Starsky cut the siren and Hutch pulled the mars light off the top of the car before they approached the gates, their speed reduced to normal. The black and white units were a considerable distance away from the front gates.

"What's happening in there?" Starsky approached one of the officers who was standing inside the open door of his car, talking on the radio to someone at headquarters.

"A couple of Marcovitz's muscle guys got a hold of March, but they know we're out here. They told us they want the boss out of jail, or they're going to kill him."

"Oh, swell, something simple," Hutch responded angrily.

"Who's got phone contact with them--anybody here?" Starsky asked.

"Stevens, right over there." The officer pointed to the only other unmarked car on the scene.

"Anybody talked to Eric yet?"

"Not that I've heard."

"Thanks." Starsky led the way to where Hal and Linda were standing by their car, Hal busily talking on the phone to the captors. He motioned to Hal to let him talk to them.

"Detective Starsky wants to talk to you. He and his partner are in charge of this case," Hal explained to the man on the other end of the line, and then after a moment of listening to something, passed Starsky the phone.

"This is Sergeant David Starsky. You have Eric March?"

"Sure as hell do," a husky voice retorted.

"Yeah? Well, I'm not makin' any deals for corpses, so put him on the phone. I wanna hear his voice."

"You wanna hear his voice? That's no problem." A strangled yelp came over the phone lines. "You can hear his voice all you want to," the caller explained, returning to the phone.

"I want to talk to him. NOW." Starsky knew he was pushing it, but he couldn't let the kidnappers have such total control so early in the game. Finally, there was some commotion, and a somewhat breathless voice came over the line.


"Eric? Hey, you okay in there, pal?"

"Pretty much, but I think they're gonna kill me anyway--"

"That's enough. We want Marcovitz out of jail. For every hour we have to wait, we're gonna break one of his bones. And when we get tired of waiting, we'll break his neck. Understand?"

"Hey, man, this is going to take some time. And one broken bone on his body, and the deal's off, you got that? Now I'm gonna talk to Eric every half hour, and he better sound damned healthy, or you're getting shit from us. Do you read me?" Starsky knew his personal feelings were dictating what sounded like a stiff set of rules for kidnappers, but he was most concerned with doing something, no matter how hopeless it might seem, to protect Eric from being seriously hurt before they could get him out alive.

"Just release Marcovitz." The connection was broken.

"Went at that a little aggressively, didn't you?" Stevens said to Starsky, who simply turned to him with an almost malevolent look on his face.

"When you think you've had enough experience to handle a hostage situation, kid, you come find me. In the meantime, keep your damned mouth shut!"

"Starsk, back off, okay? We're all on the same team here." Hutch was attempting to be the voice of reason in an unreasonable situation. And what did I promise him about being mature and not expecting him to play watchdog for my tantrums, Starsky scolded himself.

"Look, I'm sorry, but that happens to be a very good friend they're having fun and games with in there, and I want all his bones intact when we get him out of there. I didn't mean to jump down your throat, Stevens."

"They're asking something impossible," Stevens responded, having nodded an acceptance of the apology.

"Maybe not." Starsky started pacing, and Hutch merely watched him for a moment. "Did they make any demands for themselves?"

"Oh sure. They want safe passage to Mexico, and they won't leave until they've had a phone call from their boss assuring them he's safely on a plane headed south of the border."

"Then we need to deal with Marcovitz," Hutch announced, heading toward the Torino.

"Like he's going to agree to this," Starsky grumbled, taking his post in the driver's seat.

"Let's hope we can convince him."

"This is like playing let's make a deal with Satan."

"So be it."

Marcovitz's laughter reverberated in the interrogation room. It was absurd, but then it wouldn't be the first time they had asked something unreasonable from a criminal. Starsky had fought for Hutch's life when he was dying from that plague by reducing himself to begging at the feet of Roper the crime boss, not that it had helped any. He still had to find Callendar without Roper's help, and the medical personnel still had to race against time to draw the life-saving blood before the bullet from one of Roper's men killed Callendar. Another sneering bastard criminal who held the life of a friend in the palm of his hand and was just waiting to close his fingers and crush it, Starsky thought to himself.

"If Eric March dies, you're going to be adding an accessory to murder rap to your already impressive list, Marcovitz," Hutch spat the words into the man's face. He was unimpressed.

"And that's going to ultimately make a difference in time served? You cops have been gloating all morning about all the murder raps you've got sewn up against me. Why in hell should I worry about one more accessory charge? If I weren't in this hole right now, I'd order the hit on that little asshole myself. I'm just sorry my assets are frozen and I can't reward my men."

"Listen, you son of a bitch," Starsky grabbed the prisoner by the shirtfront and slammed him against the wall, "if Eric March dies, there ain't no court in the world that's gonna save you from me, you got that? I'm gonna come for you, man--"

"Starsky!" Hutch was pulling him back, and Marcovitz's moment of panic subsided. He was once again composed and sneering. And once again, Hutch was playing the voice of reason. "This is no use. He wants accessory to murder and kidnaping added to his rap list. That's fine. We'll tell the DA to keep any deals he might've offered."

"Veiled promises...nice touch, Hutchinson." Marcovitz grinned evilly. "No, this is your problem, gentlemen. Unless of course, you want to comply with their demands, in which case I'll be happy to make that telephone call for you."

"Go to hell." Starsky stormed out of the room followed by his equally incensed, though more reserved, partner.

"Now what?" Hutch probed Starsky. He was the only person who would have been safe to probe the irate man who was pacing up and down the hall in some vain attempt to work off the energy that had built up in an intense desire to beat the hell out of Marcovitz. It erupted in a fist slammed into a wall. Yelping and shaking his hand, Starsky looked a little sheepishly at Hutch, who was smirking slightly. "That was bright."

"That shoulda been Marcovitz's face!" he bellowed back at Hutch, squeezing the injured hand under his opposite arm in an attempt to squelch the pain.

"Did you break anything?" Hutch coaxed the hand out of its hiding place. He probed it a little, and despite Starsky's discomfort, no fingers appeared broken. The wall wasn't too happy, boasting yet another new dent. "Let's get some ice on this and try to figure out what we're gonna do next."

"I'm sorry, Hutch."

"Apologize to the wall, buddy, not me." Hutch released his hand and led the way to the cafeteria.

"I made this big speech about how I was gonna be more mature and not make you watch out for me all the time...and then twice in one day I go nuts and you have to peel me off the ceiling."

"You're not immature, Starsk. You're passionate about things. There's a difference." Hutch seemed unmoved by his own comment as he got an empty soup bowl off the salad bar in the cafeteria and went to the pop machine and filled it with ice. The cashier waved them through with no charge.

"You really mean that?" Starsky asked as they found a remote table where Starsky could sit and freeze his injured hand with a minimum of question from the other officers milling around the dining room.

"What?" Hutch urged his partner to entrust him with his hand, which he did without question.

"About my not being immature?"

"Well, Starsk, you aren't the only one who had some time to evaluate things while you were laid up. I've always gotten furious at you for not being able to control your temper when you should have, or for bugging the hell out of me about something until I was ready to smack you, but when I gave it some thought--God knows I had a lot of long, empty hours to do that while we wondered if you'd survive--all the times you either hung onto an idea like a pit bull and tried to pull me into it, or flew off the handle, it was always because the thing involved meant so much to you. I'd be dead right now if you weren't that way, so I decided it was time to stop bitching at you every time you got a little over-excited."

"Hey, Hutch, I want to reduce the swelling, not get frostbite." Starsky pulled his hand away and flexed the fingers uncomfortably. Fortunately, he had chosen to slam the wall with his right hand, so his trigger finger was still intact on his left.

"If you weren't as stubborn and hot-headed as you are, I might have died pinned under my car, or maybe from the plague, or maybe even from eating bad clam chowder. Of all the undignified ways to die in the line of duty..." Hutch shook his head, smiling a little. "I think I did enough nit-picking on you in the past year to carry us through the rest of our partnership."

"I still get on you about your car and your health food and your primal grunts."

"Those are primordial sounds, Starsky--the 'oahm' sound you make when you meditate--it's called a primordial sound."

"Okay, whatever, but I still get on your case."

"How many times have you really attacked me, personally? How many really mean-spirited things have you said to me?"

"It's not like I keep score on that, Hutch."

"You tease me about things I do, but you never called me a moron or really put me down." As Hutch spoke, Starsky still winced at the memory a little. He couldn't put his finger on the exact incident when Hutch had called him a moron, but it had something to do with a case, and it was in front of some tacky informant, and it had been embarrassing. And it had hurt--a lot. There may have been more incidents than that, but that one stood out even now, and Starsky hated himself for being petty enough to remember it.

"Look, when you spend most of your waking hours with somebody, you get on each other's nerves. That's nothing to beat yourself up about later."

"You're going to tell me I didn't insult you or hurt your feelings? A few days ago, at Matt Armstrong's apartment--"

"Okay, so you got a little nasty with your teasing sometimes. I thought we got that settled the other day. No need to keep dredging it up."

"When I thought you were dying, I wanted a chance to take it all back--"

"And the times I thought you were dead or dying, I wanted to take back every joke I ever made at your expense about your stupid car or your weird health shakes--and as soon as you recovered, we picked up where we left off. Friends do that. If you love somebody, you feel safe enough to tease 'em a little and it's no big deal; they understand." Starsky smiled broadly at his partner. "I'm not made of china, Hutch. I made a full recovery--I'm fine. You don't have to treat me like I'm gonna shatter into a million pieces anymore. You treated me that way when I needed you to, and it brought me back to where I am now, but you can relax and quit tearing your hair out over every nasty thing you ever said. It's water under the bridge now."

"But I made this vow that if you ever regained consciousness I'd tell you all the things I never told you, and that I'd treat you with the respect you deserved, and that--"

"You'd feed me and walk me and clean up after me--God, Hutch, I made a similar laundry list of promises about getting a dog when I was a kid. And I bartered with God for your life a couple of times too. I'm just glad he didn't go back on his side of the deal when I went back on mine from time to time." Starsky looked at his watch. "We've got to get back out to Eric's. I want those bastards on the phone before the hour's up."

"Thinking about Rigger?"

"Not really. At least Soldier just blew him away, nice and easy. Eric's probably getting tortured while we're sitting here contemplating our navels." Starsky headed for the door, and Hutch was close behind him.

Both detectives were surprised to see Tim, Adam and Mick sitting in a row on the curb near Eric's gates, all three handcuffed.

"Where the hell have you guys been?" Tim demanded.

"What's with the cuffs?" Hutch asked Stevens, who was still in charge of the on-site operation, pending the arrival of a hostage negotiator.

"We pulled that one off the back gate, trying to make a rescue attempt," he indicated Tim, "and these two decided to provide him with a diversion to make that attempt by jumping a couple of officers. They're just cooling their heels."

"Anybody hurt?" Starsky asked.

"Just some pride, I think," Stevens sneered at the three lined up on the curb.

"Can you three shut up and behave yourselves?" Starsky asked the trio of musicians.

"Do we have a choice?" Mick asked angrily.

"The cuffs or your good behavior."

"We won't try anything else," Tim spoke for the group.

"Okay. Let 'em go," Starsky directed Stevens.


"Don't mess with me, Stevens, I'm in no damn mood for it. Just do it." Starsky ruthlessly pulled rank on the other detective, and Hutch did nothing to intervene. "Anybody been in touch with them?" Starsky asked Linda as she returned to the car after talking to one of the black and white units stationed up the street.

"They let us hear him scream a little, and then repeated their demands. They're claiming they're going to break his arm at five o'clock." She checked her watch. It was 4:45.

"Get them on the phone," Hutch directed, and within moments, the connection was made. He motioned to Tim to join him. Glancing at Starsky, he received a confirming nod from his partner to let Tim talk to Eric. It would probably reassure Eric and might keep the musicians calmer than freezing them out of the operation. Starsky wondered what in hell his partner was going to say, but they had to think of something to stall while they came up with a rescue plan.

"This is Sergeant Hutchinson, LAPD. We're currently making arrangements to meet your demands, but as I'm sure you can imagine, there is a lot of red tape to work out with the DA. We need more time."

"Take all the time you want," the husky voice responded. "He's got lots of bones. This'll take a while."

"Look, man, we're bargaining in good faith here. We're asking as a show of your good faith that you lay off the bone-breaking threats. We want him alive, and well, and you don't need to threaten us with injuring him to make us move along. We can only push this thing so fast. Now how's it fair for you to get your end of the deal, and we get a pile of broken bones?"

"Okay. You got another hour for us to see some results, man. Then we're going to start takin' it out on him."

"Let me talk to him," Hutch asked. There were sounds of movement, and he handed Tim the phone.

"Eric?" Tim spoke into the receiver. "You still okay in there?" He heard some response. "Just hang in there, pal, we'll get you out okay--" Tim looked angry and handed the phone to Hutch. "They want to talk to you. Eric still sounds strong, but scared," he explained, covering the receiver.

"We'll be back in contact in one hour, and we expect your hostage healthy." Hutch concluded the conversation with the kidnapper and then turned back to the group which included Hal, Linda, Starsky, Tim, Mick and Adam. "Did you see anything when you tried climbing over the gate?" he asked Tim.

"You know that fancy garden Eric's got back there? Well, when you get up to the top of the gate, you can see through to the patio doors, and those lead into the living room. One of the patio doors was open, and I didn't see anybody in the living room."

"Think you could draw us a rough floor plan of the house?" Hutch asked.

"I'm not too great with drawing, but Adam--"

"Yeah, I can do it. Anybody got paper?"

"Here, use this," Linda directed, spreading a map with the blank side up on the hood of the car and handing him a pencil.

For a few minutes the art project went on, the band members bickering about the exact placement of rooms and entrances. It had been determined that there were two armed captors inside, as they had asked for two of everything--two tickets out of the country, two phony passports, etc. Two armed nuts and an impossible set of demands. Both Starsky and Hutch knew it was falling to them to come up with a plan of action, some brilliant scheme to rescue the captive and apprehend the gunmen. And before the hostage negotiator and the S.W.A.T. team commanders got in on it, they knew they had to do something. Once all that hell broke loose, the hostage ceased to be the focal concern.

"When they get done with their art project over there, What're we gonna do with it?" Starsky asked.

"Sneak over the back gate and get inside and look for him."

"A bit simplistic, isn't it?"

"You've got a better plan?" Hutch retorted.

"I didn't say that, but what if they see us from the house?"

"We know you can see the garden from that rec room upstairs, but my guess would be that they're facing the front, watching the main entrance. I've got one of the black and whites visiting the estate on the adjoining property. You know how you can see the upper level of their pool house from Eric's upstairs? Well, my guess would be we could see in that rec room from the pool house with the binoculars. If they're not there, and there isn't another feasible place for them to be holed up that faces the back of the house, we should be able to approach it."

"I like it. So let's go visit the neighbors."

A scouting trip to the neighbors' pool house revealed that the upstairs rec room was also empty. According to Adam's sketch, there was only Eric's bedroom facing that same direction. While a large tree gave privacy to that window, the high-powered binoculars brought them in close enough to see that there was no sign of movement in that room.

That cleared the path to approach the house from the rear. The rooms still unchecked included the dining room, kitchen, studio, bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. Upstairs, two other bedrooms faced the front of the house, while two more bathrooms and a library rounded out the second floor layout. After debating the point only briefly with Hal and Linda, it was decided that Starsky and Hutch would make the little raid on the house by themselves, and would not make any attempt to confront the kidnappers if they couldn't do so safely. Their little operation was underway just in time to avoid clearing it with Dobey and the hostage negotiator.

Scaling the back gate was a piece of cake. They scurried up to the patio doors and slid inside as noiselessly as possible. They froze when they heard the slight creak of a floorboard overhead. Trying to discern its origin, the detectives decided it was coming from one of the front bedrooms, which made sense, since it would afford the best view of the front gates and the police accumulating there.

"Now what?" Hutch turned to his partner.

"I s'pose if they heard something downstairs, they'd have to come down and have a look," Starsky whispered.

"Can't be too obvious," Hutch admonished, as Starsky eyed a large, very breakable lamp.

"Right." Starsky scanned the room. "The kitchen. Come on." They edged carefully along the walls of the house, just in case one of the captors was posted downstairs. A thorough search revealed they were alone on this floor, and their final stop was the kitchen, where Starsky selected a small water glass and shattered it against the counter.

"What the hell was that?" Nick, the larger of the two men, tensed and cocked his gun. Eric watched him nervously. This man had alternately slapped or threatened him any time he had spoken, and the little session of arm-twisting he had done when they had that detective on the phone had elicited just enough of a cry of pain to satisfy his captors. Thank God somebody had bought him more time...

"Go check it out," the older of the two men directed. Hank was a stocky man in his mid-forties. He reminded Eric of a TV late show gangster, the way he took charge of the situation, and the corny things he said. Even in the face of death, phrases like "bump you off" or "rub you out" reminded Eric more of something that should be done to a dented car rather than a hostage.

"What about him?"

"He ain't goin' nowhere," Hank answered Nick, who reluctantly left the room and could be heard retreating down the hall.

"Somebody's comin'," Starsky slithered into position behind the staircase while Hutch crouched behind the sofa. Nick made his way slowly down the stairs, his feet and legs visible through the open contemporary staircase. Starsky took a deep breath and waited for his quarry to come into sight, and when he was right in front of the detective, Starsky's Beretta pressed against the base of his skull. "Drop it, real slow, and real quiet, now," he ordered, his own voice barely above a whisper. There was a moment of hesitation, and Hutch rose from his hiding place, aiming the Magnum directly at Nick.

"Drop it now, or I drop you," Hutch stated simply. Nick's gun tumbled to the floor.

"How many of you are in here?" Starsky demanded.

"Just Hank and me."

"Convince me," Starsky grabbed a handful of greasy brown hair and yanked Nick's head back, pressing the gun up against his temple. He could feel the other shaking. "Now, I'm gonna ask you one more time, how many?"

"I swear to God, just the two of us."

"Good boy," Hutch retorted. "Now, you're going to help us get your partner down here." He slapped hand cuffs on their prisoner and shoved him back on the couch, keeping the gun aimed at him. "Now, call to Hank, and make it real convincing."

"What'll I say?"

"Tell him to get down here," Starsky offered the obvious, and resumed his post under the staircase. Hutch and the man on the sofa would not be visible from the stairs or the entry hall until well after Starsky had made his move.

"Hank! Hey, Hank! Get down here right away!" Nick glowered back at Hutch, who nodded his approval.

Hank checked the ropes restraining Eric's wrists and ankles. His captive had been a well-behaved prisoner for the most part, and the restraints seemed secure.

"What the hell does he want?" Hank queried aloud, going to the doorway of the bedroom. "Hey, what's going on down there?"

"Just get down here now. I think I saw cops on the lawn out back," he lied. Starsky and Hutch shrugged at each other, indicating their approval for Nick's creativity while staring down the barrel of Hutch's cannon. Of course that excuse caused the delay of Hank rushing to the rooms facing the back property to check from the upstairs vantage point, but when he saw nothing, he started toward the stairs, pausing at the bedroom to give Eric a parting warning.

"If I hear even one sound from you, I'll come back in here and blow your fucking brains out? Got it?" Eric nodded a response. He had been forbidden to speak without permission earlier, and he wasn't about to test those waters again. Hank disappeared from his view. He closed his eyes and released a mammoth sigh of relief. Even a few minutes without a gun in his face was a break. He started wiggling his arms and legs, trying vainly to find some slack in the ropes. This would probably be his last chance to escape alive.

"Nick?" Hank was making his way down the steps, and Starsky braced himself again to do his part when the man approached where he was hiding.

"Drop it," Starsky ordered again, pressing his gun against the back of the man's head. But Hank's nerves were steadier than Nick's, and he delivered an elbow to Starsky's stomach that winded him long enough to daze him a moment while Hank spun around and smashed a fist into his jaw.

"Freeze!" came Hutch's order from across the room. Hank turned from Starsky, firing. The bullet hit Hutch's shoulder, enough to dislodge the gun from his hand. But it had also given Starsky time to regain his equilibrium. As he maintained his aim at Hutch, ready to finish the job, Hank had no warning of the bullet that hit his back and dropped him to the floor.

"Hutch!" Starsky leapt out of his crouched position under the stairs, and kicking the weapon out of reach of the incapacitated gunman, made his way over to his partner.

"Just my shoulder, buddy. I'm okay." Hutch winced at the pain as Starsky helped him into a sitting position, but it was obvious the bullet had missed any vital organs.

"Think you can keep an eye on these two while I check upstairs? I wanna make sure this is all of 'em."

"Yeah, I'll be fine. Just cuff that one in case." Hutch nodded toward Hank, who didn't appear to be moving. Starsky followed the direction and when he had secured the cuffs, cautiously made his way upstairs. The first room he looked inside found him face to face with Eric.

"Hey, pal, you okay?" Starsky entered the room a little hesitantly. "How many of them were there?"


"Good. This the phone they used?" Eric nodded, and Starsky found the number of the connection that had been set up with Stevens and dialed it. When it was answered, Starsky barked into the phone. "We got 'em. We need back-up and an ambulance, pronto. Hutch is wounded, but I think he's okay, in the living room. One of the gunmen is down, both are cuffed, also in the living room. I'm in the upstairs bedroom with Eric March. He looks healthy." Starsky hung up and worked at untying Eric. "Are you okay?"

"They smacked me a couple of times and twisted my arm a little, but nothing's broken. How's Hutch?"

"It's a shoulder wound. I think he's okay." Starsky undid the last of the ropes holding Eric's ankles together. "Just stand up and get your circulation going a second."

"How'd it all come down with Rhiana and Marcovitz?"

"They're both languishing in the county jail as we speak."

"They admitted to killing Matt?"

"Rhiana did. We'll have enough to nail 'em, don't worry."


"Hey, c'mon. I wanna get back down to Hutch." Starsky led the way down the steps, and by the time they arrived downstairs, Dobey was crouched by Hutch, uniformed cops were dragging Nick out to waiting police cars and Hank was being fitted for a body bag. Dobey seemed infinitely relieved to see that their informant had survived. "Captain Dobey, this is Eric March--the guy who gave us the tip that started it all."

"I want to thank you for your help, Mr. March. We're in the process of breaking up a very significant crime ring based on your initial information." While Dobey shook hands with Eric, Starsky joined the officer who was applying pressure to Hutch's wound and slid an arm between his partner's back and the front of the couch that was supporting him.

"Hey, partner, you still with us?" he asked Hutch, who smiled faintly in response.

"I'm still here, Starsk." As he finished answering, the paramedics approached him, and Starsky backed away again to let them do their work. He joined Dobey and Eric at the end of their conversation.

"I'm glad it's helping the cops, but I did it for Matt. Just don't let his murder get lost in the shuffle, huh? Or plea bargained or something?"

"His murder was an ordered, planned homicide. It won't be tried as anything less than that."

"Then I got what I wanted. Hey, are the guys still outside?"

"Right outside the gates," Starsky directed.

"Great." Eric hurried out the front door, and Starsky watched as the four men met in what resembled a sort of football huddle halfway down the driveway.

Hutch's shoulder wound was a superficial one, only confining him to the hospital for a couple of days. Starsky hated being back in the corridors of that damned hospital again, but yet there was a certain power in walking down the halls in street clothes again, not lying on his back in agony in an ICU bed. He even greeted a couple of familiar nurses and orderlies who had helped keep him in his tree during his lengthy stay there on his way up to see Hutch. They seemed pleased to see him in this healthier form, and Gina, a pretty brunette who had made it clear she was single, was very open to his suggestion of dinner and a movie sometime the following week. She had been a constant bright spot during his convalescence, joking with him, sneaking in and sharing her pizza with him at lunch and generally bringing a little ray of normality into an abnormal situation. She had even turned her head when Hutch occasionally snuck in after visiting hours and stayed late into the night.

Now it was Starsky's turn to be the visitor, not that he relished that role. Hutch had been under the weather enough times to last Starsky a lifetime, but at least this time wasn't life-threatening. When he arrived at the room, his partner was pushing the hospital dinner around on his plate with his fork, looking generally disgruntled.

"Hey, partner, how're you feelin'?"

"Like I'm being slowly poisoned." Hutch pushed the tray away.

"Got a remedy for that." Starsky set the bag of take outs on the table and removed the tray, setting it on another table near the door. "Got you a double burger with bleu cheese and thousand island--just like you like it." Starsky handed the large wrapped sandwich to his partner, who looked like he had been handed the crown jewels. He opened the paper and began eating enthusiastically.

"Thanks, buddy. This is great," he said through a mouthful.

"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" Starsky asked as he perched on the edge of the bed and started eating his own burger. "So when do you get sprung?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, probably. They want to be sure my arm isn't going to drop off."

"I think it was bleeding they were worried about, smart ass." Starsky chewed in silence for a moment. "Well, the DA's real happy. Looks like we've got about four counts of murder, a whole slew of loan-sharking and extortion charges, the accessory to kidnapping...all sorts of cool stuff. And that's just against Marcovitz. Rhiana's still cutting a deal with the DA, so we don't know what she'll ultimately get charged with."

"Have you seen her? One on one?"

"Did that right before everything went down at Eric's yesterday. Didn't really solve anything. Made me feel worse, not better."


"She went on and on about how she still loved me, and that she meant everything she said but couldn't be with a was nothing that should have surprised me. But it didn't solve anything either."

"Well, Linda was marginally softened by my getting shot, so at least she's speaking again, but that's as far as it goes. I heard from Stevens that she was applying to get back into the SFPD. I guess Stacy Sheridan's doing okay now, and Linda told him she thought coming here had been a mistake."

"Nice of Stevens to drop by and cheer you up while I was at the precinct."

"He's a great guy," Hutch said a little sarcastically.

"Well, he helped me when I was trying to get you back from Callahan, so I guess I can't find too much fault with him. He might be a human being when he grows up a little."

"Miracles can happen." Hutch finished his burger. "How's Eric? None the worse for wear, I hope?"

"Nah. He had a couple of strained tendons in his arm that they were working over, which just means he needs to take it easy on the drums for a little bit, but it's nothing serious. I'll go out in a while and get you a pile of newspapers so you can see how famous we all are." Starsky licked chili sauce off his thumb as he finished his burger. "Hope Gunther reads the paper. I love the thought of the old bastard choking on the news with his dinner tray."

"I was worried about that blow you took in the stomach."

"Oh, that? It winded me a little, but nothing major. I've got a bruise, just like I used to get, but my guts are all still where they're supposed to be."

"At least things turned out the way they're supposed to this time--I can't help but think about Rigger, and how we messed up with him. I feel like we kind of redeemed that with Eric."

"We had a little help from his band. Those guys are pretty sharp." Starsky laughed a little. "I'd still like to recruit Tim into undercover vice."

"He's a smooth one."

"I'm really back, Hutch. And I'm okay. We're really back. Surprises the hell out of me that this is what we really want."

"Having second thoughts, buddy?" Hutch asked, leaning back against the bed as he drank his pop.

"Uh-uh. You? I mean you're the one who just got shot yesterday."

"I noticed. No, I think we're doing the right thing--for us anyway."

"How would you feel about doubling with a couple'a nurses?"

"You have something in mind?"

"You remember Gina?"

"The brunette you claimed was in love with you while you were recuperating?"

"I never said that."

"Well, you implied she was always first to volunteer to assist you with your," Hutch cleared his throat, "personal needs."

"That was a simple fact. Anyway, I saw her today when I got here, and she has this friend--"

"Oh, swell. Some Godzilla look alike who needs her friend to fix her up with a wounded man who can't get away."

"You might regret turning this down, Hutch. Gina wouldn't steer me wrong."

"I must be insane, but go ahead and set it up."

"I kinda did already." Starsky cringed a little, waiting for a verbal spray of reprimands, but Hutch merely shot him a disdained look.

"So all this asking was just a formality?"

"I figured you'd say yes eventually. Besides, you've been treatin' me real nice lately, so I thought you'd go along with it," Starsky said with an impish grin. Hutch had to smile in spite of an underlying urge to wipe the grin off his partner's face.

"Just don't push it, Turkey." Hutch became serious again. "Did we ever find out how Daniels knew about the bust?"

"Well, we've got a theory right now," Starsky reported, feeling odd to be the one at work while Hutch was out of the action. "Daniels went into a diner to get coffee for the three of them, and there were a bunch of other cops in there, and he was standing around, talking with them for a few minutes before he went back outside. We're trying to get a line on who those cops were. I guess a couple were plainclothes, and there were four uniformed guys--two units that converged there for lunch. If one of those units was supposed to be part of the back-up, and they didn't know who the leak was...Daniels said he had to use the john a while later and he never went back to the stakeout."

"I didn't think Dobey was letting much information about case out to anyone."

"He must've thought he could trust those guys, and they must've thought they could trust Daniels--another cop, for God's sake. Who'd automatically think they weren't supposed to talk about a big drug bust coming down with another cop? And speaking of trusting brother cops, I had a little talk with Bernie Glassman--the patrolman who found you in the alley after you got away from Forest's men? Seems he got a little loose-lipped in front of Daniels about that incident--I guess he was puffed up to be able to tell a new detective some hot inside information about another detective."

"Who else was with Daniels when this happened?" Hutch tensed visibly.

"No one--Bernie's partner was there, but he already knew anyway, so that didn't matter. I guess he reminded Bernie to shut up. But we know now how Callahan got the information."

"Kind of reminds me what a house of cards I'm living on," Hutch responded.

"Hey, Hutch, Daniels is dead, and I really threw the fear of God into Glassman. We've been okay this far." Starsky smiled and Hutch returned it. There was that "we" mentality again. Always my back up, eh, Starsky? Starsky became serious again. "Dobey said it was a judgment call on whether or not to make the identity of the leak more general knowledge, but he was afraid of someone tipping off Daniels, and him getting away, and tipping off Marcovitz. It was a no-win situation. We're just lucky Tim got out alive."

"I'm glad this one's about wound up. It's been a real roller coaster ride." Hutch stared out the window for a moment. "I can't believe we actually made a demo tape in a recording studio. Sometimes I feel like I dreamed all of it."

"We could still go back to that."

"I thought you never wanted to see the inside of a recording studio again."

"I'm not about to let Rhiana have that kind of power over my life." Starsky seemed a little sad at the topic being brought up again, but he didn't turn away from discussing it. "If you have any second thoughts about turning our backs on that..."

"Do we have to? The tape's all finished. Maybe Eric knows somebody who could shop it around a little. Might be something to do on the weekend--play a few gigs, make some extra money."

"I can see Dobey going for that idea. 'Sorry, Cap, we can't come in and work on that new case. We've got a gig Friday night'."

"I suppose you're right. Still would like to know if anybody'd sign us. I guess it's just foolish pride."

"We were damn good at the music, Hutch. We sounded great."

"You're humble about it," Hutch needled.

"Why should I be? You shouldn't be either."

"I guess it's just another chapter in our lives, buddy."

"You really feel lousy about closing it though, don't ya?"

"I guess I do. More than I thought. But I want to stay a cop. How's that for wanting the cake and eat it?"

"Well, you always were a complex person, Hutchinson." Starsky stood up and paced a little, then stopped. "Maybe we could play a few gigs here and there. We usually get our time off when we're supposed to. It really was fun."

"It was, wasn't it?"

"I think Eric's probably going to go back with Kingpin now, so that leaves us minus a drummer."

"Maybe he knows somebody," Hutch suggested.

"Why don't you call him and bounce it off on him? It'll give you something interesting to do when you get sick of the TV."

"Maybe I will. This is crazy." Hutch snickered and shook his head. "Can you picture all the crap we'll have to take at the precinct if we do this?"

"No more than we usually do," Starsky responded, grinning. "No reason we shouldn't try to have it all."

"We'll think about it."

"Call Eric and talk to him about it. See if he knows somebody who's halfway good who'd be interested to do something on the weekends once in a while. Oh--by the way, while you're getting back on your feet, you wanna stay with me or you want me to stay with you?"

"It was just a shoulder wound, Starsk."

"In your right shoulder. You're not supposed to lift anything--you're supposed to rest it, remember? That's real tough for righties."

"Righties, huh?"

"See, if you were left-handed, like me, it wouldn't be such a big problem for you. But since you're--"

"If I were left-handed, he'd have aimed for my left shoulder."

"Ah, but we'll never know that for sure, will we? I mean, what if --"

"Oh God, Starsk, don't start that 'what if' thing again." Hutch threw his head back on the pillow in exaggerated frustration, but it was too late, and a veritable litany of "what ifs" spewed from Starsky until Hutch used his good arm to throw a maliciously aimed pillow in his partner's direction.

Starsky and Hutch were soon back on active duty again, though temporarily sidelined while Hutch got his arm back in action. The sling was a thing of the past after a couple of weeks, and life seemed to be returning to something that approximated normality. Eric was still enthusiastic about moonlighting with Passages on an occasional weekend gig, and took responsibility for marketing the band via Kingpin's management.

It was on a mild summer evening that the guys made the drive out to Eric's place to talk about a potential performance the coming weekend at a small club in San Diego. At least that was the story Eric had used to lure them out there. When they arrived, they found the ornate garden draped with all manners of outdoor lanterns and lights, dozens of guests milling around, and the band yelling an enthusiastic "SURPRISE!" when they walked in.

"What's the occasion?" Hutch asked Eric, who led the band across the lawn to greet the guests of honor.

"It's Matt's birthday today, and since he can't be here, and you guys were the ones who nailed Marcovitz, we decided to give you a party. It was kind of a way for Matt to say thanks."

"I think this is the first time we got a party for wrapping up a case. I could get used to this. Thanks, guys, this is really great," Starsky responded.

"I guess to say we were just doing our job would be pretty corny at this point?" Hutch asked, smiling. Eric nodded emphatically and soon the others joined in.

Eric had come up with an impressive guest list of musicians and a nice smattering of attractive women. It surprised both detectives to see amidst all these entertainment personalities their captain and his wife, plus a number of other detectives and police officers.

"Never thought I'd have all these cops at one of my parties if they weren't breaking it up," Eric quipped as he and Starsky took a detour into the house to replenish the champagne supply at the bar on the patio.

"This is really incredible. Hutch and I really appreciate it. And the girls you imported aren't bad either."

"One of the few perks of the business." Eric disappeared behind the wet bar in the living room, fishing more champagne out of the small refrigerator there.

"I would think there'd be lots of perks." Starsky was looking around the room with an approving eye.

"Well, eight months out of the year I'm not here. I'm eating sub-level food, sleeping on a bus or in a hotel, playing a show almost every night, getting my hair ripped out by screaming fans if I stick my nose outside the bus at the wrong time, performing whether I'm sick or healthy...I dunno." He set the bottles up on the bar.

"All these gold and platinum, lots of accomplishments to make by thirty."

"Oh I'm not really complaining. I love music, and I really do live for that time up on stage. The fans are usually great. I think Matt's death has been real hard for me to work through in connection with going back on the road, and back into the studio."

"I couldn't go back on the streets without Hutch, so I can imagine how you feel."

"You make a lot of friends in your life, hopefully, but the ones that last...there aren't many of those. I just wish we hadn't ended things on such a sour note--no pun intended."

"Matt wasn't himself."

"No, he wasn't."

"You know, if you hadn't urged me so hard about getting a second opinion, I probably wouldn't be on active duty right now, and this whole case would probably not be solved."

"Or I'd be sweating out a murder trial."

"I want to thank you for pushing me about the second opinion. I was so wiped out that first night I thought I was gonna die. Between Rhiana and the no-go for street duty, I was pretty discouraged."

"Understandable." Eric popped a cork with appropriate panache and poured two glasses. "I think we oughtta drink to something."

"Anything in particular?"

"We've got four bottles here. We could conceivably drink to everything." Eric flexed his eyebrows a little.

"To good friends, past, present and future." Starsky raised his glass, and Eric tapped it, taking a healthy slurp of champagne.

"Good one. Okay, to long shots becoming reality--Passages, nailing Matt's killers, and you back on active duty."

"Works for me," Starsky responded, clinking glasses with Eric and taking another drink.

"To Rhiana, for bringing Passages together." Starsky shocked himself by toasting to her, but she had provided him with a new group of good friends, and that deserved toasting.

"Whatever," Eric responded with a smirk, and toasted again.

"Hey, are you guys going to just sit in here and get wasted all by yourselves?" Tim entered through the patio doors. "That crowd's gettin' ugly with no bubbly."

"If it isn't our favorite part-time undercover narc," Starsky greeted.

"Oh, no, not me. It was a real trip, but I think I'll leave the guns and drug busts to the cops."

"You did a real smooth job, man. You didn't flinch at all."

"Oh, I was flinchin' a little when that guy shot me."

"Thank God for the vest," Eric spoke up.

"I'da been a goner without that."

"I know Hutch and I are planning to wear them a little more often. I don't know how many times I can be shot up and restitched and have it hold together. I don't think the doctor's real sure either."

"To be shot for real--I can't picture that," Tim said, shaking his head slowly. "Must really hurt."

"You wouldn't believe it," Starsky said with an uneasy grin as he finished off his champagne.

"You must really love what you do to risk that again."

"About as much as you love what you do to take on the road schedule," Starsky retorted, exchanging a knowing look with Eric.

"You said a mouthful there," Tim replied, laughing a little. "I think your partner's puttin' the moves on Tina," Tim reported, craning his neck for a better view.

"You're shittin' me," Eric responded, joining him to watch Hutch laughing and talking with Tina, obviously charming her. "I'll be damned. Looks like it's working, too." As Hutch was whispering something in her ear, he noticed the trio mirrored in the living room window. His face registered appropriate disgust, but he had to quickly adjust his expression for Tina's benefit, who had her back to the patio doors. Eric, Tim and Starsky burst out in a fit of adolescent laughter, for no particular reason but the pure lightness of the moment, and the influence of the champagne. "Hey, take this out there. We'll be out in a few minutes, okay?" Eric handed Tim the champagne, and he gladly loaded his arms with it and went back outside. "Come on, I've got something to show you." Eric led the way through the house to the recording studio.

"This is a pretty nice set up too." Starsky looked around at the small area, much less posh that Gary Olson's, but still well-appointed.

"It does what I need. I've got something for you." He disappeared into the control booth and a moment later came out carrying a somewhat worn-looking red electric guitar.

"This is for me?" Starsky asked as Eric handed him the instrument.

"Yup. Matt's mom and dad gave me a few of his things, and I wanted you to have that. I know you were having some fun learning how to play electric at Gary's, and I think Matt would like to do something to say thanks."

"But this has got to mean a lot to you--being Matt's. Are you sure you want to part with it?"

"I'm sure. Just have some fun with it. It was one of Matt's first guitars, but I always thought it had a real cool sound. This way, next time we jam on Zeppelin, we won't need Tina to take over guitar duty."

"I don't think I'm ready for that."

"Hang out with Mick once in a while. He'll teach you all the tricks."

"Thanks, man. This is really special."

"Better get back to the party, I guess."

"You seem a little down." Starsky commented as he followed Eric through the house again, this time carrying the guitar.

"I think all the hype is subsiding, and I'm just depressed. We always throw a real blast on each other's birthdays, and I miss Matt. The whole studio scene depresses me yet. I was sitting there one night just listening to the vocal track, all by itself. I've got some unreleased stuff that Matt and I were messing around with. But we'll get rollin' again. Matt wouldn't have it any other way. I just can't picture another singer..."

"At least the people responsible didn't walk."

"True. Hey, this is a party, not a wake. Let's get out there and round up everybody who plays anything or anybody who can carry a tune and get a sing-a-long going."

"You don't expect me to play this in front of all those people?"

"Nah. Put it behind the bar and pick it up on the way out. I didn't give it to you so I could subject you to public humiliation--though now that you mention it, it might have been fun." Eric cackled a little evilly. "Hey, by the way, I did get something for Hutch. Remember that album you said you fried in his oven?"

"Thanks for reminding me--the rare, autographed Buddy Holly album that he searched the planet for?"

"Well, it was rare, but not one-of-a-kind. One of the record company execs I know has a real extensive collection, and I did a little bartering with him--"

"You got another one?"

"Sure did."

"Man, you sure just got me off a hook I've been on for about a year now!"

"Killed two birds with one stone, then, I guess. Anyway I think he'll get a kick out of it."

Hutch was examining the prized record album as Starsky pulled out of the winding drive in the Torino. It was late, almost three in the morning, but for some odd reason, Starsky seemed bent on taking a detour. Hutch was a little annoyed not to be heading for home, but he had to agree with his partner that this night, with its mild breeze and crystal clear sapphire sky was almost too beautiful to waste sleeping. And for once, they were spending Friday night cruising the street with the windows down, the police radio off, and no responsibility to the department until Monday morning.

Starsky turned up the car's radio a little, letting the music fill the interior. Hutch noticed that his partner had become something of a radio junkie since his convalescence. Having tired of the TV more quickly than Hutch would have expected him to, Starsky had filled many long, lonely, boring hours in the hospital becoming an expert in popular music. He had twitted Hutch with high-pitched and off-key renditions of numerous Andy Gibb songs, and could sing or recite lyrical passages to most of the current disco hits. Since his partner had usually only considered disco worthwhile for dancing purposes, Hutch recognized how bored Starsky really must have been all those weeks staring at the walls.

The volume got another boost. Starsky had developed a real fondness for this particular song. It had been a sort of anthem throughout his physical therapy, and he seemed to draw strength from it even more so since the whole string of events with Rhiana.

"You tell 'em, Gloria," Starsky said quietly, as Gloria Gaynor's voice boomed out of the speakers, vowing "I Will Survive". Hutch could understand his partner's affinity for the song once he really zeroed in on the lyrics, for the first time since he had been initially vaguely annoyed at Starsky's attachment to the song:

"It took all the strength I had

Not to fall apart

Just trying hard to mend the pieces

Of my broken heart.

And I spent so many nights

Just feelin' sorry for myself,

I used to cry

But now I hold my head up high,

And you see me

Somebody new

I'm not that chained up little person

Still in love with you...

Weren't you the one

Who tried to break me with goodbye?

Did you think I'd crumble?

Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I

I will survive.

As long as I know how to love I know I'll stay alive.

I've got all my life to live,

I've got all my love to give,

And I'll survive, I will survive..."

As the song faded, Hutch noticed they had driven quite far into the countryside, and his partner didn't seem inclined to turn back toward town. He was onto another song, not as intensely, drumming out the beat on the steering wheel, looking utterly relaxed in the comfortable silence that had prevailed between the two of them. Not a silence born of nothing to say, but rather born of no need to say it aloud. Reluctantly, Hutch broke the pattern and spoke.

"Where're we headed?"

"Don't know. You in a hurry to go home?" Starsky asked, with no trace of irritation in his voice. Just a simple question.

"Not particularly, no. Just wondering."

"Quite a party, huh?"

"It was really something. I guess you were right about those guys after all."

"I just had a good feeling about them. I guess Eric is what I would have liked in a younger brother. I'm not trying to put Nicky down, but things didn't work out well with him, they never did. We were like oil and water from the start, and when I left home, well, things just went from bad to worse. I see another guy his age, like Eric, who can be a little flaky sometimes, but really has his head on straight, and cares about people, and I wonder what went wrong. I s'pose I kind of know. Growing up without a father...he was even younger when Dad died...and then I left home, and he had to come up with whatever role models he could, which didn't leave much in our old neighborhood."

"What got you thinking about Nick?" Hutch refused to speak of the man with any diminutive nicknames. He found him to be a hateful, amoral little hood who played his brother's sensitive nature like a violin. The fact he shared a first name with one of Marcovitz's kidnappers seemed like a darkly amusing twist of fate. Never will name my kid Nick, Hutch thought, attaching an absurd significance to the name itself. Bringing him up had disturbed an otherwise pleasant evening.

"I thought about everything when I was in the hospital. Nothing else to do but think...and get hooked on the radio." Starsky turned it down a little to avoid yelling over it.

"I wouldn't waste too many brain cells on Nick if I were you." Hutch blurted the remark without really planning to voice it aloud.

"I know he doesn't waste many on me, so you're probably right." Starsky's reaction wasn't the defensive one Hutch expected.

"I didn't mean to say it exactly that way.--

"It's okay. I can't argue the point. Hey, I wanna show you something. This should appeal to you, nature boy."

Starsky maneuvered the Torino around a number of curves as it followed the twists of a road that led to the top of a hill overlooking the city. Starsky pulled the car up near the edge and got out, followed by his partner. It was a remote spot, and it had taken them at least an hour to get there. Leaning against the hood of the car, Hutch was stunned by the panoramic view of the ocean of lights below and the blanket of stars above.

"Is this where you usually run out of gas?" Hutch needled.

"What d'you mean?"

"Oh, playing innocent now, huh? When you're taking a lady out for a drive, this must be the spot where you run out of gas."

"I don't bring dates here." Starsky's tone was completely serious. "This is my place. I don't bring anybody here who's gonna ruin it for me."

"How do you mean?"

"Let's say I'd brought Rhiana up here. Every time I came here after what happened, I'da thought of her, and I'd stop coming. I found this place one night when I was driving around after Terry died. Sometimes when I couldn't sleep, and decided to give you a break and not call and whine at you for two hours at a time in the middle of the night, I'd get in the car and just drive for a while. I found this place by accident, and I've been coming here when I wanted to think or just be by myself ever since." Starsky sat on the ground near the edge of the bluff, and Hutch was chillingly aware of the last time he had seen his partner sitting on the edge of such a spot. He joined Starsky on the ground and just took in the view, the sound of the crickets and the rustle of the trees. His partner was right--Hutch the nature boy was in heaven. In the middle of the smog, crime and depravity, this was an oasis of perfection.

"This is a beautiful spot, buddy." Hutch resumed his silence a moment. "So why'd you bring me here?"

"'Cause I figured you'd like it."

"Who wouldn't?"

"But you understand it...what it means."

"A place to come when you need to be reminded there really is still something beautiful and worthwhile in the world? That all those lights down there are what make us do the lousy dangerous job we do? A special place that you want to protect, so it isn't contaminated by all that ugliness down there?"

"Told ya you'd understand," Starsky responded with a wide smile. Neither man spoke for a few minutes, enjoying the silence and solitude of the spot.

"Might be a good spot to write a few songs, huh?" Hutch suggested.

"Might be," Starsky replied, not taking his eyes off the view. "You want to start back?"

"Why? Are you in a hurry to get home now?" Hutch asked, parroting his partner's prior question.

"No way." Starsky seemed pleased, and settled in to just sit and stare out at the lights and the stars.

Hutch lost track of how long they were there, exchanging a few words here and there, but mostly just breathing in the fresh air and watching the city sleep. Everything seemed to be finally falling into place. Starsky looked healthy again, and when he smiled now, the old warmth and humor lit up his face. Hutch reflected on the fact that he was blissfully content to be back on the job he thought he hated, and that amidst all the confusion and the stress of the case, he had overlooked the fact that one of his lifelong dreams had been realized. He was part of a band, had recorded a demo tape--the future of which was still unknown--and had enjoyed the experience of working with professional musicians in a state-of-the-art studio--something he never could have afforded without Gary Olson's generosity, and Rhiana's connections. That was a sour thought. Well, Rhiana was Starsky's connection, so he preferred to give his partner credit for helping that dream come true. Maybe it was time to stop looking for the elusive thing called the tranquillity of the night and the soft sounds of nature and the companionship of the best friend he'd almost lost, it seemed as if it had been there all along, just waiting to be discovered.

Starsky tossed a pebble into the abyss in front of him. He thought briefly of the Torino hurtling off the cliff, taking a tumble into the valley below it. Different cliff, different valley. No reason to entertain unhappy thoughts in this place. Still, the thought of what an insane waste that would have been haunted him. All the wrong facts could have sent him literally over the edge, and left his moody partner to his own ruminations, which would have probably involved blaming himself, no matter how hard Hutch had to work to figure out why Starsky driving his own car off a cliff was his fault. Hutch just had too big a capacity for guilt not to eat himself alive over that one. Starsky's lengthy convalescence had reinforced the fact that they were a unit, like it or not, and one functioning without the other just didn't seem practical. Starsky looked over at his partner, enjoying the look of perfect peace and tranquillity on his face. Showing him this place was a good idea. Hutch needed a place like this as much as Starsky did himself. Plus sitting up here all alone and reviewing all the miserable things that ever happened in his life suddenly didn't seem as rejuvenating as just relaxing and watching the darkness dispersed by the first rays of dawn, enjoying the quiet companionship of many years that didn't require words.

The sky was turning a spectacular blend of blue, grey and rose before it occurred to either of them to break the spell and seriously suggest heading back for town. And then it was not really one of them, but rather Starsky's stomach growling its dismay as breakfast time approached.

"Some things never change," Hutch teased his partner as they rose and headed back for the car.

"I know that. That's why I brought you here." Starsky made little fuss over the comment as he got in and started up the car, but it was not lost on Hutch, who just smiled a knowing smile as they started back for town.

"There's a calm surrender

To the rush of day,

When the heat of a rolling wind

Can't be turned away,

An enchanted moment

And it sees me through,

It's enough for this restless warrior

Just to be with you..."

--"Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" by Elton John

Words & Music by Tim Rice and Elton John