Chapter 1

The room was filled by the horrible rasping sound of a man fighting for breath. Each inhalation was accompanied by a wheeze and each breath out by a gurgle. It had been like that for two days now, although the antibiotics contained in the IV bags hung at the head of the bed seemed to finally be winning the fight against the bacteria. The respirator had been turned off and the room looked almost empty now that the obtrusive machine had been removed, leaving just the isolation bed and it's occupant in the large square space. Only the cardiac monitor, the automatic sphygmomanometer and the suction tubes remained.

The bed's inhabitant was awake for the first time since the pneumonia had really taken hold and was gazing steadily at the eyes of the only other occupant of the room. The sick man had been thus engaged for the past ten minutes and he seemed to draw a measure of strength and comfort from the presence of the other, as though a look and touch could take away the pain and distress his body felt.

'Hey Blondie, welcome back' the brunette sat on the chair beside the bed said softly, 'Ya had us all worried for a while there'.

The blond head on the pillow stared back at his cop partner of seven years. 'How.....long?' he gasped between the titanic struggles for breath, his speech hampered by the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.

'Two days buddy. Two very long days' Starsky said with feeling. He'd waited by the bedside all that time with virtually no sleep since Hutch had been taken sick, holding the hand, wiping the sweat from the forehead and generally being there.

'Feel like shit'

The curly head nodded, indigo eyes never leaving the sky blue ones 'We've been here before, buddy. Ya just need to rest an' get well huh?' He watched as Hutch's eyelids drooped and sleep overtook him.

On the Wednesday previously Starsky had parked his big red car outside his partner's apartment in Venice Place and bounded up the stairs to collect Hutch for another day in the inner city. As he neared the door to the apartment he could hear the blonde's hacking cough through the woodwork. He opened the door and went in. They never knocked at each other's doors. For most of their time they lived both together at one venue or the other — it was just more convenient that way. As Starsky walked into the open plan apartment, he could see Hutch hunched over the sink in the kitchen, holding his sides and gasping as the coughing fit subsided.

'Did ya get the cough medicine Ma recommended?' he asked, crossing the room and running a glass of water from the tap. He handed it to the blond who took it with a shaking hand.

'Had nearly the full damned bottle' he muttered. 'Stupid cough just won't go away'. He massaged his ribs with his left hand and sipped some more of the cool water.

Starsky realised his partner was paler than usual and there was a patina of sweat on Hutch's forehead and upper lip. He was propping himself up against the counter top, looking as though to move would mean he'd fall over.

'Not what I usually advocate, but have ya thought of seein' the Doc.?' Starsky asked, knowing already what the answer would be.

The blond gave him a dirty look. 'Ya don't go to the Doc. with a cough an' a cold Starsk. I'll be fine. Give me another dose of your Mom's chicken soup an' I'll be OK' he managed a smile before pushing himself away from the sink and heading to the closet to collect his handcuffs, shield and holster. Once all the items were duly installed he looked back at the brunette who was still standing with his ankles crossed leaning against the counter top, still looking concerned.

'C'mon Gordo. Bad guys to catch, ya know'.

Starsky watched as his partner walked out of the apartment, shrugged his shoulders and followed.

During the day, the cough got no better. They had been tailing a black sedan for some time heading out of the city. The driver was a guy they'd been watching for the past two weeks after a string of jewellery shop robberies had gone down. Fairly sure that the man in front was the fence, Starsky was keeping a moderate distance behind the sedan. It drew up towards the lights at the next intersection, but as they started to change, the driver hit the gas and the black car surged forward. Not wanting to loose their target in the heavy evening traffic, the brunette echoed the action and the Torino gave a lurch as the engine struggled to deal with the extra power. The sedan driver must have seen the sudden hike in speed and floored the pedal, forging ahead as Starsky hit the siren button and prepared to follow.

High-speed chases are nothing like you see on television. They are dangerous and require concentration on the part of the driver and balance on the part of the passenger. Hutch was used to dealing with his partner's death defying antics and took hold of the passenger grab handle, bracing himself as Starsky flung the car through impossibly narrow gaps in the traffic, up hills and round corners. The sedan driver was good, but the brunette was better and within ten minutes the car was out on the open highway, where the Torino's superior V8 engine quickly caught up with the fleeing black car.

The sedan took a sudden left and Starsky almost overshot the corner, the red car's back end side slipping in the dust before the tyres gripped and the traction was restored. The corner had been one too many for the black sedan and as the dust cleared, the two cops saw their target half in a ditch at the side of the road. The back tyre was still spinning and the front driver's side door was open. Both cops drew their weapons, checking bullets were in chambers and safeties were off. Cupping the guns in both hands, they cautiously exited the car and ducked down by its side, listening for the sounds of the other car's driver.

Ahead they heard the scrunch of shoes on gravel and at a barely perceptible nod they both ran forward. As Starsky rounded the black sedan he caught sight of the fleeing back of the driver and yelled

'Police, freeze!' never believing for one moment that he'd be obeyed. He was right and the brunette laid down a covering shot which kicked up dust about 2 yards to the right of the fleeing man's foot. That brought him up dead.

'Cover me' Starsky shouted to his partner and ran forward towards the driver, grappling the handcuffs from his rear pocket. As he got closer, the driver turned, hands out at his side, but the brunette realised too late that one hand held a compact pistol. He had one second to register that the weapon was coming round to target his chest before a blond cannonball rushed past him and ran headfirst into the driver's midriff, hurling both the driver and Hutch to the ground.

Starsky ran forward himself, jumping onto the body of the man who'd just tried to shoot him. Kneeling on the guy's arms, he wrestled the gun from his hand, hopped off the body and flipped him over to secure the hands with cuffs behind his back. Once restrained, he leaned forward catching his breath and began to recite the Miranda.

'You have the right to remain silent..........' He finished the litany and looked around to see where his partner was, checking the blond was OK. He'd taken quite a tumble and Starsky couldn't remember him getting up afterwards.

Satisfied the driver wasn't going anywhere, he stood up, brushing the dust from his faded blue jeans, looking round him. He found Hutch, but the blond was still lying on the ground, where he'd fallen after his headlong plunge. He was on his front and Starsky could see the shoulders heaving. He crossed and gently rolled Hutch over onto his back, suddenly more than a little concerned at the red rimmed eyes and ghastly pallor. Hutch was fighting for each breath and although he'd had to exert himself to get to Starsky in time, he should not have had this extreme a reaction.


His partner's ice blue eyes were frantic as the blond struggled to get enough air into his lungs to respond.

'Can't.....breathe' he panted as another wave of coughing assailed him. Starsky pulled him up into something like a sitting position and rubbed his back as the attack faded away, but the breathing didn't come any easier.

'Ya think ya can make it back to the car?' the brunette asked, staring into Hutch's face, as if the answer was there.

'Sure.... piece of....cake' came the rasping reply. But as Starsky started to help the blond to his feet, another coughing attack took hold of him.

'OK, stay there Blintz. S'OK Hutch, I'll go get the car. Don't go away huh?' the brunette pleaded.

Without enough breath to answer, Hutch stuck his thumb up in the universal OK sign and leaned back on his elbow to wait.

Starsky ran back to the Torino and flung the car into drive, covering the scant 100 yards back to the downed cop in mere seconds.

As he slammed on the breaks, he could see that Hutch was loosing the fight with consciousness. He flung himself out of the car and round to his partner.

'C'mon Blondie. Help me out here. Just help me get ya into the car. That's it, ya can do it' he encouraged as the blond got weakly to his feet. With one arm round Starsky's shoulders he leaned heavily on his friend and staggered the three or four steps to the open door. He bent down to duck his head into the car, leaned forward onto the seat and suddenly the world went black.

Starsky saw his partner's body sag back against the seat and managed to manhandle the long legs into the car, closing the door quickly behind him. He trotted back to the driver squirming on the ground and pulled him up by his jacket. Marching him back to the black sedan, he swiftly unclipped the cuffs, inserted one end through the steering wheel and re-clipped them again. Testing them, he satisfied himself the man wasn't going anywhere. He raced back to his own car and picked up the mic.

'This is zebra three. Mildred, ya there Hon?'

'Zebra three, this is dispatch. What can I do for my favourite guy?' Mildred asked.

Starsky quickly told her of the whereabouts of the black sedan, asking for a black and white to drive by and pick up the driver.

'Gotta get Hutch to Memorial' he finished.

'Ya want me to call in "officer down" and get an ambulance?' Mildred asked, worry in her voice.

'Nah, he's not hurt, he's sick. Cough, fever. He's passed out in my front seat. S'quicker to drive him there myself. Just tell Dobey for me?'

'10 — 4 Dispatch out'.

Starsky replaced the mic. on the cradle, gunned the engine and with lights flashing and sirens blazing raced to the hospital.

The nurse on duty when the brunette burst through the doors of the ER recognised Starsky immediately, and also the blond body held in the brunette cops arms. Not that they were frequent visitors. No, not the dynamic duo! She rushed over as Starsky gently laid his partner's limp body on a nearby stretcher and stood back as doctors descended.

Within minutes, Hutch had been whisked away into a side room for tests, x-rays, blood works and the like, and Starsky was left to prowl the corridor waiting for news. It came three and a half hours later from a small Asian doctor.

'Are you Sgt Starsky?' He asked as the curly haired man stood fidgeting. Starsky nodded.

'Your partner has a high fever and a bad dose of pneumonia I'm afraid. I've looked at his medical notes. He was admitted two years ago with a plague-like illness. The one that infected quite a few Bay City residents? Although he recovered from that, it has compromised his lungs somewhat. It's that weakness that has lead to this illness. We have him on antibiotics, but I'm afraid he deteriorated to the point where we needed to place him on a respirator. He must have been ill for several days'.

'He's had a cough for a few days' Starsky agreed, suddenly realising just how sick his partner must have been, and how much the blond had hidden from him. 'Can I see him?'

'He needs his rest. I wouldn't think you'll get any response from him for a while'.

'Don't care. I just need to stay with him Doc' the brunette pleaded.

The doctor saw the need in the indigo eyes and nodded. 'Room 412. Half way down the corridor on the right hand side'. Starsky trotted down the familiar corridor and pushed open the door to the room. It was filled with the hiss and whoosh of the respirator and there was a nurse standing at the side of the bed, reading the monitors and adjusting the oxygen flow and drip rate. She smiled at the brunette as he came into the room and carried on with her observations.

Starsky looked at the blond body in the bed remembering the previous time when Hutch had been sick. Like then, the blond looked way too pale and sweat ran unchecked down the side of his face, pooling in the hollow at the base of his throat. Starsky took a cloth from the bedside table and gently wiped it away. He was thankful to see that Hutch seemed to be resting a little easier, although with the tube in his throat and the machine artificially inflating his chest, it was difficult to tell whether he was any better or not. He took hold of the hand laying limply on the bed sheet and rubbed his thumb up and down it.

'Hey buddy, get some rest huh? just gonna sit here with ya a while. Not goin' anywhere. Just let it all happen an' get well, OK Hutch?' He sat back on the chair and settled down to watch his partner, willing him to get well again quickly.

Chapter 2

The next day, Starsky, who had wedged himself into the chair for the night, was relieved to see that Hutch was resting much more quietly. He still had the respirator and the drip and still looked pale and weak, but his eyes had fluttered open a couple of times and there was some recognition in them. The day wore on but there were no further signs of improvement from the blond and during the second night, his temperature spiked again. With fans blowing on the inert body and regular cool sponges being applied, the fever finally broke at about 4:30 in the morning. Starsky had been there the whole time, holding his friend's hand and murmuring words of encouragement and comfort and as the crisis passed he was relieved to see Hutch looking less flushed and more peaceful. Finally early on the morning of the third day, he gently squeezed the blonde's hand. As he left, he'd told Hutch he'd be back later in the day and there was the shadow of a twitch from the hand he held in acknowledgement.

Once Starsky was satisfied that Hutch was getting better he went back to his apartment for a shower and bed. Later in the day, rested, fed and feeling happier once he'd rung the hospital once again to check on his partner, he made his was back down to the Metro, feeling that strange incompleteness without the blond at his side.

As he pushed through the doors to the squad room, detectives from all sides asked him for news of Hutch, sending him good wishes and asking about visiting and the like. Hutch was a well liked officer and Starsky knew it took some of the pressure off him when others took turns at visiting. Not that the brunette ever minded sitting with Hutch. In fact wild horses usually couldn't drag him away.

Once the initial enquiries had died down, Starsky made it to his desk and the mountain of paper work it contained. He was a tidy guy and the sheets of paper were neatly stacked and ordered in three piles — pending, in progress and completed. He sighed as he saw the enormous pending and minuscule completed piles and got up to pour himself a cup of the thick black coffee from the machine behind him. He was just about to sit down again for the long haul when Dobey's office door opened and a voice shouted 'Starsky, in my office'.

Obediently, he brunette followed him into the inner office and closed the door, flopping down into the chair in the corner.

'How's Hutch?' Dobey asked, sitting down behind his desk.

'He came round briefly this mornin'. Doc. Says he should be fine now. It was that damn plague thing again. Made his lungs susceptible to infection apparently. He'll be there a while yet'.

Dobey nodded. 'So, what're you planning to do?'

'Catch up with paper work, sleep, visit, ya know?'

The black man looked questioningly. 'That gonna fill your time. What about a p...?'

He hadn't got the words out of his mouth before the brunette was cutting him off. 'No! No fill in partner. I'll do the grunt work till he gets back, but m'not goin' out on the streets without him Cap' It was said with such finality that Dobey changed tack.

'Would ya consider a solo job out of town?' he asked, knowing the lure of the road versus paperwork would be too much for the curly haired cop.

Starsky raised his eyebrows. 'Where outa town? Doin' what?'

'Sacramento. Bringing some officials back to Bay City. They've been up there investigatin' some missin' funds at the HQ an' now they're headed down here'.

'Not infernal Investigations Cap. Anything but that. I'll do the paper work. I'll go talk to schools. I'll do a spell on traffic.' Starsky hedged. He and Hutch had had enough run ins with I.A. to last a lifetime. Being trapped in a car with them for a couple of days was too much.

'They need to get here, you need a break from the Metro. I know its been tough on you looking out for your partner, but he's getting' better now, you said so yourself. I thought you could give 'em the scenic trip. Couple of days out in the hills, take in a motel overnight? Just keep 'em out of my hair' Dobey finished, looking pleadingly at the dark haired cop opposite.

Starsky weighed his options, his mind playing out a scenario where he left the two officers somewhere out in the middle of Death Valley with a cup of water and a bottle of sun screen. He shook his head, knowing Dobey would never go for it. Days doing paper work were not high on his list of "these I enjoy" subjects. But there again, anything to do with I.A. wasn't too pleasurable either. On the other hand, Dobey could just saddle him with a stand-in partner, and that would be even worse.

Admitting defeat, the brunette's shoulders slumped. 'Do I have to be nice to 'em?' he asked.

Dobey grunted. 'Since when were you nice to anyone? Since when was anyone ever nice to I.A.? Just collect 'em, show 'em the sights an' take your time getting' back here. Less time they spend with me the better'.

'This is a cop out, ya know that Cap? If I wasn't on the force I'd even call it police brutality!' Starsky grumbled loudly. He stood up and headed for the door a martyred look on his face. 'Hope ya remember this when my pay rise is negotiated next time' he muttered darkly, collecting the scrap of paper with the Scaramento address on it. 'Things I do for Uncle Sam!'


Starsky packed an overnight bag as he studied a road map of the Sacramento area. Almost four hundred miles of keeping 'company' with the enemy! Well, he'd done worse, but not much! Swimming with sharks seemed preferable just at that moment, but by the time he'd added another tee shirt to the bag, along with soap, towel and shaving equipment he had his route and timetable worked out.

He headed back to the hospital to say goodbye to Hutch. As he got to the room, he could already hear that the blond was getting better. The respirator had been taken away and gone was the wheeze and gurgle from the breaths. Hutch was sitting up, looking still pale, but less feverish and more alert.

'Well look at you, all woken up again' he said as he went in.

Hutch looked up and smiled. 'Hey partner' he whispered, the respirator tube having left his throat sore and scratchy. 'How's things?'

'Could ask you the same question. Why didn't ya tell me ya felt so sick? Gods Hutch, don't do that to me again huh?' he perched on the edge of the bed, careful not to jostle it too much.

'Didn't think I was that bad' Hutch whispered, not meeting his partner's eyes. 'Feel better now though. Just wanna go home'.

'Well you're gonna stay put till they tell ya, an' no arguments. Don't ever put me through that again Blintz. That ride back to the hospital! I couldn't tell if you were breathin' or not an' I couldn't hold you up coz I was drivin' an'......'

He stopped as a weak hand reached out to pat his knee. 'M'here now. Not goin' nowhere....... Sorry Starsk'.

'S'ok, Captain Marvel came through again' the brunette said. 'Didn't mean to get mad Hutch, ya just scared me, that's all'.

Hutch chuckled. 'Scared myself for a while there. So, what's new? What's Dobey got ya doin' while I'm laid up here?'

'That's what I came to tell ya. Got a nice trip planned up to Sacramento to collect some guys an' bring 'em back to the Metro. Dobey wants me to take a couple of days over it'.

'That's not like Dobey. Usually wants us back in the thick of things as soon as. He gone soft or somethin'?' Hutch asked, glad to be discussing 'normal' things again. He was already heartily sick of the whole hospital scene.

'Somethin' Starsky grunted. 'The guys in question are from I.A. Cap wants 'em out of his hair for as long as possible. An' lets face it, there's not a lot of Dobey's hair for 'em to get into'.

'Ain't that a fact?' Hutch agreed. 'Ya gonna do this then?'

'Well, given that the options are I.A., deskwork or new partner, I thought I'd go for the cruise up north and suffer the company on the way back. Thought I'd take 'em back through the hills an' stay at that little motel we used last summer?'

Hutch nodded. 'Rather you than me partner. Think I'd prefer a car full of grizzly bears than Internal Affairs. S'almost better doin' paper work. Hey, I could cough on ya, then you'd be too sick to work'.

Starsky laughed but silently agreed with his partner. He stayed with Hutch a while longer, talking about nothing in particular. Just enjoying having the blond to chat with again. Finally he saw Hutch's head nodding, realising his partner was still weak. He helped him get comfortable in his bed, rearranging the pillows and making sure he had a glass of water by the bedside. Generally fussing.

'You gonna be OK? I could always persuade Dobey you're too sick to leave? Don't think he'd buy it?'

'Starsk, I'm in a hospital. It's full of doctors an' nurses. Ya think you bein' here is gonna make me well quicker?'

Starsky admitted defeat. 'Well, Huggy's comin' by tonight and Minnie says she'll see ya tomorrow. Dobey an' Edith are comin' this afternoon. So, I'll see ya in a couple of days then, Blintz?'

'You drive safe Starsk. Don't want any nasty accidents now, do we?' the blond retorted as Starsky got up to leave. 'Ya know what happens when I'm not there to nurse maid ya'.

The brunette pulled a face, 'Yes Mom, I promise to be in bed by 10:00 and always eat my greens' he muttered, flipping a brief wave and leaving before Hutch threw something other than a wave back at him.

Starsky left the hospital and got into his car, checking he had everything he needed in the trunk. He planned on taking a day to get to Sacramento, stay overnight in a hotel at the department's expense, then pick up the two guys and take a couple of days to drive back. When he thought about it, he realised it may be a pleasant diversion. If he could keep the IA goons in the back seat, he didn't even need to speak to them, just drive and be as polite as possible, given what they did for a living.

He switched the engine on, settled himself into the seat and headed for the interstate, joining the I5 north with the moderate afternoon traffic. Once on the Interstate he settled back, singing tunelessly to himself and let the big engine eat the 388 miles north. The weather was good and the sky bright and sunny and as the horizon started to darken, he found himself on the outskirts of Sacramento looking for a decent motel room for the night.

Chapter 3

Next day, Starsky made his way through the morning traffic to the Sacramento Police HQ and parked the Torino outside the front door. The building was newer than Bay City HQ and the brunette dodged through the glass and steel revolving door and into the cool air conditioned interior. Reporting to the Reception desk, he was directed to the third floor and to room 344, where a Captain Paul White would meet him. Ignoring the lift, the brunette took the steps two at a time and bounded onto the third floor landing as he saw a tall harassed looking man duck his head out of a door on the left.

'Sergeant Starsky?' he shouted down the corridor.

Starsky nodded and went to meet the guy. Closer to, he looked older than his original estimate. He was as tall as Hutch and lean to the point of almost emaciated. His hair, which Starsky had thought was pale blond, was actually white and he had piercing blue eyes staring out of a pale face. The overall impression was of someone who spent too long inside working instead of enjoying the outdoors.

'Captain White, pleased to meet ya' Starsky extended his hand.

White took it with a surprisingly powerful strong dry grip. 'Not half as much as I am to meet you. Anyone who's gonna take these two off my hands needs a medal' he muttered conspiratorially.

'That bad huh?' the brunette asked, his heart plummeting into his blue Adidas. On his drive up he'd convinced himself that the two men he was to escort to Bay City would be OK and not the monsters Dobey had imagined them to be. He mentally shrugged. So much for that theory.

'You wouldn't believe it' White was saying as he ushered Starsky into an anteroom. 'They've been here five days an' I think they've upset just about everyone in the building, including the janitors and the lady who brings the coffee round. I don't envy you your trip back'.

'Oh, I'll just stick 'em in the back of the car an' offload 'em in Bay City' Starsky countered, suddenly wondering just exactly what he'd gotten himself into and trying to decide whether it was worth ringing Dobey and asking if he could just bring them back today.

'Well, good luck. You'll need it. They're a real pair of charmers. You ready to meet 'em? White asked, as if he was going to show the curly haired cop into his own execution. At a nod, he opened the door to the inner office and stood back to let Starsky in.

'Gentlemen, this is Sergeant Starsky, your driver back to Bay City' White introduced him. Starsky leaned forward to shake hands.

'Officers?' he greeted them. They stared back at him and he could feel their eyes appraising the red tee shirt, palest blue jeans and worn brown leather jacket. The dark haired cop's clothes were in stark contrast to those worn by the Internal Affairs men. They were attired both in dark blue well cut suits, both with startling white shirts and plain navy ties. Starsky felt like he was standing in the headmaster's office waiting for the feedback from a bad report.

Both men were medium height, not as tall as Starsky and perhaps ten years older, putting them in their mid forties. They introduced themselves as Mottram and Ashcroft.

Mottram was the heavier of the two men. He was balding with a fringe of dirty blond hair greased down to his neck. He had a red complexion, like someone with permanently high blood pressure and watery grey eyes. He gave the impression of someone who had seen life and was now completely bored with it. His eyes flitted over the brunette without ever lingering on one spot. The eyes of someone who wouldn't trust his own mother.

Ashcroft was slightly thinner with a shock of black hair containing the first strands of silvery grey in there. His skin was tanned and his eyes a deep brown. Starsky couldn't decide if there may be some Latin blood in there, if indeed this couple had parents.

They both gazed levelly back at him. 'Sergeant Starsky, we expected to see you first thing this morning' Mottram said icily.

Starsky looked at his watch — 9:05. 'Well, a man's gotta have his breakfast burrito' he smiled, trying the charm route to begin with. There was no melting of the ice. Instead Mottram cleared his throat and tried again.

'Sergeant Starsky, in my department we start work at 8:30 prompt. I did expect that all officers would have some time keeping skills, but obviously Bay City has become quite lax' he bent forward on his desk and made a note in a small book, his pencil making scratching noises against the paper.

The hot headed cop had had enough already. 'Yeah, well when your department starts makin' its officers work nineteen hours straight, totin' a gun an' doin' real police work, maybe Bay City will start work at 8:30 prompt' he spat back.

Mottram raised his head from the notebook with a satisfied smile, as if he was happy he'd pushed the right buttons.

'Sergeant Starsky........' he paused. 'We'll be together a couple of days, what shall we call you?' he asked.

Starsky smiled back. 'You can call me Sergeant Starsky' he replied icily. Mottram snorted.

'Very well Sergeant Starsky, I expect to be back at Bay City tomorrow at' he checked his watch 'no later than 14:00. Is that clear?'

'As crystal' the brunette ground out. 'Shall we go?' Without waiting for an answer, he turned on his heel, raising his eyebrows at White and striding out of the office.

It wasn't until he was back down in the reception area of the HQ that he slowed down and waited for Mottram and Ashcroft. As soon as he saw them exit the lift, he made his way outside and with mock courtesy opened the Torino's door and pulled the seat forward, allowing access to the rear seats.

Ashcroft paused a moment. 'Em, I prefer to sit in the front' he said eyeing the back of the car as though it was going to bit him.

'Yeah, so do I' Starsky replied, not moving until both IA officers were installed in the back. He had the satisfaction of seeing their looks in the rear view mirror as he turned on the engine and drew away from the sidewalk and out into the road.

Raising his voice to be heard over the engine, Starsky said over his shoulder. 'Had a long drive yesterday, so we'll take the trip back in two stages. Stay overnight at a little motel I know up in the foothills of the park, then on to Bay City tomorrow'.

There was no comment from the back, which suited the brunette just fine, so for a while they drove in silence. As they made their way out of the main city area and turned south east, the built up areas of the city dropped away. By early afternoon they'd reached the foothills of the park and started climbing up the heavily wooded hills on narrower roads dappled with afternoon sunlight. Spruce trees and other evergreens lined the road giving welcome shelter from the hot afternoon sun.

Mottram and Ashcroft were definitely not big on conversation and Starsky had almost forgotten they were there as he nursed the big car up through the hills. They talked between themselves and the brunette picked up just a few words from their conversation. They seemed to be pleased with themselves and he heard them mention "officers" and "fired" and "embezzled", but didn't pursue the subject.

As they got higher the scenery became more and more wild, the area they were entering being remote and rarely visited. Starsky had been there the previous year with Hutch on one of the blonde's camping excursions and they had found the desolate area by chance. Although the brunette had complained for most of the time about insects, bears, cold and damp in that order, secretly he loved the scenery. His photographer mindset took in the mountains in the distance, the colours and the quality of the light and he longed to have his Nikon in his hand capturing the beauty around him.

He was surprised therefore when he looked in the rear view mirror and saw, some ways back a dark blue Pontiac driving up the road. In all the time he and Hutch had camped up there, they hadn't seen anyone use the old logging road. As he watched the car seemed to quicken and something about it made the brunettes senses sharpen.

Automatically he pressed the gas pedal a little harder and the big red car surged forward, putting distance between them. Starsky knew the motel he wanted to use was at least another 15 miles away across two heavily wooded valleys and he suddenly felt he needed to be there, checking into the safety of the room. As though he was being followed. He needed to test his theory.

'Either of you guys knows of any reason someone would follow us? You pissed anyone off that badly?' he asked the occupants of the rear seat as casually as they could. He noticed that as he said it, the Pontiac had caught up with them, despite his hike in speed. That was just too weird and his cop's sense told him something bad was going on.

The two men stopped talking between themselves and looked at one another. Ashcroft gave Starsky a pitying look. 'We're I.A. officers. Who don't we piss off?' he said, turning and looking out of the rear window.

'Hm. Thought so. I think we got company' the brunette said, flooring the gas pedal.

It was difficult to drive at great speed on the mountain road. The tyres gave little traction on the leaf litter that dusted the road surface and there were so many bends, dips and rises that it was difficult to get into a rhythm. Starsky handled the controls of the big car like a consummate professional and gave a performance that a Formula 1 racer would be proud of. He nursed the car through the bends, accelerating and braking deftly as the road ducked and dived around the contours of the mountainside. But as fast as he was, the Pontiac behind him was just as fast, if not faster. Whatever the brunette tried, the big blue car was catching up inexorably.

Beads of sweat were glistening on the curly haired cop's forehead as he crested another rise a scant 50 yards ahead of the Pontiac now. He remembered that the road narrowed down to almost nothing a few hundred yards further on. The pair in the back had become silent, hanging onto the front seats to keep from being flung around the interior of the car.

As the brunette started the drive up towards the narrow gorge, the Pontiac's driver urged his car alongside the Torino. Starsky had an almost subliminal look at the driver of the blue racer before the Pontiac's right side collided with the left side of the Torino, sending it shimmying across the road, kicking up gravel from the roadside as it came perilously close to the edge of the steep drop.

'Shit' Starsky muttered as he tried to outrun the other car. But it was too fast and once again, the driver tried the same manoeuvre, causing the brunette to fling the steering wheel over to the left violently to stop the Torino plunging down the mountainside.

Tryin a different approach, Starsky slammed on the brakes and the red car skidded in the dirt as the Pontiac overshot the mark and braked a good 50 yards further up the road. Starsky was surprised and alarmed when the reversing lights engaged and suddenly the big blue car was reversing full tilt back at them. Starsky had no time to react before the rear fender of the Pontiac connected with the hood of his car and started to push the Torino backwards towards the side of the road.

Starsky floored the gas pedal but the Torino was facing uphill and the Pontiac had the advantage of both incline and weight. Try as he might the brunette could not stop the inexorable slip towards the edge and before he had time to shout a warning, he felt the back wheels of his beloved car disappear off the side of the road.

Now frantic, he pushed the brake pedal again and again, but to no effect. The Torino was being pushed slowly over the edge and Starsky had a fleeting view of the precipitous drop fringed by trees and rocks as the Torino finally lost its battle with gravity and it started to fall.

Starsky's final thoughts were for his poor car and that he'd never see Hutch again as he felt the world begin to slip and his last memory was of the terrified screams from the back of the car as the two trapped I.A. men tried desperately to clamber into the front seat.

Chapter 4

The car's headlong plunge down the mountainside was accompanied by the deafening scream of metal against rock and the shredding of foliage as the body of the red beast tore through trees and bushes before coming to a final tortured rest on it's white striped roof. It rocked gently backwards and forwards for a moment before the engine gave a final cough and the Torino died, its doors flung open as if it had finally surrendered to the inevitable..

The total silence after the sounds of devastation was deafening and unnatural but lasted mere moments before the usual sounds of the forest took over and birds once again began to sing. Within the next few minutes even the small rustlings of the animals in the undergrowth had returned and the woods once again closed ranks so that from the road high above, the car could no longer be seen.

The dark curly haired cop came back to consciousness slowly, opening his indigo blue eyes and staring up at the bright blue sky. Trees? Why where there trees? He tried to think back to what had happened. He remembered the road, the Pontiac and then.... Shit they'd been pushed off the road. Starsky raised his head from the forest floor and tried to look round. The simple movement sent waves of pain through his body and with his defenses low from the battering he had taken in the crash, he screamed once and passed out again.

Later, stiffly and sorely, he came to again. This time, he remembered where he was straight away and was more careful of his movements. Starsky tried again to lift his head and assess his situation, and he gritted his teeth as he tried to look round. He couldn't see either Mottram or Ashcroft. He wondered if they had actually made it out of the car and for a fleeting moment he felt guilty that he'd made Ashcroft ride in the back. Oh my God. What about my car. My poor car! He could see the motor a little way off laying on its roof, the side panels dented and ruined, the window glass smashed and the underside of the car visible now as it never should have been.

His head hurt with a viciousness he'd never felt before and he brought his right hand up to his forehead and wiped it. The hand came away red and wet. He felt nauseous and thought he probably had a concussion. His left arm hurt, but as he experimentally wiggled it and felt it was probably not broken. His right ankle was stuck out from his leg at an odd angle and a brief movement of his leg brought another wave of pain and another deep groan from the brunette. This was definitely not one of is better days. Perhaps the two IA men had fared better?

He let his head fall back onto the forest floor and drew a breath. 'MOTTRAM?' he shouted at the top of his voice. 'ASHCROFT?' No answer. Maybe they'd already gone for help? Yeah Davey. Always look on the bright side! He shouted their names one more time before giving up. The action of shouting set up a deep and agonizing pain in his side and he tried to roll over to rid himself of it.

Bright white sparkles lit up his world as a flash of agony took him and shook him. He couldn't rid himself of the pain in his side because he couldn't roll over. Starsky lifted his head again and with as much leverage as he could get, looked down his body. A mistake! He saw his broken ankle, but he knew about that, he saw the blood seeping through his pale blue jeans where his knees and shins were cut. He also saw the reason he couldn't roll over. The sight made him sick to his stomach. There was a thin branch or root of a tree, perhaps the diameter of a dime protruding through his left side, keeping him down and attached to the ground. He was impaled.

Starsky let his head fall back as the sight of the wound brought the pain. He let out a whimper. Terrific. And just how the hell was he supposed to get out of this one? He tried again to shout for the two IA officers again hoping against hope that they were around, unhurt and able to help him.

He looked at his watch. 7 o'clock. It would be getting dark soon and god knew what animals there were out in this remote area. He tried to calm himself and look for the positives. They were few and far between. Hutch would be no help — he was in the hospital. Dobey wouldn't begin to suspect something until tomorrow or the day after. His mind went back to the time his partner had been trapped under his car for two days straight. Was Humphries loose again? No, surely not. And even if he was, there was no Colonel Sonny McPherson this time. No radio ham ready to trace the signal. Dammit, not even a radio, it was too far away for him to get to, even if it would work.

He was shivering now, and the cop part of him knew that he was going into shock. If someone didn't find him soon, he was going to die. He looked around trying to find something to cover himself with, knowing he needed to conserve as much body heat as possible. The only thing was the leaf litter on the ground and much as Starsky wanted the warmth, he wasn't prepared to share his warmth with whatever insects lived in the undergrowth,

The pain in his side threatened to consume him and the brunette fought against the feeling of the world disappearing down a black hole and plunging him into darkness. He started singing songs to himself, trying anything to keep his wits about him now that dusk was falling. His voice wasn't as good as his partner's but he could carry a tune and even strum a guitar if he needed to. But right now his voice was thin and stretched, the pain he was feeling coming through in the sounds he made. He'd just finished the second verse of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and was starting on Billy Ocean's "Love Really Hurts Without You" with certain modifications

"Hutch, this really hurts without you,
Crashing really hurts without you,
And it's breaking my heart,
But what can I do,
Hutch, crashing really hurts without you,
This really hurts through and through
And it's breaking my heart (and head and ankle)
But what can I do without you?"

He started chuckling, knowing hysteria was setting in. Well it sure does hurt Davey.. God this hurts so much. Hutch, where are ya when I need ya buddy?

Thinking about the blond made him sadder then ever. What if he never saw him again? He needed to see those sky blue eyes just one more time, just to lock on to them and gain some strength from them like he'd done so many times before. Hutch buddy, I really do need ya Blintz. He closed his eyes and imagined the blond lookin down at him smiling and telling him to hang on. The thought gave him a measure of comfort and as he passed slowly into unconsciousness again, he was smiling as the flaxen haired partner's memory stayed with him.


Far off in the wood a figure stood and listened to the noises. That morning had started no differently to any other. She rose with the sun, and set out on one of her foraging trips for breakfast, and any herbs and roots she might find along the way. Returning to her cabin for the morning, she'd set out again as the afternoon wore on, sure she'd seen some herbs she needed down by the stream.

She was a healer. Like her Momma before her, and she had learned everything about the forest from her Mom and Grandma -how this plant would bring down a fever- how that would set a bone. She was always busy and always foraging for the herbs she needed, never leaving her home without her digging stick. This morning, she had collected her berries and was setting off back to her home when she found a growth of Agrimony. The big woody stems were perfect for cutting and she spent some time harvesting the herb, it being one of the most useful in her cornucopia. She used it as a tea for colds and minor fevers and it's bitter taste was quite refreshing just as a morning drink. She added it to her basket along with the Datura leaves for their soporific value and Butterfly Weed which she used for it's expectorant and tonic properties.

The forest had been quiet with just the birdsong and small animals for company, when suddenly it became unnaturally quiet. The birds stopped singing and all she could hear was the gentle rustle of her skirt brushing the leaves underfoot, and in the distance a sound she thought she would never hear again. It was a vehicle — a car, or truck, and it seemed to be going fast. Then suddenly the noise had stopped, and was followed by the screeching of metal and the sounds of a large mass crashing through the trees.

She gauged the sound was at least a mile away, and took a fix on the direction it was coming from. It was past her house some, and she hurried to get to the crash, stopping briefly at her cabin to collect her medicine bag and skin of water.

After over an hour of plunging through the undergrowth, she neared the scene. She scrambled down the sides of the narrow ravine, looking all around her. She saw the torn leaves on the trees, the broken branches indicating something had fallen against them and the skid marks on the forest floor. Half way down the ravine she came across the body of a man. He was quite dead, his arms and neck resting at unnatural angles and his eyes staring sightless at the sky. Pausing a moment, she said a quick prayer over the body, closed the lids over the eyes and moved on.

Further down the hill another body was laying across one of the exposed pieces of rock. She scrambled over the uneven ground to get to it. Looking down at the body she knew for certain that this man was dead too. His head had an horrific injury across it, the broken skin exposing cracked bone with grey matter oozing from it. Again, she murmured a quick prayer and with a heavy heart made her way to the bottom of the ravine.

When she did eventually locate the cause of the noise, she saw the large red car with a white stripe tipped onto its roof, lying at the bottom of the narrow gorge, surrounded by trees. It had come to rest against another large rock and cautiously she looked inside it, stooping to check out the interior, but it was empty. Obviously the two men she'd found up the hill were the driver and passenger and she was saddened at their deaths.

She was just about to turn and climb back up the steep hillside when a noise stopped her in her tracks. Keeping to the shadows, she crept forward and heard another low moan. Another person! Finally she saw him through the gathering gloom. Obviously alive, he was laid on his back, with his head facing downhill. There was blood on his clothing and his head and the healer in her took over and pushed to one side her natural instinct to hide. She slowly walked over to the man, who continued moaning and muttering under his breath.

He was a handsome man, she thought. He looked tall (as far as she could tell, as he was laid down) and he had a mop of dark brown curly hair, and a handsome face. His clothes weren't forest clothes. He wore jeans of pale washed out denim and a brown leather jacket that reached to his waist. It was open and she could see the red tee shirt underneath.

As she was watching, the man seemed to sense her presence and his eyes cracked open a little and she caught a glimpse of dark blue eyes, shaded by the black lashes. The man tried to focus on her and move, but the pain he was in caused him to cry out. She leaned towards him and told him that she would rescue him, although she didn't know if he heard her.

Chapter 5

Starsky didn't know how long he'd been drifting in and out of consciousness, he just knew that his body was slowly being consumed by the pain of his injuries, and he wanted out, now. He had lain for a thousand years on the damned forest floor and was giving up hope of ever finding anyone. He'd called Mottram and Ashcroft's names so many times that he was becoming hoarse, but there had been no answer and he'd come to the regrettable conclusion that they were dead. And he knew that if something didn't happen soon, he would surely follow them.

His vision was playing tricks with him as well in the rapidly dimming light. He was sure that out of the corner of his eye he'd seen a movement. Panic made him feel around on the ground around him for a rock or big stone, sure that some animal had come to investigate him as their supper.

The brunette didn't have the strength to try and fight anything big, even if he could have sat or even kneeled. Dammit, he couldn't have wrestled a mouse in his current condition, but he knew there was no way he should try to remove the branch from his side, even if he did have the strength or the leverage.

There was the movement again. This time, he was sure he'd seen a large shape accompany the movement. Oh dear God, not a bear, please not a bear. But as he closed his eyes and waited for whatever it was to attack him, trying to control his breathing and racing heart, he suddenly felt a soft hand on his brow.

Now he was sure he was loosing it. His partner had found him. What was Hutch doing here? How had the blond found him? How'd he get out of hospital? Right at that moment, Starsky didn't care, he was just so damned glad to have some human contact and he forced his heavy eyes open to look into his partner's ice blue ones.

Instead of the familiar baby blues, however, he found nut brown eyes looking down at him with concern and compassion. The eyes were set in a pretty heart shaped face, tanned by years spent in the outdoors. Her hair was long and pale blond, tied back at the nape of her neck in a pony tail which reached almost to her waist, and the hand that stroked his head was fringed by fingers whose nails were chipped, but clean.

Laurel smiled at the man on the floor, glad beyond all measure that he was alive, even though he looked badly hurt. She soothed his forehead and was pleased to see the fear leave his eyes for a moment, to be replaced with questions.

'Ssh' she soothed, 'Just rest a while. I'll look after you. Can you move?'

Starsky collected his thoughts. He was so sure that his blond partner had come to save him that it took a moment to adjust to this new person. But she seemed caring and he instinctively trusted her, although her clothes were odd and she had a slightly wild appearance.

'Side hurts' he mumbled as he saw her look down at the branch sticking through his body. She carefully explored the wound as Starsky tried hard not to flinch, although the woman's actions brought the sweat beading on his brow. Her face registered her concern and her fingers travelled further over his torso, seeking out his other injuries. She lifted his tee shirt and he felt her touch the skin above his ribs.

'Oh sweet Jesus' he gasped as she probed a large bruise on his right hand side. He hadn't even know about that one, but now that the pain had registered, he realised he'd probably cracked a rib there.

Laurel looked past the bruises and cuts marring the man's tanned skin and moved further down to the right ankle sticking out at an odd angle from the leg. She didn't need to be a healer to know that that was broken, but her mind catalogued the injury along with all the others. This man was in a bad way, she thought and her healer's mind automatically started searching through her medicines for what would work the best.

'S'bad?' Starsky asked softly, seeing the look in her eyes.

'You have many injuries' she said, wanting the man to know how bad it was without alarming him too much. 'There is a branch in your left side, you have a rib injury, your right ankle is broken and your right knee is swollen. I think you have a concussion from the cut on your head. There are many other cuts, but I think they are quite minor, although they all require some dressing. You must lie still while I work out what to do first'.

Starsky nodded briefly. He knew he was in a bad way, but having the list recited to him made his mouth dry. How the hell could this tiny woman help him?

She must have seen the look of despair. 'My name is Laurel. I have some healing skills' she told him, her voice calm and reassuring. 'I can give you something now for the pain and then we can wait until it has started to work before I start on that' she motioned with her head to his side.

The brunette swallowed, knowing that even with some pain medication he was definitely going to feel it.

'Dave' he said huskily. 'I'm Dave Starsky'. For some reason he felt he needed to let her know who he was even though merely talking hurt more than he could say.

She smiled at him 'Hello Dave. Please try to relax, it will be all the easier if you can do that for me'.

He watched as she reached into a large leather bag on the ground next to her. She carefully pulled out a package neatly wrapped and tied with cord. Opening it, she took out something which looked like a dried stem of a plant. She held it out to him.

'This is Blue Lobellia. It has pain killing properties and should help to make you a little more comfortable and sleepy' she told his as he took the plant. 'Chew it, but don't swallow the stem. When you feel you have had enough, spit it out'.

With a mental shrug, Starsky took the stem and put it in his mouth. It had a bitter taste but was not unpleasant and as he chewed he realised it was making his tongue and gums numb. He swallowed the bitter taste down and within moments started to feel it taking effect.

Laurel watched as his eyes started to glaze, knowing that the drug was quite powerful. In fact too much would be bad for this man in his current state and she was glad when he spat the plant out onto the ground next to him.

'Tastes like mud' he mumbled, fighting the effects of the herbal medicine.

Laurel saw the drug had taken effect. While Starsky had been chewing the stem, she'd been considering how best to get this man back to her cabin once she'd removed the branch from his side. She looked around her and saw several trees with long straight branches. From her back she took a small sharp axe and rapidly chopped down two of the straightest. Laying them side by side, she took off the jacket she wore and buttoned it at the front, then threaded the poles one through each sleeve, pulling the tough jacket taught. Once Dave was out of his jacket, she would do the same with his, making a carrying pallet or travois to haul him back through the forest and back home.

Starsky's eyes were closing as the pain receded a little for the moment. He realised just how tired he really was and would have given anything just to go to sleep and wake up when it was all over. Laurel reached back into her bag and took out a sharp long bladed knife. She sat back on her heels assessing how best to remove the branch from his side, deciding to keep it in place until she got home, and only to cut it free from the ground.

She kneeled down and bent low to whisper in Starsky's ear

'Dave, I'm going to cut the branch free now. I need you to keep as still as you can, so that I can work. Can you do that for me?'

The indigo blue eyes flashed open for a brief moment as Starsky wrestled with the effects of the Lobellia.

'Mm. ...stay still.....'kay' he mumbled, trying hard to remember her instructions. He felt her sit back and move his clothes to one side, clearing her view. Cautiously, she inserted the blade underneath his body and brought it forward until the blade bit into the wood.

Even with the pain killing effects of the drug, Starsky could feel his whole body tense as the blade passed beneath him. He tried to do as Laurel had said and keep as still as he could, but as she started to saw through the wood, the vibrations that the action caused sent shock waves through his entire being. He bit down hard on his lip, trying hard not to jerk away or cry out, knowing Laurel wasn't intentionally hurting him, but the pain was almost indescribable and as Laurel cut the last sinew of wood away, Starsky's body gave up the fight and he gave a final whimpering cry before blessed blackness claimed him.

Laurel saw that Starsky had passed out and was relieved. She'd hated hurting the man and was amazed at how brave and resilient he was. Now at east she could get on with preparing him for the journey back through the forest without having to worry too much about just how much she was hurting him.

Having severed the branch, she gently rolled the limp body over onto its side so that she could wrestle the jacket off. After that, she deftly added it onto the travois and cushioned the jackets with a layer of bracken leaves. Carefully, she pulled the body sideways and into position between the two poles, making sure he wouldn't move too far. Even though Starsky was unconscious, the movement caused him to moan and writhe on the ground and Laurel was thankful when she had him settled securely. She knew that the sooner she could get him back to her cabin, the quicker she could start to deal with his multiple injuries and set him on the road to recovery.

Tying a piece of cloth around the two ends of the poles, she looped it around her shoulders and began the long and tiring journey on the mile back to her cabin, stopping frequently to rest and check on her patient. She was diminutive, but her size hid her strength. Years of living on her own and having to fend for herself had made her tough fit and agile but the journey still took her four hours because of the stops she had to make and the fact that darkness had now fallen.

Chapter 6

Hutch was feeling much better. In fact he was feeling so much better that he had gotten to the stage of harassing the nurses and doctors to let him home. He'd been in the hospital for six days now and he was heartily sick of being poked, prodded, injected and answering questions about every one of his bodily functions.

He'd had visits from Dobey, Huggy, his next door neighbour and had read so many back copies of magazines and Readers Digest books that he was beginning to believe that there really were five ways to improve your bust and that the powers of nutmeg in warm milk really were stronger than two regular sleeping pills. He'd been allowed up the day before and had felt so good that now he was fully dressed and waiting for his partner's visit. Starsky had said he'd be gone three days and that was four days ago. He knew the brunette would be tired after all the driving and having to cope with two IA officers, so hadn't really expected him the night before, but he had kind of thought Starsky would have been poking his curly head round the door at some point this morning. Usually when he was sick, the brunette couldn't be separated from him.

He heard footsteps coming up the corridor outside his room and looked up expectantly as the owner of the footsteps came in. But instead of the curly hair and broad smile, he was surprised to see the dark features of his Captain at the doorway.

'Hey Cap, to what do I owe this pleasure? You and Edith were only here last night' he asked. 'Not that I'm not glad to see you. I'm going stir crazy in here' he added, hoping the big black man wasn't offended. Although he and Starsky aggravated their boss as a kind of hobby, they both had immense respect for Dobey. But they'd never actually tell him.

Dobey came into the room and sat down heavily on the chair next to the bed. The blond perched on the edge of the bed, a nasty flutter settling into his stomach.

'Somethings wrong, isn't it? ..........Starsky?'

Dobey nodded briefly. 'He was due back from Sacramento yesterday, but never turned up. Mottram, one of the IA guys had promised to phone his wife from the motel they were going to use the night before, but didn't. Apparently he's a real family guy and would never've missed, so she telephoned his office and raised the alarm. They've sent out detectives to Sacramento to retrace Starsky's steps, but as yet, they haven't found anything'.

Hutch was already ringing the nurse call button, persistently, again and again. A pretty young nurse came running into his room and stopped when she saw Hutch looking as fit as she'd seen him for some time.

'Get me a doctor to discharge me' the bond ordered as she looked confusedly at him. 'Now?'

The nurse turned and left swiftly sensing the urgency in Hutch's voice, but not being able to do much about discharge.

'When was the last time they were seen?' He asked Dobey, pacing the floor.

'Two days ago. Starsky got to Sacramento on time, made it to the office, picked Mottram and Ashcroft up and set off for the hills. I told him to take a couple of days to get back, but they should've been here yesterday lunchtime at the latest. They're over 24 hours overdue an' even with your partner's sense of direction, that's too damned long'.

At that moment a doctor bustled into the room.

'Mr Hutchinson, what are you doing dressed? You're in no fit state to be pacing the room and my nurse tells me you want to discharge yourself'.

Hutch fixed the doctor with a wide blue eyed stare. 'Doc, I'm goin' home whether you like it or not. Thanks for all you've done for me. Ya can give me the antibiotics in pills rather than injections an' I promise if I feel worse I'll check in with a doctor, but I'm getting out of here today'.

The doctor opened his mouth to protest, but seeing the look in the Blonde's eyes, he realised the futility of his action. Instead he heaved a sigh.

'Mr Hutchinson.....Ken. You've only been out of bed 24 hours and may I remind you that not a full week ago you were unable to breathe on your own? I strongly recommend that you stay and complete your course of treatment. Having said that, I can see you are adamant and nothing I will say is likely to change your mind. I'll have the nurses get the appropriate documents for you to sign and the pharmacy to get your drugs. Are you sure I cannot persuade you to......'

Hutch cut him off with a wave of his hand. 'Thanks Doc, but I've taken up too much of your time already. When I've signed the release, I'll be out of here'. He turned back to Dobey. 'I need a map of the area north and the telephone numbers of all the motels between Sacramento and here taking in the road they were supposed to be travelling on and the parks'.


An hour later both Dobey and Hutch were striding their way out of the building, the blond clutching a paper sack containing countless bottles of pills and medicines. He didn't feel as good as he thought he should and there was still a tightness to his chest, but the horrible hacking cough had gone and at least his fever had been gone two or three days. All in all, he thought, if he had to go looking for his partner, he was in as good a shape as possible, given the pneumonia. And he wasn't going to tell anyone how he truly felt because wild horses wouldn't stop him from looking for Starsky.

Sliding into the passenger seat of Dobey's car, they continued discussing possibilities as Dobey threaded through the traffic back to the Metro.

'Well he certainly wouldn't be enjoying himself too much to come back' Hutch mused, cancelling that idea.

'We checked an' there were no road blocks or weird weather conditions' Dobey added, mentally ticking off another reason they may have been late.

Hutch sighed. 'Just leaves the inevitable then. They've had an accident. Have the choppers been out? Maybe they could find somethin'.

'Maybe' agreed the Captain, 'but where are they gonna start lookin?'

They drove in gloomy silence for a while and finally Dobey drew into the parking lot at the Metro. Both men got out and went into the building heading for the first floor. Once there, the information Hutch had ordered was on his desk waiting for him. He opened the map and bent over the table to study the area he thought his partner would have chosen as the overnight stop. The area they'd found last year with the remote little motel. He stifled a cough and bit his lip to keep back the groan trying to force its way between his teeth. He mentally chastised himself. Don't bend over too frequently. Sore lungs not up to that particular movement just yet.

'Anyone contacted the motel they were meant to use?' Hutch asked, changing the subject rapidly as he saw Dobey eye him curiously.

'Got no reply, so Sacramento sent a Sheriffs officer up there. The motel's all boarded up. Apparently its been closed all season'.

'Scratch that then' Hutch said despondently. He sighed again and sat down to study the map more closely. 'If you wanted a pleasant drive through the hills for a day, where would you go?' he muttered to himself. 'But if Starsk didn't know the motel was closed he would've gone up that way anyway. Cap, we have to try the old logging road we used last year on that camping trip. Its gotta be where he was headin'.

Dobey looked uncertain. 'There's a helluva lot of miles between there and there' he jabbed a podgy finger at the map indicating Sacramento and the foothills of the park.

'Well the sooner I start, the better then. I'm setting off for Sacramento now. Can you ring ahead an' tell 'em I need to speak to their captain an' anyone else who spoke with the IA guys and Starsky?'

As he registered the affirmative from his boss, Hutch swiftly exited the squad room. Dobey stared at his retreating back counting down from five before the blond came back in.

'Ah, Cap, can I get a lift back to mine? Need to pick up my car'.


Four hundred miles north three men were sitting together in a small diner just off a dusty road at the back of the town. They were dressed casually and apart from their pants, jackets and tee shirts, they also carried weapons in police issue holsters under their outer clothes.

'Did ya get the Pontiac mended?' Jones asked his partner. 'White was askin' where it was today. Told him I needed a new tyre'.

His partner nodded. 'Yeah. Took it to a little repair shop out of town. No-one knows me there. Should take about three days to beat the dents out of the side panels an' spray it, an' another day to sort the rear fender out' he stared at the Styrofoam cup in his hand, rolling the dregs of his coffee round and round.

The three men were silent a moment, thinking about what they'd done.

'D'you think they're all dead?' Jones asked again.

His partner, Heston, shrugged his shoulders. 'Who knows? But whatever they were like just after the crash they're bound to be dead now. Shame about the driver but that can't be helped. No IA evidence against us equals no prosecution. So long as we keep our noses clean, we keep our jobs

Chapter 7

Starsky didn't remember much about the journey back to Laurel's cabin. He knew they were moving because each time the travois hit a stone or root the jolt sent white hot spikes of pain throughout his entire body. He knew Laurel was being as careful as she could be and he was incredibly grateful that she'd found him, so he bit back as many of the groans as he could, but sometimes it was just too damned difficult. Mostly he drifted in a place somewhere between waking and sleeping.

Laurel stopped regularly to check on the brunette, adjusting the poles of the travois, wiping his forehead, but she knew she needed to get him back home as soon as she could. He was bleeding and he needed urgent care, so she pushed herself hard and finally, she arrived back at the small clearing and laid down her burden in front of the cabin.

Starsky was shivering now and that didn't help the pain at all. He looked sideways, squinting at the cabin and was reminded of the old 'Beverly Hillbillies' re-runs on television. It was a small squat building made of logs and with a shingle roof. It had a porch extending across the front of the house and square windows on either side of the door. Laurel laid down the travois poles and straightened up, massaging her shoulders where the makeshift harness had bitten into them. She looked at the semi conscious form on the ground.

'Dave, can you help me get you into the house?' She asked gently.

Starsky tried to focus his eyes on her, but her voice seemed to be coming from a million miles away. He knew though, that strong as this girl was, she'd never be able to get him into the cabin without help.

'Jus' help me up' he mumbled and held out his hand for her.

Laurel bent and put her hand under the curly head and gently helped Starsky into a sitting position, then up to his feet. His vision swam and he felt sick to his stomach, the infernal branch in his side not helping matters at all. Swallowing down the bile, he leaned heavily on Laurel's shoulder and slowly they made their way into the cabin. Laurel led Starsky over to a bed in the corner of the single room and with a groan, the brunette collapsed onto it, panting and gasping.

The girl immediately began busying herself. She stoked up the fire that had been burning in the hearth all day and hung above it a kettle of water to boil. Next she went to her cupboard and took out a clean white sheet which she proceeded to tear into 4" strips and neatly fold. She put those to one side and looked through her medicine cupboard, cataloguing Starsky's injuries and what she would need for them.

One by one, she reached up and pulled out herbs, some dried, some wrapped in cloth, some powdered in small stone jars. Datura leaves she would need to give the man some much needed rest. She used the leaves in a tea to aid sleep and to alleviate pain. Yarrow she would use in another tea against the fevers he would inevitably suffer. Externally she would boil the leaves and make an infusion for treating Starsky's wounds and stopping the flow of blood.

She took down also the big furry leaves of Comfrey, knowing she could make a poultice of those when she set and splinted the broken ankle and maybe on his rib. The herb's other name was Knitbone and it did just that, aiding the mending of bone and taking away inflammation and swelling. And there was always the Blue Lobellia if the pain became too bad, although she would use that sparingly as it was a strong medicine and the man was weak.

As the kettle above the fire started to boil, she set about making the teas and infusions before walking back over to the brunette on the bed. He was hot now and his face, which had been pale was now flushed with the beginnings of fever. Deftly, she removed his tee shirt and cut the trousers away. She removed the shoe and sock from his left foot. The broken right ankle she'd leave for the moment. Once he was undressed Laurel could see the massive extent of his injuries and she looked critically at the multiple bruises, cuts and scrapes showing over the brunettes otherwise tanned torso. Going back to her medicine cabinet she also extracted a clean sharp sewing needle and from another carefully wrapped package, some lengths of sinew she had saved from a deer she had killed for food the previous summer. Once wetted, the fine sinew would become supple and strong and she could use it to close some of the deeper cuts. She also carefully washed and cleaned a thin metal poker and placed it into the white hot embers of the fire.

Starsky tried to take notice as much as he could, but he was feeling sicker by the moment. The pains in his side, ankle and head were threatening to consume him. He felt weak and hot and was not looking forward to what he knew must follow. Laurel came back to him and sat by his side on the bed, smoothing his hair and wiping the damp forehead, pushing back some errant curls.

'How are you feeling?' she asked, searching his face for her reply.

Talking was the last thing the brunette really wanted to do at that moment — even that small movement hurt too much, but the effects of the Lobellia were beginning to wear off and he knew if she didn't start soon, it would be far worse for him. So he breathed deeply, trying to clear his head and assessed his body.

'Side 'urts worse, ankles numb, can't breath too well. Ya sure ya can fix me?'

Laurel smiled. 'I have the necessary herbs and I've had some practice with wounds like this, but not so many all on one body! I'm going to give you some teas now which will make you drowsy and take away some of the pain. I'll try hard not to hurt you too much, but this' she pointed to the branch still sticking sickeningly out of his side 'will need to come out first'.

He nodded and swallowed hard, stowing his fear down deep inside him as he watched her go back to the fire and prepare the herbal infusions and teas. Finally ready, she lifted his head gently and held the cup as he swallowed down as much of the god awful brew as he could manage. It was hot and bitter and made him feel even more nauseous, but he knew he'd be worse off without it, so tried to keep the concoction down.

'The first thing I need to do is to remove this' she said. 'When I tell you, I want you to breathe as deeply as you can and try to remain still. I will warn you when I'm going to pull it out, but once I start, it should be done in one movement. Are you ready?'

Oh sure, ready to have my insides ripped out! Oh God this is gonna hurt so much. Out loud, he managed a shaky 'Just do it'.

Starsky looked grimly at the assemblage of materials Laurel had brought to the side of the bed, suddenly realising what the hot poker was for. Oh my God, shit he thought, then closed his eyes and waited for it, mentally bracing himself for what he knew was to come. He felt the bed move as she stood and placed her hands, one on the branch, one on the flat of his stomach. She paused for an eternity, as the brunette held his breath, then with one hellish tug, she ripped the branch from his flesh. There was a sickening squelching sound as the branch popped free. He yelped once, hating himself for making the noise but being unable to bite it back and sweat beaded on his forehead. He grasped the bedclothes beneath him in his fists, his knuckles turning white with the pressure as he fought the agonizing pain in his side.

Realising that the worst was still to come he gasped back another groan as he opened his eyes, and then shut them again, tight. Laurel had picked up the poker, and with one movement, brought the red hot metal down to the gaping wound left by the branch, cauterizing it cleanly. Starsky smelled a sickening barbeque smell, and realized it was his flesh, just before he screamed one last time and passed out again.

Laurel was glad for the brunette that he was now unconscious, knowing that the rest of her ministrations would be just as painful. At least this way, he would be oblivious to the pain. She looked carefully at the wound, pleased with the results. It would scar, but the bleeding had stopped and the wound looked clean. Fortunately the branch had been new and green and so there was no loose bark or detritus to further dirty the wound. She made a poultice of the yarrow and using one of the strips of sheet, bound it around Starsky's middle.

Turning next to the ankle, she removed the shoe and sock and carefully manipulated the bones back into the right sort of shape. There was no break in the skin there although the joint was swollen to almost twice its size. She took the Comfrey leaves that she'd had steeping in water and made another poultice which she bound around the foot enough that the brunette would not be unable to move it. Satisfied that the break should heal well, she next went to the other wounds, starting with the large cut on Starsky's head. Using an infusion of woundwort, she gently cleaned the wound. The antiseptic properties the herb had would fight any infection there and on the myriad of other cuts across the muscular body. There was one cut, across the bruise on the ribs which required stitching and using the needle and sinew, she inserted three stitches to hold it closed along it's length.

After an hour more, she had cleaned, stitched and dressed all the wounds she could find and she sat back a moment to assess her work. Starsky was fighting the effects of the Datura and Laurel could feel the heat beginning to radiate from his wounds. His skin was dry and hot and she knew that before too long he would be in the grips of a fever. Crossing back to the fire, she made a final tea. This one was of Joe Pye Weed and she needed its properties to induce the brunette to sweat and break his high temperature. This too was a powerful drug and she used it sparingly.

As she held the cup to Starsky's lips his indigo blue eyes flashed open for an instant. There was no recognition in them and as she laid his head gently back down she could hear him muttering in his delirium.

'Utch?....no!.......get down.....oh God, Hutch?'

She wondered what or who Hutch was and sat by the brunette as he tossed and turned on the pillow. His hand was waving weakly as if he needed to hold onto something and she took hold of it in hers.

Starsky grasped it like his life depended on it and Laurel was surprised at the strength of that grip. It seemed to quiet him and as the Joe Pye Weed began to take effect he muttered again

'Hutch.........sleep ....buddy?'

Laurel stayed beside his bed all night watching the man as he fought his battle with pain. At about 4:00am the fever broke and she gently sponged Starsky's body with cool water as the bed clothes became soaked in his sweat. His dark curls lay flat and damp against his head now, but the flush had gone from his face and the drug had worked its magic as by morning, he was sleeping more peacefully.

Laurel got up stiffly from her vigil and went outside into the crisp morning air. She felt drained but relieved that this man would make it. She was sure of that now and she idly wondered if over the coming days she would get to know him and find out abut this 'Hutch'. There was still a long road to recovery, but she had herbs to help with that too. As the sun started to lighten the horizon she went back indoors and started preparations for her morning meal.

As she entered she realised Starsky was wakened and crossed to the bed to check on him.

'How are you feeling?' she asked as she checked the various bandages and wounds.

Starsky licked his dry lips. 'Sore' he answered truthfully. 'Tired. Am I gonna make it?' his voice husky and raw.

'I've set your ankle and dressed your wounds. Some needed me to stitch them, but the wound in your side is clean. Yes, I think you will make it' she said.

The brunette's eyes were already closing again as the tiredness overtook him. 'Need to .....tell 'Utch...Thank you' he whispered as he fell back asleep.

Chapter 8

Hutch had driven like a demon out of Bay City and onto the road north, his mind full of ghastly scenarios where his partner was lying unconscious, being eaten by bears. He hoped he was being silly and that when he got to White's office he'd be able to listen to a perfectly reasonable explanation of why the three men had been delayed.

The traffic was fortunately light and it took him a little over four hours to make the outskirts of the city. Threading his way through the streets, he finally found the police headquarters building and parked his battered brown LTD in the lot at the side. Going through reception the same way his partner had done a few days ago, he was directed up to White's office where the tall Captain was waiting for him.

'Come in Officer Hutchinson' he welcomed and indicated a chair for Hutch to sit in. 'Can I get you a coffee? Something to eat?'

Hutch shook his head, anxious to get down to business.

'Did you have a good journey up here? Traffic OK?' White continued and looked set for a full, cosy conversation. Hutch cut him dead.

'What investigations have you made so far?' he asked sharply. He didn't want to be discussing traffic and weather when his partner had been missing for two days.

White looked a little abashed. 'We've sent patrol cars along the route Detective Starsky said he was going to take, but they haven't found anything. We sent a chopper up to cover as much of the area as we could, but without an actual target to work, they were looking for a needle in a haystack'.

'Yeah, or a red car in a sea of green trees. What? Was the pilot colour blind or somethin'?' Hutch spat, not liking the casual approach this guy was taking.

'Please calm down Detective' White said firmly. 'Getting excited isn't going to get these men back, now is it?'

Hutch heaved a deep breath. 'Just gimme a map of the route they took will ya? I can go an' do some snoopin' of my own, find my partner and get out of your hair OK? An' I need to speak to everyone the IA interviewed. Did they find what they wanted to find? Were there some people here under suspicion?'

White looked at Hutch like he was going to explain something very complicated to a very small child. 'Detective Hutchinson, the IA interviewed just about every member of my staff and found nothing. They came here on a random check and went away empty handed. End of story. Now if your partner has driven so carelessly that he's gotten himself and these two officers lost, that is no fault of me or my staff'.

Normally a fairly placid sort of guy, Hutch saw red at the intimation Starsky might have been careless. He stood up and placed his hands on White's desk, bending to within a foot of White's face. 'Give me the list, give me the map and I'll be gone. Detective Starsky is the best damned driver I know. He would not be careless. He would not have gotten lost. And just because all your men are nice and snug and safe does not give you the right to dismiss this investigation out of hand' he said icily.

White stared levelly back at the blond. 'I'll give you the map, the list and one day to interview as many people as you need, then you're off my precinct and back to Bay City. And God help your Captain'. He rose and left the office, leaving Hutch breathing heavily and trying to get his temper under tighter control.

For the rest of the day, Hutch set himself up in a small interview room down the hall from White's office and interviewed everyone on the list that White had given him. Those he spoke to were open and honest and seemed to have nothing to hide. They all said that the IA officers had been rude and arrogant, but that was what they expected and learned to live with it. Hutch silently agreed with them. He'd had enough dealings with the IA to know what sort of people they were dealing with.

By the end of the day, the blond had ticked off every name bar three on the list White had given him. Tiredly he stood up and drained the remnants of the cold coffee from his cup, dry scrubbed his face and stretched to ease the kinks from his back. He was tired and knew he was in no way fully recovered from the pneumonia, but fear of what had happened to his partner drove him on and he walked wearily back to White's office. He knocked once on the door and waited till he heard the invitation before he entered.

White was sat where Hutch had left him that morning, behind his desk with a mountain of paperwork in front of him. He looked up and a frosty expression fell over his face.

'Well?' he asked.

Hutch threw the list down on his desk. I've seen everyone apart from the three names on the bottom of the list. Where can I find them?'

White gave the list a cursory look. Heston, Giordino and Jones. They're out of town at the moment on a stake out. Haven't been around for over a week. The IA missed 'em too. Seemed pretty pissed they couldn't cover every one of my men'.

'Where's the stake out?' Hutch asked

'Up north a ways, but it's a big case an' they've been working on it for almost six months. No way you're gonna go busting your way in there' White said, reading the blonde's intentions.

Hutch considered a moment, finally conceding defeat. If they hadn't been here when the IA were, there was no need to interview them. White saw the look of defeat on Hutch's face and softened.

'Look, Hutchinson. I know what its like to loose a partner, especially if you've worked together a long time. I know they've been out once but I'll ask the chopper to make one more search OK? Ask them to look for the skid marks on the road. Just go back to your hotel and I'll tell you when they've done the sweep OK?'

Hutch nodded, suddenly weary beyond words. He stood and thanked the Captain before collecting his jacket and heading out to find a hotel room for the night.

The afternoon air was getting a little cooler and Hutch drove out of the city centre a way to look for a quieter venue. The thing with city centre hotels, apart from the rates being too expensive for a cop's pay, was that they were always noisy, no matter what. He found a decent one about a mile outside the city centre and booked himself in. He made his way up to the room on the third floor, threw his jacket down on the bed and headed for the bathroom. Stripping off he looked in the mirror at the haggard face staring back at him. His sickness had aged his blond looks temporarily, giving his features a pale pinched look, his eyes having lost some of their sparkle. Fatalistically he turned on the shower and stood under the hot water, letting it hammer down on his back as he braced himself against the tile wall, going back over the days events.

He re-ran every one of the interviews but all the officers there had seemed genuine, open and honest. The only hostility he'd had was from the police Captain and even then, White had agreed to send up another chopper to.......wait! What had he said?

'Look, Hutchinson. I know what its like to loose a partner, especially if you've worked together a long time. I know they've been out once but I'll ask the chopper to make one more search OK? Ask them to look for the skid marks on the road. Just go back to your hotel and I'll tell you when they've done the sweep OK?

There was something about that that made the blond uneasy. What was it? C'mon dummy, get it together! He re-ran it again.

'......Ask them to look for the skid arks on the road.' That was it!

How'd White know there would be skid marks on the road? Did he know something Hutch didn't? The blond turned off the water got out of the shower and hurriedly dried and dressed himself. He collected his car keys and driving against the flow of early evening traffic, drove as fast as he could back to the police HQ. Running through reception he sprinted up the steps, ignoring the aggravating tightness in his chest, and out onto the corridor where White's office was. He could hear voices coming from the Captain's office and slowed, cautiously hugging the wall as he neared the doorway. Standing just outside, he ducked his head quickly around the door and saw four men in the office, White and three others. It didn't take ten years in the BCPD to work out that the other three were the 'missing' Jones, Giordino and Heston.

Hutch waited calming his breathing and trying to swallow down the coughs he felt rising in his chest. He pushed his ear as close to the door as he could and listened. White was telling the other three about Hutch's visit.

'........told him you three were on a stakeout up north. He was all for going to find you, but I think I've put him off. Persistent bastard though! I finally told him I'd send the chopper up. Seemed to pacify him'.

'Ya think he bought the story?'

'He's not stupid. We need to be careful. I want you to go back up there and check the bodies. Don't want any hitches now. If they don't find the bodies they don't find the evidence and we're home and dry' White hissed.

'Ya want us to go now?'

'No time like the present. He's expecting the chopper to go up tomorrow, so he'll want news tomorrow evening. We need everything clear by then'.

The third man's voice. 'No use going up there now, its almost dark. We'll go first light tomorrow. Don't worry boss, we got it covered'.

White snorted. 'Ya better have it covered. You louse this up we're talking 15 to 20 for serious fraud an' I don't want to spend by dotage in Folsom Correctional. Be back here by lunchtime tomorrow an' no mistakes. I go down, you go down with me' he warned.

Hutch could hear chairs moving in the office and looked around for somewhere to hide. He ducked into the office next door and pressed his back against the wall as he saw the three cops leave. He waited till they got into the elevator and ran for the stairs. Bounding down them two at a time, he reached the reception area just as they were leaving and he followed them back to the parking lot. Choosing one of the men to follow, he started his car and set out to tail him, a plan forming in his head as he drove carefully to the suburbs and parked up at the corner of the residential street, watching the detective returning home for the evening.

Hutch settled himself down for the long wait, knowing he wasn't going to get a lot of sleep. He reached for the bottle of antibiotics and popped his dose, dry swallowing it, knowing he had to keep himself as well as possible if he was going to find out what had happened to his partner. Then he hunkered down in the car seat, made himself as comfortable as possible and dosed.

Chapter 9

Throughout the morning of that first day, Starsky eased in and out of consciousness, aware all the time of the pain, although it registered somewhere in the dim recesses of his mind. He dreamed a lot, mostly of his blond haired partner and he was aware on occasions of calling for him, although Hutch never responded. In his fevered befuddled mind, Starsky couldn't understand that. Hutch was always there for him when he was sick, and the brunette needed him now more than ever. He tried one last time and shouted at the top of his voice.


It came out as the barest whisper and Laurel was immediately at his side, soothing his brow and wiping the sweat away from his face with a cool cloth.

'Ssh, you're safe. Hush a while and rest' she murmured, knowing Starsky couldn't really hear her words, but he quieted a little at the sound of her voice and she spoke to him as she would to one of the forest animals, calm and low, holding his hand and stroking gently up and down his forearm.

She checked his wounds again. The gaping wound in his side she repacked with more of the yarrow, but added in some powdered woundwort, hoping the antiseptic properties would take away some of the heat from the wound. His ankle was still swollen and there too she replaced the Comfrey poultice. Most of the other wounds were doing well although she was concerned about the rib injury which seemed to be causing him a lot of discomfort. As well as giving him a little more of the Datura tea, she set a few stalks of Rabbit Tobacco in a pot by the side of the bed and lit them, knowing the resultant smoke could help his breathing.

She sat and watched him sleep, enjoying the human company she'd craved for so long. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a guest in her cabin. She tried to remember back to when her Momma had died. How many summers ago had that been? And then there was the summer when she'd nursed her brother, but he'd gone too. So many losses, so many family members to bury and mourn. She was woken from her thoughts by stirrings from the bed.

Starsky was awake and looking around him. The Datura had taken the edge from his pain and there was some recognition in his eyes now. Laurel held a cup of plain cool water to his lips and he sipped the refreshing liquid realising just how thirsty he was. He tried to move in the bed and was surprised that it didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. He felt the pressure of the bandages everywhere and looked down his body. He could see the wide stripes of white bandage around his middle, stretching most of the way up his chest, supporting not only the wound in his side but also the cracked rib. There seemed to be so many bruises everywhere and cuts too. No wonder he'd had such a rough night.

He felt the girls gaze on him and took a moment to properly look at her. His memories of the previous day were hazy and he was surprised how small Laurel really was. How the hell had she managed to get him back to the cabin on her own? Her face was small and heart shaped and pretty and her eyes were a beautiful deep brown. Soul searching eyes, he thought. He'd never seen longer hair anywhere. She had it now in a braid down the middle of her back and it reached almost to her waist, ending in a bright blue bow, the only decoration she wore.

Her clothes were strange to him and once again he was reminded of the Beverly Hillbillies. She had on a full skirt which reached almost to the floor and a blue short sleeved blouse open to the neck, revealing nut brown arms and chest. Definitely not the clothes he was used to seeing on women back home. He estimated he was perhaps 26 or 27, but she had an old look about her, as though she'd lived through a great deal in her relatively short life.

'Are you still thirsty?' she asked him, still holding the cup.

'Mouths dry' he replied without the energy to say more.

She nodded knowing that that was one of the side effects of the medicinal teas. She held the cup to his lips again and he gulped some more of the liquid down.

Starsky rested his head back against the pillow and looked around the cabin. It was small, just a single room, but it was clean and tidy and had that 'womans' touch. There was a large plain square table in the middle of the room and in the centre was set a jar of summer flowers, bright gingham curtains decorated the small windows and the bed he lay on had a large patchwork quilt on it. The door to the cabin was wedged open, letting in the cool air from outside and he could just make out a small tilled area at the front, with rows of plants neatly tended.

She saw him take in his surroundings. 'Welcome to my home' she said with such formality it made the brunette smile. She questioned the smile.

'Sorry' he said, 'its just I don't usually end up in bed on a first date' he raised his eyebrows at her. His voice was still husky with the remnants of his fever, but she thought it was a pleasant voice, with warmth to it. She revelled in the sound of another voice after all the time she'd spent on her own.

'I think in your present condition, I would be safe anyway' she smiled back at him. Laurel in turn was studying Starsky. She liked his handsome face, the mahogany curls and the dark, dark blue eyes which even now had a shadow of a twinkle in them. His smile was a little crooked, but that added to his charm and now that he was awake, she realised she liked his sense of humour too.

'How is your pain?' she asked, her healer persona coming to the fore.

'Not too bad' he answered truthfully. Last night when he'd seen the almost medieval instruments she was going to use on him, he'd almost convinced himself he wouldn't survive. When he'd seen her take up the hot poker, he wondered just what sort of woman she really was, but this afternoon, he realised she must have a great depth of knowledge of the plants and herbs if he could feel this good so soon after his crash. It was strange to be injured but not have a drip in his hand and monitors stuck to various portions of his anatomy. It was almost liberating to not have that heavy, leaden feeling that the hospital's drugs gave him when he'd been injured before. Certainly he felt weak as a kitten and drained almost to the point of exhaustion, but he'd felt worse. Above all there was a curious feeling of safety and he allowed it to pervade his every cell, relaxing onto the bed so that even the pain seemed a little further away.

'Where are we?' he asked, suddenly acutely aware that he had no idea how far she'd brought him the previous night.

'Up in the foothills, high up above the road you were using' she explained. 'I've not heard motors on that road for so long, I thought people had forgotten it existed'.

'I found it last summer' he said 'I was on a camping trip with my partner'. Mention of Hutch brought back the memories and Starsky immediately felt a deep thrum of pain start up in his body. 'I need to let him know I'm OK' he said, trying to sit up.

Laurel pushed him back down easily. 'You can't go anywhere as you are at the moment. The nearest town is a two day walk away for someone who is fit and healthy. It must wait until you're stronger'.

But Starsky was adamant, fighting against her to get out of the bed. 'Hutch'll be worried sick. What day is it now? Thursday? I told him I'd be back on Tuesday. They'll be searching for me. Laurel, you've gotta help me. I need to tell him......Oh God' he put his hand to his side and brought it away wet. He looked down at the bandages on his side, seeing a bloom of bright red appearing. Seeing it brought the pain back and he fell back against the sheets, feeling sick and dizzy.

Laurel bent over him, there immediately with some more of the Datura tea. She held it to his lips and he drank deeply, quenching his thirst with the bitter brew. He rested back gasping with the pain as the woman unwrapped the bindings and took away the sodden packing from the wound. She surveyed it critically.

'I'm sorry. I'd hoped that cauterising it would have worked, but I'll have to try to bind it more tightly. I can't stitch it closed. It needs to heal from the inside outwards'. She gently felt round the wound, wiping away the blood with a clean damp cloth.

Starsky sweated as she probed the injury. He trusted her not to hurt him more than she had to, but his side felt like....well, like someone had pushed a red hot poker through it. It hurt to breath and now that the bindings were off and the air had gotten to it some, it was sending white hot flashes of pain through his body.

'Oh shit' he hissed through his clenched teeth as she dabbed some of the woundwort into the gaping wound. Laurel hated hurting him, but needed to make sure the wound was as clean as she could get it before re-bandaging it. As Starsky let out another muffled whimper, she realised she'd have to resort to more of the Blue Lobelia. She didn't like to give such a strong drug in the brunettes weakened condition, but brave as he was, he was in no state to deal with what she would have to do. Covering the wound lightly with a clean cloth, she quickly brewed a strong infusion of the herb and went quickly back to Starsky's side. He was lying on his back, eyes tight closed and panting hard, trying to control the pains and he hardly looked at her as she raised his head and encouraged him to drink the brew.

'It's the strongest pain killer I have' she explained, 'but it will make you very sleepy. Pease don't worry, I'll look after you, but you must keep still until the wound starts to heal' she warned.

Starsky swallowed the fluid and collapsed back against the pillow, fear and pain arguing with him now. He needed to tell Hutch where he was but he could feel the effects of the drug already.

'Utch.... gotta tell him' he mumbled fighting the effects.

'You can tell him when you are able, but you must rest and heal first' Laurel said as he slowly closed his eyes and relaxed back against the bed.

Once he was sure he was resting, she went to work, cleaning, packing and dressing the wound, then bound it as tightly as she could and sat back to contemplate. She knew that as soon as he woke again, he would want to try to get to this person Hutch. She acknowledged he needed to do that, but she knew that unless he lay still and rested for a few days, the injury would never heal. And so she made the decision that she'd feed him the Lobelia every day for a few days, until she could see some improvement. After that, it was all up to him

Chapter 10

It had been a long uncomfortable night for the blond. The cough was back, although not anywhere near as bad as previously. The night in the car didn't help, but Hutch wanted to make sure he caught sight of the detectives when they set off back to where they said they were going to check on the bodies. Fortunately the temperatures weren't low and he had a bottle of water with him, but by morning his stomach was growling with hunger. He was just wondering whether he could chance a quick visit to the bushes for a comfort break when he saw a dark blue Pontiac draw up outside the cop's house. Immediately the man came out of his front door and got into the car. As it drove past, Hutch could make out three figures inside. Great! He waited until they were quite a way past him then started the engine and began to tail them, keeping well back and out of sight.

Fortunately Hutch's car was far less conspicuous than the striped tomato and he was able to keep fairly close as they threaded their way through the early morning commuters on their ways to their offices. Once they got out of town. Hutch hung back further, not wanting to cause any suspicion and he was able to tail the Pontiac from a couple of cars distance away as they slowly made their way out into the countryside. The Pontiac driver was taking his time, obviously not in any particular hurry and Hutch found his mind wandering as he kept a safe distance.

He was more than a little worried about his partner now and White's reference to 'the bodies' had made his blood run cold. Throughout the previous night as he'd dozed he'd had flashbacks to other times when he'd worried about the brunette's safety. But each of those times, they'd come through if not unscathed then at least more or less in one piece. Hutch couldn't believe that something would have happened to Starsky without the brunette being able to let him know. He would have moved heaven and earth to make sure Hutch didn't worry about him. The very fact he'd had no message made him worry more than ever and he mentally braced himself for what he might find up in the foothills.

Slowly the land began to climb and fairly soon they'd left most of the traffic behind. As the Pontiac pulled off the main road and headed along a narrower path, Hutch consulted his map. No more turnings for at least 20 miles so he had the luxury of hanging back, there being no other traffic here. No chance of loosing them, he just needed to drive carefully and mark where they stopped. It must be around here somewhere.

The blond cut his speed and allowed the Pontiac to pull away into the distance. By the way they were driving, the men hadn't realised they were being followed and Hutch was happy to maintain the status quo. He carried on at a steady 30 miles per hour as the hills got steeper and the trees began closing in across the road, cutting out a lot of the bright sunshine of the day.

He'd been driving for over an hour, pulling steadily up the hills and was beginning to wonder exactly where these men were going when, more by good luck then anything else, he caught a glimpse of sun flashing on metal in the distance. Hutch pulled up and saw across a small ravine that the Pontiac had pulled in to the side of the road and stopped. Looking for somewhere he could hide his car, he found a small clearing set just back from the road and pulled into it, glad the basic mud colour of his car's paintwork wouldn't be too visible from the roadway. He immediately cut the engine and waited with the window down, listening for any noise. He couldn't tell from this distance whether his approach had been overheard and quietly he got out of the car and walked across to the steep drop, keeping in the shade of the trees. In the distance he could hear bodies moving through the undergrowth and once as he stared down the hillside he thought he saw a man' shape moving.

Deciding to chance it, Hutch started down the steep ravine side, grabbing at exposed roots and branches to help him keep his balance as his feet slipped and slid on the greasy ground. Once or twice he missed his footing and slid swiftly down the hillside before grabbing at a passing bush and halting his progress. He listened to see if he'd been heard, but the voices that had carried to the road were muffled down here amongst the undergrowth and he moved forward with caution as the ground levelled out at the bottom of the narrow steep valley.

In the distance he could see the three men now, plunging about in the semi darkness, beating at the undergrowth with sticks obviously looking for the bodies. He hid behind the trunk of a tall tree, stilling his breathing and waiting. More than anything else he wanted to run out and start looking for his partner, and Starsky's name was on the tip of his tongue as he gritted his teeth and forcibly stopped himself from shouting for his partner. He'd come so far and it felt too cruel to have to wait now, with the end in sight. He leaned his head back against the tree trunk and sent out a silent prayer that he'd find Starsky safe. He'd even go for finding him hurt, so long as he just damn well found him.

It seemed an eternity before he heard a final shout from one of the men and they all three started making their way back up the hill to their car. They had nothing else with them. No bodies, no nothing and it took all Hutch's willpower to wait until he thought he heard the engine of their car start. He waited an extra couple of minutes just to be sure and then charged out to the area they'd been searching.

The first thing he saw was the Torino on its roof, looking almost obscene in that unnatural position as it teetered there. Quickly Hutch kneeled and looked in, his heart in his mouth. Nothing. No curly haired body there. He breathed a little sigh of relief and searched on. Spreading his field of search a little wider he came across Mottram's body a little way up the hill from the car. It wasn't a pretty sight and animals had already started to make a meal of the IA man's body. Hutch swallowed down the bile that rose in his throat and pushed on further, now dreading what he might find.

Further up the hillside he found Ashcroft's body, similarly gnawed and fear clutched harder at his heart. He paused a moment to take stock and try to think logically. These men were passengers. They may have been thrown clear of the wreck, but would the driver? Starsky would have been wedged in behind the steering wheel until the last minute, surely. Hutch calmed himself and walked back down the hill, searching the undergrowth as he went. He found nothing and finally found himself back where he'd started on the ravine floor near the car. He made himself pause and look carefully at the surroundings.

Something caught his eye on the ground. A pale grey stone with a darker rusty colour on it. He bent down and picked the small stone up examining the residue. Blood! He put it back down and scrutinised the surrounding area finding other bloody traces now. A body had definitely lain here. Now that he looked closely he could see that the grass and shrubs were somewhat flattened like a heavy object had been there. But where was the body? C'mon Starsk, where are ya buddy? Hutch squatted down on his haunches and looked around. From this angle he could see some more marks in the grass, like a body had been dragged away. Suddenly sick realisation suddenly hit. Oh my god, he's been taken away by some animal! There wasn't going to be a body to find. Hutch couldn't take it in. Starsky was dead.

'STARSKYYYYY' he yelled at the ravine walls. 'STARSKYYY' but only the echoes of his voice came back to mock him. He stared madly about him, searching the tree covered sides of the ravine as if expecting that Starsky strut to appear magically, but of course it didn't. Beside himself with grief, Hutch slid down on his knees on the forest floor.

'Oh Starsk, what've ya done buddy? Where are ya? I wasn't there for ya. I should've made you do the paperwork, or taken the new partner. Oh my God what've ya done?' he sobbed, tears running unchecked down his face.

The sickness he'd had and the build up of emotions over the past two days left him raw and vulnerable and for a moment his mind went completely blank as he struggled to come to terms with the fact he'd never see his maverick partner again. He collapsed down onto the ground as if lying where his partner had done would somehow bring him closer to the brunette. He stayed there, grasping at the leaf litter on the ground, his eyes closed, for an eternity, images of Starsky playing through his head, tears refusing to come now. He was numb and wished he could be even number.

How long was he like that? To Hutch time had lost its meaning. He was spiralling down into a well of despair as his mind tried to come to terms with his loss. He re-ran over and over again the moments he'd spent with his dark haired partner. The times when they'd laughed, the times they'd mourned, the times they'd got the villains. And through it all, that lop sided Starsky grin kept shining through, the indigo eyes twinkling in that handsome face. How the hell could he be dead? They'd always joked that they'd die together because they did everything else together. It wasn't meant to go down like this!

Eventually, something in his head clicked on and he hauled himself slowly into a sitting position, feeling cold and stiff and realising there was little light left. Reality was suspended for him now and like an automaton, he steadily climbed the hillside back up to his car and mechanically set it going and drove back towards Sacramento, feeling an emptiness he'd never known before. Starsk was gone and life, he felt was no longer worth living. But as he got behind the wheel of the car, his anguish was steadily being replaced by rage as he formulated his plan to bring the bastards that did this to trial.

He drove back down the hills quietly, his mind half on the road and half on his plan. Jones, Giordino and Heston had no idea that he'd followed them and White still didn't know that Hutch knew he was in on the dirty work as well. Great, if all went well he could get all four together and bag the lot in one fell swoop. He just needed to get some help.

Chapter 11

By the time Hutch had arrived back at his hotel room his mind had cleared and the blind raw emotions he'd felt up in the hills had solidified into an ice cold block of calculated rage and need to bring these four bent cops to justice. Wearily he parked his car in the hotel's lot and almost staggered up to his room, the emotions of the past few hours taking a toll on him. The hotel receptionist looked at the wild looking blond man coming back into the building at such a late hour and was about to challenge him, but one look at the blonde's eyes changed her mind.

Taking the elevator up to his room on the fourth floor, Hutch pushed open his room door, flung himself down on the bed and immediately picked up the telephone. He dialled the number he knew by heart and waited as he heard the ring tone. Eventually a sleepy female voice answered


'Edith, this is Hutch. Can I speak to the Captain?'

'Of course. Are you alright Hutch?' Edith's worry came through in her voice. She knew the two detectives well enough to know that if they needed to speak to her husband, one, or both were in some sort of trouble. There were noises of the telephone being handed over and a whispered exchange then another deeper voice came on the line.

'Hutchinson? What is it?'

Hutch took a deep breath, not trusting his voice for a moment. He cleared his throat.

'Cap, they've killed him' he blurted out.

There was the briefest of pauses, then

'Who's "they"? Who's dead? Hutchinson, get a grip'.

'White was in on it all the time, Cap. There were three others, Jones, Heston, Giordino. Starsky was in the wrong place at the wrong time an' now they're all dead. I need you to meet me up here soon. I'm gonna take the bastards down, so help me, if I could I'd just kill 'em outright' Hutch was shaking now, his teeth chattering as he spoke, the shock catching up with him.

To his credit Dobey didn't ask too many more questions. He'd known the blond too long not to recognise the suffering in Hutch's voice. He softened his own voice some.

'Take it easy son and don't do anythin' stupid till I get up there. Do they know you're onto 'em? He asked.

'No......ah, no. I followed their car up into the hills. They stopped and I followed 'em down into this ravine. The two IA guy's bodies were there. Looked like they'd been dead at least 24 hours'. Hutch shook even more as he cast his mind back to the grisly sight of those broken and gnawed bodies.

'And Starsky?' Dobey asked quietly

'Nowhere. His car was on its roof. Looked like it had been forced off the road. I could see a depression where he must have lain, an' there were kinda drag marks', he paused gathering himself before he went on. 'Oh God Cap. The other bodies! The animals had got to 'em. There was no sign of Starsky's body. I think some sort of animal must have dragged it off' he finished in a gasp.

Dobey could hear his officer's pain four hundred miles away down the line. Having lost Elmo, his own partner, he knew what the blond was going through and sent out a silent prayer to whatever God was looking down on Hutch to help him out some.

'I'm on my way son. Get yourself a stiff drink and rest. If we're gonna nail the bastards you need to be as alert as possible. I'm setting off in the next half hour, but you've got to promise me not to do anything stupid, ya hear? Which hotel are you in?'

Hutch gave Dobey the name and the location of the small hotel and his promise not to set out and try to get to the four cops before Dobey got there. Quite honestly he didn't think he had the emotional or physical strength to do that at the moment anyway. As he put the phone down with a still trembling hand, he felt the tiredness wash over him.

Rising unsteadily from the side of the bed he'd been sitting on as he phoned Dobey, he went first to the minibar of his room and took out a Jack Daniels. The stupid little bottle didn't contain much but Hutch thought grimly that at least that way he wouldn't have the chance to get blind drunk (although God knew he felt like he needed to). He unscrewed the top and knocked back the amber liquid in one, feeling the comforting blaze of heat as it travelled down his throat. Reaching back to the minibar, he grabbed another and with it clutched in his hand he headed for the bathroom and shower.

He stripped off his clothes leaving them in a heap on the bathroom floor. They were torn and grimy from the journey down the ravine and Hutch realised they were probably beyond repair. He kicked the pile into the corner and turned on the shower, waiting till steam appeared behind the shower curtain. Carefully he stepped under the hot water and leaned with his hands against the tile wall, bracing himself there, unsure whether his legs would hold him up any more. The hot jet of water hammered down on his back and neck, easing a little of the tension from his muscles and with the ease, came clarity. He knew for sure now that he would have to get all four men together in one place to take them down. If they were clever enough to have embezzled the funds they were supposed to have, they'd be wary. They were already in it so deep they'd killed three men, so what would another one or two matter to them? And God knows he'd get them and make sure that each of them was sent down for so long that they'd never see the free light of day again.

Hutch stayed in the shower until the tips of his fingers were wrinkled and white and the water was beginning to run cool. He turned the water off, got out of the shower and wrapped a towel round his hips. Draining the last of the Jack Daniels he lay down on the bed and closed his eyes to wait for Dobey.

He didn't realise he'd drifted off to sleep. In his dream he saw his curly haired partner alive and well. Starsky was walking with a limp and had bandages all over his body, but he was smiling and seemed almost happy. He was stood a long way away and Hutch tried to get to him, but the harder he tried, the further away he seemed to get, He tried to run, but his legs wouldn't work and seemed to have forgotten how to move fast. He grasped at passing branches and hauled himself along slowly, arm over arm as he watched Starsky calling his name.

In the distance he heard his partner's voice, but he had to strain to hear what the brunette was telling him.

'Say what Starsk?' he shouted at the top of his voice. 'Say it again Gordo. I can't hear you'.

And then he heard it, clear as a bell as though the words were carried to him on some unfelt wind.

'I'm here Hutch, don't give up. Gotta get to ya buddy. Just tryin' ta get to ya'. But all the time, Starsky was getting further and further away holding out his hand to the blond as if trying to grasp it.

Hutch panicked and let out a final yell 'STARSKYYYYYYY!' and woke with a start, sweating and shaking, his hair damp and plastered to his forehead. He lay a moment panting and gasping, trying to regain his composure as he tried to make sense of the dream. It had seemed so real that for a moment Hutch was convinced that if he opened the hotel room door, the brunette would be stood outside with that goofy smile on his face. He shook his head, feeling stupid, but the dream had left him with mixed feelings. On the one hand there was a great sense of loss at not having his partner at his side, and on the other hand, he had the strangest feeling that the brunette wasn't dead at all.

He got up and poured a glass of water from the tap adding ice from the bucket in the minibar. He wiped his forehead with a towel and sipped the water, his heart rate slowly returning to normal. He looked at his watch. Dobey should be here before too long.

Half an hour later, Hutch saw a car draw up outside the hotel. He'd been standing with his head pressed against the window pane for the last 15 minutes and recognised the car. Apart from that, who else would want to check into the hotel at 4:00 am? Dobey must have driven like the wind to get here in less than four hours! He saw the bulky figure of his boss get out and walk towards the front door of the hotel and within five minutes there was a quiet knock on his door. He opened it and felt an urge to bear hug the familiar figure, but stopped himself. Although the big black man cared deeply for his men, he was never given to outward shows of affection. So instead, Hutch stood to one side and let the Captain in.

Dobey drew the room's only chair up to the side of the bed as Hutch sat down on the edge of the mattress and stared levelly back.

'How ya doin?' Dobey asked.

The simple question cause an enormous lump to form in the blonde's throat and he had to swallow hard before answering.

'Had better days' he responded tightly. 'Jeez, Cap, ya should've seen those bodies. The animals had been at 'em an' they were almost unrecognisable. They were quite a way apart, but I couldn't find St....' his voice cracked and he took a deep breath before continuing 'I couldn't find Starsky's body anywhere. At first I thought the animals had got him. There were drag marks, like somethin' had dragged him away, but no body'.

He looked imploringly at Dobey. 'He could still be alive Cap, couldn't he? I just have this feelin' that he's out there somewhere'. He didn't mention the dream. Wouldn't do to let his boss know he was basing his theory on what Dobey called "spiritualistic mumbo jumbo".

Dobey put a hand on his knee — for Dobey that was tantamount to pulling Hutch into an embrace. 'First we catch the bad guys, then we find Starsky' he said with conviction. 'Now, tell me what ya know'.

So for the next hour, the two cops went over all the details Hutch could remember about White and his three detectives and by the end of that time, they had a plan.

Chapter 12

The two men had perhaps two hours sleep before first light. Hutch slept restlessly still plagued by dreams of his partner and when he woke for the second time just before 7:00am he was once again bathed in sweat. His chest was on fire and he knew he'd once again got the beginnings of a fever. Ignoring the promise he'd made to the doctor back in Bay City, he popped another couple of the antibiotics and washed then down with a glass of cold water.

After snatching a quick breakfast in the dining area attached to the hotel Dobey went into the hotels office and made some swift phone calls. Coming back out ten minutes later he nodded to the blond.

'It's all organised. They'll meet us at the rendezvous at midday. The rests up to you' Dobey told Hutch, then paused, looking carefully at the flaxen haired cop. 'You Ok Hutchinson? You look kinda flushed'.

Hutch brushed his hand over his forehead, wiping the first beads of sweat away. He knew better than to try and lie to Dobey. The black man was way too perceptive for that. Instead he went down the honesty route, hoping Dobey would understand.

'Honestly Cap? I'm not feeling too good. Guess the chest infection's coming back. But I've got to do this. For Starsk?' he looked imploringly at his boss. For a moment Dobey was going to protest, but seeing the look in Hutch's eyes, he realised he couldn't refuse to let the blond avenge his partner's death. Quietly he nodded a silent assent.

'Till midday then?' he said. 'And Ken? Be careful'.

Hutch looked at Dobey with affection. 'I will Cap. But for God's sake don't do that'.


He smiled. 'Don't call me Ken. Ya only ever call us by our first names when things seem hopeless!'

Dobey's expression softened. 'Get outta here' he grunted, turned his back and went to get into his car.

Hutch went back to his room, gathered his belongings and checked out. He headed to his car and sat a moment, checking his big Colt over. He ensured the barrel rotated freely and was well oiled, then carefully inserted six bullets, one in each chamber. Happy that it was all OK, he placed it in the stiff saddle leather holster beneath his left arm, reassured by its weight there. Popping a final antibiotic and an aspirin for the beginnings of a headache, he started the engine and drive carefully through the light morning traffic back to Sacramento police HQ.

Parking in the lot he reversed the car into a space near the exit, so that he could drive straight out without manoeuvring. He got out and left the car doors unlocked and went inside, taking the lift up to White's office. It was still early and White hadn't yet arrived. Hutch made himself comfortable in a chair behind the door and waited. He checked his watch — 8:30. White would be here any time now. He spent the time going back over their plan, hoping Dobey could get his end of the operation organised by midday. As he was rehearsing the arrangements for the twentieth time, he heard footsteps coming up the corridor.

White was obviously in a good mood. He seemed to be stopping at several of the office doors and greeting their occupants before he finally got to his own office. He stepped inside and hooked his foot round the door to close it, his hands full of coffee and paperwork. With his back to Hutch, he placed the coffee cup on the table and was bending over the desk to sort through the various envelopes there when the quiet cocking of Hutch's weapon got his attention. He froze, his hands flat down on the desk.

Hutch rose lightly from the chair and walked up behind the white haired cop. With his gun in his right hand, levelled at White's back, Hutch patted the other cop down relieving him of his Heckler and Koch HK4 semi automatic pistol. Hutch deposited White's weapon in his own jacket pocket.

'Good morning Mr White' he said silkily. 'Put you thumbs in your ears and turn round nice and slow. No sudden moves'.

He watched as White did as he was told, and saw the eyebrows hitch up as he recognised the blond.

'Detective Hutchinson. What's the meaning of this?' he blustered, eyeing the 6" barrel of the Colt pointing straight at him.

'Oh I think you know just what the meaning is' Hutch eyed him icily. 'A small matter of my missing partner — my dead partner. You really should learn to close doors when you and your 'friends' have your little meetings. Never know who's around now, do ya?'

White's eyes flew open wide. 'Now just a minute' he blustered, stalling for time.

'No, not "just a minute". Sit down and I'll explain what we're gonna do' Hutch motioned with the gun to the chair he'd been using. Seeing sense, White walked over quietly and sat down, staring down the barrel of the big Colt. The blond walked over to him and stood over him, contempt dripping from every pore.

'You 'n' me gonna take a little drive. But before we do, you're gonna ring Heston, Giordino an' Jones an' you're gonna tell 'em to meet us at midday at the City Cemetery, south corner. Nice 'n' quiet there. No one to overhear us. Then a few of us are gonna have a little get together. Ya know? Spill the beans, tell us exactly what you've done with all the money?'

White, echoing his name, becoming quite white. His pale complexion paled even more as he realised his little pension fund had been discovered, and now there were three murders to add to his wrap sheet. Shit!

Hutch handed him the telephone and his desk diary. Pointing the gun levelly without any tremble in his hand he stared back at the police captain. 'I think ya should start diallin', don't you?'

White took the telephone from the blond and paused for the briefest of moments before staring back down the muzzle of the Colt. That made his mind up for him and he started punching the numbers on the handset.

Within half an hour White had contacted all three of his accomplices and arranged for them to meet at the given destination. Hutch just hoped that Dobey had been able to get back up from the IA and from Sacramento. That would be the difficult part. Getting the HQ to believe that one of their own had committed this crime. He was feeling weaker and shakier by the minute and he could feel the sweat beading on his forehead. Damn, he didn't have time for this now. The cough was back too and with it the splitting headache. If he could just get through the next few hours, he knew things would be better.

He and White waited in the office until 11:00am. Fortunately no one called in and no one telephoned. Hutch chuckled to himself. Popular guy, this White. As the watch fingers hit 11, he got up and motioned White to stand also. Hutch took off is jacket and draped it over his arm, effectively hiding the weapon which was still pointing at White.

'We're gonna go for a little walk now' he said. 'No funny stuff, an' we'll all get through this in one piece'. White nodded his understanding and they set off out the door and down the corridor, Hutch a scant yard behind White, walking at the Captain's left shoulder, his gun pointing unwaveringly at White's back under cover of his coat.

They went down the elevator and out to the parking lot. Hutch opened the passenger side door of his car and guided White into the front seat, taking out his cuffs and securing the cop to the passenger grab. Satisfied he wasn't going anywhere and keeping his gun trained on White, he trotted round to the driver's side, got in and drove quickly out of the precinct.

They were quiet on the drive down to the cemetery. White was running scenarios in his head, trying to imagine how he was going to fair in the state jail with all the inmates he'd put in there over the years. Hutch was fighting back the need to cough long and hard and trying to ignore the growing tightness in his chest. He just needed to get this over with, then he could look to the future.

45 minutes later, he pulled into the cemetery and drove down the quiet roads to the south corner. He recognised Dobey's car along with several other black and dark coloured cars and a group of men all dressed in black like mourners at a funeral. They were gathered around a coffin on the ground, spread with flowers. Hutch released White's cuffs from the car and nudged him out and towards the small group, acknowledging Dobey silently as he passed.

At precisely midday a car containing Heston Giordino and Jones appeared at the top of the road, and made its slow way down to the group. Hutch was still standing with White, his gun still covered by his jacket, and the blond looked completely out of place in his normal casual clothes next to the dark suits and black ties around him. The three men got out of the car and walked over to their Captain who smiled a little shakily at them then looked down at the ground.

'So, Boss, what ya want us for? Why'd we have to meet here then?' Giordino asked casually looking around him.

Heston at his shoulder chipped in 'Yeah, whose funeral is it anyway?'

At a quick nod from Hutch, the three were swiftly surrounded by the DOJ officers dressed in black, outnumbering the dirty cops at least three to one. They had the sense not to try reaching for their weapons. As Giordino and his friends looked around them in surprise, Hutch came forward and stared his partner's murderer in the face.

'Who's funeral? Yours sucker!' Hutch spat 'You're all under arrest for Murder 1. The fraud charges'll be aded to that. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense. Do you understand? Course you do.' Hutch pushed Heston towards the DOJ officer next to him as the Miranda slipped out like second nature.

'They're all yours, get 'em out of my sight before I do somethin' I'll regret'.

The blond watched as the four cops were cuffed and taken away, leaning on the side of his car. He was having difficulty breathing again now the adrenalin of the moment had eased away and he bent over slightly, trying to ease the pains in his chest. Dobey saw him and put a protective hand on the blonde's shoulder.

'You ought to go back to the hospital son' he said gently, hearing the wheezing.

Hutch straightened up. 'Not yet, Cap, there's one more thing I need to do. Will ya come back up the hills with me, I need to see if I can find Starsk?'

Dobey knew it was no use agruing with the blond. He'd lost his own partner once and understood the pain Hutch was feeling deep down inside. Only a final search of the area would put the Blonde's mind at reat, so to speak. So with a heavy heart he got into his car and followed Hutch up the mountain road one more time.

Hutch pulled in at the same clearing he'd used the day before and waited as Dobey too got out. Together they climbed back down the ravine to the wreckage of the Torino and started to look around again. The bodies of Mottram and Ashcroft had been removed and all that was left was the car and splatters of blood at various points on the ground. Hutch showed Dobey they flattened area of grass and foliage, but the Captain had a hard time making out what the blond thought he saw so clearly. He realised Hutch was clutching at straw and after almost an hour of poking around in the bushes and undergrowth wth no other clues coming forward, he finally took hold of the blonde's arm.

'Hutch, you have to accept. He's gone' he said gently. 'There's no body here and we'll probably never know exactly what happened to it, but he's gone, son'.

Hutch backed away from him. 'NO. No he's not gone. I know he's out there somewhere, I just know it Cap' he was babbling now, a madness taking him over. 'I just need a little longer. I'll find him, I know I will. Just need a little longer,.......' He was interrupted by a bought of coughing that bent him double and took his breath away.

Dobey waited till the blond had recovered some of his composure. 'I'm your commanding officer an' I'm giving you a direct order. Get back in your car and get back into hospital now, ya hear?' he thundered at Hutch, knowing the only way to get the blonde's attention was to be sharp.

Deep down, Hutch knew he was right. His conscious mind was telling him it was all over and to take care of himself, his unconscious mind still told him if he looked hard enough he'd find Starsky somewhere out there. With Dobey's help he climbed back up to the top of the ravine and stood on the edge wheezing and fighting for breath. Seeing the state he was in Dobey steered the blond over to his own car and ushered him into the passenger seat. As Hutch rested limply back against the seat, Dobey drove back down to the city and stayed with the flaxen haired cop as he was admitted to a small hospital on the outskirts of Sacramento with a recurrance of the pneumonia.

Chapter 13

For two days now. Laurel had been giving Starsky small doses of the Blue Lobelia. Although she knew it was such a strong drug she had no alternative. Whenever the effects were beginning to wear off, he would start tossing and turning and moaning for Hutch. Laurel hated having to drug him to keep him quiet but the forced inactivity was working and the last time she'd changed the dressing on the wound in his side, the poultice had come away clean, with no dirt or blood there.

Finally on the third day, she left off the Lobelia and instead fed him a weaker concoction of Datura, knowing that later in the morning he would begin to surface from his drug induced sleep. She had washed his body with cool water, drying the silvery droplets from the brown curly fur on his chest and was contemplating whether she should shave his face. He had six days growth there now and a veritable beard was forming. It gave him an even wilder appearance, which she found not displeasing.

Laurel stayed with Starsky for the morning observing the signs of him coming back to wakefulness. His eyes moved below his closed lids and he was moving his head on the pillow. Towards midday, he finally opened his eyes a crack and began to look around him. His chest rose and fell more quickly as he tried to assess exactly where he was and he ran his tongue over his dry lips, his mouth dry as sandpaper. For a moment there was fear in his eyes as he couldn't remember exactly where he was and Laurel held his hand tight.

'There you are' she murmured 'Don't worry, you're safe. Do you remember?'

Starsky stared at the beautiful woman, wondering how they hell he could forget someone like her.

'Yeah......remember' his voice was thick and dry and Laurel held a cup of cool water to his lips. Starsky drank deeply, enjoying the sensation of the fluid trickling down his parched throat. 'How long?'

Since the accident? Six days in all. The first two days you were feverish and then you woke up, but after that you have been sleeping a lot. I needed to make sure you rested so that your side would heal' she explained, hoping he would understand.

Starsky rested his curly head back against the pillow. He remembered her bringing him back here and he remembered how she'd seen to his injuries, how he'd started to bleed again when he tried to get up to get to Hutch. He took a calming breath. He was so indebted to this woman, but there was more than that. During his fevers he remembered that she'd been there for him, holding him and gently stroking him. She'd held him down gently when his delirium had made him thrash about on the bed. When he'd needed to relieve himself, she'd patiently held a bottle for him without any embarrassment. And when he was moaning in pain, she murmured sweet nothings in his ear, comforting him. There were so many deep feelings he had for this woman. She was a warm, caring loving woman and the brunette could sense no malice in her at all. She genuinely wanted dto help him and he found that both touching and refreshing. In his line of business and in the city where he lived no-one did anything for noting.

Laurel leaned over the brunette to straighten his pillow and Starsky lifted his arm and circled her neck. Gently, he pulled her to him and kissed her tenderly on her lips. Laurel froze, surprise registering in her eyes, but she didn't pull away. As Starsky kissed her, she relaxed against him, lowering herself onto the bed and returned his kiss, timidly at first, and then with more passion. Eventually she pulled away.

Starsky was looking steadily at her, but she avoided his gaze, suddenly uncomfortable. The brunette saw her blush and took hold of her hand.

'Sorry Laurel, I shouldn't have done that. Forgive me' he whispered.

'There's nothing to forgive' she replied getting up and busying herself at the fire. Her lips tingled from the contact and her breath was coming quickly as her mind went round and round in circles. Did he love her? Did he even like her? What should she do? Was this only because he felt indebted to her? She was confused and untutored in relationships. She'd spent so long on her own, she needed time for all this to sink in. Grabbing her medicine bag and digging stick, she told Starsky she needed more Datura and she would be back within the hour.

As she got outside and felt the sun on her face and the cool breeze on her skin, she calmed and walked quickly away from the cabin, putting distance between this handsome man and herself.

In the cabin Starsky was cursing himself for being so forward. God, he'd only been awake for a few minutes and he was jumping the poor girl's bones. Davey, you really are one sick son of a bitch! He closed his eyes, feeling the familiar throb of pain start up in his side. Clutching at the bindings round his chest, he rolled over onto his side and faced the wall, miserably shutting out the world. The last thing he wanted to do was upset Laurel. In fact, he thought he may just love her. He knew he hardly knew her and that most of the time he'd been in her company he'd been completely out of it, but her feelings had broken through his fever and delirium and he felt he'd mad a connection. He tried to sleep, but rest wouldn't come and he heard her come back into the cabin about an hour later. Disgusted at himself, he feigned sleep and didn't move as she checked on his bandages and felt his head to see if he was feverish.

Laurel knew he wasn't asleep and blamed herself. She was convinced that because she'd bolted from the cabin, Starsky would never want to kiss her again. And she so wanted him to do that to her one more time. On her trip out to gather herbs, she re-run time after time that kiss, savouring it, running her tongue across her lips as if she could still taste him there. And now she knew he'd never do that again because she'd pulled away and bolted.

Quietly she went about the business of making their midday meal, heating the water and making a refreshing wild mint tea. She added some chamomile for its soothing qualities and looked back over at the body in the bed.

Starsky couldn't keep up the pretence any more. He hurt and he knew he needed something for the pain now. Groaning slightly he rolled back over onto his back and met Laurel's gaze levelly. If she didn't say something, he would, the cabin was too small for games. He patted the bed next to him.

'C'mere' he said softly.

Laurel perched on the side of the bed, straightening a minute crease in the bandages round his middle. She reached up to feel his forehead with her hand, and he caught her wrist gently. She tried to pull it away, but he held on and forced her to look at him.

'I'm sorry' he whispered. 'I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't have kissed you like that. Forgive me?'

'And I should not have left you alone' she replied. 'There is nothing to forgive'.

'Yes there is. I forced the issue. I.......I liked kissing you' he mumbled, suddenly embarrassed at his own awkwardness.

She couldn't believe her ears! He liked kissing her! She smiled at him. 'And I think I liked kissing you too' she said quietly.

He raised his eyebrows, 'You only think you like it? Ok, well, ah....Ya wanna maybe try again?' He pulled her towards him and she responded, leaning over him and delicately kissing him on the lips. He didn't force it, just let her explore as he gently kissed her back.

Pulling away she giggled. 'Yes, I'm almost certain I like it' she said thoughtfully.

Starsky pulled her towards him again, ignoring the flash of pain from his side. Laurel pulled her feet up onto the bed and snuggled into the brunette's side as she looked up at him.

'I think we need to make you absolutely sure, don't you?' he said huskily claiming her lips again and kissing her deeply one more time.

They stayed that way for some time, Laurel nestling into Starsky's side. She idly ran her fingers through the curly hair on his chest and he ran his hand up and down her arm, both of them learning the pattern of each other's bodies. He took hold of the end of her hair braid and tickled the end of her hair down her neck making her giggle like a small child.

'I love that sound' he told her.

She raised her head and looked him in the eye. 'What sound?'

'When you laugh like that. It makes you sound like a little girl. You seem so serious, but then that laugh comes along an' its like music'. He adjusted his head on the pillow so that he could look down at her. 'How old are you, Laurel?'

She tapped him lightly on the chest. 'Didn't your Momma ever tell you it's rude to ask a lady her age?' she said with mock severity.

He smiled at her, 'Oh yes, but she said it's OK once I've kissed 'em' he answered with a wink.

She giggled again. 'I'm 25' she said. '26 in the Fall'.

'Have you always lived here?'

'All my life. I was born in this bed' she told him.

'And where's your family?' he asked her.

She was silent a moment. 'They are dead' she said quietly. It took the edge off their romantic moments and she sat up, her back to the brunette. He sat up, gasping and put his arm round her waist.

'Sorry, I didn't want to push' he murmured into her hair.

She took a shuddery breath. 'I've been alone for so long now. Papa died when I was small. No more than five or six. He'd been out hunting and fell. He broke his leg and couldn't get back to the cabin. We found his body two weeks later. I knew then I wanted to learn about healing and my Momma told me everything she knew. She died three summers ago from a fever and my brother and I buried her at the back of the cabin. Then last fall my brother went into the town with me. We only went once a year, just to get cloth for clothes and things we couldn't make. He got drunk at the bar there and lost at a game of poker. He didn't have any money, so he bet the only thing he could'. She stopped, her voice quaking.

Starsky waited silently, giving her time. Laurel seemed lost in her thoughts, her hands trembling slightly. Starsky gave her a squeeze.

'S'ok Honey, you don't need to tell me'. He told her.

'No....no, I need to tell you. I need to tell someone, just to hear myself say it. My brother Jed was a weak man. I wouldn't have a bad word said against him by anyone else, but I can tell you. When he did go to town, he enjoyed himself. So he got drunk and he played poker and when he didn't have any money he bet with he only thing he had....me. He handed me over to the winner and got out of the bar, but I fought. I didn't want to go with the other man. I got away from him and ran back to Jed and the man followed us up into the hills. He was so mad. He caught up with us and challenged Jed and they fought. Jed was weak minded, but his body was strong and he hit the man time after time. He knocked him to the ground and told me to run. I did but as I left him behind, I heard a gunshot. When I turned back, Jed was on the ground with a bullet in his chest and the man was running away'.

'I managed to get him back to the cabin, but he was too sick and he died. I buried him next to Mom. I've been alone ever since' she ended. She'd told him the whole story without any attempt at manipulating his emotions, just told it as if she was reciting a passage from a book.

Starsky was stunned. He never would have suspected that someone so young could have such a poignant history. He pulled her gently back towards him and kissed her again as she leaned against his body, accepting the comfort of a human touch for the first time in a long time.

'Why did you live here? Why did your parents live here?' he asked.

She pulled away from him. 'In January of 1848, someone called James Marshall had a work crew camped on the American River at Coloma near Sacramento. The crew was building a saw mill for a man called John Sutter. On a morning in January, Marshall found a few tiny gold nuggets, and started the Californian gold rush. My Grandpapa was one of that original working crew and he moved his whole family to the area. Wanting to escape the gold fever later, he eventually found this mountain and built this cabin. My family have been here ever since. I love it. I don't think I could think of a world outside this mountain'.

'Well, it's beautiful' Starsky said, looking outside the open door, 'but don't you feel like you're missing out on things?'

She smiled at him like he was a little kid. 'If you don't know what's "out there" how can you miss what you've never had?'

Chapter 14

Eventually Laurel moved away from the comfort of Starsky's body. She realised the brunette was getting tired. As she got up off the bed he stifled a groan at the movement of the mattress.

'I'm sorry' she said. 'I'm neglecting you. You're pain has returned. Let me get you something for it'.

Starsky didn't want her to leave him, but had to admit that his body was still healing and had a long way to go. His side was throbbing again and he felt hot. He gladly accepted the tea she gave him and drank it down, welcoming the wooliness it brought with it. There was just one more thing that bothered him.

'Laurel, I have to get a message to Hutch' he told her. 'He's gonna be worried sick, unless Mottram and Ashcroft made it out?'

Laurel shook her head sadly. 'If they are the two men who were with you in the car, I'm afraid they were both dead by the time I got to them. Were they your friends?' she asked.

He shook his head. 'No, just two guys I was taking back to my work. But I need to get to Hutch. He is my friend and he'll be worried. He was sick before I left Bay City, an' if he doesn't know what's happened to me it won't help him'.

'The telephone is in the town two days walk from here. You can't walk that distance yet, and I can't leave you for four days while I go' she explained. 'Tomorrow you can try to get up and each day you'll get stronger. Your friend, if he is so close to you, will understand, I'm sure'.

Starsky lay back against the pillow. He knew Laurel was right, but it tore him up inside not to be able to let the blond know that he was safe. He felt the pull of the drug on his tired system and as Laurel came to sit by him again, he closed his eyes and slept.


In Sacramento Hutch too was sleeping. Dobey had managed to get him back to the city and into hospital. The doctor there had said he'd got back not a minute too soon and that with another IV of antibiotics and enforced bedrest for a few days, he should this time make a full recovery.

Hutch had rebelled against the IV, insisting that he needed to go back up the mountain to find his partner. Dobey didn't know whether the blond was in denial or delirious. Whichever, he was unhappy that Hutch hadn't yet come to terms with the fact that Starsky was gone. He reluctantly authorised the doctor to sedate the blond, and so Hutch remained semi conscious for the next three days as the antibiotics slowly dripped into his arm, fighting the infection. His temperature was hectic, swinging from normal to dangerously high and his chest refused to clear until finally at the end of the third day the doctor declared that he was disappointed in the blonde's progress and they may have to resort to a respirator if things didn't improve.

Hutch began to dream. Once again, his brunette partner was there calling to him. He saw him as if through a mist, never clearly and always just a little out of reach. He tried to run towards him just wanting to touch him one last time, but Starsky always danced out of reach at the last minute. The mists cleared and he could hear those familiar tones. 'Hey Blintz, where'd'ya go? M'here Blondie, don't go. Come get me huh?'

Hutch mumbled fighting his way up from the drugs. 'Starsk, don't go. I'm comin', wait ......Starsk.......wait'. He tossed his blond head back and forth on his pillow until Dobey couldn't stand it any longer and gently shook his shoulder.

'Hutch? Come on son, open your eyes now. Wake up son, c'mon'.

The voice penetrated Hutch's fogged mind and he slowly opened his eyes. 'Starsk?' he asked, sounding confused.

'No, son, its me Harold' Dobey answered, dismayed that Hutch was still asking for his partner.

Hutch smiled at him. 'I dreamed Starsk was here' he mumbled. 'We'll find him later huh?' He snuggled his blond head back down on the pillow and fell back into a fitful sleep.


A few miles away and up the mountain some, a brown curly head was also rocking in its pillow. Starsky was dreaming of his blond partner. He asked the blond time and again to wait for him and to come and get him and finally he thought Hutch understood. There seemed to be a smile on the Nordic face as the dream faded and Starsky awoke more relaxed than he had been for days.

Laurel was there with him, laying next to him on the bed and he sighed deeply as she raised her head and kissed him. He put his arms around her waist and held her to him, smiling into her earnest face.

'You been here all the time?' he asked her, nuzzling the spot where her neck and shoulder joined. She sighed into his neck and ran his fingers through his curly hair sending goose bumps down his back.

'Oh woman, ya can do that all day' the brunette gasped as she returned his kisses and left wet trails up his neck and onto his bristly chin. She stopped a moment.

'Scratchy' she said, rubbing her fingers over the angle of his jaw.

He reached up and ran his hands over his whiskers chuckling. 'Never had a beard before' he said. 'What d'ya think? Does it suit me?'

She raised herself up on her elbows and studied his face. 'It makes you look like a mountain man' she decided. 'Kind of wild and untamed'.

'You can tame me any time you like' he growled, resuming his exploration of her neck. 'But I'm no mountain man. I'm a cop, so maybe I should shave it off? It feels......dunno....wrong some way'.

'I can do that for you' she said, rising and busying herself with a straight razor and some soap. Starsky eyed the cut throat razor with some trepidation.

'Ah....I can do it' he volunteered, but Laurel pushed him back onto the bed, laughing.

'Lie back. I know what I'm doing'.

She spent time, stroking the sharp blade over the brunette's skin, and rinsing it in the water by the bed, until the mass of dark bristles was gone and Starsky's tanned skin was smooth once more. She dried his face and bending over him breathed lightly on the newly naked skin. The cold breath sent shivers down his back and he let out a sigh.

'Oh ye gods, Laurel. Where'd ya learn to do these things?' he purred, his body warm and relaxed. 'Do that again an' I won't be responsible for my actions'.

'Now that would be telling' she teased. Extracting herself reluctantly from his grip and sitting up she became serious. 'Do you feel able to sit up a little? If you need to find Hutch, you'll have to start getting stronger' she told him. She reached down and took hold of his hand.

Starsky pulled himself up until he was sitting upright on the bed. It was the first time in six days he'd managed anywhere near a vertical position and he braced himself against Laurel as the room swam around him. He heaved a deep steadying breath and with her help, managed to get first one and then the other leg over the side of the bed until his feet touched the floor. He sat panting with exertion as Laurel wiped a cloth over his sweating back.

'You are doing very well' she encouraged him.

'Ya think? He grunted, feeling demoralised at being so tired from such a simple movement. 'Gonna sit in that chair' he panted as he levered himself up onto his feet. He stood swaying for a moment, feeling the dull ache in his ankle as he tried hard not to put too much weight on it.

Laurel stood at his side, marvelling at how tall he was. Starsky was 6' and much taller than her brother and Papa had been. As he leaned on her she fit neatly under his arm and he had to stoop to drape his arm over her shoulders as she supported him to the chair. He collapsed heavily onto it as if he'd run a marathon, rather than crossed the five yards from the bed, but Laurel was over the moon.

'You've done so well' she told him, handing him a glass of water. 'I'm so proud of you!'

He barely had the strength to look up at her, and when he did, she saw the despair in his eyes.

'What is it?' she asked him, holding his face in her hands.

'Thought I was gonna be OK' he panted. 'Thought I'd be able to get up an' everythin' would be alright. But its not, is it?'

'Of course it is' she insisted. 'You're up and this is just the first step. I don't understand'.

Starsky looked at her with pleading eyes. 'I thought I'd be able to walk and get to the telephone and find Hutch' he smiled at her, raising his eyebrows, asking for understanding.

Laurel knelt in front of the brunette and put her arms round him, nuzzling her face against his neck as her hands stroked his bare back. 'It'll get better my love, honestly it will. Tomorrow you'll be stronger and the next day and the next until you're well enough to go down to the town. You have to be patient'.

But Starsky was angry at himself and his weakness. He pushed her gently away. 'I can't wait that long. Don't you understand? I have to tell him I'm OK' he shouted at her, taking her by surprise.

'Yes I understand' she said tremulously. 'But I can't make you heal faster. It will be days yet before you can do that walk'.

Starsky saw the single tear making its way down her cheek and was immediately sorry at his outburst. He reached up and wiped it away gently with his thumb, smiling into her troubled eyes.

'Sorry Laurel' he sighed 'I shouldn't have shouted. I'm just kinda mad at myself for bein' this weak, I guess. I'll wait for today' he pulled her back to him and hugged her, savouring the sweet smell of her hair and burying his fingers in it.

'We have all the time, my love' she whispered into his ear, 'we can wait'.

'Yeah' he murmured. 'But pretty soon I'm gonna have to go'. He pulled her back to him and consoled himself with a deep kiss. If it wasn't for his blonde partner, he'd have stayed with this extraordinary woman for ever, wrapped up in their own little world cut off from everyone else.

After an hour or so of sitting in the chair, Starsky's body was aching more than he would have thought possible. Laurel had taken the bandages from round his chest and middle and he felt strange without their support, but glad to be rid of the constriction. After she'd examined his healing wounds she's pronounced herself satisfied and reluctantly he allowed Laurel to help him back to bed. He collapsed down onto the quilt and with a groan rolled onto his back.

'Ya got any more of that tea, Laurel?' he asked, longing for the pains to stop for a while.

'Where do you hurt?' she asked sitting down beside him on the bed.

'All over. Mostly my chest and back' he groaned, his eyes closed as he wrestled with the ache.

Gently. Laurel eased him over until the brunette was lying on his stomach, head pillowed in his arms. She brought down from her shelf an infusion of pokeweed in oil. She climbed up onto the bed and straddled the brunette's supine body and, pouring some of the oil into her hands, she started to massage Starsky's back with long slow firm strokes, kneading her fingers into the knotted muscles. The heady scent of the oil and the woman's hands on his back drove the memories of the pain from his body and he started to relax. Laurel started at his shoulders and worked her way down his back in slow movements towards his hips, her hands moving out from his spine to his sides, wrapping around until they cupped his hips.

His breath was slow and even and his body responded to her caresses. Slowly the brunette turned over without dislodging the woman. She sat above him, now stroking her hands down his chest and shoulders, dragging her fingers through the dark curly forest on his chest. Gradually her hands moved down to the flat muscular plane of his stomach. As her hands dipped even lower, he growled deep in his throat and grasped her wrists in his hands.

'Honey, you'd better mean that' he murmured 'cos if ya don't stop, I won't be able to either'.

She leaned forward and breathed into his ear 'I know exactly what I'm doing. Do you?'

Ignoring the pain in his side, he toppled her off him and onto the bed at his side. Slowly he started to unbutton her blouse, one button at a time, running his fingers gently down the dip between her breasts. He stopped at the skirt as she deftly unbuttoned the waistband and wriggled out of it, dropping it into a puddle on the floor.

He resumed his exploration of her body, the pale translucence of the skin on her belly contrasting sharply with the tan on her arms. He bent and dotted little kisses in a line down her stomach, circling her navel with his tongue. She let out a little gasp and carded her fingers through his hair, holding him as though she never wanted him to move.

Starsky moved back up her body, stroking her face tenderly then allowing his fingers to drift down the line of her neck towards her breasts; he cupped each one, kissing the pink nipple as she shivered below him, then blew gently on them sending shivers of pleasure through her body. Her hands were at his chest now, nails raking lightly down through the hair and lower towards his pants.

Gently he took her hands in his and held them against the bed.

'Lie back and let me do this for you' he whispered as he captured her nipple in his mouth, his tongue making little circles as she sighed and arched her back.

'Oh yes' she panted as his hands moved down her body. 'Oh, please, yes'.

Chapter 15

The next morning they awoke, entwined in each other's arms and tangled in the sheets on the bed. Laurel felt warm and special. The previous evening, as their love making reached its climax and Starsky knelt above her, she'd told him she'd never been with a man before. Gently he'd kissed her and smiled into her eyes

'S'OK Laurel, I'll be gentle, if this is what you really want' he said softly, not wanting to force himself on her.

She'd stared back into those deep blue eyes and lost herself in them as she told him she wanted to be his forever. And gently he took her, running his fingers up and down her body as she experienced a brief flash of pain, then the pleasure beyond. Starsky had held back from his usual exuberant lovemaking, wanting this to be special and gentle for her and instead, used his body to honour her and comfort her as she swayed to his rhythm. Afterwards, they'd stayed cuddled together, her head on his chest until the early hours of the morning.

And now it was light and Laurel knew she should get up and make breakfast, but she was loath to leave the brunette's comforting warmth, never wanting to be parted from his strong arms again. He saw she was awake and kissed the top of her head.

'Hey sleepy head. How are you this morning?' he asked.

'Wonderful' she replied, stretching lazily and running her fingers over his chest, raising goose bumps over his skin. 'I need to make breakfast' she told him feeling his strong arms holding her to him.

'Oh, gods Laurel, ya keep doin' that an' I'll never eat again' he mumbled as her fingers continued to dance across his skin and down towards his navel.

'If you don't eat, you'll never be strong enough for the walk' she told him seriously, 'now let me up and I'll get you some tea'.

He watched her as she busied herself at the hearth, his feelings and emotions in turmoil. He loved Laurel now, he was sure, and he wanted to be with her for ever, but he also needed to be with Hutch and let him know he was alright. As much as he enjoyed being with the woman, he couldn't contemplate life without the blond at his side on the streets. He'd spent so long in Hutch's company that he couldn't see a future for him without that presence. Starsky rubbed his hands over his face, trying to get his head in order, finally giving up and settling for just plain confused. That'd have to do for the time being. As soon as he could walk far enough he'd work on the Laurel/Hutch thing.

Gently he sat up, prodding at the rapidly healing hole in his side. Although his side was sore, the margins of the wound were numb and it amused him to poke at it, exploring what tickled, what hurt and what didn't. Laurel saw him and tapped his hand away, smiling.

'Didn't your Mother ever tell you not to pick?' she admonished.

Starsky got slowly up from the bed and limped over to her, putting his hands around her waist. 'Yeah, but I never do as I'm told'.

She pushed him gently away. 'You seem much stronger today. How do you feel?'

'Not bad' he said, 'surprising what a little exercise'll do' he winked as she giggled.

'Sit down and I'll get you some breakfast'.

Starsky sat obediently down and rested his elbows on the table, waiting till she fried him an egg and served it with a slice of bread. She came to sit and watch as he ate.

'Tell me about Hutch' she said.

Starsky stopped eating, surprised. Where to begin? How to condense six years of working with a man day in day out into a brief description?

'Ah, well.....He's my partner — we're both cops. We've worked together for over six years. He's tall, taller 'n' me. He has blond hair, the same colour as yours and ice blue eyes an' a way of talking that makes ya wanna listen. I trust my life to him every single day we're out on the streets. He watches my back an' I watch his. We've been through some tough times together, but we always pull through — together. He's been hurt, I've been hurt, but we're always there for each other. That's why I need to telephone him, or get a message to him. If he were missing an' I was lookin', I'd go mad if I didn't know where he was'. He smiled at her and tented his eyebrows. 'D'ya understand that?'

'I think I do' she said. 'I've never had a friend like that, but if my Momma or Papa was missing I'd want to know where they were, so I guess it's the same. It must be wonderful to have a connexion like that'.

'Connexion? Yeah, I s'pose that's what we got'. Starsky had never really thought about it like that although some of the guys in the office whispered about how close they both were. 'Well now ya know why I have to go to the town'. He paused a moment wondering how Laurel would take the next bit. 'And Laurel, I need to go today honey' he said it almost like a plea. He knew he'd need her help and he hoped she'd understand.

Laurel was quiet a moment, considering. 'It would be better if you waited another day, till you were just a little stronger. You're ankle hasn't really healed enough to walk on'. She saw the look in his eyes and knew she could refuse him nothing. 'But I can see how you need to do this'. She sighed deeply, but she'd always been brought up to understand that if a man wanted something, a woman should comply. 'Eat and I'll get some supplies. It may be better if we go down the mountain the way I brought you up and walk along the logging road'.

Starsky felt a warm surge of emotion for the woman. How could she be so damned understanding? She was his perfect woman! He reached out and pulled her to him, kissing her lightly 'I love you' he said simply.

She smiled back at him. 'And I love you too'.


Two hours later, Laurel had packed her leather bag with a selection of herbs and implements she thought she might need on their journey, some food and water. Starsky's clothes had been ruined in the accident, but she found some clothes her brother had had and handed them to the brunette. The pants were a little too short in the leg, but the mid blue shirt fit him well enough and Laurel thought it matched his eyes perfectly. His shoes fortunately had survived the accident and he jammed them on his feet now, gasping as he forced the blue Adidas over the large bandage round his ankle. Standing he realised that the shoes gave him some support and his ankle hurt marginally less. He tested his weight on it cautiously and bit back a groan as pain flared through it.

Laurel saw the look and handed him a stout stick she'd cut from one of the trees outside. It had a fork at one end and the brunette jammed it under his arm, leaning heavily on the home made crutch.

'So, are we ready?' he asked.

Laurel saw the flush in his face and the occasional flashes of pain he tried to hide from her. 'I suppose as ready as we will ever be' she said levelly and walked out of the door with Starsky hopping behind her.


In the hospital, Hutch was having a hard time. He was fighting the effects of the sedatives, his blond head thrashing about on his pillow. Sweat darkened his flaxen hair to a dark golden and the usually lightly tanned skin on his handsome face took on a reddish hue as his temperature spiked again.

The doctor was not impressed. He stood at the end of the blonde's bed checking the observation charts as he spoke with Dobey, who looked almost as rough as Hutch. He'd spent the last days at his detective's bedside without much sleep, trying ineffectually to take the place of the brunette in comforting the hurting cop.

'Mr Dobey, he's just not responding to the antibiotics as I would hope and we can't get his temperature under control. He's going to need some mechanical intervention before too long. He just doesn't seem able to relax. If he could, it might help' the doctor explained.

Dobey knew the reason the blond wasn't relaxing. 'Doc, his partner of six years has recently been killed. Hutch is having a hard time coming to terms with that and still maintains that Starsky's alive and before he took sick he was gonna go back up the mountain to look for him again'.

'Well, that would explain it, but it doesn't help us to mend him' the doctor explained. 'If by the end of today he doesn't improve, we may have to consider a respirator. I'll start a final bag of antibiotics and ask the nurse to make half hourly observations'. The doctor looked critically at the police captain. 'You should get some rest too. It won't help him if you become sick, now. Will it?'

Dobey mumbled something about sleeping later and as the doctor made arrangements with the nursing staff, he made his weary way back to the bedside. Bending over the restless form, he reached up and gently stroked the sweat soaked forehead.

'C'mon son, fight it' he implored. I couldn't stand to loose the both of ya. You might have lost him, but I still need ya' he muttered gruffly. Making a decision, he bent forward and whispered in the blonde's ear 'I'm gonna go back up the mountain and find Starsky, but you've got to fight this, ya hear?'

And from the depths of his fever, Hutch heard the whisper. 'Starsk?' he rasped. 'uhnng.......hurts.........find Starsk....f find....' The mumbling became unintelligible and Dobey patted the shoulder one last time as he reluctantly left.


Up the mountain, the object of the search was having an equally hard time in the rough terrain. Starsky had started out well enough on the relatively even ground at the front of Laurel's cabin and had even convinced himself that he was going to make the walk easily. But within 50 yards of the front door, the ground became littered with small rocks, tree roots and bushes, and he found he had to constantly stop and start, never being able to get into a rhythm that would help his movements.

As the ground became worse, he suffered more, falling more than once when his balance was hampered by only having one good foot and Laurel was almost expecting him to admit defeat and turn around. But the brunette was stubborn and as each flare of pain crashed across his side and down into his ankle, he ground his teeth and bit back the groans that forced themselves up, refusing to give in to the weakness he felt.

Laurel watched the sweat bead across his face and the dark patches appear on the fabric at the back of his shirt and down his arms. She marvelled that this man would put himself through so much just to get to a friend and she hoped she'd have the privilege of meeting Starsky's friend, knowing he must be very special indeed. She walked at the brunette's side and helped him where she could, but she didn't want him to feel that she was getting in the way. It was also difficult for her to support him, as he was so much taller than her. So she settled for keeping the pace slow and making sure Starsky stopped regularly to take water and some cold Datura tea. She'd made a weak infusion more for the pain killing properties than the sleep inducing effects, but it didn't seem to be having a great effect. Finally she stopped.

'You're too tired. We should stop, or turn back' she said, watching as Starsky bent double to try to regain a little breath.

'No way!' he panted. 'I'm f.....fine......just need......a break'. He rested his back against a convenient tree, resting on his good leg as he raised the broken ankle off the ground.

Laurel shrugged, knowing better than to argue, and handed the brunette some water. He took it and swallowed the cool fluid down.

'How far d'we have ta go yet?' he asked, looking around him. The foliage made everything look alike and he had no idea whether they had been going around in circles or not.

'We have about another half a mile to the logging road' Laurel said, 'then the town is another ten miles from there'. In her head, she also said "I don't think you'll make it" but she didn't voice her concerns. Starsky would have to make that decision for himself.

Taking a final deep breath, the brunette jammed the crutch under his arm again, and with a supreme effort of will, set off once more down the hill.

Chapter 16

It was growing late in the afternoon when Laurel and Starsky finally made it to the relatively even surface of the logging road and the strain was telling on the brunette. The day had been hot with bright sunshine and the heat had helped to sap a lot of the curly haired cop's energy. Every time he took a hop forward, braced on Laurel's home made crutch, the resulting white hot flash of pain radiated not only from his ankle, but also from the wound in his side. He'd bitten back as many of the yelps and groans as he could, knowing the girl would insist they stop. It was only sheer Starsky determination and stubbornness that made the brunette keep on going. That and the thought that every painful step he took was one step closer to letting Hutch know where he was. But eventually, one root too many snagged at this ankle and he nose dived once again into the dirt.

'Ungh.......shit!' he spat, more disgusted at his own carelessness than bothered by the pains throughout his body. 'Oh sweet Jesus, keep your stupid feet under ya, Davey boy' he yelled at himself. 'Ya can do this, you're just plain stupid'.

Laurel was immediately at his side holding water for him to drink, but he batted it away in his annoyance, needing a satiny blond voice urging him on rather than this lovely woman's pity. But then he felt worse because he knew she was only helping him and he'd never have gotten that far without her.

'I'm sorry honey' he panted as he sat in the leaf litter on the forest floor. 'I'm mad at myself, not you. I should be able to go further 'n' faster than this'.

She smiled down at him and planted a kiss on top of his sweat soaked curls. 'I never thought you'd have made it so far today. I've never seen anyone so brave or so determined. You amaze me!'

'Aw shucks, I bet ya say that to all the cripples' he grunted batting his thick black eyelashes at her and getting back to his feet. 'Now lets see how many more times I bite the dust before we get to the road'. Getting his crutch and foot back in order, he set off limping heavily down the mountain as Laurel looked on in admiration and followed behind.

As they ploughed on through the forest, Laurel tried to keep Starsky's spirits up and his mind off his pain. She picked out various herbs and told him their names and what they could be used for. Starsky was fascinated, especially when he realised that as they were travelling, the girl was constantly picking leaves and flowers, or digging up roots and stowing them in her bag. She was never still and she explained that she never knew when she might find certain herbs again, so she foraged for them whenever she was out.

Starsky had to admit that he was tiring rapidly now and it was with more relief than he could express that they reached flatter ground. Finally as they gained the road, he stopped, panting hard and with a final grunt sunk to the ground. Gasping he held a protective arm across his body, hugging his healing ribs and supporting the puncture wound in his side. As his hands travelled over his middle he stopped and felt the wetness through his shirt, looking down and seeing a small bloom of bright red on his side. Laurel saw it too and was immediately at his side, admonishing herself for allowing the brunette to carry on as long as he had without a break. She pulled the material of the shirt away and examined the wound.

'How bad?' Starsky asked, hoping it was a quick fix.

Her skilled fingers probed the hole and she delved into her bag, pulling out some of the woundwort to sprinkle into it.

'Not too bad, I think. But you've done too much today. You need to rest. I'll dress that again and we can set out afresh in the morning'.

She was businesslike as she poured some water over his side, then pushed more woundwort into the wound. He flinched a little then held his arm up and out of the way as she put a pad over the hole and wrapped a wide white strip of cloth around his middle. Finally she finished her ministrations and took his face in her hands. She looked deep into his eyes and kissed him, running her fingers through his curly hair.

'Enough for today then?' she asked, seeing the pain in his eyes and the paleness in his face.

'Enough' he reluctantly agreed, feeling the weariness of his body and hating his own weakness. Starsky was used to being fit and active. He never did enjoy the recovery period of any injury, riling at his confinement and always pushing himself too hard to get back to full health. Hutch was usually there as his voice of reason, quietly but forcibly stopping the hot-headed brunette from overextending himself, and always being there with the pain meds when he eventually and inevitably began to hurt.

Thinking about his partner made his heart rate hike up a notch again. Hang on buddy. I'm on my way back. Just a bit slower than usual!

He looked around at the road and the geography of the place. His gaze rested on a tyre mark in the dust, which ended diagonally at the edge of the road. He swallowed hard, a knot tightening in his stomach as he pointed to the track.

'Is that where I......?' he couldn't bring himself to voice the word "crashed". It made the whole thing too real.

'Yes' she answered softly. 'I found you down there' she pointed down to the bottom of the ravine. 'The only one of you left alive. I had no time to bury the others, I needed to tend to you' she finished unhappily.

Starsky pushed himself to his feet and hopped over to the edge, looking down through the trees, paling at the sight of the drop he'd survived. Through the trees, if he looked carefully, he could see a flash of colour.

'Oh fuck! My car. My baby! Oh crap what have I done to you?' he called to his beloved Torino. For some stupid reason, after all he'd endured, he felt tears well in his eyes and he angrily wiped them away with the back of his hand. What would Hutch say? "Its only metal and rubber Starsk". But it was so much more than that. He'd blown all his savings on that car, putting a down-payment on it then pleading with the garage to keep it till he could afford the rest of the money. He'd gone to 'visit' it each night in the showroom and finally the owner had taken pity on this poor deluded curly haired guy and let him take it home.

He'd taken girls out for dates in that car; cruised the streets looking for Vic Bellamy when he was almost too sick to see straight; hunted down a vaccine for Hutch's plague; driven Terry home from the hospital. The memories came thick and fast and threatened to plunge the brooding brunette into a deep fit of melancholia. He heaved a deep, calming breath. The car had protected him as he'd plunged down the ravine. It'd given up its life for the man who'd loved it for so long. And now, it was destroyed!

He turned away from the scene, not wanting to witness that part of him lying at the bottom of that sunless ravine and started to limp back to where Laurel was waiting for him. She'd gathered moss and twigs and some branches to make a fire and was busy with a flint and sparking block, setting the tinder alight and gently blowing to create a flame. As the embers glowed a brighter red, she added the smaller twigs to the dry moss then the larger twigs until there was a cheery fire lighting the gathering gloom.

As Laurel was busy making her rudimentary camp, Starsky, who was still more upset than he cared to reveal about the loss of his car was exploring. After the discovery of the Torino, he felt restless and even though he was weary and in a deal of pain, he needed to move, to take his mind off the discovery and his feelings.

With the aid of the crutch, which had rubbed a sizable blister underneath his right arm, he limped and hopped up the road a way realising that whoever had run him off the road had known what they were doing. It was a godforsaken spot with no civilisation for a substantial distance in any direction. Whoever those IA guys had pissed off, they really meant business!

Starsky had limped perhaps 300 yards up the road from where Laurel was working and had come to a space where there were no trees right at the side of the road. Curious, the brunette walked up to the clearing and stopped dead, not believing his eyes. He'd known he was a way up into the mountains. He'd known there were very few people around. And he knew that civilisation was a long way away.

So what the hell was it doing in this clearing? He was seeing things. He was feverish again and needed some more of Laurels' tea. What the hell was Hutch's car doing here? He limped slowly towards it as if it was a mirage and would disappear as soon as he tried to touch it, not quite believing his eyes. He stooped to look in through the window. Typical Hutch! The keys were still in the ignition! So where was the blond?

Starsky's heart leapt at the thought of being able to show his partner that he was OK, a feeling of such relief washing over him. He just needed to find the blond blintz and everything would start to fall into place. He searched the clearing, his eyes darting right and left, hoping against hope that at any minute the tall muscular frame of his partner would walk out into the open. He couldn't express just how much he wanted to see that golden head right now.

'HUTCH.......HUTCH?' he shouted into the trees. 'HEY HUUUUUTCH'. There was silence, other than the birds in the trees and the susurration of the wind through the leaves.

Alerted by the shouting, Laurel ran into the clearing, wondering what Starsky was doing. She stopped dead in her tracks as she saw the car. She couldn't remember the last time she'd heard one on this road, let alone the last time she'd seen one. And now her lover seemed to be so excited about it.

As she came round the corner and into his view, Starsky shouted to her

'Laurel, it's Hutch's car. He must be round here somewhere. I can't believe it! I just need to find him an' it'll all be OK'.

She paused, so happy to see such animation in the brunette, but at the same time more than a little concerned that the car was empty.

'Where do you suppose he is?' she asked him carefully, hoping he'd come to his senses and realise it wasn't as simple as his partner just appearing.

Starsky was still casting around for his partner, but his searching was getting slower as realisation set in.

'I dunno. D'ya think he's gone down the ravine?' he asked, clutching at straws.

'Well we didn't pass him coming down from the cabin' she said, 'so perhaps he's gone down there'.

The brunette was already hopping over to the side of the road. 'I gotta check, honey. He may be hurt or somethin'.

Laurel stood beside him and put a restraining hand on his arm. She rested her head on his shoulder. 'You're too tired to climb down there and back up. I'll go' she said.

He looked at her. 'No, he's my responsibility, I should go see........'

Laurel held up a silencing hand. 'And do you think I've nursed you for a week just to have you undo all my hard work in some foolish fall down there?' she asked him almost angrily.

It was the first time she'd shown any emotion other than love for the brunette and it brought him up short. 'No.....no I didn't mean.....I'm sorry honey. Just worried he might be down there, ya know. If you wanna go......just find him huh?'

Chapter 17

Starsky stood impatiently at the top of the ravine for what seemed like an eternity as Laurel carefully climbed down the vegetation clad walls. He soon lost sight of her through all the branches, and the leaves and bushes cut down on the sound, so he was unable to track her progress that way either. She'd told him it would probably take 15 minutes to climb down and another 20 to climb up. As for looking for Hutch, that would take as long as she needed. Starsky was anxious she knew what she was looking for.

'He's as tall as me an'........'

He's got blond hair the same colour as mine and ice blue eyes. Yes I know' she finished for him, smiling at the impatience he was displaying.

Starsky hugged her to him and kissed her deeply. 'I love you' he said. 'Be careful, and find him, please?' he could hardly disguise the helplessness he felt at not being able to go himself. So she hugged him back.

And with that she was gone, climbing nimbly down the steep ravine and out of his sight. He carefully eased himself to the ground and kept watch on the ravine below. He couldn't bring himself to think of Hutch in any other condition than whole. The thought of the flaxen haired cop being down there alone and injured was far more than Starsky could bear, so he kept his mind occupied with happier thoughts of his friend.

He remembered the time he'd been sick with Bellamy's poison and how the big blond had stayed by his side the whole time, gently urging him on and using humour to take away the worst of his pain.

'Its always harder on the ones left behind'

'I'll believe that when I hear it from someone who went first'

And when the pain got too intense

I got ya......I got ya buddy

There was just something about the blonde's presence that pushed all of the right buttons. With that silky velvety voice he could calm Starsky down from a temper, galvanise him into action or sooth his pain. Not to mention share jokes and laughter with his best friend.

How would Laurel fit into all this? Would she like Hutch? Scrap that, dummy, all women love Hutch. He's a babe magnet! But what of the rest of his life? Would she sit at home darning his socks and waiting for him like a dutiful wife? Somehow he couldn't see her doing that. She'd been independent for so long that he even wondered how she'd take to living in a city. How could she swap peace and tranquillity in the forest for the non stop noise and bright lights of Bay City? Or could he bear to leave the force and come to live with her? He chuckled to himself, pictures of checked shirts, pitchforks and straw hats floating through his imagination. Not a candy apple red car in sight.

Crap, my car! Starsky swallowed down the lump that had re-formed in his throat at the memory of his beautiful car, now just a heap of components and unsalvageable. What was he going to do about that? Again his imagination was taking over. He realised that nothing would ever take its place in his heart, but he'd need a new set of wheels. A nice little Chevy Corvette? Hutch'd hate it, so it was worth considering. But where would they put the bad guys? Cuff 'em and have 'em run behind? Nah, BCPD would never go for that. He'd always seen himself in a Shelby Cobra, but same problem — nowhere to store perps. So, back to the drawing board.

Oh God Hutch, if I'd only stayed with ya and done the paperwork, none of us would be in this mess.

He suddenly realised he must have lost himself in thought, because he could hear noises from below now. He struggled to his feet, hopping as close to the edge as he could as he saw Laurel's flaxen hair appear. He reached down and grasped her hand, pulling her up as she stood panting at his side. She had a scratch on her face across her cheek and he gently kissed it, then looked expectantly at her.


She shook her head. 'I'm sorry, there was no sign of anyone having been down there since I found you'. She watched the disappointment wash over his features and reached to hug him again, wanting to make it all better for her man.

She felt him sigh against her. 'Well, if he ain't down there, an' he's not up there' he pointed the way they'd just come, 'there must be some other explanation. We need to get back down to Sacramento an' make some calls' he decided.

Laurel looked at him as though he'd gone mad. 'We can't walk all that way, You're too tired' she spluttered miserably. She so wanted the brunette to be happy, but how could he be when he couldn't find his friend?

'Don't need to walk, honey' he grinned at her and started hopping back to the clearing. 'We got Hutch's car there, an' it's got the keys in it'.

'And can you drive it?' she asked uncertainly.

'Well it wouldn't be my first choice' the brunette replied. 'I'd usually prefer a paper sack over my head then no-one'd see me in it. But beggars can't be choosers'.

Laurel hurried back and put out the small fire she'd made, gathered up her few possessions and her bag and caught up with Starsky as he limped back to the car. Carefully he got in, suddenly feeling closer to his partner than he had done for over a week. He ignored the colour, the loose window handle, the alarm that sounded as Laurel got into the passenger seat, and the pile of garbage in the back. This was Hutch. He could even vaguely smell the blonde's aftershave. That essence of Hutch which was part sandalwood soap, part Paco Rabanne and he took a moment to soak up the essence of the blond before turning the ignition key and coaxing the engine to life. He threw the stick into drive and the big car lurched forward.

Starsky found it difficult to drive with his injured right ankle. Rather than suffer the flashing pains as he pressed the pedals, he drove with his left foot, which felt alien and wasn't as sensitive to the car. He cursed once or twice as the car lurched when he jabbed the break or the gas pedal to hard, but eventually got the hang of the new way of driving and set off through the growing darkness down the logging road towards the distant lights of the city.

As they drove, Laurel sat sideways looking at the brunette with different eyes. While he'd been in her cabin and in the forest, he'd been needy and reliant on her for almost everything. Now, in his own environment, he was a different man. She still saw the stubbornness which had driven him on, and the love he had both for her and for Hutch, but here was a self possessed, self assured confident man, used to making decisions and getting what he needed. What she saw she liked and the thoughts of his finally taking charge was tantalising to her. All her life she'd lived with a strong man — her father, and although she'd loved Starsky from the first time she'd seen him, and had the impression he was a strong man, he had seemed somehow diminished because of his injuries. Now in the familiar environs of his friend's car, he came into his own. A switch seemed to have been thrown in his head and as he nursed the car down the unfamiliar road he was already making plans.

'When we get back to town, we'll go to the police HQ first and talk to White. He may have seen Hutch. I can telephone Dobey from there an' then get some answers. You'll like Dobey. He's loud an' gruff, but he cares. An' you'll love Hutch, I know you.......' He tailed off as he saw headlights in the distance coming up the road towards him.

'What the.....I thought ya said no-one used this road Laurel'

She shook her head. 'They don't. Apart from your car, I hadn't heard a single car since last summer. I thought people had forgotten it was here'.

His jaw set. 'Well, we got company. Whatever happens, just let me take care of it, OK?' he smiled quickly at her and patted her knee as the other car crested a small rise in front of them. It slowed, obviously as surprised to have company as they were.

As the car drew alongside, Starsky's jaw dropped open in disbelief. Dobey? No, it couldn't be. What the hell was Dobey doing here? As he stopped the car, Dobey also pulled up, a similar look of disbelief on his round brown face. He would the window down and stared into Hutch's car.

'Starsky?' he yelled, his voice charged with emotion.

'In the flesh' the brunette chuckled at him. 'Where's Hutch?'

Dobey was out of his car in a second, flinging the door of Hutch's car open wide and almost dragging the brunette out to get a hold of him. He clasped his arms around Starsky's body and squeezed him into a strong embrace.

Starsky gasped and let out a yelp as his ribs and side protested the unexpected show of emotion from the police captain. Dobey immediately let him go and the brunette thought he saw a tear in the big brown eye. He shook himself down and huffed a little to disguise the fact that he'd lost his usually iron control over his feelings.

'Cap? Where Hutch? He repeated, feeling anxious now.

But Dobey was still staring at the brunette as if he couldn't believe his eyes. 'Starsky. We thought you were dead. No-one could find you and we all thought you'd been eaten or somethin'. Where the hell have you been?'

'Well it's a long story, but I survived the fall down the ravine and then Laurel found me and got me back to her cabin and healed me an' then I had to come find Hutch'. He stopped for breath.

'And just who's Laurel?' Dobey asked, recovering slightly from his shock at seeing one of his favourite detectives alive and, if not well, at least not too sick. In the headlights of his car, he could see the slightly pinched look on the brunette's face and the lines of bandages around his middle. He'd get to that later.

Starsky stepped back from the car and cleared Dobey's view to the interior. He held out his hand to the woman and helped her out of the car. 'Captain Dobey, may I introduce Miss Laurel......Hey, I don't even know your last name' he said, feeling stupid.

Laurel smiled at the big black man and held out her hand. 'I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Dobey, I'm Laurel Marshall'.

Dobey took her hand in his and gazed into her eyes becoming entranced by the tiny woman. 'Miss Marshall. Thank you for saving my man's life' he said formally.

'Oh, he did a lot of it himself' she said, looking back to the brunette. 'I've never met anyone so resilient and brave'.

Dobey caught the looks on both their faces. What was it? Love? No, surely the famous Dave Starsky hadn't finally fallen for a woman? Another thing he stowed away to revisit later. Introductions over, Starsky couldn't contain himself any longer. 'Cap, where's Hutch?' he pleaded. 'I found his car, an' we've been searching for him, but he wasn't there. I thought he'd gotten himself hurt going down the ravine to look for me'.

Dobey shook his head. 'Sorry son. He discharged himself from the hospital in Bay City when he found out you hadn't found your way back an' he came up here to search for you. Turned out three officers, Giordino, Heston and Jones ran you off the road because the IA were onto their little pension scam, and White was in on it too. Hutch found out and asked me to come up to help me arrest 'em. I did then he was still convinced you were alive. We all thought you were dead, but he was adamant. But he was still sick, and when he couldn't find you, he couldn't fight the pneumonia any more and it came back and he's in the hospital down there. He's bad, Starsky. I'm scared for him. Its like he's given up, but I made him keep fighting and told him I'd come up here an find you. I thought I was just doin' it to keep him going. I never dreamed I'd see you again'.

'Well I gotta get to him' Starsky was already getting back into the car. 'Lead the way. An' Cap? Make it quick huh?'

Chapter 18

The convoy of cars hurtled back down the mountain as fast as it was safe to do. Even though they were going at breakneck speed, with Laurel hanging onto the sides of her seat to save herself from being flung around the car's interior, it wasn't fast enough for Starsky.

Laurel had never seen Starsky so animated and she could feel his need to get to his friend as an almost palpable thing, sitting between them in the car. She was so glad for the brunette that at last he could get to his friend although she also felt just a little jealous. How would she fit in with this duo? Would the two men allow her into their exclusive club and how would she feel sharing her curly haired lover with a person who knew him so much better than she did? Laurel felt angry at herself for having these feelings, but for the first time in her life she felt insecure and wished Starsky would give her some words of encouragement and solace, but his mind was on one thing, and one thing only — getting to the bedside of his blond haired partner.

Since Dobey had told him how sick Hutch was there had been no stopping him. Laurel had tried to reason with him and tell him that if they crashed Hutch would be alone, but nothing could get through to the frenzied brunette. Finally the road flattened out and they got to the edge of the city. Here street lamps lit the way and Starsky could drive even faster, slamming the mars light on the roof and setting the sirens wailing. With Dobey in front, his own light and sirens blaring, they reached the hospital in record time and Starsky was out of the car almost before it had stopped, Laurel running to keep up with the rapidly limping dark haired cop as he followed his captain into the bright lights of the hospital.

They made their way back up the stairs and along a long corridor to the blonde's room, pushing open the door. The room was filled with doctors, nurses and technicians, all working on the sweat soaked body of the blond cop. A range of machines had been brought into the room and as Starsky burst in, he could see the flash of bright metal as the doctor at the head of Hutch's bed was opening his mouth and stretching the long blond neck back to insert the laryngoscope.

'No, wait!' Starsky shouted as he pushed his way past the crowd of people. The doctor looked up.

'Get this man out of here now' he shouted as one of the technicians came forward to take hold of Starsky's arm. But the brunette brushed him off and fought forward until he was at Hutch's bedside. The doctor had stopped his procedure when he'd seen the commotion begin and was now waiting, unsure what to do next.

Starsky carefully hopped up to the bed and took hold of a limp blond hand, wiping the sweat soaked forehead with his other hand. The blond head on the pillow was still restlessly thrashing from side to side, but weaker now, as each breath became a titanic struggle to draw air into his fluid filled lungs. Starsky bent close to Hutch's head

'Hutch, buddy, It's me, Starsky. M'here now, so ya don't have to worry any more. Hutch? Hey Blondie' he whispered.

Hutch's head came to a stop as some of the words penetrated his fevered brain, but he was still too consumed by his battle for air. Between laboured breaths he gasped

'Starsk?.......no........dead, not.......you.......imagining......'

'C'mon Hutch, it's me, I'm right here pal, aint' goin' nowhere' the brunette pleaded.

'No.......trick........dead.......my Starsk dead'.

'Hey Blintz, would I fool you huh?' Starsky smiled at his partner. 'Open your eyes for me, an' see'.

Slowly the ice blues opened a crack and Hutch peered out from red rimmed eyes, then closed them again and swallowed weakly. 'Told 'em......not dead.......saw you'. He rasped.

'Yeah, I saw you too babe' Starsky said softly remembering his dreams while he'd been feverish. 'You gonna be OK?'

'Urts.......to breathe........God it hurts.........gonna .....die?' The last was said with almost a whimper as the eyes flashed open again, seeking some comfort from his partner.

'No dummy you're not gonna die' Starsky whispered, with a lump in his throat. He looked up at the doctor for confirmation, but the look on the man's face told a different story. Starsky gripped his partner's hand more firmly.

'Ya just gotta hold on an' breathe. Just breathe for me Hutch. That's it Blintz, just concentrate on breathin' he rested a hand lightly on his friend's chest as if he could expand his partner's lungs for him.

A shadow of a smile passed Hutch's lips 'Bossy......always do......as I'm told'.

Starsky chuckled. 'That'll be the day! Don't talk, just breathe huh? Good, that's good Blondie, just in an' out, in an' out, terrific'.

And in fact, the blond did seem to be breathing a little easier in his own, but the brunette knew he wasn't out of the woods yet. As he stood at his partner's bedside, he felt another presence at his side. He'd almost forgotten Laurel in his flight to get to Hutch, but now he stood slightly to one side as she came forward.

She gazed down at the sick cop, her medical persona taking over as she noted the sweat slicked hair, the red flush on the handsome face and the laboured heaving of the chest. She placed her hand on the blonde's forehead and estimated the temperature at over 103. Not good. Not good at all, but she was only a country healer. Surely these hospital doctors could cure him?

The doctor had moved away from the bed and was quietly discussing the prognosis with Starsky, who had finally introduced himself.

'I think we may turn a corner now you're here' the doctor was saying. 'He's been going steadily downhill since he thought you were dead. We've had him on IV antibiotics, but the pneumonia seems to be resistant to them. I was just about to put him on the respirator when you came in. I don't know what else to do for him'.

Starsky divided his attention between listening to the doctor and watching Laurel bending over his partner. The two people he loved most in the world. One sick, the other a healer. Could she help him? The doctors here didn't seem to be able to do anything. He limped slowly over to her and put an arm round her waist.

'Laurel honey, can ya do anything him?' he asked with feeling.

She continued to examine the blond cop, pulling back the single sheet to see the rise and fall of the bare chest. She placed her hand above his heart and felt the fast thready rhythm, going over in her head what she might do for him.

'Yes, I think so. But what about the doctors? Surely they would be better equipped?'

Starsky looked back at the doctor. 'Well, can she try?'

The doctor looked dubious. 'I don't wish to appear rude, Mr Starsky, but does she have adequate knowledge?' he asked.

In answer the brunette unbuttoned his shirt and showed the doctor the healing wound at this side and the stitched wound on his ribs. 'Could you do better here at the hospital?' he asked. 'She did all this on her own with nothing more than herbs and the sinews from a dead deer'.

The doctor ran his hand lightly over the wounds looking critically at them. 'That's amazing. If you'll let me, I'd like to examine you more closely after. But if this is all her work, then she can try anything. I'm fresh out of options'.

Starsky turned back to Laurel. 'Ya hear that honey. Ya can do what ya have to, but please.......make him well' he pleaded.

Laurel became businesslike. 'Most of these people should probably leave and the window needs opening. He needs fresh air, not air conditioning' she was already looking through her bag for what she needed. She took out a package of Goldenseal, a plant she used as a general antimicrobial. She used it as a general herb for everything from mouth ulcers to sores, but she knew that, in a tea, it would fight the infection deep in the lungs.

She added to that a package of Great Mullein. An infusion taken internally helped with a lot of chest complaints and also to treat bleeding of the lungs. It was also a good sedative and she'd found a crop only that day while she'd been coming down the mountain with Starsky.

Finally a package of Butterfly Weed for its specific effects on chest complaints completed the trilogy. Now she needed somewhere to make her tea. One of the nurses showed her to the hospital kitchen, leaving the two cops alone with Dobey.

Starsky was still at Hutch's bedside, holding his hand and soothing his partner as best he could. Hutch had quieted somewhat since Starsky had returned and he seemed now to be listening to the brunette, although he was too weak to keep his eyes open for very long.

'You 'K' he whispered

'M'fine' Starsky answered him, 'its you I'm bothered about. Just rest an' get well, will ya?'

Hutch opened his eyes and locked them onto his partner's indigo ones. 'Never ....gave up' he gasped.

'No, I know ya didn't' Starsky said softly, 'I know'.

'C couldn't think........you dead' a look of pain crossed his features and a bout of coughing took him and shook him. Finally it passed, but it had sapped most of the blonde's remaining energy and he rested his head back on the pillow, eyes closed.

Starsky had been rubbing his partner's chest, trying to ease the pain and distress and he looked up in relief as Laurel came back into the room with a cup and a bowl of hot water.

'The first this thing we need to do is turn him onto his stomach, with his head lower than his body' Laurel said.

Without questioning her, the doctor and Starsky helped get Hutch into the requisite position, although it added to the blonde's distress and he gasped as the added pressure on his chest threatened to cut off his air supply completely. Swiftly, Laurel moved over and started tapping with cupped hands all the way down Hutch's back from his waist up to his shoulders, murmuring gently to the distressed man. Hutch started coughing again almost immediately, but managed to cough up crud from his infected lungs. Almost immediately, he felt some relief and Laurel continued for some time more. Eventually she seemed to think Hutch had had enough and together the three gently turned the man over and sat him up, bolstered by pillows.

Hutch was still wheezing but seemed to breathe a little easier and Laurel held a cup to his lips.

'Drink this' she said 'It may not taste nice, but it will do you good'.

Starsky smiled. 'Ya won't have any problem getting him to drink it, honey, he has stuff like that every day for breakfast'.

Hutch drank the tea down without complaint, then rested breathlessly back on his pillows. It took him a while, swallowing convulsively between breaths

'Well you're more of a man than your friend' she joked. 'He's such a sissy when it comes to my teas'.

Hutch opened his eyes a little and smiled a shadow of a Hutch smile at her. 'eats.........garbage.......not good' he gasped.

'Now that I can imagine' she said as she put the cup down.

Next she took out some of the rabbit tobacco and placed it on the cabinet at the side of the bed, lighting it, as she had done over Starsky's bed and allowing the smoke to waft across the blonde's body, so that he could inhale it. Finally she stood back.

'He'll need the tapping treatment ever two hours for a while and the teas. And he mustn't be allowed to slide down in the bed. Lying flat is bad for him at the moment, but I think he looks a little better'.

And indeed Hutch did look a little more settled. Laurel placed the oxygen ask back over his nose and mouth and the doctor regulated it, but the thrashing on the pillow had gone and instead once again Hutch's eyes were opened and locked onto Starsky's indigo blue ones, gathering strength and silently communicating his relief at seeing the brunette again.

Starsky and Laurel stayed with Hutch until sleep overtook him. He was very weak and still hot and flushed, but his breathing seemed a little easier and he looked less distressed.

The doctor looked on in disbelief. He'd fought for three days to achieve with his fancy modern drugs what this woman had done in three hours with plants and hot water. As he saw the blond settle into a restful sleep, he touched Starsky lightly on the shoulder and whispered

'Can I see you both outside?'

The brunette carefully disengaged his hand from his partner's. Hutch moaned in his sleep and very softly Starsky whispered 'be back in a flash, don't go anywhere'. The bond hand twitched an acknowledgment and the two left the room as Dobey took up position by the bedside.

Outside, the doctor ushered them into an adjoining examination room and indicated Starsky to sit on the exam. table.

The doctor was talking to Laurel as Starsky took off the shirt and sat quietly listening.

'What exactly did you give him? And why did you use that tapping? I can see the sense in it, but who taught you to use it? And what's the weed that's burning? And.....I'm sorry. Too many questions! But I'm very curious about all this'.

Laurel explained the contents of her teas and showed the doctor the contents of her big leather bag, going through some of the packages telling him what she used them for and what she did with them. He was overawed by her knowledge.

'Where'd you learn all this?' he asked as she stowed everything tidily away.

'From my Momma. She was a great healer. I could never be as good as her' she said, fondly remembering the woman.

'And Mr Starsky. What injuries did he have?'

For the first time, Starsky didn't mind being treated as a lump of meat as the two discussed his injuries and their cures. As Laurel unwrapped the bandage from his middle, the doctor prodded and poked the wound. So great was the man's zeal that his fingers probed a little too hard and Starsky let out an involuntary yelp.

The doctor was at once trite. 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt. This is just amazing. To have done all this without antiseptics, antibiotics or anaesthetics!'

'Well, she's an amazing woman Doc' he said.

Laurel was looking critically at the wound over the brunette's ribs. 'I think those stitches can come out now' she said, as the doctor examined them. 'Do you have a sharp blade it can use?'

The doctor handed her a scalpel blade and very carefully she pulled up the knot of the first stitch and cut the sinew as close to the skin as she could. As Starsky braced himself she quickly pulled the stitch free and deposited it on a gauze pad on the table. A tiny trickle of blood appeared and she dabbed it away before dealing with the five remaining stitches in similar fashion. Once all were out, she stood back and let the doctor see.

'Amazing!' he said. 'That you could do that without modern equipment. I've got to learn more!'

Starsky put his hand down to his ribs as Laurel taped a fresh dressing over the wound. It had healed well and was now no more than a line with twelve dots arranged around it. 'And she'd gentle with it' he smiled.

Chapter 19

As the night progressed, Laurel and the doctor spoke at length about her herbal skills and the natural remedies she used. In between discussions, she repeated the tapping treatment and administered more teas to the blond who seemed to be resting much more easily. Starsky had been sent off to have his various injuries x-rayed and when the results came back the doctor was even more impressed.

'You set this yourself?' he asked, holding up a black and white plate showing the brunette's right foot.

'That she did Doc' Starsky said. 'Good, isn't she?'.

'She's a bloody marvel' he agreed, still staring at the various x-rays. I've seen interns who haven't had this skill after years of study! I really do need to speak to you about all this at length but I can see that you and Mr Starsky are tired. I should let you get some rest. There's a small motel at the side of the hospital. If you like, I can arrange for you to take a room there and we can continue in the morning?

Starsky and Laurel thanked the doctor. The woman was flushed with excitement that the doctor would take her skills so seriously and truthfully would have sat with him for the next year, discussing and comparing treatments, but the medic in her saw that the brunette was tiring and needed to lie down and recoup. He'd had a long journey down the mountain and the heat and pain must have taken it out of him. She cast a sidelong look at him, but was surprised to see that far from looking exhausted, he looked well. It amazed her that just seeing his friend had made such a difference, although having met Hutch herself, she could see why Starsky liked him so much, even though the blond was so sick.

After saying goodbye to the blond, who managed to keep his eyes open long enough to whisper a brief goodbye back, the two made their way down the stairs and into the parking lot of the motel. True to his word, the good doctor had had a room reserved for them and dawn was breaking as they opened the door to the cool interior and looked around. The room was fairly plainly furnished, but was clean and comfortable with a large well appointed bathroom off.

Starsky took Laurel in his arms and kissed her deeply. 'Have I told you recently just how much I love you?' he asked loosing himself in her dark brown eyes.

Laurel pretended to think hard about the answer. 'Oh, not for the past half hour' she answered, putting her hands up to his neck and grasping a handful of his dark curly hair. She pulled him down to her and kissed him back, long and slow, letting her tongue explore his mouth.

The brunette growled low in his throat, the sensations she sent through him making him feel light headed and dizzy. Gently he pushed her away, breathing heavily. 'Do we eat first and shower later, shower first and eat later, or do I just take you to bed now?' he asked with a wolfish grin.

'She looked at his sweat stained shirt and the dark smudges across his face from the dirt on the forest floor. Laurel so wanted this man to take her and make love to her one more time, but waiting would make their love making all the sweeter.

'A shower first?' she asked, heading for the bathroom.

Starsky smiled as he followed her. 'Whatever you say ma'am' he answered as he unbuttoned his shirt.

The brunette turned on the water in the shower cubicle and turned around to find Laurel, her hands at the waistband of his trousers. Deftly she undid the button and zipper and he stepped out of the garment, leaving the pants in an untidy heap on the floor. He unbuttoned Laurel's blouse and tenderly kissed her naked shoulders as he pushed the sleeves off and her shirt met with his pants on the tile floor. Within seconds, her skirt completed the set and the two naked bodies entered the shower, letting the droplets fall on them and between them.

After long minutes spent soaping each other's bodies and running hands up and down each other, Starsky stopped the water and wrapped a large fluffy white towel around Laurel's shoulders. Tenderly he picked her up in his arms, ignoring the flash of pain in his side and carried her into the bedroom. He laid her gently down on the bed and lay down beside her.

Laurel snuggled into his side, running a hand through his wet hair, allowing the curls to wrap themselves around her fingers. She shrugged off the towel and with a corner, she dried stray droplets from his face, smoothing the fluffy towel down his chest and further.

Starsky rolled over onto his back, bringing Laurel with him until she was lying on top of him, looking down. She bent her head and dotted little kisses across his forehead and down his nose, carefully kissing each closed eyelid. Kissing further she reached his mouth and he gently kissed her back exploring her mouth with his tongue. Beneath her she felt his body respond and rolled sideways so that she lay along the length of him.

Gently she drew her fingernails lightly down his arm, then onto his stomach and through the wiry hairs at the base of his manhood. He groaned as she took hold of him, her hands cool against his skin. Gently she moved her hand up and down, increasing her rhythm until he was panting and groaning.

Starsky never wanted this time to end, but if she kept up her ministrations, it would be over way too quickly. Gently he reached down and captured her hand in his, drawing it back up and kissing her wrist. He rolled over until he was on his side and Laurel was beside him on her back. She looked into his beautiful deep indigo eyes, made even darker by passion and stroked an errant curl from his forehead.

'You are beautiful' she whispered.

'I thought that was my line' he responded between the small kisses he was dotting down the line of her long neck and across her shoulder. His hands were moving lightly over her stomach now and up to her breasts, cupping each one in turn. Gently he took hold of a rose pink nipple between his finger and thumb and squeezed slightly sending little flashes of pain pleasure through her body as she sighed beneath him. He bent down and took the nub in his mouth circling it with his tongue as Laurel made small noises in her throat, grasping handfuls of his hair in her hands, capturing his head so that he could never leave her.

His mouth travelled down her body pausing as he circled her stomach with his tongue leaving wet ticklish trails across her rapidly warming skin. His hands moved down to her thighs and delved between them, finding her secret places. She gasped as she felt his fingers exploring her pushing inside as she thrust back against him, grasping his body to her.

To Starsky, she felt warm and comfortable and he wanted to possess her body there and then. He knelt above her, his body already anticipating the act, and as he gazed into her eyes he gently thrust into her. Laurel gasped at the invasion, then started to answer his thrusts with her own body until they were locked together in their passion dance. Again and again, faster and faster he thrust against her until finally in perfect unison they climaxed and twined their sweating bodies together as they gasped in each others arms.

They lay together basking in the afterglow of their lovemaking. Laurel felt as though she was made for the brunette, their bodies were so attuned to each other. Starsky's eyes were closed, his breathing deep and even. The journey down the mountain, the reunion with Hutch and their passion having taken its toll on him and he was finally asleep.

Laurel gently disengaged herself from his arms and went to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face. She was tired, happy and excited all at the same time. After so long being alone she had found three men who took her seriously. One man she cured where a doctor couldn't; one man was a doctor who, with all his book learning still wanted to know what she could teach him; and then there was this man. What could she say about this curly haired cop? He was handsome, brave, stubborn, passionate, a consummate lover and above all, someone she felt she could live with for ever.

She had a lot of thinking to do, but at this particular moment all she wanted to do was taste him on her lips and feel his hard muscular body moving against her one more time. Having never been with a man before she had nothing to compare him to, but she felt that even if she had had many men, he would still stand out head and shoulders above them. He was, she thought, quite possibly the most perfect man she could ever imagine.

She went back into the bedroom and sat on the chair at the foot of the bed, watching him sleep as she had done when they were in her cabin on the mountain. Then the real world had seemed a million miles away and only their love seemed real. Once they'd met Captain Dobey on the logging road and head come back to the hospital, real life had impacted on their relationship. Whereas on the mountain there had been only the two of them, wrapped up in each others thoughts and feelings and wellbeing, now, there were so many other factors coming into play. So many other distractions, other people that the feelings she had for the brunette were clouded by the feelings she had about practicing her medical art.

Try as she might, she couldn't make her head get her feelings and thoughts in order. Finally, she decided to try to ignore them for the time being and softly she climbed back onto the bed and lay alongside her sleeping lover, draping an arm gently over him as he murmured in his sleep and drew her to him. Other thoughts than Starsky would wait. She wanted this feeling to last forever.

Chapter 20

Later in the day, they both woke, warm and comfortable and after another tender and passionate session f lovemaking, they reluctantly got up, showered and dressed and made their way back to the hospital.

Hutch had had a good night and was resting a\ little more comfortably, the nurses having take over some of the treatment following Laurel's instructions. At the doctors request, the brunette had been examined, poked and prodded some more, and had more x-rays taken of his various healing injuries. Finally after one ore consultation with the doctor, Starsky had been given the 'all clear' on all his injuries and was now back by Hutch's bedside.

Hutch was awake after his latest round of treatment. Although not pleasant, his chest was already clearing and he was at last feeling some benefit. Still weak, he had enough energy now to start taking in his surroundings. Starsky was sat at the side of his bed as Laurel settled him back against the pillows. He smiled at her as she ran her hand over his forehead again, noting he was much cooler now.

'Ya gonna .....introduce us?' he panted, looking at his curly haired partner.

'If ya can keep awake long enough, yeah. Laurel Marshall, this is Ken Hutchinson — Hutch, my partner' the brunette intoned formally.

'Pleased.....to meet ya' Hutch smiled at the woman, immediately captivated by her deep brown soulful eyes.

'And pleased to meet you too Hutch' she said. 'I've heard a lot about you both when he's been awake and when he's been sleeping!'

'Yeah?.....never could.......shut him up' the blond grinned.

'Oh that's great! That's right, it's get at the 'curly one' time. I come back from the dead an' all ya can do is bad-mouth me to my girl'. Starsky said with mock hurt. 'Jeez Hutch, feel the love in this room!'

Hutch rested his head back on the pillow and stared into his partner's eyes. Starsky knew Hutch would never mean that, but he needed to make absolutely sure. 'Just glad......you're back' he panted. 'I was ......lost...... there for a while'.

'I know. Me too, buddy. Me too' the brunette responded softly, then shook himself. 'Hey we're in danger of getting' soapy here ya know. You need your sleep if we're ever gonna get home. Just rest an' get well huh?'

'Mm.......sleep' Hutch mumbled as he fought to keep his eyes open a while longer. 'She really your girl?'

Starsky looked back at Laurel who was now sitting in a corner of the room with the doctor, still discussing herbs and plants and their various uses. The doctor was leaning forward intently and Laurel was animatedly explaining how she foraged for her cornucopia, the love of the plants and her mountains coming over in every word she said. Again it crossed Starsky's mind — Is she really my girl? Would she ever want to fit in to Bay City life?

'Dunno, Blintz. I honestly don't know'. He sighed thoughtfully. He'd been so sure up there in her cabin that she loved him as much as he loved her. But now, seeing her in this setting, discussing things he could never fully understand, he wasn't so sure. Would it ever be enough for her to be a city wife? He couldn't see her joining the 'gym and gin' set and the though of her in mini skirts and platform shoes rather than her longer skirt and boots left him with a headache. "Square peg in round hole" came to mind.

Starsky had fostered the idea that if Laurel didn't want to go to Bay City, he would give up the force and come back here with her. He'd had thoughts of setting up an herbal shop or something, maybe with Laurel taking on paying patients and having a small consultancy. But now he was back with his partner that seemed a crazy notion.

He'd been with Hutch for so long now that the very thought of living away from the big blond was more than he could bear. It wasn't that he was in love with Hutch. He loved him, certainly, but wasn't 'in love' with him. The love he felt for the bond was fostered from the fact that they shared danger every day of their working lives. They'd come to have such an understanding of each other that they could almost read each other's minds and they could communicate with a single nod what most people would need an entire conversation to express. He knew that for physical love he needed a woman and deep down knew that one day he'd settle down to have a wife and family. But he also knew it would probably be a conventional arrangement. And he didn't think that Laurel could ever be conventional.

So he was left with a stark choice. The life he'd always had, out on the dangerous streets of Bay City with the blond and a gun for company and the hope that one day he'd find a nice girl and settle down. Or giving the blond and the streets up to live a quiet and unconventional life with this amazing woman who was his equal in everything and the master of a knowledge he could never hope to understand.

Starsky could never be termed a misogynist, quiet the opposite. But he knew in his heart of hearts that he needed to be needed by a woman: to feel protective toward her and to act as the strong guardian figure. He knew that with Laurel that would never be the case. She was too much her own woman to ever actually need him, and the brunette wondered if he could cope with that?

His head was aching with the pressure of his thoughts and he knew he needed to discuss them with someone, but right now, Hutch was deeply asleep, his last treatment having drained him. And so Starsky leaned back in the chair, put his feet up on his partner's bed, rested his head back and slept himself, the weight of his thoughts finally catching up with him.


Laurel had worked all during the afternoon on the blond, and as the sun was beginning to set, there was a significant improvement in Hutch's condition. In between treatments, she'd spoken more with the doctor. He was an open minded individual who had known about herbology and alternative medicine for some time, but had never had the opportunity to speak to a practitioner. Now, he couldn't get enough of this delightfully incisive woman. And Laurel found it equally challenging to have a medial expert challenge her ideas and question her on her art.

As Starsky woke up and saw the two still talking animatedly in the corner, he felt a brief flash of jealousy. He sat up in the chair, feeling the aches from each one of his injuries afresh. Although healing well, they did not take kindly to resting the afternoon in an uncomfortable hospital chair. Raking his hands through his unruly curls he checked on Hutch who was sleeping peacefully. Although the oxygen mask still covered his nose and mouth, his chest rose and fell more naturally and he wasn't fighting for each breath any more.

Laurel saw that Starsky was awake and broke off from her talks to come and stand by him.

'He's doing much better' she said, looking at the big blond with a certain affection.

'Yeah, he looks good now. You're a miracle worker' he said, resting his head against her hip as she stood by his side.

Laurel ran her fingers through his hair and laughed. 'No, not me, it's the herbs that do all the hard work. And the fact he loves you so much. I think he would have gotten better all by himself just because you'd come back' she said.

There was an uncomfortable silence for a brief moment than both together they said 'We need to talk'.

'OK, you first' Starsky said. 'But not here. Let's get some breakfast huh? He'll be asleep for a while'.

So they made their way down to the hospital café and ordered black coffee. Finding a table in a corner, away from everyone else, they sat down facing each other across the small table. Starsky felt awkward and didn't know how to start. But Laurel was used to being more straight forward.

'Things have changed' she said. 'We've changed'.

Starsky nodded. 'On the mountain in your cabin things were so much simpler. I was sick and you nursed me back to health. You were there in charge when I needed you and I loved you. I still do love you. More than I can possibly say. Nothing will ever change that. You are the most wonderful woman I've ever met'.

'But now you have Hutch back' she finished for him.

He looked up sharply, wondering what was going through her mind, but he saw only love and understanding shining back at him. He smiled back.

'Yeah, I've got Hutch back' he said softly.

'It's OK Dave, truly it is. I know what you mean about us changing, although I'm just taken aback by how fast we've changed. You have Hutch and I have my medicine'.

He grasped her hand in his and pressed it to his lips. 'I still love you' he whispered.

'And I still love you, but I could never compete with your feelings for Hutch. I sense those feelings run too deep to ever let anyone else in. I need to feel that I'm the only one. If we carried on, it'd be like being in a relationship of three, and I can't do that' she said.

'Hey, I'm....we're not.....'

'I know' she said smiling. 'But what you and he have I could never hope to achieve. I suppose in a small way I'm jealous, but I was always brought up to respect a man to take charge and be the boss. If I go to Bay City, you'll be in charge, I've no doubt, but he would always be there in the background. If you came to my mountain, I would end up as the dominant one because of my knowledge, and that just doesn't cut it for me. Does that make sense?' she asked.

Starsky sighed. They were so suited. They both even thought alike. 'More'n you'll ever know' he said with feeling. 'But I don't have to like it. So. Where do we go from here?'

'You go back to Bay City and.....'

'No! I could never live with the knowledge that you were on your own in that little cabin. It'd send me crazy' he said, panic in his voice.

'Just let me finish' she said. 'Doctor Philips has offered me a place here. He's been trying to get together a clinic concentrating on what he calls 'alternative therapies'. If I wanted to, I can come down here to work and study and help others' she explained.


'I've told him I will, but not immediately'.

'Why? It's the opportunity of a lifetime for you. Ya can teach all these idiots what real medicine's all about' Starsky said

'Oh, I'll take him up on his offer, but not for a few days. That big blond friend of your is going to need nursing for a while yet, so I though we could spend the time....'

'Researching alternative therapies?' the brunette said huskily.

'Something like that' she grinned.


'Are you ready to get back to your life?' Laurel asked softly as she saw his eyes open. They were lying side by side, her head on his shoulder, his right arm protectively round her waist.

'Dunno' he said sleepily. 'If ya keep doin' what ya did last night woman, I'll be here for ever'.

The previous night they'd been to the hospital to see Hutch and Laurel and Dr Philips pronounced the blond well enough to go home the next day. Starsky had telephoned Dobey to let him know they'd be on their way back, the Captain having gone back to Bay City earlier now his two men were safe and accounted for.

It was a bitter sweet decision as she knew that Starsky would go away too. They'd talked at length about the arrangements and their feelings but had always drawn the same conclusions. They were both too independent to give up their respective lives for the other. Not if they were completely honest about it. And each loved the other so much that they wouldn't insist on making that painful decision.

So they'd gone back to their motel room for their final night together. Starsky had bought champagne and their love making had been slow and sensual, each wanting to remember each and every curve and line of the other's body. There had been no tears and no recriminations, just a celebration of their love for each other.

And now it was their last morning. Laurel helped Starsky pack his few belongings. He'd had to go out and buy himself a few new clothes, having left all his in tatters on the mountain. It had amused Hutch that with the choice of all the clothes Sacramento shopping malls had to offer, his friend came back dressed in soft pale blue jeans and a red tee shirt, topped with a new brown leather jacket.

They went back to the hospital and Starsky helped Laurel to put some new things into the small apartment room Dr Philips had allocated to her. Then they made their way back to Hutch's room where the big blond was out of bed and dressed, waiting impatiently to be out of there.

Just outside the door, Starsky took Laurel in his arms and kissed her deeply. Drawing away he cupped her face in his hands.

'How can I ever thank you?' he said.

She smiled back at him. 'Him being well is all the thanks I need' she said. 'Now go, before he bursts something trying to get out'.

Starsky started to say something, but she put her fingers to his lips 'Don't. Don't say anything else. We've said all we need to. Now go. We have a saying on the mountain "may the wind be at your back, may your path be straight and true, you look out for me and I shall look to you". Now go before we say too much'. She smiled at him one last time, then turned on her heal and left.

Starsky was left alone in the corridor staring after her, emotions tearing at him as he felt a gentle hand on his arm.

'You OK partner?'

He heaved a big sigh. 'Yeah. Yeah, I think I am. Let's get outa here'. The two cops made their slow way down the corridor, stopping to thank Doctor Philips and his nurses before heading out into the parking lot. Hutch automatically looked around for the Torino and then realised where it was.

'Oh Starsk. I'm sorry about your car buddy' he said as he saw the slightly lost look in his friend's eyes.

'S'OK Hutch. That's two things I love that I've got to leave here' he said heavily and eased himself behind the wheel of the battered LTD. Hutch got into the passenger side of his car without complaint.

As Starsky started to put the key in the ignition, he put out a hand.

'Hey partner, before we go, Laurel said I should give ya this' he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to the brunette.

Starsky took it and stared at it for a long time before heaving a deep breath and opening it. Inside was a single piece of paper with Laurel's writing on it.

To my Darling Dave,

You are the only man I have ever loved, and right now I feel I will never love again. But time heals and I know that you have your Hutch to ease away your pain now.

I too have my love - my medicine, and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to put my knowledge into practice. Grandpapa had a man call on him before he died. He sold him a piece of land which he owned. Grandpapa always said you couldn't farm gold, and it never brought him happiness, so the mine the land contained brought in quite a lot of money.

I don't need it all, I live a simple life and now, although I have money in the bank and Dr Philips insists on paying me a wage. As my parting gift to you, and because I will always love you, please accept this, because you showed me what love can be like.

With all my love now and always

Your Laurel.

He looked up from the letter. 'I don't understand' he said. 'I don't want a parting gift. I love her for who she is'.

But Hutch was nudging him out of the car. 'She came to see me buddy and explained everything. Turns out your little hillbilly Laurel is a millionaire, or close. Her Granddaddy, a certain James Marshall sold a gold mine to the state for a tidy fortune. She asked me to give you these' he tossed Starsky some keys. 'You'll find it over there'.

Starsky looked down the parking lot and walked over in a dream and ran his fingers lovingly down the sleek shiny sides of the Chevy Corvette in bright, candy apple red. He looked back towards the hospital building and caught sight of Laurel behind the window as she gave a final wave and disappeared.

With a lump in his throat, he turned the key in the door and got in feeling the leather seat hug him. He ran his hands over the steering wheel and got out again.

As quickly as he could, he limped back inside the hospital building, searching all the rooms until he found her. Grabbing hold of her hand, he pulled Laurel to him, kissed her, then dragged her outside.

'Honey, ya didn't have to do this' he gasped as he looked once again at the car.

'Yes, I did because I love you' she said smiling at the rapt look on his face.

'Well, if ya really mean it, I'm not goin' anywhere till ya take a first ride with me'. He opened the door for her and she slid into the seat as he got into the drivers side. He gunned the engine listening to the deep throaty roar of the exhaust and as he drove past the blond he shouted 'Be back late. See you back at Bay City. Don't wait up huh?

And with that, he pulled out into the traffic and was gone, leaving Hutch grinning. Where Starsky was concerned only three things mattered, a beautiful woman, a beautiful car and Hutch.