Just as the interior of the van was getting lighter, Hutch moaned and struggled against his bonds. His eyes opened blearily and blankly surveyed his surroundings.
"Easy, Hutch," Starsky whispered. "We're in the back of the Slades' van. Prisoners."
"You remember the prisoner we picked up in Albuquerque? Remember his sister ambushing us at the Chinle interchange?"
"Oh yeah, I had hoped the last part was some kind of a bad dream." Hutch slumped back against the opposite wall the best he could.
"Sleeping beauty is awake," Erica called, leaning over the back of her seat. She was once more riding as Slade drove. "Hang in there, sweetie. We'll get you out of there in a little while."
"How d'ya feel, buddy?" Starsky questioned.
"I got a terrible headache, but nothing seems broken," Hutch answered, rolling his head and neck around in as near a circle as he could.
Starsky could see a thick swelling along the hairline on Hutch's temple. He was maddened again at the risk Erica took hitting Hutch there. That was the thinnest place on the skull, he thought. Hutch's cheek-bone was purplish and swelling so it had probably inadvertently taken the brunt of the blow. Thank God for thick cheek bones, Starsky thought.
"I'm hungry, Erica."
"Yeah, we should be coming to a town shortly. We'll stop at a diner if there's one open this early."
"We missed supper and those sandwiches we had in that gully ran out hours ago."
"Quit complaining. I'm doing the best I can. We'll get supplies in the next town where something is open. You know how these hick places are," Erica's voice was harsh.
The van's tires whispered against the roadway for a long interval before a few lights flashed through the cargo compartment housing the prisoners. There was a sharp turn which threw Starsky against the cuffs holding him. He nearly groaned as the truck lurched to a stop under a flickering neon sign.
"There's a place with an open sign," Erica said and leaned forward to point off to the right.
"Yeah, Mom's Home Cookin'. Sounds good to me."
"Mom was an awful cook if you remember," Erica mentioned as the van swung into a well-lit parking lot. Starsky could see a few pick-ups in the lot when Eric opened his door, but it didn't look especially busy as it shouldn't be at this time of day.
Leaning over her seat, Erica looked at the rumpled prisoners on the floor. She opened her door and slid out. Pulling the seat forward, she was then able to get into the back compartment. She fiddled with a metal box on the floor behind the driver's seat then took out a heavy roll of white bandage tape. Taking out some gauze, she began to wad it up into two nice white balls. Moving to Starsky first, she clutched his lower jaw and forced his mouth open. He gurgled a bit as she shoved the gauze in. Then she sealed his lips with the wide tape. Before the gag, his mouth had felt stuffed with cotton. Now it literally was, and it was worse than he had imagined. There was so little saliva that he could hardly manage the gauze without choking. Not caring about his distress, she moved over and began the same operation on Hutch.
Rocking back on her heels, she observed her handiwork. "Still got those leg irons, Eric?"
"Yeah, they're under one of the seats."
She reached around and finally pulled out the chains and locks. Taking the handcuff key from her pocket, she opened the locks, making sure everything worked. Then she scooted down the length of the van and attached the chains to each Starsky's legs then shortened the chains to their shortest length. When that was done to her satisfaction, she fastened the waistband to the steel struts in the walls of the van. Sliding up once more to Starsky's head, she took more of the tape and affixed Starsky's hands to the wall of the van so that he was tied firmly with little latitude.
Then she settled back against the driver's seat and took her gun from her pocket. "You go get us something to eat, Eric. I'll babysit. If our babies are especially nice, I might let them have something to drink. They don't eat just yet. They have to earn the privilege. But get about five gallons of water; we're going to need it when it gets light where we're going. There's skins to put the water in under the driver's seat." Eric felt around under his seat and found two large wineskin-like containers. They were shaped like the middle eastern goat skins used for carrying wine, but were designed for hikers who need to carry water. There was a cord for carrying and a plastic cork to seal the neck of each one.
"You fixed all right for money?"
"Yeah, I've got Detective Hutchinson's wallet and all his cash."
"Good, don't flash that shield around, though. Someone may have already missed them. We don't want any nosy local cop figuring out you ain't a Los Angeles cop."
"I'm not that dumb, Erica."
"I know you're not, sweetie. I just wanted to remind you. Sometimes you're a bit careless, though."
"Okay, okay. Shit, even my own sister doesn't trust me."
"I trust you, baby. Just go get us something to eat."
The van shifted as Eric left and slammed his door causing a reverberation in Starsky's aching skull. He was getting a splitting headache from bouncing around in the cargo hold and probably from dehydration as well. He hadn't had anything since a Pepsi sometime yesterday afternoon. Hutch was probably in worse shape. His complexion was splotchy and he hadn't said anything for a long time. Starsky was getting worried about concussions and dehydration. He had no idea what the combination would do to Hutch. He was looking forward to a drink.
He jerked when he felt a hand on his head which slipped down his neck to his chest. Erica had put away her gun and slid down next to him. It was an indication of his misery that he hadn't noticed. She was unbuttoning his shirt, baring his chest. He hadn't put on an undershirt yesterday morning, thinking of the upcoming warm day. Now he wished fervently that he had. She was pulling his chest hair then rubbing a nipple. He shivered and flinched, but he had very little play in his bindings. She opened his shirt all the way to his waist and stroked his abdomen. He sucked in his breath, abdominal muscles rippling. Then taking both hands, she began to work on his belt and the snap of his jeans. He tried to pull away from the invasion of his person, but again his bonds kept him from avoiding it.
"Nice chest, Curly," commented Erica. "Let's see what else you have hidden. Eric got a look yesterday, but I didn't."
She lowered his zipper and slipped her hand into his shorts. His genitals would have shrunk back into his body cavity if that had been possible. One hand went back to his chest while the other pulled his cock out of his jeans. She squeezed it while her other hand pinched his nipple. He was groaning beneath the gag.
Then taking both hands free, she stood up on her knees, grabbed the loosened slacks, and yanked them down to his thighs, exposing him to her avid gaze. He would have given most anything at that moment for her to go away. But she didn't. She bent her head down and nuzzled his pubic hair while reaching with one hand to his chest. Then she took his manhood into her mouth and began sucking. He had no reaction—he simply wasn't capable at the moment. In his dehydrated and exhausted condition, he probably couldn't have got it up for Marilyn Monroe, let alone this bitch who had kidnapped him.
She pulled back and grinned at him. "You'll learn one of these days, Curly. I have a lot of lessons to teach you." Then she patted his exposed body and unexpectedly viciously squeezed his balls. He stifled a whimper behind the gag. "I'll want to hear all the sounds you make, but I can't until we get where we're going. You'll love it."
The door of the van opened and Eric looked into the back. "Aah, sis, I thought you'd wait for me." He settled a large bag over the seat near Starsky's head.
"Oh, I'm waiting for you, dear. I just wanted a little bitty preview," she commented, turning her head back to her victim. "He's luscious, just luscious. I'm going to enjoy him a lot."
"Yeah, maybe I deserve a little peek at Blondie."
"Yeah, I suppose you do, but wait until we've eaten and gotten on the road. You can water them while I drive, too. I don't want to lose them too soon, you understand."
Taking a sandwich from Eric, she munched contentedly and scrutinized Starsky spread on the floor before her. Once in a while she would stroke his face, chest or genitals. She drank her coffee while she carded her fingers through his pubic bush. Then she dribbled a little of the cooling coffee on his belly and licked it off. Starsky had long since shut his eyes and tried to turn off his nerve endings—he wasn't having much luck.
He looked over her head to see the horrified stare of his partner. Hutch caught his eye and nodded encouragement then winked. It was all he could do for Starsky, but it was enough. Starsky grimaced and nearly wept, knowing that Hutch was watching his humiliation. He turned his head away and squeezed his eyes shut.
Eric started up the van and guided it out of the parking lot. It was long moments before Erica stopped her ministrations to Starsky. She leaned back against the seat and continued to look at him rather hungrily, Starsky thought.
The van lurched off the highway and came to a stop. Eric killed the engine and popped open his door, slid out, and stretched.
"My turn, Sis."
"Yeah, I'll drive for a while." She pushed the seat out of her way and reached for the door handle on her side. After the door came open, she walked out in a crouch and made way for Eric to get into her spot. Starsky could hear her walking around to the open driver's door. She got in and slammed it, jarring his head again.
"Take out their gags and give them a drink. Then you can play till we get to a town with something open. We need more stuff. I got the cabin partially stocked, but the extradition came down sooner than I had planned. And of course, I had to waste time keeping track of our would-be guests."
She started the motor while Eric leaned over and ripped the tape off Starsky's mouth. He winced as some beard and skin went with it. His tongue worked furiously to spit out the damp gauze.
Eric fiddled in the sack above his head then brought a mug up to his lips. He drank thirstily as long as Eric would allow it. It was ambrosia of the Gods—actually only water.
Then the man did the same with Hutch. Hutch brightened up with the drink. The color in his face evened out slightly and he no longer looked so dazed. He shifted the little that he could then sighed and leaned back against the rough side of the truck. Looking over at Starsky, he winked and shut his eyes. He was feeling better and so was Starsky now.
Eric watched him then began rummaging through the metal box where the gauze and tape came from.
"Oh good, Sis. You brought the toy box!"
"You know I wouldn't leave home without our toy box. But you can't use any of the toys until we get to the cabin."
"Aaw, Sis. Just a few please."
"No, love. I know how you are. We need someplace private and I have found that."
"Okay, okay," Eric conceded to his sister.
Reluctantly Eric closed the box and turned his attention to Hutch. He shuffled toward the bound man. Then he leaned closer and kissed Hutch on the lips. Hutch's head tried to turn away, but Eric held his face firmly in his hands. Hutch clamped his mouth shut, but that didn't deter Eric. Eric's one hand held the blond stubbled jaw while his other hand dipped downward. He reached into the wrinkled shirt. Without the delicacy of his sister, he simply ripped the buttons off and fondled the bare skin he found. Raising his head up, Eric slapped Hutch on the cheek.
"Open your mouth," he snarled. Hutch simply stared at him, not giving him the satisfaction of a reaction. Eric smiled briefly and said, "If that's how you want to be, fine."
He scooted down the lank frame and undid Hutch's belt then the button and zipper of the once neatly pressed trousers.
"I wouldn't get too rough down there, you might get something you don't want all over you."
"As you so elegantly put it yesterday, I need to piss."
"Oh yeah," Eric moved back to the front of the truck. He reached under one of the seats and brought out an empty beer bottle. Clutching various parts of the van, he walked back to Hutch in a crouch, carrying the bottle.
"All right. You can piss in this."
Kneeling, he finished undoing the closures of the Hutch's pants. He reached in and took out Hutch's limp penis. Starsky watched his partner shut his eyes and grimace. He knew exactly how he felt.
Eric held Hutch's penis to the neck of the bottle. "All right, copper. Fire away."
It took long moments for Hutch to relieve himself, but Starsky could see that even the indignity of pissing in a beer bottle had been worth it. Hutch almost smiled when Eric turned back to the front of the van. He handed the bottle over the seat to Erica who simply tossed it out on the pavement. Starsky thought momentarily of a cop car pulling them over for littering. It was a lovely thought, but unrealistic in this sparsely inhabited area.
Eric came back to Hutch and finished pulling his trousers down. Starsky wasn't surprised when Eric pinched, pulled and tugged on various portions of his lover's anatomy. Hutch seemed resigned to the insults to his person. He closed his eyes and didn't react even when Eric squeezed his balls tightly. Eventually Eric tired of his play with the unresponsive blond. He leaned against the front seats and glared at Hutch, his expression promising revenge.
"Gag them again," Erica said over her shoulder. "There's a town coming up in three miles. It should be late enough now that we can get the rest of what we need for the cabin."
"With pleasure, Sis."
Eric went through all the motions that his sister had earlier in the day. He checked their bindings and then lithely crawled over the top of the seats into the cab.
"Did you bring all of the equipment? I think it may take a while with Blondie."
"Yes, dear. All of Mommy's stuff and what I've added to it. Those were the first things I packed when I learned you'd been picked up. I could only hope that these two would be the ones to come for you. And we got lucky. Yeah, brother, we got real lucky."
The small town was open and busy when the van wandered down the main street. There were many pick-ups and larger trucks lining the street plus automobiles in various states of disrepair. Finally Erica pulled over under an aging elm tree.
"I saw a hardware store back there. They should have the sleeping bags and other stuff. You baby-sit this time and I'll not be gone long. Don't let them make any sound. Curly is very cooperative if you squeeze his balls a few times," she laughed as she exited the vehicle.
Eric slid over the top of the seat and perched between the two captives. He leaned forward and grabbed the genitals of both cops. "Now, you heard Erica. Not one sound. You even twitch and I may tear off your nuts for the fun of it. What we want from you two doesn't require balls." He paused and looked at Starsky, "You may think that Erica wants that from you—she doesn't."
Starsky was puzzled by Eric's comments, but couldn't say anything. His mouth was dry again and not at all helped by the gag. He started to shift slightly because a bolt was digging into his bare backside, but a warning tweak by Eric stilled his movement.
It was a long hour and by the time Erica came back Eric had started to get cute. He tugged on the vulnerable appendages and squeezed for no reason except his own pleasure at seeing one or the other of them wince. Finally he reached into the mysterious metal box and began removing some things that Starsky didn't recognize at the moment. At the bottom of the box, he came up triumphantly with a small harness. He carried it to Hutch and fitted it to his balls and cock. It stretched his balls painfully and separated them. Then Eric fitted a simple clothes pin to the end of Hutch's penis. He smiled at his handiwork.
Now he turned his attention to Starsky. With apprehension Starsky watched Eric fit some clothes pins to various portions of his anatomy. It wasn't too bad. Yeah, they pinched, but quickly the area went numb. So he endured. He was startled when Eric fitted two more to his chest, but managed not to flinch. Again, the area went numb in a hurry. So he waited and wondered about the grinning face of Eric.
The driver's door opened and a large sack came over the top of the seat then another and another. Eric took them as they came then shunted them off to the back of the cargo compartment.
Erica looked back at the Eric and his charges then grinned. "I knew you couldn't resist something like that."
Eric smiled and said, "Not much, yet. Haven't tried much but it was boring sitting here holding their dicks in my hand so I thought I'd make it more interesting for all concerned."
"Okay, leave them as they are. We need a snack. I saw a MacDonald's at the end of the street. You go in and I'll babysit." Her smile this time gave Starsky a chill. Hutch was wiggling a bit trying to get comfortable. The small tight harness around his privates was giving him some grief Starsky could tell. Of course, Hutch would never complain. He would stoically endure, not trying to prove anything, but proving his strength all the same.
The wait for Eric to return with sandwiches was mercifully short and Erica did nothing but watch her charges, occasionally smiling. As Eric entered the truck, Erica reached for her sandwich and ate it with dispatch. Eric slurped loudly on his coke, making Starsky crave anything wet. But the gag was still in place and Erica didn't seem in a rush to remove it. What she did start removing were the nearly forgotten clothes pins. It was a revelation to Starsky just how much a simple thing like a clothes pin could hurt. Then she rubbed the affected areas setting them on fire anew. She grinned.
She did the same to Hutch in turn. Hutch couldn't help flinching when she removed the ball stretcher and tight cock ring. She got finally to the clothes pin about the time the van swayed onto the highway again. Starsky banged his head painfully on a metal bar and missed Hutch's reaction to the clothes pin being taken off. But he didn't have to see it, he knew from his own experiences that it must have been excruciating.
Leaving the gags in place this time, she deftly crawled over the seats and settled down with Eric. The day continued to grow hotter and the van had no air conditioning. The metal sides heated up and became painful to the bared torsos. Eventually despite his discomfort Starsky drifted into a haze of near sleep. He never quite lost awareness of the moving van, but dozed here and there.
Hutch woke from an uncomfortable sleep with a throbbing headache, cottony mouth and a smarting cheek. His whole face ached more than he thought possible. All of it was a legacy of the gun barrel slammed across his face by Erica. His hands and feet were past aching. It didn't feel as if he had any hands and his feet were simply stubs at the end of his legs. Opening his eyes slowly, he registered his dozing partner with his jeans still around his knees. He realized that the cottony feeling in his mouth was from the gag that hadn't been removed for hours. The pain in his face came from both the blow and the distortion caused by the gauze wadded up in his mouth.
The next thing he noticed was the sizzling heat on his own bare skin from the metal plates of the van's floor. He tried to shift but the ropes that bound him allowed little freedom of movement. The truck was making a loud noise as its tires spun in loose gravel. Obviously the change in its rhythm had been what had woke him. He had been aware for quite a while that the vehicle was no longer on the highway, but on a dirt road with occasional washboards.
The van rocked forward and backward with the engine roaring. Erica, who was driving now, dropped the clutch over and over again while the motor labored.
"Sis, I thought you'd just been up here?" Eric questioned.
"I was up here four weeks ago getting our cabin ready. Then someone had the stupidity to get themselves arrested again." She popped the clutch once more. The van rocked again and seemed to sink lower. "Get out, you idiot, and push!"
Without replying, Eric hurriedly complied with his sister's orders. He left the door hanging open as he jumped to the ground and ran behind the van. Hutch could see scrub oak and pinon pines through the door. The van was sitting in a depression between a couple of low hills, Hutch thought. If he strained, he could see through the windshield and see mountains in the distance. He wasn't sure if they were in New Mexico or Arizona or where. They had been driving long enough to be well out of the state. There was a time when he came to consciousness long enough to note that they were on a twisting, climbing highway. He thought they had probably crossed a mountain pass as his ears had told him that the air pressure had changed, thus the altitude had changed. He couldn't be positive, though. The glimpse of the glittering blue sky that he had caught earlier convinced him that they were still somewhere in the region of New Mexico. He quit guessing as he heard Starsky shift. The oppressive heat was abating as the afternoon waned.
He looked over at the other man, as the van continued to rock back and forth as Erica shifted from reverse to first. He saw a question in the bruised blue eyes. He nodded, trying to confirm he was okay. Starsky seemed to relax somewhat.
Hutch regretted his mood from the previous day... Had it just been one day? Yes, he thought so. What he had been preoccupied with would be a moot point if they didn't get out of this situation. Somehow, he would like to reassure Starsky, but wasn't real sure how at the moment. Remembering the puzzled and nearly hurt looks from yesterday, he regretted his foul temper.
There was a screaming, grinding clank and other metallic noises from the motor then Erica cut the ignition, swearing under her breath.
"Shit, guess we walk from here," she muttered.
"Jesus Christ, Sis, I think you blew a rod or something," Eric said as he walked around the truck to her door.
"Well, I suppose you could have done better."
"Maybe. I sure as shit wouldn't have broke the motor. Now we're stuck out here in the middle of nowhere."
"Well, you can hike back to that little town we passed a little while ago and get something else."
"I can walk back to town—who the hell caused the engine to blow up? Sure as shit wasn't me."
"I'm telling you—you're walking back to that fucking town. I'll take the pretty boys up to the cabin." She started getting out of the truck, using the opening door to shove Eric out of her way. She turned and pushed the driver's seat forward. "Help me get this stuff out of here. Our guests can play packhorse for me."
Eric turned away and then Hutch heard him opening the double rear doors of the van. Eric reached in and began throwing out the bedrolls and other packages that he had stored there earlier.
Erica came into view with her gun in one hand while reaching into her jeans pocket with the other. She came up with the handcuff key which she tossed to Eric. "Get 'em outta there."
Eric crawled into the van and leaned over Starsky first, uncuffing his hands. It might have been a moment to make a move, but Hutch was sure Starsky's hands were as numb as his own. So he watched patiently as Eric freed Starsky's feet then came toward him. He was freed by virtue of simply cutting his ropes. Eric backed out of the van and moved carefully out of the line of fire from his sister's gun.
Starsky rubbed his wrists and did nothing else for long moments. Hutch's own manipulations of his wrists was causing a throbbing then burning sensation as nerves began to come alive. He watched as Starsky yanked the tape off his mouth then rubbed his ankles before pulling up his pants and settling his clothes. Hutch stiffly mirrored his actions—gag then pants. Every bone in his body had its own ache. It was more of an effort than he wanted to admit. There was a red haze around the fringes of his vision.
"Quit messing around and get your butts out here," Erica commanded, standing well back from the bumper.
Obediently, Starsky began scooting down toward the door. He staggered momentarily while finding his balance. Putting a hand out as he turned, he reached for Hutch who was painfully trying to stand.
Grabbing Starsky's hand, Hutch squeezed it in quick reassurance. Starsky nodded and put his shoulder under Hutch's to steady him. Holding each other was a heavenly moment in a nightmarish situation.
Erica had handed the gun over to her brother and was hurriedly loading two backpacks. Without caring about repercussions, Starsky staggered to the water bottles setting next to the nearly buried rear tire. He opened the cap and took a long swallow. Then he carried it back to Hutch. Hutch drank long and gratefully. Eric merely watched as the two men passed the water back and forth between them.
Erica raised her head, "That's enough, you two. I don't want you getting sick and puking all the way up to the cabin."
Starsky nodded his understanding and recapped the pseudo wineskin. Hutch knew he felt a hundred percent better and thought his partner looked at least that much better.
Holding up a backpack, Erica walked toward Starsky, "Turn around." Eric gestured with the gun and Starsky acquiesced. Both siblings were too alert for the moment. Starsky turned and held his arms back for the loops of the backpack. Erica let him settle it then gestured for him to tighten the straps himself which he did. She added the water bottle to his load then had Hutch put on the other backpack.
Once both were loaded she went into the back of the van and pulled out the handcuffs and leg irons. She put the cuffs on Starsky but with his hands in front of him this time. Then she fashioned handcuffs for Hutch out of the leg irons by putting the longer chain around his waist. Stepping back she admired her own handiwork for a few moments.
"All right," she said, turning to her brother. "You'd better get started back to town and get whatever kind of transportation that you can beg, borrow, or steal. Then follow this track about two miles. There'll be a big stump with a small sign on it, saying 'For Sale.' Turn left and follow the track a couple of miles. You should be able to see the cabin by then."
Grumbling under his breath, Eric wheeled around and began walking back along the tracks the van made. He made a passing kick at a stone as he left.
"Pick something with more ground clearance than this van had," Erica called out to his retreating figure. "There's a lot of rough ground between here and the cabin."
Stopping and looking rebelliously back at his sister, "Yeah, sure—work miracles, Eric." Then he kicked another rock in her direction before he started his hike once more.
She grinned at his attempt of rebelliousness then turned her attention back to the two prisoners. "Let's get started, guys."
"How about something to eat?" Starsky said. "We haven't eaten in nearly twenty-four hours."
"Nothing to eat until we get to the cabin. I said you'd have to earn your supper—hadn't planned on it being this way." She smiled coldly then raised the revolver. "Move, now."
Shrugging, Starsky turned and began walking up the trail. Hutch moved along beside him. Hutch noticed that Starsky had his fists clenched in frustration, but admired his restraint. He was usually notably lacking in it. He and Hutch walked together amicably followed by Erica. Hutch would have preferred to slip his hands under the shoulder straps of the backpack, but the way his hands were bound to his waist, it wasn't possible. He thought that Starsky was having the same difficulty.
When the terrain started to roughen, it became harder to keep his equilibrium without being able to balance with his hands. Starsky started walking closer to him. The road was still wide enough for them to walk together. When Hutch stumbled again, Starsky leaned into him, helping him regain his feet. As he was steadying him, he whispered, "Next time fall and twist your ankle—be ready." Hutch nodded, wondering what Starsky had in mind. Anything would be better than getting to the cabin and being confined again. He would choose his spot carefully. He had thought Starsky must have something up his sleeve when he was so agreeable to the backpack and no food. His partner not fighting for something to eat was not normal.
They both walked on with Hutch taking care not to stumble again too soon. He wanted to lull Erica into complacency. The ground was rugged with many large rocks and boulders barring their way. He was careful to step around them.
As the daylight started to fade, he found the spot. It was a steep incline, lined with rocks and a lot of the scrub oaks and pinon pines. He merely glanced at his partner, confident that Starsky would get his message. Looking for just the right stone, he stumbled and fell with an uncharacteristic curse. Starsky started toward him with concern in his eyes. He nearly winked then it dawned on him it was part of the plan.
Erica shoved past Starsky and said, "Get up, you bastard."
Hutch moaned, "I think I've broken my ankle. I felt something snap." He started writhing on the ground. It was all the distraction that Starsky needed. The dark-haired cop swung both his cuffed hands at her head. She heard or felt the motion and started to turn toward him. She received the brunt of his blow on her cheek and nose. Blood spurted from her broken nose as she yelped and fell back on Hutch. He grunted with the impact of her solid frame on his legs. In the moments while she was lying on the ground, whimpering and dazed, Starsky freed his hands, dropped backpack then was grappling with her for the gun. She wasn't completely unconscious, but stunned enough for him to knock the gun from her grasp. He stood back and used his foot to push her off his partner's body. She groaned and reached for her face. Starsky kicked the fallen gun off into the sage bushes beside the rutted road, while he recovered the dropped handcuff key. He still had a use for that.
Then Starsky leaned down, picked up the handcuffs, and grabbed her hands. He slid the cuff over her right wrist then roughly dragged her to her feet and shoved her toward a scrub oak. He efficiently cuffed her to a high branch without any consideration. He wasn't concerned about her comfort; she had had precious little for theirs all this time. Then he rushed back to Hutch who was still bent nearly double and clutching his ankle.
"I hope you're still faking it."
"Not entirely. Too much method acting, I guess. I seem to have twisted it a little." Hutch paused, sweat breaking out on his forehead. "All this excitement has made me light-headed, I think."
Starsky went back to his abandoned backpack. He grabbed the water bottle and hurried over to his partner who was paler than normal. He held the water to Hutch's lips while the other man drank thirstily. When Hutch had finished, Starsky took long gulps to partially quell his own thirst. Setting the bottle down carefully, he reached into his jeans and produced a handcuff key which he put to use opening the leg irons confining Hutch's hands. He smiled at his partner and ruffled the sweat-dampened blond hair. Then he wasted a few minutes simply sitting beside Hutch and holding him in a frantic embrace, covering his face with soft kisses.
"Where'd you get the key?" Hutch questioned while he allowed himself a moment to relax in Starsky's arms.
"Remember the hideout key I used to carry. Decided that traveling with a killer, it was a good idea to start it again. Hid it in my sock. Couldn't get to it until we were released in the van."
Hutch remembered Starsky's clenched fists... fists, he thought were clenched in frustration, one of which had in actuality held the handcuff key. Shifting in the welcome caress, he began to get up.
"Help me. I need to try my ankle out. I imagine it's a long way to civilization."
"Yeah, it's been hours. And I wonder where Eric is. He might have found transportation by now."
Slipping out of his shoulder straps, Hutch seized Starsky's outstretched hand. He pulled himself up, noticing another red haze in his vision. He stepped gingerly on his foot and found it painful, but not excruciating. He could walk. He wasn't sure how far. Dizziness hit him as he took another step, then staggered, reaching for Starsky almost groping blindly. Starsky led Hutch to a large boulder between two pinon pines.
"Put your head down between your knees," he said to the blond. Knowing Starsky was right, Hutch nodded and dropped his head. Starsky stood beside him and rubbed his shoulders and neck while he worried about what to do next. "We'll rest a bit before we try to find our way out of this place." Starsky glanced back at Erica. She was slumped in the branches of the scrub tree. It didn't look exactly comfortable, but he had little sympathy.
After retrieving the gun he had kicked away, he looked at it in disgust. It was a snub-nosed .38 special revolver--a lady's purse gun or an officer's hideaway gun. Checking the cylinder, he found it only contained four shells. He would never have thought of Erica of being the safety conscious-type, but obviously she was. Double action revolvers didn't usually go off if dropped or banged when the hammer rested on a live cartridge so the safety precaution wasn't really necessary. He tucked the small gun in his holster which nearly swallowed it. He walked back to the tree and looked at the woman dispassionately. Making a decision, he resolutely turned away.
Hutch was on his feet when Starsky came back, carrying both backpacks and the water bottles. He grimaced at the level of the water then set the packs down on the hard roadway. He began sorting through the assembled goods. There were down sleeping bags which he put to one side. Then he found some dried rations, some cellophane wrapped jerky, and cooking utensils. He made two piles. He kept the one rather dull pocket knife, the dried food, the jerky, and a sleeping bag. These he put on one backpack along with all the water. The rest of the supplies he decided they wouldn't need. He looked for another weapon amongst all the stuff, but didn't find any. He though that Eric had his police special. He hadn't seen Hutch's gun since the kidnapping. There was a chance there might be more weapons in the van even though he hadn't noticed any. He hadn't been in a position to give the van much of a search even with his eyes.
He looked over at Erica. He walked back to her and began searching her person. He didn't find any more weapons or even any ammunition for the .38. So he concluded, Eric definitely had the other hand gun.
When he walked back to the boulder, Hutch was trying to put on the backpack. "Forget that, Hutch. I'm wearing it first. You can relieve me later." He handed over the gun for Hutch to hold while he struggled into the metal frame of the backpack. Then taking the gun from his partner, he tried putting in his own shoulder holster and found it wasn't practical and the straps interfered with each other. Not liking it but not seeing any way around it, he shoved the gun under his belt where he could reach it easily with his left hand. The gun was unfamiliar and he wished for his own familiar weapon. It was better than nothing, however.
Damn, he was uncomfortable having only a toy gun for protection with Eric still on the loose. He'd had thoughts of ambushing Eric when he came back—probably not a good idea now, he thought, scrutinizing Hutch and considering his fire power, or lack thereof. Best to get the fuck out of here and worry about catching the bad guys when Hutch was safe. If there were other guns and ammo in the van, he'd rethink the ambush thing. Besides, the more he watched Hutch, the more he thought it would be best to get him to a hospital as quickly as possible.
"Whaddya think? Follow the road back or cut across country?" Starsky ask, having already made up his mind.
"Better stick with the road. It must go somewhere. I don't know about you, but I haven't the faintest idea where we are or how to get someplace." Hutch began limping down the road between the ruts then stopped and looked at Erica. "Should we just leave her there?" Starsky followed, scanning the horizon with trepidation.
"Yeah. I don't want to try and watch her and watch out for her brother. She should be all right." Starsky shifted the pack to a more comfortable position and started to follow his partner. "Actually I don't really care."
Gazing at the lowering sun, Hutch nodded and said, "Eric might be on his way back any time."
"We'll just have to keep a sharp eye out—and speaking of a sharp eye," Starsky pointed to a column of dust coming up the trail toward them. It was barely visible in the lengthening shadows of twilight.
"Damn, looks like we'd better cut across country," Hutch said, starting to duck between the thick, stunted trees. Starsky followed suit.
"It could be someone else," he said, following the limping blond.
"Do you really think so?"
"Naw, keep going. Let's put as much distance between him and us as possible." So much for checking out the van. Eric was between them and the van.
"We could ambush him?" Hutch countered. "He wouldn't be expecting it."
"Possibly, but you're not going to be much good in a fire-fight. I don't think you could lick a sick kitten. And I don't have enough ammunition for this gun to feel comfortable doing it alone. Let's simply get the hell out of here for now." He was futilely wishing for a handful of speed loaders.
"Right. We'll find a place to rest up and then send for the 7th cavalry." Hutch knew he wasn't going to last long. His head was killing him and the dizziness was back. He wanted to get as much space between them and the Slades as possible before he passed out.
The thick cover of the pinon pines and scrub oak would hide them for quite a while. He didn't know if the two Slades would follow them or not. Both men were puffing as dusk began to fade into night with twinkling stars appearing in the crystal clear atmosphere. Hutch was never sure how far he had gone when a large wall of darkness overtook him. He remembered vaguely hearing his name as he slid into the wall.
The blue pick-up roared up to the abandoned backpack and slid to a stop. Eric looked around worriedly then spotted his sister virtually hanging from the stunted tree. Jerking open the door of the truck, he raced to her side. She was semi-conscious with blood still sluggishly dripping from her swollen nose. Eric began searching her for the handcuff key. He went through all her pockets. He couldn't find the key. He tugged and pulled on the tree branch. It was green and flexible and he didn't have much of chance of breaking it off. So he reached for his gun. He held Erica's arm out of the way and began firing at the chain and cuff attached to the tree. The gun bucked in his hand three times before Erica started to struggle in his arms.
"Just what the fuck do you think you're doing?" she snarled as she shook off his arm that was holding her upright.
"I was trying to shoot off your handcuff," Eric answered woundedly. "It always works in the movies."
"Yeah, you and your movies! Shit, now my arm really aches," she muttered, reaching with her free hand to massage the abused wrist. "Look around and see if there's something in that truck you brought. Maybe there's a saw or something." She sagged against the tree to the distress of her brother. He reached toward her. "Get something to get me out of this, you idiot!"
Eric walked back to the blue truck. He began rummaging around behind the seat then he looked in the bed. Eventually he found a crow bar and some large pliers. There wasn't much else. He came back to the tree to find Erica worrying the tree branch. The bullets hadn't dented the hardened steel of the cuffs, but it had splintered portions of the bark. He handed the crow bar to her and took the pliers himself. Between the crow bar and pliers, they managed to split one of the weakened links on the chain. Erica sat down gratefully in the dirt beside the tree trunk. She leaned back and closed her eyes wearily.
"I suppose that the two handcuffed cops got the drop on you," Eric commented sarcastically.
"Shut up, Eric," she said, rubbing her head and gingerly touching her face. "They haven't been gone long. I heard your truck only a few minutes after they left. They can't have gone far. And Blondie is hurt. He has a concussion and a sprained ankle, I think."
"Shit, they'll follow the road back to town. It didn't take me as long as I thought it would. Stole a truck from some dumb farmer working on his fence. He even left the key in it for me. I'll bet he was puzzled when he came back and no truck."
"You hadn't sprained your ankle or been without food for 24 hours. I don't think they even took the road. They saw the dust of your truck and took off into the trees. We'll track them—no fun and games this time. We put a bullet in them this time, understand, little brother?" She pointed to the cluster of scrub oak into which Starsky and Hutch had disappeared earlier.
"Yeah, you're right."
"I might make sure the bullet I put in Curly is in the belly. I want him to take a long time dying for this," she said, gesturing to her bruised and bloodied face. "Get me a drink of water."
Eric looked around then said, "I think they took both water bottles."
"Shit! I've got to do something about my nose." She held her nose gingerly between two fingers. "I don't think it's broken, but I can't do much about finding them. I'll go on up to the cabin in the pickup and bring back some water. We only have the one gun now so I'll grab the hunting rifle and more ammunition. You look around and see if you can find them. They can't have gone far. Not far at all. Remember Blondie has a concussion and looked like he'd fall on his face any minute. I don't think that partner of his will walk off and leave him."
"Why didn't you bring more guns and stuff."
"Didn't think we'd need them. I've got an arsenal at the cabin." She began slowly walking toward the truck.
Eric helped his sister to the rusty blue pickup. She got in rather stiffly, favoring her right wrist. The remaining handcuff clinked against the shift knob as she started the vehicle and left Eric standing in the middle of the dirt path. He eyed the craggy hillside distastefully. He was a city boy and all this outdoors stuff that turned his sister on didn't do a thing for him. Taking a deep breath, he walked toward the cluster of trees. He never noticed the magnificent view back down into the valley. Due to an unusually wet spring, the wide valley was still a faint green. The darker spots of cholla and pines gave the landscape enough variety to make it interesting. The river on which the small town clung wasn't noticeable from this perspective. Eric wasn't interested in a muddy trickle of water that served as a river in this arid region.
Dragging his feet literally, Eric wandered around the trees and shrubs that were in the general direction his sister had indicated. He wasn't finding anything that he could discern which were tracks of the fugitives. The marks were there for him to read, but he didn't have the skills.