Survival Instincts

This story is Brook’s through and through. She developed the plot, the story and how it should look. I merely put words to her ideas. All credit goes to her and all reviews will be passed on to her. She has helped so many writers with their stories, plots and ideas that she should have all the credit. Please let her know how much she means to all readers and writers alike. Thanks.

Brook - love ya girl!

Chapter 1

‘Good evening KMART Shoppers. Sunscreen is on offer at a dollar thirty in aisle C and orange juice on two for one offers in aisle J’ the synthetic voice sounded over the tannoy system in the large store as the shoppers milled around the store in their own little worlds.

The curly headed man perused the shelves, dodging pushchairs and trolleys driven by large, overpadded women, adding various items to the trolley he pushed around the store, ticking off his grocery shopping against the mental list he had with one part of his mind. The other was elsewhere and troubled him greatly. His emerald green eyes swept the aisle. Cereal, cereal bars, white bread, wholegrain bread, pitta bread and Bria!

There she was, standing at the end of the aisle looking ravishingly gorgeous in her tight, faded blue jeans and her white lacy top, her bronzed arms and midriff showing dark against the pale material. Her long auburn hair hung in a thick curtain down her back, reaching past her waist, and she was pretending to look at the cereal selection. But her eyes kept darting down the aisle as she watched out for her man. Their eyes met and she gave an imperceptible nod before walking slinkily away towards the bathrooms.

Tom (Traff) Trafford waited a moment, his hand hovering over the “Harvest Gold” loaf before he pushed his trolley up the aisle and casually followed her tight butt towards the washrooms. Cautiously he looked over his shoulder, parked the trolley by the mouth of the corridor and ducked inside the ladies bathroom, closing the door behind him. He checked there was no-one else in the room and took a wadded up piece of paper out of his pocket, wedging it under the door. It wouldn’t stop a kick to the door, but to the casual KMART shopper needing a comfort break, it formed a barrier sufficient to stop them coming in. He tested the door and felt the resistance to it opening, smiling grimly before turning back to the girl.

As he turned she rushed into his arms, wrapping hers around his neck and dotting his handsome rugged face with kisses. Gently he returned the kisses then pushed her away.

‘Were you followed?

‘I don’t think so. My girlfriends were busy getting ready to go out on the town. I’m not sure they even registered that I’d gone. I didn’t see anyone looking at me or following me. I was careful’. She took his face in her hands and kissed him again. ‘What are we going to do?’

Traff sighed. ‘I don’t think they suspect me yet, but it won’t be long now, I don’t think. I just get the feeling they’re gonna start questioning me – why I’m there. What my background is. They wouldn’t be too impressed with the truth. I need to keep up appearances, but they watch me too closely for me to get the information out’.

‘Tell me. I can do it’ Bria urged.

He smiled at the brave, beautiful woman. ‘I can’t expose you to that. It’s too dangerous. You’ve seen what they’re like. It’s taking me all my time to keep my cover up’

‘But I hate seeing you like this. You haven’t relaxed in weeks and we haven’t……you know, for days. I miss you! Something’s got to give Tom, and if you’re not careful that something will be you. Look at you. You must have lost ten pounds, although on you its looks damned good!’

‘You worry too much. But there is something you can do for me’.

Her eyes sparkled excitedly. ‘Anything. Tell me. I love you so much. I’ll do anything’ she replied.

‘I need help, from outside. I need to be able to get this information out. But they’re bugging the rooms. I found a bug on my phone and in my bathroom. I don’t know anywhere I can relax. I need backup and there’s only one or possibly two guys I can think of who can help. I need someone I can trust, who can alert the right people in the right way. Someone who’s used to working undercover. And I need you to get to them’.

‘Who is it? Is it someone I know?’

‘No, you’ve never met them. And if you did, I don’t think you’d forget’ Traff chuckled.

‘If I get to them what are the odds that they’ll believe me?’ she asked, never once asking about the danger or the details.

Traff looked at the gorgeous, leggy brunette and smiled. ‘Oh believe me. One look at you and he’d follow you to the ends of the earth!’

‘Is he a womanizer then?’ she asked playfully. ‘Maybe I might like him more than you!’

‘There isn’t much not to like about him. And yes, he likes women. But I’d trust him with my life. Hell I have trusted him with my life. We served in ‘Nam together. His name is Dave Starsky. He’s a cop in Bay City. Works with a good looking blond guy called Ken Hutchinson. They’re the most honest, trustworthy guys I’ve ever met and used to working undercover’.

‘They sound interesting’ Bria murmured, playing with the collar of Traff’s collar. He longed to take her, right there and then, in the bathroom of the store, but this was too important. He dragged his mind out of his pants and back to the job in hand.

‘Find Starsky and give him this message. Traff needs him to deliver this’ he held up a microchip ‘to Ed Kosielski in the NCS Californian office as soon as he can’. He gave her the chip and watched as she stowed it away in her cleavage, grinning up at him.

‘Does he get to find it himself?’ she asked coyly.

‘Bria, honey. It’s dangerous. Don’t take this lightly. I love you and I want you in one piece at the end of this. Don’t joke huh? And don’t be taken in by Starsky’s winning charms. He’s capable, serious and he can be mean when he needs to be. He’s a stubborn son of a bitch and the kind of guy you want on your side when times get bad. I could do with Hutchinson too. He’s a tenacious guy also. Starsky and the rest of the guys call him Hutch. Where one goes, the other follows. They’re kinda like salt an’ pepper. Ya can’t have one without the other’. He chuckled at the memory of the last time he’d seen them, Starsky in the hospital bed with Hutch asleep at his side. Inseparable!

Bria’s face clouded. ‘You know I’d do anything for you. And I wouldn’t put you, or your friends in any danger if I could help it’.

Traff pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head. ‘I know my love, but just by contacting them you’re putting them in danger. If this wasn’t a matter of national security I wouldn’t dream of getting them, or you involved’.

She smiled up at him, the light twinkling in her beautiful moss green eyes. ‘I know. So. Where do I find him?’


‘Oh, its been such a long long time,

Looks like I can’t get you off my mind, But I can’t.

Just the thought of you, my love

And my whole word turns misty blue’

The two voices in the car, one mellow and sweet, the other more raucous and enthusiastic sang the Dorothy Moore number loudly along with the radio.

Hutch carried on with the second verse while Starsky’s fingers drummed the slow, sexy accompaniment on the dashboard of the battered LTD as they drove. It had been another long and hot day, but they’d managed to track down and arrest Teddy Sumner, a serial rapist who’d been threatening the hookers around Bay City for the past 5 months. He’d led them a merry dance around the streets, culminating in a high speed chase across town and a tense face off on a derelict fairground site on the West side. But they’d achieved the arrest without anyone getting hurt. Now, with Sumner safely behind bars, and the paperwork neatly done, they were in buoyant moods and looking forward to a night out to celebrate.

‘What time are you gonna pick me up?’ Hutch asked nonchalantly, his eyes fixed on the road.

‘About Ei…..oh hey, its your turn to drive, unless we get a cab. I need to celebrate and I mean cel..ee.brate. No two pints and that’s it! It aint every night we get to celebrate putting Sumner behind bars. Your turn, or a cab. Which is it?’ the brunet said decisively.

‘Starsk, looking at the cabs in this town, I’d prefer to ease off on the booze and take my nice safe car. Have ya seen the state of those things? They’re dirty, they have garbage all over the seats….’

Starsky cast a look behind him at the ocean of used Styrofoam, last weeks newspapers and a back copy of “Plants for your Patio”. He grinned.

‘Yeah, we’d be much better off in your car’ he said with a straight face. ‘So, pick me up at eight?’

The blond grunted. ‘Where are we going to hold this celebration bash?’

‘The Pits. Its ladies night an’ I’m feelin’ lucky’ the curly haired cop answered without a second thought.

‘Starsk that’s not a celebration. That’s what we do every Thursday night! And every Thursday night you say “It’s ladies night an’ I’m feelin’ lucky”’ he made a passable imitation of his partner’s New York accent.

‘Well tonight I am. An’ if you wash and brush up real careful, I’m sure I can find a cute girl with a dog and a white stick for you too’. He grinned at his own joke, looking self satisfied.

‘Cute. Real cute. Ya wanna get out and walk the 16 blocks to your house, or take that last sentence back and ride in comfort?’

‘Why have ya got another car?’ Starsky asked innocently.

‘I’ll have you know my car is reliable, affordable and doesn’t need a trip to Merle’s every three weeks for a tweak’ Hutch ground out good naturedly.

‘No, an’ it don’t accelerate like my girl and it dies at a minutes notice. And it’s the colour of mud’.

‘Yeah and it stands out so much more than your candy apple red parade float when we’re on stakeout. Fine. Whatever. Eight it is’.

Hutch deposited his partner at his apartment and set off to his own to get tea, washed and dressed. Despite his recalcitrance, he too was please at their arrest, not just because it looked good on their monthly arrest figures, but because he was heartily sick of turning up at a murder sight to find the horribly mutilated corpse of one of the women from their patch. Yes. They deserved a good night out and as he let himself into his apartment, got a beer from the fridge and turned the shower on, he decided that he was going to enjoy himself, no matter what.

Chapter 2

The Pits was only just beginning to come to life at 10:30 that evening. Starsky and Hutch had arrived there about 9:00 after a brief stop over at Starsky’s Aunt Rosey’s to bring her some flowers for her birthday. They walked into the dark interior of the nightspot and up to the bar to be greeted by the bar tender, one Huggy Bear Brown.

‘Hey, what it is!’ he greeted them laconically. ‘You come to dig the chicks?’ They appraised him slowly. Huggy was nothing if not flamboyant. Tonight he was dressed in pale lilac dungarees which fit tight over his skinny frame and accentuated his height. They were set off by a rose pink shirt, the top button undone and topped by a purple neckerchief. His head was topped by a pillbox hat in the same purple and set at a jaunty angle.

‘Hey Hug, How’s it hangin’? Starsky asked with a grin.

‘Not bad. Things is beginning to hot up some’ the bartender replied, snapping a brilliant, toothy smile.

They looked around the bar. In the time Huggy had been proprietor, he had turned it from a typical inner city, spittoon infested dive into a throbbing nightclub come bar and Thursday night always proved popular as the ladies were encouraged to pick the music, order the drinks and chat up the men. It was popular with the men too, as they got to relax and go with the flow, seeing the other side of what it was like to sit beside the dance floor and wait. Novel, but it worked and now the medium sized room was loud with music, voices and laughter as girls grouped themselves around tables or danced around their handbags on the dance floor.

Starsky leaned with his back to the bar, his elbows resting causally on the countertop and his white shirt opening to reveal an abundance of brown curly chest hair and a Chinese coin on a leather thong around his neck. It wasn’t a dressed up nightclub, but he’d taken the trouble to look good and he’d brought out his tightest, palest jeans to accompany the shirt, his lean hips surrounded by a broad black leather belt. The ensemble set off his dark good looks and incredibly deep blue eyes perfectly.

And he was the perfect foil to Hutch. The blond had also dressed with the ladies in mind. His open mid blue shirt revealed a long neck surrounded by a fine gold chain supporting stars and crescent moon, and a smooth tanned chest. His black jeans accentuated his long muscled legs. Like his partner, his black leather belt only served to highlight his slim hips and the bulge beneath. Neither man was overtly aware of their sexuality, but both exuded an animal charm which most women found irresistible. While Hutch was the gentle, cerebral and smooth charmer, Starsky had a feral, animal and somewhat dangerous presence. Between them, they knocked women for a six.

Deciding the night was still young, they chose a table midway between the door and the dance floor, where they could see any potential talent as they came in. There were more women than men in the bar at that time of night and for a while, the two men were happy just to relax, soak up the ambience and drink their beers.

‘Ya know. I was thinkin’ Starsky started, his chin propped on his hand as he surveyed the room.

‘Don’t bust a gut there Gordo’ Hutch grinned back, prepared for another great Starskyism to hit him between the eyes.

The brunet glared. ‘Here am I, about to get into a deep philosophical discussion and you reduce it to “don’t bust a gut!” I was about to say, did you ever wonder whether the rest of the world exists when you close your eyes or leave a room?’

Hutch rolled his crystal blues. ‘No Starsk. Never’.

‘Well think about it. Once the door to the bar closes, does the alleyway still exist or does it disappear coz no-ones looking at it?’

The blond ran a tired hand over his eyes. ‘Only you could think that! We’re surrounded by beautiful girls. We got cold beer and a night off, and you start talking Existentialism’.

The brunet looked aggrieved. ‘No I don’t! I was just wondering if….’ He gave it up as another bevy of beauties walked into the bar, eyed the two men up and walked past. ‘Ok, got it. Just concentrate on the girls huh?’ he said happily.

It wasn’t too long before one of the long haired, hot panted blondes who’d been sat closest to the bar got up and shyly made her way over to the couple. She smiled at them and they straightened, giving her their most winning smiles in return.

‘Hey handsome, want to dance?’ she asked Hutch in a low, sultry voice.

The flaxen haired man pushed himself away from the table and as he was lead away like a meek little lamb, he looked over his shoulder and winked at his partner, mouthing ‘some of us just got it’ before he turned his full attention to his new lady friend and disappeared amongst the seething bodies on the dance floor.

Marvin, the DJ each Thursday took his job seriously and with a combination of the BeeGees, the Stylistics and Marvin Gaye, the place was heaving and the dancers were literally rubbing cheek to cheek.

Starsky looked around him appreciatively, glad his partner was having a good time, but wondering if he should break the “Ladies Night” rules and actually ask one of the hot chicks to dance. He got up from their table and walked back to the bar, skipping and wiggling his hips in time to the music.He reached for his glass, taking a long appreciative pull at his beer, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, his eyes met the most beautiful soft moss green ones he’d ever encountered.

The girl leaned her body into him, her breast pushing against his arm. ‘Want to dance?’ she whispered in his ear.

The centre of his body jolted to attention. Did he want to dance? Was the Pope Catholic? Can a fish swim? He gazed at her, wondering whether he was dreaming.

She was almost as tall as he was, which was unusual. He generally had to look down at women from his almost 6 foot height. But she was only a few inches shorter than he. Her beautiful eyes shone out of an equally beautiful face. Not an obvious, painted beauty. But the sort of attractiveness that comes from a good person, the goodness seeming to shine through. And when she smiled, that face lit up the world, and Starsky’s knees buckled. She flicked the long, thick curtain of brunette hair over her shoulder and it danced in a cascade down her back, ending way past her waist in a thick, blunt cut.

Starsky cleared his throat nervously. ‘Dance? erm….yeah, sure’.

She took him by the hand and led him onto the dance floor just as the music changed from Hot Chocolate’s “Sexy Thing” to Tavares, “Heaven Must be Missing an Angel”. As the slower music started, the brunet pulled the woman to him gently and started to sway her to the beat. She relaxed against him, closing her eyes and remembering Traff, her lover, and his last words to her

Bria, be careful honey. I don’t want to have to ask you to do this, but I think you’re my only hope of getting out of here in one piece and – God this sounds so fuckin’ corny – saving the country. You’ve got to get a message to Starsky. If he asks for any proof that you know me, tell him I always call him Curly and we enjoyed Nah Am too much. Him and his partner are the only ones I can trust. I know that you'll be able to find them at a bar called the Pits...he goes there every Thursday night’ he chuckled ‘Thursday night is lady's night. You won’t be able to miss him. He's got dark curly hair, like mine, same height too. But he has blue eyes, the bluest you’ll ever see. And he'll be the best dancer there. Honey you have to stay close to him, dance with him. Keep his attention and get him to a quiet place. Give him this chip, it has all the information on it that the NCS needs. Remember, he likes the ladies so…erm…well there’s no easy way to say it. If you need to keep his attention then a little seduction wouldn’t go amiss. But for gods sake, Bria, be careful in case you’re being watched….they have eyes everywhere’.

The music continued to play and for a few moments. Bria could relax and enjoy the feeling of strong arms around her. She’d never thought she’d meet anyone as handsome as her man, but this Dave Starsky came a damned hot second. As she snuggled against his shoulder she could almost believe for a warm moment that this was her Traff, holding her close and swaying her to the music.

Her journey from the edge of Death Valley, where Traff’s camp had been and into Bay City had been fraught with nervous tension. She knew that the group Traff was undercover with were vicious professionals, with the knowledge and technology to build one of the biggest nuclear bombs America had ever seen. The NCS had approached the 8th Battalion to ask for Traff’s help because of his expertise in bomb disposal. The daredevil soldier had leapt at the chance to get involved, but had little true idea of just what he’d let himself in for. He’d gone in as Matthew (Mat) Kemp, an arms dealer on the international market and a know dealer in plutonium, and the group, who called themselves simply “Omega” had very soon learned that he had sufficient knowledge to make them or break them. Realising it was prudent to keep that sort of man close, they very soon voted him to be their leader, but in the weeks since, he’d struggled to maintain supremacy. Omega members were paranoid in the extreme and trusted no-one, even their own members.

The music was coming to an end, and Bria shook herself out of her reverie. She had a job to do, and she needed to do it now, especially if she wanted to see her lover alive again. Starsky was starting to let her go, albeit a little reluctantly and she stayed close to him, pushing the centre of her body against his and feeling the answering bulge. Well, she’d certainly got his attention. She lifted her head and whispered in his ear.

‘Don’t look around and don’t answer me. I have a message from Traff’.

The brunet’s body stiffened slightly, but he kept up the swaying as the next piece of music started to play.

“Boogie Nights” Too loud! He couldn’t tell what she was saying.

Very slowly he started to dance her to the edge of the dance floor and she followed, still holding tightly to his arm. They reached the edge of the dance floor and he pulled her swiftly to him, kissing her and then whispering in her ear ‘Follow me, slowly’.

From a distance, across the crowded room Hutch looked up from his dance partner and smiled. Starsk had done it again. Pulled just about the most ravishing woman in the room. He looked back at the blond by his side. OK. Well, he’d managed a close second! He went back to his dancing as his own woman nuzzled against his ear.

From the other side of the room, by the door, two more sets of eyes also watched Bria and the man she was with. To a casual observer, they were merely watching the tight jeans, the plunging neckline and the cascade of hair. It wasn’t till one of them mumbled into a microphone on his lapel that anyone would have thought they weren’t revellers come to enjoy the ambience of the place.

Chapter 3

They moved to the edge of the dance floor, Bria looking over her shoulder. The skin on the back of her neck prickled uncomfortably and she couldn’t get over the feeling that someone was watching her. She shook herself mentally. She’d taken such care when she’d come to the nightclub, wending her way around the streets rather than making a direct approach to the club. She was just paranoid, the events of the last week or so, and her last meeting with Traff playing on her mind. She dragged her head back to the present and the handsome man in front of her.

Starsky was watching her as a wolf would watch a deer. He saw the fear in her eyes and the protective part of him wanted to wipe that fear away, but first he needed to find out what this was all about. His back against the wall now, at the edge of the room, he pulled her towards him again and bent to her neck. To a casual observer it looked as though he was kissing her passionately, but his mouth hovered a millimetre above her warm, perfumed skin. He so wanted to kiss this beautiful woman, but he resisted, knowing she needed to tell him something important about his long time friend.

‘Is Traff OK?’ he whispered, his eyes scanning the room furtively, although he had no idea who or what he was looking for. But his cop’s instincts had kicked in and his senses were on high alert.

Bria returned the caress, wrapping her fingers into the curls that reminded her so much of her lovers and lowering her head onto the broad shoulder. ‘I don’t know if I’ve been followed. He’s in trouble. He needs you’. Oh how she wished this was Traff, and that he was safe and he could take her and kiss her and make sweet love to her. Soon, she told herself. Just a while longer and then you can have him back.

The cop clutched her to him, as though he could squeeze the truth from her. Questions raced through his head. Who was she? How did she know Traff? Was this a trap? Why would anyone want to trap him this way?

‘Did he tell you about me?’ he asked, fishing for confirmation that she was genuine.

She smiled to herself. Traff had said he was a professional. Even with her womanly wiles, he wasn’t going to be suckered into giving anything away straight away. ‘He calls you Curly and said you enjoyed Nah Am too much’ she pulled away and looked into his eyes. ‘And he said you have the deepest blue eyes I’ll ever see. He wasn’t lying!’ she breathed and pushed the centre of her body against his, grabbing all his attention.

Starsky’s mind went back to the jungle in ‘Nam. Well “enjoy” wasn’t how he’d put the two hellish months he spent as a POW there, but Traff had been in the party sent to liberate him, and had been the guy who’d spent a week dragging his damaged, broken ass out of there and back to the field hospital, and that part had been good. He relaxed just a little.

‘Where is he?’

She looked over her shoulder again, conscious she was drawing attention to herself by her actions, but paranoid now that she was being watched. Bria’s eyes scanned the room. Men and women were still gyrating on the dance floor under the dim lights of the disco ball, as it sent it’s sequins of colour around the room. More groups were standing at the sides of the room, all with drinks in their hands and all engaged in conversation, laughing, joking. The bar was lined with customers waiting to be served, ringing the barman with a jingling ring of money. Nothing there to alert her. Nothing there to make her jumpy. She was beginning to think she was loosing her mind with worry when she saw it. She saw that one face, the one she’d been hoping never to see again and her heart skipped a beat.

Frantic now, to get the information to Starsky, she wondered what to do. Seeing her looking around the room, the cop had also looked up, making their cosy twosome even more conspicuous. She needed to get his attention quickly, needed to give him the information Traff had told her to deliver and did the only thing she could think of. She turned back to him and quickly pushed her body against his, insinuating her hand between them as she kissed him deeply and started to unzip his pants.

Starsky’s eyes flew wide open as he felt her long fingers paw first at his butt and then start to insinuate themselves into his clothing, working their way into his tight jeans.

‘Hey, what’re ya doin’? he hissed as she pulled his head towards her again, as if to kiss him again.

‘I’m being followed. No time to tell you everything. Traff is undercover, going by the name of Mat Kemp. He’s with a group called Omega’.

The brunet shuddered at the hand’s invasion and quickly put his own hand over hers, trying to keep his mind on the information and the girl and not on the manual handling course taking place south of his waist.

‘If ya want me to listen honey, much as I love that, you’d better stop the hand job an’ start talkin’. His voice had hardened and he was all business. She withdrew her hand, satisfied she had his undivided attention and he zipped himself up, then drew her to him again as though kissing her.

‘Where is he?’ he murmured into her ear.

‘A camp, Death Valley, near the border with Nevada. He has information he needs to get to the NCS. He says…..’

She caught the movement in the corner of her eye. Her tail was on the move and she pushed herself away from the curly haired cop.

‘Wait a moment, then go outside. Meet me at the Ocean View Motel, Ocean Boulevard as soon as you can. I can tell you more then’ she kissed him lightly on the lips. ‘Be careful, they’re dangerous. I know why Traff loves you now. If we don’t meet again, tell Traff I loved him so much’ she said, and disappeared into the milling throng.

Starsky watched her go, losing her in the crowd as she slipped out of the back door. He paused a moment, giving her time to clear the bar, and scanning the room to look for Hutch. The blond man was still dancing enthusiastically with his new partner and Starsky started to make his way over the dance floor towards him. If he was going to meet this girl – he didn’t even know her name – he wanted Hutch with him as backup. If Traff had sent his girl to find him, then the situation was serious enough to warrant having the big blond watch his back. That and the fact Hutch would be seriously pissed if Starsky got involved with something and he knew nothing of it. One thing was for sure. Traff was in trouble and they both needed to find and help their friend.

The brunette started to fight his way through the flock of dancers, his way impeded by the enthusiastic men and women all out to have a good time and make the most of the music. He grunted, feeling a sharp sting on his neck and reached up to flick away the mosquito, or bee, or whatever it was. God, he hated bees. He slapped at his neck again, the small pain persistent. But instead of squishing an insect, he felt a hard metal point and a tiny feather. In wonder, he pulled the miniscule dart from the side of his neck, just by his jugular vein and looked at it, then quickly looked around the room, trying to see which flake was using him as target practice.

The lights seemed a little brighter than they had, and the music a little louder. His vision started to waver in front of his eyes as he staggered drunkenly onto the dance floor, his feet feeling ten times too big for him. His legs felt numb and he tripped and fell against a red headed woman who looked at him with disgust, not liking the inebriated man cannoning into her. He pushed himself away from her, panic flooding his veins as he tried to get to Hutch, to tell him he’d been drugged; to ask him for help. The breath was catching in his throat as he struggled on, clawing at his neck even though there was no tight collar there to stop his breath. Faces seemed distorted as he passed them now, noses too big for faces and eyes burning bright red and demonlike. Laugher sounded alien in his ears and he felt dizzy and nauseous as though he’d OD’d on an hallucinogenic drug. The room was spinning out of control and his hands felt shaky. A cold sweat was blossoming on his neck and face and he was about to sag to his knees when he felt a firm hand take hold of his arm and push him to one side.

Relief flooded his body. Hutch had found him! He looked up, trying to tell his partner what had happened to him, but instead of seeing the familiar flaxen hair and easy smile, he saw a complete stranger, one with an olive complexion and drooping black moustache.

The hand squeezed his arm and pulled him towards the door and he tried to dig his feet into the polished dance floor, frantically trying to stop himself from being dragged outside away from his partner. As he opened his mouth to try and shout for help, a hand clamped over it and as the man’s body closed in on him, it forced his arm to bend at the elbow and pushed his wrist until it was almost between his shoulder blades. He grunted, but in that position, and with the drug in his system, he had little free will and allowed himself to be escorted outside, thinking that the fresh night air and more space might aid his escape.

As Starsky was pushed through the door and into the alleyway, his vision started to close down until he seemed to be viewing everything through a tube, things in front of him being clear, while his peripheral vision was reduced to grey fog. The man holding him was joined by a friend and the two men pushed the drugged cop over to a waiting Dodge panel truck. Starsky’s body felt heavy and alien and although subconsciously he knew he should be fighting with every ounce of his being to escape, he had no will to try, simply allowing himself to be steered towards the vehicle. With a superhuman effort to clear his mind, the brunet made one final bid for freedom, but his legs were leaden and his head felt as though it was full of cotton wool. He got precisely nowhere before the hands on his body bundled him into the truck.

As he was pushed inside he tried to look sideways and thought he saw a woman with long auburn hair struggling with two more men. She screamed and one of them hit her over the head. The scream was cut off abruptly. Starsky tried to get out of the truck, to go to help her, but one of his captors pushed him backwards so that he fell, his head banging against the wheel arch of the truck, and the world winked out, to be replaced by dark dreams of long hair, hands on his body and screams.

Chapter 4

A scream rent the air of the nightclub as the woman came running back into the bar her hands up to her face as she babbled at the nearest person.

‘Someone call the police, quick’ she yelled as Huggy shouldered his way through the crowd, took her by the shoulders and sat her down at the nearest table. He left her for a moment and struggled to get behind the bar to pour her a brandy as Hutch pushed himself to the front of the quiet, thunderstruck crowd. The music petered off into quiet nothingness and even those who’d been oblivious, at the back of the room started to quieten down.

‘I’m a police officer’ the blond said, kneeling down by the sobbing woman and looking up into her face. ‘What’s the matter? What’ve ya seen?’

She looked at him from eyes swimming with tears, her complexion pale and pasty and her body visibly shuddering in shock. ‘Dead body’ she whispered. ’In the alleyway out back. I just went out for some air, it was so hot in here. It’s a girl. She’s……’ her head disappeared into her hands and she sobbed uncontrollably.

As Huggy came back with the glass of fiery amber liquid and put a comforting hand on her back, Hutch stood.

‘Keep everyone in here and get someone to call the Metro, an ambulance and the coroners wagon. Where’s Starsky?’ he looked around a moment, then decided his partner would follow. He made his way into the alleyway, the silence outside only made louder by the absence of music and laughter.

He looked around, waiting for his eyes to become accustomed to the dark, then saw what he was looking for. The woman’s body was laid on the ground by the side of a group of trash cans, thrown away as though she too was just so much garbage. He walked slowly over to the body and knelt beside it, running his hand over his face at the sickening sight. The lower half of her body was naked, blood and other fluids streaking the legs as they splayed lewdly. The upper body was hidden by a pile of old newspapers and Hutch gently moved them to one side, gasping as he saw the curtain of long, lustrous auburn hair now falling across the face, arms and breasts of the dead girl. The same girl he’d seen his partner dancing and smooching with not half an hour ago.

He hunkered down at the side of the body, tenderly parting the hair so that he could see her face. He winced at the raw red nail marks running down her cheeks and the blue bruise on her chin. Whovever had done this to her, she had put up one hell of a fight! Hutch’s hand stroked down the ravaged face and felt tentatively for a pulse on the fine neck, feeling the flesh still warm beneath his touch. But here was no fluttering of a heart beat. No answering groan to his questing fingertips. His hand dropped away and he bowed his head. A beautiful, vital life snuffed out. He stood, looking for something to cover the girl’s nakedness. Finding nothing in the desolate alley, he unhitched his own shirt from his waistband, took it off and draped it over the centre of her body, allowing her just a little dignity in death. But how had she died? And Why? And where was Starsky? Two and two added up, but he didn’t want to make four, knowing his curly headed partner would never do anything to hurt a woman, let alone rape and kill her. But, he knew, with Starsky being the last man to be seen with her, and with the brunet’s mysterious non-appearance, the clues all added up to Starsky being the prime suspect, and he needed to find him and straighten things out before the press and some of their more zealous critics got hold of the information.

Slowly the blond stood, looking around carefully, looking over the area before anyone else started to walk around his crime scene, disturbing any clues that might have been left behind. The alleyway was quiet, not a thoroughfare. Not many cars made it down this far. Hutch habitually parked his car out back here, but mostly because Huggy had made it clear early on that a cop’s car parked outside his establishment was not good for business. He crouched down to get a different perspective on the area, leaning right over so that he could see all the bumps and dints in the road as they were highlighted by the street lamp. And then he saw it. A distinct set of tyre tracks in the road. He moved closer. Yes, they were fresh. No other tracks bisected them, no footprints overlay them. They were fresh and new, and Hutch could see that there was at least a small span of track which forensics could get a clean lift from. It was a start. It would mean someone tracking down every tyre track pattern, matching it to a manufacturer and then finding out what sort of vehicle that manufacturer sold to. And it was a long shot. But it was also a start in helping to clear his partner of Murder 1 and Statutory Rape.

Hutch continued to search, making a mental note as to where the tracks lay so that he could tell the scenes of crime guys when they turned up. The door to the Pits was closed, the line from the door to the body coming up empty of clues. He looked further afield, desperate to find some clue as to who had killed the girl and where his partner was. In the light from the single street lamp something glittered on the ground, close to the tyre tracks he’d found. At first he thought it was a piece of metallic paper, maybe a sliver of gum wrapper or something similar. He walked over slowly and knelt, picking the object up with a sinking heart.

Strong fingers closed around the silver ring, one of two that Starsky habitually wore on his left little finger.

Shit Starsk. What’s all this mean? I know ya didn’t do nothin’, but its gonna be hellish hard to prove that to anyone else. Try tellin’ the DA that you were seen with a murdered girl, your ring was found on the scene and now you’re missing. But’cha didn’t do it.

He heard the door to the bar open and stood, pocketing the ring and looking around. Huggy stood on the door step, looking around carefully before he came to stand by the flaxen haired cop.

‘Who is she?’ he asked quietly, looking over at the girl’s body and shuddering.

‘I don’t know Hug. Never saw her before tonight. I was hopin’ you could tell me’.

The bartender pursed his lips and edged a little closer to the body, bending over it as though it would leap up and bite him. He turned several shades paler. ‘I think I’d remember a sweet little honey like her. She’s class. She aint exactly the calibre of girls I usually get frequenting my establishment’.

‘I take that as a no, you don’t know her, then’ Hutch said, dryly.

‘Uh huh. One big, fat no. never saw her before tonight. But isn’t she the girl I saw going after Starsky? They seemed to be getting on real cosy. And come to think of it where is the curly one?’ he looked around dramatically.

Hutch flinched as though hit and drew the lanky man to the side of the alley, propping him against the wall as he grabbed the lilac dungarees, pinning the bartender in place as he stared hard into the face. He drew the ring out of his packet and held it on the palm of his hand for Huggy to see.

‘Hug, I don’t know what’s happening. Starsky was with the girl yeah, and then they were both gone from the club. I thought he’d struck lucky and he was taking her home. I found his ring over there in the dirt. You know he’d never do anything like this. I think he may have left this for me as a clue, or maybe I’m just grasping at straws. I need to find who murdered her, because then I think I might find who’s taken my partner. And I need you to be quiet about this Hug. We never had this conversation. We never talked. And you never saw my partner with her either. Will you do that? For Starsk?’

Huggy looked at the frightening intensity in Hutch’s eyes. ‘Hey. Ya need to ask? My lips are sealed. An’ if I hear anything on the grapevine, I’ll let ya know, you now that. I love him too ya know. So. What’re ya gonna do now?’

The blond sighed. ‘Well, first I’m gonna make sure they get everything on the girl – who she is, where she was from. But there’s gonna come a time when they’re gonna find she was with Starsky. They were getting pretty close. She’s bound to have some of his hairs or something on her. It doesn’t give us a lot of time, I know.

He was stopped in his ruminations by the sound of sirens blaring and the night sky was rent by the flickering shadows cast by the lights from the cops, ambulance and coroner’s car.

Soon the back alley was a scene if intense investigation. The investigators took it in their stride that the blond was bare chested in the middle of the city after he explained he’d had to cover the girl, and one of the ambulance men gave him a spare top from the ambulance to wear. Hutch directed Huggy to go back inside, to show the paramedics the girl who must still be in shock. He directed the forensics guys to take lifts of the tyre tracks and he discussed the body, the signs of struggle and the injuries with the coroner before he taped the crime scene, bagged the body and took it away.

No-one knew then that he’s been n a night out with his partner, and he didn’t enlighten them. Anything Hutch could do to buy himself some more time to be able to gather clues together and find Starsky was a bonus and he wasn’t about to start alerting the authorities to the fact that his hot headed partner had spent his time with the dead girl. No, he’d let them find that little snippet out on their own.

By the time he’d co-ordinated the investigation at the scene, been back inside to speak to Huggy and spoken once again to the coroner, the first milky tendrils of light were making their way onto the horizon.

Tiredly, Hutch stood at the front entrance to the bar, looking up at the early morning sunrise. He felt utterly drained, but determined at the same time that he was going to get to the bottom of this and clear his partner’s name. In desperation he got into his car and headed uptown to Starsky’s apartment. Pulling up outside, his heart gave a lurch as he saw the achingly familiar red Torino parked in it’s usual place beneath the tree. He got out and took the steps up to the front door tiredly. Putting his hand on the door handle he rested his head against the wooden door.

Please let this be a nightmare Starsk. Please let me find you curled up in bed asleep. Please partner?

He pushed the door open and walked in, seeing the tidy, clean apartment just as Starsky had left it the previous evening. His spirits plummeted. Despite him telling himself not to be so stupid, he’d hoped to find the curly headed man in bed, or asleep on his sofa, but it wasn’t to be.

With a final burst of hope he pushed the bedroom door open, but was met with a well made and empty bed. With an exhausted sigh, Hutch flung himself down on the bed, rolling onto his back. He put his arm over his eyes, blotting out the early morning sunlight and thought of his partner.

C’mon Starsk. Gimme a sign. Tell me where you are huh?’

Chapter 5

Hutch woke with a start, wondering where he was. He looked up at the mirror on the ceiling over the bed, at his smoky, slightly distorted reflection and passed a weary hand over his eyes. He got up slowly, realising that he must have fallen asleep where he lay at Starsky’s apartment the previous night.

He snorted. Night? More like two hours ago! He looked at his watch. 8:20 am. No more than two hours sleep. And two more hours that his partner was missing. He groaned and clutched at his back. He’d been laid on the bed with his feet still dangling on the floor and the strain on his back muscles told now in the pains lancing up into his shoulders and down his legs. Hutch sighed and got up, walking slowly into Starsky’s kitchen to reach for one of Starsky’s glasses and turn Starsky’s tap on for a glass of cold water.

The small apartment seemed preternaturally quiet without his ebullient partner bounding around or loafing on the sofa. Starsky’s boyish good nature filled any room he went into, and Hutch missed him keenly. Hutch without Starsky was like pepper without salt, or in his partner’s case a beef burrito without the onions. It just didn’t work.

Hutch had been without his partner before, sure. The time he was still in hospital recovering from Bellamy’s poison, the times he spent with Terry before she was killed. And the times Hutch had been with Gillian, before she too paid the ultimate price for her friendship with the cops. And now this unknown, beautiful girl, who’d turned up out of the blue, almost made love to Starsky right there at the Pits and then died, violently outside that same bar.

Hutch wondered just how much time he’d have to stall before someone put the ubiquitous two and two together and came up with the brunet as an answer. He didn’t have to wait long. As he finished his glass of water the telephone rang.

The blond crossed the room and picked it up.


‘Hutchinson? Where the hell are you and where the hell is that partner of yours. I want you both in my office in thirty minutes. Got that?’ Dobey’s voice was cut off as the phone went dead. Hutch was left staring at the receiver before he put it slowly back on the cradle.

‘Sure think Captain’ he mumbled. ‘30 minutes. Fine. But erm...One of us is gonna be a little delayed’.

He sat down on the sofa.

So now it starts. Now I make the decision. Lie and try to find Starsky myself before he’s arrested some place for murder. Or come clean to Dobey and hope he’s sympathetic and helps. What would you do Starsk? Gimme a clue here buddy. Hutch tried to imagine his partner's voice in his mind. The slow, New York drawl and the uncanny ability Starsky seemed to have for geting to the heart of a matter. But try as he might, the nly thing which came to the blond's mind was "Where are you buddy?"

There being no voice from the heavens telling him the correct path to take, Hutch sighed heavily, still weighing one alternative against the other. Checking around the apartment and locking the door behind him he set off for the city with a heavy heart.

On the drive down to town, Hutch mulled over the possibilities. Starsky must have been taken by the same people who killed the girl, there was no other possibility. But why would they want him? And what did the girl have to do with any of it? His mind was in a whirl as he drove and he had to shake himself back to the present as he swerved the car to avoid a woman pushing a push chair into the road. He cursed, straightened the car and drove on.

Pull yourself together Hutchinson. You won’t be any use to anyone if you’re locked up on a driving offence!

He pulled up outside the Metro and with a heavy heart made his way into the building and up to the first floor and the squad room. As he walked in faces turned to look at him and he had the feeling he was the flea under the microscope, all eyes on the curiosity.

Hutch put his hand on the door handle, and pushed the door to Dobey’s office open, the lamb to the slaughter.

The big black man looked up as Hutch walked in, leaving the door open behind him. He walked slowly over to the small brown leather easy chair and sat on the edge.

Dobey put his pen down, sat back and steepled his fingers.



The big brown eyes regarded him gently.

‘Care to tell me where Starsky is?’


‘You can’t hide him for ever’ Dobey said, a little more forcefully.

Hutch sat forward in his seat. ‘Hide him from what?’

‘You know from what! From what happened last night. It’s pretty obvious. He was the last person seen with the deceased and now he’s missing’.

‘He didn’t do it Cap’ Hutch snapped.

Dobey got up quietly and went to close the door. He pulled up a chair and sat beside the flaxen haired cop on the same side of the desk.

‘I know he didn’t do it. But the evidence against him is pretty fuckin’ conclusive. Where is he? It won’t do either of you any good for him to hide’.

Hutch sighed. Truth time. ‘I’m not hiding him Cap. An’ I don’t think he’s hiding himself. I don’t know where he is, but I got a real bad feeling’.

‘When did you last see him?’

Well that’s the sixty four thousand dollar question isn’t it Hutchinson?

‘I saw him dancing with the girl. I saw them kissing and then nothing. Maybe fifteen minutes later, this girl comes in screaming about a body, I went out and found the girl, and my partner was gone. I know it looks bad Cap, but you know Starsk. He’d never hurt a woman. And he certainly would never rape her. Cap. I need help to find him’.

‘Simonetti was in here earlier. I.A. have already been alerted to the fact that one of our detectives is implicated in a homicide. I don’t know what I can do Hutchinson’.

Hutch’s eyebrows V’d. ‘Well what a surprise! Simonetti! He hangs around trouble like a fly hangs around a dog’s mess. What’s he want?’

‘The usual, Dobey grunted. ‘Your partner’s head on a plate. Starsky has a helluva way of endearing himself to the right people. Hutch I’m not sure what I should do here. Yes, I know Starsky would never do this, but I have to call it in. If I don’t do the right thing, we’re all going to be under suspicion’.

The dam broke and Hutch’s temper, which had simmered quietly below the surface finally boiled over. ‘Suspicion? Yeah, we might be under suspicion. But it only takes one over zealous patrolman with his eye on promotion to shoot on sight and my partner is gonna be dead. I’d think that’s a little more important than you being under suspicion’ Hutch ranted as he paced the office.

Dobey watched, never trying to stop the angry blond. He knew what it was like to work with a partner so that you were so close you could read the other’s mind. He and Elmo had had that rapport all those years ago and he had every sympathy with Hutch now. But that didn’t stop him being BCPD through and through. With a heavy heart, he reached for the phone and punched in the numbers.

‘Yeah, this is Dobey. I want an APB out on one David Michael Starsky…….yeah that’s Detective Starsky’ he yelled and slammed down the phone, not at all proud of himself. He looked up into angry ice blue eyes. ‘I’m sorry Hutchinson. But at least this way we have a better way of finding him’.

‘Yeah, finding him and arresting him. Cap, I don’t believe this. You’ve more or less told the whole of the department that you think he’s done it!’

‘No. I haven’t, Hutch and you know it. Back off and get your head in order, You’re gonna be no good to Starsky getting all bent over about this’.

‘Bent over? I haven’t even started yet! I am so damned fed up of this police force. We go out there day after day, risking our lives to keep you and the rest of the community happy and safe. And you’d think those same people would have a little bit of compassion when things get tough. But oh no. Just the opposite. The minute things look black, there’s no “Oh well he’s a cop, he must be OK”. Its like beacon flashing dirty cop to the whole fuckin’ world’.

Dobey pushed his chair back and stood to get a better look at the red faced cop. ‘Shut it now Hutchinson, before you say something you’ll really regret. You know all my men have my backing’.

‘Like telling my partner to bring me in on a murder one wrap when Van was killed? Like suspecting us of snaffling $3M worth of cocaine? Like taking Starsky’s shield when he had to kill that kid in self defense? Oh sure the department back us. Well, you know what Cap? I don’t think I want any part of this stinking department any more. I don’t want to be a cop any more’.

‘Be careful what you’re saying Hutchinson’ Dobey growled. ‘You could use the facilities of department and the other guys to track Starsky down. What about Bernie in R&I? He’s been working non stop on those tire treads?’

But Hutch had worked himself into such a fury that no amount of tire treads and Bernies would convince him to stay. The mere mention of Simonetti had been like a red rag to a bull. With a final growl, he ripped his shield from his back jeans pocket and flung it down on the desk, along with his cuffs and gun.

Dobey tried one final time. ‘Hutchinson, think what you’re doing. What’re ya gonna do now huh?’

Hutch reached for the door, his hand on the handle. He looked back at his former Captain. ‘I’m going out there an’ I’m going to find my friend before some freak patrolman kills him or whoever’s got him does something even worse to him’.

‘Hutchinson……..HUTCHINSON’ Dobey yelled to an empty space.

Without a backwards glance, Hutch strode out of the office and almost ran down the steps and back to his car where he sat with his head in his hands.

Great Hutchinson! Cut yourself off from the only source of information you’ve got. Just su..fucking…perb!

Wearily he started the engine and drove back to his apartment, letting himself in quietly and crossing to the phone. He dialed a number and waited until the phone picked up.

‘Huggy? Hey man. Hug, I need your help’.

Chapter 6

Mat Kemp was bent over the table, pen in hands and his eyebrows V’d in concentration as he poured over the chemical equations on the piece of paper in front of him. He’d been looking at the same piece of paper for the past 15 minutes, not really seeing the figures and symbols etched onto the white surface. His mind wasn’t on his work, it was with his girlfriend, Bria. In the 36 hours since he’s last seen her, he’d worried about her constantly.

Bria had met Traff on his first day at the NCS when he’d attended for his initial briefing. She had smiled at the ruggedly handsome man across the big board room table in the quiet, pale green painted room on the 16th floor of the office block in Sacramento. He’d smiled back, feeling an unaccustomed jolt in the centre of his body and at the first coffee break, had made his way over to talk to her. Never one to believe in love at first sight, he did in fact, become besotted with her on that first day. She was everything he would ever want in a woman. Beautiful beyond words and smart to boot, she had a low husky voice which exuded sexuality, but she didn’t brandish her sex appeal as some women might. She was natural, unassuming and open and Traff was transfixed by her and she by him. At the end of that first day, going over the details of the bombs that the Omega group were meant to be making, along with the details of the group members, he asked her out and she accepted the invitation.

That night they went to a small restaurant on the outskirts of the small town, it’s interior lit by candles, flickering in empty wine bottles on the tables. They chose a quiet corner and sat facing each other, staring into each other eyes, his emerald and hers moss green. They told each other their life histories, the laughter and empathy flowing freely as they sat comfortably drinking in their closeness. And it was a natural progression to go from the restaurant back to her room. There, Traff took it slowly, not wanting to push the girl into anything she didn’t want to do. But Bria had already decided she loved this dark haired, handsome soldier and she kissed him deeply, assenting to his touches. He led her over to the bed and gently pushed her down, taking time to dot her face and neck with kisses as he slowly undressed her. As she ran her hands over his muscles, torso, she melted into his arms and there and then they made slow, passionate love until the sky started to lighten on the horizon.

Thereafter, each day was spent in intense study of Omega and their motives and moves at the Sacramento office, and each night was spent together, learning the secrets of each other’s bodies in the small motel room as they fell more deeply in love.

Bria had been sent into the group to begin with, as an expert in weapons grade plutonium. But the men in the group wouldn’t take her seriously, seeing only a perfectly formed body, long hair and the opportunity for a little light hearted diversion. When she’d ignored their advances, they’d become more rough, until one night, she’d come back to the motel with bruises circling her arms and a bruise on her chin. Traff had angrily asked her what had gone on and she’d reluctantly told him that one of the men, Eddie, had tried to pull her into one of the disused offices to have sex with her. She’d refused his advances and gotten rough with her and she’d only just managed to get away from his clutches. She’d spoken to the then leader of the group, a guy who went by the name of Horse. She’d told him she was out of there. That they needed a whore rather than a scientist. And he’d agreed.

Horse had told her she would be watched and that if she tried to sell their secrets she’s be dead within the hour. She’d believed him and had taken her dossiers and files and hotfooted it out of the hideout and back to the motel and to the comforting arms of her lover.

Beside himself with anger, Traff had felt as though he wanted to get in there and give the guy a dose of his own medicine, but he knew he’d blow all cover if he did. There and then, Traff had telephoned the secret number he’d been given and spoken to the guy with no name who was his contact. He’d told them that Bria was in danger and that it was time for him to make his move. At first they’d said it was too early and that he wasn’t ready, but he’d used his persuasive skills and after much argument they’d reluctantly agreed, giving him his undercover name, Mat Kemp, and saying documents and proof of identity would be at his motel room the next day.

True to their word, a package had arrived for him and he’d taken out the driving license, birth certificate, a tiny microphone and transmitter and a full rundown on the group members.

Currently, the group consisted of the leader, Horse, whose real name was Henry Stone, Miguel Morales, Michael (Mick) Schroeder, Ernie Horner who were the main players. Then there were seven or eight men who came and went on a daily basis. All were former army, all knew sufficient about nuclear warheads to create a bomb, and all were hellbent on selling that bomb to the highest bidder, whether that bidder be Russia, Vietnam, China or Mars.

On that first day, Traff had walked up to their bunker, large as life and twice as brazen and had simply knocked on their door. He’d introduced himself as their savior; the man who could build their bomb, improve their group and also the man who had connections in the right place to obtain the highest amount of money for their labors.

While not exactly welcoming him with open arms, the group had allowed him to stay, and in the first three days, Mat Kemp had improved the plutonium yield they were obtaining by seven percent, had rearranged their filing and telephone systems and had one hell of a fist fight with Horse after a disagreement over his methods and the perceived takeover bid.

Horse had ambushed Mat in the corridor as he was heading to his room for the evening. With Mick and Miguel for backup, he’d challenged Mat there and then and the soldier’s stomach had lurched. This was it – the moment he’d expected, when his presence would be challenged and he’d have to fight for supremacy. He’d trained hard, he was the fittest man in his outfit, but he hated to use his strength in violence. His attempts to diffuse the situation with words had come to no avail. He had never denied that he’d prefer to be in charge of Omega and finally, the powerfully built and arrogant Horse had challenged him to a fight. If Mat won, he would become leader. If he lost, he would loose his life too.

As Miguel and Mick stood back, they’d had their fight, right there in the corridor. Whilst Horse was big and beefy and could really land a punch, Traff was agile and fit, dancing out of the way of the bigger man and using his brain as well as his fists, he’d survived the fight long enough that his opponent was tired and winded. Weeks in the bunker had made Horse a little soft around the midriff and just as the bigger man was closing in for the kill, Traff hand lunged at him, his hand used as a blade and he dug his rigid fingers into Horse’s throat. The man’s eyes had bulged in his head and he dropped to his knees almost instantly, clawing at his damaged throat as Traff fell against the wall, leaning heavily against the cool brickwork as the breath whistled trough his teeth. He’d licked at the trickle of blood running down his chin from the cut on his mouth, and as the bigger man looked up at him, he’d punched him one final time on the side of the head, and he’d fallen, unconscious to the ground.

Mat had instantly assumed command, and although Horse had obeyed orders so far, the leadership chain was tenuous at best and Mat had had to watch his back every step of the way. He’d taken to sleeping with his loaded Beretta under his pillow and only for short spells, alert even when asleep to the smallest of noises. Mat Kemp was tired.

He looked up from his calculations now as Miguel stood at the door of his office.

‘Where’ve you been? We were looking for you and Eddie last night. I needed some help with the casing materials’.

The big Mexican looked neither sorry nor scared of his new leader. ‘We were out. Following up some leads’.

‘Leads? What kind of leads? When I say I don’t want you going off base, I mean that I don’t want you going out. ¿Me entendió?’ Mat yelled, his fist coming down hard on the desk top. He was exhausted, not only by the undercover work and the strain of keeping command, but also with worry for Bria.

‘You need to come with me. I think we may have a surprise for you’ Miguel grinned.

‘I’m not in the mood for surprises. I’m in the mood for having my fucking orders carried out. To the letter. And you know what will happen if they aren’t’ Mat threatened. Le mataré, justo donde está usted parado’

Miguel’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t back down. Instead he stood slightly away from the door. With a sigh, Mat put his pen down and stood up, easing the cramp out of his back. Slowly he followed as Miguel lead him into the next room. There was a circle of men standing in the centre of the room. Horse, Eddie and Mick, along with three of the other men stood looking inwards at something. As Mat came into the room, they parted, giving him a clear view of a bound and blindfolded man at their centre, curly hair pooling out of the top of the blindfold and a familiar New York accent growling at his captors to take the blindfold off and let him see his cowardly captors.

Chapter 7

Mat walked slowly into the room, aware that all eyes were on him. He kept his face a blank mask as he saw is old friend bound before him. And the implications of that were vast. Not only was he unsure what the group would expect him to do with Starsky, but why would they have taken him unless they’d seen him with Bria. And what had happened to her?

‘Who’s this?’ he asked, keeping his voice toneless and flat

At the familiar voice Starsky stopped his angry tirade and listened.

When he’d woken up in the panel truck, he’d wondered for a moment where he was. His head felt woolly, but at least there was no headache and he’d actually felt well and well rested, If he was going to be captured, he’d decided, then this was definitely the way to go. But the he’d tried to prop himself up on his elbow to look around him, and discovered that his hands had been tied tightly behind him. He laid on the floor of the truck and allowed his body to roll with the movements as he felt the tires change from running on a hard, metalled road, to something softer, maybe a dirt track.

They’d driven for hours and Starsky suspected that whoever had him were professionals. There was no checking him, no anger directed at him. In his painful experience, his captors usually decided to have a little fun with him en route so that he arrived at whichever destination slightly the worse for wear. But with these goons, there was none of that. When he managed to crane his head around and look behind him, he saw four men in the truck, a driver and two men sat together on the bench front seat and then another man, sat on the ground behind them, facing towards him. That man, who sported a large, drooping black moustache, held a gun loosely but capably in his hands. No threats were made and the four drove in silence. But that silence only served to wear away at the brunet’s nerves until he wished for anything other than the quiet and inactivity.

Finally after what felt to Starsky like days of driving, he felt the truck come to a ragged, shuddering halt. The man with the gun sat straighter and he heard the three in front get out of the truck and come around to the rear.

Again, without speaking, they took hold of his legs, and pulled him forwards until they could drag him into a sitting position. Starsky had only time to register bright, blinding sunlight and what seemed to be miles of sand with the occasional scrubby plant, before a dark blindfold was dropped over his eyes.

At that point, his fractured nerves broke and he started to struggle against the firm hands that held his arms. He felt himself pulled out of the truck and then he was marched between two bodies. He felt himself pass trough a doorway and the cool of the interior of wherever he was seemed icy after the blast of heat he’d experienced outside. From the intensity of the sun and the temperature, the brunet put himself at somewhere out in the desert to the north of the State and a long way from Bay City.

He was bundled along what sounded like a corridor, from the echoes of booted feet around him and was eventually pushed into a room and down onto his knees. Not his favourite position when he was bound and blindfold, and he’d started to yell. And then he’d heard the voice. The one voice he’d hoped for and at the same time didn’t want to hear. He still had no idea what the girl had been trying to tell him, but the mention of Traff in trouble made him shiver.

He quieted, letting his old soldier friend take the lead on this one. Whatever Traff needed to do, he’d ride with it, realising that whatever the curly haired man was involved in, to blow his cover would mean certain death for both of them.

‘We found him in a bar in Bay City’ Miguel said.

‘I didn’t ask that. I asked who he is and more to the point, why have you risked our security and brought him here’.

‘We think he’s got information he selling to our competitors’ the same voice went on.

Hands pulled the cop to his feet and he stood unsteadily, his balance temporarily lost in his darkness.

Traff watched the men looking at Starsky in a predatory manner. Much as he hated to hurt his old friend, he knew he had to stay within in cover character in order to preserve their lives, and Mat Kemp would want to know exactly what a spy was doing and who he was selling to. He swallowed down the bile he felt burning his throat.

‘String him up’ he said tonelessly.

Hands untied the brunet’s wrists and he heard some kind of metallic sound above as a pulley system was manoeuvred into place. His hands were rebound in front of him and pulled high above his head. He grunted softly as he felt hands on his chest, then the blindfold was yanked off his head.

He opened his eyes and blinked seeing his friend standing in front of him. He held the recognition back, instead staring into the familiar emerald green eyes with defiance.

‘Who the fuck are you?’ he asked belligerently.

‘I was about to ask you the same thing’ mat Kemp answered. ‘Tell me your name’.

‘Go fuck yourself’ the brunet ground out, seeing the frantic look in the other man’s eyes. Don’t push it Curly. Don’t make me hurt you more than I know I have to, please?

‘Name’ Kemp ground out, standing close enough to Starsky that the bound brunet could see the pulse quickening in the other man’s throat.

‘Starsky. Dave Starsky’ he said quietly. It was pointless to lie. He knew he had his ID on him in any event.

‘Well, Dave Starsky. What brings you to our little operation/’

Starsky snorted. ‘A gold edged invitation’

Kemp let the comment ride.

What do you know about us?’ Kemp continued.


‘You’re lying’.

‘Yeah? ya know that for a fact?’

‘I know in your position I’d probably lie. So, tell me. What do you know of us?’

‘How the hell should I know anything about ya? I’ve never seen any of ya before, an’ thanks to Mutt and Geoff over there, I don’t even know where here is’ Starsky said, twisting himself around to look at Miguel and Eddie.

Traff swallowed, knowing what he had to do. ‘Please yourself’, he said grimly. With a look of such regret in his eyes, he pulled back and ground his fist into Starsky’s stomach, knocking the wind from the brunet’s body. Starsky wheezed and sucked in breath through his teeth, staring fixedly at the ground, refusing to meet his friend’s eyes, trying to keep the pain from him.

Traff stood back, trying hard not to let the group see the tremble he felt in his legs. He’d spent a week in the steamy Vietnamese jungle looking for his friend, and then another week fighting his way back out while trying to keep Starsky alive after his two month stay in the POW camp. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt the curly haired cop now. He regarded the panting brunet and the large reddened area on the flat abdomen which would shortly start to bruise. And he felt sick to his stomach.

‘Search him’ he said softly and two of the men descended on Starsky. His shirt was torn roughly from his body and thrown to Eddie, who started to search it methodically, even running his hands down the seams of the fabric.

They took his jeans off of him and Miguel turned out the pockets, tossing the shield and wallet to Kemp with a leer on his face.

‘Looks like we got ourselves a pig! He’s got the shield and the ID. One Detective First class David Michael Starsky. What did she tell ya pig?’

At the mention of “she” Traff stiffened. So, Bria had met with Starsky. Had she spoken to him? And where was she? He listened, trying to keep as calm as possible as Miguel ranted on.

‘Was she good for you pig?’

Starsky stilled himself. He could tell how much Bria loved Traff and was sure, knowing his friend, that he would love the woman too. How was Traff going to take the news that his love had been attacked? He tried to think of some way to forewarn the soldier, but Miguel was continuing.

‘Did she grind that beautiful body up against ya?’

‘Shudup. You’ve no idea what your talking about’ Starsky said desperately. ‘She didn’t tell me shit. She meant nothing to me’.

‘Well then, you won’t mind me telling you that she’s dead then’ Miguel said delightedly.

Traff balled his hands into fists and Starsky darted a quick look at the soldier. I’m sorry Pal. I couldn’t tell ya. I’m so sorry!

‘I told ya she meant nothing to me and she told me shit. I met her in the nightclub and she came on to me. But nothing happened and she didn’t tell me squat'.

Don’t take this any further. Please don’t make him have to listen to any more.

His thoughts were interrupted by Eddie tossing his jeans to the floor, brandishing something between his finger and thumb. He walked towards Starsky’s swinging body. ‘Well if she didn’t tell ya anything what’s this then?’

Starsky looked at the microchip held in front of his eyes. He had no idea how it had got into his jeans and no idea what it contained, but it had to have been put there by the girl. He remembered the warm hands on his butt and suddenly it all made sense!

‘I bet she came on to ya. Like she came on to us huh?’ Miguel was relentless, trying to get a rise from his captive.

‘Like she begged for it huh? Like she moaned when I touched her. Did ya know she liked it rough? How it turned her on when I hit her. Did you know what a good little cocksucker she was? How she opened her legs for me and how her struggles turned me on?’

Starsky could see the fire in the emerald eyes opposite him and the white line around Traff’s lips. The soldier was barely in control of his senses as he listened to the big Mexican tell Starsky how he’d raped and killed his lover.

‘Shut it!’ Starsky yelled, trying to save his friend from more hurt. ‘Ok you got it. She was my girl and you fucked her and killed her. Just leave it now huh? She still didn’t tell me nothin’.

‘No? She didn’t moan secrets into your ear as you pounded into her? Like she moaned into my ear when I fucked her good and proper. And all the time she was crying and screaming and telling me no’.

Miguel was getting carried away in his description now. He didn’t see Kemp take a step forward, but the battle yell he let out surprised everyone.

Traff had tried to shut his ears to the bragging of the Mexican. He tried not to think of what his Bria had been made to do to the two men. It was difficult enough to come to terms with her death, but having to listen to the details of her violation first was too much. At his last words, Traff’s steely control had finally broken. All the pent up emotions and stress of the past weeks welled up inside him and he reached for the baseball bat which the men had conveniently left propped in the corner. With a blood curdling cry he picked it up and ran at the only man he could safely direct his anger at without blowing his cover.

Starsky tried to brace himself for the blow, but as the baseball bat swung back and Traff cracked it once with all his force against the bones of his middle back, he threw his head back and screamed before the pain plunged him into a state of semi consciousness.

Chapter 8

The blood-curdling scream rent the air and echoed around the small building. As Starsky’s body hung limply from the chain overhead, Traff stood, head hanging, and panting at the back of him, while his men looked on in awe. A dark, blood red and purple bruise started to blossom immediately across the width of the brunet’s back, just below where his rib cage ended and sweat had beaded across his body at the pain. Starsky had seen the blow coming. He knew exactly why Traff was hitting out at him. But the blow was full force, the impact having all of the soldier’s anger and sorrow behind it. And it hurt.

Traff had lost all control at the mention of the treatment Bria had received before she died. The thoughts of his beautiful, smart and brave lover suffering at the hands of these animals had made the rage course through his veins so that he saw red and knew that he’d lost it. In his anger he’d seen the huge baseball bat lying in the corner, where Miguel had put it in preparation for a little enjoyment of his own. He reached for it almost in instinct, needing to hit out at something. But the professional part of his head told him that if he started to lash out at the Omega members, he’d blow his cover for sure. And so he hit out at the only other target in the room, angry that his temper made him injure his friend, but at the same time, it reinforced his status in the group.

The sound of the thud of the wooden bat against the hanging body was sickening in it’s volume, the scream wrung from the body raw and animal. The men had seen a different side to their leader. They knew he’d fought with Horse and beaten him, but they’d thought that that was a pretty easy fight. And they knew it was a natural progression for one man to fight to take over leadership. But this seemed to be a brutal and unprovoked attack. And they liked what they saw.

Starsky’s head hung down between his bound arms, his chin resting on his chest. The blow smarted as though he’d been hit by a whip rather than a bat and it set up a deep aching throb in his body. It hurt to breath and it hurt to move. Even trying to raise his head sent spikes of pain shooting through his body, but he needed to get his feet back under him. His arms were taking all his weight and his hands were rapidly numbing from the suspension. He twisted in his bonds and groaned softly, unable to keep the sound inside him, but anxious that the hurting soldier didn’t know just how badly he’d been injured. He lifted his head and stared at the semi-circle of men. They stared back, their eyes flitting from Starsky to their leader and back.

Traff loosed his grasp on the bat and it fell to the floor with a noise that made Starsky flinch. The soldier walked slowly round to the front of the hanging man and looked at the sweat beaded body, the damp curls clinging to the forehead and the breath coming in ragged hitches. And he felt ashamed and angry at himself and also at a loss to know what to do next. The group would expect him to interrogate the prisoner, that much he knew, but he needed to find a way that was convincing, and probably painful for Starsky, but would leave no lasting damage. Dragging his mind away from his thoughts of his dead lover he made a decision.

‘Was that sufficient? Are you gonna tell us what she told you?’ he asked, raising Starsky’s chin with his hand. To the others it looked as though he was intimidating their captive. To the two men it was a physical contact meant to bring reassurance.

I don’t want to have to hurt you. You know that.

Just do whatever it takes to get us both out of here. Go ahead, its ok.

‘Go to hell’ Starsky panted quietly, staring into the emerald depths of his friends eyes.

With a sigh, Traff walked out of the room in search of what he needed, coming back a moment later with a block of wood and a piece of cord.

‘Take him down from there’ he commanded and watched as Horse and Miguel untied Starsky’s hands from the pulley overhead. As the brunet’s arms fell down to his sides he cried out again at the added pain in his back and sank to his knees, head forward, chin on chest. It hurt, and it hurt a lot. And Starsky knew this was just the beginning and that Traff would have to make it look good if he was going to save both of their lives.

‘Hold out his right hand’.

Horse watched curiously as Traff wound the piece of twine around the thumb of Starsky’s right hand, leaving a long tail. He took the rope that the brunet had originally been strung up with and bound one end around Starsky’s left wrist, bending the arm behind the cop’s back, then wrapped the length around the cop’s waist, immobilising the left arm completely behind Starsky’s bruised back.

‘Stand him up’.

Horse and Miguel pulled the smaller man to his feet, taking delight in placing their hands over the blossoming bruise across his back and he grunted in pain, but managed to stand, weaving, between them, wondering what Traff had in mind. In his current state of dress, with only his boxers covering him, he felt naked and vulnerable…..and scared.

The soldier manoeuvred Starsky beneath the pulley again and threaded the long tail of the twine from his thumb through the mechanism, pulling down until the brunet’s hand was raised high in the air again. With his left arm tied behind his back, Starsky felt off balance and dizzy. He breathed as deeply as his bruised back would allow and concentrated on what was happening to him.

Traff placed the block of wood by the brunet’s left foot. The makeshift step was perhaps 15” high, but almost triangular shaped, the base being wider than the top, like a wedge of cheese placed on end. Traff placed Starsky’s left foot on the wooden pedestal and then hauled the rope tighter, so that the brunet had to step up onto the wood and rest there to avoid dislocating his thumb. The top of the wooden block measured no more than 3” across at it’s widest point and was perhaps 2” deep and the cop felt it bite into the sole of his foot immediately. In order to keep his balance he had to suspend some of his weight from his left hand and as he did so felt the pains lance through his hand and wrist and down his arm to his chest. The sole of his foot felt as though he’d stomped on a big shell on the beach. By relieving pressure from his foot, the brunet had to place all of his weight on his suspended thumb, imposing untoward muscular strain on his hand and arm. If he wished to relieve tension from his thumb, he exposed his foot to the full effect of the torture so that the end of the wood ground relentlessly into the sole of his foot.

Whichever way he tried it, the position was painful in the extreme and he knew that this was just the beginning. Traff was using an old army method of stress position. It was designed to hurt and to grind down his resolve and stamina, but it wouldn’t give him any permanent damage. Starsky knew why Traff had chosen this. It looked good and it was certainly effective. But his friend didn’t have to physically damage him. Great, so long as he didn’t have to remain like this for too long. But his hopes were dashed.

‘Leave him for the night. We’ll see if he’s more talkative tomorrow’ Traff’s voice sounded harsh in the hushed room, and with a last look at the splayed figure of the bound cop, one by one, the members of Omega filed out of the room, a new, harsh side to their leader having been revealed.

In the quiet of the room, Starsky tried to remain as still as possible. To do anything else hurt with a vengeance. The pains from his back, which had begun to settle down a little earlier, were now exacerbated by the diagonal stretch of his body, so that each breath hurt with a deep, body-crushing throb. Even blinking seemed to bring some pain and the miserable cop closed his eyes.

But that took away his sense of balance and his body fell forward slightly, putting such strain on his thumb that he screamed out at the agony, jerking his body back upright and screaming again as new pains lanced through his back.

He got himself upright again and tried to get his balance, but now his foot was throbbing, his toes cramping as the circulation was impeded by the edge of the block of wood digging into the instep of his foot. He tried to move it slightly, maybe to get the block under his heel where the skin was thicker and more cushioned, but he had no leverage upwards unless he put more strain on his hand.

Sweat began to bead on his body as his arm began to tremble with the strain on the position. He breathed in and it hurt. He groaned softly and breathed out. It hurt again and again he groaned, the sound of his own voice being something he could focus on.

As the hours wore on, and his body cramped and the overextended muscles began to tremble and rebel, the groans were the only thing that kept him going and he started to groan with each breath.

His mind began to wander. He wanted to sleep so badly, but in that distorted position he couldn’t, and any attempt at relaxing a muscle group or closing his eyes for a moment resulted in a loss of balance and more pains in is hand, arm, back and sides.

Hutch. A golden head looking at him and ice blue eyes gazing in sympathy. ‘Hey Gordo. You ok?’ the silky voice asked him.

Hurts Hutch. Oh God it hurts! Come get me huh? Can ya find me Blintz? Traff ‘n’ me are in trouble.

Starsky whimpered at the vision before him, craving the touch of his partner’s hand. Knowing that Hutch would take away the pain of only he could get to him.

The sound of the door opening made him jump and he lost balance again, screaming at the fire that blazed through his tortured muscles. Traff walked into the room, almost scared to see the shape his friend was in – tortured by his own hand. He stood in front of the suffering cop and winced.

‘I’m sorry Curly. I had to do sumthin. They’d’ve killed ya otherwise. An’ me too. Trust me, I’ll get us out’.

Starsky gazed back at his friend. He knew how much this was hurting Traff, but at that moment his only thought was the fire in his body. He licked at his dry lips and tried to form a word, but his throat was too dry. Traff went out of the room and came back a moment later with a cup. He placed his arm round his friend’s waist to support the body and put the cup to Starsky’s lips.

But the sudden change of pressure only served to enhance the pains in the brunet’s body and the hand round his waist was too much. As the pains lanced through his shoulders and back he screamed, a raw, rasping sound.

‘Lemme go….hurts too much’ he gasped as Traff very gently removed his hand.

‘God, I’m sorry Curly’ Traff whispered. ‘I never wanted anything like this to happen. They’ve got bugs everywhere’ he continued soto voce. ‘I’m watched constantly. How’re ya holdin’ up?’

The cop managed a weak snort. ‘T’riffic……where’d ya……think this one up?’

Traff smiled thinly. ‘I read history books. Only thing I could come up with that didn’t entail me or one of the others walin’ into ya with that bat some more. Shit I’m sorry Curly’.

Starsky swallowed painfully, almost afraid to ask. ‘How much…..longer?’

The soldier looked at his watch. The fingers pointed to six. Starsky had been in that stress position for over ten hours and it was a tribute to the fortitude of the man that he could even speak, let alone ask questions.

‘An hour? Then I’ll send one of the guys to cut ya down and take you to a cell. Once you’re there, I’ll bring one or two things in and tell ‘em we’re having a private session. Can ya hang on another hour?’.

‘Hang?...Oh yeah...Sure…..nowhere else….’t’go’ the brunet managed to grunt.

Chapter 9

True to his word, an hour later, Traff sent two of the men, Eddie and Mick to take down the exhausted cop. As they walked into the room, Starsky regarded them with distrust, recognising the predatory look in their eyes.

They walked into the room and took up a position, one either side of the hanging brunet and looked up at the sweat slick body and the grey mask of exhaustion over the cop’s face.

‘Well, don’t you just look a picture?’ Eddie leered, sticking his finger out and pushing at the suspended body, making it rock precariously. Starsky tried to stifle the groan as the pains redoubled their efforts to cloud his mind and instead directed the pain into two words.

‘Fuck you’. His voice was weak and husky, but the sentiment was there all the same.

Eddie didn’t take kindly to the reply and reached round to dig his fingers into the purple bruise decorating the muscled back. He ground his hand into the swollen muscle and the brunet screamed raggedly, just once before hitching a sobbing breath and ducking his chin down to his chest. No way would he allow these suckers to see the fear in his eyes.

With a grin, Mick reached up with his knife and sawed through the twine holding Starsky up. As the last thread broke, he felt his body plummet to the ground where he stayed in a heap, trying to ride the red crest of shock waves that poured through his body. He curled into a ball despite the pull on the massive bruise on his back, and cradled his damaged right hand to his chest.

Eddie drew back his booted foot and kicked at the cop on the ground, the toe of the boot catching Starsky just below the ribs and his body stiffened as he rolled onto his back, and then onto his other side, the wind whistling through his teeth.

‘Hey, Kemp said we should be careful with him. He wants him conscious for his little session down in the pit’ Mick said, holding Eddie back as he prepared to deliver another booted foot into his target.

‘Well what’s one more bruise between friends?’ Eddie asked, looking up in surprise.

‘The way you’re going he’s not gonna be awake to experience the full delights of what Kemp has in store for him. D’you wanna get on the bosses bad side, huh?’

Reluctantly Eddie’s foot returned to the ground and he regarded the suffering heap on the floor. He reached down and took hold of Starsky’s right hand, the thumb purple and swollen and pulled the brunet to his feet.

The curly haired cop yelped at the pressure on his damaged thumb, then screamed once more as his left foot made contact with the ground. Having had a goodly amount of the brunet’s 165lbs pressed down on it for 11 hours, there was a purpled bruise and a swollen area across the middle of his sole, and the pains darting out towards his toes and heel were indescribable. His knees caved and he would have fallen back to the ground if it hadn’t been for Eddie and Mick’s grasp on his arms. The two men laughed at the scream and quickly propelled Starsky out of the room and down some stairs at the end of the corridor.

Starsky tried to keep his left foot off the ground, or at least not let the full sole come into contact with the floor but it was difficult due to the speed the others were walking and eventually he found it simpler and less painful to allow himself to sag between them and be dragged along. He had very little strength left in his body to fight or struggle and knew that if he was to remain of any help at all to the soldier, he had to try to conserve what energy he had left. His legs and feet dragged along the ground, skinning his toes and the tops of his feet and leaving a trail of blood in his wake, but at least the infernal bruise beneath his left foot was more comfortable.

Within minutes, they’d stopped outside a grey painted, reinforced door and Eddie pushed it open with his foot, pushing the brunet violently inside where he fell to the floor, skinning his knees and adding more blood to the ground as he slid along it. He rested where he stopped for a moment getting his breath and his bearings before he pushed himself up until he could see the rest of his surroundings and he shivered.

The room was only small, no more than 15’ x 15’ and the walls were bare plaster with dints and crevasses in them. It had certainly seen better days and looked inhospitable and cold. Starsky saw that it contained only a couple of ropes dangling from the ceiling, a small portable generator with various leads, a pail of water and a hard wooden chair. Eddie and Mick grinned as Traff walked into the room. The soldier saw the fresh bruises on Starsky’s side.

‘What happened to him? Didn’t I tell you it was my job to do the hurting?’

Eddie ducked his head down in deference to his boss. ‘He was struggling too much. We had to get rough with him’ he whined.

Traff looked at the bruised man and the ground. There was no way that Starsky could have knocked the skin off of a tapioca pudding at that moment and Eddie knew it. He crossed to the big man and swung his fist, connecting with Eddie’s jaw and snapping the big man’s head sideways.

‘Don’t get careless again. You saw the treatment he got. How d’ya fancy 48 hours like that?’ he growled as Eddie slunk back like a kicked dog. ‘Now get out both of you. And don’t come back here. I want a little fun of my own!’

‘We could help’ Mick grinned coldly, trying to ingratiate himself into his leader’s good books.

‘Do I look like I need any help? Sit him in that chair then go’. Traff winced as the two men picked Starsky up roughly and parked him on the chair. The brunet groaned softly, his head sinking down until his chin touched his chest and his right hand curled protectively into his chest. Traff saw the exhaustion written on the cop’s body and hated himself even more.

Reluctantly the two men departed leaving Traff and Starsky alone in the room. Once the door was closed, Traff locked it from the inside and rushed over to the chair. He put his hand out to the curly head to raise the chin up and look into his friend’s eyes and Starsky pulled away, flinching and yelping at the same time before his eyes came back into focus and he remembered where he was.

‘Sorry’ he whispered.

‘Oh man. Look what I’ve done at you!’ Traff muttered. He magicked a cup from somewhere and held it to the brunet’s dry lips as Starsky took a sip of the sweet water. ‘Better? I need to tie your hands, make it look good. Just go with me on this huh?’ He pulled Starsky’s arms round behind his back trying his best to ignore the soft gasp and the purple bloom over the right hand. He took a piece of rope and wrapped it around the brunet’s wrists but instead of tying it, he handed the ends to the surprised cop.

‘Here, hang on to those and make like you’re tied. And for Gods sake don’t drop ‘em. How’re ya doin’?’

‘Oh…..t’riffic’. Starsky raised his head. ‘Can we talk?’

Traff grimaced. ‘There’s no radio bugs in here, but there’s CCTV. They can see everything that goes on. There isn’t a room in the place that doesn’t have some sort of surveillance equipment in it. Paranoid is an understatement. I haven’t got long and then they’re gonna want to see some action, otherwise they’ll suspect. I’ll make it quick, I promise, but it’s gonna hurt, chief’.

Starsky managed a shadow of a grin. ‘Jeez, ya say the nicest things buddy’.

‘Yeah, I got a real way with the words huh? Listen. This is the only chance I’m gonna have of getting you out of here. And when you do, I need you to telephone that big blond partner of yours. Tell him to come collect you’ he gave Starsky the co-ordinates. ‘And then tell him to phone Ed at the NCS office in Sacramento and tell him to get the troops in here and bust me out. Ya got that?’

‘What’re you gonna do in the meantime?’ Starsky asked, struggling with his pain fogged brain to remember all the details.

‘I dunno. Delay ‘em. I’ll think of sumthin. Just get yourself out of here Curly and, as they say in the cowboy movies, head for the hills. One deaths enough on my conscience’ he added sadly.

Starsky caught the hitch in the voice and the sad expression on the handsome face. ‘I’m sorry about your girl Traff. She was beautiful. And brave. I never even got to now her name!’

‘Bria. Her name was Bria, and yeah, she was something!

‘I had no idea what they’d done to her. If I could have I would’a stopped ‘em’ the brunet wanted so much to take the pain from his friend’s eyes. He knew the feeling of loosing his girl to some lousy, low life punks. Terry had been so special to him before she was blown away by a single bullet to the head. She had died because someone wanted to hurt him, just like Bria had died because of something she had known.

‘I know you would chief. I know’ Traff said. He stood, delaying the evil moment when he had to hurt his friend again.

‘Curly, remember the films and the stunt guys? Well if I stand in the way of the camera and aim to hit out at ya, just act like the blow connected huh? That way, I’ll only have to punch ya once for real. They’ll want to see bruises and there’s no way I’m gonna hit you more ‘n’ once. Then I’m gonna leave. Make as if I’m waiting for ya to come round again for some more huh? That’s your hint to move. Gimme five minutes, I’ll get over to the CCTV room and distract ‘em. Your jeans are in the corner there. Make the phone call, then get out as fast as you can’.

‘Don’t wanna leave you here’ Starsky said stubbornly.

‘Aww, Curly boy! Don’t huh? I’ll be fine, ya ready?’

In the control, room along the corridor, Eddie, Mick, Miguel and Horse had gathered around the monitor as they watched their leader beat the crap out of the curly haired prisoner. Even with no sound, the blows looked painful in the extreme and Starsky’s body rolled violently from side to side.

‘My God, he’s gonna kill him!’ Horse remarked, rubbing his hands together.

‘Yeah, he’s giving him a real good beltin’ Miguel agreed, getting closer to the monitor for a better view. The prisoner looked semi conscious now as his body sagged in the chair

Back in the small room, Traff poised for one more blow. ‘This is it Curly. Can’t fake it any longer’ Traff said with regret in his voice.

Starsky snook a look up at him and winked. ‘S’ok. Better make it look good huh? M’ready’.

Traff brought his fist down onto the side of his friend’s head, snapping it sideways with such violence that the chair was knocked sideways and the brunet sprawled, semiconscious on the floor.

Steeling himself to not just pick his friend up and check on him, Traff walked calmly to the door and out into the corridor, leaving the curly haired cop to lie on the floor, gasping and trying to see past the explosions of stars firing off behind his eyes.

Chapter 10

Starsky lay on the floor or a few moments after Traff had gone out of the room, his head reeling from that one blow. Thank God the soldier had only hit him once. At least this way only one side of his head felt as though it was on fire. He could feel the swelling to the side of his head and the irritating trickle of blood at the opposite side, where his head had bounced off the hard concrete floor. Added to the other pains he’d accumulated his felt as though he was tightly swaddled in a blanket of red misery.

He counted in his head until he thought five minutes had gone by, and, hoping that his friend was now distracting his men from the view screens he let go of the ends of the ropes around his wrists, feeling it unravel to free him and pushed himself up into a sitting position. The room spun as he achieved semi-vertical, his eyes blurred for a moment and he felt the wave of nausea take him. He turned sideways and deposited the contents of his stomach onto the floor of the room, heaving again and again until there was nothing left in his stomach and pushing himself away from the acrid puddle. He managed to stand, balanced precariously on his right foot. He looked around the room and hopped over to the corner, where he found his jeans in a small heap on the floor. Good old Traff. It wouldn’t do for the cavalry to have to come over the hill wearing just their boxers!

Getting into the tight pants, however, posed more than a few problems. He couldn’t bear any weight on his left foot without the pain flaring through his calf and upper leg, so he ended up sitting on the floor like a little boy as he scrambled into his jeans. Pulling them up was also painful putting added pressure on both his damaged hand and bruised back, but eventually he stood his lower half cocooned in tight denim bare footed and bare chested, back braced against the wall and drips of sweat hanging from the curls above his forehead.

Checking around the room, he pushed himself off the supporting wall and half limped, half hopped to the door. He edged it open and checked the corridor. It was empty. Quickly he limped up the confined, dark space to the room Traff had told him about and pushed the door open, insinuating himself into the room and closing the door behind him. There was one, small red emergency light illuminated in the windowless room and the brunet paused, waiting for his night vision to kick in before he limped to the desk. He crouched down behind it for fear of being caught on the CCTV cameras and reached up a hand for the telephone. He snagged the wire and pulled the receiver towards him, his breath ragged in his throat, fear of being recaptured sending prickles of cold down his spine.

He punched in the numbers he knew by heart and waited. He had no idea what time it was, although Traff had mentioned something about it being 6:00am way back when he’d been strung up in that small room. He estimated another couple of hours had elapsed since then, making it around about 8:00. Would Hutch be at home or on his way to the Metro? Hs heart raced at the thought of being able to communicate with his partner again. He had the irrational feeling that once he’d spoken to Hutch everything would be fine and he’d be on the home run. He breathed into the receiver as he heard it connect. Come on, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon Hutch buddy. Pick up!

The telephone rang only twice before a worried sounding voice answered.


‘Hutch?’ Starsky’s voice hissed into the receiver quietly.

‘Starsk? Is that you? Where the fuck are you? Are you ok?’ the blonde’s voice sounded relieved, worried and concerned all at the same time.

‘Shudup a minute’ Starsky rasped down the phone. ‘Listen, I don’t have a lot of time. You need to contact a guy called Ed at the NCS office in Sacramento. Tell him Traff is in trouble., he’ll know what you mean. Then come get me. I’ll be outside some one horse ghost mine in the Mohave, near the Nevada border at these co-ordinates’ he rhymed them off from memory.

Hutch listened to his partner, questions surging through his head. When the brunet stopped he asked.

‘Starsk, you sound hurt. Are ya hurt buddy?’

Starsky paused, not wanting to tell the big blond just how bad he was but knowing it was pointless to lie to Hutch. His partner knew him better than most wives know their husbands and could read every nuance of his voice.

‘Been better buddy’ he finally settled on. ‘Come get me huh? No time to talk now, just hurry’. There was a pause at the other end of the phone.

‘Sure thing buddy. Hold tight and don’t do anything stupid huh’

‘Me? Stupid? Don’t know what ya mean!’

Reluctantly he put his finger on the cradle, cutting him off and sat with the receiver against his forehead, as though he could somehow still communicate telepathically with his partner. Finally he put the telephone down and sat for a moment in the darkness, gathering his thoughts before pushing himself up and hopping back to the door. He opened it a crack and was about to slip into the dim corridor when he heard voices echoing from a distance. He ducked his head back inside the room and softly pushed the door closed, his ear to the wood until he thought the coast was clear.

Traff hadn’t told him which way was out, but Starsky followed his instincts and turned left down the hallway, limping quickly and silently on his bare feet past a number of other doors. He heard voices again and tried the handle of the nearest room. It was locked and frantically he looked around him for somewhere to hide, there were doors aplenty down the hallway, some with labels on them, some with the low hum of voices coming from behind them. Desperately he tried the next one. It was open and he opened it quickly, darting into the room and pushing the door closed behind him. He leaned against the door, his eyes closed for a moment and his heartbeat hammering in his ears. He was just about to check the corridor again when a thin voice asked

‘Who are you?’

The brunet’s indigo eyes flew open and he took in the small laboratory, set up with table, cabinets and equipment. A Bunsen burner stood, alight atop an asbestos mat on the table, a brightly coloured array of test tubes and petre dishes arranged around it. And at the side of the table stood a small, balding and mouselike man dressed in the ubiquitous white coat beloved by all scientists.

Starsky’s breath caught in his throat and he pushed himself away from the door, standing poised, ready for fight or flight, depending on what the scientist was about to do.

The other man looked at him in alarm, obviously not the type of guy to be too familiar with combat. He edged around the table cautiously as Starsky took a step forward. He followed the small man’s eyes, seeing a big red panic button on the wall at the far side of the room. The scientist saw that Starsky had seen his intended target and took one of the test tubes from a rack, throwing the colourless liquid at the brunet. Starsky turned his back at the last minute, as the small amount of Nitric Acid hit his shoulder. He felt the burn immediately, but needed to get the scientist away from the panic button.

As the small man made a lunge for the red button, Starsky launched himself across the room, grabbing for the man’s shoulders. He landed on top of the white coated scientist, who shrank back in horror, but the brunet could take no chances that his escape would be noticed and he drew back his fist and delivered a telling blow to the little man’s jaw. The scientist’s eyes rolled up into his head and he drooped back to the ground unconscious.

Starsky knelt on top of the small body panting. His athletics had wrenched his back and his right hand was now a blaze of fire. He also felt the burn of the acid and as he looked he could se the reddened, blistered flesh across the top of his shoulder and dripping down his right arm towards his elbow. He gasped at the pain, but knew insufficient of chemistry to know what he ought to do about the burns, and decided he had neither the time or the facilities to see to it himself. It would wait for when Hutch got to him. Until then he’d catalogue the pain away with the others that were vying for his attention.

Wearily, he pushed himself up and stood swaying with exhaustion. Life wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t he have been a lifeguard, or maybe an astronaut. Anything that would be less dangerous than being a standard Bay City Cop! His nerves were frayed, both by the pain his body tried manfully to ignore, and also from the feeling of being like a lab rat running a maze for a crazed scientist. He opened the door again, ready for any more mad scientists or Omega thugs.

The hallway doglegged at the end and turned to the right. Starsky pushed his back up against the wall, his hands supporting him as he ducked his head quickly round the corner. Nothing! The corridor was clear and at the end of it, he thought he could see a heavy, metallic looking door leading to the outside.

With a care born of worrying that he was coming so close to freedom and not wanting to blow his chance, he ran along the cold hard ground, the pain flaring through his left foot, feeling as though he was walking with a triangular piece of wood strapped to the underside. But he was desperate to get out of the bunker before anyone spotted that his body was missing from the room Traff had left him in. God knows what they would do to the soldier when they discovered Starsky had escaped, and a part of the brunet worried about his long time friend. But the other part of him needed to get out, to get to Hutch, and to attempt some kind of rescue bid.

The curly haired cop reached the door and pushed at it, half expecting it to be locked. But his shoulder felt it give and with an effort he swung the heavy door outwards to freedom.

The startling bright white light of mid morning on the edge of the desert met him and blinded him and he felt the hot sun on his skin, warming him through after the chill of the air conditioning in the bunker. He squinted his eyes against the blinding pale golden sand , raising his hand to shield them from the dazzling brightness. In every direction, there stretched miles of baking sand, the only shade given by an occasional scrubby plant. No trees and no cover and in the far distance what looked like a building.

With a deep sigh, Starsky started to limp in that direction and hopefully salvation.

Chapter 11

Hutch put the phone down, his heart racing. Starsky sounded hurt, his voice thin and rasping, and that was not a good sign. The brunet had tried to keep the extent of his injury from him, but Hutch knew it must be pretty bad for it to sound in his voice like that. He’d jotted down the information his brunet partner had given him and now his brain was working a mile a minute as he tried to decide what to do first. Usually he would have telephoned Dobey, but having handed in his badge and cut himself off from the department, that didn’t seem to be an option. And yet, his partner sounded to be in real trouble.

Running his finger over his bottom lip, as he often did when deep in thought, he realised that in order to do anything constructive, he must swallow his pride and ring his former captain, hoping that Simonetti was no-where on the horizon. It wouldn’t look too good to go back cap in hand, just to deck the nearest IA officer. He dialled the direct number and waited, knowing the big black man would be at his desk even at this early hour. He wasn’t disappointed. The phone picked up on the third ring.


‘Its Hutch’.

There was a minute pause. ‘Yeah?’

‘Cap, can we talk off of the record?’ Hutch asked, sensing the hesitation in the man’s voice.

‘Well as you’ve taken yourself off of my payroll, there’s not many other options, are there?’ Dobey grunted. But he kept his anger to a minimum knowing the blond would not have called unless he knew something about Starsky. And that would probably mean that the curly haired man needed help.

Hutch sighed. You and your big mouth Hutchinson! Why didn’t ya just keep your temper huh?

‘Cap, I’ve heard from Starsky. He sounds hurt. We need to talk’.

He heard the creak of the chair as Dobey leaned forward. ‘Where? When?’

‘I’m coming in. Now’ Hutch told him decisively.

‘Does that mean you want your shield back?’

‘Do I have a choice?’

‘We’ll talk about it’ Dobey said and put the phone down, grinning. He had the blond, hook, line and sinker!

He picked up the shield in it’s leather case and turned it so that the bright morning sunlight glinted off the shiny metal surface. He’d kept it, the cuffs and the big canon of a gun in his locked desk drawer overnight in the hoped that Hutch would see sense. He knew the blond was passionate about saving his partner. And he also knew that that passion translated to damned good policework out on the street. He’d been there himself. Where he’d been so riled up that he’d quit, only to go back to his own Captain all those years ago and admit, albeit grouchily, that he’d made a mistake.

He didn’t expect anything like an apology from Hutch, but he knew that just the fact that the flaxen haired cop was prepared to come back to the metro, meant he was ready to take his shield back too. He’d play it cool and things would eventually get back to normal.

At Venice Place Hutch washed quickly, fingering his mussed hair into some semblance of order. He went to the cupboard by the door to reach for his gun, belatedly remembering that he’d left it with Dobey the previous day. He cursed to himself. He felt naked without it. Starsky had once even joked he wouldn’t have gone to see his Mom without it. And while he probably would have wanted to take it, as protection against his Mom and Dad, he understood the sentiment. On the rough streets of Bay City, it gave him added confidence and security to be able to discharge his job properly. Feeling only semi dressed, he snagged his car keys from the table, checking his apartment one last time and headed down to the car.

The drive down to town was not a long one and the blond covered the journey in no more than 20 minutes, pulling up outside the big stone building and parking in the spot his partner habitually used. He got out and took the steps two at a time, his long legs powering him along the hallway to Dobey’s’ office, and as usual he entered without a knock.

The black man looked up as the golden whirlwind entered and sat back in his chair. Hutch looked tetchy, but that was a good deal better than the white lipped fury of yesterday. He decided to play it cool.

‘Hutchinson’. He greeted.

Hutch sat down, drawing the chair right up to the table and leaning his arms on it, breaking down the physical barrier between the two of them.

‘Starsky needs help’ he said. Straight to the point. No time for niceties.

‘You said. How?’

Hutch gave Dobey the run down on the message he’d received only an hour earlier.

‘So he says we have to contact a guy called Ed at the NCS office in Sacramento’ he finished.

‘What was Traff doing working for the National Clandestine Service? Dobey asked.

Hutch shrugged his shoulders. I didn’t even know they had an office in Sacramento! Not even really sure what they do. I know they’re a branch of the CIA, but they aren’t a bunch I usually get involved with’ he finished with a weak grin.

Dobey reached behind him for a black covered file and thumbed through it until he hit the requisite page. He read aloud from the text on the page.

‘The National Clandestine Service (NCS) operates as the clandestine arm of the CIA, and serves as the national authority for the co-ordination, deconfliction, and evaluation of clandestine human intelligence operations across the Intelligence Community. The NCS supports our country's security and foreign policy interests by conducting clandestine activities to collect information that is not obtainable through other means. The NCS also conducts counterintelligence and special activities as authorised by the President. Seems Traff is in with the big guys huh?’

Hutch pursed his lips and nodded. ‘It doesn’t give a telephone number for “Ed” does it? He asked jokingly.

‘We should be so lucky’. Dobey pushed the telephone over to the other man. ‘You wanna make the call? The number for Sacramento is here’. He read it out as Hutch punched in the numbers, drumming his fingers as he waited for the phone to connect.

‘Good morning’ a voice on the other end of the line said. No introduction. No “welcome to the secret CIA”.

‘Good morning’ Hutch responded, then paused. What was he supposed to say? Can I speak to Ed? How lame was that? But it was all he had to go on, so he went with it.

‘Can I speak to Ed?’

‘I’m sorry caller, do you have an identity number?’ the voice asked.

‘Erm….no. I want to speak to Ed. I have a….’ The phone went dead, leaving Hutch staring at it as though it had just bitten him. He put it down wearily wiping his hand down his face. ‘They hung up’ he explained.

‘No kiddin’! Have you got any more information of this Ed? His last name? Any sort of identification number maybe?’ Dobey probed.

‘No nothin’ Starsk wasn’t exactly in a position to give me chapter and verse. Shit! What d’we do now, go up to Sacramento and bang on their door?’

‘You don’t do nothing. You’re a civilian remember?’ Dobey said heavily, his hand on the drawer handle. He opened it and removed the shield, cuffs and gun. ‘Unless….’

‘You didn’t hand them in?’ Hutch asked, relief and at the same time a flash of anger flooding through his system.

‘Must’a been too busy’ Dobey grunted, pushing the trio of articles back across the table, where they were met by a large, square, safe hand. Hutch stowed them away, along with the anger. Get Starsky back and he’d yell at not being taken seriously later.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, going over the scant details they had looking for a way round. Finally light dawned and Hutch looked up. ‘Got it. If Traff’s undercover, his CO at the 8th Battalion is gonna know something surely’.

Dobey nodded, seeing some light at the end of the very long tunnel. ‘Ring him’.

Hutch took out his pocket book and leafed through, finding the number he’d used only a couple of times before. He dialled it and waited and when the formal male voice answered asked to be put through to Colonel Whitehead. A moment later a loud, masculine voice answered.

Hutch remembered the last time he’d met the man, when Traff had been rescued from a group of rebels in the city of Buenos Aires. The first time he’d seen the large man. He’d taken an instant dislike. But the more time he spent with him, and the more he learned how much Whitehead cared for his men, his attitude changed. Now he was greeted almost as though he was a long lost friend.

‘Detective Hutchinson! How are you. And your partner, Detective Starsky?’

‘That’s part of the reason I’m ringing you Colonel. Erm…Starsky is missing and we think it has something to do with your Lieutenant Colonel Trafford. Do you know where he is?’

The line went quiet. ‘Have you had some information?’ Whitehead asked cautiously. ‘This is not a secure line’.

‘Then we need to meet, Colonel, because I’ve had some news and its not good’.

‘Very well. Can you come to the base for…ooh….16:00 this afternoon? I’ll have my staff sergeant meet you at the entrance’.

Hutch put the telephone down and told Dobey ‘He’ll meet with us at the base at 16:00. That gives us 7 hours to get information on those tyre tracks I gave to R&I and to try and track down this Ed guy. Are you coming?’

Dobey stood and shouldered into his jacket, following the blond out of the door and down to the R&I to see what they’d got so far.

The drive over to the base, in the scrublands to the south west of the city took a little under an hour and Hutch saw the buildings looming up out of the flat plain a mile or so before they got there. Barbed wire fences surrounded the battalion entrance and there was a sentry gate with an armed officer on patrol. As Hutch brought the car to a standstill, the soldier bent down and looked in through the window.

‘Detective Hutchinson and Captain Dobey to see Colonel Whitehead. We have an appointment at 16:00’ Hutch informed the young man, who ducked back into his sentry hut and made a call. He returned a moment later.

‘Drive to the next sentry box. Sergeant Cox will meet you there’ he said and opened the barrier to let them through. They drove on and the Sergeant waved to them, opening the second barrier and walking by the side of the car into the parking lot.

Dobey and Hutch got out and followed the man inside and were showed into Whitehead’s office. It was a simple room, painted plain cream with only one picture on the wall. It showed the big man kneeling down, his arms around two little girls and a bigger boy, an attractive women sitting behind them. Whitehead walked into the room and sat down after shaking their hands.

‘My family’ he explained. ‘My pride and joy and the reason I keep on working. I see too many things in this job that would threaten my family. It’s my job to keep them safe’.

He offered both men a coffee, then sat back in his chair.

‘You said you had information about Colonel Trafford. Tell me’.

Hutch went over the sketchy details he had, while Whitehead steepled his fingers, nodding and making understanding noises.

‘So you think that Detective Starsky has been taken by the same group Traff is involved in?’

‘Yeah, and we need to know who to contact to get them out of there. Starsky’s managed to escape although I think he’s injured, but you need to get Traff out. Starsk said he was in danger’.

‘Traff was working undercover in a group specialising in selling nuclear bombs to the highest bidder. That’s why the NCS wanted him – because of his expertise in bomb disposal. I have no idea who his contact was. Just gave his name as Ed’ Whitehead explained.

‘Wonderful! I tried the Ed routine already. Got a bint on the phone who treated me like I was completely nuttso, then she put the phone down. So how’re ya meant to contact him? Did they give you a password or sumthin?’’ Hutch asked, panic rising in his chest.

Whitehead shook his head. ‘We don’t contact them. He contacted Traff each time, then Traff had to go up to Sacramento for his training and briefing’.

‘Starsky gave me the co-ordinates of the place they were being held. Its on the Nevada border. Any chance of….’

Whitehead was already reaching for the telephone and issuing orders. He looked up from the phone. ‘I’ll get the operation moving’ he grinned.

Chapter 12

Starsky staggered outside, looking around him for some cover. He saw the mile after mile of pale golden sand, strewn with rocks, the occasional scrubby bush and very little else amongst the hillocks and hollows of the desert floor. He squinted up at the milky sky, estimating that it was probably no later than 10:00am. That meant that if he really exerted himself he could cover the few miles to the co-ordinates Traff had given him by mid afternoon. If he’d have been fit, and he wasn’t stuck somewhere in the middle of the Mojave, he’d probably have been able to jog the distance in a couple of hours, but such was not the case. He was weak, thirsty and injured.

Even at that relatively early time, with the sun still climbing into the sky, the temperature was baking. He estimated it was probably way over 80 degrees at that moment, and while he was used to the heat, it did pose one or two other problems.

If he was to set out and walk through the midday heat, he was likely to get himself sunstroke and a helluva burn with no shirt to cover his already burned shoulder and body. He could already feel the sun stinging at the acid burns on his right shoulder and down his arm. He’d had nothing to drink to speak of, for at least 24 hours and he could now feel the thickness of the saliva in his mouth and the dryness of his tongue. He really needed water, and to set out into the baking wilderness without it was asking for trouble.

On the other hand, he’d just escaped from a set of goons who were intent on making nuclear bombs, and, as an aside, killing him in the process. He weighed it up in his head. The heat of the desert as he escaped versus the prospect of a little more torture. And he still had to try and get Traff out of there.

Starsky started to walk, fatalistically out into no mans land, hoping he was going in the right direction. He seemed to be able to see, far away on the horizon something that looked like a cluster of buildings. Was that his destination? He doubted it very much, but made it his target in any event. At least if he got to some shelter he could wait out the heat of the day and set out again in the late afternoon. And darkness would cover his escape, if he could avoid Miguel and his cronies long enough.

The desert was not quiet. He’d always thought that the wilderness would be deathly still, but now he realised it was, in fact, a noisy, if desolate place. He could hear birds calling, far off and the incredible sound of the insects who were making the most of the relative cool before the heat of midday. There was a low, persistent hum also and it took him minutes to work out that the sand was singing, the grains rubbing against each other as they were blown across the arid plain.

As he started to walk, the sand scrunched beneath his bare feet. At the moment it felt warm. A little too warm, but he’d deal with that later. But the hard packed earth dug like blunt knives into the sole of his injured left foot and he was forced to walk either on the very tips of his toes, or hop, in order to make any sort of progress. Each hopping step, each lurch forward, brought spiking pains through his back and he grunted, trying to stay focussed on his goal of getting to the horizon and, hopefully, some shade.

Starsky was desperate to put as much distance as he could between him and the bunker and so he pressed on as fast as he could, limping, hopping, staggering and sometimes falling in his haste to escape. Within half an hour, however, his breathing was coming in ragged gasping pants and his heart was hammering in his chest, echoing the throb of the steel band he felt that someone had placed around his forehead. Sweat trickled down his face and dripped from his chin and eyelashes, prickling down his back and chest. His body temperature seemed to have risen a hundred degrees since he’d started out and the brunet knew that he needed to find shelter. At the rate he was loosing fluid from sweating he’d be completely dehydrated within hours.

Starsky looked back the way he’d come. In the distance he thought he could still see the looming dome of the bunker, but it was difficult to make out because the roof blended into the sandy colour of it’s surroundings. He looked ahead of him.

He’d always thought of a desert as being sand, sand and more sand, but the area he was in now resembled a flat, scrubby field almost. There were tussocky sprouts of vegetation with sandy walkways between them, making the going even more difficult for a one footed man. He could get no rhythm to his stride and sometimes the areas between the vegetation were too small to allow for both feet. He looked around to see if there was anything he could use as a crutch or walking stick, but the highest vegetation was no more then 2’. The low bushes were desiccated, dry looking and pathetic and from his army field lessons he dimly recalled the creosote bush, its tiny, blackened leaves and acrid perfume making it stand out from the other small plants. Although there was vegetation around him, none looked as though he’d be able to squeeze any water out of it, and he swilled his dry tongue around dry lips, trying to ignore the thirst raging in his throat.

The brunet scanned the horizon, the bright mid morning sun making his eyes hurt. The buildings he thought were there seemed to have moved now, and he started to doubt they’d ever truly seen them in the first place. But in this desolate, flat wilderness, there was no landmark for him to aim at, no one fixed point to walk to, and he was rapidly getting to the stage where he couldn’t walk much more in any event. The sand covered ground had heated up more now and each footstep felt as though he was stepping onto a griddle pan. The further he walked, the hotter the ground became and he knew that if he didn’t do something to protect his bare feet soon, he would be blistered and unable to go on.

Starsky reluctantly sat down, as close to one of the tallest bushes as he could get, hunkering down to get the best of the poor shade it offered. The sun was getting high in the sky now and his shoulders, chest and, he presumed, his back had all taken on a vicious red hue. He wiped his hand over his face and was dismayed to feel that there was little sweat there now. Not good. Definitely not good!

The only thing he had that could possibly cover his feet and enable him to carry on walking was the material of his jeans and he silently thanked Traff once more for making sure he had some clothing with which to make his escape bid. He looked at the thick denim material. He didn’t want to leave himself with no cover at all, so he contemplated trying to cut them off above the knee. But how could he separate the tough material with no knife? He looked at the bush behind him, it’s woody stems sturdy, but short. Fatalistically he shuffled out of his jeans and started to rub the leg of the pants on the knobbly stem of the plant, working hard until he’d managed to wear a small hole in it. He seized the material and ripped it open, but was stopped by the thick double stitched seam. Again he worked it on the plant’s stem. It abraded some of the fabric, but the jeans remained stubbornly sewed together. He examined the seam and started to pick at the threads, loosening them one by one until one seam opened. One down, three to go.

Over an hour later, with all four seams unpicked, Starsky had a pair of cut off shorts, which he struggled back into, and two stout pieces of material to wrap around his feet. The work had been hard and now, in the midday sun he could feel his shoulders burning and as he looked at the acid burn, he saw the blisters had popped and the skin was crisping obscenely at the edges of the raw, red wounds. His head felt as though it were in a vice and it pounded a rhythm in time with his heartbeat and his right hand, after the manual dexterity needed for his work on his jeans was now stiff, swollen and useless.

On top of everything, the thirst raged through his body, blotting out almost all other thoughts. His tongue was beginning to swell in his mouth now and he could feel his lips cracking and splitting. He wrapped the denim around each foot and tried to stand. But the hour or more in the noonday sun had sapped his energy. He felt sick and dizzy and light headed.

For a moment, Starsky contemplated just staying where he was, and trying to hunker down into the shade of the small bush until it was cooler, but the thoughts of what Horse, Miguel and their friends might do to him, and possibly Traff, drove him on. He made a titanic effort to pull himself to his feet, where he stood swaying and trying to stop his vision from dancing about.

Weakly he started to walk again, the pain in his foot lancing into his leg and hip with each stride. The denim worked reasonable well at insulating his feet from the heat, but the clumsy, makeshift shoes caught at the sand and twice he tripped, the second time hitting the side of his head against a rock. He gasped and pushed himself back up, feeling at the cut across his cheek. But instead of the free flowing blood he’d expected, his fingers came away bloody. But it seemed thick and sticky.

Starsky recognised the signs of dehydration, but he daren’t stop, pushing himself through the vicious heat of the afternoon until he started to see visions tunnelling up through the heat.

In the distance, he saw a shimmering pool of blue water, its shores shallow and inviting. His heart raced at the thought of slaking his thirst and throwing the cool water over his burning shoulders, back and chest. In his desperation he broke into a shambling run, ignoring the pains in his foot in his eagerness to get to the cool fluid. The brunet had run perhaps 50 agonising yards when he stopped and looked for his target again. But the heat was playing cruel games with him and the mirage had disappeared.

Starsky dropped to his knees, his breath ragged in his throat as he sought to suck in air past his swollen tongue. He had no idea how long he’d been walking. His head felt as though it would explode, his body was on fire and he was so hot that he seemed to be viewing the world through a crimson haze. He stayed where he dropped, his head hanging down between his arms as he fought for breath, then he rolled over onto his back and stared up at the bright white sun in the cloudless sky.

Starsky fought to keep his eyes from closing. He was desperately tired and his body craved rest, but he knew that to stop here, in the shadeless desert meant certain death, and so with a pitiful groan, he pushed his aching, burning body up and tried to get to his feet.

What’re ya doing there Gordo? Ya want a drink?’ Hutch held out a cold bottle of beer, the outside frosted with condensation.

Starsky reached for the bottle, his heart racing at the thought of the ice cold fluid flowing down his sandpapered throat. He pulled himself up onto his knees and reached out his hand, grasping at the cold bottle…..and the fingers closed on air.

The brunet fell forward, his left, uninjured hand clawing at the sand as he whimpered into the dry earth, but no tears flowed. His body was too dry to give up valuable fluid, but he sucked in sobbing breaths, the air drying his already dry airways.

Starsky was close to the end of his physical reactions. His body was closing down as he lay on the baking hot earth beneath the scorching sun. With a last, superhuman effort, he pushed himself up and stood unsteadily.

Just ten more strides Starsk. Only ten more and you’ll be ok’ Hutch told him, the golden face shining at him through his red sea of misery.

Starsky lurched forward, screaming as his tortured foot touched the ground. One…two…he counted out the strides reaching for his partner

Just another ten Gordo. You can do it. Just follow me’ the velvety voice urged him.

And again, the brunet obeyed, ten steps by each ten steps as Hutch lead him through the wilderness.

Starsky was a walking dream, or more accurately a nightmare. His brain no longer functioned on a higher level, his feet lurching his body forward as he unconsciously screamed with each contact his foot made on the hard earth. He wound his way around the vegetation, stubbing his toes, falling, pulling himself up and all the time following the golden body that was always just out of reach.

‘Utch’ he croaked, reaching out a hand to his partner. ‘Wait….tired….can’t go on’ he sunk to his knees again and once again the flaxen haired cop’s voice sounded, a little way ahead.

I know its hard, Starsk. But not much further. C’mon buddy, you can do it. For me? Huh?’

Starsky moaned and pushed himself to his feet again. He was burned across his shoulders and down his chest and back, grimy from his falls in the dust and weak from lack of water. And with each step he groaned, calling out for Hutch to wait until he caught up, a mechanism set to walk.

And that was just how Horse and Miguel found him at 8:00 that evening in the rapidly darkening desert, a mile from the bunker after he’d struggled to drag himself in almost a perfect circle back to the poinr from where he'd set off.

Chapter 13

The Jeep skittered over the bumpy surface of the desert, it’s headlights blazing into the gathering gloom, casting a tunnel of intense light before it, making the moths dance in it’s brightness and commit suicide against the headlights and windshield. The bright lights shone across the ground and enhanced the dips, making then look as though they were bottomless pits in the ground.

Miguel drove fast. He was used to the arid landscape and kept his foot to the metal as he laughed, jolting Horse along in the front passenger seat, making the big blond man’s teeth rattle in his skull as he clung onto the passenger grab and tried to brace himself.

‘Jeez Miguel, slow down will ya? I wanna get to him in once piece, then I can beat the crap out of him’. He grinned in anticipation of his sport.

‘Wassamatter? Are ya chicken?’ the Mexican asked, an evil leer on his olive skinned face.

They had finally got fed up of waiting for Traff to finish off the interrogation of their captive. They’d wanted to see the end result of the beating they’d watched their leader deliver and their final look at the body of the brunet on the floor of the small room had been tantalising to them, urging on their blood lust. But then Kemp had walked into the CCTV room and had ordered them to get back to their work. He’d told them that Starsky was his and his alone and anyone who was going to get to the brunet would suffer the consequences.

So, the men had gone back to their assigned tasks grumpily, but fearful enough of Kemp to not want to challenge him. They’d seen a different, harder side to their leader, one which they found enticing and at the same time awe inspiring. Violence was the one thing that Omega knew all about.

At their lunchtime, however, Horse and Miguel had questioned Kemp about his methods.

‘What’s the use of just leaving him in that room? You’re not gonna get anything out of him just by leavin’ him lyin’ on the floor’ Miguel sneered.

Kemp looked at him contemptuously. ‘What do you know about it huh? I’ve had results before with tougher puppies than that one. Just leave his pains and his thirst to argue with him and I’ll go back in a couple’a hours’

‘Yeah right. You’re just gonna walk back in there ‘n’ he’ll tell you everything!’

Kemp stood so suddenly the whole table juddered backwards and his chair fell over behind him. He leaned over the table and stared into Miguel’s eyes, inches from the man’s face.

‘Are you challenging me?’ he ground out, grabbing hold of a handful of the Mexican’s shirt and bunching it tightly round his throat. The Mexican’s eyes darted to the side and he could see Kemp’s hand balling into a fist, ready for the strike.

For a moment. Kemp thought the big man was going to call his bluff and issue a challenge back. Their eyes bored into each other, intense; hawklike. But after a powerful staring contest, where each man’s body twitched with anticipation, the Latino backed down, letting his gaze drop and his body go limp. Kemp let go the shirt collar with a jerk and pushed Miguel backwards, so that he all but overbalanced on the chair. He glared around the room.

‘Anyone else want a turn? Anyone else want to try a piece of me?’ he asked belligerently. The men’s eyes looked elsewhere, not wanting to attract attention to themselves as Kemp’s eyes burned into each one of them in turn. ‘Fine, now get back to work!’ he ground out and left the room. He slammed the door behind him and stood in the empty corridor, leaning back against the solid wall for fear his trembling legs would give out on him. Traff was by no means a coward, but he needed to keep control and he’d come close to loosing it. For his sake, and the sake of the brunet, he needed to keep Omega under.

But Horse and Miguel had decided that one quick look at the CCTV wouldn’t go amiss and after a short wait, to make sure Kemp was out of range, they headed into the observation room. They turned the CCTV screen on and were amazed that the body was no longer visible.

‘Where the fuck’s he gone? Has he managed to crawl to one side or something?’ Miguel asked, turning the remote camera to see most of the room.

‘He’s gone!’

They headed off down the corridor, and after checking that Kemp was nowhere to be seen, shouldered open the door and went in. The big Mexican took one look at the empty room and stormed out. He picked up the coil of rope they’d seen Kemp bind Starsky with, then threw it down again in disgust. He looked at Horse.

‘Lets go find our little escapee huh? He can’t have gotten too far. Not in his condition. He was beat up pretty bad. What say we take the Jeep and go search?’

The big blond thug looked doubtful. ‘Don’t you think we should tell Kemp first?’ he asked.

A leer spread over his friend’s face. ‘Nah. This way, when we get him, we can have some fun and score big time with the boss when we bring him back’.


‘What’s that?’ Horse yelled over the noise of the motor as the Jeep rattled over another tussock of vegetation. He squinted into the gathering gloom, sure he saw something man shaped moving in the distance.


‘Over there. Ten o’clock. About 150 yards ahead’ Horse pointed as Miguel turned the powerful truck in that direction. The tires swallowed up the ground as the big engine drove them on and there, caught in the headlights like a startled rabbit, was the body of their curly haired captive.

Starsky had walked for as long as he could under the blazing sun, but finally terrible dehydration and the pains from his various wounds had taken their toll and his body had refused to go further. He’d dropped to the ground in a curled up ball, his injured, swollen right hand cradled to his sunburned chest and his eyes, which had sunken in their sockets closed, his eyelashes dark smudges against his burned cheeks.

He’d looked around him one last time before he’d fallen into his stupor, seeing Hutch crouched at the side of him, holding out a hand to him. But he’d been too weak to grasp it and couldn’t comprehend why his partner wouldn’t just help him up and take him home. And then blackness had descended over him, as though a dark hole had swallowed him up.

Now he felt something digging into his side and sluggishly his body told him it was time to wake up. He groaned, but his bone dry throat let out the sound only as a croak and he coughed painfully. The point re-appeared at his side, and Starsky opened eyes, which felt as though the lids were lined in sandpaper and looked up.

His vision was blurred and wavering, but he saw a big, blond body and a shock of flaxen, almost white hair above him.


Horse looked down at the pitiful sight. ‘What’s he say?’

Miguel bent down and poked the body on the ground again, giggling as Starsky rolled away from the painful stimulus. ‘Don’t know. Sounded like hutch, or hush or somethin’.

The brunet’s lips were moving again as he tried to make sense of what was going on. Had Hutch come for him finally? Why wasn’t he holding him? Why wasn’t he giving him something to drink? He tried again, putting all his energy into one word.


Miguel giggled again. ‘He’s gone loco. Let’s stand him up’.

Rough hands reached down and took hold of the dehydrated body and stood Starsky up. He managed to get his legs under him and stand unaided, but he had no idea where he was, or what was happening. In his thirst induced haze his only thought was of his partner, his mind allowing him that one small comfort amongst all his other pains.

‘Want t’go….’ome’ he mumbled, his head heavy and hanging down as he took ragged, hitching breaths.

‘Yeah. You want for us to take you home?’ Horse asked, grinning.

Starsky forced his heavy head up, trying to see through the blurriness. He couldn’t make out the man’s features, but he could see the blond hair. He had no idea why Hutch was behaving this way, but he’d trusted the blond so many times, he simply nodded.


Horse went back to the Jeep and came back with a coil of rope. He tied one end of it to the rear eyelet on the tailgate of the truck, then roughly took hold of the brunet’s right hand. Starsky yelped at the pressure on the swollen appendage but watched passively as Horse wound the rope first round his right wrist, then round his left, tying them both together, and then to the truck. Indigo eyes concentrated on the procedure, trying to make sense of what was going on. Hutch wouldn’t hurt him. He must be trying to keep him safe. But who was the other man with him? He didn’t like the man with the dark hair, who laughed at him. Didn’t he know he was hurting? Hadn’t Hutch told him?

He tried one more time to get the blond to tell him what he was doing, pulling weakly at his bonds.

‘Don’t…..wanna go…..’

‘Yeah, yeah, ya said. You wanna go home. Well now we’re taking you. Follow us’ Horse grinned evilly as the two men got back into the Jeep. Miguel selected low gear and set off watching the confused brunet in the rear view mirror.

Starsky stood stock still, his dehydrated brain unable to grasp what was being done to him. He looked unsteadily at the truck and then at his hands and as the rope took up slack and he was pulled forward, understanding finally hit. He took a faltering step, screaming in raw anguish as his damaged foot was forced to the ground. But the pull was inexorable and Miguel kept the Jeep at a steady two miles per hour as the brunet was pulled along behind it, arms outstretched as his wrists were pulled in front of him, stumbling through the desert gloom.

Starsky’s mind couldn’t take it all in. He’d been sure Hutch had finally come to save him from this living hell and take him home. The lack of water had affected his eyesight and he couldn’t make out the features, but the size of the man and the colour of his hair all added up to this being his partner. But Hutch wouldn’t treat him this way, ever. And eventually his brain processed the information and sent the message back – he’d been recaptured.

He choked back a sob as he was pulled along. In the darkness it was difficult to see where he was going and he tripped over the tussocks of grass and small bushes. At one point he fell and for a hundred yards or so he was unable to get his legs back under him. He was dragged along by his wrists, the sharp sand and vegetation digging at his bare, sunburned chest until it started to run red with blood. With a titanic effort he managed to pull his feet under him and stagger to his feet again. Every step was agony on his damaged left foot and even in the relative cool of the evening, the temperature was such that what remained of his energy reserves was soon sapped.

Starsky’s mind closed down completely, his body an automaton whose limbs worked on pure instinct to keep him upright and moving. His tongue had swollen so that it felt as though it filled his mouth and he could no longer swallow properly, there being no saliva in his mouth.

He had no idea how long they dragged him behind the truck, but just as his legs gave up and he realised he could take not one step more, the Jeep shuddered to a halt, back at the bunker.

The brunet collapsed to his knees, completely spent and allowed the two men to untie the rope from the Jeep. With his wrists still bound before him, they took hold of him under his arms and dragged him into the cool interior of the bunker. It was painful, but the damaged cop had no energy left even to yelp at the pain. They threw him through a door, depositing him in a heap on the floor of the same room he’d escaped from almost 15 hours before.

‘Keep him there. I’ll go get Kemp’ Miguel said as he went out of the room.

Chapter 14

‘I think there’s something you need to see’ Miguel said as he burst through the door into Kemp’s private room. The curly haired soldier jumped and looked up in surprise. Since he’d had the showdown with the big Mexican and his pal Horse that lunchtime he’d kept a low profile hoping he could wait it out until help got there without having to meet up with the men too much. He didn’t know how much longer he could hold on to his leadership after the brief power struggle. That was the way Omega remained so strong and focussed, by not allowing any of their members to relax, otherwise they’d loose their place in the pecking order.

‘Have you heard of knocking?’ Kemp answered curtly, stuffing his book back into his kit bag and standing.

Miguel grinned. ‘You’re gonna want to see this. There’s some more fun for us’.

Traff’s blood turned to ice. More fun translated into more pain for someone and the only two people he could think of as deserving pain in the eyes of the group were himself and Starsky.

Aw shit Curly boy. Did they catch up with ya? And did you get the message to that big blond partner of yours?

Kemp kept his face impassive. ‘It’d better be as good as you make out’ he grunted, following Miguel out of the room and down the corridor. The Mexican stopped outside the interrogation room and Kemp’s heart plummeted into his boots. He took one step inside and saw the bedraggled curly heap on the ground.

Starsky had remained where they’d thrown him, pitifully grateful just to be able to lie down somewhere cool. He hadn’t the strength to move or to ask questions. He had barely enough energy to keep breathing.

Kemp looked at the bloody body, squatting down by the side of his friend and gently turning him over. Starsky’s body felt desiccated to the touch, his skin too hot and dry and as Kemp pushed, he rolled easily over onto his back, his left, relatively uninjured arm flung wide as his head lolled to the side. His face was shrunken some way, the eyes sunken into the sockets and the entire front of his chest was one enormous graze, tiny bits of twig and vegetation sticking out of the bloody wounds. The acid burn on his shoulder had turned a deep purple colour and stood out lividly against the angry red sunburn across his shoulders and back and the huge bruise across his middle back had swollen, leaving a tender ridge of flesh. Starsky’s right hand had swollen to twice its normal size and the thumb was one purple/blue bruise, as was his left foot. The indigo eyes remained closed and only the hint of a moan escaped the dried, blistered and cracked lips.

Kemp’s first reaction was to ring for an ambulance and get help for his Vietnam buddy, but that would blow his cover for sure. So would picking the broken man up and cradling him in his arms, but that was Kemp’s second choice of action. He balled his hands into fists, wondering how he was going to have to play this one. His men would expect action and idly he wondered how soon he could knock Starsky out cold. At least that way, his brunet friend wouldn’t suffer for a few hours.

Starsky felt the hand on his arm, pushing him over and felt the cool air around him and the cold hard floor beneath his back. He had no recollection of where he was or how he’d gotten there, but he felt every single pain his body offered him. Slowly his mind registered the hand again. Another human hand. And this one didn’t hurt him for the moment.

He forced his eyes to open, wincing at the bright naked bulb above him. He saw a ring of faces looking down at him, although the features were fuzzy and indecipherable. He saw the big blond man at his back and was again reminded of his partner.

‘Utch?’ he croaked, his eyes darting from one man to the next, finally settling on the curly haired man in front of him. The one with the hand on his arm. He concentrated hard, trying to get his dry eyes to focus on the man. He thought he recognised the face, although something in the back of his mind told him that things were not quite right. But he wanted reassurance from someone; just one little act of kindness to take away his pains.

Starsky’s lips worked at trying to form the next word and finally he managed a weak, dry moan. ‘Traff?’

Kemp’s body stiffened.

Don’t say any more Curly boy. Not now. Just help me keep my cover for another few hours, then maybe Hutch will get here.

Kemp stood up, forcing himself away from the reaching hand and looking around the room.

‘Who found him?’ he asked, keeping his voice remarkably neutral.

‘We did. Me an’ Horse’ Miguel said proudly. ‘He was wandering round like a crazy man out there. We did him a favour, got him out of that hot sun and brought him back here for some TLC’ he giggled at his own bad joke.

‘Well done. At least you managed to get something right’ Kemp ground out, the brief sentence making him feel sick to his stomach. ‘Now, keep him here, and for God’s sake give him a drink. I’m gonna go an’ get some of my stuff’.

‘What d’we give him a drink for huh?’ Horse asked, stepping over the prone body. ‘He don’t deserve a drink!’

Kemp pulled his hand back and slapped the blond across the face, hard enough to leave four white finger marks on the florid skin. ‘He can’t answer questions if he can’t talk. An’ he can’t talk if his voice is all gummed up. Do I make myself clear? Now, give him a goddamned drink’ he said slowly and clearly, as if explaining to a child.

Horse rubbed at his cheek, anger sparkling in his eyes, but he bit back any retort and watched sulkily as Kemp left the room. He got a cup of water and begrudgingly knelt by the side of the brunet, waiting until one of the other men had pulled the limp body into a sitting position.

Starsky groaned. It was a pitiful animal sound and his eyes remained closed, but as Horse put the cup to his lips he sipped greedily at the water. Cruelly, Horse allowed him the minimum amount before pulling the cup away and throwing the rest of the water into Starsky’s face.

‘Aww look. He spilled it onto the floor’ he said. Roughly took hold of a handful of the cop’s dusty curls and pushed his head forward until Starsky’s face was lying in the puddle of water. ‘Lick it up’ he grunted, grinding the face into the ground.

Very slowly a swollen tongue peeked out of the brunet’s mouth and he lapped once at the cool fluid spilled around him as Horse giggled maniacally above him. The big blond yanked Starsky’s head back and the brunet gasped softly, his eyes flying open wide.

‘Stand him up’ he said to Miguel and Mick. They complied, putting their hands under Starsky’s arms and hauling him to his feet.

‘Hold him still. Little boys who’re careless with their drinks should be punished’ he grinned

Miguel took both Starsky’s arms and pulled them behind his back, holding the exhausted cop in an arm lock. The brunet leaned back against the bigger man, his head down, chin on chest and the residue from the water dripping from the curls on his forehead. Without warning. Horse aimed his balled fist at the bloody, grazed abdomen and brought it crashing into Starsky’s stomach. The brunet bent forward, bringing the man behind him with him. He made a strangled cry deep in his throat, a gurgling sound as the breath was forced from his body.

Starsky had had his eyes closed and didn’t see the blow coming. It took him completely by surprise and the force of the strike made his body bend forward involuntarily. He felt as though his eyeballs were going to fall out of his head as he struggled to suck in sufficient air and his stomach set up a deep throb of pain matching his quickening heartbeats.

Horse stood for a few seconds, watching with relish the struggling captive before delivering a swift uppercut to Starsky’s chin. His head flew back and he screamed once as his body shuddered against the restraining hands of the man behind him. Warming to his task, Horse was winding up for the next blow, when suddenly he felt a blow to his own neck.

The blow amazed him. It sent a shock wave of pain through his shoulders and down his arms and his vision greyed at the edges and as Kemp brought the knife edge of his hand down onto the blonde’s neck again, Horse dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Kemp stood in the middle of the room panting and glaring at the other men.

‘What part of “he’s mine” don’t you understand?’ he yelled at the assembled crowd. ‘Now look at him. We’ll never get anything out of him now’. He braced himself to look at his injured friend, his eyes roving over the sagging body of the brunet.

Kemp stepped over Horse’s body and stood in front of Starsky, cupping his hand under the cop’s chin and raising it so that he could see into the dazed indigo eyes. Starsky’s eyebrows V’d as he concentrated on the man in front of him. His body throbbed persistently, not a part of him that didn’t hurt, but he tried to concentrate past the pains, panting as he endeavoured to get his breath back. All the brunet wanted was for oblivion to take him, or for the flaxen haired cavalry to come charging over the hill to take him back home. He wanted his bed with soft clean sheets. He wanted comfort. Hell, he’d even settle for a hospital and an arm full of morphine! But most of all he wanted his partner to come and to watch his back.

He screwed his eyes up in concentration and looked again at the man in front of him. He knew that Man. Had Traff come to take him away? Had the soldier come to save him?

‘Tr…aff’ he moaned again, softly. ‘Help….me’.

Traff’s heart bled for his friend, but he knew that if Starsky said any more, he’d blow his cover for sure.

He took hold of the brunet’s body, supporting the weight. ‘Let him go’ he told Miguel.

Starsky collapsed into his arms and tried to put an arm round Traff’s shoulder to help him up. Traff hardened his heart and pushed the brunet away, so that he could see him at arms length.

‘Urts….buddy’ Starsky managed to rasp and Traff tried to cover the words up with a cough and a slap, anything to stop Starsky mentioning his name again.

The cop’s head forced it’s way up after the blow, accusation in the troubled, pain filled eyes and Traff could stand it no longer. He drew back his fist and aimed his blow at the brunet’s left temple, seeing the light in his friend’s eyes extinguished immediately.

Starsky’s insensate body fell forward and Traff caught it reflexively, so that it looked as though he was hugging the curly haired man and so softly that no-one else could hear, he murmured into the chocolate brown curls.

‘God I’m sorry Curly’.

Chapter 15

Hutch, Dobey, Whitehead and Riker, one of Whitehead’s men sat in the Army issue standard ATV slap bang at the co-ordinates that Starsky had hurriedly breathed into the telephone almost 11 hours previously.

It had taken Whitehead no longer than an hour to assemble the equipment he needed for his tiny strike team. Along with the four of them in the vehicle, there was another truck a mile away, manned with 6 more soldiers, all friends of Traff, who had volunteered to get him and Starsky out.

Whitehead had tried all the official channels before he’s decided on direct action. He tried the initial approach of phoning “Ed” at the NCS building in Sacramento and had had the same silent treatment that Hutch had received. Then he’d phoned again, using his title and rank to try to see if the official approach would make any difference – it didn’t and once again, the Colonel was met by a telephone receiver being slammed down on him.

After that, and persistent as he was, he took it to the top and phoned the NCS head office where he was greeted by a pleasant, if somewhat vacuous man who denied all knowledge of anyone called Ed – did Colonel Whitehead have the correct telephone number?

At that point Whitehead went up approximately one hundred points in Hutch’s estimation as the man replaced the telephone on the cradle and his eyes took on a steely, cold glint. He picked the phone up again and spoke to his CO, getting permission to use a little known and little used number connecting him to some high ranking official in the CIA. He spoke low and steady into the telephone before eventually slamming it down in utter disgust.

Hutch raised his eyebrows in question. ‘Any progress?’ he asked.

Whitehead snorted in derision. ‘I’ve just spoken to “our man in Washington”. He says the NCS has no knowledge of a man called Ed, nor does it invite outsiders to complete missions for its offices. The NCS denies all knowledge of ever having employed, spoken to or approached on Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Trafford. They’ve washed their hands of him!’

Dobey sat straighter in his chair. ‘So we go it alone?’

Whitehead nodded. ‘Yes we go it alone, but at least I have the 8th battalion at my disposal. Give me an hour and I’ll have more volunteers from Traff’s men than you can shake a stick at’.

True to his word, they finally set off upstate an hour later. Two vehicles in convoy zipping along the road loaded with men, weapons and enough anger that they’d be able to crush any resistance almost with one look. At 8:00pm they were sitting in the middle of the Mojave under a bright, full moon, with the cicadas chirping, the creosote bushes highlighted in their headlights, and very little else. there were no twin curly heads to greet them and no signs of human life in the desert, just sand, scrub and the occasional hare for company.

‘Are you sure these are the co-ordinates? Whitehead asked for perhaps the third time.

‘Colonel, I might not be military, but I did geography at school. I know co-ordinates and these are the ones Starsky gave me’.

‘Well, he’s obviously not here’.

‘I can see that’ Hutch’s voice held an edge of sarcasm, but he calmed himself, thankful that Whitehead had at least set up the rescue bid. He sighed. ‘Ok so we spread out and look around’.

Whithead picked up his radio and clicked it on.



‘There is no tango at these co-ordinates. Initiate search grid. 25meter grid search commencing at this point starting now. Over’.

’25 meters commencing now. Yessir. Kominski out’.

Whitehead started his own vehicle and started his own search grid, taking it slowly and steadily but at the same time methodically covering the ground making sure they missed nothing of the surrounding area. It was painstaking work and Hutch felt the anxiety levels rising in his chest as his eyes scoured the dark, moonlit landscape. Every so often, they saw the distant lights of the other car’s headlights as it changed tack to start an new grid, but other than that they saw nothing. No man, no body, just miles of scrubland.

Dobey’s eyes were beginning to tire. He rubbed his hands across them, screwed them up and re-focussed again on the blank, hypnotic landscape as the bushes and dry desiccated grasses flashed past. He was beginning to lose any hope of finding anything in this wilderness when he saw something in the distance which didn’t seems quite right. He looked harder, seeing a smooth domed rise in an environment of harsh jagged edges. The roof of the bunker looked out of place in it’s smoothness and the black man pointed ahead.

‘Over there. What’s that? is it the roof of a building?’

Whitehead craned his neck, staring into the darkness.

‘Looks like some roofline. I think we got ourselves our target’ he muttered. He reached for his radio and informed Kominski of their co-ordinates, telling the second team to join him as soon s they could.

Stealthily they got out of the vehicle and approached the door, Dobey and Hutch drew their weapons and held them ready as Whitehead and Riker stood one either side of the door. Whitehead took hold of the handle and pulled experimentally and to his surprise the door pulled open revealing a long brightly lit and cool corridor.

Hutch and Dobey surged forward, followed quickly by the two soldiers and all four men began a methodical sweep of the rooms opening out from the hallway on either side. The paused at each one, a man either side of the door while they rapped once on the wood before opening the door explosively inwards and charging in, legs bent and weapon aimed in front of them. So far, with five rooms checked, they had found no-one and nothing which would point to the brunet and the missing soldier being here.

At the sixth door, Whitehead and Riker took point and after one swift tap on the door, pushed it open, allowing the blond and his Captain to rush in. They skittered to a halt as a ring of seven men looked up in surprise, the semi circle parting to reveal a chilling sight.


When Starsky had collapsed against Traff, unconscious, the men in the room had surged forward anxious now to get a piece of the action. Traff had yelled at them to stand back and Horse had volunteered that he thought Starsky was sufficiently softened up that, given the right sort of treatment, he’d be able to get him to tell Omega everything that he knew.

The soldier realised that his plan had backfired and had tried to tell the men that they should wait a while for the brunet to come around, but he saw that they thought he was being weak, and had finally decided to play along with them for one final time. But if it looked like they were about to damage his friend more, he was going to come clean, tell them who he was and try to fight his way out. Traff knew it was tantamount to a death sentence, but could not face the thought of hurting the curly haired cop any more than he already had.

He’d nodded and Horse and Miguel had gone gleefully from the room returning a moment later with a gurney and a pail of water. They took the limp body from Traff’s arms and quickly stripped Starsky of his remaining clothes. Now that Traff could see the full horrendous damage his friend had taken, he felt even more like a complete bastard and had had to work hard at swallowing down the bile that burned in his throat.

Swifty, the two men had lifted Starsky’s lolling body onto the gurney pacing him on his stomach and had secured the brunet’s arms and legs to the table with rope before pouring the pail of cold water over him. The water provided the right conductivity for the electrodes they started to place over the mangled body, at wrists and ankles, the small of his back and even an electronic probe which they pushed roughly into his rectum.

The water also partially revived the cop and he groaned, trying to push himself up, then hissed in pain at the metal being rammed forcibly into his body.

At that point, Traff knew he could take no more. He’d stood back in the name of his undercover persona and watched his friend being maltreated. He’d even take part in the torture, but this was too much and he leapt forward, putting himself between Starsky and Horse. The big blond looked quizzical.

‘What’re ya doin?’ he grunted.

‘Putting an end to this charade’ Traff said softly. ‘The games up. I’m not Mat Kemp. There’s no such person. My names Tom Trafford, I’m a soldier and I was sent in here by the CIA. They’re on to you and they’ve got enough intel. on you to wipe out your sick little operation’. Emerald eyes flared as he challenged the men to take him on.

For a moment there was dead silence in the room and then, as a man, the members of Omega descended on the soldier, their sport with the cop and the electricity being temporarily forgotten. Traff tried to fight them off, but this was an unfair and unequal fight. Miguel stood behind him and took hold of his arms as Horse took the first swing, grinding his left fist into Traff’s stomach, quickly followed by his right. The soldier doubled over as far as he could, the breath knocked from his body, but within seconds two more men had joined in the fight so that his world became a searing rain of fists, grinding into his body from every angle until he could think of nothing else but riding out the next blow. He felt at least one rib break, the spike of agony lancing into his chest and he gurgled, spitting frothy blood out onto the floor.

Horse laughed and struck again. Miguel let go and Traff fell forward so that Horse caught him by the shoulders, bringing his knee up, missing Traff’s face by inches, but instead breaking the soldier’s collarbone cleanly. Traff screamed, but his cry was cut off by a vicious blow to his kidneys sending him plummeting to the ground where he rested on his knees, leaning forward so that his forehead touched the floor. A boot caught the side of his face and he felt something give in his cheek, spitting out a tooth along with more blood and a final blow snapped his head sideways so that he slumped on the ground, blood trickling from his ear as his eyes closed against the blows still connecting with his rapidly numbing body.

As the final boot hit, Traff screamed one last time at the same time as the door burst open and four armed men exploded into the room.

Hutch sprang forward, ignoring the other men in the room as he heard Whitehead and Riker start to order them against the wall, hands behind their heads and legs spread. He knelt beside the unconscious body of the soldier, wincing at the blood and bruises freshly decorating the handsome body and pushed his fingers against Traff neck. He felt the pulse, weak and fast, but assured himself that the curly haired man was still alive before standing and cautiously approaching the naked, bound body of his partner.

His hand went out and gently ran through the chocolate curls and he heard the faintest of moans, a shudder rippling down the curly cop’s back. Hutch worked at the ropes surrounding wrists and ankles and gently removed the alligator clips fastened to various portions of the damaged anatomy, taking hold of the lead and grimacing as he pulled the last wicked electrode from the core of Starsky’s body. The brunet’s head raised weakly and he gave a shuddering groan before collapsing back onto the hard metal gurney.

Hutch rushed to the front again and knelt down so that he could look up into Starsky’s face.

‘Starsk? God, buddy….s’ok……m’here now’ he said, running his fingers through the curls again.

There was the tiniest of whimpers and slowly the indigo eyes opened, confusion clouding them as the brunet looked at his partner.

‘Ut…ch…..don’t hurt me ‘gain’ he moaned softly.

Chapter 16

Hutch withdrew his hand as though he’d been bitten. What had his partner said? Don’t hurt him….again? What was that all about? He’d never intentionally hurt Starsky in his life. He’d go to the ends of the earth to protect him and probably give up his own life if it would save the brunet.

Very gently he took hold of the semiconscious man’s body and turned it over on the gurney. The sight of the grazed, raw and bleeding chest was no better than the livid black bruise that had decorated his back and he felt the anger well up inside him. Two of his closest friends damaged beyond belief and for what?

Hutch took off his over shirt and draped it over the centre of Starsky’s body, affording the smaller man some measure of dignity. He laid a hand on the brunet’s shoulder and bent down close to his face.

‘Starsk? Hey, c’mon buddy. S’me. It’s Hutch’.

Slowly Starsky’s eyes opened again as the familiar velvety voice penetrated his pain. Hutch was back! Confusion reigned in his dehydrated befuddled mind. He wanted Hutch’s comforting touch so much, but the last time he’d held his hand out to his partner, he’d been tied to the back of the truck and dragged through the desert on rapidly weakening legs. Was that Hutch? Did Hutch do that to him? He’d thought it had looked like his partner. Or was he mistaken? He must have been mistaken! Hutch would never do that to him. Hutch watched his back, always.

Starsky V’d his eyebrows, trying to concentrate on the voice and make his blurry eyes focus on the man above him. The lack of water had affected his eyesight so that the world seemed as though he was looking at it through deep water. But he could make out the flaxen hair and the baby blue eyes. Very painfully he reached for Hutch’s right hand and held on to it, running his thumb across the back of it until he could feel the burn scar Hutch still carried from the time the trunk of his car blew up. This was Hutch. This was most definitely Hutch!

‘Don’t…..hurt ‘gain’ he rasped, concentrating on getting the words out.

Hutch felt as though he’d been hit in the face.

‘Starsk I’m here to save you. I‘d never hurt ya buddy, you know that’ Hutch persisted. ‘Why d’ya say that?’

‘Saw you…..desert….tied me to…..jeep. Dragged…..’ere’ Starsky’s cloudy, sunken eyes looked at him almost shyly.

And the realisation struck. Hutch looked at the big blond man stood against the wall opposite. Was that what he’d done to his partner? Had Starsky mistaken the big blond for him? Anger welled up inside him and if it hadn’t been for the overwhelming need to be with his partner, he would have shot the Omega member where he stood.

‘Aww, Starsk, that wasn’t me babe. I’m here now. It took me a while to find ya. M’sorry. But I’m here now. Not going anywhere’. He reached up and ran his fingers once again through the mahogany curls and this time Starsky didn’t flinch away.

‘It really you?’ the rasping voice asked.

Hutch grinned. ‘Yeah, mushbrain, it’s really me’.

And this time instead of moving away from his partner’s hand, the brunet closed his eyes and snuggled against the powerful touch, sighing once before unconsciousness took him.

Dobey walked over to join them, having helped Whitehead and Riker cuff or bind the men who were still standing facing the wall. The bravado and wise cracks Horse and Miguel had displayed over the past day had gone and they stared sullenly ahead, contemplating their fate.

Dobey looked from the body of the soldier on the ground to that of his man on the gurney, anger shining in his deep brown eyes.

‘How’re they doing?’ he asked.

Hutch shrugged his shoulders. ‘Traff’s been beaten badly. I can see his collarbone is broken and he had enough bruises down his side to make me think he has broken ribs as well. An' I don’t like the look of the fluid coming from his ears. He’s got a bad head injury. He needs a hospital now’. He turned back to his partner.

‘Starsk isn’t much better. He’s dehydrated and there isn’t an inch of him that’s not hurt some way. Shit, I should have got here sooner’.

Dobey put his hand on the blonde’s arm. ‘You did everything you could. Don’t go beatin’ yourself up over it’.

The second team of soldiers form the second truck arrived and as Whitehead busily handed over the members of Omega to them, Hutch sat by his two injured friends. Soon, the Colonel joined them.

‘We need to get them back as soon as possible. If Riker and maybe Captain Dobey can wait with the second team, you and I can get Traff and your friend back to civilisation and the hospital. Can you help me get Traff out to the truck?’

Whitehead knelt down by the side of his man. Very gently he tapped at Traff’s face. ‘Colonel? Tom, its me Joe. Can you here me?’

There was a pause, but no movement. ‘He’s got a head injury’ Hutch said, ‘I don’t think he’ll be conscious for a while. Lets carry him out there and get him settled, then come back for Starsky’.

The two took hold of the soldier’s bloody body and started to lift, Whitehead wincing as he felt the grate of bone against bone in Traff’s shoulder. The emerald eyes flew open and he screamed weakly, but then lapsed back into unconsciousness and thankfully the two managed to get him outside and laid on one of the back seats of the truck. Whitehead stayed with Traff as Hutch went back inside for his partner.

‘Starsk, gonna take ya home now buddy’ he said gently as he ruffled the curls once more.

The smaller man stirred and opened his eyes in confusion. ‘Get ‘way’ he mumbled, making flapping motions with his hands. ‘No……not …..don’t….’ he hit out at Hutch, who ducked once and looked up at Dobey.

‘He’s dehydrated. He’s hallucinating. How the hell am I gonna keep him safe till we get him back. He’s liable to start hitting out at everyone and everthing’. He looked back at the brunet who was still trying to swipe feebly at some invisible force. Hutch tried again.

‘Hey, Gordo! C’mon buddy, help me out here. Its me, Hutch. We need to take a little ride now. Can ya walk?’

The voice finally seemed to penetrate through the fog and Starsky tried to sit himself up on the gurney, crying out as his swollen right hand came into contact with the cold metal. He sank back down again and tossed his head back and forth on the cold surface. Hutch reached his arm around Starsky’s shoulders and drew him up as Dobey pulled his legs round and onto the ground. As his feet hit the cool floor, Starsky tried to stand, but his knees gave way and he would have fallen had it not been for the blonde’s arm around his waist.

He limped painfully between Dobey and Hutch to the waiting truck, quietly holding onto the blonde’s arm, but at the sight of the vehicle he became agitated again, pulling away and trying to punch out at his partner and the big black man,

‘No….no more…..can’t, please…..tired’ he moaned pushing his back up against the wall.

Once again Hutch tried to coax him out. ‘S’ok Starsk, we’re just gonna take a ride. I need to get you to the hospital buddy, you’re sick, ya need help’.

Starsky’s eyes flew wide and he drew back his left arm, striking at Hutch s though his life depended on it. ‘Nooooo’ he yelled, winding up again.

The blow connected but fortunately, in his weakened state, he did little damage, but Hutch realised he couldn’t get him into the truck as he was without him hurting either himself or the driver and other passengers. Reluctantly, having heard what had been done to him, Hutch took out his cuffs.

‘Hold him Cap’ he said through gritted teeth and as the black man took hold of the cops’ wrists, keeping them together in front of him, Hutch snicked on the cuffs.

Starsky stood stock still, leaning heavily against the wall at the back of him. ‘No…..can’t walk…..’ he mumbled such accusation in his eyes that the blond couldn’t look any more. Hutch put his arms round the burned shoulders and pulled his partner to the truck, easing him onto the back seat next to Whitehead before getting into the drivers seat and setting off. At least that way he didn’t have to face the devastating look of hurt in the cloudy, indigo eyes.

Fortunately, the rocking of the vehicle had a calming influence and by the time they’d driven half a mile or so, the curly haired cop had slumped sideways so that his head was cushioned on the Colonel’s muscled shoulder. Whitehead braced his strong arm across Starsky’s body and they completed the journey to the small hospital in good time.

Once there, the medical staff took over. They were used to dealing with sunburn and dehydration and quickly set about treating the two main sources of Starsky’s pains as Traff was given a preliminary assessment then taken straight to the ER.

With his two friends finally getting the help they needed, Hutch sat in the small uncomfortable waiting room, his head in his hands as he waited for news.

How many times are ya gonna put me through this Gordo? Too many times waiting in these damned places for someone to tell me you’re gonna be ok. You are aren’t ya? You’re gonna be ok this time? I’ve got grey in with the blond now. Its all the worry. Do I have to put a leash on ya from now on? If it aint freakin’ religious nuts its goons with bombs! C’mon Starsk. Pull through this….for me huh?

Opposite him, Whitehead too was sitting and waiting. And for him too, the position was not an unfamiliar one. He sighed, eyeing the hot brown liquid in his Styrofoam cup with suspicion.

‘I don’t know what’s worst. Having to sit in these damned plastic chairs, or having to try to drink this hogwash they pass off as coffee’ he muttered to no-one in particular. He continued to stare glumly at the white cup.

‘They used to do soup in those machines’ Hutch said thoughtfully. ‘Starsk was waiting for me once. I’d been shot’ he sighed. ‘I think we keep the hospitals round here in business. Anyhow, he was waiting an’ he told me this dear old lady came to talk to him. She said everything would be better if folks danced and drank chicken soup. God I wish it was that simple’.

‘Did he marry her? She sounds the prefect woman’ Whitehead grinned tightly.

‘Yeah, she sounded too good to be true. But apart from her being old enough to be his Mom, she’ll be dead now. Had cancer. But he said she’d lived her life to the full and enjoyed every minute of it’.

‘Do you?’

The questions took Hutch by surprise. ‘Do I what?’

‘Do you live your life to the full and enjoy every minute of it?’

The blond shrugged his shoulders. ‘I guess we get more excitement than most, an’ yeah, I enjoy life, ‘cept for the sitting waiting part of things. Why don’t they tell us what’s going on? What’s taking them so long?’ Hutch stood and paced the small area.

‘You’re close to him, aren’t you?’ Whitehead asked suddenly. ‘And to my man too’.

‘Yeah, we’ve been through some tough times together. And then he introduced me to Traff and we went through some more tough times together. Why?’

Whitehead sat up straighter in his chair. ‘Keep being close. There’s no substitute for friendship. It can see through most things and true friends will forgive, no matter what. I think what they’ve been through will test their friendship. I just don’t want to see either of them come out of this badly’.

Hutch nodded sadly. ‘Yeah, this has been tough on them. But they’ve seen some hard times, they’ll pull through’.

He was just about to add something when a white clad nurse came out into the waiting room.

‘Family for David Starsky?’

Chapter 17

Hutch pushed the door to the small room open and walked in. Sunlight cast broken lines of shadow and brightness through the horizontal blinds at the window and the room was bathed in a warm yellow glow. The single bed stood in the middle of the room, draped in white sheets and a blue blanket. Around the bed were two drip stands, a heart monitor and BP monitor and the metal cot sides were up.

On the bed, the curly headed man lay, eyes closed, looking vulnerable and completely wasted. The white sheet was drawn up to his waist, allowing Hutch a full view of the bandages which wrapped around the broken body and the leads from the curly chest snaking back to the monitors.

Starsky’s injured chest had been washed and cleaned and some of the deeper gashes had been stitched closed. Where the doctors had had to suture, small areas of skin had been shaved so that his chest had taken on the patchy quality of a quilt, some areas still heavily furred, some naked and red. The whole of his chest and shoulders, arms and face was reddened by the sun and his right shoulder and the top of his right arm were dressed in large white pads taped down over the acid burns which had been made worse by the sun.

The right hand was encased in a huge white bandage from wrist to fingertips, with the thumb bandaged separately and sticking out almost at right angles from the rest of the hand. A drip of Ringers Lactate fed into the back of his left hand and another dripped into a port on his chest, rehydrating him as quickly as they could. Already, his eyes had started to fill out again, no longer looking as though they were staring from a skull and as Hutch walked quietly to the bed, they opened and regarded the blond with calm acceptance.

‘Hey buddy. How’re ya doin’?’ Hutch asked.

‘M’fine, I think. Things got a little wobbly there for a while. Don’t really remember too much, other than taking a stroll in the desert and working on my tan’. The brunet’s voice sounded raw and husky, but there was a light back in his eyes now and Hutch wondered at the miracle a litre or so of fluid could create.

‘Didn’t your Mom tell you to use sun screen?’

Starsky rolled his eyes. ‘Gee, I guess I forgot in all the excitement of being strung up an’ beaten’ he grinned and winced as it pulled at his cracked lips. ‘What took ya so long?’

‘Apart from the fact the coordinates you gave me were crap, I thought I’d just stop and admire the surroundings, take in the ambience. You know I love the great outdoors. Figured you’d be out enjoying yourself with your friends’.

‘Yeah, it was a blast. Should do it again some time. But not too soon huh?’ A shadow fell over the sunburned face. ‘How’s Traff? I kept askin’ but they won’t tell me nuthin’.

‘He’s still in surgery. When we found ya, he was having seven shades of crap kicked out of him. I think if we’d been a minute later he’d have bought it’.

‘He tried to save me from ‘em’ Starsky said seriously, a thready shudder rippling through his body.

Hutch snorted, looking at all the various injuries. ‘Didn’t do too much of a good job did he?’

The brunet tried to lever himself up in the bed, but his hand refused to take the strain and his back had seized up completely. He flopped back onto the bed with a low groan. ‘He was deep under Hutch. You know what its like – when ya can’t break cover for fear of either getting someone else killed or being killed yourself. We’ve both been there. He did the best he could for me an’ I appreciate that’.

‘Starsky you were minutes away from being fried! They had ya wired up to the mains and they were gonna fry your brains and….Well, you wouldn’t have been sitting down for a while’ Hutch persisted.

‘I know. But that’s when Traff told ‘em enough was enough. I was pretty far gone by then. Shocky and dehydrated, but I do remember him telling ‘em that he’d fight the lot of ‘em if they touched me again. Blondie, if it hadn’t been for him, I’d have been dead days ago. I gave him permission to hurt me if he had to, an' I know he didn't realise just how far he'd have to go. And he was really hurtin’…..He lost his girl’ he added sadly.

‘His girl?’

‘Yeah, the one who came on to me in the Pits. That was Bria, his girl. She was trying to get a message to me to tell the NCS that Traff was in trouble. She’d pushed a microchip thing into the pocket of my jeans before she saw she was being watched. She told me to meet her at the Ocean Motel and she’d tell me everything. Told me Traff wanted me ‘n’ you to help him. But then she went and I was coming to find you. You were with that blond bit with the huge assets an’ I felt sumthin on my neck. Turns out it was a drugged dart. I managed to get outside, an’ they jumped me, but before I could get away, I saw em’ take Bria. When they brought me here, they didn’t know she was Traff’s girl and they were taunting me about it while he was there. He took it so damned hard. I felt real bad for him’.

Hutch nodded. It all made sense now that Starsky had explained what had gone on from his point of view and he too felt Traff’s loss as only someone who has lost a girl can, but a part of him burned at what Traff had done to Starsky. Would he have done the same? In the same circumstances? Hutch had no idea, and no paeiccular incling to find out. Instead he took comfort in the fact that Starsky was looking so much better.

‘It must have been hellish hard for him to hear it that way. When we found her body, and you were the last one seen with her…..well ya went missing and suddenly IA were all over the fucking place….’

Starsky grinned. ‘Don’t tell me…..Simonetti. God I love that guy! The only guy who can piss me off just by walking into the room. Bet he had a field day’.

‘Well he did till I quit! Dobey had an APB put out on you for murder 1 and Stat rape. Not that he thought you’d done it. But because IA insisted. So I handed back my badge’.

‘You did what?’

‘Well over night’ Hutch admitted. ‘Then I realised when I got your phone call that I needed Dobey’s help. Coz I didn’t have my partner with me. He was away having fun’.

The brunet’s face lit up. ‘You needed me? So now you admit I’m the brains of the outfit?’

‘No dopey, if you were the brains of the outfit, you wouldn’t be lying here in another hospital bed with skin looking like every shade of the rainbow’.

‘What’re ya sayin’?’ Starsky growled.

‘I’m sayin’ if ya had brains you wouldn’t have gotten yourself all burned like that’.

‘Hey, this isn’t burned. I don’t burn. We Starskys do not burn. This is just the start of a good tan’.

Hutch grinned. ‘Yeah, right. Whatever you say buddy’.

They lapsed into silence. Much as Starsky hated to admit it, his skin still felt as though it were on fire and each and every time he moved, his body announced the shift with a chorus of hellish pains. But he was safe again, Hutch was with him and after the nurse had given him a welcome shot of morphine he’d have happily taken on Omega all over again.

Six hours later, the nurse poked her head around he door. She chuckled as she saw the blond sitting on the hard chair by the bed, head resting on the covers as her patient rested his hand on the silky flaxen locks. She tiptoed over and gently shook Hutch’s arm and he came instantly awake, shaking off Starsky’s hand in the process. The brunet gave a low grunt, and the hand flapped around looking for its perch again, before resting back on the bed. Starsky sighed in his sleep and nestled his head down deeper into the pillow.

‘Detective Hutchinson’ the pretty nurse whispered. ‘Your other friend is back from theatre if you want to go see him’.

Hutch nodded and smiled at her. Slowly and stiffly he got up and bent over the bed. ‘Just gonna go see Traff. Be right back’ he whispered to the sleeping brunet, then softly padded out of the room.

Hutch followed the nurse down the corridor and two doors further down, she pushed open the door to a similar room to Starsky’s. There was far more equipment in this room and a doctor stood making final notes on the chart which he hung at the bottom of the bed. He looked up as Hutch walked in and smiled.

‘Are you a relative?’ he asked

‘No, good friend. His family are in England. How is he?’

The doctor took hold of Hutch’s arm and gently pushed him out of the room, closing the door behind him.

‘Its probably best if we talk in my office’.

The blond paled. He’d had that scenario before. Take ‘em to a quiet room so that its safe for ‘em to freak out when they get the bad news.

‘Just tell me Doc. is he ok?’

The doctor ushered him into a large square office and sat beside Hutch on a large leather sofa.

‘I’m afraid Colonel Trafford has some rather serious injuries. His spleen was ruptured, and we’ve had to remove that. There was also some damage to one of his kidneys. It was severely bruised but we’re hoping that it will recover without too much intervention on our part. His collarbone was fractured, and we’ve set it, and the maxillo facial surgeon has repaired his left cheekbone. He had five broken ribs resulting in a pneumo-haemo thorax. We’ve dealt with that also, but he’s on a ventilator now to aid with his breathing’.

‘The thing we are most concerned about though, is his head injury. When he was admitted he was losing fluid through his ears and we noticed a depressed skull fracture above his left parietal area. We’ve operated and the clot which formed has been successfully removed, but I’m afraid he isn’t out of the woods yet. There is a long way for Colonel Trafford to go before he’ll be able to leave here’.

Hutch swallowed. ‘D’ya mean brain damage?’ he asked softly.

‘Maybe. There may be some personality changes, he may have weakness in one or all of his limbs and his speech may be effected. All of these symptoms should disappear in time, but he’s going to need good therapy and good friends around him over the coming weeks and months’.

All feelings of anger toward the soldier lifted, swept away by the feelings of helplessnes for the man. ‘I see. Ahh…can I see him? And my partner, Starsky….Dave Starsky, the other guy who was brought in. He’ll want to see him too’

The doctor nodded. ‘He’s in a medically induced coma at the moment. We want to keep him as calm and rested as we can. You can go in and see him for a couple of minutes, no more. But I think it's too early for Mr Starsky to be getting out of bed to do anything. Give it another 48 hours. He needs to rest and recover too’.

Hutch stood, stunned at the news. ‘Thanks doc. I’ll erm….I’ll go tell Starsky’. He went to the door, paused and looked back. ‘You sure Traff will make it?’

The doctor smiled weakly. ‘Only time will tell’.

Chapter 18

Two days later

‘Hutch you’re worse at driving chairs than you are at driving that rust bucket car of yours’.

‘What’s up buddy? Would ya feel better if I painted it fluorescent orange and added a go faster stripe?’

‘My car is not fluorescent orange. Its Viper red and at least it ain’t held together with rust and sticking plasters. Just push – in a straight line huh? You’re no better now than you were in Cabrillo. Why I need this thing I have no idea. I could just walk. Its not like its miles away, s’only two doors down’.

‘Yup and as ya can’t put your foot on the ground yet, how were ya thinkin’ of gettin’ there?

‘Hoppin’. S’not a big deal’.

‘God I wish they’d beaten your head instead of everywhere else. They might have gotten some sense into it!’

‘Shuddup an’ drive’ Starsky growled.

In the two days since his admission to the hospital, he’d had sufficient fluid to re-hydrate him and once he’d gotten the life saving fluid into his body, the hallucinations and confusion had subsided. His other injuries were healing well and it was a mark of how well he was doing that both men felt they could afford the banter that kept them going on the streets. Insulting each other good naturedly was a way of life and made everything feel normal again, even if it wasn’t.

In the room two doors down from Starsky’s room, Tom Trafford had been battling for life, the machinery having taken over all his basic living functions to allow his brain time to recover and recuperate. Hutch had split his time between the soldier and his partner, bringing Starsky news of how Traff was doing because the doctor absolutely refused to let the curly haired cop out of bed until he was fully rested. It never failed to impress Hutch that Starsky’s powers of recovery were so well honed, but, he chuckled grimly to himself, it had had plenty of opportunity to be exercised.

Now they were on their way to visit with the curly haired soldier and their banter served to cover up the anxiety Starsky felt at seeing his old friend. Hutch pushed the chair through the door and the brunet gasped at the sight.

Traff was alone in the room, deathly pale and still as he lay on the bed connected to the respirator, the heart monitor and the various drips. A catheter bad dangled from the side of the bed, next to a vacuum bottle attached to the drain in his side. His head had been shaved for the operation to repair his skull fracture and it was now swathed in a bright white bandage which reached down and covered his right eye. His chest was similarly encased in white bandages and it inflated and relaxed in time with the mechanically driven respirator. Dark blue bruises showed along his arms and peeked out from the top of the chest bandages and there was a long surgical scar where the fractured collarbone had been reduced and pinned.

All banter ceased at the door of the room and Starsky felt sick to his stomach. Hutch had seen Traff from day one and had tried to prepare his partner for how badly Traff had been injured, but nothing could make the sight any easier.

When Hutch had seen the state Starsky was in, way back in the bunker, he had felt such anger at Traff that he'd been ready to rip the soldier's head from his shoulders because he had been there during Starsky's maltreatment and what he’d allowed to happen. He’d wanted to blame the soldier for not protecting the brunet better. He wanted to rail at him and yell at the injustice. But as Starsky told him what had really happened, and he’d seen the devastating injuries the soldier had suffered, all his anger dissipated, to be replaced by sympathy and a feeling of gratitude that his partner eas not dead.

Slowly the blond pushed his partner over to the bed and Starsky very carefully reached out and took hold of Traff’s limp hand.

‘Hey buddy. S’me Curly. Can ya hear me? What did ya have to do that for huh? A few more minutes and it would’a been over. Shit look at ya! Can ya hear me? Traff? Can ya?’

Hutch sat at his side and looked on as Starsky rubbed at the soldier’s hand, the only part of the body that didn’t appear to be hurt. He turned and looked at Hutch.

‘Has he been like this since he came in? No improvement?’

‘No, nothing. They said it could take days before he starts to come around’. The blond lowered his voice. ‘The longer it takes, the less chance he has of a full recovery’.

Starsky hauled himself out of the chair and stood on his one good leg, bending over the bed.

‘Traff? C’mon Traff, wakey wakey. You need to wake up. We need to talk. I need to tell you thanks for saving me’. He took hold of the shoulders and very gently shook the sleeping man. ‘TRAFFORD! Get you butt into gear now, ya hear me?’ he ground out, leaning heavily on the bed. 'Remember the jungle and hauling my ass to the hospital? Remember Sharpe? Remember the night in Chong Dai? Please Traff' he whispered. 'C'mon buddy'.


He was cold and uncomfortable, but Traff felt he deserved it. He still felt each and every blow the Omega men had delivered on his body but somehow felt that things had changed and he was no longer in the bunker. He was scared that if he opened his eyes, they may still be surrounding him and he didn’t think he could survive very many more of the crushing blows and bone shattering kicks. He wanted to talk; wanted to speak to someone who wouldn’t hurt him. He wanted Bria, and for a moment wondered where she was. And the he remembered she was dead.

Traff felt a hand close around his heart, squeezing the warmth from it as he thought of the wonderful women and how much he had loved her. She was dead and it was his fault. A part of him wanted to die too, just so that he might be able to join her in whatever afterlife they might inhabit. He longed to hold her in his arms and wrap his hands in her luxurious long hair. He longed to hear her sultry, husky voice telling him that she loved him, and for the chance for him to bury his face in her neck and tell her he loved her too.

But she was gone and he felt that life, should he chose to re-enter it, would not be worth the living. His woman was dead and it was his fault.

And how many other lives had he messed up? He was the cause of his best friend being hurt. He should never have sent Bria to Starsky. If she hadn’t gone, she would still be alive and the brunet wouldn’t have been hurt. Was Starsky ok? The last memory he had of the curly haired cop was being bound naked to the gurney as Horse and Miguel prepared him for the final round of torture. Did he save him? Did the others get there in time? He seemed to remember the sounds of gunshots from down the corridor, but his world at that time had been coloured red with pain, the blows on his body blocking out all other thoughts than to get through the next crest of pain and survive the next kick.

How was Starsky now? A stupid thought entered his head. What a waste! To spend two weeks struggling around the jungle to save Starsky only to have him die in that bunker. Would the brunet ever forgive him?

Indigo eyes full of accusation shone back at him in his dreams as he struck out at his friend time and again. He felt the echo of that final punch on his fist and despised himself for having hit the one man who’d put his life on the line for him.

Traff laid for two days, very dimly aware of the world around him. He inhabited a dreamlike, nightmarish world full of pain. He thought he was in a hospital and that he was laid on his back and he really thought that he should open his eyes and venture back into the land of the living, but it was too early. His sorrow still to fresh. He took the darkness and hugged it to him, like a child watching a horror film from behind a cushion.

As the nurses worked around him, he felt their hands on his body, re-dressing his wounds, changing drains, replacing drip bags. Most of the procedures hurt him in some way, but he also cherished the hurts. Traff felt that he should be hurting and that no pain was too much for him. He felt the pains as thought they were cleansing his soul, washing away the debts he felt he owed to Bria and Starsky for him having hurt them. And so he remained on the bed, eyes closed and tight lipped at the swabs cleansed his shoulder and his chest and the women repositioned his body from time to time to stop him getting pressure sores.

His body ached and when they moved him, pains lanced through his arms and chest. Breathing hurt, but he had little choice about that, the respirator artificially inflating his lungs in a regular blaze of agony.

But through it all, his mind continually thought of Bria and of Starsky. For Bria he could do nothing; for his sweet woman it was too late. But for his friend? Would Starsky ever want to speak to him or see him again? Not only had he watched the men torture him, Traff had actually choreographed and participated in the brutality himself. How could anyone forgive that?

No. he’d blown it. He’d lost one of the best friends he’d ever had and it was all because he was too damned stupid to have gotten them both out sooner.

He felt a change of air pressure by the side of him and assumed it was one of the nurses come back for more tests and treatment. And then he heard that achingly familiar voice.

Hey buddy. S’me Curly. Can ya hear me? What did ya have to do that for huh? A few more minutes and it would’a been over. Shit look at ya! Can ya hear me? Traff? Can ya?’

Starsky was here? And he was talking to him. And he didn’t sound angry. If anything he sounded upset, anxious. Had he been forgiven? Surely not. Would he forgive Starsky if the tables had been turned? Well yes, probably he would! Oh my god. His friend had forgiven him! He listened again and felt the brunet’s body leaning against his. It hurt his broken ribs,

TRAFFORD! Get you butt into gear now, ya hear me?’

Something in those words made Traff want to chuckle. Typical Curly! No airs and graces, just straight to the point.

He made his decision. OK Trafford. Curly says get your butt into gear, so you’d best make a real good effort. Get those bloody eyes open now, or he’ll have your guts for garters!

Starsky remained leaning against the bed. He reached up and smoothed his fingers over his friend’s head, feeling the rasp of the short hairs sprouting again on the scalp, and he willed life back into the broken soldier.

‘C’mon Traff buddy. Gimme a sign here’ he whispered.

‘Starsk, he needs his rest and so do you. Don’t get yourself all riled up. You can come back later huh?’

The brunet looked up sadly. ‘Guess so. He just looks so…..broken’. His hand moved down the bed and took hold of the soldier’s hand. ‘Be back soon buddy’ he said, and was just about to leave when he felt the lightest pressure on his fingers. He stopped.

‘Traff? Is that you buddy? Are you with us?’

Excitedly he looked up into his friend’s face and smiled into the one, emerald green eye that regarded him blearily.

Chapter 19

For the following three days Traff hovered between waking and sleeping, never fully regaining consciousness, but dimly aware that his two friends were almost constantly at his side, talking to him, holding his hand and allowing the time to pass a little more comfortably. Starsky talked to him as though nothing had happened, rambling about the small things, memories of their time in ‘Nam, ballgames they’d seen. Hutch remained with them both, listening happily to the chat, adding his own memories of their times together including the adventure they’d all shared in Buenos Aires. Whilst the chat was going on, Traff could almost forget why he was there and what he’d done to his best friend and he relished the warmth and friendship surrounding him. But in the silences, and during the night, when the respirator kept him from fully sleeping, he wondered why his brunet friend would continue to act like that – as if the soldier hadn’t harmed him in any way.

Memories came flooding back to him

I’d trust him with my life. Hell I have trusted him with my life. We served in ‘Nam together. His name is Dave Starsky. He’s a cop in Bay City. Works with a good looking blond guy called Ken Hutchinson………………….’

String him up…………….’

Like she begged for it huh? Like she moaned when I touched her. Did ya know she liked it rough? How it turned her on when I hit her. Did you know what a good little cocksucker she was? How she opened her legs for me and how her struggles turned me on?...’

God, I’m sorry Curly I never wanted anything like this to happen. They’ve got bugs everywhere………………’

Oh man. Look what I’ve done at you……………!

This is it Curly. Can’t fake it any longer……S’ok. Better make it look good huh? M’ready……….’.

Each memory was painful, each one setting up a dull ache in the core of his body and in his head he whimpered, not wanting to regain consciousness; not ready to face the recriminations he knew must surely and eventually follow.

But the body is a strong force. It heals itself given chance and rest and on the morning of the day four days after his eyes had first blinked open, Traff’s body decided that it needed more than to lie in bed. Whilst his mind rebelled at the idea of rejoining the real world, his heart started to pump more powerfully and his lungs began to fight against the hypnotic and invasive respirator until he stared to cough and gag around the tube in his throat.

The doctor and nurses held his head, soothing away his fears as the tube was removed from his throat and he coughed again, painfully. But then, he felt a heavy weight on his chest and panic building in his stomach as he fought to start to breathe on his own. It was as though his body had forgotten how to do that one simple task and he had to think about each inspiration, dragging the air into his body and letting it out again slowly, the task consuming every part of his mind. His eyes flashed open and the doctor read the panic and fears there.

‘Thomas, you’ll be fine. This is a normal reaction to the respirator being taken away. Just relax and concentrate and pretty soon you’ll forget that you are breathing on your own’.

And then his friend’s voice was at his side. He could feel Starsky’s hand on his shoulder, lightly brushing his skin and soothing him more.

‘C’mon Traff. Just listen to my voice huh? You can do this. Remember when we were in BA and I was on that damned respirator and they wouldn’t take it out till I’d been awake a while? You ‘n’ Hutch talked to be for four hours to take my mind of it. You can do this. Just think about breathing for a while an’ things’ll be ok. Promise. God, its good to have you back’.

Traff focussed on his friend’s face. Starsky looked a lot better than the last time he’d seen him. His right hand was still heavily bandaged and there was a large white dressing over his shoulder too. The rest of his friend’s body was lost to his view, but he blinked once and tried to smile. Carefully forming his cracked lips into the right shape he took a breath and then exhaled


‘Hey there you are! You’re gonna be ok Pal, you’re doing great’.


‘Sorry? For what? No, don’t try ‘n’ talk. Just lie back ‘n’ relax. Me an’ Hutch are right here. Not going anywhere’.

Traff closed his eyes, unable to process the friendship pouring out of the brunet. He’d had four days of feeling like a complete bastard for not helping his friend and, indeed, for harming him. And yet Starsky wanted to know what he needed to be sorry for?

But the brunet wasn’t going away, and neither was Hutch. And the doctor was right. Within hours of being disconnected from the machine, he was breathing again without thinking about it any more. His voice was getting a little stronger and his head was clearing to the extent where he was able to give short answers to questions and start to think about the rest of his recovery.

The doctor came back later that day and spent an hour with him, assessing what was going on in the soldier’s body. He told Traff that it was a good sign that he’d woken up on his own and that he was able to breathe and talk well. He explained that, apart form the broken ribs and the broken cheek bone, the skull fracture had caused a clot to form on his brain. It had been successfully removed and the fracture dealt with, but they had been unable to assess what, if any, other symptoms the injury had caused.

The doctor started his examinations, testing reflexes with his tendon hammer, running his hands over and down Traff’s arms and legs and asking him to squeeze his hands and push out with his legs.

It became apparent that there had been some damage to his motor skills. All four limbs were significantly weaker than they had been, but the doctor tried to assure Traff that some of the residual weakness may be as a result of the coma, and that all the sign were that with hard work and exercise, he should make a full and miraculous recovery.

Starsky was over the moon. ‘Hear that Traff? You’ll be as good as new! Now ya have to concentrate on your physio. We can do it together. I might even be able to play the piano one day’ he said waggling his bandaged right hand in the air triumphantly.

Traff felt the words as though they were a blow to his stomach.

Yeah, and you’d never have had to have the fucking physio if it wasn’t for me!

He closed his eyes and looked away, refusing the meet the indigo eyes boring into him.

‘Hey Traff? Buddy? What’s the matter? The doc’s just said that you’re gonna be fine. That’s good news. Aren’t ya happy?’


‘Wow, yeah, I can tell!’

Traff rolled his head back on the pillow. He managed to plaster a shadow of a smile onto his face. ‘Sorry Curly. M’just tired’.

‘Course you are. An’ here’s me prattlin’ on. Just sleep huh? You’ll feel better when you wake up and then we can talk again. Are you sure you’re ok?’

‘Just go’.

Starsky pushed himself to his feet. ‘OK. I’ll be back later. Glad you’re back with us again. You took a helluva beating. I’m just glad you’re almost in one piece! Sleep well buddy’.

Traff watched as the brunet limped heavily out of his room, the left foot still heavily bandaged and peeking out below the cop’s dark blue PJ pants. And he hated himself for what he’d done even more. Curly was his friend. Curly was meant to be here to help him and yet he’d hurt him. Curly should be out there chasing bad guys and having a good time, rather than being here, in the same hospital being treated for his injuries too.

Angrily, he closed his eyes and concentrated on his dark thoughts, his self-loathing growing with each passing beat of his heart.

Starsky limped back to his room and sat down heavily on his bed, arching his back to try to ease out the kinks from the fading bruise. Hutch looked up from the book he was reading and saw the disconsolate look on the brunet’s face.


‘Its Traff. I thought he’d have been so happy to have been on the better end. He took such a helluva kicking there, and yet there’s no permanent damage. But he looks so sad. Kinda disappointed in a way. I don’t understand it’.

Hutch put his book down and sighed. ‘Think about it Starsk, coz I've had a lot of time to consider. He was made to torture you. He had to watch as those goons beat seven shades of crap out of you and he couldn’t do anything about it because if he had, you’d both be dead. It was Catch 22. How would you feel?’

The brunet put his head on one side. ‘Well when ya put it like that. But I don’t blame him. I was so looped at the end I had no idea what was goin’ on anyway. And I know why he decked me. I was blabbing his name. I could’a blown his cover like that’ he clicked his fingers.

‘Well I think he feels he let you down and he should have protected you more. I’d feel like that Starsky, if I’d been through that. And his girl being killed is gonna have a big effect on him too’.

‘Yeah, I know. I felt like shit for months after Terri died. I should be more sympathetic; more understanding’.

‘You can only do what you can do. It’s down to Traff to sort his head out. You can’t do that for him. He’s got to come to terms with all this on his own. He’s strong. He’ll cope but I think it’s gonna take some time before he’s back to his normal self’.

Starsky sighed. ‘I know. And I’ll be here for him, if he’ll let me in. But he just looked away when I was with him. Like he couldn’t bear to see me. Just told me to go’.

‘I know buddy. He’s still hurting and this is all new to him. You’ve had a few days to sort it out and you weren’t the one doing the “nasties” on your friend. Give him time and he’ll be fine’.


Back in Traff’s room, the nurse arrived with a drink and one or two small white pills.

‘Time for your medication Tom’ she dimpled at him. ‘Now you’re awake, you can take theses and I don’t have to stick you any more’.

He looked back at her with pain dulled eyes. ‘What are they?’

‘Pain meds. You must be uncomfortable now and the pain’s likely to get worse. We want to keep it under control some’. She put the tablets to the soldier’s lips and he shook his head away.

‘Don’t want ‘em’.

They’ll make you feel better. You’re going to be hurting too much soon. Take them now and they’ll make you more comfortable’.

‘I….don’t….want ‘em’ Traff said with exaggerated slowness and batted her hand away weakly. He closed his eyes and turned his head away from her.

The nurse left in consternation and moments later with the doctor hot on her heels, she came back into the room.

‘Tom, Cheryl says you won’t take your pain medicine, You need to take it otherwise your pain is going to get unbearable and you’ll never get well. Be reasonable. What don’t you want them?’

‘Just leave me the fuck alone. I don’t want the meds. I want the pain. I NEED the pain. Why can’t you understand? Leave me alone. Just wanna be on my own’ the last tailed off into a sob as Traff put his arm over his eyes to block out the world.

The doctor reached into his coat pocket with a sigh and pulled out a loaded syringe. He pushed the needle into the port of the drip flowing into the soldier’s right arm and depressed the plunger.

‘I’m not taking no for an answer. You’ll feel better after a good sleep. Just rest and let your body heal’ he said gently to the trembling man.

But as Traff felt the world slipping away from him, he knew that it would take more than sleep to ease his hurt.

Chapter 20

The soldier sat in his wheelchair looking glassily ahead as Hutch pushed him out of the small hospital and Starsky limped along at the side, leaning lightly on the cane he’d been given until his foot was back in good working order. With the treatment it had received, the doctors discovered that there was a set of bones out of place and he’d had the whole thing manipulated under general anaesthetic to get everything back into place. Now his left foot was in a bright white cast, a walking heel newly applied.

Traff had remained in the hospital for two weeks. During that time, the doctors had been pleased at the improvements to his physical condition. His ribs were healing nicely and he’d been allowed out of bed fairly early on in his recovery. His skull and cheek fractures had been re-examined and were doing well and he’d started on a course of physiotherapy to strengthen his arms and legs.

The exercises he did half heartedly and although he was showing some signs of improvement physically, the doctor had spoken to Starsky and Hutch privately about the soldier’s mental condition.

‘Your friend is depressed’ he started without preamble. ‘And when I mean depressed I mean seriously so. He needs help and I’ve spoken to him about the possibility of him seeing a psychiatrist’.

‘What did he say?’ Hutch asked.

‘I got the same response to that suggestion as I have to every other question or suggestion I’ve given him. He stares at me as if I’m some two headed ogre, then completely ignores me. Either that or he tells me he’ll sort things out his own way’.

‘Well he just needs time’ Starsky interjected. ‘He’s a strong guy. He’ll come through’.

‘Will he? He only takes his medication because I stand over his bed and watch him. He’s uncommunicative, combative on occasions and I’m afraid that sending him home in this state will be detrimental to his health. On the other hand, his injuries are getting better and I have no reason to keep him here any longer. Do you know if he has anyone to care for him?’

‘He lives most of his time at the army base, but he has an apartment too. But I wouldn’t want him to go home to people who don’t understand what he’s been through. He can come home with me till he’s feeling well enough to go it alone’ Starsky said.

‘He’ll need help, compassion and some down home prodding to get him back in his feet again’ the doctor warned. ‘You have no easy task ahead of you. If you have any problems….any at all, you should call the local hospital. OK?’

The two men agreed and started to make plans for Traff’s discharge, but far from being happy to leave hospital, the soldier seemed to feel he was a burden.

‘Just let me go back to my place. Don’t need anyone nursemaiding me’ he grunted when Starsky voiced the offer of a roof over his head.

‘Aww c’mon buddy. It won’t be forever. It’ll be like old times, bunking down in the army’.

Traff sighed and cast a suspicious eye at his friend. ‘Yeah right’ he said, but made no further comment.

So now, the two detectives managed to get him into the car and Hutch drove as they made their way back to Bay City. The drive took a few hours and for the most part was accomplished in silence. Starsky tried to make conversation at first, talking about the weather, the passing scenery, but Traff sat in the front seat with his eyes closed and it was difficult for the brunet to see whether he was sleeping or simply didn’t want to talk. Whatever was rattling his cage, it was a far cry from the old friend who used to laugh, live life to the full and play practical jokes on his friends.

When they got back to Starsky’s apartment, they helped the man up the steps and inside. He stood on the doormat just inside the door, looking around.

Starsky set about tidying his already tidy place. ‘D’ya want a drink?’

‘No thanks’.

‘Some TV maybe?’

‘I’ve had enough soaps to last me a lifetime.

‘Sit and chat?’

‘Nah. If its ok, I’m gonna go an’ lie down. The drive musta tired me’. He headed for the bedroom without a backward look.

‘Yeah, sure thing buddy’ Starsky muttered at the retreating back. He sighed. ‘What’re we gonna do with him Hutch. I’ve never seen him like this before. What d’ya think? Holiday? Psychiatrist?’

The blond shrugged his shoulders. ‘He wouldn’t see a psychiatrist. And I don’t think he’s ready for the Caribbean either. Just give him time. He may feel better now he’s out of hospital’.


That evening, Starsky looked in on his friend two or three times. Each time, Traff was laid on his side on the bed, facing away from the door, his shoulders rising and falling with the quiet regularity of sleep. On the final time, just before midnight, Starsky closed the door quietly and padded back into his living room.

‘He’s still asleep. Shall I leave him?’

‘it’ll do him good to rest. You gonna hit the sack?’

‘Yeah, I’m all in’.

‘OK. G’night Starsk’.

‘Night Blondie’.


Traff waited until all noise from the living room ceased and he watched as the light that glowed beneath the bedroom door was extinguished. Quietly, he got up and reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a paper tissue and emptying it’s lumpy contents out onto the sheets. He idly toyed with the multitude of pills he’d saved from his stay in the hospital, chuckling grimly as he thought of the good doctor. He’d stood over him while Traff had solemnly put the pills in his mouth, but as soon as he was gone from the room, he’d spat them out and secreted them in the tissue, riding out the pains that coursed through his body and hugging them to him, as though he was undergoing some penance for his sins.

He felt the pains cleanse his soul, absolving him of his sins, but not enough. Never enough. Nothing would ever take away the hurt of having hurt his friend, wilfully and carefully and agonisingly.

Traff looked at the thirty or so pills. At least this way, he may see Bria again. He may be able to hold her in his arms once again and bury his face into her hair. And if not. If his soul was banished to some hellish afterlife, then he deserved it.

Fatalistically he took three pills and put them in his mouth, swallowing them down and grimacing at their bitter aftertaste. He swallowed several more in swift succession, gagging at their gritty taste in his mouth, but he kept on until the sheet was empty and he was beginning to feel light headed and nauseous.

Traff sat on the edge of the bed, his head hanging down as the effects of the drugs began to override his system. The room rapidly started to spin, and he felt as though he was breathing fog as he fought through his damaged chest to bring air into his lungs. Idly he wondered why he was struggling. He wanted to die. He needed to die, to atone for his sins. His head was getting heavier and he was finding it difficult to remain sitting, but he braced himself on his arms, fighting the effects of the drugs despite himself.

But the powerful pain medication was too strong, the pull of the morphine tugging at his consciousness and finally with a last desperate heave of breath, he fell forwards to land in a crumpled heap on the floor.

Starsky heard a muffled thud and was on his feet immediately, wincing as his recovering left foot hit the ground, he nudged Hutch and the blond instantly sat up.


‘I heard a bump in the bedroom. Gonna see if Traff’s ok’ he pushed open the door and gasped, limping quickly over to the unconscious man.

‘Traff? Hey Tom can ya hear me buddy?’ Aww c’mon Pal’ he tapped at Traff’s still swollen cheek, feeling the prickle of the stitches still there.

The curly head lolled and green eyes cracked open. Traff regarded the cop with disappointment in his eyes. He closed his eyes again. ‘Wanna die’ he gasped.

‘What? You want to what?’ Starsky picked his friend up, cradling him across his knee as he knelt on the floor. He continued rubbing Traff’s back, trying to get life into the body. ‘Stay with me Traff. Don’t leave me’ he said quietly.

‘Starsk?’ Hutch’s voice sliced through the air like a knife. He held up the tissue with residue from the pills on it. 'We need to get an ambulance NOW’

Starsky stared at the tissue, amazed that his friend would take such a drastic course of action. What could have made him try to take his own life? Nothing was that bad was it? He held on to the panting body and shook it.

‘What’ve ya done? How many did ya take?’ he yelled into the pale face.

Traff’s lips worked slowly. ‘All …of…’em’ he gasped.

‘Help me get him up’ Starsky said, shuffling out from underneath his friends body. ‘No time to wait for an ambulance. Lets get him tot the car’.

They took hold of Traff’s arms and dragged the man as fast as they could to Hutch’s car, loading him unceremoniously into the back seat. Starsky insinuated himself into the space left, holding onto the soldier’s curly head and talking to him, steady and low as Hutch put his foot to the metal and made it to Memorial in record time. As he drew up at the emergency entrance to the hospital, Starsky flung the back door open and started to drag Traff’s now unconscious body out, while Hutch went in search of a doctor and gurney.

Appearing seconds later with both, they stood back as Traff was whisked into the ER and the curtains were closed around his cubicle. And then they waited.

Doctors walked in and out, nurses arrived with metal dishes full of equipment and other orderlies arrived with machines and the like. And all the time, Starsky paced the floor, hands clasped in the small of his back, while Hutch sat with his head in his hands. Each time a medic or someone else wafted the curtain aside to either go in or come out, they caught sight of their friend, now laid on his side, a tube in his throat as the doctor pumped his stomach, relieving him of as much of the poison he’d ingested as they could.

The long night wore on, and it was beginning to get light outside when a white faced, exhausted looking doctor came to see the two detectives. He sank wearily into a chair opposite the men and looked up at them.

‘He’s lucky you got to him so quickly and got him here. He owes you his life’.

‘Is he ok? Will he make it?’ Starsky asked.

‘Yes he’ll make it. The tablets he took don’t seem to have been in his system long enough to give any lasting effects. Although another few minutes would have lead to fatal liver damage – a very slow and painful death. Do either of you know what made him do this? He looks like he’s been in a fight or an accident from his injuries. Is that it?’

‘He was on a dangerous job. He was attacked’ Hutch said simply. He’s had a lot going on in his life and I think he just couldn’t hack it any more. Is there anything you can do for him?’

‘Well, with any attempted suicide, we always refer to a psychiatrist, but I think he’ll need a short stay in a mental facility.

‘Not Cabrillo!’ both men said together.

‘If you’d prefer another?’

‘Yeah. Anywhere but there Doc’.

‘Well I do know of a place. Its out of town. Private. By the beach. It has a good reputation and has good results. I can see about getting him admitted there?’

‘Can we see him?’

The doctor nodded. ‘He’s still dopey, but I think seeing familiar faces will do him good’.

Starsky stood. ‘Can I go in on my own buddy?’ he asked.

At the nod, he swept aside the curtain and walked to the side of the cot. Traff opened his eyes, then closed them again, a look of pain on his face.

‘Why didn’t ya let me die?’ he asked, his voice raw and painful from the hose.

‘Not gonna happen pal. Why’d ya do it? Couldn’t you have just talked to me?’


‘Why? We’ve known each other so long. We’ve been through hell and high water together. We can talk about anything!’

‘Like how I nearly killed ya?’

‘Shit Traff. Not that old chestnut again! Is that what’s been bugging ya? I don’t blame you. How much plainer can I say it. I…don’t…blame…you. In your situation I’d have done the same thing! You saved my life’.

‘I tortured ya’ the soldier refused to meet his friend’s eyes and Starsky reached out his left hand, touching Traff’s chin and turning the head gently.

‘I love ya, you moron. Like a brother. You risked your life for me in the jungle. You saved me then and I can never repay that. The NCS treated you like shit. You didn’t deserve any of this! And yeah. It hurt, but nuthin permanent. You saw to that. Traff….please….Tom. Don’t do anything like this again. We can get through this. Together’.

‘You forgive me?’

‘Nuthin to forgive, stupid!’

‘Yeah there is. Me. I can’t forgive myself’. Tears flowed down the man’s cheeks and he looked desperate and miserable.

Starsky stared at him, wondering what he could do. How could he shake the man out of this pit of despair and make him see that life really was worth living after all. Slowly he took his gun from his holster, hoping he was reading the situation right. If he wasn’t there would be devastating consequences. He laid the gun beside Traff’s right hand and took a step back.

‘If you’re so fuckin’ fed up with life, do it. Take the gun and do it! Or I’ll do it. I mean it Traff. You commit suicide again and I’ll…..I’ll….I’ll fuckin’ kill ya!’ the brunet spat.

There was silence in the cubicle, neither man moving, neither breathing. The moment held on a knife edge. the world stood still, each heartbeat an hour in length as the moment stretched into eternity.

And then Traff’s face creased into a grin and then a laugh. The laughter overtook him and he held onto his damaged ribs as he panted through the pain and as Starsky looked on in wonder.

‘What? What’s up now? Are ya goin’ crazy on me?’ he asked non-plussed, retrieving his gun smartly.

When the fit had subsided and Traff could once again breathe, he smiled back at the curly haired cop.

‘Only you Curly! Only you can turn a tragedy into a bloody farce’.

‘Don’t understand. Don’t misunderstand me, I like the change, but I don’t understand’.

‘If I commit suicide you’ll kill me? Jeez Curly boy, that’s funny!’


Epilogue. – 2 months later

The curly haired man walked towards the car, his kit bag over his shoulder. His hair had grown back soft and wavy and now the breeze played with it gently as he waved one last time at the nurse and got into the Torino.

‘Are ya ready?

‘Yup. Ready as I’ll ever be. I’ll miss this place’ Traff said, looking at the big, clapboard house with its wide veranda opening onto the sandy beach. It had been his home for two months since his discharge from Memorial the day after his overdose. The doctor had been true to his word and had booked the soldier into “Tidewinds” for assessment and treatment, and now Traff felt, if not good as new, then at least able to face the world again.

‘Airport then?’ Hutch asked, smiling at the man he’s visited every couple of days since his admission.

‘LAX then Manchester, England. Going home to see my folks. Mom thinks all her birthdays have come at once now she gets to look after little Tommy’.

‘She’s gonna kill ya with kindness’ Starsky quipped, then saw the serious face in the rear view mirror. ‘Joke Traff. It was a joke!’

‘Yeah I know. I was just thinkin’.

‘Don’t bust a blood vessel’.

‘Shuddup! I was thinkin’ how lucky I am to have friends like you two’.

‘Aww, shucks’ Starsky said, holding his head dramatically.

‘Yup, that’s it. I was thinkin’ how much I value my friends. How much I wanna tell ‘em how much they mean to me. And then one of ‘em acts like a dork’.

The brunet turned partly in his seat. ‘Hey don’t call Hutch a dork. He can’t help it!’

Traff took a swipe at the head of thick curly hair. ‘Just shudup an’ drive huh?’ he grinned, sat back in the car and looked at the passing scenery.

Life was good – or at least it was getting a helluva lot better. His survival instincts had kicked in and pulled him through, just like Starsky’s had saved him. Traff closed his eyes and savoured the moment. Nice car, two of the best friends in the world. And life. What could be better?