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“S.. starsk? H… h… help me! Oh, God, p… please help me!”

“Hutch! What is it?!” Starsky was instantly alert. He heard the pain and even fear in his partner’s voice. “Where are you?” He was slipping on his shoes as he listened for Hutch to tell him where he was.

But the next voice he heard wasn’t Hutch’s.

“Detective Hutchinson! You are a bad boy, aren’t you?

“No! Don’t! P… p… please?”

Starsky heard the phone fall and the sound of a scuffle and Hutch continuing to yell ‘no’. He pressed the phone harder against his ear, trying to hear what was happening. He could hear punches landing, but had no clue who was being hit. He could hear Hutch call out now and then.

“HUTCH!”

Suddenly, he heard the sound of a gunshot, and of something heavy hitting the floor. Then silence.

“HUTCH?”

The handset of the phone was picked up. Starsky held his breath, hoping to hear Hutch.

“Detective Starsky, I hate to inform you that your partner is not able to return to the phone at this time. I had intended to make this call in an hour or two, but it would seem Hutchinson wanted to speed up my timeline. So, we’ll get started.”

“Who is this? What happened to Hutch? I heard a gunshot! Is he all right? Where is he?”

“Patience, Detective. Your questions will be answered, all in good time.” Starsky heard the sound of a hand being put over the receiver and a voice talking to someone else. “Yes, put him in the room. Tell the doctor to… proceed. But, not too far.”

“Doctor? Proceed with what? You better tell me what happened to my partner or I’ll…”

“Stop making threats. They neither scare me nor intimidate me.” The voice paused. “I want you to listen very carefully to what I have to say. Your partner’s life depends on you doing exactly as I tell you. Have I made myself clear, Detective?”

“What do you want? Who is this?”

“I want something that was taken from me. It was taken by you and your partner. So, I took your partner from you. I propose we make a trade.”

“What kind of sick…”

“Shut up and listen. Or Hutchinson dies!”

Starsky held his questions. He couldn’t risk Hutch’s life. He’d… they’d figure this out together. For now, he had to play by this guy’s rules.

“So, you can follow instructions! That will make this much easier on everyone involved.”

“Just tell me what you want! But I want to talk to Hutch before I do anything.”

“I’ll go you one better, Detective. I’ll let you see Hutchinson.”

“Tell me where, and I’ll be there.” Starsky gripped the phone so hard; it felt like his fingers were making dents in the receiver. He quietly pulled his gun out of its holster and checked that it was fully loaded. He slid it back into the holster.

“You don’t make the decisions here. I will have two of my men pick you up. But, first you need to know the rules of this little arrangement.”

Starsky remained quiet for a moment. “Tell me.”

“First, after I have explained everything, you will put the receiver down. Do not hang up. This will insure you don’t call your police friends. If you hang up, Hutchinson dies.”

Starsky closed his eyes. He had been planning on calling Dobey.

“Second, when I tell you to leave your house, you do so immediately. You will not take your gun with you. If you have your gun when you reach the car I am sending to pick you up, Hutchinson dies.”

Every time the man said Hutch was going to die, it felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. He bit his lower lip and prayed Hutch wouldn’t be hurt any more… or worse.

“Third, you will follow the directions of the men I send to get you instantly and completely. If you don’t… well, I think you have the picture.” The man chuckled.

“Yeah, I got it. Now what do you want? What is it you think Hutch and I took?”

“I don’t think you took it, I know. But we’ll discuss that when you arrive here.”

“Just tell me! I’ll get it and we can exchange. Hutch for whatever.”

“Do I need to remind you, Detective, that you are not making the decisions here?”

Starsky remained silent.

“Put the phone down, take off your gun and walk out of your place, now. A car is waiting for you. Your partner’s life is now depending on your actions.”

Hearing the phone on the other end being placed on top of something, Starsky laid his phone receiver down. He slipped his holster off and hung it on the hook inside his closet door. He tried to think of something he could take as a weapon, but decided against anything, so as not to endanger Hutch. He opened his door and saw a non-descript dark black sedan idling at the bottom of his stairs. He hurried down the stairs.

There were two men standing at the bottom of his stairs. Starsky didn’t recognize them, but made note of everything he could to help identify them later. He held his jacket out to show the men he was unarmed. The taller man grabbed him, pushed him against the door of the car, and frisked him. Pulling him away from the rear door, he shoved him into the door the other man had opened.

“Lay down on the seat, face down. Put your hands behind your back.”

Doing as he had been told to do, Starsky felt handcuffs being snapped on his wrists. Before he could protest or try to move, a dark cloth hood was yanked over his head.

“Don’t make a move or sound. Don’t try to remove the hood. Your partner will pay for it.” The man shut the door and within a few seconds both were in the front seat, and the car was pulling away from Starsky’s house.

~*~*~*~*~

Trying to keep track of the turns the car was making, Starsky realized it was useless. The driver could be driving around and around the block, for all he could tell. Neither man spoke. They had the car’s radio blasting. He focused his mind on seeing Hutch. Once they had a chance to talk, they’d figure out what to do.

It was hard to tell, but he thought they had been driving for about thirty minutes when the car came to a stop. The door by his head was opened and the two men pulled him out of the car by his upper arms. He winced at the pain this caused in his wrists from the cuffs, but didn’t say anything. They left the hood on him and began to walk on either side of him, leading him where they wanted him to go. He could smell the ocean and hear the waves on a shore, but with most of California being near the ocean, that didn’t give him much of an idea of where he had been taken.

He heard a door being opened. Hearing their footsteps echoing, he guessed they might be in a warehouse. Still not much a clue of where he was as the coast was dotted with them. He was brought to a halt and he heard the voice of the man who had called him.

“Any problems?”

Both men replied ‘no’.

“Welcome, Detective Starsky. I am feeling encouraged by your cooperation. Perhaps this trade will go smoothly after all. Take the hood off him.”

Starsky blinked his eyes to adjust to the sunlight pouring in the high windows of the warehouse he was in. A man in a very expensive looking suit was standing in front of him. “Where’s Hutch? I want to talk to him before anything else happens.”

“I’m afraid speaking to Detective Hutchinson won’t be possible, but I did promise you could see him.” He nodded to the men to escort Starsky to a door about ten feet away. “I must caution you, your partner received some… injuries… when he was taken, and also while you and I talked on the phone. This is regrettable and not what I had planned. But, I didn’t expect him to be awake when he arrived here.” He pushed the door open and the men walked Starsky into the room.

“Hutch…” His breath caught. Hutch was lying in what looked like a hospital bed. The head of the bed was slightly elevated. He had some kind of oxygen mask on his face and intravenous lines running into both arms. His face was bruised. The right eye was almost swollen shut. Stepping a bit to one side of the bed, he could see a catheter bag hanging from the side of the bed. He noticed the urine in the bag had a reddish color. He also saw a dark red spot on the sheet over Hutch’s left side. He wondered if Hutch had been shot during his aborted call.

“Hutch!”

Hutch didn’t move or indicate awareness of hearing his name. Starsky turned back to the man in the suit. “What happened? Why is he…”

“Detective Hutchinson is in a medically-induced coma. The doctor felt it was the best way to keep him under control. Also, it is the best way to insure that you cooperate. Once you have returned my property to me, the doctor will give him the proper meds to bring him back to consciousness. Until that time, he is receiving the oxygen and fluids he needs.”

Seeing Starsky looking at the bloody urine, he continued, “He took a punch to one of his kidneys. Doctor assures me the blood is normal under such circumstances.” The man took a step toward the door. “Let’s discuss what I need from you out here.”

Starsky didn’t want to leave Hutch, but he also didn’t want to upset the man holding Hutch’s life in his hands. He took one last look at Hutch, hoping he could feel that he was there. Following the man back into the main part of the building, he tried to look around for any clue as to where the building was located.

“I would suggest you pay attention to me, Detective.” When Starsky focused on him, he continued, “Last Wednesday, you and your partner intercepted one of my couriers. He had less than a pound of weed on him. I am not concerned about that. He was also carrying half a million dollars’ worth of fine diamonds. The diamonds are what I am concerned with. They are what I want in return for your partner’s life.”

“Diamonds? Hutch and I patted him down. He didn’t have any diamonds on him.” Starsky’s gaze darted back to the door that separated him from Hutch. “We found the weed and a gun, but no diamonds.”

“Ahhh, I wondered why I didn’t hear anything about the police finding a fortune in diamonds. It would seem my former employee decided to go into business for himself.”

“So, let Hutch go. The police don’t have your diamonds and…”

“No, I don’t think so. I think you are still the key to getting my gems back. You can… interrogate… Seaton. You can pressure him to tell you what he did with my diamonds. Did he sell them to someone else? Did he hide them somewhere? I wouldn’t be able to talk to him, not without raising a lot of questions that I would prefer not to raise right now. So, Detective Starsky, it’s still up to you to find my merchandise. Detective Hutchinson’s life is still in your hands.”

Starsky began to say something, but was interrupted, again.

“My men will deliver you back to your house. You will keep the hood on, until you can no longer hear their car. Another of my men will be watching to be sure you comply with these instructions. If he calls and tells me you tried to read the tag number, your friend in there will pay for it.” He motioned for Starsky to follow him to a window in the room Hutch was in. He pulled a curtain back and tapped on the window, nodding at the doctor sitting behind the desk.

Starsky watched as the man pushed a button on the panel in front of him. He looked up as he saw Hutch begin to cough and struggle against the restraints holding him in the bed. “HUTCH! Stop it! What’s happening?”

The man nodded and the doctor pressed the button again. Hutch immediately calmed.

“You see… we can impact your partner’s life at a second’s notice. Even if you knew were you are right now, you could never get here in time to save him if my men call me.”

Starsky kept his eyes focused on Hutch, until the man pulled the curtain closed. He nodded at the man in front of him. “I understand.”

“You will call this number when you have the stones.” He handed Starsky a piece of paper with a phone number on it. “My men will pick you up, just like the last time. I get my diamonds, you get your partner.”

The hood was pulled back over his head and he was led back out to the car. Tossed in the back seat again, he tried to remember anything about the ride. He couldn’t hear sounds as the men in the front still had the radio turned up very loudly. They turned so many times, he was totally lost.

When the car stopped, he was hauled out and walked a few steps away. The cuffs were removed. One of the men reminded him, “Remember, wait until you can’t hear the car before you take the hood off, or your partner is dead.”

He pulled the hood off when he could no longer hear the car. He hurried up the stairs and picked up the phone to call Captain Dobey and Huggy. Worried that they might have bugged his phone while he was gone, he hung the phone up. He grabbed his car keys and ran to his car to go to Hutch’s. He quickly looked through the apartment. The bed wasn’t made, and the lamp was lying on the floor beside it. In the kitchen, the coffee pot was still plugged in. He unplugged it. Walking to the door, he opened the closet door and saw Hutch’s holster and gun hanging there. He opened the door, walked out, closed and locked it.

He drove to Huggy’s and told him what had happened and all he could remember about the men and the warehouse. Huggy promised to put the word out on the street. “Don’t worry, my man, we’ll get our blond brother back.”

From there he headed to the station to talk to Captain Dobey and see what he could find out from the man Hutch and he had arrested.

~*~*~*~*~

Starsky walked into the station and straight to Captain Dobey’s office. He shut the door behind him and sank into a chair. He looked at the empty chair were Hutch usually sat and shuddered.

“Starsky?” Captain Dobey had noticed the shudder. “What’s wrong?”

“That guy Hutch and I arrested yesterday... Seaton. His boss kidnapped Hutch. They have him…” He had to stop for a moment. “Hutch is in a coma. That guy has some quack who gave Hutch something to put him in the coma. He called this morning. Made sure I cooperated with the thugs he sent to pick me up. They have Hutch somewhere down by the ocean, but I have no clue where exactly. They beat him up, Cap’n… and I think he was shot. Oh, God!”

“Starsky! Tell me what this has to do with Seaton.”

After steeling himself, Starsky continued, “Seaton had some diamonds on him. Half a million worth. He didn’t have them when Hutch and I searched him. This guy wants his diamonds back. Or he’s going to kill Hutch. Cap’n…?”

“Tell me what you need. Huggy?”

“I stopped and talked to Huggy before I came here. He’s gonna tap his snitches; try to get a line on Seaton and the diamonds. I need to talk to Seaton. See if I can get him to talk.” Starsky looked away from his boss, then back. “This doctor… all he has to do is push a button and Hutch dies. He… they… demonstrated before they let me go. He just flipped a switch and Hutch started struggling to breathe.”

“You need to send the crime lab to Hutch’s. It looked like they took him from there. His gun was still in the closet.”

“I’ll get them over there right away. Hang in there Starsky. Hutch needs you to be strong right now for him. Let me call down and get Seaton taken to an interrogation room.” Dobey called for the crime lab to go to Hutch’s, then he called downstairs and relayed his orders about Seaton.. “Now, tell me anything you remember about where they’re holding Hutch. Maybe something you don’t even know you remember?”

Starsky spent the next fifteen minutes telling his boss what little he remembered. He was anxious to talk to Seaton. When the jailor called to tell them Seaton was in an interrogation room, Starsky stood and almost ran from the room. Dobey followed him.

Feeling off-balance without Hutch beside him, Starsky knew he was going to have to play both good and bad cop. He knew Captain Dobey was in the observation room. He also knew Dobey would overlook things if Starsky got a little… creative with his technique.

Pacing around the small table where Seaton was sitting, Starsky didn’t say anything. He looked at the small man as if he were a bug under a microscope. He waited until Seaton began to fidget, then he asked a simple question. “Where did you hide the diamonds?”

The man jerked his face up to stare at Starsky. “What… what are you talking about?”

Starsky noticed a fine sheen of sweat popping out across his brow and upper lip. He smiled to himself. “Oh, come on, Seaton. You think half a mil in diamonds will stay a secret for long? It’s all over the street. I have a feeling you are going to be a very popular man for all kinds of folks who will want to visit.” Starsky paused, then continued, “I bet there are some who are even lining up right now to pay your bail. And I’m pretty sure they will be only too happy to give you a ride to pick them up. Of course, they may leave you… or rather, your body… there. Sort of an offering to replace the gems.”

Seaton was dripping sweat now. And about to jump out of the chair.

Starsky walked behind him and put a hand on his left shoulder. When the man jumped, Starsky smiled to himself. He let the silence drag out a few more minutes then said, “Yeah, I’d say your life won’t be worth a nickel, much less half a million. What do you think?”

Letting the silence build, Starsky leaned against the wall and studied Seaton.

“I could help you out here, Seaton.”

“How?”

“Well… if you tell me where you hid the diamonds. I could go pick them up. Turn them over to the evidence officers. Then maybe no one else might want to beat you to a pulp trying to find out where they are. I could have you put in an isolation cell. Make sure all visitors are thoroughly screened. Maybe even let it be known to certain snitches that the diamonds were recovered by the police. Might keep you alive.” Starsky shrugged, as if it didn’t really matter to him.

Captain Dobey watched Starsky work. He smiled when he saw how scared Seaton was becoming. When they had Hutch back, he needed to give them both a few extra days off. They were his best detectives, as well as his friends. He needed to be sure they knew that.

Seaton screwed up his courage and said, “I want to go with you to pick them up. Maybe you might take them, keep them for yourself, and come back to tell me they weren’t there.”

Trying very hard to keep his temper in check, Starsky figured it might be his best bet. He didn’t want to spend time arguing with Seaton. He had to get back to Hutch before something happened to him.

“Okay. I’ll take you. You show me where the diamonds are and I’ll bring you back here. I’ll even speak with the judge on your behalf. Tell him you cooperated.”

“Then, let’s go.” Seaton stood up, turned his back to Starsky and indicated he wanted the cuffs off.

“Oh, no. Those cuffs stay on. I’m not taking any chances on you trying to run.”

Starsky took Seaton by the arm and walked him out of the room. When he turned to walk him down the hallway, Dobey stepped out of the observation room. “Starsky, where are you taking him?”

“Out, Captain. We’re… ahhh… going for a burger. Right, Seaton?”

The man nodded.

“You can’t take him out of here without the proper paperwork. You know that.”

“It’s on your desk, Cap’n. Filled out in triplicate.” Starsky smiled at Dobey. They had planned this to make Seaton trust Starsky. He grabbed the man’s arm and began to hurry him down the hallway. He knew Dobey had assigned officers to tail him.

~*~*~*~*~

On Seaton’s directions, he drove back to the alley where they had arrested him. Parking the Torino, he pulled Seaton out of the car by his arm. “Ok, we’re here, where are they?”

“Over here.” Seaton began to walk over to one side of the alley where there was a stack of old crates and boxes. You’ll have to move these two out of the way, since you won’t take off the cuffs.” Seaton nodded at the two he wanted Starsky to move.

Moving the crates Seaton had indicated out of the way, Starsky looked around the ground. When he didn’t see anything, he grabbed the man by the shoulder and shoved him against the wall of the building. “I don’t know what kind of game you are playing, but you’re playing with the wrong man.”

He drew his gun, cocked it, and shoved the barrel under Seaton’s chin. “Your boss has my partner. He’s going to kill him unless I get his diamonds back for him. So, I don’t have time to play games with you. Tell me where they are. No more games. I’m going to count to three. If you don’t start talking, well, I guess you won’t have to worry about your boss coming after you. Two… three…”

“Hey, wait! What happened to “one”?!”

“I’m in a hurry. Two… thr…”

“You can’t do this!”

“My partner’s life is on the line. I’ll do whatever I have to do to save his life. See, without him, I won’t have a life. Two… thr…”

“In the pipe! They’re in that pipe! Unscrew the lid! They’re in a black pouch! I swear!”

Seaton looked like he was about to cry. Keeping an eye on him, Starsky stepped over to the pipe extending out of the building. He was able to turn the lid easily. When it was loose, he dropped it and reached into the pipe. About eight inches back he felt the pouch. Pulling it out of the pipe, he opened it and dumped the contents into his palm. Seven very large white stones fell out of the pouch. He replaced them and tucked the pouch into the back pocket of his jeans.

“Okay, Cap’n. Got them.”

Seaton began to curse as Captain Dobey and several officers appeared. Starsky told him, “I said I’d bring you. I didn’t say anything about not inviting others to the party.”

Two officers led Seaton away. Starsky turned to his Captain. “You have the tracker?”

“Won’t need it.”

“What? Why not?”

“Huggy came through A woman driving by some warehouses looking for a building to use for a painting saw some men dragging a tall blond man into one of the buildings. She’s a friend of Huggy’s. She heard he was looking for information about a kidnapped cop. She called Huggy, he called me. I’ve got men around the warehouse all ready. They’re waiting for orders. How do you want to play this?”

“I’m going in. I need to be in there… in case. If we try to raid the place, Hutch could be dead before we even get in the door. You got a wire…”

Dobey held up a small transmitter. Starsky chuckled. “You’re always are a step ahead, Cap’n.”

He slipped his jacket off, and pulled his shirt up so Dobey could tape the wire in place. He pulled the pouch of diamonds out of his pocket and dumped the stones into Dobey’s hand. He grinned when he saw the stunned look on his face. “I didn’t count ‘em, Cap’n. Should one or two find their way into Cal and Rosie’s college fund, I’ll never know.” He bent down and picked up seven rocks from the alley and put them in the pouch.

Dobey snorted, “You know me better than that, Starsky.”

“Yes, I do! Thanks Cap’n. For trusting me…”

“Tell me later what a great boss I am, right now we need to rescue Hutch. I’ve got an ambulance, with Doctor Griswold in it, stationed about a block from the warehouse. Let’s go get your partner. I’ll be about three blocks behind you. Be careful, Dave.”

“Hutch is careful, I’m cute. Remember?” He touched Dobey’s shoulder, turned, and ran for the Torino. He had seen a phone booth about two blocks from where they were. He didn’t want to waste the time driving back to his house. Every minute might be the difference between life and death for Hutch.

~*~*~*~*~ 

He was standing on the curb next to the phone booth when the same dark sedan and men pulled to a halt. He put his hands behind his back and turned facing away from the men. As soon as the hood was placed over his head, he was roughly shoved into the back seat. The ride was the same as the others; loud music and lots of turns.

He was pulled from the car and marched into the building. The hood was removed and he found himself standing in front of the same dark-suited man.

“Quick work, Detective.” He held his hand out. “My diamonds.”

“Not so fast.” Starsky stared at the man.

“What? Do I need to remind you that Hutchinson’s life depends on you following my instructions?”

“And you getting your diamonds back will depend on my instructions!”

“You better start talking, and fast, or your partner is a dead man.” The man’s gaze turned steely and he motioned for one of his men to go open the curtain over the window to the room where Hutch was being held.

Starsky could see Hutch. And he saw the doctor look up, questioning what he should do. “Let him know everything is fine. If he touches that switch, you will never see your stones.” He watched as the man nodded to the doctor.

“Very well, what do you want?”

“I want these cuffs off. And I want to go see my partner.”

The man nodded to the two who had brought Starsky into the warehouse and one of them took off the handcuffs, while the other pulled his gun and kept it trained on Starsky as they all walked into the other room.

Starsky walked over to the bed and reached out a hand to touch Hutch’s face. It felt cool and a little damp. “Hutch? Hey, I’m here, buddy. It’s all going to be okay. Just hang in there.” He wanted to snatch Hutch up and run from the building with him, but knew that would get them both killed.

He forced himself to take a step away from Hutch. “I’m going to reach into my pocket. Your men know I am unarmed.” He reached into his jeans pocket and counted out the seconds. Timing would be crucial for his plan to work. He pulled out the black velvet pouch and tossed it to the man in the suit. Watching the man open the pouch and begin to dump the rocks into his hand, he said, “It didn’t take much to get Seaton to give up the stones. I would say it was as easy as one, two, THREE!”

He quickly lunged for the perp with the gun and was able to grab the gun and knock him out with a hard punch to his head. He turned the gun on the other three men in the room just as he heard gun shots and the sounds of police entering the building from several directions.

“Put your hands in the air. Don’t make any other moves. Now!”

The doctor raised his hands, then quickly dropped them to the panel in front of him. Before Starsky could do anything, he had pushed one of the switches, then he shoved the entire panel to the floor.

Starsky watched the panel shatter and heard Hutch begin to gasp at the same time. He kept the gun trained on the men, as he watched the doorway for Dobey and his men to enter. It seemed like forever, but was, in fact, only a few seconds.

The officers quickly cuffed the man in charge, but when they headed for the doctor, Starsky saw him put something in his mouth. He began to cough and gag. He grabbed at his chest and fell to the ground. Starsky could tell he was dead before he hit the floor. He tossed the gun behind him and hurried over to Hutch.

“Hutch! Hold on, babe.” He quickly removed the mask from his face. It seemed like the mask had prevented Hutch from taking a breath. He placed two fingers on the side of Hutch’s neck and could feel a faint pulse. He could tell Hutch wasn’t breathing.

He quickly bent over and began artificial respirations. Between breaths, he shouted, “”Get those medics and Doctor Griswold in here, now!”

“We’re here.” Doctor Griswold and the medics moved Starsky aside and took over life-saving efforts. Oxygen was attached to an ambu bag and one of the medics began rhythmically squeezing the bag, pushing oxygen-rich air into Hutch’s lungs. Dr. Griswold was listening to Hutch’s lungs. He quickly pulled the sheet down to check where the blood on it had come from.

Wincing, Starsky saw the fiery red gunshot wound on his partner’s left side. He could see blood still seeping from it. He watched as the medics and doctor worked to stabilize Hutch. He was carefully moved to a gurney and rolled toward the door, with one medic continuing to work the ambu bag.

“Cap’n?”

“Go with Hutch. I’ll be there shortly.”

With that, Starsky took off running after the medics. He climbed into the back of the ambulance and found a corner where he wouldn’t be in the medic’s or doctor’s way, but could still reach out and touch Hutch. He half-heard what Doctor Griswold was saying over the phone to the hospital emergency room, but didn’t panic until he mentioned having a ventilator ready.

“Doc?”

“Until we know what that quack gave him I don’t know how to treat him. If I give him the wrong thing, it could kill him. I may need to put him on a ventilator to keep him stable.”

Starsky reached out and put his hand on Hutch’s wrist, being careful not to dislodge the intravenous line the medics had started there. “Hold on, Hutch. Keep fighting.” He whispered the words, hoping Hutch could hear them.

~*~*~*~*~

When they rushed Hutch into a room in the emergency room, Starsky refused to be denied being by his side. He shook off the guard’s attempts to stop him, then finally flashed his badge at him.

“Starsky, I am going to have to put Hutch on the ventilator. This isn’t always an easy procedure, and may be hard for you to watch.” Doctor Griswold motioned for Starsky to step out of the room.

“Do it. I’m not leaving him.”

With that, Starsky watched as they prepped Hutch and began to insert the tube down his throat. He swallowed and hoped Hutch wasn’t feeling any pain with the procedure. He relaxed a little when it was accomplished on the first try. Watching them attach the ventilator, he found himself breathing with the same rhythm of the machine.

Doctor Griswold then began checking out the gunshot wound. He glanced up at Starsky. “This is not deep. We’ll clean it and I’ll put in a few stitches. He’ll be on an antibiotic through his IV because it looks a bit red.” A nurse cleaned the wound and Doctor Griswold quickly closed it with sutures.

“All right, let’s move him.”

“Move him?”

“We’re going to move him to an ICU room where they can monitor his breathing closely while we check his blood to see if we can discover what medications he might have been given. We’ll need to know, so we can give him the proper drugs to bring him out of his coma.”

“Yeah, you told me.”

He followed them up to the second floor ICU area. Once Hutch was settled in the bed, and all the nurses stopped scurrying around him, Starsky stepped into the room taking a chair and moving it close to the bed. Reaching out, he took Hutch’s hand in his and began to talk, “Hutch, you’re in the hospital. They got you on a breathing machine. Dobey and the guys are searching that warehouse for any clues as to what that quack gave you. Soon as they find it, Doc will fix something to wake you up. You just have to hold on. You hear me, babe? Hold on. Please?”

~*~*~*~*~

An hour later, Captain Dobey stepped into the room. At Starsky’s hopeful look, Dobey spoke, “Sorry, Dave. We couldn’t find anything in the warehouse about what they gave him. His apartment was clean. No prints.” He paused and looked at Hutch and all the machines surrounding him. “How’s he doing?”

“How do you think he’s doing?” Starsky looked up at his Captain and friend. “Sorry, guess I’m just on edge a bit.”

“I understand. We got the doc’s address so I sent a team there to search. Why don’t you head over there and help? I’ll stay here with Hutch. Huggy’s heading this way soon, too. I promise I’ll call if anything changes.”

‘No…”

“Dave, you need to get out of here for a while. This could take some time. Hutch will need you when they give him the antidote. Go help with the search. I won’t leave him. I promise.”

“Okay, Cap. Just… if he should wake up…”

“I’ll tell him you’re on your way back, and then I’ll call you.”

Starsky got the address of the doctor’s house, squeezed Hutch’s hand and headed out. The sooner they found the formula for what that quack had given him, the sooner he would have his Hutch back.

~*~*~*~*~

After three hours of searching the small house, they hadn’t found anything remotely resembling a chemical formula. Starsky thanked everyone, locked, and re-sealed the door. Leaning against it for a few seconds he couldn’t help but think they had missed something… he had missed something. Pushing away from the door, he walked to the Torino and headed back to the hospital.

He knew better, but he still hoped Hutch would be awake when he got back.

~*~*~*~*~

Hurrying into Hutch’s room, he saw Huggy sitting beside the bed. “Hey, Hug. Any change?”

“No, Starsky. Nothing. Sorry.”

“Not your fault, my friend. Thank you for being here with him.”

“My pleasure… anytime. How are you holding up?”

Starsky shrugged. He took the chair Huggy had vacated. As he was getting ready to tell Huggy goodbye, Doctor Griswold came into the room.

He checked the readings on the machines. “No change. Captain Dobey told me you didn’t find anything at his house.”

“Not a damn thing!” Starsky pounded his fist on the arm of the chair. “How could a doctor do this?! I thought you all took an oath to heal people, not try to kill them!”

“There are greedy people in all walks of life, Starsky. If someone offers them enough money, morals get tossed by the wayside, like so much trash. I don’t understand how he could throw away his life like this, either.”

Starsky suddenly sat up straight. “Trash…”

Both Huggy and the Doctor stared at him.

“Trash! There were a bunch of papers in the trash can under the sink in his kitchen. I didn’t pay any attention to them! What if…?” Starsky stood up and grabbed Huggy’s arm. “Can you stay a while longer? I have to get back to that house! Doc, get the lab ready! If I’m right, you’ll have the formula!”

“You know I’ll be here ‘til I’m not needed, my man. Go!”

Doctor Griswold called the lab to alert them so they would be ready when Starsky returned.

Starsky ran for the exit, ignoring staff telling him to slow down. He couldn’t slow down. Hutch’s life was on the line!

~*~*~*~*~

Starsky put the MARs light on the roof and flipped the siren on. “Come on, baby, we gotta go get those papers so we can save Hutch’s life.”

He arrived at the doctor’s house in record time.

Taking the house key out of the ashtray where he had tossed it earlier, Starsky ran up the front steps. He tore the yellow crime scene tape off the door and unlocked it. Running, he headed for the kitchen, flipping on the light as he went. Opening the cabinet door and reaching under the sink, he pulled the trash can out. He took a step to the table and carefully pulled out the papers in the trash can. Smoothing them out on the table he saw they were covered with chemical formulas.

“Jackpot!”

He gathered all the papers and ran back to the Torino, stopping to re-lock the door on his way.

“I’m on my way, Hutch. Just hold on, babe.”

~*~*~*~*~

Doctor Griswold met Starsky at the ICU doors. He took the papers and glanced at them quickly. He smiled as he looked back up at Starsky. “Good job, Detective!” He left with the papers, heading for the lab.

Starsky headed to Hutch’s room. Huggy stood up as he walked in, looking a question at him.

“Yeah, Hug. I found them! Doctor Griswold is on his way to the lab right now with them!” He turned to the bed and took Hutch’s hand. “You hear that, buddy? You’ll be waking up soon. I promise.”

“Do you need me to stay?” Huggy asked.

“No. We’ll be okay. But thank you, Hug! You’re the best! We’ll owe you!”

“You two turkeys already owe me! Your bar tab is at least four months late!” Huggy looked at Hutch, lying so still in the bed. “But, I think getting sleeping beauty to wake up… well, that might be worth tearing up that tab!” Huggy squeezed Starsky’s shoulder and left.

~*~*~*~*~

Starsky sat beside Hutch’s bed for a few minutes. Then he was up and pacing in the small room. Then he would sit again. He was both excited and scared. What if the formulas weren’t the right ones? He talked to Hutch, not letting any of his doubts show.

“Doc is down in the lab cooking up a cure for you right now, buddy. You hear me? Hang on and you’ll be awake and griping about the lack of health food in a hospital in no time! You hear me? Hold on, babe. Just hold on.”

It was almost two hours later when Doctor Griswold came back in the room. He had a syringe on a tray, which he placed on the table by Hutch’s bed.

Starsky was ready to explode with nerves. “Doc?”

“We got it! I’m getting ready to administer the medicine to Hutch now. If all goes well, he should start breathing on his own, and we can wean him off the ventilator.”

“So, he’ll be waking up…?”

“Yes, he should wake up fairly soon.” He cleaned a port on one of Hutch’s IV lines and began injecting the medication into it. “We’ll be monitoring him closely, keeping an eye on his vitals and… well, everything.”

As soon as the medication was in, Starsky looked at Hutch’s face. There was no change. He reminded himself of what the doctor had said. ‘Time’, he had to give the medication time. He wasn’t a patient man. He knew he would need to be patient now, or lose his mind.

Starsky sat in the chair by Hutch’s bed through the night, afraid to close his eyes in case he missed Hutch waking up. He drank enough coffee to keep a platoon of men awake. He watched as nurses and interns came in, checking on Hutch. And he continued to talk to Hutch, urging him to wake up, encouraging him just to open his eyes.

But, other than his body taking over some of the breathing from the ventilator, there was no sign that he was waking up. By seven in the morning, he was becoming more and more concerned. So, when Doctor Griswold walked into the room, Starsky was waiting for him.

“Why isn’t he waking up? Were those the wrong formulas? What’s going on?”

“Easy, Starsky. I told you this might take some time. Actually, we are almost ready to take him off the ventilator. We’ve turned it down almost every time we checked it during the night. Hutch’s lungs are now doing almost 95% of his breathing. That’s a good sign.”

“Then why is he still out?”

“He was on their meds for quite a few hours. The meds we were able to formulate and give him are working. But it’s just going to take some…”

“Time… I know. Sorry, Doc. I just want him to wake up.”

“So do I, Starsky. So do I. Why don’t you go home and sleep for a couple of hours? I’ll call the second Hutchinson starts to wake up. I promise.”

“Thanks, but I’m okay. I’ll stay. He… he needs me to be here.”

Having known this pair for some time, Griswold had known Starsky wouldn’t leave. And he knew that Hutchinson did need Starsky close… but Starsky needed to be close to Hutchinson as well. They had an undeniable connection with each other. He nodded at Starsky, acknowledging his choice.

“If things continue as they have been, I believe we will remove the ventilator before noon. Do you want me to have one of the nurses bring you a pillow and blanket at least? You could try to sleep in the chair?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Doc. Sorry about…” He waved his hands, indicating his earlier outburst.

Patting Starsky’s shoulder, Doctor Griswold said, “Totally understandable. Try to get some rest.” He checked Hutch’s vitals and the ventilator setting one last time and walked out of the room.

~*~*~*~*~

Refusing to give into sleep, Starsky alternately paced the small room and sat, holding Hutch’s hand while encouraging him to continue to wake up. He ate the hamburger the nurses brought in to him. The only breaks he took were to go to the bathroom. He had a feeling he needed to stay close to his partner.

Around eleven, Doctor Griswold and two nurses came back into the room. “We’re going to remove the ventilator, Starsky. We’ll remove it, and watch Hutchinson’s breathing. If he seems to be having trouble, we may have to re-insert it. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Do you want to step outside the room?” He knew the answer to that question, but felt like he should offer the option.

“No. Go ahead.” Starsky stood and pushed his chair back so he and it wouldn’t be in their way. He watched the preparations closely, not sure why, as he had no idea what they were about to do, other than pull that breathing tube out of Hutch.

The nurses and Doctor Griswold worked smoothly, as a team. Each performed the tasks assigned to them. Before Starsky even realized it, the tube was out and Hutch was breathing on his own.

Hutch was breathing on his own!

Smiling, Starsky nodded at Doctor Griswold. He didn’t trust himself to speak right now. Odds were good he would break down crying. He was tired and the stress of not knowing if the antidote would work had him wound tight.

“When… how soon will he wake up?”

“I can’t tell you for sure. Besides the gunshot wound, he suffered from some pretty heavy blows. His urine still shows traces of blood, but it’s much improved from when he was admitted. His body is taking time to heal.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“One of the nurses or one of my residents will be coming in frequently to check on his status. That’s normal and nothing to be concerned about.” Doctor Griswold smiled at Starsky. “I wish you would get some rest. It may still be a while before he wakes up.”

“I’m alright. I… I… just don’t want to miss…”

“I know.”

~*~*~*~*~

Starsky alternately paced the small room and sat in the chair, touching Hutch’s hand or arm. He kept up an almost constant stream of pleas for Hutch to wake up, to open his eyes. The nurses brought him in small snacks which he paid little attention to. They also brought coffee, which he drank.

Around three in the afternoon, his body refused to stay awake any longer. He pulled the chair close to the bed. He reached out and put his left hand on Hutch’s right hand. Pulling the blanket over his body, he sat back in the chair with the pillow cushioning his head. He was only going to close his eyes for a few minutes. Just a few…

~*~*~*~*~

Pale blue eyes opened slightly.

Trying to make sense of where he was, Hutch closed his eyes, then re-opened them. His throat hurt. So did his side. As he took inventory of himself, he realized he hurt all over.

Finally figuring out he was in a hospital, he glanced to his right.

Starsky.

He should have known, if he was in the hospital and not still in the hands of the bad guys that Starsky would be here.  He tried to say his name. “S…s…stars...”

His throat protested his attempts and he could barely hear his own voice.

Looking around for the nurse call button, he couldn’t find it.

Oh, well, he was tired. He’d just close his eyes for a few seconds, and then try again to get his partner’s attention.

Just a few…

~*~*~*~*~

Starsky woke up suddenly. Something… something…

Glancing at Hutch, he saw him still sleeping soundly. It was four in the afternoon. He’d slept for an hour. His body felt hungover.

“Hutch? Hey, you hear me, babe?”

No answer. And no movement from Hutch. He needed to hear from Doctor Griswold what was going on. He’d get up and ask the nurses to call him… In just a few minutes.

Within seconds he was sleeping again.

~*~*~*~*~

Hutch opened his eyes again about an hour later. He still hurt. His throat was dry and he was afraid to try speaking again. He closed his eyes and focused his other senses on his environment.

What was that noise?

It sounded familiar.

Starsky!

It was Starsky! He was snoring lightly. He’d know that sound anywhere. He had heard it enough in the car on overnight stakeouts.

Starsk. He was here. He had somehow rescued him and was now guarding him.

Wait! How could he be guarding him if he was snoring? Hutch tried to gather saliva to swallow so he could wet his dry throat and try to speak. The first swallow felt like fire going down his throat. He moaned with the pain.

A nurse came in just then. She looked at Starsky, asleep in the chair and walked quietly over to the other side of the bed. She bent down and whispered. “Welcome back, Mister Hutchinson.”

Hutch nodded at her and raised his left hand to his throat.

“You were on a ventilator for about twenty hours. We removed it today. I’m sure your throat is dry and sore?” When he nodded, she reached behind her to the counter and picked up a cup full of ice chips. “Want to try a few of these?”

He nodded again and she carefully spooned a couple small chips of ice into his mouth. The first swallow hurt, but the cold and wet felt so good, he opened his mouth for another couple of chips.

“I’m going to go call Doctor and tell him you are awake. I’ll leave this cup of ice on the over-bed table. Just go slow. Don’t overdo. If you start coughing, stop. Are we clear on that?”  

Hutch pointed at Starsky and raised his brows.

“He finally fell asleep about three hours ago. He’s been here, and awake, since you were brought in. He’s only left you long enough to go to the bathroom. I know he wanted to know as soon as you woke up. Do you want me to wake him?”

Hutch shook his head ‘no’.

She smiled at him and walked out to the nurse’s station to call the doctor.

His hands were shaking a little, but Hutch managed to feed himself several more chips of ice. They still hurt, but not as bad. He set the cup back on the table, leaned back and closed his eyes. He tried to remember what day it was, but he wasn’t sure how long he had been held. He’d have to ask Starsk when he woke up. He tried to go back to sleep, but Starsky began to snore louder.

“Starsk…” His voice was still quiet and it still hurt to speak. There was no answer. He tried a little louder, “Starsk.”

“Huh? S’eepin’.” Starsky answered in his sleep.

“Starsk, you’re snoring.”

“Not time yet. You’ shift.”

Hutch watched as Starsky pulled the blanket closer and pushed his head back into the pillow. He needed to try something else.

“Starsk! Help…” He said it as loud as he could, which wasn’t very loud.

Starsky jumped out of the chair, getting tangled in the blanket and almost falling. He had his gun in his left hand and the pillow in his right. He finally kicked the blanket out of the way, and stood up straight, looking around the room, trying to find the danger.

When his eyes landed on Hutch’s face and he saw the eyes open and the smile on his face, he holstered his gun and stepped up to the bed. “HUTCH!” You’re awake! NURSE!! NURSE!!” He moved to the doorway to call for the nurses, but she was right there.

“What? Is Hutch okay? His doctor is on his way up here now.” She walked over to the bed and saw the smile on Hutch’s face. She laughed. “You woke him up?”

Nodding, Hutch moved his hands in a pantomime of what Starsky had done. He laughed and then decided that wasn’t a good thing to do when his throat complained.

“Easy, Hutch. Take some slow breaths, then we’ll try a little more ice.” She helped him, coaching his breaths and watching the monitors for his vitals at the same time. Then she spooned up a couple more chips of ice. “Doctor Griswold will be here in a few minutes.” She smiled, “Welcome back, Detective.”

As she walked out of the room, Starsky walked over to the bed. ‘You really are awake?” When Hutch smiled at him, Starsky felt his eyes tear up. Then he remembered how his partner had awakened him. He glared at him, but he was too happy to see those blue eyes open to take issue with Hutch.

“God, Hutch, I was so scared. I thought you were going die.” He took Hutch’s right hand in his and held it as he looked at Hutch’s eyes and smiled. “You feelin’ okay?”

“Throat… sore.” Hutch whispered.

“They had to… had to put you on a ventilator. You weren’t breathing so good.”

Hutch nodded. Then he pointed to his left side. “Hurts.”

“You managed to get shot while fighting with the goons who grabbed you. It’s just a crease. Doc put some stitches in and slapped a bandage on it. You got some bruising from the fight with them. One of your kidneys was bleeding, but Doc says it’s clearing up.”

Doctor Griswold walked into the room. “Welcome back to the living, Hutch.” He began to check the monitors. He asked ‘yes/no’ questions, so Hutch could answer with a nod instead of having to speak. “Everything looks very good. I think we can move you to a room out on the ward tomorrow. For now, you need to rest, work on the ice chips, and later tonight, we can try a liquid diet.” He chuckled at Hutch’s grimace. “I don’t think you’re up for tacos just yet.” He left the room, telling them to call the nurse if there were any problems.

Both men were tired, but neither wanted to sleep. Starsky sat back in his chair and scooted it closer to the bed. They locked eyes, and hands. So much was said, with not a word being spoken. They both nodded, messages sent and received.

Starsky picked up the blanket and pillow and, after making sure Hutch was comfortable, settled back into his chair. Still holding hands, they closed their eyes and drifted off to sleep. Secure in the love flowing back and forth. And knowing they had dodged being separated again.

Both slept.

Each guarding the other.

As always.

~*~*~*~*~