9

You are the one who helps me fly so high,

You are the rain when my spirits run dry,

You give my life a hope that's real...

 

The manhunt for Evan Jordan exploded in the media during the next 48 hours. Every news program, newspaper, and tabloid was screaming to the high heavens about the police's suspect, and on this one occasion, Dobey and the commissioner worked the press for all it was worth. Photos of Jordan were splattered everywhere, and people were encouraged to call the hotline if they had seen anyone who resembled the suspect. All statements made to the press stressed that Jordan was wanted in connection with the murders, but would not elaborate on the nature of the evidence. Mel, Paul, Huggy and Hutch did most of the heavy work of moving the French doors and cupboards from the doomed house to the rickety garage of the Cherry Street house. Hutch teased his partner that he made a wonderful supervisor, but he used a great deal of restraint in teasing him too much, because Starsky seemed impatient enough with his healing ribs and reduced ability. He'd had way too much experience with being in that state after Gunther's hitmen shot him.

Saturday actually proved to be a fun day, as it ended in a cookout in the backyard at Mel's, with the majority of the neighborhood invited. Most of the men were involved in the neighborhood watch program, so the two detectives quickly became popular as sources of information and pointers. The women seemed to congregate together, complaining that it was turning into a neighborhood watch meeting with refreshments. Eventually, though, the men tired of discussing home security, dragging as many details about Starsky's ordeal out of him as they could get--though they mainly seemed to be looking for reassurance that it was not a random crime, and therefore not a threat to their neighborhood--and all ended up sitting around the backyard having an off-key sing-a-long. Paul was a music major at USC, and his instrument of choice was the guitar. He urged Starsky and Hutch to go next door and get their guitars, and before long, the beer and the singing flowed through the crowd. A couple of ribald toasts were made toward Schoemacher's house, with the men laughing riotously at the thought of finally putting the unpopular neighbor in his place and curtailing his display of the offensive flag. They still had suspicions that he was tied into what happened to Starsky, and not wanting to jeopardize the search for Curtis, the detectives were mum on the subject. After all, there was no telling that Schoemacher didn't know "Curtis'' or one of the other four assailants. The word of Arnold Mercer or Wendell Norton didn't carry much weight with the police.

It was after midnight Saturday when they finally retreated back to their own house. Some of the party-goers were still lapping up the last of the beer and their laughter and conversation carried in the air that wafted through the open kitchen window.

"Seems like a good bunch'a people,'' Starsky commented, heading toward the TV room.

"I still can't believe they volunteered to help paint the house.''

"Hutch, take a good look at the front of our house sometime, will ya? We've got a new porch--nice, bright-looking unpainted wood--and a house that thinks it's already gray when it used to be white just because 90% of the paint's gone off it. They're probably sick'a lookin' at it.''

"You're the one who said we could let the painting go for awhile.''

"It wasn't such bad advice. When we first moved in, we didn't have ten or fifteen volunteers lined up to help us paint, did we?''

"Touche.'' Hutch laughed a little as he settled in a chair while Starsky sprawled on the couch, flipping channels for something interesting to stare at. Hutch thought to himself that they had certainly under-utilized the second TV. The color set had been returned to the downstairs TV room, which still held old furniture from both guys' apartments. It was comfortable to go wallow in a little piece of the past now and then.

"Oh, Hutch, you gotta check this out.'' Starsky had paused on a myriad of flashing images, and was cranking up the volume. A wiry man with spiky red hair in a black suit was dancing around, gibbering inanely about turning Japanese, and those images were interspersed with vacant-looking Geisha girls. The music was bizarre, the imagery chaotic. "Mtv--it just started up a month or so ago. I started watching it while I was home.''

"What the hell is this, Starsky? It's possibly the worst thing I ever heard.''

"The Vapors-- 'Turning Japanese'. This isn't the best one, though. There's one with a bunch of women dressed in tin foil sliding down plastic tubes and it's something about video and the radio star. And there's this other one where the guy--''

"And the point to all this is...?'' Hutch asked, obviously not appreciating the artistic value of the leaping, gyrating man on the screen.

"It's all music--but it's like these little movies--they're called videos, Hutch. If you don't like this one, just wait a few minutes. They're only as long as the songs.''

"Oh.'' Hutch waited. The next video that came on was better. A guy was strolling around what looked like the stage of an old theater, then draped himself on a player piano and started singing. Then the old theater backdrop went up like the stage curtain that it was, and the rock band behind it launched into a fast-paced song. Hutch actually stayed interested in exploring the joys and sorrows of Mtv with his partner until they both concluded they were dozing more than watching and called it a night near two a.m.

Wendy had volunteered to prepare the food for Sunday's picnic in the park, so all that remained was to bring the wine. It was a sunny autumn day, the temperatures hovering the mid-sixties. Hutch drove the Mercury, as it was determined his car was the largest of the four they had to choose from between them. They stopped to pick Wendy up first. She lived in an apartment complex about fifteen minutes from their neighborhood. As soon as Starsky caught sight of her emerging from the door with the basket, he hurried up the walk to take it from her, and after exchanging a quick kiss, they were instantly laughing and talking on their way back to the car. Hutch was surprised at Starsky's enthusiasm for this girl. She wasn't ugly, but she wasn't particularly beautiful, either. Starsky had a reputation for picking eye-popping women. Terry had been a more subtle beauty, but she had been undeniably pretty, nonetheless. But something in Wendy seemed to strike a chord in Starsky, and they had been seeing each other frequently ever since he'd been released from the hospital. He assured Hutch that her tendency to "never shut up'', as he complained about in the hospital, stemmed from nervousness. When she was relaxed, according to his partner, she was great company.

"Hi, Hutch,'' Wendy greeted cheerfully as she got in the back seat. Starsky got in with her.

"Hi, Wendy. Hey, partner, what am I, your chauffeur?''

"Yeah, just like dad on prom night, huh?'' Starsky shot back. A giggle came as if on cue from Wendy.

Cecile was ready and waiting when they arrived, and Hutch went up the steps of her front porch to carry the covered plate she was carrying. She was dressed in a fashionable safari-style slacks and blouse outfit with a vividly-colored print scarf tying her hair back. She was only slightly shorter than Hutch, and they made a very stunning couple.

"She's pretty,'' Wendy commented as Starsky was watching his partner and his date approach the car. He glanced back at Wendy, who seemed to be assessing her jeans, sneakers and cotton shirt. Hell, at least Wendy knows how to dress for a picnic and buying pumpkins, Starsky thought.

"We'll see how pretty she looks after she picks up her first muddy pumpkin,'' Starsky responded, smiling widely at Wendy. "She's got nothin' on you, schweetheart,'' he added, kissing the end of her nose following what he considered one of his best Bogie impersonations.

"Thanks.'' She smiled, and he was amused to see the blush make it all the way to her ears, visible with her wavy sandy hair tucked behind them. Maybe she isn't a goddess, but she's cute in her own way, Starsky concluded. As the other couple entered the car, Hutch handled the introductions.

"Cecile Valentine, meet Wendy Maguire.'' The girls exchanged greetings, and the car began weaving lazily through the Sunday traffic toward the park.

"You have to give me your recipe for the potato salad,'' Cecile urged Wendy as they all were relaxing, sipping their wine after stuffing themselves on sandwiches and cold salads.

Wendy, for her part, seemed perfectly content as she sat there against a tree with Starsky's head in her lap. He had taken up residence there while she fed him grapes, a scenario Hutch couldn't help teasing them both about. Maybe he was teasing his partner because he and Cecile were sitting like two Victorians on their end of the blanket, making polite conversation. Hutch could recall a couple of afternoons like this when Sandra was alive...Starsky would be doing pretty much what he was doing at this moment, snuggled up somehow with his date, and Hutch would be sitting there with Sandra tucked comfortably in his arms. As much as he liked Cecile, Sandra's ghost was still tucked securely in his arms and did not appear inclined to relinquish her spot.

"It's my mother's recipe. She has a few secret ingredients--she'd probably kill me if I gave out her recipe.''

"It was wonderful. Mine always comes out...flat.'' Cecile was smiling easily, her attention turned back to Hutch again.

Glad you've got something that comes out flat, you overgrown living Barbie doll, Wendy thought, fully enjoying her moment of catty victory. You've got great legs and I've got great recipes. Twenty years from now, we'll see which attribute is still as good as it is today. Of course, somehow, I've got Dave's head in my lap and you can't get Hutch to hold your hand. On that happy thought, she dropped another grape in her date's mouth, not terribly interested at that moment in whether he wanted another or not. Cecile seemed ruffled by the whole scenario, and that was worth plenty. She wasn't terribly opposed to the way he had of nipping playfully at her fingers every now and then either. What'd I ever do to get a lapful like this one? She smiled down at him affectionately, and it was returned.

After lolling around in the park the better part of the afternoon, they made their way to a fruit stand which had a reputation for a bountiful pumpkin selection. Cecile was intent on acquiring a few, plus some Indian corn and some fresh apples. Starsky thought he heard Hutch and Cecile extolling the virtues of hot cider, and reminiscing about childhood experiences with Halloween. Maybe there was some hope for that pair yet.

Wendy was acquiring a few more bunches of grapes, which of course sent both Starsky and her into a fit of giggles at the check out counter, making Hutch wonder just what Wendy and her grapes had meant to his partner during his convalescence. Starsky had chosen two obscenely obese pumpkins and one elongated one that was equal in weight to the others. That would be the sad one, he decided. Wendy only chose one moderate, well-shaped pumpkin as her apartment didn't offer the same kind of room as the guys' or Cecile's big old houses did.

Loaded beyond its capacity with an eclectic mix of produce and passengers, the Mercury labored its way to each stop, dropping off Wendy first and then Cecile.

"Tell me the grape story,'' Hutch prodded as soon as they pulled out of Cecile's drive.

"Oh that.'' Starsky chuckled a little. "Well, you know Wendy kept me company once in awhile while I was off work, and when she first started coming over, right after you got tied up with Mercer and that whole mess? I was still pretty slow gettin' around, so she'd fix me lunch and wait on me if I needed anything. One day she was teasin' me, and she said 'is there anything else, your highness?' Well, I couldn't resist, so I told her to feed me some grapes and fan me. I was lying on the couch in the TV room. Next thing I know, she comes in with this bunch of grapes, and seriously starts feedin' 'em to me. It was funny, but in a way, it was sort of a turn-on.''

"Grapes?'' Hutch asked, unconvinced.

"Well, yeah...''

"There's more to this story that I'm not gonna hear, is that it?''

"That about covers it, yeah,'' Starsky replied, grinning from ear to ear.

 

 

Monday was a long, frustrating day of haunting the desks of the two unlucky detectives, Farver and Shemanski, who were handling the telephone tip line. Since most of the callers were dead ends anyway, Dobey felt their time would be better spent cleaning up some old paperwork. Making the manhunt for Evan Jordan quite so public had its drawbacks, but the sincere hope was that the exposure would leave him with no viable place to hide.

Discouraged with nothing worthwhile coming in over the phones, and shooed away from the desks by the irritated detectives on the project, Starsky and Hutch finally retreated to their own desks and started wading through a stack of outdated paperwork Dobey had emphatically announced was reprehensibly late. It was somewhat anti-climatic to spend hours typing up reports and filling out forms relating to cases that had either been closed or solved several weeks earlier after launching a national manhunt the previous week.

"You wanna come downstairs with me?'' Starsky asked his partner, who was busily completing one of many forms on his desk. "Minnie's gonna show me how she enters this stuff after we get the reports done. I wanna see how she puts it on the computer.''

"You go on. I don't have time to worry about how Minnie does her job today. I'll be lucky to get my own done.''

"You don't have to be so cranky about it.'' Starsky finished his coffee, piled up his papers and headed for the door.

"Starsk?''

"Yeah?''

"Tell Minnie I said 'hi'.'' Hutch was smiling. Starsky returned it.

"Will do.''

Hutch completed the form, pulled it out of the typewriter and added it to the pile that were finished. It paled in comparison to what was yet to be done. Sighing, he rolled the next one in and pulled out his notes to start filling in the information. Even a routine phone call is a relief, he thought as he picked up his ringing extension.

"Hutchinson.''

"Ken, this is Cecile. Would you be free to meet me somewhere for lunch?''

"I'm really snowed under today. Any chance we could make it, say, Wednesday?'' he asked, flipping the pages on the desk calendar he and Starsky had finally opted to share. It became easier for Starsky to write in his appointments in blue and Hutch to write his in black on the same sheets than to constantly compare two calendars. Dobey had become fond of the system quickly, because he could always track both down from one source.

"I need to see you today, Ken. It's very important.''

"Okay.'' Hutch looked at the clock. "Would 12:30 be okay? I've got a full desk and I have to at least finish up the report I'm working on before I take off again.''

"That's fine. Meet me at Tony's?'' She referred to an Italian restaurant both had enjoyed on their last visit there.

"Sure. Is anything wrong?''

"I...I think we should talk face to face.''

"All right. I'll see you at 12:30 then.''

Thirty minutes later, Hutch was pulling into the lot at Tony's. Starsky had disappeared into the bowels of R&I and never returned, probably eating lunch with Minnie and learning the deep, dark secrets of her computer.

Cecile's car, a yellow Cadillac Seville, was already parked near the entrance. The real estate business is lucrative as ever, Hutch thought, making his way through the lunch hour line to see Cecile seated in a remote booth in the corner of the dimly lit restaurant.

"Thanks for coming. I know it wasn't a good time,'' she said as he slid into his side of the booth.

"That's all right. What's wrong, Cecile? It sounded pretty serious on the phone.''

"I received this in the mail this morning.'' She slid a brown inter-office envelope across the table to him.

Hutch opened the envelope, and froze when he pulled out the photograph. It took a moment before he even realized the bruised, scruffy, wild-eyed man on his knees was himself. He'd never really gotten a good look at himself during the heat of his ordeal with the heroin six years earlier, but here it was, in living color. Who in hell would have a photo like this one? Ben Forest? One of his goons?

"I can explain,'' he began, though he honestly wondered how. He didn't feel he knew her well enough to confide the truth to her. The point was, here he was in the photo, on his knees, the rubber tie around his arm and someone injecting him with the stuff. His own hand was near the syringe, probably a feeble attempt to prevent the injection--or by that point, maybe he was begging for it...he was no longer certain. The angle at which the photo was taken made it appear he was injecting himself.

"Look, I'm not judging you, and I don't know all the circumstances, but I...well, I thought you should have that, first of all, and secondly, I--''

"What happened here wasn't my choice. Several years ago, I was abducted, and this was...part of the whole ordeal. I never shot up voluntarily.''

"That must have been awful,'' she said quietly, her face registering a sincere sympathy.

"It's not something I like to talk about and...and it isn't something I can talk about. Cecile, I could lose my job over this.'' He didn't see any other option than to be straight with her and hope she would be cooperative. She reached out and squeezed the wrist of the hand that held the photo.

"Ken, I really am sorry for what you went through, because it's obvious from that picture that it was a terrible ordeal. I would never say anything to anyone else. I promise you that.'' She took her hand back and straightened in the booth. "But I've been through all this before.''

"What?'' Hutch was tucking the photo in the envelope.

"About ten years ago--I was just starting college. I met the most wonderful guy--total Bohemian artiste--he painted amazing abstract scenes. I was very much in love with him. We finally moved in together, and I got to know where he got his ideas. He was a drug addict. He had achieved a certain level of local success with his work, so he had enough money to feed his habits--so while he seemed a bit erratic at times while we were dating, I didn't know why--I attributed it to his personality.''

"But this wasn't a habit--I was strung out, badly, and--''

"You don't understand. This isn't about blaming you--please, let me finish.'' She took a deep breath, and both simultaneously dismissed the waiter who came to take their order. "When I found out what Jerry was into, I confronted him. We had all sorts of fights about it. I thought it was something he should try to kick, get away from. He thought I was uptight and unreasonable. The sad part of it was, he really did love me, and I loved him. In the end, he tried to kick it for me. He went through rehab twice, and the second time, we really thought he'd be okay. We had been together almost three years by that point.''

"But I take it things didn't go well?''

"No. Not for long.'' She fidgeted with the rolled cloth napkin at her place. Her curly brown hair was shadowing her expression as her head inclined forward. Then, with characteristic resolve, she tossed the curls back and straightened in her seat. "About four months after he left rehab, he committed suicide. He mixed up a narcotic nightmare and absolutely blasted his system with it. It was no accidental O.D. He knew exactly what he was doing. He couldn't handle being off the drugs, and he knew he'd lose me if he went back on them again.''

"I'm sorry. That was a horrible situation, but it really is nothing like--''

"I can't go through something like that again. I nearly died with him. I blamed myself--I was so depressed for so long I thought about suicide. So finally I threw myself into my work, made it a vocation, not a job. It's been good to me. My life is back together, I feel good about where I am now and I would like to have a relationship. A healthy, simple, secure relationship.''

"Relationships are rarely simple, and security...well, that's pretty elusive, too.''

"My point here is that I can't handle another situation like I faced with Jerry.''

"This happened six years ago, Cecile. I haven't touched anything since. I never really wanted to again--not once I kicked it.''

"This is only part of...Ken, I like you a lot. I think you're a great guy, you're good company. This isn't because I haven't enjoyed the time we've spent together. But it's very obvious that you're not over Sandra's death yet. I understand how you feel because God knows, I've been there. But I can't compete with a dead woman's sainted memory, anymore than the men I saw after Jerry could compete with him until I was over it enough to want to let someone in. You're not there yet, Ken. Trust me. When you are, you'll know it. And I want something more serious than playing around.''

"That's fair enough,'' Hutch responded quietly. He'd come to like Cecile very much, even though she was right to assume he hadn't made the full adjustment yet from Sandra's death. He was in no way emotionally prepared to love anyone again, but if he had been, Cecile would have been a candidate. "I can't argue with you. I would like to keep in touch though, maybe still get together--''

"I don't think that would be a good idea. I'm looking for something different than friendship right now, and I was really attracted to you. I don't think I'd enjoy being your friend much longer.''

"I see.'' Hutch nodded, tucking the envelope in the pocket of his brown suede jacket. "Well, I guess that's it then.''

"I'm sorry, Ken. I didn't want to hurt you but--''

"Those are the breaks, right?'' He laughed a little ironically. Cecile looked more contrite than before, but she showed no signs of changing her mind. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. I have to go.'' He began sliding toward the end of the booth, but she caught his arm.

"I wish...our timing had been different.''

"I wish you hadn't seen that damn picture.'' He gently pulled his arm away and slid out of the booth, walking briskly toward the door. He felt all her arguments were valid, but they were so carefully constructed that in his heart, he believed the only reason he had just been dumped was because of the photo. She doesn't want to date a junkie, and she doesn't want the risk of being involved with me since some pervert knows who she is and where she works and is already sending her weird mail because of me.

 

 

By three in the afternoon, Starsky was getting seriously worried. He'd come back to the squad room by one, launched back into the paperwork, and by two, assumed there was something wrong and started calling all over town to find Hutch. He hadn't left any kind of note, and Dobey was not only puzzled, but irritated at his prolonged absence.

Unable to sit still any longer, Starsky piled up his papers and headed for the door. He'd tried calling the house repeatedly, but that was no substitute for seeing for himself. There was, after all, a nut out there somewhere trying to get at Hutch who knew about his brush with heroin...can't take any chances.

The gray Mercury was parked in the driveway. Starsky pulled in behind it and hurried up to the side door, letting himself in and calling to his partner.

"Hutch? Hey, are you okay?'' He started walking through the house, getting increasingly nervous the longer he searched and called out with no response. He hurried upstairs to the second floor, and finally, in the library, in what seemed to be his favorite spot, he found Hutch.

The library, like the living room, boasted a large windowseat in a curved shape, the interior of the turret that gave the exterior such a Gothic look about it. Hutch loved to sit in that spot in the library, with a panoramic view of the neighborhood, and read or strum on his guitar or just look out the window. Starsky noted the almost empty whiskey bottle sitting upright on the floor. Hutch was tilting a glass to drain the last of the liquor before refilling it.

"Not answerin' the phone, huh?'' Starsky sat on an opposite side of the curved window seat, facing Hutch.

"Couldn't think of anybody I wanted to talk to. Including you.''

"Well, that's too damn bad, buddy, because here I am. You wanna tell me why you're getting smashed in the middle of the afternoon?''

"No, or I would have picked up the goddamn phone one of the ten thousand times you called here!'' Hutch snapped back at him.

"Hey, I'm not the enemy here, buddy. Why don't you just tell me what's eating you?''

"You had to keeping pushin' at me, didn't you? I knew I should've left her alone. I wasn't ready for this.''

"We're talking about Cecile now, right? What happened?''

"She got this in the mail,'' he announced, tossing the envelope at Starsky, "and she's convinced I'm not over Sandra--and she's right, incidentally--and she doesn't want to be 'just friends'.''

"Oh my God,'' Starsky murmured as he stared at the photograph. It was carrying him right back to the day he found Hutch in the alley, only worse. Now he had to deal with the visual image of what they'd done to his partner. His hands shook slightly as he stuffed the photo back in the envelope. "Who...I don't understand...who could have something like this?''

"They sent it to Cecile at her office, and she dumped me. She dated a junkie before and he O.D.'d and I guess she doesn't want to date another one.''

"You're not a junkie, Hutch. You never were.''

"That's one thing I heard loud and clear in that alley, partner. 'My God, he's a junkie.' And now Cecile knows.''

"Don't you ever dare call yourself that again, do you hear me? That's not what you are. It was all against your will, buddy.''

"Technicality.'' Hutch downed another gulp of whiskey.

"So if something's forced on you against your will, that's just a technicality? So if Mercer had gotten a chance to do what he wanted to me that night, that woulda made me gay--or his lover? According to you, the fact it was against my will was irrelevant! Think about what the hell you're saying, and how stupid it really is. There's precious little difference between what happened to you with Forest's goons and what almost happened to me right out there in that hallway! With my arms tied over my head on that railing and Mercer untying my ankles... I know what that felt like...that God-awful helplessness... to be reduced to...to lying there and waiting for it to happen,'' Starsky concluded, choking out the words with great difficulty. He took a shaky breath and forced himself to continue. "What Ben Forest's cronies did to you, working you over, shooting you up, stringing you out--it wasn't sexual, but it was violation, and domination, and it was against your will. Damn it, Hutch, it wasn't your fault. You never touched that stuff once you were off it.'' Starsky watched his partner's already-bleary eyes fill up, and before they could overflow, Hutch wiped at them clumsily. "You're right to be mad at me for pushing you with Cecile. I was way out of line.'' Starsky was anxious to get off the topic of his own ordeal. It was not a subject he handled well, even after some time had passed. "I just wanted to see you have some fun again.''

"I'm sorry. I'm drunk,'' Hutch announced in a less than steady voice.

"No shit.'' Starsky was glad to see his retort bring a slight chuckle out of his partner.

"I opened that envelope, and it all just rushed back...all those fragments...my mind was so foggy then, but those memories... I worked hard for a long time at forgetting...''

"Why didn't you call me instead'a comin' here and gettin' plastered by yourself? Hell, we coulda gotten plastered together. Now I'm way behind an' I'll never catch up.'' Starsky was smiling a little, but his sentiment was sincere. It hurt that Hutch had still crawled off alone to lick his wounds.

"What the hell could you do about any of this shit? I don't blame Cecile. Nobody's worth all this hassle.''

"You are.''

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, pal, but I'm no bargain. I can't get past losing Sandra and Elizabeth, I'm depressed... You didn't have any choice but to ride all this crap out with me. You were already stuck with me when Ben Forest got a hold of me, and everything else...you're so damned loyal that--''

"That what? I'm incapable of making up my mind? Hutch, I made a choice in that alley, and I've made a choice everyday I've known you, just like anyone else in any relationship does. You can end it, or you can ride it out. And sometimes it's hell, because when you love somebody, seein' them hurt rips your heart out... But if I could go back, back to the alley or any other time we've made it through that was rough...I'd do it all again in a minute. Because you're worth whatever it takes, partner. It's all been worth it, babe. Every minute of it. Even Gunther--''

"Nothing was worth that.''

"That's where you're wrong, buddy. We were worth it. And knowing what I know now, if I had to choose us never being partners and not getting shot by those jerks in that parking lot, or playin' the game the way we've played it, but playin' it together--I wouldn't change a minute, Hutch. Not one minute.'' Starsky watched his partner finish his glass of whiskey, then unsteadily reach down to set it on the floor.

"Sorry I yelled at you,'' he mumbled.

"Apology accepted. Look, I better get this over to Dobey. He's gotta know about this. I also want to find out if he's had that other thing checked for prints...though I don't know who he'll have do it.''

"Go 'head. I'm okay here,'' Hutch responded, reaching back down for the bottle.

"Ah-ah.'' Starsky got up and intercepted the sluggish maneuver, taking the bottle and the glass to the reading table near the shelves. Their chessboard was still there, the positions of the pieces unchanged since their last interrupted game. "Hey, when you sober up, we've gotta finish this. I think I was winning.''

"You're always winning,'' Hutch complained. Teaching Starsky to play chess had been the bane of his existence, because the other had a surprising and uncanny ability for the game. Or maybe it was just that he could read Hutch's mind, and knew exactly why he made each move he made. In any event, Hutch's won-lost record was looking pretty sorry.

"Yeah, well, I'm a lucky guy, I guess.'' Starsky approached his slouched partner. "Come on. Before ya pass out on me, I wanna get you into bed. I can't carry ya just yet.''

"I'm okay right here. Don't wanna go to bed yet.''

"No arguments. In about five minutes you're gonna pass out. I can tell.''

"How d'you know? I can hold my liquor,'' Hutch announced defensively.

"You were havin' your troubles holdin' the bottle. Come on,'' he prodded, pulling at an unwilling arm. Hutch finally stood, swayed and landed with one arm over Starsky's shoulders for support, and allowed himself to be led into his room and deposited on the bed. He was drifting from the booze now, feeling that long-desired fogginess sweeping over his brain, dulling the pain of the memories the photo had conjured up. He felt Starsky tugging his holster off and grunting a little at manipulating what was becoming dead weight. He imagined he should worry about Starsky's almost-healed ribs, but somehow the concept just wouldn't take shape in his mind that he should sit up or move.

Finally, that jostling was over and his shoes were pulled off. Starsky was working now at positioning him on his side. Ever since Starsky had read about some singer in a rock band who died choking on his own vomit from a drinking binge, he'd been careful to make sure his drunken partner was on his side, with pillows wedged behind his back so he couldn't roll over. Not that Hutch made getting dead drunk a habit, but it had happened a few times in the last couple of years. Of course, half of those times, Starsky was in worse shape than he was, and they were lucky to come to on any horizontal surface in any reasonable position, neither one capable of helping the other.

"Starsk?''

"Right here, pal.'' Starsky was carefully covering Hutch with the comforter from the foot of his bed.

"Yer m'bus frnd,'' he slurred drowsily.

"You're my best fern, too, partner,'' Starsky replied, laughing a little. "Get some rest, Blintz. I'll be back before you wake up.'' Hutch mumbled something else, and Starsky thought he understood it, so he answered. "Yeah, I promise, buddy.''

A little troubled at Hutch's depressed state, Starsky took the Magnum in its holster and set it on the closet shelf. Not that Hutch couldn't find it there, but if he had to stop to think it over before he sought it out, Starsky was confident there was no danger he'd do anything foolish. But a drunken cop who's deeply depressed shouldn't be within arm's reach of a loaded gun.

Starsky poked his head in the door of Dobey's office. The captain was on the phone, but motioned to him to come in and have a seat. When he finished the call, he leaned back in his chair.

"Your timing is excellent. That was my friend over at the LAPD. I had him do the check on the little trinket your partner got in the mail. Zip. No prints but Hutch's.''

"Terrific.'' Starsky pulled the other envelope out of his jacket pocket, which he had put in a freezer bag he found in the kitchen drawer before coming in. There was little hope any prints but Hutch's, Cecile's and his own could be gleaned from it, but he thought he would at least try to follow some procedure in handling it.

"What's that?'' Dobey's voice sounded instantly suspicious.

"Another souvenir from the Forest situation.'' Starsky handed it across the desk, and waited while Dobey carefully opened the envelope, using his handkerchief, and pulled out the photo.

"Dear God. Some sick bastard actually took pictures?''

"Maybe Forest had other plans--maybe he was gonna use them to get to me if he had to, I don't know...he was planning on killing Hutch, so he wouldn't have had blackmail plans.'' Starsky took a deep breath. "This was delivered to a lady Hutch has been seeing--Cecile Valentine. She's the realtor who sold us our house. She got this in her inter-office mail.''

"So we know he somehow got a hold of one of these envelopes, and knows about the girl, and probably had some dealings with New Horizons Real Estate to accomplish this.''

"Hutch isn't gonna come back in today, Cap. He's...'' Starsky considered all the clever excuses he could make, and decided on the truth. "He was real upset about this, and Cecile broke it off with him when she saw it, and he spent some quality time with a bottle of whiskey at home before I caught up with him.''

"I'm getting a little worried about Hutch, Dave. He's not handling this well.'' "I know that.'' Starsky was a little thrown by the use of his first name. Dobey must be really worried, or preparing to lower the boom on us about something, Starsky thought to himself. "It's been so much--for anybody to handle. I mean, it all started with Sandra's death, that mannequin...what happened to me, dealing with scum like Mercer and Norton. I know he's still worried about this Curtis character showing up to finish me off. Now this shit with the syringe and this picture.'' Starsky shook his head. "The whole thing with him gettin' strung out...he always seemed to kinda blame himself--and IA's stand on that doesn't help. He's had to hide it like a dirty secret for years. Damn it, he was the victim. He didn't do anything wrong.''

"I don't agree with IA on a myriad of things, Starsky. This would be one of them.''

"You're going to be on the line if this goes public too, ya know.''

"I know that. I chose to take that risk six years ago. I don't regret it.''

"Thank you.'' Starsky looked up to have direct eye contact with Dobey. "I don't know if I ever said it in so many words back then.''

"Hutch is a damn fine detective, one of the best. Throwing his whole career out the window over this incident would have been, in my opinion, ludicrous.''

"Yeah, but this could mean your job if this all comes out.''

"We'll just have to ride it out and hope for the best. That's not much of a solution. Believe me, I've spent a couple of sleepless nights trying to come up with a better one.'' Dobey sighed heavily. "What's worrying me more is if he can handle this now.''

"I don't know, Cap. God, I wish I knew. I know the guy so well, for so long...he's probably the strongest person I've ever known. But you play mind games on Hutch long enough, and it wears on him worse than physical torture. He's a thinker, ya know? Me, I think about things, but not so much or so hard. Hutch thinks a lot--almost like a separate activity.'' Starsky knew he wasn't making a lot of sense, but Hutch was such a philosophical person, one who analyzed and evaluated things carefully...tinkering with his mind was a dangerous game. You could push him in all sorts of bizarre directions, especially given his propensity for taking on the blame for everything from Starsky being shot by Gunther's hit men to the price of eggs going up.

"Thinking can be a rewarding activity, Starsky.'' Dobey had a ghost of a smile on his face.

"So I'm told,'' Starsky replied, returning the smile.

"What does Hutch need, in your opinion, to get him through this?''

"I wish it were as simple as time off or a lighter caseload. He needs Jordan behind bars, an answer to who Curtis is, and him off the streets--and then he needs to find this creep who's badgering him now.''

"Is there anything within the scope of my authority that would help? In case you haven't looked lately, Starsky, I'm not the Wizard of Oz.''

"Honestly? I don't know. He wants to be around for any new developments on the case, so I don't think time off is the answer. Actually, even the paperwork doesn't seem to be bothering him. It's everything else, all the stuff we can't control.''

"Think he's gonna make it?''

"I'm not gonna let him not make it.'' Starsky smiled faintly. "It's that simple.''

"Go home and check on him. Then tell him to get his butt back in here tomorrow and get those reports cleaned off his desk.''

"Aye, Aye, Captain.'' Starsky stood up and walked toward the door. "Thanks.''

"Goodnight, Starsky.'' Dobey went back to his paperwork, a little grin tugging at one corner of his mouth. Starsky left the office and headed for home.

Dusk was settling as Starsky pulled back in the driveway. There were no lights on except for the one he left on in the upstairs hall in case Hutch came around and he wasn't home before dark. He turned the key in the lock and went in through the side door into the kitchen. A scream from upstairs startled him into instant action. It was Hutch's voice. He drew his gun and rushed up the back stairs, flattening himself against the wall, realizing how impossible it was to safely inspect each of the rooms accessed through the oak-framed doorways on either side of the hall.

"Hutch!'' He waited. There was no response. He realized some of his hesitation came from the fear that seemed to always wash over him now when he reached the upstairs hall. It had gotten better, but it wasn't gone. Curtis was still out there somewhere, and he could always hire more goons.

Curtis be damned. Starsky rushed toward Hutch's room, and saw his partner writhing around on the bed, obviously in the grip of a nightmare. He recalled a younger Hutch, writhing in much the same way, his mind tortured by the demons of the heroin.

"Hutch,'' he said firmly, holstering his gun. He had to get him to come to. An afternoon of drinking on an empty stomach wasn't helping matters any. "Hutch, it's me, buddy.'' He sat on the bed and took a hold of Hutch's shoulders. "Come on, wake up, pal. It's me. It's Starsk.'' The shaking, sweating man whose eyes flew open and wildly searched his face was all too frighteningly familiar...they could have just as easily been right back in that room over Huggy's...

"Help me...I need help...Starsky...I--''

"Hey, come on, I'm right here, babe. Just try to relax.''

"They were talking...about the point...where the water...was deepest...and the tide would...carry the body...and sharks...''

"It's over, Hutch. That was six years ago, pal.'' Starsky slid his arm under Hutch's shoulders and pulled him up into an embrace. The other's arms locked tightly around him. So they even talked about how they were going to dispose of you right in front of you...like you were some useless piece of garbage they were finished with...your life was so meaningless to them...and so precious to me...

"I didn't remember...the memories...'' he muttered brokenly into Starsky's shoulder.

"They're comin' back now, huh?'' Starsky rubbed his back, feeling the labored, shuddering breaths rattle it. "It's all over. We beat it, Hutch. You're okay, Blintz. I've got ya now.''

"I was...begging them for it, Starsk.''

"You weren't in your right mind, babe. You pump enough junk into somebody's system and they'll do anything. Look at what happened on that island when I attacked you--whatever those drugs were that Papa Theodore was using were powerful enough, along with the hypnosis, to make me do the most unthinkable thing in the world. They played with your mind. That's not your fault.''

"I think I'm gonna be sick,'' Hutch croaked out.

"We've got it covered, buddy.'' Starsky grabbed the wastebasket under the night stand, making an expert save just in time.

"Sorry,'' Hutch croaked with almost no voice as he slumped back against Starsky, letting the other wipe his chin and mouth with a handkerchief.

"Shhh. It's okay.'' Starsky managed to set the basket aside and put both arms back around his shivering partner. "Remember that flu I had last year? You forgave me for throwing up all over your new leather jacket.'' A weak chuckle came from Hutch. "Now that's love,'' Starsky said jokingly, thinking how impossibly ruined the tan suede jacket had been, and how much it had cost in the first place. "I hoped you'd never have real clear memories of the worst of it, buddy.''

"They aren't real clear, and I still don't remember all of it...some things I do. I remember how damn glad I was to see you show up in that alley. Just like today.''

"Okay, then next time you feel lousy, you find me instead of a whiskey bottle, huh? I might talk back more but I usually don't make you throw up.''

"Most of the time, anyway,'' Hutch retorted, pulling away and sitting against the headboard. "What'd Dobey have to say?''

"They didn't get any prints off the first item. He has a friend at the LAPD who ran the tests. I left this one with him. His reaction was pretty much like ours--he wondered what kind of sicko would take that picture, and I think it brought a lot back to him too.''

"I feel like shit. I know it's my own fault.''

"I wasn't going to say that.''

"No, I didn't figure you were, pal.''

"Why don't you take a shower? You'll probably feel a little better.''

"Yeah. I guess I will.''

"By the way,'' Starsky began, standing up, "Dobey said to get your butt back into work tomorrow and clear off your desk.''

"Some things never change,'' Hutch commented, smiling a little.

"I'll help ya. Then maybe we can start going through the files again on Forest and his henchmen.''

"Maybe somebody'll spot Jordan.'' Hutch plodded toward the bathroom.

"It's just a matter of time, buddy. It'll all happen eventually.''

"I suppose.'' Hutch disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door behind him.