The Tao Of Starsky

Tao — The way to be followed, the right conduct, doctrine or method. (Oxford English Dictionary).

Chapter 1

There are some days when you really wish you hadn't bothered.

And then again there are some where you're just thankful to wake up.

Six months ago I had a whole bunch of those days when I was thankful to wake up. Six months ago I got in the way of some machine gun fire. Not the most comfortable experience in the world and not one I'd recommend. Don't try that one at home folks.

As I lay on the ground immediately afterwards, I could hear Hutch's cannon blowing off at the black and white that'd ambushed us, then his running footsteps as he came round the front of the car and saw me. My poor car! It took the same number of bullets I did. They smashed through the back windows, the side panels, and the front wing. Oh and they smashed through me too. I remember lying on the ground thinking crap what's this all about? And the pain. I've never known anything like it. It was white hot pain that seemed to smother me in tidal waves of colour. Then things got a bit fuzzy. There were doctors, nurses, needles, blood. Then more of the same and then silence and darkness for a while. Which was kinda nice coz by then I was real sick of all the attention. I've always found it scary to be in a place where I can't do nothin'; Where I'm not in charge of the situation. Guess that's why I enjoy bein' a cop. But to be there, knowin' what was goin' on an' not being' able to do anythin' was the scariest thing I've ever been through, and believe me; I've been through some scary shit. I could hear everyone shoutin'. I could feel Hutch's hand on me, tellin' me I was goin' to be OK and yellin' at the medics. I could hear 'em talking about bleeding out 'n' stuff, but I couldn't answer, my voice wouldn't work. I couldn't open my eyes even. Just kinda lay there on the ground like a dope wishin' I could tell Hutch I was still there with him.

Anyway, somewhere in the middle of the first week, my heart decided enough was enough and just kinda gave out. That was a whole new kind of scary. I'd never really held with the notion of floating above your body and the whole staring down a white tunnel thing. Didn't do it for me then an' it still don't. There was no angel at the end of a white tunnel, no voice telling me to 'walk into the light David', just a cold fear coz my chest felt empty. I never realised that you really do feel your heart beating unconsciously. It's only when it stops that you realise what it'd been doin' all those years. All I remember is feeling like a herd of elephants had made their home in my chest. Then the whole breathing thing became a bit of an issue, then there was this sadist of a doctor electrocutin' me. God that hurt.

Somewhere in among the memories I remember feeling sorry I wouldn't see Hutch again and feeling too tired to go on. That was it really. Not that I didn't want to live any more, just that I felt so damn tired. Then I kinda saw him in my head an' he was shoutin' at me. Couldn't tell what he was sayin' but it seemed important, so I thought I'd better find out. If I hadn't he would've been mad. I hate it when Hutch is mad at me. I feel like a little school kid and boy can the blond sulk! So I listened extra hard an' next thing I remember I was back, still hurtin' an' everyone was saying what a miracle I was.

Not to put too fine a point on it, there was no miracle to it. Hutch shouted an' I answered. End of story. I've been with him so long that if ya kick Hutch, I limp. So, there I was watching the Blintz do jigs with my nurse in my room an' me snuggled down in my bed tryin' to sleep.

Then five months ago, I was real glad to wake up an' breathe on my own. After tryin' my best to get better, I got this pneumonia thing an' ended up back on one of those shit awful respirators. Ya ever had one of those? No? Well don't bother. Evil doesn't come close! They all kept sayin' not to fight the machine. Well you try not to fight when you've got a tube the size of the Grand Canyon rammed down your throat and a pump inflatin' sore lungs when you don't want to breathe. Finally they realised I'd do better without it an' I had the equally enjoyable experience of having the Grand Canyon ripped out of my throat — terrific. I got worried for Hutch too coz he was with me every day an' lookin' more an' more tired, but at least without the tube I could kinda rasp at him. Not that I didn't appreciate him bein' there. Ma came down from New York as well, but ya can get too much Mom now an' again, an' if Hutch did nothing else, at least he took Ma away once in a while.

Anyway, once I could breath on my own again, a new form of torture was invented. It came in the form of a sweet little girl called Jean. She was tiny, slim with bubbly blond hair. And she had the best ability to dispense pain and misery I've ever known. Went by the name of a physiotherapist. She got me movin' again, which was something I both wanted and didn't want. I didn't want to move coz the pain was so bad it made me cry. An' I don't cry easy. But I knew I had to move for Hutch.

Ya see, I've worked with Hutch all my police life. We went to the police academy together then patrolled in a black and white for a while. Then within 3 months of each other we made Detective. After that we were kinda inseparable. But after I got shot, he had to go back to work without me. Captain Dobey had been real good about it and gave him time off when I was at my worst, but he had to go back some time. It was just like Hutch. He refused another partner, so he was stuck doin' grunt work behind a desk. Which is why I had to grit my teeth an' get back movin' again.

One of the doctors told me I'd never go back to policing the streets again. Well, anyone who knows David Starsky knows I never take news like that without a struggle. Which is why for the past sixteen weeks I've been in the gym every day sweating and gritting my teeth.

Four months ago, I started walkin' again. I've always kinda taken that for granted, but I'd been flat on my back in a hospital bed for seven weeks and it was scary how such a short time could make me forget how to put one stupid foot in front of another. I soon remembered. I was wobblin' all over the place to begin with and Jean couldn't hold me up. I'm a tall guy an' she's such a little girl, so Hutch stepped in and held me up while I doddered all over the place. I'm glad he was there too, coz there's only Hutch I'd ever tell just how much it really hurt. Then came the exercises for my arm and chest.

I have one big scar at the front. And when I say big, I mean big. It starts in the centre at the top of my chest and goes down in a straight line, then branches out under my ribs left an' right, like an upside down Y. Docs did a good job of keepin' it neat, but I wont be goin' sunbathin' for a while. There's the holes from the drains too. Weird little things they are now they're healed. Skinned over fine, but there's like emptiness behind 'em. Kinda fun pushin' in an' feeling emptiness. Don't want to scare everyone away with the sight though. Fortunately I'm not like the hairless Blintz, and now the dark brown fuzz on my chest has grown back properly, some of it's hidden. But I digress. D'ya like that word — digress? Not the usual Starsky vocabulary huh? That's what comes of a few weeks in bed readin' back copies of Readers' Digest. So — I digress.

The docs told me that of the three bullets, the central one missed my spine by a centimetre or two an' punctured my diaphragm, so I couldn't breathe properly. They stuck that hole back together again no problem. The lower bullet smashed through my liver, so I only got half of one now. But the docs say some of it'll grown back — neat eh? It took out some of my guts too, which isn't much fun, but ya get over it. Again, not too big a deal really. But the top bullet. That was a real doozy. Clipped my heart, ripped through my lung an' out the other side. I got three neat holes on my back. That's the deal ya know. Bullets make little holes goin' in and big nasty ones on their way out.

So Jean started work on those. I'm left handed which for some reason has always been a source of amusement for Blondie. The top bullet ripped a whole bunch of muscle away too, so for a while I couldn't use my left hand or lift my left arm. Not good for firing my Beretta, but we worked on it, along with the whole breathin' thing. Some stupid little tube with a ball in it. 'Blow into the tube Dave and keep the ball in the middle' Jean would say. Sounds easy? Yeah, I thought so too. But when one lung doesn't like to work any more it's not what you'd call fun. Then one day I did it. Terrific! Never thought I'd get excited about a stupid ball in a tube.

Three months ago, I could walk on my own and even get up a few steps without chucking my guts up at the top. A big improvement! Then I got an infection and took a few backward steps. But Hutch was there again and together we got through it, although it hurt. God, it hurt so much when those sweet nurses had to clear out the crud from my scar. So now I got a neat scar everywhere 'cept just over where my liver is. Then it's a mess coz it opened up and.......Anyway. The infection went away again.

And now today, I'm home. Have been for three months and I can't describe how good it feels. Hutch has taken some more time off. Well, really he's just brought a bunch of work here with him. He's moved in again an' I've bought him a proper bed so his back won't hurt too much. Wouldn't do for us both to be injured, now would it? I can walk OK now and I've even been joggin' a bit round the park with Hutch, but nowhere near how I used to be, but it's getting' there. I can do a couple of miles now, and the weight training is going OK. But I will get there, I know I will. I went down to the firing range a couple of months ago and even managed a few rounds with the Beretta. It felt good to have it back again. It's always been like an extension of me, kinda comforting when I'm in a tricky situation. It felt good for about five minutes till the recoil started setting my chest achin' I didn't tell Hutch. He just looked so proud of me an' I could almost see him counting down the days till I'm passed fit for the streets again. Since then I've been down to the range every couple o' days and getting stronger an' stronger.

Anyway, like I said, there are days when you wish you hadn't bothered, an' I think today's gonna be one of 'em.

I had a phone call this morning from a guy called Sam O'Connor. I hadn't heard from him in years. I served in the army in 'Nam with him. Anyway, after the pleasantries, he told me another old friend of mine was in trouble. Tom Trafford, Traff to his friends. He'd gone missing. He'd been away in Buenos Aires on a job for the army — he's a soldier — but he'd just gone missing. 'Cept yesterday, Sam got a message in the post from Traff, just sayin' he couldn't get out, he was in trouble an' get Curly — that's me.

Chapter 2

'So that's as much as I know' I said to Hutch after I'd told him about Sam's telephone call.

Hutch knew Traff. We'd had a little incident with a couple of guys called Grice and DeMaine last year. Grice was laundering money for DeMaine's illegal immigrants. He owed DeMaine a whole lot of money, so DeMaine had kidnapped his daughter. Now, the thing with bein' on the wrong side of the law is ya can't really go to the police when you're in trouble. So he persuaded me to help.

When I say persuaded, I mean he kidnapped me, got his two goons to rough me up a bit, then wired me up with about 10lbs of C4 explosive and set a timer for 24 hours. There's something about a time limit that really concentrates the mind.

Anyway, Hutch found DeMaine in time and got the combination of the harness with the C4 on it. I'd gone off to be a hero an' blow up all on my own, so he rang Traff and together they found me on the beach up north. To say I didn't want them anywhere near me was an understatement. So Traff did the only thing he could do to keep me from getting' hurt - he slugged me one on the jaw an' knocked me out, an' the next thing I remember is waking up with a raging headache but no bomb.

'Why'd he go to Buenos Aires?' Hutch asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. 'Dunno. But if it's anythin' to do with Traff's work it'll be classified anyway. Sam said he'd been gone a while — about a month. His unit hadn't heard anythin' from him. But that's not unusual. But then Sam got this note askin' him to get Curly. He wouldn't do that unless he was in trouble.

'Can't his unit get to him?' Hutch is usually the more perceptive of our team, but he knows zip about army stuff, so I had to explain.

'Ya know what's goin' on in Argentina at the moment?' I asked.

He shook his head. 'Beef steaks and Llama wool?'

'Well apart from food and fashion. Peron had another stab at power in the late sixties, but it didn't work out. Now they've got some guy called General Jorge Videla as President. He's the guy who was in charge of their army when the three armed forces got together to take over the running of the country. They voted Videla in an' he starts throwing his weight about'.

Hutch nodded. 'I remember something about that now. Not the most popular person in the whole wide world is he?'

I shook my head. 'No, except with the army, air force and navy. He's shared power, money and land out between 'em all an' left nothing for the ordinary folks. Inflations at an all time high, but he won't listen to reason, just makes more an' more rules. There are rumours that he's set up some kind of martial law. Anyone who does or says anything against him, his military, or the Catholic Church is likely to disappear. No one knows where they go, but they never come back'.

Light dawned in those ice blue eyes. 'So they can't send more military down to look for Traff coz the administration down there won't take kindly to it'.

'Exactly, they'd all just disappear like Traff. Which is why Traff asked for me? An' with me comes thee. We need to talk to Dobey, although how they'll take to a Jew and a Presbyterian in Catholic Argentina I'm not sure'.

Hutch looked doubtful. 'Now hold on a minute partner. You aren't even back at work full time yet and you definitely aren't up to saving an old army friend. There's got to be someone else'.

I gave him one of my looks. The one he says is half way between a puppy dog and a shark. The one that says "stuff you partner, I'm gonna do this". Hutch had seen it before an' he was kinda resigned to it. I saw him heave a big sigh. 'OK, your car or mine?'

I gave him the other look. The one that says "I'll drive in his car when hell freezes over" and reached for my keys. I also reached for my holster and put that on. It felt good if a little roomy. Still got a few pounds to put back on yet. I saw Hutch's eyebrows hitch up as he watched.

'Hey partner' I said softly. 'I gotta do this for Traff. After all he did for me it's the least I can do. If ya don't want to....'

He cut me off. 'I like him too Starsk. Just not sure if you're ready for this. I nearly lost ya six months ago,. S'not something I want to do too often. Don't think my nerves'd stand it'.

I pulled a rumpled sheet out from the pocket of my new leather jacket and unfolded it to show him. It was the firing range sheet from the day before. I'd excelled myself and had fired all 15 rounds from the Beretta into the black bull of the target. All fired left handed. All fired within 1 minute. The ache afterwards had nearly reduced me to tears, but I was ready.

Hutch let out a low whistle. 'Jeez, Starsky, that's good'. He set off for the door. 'Who'd ya buy it off?'

I swatted him as he passed and followed him down the steps and round to my car. As a surprise for me after Gunther, Hutch had taken my Torino round to Merle's autos and the Earl had worked his magic on it. Unlike me, there were no scars to show where the bullets had landed. My beautiful red auto was back in top form.

We drove in silence for a little while. I was thinking all the time about Traff. It wasn't like him to take chances. He was a Major in the bomb disposal unit. He just didn't take chances. If you did in his line of business you didn't live very long. So what the hell had happened to him? If Sam and his unit didn't know, it couldn't be very good. I'd do everything in my power to help him an' I knew Hutch would too.

I drove to the Metro automatically. Ya know that kind of thing, where you go through a light like you've done every day for years, then wonder if it really was green? Well that was how I drove, my mind going back over the conversation and what was and wasn't said. We arrived in one piece an' I parked in my usual spot right outside the steps. Funny, I've always parked there even though it's supposed to be reserved for visitors. An' when I wasn't around all those months, Hutch said no one else parked in the space. Weird huh?

We made our way up to the squad room. I'd been back working a part of every day for a while now, just to get back into it an' catch up. New flakes arrive; old flakes get out a jail 'n' set up shop again. If ya don't keep up to date, it can catch up with you. So, I'd been desk bound, itchin' to get back out on the street with Blondie. Looked like now I might get a piece of the action, if only Dobey would agree.

When we appeared at the door to his office he kinda growled at us. That's Dobey bein' nice and' we went in and sat down. I always sit on the chair 'n' Hutch sorta perches on the arm. Comes natural.

'So what's so hell fire urgent?' Dobey said as we stared across his desk at him. That's what I like about our boss. He's direct.

I can be just as direct, so I stared back at him. 'I got a phone call from an old army buddy. He said Traff had sent a message to him askin' him to get Curly. Traff's in Buenos Aires and he's in trouble Cap, and I need to help him'. I gave him my best pleading look.

'Just what sort of trouble?' he rumbled. That's the other thing about Dobey. You'll never catch him out. He goes straight to the heart of the matter and worries it and chews at it like a little terrier dog. So, no point dancing round the issue.

I shrugged my shoulders. 'I dunno, but I do know it must be somethin' his own men can't help with, otherwise he'd never have asked for me. We go back a long way. He knows what I can do and he knows Hutch. We just need to get down to Buenos Aires and find him'.

Dobey turned to Hutch, knowing he was the one with the cooler temper. Hutch'll always be the one to sit back an' look at things objectively. But he didn't reckon on the fact that Traff had helped us both out last year. That had hooked Hutch and he was bein' as subjective as me. We both liked Traff and we both wanted to help him.

'Hutchinson, what ya want to do?'

Hutch nodded at me. 'We both need to find him Cap' he explained. 'He wouldn't just ask for Starsky out of the blue. There must be a reason. We just gotta find what the reason is and get him back'.

'How long do you need?'

Hutch looked at me and I looked back, silently calculating. We do a lot of that, me an' Hutch. People often wonder about us. We seem to be able to read each others thoughts sometimes. We have a connection. I've heard some people asking if we're gay. No way Jose. We've just worked together a long time in some pretty intense shit an' its easier if ya know what the others thinking.

So we both came up with the same time scale. Two weeks.

'If we don't find him in two weeks we won't find him at all' I said with confidence.

Dobey stopped to consider, wiping his handkerchief over his face. I could almost see the cogs whirring away inside his head, considering all the options.

'Can't give you any protection in South America' he said finally.

We nodded. We knew that.

'You can't go as cops. The military junta won't take that too kindly, so you'll just be two ordinary guys. If Traff's unit can't help him, they won't be able to help you either'.

We knew that too. 'We just need to know you'll send someone to look for us at the end of two weeks if ya don't hear from us. We aren't expecting any trouble' Hutch said.

Dobey chuckled. 'Trouble and you two go hand in hand. Might as well put it in my diary now'

'Is that a yes then?' I asked.

He gave us that look that says "get out of here before I change my mind" as we headed for the door. As we got though it, I heard Dobey's voice shout

'An' don't slam the door'.

I slammed it anyway. Always like to keep the boss on his toes.

On our way out Hutch said 'Do you know what we've let ourselves in for?'

I shook my head. Course I didn't, but we could work it out as we went.

Chapter 3.

The first thing I needed to do was to see Sam and get any more information on Traff and what he'd been doin'. I hadn't seen Traff since the incident last year although we'd spoken a couple of times on the phone. Our friendship's like that. We can go without meeting for months or years, then when we do talk, we pick up the conversation as if we'd never left it. Next to Hutch, Traff is probably my best friend on earth. Just like me an' Hutch, Traff an' me saw some heavy shit in 'Nam. Stuff I'd rather forget about, the stuff that gave me nightmares for years after I'd left the Army. Stuff like that will carve out a friendship, or set one man against another. For me an' Traff, it made us real close.

'Need to go see Sam' I told Hutch as he followed me down to the car. 'I need to find out exactly what's been goin' on and what the current situation is in Buenos Aires'. I stopped when I saw the smile on Blondie's face.

'What's got you so amused?' I asked.

'You' he said. 'You're back in full army mode. Just takes a bit of getting used to. Took me long enough to get my head round you bein' a Major. You never show any signs of army life, an' what it did to ya till you're in contact with one of your 'Nam buddies. I feel like I don't know you. Like I need to find out more to understand'.

I thought about it. What had the army done to me? Well, it robbed me of about 3 years of life, let me see the world — and by that I mean I got to see rain, rain and more rain in rice fields in a godforsaken corner of the planet I'd rather forget, an' it gave me a friend like Traff. Oh, and it made me tidy.

We got into my car. 'So what d'ya want to know?' I asked, knowing what was coming an' dreadin' it.

'What really happened to you out there? I've seen you when you've had a nightmare, or been feverish, an' ya always start shoutin' an' bawlin' about stuff that happened back then, but most of it's incomprehensible. If we're gonna do this, I need to understand what went on. What made you close to Traff. What crap you went through'.

I took a deep breath. I'd kept it all bottled up for so long. Thing is once I was out of the Army, there was no way I wanted anything more to do with it. I'd kinda hinted at some of the stuff a couple of years ago when I ran into Sharpe, my old CO. He'd got me to go to Guatemala on the pretext of sorting out some murders in his battalion. Not what he wanted at all. But that's anther story. That was the first time Hutch knew my rank an' what I did. I think it surprised him. So now he wanted it all. I couldn't really blame him. He was goin' to do this with me, so it seemed only fair.

'Do you want it sugar coated or the full version?' I asked, tryin' to keep it light.

'Whatever's easiest for you Gordo' he replied, settling himself down into the black leather upholstery of my car. Looked like he was in for the long haul.

Where do you begin? How do ya sum up three years of life in a single story? I paused a minute, tryin' to get things in order. Tryin' to remember what I'd told him before to save time. OK just go for it I thought.

'I told ya I got drafted and for some reason got singled out to train away on the Mexican border?' He nodded. Sure he knew that much. He also knew I'd worked in anti-interrogation stuff. He knew I'd been a POW too, so what else to tell him?

'Did you know the average age of the soldiers in 'Nam was 19? That's why I made Major so young. I was 22 by then. I'd done a few missions, but we were told we had to go get this senator's son from the camp at Nah Am. I went in with three others. Everythin' was goin' fine till we were ambushed and taken prisoner. We were held together to begin with an' they'd come for us in turn. Wasn't much fun sitting waitin', then one of us come back all banged up, but we managed the first month like that, then they started getting' nasty.

One of my men, John was only about 19, but good at his job. Anyway, they singled him out and gave him hell. Beatings, electricity, water treatment, the works. Then they broke both his legs. Just came into the cell and held us all back against the bars while they took a big hammer to him. Not just one break, his legs were pulp by the time they'd finished. He didn't live long after that. I was his commanding officer and to see someone go through that and not be able to do fuck all about it. God, it tears me up still'.

I paused a moment, collecting myself. I knew my voice had cracked and it was difficult enough for Hutch to listen to without me getting all soapy. But hey, he wanted this. I took another deep breath and went on.

'After that they picked us off one at a time, always making sure I knew what was happening, always making sure I watched. Then there was only me left. I'd watched 'em torture and kill all three of my men and by that time I was ready to join 'em. They'd kept me without food and water for so long I thought I'd die anyway. They'd give me just enough to keep going. Then they started on me. First they'd wait till I was nearly passing out from hunger then set up a feast just outside my cell. I had to stand to attention an' watch 'em, eat. If I fell over or passed out, they'd stand me up against the side of the cell and use me as a punchbag'.

'When that didn't work an' I still wouldn't tell 'em why we were there, they took to giving me a manicure an' pedicure. Took my nails off two at a time. Ten days in all. Then there was the telephone treatment. They'd blindfold me then box my ears with their cupped hands. Eventually they did it one too many times an' I went deaf, so they switched tactics again an' dunked my head under the water a few times. They had this tank full of water an' grease an' crud and they'd force my head under till I stopped kickin'. Then they'd let me up, but by that time I'd inhaled a lungful'.

'By then four months had passed an' Sharpe finally told Traff where I was. He went against orders an' came to get me. I was in pretty bad shape by then an' it took him all his time to get me out. Nearly got caught himself. He had field medic trainin' which came in handy, coz my fingers an' toes were infected. I had raging pneumonia an' I couldn't walk too well either. He patched me up well enough to get me back to the field hospital which took him about a week, an' stuck with me for the two months it took to get me fit enough for the transfer to a hospital stateside. We kept in touch. You don't go through stuff like that without getting close'.

I'd been starin' straight ahead while I'd told Hutch all this. Didn't want to see his reaction to any of it, just wanted to get it all out in one telling, but I was done, so I looked sideways at him. He was doin' some starin' of his own. Then he turned to look at me and swallowed once.

'I think I needed the sugar coated version' he said quietly.

I smiled. 'That was sugar coated Blintz'.

'Oh' was all he managed to say. He was quiet for about five minutes. Just the two of us sat in the car glaring out the front window, me glad I'd finally told him, and Hutch? Well God knows what was goin' through that blond head.

'I never realised' he finally murmured. 'I had it so easy. I went to high school, went to college, went to med school. But nothing was enough. God. While I was being a spoiled brat and rebelling against what Dad wanted me to do, you were seein' stuff no one should have to see'. His voice tailed off. Made me kinda uncomfortable.

'Hey you asked me so I told ya. No need to dissect it ya know. I came back, I got over it, an' now I get to work with you. Sorta makes up for it ya know?'

He reached out and patted me on my knee. That meant a lot. I looked back at him then put the key in the ignition, pushed the stick into drive and set off for the army base to see Sam.

We drove in silence again. I knew this would happen. Once I told Hutch about 'Nam, things would change. I'd been scared of that when he'd found out I was a Major. I'd always told him I was a Captain — sounded less pretentious, an' I've never been one for titles anyhow. It didn't really change much, although the first time he saw me in uniform, when I was on my way to Guatemala, he kinda hitched a breath. Now he was doin' that silent starin' thing. The one he does when he's mullin' over things in his head, tryin to get 'em straight. I hoped he'd get 'em straight before we went to Buenos Aires, otherwise things were gonna get mighty uncomfortable.

I went home first. Ya can't just turn up at an army base like goin' to the zoo. Ya need to make an appointment. Need to get clearance and state your business. So I did all three. I spoke to a Colonel Windsor an' said I needed to speak to Sam. He knew what it was about so I guess Sam must have filled him in on Traff's message. S'pose he had to really. Anyway, Windsor said we could meet that afternoon, so we set off out to the base between Bay City an' LA for the meeting at 14:00.

I'd almost forgotten what it was like to get onto one of those places. Ye Gods! Even with Windsor's permission it must have taken half an hour to get through all the check points, have the car mirror checked underneath, have our guns taken, checked, locked away. We finally got shown into a small room just in time for 14:00.

It was like an interview room at the Metro, square but painted in a sort of camouflage green colour, like they'd ordered too much of the stuff an' needed to use it all up. Anyway, at exactly 14:00 a guy came in with Sam, looking all official. Ya know the type, big chest, ruddy complexion, buzz cut. I counted the pips on his shoulder. Yep, this was the Colonel. Something about him made me want to stand to attention and salute, but I managed to stay seated. Not in the Army any more. But I did sit up a bit straighter. I was self conscious about that, till I saw Hutch had too. This Windsor guy had that kind of effect.

Sam stood at the back of the room, next to Colonel Windsor, kinda hovering there, but he smiled a greeting, so I smiled back. Didn't say anythin'. Just smiled.

Windsor came straight to the point. 'Lieutenant Colonel Trafford' (Hey Traff got his promotion!) 'sent a message to Captain O'Connor here about three days ago. Captain O'Connor received it yesterday and came straight to me with it. I'm aware of your previous army history Mr Starsky' He emphasised the Mister. 'Colonel Trafford has asked specifically that you help him. Ordinarily I would not condone a civilian becoming involved in army issues, but in this case, with the situation in Buenos Aires, I don't have the luxury of choices'.

He looked disapproving. I looked back at him, reliving every memory that made me leave the Army so damned quick.

'Ordinarily Colonel, I wouldn't have anything further to do with the Army, but this is for Traff. So it seems we're stuck with each other' I kept my gaze level and my temper in check, but I could see Hutch twitching in the other chair, ready to jump in if he thought I was gettin' too excited.

The Colonel made a kind of "Humph" noise and carried on.

'There is nothing, however, to say that I should allow two civilians to get involved. You I can possibly allow. You have a distinguished career history' He said it like it stuck in his throat. 'Your associate' he nodded at Hutch 'has, I believe, nothing to do with the military at all. I can not in all conscience allow a civilian with no background to take part in this rescue'.

Hutch could see I was on the point of loosin' it. He sat more upright in his chair and fixed the Colonel with a "Hutch special" look. 'Colonel, as I understand it, Colonel Trafford asked for Curly. My partner and I are both indebted to Colonel Trafford and if Mr Starsky is to carry out a rescue mission, he will not do so without me'.

That's what I like about Hutch. He has a fancy way with words when he wants. Me? I'd have just blown the Colonel away, got up an' left, but Hutch had him hooked. Ya gotta admire Blondie sometimes.

Windsor took a long slow look at Hutch, then back at me. He read the same thing in both our faces. One doesn't go without the other. So he had a problem. He wanted Traff back as much as we did. He couldn't send a bunch of soldiers in to Buenos Aires without causin' world war three. So he was stuck with me, an' if I went, Hutch came too. I saw his shoulders drop a fraction an' knew he'd reached the same conclusion.

'Very well then' he said. 'Captain O'Connor, show them the note.

Chapter 4

We spent about three hours going over everything Colonel Windsor thought we needed to know about what Traff was doin' in South America. Apparently he'd been asked to go down there to look at some explosive that'd been confiscated from a terrorist organisation. He'd been asked to go by the Argentinean military. They said they'd heard about his work and were impressed. That much was true. He'd gotten a bit of a reputation for himself and travelled the world advising armies and governments. So he went down to Buenos Aires and kept in touch with base for about ten days. But then, things went quiet. At first, Windsor thought there may be bad telephone links, or maybe Traff was out away from the city and not near a phone.

When three days had gone by and still no one had heard from him, Windsor started getting worried and tried to speak to the General in Argentina who had asked for Traff in the first place. The General said that Traff had been unwell with a bad head cold and was being looked after off base. Not to worry, everything was alright. But Windsor, to his credit wasn't buying it. Thing was, there wasn't really much he could do about it, so they had to sit back and wait.

After another two days of waiting, there was still no news, and when Windsor tried to get hold of the General, he was unavailable. By this time, Windsor knew something was wrong, but again, he couldn't do anything about it. Then they got the note from Traff. He showed it to me.

It was definitely Traff's writing. I'd recognise the scrawl anywhere. Looked like a drunken spider had danced across the page. But it also looked pretty shaky. All it said was:


Not a lot to go on, but whatever it all meant, it didn't sound too good. I realised he wouldn't have been able to put anything specific in there in case the person carrying the message got caught.

'Do we know what any of it means?' Hutch asked, looking at the crumpled piece of paper.

I looked at Sam an' he looked back at me. We knew what part of it meant.

'Sparking company. Know what that means' I told him. 'We used to use that term in 'Nam when someone got the electric shock treatment. Means they're torturin' him' I finished grimly.

I saw Hutch's fist curl round an' get whiter, but he was controlled. 'What about the rest?' he asked.

Sam shook his head. 'The only lead we have is the reference to Tango man. There's a priest down in Buenos Aires who we have reason to believe is helping dissidents and their families. He's called Father Arturo Gardel'.

I must have looked blank, coz that's how I felt. Sam saw the look and explained like I was a first grader.

'Carlos Gardel is regarded in Argentina as the father of the modern tango. So, this Gardel, we think, must be Tango man. As for the reference to the grim house, I can only surmise that Traff is being held somewhere and is being pumped for information. That's why we need to try to get him out as soon as possible'.

I shuddered. Wouldn't want anyone to be tortured, but when its one of your friends, well, I just wanted to get on the plane there and then. Hutch as usual was the cool headed one.

'Do we know how to find Gardel?' he asked.

Sam nodded. We have a contact name down there. Juanita Cortez. She runs a mission in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires. She knows where to find Gardel and we can let her know to expect you.

Windsor took over.

'Gentlemen, I know Colonel Trafford is your friend, but you may be in considerable danger if you go down there looking for him. I'm sure your superior at the police station has explained that you would have no back up from the American government while you are there. It just isn't possible.

I nodded, showing him we knew the score.

He went on. 'We can, however, make sure you get to Buenos Aires in style. I can arrange for two first class flights on Argentinean Airways to Buenos Aires. Under assumed names, of course! If and when you find Colonel Trafford, contact me and I will arrange the same passage back'.

I liked this guy more an' more. Wow, first class. Don't think a Starsky's ever flown first. Not even Nicky when he was running the drug scam.

'We can arrange to have a message sent to Juanita Cortez telling her when you will be arriving, and you can take it from there. But I must stress on you both to be careful. Miss Cortez will fill you in on the current political situation when you get there'.

And with that, Windsor stood, shuffled the papers he'd brought with him, doin' that newsreader type shuffle, then snapped us both a quick salute and left. That left Hutch me and Sam in the small room. We let out a collective sigh like we'd been holdin' our breath.

'Wow, some guy' Hutch said staring at the door Windsor had just gone through. For Hutch to say that was quite somethin' I've never seen him phased by anyone, 'cept my Ma, but then my Ma would make the President do as he's told.

'He's OK' Sam said. 'He's officious and loud, but he does care about his men. I have a lot of time for him. He never asks us to do something he won't do himself an' he's come up through the ranks'.

I nodded knowing that did mean a lot. There were so many guys who got a university education an' thought they could run the world. It takes guts to promote up through the ranks an' while some guys can make good officers, not all of 'em cut it as good leaders. Sounded like Windsor was a good leader.

'So what do we need to take down there?' I was thinking out loud. 'Passports, pesos, map of Buenos Aires, air tickets'.

'I'll get those booked for you' Sam said.

'What about directions and address to Cortez's mission?' Hutch asked, going with the flow.

Sam was way ahead of us. He handed us a piece of paper with both the address and directions on it. He grinned. 'Knew you'd do it' he said. 'Thanks, from me an' Traff, and his team. We miss him'.

I nodded. He was a likeable guy and after all he'd done for me, I'd do anything for him. And I knew Hutch would as well. Hutch said Traff an' me looked like twins. We're the same height, give or take an' the same build, although I need to gain back a few pounds. He has the same curly hair as me, but its black not brown. An' where my eyes are dark blue, his are the brightest green I've ever see. He called 'em Irish eyes. They sure got the girls attention when we were out. He just needed to smile at 'em an' flash those eyes an' they were like putty in his hands.

Before we left, Sam took a good hard look at me. 'You OK Curly? Ya look a little thinner than when we last met' he said. 'Ya been sick or somethin'?'

I shook my head perhaps a little too vigorously coz he gave me a disbelievin' look. 'Nah, the Blintz has had me on one of those desiccated liver 'n' wheat germ diets' I lied an' changed the subject quickly. Don't think he believed me for a heartbeat, but he didn't push the point.

We spent another hour getting' as much information and directions as we could, then said bye to Sam. He came with us to collect our guns again and helped check us out of the base. It was much easier getting' out than getting' in had been. Then we were away and on the road again.

Hutch was quiet for a while before he asked what I knew he'd ask.

'Why didn't you tell 'em you'd been injured? They could have got someone else. I'd have gone with someone else. Jeez Starsk, its not been quite six months yet. You're not even back to work full time'.

I wondered when he'd realise. 'An' if I'd told Windsor, d'ya think he'd have agreed for us to go? I saw Sam lookin' at me. He'd guessed somethin' was wrong, but he didn't say. An' he didn't push when I gave him the crap about the diet. In the Army if you're hurt it doesn't mean the same. If you're not bad enough to be in the hospital, it don't count. Hutch I gotta do this for Traff, you know that. We'll be OK an' I promise I'll be careful. I'll take all my meds with me an' ya can feed 'em to me when I need 'em. Besides I still can't go the night without the pain meds anyway, an' I know ya love playin' nursemaid'.

He knew I meant it an' what's more he'd known me long enough to know it wasn't any use arguing. I was goin' he was goin' and that was that.

'What are we gonna do for guns, weapons?' he asked getting' all practical again. 'We can't take ours on the plane, and even if we could, I'm not sure we'd get 'em through the security they're gonna have. If they're so hung up on checking folks out, they're not gonna say "sure you can bring your Colt in here"'.

I'd thought about that. 'We may not need 'em' I said, not really believing it. 'In any case they've gotta have guns down there. We just gotta get hold of a couple. I'm sure Juanita will know how to get hold of one or two. She seems that sort of gal'.

Hutch nodded. 'She sure seems interesting' he said and I had to agree.

Windsor was true to his word and the flight down to Buenos Aires was the most comfortable I've ever been on. Have to say though, I've flown in some pretty rough planes. They don't do first class on troupe transport planes, and the time Hutch took me to England we flew ordinary, which was fine by me.

This plane; was somethin' else. Wide open space, foot rests, free flowin' champagne and them funny little pastry things to go with it. The stewardesses were cute too. I coulda really gotten used to it. We spent the time on the plane tryin' to get together some sort of plan but its difficult to plan when ya don't know what you're lettin' yourself in for. All we knew for sure was that Traff was in some kind of trouble 'n' that we had to get hold of this Arturo Gardel. I had some sort of plan forming in my head, but it was too soon to talk to Hutch about it. I just needed more time an' more information before I told anyone.

We flew south over the Bay of Mexico and on past Recife in Brazil before we saw the vast expense of water that Buenos Aires sits on. The Rio De La Plata is the most enormous wide river I'd ever seen. It's so wide that you can't see from one side to the other. The plane came down to land at Ezeiza, the main international airport. We got off the plane and went to the baggage reclaim with one of those stupid movin' baggage ways that churn up your case an' gets it mixed up with all the others. Hutch is so calm most of the time, but he really hates those things, so I make him go stand in a corner while I fish for the cases an' he hops from one foot to the other an' tells me the airplane's lost all our stuff.

Well they hadn't lost it. Not a whole bunch of places to loose it when ya think about it. We get on the plane, it gets on the plane, then we both get off. How can it get lost? It's like socks in the washer. There's always an odd one at the end, someone's always left starin' at the pushchair an' the surfboard goin' round and round with no sign of their case. Anyway, this time I got both our bags an' we went out to the arrivals hall lookin' for a way to get to Cortez's mission.

I was surprised when we got out into the wide hallway that there was a guy holdin' up a big piece of card saying D Starsky and K Hutchinson, an' I must admit to bein a bit suspicious. Call it paranoia if ya like, but with folk disappearin'' regularly, I didn't want to take chances. I nudged Hutch, but he'd seen the card already an' I could tell by the look on his face he was thinkin' the same as me. There were a couple of things to consider. First we'd only just set foot on Argentinean soil, so who the hell could know we were there? Second, we had no idea how to get to the mission. We made a decision. One of those silent ones.

We walked towards placard man. He nodded at us an' we nodded at him, both kinda careful. It's surprisin' how vulnerable I feel without my gun. I know I probably rely on it too much, but I'm not like one of those cops on the television programs. I tend not to shoot first an' ask questions later. That just gets plain messy. It's just there as a back up, an' believe me, when ya work the inner city, it's surprisin' how many times ya need that back up. My left hand was twitchin' to reach under my jacket to the holster that's usually there, but I curled it into a ball then forced it to relax.

I gave the guy my best reassuring smile an' Hutch did the same. I heard him ask,

'You wanted Starsky and Hutchinson?'

'Si Senior. Are you Mr Starsky?'

Hutch isn't that stupid. Didn't answer the question right away. Just needed to check.

'Who sent you?' he asked, non committally.

'Seniora Cortez said to bring you to La Boca Mission' the man explained. He seemed genuine and he said it all quiet, like it was a bit secret, which it was.

Hutch an' me reached the same conclusion — we'd trust this guy. So we smiled again and followed him out to a parking lot next to the airport. We stowed out bags in the trunk and got into the back of the car. That's the trick. Stay together, so if anything does go down, even without guns we can watch each other's backs.

The car set off, the driver not talking, just concentratin' on the drivin' through the traffic, and what traffic! I've never been to Buenos Aires before. Never felt the need to go to South America at all, but the city impressed me. Huge wide Avenues all set out in a grid pattern an' all lined with big trees. There were parks everywhere. I looked and off the big avenues were smaller streets windin' away, but still tree lined. Looked like some architect had over ordered on the greenery an' they needed to put it somewhere.

As with any city, there were the tall buildings all crowdin' in, but they were a mix of old buildings with carving on their fronts and new buildings full of glass and stainless steel. I thought the traffic in Bay City was bad, but the cars here! God, I was glad I wasn't drivin'. It woulda driven me crazy.

We drove through a district called San Telmo an' past a park with a sign on it sayin' Parque Lezama and swung a left. From here on in, the buildings started lookin' poorer. More graffiti and less high rise buildings. I saw a sign to a soccer stadium, but we carried on down the road.

The temperature in the little car must have reached over 100 degrees an' I could feel the sweat trickling down my back. It irritated the scars on my chest as well, making 'em itch, and I was suddenly conscious that I really needed my pain meds soon. I get this ache in my chest which starts OK, but builds an' builds till I can't think of anything but that. It's a real bone crushin' pain. The only thing that stops it is taking the meds every six hours, and' five and a half hours had gone by since the last pill I'd popped. Didn't help that the smooth black top surface we'd been drivin' on stopped suddenly an' got replaced by worn concrete with potholes every few yards. They jarred the car from side to side an' threw me 'n' Hutch around in the back.

He looked at me kinda concerned. 'You OK Gordo?' he asked.

'Fine' I answer tightly. This wasn't goin' to work out if he was bothered about me all the time. I had the feelin' we were going to need all our concentration on getting to Traff. No time for nurse maidin' me.

I don't think he bought it, but he had the good sense not to push and within five minutes, we'd pulled to a stop at a broken down square stone buildin' with faded green painted shutters on the windows and a huge wooden door studded with those iron rivets ya see on rich folks mansions back home. The driver got out, still not talkin' and jerked his head toward the door. Obvious he wanted us to follow, so we obliged, got out the car and went up the four steps and into the building. It was stuffy inside. No air conditioning, then, I thought. The driver was walking up a staircase in the middle of the hallway, so we climbed it with him.

There were about 30 steps an' by the time I got to the top, that god awful ache had started in my chest, and not just a little ache, it was there with a vengeance. The herd of elephants had taken up residence again, an' I could feel the sweat beadin' on my top lip. Shit, I thought, this is all me 'n' Hutch need. A rescue operation done by a wash up. I hung back at the top of the steps and knelt down to tie a shoe lace that wasn't undone. Just to get my breath and try an' stop the pains. Hutch stopped with me. He'd seen me through too much for him not to know what was goin' on, but to his credit he didn't do anythin' to bring attention to the fact his partner was nearly passin' out. He just stood with me, solid and blond and Hutch.

I got a bit of my breath back and stood up and slowly followed the driver along the upper walkway and through a tall door way into a large square room with a floor to ceiling window at one end, opening onto a balcony. In its early days I'd say this house had been a grand one, full of those Scarlet O'Hara types with their big fancy dresses. Now it was just a wreck.

A woman came in from the balcony and walked over to us, holding out her hand as she came. I've never really held with women shakin' hands. It's kind of a man thing. Women kiss, men shake hands. But she had a determined kind of look, so I was guessin' kissing wasn't big on her agenda. We shook hands.

'Good afternoon' she said in a soft husky voice. 'I'm Juanita Cortez and I take it you are Mr Starsky and Mr Hutchinson?'

As she gave us her hand to shake, she looked at Hutch when she said Starsky, and me when she said Hutchinson. Why do people do that? They get us the wrong way around. Thinking of changing my name.

'I'm Mr Hutchinson. Hutch' Hutch said taking her hand. 'And this is Starsky' he handed her hand to me an' I shook it too. Hutch had gone even quieter. I recognised that look. He was impressed with this gal an' his eyes were doin that twinkling thing he does. Sends women to their knees. But this woman wasn't tremblin'. She just looked amused.

It was a tiny little hand but with a surprisingly strong grip. I took a good look at the woman. She came up to about my chin, so no more that 5'2". She was slim. And she was wearing a plain black dress which made her look even thinner. She looked to be in her thirties, about the same age as me and Hutch and she had that typical South American look to her. Her hair was black and pulled right back from her face and tied at the back. Not in a pony tail, like some of the girls at home. This was kinda scrunched up and tied in a big knot at the nape of her neck. Like the rest of her, it seemed to say she meant business.

She had an almond shaped face and big dark brown eyes, like a puppy dogs eyes, but I got the impression this puppy dog was a Rotweiller. Wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of her. She had a way of looking at me. Don't know what it was, she just stared into my eyes and said,

'Please, sit down Mr Starsky, you look tired'.

Thankfully I sat, because now the elephants on my chest were tap dancing and I really wanted 'em to take a break. Crap, was it so obvious I was in pain? What sort of impression does that give, when the rescue party's a puddle on the floor of the room the first chance we meet?

Without saying anything, she handed me a glass of water. I fumbled two of the pills from my wallet and popped 'em. My hand was shakin' a bit and the glass wobbled. I put it down on the table a bit too forcefully and some of the water slopped onto the varnished top. I was embarrassed that she should see me like this on our first meeting, but she seemed not to notice any more. Either she had other things on her mind or she was just downright tactful. Whichever, I was grateful.

Hutch sat down next to me across from Juanita, separated by a wide low table and we started to talk.

Chapter 6

Juanita Cortez was the most extraordinary woman I've ever met, an' I've met a few women in my time. She was like a firecracker. One minute silent, the next getting' so excited about stuff. Usually she got excited about what was happening in her country.

Hutch an' me had had time on the plane to do a bit of research about the country, but nothing prepared us for what this tiny woman was telling us. Her voice was low and husky and had a quality about it that demanded we listen. She sat neatly, her ankles crossed and her hands folded in her lap. But her eyes danced between us, restin' first on Hutch then on me.

'How much do you know of Argentina?' she asked us to begin with.

I was just about to answer when Hutch beat me to it. I knew it there an' then. She'd snagged him.

'Not a lot. We know you're under Military rule and that there are certain problems at the moment'.

She smiled at that. 'The "certain problems" you speak of are difficult for ordinary citizens to deal with' she explained. 'Since General Videla came to power, anyone heard to say anything against the Government or the Church has been arrested and taken away. They are never seen again. It has gotten so bad now that they are being arrested for even the smallest infraction. We call them Los Desaparecidos, the missing ones'.

'Where are they taken?' Hutch asked.

'To any one of the many Military bases around Buenos Aires. Some to the camps, some to the houses taken by the hierarchy. There are rumours of the treatment they receive, but nothing definite'.

'And your connection to this? Do you act as a sort of underground liaison?' I could see the cogs turnin' in that blond head.

She stared levelly back at him. 'No Mr Hutchinson. I run a mission for the poor and homeless of La Boca. If some of them are of a political or religious persuasion, who am I to argue?' I could almost hear the wink at the end of the sentence. Apparently so could Hutch.

'Do you know a man called Arturo Gardel?' I asked, managing to get a word in.

She nodded. 'Father Gardel sees to the spiritual needs of my residents' she said.

'May we see him?' I pushed.

'He will be here this evening for Mass at six o'clock. He knows that you will wish to speak with him and has asked that I give you board and lodging here'.

She looked more closely at me, and I could feel her eyes boring into me. 'Forgive me for asking' she said a little less forthright than she had been. 'Are you not well?'

Normally I would have bluffed my way out of the question, an' I could see Hutch ready to go along with whatever story I was gonna give. But there was somethin' about this Juanita Cortez that made me want to come clean an' tell her everythin'. Well, maybe not every little detail. But I felt like I couldn't lie to her.

'I was sick for a while, but I'm getting' over it' I tried to explain.

Her eyes still did that boring thing. She wanted more.

'I got shot a while back. I was in hospital for a while an' I'm still getting' over it. I just ache now 'n' then an' I need to lie down an' sleep'.

Hutch looked like ya coulda knocked him down with a feather. He'd never heard me talk about Gunther to anyone else. Come to think of it, I didn't remember talking about it to anyone else. Shit, what was there about her? It wasn't like she wanted to get all 'nursey'. She just genuinely seemed to care. She stood up and came around the table.

'Forgive me' she said. 'I could tell you were in pain when you arrived. I should not have kept you. I'll ask Ramon to show you to your room. I hope you don't mind sharing. Space is a luxury at the mission'.

We stood up an' followed the driver back out of the room and along the corridor to another big door leading into a small bedroom. It was painted white and had two small wooden beds, a desk and a wooden chair — the sort you get in schoolrooms. The floor was dark polished wood and there was no decoration apart from a crucifix hung on the wall between the beds. I shuddered a bit. Never have been able to understand why a whole faith likes looking at a statue of a guy who was tortured to death — the concept's fine, the statue thing's lousy. But it takes all sorts. I was just so damned happy to be able to crash out on the bed. I lay on my back coz that's the most comfort I can get when the pains start, an' I stared at the ceiling, concentrating' on breathin' slow. Before I knew it the meds had kicked in an' I was fast asleep.


I woke a couple of hours later and saw that Hutch was sitting on the little chair by the window, starin' down at some kids playing with a soccer ball in the street below. He must have realised I was awake.

'You feelin' better now?' he asked

I grunted and sat up. The elephants had gone, but there was still a dull ache.

He just kept starin' at me an' I knew what was on his mind.

'You sure you're fit for this?'

No, course I wasn't sure. But there was no way on earth that I was gonna tell Hutch that. I needed to get Traff out of whatever trouble he'd gotten himself into. He'd been there for me twice now. Once in 'Nam when I was so beaten up an' sick that I hardly knew what was goin' on, and once last year when I was gonna explode. Ya can't ignore it when a guy does that for ya and he'd put his life on the line both times for me. It wasn't that I felt I had to do this to repay him a debt, although that did come into it. I just plain liked the guy. He was unassuming, had a terrible sense of humour an' he was about as close to me as Hutch.

'I'm fit enough to go see what's happening' I told Hutch, hoping that would hold him for a while. But it didn't.

'Look at ya, Gordo' he said. 'Ya managed one lousy flight of stairs an' coz you needed your meds, ya nearly passed out at the top. If Traff's in as much shit as we think he is, what ya gonna be able to do, huh?

'Wheeze at 'em?' I hoped humour would work, but Hutch didn't laugh. An' I didn't want to laugh either. I was getting' real tired of feeling sick all the time. I'd tried to be patient in the hospital an' even when I got home. But the novelty was wearin' thin and now especially I needed to be fit an' back to my old self. I shoved my self doubt away.

'I mean it Starsk. If somethin' bad starts goin' down, I need ya outa there. I know I'll never stop ya from seeing what the score is, but promise me. If things get nasty, you scarper'.

Guess I couldn't argue with that, so I nodded, not quite promising, but giving Hutch enough so that he knew I'd heard him. I looked at my watch, 17.55.

'Father Gardel should be here doin' his Mass' I said, getting up an' easing the kinks away. I did a couple of stretches, like Jean said I had to. My left arm always felt dead right after I woke up, so I wiggled it around a while till it came back to join me an' the rest of my body.

We made our way back downstairs into the hallway. We were lookin' for the room Gardel might be usin' and out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a door close. I looked more carefully and wandered over just as it opened again and Ramon, the driver stepped out. He didn't smile, just gave a bit of a nod and walked off. Somehow, I got the impression he'd been watching us. Not the most likeable guy in the world.

I heard sounds coming from a doorway off to the right and we walked over an' pushed the door open slightly. Inside the room was big and bare. At one end, there was a small group of people gathered around a table with another crucifix on it. A short man dressed in one of those long black dress things was standing behind the table. I presumed he was sayin' a prayer in Spanish or Latin. Whichever it was, I didn't understand it, but Hutch seemed to know what was goin' on.

Whatever faith it was, I knew enough to be quiet an' not interrupt, so we hung back, waiting for about 20 minutes. Finally the priest lifted his right hand and made the sign of the cross. I heard him say "In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritu Sancti. Amen'. Then there was silence for a moment before the small group dispersed.

I got a good look at Gardel then. He was short, about 5'6" and dumpy. Same kind of build as Dobey. He was bald on top with a kinda fringe of black hair around the back. Looked to be late 50s maybe 60. He finished up whatever Priests finish up doin' at the end of their service an' came over to join us.

He was instantly likeable with a smile that split his face from ear to ear, showing big even white teeth.

'Gentlemen' he greeted us with open arms. 'I have been told to expect you. How was your journey?'

'Fine' Hutch said, weighing the little Priest up.

'Good, good. Now, let me ask Ramon for a cup of Mate and then we can talk. All that praying gives me a thirst' he said. He went out into the hallway and we heard him asking the driver. Minutes later, he came back carrying what looked like a fancy ball with a hole at the top an' a silver straw stickin' up. He handed it to me.

'Have you had mate before?' he asked (he pronounced it Mahtay). 'Its our national drink. An acquired taste, but not unpleasant. If anyone offers you mate, it's incredibly rude to refuse'.

I didn't want to be rude, so I took the ball. It was a hollowed out gourd with silver an' carvin' round the outside. Inside was what looked like torn up lawn an' water, with the straw stickin' up through the middle. I tried some. It was like drinkin' woodland with an aftertaste of mud. Nearly as bad as some of the crap Hutch drinks. I was sure he'd love it, so I handed it over.

Hutch took a deep drink from the gourd, then another. Knew it! He'll drink anythin' revolting. He handed it back to the Priest and we all sat down at the back of the big room.

'And so, you have come for news of Thomas Trafford' Gardel said, looking more serious.

I nodded. 'He's an old friend. We were told he hasn't been heard of in a while and needed to check things out. Do you know where he is?'

Gardel gave an unhappy sigh that had my toes squirming. That sort of sigh usually means trouble.

'He was taken away eight days ago. The Militia came for him in the early hours of the morning and arrested him for infringement of law number three. He was supposed to be helping a local political prisoner'.

'So where is he now?' Hutch asked. 'And more to the point, how do we get him out of the country?'

'He's being held at Casa Grimaldi and has been there all the time since his arrest. As for getting him out of the country. It will be difficult enough getting him out of Grimaldi. No one has escaped before'.

My toes stopped squirming and I started realising what crap Traff was really in.

'We need to get him out. Do you have a map or a plan of this Casa Grimaldi?' I asked.

Gardel nodded. 'But I can do better than that. I'm due to give Mass to the residents there tomorrow. I'm sure it will be allowed for me to take two novice monks with me to help with the Eucharist'. He nodded again to himself. 'Yes, that should work well' he murmured.

I didn't want to throw a wrench in his works but it had to be said.

'Ah, that'd be OK if I'd ever been to a Mass before and knew what to do'. Why did I feel embarrassed tellin' him this? 'I'm Jewish. Never been to a Catholic Service in my life' I finished.

Hutch came clean an' said he wasn't of the faith either, but it didn't seem to phase the Priest at all. He just put his hands up as if blessin' us and said that each had to be to his own. But for the next hour he schooled us in how a Mass works an' what we needed to do.

Chapter 7

We were due at Casa Grimaldi at about 10.30 the next morning. It felt strange to be wearing a long black coat thing over my jeans 'n' tee shirt and the belt with the crucifix hangin' from it slapped around my knees. The material of the habit was rough an' scatchy an' I was glad that it didn't have to touch the scars on my chest. They were sensitive at the best of times. I looked over at Hutch an' held in the laugh. He looked as uncomfortable as I felt. That song 'If they could see me now' kept playin' over in my head. Ma would have a dead fit if she could see me. Her little Jewish David all done out like a Catholic monk.

Gardel looked us both over an' seemed happy with what he saw, though I knew I'd never be able to keep the pretence up for too long. I've done a lot of undercover stuff in my time. Been on a cruise ship as part of the entertainment, been a prisoner in jail, but this! There are some things that just don't come natural.

We had all our 'equipment' with us. Hutch had a ball on a piece of chain with some incense in it. Gardel called it a thurable. Hutch had to light the incense an' swing the thurable at the Eucharist to bless it. I had a bell that I was supposed to ring when Gardel was about to eat the wafer. Too complicated for me, but I'd get along. Apart from that I had more important things to think about. Gardel said he knew where Traff was but that he hadn't seen him an' that worried me. We got into his car an' set off.

On the way I was quiet, thinkin' about how we were gonna get to Traff an' get him out. Hutch had other things on his mind. He was sat in the front seat beside Gardel who was just as good at drivin' with his eyes on the traffic as without. In Buenos Aires the drivin' was so stupid it didn't seem to matter.

'How long has Juanita been at the mission?' Hutch asked the Priest.

Gardel considered. 'She came to La Boca about fifteen years ago and has stayed ever since. She started by helping with the cooking and cleaning, but now she runs it almost single handed'.

'Does she live there?'

The priest seemed surprised. 'But of course. Where else would she live?' he asked.

'I just wondered if she had any family living nearby'.

I chuckled to myself. Hutch was definitely caught. Hook, line and sinker. I knew she'd be his type. She was small, capable, strong and beautiful. Gardel was answering him.

'She has family in La Recoleta. That is the affluent part of Buenos Aires. She does not see them any more of course'.

'Of course? Why of course? Has she quarrelled with them?' Hutch pushed.

Gardel looked surprised. 'Mr Hutchinson! Have you cultivated some affection for Seniorita Cortez?'

Hutch turned pink and stuttered. 'Well she's a beautiful woman' he managed.

Gardel looked pityingly at him and put a hand on his knee.

'I'm sorry. She doesn't see her family because she is a daughter of the Church, she has only the Church as her family now'.

'Daughter of the......You mean she's a Nun?' he spluttered as Gardel nodded.

I laughed out loud and patted his shoulder. 'Well that's the Hutchinson magic touch with women working as usual. Keep you mind on the job rather than your pants, Blintz. Ya can woo the lovely Juanita later, if ya can compete with Him'.

Hutch went quiet and we cut across a five lane highway and down a side street. We were travelling through a richer area now — San Telmo - with big colonial style houses. They all had long drive ways an' iron fences around 'em. Gardel stopped at a building at the top of the hill in front of a big set of iron gates. A security guard came out from a small guard box and Gardel flashed some sort of pass at him. The guard nodded unsmiling and looked through the car window at us. The Priest rattled something off in Spanish and the guard nodded again motioning us through the gates as they swung open.

My heart gave a bit of a lurch. The drive way was about half a mile long and any trees there had been along it had been cut down to cut down on escapees havin' places to hide. I could see Casa Grimaldi clearly now and I understood why Traff's note had said Grim House. Even if Grimaldi didn't mean grim it looked it. God was it grim! All the other houses we'd passed had been painted outside with white, pink or yellow. This one was grey an' it stood at the top of the drive like a prison. Which it was by any other name. It was one of those houses that kids draw. It was square with a door in the middle an' rows an' rows of windows. They all had bars across 'em and looked like they hadn't had a washin' for years. The bars were grey too, which added to the grim look of the place. I saw Hutch checkin' it out an' shakin' his head. I knew what was going through his head. How the fuck do we get in an' out with Traff?

Gardel parked the car at the back of the house an' we got out. Difficult getting' out of a car when you've got a long dress on, but I managed without landin' on my face. As we walked around to the front again I was checkin' the place out.

Like I said, all the windows had bars an' I could see electric wires runnin' through the flower beds at the foot of the house wall. Enough I thought to give a cow a blast. God knows what it'd do to a man. An' I really didn't want to find out. Not many flowers either, so again, nowhere to hide. The paths were all gravel, so no chance of sneaking up without bein' heard and when I looked up, there were big arc lights set high up on the walls. The place seemed impregnable. Shit!

Hutch looked like he was having the same sort of thoughts an' I could see by the droop in his shoulders that he thought it's be more or less impossible to get in and out as well.

We got to the front door an' Gardel rang the bell. There was a wait an' then I heard footsteps comin' closer. At the same time, I felt that weird flutterin' feeling in my belly, like I was steppin' into trouble. I heaved a deep breath. Well, as deep as my stupid lung would allow. We went in.

Inside, the hallway was still big an' square an' tiled on the floor with black an' white tiles. It looked like a regular house, till you saw closer that there were locks on all the doors and the light from the windows was dimmed by the bars.

Another guard came forward an' patted us down, real professional. Knew what he was doin' an' he meant business. Course, he didn't find anythin' except thurable, incense candles and that little bell. He pointed a finger at a door in the corner of the hallway and the Priest motioned for us to follow. We did an' at the door Gardel knocked again an' we heard keys janglin' in the lock.

Once the door opened, I really did feel like we were in jail. Behind the door, all the grand fittings had been taken away and there was just door after door along the corridor. There was no natural light an' instead bright strip lighting blasted white light down, almost hurting' my eyes. We stopped at the first door an' the man with the keys did the janglin' thing again. We went in.

It was a small room and crammed with maybe ten or twelve women. All looked thin an' tired. All were white. They had been quiet and when Gardel appeared, they stood out of respect. I searched their faces. There seemed no hope in any of 'em. They were all ages an' I wondered just what they'd done to end up here.

We did the business with the prayin' and the thurable an' the bell. I heard Gardel say 'In nominee Patris at Filii et Spiritu Sancti. Amen' then I knew it was all over an' we moved on.

We did about three more rooms like this, all with maybe a dozen people in 'em, some full of men, some with more women, then the Priest said we should go downstairs.

Why is it that below ground rooms always to have "that" feeling to 'em? Like you're leaving the light behind. Well, we went down stairs. I suppose these were the original servant's quarters. Down here there were more doors an' Gardel started looking at 'em when the downstairs guard came over. There was another conversation in Spanish and I saw him nod. Then he turned back to us.

'The guard asks us to go into the room at the far end of the corridor. There is a person there who needs the Last Rites. Follow me and do exactly as I tell you. Look neither left nor right, and whatever happens, do nothing until the guard has removed himself from the cell'.

We both nodded our understanding and followed his podgy back to the door he'd indicated. The guard opened it and we walked in. The room was about seven foot square, just enough room for a man to lie down full length if he wanted to. There was one tiny window set high up on the wall and the floor was bare stone. The stench inside the room was terrible as the temperature must have been close to 100 degrees. There was a toilet in the corner and a small wash hand basin. No bed. No chair.

In the corner on the bare stone room lay a huddled figure, its back to us. As the door closed again and the guard left us alone, I realised the figure wore the remnants of army fatigues and my heart leapt into my mouth. I was across the small room in one stride, kneeling down by the side of the body. As I gently turned it over, I recognised the bruised and battered face. It was like looking into a mirror.

Chapter 8

He was unconscious and looked like he'd been that way for some time. He just lay limply in a heap in the corner of the hot dark room, sweat soaking his body. I gently rubbed his arm, fearful that I'd hurt him more if I did anything more than that. I went on rubbing it as I looked at the remnants of the man I'd called friend.

His face was battered beyond belief. His lips were swollen and cracked and there was a cut running the full length of his right cheek, from his eye down to his chin. There was another cut on his forehead.

His throat looked bruised and nothing remained of his jacket or tee shirt. His chest was black and blue and had cuts over most of the surface as did his back. It looked like they'd whipped him with something. There were burn marks there too, an' I knew then that Sam 'n' me had been right when we'd interpreted the "sparking people" part of Traff's message. My blood boiled. What the hell had he done to deserve this? What would anyone do to deserve this?

I continued the rubbing and I realised Hutch had gone to the wash basin and was soaking a handkerchief in cold water. He brought it over and kneeled next to me, handing it to me and I tried to moisten the cracked lips. I rubbed it over the hot feverish forehead. There was no response and I was starting to get real worried when suddenly, his eyelids fluttered a bit and the breathing seemed to get just a little deeper.

I tried the rubbin' thing again and lifted his head up gently. I shuffled on the ground and moved round behind him till I was sort of sat with my back to the wall an' my legs out in front an' put his head in my lap. From there I could look down into his face and the others could see him too Gradually his eyes opened but they wouldn't focus on anything to begin with. I tried talkin' to him.

'Hey Traff buddy, can ya hear me? You OK?' Stupid question I know, coz I knew damned well he wasn't OK, but I had to say something, right?'

He didn't answer to begin with, an' he kinda flinched away from my hand as I kept rubbin' his arm, like he was expectin' more beating. It tore me up. Hutch and Gardel just stood an' watched. I could see in their eyes the anger and compassion. What else could they do?

'Traff? Traff, it's me Curly. C'mon buddy, talk to me. Just open your eyes an' talk to me'. It was more of a prayer than a command, but it worked and slowly his eyes focussed on me an' he tried to smile.

'Curly' he rasped, like he hadn't had a drink in weeks. I know that feelin' an it's not pleasant. I motioned Hutch to get some more water and looked back at Traff, puttin' a smile on my face, though I didn't much feel like smiling.

'Hey there! How's it goin?'

'Bloody awful' he said slowly through his battered lips. 'Knew you'd come'.

'What the hell happened?' I asked. 'How'd ya get here?'

'Just lucky, I guess' he panted as he tried to sit up. I held him down.

'Just rest Traff'. I pushed lightly and he rested his head back on my lap, closing his eyes a minute and groanin' again. I brushed the hair from his forehead. Didn't know what else to do. I looked back at Hutch. He's the one with the medical know how. He knelt down again besides the battered body and took hold of Traff's wrist feelin' his pulse. It was raw and bleeding, like the other wrist an' his ankles. He'd been tied down. I saw Hutch lookin' at the bruises, burns an' cuts. He gently probed a couple of real bad bruises on Traff's side and Traff groaned and squeezed his eyes closed again. I winced for him. It takes a lot to make Traff groan. I could see the compassion in Hutch's eyes, but there was somethin' else there too. I'd seen that look before. I saw it in his eyes when Gunther had filled me full of lead. The look said "shit, this is it".

'Take it easy buddy' I spoke softly, wanting to take as much of the hurt away as I could.

Hutch twitched his head at me. I knew he wanted to speak to me quiet, but hell, the room was only just big enough for the four of us. There was nowhere to go. An' I figured that Traff had a right to hear the prognosis. Was his body, after all.

So I shook my head an' stayed put. At least that way I was pillowing his head an' he looked a bit more comfortable.

Traff had been watchin' Hutch closely. He knew what Hutch was doin' an' as he saw Blondie look at me, he asked painfully 'So Doc. What's the score?'

Hutch swallowed hard, but knew like I did that Traff would want to know the truth.

'It's not good' he started, drawing a deep breath. 'It looks like at least three of your ribs are broken and I can't hear breath sounds on your right hand side, so I'm thinkin' you've got air in your chest cavity. That's what's makin' it hard for you to breath. They've done a pretty good job on your face too. I think your cheek bone is broken. You need hospital treatment' he tailed off.

'Not much hope here' Traff said quietly.

I got to thinkin'. 'I look like Traff. We could swap places an' I could stay here while you get Traff out' I said, tryin' to work it out in my head.

As usual Hutch saw the flaws in my master plan such as it was.

'Think they might miss all the bruises they laid on him. An' I don't think Traff's got a road plan of LA on his chest' he said.

I knew that. Course I knew that, but I was desperate to get my friend outa there. I saw Traff's eyebrows shoot up at the mention of the 'roadmap', so I opened the robe I was wearing an' pulled up my tee shirt. He got a good look at my scars.

'I got a bit shot up' I tried to explain.

'A bit?' he rasped, eyeing the scars. I shrugged.

There was a knock on the cell door. Gardel walked over and muttered something through the closed door to the guard.

'He says we must hurry' he explained. 'He says that we are taking too long. We must go now'. The Priest looked uncomfortable. I knew he hated to leave Traff just as much as I did.

'I can't leave you here Pal. Gotta get you out somehow. I'm not leaving'. I was frantic at the thoughts of what more they could do to him.

'Be OK' he whispered as I levered my way from underneath him. I laid his head down on the stone floor as gently as I could.

'When did thy last do this?' I asked him.

He closed his eyes a moment thinkin'. 'Couple of days ago. Couldn't tell 'em anything. Nothin' to tell. They're real c considerate. Always see a d doctor before......'

'You're kiddin' me, right?'

He shook his head. 'They have a d doctor certify ya fit f for 'treatment'

I let that snippet sink in, disgusted.

'When'll they come back for ya?'

'Dunno' he said. 'Can't remember how long I've been 'ere. They come every few days for another session'.

There was another knock on the door and Gardel made it clear we had to leave. I stood up shakily, still trying to think of something to do to get him outa that hell hole.

'I can't leave him here' I hissed at Hutch.

He was lookin' just a uncomfortable with the situation as I was, an' I could see he was doin' his own dose of thinkin'. But there was damned little to work with.

'We gotta go Starsk' he said pulling me away to the door. 'We'll think a plan when we get outa here, but we gotta go now'.

I knew he was right.

Just as we were about to leave I suddenly realised I had some of my pain meds with me. I strode back across the room, popping three from the bottle. I pushed them between the bruised lips and got a handful of water from the tap on the sink and dribbled it into Traff's mouth, helping him to swallow them. I knew they were really strong. Two DF118s knocked me out for a few hours. Three, for a man in Traff's condition might be just too much. At least he'd get a few hours or more with no pain, but I hoped we'd have a plan to get him out of there pretty quick.

I patted his shoulder gently and he opened his eyes and gave me a painful smile

'Be back for ya Pal. Hang in there. I'll be back'.

He grunted and closed his eyes again. Didn't want me to see the hopelessness in them I guess. Then I left him, without a backwards glance, coz if I'd looked back I'd have stayed with him and to hell with the consequences.

We made our way back up the stairs, followed by the guard and went through all the locking, unlocking scenario again, but truth was I just wasn't concentratin' any more. My mind was back in that tiny room with my friend an' I was runnin' plans around in my head. I could see Hutch doin' the same an' I didn't notice that Ramon was watchin' us from the other side of the hallway. Wouldn't have made any difference anyway, coz I had no idea what he was doin' there or whether he should have been there or not. I don't even know whether Gardel saw him. We got back into the car and just sat silent.

Its bad enough to see anyone in that kinda shape, but when it's a friend its even worse. I felt sick. Gardel started up the car an' we scrunched back down the gravel driveway and out into the afternoon traffic again. The heat of the city had backed down a way, but it still felt so oppressive to me. I sat in the back of the car watching the professional dog walkers shuffling along through the park with up to thirty dogs each and thought about how they had no idea what was goin' on in their city. No idea at all.

The wide avenues seemed to close in on me an' even all the trees seemed to bow down an' try an' grab the car as it passed. Like the whole fuckin' city just turned into a great big nightmare. We turned down the narrower street back to the La Boca mission and pulled up outside. Hutch got out the car an' opened the door for me. The elephants were back dancin' on my chest an' I popped one of the DF118s out an' dry swallowed it. Not what I'm supposed to do, but what the hell. We went inside and through into the room we'd first seen Juanita in. She was sat behind the desk an' looked up as we came through the door. There was a questioning look on her face.

'We found him' Hutch announced. 'He's being held at the Casa Grimaldi and he's been tortured. Somebody's gotta know why they took him' he looked at the Nun sat impassively behind the desk, demanding an answer.

Juanita stood and came to the small easy chairs arranged around the low coffee table. She motioned for us all to sit.

'Thomas was working with the military. They had discovered a stash of explosive for which they had no identification. He was an expert and your government allowed him to come down here to see the explosives and decide how best to dispose of them. I met Thomas here at the mission when one of the soldiers he was working with came to visit one of our residents. We enjoyed each other's company. He told me one day that he'd had an argument with someone at the army base. He had told them that he did not understand how an army so powerful could keep such a stash of explosives and not know what it was and that he thought they were hiding something. He said that the Colonel in charge of the base had made it clear he was not happy. Thomas said he felt odd when he left the base, as if someone was following. He took a long route around to the mission and we spoke for some time before he left for his hotel. That was the last time I saw him'. She looked sad.

'Well we need a plan to get him out of that God awful place' I said, and then thought about the language and what she was. 'Sorry' I said.

She held up her hand 'No need to apologise, I'm a Nun, not a recluse' she smiled. 'But I have never heard of anyone escaping any of the bases where Los Desaparecidos are kept. I will pray for him at Mass tonight'.

'Honey it's gonna take more than prayers to get Traff out. He's badly hurt. I'm afraid he's dying' I explained. She looked sadly at me and came to sit back down. Together the four of us, Hutch, Juanita, Gardel an' me

set to planning what we could do. By midnight we'd come up with three or four plans an' three or four reasons why they wouldn't work. By this time they were all tired an' I was in so much pain I just wanted to lie flat an' die.

We called it a night at about 11.30, I popped another pill an' we all turned in. I lay on my bed, kinda archin' my back coz that helps and felt the pills send me to sleep, all the while thinking about Traff in the hell hole called Casa Grimaldi.

Chapter 9

It was what they call in the books a rude awakening. I'd drifted off to sleep with the aid of the pain meds and was doin' that dreamless sleep you get from drugs. Blondie had gone to bed at the same time as me, after Gardel had gone home to wherever he lived. I heard Hutch's breathing deepen even before I got to sleep. Man, that blond could sleep on a wash line!

It must've been the early hours of the mornin' an' like I said, I was well out of it when suddenly I felt someone slap me across the face. At first I thought it was Hutch wakin' me coz I'd had a nightmare, an' I was already to blast him for bein' so rough. But something shut me up an' as I opened my eyes I saw the muzzle of an army issue rifle pointin' at my face.

S'funny what ya think about in situations like that. My first thought was wow, an FARA75. Haven't seen one of those in a while. Then I thought shit, its pointin' at me. Never was very bright just after I'd woken up. I managed a look across at Hutch an' he was in the same situation. I could see a certain fear in the way he was kinda rigid on the bed, an' I knew I must have looked the same.

I realised the man holdin' the rifle was shouting at me, but it was all Spanish an' I hadn't a clue. Hutch knows more Spanish 'n' me an' he was havin' a hard time understandin' 'em as well. I heard him say, 'No comprendo. Hablad más lentamente, por favor' in his schoolboy Spanish before they rattled somethin' else off at him and he just looked blank. Eventually they realised we were either stupid or American or both and they took to the manhandling' approach. The guy leanin' over me got a hold of my left arm an' pulled me upright in a single movement. My left arm's the one that got all Gunther's attention an' its not at its best when I've slept. The sudden pull sent shattering pains through my arm, shoulder and chest an' I couldn't help gasping as I stood shakily beside my bed wondering what the crap was goin' on. Hutch had the same treatment and I saw his face. His silent message was hang in there buddy, we'll get through this, an' I took some comfort from him bein' there an' being able to see him.

We have this thing, Hutch 'n' me. When one of us is hurt, we kinda get some strength and comfort from seein' the other. Just bein' able to look into the other's eyes. Sounds kinda soapy an' stupid, but it works, an' as a cop I never knock anythin' that works. So that's what we did. We locked eyes an' did that telepathy thing. His look said "You OK buddy?" an' my look said "Terrific". Or I was till the creep with the rifle pushed me in the chest to make me move. He got me just in the place where the scar divides an' where it's the most sensitive, an' the next thing I know I was writhing about on the floor like an idiot. I saw Hutch push his creep outa the way, an' I saw the butt of the FARA75 come down on his head. Then he joined me on the floor an' the lights winked out.

Don't know how long we were out for. Could have been a minute, could have been a week, but finally I started wakin' up, an' I have to tell you it wasn't the most comfortable experience in the world. I was still on the floor, but it was a different floor. This one was just as hard, but it was stone. I was laid on my side an' I realised my hands were secured at the back. Felt like handcuffs. My left arm was still protestin', but after grunting and strugglin' I managed to sit up an' look round. My chest hurt like the very devil was sittin' on it where the goon with the gun had pushed it into me and my head hurt. Guess I hit it on the way down, but I must have had the last of the pain meds in my system coz at least I could breathe without it hurtin' too much'.

My first thought was Hutch an' I started lookin' round the room for him. It was one of those small rooms like Traff had been held in an' I suddenly realised exactly where we were. Shit! Casa Grimaldi. Hutch was out cold on the ground next to me an' his breathin was kinda shallow. I didn't know how hard they'd hit him, but I didn't like the look of the big bruise on his head. I shuffled over to him. Couldn't touch him coz my hands were bound, but I leaned over him an' started talkin'.

'Hey Blintz, wake up. Hutch I need ya to wake up for me. Blondie, c'mon, no time for naps, I need to see those eyes'.

He moaned a little an; the eyes fluttered a bit, but nothing else. I knew Hutch too well an' sometimes he responds more to a hit than a kiss, so I tried it the other way.

'Hutchinson, name, rank' I thundered at him. It caught his attention an' he managed to crack an eye open at me.

'Sssh, ya sound like Dobey' he muttered. 'Wanna sleep, go 'way'.

I tried again. 'Hey Hutch, wake up for me. I need ya to wake up. We're in deep shit buddy'. That got his attention an' he opened his eyes all the way an' just stared at me, finally takin' in his surroundings. His hands were cuffed at the back too, an; he groaned as he tried to sit up. I saw him scrunch his eyes up, an' he started sweatin'. I knew he was in pain, but now wasn't the time for sympathy.

'Hey Blintz. 'Bout time. Wake up an; enjoy our new cozy surroundings'.

He sat up a bit straighter and looked around us, then leaned his head back wearily against the wall.

'Who threw what at my head?' he gasped. 'And just where the hell is this?'

'A nice Argentinean Policeman threw a FARA75 at your head and now we've taken up residence at Casa Grimaldi' I explained as succinctly as possible. Hutch needed the facts an' quick coz I knew he was hurtin'. 'Hey, you gonna make it?' I asked more softly.

He grunted, which I took to mean he would, so we sat a while in silence, each of us wondering how the hell we'd get out of this. We were just about done wonderin' when the door opened and two armed soldiers came in and stood one each side of the door. Behind them was a guy in a white coat. He looked the two of us over an' then flicked his head at the guards and turned away. The two mountains came towards us an' picked us up. I heard Hutch stifle a gasp an' I did the same. We were both just too damn sore for this. The guards kinda propelled us along this corridor an' into a big white room. They stopped us in the middle of the room and took a couple of steps back. The guy in the white coat said something in Spanish.

'Me duele la cabeza'. Hutch answered, then looked at me. 'I think the guys a doctor. He asked me what was wrong. Told him I had a headache I think' he gave me a wry smile. Nether of us are good at languages, although my Hebrew is reasonable, not that there's much call for that in Argentina.

'Do you speak Spanish?' the doctor asked me in a heavy accent. I shook my head, thinkin' even if I did I wouldn't make it easy for him. Not if this was the creep who certified Traff fit for more torture.

He looked us both over calmly, then motioned to the guards at our backs. Each guard pushed their guns into our faces, leerin' like madmen. Ya could almost see the invitation in their eyes. Seemed they were sayin "c'mon make a move so we can shoot ya".

The doctor unlocked our cuffs. 'Please take off your clothes' he said conversationally 'all of them'.

We just stood there. We hadn't that many clothes on. Just the stuff we'd been to bed in. Not puttin' too fine a point on it, I prefer not to be in the buff when I'm faced with a gun totin' doctor. But the guns in our faces kinda encouraged us. I knew they meant business. I saw Hutch sigh outa the corner of my eye an' reach for the hem of his tee shirt and pulled it off over his head. I did the same with my shirt, droppin' my pants slowly and within a minute we were both stood naked in front of the doctor. I felt vulnerable as only nakedness can make you feel, but I stood as still as possible an' just looked straight ahead. Wouldn't give the creep the satisfaction of showin' him how I felt. I watched as he came round from behind the desk.

He started with Blondie, walkin' round him slowly, examining him from all angles. Now Hutch is in good shape. He has one or two scars of his own, a bullet wound on his left shoulder an' a knife scar on his right upper arm where some crazy nurse went at him like a scene out of Psycho. Other than that he just tall, tanned and muscular.

The doc left Hutch and walked over to me. He didn't have to stand too close to see the scars I carry.

¿Qué hay? He asked lookin' at Hutch and pointin' at my chest. Obviously guessin' he was the intelligent one.

'He was shot' Hutch explained. The doc went round the back an' I felt him touch each of the bullet entry scars in turn. He came back an' faced me.


'Three times' Hutch replied.

'Did they hit your heart?' he asked me.


'Do you have a pacemaker?'

'No'. This was easy. This I could cope with. The doctor made some notes in a file then rattled off something else in Spanish to the guards. They gave me my clothes in a bundle then held me one each side and pushed me towards the door. I realised Hutch was still in the room.

'Hutch' I yelled back at him. I struggled with the two guards, tryin' to break free. No way was did I want to be parted from Hutch. I saw him just standin' there lookin.

'Where are you takin me?' I shouted. 'Not goin anywhere without him'.

The doctor smiled. 'I do not think you would like to go where he is going' he said ominously. That just about did it for me. I started strugglin' all the harder and managed to pull my right arm away. I hit the guard on the left with a solid right hook an' he staggered back, but as I started to pull my other arm away I heard Hutch say real quiet,


Somethin in it made me stop an' look. The good doctor had his gun at Hutch's head, grindin' it into his temple. Hutch closed his eyes. I stopped strugglin' - the doc obviously knew my weakness. No way would I let him be hurt because of me. I stopped and just stood.

'Hutch, you OK buddy?'

He opened his eyes and locked 'em on mine, boring into my head.

'Been better' he said tightly as the doctor pushed the gun a little more into the side of his head. 'think they want ya to go Gordo' he said, still starin' right at me. His look said "don't do anythin' stupid, just look after yourself". My look back said "right back at ya Blintz".

The guard I'd hit got up off the floor. He hated me now, I could tell. He got hold my left arm an' twisted it up my back. I couldn't help by yelp, which seemed to make him happy coz he pushed it further up. Bright red flashes crossed my eyes an' I felt sick, but I kept my mouth shut. Was gonna be bad enough for Hutch to see me havin' to leave. I just wanted to make it as easy as I could for him. As I got pushed outa the room I caught a last look at him an; he smiled. Then he was gone.

Chapter 10

I was hustled along the corridor and down the steps, all the time trying to keep from strugglin' too much. I didn't want anything worse to happen to Hutch. God we were in enough trouble already. I recognised the stairs we were goin' down. We'd been down them with Gardel the day before an' as we walked slowly along the dark hallway at the bottom of the stairs we stopped at the door at the end. Traff's door. The guard opened it and put his hands to my back. It was the guard I'd decked upstairs an' he kinda leered at me, twisted my left arm again then pushed me hard into the room. My arm gave out an' I ended up skatin' on bare knees across the stone floor. As I grunted an' looked round he laughed at me an' clanged the door shut. I knelt on the ground an' nursed my arm to me. I'd felt somethin' give inside, like a muscle tearin' and the pain was incredible. Now it just kinda hung limp an' useless. I tried hard to get it movin' again, but gave up after a while. It just didn't wanna play ball. My knees were leavin' little puddles of blood on the ground. I got up slowly an' put my pyjama pants back on one handed. They hadn't let us get dressed before we left the mission an' for once I'd managed to sleep in PJ pants an' a tee shirt.

I left the tee shirt off, coz in the corner, where we'd left him last night was Traff's body. It hadn't moved and for a minute I thought I'd killed him with an overdose of DF118s. I shuffled over to him and put a hand on his neck, feeling a for a pulse. It was there. Not very strong an' real slow, but it was there. I let out a sigh of relief an' set about tryin' to wake him up. I needed as much intel on this place as I could get, if we were gonna get out of this mess.

I shook his shoulder gently. 'Traff, S'me Curly, wake up'.

He groaned and pulled his shoulder away from me. I tried again.

'Hey Traff, c'mon buddy. Open your eyes'. I was surprised an' angry at the result. His shoulder jerked away an he moaned,

'No.......no more........no. Please no more'. It was a pitiful sound an' it tore at me like nothin' else. What had they done to him to make him behave like that? He was one of the strongest, bravest guys I knew. The other one I'd left upstairs for God knows what to happen to him. I tried Traff again.

'Hey Traff. S'OK. Its me, Curly. I've got ya buddy, I got ya' I kept talkin' to him low an' soft an' gradually his eyes opened an' he looked over his shoulder at me.

'Curly?' His voice was raspy an' dry. He'd not moved since we'd seen him last night an' he moved stiffly. He rolled over on his back and groaned as the pain in his side flared up again. He lay a minute pantin'. He shivered, even though it was hot in the room. I levered him up so that he was sat with his back against the wall an' handed him my tee shirt. He barely had strength to reach for it, so I kinda looped it over his head an' he struggled to put his arms through the sleeves.

'What ya doin' back?' he asked, his eyes lingerin' again on my chest.

'Got a little visit from the police in the middle of the night. They invited us to join them for a little party. Hutch is up there now entertainin' 'em' I smiled grimly.

'Did ya see the doctor?'

I nodded. 'He seemed interested in this stuff' I pointed at my scars 'an for some reason asked if I had a pacemaker fitted'.

'And do you?' he asked. I shook my head.

'You should maybe have said ya had' Traff said. 'Might have saved ya from the electrics. They don't usually kill anyone outright — against the teachings of the Church, but they come damned close'. He hitched himself a bit more upright. 'Where'd ya say Hutch was?'

I nodded upwards. 'They kept him upstairs. Didn't wanna leave him, but they sorta forced the issue'.

Traff tried to smile through his smashed lips. 'Yeah, don't they just have a way of doin' that? Hope he's OK, I like the guy'.

I hoped he'd be OK too, but I had a nasty feelin' that that wasn't gonna be the case. I'd left him naked an' defenceless with a manic doctor an' a selection of guards. How could he be OK? I stowed the thoughts away an' concentrated on the here an' now.

'Can ya remember the lay out of the place' I asked hopefully. Traff had the same trainin' I had in the army, an' then some coz he stayed in. He knew the score an' that was that ya stored away every detail in case ya needed it later.

'The place is on three floors. Top floor is where they do the interrogations. Big rooms, high ceilings and plenty o' plug sockets. Ground floor rooms where they keep the political prisoners. Usually ten to a room. Down here's for the trouble makers' he smiled grimly. 'Guards patrol in twos or threes all round the building. At least four guards on each floor at each doorway. They patrol at irregular intervals — not pattern. I've seen cameras in each corridor an' in the interrogation rooms. Pretty secure'.

I groaned inwardly. The place would be difficult to break out of even if we were all fit. I had the feelin' that by the time a chance came, we'd all be less then A1. I rubbed my left arm again and felt the elephants start up on my chest. Not good. Definitely not good. I sat with my back to the wall next to Traff and tried to slow my breathin' and stop the elephants. I'd no pain meds with me an' I didn't think the doctor upstairs was the dispensin' kind. We waited in silence, Traff drowsing and me trying to keep the pain levels tolerable.

I don't know how long we sat like that. Traff leaned against me an' his head rested on my shoulder. He was exhausted, although he seemed a little better than the day before. The pain meds had helped him an' he'd had a good nights sleep. At least he's had more than I had. Must have been about two hours later when I heard keys janglin' down the corridor. I nudged Traff an' he woke up with a jump, then grinned sheepishly. 'sorry' he said. 'Gonna have to relax more'.

'Don't see why you're jumpy in a spa resort like this' I joked as the keys rattled in the door. It opened and two guards flung a blond body into the room, closed the door and locked it again.

Hutch's body hit the ground with a sickening thud an' I could tell he was unconscious. They'd given him his pants back, but he was still naked from the waist up. his pants were damp and his chest and back were wet. He had burn marks on his head, chest and there was blood on the front of his pants. I'd seen it all before an' it took me right back to Vietnam. Electrical torture. Victims are strapped to a wooden table and wetted down to aid the current. The prod operator applies the wand to sensitive parts of the body (head, temples, mouth, genitalia) while the machine operator works the bobbin, raising and reducing voltage. The victim's usually bites on rubber to make sure that they don't bite off their tongue during the shocks. Usually, a doctor is present to make sure that the victim has no heart problems and can survive the interrogation and to monitor the pulse. Real caring.

I knew he'd be out of it for a while an' I knew he'd be better off unconscious too. The pain when you're coming round is cripplin'. I moved him onto his back and sat with his head in my lap. It was hard work with only one workin' arm, but it was the only thing I could do.

I felt sick. This was too much. Traff was my friend an' I should have been the one who went through all this crap, not Hutch. But then I realised Hutch wouldn't have let me go through it anyway. I shuddered when I remembered that Dobey would only start lookin' for us after two weeks — still plenty of time fro the military to have fun with us.

We sat still for a while. There wasn't much to say. Traff an' me just sat and looked at Hutch. His body was still twitchin' as over stimulated muscles kept contractin', but slowly he started to come round.

His eyes opened and looked directly into mine. He groaned, long and low as he tried to move. The blood on his pants had dried and the burns on his temples and chest were beginning to blister. I could only imagine what further south looked like.

'Fine mess we got into' he gasped as he tried to sit up. I didn't stop him, just supported him a bit. He licked his dry lips and stood shakily. Walked unsteadily towards the tap in the corner. Together Traff an' me both shouted "NO" . He stopped and looked back at us questioning.

'Ya can't drink anythin' for a while, Blondie' I explained. 'If ya drink right after that treatment you'll have fits and convulsions. Have to wait a while, then take it slow'.

He came and gently lowered himself to the floor next to Traff an' me, gasping as he touched the stone floor.

'Know what ya mean by sparkin' company' he panted. 'How long? I kinda lost track of time'.

'Enjoyin' yourself too much' I said, 'that's your problem. A couple of hours, give or take'.

'I never experienced anything like that' he said. 'The pain! God it hurt. They just kept asking me where Gardel was. I couldn't tell 'em coz I've got no idea, but I wouldn't have anyway'. He closed his eyes as another wave of pain came, rode it out, then opened 'em again.

'How many times ya been through that?' he asked Traff.

Traff considered. 'Three or four, They usually alternate it with a beatin' or two. Ya know what they say, variety's the spice of life'.

'Well I don't intent to be around for many more sessions' Hutch said. 'We gotta find a way out'.

I agreed, but truth to tell, I couldn't honestly think of a way.

Half an hour later they came with food for us, if ya could call it that. The door opened and three plates came skimmin' across the floor. A piece of dry bread, a tiny bit of stale cheese an' a tough piece of beef about 2" cubed on each one. Traff an' me set to dividing eveythin' in two as Hutch looked on. I'd gone back into 'Nam mode, knowing the next meal might be some time off.

'What are ya doin?' he asked.

'Ya never know when you're gonna be fed again' I explained. Food ya divide an hoard, water ya drink all at once coz it'll evaporate'. He understood an' helped us break all the food in two. Half we ate, half was put carefully to one side.

'Next thing is we need to rest as much as possible' I said.

'No problem there' Hutch said, 'I'm beat. Oh wait. Maybe that's tomorrow's treat'.

As if in answer, the door to the cell opened, two guards walked in an' got hold of me, yanking me to my feet. I didn't resist. There was no point, but I kinda knew I wasn't gonna enjoy the next couple of hours.

Chapter 11

I tried not to struggle too hard on my way upstairs. My left arm was giving me hell and the elephants tap dancing on my chest had now put on their climbing boots and were going for it in a big way. I knew from experience that I needed to remain as calm as possible to get through whatever it was they had planned for me in one piece, or as close as possible. I concentrated on keepin' my breathin' even and deep. Wouldn't do to hyperventilate.

The guards were the same two that brought me down originally an' the goon I'd hit was still gunnin' for me. He'd seen how much he hurt my arm before so he concentrated on twistin' it some more. I clenched my teeth and rode the pains as best I could. I refused to yelp or make any noise. Wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction. When I was in 'Nam I found I could get through things easier if I knew I could pull their strings an' get 'em all riled up. Made the pain a bit more bearable when I could see 'em gettin' frustrated. So I tried to get my head into that mindset again, and just stared ahead of me, refusin' to acknowledge that either of 'em were actually there.

We ended up back at the doctor's room again and they pushed me inside. The doctor was waitin' behind his desk an' didn't look up, just kept on makin some notes on a file. I stood in front of the desk where they'd stood me, hands behind my back an' looked around the place.

It was quite a big room, painted plain white, but it had pictures on the wall. A family portrait of the good doctor with a woman — his wife? And two children. They were smiling at the camera, enjoyin' bein' together. How touchin' that, when this man was subjectin' his victims to all kinds of pain, he could look at the faces of his family an' enjoy his memories. Sick son-of-a-bitch.

He left me standin' there about five minutes. I knew it was a technique he'd used before. It's standard. Let the silence extend and the vic. will get jumpy, wantin' to fill the silence with somethin' — anythin'. I wasn't gonna give him the satisfaction, so I started thinkin' about Hutch an' Traff. Lookin' round the room and getting my information together. Like I said, anything can help an escape plan.

He finally looked up from his file as if seein' me for the first time. He put the cap on his pen, closed the file carefully an' pushed it away, clearing his throat.

'What is your name?' he asked quietly.

I knew he knew my name. They had to have known who to come and arrest right?' So I smiled at him.

'Butch Cassidy' I told him, still standing still and straight although the pains in my chest were getting' worse by the minute. He looked pityingly at me.

'What is your name?' he tried again a bit louder.

'Captain Marvel?' I tried again too. The guard behind me came an' stuck the muzzle of his rifle in my back, right over my left kidney, grindin' it in. The metal was cold on my bare skin. It hurt, but I tried to keep my face from showin' it. He pushed harder, forcing me off balance an' I took an involuntary step forward.

'Mr. Starsky' the doctor continued. 'It is of no use to make jokes. I am not a humorous man. There is certain information I need to know and you will tell me'.

'Not if I can help it' I replied tightly, starin' right into his watery brown eyes, swallowing down the pains in my back from the gun.

'But you will not be able to help it' he cautioned me. 'You have seen what has happened to your friends downstairs. It seems you are no stranger to pain' his hand waved at the scars on my chest. 'Do you really wish me to have to force it out of you?'

'Like to see ya try' I sneered, lookin' at him like he wasn't there. I just wanted him to know he didn't intimidate me, even though I was beginnin' to get just a little jumpy.

The friendly smile left his face and he raised his eyebrows at the guards behind me. A simple gesture, but they knew exactly what he meant. Before I knew it they'd taken hold of my arms again and marched me from that room to one next door. As I was pushed along I saw a figure in the shadows an' for a moment I thought of callin' out to the driver Ramon. What the hell was he doin', watchin' them manhandlin' me? I had more important stuff to think about right then, though.

There were several items in there I recognised. One was a wooden table complete with broad leather straps next to an electricity generator. The other was an old-fashioned dentist's chair. That's where we were headed. I knew there was no point in strugglin'. That they'd hurt me more if I did. So when they pushed me towards the chair, I slowly walked toward it, turned round and sat down, heaving a deep breath to calm myself. I watched as the guards secured my arms an' legs to the chair, then they passed a wide leather belt across my chest and under my arms, and another round my forehead, securin' it to the headrest. There was no play in any of the straps an' I could feel the circulation already startin' to suffer. The headband meant I was forced to look straight ahead an' the doctor came back into view. He had in his hand a syringe an' a bottle of somethin'. He fitted the needle into the bottle's cap an' upended it, drainin' some of the chemical into the barrel of the syringe.

I hate needles. I've had enough in my time to know the needle itself don't hurt, it's what's inside it. My mind went back to when Hutch had been strung out on heroin. I'd held him an' rocked him an' forced coffee down his throat. An' he'd pleaded with me for more of his 'medicine'. His eyes had been rimmed with red an' his face pale an' slick with sweat. He'd ranted an' raved for 48 hours straight till the cravings started to slacken, but it took him another year or so to get over it completely. Even now he has to be careful what drugs he can take.

The doctor was comin' closer.

'David. May I call you David?' he asked conversationally

I ignored him.

'David, tell me where Arturo Gardel is'.

So that was it. That's what they wanted. Well, no way could I tell 'em, an' no way would I have, even if I knew.

'Who?' I asked.

'Come, come David. You are in no position to play games. Whatever happens you will tell me where he is' the doctor said ominously, putting his hand on my wrist, feeling my pulse. He seemed pleased with what he felt. More sure of himself.

'Go to hell' I told him, meaning every word. He sighed.

He placed the needle against a blue vein standing out proud in my right arm and pushed it in slowly. I felt the sharp jab and the kind of ache as it went under the skin. Then he pushed the plunger home. I felt ice cold flowing up my arm and wondered what the hell it was. The good doctor let me know

'The drug you feel flowing into your arm is scopolamine. A truth drug. You will feel the effects almost immediately and when I next ask you questions, you will be unable to tell me anything but the truth'.

And then I knew I had him. The army had experimented with so called truth drugs in the early seventies. Mostly they were sedatives, like scopolamine. I'd had it injected before and knew its effects. My specialty had been interrogation techniques an' you can't teach folk about 'em till you've tried it. So I knew its effects, and its only the vic.'s own belief that they must tell the truth that makes 'em do it. Otherwise it just makes ya damned sleepy. Luckily this doc. didn't seem to know that an' I'd play along.

I could feel the effects already an' was havin' a real job keepin' my eyes open. The problem was keeping my wits about me enough to persuade the doctor that the drug was having the effect he wanted it to have. I struggled with my eyelids, jamming 'em open and breathed as deeply as my shoulder and lung would allow.

The doctor started his questioning. God this man was textbook!

'What is your full name?'

The scopolamine had made my mouth dry an' I struggled to lick my lips.

'David Michael Starsky'.

'How old are you?'


'Where do you live?'

'Bay City, California' the effects of the drug were getting' worse an' I could feel myself slippin' away. I twitched my left shoulder, intentionally causing it to hurt an' throb. The pain made my head clearer, an' we carried on.

'Why are you here?'

Oh, so now we start, I thought. This is where I need to concentrate. The blood thundered in my ears an' I could feel that familiar empty feelin' in the pit of my stomach as the drug took its hold of me. I bit my lip. Any little pain to sharpen my senses.

'On vacation'.

He paused. Not the answer he'd expected. He tried again.

'Why did you come to Casa Grimaldi yesterday?'

Shit, he knew. Just deny it Davey.

'Didn't' I said, but my voice was comin' out thicker now. It was harder to talk an' even harder to think clearly.

I saw his eyebrows shoot up, an uncertain look on his face for the first time. He stopped a minute, seeming to consider what to do next. He drew another smaller amount of the drug up and jabbed the needle into my upper arm, none too gently. He waited a moment.

My system was on overload now. My head was swimming and my eyes refused to focus properly. They danced around when they were open. An' keepin' 'em open was getting' harder an' harder. Again I twitched my shoulder, but the sedative was taking the edge of the pain. Although I'd had this treatment before, I was sure he'd overdosed me, an' I was having difficulty breathin'. I tried to keep that tidbit from him, knowin' he could use it to his advantage.

He leaned right into my face, makin' him look distorted an' crazy.

'Where is Arturo Gardel?' he hissed at me.

I tried to reply, but the world was getting' crazier by the minute. The elephants on my chest had taken to jumpin' up an' down an' the strap around my upper chest was stoppin' me breathin'. I couldn't get a breath into my lungs; it was just too damned difficult. My vision was goin' dark at the edges and little red sparkles of light were dancin' across my eyes. I was loosing the fight with consciousness and I think the doc, realised he'd gone just that bit too far with the drug. As I started to pass out, I felt a rubber mask on my face an' oxygen flowin' I breathed deep, but it didn't stop the world winking out.

*******Dear reader. Please note this chapter contains torture of a sexual nature. If you are upset by this subject matter please read no further. Unfortunately the account is based in fact — no I don't have such a sick imagination!*******

Hutch was dead. I saw him lying on his back in the mud, the dirt staining his hair and his ice blue eyes stared sightlessly at the sky. His body was broken and battered with bruises, cuts an' burns all over it. He was bleedin' so bad an' I couldn't get to him. I was tryin' so hard, but I was tied down. Someone or something was holding me down an' I couldn't get to my best friend's body to hold it an' comfort it. Comfort for me as well as for Blondie. I struggled like crazy to get up, but I could feel hands holdin' me an' I tried to swat 'em away but my arms wouldn't move. I felt so helpless seein' him there. My worst nightmare - Hutch dead. I hadn't been there for him an' he'd died alone, probably scared out of his wits an' in so much pain. I could feel the tears prickin' in my eyes an' falling down my face an' I didn't care who saw 'em. I could hardly breathe, sobs chokin' me an' makin' me feel sick. It'd never be Me 'n' Thee again. I'd never have him beside me in the Torino calling me "dummy" and laughing at me when I did somethin' stupid.

I remember screamin' at the top of my voice. 'Hutch, don't leave me. Tell me which bastard did this an' I'll kill 'em'. I'll kill 'em all, I swear'. He couldn't answer coz he was dead.

But someone was answerin' me. I could hear someone talkin' a long way off, but they seemed to be getting' closer. I started listenin' an' I recognised the voice. It was familiar an' comfortin'. Not Hutch's voice, that was impossible. I'd never hear his voice again, but still a voice I could trust.

'Hey buddy calm down. You're gonna be OK. Just calm down. Don't try to get up. Lie down an' concentrate on breathin'. Curly, quit it will ya?'

It was Traff's voice. I felt his hand on my chest. It was Traff that was holdin' me down an' I tried again to swat his hand away. Didn't he understand I had to get to Hutch? I felt his thumb wipe a tear from my cheek and rubbed the rest away myself, angry now more 'n' upset. I'd kill every damn one of 'em.

I tried to talk an' was surprised my voice sounded thin an' kinda raspy. 'Utch? Oh God, Hutch. What did they do to him?'

Traff was sat beside me, wipin' my face with Hutch's handkerchief from yesterday. He shushed me.

'S'OK Curly, they took him a while ago. He'll be back. Just rest'.

'What ya mean they'll bring him back? Where's he gone?' I was shocked. I looked around frantically for the body. It wasn't there. Had it been a dream? It seemed so real, but there was no blond body on the floor, no sightless eyes. It must have been a dream so I concentrated on myself a minute.

I remembered strugglin' to breathe earlier on. I was fightin' the straps that held me down, frantic to get some air into my lungs, but they just refused to work. I was scared witless at that point. I'd expected a beating, or the electric treatment. I'd braced myself for those. Got my head around it an' started putting up mental barriers, like you're meant to. But this? I never expected to suffocate! Then I remember a look a sheer panic on the Doc's face an' an oxygen mask getting clamped over my nose 'n' mouth. Didn't help much. an' next thing I know there's a freakin' long needle bein' rammed into my chest, a blindin' white pain an' the Doc mutterin' somethin' about adrenaline. After that, there was blackness, an' now this.

My chest felt sore, like I'd run into the Torino chest first, an' I still had difficulty breathin' properly. My left arm was completely useless. I couldn't make it move at all, an' when I looked sideways, there was a pretty impressive black bruise all round the shoulder joint an across my chest. The rest of me was just plain achin'. I pulled myself up an' Traff helped prop me up against the wall.

'How long was I out?' I asked, tryin' to get some deep breaths an' clear my head.

'Couple of hours' he said. 'When they brought you back you looked bloody awful. Grey skin, blue lips. What did they do to ya buddy?'

'Drugs. Scopolamine, but I think he gave me a double dose. I fought it for a while, ya know, usual thing. Let 'em think its workin'. He nodded — been there himself. 'Then I couldn't breathe an' he rammed a needle in my chest'.

Traff understood. He had field medic trainin' so seemed to know what had gone on. 'Doc should' a known better. With all those' he waved at my chest scars 'he should have known you were on pain meds. Mostly strong meds, like the ones ya gave me yesterday, suppress breathin' a bit. Scopolamine's a sedative, which suppresses it even further. Basically he was cuttin' off your airway, Curly. The needle must have been adrenaline to get ya goin' again. You're gonna have to be careful'.

'Why?' I asked.

'Coz with all that shit goin' on, you're wide open to pneumonia, dummy' he told me like I should have known. I changed the subject.

'When did they take the Blintz? He's only just recovered from the last session' I said, rememberin' how bad he looked after the first round.

'Like I said, two or three hours ago' Traff sounded worried. 'The sessions only usually last an hour or so. Can't do more than that without risking permanent injury or death. It was real soon after the last one. He's strong. He'll cope'. Somehow though, he didn't sound like he believed it.

We were silent a while. I tried to get my left arm to work, doin' the exercises Jean had taught me, but gave it up when it didn't play fair. It didn't want to move, just plain hurt. Traff was lookin' a bit better, although he still moved stiffly. His wrists an' ankles were scabbin' over an' he had more colour, but he still looked sick, his ribs stickin' out like he'd lost a lot of weight. The bruises were standin' out black an' blue all over his body. I leaned my head back against the wall again wondering how the hell we were gonna get out of this one. We kept each other busy with mind games — song titles, film quotes. Anything to keep mentally active.

About an hour later, I heard the doors down the corridor open and keys in the door of our cell. I forced myself to stand up an' Traff did the same. We knew they'd just throw Hutch's body in an' we were ready to catch him, but he walked in, just like that. There were no more burns, no evidence of drugs, no extra bruises. The door closed an' I was at his side in a second.

'How ya doin buddy?' I asked him. 'We were getting' a bit jumpy there. You've been gone a long time'.

He just stared at me, walkin' mechanically like he didn't know what he was doin', then kinda slid his back down the wall, drew his knees up an' hid his head in his hands. What the hell had they done to him? I eased myself down to the ground next to him an' Traff limped over to the sink in the corner and wet the handkerchief for him. He handed it to me an' I offered it to Hutch. He didn't look up, didn't seem to know I was there. I put a hand on his arm an' he pulled it away defensively.

'Hutch, what did they do at ya buddy?' I asked softly. Anyone could see he was hurtin'. His tee shirt was missin' which meant at least I could check his chest for new wounds, but there weren't any. I pulled him forward to check his back. Other than the burns on his temples an' his chest from his last session I couldn't see anything else. I lifted his head up to check his eyes, wonderin' if they'd drugged him like they had me. I tried to get him to open his eyes, but he had them tightly shut, like he wanted to close the world out. He still didn't answer me.

'Hutch, did they hurt you?' I persisted. Needed to get to the bottom of this.

There was a pause, then a faint shake of his head. 'No' he whispered. It was so low I had to bend in to hear it.

'Did they drug ya?' Again the shake.

'Where'd they take ya Blintz?'

He looked up with an expression so weary I thought my heart would burst. 'Just leave it Starsk. Don't wanna talk about it' he said slowly.

I still needed to know how to help, an' not wantin' to talk didn't cut it, so I tried again, feelin' worry growin' by the minute.

'No can do Pal. Just tell me what happened'.

'Just leave me alone' he shouted, surprisin' me so much I sat back from him.

I looked at Traff and he just shook his head, silently tellin' me not to push it any more. He handed me a piece of the meat we'd saved earlier an' I gave it to Hutch, but he batted my hand away an' put his head back in his hands, closin' me out.

I struggled to stand up an' give Hutch as much space as possible — difficult in a room that's seven by seven. My look to Traff said 'what the hell have they done at him?' He shrugged his shoulders. Hutch has been through some bad stuff in his time, but he's never been held POW. As bad as that was, it kinda prepared ya for any rough treatment. You build mental barriers to keep ya sane. Or at least I did. Now I was really worried for Blondie. It was bad enough seeing him hurt physically. I'd never forgive myself for getting' him into this if he cracked completely. I had to try again.

Easin' myself down again, I put my hands on his head an' pulled it round till I was lookin' at his face. His eyes were still closed, but at least I could see him.

'Hey Blintz. It'll be better if ya talk about it ya know. Traff 'n' me have been through some stuff before. We understand. Just try 'n' talk huh?'

Slowly the eyes opened, but the look in 'em was like a slap in the face. They held so much hurt an' something else. Almost like disgust. What was that all about?

'Hutch just tell me' I pleaded, needin' him to let me in. I was getting' kinda freaked out now. 'Did they hurt ya?'

He shook his head, a bit more certain now, life coming back into his eyes. 'No, they didn't really hurt me. Not physically any way' he sighed.

'What d'ya mean, not physically?' that sounded ominous.

He paused a moment an' I could see he was tryin' to get things straight in his head before he told us. Traff was sat on his other side, giving him more support, like a Hutch sandwich.

'Juanita's here' he started.

'Juanita Cortez?' I asked. Stupid really. How many other Juanitas did we know?

Hutch carried on. 'They must have arrested her at the same time they arrested us. She's been here the same time we have'.

'Have they hurt her?' I asked, feeling the anger risin'. It's one thing to torture a grown man (bad enough, but ya get over it). To cause pain to a woman is inhuman. Wrong on so many levels.

'She wasn't hurt. Not till today. They took me upstairs an' left me in a room. Not the one from before. A different one. Just left me there and didn't say anythin'. There was a table in the room but nothing else. I must have waited about ten minutes before that Doctor came in. Behind him were two guards with Juanita between 'em. She looked pale, but she seemed OK'. He closed his eyes again, like he was tryin' to shut out the memory.

'They asked me where Gardel was again. Told 'em I didn't know. They told me if I didn't co-operate it'd be bad for Juanita, so he asked me again. Couldn't tell him, even if I'd wanted to, could I? No idea where he is. So I told 'em. He didn't believe me, just ordered the guards in Spanish.

Next thing I knew they'd forced her over the table on her stomach an' pulled up her dress. Then they held her down. They were askin' her where Gardel was an' she was sayin she didn't know. She was so calm! Then they put a gun to her head'. He swallowed down a sob. 'Oh God Starsk, what have I done? Shit, what have I done?'

'What happened?' I asked, feeling my gut clenching coz I had a pretty good idea what had gone on, but my mind didn't want to believe it.

Hutch licked his lips. 'They told me if I wouldn't tell 'em, then she would. They told me to........Oh God, I had no choice. They said if I didn't, they'd shoot her. They had the gun at her head an' the guard's finger was on the trigger. I refused to begin with an' he fired the gun into the table by her head. There was a splinter of wood in her cheek. I knew they meant it. Then she turned her head an' looked at me, like givin' me permission'.

He put his head back in his hands, shuttin' us both out, alone with his memory. He kept talkin, but it was muffled.

'How could she do that? How could she be so calm?'

'She did what she had to do, an' so did you' Traff said gently.

Hutch looked up an' stared at him. 'How could she give me permission to rape her?' he asked in a strangled voice.

So there it was. That's what he'd had to go through. Not only did he have to do an act so against his nature as to be painful for him, but to a woman he admired and liked. And to do it at gunpoint, three strange men watchin' and with the knowledge that if he refused, she'd be shot.

He was still talkin'. 'She just smiled at me an' turned away. I couldn't let 'em shoot her. What's she done to die for? But maybe she wanted to die after what.......what I did'. He said it so softly an' sadly.

'It's not your fault ya know' I said, not knowing what else to say. 'You were forced. You saved her life an' probably Gardel's too'.

But he was almost manic now, he was laughing, a hard, brittle laugh. 'She still wouldn't tell 'em, even after.....after I'd done, so they said I had to go round the other side of the table an'......an' take her at that end' he could hardly say the words.

'They pushed me round, but she started yellin' at 'em, sayin she didn't know an' neither did I. She was tryin' to save me. She didn't care about herself, she was tryin' to save me from having to.....having to rape her again. She looked at up me an' told me everythin' was OK and not to tell 'em anything. They pushed me towards her an' I struggled back. I was fightin' 'em now. No way could I do what they wanted'.

'No-one could, Hutch. You did good' I said, tryin' to make him feel better any way I could.

He just stared at me like I was a monster an' tears started flowin' down his face. 'How could I have done good? I didn't do what they said. I couldn't do it. Couldn't bring myself to degrade her like that again. I refused, so they shot her in the head. They just put the gun up against her head and blew her away. She's dead an' its all my fuckin' fault'. He sagged forward and deep racking sobs shook his body.

Traff an' me just stared. What can you do or say when a man's been forced to do that, an' then when he finally refuses, watches as the woman is shot?'

No. We didn't know what to do either.

Chapter 13

Hutch had finally fallen into a fitful kind of sleep. He seemed exhausted once he'd managed to tell us about his ordeal an' we just hadn't known what to do for him. S'no use sayin' it's all OK coz it really wasn't. No use sayin' he's gonna be OK either, coz I was damned sure it was gonna take a long time for him to get over this. It's not the sort of thing ya can just turn over an' forget.

Once he'd collapsed over on his side an' closed his eyes, Traff an' me left him alone. We could tell when he'd finally drifted off and we started talkin' between us in whispers.

'The son-of-a-bitch' I hissed. 'Torture's one thing. What they did to him was somethin' else!'

Traff agreed. 'I've heard of it before, but ye gods it's tough. Ya think he'll get through it?'

Well that was the question, wasn't it? I've known Hutch for over ten years. He's one of the most sensitive guys I know. Not in a smoochy sickly way. He's a ladies' man. Knows how to treat 'em right an' make 'em feel special. Even the women he'd had past relationships with still liked him. I knew having to do something like he'd been forced to do would be tough on anyone. But for Hutch? God knows how he'd fare. I only knew if the same happened to me, it'd push me clean over the edge.

I shrugged my shoulders. 'Dunno. He tough when it comes to pain. But this? I have no idea'.

'Well, if anyone can help him through, you can Curly' Traff volunteered, makin' me smile.

'Oh, for Gods sake don't get soapy' I said, but deep down I knew I'd be there for Blondie no matter what way he needed me.

Hutch slept for three or four hours. It was difficult to tell in that airless hot little room. The one small window was set high up an' the bars over it cut out a lot of the light. The inside was dim even at midday. He finally started to stir just as we heard that horrible sound of the keys janglin' in the lock again. Traff an' I looked at each other an' struggled to stand. We agreed silently that if they came for anyone, it wouldn't be for Hutch.

The guards had other ideas. Hutch was awake suddenly, his eyes wide, starin' at the guards in the doorway. They shouldered their way into the room and went straight for him. Obviously the men upstairs knew they'd weakened him an' were goin' for the kill. As they came towards us Traff an' me stood in the way, shieldin' Hutch from them. They tried to get round us, but we held our ground.

'Him, now' one of 'em grunted at us.

I was way past angry now. 'No way. Ya want someone, ya take me' I told 'em, takin' a step forward.

They tried to get round me again, but I stepped in their way. 'No, I told ya. Ya want someone, ya take me' an' I walked towards the door. They stopped a minute, unsure. They were obviously just the brawn, not a brain cell between 'em. Then they made a decision. Easier to take the mad guy who wanted more pain, rather than the reluctant one on the floor. So they went with it, caught me up an' took hold of my arms, pushin' me up the stairs an' back to the Doctor's office.

Once there, I was left waitin' again, while he finished his form filling. What was he writin'? Juanita's death certificate? The picture of his family on the wall smiled down at us, happy little faces lookin' at their Daddy. How did he sleep at night?

When he did look up, I could see he was angry. He barked somethin' in Spanish at the guards an' they said somethin' back, all apologetic, then he looked back at me.

'Well David, it seems we meet again. You were not my first choice for this session. Your friend was so much more entertaining and informative' he said.

I couldn't believe him. 'Screw you' I sneered. 'Hutch didn't tell ya nothin'. Not even when you murdered that poor woman. Ya hide behind your holier than thou attitudes, but it didn't stop ya killin' a nun, did it? Didn't stop you cowards killin' a defenceless woman'

That stupid smile was still on his face an' I just wanted to knock it off.

'Oh but didn't he tell you how much he enjoyed himself?' he asked me, raising his eyebrows suggestively. That did it, I felt somethin' inside snap an; I lunged forward at him, dyin' to get my hands round his throat an' choke that smug look off his face. He pushed back from his desk outa my reach an' I felt one of the guards take hold of my arms. The left one wasn't movin, but it still felt pain an' the guard twisted it savagely behind my back. I couldn't help yelpin' in pain, which seemed to excite him an' he did it again.

They frog marched me up the second flight of stairs an' into the room with the wooden bed frame. Within minutes I was laid on my back, strapped down an' they threw a bucket of cold water over me. I braced myself. This was something I understood. Didn't like it, but I understood it.

The doctor came into the room and just kinda looked down at me. I ignored him again an' eventually he was the one that broke the silence.

'Do we have to do this David?' he asked almost pleadingly. 'All you need to do is tell me where Gardel is and we will let you all go'. He started lookin' close at my chest and reached out an' stroked the long scar on my chest. I hate that feelin'. The skin there is so sensitive; it sets my teeth on edge even when I touch it. I couldn't help tryin' to pull away. He saw the movement, an' it made him smile. He focussed on the part of the scar where the infection had been. It's wider there an' still kinda sore. I think he knew it, coz next thing I knew he was pushin' his fingers against it. I could feel the sweat startin' on my forehead, but I kept my lips clamped shut. Wouldn't let the bastard see how much it hurt. He just stared down at me, looking me right in the eye and ground down harder till I thought he was gonna go right through to the back. Eventually I couldn't take it any more an' I let out a kind of groan. It seemed to be what he wanted to hear, an' he moved his hand away, trailin' his fingers back up my chest.

Next he moved his attention to my shoulder an' did the same grindin' thing there. It was just too much an' I couldn't help the scream. It just happened an' I felt angry at myself for bein' so weak.

'Oh yes, David, you will tell me and I will let you go' he said again.

I gave one of those ironic laughs. 'Yeah, course you will' I panted. All my breath was taken up with ridin' out the pain in my shoulder an' stomach. 'Thing is, believe it or not, I really have no idea where Gardel is'.

He sighed. 'I do wish I could believe you. But you were seen coming in here with him dressed as a monk, I believe'. He chuckled. 'Just save yourself the pain David, and tell me where he is'. He reached up an' pushed his thumb into my shoulder again, an' again I couldn't stop myself screamin'. Shit this man was good.

I closed my eyes an' shut him out. Wasn't gonna go over that again. 'I think you'd better crank up the generator' I muttered at him, an' waited for it.

He fiddled with the electrodes. Stuck one on each temple, two lower down on my stomach, and one on each of my feet. Oh, and the prize pair on the family jewels. Knew he wouldn't be able to resist them. He seemed happy everything was in place an' he kinda ruffled my hair, which creeped me out worse than the thoughts of what was to come.

'One last time, David. Where is Gardel?' he asked patiently.

I said nothing. Just laid there an' waited. He gave a signal to one of the guards an' they forced a piece of leather between my teeth. I took as deep a breath as I could an' suddenly the world ignited around me. My muscles went into spasm and cramped up. I couldn't breath, couldn't move, couldn't make 'em relax. I felt my back arch off the table, and then I just sort of laid there an' shuddered on the bed frame for ever. The pains were generalised, even though the placing of the electrodes was specific. It just felt like my whole body was on fire from the inside out.

Finally it stopped but my muscles wouldn't relax right away. They just kept on contracting, makin' me hurt even more. I couldn't help groanin' and I was just takin' a breath when the whole thing happened again.

You know when ya see those cheesy war films with the guy screaming on the bed? Well it ain't like that. There's just no way ya can get enough breath into your body to scream, an' even if ya could, your voice wouldn't work till the current stopped.

Someone threw the switch to the off position right there an' then and suddenly I could scream, which I did. Loud. God it hurt. Hurt so much more than I'd remembered. That's the funny thing about pain. Ya never remember just how much it hurt. Guess that's why women have more 'n' one baby. They don't remember how much it hurts.

So I spat the leather out of my mouth and told the doctor exactly what I thought of his parentage, his lack of a father and what his mother was. He didn't take kindly and the third surge of electricity started. It got progressively more painful with each jolt an' I really didn't know how long I'd be able to hold on.

In my mind I was just glad I'd saved Hutch from this. In his current state I think he'd have just given up an' died. I wasn't going to give this madman that satisfaction. Instead, I took the other option an; passed out

Chapter 14

I woke up when another pail of cold water hit me square in the face, gasped tryin' to get my breath, hopin' that when I opened my eyes I'd be back in the cell with Hutch an' Traff. I opened my eyes slowly, but the view was the same. Same plain white ceiling, same grindin' pains in my shoulder and chest. An' now my temples burned fiercely where the electrodes had been an' I had the mother of all headaches. As for the place between my legs! My day was getting' better 'n' better.

The doctor came into view strokin' my forehead again. What was it with this creep?

'Welcome back David' he said slowly, like I was a kid. 'I'm so glad you decided to join us again'.

'Wild horses, ya know' I muttered. I was stiff an' sore an' not in the mood for small talk. My arms were stretched out to the sides an' it put extra strain on my shoulder each time I breathed or moved. I just wanted to get this over with. Kinda interested in the outcome, one way or another. He was still speakin'.

'I thought your heart may not be up to the therapy we had for you' he smiled at his own black humour. 'I think we should try something a little different, don't you? Unless you want to tell me where Gardel is? When was the last time you saw him?'

I'd had enough of this guy. Talk about a broken record! I took a breath. 'I don't know how much plainer I can make this. I don't know where Gardel is' I managed to say. It hurt to talk an' I was getting' way past tired. I thought the pains I'd had in my chest before were bad, but the pains I had over my body now were something else, screamin' at me for rest. I just needed to sleep.

'I was afraid you'd say that' he said. 'We'll just have to try a little different type of persuasion'. I saw that he was holdin' some kind of leather whip in is hand. It was like one of those cowboy bullwhips but shorter. It had a shiny silver bead at the end of the thin tail. He pulled it between his fingers almost lovingly. I wondered idly where he was gonna use it an' I was kinda surprised when he walked down the table to my feet. I was still strapped down by my wrists an' ankles, bare feet hangin' over the edge of the table.

Without waiting, he swung the whip and the wicked bead at the end stung the soles of my feet. I've known some pain in my life. I've been shot, I have been stabbed, poisoned. I've had countless operations in hospital. I've even been tortured before, but nothing prepared me for this.

Ya ever been to the beach an' walked on soft sand, then suddenly ya step on a pebble or shell? Remember how that hurt? Well magnify that by about a thousand. To begin with, it stung, then it set a trail of fire along my feet that seemed to radiate upwards through my legs and beyond. He struck again and again and within a minute I was a quiverin' wreck. I couldn't think past the pain. All the techniques I'd used before just wouldn't work with this. It was a constant fire an' bruising ache on my feet an' I couldn't move them out of the way.

I lost count of the times he swung that whip, but I screamed every single time. Just couldn't stop myself an' pretty soon I was drenched in sweat, every other pain in my body palin' into insignificance next to that whip on the soles of my feet. Every time he hit, I tensed up an' that caused my shoulder 'n' chest to hurt more. I was livin' in a blood red haze an' I wanted out.

He'd worked himself into a regular sweat himself, so the Doctor stood back, takin' a rest and wiping the sweat from his own face with a big white handkerchief. I lay pantin' an' gaspin' on the table. Screwin' my eyes shut to try 'n' shut out the pain. I'd had it. At that moment I think I would'a sold my soul to the devil rather than havin' him wale at me again with that whip. 'C'mon Starsky get your act together. Ya can do this.' I kept sayin' over an' over, tryin' to convince myself I could take more. I knew, though, I was getting' to the stage where I'd break. I think the doc knew it too, coz he put the white cotton back in his pocket an' loosened his arm, before takin' aim with the whip again. He never even asked me about Gardel any more, he just was enjoyin' himself hittin' me time after time.

He got one more strike in, settin' me janglin' and screamin' on the bed again before he an' I both heard another noise. It was gunfire, an' judgin' by the sound it was semi automatic rifle fire. Lots of it. The doctor wheeled around an' faced the door as the guards disappeared outside, their own guns at the ready.

Me? I was just glad of a breather for a few minutes. Anything to defer from that searing pain. I lay on that bed gaspin' an' groanin'. I could feel myself slipping down into blackness an' I shook my head to try an' stay with it. Didn't want to miss any action, listening to the sounds outside wondering just what the hell was goin' on. The Doctor too was doin' a dose of wonderin'. I could see on his face he was loosin' confidence fast, which was fine by me. I closed my eyes an' waited, hopin' the pain in my feet would back down a ways an' let me concentrate.

The gunfire seemed to be getting' nearer now an' I could hear shoutin' too. The Doc went to a drawer in a medical table at the other end of the room an' took out a Beretta, just like mine. As the shoutin' neared the door, he stood by the side of me, slid the carriage back, cockin' the weapon and pointed at my head. Just as he did that a blond bomb shot through the door an' skidded to a halt inside the room.

Hutch's eyes were like ice cold fire as he held a Magnum pistol pointed at the Doctor's head. The Doctor in turn ground the muzzle of the Beretta into my burned temple.

'Don't come any closer Kenneth' he said clearly 'Otherwise David will die' he pushed the gun into my head again, an' I bit down hard on my lip to keep from makin' a sound.

'Just do it Hutch' I shouted. I could see him waverin'. Calculatin' whether he could hit the Doctor before the Doctor could shoot me. I didn't care. I just wanted to see the son-of-a-bitch dead.

'Hutch shoot him for God's sake'. I urged him, knowing if he delayed any longer he'd loose the advantage he had.

It all happened in a split second. Traff staggered into the room behind Hutch, making the Doctor loose his concentration a moment. Hutch seized his chance and I heard the Magnum discharge with a deafening sound that ricocheted around the room.

For a moment I thought the Doctor had shot me. I felt a white hot pain in my head, but it was the Doctor's hand slipping away as his body fell over mine, dead.

A moment later, the body was pulled away from me, clearing my sight as Hutch took hold of it by the shoulders, dropping it to the floor. His eyes were wild and he started hitting the Doctor's body with his fists, grunting with the effort. Over an' over he ploughed his fists into the Doctor's flesh, even though he must have known the Doctor couldn't feel a damned thing any more. Traff watched a moment, then walked slowly over to my frenzied friend.

'Hutch? Hutch buddy, enough' he said, trying to catch Hutch's flyin' fists while makin' sure he didn't come into the firing line.

Hutch was deaf to everything. I was still tethered to the bed, but I was talkin' to him too.

'Hutch, stop. Enough's enough Blondie. HUTCH' I shouted. That seemed to work an' he stopped his poundin', bending over the dead body, gasping for breath, sweat pourin' down his face. Traff took hold of his hands an' dragged him to his feet an' away from the body. He took him to the side of the room an' sat him on the floor against the wall. I watched as he took up that knees up position again, head in his hands. A picture of a man destroyed.

Traff was workin' at the straps round my wrists, ankles an' chest. They were tight an' slick with my sweat an' Traff's hands were damaged. It took a while. Once he'd gotten them undone, he helped me sit up, even though I was dizzy 'n' sick an' the movement hurt so damned much I thought I'd pass out again. I levered my legs over the side of the table and stood up. Oh what a mistake that was. The bastinado (the whipping) had left the soles of my feet red raw an' I screamed as they touched the floor, sinkin' to my knees to take the pressure off 'em, but nothing would have kept me from Hutch. I couldn't stand seeing him so, well, broken. I got on my hands 'n' knees and crawled over to him, puttin' my arm round him.

'Hey, thanks buddy' I said softly. 'Ya saved my life'.

He didn't look up. Just sat with his head in his hands again. I looked at Traff. He shrugged his shoulders.

'He's been like that since they took you away. He just keeps on repeating "what have I done?" I tried to talk to him, but its like he's shut down. Wasn't till they let us out the cell an' he knew he had chance to get to that SOB that he came to life again. Just snatched the pistol from the man at the door an' took off like lightenin'. Took me a while to follow' he grinned a crooked grin from his sore lips at me.

I put my arms round Hutch's shoulders an' pulled him to me. He collapsed into me an' buried his head in my neck, like a little kid who's had a nightmare and is scared to go back to the dark bedroom. I patted him, but he didn't move. I couldn't get up, my feet just wouldn't stand it an' as I looked down at 'em I realised I'd left a bloody trail across the floor. Terrific! With Hutch as he was, I really didn't have time for this.

'What happened?' I asked Traff, who was kinda proppin' himself up against the table, getting' his breath. Hutch had said yesterday that he thought one of Traff's lungs had collapsed. How the hell was the man still standin'? I had so much admiration for him at that moment. We were all the same now, sick, sore an' hurt beyond belief.

'Not too sure really' he answered, wheezin' some, 'but I think the Doctor just found out where Gardel is. We were waitin' for you in the cell when we heard gun shots. Next thing we knew, the door opened an' instead of the usual goons, this guy was tellin' us to follow him, we were getting' out. Then Blondie took the law into his own hands, and we ended up following him here. You were gone a long time. What did they do to you?' he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. Not a good idea coz it hurt, but I really didn't want to talk about it. Best to forget. 'Short version is he tested the electrics out on me, found my heart didn't take too kindly to that, so he switched to walin' at my feet with that thing' I motioned with my head to the whip layin' on the floor.

'Traff was studying the underneath of my feet now. 'Looks like you aren't goin' anywhere on them too soon' he said.

I grunted, not bein' able to see 'em for myself. 'That bad huh?'

He nodded. 'Pretty cut up Pal' he confirmed. 'And an interestin' shade of purple. Bet that smarts a bit'.

'More 'n' you'll know' I said wryly. 'So what'll we do now?'

'Dunno' he said. 'But I think were gonna find out'.

Chapter 15

There were voices coming towards us up the corridor and we both looked at the door as Gardel's familiar face appeared. He smiled when he saw us all together, then his face sobered as he saw the state we were all in.

'Gentlemen, I am so sorry for your mistreatment' he said. 'As soon as we knew the Military Junta had you, I set about making plans to free you. It appears I was rather late. I apologise'.

He crossed the room and hunkered down beside me 'n' Hutch.

'How badly hurt is he?' he asked me.

'Physically not bad. He only had one session on that' I flicked my head at the wooden table. 'But mentally? I don't know. He's been through some tough shit'.

Gardel acknowledged that, and I saw a flash of anger, sorrow and regret cross his face. He must have known what they'd done to Juanita. 'I understand' he murmured standing up.

'We will be taking you to our headquarters now. It is better for all concerned if you know nothing of its location' he said. 'We could blindfold you, but if you were captured again, there is always the possibility you might be able to tell them of the number of turns the car makes. It would be better if you knew nothing at all of the journey. I am sorry to insist after all you have been through, but perhaps you would look forward to a brief rest?'

Glad that I was to be out of the clutches of the good Doctor, I was more than a little concerned about being completely helpless while going with this Gardel. I'd only met the guy once and look at the trouble he'd gotten us in to, but Traff knew him better than I did. I'd go with whatever Traff decided. To be honest, my mind was beginnin' to shut down anyway. Just too much pain to deal with. The idea of a good sleep was seductive. Traff was weighing his options, like a good soldier. Never compromise your position an' never leave yourself vulnerable.

'What sort of place are we goin' to? He asked cautiously.

Gardel reached out and put a hand on Traff's shoulder. 'My friend. After all you have done to safeguard me, I would not put you in any danger. Our headquarters has a small medical facility with a good doctor there. He will be able to deal with your injuries, before we move on. I know you have very little reason to trust me, but I do ask this of you'. He said it reasonably an' Traff an' me came to the same decision. We both nodded and Gardel called outside for one of his men. He came in with three syringes, an' Traff held out his arm.

Within minutes all three of us had had a good dose of whatever it was. Hutch didn't even look up as I held his arm out for Gardel. He was closed down completely, still nestled into my neck, an' so the last thing I remember is sitting with my arm round him as I felt him totally relax for the first time in a long time. Traff was out cold already and within a minute, I joined him.


I don't know how long it had been, but when I woke up I felt so much better. I lay in the clean bed relaxin' and takin' a moment to take in the sensations from my body, mentally explorin' it.

My headache had backed right down to a mild twinge an' I could feel soothin' cream on the burns on my temples. I realised I couldn't move my arms an' for a minute I panicked, thinkin' we'd been double crossed. I looked down the bed an' realised why. My left arm was strapped across my chest with broad white bandages an' my right arm had an IV in it. It was loosely strapped to the cot sides, an' I realised that was probably more for my protection than anythin' sinister.

The pains in my chest had gone, so I knew they'd given me some pain meds, but they weren't doin' too much for the pains in my feet. I wiggled my toes, which was a big mistake, but I could feel bandages there too. I settled my head back on the soft pillow for a moment, then thought about Hutch an' Traff.

I looked up again an' saw there were four beds in the room. One was empty. Hutch was laid in one, an IV in his arm too. He was still asleep, an' for that I was grateful. Maybe rest would help him, but really I was just grateful he didn't have to relive his memories for a while.

In the other bed Traff was still sleepin'. He had an IV too an' his chest was wrapped around in bandages, with a tube comin' out at the side. I supposed it was a drain or somethin'. He had an oxygen mask over his face an' with most of his bruises covered he looked so much better.

I had such a feelin' of relief, like when you've waited for exam results for so long an' then ya get 'em an' everything's OK. I felt warm an' comfortable an' sleepy. But I didn't want to go back to sleep, just wanted to enjoy the feelin' for a while longer. We were safe for the moment an' we were bein' cared for.

I did go back to sleep. Couldn't help it. I think the treatment I'd had had taken more out of me than I thought an' I just couldn't keep my eyes open. I'd probably have slept longer, but I felt something messin' with my feet an; for an awful moment, I thought I was back in that room tied to the bed an' it was gonna start all over again. I must have cried out, coz the feelin' in my feet stopped an' the person came up the bed to look at me.

This Doctor was very young, younger than me I think. He had typical Latino good looks. Dark brown eyes, black hair, olive skin and a broad smile.

'I'm glad to see you awake' he said. 'We were quite worried about you all'.

'Good to be here' I told him, although I had hardly any voice left. That's what screamin' for a few hours'll do to ya.

'You'll be wondering about your injuries' he said. 'There is no need for undue concern. Your friend Thomas has had his pneumothorax dealt with and his chest strapped. He had three broken ribs along with multiple bruises and contusions. He was very dehydrated when he arrived, as were both you and your blond friend, but the IVs will see to that. Thomas should make a complete recovery'.

'As for Mr Hutchinson. He has very few physical injuries. A few burns associated with his treatment, which are something and nothing. It is, however, his mental state I am most concerned with, and I am keeping him sedated in order to assess how best to continue'.

'Your own injuries are quite extensive. I noted when you arrived that you have recently been the subject of a quite major operation?'

I nodded. The guy didn't need a medical qualification to work that one out!

'I have tested your heart and it is functioning adequately. Your shoulder muscle has been torn quite badly and will require further surgeries and physiotherapy upon your return home. For the moment I have dealt with as much as I can and I wish to keep it strapped as it is until you can seek proper hospital treatment. Your feet I can only describe as a mess! I have seen this sort of treatment before. It's quite popular in Muslim countries and is usually done by skilled practitioners. If done correctly, the bastinado should not break the skin and within four or five days, the victim is able to walk again. I'm afraid your tormentor had no such skill. I have stitched your feet as best I can. I've inserted about seventy stitches, but you must not attempt to walk for the next ten days, I'm afraid. You will also continue to be in quite some pain, so I will be retaining the IV for a few days in order to administer more pain medication'.

I let the news sink in. I'd guessed Traff's injuries. The Blintz had been reasonably accurate in his assessment. I was glad it was nothing more serious an' that Traff would recover fully. As for me? Well, I knew my feet were pretty bad, an' I was glad my shoulder was no more than muscle damage, although the prospect of more surgeries and appointments with Jean left me cold. I was more concerned about Hutch an' I asked the Doctor about him'.

'What sort of practice was he subjected to?' he asked.

I told him in as little detail as possible. God if I didn't want to talk about it, how was Hutch gonna get over it?

The Doctor considered. 'To be honest, I'm unsure. The difficulties with that sort of intimidation is that not only was he forced into the sex act against his will, but that his body will have had to responded in the normal way for the act to have taken place. It is not just the act, it is the fact that in a way his body has betrayed him — he had to have had a response normally associated with pleasure. Counselling would help in the long term, but first we must get him out of his current mental state. He was almost catatonic when Gardel found you?'

'What's catatonic?' I asked.

'Well, individuals in this state make little or no eye contact with others and may be mute and rigid. They may never recognise that anyone is around them. It can be common when someone such as your friend has witnessed or taken part in an extremely distressing act.

I considered, remembering how Hutch had been. 'Yeah, I guess he was. What can we do to help him?'

'As for treatment, the situation he finds himself in is as a direct result of post traumatic stress disorder. There is always the possibility of ECT, but with the electrical torture he endured, I think that would be a backward step. I think it probable that I will try a high dose of Lorezepam on him. This should help his current physical state and make him more alert, but as for what goes on his head? Only he can cure that' he smiled at me sadly.


The doctor started Hutch's treatment that afternoon. I was insistent I should be with him, an' although the Doc. thought I was nuts, he arranged a wheelchair for me an' wheeled me over so as I could keep a hold of Hutch when the drug started to work. He drew some fluid into a syringe an' injected it into the port in the side of Hutch's IV. He told me the effects should start to be felt almost immediately an' within a couple of minutes, he started twitchin' an' openin' his eyes.

I held on to his hand an' squeezed it. 'Hey partner, how ya doin? I asked, when he looked at me.

At first he didn't seem to recognise me an' I tried again. 'Hutch, s'me, Starsky. You OK buddy?'

His eyes focussed an' he looked right at me, recognition bloomin' in his eyes.

'Starsk?' he whispered

'Hey Blintz. How ya doin'? I said, pattin' the back of his hand. I smiled at him, willin' him to talk to me. He looked lost, like he had no idea who he was or why he was there. I tried to explain.

'We're in a hospital. You're gonna be OK. You weren't hurt too bad. We're safe now' I explained to him, keeping my voice quiet.

He looked questioningly at me, an' his eyes had a kinda far away look in 'em. He reached out an' gently touched the bandages round my chest, trailin' his fingertips over 'em like I was gonna break.

'Gunther?' he asked, like he was tryin' to remember.

'No, not Gunther, Hutch. That was six months ago. What d'ya remember buddy?'

He kept his hand on my arm an' closed his eyes like he was tryin' to think.

'Table tennis......your car........shots......Oh God Starsk, you were shot! Your chest......hospital' he was getting panicked an' I rubbed his arm, tryin' to calm him.

'Sssh. S'OK Hutch. Not Gunther. I'm OK. I'm not shot. I got better, ya remember?' I pleaded with him, tryin' to get him to remember, but he was lost in the memory.

'You nearly died. You should be in bed. Need rest. It was Gunther. I'll bring him in.......I'll kill him.........he shot you.......lyin' in all that blood..........nearly died' he was yellin now, like he was there, playin' it in his head over an' over.

'Hutch, buddy. Don't. Don't get upset. It's done. It's OK now. I'm here, I'm here. I'm OK. Remember? Hutch do ya remember?'

'No, you were dead' he sobbed. 'You're sick.....shot. Starsk, my Starsky' he whispered.

I looked at the Doctor, pleadin' with him silently to make this all better. He reached round me an' injected something else into the IV.

'It's a sedative' he explained. 'He's had enough for now'.

I looked back at Hutch, his eyelids were droopin'.

'Ssh Blondie, Just go back to sleep huh?' I whispered to him, leanin' as far as I could an' pushin' some of the blond hair back from his forehead.

'Starsk?' he whispered back.

'Right here buddy. Ain't goin' anywhere' I promised him.

'Starsky. Don't die' he said quietly an' a tear rolled down his cheek.

I stayed with him for a few minutes makin' sure he was OK. By that time, I hurt like hell an' the doctor had no problem persuadin' me to go back to bed.

'What's with him Doc?' I asked as I struggled back into my bed. 'The Gunther thing was six months ago. He was with me the whole time I was gettin' better'.

The Doctor nodded. 'It's common with this type of mental trauma I'm afraid. His mind has blocked out the memories of the last few days and has regressed to the last memorable experience he had'.

'Is he gonna remember?'

He shrugged his shoulders. 'I'm afraid I don't know. The only thing I can do is to keep trying the Lorezepam treatment and for you to give him the support he needs. You are both obviously very close. He will need your strength in the coming months'.

I stared at the foot of the bed as he left. God Blintz, don't do this. Be well again, I pleaded silently. I'm here.

Chapter 16

The next day we tried again. In the morning, the Doctor and one of the nurses passed a tube into Hutch's stomach to feed him. He was awake, or at least his eyes were open, but he just stared into space. He didn't even acknowledge that I was there, but I kept talkin' to him, tryin to get him just to look at me. He never moved when they put the tube up his nose and down his throat. Never looked at 'em, never moved. Just sat there like a doll while they cared for him.

I wasn't feelin' too good myself. Yesterday I'd felt happy. Comfortable. But today I felt like I was tryin' to breathe fog. It hurt too an' I felt hot. I didn't tell the Doc, coz I needed to sit by Hutch an' talk to him, an' I was sure they wouldn't let me sit in the wheelchair if they thought I was any sicker so I kept my mouth shut.

I sat by Blondie's side an' kept up a steady stream of conversation. I talked about anythin'; the weather, the pretty nurses, a vacation when we got home. After an hour, I'd had no response from Hutch, but Traff had woken up an' told me to shut up, he needed to sleep.

'C'mon Hutch, just tell me how you're doin' I asked him. 'Tell me if you've got pain. D'ya hurt?'

He stared straight ahead.

'Hey, d'ya see that nurse? Think she likes me' I wiggled my eyebrows at him. Normally he'd have told me to stop bein' stupid, but again, I got nothin'.

'Hey Blintz. I'm here buddy. Just look at me. Tell me you're OK' I pleaded with him before I started coughin'. It wasn't just clearin' my throat. I started an' I couldn't stop. After a minute, I had tears in my eyes, just couldn't get my breath. That's when I heard it.

'Starsk?' It was just a whisper, but it stopped the cough. I saw him lookin' right at me.

I gasped for enough breath to answer him. 'Hey Hutch, I'm here' I mumbled.

'You hurt?' he was lookin' at the bandages.

'Yeah, but I'm getting' better' I said, coughin' again. Willing him to remember, an' for a second I thought I saw some clarity in his eyes. Then it was gone, quick as that.


Just the single word, like it meant everything to him.

'No, that was ages ago, Hutch. Don't ya remember?' I was getting panicked now. Why didn't he know what was goin' on? He was always the strong one. The one that looked after me when I was sick. Now the tables were turned an; I didn't know what to do. I saw his eyebrows knit together, like he was tryin' to understand. I thought I ought to start at the beginnin'.

'Do you know who you are?' I knew it seemed a stupid question, but I was getting' desperate.

He nodded.

'Tell me your name' I said, tryin' to keep my voice level.

'Ken Hutchinson'. He spoke in a small voice, like he was terrified of makin' a mistake.

'An' who am I?'

'David Starsky'. He looked at me again, his eyes clearin'.

'Good. That's good Hutch' I told him. 'How do you know me?'

He paused. 'Partner?...... Cop' he said finally.

'Yeah, that's right. We're cops an' you're my partner. Great'.

He smiled. 'Terrific. You always say terrific' he said slowly. It made me smile.

'Yeah, I do. Terrific. How long have we been partners, Hutch?'

Another pause. 'Eight......nine years?'

'That's right. Do you remember where you are?' I knew I was pushin' it, but I had to try.

I saw the ice blue eyes cloud over, an; I knew then I'd gone too far, but he was still tryin'. His face was sad an' angry all at the same time, but he tried.

'We were in Bay City. You were injured and in the hospital. Gunther. I arrested Gunther. You got better an' I looked after you at your apartment. Then we...........we.........' A look of panic swept over him. 'I can't remember. Can't remember where we are. Where are we?' he asked frantically.

I held his hand, rubbin' my thumb over the back of it, angry at myself for pushin' him so far. He'd been doin' so well.

'Ssh Hutch. S'OK. Don't worry. We're here together. Look Traff's over there. We're all safe an' together. Just rest a while'.

Another round of coughin' started an' I had to pause to get my breath. When I was done, he was back to starin' at the wall again, an' I knew I'd lost him.

I went back to my bed an' talked to Traff for a while. He was feelin' stronger an' more comfortable coz they'd taken the drain out of his chest. He was still tired an' weak, but he was in good spirits, an' we got the old banter goin', but underneath it all, we were both worried about Hutch.

In the afternoon, the Doc. came back with another dose of Lorezepam. I told him about the talk I'd had with Hutch that mornin' an' he seemed encouraged.

'It'll be slow' he said, 'But if you keep at it, eventually it should come back. He just needs to give his brain time to adjust and deal with what he was forced to do'.

'An' how do ya do that Doc?' I asked bitterly. 'How the hell do you get your brain to accept that you were forced to rape a woman, an' your body thought it was excitin' enough ya got a boner to be able to do it?'.

He was at a loss for words, an' so was I. My headache had come back an' was poundin' away at my temples like there was a woodpecker in there. I felt like shit. Hot an' cold alternately an' my chest hurt with every breath. The cough didn't help much an' it seemed to be getting' a lot worse. But still, I didn't tell the Doc. I just wanted to concentrate on Blondie an' getting' him well enough to get him home.

He reached over to the IV an' injected some more of the Lorezepam. Hutch's eyes were already open an' as the drug started workin' they seemed to clear an' it was like he noticed me for the first time.

'Hey buddy, ya gonna talk to me some more huh?' I asked him.

He kinda shook his head like he was tryin' to get things to stay in place.

'Starsk? Where are we? Where's Traff?' he was lookin' round, confused.

'Over here Pal' Traff's husky voice shouted. He raised his head off the pillow and flicked a wave at Hutch.

Hutch gazed back at him, then at me. It was like he was seeing us for the first time in ages.

'You're both hurt. What happened?' he asked full of concern.

'Hutch do you remember where you are?' I asked him again now he was more alert. He paused, mulling things over.

'Not Bay City? No, we had to go........to go to.......to find Traff. We found him?' It was like a mist was clearin'.

'That's great Hutch, keep goin' buddy. What ya remember next?' I needed him to remember.

'Ahh. Airplane. We flew on an airplane to....to Buenos Aires?' he looked at me for confirmation an' I nodded at him.

'What then?' I pushed, keepin' my fingers crossed he'd remember.

He put his head back on the pillow an' closed his eyes, concentratin'.

'We had to find a Priest. Father Gardel? We went to a house to meet him. It was in a run down district. We went into a big old house an' we........we.......m met a woman' his voice was getting' quieter as his memories came back, an' I put my hand up to his face, pullin' it round till I could see his eyes. I locked on to 'em an' rode his pain with him as he remembered the Nun.

'We met a woman an' she was beautiful. Sweet like an angel.......Oh God Starsk. Juanita. They made me.........made me.'

I held on to him. 'I know buddy, I know. S'OK, ssh, s'OK Hutch'

I felt his shoulders shakin' but he pulled away from me, his voice angry. 'No Starsk, Its not OK. It'll never be OK. How could I have done that? How could they have made me? I should have been stronger. Taken 'em on, I dunno. An' then they killed her. Just like that, they blew her away. She was so beautiful, an' they killed her in cold blood after I'd........after I'd raped her' his voice trailed off an' I pulled away an' stared into his eyes again, lockin' onto 'em so he could get some strength from me. I saw the anguish there, the hurt an' the disgust at what he' done.

'I know its tough Hutch. War is always tough, an' the war they think they're fightin' here is even tougher. She knew what she was getting' into an' she knew the cost. At least if she had to go through that it was with you. She liked you an' you liked her. You were gentle with her'.

He snorted. 'Oh sure. Gentle to do that while those creeps watched! I should've refused. Should've said no...I should have fought 'em, stopped 'em somehow, but I didn't. I took the easy way out.......Should've just said no' he seemed exhausted.

I was tryin to keep the cough away. Didn't need that now, but the pains in my chest were getting' worse. I gritted my teeth an' rode it out till I was sure he was gonna be OK.

'Yeah, an' if ya had said no, she'd have been dead straight away' I said. 'At least this way she had a chance. She was with someone who cared for her when she died. She wasn't alone, Blintz. You were there, regardless of what they made ya do'.

He looked at me so sadly, like I had no idea what I was talkin' about. And honestly, I hadn't. I hadn't had to do that to a woman. I had no idea what was goin' through his head. I just wanted to comfort him.

And then the cough started. It was like an itch at the back of my throat, then an irritation deep in my chest. I started coughin' like I'd never stop. I was frantic to take a breath but I couldn't stop long enough to do it, an' the more I coughed, the more I wanted to. I saw the Doc. come toward me an' I felt him touch my forehead. I knew I was hot — that I had a fever, but wild horses wouldn't have kept me from Blondie now. He needed me an' I needed to be with him. I waved him away an' made a real effort to get the damn thing under control. Finally I stopped, gaspin' an' holdin' my chest. The Doc. didn't seem impressed, but he left me where I was, still holdin' Hutch's hand as he wrestled with his demons.

We stayed like that for half an hour more. Not talkin' just touchin'. Letting each other know that we were there. Who do you trust time. Finally I felt him squeeze my hand.

'Be OK now Starsk' he said very quietly. 'Just need to sleep. Tired'. He slumped down on the bed and pushed his head into the pillow, pullin' the sheet around him an' closin' his eyes. I stayed a moment more, makin' sure he was OK, then managed to wheel myself back to my bed.

My whole body was achin' now an' the pains in my chest had doubled. I felt like I was breathin' fog, like it was too thick to suck into my lungs an' every breath was an effort. I knew I was sweatin' some an' I felt dizzy an' sick. The bandages round my chest an' arm didn't do much to ease things an' I felt like I wanted to rip 'em off to get more air.

Traff was lookin' at me an' he heard me grunt as I levered myself back into bed, catchin' one of my feet on the metal frame. I couldn't help it, I shouted out in pain.

'Oh sweet Jesus that hurts'.

'Ya want me to call the nurse?' Traff asked as I stifled another cough. He was reachin' for the call button. I looked over at Hutch who was only just asleep. I knew someone else comin' into the room would only disturb him.

'Nah, s'Ok. I just need some sleep. How you doin' buddy?'

'Fine' he said sleepily. 'Ya want anythin' just shout'.

I lay back on the pillows ridin' out the residual pain in my feet, closed my eyes an' tried to sleep.

Chapter 17

I don't know how long I'd slept. Felt like I'd just closed my eyes when I heard the small noise from Hutch's side of the room. I dragged myself up from the mire an' opened my eyes. The room was lit by a night light, so I'm guessin' it was the small hours of the mornin'.

As I looked over to Hutch's bed, I realised he was sitting on the edge with his feet on the floor, facin' away from me an' Traff. I wondered what he was doin'. Sounded like he was chokin' an' as I watched I realised he'd pulled the tube out of his stomach. That's what had made him gag. That's what I heard. He was sat hunched over an' he didn't know I was awake. He was mutterin' to himself. In the dim light of the room it was difficult to make out what was goin' on but I saw a sudden slashin' move an' I heard him gasp. I watched as he brought his arm up to his face an' realised there was blood coursin' down his arm.

I realised the flash must have been a knife, but where the hell had he gotten a knife from?

Without thinkin' I tried to get out of bed, and yelped as my sore feet touched the floor. I realised I still couldn't put any weight on my feet so in desperation I crawled over to Hutch's bed — not dignified, but I got there. As I came round his side of the bed, I did some gaspin' of my own.

He was quite composed. He had a scalpel in his right hand an' I saw that he'd slashed his left wrist deeply enough that there was a steady stream of blood drippin' off his elbow an' onto the floor. He was just starin' at the dark pool, kinda fascinated.

'Hutch?' I said cautiously. 'What ya doin' buddy?'

He didn't seem to hear me an' I tried again.

'Hutch, put the blade down babe. What ya doin' huh?'

He looked at me with such pain in his eyes my heart broke in two.

'I can't live with the memory' he whispered. 'I wanna end this now' an' he brought the scalpel up an' swapped it to his left hand. He tried to cut his right wrist, but there was no power in his left hand anymore an' he tried twice to slash, causin' nothin' more than scratches. With a face like a little boy wantin' me to tie his shoes laces for him, he held the blade out to me, an' his right arm.

'Help me?' he pleaded.

I ignored the pain in my feet an' stood up, lurched toward him, grabbing the blade before he could hurt either himself or me. He gave it to me without a struggle an' I threw it across the room, shoutin' for Traff to ring for the Doc.

I collapsed onto his bed an' I clutched Hutch to me, rockin' him backwards an' forwards, holdin' him tightly as he cried huge rackin' sobs into my shoulder.

'I can't live like this' he sobbed. 'Can't live with what I did, what they made me do. I want to die. Let me do it Starsk. Just let me'.

The words turned me cold, even though I felt hot an' feverish. 'Don't say that' I pleaded with him. 'Don't you ever say that Hutch! You don't mean it! You'll get over this! We'll get over this! Ya just gotta hang in there! Just hold on to me! Don't say ya wanna die, please Hutch, don't say that'!

His voice was muffled against my shoulder. 'I just keep seein' it over 'n' over in my head. I did that to her an' I ended up killin' her. S'all my fault. I can't live with that. I don't wanna live with that. Help me Starsky! Oh God help me someone'!

My shoulder was wet with his tears an' I could feel a few of my own. 'Hutch. I know this is crap, but you're so much stronger than this. Ya gotta let me help ya buddy. We can do this together, I know we can, but ya gotta be strong. For me, huh?'

'How can I forget this?' he asked me. 'How many more lives? I don't wanna be responsible any more. Too tired'. he whispered 'Too tired to care any more. How many more lives?'

I held him closer an' whispered in his ear. 'You kill yourself now Blintz, there'll be one more life — mine. Kill yourself ya kill me coz there's no way I could live without you, ya big lummox'.

I squeezed him even closer to me, like I could force him to be well again just by the power of my arms.

At that moment the Doc. came racin' in, takin' in the situation with one look. He rushed to take Hutch's weight from me an' as he did, I felt the pain in my feet knifin' through me an' threatenin' to make me pass out. The Doc, realisin' the IV had been pulled out, pushed a needle into Hutch's vein and depressed the plunger all the way. Hutch never looked up, but within a minute his body slumped onto the bed, unconscious.

'I've given him a strong sedative. He should sleep for quite some time' he explained. 'Believe it or not, this may have done him some good. We'll have to wait and see'. I had no idea what he was talkin' about. I just wanted to see Hutch well an' I was prepared to tie him to the bed myself to stop him pullin' a stunt like that again.

With the help of the nurse, I managed to crawl back to my own bed, but the emotion of the moment, the pains in my feet an' chest were just too much. Just as I was about to ask the Doc. what he could do for Hutch, another round of coughin' took hold of me an' the world winked out.


The clown wore a red wig. It contrasted with the pasty white make up on its face. The eyes were drawn on the face with different colours, like a child had drawn 'em and the lips were big, red an' scary. He wore one of those all-in-one clown suits with the chequered pattern on 'em, an' stupid sized boots. He was dancin' at the bottom of my bed an' every so often he'd come an' stick his grotesque face up close to mine an' laugh a manic laugh at me, his face distorted.

I struggled to get away from him, coz I knew he was evil. I could feel it. Clowns always are. Don't know why people laugh at 'em coz they're sad characters really. This one was hell bent on sittin' on my chest. He'd been bouncin' up an' down on it for a while, but I chased him off. Now he kept tryin' to get back there. I tried to stop him. Tried to fight him off but God it hurt. It hurt so much an' I needed help. I needed Hutch to come an' help me but he wasn't there. I shouted for him at the top of my voice, but I couldn't find the Blond Blintz anywhere an' I was getting' kinda panicked.

The clown was comin' for me again an' I knew I couldn't fight him off any longer. He was walkin' up the bed toward me, laughin' that stupid scary laugh. He climbed up on the bed an' sat on my chest. I couldn't breath. I couldn't make my chest rise enough to take air into my lungs. I was suffocatin' an' there was no one there to help me. I shouted one last time. HUTCH!


'David, just relax. Don't fight it. There's a tube in your throat. It's helping you breath. Relax', I heard the Doc's voice an' realised someone was holdin' my hands at my sides. I opened my eyes an' tried to speak, but the damned tube in my throat meant I couldn't make a sound.

I've had this before. When I was shot, I was on a respirator, but for most of the time I was so looped on the drugs they gave me I had no recollection of it. This was completely different. I had no control over my breathin'. Just as I was beginnin' to relax, it pumped my chest full of air again then let it out. It was the scariest feelin' I've ever had. Ya never think about breathin' usually. It just comes natural. But there was nothin' natural about this. This was torture of a whole different type an' I wanted out. There was no way I could cope with this an' I started fightin' 'em to get my hands up to my face to rip the tube out. The hands holdin' my hands down were grippin' harder now, not havin' an easy ride any more. I'd been through a lot in the past 72 hours, but desperation made me strong enough to put up a real struggle.

The voice was still there. 'David, just relax into it. Let the machine do the work. It won't be for long, we just needed to kick-start your breathing again. DAVID'.

But I was too far gone to take notice. No creep gonna tell me when to breath an' when not. I fought 'em with all my strength an' in the background I could hear Traff strugglin' to get out of bed. He was yellin' at me.

'Curly will ya quit that? They're not gonna hurt ya, just cool it OK?'

No not OK, I thought. Fine for him, he didn't have this damned hose rammed down his throat. I just needed it out an' I could feel tears of desperation runnin' down my face now.

Then suddenly, there was another voice. One I knew real well. It was weak an' thin, but it was close by an' I felt the Doc. move away to let the voice get closer.

'Starsk, look at me' it said.

It couldn't be. He'd tried to kill himself. He was sick. Couldn't be him. But I heard it again, stronger this time.

'Hey Gordo, Ssh, s'OK, Starsk just open your eyes for me'. I could never resist doin' what he said, so I opened 'em and looked right into those familiar ice blue eyes at my side. I put as many questions as I could into my eyes an' he smiled at me.

'Starsk, don't fight it huh? Just relax an' let the machine do the work. That's it. You've been here before, ya know ya can do it'. He reached a bandaged hand up an' stroked my head gently. It always relaxes me when he cards his fingers through my hair. Knows how to pull all the right strings, that guy.

I relaxed an inch. Still hated the feeling of the machine inflatin' my chest, then lettin' the air out too slowly. It made me feel dizzy, but I could lock onto those beautiful blues an' loose myself in 'em for a while.

Hutch was still talkin' to me. 'That's it, just relax an' let it happen. You're OK now. M'here. Not goin' anywhere, I promise. I'm sorry Starsk. Should never have lost it like that. M'OK now, honest, ain't goin' anywhere. Just need you to get well again buddy. Just like it's always been now. Me 'n' thee Ok?'

'Hey, and me' a husky voice said from the other side. Traff would never be left out. He held my other hand as the Doc explained I'd had pneumonia brought about as the result of too many drugs compromisin' my system. He promised I'd only need to do another couple of hours on the machine, then he'd take it away. In the mean time, I had to relax. I gripped their hands like my life depended on it. Every time I felt I was gonna start fightin' it, I took hold an' squeezed an' shut my eyes as they talked to me.

I looked at Hutch then flicked my eyes to the clock on the wall, wantin' to know how long I'd been out. How'd'ya ask someone that when ya can't talk? At first he didn't notice, then didn't know what I meant, but I kept on tryin'. He must have seen the frustration on my face coz suddenly he realised.

'S'been two days Starsk. You were unconscious an' you've had a bad fever. We were worried for a while there. You've been delirious. They had to strap ya down at one point, thought you were gonna take on the whole hospital'.

Shit, two days! I couldn't believe it. No wonder he looked so much stronger, an' I realised Traff looked better too. Made me feel a bit better.

'At least that two days has given your feet some time to heal, David' the Doc said. 'I had to re-stitch them after your little escapade the other night, but they're doing well now. I just need you to lie back and rest a while until I'm sure your lungs are functioning well enough to do without the respirator'.

So with Hutch on one side o' me , an' Traff on the other, both holdin' my hands, I thought about anything else I could, other than the mechanical monster invadin' my chest. They talked about anythin', keepin' my mind off that damned respirator. They told me how Hutch had woken up the day after his suicide bid full of remorse. How he hadn't left my side since he'd woken up, an' how Traff was getting' so much stronger every day. The time passed too slowly, each breath markin' another couple of seconds an' me wonderin' just how much longer I could stand it.

True to his word a couple of hours later the Doc. came back with a nurse for backup. Didn't want me beltin' him when he was tryin' to make me feel better! An' with the guys hangin' on to my hands to keep me still, he took the tube out as gently as he could.

My first words when I could stop coughin' afterwards brought his whole family history into question!

Chapter 18

It felt weird being flat on my back again, like I'd taken a backwards step from Gunther's attack, but at least I had Hutch an' Traff for company. Traff was still recoverin' an' after he'd seen that I was OK an' not goin' to cause more trouble for the medical staff, he took himself back off to bed an' before too long, I could hear him snorin'. I looked back at Hutch, who'd never left my side.

My throat was sore from the tube an' I sounded like I had a real bad attack of laryngitis. My voice was husky an' weak.

'How ya doin' now?' I asked him.

He put his head down an' wouldn't look at me. 'I'm OK' he said finally.

I snorted. 'Don't give me that one Blintz. How long have we known each other? There's got to be more goin' on in that blond head of yours'.

He looked up an' smiled. 'I feel like seven shades of an idiot. I don't know what made me do it. I remember bein' lead away from that damned room an' back to the cell, then its like my whole world disappeared into a black hole. I don't remember anythin' till I woke up that night. Don't even remember where I'd got that blade. An' then I heard you, an' I knew you'd help'.

'Yeah, but not to help ya kill yourself' I muttered.

'No, not that' he smiled. 'I just couldn't live with those memories an' I felt like every wakin' hour all I could think of was what I'd been forced to do. An' you know the worst of it?'

I shook my head.

'Its her face. I see it lookin' up at me an' smilin' like she doesn't mind that I'm gonna rape her. An' then little Kenny gets it into his head that its all OK an' leaps to attention! If that hadn't happened I couldn't have done it, could I?'

'Ya can't second guess what happened, Hutch' I told him', watchin' his face to see if he was gonna crack again.

'I know, I know, but it don't make it any easier'. He must have seen the look on my face. 'S'OK Starsk. I'm handlin' it. I'm not a candidate for Cabrillo any more, honest. But shit it's hard'.

'So you don't remember savin' me from Dr Frankenstein then?' I asked him.

'No. Traff told me what I'd done. Kinda wish I did remember. Would've made up for some of it. First time I remember seein' what he'd done to you was when the nurse re-dressed your feet yesterday. Bet they smart!'

'You'd better believe it' I said, glad to have him back to being somethin' like the partner I knew.

We talked about stuff in general for the rest of the mornin'. Traff woke up again an' joined us, an' it was good to just be able to relax, the three of us, an goof around, tellin' stupid jokes an' stories. It felt like a Boy Scout camp for a few hours.

We were well into the afternoon when the door to the room opened and the Doc an' Gardel both rushed in. Gardel was flushed like he'd rushed in from the outside.

'Gentlemen, I'm afraid that once more we must move you. I am lead to believe that this facility has been compromised and that the military police are on their way here as we speak. I am evacuating all personnel and I have plans in place to get you back home'.

'When?' Traff asked, sittin' up straighter. 'Slight problem Father. Starsky here can't walk yet an' he's weak as a kitten'.

'Hey, speak for yourself' I said. 'If it means getting' out of here I'm as strong as you'.

'But your feet' Hutch said, concern in his voice.

'I'll manage' I grunted hopin' they didn't hurt as much as the last time I tried to stand on 'em.

Gardel was speaking. 'There is no way that I can get anyone to fly you out of Argentina now. The airport is being watched and we have no private air facilities here that are not under military control. I have arranged for a car to take you to the East end of the docks where a fishing boat is waiting to take you across the River Plate to Uruguay. Montevideo is only 135 miles away on the opposite bank. Once there, another of my friends will give you safe escort to the airport and safety' he told us.

'Do we go now?' I asked.

'Indeed, my friend, Time is of the essence' He handed us sets of clothes and left us as we put them on, darting back into the room within a couple of minutes.

'Good, you are ready' he commented, taking in the three of us with a single look.

I wouldn't have said I was ready. The slight exertion of getting' dressed had left me gaspin' for breath and I'd had to leave one sleeve off coz I couldn't get the thing on for the drip in my arm. An' I had no idea how I'd go on about standin' up. That was a whole different question. The doctor saw my predicament an' crossed the room. He undid the tape from the IV an' pulled the 2" long canula from the vein in my wrist. Quickly he taped over the hole it left an' I shouldered my way into the sleeve of the rough work shirt I'd been given.

We were all dressed as fishermen, with heavy denim jeans, cotton shirts, and canvas shoes an' we all sat an' waited for instructions. I saw Hutch keep lookin' at me an' for once I was glad he was keepin' track, coz I had very little confidence I'd be able to go too far.

Gardel motioned for us to follow him an' Hutch came over to my bed. I shuffled to the edge an' put my feet down. Stood up an' yelped in pain. Someone had filled my canvass shoes with broken glass, I was sure of it, an' as I took the first step, I could feel some of the stitches already ripping. Terrific!

Blondie knew I was in a lot of pain, but we both knew we had to get out now, so I gritted my teeth an' hung on to him as we made our way out of the room an' down some stairs to a waitin' car. There was a driver in the front an' as we set off through the streets, I suddenly realised I'd seen his face before. Ramon! Shit! He was the one who'd betrayed our position to the police in the first place, I was sure of it! How come Gardel hadn't known, or had he an' this was all an elaborate trap?

I could see him eyein' us in the rear view mirror, an' I tried to get Hutch's attention, but didn't know how to tell him without gettin' Ramon's suspicions up. I gave it up an' concentrated on Traff. Usin' army hand signals, I told him we had one bad guy in front an' nodded with my head at Ramon. Traff gave one nod, briefly acknowledgin' he understood, then knitted his eyebrows at me. What we gonna do?

Well that was the question, wasn't it? What were we gonna do? My brain was workin' overtime, but I tried to keep my face as impassive as possible. Didn't want the goon in the front to see we'd clocked him.

The car was leaving the built up area of the city behind him an' an idea was beginnin' to form. We were all sat in the back of the car; Traff in the middle an' me an' Hutch either side. I was behind Ramon. I used the hand signals again. You take him out an' I'll dive for the wheel. Traff used his first finger an' thumb in a ring — the universal sign for OK. I held up first one finger, then two, then three, nodded an' all hell broke loose.

Traff lunged for Ramon's throat an' pulled his neck back so I could see the startled look in the weasel's eyes. He hadn't expected us to do anythin' an' was taken completely off balance. As Traff wrestled him out of the way, I levered myself over the back of the driver's seat an' took hold of the steerin' wheel. Hutch cottoned on to what was happenin' real fast an' started helpin' Traff overpowered the driver who was now strugglin for all he was worth. As the car swerved from one side of the road to the other, I saw Hutch raise his fist and bring it down on Ramon's temple once, twice an' was just about to go for a hat trick when the driver's movements stopped an' his body went limp.

Traff an' Hutch pulled him out of the way, an' I pulled myself all the way into the front of the car, jammin' my foot on the gas pedal, ignoring the seerin' pain in my foot an' rightin' the steering wheel.

I looked in the rear view mirror. Nothing following. We'd hit the traffic just right an' the road both in front and behind was dead quiet. I could see Traff an' Hutch in the back, both breathin' heavy, and I saw Traff graspin' at his side. I knew he'd hurt his ribs again, but it couldn't be helped. My shoulder hated the acrobatics I'd just put it through to get into the front seat, but fortunately It wasn't strapped to my side any more. The Doc had undone it so I could breathe better, so I had two free hands for drivin'.

'We all OK in the back there?' I shouted over my shoulder.

'Oh just swell' Traff grunted as he stuffed Ramon's body down on the car floor at his feet. Hutch agreed.

'So. Where'd ya wanna go now?' I asked, havin' no clue where we were.

'Pull over if ya can, an' we can regroup' Traff said. Sounded like a plan, so I checked that there was still no-one followin', pulled off the road down a side street an' killed the engine.

'Someone want to tell me what just happened? Hutch asked.

'Remember when we got to La Boca mission an' the driver kinda lurked around? Well I saw him again on my way up to one of the 'treatment' rooms at Casa Grimaldi. He's know about us all the way through, but by the time I was in a position to tell either of you, it was too late. My only concern is did Gardel know about him, in which case this is a trap, or do we still go with Gardel's plan an' hot foot it down to this fishin' boat?' We were between a rock an' a hard place. It most definitely was 'who do we trust' time.

I looked to Traff coz he'd been in Buenos Aires longer than the two of us. He'd met Gardel before.

He shrugged. 'I can't think that Gardel would know about this. He's in charge of the resistance down here. That's why they were askin' us about him at Grimaldi. He wouldn't double cross us. He's always been straight forward, an' he wouldn't have risked breakin' us out of Grimaldi if he'd been workin' for the other side'.

'So?' Hutch asked. 'You sayin' we should try an' get to the docks? We don't even know which boat we're meant to be on'.

'Well we can't get out of BA any other way' he said. 'You heard Gardel, they have all the airports covered, an' there's nowhere to go by road'.

I turned back to the wheel. 'OK, the docks it is. Ah....anyone know the way?'

Chapter 19

I drove at a reasonably fast rate, but not too fast. Didn't want to attract any undue attention. I decided to follow the road we'd originally been on, hopin' Ramon was takin' us in the general direction of the docks, an' as the miles passed I realised the whole place was getting' more industrial. In the distance, I could see cranes an' booms, so I was pretty sure we were goin' the right way.

About a mile further on I saw a sign which even I could read. It said welcome to the port of Buenos Aires, but there were security guys on the gates all with wicked lookin' submachine guns hangin' casually over their shoulders, so no entry there then. I drove on, followin' a high wall separatin' the docks from the road, wonderin' just how far we'd have to go.

Turned out to be not too far. Half a mile or so further on the wall started to lower in height an' a little while after that there were some parts of it that were crumbled and tumbled down. I pulled the car in to the side of the road, cut the engine an' turned around.

'Looks like it's that way' I pointed over the wall. 'Who's up for a little fishin' then?'.

We got out, leavin' the driver's still unconscious body on the floor in the back of the car, where Hutch had tied him with the belt from his jeans. I stood with my back braced against the side of the car, lettin' the pains in my feet subside a little before making for the wall. God, it was bad enough to walk without havin' to contemplate mountaineerin' over the masonry. With Hutch one side an' Traff the other, I limped over to the wall an' they kinda boosted my up so that I was sat astride the top. From there I could look down into the dock area.

We'd come a fair way from where all the container ships and naval vessels were moored. This end of the docks seemed run down an' almost deserted. At the far end of the dock wall were two fishin' boats, both moored next to each other an' both with men busy on their decks.

Hutch boosted Traff up onto the wall an' we both reached down and hauled Hutch up to join us. We sat takin' in the scenery an' studyin' the boats.

'Which one?' Traff asked.

Hutch shrugged his shoulders. 'Both look alike to me' he said. 'Which one looks shifty?'

I stared at him. 'What d'ya mean, shifty? How can a boat look shifty?''

He looked at me like I should have known. 'Ya know? Which one looks like its just waitin' for three refugees from Casa Grimaldi?' Which one's sailin' casual, like it doesn't want anyone to know what its doin?'

I shook my head. 'Ya know, I worry about you sometimes Blintz'.

Traff interrupted. 'He's got a point. Which one's the one we get on?'

We studied 'em both. They were both squat little boats, like the sort kids have in the bath. Almost round, with a little funnel in the middle an' painted - one red, the other blue. Neither gave any indication that they were waitin' for anyone. Neither had a sign up sayin' "escapees this way please".

'Well, we got a 50% chance of gettin' it right' I said hopefully.

'Yeah an' another 50% of getting' it wrong' Traff added, not quite so optimistically.

'Well, which is your favourite colour, red or blue?' I asked. He looked at me like I'd just grown another head.

'That's your big escape plan, Houdini? The sum total of all your experiences getting' out of tight spots? What's your favourite colour? Ye gods Curly!'

'He's got a point' said Hutch. 'There's not a dime between 'em. How do we know which is which? Gotta sort 'em some way' he raised his eyebrows questioningly.

Traff sighed deeply an' looked at me. 'S'your master plan buddy. I'll go with whichever colour you want. But when they start shootin' at us just remember this is all your fault'

I shot him one of those looks that says "thanks partner". 'An' who was the one got imprisoned in the first place? You got a better plan, now's the time'. He shrugged his shoulders, so I ignored him an' concentrated. 'Blue. We go with the blue one OK?'

He shrugged. 'Fine by me, but why blue, out of interest?'

I fluttered my eyelashes at him. 'Goes with my eyes, dummy'.

Getting' down off the wall was a lot more painful than gettin' onto it. Hutch jumped down first coz he was the least injured, an' then he kinda manhandled Traff down. I heard him groan as Hutch took hold of him round his middle, knowin' the ribs were still tender, sore an'', well, broken. Then it was my turn. Between the pain in my shoulder an' chest as I levered myself down, an' the knives stickin' through the soles of my feet as I landed, I was sweatin' within seconds an' the distance to the boats looked like a thousand miles.

Huggin' the wall as much as we could without lookin' like we were tryin to hug the wall, we made our way towards the boats, keepin' our eyes on the men an board. Although we were alert to any sudden moves they might have made, we had no idea what we would have done. We had no weapons and none of us were in much shape for an unarmed fight. As we got closer, the men on the blue coloured boat looked up at us. One of the men jumped down off the craft an' made his way slowly towards us.

We stopped 5 yards away from each other, sort of eyein' each other up.

'Um, Hi' I said casually wavin' vaguely, an' then Traff took over.

'Buenos diás'

Buenos diás' the man replied. '¿Adónde queréis ir?'

'Montevideo por favor? Si?''

'Depende' the man looked at the three of us.

Traff gave up the struggle with his schoolboy Spanish. 'Do you speak English?' he asked slowly.

'Si..yes, a little' the man replied. 'Where are you from?'

'The city?' Traff said uncertainly. How the hell was he gonna find out whether this was the boat we wanted. Couldn't very well say "oh hello, would you like to aid three wanted men to get away from your military police" now could he?'

The situation was taken out of his hands when from the deck of the boat a voice shouted in heavily accented English 'Get on board now. Hurry'.

We didn't need to be asked twice. I felt very vulnerable standin' out in the open on the dockside. I limped over to the boat and up the gangplank with Hutch hangin' on to me, an' as we got onto the deck, Gardel appeared at our side.

'What has happened to Ramon?' he asked searching our faces. 'Did you encounter some difficulty?'

I snorted. 'The only difficulty was Ramon' I told him. He looked questioningly at me, so I went on. 'He followed us to Grimaldi. He knew they were torturing us, in fact he saw 'em do it, an' I'm sure it was him who told the police where to find us. How could they have found us so quickly otherwise?'

'Where is he now?' he asked angrily. I told him. He turned to one of the other men on the boat and rattled a string of Spanish off. The man departed. And he turned back to us, apology in his eyes.

'I am truly sorry for that gentlemen. I had suspected him for some time, but he had remained so well behaved that I had dismissed my fears as irrational. I shall see that he is dealt with, and now, please follow me and we will endeavour to make your trip as pleasant as possible.

We followed him to a little doorway on the open deck of the boat and down some narrow stairs into the bowels of the ship. It was surprisingly roomy down there. All polished wood an' brass an' it made me feel like I was sittin' inside an' old fashioned cigar box. There was a table an' benches arranged around it, each with flat cushions on them. As Gardel nodded to us, we sat around the table an' he gave each of us a bowl of that mate herbal drink an' a straw. Hutch an' Traff drank theirs while I asked for a glass of water.

We heard noises from above an' Gardel disappeared, comin' back a moment later with a serious look on his face.

'The police have arrived and are demanding to search both boats' he told us. 'Fortunately, they are starting their search with the boat moored ahead of us'..

I looked around. To say the interior was snug was an understatement. Didn't see anywhere for us to hide, an' the police'd only need to ask me somethin' in Spanish an' our cover would be blown. Gardel could see me lookin' round.

'I'm afraid the only place to hide is in the water' he said apologetically. We all stood up an' went out on deck, keepin' the mass of the funnel between us an' the other boat. Quickly Gardel dropped a rope over the side an' one by one we lowered ourselves down into the water to wait.

Chapter 20

It was like lowerin' myself into an oily bath. The docks didn't have the cleanest water in the world an' there was that rainbow coloured film floatin' on the surface, along with bits of litter an' old rope. But at least it didn't seem cold.

I felt the water sting at every injury I had an' I heard Traff gasp as the water got to his multiple cuts an' grazes too. Although we were both healing, there still was way too much raw skin around to make this a comfortable experience. We clung to the side of the boat. There were no handholds, so we dug our finger nails into the crevasses between the planks of wood forming the keel. Fortunately, the sides of the vessel kinda flared out, so if we hugged the wooden planks an' stayed still, we couldn't be seen from the deck above. We floated there an' waited, knowin' if we were caught again, we'd have far worse than Casa Grimaldi to look forward to. The thought made me shudder.

We heard voices from above an' sharp Spanish commands as the police boarded an' started stompin' about. We felt the boat move in the water an' I just knew someone was lookin' over the side. I kept as close to the boat side as I could an' tried to stop breathin'.

The water that I thought wasn't too cold was now starting to feel like the Arctic an' it seemed to have a vicelike grip round my chest. I suppose my resistance wasn't at its all time best. My feet were pleasantly numb from the cold, but I didn't want to think about what the water was doin' to the stitches. As for Traff, he looked pale an' grey an' I just hoped the guys on the boat would leave soon. He didn't look like he'd last in the water much longer. His eyes were half closed an' he was shiverin' fit to bust. I knew Traff was tough an' also knew he'd been puttin' a brave face on since we escaped the hospital, but I'd known him too long to not know he was in a shit load of pain.

The search of the boat seemed to go on forever. They were definitely thorough, an' I wondered idly whether they knew what Gardel actually looked like. Seemed to me he was hidin' from 'em in plain sight — pretty good if ya could pull it off.

My thoughts were interrupted as I heard an agonised groan from my side. I turned just in time to see Traff's eyes open wide, then close, his fingers loose their grip on the boat an' his body sank under the surface of the water.

Quick as a flash Hutch had ducked underneath an' within 30 seconds he'd brought Traff back up to the surface, water streamin' down his face and golden hair plastered to his head. We were strugglin' to hold Traff up, bring him round an' keep ourselves afloat while still keepin' quiet an' out of eyesight from the deck of the boat.

Hutch held him close an' I started rubbin' his arms, tryin' to get the circulation goin' He felt ice cold an' I realised what an effort it'd taken him to get as far as he had with us. We'd only been at Grimaldi a couple of days. He'd been there two weeks an' the damage to his body was considerable.

It took all Blondie's strength to keep both his own an' Traff's head above the water while I worked on keepin' him warm an' tryin' to bring him round, but eventually we heard the noise from the boat deck grow less. We kept quiet an' after five minutes more a rope dropped back down into the water.

I cautiously took hold of it an' risked a look upwards. I could see Gardel's face an' he asked us if we were OK.

'Traffs unconscious' I mumbled. 'Hutch is holdin' him up, but we're all just plain weary. Don't think any of us could climb back up this' I jerked the rope. He paused a moment then went away again. He came back quickly with two more loops of rope an' instructed us to push one over Traff's head an' shoulders, wedgin' it under his arms. We did an' pulled it tight an' as I jerked on the rope again the men on the deck started pullin' him out of the water. When they'd repeated the process for the two of us an' we were all layin' on the deck like stranded fish, Gardel handed us towels an' his men carried Traff below deck.

We stood shiverin' in the warm breeze an' my teeth chattered in my head. My feet, which had been numb were now comin' back to life an' I just wanted to lie down, curl up an' either die, or at least get some sleep. I could see Hutch was beat too an' Gardel must have known coz he ushered us down into the cabin. We stripped off Traff's clothes an' covered him in a dry blanket, then dried ourselves off as Gardel explained.

'I have been working with the resistance now for some time, but we have taken a lesson from the old films and legends, like Zorro in Mexico. Gardel is the name that several of us have taken. It's a name synonymous with Buenos Aires and we thought it fitting. By having several Arturo Gardels the police are never sure who they have and who they are still looking for. We can slip away from them when we need to'.

'Hide in plain sight' I mumbled, feeling drowsier by the moment.

'Indeed' he said. 'I like that term. Yes, we hide in plain sight and it has served us well so far. Therefore when the police came on board they had no idea who I was and I was able to send them on their way. My resistance organisation asks me to apologise to you for all you have had to go through to extract Thomas from the grips of the military. He was, after all, trying to offer a service to my country'.

'We have arranged for you to be taken to a plane in Montevideo and from there, directly to Los Angeles, to a private airstrip there. Is there anyone I can notify of your arrival?'

I told him Dobey's an' Colonel Windsor's names an' numbers, but his voice was getting' further away. My eyes were just so damned heavy. I remember Hutch sayin' goodbye to him, then absolutely nothin' else as my body shut itself down an' told me enough was absolutely enough.


The trip across the Rio de la Plata in the boat was uneventful, I think. I slept through almost the whole journey, wakin' occasionally but the rock of the boat on the water lulled me back to sleep again within minutes. I only truly woke up when I was carried from the boat to a car, then onto a small private plane. There was no way I could have walked. My feet had decided they didn't like the game any more an even wigglin' my toes sent knife pains through 'em an' up my legs. I knew they were infected an' that I'd have another nice stay in hospital to look forward to when I got back.

Traff was restin'. Hutch told me he'd been awake an' was embarrassed that he'd passed out in the water, but he was weak an' the last escapade had sapped what little energy he'd had left. Of all of us, Hutch was still the fittest, but I couldn't help noticing there was still a haunted look in his eyes. While we were physically scarred, he carried his on the inside, an' no amount of injections, cream or medicine was gonna get rid of 'em any time soon. I sighed sleepily, knowin' it was gonna be a long haul for us all, but at least we were all together now.

Again, we slept almost all the way back to LA in the plane which was equipped, amazingly, with easy chairs an' a shower an' bathroom. I lay back on one of the chairs with my feet raised up on a kind of footstool, Hutch sittin' at the side. Traff was laid across two chairs, pushed together to form a sort of bed. He was out like a light, but he looked fairly peaceful, so we left him to get his rest.

There were three crew members on board the aircraft; the pilot, navigator an' a rather pretty little stewardess who got us drinks, food an' anything else we needed. She'd been gettin' a drink for me an' I smiled at her as she got up. She crouched down next to Hutch, who was dozin' an' touched him gently on the arm, just to see if he needed anythin'.

He opened his eyes, then pushed himself back in the chair as far as he could go, battin' her hand away with his. The look in his eyes was pitiful. He looked so scared an' panicked. She backed away from him like he was a madman an' walked back to sit with the pilot at the front.

Hutch had his head in his hands again, an' I knew exactly what had gone through his head. I needed to make it OK. Needed to tell him it would all work out, but how do ya do that for a guy who's so traumatised by what he's been through that he feels he can't even look at a woman any more? I had to try.

'Hey Blintz, s'OK' I started, knowing that it really wasn't.

'Leave me alone' he mumbled into his hands, never lookin' up.

I put my hand on his shoulder. 'It'll get better, I know it will. Just feels like crap now'.

He snorted. 'Ya think? God Starsk, I used to be able to charm 'em all. Used to be able to smile at a woman an' within half an hour she'd given me her name, her phone number, birth date an' what size shoes she wore'.

'It'll come back' I reassured him. 'That old blond magic'll come back. It'll just take time'.

He looked at me with his piercin' blue eyes. 'That's just it. I don't want it to'.

I must have looked dumb.

'I don't want it to coz its all empty, ya know? The petty words, the childish jokes, the small talk. It's all a sham. I don't wanna be like that any more. If this has taught me anythin', it's that women are too precious to mess with'.

I protested. 'Ya never messed with 'em Hutch. You're one of the most considerate guys I've ever known'.

'Maybe, but it's not enough. I don't feel considerate right now, Starsk. I feel like castration'd be too good for me. I don't wanna be round women anymore'.

I chuckled. '50% of the population is gonna be difficult to avoid Blintz, unless you're gonna be a monk. An' I don't see ya in one of those hassock things'.

'Cassock, Starsk, cassock' he corrected. 'An' no, I'm not gonna be a monk. But I just feel so damned uncomfortable round women now'.

I could understand that, but the tiredness was comin' back in waves an' as much as I needed to be there for him, sleep was overtakin' me too quickly. 'You'll get there Blintz. I know ya will. 'N you've always got me'.

'Yeah, I've always got you'. He smiled as he pulled away to let me rest back on the chair.

And then I was asleep.

Chapter 21

The plane finally landed just outside Bay City at a private airfield there an' Dobey was waitin' to meet us, with Colonel Windsor from Traff's army base an' the ambulance, Dobey must have told him we were comin' in. Traff had slept the whole way through an' had just enough strength to flip a salute at Windsor before fallin' back to sleep. His CO walked alongside the stretcher as he was loaded into the ambulance.

Dobey an' Windsor had obviously been talkin' while they were waitin' an' as we were taken off the plane he asked us if we wanted to go to Memorial or to the base hospital where we'd get the same, if not better treatment. After doin' one of those silent discussion things again, Hutch 'n' me decided we kinda wanted to stay with Traff so we all ended up being loaded into the meat wagon, an' with Dobey an' Windsor drivin' behind, we were taken to the army hospital.

One of the perks of my rank was I could get a private room if I wanted it, but in this case I asked if we could all be bedded down together. It just seemed right somehow. We'd been through all that shit in BA an' I felt we just needed time together to come down from it an' talk. I don't think either of us could have just gone away without talkin' about what we'd been through, compare notes, an' get our heads back into gear. We ended up in a four-bed room, with Dobey an' Windsor hoverin' about like two mother hens.

I saw a completely different side to the ruddy-faced army type Windsor. His bluster had all gone an' it was obvious he had a great admiration for Traff. He was quiet as he waited for news an' sat spinnin' his hat round an' round in his hands, nervously, jumpin' up every time someone came into our room.

Traff had been taken directly into surgery an' had his rib, chest an' various other injuries finally properly dealt with. It wasn't that the doctor in Buenos Aires hadn't been good. He'd just had limited facilities. Me an' Hutch waited in the room, quietly tellin' Dobey what had gone on, an' how we got out. Dobey shook his head in disbelief when he saw the state I was in yet again.

'What is it with you an' trouble?' he asked

I shrugged the one shoulder that didn't hurt. 'Just love those little dishes of jell-o I get when I'm getting' better' I lied.

Then it was my turn. I hate that feelin' when they put the needle in your hand an' ya have that "Oh gods I'm not asleep yet, don't start" feelin', but sleep I did. When I woke up my feet had been cleaned an' re-stitched again, an' my shoulder had been put back together for the final time. It was back strapped to my chest an' I had to do everythin' right handed again for a while. I smiled when I came round thinkin' how Jean was gonna be so mad at me undoin' all her good work. I wasn't exactly lookin' forward to havin' the tiny sadist playin' with my muscles again.

The Doctors there had also examined Hutch. There was a psychiatrist on the base who was used to dealin' with post traumatic stress. He was a good guy an' it helped that he'd been a POW himself an' understood exactly what Hutch had to go through. Hutch was missing for most of the day, although I wasn't really in a fit state to talk to him for most of the time anyway. I saw him briefly come back to the room before I slept off the rest of the anaesthetic an' realised he just lay down on his bunk an' slept. He seemed completely exhausted.

Next day we were all feelin a little more human. Traff was awake fully an' askin' for information on how he'd actually got back to the base. His last recollection was leaving the hospital in Buenos Aires. He couldn't remember the journey to the docks, the boat or the water, an was surprised that 24 hours had actually passed.

Now that I'd finally had my feet an' my shoulder were on the mend I felt so much better. The IV antibiotics were workin' on the infection an' the fever was goin' down. I felt warm and cozy an' like I could relax for the first time in a long time. I almost enjoyed bein' looked after for once.

Hutch was still talkin' with the base psychiatrist an' it seemed he too was makin' headway. He was gone for long periods of the day, an' when he came back he was tired an quiet, but the tension I'd detected in him was leavin' him an' when he slept it was more peacefully than I'd seen for a while. I watched him when I knew he wasn't lookin' tryin' to see any signs he was getting' better. Gradually he seemed to be improvin'. I could see his face looked less haggard an' he didn't look like he hated the world quite so much any more. He also didn't mind havin' the nurses round him too much. Although he never made eye contact with any of 'em an' didn't do the usual Hutch flirtin' thing, I got the sense he was gonna make it after all.

We stayed at the base for ten days, until Traff was up an' around an' I could just about walk again without feelin' like there was barbed wire round the soles of my feet. We'd discussed what had happened to us. Course there wasn't a lot we could do about it. What could three Americans do about what was goin' on in a completely other country? We put it all down to experience an' vowed never to go back to Argentina as long as we lived. My mind; however, did stray back to the Gardels and how they were fightin' all the injustice. I was amazed at their bravery an' determination.

On the last day, the Doc came by to see us an' do the discharge stuff. I'd called Dobey an' asked him if there was a chance of a lift home from the base, an' he was on his way. There was nothin' to pack up. The clothes Gardel had given us had been cut off an' burned an' both Hutch an' me were fitted out in borrowed army fatigues. Hutch looked strange in his uniform. I guess seeing him like that gave me the same reaction that he'd had the first time he seen me in mine. The clothes made him look older in some ways an' taller too. He always was suited to dark colours.

Anyway, there we both were dressed in khaki pants, with black tee shirts, sayin' goodbye to the doctors an' a final farewell to Traff. He'd promised to come an' spend the weekend with us for some good honest down to earth RandR.

The door opened an' a pretty young soldier came in, all regulation skirt an' shirt, a little tighter than it should have been. She smiled at me and saluted, then looked over at Blondie. She gave him an extra long smile an' I chuckled to myself as I saw that old Blondie magic takin' hold again.

He smiled back at her, fixin' her with his ice blue eyes an' suddenly she was like a blob of melted butter. Ignorin' the fact that I was hobblin' along at the back, she took hold of Hutch's arm an' guided him outside an' into the corridor, helpin' him down the steps. I heard her askin' if he was OK an' tellin him her name was Clara, but I didn't hear his reply.

As we got into Dobey's car, I saw him stow somethin' into the pocket of his pants.

'What ya got?' I asked.

He looked embarrassed an' even blushed. 'Well, er, I know I said I'd never get involved in a shallow relationship any more'.

I smiled 'And?'

'Phone numbers on there. I may see her this weekend?' he finished in a rush.

I settled back in the seat as Dobey started the car. My mind went back to the broken guy who'd walked back into the cell at Grimaldi three weeks ago. I contrasted it now with my blond partner who sat at my side. He'd lost a few pounds an' still had a slightly wild look about him, but I could see what women saw in him. He was tall, blond, tanned an' handsome. He was every girl's idea of the boy next door, but with a slightly dangerous edge to him. Just the right contrast of familiar an' feral.

'Glad to have ya back, Blintz. I was kinda missin' ya for a while' I said softly.

He paused a minute, lookin' out of the window of the car as we rode off the base. 'Glad to be back' he muttered, rubbin' his fingers over his lower lip in that all too familiar gesture. 'Feel like I've been gone a long time'.