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"There, you see," Milford said, glancing back at Hutch, "I keep my word." Then he frowned. "George," he said to the butler, "for goodness sakes, bring this man something to cover himself with."
"Right away, sir."
"You're dismissed, Simons."
Simons looked at Hutch, then at his employer. "Are you sure, Mr. Milford? Perhaps I'd better stay nearby in case he has any ideas about going back on his word."
"He won't go back on his word," Milford said while looking Hutch in the eye. "The last thing he wants is for his partner to return here and find him dead."
Hutch didn't respond. He was grateful when the butler held out a robe to him, and he quickly put it on. No matter what was being said around him, all he could see in his mind's eye was the anger and defiance on Starsky's face. He knew the other would not wait eight hours to return. But he hoped Starsky wouldn't return too soon and endanger them both. With the fire happening in town, reinforcements were out of the question; his partner was on his own.
One thing was certain: No matter what Starsky might be able to come up with for a rescue plan, he wouldn't be able to return before Milford was finished amusing himself.
Hutch wondered if Starsky would ever forgive him for what he'd agreed to do, even if it spared both their lives.
Milford's demeanor was now more pleasant and relaxed. He put a hand on Hutch's shoulder. "It will be a good time for you, Ken, I promise." He looked to the butler. "George, bring some champagne up to my bedroom."
"Right away, sir."
The hand squeezed his shoulder. "Come on, Ken, enough of all of this. Let's retire to my room."
Hutch allowed Milford to lead him up the stairs, the older man's arm around his waist. He felt a sickness in his stomach and the thundering of his heart. For Starsky, he told himself over and over. It was a chance at life. If he hadn't agreed to do this, they both would probably have been killed in the drawing room. And himself probably raped first.
It will still be rape, some part of his mind protested. Coerced sex is still rape.
Doesn't matter, another part insisted. If we live through this, that will be enough.
Yet, there was the memory of the accusing glare in Starsky's eyes.
"Here we are, Ken," Milford said gently, holding the door back.
Hutch entered, feeling as he stepped over the threshold that it was a point of no return. It was actually a plainly decorated room...a room where he might very well emerge a changed man, because of what he would allow to happen.
"Make yourself comfortable. George will be here shortly with some champagne."
Hutch stood a few feet inside the door, not knowing what to do, another than look from one wall to another. He felt his respiration quicken.
"Please, sit," Milford gestured.
"I'd prefer to stand."
The other's face softened. "You're nervous."
"Do you blame me?"
"I guess I shouldn't," Milford said. He glanced at the door. "George, bring it in." The butler set the small tray on the table. "Thank you. I am absolutely not to be disturbed for the next two hours."
"Yes, sir." George bowed and left, closing the door behind him.
"Champagne?" Milford offered as he poured.
Hutch was tempted to say no. But then he decided he should at least make some effort to be agreeable, so it couldn't be said he wasn't holding to his end of the bargain. Plus, having his brain a bit fuzzy might make everything just a little easier. "Please." He approached the table as Milford held a glass out to him while sipping from his own. Hutch downed half of his in one swallow.
"Ken," the other man said with concern, "your hand is shaking."
He had to make an effort to keep the edge out of his voice. "Coerced sex isn't my cup of tea."
Milford sat down, looking him over. "But it is much better this way, don't you agree? At least, I can justify to myself letting you and your partner live."
With forced casualness, Hutch asked, "Is that really your intent?"
"You are worried about that," Milford said with amusement. "Think about it, Ken. When I have worn myself out with your pleasures, I and my people will leave here for the airstrip and fly out of the country. The fact that I am not telling you which country I'm going to should show you that I intend to let you live."
Hutch took a deep, steadying breath, wanting to believe it.
"There is nothing any U.S. police force or government agency can do to me. Therefore, what threat are you to me? I admit," Milford finished his glass and set it down, "that if it weren't for the fire, it would have been impossible for me to let your partner go. But I am confident he will not get help in time to stop me."
It made sense, and Hutch allowed himself to relax a fraction. He tilted his glass back, finishing the rest of the champagne, then set it on the table, knowing it was marking the end of the preliminaries.
His heart beat faster still.
Milford smiled at him. "You are as handsome as they come. But I'm sure you are aware of that."
Hutch chose not to respond.
Milford stood and stepped right in front of Hutch, looking up into his eyes. "It is so rare that one such as you comes along and gives one...an opportunity."
Hutch could smell the other man's breath, and he braced himself for what he knew was coming. Milford's eyes closed, and then his lips pressed against Hutch's.
Though he knew it was dangerous, Hutch couldn't bring himself to respond. Bearing it without reaction was difficult enough.
But when Milford pulled back he didn't seem angry. "It is unfair of me, isn't it? Kissing is for lovers, and you love him, not me."
Hutch didn't reply, but the relief he felt was strong. At least he wouldn't be expected to do that which, in some ways, was so much more intimate than sex.
"The thing women do not understand," Milford noted, "is how men are able to enjoy each other immensely, even if they know they will never see each other again. That is one of the biggest advantages to enjoying a man. Don't you agree?"
Hutch thought furiously. Would it be best to confess to his virginity? No, that might disappoint Milford and could be dangerous. "I wouldn't know. My only experiences with men have been with my partner."
"Hm." The other shook his head in admiration. "You two do love each other quite a lot. I admire such love. It is one where sex is only a small portion of the intimacy."
"Yes," Hutch found himself readily agreeing, and then cautioned himself to not fall for the other's surface understanding.
"In any case," Milford sighed blissfully, "I hope you will not blame me enjoying what I can while it is available. I know you will be thinking of him while we are together. But that does not matter. At least, I will have the physical." With that, he bent his head, pushed the robe aside with his nose, and tongued at one of Hutch's flat nipples.
Hutch felt a quiver go through him at the poignant sensation. He felt both ashamed and guilty that it was somehow a betrayal...of what, he wasn't sure.
Maybe he's right, and I should think of Starsky....
"You are so beautiful." Without looking up, Milford's hand felt for the robe and pushed it away.
Hutch let it drop to the floor.
Milford was kissing down his middle. The soft wetness felt almost annoying, and Hutch had to resist the urge to not back away.
Now his pubic hairs were kissed. Then Milford's cheek rubbed against his flaccid penis. "So beautiful," the kneeling man muttered, "even when like this." Then he took it in his mouth.
Hutch restrained a gasp of surprise. The last thing he'd expected was for Milford to do the pleasuring.
Again, the wetness all about him felt annoying rather than pleasurable. He tried to tell himself to respond, but knew that wouldn't work.
Think of Starsky, he reminded himself. But when he did, all he saw in his mind's eye was his partner's furious glare.
After a time of unsuccessful manipulation, Milford pulled back and looked up at him. The man's face was gentle. "You are still nervous."
Hutch didn't know what he could say, other than to admit, "Yes."
"Perhaps we should move to the bed and relax."
Hutch wasn't sure he could stand that. With the way things had gone so far, he doubted that dragging out the inevitable was going to help anything. Stomach churning, he suggested, "Why don't we just get to the main event." He wondered how much it would hurt to have another man ram inside him, and how dirty he would feel when Milford deposited his sperm into his bowels.
Now Milford smiled. "You do not like preliminaries. Fine, then. We will do it backwards. The 'main event', and then foreplay." His grin widened. "Variety keeps one young." He moved to the nightstand and opened a drawer. A tube of ointment was in his hand. He squeezed some into his palm as he came back to Hutch. Then he knelt again.
Hutch felt a growing alarm as the substance was applied to his flaccid penis. He'd had no idea Milford would want him to be on top. He thought he should be relieved. Instead, he felt a sense of doom.
"It is stubborn," Milford chuckled, applying such a firm pull that it almost hurt. "No matter. It probably needs more inspiration." He put one leg up on the bed, then squirted more of the substance onto his fingers. He reached between his legs and pressed his fingers into himself. "It has been some time since I have enjoyed a man. You will go easy, won't you?" His voice was soft.
"Y-yes," Hutch stuttered, his fear increasing. He reached down to his groin, taking his shaft in hand, frantically trying to bring it to life. Touching it how it loved to be touched. It responded, but to only a minimal degree. Hutch swallowed thickly, silently pleading that it not fail him at a time when his life depended upon it.
Milford tossed the tube aside. He got on the bed, then lowered himself into a crouch. His knees were tucked beneath himself--to a degree that was surprising for such an overweight man--his buttocks at the edge of the bed. "Whenever you are ready, Kenneth."
Hutch felt in a daze as he stepped behind the man. His penis was still growing in his hand, but the growth was hesitant, as though it wasn't sure what was in store for it. Hutch looked fully at the buttocks raised before him...and thought it was the ugliest sight he'd ever seen in his life.
"Perhaps you'd like more enticement," Milford said leeringly. He reached back, with both hands, and parted himself.
Hutch couldn't restrain a gagging noise as he flung himself away, his groin retracting in protest.
He heard Milford move. "What is it?" The voice was less gentle.
Hutch was against the wall and he didn't open his eyes. "I can't," he said simply.
The voice was dangerous now. "What do you mean, you can't?"
Hutch swallowed, opening his eyes, seeing the anger on the face of the man who was now standing, arms raised as though poised for a fight. "I can't."
The face grew red as Hutch watched, then twisted in rage. "You gave your word!"
Hutch blinked in disbelief. Surely, being a man, Milford didn't think he had control over the desires of his body. "I'm sorry," he choked out. "It doesn't want to work."
"Traitor!" A hand rocketed across his face.
Hutch dropped to the floor, escaping a further blow, and found himself thinking that now Starsky would come back and find him dead. If only Milford had fucked him, like Hutch thought he'd intended, then he could have gotten through this. But now....
No. He dived at Milford's legs and the man collapsed heavily to the floor. Hutch punched him in the face, and followed it up with a blow to the stomach. He heard footsteps rushing up the stairs and looked around the room. The window was his only hope. He took the robe from the floor, darting away from Milford's grab for his feet, and wrapped it around his arm. He flung his protected arm at the window, shattering the glass.
The door opened and a gun was on him. "Hold it right there." It was Simons.
In a split second, Hutch calculated the likelihood of him being able to jump through the window and onto the roof without being shot. Zero likelihood, he decided.
He stood there, panting, as Milford got to his feet and quickly put on another robe.
"Are you all right, Mr. Milford?"
"Yes, Simons. Thank God you came. This cop is a traitor." He stuck his head out the door and yelled for his new bodyguards. He glanced at Hutch only briefly, then looked at Simons. "Get him out of here and see that he is sufficiently punished for going back on his word. But I want him conscious when we kill him."
"Yes, Mr. Milford."
The other goons had arrived. Simons smiled wickedly at Hutch. "Let's go, cop."
Hutch didn't know what choice he had, when he'd next have an opportunity to make a move. As long as he was alive, he told himself, there was hope.
As he was shoved past Milford, the man growled, "When your friend returns, he'll find your mangled body hanging out in front of the house."
* * *
It wasn't until he had been driving for over twenty minutes that Starsky slammed to a halt at the driveway of a house beside the road. It had a "For Sale" sign out front and looked vacant. Nevertheless, he got out of the car. The images had been tormenting his mind ever since zooming away from the estate, the ways in which Milford would violate Hutch.
The urge was almost unbearable. Starsky quit fighting it. He bent over and stuck his fingers down his throat, vomiting beneath a tree.
With his stomach relieved, he jimmied a window of the house and crawled inside. He picked up a telephone and slammed down the receiver when there was no dial tone. He went to the kitchen and let the water run for a few moments before rinsing out his throat.
There were other houses farther along the road which should have phones that worked. But that meant driving even farther away from Hutch, and trying to convince the homeowners that he wasn't some kind of maniac, for he didn't have his ID on him.
When he'd left the estate, Starsky's first concern was to keep driving in case Milford's men tried to follow. Now that he was convinced he didn't have a tail, the priority was to turn around and go after Hutch. He wasn't about to wait any eight hours. He had no reason to believe that Milford would let Hutch live. Or, almost as bad, wouldn't try to take his plaything along with him when he left the country.
Starsky slammed down his fist on the countertop.
When he was back in the New Yorker, he turned it around and started the 20-mile trip back toward Milford's estate.
* * *
Though his face and entire body ached, Hutch knew he'd gotten off easy...relatively speaking. Milford's house was a flurry of activity while in preparation to leave the country. The bodyguards "punished" Hutch for a good twenty minutes. They'd tied his hands behind his back and blindfolded him. He'd still tried to put up a fight with his feet, but two burly men against one blind, restrained cop--even a cop who was fighting for his life--was too much to overcome. They'd pummeled him for what felt like a long time.
When they finally let him be, he was coughing and gasping for breath. He heard one of them say to the other, "Get Milford," and Hutch knew his remaining time on this Earth was brief. He thought of Starsky and the anger was there full force.
"Unbind me," he choked out in what he thought was the direction of the remaining guard.
A brief laugh greeted him. "Not a chance. You should have cooperated with Mr. Milford."
"You think it won't happen to you?" Hutch challenged. His voice was thick and dry, and his diaphragm hurt when he breathed. "I didn't ask for his infatuation," he spat, trying to show his disgust. "Untie me. At least give me a fighting chance." He hated the pleading in his own voice, but pride wouldn't mean anything if he were dead. When silence greeted him, he taunted, "At least take off my blindfold. Or are you afraid to look into my eyes when you kill me?"
More silence. Then footsteps of the man coming nearer.
A boot impacted with Hutch's naked groin and he cried out and curled in on himself.
The boots moved away. "Lousy cop. If you'd just given Milford what he wanted, it would have saved us all a lot of trouble. I think he was serious about letting you live."
Gasping for breath, Hutch said through gritted teeth, "Remember that when he asks you for what you can't give."
Footsteps approached from down the hall. The voice of the returning guard said, "Milford's too busy to mess with him. He doesn't want any evidence left here, just in case he ever decides to comes back. He said to take him out a few miles, the opposite way from the airstrip." A pause, then, "What happened?"
The guard who'd stayed said, "He's got a smart mouth. I think we'd better gag him just to be safe. Sound travels far in this area."
"Good idea. I'll drive the car around back so we don't have to drag him through the whole house. I don't have a silencer. Do you?"
"Nah. We'll just have to make sure the first one counts, then get the hell out."
Hutch knew the doorway had to be near where they were talking. He gathered his strength, then lurched to his knees and dove for the door.
A fist slammed into his cheek, driving him to the floor "Pesky little bastard, isn't he?"
* * *
As he drove, back toward Milford's estate, Starsky kept running possible options through his mind. Stop at a house. Convince the occupants he meant no harm. Call Dobey. Tell him to try to get a hold of some authorities who could stop Milford from leaving the airstrip.
But Starsky couldn't bring himself to stop. He kept driving, though he had no idea how he'd get onto Milford's property without being seen. He had no weapon. Only his determination to find Hutch alive.
* * *
The car stopped. Heart pounding wildly, Hutch scrunched down into the back seat. He knew what they were going to do. He was still gagged, blindfolded, and bound, and they were going to drag him out a ways from the road, force him to his knees, and put a gun to the back of his head. Everything would go black...and Starsky would find him dead. And never forgive himself for having left the estate.
The door opened, and Hutch deliberately tumbled to the pavement. A strong arm grabbed him and hoisted him upwards, but he refused to cooperate and straighten his knees. Just when he was being cursed at, he found his feet and spun around. The instant he felt the grip of the hand weaken, he spun back the other way, felt the grip break loose, and then took off running.
He couldn't see, and with the gag, he could scarcely breathe. The earth collapsed beneath him, and he rolled down a hill. When he stopped, he scrambled to his feet. Something seared through his right side, and he heard the echo of gunfire. He stumbled, than struggled to his feet again.
Hutch continued running, his bare feet stepping on sharp branches and rocks, and then his shoulder slammed into something solid, rattling him. He fell back, knowing it must have been a tree. He felt dazed, and wanted to lay there and catch his breath. But he knew he had to keep moving, and he got to his knees and started crawling, realizing that warm fluid was running down his naked side. In the distance he heard laughter. Then something that sounded like, "He's done for. Let's get out of here. Besides, Mr. Milford will never know the difference."
Feeling a surge of hope that there wouldn't be any more shots, Hutch scrambled to his feet once again. After a few steps, the ground sloped downward once more, and he fell, this time rolling with the fall. When the earth leveled out, he felt something poke into his knee. He got up and crawled forward, but this time felt some sort of barrier across his midsection, and he was aware of something pulling all across his body. Frantically, he pushed forward and felt flesh tear at his calf. The sensation of being barred from further escape increased his panic, and he jerked further forward, feeling more tearing of skin. He took a few more steps, and pain appeared along his upper thigh, something thin and wire-like wrapping itself around his leg, near his crotch.
He couldn't breathe with the gag, and Hutch collapsed, feeling more of his flesh penetrated by...something. He tried to still his breath and his panic. He thought he'd heard a car drive off. There were no more voices.
It was a long time before he felt he was breathing almost normally. He tried to take stock of his situation. His cheek was lying against dirt. His right side was throbbing. He was cold, and he was afraid of shock setting in. He tried to crawl forward a few inches and felt more pulling of his skin. It made him aware of tiny points of pain all over his body, to say nothing of the flaring fire at his side. He heard a droning noise, and after a moment realized it was insects buzzing about. He had no clothing for protection, and he gasped with frustration when he felt them land on his throbbing wound.
Dear God, he pleaded silently. He was alive. But he was gagged, blindfolded, bound, and wounded. He was trapped in a way that he did not understand, a convenient feast for hungry insects.
When the wind blew across his bare back, he shivered.
* * *
Starsky slammed on the brakes when he saw the tail of a black BMW disappear around the corner in front of him. It looked like one of the cars that had been at Milford's place earlier. He realized now it must belong to the new bodyguards, since he hadn't seen their cars before today. What was it doing out here, and why was it headed back toward Milford's estate? If it had been trying to follow Starsky, surely it would have continued to do so, rather than heading back to Milford.
Starsky waited a few minutes, then crept the New Yorker forward, thinking furiously. He thought he'd heard gunfire a few minutes ago, but he wasn't sure if it was a trick of the wind. Now, because of the car, he was sure it had to have been from a gun. But where had the shots been coming from? It could have been anywhere along this road.
He stopped and got out, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. The appearance of the car had to have something to do with Hutch. There was no other explanation. And now the car was gone. Gone because...it had done what it needed to?
Starsky's throat tightened. How often were the victims of a murder dumped off on the side of a road?
He swallowed thickly, then called out, "HUTCH?"
He listened. There was only the sound of the wind.
* * *
He thought he heard his name. The yelled word sounded so frantic.
Hutch wanted to shout back, but though his gag was looser, he couldn't push if off, even after rubbing it against his shoulder.
He tried to move...make some noise or sign. Wire tightened around his leg and torso, and there was more tearing of flesh. His eyes watered from the raw tenderness in his side.
And watered more from despair.
* * *
Starsky thought furiously. About a half mile back, there had been a sweeping bend in the road, circling around a hill. It allowed one to see for some distance, almost to this very spot. When Starsky had circled it a few minutes ago, he hadn't seen the BMW. That meant the BMW had stopped and/or turned around between where Starsky was now and perhaps 200 or 300 yards back in the other direction.
He trotted down into the woods. The area around here was forested and had a lot of hills and valleys. There wasn't much in the way of fencing, but he did see there was an old barbed wire fence a little ways ahead, at the bottom of a valley. As Starsky came nearer to it, he was looking all about, searching for signs of a shallow grave, and desperately hoping he wouldn't find one.
He thought he saw the wire fence move.
The wind. The fence was old and not very secure, as it was unraveled in some places. Nevertheless, Starsky continued to walk along it, wondering if any gaps might reveal some sort of side road where the BMW might have temporarily parked.
Starsky was about to call Hutch's name again when his eye caught something pale against the darkness of the forest. It was sticking out of the ditch where the fence was. Starsky approached cautiously, head tilted to one side, as the shape became more focused.
It was a man. Naked and facedown. Tangled up in the wire. Insects hovering over the body.
His heart exploded. "HUUUUUTTCCHH!"
* * *
It was his name again. Closer this time. Sad and desperate.
Hutch whimpered against his gag, willing Starsky to see him.
* * *
Starsky saw the blond head move. His relief sent him to his knees beside the otherwise quiet figure. "Hutch?" he choked out.
The head was moving again, but that was all. Horrified, Starsky took in the gag, the blindfold, the bound hands.... Blood was running from the pale flesh.
"Itsgonnabeokay, itsgonnabeokay, itsgonnabeokay," he chanted, reaching for his pocketknife. "Gonna have you loose in a minute. It's okay, Hutch. It's okay." He shut up then, for his voice had started to break.
How dare Milford do this to Hutch after what he took from him.
Forcing back his fury, Starsky pulled the gag down, then reached to where the blindfold was tied. As he cut it, he heard Hutch making coughing noises, mixed with moans that consisted of too many feelings to put a name to.
Starsky flung the blindfold away. As Hutch blinked repeatedly, Starsky realized how bruised the other's face was.
Hutch looked up at him, his eyes watery and strained. Dryly, he croaked, "Get me out of here."
Starsky squeezed his own eyes shut and forced down a thick swallow. When he opened them he had his voice under control and he allowed a smile to break over his face. "I'll have you out of here in no time."
He laid his hand on Hutch's shoulder and squeezed it. His elation at finding Hutch alive began to recede as his eyes moved from his partner's pale back down to his waist...and then to his legs.
Barbed wire was beneath Hutch's torso. It was also imbedded along both legs. On Hutch's left leg, it was wrapped tightly around his upper thigh. Starsky could see chunks of flesh and small bleeding wounds from where the wire had torn at Hutch as the blond had tried to free himself.
But the biggest pool of blood ran from the right side of Hutch's back. It was now starting to clot, and insects were landing on it. Starsky's eyes narrowed, and he bent forward, trying to find the source of blood that also was in front of Hutch's torso. Thankfully, his partner was resting in such a way that Starsky was able to see the edge of Hutch's front right side. The blood there was also clotting.
Starsky sat back, allowing a breath to escape. The bullet had gone through Hutch. At least that was one less thing he'd have to worry about.
Hutch groaned and Starsky turned his attention back to the immediate needs. He squeezed his partner's shoulder again and bent toward his head. Starsky's voice was steady this time, for emotion had no place in the task that lay ahead. "Hutch," he said firmly, "I'm gonna cut your hands loose. But I don't want you to move them, because they're a little tangled up. Let me do it."
Hutch made a small nod, but pleaded, "Hurry."
Starsky placed his pocketknife against the rope at Hutch's wrists. No part of the blond's hands or arms was embedded by barbed wire. But without his warning, he was afraid that if Hutch moved too quickly, he might injure himself further. He wasn't sure what his partner's mental state was like, or if Hutch was even aware of how tangled he was.
Starsky flung the rope away. After putting the pocketknife down, he took a few moments to massage along Hutch's arms. Then he carefully lifted the left one up and bent it away from Hutch's body, which caused a soft groan from the blond. Then he let it rest in a normal position on the ground in front of Hutch. He repeated the same procedure with the right arm.
As Starsky had feared, now that Hutch's hands were free, the blond braced them against the ground as though preparing to move.
"Hutch, stay still," Starsky said firmly. He placed a hand in the center of his partner's back. "I need you to lie still for just a bit longer."
There was a noise near the road above and Starsky whirled around, arms spreading out to protect his injured partner.
A woman stood at the road, looking down at them. "Do you need help?" she called.
"Yeah!" Starsky called back. Hutch shifted restlessly and Starsky bent close to him, "Hutch, stay still. Help's here. I'll be right back. Right back, pal. Don't move."
He patted the pale skin, then stood. The woman was coming down the embankment and Starsky maneuvered himself over the barbed wire and trotted toward her. "Who are you?" he asked.
She was fiftyish and had hair colored a light red. "I live just around the bend," she pointed, and Starsky realized that where she was pointing was perpendicular to the main road, indicating that there was a side road. "I thought I heard gunfire."
"You did." Starsky spoke rapidly. "Look, I'm a cop and my partner's wounded and tangled up in the barbed wire. Can you get us help?"
"I'll do what I can, but the phone lines in this area are all down because of the fire. I don't think they'd send a rescue unit anyway, because there's hundreds of people trapped in that hotel. The whole city is there, including my husband, who's with the fire department."
Starsky felt a sinking sensation. No help.
"Let me at least get you some first aid items," she said, looking past Starsky to the ditch.
"Wire cutters," Starsky emphasized. "Blankets, water, bandages--the whole bit. And we're going to need some kind of gurney to get him out of here."
Starsky looked around. "You didn't drive?"
"I'm just around the bend, but I don't have a car that runs right now. My husband took our four-wheeler."
Starsky pointed in another direction. "My New Yorker is just around the corner. The keys are in it. Take it and hurry. I've got to stay with him."
"Right." She took off at a run.
Relieved to at least have some degree of help, Starsky turned back to where Hutch was. And ran to him.
Despite Starsky's firm words, the blond was trying to crawl forward, and cringing against the pain of his movement.
"Hutch, stop it!" Starsky collapsed beside him and grabbed Hutch's shoulder, stilling him. "You can't move. Understand?"
"Get me out of here," Hutch forced through gritted teeth.
"Get me out." He batted at an insect buzzing around his head.
Starsky softened his stance after deciding to be straightforward. He rested a hand in Hutch's hair. "Listen to me, buddy. Listen." He waited until Hutch was still, then swallowed. "You're all tangled up in barbed wire, Hutch." He petted across the blond strands and gentled his voice. "That's why you need to lie still, babe. It's gonna take a while to get you out, so you just gotta be patient." He squeezed Hutch's shoulder. "But you're gonna be fine. Just fine. I'm gonna be right here with you."
Hutch relaxed against the dirt and Starsky took off his jacket. He spread it out over Hutch's upper body, leaving his partner's lower midsection exposed.
"Starsk?" The voice was low and trembling.
Starsky bent close. "Yeah, pal?"
"I-I-I think I got shot."
Starsky's heart twisted as he wondered at the blond's mental state. "I know, pal, but it's not serious." He wasn't sure if that were true, but hoped fervently it was. "The bullet went right through you. I know it hurts like the dickens, but it's just a flesh wound." He squeezed the leather-clad shoulder. "I know it's not easy, but try to rest."
Hutch swallowed again. His eyes were closed, but the dry voice muttered, "Should have listened."
Maybe distraction was what Hutch needed most, so Starsky decided to participate in the conversation. "What? What, buddy?"
Another thick swallow. "Right about Milford."
"Ah, Hutch." He wanted to tell his partner that he had been right, too, in that Milford's infatuation was something that could be useful. It turned out to be so useful that it saved their lives...even if that hadn't been Milford's intent. "It wasn't enough for him to use you, was it?" he said with sympathy, petting up and down the jacket. "He had to do all this to you afterwards." Now his voice was shaking.
It seemed to take a long moment before Hutch gathered the energy to respond. His eyes squinted open before he spoke. "Not like you think."
Starsky bent closer, puzzled. "What?"
"H-h-he didn't...didn't rape me."
Relief went through Starsky...and yet his puzzlement increased. "What did he do?" he whispered. Maybe Hutch couldn't go through with it and fought from the beginning. Or maybe they had different definitions of rape.
Hutch tried to tilt his head to look at Starsky. The curly-haired man lay down on the ground instead, his cheek in the dirt, so he could meet Hutch's eye. Those blue orbs were bright and watery. "He..." Hutch swallowed thickly and Starsky wished the woman would hurry up with the water and other supplies. "He...he...wanted...wanted me to...to do it...to do it...to him."
Starsky's brow furrowed as understanding dawned.
"And...and...I..." Hutch choked out the final word in a small voice, "couldn't."
Starsky felt something change inside himself, something that he didn't understand. "You mean he wanted you to...be on top...?"
The barest hint of a smile appeared beneath the mustache. "I wanted...wanted to cooperate. But...but I...I couldn't." Hutch's eyes closed and his cheek moved farther into the dirt, as though he wanted to turn away.
Starsky straightened abruptly. He looked down at the leather jacket covering Hutch's back, his partner's face trying to bury itself in the dirt. He swallowed down a huge lump in his throat, thinking that he didn't know anything...that he'd been so foolish. He'd literally made himself sick conjuring up images of how Milford debased Hutch, and it turned out that Milford's infatuation had been such that the man had instead wanted the 'honor'--probably in his eyes--of being fucked by Hutch.
Starsky's own eyes closed. He'd had the misfortune, a few times in his life, of not being able to perform when taking a date to bed. The lack of cooperation from his sex organs always made him feel humiliated and less of a man...however temporarily. And here was Hutch having experienced the same lack of performance...but at a time when his life depended upon it. What that must feel like, Starsky couldn't fathom. To have the betrayal by one's body being the reason one was to die.
Hutch hadn't died. He had, somehow, some way, escaped. But not before he'd been thoroughly punished for disappointing Milford. For not having any control over the desires of his body.
Starsky reached out to Hutch, carefully laying his hand on his back. He wanted to be tender and gentle, to reassure Hutch that there was nothing lacking in him, even though he hadn't been able to come through when his life depended upon it. And yet another part of Starsky--the more confused part--wanted to sing Hutch's praises for Hutch having been so brave in the first place...trying to save them both by agreeing to allow himself to be Milford's plaything. It may have been the only choice there was; yet that didn't change the fact that it was nothing less than heroic.
But what Starsky wanted most of all was to take the pain away. After all he had been through, that was the one thing that Hutch deserved most.
There was the sound of a car. When Starsky turned he was relieved to see the New Yorker coming to a halt on the side road. "Hutch, help is here." He squeezed the blond's arm beneath the jacket. "It's gonna be fine. I'll be right back."
He was running up the hill to the road just as the red-haired woman started down it. She had a laundry basket and held it out to him. "Here's some first-aid things and the wire cutters. If you can do without me, I'd like to see if I can round up more help. And I still need to find something to use for a gurney."
"Good idea," Starsky said, taking the basket. "Thank you. Thank you so much." He wondered what her name was, but didn't want to waste time asking.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," she said, starting back up the hill.
Starsky galloped down the slope, taking stock of the items as he ran. When he was back beside Hutch, the first thing he pulled out was a canteen. "All right, buddy, we're going to try to make you a little more comfortable." With Hutch lying on his stomach, Starsky wasn't sure how he was going to pour water into his mouth. Then he spotted a group of straws. "Good deal," he muttered as he removed them. He unscrewed the lid to the canteen, then inserted a straw inside. "All right, Hutch, we're in business now." He watched the blond's lids flutter against the dirt. He reached inside the basket and pulled out a folded blanket. It would be pointless to cover Hutch with it until the barbed wire was removed, so he decided to use it as a pillow for the time being.
He rested the canteen against a rock, then took the blanket in one hand and raised Hutch's head with the other. "Here you go, pal. Ought to be a little more comfortable."
Hutch was still silent but his eyes were active, watching what Starsky was doing.
"Here, pal." Starsky held the straw in the canteen, then brought the canteen up to rest on the blanket near Hutch's mouth. He pointed the straw until it was against the full lips. "Here, buddy, here's some water. Suck it up through there, if you can."
Hutch's lips closed around the plastic and Starsky watched his throat muscles move.
"Not too fast now. There's plenty."
It took a few moments, but Hutch finally coughed up the debris in his throat and Starsky moved the canteen away and patted gently at Hutch's back.
"Want some more?" he asked when the spasm ended.
Hutch shook his head.
"Okay." Starsky patted him again before putting the lid back. "I'm going to work on getting you out of here. I need you to lie real nice and still." He pulled work gloves and a pair of wire cutters from the basket. The basket also contained gauze and bandages and Starsky was tempted to tend to the bullet wound, but it had clotted on its own and he thought freeing Hutch was of the most immediate importance.
He turned to look at the tangled mess around his partner's lower body. Then he bent near Hutch's closed eyes. Gently, he said, "I'm going to have to be pulling out some of the barbs. You're probably going to feel some pain here and there, but there's no other way. Just try to take it easy." He pulled on the gloves.
Hutch swallowed, as though in resignation.
Starsky turned to the wire and examined it closely for the first time. It looked like the fence hadn't been very sturdy to begin with, which was good, or it would have already ripped his partner to pieces, considering the few yards Hutch had traveled after becoming tangled. There was one strand embedded in Hutch's midsection, which he was lying on top of. There was another section that ran along his right leg and curled around his hip, but only the latter portion seemed to be stuck in his flesh. It looked like the wire had been embedded in Hutch's calf, but it had since torn loose, leaving an ugly gash.
The other leg was a different story. Wire was wrapped tightly around Hutch's thigh, spiraling up to be deeply embedded between his leg and his groin, the rest of the strand lying harmlessly beside him.
Starsky cut loose the wire in Hutch's upper body from both sides. He was afraid of how badly it was embedded, but he wouldn't know until Hutch was free enough to be turned over. At least, for the time being, the cutting was painless.
He decided to move to the next most painless step. He cut the wire pieces that ran to the old fence, careful to fling the severed ends well out of the way. Hutch still wouldn't be able to move until the barbs were out of his body, but at least he couldn't injure himself further since he was no longer attached to the fence.
Starsky decided to keep going with his task, and he cut at more of the strands of the fence, moving away from Hutch, so that he could push the barrier completely to one side. That way, when they were actually able to remove Hutch, they wouldn't have to contend with it.
When that was done, Starsky knelt beside his partner. Hutch was still lying in the ditch on his stomach with ugly wires sticking from his body, but at least he was no longer attached to the fence itself.
Keep going with the easy stuff first, he decided. He focused on Hutch's right leg. Most of the barbs had penetrated to only a shallow degree. He bent close, taking careful note of how the first one had gone in. Slowly, he pulled it back from the same angle. Blood flowed into the little hole created.
Hutch's facial muscles twitched, but he was otherwise obediently still.
Starsky continued on in the same manner, until he'd removed some seven or eight barbs. He used the wire cutters to free that section so he could fling it away. There were still a couple of barbs in the torn flesh of Hutch's calf. They were less easy to remove, and as Starsky tried to pull them clear, Hutch made a noise and moved his head.
"Easy does it," Starsky soothed. He patted the inside of Hutch's leg, where none of the barbs had reached.
Next he worked at where the wire was in a sloped semi-circle around Hutch's right hipbone. These were a little deeper, and Hutch's facial reaction was more pinched as each barb was removed. The resulting wounds also bled more, but the bleeding was still minor enough that they started clotting within seconds.
"Makin' progress, pal," Starsky assured when the right leg was free of entrapment. "You're doin' real good."
He stepped over Hutch to kneel down at his other side. He started with Hutch's lower thigh first, because that's where the wounds were more shallow. Still, Hutch flinched when the barbs were removed, because the soft skin in that area was so sensitive.
Starsky reached up and squeezed Hutch behind the neck. "Buddy, this next part is going to be pretty uncomfortable. I'll be as fast as I can."
Hutch moved his right leg when Starsky took out the first firmly embedded barb from his left. The leg moved more with the next one. When Starsky pulled at the next one higher up, Hutch's left leg moved instead, thereby throwing off the angle of removal and cutting flesh as it was pulled away.
The blond cried out softly.
"Ah, Hutch." Starsky rubbed at his neck again. "Buddy, you got to lie real still or it'll hurt even more." With the way Hutch was slightly turned away, it wasn't possible for the blond to hang onto his partner while Starsky worked on the left leg. Impulsively, Starsky leaned over the prone from and pulled out another blanket from the basket. "Here, buddy," he said, placing it between Hutch's right hand and the blond's chest. "Take a good hold of that when it hurts. Understand?"
Feebly, Hutch pulled the blanket closer against himself.
"All right, pal, I'll try to get the rest of this as fast as I can. Just bear with me, buddy. Bear with me."
Starsky went back to work, anxious to get done. The wire was so tight around Hutch's upper thigh that he used the cutters to break off each removed piece, so he could fling it away before it had a chance to catch Hutch's skin again. Hutch squeezed the blanket and sometimes gasped as Starsky worked, but he didn't move again.
Finally, there were only three barbs left in the leg, but they were deep against Hutch's groin area. In fact, it was amazing that they'd missed his scrotum, for they were right next to it.
Starsky straightened, leaned down to his partner's head. "Hutch, buddy?" He petted at the blond's neck, then pushed his hand inside the jacket to rub at his partner's back. "Listen, pal, I'm almost done with your other leg. But to get the last few out, I'm gonna have to touch your nuts to get them out of the way. Okay?"
He wasn't sure if Hutch understood, for the other's eyes were closed. Starsky leaned closer and said, "Just don't want you to think anything's wrong with them; I just need to get them out of the way." He hesitated, then added, "Just don't want you thinkin' I'm tryin' to take advantage or anything like that."
Finally, the bare hint of a grin appeared beneath the mustache.
Starsky squeezed the nearest shoulder. "That's my buddy." He started to go back to work, then added, "It's extra important that you don't move if it hurts, Hutch." He pressed Hutch's hands against the blanket. "Just take a good hold of your blanket or scream if you want, but don't move." He squeezed Hutch's hand.
He pushed at Hutch's right leg to get it out of the way. Then he put his hand on Hutch's scrotum and gently maneuvered the pouch and cylinder beneath to one side. He mentally braced himself, then reached to grab hold of the tightly embedded wire.
He was going to have to try to follow the same angle as that of the original penetration, but the barbs were so embedded that he knew the removal was going to take some flesh with it. There was no easy way to do this. It simply had to be done.
Starsky took a firm grip on the top of the wire. He yanked downward.
Hutch screamed and lurched, his body trying to jackknife into the dirt.
It didn't matter because Starsky had made sure he yanked hard enough to pull the entire strand away before Hutch reacted. He threw it angrily into the woods.
"I got it, Hutch." He rubbed fiercely at the blond's shoulder. "I got it all. All done." His partner was taking quick, gasping breaths while holding tightly to the blanket. "Sorry about that, babe. Sorry. It's gonna be easier from here." He hoped he wasn't lying.
He also wished he could be more comforting. But with Hutch still lying facedown, and injured, Starsky could hardly pick him up and hold him.
A stream of blood oozed from the line of new wounds, and Starsky had to swallow while reminding himself that groin injuries, like head injuries, tended to bleed more excessively than their true seriousness. He rubbed and squeezed at Hutch's shoulder for a while longer, waiting until the grip on the blanket eased. "Better now? Huh, buddy?"
Hutch groaned feebly.
"Okay, Hutch," Starsky realized his own breath was short, as he'd exhausted himself with his efforts. "We're gonna get you out of here. The next thing we gotta do is get you turned over. Would you like that? Huh?"
Hutch's legs moved lazily, showing he must have understood.
"Hang on a sec." Starsky squeezed him again. "Let me get you ready first so it's as easy as possible."
He was worried about the wire Hutch was lying on, wondering how deeply embedded it was. Though under normal circumstances he would be reluctant to move Hutch until help arrived, he knew that assistance from any kind of medical personnel was unlikely at any time in the near future, because of the fire. He was going to have to do the best he could with the limited resources available.
He took the blanket from Hutch and spread it next to his partner. Then he removed his jacket from Hutch's back and leaned down to check out the bullet wound. It was thick and matted with blood, and looked very tender. Moving Hutch could start it to bleeding again. Starsky stepped over him to the basket and took out a roll of gauze. He pulled a length out across the blanket, measuring with is eyes so that it was about level to Hutch's wound.
"Hutch, we're gonna move you now. Just roll you right over to your back. I want you to use your arms and your legs, and I'm going to support your back so that you don't land too heavily on your wound. Do ya understand what I'm tellin' you?"
Hutch was shifting again. Though the insects weren't bothering him like they had before Starsky had covered him, it was obvious the blond was still just as anxious to get free of his current condition.
"Take your time, pal," Starsky soothed. He had his left hand on Hutch's far shoulder, gently pulling it back toward himself, and his right hand against his lower back. "Just roll backwards, nice and easy. I'm right here."
Hutch had moved his limbs so that they were in a position for him to push off the ground.
"On three," Starsky told him, watching Hutch breathe harder from simply preparing to move. "Roll right back on three. I'll help, okay? One...two...THREE."
He pulled sharply on Hutch's shoulder. Though his legs only made a half-hearted attempt, Hutch pushed firmly with his hands and launched himself onto his back. He made a noise between a cry and a groan, and then sucked in his breath.
"That's good, Hutch," Starsky soothed, hating the sight of tears in the other's eyes. "You did good. Now just stay right there." His voice sounded distant to his own ears, for his attention was focused upon the sight revealed. The barbs embedded below Hutch's sternum were expected. What Starsky hadn't expected to see was the blue and purple that colored the left side of his partner's face. The black eye. The series of bruises that ran down his rib cage.
Bastards, Starsky thought with gritted teeth. All because he couldn't get it up for your filthy, disgusting carcass, you lousy, slimy scumbag.
"Starsk?" The word was weak and feeble.
Starsky shook himself and leaned closer. Worriedly, Hutch said, "I--I think I'm bleeding."
Starsky looked down. Hutch had moved his hand from his groin. His fingers were covered with blood.
Starsky quickly covered his partner's lower body with a blanket. He didn't want to tend to the injuries there, since they were actually minor, when there were more important tasks to be done. He leaned close again. "Hutch?" He waited until the watery, pained eyes met his. "Listen to me, pal. You're all right." He stroked lightly at a bruised cheek, softening his voice. "You have some minor wounds in that area, but none of the important parts are injured. Hear me? Everything's fine down there."
Hutch gazed back at him a long moment, as though trying to compute the words. And then his face softened and he made the motion of a nod.
Starsky patted his cheek with his fingertips. "'Atta boy. You're gonna be fine, Hutch. Just fine." He realized, for the first time, how warm Hutch's face was and how much he was sweating.
Starsky straightened and took the ends of the gauze, which Hutch was now lying on top of. He wrapped them around Hutch's side, then pulled them tight.
Hutch choked out a brief scream and arched up.
"Sorry," the other said quickly, tying the ends of the gauze. At least that would keep the wound from bleeding further.
That done, there was one more tortuous task remaining. Starsky gazed at the embedded wire. While it was very deep from having Hutch's weight on it for so long, all the barbs had gone in at the same angle and not been manipulated by movement.
Starsky grasped both ends of the strand. He didn't give himself a chance to think about whether or not he should warn Hutch. With both hands, he pulled.
Hutch's body arched up, this time from the force of removal, and he let out a choked scream.
Starsky tossed the wire away.
"Hutch, it's okay, it's okay." He held his partner's uninjured cheek with one hand and squeezed his shoulder with the other. "It's all right now," he soothed. "That was the last one. You can rest now, pal. Just rest."
Hutch's head had collapsed back in exhaustion and tears were oozing from his eyes.
The newest wounds were bleeding, but not nearly as bad as the bullet wound or the groin injury had. Starsky decided to let them clot on their own for now, and he threw the other blanket over Hutch.
He had tormented his partner enough; now all he wanted was to make it better. He couldn't do anything more for his wounds until the woman returned with some kind of help. Starsky moved behind Hutch, then knelt down and placed his hands beneath the blond's shoulders. Slowly, stretching out his legs, he settled on the ground, and let his partner's head lie back against his lower stomach.
Starsky stroked across the other man's forehead. "It's gonna be okay, Hutch," he whispered. "I'm right here, pal. Right here." He patted his chin. "Want some water?"
"Yeah." The word was whispered.
Starsky had to stretch to reach the canteen and nearby straw. After opening it, he spent a moment washing the straw. Then he placed one end in the canteen and the other in his partner's mouth.
Hutch had to raise his head a little higher before he could sip it. Starsky shifted, helping to support him. Hutch drank a long time, and when he was through he slumped back in exhaustion.
Starsky petted his forehead and rubbed at his shoulders. "Rest, Hutch," he whispered. "Rest as much as you can."
The blond's eyes were already closed.
After ten minutes Starsky began thinking he was going to have to put Plan B into action. That would mean carrying Hutch out of here. But there was finally the sound of a car, and he saw the New Yorker come to a halt farther down the road. He noted then that the ground was less sloped there.
The woman got out and waved.
Starsky waved back as best he could without disturbing his partner. He was disappointed that no one else was with her.
As he watched, the woman pulled a long sled from the backseat of the car. She slung some rope over her shoulder and started toward them. Starsky knew that he should go to her and assist, but he didn't want to disturb Hutch's few remaining moments of peace.
Her pace slowed as she approached; she was regarding Hutch worriedly.
Starsky manufactured a smile of what he hoped was reassurance. Hutch made a quiet groaning noise, and Starsky patted him on the head.
The woman slumped in relief, and Starsky realized that Hutch had looked dead to her.
He put his hands beneath Hutch's shoulders, and carefully slid backwards, then lowered Hutch's head to the ground. "Take it easy, pal," he whispered. "I'm right here."
He stood and stepped nearer to the woman. "Can't imagine anyone having a sled around here, but it's a great idea."
"I stole it from a neighbor's garage who wasn't home. I also left a note on her door telling her we'd be bringing an injured man. I think she's just out for her daily walk, so she should be back soon."
"Wait a second," Starsky felt his head spinning, "we gotta get Hutch to a hospital."
She shook her head wearily. "I don't think that will work. For one thing, your car doesn't have much gas and I'd hate for us and him to be stranded somewhere, since the closest station is another fifteen miles. I've been to house after house, but the people aren't home, probably because they're helping with the fire. I think we should get him to my neighbor's house. At least there he'll be more comfortable and then I can take your car and see how far I get."
"Doesn't your neighbor have a car?"
"The people around here took it to help with the fire, just like all the other cars that are in operating order." She drew a breath. "I know the people around here. Hopefully, after your car runs out of gas, I can start hitchhiking and someone will pick me up. I won't be in any danger. When I get to a phone that works, I'll see what I can do about getting help." She looked down at Hutch, then back at Starsky. "How bad is he?"
"I'm not sure," Starsky admitted. "None of his injuries alone are life-threatening, but he had flies in his wounds and he's been lying in the dirt...I'm worried about infection. And shock."
"Let's get him to my neighbor's," she said. "You can get him cleaned up, at least. Hopefully, you can keep him quiet and comfortable until I'm able to send help back." She took a deep breath. "I just don't know long it'll take."
Starsky took the sled from her. "Guess we'd better get started."
"Can't imagine someone treating a cop like this," she said, her voice full of questions.
"It's a long story," Starsky said wearily, not wanting to go into it. As he helped her remove the rope from her shoulder he asked, "What's your name?"
"Dave Starsky of the Los Angeles Police Department." He knelt next to Hutch. "And this is my partner, Ken Hutchinson."
She also knelt. "Hi, Hutch," she said quietly.
Hutch's eyes were closed and he didn't respond.
Starsky squeezed his shoulder, then said, "If you think you can lift the blanket at his feet, I'll get his shoulders and we'll put him on the sled."
She nodded, positioning herself.
"Listen," Starsky said firmly, "once we lift him, don't stop until he's on the sled. Even if he screams."
She swallowed and nodded, taking a tighter grip on the cloth.
Starsky bent close to his partner and laid a hand on the unbruised side of his face. "Hutch," he said tenderly, "we're gonna lift you up and put you on something that's going to get you out of here. I want you to lie still and let us do the work. Okay?"
There was a small nod.
Starsky gathered the blanket beneath Hutch's upper body. "On three," he told Rita. "One...two...THREE." He lifted. She did, too, vocalizing the effort it took to lift even just the lower part of a fairly tall man.
Hutch was groaning, but that was the extent of his protest. He was lowered onto the sled less gently than Starsky would have liked, but he felt, finally, a sense of progress.
He took out his pocketknife. "Now the rope." He spent a few moments cutting it into necessary lengths. Then he wrapped one strand around Hutch's chest, then beneath his armpits, and attached it to the sled. He made a similar loop around the blond's ankles, securing him in place.
"Guess we're ready," Starsky said. He glanced at the basket of supplies, and she said, "I'll come back later for that."
Starsky looked up to where the car was. "This sled isn't going to fit into the backseat of the car," he just now realized, "with him lying flat on it."
"The neighbor lady I was talking about is just past the intersection of these two roads. Maybe it'll be easier on him if we just carry him on foot the whole way."
"Yeah." Starsky smiled at her. "Think you're up to it?"
She drew a deep breath. "We might have to rest a few times."
He reached near the basket and held out the gloves he'd used while cutting wire. "Put those on. It'll help you get a better grip."
She did. When they were ready, they lifted the sled together. Hutch had stayed relatively quiet through the whole preparation and Starsky was able to focus on where to put his feet so the sled was jostled as little as possible. Going up the slope to the road and trying to keep the sled from tilting were the most difficult parts, and they put the sled down, both breathing heavily, afterwards.
They had to rest once more before they came to a sizable ranch house tucked back from the road by way of a shady, tree-covered lane.
"Oh, good, she's home," Rita panted as they approached the structure. "My note has been removed from the door."
"Let's stop and you knock."
They put the sled down and Rita went up to the door. Starsky was watching Hutch, who was sweating but still quiet and had his eyes closed. There was the sound of the two women greeting each other and then talking rapidly.
Starsky felt a jolt race through him as he thought he recognized the new voice. He was just about to turn his head when he realized the neighbor had stopped talking, as well; no doubt taking in the shock of his and Hutch's identity.
For a few seconds there was silence.
Then Rita said in puzzlement, "Do you know each other?"
Feeling a need to protect Hutch from his suspicions, Starsky rose and turned fully to the house. His eyes took in the tall woman with shoulder length brown hair who stood in the doorway. He found himself thinking that she hadn't done so badly since the Fitch trial, for she looked more peaceful than he'd ever seen her.
He walked a few steps forward so Hutch couldn't hear. Then he stuttered, "M-marianne? Marianne Owens?"