Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Starsky licked his lips and wished for a simple cup of coffee. He could do with a caffeine jolt this morning. Hutch was sitting up and staring out at the reddening sky. Then he turned to Starsky and gave him a light kiss on the lips which Starsky tried to deepen.
"We'd better get an early start before the day gets too hot," Hutch said, pulling away and slowly getting to his feet then stretching his long lean body. Starsky could almost feel the kinks as Hutch completed his mild exercise then rotated his shoulders. Not wanting to feel the discomfort for a few more minutes Starsky turned and buried his head in the soft down. Besides, he was sure the birds weren't up yet.
He must have dropped off into a light doze because the sun filtering through the open cave entrance was brighter as he groggily opened his eyes for the second time that morning. Glancing around the small chamber, he noticed that everything but the sleeping bag was packed and neatly stacked by the door. It wasn't much, but without even those slim supplies, he doubted that they would have survived in the wilderness.
He sat up then lifted his arms over his head and felt the muscles and joints pop and groan at their misuse of the past few days. Sluggishly rising from the rumpled sleeping bag, he noticed that Hutch was no where to be seen. After working a few knots from his protesting body, he leaned down to straighten and then roll the bedding. He assumed that Hutch was down washing in the spring. Wishing again for a razor, he rubbed his itching face, then picked up the sleeping bag and took it over to the metal rack of the backpack. He attached the bag to the harness provided then stooped to look out of the cave entrance. He couldn't see Hutch anywhere within sight.
There was some scrabbling behind him as he pulled back from the entrance. He saw Hutch coming from the rear of the cave and the door to the back cavern. Hutch smiled and held up something that glinted in the dim light.
"Thought our guardian angels might not mind if we took a couple of souvenirs of our stay," Hutch said as he tossed a misshapen gold coin through the air. Instinctively, Starsky grabbed it out of the air.
"I hope not. I wouldn't want those folks to think we were stealing from them." With some difficulty due to the tight fit, Starsky put the coin away in his jeans pocket. He shoved it clear to the bottom and felt a sense peace having it there. Suddenly he was sure everything was going to turn out all right. He just knew; he wasn't sure how. Weird.
"I don't think so."
"Neither do I, come to think of it," he said, touching the slight lump in the front of his jeans with gentle fingers. Hutch nodded and stowed away his coin.
Padding back to where he had left his shoes and gun the night before, Starsky began pulling them on and fastening the laces as Hutch watched.
"Have a good nap, did you?"
"Yeah, a few extra minutes are always nice," Starsky replied as he finished his laces and stuck the gun in his belt. "Anything to eat?"
"A little," Hutch said as he walked over to the small packs by the door. Starsky watched as Hutch opened a plastic bag and took out the remaining dried food. In silence, Starsky watched as Hutch carefully divided the few nuts and strips of jerky then put the fruit away for later. It wasn't much of a breakfast, his rumbling stomach told him. But he supposed it was better than nothing.
Gathering the few nuts in his hand, he popped them into his mouth. Then he took up one of the water bottles and drank from it. It was still cool from the night, but somewhat stale. He drank only enough to wash down the dry nuts. Unwrapping one of the jerky strips, he stuck it in his mouth and sucked on the spicy meat as he reached for the backpack.
"Shall we?" he clowned an elaborate bow and sweep of his hand toward the entrance.
"Certainly, m' lord," Hutch answered as he picked up the remaining supplies and led the way through the entrance. His dignity was somewhat compromised as he had to stoop nearly in half to get his lanky frame through the opening. Then he had to sit on his bottom to slide down the hill. Starsky followed in the same manner.
They both set down their burdens and wandered off to different bushes to answer the call of nature. Starsky pulled the small knife from the pack and began trying to hack through a tough, stringy yucca leaf.
"What are you doing?" Hutch questioned as he came up behind Starsky.
"Gonna try an experiment," Starsky grunted as the small blade was having difficulty with the desert plant, and he had inadvertently poked himself in the thumb with the needle-sharp point of the yucca leaf. Eventually, after more work than it was probably worth, he stood up holding a raggedly cut slender piece of the plant. Then humming to himself as he chewed on the leaf, he walked back to the pool. He squatted on the edge and then dipped the unevenly cut end into the water which he then proceeded to use to scrub his teeth. It wasn't entirely satisfactory, but better than using the tail of his filthy shirt and rubbing with his finger.
"Ah, that's better," Starsky commented as he stood up then rubbed his tongue over the somewhat cleaner teeth. "Want to try it?" he asked, holding out a limp, soggy yucca leaf.
"That's disgusting, Starsky," Hutch commented. "I'll cut my own, thank you."
Starsky shrugged and took another slice of jerky from his pants. He unwrapped it then stuck it in his mouth while watching Hutch struggle with the dull knife and resistant plant. Finally Hutch was successful and tried out the make-shift tooth brush.
"All things considered, it wasn't such a bad idea," Hutch said as he unwrapped a jerky strip.
Refilling the water bottles, they both turned back to take one last look at the cave above the spring. The Indian drawing looked faded in the bright sunlight, and the entrance to the cave seemed to have retreated farther back under the rocky overhang. Looking at each other and saying nothing, they both turned away and began walking down the gully. Climbing out of the ravine with the pack was harder than getting down it a couple of days previously. Starsky had lost track of how many days it had been since they had begun the trip from Albuquerque. He didn't worry about it. He was simply glad not to have to worry about the Slades. Once on top, he looked around to orient himself to the mountains and find the wandering telephone poles.
He pointed out the small, dark posts marching over the horizon to Hutch. Hutch shrugged and led the way down the slope in the general direction of what they hoped was civilization. They walked for hours before the poles began to grow larger. Once they stopped to share the last of the dried fruit and drink sparingly from the water bottles. The cedar and pinon pines became sparser and finally disappeared, but the telephone poles were becoming larger and more defined.
A few times they came across other signs of civilization. Twice they had to climb through barbed wire fences and saw some cows grazing in the distance. A few jack rabbits leaped out of the sage brush occasionally and in any other situation, Starsky would have been fascinated with their quick disappearance.
Once they reached the line of poles, they found a dusty road. The heat that had been so prevalent the days before seemed to have broken. The mountains behind them sported gathering thunder heads. The clouds and storm never quite made it to the plains they were traversing, but they provided respite from the glaring afternoon sun. In general Starsky thought it was at least fifteen degrees cooler than a few days ago. Something else the superstitious might attribute to the denizens of the cave.
Following the dirt road, they found the walking easier and made better time. It was late afternoon when they spotted a blue pick-up truck abandoned nose down in an arroyo. Starsky was almost sure this was the same Ford truck that had been stolen by Eric. On closer inspection, he was positive. It was puzzling as to how the truck came to be so far off the road, but the skid marks seemed to account for the accident. Obviously Eric in his haste to find help for Erica had hit the corner too fast and slid into the gully.
Starsky reached for his gun as they approached the vehicle. Motioning Hutch to take the other side, he walked carefully up to the driver's side, having removed safety from the gun and pointing it at the listing vehicle. There was no sound or movement from inside the truck so he cautiously went close enough to look through the dust covered windshield. There was no one behind the wheel, but a figure was slumped against the dash on the passenger side. By this time Hutch was quietly walking up to the passenger window. Starsky went to the driver's window, holding his gun in both hands with the barrel pointed at the sky. Hutch had to lean down to get a good look inside the cab.
"I don't think there's going to be a problem," Hutch said as he tugged on the door handle. Momentarily it seemed jammed then gave with a jerk. Hutch leaned into the hot compartment and was repulsed by the odor. He pulled away from the truck cab and went to lean on the fender, taking gulps of fresh air.
Starsky opened the door on his side shortly after covering Hutch opening the other one. He drew back as a cloud of flies hummed their annoyance at the disturbance. He saw what Hutch had seen and smelled what had caused him to pull back. It must have happened early yesterday. The body had had all day to sit in the scorching sun. Holding his breath, he took a closer look at the tableau on the front seat. Erica had fallen against the dash and was staring sightlessly at him. Now he noticed the spider web of cracks in the windshield centered in front of her head. Obviously when the truck hit the arroyo at high speed, she had been thrown into the windshield. There were a few shards of glass on the dash and on the floorboards. Of Eric, there was no sign.
Finally, Starsky pulled gratefully from the overheated interior of the truck and looked around expecting that possibly Eric had seen them coming and was hidden behind a bush or something. But there weren't any bushes to big enough to successfully hide a fully grown man. The sage in this area was hardly large enough to give cover to the rabbits and snakes.
"Couldn't have happened to a nicer person," Starsky commented as he shoved his gun back into his belt then shifted the backpack from the grooves it was making in his shoulders.
"Somehow I agree," Hutch answered. He walked back to the door and looked into the cab, searching for anything that might be useful to them. There wasn't anything he could spot. He wasn't going to shift Erica to be sure. He noticed that she had a blackened and swollen leg. So she had been snake bit, he noted.
Meantime, Starsky was sifting through the junk in the back of the truck. There was nothing of use there either. There was a tire iron, spare tire, jack, and a roll of barbed wire plus other items completely unidentifiable. The rancher this truck had been stolen from had probably been on his way to fix fence. It was encouraging that there had been someone around doing mundane tasks. Starsky hoped the man was okay and hadn't been hurt by the psycho, Eric, or his equally deadly sister.
"Guess we'd better get going," Starsky commented quietly as Hutch slammed the door of the truck and walked around the truck to stand beside him.
"Yeah, there isn't much we can do here. Wonder what happened to Eric?"
"Don't know and at this moment, I don't really care. I'm hungry and I'm tired. All I want to do is find someplace with people."
"I agree," Hutch answered and began to walk down the road that snaked among the cactus and sage bushes. Starsky followed and took a few sips from the water bottle he was carrying, noticing that Hutch was doing the same as he led the way.
The road or more accurately the set of tire tracks continued on beside the telephone poles for another mile or so Starsky estimated. Eventually they came upon a cattle guard and fence. The road continued on north—the direction they had been traveling all afternoon while the telephone poles meandered off to the east.
"What do you think?" Hutch asked him as he stopped beside the cattle guard. "Should we follow the telephone line or the road?"
"I'm not sure. This road has to go someplace."
"It could go to some pasture."
"Thanks a lot for your encouragement," Starsky commented. "Let's chance the road. If it runs out or ends in some pasture, we can come back and follow the telephone line."
"Okay," Hutch agreed and began gingerly walking the pipes that made up the cattle guard.
Starsky watched his progress then followed. They both crossed the cattle guard without incident and began to walk side-by-side down the dusty track. The sun continued its dip toward the mountains in the west until eventually they turned a brilliant pink and orange as it fell behind them. In the lengthening twilight, the two men began to think about finding a place to spend the night. Unnoticed by them, the road became more of a road and less of track. There was gravel that was crunching under their feet, and a shallow drainage ditch began to run beside the road.
As the evening turned slowly into night, Starsky began to think his feet would never be the same again. His feet were hot and tired but Hutch was still slogging along with a determined look on his face. He was watching where he was stepping in a dogged fashion. Starsky looked up at the slowly appearing stars. Then a glow on the horizon caught his eye.
"Look, Hutch," he exclaimed and pointed. Tiredly Hutch raised his head from staring at the passing earth.
In the distance, there were winking lights to be seen. Starsky wasn't sure if it was coming from a town or a ranch and at this moment, he didn't care. The artificial lights simply seemed to be a gift from the gods. Both men looked at each other and smiles broke out on their faces.
"Let's rest a few minutes, Hutch," Starsky suggested. He couldn't see Hutch clearly in the dim starlight. But if Hutch was only half as tired as he was, he was exhausted. Starsky remembered the head injury that had seemed to have nearly healed during the time spent in the cave. He remembered noticing that the swelling was now completely gone while the bruising discoloring the side of Hutch's face that morning seemed somewhat faded.
"Yeah, I could use a drink," Hutch answered, reaching for the water bottle attached to his belt. Both men took long swallows while walking to the somewhat softer shoulder of the road. They sank down and let their feet dangle into the ditch.
Starsky sat until the sharp pebbles and other irregularities of the ground began to make it uncomfortable to stay in one place. Groaning, he stood up and held down a hand to help Hutch to his feet.
"Shall we, m' lord?" he quipped, paraphrasing Hutch's words from the morning. His irrepressible sense of humor so long stifled by their circumstances reasserted itself.
Hutch smiled at the slight return to normalcy and made a shallow bow after he got to his feet. The brief rest had revitalized their energies enough for occasional conversation and speculation regarding the lights they were approaching.
It was with delight and some dismay to discover as they topped the final rise that the lights were coming from an interchange on an interstate highway. Below them, the traffic whizzed by unconcernedly as the two bedraggled men watched. The road on which they had been walking made a winding path up to the interchange and over the top of the highway. Most of the afternoon they must have been walking parallel to the highway and hadn't known it. Starsky gave a short giggle in numb relief and acknowledgment of their predicament.
With a hoarse war whoop, he began sliding down the hill toward the highway. Hutch followed more sedately with a greater respect for his body. Starsky was standing and panting beside the four-strand barbed wire fence which barricaded the right-of-way for as far as you could see when Hutch walked up beside him. With a wide grin, he put a foot on the next to bottom wire and spread the first and second wires up with his hands. It was a fairly practiced routine from their trek across the pastures that had few gates. Hutch smiled in return and crawled through the fence, only catching his shirt and jeans a few places that were easy to pull free from.
Hutch then returned the favor, noting that the barbed wire put up by the state was stretched tighter and was shinier than the rancher's barbed wire. Then Starsky was through the fence and they both turned toward the highway then walked down the barrow pit toward the interchange.
Unlike many California interstates, there wasn't a soul visible from the interchange if one didn't count the passengers of the cars zooming along on the concrete and asphalt ribbons. Starsky wondered why the interchange existed. Someone must live fairly near. He looked at the name of the interchange and received absolutely no information as it was numbered rather than named.
They walked along the shoulder and tried their luck at thumbing a ride. There was no one with enough nerve to stop for the scruffy pair. Starsky could understand why, but he was beginning to get desperate since Hutch was fading fast. His complexion had gone to ivory behind his tan with spots of red on his cheeks. Starsky told Hutch to sit down on a concrete retaining wall, and let him continue to try and flag down a car. He received no argument. Yeah, Hutch wasn't feeling very well. It was understandable. He'd done very well, hiking as far as he had through the empty ranch land.
He was getting tempted to jump out in front of a car when a white car with the distinctive globes of a police car pulled off to the shoulder with the red and white lights flashing. Holding his hands up palm out, he walked toward the obviously suspicious police officer.
It was hours later in a small, dying Colorado town that Starsky and Hutch finally got a bed, bath, and some food, not necessarily in that order. Since the Torino had finally been identified the previous day, there had been a bulletin about the missing detectives and their prisoner; hence convincing the Colorado State Patrol of their identity was much easier than they had expected. Phone calls to a frantic Captain Dobey had easily established their credentials with the Colorado State Patrol. Captain Paul Schoenberger, the commanding officer of the modest patrol office, had made them coffee. Then he'd found a few stale donuts in the lounge which he had shared with them while the calls were being put through. Hutch wolfed down the coffee and donuts with Starsky and made no comments about junk food. Dobey would be wiring them money in the morning so they could rent a car to get to Window Rock, New Mexico where the Torino now resided in the Navajo Police impound lot.
Starsky had been startled to discover that they were indeed in Colorado. He remembered they had been in Arizona when the whole nightmare had started. Thus far, Eric Slade had not been found, but a rancher who had been checking his cattle had found Erica's body late that afternoon. Obviously they had just missed being rescued hours earlier.
Both men were taken to a small hospital to be checked out in a very quiet emergency room. Outside of being very hungry and somewhat dehydrated, both were fit. Hutch's head was pronounced as nearly healed and only told to take it easy. He didn't remember to mention the ankle.
The State Patrol then took them to a rather run-down hotel after a meal at a local all-night diner. Starsky was beginning to note that the whole town looked a little run-down. The hotel had a red brick facade like most of the buildings in the downtown area. However, the town reeked of poverty--abandoned businesses with windows haphazardly boarded-up, unpainted homes with unkempt yards, and dull-eyed men staring at the intruders.
However, the hotel had clean beds and running water. Both were luxuries that the detectives had gone too long without. Neither of the big city detectives were ready to pass judgement on the life style of their hosts. They would always remember the dingy little dot on the map with fondness. It was paradise to the two men coming out of the wilderness.
Captain Schoenberger followed them up the creaking wooden stairs to their rooms. They had the whole second floor of the hotel to themselves, the night manager had told them, after the Captain had gotten him out of bed. They had two rooms with a connecting door.
Flicking on the lights, Schoenberger commented, "I imagine that this isn't exactly what you're used to in LA, but it's the best that Walsenburg can do."
"Captain, it looks like the Ritz to a couple of guys who have been spending the last few nights in a cave."
"Where exactly did you say you found this cave?" Schoenberger questioned. "I've been here quite a few years and none of the local ranchers have mentioned a cave on their land."
"Don't know if we could find it again, Cap. And it's so small that no one probably thought it was important enough to mention. It was important to us, though." Starsky evaded. He didn't want their Spanish friends bothered.
"It was pretty isolated, we think. I'd bet some of the kids around here have found it and never mentioned it to their folks," Hutch contributed as he flopped on the bed. The springs groaned with his weight, but held. "Of course, we don't exactly know the area." He was sure that no one had found it in four hundred years, but he didn't want to tell the patrolman that. They had mentioned the spring, but left out the fact that the cave was at the end of a box canyon. Perhaps that would be enough to protect it from the curious. They both hoped so.
Starsky wandered over to the connecting door to the other room and made as if he was going to go through. He stretched and yawned, making it obvious what he wanted to do.
"Guess I'll be leaving you for now. Someone will pick you up in the morning about ten and take you down to Western Union to get your money. Don't know if you can rent a car around here, but I'll check it out in the morning," Schoenberger said, taking the hint and turning with a nod of his head as he started to leave the room.
"Thanks again, Captain," Hutch said, smiling his most charming as the tall man turned and left them alone for the first time in hours. It seemed as if the good Captain was suspicious that they had left something out of their story. And they had—a couple of somethings only one of which was the gold. The other was the sexual abuse by Eric and Erica. That was something they just didn't want to talk about just yet even with each other.
Hutch rose from the bed and met his partner in the middle of the room. They kissed each other thoroughly then broke apart. "I don't know about you, but the first thing I want to do is try out that shower," Hutch said, nodding in the direction of the bathroom.
"Yeah, shall we try it out together?" Starsky said, leering at Hutch.
"No funny ideas about tonight. I don't think I could get it up for a million bucks."
"Neither do I, but it's a nice thought—showering with you and just looking at that gorgeous bod."
Hutch laughed and began stripping off his grimy clothes. Starsky did the same and at the same time had the same thought. Once they were clean, they didn't want to put on these clothes ever again—burning might be too good for them.
"We'll figure something out in the morning," Starsky said, "even if I have to drape a sheet around me to walk down to the nearest store."
"Hopefully you won't have to do that." Hutch took his turn leering at his partner.
The shower was long and messy. There were towels strewn around on the floor and hanging from the curtain. For an aging and decrepit hotel, strangely there was a lot of hot water and neither man complained.
They chose one bed to sleep in each other's arms after carefully messing up the other. Starsky stared at the ceiling for a few minutes and watched the flickering neon hotel sign make orange and red patterns on the wall. It had been another near thing for them. Perhaps they were in the wrong business. When they got back to LA, he was going to have a long talk with his partner about their future. He was certain that he couldn't survive the loss of that man and that was a chance they took every time they walked the mean streets.
"Go to sleep, Starsk," Hutch muttered and turned over to face away from the offending window.
"Yeah, it's just...," Starsky let his voice trail off into nothingness as the tug of exhaustion grabbed him while a final thought came to him. They were simply lucky to have a future to think about and plan for.
The next morning a smartly uniformed young patrolman came for them. He had discreetly knocked before entering, but they had been up for a while and had asked about getting coffee and breakfast through room service. However, the hotel didn't have anything resembling room service, but the manager had sent some coffee up from his own pot in his office. The two Los Angeles police detectives were the subject of all the morning gossip at the local diner. In typical small town fashion, there had been a lot of speculation on the kidnapping and subsequent death of one of the kidnappers. Not many people died from rattlesnake bites, but it was said that the one that had bitten the woman was a whopper. Others wondered what had happened to the brother and how he had gotten away without being found.
Holding two bundles in his arms, Officer Benton entered the room, "Cap thought you might want something else to wear. He had some clothes left from his son who was killed in Vietnam."
"Tell the Captain, thanks—many thanks," Hutch said, rising from the table, wearing only a sheet wrapped toga fashion. "We certainly didn't want to put our clothes back on," he said, gesturing at the offending pile of clothes sitting on the overstuffed chair by the window.
"I'll be downstairs when you get dressed. No rush," Officer Benton said pushing his coarse, dark hair from his eyes as he studied the two men. He had heard the story as soon as he had reported in this morning. He noted that they didn't look as bad as had been described to him, but then they had had a meal, a bath, and some sleep. He nodded and turned back through the door into the hall.
Starsky made a dive for the packages. "This is great. That Captain Schoenberger is a great guy, isn't he?"
Hutch nodded and began helping Starsky sort out underwear, socks, t-shirts and jeans. There were no shoes, but that could be easily solved after they got some money and a car.
The clothes were either too short or too long for the two detectives, but they didn't care. They were clean and carried no memories for them. Their tennis shoes would have to hold together until new ones could be bought, but that was all they recovered from the stinking pile on the chair.
Benton took them to the diner again for a hearty breakfast of steak and eggs. Again Hutch didn't protest the unhealthy food. Like Starsky, he simply ate everything that was put in front of him and asked for seconds. After breakfast, Benton took them to Western Union where Dobey was as good as his word. There was cash waiting for them as he had promised. Starsky was sure it would come out of their pay or expenses somehow, but at this point he didn't care.
Once at the small Highway Patrol office, they discovered that they would have to go to the neighboring city of Pueblo to find a rental car. It was only about fifty miles away so it wasn't much of a hardship to ride that distance with Benton in his white Patrol car. It was late in the day before they got started north. They had to sign reports then shop for clothes that fit so they could return the ones loaned to them by the Captain. After trying to reimburse the Captain for the hotel room and meals, they were told it was simple professional courtesy and that the hotel manager had said, "It was on the house." It left a nice feeling on two bruised human beings. It helped restore their faith in humanity. They had found kindness and courtesy in a small, dilapidated Colorado town, and they left Walsenburg feeling rested both mentally and physically.
In Pueblo, they found it easy to rent a car, but decided it was so late that they would stay there for the night. The larger city had a number of modern motels so they chose one at random. It was a Best Western with a pleasant if not memorable restaurant and bar. After a predictably dull, but decent meal, they adjourned to their room.
Starsky turned on the television to find with disgust there was only four channels available and one of them was public television. Flipping the switch to the TV, he noticed Hutch was smiling at him indulgently.
"I think I can get it up tonight if you're interested," Hutch said, walking across the room to study his partner's face backlit by the light from the bathroom.
"Me, too," Starsky answered, and began to tug on the new shirt Hutch was wearing. They tumbled to the king-sized bed and began fondling each other. Running his hands under Hutch's shirt, Starsky didn't like the feel of so many ribs but it didn't stop him from loving the feel of the velvet skin or stroking it gently.
Hutch was laving Starsky's neck with kisses and then small bites. It was a long time before either of them surfaced long enough to remove their clothes. Starsky ran soft fingers over an erection that threatened the seams of Hutch's jeans. Hutch was returning the favor and Starsky writhed with passion.
The lack of television wasn't thought about the rest of the night as each one became reacquainted with the other's body. To Starsky, it seemed to have been an eternity since that evening in a hotel in Albuquerque.
Hutch finally managed to shed all of his clothes and Starsky's jeans were around his knees as Hutch sucked and licked Starsky's manhood. Turning on the huge bed, Starsky was able to return the favor. Neither lasted long the first time nor did they want to draw it out. This was for a reaffirmation of life which they had come close to losing.
As they began shifting in the bed in preparation to actually sleep between the sheets, Starsky pulled away and looked at his partner. "There's something I want to know, and I want to know the truth."
"What is it, buddy?" Hutch looked at his partner with a puzzled look. He was unable to figure out what might be bothering Starsky now. The lovemaking had been wonderful and he was relaxed enough to sleep for a week.
"You know, back in Albuquerque—uhhh...," Starsky hesitated and looked through his long lashes at Hutch. Hutch still had a puzzled look on his face.
"Albuquerque? I don't understand...," Hutch said, shaking his head. "It's late, Starsky, and I want to get an early start tomorrow. According to the map, we can make Window Rock without having to stop over if we leave early enough."
"Yeah, I know—but this is important. Or at least it was important a few days ago. Whatever was wrong with you was important enough that you brooded all across half of New Mexico and into Arizona."
Hutch still looked puzzled, and he wasn't faking it. "Brooding... I was brooding...."
"You wouldn't speak except in monosyllables. You were nicer to Slade than to me—what exactly was bugging you? I really want to know."
There was dawning comprehension on Hutch's face. He looked around the room, anywhere but at Starsky.
"Now, you remember. Tell me—what was it? What did I do?"
"Starsk, you didn't do anything. It was me. You know how I get. Sometimes I think too much." Hutch paused and continued to let his eyes wander around the room.
"So what was it?"
"I...I don't think it's all that important now," Hutch stammered.
"If it was important enough to make us careless with Slade, then I'd better know," Starsky stated firmly. "It could be worse the next time you decide to pout or whatever you were doing."
"I wasn't pouting—was I?"
"Sure seemed like it to me," Starsky said, studying Hutch's face. There was no deceit to be found, only uneasiness.
"Okay," Hutch murmured, "but I don't know how to tell you this. It seems so stupid now after all that has happened to us."
"Tell me," Starsky said quietly. "You know there's nothing you can't tell me. If you can't tell me, who can you tell?"
"No one. Only you. But..." Hutch sighed then stood up and began pacing the room. Starsky waited and watched patiently. There was nothing Hutch could tell him that would upset him except maybe that he wanted out of their relationship... Shit, was that it? It couldn't be, could it? His mind was frantically searching for clues that he had missed that Hutch was bored or uneasy with their relationship. He couldn't remember any, but that didn't mean anything after the trauma they had been through. He might have forgotten his own name if Hutch hadn't continued to use it.
Hutch turned to face his lover and best friend. He saw the panic and fear written there as though in letters ten feet tall.
"Starsk—" They both started speaking at the same time. Hutch went to sit on the bed beside Starsky. He wrapped his arms around the figure that suddenly seemed to huddle and draw into itself.
"Starsk, it's just a bit embarrassing that's all."
Starsky looked up at the concerned blue eyes and frowning face of Hutch.
"So tell me...tell me what was so embarrassing that you couldn't tell me in Albuquerque."
"All right," Hutch smiled and then continued. "It's embarrassing and a little uncomfortable, considering the past week." He stopped again only to be nudged in the ribs by Starsky as he shifted on the bed to get a better view of Hutch.
"I wanted to ask you if I could tie you up or handcuff you or something... sometime." Hutch ducked his head. "I sort of lost my taste for it in that van, and it slipped my mind until just a few minutes ago." Hutch was afraid of the reaction from Starsky. He felt the bed shift, but he couldn't look up and see the horrified reaction of his partner. Then he heard a giggle.
"Oh god, I thought you wanted out of our relationship or something drastic," Starsky hiccupped and giggled again. "That's what I thought then and what was bothering me tonight—that you were bored with me and wanted out. Or that you'd found the right woman—or something really important."
"Damn it, Starsky! I didn't want to tell you in case you were going to be upset at something kinky like that."
"Where did you get the idea?" Starsky studied the bowed head. He reached out to stroke the fine strands of blond hair that curled on Hutch's neck.
"From one of those magazines that you brought home from the gay bookstore a couple of weeks ago." Hutch raised his head and looked into the deep blue eyes. Eyes that were sparkling with mirth not horror.
"You know, I had some idea of asking you the same thing and couldn't bring it up. But why did you act so funny in Albuquerque?"
"I nearly asked you that night—then I lost my nerve. Now after the Slades, I don't think it's such a sexy idea, do you?"
"Not at the moment. But you might ask me in a few weeks or months," Starsky said, taking Hutch by the shoulders and turning him so he could see his face. "I love you and anything you want to try is okay by me—as long as you want to try it with me. Don't let your Midwestern, Puritan ethics get between us again, okay?" Taking Hutch into his arms, he buried his face in Hutch's neck.
Hutch took Starsky's face in his hands, turned it toward him, and kissed Starsky lightly on the lips. "Is it okay now?"
"Yeah, only next time you think up something kinky, let me in on the fantasy." Starsky snuggled a little closer to Hutch, feeling wonderfully comforted and loved.
"Right." Hutch pushed Starsky down on the bed and kissed him thoroughly and deeply. "Let's get some rest now so we can make Window Rock tomorrow and pick up a certain Red Tomato that I know has been pining away for you."
Starsky smiled and shifted so they both could get under the covers.
Two Months later:
Walking into the squad room, Starsky saw Hutch reading a sheaf of papers and the door to Dobey's office closed. He was more than a little late for work and expected Dobey to be waiting for him with fire in his eyes. Hutch glanced up and nodded to him then handed the papers to him as he rose from his chair.
"Slade was picked up in Denver yesterday," Hutch said as Starsky scanned the paper.
"Will wonders never cease," Starsky commented, putting the papers down on the desk in front of him. "How'd he get to Denver?"
"He was picked up on the Interstate and some nice accommodating motorist took him all the way to Denver."
"Great! I remember trying and trying to get anybody to stop for us."
"You gotta admit that we didn't exactly look like a good risk," Hutch said. "Read the rest of it." Hutch shoved the papers back across the desk then sank back into his seat. He watched Starsky's face as he read the report of the arrest. His face went from neutral to incredulous as his eyes moved down the paper.
"This is nothing if not spooky," he commented and fingered the coin on a leather thong around his neck. "It says here that he was forced off the road where Erica was killed by a priest in a long black robe, and the priest was carrying this long pole with a cross on top of it."
Starsky's eyes moved on down the page then he exclaimed, "Shit, it says he has been haunted by this priest all this time." He looked up at his partner, "What do you think of all this?"
"Starsky, I don't know what to think. I know we saw the skeletons and the gold. That's the proof of it," he pointed at the gold coin dangling from Starsky's neck. "I can't account for how fast I healed. I still think that the rest and rehydrating had a lot to do with most, if not all, of it. This is probably a figment of Slade's imagination. He probably was driving too fast and killed his sister. Mentally he just couldn't take it and had to blame it on some outside force."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Starsky said, still fingering the gold coin. "He also says that Erica did the killing, and he was accused because of their resemblance."
"Now I might believe that. She seemed the deadlier of the two. He seemed like a clown some of the time—not all of it, you understand." Hutch was thinking about the few hours he had been at the mercy of Eric and his assault. Certainly it had never developed into anything particularly unbearable, but occasionally it still bothered Hutch as he knew Erica's invasion of Starsky's person bothered him in the forms of nightmares.
The door to Dobey's office swung open, "Starsky, nice to see you finally decided to grace us with your presence." The Captain paused, "Don't suppose you two would like an all-expense, paid trip to Denver?"
Hutch looked at Starsky who rolled his eyes, began gathering up files, and headed for his typewriter.
"Cap, we have so many open files and reports—it just doesn't seem right to deprive some other officers that have their case load more caught up than we do of a trip to Denver."
Dobey grinned, "Thought you might say that. I've assigned Jackson and Billings to make the trip." The grin fled his face. "Get started on that report on the Davison homicide—I want it on my desk before you leave today."
"Yes, Captain," both men chorused, turning to their desks and sliding forms into the typewriters.