in seeing the cold anger shining in Starsky’s eyes.

“Save it, buddy. I don’t wanna hear it. In fact, I have a much better explanation than the crap you’re about to tell me. You haven't told me about my mother’s death nor the other stuff ´cause you think I’m not a sane, adult man but a poor devil, a nutcase unable to deal with his own problems.”

“Starsky! That’s not true and you know it!” Hutch retorted.

“Yeah? Then, why in the hell didn’t you tell me about all of that, huh? How come every time I asked you for my mother you came up with a pretext, a lie to justify why she hadn’t come here to be with me? Huh? Why!”

“´Cause you…”

“´Cause you think I am just a poor, useless waste! That’s why!” Starsky cut him off “Admit it Hutch. You think I’m unable to cope with things like I used to do! You don’t trust me anymore!”

“Come on Starsky! You’re being a bit irrational here, don’t you think?”

Starsky shrugged stubbornly his shoulders “Yeah, sure, and for that, you think you have the right to treat me like a child?”

“Okay Starsky, okay! I hid a few important facts from you, so blame me!...Wanna know why I did it?” Hutch asked clenching his fists, trying to keep calm. Meanwhile Starsky kept silent, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.

“Maybe you don’t care about, but I’ll tell you anyway! I feared for you, dammit! I thought that you had gone through enough already and that you had to grow stronger before being able to deal with the bad news! I was trying to protect you! That’s my only fault, shit! The only one!”

Starsky’s gaze shifted from the ceiling to stare into Hutch’s eyes. “That’s very touching Hutchinson, and very laudable from you, however, didn’t you think that maybe, just maybe the best way you could help me was being the same man, the same friend I had when that…that bitch took me away?”

“I’m sorry Starsky…I made a mistake and I am very sorry for that but…” Hutch apologized.

“No Hutch. I don’t wanna hear your apologies. Right now, I don’t wanna hear anything. I just wanna be alone, before I say something that I may regret.”

Starsky was angry and deeply hurt. Hutch knew it by the soft and calm tone of his voice, by his measured words. If there was any chance to make things up, that wasn’t the right moment. At that point, Hutch only had once choice. Do as his friend was asking for and let him alone.

“Okay Starsk, I’ll come back tomorrow. If you need me, I’ll be at home. My phone number is in here.” Hutch said pointing at the nightstand before silently leaving the room, shuffling his feet tiredly through the door.

~o0o~

The impact from the sad news that had been delivered to Starsky was as bad as Hutch had expected. The blond one was doing nothing but blaming himself for his failure in handling the whole situation better and for not talking to his partner at the right moment. Starsky kept silent and subdued, withdrawn into himself and Hutch’s tries to make him say more than the indispensable amount of words were fruitless.

The same situation went on for days that seemed like months for Hutch until, unable to stand it any longer; the blond one decided that he had to try to solve things between him and Starsky. And that he had to do it without further delay.

The decision of making things straight with his partner in one way or another came that morning, while Hutch was heading towards Starsky’s room after coming back from his house. At first, the detective was resigned to endure one more day of long silences and cold replies, but then, all of sudden something rebelled inside him.

If Starsky thinks that he’s the only one having a hard time in dealing with this situation, he’s very wrong, totally wrong, damn! Maybe he thinks all that’s happening is a picnic for me?...Damn it, Starsky! Why are you always stubborn like a mule? Hutch wondered angrily while heading at a fast pace to his friend’s room.

Once inside, he strode resolutely towards Starsky’s bed, where the brunet was absentmindedly running through the TV channels with the remote. Without even a greeting, Hutch approached him, snatching the device from Starsky’s hand and turning off the TV.

“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing!” Starsky exclaimed startled.

“Tell me something, Starsky? How longer do you plan to keep giving me the silent treatment?” Hutch asked dryly “One week? Two? Forever?

“I don’t wanna argue Hutch. Let it alone.” Starsky answered in low, warning tone, not looking into Hutch’s eyes.

“Dammit Starsky! I don’t wanna argue either! I just wanna sort things out!” Hutch said, his voice rising.

“Sort things out you said?” Starsky asked sourly “It’s a little late for that, don’t ya think?”

“NO! At least with the David Starsky I remember, it was never too late to say I’m sorry and amend things.” Hutch said dejectedly “But things must have changed a whole lot in the years we were apart, I guess.”

The answer, being conciliatory enough did nothing but start the flame of a fierce fit of anger coming from Starsky.

“DAMN YOU HUTCHINSON!” He bellowed. “The David Starsky you remember had a partner! A friend that used to treat me like an equal! One who used to tell me everything, especially the things that mean something to me, like the death of my mother! There was a time in which you wouldn’t think you had the right to hide things from me! When did that change, huh? When did I turn into a defenseless child? AND WHEN DID YOU TURN INTO MY FATHER!”

“OKAY STARSKY, OKAY! IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY I’LL TELL YOU ONCE MORE! YOU’RE RIGHT! I DID A MISTAKE, A HUGE ONE!” Hutch said in an equally loud voice. “I screwed up things! And you don’t know how sorry I am for that, but even so, I don’t think it gives you the right to behave yourself in the appalling way you’re doing! You’re doing nothing but treating me like scum, Starsky! For God sake! Is what I did a too big aggravation for you to forgive me?”

“NOBODY’S SAYING HERE THAT I CAN’T FORGIVE YOU, HUTCH! ISN’T THAT!”

“Then what, huh? What’s wrong with you Starsky? WHAT?” Hutch asked opening his arms widely.

“It’s just that…that…SHIT! I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS! I’d like to know, but I don’t! I only know that my life is crumbling under my feet and I can’t find a way to prevent it from happening! I’m pissed off, lost and scared! And what you did made me feel even worse! IS THAT SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND?” Starsky yelled out while grabbing the vase with flowers that were on the nightstand, crashing it against the wall.

“I know how you feel, Starsky! I know it, fuck! But do you really think that all of this has been any easier for me?” Hutch asked in low tone, unimpressed by Starsky’s outburst. “Sure, I didn’t go through the same ordeal that you went through, and I’m not trying to compare my suffering with yours, but it wasn’t easy for me either. All of sudden, you were missing, gone, vanished. And from then on, I had to deal with a big lot. My own inability, besides the failure of the whole department to find you, and a short while later, the certainty of your death! All of that plus my own incapacity to go on with my life in the right way…And then, there was your sudden return and all the emotions that it carried along. Overwhelming happiness, concern, fear when doctors told me that you could lose your leg, and overall, the guiltiness. That guiltiness that I think I’ll be never able to get rid of, because who got to you; the one who has stolen two years of our life was the one damn bitch I decided to have a night of sex with!...” At that moment, a nurse alarmed by the uproar, hurried into Starsky’s room.

“What’s going on here gentleman?...Have you forgotten that this is a hospital?” She asked glancing bewildered at the mess of sharp pieces of glass, water and flowers spreading onto the floor

“WHAT’S THE MATTER NURSE?” Starsky yelled out at the woman “CAN’T A COUPLE OF GUYS HAVE A FIGHT IN PEACE? GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE, DAMMIT! GET LOST!” Without waiting to hear more, the startled nurse, scurried away, disappearing from view.

“Congrats partner.” Hutch scolded sarcastically. “I bet that nurse is already knocking at Dr Callahan’s door to talk her into taking you back to the loony bin, and this time for good.” The brunet didn’t answer but stayed with his arms folded across his chest and looking grumpily at the front wall.

“Listen Starsk” Hutch tried again. “I feel lost, scared and pissed off too. For all that has happened to you, to me and for the long road we have ahead us until our lives return to normal, whatever the term ´normal’ means for us from now on. I’m very sorry for hiding from you all those things I should have told you, but I can’t change what I did. I wish I could, but I can’t. I only hope my mistake doesn’t turn into an insurmountable crack between us.” Hutch approached to the bedside chair sitting down

“Soon you’ll be discharged out of this hospital, Starsky. And until you’re back in shape and you are able to find a new apartment, nothing would make me happier than having you living at my place, with me. But for our own sake you can’t keep being mad at me, not talking to me, or even worse, treating me like if I was your worst enemy, don’t you think so?” Hutch stared at Starsky until his gaze did meet the dark blue eyes of his friend.

“I’m sorry, Hutch. I don’t like to be angry at you…It’s just that…everything is turning out to be so difficult for me…” Starsky apologized meekly. “I know that all that has happened in these years hasn’t been easy for you. And that you’re doing things as well as you can.”

“Though it looks like at times I get them pretty screwed up.” Hutch answered.

Starsky breathed deeply “It seems that for these last days I didn’t make things too easy either. And I have been nothing but a true pain in the ass for you, I guess.”

“Well, it’s just part of your natural charm.” Hutch joked fondly while feeling his heart getting lighter, releasing a heavy burden.

“Forgive me, Hutch. I really am not mad at you…it’s just that I needed to vent my anger on somebody…and you were the closest one, I guess…Man! That sounded real nasty.” Starsky said in such sheer dismay that it make Hutch smile.

“It’s okay, Starsk. Really, it’s okay. I know how you feel. You don’t need to apologize.” he assured “And now, how about forgetting this whole matter? Uh?”

“Yeah…That’s a good idea” Starsky answered “After all it’s not funny to be angry with a guy that doesn’t get scared when I throw a vase with flowers against the wall.” Starsky joked, though still looking ashamed.

“Moron!” Hutch said slapping Starsky softly in the back of his head.

Things seemed to be coming back to normal. The bond of friendship that both men shared had been strained, yet not broken. That certainty was enough for Hutch to give him the needed strength to face the future confidently.

~o0o~

Once that emotional storm was over, Hutch tried to help Starsky as much as possible through the process of mourning his mother. Rachel Starsky had been a kind, caring woman and Starsky was having a real hard time coping with her death and with the fact that he hadn’t been there with her to say their last good bye.

At the same time though, and to Hutch’s relief, Starsky, as if trying to make up for the lost years began showing interest in what had happened in the blond’s life while he had been missing.

Somehow, Hutch feared that moment, because he knew that eventually he should tell Starsky about his failing marriage with Megan, though at the same time he felt eager to share with the most important person in his life the happiness of his coming fatherhood

“Tell me about your wife, Hutch.” The brunet asked all of sudden, one quiet evening in which both men were distractedly watching TV.

“Huh?” Hutch mumbled taken off guard.

“Your wife, Hutch. The only thing I know about her that she’s a doctor in this hospital and that she’s pregnant; well, that and her name, of course. It’s Megan, right?”

“Yeah…Megan. Her name’s Megan.” Hutch said bowing his head. The moment had come and the fact was that the prospect of telling Starsky about Megan wasn’t too easy for the blond detective. And it wasn’t just because he had married her while his best friend was kidnapped.

“Is she a nice lady, I guess?” Starsky asked with a strange look in his eyes.

“Nice?...Oh, well, she’s beautiful, besides very intelligent.” And as nice as Cinderella’s stepmother Hutch thought darkly.

“Beautiful besides very intelligent?” Starsky asked already positively sure that something was wrong with Hutch’s relationship with his wife. “And that’s all, Hutch?”

“What do you mean with ‘that’s all’, Starsky?” Hutch asked feeling increasingly nervous. “She’s my wife and in a few weeks she’ll be the mother of my baby.”

“Yeah, sure, those are the facts, but that’s not what I am asking you, Hutch.” Starsky said firmly.

“Starsky, I don’t get…”

“Do you remember Terry, Hutch?” Starsky cut off as Hutch swallowed nervously.

“Terry? Of course I remember Terry! How could I forget her Starsky?” The blond one retorted a little sharper that he intended.

“Do you remember all that I said about her from the very first day we met each other, Hutch?” Starsky asked quietly. “I used to say that she was wonderful, lovely, caring and gentle like no other woman I‘d ever met.” Starsky reminded with a melancholic smile. “I said too that I couldn't picture my life without her by my side…I said and felt all those things that only dumb guys in love are able to say and feel. And of course I said she was nice. The nicest woman one man can possibly find.”

“Listen Starsk. Not all people are alike. Neither do we feel things in the same way.”

“Okay, okay. You got a point there.” Starsky conceded “However I’ve seen you when you’ve been in love; with Gillian or Jeannie, for example, and for you, those ladies were much than just beautiful and intelligent, Hutch…What I’m trying to tell you is that something is very wrong here, Hutch. The clues are everywhere. For example, you are married to a doctor that spends all her working hours in this hospital and for whatever reason, she hasn’t deigned to even to come here and meet me yet. She has never dropped by here to pick you up, to have lunch with you in the cafeteria or anything, either, and maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem too normal to me. Maybe she thinks I’ve got the plague?”

“Look Starsky, she…Megan is very busy lately.” Hutch tried to say quite unconvincingly, while realizing once more, how smart and perceptive his best friend still was, despite the years he had been apart from everything and everybody.

“Does she know that you used to have a partner, a best friend and that I happened to be that one?” Starsky asked, as a veil of sadness tinged his eyes.

“Starsky, for God sake! You don’t happened to be that one! You ARE that one!”

“Okay, so tell me. Does she know that?” Starsky pushed further. “Or rather I should ask; does your wife care about your feelings, Hutch? About all those things that mean something to you?” The question was direct, open, and the brunet was expecting nothing but an equally honest answer. And Hutch knew that he had to tell Starsky the truth.

“You got it, Starsk. No. Actually I don’t think Megan cares about what I feel at all.” He said getting to his feet and starting his restless pace across the room. “In fact, I don’t think she loves me and I, well…I don’t love her either. I guess that we stick together just for the baby’s sake.”

“Just for the baby’s sake, huh?” Starsky asked pensively. “So precisely for the baby’s sake you both should try and sort things out. One way or another, Hutch. And you already know what I’m talking about, I guess. You and Megan should solve your problems, whatever they are, or maybe, you should split up, if there’s not any other chance for you both. Otherwise, perhaps some day your kid is going to hate you both for not doing so…Think about, Hutch. It’s the only tip I can give you…Think about it.”

Once more, David Michael Starsky; the street wise, hot headed, unsophisticated guy that had no college degree and at times had the manners of a precocious seven years old, was teaching Hutch that despite which some people could think, there wasn’t anybody else as insightful as him to understand human feelings.

Starsky had given him advice, and Hutch only could do one thing with it. Think carefully.

~o0o~

After the long weeks he had spent in the hospital, Starsky was already bored out of his mind. For him, all the days seemed endless, and he felt strong enough to go back to the real world. He was looking forward to the day in which he’d finally be discharged.

That morning he had eaten his breakfast. The nurse’s aides had made his bed, the cleaning lady had cleaned his room and Doctor Morrison had already make his daily visit to him, but unlike another days Hutch wasn’t there yet. The blond one hadn’t phoned him either and Starsky was beginning to grew anxious, looking at his wristwatch every few minutes while a nagging worry settled itself in his insides.

The curly haired man had called Hutch at his place twice, not getting answer, and at that moment, he was thinking about phoning the precinct when the phone on his nightstand rang.

“Starsky!” He answered fretfully.

“Starsk, partner…Sorry for not calling you earlier, but I am on the maternity floor. Megan is in labor!”

“What?...She?…she is?” Starsky stuttered. “But you told me that the baby wasn’t expected yet!”

“Yeah. She shouldn’t be in labor for a couple of weeks yet, but it looks like babies don’t care too much about the calendar...Look Starsk, I gotta go, okay? I’ll call you later.”

The line went dead and Starsky stared briefly at the receiver in his hand before replacing it in its’ cradle. A whirlwind of bittersweet emotions flooded his heart while he thought how much things had changed.

Hutch was now a married man, and in a few hours, he’ll be a father too. And Starsky was very happy for his best friend, yet mixed with his happiness there was something more. Starsky realized that at that point he wasn’t the most important person in Hutch’s life any longer. Even knowing that he wasn’t being fair, he couldn't help himself. A dull pain was squeezing his soul. Starsky knew for sure that Hutch never would leave him adrift; however, he felt like a sad, pitiful and lost third wheel.

Okay Starsky, there’s not time for self-pity now, he scolded himself shocking those unpleasant thoughts off his mind while putting on his dressing gown. Starsky then reached out for the crutches that were leaning against the wall, near to the padded chair in which he was sitting, and with difficulty, he got to his feet, heading out of the room.

“David!” On seeing Starsky in the corridor, the chief nurse hurried by his side to support him as the brunet staggered slightly.

“Damn, Nancy! You startled me! Looks like you saw the Boogey man!” Starsky protested.

“Where were you going on your own, David? Didn’t Doctor Morrison warn you that it’s too early for that? You are still a little weak. You could fall down and get hurt.”

“I gotta get to the maternity floor, Nancy. Hutch went in labor…I mean his wife, that is!” Starsky said while making his way towards the elevators with the nurse walking by his side, surrounding his waist and grabbing his arm.

“Wait, wait a moment, David. Did you plan to walk all the way there on your own?” She asked, planting her feet firmly, facing Starsky and making him stop.

“Come on Nancy! Don’t make me waste more time, honey!” Starsky pleaded fretfully. “I must be with Hutch! He's going to have his baby any moment!”

“No David, no way. You’re not leaving this floor! You’re not in shape yet to go strolling around the hospital and you know it!” The nurse stated firmly.

“Listen Nancy. I don’t wanna argue. I’m going there, with or without your permission, so, how about letting me go, huh? I bet you’ve got a lot of work to do, you’d be more useful doing that than being here, babysitting me.” Starsky said as his eyes shined with defiance, though he wasn’t angry with the nurse, actually. He was just unwilling to give up. He wanted to be with Hutch, and nobody was going to stop him from doing so.

“Okay, David, I get the point.” Nancy snorted. “You are the most stubborn patient this hospital has admitted in ages and you’re going with your friend, no matter what I say, right?”

“Exactly, Nancy. You got it. And now, ya mind getting outta my way?”

“I think I have a better idea, David. Can you wait a minute for me, please?” The nurse asked while leading Starsky towards a row of padded chairs against the wall, gently pushing him to sit down.

“Listen Nancy, I don’t have time for that, whatever it is. I really must go to the maternity floor now! I mean it…Nancy!” Starsky called out while the nurse trotted towards a nearby storeroom, disappearing inside, as the curly haired man was again struggling to his feet.

Starsky was near the elevators when Nancy reached him wheeling a wheelchair equipped with an elevated leg rest.

“You couldn't even wait for me for a single minute, hmm?” Nancy said shaking her head.

“I’m in a hurry, Nancy...I...”

“Here; sit down David.” She cut off patting the seat of the wheelchair “I’ll take you to maternity.”

“Oh, come on, Nancy! I don’t need this thing!” Starsky protested.

“Sit down, please, David.” The nurse asked in her warning tone, pointing at the wheelchair.

“Okay, okay Nancy. You win…I’ll use the wheelchair, but just for a little while.” Starsky agreed reluctantly.

“Fine.” Nancy said. Then with the nurse’s help, Starsky sat down in the wheelchair. Really, the prospect of going to look for Hutch on the maternity floor, walking all the way there on his own looked like running the New York marathon to hin. Even though he was too stubborn to admit it, he looked relieved at the wheelchair.

A minute later, once they were on the maternity floor and after asking the nurses station the number of the room where Megan had been taken, Nancy wheeled Starsky’s wheelchair towards the corridor, stopping it in front of the room they had asked for.

“We’re here David. If you want me to pick you up to come back to your room, just ask to any nurse in this floor to call me, okay?”

“Thanks Nancy, you’re a wonderful lady, did you know that?” Starsky flattered the nurse.

“Yeah, sure. I bet you say the same thing to all the girls in this hospital.” She joked with a wink. “Don’t miss your lunchtime David. A childbirth isn’t matter of a little while and if Doctor Morrison knows that you’re out of bed for too long, he’s going to bite my head off. And don’t try to walk on your own, okay? Stay in the wheelchair.” The young woman asked Starsky before heading back to the elevators.

Starsky waited silently in front of the closed door for several minutes, waiting for his partner while he was with his wife, until finally, a not too happy looking Hutch stepped out of the room.

“Starsky! What are you doing here?” The blond one asked surprised, feeling grateful for his partner’s presence.

“Well, my partner is going to have a baby anytime. Right now I can’t picture a better place to be than here.” Starsky explained.

“Thanks buddy…I’m really glad you’re here.” Hutch squeezed Starsky’s shoulder fondly. “Let’s go to the waiting room, Starsk. We’ll be more comfortable there.” Hutch then wheeled his friend’s wheelchair through the corridor.

“Hey Hutch, what’s the matter?…something’s wrong with Megan?” Starsky inquired, finding quite odd the absence of Hutch by her side.

“Oh, no. She’s doing fine…Though I make her nervous…She told me so. Because of that she asked me to leave for a while.”

“She asked you…?” Starsky trailed off, truly bewildered.

“Yeah…Looks like we can’t find the right way to be together for too long without being at each other throats, not even in a moment like this one.” Hutch said dejectedly.

Starsky shook his head slightly, lowering his eyes. At that point, he hadn’t any doubt left. Hutch was caught in a very wrong relationship and he was quite sure that his partner and Megan would be unable to find any way to sort things out.

“Megan told me that today this room is sort of booked just for me.” Hutch explained once they entered into a small but cozily decorated waiting room “You know, it’s a little privilege for being the husband of the ICU chief. Nobody will bother us in here…Okay, Starsky, now let me help you to sit in the armchair. I bet it’s more comfortable than the wheelchair.” Hutch offered already bending forward to help Starsky to get out of the wheelchair.

Both men made themselves comfortable in both armchairs and they started their wait for news of the birth. Hutch went back to the labor room several times, spending time with Megan just to be told to leave again, each time at her request, to keep his vigil from the waiting room with Starsky by his side. The curly haired man, unwilling to leave Hutch alone at such an important moment of his life stayed there the whole day, deaf to all tries and coaxes of nurses, doctors and even Hutch to come back to his room and get some rest. The brunet didn’t leave the maternity ward, not even for lunch or dinner, and if he ate, it was just because Hutch went a couple of times to the sandwiches and cold drinks machines to get some food for them both.

Finally, after more than 12 hours of labor, Megan was taken to the delivery room. Hutch tried to stay with her, though the woman, never losing her professional composure was adamant about not wanting him in there. She said that most of the time, an inexperienced father was nothing but a nuisance for both the woman in labor and the medical team, so the blond one, with the disappointment showing in his face, came back to the waiting room, where Starsky, more tired than he was willing to admit had dozed off.

In seeing his partner asleep, Hutch picked his jacket from the rack, carefully covering the sleeping form with it, while a wave of tenderness washed over him. No matter what the next months would bring, Hutch did nothing but feel an overwhelming happiness and gratitude for having Starsky again by his side. At that moment the blond one was sure that having his best friend back, he’d be strong enough to face whatever the future could have in store for him.

~o0o~

In feeling the softness and warmth of Hutch’s jacket over his upper body, Starsky stirred, awaking from his light sleep. He looked around confusedly, unable for a moment to recognize his surroundings.

“Hey partner.” The blond one greeted.

“Hey…” Starsky mumbled drowsily, while rubbing his eyes. “What about the baby, Hutch?” He asked then, already remembering where he was.

“Megan was taken to the delivery room a few minutes ago. I don’t think the childbirth is going to take much longer.”

“And let me guess. She doesn’t want you in there either.” The brunet said matter of factly.

“You got it.” Hutch answered gloomily. “Megan says that I would do nothing but get in the way of the doctors and nurses…but I rather think that which really happens is just that she doesn’t want to appear that weak in front of me.”

“Oh man, Hutch! It looks like you picked a real nice lady again, huh?” Starsky snapped, feeling too angry and tired to be tactful any longer. What Megan was doing to Hutch by keeping him away from a wonderful, unique experience, as it was the birth of his first child was something that the brunet was unable to understand or excuse.

Unwilling to deal with the matter of Megan’s demeanor at that moment, Hutch got to his feet and changed the subject.

“You look drained Starsk. How about going back to your room, huh?”

“You’re joking, aren’t you?” Starsky retorted. “After waiting all day to meet the newest member of the Hutchinson family, do you thing I’m going to leave now and wait until tomorrow too see that little beauty?...Nah, forget it, Hutch. I’m not leavin’ until I see her, and that’s that.”

“Starsk?”

“Huh?”

“Thanks partner. I…I am very thankful for having you here.” Hutch said, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat.

“Anytime Blondie, anytime.” Starsky smiled patting Hutch’s knee. Both men fell again into a peaceful silence until Hutch spoke again.

“Starsky?” He asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.

“Yeah?”

“Starsky, I…I mean Megan and I; well, already we have chosen the baby’s name.”

“And what name is it?” Starsky asked. “I hope it’ll suit her and it’ll be a nice one.”

“I guess so…look Starsk; we want to name her Rachel. Rachel Marie Hutchinson.”

Starsky swallowed hard. “Oh, God…Hutch.” He said softly, resting his head against the back of the armchair and squeezing his eyes shut to keep unwanted tears at bay.

“I hope it’s okay with you, Starsk.” Hutch asked trying to get a hold in his own emotions.

“Okay?...It’s much more than okay, Hutch…I really don’t know what to say…” the brunet trailed off.

“Does that mean yes, Starsky? Do you agree?” Hutch asked quietly.

“Of course, Hutch. Of course I agree.”

“So then it’s settled.” Hutch stated. “My daughter’s name will be Rachel.”

“But Megan…Does Megan likes that name?” Starsky asked cautiously.

“Yes Starsk. She likes it. For once, we had no disagreements about this.”

“She doesn’t know that it was my mom’s name, does she?” the curly haired man asked plainly.

“Oh, come on, Starsky, Megan has nothing against you.” Hutch said firmly, although internally, he wasn’t wholly confident about that.

“Okay, okay. I got it.” The brunet conceded. “Anyway, answer me, Hutch. Does Megan know that Rachel was my mother’s name?”

Hutch paused for a moment; shifting nervously in his armchair, then he answered. “Well Starsky; as a matter of fact, we have never talked about your mother, so no. She doesn’t know it, nor she cares either, I guess. She just likes the name and that’s all…you know; Rachel is a beautiful name.”

“Yeah, It is.” Starsky said letting aside his thoughts on Hutch’s wife “Thanks Hutch. Thank you so much. It means a lot to me.” He added smiling pensively.

“To me too Starsk. Your mom was a great lady. She deserves it. And my little girl deserves too to be named after somebody as kind, brave and beautiful as Rachel was.”

Starsky just nodded in agreement, feeling too emotional to speak. For the next while none of them added anything more and the silence loomed again between both men, until nearly half an hour later, some soft steps were heard coming closer to the waiting room.

"Detective Hutchinson?" In seeing the doctor step into the room, Hutch jumped to his feet.

"How’s my baby….and Megan?" He asked fretfully.

"Fine detective, they both are fine. In a moment we’ll move Megan to a regular room and you’ll be able to go with her." Then, a nurse came in, wheeling a transparent plastic cot containing a baby wrapped in a little blanket printed with teddy bears. Hutch walked towards the cot, looking mesmerized at the tiny baby girl.

“Okay Detective. Time to meet your pretty little girl.” The nurse said with a smile, holding the baby out to him.

“Oh my…She’s so beautiful.” The blond one mumbled taking the baby carefully in his arms while Starsky stared speechless at the scene.

"I’ll come back in a moment to take the baby to her mommy, this way you can go with her." The nurse added before she and the doctor moved away, unnoticed by Hutch who, apparently had only eyes for the small baby in his arms. She had a thin, almost transparent blond hair and big blue-greyish eyes that stared at Hutch’s face with a frown.

“Hi little Rachel…I’m your daddy.” The blond detective said softly to the baby, taking her little fist into his much larger hand as his face lightened up with a shinning smile.

“God Starsk…she’s just wonderful.” Hutch said still unable to take his eyes off his little daughter, as Starsky craned his neck, trying to have a better sight of her.

“Wanna hold her Starsky?” Hutch then asked turning to face Starsky.

“Can…Can I?” The curly haired man asked shyly.

“Of course you can, buddy. You’re her Uncle Starsk; it’s time to you both to get used to each other right now.” Hutch stated while approaching Starsky, squatting down and holding the baby girl out to his friend. The brunet took her gently, caressing her little head with a touch soft like a feather as his lips curled in the most elated smile Hutch had seen on Starsky’s face in a long time.

“She’s…she’s so beautiful…And so soft.” Starsky said moved beyond words in feeling the little bulk of life stirring against his chest.

“Yeah, she is.” Hutch answered looking delighted at the scene of tenderness unfolding in front of his eyes

“Hey, little one. Did you hear your daddy?…I’m your Uncle Starsk.” Starsky said to the baby while fingering softly her little cheek with his thumb. Then the brunet raised his eyes to look intensely at Hutch. “You must make her happy, Hutch.” Starsky said seriously. “You and your wife must make this child happy, you have to protect her against the evils of the world and make her feel truly, utterly loved. It’s the only thing that counts.”

“We’ll do our best, Starsky. Honest. Besides, she’s got you. I bet that with an uncle like you, she’s going to be the happiest, most loved and spoiled kid in the whole world. I only hope you’ll be always close to her. To her and to me, Starsk. Always”

“I’ll be Hutch. You bet.” Starsky said overwhelmed by a turmoil of emotions. All the fears of being left behind were gone. They had vanished, being replaced, as soon as he took the little baby in his arms, for a kind of love he had never experienced before.

Both men were still looking at the baby when the nurse came back to take her to Megan’s room.

“You can go with your wife now, Detective Hutchinson. She’s already settled in her room. I’ll take the baby there.” The nurse took little Rachel from Starsky’s arms, placing her in the plastic cot as the smile faded instantaneously from the face of the curly haired man.

“Hey Starsk, cheer up, partner; you’re going to see Rachel again tomorrow morning, okay?” Hutch said half-amused half-moved in seeing the disappointment in Starsky’s face.

“Are you sure?” Starsky asked sounding like a sad kid.

“Of course I’m sure, Starsky. Tomorrow morning, after the doc visits you, I’ll pick you at your room and I’ll take you back here to see her. Now though, I think that you should go back to your room and get into bed. Today you have been pushing yourself way too hard.”

“But it was worth it. I’ve never held a newborn baby in my arms.” Starsky answered contentedly, holding back a yawn.

“Really? So let me say that you could have cheated anybody, partner. While holding Rachel a while ago, you’d seem a real experienced babysitter.” Hutch joked fondly “Okay Starsk; now let’s get you back in the wheelchair. You must be exhausted.”

Hutch helped Starsky to sit back in the wheelchair, then he accompanied the brunet back to his room before coming back to the maternity ward to be with his wife, feeling the unpleasant sensation that he wasn’t needed nor wanted or welcomed there. Even worse, despite the pushing wish of being with his baby girl as much as possible, the blond detective wasn’t sure if by his wife bedside was the place where he wanted to be at that moment…

Meanwhile, already in his room and into bed, Starsky’s body began to succumb to exhaustion. And while he drifted off into sleep, his last conscious thoughts were for the little baby that just in a few minutes had given him more hope for the future than any other thing since the day in which he was freed from Diana Harmon’s house.

Chapter 12

Hutch entered Megan’s room, seeing his beautiful, yet tired wife in bed facing the window, staring in space with an empty look. By her bedside, in her cradle, little Rachel slept peacefully.

“Thanks honey. You gave me a beautiful little daughter.” Hutch said bending towards his wife, kissing her forehead while squeezing gently her hand.

“How do you feel, huh?” He asked then, sitting carefully in the edge of Megan’s bed, still grabbing her hand

“Empty.” Megan answered curtly.

“Well, I don’t know a lot about pregnancy, probably as little as most men know, but I’ve heard that’s a pretty normal sensation…”

“No Ken, you don’t understand…Nor I was expecting you to.” Megan said in defeated tone. “My daughter is not any longer a part of me. From now on, she won’t belong to me entirely. Already she has a life of her own, and this is just the beginning…”

“Meg…I don’t get it.” Hutch answered, trying to look into Megan’s eyes as she kept hers averted, still looking out the window.

“From now on, she’ll start becoming more and more apart from me, and sooner or later, the day will come in which she’ll leave me behind, as you’re doing now. As everybody does.”

“Come on Meg, I’m not leaving you behind” Hutch said as softly as he could while getting to his feet. “I don’t need to remind you that I wanted to be with you while you were in labor, I guess. And that you were the one who wanted me to leave you alone”. Hutch reminded to his wife, trying to take any trace of resentment out of his words.

“Yeah, sure…blame me. You’re always right, anyway.” Megan said, her voice pouring a sadness that Hutch was unable to understand.

“It’s very late Meg, you’re exhausted. We both are. Why you don’t try to catch some sleep? You’ll feel much better in the morning.”

“Of course…Let’s sleep. Let’s pass over once more all those things that don’t work between us.” Megan snapped bitterly.

“Listen Megan. And listen to me well, because I’m not willing to say it twice.” Hutch warned, trying to hold back the outburst of temper that wanted to rise. “Today is one of the happier days of my life and I’m aware that I owe you a big part of this happiness that right now I’m feeling. I am very thankful to you for that, but nothing; do you hear me? Nothing nor nobody is going to spoil this special moment for me. Not even you. You can sleep now, or stay awake; you can do what you want, but I’m not going to argue with you. Not today, okay?”

“Sure Ken…No arguments. Now is time just to enjoy our happiness. Our big happiness.” In saying so, Megan curled over her side, giving her back to Hutch and the bassinet where little Rachel slept. The blond man kept silent, watching the sleeping form of the baby thoughtfully, rubbing her tiny abdomen gently with his fingertips, trying to focus his thoughts and feelings solely into the joys that this new life brought to him.

Hutch spent a while sitting in the bedside armchair, looking in the half-darkness of the room at his baby girl, until tiredness defeated him and he fell asleep for a few minutes. The, a nurse stepped into the room to take the baby back to the nursery to change her nappies and feed her, given that, at least by the moment, Megan was unable to do it.

~o0o~

Next morning, Megan awoke silent and gloomy. Hutch, although unable to understand totally her somber mood, tried to be as patient with her as he could. Sure, he had heard about postpartum depression, and even being a distressing possibility, somehow, the blond detective was sure that it wasn’t the real problem.

Still unwilling to let his wife to ruin his happiness, Hutch, as he had promised to Starsky the day before, went to his partner’s room to accompany him to see little Rachel. He was welcomed as soon as he stepped into the room by an impatient looking Starsky, already sitting in the wheelchair.

“Hey Starsk. Ready to go to visit your little niece?” He asked, feeling his heart lighten up, just by seeing the excitement in his best friend’s face.

“Do you mean it? Really? We can go to see Rachel now?” Starsky asked eagerly, smiling widely.

“Of course I mean it, Starsk. I bet Rachel is looking forward to see you again.” Hutch joked. “Okay, are you ready?”

“Do I look unready?” The brunet asked. “Come on Hutch. Let’s go visit that pretty child of yours!”

Both men made their way to the maternity ward, and moments later, they were in front of the large window of the nursery, enjoying the sight of Rachel as the nurse changed her little pajamas. Hutch knocked at the glass with his knuckles asking with signs to the nurse for permission to go in.

Once she saw them and agreed with a nod, both men entered the large nursery, heading to the spot were the nurse held the baby in her arms, about to feed her with a small baby bottle.

“Hey, Rachel, how’s my little princess feeling today?” Hutch asked fingering her tiny chin with his index.

“Rachel is doing fine, detective. And also, she’s a very good baby. Now she’s about to eat her breakfast…Oh! Would you like to try it?” The nurse asked holding the baby’s bottle out to Hutch.

“What?...Me?...Oh...no, no. No, thanks but I-I don’t think I would be...be able to do it” Hutch stuttered staring apprehensively at the bottle, as if the harmless item in the nurse’s hand was a gun pointing at his chest instead.

“Aw, come on Hutch, you gotta get used to doing it anyway, so why not start right now?” Starsky asked.

“Your friend…” The nurse stopped briefly looking questioningly at Starsky.

“Oh...uh…Dave…Dave Starsky.” He introduced himself.

“Dave is right, detective. I bet you’ll be able to feed your daughter perfectly.” The brunette nurse stated. “By the way, my name’s Hanna.” She said to both men, looking mostly at Starsky.

They all shook hands, introducing themselves, then the nurse asked Hutch again.

“Okay, so what do you say, Ken? How about feeding Rachel? You’re going to enjoy it, you’ll see.”

“Wait, wait a moment…You two have teamed up to set me up for this, haven't you?” Hutch joked, looking both at Starsky and the pretty nurse.

“Oh, not…God forbid!” Starsky said raising his hands “Hanna and I have never met each other before. As you’ve seen, we didn’t even know each other’s names”

“Dave is telling you the truth, Ken. We hadn’t seen each other before, and I regret that very much, by the way.” she added while smiling at Starsky in such flirtatious mode that it didn’t go unnoticed by Hutch.

Hey...What’s going on here? Looks like Starsky’s charm is coming back! The blond one thought amused, raising an eyebrow at the sight of the nurse smiling at his partner.

“Okay, detective, let’s get into business.” She said gently placing Rachel in Hutch’s arms before giving him the baby’s bottle.

“But I…I’ve never done this before...I only know how to water my plants…” Hutch explained in dismay.

“You know where Rachel’s mouth is, don’t you?” Starsky wisecracked. “So this thing can’t be that hard to do. Come on Hutch, the kid is hungry!”

“Okay, okay…I’ll try.” Hutch said starting to feed the baby. “Are you enjoying this, Starsk?” He teased.

“As a matter of fact, yes.” Starsky followed contentedly the banter. “Besides, I don’t know why you are making such a big deal of feeding your baby. You’ve got Hanna to help you out.”

“You’re doing fine, detective Hutchinson.” Hanna encouraged the newbie dad. “Now if you don’t mind, I must go to change a few nappies.”

“WHAT? Are you leaving?” Hutch asked fretfully.

“Not exactly…I’ll be over there.” Hanna pointed at a few baby bassinets aligned along the opposite side of the nursery. “Besides, look around you. Right now, here are two more nurses to help you. However, I don’t think you’re going to need it, Ken. As I told you, you’re doing fine, just fine.” The nurse patted Hutch’s wrist before walking away.

The truth was that Hutch was enjoying the experience of feeding little Rachel deeply. The only cloud in his joy was Megan’s strange demeanor. Apparently, his wife did not display much interest in being with her baby. Earlier that same morning she held her in her arms for a little while, and truth be told, during those minutes she cuddled and talked softly to her little daughter, as any mother would do. When the nurse came to the room to take the baby back to the nursery to feed and change her though, despite feeling good enough how to get out of bed for a while, Megan hadn’t asked to feed the baby herself nor did she go to the nursery either. She stayed in bed, falling asleep quickly, so when Hutch decided to go to pick Starsky at his room, he did it without saying it to her.

Little Rachel did eat most of the baby’s bottle contents, then, yawning widely, her eyelids began to close. Once the task of feeding his baby was over, Hutch took his eyes off her to look at Starsky. The curled haired man seemed to be mesmerized and unaware of his surroundings, looking at the baby as his lips curled in the same ecstatic smile Hutch had seen on his face the day before.

This time, the blond one bent down, holding Rachel out for his partner and Starsky took her without a word. That moment of closeness among both men and the baby was so intense that no words were needed.

With his eyes shining, Starsky cuddled the baby softly in his arms, her tiny hand grasping his pinky, and to Hutch’s amazement, as if he and Rachel were the only ones in the nursery, Starsky began to sing with his softest voice a lullaby in Yiddish, as both, nurses and Hutch listened to his baritone voice in thrilled silence.

“Starsk…That was so beautiful.” Hutch managed to say in a choked voice once Starsky had ended and Rachel was peacefully sleeping in his arms.

“Dad sang this lullaby to me when I was a little kid and I had nightmares…later, when Nick was born he sang it to him too. I think that’s why I can remember it so well…dad had a great voice, did you know it?” Starsky said looking dreamily at the baby in his arms.

“No, partner. I didn’t know. But now I know that it’s something you’ve inherited from him.” Both men were sharing one of those priceless moments of companionable silence; Starsky seated in his wheelchair yet with the baby in his arms and Hutch in front of him, sitting cross-legged in the floor, just savoring the moment, when a woman approached Starsky, bending down and taking Rachel from his arms.

“DO you mind?” She said. Starsky looked up at her face, guessing instantaneously who the woman was. Moreover, Hutch’s words while he was getting to his feet proved his supposition to be true.

“Megan...” The blond one said, sounding quite surprised.

“Care telling me what were you both doing? Rachel has to sleep in the cradle and not in the arms of a stranger. And what the hell were the nurses thinking? This is a hospital nursery, not a park.” She scolded while placing the baby back in her bed.

“For crying out loud, Megan, he's Starsky, not a stranger.” Hutch said between gritted teeth, doing his best not to start an argument in front of his uncomfortable looking partner.

“Oh, yeah, sure, You’re Mr. Starsky. Sorry. How’re you feeling?” She asked coldly, turning to look back at Hutch before the brunet could utter an answer.

“Listen Ken,” The woman said in grim tone. “I thought that we had spoken about this matter already. I don’t want to raise a spoiled child, and you know, both of us know what’s going to happen if we let Rachel to sleep in anybody’s lap every time she wants. The upbringing of a child has to start the first day.”

Despite his embarrassment, Starsky carefully observed the woman while she kept rebuking Hutch. Tall, slim, blond and elegant even in her expensive silk pajamas and dressing gown, she was beautiful, a real beauty to be true, but with her beauty, her features were somehow showing coldness, a severity that gave her face a disturbing air.

“Now isn’t the time nor the place to discuss this, Megan, but I think that there’s some points that we must make clear.” She opened her mouth to add something, but the look she saw in Hutch’s eyes did make the woman to change her mind and keep silent.

“I said you not now, Megan.” Hutch hissed, pointing his forefinger at his wife. “Go back to your room, please. We’ll talk later.”

After casting a last, icy look first at Hutch then at Starsky, the woman wordlessly spun on her heels leaving the nursery.

“Okay, Starsk. So now you’ve meet Megan…Nice lady I got, huh?” Hutch joked sarcastically.

“Come on Hutch; give her a break, okay? She must be feeling a little tired and sore still.” Starsky said conciliatorily, trying to excuse the woman’s behavior.

“Or maybe she must be a damn bitch.” Hutch mumbled under his breath.

“Listen Hutch, I’m a little tired, ya mind taking me back to my room?” the brunet asked wishing to end that nasty situation as soon as possible.

“Of course Starsk. Let’s go…And…uh Starsky?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry, partner. I’m very sorry for what has happened.” Hutch apologized.

“No your fault, Blondie. Not your fault.”

Both men went back to Starsky’s room; their spirits much more down that they had been just a little while ago.

~o0o~

“Okay Megan, we need to talk and we’re going to have it out right now!” Hutch said storming into the room, not caring if his wife was awake or asleep.

“Look Ken I don’t want…”

“NO YOU LOOK! DAMN IT!” He cut off furiously.

“Ken, please don’t make a scene. People can hear us.”

“TO THE HELL WITH THE PEOPLE!” Hutch yelled. “You already made a good scene back in the nursery! Or maybe you forgot it? Huh?”

“If somebody was making it, then it was you and your friend.”

“My friend has a name, Megan. David. David Starsky. I’ve told you it more than once. Maybe you’ve developed amnesia and I’m unaware of that?” Hutch asked acrimoniously.

“Oh, come on, Ken, that’s not funny.” She snapped back.

“You got a point there, Megan it’s not funny. And I’m not about to let you act like a spoiled, rude kid with my best friend!”

“Speaking of spoiled kids, what do you think you and your…Mr. Starsky were doing back there in the nursery, if not spoiling Rachel?”

“For God sake Megan, Rachel is not even one day old! I highly doubt that a little cuddling is going to damage her education! Besides, let’s make something clear this very moment. If you think that I’m going to raise my baby as if she was in a military academy, then, just let me tell you that you are very, and I mean, VERY wrong. I’m not going to overly spoil Rachel, but I’m going to surround my daughter with as much love as possible. And let me add that Starsky is going to be part of that love she’s going to get. I’m going to do as much as possible to keep Starsky near Rachel, Megan. You don’t know him, but Starsky is the most loving, caring person our kid could…”

Unexpectedly, Megan’s temper exploded with such fury that Hutch almost flinched.

“STARSKY! Oh, of course STARSKY! Always STARSKY!” She bellowed, getting out of bed. “Looks like that poor weirdo is the only one that means something for you! So let me tell you something Ken! I don’t like him; I don’t like him at all! That man is doing nothing but giving us troubles, getting constantly between us, both while he was missing and later, when he showed up! Besides, I bet that after all those years he has spent shut in that house, tied to the wall like a dog he’s nothing but a nutcase, and he can even hurt Rachel if we aren’t careful! Damn! All of us will be much better if the woman who held him captive had been able to end…”

“NO!” Hutch bellowed rushing towards Megan, grabbing firmly her arms, shoving her backwards and pinning her against the wall “Don’t you dare say it Megan!…Don’t you fucking dare say it or God help me…I don’t know what I’d be able to do!”

“Ken…Ken Let me go! You’re hurting me!” The woman asked in wavering voice, truly scared seeing the fire burning in Hutch’s eyes.

“Oh God…Sorry...I am sorry Megan.” He apologized, abruptly releasing his grasp on Megan’s arms and looking shocked at his own hands as if they were something unknown and scary. Meanwhile Megan, too appalled to speak fell onto the bedside armchair.

“Congratulations, dear….You did a great work...A hell of a great work” Hutch said bitterly, running his shaking hands through his hair. “I’m not sure how, but somehow you’ve got the ability to bring out the worse and meanest part of me as no other person, not even my first wife had been able to do.” Saying that, Hutch headed towards the door with hunched shoulders and defeated steps. Then, he stopped to talk to his wife once more, yet not turning to look at her.

“In a few days Starsky’s going to be discharged from here, Megan. He has lost his apartment, his job, everything, but still he has me. He's my best friend and I’m going to be with him every step of his way to recovery. And until he’s able to get back his job in the force or any other employ and he can find his own place to live, Starsky’s going to live with us, in our home. I’m not asking you for your opinion or even for your permission. I’m just informing you. And I dearly advise you to be, if not kind with Starsky, at least polite, Megan. It’s all that I expect from you.” Then, Hutch left the room looking for some quiet place to put his thoughts in order.

The right place for that was no other but the nursery. There, watching the sleeping form of little Rachel and with the nurses and other babies voices and soft noises as background, Hutch was able to get the needed calmness to think through the nightmare his marriage was quickly turning into.

A few minutes ago, he had been close, very close to hurting his wife, and that certainty made Hutch feel guilty and utterly ashamed. There weren’t excuses to justify what he had been about to do, not even the mean words Megan uttered. Words that showed clearly that she just didn’t dislike Starsky, as Hutch had thought until then. She really hated him, a fact that made his thoughts drift to his main problem. Soon Starsky would be discharged from the hospital, and the blond one wanted nothing but to take his friend to his house and to be with him during the process of recovering his health and his life. However, he was aware that Megan wasn’t going to play along willingly in that situation. She could even leave him, taking Rachel with her, and if that was the case, and if they went into a lawsuit for the baby’s custody, Hutch was quite sure that her status as a qualified doctor plus her regular schedules and healthy salary against his lower one and the potential risks that came along with his job as a police officer weren’t going to work at his favor in court. Hutch felt tied and trapped. He wasn’t going to betray Starsky or leave him behind, nor he was willing to lose his little child. The only thing he could do was to put all his efforts into one goal. As Starsky had advised him a few days earlier, he had to try to sort things out with his wife. It was just that at that moment, it seemed for Hutch an impossible goal to achieve.

Chapter 13

Hutch wheeled Starsky’s wheelchair back to his room after one of their multiple daily trips to the nursery. Megan and Rachel were going to be discharged the next day and given that Starsky would stay in the hospital for a little longer, he wanted to be with the baby as much as possible.

“So what? Are you going to ask Hanna out once you’re back in shape, Starsk?” Hutch asked Starsky nonchalantly once they were in the room. “You know, I’m not talking about right now, but maybe in a few weeks when you…”

“No.” Was the sharp answer coming from the brunet.

“You don’t like her? Let me tell you buddy, just in case you haven't noticed, it looks like the lady has eyes only for you.”

“I know it, but I’m not going to ask her for a date, Hutch. Period.” Starsky said curtly. Then suddenly Hutch realized what was really crossing his friend’s mind. It was all written in Starsky’s darkened look, in his toneless, low voice. The blond one swore internally, facing his own clumsiness.

“And you aren’t going to do it, not because you don’t like Hanna but because she’s a nurse, right?” Hutch asked rhetorically. “Listen Starsky….” Starsky raised his hand, stopping Hutch’s words

“I know it Hutch. I know all that you can possibly say to me. Hanna seems to be a sweet, pretty woman, actually; this hospital is full of nurses and most likely, all of them are perfectly kind, normal and sane people. Who knows, maybe the one who’s not sane anymore is me. That’s something I’ll need to deal with eventually. But setting aside that issue, I am never…EVER going to have a deeper relationship with a nurse than what’s strictly needed, and that’s all.”

Starsky’s statement did not give a chance for further discussion, so Hutch, feeling defeated by that nagging feeling of guilt that kept eating his insides, squatted down in front of his friend’s wheelchair staring into his eyes.

“Listen Starsky. I´m not going to tell you how you must deal with your fears; with the aftermath of all that you went through. Actually I think I would be unable to do it, besides, I don’t feel I have that right. Nevertheless, there’s something I want to let you know. You have always been the sanest, most normal man I ever meet. And despite all that has happened to you, you still are.”

“I bet more than one nurse or doctor in here doesn’t agree totally with you.” Starsky said derisively, remembering the first weeks of his stay in the hospital, where he was almost constantly on edge, shouting and lashing out against everybody.

“All of that is in the past Starsk. And I bet everybody has forgotten all about that, as you should start doing.” Hutch advised gently, while getting to his feet. “Don’t beat yourself this way, partner. There’s no point.”

“I was a true bastard with the whole staff of this hospital, Hutch…Even, well, especially with you.” Shame tinged Starsky’s words.

“No Starsk. You weren’t. I mean it. And now it’s time just to leave all of that behind, and start over. Do you think you’ll be able to do it?”

“I’m trying Hutch. I’m doing my best.”

“Fine. It’s a good starting, partner.” Hutch said squeezing Starsky’s shoulder. His friend was trying, both of them were doing it, and having each other’s support in looking ahead to the future, Hutch was confident in their success in beating the ghosts of their past and getting back to normal.

~o0o~

Next day as scheduled, Megan and little Rachel were discharged from the hospital and Hutch drove them home. He, though feeling his heart torn in leaving Starsky alone much longer than he wanted to, had decided that at least for the moment he had to spend most of his time with Megan and their little daughter. He also decided that until the day in which Starsky would be discharged, he’d would only spend visiting hours with his partner. What made the blond one feel even more miserable was Starsky’s full understanding, who agreed on that Hutch was doing just what he had to do.

“Come on Blondie, cheer up!” Starsky said patting Hutch’s back. “You’re taking your wonderful daughter home. That should be a joyful moment for you!”

“I’m leaving you here, alone Starsk…most of the day.” Hutch said sorrowfully.

“Listen Hutch. You are a family man now, so you’ve got some responsibilities. Your wife gave birth to your baby just a few days ago, and newbie moms do deserve all the care and attention they can get. Your place right now is by her side. I’ll be okay, partner. Besides the doc says that I’ll be out of here in about nine or ten days, so a little of boredom isn’t going to kill me, I guess. Besides, you’ll come over here to visit this poor, lonely and forsaken friend of yours from time to time, won’t you?” Starsky teased with his best puppy look.

“Thanks Starsk, that was real helpful…Now I really feel like crap.” Hutch joked rolling his eyes, though somehow under his joking, he was hiding the truth.

“You’re welcome.” Starsky said light-heartedly. “And now, go. Go to take Megan and your baby home. I’d like to read the last chapters of this novel before lunchtime”. Starsky waved him off towards the door, with the book in his hand.

“I’ll come tomorrow to visit you, partner.” Hutch said before leaving the room. He wanted to say more, much more; it was just that he wasn’t too confident in his self-control to hold his emotions. He wanted to say to Starsky that since his return, there wasn’t one single day in which he wouldn’t wake up being grateful and blessed for what he had gotten back, For having back the more important half of his soul, one of the more meaningful parts of his life. However, it didn’t matter. Somehow, Hutch was sure that Starsky did know it.

“I’m not going anywhere, Blondie, you betcha. And now, go once and for all. Two nice ladies are waiting for you, and your mom must have taught you how impolite is to make ladies to wait, I hope.” Starsky said with a fond smile before plunging himself in the reading of his novel.

~o0o~

Hutch took his wife and the baby home. None of them brought up the subject again of what had happened in the hospital after Rachel‘s birth, and during the next few days, a false calmness reigned in the Hutchinson’s home.

He spent most of his time at home, though actually that time wasn’t devoted to Megan entirely, but rather to be with little Rachel. For Hutch, the baby looked more beautiful and lovely every passing day and he did nothing but waiting impatiently for the moment when Starsky would leave the hospital, to share with him those happy moments his little daughter gave him.

Hutch had time too to start making the needed arrangements to provide Starsky with a comfortable bedroom. The blond one was counting on the possibility that Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie would offer him to stay at their place. If Starsky decided to move with them, he would accept it, however, Hutch, eager for his friend’s presence after the long period where they had been apart from each other, secretly hoped that Starsky would move in with him instead of with his relatives.

Meanwhile, Megan, despite being perfectly aware that Starsky could possibly spend a long period of time at the house she shared with Hutch wasn’t wasting time in trying to make her husband change his mind.

Somehow, in the argument they had had in the hospital days ago, she clearly saw that the best friend of Hutch was a rival, much stronger than she had ever guessed. No matter how persistent she could be; she knew for sure that she’d be unable to find a way to make Hutch leave Starsky behind. Megan knew that she would be the big loser if she made Hutch choose between her or Starsky. The woman had in mind the option of menacing Hutch with leaving, taking Rachel with her if he didn’t get rid of his bothersome friend. However, that was not was she really wanted. For her family, a separation or divorce were sign of failure, besides shame and she had grown up with that conservative conviction engraved in the deepest of her mind. Besides, in her own, twisted way she loved her husband, her house and all that she had there. She was sure that all of that did belong to her and she wasn’t willing to risk her marriage or her comfortable lifestyle because of a stranger. No. If there was any battle to fight, it had to be done in there, on her own turf. And she wasn’t going to be an easy opponent.

~o0o~

Six weeks had passed since Starsky had been found in the basement of Diana’s house, terrified, traumatized and hanging between life and death. During that time his body had healed, and his spirit, with the help of Hutch, Doctor Callahan’s sessions and lately, with the birth of little Rachel and the new hope the baby brought along, was slowly on its way to mending too.

Once Starsky was feeling strong enough, both physically and emotionally, and though a little reluctantly, he agreed to see visitors. The first ones to come to the hospital were Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie along with Nick. The old couple had been phoning the hospital almost daily to keep updated on any news on their beloved nephew’s progress and at that point, they, especially Aunt Rosie were no longer satisfied with that. She needed to see her beloved Davy badly.

Anticipating what most likely could happen on the day that Starsky’s relatives had planned to visit, Hutch made sure that he’d be there by his partner’s side. But even that wasn’t enough to ease the impact the overdue family reunion had on Starsky. It was even worse than the blond one had expected, especially for the inability of Aunt Rosie to keep her emotions under control.

Almost as soon as she, Uncle Al and Nicky entered the room, the woman rushed into Starskys arms, trying fruitlessly to put all her love, happiness and relief into words among heart-wrenching sobs, while Starsky, feeling overwhelmed and quite uncomfortable did his best to soothe her, until Uncle Al and Hutch, gently coaxed her to pull back in front of the petrified look of Nicky.

Finally all of them managed to get some grip on their emotions, enough to talk, mostly about Starsky’s mother and all the fond memories all of them treasured of the gentle woman.

Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie did their best to assure Starsky that his mother hadn’t suffered when her last moments had come; that she died of a heart attack while she was asleep. No one said, nor it was needed that Rachel Starsky began giving up on her life since the very first day in which Starsky disappeared.

On the other hand, the youngest Starsky acted all the time embarrassed and clearly feeling out of place. During the while he stayed in his brother’s room, he was unable to say more than a few trivial comments, uttered rather out of a sense of duty.

Actually, Nick, loving Starsky in a quite strange way, had never been able to show that love, and at that moment, he made sure his visit would be as short as possible. The young man had only been by Starsky’s bedside a few minutes when he left with some lame excuse that he had to make a phone call that lasted almost until the end of the visiting hours. Hutch noticed it, as well as Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie did, but that wasn’t the right place nor moment to try to turn Nick in the kind of brother Starsky did deserve and he would never have.

Obviously, all that Nick wanted to do was get to over with that visit as quickly as possible. And the bare true hidden behind his demeanor was that after all those years that both brothers had carried separate lives, just meeting each other occasionally, and mostly for their mother’s sake, Nick was pretty used to getting along without Starsky, so as nasty as it seemed, he had been the only one who had come to terms with his oldest brother’s death when nobody knew that Starsky was still alive and being prisoner of Diana Harmon.

Finally, after Starsky’s uncle and aunt asked him to move to their home and to stay there as long as he wanted, once he’d be discharged from the hospital, the visit was over. It had taken a big deal of emotional endurance from the curly haired man, and as soon as his relatives left, looking drained and more distressed that he had looked in days, he asked Hutch to leave him alone.

Hutch understood. As a matter of fact, he knew that after such a tough experience, Starsky needed some time in his own to pull himself together. He’d talk to Hutch later; the blond one was sure that when his friend would feel like doing it, Starsky would share his feelings with him, but just that wasn’t the moment. And as much as Hutch wanted to stay and help Starsky by listening to all that he needed to vent, he knew that for now it was time to go.

~o0o~

During the following days, most of the friends and companions of Starsky in the precinct would come to the hospital to see him, carrying along presents and all their love to warm up his heart.

Captain Dobey and Edith, Huggy Bear and even detective Joan Meredith went there to visit him and wish him well. Mrs. Rockford, Diana’s landlady and Shelly, her young daughter dropped by the hospital too, not to see Starsky but to ask Hutch how his partner was feeling, offering to do anything that was needed.

Who came too was Detective Marcia Merrick, though given that she and Starsky hadn’t met each other before and she didn’t want the man to feel uncomfortable because of her presence, she didn’t ask to see him. The young detective just stopped by the hospital on her way to the precinct to ask Hutch for his partner’s condition.

“I am very glad for you, Hutch. For both of you.” Merrick said soberly once Hutch told her that Starsky was feeling better. “These last couple of years, I’ve heard a lot about Starsky. Everybody in the precinct says that he was a fine cop. That he had the needed cleverness and understanding, besides braveness to be one of the best officers on the force. And what's more, people say that Starsky’s a hell of a good man.”

“All of that is right Merrick. Starsky’s a terrific guy.” Hutch stated proudly “He has saved my life more than once, even risking his. Starsk is bright, compassionate, kind and strong like no other. I was very lucky for partnering up with him along all those years we’d spend working together…And still I am lucky for having his friendship.” Hutch added, his voice lowering, feeling a lump form in his throat. “Okay, and how about you?” He changed the subject before it could become too emotional. “How ya doing with that partner of yours?”

“Oh Hutch, don’t ask!” the young woman answered, making a face and wavering her hand. “This guy must have gotten a stomach ulcer or his wife has him sleeping in the couch since the end of their honeymoon or both…If not for that, I really can’t picture what’s wrong with him!” Hutch and Merrick laughed softly before he talked again.

“I hope you’ll be able to get a good partner very soon, Merrick. Just then you’ll get to know how great and enthralling our job can be despite all the risks.”

“I hope so too Hutch, I really hope so.” She said squeezing gently Hutch’s arm “Okay, now I must leave. Wish Starsky well and tell him how much I’d like to meet him one day soon.”

“I’ll do it. Merrick. Thanks.” Both detectives parted ways and Hutch headed towards Starsky’s room feeling the power of so many good wishes lifting his spirits.

~o0o~

After all those weeks that for both men had seemed like months, finally Doctor Morrison gave Starsky the date to be discharged. He would leave the hospital in two days. Later, he would come back to get the cast off his leg and to make his scheduled appointments; soon he would start with the physical therapy too, and once in a week, he had to keep up with the sessions with his psychotherapist, Dr Callahan. What not too far ago seemed impossible for Starsky, soon would come true. After two years of confinement, first in Diana’s basement and lather among the hospital walls, he was about to be a free man again. Very soon, he’d be able to go anywhere he’d like to go, to walk on the streets among people, to eat what, where and when he liked, to feel the caress of the sun over his skin…

And with all that priceless freedom came the time to make some decisions too.

~o0o~

“Okay Starsk, so you have heard which the doc said. Two days more, and you’ll be coming back home.” Hutch said merrily.

“Yeah. I gotta call Aunt Rosie to let her know when I’m going.”

“Listen Starsky. I know that they’ve offered you to stay with them, but well…as I’ve told you more than once, I’d like you to come with me, to spend some time at my home.”

“Oh come on, Hutch! That’s not a good idea and you know it.” Starsky snapped. “I’m quite sure that your wife can’t stand me. She would go ballistic!”

“Megan and I have talked about, Starsky. She knows that if you like, you’ll come to stay at our home until you’re able to sort things out.”

“And let me guess. She’s jumping in anticipation,” Starsky retorted.

Hutch snorted “Okay Starsky. You got a point. Most likely you are right and Megan doesn’t likes the idea too much right now, but that’s because after Rachel’s birth she’s still feeling a little tired and cranky. Besides, she hadn’t a real chance to know you yet.” Hutch explained, wishing fervently his words to be true.

“Don’t are you trusting a little too much in the ole Starsky’s charm, Hutch?” Starsky asked ironically.

“Come on Starsky. Come stay with us…with me…please.” Hutch asked looking intensely into his friend’s eyes. “The deal includes endless games of Monopoly after supper, nights sitting on the couch watching ball games and horror movies on the tube with a bowl of popcorn to share with your best friend, as much time as you want to spend cuddling and spoiling Rachel…Who can offer you something better?” Hutch coaxed.

“Okay, okay Hutch. You win.” Starsky breathed deeply “I’ll move to your place. But just until I’m able to find a job and an apartment to live in my own, and that’s if you are really sure that I’m not going to give you too much trouble with Megan. Okay?”

“Thanks Starsk…Thank you so much.” Hutch said holding back his wishes to pull Starsky into a bear hug.

“I’m doing this for Rachel.” The brunet said.

“What?” Hutch asked momentarily lost.

“I’m going to your place because of her…You know. That of ´As much time as I wanna spend cuddling and spoiling Rachel.´ I can’t refuse an offer like that, Hutch. You know it, don’t you?”

“Of course I knew it. One has to play his cards wisely, partner!” Hutch said light-heartedly.

~o0o~

And finally, the day came, and after saying his good byes to all the nurses and doctors that had shared with him part of his way back to life during those long weeks, Starsky, feeling excited like a little kid, yet a little scared crossed the hospital doors, being welcomed by a warm, shining early summer day.

“Mind stopping here, partner?” He asked Hutch, who was pushing his wheelchair through the parking lot with a nurse by his side.

“Why Starsk? Are you okay?” Hutch asked worriedly stopping the wheelchair.

“I’m fine Blondie. I just wanna go to your car walking. Mind giving me those crutches Sally?” He asked to the nurse that was holding the crutches that Starsky would need to use for a few weeks yet.

“Are you sure of that David?” She asked cautiously.

“Of course I’m sure. I’m going to use them as soon as I get home, so I don’t think that doing it right now is going to hurt me. Besides, it’s not like I haven't used those things earlier in the hospital.”

“Okay David. But watch your step.” Sally advised holding the crutches out for Starsky, and helping him, along with Hutch to get to his feet. Then, once more saying her good byes to both men and wishing her best to Starsky, she wheeled the wheelchair back to the hospital building, disappearing behind the glass´ doors.

Once they both were alone, Starsky, firmly planted on his feet and with Hutch supporting him by surrounding his waist, took in a deep breath of the warm morning air, looking in awe at his surroundings.

“Man, that’s what I call a wonderful place.”

“Yeah. It is.” Hutch agreed, knowing perfectly how his friend felt at that moment. For anybody else, a parking lot would have been described as anything but a wonderful place, but anybody else, unlike Starsky hadn’t lived along two years shut in hell, devoid of freedom, fresh air and sunlight until reaching the point of having to spend the first days in the hospital in half darkness because the light did hurt his eyes.

“Come on Starsk. I’ve got a surprise for you.” Hutch said, feeling the already familiar lump stretching his throat.

“A surprise? What’s it, Hutch?” Starsky asked with the excitement dancing in his eyes.

“Uh-uh. If I tell you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, partner. Wait a little more. Almost there.”

Both men walked a short distance until turning the corner. What appeared in front of Starsky’s sight then, threatened his balance, and for a moment, Hutch had to tighten his grip in the brunet’s waist to steady him.

“My…my car!….it’s my car!” Starsky stuttered looking at the bright red Torino parked a few feet away, as tears filled his eyes, blurring his vision.

“I’ve thought that you’d like to go home riding in that striped tomato of yours, Starsk.” Hutch answered feeling the tears prickling in his own eyes as well.

“You kept it…” Starsky said, his voice choked by emotion.

“Well, sort of. It had been parked at Merle’s, waiting for your return.” Because seeing it everyday in my garage was too painful for me…The unwanted thought crossed Hutch’s mind before vanishing against the reality of the scene that was unfolding in front of him

Starsky had gotten closer to the car until bending against it, letting both crutches to fall carelessly to the ground, placing both arms and his cheek onto the Torino’s roof, caressing the metallic surface with his palms, somehow like embracing an old, long missed friend.

“You okay Starsk?” Hutch asked softly, rubbing his back.

“I haven’t felt this well in a long, long time, partner…Thanks Hutch. Thank you so much. This means a lot for me.” Starsky said, pulling back from his car and dragging Hutch into a fierce embrace.

Hutch, unable to utter a single word responded to Starsky’s embrace with all his might, staying there, regardless of the looks they received, embracing his friend until both men, with reddened eyes and tight throats were able to regain their composure and get into the car to start their way home.

Chapter 14

 

The ride to Hutch’s place was made in comfortable silence. Hutch drove, noticing Starsky’s contentment, and meanwhile, Starsky was basking in the peace-filled bliss that he was feeling sitting in the seat of his cherished Torino. The seat of his beloved car, which oddly enough, he had never asked about during his entire stay in the hospital. Maybe because he didn’t want to know that the car had already another owner, or maybe simply because he was too distressed to think of it.

 

About twenty minutes later, the car halted in front of a big two-floor house in a wealthy area of the city. The house was much larger and more luxurious than either apartment Hutch had lived in while being single.  Actually, it seemed rather the mansion that Hutch’s parents owned in Duluth, and Starsky looked at it with a strange feeling of uneasiness nagging his insides. This one was a stylish, expensive house, about that, he was positive, but he was not quite sure about if that was the kind of place where Hutch could feel truly comfortable.

 

“Okay Starsk, we’re at home.” The blond detective said before getting out of the car and trotting around its’ nose to help Starsky to his feet.

 

Starsk whistled softly “That’s really your place?” He asked still looking at the white front of the house.

 

“´Fraid so, partner.” Hutch answered with a poorly hidden note of disgruntlement in his voice. “Come on Starsk. I’ll help you with those stairs.”

 

Both men climbed the flight of stairs up to the entrance slowly, where Hutch dug into his jacket pocket, producing his key while Starsky lean back against the wall, panting slightly after the trip upstairs.

 

Once he unlocked the door, the blond one lead his partner into the large hall, exquisitely decorated with expensive furniture, contemporary paintings hanging on the white walls and several designed items of decoration all around.

 

“Welcome Starsky. Make yourself at home.” Hutch said taking his jacket off and tossing it carelessly onto a black sculpture made of stone, about six feet high that faintly resembled an armless human form.

 

“What’s that?” Starsky asked unable to help himself, sizing up the item from top to bottom with a slight frown.

 

“Art, design, whatever…You know; that’s one of those things that become exponentially more expensive as uglier they are.” The blond one explained derisively.

 

Starsky grinned and was about to say something when he and Hutch heard steps coming closer to the hall, before seeing Megan appear and walk towards them.

 

“This is a fine work of contemporary art, Mr. Starsky, though obviously Ken is unable to appreciate it.” She said as a greeting to Starsky, while picking Hutch’s jacket from the figure and handing it back to her husband.

 

“Are you going anywhere?” Hutch asked the woman, seeing her wearing an elegant black suit and silk white blouse.

 

“I am going to the hospital to work out some stuff. Tomorrow I´m going back to work.” She said tersely.

 

“But…Rachel?” Hutch asked in astonishment.

 

“I’ve hired a babysitter, Ken. Mrs. Walsh. A retired pediatric nurse from the hospital. She’s already with the baby.”

 

“Wait, wait a moment, Megan. Who is that Mrs. Walsh? And why in hell didn’t you tell me anything about her?”

 

“I’m telling it you now, Ken. But I will stress the fact that I’m just informing you. I am neither asking for your opinion on the matter or much less asking you for your permission to have her to take care of the baby.” Megan said coldly, almost exactly quoting the words that Hutch had told her a couple of days earlier in the hospital.

 

“Now, if you don’t mind, I must go.” Megan added. Then she opened the door and left, leaving both men plunged in a bewildered silence for a few seconds.

 

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” Hutch said seemingly for himself, running both hands through his hair. “Come in on, Starsk, let’s go sit down in the living room, you must be tired.”

 

“And you must be very pissed off…aren’t ya?” Starsky asked plainly, going straight to the matter as both men headed to the living room.

 

“YES DAMN IT! YES!” Hutch exploded, forcefully throwing against the wall the jacket that had been still hanging around his arm. “I’m very pissed off, fuck! Looks like the main purpose of my wife is to drive me mad!...but I don’t care, I don’t give a shit about who she has hired to take care of Rachel! Right now I’m going to throw that woman out of here and that’s all!”

 

“Take it easy Hutch, will ya?” Starsky said soothingly while sitting down on the white, soft leather couch. “Maybe the lady is a good choice after all. You’ve heard Megan. She is a retired pediatric nurse. How about giving her a chance? Huh? Why you don’t meet her before making any decisions?”

 

Hutch breathed deeply, considering Starsky’s words before speaking. “Alright Starsky…I’m going to see her. But if I don’t like what I see, I’m going to ask her to leave right now, no matter what Megan says! Be right back.” Said that, Hutch turned, and began climbing the stairs to the upper floor where the baby’s room was.

 

He stayed upstairs for some minutes as Starsky waited, carefully observing the well-appointed room until finally Hutch appeared back in the living room, carrying the baby in his arms.

 

“Looks who came to say hi to her Uncle Starsk.” Hutch announced sitting in the couch beside Starsky, holding the precious baby out for him.

 

“Hey, little one! Uncle Starsk was missing you a lot.” Starsky said snuggling Rachel against his chest as his face changed into an expression of utter tenderness.

 

“What about the babysitter?” The brunet asked while caressing with his thumb the tiny hand of the baby.

 

“Well…I think I like her, Starsk. She seems to be a nice woman, very sweet with the baby. Besides, she showed me her references. Good ones, actually”

 

“So, are you going to keep her?”

 

“Think so. At least I’m going to try her out for a few days. I guess that there’s no point in firing the lady just because Megan was the one who hired her”

 

“Good thought, partner.” The brunet agreed.

 

“Yeah, I guess so. However, I’m going to make a phone call. I need to check on those references.” Hutch said getting to his feet and producing his notepad from his pocket while heading to the phone table.

 

He dialed the number of Mr. and Mrs. Atkins, the last ones to hire Joan Walsh as babysitter. Hutch asked Mrs. Atkins a few questions about the woman, and the most important reason, what ended her contract of employment. The answer was simple, as Mrs. Walsh told Hutch; the Atkins had to move to San Francisco.

 

Once content with the answers, he hung up the phone, going back to sit on the couch, where Starsky and little Rachel seemed to be in their own world. The curly haired man was explaining in a soft cooing voice to the baby, which sounded like a tale about the adventures of two little kittens on a farm, while she stared at Starsky’s face as if she was able to understand which he was saying, never loosening the grip of her little hand around his pinkie.

 

“What are you telling Rachel?” Hutch asked bending near her and Starsky and gently caressing the baby’s head with his finger.

 

“A tale. One that mom would make up for Nicky and me. We loved it and she had to tell it night after night to make us sleep.”

 

“I see.” Hutch said smiling, once more delighted in seeing how his friend changed when he was near the baby. Every time that Starsky had Rachel in his arms, he seemed to be surrounded by a pacific happiness that nothing else seemed able to give him.

 

“Guess what, buddy?” He asked rising from the couch, squeezing Starsky’s shoulder fondly. “I really think that Mrs. Walsh won’t be needed here. Rachel couldn't find a better babysitter than you…Okay, I’m going to take your travel bag to your bedroom, Starsk. Later, I’ll fix us something to eat”

 

Wondering if his partner had heard a word of what he said, Hutch picked the duffel bag containing the clothes and toiletries he had buy for Starsky, taking it to the guestroom.

~o0o~

The next days at the Hutchinson’s were a quiet routine. Starsky, despite Hutch’s efforts to make him feel at home and the joyful time he spent with little Rachel, still felt quite out of place in that big, luxurious house, so different from his former apartment and from the modest but warmth place where he had been born and grew up back in New York. He was looking forward to starting his search for his own apartment.

 

On the other hand, Megan, back at work, spent as much time as possible at the hospital, and as far as Hutch was concerned, it was totally okay with him, especially taking into account that the few times that she was at home, mostly at suppertime, a heavy, dense silence hung between all three. The nights, when Hutch and she were together, sharing their bedroom wasn’t much better either. Though the blond one was doing all his best to prevent Starsky from noticing it, the arguments and the reproaches exchanged in low, hissing voice were quite usual between Hutch and his wife.

 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Walsh had turned out to be a fine babysitter, besides a caring, maternal woman who enjoyed cooking appetizing meals for Starsky and Hutch while the baby was asleep. She took a liking to Starsky particularly, making sure that the convalescent brunet did feel as comfortable as possible at every moment. As a result of that, Megan began to say that she was looking for another babysitter to replace Mrs. Walsh because she hadn’t been a good choice after all. According her viewpoint the kind elder woman was surpassing the limits of her duties, besides spoiling the baby too much and growing too fond of her. Paradoxically, Hutch who at the beginning had wanted nothing but to dismiss Mrs. Walsh even before exchanging a word with her was now totally adamant about keeping her.

 

By then, and upon Starsky’s request, Hutch was working to get back his normal life as much as possible. Since he knew that as long as Mrs. Walsh was at home, his partner would have all that he would need. Hutch began resuming his routine of jogging a mile every morning before breakfast. Besides, he used to go to work to the precinct for a few hours every day to keep his work updated.

 

That morning, the day started as usual. Megan had the day off, however, being even more of an early riser than Hutch was, and unwilling to cross paths with Starsky in the house any more than needed, she ate her breakfast very early in the morning. Later, she headed to her study, to, as she told Hutch, make some phone calls and read her mail and the newspaper, making clear in no uncertain terms that she did not wanted to be disturbed under any circumstances. Meanwhile, Hutch went on his morning run, returning a short while later. He then helped Starsky, who was already awake and dressed to go downstairs to have breakfast with him and finally, the blond one left to go to the precinct.

 

Neither men expected the whirlwind of events that were about to happen…

~o0o~

The first one to realize that the day was going to be less quiet than he hoped was Hutch. He entered in the squad room, sitting down at his desk and filling out some paperwork with his typewriter. For a while, he kept working uneventfully. Then Hutch noticed that the typewriter was running out of ink. He fumbled in his desk drawers looking for a new cartridge, finding none, so the blond one got to his feet and headed to the supply room.

 

He was halfway there when all broke loose. First, Hutch heard a door open so forcefully it banged against the wall somewhere above him, then footsteps rushing downstairs towards him.

 

“Freeze! Don’t move!” Hutch recognized the voice of one of his fellow officers giving the halt command to somebody. He drew his gun, and began to climb back upstairs to help his companions; he had reached the landing when, without giving him time enough to react, Hutch saw a strong, tall black man, big like a gorilla rushing upon him, lifting him effortlessly over his head and throwing him forcefully against the opposite wall.

 

That one was the last thing he was able to register before all his surroundings went blank.

~o0o~

During the time that Hutch wasn’t home, Starsky felt alone and was bored out of his mind. The next day was his weekly appointment with Dr Callahan, but that morning he had nothing to do and since he wasn’t too confident yet with his balance to go upstairs on his own, much less to walk the stairs down the street, nor did he want to give Mrs. Walsh the extra work of helping him, he only had one option; stay on the first floor of the house, whiling away the time until Hutch’s return.

 

He decided to make himself comfortable. He laid down on the couch and turned on the TV set, distractedly running through all the channels with the remote until he stumbled onto a morning chat show that attracted his attention for a few moments until his eyelids grew heavier and he began to fall into a light slumber that soon turned into a deeper sleep.

 

At first, his sleep was peaceful, though a strange dream began to creep inside his mind. The first sign was the loud noise of something crashing against the floor. Then, a noise even louder and the weeping of little Rachel coming from upstairs reached his ears, fully awakening him with a start. It was then when Starsky realized that the noises weren’t part of any dream but something very real and that he was in big trouble.

 

“It was time that you woke up, damn idle!” The feminine voice spat. The blue eyes of the woman were blazing with an insane hatred that froze the blood in Starsky’s veins. However, what scared him utterly wasn’t her look, but the small, silver gun that Megan aimed straight against his chest.

 

“Megan?…What are you doing?” Starsky asked trying to keep calm while struggling with his uncooperative plastered leg to sit upright on the couch.

 

“What I should have done much earlier, Mr. Starsky. Get rid of you once and for all.”

 

“Megan…Megan listen, the baby is crying. Where’s Mrs. Walsh? You should go check on Rachel. Maybe she could suffocate or something.” Starsky advised, feeling truly worried for little Rachel, despite the bad situation he was in at that moment.

 

“Oh, come on, Mr. Starsky! Really, do you think I am THAT dumb?” Megan snapped. “The kid will be okay. She must have woken up startled by the noises, that’s all. I’ll go check on her in a moment, but not now. Now I have more important things to do.” At that moment, Megan said the quick glance that Starsky gave to his crutches that leant against the couch’s arm.

 

“NO!” She shouted out, snatching the crutches with one hand while with the other one she kept aiming at Starsky. She then throwed forcefully both crutches against the display cabinet, breaking the glass into pieces with a loud crash.

 

“Look Megan...You don’t wanna kill me…You don’t really wanna do it. You’re a doctor. And doctors’ main mission is to save lives…They don’t kill people…You’re about to make a mistake, Megan. A huge one.” Starsky said in the calmest voice he could utter, while assessing his chances of getting himself out of that scary situation. But those chances were very little, given that most likely he wasn’t going to be able to move fast enough to dodge a point blank shot.

 

“No, Mr. Starsky. You’re wrong. My only mistake has been not to do this much earlier, the first time I saw you lying half-unconscious and almost dead on that stretcher in the ER. Back then, it could have been much easier. But I didn’t. Instead, I did my best to save your life, and look what I got as a reward…Since that day, Ken’s only concern has been you. You and your recovery, you and your welfare, you and only you. Nothing else has mattered for him, neither I nor our baby.”

 

“That’s not true, Megan, Hutch…”

 

“Ken only cares about you, don’t try to deny it. And that’s not fair! He has a family now, a wife, a kid. We are the only ones that should mean everything to him, not you. But I’m going to put an end to this. And I’m going to do it right now.” The woman explained, expressing an odd calmness about her.

 

“What are you going to do Megan? Kill me?” Starsky asked, trying to gain some time, yet feeling himself trapped as a mouse in the claws of a cat.

 

“Of course Mr. Starsky. I’m going to kill you.”

 

“To go to prison later and maybe to the electric chair? Do you really think I am worth all that? Think about it, Megan. Just think.” The woman smiled evilly, never moving the gun away from the aim at Starsky’s chest.

 

“Now I see it. You think I am stupid, don’t you?” She asked to Starsky, pouring scorn in every word. “So let me tell you something my dear Mr. Starsky. You are the stupid one here. I have everything carefully planned, and nobody’s going to find out that I was the one who killed you. Now I’m going to shot you, after that, I’ll trash this place a little more, then I’ll get rid of this gun and I’ll put my gloves back in the drawer where they were. I’ll tear my clothes a little and I’ll hurt myself, you know, to make everything appear completely realistic. A simple flesh wound will be enough. And once all of this is done, it will be the right moment to call Ken at the precinct. I’ll tell him, of course, in the middle of a deep state of shock that two masked men broke in, killing you and hurting me. I’ll beg him to get over here and well…Even somebody as thick as you can picture the rest, I guess.”

 

“Hutch isn’t going to believe your story, Megan. He's too good of a cop to buy that crap, and you, being his wife should know it.” Starsky stated in a soft voice, doing his best to stare into the woman’s eyes and not in the gun clasped between her gloved hands.

 

“Yes. He will. He’ll believe it, Mr. Starsky. He won’t have any other choice. Must I remind you that there’s no witness in here?”

 

“Mrs. Walsh…” Starsky began to say.

 

“Forget that old soppy woman. I gave her the day off and she’s not going to come back until tonight. And now, no more talking, I’ve got something to do...I must kill you.”

 

“Killing me is going to do nothing but ruin your own life, Megan.” Starsky said, knowing that his words would be useless. That after two years of torture, he was finally going to die, just when he had begun to enjoy the good things of life again.

 

“You’re wrong, Mr. Starsky. By killing you, I’ll get back Ken’s love. Plenty, unconditional…” She said while tightening her grasp in the gun.

 

Later, Starsky would remember all that happened during those seconds as portrayed in slow motion in front of his eyes. The soft click of the gun’s catch being released, the noise of the gun discharging, the burning pain of the bullet biting his flesh, and the guttural scream of Hutch as he, coming apparently from nowhere, rushed in with a feline jump towards his wife, knocking her down to the floor at the very moment in which she was pulling the trigger, making her miss the aim at Starsky’s chest.

 

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, YOU DAMN BITCH? WHAT!” Hutch screamed pinning Megan against the floor as she struggled like a wild cat to get free from her husband’s grip.

 

“HE MUST DIE! DAMN HIM!  HE HAS TO DIE OR WE’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO BE A TRUE FAMILY!” She yelled out, still struggling as Hutch dragged her to her feet. Megan took advantage of that moment to land a strong blow to Hutch’s groin with her knee making the blond one to fall to the floor bending over himself in pain, momentarily out of breath.

 

Then she fell to her knees looking frantically for the gun that had slid from his hands to a corner of the living room, when surprisedly, she saw Starsky who had managed to drag himself towards where the gun was, retrieving it.

 

At that moment, Hutch, already back on his feet tried to reach out for Megan, when facing her defeat, she jump to her feet uttering a loud, blood-curdling scream. Then, the woman, dodging Hutch’s attempt to grab hold of her, rushed towards the front door, leaving the house, the door slamming behind her back before either man could do anything to stop her. Seconds later, they heard a loud squealing of brakes coming from the road in front of Hutch’s place. None of them could guess the cause of that noise nor they cared too much at that moment.

~o0o~

The immediate concern of Hutch was to check on Starsky. The curled haired man did lay on his side onto the floor, bleeding from a wound in his right arm. Meanwhile, upstairs, little Rachel kept crying desperately.

 

“Starsky!…I’m sorry. I’m very sorry Starsky…I couldn't…I was unable to shoot at her.” Hutch apologized.

 

“F-forget that, Hutch.” Starsky said among gritted teeth.

 

“You’re hurt, Starsk...You got shot!” Hutch said, hastily checking on Starsky while glancing upstairs from were the sound of his daughter’s cries were coming.

 

“I-I’m okay Hutch…just a flesh wound, but Rachel…Rachel is alone!...Megan gave the day off to Mrs. Walsh! Go to check on the baby, for God sake, Hutch, go now!” Starsky pleaded.

 

“Wrap your arm with this, Starsky, be right back.” Hutch said giving his jacket to Starsky before darting upstairs.

~o0o~

The next few minutes were a blur. Hutch stormed into Rachel’s bedroom, taking the crying baby in his arms and doing his best to soothe her while hurrying back downstairs to call for an ambulance and a police unit before getting a clean towel from the linen shelf and returning to Starsky’s side.

 

“Here Starsk. Wrap this towel around your arm.” Hutch said helping Starsky with one hand while with the other one he kept holding Rachel.

 

When a few moments earlier he had picked the baby from her cot, Rachel’s face was red and flustered by the long weeping and her little body was shaking, though otherwise, she seemed to be okay. Soon, cuddled in the safety of her father’s arms, she began to calm down. Was only then when Hutch could settle the baby in the couch to help Starsky to sit down there.

 

“Tell…tell me something, Hutch.” Starsky asked among panting breaths “What are you doing here?...It’s not too early for you to be back home?...and what’s happened to your head, by the way?” He inquired noticing for first time the bandages around Hutch’s head.

 

“Oh, well, it’s a long story Starsk. I was on my way to the supply room to get a cartridge of ink for the typewriter when a black version of the Incredible Hulk ran over me, throwing me against the wall, and knocking me out, so once I came around and after a trip to see the precinct’s doc, Dobey put my ass in a black and white and sent me home, but apart from a killing headache I’m okay, buddy, nothing to worry about.”

 

“Oh…” Starsky uttered totally lost. By then, both men heard the sirens of the ambulance and a patrol car wailing in the distance, getting closer.

 

“The cavalry’s here, Starsk. Could you watch over Rachel for a sec while I open the door?” Hutch asked rising from the couch.

 

“Sure, Hutch…go.” Starsky said in pain-filled voice, holding tightly the towel around his injured arm

 

In a few strides, Hutch reached the front door opening it to let the paramedics in, when he saw something that made his heart miss a beat.

 

The paramedics weren’t heading towards the house but towards a spot in the middle of the road were a growing crowd of people was gathering around something that, from where he was, Hutch was unable to make out. At that moment, he saw too a patrol car pulling to a halt near the scene.

 

“God in heaven…” Hutch mumbled, somehow guessing what he was about to see, and already going down the stairs to approach the crowd

 

“I didn’t see her, officers! I swear you that I didn’t see her in time to stop!” A tearful woman was frenetically explaining to both police officers. “She crossed the road without looking, without giving me time to pull the brakes! I couldn't help, officer! I couldn't do anything to avoid hitting her! You must believe me!”

 

Hearing, yet not totally registering the chaos around him, Hutch kept pushing his way among the crowd until he stood next to a body already wholly covered with a white sheet and settled in the stretcher that the paramedics had brought along.

 

The blond one kneeled down, picking the sheet and moving it apart a few inches, just enough to see the corpse’s face.

 

“Megan…”

 

“Did you know that woman, sir?” The oldest of both police officers asked Hutch.

 

“Yes. I did…At least I thought so.”

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

 

That Sunday afternoon, the weather was perfect, warm and sunny yet not too hot. Starsky and Hutch had taken little Rachel to spent a day in the park and at that moment, after having eaten their lunch both men were lazily lying down onto a blanket spread on the grass with the baby sitting between them, playing with some wooden cubes and babbling unintelligible sounds.

 

By then, little Rachel was already ten months old, and she had turned into a true little beauty. Her hair was a soft white-blond color, the same shade of Hutch’s hair and her baby blue eyes looked at everybody and everything with the same intensity her father did. Also, especially for Starsky’s amusement, Rachel liked to point at people with her tiny index finger when trying to get anybody’s attention.

 

“Did you put enough of that babies´ sun lotion on her skin, Hutch?” Starsky asked while fingering the silky locks of Rachel’s hair.

 

“For the third time, Mother, yes.” Hutch snorted. “Actually, the kid is slippery like a butter bar. Besides, maybe you haven't noticed it, but this is only late March, the sun is still quite mild and Rachel has her sweater and pants on, so stop worrying, will ya?”

 

“Okay, okay...forget it” Starsky said closing his eyes again as Rachel climbed onto his torso and reached out for his sunglasses with her little hand, all the while giggling and babbling cheerily while both men kept lying onto the blanket, just enjoying the caress of the sun on their faces.

 

Many things had happened in their lives during those months after Megan’s death. Right after the funeral, and once her parents had taken all the woman’s belongings with them, Hutch started taking the necessary steps to sell the house he had shared with his wife, while looking for a new place to live. He found the right one just a couple of months later. It was an old yet nice three-bedroom house near the beach where Hutch moved, asking Starsky to move with him, at least until the brunet could find an apartment of his liking. Thing that, truth to be told, Starsky wasn’t in a hurry to look for. He’d felt very comfortable and happy living with his best friend and little Rachel and Hutch felt the same way, so what started as a temporary arrangement had all the chances to end being a definitive one or at least one that would last for a long time.

 

They had also taken Mrs. Walsh to live with them, and at that moment, especially given that since a few weeks earlier both detectives were back at work full time, the job the woman did taking care of Rachel made her simply indispensable.

 

On the other hand, Starsky, though doing desk duty, had a good chance to be cleared for active duty in the near future. Already he had ended his psychotherapy sessions with Doctor Callahan, having finished his physical therapy about two months earlier too, so for all the accounts, he was back in shape and eager to go back to the streets. His emotional trauma after the ordeal he had went through along two years, was locked somewhere in the deepest of his mind, but as Dr. Callahan had told him in their last session nobody was expecting that so much horror would vanish completely off. Everything would be okay if Starsky was able to keep looking ahead to the future and all the good things he had gotten in his second chance in life, while keeping the ghosts of his past at bay where he could deal with them.

 

Of course, Hutch had ghosts of his own to beat as well. His failed marriage with Megan and the horrible way in which it had ended wasn’t easy to forget, as wasn’t easy to overcome either the irrational guiltiness that kept torturing him every time he recalled which Diana Harmon had done to Starsky. The only thing that gave Hutch a small amount of reassurance was the growing conviction that something beyond his understanding kept protecting him and Starsky. If not, he couldn't picture how it could be possible that the two women that had tried to kill Starsky had both been killed in violent car accidents shortly thereafter…

~o0o~

Both men were still soaking in the quietness of the moment, with Rachel soundly asleep snuggled against Hutch’s side, when some steps approached towards their spot in the grass. Starsky cracked one eye open just to see the beautiful brunette that kneeling down in the blanket bend towards him to kiss his lips.

 

“Hey, sweetheart! What are you doing here?” He asked propping on his elbow to look appreciatively at the young woman.

 

“Nothing special, you know, every time I see a handsome curly-haired guy dozing off under the sun, I can’t help myself. I have to kiss him.” She joked.

 

“Hey Merrick” Hutch greeted the woman.

 

“Hi Hutch, how ya doing?” Marcia Merrick greeted him back, caressing little Rachel’s head before getting to her feet.

 

“You don’t wanna stay?” Starsky asked standing too.

 

“No, I must go back to the precinct. But how about dinner at my place tonight? Salad and meatloaf.”

 

“Sounds great. I’ll bring the wine.” Starsky said as he and Merrick walked a few feet away, arms around each other’s waists. Then, after exchanging some more words, they kissed each other before parting ways.

 

“Tell me something, Starsk. Are you really dating Merrick?” Hutch asked once Starsky sat down back onto the blanket.

 

“Well, looks so.” Starsky answered contentedly.

 

“I don’t get it Starsky, really, I don’t. The very first day you’d come back to the precinct; the first time ever you saw that girl and next day, voila! You’re dating!” Hutch punched his palm with his fist for emphasis.

 

“Well, you know, blame my welcome party at the precinct, that and Minnie’s contact lenses, of course.”

 

“Minnie’s contact lenses? What does that have to do with you both dating, Starsky?” The blond one asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Do you remember when the party was in full swing and Minnie started to fuss around asking people in the squad room not to move their feet, because she had lost one of her new contact lenses?”

 

“Well, at that moment I was on my way to the ice machine to get more ice for the drinks, but yes. I remember it.” Hutch answered.

 

“So then Merrick and I started looking for that thing.” Starsky kept explaining while gesturing vividly with his hands “We both got under your desk at the same time and well, you know, we look at each other’s eyes and, well…” He grinned mischievously. “Starsky’s charm is too hard to resist at such a close range, I guess.”

 

“Yeah, I see…Starsky’s charm.” Hutch mocked shaking his head. “Okay, prince charming, how ’bout coming back home?” He changed the subject, getting to his feet “The breeze’s starting to grow a little cold for Rachel.”

 

“Sure, let’s go.” Starsky agreed picking gently the sleeping child in his arms as his partner folded the blanket and gathered the rest of their picnic stuff.

 

Though he don’t needed to say it, Hutch was happy. Happier than just a few months ago he thought it would be possible. He had by his side the two people that meant the most for him. His daughter was growing up healthy and happy; his best friend was enjoying every minute of his life in that intense way that only Starsky could do, so, as far as Hutch was concerned, everything was fine with the world. He and Starsky had come back from hell, and after years of pain and hopelessness finally, life was again what it had to be.

 

Life was good.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

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