Who Do We Trust Time

Chapter 1 – 2 weeks ago

The dark, curly haired man came back to consciousness quickly, body stiffening as his mind told him he was once again awake. On immediate alert for the flakes that’d jumped him in the street close to his apartment he tensed automatically, feeling the pains begin across his chest and arm. For a moment his eyes remained closed, his brain telling him it would be crazy to alert anyone to the fact he was awake, and his other senses quested around him for signs of life or danger. Every fibre of his being told him to remain still and quiet. Every word of his training told him to pretend to be asleep until he could assess the situation fully.

His hearing told him that he definitely wasn’t in or near his apartment any more. There was a myriad of sounds around him. Voices, hushed and low, murmured conversations that didn’t concern him. In the distance the mechanical beeping of some kind of machine rang insistently and the metallic clang of trolleys rolling across hard tiled floors added to the muted cacophony. His sense of smell registered antiseptic and canned, bland air conditioning, the temperature neither too warm nor too cold and the taste in his mouth told him he’d been drugged. His lips refused to glide over his teeth properly and his tongue felt as though someone had covered it in sandpaper, his throat sore and dry. Nasal cannula invaded his nostrils and irritated his top lip and he could feel the dull ache that came from a needle in the back of his right hand. He recognised the signs. He’d had some kind of surgical procedure, most likely to remove the bullet. OK, he seemed to be safe. Time to wake up.

Emerald green eyes opened slowly from beneath thick, dark eyelashes that any make up advertising guru would have paid millions for the use of and attempted to look around. But the bright light above him hurt and he hissed softly, trying to raise his right hand to shield his eyes from the harsh glare. Something held his hand down and for one awful, terror stricken moment he panicked. Oh my God, they still had him! They’d taken him somewhere! They’d restrained him in some way. He started to struggle weakly and a female voice penetrated his terror and the soothing tones attempted to calm him.

‘Major…..Major Trafford…..Tom try to stay calm, you’re in the hospital. Ssssh, don’t fight us, just let the drugs do the work huh?’ A soft hand rested on his forehead and carded fingers through his hair, gentling him and piercing his fears so that they dissipated and popped like a soap bubble. He turned his head and with difficulty focussed on the uniformed nurse at his side, relief flooding through his veins. He honestly thought that for a moment he was back in his neighbourhood with the four attackers still pointing their guns at him and he sighed in relief.

‘Where am I?’ he asked in a rasping voice that indicated he’d been out for some time.

‘At the base hospital. You’re safe Tom, try not to worry. You were lucky your neighbour found you outside your apartment and phoned it in. The ambulance picked you up, saw the uniform and your tags and brought you here. You lost a fair amount of blood, but we’re dealing with that and you’ve had surgery to remove the bullet from your shoulder. What do you remember?’

‘There were four….I saw ‘em….they had guns. They shouted, I tried to fight ‘em off and……boom. I tried to get home. Must’ve passed out……shit!’ he whispered, the memories intensifying the pains.

‘I’m sorry Major. I shouldn’t have asked, it’s too early. Just try to rest. You’re safe. We have armed guards on the door. You’re gonna be fine’.

Traff listened to the calm voice and basked for a moment in the warmth and the feeling of security. It had been a tough few months, but it was nearing an end.

‘How long?’

‘You were brought in last evening. You’ve been unconscious for about 15 hours, but we have you stabilised now. The doctor is on his way to see you with Colonel Whitehead. They have more answers for you. Just try to relax. We’ve given you pain meds, so you’ll probably just want to sleep’ the nurse advised.

‘Don’t wanna sleep. Wanna get outa here’ Traff gasped as he tried to move to get out of the bed. The woman grinned at him and put a restraining hand on his arm.

‘And I thought you’d want me for my body Tom. I’m hurt you want to leave so soon, but it doesn’t surprise me, you always were the world’s worst patient. Lie back. I know moving is gonna hurt so let that be a lesson to you Major. Look, your CO is here now. Ring if you need anything’. The nurse pushed the call button into his hand and left as two men walked over to his bed.

Now that he was awake, Traff looked around as much as he could do from his horizontal position. He was in a large single bedded room decorated with white walls and a single picture of a countryside scene above a small chest of drawers. A large window allowed the morning light to flood in and was partially shielded by a plain green blind. Typical army hospital room, but at least his rank allowed him the luxury of privacy. He tried to sit up a little in the bed, but his left arm and shoulder were heavily bandaged and the movement did nothing other than cause a knife like stabbing pain in his wound. Two drip bags hung from the stand by the bed, one with a bag of scarlet blood, another with some clear fluid. Fortunately there was no other machinery and for that he was thankful. From bitter experience he knew the more machinery around the bed, the longer he’d have to stay put.

The doctor came to stand at the side of his bed while his CO, Colonel Whitehead remained hovering at the foot. Whitehead and Traff were close having worked as part of the same unit for at least 9 years. As close as a CO and his soldier could be and Traff knew the big ginger haired man hated sickness or anything to do with hospitals - they made him nervous and edgy. The burly guy looked distinctly uncomfortable and grasped his cap in front of him, screwing it round and round as he looked at the drip, the oxygen and then back at this friend. Traff smiled weakly at him and then turned his attention to the medic at his side.

The doctor checked his charts, pulled the dressings away from the wound to peer at it and then checked Traff’s pulse.

‘You’re a lucky man Major’ he finally concluded. ‘If the bullet had been two inches lower, we’d have been planning a funeral right now’.

‘Don’t feel particularly lucky’ Traff grunted. ‘When can I leave Sir? I got stuff to do’.

‘You won’t be getting out of bed any time soon. And after that…..Colonel Whitehead will be talking to you about that. We’ve given you two units of blood and there’s another pint of the good stuff on its way. And I’ve removed the bullet. A nice neat .22, so that scar won’t be particularly impressive, I’m sorry to say. But it’ll sit nicely with the others I’m sure’ the doctor grinned at the “in” joke – chicks always went for scars and soldiers liked to collect them, however minor. ‘Unless there’s anything of pressing urgency that you want to ask, I’ll leave you in the company of Colonel Whitehead. He has news for you’ the medic turned to the Colonel. ‘Don’t tire him Matt, or I’ll have your guts for garters. He has a lot of healing to do’.

Whitehead grinned at the departing back and then hooked a chair up to the side of the bed and sat down.

‘How’re ya doin’?’ he asked.

‘I just woke up with a shoulder full of hole. How d’ya think I feel? I want to get outa here and nail those flakes Matt. I need to. They think they can intimidate me like this, but they won’t stop me’.

‘I know, and in your position I’d feel the same way, but you’re not Superman Traff. You aint goin’ nowhere other than to a safe house till the trial. We need to keep you safe and we can’t do it here. It’s too open, too public. We need somewhere away from everything. Somewhere defensible, where you can….’

‘See ‘em coming. Yeah, I know the drill, but I don’t want ‘em thinking I’m on the run Matt. I’m gonna nail those bastards if it’s the last thing I do’.

‘I know. They um….they left this pinned to your shirt’ the Colonel said quietly, smoothing out a crumpled, blood stained piece of paper and holding it out for Traff to read. The thick black lettering was neat and uniform, as though it had been stencilled.





‘Charmin’ turn of phrase they got’ Traff grunted. ‘But they don’t know me as well as they think. It’ll take more’n that to stop me. I’m givin’ evidence whatever they think’.

‘And you will, but you’ll never make it to the trial if we don’t do somethin’ to protect you. Just let us get you to a safe house and give you some protection’.

‘They’re watching us all the time, they must be to take me when they did. How’re ya gonna get me protection huh? I’m no shrinkin’ violet. I don’t need to hide behind anyone’. Traff’s voice rose in anger, but at the same time the blazing emerald eyes showed pain and there was a distinct hitch in the voice. The soldier was tiring fast and Whitehead saw the signs.

‘Would it help if I could get ya someone you know and trust? Someone who was used to keeping witnesses safe? Someone who knew the score’ he asked.

‘Like who?’ Traff battled to keep awake, but his eyelids felt like lead and a deep ache had started up in his shoulder so that he gritted his teeth against it, his breath coming in shallow gasps as he tried desperately to control it. Shit he hated this. He hated not being in control over his own life and he hated even more the fact that he had to rely on someone else for his safety. That was his job, surely. He was the career soldier. He was the one who had the country’s safety as his number one concern. His country shouldn’t have to worry about him. Damn.

As if from a distance, he heard Whitehead’s voice telling him to relax and take it easy and next, the nurse’s voice was back. He felt a bee sting scratch on his upper arm and then the warm, fuzzy, slightly disconcerting feeling of the morphine taking effect, making him dizzy and sending him away to pain free oblivion for a while, whilst others dealt with his business.

Colonel Matt Whitehead watched as his friend succumbed to the mind clouding, soporific effects of the drug. Slowly Traff’s eyes closed and his body relaxed against the mattress. This sucked. He hated seeing the usually vital man injured like this. And for what? It wasn’t as though Traff had been on some dangerous mission in a foreign country. This injury seemed so pointless, and yet…..

Whitehead waited a little while longer until he was sure Traff was well and truly asleep, and then tiptoed from the room, returning the salute the two armed guards at the door flipped him. The sentries went back to their duties, rifles resting across their knees as they sat either side of the doorway. As the nurse and Whitehead left the room, a third soldier entered and took up a seat by the window. Looking back, Whitehead assured himself that for the time being the handsome soldier was safe. Jamming his cap back onto his head, he walked purposefully back to his office across the other side of the base and into the snug room. As he passed his secretary sitting at her desk, he put a piece of paper in front of her.

‘Get me that number and then hold any calls’ he grunted as he went into his room. He heard her busy herself with the telephone and a moment later his own handset rang. Picking up, he heard the familiar voice at the other end of the phone.

‘Captain Dobey’ he said carefully. ‘It’s Colonel Whitehead over at the 8th Battalion. I wonder if we might talk.’

Chapter 2

‘And then she said to me that I didn’t care about her any more and I should take her home’. Starsky stared morosely out of the dusty windshield of the car as Hutch sat next to him sipping a cup of coffee.

‘So what did ya do?’

‘Stuck my tongue in her ear, groped her boob and tried to get inside her pants. What would you do?’

‘And that’s how you got the shiner is it? The blond asked, snorting into his drink. The brunet had turned up for their shift staking out the home of one Ritchie Frankland sporting a bruised left eye and a black mood.

‘Yeah, can ya believe that?’

‘You know you’re trouble Starsk?’

‘Bet you’re gonna tell me’.

‘Uh huh. No finesse. You should wine and dine a lady. Take her to a candle lit restaurant, its more whispers, cuddles and seduction rather than poke, grope and bungle.

‘Poke grope and…..hey, who d’ya think I am. I can seduce a lady. It’s just that Barbara aint much of a lady’ the brunet said sadly. ‘I know what I want, I’m just not sure she does. I want moonlight an……’

‘Zebra three, zebra three, tac two for Captain Dobey’ the disembodied voice spoke out of the microphone on the dashboard.

‘Saved by the bell’ Hutch grinned as he reached for the mic. and took it from the hook.

‘This is Zebra three’.

‘Starsky or Hutchinson?’

‘Hutchinson Cap’n’.

‘Okay’ the gruff voice sounded over the airwaves. ‘Get your butts back down to the Metro as soon as huh? Got a different job for ya. One ya might prefer’.

Starsky snatched the mic from his partner’s hands. It was a well known fact that he hated the sitting and waiting games. As he’d observed more than once, he’d done enough waiting around in the army. He flipped the button. ‘More enjoyable than sitting on our rear ends for eight days straight going slowly nuts? What the hell could be better than that?’

‘Can it Starsky. It’s more rear end sittin’ but this time different location and different mark’.

‘For fu…..’

Hutch grabbed the mic back and scowled at the brunet who was still muttering curse words under his breath. It never failed to impress Hutch that his partner could carry on for 5 minutes or so without ever drawing breath and without using the same curse twice. ‘We’ll be right there Cap’n’ he said blandly into the mic. and closed it down. ‘Starsk, d’ya really want to piss off every human being within a mile’s radius? Just coz you an’ your lady aren’t hitting it off right now it doesn’t mean you have to take it out on every other poor sod in the vicinity’.

‘Wasn’t’ the curly haired man said petulantly and Hutch was reminded of a little boy being told off by his Dad. ‘I just…..is this what bein’ a cop is all about? I mean, I don’t know about you, but I joined BCPD for excitement, not sittin’ in your crummy apology for a car starin’ at a brick wall in the hope some flake makes an appearance’.

‘So getting’ shot full of poison wasn’t excitin’ enough? Hutch asked as he started the car up.

‘No, that was just freaky’.

‘And the bomb in the car? Ya can’t tell me it wasn’t exciting driving through the city sittin’ on a live, ticking bomb. Jeez buddy. As I remember it you barely got out of it before it blew’.

‘Hutch it was a crummy car. It was an old fashioned saloon and’ the brunet snorted at the memory ‘It was dark green! It was almost as crummy as yours’.

Realising that there was no way he was going to win this round, the blond lapsed into silence and concentrated on driving.

‘Wonder which whippo we’re gonna be watchin’ now. I could bring Monopoly. I’ve probably got time to read War and Peace and then critique it’.

‘What?’ flaxen eyebrows rose over crystal blue eyes.


‘You said critique. Where d’ya get that one from?’

Starsky chuckled. ‘Might not be able to get into Barbara’s pants, but sumthin must’ve rubbed off. She’s is a teacher when all said an’ done’.

‘Well that’s the problem then’ Hutch said mildly ‘her bein’ a teacher’.

‘What?’ the brunet growled.

‘Well I always knew you’d never got past grade school’ the blond finished as he pulled up outside the Metro. He ducked out of the car just as Starsky started his next round of cursing and reluctantly the sable haired cop followed his partner into the building and along to Dobey’s office.

They stopped in at the squad room to grab a quick coffee and Starsky was just beginning to rifle through the papers on his desk when the connecting door opened and Dobey’s face peered through.

‘Though I told you I wanted you both back here as soon as’ the black man grunted.

‘We’re right on it Cap’n’ Hutch said smoothly, grabbing his cup from the desk. As Starsky picked his up too they followed their boss into the inner sanctum and sat down in front of the big wooden desk. They looked at their Captain expectantly. Dobey shuffled the papers and then put them down and steepled his hands.

‘We’ve been asked to provide some cover for a State witness. He needs minding’ he said slowly watching the scowl on the brunet’s face deepen. ‘And before you start bawlin’ out at me Starsky I think you ought to listen up’.

‘Why? Ya gonna do the big sell on us Cap’n? It’s mindless. It never comes to anythin’ you know that, an’ half these flakes are as bad as the goons they’re supposed to be giving evidence against. I aint doin’ it. Give it to someone else. One of the newbies maybe’.

‘Starsky will you shudup for just one minute? This witness asked for you an’ Hutch, or at least his CO did. Won’t trust anyone else, it’s too important’ Dobey interrupted.

‘Asked? CO? What the….’

‘It’s Traff, Starsky. Traff is the witness’.

The brunet looked stunned. ‘I don’t understand. What’s Traff need a minder for? He can take care of himself better ‘n almost anyone I know. I’d like to see someone try to get to him. He’d make mincemeat out of ‘em’.

‘Not this time’ Dobey said.

‘What’s happened Cap?’ Hutch asked, sitting forward on his seat.

‘I had a phone call from Colonel Whitehead, Major Trafford’s CO. Seems the Major has been advising the Government on armaments and some bomb disposal techniques. Somehow, somewhere along the line a group calling themselves Arms Over Frontiers became involved in arms dealing over the border between Mexico and the US. The main players were arrested and the Major is the state’s expert witness at the trial. Seems without his expertise, the trial is likely to be aborted. The AOF have been looking for him for weeks. He’s had some death threats sent to the 8th Battalion which he’s chosen to ignore. Then two days ago the group caught up with him near his apartment’.

‘And?’ Starsky asked

‘They shot him and left him with a note pinned to him warning him to take them seriously and not to give evidence. He’s in the base hospital now with a 24 hour armed guard, but they want him out of there. They have a safe house lined up in the mountains, but at first it seems he wasn’t for going’.

Starsky snorted. ‘Sounds like Traff’.

‘Uh huh. Almost as stubborn as some cops I know’ Dobey chuckled. ‘Anyhow, they finally convinced him he needed to be out of there and that he needed backup’.

‘Why don’t the army provide it? Hutch asked. ‘I mean, there’s no way I’m gonna refuse to do this, but it does beg the question’.

‘That’s what I asked too. Seems they suspect that there’s a mole at the battalion and they’ve leaked information about the trial and Traff whereabouts. They can’t chance Traff’s life and he’s injured so he can’t protect himself right now. So…’

‘That’s where we come in. When, where?’ Starsky asked immediately.

Dobey sighed. ‘I can’t release both of you. We’re too busy here and I still need a man on Ritchie Frankland. It’s up to you who goes, but the other stops here and keeps on with the stakeout. Whichever of you goes with Traff will be backed up with one trusted soldier hand picked by Whitehead’.

‘Oh no. Think again Cap. We both go. Don’t “partners” mean anythin’ anymore? Traff’s done stuff for this department before now. We owe him. He needs us both there’ Starsky argued.

‘And that’s something I can’t give him. I have it worked out with Whitehead. You’re both gonna see him at the hospital tonight, then tomorrow, whichever of you wants is gonna be with him when they transport him up to the safe house. The location will be known to Whitehead, me, the two of you and to Traff and his soldier minder. The trial is in two weeks time and during that time, you’ll be with him night an’ day. Got that?’

The brunet scowled even harder and sighed deeply. ‘Loud an’ clear Cap’n, but I don’t like it. We work best together an’ If I’m up there an’ Hutch is down here it…..well, it don’t feel right’.

‘He’s right Cap’n. We work better together than we do alone. We proved that before’ Hutch joined in. ‘You gotta reconsider’.

‘Already did. An’ my orders stand. I can’t afford for the both of you to be away an’ anyway there’s the army backup. I take it you’ll be going?’ he looked at the curly haired cop for confirmation. Starsky nodded his head.

‘Yeah, I’ll be there’.

‘Good. This is the location. Memorise it, both of you. Now you’re visiting him at 5:30 tonight and tomorrow morning you Starsky will be back at the Army base for 5:30am. They’ll have the ambulance ready by then. You have tonight to get your stuff ready’.

The two men looked distinctly uncomfortable and Dobey gazed back at them. ‘That’s all. You have your orders, now go’ he said, picking up the file in front of him and going back to reading it. ‘And don’t’ slam the….’

The duo headed for the door and Starsky slammed it closed, registering his disapproval.

‘…..door’ Dobey finished with a chuckle.

As they headed back to Starsky’s place for the brunet to pack, Hutch tried to look on the right side of them being separated. ‘At least you won’t have to water my plants’ he offered.

‘You always say I kill ‘em anyhow’.

‘I know, so this time I won’t be accusin’ you of murder’ the blond agreed.

‘Can you murder a plant? I thought homicide was from “hom” meanin’ “man”. They aren’t people Blintz. Wouldn’t it be…..dunno, planticide or sumthin. Maybe flowercide or assault with a deadly fern?’

‘You’re weird, you know that don’t ya Starsk? Just….weird’.

‘I know. But ya love me anyway’ the brunet grinned, his anger at his captain temporarily forgotten.

Two hours later, and with the brunet’s bag packed and ready back at his apartment, the two men passed through the security checkpoint at the 8th Battalion and parked outside the hospital block there. With directions from the soldier on duty, they were sent down a long, impersonal and antiseptic smelling corridor and through a door on the right. Two soldiers snapped to attention as they approached and Starsky held out the pass they’d been given as proof they were allowed to be there. As they walked in, a hand lifted the phone and punched in a number.

‘He has visitors. Be prepared to follow them afterwards. The dark haired one is a cop and a close friend. The blond one is his partner. And be careful. They’ll be wary. Keep your distance’. The hand replaced the phone and the body turned away.

Inside, Starsky pushed the door to Traff’s room open and walked in, his partner at his heels. The soldier inside also checked their credentials and then left the room, closing the door softly behind him. The room was darkened, the blind having been pulled down over the window and the room was softly lit by the diffused light from the blind and a small lamp lit above the bed. On the single bed, Traff lay asleep, drips still feeding fluid into the back of his right hand, his left shoulder heavily bandaged. That was the only outward sign that anything was wrong until they got closer to the bed. Once by the bedside, however, the two could see that the soldier was having a hard time of it and his head was tossing restlessly on the pillow. Traff’s lips moved silently as though he was deep in conversation with someone and heat radiated from the lithe muscular body.

Gently Starsky reached out a hand and laid it on his friend’s right shoulder, leaning over the bed.

‘Traff? Hey Tommy boy, wakey wakey, ya got visitors’.

The voice seemed to penetrate the dream and Traff let out a small cry then gritted his teeth, his jaw muscles working as his eyes flashed open. For a moment, they remained unfocussed and danced around the room, but slowly they came to rest on the two cops and a weak smile flashed across the handsome features.

‘Curly…..glad t’see ya’ he rasped, his voice rough and raw.

‘Jeez Traff, what did they do to you Pal?’ Starsky asked, shocked at the pain lines etched deep into his old army buddy’s face.

‘Put a hole where a hole don’t belong. Glad you’re both here’. The soldier looked weary and his eyes narrowed as more pain assailed his senses.

‘You need the nurse buddy?’ Hutch asked, seeing the signs of pain.

‘No, m’good. They gave me this button thing for morphine’.

‘Aint it workin’?’ Starsky asked, staring at the offending button.

‘Yeah. Didn’t use it’.

‘Aww shit buddy. It aint no use bein’ a hero. Take the pain meds before ya crease up some more’.

Emerald eyes fixed on the sapphire ones above him. ‘Will do, now you’re here. Couldn’t relax b’fore. Don’t know who to trust’ Traff gasped. Sweat beaded on his brow and Hutch took a cloth from the nightstand and wiped the trickles away.

‘Just rest now huh? Take the morphine before you pass out on us and relax. We’re not goin’ anywhere an’ Starsk’ll be coming with ya tomorrow.

‘Yeah? You comin’ Chief? Thank God. If I couldn’t have both of ya, half of the dynamic duo is good. Fell like I can…..’ the eyes closed mid sentence as the powerful pain killer took its effect and at the side of the bed Starsky snorted softly.

‘That’s my boy. Great outa the traps but absolutely no stayin’ power’.

And as the two cops settled down to watch over their friend, the hand made another phone call to deliver the latest news.

Chapter 3

Starsky and Hutch both settled down to wait by the side of their friend. Now that Traff seemed to realise he was safe, the soldier relaxed and within moments was sound asleep. In the dimly lit room, neither cop spoke, instead sitting and waiting in silence until Traff was once again awake, but they were concerned at the shape the soldier was in. The dressing on his shoulder wound covered a large part of the top of his chest too, but beneath it, it was evident that their friend had lost weight and the appearance was also highlighted by the dark circles round the usually vibrant eyes and the slightly pinched look on his face. Whatever had gone on with the curly haired soldier, it had obviously been a worry for some time.

At about 8:30 an orderly appeared at the door of the room, was checked by the guards outside and entered with a tray bearing syringes and drugs. He nodded to the two men, went about his business as he checked blood pressure, temperature, respiration rates and gave the drugs then packed up and paused at the door.

‘Sorry Sirs. Regulations are that there should be no visitors after 8:00. It’s already almost 8:40. You need to go’ he said apologetically. Traff was one of the most popular officers on the base and it had affected most of the staff there deeply when he’d been shot.

‘Uh uh. We aren’t leavin’ him. We’ve been detailed to guard him an’ that’s what we’re doin’ Starsky said firmly as Hutch nodded in the background.

‘Well I don’t know….’

The brunet stood up, drawing himself up straight and squaring his shouldres. Hutch grinned to himself in the background. Showtime!

‘I know I don’t have the pips on my shoulder today Private, but I did carry the rank of Major. If you need to, go get confirmation, but in the meantime, don’t question me and don’t wake the patient’ Starsky snapped.

The orderly looked shocked and snapped immediately to attention. ‘Sorry Sir, I didn’t realise’. The man backed out of the room and the curly haired cop heard a muffled snort behind him. He turned and saw Hutch grinning broadly. ‘What?’

‘M’sorry buddy. I just love it on the odd occasion that your rank spills out. It’s like a whole different you.'

‘Yeah? Well I don’t like to flaunt it, but it comes in useful occasionally’ Starsky grinned back as he came to sit back by the bed. The conversation and the procedures had awaked the soldier again and he grunted from the bed.

‘Never did like that I made major before he did. Bet he bawls out all the minions when he gets a chance’.

‘Uh huh, like I’ll bawl you out if ya don’t get some rest. How’re ya doin’ buddy?’

‘Better, till that goon woke me up. Shouldn’t you be gone by now? Traff asked.

‘Not leavin’ you. If ya won’t sleep when we aren’t here, then we stay’.

‘Sentiments good, but I thought only one of you was comin’ with me’.

‘Yup, that’d be me’ Starsky said quickly.

‘Well….’ The solider turned to look at Hutch who held his hand up.

‘Hey, I know when I’m not wanted’ he smiled. ‘And I need to be back. The great Ritchie Frankland awaits tomorrow an’ the way I’m goin’ he’d be able to plant a nuclear bomb and I wouldn’t notice’. He got up, stretched and walked to the door, pausing as he got there. He turned and fumbled in his pocket.

‘I know how exciting it’s gonna be for you both at the safe house. All those wild parties you’ll be throwing, so I thought you might appreciate these’ he threw a small rectangular package to the brunet who caught it left handed. ‘Just remember while you're droolin' over the pictures, I’ll be enjoyin’ the real thing. Take care both of ya’ Hutch suddenly turned serious. ‘I’ll phone each night at around 6:00, just to check on you, ok?’ he said as he flipped the two men a wave and walked away.

‘What’s he given ya?’ Traff asked as he watched the big blond back depart.

The brunet unwrapped the parcel and snickered, throwing the contents on the bed. Traff reached out and picked them up. ‘Well that’s gonna make me feel better’ he said and started the rifle through the contents of the Playboy playing cards. ‘Jeez, Dirty Delia….wouldn’t mind spending some time with her. Ya seen the size of those assets?’

Starsky was also going through the deck. ‘Can’t made my mind up, there’s three here. Magnificent Maureen looks pretty good, look’ he showed the card showing a beautiful blond to the soldier who picked up the other two cards he’d been show. Dammit Janet and Naughty Nelleke look hot too, an' as for Amorous Angie!. Ya think we’re actually gonna be able to get through a game without a cold shower?’

‘In your condition buddy, they’re mine, all mine’ the brunet snorted. ‘Now go back to sleep. I’ll be here. Not goin’ anywhere so just rest’.

The soldier rested his head back on the pillow, his eyes already heavy with sleep. ‘Thanks Curly. Just like old times huh?’

Before the brunet could answer, he was asleep.


Hutch made his quiet way from the hospital wing of the base and got back into his car. As he got into the vehicle he thought he heard footfalls on the gravel walkway behind him and turned, expecting one of the soldiers on the base to challenge him, or ask his why he was there. He peered into the darkness and for a brief moment thought he saw a dark shape against the darkness and what appeared to be a shape ducking down the dark alley between the hospital wing and another building. He walked to the corner of the building and peered into the gloom but saw nothing and shrugging his shoulders headed back to the car. All this talk of high level trials, flakes taking shots at his friends and the secrecy of the safe house had left him feeling edgy and what he really needed was a cold beer and some friendly conversation.

Setting the car in motion, he drove out of the base and along the quiet country road back towards town. Instead of going straight home he headed for the Pits, feeling the absence of his partner keenly. At times like this he liked to go and have a fix of Huggy’s brand of companionship and so he parked at the back of the bar and pushed his way into the warm, smoky public area.

Huggy, as always was dressed in his usual flamboyant clothes, this time sporting bright red dungarees, a canary yellow shirt and topped off by a red and yellow checked peeked cap. He looked up as the blond walked in a smiled revealing even white teeth.

‘Hey Hutch my man. What can the Bear do for you tonight?’

‘A beer and some company Hug, nothing more’.

‘Where’s the curly one? Aint he home tonight? Or is he entertaining the delectable Barbara?’

Hutch grinned. ‘I think she proved more of a handful than even Starsk could handle. He’s on a job, one that don’t require the two of us’.

‘Gotcha. One beer coming up’. Huggy poured a cold one and handed it to the cop, waving away the money Hutch proffered. ‘On the house. You look like ya need it. Sumthin ya want to divulge to a ready ear?’

‘Not really. Its just….remember Tom Trafford, Starsky’s buddy from the army?’

‘Uh huh’.

‘He got shot up some an’ we’ve just been to see him. I hate seein’ a guy in a hospital bed’.

‘Yeah, that’s never good news. Here, let me serve my paying customers, and then we can go upstairs for some privacy’. He walked further down the bar to the man who had come into the bar just after Hutch, served him with an orange juice and took the money. As the flaxen haired cop followed Huggy upstairs to the small room at the top of the building, the customer’s eyes followed them. As the duo disappeared from sight, the customer rose, left his drink untouched on the bar and left.

An hour later, and with two beers under his belt and several jokes shared with the black barman, Hutch came back down the stairs, got into his car and drive home. As he reached Venice Place and drew up in his customary position right outside the door, under the canopy reading Chez Helene, he thought he saw a car behind him swerve suddenly and disappear down the street at the side of his block. He thought it was odd as the street was a dead end, opening out into the park he usually ran round each morning. Crazy flake. He’ll be racin’ back up here in a minute and looking for the right road. But the car didn’t reappear and once again hutch had the impression that someone was following him. He drew his gun and walked to the corner, peering around it. He saw nothing and feeling stupid pocketed his weapon and walked back to his front door and up the steps. He pushed into his apartment, shouldered out of his holster and hung it behind the door before going into his bathroom and turning on the shower.

Minutes later, and with the shower water running noisily, Hutch stood with his hands braced against the wall as he let the soothing water cascade over his sun bronzed shoulders. It felt good and he could almost see the tension leaving his body and running away with the water down the drain, but as he reached to turn off the water, he swore he could hear a noise in his living room.

This was too much of a coincidence and he stepped out of the shower quietly, visions of Diana Harmon still fresh in his mind as he reached for his robe and pulled it on. Opening the door to the bathroom a crack, he looked around, but could see no one although as he opened the door fully and walked out into the room he could swear that his holster was swinging slightly on the hook. Racing over to it, he gave it a cursory check – no problems, it seemed undisturbed and the gun was still seated inside its cradle of leather. Berating himself for behaving like a rookie cop on his first assignment, Hutch dried himself off and with a final look around his living room, locked the door and got into bed.

But sleep wouldn’t come and scenarios ran through his head. What if he had been followed? What if somehow they’d get to Starsky and Traff? He argued with himself for half an hour or so before finally deciding that the only way to put his mind at rest would be to ask someone if anything unusual would be going down.

Reaching for the phone he knew Dobey wouldn’t be happy about being woken late at night but this was important. He dialled the number and waited until a sleepy voice answered.

‘Cap’n its Hutch’.

The sleepiness in the voice was immediately replaced as Dobey sat up in bed. ‘What? Is anything wrong?’

‘I was gonna ask you the same thing. I’m sorry to wake you Cap, but I came home from the visit and Starsk is still there, but I‘ve had the feeling all night that I’ve been followed an’ I just can’t shake it. Is there anything you’ve heard? I just….I…’ Hutch finished lamely wishing he didn’t sound like a frightened schoolboy.

Fortunately Dobey understood completely. ‘Haven’t heard anythin’. Have you seen anyone? Heard anythin’ yourself, or this just a feeling?’ he asked.

Hutch blew out his cheeks. Well that was the big question. Was he having histrionics? Was he behaving like a rookie? His mind told him he was, but his cop senses, the ones he’d learned to trust over the years told him something different. He hesitated. ‘To be honest? Dunno. I guess it’s just a feelin’ but it’s a strong one. I guess I….I’m sorry I woke ya’ he apologised.

‘That’s ok. Just lock your door an’ keep your wits about you huh? And Hutchinson….you did right to call’.

The blond heard the telephone go down and he sighed. Damn, he didn’t want Dobey to think he bottled out. He got up and padded out into his living room, checked the door again and on his way past, took his gun from its holster. As he got back into bed, he tucked the weapon under his pillow and snuggled his head down. Finally, an hour later, he managed to drift into a dark and restless sleep.

Chapter 4

The next morning, Starsky woke stiffly his back complaining painfully about the night he’d spent in the chair by Traff’s bed. He got up with a quiet groan and stood by the window, stretching his arms above his head until his tee shirt rode up and showed an expanse of toned tanned midriff. Completing his stretching routine with some deep breaths and some circular motions to ease the kinks out of his left shoulder he looked back at his charge. Starsky's shoulder always seemed stiff. One of the legacies of the rainy night when he’d preferred linguini with clams to the offer of scrambled eggs at Hutch’s place. He smiled at the distant memory. Even after 3 years he could still hear Hutch’s low voice Easy partner, take it easy as he sweated his way through the painful night until he’d heard Hutch’s gunshots signalling that it was all over.

And now Traff’s shoulder was bound up in bright white bandages, just the same as his had been and he could sympathise with the soldier for the pain he was going through. He never realised quite what movements a shoulder did until he’d been shot in his upper chest. Afterwards it seemed that even breathing seemed to take on a new sadistic turn and as for turning his head? That was an enormous no no right from the start.

The early morning was quiet in the base hospital , the usual din of bedpans, trolleys and voices not yet having started and outside the dawn chorus was just beginning. Peach and shell pink stripes lined the horizon of the morning sky chasing the dark away and as he looked back at the bed, Starsky saw the first signs of movement from his friend. He crossed the room and stood on Traff’s left side as the soldier opened his pain clouded eyes.

‘Mornin’ buddy. Don’t move too quick, it’ll hurt like the devil’ he advised.

Traff gave a soft snicker. ‘Already does Chief, but what’s new? Are we ready for the big adventure today? Off into the wild blue yonder?’

‘Uh huh. Just what we need. Roughin’ it in some godforsaken neck of the woods with no Deli, no burritos and no beer for miles. Not to mention no chicks. The things I do for you huh?’ the brunet smiled affectionately.

'I'm touhced, truly I am.'

Starsky snickered. 'Nah, it's me that's touched - in the head for swappin' easy living for good old Mother Nature!'

The two sat chatting companionably for a while until the same orderly as the previous evening brought two trays with breakfast. For Starsky there was a stack of pancakes, eggs, toast and a pot of coffee. Traff stared balefully at the small bowl of oatmeal and the tiny glass of orange juice on his own tray.

‘They’re tryin’ to kill me’ he said mournfully as he watched the cop tuck into the first of the pancakes.

‘They’re tryin’ to make you better. You aint eaten anythin’ for three days. Your’ stomach’s not gonna be happy if you ram this down it’.

‘My stomach’s shrivelled away to nuthin. It’s sulkin’ at me already….thinks I’m neglectin’ it’.

Starsky looked over his shoulder, then forked a pancake laden with syrup onto his friend’s plate. ‘Here, an’ don’t tell the orderly. He looks like he was half brothers with Mohammed Ali an’ I aint up to fightin’ with him’. Traff smiled and poked at the pancake appreciatively. Two forkfuls later, however, his rebellious stomach told him enough was enough, but at least he felt full, and for the first time in a while, relaxed.

Once Traff had got some solid food inside him and after the doctor had been to check on his wound and give him the all clear to travel, Colonel Whitehead reappeared at the door and walked in.

‘Tom, how’re ya doin’ there? You’ll be off this morning then. And um….Major….um….Mr…..’

‘Starsky’s fine Sir’ the brunet smiled at the man stumbling over what to call him.

‘Well, I just wanted to say thanks for this. I….we appreciate it. And of course, I won’t be letting you two go alone. I have the backup I promised you. New to the base, but a Captain nonetheless. From the 19th further up the coast. Captain Hadley. You’ll enjoy their company I’m sure’ the Colonel smirked.

‘Well backup’s fine Colonel, but we don’t need it. I can handle it’ Starsky began to say as a woman in full army uniform walked into the room.

Whitehead snorted. ‘May I introduce Captain Marion Hadley? Captain Hadley is a weapons specialist and combat instructor. I’m sure you three will get along just fine. I’ll be leaving now. The ambulance will be here shortly. Take care and Tom,..…be well huh? See you at the trial’.

The Colonel left the room, leaving the two men staring appreciatively at Captain Hadley. The girl was almost as tall as Starsky, standing at maybe 5’9”. With her blond hair tied back in regulation fashion it was difficult to see properly, but it seemed to be long and the fatigue pants fitted her slim hips perfectly, accentuating long legs and tiny waist. She wore her jacket unbuttoned showing black tee shirt fitting snugly over firm breasts. Her face was a blank canvass. She neither smiled nor frowned, but her eyes appraised the two men with something akin to disdain.

Starsky was immediately on his feet. He came towards her, hand outstretched. ‘Um….Dave. Dave Starsky. Pleased to meet you…….Marion?’

‘Captain Hadley’ the woman said coldly. She took the brunet’s hand and shook it, but there was no warmth in her eyes and no hint that she was anything other than bored with the idea of spending time with the two men.

‘Oh, um. Right……well, this is Major Trafford….Traff’ the cop went on, slightly phased by the woman’s demeanour. Jeez there was cold and there was sub zero!

The girl snapped to attention and flipped a perfect salute towards the bed. ‘Sir’ she said.

‘At ease soldier’ Traff told her, slightly amused by her attitude. ‘We’re gonna be working pretty closely for a while. Let’s cut the rank huh. That’s Starsky, I’m Traff and you’re….?’

She sighed and some of the tension left her body. ‘Marion’ she said, although Traff could see the “Captain Hadley” lingering on her lips.

‘Ok Marion. We cut the salutin’ and stuff. It’s gonna be uncomfortable enough up there without added pressures’. Traff grimaced in pain. ‘An’ I aint in a position for salutin’ back right now. So we’re informal?’

‘If that’s what you want Sir’ she said stiffly

The soldier sighed. ‘It is, an’ it’s Traff, not Sir. Got it?’

She nodded and a moment later two orderlies appeared. ‘Ready Sirs and Ma’am? The ambulance is here’.

As Traff started to get out of the bed, Starsky helped and the orderlies managed to get the soldier into a wheelchair. It wasn’t that he couldn’t walk so much as he was weak from the blood loss and sore and movements cost him a lot of energy. In the midst of the work, Marion disappeared. The wheelchair was wheeled down to an unmarked ambulance and with Starsky’s help, Traff managed to get himself into the back and led down on the blue blanketed gurney. As the orderlies strapped the safety bets around him Marion reappeared at the door of the vehicle.

She looked at the dim interior, the windows having been blacked out as an added security measure and her face registered surprise.

‘I’ll um…I’ll ride up front with the driver’ she said, backing away slightly.

‘You’ll ride in here with us’ Starsky said firmly. ‘The driver is armed and he has an armed escort. They don’t want anyone else swimming in their soup right now. Get in and sit down’.

She looked at him in surprise. What she’d taken for a slightly dorky Romeo inside was now transformed into a steely eyed bodyguard. Starsky’s eyes flitted left and right, constantly surveying the surroundings as he supervised his friend being loaded into the ambulance. His body was relaxed but alert, and she belatedly saw the Smith and Wesson held in his left hand. Swiftly she reappraised him. This wasn’t some half-witted oaf along for the ride. This was a cop who knew his trade well and meant business.

‘I um….I get claustrophobic’ she blustered, backing away still further.

With panther-like grace, Starsky snagged her right arm and pulled her towards the ambulance. ‘You should’ve thought of that before you took the assignment’ he hissed and pushed her bodily into the vehicle, stepping in behind her and closing the door. As she sat down on the opposite side of the ambulance from Traff, the brunet rapped smartly on the connecting wall to the driver’s cab and the three passengers felt the vehicle surge forward.

The journey took them almost four hours and for the most part, the roads twisted and turned and they had the impression of them getting higher. The road was rough and the jolting of the wheels took its toll on the dark haired soldier. Traff gritted his teeth as his body swayed along in the back of the ambulance, but with each successive pot hole or corner, the pains got worse until he was sweating and finding it almost impossible to stifle the groans as his injury was jolted again. Starsky sat by his side, hand resting on his hip.

‘Can’t be much further now buddy. Just hang in there huh? You’re doin’ great’.

‘Why didn’t they pick a safe house on the beach huh?’ Traff grunted through gritted teeth.

‘Yeah, that’d have been good. Sea breezes, miles of white sand, serious work on a good tan. What d’you say Marion? Wouldn’t you have preferred a bikini to full uniform?’

She looked disdainfully. ‘This is a job. I’m not here to enjoy myself. Where are we going anyhow?’

The two men looked warily at each other. Only five people knew the location of the safe house. Traff and Starsky, Hutch and the driver and escort. It was safer that way and they knew there had been a long debate about whether their cover – Captain Hadley - needed to know or not. After long debates it was decided that it was sufficient for her to be there without her knowing where “there” was.

‘We’re going away from it all. That’s all you need to know’ Starsky said carefully.

‘And who are you to tell me what I need to know? Why did the army have to bring in an outsider anyway?’ she asked testily

‘Coz he’s one of only two men I trust an’ he aint an outsider. He was army too. Major Starsky if you must know ranks. Is that good enough for ya Captain?’ Traff snapped. The pains in his body left his temper short. ‘And him an’ me have been through more shit than you’ll ever know. So can it. You’re here, you do your job and we all get through this ok?’

She nodded and relapsed into silence, although several times Starsky caught her looking at him. He wasn’t vain enough to thing she was looking at him with anything other than distaste and he wondered what experience had made her so anti brunet. He continued his ruminations for some time until the ambulance slowed and finally stopped. Starsky tensed, his hand once again on his gun as he heard the driver open his door and then close it again. And then there was a pre-arranged knock on the back of the vehicle and he opened the back doors.

He was met by the sight of trees, trees and yet more trees as the woods crowded in around him. Great, just about his least favourite place on earth! But the air was cool and fresh and there was the scent of pine needles carried on the light breeze that ruffled his sable curls. After hours in the stuffy ambulance, the cool air felt good on his sticky scalp and as he stepped down from the back of the ambulance, he saw the large wooden cabin nestling in a clearing. With a wave of his hand he told the orderlies to wait a moment as he and Marion searched the perimeter of the clearing. Seeing nothing untoward, he was just about to nod to the ambulance driver that they could help Traff out when he heard the sound of a car engine coming their way. Swiftly, the ambulance doors closed and the driver and escort drew their P60s. Starsky darted to the left, his body hidden by a large tree, his gun drawn and held in both hands, pointing skywards. Across the clearing he could see Marion led on her belly behind a bush, flat out in classic firing posture. There was an unnatural silence in the clearing as everyone held their breath.

The sound of the engine drew closer. Whoever it was certainly wasn’t trying to disguise their approach and as Starsky peeped out from his hiding place he was relieved to see a familiar mud and rust coloured LTD come into the clearing a pull up. With a flood of gratitude, he called for Marion to stand down and came out of his hiding, trotting over to the dusty car as it came to a halt. Hutch got out and the brunet grinned at him.

‘You’re givin’ me a heart attack Blintz, but I guess it’s good practice for if anyone did come around to visit. Why are ya here? I thought Dobey wanted you out by Richie Frankland’.

‘Lets get everyone inside ad I’ll tell you the score then’.

Hutch, Marion and the escort went inside to check out the cabin while Starsky walked to the back of the ambulance and opened it. Inside, Traff looked rattled.

‘What’s goin’ on?’ he asked as his friend walked in and started to unbuckle the straps round his gurney.

‘We though we had company, but it turned out to be Blondie come to pay us a surprise visit’ the brunet explained.

‘Yeah? Hutch is here? Great!’ Traff struggled to get off the gurney and allowed Starsky to help him out of the ambulance. He stood swaying as he surveyed the surroundings with satisfaction. ‘Who needs the beach when ya have all this?’ he said. ‘Whitehead did us proud. Who the hell is gonna find us up here in this wilderness?’ And with that, he staggered into the cabin and allowed his two friends to get him into the bedroom and into the large comfortable queen sized bed.

Chapter 5

There were three bedrooms in the cabin – more of a house in the woods rather than the rustic Wild West building that Starsky had been dreading and now the brunet and Hutch helped Traff into the largest of them. At first the soldier objected to the assistance telling his friends that he was fine and sick of being treated like an invalid. He shrugged off their offers to help him get out of his robe firmly but politely and so Starsky stood back with a knowing smile on his face as Traff started to shoulder out of the heavy towelling bathrobe. He got half way before the sudden movements jarred his shoulder and he gasped and clutched at his wound with his free hand. He swayed, bending over slightly to suck in a deep breath and felt strong hands round his waist.

‘Let that be a lesson to ya Mister “I can do this on my own”. Just let us help huh? We don’t think any less of ya’ Starsky said as he steered his friend over to the bed. Traff smiled tightly and looked over Starsky’s shoulder to Hutch who was hovering in the background.

‘You’re not gonna leave me here with Florence Nightingale are ya? What kind of a friend are ya buddy?’

Hutch grinned. ‘I could always call in…..what’s her name?’

‘Tin knickers’ Traff grunted.

‘FMC – Full Metal Corset’ Starsky said at the same time.

‘Wow! Take it you guys didn’t exactly hit it off?’

Starsky eased Traff into the bed and once he was sure the soldier was comfortable he perched on the edge of the mattress as Hutch hooked up the small bedside chair and sat down.

‘She was drummed out of the SS for bein’ too friendly’ the brunet said glumly.

‘You’ve only known her for half a day’.

Traff snorted softly. ‘That’s all it takes buddy. She’s a career soldier through an’ through. Not interested in anythin’ but the next stripe on her arm or pip on her shoulder. Curly here thought he might get a bit of afternoon delight, but she soon put him right’.

‘Ya can’t blame a guy for tryin’ Starsky grumbled. ‘Ya seen those legs? They go all the way up to…..an’ her face aint bad either. I’m not givin’ up. The Snow Queen is gonna melt before this assignment is out’.

‘Care to take a bet on that Chief?’ Traff asked tiredly. The journey and the exertions of moving from one base to another had left him more weary than he cared to admit and he wanted nothing more than pain meds and more sleep. But he also didn’t want to miss Hutch’s visit, which focussed his mind a little.

‘Hutch, don’t take this wrong, I think it’s great you’re here buddy, but why are ya here?’ he asked.

Suddenly the blond’s face lost the smile and became serious. He ran his fingers through his silky flaxen locks and sighed.

‘Would you believe I just wanted to say hi?’

‘With a four hour drive in your crummy car and that look on your face, no. Whassup?’ Starsky asked.

‘First off, there’s nothing wrong with my car. It’s functional’.

Starsky snickered. ‘Functional, he says. It’s a death trap on wheels, and it gives me a bad back every time I ride in it’.

Hutch ignored the comment. ‘And second, since I left the base hospital yesterday I’ve had the impression I’ve been followed. Nothing definite, just shadows movin’ and last night when I was taking a shower, I felt sure someone had got into my house’.

‘And you know this how? Are you ok? Did they touch anythin’?’ the brunet quizzed.

‘Again, nothing specific. Just a feelin’ But you know feelings partner. Sometimes they’re so damned strong you have to act on ‘em. So I telephoned Dobey’.

‘Bet you were popular’.

‘Uh huh. Anyhow. He was as rattled as me. He’s got Markham and Knight on Richie Frankland at the moment and told me to hightail it up here and warn ya’.

‘Were you followed?’

‘At the beginning, yeah, I’m sure I was. Again, nothing I could put my finger on, but I’m absolutely certain I lost ‘em. Dammit I drove here via Nevada more or less’.

‘Are you stayin’?’

‘No. Dobey an’ me think it best that if they’re gonna follow anyone it’s better being me than either of you two. So, while you’re trying to get into Soldier Sally’s pants, I’ll just lead ‘em a merry dance and keep ‘em occupied’.

‘You guys are really sticking your necks out for me’ Traff said tiredly. ‘I didn’t want either of you put in any danger’.

‘Danger? Us? Nah. Walk in the park buddy’ Hutch smiled. ‘He gets a vacation in these beautiful mountains and I get a vacation from him. It’s perfect’. He ducked the friendly blow delivered by the brunet and sat back on his chair.

A half an hour later, Hutch took his leave of the two men, promising to phone each night at 6 to make sure they were ok. With a wave from his partner and more promises from both men to be extra careful the blond set off to drive back down the mountain following the ambulance. Starsky walked back into the cabin and closed the door behind him. He looked at Marion busying herself packing food away into the cupboards in the large dining kitchen and walked over to lean casually on the small wooden dining table.

‘What’s for dinner?’ he asked conversationally.

‘Dunno. What are you gonna cook?’ she said frostily.

‘Oh….I thought…..’

‘You thought cos I’m a woman I’d do the cooking and cleaning and no doubt look after you two guys in other ways too. Well think again hotshot’.

Starsky sighed. ‘Look, we’re gonna be here a long tome, just the three of us together. Don’t ya think it’d be better if we tried to get along? I mean, it gets cold enough outside in these mountains at night without it bein’ frosty in here too’.

‘And where exactly are these mountains?’ Marion rounded on him. ‘I volunteered to guard Major Trafford. I volunteered to lay down my life for a fellow officer and I’m rewarded with no trust and with enough secrecy to guard Fort Knox. That’s not the way I operate. To be effective I need to know details and so far, I’ve been kept so much in the dark I’m beginning to feel like a mushroom. I don’t think that’s very fair, do you? Explain it to me. Is that coz I’m a woman, or because you don’t trust me?’ She slammed another tin into the cupboard and rummaged angrily in the bag again for the next item.

Starsky could feel the anger rising in his chest, but tried to remain calm. ‘Neither. It’s for your own safety lady, and where do you get off with that attitude? I don’t care whether you’re woman, man or somewhere in the middle. So long as my buddy Traff remains safe and alive that’s fine by me. All I was saying is….’

‘That you’d like some colourful diversion along the way?’ she sneered, interrupting him.

‘…..is that for your own safety, and yeah, for Traff’s safety too it was decided that the fewer people who know this location the better. I just think we ought to try to get along to make the time easier. Now I’ll take my share of the chores, an’ yeah, I can cook, so long as you don’t mind Mexican. And as for “colourful diversions”, don’t flatter yourself lady, you aint my type’.

She stared at him angrily. ‘What do you mean, not your type? What’s wrong with my type?’



‘I don’t like tall chicks, your legs are too long and your tits are too small’ Starsky yelled, loosing his temper completely.

Marion appeared stunned. She stood, a can of peas in her hand with her mouth open before seemingly gathering her thoughts.

‘Well you aren’t my type either, Mister. Wanna know why?’ she snapped.

‘No’ the brunet grinned and walked back into Traff’s room, leaving the woman spluttering in the kitchen.


Hutch drove back down the mountain carefully, constantly checking in his rear view mirror to keep himself satisfied that no one was out there following him. His nerves had been on edge all the previous night and once the first light of dawn had lit the morning sky, he’d set off for the safe house. His fears had been confirmed about being watched when he saw a silver coloured Caddy start to tail him. It was done softly, almost casually and for the first ten minutes, the blond was unsure whether it wasn’t just his imagination playing tricks on him or whether he really did have a tail. Experimentally he tried a few deviations from his course, finally taking them down a dead end. When the silver Caddy followed, his fears were confirmed and from there, he led the company a merry dance before finally flooring his gas pedal and loosing the tail somewhere around the garment district. Despite driving for maybe 20 miles without seeing another car on the road, Hutch was still so concerned that he took a further detour of 50 miles before finally heading up the narrow road and up into the mountains.

Now on his way back down, he felt easier for having seen his partner and friend settled into the safe house. Now all he wanted was a quiet night and some company and once again he made his way in the gathering gloom of the early evening towards the pits. Diverting at the last minute, he checked his apartment again and stole a quick shower and a change of clothes. The house was as he’d left it, slightly untidy and with his customary power shake still in the blender on the countertop. He lifted the lid and sniffed it cautiously, wincing slightly. Well it wouldn’t last till morning, so he threw it down the drain, filled the cup with hot water and left, picking up his black leather jacket on the way out.

Twenty minutes later saw him pulling up in the alley at the back of the Pits. Both his and Starsky’s cars were well known to the regular police clientele and more than once Huggy had observed that it wasn’t good for his trade to have them parked out front. Not that Huggy was crooked, but the odd shady deal did pass his doors, and like a true businessman, if it earned a buck, he’d take it. And so habitually either the Torino or Hutch’s nondescript heap parked at the back, out of the way of prying criminal eyes.

Hutch got out and walked into the bar and over to the counter. Leaning on it and with one foot balanced on the foot rail, he surveyed the scene. Tonight was disco night and Huggy’s was buzzing with life and loud music. But disco night was also the one night of the week that Huggy closed shop early. Or early for him. He aimed to have the bar cleared for 12:00midnight claiming that even cool cats needed some time off. Hutch looked at his watch. 10:00. he was quite happy to stand and drink until closing time and after that he could enjoy some conversation with Huggy before calling it a night. Tomorrow was his day off, so no need to get up early and so long as he phoned Starsky at 6, that was his duty done for the day.

The night stretched on and towards midnight, the DJ announced that the last dance was about to be played. Sweet Alice had been cruising the bar for custom, but there were no takers that night so she and Hutch enjoyed a friendly smooch to the Stylistics song belting out from the record player. With her pretty blond head resting on his shoulder, Hutch rested his cheek on her soft curls and closed his eyes. Under different circumstances, he might be tempted by her constant offers, but for tonight he was happy to cuddle her, hold her tight and enjoy their friendship. As the song came to an end she looked up into his crystal blue eyes and smiled.

‘You sure I can’t tempt ya Handsome Hutch?’ she murmured.

‘You know I’d love to honey. But you’d never respect me in the morning’ he smiled back. He kissed her softly on her cheek and sighed quietly as she made her way out of the bar. Tearing his eyes away from her firm rounded assets, he watched as Huggy professionally got rid of the last stragglers in the bar, locked his door and poured two large glasses of brandy. With two bottles of beer also tucked under his arm, they made their way upstairs to the private room and sagged down into the arm chairs by the bed.

‘Busy day?’ Huggy asked as he watched Hutch sip appreciatively at the brandy.

‘Not busy so much as stressful. I went to see Starsk and Taff’.

‘Yeah? And how are my two amigos hangin’?’

‘They’re ok Hug. It’s just a helluva drive up there. The mountains are beautiful at this time of year, but you know Starsk and anythin’ vaguely “woodsy”. He hates it’. Hutch knew there was no problem telling Huggy about the mountains. The area was so vast that just to mention them wouldn’t put Traff or his partner in jeopardy at all. When he considered, even he didn’t know the right way to address the cabin. All he knew was that it was near Crater Lake and he could drive there. And even though he’d been there, he’d never seen the lake. It could be miles away for all he knew. With the cabin tucked two or three miles down a tiny overgrown track, it was as safe as any house ever could be.

The two lapsed into companionable silence interspersed with brief conversations. Huggy was tired from his days business and Hutch from constant worry. The blond knew he’d never settle truly till after the trial was over, but eventually he forced himself up out of the chair, bid his friend a goodnight and drove home, as content as he could be that Traff and Starsky were safe. Again, his apartment appeared to be fine. No signs of break-ins and no signs of cars following him. Maybe they’d given up. Maybe they’d try something different. With the brandy still warming him, the flaxen haired cop got into bed and within moments was asleep. He remained so for perhaps a half an hour before the telephone jarred him awake and he shot out of bed to answer it.

Expecting the worst, he grabbed the receiver. ‘Starsk?’ he snapped

‘No, its um, Hug. Hutch, um, I need ya to come over here, pronto’ the familiar voice said.

‘Are you ok Huggy? What’s….’ he stared at the phone as it went dead in his hand and with his heart in his mouth, he rapidly got dressed, took his gun and raced back to the bar.

Chapter 6

With gun drawn Hutch approached the Pits cautiously. He’d driven over at top speed, mars light flashing but no siren and as he got to the block on which the bar was situated, he turned off the lights and cut his headlights, killing the engine a moment later to go in dark and silent. Huggy had never telephoned him in the middle of the night before and there was an edge of something that sounded terribly like fear to the black man’s voice. Hutch suspected something serious was going down and he wanted to be prepared.

Drawing the car to a halt, he got out, checked his big Colt Magnum Python and held it loosely in his right hand as he hugged the wall and the shadows. He’d feel stupid if this was just an innocent call, but felt it better to err on the side of caution. There was no-one around now at going up for 3 in the morning and quietly he pushed at the front door of the bar, cursing under his breath as it gave beneath his touch and swung inwards – not good. Huggy had locked it, he knew for certain. Waiting for a moment, Hutch ducked down and dived inside, quickly covering the ground to hide behind one of the wooden pillars inside the room. As his eyes became accustomed to the light level, he saw that not only was some of the furniture overturned, but some of the chairs were broken and whoever had gotten into the bar had enjoyed themselves with the bottles behind the bar top. Now the air was heavy with the aroma of hard liquor and there was the sharp, bright glint of broken glass on the floor.

The flaxen haired cop listened carefully but could hear nothing at all and slowly he made his way across the room and to the foot of the stairs leading to the small room he’d used with Huggy earlier in the evening.

Still nothing.

His set his foot on the first step, testing it, making sure it wouldn’t give a squeak and give away his location, but the step remained silent and he gently and quietly walked up the rest. The fourth step was loose, he knew and he stepped over that one, from third to fifth, likewise avoiding the third step from the top which habitually sung like a nightingale if stood upon too eagerly. The cop paused at the top of the stairs, breathing heavily despite having climbed the treads slowly. He rested his back against the wall by the door and placed his hand on the brass door handle, easing it down until the door gave with a quiet snick.

Peering inside, Hutch saw that the room was still illuminated at one end by the lamp on the long low sideboard, although he couldn’t see the black bartender anywhere. Maybe he was in the small bathroom off. But neither could he see anyone else and with the utmost caution, he pushed the door open further and walked in.

‘Hug?’ he hissed, his eyes flitting around the room. Oddly there was no sign of struggle up here, but whether that was a good or a bad thing, Hutch didn’t know. With gun still cocked, he walked into the room as if going to check out the bathroom and as he got to the corner, where the L shaped layout showed the queen sized bed, he saw that Huggy was indeed in residence, but was tied to one of the hard ladder backed chairs, a gag taped into his mouth and his eyes wide and pleading above it.

In the second it took Hutch to take in the sight and sounds of Huggy’s muffled shouts and shaking head, the flake behind Hutch rushed forward and took a hold of him round the throat. Immediately the flaxen haired cop put his hands up, trying to pry the strong forearm from across his windpipe where it was effectively cutting off any attempt at breathing, He pulled with all his might at the muscle corded arm, bending forward to try to dislodge his assailant but whoever it was was marginally taller than the cop and managed to keep his balance.

The blond was becoming desperate. His oxygen starved brain told him he needed air, his lungs burned with the need to take a breath and his limbs were becoming weaker as his vision started to fail. At first the periphery started to shut down, tiny red pinpricks dancing in front of his eyes as the dark margins of his sight started to close in. A deathly gurgle escaped his crushed throat and his last thought as unconsciousness overtook him was that he hoped Starsky would be safe.

In front of him, Huggy yelled into his gag, his nostrils flaring above it as he tried ineffectually to get to his friend. The man behind Hutch hung on until the tall golden body became limp and once he was sure there was no fight left in it, he flung the cop to one side like a rag doll, landing him on the bed. Hutch remained where he’d been dumped, insensate and of no help to the bar man. The man crossed to Huggy and back handed the barkeep across his face, grinning at the muffled grunt that the action evoked.

‘I told ya to be quiet’ he said in a strong Mexican accent. ‘There will be time for you to talk later’.


Hutch felt that something was different as he started to wake up. He could have sworn that he’d been standing up the last time he could remember anything clearly. He searched his memories. Yeah. Huggy's. He’d gone over to Huggy’s coz of a phone call and had…..oh my God. Huggy, tied to a chair! Shit. Wake up Hutchy! He tried to run a hand over his face to clear his foggy mind and that’s when it hit that he was sitting upright, tied into place on one of the wooden chairs, just like Huggy had been. Great, now what?

The cop didn’t have to wait long for an answer. With his eyes still closed it came as a complete shock when an ice cold bowl of water was thrown into his face and a hand took hold of a fistful of hair and yanked back his head. Hutch opened his eyes and spat out some of the water at his assailant. With his long neck stretched taut it was once again difficult to breathe, and sufficiently hard that he couldn’t force the question from his lips. Sensing the strain was too much for the captive to use his voice the three men surrounding the blond eased up slightly and let go of Hutch’s head. The cop groaned quietly and his chin sunk to his chest as he tried to get his breathing under control. He looked up at the men, his eyes flitting from one to the next and he remained quiet. He knew what they wanted and he wasn’t going to make it easy for them. Across the way, Huggy, still tied to his own chair, stared back with scared but defiant soup plate eyes.

‘Detective Hutchinson we presume’ the lead man said. ‘So nice to finally meet you. You led us quite a chase through the city for the past couple of days’.

‘Didn’t like the company’ Hutch grunted and received a backhander for his trouble. Coppery blood seeped into his mouth from the cut lip and he sucked at it as he eyed the men again. Shit, this was gonna be a long night!

‘Enough small talk Hutchinson. You know why we’re here, so make it simple for yourself and tell us where that no good piece of shit soldier is’.

Hutch stared defiantly back and grinned through his injured lips. ‘Got no idea what you’re talkin’ about’ he muttered.

The man in front of him grunted and the other two descended on him. The blond found himself in the middle of a welter of flying fists which all connected painfully and accurately with his face, head and chest. At some point he heard Huggy’s muffled yells at them to stop and he felt things other than fists connecting with his body. They hurt more than any fist would and he thought they may be using a plank of wood or maybe a baseball bat. Whatever it was he felt a rib break and then another and he screamed.

‘Enough Ramon. Not too much. He needs to be able to talk to us. Be careful of his face. RAMON!’

The blows stopped. How long had they been hitting him? Hutch had no idea of the passage of time, but he thought that they’d be at him for at least a century. Each bone and muscle in his upper body and head ached or twinged or felt broken in some way. He could taste more of the blood in his mouth and he could also smell the coppery tang around him. One eye had swollen shut immediately and the side of his face felt like it was on fire. What had they shouted out? Ramon? His mind took him back to a more comfortable time as his body sagged against its bonds

Essa Ramon aqui? Got it? Say it back to me. No, ya gotta roll the R Starsk. Essa Rrrrramon aqui?

Starsky. Oh God Starsk, make yourself safe buddy. Get the hell outa that cabin some way. I’ll hold out as long as I can, but they’re good. They’ll beat me to a pulp an’ I promise I won’t tell ‘em anythin’ Promise Gordo.

The hand returned to his scalp, taking hold of sweat and blood matted hair and pulled his head back. Hutch managed to open his one good eye enough to stare back at his torturer.

‘Have you had enough? How would it be if we said we’d spare that curly headed partner of yours and just take out the soldier? Will you tell us where he is?’

‘Go…..fffffuck yourselfffff’ Hutch managed to mumble through his smashed mouth before the fists and bats came back for round two.

At some point during the next half an hour, the blond passed out. His body just couldn’t take the constant barrage of blows that rained down upon it, most of the blows now overlying bruises and broken bones. At one point, just before he lost consciousness, Hutch coughed, spitting bright red frothy blood onto the shoes of the man in front of him. Breathing was becoming an issue and the scarlet froth confirmed that one or more of his broken ribs had punctured a lung. The cop didn’t know how much more of the treatment he could take, but he was satisfied now that he wouldn’t tell. His nerves were reacting less and less to the pains of the blows and he knew he was on the downward spiral into unconsciousness and as one final blow landed on the side of his face, the world mercifully winked out.

The men stopped immediately. They were professionals. No use wasting energy on a body unless they could hear the grunts and screams, although disappointingly, this one had only screamed once. They stood back, panting in a semi circle around the bruised, torn and bleeding cop as they took out a pack of cigarettes and passed them around. In the quiet after the noise of the beating, they stood around chatting comfortably and blowing the blue smoke into the air.

‘He aint gonna talk’ one of them observed almost sadly. The group took pride in their work and admired anyone who could withstand what they could dish out.

‘You’re right. Time we changed tack. Someone is gonna tell us. I think he’s too tough to break. He seems to enjoy the pain. But somehow I get the feelin’ if we target the other, sooner or later we’ll break his resolve. Wake him up’ Ramon told them

Hutch woke slowly as another bowl of water was thrown over him. The water bit at his wounds and stung the cuts and grazes over his face and shoulders. He moaned pitifully and with an effort raised his head.

‘Sorry to ruin your beauty sleep, but we still have unfinished business’. Ramon reached out and almost gently he put his hand under Hutch’s chin. The cop flinched, hissing softly as he tried to pull away from the touch and Ramon smiled. ‘Tell me where Major Trafford is being kept. This is your last chance cop. If you want to see your lanky black friend alive again’.

That got Hutch’s attention and he tried to focus on the man in front of him. Huggy’s eyes had flown wide open at the mention of his name. He’d desperately wanted to help the blond in some way and while the flakes were beating the crap from his friend he’d closed his eyes wishing he could stuff his fingers into his ears to blot out the stifled cries and groans from the flaxen haired man. Twice he’d heard Hutch call weakly for Starsky and his heart had bled for the cop he called friend. And now he knew he was going to get more of the same.

While not a coward, Huggy preferred the more comfortable things in life. He was street wise enough to have seen violence throughout his life and he hated it. He was a pacifist at heart and didn’t even own a gun and as the gag was ripped from his dry mouth and he worked his jaw to get life back into the lower portion of his face, he regarded Hutch’s bruised and bleeding body with sympathy…..and dread. The men circled him and across the room he saw Hutch struggling to get out of his chair.

‘He don’t know nothin’ the blond yelled with all his remaining strength. ‘Leave him alone. If ya want more, I got plenty left’ the brave cop mumbled.

Ramon looked at Hutch, and then nodded to the men. Their first action was to stub their cigarettes out on the barkeeps chest and Huggy’s thin body jangled against its bonds on the chair. He clamped his mouth closed, his lips a thin line sealed over his teeth as he sucked in deep breaths through flared nostrils. Again they went through the same procedure, targeting Huggy’s head and chest with their fists and bat and for the most part, the black man tried to remain quiet, determined not to give his friend any more pain than necessary, but as the bat connected once again with his side, he screamed out, unable to stop himself. And at that one animalistic sound, the beating stopped and the men looked expectantly at their leader.

Ramon crossed to Hutch and knelt down by the side of the bound cop. ’Haven’t you had enough? Hasn’t he had enough? Just tell us before one of you dies huh? Where are they keeping Major Trafford?

Through his one good eye Hutch looked at Huggy’s burned, bleeding body. The black man was near collapse, his thin frame leaning forwards, supported only by the ropes around his arms anchoring him to the chair. A string of blood stained saliva beaded from his smashed lips and there was a tooth laying white and blood stained on the ground. Huggy would never withstand more of this treatment, and Hutch didn’t think he could take much more either. He was more than grateful that the barkeep had kept his mouth shut, although in truth, Huggy knew very little of Starsky and Traff’s whereabouts. The mountain was big and Hutch could find the place by driving there, but had no idea how he could describe the address. He made his decision, hoping it might buy some time.

Wearily he raised his head and looked Ramon in the eye.

‘Crater Lake’ he whispered painfully. ‘Just don’t ‘urt im no more’.

The Mexican stood triumphantly. ‘Crater Lake’ he announced. ‘Knew he’d see sense. Finish that one and let’s get outa here’.

With a grin, the men gathered their stuff up and as a parting shot, the man with the baseball bat took one more vicious swing at Huggy’s head, knocking the man and the chair sideways before rushing to join his comrades as they rushed out of the bar.

Chapter 7

There was hardly any sound in the room now that the four men had departed. The sounds of the blows had left an eerie silence behind interspersed only by the ragged wheezing as the blond cop fought for each breath. Very slowly, he became more aware of his surroundings until he felt the time was probably right to open his eyes and look around. He’d heard no more footsteps or voices and dimly remembered hearing the flakes depart, but up until now Hutch had been unable to rejoin the world, his body trying its best to start the healing process.

With a low groan he tried to get himself upright again, his shoulders feeling the burn of being tied behind him for so long and taking the brunt of the weight of his body leaning forward. As he sat upright, circulation started to return and he groaned again, sucking in his breath despite the knife like pains in his chest.

Huggy was laying on the floor where he’d been thrown. The barkeep had remained stoically tight lipped throughout the ordeal and Hutch felt badly for him. This was a bad case of “wrong place wrong time” and his friend had suffered terribly as a result.

Hutch cleared his throat. ‘Hug’ he croaked, his voice weak and thready.

There was no response and the blond tried again, a little louder. ‘Huggy?’ It was only then, as he looked harder at the lanky body on the floor that he saw the trickles of blood coming from mouth, nose and worryingly ears too. Damn. Not good. Not good at all.

The cop knew he needed to get to his friend fast, but a myriad of thoughts were ploughing through his head. Huggy, Traff, Starsky. All needed his help and he felt dirty and cheap that he’d finally been forced to give away the safe house general location to the goons. Forced to trade the life of one friend against the lives of two others. It was an impossible decision to make and now he wondered if, despite the information, they’d already robbed Huggy of his life. He wriggled painfully on his chair. Fortunately, the flakes had concentrated on his face and head and upper body leaving his legs relatively unscathed and although it hurt to think, talk and breathe, he thought he may be able to walk if only he could get out of the chair.

Carefully, he felt along the hard wooden ladder back of the chair and realised that he had one piece of good luck. While they’d secured his arms behind him, they hadn’t tied them to the chair and he could managed, albeit painfully, to slither his arms over the back, freeing himself to try to get to the sideboard where he hoped to find a knife or scissors to cut his bonds.

As he leaned forward and pulled at his arms, he screamed, the broken ribs grating against each other and enveloping his chest in a scarlet blaze of agony. He sucked in more air and managed to get to his feet. He was dizzy. Weaker than he thought and he swayed, in danger of toppling over. He thought he may have a concussion, but since he could think and feel and reason, he deduced that maybe it wasn’t too bad. Whatever. He needed help, now.

Staggering, he made his way over to the low sideboard and managed to pry open both shallow drawers. They bore only two bottle openers and a part opened jar of olives. In desperation, Hutch took the glass jar and dropped it on the floor, hoping it may smash and give him a shard of glass with which to free himself. But on the carpeted floor it did nothing more than bounce and the blond whimpered in frustration, feeling himself losing control.

Looking round he spotted the telephone on the bedside cabinet and praying that the flakes hadn’t been around long enough to see and disconnect it, he took a breath and staggered over to the bed, feeling dizzier and weaker by the moment. He perched down on the edge of the mattress and leaned forward, sitting of a range of pains that left his body enveloped in a scarlet blaze of agony. He gently nudged the receiver from the cradle and felt a rush of relief as he heard the dial tone and carefully he pressed the 0 with his nose, his head resting on the hard wood of the cabinet as he waited for a reply. A moment later a business like voice came on the line and he interrupted her, knowing time was of the essence.

‘This is D’tective….’Utchinson….Bay City PD. Officer down…..Pits Bar….urgent’ he breathed into the phone, hoping she could hear him.

To her credit the woman was unflappable. ‘Officer down a the Pits Bar. Do you require backup?’

‘No…..amb’lance…..urgent’ he gasped before his breath gave out and he toppled forwards onto the floor.

The hard wood connecting with his head jarred his teeth, but brought him up short. Not yet Hutchy. Stay focussed just a while longer. Huggy. See to Huggy. With a groan, the blond rolled over onto his side, using his elbow to try and get upright again. But the pains and his maltreatment had taken their toll and he had little energy left for anything other than breathing. Instead of managing to sit up or get to his knees, the best Hutch could do was to push himself along the ground until he was close enough to Huggy to ensure that the black man’s chest was still moving in and out. With a final sigh, the flaxen haired cop closed his eyes and allowed the pain free blackness to swallow him up.


The cabin was warm and cosy that first afternoon. After Hutch left, Starsky started rummaging in the cupboards for whatever food was available and as Marion watched with a small smile on her face, the brunet set to chopping onions and soaking kidney beans. Within and hour and a half, the cop served up a bowl of chilli and rice and took out a smaller portion for the soldier. He picked up the two bowls and two forks and headed for Traff’s room, brushing past the woman as she sat in the living room.

‘Smells good’ she offered, looking around for a third bowl.

‘Said I could cook’ Starsky said.

‘Where’s mine?’ she asked.

‘In the pan. Help yourself, an’ tomorrow it’s your turn’ the brunet said coldly and nudged into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Marion watched him go and cursed under her breath, not knowing how long she could keep up the pretence. Why did they both have to be so damned cute? Maybe she could still afford a little bit of fun. The injured Major wouldn’t put up too much resistance, she felt sure.

As the evening drew to a close, the weather around the cabin drew in and as Starsky closed the curtains, checked the perimeter of the wooden house, walked back in and locked the door behind him, the first rattle of raindrops sounded on the tin roof and the room lit up like a candle by the flash of lightening.

‘Looks like it’s gonna be a doozy’ Marion said, peering out of the window at the impenetrable darkness.

‘What’s up sweetheart. Scared of thunder?’ Starsky asked with a friendly grin. Despite her temper earlier, he was still hoping he could win the woman round and thaw out her frosty exterior. She gave him a withering look.

‘I’m going to bed. See you in the morning’ she snapped and closed the door of her bedroom behind her. The brunet grinned to himself. If anyone could get under her skin and rattle her, he was pretty sure he could. Checking once again that Traff was safe and sleeping, the cop padded into his own room, placed his gun under his pillow and led down fully clothed to sleep.

In the bedroom next door, Marion tossed and turned on her own bed, her dreams taking on a markedly erotic twist as she imagined her hands running up and down the brunet cop's body...or Traff's...or maybe both. Once or twice she moaned their names in her sleep, her hand twictchig on the pillow, her mind allowing her in sleep to think what she wouldn't allow herself to dream during the day.

The storm raged for most of the night, the thunder deafening as it echoed around the mountain tops, ricocheting from one to the other in an awe inspiring power dance of nature. Jagged forks of lightening lit up the inside of the cabin as though it were midday and there were eerie crashes and bumps around the outside of the wooden house which left Marion's spine tingling. It continued for several hours unleashing untold forces on the woods and towards morning, with the storm at it's worst, there was an enormous crash right in front of the house, shaking it on it's foundations. The rain pounding on the tin roof reached a staccato crescendo deafened Marion’s ears as she lay awake and despite pulling the pillow over her head, the noise was still such that she couldn’t sleep further. And then it started to abate. The rain cleared, the lightening faded away and a calm descended on the woods so that when the first light of morning tinged the horizon, there was nothing left of the deluge but the gentle patter of water dripping from the leaves. As Starsky, who had slept through the whole thing woke and opened the front door, the air that met him was clean and fresh and had an invigorating quality to it which left him feeling happy and relaxed. The brunet stood on the top step of the cabin's entrance and rubbed his hands through his hair, scratching idly at his bared chest. He jumped as he heard a voice behind him.

'Has it finished finally?'

He turned to see Marion peering round him at the great outdoors.

'Yeah. Looks like it was a doozy'.

'You mean you slept through it?' she asked amazed.

'What? A little storm like that? Don’t tell me it gave ya nightmares after all'.

She smiled a funny, secretive smile. 'Not nightmares exactly, no. But dreams, yeah. Do you want coffee?’

Starsky looked sideways at her. Suddenly she seemed a little softer this morning. Less abrupt and sharp. Was he getting to her? Was the ice maiden melting?

‘Yeah sure. I’m gonna go check on Traff. He’s gonna want to be up an’ about this mornin’. He hates bein’ in bed. Coffee would be good. An’ one for him too?’ She nodded and he watched her slim hips as she walked back inside. A moment later there was a small cry and he bolted back into the room.

‘What?’ he asked. Marion was standing by the cabinet on which the telephone lived, one hand holding the phone at arms length, the other up to her face as though she’d seen a snake. And he knew what that felt like, his mind taking him back to the week long camping trip at the Dobey cabin. When he’d opened the fridge and the rattler had fallen out he staggered back and ended up on his butt on the floor, sweating and shaking all over and paralysed with fear as the reptile slithered closer. He took a quick snake check on their vicinity and thankfully came up empty.

‘What?’ he asked again, perplexed.

‘The phone. It’s dead’ she said quietly.

The brunet took the receiver from her hand, checked it and replaced it on the cradle. ‘Its probably the storm knocked down the power lines. No problem. Hutch’ll know the problem if he hears its dead. The storm’ll have hit the city too’.

‘Yeah, but….’ It looked like she was about to say something else, but stopped herself at the last minute.

Starsky couldn't resist. ‘Whassup sweetheart? Can’t get in touch with your hairdresser?’

She snatched her hand away from his, gave him a dirty look and flounced away, heading for the bedroom. ‘Hey, what about the coffee?’ he shouted after her.

‘You know where the pot is’ she flung over her shoulder as she slammed the door behind her.

The cop grinned and then shrugged. If he lived to be a hundred he’d never get a handle on women. And especially this woman. She blew hot and cold. One minute she was nice as a dime, the second she was like his worst enemy – a walking advert for PMT. Walking into Traff’s room he saw his friend was awake and grinning.

‘You an’ her! What’re ya like? Just leave it Curly. You’re floggin’ a dead horse with that one’.

Starsky sat down on the edge of his bed. ‘You didn’t see us outside earlier. She thinks I’m ok. She was almost friendly. There aint much else to do round here. I guess she’s my project’.

The soldier sighed. ‘Well don’t say I didn’t warn ya Chief’.

‘Wanna get up today?’

The man in the bed grinned. ‘Is the Pope a Catholic? Just try an’ hold me back’.

For the next half an hour, the two men struggled to get the soldier dressed around his sling in his customary off duty clothes, which echoed Starsky’s own taste; threadbare jeans, a comfortable black tee shirt and sneakers. The wound on Traff’s shoulder was still sore and there was some infection in there, but the antibiotics he was taking, although they made him feel nauseous, were fighting the bugs and the soldier was itching to be up and around.

By the end of the process, Traff was sweating and feeling more tired than he liked to let on. As he stood for the first time in days, he felt weak and dizzy, but he swallowed down the palpitations and leaning heavily on Starsky he made his way into the living room and flopped down onto the sofa. Pleased with himself he took his first good look at the surroundings. Although not the Hilton, the place was warm and homely and as he sat down, Marion emerged from her bedroom and went into the kitchen. Moments later, she appeared with a mug of freshly brewed coffee which she placed in front of the Major. As she did so, she stared at Starsky as though challenging him to say something. She sat beside the soldier and solicitously held the cup for him until he was settled. Starsky looked around pointedly for his mug. Marion glared back, making evident she’d made one drink and one only. Sighing deeply, the brunet got up and headed outside.

‘I’m gonna go get some exercise’ he muttered to no-one in particular and closed the front door behind him

The cop wasn’t a vain man. He thought of himself as average looking and although he didn’t really have a problem with getting the girls, he was wary of long term relationships. Only a couple of women had ever made him think of marriage and only one had actually provoked the question to come to his lips. She’d been in a hospital room at the time and hadn’t answered him outright. Days later, they were back in the same room and it was too late to put the question again. He sighed. Marion was a challenge. He didn’t really like her. He didn’t get on with her that was for sure. But he saw her as hurdle to get over and he was nothing if not persistent. But he liked women and men to be straightforward with him and Marion was as convoluted as a spring. He couldn’t get into her rhythm and her sudden mood swings made him feel on edge and uncertain. Exercise might bring clarity and it would certainly work off his anxiety.

Looking around he saw a small lean to by the side of the cabin stocked with logs, a convenient chopping block outside and an axe hung on a nail by the door opening. That was as good an exercise as any and he walked over and hefted the axe. It felt good in his hands, the well used wooden handle velvety smooth in his hands and in preparation he stretched his arms and back, mindful of his left shoulder. The bullet wound from the Italian Restaurant had healed months ago, but left him a little stiff before exercise.

Carefully placing the first log on the block he swung the axe and brought it down with a heavy, pleasing "thunk" on the top of the log. It split cleanly in two and he reached for the next one, propping it up ready as he heard a noise behind him. As the brunet turned, he saw Marion walking towards him from the front door and he cursed under his breath. Wouldn’t she just leave him alone?

‘What do you want?’ he asked as he swung the implement again.

‘See if I can help’.

‘What, with this?’ he asked.

‘Oh, I get it. This is man’s work and making coffee is for women. Is that it? Talk about chauvinistic attitudes’.

The cop leaned slightly breathless on the handle of the axe and stared at her. ‘Ya want to take a swing, go ahead’.

She snickered at him. ‘Don’t let me stop your man fun. I’ll run along and wash the pots huh?’

Quick as a flash Starsky reached out to grasp her arm, fully intending to bring her back to reason with her. Or at least question her attitude which he felt needed a severe adjustment, but she snatched her hand away, clutched his own wrist and with impressive speed, folded his arm neatly up his back high enough that he was standing on tiptoe to release the pressure.

‘What the…..’

‘Still think I’m a weakling woman?’ Marion hissed in his ear.

The brunet leaned forward, using the woman’s momentum to his advantage. He stuck out his hip and rolled her effortlessly over it so that she landed on her back on the ground. Kneeling above her and with a knee either side of her body he leaned over and grinned.

‘Never said you were weak, but this kinda proves my point’ he panted.

Cold brown eyes glared up at him and Starsky was about to let her up when Marion slipped from underneath him and in a tangle of arms and legs reversed the position. Now Starsky was on his back and Marion had her knees pinning his shoulders to the ground. Her crotch was inches from his face and if this had been any other woman he might have enjoyed the experience. But this was Captain Marion Hadley. She grasped his wrists and pinned his arms above his head as she grinned wolfishly at him.

‘First rule of engagement. Never be the first to relax’.

Starsky brought his knee up behind her and into her back, using all the momentum of his body and flipped her over his head so that she landed with a thud on her back and lost the grip she’d had on his hands. The cop sprang to his feet and stood over her.

‘Second rule of engagement. Never let your opponent take you by surprise’. He turned on his heel to get back to the wood chopping and as he bent to pick up the axe from where he’d left it, he felt something hard and cold digging into his side. Recognising it instantly, he straightened slowly, hardly daring to breathe. With his hands out at the side of his body he looked down to see the pistol muzzle digging into his ribs.

‘What the hell?’ he asked softly, trying to turn to see Marion’s face.

‘Third rule of engagement. Expect the unexpected’ she said, seeing with pleasure the alarm that registered on his handsome face. Slowly she withdrew the weapon and tucked it into the back of her waistband before turning briskly on her heel and walking back to the house.

‘Coffee will be ready soon’ she said lightly as she closed the door behind her.


Hutch awoke to the metallic taste of blood and morphine. He lay with his eyes closed for several moments, measuring just how much he hurt and what damage seemed to have been done. He vaguely remembered the paramedics arriving at Huggy’s upstairs room along with two of the detectives from his own squad room. But he was in too much pain to tell them much and as soon as he realised that help had at last arrived, he allowed himself the luxury of unconsciousness.

‘Starsk?’ he whispered and was surprised that there was no answering pressure on his shoulder or a curly head coming into view.


Slowly he allowed his eyes to drift open and stared for a moment at the ceiling. Must be Memorial. County General had a blue painted ceiling and this was white. Ok Hutchy. Entirely too much time spent in these places if you can tell where you are by the colour of the paintwork.

His eyes followed the ceiling to the corner and dipped down the wall before finally he realised he could look at his feet. Why was he here? OMG yeah. Remember now. The flakes that beat me up. And Huggy. Where’s Huggy? And how long have I been here? Ok, so not led flat. That’s a good sign. If he was propped up, things couldn’t be too bad. And then he looked sideways and saw Dobey fast asleep and snoring gently by his bed. He hissed in pain as bruises and cuts registered their attendance and the black man was immediately awake.

‘Easy son. You’ve had a bad time. Here let me call the doctor for ya’.

‘How long have I been here?’ Hutch rasped, recognising the effects of anaesthetics and pain meds lingering in his body.

‘About 18 hours. When we got to the Pits you were almost unconscious. They had a time with you. Doc. says you have three broken ribs. You had a procedure to put a chest drain in coz your lung was punctured. It needed re-inflating – it had collapsed. And um…..your face isn’t quite as pretty as it was. You’re gonna be sore for a while’.

Hutch grunted. To do much else was too painful.

‘Where’s Hug?’

Dobey’s face fell. ‘He um…..he’s not too good. He’s in another part of the hospital’.

The blond’s eyebrows V’d. ‘Why?’

‘It’s not your fault, you have to realise that son. You did everything you could to save him’.

‘He’s not….’

‘No, no, he’s not dead’ the black man reassured him. ‘But he’s in Intensive Care. Hutch, they have him on life support’.

‘Noooo’ the sound was a cross between a cry and a sigh and the flaxen haired cop rested his head back on the pillow, his eyes closed.

‘I need t’see him’.

‘When you’re well enough you can. He wouldn’t know you were there. They um….don’t hold out much hope’.

‘Fuck. Poor Huggy’

There was a pause.

‘What time is it?’ he asked

‘Goin’ up for six in the evening. Why?’

‘Coz I said I’d ring Starsk each night at six. An’ if I don’t, he’ll wonder what’s goin’ on. He needs to be warned’ Hutch’s heart rate sped up on the monitor he was attached to and he tried to reach for Dobey’s arm.

‘S’ok son. Don’t worry. I can see to it. Just rest’ the Captain shushed.

‘No….don’t understand. I think….’ Hutch’s eyes were wild. ‘Oh god! I think I told ‘em where he was’.

Chapter 8

The doctor came to see Hutch later that evening. The blond though still drugged was restless and anxious and as the medic cut away the bandages around his chest, osculated it and pressed his stethoscope against his back, Hutch waited impatiently for the diagnosis. The doctor, a young man who barely looked old enough to carry out the job smiled and declared that the cop’s lung was behaving itself and that the chest drain could be removed. The flaxen haired cop breathed a careful sigh of relief and asked how much longer he’d have to stay at the hospital.

‘Detective, you have quite substantial injuries still. You may be able to breathe a little easier, but that’s mostly because of the drugs still in your system. To catalogue your injuries, you have a concussion, a fractured cheekbone, you’ve loosened several teeth. You have three broken ribs and you’ve just recovered from a collapsed lung. Any sudden movement could cause it to spontaneously collapse again. You’ve got extensive bruising over your back and chest and although your left arm isn’t broken, its badly bruised and as you can see, heavily bandaged. Is that enough to tell you that you need to stay put at least for another couple of days?’

‘I can’t’ Hutch said simply.

‘Didn’t your Mother ever tell you there’s no such word as “can’t”?’

‘There is when you’re a cop’ the blond insisted. ‘I need to be outa here’.

‘And I’m telling you that I’m keeping you here for another 48 hours. No arguments or I’ll order the nurses to sedate you. You need rest and you need to allow your body to heal’.

Hutch sighed, knowing he couldn’t win this round of arguments and instead he changed tack.

‘The guy I came in with, Huggy Brown. Can I see him? It’s important’.

The medic sighed. ‘What part of rest don’t you understand? Resting means staying in your bed, not gallivanting around my hospital’.

‘Look Doc. I’m not gonna be able to rest until I see him. So it’s either you get me a wheelchair an’ my Captain wheels me down to see him, or I get outa bed and make my own way down there. The choice is yours’.

‘I don’t…..’

Hutch reached up and took hold of the doctor’s sleeve. ‘My friend is lying close to death because of me. At least give me the chance to go see him, while there’s still some time. Please?’

‘Fine. I can see I’m not going to win. I’ll have the nurse bring a chair in here. After that you can have ten minutes with Mr Brown. And then I’ll expect you back here. Deal?’

Hutch made a noncommittal grunt and the doctor left.

‘I told you he’s unconscious son’ Dobey said softly. ‘It won’t be….’

‘I need to do it Cap’n. For me. He was damned brave back there. He never said a word. I owe him’.

A nurse appeared moments later with a silver tray full of instruments and Hutch submitted without comment as she set about dousing his side with antiseptic and preparing the site. She snipped the two stitches which held the drain tube into his side and he coughed when ordered as the girl pulled the murderous object from the space between his ribs. It felt odd. Painful to have to cough with broken ribs and not pleasant either, as though someone had put a hand into his chest and was rummaging around. Sticking the edges of the small hole together with tape stitches, the nurse taped a white dressing over his side and once again bound up his broken ribs, encasing his chest in a twenty inch loop of hell that both supported his ribs and caused them to ache viciously.

At the end of it, the cop was sweating and several shades paler but still as determined as ever to see Huggy. The nurse brought a wheelchair into the room and helped him from the bed and into it. Putting the drip bag onto the stand attached, she stood back.

‘Ok Cinderella. You have till midnight before you change into a pumpkin. Be back here by then ok?’

‘Sure’ Hutch grunted, his pain and anxiety not even allowing his usual repartee with the hospital staff. He nodded once at his Captain and Dobey started to push him through the corridors to the Intensive Care Unit. They pushed the door open and entered the quiet, warm and dim interior. Dobey pushed the chair over to a bed by the nurses’ station, the area around it being filled with machinery.

Huggy’s thin broken body lay still and hardly breathing on the air mattress, a single sheet covering his middle and his dark skin mottled by purple bruises and blood red grazes and cuts. A tube was taped to his mouth and attached to a ventilator and the soft hiss whoosh marked the up and down motions of the black man’s chest. Tubes fed into his arms, wires attached to his chest led to other monitors.

Gone was the happy laconic style of the man. This shell was not Huggy Bear, colourful owner of the Pits. Hutch closed his eyes, willing himself not to cry, but there was an enormous lump in his throat as he thought back to the stoical silence of the brave man as he watched Hutch beaten, knowing he was likely to be next.

Despite his own pains, Hutch levered himself out of the chair and hobbled over to the bed, taking hold of Huggy’s hand.

‘Hey buddy. How’re ya doin’? It’s me, Hutch’.

The machine continued its quiet work and there was no sign that the man on the bed could hear him. Huggy’s entire head was swathed in a white bandage, his eyes blackened and bruises and swollen closed.

‘I’m sorry buddy. Hug, I’m gonna catch the bastards that did this. If it’s the last thing I do, I’m gonna get ‘em and nail ‘em and make ‘em pay. You gotta hang in there Hug. Hang in there. I know you can do that. For me. For Starsk’.

The blond paused, looking for the strength to continue. He waited a moment until his voice was steady again and then continued.

‘I have to go away for a while Hug. To find them and to warn Starsk. But I’ll be back. Promise I will and you have to hang in there until I’m back here with my partner. I want to see that big Huggy grin when I get back huh? Ya hear me Hug?’

The flaxen haired cop stepped back and almost fell into the wheelchair, motioning for Dobey to wheel him out of the room and as they got into the corridor the Captain stopped.

‘What was that all about? You have to leave? You have to warn Starsky? You aint goin’ nowhere Hutch. You’re in no fit state to….’

Hutch struggled to turn round in the chair and glared up at his boss. ‘I’m walkin’ and talkin’ so I’m fit to go find those bastards and you aint gonna stop me. Now get me into the bathroom and find me some pants’. He stopped momentarily, hearing the familiar phrase from his own lips.

OK find my pants.

Got your watch buddy.

You forgot my pants? You want me to hit the streets with no pants, no badge, no gun……no dignity? Do you believe him?’

Starsky. Another guy whose life he had fucked up royally. God Starsk, don’t let ‘em find ya. I only told ‘em Crater Lake. It’s a vast area. Just hang on till I can get to ya, or at least get to a phone.

‘Hutchinson, you heard the doctor. You need to rest. At least wait here. If I ring him, you won’t need to go find him will ya? You’re not thinking straight. Just cool it’.

The blond stopped in his tracks. Sure. The phone. Why didn’t he think of that? Dobey was right. The pain and the meds were still arguing with him and he needed to think things through. The sight of his friend Huggy being kept alive by a host of machinery had knocked him for six and he needed to stop, regroup and get a plan. He nodded at the Captain.

‘Sure. Go quick huh? He’ll be wondering why I didn’t call’. He watched as Dobey disappeared down the corridor and looked around the place he’d been “parked”. Opposite was a linen store and with a grunt, he managed to get himself out of the chair again, unhooked the drip bag from the stand and staggered into the small room. His eyes travelled the mounds of linen stacked neatly on the shelves lining the room, past the sheets, covers and across to his target. He rummaged through the piles of scrubs tops and pants and found some that he thought may fit. Hoping that no-one would come in he plunged his legs into the white pants and with difficulty he ties the drawstring waist. The top however, posed more of a problem as the drip was still attached to his hand.

The blond had no intention of staying in the hospital, phone call or no. He knew he wouldn’t be able to rest until he saw that his two friends in the mountains were safe and there was no way on God’s green earth that he’d allow Dobey or anyone else to go and check on them. He heaped the guilt upon himself until it weighed him down and fell like a duvet across his shoulders. This was his fault. He was stupid to think that he’d lost the tail for good out in the city. He was crazy to have gone to the Pits that night and put Huggy in danger and he was weak for not being able to protect his black friend from the goons in the room. He was the only one who could make this right and he couldn’t do that from a hospital bed.

Fatalistically he picked the tape off the back of his hand and winced as he pulled the inch and a half long cannula out of his flesh. Bright red blood welled up through the tiny hole and he grabbed at a sheet and pushed it against the flow until it stopped. Dropping the needle onto the floor, He shouldered painfully and carefully into the scrubs top and leaned back against the wall for a moment to catch his breath. Any movement jarred his sore ribs, but he had the strength of his convictions behind him and the thoughts of Starsky and Traff in the cabin drove him on.

Hutch opened the door and peered outside. He was unsure whether to wait for Dobey to return, or just to go on his own, but there again, he needed to know whether his captain had got a message through to his partner. And the little matter of having no shoes and no transport…..As he started to hobble back to the waiting chair, Dobey came racing back round the corner and was brought up short by the site of the cop dressed and sans drip.

‘Hutchinson?’ he bellowed as Hutch held up a bandaged hand

‘Did you get through to him?’ the blond asked.

Dobey’s face turned stony. ‘Phone line’s dead….and before….HUTCHINSON!’ he tried to put a hand on Hutch’s arm to hold him down, but the cop was half way out of the chair again.

‘That’s it. I can’t wait for those goons to get up there and give my friends a taste of the treatment Huggy got. I need to get up there. I need to make sure they’re ok, or stop any…..To stop them bein’ hurt’.

‘And what use are you gonna be to them huh? Look at you. You can barely stand and I know ya can’t drive. How d’ya think you’re gonna get up there?’

‘You’re gonna take me’ Hutch grinned tightly. ‘Just get me outa here, take me back to mine for some clothes and then take me up to the Lake huh? Please Cap’n?’

Dobey stared at him seeing the set of the blond’s shoulders and the steely gaze in those crystal blue eyes. ‘What’s the doctor gonna say. You heard him. He won’t let you leave’.

Hutch snickered softly. ‘Well what he don’t know won’t hurt him. Just tell the nurse I’m goin’ and then wheel me outside. After that I’ll suffer any consequences’.

Chapter 9

Marion rattled away at the cradle of the telephone as though the sheer physical exercise of digging her index finger into the plastic would somehow force it to reconnect and when it didn’t have the desired effect she cursed loudly and slammed the phone back down in disgust.

‘Language’ Starsky muttered as he passed her, the deck of cards in his hand. ‘Probably won’t be reconnected for days. There’s more important places need phones than up in these mountains. What’s the big deal? Your boyfriend missin’ ya?’

She glared at him, swinging right back into cold bitch mode and the brunet grinned, chalking up a mental point on his score card as he realised he’d gotten to her again. He continued walking into the living room to sit by Traff’s side.

‘I keep tellin’ ya that you’re wasting your time Curly. She don’t want to know’.

‘How d’ya know? What’s not to like huh? I’m not that bad lookin’’

The soldier snickered. ‘I don’t think your looks are in question. Starsk you really don’t know do ya?

‘An’ I never will unless you tell me. What’s the big secret?’

Traff rested his hand lightly on his friend’s arm and tried to keep the smirk off his face. ‘You know, to say you’re a cop and you’ve seen stuff, you really aint a man of the world are ya? The reason, my friend, that tin Knickers isn’t interested in you isn’t coz she finds you ugly. She’s a lesbian. You’re just the wrong sex!’

The cop’s jaw hung open. ‘She’s a….and she….but I….’

‘Didn’t know. Well that’s obvious’ Traff grinned. ‘So maybe now you can stop thinkin’ about getting’ into her pants and start thinkin’ about our game. C’mon. Supper was good but I’m feelin’ sleepy an’ I have a yearning for another hot date with “Magnificent Maureen” before I go to bed. Are ya gonna deal or what? Besides, sick an’ injured as I am, I’m still ten bucks up an’ I’m aimin’ for twenty’

Starsky shook himself and coughed self-consciously. How could he have been so stupid? Although he was sure she was coming on to Traff earlier. Certainly looked like she was. Or was that just to annoy him?

‘Ah, right. Um….cards, ok’ he spluttered and started to deal. Marion walked into the living room a moment later and sat down on the other side of the soldier.

‘Want in?’ Traff asked smoothly as Starsky self consciously shuffled up the sofa to give her room.

‘Sure’ she said and the brunet added her hand into the pot. They played in silence for a while, shouting the calls and concentrating on their cards. Traff managed his hot date with Magnificent Maureen and also drew Damit Janet and Naughty Nelleke, while Starsky was reluctant to give up Amorous Angie and Salacious Shawne. Even Marion salivated a little over Dirty Delia before winning her hand with a straight flush. She claimed her dollar winnings with a smile, seeming for the moment to have thawed out some again. But during the evening as she continued to play, she constantly looked uncomfortable and kept looking at her watch and towards the door, then trying to disguise her actions by playing with her hair or pretending to scratch her shoulder. By the end of the game she’d won three hands, Traff was down 5 dollars and Starsky was beginning to get suspicious. He said nothing, but as Traff dealt the next round, he made his excuses and got up, saying he was going to check the perimeter of the cabin.

It was dark outside, the clean fresh scent of pine needles still redolent in the damp woods. Cool breezes sang through the dark boughs of the trees and the moonlight occasionally flitted out from behind the clouds to leave pure white light on the outside of the cabin, illuminating it starkly, then plunging it back into darkness. Somewhere a little way off an owl hooted and made the brunet jump. He snickered to himself at his nervousness, although he’d always hated the woods. Being brought up in Brooklyn he was a city boy through and through and although he enjoyed getting back to nature when he had a camera in his hand and could photograph some wildlife, the thoughts of spending other recreational time out in the middle of nature left him cold. Too much effort ploughing through hot, dank jungles in Vietnam left him feeling a distinct dislike for anything that wasn’t firmly rooted in concrete.

Stepping outside and around the corner of the cabin, he didn’t see the figure that crept up behind him, the sounds of the wind in the trees disguising the sounds of footsteps on the leaf litter on the floor of the woods. The night sounds and the remnants of the wind from the storm had disguised the sound of the car trundling down the narrow track, it’s light doused.

The goons had left Hutch and Huggy and immediately made for the hills, confident that they had the right location to find Traff, take him and stop him from giving his testimony. But as they drew towards the area marked on the map as “Crater Lake” they realised just how large a place it was to search. During the almost 24 hours since the beating at the Pits, they’d checked out every cabin they’d come to and had covered almost two thirds of the square miles around the location. If it hadn’t been for a fallen tree blocking their way on the main road, they’d never have got out of their car and found the track to the safe house, and the reluctant witness and his guards would have remained a secret. And so they’d set off down the small dirt track, thinking that maybe it would be a dead end when they’d seen the cheery lights of the cabin in the distance their hopes were raised.

Ramon drove the car off the track and into the woods sufficiently far that it wouldn’t be spotted from the house and he and Enrico got out and stalked forward. They saw the small vehicle parked by the side of the cabin, the one Traff, Starsky and Marion could use in case of emergency and as Ramon peeped in through the cabin window and certified that the men they wanted were in there, Enrico gently pried open the hood and fiddled with the engine, emerging a moment later triumphantly with the rotor arm. The car wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. He nodded to Ramon and walked round to the back of the cabin.

As Ramon started to climb the steps to the front door he heard a noise and darted backwards into the shadows, watching as the brunet cop opened the door and stood on the top step then walked down and round the corner.

As Starsky went around the corner to check on the side of the cabin, he felt that something wasn’t quite right. Why was Marion acting so jumpy? Was it just the woman that had got his guts all twisted up again, or was it something else? He hated this guard duty, although he wouldn’t have entrusted the life of his injured friend to anyone else, but he wished Hutch was with him as backup. He never felt completely whole without the big comforting blond presence and on the occasions he’d had to work solo, things had never gone particularly smoothly. As he stepped around the corner away from the front door he suddenly felt a warm arm encircle his throat, pulling him back.

Starsky started to struggle his hands up to his throat as he fought to pull the constriction away. At first he thought it may be Marion up to her crazy tricks again, but as he felt the course hairs on the arm he realised belatedly that the cabin had company. He fought like a tiger trying every move he could think of to dislodge his attacker from his back but Ramon clung on fiercely. The two men staggered backwards, Starsky desperately trying to drive his elbow into his attackers midriff, but Ramon was ready for the standard defensive trick and managed to remain sufficiently out of the way to ensure that any blows that did land were lacking in any power.

The pressure on his throat was tightening and the brunet could feel his lungs beginning to burn with lack of oxygen. His muscles were refusing to work properly and the man at his back seemed to notice the change too. Suddenly the arm at his throat released his grip and something heavy and possibly metallic hit Starsky on the back of the head. It was a tooth jarring blow that dropped the cop immediately to his knees, knocking him sick and temporarily robbing him of clear thought. He felt hands round his body hauling him to his feet but his arms refused to work properly and he could do nothing for the moment save allow himself to be manhandled up the steps and into the cabin where Marion looked up in surprise. Traff was nowhere to be seen and Starsky dropped to his knees, his head hanging down as he hoped the soldier had got to his bedroom.

As he was pushed through the door, Starsky managed to gather his strength and struggle to his feet as he yelled ‘Marion…….gun’ before another blow to the side of his head sent him to the ground. Now he looked up in confusion at the woman who remained stock still, her face an impassive mask.

‘Marion, get your fuckin’ gun’ he snapped again, receiving another blow for his trouble. He hissed in pain and raised his head again, surprise registering in indigo eyes as Marion smiled at the man behind him.

‘Why didn’t you ring?’ Ramon asked coldly.

‘There was a storm, the phone line was down’.

‘Shit. Do you realise how much time we wasted? We could’ve been lookin’ yet. Stupid little bitch!’

‘I couldn’t help it Ramon. I couldn’t govern the weather’ she whimpered, her voice small and cowed.

Starsky glared at her, risking another blow. ‘You mean……you were….?’

She grinned at him. ‘Uh huh’

‘Where’s the other one?’ Ramon cut in quietly, his hand still on Starsky’s shoulder, keeping the stunned brunet on his knees. His head lolled forward, his breath gasping through his open mouth. The pains in his head from the blows made him dizzy and nauseous and he could feel a trickle of blood edging its way down the side of his face.

Marion jerked her head sideways. ‘Bedroom. Leave him to me’ she said softly

Starsky’s anger fuelled him and he brought his head up sharply, trying to stand. ‘You fuckin’ bitch! You mean you…..TRAFF GET OUT’ his words were cut off as she calmly walked over to him. She drew her foot back and aimed between his spayed knees, her bare foot catching him squarely in the balls. Despite the lack of shoes, the blow was still full force and the brunet screamed a raw, animal scream as his hands flew to his groin clutching at the terrible pain the roiled around his guts. As he leaned forward she grabbed a handful of damp curls and yanked his head back, kissing him savagely on the lips. As she drew away she forced his head down again.

‘That what you wanted? See what you’ve missed’ she spat as she drew her gun and walked towards Traff’s room.

Inside the bedroom, the soldier had been trying to get himself ready for bed. During the day he’d felt much stronger although he’d been up for eight hours and the tiredness was washing over him in waves. With only one arm working he’d just managed to get his good arm out of his tee shirt when he heard the commotion outside in the living room. At first, he thought it was Marion and his buddy having yet another argument and was prepared to let them get on with it but then he heard a male voice, Marion and then a spine tingling, animal scream. Starsky!

Trying to get his arm back into his tee shirt, he was temporarily blinded for a moment. He staggered to the back of his bedroom door just in time to see Marion coming into his room and the dull glint of moonlight on the muzzle of her gun.

Knowing he needed to act swiftly and using the element of surprise, he grabbed at the gun with her right hand, swinging the woman into the room. As she spun towards him he clamped his left hand over her mouth to stifle the shout, hissing in pain as the movement pulled at the wound on his shoulder. Angry brown eyes shone above his hand as Marion tried to bite at the palm of his hand and he grappled with her gun hand with his right. With the element of surprise on his side, Marion was unprepared for the attack, knowing that the soldier was still weak and healing. She was also unprepared for the amount of loyalty that existed between soldier and cop and just what that loyalty could engender.

As he held her right wrist in his right hand with a surprisingly crushing grip she yelped and he forced the gun from her hand. It dropped with a clatter to the floor and he spun her against the wall, Marion's head hitting the plaster wall with a resounding thud. She staggered back and he repeated the manoeuvre, left hand still clamped over her mouth. He felt rather than heard her scream and her body went slack in his arms. Gently he lowered it to the ground and rested his head back against the wall, grabbing at his throbbing left shoulder with his right hand. His breath whistled in his throat as the pain threatened to overwhelm him and he swallowed down the burning bile that rose in his throat.

Wondering what to do next, he picked up the gun from the floor and hefted it. The warm metal felt good in his hand and he forced his body up from the wall just as he heard the strange male voice shout.

‘If you value your guard’s life, you’d be better showing yourself now’.

Peeping through the crack in the door, he saw Starsky, head handing, blood dripping from cuts on his head and with a gun forced into his back.


Chapter 10

Starsky yelled again for Traff to run although his voice didn’t carry as far this time. He was desperate for his friend to get away, maybe out of the bedroom window. It made no sense to have come all this way just to have the flakes nail him now. The centre of his body where Marion had kicked him throbbed mercilessly and set his teeth on edge each time he moved his body and he felt as though his guts were about to fall out, but he concentrated on remaining conscious and wondered what was happening in the bedroom. There was silence from the other room, which seemed to incense Ramon who looked as though he expected shouts and shots and when none were forthcoming he grabbed a handful of curly hair and drove the muzzle of his gun into the brunet’s back.

‘Tell your friend to get out here now’ he growled.

‘Fuck you’ the brunet spat out, his hot temper finally getting the better of him.

The man at his back shook him bodily and for a fourth time cuffed him around the head with the butt of his gun. Starsky grunted but clamped his lips shut, refusing to make more sound. Blood droplets flew through the air as Starsky’s head was snapped sideways by the blow and as Ramon grabbed his neck he yelped despite himself, feeling his precarious hold on consciousness slipping away. He breathed deeply and shook his head to clear it, but he remained braced on his hands and knees on the floor, needing time to gather his senses and decide what to do next.

‘Yo Soldier. Ya wanna see your friend alive, you’ll get your “know all” ass out here now, ya hear?’ Ramon shouted towards the door. ‘Or are ya so chicken you’re gonna let him die just to save your own skin?’

‘No. Traff, get ‘way’ Starsky tried to shout but as he tried to get himself upright he saw the soldier at the door of the bedroom, Marion’s gun in his hand. ‘Shit, Traff, nooooo’ he mumbled.

It was a standoff. Ramon had his gun pushed into the cop’s back. Traff had Marion’s gun aimed levelly at Ramon. Something had to give and with lightening speed, Ramon fired his gun into the floor by the side of Starsky’s knee. The noise deafened the brunet and ricocheted around the room and sent splinters of wood flying in all directions. One large one lodged deeply in his thigh making the cop hiss in pain again and Ramon returned the red hot muzzle of the gun to it’s original position in the brunet’s back, the hot metal sizzling as it hit thin tee shirt and then flesh. The cop groaned and tried to arch his back away from the heat and at that point he heard a dull thud. He groaned again as he looked at Traff’s gun on the floor between them, the soldier standing with his hands raised and cursed.

‘No more. The gun’s down’ Traff said quietly. ‘Enough’.

‘So you finally decided to show yourself’ Ramon said as Enrico charged in through the front door, alerted by the sound of the gunshot.

‘Trouble?’ he asked.

‘Not now. I got it covered. Where were you man? Go find Marion. She’s in there’ Ramon nodded at the bedroom behind Traff. Enrico pushed past him, stooping to pick up the gun from the floor and headed into the room behind the soldier. He emerged a second later.

‘She’s on the floor. Out cold’ he announced.

Ramon snorted. ‘Stupid little bitch. Couldn’t even finish a simple job like this. All she had to do was play nursemaid. Finish her, we don’t need her no more’ he ordered.

Traff tried to stand in his way as Enrico tried to get into the bedroom again, but the goon pushed him out of the way and a moment later a single shot rang out. Traff’s eyes closed in sick dismay. He’d only known the woman a short time and didn’t particularly like her, but a life was a life and he hated to see it wasted.

‘You cold hearted bastard’ the soldier snapped.

‘Don’t need your comments. Shuddup and walk over here, nice and slow, hands where I can see ‘em. This was all your fault anyway’.

The dark haired soldier walked slowly forward, his right hand in the air and his left, injured arm clutched to his chest. There was a red bloom of blood seeping through his tee shirt and the bandages and he could feel the steady throb of pain starting up again. As he past Starsky he winced at the bloody cuts on the curly head and the large wooden splinter protruding from the cop’s leg.

‘Gimme your hand’ Ramon said, fishing for a pair of police issue handcuffs from his back pocket. As Traff obeyed, he snicked one of the metal bracelets on his right wrist and hauled Starsky to his feet as he closed the other metal cuff around the cop’s left wrist. The brunet swayed, balanced on his one good leg and dizzy after the blows to the head. But he managed to look up and lock eyes with his friend. The look asked if the soldier was ok and the returned gaze confirmed.

Enrico emerged from the bedroom, Marion’s gun pushed into the back of his waistband and he stood waiting for orders. Obviously not one for forward thinking he looked expectantly at Ramon, who sighed as though sick of telling his sidekick what action to take next. ‘Get the fuckin’ car. As soon as I’ve dealt with these two we take off right? It’ll just look like they got sick of that bitch’s moanin’ ways and there was an argument. Once they’re dead I take the cuffs off. See? Told ya it’d be simple’.

Enrico nodded wordlessly and headed for the door as Ramon looked at the two cuffed men.

‘It won’t make any difference what you do to us. The trial’s still gonna go on’ Traff tried to reason tiredly. He used all his training. Get their attention, keep eye contact. Make them believe you have as much right to be there as they have.

Ramon stared him down, his eyes full of contempt. ‘Not without its star witness it won’t. And even if it did, everyone knows that without your evidence there’d never be a conviction. Whichever way you look at it, we’ve won. We got to you and now you’ll never see the inside of that courtroom’.

‘So why kill us? Why not just leave us here? We’d never get down the mountain in time and there’s no phone line’ the soldier pushed.

Ramon grinned. ‘What? And spoil my fun? Killin’ you is my reward for chasin’ you and that fuckin’ blond cop half way round the state’.

At the mention of Hutch’s name Starsky looked up sharply. ‘Blond? Leave my partner outa this’.

‘Too late for that’.

‘What the hell have you done?’ the brunet demanded. ‘If you’ve laid one finger on him I’ll…..’

‘Oh believe me, it was more’n one finger. He was quite resistant. It wasn’t till we started on the black guy that he finally caved in. Otherwise we’d never have found ya’.

‘What black guy?’ the cop snapped with a sinking heart. He knew of only two black guys – Dobey and Huggy. And he wouldn’t want either of them to be involved.

‘Skinny runt. Bled like a stuck pig. We had fun with him. He didn’t last too long’.

Starsky surged forward and it was only the cuff linking him to Traff that held him back. ‘You killed Huggy? And Hutch. What did you do to him?’

The goon snickered. ‘They were both pretty bad when we left, but when Blondie told us where you were, we didn’t stop to check if they were still breathin’. By the looks of ‘em, I’d say they’d either be in ICU or the morgue. They enjoyed joinin’ in the game’.

‘Is that what this is to ya? A game?’ Starsky yelled, his friends arm on his shoulder the only think stopping him from launching himself bodily at Ramon, gun or no gun. His head ached viciously, his leg and the centre of his body throbbed and now his heart was in his mouth at the thoughts of what had happened to his two friends back in the city. He wanted this over with one way or the other and at that moment he didn’t particularly care how.

‘Oh please! He grassed on ya. Couple’ve good whacks round the head an’ he was almost pleading with me to let him tell you where you were’.

‘Hutch’d never do that. Not unless you’d got some hold over him, like Huggy’.

‘Was that his name? Couldn’t tell what he was called coz of all the screamin’. But we shut him up. ‘I’d love to stop and continue this friendly conversation, but I gotta run. Things to do, places to be ya know? It’s been great – really’ Ramon added sarcastically.

Outside, the men heard a car start a little way off and Ramon licked his lips in anticipation. Traff took hold of Starsky’s hand and squeezed it. The meaning was clear. Keep your cool. Keep your wits about you and the minute we have a chance we go for it. Starsky returned the pressure. Ok, agreed – and soon, please.

The goon started to back up towards the door leaving the two men facing him and cuffed together. Slowly and almost imperceptibly Traff and Starsky started to edge forward, following Roman’s tracks. The gun never wavered from its target and outside the car had started to make it’s way down the track, but still there was no get out. Still they couldn’t find a way to escape and they looked around desperately.

Ramon was almost at the door now and both men knew that once out in the open, the man would fire and they’d have no chance of escape. The situation called for drastic action. Starsky answered the sudden pressure on his hand again and as Ramon took one more step backwards the two cuffed guys surged forward, heads down as they ran straight at the stunned flake. In the second it took to register that his two targets had turned the tables and had actually started to attack him, Ramon stumbled backwards and the gun in his hand discharged once skywards. Traff and Starsky launched themselves bodily one either side of him, using their cuffed hands as a kind of lasso and targeting Ramon’s throat. With a rough shout the gun toting goon fell backwards, the two men landing with yelps to either side of him and as Starsky reached for the flake’s gun hand to knock the weapon from his grip, they both started to strangle Ramon with the chain of the cuffs, driving the cold metal deep into the flesh of his throat.

The goon gurgled in his throat as the pressure continued and beneath the soldier and cop Ramon’s body thrashed ineffectually on the steps, his head down and his body slipping further down the wooden steps. Traff gasped and strangled down a scream as his shoulder hit the handrail but kept up the pressure with his right hand while Starsky repeatedly knocked Ramon’s right hand against the wooden steps until the flake relinquished hold of the weapon and it clattered to the ground.

Although both men were panting and hurting from their wounds, neither let up on the assault on Ramon’s throat and eventually after a couple of hundred years, large brown eyes rolled up into his head and their would-be attacker lay quiet and still.

Removing their hands from his throat, both men struggled to get to their knees on the steps, panting hard. Traff groaned as he tried to use his injured left arm to lever himself upwards and would have fallen had it not been for Starsky catching him and holding him up. In the darkness they could hear Enrico shouting for Ramon to come to get in the car and as quickly as they could Starsky stopped and retrieved the gun and both men ran for the cover of the trees, unsure whether Ramon was dead or not.

With the cuffs keeping them together the going would have been difficult enough, but with Traff suffering from the effects of the bullet wound in his shoulder and Starsky limping heavily from the large splinter in his leg their going was far from speedy. As they gained the tree line around the perimeter of the cabin, they stopped and looked back, seeing the car slither to a stop and Enrico get out, running towards the body of his boss, lying immobile in the stark headlights of the car.

‘We need to put some distance between us’ Traff said with conviction but Starsky seemed rooted to the spot. ‘Curly? C’mon Chief, we gotta go’.

‘Hutch. They killed Hutch’ the brunet whispered, his eyes holding a far away look.

‘They didn’t say that. They said they had fun with him, that’s not the same thing. He was getting’ at you buddy. C’mon, we gotta run’.

‘Huh?’ the cop seemed dazed.

‘Curly, I know you’re hurtin’ buddy but….we’ll have time for that later. It’s tough, but we need to get goin’. C’mon, half an hour and then we stop huh?’

The brunet shook himself. ‘Yeah, get away….right’ and without a backwards glance, he set off limping heavily and still with an arm around Traff to support his friend as they cannoned between the trees over the uneven ground.

Chapter 11

Dobey waited in Hutch’s living room as the flaxen haired cop got dressed in his bedroom. The exit from the hospital had not gone smoothly as they’d been spotted heading towards the door by the doctor who had been treating the blond. He had raised his eyebrow at the cop’s change in dress from open backed gown to white surgical scrubs and had tutted as Hutch had tried to bluster his way out of the hospital.

‘I don’t see why you can’t stay at least overnight’ he’d pressed. ‘You need monitoring, especially with that concussion’.

The cop had looked pleadingly at the doctor. ‘Look, doc. My friend is stuck half way up a freakin’ mountain with God knows who chasing after him and if I don’t get to him in time, you’re gonna have two more patients in here. Think of it as me saving you some work huh? I just need to go find him’.

‘And I can’t persuade you to stay?’

‘No. Don’t think I’m not grateful to you for patching me up, I am, but I have to do this’.

The doctor sighed. ‘Fine. Just so long as you realise this is against my express wishes. But before you go, at least let me give you an antibiotic shot and something for the pain. It’s gonna get a lot worse you know’.

The blond quailed at the idea of needles, but he nodded tersely, agreeing to the compromise so long as he could get out of the medic’s clutches. True to his word, the doctor delivered the two shots and pushed a small bottle of pills into Hutch’s hand. ‘When it gets bad, take these, but not until. They’re strong and you really need to get to bed as soon as you’ve taken them’.

The big blond nodded. ‘Thanks Doc’ he said as Dobey pushed the chair out to the car park.

As Hutch came out of his bedroom still struggling to buckle the belt on his jeans Dobey looked up. ‘Are you sure about this Hutchinson? You’re still hurtin’ son’.

‘You’re beginning to sound like that doctor Cap’n. I’ll be fine. I can rest up as soon as I know Starsk and Traff are ok. The shot the Doc gave me is keepin’ me going, but I gotta get to them. I can rest then. Until then I’m just gonna keep on goin’. Are we ready?’ Hutch pushed his arm into his holster and winced, turning his back on the black man to keep the groan to himself. Dobey pushed himself off the sofa and headed for the fair haired man.

‘Well at least I get to drive. And while I’m drivin’ you can’t do nuthin but sleep’ he held a hand up as Hutch started to interrupt. ‘….and that’s an order’.

Hutch felt a wash of gratitude surge through his veins and thanked the Gods for the hundredth time that he had a boss like Dobey. The more they worked together, the more the black man trusted Hutch’s and Starsky’s instincts and allowed them to do their job unfettered. This time was no exception and as they headed for the door, Dobey swore he’d keep his man safe.


Further up the mountain, Enrico saw two dark shadows dive for the cover of the trees. He was not a thinking man. In fact thinking hurt him and he relied on Ramon and the others in the group to do the thinking for him. He’d been hired partly for that virtue and partly for the fact that he was a solid 6’ 3” of solid muscle with a punch and kick like a mule. Whilst Ramon was the brains of the outfit, Enrico prided himself on being the brawn.Now he took a swift look at the rapidly escaping men and then gazed forlornly at the body of his friend on the ground.

For long moments, Enrico’s body refused to move as his brain tried to work out what to do – go after their targets or stay by Ramon’s side? He tried to reason it through. They’d chased up the mountain and had searched lots of deserted cabins to find the ones called Starsky and Major Trafford and Enrico knew it was important that the two men didn’t get off the mountain any time soon. Something was going to happen and he remembered Ramon telling him that Major Trafford mustn’t be there. So initially he thought he ought to go and try to stop the Major and his friend from escaping.

But the thought of going it alone scared the big man, who was really no more than a child in a big adult body. He didn’t like the mountain with its scary noises, he didn’t like the dark and he didn’t like being alone.

And so his second instinct was to go to his fallen friend and try to make him wake up. If Ramon would wake up, he’d tell Enrico what to do and then Enrico would do it. Enrico was good at following orders to the letter. Ramon had told him that and he’d felt inordinately proud that at least he was good at something other than fighting. He’d done something right and Ramon had been pleased.

And so Enrico made a decision and after standing by the side of the car for more than a minute while he worked it out, he rushed forward and fell to his knees by the side of his friend. Gently he lifted Ramon’s body as though it were a feather and propped it up against his big body as he softly stroked large, slightly uncoordinated and calloused hands down the goons’ cheek.

‘Ramon, wake up. Please wake up. It’s me, Enrico. I’m here and I need you to wake up’ he pleaded, his stoked turning to gentle pats against the smaller man’s face. There was no response and Enrico started to get anxious. He hated this. He hated being alone with no one to tell him what to do. The child in him got scared and a large wet tear rolled down to the tip of his nose and fell with a splash onto Ramon’s forehead. It was followed by another and then another as Enrico enfolded his friend in his arms and rocked him slowly backwards and forwards crooning under his breath. Within minutes he felt a stirring and a moment later Ramon groaned and opened his eyes.

Enrico looked down at his friend, relief flooding through his body and he sniffed loudly and wetly. ‘I thought you were dead’ he whispered, ‘I was scared’.

Ramon fought his way weakly from his friend’s grip and sat up, cursing at his dizziness. He took a moment to gather his wits and then looked around him.

‘Where did they go?’

‘They ran away’.

‘And you didn’t follow them? Ramon’s voice raised and Enrico backed off, realising that once again he’d done something wrong.

‘I’m sorry Ramon. I thought you were dead and I didn’t want to leave you. I was…..I was scared’.

The dark haired man punched Enrico on the chest. It was a puny blow which would hardly have registered on the muscular body, but the huge man recoiled as though he’d been pistol whipped.

‘I’m sorry boss. I did it wrong, didn’t I?’ he cringed.

‘Which way did they go?’ Ramon asked, struggling to his feet.

Enrico pointed. ‘Through those trees. Are you ok now?’

Ramon looked at his big friend. Enrico was useful when brawn was required more than brains and there was something likeable about the clumsy oaf. He smiled. It was difficult to be mad at Enrico for long. ‘You did good amigo. I’m fine’. He smiled as a huge grin flashed across Enrico’s face.

‘Do we go after them now?’

Ramon sighed. ‘Yeah. We go after them now. I’m done with their games. We find ‘em and we kill ‘em’.


Traff pulled Starsky along through the dense undergrowth of the woods. Once or twice they tripped over creepers lying invisible across the small deer track they’d found, but their going was slow. The cuffs that linked them together were clamped tight around each man’s wrist and bit uncomfortably into their flesh. But it wasn’t so much the manacles that slowed them down as their combined injuries and the daze Starsky seemed to have fallen into. The cop stumbled along as though someone had thrown a switch in his head and he was no longer home. He answered Traff monosyllabically when the soldier asked him questions, and Traff desperately wanted to stop and check his old army buddy over. But he knew time was of the essence. It wouldn’t be long before Ramon or Enrico or both started after them and they needed to press home the few minutes lead they had.

The two men pushed on almost wordlessly for a half an hour, fighting their way through brambles, thorns and through thickets of dense woodland, their only means of assessing which way they were going being the constant downwards direction of the ground. But the ground was muddy underfoot from the rains and now it was beginning to rain again, huge cold, fat drops heralding the start of another thunder storm. In the distance they could hear the thunder claps echoing around the mountain range and shafts of lightening were already flickering across the cloudy sky.

At the end of half an hour both men were exhausted and now that the rain had set in with a vengeance, soaked to the skin. They weren’t exactly dressed for a night in the mountains being dressed only in tee shirts and jeans and thankfully sneakers. If the men had burst into the cabin ten minutes later, Traff at least would have been in his boxers and in bed. Suddenly the soldier was thankful for small mercies, but as he looked at his friend, the rain dripping from Starsky’s sodden curls, his heart gave a lurch.

‘Curly, you ok Chief? Wanna stop for a while?’ he shouted above the noise of the wind and rain.

‘Stop? Um….ok, yeah’ the cop muttered distractedly. He looked around as though seeing the woods for the first time and together the two men staggered over to a large pine tree whose branches afforded a meagre margin of dry dirt close to its trunk and sat down, backs against the roughened wood. They rested their heads back and tried to calm their breath but both were exhausted and as Starsky stopped walking he felt as though the world were still moving while he was standing still. As he rested his head back another wave of dizziness hit him so suddenly that his stomach seemed to do a double flip and he leaned over and deposited its contents onto the wet earth. He stayed bent over for a few more moments, retching until nothing else would come up and then he straightened, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth as he gasped for breath.

‘You ok Chief?’ Traff asked worriedly. In the light of the lightening flashes, his buddy looked ghostly pale and the wounds Ramon had inflicted on his head bled feely still, the blood mixing with the raindrops to stain the sides of Starsky’s face ruby red.

‘Dizzy’ the cop muttered thickly.

‘You took a helluva beatin’ back there Curly. You need to rest up for a while’.

‘Can’t. Need to get back to ‘Utch’.

‘We will, Soon as we can. But that flake was messin’ with your head buddy. I’m sure Hutch is just fine. We can get back to him no problem. He’s probably tucked up in bed with some hot date right now’.

‘They said they’d tortured him. They said they’d killed him…..an’ Huggy. How else would they have found us?’

Traff knew he couldn’t press it further. Starsky may be spaced out, but he wasn’t too far gone that he couldn’t reason things out. ‘I know they did chief’ he said softly. ‘But it won’t do no good to think about that now. Let’s just concentrate on getting’ down the mountain first huh? Then we can find out what’s happened and…..Curly? …….hey Curly boy……DAVE’ the soldier shouted as he leaned sideways and shook his buddy. ‘Don’t go to sleep on me. You need to keep awake, you got a concussion there. Can’t sleep’.

‘Huh?’ Starsky forced his eyes open with difficulty. ‘S’ok, was only gonna have a little doze’.

‘No time for sleepin’ Chief. We need to be goin’. Can you get up? Can you walk?’

‘Uh huh. Hurts…..legs hurts’.

Traff looked at the brunet’s leg and the four inch shard of wood protruding from his thigh half way between knee and hip. ‘You got some doohickey stickin’ in your leg. It’d be more comfortable if I took it out. You want me to do that Curly? Want me to pull it out? You could probably walk better then’.

The brunet grinned painfully at his friend. ‘It’s gonna hurt, aint it?’

‘Oh yeah Chief, Like the devil’ and before the cop could think about it, Traff had taken hold of the wood and pulled it clean out.

The resulting scream coincided nicely with the next clap of thunder that echoed around the mountain and then faded away into the distance.

Chapter 12

By the middle of that night the storm had once again reached its peak. Wind whistled through the woods sending leaves and small branches crashing to the forest floor. The rain, which was whipped sideways by the storm left no part of the forest floor untouched. There was nowhere dry from Traff and Starsky to shelter and the temperature had plunged to somewhere hovering above freezing. With wind chill and their weakened states, both men were soon shivering uncontrollably, their teeth chattering and their limbs stiff from the wet and the wind.

The deluge formed small rivers of water to cascade down the mountainside through the paths made by the smaller animals. Unfortunately they were also the paths that the two men were trying to use to aid their escape and their going was further impeded by the slick, cloying mud underfoot and the fact that despite being still cuffed together, the trails were barely wide enough for one man to use, let alone the two of them side by side.

After two further hours of slipping and sliding down the side of the mountain, both were stiff, sore, scratched and bleeding. Traff’s shoulder wound had opened up and was once again bleeding freely and the bandage that had been wound tightly round his chest and shoulder was now a sodden mess. The rain water, along with his perspiration stung at the wound which ached so viciously he wanted to throw up.

Starsky fared little better. With the wooden splinter now removed from his leg he could at least walk a little better, albeit still with a heavy limp. But it was the damage that Ramon had done to his head that threatened to rob the cop of his senses. The four or five hard blows, delivered with the butt of thr goon’s gun had laid open his skill to the bone and had torn the flesh on the side of his head, leaving the wounds stinging in the rain and making him feel spacey and unsure of himself. The double vision seemed to be getting worse too, but it was the overpowering worry about his partner and his friend that really knocked the stuffing out of the brunet. Although on one level he told himself that he should concentrate on escaping from Ramon and Enrico and getting down from the mountain so that he could check things out, it was easier said than done. In his confused mental state, he saw visions of Hutch, pale, still and dead with Huggy by his side and the thoughts sapped him of his energy and his will to go on. Only the presence of the soldier, ironically the man he was supposed to protect spurred him on and Traff was almost relentless in his bullying, desperate to get his friend and himself to safety.

But eventually even the soldier’s iron will gave out and he acknowledged that they both needed to rest and regroup before they could go on any further. They found a small stone overhang, somewhat more sheltered than the surroundings and together, they curled up beneath it to wait out the tail end of the storm. Both men shivered and were soaked to the skin and they huddled together for warmth.

‘Sssseems like we’ve bbbbeen here before Curly’ Traff stuttered as he felt Starsky’s arms round his body.


‘Different trees, same rain?’

‘Ya mean ‘Nam? Yeah. Was warmer then. Hate the rrrrrrain an’ I hate the cold’.

‘I know ya do Chief. How’re ya doin’?’


‘No you’re not. Your eyes are almost closed and you’re all in. We gotta rest, but I don’t want you fallin’ asleep. That’s not good buddy’.

‘I know. I’m just……’

‘Worried about Hutch, I know. We’ll get there Chief, promise’.


‘Uh huh?’

‘How’re you doin’?’ Starsky looked properly at his friend for the first time in a long time.

‘I’m t’riffic. Don’t worry about me’ the soldier lied. The untruth was not lost on his friend.

‘You never were any good at lyin’. Here. Lemme take a look at your shoulder’.

With his left hand fettered to his friend, Starsky carefully prised Traff’s tee shirt away from the bloody bandage with his right, and tried to get it away from the bullet wound. Traff stiffened and as his friend struggled with the soaking cloth he hissed and closed his eyes. Starsky’s own eyes narrowed as he saw the angry red rim to the wound and the red line of infection tracking up the soldier’s neck and down towards his heart.

‘Why didn’t ya tell me it was so bad?’ Starsky asked accusingly.

‘And what could you have done huh? Aint no use worryin’ ya for somethin’ that’s unmendable right now. I can hang on. We’ll be outa here in a day or so. I can get back to a hospital then. Don’t worry Chief. I’m good’.

The cop smiled back weakly. ‘Yeah, right. Between us we don’t make a whole one! It’s you that needs the rest Traff. Close your eyes an’ try to sleep. We can’t get any further tonight an’ I can see from here if anyone’s coming’. Starsky leaned forward and took the Ramon’s gun from the waistband. Checking it, he counted two bullets. Not exactly an armoury, but he’d just have to make them both count, if he had to use them at all.

With the gun held loosely in his right hand, he thanked his lucky stars he’d practiced firing with his non-dominant hand. With his left manacled to Traff he wouldn’t have the ability to bring the weapon up in time if they were caught unawares. With his friend held close against him, and suppressing the shivers that still rocked his body, he felt Traff relax and within minutes the soldier was asleep.


Hutch and Dobey drove through the night, the black man peering out intently through the rain pebbled windshield of his car and Hutch huddled up in the front seat, trying desperately to get some sleep and failing miserably. The country road did not lend itself to speeding at the best of times and even though Dobey was a damned good driver and had enough police chases under his belt to sink a battle ship, the Captain couldn’t make more than 50 miles an hour on the rain slick blacktop. To make things worse, at its height the storm sent rain lashing down in an almost impenetrable curtain and it was like driving through a carwash that someone had left on full power. The wipers could barely deal with the amount of water on the window and every few seconds the lightening lit up the tiny road like a strobe effect. By the time they’d reached the turn off down to the cabin, the storm had abated and the moon was beginning to peep out from behind the clouds again. As they reached the insignificant turn off Dobey nodded at a telegraph pole on it’s side by the side of the track, held up from the floor drunkenly by a mess of wires.

‘Looks like that the reason for there being no phone. Lines are down. Must have been a doozy of a storm up here. These mountains are renown for ‘em’.

‘Looks like they would have had trouble getting their car out too. Look’ Hutch pointed at the large tree trunk almost blocking the way down to the cabin. The same tree trunk that had acted like a way marker for Ramon and Enrico to follow. Cautiously they set off down the slippery trail, the tires having a heard time getting any traction of the mud-slick surface. Twice Dobey had to fight with the wheel to keep his car on the track but eventually they made it to the cabin and as Hutch saw the lights on and the front door still swinging open he forgot his pains and leapt from the vehicle.

Gun in hand he ran to the steps of the cabin and as Dobey joined him he nodded for the Captain to hang back while he went in first. But Dobey put his podgy hand on his man’s arm.

‘Wait here’ he hissed and with a grace that belied his bulk, he crept up the steps and into the cabin, his own gun at the ready. A moment later he reappeared with a frown on his face.

‘You’d better get up here Hutch’ he muttered and stood aside as the blond walked up the steps and took in the scene of carnage inside. Marion’s body was exactly where she’d fallen, a single bullet having been delivered to the back of her head and blowing most of her face away. A large stain of rapidly congealing blood spread around her head and Hutch turned away, a look of pain on his handsome features. He looked around the room and saw Traff’s bed hadn’t been slept in and as he stepped over the woman’s body and made his way outside again, he saw, lit by the car’s headlights more blood on the steps.

‘Cap’n. Over here’ he said softly, kneeling to better see the stains.

‘Is is fresh?’ Dobey asked, looking over his shoulder.

‘It’s still wet. But whose is it? And why did they shoot Captain Hadley? And where are they now?’

‘More to the point’ Dobey grunted ‘What sort of company did they have?’ he pointed to the small car almost hidden in the bushes by the side of the cabin. It had been easy to miss in the dark, its dark colour blending in with the shadows that abounded.

‘I got a bad feelin’ about this’ hutch said bitterly. ‘Shit this is all my fault. I should have kept my mouth shut. I shouldn’t have said anything’.

‘And if you hadn’t, Huggy would be dead for sure’ his Captain reasoned. ‘Hutch, Traff and Starsky aren’t here, and neither is whoever came for ‘em. Which makes me think that they’ve probably gone into hiding. Seems to me son, that you may have saved three lives’.

‘We don’t know that Cap’n. Traff was still injured. There’s blood on the floor in there and more out here. What if it’s their blood?’

Dobey sighed. ‘The world is full of “what ifs”. We can’t second guess this. We just need to try to find them and we can’t do that till we have some daylight’. He looked at the luminous dial on his watch. ‘Which gives us two hours till sun up. I know it’s tough, but its pointless starting out looking for ‘em until we can see where we’re goin’.

‘We need to go now’ Hutch said desperately. ‘Every second wasted is…..’

‘We need to get you some rest. Now get into the cabin and at least lie down until dawn. I promise I’ll wake you then, but you won’t be in any fit state to go lookin’ if you don’t take those pills the Doc gave you and get some rest’.

Hutch reluctantly saw the force of the argument. The shot he’d been given had started to wear off over an hour ago, and now his arm and chest ached terribly and he had the mother of all headaches. Without too much persuasion, the blond walked painfully inside and into the bedroom Starsky had used. He sat down o the side of his partner’s bed and took out the small bottle of pills, dry swallowing one as ordered.

‘Don’t see what good this is gonna do’ he grumbled as Dobey walked in. ‘There’s no way I can sleep while they’re missi….mmi…..’ Like a tree toppling over in the wind, the flaxen haired cop’s eyes rolled up into his head and he sagged back onto the bed, asleep before his head hit the mattress. Dobey smiled at the sight and took hold of the tall cop’s legs, pulling him gently around until he was led more comfortably and covered him, fully clothed with the coverlet. He took one final look, then crept out of the bedroom to start his own investigation of the cabin and its surroundings.


Further down the mountain, Enrico forged a trail through the sodden vegetation as Ramon followed behind cursing fluently under his breath. They were both wet and cold, and Ramon had a terrible headache from his encounter with the two fugitives. But they had nothing of the injuries Traff and Starsky bore and inexorably, they drew ever closer to their prey.

Chapter 13

‘Nooo, don’t. Not…..no more, I…..goddammit no, Curly….Al, John….I…..no, please….hurts an’ I….’

Starsky was shaken awake by the sounds coming from his side and as his mind started to function properly again, he realised that Traff was locked into some sort of nightmare. He tried to sit up stiffly, his back and butt numb from leaning against the base of the rocks during the remainder of the night and gently he tried to shake the soldier.

‘Traff, c’mon buddy, wakey wakey. Lemme see those green old eyes huh? Starsky rubbed his thumb down the side of the soldier’s heated face. Though not sweating, there was a furnace like heat radiating from Traff’s body and as fevered green eyes finally fluttered open there was little recognition in them.

‘Colonel Sir……didn’t mean t’sleep …..they’re comin’…..I’m not…..m’sorry’

‘Traff, it’s me, Curly. C’mon pal, you’re dreamin’. He ran his hand over Traff’s brow. ‘You got a real fever there Pal. Traff? Tom, c’mon’.

‘Nooo, I’m……didn’t mean to…..I can’t….’

Starsky looked desperately at his friend. ‘Trafford. Name, rank, number’ he shouted at the fever ridden man. The command had an immediate effect and Traff was half way through “Thomas John Trafford, Major, Serial number 02698-J-4522 when his eyes regained some clarity and he looked up at Starsky’s earnest indigo blues.


‘Yeah. Where were ya buddy? You were miles away. How’re ya doin’? How’s the pain?’

‘Hmmm? Pain…..not b bad’.

‘Aww c’mon Pal. When’re ya gonna be straight with me? I can see you’re hurtin’. Just tell me huh?’

Traff smiled wearily. ‘An’ what ‘xactly are ya gonna do? It aint like we got any meds’.

‘I know. We don’t have much of anythin’. Are you fit to travel? Can ya walk? We should think about getting’ out of here. I need to get you to a hospital’.

Stiffly the soldier tried to rise. He grunted and gritted his teeth as he tried to get to his feet and finally managed to stand, holding on to the tree trunk at his back and swaying drunkenly. By his side, Starsky tried to ignore the vicious ache in his own head as he held his friend round the waist. The cop himself felt spacey, as though his head were full of cotton wool and he had difficulty focussing on anything for more than a couple of seconds. His mind played tricks with him. One minute he could hear footsteps behind him, the next, his vision dissolved from colour to black and white and then back to colour again, a hazy yellow halo round everything he saw. He shook his head carefully and took a deep breath as they both started down the mountain again.

The going was even tougher now that Starsky’s body had stiffened from the fight the previous day and Traff’s fever had taken a firm hold of his body. After only a few minutes of travelling they were both panting and slipping on the tiny track they’d chosen to take. Traff vomited twice by the side of the track and finally another ten minutes later he sank to his knees exhausted, although they’d gone no more than a few hundred yards.

Knowing how tough the soldier was, Starsky realised just how sick he was. It was so unlike Traff to simply sink down and give up, but now the soldier was visibly shaking, his left hand folded over his abdomen and tucked into the waistband of his jeans to try and give his shoulder some support. With his right wrist connected to his friend, Starsky was also forced to stop and kneel painfully in the dirt by the side of his friend.

‘We gotta keep goin’ buddy. they’ll be lookin’ for us’ the cop urged, his free hand rubbing small comforting circles on his friend’s trembling back. Their clothes were still damp from the soaking in the storm and now the heat from Traff’s body made his tee shirt steam in the early dawn.

‘I’m tryin’. Hurts……shit I feel so fuckin’ weak. Just gimme a minute huh? Be better in a minute’. But the sight belied his words. Traff’s head hung down almost to his chest and the arm that was connected via the metal bracelet to his friend hung like a dead weight from Starsky’s own wrist. The cop knew something drastic had to be done. He could feel his own will power seeping away with each heartbeat that ricocheted around his temples. Desperately he looked around him. There was a large tree nearby whose trunk had been hollowed out over the years. Inside the bole of the tree, the leaf litter was dry and the huge edifice would provide some protection from the elements and any wild animals that might come their way. But once there, Starsky needed to be able to go for help, while he still had wits enough to do it. With his vision blurring, he realised it had to be sooner rather than later and he needed to separate himself from his buddy.

He put his arm round Traff’s waist and hauled him up. ‘C’mon soldier. On your feet. Help me get you over there. Traff? Yo, Tom. Stay with me huh?’

Traff’s head hung down in complete exhaustion, his breath sobbing in his throat. He was almost a dead weight for Starsky to hold up and what little energy he had left was taken up with his fevered rambling. It was as though he no longer knew where he was and emerald eyes tried to focus on his old friend.

‘Al? What’re ya……don’t go…..they’re comin’….hear ‘em? Don’t turn that….its…..’

Starsky grunted with the added weight and pulled Traff’s heat enveloped body over to the tree knowing his buddy was trapped in a nightmare world.

‘Ssh, don’t try an’ talk. Just sit down there huh? That’s it. In there. Just rest Traff. Rest easy Pal. Traff, I need you to do sumthin for me. Can ya do that? TRAFF’.

The shout roused the soldier briefly from his fevered hallucinations and he looked up. ‘Curly?’

‘Yeah. I need you to keep still for me buddy. I need to get these damned cuffs off us an’ the only way I can think is to shoot ‘em off. I need ya to hold your hand out an’ keep it still. Wouldn’t do to blow it off would it?’

‘Cuffs?’ Traff looked at his wrist in surprise. ‘Oh, yeah’ and he held out his hand obediently.

Starsky hadn’t wanted to use one of the precious bullets in the gun. Partly because the ammunition was in short supply and he may need it, and partly because the report of the weapon in the mountains would alert anyone coming after them as to their location. But this seemed the only way to separate himself from the fevered man, and he knew he’d never get anywhere close to help if he had to wait for Traff. The brunet drew the weapon and looked around for a log – something reasonably firm that he could shoot into, but nothing as hard as stone that would simply explode into a million pieces and cause damage.

Conveniently there was a moss covered log only a yard away and the cop grunted with effort as he hooked it with his foot and brought it within range. He placed the silver chain linking him to Traff across the surface of the wood, took his gun and aimed then looked away as he fired point blank at the links.

Their hands flew away in separate directions as the impact of the bullet kicked them away, but the chain broke instantly it having no chance against the high velocity of the bullet. The noise was deafening and it echoed around the mountains, making Starsky want to shush it. Traff moaned loudly at the noise, but now that he was in his hidey-hole and dry, he seemed more comfortable and his eyes flew open once, then closed as he went back to his fevered ramblings.

Starsky shook his head to rid himself of the ringing in his ears, cursed at the added pain, then stood unsteadily and walked away from the tree. With the echoes dying away, the forest had taken on a deathly quiet and he listened for any signs of company. With none to be heard, he checked once again on the soldier, packed away his gun with the one remaining bullet and decided on which way he would go next.


Dobey roused Hutch from his deep sleep just before the first light of dawn tinged the morning sky. He’d poked around the cabin all night and with difficulty he had placed Marion’s stiffened body on the bed and covered it with a sheet and had then sat down on one of the easy chairs in the living room and had gone over the facts of the case coldly and with his calculating brain.

He’d left Traff and Starsky up here with Marion – Captain Hadley. No one knew where they were, but Hutch had been sent up here to check on them. He knew the blond well enough to know that he would never allow a tail, however professional to follow him into the mountains and in any event, how would they know that Hutch was coming up to see Starsky? It had to be the mole at the camp. Whitehead had said there was a mole, but who? Not Whitehead. Not Traff. No one else at the base knew of the safe house other than….. The Captain sighed. It had to be. Captain Marion Hadley had been the mole. Shit! Well talk about just deserts. But even though her death seemed a fitting reward for her blowing Traff’s cover, still the black man felt the waste of the young life keenly.

He looked at his watch. 5:40. Hutch had had two, almost three hours sleep and so the big black man rose stiffly and padded into the bedroom. Hutch lay where he’d left him and it looked as if the big blond body hadn’t moved once during the few hours sleep. Hutch’s hair was mussed, but the sweat soaked bangs of the previous night were dried now and Hutch seemed to rest peacefully. Gently, he woke the sleeping cop up.

Hutch was groggy, the strong pain meds still washing around in his system, but he felt slightly better. No less sore, but more rested and, it seemed, easier to deal with his injuries. He groaned as he sat up, but forced himself up from the bed and staggered out into the living room, seeing that Dobey had tidied some things away.

‘You’ve been busy’.

‘Uh huh’.

‘Won’t the crime lab want to see the site?’

‘The woman was the mole. She had to be. She was the only one who could have known’ Dobey said heavily.

‘Shit. And we left them alone with her. Fuck!’

‘Are you up to going after Starsky?’

Hutch snorted. ‘Wild horses Cap’n but which way?’

At that moment a shot rang out and echoed through the mountains making the duo jump. They looked at each other and Dobey raised his eyebrow. ‘Them?’

‘Well other than the flakes who’re after them, who else?’

The two men, one portly and sweating, one tall, blond and injured exited the cabin and headed off in the direction of the shot as fast as they could.


Enrico had taken to almost carrying Ramon through the thickly wooded mountainside. Several times the smaller man had stopped, the fight he’d had with Traff and Starsky leaving him breathless. His throat was on fire and had swollen and now he sounded as though he were snoring through his damaged airways. And yet his burning need to catch up with Major Thomas Trafford and his hired bodyguard overrode his own comforts and he forced himself and Enrico on.

Throughout the night, Ramon leaned heavily on his big friend as they slipped and slid through the wet foliage and the cloying sticky mud and both men felt that they had covered a lot of ground and that sooner or later they were bound to get lucky and find the two renegades.

But as morning started to dawn and Ramon came back to his exhausted senses he realised that far from slipping down the mountain, they were, in fact climbing upwards, not steeply, but at a sufficient angle to be significant. He stopped and Enrico stopped beside him.

‘We’ve seen this path before’ he gasped through his parched damaged throat.

The big man looked stunned. ‘Have we? It was dark, I didn’t realise. I was just following this path’.

‘But you were taking us uphill’ Ramon spat.

‘Was I? I just followed the path. Does it matter?’

Ramon hit out at the bulk of his friend’s body. ‘Matter? Course it matters. They aren’t likely to run away uphill you idiot. We should be heading down the mountain, not up it’.

Enrico looked crestfallen although the blow would hardly have registered on the muscular frame. ‘I’m sorry Ramon. Did I do it wrong?’

At that moment a shot rang out through the forest sending birds skywards in it’s wake. Ramon focused on the direction it had come from. ‘Doesn’t matter. I think we just found where they’re at. C’mon, we can still get to ‘em’.

Chapter 14

X marks the spot, or so they sat. In this case, the X wasn’t a huge letter printed into the forest marking “cop and soldier are here” so much as the boom of a gun in the early dawn. And it was enough to give Enrico and Ramon and Hutch and Dobey the direction they needed to start to plunge through the trees and undergrowth in a deadly race to get to Traff and Starsky first. But while one couple of men wanted to save the two fugitives, the other couple were intent on killing them.

As the lethal race played out a little further up the mountain, Starsky checked on Traff one last time. The soldier had lapsed into semi consciousness, his body consumed by the fever from the infection in the wound on his shoulder. Ominously, his breathing was also fast and shallow and the cop could hear wheezes and crackles indicating pneumonia had also taken hold. He hated to leave his buddy like this, but on the other hand, to stay with the cop would mean certain death for Traff and the possibility of never getting off the goddamned mountain for Starsky too.

The curly haired man was also suffering his own set of problems. Starsky’s right leg was stiff and sore from the shard of wood that had impaled itself in his thigh and once Traff had pulled it out, it had bled freely for a while. The cop knew enough of first aid to know that the bleeding would, to some extent clean the wound, but now his jeans were caked in blood and his leg felt weak and shaky. But the most pressing issues were his head and his vision. Starsky had had some concussions in his time, some minor, some more traumatic, but he could never remember being hit over the head four times with the butt of a gun. He was amazed that nothing seemed broken, but the effects were drastic.

He could hear pretty well, although he seemed to be having some auditory hallucinations. He could hear voices, music and footsteps at various times as though they were right behind him and more than once he’d turned, gun pointed to see the trail empty behind him. His vision was also suffering and all colour had now phased out so that he saw the world in a grey monochrome. His field of vision had narrowed too and now he felt as though he were looking out at the world from the end of a cardboard tube. But the most worrying thing to him was that he was beginning to forget. He remembered the cabin, although his memory of why they’d been there was sketchy. And he remembered two men coming to visit. He thought he was probably running away from them, but for the life of him he couldn’t understand why. The only thing he knew for sure was that Traff needed help and he was the only one around who was able to get it.

He knelt by the soldier.

‘Traff, I gotta go buddy. Stay here, I’ll be right back, ok? Traff? Is that ok buddy?’

There was no reply and with a sigh and a pained grunt, Starsky got to his feet, swayed and set off almost drunkenly through the forest. The going was slightly easier now that he wasn’t fettered to……fettered to….who was he fettered to? He looked at the metal bracelet and the single link of chain dangling from it. Damn! Who was he…..Traff! He was out to get help for Traff. OK remember that Davey. Helping Traff. Get help for Traff. Traff’s hurt and he needs help. From where? Um…..town? He needed a hospital. But he was in the forest. God he hated the forest! Why was he here? He was….He was with……C’mon Davey, think. He was with…..Hutch? No. Hutch wasn’t there. Why wasn’t he there? He was……Oh my God, Hutch was dead! Hutch was……but if it wasn’t Hutch who was he with? It was…….think dammit. Traff. Oh yeah, Traff. Get help for Traff.

Starsky stumbled on, the incoherent thoughts cannoning round in his head. His leg hurt, his head pounded viciously and now that the sun was up and the heat permeated the foliage of the forest, he sweated, the salty fluid running into his eyes and the wounds on his head and stinging like tiny bees crawling through his hair. Energy spent, he sagged to his knees with a sob. He’d been walking for perhaps 15 minutes, but he had no idea where or in what direction. And then the sounds started in his head again. He heard voices and then……wasn’t that a growl? It sounded close. A snuffling sound and leaves parting as though something big were forcing its way through.

And then clarity hit. Bear! And Traff was alone and defenceless and stank of blood. Shit! With his senses sharpened by anxiety, Starsky forced himself back to his feet and staggered back the way he’d come, retracing the footprints from his sneakers in the damp dirt. As he pushed on, he took the gun from his waistband, cursing his error in not leaving the weapon with his friend and as he reached the small clearing containing the hollowed out tree, he could just make out down the tunnel of his rapidly departing vision, the huge brown/black bulk of the bear, lumbering into the clearing, it’s nose whiffing as it quested for the source of the tantalising smell.

Teddy bears are cute. Terry had a teddy bear and Ollie was her constant companion. He cuddled her and she cuddled him and he gave her comfort and strength. Starsky dimly remembered the teddy bear Nick used to take to bed with him as a little boy. Bruno had been threadbare and eyeless, and yet still his younger brother clung to the soft toy as though it were the most precious thing in the world. And yet a full grown, hungry mother Brown Bear is nothing like its soft stuffed counterparts. A mother Brown Bear is almost a ton of fur, claws and teeth and nothing in the vicinity would stop her once she got a taste for flesh.

As the huge animal walked slowly into the clearing, it’s beady, shiny, boot-button eyes peering at the tree and Traff’s hidden body, Starsky pulled up the gun, braced his back against the bole of a tree behind him and with the muzzle pointing skywards, he let loose his final shot. The noise startled the bear as nothing else would and with a final growl is flinched away and lumbered quickly back into the forest, leaving the two men alone.

The cop felt physically sick, the last charge back through the trees to rescue his friend having robbed him of what was left of his energy. He dropped to his knees in relief, his vision now no more than a pin prick of light in front of him and with his final strength, he crawled on hands and knees over to the tree and collapsed full length, his head resting in Traff’s lap as his eyes closed.


Only a hundred yards away, Enrico stopped as he heard the second shot. His head turned like a radar dish, filtering out the echoes and locating the sound of the actual shot and as the last sounds died away, he pulled Ramon to his feet.

‘Over there’ he said and pointed downhill slightly.

‘Are you sure?’ Ramon was breathless, his throat now swollen to the point where he fought for every breath. He had barely enough energy to walk along without the need for deviations to follows ghosts through the forest. He looked expectantly at his big friend.

‘Pretty sure. Not far away either’.

‘Help me up’ the smaller man said and held out his hand. His buddy pulled him up and put a comforting, supportive hand round his waist as he half lead, half carried the Mexican through the trees toward their target.


Hutch was also suffering from his injuries. He’d even resorted to taking another of the pills the doctor had given him at the hospital in the hopes that he’d be able to keep going long enough to get to his friends. With Dobey panting along at his side, they seemed to make good time, but with their views cut off by trees, bushes and more trees, the going was tough and they were walking almost blind. Dobey surprised Hutch. Despite the impressive bulk of the man, testament to almost 20 years of Edith’s good home cooking, he still kept himself fit and as they pushed on through the forest, the black man seemed barely out of breath. But there was no sign of the cop and soldier and they were beginning to feel anxious.

‘They can’t have gone too much further. Traff wasn’t exactly fit to travel’ Hutch grunted as he plodded along in Dobey’s wake. One good thing about his captain’s bulk was that he could forge his way effectively through the undergrowth and leave a path for the blond.

‘No, but it’s amazing what ya can do if there’s a goon with a gun chasin’ ya’ Dobey observed dryly. ‘We’re goin’ downhill. That’s the only direction they’d go in. They know they’d need to try an’ get to some kind of civilisation’.

‘And that’s abundant on the top of a mountain, right!’ Hutch muttered sarcastically.

‘Ya got any better ideas?’ Dobey asked.

At that moment, not more than a hundred yards ahead, they heard a gunshot, the report silencing the songs of the birds around them. Hutch stopped, hands on hips as he tried to gather his breath.

‘How ‘bout we follow that huh?’ he grinned.


Ramon pushed himself away from Enrico’s side and drew his gun as the trees started to thin out towards the clearing. The forest was quiet now, the gunshot having stopped the birds mid song and in the silence nothing moved. Only the odd rustle of leaves marred the peacefulness and as the two men stepped out into the clearing Ramon clapped Enrico on the back.

‘You did good’ he praised the huge man. ‘Will you look at that?’

He walked forwards towards the tree, his gun pointing at the sprawled body of the curly haired cop laying on his belly, unconscious and with it’s head resting on the soldier’s lap. Traff too was only semi conscious and his eyes were closed as his head hung down in complete exhaustion, tremors wracking his body.

Ramon used the toe of his boot to nudge at Starsky’s body, hooking his foot under the cop’s belly as he toed him over onto his back. The sable haired man moaned and stirred, but his vision was all but gone and as he squinted up, he had no idea who the two men were.

‘Utch’ he whispered.

Ramon knelt down by the side of him.

‘Nah, Hutch is dead, remember’ he said cruelly.

Starsky tried to focus. ‘Dead…..mmmn…..nooo. ‘Utch…….not dead……can’t be’ he gasped. He tried to lever himself up onto his elbow and as he did, the Mexican took hold of a handful of curly hair and used it as a handle to pull the cop to his knees. Starsky hissed at the pain, but the added sensation seemed to clear his head somewhat and his hand went instinctively to his gun. Ramon saw the move and slapped the hand away with a snort.

‘I don’t think so. You caused us enough trouble, you and that soldier boy there. Close aren’t ya? Real close. Who shall I kill first? Wanna watch while I put a couple of bullets through his kneecaps for starters? Maybe make him crawl over to ya? Huh?’

‘Leave’m ‘lone’ Starsky mumbled, hitting out at the body holding him upright. ‘Ffffuckin’ kill ya’.

Ramon giggled. ‘In your shape? I’d like to see ya try. Shudup moanin’ you’re getting on my nerves. I was just jokin’ ya. I wouldn’t put the bullets through his knee caps. Maybe I’ll just cut his throat an’ let ya watch him bleed to death. Would that be better for you? Look at ya. Some bodyguard you turned out to be. Can’t even keep him safe up here in the middle of nowhere’. He shook the dangling cop like a rag doll but Starsky had no fight left in him. His head pounded so much that he didn’t realise a body could take so much pain without passing out. It robbed him of his movement, his action, his free will and his resolve and he managed to look one last time at the body of his friend, still in its warm place in the tree.

‘M’sorry’ he managed to slur thickly.

‘Aww. Aint that sweet?’ Ramon muttered. ‘A fond farewell before ya die’. He put his gun to Starsky’s temple and the thought ran through the curly head that at least this would stop the sickening headache. The cop closed his eyes and waited, but when the shot came, the bullet didn’t pierce his skull. The searing hot metal didn’t touch him, but the hand that had been entwined in his hair suddenly jerked back and he felt his body let go so that he slumped forwards onto the earth while at his side Ramon’s body thudded to the ground and stayed still, a pool of blood rapidly seeping from the hole that Hutch’s bullet had blown into his skull.

As the echoes died away, the blond ran unsteadily towards his partner as Dobey kept his weapon firmly trained on Enrico. But the huge man seemed not to be a problem any more. Expecting a fight, Dobey was amazed when the big man simply let out a wail and ran forwards to pluck the body of his smaller friend from the ground and hold it to his chest as he rocked it backwards and forwards and cried into the jet black hair. There was a stunned silence for a few moments before Dobey calmly walked forwards and while Enrico still held onto Ramon’s body, he snicked on the handcuffs and stood back, his gun held loosely in his hand.

Hutch sank to his knees by the side of his partner and gently turned the brunet’s body over, cursing at the wounds that marred the side of Starsky’s face. Not only were they caked in dried blood, but the bruises were black and extended like long peninsulas down each side of his face, his chocolate curls also sticky with blood at the back.

‘Starsk, can you hear me buddy? Starsky? Open your eyes for me huh?’ the blond whispered.

Slowly unfocused indigo blues fluttered open and looked up, although they seemed not to see the blond.


‘Yeah, s’me. Sorry I took so long, but we’re here. I found ya’.

‘M’dead?’ there was confusion in the brunet’s rasping voice. Hutch was dead wasn’t he? So maybe he was too and the blond was his escort to the next life. Seemed like a nice idea……

‘No, you’re not dead buddy. A little frayed round the edges, but you’re not dead’.

‘You’re……dead’. The words were no more than a sigh and Starsky tried to raise his hand to stroke Hutch’s arm, but somehow missed the mark, his hand coming up empty. ‘Utsssh….’

‘M’right here partner, right here’.

‘Yeah…..not dead’.

‘No buddy. Neither of us are dead. Ya really think heaven would look like this?’

‘Dunno……Utch…..can’t see’.

Chapter 15

‘Utch….can’t see’. The words were like a pail of cold water over the flaxen haired cop, but he tried to keep his voice light, despite his heart hammering in his chest.

‘S’ok Starsk. Just rest a minute. I need to go check on Traff. Wait there huh? Won’t be long’.

Hutch staggered to his feet and had a hurried conversation with Dobey.

‘He says he can’t see. But he’s got some impressive bruises on his face and there’s a big wound on the back of his head. Traff’s out cold and he looks like he’s running a fever. We need help and quick. Can you go back to the car and radio this in. I think we need to get a chopper in here. Ambulances would take too long’

The Captain nodded and took one more look at Enrico, who was still sobbing over Ramon’s body. ‘Sure. Think you can handle him?’

‘Yeah. I don’t think he’s goin’ anywhere. Just hurry huh? I’m worried about both of ‘em’. The blond watched gratefully as Dobey turned and trotted back the way they’d come. They hadn’t walked for too long. The cabin couldn’t be so far away. But then they’d have to get the chopper up here and then to the hospital and then….. Ok Hutchinson. Don’t think, just get back to Traff and Starsky.

The blond looked at his two friends. Truth to be told, he didn’t feel much better than they looked, but at least he was on his feet. How much longer he’d remain that way he didn’t know, but he was thankful they at least they were all three together. With a yelp of pain from his damaged arm, he managed to get a hold of Starsky under the shoulders and as gently as he could, he pulled his partner’s body over to the tree trunk containing the soldier. Traff’s eyes flashed open as Hutch sat down by the side of him, but closed just as quickly. The soldier was still muttering, locked in his nightmare world and there was no recognition in the eyes. His body was burning up and Hutch estimated his temperature to be well over 103. He needed hospital care, and quickly.

But for now, there was nothing else for the blond to do but wait. The charge down the mountain and the effects of the pain meds he’d taken sapped him of his strength and when Dobey arrived back at the clearing 40 minutes later he paused at the picture of Hutch slumped against the tree with his arm resting on Traff’s leg and with Starsky pulled up tight and the curly head resting on Hutch’s chest. All three men were unconscious and remained that way until the chopper hovered above them and a paramedic was lowered down on a rope to assess the damage.


Starsky remembered flying. It was a disconcerting feeling and idly he wondered if the passage up to heaven or wherever he now was could be improved some. It certainly needed work because accompanying the feeling of flying was also a loud, loud noise and wind. Lots of wind almost blowing him away. And then there had been silence and comfort and warmth. And now? Now he felt he should probably wake up and say hello to God. If he was in heaven, it was probably right he should pay his respects to his host. He opened his eyes and remembered belatedly that he hadn’t been able to see. Things were still black and he whimpered at the loss. That’s just not fair, he thought. Things are supposed to be great up here. Everythin’ as you’d want it to be, an’ if I’m here, I’d damn well like to be able to see to enjoy it! He rolled his head, feeling something soft beneath him and as he tried to see through the blackness a pinpoint of light emerged. The pinpoint brightened until it was like a candle burning in the distance casting a golden glow. And then the golden light spoke.


Wow! God sounded just like Hutch. Cool! He should probably say something back. He licked his lips and tried to form words, but only a dry croak broke free. He felt something ice cold on his lips and sucked the ice chip into his mouth savouring the soothing wetness. He tried again.


‘Starsk, can you see me?’ the voice asked again and was accompanied by a pressure on his hand. The pressure seemed familiar and he returned it.


‘You can? That’s great. The doc said your sight’d come back. Welcome back buddy’.

And then it hit. This wasn’t heaven! This was……well he didn’t know, but it didn’t matter coz Hutch was with him, which meant either he was still hallucinating, or Hutch wasn’t dead.

‘Where are we?’ he croaked.

‘Memorial. The chopper came up the mountain for us. D’ya remember?’

Starsky opened his eyes and concentrated on trying to focus on his partner. The vision was blurry in the extreme, but he could make out golden hair, a tanned oval that looked like it could be a face and then……two crystalline blue eyes. He locked onto their comforting depths and smiled.

‘Knew you weren’t dead’.

‘Huh?’ Hutch looked confused.

‘The flake…..said he’d killed you an’ Huggy’ Starsky whispered ‘I thought for a while…..’

Hutch squeezed his hand. ‘Aww buddy. I’m sorry. He got rough with us, an’ I’m a bit banged up but…..I’m here. Not goin’ anywhere’.

‘Where’s Traff?’

‘Sleepin’ in the next bed. He’s got a fever and his shoulder’s infected, but they have him on an IV. He’s gonna be fine. You both are. You just got a couple’ of cuts on that thick skull of yours an’ you’re gonna have a helluva a headache for a while, but, you should be fine’.

Starsky took in the information and considered it for a moment. Hutch was ok, Traff was in the next bed, but….

‘Hug……how’s Huggy?’ he rasped.

‘He um…. He’s in the hospital buddy. Don’t worry’.

‘’s he ok?’

Hutch sighed. Even when his head was broken, he couldn’t fool his partner for too long. ‘No, he’s not ok. They beat him pretty badly. He’s um…..he’s in Intensive Care. They had him on life support until this mornin’ Now they’re seein’ if he can breathe on his own. They were talkin’ about brain damage’ the blond explained sadly.

‘Bastards…..where are they?’ Starsky wriggled in the bed as though he was attempting to get up and his partner put a steadying hand out.

‘Dead….well the main one is. His name was Ramon Del Aviga. He was the leader. The big guy, Enrico was just muscle. He’s in Cabrillo. Ramon’s death was too much for him. It’s over partner. Done’.

‘Is it? Is that what Huggy paid for huh?’

‘Yeah. Its over. Just rest Starsk. Sleep. It’ll be better when you wake up again’. He watched as the smaller man obeyed his orders and dark lashed eyelids closed down over indigo eyes. Hutch sat back on the chair, groaning himself as the ribs he’d almost forgotten about started to argue with him. He listened to the soft breathing of his two friends, safe at last and he thought about his third friend in the dim, warm ICU. C’mon Huggy, you can do it.


3 days later and 24 hours after Starsky had been released from the hospital with orders to take it easy, he and Hutch were back in Traff’s room. The mood was sombre although the soldier was once again healing well. But none of the three men could truly relax because the fate of their fourth friend hung in the balance.

On the night Starsky had awoken in the hospital, the doctors had tested Huggy to see if he would be able to breathe off the ventilator. Although the black man had made some attempts, they were insufficient and he’d had to be returned to the machine within minutes. The doctors had tutted and shaken their heads and had advised Hutch that if Mr Brown had any relatives or close friends, they should be informed of his condition. Hutch knew Huggy had a sister somewhere in the islands, but he was the closest thing to a relative to the barman and so he’d kept his vigil, reporting back to his partner and then to Traff when the soldier had finally awoken.

Now, the three men waited anxiously for more results as the medics tried again to wean the black man from the machine keeping him alive. They were silent, each with their own thoughts. Hutch had described what had happened to him and Huggy, sparing all but the most basic facts. He knew starsky felt bad that he hadn’t been there and that Traff blamed the entire episode on himself. But of them all Hutch bore the brunt of the guilt. For it was the blond who had held out and had watched as Ramon and the three others had beaten almost all the life out of his friend while he’d tried to remain quiet.

All of them jumped as the door to the small room opened and a doctor came in. He walked over and sighed then smiled.

‘Cheer up guys, he’s breathing on his own. And if you promise not to stay for more than a couple of minutes, I think you can probably see him’.

There was a collective sigh from the soldier and the two cops and all three limped, or were wheeled down to the intensive care unit and gathered quietly around the bed. The invasive machinery had been taken away and although there were still huge bruises across Huggy’s face and his usually gaunt features were swollen, he seemed more peaceful than he had been for an age.

Hutch leaned over the bed and rested his hand on the black man’s chest as one of the nurses walked over.

‘He was awake for a couple of minutes, but he had some pain, so we’ve given him morphine. Um…..do any of you know if he’s ever had a reaction to it before?’

The blond shook his head ‘No, not that I know of, why?’

At that moment, Huggy opened one big brown eye and smiled beatifically up at the flaxen haired cop.

‘Marilyn…..gimme a kiss honey’ he muttered weakly and pursed his lips at Hutch.

The blond looked at the nurse quizzically and she raised her eyebrow. ‘S’ok, that’s the reaction everyone’s got so far. He seems to think we’re all Marilyn Munroe and keeps asking us to sing Happy Birthday Mr President’.


‘Uh huh. Even me’ the 250lb Puerto Rican orderly said from the other side of the room.


A month later. Huggy was released from the hospital and Hutch and Starsky now both almost fully recovered from their ordeal were there to pick the bar keep up. they’d taken turns behind the bar at the Pits while Huggy had been away and under the direction of the three regular barmaids had made a pretty good job, to the extent that they’d decided if they ever needed to get out of the law, a bar may well be the way to go.

Now, they helped Huggy out of the car in front of the bar and the black man looked up appreciatively.

‘Home sweet home’ he said as he leaned heavily on his two friends. His balance still hadn’t returned fully, but the medics told him that so long as he took things easy, he’d make a full recovery. And now he just wanted to be home.

The three men walked slowly to the door of the bar and pushed it open, but the interior was in darkness and Huggy grunted. ‘Hey, what’s this? I got a business to run an’ they closed my bar! Phone the girls an’ tell them Huggy Bear is back in town and he don’t want to be let down’.

At that moment the lights came back on and there was a loud shout of “surprise!” Huggy staggered back and then grinned a huge, broad toothy grin. All his regular punters, all the bar staff who’d worked for him and most of the off duty BCPD including Dobey were gathered in the room for the surprise party to welcome him back like a hero.

While he’d been recovering in hospital, it had been something of a standing joke that he’d fantasised about Marilyn Munroe while under the influences of the morphine and they’d laughed about it long and hard. And now, as though to cement his return, all the guests to his party, men and women were dressed in flowing white halter neck dresses and sported blond wigs.

And in the middle of the laughter Dobey appeared at his side, hairy chest bulging from his own white satin dress and bandy legs emerging from the hem with drinks in his hand. He handed beers to the two cops and an orange juice to Huggy.

‘Sorry it’s nothing stronger, but doctors orders – no alcohol. Welcome back. And Hug, thanks for everything huh?’

Huggy grinned at the Captain and took the proffered drink. And the music started to play from the juke box, he took the surprised Captain firmly by the waist and stared into his big brown eyes.

‘Why Captain Dobey, you look lovely tonight. Tell me, when dancing, do you dip?’