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Doppelganger

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Starsky spun around from his typewriter and looked at Babcock, who had just barreled into the squad room. “What’s the rush, Babcock?” He could tell his partner’s attention had been caught, too.

Babcock held up a video tape. “Come on in the conference room for a minute, everybody. You gotta see this!” Without waiting for a response, he turned and hurried out.

Exchanging a look with Hutch, Starsky got up and followed. He knew Hutch was on his heels, as well as every other detective.

When Starsky got to the conference room, Babcock had already turned on the old television that sat on the credenza, snow showing on its screen, and was inserting the video tape into the machine next to it.

Nobody bothered to sit. Starsky, with his partner at his shoulder, and everyone one else, crowded around Babcock, who addressed Hutch. “Were you ever a wildlife ranger, Hutch?”

Hutch shook his head. “No.”

“You sure?” Babcock’s tone of voice was bland. “You better watch this, then. My son tapes all the re-runs of Flipper.” He turned and, with a flourish, hit PLAY on the VCR. The TV screen, clearly cued up to where Babcock wanted it, changed to a scene with two adult males in tan uniforms climbing out of a truck. One, the driver, was tall and dark. The other was equally as tall, slim, and blond. And looked an awful lot like Hutch.

Babcock fast-forwarded the tape. He stopped it when it displayed a swampy area that was undoubtedly a practical location. The blond ranger burst through the underbrush to find a bear cub thrashing about in what appeared to be quicksand.

Everyone in the room stood, transfixed by the action unfolding on the small screen. The frantic animal was mewling, screaming, and pawing at the surface of the pool. Ugly, brown water sprayed everywhere. The ranger crawled out onto a skinny tree that was leaning over the struggling cub. His perch was precarious, to say the least, but he didn't seem to notice. Lowering a branch to the youngster, the cub grabbed it and tried to climb up. However, his weight must have overbalanced the ranger because he fell into the quagmire.

Someone behind Starsky gasped.

On screen, the blond was attempting to calm and control the cub in his arms but it was obvious the terrified bear was not listening to the soothing voice. It was also pretty clear that it was a real bear cub, not an animatronic approximation. In addition, it could have been that the ranger was getting mauled. Holding the bear on his shoulder, he managed to get his pistol out of its holster and fired two shots into the air, calling for his friend.

The friend, the likely human star of the series, heard the shots and started running.

Just as it was evident that the blond ranger was tiring, the other one showed up. He climbed out on the leaning tree and took the cub when the blond boosted him up. While the Hutch lookalike over-handed himself along the tree to shore, the other ranger hauled the cub to safety. At that point, with all three gasping on the edge of the swamp, the sound, for some reason, went away. Whatever the rangers said to each other was lost.

Babcock shrugged. "My son's still in a learning curve with the equipment." He stopped the machine and ejected the tape while he studied Hutch. “Looked like you might have gotten scratched pretty bad." Hutch's blank expression didn't change. "That wasn’t you, huh?”

Hutch shrugged and, again, shook his head.

“You got a twin brother?” Simmons asked.

“Not that I know of.” Hutch, patently having spent as much time as he felt was needed for this sideshow, moved through the crowd toward the door.

“Doppelganger,” was muttered by someone.

Starsky followed his partner and, as they walked into the hallway, he casually lifted the left edge of the front of Hutch’s blue guitar shirt and peered at the unblemished skin underneath.

Hutch lightly brushed the hand away and continued toward the squad room.

Starsky smiled. “Coulda been you, though. That’s exactly what you’d’a done, partner.”

 

END